2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

2014 Winter Meetings-002The first day of the 2014 Winter Meetings came and went with some rumors but no real action, at least for the Yankees. They did lose closer David Robertson to the White Sox, but I got the sense he was a goner as soon as they added Andrew Miller last week. New York’s top priority remains rotation help, and they need multiple starters to protect against all the injury concerns currently in the rotation.

On Monday we learned the Yankees may or may not be in on Jon Lester, are still after Chase Headley, and have spoken to the Braves (Craig Kimbrel), Marlins (Steve Cishek), and Royals (Greg Holland and Wade Davis) about trading for bullpen help. That’s about it. The Yankees tend to keep things very close to the vest. We’ll again keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All timestamps are ET.

  • 9:53pm: Just in case you were holding out any hope for Jon Lester, he is currently deciding between the Red Sox and Cubs after telling the Giants they are out of the running. I suppose San Francisco could turn around and use that money for Chase Headley now. (Joel Sherman & Alex Pavlovic)
  • 6:24pm: Are the Yankees in on Max Scherzer and/or Jon Lester? “It’s not in my best interests to say,” said Brian Cashman. Boring. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • 6:21pm: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees never had interest in signing both David Robertson and Miller. Once they signed Miller, they said they were still on Robertson only drive up the price for others. Cashman also said he spoke to the Athletics about Jeff Samardzija, but there was no match. [Marly Rivera & Dan Barbarisi]
  • 3:25pm: The Yankees continue to insist they will not get involved in the Max Scherzer bidding. Things can always change later in the offseason, but that’s the plan right now. [Mark Feinsand]
  • 2:03pm: Team officials still don’t know if Hiroki Kuroda will play next season and it’s complicating their search for pitching. Kuroda’s three contracts with the Yankees were signed on January 26th, November 20th, and December 7th, in case you’re wondering. At some point they have to start moving forward without him. [Bob Klapisch]
  • 1:33pm: The Pirates have agreed to re-sign Francisco Liriano to a three-year, $39M deal. The Yankees were never connected to Liriano this offseason but he is a pitching option now off the market. Also, it Liriano gets three years and $39M, you have to figure Brandon McCarthy will get less than that. [Jon Heyman]
  • 11:05am: The four-year, $65M offer for Chase Headley is a mystery — no one knows where it came from. (I think his agent floated it as a way to drive up the price.) The Yankees were originally thinking about a three-year deal at $39M but would go to four years as long as the annual salary came down. [Jon Heyman]
  • 9:30am: Chase Headley will made a decision and pick a team before the end of the Winter Meetings. The Yankees and Giants are among the three or four teams bidding for him. I’m guessing Headley will wait until after Lester signs just to see exactly how much San Francisco money has to play with. [Joel Sherman]
  • Jason Grilli‘s agent confirmed he spoke to Brian Cashman earlier this offseason but declined to say whether the two would talk again during the Winter Meetings. The Yankees could definitely use another late-inning reliever now that Robertson’s gone. [Brendan Kuty]

Aaron Judge tops Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list

Judge putting a hurtin' on a baseball. (MiLB.com)
Judge putting a hurtin’ on a baseball. (MiLB.com)

The crew at Baseball Prospectus is currently in the middle of their annual top ten prospects series breaking down the best young minor leaguers in each organization. They published their top ten Yankees prospects list yesterday, though it is behind the paywall. You can see the list itself for free, but you have to pay for the scouting reports and everything else. Here’s the top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge
  2. RHP Luis Severino
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. LHP Ian Clarkin
  5. SS Jorge Mateo
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. CF Leonardo Molina
  9. LHP Jacob Lindgren
  10. C Luis Torrens

Nine of those ten names are fairly straight forward and not surprisingly included in a Yankees top ten in whatever order. The one surprise is the 17-year-old Molina, who hit a weak .193/.267/.260 (58 wRC+) with one homer, six steals, and a 23.5% strikeout rate in 53 games with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees this summer. That was his pro debut after signing for $1.4M in August 2013, making him the team’s top international pickup during the 2013-14 signing period.

Needless to say, the BP gang is very high on Molina. They grade all five of his tools as at least average — in fact, only the hit tool is average, everything else is above-average — and say the “tools are very loud, though far from being polished and playing together collectively as a group.” The write up also says Molina’s emergence as a top prospect “should be more subtle” rather than one huge breakout year. “It’s a boom-or-bust prospect, for sure, with a heavy serving of risk on the plate, but there’s a feel this one is going to start emerging over the next couple of seasons.”

