Via Ken Rosenthal: The Rangers have agreed to sign free agent reliever Joakim Soria to a two-year contract. Soria had expressed interest in setting up for the Yankees so he could be around idol Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees are very unlikely to offer anyone a two-year deal with offseason. Guaranteeing two years to a reliever coming off his second Tommy John surgery is pretty sketchy anyway. One year with a vesting option was my personal limit, but I’m not the one calling the shots.
The Angels have signed Ryan Madson to a one-year contract according to multiple reports, and the deal will pay the right-hander a $3.5M base salary. He can earn another $2.5M in roster bonuses (based on days on the active roster) and $1M in incentives (bases on games finished).
The 32-year-old Madson was one of two formerly-elite relievers recovering from Tommy John surgery on the free agent market this winter, joining Joakim Soria. Soria, 28, has indicated a willingness to setup for the Yankees just so he could be around his idol Mariano Rivera, and now we have an idea of what it would take to sign him. Soria is several years younger than Madson with a much longer track record in the closer’s role (saves pay) though, but he’s also coming off his second Tommy John surgery. It would be a pretty big coup if the Yankees could add him to their bullpen with a similarly structured contract, say a one-year deal worth $5M with another $3M in bonuses.
Just four questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us your questions throughout the week. A word of advice: I tend to write these things Thursday evening, so get your question in before then if you want me to answer it that week.
Nostradamus asks: I like the idea of Justin Masterson in pinstripes with his ground ball tendencies. If he can pitch close to his 2011 numbers he’d be a great pick-up. What would it take to get him? Maybe we can get Shin-Soo Choo in a package deal?
Masterson, 27, was awesome last year (3.21 ERA and 3.28 FIP) and kinda crappy this year (4.93 ERA and 4.16 FIP). In fact, if you look at his last four seasons, 2011 is the outlier, not 2012 — he pitched to a 4.63 ERA and 3.98 FIP from 2009-2010. The success last year came from a drop in walk rate (2.71 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) and a big drop in HR/FB (6.3%). Those two rates bounced right back up to his career norms — 3.58 BB/9 (9.2 BB%) and 9.9% HR/FB — this year, hence the 2009-2010-esque performance.
I think there’s a disconnect between what people think Masterson is and what he really is, but he’s still on the right side of 30 and has been pretty durable in recent years. His sinker is ridiculous (career 56.0% grounders), but he doesn’t have a changeup and lefties tend to hit him pretty hard (career .351 wOBA against). I can’t think of many pitchers like Masterson who have been traded two years prior to free agency, but he’s not someone I think the Yankees should go out of their way to acquire. I think the price will be inflated relative to his actual production. Add Choo on top of that and I’m not even sure the Yankees have to pieces to get it done. The Indians want pitching, pitching, and more pitching, and the Yankees don’t have enough to spare.
Jeff asks: With Ichiro Suzuki interested in coming back next year and the Yanks seemingly interested in Torii Hunter, could you see both on the Yanks next year? Hunter could play RF with Ichiro as the righty-hitting DH (like Raul Ibanez). Or would you rather see a DH who’s a infielder?
Well, in that case I would recommend playing Brett Gardner in center, Hunter in right, Ichiro in left, and Curtis Granderson at DH. I don’t think the Yankees would sign both guys though unless Ichiro came really cheap, like true fourth outfielder money. A million bucks or two, that’s it. Even then it would still be tough to squeeze all four of these guys into the lineup since Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter need semi-regular reps at DH. I’m not sure how Ichiro or Hunter would adjust to part-time work like that, so I’d prefer signing a DH who is used to being platoon bat and sitting on the bench for a while. It’s not an easy adjustment. Infielder or outfielder depends on whether or not Eric Chavez returns, really.
Patrick asks: So its been reported to Joakim Soria would be willing to set up his idol Mariano Rivera. Awesomeness. How much would you be willing to spend and are you overly concerned that he’s had to have TJ twice?
Yes, the second Tommy John surgery is a big concern. Tons of guys have it and the procedure is relatively routine, but only the first time around. The second time is much different. We culled together some data on two-time TJS guys at FanGraphs over the summer, and only pitchers we dug up who threw at least 300 innings after the second surgery were Doug Brocail, Chris Capuano, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Jason Frasor. Many other two-time TJS guys had more arm problems afterward, likely because there was something wrong (bad genes? bad mechanics?) that caused them to need the two elbow reconstructions in the first place. It’s also worth noting that a bunch of guys had the second procedure near the end of their careers, so they weren’t going to reach that 300-inning level anyway.
