Greg Bird and the temptation to manipulate service time

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

As it stands right now, Greg Bird will likely open the 2016 season with Triple-A Scranton. Brian Cashman said that’s “the optimal” outcome, mostly because it means everyone got through Spring Training healthy. An injury to Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez would land Bird on the Opening Day roster. Otherwise he doesn’t make much sense for that final bench spot because he lacks versatility.

Bird turned 23 earlier this offseason and he is so very clearly the Yankees’ first baseman of the future. He mashed during his brief MLB cameo last year (137 wRC+) and Teixeira’s contract is up after the season. It’s not hard to see where this is going. The Yankees are trying to get younger and create more financial flexibility, so replacing the aging and expensive Teixeira with the younger and cheaper Bird makes total sense. It’s a no-brainer.

There is still a season to be played between now and then though, and in 2016 it seems like Bird is destined to wait things out in Triple-A with the RailRiders. He’ll come up when there’s an injury and he’ll surely be up when rosters expand in September, but otherwise there’s no obvious role for him next year. A pure backup first baseman/DH is not something you find on the bench these days. Dustin Ackley will back up Teixeira for the time being.

“The thing you always have to measure is is it more important for him to play everyday, or play a couple days a week,” said Joe Girardi during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “And I think you also have to let Spring Training play out to see how things work out for us before you make a decision. There’s been talk he might go back to Triple-A. Let’s let us get through Spring Training because things a lot of time have a way of ironing out.”

Getting stuck in Triple-A is unfortunate for Bird — for what it’s worth, he’s said all the right things about his situation (check out this video interview) — but it could benefit the Yankees long-term. For starters, it’ll give Bird a chance to play every single day and work on some things, particularly his defense and ability to handle lefties. Southpaws chewed him up down the stretch in 2015.

There’s also the service time aspect, which is complicated and yet oh so simple at the same time. With enough time in Triple-A next year Bird’s free agency will be delayed from the 2021-22 offseason to the 2022-23 offseason. Doing that is a no-brainer, right? The system is broken and teams are rewarded with an extra year of control by leaving their top young players in the minors juuust long enough.

At the same time, I would hope the Yankees would put Bird’s service time situation on the back burner next year. If Teixeira or A-Rod gets hurt and Bird is the best option to replace them, then he should be called up to help the team win. Right? Right. Bird accrued 53 days of service time last year, meaning he’ll have to spent about 65 days in the minors in 2016 to delay free agency. Two months. That’s it.

The Kris Bryant situation really brought to light the silliness of the service time rules. It couldn’t have been more obvious he was big league ready in Spring Training, and yet the Cubs sent him to Triple-A for two weeks to start the season, delaying his free agency. They made up some dumb excuse about working on defense. Bryant clearly was ready to help Chicago, yet, at the same time, the Cubbies would have been stupid not to send him down for those two weeks to gain the extra year of control.

The Yankees are in a slightly different situation with Bird. Bryant had to go down for two weeks. Bird has to go down for two months. Good health and good production from Teixeira and A-Rod would make that possible, and really, it would be best for the Yankees for that to happen. They want Teixeira and A-Rod healthy and productive and they want the extra year of Bird. It would be the best of both worlds.

What happens if Teixeira or A-Rod gets hurt? That’s where it gets tricky, and I guess it depends on the timing. If they get hurt early in the season, calling up Bird is the obvious move. But, if it happens later in the summer, say when Bird is a week or two shy of having his free agency delayed, then what? The temptation to keep him down just a bit longer would be mighty strong. And again, who could blame the Yankees?

Either way, Bird is in position to become a core player for the Yankees long-term. The team has only had four primary first basemen over the last 32 years — Don Mattingly (1983-95), Tino Martinez (1996-2001), Jason Giambi (2002-08), Teixeira (2009-present) — and Bird looks like he could take over the position for the next decade. That’s pretty exciting.

The Yankees have plenty of money, so Bird’s service time situation is not critical. This isn’t a small market team that needs to do whatever they can to keep their best young players. Bird’s service time is worth keeping an eye on though. As much as it would suck for Bird, keeping him in Triple-A those 65 or so days in 2016 would be very beneficial to the Yankees.

