Hot Stove Notes: Cecil, Cespedes, Napoli, Holliday, Moss

Cecil. (Elsa/Getty)
Cecil. (Elsa/Getty)

One week from today the 2016 Winter Meetings will begin at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, DC. Will MLB and the MLBPA agree to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before then? I sure hope so. The current CBA expires Thursday. If they don’t hammer out a deal, the baseball world could come to a standstill. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous bits of hot stove news.

Yankees had interest in Cecil

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees were in on lefty reliever Brett Cecil before he signed with the Cardinals last week. St. Louis gave him a four-year deal worth $30.5M. Goodness. Sherman says the Yankees never did make Cecil a formal offer, though they did talk parameters with his representatives. What they player wanted, what the team was willing to do … that sort of that stuff.

Cecil, 30, had a 3.93 ERA (3.64 FIP) in 36.2 total innings around a lat injury this past season. He had stellar strikeout (28.7%) and walk (5.1%) rates, though lefties managed a .254/.310/.364 batting line against him. You’d like your primary southpaw reliever to do a little better than that against same-side hitters. Although the Yankees didn’t present Cecil with an offer, their interest shows how seriously they’re looking for bullpen help. It’s not just to the top guys like Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. They’re zeroing in on the second tier free agents too.

Cespedes not in Yankees’ plans

The Yankees are not planning to pursue Yoenis Cespedes even though they have checked in with his representatives, reports Christian Red. Cespedes is arguably the best overall free agent on the market and he figures to land a hefty contract. The Yankees checked in just because they check in with everyone. It’s due diligence. How else are you going to find out whether a free agent is interested enough in your team to take a discount?

Cespedes, 31, hit .280/.354/.530 (134 wRC+) with 31 home runs for the crosstown Mets in 2016. The Yankees, who were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball this summer, could certainly use a bat like that in their lineup. They’re also trying to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point soon, plus they have a ton of talented outfield prospects in the upper minors, so a pricey corner outfielder is not a pressing need. It’s worth making the call to check in. Spending huge on Cespedes doesn’t seem wise at this point in time though.

Yankees have checked in with several bats

In addition to the usual cast of characters (Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, etc.), the Yankees have also checked in on other free agent bats like Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday, and Dexter Fowler, reports Jon Heyman. Napoli, Moss, and Holliday are all short-term DH candidates — or at least they should be — while Fowler figures to be more of a long-term addition.

With Brian McCann gone, the Yankees suddenly have an opening at DH for a big veteran bat. They’re said to be interested in a reunion with Carlos Beltran. If the Yankees are going to spend on a free agent bat, I would greatly prefer a short-term contract. Short-term as in one year. Napoli, Beltran, Holliday, and Moss make more sense for the Yankees right now than Cespedes or Encarnacion. Remember, the Yankees are still paying Alex Rodriguez. I’m not sure how eager they are to commit big money to another DH at the moment.

Mailbag: Jeter, Fowler, Clarkin, Hensley, Black

Seven questions in this week’s mailbag. If you want to send us something, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. We get a lot of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if yours is not answered.

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

Paul asks: What would happen if Derek Jeter decided he wasn’t retiring?

I think we all know what would happen. The Yankees would re-sign him to a contract similar to this year’s (one-year, $12M plus incentives) and he’d play shortstop everyday next season. I know it, you know it, Jeter knows it, the Yankees know it, everyone knows it. He has the organization wrapped around his finger.

What should happen? The Yankees should walk away if Jeter un-retires because their goal should be to put the best possible team on the field. Not the most marketable team, the team with the best chance to win. It’s hard to see how the Cap’n at shortstop accomplishes that at this point of his career. The upcoming free agent shortstop crop (Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera) is deep and there are better options. It’ll never happen though. Jeter’s going to retire after the season and this is all hypothetical.

Masamyhiro asks: I know it’s ridiculous but what’s the real limitation to NYY signing even more of the international free agents this year? Is it purely financial, do certain players prefer other teams, or do the Yanks simply believe that some of them won’t translate well to MLB? Following up on that, is there heavy recruiting in international free agency a la Masahiro Tanaka this past offseason, or do the kids simply follow the money?

It’s a combination of everything, really. Every team views these players differently and not all think they’re worth the money. The Latin American market is very secretive — teams find players when they are like, 13-14 years old, hide them at their academies and keep them out of sight from the other scouts. It happens all the time. You can’t spend money on talent you don’t get a chance to properly evaluate it. I suppose that’s similar to a Tanaka-esque recruiting pitch — many times these players will agree to sign years in advance, occasionally with under-the-table payouts up front. Remember, a lot of these kids live in poverty, and signing to play baseball is the best way to help their families. They jump on whatever money they can get.