That said, Soria is a special pitcher because his track record is elite and he’s only 28 years old. He’s reportedly seeking a multi-year contract and that’s no surprise, but I don’t want to see the Yankees go more than one guaranteed year with him, especially if they’re serious about the 2014 payroll plan. A one-year deal ($4-6M?) with a club or even vesting option (based on appearances) would be ideal since it gives the club some protection in case he gets hurt again or just doesn’t pitch well. You can make the argument that it should be preferable for Soria since he’d be able to rebuild value and go back out on the market in search of a big contract next winter. If they guarantee him like $8M (salary plus buyout) and keep the deal to one guaranteed year, that would be perfect. Anything more would make me nervous.
Travis asks: So if A-Rod winds up having to DH a lot sooner than expected, is David Adams a legitimate internal option to play third base? My gut says no. Do you see the Yankees going after any free agent in particular to back up at third? Do they go after Chavez again? I’m worried about his durability if he sees increased workloads like he did last year.
Outside of Eduardo Nunez, who the Yankees say will stick to shortstop and only shortstop going forward, Adams is by far the team’s best internal hope for a third baseman. At least in the near future since guys like Dante Bichette Jr. and Miguel Andujar are way down in the low minors. It’s unlikely Corban Joseph can handle the position at the big league level and not because of his range or instincts or anything like that, he just doesn’t have the arm for it. That’s not an easy throw to make.
Adams could always hit, that was never really a question, but the injuries have been a problem these last three years. He missed an awful lot of time with the ankle problem and still hasn’t played a full, healthy season since 2009. I think there’s enough patience and bat control there for him to be a .280/.340 guy with doubles power in the show, maybe 10-15 dingers at his peak. Obviously that’s someone you’d rather have at second than at the hot corner, where teams typically expect more offensively. I think the Yankees will break him in as a utility man down the line, but for next year the plan probably involves bringing Chavez (or a similar player) back if he’s open to it.
Via Andrew Marchand: Right-hander Joakim Soria is willing to pitch as a setup man for the Yankees just so he could have an opportunity to play with Mariano Rivera, his idol. “If the Yankees call, we will be all ears,” said Soria’s agent, who has heard from eight teams so far. “If there is a fit, Joakim would be elated to work with Mo. He would close everywhere except there.”
Soria, 28, missed all of last season with his second Tommy John surgery, but was one of the game’s very best relievers prior to that. Marchand says the Yankees have not yet contacted Soria’s camp, but that’s not unusual this early in the offseason. New York has had on-and-off trade interest in the former Royals closer through the years and they were going to take him in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft before Kansas City beat them to the punch, so I imagine a phone call will occur at some point. The Yankees need relief help and landing Soria on a one-year, incentive-laden deal with an option for 2014 and the promise that he’s first in line to take over as closer following Rivera’s retirement would be a fantastic get.
Six questions but only four answers this week, the first official mailbag of the 2012-2013 offseason. Remember to please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar for all ‘bag related correspondence.
Anonymous asks: Should they decide to trade him, realistically what could the Yankees get for Curtis Granderson?
The Yankees officially exercised Granderson’s no-brainer $15M option earlier this week, and he’s due to become a free agent after next season. He’s hit .247/.337/.506 over the last three seasons and that seems like a decent approximation of his expected 2013 production. Maybe less if you really don’t like him and think strikeouts are the root of all evil. Granderson is a center fielder but not a good one, though he is definitely an above average player signed for one year.
Guys like that don’t get traded all that often, but we do have a decent sample over the last few years, most notably Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham, and Dan Uggla. Granderson is somewhere between Willingham (traded for two prospects, one being an MLB-ready reliever) and Gonzalez (three prospects, two being top 100 guys), which at least gives us a reference point rather than just guessing. He won’t fetch a Carlos Gonzalez type (like Holliday), but I think the Yankees could realistically demand two good prospects for Granderson in a trade. Two guys in a club’s top ten prospects list, for example. Preferably at least one of them would be an MLB-ready outfielder, of course.
Matt asks: What would you think about adding Placido Polanco as a back up utility guy to play the role that Chavez had?
Travis asks: Lets say the Tigers non-tender Ryan Raburn. Is he enough of a utility player for the Yankees? If he is, would he be an upgrade over Jayson Nix?
Might as well lump these two together. Polanco, 37, makes some sense as a backup corner infielder/emergency second baseman depending on his back. He’s missed a bunch of time these last few years with everything from inflammation to soreness to bulging discs. The Yankees would have to look him over really well during the physical. Polanco isn’t anything special on defense, has no power (.075 ISO last three years), no speed (only eight steals), and doesn’t walk (6.3 BB%), but he’s a contact machine who rarely strikes out (.281 AVG last three years with an 8.0 K%). The Yankees can use some of that, it just depends on whether they’re comfortable with his medicals and having a right-handed hitting corner infielder.