The Good, the Bad, and the Funny of 2016 ZiPS Projections

2016 ZiPS

Yesterday morning, 2016 ZiPS projections for the Yankees were released over at FanGraphs. There are an awful lot projection systems out there but ZiPS has emerged as the most reliable — especially when it comes to translating minor league or overseas performance — of the bunch. Dan Szymborski’s system is pretty rad.

Anyway, projections are always fun to look at, though you have to take them with a grain of salt. (Those are the WAR projections in the image above.) Remember, projections are not predictions of what the player will do next season. They’re just an attempt to estimate the player’s current talent level. Got it? Good. Here are some Yankees projections that caught my eye for one reason or another.

Aaron Judge

Judge has maybe the most LOL worthy projection, and I mean that in a nice way, not a ZiPS is stupid way. The system him pegs him for 30 home runs … and a 35.0% strikeout rate. That’s just perfect. Judge still has some work to do to combat soft stuff away and I think if the Yankees did stick him in the show right now, he would strike out 30% of the time or more. Then again, 30 dingers! That’s fun. No other Yankee projects for 30 homers.

Greg Bird

In terms of OPS+, Bird projects as the best hitter in the organization right now. ZiPS has him at .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) with 26 dingers in 2016. Mark Teixeira (119 OPS+) and Alex Rodriguez (115 OPS+) are the only other players close to Bird. I can buy this. Bird showed a lot of Yankee Stadium friendly pull power in his cameo this year (eleven homers in 46 games) though I do worry teams will LOOGY the hell out of him. Then again, the only non-Yankee lefty starters in the AL East right now are David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore. Not exactly Murderer’s Row of southpaws there aside from Price.

Starlin Castro vs. Rob Refsnyder

Projection for Castro: .274/.310/.405 (98 OPS+) with 2.2 WAR. Projection for Refsnyder: .248/.318/.395 (98 OPS+) with 1.9 WAR. That’s basically the same! I’m not sure if I buy that though. I’d bet on Castro outproducing Refsnyder by a pretty decent margin if given the same playing time. There’s also the “they acquired Castro because they think he’s going to get a lot better” thing. Either way, the objective projection system sees Castro and Refsnyder as basically equal.

Oh, and by the way, ZiPS projects a .253/.310/.415 (100 OPS+) batting line for Dustin Ackley next season. Am I the only one who would sign up for that right now, no questions asked? Ackley’s hit .238/.298/.365 (89 OPS+) in his last 1,900 plate appearances.

No Innings

ZiPS projects Masahiro Tanaka to lead the Yankees in innings with … 157.7. Yikes. Luis Severino is second with 154 innings. That just reflects the rotation’s health concerns — injury history is baked into the ZiPS algorithm — which are significant. After all, CC Sabathia led the team with only 167.1 innings this past season, so having no one reach even 160 innings next year would not be the most surprising thing in the world.

The Yankees need some arms. We’ve known this for weeks. This starting staff is risky as hell. Lots of upside and lots of downside, and when four of the five projected 2016 starters missed time with injuries in 2015, the downside outweighs the upside.

The Bullpen Shuttle

In terms of FIP, the best projection among the various bullpen shuttle relievers belongs to … Nick Goody at 3.68. Jacob Lindgren (3.73 FIP) is right there with him. Everyone else is at a 4.00-ish FIP or above. Lindgren and Goody lead the way with 29.5% and 27.3% projected strikeout rates, respectively. We all know about Lindgren, he was the top draft pick who zoomed to MLB, but Goody had a ridiculous 2015 season in the minors (1.59 ERA and 2.06 FIP with 33.2 K%). He might be getting overlooked as a potential bullpen factor in 2016.

The Comps

ZiPS works by comparing players to others with similar statistical profiles, so it spits out a list of comps for each player. The No. 1 comp is included in the FanGraphs post and I always enjoy these because they have a way of knocking you back down to Earth. Take Severino, for example. His No. 1 comp? Kris Benson. Benson was the first overall pick in the 1996 draft and a pretty big prospect back in the day.

