2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2016-winter-meetingsThe four busiest days of the offseason begin today. Well, three busiest days. Usually everyone heads home following the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. Anyway, the 2016 Winter Meetings begin today at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The Yankees are expected to get down to business today after taking some time to review the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“I said, ‘Listen, give me at least 24, 48 more hours to see what sort of information we can get from baseball,'” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff last week. “So hopefully we’ll be able to hit the ground running Monday at the latest, but it’s in our best interest to know what we’re dealing with, first and foremost … Speeding up the process and going with the youth movement is going to play an even more important part now, more than ever with what appears to be some of the restrictions in the marketplace that are occurring here.”

The Yankees picked up Matt Holliday to be their DH last night, but they’re still in the market for “pitching, pitching, pitching.” All types. Starters and relievers, so much so that they’re said to be in on the all the top free agent closers. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often for updates. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 10:30am: Cashman confirmed teams have asked about Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield this offseason, among others. The GM added he is “open-minded to listen on anything.”. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have not yet made a formal offer to Rich Hill, who is said to be closing in a deal with the Dodgers. New York has been connected to Hill all offseason because he is, by far, the best available free agent starter. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:30am: Chase Headley and Brett Gardner both remain available, though “interest is relatively mild” at the moment. [Heyman]
  • 11:47am: The Yankees are among the teams looking for a lefty reliever. I assume this means a matchup guy for the middle innings, not simply Aroldis Chapman. [Heyman]
  • 12:41pm: One of the three top closers is off the board: Mark Melancon has agreed to sign with the Giants. No word on the contract terms yet. I’ll guess … four years and $60M. (Update: It’s four years and $62M.) [Buster Olney]
  • 1:16pm: Rich Hill is off the board. The Dodgers have re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $48M, the team announced. The Yankees had been in contact with him.
  • 1:36pm: The Yankees are one of several teams in “ongoing” talks with Luis Valbuena. He’s looking for multiple years and right now the team thinks his asking price is too high. [Joel Sherman]
  • 1:50pm: Chapman wants a six-year deal and says he deserves $100M+. “The only thing I have expressed is that I would like a six-year contract … There are rumors out there that I requested $100M and that’s not true at all. I believe he who deserves something, does not need to demand it,” he said. [Marly Rivera]
  • 2:45pm: The Yankees have checked in with the Twins about second baseman Brian Dozier. Interesting. He’s better and cheaper than Starlin Castro. Whether the Yankees are willing to give up pretty good prospects to get it done is another matter. [Heyman]
  • 4:07pm: Cashman shot down the Dozier rumor. “I haven’t had any dialogue with the Twins about Dozier. That’s a false report,” he said. So much for that. [MLB Network Radio]
  • 4:21pm: Cashman acknowledged the Yankees are after Chapman, but won’t go all out to sign him. “It’s going to be costly. We’re prepared to a degree to compete for that,” he said. [Casey Stern]
  • 5:15pm: The Yankees are still talking to Kenley Jansen in addition to Chapman. There are also some bullpen trade opportunities, according to Cashman. [Hoch]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Poll: Should the Yankees sign a top free agent reliever?

Chapman. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Chapman. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

According to various reports, the Yankees are in on all the top free agent relievers this offseason. That includes ex-Yankee Aroldis Chapman as well as Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon. They’ve even been connected to second tier relievers like Brett Cecil and Boone Logan. Clearly the bullpen is a priority this offseason. That figured to be the case as soon as Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded away at the deadline.

At this point it seems like a foregone conclusion the Yankees will end up with one of the top free agent bullpen arms. My money’s on Chapman, though Jansen or Melancon wouldn’t surprise me either. A strong and deep bullpen is a necessity nowadays with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, so it’s understandable why the Yankees would focus on adding a top notch bullpen arm this winter. Is it the right move at this point in time though? I think that’s up for debate. Here are both sides of the argument.

The Case For Spending Big

1. Elite talent is elite talent. This free agent class is very weak overall, so much so that the only place it offers serious depth is the bullpen. You’re not going to find a No. 1 starter or an above-average middle infielder in free agency this winter. But a dominant closer? There are several available. The bullpen is the best (only?) place to get a truly elite performer — I’m talking one of the very best players at their position — in free agency. Elite talent is elite talent. Want to sign a difference-maker? The best option is a reliever.

