McCarron: Still “no firm timeline” for announcement of Aroldis Chapman’s suspension

(Photo via Marly Rivera)
(Photo via Marly Rivera)

There is still “no firm timetable” for MLB to announce any discipline for Aroldis Chapman stemming from October’s domestic dispute incident at his house in Miami, reports Anthony McCarron. No announcement is expected within the next few days. “It’s out of my hands,” said Chapman reporters this morning. He also confirmed he will appeal any suspension.

A few weeks ago commissioner Rob Manfred said he would like to resolve any matters covered by the domestic violence policy — Jose Reyes (for this) and Yasiel Puig (for this) are also under investigation like Chapman — before the regular season, though that wasn’t a promise. This could theoretically linger into the season. I hope note. Let’s get this over with already.

Chapman is being investigated for allegedly shoving and choking his girlfriend. He admitted to police he fired eight shots from a handgun in his garage. No arrests were made the night of the incident and Chapman will not be charged with a crime. The domestic violence policy explicitly says players can be suspended even without an arrest or criminal charges, so it seems like Chapman is facing some kind of ban. I’ve seen rumors of a 15-game suspension floating around.

Brian Cashman admitted the Yankees only acquired Chapman after the Reds lowered their asking price in the wake of the domestic dispute, which is icky. Chapman was set to be traded to the Dodgers when news of the incident broke, then Los Angeles backed away. Cincinnati had little leverage and basically took whatever they could get to rid themselves of the headache.

Chapman, 27, had a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) with 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings last season. He recently signed a one-year contract worth $11.325M to avoid arbitration. Chapman will be a free agent next offseason, so it’s very possible this is a one-year rental.

Thoughts as pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training


The offseason is over. Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for Spring Training today. Joe Girardi will hold his annual spring press conference later this morning — it’ll air live on YES at 11am ET, if you’re interested — and soon there will be photos and videos of players on the field preparing for the new season. Baseball’s back. Today is a good day. Here are some thoughts.

1. To me, the team’s two most important position players this year are Mark Teixeira and Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees are so much better offensively and defensively when those two are healthy and firing on all cylinders. Greg Bird was a more than capable backup plan for Teixeira, but he’s out now, so keeping Tex on the field is of paramount importance. As intrigued as I am by Dustin Ackley, I’m pretty sure the drop from Teixeira to Ackley is the largest of any starter-backup combo on the team. Ellsbury, as we saw early last year, can still be a hell-raiser at the leadoff spot. It felt like he was on base three times a game before tweaking his knee and stumbling to the finish. When Ellsbury and Teixeira are right, they’re impact players on both sides of the ball and they fill important lineup spots. The Yankees are a far, far better team when those two are performing like they did before getting hurt last summer. Keeping them healthy and productive is absolutely crucial to the team’s chances for contention in 2016.

2. That brings me to the issue of health, which has already dominated talk around Yankees camp. We’ve already seen near-daily updates about Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow, and Michael Pineda has come out and said his goals this year are 1) throw 200 innings, and 2) stay healthy. There’s no doubt health is going play a huge role in determining whether the 2016 Yankees can contend. Injury risk is something every single team deals with every season though. That’s just baseball. Do the Yankees have more injury risk than most? I think that’s fair to say. Five of their top six starters were hurt for some length of time last year — the best predictor of future injury remains past injury — and several key starting position players have a tendency to get banged up from time to time (Teixeira, Ellsbury, Brett Gardner). I wish I felt a little better about the team’s injury risk, but it is what it is, and I think the Yankees have a chance to be very good if they get through the season with good enough health. The more the Yankees stay healthy, the better they’ll be. I absolutely think they can contend — by contend I mean win the AL East, not just sneak into the postseason as a wildcard team again — as currently constructed. The only major question is health, and I’d rather that be the biggest question instead of talent level.