Also in the article, 3B Miguel Andujar, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Ty Hensley are listed as three prospects on the rise. Andujar and DeCarr are just starting their careers while Hensley is returning from hip and hernia surgery. RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Danny Burawa, and OF Tyler Austin are listed among the non-top ten prospects who could have an MLB impact in 2014. And, finally, BP ranks the organization’s ten best players age 25 and under. It’s basically the top ten prospects list with SS Didi Gregorius sandwiched between Severino and Sanchez. RHP Michael Pineda is no longer eligible because he turns 26 next month.

“This system is thinner in the upper levels with potential impact talent, where the near-term contribution is likely to be more modest, but a wave brewing in the lower levels is starting to breathe some life and offer more promise,” said the write-up, summing up the state of the system. Every club has interesting prospects in the low levels, but I do think the Yankees have more than most, especially following their huge international free agent spending spree this summer. It’ll be a little while before those players begin to make a name for themselves and emerge as top prospects, of course.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Justin Masterson

(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

At the Winter Meetings this week and really throughout the rest of the offseason, the Yankees will be on the lookout for pitching. Rotation help and general depth. Their top four returning starters — Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), Michael Pineda (shoulder), CC Sabathia (knee), and David Phelps (elbow) — all have some kind of injury concern and the club needs to protect themselves. Expect them to kick the tires on everyone still available on the market, which includes basically every free agent pitcher.

One of those free agent pitchers is right-hander Justin Masterson, who will turn 30 in March. He had a miserable 2014 season with the Indians and Cardinals — St. Louis left him off their postseason roster — and is now looked at as something of a reclamation project. At this time last year he was considered a staff anchor who could fill any of the top three spots in a rotation on a given day. That is no longer the case. The Yankees need to add some certainty to their rotation, someone they can count on for innings, and Masterson may or may not fit the bill. Let’s look.

Up And Down Performance

Usually in this section I’ll put together a table with the player’s performance over the last three or four years, but with Masterson I think it’s best to post some graphs just to really drive home how up and down his performance has been the last few years. Check it out:

Masterson has alternated some really excellent seasons with some really awful seasons since his first full season as a starter in 2010. His strikeout rates have remained pretty much in line with the league average over the years while his ground ball rates have been consistently excellent, well above the league average and close to 60% of balls in play. As bad as 2014 was, he still had a 58.2% grounder rate. That’s as good as it gets.

Because he only has an average strikeout rate and is an extreme ground ball pitcher, Masterson’s success depends heavily on his infield defense. His batting average on balls in play has been consistently above .305 through his career with the exception of the 2013 season, when it was a career-low .285. Masterson’s walk rate shot up 11.7% this past season after sitting right around 9.5% from 2010-13, so he will walk some guys. More than anything, Masterson’s biggest problem is his vulnerability against left-handed pitchers. Check it out:

RHB wOBA RHB K% RHB BB% RHB GB% LHB wOBA LHP K% LHP BB% LHP GB%
2010 .307 22.8% 7.5% 62.6% .350 13.1% 10.4% 57.8%
2011 .259 22.8% 9.6% 61.0% .327 13.3% 5.3% 51.4%
2012 .277 23.3% 8.6% 59.0% .360 13.5% 10.5% 53.6%
2013 .238 32.0% 7.1% 63.6% .316 19.4% 10.9% 55.0%
2014 .332 25.5% 11.6% 63.1% .400 14.5% 11.7% 54.5%
Average .281 25.0% 8.8% 61.6% .347 14.8% 9.6% 54.3%

Overall, Masterson’s performance has gone up and down these last few years, and wouldn’t you know it? So has his performance against lefties. When he is reasonably effective against lefties — almost all of that success is BABIP-related too, his strikeout, walk, and grounder rates have remained fairly steady against left-handers over the years — he’s a very good pitcher overall. When not, well, he’s basically an average innings eater.

We’ll get to why Masterson dominates righties but struggles against lefties in a little bit when we look at his stuff, but for now we just need to know that he’s essentially a platoon pitcher. Yankee Stadium is not a good place to struggle against lefties because of the short right field porch, though Masterson’s grounder heavy ways would mitigate that somewhat. After more than 1,000 innings in the big leagues, improving against left-handers doesn’t seem like something that will just happen. The inability to consistently retire lefties is just something you’ll have to live with.