2. Relievers cost too much on the trade market. Did you see what the Yankees got for Chapman and Miller at the trade deadline? Lordy. Those weren’t anomalies either. Ken Giles and Craig Kimbrel were both traded for huge prospect packages as well. Even Fernando Rodney fetched a nice prospect at midseason. There is no painless way to acquire an elite reliever these days. You’re either going to have to give up a ton in a trade or spend a boatload of cash. Spending money is always preferable to trading prospects.

3. Future free agent classes are thin on top relievers. This free agent stinks overall but has some top relievers. The upcoming free agent classes are the opposite — they’re good overall but thin on bullpeners. Assuming the Red Sox pick up Kimbrel’s option, the best reliever scheduled to hit free agency next offseason is either Addison Reed or Francisco Rodriguez. The offseason after that it’s either Kimbrel or Miller — or perhaps David Robertson — depending how they age. Catch my drift? This offseason figures to be the best chance to sign a dominant closer at the top of their game for the foreseeable future.

The Case Against Spending Big

Jansen. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Jansen. (Rob Carr/Getty)

1. Long-term deals for relievers rarely work out. The history of long-term contracts for relievers — I’m talking four and five-year deals — is so very ugly that it’s impossible to ignore. There’s B.J. Ryan and Steve Karsay, Justin Speier and Scott Linebrink, Danys Baez and Brandon Lyon … on and on it goes. Here are 2014’s top ten relievers (per bWAR) with a note on their 2016 status:

  1. Wade Davis — still awesome but had an arm injury
  2. Dellin Betances — still awesome but struggled throwing strikes at times
  3. Kelvin Herrera — still awesome
  4. Jonathan Papelbon — released at midseason
  5. Jake McGee — hurt and ineffective
  6. Huston Street — hurt and ineffective
  7. Drew Storen — hurt and ineffective
  8. Joe Smith — hurt and ineffective
  9. Zach Britton — maybe the best reliever season ever
  10. Craig Kimbrel — still awesome but struggled throwing strikes at times

Yeesh. And that’s looking back only two years. Look back four years and we start seeing guys like Ryan Cook and Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Soriano among the top ten relievers in bWAR. Relievers, man. Can’t live without them, can’t count on them to hold their value long-term.

To be fair, some long-term contracts for relievers have worked out well. Mariano Rivera‘s three-year contract from 2008-10, for example. Miller’s contract is looking mighty good right now. Even Papelbon performed well during his original four-year deal with the Phillies. Generally speaking though, relievers are so damn volatile — even the very best ones — that most long-term deals come with a ton of regret.

2. It would hurt their chances of getting under the luxury tax. Like it or not, the Yankees intend to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point soon. The 2018 season seems to be their target. Signing a reliever to a big money contract — signing any player to a big money contract — hurts the team’s chances to get under the threshold. To put it another way, every dollar the Yankees spend on a reliever is a dollar they can’t spend elsewhere. This is a team with lots and lots of needs. They need long-term rotation help, first and foremost. The Yankees still have a high payroll, but it is not infinite, and spending big on a reliever might not be the best allocation of resources.

3. They’re not one reliever away from contention. The Yankees had maybe the best bullpen trio in baseball history this season. At least prior to the trade deadline. It didn’t do them a whole lot of good though because the rest of the team stunk. Great relievers usually only come into the picture after the starter and the offense do their job, and on too many occasions this year, the starter and offense didn’t do their jobs.

Signing Chapman or Jansen for huge money is something a team does when they’re ready to win because those guys are in their primes. Are the Yankees ready to win right now? I’m willing to hear both sides of the argument but I lean no right now. The timelines don’t match up. An expensive closer is pretty much the last thing a non-contender needs, and there’s a decent chance the Yankees end up a non-contender with an expensive closer in 2017 should they sign a top free agent bullpen arms.

* * *

Obvious statement is obvious: there’s never a bad time to add good players. The Yankees would be better with Chapman (or Jansen or Melancon) on their roster next year than without. I mean, duh. That said, the Yankees are going young at several positions, and it’s possible if not likely there will be growing pains. When you go young on a mass scale, things tend to get worse before they get better. Does adding a top reliever — and using relatively limited dollars to do so — to this roster make sense in the big picture? It’s a valid question. Anyway, poll time.

