Saturday Links: Powell, Interpreters, Instant Replay, ESPN

Powell. (Mark Kolbe/Getty)
Powell. (Mark Kolbe/Getty)

The Yankees handled some major offseason business on arbitration filing day yesterday. They agreed to new one-year deals with Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley, and exchanged figures with Aroldis Chapman, Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, and Ivan Nova. They can still work out contracts with those four players. They aren’t necessarily headed for arbitration hearing now. Anyway, here are some assorted links and notes to pass along.

Yankees scouted cricket player Kieran Powell

Here’s a fun little story. Kieran Powell, one of the best cricket players in the world, is attempting to transition to baseball. Jack Curry says the Yankees had a scout on hand for his workout Wednesday. Powell, 25, is from the West Indies, and last summer he spent eight weeks working with former big leaguers to develop baseball skills. From Jared Diamond:

Following a contract dispute with the West Indies team, Powell’s agent sent footage of Powell to major-league teams, catching the eye of scouts from the Los Angeles Dodgers. They arranged for Powell to spend eight weeks last summer training in Southern California with two former Dodgers players to start the process of dropping his “cricket habits” and learning the nuances of baseball. (Powell declined to reveal which ex-players worked with him.)

Powell headed to the IMG Academy in Florida to continue training following his crash course with the Dodgers. He’s been working with Tim Raines Jr. and former Yankees farmhand John-Ford Griffin. Here’s some video of him in the batting cage.

There is almost no overlap between baseball and cricket at the pro level, so Powell would be a pioneer. The games are similar in that you’re hitting a ball with a bat, but the swing mechanics are very different. (Cricket involves an extreme uppercut, for example.) Both games do require top notch hand-eye coordination though, and Powell has that.

Curry says the Yankees aren’t interested because they didn’t see any standout baseball skills, and one evaluator went as far as telling Wally Matthews, “He sucks. He’s not worth any time.” Ouch. I am curious see how Powell does on the diamond though.

Teams required to provide Spanish interpreters

According to Jerry Crasnick, teams will be required to provide full-time Spanish interpreters for players beginning next season thanks to a new directive implemented by MLB and the MLBPA. Many clubs already have interpreters while others rely on coaches or other players to translate during media scrums. Teams routinely hire individual interpreters for Asian players, but not Spanish players.

Carlos Beltran has been pushing for full-time Spanish interpreters for years, and in fact David Waldstein says Beltran reached out to the MLBPA to make it happen. Most notably Beltran spoke out after Pineda spoke to the media without an interpreter following the pine tar incident two years ago. “It’s a problem, of course, because he can’t express himself the way he wants to,” said Beltran the next day when he found out Pineda did not have a translator.

Roughly 25% of players come from Spanish speaking countries these days, so this is long overdue. I’m surprised it took this long for MLB and the union to get something done. You’d think they want to help players who are attempting to communicate in their second language. Hopefully the league implements a similar program in the minors. Of course, the MLBPA has been hanging minor leaguers out to dry for years now, so who knows.

MLB not close to changing replay rules for slides

MLB is not close to changing the instant replay rules for overslides, reports Jon Morosi. Those are the nitpicky plays where the the player comes off the base for an instant. Stuff like this:

I hate that. Yes, the rules say the player is out, but man, I don’t think that’s what anyone intended when they wanted expanded replay. If the player completely overslides the base, yes, then replay. But a little pop up off the bag like that? Especially when it’s the result of the impact of the slide? I feel like that should be off-limits from replay. Either way, no rule change is coming. Stay on the base.

ESPN releases early Sunday Night Baseball schedule

A few weeks ago ESPN announced the early season portion of their Sunday Night Baseball schedule. As always, the Yankees will be among the most featured clubs. Here are their games:

  • April 10th: Yankees at Tigers
  • May 1st: Yankees at Red Sox
  • May 8th: Red Sox at Yankees
  • July 17th: Red Sox at Yankees

The back-to-back Yankees-Red Sox games in early-May made me laugh. ESPN still pumps up the rivalry even though it’s been four years since both teams were good at the same time. At least some more teams will be involved in Sunday Night Baseball next year, including the Astros and Diamondbacks. The Astros haven’t played on Sunday Night Baseball since 2013 and the D’Backs haven’t been featured since 2008.