Stuff Breakdown

Masterson is a huge guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 250 lbs. — yet he has a very low arm slot and releases the ball almost behind a righty batter, similar to Randy Johnson, just from the other side. Masterson’s delivery is all arms and legs too. Big leg kick, long arm action in the back, everything’s moving and whipping around. I can’t imagine he’s a comfortable at-bat, especially for same-side hitters. Check it out:

As you can see in the video, Masterson is a big time sinker/slider guy. He will mix in a few straight four-seamers per start but the sinker and slider have combined for approximately 70% of his pitches since becoming a full-time starter in 2010. Masterson doesn’t have a changeup at all — he threw five (five!) changeups in 2014 and has thrown only 47 changeups over the last four seasons. He’s a sinker/slider/four-seamer guy.

Between the utter lack of a changeup and the easy to see low arm slot, it’s no surprise Masterson has struggled against left-handed batters throughout his career. They can pick up the ball out of hands well and he doesn’t have a pitch to get them out. He basically has to hope they beat his sinker into the ground or come up empty against the slider. There’s nothing that moves away from lefties and keeps the ball off the barrel of the bat. At the same time, the sinker/slider/arm slot combo is hell on righties.

Both the sinker and slider have been above-average at getting both swings and misses and ground balls over the years — even in 2014 — while the four-seamer is very slightly below-average at both. From 2010-2013, the sinker/slider/four-seamer repertoire got the job done for Masterson and he was a quality MLB starter. That wasn’t the case this past season, and, probably not coincidentally, his velocity dropped off noticeably. From Brooks Baseball:

Justin Masterson velocity

Masterson’s average sinker velocity has gradually declined from 92.74 mph in 2011 to 89.68 mph in 2014, though the drops in four-seam fastball and slider velocity are much more drastic. Masterson’s four-seamer sat 94.11 mph in 2013 and 90.97 mph in 2014. The slider went from 83.67 mph to 82.05 mph from 2013-14. We’re talking about losing three miles an hour off the four-seamer and one and half miles an hour off the slider. That’s huge. So huge that I can’t help but wonder if something is physically wrong.

If you’re a team looking to sign Masterson, you almost have to hope he was either a mechanical mess this summer or was hiding some kind of minor injury. Something that explains the velocity loss because usually velocity doesn’t come back on its own unless there was a physical or mechanical problem. Masterson’s control isn’t good enough — just look at his walk rates in the graph above — to get by with reduced velocity. We saw it last year. Masterson with a low-90s sinker and mid-80s slider is a much different animal than Masterson with an upper-80s sinker and low-80s slider. The latter is far less effective.

Injury History

Masterson has been on the DL just once in his career, and it was for right knee inflammation this past July. A balky knee could explain the loss in velocity, especially since it is his push-off leg. He was out a little more than three weeks with the knee and was actually traded to the Cardinals while on the DL. Masterson had a 5.51 ERA (4.08 FIP) before the knee injury and a 7.04 ERA (5.84 FIP) after, so getting healthy didn’t help his performance.

Other than the knee, Masterson did miss three weeks with an oblique strain in September 2013, though the Indians never bothered to place him on the DL because rosters were expanded. So it’s really two DL worthy injuries in his career but only one actual DL stint. Masterson also had arthroscopic surgery to repair a slight tear in his left (non-pitching!) shoulder during the 2011-12 offseason. He was healthy in time for Spring Training and hasn’t had any problems since. Oblique strains happen. This knee issue is a much bigger concern. What caused the inflammation?

Contract Estimates

The Indians and Masterson discussed a contract extension last offseason. Jon Heyman said Masterson was reportedly looking for two or three years at $17M annually — considering his performance from 2010-13, that was a pretty damn reasonable contract demand — while the Tribe countered with a two-year pact worth $30M. The two sides broke off talks and now the consensus is Masterson is looking at a one-year contract to rebuild value.

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: One year at $9M.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): One year at $7M.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): “If he’ll take $5 million a year and agree to work in relief, he’s good value, but if he wants starter money and a rotation job, I’m out.”

Did the Indians know Masterson’s stuff was about to decline and that’s why they didn’t meet his asking price? I don’t think we can rule it out, maybe they had some concern about his long-term outlook, but predicting a pitcher will lose three miles an hour off his fastball from one year to the next seems like something that can’t be done. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, Masterson’s looking at a one-year contract, probably in the $5M to $10M range.

Wrapping Up

The Yankees need to fill multiple rotation spots this winter after trading Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius. Going big for Max Scherzer or Jon Lester would be a huge help, but in the end those guys are still only filling one rotation spot. The club figures to scour the second and third tier of the pitching market and that’s where Masterson sits. In all likelihood he will only get a one-year contract, so he’s relatively low risk in that regard, but the velocity loss and career-long struggles against lefties make him high risk on the field. Even with the fallback of being reliever — Masterson’s pitched out of the bullpen before and been very effective — there’s a chance he’s just a bad pitcher now. It happens.