Should the Yankees sign one of the top free agent relievers?
View Results

Hot Stove Notes: Jansen, Melancon, Cespedes, Bautista

Kenley. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
Kenley. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the GM Meetings wrapped up in Scottsdale and everyone headed home to really get down to offseason business. This week we learned the Yankees have already been in touch with Aroldis Chapman’s people, have some interest in Kendrys Morales, and have identified a possible trade partner for Brian McCann. Here are some more bits of news and notes from the GM Meetings.

Yankees willing to eat money to move McCann

According to Jeff Passan, the Yankees have expressed a willingness to eat up to half the $34M left on McCann’s contract to facilitate a trade. The catch: they want better young players in return. That’s usually how this works. I said yesterday I hope the Yankees are open to eating some money in exchange for a better return, and it appears they are willing to do just that. Hooray.

Yankees reached out to Jansen, Melancon

In addition to Chapman, the Yankees reached out to the representatives for both Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon this week, reports Brendan Kuty. The Yankees are said to be targeting a top free agent reliever this winter, and those two along with Chapman are by far the best available. Jansen received a qualifying offer and will cost a draft pick. Chapman and Melancon will not. They were ineligible for the qualifying offer after being traded at midseason.

There’s been some talk we could see the first $100M reliever this offseason — Jonathan Papelbon’s $50M deal with the Phillies is still the largest contract ever given to a reliever, so we’re talking about doubling that — but I don’t think that will happen. I don’t think teams are ready to commit that much to a 65-inning pitcher, even if they are 65 high-leverage innings. Andrew Miller‘s postseason usage is still fresh in everyone’s mind. Once we get further away from that and people remember relievers don’t get used like that all the time, contract expectations will change.

Yankees planning to talk to Hill

Amazingly, the best free agent starter on the market this year is journeyman southpaw Rich Hill, who reinvented himself two years ago by raising his arm angle and moving to the extreme third base side of the rubber. Brian Cashman told Kuty he intends to reach out to Hill, who pitched out of the bullpen for the Yankees in September 2014, at some point soon.

“I can’t remember if I have (reached out to him) or not. Let’s put it this way. I will be reaching out to Rich’s agent if I haven’t yet. I have a to-do list I’m working through,” said the GM. Hill will be 37 in March and he hasn’t thrown more than 120 innings since 2007, but the market is so light on starting pitching that he’s going to end up with a three-year contract. When healthy this year, Hill pitched like an ace (2.12 ERA and 2.39 FIP). The Yankees need pitching too, so checking in on the best available starter only makes sense.

Yankees have checked in on Cespedes, Bautista

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

The Yankees have reached out to free agent sluggers Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Bautista, reports Jon Heyman. Both guys would give the team some much-needed middle of the order thump, but Cashman downplayed their interest and chalked it up to due diligence. “I’m open to anything. But as of right now, we’re going to let the kids take a shot. Our current focus is to let the kids try to take the job,” he said.

Bautista and especially Cespedes are true impact bats who change the entire complexion of the lineup. The Yankees could use a hitter like that! Right now, given the team’s current situation, spending big on a corner outfield bat over 30 doesn’t seem like the best idea. If they were ready to win right now, then yes, sign one of those guys. But the Yankees aren’t. They’re right to prioritize the kids, especially with Aaron Judge arriving this past season and Clint Frazier not far behind.

Yankees in on Logan

Blast from the past: The Yankees are among the teams interested in lefty Boone Logan, according to Joel Sherman. Right now Tommy Layne is New York’s top lefty reliever, and he’s followed on the depth chart by guys like Richard Bleier and Chasen Shreve. Eh. I don’t blame the Yankees at all for looking at the bullpen lefty market. Here’s 2016 Logan vs. 2016 Layne:

IP ERA FIP AVG/OBP/SLG vs. LHB K% vs. LHB BB% vs. LHB GB% vs. LHB
Logan 46.1 3.69 3.23 .139/.222/.255 33.6% 7.6% 60.6%
Layne 44.2 3.63 3.93 .214/.310/.261 20.8% 9.9% 51.6%

The question really isn’t whether Logan is better than Layne. It’s whether Logan is better than Bleier and Shreve and James Pazos. Those guys. I don’t love the idea of carrying two lefty specialists in the bullpen, especially with a rotation that doesn’t pitch deep into games, but it is doable. My guess is Logan gets more money elsewhere and the Yankees are just kicking the tires out of due diligence.

