Friday Links: A-Rod, YES, Judge, Frazier, Gagne, Littell

Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Presswire)
Guest instructor Al from Miami. (Newsday)

The Yankees are, at this very moment, playing their first Grapefruit League game of the season. Turn on YES or MLB.tv to watch. Here’s our game thread. Don’t miss it. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

A-Rod to meet with YES

At some point this spring Alex Rodriguez will meet with executives from the YES Network, report George King and Bryan Hoch. The exact reason for the meeting is unclear. It could be something, it could be nothing. Maybe just a meet-and-great or some promo work. Or maybe the two sides will discuss a broadcasting role. YES has a small army of ex-Yankees on their rotating panel of analysts.

Rodriguez has done analyst work with FOX the last two postseasons and he’s been really good. Critics have praised him and diehard fans seem to like him too. A-Rod certainly knows the game and he seems comfortable talking about it in depth on camera. Again, I have no idea why exactly Alex and YES are meeting. It really could be nothing. I selfishly hope it’s about potential broadcasting work though. That would be awesome.

Judge among Law’s top impact prospects for 2017

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently ranked his top 19 prospects based on potential 2017 impact. Not surprisingly, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi and Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson sit in the top two spots. They’re the two best prospects in baseball in my opinion, and both are locked into big league starting jobs this year. Aaron Judge is seventh on Law’s list and Clint Frazier is among the honorable mentions.

I expect (Judge) to take some time to bring (his strikeouts) down this year, but that’s been his history with each promotion in pro ball. Judge is a giant, at 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, so his strike zone is just as big, but he has enormous raw power and is an above-average right fielder. As long as the contact he makes continues to be hard contact, he’ll have value even if he’s among the league leaders in Ks.

I don’t think the Yankees will hesitate to send Judge to Triple-A to start the season if they feel it’s best for him. I also think they understand he’s going to come with growing pains. We saw them late last year and they’re not necessarily over. At some point they’re just going to have to stick it out with Judge and let him work through the problems, and perhaps that means a .205 average with 185 strikeouts in 2017. Perhaps moreso than any other young player in the system, Judge is going to require a lot of patience, both from the Yankees and fans.

Gagne considering comeback attempt

Eric Gagne, who turned 41 last month, is considering a comeback attempt, according to Ken Gurnick. Gagne hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2008 — he was one-and-done on the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot — but he has thrown in various independent leagues the last few years, and he’ll pitch for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Gagne’s agent told Gurnick he sat 93-95 mph in indy ball last year (eh) while Jon Heyman hears he’s throwing 92-93 mph in bullpen sessions right now.

Gagne at his peak was one of the most dominant forces in baseball history. From 2002-04 he had a 1.79 ERA (1.57 FIP) with 38.6% strikeouts and 6.1% walks in 247 innings. During his 2003 Cy Young season he struck out 137 and walked 18 unintentionally in 82.1 innings. Insane. This is the time of year for comeback attempt stories, and hey, if Gagne looks good during the WBC, I’m sure some team will offer him a minor league deal. Maybe even the Yankees.

Littell among top “control” prospects

A few weeks ago Matt Eddy put together a list of the best “control” prospects in the minors. In this case control is not referring to the ability to throw strikes. FIP is based on three things the pitcher controls: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Eddy removed strikeouts and examined the best prospects at limiting walks and homers, and he also threw in the ability to hold runners for good measure. Zack Littell ranked third on his list.

Of the dozen prospects traded by the Mariners this offseason, Littell looks like one of the more promising. The Yankees acquired the 21-year-old North Carolina prep in a straight-up trade for lefty reliever James Pazos. Littell brings a cerebral approach to the mound, which helps his high-spin fastball and above-average breaking ball play up.

I’m still amazed the Yankees were able to get a solid starting pitcher prospect for Pazos, who throws hard and doesn’t do much else. Littell did not make my top 30 prospects list but Baseball America ranked him 24th in the system in their 2017 Prospect Handbook. The Yankees managed to use the industry’s obsession with lefties and velocity to turn Pazos and Justin Wilson into three pretty nice young arms at a time when reliable starters are hard to find and not cheap to acquire. Neat.

