The Rest of MLB [2017 Season Review]

Trade both to Yankees pls. (Presswire)
Trade to Yankees pls. (Presswire)

Our annual season preview series comes to an end today, and on Sunday, the 2017 regular season will begin. The Yankees and Rays kick off the new campaign Sunday afternoon. It’ll be Chris Archer vs. Masahiro Tanaka. Every other team will be watching as they wait to play their first game of the year. The Yankees and Rays will be the only show in town for a few hours.

So, to wrap up our season preview, it’s time to take a jaunt through the rest of the baseball world. Yesterday we looked at the other four AL East teams, the teams the Yankees will compete with most of the season. Now let’s look at the remaining five divisions and 25 teams left in baseball. Come with me, won’t you?

NL East

Best Team: The Nationals, probably.
Worst Team: The Phillies.
Most Fun Team: The Marlins.

I hesitate to say the window is closing for the Nationals and Mets, but they both very clearly need to win right now and not focus on two or three years down the line. Bryce Harper will be a free agent in two years (yay!) and others like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon are in their primes. Same story with the Mets. Their rotation is starting to get expensive — all but Noah Syndergaard had some kind of arm surgery within the last year too — and offensive cornerstones like Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker won’t perform like this forever. The time is now for these two clubs.

Very quietly, last year was a bad year for the Phillies and their rebuild. Maikel Franco didn’t take the next step. Aaron Nola hurt his elbow and didn’t pitch after late-July. Top prospects J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams struggled in the minors. Yikes. They want to get things back on track this year. The Braves are getting closer to contending, and for the time being, they’re picking up low coast veterans. As for the Marlins, their rotation is really shaky, but their position player core is fun as hell (Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon, etc.) and their bullpen can really bring it. They’re high on the watchability scale.

AL Central

Best Team: The Indians.
Worst Team: White Sox over the Twins. Or would that be under?
Most Fun Team: Indians again.

The window is closing for the Tigers and Royals — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar will all be free agents after the season — while the White Sox and Twins are in the middle of deep rebuilds. The Indians went to the World Series last year and pushed the best team in baseball to extra innings in Game Seven despite not having their best all-around hitter (Michael Brantley) and two of their three best starters (Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar) in the postseason. Impressive despite the disappointing finish.

The Indians are again a World Series contender this year and I think they got better over the winter. Edwin Encarnacion is better than Mike Napoli, they’ll have full seasons of Andrew Miller and Brandon Guyer, and youngsters like Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Salazar still have another level or two in their games. This team is really fun to watch too. Miller’s awesome, Lindor is a joy, and others like Jose Ramirez and Encarnacion are a blast. (I can say that now that the Yankees won’t see Encarnacion every other week.) The Indians play with a lot of energy and that makes them really exciting.

NL Central

Best Team: The Cubs, pretty easily too.
Worst Team: The Reds by a mile. Goodness.
Most Fun Team: The Cubs have a slight edge over the dinger happy Brewers.

The Cubs are annoyingly great and young too, so they’re going to continue to be great for the foreseeable future. However! I’m curious to see how things shake out with their pitching staff. Jake Arrieta will be a free agent after the season, and even if they re-sign him, he’ll be 32 next March. Hard to think there are many more ace-caliber years remaining. Jon Lester is 33 and will probably enter his late-career Sabathia phase at some point. John Lackey is 38. Is Kyle Hendricks really going to pitch this well going forward? The Cubbies will have to totally remake their rotation in the near future. Fortunately for them, they’re set on the position player side.

Did you realize the Pirates went from 98 wins in 2015 to 78 wins in 2016? True story. Only the awful Twins had a larger drop in win total from 2015 to 2016. Pittsburgh hasn’t done enough to capitalize on the Andrew McCutchen era. When they signed him long-term, the idea was being a bonafide World Series contender from 2016-18. Now they’re looking to trade him away. Eek. I mean, look at their rotation depth chart:

pirates-rotation-depth-chart

Egads. Gerrit Cole is great, and both Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow have a ton of upside, but is that a championship caliber rotation? I don’t think so. I’m not even sure that’s a playoff caliber rotation. The Yankees have a crummy rotation too, but at least they’ll admit they’re rebuilding transitioning. The Pirates front office has spent too much time planning for the future. Success is fleeting in baseball and you have to do what you can to maximize your opportunity when it arrives. That’s why the Indians signed Encarnacion. The Pirates have done no such thing.

AL West

Best Team: The Astros.
Worst Team: The A’s. Definitely the A’s.
Most Fun Team: The A’s.

Nice work by the Astros adding Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Josh Reddick over the winter. They have some great young talent (Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer) but needed to fill in the roster around them, and they did it with some high-quality veterans. Now they just have to hope their rotation comes together. Dallas Keuchel won the Cy Young in 2015 then had a 4.55 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 2016. A shoulder injury ended his season in August. Lance McCullers can’t stay healthy, and others like Mike Fiers and Charlie Morton are meh. Just … meh.

Last season the Rangers had to be the worst 95-win team this century. They won 95 games with a +8 run differential. +8! They beat up on some bad AL West teams during the regular season, then got depantsed by the Blue Jays in the ALDS for the second straight year. Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish are a great one-two punch, and Adrian Beltre is still awesome, but when push comes to shove, this team folds. I’m guessing the Mariners finish second in the AL West this year, not Texas. The Angels don’t have much to offer fans other than Mike Trout. The A’s are really bad, but at least their teams are fun and the Oakland Coliseum fans are raucous. Win or lose, the fans are into it.

