Feinsand: Yankees have discussed Gardner-for-Castro with Cubs

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

2:58pm: Feinsand says the Yankees are not interested in the Gardner-for-Castro framework. They do have some interest in Castro, just not at the cost of Gardner.

1:34pm: For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman says there have been no Gardner-for-Castro talks yet. The Yankees are looking for pitching in any trade.

12:00pm: According to Mark Feinsand, the Yankees and Cubs have discussed a trade that would send Brett Gardner to Chicago for infielder Starlin Castro. The Yankees talked to the Mariners about Gardner earlier this offseason — George King says they asked for Taijuan Walker in return — and Feinsand says they’ve discussed Gardner with “many teams.”

Last week Brian Cashman told reporters the Yankees are seeking “more balance” at second base, meaning a strong defender. They already have offense first options in Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley. Castro, who turns 26 in Spring Training, played shortstop his entire career before moving to second base last August. He was a really poor defensive shortstop but the stats liked him at second, but it’s only a 38-game sample, so who knows.

Of course, there’s also the matter of Castro hitting .265/.269/.375 (80 wRC+) this past season and .265/.305/.383 (89 wRC+) over the last three seasons, covering nearly 2,000 plate appearances. He was very good in 2014 (117 wRC+) but awful in 2013 (74 wRC+) and slightly less awful in 2015 (80 wRC+). Castro has been one of the worst all-around regulars in baseball two of the last three years.

Gardner’s contract and Castro’s contract are basically a wash financially ($38M vs. $41.4M) but Castro’s deal includes one extra guaranteed year, so the annual salaries are lower. That would help the luxury tax situation, which I’m sure Hal Steinbrenner would love. Over the last year the Yankees have acquired talented young players who’ve fallen out of favor with their teams, and Castro definitely fits the bill.

While moving Gardner is certainly possible, Gardner-for-Castro doesn’t seem to pass the sniff test. It’s not only the “more balance” stuff, but Castro also has a history of off-the-field problems and has been considered a bit of a headache times throughout his career. The Yankees value clubhouse chemistry and good makeup and all that stuff very highly.

That said, the Yankees have some inside information on Castro. Special advisor Jim Hendry was the Cubs GM when the team signed, developed, and summoned Castro to the big leagues. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was there for a year with Castro too, so at least he’s been in the clubhouse with him. There are some connections.

My guess is this leak came from Chicago’s side. The Yankees tend to keep things very close to the vest and the Theo Epstein regime has a history of leaking lots and lots of info to the media. We’ll see where this goes. I’m not a big fan of dealing Gardner for Castro but on paper it makes some sense, depending on your opinion of the two players.

Saturday Links: Castro, A-Rod, Draft, Ibanez, Heredia

Starlin ... and Manny! (Presswire)
Starlin … and Manny! (Presswire)

The Yankees and Red Sox continue their three-game series later tonight. So, until then, here are some spare links I had lying around to hold you over.

Start the Starlin Castro rumor mill

According to Jon Heyman, several executive are speculating the Yankees will pursue Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro due to his connection to Jim Hendry, currently a special assistant with New York who was the Cubs GM when the team signed (and called up) Castro. Just to be clear, Heyman is passing along speculation, not a hard rumor that the Yankees are pursuing Castro.

Anyway, I wanted the Yankees to acquire Castro in the offseason to play shortstop, so of course he is hitting .249/.282/.323 (63 wRC+) on the season. (Reminder: Don’t ever listen to me. I’m awful.) Castro is still only 25 though, and he did hit .292/.339/.438 (115 wRC+) just last year, so it’s not like there’s nothing to like here. There’s about $43M left on his contract through 2019 with a club option for 2020.

Castro is seen as a change of scenery guy — the Cubs surely want to put Addison Russell at short — but he’s not a shortstop, his defense is terrible, so maybe the Yankees look at him for second base. If so, the move would probably wait until the offseason. I doubt they’d throw him to the wolves defensively and make him learn second on the fly a la Stephen Drew last year. Either way, my guess is we’ll hear lots more about the Yankees and Castro in the coming weeks and months.

