This is the nightly open thread. The NBA is still in the middle of its All-Star break, but both the Devils and Islanders are playing, and there’s a bunch of college hoops on as well. Talk about those games, Jeter’s new radio show, A-Rod’s apology, or anything else right here.
The alternative to Yoan Moncada is now free to sign. According to Jesse Sanchez, Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez has been declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so can now officially sign with a team. Infielder Hector Olivera has still not been cleared to sign, by the way.
Ibanez, who turns 22 in April, left Cuba last fall and held open showcases for teams in December and January with a few private workouts mixed in, according to Ben Badler. No word on which teams brought him in for a private workout, however. Here are Ibanez’s stats from the Cuban league before defecting, courtesy of Baseball Reference:
|2011||18||-8.7||Isla de la Juventud||88||321||36||82||18||2||3||36||2||4||11||53||.278||.309||.383||.692|
|2012||19||-8.7||Isla de la Juventud||80||330||37||87||29||0||4||29||6||5||27||38||.300||.361||.441||.802|
|2013||20||-8.6||Isla de la Juventud||74||280||33||62||13||4||6||32||6||5||33||28||.267||.377||.435||.812|
Ibanez, a right-handed hitter, was the youngest player on Cuba’s roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic but he only received one at-bat during the tournament because the club had veterans all around the infield. Here’s a quick little scouting report from Badler:
At 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, Ibanez has a thicker build for a middle infielder but he’s athletic and has good body control. With fringy speed and an average arm at best, Ibanez isn’t flashy, but he has a good internal clock and a high baseball IQ, fitting best at second base. Ibanez’s power is mostly to the gaps, projecting as a doubles hitters rather than a big home run threat, but what’s sold some scouts on him is his bat.
“He’s a strong guy who doesn’t have your prototype, ideal body for a second baseman, but he moves around well for his stature,” said another scout. “And he performs. He’s a good hitter. I liked his swing and the way he manipulated the bat.”
Sanchez says the Yankees are one of seven teams with interest in Ibanez. “Ibanez is ready to sign and he could come to terms with a team once Moncada is off the board,” wrote Sanchez. “There’s the notion he could sign before Moncada because some teams consider him a less expensive alternative and want to get him into camp for Spring Training.”
Because of his age and general lack of experience in Cuba, Ibanez is subject to the international spending restrictions like Moncada. No word on what it’ll take to sign him, but the Angels gave infielder Roberto Baldoquin, who is considered a lesser prospect than Ibanez, an $8M bonus a few weeks ago. Maybe that means Ibanez will end up with $10M to $15M. Who knows. Either way, it’ll be taxed at 100%.
It goes without saying Moncada should continue to be the Yankees’ top priority based on everything we know. Ibanez is a secondary target who seems like a potential everyday second baseman, not a star, and that’s something the Yankees could use long-term. Badler says Ibanez is likely to begin his pro career in either High Class-A or Double-A, so he’s not an immediate impact guy. He’s not the sexiest target, but he’s a young player who fits.
After meeting with new commissioner Rob Manfred and the Yankees in recent weeks to clear the air following last year’s suspension, Alex Rodriguez issued a statement today apologizing to MLB, the MLBPA, the Yankees, and, of course, the fans. Here’s the full statement, courtesy of MLB.com:
To the Fans,
I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season. I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.
I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology, but I decided that next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.
I served the longest suspension in the history of the league for PED use. The Commissioner has said the matter is over. The Players Association has said the same. The Yankees have said the next step is to play baseball.
I’m ready to put this chapter behind me and play some ball.
This game has been my single biggest passion since I was a teenager. When I go to Spring Training, I will do everything I can to be the best player and teammate possible, earn a spot on the Yankees and help us win.
The statement was actually handwritten note sent to various media outlets (PDF link).
Alex issued the statement in lieu of a formal press conference sometime before the start of Spring Training later this week and I think this was the way to go. He gets the apology out there and now when he’s asked the inevitable questions about the suspension, he can refer everyone to the statement and say he wants to focus on baseball. It somewhat defuses a situation that can’t ever really be defused.
