Archive for J.R. Murphy
These last few years I’ve posted my annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List the Friday before pitchers and catchers report, which would be this coming Friday. I’m going to be out of town these next few days though, so I’m going to push the Top 30 back to next Thursday, the day before pitchers and catchers are supposed to show up to Tampa. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then:
- Marc Hulet at FanGraphs posted his list of the top ten Yankees prospects today. C Gary Sanchez sits in the top spot (duh) and then the usual suspects fill out the next nine slots. I really feel like you could put those nine guys in almost any order and it would be defensible. There isn’t much separation there.
- Keith Law (Insider req’d) posted a list of ten players who just missed his top 100 list last week, and C J.R. Murphy is one of the ten. Law says he “looks like a solid-average everyday catcher, probably not more, but not a whole lot less. His game management skills are exceptional, from game-calling to reading hitters to understanding situations.”
- MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, meanwhile, posted some players who missed their top 100 list this year but could make the jump in the future. RHP Rafael DePaula is one of those guys, and Mayo says he “has the chance to have three average or better pitches and could start moving fast.”
- Baseball America’s Ben Balder reports that the Yankees spent $2.45M on international players during the 2013 calendar year, seventh lowest in baseball. That’s a function of the spending restrictions more than anything. Note that the $2.45M spans two signing periods (2012-13 and 2013-14), so it doesn’t tell us how close they are to their 2013-14 pool.
- In another FanGraphs piece, David Laurila interviewed Murphy about his development as a catcher. “I was not very good when I was drafted. I’ve come a long way,” he said. Murphy also talked about learning to call a game and his approach as a hitter.
- Danny Wild at MLB.com interviewed 3B Eric Jagielo, the first of the Yankees’ three first round picks in last summer’s draft. It’s a pretty generic Q&A, though Jagielo did talk about what he learned from a rehabbing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in Tampa last year.
- Here’s a fun Sporcle quiz: name every Yankees prospect to make Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list over the years. I got 72 of 93 and didn’t miss anyone obvious. Not sure I would have gotten the last 21 with unlimited time.
- And lastly, Triple-A Scranton is holding a fun promotion this summer. Donnie Collins says August 8th will be “What If Night,” when they will play as the Trolley Frogs instead of the RailRiders. Trolley Frogs inexcusably lost a fan vote to Railriders when the team was renamed prior to last season.
One day after posting his top 100 prospects list and two days after posting his organizational rankings, Keith Law released his top ten prospects lists for each of the 15 AL clubs today (East, Central, West, subs. req’d). The NL will be released tomorrow, if you care. Here are the Yankees’ top 11, according to KLaw:
- C Gary Sanchez (68th on the top 100)
- OF Tyler Austin (85th)
- OF Mason Williams (87th)
- C J.R. Murphy
- OF Slade Heathcott
- OF Aaron Judge
- LHP Ian Clarkin
- 3B Eric Jagielo
- RHP Luis Severino
- 1B Greg Bird
- RHP Jose Ramirez (Law said he is #11 in the write-up)
Judge is mentioned as a breakout candidate (video link) who could jump not just into the top 100 next year, but into the top 25 with a strong season.
In his write-up, Law says Murphy is “going to be an every-day catcher for somebody” while Bird’s “patience/power game could make him a second-division regular down the road.” Severino might not stick as a starter long-term but his “three-pitch mix might be three pluses out of the pen, and it’s a grade-65 or 70 fastball [on the 20-80 scale] even in the rotation.” Law also quotes a scout who said Heathcott is “legitimately a crazy person,” which is kinda funny. The kid always seems to have his dial set to 11.
“The Yankees have to be excited about Venezuelan catcher Luis Torrens, whom they signed for $1.3 million in July 2012,” added Law, picking Torrens as the organization’s sleeper prospect. “A new convert to catching, Torrens took to it extremely well, with plus hands and plus defense overall, with a good swing and feel at the plate, only lacking power but likely hitting for average with good OBP when he develops.”
Sanchez is the clear top prospect in the organization right now. I’m not sure anyone will disagree with that. After him though, there really isn’t much separation between the guys Law has ranked from two through about eight. You can rank those players in almost any order and it would be tough the argue. Either way, the Yankees need better results from their minor league system and that starts with rebound seasons from guys like Austin and Williams. Both will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, so hopefully that 40-man roster spot serves as a nice carrot this summer.
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have signed catcher J.R. Murphy to a one-year contract worth $502,700 at the MLB level. I assume it’s a split contract that will pay him a lower salary in the minors, which is typical for players in their pre-arbitration years. The league minimum is an even $500,000 this coming season.
