2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

2014 Winter Meetings-002Aside from losing David Robertson to the White Sox, the first two days of the Winter Meetings have been rather quiet for the Yankees. Brian Cashman confirmed he did have talks with the Athletics about Jeff Samardzija before the right-hander was traded to the White Sox, but the two sides were unable to find a match. With Jon Lester finally off the board — he signed with the Cubs late last night, in case you missed it — the pitching market should soon take off.

All we learned on Monday and Tuesday was that the Yankees are willing to go four years for Chase Headley as long as the annual salary comes down. That’s really about it. They’re not in on Max Scherzer, they don’t know if Hiroki Kuroda is retiring, and they’ve spoken to a handful of clubs (Braves, Marlins, Royals) about bullpen help. Exciting times. We’ll again keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All timestamps are ET.

  • 2:37pm: Stephen Drew is much more popular this offseason than last despite his awful 2014 season, likely because he isn’t attached to draft pick compensation and will come pretty cheap. The Yankees are one of many teams with some level of interest, presumably so he could play second base. [Jon Heyman]
  • 2:33pm: Any talks between the Yankees and Sergio Romo have been limited so far. There’s interest but nothing is imminent. [Marly Rivera]
  • 2:25pm: Given the way the team’s budget is constructed at the moment, the Yankees would have to bottom feed for rotation help if they sign Chase Headley to a four-year contract. They may spend on pitching and go with Martin Prado at third and kids at second base instead. Of course, this could all be posturing. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:56pm: The Yankees are more than just “monitoring” Sergio Romo — they have legitimate interest in signing him. Romo was off the charts good from 2010-13 but took a step back in 2014. He’s still a capable late-inning reliever. (Jerry Crasnick)
  • 11:10am: Two unidentified owners flew to the Winter Meetings in San Diego to meet with Scott Boras about Max Scherzer. I’m not saying Yankees ownership is one of them, but they do have a history of dealing with Boras directly, namely with Rafael Soriano a few years ago. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:28am: Brandon McCarthy is seeking a four-year deal at $48M while teams are stopping at three years and $36M. The Yankees are also “monitoring” relievers like Jason Grilli, Rafael Soriano, and Sergio Romo. [George King]
  • 9:44am: Well, forget about Luke Gregerson. He just agreed to a three-year, $18.5M deal with the Astros. That’s the second biggest contract ever given to a non-closer reliever, just ahead of Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants and way behind the contract the Yankees just gave Andrew Miller. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees are among the teams with interest in Luke Gregerson. He’s no David Robertson, but Gregerson is a damn fine high-leverage reliever who would be a big boost to New York’s bullpen. (Shi Davidi)
  • The Yankees continue to have interest in retaining Brandon McCarthy. Francisco Liriano’s three-year, $39M contract with the Pirates could be a reference point in talks. (Jack Curry)
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Scouting The Free Agent Market: Jason Grilli and Rafael Soriano

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With both Andrew Miller and David Robertson now off the board, the free agent reliever market is starting to heat up. Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek agreed to deals with the Astros earlier today, Sergio Romo is in talks with several teams, and I’m sure many more relievers are drawing interest right now as well. The Yankees don’t absolutely need another reliever, but there’s always room in the bullpen for another quality late-inning arm.

Two of the more, shall we say, veteran relievers on the market are right-hander Jason Grilli and ex-Yankee Rafael Soriano. New York is said to be at least “monitoring” both guys. Both Grilli and Soriano are on the wrong side of 35 — well, Soriano turns 35 next week, so close enough — whose best days are likely behind them, but are still good enough to be assets in relief. Plus they both figure to come on short-term contracts. Is either a fit for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

Because they are older relievers on the downside of their careers, I think we’re better off focusing on what Grilli and Soriano did this past season moreso than the last two or three seasons and especially what they did earlier this careers. I don’t think what Soriano did in his first stint in New York tells us a whole lot about what he’ll do in 2015, for instance. That was a long time ago in reliever years. So here’s what these two did during the 2014 season:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
Grilli 54.0 4.00 3.37 24.3% 8.9% 32.0% 6.5% 0.313 0.310
Soriano 62.0 3.19 3.08 23.4% 7.5% 31.6% 4.8% 0.297 0.273

Grilli had a pretty bad first half (3.95 ERA and 4.63 FIP) and a better second half (4.05 ERA and 2.08 FIP), at least when you look at things like strikeout and walk rates rather than runs allowed. Soriano was the opposite — he had a dynamite first half (0.97 ERA and 2.43 FIP) but a yucky  second half (6.48 ERA and 4.05 FIP). Both guys lost their closer’s jobs to ex-Yankees draft picks (Mark Melancon and Drew Storen) during the summer too.

