Thoughts after the Nationals sign Max Scherzer

At least he's out of the AL. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
At least he’s out of the AL. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Late Sunday night, the Nationals agreed to a seven-year contract reportedly worth $210M with Max Scherzer. Half the money is deferred too — it’s basically a seven-year, $105M contract from 2015-21 plus another seven-year, $105M contract from 2022-28, when Scherzer will presumably be no longer with the team. (Nats owner Ted Lerner is 89, so the second 7/105 deal will be the next owner’s problem.) The Yankees surely wanted to add someone of Scherzer’s caliber to their rotation but were unwilling to hand out another massive long-term contract. Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. One quick Nationals thought: I think they should keep all of their starters. At least for now. Unless someone blows them away with a trade offer for one of those guys, I think they should keep all of them, enjoy the dominant rotation, then look to trade an arm at the deadline to fill whatever needs arise at midseason. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, and Ryan Zimmerman aren’t the most durable players, for example. Washington could need an outfielder(s) and/or a first baseman come July. Scherzer’s not really going to improve the team’s regular season outlook — I had the Nats winning the NL East by double-digit games before the signing. They’re by far the best team in that division — so his real impact will come in October, when he’s starting postseason games instead of the unpredictable Gio Gonzalez. Simply put, this was a move designed to put the team over the top and into the World Series, not simply get them to the postseason.

2. Personally, I am in the minority that thinks the Yankees were wise to pass on Scherzer. Don’t get me wrong, I fully acknowledge he is an outstanding pitcher and would have improved the team’s chances to contend this coming season tremendously. Scherzer is the type of pitcher who changes the balance of power within a division. That said, signing Scherzer to paper over the injury risk of the team’s other $20M+ per year starters only keeps the Yankees on the same path, the path of relying on the “pay for the elite years up front and live with the ugly years on the back end” model that always seems to result in fewer elite years than expected. Scherzer will turn 31 in July, remember. CC Sabathia looked done at age 33. Roy Oswalt was done at 33. Justin Verlander appears to be cooked at age 32. Roy Halladay managed to remain elite through age 34 before it all fell apart. Ace Sucking Syndrome (ASS) is not fun. Guys like Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, who remain productive well into their late-30s, are the exception, not the rule. Maybe Scherzer will be an exception too, but with so many bad contracts already on the books, adding another to the pile doesn’t make sense to me. The Yankees need to break the cycle of signing players to huge contracts to cover for the guys already signed to huge contracts who aren’t producing, and this process started when they let Robinson Cano walk last year. There’s a time and a place for contracts like that, and it’s when you are either a no-doubt contender or on the cusp of long-term contention looking to put yourself over the top. I don’t see the Yankees as either of those things right now. It’s short-term pain for (hopefully but not guaranteed!) long-term gain. Not refusing to spend money, just spending it better.

3. It is very clear the Yankees have emphasized future potential over past performance this offseason. There have been some exceptions (Chase Headley, most notably), but they’ve gotten younger this winter at shortstop, in the rotation, and in the bullpen. This seems like something Brian Cashman has wanted to do for a while now. So, if the Yankees were going to sign Scherzer, I think it would have come directly from ownership, which is the level at which Scott Boras operates. He usually goes right over the GM’s head and to the owner for his top free agent clients. Boras did it when Rafael Soriano signed with the Yankees, when Prince Fielder signed with the Tigers, and countless other times. Based on their moves, the Yankees’ plan this offseason was to get younger and more flexible. Scherzer accomplishes neither of those things.