Murphy, 22, hit .269/.347/.426 (~117 wRC+) with 12 homers in 468 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He made his big league debut in September but is expected to return to Triple-A Scranton to open 2014. Murphy still has all six years of team control remaining and can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season at the earliest. The Yankees have 20 unsigned pre-arb players remaining, but they’ll all get done very soon and chances are most of those deals won’t even be made public.
Pitchers and catchers are not due to report for another 27 days, but pre-spring workouts are already underway at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa. Based on their Twitter feeds, a whole bunch of prospects are already in Florida preparing for the upcoming season. Here are some minor league notes courtesy of Chad Jennings. These are the major points, so make sure you click the link for all the info.
- OF Slade Heathcott had minor knee surgery earlier this offseason and may not be ready for the start of Spring Training. It has not yet been decided if he will return to Double-A Trenton or move up to Triple-A Scranton this year.
- Two of last year’s first rounders, 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Aaron Judge, could start the year with High-A Tampa or Low-A Charleston. No decision has been made yet. 2B Gosuke Katoh will be held back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June.
- RHP Ty Hensley (hips) and LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) are both healthy and ready for Spring Training. They were on normal throwing programs this winter. It is undecided where Hensley and LHP Ian Clarkin will open the season.
- C J.R. Murphy is staying behind the plate and will not see time at third base this year. “He’s a high caliber defender at a premium position … he’s turned out to be a very good catcher,” said VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman.
- OF Tyler Austin, meanwhile, will spend time at both infield corners in addition to his usual right field this season. “We’re going to maintain some of that flexibility with him,” said Newman.
- C/3B Peter O’Brien is considered a catcher and will remain there. He played third base quite a bit last year, but that was experiment that didn’t really work.
- All of the minor league affiliates announced their coaching staffs in recent weeks. Rather than repeat them all here, I’ll just link you to the press releases: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A. If you’ve been following the farm system long enough, some names will be familiar. Lots of ex-prospects are coaches now.
I’ve been milking the mailbag teet during the holidays, but posting will be back to normal next week. This week’s (final) mailbag is eight friggin’ questions long. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything.
Shane asks: Recently, a report came out saying that the Yankees can dip under $189M midseason. It only matters where you finish. Would this method work in 2013? I know the luxury tax was in the $175M range but who could they have traded to dip below the $175M in 2013? Would this be at all possible by trading Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda and not trading for Alfonso Soriano? How close could they have gotten to that number?
Joel Sherman wrote an article earlier this week suggesting the Yankees could conduct a sell-off this summer if they’re not contending in an effort to get under $189M, but that would really surprise me. They didn’t spend $300M+ this winter (and counting) to hold a midseason fire sale. Sherman seems really hell-bent on the whole $189M idea.
Anyway, the Yankees finished last season with a $234,227,890 payroll for luxury tax purposes, so getting under the $178M threshold would have meant selling off at least $56,227,890 (!) worth of players in season. That seems damn near impossible, but let’s look anyway. To make the math easy, let’s assume the firesale happened at the exact midpoint of the season. Here’s what they would have had to do to get under the luxury tax threshold:
- Not trade for Soriano: $6.7M saved
- Trade Granderson: $7.5M saved
- Trade Kuroda: $7.5M saved
- Trade Robinson Cano: $7.5M saved
- Trade Phil Hughes: $3.575M saved
- Trade Ichiro Suzuki: $3.125M saved
- Trade Boone Logan: $1.575M saved
- Trade David Robertson: $1.55M saved
- Trade Joba Chamberlain: $0.9375M saved
- Trade Shawn Kelley: $0.4675M saved
- Trade Jayson Nix: $0.450
Add all of that up and they would have saved … $40.88M. Still another $16M or so to go, not counting the salaries they would have had to pay to replace all the players they traded, which would add up to a few million even if the replacements were earning the minimum. I guess they could have traded Andy Pettitte ($6M saved) and Mariano Rivera ($5M saved), but even that would have left them short. Same deal with trading CC Sabathia ($12.2M saved) or Mark Teixeira ($11.25M saved), but moving those two would have been very hard because they stunk and were hurt, respectively. Plus they have no-trade clauses. I don’t see any way the Yankees could have realistically gotten under the $178M luxury tax threshold in 2013 through a midseason firesale.
Cameron asks: Managers and coaches sign contracts like players, but when a coach underperforms we always see them get fired in the middle of a contract. However, when a player underperforms or becomes an issue (obviously the extreme example being Alex Rodriguez), they never get “fired” or let go. The team just has to deal with it or try to trade them. Is there a difference in the contracts that doesn’t allow that? Do teams still have to pay the remainder of a manager’s salary when they get fired?