NL West

Best Team: The Dodgers
Worst Team: The Padres. Wow are they bad.
Most Fun Team: The Rockies.

Is this the year the Dodgers get over the hump? Last season they set a dubious record by failing to reach the World Series in their tenth consecutive trip to the postseason. Even when he was with the Rays, Andrew Friedman seemed averse to going all-in and making that big move that could put his team over the top. The 2010 Rays were set to lose Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, and Rafael Soriano to free agency after the season, and their big trade deadline pickup was … Chad Qualls. Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Justin Turner are in their primes. Maybe time for a little more urgency?

The Giants are going to be good again because they’re always good, though I can’t believe they’re going into the season with a Mac Williamson/Jarrett Parker platoon in left field. My guess is they’ll be looking for outfield help by May. The Diamondbacks have to figure out why their pitchers keep going backwards. Patrick Corbin, Shelby Miller, Archie Bradley, and even Zack Greinke are not close to what they were two or three years ago. The Padres? They’ve ripped that team apart for rebuilding purposes. Their depth chart:

padres-depth-chart

Worst of all? Almost all of their top prospects are teenagers signed as international free agents last summer, so there’s not much immediate help coming. At least there are plenty of other things to do in San Diego. Seriously, if not for the great Tony Gwynn, the Padres would be the most nondescript franchise in American sports.

The Rockies were going to be my sleeper postseason team pick before they got hammered with injuries in Spring Training. David Dahl (rib), Ian Desmond (hand), and Tom Murphy (forearm) are all going to miss several weeks. Also, Chad Bettis is out indefinitely as he undergoes treatment for testicular cancer. Hoping for the best there. The Rockies have a lot of young talent, including the best collection of young starters in franchise history (Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman), and Coors Field ensures plenty of runs are scored. If you like offense, the Rockies are must see television.

Mailbag: Betances, Bird, Ellsbury, Judge, Kaprielian, Machado

Got eleven questions for you in the mailbag this week, the final mailbag before the start of the regular season. I’m excited. Are you? Hope so. This should be a fun year. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can email us your questions throughout the week.

Also, don’t forget to vote for the 2017 Prospect Watch! Voting closes at 12pm ET.

Front foot should land on your toes, not your heel, kids. (Presswire)
Front foot should land on your toes, not your heel, kids. (Presswire)

Seamus asks: I know Dellin Betances doesn’t really ramp up his velocity until the end of spring training/beginning of the regular season. I think he topped out at 95 today. I was wondering what his velocity was during the World Baseball Classic? Did he up it to his normal velocity for the tournament?

This question was sent in last Friday, following Dellin’s first appearance with the Yankees after returning from the World Baseball Classic. There’s no PitchFX in the Grapefruit League, so any velocity readings for Betances in Florida are based on the scoreboard or a scout’s gun, if that information is available. Here are the fastball velocity numbers from his five WBC appearances, per PitchFX since the games were in MLB ballparks:

  • March 9th: 97.1 mph average and 97.8 mph max
  • March 12th: 97.6 mph average and 98.5 mph max
  • March 14th: 96.7 mph average and 98.3 mph max
  • March 16th: 97.6 mph average and 99.2 mph max
  • March 18th: 98.1 mph average and 99.2 mph max

Last season Betances averaged 98.4 mph and topped out at 102.0 mph (!) during the regular season, so while he’s been a little below that this spring, keep in mind Dellin has been a slow starter in the velocity department the last few seasons. From Brooks Baseball:

dellin-betances-velocity

April has always been Betances’ worst month of the season in terms of average velocity. He, like many other pitchers, tend to ramp it up in the summer months, when it’s hot and they can really get loose and air it out. Having watched each of Dellin’s televised outings this spring, both with the Yankees and in the WBC, I can tell you he looks pretty much exactly like Dellin Betances. No worries for me here. That 95 mph reading last Friday was probably the result of a lack of a reliable radar gun.

Anonymous: The Yankees have won a lot of spring training games this year, but how much of this exhibition game success is due to the superiority of the team’s minor league talent vs the milb talent of other teams? Can this success be quantified by throwing out late-inning scores, concentrating on innings in which major leaguers play against major leaguers (e.g., starting pitching in AWAY games), or some other method? Would any of these exercises be more predictive of regular season success than the uselessness of raw ST records?

The Yankees have had a lot of late-inning comeback wins this spring — they’re 25-8-1 overall (counting the exhibition game against Team Canada) and have already clinched the best record in all of Spring Training — which suggests the prospects and minor leaguers are doing most of the heavy lifting in those games. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Number of games leading after six innings: 18 (18-0 record in those games, though on one occasion they blew the lead, then rallied to win anyway)
  • Number of games tied after six innings: 6 (3-2-1 record in those games, and in the tie they rallied in the ninth to tie the game after the other team took the lead in the late innings)
  • Number of games trailing after six innings: 10 (4-6 record in those games)

Yup, there have definitely been a few late inning comebacks this spring, especially over the last week or so. The Yankees have a couple of walk-off wins last week, and a few other games in which they rallied late for a win. That wasn’t happening all spring though. Early on the Yankees were bludgeoning teams. They’d take the lead early and hold it the rest of the game. There’s some recency bias to the whole “the kids keeps coming back and that’s why they’re winning” idea.

