The 2017-18 international free agent class and the Shohei Otani question

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

For years and years and years, the Yankees built their farm system through international free agency. They were in contention every year and forfeiting their low first round picks to sign top free agents all the time, though they were able to spend freely in international free agency to compensate. That’s why so many of their top prospects from 1998-2012 or so were international signees. Alfonso Soriano, Wily Mo Pena, Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, Jesus Montero, and so on.

Nowadays teams can’t spend freely internationally. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement implemented a hard spending cap. Under the just completed CBA, each team was given a set bonus pool and punished harshly if they exceeded it. It was a soft cap. Three years ago the Yankees blew their bonus pool out of the water and signed many of the best available players. Four of my top 30 prospects were part of the 2014-15 international signing class.

As a result of that spending spree, the Yankees had to pay a 100% tax on every penny they spent over their bonus pool — the total payout between bonuses and taxes was north of $30M — plus they were unable to sign a player for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods. That restriction will be lifted when the 2017-18 international signing period begins July 2nd. Hooray for that.

Earlier this week Ben Badler (subs. req’d) reported the Yankees, who have a $4.75M international cap this year, have been connected to Venezuelan center fielder Everson Periera in advance of the 2017-18 signing period. I can’t find much on the kid at all, but apparently he’s a big deal. Here’s some video:

The Yankees and every other team have been scouting international players for years, and I’m certain there are some contract agreements already in place even though they aren’t allowed. It happens all the time. Badler is the best in the business, and if he says the Yankees are connected to Periera, I not only don’t doubt him one bit, I assume the two sides already have some kind of deal in place.

The international hard cap really stinks, especially for the kids, though at least the Yankees will be able to hand out large bonuses to talented kids like Periera again. Being limited to $300,000 bonuses the last two signing periods stunk. The big question to me right now is not necessarily who will the Yankee sign on July 2nd. It’s how are the Yankees planning for Shohei Otani, if at all?

Otani, as you surely know, is the best player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. He threw 140 innings with a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts for the Nippon Ham Fighters last year while also hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers. Most agree Otani’s long-term future lies on the mound because he has ace potential. For now, he’s a monster two-way player for the (Ham) Fighters.

Otani has expressed interest in coming over to MLB as soon as next offseason, though because he is only 22, he will be subject to the international hard cap. He’d have to wait three years until he’s 25 to be able to sign for any amount like a true free agent. Should Otani be posted after this coming season, all 30 clubs figure to shovel their remaining international cap space in front of him and hope it’s enough to sign him. What else could you do?

If you’re the Yankees — or any other team, for that matter — do you pass on Periera and everyone else on July 2nd and instead conserve your international cap space for Otani in the offseason? It’s awfully risky. Otani is not guaranteed to be posted. You’re walking away from the top international talent in July with no assurances Otani will be available after the season, and even if he is available, it’s far from a guarantee you’ll sign him. The odds of ending up with no talent and a bunch of international money burning a hole in your pocket is quite high.

At the same time, Otani is so insanely talented that you’d hate to take yourself out of the market for a big league ready impact player to sign a bunch of 16-year-old kids who are years away from reaching MLB. (The Yankees signed Gary Sanchez, a top international prospect, in July 2009 and it wasn’t until August 2016 that he reached the show for good, so yeah.) Otani would fit New York’s youth movement so well. He’d be the young rotation cornerstone they need going forward.

There’s always a chance the (Ham) Fighters will announce in advance they’re going to post Otani after the season, but I can’t remember that ever happening. If anything, it’s usually the opposite. We wait weeks and weeks in the offseason waiting for the team to decide whether to post the player. That’s what happened with Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish. We didn’t know for sure they would be posted until their teams actually posted them.

I can’t imagine the (Ham) Fighters want to announce they’re moving their best player after the season ahead of time. That won’t sit well with fans. Then again, perhaps they could make a great event out of it and have a big farewell tour. That’d be kinda cool. Point is, it’s far from certain Otani will be available after the season. He may decide to wait out the next three years, make good money in Japan, then come over to MLB when he’s 25 and no longer subject to the international hard cap.

That the Yankees are already connected to a guy like Periera indicates they plan on approaching the 2017-18 international free agency period as if it’s business as usual. Badler’s report says eleven other clubs, including traditional big international spenders like the Red Sox, Mariners, and Blue Jays, are also connected to Latin American players for the 2017-18 signing period, so the Yankees aren’t the only team taking this approach.

