Pineda, Severino among the Dominican Republic’s eligible pitchers for the WBC

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Earlier today, the Dominican Republic announced their official roster for the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. As expected, Dellin Betances is on the roster while Gary Sanchez is not. Here’s the roster. Robinson Cano at second, Manny Machado at short, and Adrian Beltre at third is one heck of an infield, eh? Tony Pena has a fun roster to manage.

Both Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are included in the team’s “Designated Pitcher Pool,” which is a new wrinkle in the WBC. Each team will designate ten pitchers who can be added to the roster later in the tournament. They’re allowed to add two pitchers at the end of the first round and another two at the end of the second round. So up to four of the ten extra pitchers can join the roster.

The Designated Pitcher Pool is a pretty blatant attempt by MLB and the WBC folks to get Clayton Kershaw to commit to Team USA. The Championship Game is at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd, and if Team USA advances, they want Kershaw on the mound because it’ll create serious buzz. The rule allows Kershaw to remain with the Dodgers in Spring Training and make the one start for Team USA.

The Dominican Republic won the 2013 WBC, and, based on their roster, they’re going to contend for a title again this year. They’re in a first round pool with Canada, Colombia, and Team USA. Pineda’s rotation spot with the Yankees is secure, but Severino has to win one in camp. I wonder if he’d decline to be added to the WBC roster should the Dominican Republic ask him to join the team. We’ll see.

Sherman: The Yankees have “let some clubs know” Starlin Castro is available

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees have “let some clubs know” second baseman Starlin Castro is available in trade talks. This was apparently part of their efforts to trade Brett Gardner and Chase Headley earlier this winter. Seems they made any veteran making decent money available.

Castro, who will turn 27 next month, managed a .270/.300/.433 (94 wRC+) batting line with a career high 21 home runs last year, his first as a Yankee and his first as a full-time second baseman. Starlin is owed $30M from 2017-19 with a $16M club option ($1M buyout) for 2020, so he’s making decent money. I have some thoughts on this.

1. Of course the Yankees made Castro available. At this point, there is absolutely no one on the roster the Yankees should make off-limits in trade talks. Gary Sanchez is the closest thing to an untouchable, and even then it makes sense to listen. It never hurts to listen. What if the Angels come calling and say Mike Trout is up for grabs, but only if Sanchez is in the package? Exactly.

Anyway, the best way to describe Castro is … adequate. He offers promise because he’s still young and his raw talent is obvious, though his lack of plate discipline holds him back, and we haven’t seen any improvement in that department. His 3.9% walk rate last year was the second lowest of his career. His career low is 3.6% in 2015, so he’s more of a free-swinger than ever before right now.

We’re getting to the point where Starlin is what he is. This is a guy with nearly 4,400 big league plate appearances to his credit already. If he was going to improve his plate discipline, we’d probably be seeing it by now, right? At the same time, you’d hate to give up on Castro and have him blossom elsewhere. That’s not enough of a reason not to trade him though. By all means, make him available.

2. Which teams need a second baseman? Sherman’s report says the Yankees made “some clubs” aware Castro was available, which seems to indicate they phoned around and let teams with a middle infield opening know they were willing to part with Starlin. This wasn’t a mass “hey Castro is available make me an offer” text situation. It was a “hey, I noticed you need a second baseman, we’re willing to talk Castro” thing. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.

The Dodgers had, by far, the biggest need at second base this offseason. They were connected to Brian Dozier for weeks and weeks before completing the Logan Forsythe trade. Looking around the league, only the Braves, Royals, Padres, and Diamondbacks appear to have middle infield openings. The Braves have top prospect Ozzie Albies coming soon and the Padres are in tank mode, so forget them.

Point is, the market for a middle infielder is fairly limited at this point, which is unusual. So many clubs are rebuilding right now that they prefer to stick with their young internal options at second (or short) rather than scoop up a guy like Castro. I don’t think Starlin has much trade value — remember, the Yankees got him for Adam Warren, not some top prospect — but still, not many teams are desperate for middle infield help.

3. Who would play second for the Yankees? Okay, so let’s say the Yankees find a taker for Castro. Who would they then play at second base? I’ll tell you the answer right now: Chase Utley. Sorry, Rob Refsnyder fans. The Yankees very clearly do not believe in his defense at second. Ronald Torreyes, Ruben Tejada, and Donovan Solano are also internal candidates, but c’mon, a cheap one-year deal for Utley would be inevitable. Maybe he and Refsnyder would platoon.

