A-Rod reinstated, ten Yankees become free agents

Now that the World Series is over, Alex Rodriguez has officially been reinstated off the restricted list by MLB and the Yankees. He was originally suspended 211 games for his ties to Biogenesis, but it was reduced to 162 games during an appeal. A-Rod would not have been eligible to play in the postseason had the Yankees qualified. He now counts against the team’s 40-man roster.

In other news, a total of 121 players became free agents at 9am ET this morning. Here’s the full list. Ten of those 121 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Young. No surprises there at all. Martin Prado, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Slade Heathcott all have to be activated off the 60-day DL if they haven’t been already. So, after all of that, the Yankees have 35 players on their 40-man roster.

2014 Season Review: Solving The Third Base Problem

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the second straight season, the Yankees did not have Alex Rodriguez at third base on Opening Day. He missed most of last year following hip surgery and all of this year due to his 162-game Biogenesis suspension. The Yankees tried to replace A-Rod with Kevin Youkilis (remember that?) last year but that failed when he predictably went down with a back injury. This year they took a more subtle approach to replacing Alex by signing Kelly Johnson.

But, as they tend to do, things did not go according to plan. Yangervis Solarte hit his way into regular third base duty while Johnson spent much of his time filling in for the injured Mark Teixeira at first base. Solarte mashed for a few weeks, so the hot corner wasn’t an issue. He stopped hitting after a while and Johnson never really got going, so by early-June, third base was a problem. Solarte, Johnson, and a smorgasbord of others (Zelous Wheeler, Scott Sizemore, etc.) combined to hit .261/.331/.395 through the team’s first 98 games and were trending downward.

Then, prior to Game 99, the Yankees added a permanent solution by (finally) acquiring Chase Headley from the Padres in exchange for Solarte and Single-A righty Rafael DePaula. New York and several other teams had been pursuing the switch-hitter for years — there’s no doubt San Diego missed the opportunity to trade him for maximum value two years ago — and in fact a number of clubs were hot after him at the trade deadline. The Yankees were able to get the deal done and he was in the lineup that night.

Headley’s impact was immediate. He arrived at Yankee Stadium in the middle innings of that night’s game against the Rangers, pinch-hit for Wheeler in the eighth inning, and still managed to get four at-bats when the game went into extra innings. Headley started that day in Chicago with the Padres. Here’s how he ended it with the Yankees in New York:

A walk-off hit in your first game with a new team with one helluva way to make a first impression. That was a pretty wild day for the Yankees and their fans. I can’t imagine what it was like for Headley.

Headley took over as the regular third baseman — he also filled in at first base on occasion — and showed right away that he was a top notch gloveman. The Yankees hadn’t had an above-average defensive third baseman since A-Rod was in his prime before Headley arrived, and he made every routine play and more than a few spectacular ones as well. After playing so many guys out of position at the hot corner — Youkilis was a natural first baseman, Solarte and Johnson are second basemen by trade — it was nice to see someone play third competently.

Of course, there were questions about how much Headley would be able to contribute offensively. He had a monster year with the Padres in 2012, hitting .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) with 31 homers, but he dropped down to a .250/.347/.400 (114 wRC+) batting line with 13 homers in 2013, production that was on par with his 2008-11 output. Before the trade, Headley hit .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homeruns in 77 games for San Diego while battling a back issue that required an epidural. History suggested there was more there offensively and the back injury suggested that maybe there wasn’t.

The Yankees rolled the dice and while talking to reporters following the trade, Brian Cashman cited Headley’s improved “hit velo” as a reason for making the deal. The team’s internal metrics showed Headley was hitting the ball harder as he got further away from the back injury that seemed to continue after the trade. Following the walk-off hit in his first game with the Yankees, he went 9-for-26 (.346) with two doubles and a homer in the next seven games before putting up a .233/.343/.344 (97 wRC+) line with four doubles, two homers, and 14 walks in 27 August games. Headley hit this walk-off homer in early-September:

About a week later, Headley took a 96 mph Jake McGee fastball to the chin and was on the ground for several minutes. He had to be helped off the field — the plunking led to the game-winning rally, as Chris Young swatted a walk-off three-run homer a few batters later — and it looked very bad, but tests showed no fracture and eventually a concussion was ruled out as well. Headley needed two stitches and there was some nice bruising around his chin and neck, but he escaped with relatively little damage.

After returning to the lineup four days later, Headley went 12-for-41 (.293) with two doubles, two homers, and eight walks in his final 13 games of the season. He hit .279/.410/.441 (147 wRC+) in September overall and finished the season with a .262/.371/.409 (113 wRC+) batting line in 58 games with the Yankees. Headley had eight doubles, six homers, a 12.9% walk rate, and more standout defensive plays than I care to count during his time in pinstripes. WAR isn’t perfect, yadda yadda yadda, but he finished with 2.1 bWAR and 2.8 fWAR with the Yankees and I can totally buy him adding 2-3 wins to the team in those 58 games between his bat and glove.

