Saturday Night Open Thread

The novelty of Thanksgiving has worn off, at least for me, so this is pretty much any other weekend now. That’s not a bad thing though, weekends are generally pretty awesome. The Thanksgiving to New Years stretch is the best non-baseball time of the year, if you ask me.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. You’ve got college football and basketball action, plus various NBA games as well. Talk about that stuff or anything else here.

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Mailbag: Cliff Lee and 2014

(Mark Hirsch/Getty)

David asks: Would the Yankees have any chance to get under the $189mm “cap” if they had signed Cliff Lee a few years back? I think it would be much tougher which might be good or bad.

The Yankees (and Rangers) tried to sign Cliff Lee as a free agent during the 2010-2011 offseason, a year before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and luxury tax/revenue sharing rules were put in place. It’s not like everyone knew the new system was coming and the Yankees were willing to blow past it anyway, just to be clear.

Let’s say Lee signed the contract the Yankees offered him, which according to Jerry Crasnick was a six-year deal worth $132M plus a $16M player option for a seventh year. The option doesn’t count for luxury tax purposes since it’s not guaranteed, so Lee’s annual tax hit would have been $22M. Obviously if you add that to their current payroll obligations plus Robinson Cano‘s inevitable extension, the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 looks impossible. That’s a very simplistic way of looking at it though.

Had the Yankees signed Lee two winters ago, there’s a chance they would have been willing to let CC Sabathia walk as a free agent once he triggered his opt-out clause last offseason. At the very least they probably would have been a little less desperate to work out a new contract. The new CBA was agreed to (or at least details were released) in late-November — the first report of the team’s 2014 plan broke in early-December — and it’s unlikely Sabathia would have signed before then. He would have been the best starter on the market and the top free agents usually don’t sign until the Winter Meetings or later. The Yankees could have stayed in contact before backing away once the new CBA was announced.

On the other hand, they could have re-signed Sabathia and kept their lefty duo intact for the next few years. They probably would have never signed Hiroki Kuroda in that scenario but I think they still would have made the Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda trade. Two $20M+ pitchers means the other three spots would have had to have been filled by dirt cheap arms, and Pineda fit the bill. Maybe they would have kept Montero and targeted a lesser young pitcher instead, who knows. The what-if game has infinite possibilities.

I don’t think that the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014 would have been scrapped all together had the Yankees signed Lee two offseasons ago. It would be much more difficult to achieve had they re-sign Sabathia last winter, but we have no way of knowing if that would have been the case. Having Lee last year also would have improved the team’s chances of advancing beyond Game Five of the ALDS a great deal, and who knows how that would have impacted their planning.

Rosenthal: Yankees have interest in Jeff Keppinger

Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees have “renewed (their) longstanding interest” in free agent Jeff Keppinger. The team tried to acquire the utility man from the Astros two offseason ago, but talks went nowhere.

Keppinger, 32, hit .325/.367/.439 (128 wRC+) in 418 plate appearances for the Rays this season. He crushes lefties (131 wRC+ since 2010) and is an elite contact hitter (6.5 K% and 92.9% contact rate), two skills the lineup could use right now. The Yankees are reportedly seeking a utility man who can play short and third and combined 100 times next year, but Keppinger hasn’t played short regularly in five years and at all in two years. If the Yankees want him, they’ll have to pay him starter money because other teams will surely offer more playing time.

King: Ichiro willing to wait to re-sign with Yankees

Via George King: Ichiro Suzuki is willing to wait for the Yankees to take care of business with Mariano Rivera and (potentially) Andy Pettitte before seeing if the team want to re-sign him for next season. “There has been a lot of interest (from other teams), but he enjoyed playing for the Yankees so much it’s hard for him to say no to the Yankees,” said Tony Attanasio, Ichiro‘s agent. “His preference is to stay there instead of going someplace else, but we will wait and see.”

Ichiro, 39, hit .322/.340/.454 (114 wRC+) in 240 plate appearances with New York this year thanks in large part to a torrid three-week stretch to close out the season. The Yankees are said to have some interest in bringing Ichiro back, though it would obviously have to be on a one-year deal worth far less than the $17M he made in 2012. My guess is that Brian Cashman & Co. will seek a younger, more long-term solution in right field via trade before looking to bring Ichiro back should (when) they come up empty.

Black Friday Open Thread

I’m completely out of leftovers already, which really sucks. Usually I hope to grab enough to last until at least Saturday, but the pickin’s were slim this year because the family gathering was bigger than usual. Such is life. I didn’t dare venture out into the Black Friday shopping madness, but my brother said he bought the latest Call of Duty for $25. That’s pretty awesome considering games run $60+ these days.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the evening. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing tonight, but you folks know how these things work by now. Talk about whatever’s on your mind.