The real question is who would play second base long-term? I’m not even sure Castro is the answer himself. The Yankees have a ton of shortstop prospects on the way. Tyler Wade is going to open the season at Triple-A and many believe he’s best suited for second because of his arm. Gleyber Torres isn’t far away either. Stopgap free agents like Neil Walker and (ew) Brett Lawrie, both of whom will hit the market next winter, are always options in the interim.

The best case scenario is Starlin figures out some semblance of plate discipline and become a reliably above-average hitter going forward, as he enters what should be the best seasons of his career. That would force the Yankees to make tough decisions with Wade and Torres, among others. That’s a good thing. Too many options is a luxury. For now, Starlin simply isn’t good enough to be considered a long-term core player, and that’s exactly the kind of player you put on the trade market.

Prospect Profile: J.P. Feyereisen

(MLB.com video screen grab)
(MLB.com video screen grab)

J.P. Feyereisen | RHP

Background
Feyereisen, who turned 24 yesterday, grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin, which is about 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis. In his four years as a varsity player at River Falls High School, he was named to several All-State and All-Conference Teams, and was named the State Tournament Most Valuable Player as a senior.

Despite his high school success, Baseball America did not rank Feyereisen among their top prospects from Wisconsin — a state not exactly known for producing baseball talent — prior to the 2011 draft. He went undrafted out of high school and wound up at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III school.

Feyereisen made six starts and five relief appearances as a freshman, throwing 40.2 innings with a 2.66 ERA. He struck out 37 and walked 17. After the season he pitched for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer league, where he allowed three runs in 8.2 innings.

As a sophomore in 2013, Feyereisen threw 77 innings across a dozen starts and one relief appearance at UWSP, striking out 59 and walking 28. He had a 2.69 ERA and was named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year. The Pointers advanced to the Division III College World Series that year.

Feyeresen returned to the Rapids Rafters for summer ball, which is when he got his first exposure to full-time bullpen work. He saved eleven games and made the All-Star Team after throwing 31 innings with a 1.16 ERA and 38 strikeouts. Baseball America ranked Feyereisen as the eighth best prospect in the Northwoods League that summer.

During his junior season at UWSP Feyereisen made eight starts and four relief appearances, throwing 62.1 innings with a 3.75 ERA to go with 45 strikeouts and 13 walks. Baseball America ranked Feyereisen as the best Division III prospect in the 2014 draft class and the 464th best prospect overall. He was the No. 2 prospect in Wisconsin.

The Indians selected Feyereisen in the 16th round (488th overall) and signed him to an $80,000 bonus. He became only the third junior to be drafted in UWSP history, joining former Red Sox farmhand Cody Koback (tenth round in 2011) and two-time All-Star Jordan Zimmermann (second round in 2007).

Feyereisen was traded to the Yankees as part of the Andrew Miller trade last summer. Feyereisen, outfielder Clint Frazier, lefty Justus Sheffield, and righty Ben Heller came to New York in the four-for-one swap.

Pro Career
Cleveland never bothered to try Feyereisen as a starter. They grabbed him in the 16th round and moved him to the bullpen immediately. He made his pro debut with the club’s Short Season NY-Penn League affiliate, where he threw 17 innings without allowing a run. Feyereisen struck out 24 and walked one. Zoinks.

The Indians assigned Feyereisen to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League to begin 2015, his first full pro season. He allowed two runs in 16.2 innings while striking out 25 and walking six. Feyereisen was quickly promoted to High-A, and he finished the season with a 2.08 ERA (2.51 FIP) in 47.2 total innings. His strikeout rate (30.1%) was excellent, his walk rate just okay (8.1%).

Feyereisen opened 2016 with Double-A Akron and had a 2.23 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 40.1 innings that featured lots of strikeouts (33.1%) and lots of walks (11.8%). The Yankees sent him to Double-A Trenton after the trade, where he threw 18 innings. All told, Feyereisen had a 1.52 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 34.0% strikeouts and 11.3% walks in 65 Double-A innings in 2016.

The Yankees sent Feyereisen to the Arizona Fall League after the season for a little extra work. He allowed five runs (four earned) with 18 strikeouts and seven walks in 14 innings for the Scottsdale Scorpions last fall.

Scouting Report
Feyereisen is built solidly at 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., and after working at 89-91 mph as a starter in college, he now sits 94-96 mph as a reliever and even touched 100 mph in 2016, according to Baseball America. PitchFX data from the AzFL says Feyereisen averaged 95.3 mph and topped out at 96.8 mph during his 14-inning stint. (That was at the end of a long season and fatigue may have been a factor.)