Those 2-3 wins didn’t get the Yankees into the postseason but it helped keep them relevant a little longer than they should have been. Solarte hit .267/.336/.355 (101 wRC+) for San Diego and DePaula had a 6.54 ERA (5.36 FIP) in eight High Class-A starts after the trade. I’m guessing both teams are pretty happy with the deal. The Yankees got an actual third baseman who improved their chances of contention in 2014 while the Padres received a cheap, versatile bench-ish player and a lottery ticket pitching prospect. Headley didn’t get the Yankees into October and the Padres didn’t get as much for him as they could have a year or two ago. That’s baseball.

Headley was a pure rental who will become a free agent in a little more than two weeks now. He has said he is open to returning to the Yankees but he doesn’t want to be a part-time player, and A-Rod complicates that. The Yankees have said they view Alex as a DH but that doesn’t really mean anything to Headley. Other teams will pursue him for their third base opening with no strings attached, and the lingering uncertainty of A-Rod could lead to Headley signing elsewhere this winter. If he does, so be it. That’s life. There is definitely a place for him on the team going forward though (at the right price, like always) and based on what I saw down the stretch, I’d welcome him back with open arms.

Headley indicates willingness to return, doesn’t want to be “a part-time guy”

Via Dan Martin: Chase Headley indicated a willingness to re-sign with the Yankees following the team’s season finale last weekend, but made it clear he wants to be an everyday player. “I know they have a player under contract,” he said, referring to Alex Rodriguez. “We’ll see how that shakes out. We’ll see what my role would look like … I want to be a guy that plays. At what position? Obviously, third base I think is my strongest position. I don’t want to be a part-time guy.”

Headley, 30, hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers while playing top notch defense in 58 games for the Yankees this year. Joe Girardi said the Yankees are counting on A-Rod to be their third baseman next season but that’s just a ruse — saying otherwise would give guys like Headley and Pablo Sandoval more leverage. In fact, Nick Cafardo says the team views Alex as a DH until he proves otherwise. There’s an obvious place for Headley on the roster and in the lineup, but I think he’s going to wind up getting three or maybe even four years from someone. Free agent contracts always end up bigger than expected and I think clubs will look at him as buy low candidate with standout defense and switch-hitter who showed more life with the bat outside Petco Park.

Updates: Tests come back clean after Headley takes pitch to chin

7:31pm: Headley visited a neurologist and all tests came back clean. He escaped the beaning with just a cut on his chin. Headley has rejoined the team — the YES cameras showed him in the dugout during tonight’s game — but he is still a few days from returning to the lineup.

11:42am: Tests showed no fractures after Chase Headley was hit in the chin by a Jake McGee fastball in the ninth inning of last night’s game, Joe Girardi announced. He didn’t even need stitches. Scratch that, he did need some stitches. Headley does still need to see a neurologist before being cleared to play. Good news though, that was a really scary moment last night.

Update: Headley heading for x-rays after taking pitch to chin

10:28pm: Headley is heading for x-rays and additional tests on his jaw and will not leave with the team when they travel to Baltimore tonight.

10:07pm: Chase Headley left tonight’s game in the ninth inning after taking a Jake McGee fastball to the chin. He was down on the ground for several minutes and there was blood, but he seemed to be responsive. Team doctor Dr. Ahmad even came out to check on him, which you rarely see. Headley eventually walked off the field under his own power. Scary, scary stuff. Stay tuned for any updates.

Mailbag: Headley, Pineda, Challenges, Rookie of the Year

Only five questions this week, but one has a really long answer. The best way to send us anything throughout the week is via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Justin asks: What would a fair contract for Chase Headley be? I know he hasn’t set the world on fire here, but he seems to be involved in a lot of rallies and his defense speaks for itself. I know re-signing him would in theory block Rob Refsnyder, as it would lock Martin Prado in at 2B, but I don’t see that as a major hurdle as there is almost no way the combination of Carlos Beltran, A-Rod, and Mark Teixeira don’t miss significant time next year and Prado would likely move somewhere to fill in in such times.

I am pretty terrible at estimating free agent contracts and I feel especially lost on what it will take to sign Headley. Is he going to look for the biggest payday possible? That’s never a bad idea in my opinion, especially at age 30. Will he be open to a one-year “pillow contract” to re-establish his value and then look for the biggest payday next winter? That’s what Adrian Beltre did with the Red Sox a few years ago.