Well, I suppose releasing or designating a player for assignment is like firing them, and that happens all the time. Obviously cutting ties with a lower salary player is easier to swallow, and the same is true of managers or coaches. And yes, teams absolutely still have to pay managers and coaches if they’re fired in the middle of the contract. The only real exception is if the guy leaves for a pormotion — the Yankees don’t have to pay ex-bullpen coach Mike Harkey after he left to become the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach, for example. That’s a mutually agreed upon thing.
Travis asks: Just thinking outside the box, I’m sure he has never played there before, but could Carlos Beltran be cross-trained at first base to help alleviate some position issues and create more roster flexibility?
Sure, it’s possible, but I think first base is tougher than most people realize. Whenever I think about moving a player to first late in their career, I always remember Gary Sheffield looking like he had never played baseball in his life when the Yankees stuck him there in late 2006. Teixeira still has three years on his contract and I assume Brian McCann will put in some side work at first base, but if he’s up for it, there’s no reason not to have Beltran take ground balls and learn the position. I would be surprised if he was still an outfielder in the final year of his three year contract, so having first base as a possibility would unclog that seemingly inevitable DH logjam.
Jeff asks: Looking back on Cano’s time with the Yankees made me remember that he kind of came out of nowhere without a lot of hype. Do you see anyone in the Yankees system flying under the radar right now or could have a breakout year? Will we ever see anyone emerge and have success like Cano and Chien-Ming Wang did or do we know too much about the team’s system?
Nova fits into this category as well. Heck, I don’t think I ever ranked him on one of my Preseason Top 30 lists. As long as Major League Baseball is being played, there will be guys who come out of nowhere to be big contributors*. Some of them will even be Yankees. Baseball is weird like that.
* To be fair, Cano and Wang were well regarded prospects. The Yankees didn’t give Wang a $1.9M signing bonus back in the day out of the kindness of their hearts. Both guys simply became better big leaguers than expected, Cano especially.
Among the guys in the system now, I think Peter O’Brien and Rob Refnsyder have a good chance of exceeding expectations. O’Brien’s power is legit and Refsnyder is one of those major college program “he just knows how to hit” players. Guys with power and guys who consistently put up strong offensive numbers tends to get plenty of chances. Among the arms … maybe Daniel Camarena? I’ve always liked him and command lefties with a good changeup seem to stick around forever as long as they’re healthy.
Dave asks: There’s been a lot of talk of the Yankees’ lack of a third baseman. I feel like people seem to have forgotten that J.R. Murphy was once a catcher/third baseman a few years back. Do you think there’s a chance the Yanks move him back there now that McCann is the catcher going forward and hope that he (Murphy) can become an offensive-minded infielder?
There was talk about moving Tyler Austin from right field and back to third base at this time last year, but unlike Murphy, that was a move up a defensive spectrum that would have improved Austin’s value. Moving Murphy out from behind the plate fills a more pressing need but makes him less valuable overall. Murphy has reportedly made a lot of progress defensively and he’s now seen as a lock to remain at the position long-term. His bat really came around last year as well. There is always a need for quality catchers and I’d keep Murphy behind the plate. If nothing else, he’s more valuable in a trade that way.
Anthony asks: Even though he was offered less total money, Shin-Soo Choo will earn more in Texas than he would in New York because of the income tax. For the Yankees to guarantee him equivalent earnings, they would have had to raise the value of their initial offer, thus incurring a larger hit against the luxury tax/payroll cap if the contract was agreed upon. Doesn’t this seem a bit unfair for teams living in states with an income tax? Will MLB do anything about it?
Well, the team makes a conscious decision to be over the threshold and pay the luxury tax, so that’s not MLB’s problem. I don’t know if they still do it (I assume they do), but I know at one point MLB cut checks to the Blue Jays each year to make up for the difference in exchange rate. That’s a unique situation though.
I don’t think MLB will or should do anything about the income tax situation. It’s just one of those things that comes with having teams all around the country. Should MLB step in because the weather in San Diego has helped the Padres sign some players over the years? What about all the guys who come to New York because they think they can get better endorsement deals? The income tax situation is unfortunate for the Yankees but they have their own market advantages as well. MLB should stay the hell out of government matters, it’s not their place (cough cough).
This is weird, because I think Huff is both more in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot but also more likely to be on the Opening Day roster than Cabral. He’s out of minor league options and if he’s still around in camp, his September work last year could give him a leg up on the second lefty/swingman role. Cabral can go to Triple-A without a problem and sometimes that work against a guy. Make sense? Either way, I’m certain we’ll see Cabral on the team at some point in 2014.
Jamie asks: Asked a question about the differences in WAR on various sites two weeks ago. With that being said, if you had to pick two numbers for a position player (offense and defense — OPS+, WAR, UZR, etc.) and one for a pitcher (ERA+, WAR, etc) that best rated their value, which would it be and why?
