Monday Night Open Thread

Got some good news. On Instagram yesterday, Ty Hensley posted a video of himself throwing, just two weeks after he was viciously attacked during the holidays. It’s not much, but it shows Ty is no longer stuck in bed recovering. I have no idea if he will ready to start the season in time — his jaw is wired shut, which means he’s probably going to lose some weight the next few weeks and then need time to rebuild strength — but it’s good to see Hensley’s already back up on the horse and throwing. I’m rooting for him so much.

Here is your nightly open thread. Oregon and Ohio State are playing the college football national championship game (8:30pm ET on ESPN), plus the Nets are in action as well. That’s it for local spots. Use this thread to talk about anything on your mind, Yankees or otherwise.

Yankees announce new hires and changes to coaching staff for 2015

Pena has a new role for 2015. (Presswire)
Pena has a new role for 2015. (Presswire)

The Yankees have finalized and announced their 2015 coaching staff. As expected, Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell have been hired as the hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, respectively, and Joe Espada joins the team as infield coach. We heard those moves were coming yesterday.

There are other changes, however. Espada is taking over as third base coach with Rob Thomson shifting to bench coach. Tony Pena is now the first base coach. Bullpen coach Gary Tuck and pitching coach Larry Rothschild remain in their roles. Back when former hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher were let go, we heard the Yankees could rearrange their staff a bit, and that’s exactly what happened.

Espada, 39, was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13, so he has experience in that role. Thomson had been the team’s third base coach since 2009. He served as Joe Girardi‘s bench coach in 2008 and before that was the first base coach. Pena had been the bench coach since 2009 and prior to that he spent the 2005-08 seasons as the club’s first base coach, so he’s returning to a familiar role.

Thomson caught a lot of grief last year because the Yankees had 21 runners thrown out at the plate, the fourth most in baseball, and some were due to aggressive sends that were obviously bad. The Yankees had among the fewest runners thrown out at the plate in baseball from 2010-13, however. The Marlins also had a relatively small number of runners thrown out at home during Espada’s tenure, but that doesn’t tell us too much about him as a third base coach.

Either way, the most significant moves are the additions of Pentland and Cockrell. The rest is just rearranging furniture, really. The Yankees, like several other teams, have decided hitting coach is a two-man job and will count on the new voices of Pentland and Cockrell to turn around an offense that has been below-average the last two years. It seems like an impossible task to me, but that’s the job.

Bullpen overhaul doesn’t change Jacob Lindgren’s timetable

(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)
(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

The Yankees have been very active this offseason, eschewing big money long-term deals in favor of lower profile transactions, often with more players coming in than going out. The bullpen in particular has been overhauled this winter. In fact, the only two members of the 2014 Opening Day bullpen still with the organization are Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno are all gone. How about that?

Betances will again anchor the late innings this coming season, and while Warren could join him, there’s a chance he could up in the rotation to start the season. More than a small chance, I’d say. Robertson has been replaced by Andrew Miller, Kelley by David Carpenter, Thornton by Justin Wilson, and Phelps by Esmil Rogers. The Yankees still need to figure out who will take Nuno’s spot (and potentially Warren’s) but have no shortage of candidates. Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, and Gonzalez Germen are all 40-man roster options.

Among the non-40-man options is left-hander Jacob Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s amateur draft. The 21-year-old Lindgren is a pure reliever out of Mississippi State who was widely expected to be the first player from the 2014 draft class to reach MLB, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Brandon Finnegan of the Royals beat him to the show. Lindgren did reach Double-A Trenton in his pro debut before being shutdown due to his workload, however.

Between college and pro ball, Lindgren threw 80.1 innings in 2014, allowing eleven earned runs (1.23 ERA) on 35 hits and 38 walks (0.91 WHIP) while striking out 148. That’s a 16.6 K/9 and 45.1 K%. Lindgren also had a 71.0% or so ground ball rate at Mississippi State and an 81.0 % ground ball rate in pro ball. If you’re going to select a college reliever early in the draft — Lindgren was a second rounder (55th overall) after the Yankees forfeited some picks to sign free agents — he needs to really dominate, and dominate he did.