Wednesday Links: Rothschild, CBA, Steinbrenner, YES

(Presswire)
Rothschild. (Presswire)

At noon today, Brian Cashman will hold his annual end-of-season State of the Yankees press conference. These things rarely bring major news — usually the only announcements are coaching changes — but Cashman is very candid by GM standards, so it’ll be interesting to hear what he has to say about the 2016 season and the team going forward. Until then, here are some links and bits of news to check out.

Rothschild hopes to return in 2017

The contract of pitching coach Larry Rothschild expired after the season, and he told Dan Martin he hopes to return in 2017. “We’ll see what happens,” said Rothschild. This is probably one of the things Cashman will discuss at today’s press conference. Rothschild has been New York’s pitching coach since the 2011 season, and since then the Yankees lead all AL teams in pitching WAR. They’re third among all 30 clubs.

Of course, evaluating a pitching coach (or any coach) is not nearly as simple as looking at WAR. I said what I had to say about Rothschild last month. I think the vast majority of the team’s pitching issues stem from their obsession with raw stuff over command and refinement. The Yankees have now missed the playoffs three times in the last four years, and they’ve replacing their hitting coach each of the last two offseasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rothschild is let go in a scapegoat move. We’ll see.

Manfred hopeful new CBA will be done soon

While speaking to reporters over the weekend, commissioner Rob Manfred said he is hopeful MLB and the MLBPA will finalize the new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon after the end of the postseason, according to Bob Nightengale and Ben Nicholson-Smith. “Both parties still have significant issues on the table,” said Manfred, who added this is not a “rip the agreement up, start over type of negotiation.”

I’m not in any way worried about a work stoppage — revenue is at an all-time high and both sides have too much to lose — though I am curious to see how the new CBA changes free agent compensation, the draft, and international free agency. My guess is the IFA system is changed pretty drastically. I don’t think MLB likes teams making a mockery of the system, like the Yankees did with their 2014-15 signing spree. Either way, change is on the horizon.

Steinbrenner among ten on Today’s Game Era ballot

Earlier this week, the Hall of Fame announced the ten-person Today’s Game Era ballot, according to the Associated Press. Among the ten are former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The Boss was previously up for Hall of Fame election through the Expansion Era committee, though he didn’t receive enough votes. The Today’s Game committee will announce their voting results during the Winter Meetings in December. Twelve of 16 votes are needed for induction.

The Hall of Fame restructured their voting committees recently — the Veterans and Expansion Era committees are no more, and have been replaced by the Today’s Game (1988-present), Modern Baseball (1970-87), Golden Days (1950-69), and Early Baseball (1871-1949) committees — and the new ones meet every few years. Steinbrenner, who I think should be in the Hall of Fame, is on the Today’s Game ballot with Mark McGwire, Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Lou Piniella, John Schuerholz, and Bud Selig.

YES ratings down in 2016

Surprise surprise: YES Network ratings were down this past season, according to Eben Novy-Williams. YES averaged approximately 218,000 viewers per game in 2016, down from roughly 233,000 per game last year, as best I can tell. Part of that is the squabble with Comcast; Comcast stopped carrying YES this year because they didn’t want to pay the rights fee. There are 900,000 or so Comcast subscribers in the Tri-State Area and I’m sure more than a few are Yankees fans.

From 2002-11, the first decade of the YES era, the network averaged about 400,000 viewers per game. Interest has waned in recent years thanks to some retirements (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, etc.) and non-playoff seasons. Novy-Williams says SNY had higher ratings than YES for the first time ever this season — SNY averaged a little less than 264,000 viewers per game in 2016 — which isn’t surprising given the Comcast issue and the fact the Mets went to the World Series a year ago.

Saturday Links: Miller, Beltran, Teixeira, YES, Jeter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Twins continue their four-game series later this afternoon. Here are some links to help you pass the time until first pitch.

Yankees want “sure things” for Miller

From the “no duh” rumor mill: the Yankees are seeking “sure things” in return in any Andrew Miller trade, reports Jon Heyman. I guess that means they want MLB ready young talent, not prospects who are a year or two away from the big leagues. Makes sense, right? No need to settle for lottery tickets when you’re dealing a player of Miller’s caliber. Either get players who can help you right now or keep the reasonably priced elite reliever who is under contract two more years. The Yankees don’t have to move Miller, after all. If someone wants him, it’ll cost them.

