Hot Stove Notes: Tulo, Hamels, Rollins, Upton, Kuroda

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

Aside from the never-ending tinkering and miscellaneous depth additions, the Yankees seem to be more or less done with their major offseason business. They could always surprise us and do something big, they have a way of keeping things under wraps, but I’m not expecting anything significant. Here are some stray pieces of hot stove news.

Yankees checked in on Troy Tulowitzki recently

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees checked in with the Rockies about Troy Tulowitzki late last week. It’s unclear if this was before or after they traded Martin Prado to the Marlins on Friday. Heyman says there is still a big gap in talks about Tulowitzki and not just with the Yankees, but with every team looking to acquire him. I’m pretty sure the Bombers were just doing their due diligence after reports surfaced saying the Mets were after Tulo last week.

As scary as is his injury history is, Tulowitzki is a bargain with six years and $118M left on his contract. That’s basically the Pablo Sandoval contract with one extra year.  The 30-year-old Tulowitzki has hit .316/.399/.551 (park-adjusted 146 wRC+) these last three years and has been by far the most valuable shortstop in the game on a rate basis. One hundred games of Tulo and 62 games of Brendan Ryan would equal elite shortstop production. That said, the Yankees have done a nice job of getting younger this offseason, and Tulowitzki would just be another big contract on the pile. If they were closer to being serious contenders, I’d be all for it. But they’re not, so let’s see what Didi Gregorius can do.

Yankees not on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list

The Yankees are not one of the 21 teams on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list, reports Bob Nightengale. We heard this back in July, but Hamels can change his no-trade list each year and apparently the Bombers are not on it again. That’s surprising. Players usually include big market teams like the Yankees on their no-trade lists because those are the teams more likely to pay something in exchange approving a trade. For example, Hamels could demand that his $20M option for 2019 be exercised before agreeing to a deal.

Hamels, who turns 31 on Saturday, had a 2.46 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 204.2 innings this past season. He’s thrown 200+ innings in five straight years and 180+ innings in eight straight years. Hamels and Jon Lester were born eleven days apart and are basically the same pitcher, but Lester signed for six years and $155M this winter while Hamels has four years and $100M left on his deal, plus the option for 2019. The Phillies are understandably asking for a huge return for their ace and the Yankees have not been connected to him this winter, but boy oh boy would Hamels be huge addition.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Jimmy Rollins would have approved trade to Yankees

Earlier this offseason we heard the Yankees called the Phillies about shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but soon moved on because the asking price was too high. Rollins had ten-and-five no-trade protection and he told Mark Saxon he only would have accepted a trade to the Yankees, Mets, or Dodgers, with the Dodgers being his first choice. Los Angeles acquired Rollins for minor league pitchers Zach Eflin and Tom Windle last week.

I really liked the idea of Rollins as a one-year stopgap — there’s only one year and $11M left on his contract — but only if the Yankees were unable to acquire a younger shortstop, which they did in Gregorius. Eflin and Windle are good but not great prospects. Something like Manny Banuelos and Ty Hensley might have been the equivalent Yankees’ package, but it’s not a perfect comparison. Banuelos is two level higher than both Eflin and Windle and those two are healthier than Hensley. Either way, the Yankees and Dodgers now have their new shortstops.

Yankees were not involved in Justin Upton sweepstakes

Before he was traded to the Padres last week, the Yankees were not involved in the bidding for outfielder Justin Upton, according to Buster Olney. New York has tried to trade for the good Upton several times in the past, but their starting outfield is set and earlier this winter they re-signed Chris Young to come off the bench. Plus they just acquired Garrett Jones, who can also play right field. Upton will be a free agent next offseason, when he will still be only 28 years old. He’s going to get a monster contract and the Yankees could in the mix then.

Still no update on Hiroki Kuroda

And finally, last week Brian Cashman told Jack Curry the team still has no idea if Hiroki Kuroda will pitch next season. Cashman also said the money has to work for them to add another pitcher, which isn’t surprising given their current contract commitments. The rotation is ostensibly full right now, but there’s a ton of injury risk and Chris Capuano could always slide into the bullpen. I do think the Yankees would welcome Kuroda back with open arms — the “money has to work” comment could just be posturing — but they obviously aren’t planning on him coming back either.

