This is the nightly open thread. All the local hockey and basketball teams are playing except the Islanders, and there’s a bunch of college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it isn’t religion or politics. Thanks in advance.
Defining the winners of the 2017-18 MLB offseason is a difficult task. Free agent signings have been sparse and few blockbuster trades have reshaped the competitive landscape. There hasn’t been one team, perhaps outside the Angels, that has clearly gone from pretender to contender in the past few months.
Surely, Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna won by getting out of Miami. Same with mid-to-upper-tier relievers who were the only group of players seemingly in demand. Finally, the owners have certainly won because it’s easier to run up profits when you don’t spend on players.
But an unlikely winner thus far has been Masahiro Tanaka, who looks like a genius for deciding to take his money and sit out the offseason.
The choice was simple for the 29-year-old starter and his agent, Casey Close: Remain a Yankee and take $67 million guaranteed for the next three seasons or wade in the uncertainty of free agency with the chance of striking another $100+ deal.
And when the opt-in date was creeping up, the decision to opt-in wasn’t so clear-cut. Almost exactly half of RAB readers thought he’d opt-out despite questions about his bloated 2017 ERA and continuing concerns over his partially torn UCL. His home run, walk and hit totals all surpassed his 2016 numbers in 21 fewer innings and he alternated between dominant and horrid even in his better-looking September.
But Tanaka was coming off 20 innings of superb postseason pitching and the assumption was that he’d be third in line among the top starters behind Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, perhaps at a similar level to Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. In a previous offseason, he could even have been the second guy to sign with Arrieta and Scott Boras holding out until late December or January. Unlikely as it was that Tanaka would surpass the $22.33 million per season he already had, a five-year, $100 million contract (as MLB Trade Rumors estimated he’d receive) appeared to be a reasonable expectation for the open market.
However, based on the reality of the market, Tanaka would still be looking for a new home if he had chosen to opt-out. The Yankees likely would have moved to other options and may have been more aggressive on the trade market. Maybe we’d have just witnessed an introductory press conference for Gerrit Cole in pinstripes. The extra money off their books could have allowed the Yankees to be a larger player for an infielder like Todd Frazier or Neil Walker.
That would have left Tanaka starved for options, waiting desperately for Darvish and Arrieta to find homes so the teams that missed out could move on to him. His best-case scenario may have been coming back to the Yankees around this time for a commitment closer to 3 years, $60 million, though who knows if Brian Cashman would still be entertaining a reunion after an opt-out.
As one of the younger starters to reach free agency, there’s the chance that he would have been a more sought-after option than what’s currently out there. Yet it seems just as likely that he’d have to settle for a three-year deal less than his current deal or a four-year deal that narrowly surpassed the mark and would have pushed his next free agency back to when he turns 33.
Another point to emphasize is that Tanaka would have had to look for a new home. He’s become comfortable in New York playing in the Bronx the last four years and that’s worth something. He cited that comfort when choosing to opt-in and it’s hard to think he’s looked back with regret or wonder since early November. So by not hitting free agency this winter, Tanaka looks like a big winner in a slow offseason.
Thairo Estrada | IF
Thairo Estrada signed out of Bejuma, Venezuela for the bargain price of $49,000 way back in November of 2012. He was relatively unheralded, as evidenced by both the price tag and how late he signed, and was something of an afterthought in a class in which the Yankees jumped all over three highly-rated prospects on day one of international free agency – Luis Torrens, Alex Palma, and Yancarlos Baez. The Yankees has $2.9 MM to spend in 2012, thanks to the new spending rules, and $2.75 MM went to those three prospects; Corby McCoy garnered the last $150,000 in mid-August. Estrada (and others) were signed much later, with the Yankees using one of their six $50,000 exemptions.
It’s interesting to bring up these names as a means to reinforce just how much of a crapshoot the process is. Torrens was a Rule 5 selection by the Padres last winter, and spent all of 2017 riding their bench (and hitting .163/.243/.203). Palma has yet to move beyond High-A, which he just reached for the first time this year. Baez shifted from shortstop to the mound this year, after batting .211/.278/.296 in 639 minor league plate appearances. And McCoy was released this summer, having never advanced beyond the Dominican Summer League.
And then there was Estrada.