Also, ESPN announced a new Sunday Night Baseball booth: Dan Shulman remains as play-by-play man and will be joined by Jessica Mendoza and Aaron Boone. Curt Schilling will be moved to other broadcasts and John Kruk is going to be an in-studio analyst. Having a pro-Yankees guy (Boone) in the booth will be a welcome change.

Yankees sign Pineda and Ackley; file arbitration figures with Chapman, Eovaldi, Gregorius, Nova

Didi is arbitration-eligible for the first time. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Didi is arbitration-eligible for the first time. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Original Post (12:00pm ET): Today is an important day on the offseason calendar. The deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to file salary figures for the 2016 season is 1pm ET, which is a bit earlier than previous years, I believe. A total of 156 players are eligible for arbitration this winter, though many have agreed to a new contracts already.

The Yankees have six players up for arbitration this offseason, including some pretty important members of the team. Here are the six with their projected 2016 salaries, via MLBTR:

Dustin Ackley: $3.1M (second time through arbitration)
Aroldis Chapman: $12.9M (third)
Nathan Eovaldi: $5.7M (second)
Didi Gregorius: $2.1M (first of four as a Super Two)
Ivan Nova: $4.4M (third)
Michael Pineda: $4.6M (second)

The Yankees have not been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang during the 2007-08 offseason. Since then they’ve signed all of their eligible players prior to the filing deadline. I assume that will be the case again this year, though who knows. We’ll find out soon enough.

The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size even after filing salary figures. They can hammer out a new deal at any point, even after a hearing if they choose. Hearings will take place throughout February and arbitration is an ugly process. The team details the player’s shortcomings in an effort to keep his salary down. Not pleasant for anyone involved. It’s no mystery why everyone involved tries to avoid a hearing.

We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related arbitration news right here, assuming nothing crazy happens. Someone could sign a multi-year extension but history suggests the Yankees won’t do that. Check back for updates throughout the day. The deadline is 1pm ET, but news can and probably will trickle in throughout the afternoon.

Update (3:00pm ET): Yankees sign Pineda for $4.3M (Jeff Passan)

Pineda gets a nice $2.2M raise after pitching to a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) last season. Yeah, he missed all that time following shoulder surgery from 2012-13, but he was an All-Star back in 2011 and that matters in arbitration. That said, a $4.3M salary for a starter going through arbitration for the second time is relatively small. All the lost time definitely cost Pineda some cash. He can’t become a free agent until after 2017.

Update (3:26pm ET): Yankees sign Ackley for $3.2M (Chad Jennings)

Ackley made $2.6M last season, so his raise wasn’t very big. He is in a bit of an interesting situation because the Mariners signed him to a five-year contract worth $7.5M out of the draft a few years back. Ackley earned $1.5M, $1.5M, and $1.7M in his three pre-arbitration years, not the league minimum, so his starting base salary in arbitration was higher than usual. He’s making more than he should be given his production. But still, $3.2M is peanuts in today’s MLB. Ackley is two years from free agency.

Update (3:28pm ET): Yankees will file with Chapman, Eovaldi, Gregorius, Nova (Jon Heyman)

In a bit of a surprise, the Yankees were unable to reach contract agreements with those four players prior to today’s filing deadline. No word on their filing figures yet, though those should come out soon enough. The two sides can still negotiate a contract of any size, remember. Today was not a hard deadline for completing a deal.

Update (4:58pm ET): Chapman filed for $13.1M, Yankees for $9M (Jon Heyman)

First thought: Chapman should probably take the Yankees to a hearing. He made $8.05M last season. Would the arbitration panel really side with the Yankees and award him a raise of less than $1M after he saved 33 games with a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings in 2015? Seems really unlikely. The other third year arbitration-eligible closers (Kenley Jansen, Drew Storen, Mark Melancon) all received raises of at least $2.5M on Friday. I guess the Yankees think Chapman’s earning potential will be dragged down by the domestic violence incident.