Monday Night Open Thread

As I’m sure you’ve heard, two NYPD officers — Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos — were ruthlessly murdered while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn this weekend. The Yankees, through George Steinbrenner‘s Yankee Silver Shield Foundation, will pay for the education of Officer Ramos’ children, according to Bill Madden and Teri Thompson. (Liu didn’t have any children). Ramos has two sons, one of whom is currently in college. The Yankee Silver Shield Foundation provides education for children of NYPD, FDNY, and Port Authority employees killed in the line of duty. The circumstances are horrible and I’m sure this is little consolation for the Ramos family, but good job by the Yankees stepping up.

This is your open thread for the evening. Broncos-Bengals is the Monday Night Football game and none of the local hockey or basketball teams are in action. There is some college basketball though. Talk about anything and everything right here. (Please no politics or anything like that.)

Rojas: Asdrubal Cabrera may be open to one-year contract

(Mitchell Layton/Getty )
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

According to Enrique Rojas (translated article), free agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera may be open to taking a one-year contract and testing the market again next offseason if he can’t get the deal he wants this winter. “If Asdrubal can not get a contract for at least four years, then he probably would sign only for one season to reset his market. Surely many other teams will be interested if that happens,” said a source to Rojas.

Rojas says the Yankees were among the teams with interest in Cabrera — a few weeks ago we heard they didn’t have interest in him, but things change — though this report is more than a week old now, dating back to before the team re-signed Chase Headley. They have since traded away Martin Prado though, so the Yankees still have an opening on the infield, just now at second base instead of third.

With Headley back and Prado gone, Asdrubal on a one-year contract to play second base sure sounds like a swell idea to me. I wouldn’t like giving him three or four years, but one? I’d do that in a heartbeat. Cabrera could play second, provide some shortstop depth in case Didi Gregorius doesn’t work out, and perhaps become a trade chip if Rob Refsnyder forces the issue. Best case scenario, Asdrubal mashes and the Yankees get either a quality prospect at the deadline or a draft pick next offseason. Worst case, they release him and give the job to Refsnyder.

Cabrera, who turned 29 last month, split this past season between the Indians and Nationals — he played 823.2 innings at short and 432 innings at second, his first action at a non-shortstop position since 2009 — and hit .241/.307/.387 (97 wRC+) with 14 homers and ten steals. He had two very good years from 2011-12 (116 wRC+) but has been a tick below average at the plate in the two years since (96 wRC+).

Of course, whether Cabrera’s market fails to develop remains to be seen. He’s the best infielder left on the market and my guess is he would take a lower annual salary on a two or three-year deal before taking a one-year deal. That’s what I’d do, anyway. Cabrera hasn’t been above-average either at the plate or in the field for two years now, but as a one-year flier in a small ballpark? All day errday, baby. There’s no such thing as too many middle infielders.

Nathan Eovaldi’s new old pitch

Changeup grip! (Presswire)
Changeup grip! (Presswire)

Late last week, the Yankees pulled off a surprising trade that bolstered their rotation but weakened their offense. It was surprising not because of what they received — we all knew the Yankees needed rotation help, and the free agent market lacks quality non-elites at this point — but because of what they gave up. Trading Martin Prado seemed unlikely because of his bat and versatility.

The Yankees received the hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi in the trade and by now you’ve heard that he’s a guy with great stuff and not the results to match. He throws very hard and has a sharp slider, but his strikeout rate is below the league average. The Yankees didn’t acquire a finished product. The 24-year-old Eovaldi is still a project. If he was a finished product, it would have cost a lot more to acquire him.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this post, here’s some background info: Eovaldi’s from Houston — he and Nolan Ryan are the only big leaguers to come out of Alvin High School — and was drafted by the Dodgers in the 11th round of the 2008 draft. He had Tommy John surgery as a high school junior, so scouts never really saw him at 100% as a senior. Los Angeles grabbed him, developed him, got him to MLB, then traded him to Miami for Hanley Ramirez. Two and a half years later, he’s a Yankee. That’s the Nate Eovaldi story.

Since the trade last week we’ve learned Eovaldi is basically a 2.5-pitch pitcher, relying heavily on his high-octane four-seamer and slider while mixing in a handful of curveballs. He’s toyed with a cutter, a sinker, and a changeup through the years. Here’s his pitch selection throughout his MLB career, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Nathan Eovaldi pitch selection

Eovaldi went back and forth between MLB and Triple-A a few times in 2011 and early in 2012 before being traded to Miami at the deadline. He had been in the Marlins rotation since the trade. As you can see in the graph, Eovaldi’s settled in as that fastball-slider with a few curveballs pitcher the last two seasons after some early-career tinkering. The cutter is completely gone and both the sinker and changeup rarely make an appearance these days.

