Cashman confirms Yankees will meet with A-Rod to clear the air

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

A few weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred to clear the air as he prepares to return from his 162-game suspension. At the time it was reported the Yankees had declined a meeting with A-Rod, but Brian Cashman shot that down today. The GM told Nick Cafardo the team will meet with Alex in the near future. “We’re more than happy to meet with him,” said Cashman.

So no one is surprised by this, right? Like it or not, the Yankees seem committed to giving A-Rod a chance to show he has something left this season, and there’s no sense in holding any kind of grudge or making a bad situation worse. The two sides will meet, shake hands, force some smiles, and move on. There’s really not much else they can do at this point. Feuding with Alex accomplishes nothing.

For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects Rodriguez to hit .229/.312/.399 (96 OPS+) with 15 dingers in a little over 400 plate appearances this coming season, which stinks but isn’t a total disaster. Then again, ZiPS doesn’t know Alex has two bad hips and it doesn’t know how to treat his missing an entire year. Point is, no one knows what he can do next season. I hope he mashes and creates total MSM chaos.

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Report: A-Rod clears the air with commissioner Rob Manfred, no meeting with Yankees expected

My go-to photo for such matters. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
My go-to photo for such matters. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Ken Davidoff, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred early last week to clear the air and attempt to create some goodwill. Manfred officially took over as commissioner on Saturday and spearheaded the league’s investigation into Biogenesis two years ago.

A-Rod initiated the one-on-one meeting, which took place at the league’s offices on Park Avenue. The logical next step would be for Alex to initiate a similar meeting with the Yankees, though Andrew Marchand says the Yankees have declined. Here’s more from Marchand:

The Yankees have no plans to make owner Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine or general manager Brian Cashman available for any similar Rodriguez make-up sessions, a source said. An official with knowledge of the team’s thinking said that Rodriguez will not receive any special treatment during spring training and will be dealt with like any other member of the 40-man roster.

For what it’s worth, Dan Martin makes it sound as though a meeting between A-Rod and the team’s brass could happen once Spring Training begins. The Daily News — which, aside from Mark Feinsand, has been aggressively anti-A-Rod throughout this whole mess — says the Yankees will try to void the home run milestone bonuses in Rodriguez’s contract, but good luck with that.

Davidoff says that as far as the league is concerned, Alex is a player in good standing who served his time. The only way he could face more trouble stemming from Biogenesis is if evidence is discovered showing he helped distribute banned substances. The only reason the Yankees haven’t released A-Rod yet is money — they owe him over $60M these next three years and could recoup some via insurance (if he gets hurt) or if he gets suspended again.

I want to say it is a bit petty of the Yankees to not meet with A-Rod so they could clear the air, but I’m not sure how much it would actually help. Their relationship is clearly (very) contentious and a hug and a handshake won’t change that. These two are stuck with each other though. A-Rod ain’t going anywhere, so if there’s something the Yankees could do to make the best out of an awful situation, they should do it. Publicly feuding with Alex is only going to add fuel to the fire.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 11-14

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

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

Every team seems to have one of them, but the Yankees have more than most. The aging, past-prime former star who is making still making star money. The Yankees have done a lot of high-end shopping over the years, paying big bucks across a lot of years to players who were, at one time, cornerstones of the roster.

That isn’t the case anymore. Nos. 11-14 in our 40-man roster rankings series includes four ex-stars on the downside of their careers, who the team is still counting on to some extent in 2015. All those big seven and eight (and ten!) year contracts have come to a head at the same time. To the next batch of players …

No. 14: Alex Rodriguez

2015 Role: DH, at least at first. Maybe even part-time DH. The Yankees have made it clear A-Rod will have to earn his playing time and show he is able to contribute if he wants a regular role. They’ve spent the winter adding backup plans at third base and at DH, so the team doesn’t expect a whole lot. The Yankees are stuck with Alex though, and since they’re paying him all that money, they’re going to see if he has anything left.

Long-Term Role: More of the same, unfortunately. Like it or not, Rodriguez is owed $64M these next three seasons — not to mention his five $6M home run bonuses, the first of which is only six dingers away — and the Yankees aren’t going to eat that money just to make him go away. Not as long as there’s a chance of recouping a big chunk of his salary via insurance (if he gets hurt) or another performance-enhancing drug suspension.

So what’s the best case scenario here? I suppose it’s A-Rod hitting well enough — not like peak A-Rod, but maybe something like .270/.330/.420? — to deserve a regular lineup spot while showing enough mobility to play third base on occasion. That’s about it. The worst case scenario is that he’s cooked and not worth a roster spot, in which case the Yankees will probably stick him on the DL every time he feels the slightest twinge. What a mess.

No. 13: Carlos Beltran

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

2015 Role: Middle of the order bat, hopefully. The Yankees want Beltran to produce at the plate first and foremost. His defense in right is suspect at best and disastrous at worst, and I expect the team to mitigate the damage by using Chris Young in right field in the late innings of close games. Most importantly, they need Beltran to hit. For average, for power, the works.

