Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

Saturday Links: Otani, Minor League Free Agents, 2018 ZiPS

(Getty)
(Getty)

The offseason has been slow-moving so far, so here are some bits of news and notes to help you pass the time. Hopefully something exciting happens soon.

Otani will be posted this offseason

Yesterday the Nippon Ham Fighters announced they will indeed post Shohei Otani for MLB teams this offseason, according to the Japan Times and the Kyodo News. It’s important to note the (Ham) Fighters have only announced their intention to post Otani. He hasn’t actually been posted yet. MLB, MLBPA, and NPB are still haggling over the posting agreement. From the Kyodo News:

“Everyone in our ballclub accepts his thoughts,” said Hideki Kuriyama, manager of the (Ham) Fighters, at a press conference yesterday. “It’s not just me, but everyone in the ballclub believed in what he can do. I never lost doubt and I was sure he can do it. I spent the past five years just believing in that.”

Otani recently hired Nez Balelo of CAA, an MLBPA certified agent, which could help settle the posting squabble between MLB, MLBPA, and NPB. The union knows Otani is in good hands now — Balelo is a veteran agent who has experience representing Japanese players (Nori Aoki, Junichi Tazawa) as well as big name players (Ryan Braun, Adam Jones) — and can be sure he is completely aware of the situation. Once the posting stuff if sorted out, Otani will be posted. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

16 Yankees become minor league free agents

Earlier this week a whopping 572 players became minor league free agents across baseball, according to Matt Eddy. Sixteen of those 572 players are Yankees. Or were Yankees, anyway. Here are the 16.

  • Pitchers (8): RHP Colten Brewer, LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP Juan Jimenez, RHP Tyler Jones, LHP Joe Mantiply, RHP Jose Pena, RHP Eduardo Rivera, LHP Eric Wooten
  • Catchers (4): Wilkin Castillo, Kellin Deglan, Eddy Rodriguez, Wes Wilson
  • Infielders (3): 3B Dante Bichette Jr., IF Cito Culver, IF Donovan Solano
  • Outfielders (1): Mason Williams

Bichette and Culver are the most notable names here as former high draft picks, and Williams was once among the organization’s very best prospects. Brewer and Camarena are the best prospects right now, though neither comes particularly close to cracking the organization’s top 30 prospects list. Or even the top 40 list. Solano and Williams are the only two of those 16 players who played in the big leagues with the Yankees.

Also, according to Eddy, the Yankees have re-signed LHP Chaz Hebert, who was due to become a minor league free agent this winter. The 25-year-old southpaw had a breakout 2015 season, throwing 134 innings with a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) at three levels. Then he blew out his elbow and missed the entire 2016 season and the first half of 2017 with Tommy John surgery. Hebert got back on the mound late this year and will back in the fold next year.

Yankees top 2018 AL ZiPS projections

A few days ago Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to put together way-too-early 2018 projected standings. ZiPS right now pegs the Yankees for 92 wins and first place in the AL East next year. In fact, those 92 wins are the most among all AL teams — the 90-win Astros are second — and second most in MLB overall behind the 96-win Dodgers.

New York of course had a gigantic payroll in 2017 as it typically does, but what people haven’t completely noticed about this team is that it got far more of its wins from inexpensive, young talent than the good Yankees teams typically do. The last time the team won a World Series, it got 9.7 WAR (17 percent) from players making less than a million bucks. In 2017, that number was 25.9 WAR (49 percent).

Of course, there is still an entire offseason to go, so every team’s roster can and will change before Opening Day. As things stand right now though, the Yankees are set up well going into next year thanks to their young core and some nice veteran complementary players. It’s entirely possible they could go into next season even bigger favorites to win the AL East depending how the offseason plays out.

Managerial Search Update: Wedge, Boone, Flaherty, Cone

Wedge. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Wedge. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Two weeks and one day ago, the Yankees parted ways with longtime manager Joe Girardi. They’ve just now started interviewing managerial candidates, at least as far as we know. Here’s the latest.