(The Athletics, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals will all be limited to $300,000 bonuses during the 2017-18 international free agency period as a result of past spending, so that’s the max they could offer Otani next offseason.)

My guess right now is that, despite the rumblings, Otani will not be posted next winter. The max bonus he can receive under the international hard cap is only a touch more than his projected salary with the (Ham) Fighters in 2018. He could remain in Japan until 2019, make close to what he’d make in MLB in the meantime, then come over when he can sign a monster contract at 25. The Yankees and plenty of other clubs seem to be proceeding as if that will be the case.

Saturday Links: Otani, Spring Training Caps, A-Rod, Fowler

For the first time I can remember, a Steinbrenner has backed off the “World Series or bust” mantra. While speaking to David Lennon earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees have the potential to be a postseason team in 2017. Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but hey, give Hal points for honesty. Here’s some stuff to check out as we wait for Spring Training to begin.

Otani won’t play in Arizona, WBC

Shohei Otani, the best non-MLB player in the world, will not play in Arizona with the Nippon Ham Fighters this month or the World Baseball Classic next month, reports the Kyodo News. Otani is nursing a nagging ankle injury. There was some hope he would be able to DH in the WBC, but nope. He’s being removed from Japan’s 28-man roster entirely. They don’t want to push it.

The (Ham) Fighters are scheduled to hold Spring Training in Arizona at the Padres’ complex for the second straight year. It was going to be a great chance for MLB clubs to get their eyes on Otani, even the Spring Training version of him, right in their own backyards. Now they’ll have to wait for the regular season, and, to be fair, they were going to scout him during the regular season anyway. They just won’t get an early start in camp or the WBC.

The biggest question remains whether Otani will actually come over to MLB next season. Reports indicate he will, but the new international hard cap means his earning potential will be severely limited. He could wait three years until he turns 25, make good money in Japan in the meantime, then come over when he’s no longer subject to the hard cap. We’ll see.

MLB unveils new Spring Training caps

Last week we got a sneak peak at the Yankees’ new Spring Training caps, and yesterday morning, MLB made it official. The pinstriped brim is part of this year’s Grapefruit League ensemble. Thankfully the team’s road cap is much more … normal.

2017-spring-training-hats

Well, I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy either one of those. Whatever. The jerseys, thankfully, look like normal Spring Training jerseys. You win some and you lose some.

A-Rod‘s coming to camp … twice

Earlier this week Steinbrenner confirmed Alex Rodriguez will serve not one, but two stints this spring as a guest instructor, according to Lennon. They haven’t yet mapped out a plan for the regular season, however. A-Rod’s official title is special advisor, though he’s really more like a special instructor, going around and working with various prospects. What are the chances Gleyber Torres will be Rodriguez’s pet project this year, 90%? I’ll take the over.

Fowler is Law’s sleeper prospect

Yesterday Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrapped up his annual prospect rankings package by naming one sleeper prospect for each team. He defines a sleeper as a prospect “not in the current top 100, but I think they have a good chance to take a big leap forward during 2017, ending up not just in the top 100 but also somewhere in the middle to upper reaches of it.” Outfielder Dustin Fowler is his pick for the Yankees.

Fowler has the right mix of ability, some performance and youth to end up squarely in the top 100 next winter. Teenage prospects such outfielder Estevan Florial or shortstop Wilkerman Garcia are probably a year from that kind of status.

Pretty much the only thing Fowler doesn’t do is walk, and while minor league walk rates aren’t very predictive, the scouting report says he is a bit of a free swinger. With a little more patience, Fowler could develop into a 20-20 center fielder with solid on-base percentages. And it’s not even clear he is one of the ten best prospects in the organization right now. Wild.

Shohei Otani still expected to be posted next offseason, which is great news for the Yankees

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
Otani or Ohtani? Neither, actually. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

Earlier this week we learned Shohei Otani, the best pitcher (and hitter?) in the world not under contract with an MLB team, hopes to come over to MLB next offseason. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement means Otani will be subject to the international spending cap, severely limiting his earning potential. Hard to believe MLB and the MLBPA created a system that incentivizes a great player to stay away from the league, but here we are.

Anyway, according to Jim Allen, Otani’s manager with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Hideki Kuriyama, said he still expects Otani to come over next offseason despite the hard cap. He’s doing it for the challenge, not necessarily the money. “I think money is not a matter for Shohei. I think what he has in his mind is where and what kind of batters he wants to face,” said Kuriyama to Kyoto.

