The hot stove is running cold right now, so this week we’re running a series of guest posts from Sam Tydings, Steven’s brother. Sam used Out of the Park Baseball to simulate some past “what if” Yankees scenarios. We’ve already looked at the Greg Maddux non-signing, the Albert Belle non-signing, the Vlad Guerrero non-signing, and the Cliff Lee non-trade. Now it’s time to look forward with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. You can follow Sam on Twitter at @simmonsclass.
We’ve spent the last week looking at pivotal moments from the Yankees recent past, so for the final installment of this series, let’s take a look at the team’s immediate future. With Spring Training right around the corner, it seems like the Yankees roster is set, aside from adding maybe a swingman or a few non-roster invites.
Though we have heard all offseason not to count them out until the ink is on the page, it seems highly unlikely that Manny Machado or Bryce Harper will be joining the team at Steinbrenner Field in a few weeks. Better writers than I have spent the entire offseason making a case for the Yankees to sign one, the other, or both, so to wrap things up things up this week, let’s take a look at the most tantalizing option and give Harper and Machado a (fake) home in the Bronx.
One of the reasons offered as to why the Yankees should pass on signing either big name free agent is that it would inhibit the team’s ability to lock up their homegrown talent down the road. If you are one of the people citing that as a reason to avoid both stars, the results of this sim are for you.
I signed Machado to a 7-year, $186 million contract (a steal) and Harper to a 9-year, $326 million deal (probably more in line with what he ends up getting). The signings paid immediate dividends, as the Yankees won 105 games to cruise to the AL East title and eventually the pennant. Harper hit 46 homers en route to the MVP, while Machado hit 32 and brought home the Gold Glove at 3B. The team brought home title number 28 in 2020 and everything seemed good in fake Yankeeland.
Unfortunately, the big money handed out to Machado and Harper reared its ugly head as the team chose to let Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton walk, leading to rapidly diminishing returns from a once strong rotation. The team did not make it back to the World Series for the duration of either of their contracts. Both players finished their careers with over 550 home runs, were elected to the Hall of Fame in their first years of eligibility (Harper 98%, Machado 94.2%), and both even went in as Yankees.
Here is fake Harper’s career (click for larger view):
And here is fake Machado’s career (click for larger):
However, the idea of signing both of these players to long term contracts at their young ages is to ensure a dynasty comparable to the late 90’s teams, or if you want to be incredibly optimistic, the dynasties from the 40’s. The Yankees as currently constructed are probably good enough to win one of the next few World Series without adding either Harper or Machado, so winning just one in a decade with both of them staying healthy would be an unparalleled disappointment.
There was an assumption from the moment that he debuted on the cover of Sports Illustrated that Bryce Harper would don the pinstripes at his first opportunity, and Machado has been linked to the team since at least last year’s winter meetings, if not earlier. There are probably Yankees fans out there who are already photoshopping Vlad Jr. into a Yankee hat and trying to figure out where he would hit in the 2025 lineup.
For a variety of reasons, these dreams rarely come to pass. The Sabathia coups are much less common than seeing Cliff Lee, Max Scherzer, and David Price end up on another team’s roster. On its face, the Yankees offseason so far has been a success. They’ve added a very good pitcher to their already strong rotation, added to the best bullpen in baseball, and increased their depth in the infield. Considering how much of the rest of the league seems to not have an interest in winning, it has been an extremely productive winter for Brian Cashman and company.
The Yankees can afford to add Harper and Machado to shore up two of the only relative weaknesses on their roster and they should, simply for the fact that it would keep two elite players from joining other teams. Do they need either one to be successful? I don’t think so. If Out of the Park Baseball is to be believed, even bringing both into the fold would not guarantee an instant dynasty.
But 26-year old talents rarely hit the open market in any year, much less two in the same winter, so why not take advantage of the cold stove? If any organization in the league is built to withstand the inevitable circus that would come with such a power move, it is the Yankees. Most baseball fans will lose their minds over the Yankees spending big and cornering the market again. But not only has every other team had plenty of time to lock in either player, I have a very large sim file which shows that even in a Yankees fan’s fantasy offseason scenario, it might work out in a way that will make the Yankee haters happiest of all when the final story is written.
Welcome to February. Spring Training is right around the corner. Now that we’re in a new month, it’s time again to dive into the MLB Trade Rumors archives to remember Some Guys and relive some old hot stove rumblings. The Yankees went 85-77 against all odds in 2013 and were looking to get back to the postseason. The Alex Rodriguez suspension saga was looming over them, as was an aging roster.
The 2013-14 offseason was a big one for the Yankees. Most notably, they lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners. They attempted to prop up the roster with four big signings (Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka) and several smaller signings (Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, Matt Thornton). It didn’t work out — the Yankees went 84-78 in 2014 and missed the postseason again — but we didn’t know that in February. Let’s go back in time, shall we?
February 6th, 2014: Twelve Teams Have Asked Nationals About Espinosa
The Nats are balking at moving Espinosa despite interest from the Yankees, among other clubs, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
The Danny Espinosa collapse was well underway at this point. He hit .242/.319/.408 (99 wRC+) with 38 homers from 2011-12 and was a +3 WAR player each year. A league average hitting middle infielder with 20-ish homer pop and very good defense is a nice little player. Espinosa fell apart in 2013 (22 wRC+), however, and never really recovered. Given the state of the infield in February 2014, it made sense for the Yankees to try to buy low on 26-year-old Espinosa and see whether he could get back to being a +3 WAR player. I can’t help but wonder what they were willing to give up. Espinosa was in camp with the Yankees as a non-roster invitee last spring. They got their man eventually.
