Mailbag: Niemann, Paulino, Gillaspie, Sizemore

Six questions and six answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip in the sidebar to send us whatever, whenever.

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

Several people asked: What about Jeff Niemann?

Niemann, 30, elected free agency earlier this week after the Rays outrighted him off their 40-man roster. He did not pitch at all this year and has been limited to one game since May 2012 due to a series of shoulder problems, most notably surgery to repair damage to his labrum and rotator cuff. Niemann’s had a lot of injury problems over the years, most dealing with his shoulder. That’s always scary.

Before the injury, the 6-foot-9, 285 lb. right-hander managed a 3.08 ERA (3.09 FIP) in 38 innings last season. He put up a 4.06 ERA (4.13 FIP) in 135.1 innings in 2011 while missing time with a back problem. Niemann never lived up to hype associated with being the fourth overall pick in the country (2004), but he was a rock solid mid-rotation guy who showed steady improvement — particularly when it came to getting strikeouts and ground balls — before this last round of injury problems.

Niemann had his surgery in April and it came with a 9-12 month recovery time. He recently told Bill Chastain that things are going well but a second half return is the most likely scenario while adding that he might not sign until he can get back on a mound and clubs can see him throw. I definitely have interest in Niemann since he’s reasonably young and has AL East/pennant race experience, but obviously the medicals need to check out. If he’s willing to take a minor league contract, absolutely. Go for it. If he wants something guaranteed right away … eh, that might be pushing it. Some team could cave and given him that 40-man spot, I suppose.

Dustin asks: Two recently DFA’d players to pick up on waivers if they fall to the Yanks: Tony Sipp and Felipe Paulino. Thoughts?

The 30-year-old Sipp was taken off the roster by the Diamondbacks earlier this week and he has the right to elect free agency, but he hasn’t done so yet. He pitched to a 4.78 ERA (4.88 FIP) in 37.2 innings in 2013 overall but we’re talking about a lefty specialist, overall numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sipp was hit hard by same-side hitters this past season (.378 wOBA and 6.05 FIP) but was much more effective from 2011-2012 (.288 wOBA and 4.16 FIP). If he wants to take a minor league deal and compete for a bullpen spot with Cesar Cabral and David Huff in camp, sure.

Paulino, 30, is in the same boat as Niemann. He already elected free agency but hasn’t pitched since June 2012 due to Tommy John and shoulder surgery, the latter of which is expected to sideline him until the second half of next year. Before that he was showing steady improvement, with a 1.67 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 37.2 innings in 2012 and a 4.46 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 139.1 innings in 2011. Niemann has a longer track record of success but I think these two are in the same exact situation. If the medicals check out and Paulino is willing to take a minor league contract, then let’s do it. If he wants something guaranteed, let someone else give him the 40-man spot.

No batting gloves? Grinder. (David Banks/Getty)
No batting gloves? Grinder. (David Banks/Getty)

Travis asks: Would a swap of Dellin Betances and Conor Gillaspie of the White Sox make sense for both sides? They love their large-framed pitchers and the Yankees have a need for a left-handed 3B/1B.

I think that’s fair value. Both Betances and Gillespie are former top prospects who are out of minor league options and have yet to really establish themselves at the big league level. The 26-year-old Gillaspie did play fairly regularly for the ChiSox this past season, hitting .245/.305/.390 (85 wRC+) with 13 homers in 452 plate appearances. His defense at the hot corner was a tick below-average. The Yankees would be banking on Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch boosting his numbers. I do think that trade makes sense for both teams and it’s worth noting the White Sox have shown interest in Betances before. Do they still like him? That’s the question.

Dave asks: Let’s say A-Rod gets suspended for all of 2014 and prior to the 2015 season, the Yankees buyout his remaining contract in a single $61M lump sum. How does that amount affect the luxury tax?

From what I have read, the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not address buyouts for a situation like this. I think it would be treated as a new contract, however. Essentially a one-year, $61M contract. If that’s the case, I think the Yankees would simply release him and pay the $61M over the next three years instead. I think a more likely buyout scenario is paying that $61M over six years (with interest) instead of three, doubling the term. The luxury tax hit would be recalculated in that situation but it’s not as simple as average annual value because the Yankees have already paid some amount of tax on that contract. The tax hit would be lowered, I’m just not sure how much. The most important thing to remember is A-Rod has no reason to take a penny less than what’s owed to him, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll agree to a buyout that makes all or part of that $61M disappear. He’ll make the Yankees release him before agreeing to take less money. That’s what I would do.

Nick asks: Nick Cafardo recently reported that Grady Sizemore was getting a lot of attention and that he should be ready for Spring Training. Now I know he shouldn’t be counted on for anything but don’t you think he’d be a good buy low candidate?