Needless to say, Otani coming over next season is good news for the Yankees. He’s a potential ace who will turn 23 in July, meaning he has so many prime years ahead of him. Otani would fit right in with New York’s youth movement. He’d be the centerpiece of the youth movement on the pitching side. Three other factors would make his decision to come over next offseason very good for the Yankees.

1. Several other big market teams will still be limited by the international spending penalties. The Yankees are currently riding out the second year of the penalties associated with their 2014-15 international spending spree. They were limited to $300,000 maximum bonuses during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. Come the 2017-18 signing period, the one Otani will count against next offseason, they’re free to spend again.

Other big market teams are not so lucky. The penalties do carry over to the next CBA — you didn’t think MLB would let those teams get away easy, did you? — which means the Athletics, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, and Royals will all still be dealing with the penalties from their recent international spending sprees. They can’t offer Otani more than $300,000. Right off the bat, potential suitors like the contending Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Nats are out of the race. The Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Mariners, and Rangers will be the only traditional big market clubs not subject to the $300,000 limit.

2. The release fee still applies. There are two systems in play here. First, the posting agreement between MLB and NPB, which allows Otani to come over. And two, MLB’s international hard caps. Otani has to be posted, which means the (Ham) Fighters will presumably seek the maximum $20M release fee. Not every team can afford to pay that upfront. Well, they can, but some choose not to. The Yankees have no such problem. They’ll cut a $20M check no problem, like they did with Masahiro Tanaka and, ugh, Kei Igawa.

3. Otani will be insanely cheap. This is how it will work, as things stand. Otani gets posted and some team agrees to sign him for what I assume will be their entire international pool. That team pays the (Ham) Fighters the $20M release fee. Otani comes to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee (minor league contracts only for international players!), makes the team, and plays the 2018-20 seasons as a pre-arbitration eligible player making something close to the league minimum. An ace at that salary is basically the most valuable commodity in baseball.

Could a team promise to give Otani, say, an eight-year extension worth $180M at some point next year? Sure. But as Ben Badler notes, MLB would likely see such an arrangement as intentional circumvention of the hard cap and put an end to it. Otani, who made roughly $1.75M in 2016 and recently signed a $2.36M contract for 2017, won’t be able to truly cash in until his arbitration-eligible years. At that point I’m guessing MLB and especially the MLBPA would be okay with a big extension. If not, a grievance will surely follow.

* * *

The new CBA really screws over Otani, who is still making good money in Japan, but not nearly what he could be making over here. He’ll get a nice bonus when he signs next year, then have to settle for the big league minimum for a few years. It’s a fraction of what he’d get had he not been eligible for the spending cap because of his age. So much can go wrong from 2017-20, before the big extension, which really sucks. Otani has to assume a lot of risk.

Unless MLB makes Otani exempt from the hard cap — Ken Rosenthal has been told from MLB as well as teams there won’t be an exemption — in which case everything changes, the Yankees will be in great position to sign him next offseason. So may other big market clubs are dealing with the $300,000 limit, and many of clubs that aren’t can’t afford to fork over a $20M release fee. The Yankees also have the advantage of saying, “Hey, we’re in New York, so you’ll be able to make millions in endorsements for the time being.” (The downside: Every team can offer similar money.)

As it stands, the hard cap is incredibly unfair to Otani and a godsend for the Yankees. It makes the signing so incredibly low risk because all they’d have to pay is the release fee ($20M), his bonus ($4.75M), and three years at the minimum-ish salary ($2M, tops). That’s $26.75M total. How could they not go after him at that price given his upside? If Otani does intend to come over next season despite the hard cap, the Yankees couldn’t ask to be in a better situation. So much is working in their favor.

Monday Notes: Sabathia, Tanaka, WBC, Otani

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

The 2017 Winter Meetings are in full swing down at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just south of Washington, DC. Here are the day’s Yankees-related rumors and here are some other bits of news and notes.

Sabathia doing well after knee surgery

At a charity event over the weekend, CC Sabathia told Evan Drellich he is doing well following right knee surgery earlier in the offseason. His throwing program is set to begin today. Sabathia had what the Yankees called a “routine clean-up” procedure on his knee after the season, the knee that has given him all that trouble in recent years. The procedure was planned well in advance. It wasn’t a surprise or anything.