Yankees interview Eric Wedge

The Yankees have interviewed former Indians and Mariners manager Eric Wedge for their managerial opening, the team announced earlier today. He joins Rob Thomson as the only candidates who we know actually interviewed for the job. Wedge, 49, managed the Indians from 2003-09 and the Mariners from 2011-13. He famously ripped the Mariners after resigning, accusing the front office of “total dysfunction and a lack of leadership.” Zoinks.

Wedge, who managed CC Sabathia for a number of years with the Indians, has spent the last few seasons working with the Blue Jays in their player development department. He was well regarded for his work with young players during his time in Cleveland, and he has a reputation for being a players’ manager, though he will get on his guys if he feels it is necessary. Wedge has made it no secret over the years he wants to get back into managing. I do like the idea of Wedge as a candidate, though he has been out of the managerial game for a few years now.

Boone a candidate for managerial opening

According to Buster Olney and Andrew Marchand, former Yankee and current ESPN television analyst Aaron Boone is a candidate for the team’s managerial opening. He of course played for the Yankees in 2003, and hit one of the biggest home runs in franchise history. The Yankees have reached out for an interview. Also, Marchand says David Ross, another ESPN analyst, may be a managerial candidate as well. Hmmm.

Boone, 44, last played in 2009 and he joined ESPN immediately after retiring. He has no coaching or managerial experience. Boone did grow up in MLB clubhouses as a third generation big leaguer, and he spent the last few seasons of his career bouncing around as a role player who received praise for his leadership. Based on his broadcasts, Boone is into analytics. Can he be an effective manager? Your guess is as good as mine.

Cone, Flaherty interested in manager’s job

Cone. (Al Bello/Getty)
Cone. (Al Bello/Getty)

Both David Cone and John Flaherty, two former Yankees turned YES Network broadcasters, have reached out to the team to let them know they’re interested in the manager’s job, reports Mike Mazzeo. “I just wanted (Brian Cashman) to know I’m at a point in my life where I would be interested in it. My agent and him have had a conversation, but it hasn’t gone any further than that,” said Flaherty. The Yankees have not gotten back to either Flaherty or Cone about an interview.

Neither Cone nor Flaherty has any coaching or managerial experience, and as fans, it’s tough to separate our opinions of them as broadcasters from their potential as managers. Just because Flaherty comes off as old school on television doesn’t mean he’d be a bad manager, the same way Cone reciting FIP and WAR doesn’t make him a good manager. Cone has been a staunch pro-labor guy throughout his career and he was heavily involved in the MLBPA. I wonder if that’ll work against him. Ownership might not love the idea of him running the clubhouse.

Thomson wants to remain with Yankees

Even if he doesn’t get the manager’s job, Thomson would like to remain with the Yankees, he told Erik Boland. “I’m a Yankee. I’ve been here 28 years and if didn’t get this job, I would certainly want to come back because this is what I consider my home. I love it here, I love the players, I love what’s going on here,” he said. Thomson, who interviewed earlier this week, has been with the Yankees since 1990 and has done basically everything there is to do in the organization. Given his existing relationships with the young players on the roster, I think Thomson is worth keeping around in some capacity.

The King of Soft Contact [2017 Season Review]

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

It’s hard to believe CC Sabathia‘s time with the Yankees may very well be over. The 2017 season was the final guaranteed year on Sabathia’s contract — well, it was the vesting option year, not a guaranteed contract year — and he is currently a free agent able to sign with the highest bidder at a moment’s notice.

The Yankees won a World Series and were never truly bad during Sabathia’s nine years in pinstripes. Their worst season was 84 wins and, really, that’s not that bad. The leaderboard among Yankees pitchers from 2009-17:

  1. CC Sabathia: +28.4 WAR
  2. Masahiro Tanaka: +12.8 WAR
  3. David Robertson: +12.4 WAR
  4. Hiroki Kuroda: +12.0 WAR
  5. Mariano Rivera: +12.0 WAR

Even with the lean years from 2013-15, Sabathia has been far and away the Yankees’ best and most reliable pitcher the last nine years, and their best pitcher since peak Mike Mussina. The Yankees gave him a seven-year contract worth $161M back in the day, then essentially tacked on two years and $50M. Sabathia provided the team with $212.8M in production in exchange for that $211M in salary, per FanGraphs’ calculations. That doesn’t include the financial windfall the Yankees received following the 2009 World Series title, to which Sabathia contributed greatly.