Glancing at the list, Dellin Betances is the only Yankee to get a Hall of Famer as his No. 1 comp (Goose Gossage). Well, Pete Kozma drew a Leo Durocher comp, but that’s Leo Durocher the light-hitting infielder and not Leo Durocher the Hall of Fame manager. Andrew Miller drew a Billy Wagner comp and you could argue Wagner’s a Hall of Famer. Bird got a Roberto Petagine comp. Judge? He got Jesse Barfield. Gary Sanchez drew Todd Zeile and Eric Jagielo drew Mark Reynolds. Matt Nokes as the No. 1 comp for Brian McCann gave me a good laugh.

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

Velasquez. (Presswire)
Velasquez. (Presswire)

After a long day with few rumors, the Yankees swung a trade last night, sending Adam Warren and a player to be named later (Brendan Ryan) to the Cubs for Starlin Castro. It didn’t come out of nowhere like so many other Yankees’ deals, but it did come together pretty quick. It went from rumor to trade within an hour or so. The on-the-fly rebuild continues.

“It isn’t part of our DNA to accept that full-blown commitment to a rebuild,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “Ownership’s comfort level is walking that tightrope, rather than tearing it down and living to fight another day. The public stated goal is to get younger and compete for the championship every year. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Here are Monday’s and Tuesday’s open threads. Once again, we’ll keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related hot stove rumors from the Winter Meetings right here in this post. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:30am: Following the trade yesterday, Cashman confirmed the Cubs asked about Brett Gardner early in the Starlin Castro trade talks, but that wasn’t happening. He also said Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge have not been offered in any deals this offseason. [Joel Sherman, Tyler Kepner]
  • 10:30am: “Hopefully I can do some things to add to our depth,” said Cashman, specifically about the pitching staff. He did not rule out free agents but did acknowledge trades are more likely. “I’ve been busiest on the trade front … If it’s old and expensive, we did not check on that.” [Erik Boland, Marly Rivera, Mark Feinsand]
  • 10:30am: Tyler Flowers, who was connected to the Yankees earlier this week, signed a two-year deal with the Braves yesterday. Cashman also confirmed they did check in with Ben Zobrist earlier this week, though his first choice was the Cubs. [Bob Nightengale, Ken Davidoff]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have shown an interest in Astros righty Vincent Velasquez. Houston has interest in Andrew Miller and Velasquez could be part of the package. However, there’s some thought the Yankees would flip Velasquez to the Marlins for Marcell Ozuna. [George King]
  • 10:30am: Several teams have called about Justin Wilson, including the Tigers. Hey, if Miller is available, there’s no reason Wilson shouldn’t be as well. Whether the Yankees are comfortable trading both end game lefties is another matter. [George King]
  • 10:42am: Brett Gardner remains available but nothing is close at the moment. Nothing’s changed after the Castro pickup. [Jon Heyman]
  • 12:47pm: The Yankees are talking to the Dodgers and Astros about Andrew Miller. Houston’s been on Miller for a while now, and the Dodgers lost out on Aroldis Chapman earlier this week. In terms of performance plus contract, Miller is by frickin’ far the best available reliever right now. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 2:17pm: The Yankees did circle back and ask the D’Backs if they still had interest in Andrew Miller following their recent Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller pickups. Arizona seems to be in a very generous mood, so why not ask? They had interest in Miller earlier this offseason. [Joel Sherman]
  • 5:21pm: As expected, Cashman confirmed Justin Wilson is indeed available. “If we are willing to discuss Andrew Miller, we are willing to discuss Justin Wilson,” he said. [Marly Rivera]
  • 5:46pm: The Yankees are still getting a ton of hits on Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. Cashman continues to say they’re open to anything, but added “it’s more likely than not we’ll have the same dynamic duo” next year, meaning Miller and Dellin Betances. [Bryan Hoch, Erik Boland]
  • 5:48pm: Cashman admitted the Yankees don’t have a whole lot money to spend this winter. “It’s accurate to say flexibility is limited currently because we’re committed to a lot,” he said. So annoying. [Pete Caldera]
  • 5:50pm: The Yankees do expect to lose someone in the Rule 5 Draft tomorrow. Jake Cave’s a safe bet. Apparently they’re also considering taking someone. They do have two open 40-man roster spots. A reliever and/or a spare infielder capable of playing third base are solid bets. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 6:01pm: The team’s interest in Tyler Flowers was limited to a non-roster invite. Flowers’ response to the offer: “Hell no.” So there you go. Cashman said the team wants to “unleash” Gary Sanchez. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 6:32pm: There’s a rumor going around that the Yankees have traded Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two prospects, but Cashman shot that down for the time being. “I don’t know what the reports are but I don’t have anything to talk about,” he said. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 6:38pm: The Yankees are “talking seriously” about trading Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two prospects, but nothing is done yet. Sounds like it’s only a matter of time. [Joel Sherman]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Fernandez. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