Sabathia, 36, is entering the final year of his contract, and he’s probably the second best starter on the team right now. I know if the Yankees were facing a must win game and my choices to start were Sabathia or Michael Pineda, I’d go with Sabathia. Don’t know about you. Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher this summer and had his best season since 2012. I’m hopeful the new approach will allow him to remain effective at least one more year. Given his age and all those innings on his arm though, you never really know.

Tanaka wants to pitch in WBC

Even after pitching in the 2009 and 2013 events, Masahiro Tanaka would like to pitch in the World Baseball Classic next spring, he told the Japan Times. “There’s been no development (in my roster status), but of course I have the motivation (to play),” he said. Tanaka threw 9.1 innings across one start and seven relief appearances in the 2009 and 2013 WBCs. He won the title with Japan in 2009.

Japan nor any other team has released their final 2017 WBC roster. Those aren’t due until January. Interestingly enough, Japan did not take any MLB players in the 2013 WBC. Not even Ichiro. It was all NPB players. It’s unclear if that’s a new policy or just a one-time blip. They did use MLB players in the 2006 and 2009 WBCs. If Tanaka wants to pitch, the Yankees can’t stop him. I don’t like the idea of him throwing intense innings in March any more than you do. Blah. Tanaka is one of several Yankees who could wind up playing in the WBC.

Otani hopes to come to MLB next offseason

According to the Japan Times, Nippon Ham Fighters ace Shohei Otani has told the team he wants to be posted next offseason. He signed a new one-year contract with the (Ham) Fighters over the weekend, ensuring he won’t be posted this winter, but next winter is apparently his target. “I know that the club will respect my will whenever I decide I want to go (to MLB). It is pleasing to get that support and I’m thankful for it,” said Otani.

Otani, who has been working out with Tanaka this offseason, is the best player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. You could argue he’s the best hitter and pitcher not in MLB. Otani will turn 23 in July, meaning he will be subject to the international hard cap put in place by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. My guess is MLB and the MLBPA will agree to make Otani exempt from the hard cap. Either that, or he’s going to come over when his earning potential is severely limited.

International free agency rules may stand in the way of Shohei Otani being posted this offseason

(Masterpress/Getty)
(Masterpress/Getty)

According to J.J. Cooper, MLB’s international free agency rules may prevent the Nippon Ham Fighters from posting right-hander Shohei Otani this offseason. Otani is still only 22, which means if he comes over this winter, he’d only be able to sign a minor league contract. He still qualifies as an international amateur and would count against the bonus pool. Even through the posting process.

Furthermore, because the Yankees are still subject to the penalties from their 2014-15 international spending spree, they would only be able to offer Otani a $300,000 bonus. Obviously that won’t be enough to sign him. The Red Sox, Dodgers, and Angels are in the same boat. Otani doesn’t turn 23 until next July too, so it’s not a matter of waiting a few extra weeks.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1st, so it’s possible the international free agency rules will change and make it more realistic for Otani to be posted. That seems unlikely though. Every change made to international free agency these days further limits spending. There’s no reason to think that’ll change this time around.

Otani would be, by far, the best available pitcher this winter. The (Ham) Fighters could still post him, but they know he’s not going to sign a minor league contract, so there’s no real point. They figure to instead keep him one more year, then post him next offseason, when he’ll be able to sign a contract of any size at age 23. We’ll see. Maybe the upcoming CBA will change things for the better.

This season Otani had a 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings while also hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 382 plate appearances. The consensus is his future is much brighter on the mound, though when it comes time to sign him, the team that gives Otani the chance to pitch and hit may be the one that gets him.

Brian Cashman plays coy about interest in Otani: “We look at everything internationally”

(Masterpress/Getty)
(Masterpress/Getty)

It was only a matter of time. Last week Brian Cashman was asked about the Yankees’ interest in Japanese right-hander Shohei Otani, and the GM predictably played coy. “We look at everything internationally, as well as domestically, but he’s under control of another club. So I couldn’t speak to him, but we’re always watching everything that takes place around the world to the best of our abilities,” he said to Brendan Kuty.

Otani, 21, is the best pitcher in the world not under contract with an MLB team. He had a 2.24 ERA with a 31.6% strikeout rate and a 7.4% walk rate in 160.2 innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters last year, and keep in mind hitters focus much more on putting the ball in play in Japan than they do in MLB. The league average strikeout rate last season was 18.1%. It was 20.4% in MLB.