The pillow contract idea is pretty risky, especially since Headley has hit only .234/.310/.350 (90 wRC+) this year after putting up a 113 wRC+ last year. Excellent defense is great, but it’s getting harder and harder to put up big offensive numbers, and that’s what gets guys paid. Can Headley get back up to, say, .270/.340/.430 with a full season in Yankee Stadium and without the pressure of having to be The Man offensively? Maybe, but who really knows. Baseball is hard.

I don’t think Headley would have any trouble getting $10M on a one-year pillow contract. Maybe $10M plus incentives. Teams have shown they’re willing to pay big dollars to keep the term short. The biggest possible contract for Headley at this point probably ranges between two years and $15M (Juan Uribe) to three years and $39M (Aramis Ramirez). Headley and Uribe are actually very similar players as standout defenders with average-ish bats, though Headley is several years younger with an MVP caliber season to his credit. Uribe has two total disaster years (2011-12) on his resume.

Ramirez and Headley are not at all the same type of player — Aramis is all bat while Headley’s value comes primarily from his glove — but Ramirez’s deal is the largest given to a non-Beltre free agent third baseman since A-Rod. Headley isn’t getting Beltre money (five years, $80M) but he’ll probably get more than Uribe. Aramis is right in the middle there. Headley’s free agent stock is very hard to gauge because he’s in his prime years and has shown he can be a solid offensive player, but he’s also the type of player who always leaves you wanting more.

The Yankees will need a caddy for Alex Rodriguez next year and Prado could always play second base — I’m not worried at all about blocking Refsnyder, I want the Yankees to have as many good players as possible — so there’s an obvious place for Headley on the 2015 Yankees. I’d absolutely love to get him back on a pillow contract, but I would be wary of giving him three years at something like $27M to $30M or so. I like Headley, he fits the team well, but the Yankees need impact hitters at this point and he isn’t one.

JonS asks: Maybe I haven’t been paying attention and SSS and all that, but does it seem like Michael Pineda is a LOT more efficient since he’s been back?

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

The difference between Pineda and other young big stuff prospects was always his command and ability to pound the strike zone. He had a 2.07 BB/9 (5.7 BB%) while in the minor leagues with the Mariners from 2006-10, then he followed that up with a 2.89 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) with Seattle during his rookie year in 2011. Pineda threw 54.1% of his pitches in the zone that year, the 14th highest rate among the 94 qualified starters according to PitchFX. Remember, he was a 22-year-old rookie back then, and 22-year-old rookies are not known for filling the zone.

Pineda has a 0.97 BB/9 (2.9 BB%) in seven starts and 37 innings overall this year, throwing 54.7% of his pitches in the strike zone. That is broken down into a 1.37 BB/9 (3.9 BB%) walk rate and a 52.6% zone rate in 19.2 innings before getting hurt and a 0.52 BB/9 (1.6 BB%) walk rate and a 57.0% zone rate in 17.1 innings since coming off the disabled list. Pineda also averaged 3.94 pitches per plate appearances before getting hurt and is at 4.00 pitches per plate appearance since coming back, so he really hasn’t been more efficient. About the same in terms of pitches per batter. The important thing is that Pineda is healthy and pounding the zone, which indicates he hasn’t lost confidence in his stuff.

Matt asks: Is there any available data about a manager’s success at challenges? I’ve heard people mention it before, and after the challenge at the plate with Jacoby Ellsbury (against the Royals) the ESPN guys mentioned it again. Seems like Joe Girardi is doing very well.

There sure is. Baseball Savant has a database of all manager’s challenges. Heading into yesterday’s action, calls have been overturned only 46.92% of the time this year, which really surprises me. I thought the overturn rate would be much higher since, you know, managers get the thumbs up or thumbs down from their video people before challenging. You’d think a system like that would have a pretty high success rate. I guess a lot of managers are rolling the dice on super close plays.

Girardi is 19-for-24 (79.17%) at getting calls overturned this year, which is obviously excellent compared to the 46.92% league average. In fact, that is the highest overturn rate in baseball. The Marlins are a distant second at 72.73% and no other team was over even 65% heading into yesterday. I’m sure there’s an element of luck here — super close players without what seems to be conclusive evidence going your way, for example — but that is pretty remarkable. Girardi and everyone involved in the team’s video review process have done a fantastic job this year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ryan asks: If Shane Greene keeps pitching the way he is and the Yankees make the playoffs, could he be considered in the running for Rookie of the Year? Same thing with Dellin Betances, does he have a legitimate shot at winning it?

Jose Abreu has the Rookie of the Year already in the bag and deservedly so. He went into last night’s game hitting .312/.371/.602 (164 wRC+) with 33 homers, and voters will love that he’s leading the league with 96 RBI. Masahiro Tanaka was the only player (in the league, not just with the Yankees) with a realistic chance to challenge Abreu, and his Rookie of the Year chances went down the drain as soon as he got hurt.