Estrada made his professional debut in 2013, when he spent the entire short season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He batted .278/.350/.432 (132 wRC+) in 199 PA, and spent most of the season at shortstop (327.2 innings). He also dabbled at the keystone, starting nine games and logging 75 innings at the position. It wasn’t quite enough to put him on the radar – few summer league performances are, unless the prospect comes in with a significant amount of hype – but he did check-in at 20th on Baseball America‘s Top-20 GCL prospects list. There were five other Yankees on that list in Torrens, Miguel Andujar, Abiatal Avelino, Gosuke Katoh, and Luis Severino; quite the intriguing bunch.
Unfortunately, 2014 was a lost season for Estrada. He opened the year with Staten Island in the New York-Penn League, and he hit an empty .271/.348/.288 (96 wRC+) in 17 games at that level. He suffered a leg injury running the bases on July 4, and was shut down for six weeks. Estrada did make it back in time for a six game tune-up stint in the GCL, giving him a total of 90 PA that year.
And so it was back to Staten Island in 2015, and Estrada got right back on-track. He slashed .267/.338/.360 (108 wRC+) in 279 PA, with nearly as many walks (23) as strikeouts (30). He once again split his time between second and short, albeit with a heavy tilt towards the former this time around (45 games at second against 19 at short). This was not a knock on his defense, however; rather, it was a move made in deference to 2015 first-rounder Kyle Holder, who was drafted predominantly for his slick fielding.
Estrada headed to Low-A Charleston in 2016, where he would join a middle infield logjam with Holder, Katoh, and Hoy Jun Park. He spent just 35 games at the level, logging 21 games at second, 9 at third (his first professional experience there), and 5 at short, all the while putting up a solid .286/.324/.429 (116 wRC+) slash line. It became clear at this point (if it wasn’t already) that the Yankees were grooming him for a utility role.
He was promoted to High-A Tampa, and it was more of the same … in a good way. Estrada hit .292/.355/.375 (117 wRC+) in 351 PA at the level, with strong walk (8.3%) and strikeout (13.1%) rates. And he once again played all over, putting in 38 games at third, 36 at second, and 3 at short. This time, however, it was around a new crop of teammates, in Avelino, Jorge Mateo, and Gleyber Torres.
As a result of his flexibility and solid offense, Estrada popped-up on more radars than ever last off-season, earning the sleeper designation from countless outlets. He didn’t disappoint in 2017, slashing .301/.353/.392 (107 wRC+) in a full season at Double-A Trenton. Estrada continued to showcase a high-contact approach, posting a tiny 10.3% strikeout rate in 542 PA. And he served as the team’s primary shortstop, playing 90 games there, while continuing to spend time at second (23 games) and third (3). He was named to the Eastern League All-Star team for his efforts.
Estrada’s season continued into the late Fall, as he suited up for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. He hit .342/.381/.430 in 79 at-bats while serving as the team’s shortstop, and he was named to both the AFL Rising Stars game and the AFL All-Prospect Team, to boot.
Estrada is oftentimes described as the prototypical Venezuelan shortstop. He checks in at around 5’9″ and 180 pounds, and he has incredibly smooth actions on defense to go along with above-average range and enough arm for any position. His arm can be a bit erratic on longer throws, leading some to suggest that he is best-suited for second – but that aspect of his game has improved over time, and accuracy isn’t a problem on routine plays.
Speed might be the most interesting aspect of Estrada’s game, as he draws above-average to plus grades for his raw speed, and praise for his base-running instincts when taking the extra base. However, he has been a largely ineffective base-stealer, with 49 steals in 77 attempts – a 63.6% success rate. It was worse than ever in 2017, when he was successful in just 8 of 19 steal attempts. And the shape of his overall profile may hinge on his ability to translate that speed into better results.
If Estrada can continue to make a bunch of contact, draw walks, and play average defense at second, third, and short, he can be a valuable bench player. If he can do all of that and take advantage of his speed on the basepaths, he may well be a starting quality player.
Estrada was added to the team’s 40-man roster this off-season, and he will almost certainly reach the majors in a limited capacity at some point this season. He’ll otherwise spend most of the year at Triple-A; where he plays in the field will depend on what happens with Andujar, Torres, and Tyler Wade, but it seems likely that he’ll continue to bounce from position to position.