Otani and the (Ham) Fighters were in Arizona training a few weeks ago, giving teams a chance to see him without having to cross the pond. Eric Longenhagen (subs. req’d) gave this scouting report:

Overall, Ohtani’s fastball was clocked anywhere from 91 and 99 mph, featuring some two-seam sinking action at the low end of that spectrum. He does it effortlessly and with good extension, which makes the pitch look as though it’s erupting from his hand right on top of the plate. He showed four pitches in the outing. His fastball is comfortably plus, the aforementioned curveball is above average and projects to plus while the splitter and lollipop, low-70s curveball were both below average.

(His name has been spelled Otani and Ohtani over the years, and apparently the back of his jersey said Ohtani in Arizona a few weeks back.)

Keep in mind this was what amounts to Spring Training outing, so Otani was not in midseason form. Longenhagen noted Otani is incredibly athletic — he used to play the outfield on days he didn’t pitch, but that stopped last season — and his splitter should develop into a pitch that grades out as “much higher” than average because of his arm speed. So you’ve got a big fastball, an above-average breaking ball, and a promising split-finger pitch. Sounds good to me. Here’s video of one of Otani’s recent Arizona outings. Again, this was essentially a Spring Training start:

The issue with Otani is that he’s six years from international free agency, and there is no real incentive for the (Ham) Fighters to post him anytime soon. Under the current posting system, the team can only receive the maximum $20M release fee regardless of when they post him. The posting agreement expires in December but will continue on a year-to-year basis unless NPB asks to renegotiate. They have to give MLB 180 days notice, so by June we should know if the posting agreement will stay as is or be changed again.

Anyway, yes there’s always the risk of injury, but as long as the current posting system is in place, it makes sense for the (Ham) Fighters to hold onto Otani a few more years. They had the second best record in Japan last season, so I assume they have talent on their roster beyond Otani. The team could hold onto their ace right-hander and try to win the third Japan Series title in franchise history. (They won in 1962 and 2006, and lost in the finals in 1981, 2007, 2008, and 2012.)

The Yankees have a lot of money coming off the books the next few seasons — that includes Masahiro Tanaka potentially opting out of his contract in two years — clearing the way for the Yankees to spend big on someone like Otani. He’s young, the consensus is he is a budding MLB ace, and he will be available for nothing but money. A lot of money, but only money. The Yankees have long-term pitching needs too. All of their current starters can become free agents within two years except Luis Severino.

For now, Otani is a name worth knowing even if it appears he is years away from coming over to MLB, not months.

Mailbag: Friedman, Otani, Johnson, Markakis

Big mailbag this week. Ten questions with nine answers. As always, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dustin asks: With Andrew Friedman leaving the Rays, do you think there was ever a chance for the Yankees to have nabbed him? I am not a fan of getting rid of Brian Cashman just for the sake of getting someone new, but Friedman was an upgrade. Was he unwilling to leave the Rays for a division rival, or did this come out of nowhere and the Yankees never had a chance to try and get him?

No idea whatsoever. For all we know the Yankees could have tried to lure him away before re-signing Cashman but failed. The Rays did have to give the Dodgers permission to talk to Friedman and maybe they were unwilling to grant that same permission to a division rival. Maybe we’ll get answer one day but probably not. There’s lots of stuff that goes on behind the scenes that we never hear about.

I am looking forward to seeing how Friedman does with the Dodgers. He’s playing a totally different ballgame now. It’s one thing to put together a team with a small payroll and no expectations. It’s another to have the largest payroll in baseball with expectations of winning the World Series in 2015. Not in two or three years, but next year. Friedman will have a $220M-ish payroll at his disposal but approximately $170M of that is already tied up through 2017. Seriously, they have ten players under contract for $170M  in 2017. Plus the Dodgers farm system has been way more productive than Tampa’s lately. We’ll see. I’m guessing Friedman looks a bit less like a genius in a year or two.

Tater asks: So Kansas City and St. Louis are one step away from the world series. Both teams are at the very bottom of their respective leagues in regard to home runs. Can we maybe start to lose the infatuation with and perceived need for Cashman’s “big, hairy monsters?” Also is this a sign of the times in the post-PED league or should it just filed under “baseball is weird sometimes?”

