Mailbag: Franklin, Soriano, Anna, Lineups, Rule 5

Only five questions this week, and some of the answers are kinda short. We must have received about a dozen different variations of the first two questions. Great minds think alike, I hear. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything.

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Many people asked: What about Nick Franklin?

Now that Robinson Cano is locked in at second base for the next decade, the Mariners don’t have an obvious spot for the 22-year-old Franklin. He hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homeruns and six stolen bases in 412 plate appearances this past season, his first taste of the show. Franklin is a switch-hitter who has always struggled against lefties, so much so that there’s been talk of making him hit exclusively left-handed. He’s the anti-Derek Jeter on defense — good amount of range but makes a lot of errors because he boots grounders and makes bad throws — and the total package is more solid regular than future All-Star.

Franklin has understandably been getting talked up as a trade chip since the Cano signing and the hype has surpassed reality, kinda like Mike Olt a year or so ago. He’s good but not truly great. The Yankees can use a young second baseman now and Franklin would certainly fit, though I don’t think the Mariners are ready to move him. They could always send him back to Triple-A and have him work at other positions or wait for a better offer. There’s no need to rush into a decision. I’m more intrigued by Dustin Ackley to be honest, because at least there’s All-Star caliber talent hiding in their somewhere. I’d rather see New York buy super low on him and hand him over to Kevin Long than pay market rate for Franklin. Franklin fits a need, no doubt, but I feel like there’s a disconnect between what he actually is and how he’s being valued.

Many people asked: What about moving Alfonso Soriano to second base?

This ain’t happening. Soriano hasn’t played second base at all since 2009 or regularly since 2005, and, in case you forgot, he was pretty terrible there. We saw it firsthand from 2001-2003. He wasn’t Eduardo Nunez bad, but he misplayed a lot of balls on the infield during his time there. Soriano is going to be 38 next month and he’s played 3.2 innings at second base over the last eight years. This isn’t even something the Yankees can seriously consider.

Andrew asks: Will Dean Anna be competing for a MLB roster spot in Spring Training or was he added purely for depth in the minors? I have not heard any discussion about him being a potential 2B option for the Yanks.

Can’t it be both, compete for a job in camp and be added for depth? The Yankees have an open position player spot right now — could be two if they cut one of Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki — and that figures to go to whatever infielder they acquire in the coming weeks. If they don’t add an infielder, Anna probably has to beat out Nunez for a roster spot. For some reason the incumbent always seems to have up in these competitions. I’m intrigued by Anna’s on-base skills and like him as an up-and-down depth player, but if he makes the team out of camp as even a semi-regular at second, something probably went wrong somewhere.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Andy asks: Can you make up what a potential Yankees line-up would look like now? Against both lefties and righties.

Given the roster as it sits today, meaning no obvious second/third baseman, here are the lineups I would run out there:

                  vs. RHP                   vs. LHP
1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury 1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2.   LF Brett Gardner 2.   SS Derek Jeter
3.   RF Carlos Beltran 3.   1B Mark Teixeira
4.   C Brian McCann 4.   DH Alfonso Soriano
5.   DH Alfonso Soriano 5.   RF Carlos Beltran
6.   1B Mark Teixeira 6.   C Frankie Cervelli
7.   3B Kelly Johnson 7.   3B Kelly Johnson
8.   SS Derek Jeter 8.   2B Brendan Ryan
9.   2B Brendan Ryan 9.   LF Brett Gardner

You and I both know Jeter will bat second against righties and lefties as long as he’s healthy. That’s just the way it is. I would bat him lower in the order against righties until he shows he can hit them, however. The Cap’n had a 99 wRC+ against same-side pitchers even during his big bounceback 2012 season, so I’m skeptical about what he can do at his age and following what amounts to a lost season.

Ellsbury and Gardner had almost identical batting averages (.246 vs. 247) and on-base percentages (.317 vs. .323) against lefties last season, but Gardner hit for much more power (.071 vs. .180 ISO). That doesn’t really jibe with the rest of his career though. Ellsbury and Gardner have identical career 96 wRC+ against southpaws, so the tiebreaker goes to the guy who will steal 40+ bases no questions asked (who also happens to have a $153M contract). Batting Gardner ninth instead of eighth against lefties allows him to serve as a second leadoff man, so to speak.