Teams calling on Andujar

The Yankees are getting phone calls and receiving trade interest in third base prospect Miguel Andujar, reports Kuty. “I get a lot of compliments on him from other clubs, a lot of teams asking me about him. He’s going to be a big leaguer,” said Cashman. I’m guessing Andujar is not the team’s only prospect generating trade interest. The Yankees have many quality players in their system at the moment.

Andujar, 22 in March, is currently hitting .309/.400/.392 (122 wRC+) with more walks (nine) than strikeouts (seven) through 16 Arizona Fall League games. He broke out with a .270/.327/.407 (108 wRC+) batting line and 12 home runs in 137 games split between High-A and Double-A during the regular season. Andujar is the closest thing the Yankees have to a third baseman of the future, and while I certainly wouldn’t make him off-limits in trade talks, I am excited to see him take another step forward in 2017.

Tuesday Links: Chapman, Jansen, CBA, GMS Field, AzFL

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Pretty soon — as in 48 hours or less — the 2016 World Series will be over the offseason can officially begin. The free agent class is pretty weak, so I think we’re going to end up seeing a lot of trades this winter instead. That’s cool with me. Trades are much more fun. Anyway, I have some news and notes to pass along, so let’s get to them.

Yankees will target Chapman over Jansen

No surprise here: Jon Heyman says the Yankees are planning to target Aroldis Chapman in free agency before Kenley Jansen. Those two as well as Mark Melancon will hit the open market in the coming days now that the World Series is close to being complete. This upcoming free agent class kinda stinks, but there will be three high-end relievers available. Competition for them should be fierce.

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees are planning to target a top reliever in free agency. I figured that would happen following the Chapman and Andrew Miller trades at midseason. The Yankees had the opportunity to flip those two for high-end prospects, then replenish the bullpen with free agents in the offseason. They did step one, now they have to do step two. Chapman won’t cost a draft pick plus the Yankees know him from his time in New York, so it’s no surprise he’s their Plan A. I prefer Jansen, but whatever.

MLB, MLBPA optimistic about finalizing new CBA

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1st, which isn’t all that far away now, and Joel Sherman hears MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to “very few key issues” so far. Both sides are optimistic about avoiding a work stoppage, however. “I’m optimistic as well. The good thing is everyone understands and appreciates the issues,” said union chief Tony Clark.

Apparently free agent draft pick compensation is a hot topic and many potential changes are being discussed, including eliminating the need to surrender a pick. The team that loses a qualified free agent would still receive a compensatory draft pick, but the signing team would get to keep their first rounder. Sherman also hears it’s possible the current rules could remain in effect this offseason before a new system kicks in next winter. As long as there’s no work stoppage, and I don’t think there will be, it’s cool with me.

Yankees renovating GMS Field

Yankee Stadium is not the only park getting a facelift this offseason. George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is being renovated as well, the Yankees announced. The ballpark is getting $40M worth of upgrades that will bring new seating sections, a shaded cabana area, and a huge new gift shop. Construction started in August — High-A Tampa had to play all their postseason games on the road this year — and will be presumably completed in time for Spring Training.

“The renovations, which include an increased number of fan-friendly vantage points, social gathering spaces and shaded areas, will provide our guests with the modern amenities necessary for an exceptional game day experience. We are equally excited about furthering the Yankees’ commitment to the Tampa community and look forward to unveiling a beautiful facility for our fans to enjoy for years to come,” said Senior VP and CFO Tony Bruno in a statement. Neat. Here are renderings of the upgrades and construction photos, if you’re interested.

Torres, Tate selected for Fall Stars Game

Gleyber Torres and Dillon Tate were selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Star Game, the league announced. Here are East and West rosters. Torres is the best prospect in the game according to MLB.com’s top 100 list. He’s hitting .313/.421/.656 (187 wRC+) with three homers, six walks, and five strikeouts in nine AzFL games so far. Tate has a 3.86 ERA (5.24 FIP) in 9.1 relief innings with the Scottsdale Scorpions.

The Fall Stars Game is more of a prospect showcase than a true All-Star Game. They pick the biggest names each year regardless of their AzFL performance. Also, they don’t disrupt pitching schedules, which is why Tate and not James Kaprielian was selected to the roster. Kaprielian’s not scheduled to pitch the day of the game. The Fall Stars Game is this Saturday at 8pm ET. It’ll be broadcast on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. It’s a good time.