You can learn more about Lindgren in our Prospect Profile, but, to use a Brian Cashman phrase, the short version is that he checks every box. Misses bats, gets grounders, deception in his delivery, two excellent pitches in his fastball and slider … the works. Lindgren is about eight inches shorter than Miller and that’s not insignificant, though they have similar styles as southpaws with a knockout slider who can get both righties and lefties out. Between Miller, Wilson, and Lindgren, the Yankees have three lefty relievers at the upper levels who are more than matchup specialists. That’s pretty cool.

This winter’s bullpen overhaul means Lindgren’s chances of making the Opening Day roster have taken a hit. There are still some open spots, but the team already has several 40-man roster options ahead of Lindgren on the depth chart. Depth is never a bad thing, but in this case is works against him. That’s life. He will likely have to start the season with Triple-A Scranton and wait for a call-up. Make no mistake though, Lindgren is still very much part of the team’s 2015 plans.

“We saw a guy with above-average tools — an above-average fastball, a well above-average slider and he has some deception,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to George King (subs. req’d) recently. “He has the ingredients to move quickly, especially the role he is in … Either way (Opening Day roster or not), he has made an impact.”

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Simply put, the Yankees didn’t select a college reliever with their top draft pick and pay him a seven-figure signing bonus to not get him to the big leagues in a hurry. Lindgren was on the fast track last year and that track will continue into 2015. Yeah, the bullpen turnover means his chances of making the roster out of Spring Training have gone down, but I still expect Lindgren to be one of the first bullpen arms called up when reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Part of my thinking — and I’m guessing part of the team’s thinking as well — is the whole “there are so many bullets in that arm” thing, and there’s no sense wasting those bullets in the minors. Relievers generally have a short shelf life and the best way to maximize Lindgren’s value is to get him to MLB soon, not let him sit in the minors and waste time tinkering with a changeup or something like that. He’s a finished product for his role. The only development left for him is the learning and development that takes place in the big leagues.

Even before the bullpen was overhauled, I thought Lindgren’s first year in the big leagues could look like Robertson’s, meaning a few rides on the bus between Triple-A Scranton and the Bronx. (Robertson went up and down five different times from 2008-09 before sticking for good in late-May 2009). That’s how most relievers break in, and given all the team’s bullpen arms, it seems even more likely now. That’s fine as long as Lindgren gets chances. He doesn’t have to step right into high-leverage work, doesn’t need to immediately enter Joe Girardi‘s Circle of Trust™, just get opportunities to contribute. Given Girardi’s track record with relievers, I have no doubt it’ll happen.

The Yankees will benefit if and when Lindgren spends time in the minors by delaying his free agency one year — he only has to spend about eleven days in the minors for that to happen — but beyond that there isn’t much to be gained. Lindgren is ready to contribute right now and the Yankees know this. He wasn’t pushed aside by all the relievers brought in this winter, he’s part of the depth the team has been building. The bullpen at the end of the season is always different than the bullpen on Opening Day, and even though Lindgren is unlikely to be part of the picture in April, expect him to be there by September.

Short-term extensions for Pineda and Eovaldi make sense for Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

This coming Friday is a rather significant offseason date. It’s the deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to exchange salary figures, which is something both sides try to avoid. Arbitration is an acrimonious process that could potentially damage relationships. It’s not fun sitting through an arbitration hearing while your team details your shortcomings and explains why you aren’t worth as much as you think. Exchanging salary figures is step one in that process.

The Yankees haven’t been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang in 2008 — he earned $4M instead of $4.6M in 2008, and while that doesn’t sound like much of a difference, the savings carry over into future years as well — and I can’t even remember the last time they got as far as exchanging salary figures with a player. They’ve signed all of their arbitration-eligible players before the deadline to submit salary figures the last several years and I have no reason to think this year will be any different.

The Yankees started the offseason with seven arbitration-eligible players and are now down to four after a series of trades and non-tenders and signings. They’ve already avoided arbitration with Esmil Rogers by giving him a one-year deal worth $1.48M — that represents the maximum allowable pay cut from his 2014 salary, so it seems the Yankees said take this or we’ll non-tender you — and the four unsigned arbitration-eligible players are setup man David Carpenter, the injured Ivan Nova, and two pitchers with a bit more than three years of service time in Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda.