Beltran had a bone spur removed from his elbow this offseason after playing through it for most of 2014. He absolutely mashed at the start of the year, but once the bone spur flared up, Beltran had no impact the plate. Hopefully having a healthy elbow means he will produce like he did before getting hurt going forward. That guy was really good.

Long-Term Role: Beltran is signed for another two seasons at $15M annually — unlike the other players in this post, the Yankees didn’t give him a 7+ year contract, just a three-year contract at age 36 — so he isn’t going anywhere. Joe Girardi is going to have to juggle DH at-bats between A-Rod and Beltran, which might not be all that difficult since both are known to visit the DL from time to time. Again, his role is middle of the order hitter. Both now and next year. If Beltran is unable to produce in that role, he doesn’t have a whole lot to offer to the Yankees.

No. 12: Mark Teixeira

2015 Role: Everyday first baseman and middle of the order power bat. Unlike Beltran, Teixeira is a two-way player who is still an asset in the field. In fact, he might be more valuable in the field than at the plate these days. Teixeira put up a .216/.313/.398 (100 wRC+) batting line with 22 homers last season, though that was split into 17 homers and a 125 wRC+ in the first half and five homers with a 62 wRC+ in the second half. He fell off big time after the All-Star break.

Teixeira missed just about the entire 2013 season following wrist surgery and there’s at least some hope he’ll improve at the plate as he gets further away from the procedure. Wrist injuries are known to sap power for quite some team even after the player is cleared to play. Teixeira said he wasn’t strong enough last year, hence the second half fade, so he started his offseason workouts earlier this winter. That sounds nice but it may not mean anything at his age. His offense has been trending down for years, after all. We know Teixeira can still play a mean first base. But his offense is a major question.

Long-Term Role: More of the same. Teixeira is entering year seven of his eight-year contract and will continue to play first base and bat somewhere close to the middle of the order. Aside from Brian McCann, he is the team’s best power source, so at a minimum the Yankees would like to see some dingers out of Teixeira while they ride out the remainder of his contract. They acquired a nice backup plan in Garrett Jones — better than the “we’ll play anyone at first base” approach they had last year, anyway — and that was necessary given Teixeira’s continually mounting injury problems. He’s no longer an impact player, but the Yankees still need something out of him.

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

No. 11: CC Sabathia

2015 Role: Innings eater, if the Yankees are lucky. Sabathia’s days as an ace are almost certainly over, and at this point it’s unclear if he can even be counted on to chew up innings. A degenerative knee condition limited him to only eight starts last season, and eventually Sabathia needed a clean-up procedure, which was a positive only because he didn’t need a much more serious microfracture surgery.

The thing is, even when he was healthy in 2013, Sabathia wasn’t any good, pitching to a 4.78 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 211 innings. The innings are nice, the Yankees want a lot of innings from their erstwhile ace this coming season, but not when he’s allowing runs at that rate. Best case scenario, Sabathia replaces the 2014 version of Hiroki Kuroda, pitching to a league average-ish ERA and taking the ball every fifth date. Anything more would be gravy.

Long-Term Role: There are two years plus a vesting option left on Sabathia’s contract, so he’ll potentially be around through 2017. (The vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, not his knee.) Three more years of the 2013-14 version of Sabathia would be very bad. The Yankees need him to salvage these next few years by at least staying healthy and eating innings every fifth day, even if he is nothing more than the de facto fifth starter.

If you want a reason why Sabathia might be effective this year, it’s that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), and ground ball (48.3%) rates were all excellent before he went down with the knee injury last year. If he repeats those rates — they aren’t out of line with his 2011-13 performance — then he’ll have a better chance of keeping runs off the board. Sabathia is no longer an ace, but he is under contract for at least two more years, and the Yankees would like him to be a reliable part of their rotation during that time. Not want, really. Need.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 6-10. Five veteran players, including three position players expected to contribute both at the plate and in the field.

Alex Rodriguez wants to win the third base job, and that’s not a bad thing

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

Well, it appears the days of contrived Alex Rodriguez controversies have returned. With Spring Training now only five weeks away, word has gotten out that A-Rod is planning to win the third base job in camp. Actually, according to some reports, Alex considers the third base job his and it’s Chase Headley who has to win it away from him camp.

At least that’s what someone close to Rodriguez has said. From Steven Marcus:

“Alex’s mind is that job’s not Headley’s, it’s Alex’s to lose,” the source said. “That’s what he thinks. Alex is going into training camp thinking that he is the starting third baseman, that if there’s a competition, Headley’s got to win it from him. It doesn’t matter about the money, what they signed Headley for. This guy [Rodriguez] can play.”

Meanwhile, a presumably different person close to A-Rod wasn’t as firm, instead saying Alex is simply preparing to play, not take away anyone’s job. From Kevin Kernan:

“Alex is looking at this season as a fresh start,” one friend said. “He’s prepared to do the best he can in his role as a DH, but he is also preparing to play third base, knowing there will be times that Headley needs a break.