Looking at this from Masterson’s perspective, if he’s going to take a one-year contract to rebuild value, Yankee Stadium probably isn’t the best place to do it. Even as a ground ball pitcher. Most guys in his situation gravitate towards teams will bigger ballparks even though clubs nowadays are aware of park effects and can see through superficial stats like ERA. Big ballpark teams like the Twins, Marlins, Tigers, Giants, and Braves have all reportedly been in touch with Masterson so far this winter, so unless the Yankees really make it worth his while financially, the right-hander will probably head somewhere that is a little easier to pitch.

Thoughts following David Robertson’s departure

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Late Monday night/early Tuesday morning, word came down that David Robertson had agreed to a four-year contract worth $46M with the White Sox. The Yankees preemptively replaced their closer by signing Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36M contract last week. I have thoughts.

1. It was really easy to say goodbye to Robinson Cano last offseason because Seattle’s contract offer was ridiculous. The Mariners blew everyone right out of the water. That isn’t the case with Robertson. Four years and $46M is perfectly reasonable for a pitcher of his caliber. The difference between Robertson’s contract and Miller’s contract is basically what the Yankees are paying Brendan Ryan on an annual basis. It’s an amount of money that I don’t think should ever stand between the Yankees and keeping a homegrown player who ranks among the best players at his position. Now the Miller signing goes from adding an elite reliever to the bullpen to replacing one and maintaining the status quo. Brian Cashman said Robertson “checks every box” when looking for a closer, but I guess that wasn’t enough to keep him. It’s one thing to let a homegrown star like Cano leave because a desperate team came out of nowhere with an insane offer. It’s another when you let one go because you wouldn’t compete against a reasonable contract.

2. Devil’s advocate: Robertson had his worst season since 2010 in 2014 and his FIP (chart) has been gradually trending in the wrong direction since 2011. His velocity had fallen off in the second half (chart) in each of the last three years as well, perhaps indicating he was getting worn down. A total of 86 relievers in history had at least five 60+ inning seasons before their age 30 season — Robertson’s one of them — but only 26 have eight such seasons before their age 33 season. Will Robertson be one of those guys? The Yankees very likely got the best years of Robertson’s career, replaced him with a comparable reliever making $2.5M less per season, and gained a draft pick in the process. It’s a smart move, though it doesn’t make the team any better. Like I said, it only maintains the status quo. How they use the savings and draft pick — will the compensation pick for Robertson make them more willing to give up their first rounder for a qualified free agent? — is pretty important in this equation. Whether you agree or disagree with them, there were several valid reasons to let Robertson go.

3. The Yankees are going to end up having four different primary closers in four years — Rafael Soriano in 2012, Mariano Rivera in 2013, Robertson in 2014, and whoever in 2015 — after having one from 1997-2011. I think (hope) they’ll sign a low cost veteran free agent to close, someone like Soriano or Jason Grilli who can start the ninth inning fresh and live in that confined role, so Joe Girardi can use Miller and Dellin Betances liberally in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. The alternative would be letting Miller close since he’s the high-priced free agent pickup, or letting Betances close so he can fulfill his eerie Mariano Rivera-esque career path destiny, going from failed starter prospect at 25 to dominant multi-inning setup man at 26 to replacing the team’s departed free agent closer at 27. I would prefer to see them sign Soriano or Grilli or whoever — the Yankees will probably trade for Jonathan Papelbon after replacing Cano and Robertson with Jacoby Ellsbury and Miller just to make sure they pour every last grain of salt in the wound — to close as long as they limit it to a one-year contract. No need to go multiple years with someone like this. You want to be able to easily cut bait next summer if necessary.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. As of right now the bullpen is Miller, Betances, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, and Justin Wilson, plus one open spot that will depend on whether David Phelps is needed in the rotation. The Yankees have a slew of internal candidates for that last spot if Phelps has to start — Jacob Lindgren, Manny Banuelos, Jose DePaula, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, perhaps an upcoming Rule 5 Draft pick, etc. — but those young guys will inevitably get their shot at some point next season anyway. There’s definitely room to add another reliever there, maybe even two if the Yankees are willing to option Wilson to Triple-A or slip Rogers through waivers — he’s out of minor league options — to send him down to the minors. The bullpen is a low level priority right now but the Yankees are going to wind up playing a ton of close games next season again. It’s inevitable. Adding more depth there wouldn’t be a bad idea.

