Mailbag: Sabathia, Drew, Leads, Headley, Diaz

Got eight questions for you this week, so most of the answers are short. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, comments, links, whatever.

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Matt asks: There has been much made, so far this spring and in the past, about CC Sabathia‘s decrease in velocity, which got me to thinking: What kind of contract do you think he would have received, had he been on the open market this past off-season?

This question came in a few days ago, so I’ve been mulling it over for a while, and … I have no idea. On one hand, Sabathia’s velocity is down and the chances of him being in a permanent decline are rather high. On the other hand, the dude is still a workhorse of the first order and his track record is as good as it gets. Sabathia is also super accountable and good in the community, making him the type of person teams want on their roster.

Given his age and workload and all that, I think Sabathia would have wound up with a shorter term deal for big dollars this winter. Not a four or five-year contract or anything like that. Something more along the lines of how the Giants handled Tim Lincecum. Would two years and $40M with a vesting option for a third year have worked? There are three years (plus a vesting option) and $71M left on Sabathia’s contract right now, so 2/40 wouldn’t be a huge step down. Just a pretty big one.

Brad asks: Most analysis at this point indicates that Michael Pineda (if healthy) will win the 5th starter job, while David Phelps and Adam Warren are favorites for bullpen spots. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to keep one of the latter two candidates stretched out in the AAA rotation?

I think that will be Vidal Nuno’s role, the sixth starter in Triple-A. If both Warren and Phelps are in the bullpen, I assume one would be a traditional long reliever (likely Warren), and going from long relief to a starter isn’t too tough. Considering the state of the bullpen, I think the Yankees have to focus on taking the best arms north at the end of camp. Nuno will be in Triple-A as the extra starter, giving the team some freedom with Phelps and Warren.

Paul asks: What is the market for Stephen Drew at this point? Am I being a typical unrealistic greedy Yankee fan when I’m hoping/expecting him to join us soon?

There have not been many updates on Drew recently, other than his former Red Sox teammates speculating he wishes he had accepted the qualifying offer. The Yankees could obviously still use him on the infield, but the longer he goes unsigned, the less likely it is I think the Yankees will sign him. Drew would have to change positions — I’m guessed he’d move to third, not second — and that’s something he’d need to work on in Spring Training since he’s never played anywhere other than short. There is only about two weeks left in camp, so he’s running out of time to prepare for the position change. I’d love to see the Yankees sign him, but it’s clear it’s a long shot at this point.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Warren asks: So I was wondering how lead size effects base stealing. I feel like Brett Gardner in particular takes enormous leads compared to people of equal or lesser speed who steal more. I was wondering if there was a way to measure if he was taking such a large lead that it results in too much attention. He almost has to constantly be leaning back towards first. Is there any way to measure if other base stealers like Jacoby Ellsbury have more success by giving up a foot or two of lead to get a better jump?

Lead size definitely affects base-stealing. The bigger the lead, the more likely it is the pitcher will throw over. The more the pitcher throws over, the more the runner has to hurry back to the bag. The more he does that, the more tired he gets. The more tired he gets, the less likely he is to steal or steal successfully. The size of a player’s lead definitely plays a role in his base-stealing success.

How can we measure this? Other than going back and watching video of everytime a player was on base and taking a lead, I’m not sure. Hopefully this is something that MLBAM’s new player’s tracker system will cover because it is definitely a part of the game we don’t know a whole lot about. What’s the relationship between lead size and likelihood of a pickoff attempt? Is there such a thing as an optimal lead? Probably, I just have no idea what it is.

Eric asks: You can either have a starting pitcher who is guaranteed to strike everyone out once every five days, or a hitter who is guaranteed to hit a home run every time up. Which one would you choose?

I’ll take the hitter, no doubt about it. You can bat him as low as third and still guarantee he’d get no fewer than four at-bats in every game, so that’s at least four runs right there. I think that, over the course of the 162-game season, you would win more games scoring at least four runs every time out than you would by getting a guaranteed shutout (perfect game, really) every fifth day. Just my opinion. Not sure if there’s a way to test this mathematically.

Andrew asks: Do you think MLB will ever make and enforce a rule requiring identical field dimensions across baseball?

