Weekend Open Thread

The GM Meetings were pretty fun this week. The Yankees made some moves and there were a surprisingly large amount of rumors, at least by Yankees standards. They tend to keep things quiet. Three weeks and a few days until all hell breaks loose at the Winter Meetings. Anyway, here are the links for the weekend:

  • Here’s a really fun Owen Watson post looking at the most extreme home runs of the 2015 season. The longest homer, the hardest hit homer, the fastest pitch homer, the most inside pitch to a right-handed hitter homer … all sorts of fun stuff like that. Brian McCann makes an appearance, as does Nathan Eovaldi on the wrong end of an extreme homer.
  • Fresh off their World Series win, the Royals are facing a difficult decision with Alex Gordon, one of the best and most popular players. Do they break the bank to re-sign him, or let him walk and spare payroll? In this piece, Andy McCullough spoke to several GMs who faced similar decisions in recent years, and they all said a lot more goes into it than on-field production.
  • If you’re looking for an ultra-nerdy article with lots of math, this Alan Nathan post on optimizing swings is for you. It starts with the question “can a curveball be hit farther than a fastball?” and then dives into things like swing angles and all sorts of other neat stuff. You are forewarned, it is indeed very nerdy with gory math. It’s as much a physics experiment as it is baseball analysis.
  • And finally, a non-baseball link: I enjoyed this Tyler Rogoway article on the family who owns a big piece of land adjacent to Area 51. The land, which has been in the family long before the government showed up next door, had been mined for copper and other metals for generations. The family has refused many seven-figure offers even though no one lives at the mine site these days and the government makes it all but impossible to access. Crazy stuff.

Friday: Here is your open thread for tonight and the rest of the weekend. The college basketball season begins tonight, plus the Knicks, Nets, and Islanders are all playing. Talk about those games, the links, or anything other than politics or religion here. Thanks.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Devils and Nets are playing in addition to a nice full slate of college football and hoops. Have at it.

Sunday: This is the open thread for the final time. The Patriots and Giants are playing right now, and the late NFL game is the Cardinals and Seahawks. The (hockey) Rangers are playing tonight as well and I’m guessing there’s some college hoops going on somewhere. Enjoy.

The Swiss Army Outfielder

This ball was caught. (Presswire)

The Yankee outfield was given more shape on Wednesday when the team acquired Aaron Hicks from the Twins for John Ryan Murphy. Ironically enough, that shape is a little more amorphous now than it was before the trade. The term “amorphous” generally carries a negative connotation, the implication for the Yankees going forward is one of flexibility, not shapelessness.

It’s most likely that Hicks will slot in as the team’s fourth outfielder to start the year, but that alone could carry a great deal of playing time, as Chris Young appeared in 140 games for the Yankees last season. That much playing time is easy to envision for Hicks. Given his defensive reputation, he’ll likely be replacing Carlos Beltran on a daily/nightly basis, which will give the Yankees a strong defensive outfield in the late innings, something any team would gladly sign up for.

Nominally, Hicks will be the fourth outfielder, but there’s potential for him to play an even bigger role. He’ll definitely swap out for Beltran in the late innings, but given Joe Giradi’s tendency to platoon and his desire to rest players, Hicks will get plenty of burn in the starting lineup. Brett Gardner (fairly or unfairly) already gets his fair share of platooning as he sits semi-frequently against lefties. That’s a trend that’ll probably continue, given that Hicks hit lefties very well last year–.375 wOBA; 139 wRC+; .188 ISO–and has done similarly over the course of his (short) career–.354; 125; .175. Gardner was also, apparently, playing through injury in the second half and it’s a certainty we’ll see Hicks start in place of Gardner when Brett starts to slow down a bit after playing for long stretches. The same could be said for Jacoby Ellsbury, who probably wasn’t healthy for more than a month and a half of last season; he also had his fair share of struggles against left-handed pitchers and the fact that Hicks can play center–88 games there last year–means the Yankees will still be able to run out a mostly strong defensive outfield, even if one of Gardner or Ellsbury is sitting.

One knock on Hicks, a switch hitter, is that he doesn’t hit right handed pitching well. That rang true in 2015 as he racked up just a .292 wOBA/82 wRC+ against them. His career numbers against non-southpaws are just as ugly: .269/66. In this way, he’s definitely similar to Chris Young, who also couldn’t hit right handed pitching. However, for his career, Hicks does have a 9.2% walk rate against right handed pitchers, something slightly encouraging that the team could build on. And, taking it with a shaker of salt, Hicks did hit right handed pitchers fairly well in the minor leagues, posting a .371 OBP against them. It’s not the most reliable data, but it shows that, at some point, Hicks did something well against righties.