I don’t think this means much of anything anyway. Yeah, the Yankees have a great farm system, so having the extra talent helps, but that in and of itself doesn’t guarantee success. Craig Gentry, a light hitting journeyman speedster, is hitting .333/.443/.549 in 62 plate appearances for the Orioles this spring. Does that mean anything? No. It just means weird stuff happens in small samples, especially when you throw in the noise of Spring Training.

I would absolutely love it if the Yankees’ spring record meant something, be it their ability to contend this year or their ability to contend down the road, when some of the prospects arrive. It doesn’t though. Spring Training is meaningless because it’s always been meaningless. The Cubs have as much young talent as anyone and they went 11-19 last spring. They’re 12-17 this spring. It doesn’t mean anything. Just enjoy the spring for what it is, silly stress-free baseball.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Daryl: Can you talk about Bird’s defense compared to league average? When Bird played 1st, I thought he handled it well over that, what? 1/3rd of the season? I think Mark Teixeira was one of the best 1st basemen defensively during his career- Is bird’s defense terrible bad, mediocre, or just bad when comparing him to a perennial gold glover?

There’s no good way to evaluate first base defense. The stats have a hard time at first base because it’s not really a range-based position. No team is looking for a first baseman who can cover a lot of ground. They’re looking at how someone moves around the first base bag, how he receives throws from other infielders, and how well he can throw home and to second base for force plays. That’s pretty much it.

Both DRS (-3) and UZR (-1.2) say Greg Bird cost the Yankees runs in his 379.2 innings at first base in 2015, and while those specific numbers mean nothing, in this case they do match the scouting reports. Baseball America (subs. req’d) called Bird “average around the bag” prior to that 2015 season. MLB.com said he has “adequate range and arm strength at first base, though he gets credit for working hard on his defense.” Keith Law (subs. req’d) said Bird “still needs work on fielding ground balls.”

Bird has made some nice scoops at first base this spring, though that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Every first baseman makes a nice scoop now and then. Jason Giambi was a pretty good scooper despite being a pretty terrible defensive first baseman overall. Based on what I’ve seen, which admittedly isn’t much, I’d say Bird’s defense is average or slightly below. Not a disaster but not a guy who will save you a ton of runs either. He’s a bat first player and that is perfectly fine.

Nico asks: Is there anything legally prohibiting “loan” trades? Eg you have a young star closer but are out of contention in July, so you loan him to a contender for the rest of the year, but he comes back to you for the rest of his contract starting next season. Could you ever see it??

There’s nothing against that in the rules as far as I know. And besides, even if there was, it seems like it would be easy to circumvent. The question is what’s appropriate compensation? The Yankees aren’t going to, say, lend Betances to the Nationals for August, September, and the postseason out of the kindness of their heart. They’re going to want something in return, even if they know they’ll get Betances back following the season. I sure as hell wouldn’t risk my player getting hurt while with another team and accept nothing in return.

Perhaps the Yankees and Nationals could agree to a fair value trade like Betances for four prospects, something along those lines, and if Betances gets hurt while with Washington, the Yankees keep the prospects. If not, they return three of the four prospects and get Dellin back after the season. Eh? The team loaning the player would have to get something out of the deal, otherwise there’s no reason to agree to it. It’s all downside.

Mark asks: If an MiLB player is suspended for a PED offense, what happens to his roster spot? Is the team forced to play short-handed?

Oh no, definitely not. It works the same was as an MLB player getting suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. He is placed on the restricted list and the team can bring in another player to fill in the roster spot. Playing shorthanded isn’t safe. The MLBPA is pushing for a 26th roster spot so players can get more rest and pitchers won’t be overworked. Forcing a team, especially a minor league team given all the bus rides and pitchers on innings limits, to play with 24 players because one guy got busted for PEDs wouldn’t be right.

Thomas asks: Just wondering about the retention bonuses that certain players can receive, depending on their roster status – we’ve seen a bunch of teams cut and re-sign a player to avoid paying these bonuses (such as Jon Niese, potentially), but why is there never any controversy about this? Couldn’t it be seen as similar to messing with a player’s service time, or trying to get around luxury tax requirements?

The $100,000 retention bonus is written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Any player with at least six years of big league service time who signs a minor league contract gets the retention bonus if he’s not on the 40-man roster by a certain date and an automatic June 1st opt-out if he’s not on the roster. The Yankees released Niese on March 26th then re-signed him on March 28th, allowing them to avoid paying him the $100,000. Other teams like the Diamondbacks (Gregor Blanco) and Orioles (Chris Johnson) did the same thing this year. The Dodgers opted to pay Brandon Morrow the retention bonus.

I’m honestly not sure why the MLBPA hasn’t made a bigger stink about this, though I suspect it has something to do with the player requesting his release. Niese, for example, could have told the Yankees he wants to see whether another team would carry him on their Opening Day roster, so they granted him his release so he could go look for work. And when nothing panned out, he returned. Niese has banked over $26M in his career to date, so he might not be sweating that $100,000 much. That sound possible? The release/re-sign move happens multiple times every year and no one complains or files a grievance, and the rule wasn’t changed in the latest CBA. Could it really be this easy to circumvent?

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Daniel asks: If a team (say, the Astros) offered to take Jacoby Ellsbury and every penny of his contract, would that be enough to entice the Yankees to accept lesser prospects in a trade for Tanaka? Kind of makes sense from a business perspective.