February 7th, 2014: Minor Moves: Cole Kimball, Omir Santos
The Yankees have signed righty Cole Kimball to a minor league deal, reports Matt Eddy of Baseball America. Kimball, 28, had spent his entire career with the Nationals organization, making a brief big league debut in 2011 with a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings (though he both struck out and walked 7.1 batters per nine). Since then, however, Kimball has struggled with shoulder issues. In 2012, he threw just 5 2/3 minor league innings. Last year, splitting time between Rookie ball and Triple-A, Kimball posted a 7.31 ERA in 28 1/3 innings with 8.9 K/9 against 4.8 BB/9.
Once upon a time Kimball had some prospect shine as a reliever with the Nationals. The Yankees scooped him up to see whether he could help out with a healthy shoulder, then he allowed 14 runs in 26.2 innings with Double-A Trenton. Kimball went to an independent league and later Mexico, and was out of baseball by 2015. Pretty wild how quickly it can fall apart in this game. Kimball was a good reliever prospect who got a taste of the show in 2011 and was poised to assume a larger role with Washington in 2012. Instead, out of baseball by 2015. Yeesh.
February 7th, 2014: Quick Hits: Epstein, Cespedes, Tanaka, Arb Hearings
Turning back to the aforementioned Tanaka, Yankees GM Brian Cashman told ESPN Radio today (via ESPNNewYork.com’s Andrew Marchand) that the club views its new acquisition as “a really solid, consistent number three starter.” Cashman noted that, though the club scouted Tanaka extensively, uncertainty remains as to how he will transition to the big leagues. “If we get more than that,” Cashman said, “all the better. He’s got a great deal of ability.”
Ah yes, the famed “a really solid, consistent number three starter” comment that was repeated ad nauseum for weeks. Brian Cashman always — always — downplays expectations. The Yankees had just given Masahiro Tanaka a seven-year contract worth $155M, and paid a $20M release fee on top of that. Yeah, sure, they expected a No. 3 starter. Cashman has always been an “underperform and over-deliver” guy and I’m not sure there’s a better example of that than Tanaka. Since his 2014 debut Tanaka is 21st in WAR and 22nd in ERA+ among all pitchers (min. 500 innings). That ain’t no No. 3 starter.
February 8th, 2014: East Notes: Marlins, Orioles, Yankees
The Yankees are making upgrades to their minor-league complex in Tampa, Fla., including a cafeteria for players and field refurbishments, reports Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News. The Yankees have also added to their player development staff, bringing in more scouts and a statistics guru, following a season that saw struggles up and down their farm system.
This was the start of the farm system turnaround. For years the Yankees struggled to produce even complementary players from within. There was Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang in 2005 and Brett Gardner in 2008, and not much else before the current crop of homegrown players. In 2014 the Yankees overhauled their player development system. Facilities were upgraded and personnel was changed, most notably Gary Denbo replacing longtime farm system head Mark Newman. We can never truly know how much of the farm system revival is the result of the changes that took place in 2014. My guess is basically all of it can be attributed to the overhaul. Things weren’t working out, things changed, things got better. Hooray for that.
February 12th, 2014: Derek Jeter To Retire After 2014
Legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter announced today on his Facebook page that he will retire after the 2014 season (hat tip to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, whose colleague Mark Feinsand tweets that agent Casey Close has confirmed the retirement). Jeter, who turns 40 in June, re-signed with the Yankees — the only franchise he’s ever played for — earlier in the off-season.
Jeter’s announcement came as a surprise, even to the Yankees. I mean, yeah, it was not the most shocking thing in the world that a soon-to-be 40-year-old shortstop announced his impending retirement following an injury-plagued season the year before, but it was not set in stone. With Mariano Rivera, there were some pretty good indications he was ready to call it a career following the 2013 given what happened with his knee and everything in 2012. With Jeter, it kinda came out of nowhere.
The 2014 season was not Jeter’s best — he hit .256/.304/.313 (75 wRC+) with four homers in 634 plate appearances — but he did do this in his final Yankee Stadium at-bat, and this was pretty darn cool:
February 18th, 2014: Yankees Made Offer To Drew Earlier In Off-Season
The Yankees made an offer to free agent infielder Stephen Drew earlier in the off-season, believed to be for two or three years, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Nevertheless, the report indicates, the Yankees do not appear to be one of the four teams still pursuing the 30-year-old.
Yikes, I do not remember this. Drew eventually signed a one-year deal to return to the Red Sox in late-May. It was worth $10.2M, or the pro-rated portion of the $14.1M qualifying offer he rejected over the winter. We’ve seen top free agents wait very long to sign these last few years, even before these last two offseasons. Drew, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales, and Yovani Gallardo all got stuck sitting in free agency until February and March (or later) in recent years. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s just more wide-spread.
Anyway, the Yankees were tentatively scheduled to go to into the 2014 season with Kelly Johnson at third, Derek Jeter at short, Brian Roberts at second, and Mark Teixeira at first. Eduardo Nunez was in the mix as well, though he lost his roster spot to Yangervis Solarte in Spring Training. The Yankees eventually traded Johnson for Drew at the deadline, then re-signed Drew the next year. If they offered him two years as this report says, they wound up with him for a year and a half.
February 23rd, 2014: Yankees Agree To Terms With Andrew Bailey
SATURDAY, 11:18pm: Bailey will earn a prorated base salary of $1.975MM if he works his way up to the Major League club, Olney reports. All told, the Major League side of the deal is valued at $2.5MM, and includes a 2015 option and buyout.