As for the 31-year-old Raburn, it would have to be a minor league contract only. I really liked him a few years ago, but he just hasn’t hit at all lately. He broke out with a .285/.348/.498 showing from 2009-2010 (.286/.373/.580 vs. LHP), but these last two years he’s hit just .226/.272/.370 overall (.232/.283/.397 vs. LHP) and been demoted to the minors. Raburn is far more versatile than Polanco, with lots of experience at second and in the outfield corners plus some time at third base as well, but he can’t hit. That 2009-2010 stuff is tantalizing, but I don’t think he’s better than Nix and I wouldn’t give him anything more than a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite.
GB asks: I see that the options for Joakim Soria and Matt Lindstrom were declined. They seem like good targets to me. Your thoughts?
Lonnie asks: Do you see the Yanks making a play for Soria or Ryan Madson at low-cost deals to possibly close in 2014?
Gonna lump these two together as well, and yes, all three make perfect sense on short-term contracts. Obviously Soria and Madson are elite relievers coming off Tommy John surgery while Lindstrom is healthy and more of a middle reliever/setup man, but the Yankees need some bullpen help and all three offer it.
There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t take Soria or Madson on a one-year, low-base salary, incentive-laden “prove yourself then go out and get that big contract next offseason” contract, but the Royals are talking about re-signing the former while the latter still wants a closing job. The 32-year-old Lindstrom is probably a bit underrated, pitching to a 2.84 ERA (3.24 FIP) in 101 innings over the last two years. He throws very hard but is more of a ground ball guy than a strikeout guy, plus he spent most of this season with the Orioles and has at least some AL East experience. I’d take any and all of these guys on a one-year pact.
Jeb asks: If Brian Cashman offers Russell Martin another 3/20 and he turns it down, would you give him a qualifying offer? Assuming $/fWAR holds and fWAR might not capture his defense, perhaps this is worth the risk?
I wouldn’t worry so much about the $/WAR stuff since the Yankees are on their own little planet there. They’re well beyond the point of diminishing returns, meaning every additional dollar they spend adds less and less in terms of wins. You can only win so many baseball games a year regardless of how much you spend. More money means more probability, not more wins.
Anyway, the catching market is atrocious and that goes double for this offseason. There are two legitimate starting catchers on the free agent market this offseason: Martin and A.J. Pierzynski. Mike Napoli has caught more than 80 games once in a his career (2009) and no more than 70 games in the last three years. Kelly Shoppach hasn’t caught more than 75 games since 2008. Pierzynski turns 36 in December and is coming off a career year, plus he was never anything great on defense and is a world-class asshole. Martin doesn’t hit for average but he draws walks, hits for power, and is a pretty good (if not great) defender. He’s also won’t turn 30 until February.
For most of the season it appeared as though Martin (and his agent) made a huge mistake by not taking that three-year, $20M-something extension last winter, but I bet he gets a similar deal this offseason. There are enough big market teams who need a catchers (Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees) and Russ hasn’t yet gotten into his mid-30s, when catchers usually turned into pumpkins. Hell, Chris Iannetta just signed a three-year, $15.55M extension with the Angels despite hitting .240/.332/.398 while missing a bunch of time due to injury this year, and he didn’t even go on the open market. Martin should be able to find the extra $8-10M out there. I don’t think the Yankees will make him a qualifying offer, but I think it would make some sense. Worst case is he accepts and you’ve got him on expensive one-year contract. Considering the general lack of quality catchers, overpaying Martin for a year is a luxury the Yankees can afford.
It’s been a pretty rough month for big name relief pitchers. Not only did Joba Chamberlain suffer an open dislocation of his right ankle, but both Ryan Madson and Joakim Soria blew out their pitching elbows. Those two guys will have Tommy John surgery in the very near future. Forgive me while I indulge myself a bit, but wouldn’t it be something if the Yankees bought low on both Madson and Soria next offseason? We can all dream a little.
* * *
Based on how he’s been talking in camp, Mariano Rivera is likely to call it a career after this season. It’ll be a very sad day whenever Mo hangs ‘em up, but it is inevitable. The Yankees do have two ready-made closer replacements already in-house, specifically Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Who knows what we’ll be saying ten months from now, but at the moment those two are more than qualified for ninth inning work. The Yankees will still have to replace a dominant reliever though, and both Madson and Soria qualify as dominant relievers when healthy.