It only makes sense if the goal is to save money, not maximize your talent base. Other teams have made similar trades because they don’t have the same financial resources as the Yankees. The Braves attached Craig Kimbrel to Melvin Upton in order to unload his contract, for example. The Pirates attached prospects to Francisco Liriano to get rid of his contract. The Yankees have the money to absorb Ellsbury’s contract. Attaching him to a player as good as Masahiro Tanaka simply to save a few bucks doesn’t sit well with me at all. If you’re going to trade Tanaka, trade him for prospects, not salary relief. It’s bad enough the Yankees are caving to MLB and throwing away their financial advantage by getting under the luxury tax threshold. Imagine trading actual good players simply to get rid of a bad player’s contract. Good grief.

Jon asks: Hey Mike, if Judge is sent down to SWB to start the year how many days approx. would he have to stay down to buy back a full year of ML time?

This question was sent in before we learned Aaron Judge would be the starting right fielder. Of course, that doesn’t mean Judge will stay in the big leagues all season. He could struggle and wind up back in Triple-A, similar to Luis Severino last season. I don’t think it’ll happen, but it is definitely possible. Anyway, 63 days is the magic number here. Judge has 51 days of service time, so add the 12 days necessary to delay free agency and you’re at 63 days. Two months, basically. (Teams usually wait a little longer than 12 days just to a) play it safe, and b) be less obvious about it.) Keep in mind Judge is going to turn 25 in April, so delaying free agency means we’re talking about capturing his age 31 season in 2023. I’m not so worried about that. This isn’t like delaying Gary Sanchez‘s free agency last year to capture his age 29 season. Service time shouldn’t be a consideration for Judge. Let the kid play.

Daniel asks (short version): If the Yankees are buyers at the deadline and the Orioles are near last place, could you see the Yankees trading for Machado? If so, do you think they would go over the luxury tax cap in order to work out a long-term deal?

You know, it’s not crazy to think the O’s may have to trade Manny Machado at some point. If they determine they won’t be able to re-sign him following the 2018 season, trading him for a godfather package makes way more sense than letting him walk for a dinky draft pick. I suppose it depends on where they are in the standings and all that, but yeah, a Machado trade at some point in the next 16 months or so doesn’t seem insane.

A few things about the Yankees and a Machado trade. One, the chances of a Yankees-Orioles trade of this magnitude are tiny. The O’s don’t want to see Machado thrive in New York and the Yankees don’t want to see their prospects thrive in Baltimore. There’s a reason blockbuster intradivision trades are so rare. Two, a lot will depend on where the Yankees are in the standings. If they’re contending, I think they’d be more open to a Machado trade. If not, forget it. They’ll keep the prospects.

And third, do the Yankees think it’s possible to sign Machado to an extension, or is he dead set on testing free agency? If there are any doubts about being able to sign him, I think the Yankees will pass. I don’t think the luxury tax situation will be a big concern because that is workable, but I don’t think they want to give up a boatload of prospects for Machado knowing he’s definitely going to become a free agent after next season, even if they’re in the race at the trade deadline. Ultimately, I think the Yankees-Orioles intradivision dynamic means a trade won’t happen. The O’s won’t have any problem finding other suitors with great prospects to offer.

Andrew asks: I feel like we didn’t hear anything about Kap during spring training. What’s his status?

Healthy and ready to go. The Yankees took is slow with James Kaprielian early in Spring Training following last year’s elbow injury, though they did let him make one Grapefruit League appearance two weeks ago. He struck out three in two scoreless innings. Kaprielian was sent to minor league camp later that day and he’s been pitching on the other side of the street since. He struck out six in four innings and change this past Sunday, according to Josh Norris. Kaprielian will start the season with High-A Tampa, and while the Yankees figure to keep him on some sort of pitch/workload limit early on, he’s good to go. Elbow is good and he’s thrown well this spring.

Aleesandro asks: This is hard to quantify, but how much would the Yankees retaining Robinson Cano have affected the team’s current farm system? If they had kept him, how much longer would they have pushed to be a contender?

Yeah, that’s pretty much impossible to answer. The Yankees would be a better team right now with Cano because he’s better than Starlin Castro and Ellsbury (combined), and that’s effectively who replaced him. Ellsbury got the big contract the Yankees were going to give Cano, and Castro has taken over at second base. Robbie would have likely helped the Yankees win a few more games these last three years, which means a worse draft slot (no Kaprielian? no Blake Rutherford?) and perhaps no fire sale at the 2016 trade deadline.

Then again, who’s to say the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to draft Kaprielian and Rutherford anyway, and that Cano himself wouldn’t have been traded for even more prospects at last year’s deadline? Chances are the farm system wouldn’t be as good as it is right now because so much had to go right to get it where it is. Rutherford had to fall for bonus reasons, for example, and both the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades were perfect storms. Re-signing Cano would have changed everything. The payroll situation, the team-building strategy, everything.

Open Thread: March 30th Camp Notes

The Yankees celebrated the end of the Grapefruit League season with another win today. They scored nine runs in the top of the first. Gary Sanchez smacked a three-run home run and Ronald Torreyes followed with a two-run shot in the second. Look at Toe getting in on the act. He’s ready for the regular season. Greg Bird drew three walks, including two in that big first inning. Rashad Crawford came off the bench late to smack a two-run homer.