Following those lean years from 2013-15, the now 37-year-old Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher in 2016, and he used the same approach in 2017. His 2016 and 2017 seasons were shockingly similar on a rate basis:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2016 179.2 3.91 4.28 19.8% 8.5% 50.1% 1.10
2017 148.2 3.69 4.49 19.3% 8.0% 49.9% 1.27

Sabathia allowed a few more home runs in 2017 than 2016 because, well, everyone gave up more home runs in 2017 than 2016. Despite the increase in homers, Sabathia was able to lower his ERA this year because he had more success pitching out of jams — his strand rate went from 75.7% in 2016 to 79.0% in 2017 — and also because Joe Girardi had a quicker hook. Remember how many times he left Sabathia in only to watch him allow runs in his final inning last year? That didn’t happen as much this year. His innings per start average went from 5.99 to 5.51.

Let’s dig a little more into Sabathia’s generally awesome 2017 season.

Postseason Hero

Maybe hero is too strong a word. Aside from Tanaka though, Sabathia was the Yankees’ best starter in the postseason, and the team trusted him so much that they gave him the start in Game Five of the ALDS and Game Seven of the ALCS. Look at the game log:

  • ALDS Game Two: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 ER,, 3 BB, 5 K
  • ALDS Game Five: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
  • ALCS Game Three: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 5 K
  • ALCS Game Seven: 3.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K

There’s a story behind each of those starts. In ALDS Game Two, Sabathia allowed the four runs early, then settled down to retire eleven of the final 12 batters he faced. In ALDS Game Five, he dominated for four innings before the Indians were able to string together some singles in the fifth.

In ALCS Game Three, the Yankees scored early and often, and Sabathia did exactly what you want a veteran pitcher to do with a big lead. He worked quickly and kept the other team off the board, and got his offense back on the field. In ALCS Game Seven, when Sabathia clearly had no command, he somehow got through 3.1 innings while allowing just the one run.

It’s a damn shame the season ended in a Sabathia start given how well he pitched this season overall, though, to be fair, it’s hard to pin that loss on the big man. The offense scored one run total in Games Six and Seven of the ALCS. Five earned runs in 19 total innings in the postseason (2.37 ERA)? Sign me up. With Luis Severino up there in innings, Sonny Gray struggling to throw strikes, and Tanaka being a bit of an unknown going into the postseason given his rough 2017 overall, Sabathia was the steady hand in October.

King of Soft Contact

For years and years, Sabathia was a power pitcher who overwhelmed hitters with velocity, a wipeout slider, and the sheer intimidation factor that comes with being 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds. As the years and innings piled up, that approach no longer worked, so last year Sabathia scrapped his four-seam fastball entirely. He started throwing a cutter. From Brooks Baseball:

cc-sabathia-fastball-selection

The cutter did a few things for Sabathia. One, it gave him a way to bust right-handed hitters inside. Righties punished him from 2013-15, but once Sabathia was able to get in on their hands, he was able to keep them at bay. And two, it allowed him to miss the barrel more often. The straight four-seamer was getting squared up far too often. The subtle movement on the cutter makes it more difficult for hitters to get the sweet spot on the ball.

As a result, Sabathia traded hard contact for soft contact last year, and this year he was again one of the best contact managers in the league. Hitters had as much trouble making hard contact against Sabathia this season than they did against guys like Corey Kluber and Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw. Sabathia’s rates (min. 140 IP):

  • Soft Contact: 27.2% (sixth highest)
  • Hard Contact: 24.1% (fifth lowest)
  • Average Exit Velocity: 83.9 mph (lowest)
  • Average Launch Angle: 6.2° (12th lowest) (what’s this?)

Simply put, over the last two seasons Sabathia has made it very difficult to hit the ball hard against him. When he makes mistakes, they still get crushed. That’s true for everyone. Sabathia gave up a 470-foot homer to Manny Machado back in April. It was the 19th longest homer in baseball this season.