I’m a big believer in Estrada’s defense at short, and I have him comfortably within the Yankees top-ten prospects. With some refinement on the basepaths he could be a player that contributes in everything but power, and enough so that his lack of pop isn’t a drain on the lineup. He doesn’t quite have the feel of a player that the Yankees will trot out as a regular, given their depth in the middle infield and his lack of bat for third, but that doesn’t hinder his value in a vacuum.
We are exactly three weeks away from the biggest non-news day of the year. Pitchers and catchers reporting marks the beginning of Spring Training and the beginning of the long marathon that is the new baseball season, but nothing really happens that day. Still exciting though. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.
1. Baseball America released their annual top 100 prospects list yesterday and I don’t really have anything to say about them — Keith Law is also posting his top 100 list this week and I’ll have some thoughts on that when the time comes — other than to say I’m glad my man Miguel Andujar is getting some love. He’s been a personal favorite for a few years now and I’m pretty excited he has a chance to be the third baseman this year. I always kinda assumed Andujar would fly under the radar and never make a top 100 list, but that’s out the window now. Oh well. Prospect rankings don’t mean much anyway. Baseball America ranked Aaron Judge as the 90th — 90th! — best prospect in baseball last year. No one knows anything. In the end, we’re all just making somewhat educated guesses. My somewhat educated guess a few years ago was Andujar had the skills to be a pretty darn good ballplayer, and he is on that path right now. And the Yankees supposedly made him an untouchable in trade talks. I am: excited.
2. Between the various top 100 lists — it’s safe to say the Yankees will have four-to-seven prospects on each top 100 list this spring — and the big league roster, not to mention their financial might, is any team set up better for the long haul than the Yankees? They have three franchise cornerstone position players at the big league level in Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez, all of whom are in their mid-20s. They have a young frontline starter in Luis Severino and strong complementary 20-somethings in Jordan Montgomery and Sonny Gray. (I’d argue Gray is much more than a complementary player.) The farm system is loaded. And when ownership feels like spending, the Yankees can beat any contract offer for any free agent. The Yankees are in a pretty great place right now. That isn’t to say this can’t all go wrong. It absolutely can. Players can get hurt, players can underperform, prospects can bust, the money can turn into bad contracts … we know the risks. That’s baseball. Point is, the Yankees as an organization are very healthy right now. They have gobs of young talent and the ability to spend big. Things weren’t looking so hot three or four years ago. Now? I’m not sure any team is set up as well as the Yankees going forward.
3. My guess right now, in a hypothetical world where the Yankees add no one of significance between now and the start of the regular season, is the Opening Day infield would be Andujar at third, Tyler Wade at second, and Ronald Torreyes on the bench. It would probably be more like a Wade/Torreyes platoon at second, really. This is what I think would happen in this scenario. Not necessarily what I would do. I don’t think the Yankees want to carry Jace Peterson and his $900,000 salary on the bench from get-go given the luxury tax plan — he strikes me as more of an emergency option — and I think the Yankees want to give Gleyber Torres some more time in Triple-A. He is coming back from a serious injury and three weeks in the minors equals pushing his free agency back one year. We’re talking about “buying” his age 27 season in 2024. That’s big. There is too much to be gained to not send him down for a few weeks, really. And if Torres goes down and rakes, I expect the Yankees to bring him up in fairly short order. Perhaps by May 1st. If Wade isn’t cutting it, he’ll go down. If Wade is playing well, the Yankees will figure out a way to keep him around. So that’s my guess right now. Wade at second, Andujar at third, Torreyes on the bench if the season started today.
4. The season does not start today, however, and my hunch is the Yankees still have one more move in them before the start of Spring Training. Well, no, before the start of the regular season. It sure seems like we’re heading for a lot of free agents looking for jobs in March. That’s when the Yankees might get the best bargain and pounce, and it’ll also give them a chance to evaluate things in camp. If it becomes clear they need another pitcher, they can get a pitcher. If the infield kids aren’t looking so hot, they can get an infielder. I just think another move has to be coming at some point. The Yankees have $22M to spend under the luxury tax threshold and they’re going to spend it. You can make a case for saving that money for a big midseason addition — setting aside $10M means they can take on a $20M player at midseason because the luxury tax hit is pro-rated — though that can be tricky. You never know who will be available on the trade market and the prices could be jacked up. My guess right now is the Yankees do end up making a trade for a young controllable starter, and it’ll be someone we haven’t discussed at all this offseason. Not a free agent signing.