Luis Severino started and really labored through the first inning — he had no idea where the ball was going, none whatsoever — but he settled down and was fine after that. He allowed one run on five hits and one walk in five innings, striking out four. Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard each closed out their spring with a scoreless inning out of the bullpen. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees have essentially finalized their Opening Day roster. Severino will be the fourth starter, Aaron Judge will be the right fielder, and Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. They just need to make a move to get Kozma on the 40-man roster now.
  • Both Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green are lined up for the fifth starter’s spot. Montgomery will start April 6th and 11th with Triple-A Scranton while Green will start those same days with Double-A Trenton. That allows both to be ready for April 16th, the first day the Yankees will need their fifth starter. [Billy Witz]
  • CC Sabathia threw in a Triple-A game today rather than make the road trip this afternoon. He allowed eight runs on nine hits in four innings. Meh. Also, after being send down earlier today, Rob Refsnyder used one word to explain what he has to do to stick with the Yankees for good: “Rake.” [Erik Boland, Brendan Kuty]
  • Here is the early season plan for Gleyber Torres: three games at shortstop, two at third base, and one at second base each week. I assume the seventh day will be either a DH day or an off-day. Torres has never played third base in a professional game, though the Yankees had him work out there this spring. [Buster Olney]
  • Josh Norris has the day’s minor league lineups as well as video of Blake Rutherford hitting a home run. A left-handed hitter with a sweet swing wearing No. 23? I approve.
  • The Yankees wrap up the exhibition schedule tomorrow. They’ll be in Atlanta to face the Braves at brand new SunTrust Park. The game will begin at 7:30pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. Michael Pineda is the scheduled starter.

Here is the nightly open thread. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on MLB Network at 6am ET, if you’re planning to be up early tomorrow. My recommendation: watch the top of the first and skip the rest of the game. MLB Network will have other games either live or on tape delay all night. The Nets and Islanders are both playing as well, so talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Reminder: Don’t forget to vote in our Prospect Watch poll. Voting ends at 12pm ET tomorrow.

There are many pros and only a few cons to signing Sanchez to a long-term contract

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

February and March make up extension season in baseball. Most pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players hammer out their contracts for the upcoming season this time of year, and inevitably some strike long-term deals with their teams. In recent weeks Tim Anderson, Rougned Odor, Jose Ramirez (the hitter, not the pitcher), Kevin Kiermaier, and Carlos Martinez all signed extensions. The team gets cost certainty and the player gets rich. Everyone wins.

The Yankees have a lot of up-and-coming young talent, so it stands to reason they’ll start thinking about long-term extensions soon. Much of that talent is in the minors though. Aaron Judge has fewer than 100 big league plate appearances and Greg Bird just missed an entire season with shoulder surgery. Luis Severino was pretty bad as a starter last season. You can understand why the Yankees may wait to approach those guys about extensions.

Then there’s Gary Sanchez, who was so incredibly awesome late last year he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting despite playing only one-third of the season. The timing of Sanchez’s call-ups these last two years mean he has only 86 days of service time. That’s it. Not only do the Yankees still have Sanchez for six more seasons, but he won’t he even qualify as a Super Two. He’ll make something close to the league minimum from 2017-19 before going through arbitration from 2020-22.

Unlike Judge, Sanchez has shown he can thrive against big league pitching. And unlike Bird, Sanchez plays a premium position. There are many reasons the Yankees should look to extend their young cornerstone backstop and his position is one of them. Quality catchers are hard to find. When you get one who can hit and throw like Sanchez, you lock him up. The history of the Yankees is littered with ultra-productive catchers (Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada) and Sanchez looks to be next in line. That’s exciting.

Working out a long-term extension isn’t easy, of course. For starters, Sanchez has to be willing to sign away his maximum earning potential for the guaranteed payday. He received a $3M signing bonus as an amateur and may not be desperate for a huge contract right now. Also, Sanchez seems pretty committed to his #brand, so his goal may to be make as much money as possible. I couldn’t blame him one bit. There’s a few other factors to consider too.

1. There is very little precedent for an extension this early. Like I said, Sanchez has only 86 days of service time, and in the world of baseball 172 days equals a full year. Very few long-term deals are struck this early in a player’s career, though it should be noted the White Sox just extended Anderson with 115 days of service time. Here’s the list of players who signed long-term before reaching one year of service time over the last decade:

  • Tim Anderson, White Sox: Six years, $25M with two options in March 2017.
  • Jon Singleton, Astros: Five years, $10M with three options in June 2014.
  • Chris Archer, Rays: Six years, $20M with two options in April 2014.
  • Salvador Perez, Royals: Five years, $7M with three options in February 2012.
  • Matt Moore, Rays: Five years, $14M with three options in December 2011.
  • Evan Longoria, Rays: Six years, $17.5M with three options in April 2008.

That’s it. Six players over the last ten years, three of whom played for the Rays, a team that aggressively locks up its young talent because that’s the only way they can remain competitive. I’m certain the Yankees would give Sanchez the Perez extension right now, but yeah, no way that’s happening. Perez was a small amateur bonus guy ($65,000) who very much wanted the guaranteed millions, so he jumped at the contract. (Perez and the Royals tore that contract up and renegotiated a new $52.5M deal last year.)

The Anderson contract does set something of a benchmark for the Yankees and Sanchez, though I’m sure Sanchez’s agent would say “my guy is a lot better than that guy” and demand more. I know I would. The thing to keep in mind is the Yankees have Sanchez for the next six years at below-market salaries no matter what. They also have the ability to non-tender him and walk away should he stop hitting or suffer a catastrophic injury. So unless a long-term deal buys out some free agent years — meaning cover at least seven years — at a reasonable price, there’s little reason for the Yankees to agree to a contract extension.