4. It goes without saying that if the Nationals do the look to trade one of their starters in the wake of the Scherzer signing, the Yankees should have interest. In literally all of them. Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark … any one of them would help New York in the big way. Ideally the Yankees would get someone with more than one year of team control — Zimmermann and Fister are free agents after the 2015 season — meaning Strasburg would be the real prize. He’s an “empty the farm system” guy and won’t become a free agent until after 2016, though he is a Boras client and will almost certainly test free agency in two years. Forget about a long-term extension. Zimmermann is another “empty the farm system” type of trade target, and he’s probably looking at a Scherzer-esque contract on the open market next winter, so why would the Yankees trade a boatload of prospects and then extend him in one year when they could have just signed Scherzer for similar dollars right now and kept the prospects? I’ve never been a big Gio guy because I’ve always felt he’s one start away from going full blown 2010-11 A.J. Burnett. Roark is a late bloomer (he’s 28 already) and at the absolute peak of his trade value. He’d help the Yankees but I’m not sure you could count on getting the 2014 version going forward.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

5. In my opinion, the best (and most realistic?) trade fit is Fister, who the Yankees drafted once upon a time (sixth round in 2005) and presumably still has supporters in the organization. The Yankees love tall pitchers and he’s 6-foot-8, but that’s only a tiny little part of the reason he makes sense. Fister is both excellent — he ranked 14th among all pitchers with 11.9 bWAR from 2012-14, essentially tied with the totally awesome Hiroki Kuroda (12.0) — and seems destined for a much smaller contract than Zimmermann next offseason because he’s two years older and doesn’t have the same name value. He could end up with something similar to whatever James Shields gets, only a few million less per year. The Nationals are reportedly seeking prospects who project to be impact bats, and they do need a long-term catcher, so maybe Gary Sanchez can be the centerpiece in a Fister trade? Washington also needs bullpen help, so Sanchez and a reliever (Jose Ramirez? Chasen Shreve?) for Fister? I’d be down for that. (Which means it’s not enough and the Nats would say no.) I know Fister has been traded for nothing packages twice already — he’s been traded for four players (Mariners to Tigers) and three players (Tigers to Nats), and the best of those seven players is Charlie friggin’ Furbush — but I’m not counting on it happening three times. Get Fister for a year for much less than it would take to land Zimmermann, enjoy a ton of above-average innings in 2015, then either get a draft pick or re-sign him to a contract worth less than nine figures next offseason. I’d be all for it.

6. Scherzer’s contract is the largest ever given to a free agent pitcher, breaking the record previously held by Sabathia. (Clayton Kershaw’s pitcher record seven-year, $215M contract was an extension.) The Yankees gave Sabathia, who was going to turn 29 that July and had racked up 17.7 bWAR in the three years prior to free agency, a seven-year contract worth $161M during the 2008-09 offseason. Scherzer will turn 31 in July, compiled 16.9 bWAR the last three years, and received seven years and $210M this offseason. I don’t really have a point to add, I just think the general market inflation and the Boras factor are interesting. Sabathia back then was a much more desirable free agent target than Scherzer was this offseason. By a decent margin too.

Monday Night Open Thread

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing right now, the Devils are playing later tonight, and there are a handful of college basketball games as well. That’s it. Talk about whatever you want right here.

Rosenthal: Yankees have inquired, but are not seriously pursuing Cole Hamels

(Scott Cunningham/Getty)
(Scott Cunningham/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have inquired about Cole Hamels but are not seriously pursuing the Phillies’ ace left-hander. The Red Sox, Rangers, Padres, and Cardinals are in the mix for Hamels and Rosenthal hears Philadelphia is looking for the “perfect” trade. They want to hit a home run and I don’t blame then. The Yankees are not on the southpaw’s limited no-trade list, by the way.

Hamels, who turned 31 three weeks ago, is owed $94M over the next four seasons with a $24M vesting option for 2019 based on his workload and health. He’s not exactly cheap, but the contract terms are more favorable than the seven years and $180-something million it took to get Max Scherzer, and Hamels has been every bit as good as Scherzer the last three years. Here, look:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
Scherzer 622.1 3.24 2.94 28.6% 7.1% 36.5% 8.7% 0.254 0.314
Hamels 640.0 3.05 3.21 23.7% 6.2% 44.1% 9.8% 0.293 0.294

Scherzer strikes out more batters but Hamels makes up for it with a better ground ball rate and no platoon split whatsoever. If you want to nitpick who is better, be my guest. They’re both elite performers and bonafide workhorses. The Yankees need rotation help and Hamels would be a massive upgrade just as Scherzer would have been a massive upgrade.