As far as the Yankees are concerned, yesterday was the slowest Winter Meetings day I can remember. Very few rumors came out of Nashville and those that did mostly involved stuff we’ve already heard, like Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller being available. It was a boring day, to say the least.

“Clearly, I’m not comfortable with recommending anything that’s come my way, despite a lot of dialogue, and my opponents are not comfortable with the things I’m suggesting at this time,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. With a reportedly tight payroll, the Yankees continue to focus on trades, not free agents.

Here are Monday’s rumors if you missed any of the little bit that happened. Once again, we’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this open thread, so make sure you check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:30am: The Yankees are among the teams “digging” on Jose Fernandez, meaning they’re asking around about his health, makeup, and work ethic. The Marlins understandably want five or six young players for their ace. Why ask for anything less? For what it’s worth, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said flatly “He’s not available.” [Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, Clark Spencer]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have interest in Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Miami has liked Bryan Mitchell as a starter and Adam Warren as a reliever in the past, which seems backwards, but whatever. It’s the Marlins. [George King]
  • 10:38am: The Yankees have reached out to free agent catcher Tyler Flowers, who was non-tendered by the White Sox last week. He’s deciding between the Yankees, Rays, and Braves. I wrote about Flowers in last week’s mailbag. He seems like a Yankees type because he rated as an elite pitch-framer in 2015. Flowers is from Georgia and the Braves offer way more playing time potential, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands in Atlanta. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 12:03pm: Five teams, including the Reds, Orioles, and Angels, have their eye on Jake Cave for Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Cave seems like a goner. Whether he sticks on the 25-man roster all year is another matter. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 1:00pm: The Yankees are willing to include Luis Severino in a package for Jose Fernandez. The belief is the Yankees do not have enough to land Fernandez though, even if they include Greg Bird in the deal. [Joe Frisaro]
  • 1:32pm: The Yankees say Luis Severino is not going anywhere. He wasn’t in their offer for Jose Fernandez and there are no ongoing talks. Sounds like the Marlins are trying to get the Yankees to blink and include Severino in the package, more than anything. [Joel Sherman]
  • 5:50pm: The Yankees and Cubs have talked about a trade that would bring Starlin Castro to New York. No word on any other pieces that would be involved. Castro’s young and I guess that means he offers upside, but he’s also been among the worst players in baseball two of the last three years. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 6:08pm: Brett Gardner is not part of the current Starlin Castro talks with the Cubs. The Cubbies don’t want Jacoby Ellsbury either. Chicago is said to be working on all sorts of stuff — they’re after Ben Zobrist, discussing Javier Baez with the Braves and Rays, etc. — so this is part of some master plan for them. [Joel Sherman]
  • 6:14pm: Talks with the Cubs about Starlin Castro are in the early stages. The Yankees tend to keep things very close to the vest, annoyingly so at times (it’s boring!), so chances are this is coming from the Cubs’ side. [Jon Heyman]
  • 6:37pm: The Cubs have “been curious” about Adam Warren, whatever that means. Warren’s not a sexy name but he’s become incredibly valuable to the Yankees. I’m not sure Castro is enough of an upgrade at second base to move him. [Joel Sherman]
  • 7:51pm: The Yankees and Cubs are moving closer to a Starlin Castro trade. The Cubs just agreed to sign Ben Zobrist so it’s only a matter of time until Castro goes. [Buster Olney]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Fun with Statcast: Where does each Yankee hit the ball the hardest?