Preston asks: What do you think of Dexter Fowler as a trade target? He would slot nicely into the 2 hole between Gardner and Ellsbury and would be signed through 2016.

That would be three no-to-low power outfielders for a team already short on power. I’m not sure it fits. Fowler is a switch-hitter who consistently gets on base (.377 OBP this year and .380 OBP from 2012-14) and is a 15-20 steal, 10-15 homer guy at his best. The defensive stats hate him in center and he has one inning in right field in his career. Giving up some prospects to get him for right seems like a poor fit for both the offense and defense to me. The on-base ability to awesome, but the current roster is begging for another power hitter, not another speedy leadoff type.

CS Yankee asks: Good to see that Ty is finally pitching again. How did Ian Clarkin and Ty Hensley compare when they were drafted? Who had the higher scouting grades, BP rankings, and how did you (Mike) rate them?

In my opinion, Clarkin was the better prospect at the time of their respective drafts. Hensley threw harder and they had similar quality breaking balls, but Clarkin’s changeup was much more advanced. He’s also left-handed, which is a plus. Again, that’s just my opinion. Here is how they were ranked by the various scouting publications in their draft years:

Keep in mind that they’re being ranked in different draft classes. The 2013 draft was generally considered to be stronger than the 2012 class, so Clarkin ranking higher than Hensley despite the tougher overall draft class pretty much confirms he was considered the better prospect at the time. That’s fine though, that doesn’t mean Hensley wasn’t a good prospect. He’s obviously been derailed by injuries, but taking him 30th overall was perfectly reasonable.

Black. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Black. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Sandeep asks: If Bud Black is let go from the Padres, should the Yankees look into finding a role for him? He seems to be one of the smarter baseball managers out there and I believe he’s often received praise on this site. What would his role be?

I like Black as a manager because he always seems to make good strategic moves — maximizing the platoon advantage, putting his players in good positions to succeed, etc. — whenever I watch the Padres. I have no idea what he’s like managing people in the clubhouse, though I doubt he would have remained on the job for 7+ years if players didn’t like him.

The Padres are terrible and they just fired GM Josh Byrnes, and there are rumblings even more moves will be made as the new ownership group cleans house and brings in their own people. Black is a pitching guy who played 15 years in the big leagues and was the Angels pitching coach under Mike Scioscia from 2000-06. Unless the Yankees were to fire Larry Rothschild (I don’t see that happening at all), I’m not sure where he’d fit in. Minor league pitching guru? Would he be open to doing that after being on a big league coaching staff for a decade and a half? I like Black based on what I’ve seen but I’m not sure there’s a role for him with the Yankees.

Pounder asks: With defensive shifts becoming more and more engrained, how will this affect the game in the long run? Will the “science” of hitting start to be taught among the lower levels of the sport, including Little League, high school and college? Could these shifts de-emphasize the power game as well, making Punch and Judy hitters more prevalent?

I’m pretty sure the art of hitting to all fields is taught at every level already, especially in the minors and in college. It’s up to the players to do it though, the coaching staff can only do so much. Some players refuse or are flat out unable to adjust — it drives me nuts whenever Michael Kay talks about a player refusing to go against the shift and act likes it’s a piece of cake. If it were take easy to hit the baseball exactly where you want, everyone would hit about .500 — or are simply at their best when they pull the ball. Brian McCann already has eleven opposite field hits this season after getting between 10-15 every year from 2009-13. He’s hitting against the shift more often, but is it doing him any good? At some point don’t you have to consider letting him go back to being himself?

Anyway, eventually hitters will adjust to the shift just like they adjusted to curveballs and sliders way back in the day. There will still be players who can’t beat the shift just like there are players who struggle against breaking balls. The game evolves and those players either adapt or get run out of the league. If anything this should make power hitters more valuable. If baseball is going to devolve into a league of singles hitters, the guys who can put runs on the board with one swing will be even more important. That’s just my opinion as a fan of the long ball. Trying to consistently score runs with extended rallies in an age of infield shifts and advanced scouting reports and specialized relievers strikes me as a fool’s errand.

Brian asks: Have we seen anything from the 6th, 7th and/or the 8th starters to indicate that the Yankees may have a long term answer amongst them?

Vidal Nuno (12), David Phelps (ten), and Chase Whitley (eight) have only combined to make 30 starts so far, so we haven’t seen a ton of them yet. (We have seen plenty of Phelps the last two years, obviously.) At this point, I think it’s fair to say Phelps has the best chance of being a starter long-term while Nuno has the smallest chance. He is left-handed though, a niche in the bullpen always awaits. I’m not quite sure what to think of Whitley yet, but I feel better about his ability to pitch in the big leagues in some capacity than I did three months ago. The one thing I know for certain is that I hope the Yankees never need all three of these guys in the rotation at the same time again in the future.