Once upon a time Bailey was a Rookie of the Year closer with the Athletics. He wound up with the Red Sox and made 49 appearances from 2012-13 (4.91 ERA and 4.68 FIP) before his shoulder gave out. The Yankees signed him and rehabbed him through numerous setbacks in 2014 and 2015, and then he allowed eight runs in 8.2 innings as a September call-up in 2015. My lasting memory of Bailey as a Yankee will be the three-run home run he gave up to Russell Martin …
February 24th, 2014: Yankees Extend Brett Gardner
Brett Gardner was positioned to be one of the top free agents in next year’s class, but he’s no longer on the market. The Yankees officially announced today that they have signed the Pro Star Management client to a four-year extension with a club option for a fifth season. Gardner’s new deal begins in the 2015 season and is reportedly worth $52MM. He receives a $2MM signing bonus and will earn $12MM in 2015, $13MM in 2016, $12MM in 2017 and $11MM in 2018. The 2019 club option is worth $12.5MM and contains a $2MM buyout.
Only four times this century have the Yankees signed a player in his arbitration years to a long-term extension: Derek Jeter in 2001 (ten years, $189M), Javy Vazquez in 2004 (four years, $45M), Robinson Cano in 2008 (four years, $30M), and Brett Gardner in 2014 (four years, $52M). All except Cano were entering their final season of team control. (The Yankees also signed CC Sabathia and Hideki Matsui to extensions, but those guys were veterans already working on free agent contracts.)
The Yankees have been stingy with long-term extensions and I thought the Gardner deal was an indication the way the team did business was going to change, but nope. To be fair, it’s only now that the Yankees have some young players worth extending. It sure would’ve been rad had they signed Didi Gregorius in, like, January 2016, but alas. The Gardner contract worked out quite well — that $52M bought them +14.2 WAR across four years — and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Yankees wait until Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, et al are a year away from free agency before extending them.
February 25th, 2014: Quick Hits: Santana, Billingsley, Tejada, Drew, Hanrahan, Diaz
Across town, the Yankees are keeping tabs on reliever Joel Hanrahan after inking another rehabbing former closer in Andrew Bailey, reports Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. As Martino explains, interest in arms like Bailey and Hanrahan shows that the club has some concern with its pen depth.
The Red Sox made some really terrible reliever trades back in the day. They gave up Josh Reddick (and two others) to get Andrew Bailey, who stunk for them and got hurt. They also gave up Mark Melancon (and three others) to get Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan allowed eight runs in 7.1 innings with the Red Sox, all in 2013, and never pitched again. Wrecked his arm. The Tigers gave him a look in Spring Training in 2014 and 2015 but nothing came of it. Hanrahan was a two-time All-Star with a 2.24 ERA (3.24 FIP) from 2012-13. His career lasted 7.1 more innings. Brutal.
Eleven questions in this week’s mailbag. One for each degree of temperature outside. Remember to send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll answer as many as I can each week.
Danny asks: Who is your favorite low-cost, one year starter left on the market? Liriano? Anderson? Shields? I looked at Shields’ numbers just for kicks and couldn’t believe he threw over 200 innings last year.
Francisco Liriano above all. He has experience starting and relieving, and has moved seamlessly between those roles the last few years. Liriano still misses bats and gets grounders. Not like he did during his prime, but enough to be a serviceable swingman at this point in his career. If not for the regime change this offseason, I’d say James Shields was ticketed for the Orioles. He seems like their type. Brett Anderson is never healthy. Signing him always sounds like a great idea until you actually sign him and he spends four months on the disabled list. Gio Gonzalez seems likely to get starting job somewhere rather than settle for a swingman role for the Yankees. I’d rank the veteran one-year free agents like so: Liriano, Gonzalez, Shields, Anderson. Ervin Santana has said he hates pitching in Yankee Stadium, so forget him, and Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz are great big mehs. Liriano’s my pick. He has the versatility, strikeouts, and grounders I want for that swingman/sixth starter role.
Keith asks: Good problem to have hypothetical: Let’s say that Tulo actually stays healthy and, come mid-season, is producing in the field and at the plate. Clint Frazier is mashing at AAA, forcing the issue as hoped, and Didi is due to return. With a 3 man bench, we can’t carry Gardner, Tulo, LeMahieu, and Romine. What do the Yankees do? Leave Clint languishing? Cut Gardner? Cut/trade Tulo?
In that case, the Yankees should dump the eighth reliever and go with a four-man bench. Put Didi Gregorius back at short and Clint Frazier in left, and move Troy Tulowitzki and Brett Gardner to the bench, where they’d join DJ LeMahieu and Austin Romine. Rotate guys in and out to keep everyone productive and involved. Enjoy the depth. If the Yankees must have an eight-man bullpen, I guess keeping Frazier in Triple-A is the easy solution, but I don’t like it. This is definitely one of those things that will work itself out. I am 100% certain the Yankees would welcome this “problem” at midseason.
Ralph indeed: The NY Post recently featured an article with all the writers providing their top 10 Yankees of all time in concert with the HOF voting. I was shocked to see that Thurman Munson was not listed on any ballot as an all time top 10 Yankee. Do you agree with this summation? My heart is outraged, but we think with our heads, so please provide some perspective. Thanks.
Here is that article. Six writers listed their personal top tens and 15 different players were mentioned. Munson was not one of the 15. Had Munson’s life and career not been tragically cut short — he died less than two months after his 32nd birthday — he stood a great chance of going down as a top ten Yankee all-time. The 1970s were the golden age for catchers (Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk, etc.) and Munson was right there with those guys. Rookie of the Year in 1970, MVP in 1976, World Series rings in 1977 and 1978, captain of the team, so on and so forth. I’m big on great catchers. I love ’em. Munson was before my time, but I reckon he would’ve gone down as my all-time favorite player given everything I’ve read and heard.