I do not think MLB would do it and I sure hope they don’t. One of my favorite things about baseball are the unique parks and dimensions. No other sport has that. MLB has minimum standards and things like that, but otherwise the shape and size of the field is up to the individual teams. It’s great, I love it.

Tucker asks: How strong of a push do you the think the Yankees will make next winter to sign Chase Headley? It seems inevitable to me.

Headley would be a really good fit as a switch-hitter with power, patience, and good defense at third base, there’s no doubt about it. I wonder if the Yankees will be open to signing another huge contract so soon though. Maybe if they somehow get rid of Alex Rodriguez and the money he’s owed, but otherwise if they were to sign Headley to something along the lines of six years and $108M (total guess), they’d have seven players making at least $17M in both 2015 and 2016. It works out to $146M for seven players each year. Unless the team increases payroll by quite a bit or their farm system suddenly starts cranking out players, I’m not sure if they would go for that. On paper, yeah Headley makes a ton of sense.

Jon asks: Given the relatively small contract for which he signed, do you think Aledmys Diaz would have been worth taking a flier on? The Yankees certainly have a bigger need for a young middle-infielder than the Cards. Maybe the guy isn’t that great but I’ll place my faith in the Cards scouting over the Yanks.

It seems pretty obvious Diaz just isn’t all that good, or at least teams don’t expect him to be all that good given his contract. The scouting reports said he might end up a utility infielder and that’s what he wound up with, utility man dollars. Just $2M annually. The Cardinals are obviously very well run by they aren’t infallible. The Yankees had him in for a workout and that’s more than they’ve done for any international player in a long time. It’s not like they didn’t do their homework.

Cardinals agree to four-year deal with Aledmys Diaz

According to multiple reports, the Cardinals have agreed to a four-year contract with Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz. The deal is reportedly worth a little less than $20M. The Yankees had interest in Diaz and even had him in camp for a private workout a few weeks ago, but they ultimately decided not to make a contract offer. Oh well.

King: Yankees will not make Aledmys Diaz a contract offer

Via George King: The Yankees will not offer free agent Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz a contract following his private workout on Friday. They aren’t planning to offer right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne a contract either, but he isn’t much of a prospect.

Diaz, 23, is said to be seeking upwards of $20M, according to King. He worked out for the club at their minor league complex in Tampa and I guess they weren’t all that impressed. The Yankees have reportedly been scouting Diaz for months, so they are familiar with him. There are questions about his long-term potential but it is surprising they won’t even make an offer.

Update: Yankees had private workout for Aledmys Diaz on Friday

Friday: The Yankees did indeed have Diaz at the minor league complex early this morning for a workout, according to Jon Morosi. No word on whether Despaigne was there, but George King says he was scheduled to showcase himself for the team as well.

Thursday: Via Joe Strauss: The Yankees are one of seven teams “engaged in talks” with free agent Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz. Jesse Sanchez says he is expected to work out for them today. “He is prepared to [sign] very quickly,” said agent Jaime Torres. “We know he’s going to be in the Major Leagues. It’s only a matter of time. His preference is shortstop, but he’s played second and third and I’m sure would be comfortable playing whatever position is necessary.”

Diaz, 23, is now eligible to sign after being suspended a year for falsifying age and identity information. Rather than make himself appear younger, he tried to pass himself off as older than his real age so he would not be subject to MLB’s international spending restrictions. Diaz can now sign for any amount and Torres said a decision could be reached as soon as Friday or Saturday. The Yankees certainly need infield help (both short and long-term) and they’ve been monitoring Diaz for months now, though they are said to be done signing big free agents. We’ll see.

In other news, Sanchez says the Yankees are also expected to work out Cuban right-hander Ordisamer Despaigne today as well. They scouted his showcases earlier this offseason. Ben Badler says Despaigne is “pretty fringy” and not much of a prospect, so there’s not a lot to see there. Diaz is a real prize of all the available Cuban players right now.

Mailbag: Diaz, 5th Starter, A-Rod, Contact Rates

I’ve got six questions for you this week. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, as you probably know.

(Photo via Dodgers Nation)
Diaz. (Photo via Dodgers Nation)

Many people asked: What about Aledmys Diaz?