Sabathia has been able to limit those mistakes the last two seasons. From 2013-15, there were a few too many of those each time out. Now he keeps them to a minimum. Sabathia embraced the cutter and embraced the finesse pitcher within, which he absolutely had to do to be successful at this stage of his career. He’s transformed himself as a pitcher, and now that he’s done it for a second year in a row, we know it’s not a fluke. This is who Sabathia is now. He is one of the game’s best soft contact pitchers.

2018 Outlook

Like I said, Sabathia is a free agent right now, free to sign with any team at any time. He has made it perfectly clear he wants to remain in New York, however. “This is my home. I want to see this thing through. I want to come back here and finish things off. This is where I want to be,” said a very emotional Sabathia following Game Seven of the ALCS.

There are reasons the Yankees should re-sign Sabathia and reasons to stay away. They do need a fifth starter, and Tanaka not opting out means getting a big name like Yu Darvish or even Alex Cobb won’t happen without blowing up the luxury tax plan. Sabathia won’t cost a ton and won’t require a long-term contract, plus there won’t be an adjustment period of any kind. He knows the ropes and knows New York. Plug him into the rotation and go.

On the other hand, Sabathia is 37, and his balky right knee won’t get better. Sabathia has admitted he’ll likely need a knee replacement after his playing days are over. He did miss a few starts this season when the knee acted up. Also, Sabathia doesn’t pitch deep into games anymore. He’ll get through five and maybe six on a good day, and that’s pretty much it. As with all players this age, Sabathia could lose it any moment.

The offseason is still young and right now the Yankees seem to be focused on finding a new manager and coaching staff. That’s kinda important. Hard to make a good pitch to free agents when they don’t know who the manager or coaching staff will be. I get the sense Sabathia is in no rush to sign a new contract. I think he wants to see if things can be worked out with the Yankees, and if not, he’ll find a home elsewhere. If this is the end, Sabathia was a great Yankee. I hope he comes back for another season though.

Mailbag: Otani, Luxury Tax, Pineda, Castro, Lind, Lucroy, Torres

A dozen questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send all your questions throughout the week.

Otani. (AP)
Otani. (AP)

John asks: Considering the money limits placed on signing Otani, I imagine teams will get creative. What can they do? Can they throw in all the lifestyle perks stars get like flying family around and whatever else they throw in? Can they informally agree to an extension that will get him paid for real as soon as possible? Or will his decision have to come down to hitting and comfort level?

Keith asks: Are there any rules or guidelines that dictate how long Otani’s contract must be? Can he come over and sign a one year deal and then break the bank the following winter?

Going to lump these two together. The international spending rules, which apply to Otani, strictly prohibit perks and non-monetary payments. You can’t promise to call a player up by a certain date, or to sign him to an extension by a certain date, or provide travel/housing for the player and his family, things like that. Ben Badler has the breakdown. I suspect MLB will be on high alert with Otani too. Anything that looks fishy will get flagged. He gets a standard rate minor league contract like everyone else. No multi-year deals or anything.

I suppose the two sides could agree to an extension under the table, though given everything going on with the Braves right now, I don’t think anyone will risk it. Reports indicate MLB wants Otani treated like any other rookie, and if he signs an extension at some point, they want it to be in line with the established market. The largest extension given to a player with one year of service time is seven years and $58M. That went to Andrelton Simmons. Want to sign Otani long-term after Year One? That’s the benchmark.

Here’s the thing though: Simmons signed his contract four years ago. The market has changed since then. Inflation exists. Last year Indians GM Mike Cherboff’s young son spilled the beans that the team was trying to give Francisco Lindor a $100M extension, when he had one year of service time. Shouldn’t that be the benchmark for Otani? If he goes out and, say, hits .250/.330/.450 with 20 homers and throws 140 innings with a 3.75 ERA in 2017, how in the world could MLB argue he’s not a $100M or even a $150M player?

Brandon asks: Have the Yankees publicly indicated that they are willing to go over the luxury threshold after getting under the limit? It is clear that they want to get under, but who’s to say they will go back to their free spending ways afterward? I recall Hal saying something to the effect of you can field a WS team under the threshold. This could be justification for getting under the cap or justification on staying under the cap. Thoughts?