The three-year service time level is a weird place for starting pitchers. They’re hitting arbitration for the first time, which is right when you’d expect teams to lock up their top young arms with long-term extensions. But that hasn’t been the case recently. According to MLBTR’s Extension Tracker, Johnny Cueto is the only pitcher to sign long-term at that service time level since 2009. He received a four-year contract worth $27M with one option year.

Aside from Cueto, five other pitchers at the three-year service time level have signed multi-year extensions since 2009, and all five were two-year contracts with no options. All those deals did for the team was buy short-term cost certainty. The pitcher got a nice little payday while remaining arbitration-eligible one time after the two-year contract expired and still hitting free agency the year after that. It’s about short-term cost control, that’s it. It’s a bridge deal, so to speak.

With Eovaldi and Pineda arbitration-eligible for the first time this year, the Yankees could follow suit and sign one or both to short-term bridge deals now that the no extensions policy is no longer in place. A two-year deal makes a lot of sense for the team, I think. Both Eovaldi and Pineda carry enough questions — transition to the AL and injuries, respectively — that a long-term contract would be really risky, but they also have enough potential that they could take off in 2015 and cost a fortune through arbitration in 2016.

So, with that in mind, let’s quickly compare Eovaldi and Pineda to four of the five pitchers who signed two-year bridge contracts in recent seasons. The fifth pitcher, the one I’m excluding, is Clayton Kershaw, who isn’t comparable to anyone given his otherworldly performance. He was poised to smash arbitration salary records before signing his two-year deal.

Eovaldi Pineda Latos Chacin Kendrick Hammel
Career bWAR 4.3 5.0 9.0 8.2 3.1 3.4
Platform Year bWAR 0.2 2.7 4.3 1.9 1.8 1.5
Year 1 Salary pr. $3.1M pr. $2.1M $4.25M $1.65M $3M $3M
Year 2 Salary ? ? $7.25M $4.85M $4.5M $4.75M
Total $ ? ? $11.5M $6.5M $7.5M $7.75M

Eovaldi and Pineda are projected to earn $3.1M and $2.1M through arbitration this coming season, respectively, according to MLBTR’s model. There is no perfect comparison here given their somewhat unusual career paths, particularly Pineda, but there are never perfect comparisons anyway. All the Mat Latos, Jhoulys Chacin, Kyle Kendrick, and Jason Hammel contracts do is give us a ballpark number.

Based on performance and projected salary, the Kendrick and Hammel contracts appear to work as comparables for Eovaldi, but there’s a big catch: both Kendrick and Hammel were Super Twos who signed their bridge deals in their second of four trips through arbitration. They earned $2.45M and $1.9M their first times through arbitration, respectively. That complicates things. Those two were starting from a much higher base salary.

Had he not spent most of the last three seasons injured, Pineda could have been in line for Latos money this offseason, if not more. Actually, if he had been healthy, he would have been arbitration-eligible for the first time last winter. The Yankees optioned him to Triple-A two years ago after he completed his rehab and he spent enough time in the minors to push his arbitration-eligibility (and free agency) back a year.

Since this is an apples to oranges comparison, let’s look at it another way. Based on his salary in the first year of his bridge deal, Latos received a 171% raise in year two. Chacin received a 294% raise, Kendrick a 150% raise, and Hammel a 158% raise. Chacin is a huge outlier for whatever reason. Ignoring him, the other three averaged a 160% raise from year one to year two of their bridge deals. (Kershaw received a 146% raise from year one to year two of his contract, so even he’s in the same ballpark.)

If we apply that 160% raise to Eovaldi’s and Pineda’s projected 2015 salary, we get two-year contracts worth approximately $8.1M and $5.5M, respectively. That’s $3.1M in year one and $5M in year two for Eovaldi, and $2.1M in year one and $3.4M in year two for Pineda. This isn’t the most precise salary forecast in the world but we’re only looking for a ballpark number for discussion purposes, not an exact projection for a detailed analysis.