Heyman: Yanks planning to target a top free agent reliever

Jansen. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Jansen. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are planning to target one of the top free agent relievers this upcoming offseason. That means either Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, or possibly Mark Melancon. They’re the three big names out there this winter. Heyman says the Yankees also want to bolster their rotation, though that’s not a shock. That applies to every team ever.

Anyway, this doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, I said I expect the Yankees to pursue a top free agent reliever the day after the Chapman trade. The Yankees, like every other team, enjoy having multiple elite relievers in their bullpen. This offseason is an opportunity to add one (or two!) using nothing but cash, and the Yankees sure have a lot of that. In fact, I would be surprised if they don’t land a top reliever this winter. Here are some more thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees will have some money to spend. Let’s do some really quick and dirty math. The Yankees opened the season with a $226M payroll, or thereabouts. Carlos Beltran ($15M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), and Andrew Miller ($9M) will all be off the books next season. So will non-tender candidates Nathan Eovaldi ($5.6M) and Dustin Ackley ($3.2M). That’s a lot of big salaries going away.

That all adds up to $55.3M in savings, but, not counting Eovaldi and Ackley, the Yankees are facing roughly $12M in arbitration raises, so it’s really $43.3M in savings. That can buy you some great relievers, but we know the Yankees are going to want to get under the luxury tax threshold, whatever it may be. We’ll find out in a few weeks once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is finalized. Hopefully it’s north of $200M.

Assuming the new threshold is right around $200M, the Yankees will have about $18M to spend this offseason based on my back of the envelope math. That’s enough to give Chapman or Jansen the highest annual salary for a reliever in history, though there wouldn’t be much left over. For what it’s worth, Hal Steinbrenner recently told Joel Sherman he doesn’t anticipate getting under the luxury tax threshold until 2018. We’ll see.

2. Chapman and Melancon won’t cost a pick. Because they were traded at midseason, neither Chapman nor Melancon are eligible for the qualifying offer. They won’t cost anything other than a money. Jansen is going to get the qualifying offer, so teams will have to forfeit their first round pick to sign him. That assumes the new CBA doesn’t eliminate the qualifying offer system. I don’t think it will.

Chapman. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Chapman. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

In a vacuum, giving up a draft pick to sign Jansen isn’t a big deal. He’s an elite player and a stupid little draft pick shouldn’t stand in the way of acquiring a player of his caliber. He’s a difference maker. This isn’t a vacuum though. Chapman and Melancon are excellent pitchers themselves. Why give up the pick for Jansen when you can sign a comparable reliever and keep your first round pick? I can definitely see Chapman and Melancon generating a ton of interest early in the offseason as teams try to nab a top reliever and keep their top pick.

3. Signing a top reliever doesn’t fix everything. Adding a great reliever to the bullpen is always a good thing. There’s not a team in baseball that wouldn’t benefit from signing one of these guys. The Yankees are not one reliever away though. Heck, just this season the Yankees had arguably the best 7-8-9 combination in the history of baseball, and it didn’t help them much because the offense stunk and the rotation was spotty.

The Yankees should sign one of those great free agent relievers because they have the money, they have the need, and because guys like that are unbelievably valuable in the postseason, which is where the Yankees ultimately want to go. They still need to address the offense and the rotation, however. And even the middle relief too. As long as signing a top reliever is just one move this offseason and not the move, the Yankees should be all-in on this free agent bullpen class.

4. Signing a free agent reliever doesn’t mean the trades were a mistake. With both Chapman and Miller helping their new teams to the League Championship Series, I’ve seen more than a few folks suggest trading one or both away was a mistake. No. Just, no. The Yankees were going nowhere at midseason and there was little reason to believe they’d climb back into the race in August and September.

Both Chapman and Miller were traded for monster prospect packages. We’re talking three top 100 caliber guys plus several more pieces. And Adam Warren too. He’s cool. The bullpen trade market was outrageous and the Yankees would have been foolish not to take advantage, especially given the free agent class. The Yankees finished five games back of the second wildcard spot. Dellin Betances struggled late in the season, but not enough that keeping Chapman and/or Miller would have been worth it. Trading those guys was 100% the right move. Zero questions asked. That they can sign a replacement elite reliever(s) this winter is gravy.