Here are the ten Yankees all-time according to WAR and my personal top list:
1. Babe Ruth (+142.6)
2. Lou Gehrig (112.4)
3. Mickey Mantle (+110.3)
4. Joe DiMaggio (+78.2)
5. Derek Jeter (+72.4)
6. Yogi Berra (+59.5)
7. Mariano Rivera (+56.3)
8. Bill Dickey (+55.8)
9. Alex Rodriguez (+54.2)
10. Willie Randolph (+54.0)
18. Thurman Munson (+46.1)
1. Babe Ruth
2. Mickey Mantle
3. Lou Gehrig
4. Derek Jeter
5. Joe DiMaggio
6. Mariano Rivera
7. Yogi Berra
8. Bill Dickey
9. Whitey Ford
10. Alex Rodriguez
Yes, Rivera is the Yankees all-time leader in pitching WAR, three wins ahead of Ford and five wins ahead of Andy Pettitte. And yes, I have Mantle over Gehrig. Mantle hit like Gehrig and did it as a center fielder. Both belong in the inner circle of the inner circle of the Hall of Fame either way. Longevity pushes Jeter over DiMaggio for me. (Jeter played 1,011 more games than Joe D. and DiMaggio missing three years to World War II doesn’t make up all of that.)
On the WAR list, Munson is still behind guys like Ford, Pettitte, Ron Guidry, and Bernie Williams. He’s right there with Robinson Cano (+45.5 WAR). Like I said, I dig great catchers, and I think I would’ve had Munson in the 11-13 range somewhere with Pettitte and Bernie on my list. I am surprised none of the six New York Post scribes squeezed him into their personal ton ten Yankees list. Leaving him out is not egregious though. Munson was great, but the Yankees have had so many great players. Guys like Pettitte and Bernie would be slam dunk top tens for most other teams.
Michael asks: Just read a couple of articles about the Yankee farm system and its prospects. Miguel Andujar wasn’t mentioned anywhere in any of them. What was Miggy’s background and how did he rise to the majors? How come everyone mentions Gleyber but no one mentions Miggy. What’s the deal here?
The Yankees signed Andujar as a 16-year-old shortstop in July 2011. They gave him a $750,000 bonus and moved him to third base right away. Andujar didn’t make it out of rookie ball until 2014 — early in his career he had a tendency to start slow at each new level before turning it on a half-season later — and it wasn’t until 2015 that he jumped into the prospect spotlight. Here’s where Baseball America (and I) ranked him among their top 30 Yankees prospects over the years:
- 2014: BA No. 18 and RAB No. 24
- 2015: BA No. 10 and RAB No. 7
- 2016: BA No. 12 and RAB No. 15
- 2017: BA No. 12 and RAB No. 8
- 2018: BA No. 5 and RAB No. 3
Not sure what I was thinking dropping Andujar from No. 7 in 2015 to No. 15 in 2016. Huh. Anyway, Andujar had a breakout year in 2016, hitting .271/.331/.403 (108 wRC+) with a career high 12 homers between High-A and Double-A. Then, in 2017, he hit .318/.364/.503 (135 wRC+) with 16 homers between Double-A and Triple-A, and started to get some top 100 prospect love.
Andujar never got as much attention as someone like Gleyber Torres because there were always questions about his defense, and also because it wasn’t clear how much power he’d have long-term. For a long time he looked like a line drive guy who might top out at 15-20 homers, which is good, but not top prospect good. Fast forward to last season and Andujar had 27 homers and 47 doubles as a rookie big leaguer, so he’s answered questions about his power potential. Miggy was the rare underrated Yankees prospect.
Benjamin asks: Thoughts on the 2001 AL Cy young award. Two names pop out, Roger Clemens (won), and Mike Mussina (5th). In your opinion, if this vote happened right now, would Roger still win? As far as I can see, Moose had the better stats in the AL, but didn’t have the magic W’s.
That 2001 season was Mussina’s best as a Yankee and probably the second best of his career, behind his 1992 season with the Orioles. Mussina led the league in FIP and WAR in 2001. Clemens led in winning percentage and that’s it. Here are the 2001 AL Cy Young voting results:
|Rank||Name||Tm||Vote Pts||1st Place||WAR||W||L||ERA||IP||H||R||ER||HR||BB||SO||WHIP||ERA+|
Yeah, I think if we held the 2001 Cy Young vote today, Mussina would indeed win. Among those six he had the best park-adjusted ERA, allowed baserunners at the lowest rate, was second in the league in strikeouts (Hideo Nomo had 220 strikeouts for the Red Sox), and led the league in WAR by more than a full win. I remember Clemens went 20-1 in his first 30 starts that year and, at the time, sitting on a 20-1 record that late in the season made you a Cy Young lock. Mussina threw 8.1 more innings than Clemens and allowed seven fewer runs and 33 fewer baserunners.
Brian asks: With unproductive final years of Texeira, A-Rod and (currently) Ellsbury contracts fresh in fans’ minds, the front office has fans right where they want us… many not clamoring for lengthy deals for Machado and Harper. You see right through that. Can you compare and contrast just the Ellsbury deal and why a Machado or Harper signing is advisable in spite of that debacle?
Come on. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are demonstrably better players than Jacoby Ellsbury was when the Yankee signed him. Ellsbury has batted at least 300 times in nine different seasons in his career, and in five of those nine seasons he was a below-average hitter after adjusting for ballpark. He had that truly excellent 2011 season that is so very clearly an outlier given the rest of his career. Only four times in his career has Ellsbury bested +2 WAR. Machado and Harper have done it six times each already. Also, the Yankees signed Ellsbury when he was 30. Machado and Harper are 26.