I don’t know about you, but I’d give Pineda two years and $5.5M in a heartbeat. Yes, I know he’s risky as hell, but it’s super cheap and he flat out dominated when on the mound last season. If he stays healthy this coming year and continues pitching anywhere close to that level, he’ll get a massive raise come 2016. Pineda signed for a small bonus as an amateur back in the day ($35,000!) and he’s already had one major shoulder surgery. He might jump at the guaranteed millions. I know I would.

As for Eovaldi, two years and $8.1M is a drop in the bucket for New York, though I wish we could see him in action in the AL East and Yankee Stadium before committing. Even if he were to flop next season, I think he’d still have plenty of trade value next offseason even with a $5M salary already set in stone for 2016. He’s young and throws hard. Teams are always looking for someone like that. It’s easy to say sign him, but I would understand passing and going year-to-year as well.

The big long-term extensions are fun and usually lead to tremendous savings in the future, but starting pitchers have been treated differently in recent years. At least pitchers at Eovaldi’s and Pineda’s service time level. A two-year bridge deal doesn’t buy up any free agent years or anything like that, but it does limit risk and could help the Yankees save some money not only in 2016, but also in 2017 since the savings career over. (Arbitration uses the player’s salary in the previous year as a base.)

There has been no indication the Yankees are considering a multi-year extension for any player right now, even a short two-year deal for Eovaldi and Pineda. That doesn’t mean they haven’t at least kicked around the idea though. It’s understandable if they simply sign both guys to a one-year contract for 2015 since Eovaldi has yet to throw a pitch in pinstripes and Pineda has made only 13 starts in the last three years, but a two-year bridge contract for either pitcher has the potential to be very beneficial. For both sides, really.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 12th, 2015

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

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

Six weeks from today, pitchers and catchers will officially report to Spring Training for the 2015 season. It seems so close and yet so far at the same time. Here are the weekend links:

  • My pal Carson Cistulli put together a post looking for the next Garrett Richards, meaning a prospect with big time velocity, very good control, and no changeup. This is actually a follow-up to Carson’s work in 2012 looking for the next Michael Pineda — another big velocity, very good control, no changeup guy — which cranked out Richards as the next Pineda. There are no Yankees prospects in his year’s results but it’s still a fun study.
  • In a two-part series (part one, part two), Noah Baron looked at ways to try to improve fWAR, specifically by using FIP-based park factors and what amount to division factors. His work shows fWAR is overvaluing AL pitchers and undervaluing NL pitchers, by as much as 5%.
  • Jeff Wiser wrote about players only elite skill is base-running, like Eric Young Jr. and Emilio Bonifacio. Those types of players tend to be overvalued and given more playing time than they deserve, but there is a place for them on some rosters.

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

Saturday: Use this as your open thread again. The NFL playoffs are in full swing — the Ravens and Patriots are playing right now (on NBC), and later tonight the Panthers and Seahawks play (8pm ET on FOX). The Knicks already lost but tonight the Nets, Rangers, and Islanders are all playing. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Sunday: This is the open thread one last time. The Colts and Broncos are playing right now (on CBS) and there’s also some college basketball, but that’s it. Have at it.

Curry: Yankees to name Joe Espada infield coach

(Steve Mitchell/Getty)
(Steve Mitchell/Getty)

In addition to naming Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell their new hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, respectively, the Yankees are also expected to name Joe Espada their new infield coach, reports Jack Curry. The hiring is not yet official but it’s only a matter of time.

It’s unclear if Espada will also take over as the team’s first base coach — Mick Kelleher had served as New York’s infield and first base coach these last several years. There was some talk the Yankees would move some coaches around, so it could be that Espada will fill another role with someone else taking over at first base. We’ll see.

Espada, 39, joined the Yankees as a special assistant to Brian Cashman last year. He had been the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 and also spent several years in Florida’s minor league system as a hitting coach and infield coordinator. Espada’s playing career spanned ten seasons in the minors but he never did reach the show.

With Espada, Pentland, and Cockrell now on board, the Yankees have fill out their coaching staff for the 2015 season. We just have to see if Espada is going to be the first base coach as well. I suppose he could be taking over as third base coach with Robbie Thomson moving over to first base. We’ll find out soon enough.