Update (5:01pm ET): Gregorius filed for $2.525M, Yankees for $2.3M (Jon Heyman)

A gap of $225,000 is nothing. I imagine the Yankees and Gregorius will be able to hammer out a deal soon enough, perhaps somewhere around the midpoint of the two filing figures ($2.42M). Then again, the Yankees could take the “file-and-trial” stance that is becoming popular. That is, once the salary figures are filed, the team stops negotiating and goes to a hearing. Hopefully that’s not the case.

Keep in mind with Gregorius, his 2016 salary will affect his 2017-19 salaries as well. There’s a carryover effect from year-to-year. It’s not so much about saving $225,000 next year. That $225,000 can potentially grow into a few million bucks during Didi’s four arbitration years.

Update (5:19pm ET): Eovaldi filed for $6.3M, Yankees for $4.9M (Jon Heyman)

The midpoint of the two filing figures is $5.6M, just south of MLBTR’s projection. Remember, the arbitration process is very antiquated. If they do go to a hearing, Eovaldi’s representatives will surely emphasize his 14-3 record in 2015, and the fact he led the league in winning percentage (.824). The system rewards wins and winning percentage, the stuff we know doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the pitcher’s performance.

Update (6:58pm ET): Nova filed for $4.6M, Yankees for $3.8M (Jeff Passan)

Nova, who made $3.3M last summer, filed a salary number just north of MLBTR’s projection. The Yankees are a little under that, and really, an $800,000 gap is not huge. The team seems to offering a token “you picked up another year of service time, congrats” raise after Nova’s poor 2015 season. Even considering MLBTR’s projection, I can understand why the Yankees filed at $3.8M.

Yankees claim outfielder Lane Adams from Royals

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have claimed outfielder Lane Adams off waivers from the Royals, the team announced. He was designated for assignment a few days ago when Kansas City re-signed Alex Gordon. The Yankees designated infielder Ronald Torreyes for assignment in a corresponding move. The 40-man roster remains full.

Adams, 26, is a right-handed hitter who hit .275/.342/.436 (115 wRC+) with 16 home runs and 31 steals in 140 games split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He appeared in six big league games in 2014. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Adams as the 15th best prospect in Kansas City’s system prior to 2015. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

He is a plus-plus runner who is a plus defender in center field. He’s not a good fit in right field because of his fringe-average arm. Offensively, Adams has some strength and shows pull power, but he projects as an average hitter with the ability to hit 8-10 home runs and plenty of doubles. He most likely winds up as a fourth outfielder.

The Yankees have plenty of left-handed hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel) so Adams will help balance things out a bit. The team has a bench spot open, but with Aaron Hicks set to be the fourth outfielder and Dustin Ackley the fifth outfielder, it’s tough to see Adams making the Opening Day roster.

Torreyes, 23, was acquired from the Dodgers earlier this week in a minor trade. Just yesterday I wrote I was irrationally excited about the pickup because his high energy/high contact/versatile profile looked like a nice fit for the bench. Obviously the Yankees didn’t agree. So it goes. Maybe he’ll clear waivers and stick with the organization.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Pitching, Draft Picks, Comcast, Refsnyder

Thirteen questions in this week’s mailbag. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions throughout the week.

He's not a businessman he's a business, man. (Cindy Ord/Getty)
He’s not a businessman he’s a business, man. (Cindy Ord/Getty)

Sal asks: How did Alex’s 40 year old season stack up historically to other 40 year old offensive seasons? What are the best 41 and 42 year old offensive performances that Alex will hopefully be stacked up against in a couple of years?