“He knows that Joe Girardi is a manager who likes to have options and wants to keep all his players fresh, so he knows he will get some time at third, and he feels being used in that way is good for the team overall. Everyone can get a break.

Believe who you want. I really don’t care. The most important thing is that A-Rod is preparing to play and be a factor this coming season, including at third base in some capacity.

This, of course, is a good thing. Make no mistake, the Yankees want no part of Alex and wish he’d just go away, but if they are stuck with him, they want a motivated A-Rod, not an apathetic A-Rod. They want a player with ambition who wants to prove everyone wrong. They don’t want someone who’s going to half-ass it.

The Yankees have gone to great lengths to marginalize Rodriguez this winter, most notably by signing Headley but also by signing Stephen Drew to increase infield depth. Drew’s an able body who can play third in an emergency. They aren’t counting on A-Rod to be that emergency guy at the hot corner.

If Alex is going to play any sort of regular role for the 2015 Yankees, he’s going to have to earn it, and that begins in Spring Training. A-Rod has been posting photos of himself working out on Instagram — which makes him no different than, like, 50% of all athletes — and I have zero doubt he will come to camp in great shape. That’s just who he is. Showing up is only step one, however.

There’s nothing A-Rod can do at this point to fix his image or change the way people think about him. His image his beyond repair. And the Yankees have made it clear there is no third base competition. The job is Headley’s. A-Rod says … or, rather, people close to A-Rod say he wants to play a big role and that’s great. He’s motivated and he wants to contribute. That can only be good for the Yankees.

New additions will help Yankees against pitches down in the zone

Jones is a weapon against low pitches. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)
Jones is a weapon against low pitches. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)

As first explained by Jon Roegele last January and revisited by Jeff Sullivan in September, the strike zone has been expanding in recent years. It is expanding downward, specifically. There are more called strikes at the knees and below nowadays than there were a few years ago for whatever reason. Pitchers have been taught to keep the ball down for decades, and now there is even more of an incentive to do so. It’s hard to do anything with pitches down in the zone.

As a result, some teams have started seeking out low-ball hitters to counter the expanding strike zone. Josh Donaldson, who went from the Athletics to the Blue Jays this offseason, is one of the best low-ball hitters in the game, putting up a .273 AVG and .180 ISO on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below the last two years. The MLB averages were .230 and .103, respectively. The best low-ball hitter in baseball the last three seasons has been (who else?) Mike Trout, with a .343 AVG and .229 ISO.

Last season, the Yankees as a team hit .229 with a .101 ISO on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below, the 17th and 15th best rates in baseball, respectively. The MLB averages in 2014 were a .232 AVG and .103 ISO. Keep in mind those are raw AVG and ISO numbers, unadjusted for ballpark or anything like that. The Yankees were a below-average hitting team on pitches down in the zone despite playing home games in hitter happy Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have remade their lineup a bit this offseason, at least compared to the Opening Day lineup a year ago. They have a new projected starters at the three non-first base infield positions plus a new primary DH regardless of whether Alex Rodriguez or Garrett Jones gets the majority of the at-bats. Let’s look at how the current roster has performed on pitches down in the zone the last three seasons, with an enormous thanks to the indispensable Baseball Savant.

The Infielders

AVG ISO BABIP K%
C Brian McCann .219 .148 .236 18.5%
1B Mark Teixeira .193 .147 .225 23.4%
2B Stephen Drew .179 .072 .276 33.7%
SS Didi Gregorius .245 .115 .286 17.5%
3B Chase Headley .225 .098 .318 28.5%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

I was curious to see Teixeira’s down in the zone stats before looking them up because, anecdotally, it seems like he’s a high-ball hitter based on what I’ve seen during his first six years in pinstripes. Sure enough, the data backs it up. Teixeira hit .193 with a .147 ISO on pitches down in the zone these last three years while hitting .268 with a .266 ISO on all other pitches. The MLB averages for pitches not down in the zone since 2012 are .273 AVG and .175 ISO, for reference.

Both Teixeira and McCann are power-before-average hitters, which is why they have a better than league average ISO but a below-average batting average on pitches in the bottom third of the zone and below. Headley has been below-average on low pitches but not by much, just a few points in both AVG and ISO. Remember, AVG and ISO are unadjusted and Headley spent most of the last three years in cavernous Petco Park. I expect these numbers to come up going forward. Drew … yikes. Let’s leave it at that.

Gregorius is interesting because he has actually been slightly above-average on hitting pitches low in the strike zone, though only slightly. On the other hand, he has hit .244 with a .134 ISO on pitches not down in the zone, below those .273 AVG and .175 ISO league averages. Seven of his 13 big league homers have come on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below — one of those seven is his first career homer (video), which came at Yankee Stadium off Phil Hughes in April 2013 — so it seems like Gregorius has some golf in his swing. That’s useful.