Grilli and Soriano are very similar pitchers. They strike out an above-average number of hitters, walk about a league average number of hitters if not a tick more, and don’t get any ground balls. Instead of grounders they get a lot of weak pop-ups, which are actually preferable. Pop-ups are damn near automatic outs. A ridiculous 17.7% of Grilli’s fly balls last year were infield pops, and he’s consistently been over 14.0% infield pop-ups since resurfacing with the Pirates a few years ago. Soriano had a 7.7% infield pop-up rate in 2014 after sitting well over 12.0% from 2010-13.

Soriano’s decline in pop-up rate is not necessarily a sign of decline — he had a 12.0%+ pop-up rate from 2006-08, dipped down to 7.3% in 2009, then jumped right back up to 12.0%+ from 2010-13. It could just be one of those weird random baseball things. Like when Robinson Cano hit .271 in 2008 and .320 in 2009. Both Soriano and Grilli rely on pop-ups and strikeouts to get their outs, which is a really great strategy, though it is worth noting Grilli’s strikeout rate dropped quite a bit in 2014 while Soriano’s has been holding steady for a few years now:


Source: FanGraphsJason Grilli, Rafael Soriano

Grilli bounced around earlier of his career and didn’t turn into a stellar late-inning reliever until the 2011 season, when the Pirates gave him a shot. Since that 2011 season he’s been a strikeout machine, much moreso than Soriano. Even in 2014, in which Grilli’s strikeout rate dropped considerably, he still fanned more batters than Soriano. That said, it was still a significant drop. Grilli struck out 36.9% of batters faced in 2012, 36.6% in 2013, and 24.3% in 2014. Big drop.

Overall, Grilli and Soriano are very similar pitches who got different results this past season. Grilli’s declining strikeout rate is a red flag, moreso than Soriano’s drop in pop-up rate. They’ll both make you pull your hair out with walks from time to time too. Grilli was better than Soriano from 2012-13 (2.82 ERA and 2.42 FIP vs. 2.68 ERA and 3.48 FIP), but at his age I don’t think you can bank on 2012-13 Grilli coming back. The upside for both guys at this point of their careers is probably maintaining their 2014 performance in 2015 and not declining any. Obviously that seems more realistic for the soon-to-be 35-year-old Soriano than the 38-year-old Grilli.

Stuff Breakdown

Both Grilli and Soriano are fastball/slider guys, so this will be a pretty straight forward comparison. (Soriano threw a ton of cutters earlier in his career but has since scaled back on it big time.) Grilli’s fastball has consistently sat right around 93 mph since he returned to the show with Pittsburgh while Soriano’s has been gradually declining from 92.6 mph with the Yankees in 2012 to 91.5 mph with the Nationals in 2014. They both throw their sliders a lot, basically one-third of the time, and Soriano throws his in the mid-80s, a bit harder than Grilli’s low-80s offering.

Since they’re both fly ball pitchers, I’m not going to bother looking up the ground ball rates for their fastballs and sliders. Instead we’ll just focus on the swings and misses over the last few seasons:

Grilli FB Grilli SL Soriano FB Soriano SL
2012 14.9% 18.2% 10.9% 13.9%
2013 12.3% 20.9% 9.1% 13.7%
2014 10.3% 15.6% 13.6% 16.7%

The MLB average swing and miss rate for fastballs and sliders are approximately 6.9% and 15.2%, respectively. Grilli gets a ton of whiffs with both his fastball and slider, though they are trending in the wrong direction. Soriano has gotten an above-average amount of empty swings with his fastball but, up until the 2014 season, a below-average amount with his slider. Soriano’s swing and miss rates were better than Grilli’s in 2014 while Grilli’s were better than Soriano’s from 2012-13.

Given his age, it’s no real surprise Grilli wasn’t able to generate as many swings and misses this past season, and that’s a red flag. Chances are he’ll get even fewer swings and misses next season. Soriano’s whiff rates actually ticked upwards and that’s encouraging. Neither guy has a big platoon split — Soriano did last season but bounced back this season — so their fastballs and sliders work against batters on both sides of the plate. How much longer will that last?