Alex Rodriguez hit .250/.346/.486 (131 OPS+) last season, his age 39 season. The cutoff date for season age is June 30th at Baseball Reference, and Alex’s birthday is July 27th, so 2015 was technically his age 39 season even though he was actually 40 for a big chunk of it. Anyway, here are the ten best seasons by OPS+ among hitters who qualified for the batting title in their age 39 season, via B-Ref:

Rk Player OPS+ Year Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
1 Barry Bonds 263 2004 SFG 147 617 129 135 27 3 45 101 232 41 .362 .609 .812
2 Ted Williams 179 1958 BOS 129 517 81 135 23 2 26 85 98 49 .328 .458 .584
3 Babe Ruth 160 1934 NYY 125 471 78 105 17 4 22 84 104 63 .288 .448 .537
4 David Ortiz 141 2015 BOS 146 614 73 144 37 0 37 108 77 95 .273 .360 .553
5 Willie Mays 140 1970 SFG 139 566 94 139 15 2 28 83 79 90 .291 .390 .506
6 Eddie Collins 138 1926 CHW 106 455 66 129 32 4 1 62 62 8 .344 .441 .459
7 Joe Kuhel 135 1945 WSH 142 615 73 152 29 13 2 75 79 31 .285 .378 .400
8 Cy Williams 134 1927 PHI 131 569 86 135 18 2 30 98 61 57 .274 .365 .502
9 Willie McCovey 132 1977 SFG 141 548 54 134 21 0 28 86 67 106 .280 .367 .500
10 Alex Rodriguez 130 2015 NYY 151 620 83 131 22 1 33 86 84 145 .250 .356 .486

A-Rod is actually tied for tenth with Reggie Jackson, who had a 130 OPS+ in his age 39 season (1985). Alex also didn’t even have the best age 39 season in baseball in 2015 — David Ortiz (141 OPS+) beat him. A-Rod did, however, have the second best age 39 season among right-handed hitters all-time. Only Mays was better.

The best season by a player in his age 40 season belongs to Mays (158 OPS+) while the best age 41 season belongs to Stan Musial (137 OPS+). Here’s the age 40 list and here’s the age 41 list. Only 16 players in history have posted a 100 OPS+ or better in their age 40 season. Only six did it in their age 41 season. Heck, only 15 players have ever even qualified for the batting title in their age 41 season. Rodriguez would join a very exclusive club is he is even a league average hitter the next two seasons.

Brian asks: Here are the all time strikeout leaders. Where do you think A-Rod ends up on this list?

For those of you too lazy to click the link, Alex is fifth all-time with 2,220 strikeouts. He’s 377 behind Reggie Jackson, the all-time leader. (OMG strikeout guys can’t hit in the postseason!) A-Rod struck out 145 times last season, and his 23.4% strikeout rate was his highest ever in a full season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that strikeout rate increased given his age.

The Yankees seem likely to scale back A-Rod’s workload the next two years, so racking up the near 380 strikeouts to catch Jackson probably ain’t happening. Alex would need to have to play beyond his current contract. He only needs 159 more strikeouts to pass Adam Dunn (2,379) for third place all-time though, and that seems inevitable. Might even happen next year. Catching Jim Thome (2,548) for second place is possible I suppose, just unlikely. Seems like Alex will finish in third place on the all-time strikeout list when it’s all said and done.

What a time to be alive. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
What a time to be alive. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Vidhath asks: Four years ago, trading a top prospect hitter was enough to get a young pitcher with 5 years of control and success at the MLB level. There’s no way (I think) that trading Judge or Mateo (or probably even both) today would get the Yankees a return similar to what Pineda is. Is this more of an indication of how the value of young pitchers has skyrocketed, or was Montero valued at a much higher level than Judge/Mateo?

A little of both. Jesus Montero was a way better prospect back then then Aaron Judge or Jorge Mateo are right now. Baseball America ranked Montero as one of the six best prospects in baseball every year from 2010-12 and he had just mashed in the big leagues for a month. Mateo is still in Single-A and Judge has a half season in Triple-A. Even though almost no one thought he could catch, Montero was one of the hottest commodities in the game because everyone expected him to be a devastating offensive player.

I also think young pitchers are becoming an even hotter commodity these days because we’ve seen more older pitchers break down in recent years — CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, and Roy Halladay all went from elite to kaput since the Montero trade — while salaries continue to explode. Only nine starters had an average annual salary of $18M or more at the time of the trade. Sabathia was the highest paid at $24.4M. Last season there were 18 guys at $18M annually, including two over $30M and three more over $25M. The salaries continue to go up but the player risk doesn’t change. Teams want to avoid that, so young pitching is in very high demand.