A mid-80s slider is Feyereisen’s second pitch. Despite his strikeout rates, the slider is not a reliable put-away offering yet. He’s still working to gain consistency with the pitch. He also throws a changeup but very rarely uses it. Feyereisen was sent to the AzFL specifically so he could continue to work on his secondary pitches.

Feyereisen is a strong kid with a good delivery that has some herky-jerkiness to it. His control is just okay and his command is below average. Feyereisen is very much a “here’s the ball, try to hit it” guy with a big fastball at this point, and to his credit, he’s fearless on the mound and a hard-worker off it.

2017 Outlook
After spending a full season at Double-A and having plenty of success, an assignment to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to begin the upcoming 2017 season. The Yankees are bringing Feyereisen to Spring Training as a non-roster player and that’s not in any way a surprise. A Triple-A reliever is a call-up candidate, so the team is giving Joe Girardi and his coaching staff a chance to get to know Feyereisen this spring. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason and it’s very possible he’ll make his MLB debut at some point this summer.

Miscellany
Relief prospects are unlike every other type of prospect out there. They put up ridiculous minor league numbers that make you believe they’re ready to be setup men and closers at the big league level, but the fact of the matter is most of them are airing it out for an inning at a time and dominating overmatched minor leaguers, many of whom won’t a) sniff the show, and b) face the pitcher again that series and have a chance to adjust. It’s hard to separate the stats from the potential, I know it is, but it’s necessary.

That isn’t to say Feyereisen isn’t a good prospect. He’s a solid relief prospect who will undoubtedly pitch in the big leagues at some point, perhaps as soon as this year, and I think he has a chance to carve out a nice career as a middle reliever. The velocity is great, but the lack of a reliable secondary pitch presently holds Feyereisen back from high-leverage work. Hopefully he improves his slider and proves me wrong. For now, I see a possible middle reliever who relies on his fastball, and considering he was the fourth piece in the trade, that’s a pretty nice return.

Thoughts following the Chris Carter signing

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Turns out the Yankees had one more move left in them this offseason. Yesterday afternoon the team reportedly agreed to terms with reigning National League home run champ Chris Carter. It’s a one-year deal with a $3.5M base salary plus another $500,000 in incentives based on plate appearances. Let’s talk this one out, shall we?

1. I am mostly indifferent to the signing, and like many of you, the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard about it was “wooo dingers!” Gosh do I love home runs. They’re the best. The second thing that crossed my mind is “where is Carter going to play?” My fearlessly bold prediction: this will work itself out. It always does. We fret over playing time in February and before you know it we’ll be wondering where the Yankees would be without Carter. That’s usually how this stuff works. The Yankees have a 37-year-old designated hitter (Matt Holliday) and a young unproven first baseman coming back from major shoulder surgery (Greg Bird). The at-bats will be there and they’re paying him middle reliever money*. The Yankees wouldn’t have signed Carter without some sort of plan in place, and you know what else? Carter probably wouldn’t have signed with the Yankees without playing time assurances. We’ll see how it shakes out. As always, the odds of playing time being a non-issue are better than we’d probably like to admit.

* The Rangers gave Mike Napoli a one-year contract worth $8.5M yesterday. How, exactly, is he $5M better than Carter?

2. Seriously though, where is he going to play? I don’t think the Carter signing is the first step in some grand “trade Brett Gardner and clear the roster spot that way” scheme. Prior to the signing, Bird as well as Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder were fighting for two big league roster spots (first base and bench). One of those roster spots is now going to Carter. The kids all have minor league options, so sending them down to Triple-A for the time being isn’t a problem, but the Yankees are in the middle of a rebuild transition and they just signed a 30-year-old one-dimensional slugger to take the roster spot of a young player. That … kinda goes against the plan, no? Again, I’m sure this will work itself out. Holliday isn’t he most durable player at this point of his career and Bird is coming back from shoulder surgery. Heck, maybe the Yankees signed Carter because Bird’s shoulder isn’t 100% and they haven’t told us yet. But, if everyone makes it through camp in one piece, now two of Bird, Austin, and Refsnyder are going to open the season in Triple-A. Not only one. (Sixty-five days in the minors delays Bird’s free agency a year, remember.)