WAR, particularly bWAR, is the easy answer for pitchers. It is based on actual runs allowed (not theoretical runs allowed/FIP like fWAR) with adjustments for ballpark, league, team defense, etc. If I can only pick one stat for hurlers, that would be it.
On the position player side, I’d go with wRC+ and DRS. I don’t love UZR and Total Zone, which basically eliminates fWAR and bWAR. I’d want an adjusted-for-pretty-much-everything offensive stat, hence wRC+, and I prefer DRS to the other defensive stats. In a perfect world, I’d have access to all of them. But since I’m limited to one, DRS it is. Ultimately, the best way to evaluate a player is to look at everything, every stat plus scouting reports plus the eye test. The more information, the better.
By Winter Meetings standards, Monday was pretty slow. Most of the top free agents have signed already, and until we get some resolution regarding Masahiro Tanaka, the pitching market will remain relatively quiet. The Yankees are still looking for a starter even after re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, plus they need some bullpen help and either a second or third baseman. Oh, and general depth. That’s always necessary.
Here are yesterday’s Yankees-related rumors. The most notable thing we learned is that New York’s asking price for Brett Gardner is “through (the) roof” while rival executives think he’ll fetch a number three starter at best. His value is greater to the Yankees than it is anyone else, really. We’ll keep track of the day’s rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All times at ET.
- 9:18am: The Yankees want to import two relievers and they’ve been discussing Joaquin Benoit internally. Matt looked at him earlier today. [Bob Nightengale]
- 5:46pm: The Yankees have not yet shown much interest in left-hander Paul Maholm as a back of the rotation stopgap. [McCullough]
- 5:39pm: Unsurprisingly, Ichiro has a “limited trade market, maybe very limited.” The Yankees want to move him and keep Gardner. [Heyman]
- 3:00pm: The Yankees are one of three teams to inquire about Dustin Ackley. He’s a buy-low second base candidate. Like the idea but not sure how salvageable he is. [Jon Heyman]
- 2:08pm: “Signing one might be easier than trading for one,” said Cashman, referring to the market for starting pitchers. Not surprising given the team’s trade chips. [Chad Jennings]
- 1:57pm: Cashman confirmed other teams have inquired about Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy, and Ivan Nova in addition to Gardner and others. [Andy McCullough]
- 1:49pm: “I have thrown a lot of trade proposals out there, as well as conversations with free agents,” said Cashman while adding he’s unsure if these talks will actually lead to anything. [Barbarisi]
- 1:38pm: The Yankees have not had any trade talks about their spare outfielders (i.e. Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) with the Giants. [John Shea]
- 1:28pm: Brian Cashman called Kevin Youkilis‘ agent to gauge his interest in returning, but Youkilis wants to play closer to his home in California. Funny, I want him to do that too. [Jack Curry]
- 12:17pm: The Yankees do have interest in re-signing Mark Reynolds. Alfonso Soriano is the team’s only right-handed power hitter, so Reynolds would fit in a limited role. [David Waldstein]
- 11:52am: The Yankees and others have interest in Danny Espinosa, but the Nationals are balking at moving him right now. I looked at him as a buy-low target back in August. [Ken Rosenthal]
- 11:45am: There is nothing going on between the Yankees and Mets about Daniel Murphy at the moment. I looked at him as a potential trade target last month. [Andrew Marchand]
- 8:24am: The Yankees are “very much interested” in Michael Young and have also checked in on Juan Uribe, Eric Chavez, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Talks with Garza and Ubaldo are not serious. [Erik Boland & Steven Marcus]
- The Yankees did contact the Reds about Homer Bailey. It’s unclear what they were offering or what Cincinnati was seeking in return. Gardner makes an awful lot of sense here. Two underrated players both one year away from free agency and the Reds needs a leadoff man/center fielder. [Dan Barbarisi]
- Other clubs do not think highly of New York’s outfield prospects and that limits their ability to make trades. “The Yankees have no upper-level talent,” said a Cubs official after the Yankees asked about Jeff Samardzija. [Joel Sherman]
Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.
Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You’ll need a subscription to read them. The name atop the list won’t be a surprise, but things are pretty wide open after that. They could have gone in any number of directions. Here’s the top ten:
- C Gary Sanchez
- OF Slade Heathcott
- OF Mason Williams
- C J.R. Murphy
- 3B Eric Jagielo
- OF Aaron Judge
- LHP Ian Clarkin
- 1B Greg Bird
- RHP Luis Severino
- 2B Gosuke Katoh
The feature also includes a list of the organization’s top 15 players under the age of 25 and none of the 15 are big leaguers. Can’t say I’m surprised. Those ten guys up there are the top ten and are followed (in order) by LHP Manny Banuelos, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Jose Campos, and RHP Rafael DePaula. I suspect those guys will be prospects 11-15 when the Prospect Handbook comes out in a few weeks. The notable omission is OF Tyler Austin, who had an okay year but dealt with injury problems, specifically a bone bruise in his right wrist. It forced him from the Arizona Fall League after only four games. His stock took a hit this summer.