Paul asks: Players had to file for arbitration this week. All eligible players always do it, and you even pointed out it’s a formality that could likely go away some day. My question, though, us what happens if a player doesn’t file (aside from an agent getting fired)?

The player would be waiving his right to an arbitration hearing. He’d lose all negotiating leverage and effectively give the team another year of pre-arbitration control, meaning they can pay him close to the league minimum and renew his contract at any salary. It wouldn’t delay free agency, it just means the player would go through arbitration twice instead of three times. That’s never happened as far as I know and yes, the player would fire his agent in a heartbeat.

Matt asks: Kaprielian, Judge, Lindgren, and Mitchell (out of the bullpen) seem primed to be the significant mid-season additions via the farm this summer. Bird could be up as well with an injury. Who else could you see getting the call and making a big impact from the farm this season?

Excluding everyone we saw last season (Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, etc.), the first name that jumped to mind is Chance Adams. Adams was the team’s fifth round pick last June and he tore up pro ball after signing (1.78 ERA and 1.75 FIP in 35.1). He’s a reliever — the Yankees are apparently going to try him as a starter in 2016 — who could start the season at Double-A and make his MLB debut in the second half.

Other possibilities include Brady Lail, Cale Coshow, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Ben Gamel. Gamel’s kinda stuck behind Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams on the lefty hitting outfielder depth chart. Lail and Cessa are rotation depth pieces and Green may be as well. Coshow started for a while last season but is probably a reliever long-term. He’s got a huge fastball and a nasty slider. The Yankees have a lot of righty relievers on the 40-man roster already though, so it might be tough for Adams and Coshow to make MLB this year. Not impossible, but it’ll be tough.

Anthony asks: I like to think of myself as the type of Yankee fan that doesn’t have the “sign every big-name ever” mentality. That being said, I see a big opportunity to improve here. Why don’t the Yankees sign Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes to a semi-reasonable deal, then trade Brett Gardner to clear the spot and address the pitching issue?

The answer is very simple: the Yankees don’t want to lock themselves into another deal that may hurt their chances to get under the luxury tax next year (or the year after, whenever). Signing Upton or Cespedes — I prefer Cespedes because they’re comparable hitters, but he’s the better defender and base-runner, and he won’t cost a draft pick — and flipping Gardner for a pitcher makes total sense for the Yankees in every way except financially. Maybe the team decides they simply can’t pass up a good deal in a few weeks and signs one of those guys, but I would be surprised. There’s no reason to think the Yankees will hand out a big money contract at this point.

Rob Manfred. (Kyle Rivas/Getty)
The Commish. (Kyle Rivas/Getty)

Daniel asks: In the next CBA, why not keep the qualifying offer and allow old teams to get compensation picks but allow the new teams to keep their picks too.

I think the concern with that system is big market teams signing all the best free agents and getting access to the top amateurs as well. That’s not really fair to the small market clubs. The whole point of the draft pick compensation system is competitive balance. The league wants to help smaller market teams contend.

I do think the draft pick compensation rules will change with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. How? I’m not sure. The current qualifying offer system is pretty borked. Here are three ideas:

  1. Sever the ties between free agency and the draft all together.
  2. Make the qualifying offer a standing offer all offseason.
  3. Eliminate the draft spending pools.

The first idea is pretty straight forward. The second idea would lead to way fewer qualifying offers, I think. Only the truly elites would get one. Not guys like Ian Kennedy. That could result in more midseason trades too, since clubs know they won’t get a draft pick for their good but not great veteran after the season.

I think the last idea is the best. Losing the first rounder stinks, but losing the draft pool money associated with that pick sucks even more. Teams would be more willing to give up their first round pick if they were able to give their other draft picks a bonus of any size. That gives them a chance to sign a talented player with huge demands later in the draft, making up for the lost first rounder.

Paul asks: Can you provide any details as to the dispute between YES and Comcast?  YES has been completely removed from the channel line up on Comcast. What are the chances that something will be worked out?

