Bullpen Updates: Miller, Robertson, Offers, Trades

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Outside of the Chris Young re-signing, things have been rather quiet around the Yankees this offseason. That all started to change today thanks to a bunch of bullpen-related rumors. Let’s round them all up first, then discuss.

  • The Yankees are in “serious pursuit” of Andrew Miller, according to Buster Olney and Joel Sherman. Nick Cafardo and Dan Connolly add that Miller is in talks with 8-10 teams and is expected to sign soon. Jon Heyman says the lefty is going to wind up with a four-year contract that smashes the previous record for a non-closing reliever, which is Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants. I guess Rafael Soriano doesn’t count.
  • David Robertson already has a three-year offer worth $39M in hand from an unknown club according to Heyman, making it very likely he will receive a four-year deal when it’s all said and done. Heyman and Sherman say that even though Brian Cashman continues to praise Robertson, the Yankees appear unwilling to go four years to keep their closer. As a reminder, Robertson is said to be seeking “Papelbon money,” which means a four-year deal in the $50M neighborhood.
  • George King reports the Yankees have talked with clubs about trading for a closer, including the Braves and Marlins. Craig Kimbrel could be available if the Braves go into a total rebuild. The Marlins quietly have an excellent bullpen and could replace pricey closer Steve Cishek ($6.9M projected in 2015) rather easily if they decide to use him in a trade to fill another need.
  • Ken Davidoff reports the Astros have reached out to Robertson’s agent. Houston is said to be seeking a high-end closer this offseason. I’m not sure why, but whatever. Heyman and King say both the Blue Jays and White Sox want a closer this winter and Robertson is on their radar.

Okay. First off, I think the team’s unwillingness to give Robertson a four-year deal is just posturing at this point. I can’t seriously believe they would go four years for Miller but only three for Robertson, not unless they have some kind of serious concern about the health of his arm, and I have no reason to believe that’s the case. Robertson’s better and has a much longer track record of being elite than Miller (four years vs. one a half years).

Now, that said, I don’t think it would be crazy to let Robertson walk, get the draft pick, and sign Miller as a replacement. The Yankees might even be able to sign Miller and someone like Jason Grilli (whom they have interest in) or Luke Gregerson for the same total money it’ll take to sign Robertson, and wind up with an ostensibly deeper bullpen plus a draft pick. If it’s just Miller in place of Robertson, especially if the difference is money is only $1M or $2M per year, then I’d much rather just keep Robertson.

Trading for a closer seems like a weird idea — I don’t like the idea of paying a huge price for Kimbrel and his contract (owed $33M through 2017 with a $13M option for 2018) when you could simply sign Miller or Robertson — but, as always, it depends on the price and the target. I guess I would be in favor of that plan if it kept Dellin Betances in that oh so valuable multi-inning setup role. Heck, even if they sign Miller, I’d rather see someone like Shawn Kelley or Adam Warren close so Betances and Miller could dominate the sixth through eighth innings.

At this point it seems like a foregone conclusion the Yankees will spend big for either Robertson or Miller. I think they’re trying to play hardball with Robertson at the moment — I get the sense their “serious pursuit” of Miller is just a way to pressure Robertson into signing, which probably won’t work if his market is as robust as the reports — but are prepared to move on if necessary. I guess this is how I see this playing out: either Robertson or Miller signs with a team, then the Yankees go hard after the other.

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Weekend Mailbag and Open Thread

We’ve been getting a ton of submissions through our new mailbag form, which you can find in the right sidebar. Keep ‘em coming. The more questions, the more mailbag features we’ll do. They’re pretty fun for everyone, aren’t they?

Again, we open with a couple of housekeeping items:

1. Remember, when you’re buying Yankees stuff this holiday season, click through the RAB Shop links. It’s a huge boost for us. We have some items displayed on that page, too — like a Jeter replica jersey that doesn’t have his name on the back. You don’t see those every day.

2. The first RAB Daily Digest will hit mailboxes on Monday morning. You can read about the RAB Daily Digest, or sign up using the form below. We’re at 850 subscribers right now, and would love to have this hit 1,000 inboxes for the inaugural run.



And now…

Zac asks: At first glance, the A’s seemed to get an uninspiring haul for Donaldson. What would the comparable package of Yankees players/prospects have been?

CanGuest asks: With regards to the Donaldson/Lawrie trade, it doesn’t seem like the Jays gave up too much in the way of prospects. Do you think we could have made a similar deal to get Donaldson, and how surprising is it that he was traded? Was he on anybody’s radar at all?

In case you missed it last night, the A’s traded 3B Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for 3B Brett Lawrie and a trio of prospects: RHP Kendall Graveman, LHP Sean Nolin, and SS Franklin Barreto.