Sanchez, who has “effortless, well-above-average raw power and an above-average hit tool,” is an easy call for the top spot, especially now that his defense has improved. After him? I don’t see how there could be a consensus. I think it’s somewhat interesting that the top three prospects all have some kind of makeup concern — Sanchez was suspended for insubordination in 2011, Heathcott has had drug an alcohol problems, Williams was arrested for DUI earlier this year and has had run-ins with coaches — despite the team’s renewed emphasis on character. In the end, talent always reigns supreme. Can’t teach it.
A few things from the write-ups stand out. Williams “adopted an Ichiro-style slapping approach” this year and didn’t show the same tools as he had last year. Like Austin, he took a step back. The Yankees project Murphy as a “potential future .280 hitter with 10-12 homer power” while Sanchez is regarded as more of a “.260-.270 hitter with at least 20 home runs annually.” Both profiles fit just fine behind the plate. As for Bird, “some scouts and SAL managers questioned his future power” despite his awesome year. The plate discipline and everything else is fine, but low-power first baseman aren’t exactly a hot commodity. Severino is said to have “raw stuff that is as good as any Yankees farmhand” with a fastball that “sits between 93-95 mph and touches the upper 90s often.” His slider was his best secondary pitch when he signed but his changeup has since surpassed it. Neat.
Heathcott and Murphy are the only players in the top ten slated to open next season with Triple-A Scranton, and I suppose there’s a chance Heathcott will be sent back to Double-A Trenton to start the year. That’s unlikely though. The Yankees didn’t have any big league ready help this past season and for the most part, that will be the case again in 2014. Their farm system took a slight step back overall but not as big as it would have been without those three first rounders. The team needed to add some impact talent and it did with that draft. Most of their highest ceiling prospects are in the low minors — the short season leagues — and will need time to develop.
Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees used a franchise record 56 players this season. Fifteen of those 56 players appeared in no more than ten games, which isn’t much of a surprise. The last spots on the bench and in the bullpen were revolving doors all summer. Most of those miscellaneous players were awful, enough to help push the Yankees out of the postseason picture. Here are the worst players to walk through those revolving doors.
The signs were there, we just didn’t want to see them. The Yankees released the 26-year-old Adams in Spring Training to clear a 40-man roster spot for Vernon Wells (!), but no team took a chance on him and New York re-signed him to a minor league contract a week later. When Kevin Youkilis went down with his inevitable back injury, Adams got a chance to play third base on a regular basis. Things went quite well at first — 13-for-44 (.295) with two homers in his first eleven games — but they crashed in a hurry. Adams fell into a 4-for-51 (.078) slump and wound up back in Triple-A before resurfacing later in the season. Overall, he hit .193/.252/.286 (45 wRC+) in 152 plate appearances, though he did play solid defense at second and third bases. Adams had a pretty great opportunity this summer, but he couldn’t capitalize.
Almonte, 24, got his chance when the Yankees finally got sick of Wells and benched him in mid-June. Zoilo’s big league career started out well — he had three hits (including a homer) in his first start (video), reached base three times the next day, then doubled twice the day after the that — before he cooled off and got hurt. Almonte put up a .236/.274/.302 (55 wRC+) line with the one homer and three steals in 113 plate appearances before an ankle sprain effectively ended his season in mid-July (he did return in late-September, but played sparingly). The fun was short-lived.
You may not agree, but I think Boesch was a pretty significant loss this past season. The 28-year-old managed a .275/.302/.529 (124 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 53 sporadic plate appearances and appeared to be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, but he was sent to Triple-A Scranton when Curtis Granderson came off the DL (the first time). He lasted a little more than a week in the minors before suffering what proved to be a season-ending shoulder injury. The Yankees released him in mid-July when they needed a 40-man spot. Had Boesch been healthy, there’s a good chance he would have been given the opportunity to play everyday following Granderson’s second injury considering how poorly Ichiro Suzuki hit for a good part of the summer. Boesch is a flawed player but his lefty pop would have been useful. For shame.
Bootcheck, 35, emerged as the ace for Triple-A Scranton this past season (3.69 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 136.2 innings) and he managed to appear in one game with the big league team. On June 14th, he allowed one run on two hits and two walks in 1.1 innings against the Angels. Bootcheck got his chance because Adam Warren threw six innings of relief (in the 18-inning game against the Athletics) earlier on the road trip and wasn’t going to be available for a few days, so the team needed a replacement long reliever. He was designated for assignment at the end of the trip when Warren was again available.