3. The more I think about it, the more I expect Aaron Hicks to play an awful lot this season. He could end up starting something like three out of every five games as he takes turns resting the starting outfielders. (Alex Rodriguez will also get days off, pushing Carlos Beltran to DH.) Hicks can play all three outfield positions and he’s a switch-hitter, so platoon matchups will not necessarily dictate when he plays like they did Chris Young last year. (Hicks is better against lefties though.) I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The Yankees have been saying they plan to play Hicks a lot all winter — “I think Hicks has a chance to help (the starting outfielders) in spelling them and keeping them healthy and strong,” said Girardi at the Winter Meetings — and they’ve been talking about resting their regulars more often since last season. Hicks is not lacking talent. He’s a former first round pick and once upon a time Baseball America ranked him a top 20 prospect in all of baseball. Hicks turned only 26 back in October. He’s still someone with a chance to develop into a strong two-way player and he’s not going to do that unless he plays regularly. The Yankees have a full outfield, but there still figures to be a way to get Hicks plenty of playing time in 2016, even if the starters stay healthy.

Rumbelow. (Presswire)
Rumbelow. (Presswire)

4. I like that the Yankees currently have three open bullpen spots. We all know they’re going to have a bullpen shuttle again this summer, swapping guys out on an almost daily basis to make sure a fresh arm is always available, but I doubt they’re going to have three shuttle spots. That’s overkill. Even two shuttle spots might be overkill, though it could be necessary at times. The three open spots suggests at least one of those relievers is going to get a chance to stick with a big league team for an extended period of time, and get a chance to show what he can do without worrying whether he’s heading back to Scranton the next day. That spot could go to  … whoever. Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, whoever. Whoever impresses in camp and has the most success early in the regular season. The guys are going to have to perform well to keep their roster spot. This is good. The competition is healthy. I do think it’s important to give one or two of those relievers an opportunity to stick around for a little while though. They need a chance to blossom.

5. The other day I was reading Ken Davidoff’s annual 30 questions for 30 teams column when something hit me: James Loney is going to be a Yankee this year. He’s in the last year of his contract (owed $9.67M) and he was very bad last year (88 wRC+), plus Tampa Bay has a ton of first base depth. Behind Loney they have Logan Morrison, Steve Pearce, Richie Shaffer, and even Corey Dickerson, who’s long been rumored to move to first. Loney is a sunk cost at this point and chances are the Rays will release him eventually. They’re stuck paying the money anyway. Might as well field the best team. The Yankees lost Bird to his shoulder injury and Teixeira hasn’t played a full season since 2011, so in all likelihood they’re going to need a first base fill-in at some point. Loney’s going to end up being that guy, isn’t he? He’s hammered the Yankees for years (career .339/.386/.465 hitter vs. the Yanks), he’s still a very good defender, and he’s a left-handed hitter who would ostensibly benefit from Yankee Stadium‘s short porch. Oh geez. This is going to happen, isn’t it? This is Richie Sexson all over again.

6. And finally, who do you think will be the random player who comes out of nowhere to have a huge spring this year? It happens every year, without fail. Last spring it was Slade Heathcott, the spring before it was Yangervis Solarte, and the spring before that it was Ronnie Mustelier. You can keep going back as far as you want. There’s always someone who has an unexpectedly huge spring and folks start talking about him as a serious candidate to make the team. Solarte doing what he did a few years ago validated some of that chatter, though by and large these spring surprises are just fluky performances the player never comes close to repeating. Anyway, my pick for this year’s spring fluke is … Deibinson Romero. The 29-year-old has never played in the big leagues, but he’s a career .271/.372/.432 hitter in over 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances, and he’s a right-handed hitter who can play both first and third bases. There’s an obvious place for a guy like that in the bench. I can see Romero randomly hitting like .440 during Grapefruit League play and becoming a talking point.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Welcome to the final open thread of the offseason. It’s glorious, isn’t it? Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow, and while that is generally a non-news day, it’s still pretty exciting. Make sure you check out Jayson Stark’s annual best and worst moves of the offseason survey. The Aroldis Chapman trade gets a few votes for the best trade while the Starlin Castro deal is mentioned as a win-win. That’s about it as far as the Yankees are concerned, but it’s still worth a click.