The real cost of A-Rod‘s 3,000th hit ball

Last week, the Yankees agreed to donate $150,000 to Pitch In For Baseball in exchange for Alex Rodriguez‘s 3,000th hit baseball. Noted ballhawk Zack Hample caught the ball and leveraged it into a big fat donation for a charity he supports. Good for him. Of course, there’s much more to this story. Hample told Shawn Anderson the Yanks gave him a ton of other stuff in exchange for the ball as well:

“The Yankees have given me all the things they initially offered, such as meeting A-Rod, doing a press conference at Yankee Stadium, being interviewed live during the game on TV and the radio, and receiving signed memorabilia and free tickets, including tickets to this year’s Home Run Derby and All-Star Game in Cincinnati.” Hample told The Hall exclusively. “I will also have opportunities to write for Yankees Magazine, get a special behind-the-scenes tour to the most restricted areas of the stadium that no one in the public gets to see, get to meet the players, and more. There are certain things I’ve been asked not to talk about, so I need to respect that.”

Geez, that was one mighty valuable baseball, huh? Give Hample props for holding out for the donation rather than taking all that cool free stuff and running. That’s probably what I would have done.

2015 Draft signing updates

Morris. (Indiana Daily Student)
Morris. (Indiana Daily Student)

The signing deadline for the 2015 draft is next Friday, and the Yankees recently signed both UC Santa Barbara C/RHP Paddy O’Brien (24th round) and Indiana RHP Christian Morris (33rd). Morris announced his signing on Twitter while O’Brien is currently listed on the Rookie GCL Yanks2 roster. No word on their bonuses but I assume they didn’t receive more than the $100,000 slot for picks after the tenth round. O’Brien was a catcher in college who the Yankees are apparently going to try on the mound because he has a strong arm.

By my count the Yankees have signed 33 of their 41 draft picks, which is an unusually large number. Teams usually sign something like 25-30 picks each year. The Yankees will make it 34 of 41 when they sign UCLA RHP James Kaprielian (1st) next week — Jim Callis backed up Heyman’s recent report and says Kaprielian will get an overslot bonus in the $3M range — which I’m confident will happen. The Yankees have a bit more than $3M to spend before getting hit with penalties and there’s nowhere else to spend it — the late-round overslot candidates probably aren’t going to sign at this point — so that money either goes to Kaprielian or Hal Steinbrenner.

Rangers sign Andy Ibanez

Earlier this week the Rangers signed free agent Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez to a minor league contract worth $1.6M, reports Jeff Wilson and Jesse Sanchez. Ibanez, 21, was cleared to sign way back in February but took his sweet time picking a team. The Yankees had him in Tampa for a private workout in May and were reportedly interested, though they were unable to offer him anything more than $300,000 once the 2014-15 international signing period ended a few weeks ago. Ibanez is a light hitting second baseman who was expected to get upwards of $15M, though it sounds like teams didn’t value him that highly. You have to think he would have topped $1.6M easily if clubs felt he was as good as the public scouting reports.

Cuban OF Guillermo Heredia cleared to sign

According to Ben Badler and Jesse Sanchez, 24-year-old Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent by MLB, so he can sign with any team at any time. Heredia is not subject to the international spending restrictions because of his age, so the Yankees and any other team can offer him any amount.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 lbs., Heredia is considered a good defensive center fielder with speed and a strong arm. Badler (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 11th best prospect in Cuba last August and said he has “similarities to a righthanded-hitting version of Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley,” which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement these days. Heredia will work out for scouts soon.

2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2014 Winter Meetings-002

Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings begin today in San Diego. They technically last four days but it’s really more like three and a half — everyone leaves after the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. The Yankees took care of two important pieces of offseason business on Friday by acquiring Didi Gregorius and signing Andrew Miller, but they still need more pitching and another infielder wouldn’t hurt either. They needed pitching even before trading Shane Greene to get Gregorius.