Diaz, 23, will be eligible to sign next Wednesday after being suspended for a year because he lied about his age. Believe it or not, he tried to pass himself off as older than his actual age so the international spending restrictions wouldn’t apply to him, allowing him to receive a much larger bonus. How about that? A Cuban player trying to trick people into thinking he was older than he really is.

Anyway, the suspension ends next week and he can indeed sign for any amount now that he is 23. The Yankees had a “large presence” at one of his workouts last year and they were among the teams to scout him just yesterday, says Jon Morosi. Their interest level is unknown but if they’re still on him, they probably like him. Here’s a scouting report from Ben Badler, dated last January:

Age questions and unblocking issues aside, scouting reports on Diaz’s talent remain modest. Though Diaz has played shortstop in Cuba, scouts have said he doesn’t have the lateral range, quickness or footwork to stay at the position. Diaz has shown some ability with the bat, hitting .315/.404/.500 in 313 plate appearances for Villa Clara in his final season in Cuba, albeit in a high-offensive environment in which he ranked 30th in the league in OBP and tied for 20th in slugging.

That’s everything I know about Diaz right there. I don’t know if he is ready to step right into the big leagues but I assume he will need some time in the minors. Most guys do. (Yoenis Cespedes is the only big name Cuban player to jump straight into MLB in recent years). The Yankees need long-term help at both second base and shortstop, and Diaz is as good a candidate to plug one of those holes as anyone. As always, his asking price will be a factor.

Jamie asks: 5th starter competition: of Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Michael Pineda, none of these guys threw more than 86 IP last year. Can we really expect 150 innings out of any of these guys in 2014? Isn’t that kind of an IP jump from one season to the next a big stretch?

Pineda is the one I worry about the most because of his injury. The Yankees will have to watch him very carefully. I’m not worried about the other guys at all though. For starters, they aren’t particularly young. Warren is the youngest and he’ll turn 27 in August, so these aren’t 22 or 23-year-old kids. Secondly, all three threw at least 120 innings (postseason included) in both 2011 and 2012, plus both Warren (2011, 2012) and Phelps (2009, 2010) have multiple 150+ inning seasons to their credit. I don’t know if the Yankees can run these guys out there for 200+ innings this summer, but I wouldn’t sweat 150 innings at all.

Dominik asks: Now that Alex Rodriguez has been suspended, will he be drug tested during his suspension? Are there still increased testing protocols for once he gets reinstated and do they apply during the suspension if he is tested? Thanks!

Oh yes, he will absolutely continue to be drug tested. In fact, he will be tested even more now that he’s been suspended for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. That continues even after he is reinstated. Even if the Yankees plan to release A-Rod at some point, they won’t do it during the suspension because he could potentially fail a test and be suspended again, saving them an even bigger chunk of his contract.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Christopher asks: Should the Yankees pass on Stephen Drew this year and look to replace Derek Jeter with next year’s bountiful crop of Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera?

They could do that but it would be really risky, not to mention it doesn’t help the 2014 team at all. There is no guarantee those guys will actually hit free agency, and Hardy is the only true shortstop of the bunch. The other three are terrible defenders and that figures to be even more evident after another season. Hanley’s bat makes his defense less of an issue, but he recently said he wants to be a Dodger for life. The Yankees could, conceivably, sign Drew now and still add Ramirez (third base) or Lowrie (second) next winter. (Asdrubal is pretty bad and has been trending down for several years now.)

Gilbert asks: Instead of just basing how good of a contact hitter someone is by their batting average, is there a stat like keeps track of the percentage of pitches a batter sees that he makes contact with (in play or foul)? This way we can say “He makes contact 47.1% of the time.”

Definitely. Thanks to PitchFX we have all sorts of neat information and most of it is easily available. Here is the contact rate leaderboard from 2011-13, courtesy of FanGraphs:

Contact Rate Leaderboard 2011-13

So, over the last three years, Marco Scutaro has made contact on 95.2% of his swings, the most in baseball. O-Contact% is contact rate on pitches out of the zone, Z-Contact% is contact rate on pitches in the zone. Pretty simple, right?