Did you know that Sizemore is 31 years old already? He’s not all that young anymore. That really snuck up on me. He hasn’t played in a game since September 2011 and when he did play, he kinda stunk (94 wRC+ in 2011, 81 wRC+ from 2010-2011). His list of injuries is so very long — left elbow inflammation and debridement (2009), sports hernia (2009), left knee microfracture surgery (2010), another sports hernia (2011), arthroscopic right knee surgery (2011), lower back surgery (2012), right knee microfracture surgery (2012) — that he’s basically the Eric Chavez of outfielders. If Sizemore is cool with taking a minor league deal and showing what he can do in Spring Training, by all means, bring him in. Maybe he has a 2012 Chavez year in him. My expectations are zero though.

Niq asks: Can you remind me what happens if the Yankees sign multiple free agents who received and turned down qualifying offers? Do they lose multiple picks? If not, doesn’t that make it easier to sign multiple top free agents? Thanks.

Oh yes, you will absolutely lose multiple picks for signing multiple qualified free agents. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can forfeit the picks they receive as compensation for losing their own qualified free agents as well. It didn’t used to work like that. So if the Yankees get a supplemental first round pick for Curtis Granderson signing elsewhere but sign two qualified free agents, they would lose their first rounder and the compensation pick for Granderson. If it’s feasible, I think you’re better off doing all your shopping in one offseason and losing two or three picks at once (like the Yankees did during the 2008-2009 offseason) than signing one big free agent each winter and forfeiting your first rounder every summer.

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Mailbag: Ellsbury, K-Rod, Gillaspie, Homegrown Players

Got four questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box to send us your questions or anything else throughout the week.

(Jason Szenes/Getty)
(Jason Szenes/Getty)

Mark asks: If Jacoby Ellsbury stays healthy and has a productive 2013, should the Yankees consider signing him as Curtis Granderson‘s replacement in the unlikely event Robinson Cano signs elsewhere this offseason? Even though he is a Scott Boras client, I cannot imagine he will get anything close to the 7-10 guaranteed years Cano likely will get from some desperate team given his past injury history.

Ellsbury, 29, desperately needs to have a strong season in 2013. He was a monster in 2011, but otherwise has only played 92 games with four DL trips in 2010 and 2012 combined. I’m pretty sure the Red Sox will let him walk — or even trade him at the deadline — after the season because Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming, so Ellsbury really needs to have a good healthy season if he wants to cash in next winter.

Here’s the thing though: if Ellsbury does stay healthy and has a strong year, Boras will be looking for $100M+. No doubt about it with an MVP-caliber season so close in the rear-view mirror. If he gets hurt again, then you’re talking about signing an injury prone player and expecting him to play everyday. Not the wisest idea. Ellsbury is a good player but I don’t thing he’ll ever repeat his 2011 effort, so I don’t like the idea of signing him to replace Granderson. Even if he stays healthy this summer, there’s still a long injury history there and it would make me wary considering his likely asking price.

Kevin asks: What about Francisco Rodriguez? He isn’t is former self obviously but I refuse to believe he is useless. He could give us insurance with closer experience if Mariano Rivera has a set back.

K-Rod, 31, pitched to a 4.38 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 72 innings for the Brewers last year, his worst season in the big leagues. His strikeout (9.00 K/9 and 23.6 K%) and walk (3.88 BB/9 and 10.2 BB%) were right in line with his career rates, but his swing-and-miss rate (7.9%) was by far the worst of his career (career 12.4%). His homerun rate (1.00 HR/9 and 12.3% HR/FB) were his worst since he first broke into the show. On the bright side, Rodriguez’s fastball velocity spiked back up last summer after a steady multi-year decline.

Last week Jon Heyman reported K-Rod will pitch in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and use the event to showcase himself to teams. The Yankees have a good amount of bullpen depth behind right-handers David Aardsma, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Rivera, but K-Rod would be the first guy I’d call if one of them got hurt in camp. He’s had continued off-the-field troubles and I doubt the makeup-loving Yankees would go for that, however. Rodriguez isn’t what he once was, but he’s still a useful reliever and someone New York should keep tabs on during the WBC.

No batting gloves? Gamer. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)
No batting gloves? Gamer. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

David asks: Just happened to be surfing during a boring part of SNL and took a look at the MLB list of players with no options. What do you think of Conor Gillaspie? If the Giants don’t keep him, I’m sure someone will claim him, but I’m wondering if it makes sense to try to work out a trade? Yankees would use a young lefty bat who plays third with good minor numbers. Could be a useful left-handed bat on the bench to pinch-hit for a catcher or someone to spell Youk.

I’m willing to bet you are able to do a whole lot more than skim the out-of-options list during the boring part of SNL these days. Ba-dum ching!