This offseason, David Robertson agreed to a deal that brings him to the south side of Chicago — he will wear different pinstripes starting next season. I’m still not too familiar with the concept of other teams signing away the Yankees’ homegrown players (even after the Robinson Cano fiasco last winter) so it isn’t easy envisioning Robertson in a different uniform even though the White Sox also feature a pinstriped design. Well, we may never see D-Rob pitch in the Yankee pinstripes anymore, but we do have memories of his dominance in the recent past.
If you’ve been following the Yankees since prior to the 2008 season, you may remember when he first came up — I remember seeing Robertson as a young reliever with great MiLB numbers but his velocity back then wasn’t too impressive (averaged 90.8 mph in 2008) and also gave up his share of walks (4.45 BB/9). In 2009, however, while he allowed walks more frequently (4.74 BB/9), his average velocity saw a bump to 91.8 mph and he struck out more hitters (12.98 K/9). He followed it up with a decent 2010 (3.58 FIP in 61.1 IP) and then … 2011 happened.
First off, this may not seem believable now, but Robertson started the season as the third setup option behind Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain. Soriano, who had signed a lucrative deal just to set up Mariano Rivera (and to possibly be his replacement after retirement), missed a good chunk of the season with an injury and Joba hurt his elbow in June, requiring Tommy John surgery. Fortunately for the Bombers, at the time of Joba’s injury, Robertson was in a middle of a phenomenal season: 1.16 ERA in 23.1 IP with 38 K’s — that ERA is impressive considering he also had allowed 18 walks for a 6.94 BB/9.
From then on, after taking over as the eighth-inning guy, Robertson just took off: 1.04 ERA in 43.1 IP with 62 K’s and 17 walks. That’s 12.88 K/9 and a much-improved 3.53 BB/9 during that time span. He would continue to lower his walk rate in the next seasons (2.82, 2.44 and 3.22 after 2011)
A lot of you may remember that it seemed like every time D-Rob was out there, he allowed one or two baserunners to reach yet escaped unscathed in the end. At times, he got into dicier situations yet protected the Yankees’ lead with his uncanny ability to strike hitters out. It was also in 2011 that Robertson got his nickname “Houdini” for his magic-like ability to get out of jams. According to ESPN New York’s article from May 2011, Joba coined the nickname for D-Rob after the righty got out of a one-out jam with the runners on the corners against the Mets. (Robertson struck out Carlos Beltran and got Jason Bay to pop out).
Digging more into the stats, in FanGraphs classified “high leverage situations,” Robertson allowed only 7 hits versus 78 batters faced and only 2 extra base hits (no homers) in 2011 — good for .106/.244/.152 slash line. He also struck out nearly half of them with 35 punchouts for a 44.9% rate. Anything else? In “high leverage situations,” the reliever only allowed 6.5% line drives in batted balls as opposed to 21.6% overall. Also, not to mention 89.8% runners left on base rate, quite high considering the league average rate is around 70-72%. Well, quite simply, Robertson was the guy you wanted in late in the games to protect the lead for Rivera to save it, and that’s what Joe Girardi and the Yanks exactly did.
If I had to choose one “Houdini act” from 2011 that linger in memories, I would point to the eighth inning of the September 13 match versus the Seattle Mariners. Well, just so you know that it’s from the 2011 season, I’d like to inform you that A.J. Burnett started the game for Yanks and on the other side, it was Charlie Furbush.
Bottom of the 8th, with the Yankees leading 3-2, New York had 72% chance of winning the game. The 2011 Mariners were not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but Robertson came into the game slated to face the 3-4-5 hitters (Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Justin Smoak). D-Rob allowed a base hit to Ackley but struck out Carp for one out. But after a 7-pitch battle, the righty walked Smoak. With runners on 1st and 2nd with one out, the Yankees’ odds of winning dropped to 62%. Next up … Miguel Olivo. Robertson went on to strike out the catcher after going to a full-count but Ackley and Smoak also stole the 2nd and 3rd base. New York then intentionally walked Adam Kennedy — I repeat, Adam Kennedy, who, at the time, was hitting for a .628 OPS. After that, the chances of a Yankee win was at 65%.