It does not seem as though the Jays gave up much. Donaldson is not only light years better than Lawrie, but he also has less service time — he’s eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, while Lawrie will be free after 2017. The move seems even stranger coming on the heels of the A’s signing Billy Butler, a seemingly win-now move. Why sign Butler and then trade your best hitter?

Getting back Barreto is nice for Oakland, since they traded away their top shortstop prospect, but he’s just 18 and so has years before reaching the bigs. Billy Beane has to be banking to a decent degree on Lawrie delivering more on his considerable promise. He’s been perfectly average since a breakout performance in 2011, and has missed 100 games in the last two seasons due to injury.

That said, Beane clearly isn’t done. There are already rumblings of a Jeff Samardzija trade with the White Sox (which would be huge for them), and Brandon Moss could be next. This clearly isn’t a rebuild, but, as one reporter put it (can’t find the link), Beane is reworking the entire team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see John Jaso and Josh Reddick traded as well this off-season.

Was this a surprise? Sure, in that most of Beane’s moves are surprises. I don’t think anyone really saw him giving up Addison Russell for Samardzija, nor did we see him trading Cespedes for Lester. So, surprising, but kinda not since Beane never operates in a way we expect.

In terms of comparable Yankees prospects, there’s really not much there. They don’t have anyone like Lawrie, a cost-controlled MLB player the A’s can plug into Donaldson’s old position, or perhaps 2B. Martin Prado fits that bill, but he’s older, more expensive, and has fewer years remaining of team control.

Looking at the top 30 prospects, you have to think Clarkin would be in there. Jagielo? Torrens? I’m not sure. It’s tough to piece these things together from another team’s perspective. Sometimes a GM will have his eyes on a few prospects from one team, and that’s the end of that.

Ken asks: Would it make more sense for the Yankees to let Robertson go and hope that Betances’s 2014 was not a fluke (as opposed to what they saw from him previously) and go for a veteran to handle the eighth or ninth inning and sign/trade for a “marquee” shortstop or to go four years with Robertson and go for a lesser shortstop?

Tom asks: Any idea on potential arbitration savings on Betances (2016-2019) by signing a closer who racks up the saves (which pays in arbitration).

I’m not sure trading for a “marquee” shortstop is in the cards (there are none on the FA market) regardless of what they do with Robertson. I picked this question, because there is an obvious parallel in recent Yankee history: letting John Wetteland walk to make Mariano Rivera closer after the 1996 season.

Plenty is different in that scenario, mainly the success of the team at the time. Rivera’s 1996 and Betances’s 2014 were very similar. While that doesn’t make Betances the next Rivera, it is an encouraging sign, perhaps one that will allow the Yankees to save some bucks on Robertson, which they can allocate to offense. Because they need offense.

As for signing a closer to keep down Betances’s arbitration costs, that’s going to cost money, too. Even then, the market is full of question marks. The Yanks have reportedly talked about making Jason Grilli an offer, but he’s not exactly reliable. Francisco Rodriguez has declined, as has Rafael Soriano. Maybe they try to get one of them on a sweetheart deal and move Betances into the closer role if they falter.

(I do not think they’re signing Robertson, for what it’s worth.)

James asks: Could A-Rod be the hitting coach?

It might sound like a silly question, but the man does know the game. I remember him talking about specific things he works on with hitting coaches. Younger players also seem to love him. It’ll never happen, not in a million years, but I do think A-Rod could help out kids at the plate.

Rich asks: How good a chance does Severino have make the opening day rotation?

Zero. Negative, possibly. The kid has potential, but certainly isn’t on tap for the majors quite yet. Give him time. Maybe he slots in later in the season. But realistically we’re talking 2016 at the very earliest.

Robertson Updates: “Papelbon Money,” Interested Teams

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Free agency has been open for a week and two days now, and during the GM Meetings this week, David Robertson‘s representatives have been meeting with interested teams to talk about a potential deal. Agents for every other big free agent are doing the same exact thing. Here’s the latest on the Yankees long-time setup man and 2014 closer, courtesy of Andrew Marchand, Joel Sherman, Brendan Kuty, and Mark Feinsand.