Carlos Beltran
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This past season, MLB and MLBAM made Statcast data available to the public for the first time. Things like spin rate and batted ball velocity were suddenly right at our fingertips. The info as presented still lacks context — I have no idea if a 96.8% route efficiency is good or bad or average — but it’s a start. More information is a good thing.

Batted ball velocity is an interesting one because intuitively, the harder you hit the ball, the better. There’s something to be said to having the ability to place the ball in a good location, but hitting the ball hard is a positive. There’s a pretty strong correlation between exit velocity and BABIP. From Rob Arthur:

Exit Velocity BABIP crop

The averaged batted ball velocity in the AL this season was approximately 88.7 mph. The Yankees as a team had an 88.6 mph average exit velocity, but that doesn’t help us much. The individual players are most important, so we’re going to look at them. Specifically, we’re going to look at where each Yankee hit the ball the hardest, which for our purposes means 100+ mph. That sound good?

Before we start, it’s important to note exit velocity by itself is only so useful. Things like launch angle are important — it’s possible to hit a 100+ mph infield pop-up, for example — but there still hasn’t been a ton of research in that department. We’re going to keep it simple and just look at the pitch locations of the 100+ mph batted balls by each Yankee this past season. Got it? Good. So with a big assist from Baseball Savant, let’s dive in. (Click any image in this post for a larger view.)

Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran 100mph

Beltran led the Yankees with exactly 100 batted balls with a 100+ mph exit velocity in 2015. Seventy-eight of them came against right-handed pitchers, which makes sense since 71% of his plate appearances came as a left-handed batter. Those numbers are in line with each other.

There isn’t much data against southpaws, so that doesn’t tell us a whole lot, other than Beltran liking the ball over the plate. The pitch locations against right-handed pitchers is far more interesting. Beltran hit away pitches the hardest this past season. Almost all of his 100+ mph batted balls as a lefty batter came on pitches in the middle of the zone or away. There’s very few on the inner half.

Beltran is not an extreme pull hitter from the left side but he definitely doesn’t use the field a whole lot — only 20.3% of his batted balls as a lefty were to the opposite field in 2015. He pulled 45.2% and the other 34.5% went back up the middle. He’s able to do that despite hitting away pitches harder than inside pitches. Interesting! Being able to hammer outside pitches is cool, but would taking slight step back away from the plate better allow him to cover the inner half?

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez 100 mph

A-Rod was second on the team in 100+ mph batted balls with 92. It appears he hits the ball the hardest in the lower half of the strike zone, and he also does a better job driving balls on the outer half of the plate, which is also interesting. Pulling inside pitches is anecdotally a good way to create exit velocity.

Chase Headley

Chase Headley 100 mph

Headley was third on the team with 69 batted balls of 100+ mph, so yeah, the gap between Beltran and A-Rod and everyone else was massive. Twenty-five of Headley’s 69 100+ mph batted balls, or 36.2%, came as a right-handed batter, which matches up with his plate appearance split (31% as a righty).

Again, the “vs. LHP” plot doesn’t tell us much because there’s not a ton of data, but wow, look at the “vs. RHP” plot. Headley loves down and away pitches, huh? Or at least that’s where he hit the ball the hardest in 2015. He didn’t drive anything — and by drive I mean hit a ball 100+ mph — up in the zone or in the inner half. So far the data has been the exact opposite of what I expected. I figured we’d see most 100+ mph batted balls on pitches up and/or in.

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira 100 mph

If not for the shin injury, Teixeira would have been among the team leaders in 100+ mph batted balls, if not the leader outright. He had 66 of ’em. Teixeira has that big long swing from both sides of the plate so he loves outside pitches. The vast majority of his 100+ mph batted balls came on pitches on the outer half if not off the plate entirely. Let Teixeira extend his arms and he can do major damage.