Had Robinson Cano signed a ten-year deal when he was 26, it would’ve just ended and it would’ve been a smashing success. Ellsbury has had one (1) season on par with what Machado and Harper have done multiple times in their career. The first A-Rod contract is the best historical comparison here. That prime-aged proven star-caliber producer. Not Ellsbury. He was never on their level outside that one season. The “oh no a long-term contract” hysteria has jumped the shark. Eventually some team will sign Harper and another team will sign Machado, and those teams will be very happy they did, and every other team will look silly for not trying harder to sign them. When you’re where the Yankees are on the win curve, you have to worry about now now and later later. The oceans will probably swallow us all whole before these deals go bad.
Emiliano asks: It is plausible to believe that Mariano could help Ottavino to improve his cutter like he did with Halladay or is it more about raw talent for the pitch?
It’s possible, sure. It won’t be easy and it’s not guaranteed to happen, but it is possible. Just remember there’s more that goes into throwing a certain pitch than the grip. You need a certain level of laxity in your wrist to throw a curveball, for example. Pedro Martinez had such big hands and long fingers that he could really smother the ball when he threw a changeup. Not any pitchers could throw a changeup like Pedro. Rivera’s cutter was the result of a lot of things. The grip, his finger pressure, his arm action, etc. Adam Ottavino might not be able to replicate those things. Roy Halladay and David Robertson were able to after consulting with Rivera about his cutter, at least to some extent, so it is possible. My guess is there are more failure stories than success stories here.
Michael asks: It appears that the Yankees 25 man roster will have the greatest range in jersey numbers possible this year at 99 (Ottavino at 0, Judge at 99). What was the greatest range in numbers previously?
Ottavino and Aaron Judge have to be the largest spread in history, right? I doesn’t get any wider than 0-99, unless 00 is somehow lower than 0, or they go to triple digits at some point. Looking over the all-time numbers quick, these appear to be the largest spreads in Yankees history going into 2019:
- 98 (Billy Martin No. 1 and Charlie Keller No. 99 in 1952)
- 97 (Derek Jeter No. 2 and Brian Bruney No. 99 in 2009)
- 89 (Derek Jeter No. 2 and Al Aceves No. 91 from 2008-10, 2014)
- 86 (Derek Jeter No. 2 and Josh Outman No. 88 in 2014)
- 86 (Derek Jeter No. 2 and Ryan Thompson No. 88 in 2000)
Keller played for the Yankees from 1939-49 and wore several different numbers. It wasn’t until he returned in 1952 that he wore No. 99. Keller had one plate appearance for the Yankees that year and Martin was the starting second baseman. Those two were atop the list for 67 years before Ottavino and Judge came along.
Luis Cessa (No. 85) is the only other Yankee to ever wear a number higher than 77, and he never played with Jeter. The lowest number he’s ever played with is No. 11 (Brett Gardner). Ottavino and Judge will sit atop this list until the end of time. Put them on top, move everyone down a spot, then Ottavino and Cessa slot in at seventh place with a spread of 85, assuming Cessa remains with the Yankees and wears the same number.
Brian asks: Would you rather Freddy Galvis 1 year 5 million or Tulo 1 year $500k?
Galvis. The Yankees are over the luxury tax threshold, so the money is largely inconsequential at this point, and I think Galvis will be the better player this season. At the very least, you can bank on him being a very good defensive shortstop. He also has a chance to pop 15+ homers. I don’t know if Troy Tulowitzki can do either of those things. I get that he’s basically free and no risk, and the Yankees do have a good backup plan in DJ LeMahieu (with Gleyber Torres sliding to short), but I think Galvis is the better player and more likely to help the Yankees win games this season. Shrug.
Zack asks: Given the way this free agency period is going, what do you think the chances are that Harper or Machado take a 3 year super high AAV (40+MM/year) deal that would expire a) before they turn 30, and b) after the current CBA expires which might result in teams being more willing to spend?
I just can’t see it. If they’re willing to take a short-term contract, I think the more likely scenario is a five or six-year deal with an opt-out after year three. That allows them to hit free agency again at age 29 and right before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement takes effect, and also gives them a little insurance policy on the back-end in case things go wrong. A five or six-year deal with an opt-out after three years seems more likely to me than a straight three-year contract. Part of me wonders if Harper’s and Machado’s agents would push for an irregular opt-out date, say January 1st so they can better gauge the market and the impact of the new CBA. The CBA expires December 1st and the opt-out decision would normally be due in early November. Pushing the opt-out deadline back to January 1st — or even December 1st for that matter — would put them in better position to make an informed decision. We’ll see.
Mark asks: What is your projected 25 man roster? 3 or 4 bench players? I feel like if everyone is healthy, it ends up being 4 bench players. You can’t really make Ellsbury do a 2 year rehabilitation stint…. can you?
A few weeks ago Brian Cashman said Jacoby Ellsbury is still questionable for Opening Day. Ellsbury had his hip surgery on August 6th and the Yankees announced a six-month recovery time. That puts him on track to return in February. It is a major surgery though, and let’s be frank here, Ellsbury is not the quickest healer. His disabled list stints always last a little longer than expected. He’s not an Opening Day consideration until we see him on the field and healthy. This is my projected 25-man roster:
|Gary Sanchez||1B Luke Voit||LF Brett Gardner||Luis Severino||CL Aroldis Chapman|
|2B Gleyber Torres||CF Aaron Hicks||James Paxton||SU Dellin Betances|
|SS Troy Tulowitzki||RF Aaron Judge||Masahiro Tanaka||SU Zach Britton|
|3B Miguel Andujar||OF Giancarlo Stanton||J.A. Happ||SU Adam Ottavino|
|DISABLED LIST||CC Sabathia||MR Chad Green|
|Didi Gregorius||BENCH||MR Jonathan Holder|
|Jordan Montgomery||C Austin Romine||???||MR Tommy Kahnle|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||IF DJ LeMahieu||LG Luis Cessa|
The Opening Day rotation order is whatever. No need to sweat it right now. I said earlier this week I expect Kahnle and Cessa to get the final two bullpen spots, which is why I have them in the table. Everything else is pretty straightforward. That last bench spot is the only mystery at this point. If Ellsbury is healthy, I imagine it’ll go to him. If not, it could be Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, or Tyler Wade. Those are really the only options, right? I’d be surprised if Thairo Estrada, Gio Urshela, or Billy Burns forced their way into an Opening Day. The best candidate for that open bench spot? Gardner. Sign Bryce Harper and move Gardner to the bench. Do it, Yankees. Deep down, you know you want to.