  • To the surprise of no one, Robertson is asking for “Papelbon money” during his initial meetings with teams. That means a four-year deal worth $50M (plus a vesting option!). Robertson’s last three years (2.59 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 4.23 K/BB) are actually better than Jonathan Papelbon’s three years prior to free agency (2.89 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 3.85 K/BB), but Papelbon was a long-time closer who closed out a World Series, and teams seem to value that.
  • Brian Cashman confirmed he met with Robertson’s representatives earlier this week. “Clearly, as a free agent, he is going to maximize his value, period. Whatever that turns out to be,” said the GM. “I wouldn’t characterize it other than the fact to say he is helluva pitcher that did it in the toughest environment after the greatest player of all-time and he did it with ease. I would suspect that would command top dollar.”
  • At least half a dozen teams have already expressed interest in Robertson, including one team with a protected first round pick. Check out our 2015 Draft Order Tracker to find out who those teams are. The Yankees get the same supplemental first round pick should Robertson sign elsewhere no matter what. It doesn’t matter whether his new team has a protected pick.
  • The Tigers are not planning to spend big on a late-game reliever despite their perpetual bullpen problems. GM Dave Dombrowski said they picked up their $7M option for Joakim Soria so he could set up Joe Nathan next year. They also have hard-throwing youngster Bruce Rondon returning from Tommy John surgery.
  • The Cubs are another team not planning to spending big money on the bullpen this winter. They’re focused on top of the rotation help and will apparently employ the popular “stockpile a bunch of cheap guys with good arms and figure out the bullpen during the season” strategy.
  • The Rockies won’t pursue Robertson either. I didn’t expect them too, but who really knows with that franchise. They do weird stuff all the time. New GM Jeff Bridich said they will have a “healthy competition” in Spring Training to determine their closer.

2014 Season Review: The Closer

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I don’t envy whomever will replace Derek Jeter next season. That’s going to be a tough job. Remember when Tino Martinez was getting booed in 1996 simply because he wasn’t Don Mattingly and had the audacity to not hit like .350 in the first few weeks of the season? That’s what it’ll be like for Jeter’s replacement, only about ten times worse.

And yet, as bad as that will be, I think replacing Mariano Rivera this past season was a more difficult task. Why? Because a closer’s failures are far more memorable than a shortstops. If a position player boots a grounder or strikes out with the bases loaded, it sucks, but we move on quickly because another batter steps to the plate. But if a closer fails? Forget it. The failure stews overnight and into the next day. Into his next appearance whenever that may be, really.

Replacing Rivera this summer was not going to be easy but David Robertson did it seamlessly. If he would have come out of gate and blown, say, three of his first six save chances in April — which Mo did when he replaced John Wetteland in 1997, by the way — there would have been questions for weeks and months about whether he was the right guy for the job. Fair or not, those questions were going to be asked and they tend to linger. That’s the nature of the job. The ninth inning has taken on a mind of its own.

Instead of creating questions, Robertson nailed down his first nine save chances of the season and didn’t blow a game until late-May. At one point from early-June through late-August, he successfully converted 22 consecutive saves, the second longest such streak by any pitcher in 2014. (Huston Street saved 23 straight to start the year.) Robertson saved 39 games in 44 opportunities, an 88.6% conversation rate that bests Rivera’s in 2014 (86.3%) and from 2011-14 (87.5%).

Did Robertson have some major meltdowns? Oh yeah. Of course. That’s inevitable regardless of role. He turned a 5-4 lead into a 6-5 loss by serving up a two-run walk-off homer to Adam Dunn on May 23rd for his first blown save. The Twins managed to score five runs in two-thirds of an inning against Robertson on June 1st. He allowed a three-run homer to Chris Carter in the ninth inning of a tie game on August 19th. Robertson blew two crucial saves against the Orioles in the final weeks of the season, one of which set up Jeter’s walk-off single in his final home game. Relievers are going to give up runs. We just remember when the closer gives up runs the most.

Saves are the name of the game for closers — managers, including Joe Girardi, literally manage games around the stat these days — but there are far better ways to measure a reliever’s effectiveness. After all, protecting a one-run lead in Fenway Park is much different than being handed a three-run lead in sleepy Target Field, for example. I can feel the difference when I’m sitting at home and watching on television, so you know the guys on the mound can feel the difference too.

Thankfully, Leverage Index gives us a better idea of just how important each situation is. Robertson didn’t just lead all qualified relievers with an average 2.07 Leverage Index when entering the game (gmLI) in 2014, it was the highest gmLI by any reliever in the last three seasons. You have to go back to 2011 to find someone with a higher gmLI (Jordan Walden and Chris Perez were at 2.11 and 2.08 in 2011, respectively). Only five pitchers — well, technically four pitchers and five instances — had a higher gmLI in an individual season over the last ten years. Keep in mind that a 1.5 gmLI is considered high-leverage. So 2.07 is way up there.