5. The 2018 Hall of Fame class will be announced tomorrow and, based on Ryan Thibodaux’s public ballot tracker, it appears Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome are locks for induction. Trevor Hoffman and Edgar Martinez are right on the bubble. This could be the first five-man Hall of Fame class since the inaugural class in 1936 (Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth.) I have no real opinion about this year’s potential Hall of Fame class. I don’t think Hoffman is a Hall of Famer, but whatever. Anyway, next year both Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera will be Hall of Fame eligible for the first time, so that’ll be fun. Rivera will get in on the first ballot for sure. He won’t get 100% of the vote — no one is getting 100% anytime soon — but he’ll sail in with ease. Pettitte is on the fence. He’s a borderline candidate to start with, and the fact he admitted to using human growth hormone will undoubtedly cost him some votes. Some voters steadfastly refuse to vote for players with ties to performance-enhancing drug ties, even loose ties that are nothing more than speculation. Pettitte admitted it. That’ll cost him. I don’t think Andy gets in next year. He might end up a Fred McGriff type who doesn’t come particularly close to induction, but stays on the ballot all ten years.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Islanders are playing, and there are a few college basketball games as well. I am so ready for baseball to come back. Please hurry. Talk about anything except religion or politics here.
Spring Training is three weeks away and that means it is top 100 prospect season. All the usual publications will be updating their lists in the coming days and weeks.
Earlier today the gang at Baseball America released their 2018 top 100 prospects list, which is topped by Braves OF Ronald Acuna. Angels RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani is second and Blue Jays 3B Vlad Guerrero Jr. is third. Six Yankees made the top 100:
6. SS Gleyber Torres
38. OF Estevan Florial
41. LHP Justus Sheffield
59. 3B Miguel Andujar
77. RHP Albert Abreu
81. RHP Chance Adams
Athletics SS Jorge Mateo (No. 64), Marlins RHP Jorge Guzman (No. 87), and Athletics OF Dustin Fowler (No. 88) all made the top 100 as well. Mateo and Fowler went to the A’s in the Sonny Gray trade, and Guzman went to the Marlins in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. White Sox OF Blake Rutherford, the headliner in the David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle/Todd Frazier trade, did not make the top 100.
I always find it amusing when the prospects are in different orders in the top 100 list and the team top ten list. When Baseball America posted their top ten Yankees prospects last month, Adams was ahead of Andujar and Abreu. Now he’s behind them in the top 100. Such is life when one person ranks team prospects and a group of people rank top 100 lists. That’s okay. Differences of opinion are good.
Anyway, the Braves have eight top 100 prospects and are the only team with more than the Yankees. Considering Mateo, Guzman, and Fowler came out of the system — Mateo and Fowler were originally signed/drafted by the Yankees, Guzman came over in the Brian McCann trade — that’s some collection of Yankees-bred talent in the top 100. It doesn’t even include OF Clint Frazier, who exceeded the rookie threshold by four at-bats last year and is no longer prospect eligible. Good times in the farm system.
The other day, Steven wrote about the rationale of trading David Robertson to clear some salary room to fit Yu Darvish’s hypothetical contract under the $197 million luxury tax threshold. Today, I’m here to make a case for trading away another established veteran player with a +$10M salary: Brett Gardner.
We’ve talked about the Yankees’ commitment to stick to the current luxury tax plan all winter. As of this moment, the Yankees stand at $175 million for 2018, which gives them around $22 million of wiggle room. Trading away ~$10 million worth of of room will comfortably fit another big contract. It’s the ol’ subtract-to-add situation.
While Gardner is penciled in as a big part of the 2018 Yankees, he is not untouchable. Darvish can put the Yankee rotation in a solid spot for the next few years. This idea does not have my 100% endorsement, but there are reasons why it would make sense.
1. Gardner’s value. There are two sides here. First off, Gardner had one of his finest seasons in the majors in 2017, hitting .264/.350/.428 with 21 home runs, which is good for a 108 wRC+ and a 3.8 fWAR. Among outfielders with qualifying amount of plate appearances, Gardner ranks 16th in the majors in fWAR, which is pretty good. He is definitely a starter on any team. While the fielding metrics have not been as high on him as they used to be, he still rates as a good fielder and, of course, he brings speed on the bases.