The hot stove is running cold right now, so this week we’re running a series of guest posts from Sam Tydings, Steven’s brother. Sam used Out of the Park Baseball to simulate some past “what if” Yankees scenarios. We’ve already looked at the Greg Maddux non-signing, the Albert Belle non-signing, and the Vlad Guerrero non-signing. Now it’s time for the Cliff Lee non-trade. You can follow Sam on Twitter at @simmonsclass.
The morning of July 9th, 2010 was a crucial one in recent Yankees history. At the time, the defending champion Yankees had a 3-game lead in the AL East over the Rays and a 5-game lead over the Red Sox, and the team was in Seattle for their final series before the All-Star Break, scheduled to face M’s ace Cliff Lee that night. The Mariners were tied for the 2nd worst record in the American League, despite trading for Lee in the final year of his deal over the winter to pair with young ace Felix Hernandez in an attempt to make their first playoff run since 2001.
There had been light speculation about where Lee would be moved, but then all hell broke loose on the morning of the 9th. A deal sending top prospect Jesus Montero, along with infielder David Adams and pitcher Zach McAllister to Seattle for Lee was just about done. Until it wasn’t. Whether it was a legitimate concern or a ploy to get Texas to up their offer, the Mariners pulled out of the deal over Adams’ medicals, shipping Lee to the Rangers, who he would lead to the AL pennant before spurning the Yankees again in December to join the Phillies.
So as Yankees OOTP Week (or whatever you end up calling this) continues, let’s take a look at an alternate universe where Lee ends up in pinstripes for the stretch run in 2010. Thank you, Force Trade button:
The fake 2010 Yankees immediately take off with Lee helping to anchor the rotation. Instead of dueling with the Rays for the division title, the Yankees cruised to a 104-58 record, topping their 2009 mark. Meanwhile the Lee-less Rangers clung to the American League West at 82-80. The teams ended up meeting in the fake ALCS, but with Lee on the Yankees, the series is a rout. The Yankees ended up only dropping one playoff game en route to their 2nd straight championship. Lee went 12-1 with just a 1.84 ERA for the team after the trade, leading to his second Cy Young award.
Fun fact: the 2010 Yankees gave 19 second-half starts to Dustin Moseley, Sergio Mitre, and Ivan Nova.
Congrats, Cliff! We’re all very happy for you!
Perhaps wooed by the ring, Lee stayed in New York with a massive 5-year contract that featured an opt-out after just two years. Fake Lee would go on to lead the Yankees to another pennant before bouncing around the league, finishing just shy of 75% on his final Hall of Fame ballot. It is difficult to see a reality in which a Lee trade does not result in at least the Yankees’ second straight pennant if not another title. Lee was ultimately felled in that 2010 World Series by the likes of Freddy Sanchez, Cody Ross, and Edgar Renteria of course, so anything is possible.
The key component of the Lee trade heading to Seattle was Montero, who was a few months removed from being tied to a Yankees trade for Roy Halladay, and 18 months until he was ultimately flipped to the Pacific Northwest but for Michael Pineda instead of a bona fide ace. Had Lee come to New York and won a title regardless of signing an extension, the trade would have been immediately justified. If he had a similarly awful World Series as the one he pitched in Ranger blue and red and headed to Philadelphia anyway, we would still be ruing the lack of value received for Montero, even if he struggled as he did in Seattle.
Obviously with hindsight being what it is, the Yankees should have dealt Montero in a package for Halladay at the 2009 Winter Meetings if it was truly on the table, instead of refusing to send their top prospect in-division. The 2009-2012 contention window had many fond memories, but it was clear at the time and more so now almost a decade later that the team needed another frontline starter.
There are a myriad of reasons why the Lee trade could have been a disaster for the Yankees: the playoffs are random, he might have ended up hating New York and leaving without delivering a title, maybe Montero thrives with more seasoning in Seattle (ok, probably not that last one). Regardless, if the Yankees weren’t being nakedly used for leverage over the course of a year, they missed their shot to deal their best hitting prospect in a decade from a position of depth for an ace who could have added a couple of more flags to the new stadium’s facade.
Three years and three months ago the Yankees swung a trade that was maybe a tad confusing at the time and has since played a major role in the team’s return to prominence. The Yankees sent John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Aaron Hicks in November 2015. They traded a 24-year-old catcher coming off a .277/.326/.406 (100 wRC+) season for a 26-year-old outfielder with a career .225/.306/.349 (82 wRC+) batting line in parts of three MLB seasons. Hmmm.