Yankees, Beltran have not talked new contract

Another one from the “no duh” rumor mill: the Yankees and impending free agent Carlos Beltran have not yet had any talks about a new contract, so says Barry Bloom. This shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Beltran is having an awesome season, but he’ll be 40 next April, and the Yankees have a small army of outfielders in Triple-A. They’ve been going young pretty much everywhere possible — and they absolutely need to do that, in my opinion — and part of that is letting Beltran go and replacing him with one of the many younger options. There’s nothing wrong with having a courtesy chat about a new deal, but yeah, this ain’t happening.

Teixeira admits to thinking about retirement

Chances are Mark Teixeira is in his final season as a Yankee — they could bring him back next year as Greg Bird insurance, though I would be surprised — but he has already said he’d like to play five more years. That doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking about retirement though. Here’s what Teixeira said during a recent radio interview when asked about retirement, via Joe Giglio:

“Yea, it’s in the back of mind mind,” Teixeira said. “Absolutely. Even last year when I broke my leg on a fluke foul ball. I’m having a great season and we’re in first place and I break my leg. I’m like, ‘Man, is this ever going to stop?’ You think about how much longer do I want to do this. But you get through it. You have those frustrating times. You joke around when you’re on the DL and think it’s rock bottom watching your team on TV. But you get through and when you get back and hit a couple home runs, you think this is fun again. Hopefully, I’ll get through it this season and perform and help the team. Then we’ll sit down and discuss it as a family as far as what I want to do.”

I can’t imagine thinking and talking about retirement can be an easy thing for a pro athlete. They’re facing the inevitability of walking away from pretty much the only thing they’ve ever known. Teixeira’s been dealing with all these injuries the last few years and you know no one wants to go out like that.

YES ratings down 10% in 2016

According to Richard Morgan, YES Network ratings are down 10% from last season. They’re averaging a little more than 230,000 viewers per game these days. YES averaged nearly 400,000 viewers per game from 2002-11, when the Yankees were in their heyday and contending every year. This isn’t unexpected, right? The Yankees are bad and when teams are bad, ratings (and attendance) drop. Hopefully it doesn’t lead to the team doing something stupid, like trying to spend their way back into contention in a weak free agent market this winter.

Jeter-Davis wedding set for July 2nd

How about we close with some happy news? According to Emily Smith, Derek Jeter and Hannah Davis will be getting married on July 2nd, so two weeks from today. Smith says it’ll be a small family and close friends only ceremony in Napa, and they “want to start a family and have kids right away.” Are those kids gonna have the best genes ever, or what? Also, various social media accounts sure make it seem like Jeter is out doing the bachelor party thing with Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, and Andruw Jones. That is some serious #squadgoals right there.

YES Network doesn’t anticipate deal with Comcast before Opening Day

(MLB.tv screen grab)
(MLB.tv screen grab)

According to Ryan Hatch, people with the YES Network “don’t anticipate Comcast’s returning YES to its programming lineup in time for Opening Day.” YES and Comcast are currently in a rights fee dispute. Comcast doesn’t want to pay the team’s asking price to carry the network, basically.

YES and Comcast operated without a contract for much of last season. They agreed to a fee, and as soon as the season ended, Comcast dropped YES citing a decline in ratings. Richard Sandomir reports YES actually dropped their subscriber fee from $5.93 last year to $5.36 this year.

“We’re telling people that this isn’t going to settle. Hope is not a strategy. You have to find another provider,” said YES president Tracy Dolgin to Sandomir. “We’re already into Spring Training. There’s a real chance of missing both Opening Day and the season. To me this is a huge thing.”

Similar rights fees disputes have been settled in court, though there’s no indication the YES-Comcast dispute is heading that way. The Dodgers are about to enter year three of their rights fees dispute. Non-Time Warner customers in Los Angeles haven’t been able to watch the team since 2013.

Telling fans to switch cable providers strikes me as an attempt to put some pressure on Comcast before the season. I imagine that will catch their attention. YES will be available for in-market streaming this year, but you need to subscribe through your cable provider, so it’s not an alternative to Comcast.

Saturday Links: Ellsbury, Severino, Comcast, Headgear

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This is the last Saturday without some kind of baseball game — Spring Training, regular season, postseason, whatever — until November. That is pretty, pretty awesome. Here are some assorted links I have to pass along.