I have not seen any updates since YES was pulled back in November. This is all about money — YES raised their rights fees and Comcast doesn’t want to pay, reportedly citing declining viewership. I truly hope YES and Comcast get something worked out before the season and I think they will, but that’s nothing more than my blind faith. The ongoing Dodgers situation — non-Time Warner customers in Southern California haven’t been able to watch the Dodgers for two years now — shows cooler heads don’t always prevail. There’s still some time before the regular season — Spring Training games are available in-market for MLB.tv subscribers — so hopefully a deal gets hammered out.

Brandon asks: If the Yankees are in contention come trade deadline but the starting rotation is having its annual health problems, do you see Cashman making a blockbuster deal for a starter or staying put and trust what they have going forward?

Staying put. The Yankees don’t make blockbuster trades at the deadline. They tend to do most of their heavy lifting in the offseason, then tinker at the trade deadline. Their last true deadline blockbuster was what, the Bobby Abreu trade? Does that even count? I don’t think Brian Cashman is opposed to the blockbuster deadline deal, but they’re hard to complete in-season. If the Marlins make Jose Fernandez available or the Indians shop Carlos Carrasco in July, I think the Yankees would be very involved. When in doubt though, bet against the blockbuster going down.

Nate asks: With the Yankees’ seeming dislike for anything Refsnyder, and the acquisition of Castro, plus having Ackley on hand as well, wouldn’t it have been smarter to include Refsnyder in the trade for Chapman, instead of Jagielo?

Well, yeah, but the Reds have a say in this too. Brandon Phillips has blocked at least two trades in recent years (Nationals this offseason, Yankees two years ago) because he makes his home in Cincinnati and doesn’t want to leave, and he’s under contract for another two years. What are the Reds going to do with a Major League ready second baseman right now? Refsnyder doesn’t make sense for them. Eric Jagielo‘s the better prospect, first and foremost, and he potentially fills their third base hole. Yeah, I think the Yankees would be better off with Jagielo long-term than Refsnyder, but it’s really hard to complain about getting Aroldis Chapman for a package headlined by Jagielo and Rookie Davis.

Austin. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Austin. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Michael asks: How about Tyler Austin for the final bench spot? He has experience at 3rd base, could spell Tex at 1st, and be a 5th outfielder. If he figured something out in the AZ Fall League, he could provide some right handed pop with the versatility you always preach. He’s almost the mirror image of Dustin Ackley (with a stronger arm).

A year or two ago I remember either writing something or talking to someone about Austin, and how he’d be a really good fit for the roster as a right-handed hitter who could fill in at first, third, and the corner outfield. Austin didn’t hit last year — he put up a .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) regular season line and an okay 116 wRC+in the Arizona Fall League — and third base probably isn’t happening at this point. He’s played only eight games at the position since 2011. In theory, man, he’d be a great fit for the bench. You kinda want him to force the issue though, and Austin hasn’t done that the last few years. Slipping through outright waivers unclaimed in September was telling. Austin’s stock is way down.

Alexander asks: Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but given the number of highly touted Cuban prospects that have signed this year, do you think the Yankees struck too soon in their IFA binge? Competing against the Dodgers’ wallet would not have been fun, but seems we’ve blocked ourselves from some high quality talent.

This was always the risk associated with the 2014 international spending spree. The Yankees took themselves out of the market for the best international players for two years, including young Cuban players. (They did have a chance to sign Yoan Moncada and failed spectacularly.) None of the Cuban prospects since is even close to that level. Yadier Alvarez has been by far the best of the bunch — the Dodgers gave him $16M — and that’s really it.

The Yankees landed about four years worth of top international prospects during the 2014-15 signing period. I’d rather have that than any of these recent Cuban players, almost all of whom received international pool busting bonuses. Moncada is the only Cuban prospect with true star potential who has hit the market since the spending restrictions were put in place. (I’m talking about players subject to the spending limits only.) Cuban contracts seem to be crazy inflated these days.

Simon asks: There’s a lot of talk about Refsnyder’s defense and Bird’s defense compared to Teixeira’s. Has there ever been a player who was mediocre defensively that became elite or gold glove caliber or is defense something you either have or don’t?