Brian McCann

Brian McCann 100 mph

Another outer half guy. The Yankees have all these pull hitters and yet most of them seem to hit outside pitches the hardest, and McCann is no exception. He tied Teixeira with 66 balls in play at 100+ mph. It’s amazing to me McCann and the other guys can reach out and pull a pitch that far away from them with such authority. So if you want to limit hard contact, I guess the best way to pitch these guys is inside? That sounds a little weird given their pull tendencies, but the pitch location plots don’t lie.

Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner 100 mph

Okay, this is more like what I expected. Gardner is an all-fields hitter and the majority of his 53 100+ mph batted balls came on middle-middle pitches. There are a few on the inner half and a few on the outer half, but in general, Gardner hit the ball the hardest when it was right down the middle. That makes perfect sense. Brett’s not a brute masher like most of the other guys ahead of him in this post. He makes the hardest contact on mistake pitches over the plate.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury 100 mph

Ellsbury had 46 batted balls register 100 mph or better and, like Gardner, most of them came on middle-middle pitches. He did some more damage on down and away pitches and less on inside pitches than Brett, but generally the pitch locations are similar. These two aren’t power hitters. The pitcher has to give them something in the heart of the plate for them to really drive it.

Didi Gregorius

Didi Gregorius 100 mph

Ellsbury had one more 100+ mph batted ball than Gregorius in 77 fewer plate appearances. Didi is another guy who does most of his damage on pitches out over the plate, but he also showed the ability to reach out and drive pitches on the outer half this past season. Well beyond the outer half too. Gregorius had a handful of 100+ mph batted balls on pitches off the plate. Pretty crazy.

The Yankees worked with Didi this summer and in June or so he seemed to make a concerted effort to use the opposite field more often. His plot of 100+ mph batted balls ostensibly reflects that approach.

Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley 100 mph

This plot covers Ackley’s entire season, not just his time with the Yankees. He had 47 total 100+ mph batted balls in 2015, including nine with the Yankees. Ackley has tremendous natural hitting ability, and although it hasn’t shown up in the stats yet, he does a good job of covering the entire plate based on the plot. He hit balls 100+ mph that were in, out, down, middle-middle … basically everywhere but up, which doesn’t appear to be uncommon.

I am really curious to see a full season of Ackley next year, and not just because of this plot. Getting away from the Mariners and into hitter friendly Yankee Stadium is one hell of a change of scenery for a talented left-handed hitter.

Greg Bird

Greg Bird 100 mph

Bird wasn’t around very long this past season but his 35 batted balls with a three-figure exit velocity were ninth most on the team, ahead of guys with (many) more plate appearances like Chris Young (30) and Stephen Drew (24).

Based on the pitch location plot, Bird does his most damage on pitches down in the zone, which sorta jibes with opponents trying to beat him upstairs with fastballs all the time. I don’t think Bird has an uppercut swing, or at least not an extreme one like McCann or Teixeira, but the lower half of the strike zone is his wheelhouse. He can go down and golf pitches.

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks 100 mph

Hicks, who so far is the Yankees’ only notable pickup of the offseason, had 35 batted balls of 100+ mph last season. As a right-handed batter, he was all about the low pitch. He could really go down and drive low pitches with authority from the right side of the plate.

As a left-handed batter, Hicks had the hardest contact on pitches middle and away. Not so much inside. That is his weaker side of the plate, historically, but being a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium comes with some perks. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Yankees and the hitting coaches do with him next season. There are reasons to believe Hicks is on the verge of really breaking out.

* * *

The Yankees had a bunch of other guys on the roster this past season who are still with the team, but they didn’t hit many 100+ mph batted balls at all. That group includes Rob Refsnyder (seven 100+ batted balls), Slade Heathcott (seven), Brendan Ryan (four), and Mason Williams (three). Click the links in parentheses for each player’s pitch location plot, if you’re interested.

Brian Cashman on starting Greg Bird in Triple-A: “That’s the optimal”

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

I wouldn’t call it a problem, but one of the biggest questions heading into the 2016 season is how Greg Bird fits the roster. The Yankees have Mark Teixeira at first base, Alex Rodriguez at DH, and another DH candidate in Carlos Beltran. Bird is a first baseman (and DH) only, and his lack of versatility doesn’t fit the bench.