3. Who is going to lose their 40-man roster spot for Carter? I’ve been assuming Richard Bleier is next up on the 40-man chopping block all winter, but it hasn’t happened yet, and it seems the Yankees like him more than I realized. If not Bleier, my guess is Johnny Barbato. Barbato made the Opening Day roster last season but pitched so poorly he didn’t just wind up back in Triple-A, he didn’t even get a September call-up. That’s not a good sign. The Yankees aren’t going to cut any of the kids they protected from the Rule 5 Draft earlier this offseason (Dietrich Enns, Yefrey Ramirez, Ronald Herrera, etc.) and I’d be surprised if Austin Romine or Ronald Torreyes got the axe even though the club has internal replacement candidates at their positions. Maybe Mason Williams? The Yankees will have plenty of outfielders in Triple-A, so perhaps Williams is expendable. Right now, I’m going with Barbato.

4. Carter is a right-handed hitter who socked 41 dingers a year ago and has averaged 38 home runs per 162 games over the last three seasons. He hit .224/.338/.537 (126 wRC+) against lefties last season and .222/.335/.486 (123 wRC+) against lefties over the last three seasons. The following left-handed starters pitch for rival AL East teams: J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Wade Miley, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale, and Blake Snell. Yeah. The extra power right-handed bat is going to come in handy. Especially since Carter is a guy who can go the other way and take advantage of the short porch. Here is his spray chart over the last three years (via Baseball Savant):

chris-carter-spray-chartNo one will mistake Carter for a great pure hitter who works the entire field and things like that. He’s going to grip it and rip it, and sometimes the ball flies over the fence, even to the opposite field. The short porch will get some extra love in 2017.

5. The big drawback with Carter is, obviously, his strikeouts. He led the NL with 41 home runs last season and also with 206 strikeouts. His 32.0% strikeout rate last year was second highest among qualified hitters, behind only Chris Davis (32.9%). Only Mike Zunino (33.7%) and Davis (32.3%) have a higher strikeout rate than Carter (32.2%) over the last three years. That’s a problem. Strikeouts are bad. You live with them in exchange for the power, but they’re still bad. One big power/lots of strikeouts guy in the lineup is tolerable. More than one gets a little iffy, and there’s a pretty good chance Carter and Aaron Judge will both be in the lineup a bunch of times next season. That’s going to lead to a lot of empty at-bats and rallies dying without the ball being put in play. Judge is a top prospect and hopefully the right fielder of the future. He’s a priority player. As long as the Yankees deem him big league ready, he should be in the lineup. He shouldn’t sit just because Carter is owed a couple million bucks and Joe Girardi doesn’t want two strikeout guys in the lineup. Judge has to play and I’m sure Carter is going to play a bunch too. The two might combine for 400 strikeouts this season, like for real, and that won’t be pleasant to sit through at times.

6. This is worth pointing out: Carter will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. He somehow still has fewer than five full years of service time. The Brewers non-tendered him earlier this offseason because they didn’t want to pay a projected $8M salary through arbitration. Obviously no one else felt Carter was worth that salary either, because he signed for $3M with some incentives. Chances are the same thing will happen next offseason. The Yankees will non-tender Carter because his projected salary will outweigh his actual production. But, if Carter has a nice year, the club could bring him back in 2018 as their post-Holliday designated hitter. It’ll be an option available to them. Hopefully Carter has a good season and forces the Yankees to think hard about bringing him back for another year. That would be cool.

7. One thing I do not expect to happen is a midseason trade. One of those “Carter plays well and the Yankees flip him for prospects at the deadline” situations. Nope. Can’t see it. Carter hit .230/.317/.514 (113 wRC+) with 22 homers before the All-Star break last summer and the Brewers made him available at the deadline, but no team bit. The same way no team bit when Milwaukee put him on the trade market prior to the non-tender deadline. It’s more likely Carter will be designated for assignment and released at midseason than traded for an actual prospect. An injury could always create a need somewhere else around the league, but, over these last seven months or so, the market has told us Carter doesn’t have much value at all. Heck, you can go even further back than that, when the Astros non-tendered him following the 2015 season. They tried to trade him too. This is a straight one-year deal with upside in the form of dingers. That’s about it.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today, ESPN announced Mark Teixeira has joined the network as a (duh) baseball analyst. He’ll do in-studio stuff on Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter, plus some radio. Teixeira and his family have lived in Connecticut full-time ever since he joined the Yankees, so making the trip up to Bristol won’t be onerous. He’s a funny and insightful guy, we’ve seen him on television plenty over the years, so I’m sure he’ll knock it out of the park with ESPN. It always felt like a matter of “when” Teixeira would land a TV gig, not “if.”