The Outfielders

AVG ISO BABIP K%
LF Brett Gardner .229 .106 .306 25.6%
CF Jacoby Ellsbury .257 .108 .308 18.8%
RF Carlos Beltran .230 .121 .279 22.1%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

Ellsbury is a high contact hitter who consistently gets the fat part of the bat on the ball, so it’s no surprise he’s fared well on pitches down in the zone. The power production is only league average, but that’s not really his game. Gardner has been so close to being perfectly average on low pitches these last three years that it’s kinda freaky. He’s off the MLB average by one point of AVG, one point of ISO, and three-tenths of a percentage point in strikeout rate.

Beltran has been above-average low-ball hitter by virtue of having an average AVG with better than average ISO and strikeout rates. That said, the Beltran we saw last year was not the same Beltran the Cardinals had from 2012-13. During his two years in St. Louis, Beltran hit .237 with a .133 ISO on low pitches. Last year it was a .211 AVG with a .092 ISO. Hopefully that is just a function of playing through an elbow injury for most of the summer rather than a decline in skills. If that is the case, healthy Beltran is a real weapon against pitches down in the zone.

The Bench

AVG ISO BABIP K%
DH Alex Rodriguez .263 .180 .321 24.8%
C John Ryan Murphy .256 .070 .367 28.3%
IF Brendan Ryan .160 .050 .231 30.0%
OF Chris Young .158 .131 .210 31.0%
UTIL Garrett Jones .244 .157 .290 22.2%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

First things first, let’s just ignore Murphy’s numbers. He has only 112 plate appearances in the big leagues and fewer than 50 of them (46, to be exact) have ended on pitches down in the zone, so it’s a very small sample. Everyone else’s stats are based on a few hundred plate appearances that ended on low pitches.

Anyway, look at A-Rod! He flat out mashed low pitches from 2012-14, which really means he mashed low pitches from 2012-13 because he didn’t play last year. On the other side of the coin, he put up a .267 AVG with a .142 ISO against non-low pitches the last three seasons, both below-average rates. We have no idea what Alex can do next year at age 39 with two surgically repaired hips after missing all of 2014. If he puts up anything close to the 113 wRC+ he had from 2012-13, it would be a major win, low-ball hitter or not.

Jones has been a real threat against pitches down in the strike zone. His AVG, ISO and strikeout rate have been better than average the last three seasons. By comfortable margins too. I guess that’s not surprising — take a few minutes to watch this highlight video and it’s obvious Jones can go down to get a pitch and lift it a long way. Young has some pop on low pitches but is generally well-below-average. Ryan isn’t much of a hitter, low pitches or otherwise.

The additions of Gregorius and Jones figure to help the Yankees against pitches down in the zone in an age when more low strikes are being called and even more pitches are at the knees or below. Headley should also help now that he’s in a much more favorable park, and A-Rod is a wildcard. Maybe he’ll help but probably not. The Yankees weren’t a very good low-ball hitting team in 2014 and their additions this winter appear likely to help improve the situation this coming season.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Kazmir, Chapman, Valbuena, Murphy

Massive mailbag this week. Maybe the biggest in RAB history. Thirteen questions total, so I tried (and mostly succeeded) to keep the answers short. You can send us questions via the “For the Mailbag” form in the sidebar. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Vinny asks: Alex Rodriguez: hitting coach. Discuss.

It’ll never ever ever ever happen for a million different reasons, but I think A-Rod would make a pretty good hitting coach. The guy was put on this planet to play baseball. He knows as much about baseball as one person could possibly know and has worked tirelessly on his swing throughout his career. I’m sure he can help players with their offense. The real question is whether his communication skills are good enough. Coaching is as much about communication as it is knowing the ins and outs of the craft. But, like I said, it’ll never happen. The Yankees would sooner not have a hitting coach than hire A-Rod in any kind of authority role.

Daniel asks: Alex Rodriguez currently sits at 2,939 career hits. He will very likely reach 3,000 hits in 2015 even with a bad season. The media will be unbearable. The Yankees front office will be so awkward. Barry Bonds set the HR record after his BALCO scandal, and he was still celebrated. But that was uncharted territory and so much has happened since. How do you think this all gets handled?

I wouldn’t say it’s “very likely” Alex will get those 61 hits next year, but it is definitely possible. He’s way to much of an injury risk to count on him staying on the field that long. Anyway, it’ll be incredibly weird whenever A-Rod gets to 3,000 hits. Bonds was absolutely loved in San Francisco, which is part of the reason why his homer chase was celebrated. Everyone hates Rodriguez, even Yankees fans. Also, unlike Bonds, Alex has actually admitted and been suspended for his PED stuff, which changes the equation. My guess is the accomplishment will be downplayed as much as possible and we’ll get another round of articles saying it is morally wrong to take PEDs. But the Yankees will probably still sell some A-Rod3K merchandise. Cash, as the kids say, rules everything around me.