Hal Steinbrenner‘s standard line is “you don’t need a $200M payroll to win the World Series.” The Yankees haven’t said anything indicating they will go back over the luxury tax threshold in the future after getting under and resetting their tax rate next year, though I wouldn’t expect them to say that anyway. It could only hurt them during contract negotiations.

The general assumption seems to be the Yankees will go back over the luxury tax threshold as soon as 2019, when Manny Machado and Bryce Harper become free agents, though I’m not convinced it’ll happen. Hal seems pretty dead set on getting under the threshold and not going wild with a $250M or so payroll. Then again, isn’t that the point? To give yourself some leverage by giving the appearance of holding a hard line? I’m not entirely convinced the Yankees will go go back over the threshold in the future. Everything Hal says is calculated though. He’s no dummy.

Mark asks: Do you think the Yankees sign Michael Pineda to a low risk two-year contract? Something like Lindgren and Eovaldi signed with other teams? Or is he old news?

I don’t see it happening. It’ll chew up payroll space under the luxury tax threshold for a pitcher who won’t pitch in 2018. Or at least won’t pitch until late in the season. The Rays gave Nathan Eovaldi a one-year deal worth $2M with a club option for a second year, so that’s the going rate for a guy like Pineda. Problem is, that’s $2M you can’t spend elsewhere on the roster given the luxury tax plan. In principle, I’m totally cool with giving Pineda an Eovaldi contract and rehabbing him. I just don’t see the Yankees spending finite luxury tax payroll dollars on a guy who won’t pitch much, if at all, next year.

Gary & Greg. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Gary & Greg. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Bart asks: How many home runs combined do you think Judge, Sanchez, and Bird will hit in 2018? Is your over/under number 105? 115? 120? What number would be good, great, or in-your-wildest-dreams? What great 3-player home run combos can you think of?

As much as I love Aaron Judge, and as great as he is, I don’t think it’s fair to expect any player to hit 50+ home runs in back-to-back years. Fifty is a huge number. The last player to hit 50+ in back-to-back years was Alex Rodriguez in 2001 (52) and 2002 (57). Sammy Sosa did it in 2000 (50) and 2001 (64). Barry Bonds hit 50 once in his career. Jim Thome only did it once. Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols have zero combined 50-homer seasons.

Realistically, if Judge hits 40-45 homers next season, I’ll be thrilled. Hitting 35-40 would be awesome even if it would represent a big step down from his 2017 output. How about this for their 2018 homer totals?

That gives us a range of 90-105. Super optimistic scenario has them hitting what, 120 dingers combined? That means Bird has to stay healthy, of course. Only 17 trios of teammates in history have combined to hit 120+ homers in a season. Jermaine Dye (44), Thome (42), and Paul Konerko (35) combined for 121 with the 2006 White Sox, the most recent team to do it. Here are the top four homer hitting trio of teammates in history:

  1. 1961 Yankees (143): Roger Maris (61), Mickey Mantle (54), Moose Skowron (28)
  2. 2001 Giants (132): Bonds (73), Rich Aurilia (37), Jeff Kent (22)
  3. 1997 Rockies (130): Larry Walker (49), Andres Galarraga (41), Vinny Castilla (40)
  4. 1996 Mariners (129): Ken Griffey Jr. (49), Jay Buhner (44), A-Rod (36)

Four teams are tied for fifth with three players combining to his 127 homers in a season (1996 Rockies, 1997 Mariners, 1998 Cardinals, 1998 Mariners). The Yankees got 110 homers out of their top three homer hitters in 2017 (Judge, Sanchez, Didi Gregorius), and that’s with Judge hitting 53. Getting 110 from Judge, Sanchez, and Bird next season would be pretty awesome in my book.

Steve asks: You’re Yankee GM and have 2 offers sitting in front of you for Starlin Castro. One is a package of MLB ready low ceiling depth guys that can solve some problems for the 2018 Yankees. The other offer is a package of lower level high ceiling prospects that could restock the farm system. Given the state of the Yankee 40 man roster, which offer do you choose?