“The winter’s a long winter. So even if I felt one thing today, it doesn’t mean it’s the same thing tomorrow. I think we legitimately have to walk through and consider all avenues. Some might be more realistic than others, but there’s certain things that can impact us, and we can change our course of action that we weren’t necessarily pursuing early,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff last week. “We as an organization are open to trying to address the obvious needs. If those efforts prove naught in some cases and I can’t get anywhere with it, then we might be open to considering other aspects, to significantly improving certain areas and wait on the other areas over time to develop.”

The next four days will be the busiest of the offseason in terms of rumors and signings and trades. The Yankees will surely be involved to some degree — even if they don’t make a move this week, expected them to be connected to a lot of players. Most of the top free agent hitters are off the board but all of the top free agent pitchers remain unsigned, so it’s a good time to need pitching like the Bombers. We’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so talk about all of them here and make sure you check back often. All timestamps are ET.

  • 8:53pm: There is “no real evidence” the Yankees are in on Jon Lester. If they do go big for a starter, they prefer Max Scherzer. That sure sounds like posturing, doesn’t it? [Jon Heyman]
  • 7:07pm: “Don’t count out the Yankees with Jon Lester,” said one front office person. Lester is supposedly down to the Cubs and Giants, barring a last minute change of heart. Developing! [Jerry Crasnick & Ken Rosenthal]
  • 4:26pm: The Yankees have talked to the Braves about Craig Kimbrel, the Marlins about Steve Cishek, and the Royals about both Wade Davis and Greg Holland. There’s no match with Kansas City though because they want rotation help in return. [George King]
  • 1:45pm: The Giants would likely be out on Chase Headley if the Yankees are willing to offer him $11M to $12M annually on a four-year deal. Man, getting Headley at four years and $44M or so would be awesome. [Jerry Crasnick]
  • 12:19pm: The Yankees are willing to go four years for Chase Headley and David Robertson. As with Andrew Miller, they’ll tack on the fourth year in exchange for a lower annual salary. There is “growing hope in the organization” that Headley will return. [Andrew Marchand & Buster Olney]
  • 11:10am: Jason Hammel, who the Yankees had some interest in earlier this offseason, is returning to the Cubs. It’s a two-year contract worth $18M with a club option. That’s one pitching option off the board. [Jon Heyman & Chris Cotillo]
  • 10:00am: The Yankees recently met with Chase Headley‘s representatives to reiterate their interest in re-signing him. Headley has “suggested to some” that returning to New York is his top choice. A week or two ago we heard the Yankees wouldn’t offer him more than three years and that Headley has a four-year, $64M offer in hand. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees do not have interest in Padres right-handers Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross. They aren’t convinced the trio is really available. Cashner and Kennedy will be free agents next offseason while Ross is under team control through 2017. [Andy Martino]
  • Before they acquired Gregorius, the Yankees called the Cubs and asked about Starlin Castro. Chicago said he wasn’t available. The Yankees made several trade offers for shortstops earlier this winter. [Jon Heyman]

Mailbag: Castro, Russell, Six-Man Rotation, Jeter

Seven questions and six answers this week, the final mailbag of the 2014 regular season. Don’t worry, the mailbag continues in the offseason. This is a year ’round feature. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

Castro. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Castro. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Dustin asks: If the Yankees prefer a long-term solution at shortstop to a free agent, what would it take to pry either Starlin Castro or Addison Russell from the Cubs?

Even though there are a ton of quality shortstops set to hit free agency this winter, I think trading for a younger, more long-term solution at the position is something the Yankees should pursue. The Diamondbacks and Cubs have a stockpile of young shortstops but Chicago’s group is better, mostly because they’re more high-ceiling players. I like Chris Owings a lot, but he’s no Castro or Russell. Or even Javier Baez, who’s been awful so far in his MLB career (51 wRC+ and 41.9 K%) and has always had very high bust potential because of his plate indiscipline.

Castro, who is still only 24, rebounded nicely from his down 2013 season to hit .292/.339/.438 (115 wRC+) with 14 homers this year. He’s played in 740 of 778 possible games since making his debut — most of his missed games have come this month due to an ankle sprain — and while he’s not a great defender, he isn’t as bad as his reputation either. Plus he’s under contract through 2019 for a total of $44M. Castro is young, he’s productive, he’s durable, and he’s signed cheaply for another half-decade. He’s someone the Yankees should be very interested in if he’s made available.