Injury Histories

This is where it gets really ugly. Grilli had Tommy John surgery back in 2002 and missed the entire 2010 season with a torn quad. He missed two months with an elbow strain in 2003, three weeks with elbow inflammation in 2009, and six weeks with a flexor tendon strain in 2013. An oblique strain sidelined him for a month this past season. That’s a lot of elbow issues over the years. Grilli has thrown 50+ innings each year from 2012-14, the first and only other time he’s done that since 2006-08.

Soriano, meanwhile, just threw 50+ innings in three straight seasons for the first time in his career. He had Tommy John surgery way back in 2004 then needed another surgery to correct a nerve issue and remove a bone spur from his elbow in 2008, which caused him to miss most of the season. Soriano also missed three months with elbow inflammation while with the Yankees in 2011. His history of elbow problems is pretty severe, though aside from some shoulder fatigue and a concussion when he was hit by a comebacker, both back in 2006, he hasn’t had any other injury problems.

Both Grilli and Soriano have a long history of elbow problems and also of not staying healthy for extended periods of time. If they managed to throw 50+ innings in 2015, it’ll be the first time either guy throws that many innings in four straight seasons in their careers. Given their ages and injury histories, I’m not sure how reasonable it is to expect them to continue to stay on the field going forward. Not saying it can’t happen, just that there’s a risk factor.

Contract Estimates

Grilli has definitely reached the point in his career where he’ll have to go year to year to continue playing. No club is giving a just turned 38-year-old reliever multiple guaranteed years. Soriano, on the other hand, is still young enough and close enough to his best seasons that he might be able to secure a two-year pact. Here are some contract estimates:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Two years, $14M for Soriano. (No results for Grilli.)
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Two years, $16M for Soriano. One year, $3.5M for Grilli.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): One year, $3M to $4M for Soriano. One year, $2M to $3M for Grilli.

KLaw seems to hate relievers, so I’m inclined to throw out his contract numbers for Soriano based on the other estimated. Based on FanGraphs and Bowden, Soriano’s looking at something like two years at $7.5M annually. Based on Bowden and Law, Grilli’s looking at a one-year deal at $3M or so. Those numbers make sense to me. Soriano’s deal would be similar to what the Padres gave Joaquin Benoit last year and Grilli’s deal would be in line with basically every late-career reliever contract in recent history.

Wrapping Up

At this point, with Robertson and Miller off the board, all remaining free agent relievers have some kind of red flag. Grilli’s strikeout rate fell a ton last year and Soriano had that brutal second half. Both guys also have a history of elbow problems. The Yankees know Soriano from his time in New York — that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier to strike a deal, remember Brian Cashman very publicly said he didn’t want to sign him, so maybe Soriano holds a grudge or something — but Grilli would be coming in blind.

There is clearly a spot in the bullpen for another veteran late inning reliever, and both Soriano and Grilli could assume the closer’s job so Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller could remain in setup roles. I would prefer the Yankees to stick to a one-year contract so they could more easily cut bait at midseason if necessary, which would take them out of the running for Soriano. Of course, the team may feel differently and could be open to bringing Soriano back on a two-year contract. Both are qualified for the late innings and both are risky. Pick your poison.

Report: Nationals land Soriano; Yanks another draft pick

Per Yahoo! Sports’ very own Jeff Passan, the Nationals have signed Rafael Soriano to a two-year deal worth $28 million, and the Yankees will get a supplemental first round draft pick. Although a slow market had many thinking Soriano had erred in exercising his opt-out, Scott Boras exacting two years at $14 million with a vesting option for the third from a team that saw its closer utterly collapse in the 9th inning of Game 5 of the NLDS this year.

With this signing and because Soriano declined a qualifying offer, the Nationals lose their first round draft pick, and the Yanks gain another compensation pick. According to Jim Callis, that would be the 32nd pick of the draft. The draft order could move a bit when Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn finally ink deals, but for now, it seems as though the Bombers will have around $5 million to spend based on the slotting system. Three late-first round picks will allow the Yanks a nice talent grab at the end.

Klapisch: Boras asked Yankees if they’re consider re-signing Soriano

Via Bob Klapisch: Scott Boras asked the Yankees if they would consider re-signing Rafael Soriano to a one-year contract last month, but the request was “flatly denied.” Buster Olney says the team wants the draft pick (and associated draft pool money) more than they want Soriano, regardless of the contract size. I still think he’ll wind up with the Tigers, maybe the Nationals instead, but it sure is starting to look like Boras misread the closer market a bit. Then again, Soriano was still unsigned at this point two years ago and that worked out just fine for him.