Bhavin asks: It seems like every time the Yankees are interested in a player there are other teams involved and “raising the price” to sign a free agent. How come Brian Cashman doesn’t do the same for other teams? Would it be a smart strategy to make your competitors spend more money than they are comfortable for the same player even if NYY are not interested?

Oh the Yankees definitely do this. Heck, earlier this week Cashman said the only reason they said they were still interested in re-signing Robertson was to drive up the price. (That was much as thank you to Robertson as it was trying to get a competitor to spend more.) Even when the Yankees aren’t involved, agents float rumors saying the Yankees are interested in their clients too because it helps inflate the market. That’s why they’re connected to almost every big free agent each winter. The Yankees absolutely 100% do this.

Kazmir. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Kazmir. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Hunter asks: Since the Yankees need some starting pitching, what are the chances that they trade for Scott Kazmir? Billy Beane seems apt to trade him considering he’s in his walk year. Would it be a good move for New York, and who do you think it would take to get him?

For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman says the Athletics aren’t looking to move Kazmir. The A’s do still need someone to pitch innings and he’s both effective (3.35 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 2014) and reasonably priced ($13M in 2015). The fact that he’s faded big time in the second half the last two years and is a fly ball pitcher scares me, but let’s roll with it.

Three pitchers with one year of control were just traded in Jeff Samardzija, Mat Latos, and Rick Porcello. Of those three, Kazmir is most similar to Latos in my opinion. Latos fetched a good MLB ready pitching prospect (Anthony DeSclafani) and a good Single-A catching prospect (Chad Wallach). Not great prospects, not fringy prospects, good prospects. I guess the Yankees equivalent would be Bryan Mitchell and Luis Torrens, though that’s not a perfect match because Torrens is five years younger than Wallach. Of course, Kazmir is somehow the healthier of the two between him and Latos.

Anyway, that doesn’t mean Mitchell and Torrens will be enough to get Latos. Different teams have different demands and different player valuations, and Oakland seems to be prioritizing quantity over quality in their deals so far this winter, with the caveat that most of the quantity be MLB ready. Maybe that means they would want Mitchell, Ramon Flores, and Jose Pirela instead? I dunno. Kazmir’s not a perfect fit for the Yankees but he would be an upgrade for the rotation for the one year they’d have him.

Peter asks: Is a C.J. Wilson trade worth a shot? Lots of available pitching out there and if the Angels refuse to eat salary, maybe Cashman get him without giving up much. Do the Yanks and Angels even match up anywhere?

Wilson had a rough 2014 season, with a 4.51 ERA (4.31 FIP) and an AL-leading 85 walks in 175.2 innings. He’s owed $18M in 2015 and $20M in 2016 as well, so it’s no surprise the Halos are reportedly looking to deal him. Wilson was very good in 2013 (3.39 ERA and 3.51 FIP) and he had a run of four straight 200+ inning seasons from 2010-13 before an ankle sprain sidelined him for three weeks this summer. If the Angels eat enough money to make Wilson, say, an $8M per year pitcher these next two seasons, isn’t it worth at least exploring? (I wouldn’t touch him if I had to pay all that money.) He eats innings, gets grounders (47.8% in 2014), has some rebound potential (.306 BABIP in 2014 after .286 from 2010-13), and should some cheap. Maybe it can be similar to the A.J. Burnett trade, only with the Yankees playing the role of the Pirates.

Brad asks: I know the Yankees are a business and don’t place a high premium on fielding a “likable” team, but the 2014 team was joyless and terrible. And Derek Jeter was still around. Shouldn’t the Yankees have placed a higher priority on retaining David Robertson?

You answered your own question there. The Yankees can’t worry about likeability, they have to focus on putting the best team on the field. Letting Robertson walk so you can replace him with a cheaper Andrew Miller and get a draft pick is a perfectly sensible baseball move, albeit an unpopular one with the locals. These Yankees are pretty bland and unlikeable though, you’re right. At least that’s how I feel. The only players on the roster I won’t actively hate next year are Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Brett Gardner, maybe Didi Gregorius, and CC Sabathia whenever he isn’t hurt. (I may or may not be joking.)

Chapman. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Chapman. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Ward asks: With rumors that the Reds may be trying to trade some of their pitchers to save money, what could the Yankees give up to get Chapman?

The Reds cleared some salary yesterday with the Mat Latos — by the way, Mat Latos has a cat named Cat Latos — and Alfredo Simon trades, though it’s unclear if they hit their payroll target or still have work to do. Chapman isn’t all that expensive (owed $5M in 2015 and will probably make $10M+ through arbitration in 2016 before becoming a free agent) but he would bring back a major haul. He’s no worse than the second best reliever in baseball right now and a true difference maker. Lesser relievers like Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were traded for decent hauls a few years before free agency and I assume Chapman would blow those deals out of the water. My hunch is it would take one very good young MLB player, one top of the line prospect, plus a third lesser piece. For the Yankees, I guess that means … Pineda, Luis Severino, and maybe John Ryan Murphy? That feels light. I’m not sure they could put together a package good enough to bring Chapman to New York.