2. Sanchez’s leverage may never be greater than it is right now. Sanchez could spend 15 years in the big leagues and make a bunch of All-Star teams, and it’s still very possible he will never have another two-month stretch like the one he had last season. Signing Sanchez right now could mean locking him up when his value is at its absolute peak, when everyone thinks he might be a Miguel Cabrera caliber hitter and an Ivan Rodriguez caliber defender.

For the Yankees, the smart move could be waiting until next offseason, when they have a chance to see how Sanchez performs over the course of a full season. Chances are he won’t match last year’s pace. At that point everyone will have a chance to get their head out of the clouds and evaluate this situation a little more rationally and with some more information. And you know what? If Sanchez is willing to sign a team friendly contract tomorrow, the Yankees could still pounce. For now it sure feels like Gary is holding all the cards.

3. An extension would make it more difficult to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018. The Yankees have made it very clear they want to get under the luxury tax threshold soon, and next season is the perfect time. Several huge contracts will be off the books (Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, maybe Masahiro Tanaka too) and the club has some cheap young talent to fill out the roster. Next season will be, by far, their best chance to get under the threshold.

As it stands Sanchez is slated to make six figures during the 2018 season. Somewhere around $600,000, probably a little less. For luxury tax purposes, he’ll be a bargain. Should Sanchez sign an extension though, his luxury tax hit would be equal to the average annual value of the contract. Let’s say he signed Anderson’s deal, six years and $25M guaranteed. That’s a $4.167M average annual value. So, rather than counting at ~$600,000 against the luxury tax next year, Sanchez would count as $4.167M even though his actual salary figures to be less than that.

Now, the extra $3.6M or so may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re trying to get under a hard payroll number, every dollar counts. That’s $3.6M the Yankees wouldn’t be able to use on an extra reliever, or a cheap depth starter. It’s real money that would be no longer available to the Yankees. In the long-term, signing Sanchez to an extension figures to save the Yankees millions. In the short-term, it will hurt their chances to get under the luxury tax.

4. Contract extensions tend to get more expensive the longer you wait. This sorta runs counter to point No. 2. Sanchez’s leverage may be sky high right now given his performance, but history shows the longer you want to extend a player, the more it’ll cost. Go look at that list of players who signed extensions with less than one year of service time again. See how cheap those deals are? Now here are the last five players to sign extensions with 1-2 years of service time:

  • Odubel Herrera, Phillies: Five years, $30.5M with two options in December 2016.
  • Gregory Polanco, Pirates: Five years, $35M with two options in April 2016.
  • Yordano Ventura, Royals: Five years, $23M with two options in April 2015.
  • Juan Lagares, Mets: Four years, $23M with one option in April 2015.
  • Christian Yelich, Marlins: Seven years, $49.75M with one option in March 2015.

Removing that ridiculous Perez contract, the extensions for players with less than one full year of service time averaged 5.6 years and $17.3M with 2.6 options. The average contract for those five players with 1-2 years of service time is 5.2 years and $32.25M with 1.6 options. More money across fewer years with fewer options. The sooner you lock them up, the cheaper they are.

With Sanchez, the Yankees would have to weigh potential long-term savings against making it a little more difficult to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018.

* * *

Based on Anderson’s recent extension with the White Sox, I’m thinking it would take something like six years and $30M just to get Sanchez and his agent to listen. Anderson, a former top 100 prospect himself, had a nice year in 2016, hitting .283/.306/.432 (95 wRC+) with +2.4 fWAR and +2.8 bWAR in 99 games. Sanchez was a one-man wrecking crew though, and that performance combined with his Rookie of the Year finish — Anderson received only two third place votes and finished seventh in the voting — means he could demand more money despite fewer games played.

I see both sides of this argument, signing Sanchez now and waiting. Sign him now and it means you’ve got a cornerstone player locked up long-term and are very likely to save millions down the road, even if it means having a few million bucks less to spend in 2018. At the same time, Sanchez’s leverage is through the roof right now, and waiting a year for things to calm down could lead to a more reasonable contract in the grand scheme of things.

The Yankees aren’t the most aggressive team when it comes to locking up their young talent — to be fair, they haven’t had many young players worth signing long-term in recent years — but it’s something they will definitely have to consider soon. Young big leaguers like Sanchez and Bird, as well as high-end prospects like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, are players the Yankees want to build around going forward. Signing them to long-term extensions creates cost certainty going forward, and it also figures to give the team more flexibility to sign free agents down the road.

The Rest of the AL East [2017 Season Preview]

There has been an interesting bit of parity in the AL East this decade, as every team has won the division crown in the last seven years. The Red Sox appear to be the standard-bearer, with both ZiPS and PECOTA projecting them to repeat as division champs – but both also have at least four of the five teams sitting at .500 or better, and at least one team winning a Wild Card slot. While the smart money may be on the Red Sox, this division should be among the most competitive (and exciting) in the game once again.

(Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)
(Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports)

Baltimore Orioles

2016 Record: 89-73

Notable Additions: Welington Castillo, Seth Smith

Notable Subtractions: Yovani Gallardo, Steve Pearce, Matt Wieters

Buck Showalter’s team is something of a perennial overachiever at this point, beating projection systems and milking middling talents for all their worth. They’ve made the playoffs in three of the last five years, and consistency within the organization may have something to do with that.

The 2016 Orioles were the epitome of a station-to-station team last year, finishing first in home runs by a comfortable margin (their 253 home runs were 28 ahead of the second-place Cardinals) and dead last with just 19 steals (16 fewer than the 29th place team, which happens to be those same Cardinals – it must be a bird thing). That doesn’t figure to change in 2017, as the team’s powerful core remains intact, and new additions Welington Castillo and Seth Smith combined for two stolen base attempts between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The offense will once again be headlined by Future Yankee Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Adam Jones; it may be worth noting that Jones is coming off of his worst season since his rookie year, and will turn 32 this summer.