Oh sure. The best example is Chase Utley. He was a bad fielding third baseman in college — Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “he lacks the range, hands and ability to read hops to be a true middle infielder” in their pre-draft scouting report back in 2000 — who played third full-time as recently as 2002, yet he made himself into a great defensive second baseman through hard work.

It’s not quite that simple though. Players need a certain level of natural instincts and athleticism to be great defenders, so it’s not solely the product of hard work. Both Refsnyder and Bird have reportedly worked very hard on their defense, and to their credit, the scouting reports indicate they’ve improved. They both remain below-average defenders, however. If one or both works himself into an average or above-average defender, great. They’d be the exception though, not the rule.

Former Yankee Luis Arroyo passes away at 88

The following is from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments.

Arroyo at Old Timers' Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Arroyo at Old Timers’ Day in 2013. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yankees power lefty reliever and member of the 1961 championship team, Luis Enrique “Tite” Arroyo, has died at the age of 88 in the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico from cancer, which he had been diagnosed with in December. A reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds before coming to the Yankees in 1960, Arroyo surprised many people by getting off to a hot start in 1955 despite his portly-size and extended length in the minors. By the time the 1955 season ended, Arroyo (an All-Star) went downhill and finished with a 4.19 ERA and an 11-8 record. He continued to pitch around the minors and with the Pirates before reaching the Reds. The Reds sent him to Havana to play for the Sugar Kings in the International League. The team won the playoffs for the International League, finishing with a 1.15 ERA and Fidel Castro said it was a “happy day for Cuba.”

In 1960, Arroyo returned to the Havana Sugar Kings, but soon ended up in Jersey City, New Jersey. The Yankees selected his contract on July 20, 1960 after purchasing him from the Reds. Casey Stengel noted at the end of the season that Arroyo along with Billy Stafford did more than ever expected of him, helping in winning the 1960 American League pennant. Arroyo, despite his work in the late season (2.88 ERA), only appeared once in the 1960 World Series (Game 5, specifically). At that time in baseball, it was rare a 34-year-old was considered nothing less than old, especially for one with no specialty.

In 1961, the Yankees expected the same of Arroyo, despite the prediction of Sports Illustrated, stating that he would fall back. Arroyo was injured in Spring Training of 1961 when hit by a line drive by Jesse Gonder. He quickly returned, and Arroyo found himself facing the West Point cadets on April 14. Arroyo quickly established himself as the ace of the Yankees bullpen, and they decided that Ryne Duren was expendable. (Duren himself was on a flight to face the Angels when he because inebriated and grabbed the breasts of a flight attendant.) Duren was traded to the Angels along with several others for Bob Cerv and Truman Clevenger. Ford established himself as the personal reliever for Whitey Ford because of the fact that Whitey could not go nine innings anymore. Arroyo replaced Ford 24 times in 1961 and got saves in 13 of the wins Whitey started. At the end of the 1961 season, the left-handed Arroyo pitched in 65 games (a league lefty record at the time) with 29 saves, 15-5 record and a 2.19 ERA, helping Ralph Houk tremendously.

The 1962 season was different, Arroyo could not stand up the numbers he had posted in late 1960 and 1961, appearing in only 27 games and accumulating a 4.42 ERA. The next season, his arm completely gave out and he finished with a 13.50 ERA in just six games. On September 27, 1963, the Yankees released Arroyo and he never appeared in a Major League Baseball game ever again.

Thoughts and prayers go to the Arroyo family in this hard time, though Arroyo’s reputation as a portly old reliever that could never fully establish himself remains. He was vital for the 1960 and 1961 teams, but became just another arm with a 40-32 record and a 3.93 ERA. Arroyo was also the first player from Puerto Rico to play for the Yankees. Rest in peace, Tite.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Earlier this week former Yankee Brandon McCarthy answered questions from fans in a mailbag at The Players’ Tribune. He talked about having Tommy John surgery, the “offensively silent” Shane Greene, and intentionally hitting batters, among other things. It’s pretty entertaining. Check it out.

This is the nightly open thread. All three local hockey teams are in action — the Rangers and Islanders are playing each other in a rather big game (by mid-January standards) — plus there’s some college hoops on as well. Talk about whatever here.