Sam asks: With the acquisition of Didi Gregorius, will the Yankees still go after Yoan Moncada? If they do, does he work at short or third in the Minors?

I don’t think the Gregorius trade will change anything with the team’s pursuit of Moncada. It shouldn’t, anyway. Moncada is still just a 19-year-old kid who is expected to start his pro career in Single-A. He’s not someone you worry about when building your MLB roster. Just about everything I’ve seen says Moncada has the potential to play just about anywhere on the field other than shortstop, though I suspect whichever team signs him will keep here there for a little while. If that doesn’t work, second base seems like the next logical spot.

Richard asks: Why didn’t the Yankees go after Josh Donaldson?

How do you know they didn’t? The Indians asked about Donaldson but the Athletics said they weren’t seriously considering moving him, according to Terry Pluto. This Donaldson deal is reminiscent of last year’s Doug Fister trade; there seem to be a lot of people wondering why the A’s didn’t shop around and get a better deal. Seems like they just really wanted the guys they got from the Blue Jays. Besides, the Yankees don’t have a player on par with Brett Lawrie they could have offered as a center piece.

Alex asks: Knowing that trades with the Mets are rare, what about trading for Daniel Murphy to fill in 1B/2B/3B? Power numbers should go up. If you can lock him up, trading Gardner for him could work for both NY teams.

Murphy would make a lot of sense for the Yankees, who could use him at every non-shortstop infield position if necessary. He might hit a few more homers in Yankee Stadium but his offensive game is more about spray line drives to left field, so I wouldn’t expect a huge boost in power. That said, he’s consistently been a .285+ AVG, .330+ OBP, 10+ homer, 10+ steals guy these last few years. The Yankees could definitely use someone like that, even if his defense stinks. I wouldn’t trade Gardner for him — Murphy will be a free agent next winter and there’s no sense in paying the Mets for the right to extend him (the “right to extend” is inherently included in every trade ever)  — but I do think Murphy’s a fit.

Valbuena. (David Banks/Getty)
Valbuena. (David Banks/Getty)

Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss on Chase Headley, would trading for Luis Valbuena be a good move? Or would you prefer starting Martin Prado and Rob Refsnyder?

Valbuena is probably the best third base option on the trade market. He doesn’t have the name recognition of Chris Johnson but he hit .249/.341/.435 (116 wRC+) with 16 homers and an 11.6% walk rate last year. That’s pretty damn good. Valbuena just turned 29, has gotten better at the plate every year since breaking into the show five years ago, and the various stats say he’s a passable defender at second and third. He’s a nice little underrated player who’s cheap (projected to make $3.1M in 2015) and under team control through 2016. I’d prefer Prado/Valbuena to Prado/Refsnyder this coming season — it’s not really an either or because Refsnyder is still in the organization — and if the Yankees miss out on Headley, I hope their next call would be to Chicago about Valbuena. Even if he is only a league average hitter in 2015 (as the projections project), that’s still a nice upgrade for New York.

Evan asks: Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce are both great fits. Brandon Phillips isn’t because he’s declining and his brutal contract.  But assuming you had to take Phillips to get Bruce or Frazier what would that deal look like?

I wouldn’t take on Phillips to facilitate a trade for either of the other two. I hate the idea of taking a bad contract to get a discount for another player — the bad contract negates the discount and, if you’re only trading prospects, there’s at least a chance they won’t come back to bite you whereas the bad contract will definitely hurt. I’d rather just pay full price for Frazier or Bruce than get saddled with more dead weight in Phillips.

Bruce is a nice rebound candidate coming off knee surgery and Frazier is just a perfect fit for the Yankees — right-handed power, quality hitter, can play the two corner infield positions plus left field, under control through 2017, super high character guy, and he’s a local dude from New Jersey. What’s not to like? It’ll take a haul to get him after the year he just had though. Unless the Yankees are willing to talk about Severino or Aaron Judge, I don’t think they have the pieces to make it worth Cincinnati’s while. Man would Frazier be a great though.

P.J. asks: Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely don’t want this to happen. That said, what would Dellin Betances be worth on the trade market? What if he was a FA (non-QO)?

If he was a free agent, he’d probably get Andrew Miller/David Robertson money. He was awesome in 2014 but has no track record whatsoever. In a trade … that’s really tough to answer. When was the last time a player like Betances traded? An elite reliever with five years of team control remaining? The Athletics traded pre-shoulder mush Andrew Bailey when he had three years of control remaining and they received an adequate everyday player (Josh Reddick) and two nondescript minor leaguers. Do the two extra years of team control mean Betances fetches better prospects in addition to the okay regular? It’s really tough to gauge his trade value. I don’t think he can be a centerpiece in a blockbuster because, at the end of the day, he’s still a reliever, but maybe he can be the number two piece in a deal for an ace or a young, above-average everyday player. If that is the case, he is worth more to the 2015 and beyond Yankees as a trade chip, or in their bullpen?