Possible Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Hyun Soo Kim, LF
  2. Manny Machado, 3B
  3. Chris Davis, 1B
  4. Mark Trumbo, DH
  5. Seth Smith, RF
  6. Adam Jones, F
  7. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  8. Welington Castillo, C
  9. J.J. Hardy, SS

The Orioles pitching staff was surprisingly average last year (98 ERA-, 99 FIP-, 102 xFIP-), but much of that owes to the team’s extraordinary bullpen. Zach Britton and his 0.54 ERA led the way, but Brad Brach (2.05 ERA) and Mychal Givens (3.13 ERA) were great, as well, as the unit combined for a 79 ERA- (21% above-league-average). The rotation was mostly a mess, though, with only Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman posting ERAs under 4.50. There is some potential there, with former top prospect Dylan Bundy finally getting healthy and showing promise, but the bullpen will likely carry a heavy load once more.

Possible Rotation:

  1. Kevin Gausman
  2. Chris Tillman (currently injured)
  3. Dylan Bundy
  4. Wade Miley
  5. Ubaldo Jimenez
  6. Mike Wright

Closer: Zach Britton

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Boston Red Sox

2016 Record: 93-69

Notable Additions: Mitch Moreland, Chris Sale, Tyler Thornburg

Notable Subtractions: Clay Buchholz, Yoan Moncada, David Ortiz, Travis Shaw, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler

David Ortiz made his Red Sox debut fourteen years ago, in the team’s second game of the 2003 season. He started at first base and batted fifth, going 0-for-6 with 2 BB in a 16-inning affair against the then-Devil Rays. The rest is, and I apologize for the cliche, history. This year represents the beginning of a new era for the Red Sox, if not the division as a whole, and they still appear to be the team to beat, thanks to a strong farm system and a blockbuster deal.

The new face of the franchise might just be Mookie Betts, whose energy and big smile are reminiscent of Ortiz. Or it could be top prospect Andrew Benintendi, who looked right at home in 34 games in the Majors last year. Or it could be shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who just keeps getting better. Or it could simply be old standby Dustin Pedroia, who rebounded nicely from an injury plagued 2015. There’s no shortage of talent on offense, is what I’m getting at here – especially if the slimmed down Pablo Sandoval has figured things out.

Possible Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Dustin Pedroia, SS
  2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
  3. Mookie Betts, RF
  4. Handley Ramirez, DH
  5. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  6. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
  7. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  8. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  9. Sandy Leon, C

Rick Porcello had a brilliant 2016, and won a Cy Young for his efforts … and he just might be the third-best starting pitcher on this team, depending upon how well David Price’s rehab goes. Said rehab is the largest concern with the team right now, even though they do have a bit more depth than usual in the rotation. Price isn’t the only pitcher slated to open the season on the DL, either, as new set-up man Tyler Thornburg deals with shoulder and back soreness.

Possible Rotation:

  1. Rick Porcello
  2. David Price (currently injured)
  3. Chris Sale
  4. Drew Pomeranz
  5. Eduardo Rodriguez
  6. Steven Wright

Closer: Craig Kimbrel

(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Tampa Bay Rays

2016 Record: 68-94

Notable Additions: Jose De Leon, Wilson Ramos, Colby Rasmus, Mallex Smith

Notable Subtractions: Logan Forsythe, Drew Smyly

A bit over a week ago, the Rays signed two-time Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier to a six-year contract extension worth a minimum of $53.5 MM. It was met with praise by the analytical community as a whole, due to his elite defense in center field and solid offensive production, and he’s still a few weeks shy of his 27th birthday. It seems that the team’s shrewd maneuvering with contracts of this nature did not leave with Andrew Friedman.

The Rays offense was a bit better on a rate basis than you probably remember last year, placing 12th in the Majors in wRC+. They still finished 24th in runs scored, but that may not have been reflective of the group as a whole. That may not mean a whole lot for 2017, though, as several of their best hitters (Steve Pearce and Brandon Guyer at the deadline, Logan Forsythe a few weeks ago) were traded away. Evan Longoria is still here though, the aforementioned Kiermaier managed 12 HR and 21 SB in just 105 games last year, and Brad Miller broke out in a big way; this won’t be a great group by any means, but there’s more than enough to build a competent lineup – particularly when Wilson Ramos and Colby Rasmus return from the DL. Their Opening Day lineup is in flux, so your guess is as good as mine as to who they’ll trot out there.

Possible Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Corey Dickerson, DH
  2. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Brad Miller, 2B
  5. Logan Morrison, 1B
  6. Steven Souza, RF
  7. Tim Beckham, SS
  8. Mallex Smith, LF
  9. Derek Norris, C

The Rays stand to open 2017 with one of the youngest rotations in baseball, with all five of their projected starters clocking in at between 24 and 29-years-old on Opening Day. Alex Cobb is battling lingering back soreness now, and if he were to miss the start of the season that average age would dip even further, as the 28-year-old Chris Archer would become the old man of the group. And, despite injuries and inconsistency, this unit has a great deal of potential from top to bottom, and that’s with top prospect Jose De Leon opening the season in the minors. The worst in the AL bullpen is another story entirely, though Alex Colome was terrific as the closer last year.