Here is this evening’s open thread. The NBA is still in their All-Star break, though the (hockey) Rangers are playing and there’s a whole lotta college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, Stark’s column, the end of the offseason, pitchers and catchers reporting … whatever. Go nuts.

Report: Yankees have $5.77M pool for 2016 draft, $2.28M for 2016-17 international signing period

(Taylor Baucom/Getty)
(Taylor Baucom/Getty)

According to Hudson Belinsky, the Yankees will have a $5,768,400 bonus pool for the 2016 draft and a $2,177,100 bonus pool for the 2016-17 international signing period. That gives them a $7,945,500 pool to sign amateur players this year, sixth smallest in baseball. Only the Cubs, Royals, Giants, Rangers, and Nationals have less to spend.

The Yankees did not gain or lose any draft picks via free agency this offseason, and there’s no reason to expect them to sign one of the remaining qualified free agents (Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Ian Desmond). They’re currently slated to pick 19th overall, though they’ll move up to 18th if the Orioles finish their deal with Gallardo.

As a reminder, the draft pool covers the top ten rounds. Each pick in the top ten rounds is assigned a slot value, and if you pay one pick below slot, you’re free to spend the savings elsewhere. Every pick after the tenth round has a $100,000 slot value, and anything over that counts against the pool. The Yankees have exceeded their draft pool ever so slightly the last few years. Enough to get hit with a small tax but not enough to forfeit future picks. No team has forfeited future picks yet.

The international bonus pool is largely irrelevant because the Yankees are still stuck with a $300,000 bonus cap stemming from their 2014-15 international spending spree. New York is pretty darn good at finding under-the-radar Latin American prospects — Luis Severino ($225,000), Jorge Mateo ($250,000), and Domingo Acevedo ($7,500) all signed for under $300,000 — but that bonus cap stinks. It takes them out of the running for the best players.

The Yankees will be able to resume spending as they please next year, during the 2017-18 international signing period, assuming the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t drastically change things. An international draft could be coming. The international signing period opens July 2nd this year, as it does every year.

Aaron Judge and the Outer Half of the Plate


Two and a half years ago the Yankees had three first round draft picks thanks in part to the free agent defections of Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano, and already the usual rules of prospect attrition apply to those three picks: one got hurt (Ian Clarkin), one has been traded (Eric Jagielo), and one is a promising top prospect (Aaron Judge). That, as they say, is baseball.

Judge remains New York’s top prospect and last season he reached Triple-A, so he’s ostensibly close to making his MLB debut. He hit .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 124 total games last year, though that can be broken down into a .284/.350/.516 (147 wRC+) line with 12 homers and a 25.0% strikeout rate in 63 Double-A games and .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) with eight homers and a 28.5% strikeout rate in 61 Triple-A games. Clearly Triple-A pitching gave him a hard time.

“They started pitching me a little differently and I just wasn’t able to make the adjustments as quick as I wanted to. You’ve just got to learn. Live and learn and get better,” said Judge to Bryan Hoch earlier this week when asked about his Triple-A struggles. Judge is enormous, he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs., and experienced Triple-A pitchers took advantage of his size by attacking him with soft stuff down and away. That’s the next adjustment he has to make.

The Yankees shuttled Judge in and out of Tampa this offseason for what were essentially hitting mini-camps designed to help him work on handling those down and away pitches. (That’s actually not uncommon. Prospects of every caliber attend these mini-camps throughout the winter.) The issue is not so much Judge’s approach, but his size and freakishly compact swing. He does a good job hitting the ball to the opposite field, which is the usual approach against pitches away, so that’s not an issue. Here are Judge’s batted ball heat maps for the 2015 season, via MLB Farm:

Aaron Judge 2015 Spray Charts

As you can see from the heat maps, the right-handed hitting Judge does a pretty good job of taking the ball the other way in general, so he’s not some sort of brute masher looking to yank everything to the pull side. Judge does tend to hit a lot of ground balls to the left field of the infield, however, and Keith Law actually mentioned this in his recent top 100 prospects write-up:

He’s excellent at covering the inner third despite his long arms, which is a positive skill overall but causes two issues: He hits too many grounders to the left side, and he’s very vulnerable to soft stuff away, which led to the excessive strikeout rates in 2015. Learning to cover the outside corner — or lay off pitches just off of it — while maintaining that plate coverage inside is the main challenge for Judge if he wants to become an impact bat in the majors.