Is it possible to be a poor man’s Brendan Ryan? Do those exist? If they do, I nominate the 27-year-old Brignac. He was with the Yankees from mid-May through mid-June, during which time he showed off a slick glove and hit an unfathomable .114/.133/.136 (-38 wRC+) with 17 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. Brignac played 15 games in pinstripes and he reached base multiple times in only one of them. It was ugly.
For a few weeks, Claiborne looked like the next great homegrown Yankees reliever. He started his big league career with 14 straight walk-less outings and allowed just one run in his first 20 innings in pinstripes. Claiborne, 25, had settled into a seventh inning setup role, but he allowed 13 runs and 38 base-runners in his next 25.2 innings and earned a trip back to Triple-A. When he resurfaced in September, he allowed nine runs and four homers (!!!) in five innings. Fatigue was the oft-cited excuse for his fade, but Claiborne threw only 61.1 innings in 2013 after throwing 82 innings in 2012 and 81 innings in 2011. It’s possible, sure, but I have a hard time buying it. Claiborne finished the season with a 4.11 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 50.1 innings, but outside of those first 14 appearances, he was very untrustworthy.
Cruz, 29, was the team’s fifth different starting shortstop in their first 84 games, but he actually wound up playing more games at third (13) than short (five). An all-glove, no-hit type like Ryan and Brignac, Cruz hit .182/.224/.200 (13 wRC+) in 59 plate appearances while playing excellent defense after being picked up off the scrap heap. He was the best non-Ryan infield defender the team employed this past season, I thought. Cruz’s season came to an end in late-July thanks to a knee sprain, and the Yankees eventually designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Reynolds.
Remember Eppley? He was actually on the Opening Day roster, believe it or not. His terrible Spring Training (12 runs in eight innings) carried over to the regular season, where he allowed four runs in 1.2 innings before being sent to Triple-A Scranton when Phil Hughes was ready to come off the DL in early-April. Eppley, 28, continued to stink in Triple-A (18 runs in 19 innings) and was eventually released to clear a 40-man spot for Claiborne. He was a nice middle relief find for the Bombers last season, but things went so wrong this year that he was pitching in an independent league by August.
The Yankees took a “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” approach to filling their right-handed outfield bat spot, eventually settling on the 32-year-old Francisco. He was released by the Indians in Spring Training and managed to beat out guys like Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera. Francisco lasted 48 team games, hitting .114/.220/.182 (13 wRC+) in 50 plate appearances overall while going 3-for-34 (.088) against southpaws. On the bright side, he did hit the team’s shortest homerun of the season. I guess that’s something. The Yankees designated Francisco for assignment on May 26th, when they claimed David Huff off waivers from the Tribe.
Gonzalez, 30, had two stints with the Yankees this season. He appeared in three games in mid-May and ten more from late-June through mid-July. The Former Attorney General went 6-for-34 (.176) in his limited time, but he did go 2-for-4 with a double and three runs driven in during a game against the Twins on July 2nd (video). Gonzalez also offered a nice glove, though not as nice as Brignac’s or Ryan’s.
Yes, Ishikawa was a Yankee this season. They nabbed the 30-year-old off waivers in early-July, watched him go 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on seven total pitches in his only game in pinstripes, then designated him for assignment to clear a roster spot for Derek Jeter, all in the span of six days. When’s the Yankeeography?
Joseph, 25, had two stints with the big league team in 2013, going 1-for-6 with a double, a walk, and a strikeout while starting both ends of a doubleheader against the Indians in mid-May. His season ended later that month, when he needed surgery to repair his shoulder. The Yankees removed Joseph from the 40-man roster last week, though he remains in the organization.
Part of that left side of the infield circus, the 30-year-old Lillibridge spent a little more than three forgettable weeks in pinstripes in late-July and early-August. He went 6-for-37 (.171) with eight strikeouts while playing okay defense in eleven games with the team, though unlike many other guys in this post, he did have the proverbial One Big Moment. On July 23rd against the Rangers, after Eduardo Nunez tripled in the tying run against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, Lillibridge singled in Nunez for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run (video). He drove in a run with a fielder’s choice earlier in the game. Lillibridge was designated for assignment when Alex Rodriguez came off the DL.
This was a really bad year for Marshall, who had a poor season with Triple-A Scranton (5.13 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 138.2 innings) and didn’t stand out in his three-appearance cameo with the big league team. The 23-year-old allowed six runs and 21 base-runners in a dozen garbage time innings, walking as many batters as he struck out (seven). He did manage to save the bullpen by holding the Red Sox to one run in 4.1 innings during a blowout loss in one of those appearances, however. Marshall also got to pitch in front of his family near his hometown in Houston during the final game of the season (video), so that was neat.