Russell is just the prospect, on the other hand. A great prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. He is a riskier of the two shortstops. The price for Russell has already been established, right? Basically a Jeff Samardzija caliber pitcher. It’s worth noting the Cubs balked when the Phillies asked for Russell in Cole Hamels trade talks last month, according to Gordon Wittenmyer. (Hamels’ salary came into play there.) Castro should be similarly expensive. The Yankees aren’t getting these guys with David Phelps and a prospect. Michael Pineda would have to be on the table and you know what? I’m not against that given his shoulder history. I’d prefer Castro to Russell ever so slightly but would be thrilled with either.

nycsportzfan asks: I was wondering if you thought we should trade Shane Greene while his value could be at his greatest this offseason? He could be almost a centerpiece for a mid-rotation guy (Matt Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, etc.), really.

Mark asks: Would you rather see the Yankees sign a big free agent starter this offseason or acquire a starter in a trade. Some of the Reds’ starters could be interesting targets.

Gonna lump these two together. Greene was very good this season up until his disaster final starter earlier this week. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading him at all but the Yankees can’t afford to give him away either. Their 2015 rotation options are risky and they’ll need the depth. I also don’t think his trade value is high enough to be the centerpiece of a package for a guy like Latos or Ross either. Greene is only one year younger than Latos and two years younger than Ross, remember. We’re not talking about a 22 or 23-year-old here. I’m not sure his trade value is all that high on his own. Definitely not high enough to land a real difference maker.

Cueto. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Cueto. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Four of the Reds’ five starting pitchers are due to be free agents after next season — Latos, Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Alfredo Simon. They do have Homer Bailey signed long-term and Tony Cingrani under team control, but still, losing four starters is tough. Cincinnati is a medium payroll team ($114M in 2014) that already has $70M on the books for just four players in 2016 (Bailey, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips), so re-signing all four of those starters will be impossible. Heck, re-signing just one of Latos or Cueto will be tough. Speculation is they will trade at least one of those two to clear payroll and fill other roster holes this winter and obviously either would make sense for the Yankees. Expect a lot of trade chatter about the Reds’ starters this winter and expect the Bombers to be involved.

Paul asks: Say the Yankees made the playoffs, how scary would be a rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Pineda, Brandon McCarthy and Hiroki Kuroda/Green be?

Yeah, that rotation would be pretty dynamite in a short series, at least on paper. Who knows what would happen in the actual games. I’d use Kuroda as the fourth starter and put Greene in the bullpen as a multi-inning guy. Joe Girardi would be able to lean heavily on David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren in a short postseason series with built in off-days, so the pitching staff could have been excellent. Too bad the Yankees couldn’t hit at all this year. Thinking about what could have been with this pitching staff is a bummer.

Kevin asks: I have forever been against the idea of a 6-man rotation, however going to next year I don’t think it could make much more sense. CC Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka and Kuroda (aqssuming return) would all benefit greatly from the extra day for one reason or another. What are your thoughts and do you see the Yankees pursuing this?

There have already been reports indicating the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation for next season as way to give their starters extra rest. Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), Phelps (elbow), Sabathia (knee), and Ivan Nova (elbow) all have injury concerns and could benefit from working in a six-man rotation. How much would the extra day of rest help keep them healthy? Who knows. It’s worth noting pitchers across the league this year have actually performed slightly worst with an extra day of rest than on normal rest.

The Yankees would have to use a three-man bench to make a six-man rotation happen — nothing they’ve done in recent years makes me think they would go with a four-man bench and a six-man bullpen — and that’s doable because players like Martin Prado provide some versatility. They’d have to come up with a similarly versatile backup infielder and have a backup catcher who could maybe play a little first base and left field. I don’t love the idea of taking starts away from Tanaka and Pineda — the difference between a five-man rotation and a six-man rotation is about five starts across the 162-game season — but if it helps keep them healthy, it might be the best course of action. I don’t think there’s a clear right answer here. This is a very debatable topic.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Stephen asks: Now that we know how many we’ll have this season, I’m curious what the percentage is for how many of Jeter’s games played were “meaningless games” — those in which the Yankees were already eliminated from postseason contention. I’d bet it’s probably close to 1%, right?