The rest is pretty straight forward, right? Soriano was awesome last year but McCann is the (much) better hitter against right-handers, which is why I have him batting cleanup against righties. I’d use a straight splatoon at catcher as a way to give McCann regular time off as well. He’s going to need the rest, it comes with the territory, so you might as well rest him against southpaws and get Frankie in there. Jeter and Teixeira still mash left-handers (or at least they did the last time they were healthy), making them a natural fit for the two-three spots against southpaws.

Laying the lineup out like this makes it easy to see how much the team needs a second or third baseman, preferably a righty bat. Those lineups would look so much better if they moved Ryan to the bench, shifted Johnson to second, and had someone like Mark Reynolds to bat seventh or eighth, no?

Jon asks: Explain the minor league Rule 5 Draft. How could you just lose players for $12,000? How many could you protect? Could the Yankees have chosen players from other minor league teams for $12,000 or did their lack of room on the 40-man roster prevent it?

The lack of 40-man space has nothing to do with the ability to make picks in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The minor league phase is pretty complicated, so I’ll direct you to this J.J. Cooper explanation. I don’t even fully understand it. All I know is that if you take a player in the minor league phase, he’s yours to keep. Those guys do not have to go through the same roster hoops as the players drafted in the Major League portion. The Rule 5 Draft exists as a way to give players an opportunity with a new organization if they’re buried or overlooked by their current team, and, for the most part, it accomplishes that goal.

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Yankees lose Kahnle, four others in Rule 5 Draft

Kahnle. (Robert Pimpsner)
Kahnle. (Robert Pimpsner)

The Yankees lost five total players in this morning’s Rule 5 Draft, most notably Double-A RHP Tommy Kahnle. He was taken by the Rockies with the fourth overall selection. In a nutshell, New York receives a $50k fee and Kahnle must now stick on Colorado’s active 25-man roster all of next season. If he doesn’t, they’ll have to place him on waivers and then offer him back to the Yankees before being able to send him to the minors.

Kahnle, 24, was the team’s fifth round pick in the 2010 draft, out of Lynn University in Florida. They gave him $150k to turn pro. Kahnle had a 2.85 ERA (3.85 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (11.10 K/9 and 28.8 K%) and a ton of walks (6.75 BB/9 and 17.5 BB%) in 60 innings for Double-A Trenton this summer. He throws very hard, regularly running his fastball up to 97-98, but he lacks a good offspeed pitch and his control is shaky at best. The Yankees offered him in trades for Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young before the deadline earlier this year.

The four players the Yankees lost in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft are OF Ravel Santana (Astros), RHP Mikey O’Brien (Reds), RHP Felipe Gonzalez (Pirates), and converted infielder RHP Kelvin Castro (Marlins). Santana is the big name here because he was once one of the team’s very best prospects. Injuries — most notably a shattered ankle in 2011 and a broken arm in 2013 — have hampered his development. The 21-year-old had a 157 wRC+ with the Rookie GCL Yankees in 2011, an 83 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island in 2012, and then did not play in 2013.

The minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft works differently than the Major League phase. The players do not have to stick on a certain roster all year, they simply become their new team’s properly. The Astros essentially purchased Santana from the Yankees for the $12k fee. Same applies to the other three guys taken in the minor league portion.

The Yankee left several other interesting relief arms — RHP Chase Whitley, RHP Danny Burawa, and LHP Fred Lewis, specifically — exposed in the Rule 5 Draft, but none were selected. The Bombers have a full 40-man roster and were not able to make a pick themselves. The full Rule 5 Draft results can be seen here.

Yankees do not open 40-man roster spot prior to Rule 5 Draft deadline

The Yankees did not clear a 40-man roster spot prior to Monday’s deadline, so they will not be able to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. I thought they might roll the dice on a reliever or two given the state of the bullpen, but I guess not. Not a big deal, obviously. The success rate of Rule 5 Draft picks under the current system is so low it’s not even worth thinking about.

The Yankees will need to open a 40-man spot once Carlos Beltran‘s three-year contract becomes official. Otherwise all of the team’s recent additions are finalized and on the roster.

Contract snafu leaves lefty Omar Luis exposed in Rule 5 Draft

Last year, the Yankees signed 21-year-old Cuban left-hander Omar Luis to a $4M signing bonus, their last big money international pickup before the new spending restrictions were implemented. A visa issue kept him in Haiti for several months, but the southpaw made it to the United States this summer and pitched for one of the team’s two Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates. He is one of their better pitching prospects at the moment.