“That’s the optimal,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff and Bryan Hoch when asked about Bird starting next season in Triple-A. “Not for Bird, but optimally period, that would be the best. Currently, Tex is the better player … If Alex went down, we could swing Carlos over from right field to DH … Currently (Bird is) blocked by some pretty significant players. It creates a great dynamic.”

That is basically CashmanSpeak for “we just have to wait for Teixeira or A-Rod to get hurt.” He can’t come out and say it, but I’m sure that’s what the Yankees are thinking. Stash Bird in Triple-A for a few weeks, let him work mostly on his defense, then call him up when the need inevitably rises. Teixeira and Rodriguez aren’t all that durable these days, after all.

Bird, 23, hit .291/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 46 games with the Yankees this past season after taking over at first base following Teixeira injury. He really struggled against lefties in September and was passable at first base, but not an asset. Bird is very clearly the heir apparent to Teixeira, whose eight-year contract expires next winter.

Like I said, this isn’t a problem. Have too many good players is a good thing. Stashing Bird in Triple-A is a short-term measure, that’s all. It’s temporary. We’ll see him again at some point next year. It’s inevitable.

Reports: Yanks are “shopping everyone,” including Miller

(Tim Bradbury/Getty)
(Tim Bradbury/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are very active on the trade market early this offseason. At the very least, it appears they are gauging interest in all their players. “Sounds like the Yankees are shopping everyone,” said one executive to Rosenthal, “with the exception of (Luis) Severino.”

Jon Heyman hears Andrew Miller‘s name is being circulated, though it’s unclear how serious the Yankees are about moving him. Heyman says the asking price would be a pretty high as well. A top of the rotation starter or a significant package of players. Miller doesn’t have a no-trade clause and had forearm problems this year, remember.

“We’re open to all ideas — as always,” said Cashman to Heyman when asked about Miller’s availability. “It doesn’t mean I’d do anything but if the Dutch never asked the Indians for Manhattan you’d be living in New Jersey.”

I can’t help but imagine a scenario in which the Yankees trade Miller for a stud pitcher — Heyman speculates the potentially available Stephen Strasburg might be a match — then flip some prospects for Craig Kimbrel to take over as closer. That would be pretty damn sweet. Too good to be true, really.

On paper, this is one of the best free agent markets in years, though the Yankees seem likely to be more active on the trade market due to limited roster and financial maneuverability. They don’t have a ton of open roster spots and they didn’t shed any big contracts after the season. It’ll take a payroll bump to add a significant free agent.

Last offseason the Yankees surprisingly traded Shane Greene and Martin Prado in separate trades. I mean, we all know pretty much anyone can be traded at any time, but I can’t imagine many folks expected Greene and Prado would be moved. The Yankees needed rotation help and they need infield help, yet they still dealt away a starter and an infielder.

“I’m open to anything. I’m always open to anything. I’m not afraid,” said Cashman to Rosenthal. “You have to be pretty aggressive and open to trade a good young pitcher under team control (Greene), a left-handed prospect (Manny Banuelos), or a guy like Prado who fits you like a glove.”

Cashman acknowledged he doesn’t “anticipate Severino, (Greg) Bird, and (Aaron) Judge being traded,” but again, he wouldn’t rule anything out. I wouldn’t either. The Yankees tend to run a very tight ship too. Moves often come out of nowhere. “I’m open to having dialogue, no matter what. Dialogue is a good thing,” added the GM.

The GM Meetings take place this week in Boca Raton, and while some deals may go down, historically this week has been more about laying groundwork and having preliminary talks. The idea of the three-team Curtis Granderson trade was first broached at the GM Meetings back in November 2010, but the deal itself wasn’t completed until a few weeks later at the Winter Meetings, for example.

I looked at the Yankees’ trade chips last week. An extra starter like Michael Pineda or Ivan Nova seems like a candidate to be traded, though who knows. The Yankees have pitching depth but they could use more quality pitching, if that makes sense. Also, second base and bench help figures to be on the agenda. We’ll see.