The Baseball Prospectus crew had a pretty interesting line in their Yankees top ten prospects write-up: “It’s almost as if Judge’s body prevents him from being the kind of pure hitter he could be.” Every scouting report since the 2013 draft has indicated Judge is an excellent pure hitter more apt to rip line drives from pole to pole than sell out for power, which is uncommon for dudes his size. He has big power — Law’s says it’s 70 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale, which is well-above-average — but that isn’t his strength as a hitter. It’s his pure hitting ability.

“A lot of times, you see power arms from starters at Double-A and then you see them again in the big leagues,” said minor league hitting instructor James Rowson to Dan Martin when asked about Judge’s Triple-A issues. “Sometimes in Triple-A, you don’t have as many starters with those power arms. I thought he picked it up as he went along. One thing that stands out as a young player that size is he has great plate discipline and body control. He’s as wide as he is tall, so he has a good foundation.”

A year ago at this time we were all talking about Judge as a potential second half call-up should the Yankees need outfield help. He absolutely mashed at Low-A and High-A in 2014 and the scouting reports were glowing. The issues with outer half pitches in Triple-A were more of a surprise than expected, I’d say. That’s okay though. Judge is a very unique prospect — he’s a really good athlete and runner for his size, this isn’t a dude who lumbers on the field — and he’ll have a unique development path.

The Yankees are pretty well set in the outfield heading into the 2016 season. They have their three big league starters (Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran), an up-and-comer as their fourth outfielder (Aaron Hicks), a solid fifth outfield option (Dustin Ackley), and a wealth of Triple-A options (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel) already on the 40-man roster and ahead of Judge on the call-up depth chart. Judge isn’t in a Greg Bird situation; the Yankees needed Bird this year. They don’t need Judge.

As far as Judge is concerned, the goal this season is improving against those pitches away and putting himself in the best possible position to replace Beltran as the everyday right fielder in 2017. Does he want to reach the show this summer? Of course. He’s human. “I’m excited that maybe I’ll get a chance to do (what Bird did last year) this year,” he said to Martin. But as far as the Yankees are concerned, they want Judge to work on his main weakness, and if it takes the entire season with the RailRiders, so be it.

Rosenthal: Yanks among teams scouting Cuban outfielder Alexei Bell

The Yankees were among the 13 teams scouting Cuban outfielder Alexei Bell at his recent showcase in Mexico, reports Ken Rosenthal. The other dozen teams scouting him were the usual heavy hitters (Dodgers, Red Sox, Giants, etc.). Bell is still going through the process of becoming a free agent, so he can’t sign just yet.

Bell, 32, left Cuba with his family with the government’s permission last year. “Physically, I don’t feel 32. I feel strong. I feel young. I feel agile,” he said to Rosenthal. “I feel I can still produce a lot on the field. I do not feel old at all … I’ll demonstrate that in the games.” Here are his recent stats, via Baseball Reference:

2011 27 0.8 Santiago de Cuba 81 350 91 19 0 18 69 16 9 53 35 .327 .449 .590 1.038
2012 28 1.6 Santiago de Cuba 21 85 20 2 1 2 6 0 1 17 9 .303 .452 .455 .907
2013 29 1.5 Santiago de Cuba 44 179 43 11 0 8 24 3 2 21 13 .277 .374 .503 .878
2014 30 3.1 2 Teams 58 251 64 11 2 8 28 9 3 45 29 .323 .450 .520 .970
2015 31 Quebec 59 241 71 14 2 2 23 11 6 14 24 .317 .363 .424 .787
All Levels (15 Seasons) 718 3682 998 201 33 140 655 132 51 445 463 .319 .414 .539 .952

Bell, who is listed at a mere 5-foot-7 and 187 lbs., spent last season in an independent league and performed well, though not as well as he had in Cuba over the years. He’s starred in international competition while being teammates with Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, among others.