Murphy was blocked by Brian McCann and the Yankees had Gary Sanchez coming, so catcher was a position of depth in the organization. Center field was not. Not with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury entering their mid-30s. The Twins gave up on Murphy after 90 plate appearances and Hicks, following a tough year as the fourth outfielder in 2016, has broken out as a cornerstone player the last two years. His ranks among the 87 outfielders with at least 800 plate appearances from 2017-18:
- OBP: .368 (11th)
- wRC+: 127 (18th)
- Baserunning runs: +9.6 (10th)
- WAR: +8.2 (12th)
There’s a reason Hicks was a first round pick (14th overall in 2008) and ranked by Baseball America (subs. req’d) as the 19th best prospect in baseball in 2010. It’s because he’s a great athlete with loads of tools, and had the ability to do exactly what he’s done the last two seasons. That’s become a top 15 outfielder in baseball. Hicks was struggling with the Twins, the Yankees took a chance on his upside, and have been rewarded handsomely.
Next offseason Hicks will be rewarded handsomely, though probably not as handsomely as he would have been a few years ago given the current state of free agency. Hicks will hit the open market next winter as a just turned 30-year-old switch-hitting center fielder who gets on base, has power, runs the bases well, and saves runs in the field. He has an impact in all phases of the game and those guys are hard to find. The Yankees should want to sign him long-term.
With another strong season in 2019, Hicks could’ve gone into free agency seeking Dexter Fowler (five years, $82.5M) or Lorenzo Cain (five years, $80M) money not that long ago. That was the going rate for an above-average two-way center fielder. Hicks will hit free agency one year younger than Fowler was when he signed his deal, and two years younger than Cain. In a “normal” free agent climate, yeah, five years and $80M would’ve been market value.
The market has changed. For whatever reason teams are steering clear of free agents, even great ones like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. “Why get better when you can get cheaper” is a pretty common hot stove theme these days. With a huge 2019, a year even better than 2017-18, yeah, maybe Hicks can still put himself in position for an $80M or so contract next winter. It just seems so unlikely now, no matter what he does this season.
Last week the Dodgers signed A.J. Pollock to a contract that might’ve set the market for Hicks. It’s a complicated contract — I swear, every big money contract the Dodgers give out is complicated — but these are the nuts and bolts:
- Four years with a $12M luxury tax hit.
- Pollock is guaranteed at least $45M.
- Pollock can opt out following year three.
- Pollock has a fifth year player option.
Pollock turned 31 in December, so he’s a year older than Hicks will be when he hits free agency next winter. He’s also had more injury problems in his career. Hicks is no stranger to the disabled list himself, but all his injuries are muscle pulls. Pollock has played only 237 of 486 possible games the last three years because he’s had muscle pulls and broken bones (hand, elbow, thumb). Age and injury history are advantage Hicks.
We don’t know what Hicks will do in 2019 yet, but we do know his 2017-18 seasons were kinda similar to Pollock’s. Look at the numbers:
Same number of games, similar batting average, same strikeout rate, same isolated power, both above-average baserunners and defenders. The biggest difference between the two is Hicks walks a lot more. Literally more than twice as often as Pollock. The numbers say he’s been a better defender and baserunner too, hence a 3.5 WAR difference between the two the last two years.
Had Hicks hit free agency this winter he and his representatives could’ve said he deserves more than Pollock, and they absolutely would’ve been correct. Hicks didn’t hit free agency this winter though. He’ll hit free agency next winter, and who knows how his 2019 season will play out? I think he’ll be fine. He’s only 29 and he’s obviously talented. At age 29, there’s a chance 2019 will be the best year of his career.
There also risk involved with waiting a year until free agency. Hicks could get hurt, or his performance could slip, or the free agent market could get even worse. Rather than wait, Hicks could jump at an extension now. By time the season ends he’ll have made $13.5M between MLB salaries and his draft signing bonus. Take away taxes and agent fees and all that and it’s still a lot of money, but Hicksie might want to lock in long-term security for Baby Hicksie.
Hicks has already signed a one-year, $6M contract for 2019. The Yankees can now sign him to an extension that begins in 2020 without affecting their 2019 luxury tax payroll. Put the Pollock contract (four years, $45M with some bells and whistles) in front of him and it goes like this:
- What’s in it for Hicks? Peace of mind and long-term security, for starters. He also gets an opt-out if things go well and a player option if things don’t. Also, no need to sweat free agency, which is increasingly unfavorable to players. Waiting until January or February to sign is no fun.
- What’s in it for the Yankees? Long-term control of a very good player and cost certainty, which is a big deal for payroll planning. There’s no bidding war and it’s one less core player the Yankees have to worry about signing (Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances are also impending free agents).
The downside for Hicks is he could sell himself short. What if he does have a career year at age 29 in 2019? A career year for Hicks could be something like .300/.400/.550 with 35 homers, 15 steals, and +8 WAR. That would set him up for a large free agent payday, even in this market. As for the Yankees, the downside for them is sinking a lot of money into a player who could lose value. That’s the sort of risk every team takes with every big money signing though.
A few weeks ago Brian Cashman said he’s planning to discuss extensions with Hicks as well as Gregorius and Betances. With the free agent market being what it is, it makes more sense for the Yankees to wait on an extension than ever before. Even with a great year, chances are Hicks is not looking at a massive payday next offseason because massive paydays don’t really exist anymore. The Fowler and Cain contracts are probably his free agent upside and that’s not something that will make or break the Yankees financially. (They’ll pretend it will though.)
I think Hicks is a better player than Pollock — the numbers back me up on this — plus he’ll be a year younger when he hits free agency than Pollock was, so I think getting Hicks at Pollock money would be a pretty great deal. The sooner the Yankees can get it done, the better. Hicks doesn’t have to worry about free agency or long-term security, and the Yankees don’t have to worry about center field for another few years. An extension in Pollock’s range could work for both sides in this free agent market.