That brought up a pinch-hitter, Trayvon Robinson. Fortunately for the Yankees, Robinson was very prone to strikeouts. He was one of those AAAA-type guys that had good speed and athleticism (and once showed promise with the bat) but never panned out in the Major Leagues. With the Mariners that year, Robinson struck out 39.4% of the time in 155 PA, which is not good — but good for D-Rob. The righty struck out Robinson in 5 pitches and got out of the jam. The odds of the Yankee win rose from 65% to 85%. Here’s the video:
For me, having D-Rob in the game didn’t mean that everyone was an automatic out — instead, him entering the game was pretty much an automatic hold. He put the game into a more interesting yet nerve-wrecking situations by getting into jams, but he somehow managed to get out of them. Perhaps that’s why I remember his 2011 so fondly — he wasn’t perfect but damn, it was fun to be on the edge every time he pitched.
The Yankees are, officially, going to retire Nos. 20, 46, and 51 this coming season, plus pitchers and catchers are set to report to Tampa on Friday. Lots going on in Yankeeland at the moment. I have thoughts.
1. I can’t imagine any Yankees fan is surprised Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada will have their numbers retired. All three are very well deserving and were major homegrown pieces at the center of the team’s most recent dynasty. I’m not sure what took so long for Bernie — he hasn’t played 2006, it’s been nearly a decade already — but better late than never, I guess. Maybe they wanted to wait until Pettitte, Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter retired so they could have all the ceremonies close together. Either way, I’m happy all of these guys are being honored soon. They’re all among my all-time favorite players, and watching them play and win World Series (plural!) was a huge part of my childhood growing up. I remember watching all of them as rookies, and it’s now it’s sorta weird I’ll be watching them have their numbers retired.
2. Inevitably, as soon as we all learned No. 46 is going to be retired, there were snide comments about Pettitte’s performance-enhancing drug history. All of it came from non-Yankees fans, because duh. Non-Yankees fans and Chuck Knoblauch. Anyway, it’s pretty obvious there’s a double standard with the PED stuff. Players people like (Pettitte, David Ortiz, etc.) mostly get a free pass while the players everyone hate (A-Rod!) don’t. That’s just the way it is. I’m so over the PED stuff now. It would be nice if players didn’t cheat, but, as long as there is baseball and sports in general, players are going to cheat. That’s life. The Yankees are willing to overlook Pettitte’s HGH history and they’re not alone. Look at the contracts given to Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera this offseason. If the player can help you win, teams will overlook some stuff. There’s no sense in getting upset about it. This is baseball. Morality takes a backseat.
3. The Yankees are retiring a lot of numbers in a short period of time — assuming Derek Jeter’s number is retired soon, it’ll be six retired numbers (2, 6, 20, 42, 46, 51) in the span of three or four years — but this is an outlier and not some sort of evidence the team retires too many numbers. Are there some numbers that maybe shouldn’t be retired? Sure. But that’s true of just about every team. The Yankees are retiring six numbers in the span of three or four years after retiring two numbers in the previous 20 years (23 and 49) and seven in the previous 40 years (9, 10, 15, 23, 32, 44, 49). It just so happens they had a lot of great players at the same time recently and all of them deserve to have their numbers retired. Once this latest round of retirements is over — it looks like it’ll be a long time before another number is retired after this batch, the Yankees have no obvious candidates aside from A-Rod, and lol that’ll never happen — the team will have 21 retired numbers overall. Twenty-one retired numbers in more than a century as the greatest franchise in the sport. They’re not going to run out of numbers anytime soon. We’ll all be long gone and the sun will swallow the Earth before they have to start wearing triple digits.