“In (the 2008) Olympics, he was in his prime, a Raul Mondesi-type who could run and throw, had power — he was the guy,” said a scout to Rosenthal. “He’s not the same player now. I know he has numbers in Cuba. But he’s not the same powerful little guy, little but strong.”

Last month Ben Badler (subs. req’d) said Bell “is a smart hitter with a good approach … (but) there just aren’t many corner outfielders his size who aren’t speedsters, and Bell is a fringy runner who doesn’t have plus power.” Badler adds scouts loved Bell when he was in his 20s and feel he should have tried to leave Cuba ten years ago. Those same scouts are “skeptical of him being an everyday big leaguer.”

It’s good the Yankees are scouting Bell simply because they should do their due diligence on everyone, but signing a 32-year-old outfielder with no MLB track record doesn’t make any sense right now. Beyond their three starting outfielders they have Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley, plus a small army of Triple-A outfielders (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, Aaron Judge, Lane Adams, even Tyler Austin). There’s no room at the inn.

If the Yankees are going to splurge for the 30-something Cuban player, it should be Yulieski Gurriel, who’s a better player than Bell and fills a more pressing need on the infield. He and his brother Lourdes Jr. told Jesse Sanchez they’d like to sign with a team as a package deal, which would be pretty cool. Point is I don’t see much of a fit with Bell. There’s always a price point where it makes sense, but given the team’s outfield depth, that price point figures to be pretty low.

The Five Most Important Storylines of the Spring [2016 Spring Training Preview]

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Each and every year, Spring Training around the Yankees is pretty hectic with important storylines to watch, regardless of whether they just won the World Series or missed the postseason. Last year we had the Alex Rodriguez circus and I’m not sure anything can compare to that. All things considered, it went pretty well, mostly because A-Rod showed he could still play.

This spring there are many things to keep an eye on as the Yankees prepare for the upcoming season, most of which involve health. That’s the buzzword this spring: health. The Yankees have some injury risk — I think it’s fair to say more than other teams — so that’s something to watch these next few weeks. Is it the only think to watch? Hardly. Here are five of the most important storylines to monitor in Spring Training this year, roughly in order of importance.

Tanaka’s Timetable

Masahiro Tanaka did indeed have elbow surgery this offseason, but it wasn’t the Tommy John surgery that is widely considered inevitable. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow, a spur that reportedly dates back to his time playing in Japan. Tanaka is already in Tampa working out and he’s thrown off a mound, so his rehab is going well. He threw some gas on the fire by saying he might not be ready for Opening Day, however.

“I can’t really say (whether I’ll be ready for Opening Day). I’ll take it day by day. I just want to see myself go into the bullpen, get the innings and see how I feel. I feel perfectly healthy,” said Tanaka to reporters the other day. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tanaka has had no trouble with his throwing program and that the team’s ace will “get to where he needs to get to as time progresses.”

Brian Cashman hedged a bit, saying Tanaka will “enter Spring Training maybe a little behind for precautionary reasons,” even though he is physically fine. CC Sabathia had the same surgery following the 2012 season and the Yankees took it easy on him in Spring Training. He was a few days behind the other starters in camp, and he made most of his early spring starts in controlled simulated games before getting into Grapefruit League action.

Every pitcher is different, though I suspect the Yankees will follow a similar plan with Tanaka this year. Simulated games early — that allows the team to control the action; they can end a inning if it goes too long, stuff like that — then a few tune-up Grapefruit League appearances late. (Sabathia made only two official Grapefruit League starts in 2013.) Is it ideal? No. But neither is offseason elbow surgery, even for something as relatively minor as a bone spur.

We should be able to get a pretty good idea whether Tanaka will be ready for the start of the regular season early in camp. Opening Day is April 4th, so give him four weeks of prep and we’re talking about a March 7th target date for game action, even if it’s only a simulated game. If Tanaka’s not able to pitch in some kind of game and get his pitch count into the 40-45 range that week of March 7th, the odds of him being ready for the season fall big time.