A couple weeks ago, Mike wrote about the Yankees doubling down on Miguel Andujar’s defense. The key takeaway was that Andujar’s struggles aren’t for a lack of effort. His work ethic is virtually unparalleled, though at some point, the results need to follow. The biggest issue with Miggy’s defense has been his range, something Mike also addressed last summer.
Good range requires quick reaction time and lateral quickness. Generally speaking, I think a player’s reflexes are innate and probably next to impossible to improve. Lateral quickness is something that can be improved via training. Perhaps we see a more nimble Andujar this year, but I’m skeptical that his reaction improves. There is one way to compensate for a slow first step, however: better positioning. That’s why I found the following quote Mike used in his most recent piece worth discussing:
“What we’re focusing on right now is his pre-pitch setup,” [Infield coach Carlos] Mendoza added. “We’re trying to put him in the best position so he can react at contact. Making sure that he finds a spot where he’s comfortable on his setup so he can have a better first step, a better read on the ball to create better angles. It starts with his setup and his ready position.”
Getting Andujar into a comfortable stance in order to make a quick first movement is important, but what about moving Andujar a few steps back? Would he be more comfortable standing a few feet further away from the infield grass, thereby giving him more time to get to wide grounders? It seems pretty logical. Of course, it could also be too good to be true.
One of the nice things Statcast shares is defensive positioning data, which tells us how far away players stand from the plate prior to each pitch. Using this information, I figured we could see how Andujar’s counterparts position themselves, while also looking to see if their depth has an effect on their performance.
By the Numbers
Statcast tells us that the typical third baseman was positioned 113 feet away from home plate last year. Andujar was a foot closer to the grass, checking in at 112. Others ranged as far as 118 feet away (Alex Bregman and Matt Chapman) to only 107 feet deep (Johan Camargo). To try to assign some meaning to this, I wanted to compare the depth to player’s range and arm strength. My theory was that players who play deeper have better range, stronger arms, and slower first steps than those who play shallower.
For range, I used Range Runs (RngR), which is a component of UZR. Admittedly, UZR is far from imperfect but it’s just about the best information available in this instance. Of 31 third baseman who played at least 500 innings at the hot corner last year, there was no correlation between RngR and depth. Bummer.
Arm strength and first step is something that Statcast can measure, but unfortunately, it’s not publicly available. The next best thing I could find was the FANS scouting report, which was most recently done at the end of the 2017 season on Fangraphs. It’s not what I’d want to look at ideally, but the wisdom of the crowds is worth something. There are grades for arm strength, range, and many other tools for years 2017 and prior. In this instance, arm strength and range are all we need. Once again, though, no correlation. Before the charts, one thing to note that this sample is limited to 21 third baggers. First, arm strength:
Finally, first step:
What all this says to me is that positioning is a matter of personal comfort. There are times when a scouting report will affect a third baseman’s location on the diamond, such as bunt situations or against pull-happy lefties. Ultimately, positioning isn’t a one-size fit all solution.
What the best third baseman do
Tricks of the trade can be learned from peers, and there are plenty of good third basemen in the league right now. Below, a table of third baseman who had both positive DRS and UZR marks in 2018:
|Name||Depth (ft.)||DRS||UZR||RngR||First Step||Arm|
There’s a wide range of defensive positioning, again illustrating the fact that its more of a preference than anything else. To no one’s surprise, Chapman sits at the top with some outlandishly great numbers all around. He just so happens to play far back. On the other side of the coin, there’s Beltre. He’s one of the best fielders to ever play the position, yet he’s much closer than Chapman. Out of curiosity to see if he moved in as he got older, I went back to 2016 (the earliest available), but Beltre hasn’t moved. Again, this points to depth being whatever each player favors.
Why Andujar should try playing deeper
Even though a few defensive metrics don’t correlate well with depth, that doesn’t mean Andujar would be wasting his time by trying something different. After all, if Chapman plays 118 feet back, why shouldn’t Andujar give it a shot? Miggy has a pretty fantastic arm himself, so it’s not a matter of arm strength that prevents Andujar from trying it. If he’s comfortable playing deep and has some positive results to show for it, great. If not, he can always revert to his old location. This is the perfect experiment to conduct during spring training.
I don’t want this idea to come off as some sort of panacea. I’ve already noted that there isn’t a correlation between depth and a few stats, but what I haven’t gotten into are certain factors specific to Andujar that need to be considered. For one, Andujar has a bad habit of double clutching before throwing. This is already an issue that could be exacerbated by playing deeper, which gives the runner extra time. On the other hand, Andujar has a rocket for an arm. With his arm strength, I don’t think a longer throw would be an issue. It’s just a matter of correcting the double clutch, which ostensibly is teachable. Although this idea was born because of Andujar’s lack of range, I wouldn’t have proposed it if he didn’t have the arm for it.
Spring training is right around the corner and I’m curious to see if there are any noticeable differences for Andujar. We’ve heard about how much work he’s put in this offseason, and given the apparent lack of desire to sign Manny Machado, Andujar’s fielding is going to be heavily scrutinized. The unfortunate thing is that it’s so difficult to notice changes, particularly when watching on TV. There’s no view of pre-pitch positioning or a shot of a fielder’s first step. It might not be until partway through the regular season, when some of the returns for various metrics come in, that we can get an idea of any changes or improvements made, if any.
As Mike noted a couple weeks back, it’s fantastic that Andujar has the drive to get better. I’d much rather have that than a terrible defender who doesn’t care. Still, results need to come at some point, otherwise he’s going to be untenable at the position. Moving him off of third is always an option, but his bat wouldn’t be as valuable elsewhere. The Yankees know this, and will exhaust every last option before conceding. If no stone is going unturned, perhaps moving Andujar back a few feet is worth a shot.