The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention in Game 157 back in 2008 and in Game 158 this year, so that’s nine meaningless games between those two seasons. Jeter was injured last year when the Yankees were eliminated and didn’t play in any of those meaningless games. He’s played 2,745 total regular season games in his career, so less than 1% have been meaningless — 0.0033% of his games have come with the Yankees mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. That is: crazy.

Update: Reader @Fgerlando points out Jorge Posada played zero meaningless games in his career. He was hurt at the end of the 2008 season and did not play.

Randy asks: Do you think Jeter will get a monument? Do you think he deserves one?

I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.

Scouting The Trade Market: Cubs’ Position Players

The Yankees have a long list of needs heading into the trade deadline, and the Cubs are one of the few teams that we know will be sellers for certain. They’re in the middle of a big rebuild and have been trading away veteran players for prospects since the Theo Epstein-led regime arrived in town during the 2011-12 offseason. This summer figures to be no different.

This morning we looked at Cubs’ pitchers (three, specifically) who could possibly help the Yankees not only this season, but in some cases next season as well. Now we’re going to look at the position players because hey, the Bombers really need some offense. The infield and right field are the two most obvious (only possible?) areas to upgrade. Here’s a look at the Cubs’ position players who could potentially interest the Yankees.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

SS Starlin Castro
It’s amazing how quickly the perception of players can change. At the end of last season, Castro was an overpaid, unproductive malcontent who embodied the Cubs’ player development and rebuilding failures. Now? Now Castro is the co-cornerstone of the infield along with Anthony Rizzo, rebounding from a terrible 2013 season to be a top notch producer and model citizen under new manager Rick Renteria. The fielding gaffes and apparent disinterest have been kept to a minimum.

Castro, who is still only 24, has hit .284/.331/.478 (121 wRC+) with eleven homers in 320 plate appearances this season after mustering a weak .245/.284/.347 (70 wRC+) line with ten homers in 705 plate appearances a year ago. He hit .297/.336/.425 (102 wRC+) with 27 homers total from 2010-12, his first three years in the show. Castro’s batting ball profile returned to its pre-2013 levels and at his age he’s simply getting stronger and better. He remains a total hacker (5.6% walk rate) but his bat-to-ball skills are very good (17.2% strikeout rate). It’s also worth noting he’s played in 556 of 561 possible games from 2011-14. Castro’s tools are very impressive.

The Cubs have a top shortstop prospect in Triple-A in Javier Baez, though that doesn’t automatically mean they will trade Castro. Neither guy is a standout defender and could wind up at second base. Plus there’s the matter of Baez hitting .226/.278/.424 (74 wRC+) while striking out in 34.2% of his plate appearances this year. (He had a 28.8% strikeout rate in Double-A last season, so the hacktastic ways are nothing new.) The kid has electric, Gary Sheffield-esque bat speed, but he’s ultra-aggressive and there are serious concerns about his ability to hit at the higher levels. Trade Castro and the Cubs might wind up with no viable young shortstops within a year or two.

Castro signed an eight-year, $60M extension during the 2012 season and is under contract through 2019 (option for 2020), when he will still be only 29 years old. If the Cubs were open to trading him, they’d market him as if 2013 was just a bump in the road. Young, high-ceiling middle infielders signed through their peak years never get traded. I can’t come up with a comparable deal to reference and will simply say it will take a package of several high-end prospects to bring Castro to the Bronx. I don’t see this happening at all.

(David Banks/Getty)
Valbuena. (David Banks/Getty)

IF Luis Valbuena
Valbuena, 28, is quietly hitting .266/.359/.425 (117 wRC+) with four homers and a 12.7% walk rate in 237 plate appearances this year. He’s always been a patient hitter (career 10.2 BB%) and last season’s .218/.331/.378 (95 wRC+) batting line would have been better if not for a career low .233 BABIP. He has a .336 BABIP this year and a .267 BABIP since getting to the Cubs in 2012 (.266 career!), so his true talent level is probably somewhere between his 2013 and 2014 performances.