Betances has been awesome and he’ll definitely get some Rookie of the Year votes, maybe even a stray Cy Young or MVP vote, but there’s no way he’s beating out Abreu. The slugging first baseman is always going to trump the setup reliever in awards voting. Greene has been very good as well but he’ll finish the year with fewer than 100 innings pitched. What makes him more deserving than, say, Matt Shoemaker of the Angels (3.33 ERA and 3.38 FIP in 110.2 innings)? Nothing, really. Greene’s been great but I don’t see him getting any Rookie of the Year votes. The ballot is only three players deep, remember.

JPK asks: A lot will change, but as currently structured how you stack the top of the order next year? Do you bat Prado between Brett Gardner and Ellsbury or do you go some order of Ellsbury and Gardner 1-2?

I’d definitely go with Ellsbury and Gardner in the one-two spots with Prado lower in the lineup, ideally seventh or eighth. That’s not a knock on Prado, I just hope the team adds some true middle of the order bats this winter. It would be awesome if Prado bats eighth because the lineup is so deep, but batting him fifth because they don’t have anyone else? Nope. Ellsbury is at his absolute best as a leadoff hitter because he creates so much havoc, and Gardner’s on-base ability and newfound power make him a nice fit for the two-hole. Ellsbury’s completely miscast as a number three hitter, I wouldn’t do that again next year. Prado would make sense as the number two hitter if the Yankees didn’t have the other two guys under contract.

Link Dump: Trades, Headley, Gardner, Castillo

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

I have a whole bunch of stray links lying around in the wake of the trade deadline and I’m not quite sure what do with them, so I might as well dump them all in one post. Here are some miscellaneous links and notes as the Yankees and Tigers wrap up their series in the Bronx (game thread).

Yankees add most projected production at trade deadline

Although they didn’t land a big fish like Jon Lester or David Price, the Yankees were one of the most active teams prior to the trade deadline, making four deals that qualified as what Brian Cashman called “incremental upgrades.” Friend of RAB Eno Sarris put together a real quick and dirty analysis looking at which teams added the most production at the trade using projected WAR. It’s a simple WAR coming in minus WAR going out calculation. The Yankees added 2.0 WAR (projected!) at the deadline, by far the most in baseball. The Mariners were second at 1.3 WAR. Those incremental upgrades, man. They add up in a hurry.

Headley loves New York, surprising

Chase Headley has only been a Yankee for a bit more than two weeks now, but that has been long enough for New York to grow on him. He told Ken Davidoff he never expected to enjoy playing in Bronx as much as he has. “If you had told me a couple of weeks ago that I would enjoy playing in New York, I would’ve told you you’re crazy … You don’t know what to expect when you come to a clubhouse with this many All-Stars and established guys and great players. You don’t know how you’re going to be accepted in a clubhouse and be treated. And it’s been phenomenal. Top-notch organization, and then I’ve loved every second I’ve been here and I anticipate that I will as long as I’m here,” said Headley. He has also told people with the team how much he’s enjoyed it as well, says Jon Heyman. Headley will be a free agent after the season and re-signing him is something to consider once the final 50 games play out, but for now he’s fit in wonderfully and given the Yankees a big lift.

Red Sox, Rays blacklisted Yankees at deadline

According to David Lennon, the Red Sox and Rays were both told by ownership they could not deal Lester and Price to the Yankees at the trade deadline. Each team was free to trade their lefty ace anywhere but the Bronx. Nick Cafardo says the Yankees did try to engage the BoSox on both Lester and John Lackey, but no dice. The Bombers also called Tampa about Price, says Bob Nightengale, but again, it wasn’t happening. Oh well, what are you going to do. I’m not sure if the Yankees could have put together competitive offers for the two southpaws anyway.

Gardner’s ever-changing approach

This has been a career year for Brett Gardner, as he continues to hit for a surprising amount of power while maintaining his pesky leadoff hitter on-base ability. It’s been a blast to watch. Jeff Sullivan looked at Gardner’s sudden power production and, long story short, found that he’s adjusted to the way pitchers were pitching him. They were treating him like a slap hitter with fastballs in the zone. Like a hitter who couldn’t hurt them. Gardner has become more aggressive and learned how to better pull the ball in the air, a trademark of hitting coach Kevin Long. The league basically dared him to adjust to the way they pitched him, and he’s done exactly that.

Rusney Castillo’s workout scheduled for tomorrow

Free agent Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo is scheduled to have a private workout with the Yankees at their Tampa complex tomorrow, according to George King. He has already had private workouts for the Phillies, Red Sox, Cubs, and Mariners. Ben Badler recently dropped a Rajai Davis comp on Castillo, in case you’re wondering what type of player he is. King says the outfielder may fetch upwards of $45M.