Despite those struggles, though, it’s easy to see why Hicks could be an upgrade over Young. His ability to play center field–and play it well–means that the Yankees can feel fully confident when they match up for platoons or have to rest someone. Hicks will also play the entire 2016 as a 26 year old, which in and of itself means there’s potential for more growth and development. Trading for Hicks was certainly a surprise, but it’s something that gives the Yankees a lot of flexibility in one spot on the field. Given the way the team looks, that’s a welcome sign.

2016 Draft: Draft Order Tracker page now live

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Yesterday was the deadline for free agents to accept or reject the qualifying offer. A record 20 free agents received the QO, and, for the first time ever, a player accepted. Three accepted, in fact. Colby Rasmus, Matt Wieters, and Brett Anderson all took the one-year, $15.8M QO rather than try their luck in free agency. That surprised me.

Now that the QO decision deadline has passed, our 2016 Draft Order Tracker page is live. We’ll use that to keep track of the 2016 draft order as draft picks change hands via free agent compensation — and also via trades next year, since the 12 Competitive Balance Lottery picks can be traded — this offseason. You can access the 2016 Draft Order Tracker at any time via the Resources tab in the nav bar above.

At the moment, the Yankees hold the 22nd overall pick in the first round. Obviously they could forfeit that pick to sign one of the 16 free agents who rejected the QO. The draft order is very much subject to change right now. The Yankees held the 16th pick in the 2015 draft (RHP James Kaprielian) but otherwise have not picked as high as 22nd overall since taking Ian Kennedy with the 21st pick in 2006.

The Yankees did not make any of their three free agents the QO, which was not surprisingly. Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, and Chris Young were their only free agents. So the Yankees can not gain any 2016 draft picks via free agent compensation this winter. They can only lose draft picks.

After the first round, the Yankees currently hold the 60th (second round) and 98th (third round) overall picks. Again, that is subject to change pending free agency. Anyway, the 2016 Draft Order Tracker page is up. Make sure you check back for updates throughout the offseason.

DotF: Sanchez continues to put up big numbers in AzFL

C Gary Sanchez was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game last weekend, going 1-for-3 with a two-run home run off Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland, the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Sanchez also threw out a runner trying to steal second. Eric Longenhagen said he clocked his pop time at 1.82 seconds. That’s nuts. A 1.9-second pop time is great. The videos are above. Sanchez been a monster in the AzFL.

In other news, Matt Eddy has posted this year’s collection of six-year minor league free agents. Here are the Yankees farmhands now on the open market:

RHP: Andury Acevedo (AAA), Scottie Allen (AA), Joel de la Cruz (AAA), Diego Moreno (AAA), Wilking Rodriguez (AAA), Cesar Vargas (AAA)
LHP: Jose De Paula (AAA), Aaron Dott (AA)
C: Francisco Arcia (AA), Juan Graterol (AAA), Kyle Higashioka (AAA)
3B: Cole Figueroa (AAA)
SS: Ali Castillo (AAA), Jose Rosario (AA)
OF: Ericson Leonora (Hi A), Rico Noel (AAA)

1B Kyle Roller also became a free agent, says Eddy. Moreno, de la Cruz, DePaula, Figueroa, and Noel all spent time with the Yankees this past season. (De La Cruz was called up but didn’t pitch.) Allen was acquired from the Diamondbacks for Juan Miranda way back in the day. Castillo is probably the best prospect of the bunch but he’s a fringy light-hitting utility type at best. Good prospects don’t get to minor league free agency.

Thanks to the minor league free agents and the recent UTIL Jose Pirela trade, the crop of Yankees farmhands playing winter ball thinned out considerably this week. Here’s the weekly update.

Arizona Fall League

  • OF Tyler Austin: 18 G, 18-16 (.269), 11 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 9 BB, 16 K, 7 SB, 2 K (.269/.355/.463) — very quietly tied for fourth in the AzFL in steals
  • OF Dustin Fowler: 12 G, 15-48 (.313), 11 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K, 7 SB (.313/.340/.417) — tied with Austin for fourth in steals
  • C Gary Sanchez: 18 G, 23-77 (.299), 12 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 3 BB, 16 K, 4 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.299/.329/.619) — leads the league in homers and RBI by two each … last time someone hit 7+ homers in the AzFL was 2011, when Robbie Grossman (seven) and Mike Olt (13!) both did it … Sanchez has another week to pad his total
  • SS Tyler Wade: 14 G, 9-41 (.220), 6 R, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 SB, 1 CS (.220/.313/.268) — life outside Single-A ball has been tough
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 6 G, 0 GS, 10 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 2 HB (2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP) — all three runs came in one outing, so his other five appearances have been scoreless
  • LHP Ian Clarkin: 5 G, 5 GS, 20.1 IP, 26 H, 13 R, 13 ER, 13 BB, 12 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 1 WP (5.75 ERA and 1.92 WHIP) — looks like he has one start left in the AzFL season
  • LHP Chaz Hebert: 5 G, 0 GS, 11.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 9 BB, 9 K, 1 WP (2.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP) — Eric Longenhagen said Hebert topped out at 91 mph with a low-80s slider, an upper-70s changeup, plus a cutter in the Fall Stars Game … on the 20-80 scouting scale, Longenhagen gave the changeup a 55, the slider a 50, and the cutter a 45 … 50 is MLB average so that’s three pitches right at average … that’s really good!
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 8 G, 0 GS, 10 IP, 12 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 1 WP (7.20 ERA and 1.50 WHIP) — he’s making up for lost time after missing the second half with a finger injury