Holiday Mailbag: Rafael Soriano

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Several people asked: What’s the market for Rafael Soriano? Would the Yankees consider bringing him back? What happens to the draft pick if he doesn’t sign soon?

I received a few Soriano-related questions over the last week, so I figured I’d lump them all together here. The easiest question is the last one. The Yankees will get a pick for Soriano as long as he signs a guaranteed contract with another MLB team (so no Japan or Korea) prior to next June’s draft. If he takes a minor league deal or signs after the draft, the Yankees won’t get that supplemental first round pick. Also, it doesn’t matter which team signs him, New York gets the same exact draft pick regardless under the new system.

Now, as for his market, it’s basically non-existent right now. The Dodgers and Red Sox are not in the mix according to Jim Bowden and Rob Bradford, respectively, though those reports came prior to the Joel Hanrahan trade. That figures to change the market in some way. Scott Boras has been trying to sell the Tigers on Soriano for a while now according to Bill Shaikin, but Danny Knobler heard owner Mile Ilitch won’t be talked into signing him after dropping $100M+ on Torii Hunter and Anibal Sanchez. That’s it, no other reports on interested clubs this offseason.

Soriano’s market was similarly quiet two winters ago, when Yankees ownership swooped in and signed the right-hander in mid-January. There are more teams (many more teams, actually) with money to spend this time around, so I think it’s only a matter of time before Boras finds a taker. It could be the Dodgers, the Angels, the Rangers, the Nationals, who knows. I still think Soriano will wind up with the Tigers though, they’re clearly in win-now mode and have some serious bullpen question marks. Bruce Rondon is a great prospect, but he’s posted a 5.81 BB/9 (15.1 BB%) in 93 innings over the last two seasons. Hard to see a serious contender giving that guy the reigns to the ninth inning.

For the Yankees to get involved, Boras and Soriano would obviously have to be willing to take a one-year deal. I can’t imagine they’ll give him two guaranteed years given the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Soriano walked away from $12.5M with the opt-out (he received a $1.5M buyout) and another $13.3M by rejecting the qualifying offer, but he would have to take less to return to New York if no market develops. He wouldn’t have any leverage. The Yankees could bring him back as a setup man for like $10M and let him go after the season, though I’d have to think another qualifying offer would be out of the question. It would surprise me if Soriano’s market was so poor that he had to come crawling back to the Yankees, but I don’t think it’s completely out of the question. Just very unlikely.

Point/Counterpoint with Rafael Soriano

Point:

Counterpoint:

I’m not trying to pick on Gammons here, more like trying to poke a hole in Scott Boras’ logic. The Yankees reportedly have some interest in bringing Rafael Soriano back on a two-year deal to help their bullpen, but his camp doesn’t need to use Mariano Rivera‘s age to prove their point. We all know Rivera, who is coming off major knee surgery, will open next year at age 43 and is more of a liability now than every before. The Yankees know this as well as anyone, which is why they’re likely looking into other free agent relievers in case Soriano gets his money elsewhere.

And, for the record, Mo was 24 days away from his 40th birthday on the day the Yankees won the 2009 World Series.

Cabrera & Posey take home MVP honors

Unsurprisingly, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera was named the MVP of the AL tonight and it wasn’t all that close. He received 22 of 28 first place votes (362 pts) and Mike Trout (281 pts) finished a distant second. For shame. Robinson Cano (149 pts) finished fourth behind Miggy, Trout, and Adrian Beltre (210 pts). Derek Jeter (73 pts) finished seventh, which does not trigger the $2M escalator for his 2014 player option. There are still enough bonuses available for him to max that thing out at $17M, though. Rafael Soriano (one eighth and one ninth place vote) and Raul Ibanez (one tenth place vote!) also received votes while Hiroki Kuroda got shutout. I was hoping he’s grab a vote or ten, but oh well.

On the NL side of things, Buster Posey (422 pts) beat out the trio of Ryan Braun (285 pts), Andrew McCutchen (245 pts), and Yadier Molina (241 pts) pretty handily. There were like, six guys who could have legitimately won that award, but no one noticed because of the Trout-Miggy stuff. The full ballots are here (AL, NL), and the awards season is mercifully over. On to the hot stove.