Miller, 31, struck out 92 batters in 63.1 innings down in Triple-A this past season (3.55 ERA and 3.22 FIP), but he got hammered in his only big league game, allowing three runs to the Red Sox in a four-out appearance on September 7th. The Yankees were desperate for bullpen help at that point and he was a warm body. Apparently the team saw something they liked though, because they re-signed Miller to a minor league deal recently.
The 2013 season was an overwhelming success for the 22-year-old Murphy, but not because of his big league performance. He hit .269/.347/.426 (117 wRC+) across two minor league level before joining the Yankees in September, when they added him to the 40-man roster because he was going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season anyway. Murphy went 4-for-26 (.154) in 16 games during his late season cameo and looked fine defensively.
Neal, 26, was the organization’s #Free[RandomGuy] this past season. You know what I mean, right? The random Quad-A player sitting in the minors who would be so much better than whoever they have at the big league level if they’d only give him a chance! Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, Neal put up a .325/.391/.411 (130 wRC+) in 297 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton before going 2-for-11 (.133) with really bad defense during a four-game cameo in pinstripes in mid-June. He was designated for assignment when Granderson came off the DL (the second time) and was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Cubs.
Nelson was something of a pioneer this past season. He was the first of many players the Yankees acquired in an effort to solidify the left side of the infield, coming over from the Rockies in a minor trade in early-May. Nelson, 28, played ten games in pinstripes, all at third base, and went 8-for-36 (.222) with eleven strikeouts at the plate. He actually went 0-for-10 in his first three games and 8-for-26 (.308) in his last seven. The team designated Nelson for assignment when they called up Adams, and he was then claimed off waivers by the Angels. Naturally, Nelson returned to the Bronx with the Halos in mid-August and hit two homers (including a grand slam) in one game against the Yankees. Go figure.
I wish I had kept track of home many times Zagurski warmed up but did not appear in the game in September. The guy was up every game it seemed. Zagurski, 30, spent most of the year bouncing between organizations before getting the call as an extra lefty late in the season. In his only appearance with the team, he faced three batters and allowed two runs. That appearance made him the franchise-record 56th player used by the Yankees in 2013. Let us never talk of this season again.
The offseason has yet to really get underway, but there has already been talk of the Yankees going on a big spending spree to address their many needs this winter. I’m not sure where that money is coming from after putting together my most recent payroll breakdown, but that’s besides the point. New York has been connected to a ton of free agents so far, both big names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo and secondary players like Eric Chavez and Omar Infante. Needless to say, they’re getting around.
Free agency is the easiest way to address needs but it’s not the only way. The Yankees could also explore the trade market, a trade market that will reportedly feature high-end starters like Max Scherzer and David Price, young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and pretty much everything in between. The trade market is like free agency — there’s a solution for every roster problem available if you’re willing to meet the asking price.
Therein lies the rub: the Yankees can’t meet too many asking prices these days. Not won’t meet asking prices, can’t. They don’t have many tradeable commodities either on the big league roster or in the farm system, and last winter’s Justin Upton trade talks showed how that can handicap them. The Diamondbacks reportedly did not like the prospects New York had to offer, so the young, power-hitting outfielder signing to a reasonable contract went to the Braves instead.
“I just don’t see it,” said one rival executive to Andy McCullough when asked whether the Yankees had the prospect inventory to swing a major trade this offseason. “I’m not excited about any of them making an impact next year,” added another evaluator while discussing the team’s top prospects while describing them as “solid guys, but not stars.”
The Yankees do have limited trade commodities right now but they aren’t completely devoid of marketable players. Some are just more marketable than others, or, as Brian Cashman likes to say, no one is unavailable but some are more available that others. Here’s a highly subjective rundown of New York’s best trade chips. Remember, at the end of the day, a player’s trade value is only as great as the other team’s evaluation of him.
Best Chip: Ivan Nova
In my opinion, Nova is the team’s best trade chip at this point in time. He turns 27 in January and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years. Ivan has not yet put together a full, productive season from start to finish, but he’s had stretches that make you think he could be very good if things ever completely click. It’s also worth noting Nova has thrown at least 150 innings every year since 2010 and at least 130 innings every year since 2008. Teams do value the ability to take the ball every fifth day.
Nova’s trade value is not as great as it was a year or two ago because he’s entering his arbitration years and is no longer dirt cheap, like league minimum dirt cheap. His projected $2.8M salary in 2014 is still a relative bargain, but trading for a guy owed $15M or so over the next three years isn’t as desirable as trading for the same guy when he is owed $16M or so over five years. This isn’t Nova’s fault obviously and getting three cheap years of a durable right-hander is still pretty awesome, but his years of team control are ticking away and he’s yet to really establish himself as … anything. He’s still a question mark.