Because of that, I thought this recent quote from Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was particularly interesting. Here’s what Saltalamacchia told Nick Cafardo after Eovaldi was dealt to New York:

“At the end of the year he figured out how to throw a new pitch that is really going to help him. He throws hard and all of his pitches are hard, so this new pitch will help that out because he’s got a fastball rotation with split action.”

A new pitch, huh? This is the time of year — it’s a little early, actually, but close enough — when we hear all about pitchers adding a new pitch and guys being in the best shape of their life and all that. The usual fodder that makes for fun optimistic stories heading into Spring Training. Very rarely do these changes mean anything — Jason Collette kept track of “new pitches” in Spring Training earlier this year, there were a lot of ‘em — but the stories are always out there.

It’s not often we hear about a pitcher adding a new pitch during the season though, and that’s what Saltalamacchia said happened. “At the end of the year (Eovaldi) figured out how to throw a new pitch,” according to his catcher. But, when you look at the pitch selection graph above, there’s no new pitch. That’s discouraging. But wait! Eovaldi spoke to Anthony McCarron after Friday’s trade and said this (emphasis mine):

Now, he says, “I want to throw first-pitch strikes with off-speed stuff, even use it on a 2-1 count or 1-and-2. I’m working on my changeup a lot more this offseason, just mixing it in to my repertoire. Last year, toward the end, it helped me out a lot. I want to keep locating the fastball, then use my slider and curve more and have a better mix.”

Saltalamacchia says it was a new pitch while Eovaldi says it was actually his changeup. Looking at the pitch selection graph above, Eovaldi did throw more changeups at the end of the 2014 season after more or less shelving the pitch during the summer months. In fact, he threw 19 changeups in his final four starts of the season after throwing 19 changeups in his previous 12 starts combined, including zero changeups total in the four starts prior to his final four starts. It seems like the new pitch Saltalamacchia was talking about was actually just an old pitch, the changeup. A new old pitch.

Okay, so great, Eovaldi threw a bunch more changeups late in the season. That doesn’t really mean anything in and of itself. The Marlins were basically out of contention in September and that’s when pitchers tend to tinker, when the games don’t matter. Let’s not focus on the number of changeups Eovaldi threw but instead look at the pitch itself. Here are the pitch details through the years, again courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

% Vel Whiff % GB% Hor. Mvmt Vert. Mvmt Hor. Loc Vert. Loc
2012 6.2% 85.6 9.9% 42.4% -6.86 6.60 0.88 -0.42
2013 1.7% 88.0 3.6% 0.0% -8.01 5.06 0.69 -1.17
2014 (starts 1-29) 2.8% 88.0 5.0% 52.9% -7.64 4.32 0.45 -0.57
2014 (starts 30-33) 6.0% 90.0 21.1% 100.0% -7.75 4.01 -0.90 -1.43
MLB AVG 10.1% 83.2 14.9% 47.8% -1.40 4.50 ? ?

Before we get into the data, I will again point out we are dealing with a very small number of pitches. Like I said, Eovaldi threw 19 total changeups in those last four starts. Anytime you deal with a sample this small, there can be some major weirdness. For example, if Eovaldi’s changeup is suddenly a true talent 21.1% whiff/100.0% ground ball pitch, it would be the best pitch in baseball history. At least one of the best. I’m guessing that’s not really the case.

Alright, so anyway Eovaldi has added a little velocity to his changeup over the years and the horizontal movement has more or less remained steady. (The negative number means it moves away from lefties and in to righties.) The vertical movement can be confusing — the smaller the number, the more the pitch moves downward. (Curveballs are well into the negatives, for example.) So Eovaldi’s changeup actually had about 2.5 more inches of downward movement at the end of 2014 than it did in 2012. He also did a better job of locating the pitch on the outer half to lefties (horizontal location) and down in the zone (vertical location).