While there are teams out there with OF needs, Gardner is currently a good enough player that he could go to a team with three spots all set and take one of the jobs. He’s also set to be paid $11 million in 2018, which is lower than what he would get in open market if he were a free agent.
What am I getting at? It’s that Gardner would be more than just a salary dump. He could net the Yanks something interesting in return while the Yankees clear $11 million in the payroll.
There are two things that limit his value: 1) his age, and 2) only one year left in his contract. If Gardner put up a season he did in 2017 when he was 27, Cashman’s phone would be buzzing quite a bit. Gardner is currently 34 and will turn 35 in August. Studies have shown that speedy guys tend to age more gracefully but as you have seen with Jacoby Ellsbury, it is not always a guarantee.
As you may know, 2018 is the last year of Gardener’s four-year, $52 million contract. There is a $12.5 million team option for 2019, by the way. Basically, whoever has him has a choice to keep Gardner for another season, which helps his overall value. While Gardner is a very good MLB player, teams will be wary of his age and for how long they can have him. At the same time … he is much more tradeable than Ellsbury.
2. It could clear the OF logjam. So, at this moment, the Yankees have four sure everyday guys in Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Gardner, and two bench guys in Ellsbury and Clint Frazier (don’t forget about Jabari Blash either). Depth is important and the Yankees have a lot of outfielders. Both of these can be true.
Let’s talk about the two bench guys here though. Ellsbury, with the decline he has shown since joining the Yankees, has become somewhat of an albatross and the team has not made it much of a secret they want to trade him away. At the same time … he’s not awful. He may be average at best, but he’s capable of good usage here and there.
Frazier, on the other hand, could be a guy who could use some exposure against big league pitching in 2018. When he makes contact, man, he can hit’em hard. Frazier had 31 base hits in the ML last year and 16 of them were for extra bases. He just needs to be more seasoned at the highest level. He’s a young talented outfielder who warrants patience. Giving him ample opportunity to experience growing pain in 2018 may pay off big time sooner than later.
3. One less OF or one less bullpen pitcher? Steven talked about how the Yankees bullpen has depth and can afford to subtract a piece for a overall greater good. I don’t disagree with him. However, bullpen pitchers can tend to be a bit more volatile. Uber-consistent relievers like Mariano Rivera are quite rare. In 2017, we saw Aroldis Chapman, one of the most sturdy closers in the recent history, get into some serious slumps that cost the team some games. Heck, even Tommy Kahnle had a bit of an unreliable stretch before the playoffs.
Because of the high bust rate of the relievers, it becomes hard to project how consistent the bullpen unit can be. Because the Yankees pitching is built to rely on late-inning arms, maybe it is not a bad idea to keep the best relievers for depth. Also, by having a loaded bullpen, the team will have an easier time limiting Darvish’s workload and keep him fresh.
At the same time, the Yankees do have a history of giving up an offensive piece to either acquire starting pitcher. Trading away Nick Johnson for Javier Vazquez back in 2003-04 offseason comes to mind. Sending Melky Cabrera to Braves to re-acquire Vazquez was also a thing. Both played as regulars for the Yankees prior to the deals, but Brian Cashman pulled the trigger to add another arm to the rotation.
What did Cabrera and Johnson have in common at the time? They were a bit superfluous to the team based on the position they played. Johnson was blocked by Jason Giambi and his long-term deal. Cabrera was traded away only a few weeks after the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson in a three-way deal. Cashman didn’t trade away players that had clear positional dominance in the roster – he chose to part with those who were a little extra at the position.
Which brings us to Gardner. As I said, he’s a clear starter for every ML team. However, the Yankees have a big OF depth and the team could always use more starting pitching. Because of his value and contract, he is very tradeable and it might make sense to make a sacrifice to add a bigger boon.
Losing Gardner would obviously put a dent in current offense – but at the same time, they can rotate Judge – Hicks – Stanton – Ellsbury – Frazier. The first three can do a lot of damage year-round and Ellsbury/Frazier and be sub’d in once in awhile to give them rest.
4. Yu Darvish is pretty good. The Yankees need more rotation depth, etc. Yup. Steven covered this in his post.