The Yankees need infield help and Valbuena has a lot of experience at both second and third bases, so he provides some flexibility. The various defensive stats rate him anywhere from average to slightly above at the two positions. Valbuena is a left-handed hitter with patience who could see his power production tick up in Yankee Stadium (his spray charts suggests it may), plus he’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016. Not the sexiest name in the world, but Valbuena would be an upgrade at either second or third bases for New York. Yunel Escobar fetched a Grade-C upper level prospect (Derek Dietrich) when he was dealt from the Marlins to the Rays two years ago, if you’re looking for a comparable trade.

3B Mike Olt
If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, then I’m sure you’re familiar with Olt. The Connecticut raised third baseman was discussed as a possible trade target more than a few times over the years, particularly when he was with the Rangers. Texas traded him to Chicago as part of the package for Matt Garza last year.

Olt, 25, is having a statistically fascinating season as a part-time with the Cubs. He’s hitting .146/.225/.354 (55 wRC+) with a 38.2% strikeout rate and an 8.4% walk rate, so he’s an extreme hacker/swing-and-miss guy, but he’s also clubbed ten homers in 178 plate appearances. The right-handed pop is there and always has been. Olt is okay defensively at third and he has years to go before being eligible for arbitration, nevermind free agency. He’s a project. If the Yankees think their organizational hitting gurus can fix him up, then he would make sense as a buy low, possible long-term third base option. Olt is not someone who can help the team right away, however.

(David Banks/Getty)
Ruggiano. The one on the ground. (David Banks/Getty)

OF Justin Ruggiano & OF Nate Schierholtz
I’m going to lump these two together because they’re both platoon outfielders. Ruggiano, 32, is hitting .220/.321/.352 (88 wRC+) overall this year with a 102 wRC+ against lefties. The 30-year-old Schierholtz has a brutal .205/.260/.308 (52 wRC+) batting line overall and with a 54 wRC+ against righties. He’s the better defender of the two but Ruggiano is about average himself. Schierholtz will become a free agent after the season while Ruggiano is under team control through the 2016 season.

The Yankees are currently riding the underwhelming Alfonso Soriano/Ichiro Suzuki platoon in right field and could use some more power from the position. Neither Ruggiano nor Schierholtz seems likely to provide that based on their performance this year. Utility man Emilio Bonifacio got off to an insane start back in April but hasn’t hit a lick since and is sitting on a .261/.306/.340 (75 wRC+) batting line. He can provide some speed and versatility off the bench, but nothing more. None of these three would move the needle.

* * *

Since it seems unlikely the Cubs will move Castro in the coming weeks for anything less than a substantial haul, Valbuena appears to be the only option who would actually help the Yankees this season. Olt is interesting in the sense that he has power and is a former top prospect, but he needs to be fixed. He’s not going to help anyone right away. Castro is a stud and Jeff Samardzija is very available and a true impact pitcher, but I think Valbuena and Jason Hammel are the more realistic fits for the Yankees.

Mailbag: Prospects, All-Stars, Castro, Samardzija

Got a dozen questions for you this week, including a bunch about prospects. We’re starting to get an overwhelming amount of questions each week — I had over 50 marked for consideration this week — and I’m trying to answer as many as I can each Friday. Don’t take it personally if yours is not included. Keep sending them in.

Aaron Judge and Michael O'Neill. (Moultrie News)
Aaron Judge and Michael O’Neill. O’Neill is 6-foot-1. (Moultrie News)

Brendan asks: If some of these prospects stay hot (Aaron Judge), when is the earliest we could expect a call up?

Judge is the one guy who I think will get moved up sooner rather than later. The Yankees said they started him with Low-A Charleston because he didn’t play at all after signing last year and they wanted to take it slow, but now that he’s showing no rust and is raking, a quick move up to High-A Tampa is in order. As for other everyone else, I think we’re still a good two months or so away. The season is young and most promotions don’t come until midseason, after each league’s All-Star Game.