The cost to get Scherzer was a draft pick and a huge contract. Hamels will cost multiple prospects but require half the financial commitment. The package to acquire high-end starters in a trade always seems to be less than expected — Jeff Samardzija this offseason, David Price at the deadline, Zack Greinke two years ago, etc. — but it always takes three or four young players. And, of course, those three guys were all much closer to free agency than Hamels at the time of their trades.

Nick Cafardo indicated the Phillies are prioritizing a catcher in any Hamels trade and the Yankees have two to realistically offer in John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Would Murphy or Sanchez, Luis Severino, Rob Refsnyder, and an MLB ready reliever like Chasen Shreve or Branden Pinder work? I have no idea, I’m just spitballin’ here. That seems light to me though. I’d want more for Hamels.

A four-player package like that would take a big bite out of the depth the Yankees have built this offseason while adding a legitimate ace on a contract of favorable length. It would also dramatically improve their chances in a very wide open AL East this coming season, so it’s both a short and long-term move. Hamels, like Scherzer, is someone capable of changing the balance of power within a division. He’s that good.

The Yankees have said — repeatedly — they are unwilling to take on another massive contract this offseason and Rosenthal says their interest in Hamels was the result of due diligence, nothing more. I would never rule out the Yankees making a surprising/big move though. The Phillies could drop their demands and change things at a moment’s notice.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 32-40

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

Outside of some minor tinkering here and there, it appears the Yankees are done with their major offseason moves and are basically set heading into Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in a little less than five weeks now. Barring a surprise big move, there’s not much left on the agenda other than adding pitching depth. Someone like Johan Santana, maybe.

Anyway, with Spring Training on the horizon, we’re going to rank and analyze the roles of everyone on the 40-man roster these next two weeks. The rankings are based on the player’s importance to the 2015 Yankees as well as their importance to the team long-term, and we’ve lumped the players into ten easy to post tiers. Needless to say, these rankings are completely subjective (and more difficult than you think) and you’re going to disagree with them at some point. Something like this has no right answer.

The series starts today with the bottom of the list, Nos. 32-40. Tier ten. These are the spare part players. Up-and-down bullpen arms, bench players on one-year contracts, guys like that. The fringe players who will inevitably see time with the big league team this year but aren’t expected to play a major role, either in 2015 or down the line. Let’s get to it.

No. 40: Chris Martin

2015 Role: Up-and-down arm. The Yankees acquired Martin from the Rockies for cash last week because they felt he was a minor upgrade over Gonzalez Germen, who they felt was a minor upgrade over Preston Claiborne earlier this offseason. Martin will get a look in Spring Training and, if he impresses, he’ll put himself in position for a call-up later this year.

Long-Term Role: Really doesn’t have one. Martin is a big dude — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 215 lbs. — with a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s curve, and a history of missing bats in Triple-A (9.6 K/9 and 24.9 K% in 77 innings), so he could always have instant success and carve out a place in middle relief. If that happens, Martin could stick around all year and be part of the bullpen mix in 2016, but that’s the best case scenario.

No. 39: Chase Whitley

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Another up-and-down arm, except Whitley at least has the ability to contribute as an emergency rotation option if necessary. He’s not strictly a bullpen arm like Martin. The Yankees more or less know what they have in Whitley and he’ll head to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins, biding his time until reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Long-Term Role: A spare arm until he runs out of minor league options or an upgrade comes along, whichever comes first. Whitley did not use an option last season — he was only sent down for ten days in late-August and it takes 20 days to burn an option — so he has all three remaining, meaning he can go up and down in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If he shows the ability to contribute as a spot starter, Whitley will stick around.

No. 38: Jose DePaula

2015 Role: Again, up-and-down arm. DePaula is a legitimate starter, not a pure reliever like Martin or a career reliever recently converted into a starter like Whitley, and he gets bonus points for being left-handed. The Yankees like DePaula enough that they gave him a big league contract as a minor league free agent this offseason even though he’s yet to reach MLB.