Ichiro is 15th in baseball with a 89.6% contact rate since 2011 while Brett Gardner is 18th at 88.9%. On the other end of the spectrum, Mark Reynolds is dead last with a 66.7% contact rate over the last three years. Ryan Howard (67.0%) and Giancarlo Stanton (67.3%) are second and third worst. Batting average can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year — Robinson Cano is a career .309 hitter, but he hit .342 one year and .271 another — but contact rates tend to be very steady. It is important to remember that not all contact is created equal though. Some guys simply hit the ball harder than others.

Matt asks: If teams usually sign Japanese players from the posting system for six years, since they would be under team control for six years anyway, and would be only arbitration eligible at the end of the contract if they only signed for say, four years. Why is this working differently for Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out clause? It seems if he opts out, of the contract, he should still be under team control for the remainder of the six years.

This is just a courtesy MLB extends to veterans of the Japanese leagues. Rather than maintain the full six years of team control, they’re treated as regular free agents, guys who have already accrued that much service time. Hideki Matsui became a free agent when his original three year contract expired following the 2006 season, for example. Yu Darvish’s contract works the same way as Tanaka’s. He can opt-out after the fifth year and become a free agent. I think it’s fair and a good thing. Those guys have served their time.

2013 Winter Meetings Day One Open Thread

2013 Winter Meetings

It’s hard to believe that after everything that happened last week, today is the first day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando. These next three days — the fourth day of the Winter Meetings is always slow because teams head home around noon-ish — might be a little slower than usual only because some of the very top free agents are always off the board. I still expect this week to be pretty busy, with lots of rumors and trades and signings with whatnot.

Robinson Cano is leaving for the Mariners and Curtis Granderson is going across town to the Mets, but the Yankees have already inked Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153M), Brian McCann (five years, $85M), Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M), Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M), and Kelly Johnson (one year, $3M). They still need another infielder to help replace Cano as well as another starting pitcher — Yu Darvish was posted during the 2011 Winter Meetings, so hopefully we get some clarification about Masahiro Tanaka this week — and some bullpen help. General depth is always something to monitor as well.

Brian Cashman is not expected to arrive in Orlando until this afternoon according to Andy McCullough, but that’s pretty typical. A few clubs and executives are already there but most trickle in throughout Monday. We’re going to keep track of any Yankees-related news right here throughout the day, so make sure you check back often. All of the timestamps are ET.

  • 10:58pm: The Yankees have not changed their stance on Gardner. They will listen to offers but aren’t overly motivated to trade him. [Jack Curry]
  • 7:47pm: The asking price for Gardner is “through (the) roof” and the Giants don’t have much interest in Ichiro Suzuki. Not surprised on either count. [John Shea]
  • 6:58pm: The Giants are intrigued by Gardner. One person involved in talks called a trade “not likely, but not impossible.” [Sherman]
  • 6:38pm: The most likely return for Gardner would be a number four starter, according to rival executives. A number three would be a strong return. Just keep him in that case. [McCullough]
  • 5:05pm: The Yankees are looking for relievers and they have stayed in contact with Boone Logan. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow after the season and is expected to start throwing this month. [McCullough]
  • 5:01pm: Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz will be eligible to sign on February 19th after being suspended for falsifying his age. The Yankees had a “large presence” at the 23-year-old’s recent showcase events in Mexico. Some teams like him more as a second baseman. [Jeff Passan]
  • 11:10am: The Yankees have not expressed interest in Johan Santana. He’s coming off his second torn shoulder capsule and the first is usually the kiss of death. [McCullough]
  • 11:03am: Thinking about Roy Halladay? Forget it. He’s retiring. Halladay will sign a one-day contract with the Blue Jays and make the official announcement later today. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees are one of the teams with interest in trading for Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija. I wrote about him around the trade deadline. [Bruce Levine]
  • 9:00am: “That’s the last thing I’m worried about,” said Cashman when asked about acquiring a closer. He acknowledged they’re seeking another starter and bullpen help in general. “Listen, we have enough voids that you don’t have to prioritize any of it. You hope to run into something sooner than later that makes you better.” [Dan Martin]
  • The Yankees did look into a reunion with Raul Ibanez but he isn’t much of a fit now. The outfield is crowded and there’s no room for another DH-type. Ibanez is expected to sign this week. [Joel Sherman]
  • The Yankees still have interest in Omar Infante as a Cano replacement. They are not talking to Mark Ellis, however. [Ken Rosenthal]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.