That was my attempt at humor. Anyway, the Giants drafted the 25-year-old Gillaspie with the 37th overall pick in the 2008 draft and rather than give him a Major League contract, they promised him a September call-up. He made his big league debut that September and has since burned through his four minor league options (he qualified for a fourth because he used his original three during the first five years of his pro career).

Over the last two seasons, Gillaspie has hit .289/.368/.447 (~107 wRC+) with 25 homers and strong walk (11.1%) and strikeout (13.7%) rates in nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances. He’s had three big league cups of coffee but hasn’t hit (60 wRC+) in 48 total plate appearances. Gillaspie is primarily a third baseman but the Giants have tried him out at first and in left field in the past. Baseball America did not rank him as one of the 30 best prospects in a brutal San Francisco farm system — system ranked 26th by Keith Law and 28th by BA — in their latest Prospect Handbook, which gives you an idea of how farm his stock as fallen. At this point he’s more of an organizational player than anything.

The only locks for Bruce Bochy’s bench right now are backup catcher Hector Sanchez, infielder (and former Yankees farmhand) Joaquin Arias, and outfielder Andres Torres. That leaves two spots open, one of which figures to go a left-handed hitting pinch-hitter. Given the names on their 40-man roster and non-roster invitee list, it sure looks like Gillaspie has a great chance to make the team. If he doesn’t, then I doubt he’s good enough to crack anyone’s bench. The “former (supplemental) first round pick” stuff means he still has a little bit of prospect shine, but I’m not sure Gillaspie is a legit big leaguer. He might be worth a minor trade or waiver claim, but I wouldn’t offer up much of anything even though he appears like a nice fit for the Eric Chavez role on paper.

Update!: The Giants just announced that they traded Gillaspie to the White Sox for a fringy minor league pitcher. I suppose the Yankees could look to acquire him from Chicago, but meh.

Sal asks: Who is the best player the Yankee farm system EVER produced? I’m guessing Derek Jeter or Mickey Mantle?

Without looking, I’m guessing Mantle. Now here are the top five position players and top five pitchers in franchise history according to bWAR…

Rk Player WAR From To G PA H HR BB SO SB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Babe Ruth 138.2 1920 1934 2084 9198 2518 659 1852 1122 110 .349 .484 .711 1.195
2 Lou Gehrig 108.5 1923 1939 2164 9663 2721 493 1508 790 102 .340 .447 .632 1.080
3 Mickey Mantle 105.5 1951 1968 2401 9907 2415 536 1733 1710 153 .298 .421 .557 .977
4 Joe DiMaggio 75.1 1936 1951 1736 7673 2214 361 790 369 30 .325 .398 .579 .977
5 Derek Jeter 69.3 1995 2012 2585 11895 3304 255 1039 1743 348 .313 .382 .448 .829
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/21/2013.
Rk Player WAR From To G GS W L SV IP BB SO ERA ERA+ HR
1 Mariano Rivera 52.7 1995 2012 1051 10 76 58 608 1219.2 277 1119 2.21 206 65
2 Whitey Ford 50.6 1950 1967 498 438 236 106 10 3170.1 1086 1956 2.75 133 228
3 Andy Pettitte 45.8 1995 2012 417 408 208 116 0 2611.0 841 1892 3.95 115 219
4 Ron Guidry 45.4 1975 1988 368 323 170 91 4 2392.0 633 1778 3.29 119 226
5 Red Ruffing 41.7 1930 1946 426 391 231 124 8 3168.2 1066 1526 3.47 119 200
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/21/2013.

Yogi Berra (56.2 bWAR) was a distant sixth behind Jeter and Lefty Gomez (39.5 bWAR) was right behind Ruffing, in case you’re wondering.

Ruth obviously wasn’t homegrown, so he’s not relevant in this discussion. Gehrig and Mantle are essentially tied — a difference of 3.0 bWAR spread across nearly 10,000 plate appearances is nothing. Gehrig is the best first baseman in history by a not small margin (Albert Pujols is second at 88.5 bWAR) while Mantle is “only” the fourth best center fielder (behind Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker). Is that enough to say Gehrig is the greatest homegrown Yankee over Mantle? Eh, sure. Why not.

Now, we have to remember that back in Gehrig’s and Mantle’s day, every amateur player was a free to sign with whatever team. The draft and international free agency as we know it (more or less) were implemented in 1965. The best homegrown Yankee during the draft era is Jeter by a mile. Rivera is the second best, then you’ve got Bernie Williams (45.9 bWAR), Thurman Munson (43.3 bWAR), Pettitte, and Guidry essentially tied for third.  Fred McGriff was a Yankees draft pick who was traded away before reaching the big leagues, and he managed to rack up 48.2 bWAR. He’s the second best player the team has ever drafted with the caveat that Pettitte could pass him in 2013. Pretty crazy.