5. The compensation draft pick for losing Robertson is neat — that pick is currently 30th overall but it’ll change depending where the remaining unsigned qualified free agents land — but it is only a small consolation prize. Talent tends to come off the board very linearly in the draft these days thanks to the spending limits. The best players go at the top of the draft and everyone else falls in line behind them. The days of hoping a top draft prospect falls due to contract demands are pretty much over. Assuming the Yankees don’t go bonkers and sign a bunch of qualified free agents, having the extra pick will be fun as someone who enjoys the draft and writes far too many words about it every year. After the club forfeited all those picks last winter and using their remaining selections on seemingly nothing but college relievers, I’m looking forward to the excitement of the Yankees having two first round picks next June.

Nightengale: White Sox agree to sign David Robertson to four-year, $46M deal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The White Sox have agreed to sign David Robertson to a four-year contract, reports Bob Nightengale. Jon Heyman says the deal is worth $46M. The Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation for losing their closer. Earlier on Monday we heard the Yankees were willing to go to four years — in exchange for a lower average annual value — to keep Robertson but Jack Curry says they never even made a formal offer.

Even with Robertson leaving, the Yankees still have a devastating late-inning combo in Dellin Betances the recently signed Andrew Miller. The club could look to sign a low cost closer, someone like Jason Grilli or Rafael Soriano, which would allow Joe Girardi to use Betances and Miller liberally in the middle innings. Heck, even Shawn Kelley could be a viable closer candidate in this scenario. Either way, the Yankees are going to have to win a lot of close games to contend in 2015 and the bullpen will be important.

Letting Robertson go at that price — and replacing him with Miller, which is a lateral move at best — is really disappointing. Four years and $46M) seems very fair for a reliever like Robertson, who has been elite for four years now and has shown he can handle pitching the late innings in New York. There are valid reasons to let him go — fair among of mileage on his arm, 2014 was his worst season since 2010, etc. — but man, it still sucks to see a homegrown Yankee like this.

Cashman confirms Yankees will try to re-sign Slade Heathcott and Jose Campos

Campos. (AP)
Campos. (AP)

The Yankees will try to re-sign both outfielder Slade Heathcott and right-hander Jose Campos to minor league contracts, Brian Cashman told Andrew Marchand last Friday. Both players missed the entire 2014 season due to injury — Heathcott did play in nine games, but c’mon — and were non-tendered last week along with left-hander David Huff.

By non-tendering Heathcott and Campos, the Yankees were able to remove them from the 40-man roster without exposing them to waivers. They would have had to clear waivers had the team outrighted or released them, and there’s a decent chance one or both would have been claimed since they’re relatively young and have potential. The non-tender was the best way to try to keep them as non-40-man roster players.

Although they are both free agents right now, changing organizations isn’t always that appealing to guys like Heathcott and Campos, as J.J. Cooper explained last week:

The now-free agent can opt to sign with someone else, but that’s often not as appealing as returning to the organization one already knows. Go to another organization and you’re often just another guy. Stick with your existing organization and you have a few coaches, a signing scout or a roving instructor who is sticking up for you in organization meetings.

We don’t know for sure that Heathcott or Campos will re-sign with the Yankees, and (ex-Reds righty Curtis) Partch could try to make another team’s bullpen. But it’s a slight advantage in a business where teams are looking for any advantage.

Heathcott, 24, has played only 309 games since being the team’s first round pick in the 2009 draft due to a series of shoulder and knee injuries. Knee procedures limited him to those nine games this summer. The 22-year-old Campos has only thrown 111.2 innings — all with Low-A Charleston — since being acquired from the Mariners as the second piece in the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade. He missed most of 2012 with an elbow fracture and all of 2014 following Tommy John surgery.

At the time of the non-tender, neither Heathcott nor Campos were among New York’s top prospects. Their prospect status has taken a big hit over the last year or two due to the continued injury problems. They’re still interesting, but not much more than that.

Monday Night Open Thread

The 2014 Winter Meetings are in now in full swing. I recommend checking out this David Waldstein article detailing the history and evolution of the meetings. Executives used to be able to sit in the lobby and talk trades. Now they have to hole up in their suites because of all the media and fans and job seekers. “You can’t even walk across the lobby anymore,” said Brian Cashman. Make sure you check out Waldstein’s article. Really good stuff.

This is your open thread for the night. The Falcons and Packers are the Monday Night Football game, plus the Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all in action. Talk about those games, rumors from the Winter Meetings, or anything else right here.