Long-Term Role: DePaula only has one minor league option remaining, which means his time in the organization might not extend beyond the 2015 season. A trip to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to start the year, and if DePaula gets called up at some point, he’ll have to impress enough to stick around next year, even if it’s as nothing more than a long man. In a nutshell, DePaula has replaced Vidal Nuno on the 40-man roster. Similar pitchers, same sort of role.

No. 37: Austin Romine

2015 Role: Considering he is out of minor league options and can not go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers, there’s a good chance Romine will no longer be with the organization come Opening Day. Catchers are hard to find, so the Yankees figure to keep Romine through Spring Training in case Brian McCann or John Ryan Murphy gets hurt. His 2015 role is emergency extra catcher.

Long-Term Role: Nothing more than being the emergency catcher at this point. Romine’s career stalled out the last few seasons and being out of options means decision time has come. If the Yankees don’t need him to start the season as an injury replacement, Romine will probably be traded — in a small trade for a small return — to a catcher-needy team rather than go on waivers. It would be a surprise if he clears waivers and is able to go to Triple-A to back up Gary Sanchez.

No. 36: Chris Young

2015 Role: Fourth outfielder who will see most of his time against left-handed pitchers. Young might also replace Carlos Beltran for defense in the late innings of close games. He had a strong September cameo in pinstripes and returned to the team on a one-year, $2.5M contract with nearly $4M in incentives.

Long-Term Role: Young’s days as an everyday player are over, and since he’s on a one-year contract, the Yankees have no real ties to him. They can cut him loose if he doesn’t produce during the season or walk away if a better option comes along next offseason. And, of course, they’ll always have the option of re-signing Young if he excels in his part-time role this summer.

No. 35: Brendan Ryan

2015 Role: It appears Ryan will again be on the bench as New York’s extra infielder this coming season, though I suppose there’s a chance he could get pushed out by someone like Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder in Spring Training. There’s definite value in Ryan’s ability to play above-average defense at shortstop and that will keep him in the organization and on the roster, in my opinion.

Long-Term Role: Ryan is entering the second year of his two-year contract, though the deal includes a $2M club option and a $1M player option for 2016. (If the Yankees decline the club option, Ryan can still exercise the player option.) The Yankees don’t have any upper level shortstop prospects capable of replacing Ryan next year, so right now it looks like he has a decent chance to stick around as a bench player beyond the 2015 season.

No. 34: Stephen Drew

2015 Role: Everyday second baseman or close to it — Drew could sit against tough lefties or be pushed into a straight platoon role if, say, Refsnyder forces the issue in camp. I do expect him to at least start the season as the regular second baseman though. Drew will hit in the bottom third of the lineup and hopefully produce like he did in 2013, not 2014. His left-handed swing fits well in Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Drew doesn’t have a long-term spot with the team. He’s on a one-year contract worth $5M with some incentives, but Refsnyder is coming and the Yankees seem to be making a concerted effort to get younger. Bringing Drew back was about adding depth, not blocking Refsnyder. It’s always possible the Yankees will bring Drew back after the season if he plays well, but it’s hard to think he’ll be penciled in as a regular again. He’s a stopgap, plain and simple.

Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)
Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)

No. 33: Garrett Jones

2015 Role: Oft-used bench player who will provide backup at first base, right field, and DH, three positions where the Yankees have major injury risks in Mark Teixeira, Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez. I think the health concerns of those three guys give Jones a clear path to 400 or so plate appearances in 2015, which might be just enough to expose his weaknesses. That said, his left-handed power is a great fit for Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Jones, who came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade a few weeks ago, will earn $5M in 2015 before becoming a free agent. Given his lefty pop and ability to positions where the Yankees need depth, the team could look to bring Jones back in 2016 if he contributes as hoped this summer. He fits the roster very well.