High ceiling guys for sure. The Yankees, even after all the trades and graduations, still have a deep farm system with a lot of lower ceiling guys on the cusp of helping at the MLB level, like Billy McKinney and Thairo Estrada and Nick Solak. They don’t need more of them. Give me the upside guys in the lower levels. Shoot for the moon. The Yankees have been much better at developing players the last few years — maybe that will no longer be the case with Gary Denbo gone, but who knows — so show faith in your people and go for the high ceilings.

Now, that said, I’m not sure Castro has a ton of trade value right now. He is now closer to free agency and more expensive than when the Yankees got him two years ago. And he’s the same damn player.

  • Last two years with Cubs: .278/.318/.406 (98 wRC+) and +1.9 WAR per 600 PA
  • First two years with Yankees: .283/.317/.442 (101 wRC+) and +1.6 WAR per 600 PA

Surely the Yankees acquired Castro hoping he’d take his game to another level as he entered what should be the prime years of his career, but it hasn’t really happened. Starlin’s not a bad player. He’s not a great player either. He’s … okay. Ideally he’s the seventh or eighth best hitter in your lineup, not one of the top three. The Yankees got Castro for Adam Warren two years ago. Realistically, is he worth more than that now?

Seth asks: Since we already have big money committed to the bullpen in Chapman and Robertson, can you see Cashman trading for a cost-controlled lefty reliever instead of signing one like Jake McGee and Mike Minor? I feel like those guys could cost too much for their worth. Someone with years of control like the Orioles’ Donnie Hart or the Diamondbacks’ Andrew Chafin would probably cost a lot but it might be worth it in the long run.

Finding a long-term left-on-left reliever shouldn’t be much of a priority. Those guys generally have such a short MLB shelf life. Very few lefty relievers — relievers in general, really — get through their six years of team control before breaking down and/or losing effectiveness. Lefties like McGee and Jerry Blevins are the exception. Minor was a starter all those years, remember. This was his first season as a full-time reliever. Two years ago Chasen Shreve looked like a potential long-term keeper. Before him it was Phil Coke. Heck, look at Justin Wilson. He just stopped throwing strikes one day. When it goes, it goes quick. Finding a young controllable lefty reliever would be swell. I wouldn’t prioritize it though. Seems like a fool’s errand looking someone like that.

Lind. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)
Lind. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Adam Lind as DH/1B insurance?

Eh. I’m not sure carrying two left-handed hitting first base/DH only guys on the roster makes sense. Bird is already holding down one spot. I know DH is open, but I don’t love tying that down with one player. At the same time, it would be smart to bring in some first base insurance given Bird’s injury history. I’m just not sure you can squeeze him and Lind onto the same roster. A right-handed first baseman would make more sense, or a lefty hitter who could play the outfield or maybe even some third base would be a better fit. With a four-man bench — it’s a three-man bench a lot of times during the season — having two so similarly limited players doesn’t seem like the best idea.

Robert asks: Writers sometimes use the year after effect to refer to pitchers experiencing a slump or even injury the year after their workload jumps drastically. I know Sevi had a large jump in workload and innings this past season. I was honestly surprised by how much the Yankees allowed his workload to increase. Is this something to worry about with him this coming season?

Yes in that every pitcher is a risk to get hurt, and young pitchers who increased their workloads from one year to the next are more at risk (in theory). Luis Severino went from 151.1 innings in 2016 to 209.1 innings in 2017. That’s a 58-inning increase. It’s an increase of 47.2 innings from 2015, his previous career high. Among the pitchers who, like Severino, threw 190+ innings at age 23 are Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw, who became workhorses. The list also includes Patrick Corbin and Jair Jurrjens, who broke down the very next year.

Pitcher injuries are not really something you can predict or 100% prevent. All you can do is take precautions and hope for the best. The Yankees aren’t dumb. They are one of the most analytical teams in baseball. I’m sure they kept an eye on Severino throughout the season for signs of fatigue, including monitoring his spin rates and things like that, and made the best decision they could. And, to be fair, it wasn’t until his very last start that I thought Severino looked worn down. He looked good in the ALDS. The Yankees didn’t throw caution to the wind. They kept an eye on Severino and did what they thought was best. That’s all you can do. That and hope you get a little lucky.