Toki asks: Now that Dante Bichette Jr. is hitting (SSS), who has the higher ceiling among Bichette and Eric Jagielo?

Jagielo, no doubt. It would still be Jagielo for me even if Bichette had hit well these last two years. I have less questions about Jagielo’s all-around offensive game as well as his defense. Maybe Bichette will have a higher offensive peak if it all works out, but I think Jagielo projects to be the better all-around player and it really isn’t all that close. Bichette’s been great this year, but three weeks do not erase the last two years.

Upstate Yanks asks: When are we going to see Mark Montgomery come up? Could be a future late-inning guy no?

Probably in the second half and yes. I actually think I ranked him too high in my Preseason Top 30Danny Burawa jumped him on the depth chart before getting hurt — and I’m not quite as bullish as I was last year at this time. The slider still misses bats though, and has long as that continues to happen, he’ll project to be a late-inning arm.

Glenn asks: I know he’s only been in the system a short time but it always seems like Caleb Smith is putting up nice numbers. Is there potential in him for the future?

Oh yes, absolutely. Smith might be the best sleeper in the organization right now. The Yankees grabbed him out of Sam Houston State with their 14th round pick last year, gave him $100k, and he has a 1.78 ERA (~2.24 FIP) with a 26.7% strikeout rate in 65.2 pro innings. That was before yesterday’s 13-strikeout performance. The walks are a bit high (9.2%) but Smith is a big lefty (listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and two legit offspeed pitches (low-80s slider and changeup). Is he the next Randy Johnson? No, but there’s legit MLB potential there.

Dan asks: Peter O’Brien is hitting the cover off the ball, what are the chances he gets called up to AA this year? Since he seems to be completely blocked at C, do you see the Yankees moving his position? Same questions for Gary Sanchez: if his bat can make an impact in the next couple of years, is there any chance they try him out at a different position, because he’s blocked by McCann? Do you see him being promoted to AAA this year?

O'Brien. (Presswire)
O’Brien. (Presswire)

O’Brien to Double-A will definitely happen at some point. That will be one of the midseason promotions I mentioned earlier. He’ll eventually move off catcher because he’s a pretty bad catcher, not because he’s blocked. O’Brien worked out at third base last year but that didn’t work. They’re giving right field a try early this year. I assume first base is next. As for Gary Sanchez, he should stay behind the plate as long as possible regardless of Brian McCann and whoever else is ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s way more valuable there. Let him develop behind the plate and worry about where he fits into the MLB roster when the time comes. If nothing else, staying behind the plate makes him more attractive to other teams in trades. As for the promotion to Triple-A Scranton, yeah I think that will happen later this summer.

Jack asks: Among the following 4: a) would you rank the most likely (if any) to succeed as a major league regular, and b) has the ability to stick at 3B at the majors: Jagielo, DBJ, Andujar, Austin.

To answer the first question, I’d rank them Jagielo, Tyler Austin, Miguel Andujar, and Bichette. I had Austin over Jagielo in my Preseason Top 30 but they were right next too each other (almost interchangeable) and Austin has dealt with some injury problems in recent weeks. As for sticking at third base, I’d have them Jagielo, Andujar, Austin, and Bichette. I’m not married to the order of the last two and I wouldn’t argue Bichette over Austin. Jagielo and Andujar are legit third baseman. The other guys are maybes at the position who are better off elsewhere.

Paul asks: Too early, I know, but so far the only Yankees worthy of All-Star berths are Masahiro Tanaka and maybe Jacoby Ellsbury, right? Nobody else is standing out to me. Who do you think the fans will vote for? Derek Jeter seems like a good shot considering he’s Jeter and has avoided falling on his face. Anyone else?

I think Jeter will win the fan vote by a mile at shortstop. Who will take votes from him? Jose Reyes? That’s the only other reasonable candidate and he’s hurt all the time. The current AL shortstop landscape is a wasteland. Jeter has hit well this year and I think he’ll go to the All-Star Game. Tanaka and Ellsbury are both worthy right now — Ellsbury’s not a maybe for me, he’s been too good to be on the bubble — and I think Carlos Beltran will get some consideration, though there are always a ton of qualified outfielders. McCann also has a shot, especially if his recent offensive surge is a sign he’s getting back to being himself at the plate. The AL catching crop is weak, though Jason Castro and Matt Wieters are legitimate alternatives.