According to Ben Badler, a contract snafu leaves Luis exposed in next month’s Rule 5 Draft even though he signed his first contract just last year. Players typically are not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft until they’ve played at least four and usually five years professionally. It’s complicated, so I’ll let Badler explain:

The Yankees signed Cuban lefthander Omar Luis last year for a $4 million bonus, with an official contract date of July 1, 2012, the day before the inaugural $2.9 million international bonus pools went into effect.

However, Luis and several other Cuban players also represented by Praver Shapiro Sports Management who were claiming permanent residency in Haiti ran into visa issues and were unable to get into the United States. When Luis arrived in the U.S. this year after spending eight months in Haiti, an unknown issue popped up in his physical, which led the Yankees to void the contract.

Luis signed a new contract with the Yankees for a reduced bonus—$2.5 million—on April 9, 2013. Since Luis signed his second contract with his original team and the Yankees did not place him on their 40-man roster, he is available in the Rule 5 draft, which is Dec. 12.

The timing of Luis’ two contracts also forced MLB to make a decision regarding whether his contract would be subject to the international bonus pools. While his April 2013 contract falls within the 2012-13 signing window where every team had a $2.9 million bonus pool, because his initial agreement came just before the new system kicked in, MLB determined that Luis’ new contract was exempt from the bonus pools.

Badler notes this is not unprecedented. The Brewers, Reds, and Mariners have had players go through similar situations in recent years.

The immediate impact is negligible. Luis had a 5.68 ERA and 43/29 K/BB in 31.2 innings at lowest level of the minors this past season, so even if a team loves his stuff grabs him in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s extremely unlikely he’ll stick in the big leagues for all of next season. Jumping from the rookie ball to the big leagues almost certainly will not happen, at least not successfully.

This is a problem long-term, however. Luis will be Rule 5 Draft eligible every offseason from here on out, so even though he won’t be able to stick in MLB right now, that might not be the case next year. The Yankees will likely have to add him to the 40-man roster and start burning through his minor league options sooner than expected. That means they might have to try to develop him pretty quickly.

Furthermore, if Luis is selected in the Rule 5 Draft and returned to the Yankees at any point, he will have been outrighted off the 40-man roster. The first time that happens is no big deal, but the second time will allow him to elect free agency over returning to New York. He could leverage that into a new contract, which two-time Rule 5 Draft guys have done before (though none were as good a prospect as Luis). That too could force the club to add Luis to the 40-man sooner than they would like.

This sounds like a really unique and unfortunate set of circumstances. I suppose the Yankees could have kept him on the original $4M deal rather than negotiate a lower bonus, but if there’s something in the physical they didn’t like, then they should protect themselves. We’re talking about a ton of money here. It sounds like their options were either deal with the contract/40-man headache or not get the player. Seems like an obvious choice to me.

Minors Notes: Sanchez, Whitley, Campos, Ravel

Got a collection of minor league notes to pass along, courtesy of Chad Jennings and Matt Eddy:

  • VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed C Gary Sanchez is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter. I thought he had at least one more year to go, but it’s always tough to pin down the international guys. Obviously Sanchez will be added to the 40-man roster and protected from the draft.
  • RHP Chase Whitley may remain a starter in the future. The career reliever has made a handful of spot starts the last two years, and he’s the rare reliever who used three pitches fairly regularly. “He’s got a great changeup, so it was, let’s see if he can do this,” said Newman. “His velocity picked up over the last two years, he’s always had a very good changeup, we’re working on his breaking ball. We had some innings in the rotation, and he’s got starter stuff, so he may get a look in that way in the future.”
  • Newman confirmed RHP Jose Campos will again have his workload controlled next season. He was limited to three or four inning outings all summer. He’ll throw more innings overall, but they’re not yet ready to turn him loose just yet. Campos missed pretty much all of last season with an elbow injury.
  • Apparently OF Ravel Santana broke his arm at some point. That’s on top of the brutal ankle injury that completely derailed his career two years ago. “He’s had two really tough injuries,” said Newman. “He’s had a tough go.”
  • The Yankees re-signed UTIL Jose Pirela to a minor league contract. He became a six-year minor league free agent after the season. The 23-year-old has spent the last few years with Double-A Trenton, putting up a ~120 wRC+ in 888 plate appearances the last two seasons. Pirela’s not much of a prospect, but he can play all over the field. He’s the kind of guy who could sneak a call-up at some point.