RJ asks: Mike, what are your thoughts about bringing in Jonathan Lucroy as a backup/DH/1B/mentor to the Kraken and what looks like a young pitching staff? He was an elite pitch framer and was very good offensively a few years ago, but obviously if agreed to such role. Take the savings from Holiday and pay Lucroy a little extra or incentives in the contract if he becomes the starter. Still only 31. He can be our David Ross.

Any half-decent free agent catcher is going to look for more playing time elsewhere before settling for sporadic playing time as Sanchez’s backup. Lucroy is only 31 and as recently as 2016 he hit .292/.355/.500 (123 wRC+). He was awful in 2017 (82 wRC+), but he’s not old and you don’t need to look far back to see his last great season. I have to think Lucroy will look for a starting job somewhere before considering backup catcher opportunities. Adding Lucroy as an extremely overqualified backup would be great. I’d love it. Lucroy is a fit for the Yankees. The Yankees aren’t a fit for Lucroy though. Someone will give him a chance to start.

Jon asks: Do you think the Yankees would consider just releasing Ellsbury if they can’t find a trade partner (even with covering most of his salary)? It seems like opening a spot for Frazier, Hicks, etc. would still outweigh keeping him on the roster simply because he’s making a salary.

No. Not with three years left on the contract. Maybe if there was only one year left on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s contract, they’d think about releasing him. Not with three. If they can’t move him this winter, the Yankees will just keep Ellsbury and go into the season with him as the fourth outfielder. One injury and he’s starting again, and hopefully he goes on a hot streak at some point and carries the team for a bit. Eating money to move Ellsbury and open a roster spot makes sense. It’s probably a little too soon to consider eating every last dollar and flat out releasing him though. Surely some team would give the Yankees a prospect if they were willing to eat the entire contract, right?

Jonathan asks: I have been hearing how Gleyber Torres is amazing. Number one prospect in baseball, 65 on the 20 to 80 scale, perennial all star potential, etc. But publications are projecting him to be a 270 hitter with 20-25 home runs and solid defense. That’s good but how is that an all star? I thought with a 65 hit tool and 55 power, we would be looking at a 300-325 with 25-30 home runs. Which one is true? My version is worth the hype of the number one prospect in baseball, the others seem not to be. Please explain.

I can’t remember seeing any reports that call Torres a .270 hitter with 20-25 homer power. At least not recent reports. MLB.com has Gleyber at 65 hit and 55 power, which projects out to .290-.300 AVG and 20-ish homers. (Maybe that’s 25+ homers with the juiced ball?) Keep in mind these grades are almost always conservative and undersell the player. They had Judge with 60 power coming into the season. No. Just … no. Between his approach, his bat-to-ball skills, and his ability to make adjustments, Torres absolutely projects to a .300 hitter in my opinion. At his peak, anyway. He might not hit .300 as a 21-year-old in the big leagues in 2018. Long-term, Gleyber has legit .300/.380/.500 potential in my book, not to mention the skills to play very good defense. That is top five prospect in the game worthy.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Yankees announced details for their 2018 holiday ticket sale. You can find all the information right here. Buried within the release, the Yankees say all Monday to Thursday home games next April will begin at 6:35pm ET, not 7:05pm ET. They’re testing out the new start time to see whether families have an easier time taking their kids to game. The problem? It can be pretty hard to get from the office to the ballpark in time for first pitch as it is. Lots of people are going to miss the first few innings with the new start time. We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s the open thread for the night. The Seahawks and Cardinals are the Thursday NFL game, plus the Devils are playing too. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.

Thoughts on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects

Adams. (The Citizens' Voice)
Adams. (The Citizens’ Voice)

Now that the 2017season is over, the crew at Baseball Prospectus is storming through their annual look at the top ten prospects (plus more) in each farm system. Yesterday they hit the Yankees. From what I can tell, the entire article is free. You don’t need a subscription to read the commentary.