Matt asks: Could the Yankees look to make a deal with the Cubs for Starlin Castro, being that he had sort of a rocky season last year with the organization, and the presence of their prospect Javier Baez (though he is struggling now) seemingly on the way? Obviously depending on how he performs, what do you think it would take to get a deal done for Castro at the end of the season?

Yes, I think so. Obviously it depends how he rebounds from that disaster last year. Castro isn’t a shortstop — I don’t know what he is, really. Maybe a second baseman? — and he’s a hacker at the plate, but he has some power and speed. He also just turned 24, so he’s still very young with the potential for improvement. The contract is scary if you don’t think he’ll rebound (owed $49M through 2019), but that’s the Cubs’ problem. I’m interested but I want to see what happens this year. There haven’t been many players like Castro traded over the years, so figuring out what it would take to get him is mighty tough. How do you value him? As a future star or just an okay infielder?

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Samardzija. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

New Guy asks: Now that Ivan Nova is out for a while, what would it take to make Jeff Samardzija a Yankee? I’ve always liked him and he is always liked to trade rumors. Are you interested?

I was about a year ago, but Samardzija didn’t improve much (if at all) last season and this year is more of the same. His strikeout rate this year is actually way, way down, but it is still very early. Samardzija strikes me as a classic “whole is less than the sum of the parts” guy, like Edwin Jackson and A.J. Burnett. The stuff says he should be an ace and you keep waiting for him to turn into an ace, but he leaves you waiting and waiting. All while he’ll show enough flashes to keep you interested. Samardzija is affordable ($5.345M in 2014, free agent after 2015) and he’s a fine mid-rotation horse, but he’s already 29 and I’m not sure how much longer you can wait for him to live up to the potential. The Cubs are marketing him as an ace and he just isn’t that.

Josh asks: You just did a piece of the Yanks trying to make a move for Cliff Lee. What do you think about Kyle Kendrick. Younger, and would come a lot cheaper. Hasn’t had a great start, but maybe they could buy low.

I’m not a fan of Kendrick. He’s a solid back of the rotation type who limits walks and gets grounders, but he is surprisingly expensive ($7.675M this year) and I’m not sure an upper-80s sinker/low-80s changeup righty is someone I trust in the AL East. I’d rather give David Phelps a try before giving up prospects for Kendrick. Lee is (still) an elite pitcher and I’m not a fan of cutting corners when it comes to those guys. Play the price and add a true difference maker. No one gets upset over traded prospects in October.

Joe asks: Watching the Yankees so far this season, they are definitely going 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home A LOT more than previous years. Was wondering if you could do a comparison between this year and previous years.

Sure can. These numbers do not include last night’s game (couldn’t wait around for Baseball Reference to update overnight), but here are the team’s first-to-third numbers (small sample size, yadda yadda yadda):

1st to 3rd Opps. 1st to 3rds 1st to 3rd % Overall XB%
2014 40 16 40% 48%
2013 275 65 24% 35%
2012 280 78 28% 37%
2011 287 71 25% 38%
2010 328 87 27% 38%

Joe is correct, the Yankees have absolutely been going first-to-third more often this season. They’ve been taking the extra-base in general — score from second on a single, score from first on a double, etc. — more often as well. The league average for taking the extra-base is around 40% and the Yankees were a bit below that the last few years. This year they are well above-average.

The reason for the improvement is pretty obvious. Ellsbury, Yangervis Solarte, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts are quicker than the guys they replaced, and both Jeter and Beltran are very smart base-runners who make up for their lack of speed with instincts. I think their first-to-third and overall extra-base rate will come down a bit as the season progresses just because guys will start to get tired and stuff like that, but they should still be quite a bit better than the last few years. Between all the defensive shifts and better base-running, this is a new breed of Yankees baseball.