I went through the archives hoping we’d be able to see the difference in Eovaldi’s changeups over the years, so here are two GIFs. The one on the left is from July 2012 (Eovaldi’s very first start with the Marlins) and the one on the right is from his second-to-last start of 2014 (his last was on the road and I wanted to use the same camera angle):

Nathan Eovaldi 2012 and 2014 changeups

First off, long live the dead center field camera. Isn’t it great? Secondly, those changeups look different! I mean, kinda. The 2012 changeup (86.5 mph/-6.58 horizontal movement/+7.86 vertical movement) doesn’t do much of anything. It just kind of floats in there. The 2014 changeup (89.7/-10.31/+1.61) has a little action on it. It actually moves down and away from the lefty hitter. The 2012 pitch almost looks like a cutter. These visuals are fun and somewhat useful, just keep in mind this is a totally random sample of two pitches.

Okay, so now what? Eovaldi and his former catcher both acknowledged something was different at the end of this past season, and it seems to be his changeup. PitchFX data confirms Eovaldi didn’t just throw his changeup more often this September, he also threw it harder*, with more downward movement, and with better location down-and-away from lefties. The swing-and-miss and ground ball rates were way, way better in the limited sample as well. That’s what we know.

* A 90 mph changeup is rare but remember Eovaldi throws very hard. His fastball averaged 95.5 mph this past season and routinely touched 97-98 mph. As hard as his changeup is, the pitch still has a lot of velocity separation from his fastball.

What we also know is that Eovaldi has gotten hammered by lefties throughout his career. They hit .293/.330/.438 (.336 wOBA) against him this past season and .288/.350/.421 (.338 wOBA) against him in his career. That can’t continue going forward, at least not if Eovaldi wants to be something more than a mid-rotation pitcher known more for his innings-eating than his effectiveness. Finding a way to combat hitters of the opposite hand is imperative.

Obviously the Yankees envision Eovaldi eventually becoming much more than what he is right now. It’s similar to the Michael Pineda trade — the Yankees are hoping he can stabilize the rotation in the short-term and front it in the long-term. An improved changeup can help Eovaldi neutralize left-handed batters and possibly allow him to take that next step towards the front of the rotation. What he showed in September is promising. We know there’s a good changeup in there somewhere. Turning it into a consistent and reliable weapon will be a point of emphasis going forward.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 22nd, 2014

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

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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?

Weekend Open Thread

The Yankees had themselves a pretty busy Friday today and I missed most of it because of some family stuff. I’ll chime in with some thoughts about the big Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade over the weekend, though my quick analysis is that this is a really fun but really risky trade for the Yankees. Fun because they got some serious pitching upside, risky because they gave up the two sure things in the deal in Prado and David Phelps.

Friday: Anyway, this is your open thread for the night. The Devils, Islanders, and Nets are all playing, plus there’s the usual slate of college basketball. Talk about anything and everything here.

Saturday: Once again, this if the nightly open thread. There are two NFL games today: Eagles-Redskins is wrapping up right now and Chargers-49ers will begin later tonight. All three local hockey teams are in action and there’s college football and basketball on as well. Enjoy.

Sunday: For the final time, here’s the open thread for the night. The late NFL game is the Seahawks and Cardinals, plus the Rangers and Nets are playing. Have at it.

Yankees did not place bid for Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang


The Yankees did not place a bid for Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang prior to Friday afternoon’s deadline, reports Bryan Hoch. That’s not too surprising. They were never really connected to him these last few weeks. The Nexen Heroes are expected to accept the high bid, which came in at approximately $5M, according to a Yonhap News report passed along by our own Sung-Min Kim.

Kang, 27, is said to be seeking a multi-year contract in the $5M to $6M range. It’s unclear which team placed the high bid, but, according to multiple reports, it was not the Mets, Padres, Dodgers, Orioles, Blue Jays, Braves, Giants, Athletics, Twins, Cardinals, or Rays. Or the Yankees, of course. A formal announcement of the high bid is expected sometime Monday.

After re-signing Chase Headley on Monday, it appeared New York’s infield was set, but then they surprisingly traded Martin Prado to the Marlins on Friday. Kang could have been a second base option after Prado was sent packing. Following Friday’s trade, Brian Cashman said he anticipates Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder will compete for the second base job in Spring Training.

Sunny told you everything you need to know about Kang in this post. He hit .356/.459/.739 with 40 homers in 117 games for Nexen this season, though there are questions about his defense and how his power will play in the big leagues. The track record of Asian infielders in MLB is pretty bad as well. The Yankees clearly had some questions if they didn’t place a bid.