4. Alright, enough with the number retirement talk. Aside from the injured guys (Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, specifically), the player I am most looking forward to seeing in camp is by far Nathan Eovaldi. He’s clearly someone with a lot of ability who still needs to figure some things out, and I’m interested to see what sort of the adjustments the Yankees help him make, if any. Eovaldi reported to Tampa a while ago and told Anthony McCarron he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have been “just working on the offspeed pitches, getting a little more consistency.” Given his velocity — Eovaldi averaged 95.5 mph with his four-seamer last year, the fourth best velocity among the 88 qualified starters in 2014 — I think he’s a good candidate to pitch up in the zone more, hopefully getting more swings and misses and weak pop-ups. Also, looking at his pitch location chart, it definitely seems like Eovaldi could benefit from pitching inside against righties more often. Especially since he has a lower arm slot and would make things really uncomfortable for righties. Then again, what the hell do I know. All eyes will be on Eovaldi because he’s the new rotation addition and all that, but I am genuinely curious to see if the team tries to make any adjustments early in camp. He just turned 25, remember. He’s 20 months younger than reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. Eovaldi has been okay to date in his career (95 ERA+) and the Yankee acquired him in hopes of helping him become great going forward.
5. Alright, so who’s going to be the random player who has a huge Spring Training and everyone wants to make the team? Last year it was Yangervis Solarte and he actually made the team, but that was a big time outlier. Solarte is the exception, not the rule, but that won’t stop everyone from saying “look at Solarte last year!” when talking about this spring’s flavor of the month. My first guess was going to be Kyle Roller, but I don’t think he’ll get enough playing time in camp for everyone to fall in love with him. He’ll have to compete with Mark Teixeira, Garrett Jones, and Greg Bird for at-bats at first base and a million others for at-bats at DH. Instead, I’ll go with utility man Cole Figueroa. He is an elite bat control guy (10.6 BB% and 7.3 K% in nearly 1,400 Triple-A plate appearances from 2012-14), which is a good recipe for a random BABIP spike in Spring Training, plus he plays a ton of positions, and that means he’d fit well on the bench. Unlike last year, when the bench was pretty much wide open, the Yankees don’t have many open roster spots heading into camp, so there’s no real room for a surprise guy like Solarte. Not that they’re often worth carrying on the Opening Day roster anyway.
Last week Baseball Prospectus posted their list of the top 101 prospects in baseball, and this week they followed with their annual farm system rankings. The Cubs predictably claim the top spot and are followed by the Twins and Dodgers. The Tigers bring up the rear and rank 30th.
The Yankees have the 21st ranked farm system in the game according to Baseball Prospectus, up two spots from last year. The rankings are free this year, so here’s the blurb on New York’s system:
State of the System: A spending spree last summer in the international market, the depths of which might force a change in the international spending structure, has turned the Yankees system into one of the most balanced in the game. There isn’t a ton of impact talent near the majors, though Aaron Judge is emerging as a key piece of the future, and Luis Severino is going to make an impact soon, though 10 different scouts will give you 10 different answers on how. Then there’s the youth movement from last summer, most of whom are still teenagers and won’t be seen in the big leagues for a half-decade, if at all, but could make for some of the most intriguing GCL teams in the league’s history.
Keith Law ranked the Yankees’ system 20th in the game, and in their 2015 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America ranked them 18th. The book went to press before the Domingo German trade, however, so that might change slightly when Baseball America posts their final rankings at some point in the coming weeks.
Either way, the consensus is the Yankees have a system right on the border of middle third and bottom third in the game. That’s because most of their top talent is still in Single-A and not close to big league ready. Close to MLB talent is the name of the game in farm system rankings. With Judge, Severino, Eric Jagielo and others set to move up a level this year, plus last summer’s international haul set to hit the system, the Yankees will inevitably move up in the organizational rankings next year.
Here is the nightly open thread. The NBA is still in the middle of the All-Star break but the Rangers and Islanders are playing (each other!) and there’s college basketball on as well. Plus Better Call Saul is on tonight. I was skeptical going in but I really enjoyed the first two episodes. Anyway, talk about whatever here.