No. 32: Esmil Rogers

2015 Role: Swingman. Rogers has worked as both a starter and reliever in his career — including last season, when he made eight starts and 38 relief appearances between Triple-A/MLB and Yankees/Blue Jays — and he steps right into David Phelps‘ old role. He actual made three starts in winter ball this offseason and will presumably come to camp stretched out just so the team has options to cover for the risky rotation.

Long-Term Role: The Yankees somewhat surprisingly kept Rogers this offseason. He was a prime non-tender candidate, but they instead cut his salary the maximum allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and kept him around as depth. Rogers will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well and could definitely return to the team, especially if he fills that swingman role as well as Phelps did.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 26-31. A collection of prospects who could help in limited roles in 2015.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 19th, 2015

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Heyman: Nats agree to seven-year deal with Max Scherzer

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Nationals have agreed to a seven-year contract with Max Scherzer, reports Jon Heyman. No word on the money, but I’m guessing it’ll be in the $175M neighborhood. Nats GM Mike Rizzo drafted Scherzer back when he was the Diamondbacks’ scouting director.

The Yankees had been connected to Scherzer all offseason because they’re connected to every big free agent every offseason. The team insisted all along they were not interested in another huge money long-term deal, however. By all accounts, New York did not make a last minute offer or anything like that.

With Scherzer on board, Washington has six above-average starters for five rotation spots. There are rumblings they will now look to trade impending free agent Jordan Zimmermann (or even Stephen Strasburg), who would be a great fit for the Yankees. So would literally anyone else on their staff.

James Shields remains unsigned and the Yankees have not been connected to him at all this winter despite his history of success in the AL East. I don’t expect them to pursue him either. The Yankees could add another low cost veteran (Johan Santana?) for depth and that’s probably it.

Weekend Open Thread

Five weeks from today, pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa for Spring Training. That’s the best non-news day of the year. Nothing really happens that day, no real workouts or anything, but it marks the start of a new season and I can’t wait. A fun Mike Mussina video is above and the weekend links are below:

  • The Blue Jays are planning to install natural grass in Rogers Centre by 2018, and John Lott wrote about all the challenges of trying to grow grass indoors. There are a ton of logistical issues — they have to change the roof panels and rip up the concrete under the field to install irrigation and drainage — and consultants haven’t even determined the best species of grass for the job yet. Other than that, everything’s going just swell.
  • The Yankees acquired Chris Martin from the Rockies in a minor trade earlier this week, and it turns out he has one heck of a back story. As Scott Miller explained in an article last April, Martin blew out his shoulder in college and quit going to school and playing baseball. He worked at Lowe’s, UPS and an appliance store before a friend convinced him to try out for an independent team, which eventually got him signed.
  • Anthony Castrovince wrote about the non-stop tragedies veteran umpire John Hirschbeck has faced. Hirschbeck lost two sons to a rare disease and also dealt with two bouts of cancer himself, among other things. It’s a real heartbreaking story. No fans like umpires, but they’re people too and Hirschbeck has been through an awful lot.
  • Jeff Zimmerman argues that baseball needs to expand and relatively soon to avoid falling into a third Dead Ball era. He doesn’t want the league to add two teams though, he wants the league to add six teams — not all at once, of course, two at a time over a period of several years — to increase offense and add excitement.
  • And finally, Erik Malinowski wrote about the incredible story of the Dirty Dozen Rowing Club. Long story short — I’m not joking, it’s a very long read — a bunch of rugby players from the Bay Area decided to get into rowing with the goal of qualifying in the 1984 Olympics even though they only had two years to prepare.

Friday: This is your open thread for the night. The Nets, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are all in action, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Use this thread to talk about anything on your mind. Have at it.

Saturday: Use this as your open thread again. The Nets and Islanders are both playing, and there’s college basketball on as well. Talk about whatever.

Sunday: For one last time, use this as your open thread. The Seahawks and Packers are playing right now (on FOX) and later tonight the Patriots and Colts will be in action (6:40pm ET on CBS). The winners of each game advance to the Super Bowl. Go nuts.