I wouldn’t take anything we see in the postseason as an indication of how teams should and shouldn’t be built. The Royals beat the Angels in the ALDS and to a lesser extent the Orioles in the ALCS because they out-homered them. How many go-ahead late-inning homers have the Cardinals hit this postseason, both against the Dodgers and Giants? A lot. The Red Sox were a top five homer-hitting team last year when they won the World Series.

The only surefire way to contend is to be good at everything, but that’s not really possible. Every team is going to have a weakness (except for the 1998 Yankees, of course). The Royals and Cardinals both play under very different conditions than the Yankees. The Royals play in a big park in a weak division, and they still only barely snuck into the postseason as a wildcard team. The Cardinals are in a big park in the NL. The Yankees play in a tiny park in a division with three other tiny parks. They have to hit homers because their opponents and division rivals are going to hit them. If they were the Giants in AT&T Park and the NL West, then power wouldn’t be as much of a concern.

John asks: When can we expect to see Shohei Otani with a MLB team? The guy turned 20 in July, has struck out 176 in 153.1 innings so far this year and topped 101 mph with his fastball, beating the record for the fastest pitch thrown by a Japanese pitcher. He also hit .274/.338/.505 in 234 plate appearances with 10 home runs and played in the outfield. Here are the homers and here is his B-Ref page.

Otani, 20, is likely to be the next ace pitcher to come out of Japan a la Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka. He hit 101 mph (~162 kmph) earlier this year as you said, tying Marc Krauss’ NPB record and setting a new record for a Japanese-born pitcher. Ben Badler provided a scouting report off one of his starts back in June:

Otani’s fastball was overpowering, sitting at 94-98 mph and hitting the upper end of that range consistently … Otani, who’s 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, overmatched hitters with his fastball, though his 84-88 mph splitter was a solid pitch at times. He also throws a 78-81 mph slider and a curveball that he manipulates speeds on, ranging anywhere from the mid-60s to the mid-70s.

Otani flirted with signing with an MLB club out of high school* but opted to sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters as their first round pick instead. He’s good outfielder with some power but his future is clearly on the mound at the moment. Otani won’t be eligible for international free agency for another eight years and the Ham Fighters (it’s actually just the Fighters, but c’mon) probably won’t post him for another four or five years. A lot can happen between now and then obviously, but definitely keep him in mind.

* Junichi Tazawa signed with the Red Sox out of high school and that didn’t go over well. MLB and NPB had an unwritten agreement in place saying they wouldn’t sign each other’s amateurs.

Dan asks: I feel like the Yankees have to trade Brett Gardner this offseason. He’s redundant in the lineup (they don’t need two LH leadoff hitters), moveable, and valuable. A true CF who can lead off would be desired by a lot of teams. For instance, he’d be a great fit with the Tigers, maybe the Yankees could get a package back that’s built around Nick Castellanos (who is a righty and can play 3rd and LF).

C. Roy asks: Would a swap of Brett Gardner and Rick Porcello make sense for both teams? I think they’d have to sign Porcello long term right away but he is so young and entering his prime.

I do think the Yankees should explore trading Gardner to improve the team elsewhere this winter. They don’t need two leadoff hitting center fielders, especially when both are signed into their mid-30s at market rate money. I really like Porcello and think he’s close to breaking out as a top of the rotation guy, but I wouldn’t trade four years of Gardner for one year of him. I said the same thing in last week’s mailbag when someone asked about trading him for one of the Reds’ soon to be free agent pitchers.

Castellanos would be interesting because he’s young and a former top prospect who fills a position of need, but you’d have to be really confident in him to pull the trigger on that trade. Castellanos hit only .259/.306/.394 (94 wRC+) with eleven homers and brutal defensive numbers (-18.4 UZR, -30 DRS, -28 total zone) this season, which is why both FanGraphs (-0.5 WAR) and Baseball Reference (-1.5 WAR) had him at below replacement level. But still, 22-year-old kid playing in his first full season, growing pains had to be expected. I would prefer to trade Gardner for someone a little less risky, but that trade may not be out there.

P.J. asks: Would signing Josh Johnson to a minor league deal this winter be worth it for the Yankees considering all his health and performance issues? Assuming the Padres don’t pick up his $4MM option.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Johnson had a weird clause in his contract. The Padres gave him a one-year deal worth $8M last season, but if he made fewer than seven starts, the team got a $4M club option for 2015. Johnson blew out his elbow in Spring Training and missed the season following his second Tommy John surgery. I can’t remember another time a team had an option written into a contact that depended on the player getting hurt, not staying healthy.