“A year after being deadline sellers, the Yankees thinned out their farm with graduations and a pair of July 31st buys. The system is down a little, but has an elite 1-2 punch at the top and a bonanza of high-upside teenagers further down the organizational totem pole,” said the write-up. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Estevan Florial
  3. RHP Chance Adams
  4. LHP Justus Sheffield
  5. RHP Albert Abreu
  6. 3B Miguel Andujar
  7. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  8. RHP Domingo German
  9. RHP Matt Sauer
  10. RHP Luis Medina

Both OF Clint Frazier and UTIL Tyler Wade exhausted their rookie eligibility this season, which is why they’re not in the top ten. Frazier exceeded the 130 at-bat rookie limit (he finished with 134) while Wade accrued too much service time. The rookie limit is 45 days outside the September roster expansion period. Wade finished with 50 such days, by my unofficial count. Anyway, some thoughts.

1. A year ago at this time the farm system was very position player heavy. The top four and six of the top nine prospects in the system were position players, per Baseball Prospectus. Six of my top eight were position players. Now Baseball Prospectus has seven pitchers among the top ten prospects in the organization. Furthermore, six prospects in the 11-20 range are pitchers as well. That’s a lot of quality arms! And the Yankees are going to need them too. Pitchers break down, they fail to develop a third pitch, etc. There are so many things that can derail development. Plus young pitching is the best currency in baseball. It can get you almost anything you want at the trade deadline. We could start to see the system strength shift from position players to pitchers earlier this year. Now this is damn close to a pitcher first farm system.

2. Speaking of pitchers, where’s RHP Jorge Guzman? He’s not mentioned in the Baseball Prospectus write-up at all. Not in the top ten, not in the next ten, nothing. In the comments it was explained the Yankees have a deep system and Guzman essentially got squeezed out by the numbers crunch, though I’m not sure I agree with him not being a top 20 prospect in the system. Heck, he’s in my top ten right now. When you have Medina in the top ten and RHP Roansy Contreras in the next ten, it’s tough to understand why Guzman isn’t there. He’s a more polished version of those guys, relatively speaking. Perhaps his age is the problem? Guzman will turn 22 in January and he’s yet to pitch in a full season league. That happens when you don’t sign until 18. I dunno. They don’t check IDs on the mound. If you can get outs, it doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 31 or 41. Guzman’s stuff is as good as anyone’s in the system and he made great strides with his command and secondary pitches in 2017. Seems like a top ten prospect to me.

3. OF Pablo Olivares got some love. He’s been a little sleeper favorite of mine the last two years. The 19-year-old struggled in his quick stint with Low-A Charleston last season, but he .311/.420/.424 (149 wRC+) with 10.7% walks and 13.4% strikeouts in complex ball from 2016-17. Olivares is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. “I project him to at least average across the board, led by a future 55 hit tool … (When) patient, he took walks and drove pitches to center and oppo. He’s bigger than his listed 6-foot, 160 pounds (likely closer to 170), and while just an average runner, his reads and instincts in center are good enough to stick with an average arm. With maturity and some added strength, he at least has a chance to see 50 power,” said the write-up, which included Olivares as a prospect in the 11-20 range of the farm system. I like him. I think he’ll establish himself as a no-doubt top 15 prospect in the system in 2018. There’s a “Thairo Estrada but an outfielder” quality to Olivares.

4. My favorite feature of Baseball Prospectus’ annual prospect write-ups are the “top talents 25 and under” lists. The ten best players in the organization no older than 25, basically. Straightforward, right? New York’s list has Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino in the 1-2-3 spots in that order, then slide the top ten prospects behind them. Noticeably absent: Greg Bird. Hmmm. I assume the injuries are the reason Bird was omitted from the top 25 and under talents — “As per usual, his future outlook depends almost entirely on his health,” said the write-up — but even considering that, I still feel like he belongs in the top ten somewhere. Why would injuries knock Bird out of the top ten but not, say, Abreu? He had injury problems of his own this year and he’s never pitched above High-A. Bird is quite risky given his injury history. He’s also shown he can be a productive big leaguer when healthy. Not sure I agree with knocking him down the list below prospects, who themselves are inherently risky.