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. The (hockey) Rangers and Nets are both in action tonight, and there are a handful of college basketball games on the schedule. Talk about those games, Teixeira’s new job, or anything else right here. Just not religion or politics. Get that outta here.

Gary Sanchez will pass on the 2017 World Baseball Classic

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to multiple reports, Gary Sanchez has decided not to play for the Dominican Republic during the upcoming 2017 World Baseball Classic. The tournament begins March 6th and the Championship Game will be played March 22nd at Dodger Stadium.

Sanchez told Sweeny Murti he initially accepted an invitation to play in the WBC, but he changed his mind recently and will instead spend Spring Training with the Yankees. That’s good. Sanchez is about to begin his first full season as the starting catcher and he needs to familiarize himself with the pitching staff.

Dellin Betances will suit up for the Dominican Republic, which will be managed by Yankees first base coach Tony Pena. Didi Gregorius is going to play for the Netherlands. Minor leaguers Kellin Deglan (Canada), Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal, and Donovan Solano (all Colombia) are on WBC rosters as well.

Report: Yankees have checked in on Travis Wood

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, the Yankees have checked in on former Cubs LHP Travis Wood, who is currently a free agent. Heyman tweeted that the Yankees “don’t necessarily seem at forefront of talks at moment.”

Wood, who turned 30 yesterday, has spent the last five seasons pitching for the Cubs and was the team’s lone All-Star representative as a starter in 2013. However, after a sub-par 2014 in the rotation, Wood was moved to the bullpen for most of 2015 and exclusively in 2016. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal recently reported that “multiple teams” are offering Wood the opportunity to start.

The Yankees have been connected to lefty relievers this offseason, but they also could use help in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia appear locked into three spots while the last two spots are up for grabs among younger unproven starters. Brian Cashman has asserted that the spots will come down to Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and others currently on the 40-man roster, but Wood could provide competition and an intriguing option.

At first glance, Wood’s 2016 season appears to be a major success with a career-best 2.95 ERA in 61 innings over 77 appearances. However, his strikeout rate declined from 28.2 to 18.7 percent while his walk (9.3 to 9.5 percent) and home run (0.98 to 1.18 per nine innings) rates increased. Wood posted a 4.54 FIP, his worst since 2012. Based on his five seasons in Chicago as a whole, it looks like his high strikeout rate in 2015 was an outlier and his ERA in 2016 may have been boosted by a career-low .215 BABIP.

As a reliever, Wood cut his repertoire down to mostly three pitches: a low-90s four-seam fastball, a high-80s cutter and a mid-80s slider. He sparingly used a changeup and curveball. In his last full season as a starter in 2014, he used his sinker almost as much as his cutter, his top secondary pitch. He threw either his fastball or cutter nearly 80 percent of the time in 2016. Even when he used his sinker more often as a starter, he still had low groundball rates (his career-best was a 37.4 percent mark in 2016), a bad sign for a potential starter at Yankee Stadium.

After Wood’s strong performance in relief, it begs the question: Would he be willing to stay in relief? Aroldis Chapman is the closer, so Joe Girardi won’t use him as a matchup reliever, leaving Tommy Layne as the lefty specialist. If the Yankees wanted a second lefty on Opening Day, the choice on the current roster is between Chasen Shreve and Richard Bleier (Dietrich Enns an unlikely possibility). Wood could work for the Yankees as more than just a LOOGY and as a full-fledged middle reliever. He also has postseason experience from the last two seasons and one solid appearance with the Reds during Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in 2010.

With “multiple teams” showing interest in Wood, he is very likely in line for a Major League deal. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Wood as their No. 24 free agent and Heyman had Wood at No. 31 on his list. MLBTR projected Wood at three years, $21 million while Heyman had him pegged at three years, $15 million. Maybe Wood could be down to 1-2 years with how late it is in the offseason. Offering that third year could be the key to grabbing Wood.

The Yankees appear as if they are not Wood’s main suitor and that isn’t all that surprising. The team appears committed to the young movement in the back of the rotation and Wood probably wants the chance to start. That’s where the money tends to be and the Yankees aren’t likely to spend too much more this offseason. My take is that Wood could provide value on a shorter term deal in the bullpen (or swing role as Mike suggested), particularly with how Girardi likes to deploy relievers. However, looking at his peripherals, I’d stay away from guaranteeing him a rotation spot and pass on anything close to his projected deals from earlier in the offseason.