Robertson was pitching in incredibly important and pressure-packed innings all summer because the Yankees never score runs. They rarely blow games open. They won 84 games this past season and all 84 were by one-run. That’s a made up fact that feels true. Robertson pitched in all those tight situations and performed like he has since breaking out in 2011:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% LOB% Whiff%
2011 66.0 1.08 1.84 36.8% 12.9% 46.3% 2.3% 89.8% 10.8%
2012 60.2 2.67 2.48 32.7% 7.7% 44.9% 9.6% 81.5% 9.9%
2013 66.1 2.04 2.61 29.4% 6.9% 50.9% 10.6% 87.5% 9.6%
2014 64.1 3.08 2.68 37.1% 8.9% 44.2% 15.6% 77.7% 11.9%

Robertson did have his highest ERA in the last four years in 2014, mostly because he a bit more homer prone and wasn’t quite as Houdini-ish as he has been in the past. His strikeout and swing-and-miss rates were outstanding — during a 33-appearance stretch from late-April through late-July, Robertson struck out 66 of 139 batters faced (47.5%) in 34.2 innings (17.13 K/9) — and both his walk and ground ball numbers were in line with recent years. There’s a little fluctuation year-to-year but that’s normal. Bottom line, Robertson was outstanding yet again.

Replacing Mariano Rivera figured to be a daunting task but Robertson made it look easy. He stepped right into the higher profile role and continued to be one of the very best relievers in the game. A lot of things went wrong with the Yankees this season, but the ninth inning was not one of them. I truly hope this was not Robertson’s final season in pinstripes, but, if it was, it was one hell of a swan song. Going from a low-profile 17th round draft pick to replacing Rivera and closing for the New York Yankees is some kind of story.

Cashman Speaks: Robertson, Kuroda, Headley, Young, Injuries, Coaches

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The GM Meetings started in Phoenix yesterday and among the items on this year’s agenda are reviews of the new home plate collision rule and the pace of game rule changes being tested in the Arizona Fall League. The league will also conduct their annual umpire evaluations. There’s a lot of official business that goes on at the GM Meetings and they aren’t as hot stove-y as the Winter Meetings in December.

That said, when you have all 30 GMs plus a bunch of agents in one place, talks do happen and the ground work for a lot of deals is laid. In fact, the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York five years ago was first broached at the GM Meetings. Brian Cashman arrived in Phoenix yesterday and spoke to reporters about a bunch of topics, some of them actually interesting. Here’s a recap, courtesy of Wally Matthews, Ken Davidoff, Mark, Feinsand, Barry Bloom, and Brendan Kuty.

  • On possibly re-signing David Robertson: “I would have no clue what his market value’s going to be. Certainly they would have an idea. They turned down the qualifying offer based on a lot of parameters, I’m sure, some of which have been discussions they’ve already had in the window that they’ve had the chance to have discussions. So it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell … We have not had any level of conversation about expectations of a multi-year deal. For whatever reason, they never presented anything to us, nor did we to them.”
  • On Robertson, the pitcher: “The one thing we do have a feel for is how good of a player he is, how good of a person he is, how great of a competitor he is. In the New York environment, he’s not afraid. He checks every box off. He came in behind Mariano Rivera. (It was a) seamless transition. That’s certainly no easy task. All those things obviously went into our level of comfort, despite being a reliever, of offering (the qualifying offer). Great deal of respect and obviously we’ll engage him now in the marketplace.”
  • On next year’s closer: “Right now, we don’t have to name a closer for 2015 yet. Let’s wait and see how the negotiations take with David before I start trying to worry about who that is going to have to be. We’ll have somebody closing games out in 2015. We hope whoever it is is the best candidate possible. We have some people you can give that opportunity to if we’re forced to internally, but let’s wait and see where the conversations take with David first and go from there.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda‘s future: “I’ve talked to his agent. Kuroda’s process is he takes the early portion of the winter to relax and get his mind clear, and then at some point, kicks in about making a decision about playing — playing in the states, playing in Japan. I think he’s probably still going through that mental cleansing process. But I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play. Let him make a decision first and foremost. We’ll see what kind of money we have and all those things. But I think anybody looking for a starter should have an interest in Hiroki Kuroda.”
  • On possibly re-signing Chase Headley: “We’ve had a brief conversation. Chase is on our radar, but I think he’ll be on a lot of radars just like Robertson, just like (Brandon) McCarthy. These guys have all put themselves in a position to have successful conversations this winter. We’ll be a part of the process, whether we’re the ones they re-up with or not, I can’t predict. We’re certainly looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”
  • On re-signing Chris Young: “(Analysts) Steve Martone and Mike Fishman pushed for me to sign Chris. They felt, from an analytical standpoint, his year wasn’t as bad as it played out, that there was a potential bounce-back situation with it. We signed him up on what we think is a fair-market value, fourth-outfielder type contract. We wanted a right-handed bat with power, which doesn’t exist much in the game anymore, it seems like. He fit that category. Our coaches are comfortable with him, he played well in the small sample that we had him in September, so he certainly earned the right to come back, and I’m glad that we both were able to find common ground.”
  • On Stephen Drew and the shortstop market: “I don’t think this past season reflects what (Drew’s) true ability is. Stephen is someone that we’ll have a conversation with. Scott Boras has been in touch, we’ll stay in touch and see where it takes us … I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited. It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”
  • On the outfield: “I think right now, we’re kind of settled in the outfield unless something surprising happens in the case of a trade, which I wouldn’t anticipate. So I think we’re currently pretty well set with our outfield. Obviously we have a desire to get younger as a team.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s health: “Tanaka’s a question mark. Typically, the problems occur in the throwing program, when they get back on the mound in the rehab process. If you can get through that, and the rehab games, he should be okay. Obviously, he got through two Major League starts. So that gives us hope. But there’s no guarantee.”
  • On Carlos Beltran‘s elbow: “I have no concern about Beltran’s health, (though) we probably should have had him have the surgery early on. Unfortunately, the health issue came up and we chose the route that let him fight through it and have him fight through it. In hindsight, we probably should have let him have the surgery early on. But he’s a tough guy.”
  • On CC Sabathia: “Sabathia’s supposed to be fine. He had a knee cleanup. It’s just really, can he ever regain pitching at the front end of the rotation versus what we saw in the last year and a half? But he’ll be healthy.”
  • On the coaching staff: Cashman said they are still in the process of interviewing candidates for both the hitting coach and first base coach jobs. They have not made anyone an offer for either position yet. It’s been one month and one day since Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher were fired.