Possible Rotation:

  1. Chris Archer
  2. Jake Odorizzi
  3. Alex Cobb
  4. Blake Snell
  5. Matt Andriese

Closer: Alex Colome

(Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)
(Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Toronto Blue Jays

2016 Record: 89-73

Notable Additions: J.P. Howell, Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, Joe Smith

Notable Subtractions: Joaquin Benoit, Brett Cecil, R.A. Dickey, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders

On November 11, 2016, the Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales to a 3-year, $33 MM contract, seemingly moving away from at least one of Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. A bit less than two months later, the Indians made that decision for them, signing Encarnacion to a 3-year, $60 MM deal (with a $25 MM team option for 2020). The difference in those deals isn’t insignificant, but their haste to lock-up an inferior 1B/DH has placed their offense under the microscope in the short term.

The offense remains in relatively good shape nevertheless. 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson is a formidable presence in the middle of the lineup, a Steve Pearce/Justin Smoak platoon at first will maximize the production from the position, and the declining duo of Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki is still more than adequate. The lineup is top-heavy, but it stands to be decent in every slot.

Possible Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Devon Travis, 2B
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  4. Jose Bautista, RF
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Justin Smoak, 1B
  8. Kevin Pillar, CF
  9. Ezequiel Carrera, LF

The Blue Jays had a strong starting rotation last season, and that will be mostly intact in 2017 – R.A. Dickey will be replaced by Francisco Liriano, who was acquired by the team last summer. It will be difficult to replicate the health factor, as they had five pitchers make between 29 and 32 starts, but they have had that sort of luck a couple of years running. The rotation is backed-up by a mediocre bullpen, though off-season additions J.P. Howell and Joe Smith both come with strong track records.

Possible Rotation:

  1. Marco Estrada
  2. Aaron Sanchez
  3. Marcus Stroman
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Francisco Liriano

Closer: Roberto Osuna

Spring Training Game Thread: Final Grapefruit League Game

So long, Tampa. (Presswire)
So long, Tampa. (Presswire)

This afternoon the Yankees are playing their final Grapefruit League game of the year. They still have one exhibition game remaining, tomorrow night at the brand new SunTrust Field in Atlanta, but this is the final game in Florida. Well, at least until the Yankees come back to play the first series of the regular season against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Just can’t escape Tampa, huh?

What to watch today? Well, Luis Severino for one. The Yankees unofficially announced their Opening Day roster this morning and Severino will be the fourth starter to begin the season. That doesn’t mean he’ll be the fourth starter all season. He’ll have to pitch well to keep the job, because there are other guys waiting for their chance. Either way, it would be nice to see Luis end the spring on a high note. Here is the Phillies’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent across the bay to Clearwater:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Chris Carter
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. LF Aaron Hicks
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. SS Pete Kozma
    RHP Luis Severino

Available Pitchers: RHP Adam Warren, RHP Tyler Clippard, RHP Ernesto Frieri, RHP J.R. Graham, and RHP Matt Marsh are all expected to pitch. LHP Joe Mantiply, LHP Jason Gurka, LHP Nestor Cortes, and LHP Caleb Frare are all up from minor league camp to serve as the extra arms.

Available Position Players: C Wilkin Castillo, 1B Mike Ford, 2B Thairo Estrada, SS Cito Culver, 3B Miguel Andujar, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Rashad Crawford will be the second string off the bench. C Radley Haddad, C Jorge Saez, SS Kyle Holder, and OF Billy McKinney are the extra players. Everyone is up from minor league camp for the day.

The internet tells me it is sunny and warm in Clearwater this afternoon. Pretty much perfect baseball weather. The game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and if you’re in the Philadelphia market, you can watch today’s game on TCN. If not, MLB.tv is your only option. Enjoy the game.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster; Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve make the bullpen

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning, Joe Girardi informally announced the Yankees’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Aaron Judge will be the right fielder and Luis Severino will be the fourth starter, and the decision to option out Rob Refsnyder means Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. Also, Girardi told Bryan Hoch that Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve will be in the bullpen. Got all that?

The Yankees still need to open a 40-man roster spot for Kozma, though they have a few days to figure that out. The Opening Day roster itself doesn’t have to be finalized with the league until 12pm ET on Sunday, an hour before first pitch. Here’s the unofficial official roster:

CATCHERS (2)
Austin Romine
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (6)
Chris Carter
Starlin Castro
Greg Bird
Chase Headley
Pete Kozma
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Jacoby Ellsbury
Brett Gardner
Aaron Hicks
Aaron Judge

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Matt Holliday

STARTING PITCHERS (4)
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
Dellin Betances
Aroldis Chapman
Tyler Clippard
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Layne
Bryan Mitchell
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren

DISABLED LIST (2)
Tyler Austin (foot)
Didi Gregorius (shoulder)

The Yankees will carry eight relievers for the time being. The team has three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season, allowing them to skip their fifth starter the first two times through the rotation. They’ll do exactly that, then figure out the fifth starter later. They don’t need one until April 16th.

Rotation candidates Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Jordan Montgomery did not make the Opening Day roster, though it’s only a matter of time until we see those guys in the big leagues. The Yankees will need a fifth starter soon enough, and given his performance last year, I don’t think it’s a given Severino sticks in the rotation all season. Montgomery opened some eyes this spring and could be the first starter called up. We’ll see.

The Yankees open the regular season this Sunday, with a 1pm ET game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. They’ll start the season with a six-game road trip through Tampa and Baltimore before coming home. The home opener is Monday, April 10th. They’ll play the Rays again.