Girardi Talks: Robertson, Bullpen, A-Rod, Rotation, Didi, Offseason, More

San Diego natives Ian Clarkin and Gosuke Katoh stopped by the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. (Photo via Ian Clarkin)
San Diego natives Ian Clarkin and Gosuke Katoh stopped by the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. (Photo via @iClarkin)

Yesterday afternoon Joe Girardi held his annual “state of the Yankees” press conference at the Winter Meetings. It was a fairly standard Yankees press conference, meaning lots of words were said but there wasn’t a whole lot of substance behind them. The organization has mastered the art of saying a lot and nothing at all at the same time, if you know what I mean. Here’s a recap of the important stuff from Girardi’s press conference with some thoughts as well.

David Robertson and the Bullpen

  • On losing Robertson: “Obviously we’re going to miss David … I’m happy for him because I feel like relievers usually get one shot at the long-term contract, and he got that shot and he took full advantage of it. And we’re going to miss him. He was a great young man to manage and had a lot of confidence in him. I wish him the best of luck, except against us.”
  • On the bullpen with Robertson: “Well, we feel that our bullpen is going to be very strong again. With the additions of (Andrew) Miller and (Justin) Wilson and the development of (Adam) Warren and (Shawn) Kelley, we feel like we have a number of great arms … I feel like we’ll have a very good bullpen.”
  • On naming a new closer: “We’ll talk about it as Spring Training goes on to see what is the best situation. I think you have to figure out who is in your bullpen. And the one thing is that we feel that — you look at four of the guys down there, (Dellin) Betances, Miller, Warren, Shawn Kelley, they all have significant amount of time in the back end and have been set up — so you could do probably a lot of different things. It could be dependent on how many days in a row a guy has worked. But like I said, we don’t need to figure that out (now). But I like the arms that we have down there.”
  • On bullpen roles in general: “I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used, but sometimes it takes time to develop that. When we started out this season Betances was pitching the fifth and sixth inning. In the end he was pitching sometimes the sixth, seventh inning. So that takes time to get ironed out.”

The Yankees have a great opportunity to use a co-closer system, with Betances and Miller sharing eighth and ninth inning duty based on matchups. The Braves did this with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez a few years ago — Soriano (27 saves) faced the tough righties whenever they were due up and Gonzalez (ten saves) faced the tough lefties whenever they were due up. The Yankees could do similar but I think there’s no chance they will. Girardi likes having set roles — seventh inning guy, eighth inning guy, closer, etc. — and so do the players. Someone will replace Robertson as the closer and everyone will fall into place behind him. I just have no idea who the new closer will be.

All A-Rod, All The Time

  • On communication with Alex Rodriguez: “We text, we email, we talk on the phone. We do different things, see videos. It’s been good. I know he’s working extremely hard and that’s going to be a hot button in Spring Training. And we’ve just got to go through Spring Training and see where he’s at. He hasn’t played a lot in two years … We have to see where he’s at.”
  • On first base: “Well, I talked to him about first base and I said ‘We’ll talk about it in Spring Training’ because let’s see the makeup of our club. If we have another first baseman, if I want to give (Mark Teixeira) a day off, then we can put the other one in there. If we don’t, we could possibly move you over there. I’ll see if he’s comfortable and go from there.”
  • On distractions: “You know, I think our guys will handle it well. I’m not so sure over the last three years, when he hasn’t garnered a lot of attention when he’s been in the clubhouse — think about when he came back to Chicago, in San Diego, when he came back — so it’s something we have to pay attention to, but I think our guys are up for it and have the experience and know how to handle it and we’ll handle it.”

Girardi also mentioned he saw some video of A-Rod hitting and working out and other stuff and said he looked good. I fully expect Spring Training to be a total circus because of Alex and I think he will spend some time at first base, at least in camp. It’s really hard to expect him to be productive though. How you do you think Chipper Jones would perform in 2015 if he returned to the game after a two-year retirement? That’s basically what A-Rod will be doing, but with two surgically repaired hips.

The Rotation

  • On depth: “There’s some concerns, I think just because of guys coming off injuries. We feel good about them. We feel good about them coming back … But as we’ve seen, you need more than five starters, usually. You have to have some players that have the ability to do both. So we’re going to have to see what our rotation is, where everyone is at.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka: “We’re counting on him to make his 32 starts. That’s something we’ll have to look at as the season progresses. We have a little bit more experience with him being on a five-man rotation now than we had before. He seemed to do pretty well. He did get hurt. But a lot of times when you talk about guys that have that situation it’s not necessarily one incident — it’s over time. But he came back well. His velocity was there, his split was there. So it’s just something I think you have to pay attention to.”
  • On other injury concerns: “In the back of your mind there’s some question marks. (Ivan) Nova will not be ready for Opening Day. We’ll have to wait a little bit, for sure. He’s had a great rehab … (CC Sabathia‘s) rehab has went well …. Michael Pineda has not thrown 200 innings in a while.”