I would sign almost any player to a minor league contract and that includes Johnson. It’s been two years since he was actually good — 3.81 ERA and 3.40 FIP with the 2012 Marlins and 6.20 ERA and 4.62 FIP with the 2013 Blue Jays — and the second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but he is only 30 and he’s always missed bats (9.18 K/9 and 21.6 K% in 2013). Plus Joe Girardi knows him from his year managing the Marlins. Minor league deal, let him rehab on his own schedule, maybe get him back for the second half? Sure, why not? Minor league contracts are zero risk.

Dan asks: Do you think the Yankees are going to make an effort to get under the luxury tax number three years from now (after the current CBA expires, and that number is raised). At that time A-Rod, CC, Tex, and Beltran will all be off the books. The farm system (which took a step forward), will also have 3 years to further develop. To that end, I don’t expect them to give any contracts more than 3-4 years this off season, so the payroll will dramatically drop in 3 years. What do you think?

I do think that’s what will happen. Hal Steinbrenner confirmed the team will try to get under the luxury tax threshold at some point in the future during a recent radio interview and after the 2016 season makes sense. The luxury tax threshold will be $189M in both 2015 and 2016, then it will presumably go up once the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. It has to go up, right? Team payrolls continue to climb and I don’t think the union will be happy with keeping the threshold where it is. Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Martin Prado are coming off the books after 2016 and possibly CC Sabathia as well, depending on his vesting option. If the Yankees can’t get under the luxury tax threshold after 2016, then I think for sure they would try after 2017, when Alex Rodriguez and Sabathia will definitely be off the books.

Mickey asks: Is there a chance, in your opinion, that Prado is the starting shortstop next year? They could sign Chase Headley to man third, Rob Refsnyder could win the second base job in the spring (maybe they bring in a non-roster invitee to make it a competition), A-Rod can back up Teix at first and Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela could play all over the infield. Now that J.J. Hardy is off the board, everyone else seems like an overpay or just not very good.

That would surprise me. I think they would play Ryan at short everyday before Prado and I don’t think anyone wants to see Ryan play everyday. Prado has played short in the past but very sparingly: 15 innings in 2008, 92.1 innings in 2012, and one inning in 2013. That’s all. Seems like he’s an emergency guy at shortstop only. I like Prado best at second base, and even the Yankees re-sign Headley and stick A-Rod at DH full-time, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. When that happens, they could simply move Prado into that spot (assuming he isn’t the one who gets hurt!) and call up Refsnyder. I don’t think Prado at short is a realistic shortstop option at this point of his career. Maybe when he was a little younger.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Arad asks: Could the Yanks take a look at Nick Markakis? O’s just declined his option. He’s been overrated but he’s still a solid 2 win player and could fit nicely in RF.

Markakis, 30, is a solid player who never developed the 30+ homer power many expected back in the day. He hit .276/.342/.386 (106 wRC+) with 14 homers this year and that’s pretty much exactly what he’s hit since his rookie year in 2006. He’s also a very good defensive right fielder with no real platoon split who plays just about every single game — 155+ games every year from 2007-14 except for 2012, when Sabathia broke his thumb with a pitch. Plus he’s very familiar with the AL East, which is always a plus.

Jon Heyman says the Orioles will decline their $17.5M club option for Markakis, pay him a $2M buyout, then slap the $15.3M qualifying offer on him. Even if he accepts, they’d save $200k over simply picking up the option. Heyman says they will try to re-sign him at a lower annual value. Markakis is probably looking at Curtis Granderson money (four years, $60M) at this point, don’t you think? If the Yankees weren’t already tied down with so many outfield contracts — or if they trade Gardner — he’s made a lot of sense. Otherwise I think they need to focus on the infield and completing the roster puzzle.

Adam asks: Why doesn’t the YES Network have a strike zone graphic? (short version of the question)

I’m the wrong guy to ask but I personally would like a little strike zone widget. I would like to see one on the screen permanently like TBS has during the postseason, but just a pop-up graphic to show close pitches would be a nice start. The YES score bug is linked up with PitchFX for velocity, so it seems like it would be easy to add a strike zone graphic as well. They could even dig up a sponsor for it and make some more money. I dunno. Hopefully YES will have one next year but I’m guessing not.