Marchand: Kuroda left money on the table to re-sign with Yankees

Via Andrew Marchand: Hiroki Kuroda turned down offers with multiple guaranteed years and/or more total money to re-sign with the Yankees for one-year and $15M earlier this week. The Dodgers, Red Sox, and Angels were among the clubs courting the veteran right-hander. Ken Rosenthal notes that Kuroda has signed four contracts in his MLB career, and he left money on the table each time. Most guys (understandably) take the biggest payday, but comfort has obviously been a major factor for Hiroki.

Mailbag: Figgins, Morse, 2014, Tools

Five post-Thanksgiving questions for you this week, but a few of them are really short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Many asked: What about Chone Figgins?

The Mariners finally cut ties with Figgins earlier this week, tying a bow on one of the biggest free agent busts in baseball history. Seattle paid him $26M over the last three years to hit .277/.302/.283 (69 wRC+) in over 1,200 plate appearances (-0.9 fWAR and -1.6 bWAR), and they still owe him $8M next season. Just brutal.

Lots of people still view the 34-year-old Figgins as some kind of supersub, but he’s played primarily third base for the last six years while dabbling at second in the corner outfield (fewer than 500 innings). That’s it. He’s played 14 innings at shortstop in the last eight years and none in the last six years. He’s a third baseman who can fake second and left but rates no better than average anywhere. Figgins has just stopped hitting and it’s not just a Safeco Field thing, he’s got a 71 wRC+ on the road as a Mariner. I’d give him a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training and nothing more. If he doesn’t show signs of being useful in camp, just release him. Don’t even waste the Triple-A roster spot.

Joe asks: What do you think of Michael Morse? Nationals cold make him available if they sign Michael Bourn.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

I’m not much of a Morse fan but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player. The 30-year-old right-handed hitter has posted a .296/.345/.516 (133 wRC+) batting line with 67 homers in just shy of 1,300 plate appearances over the last three years, which is damn impressive. He never walks (5.7 BB% since 2010) and is very BABIP-reliant (.339), and when those guys go south, it tends to happen in a hurry. It’s not like Morse is old though, there’s no obvious reason he can’t keep up this kind of production for another few years.

The Nationals are reportedly looking to re-sign Adam LaRoche as well as add a long-term center fielder, and acquiring both would leave Morse without a defensive home. He’s owed $6.75M next year and will become a free agent after the season, so they should have no trouble trading him if they bring LaRoche back and sign Bourn or B.J. Upton or someone like that. Morse can obviously hit but he’s a terrible defensive player regardless of position, yet he would still make sense for New York since they need some pop to replace Nick Swisher. I really have no idea what the Nationals are looking for in a trade, I suppose just more pitching, which the Yankees don’t really have much to offer. I don’t love Morse but he would be a fit for the Yankees.

David asks: There has been a lot of talk about signing players this year to a one-year deals because of the $189 million dollar limit. How does that help them next year? Are the Yankees going to be in the same situation for the next two years or is there a few large contracts coming off the books?

By signing all these guys to one-year contracts, the Yankees are going to have to replace all of ’em next winter as well as Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Phil Hughes. That’s just scary. They’ll have to replace half the roster. Then again, they’ll also have the flexibility needed to get the payroll down. Still, having to potentially replace two outfielders, three starting pitchers, the second baseman, and various relievers/bench players all in one offseason will be very difficult to do. Not impossible, just difficult.

Tucker asks: When does the payroll in 2014 need to be below $189 million? Is it just the Opening Day payroll, or do the Yankees need to stay under that mark for the entire season?

They basically have to stay under the entire season. The luxury tax is based on the final club payroll, which includes everything paid to players from salary to performance bonuses to benefits. That includes pro-rated portions of salary paid to players called up, traded/acquired in the middle of the season, etc. The Yankees won’t be able to get under on Opening Day then add payroll, they’ll have to maintain it all year.

Anonymous asks: We always talk about the “five-tool player,” but it seems that when evaluating players we look for the following tools: Can he get on-base? Can he field his position? Can he hit for power? And can he run? In your opinion, are those the four most important tools and how would you rank them?

Yeah, I think those are my four most important skills (let’s not call them tools just to avoid confusion with the usual five-tool stuff). Getting on-base either through batting average or drawing walks or getting hit by pitches is the single most important thing a position player can do. It would be nice if a hitter did all three of those things, but those guys are rare. Not making outs at the plate is the easiest way a player can contribute to his team.

I’d rank hitting for power second ahead of defense just because I’m an offense-first guy. That doesn’t mean I’m cool with having a team of butchers out there, I certainly understand the important of turning batted balls into outs, but power is becoming harder to find these days and I value it more. The ability to run the bases — not necessarily speed, just the ability to be a smart base-runner and make good decisions — lags behind everything else for me. Health is also a skill to a certain extent and frankly I would rank that right before defense and ahead of running. A player isn’t any good to you if he’s hurt.