Teixeira’s Leg

Greg Bird‘s shoulder surgery has made it easy to forget Mark Teixeira is coming back from a pretty substantial injury himself. He suffered a small fracture in his shin last August, then was shut down in mid-September with a three-month rehab timetable. The last Teixeira update came in mid-December and all indications were his rehab was going well, though he had not yet started running. That was scheduled for sometime in January.

Joe Girardi will hold his annual start of Spring Training press conference tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll get an update on Teixeira at that time. It goes without saying how important he is to the Yankees. Teixeira is arguably the team’s best two-way player and he is their best power hitter, and now Bird is not around as a backup plan. The Yankees could keep Teixeira off his feet and give him a bunch of DH at-bats in spring, but that is A-Rod’s position now, so it’s not so simple. Both guys need at-bats to get ready for the season.

Castro At Third

The Yankees have made it clear they plan to try Starlin Castro at third base this spring — “We’re not going to force it … but we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks,” said Cashman — and his ability to handle the hot corner will have huge roster implications. If he can play third, the Yankees can use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door, which is their plan. If he can’t play third, they’ll need to use that spot to carry a backup third baseman.

Not only will watching Castro physically play the position be important, but I’m also curious to see exactly how much time the Yankees give him there. Remember, Starlin is relatively new to second base as well. He only started playing second last August. He’s going to need reps at that position as well. The Yankees can’t have Castro focus solely on the hot corner in Spring Training. He’s got to work out at second too. Will that leave enough time for him to pick up third base? There are reasons to believe Castro can handle the third, but it is still going to be a new experience, and he won’t have much time to learn the position.

Headley’s Throwing

I’m not sure any aspect of the 2015 Yankees surprised me more than Chase Headley‘s sudden inability to make routine throws. He made a career high 23 errors last year, including 12 throwing errors, fourth most of any non-first base infielder in baseball. Only Marcus Semien (18), Jean Segura (15), and Josh Donaldson (13) threw more balls away. That doesn’t include all the errors Teixeira saved Headley as well*. There was too much of this last summer:

Chase Headley error

The routine plays gave Headley trouble, yet his throws on difficult plays (those with minimal reaction time) were largely perfect. That suggests a mental issue, not a physical issue, and to be fair he did cut down on the errors as the season progressed. He made 16 errors in the first half and only seven in the second half, which is still a lot, but not nearly as much as earlier in the season. “There are some balls there is nothing you can do about but I worked on recognizing. Hopefully it’s behind me and hopefully it makes me mentally stronger,” he said at midseason.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone would say Headley is over his throwing problems based on his second half error total, including the Yankees and Headley himself. That’s why his throwing will be a focal point this spring. The goal isn’t to get Headley to do something he’s never done before, like it is with Castro playing third. The goal is to get him back to where he was his entire pre-2015 career.

* For what it’s worth, the fancy Baseball Info Solutions data I have access to through CBS says Headley ranked middle of the pack among third basemen in the number of errors saved by “good scoops” at first.

Dellin’s Workload

Last spring was a new experience for Dellin Betances. It was the first time in his career he reported to Spring Training with a big league job locked up, and relievers who are locked into big league spots have light schedules. They throw only a handful of innings and rarely travel. It’s a sweet gig if you can get it. Last spring Dellin threw 8.1 innings across nine appearances. In 2014 it was 12.1 innings across ten appearances.

Four innings doesn’t sound like a huge difference, and it probably isn’t, but Betances did struggle in Spring Training last year. His control was awful and even his velocity was down. It wasn’t until a week or two into the regular season that he started to look like the 2014 version of himself. Betances has said he’s a guy who likes regular work because it helps him stay sharp, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest the reduced spring workload led to his early season problems. He simply didn’t have enough time to get ready.

I’m curious to see how the Yankees handle Betances this spring. Do they give him a few more Grapefruit League innings to prepare for the season, or do they keep him on the typical reliever plan and expect him to adjust? Maybe the solution is more bullpen work, not necessarily game action. A balance has to be struck between enough work to prepare and too much work. That doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do, especially with a pitcher as unique as Dellin.