Curry: David Robertson declines qualifying offer

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, David Robertson declined the one-year, $15.3M qualifying offer prior to today’s 5pm ET deadline, according to Jack Curry. The Yankees will get a supplemental first round draft pick should their closer sign elsewhere as a free agent this winter. They won’t get the pick if they re-sign him. Last we heard, the two sides were not particularly close to a deal.

Robertson, 29, has been as good as any non-Craig Kimbrel relief pitcher in baseball these last four years, so of course he declined the qualifying offer. This is by far his best (and possibly only) chance to get a huge free agent contract. Sure, accepting the $15.3M qualifying offer would have made him the highest paid reliever in baseball history, but that’s on a one-year deal. Robertson is likely to get a multi-year contract worth twice the guaranteed money on the open market.

The Yankees did not make Hiroki Kuroda the qualifying offer, which surprised me a bit. Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley were not eligible to receive the qualifying offer because they were traded at midseason. A total of 12 players received a qualifying offer this winter and all are expected to declined now that Michael Cuddyer signed with the Mets.

Free Agent Updates: Lester, Scherzer, Sandoval, Shields, Robertson, Headley, McCarthy

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees officially extended the $15.3M qualifying offer to David Robertson yesterday but declined to make the offer to Hiroki Kuroda. If Robertson signs elsewhere, the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation. Hopefully that pick will be able to pitch high-leverage innings in 2015. Anyway, here are some various free agent updates and rumors, courtesy of George King, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman, and Brendan Kuty.

  • The Yankees “have no plans to pursue” big name free agents Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Pablo Sandoval this winter. There’s been talk the  team would stay away from the top of the free agent market, but this could always be posturing. The Yankees don’t have much to gain by saying they’ll pursue these guys. It only creates more leverage for the players.
  • David Robertson said things are “quiet on the front” when asked if he and the Yankees have had any talks about a new contract. At least six teams already have interest in the right-hander, which is not surprising. Big market contenders like the Tigers, Dodgers, and Nationals all need help in the late innings.
  • The Yankees are focused on re-signing Chase Headley and have already started contract negotiations. That doesn’t mean they’re close to a deal, of course. Headley has said he’s open to returning to New York as long as he isn’t a part-time player. The presence of Alex Rodriguez may complicate things.
  • In addition to Headley, the Yankees also want to re-sign Brandon McCarthy and they plan to “aggressively” engage him in contract talks. There’s no word if the two sides are currently discussing a deal. McCarthy is arguably the fourth best free agent starter behind Lester, Scherzer, and Shields, so he’ll be a popular target this winter.
  • David Huff‘s agent Jim McDowell has spoken to the Yankees about next season and said the “feedback was really positive.” Huff is not a free agent; he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time and is projected to earn only $700k next year. He’s still a non-tender candidate despite the affordable projected salary.