Madson, 31, signed a one-year pillow contract with the Reds this offseason, so he’ll again be a free agent next offseason coming off elbow surgery. Needless to say, the big multi-year offers won’t be rolling in. Soria, 27, is at the whim of the Royals. They can either pick up his $8M option for 2013 or cut him loose and let him become a free agent for the first time in his career. Again, it’s safe to assume those big multi-year contract offers won’t be rolling in for the Mexecutioner. Sucks for them, but that’s how this baseballing thing works.
This is Soria’s second Tommy John procedure, and the two-timers don’t have a great track record of recovery. Chris Capuano and Hong-Chih Kuo are the two most notable success stories. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Kansas City decides not to sink 15-20% of its payroll into Soria and lets him walk. The Yankees could look at both guys on one-year contracts, allowing them to re-establish themselves as dominant late-game relievers before hitting the open market after the season in search of that big multi-year deal they won’t get next winter. One-year pacts would still allow the Yankees to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014.
Let’s say they could get both Madson and Soria on one-year, $3M contracts with incentives. Add in David Aardsma, who the Yankees can retain in 2013 for just $500k, and that’s three Tommy John guys in the bullpen. Joba could make it four depending on how the ankle injury impacts his elbow rehab schedule. Now, not all of those guys would work out. We may think it’s routine, but elbow ligament replacement surgery is a serious procedure. Two of those four guys may flame out and be completely ineffective, but if the other two guys get back to being their pre-Tommy John selves, the Yankees would still come out ahead in the whole production vs. cost thing.
Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud. Everyone loves the idea of landing a super-talented player on the cheap as they come off injury (hence all the Grady Sizemore-related mailbag questions this winter) but that’s because we’re not the ones assuming the risk. The team has to pay them real money to pitch real innings, and coming off serious surgery like that is no piece of cake. A bullpen staff of Madson, Soria, Joba, Robertson, Soriano, and Aardsma is drool-worthy regardless of who ends up closing, and there’s no harm dreaming about it. We are Yankees fans, after all.
Perhaps we’d better start from the beginning.
Trade deadline 2010. The Rangers acquire Cliff Lee and the Angels acquire Dan Haren. The Yankees had varying degrees of interest in both, and both ended up elsewhere. Clearly they were going to look wherever possible for ways to upgrade the team. On July 25th SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees “made a big proposal for Royals closer Joakim Soria.” That’s it. There was no mention of names involved in the proposal. Just one vague statement.
Two days later, in the sidebar of a trade deadline column, Jayson Stark expanded a bit. “The Yankees just made another run at Soria, as first reported by SI.com — even dangling Jesus Montero.” Is this Stark adding a bit of reporting? Is he speculating? Who did he talk to that mentioned Montero’s name? And, most importantly, if this was in fact the case why wasn’t it a more prominent item in the column? Or maybe it’s just a matter of wording. After all, Montero’s name coming up in conversation, or even being dangled, is quite a bit different than him being offered in a trade.
(This is along the lines of a story this morning, where the headline didn’t reflect the content. The game of telephone continued from there.)
Once Cliff Lee went to Philadelphia and especially once Zack Greinke went to Milwaukee, it was inevitable that we’d hear some sort of connection between the Yankees and Royals involving Soria. The Royals have said that they intend to keep their closer, but that won’t stop the rumor mill from turning. It turns out that Soria himself has restarted it. MLB Trade Rumors links to an article that quotes Soria regarding his no-trade clause. While he can block trades to the Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Phillies, Cardinals, and Cubs, only one of those names came up in conversation.
“I didn’t put it there, my agent did, as a strategy,” Soria said. “But if the Royals decide to trade me to New York I would gladly go to play with the Yankees or any other team… I repeat, I would not block a trade to the Yankees. I like to play baseball and I would play with any team.”
This is clearly going to raise some eyebrows, but I wouldn’t make much of it. There are a few reasons to not take seriously any of this Soria talk at all.
Regarding the summer 2010 rumor: If Cashman did offer Montero for Soria, he should be relieved of his duties. The same goes for Dayton Moore if he refused.
Regarding acquiring Soria now: Why not just sign Rafael Soriano at that point? Soria is under contract for four more years at $26.75 million. It would probably take another $15 or so million to land Soriano, and it would cost the 31st pick in the draft. But the Royals clearly won’t let Soria go for cheap. It’s probably better to keep the prospects who are closer to helping and spend the extra money, something the Yankees can do with ease.
We constantly see the Yankees connected to every available high-profile player. It was determined the minute Soria became a star that he’d eventually be mentioned as a Yankees target. But given what we know, there’s no reason to believe any of it. Maybe Montero’s name did come up in a discussion regarding Soria. If that happened, I doubt the conversation lasted long. The Yankees might want Soria, but the Royals also appear to want a bit much for him. I wouldn’t expect this one to move, despite the rumors we’ll hear every July and December from now until Soria’s free agency.