I’m sure the Yankees are hoping Tanaka will make 32 starts next year but are planning for a scenario in which he makes, well, none. Nova not being ready in time for Opening Day is no surprise — he had surgery in late-April 2014 and at the very earliest would be ready in late-April 2015, but the more likely scenario is May or June. Who in the world knows what Sabathia can do. Not really much more to add here. The Yankees need some rotation depth.

The New Shortstop

  • On Didi Gregorius in general: “I think he’s a good young player that has a chance to blossom in New York. A very good defender. Had success with the bat last year with right-handers and is still young and has the ability to grow into a very good player.”
  • On Gregorius having to replace Derek Jeter: “I think the most important thing for Didi — and I’ll stress it — and I’ll have all the coaches stress it and the people around him, you just need to be yourself. You don’t need to try to be Derek. I think Robertson did a really good job of filling in for a superstar, a legend, a Yankee legend and was just himself. And we need to pay attention to that and make sure that Didi, hey, go out and play, just do what you do.”
  • On Jeter being gone: “I think the reality for me started to hit a little bit the last games in Boston. That that was going to be kind of it … We’re starting anew now. It’s kind of a new era for the Yankees without Derek at shortstop. He’s been there a very, very long time and played at a very high level. But I’ll say it again, Didi, just be yourself.”

Gregorius replacing Jeter is going to be a thing all season, isn’t it? May the baseball gods help the poor kid if he gets off to a slow start in April. Every slump at the plate and error in the field will be scrutinized. That’s just how it will be. I’ve already seen articles saying Gregorius has what it takes to succeed in New York (link) and articles saying he won’t be able to handle the bright lights (link), so no one has any idea what the hell they’re talking about. We just have to wait and see.

Girardi’s right when he says Gregorius just has to be himself, and at the same time the Yankees can’t baby him either. Treat him like any other 24-year-old you’re trying to develop into your shortstop of the future. Play him everyday — sitting him against a tough lefty like Chris Sale or David Price is fine, but a straight platoon with Brendan Ryan would be so, so dumb — and give the kid an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s curious to see how the team balances Gregorius’ development with winning because, frankly, they’ve sucked at developing players lately.

The Offseason

  • On the team’s biggest needs: “You know, when I look at our club, I think you have to think about the depth of the rotation … You need depth in your rotation. You have to. I don’t know how many starters we used last year, but I know we lost four. So we used a lot and that’s something that’s a concern.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda: “We’re not sure what he’s going to do. That’s a decision he has to make and it’s about the time a player either has in his heart, I want to come back, or It’s time for me to retire. So it’s a decision that he has to make.”
  • On Francisco Cervelli: “We’re going to miss him. He was a good player for us …. He’s a player that was loved in the clubhouse. We loved his energy and the way he played the game. The way he went about his business. I’m happy that he gets an opportunity to play every day. I’ve said all along, I believe he’s an everyday catcher, and he’ll help someone.”

Getting Kuroda back would add some stability to the rotation but the Yankees can’t wait around forever for him to make his decision either. The pitching dominoes are starting to fall and the club has to act soon to get the help they need. If Kuroda decides to play later, great. They can figure it out then. The Yankees don’t want to be left standing at the game of pitching musical chairs because they spent weeks on end waiting for Kuroda.

Miscellany

  • On losing two homegrown stars in two offseasons: “It’s the nature of the revenue sharing and what TV contracts have allowed other clubs to do. I think the game has changed (from what) it was 20 years ago.”
  • On incorporating young players: “We need our system to be productive and for our young players to come up and help us out because, as I’ve said, the game has changed. And more clubs are able to bid on players than probably ever before. So the price goes up and sometimes you lose those players. I feel pretty good about our young kids that are coming. And it’s not just (Rob) Refsnyder or (Jose) Pirela, there’s more that you could talk about and that excites me.”
  • On the coaching staff: “We’ve had some interviews and things have kind of got interrupted with the GM Meetings and organizational meetings and changes in our organization and then coming down here … We’ll probably pick up again when this is all said and done, and we’ll iron out our coaching staff.”
  • On Martin Prado: “I don’t think you have an ideal (position). Would you like to leave him at one spot?  Yeah. But his versatility allows us to rest people at times. We might ask him to do that depending on the makeup of our club.”

Imagine if the Yankees don’t re-sign Chase Headley and go into next season with a double play combination of Gregorius and either Pirela or Refsnyder. How much patience will they have for those growing pains on the middle infield? I’m guessing not much but more than most fans. And, as I’ve said before, I think I’m more curious to see how long the team can go without a hitting coach and first base coach than I am to see who they actually hire. Today’s the two month anniversary of them firing Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher, you know.