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 1 G, 0-1, 1 K — appeared in one game two weeks ago and hasn’t played since … believe it or not, that’s pretty common in the Caribbean winter leagues … they’re very competitive and he may have been dropped from the active roster because the team didn’t think he could help them win
  • SS Jorge Mateo is listed on a roster but has not appeared in a game yet. At this point, I’m guessing he won’t play at all. He had a long season and he ended the year on the DL, remember, so the Yankees can hold him back from winter ball.

Mexican Pacific League

  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 12 G, 0 GS, 8 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 12 K, 2 HR, 1 WP (11.25 ERA and 2.25 WHIP) — woof
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 6 G, 6 GS, 30.2 IP, 24 H, 15 R, 14 ER, 17 BB, 20 K, 2 HR, 2 HB, 1 WP (4.11 ERA and 1.34 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico)

  • IF Cito Culver: 6 G, 2-19 (.105), 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K (.105/.150/.105)
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 3 G, 3 GS, 13.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP) — the season doesn’t end until early-January but I don’t think Mitchell will pitch that long … either way, there’s still time for him to make a few more starts and throw a few more innings after working out of the bullpen for much of the regular season
  • 2B Angelo Gumbs is listed on a roster but has not appeared in a game yet.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • OF Ben Gamel: 23 G, 22-82 (.268), 8 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 10 BB, 17 K, 3 SB, 1 CS (.268/.337/.427) — between the regular season and winter ball, he’s up to 152 games played this year … long season
  • OF Teodoro Martinez: 28 G, 28-105 (.267), 14 R, 2 2B, 2 3B, 11 RBI, 4 BB, 12 K, 2 SB, 2 HBP (.267/.304/.324) — he’s still in the organization apparently … the Yankees signed him out of an independent league at midseason when they needed some healthy outfielders and that’s not usually a job with a lot of staying power
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 5 G, 0 GS, 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (5.40 ERA and 1.80 WHIP) — remember when he was nursing that sub-1.00 ERA early in the season?
  • RHP Jaron Long: 6 G, 6 GS, 33.2 IP, 36 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 7 BB, 15 K, 2 HR, 2 WP (2.94 ERA and 1.28 WHIP) — he’s up to 188.1 innings on the year
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 11 G, 0 GS, 9.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, 1 HR (6.52 ERA and 1.34 WHIP) — relief prospects will break your heart
  • IF Thairo Estrada is listed on a roster but has not yet played in a game.

Kimbrel off the board: Padres trade closer to Red Sox

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Padres have traded closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for four prospects, most notably outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra. MLB.com has them ranked as the 25th and 76th best prospects in baseball, respectively. Both clubs have since announced the deal.

The Yankees tried hard to acquire Kimbrel at the trade deadline, reporting offering top shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo and others for Kimbrel and second baseman Jedd Gyorko (and the rest of Gyorko’s big contract). There have been no indications the two sides would revisit the deal this winter, but it seemed like a possibility.

Brian Cashman said the Yankees are “open to anything” multiple times at the GM Meetings last week, so much so that closer Andrew Miller‘s name has popped up in trade rumors. There’s been speculation they could trade Miller, then replace him with someone like Kimbrel or a trade for another high-end reliever.

Anyway, the Yankees remain set in the late innings with Miller and Dellin Betances. Justin Wilson is a pretty good third option as well. The bullpen certainly isn’t a priority, but there’s no such thing as too many good relievers. Second base and the rotation remain the biggest needs.

Yankees announce Spring Training schedule; pitchers and catchers report February 18th

Can't come soon enough. (Presswire)
Can’t come soon enough. (Presswire)

Mark your calendars, folks. The 2016 Spring Training schedule has been announced. Earlier today the Yankees announced pitchers and catchers will report to camp on Thursday, February 18th to begin the new season. Position players report Tuesday, February 24th, and the first full squad workout is scheduled for February 25th.

The Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa on Wednesday, March 2nd. That’s a 1pm ET start against the Tigers. The Yankees are playing a total of 33 exhibition games next spring, including 16 at home at GMS Field. The spring schedule concludes with a pair of exhibition games against Don Mattingly and the Marlins at Marlins Park on April 1st and 2nd. That’s a Friday and Saturday.

Here is the complete Grapefruit League schedule from the team’s official site:

Spring Training schedule

Something like 28 of 34 exhibition games were broadcast this past spring, either on YES or MLB Network or MLB.tv or wherever. I’m sure the same will be true next spring. Remember when watching Grapefruit League games was unthinkable? Spring Training games are meaningless but they’re still fun to watch in their own way. Technology is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, now we all have a date we can look forward to. Pitchers and catchers report February 18th and the first Spring Training game follows two weeks later. Now we just have to ride out the rest of the offseason.

The Yankees open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros on Monday, April 4th.

Friday Links: Braves, Upton, Severino, Chen, Marlins, Cuba

Upton and Simmons a few years back. (Presswire)
Upton and Simmons a few years back. (Presswire)

Hang in there, the weekend is only a few hours away. Here are a handful of stray links and notes to check out and help pass the time.

Yankees, Braves talked Upton and Severino last year

Last offseason the Yankees and Braves discussed a potential blockbuster trade that would have brought Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons to New York. Obviously things didn’t work out. Heyward was traded to the Cardinals last November and Simmons was traded to the Angels last night. The Yankees ended up acquiring Didi Gregorius to play shortstop and that worked out pretty well.

According to Jeff Passan and Mark Bowman, other iterations of the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster included Justin Upton — presumably instead of Heyward — and also Luis Severino. You’ve got to give something to get something, right? Last offseason Severino was still a Double-A pitching prospect who was ranked a top 35-ish prospect in baseball. Heyward fetched Shelby Miller, an established big leaguer, and Simmons by himself landed Sean Newcomb, a top 35-ish prospect.

A Heyward or Upton plus Simmons trade would have been mighty fun, though I’m happy with the way things turned out. Gregorius looks like a keeper at shortstop and Severino dazzled in his MLB debut this summer. Plus the Yankees can still sign Heyward or Upton this winter. That really would have been a fun trade though. Blockbusters are cool.

Yankees planning run at Chen

Last week we heard ex-Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen is a “possible target” for the Yankees this offseason, and now Mark Feinsand has corroborated the story, hearing the team will indeed make a serious run at Chen. The southpaw is said to be seeking at least a five-year contract. The O’s made Chen a qualifying offer as well, so the Yankees or whoever signs him will have to surrender a high draft pick.

I don’t doubt the reporting, but I’m not sure this one passes the sniff test. The Yankees seem disinclined to both spend big and give up their first round draft pick. And if they are going to spend big and give up a pick, there are better pitchers available in free agency, right? No knock on Chen, but you know what I mean. I can’t help but wonder if the Yankees are being used to create leverage. Them going after an AL East proven pitcher is believable, and hey, getting the Yankees involved is never bad for business. I dunno. We’ll see.

Donnie Baseball's new home. (Presswire)
Donnie Baseball’s new home. (Presswire)

Big market teams upset with Marlins

According to Jon Heyman, several big market clubs are upset with the Marlins and their financial situation. Miami generates the lowest revenue in baseball and thus receives the most revenue sharing money despite having a four-year-old ballpark. The big market clubs that pay into revenue sharing aren’t happy. “They’re a joke,” said one executive to Heyman.

The Yankees have paid more money into revenue sharing than any other club since the system was implemented, so it’s fair to wonder if they’re one of the teams upset with the Marlins. The Marlins receive roughly $50M in revenue sharing each year, according to Heyman. I’m not sure what MLB and the MLBPA can do about the Marlins — the union complained the team wasn’t spending enough money a few years ago, then poof, Josh Johnson got a nice extension — but getting rid of Jeffrey Loria is a good start. No reason to think that’s happening anytime soon though.

Yankees a candidate to play spring games in Cuba

At the GM Meetings earlier this week, commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB is looking into playing Spring Training games in Cuba next year. League officials visited different parks in Cuba recently and I guess gave the thumbs up, which is why Manfred is still talking about it. According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are one of ten teams being considered for potential spring games in Cuba.

This makes a lot of sense, right? The Yankees are the most popular and most recognizable brand in baseball, if not all of sports. I don’t think selling out exhibition games in Cuba would be a problem no matter who plays, but getting the Yankees involved would create a lot more interest. Also, from a logistical standpoint, it’s a nice quick flight from Tampa. I don’t think MLB would drag teams from Arizona to Cuba in the middle of Spring Training. Either way, nothing is final yet. There are still hurdles to clear before exhibition games are played in Cuba next year.