Rentals: Brett Gardner and David Robertson
Both Gardner and Robertson are due to become free agents next winter, meaning they’re just rental players. Both will earn reasonable salaries next year — Gardner is projected for $4M, Robertson for $5.5M — and they both have their limitations on the field. Gardner is a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t steal as many bases as people think he can. Robertson is a late-inning reliever, meaning you’re only get 65 or so innings out of him. He’s a very good late-inning reliever of course, but one year of a reliever usually doesn’t fetch a huge package in return. The Yankees could flip these two for solid prospects or a similar rental player, but they’re not going to get that elite prospect or young big leaguer with several years of control remaining.
Warm Bodies: David Phelps and Adam Warren (maybe Vidal Nuno)
There will always be a market for cheap and young pitching. Phelps and Warren have four and five years of team control remaining, respectively, and they’ve had varying levels of success in the show. They’re far from established but have shown they belong in some capacity, either as back-end starters or relievers. Nuno has six full years of control left but is basically a complete unknown at the big league level. He is as close to ready as a pitcher can get, however. Every team needs cheap young arms to fill out a staff, but these guys are okay second and good third pieces in a significant trade, not centerpieces. Far from it.
Prospects: Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy and Rafael DePaula
Baseball has become a young player’s game these last five or six years or so, but I think we’ve reached the point where prospects and (especially) draft picks are being overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important and you need them to succeed, but they’re being valued higher than established big leaguers and that isn’t always the case. Not even close.
Anyway, Sanchez and Murphy are probably the Yankees’ two best prospect trade chips because a) Sanchez is their very best prospect, and b) Murphy is a big league ready-ish catcher. Quality young catchers are very hard to find and teams have consistently shown they will overpay — either in trades or by reaching in the draft — to get their hands on one. DePaula is the team’s best pitching prospect but he’s still in Single-A ball. Heathcott had an up-and-down season in Double-A but has a lengthy injury history. High ceiling but also high risk. Sanchez and Murphy could headline a package for a non-star player, but Heathcott and DePaula are closer to throw-ins in the grand scheme of things.
Suspects: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Jose Ramirez
Injury of ineffectiveness — Austin, Williams, and Ramirez all had down 2013 seasons for one of those two reasons. Sometimes both. They’re basically buy low candidates, prospects with considerable ceilings who either need to get healthy or fix their mechanics or have their attitude adjusted. If I was another club and talking trade with the Yankees, these are the guys I would be asking for as the final piece in a trade package. Take a shot on one without the deal hinging on their success. There are too many question marks for any of them to be the top guy in a deal for an established big leaguer at this point. I just don’t see how another club would go for that.
Baseball America wrapped up the Yankees-relevant portion of their league top 20 prospects series yesterday, posting the Double-A Eastern League (no subs. req’d). SS Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox), 3B Miguel Sano (Twins), and RHP Noah Syndergaard (Mets) make up the top three of a generally star-studded list.
C J.R. Murphy was the only Yankees farmhand to make the cut, and he ranked 18th. The 22-year-old hit .268/.352/.451 (116 wRC+) with six homers in 211 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton this summer before being bumped up to Triple-A Scranton (117 wRC+ in 257 plate appearances) and eventually finishing the season in the big leagues.
“Scouts now seen him as a potential regular catcher as his defensive chops have improved,” said the subscriber-only write-up. “He has a line-drive stroke that he uses to spray balls to all fields …. Managers around the league noted how well Murphy handled Trenton’s pitching staff and consistently ranked him as one of the better catch-and-throw guys in the circuit … His solid-average arm is accurate and aided by a quick transfer.”
Neither OF Slade Heathcott and OF Tyler Austin did not make the list, obviously. In the subscriber-only chat, Josh Norris said “there were significant questions about [Heathcott's] plate discipline, makeup and being injury-prone,” while “most evaluators I surveyed only thought of [Austin] as a fourth-outfielder type.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. OF Ramon Flores simply doesn’t have enough power to be considered a top prospect, Norris added.
All of the Yankees-relevant lists have now been posted: Rookie Gulf Coast League (six players ranked), Short Season NY-Penn League (one), Low-A South Atlantic League (one), High-A Florida State League (two), and Triple-A Intentional League (zero). The rankings actually do a pretty good job of summarizing the state of the team’s farm system. Lots of interesting talent at the lower levels but nothing at the upper levels to help the team in the immediate future, either as trade bait or by stepping into the roster. System in a nutshell.