Ellsbury among worst contracts, Severino among best assets

Over at ESPN, Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to rank the 25 worst contracts (subs. req’d) and 25 best assets (subs. req’d) in baseball. Albert Pujols, who still has six years and $165M left on his deal, ranks as the worst contract while Carlos Correa checks in as the best asset. Mike Trout is second. I’d be more interested to see the 25 best contracts, but Szymborski included players in their pre-arbitration years.

The Yankees had one player on each list. Jacoby Ellsbury ranked 13th on the worst contracts list, sandwiched between Shin-Soo Choo and Justin Verlander. “Ellsbury’s Gold Glove days are behind him, though he remains at least a competent defensive center fielder, which means, at least theoretically, that flexibility keeps the number of (possible trade) suitors higher than some of the more limited players higher on this list,” said the write-up. Others like Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia didn’t make the worst contracts list because their deals expire soon.

As for the good news, Luis Severino ranked 21st on the best assets list, right behind Sonny Gray and a few spots ahead of Carlos Carrasco. “Severino’s 4.37 FIP wasn’t as impressive as his 2.89 ERA, but that should also improve considerably given he was a 21-year-old who started the season in Double-A and was thrown directly into a pennant race,” wrote Szymborski. I have to say, I’m not used to seeing the Yankees having a player on a best assets list. Or only one player on a worst contracts list, for that matter. Times are a changin’.

No progress in YES/Comcast squabble

There still has not been any progress in the YES Network/Comcast dispute. “Nothing to report,” said one YES executive to Ryan Hatch earlier this week. Again, the dispute is over rights fees. YES wants to charge cable providers a bit more money to carry the network going forward, and Comcast doesn’t want to pay, citing declining ratings and other things. I hope the two sides work something out before Opening Day. It seems likely Comcast customers will be left in the dark for Grapefruit League games, however. (Spring Training games are available on MLB.tv with no blackouts, thankfully.)

(ESPN)
(ESPN)

MLB, MLBPA to test new protective headgear for pitchers

According to William Weinbaum, this spring 20 big league pitchers will test out a new protective headgear that is a “hybrid of a cap and a helmet.” It weighs 10-12 ounces and has a carbon fiber shell, and as you can see in the photo above, it resembles a visor. “The average thickness is about 0.7 inches and is greatest in places most susceptible to catastrophic injury,” writes Weinbaum.

It’s unknown if any Yankees will use the new protective headgear, though no one in camp has worn them while throwing bullpens or live batting practice, as far as I know. Bryan Mitchell took a line drive to the nose last year, and a few years back Aroldis Chapman was hit in the face by a line drive during Spring Training, so I guess they’re the obvious candidates to wear some kind of new protective visor.

Chewing tobacco may soon be banned at Yankee Stadium

Thanks to a bill introduced by New York City Councilman Corey Johnson, smokeless tobacco may soon be banned at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, reports Tim Rohan. “If New York passes this bill, and I think it will, it moves us dramatically closer to the day when smokeless tobacco is prohibited in all Major League cities,” said Matthew Myers, the president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The Yankees (and Mets) have told Johnson they will support the bill.

Chewing tobacco is already banned at Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, and AT&T Park after similar bills were approved unanimously in those cities. The goal isn’t so much to prevent players from using smokeless tobacco — it is a personal choice, after all — it’s to prevent them from using it on television where kids can see it. Tony Gwynn passed away following a battle with salivary gland cancer and Curt Schilling is still fighting mouth cancer, both of which have been attributed to their use of chewing tobacco as players. I don’t know if any Yankees use it regularly — CC Sabathia always seems to have a wad in his lip on days he doesn’t pitch, right? — but it soon may be off-limits.

Saturday Links: Waiver Trades, Eppler, 2016 Draft, YES

D-Rob. (Presswire)
D-Rob. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Rays continue their Labor Day weekend series a little later this afternoon. Here are some morning links to help you pass the time.

Yankees were blocked in attempts to add pitching

During the waiver trade period in August, the Yankees were “blocked in every attempt” to add pitching, reports Nick Cafardo. Well, that should say “almost every attempt,” because they did claim David Robertson, only to have the White Sox pull him back. Getting blocked on trade waivers simply means a team with a lower waiver priority (i.e. a worse record) placed a claim on a player. In August, players can only be dealt to the team that claims them off trade waivers. They can be dealt to any team if they go unclaimed.

The Yankees were in first place for 18 of 31 days in August, so I’m guessing the Blue Jays did most of the blocking. Wildcard hopefuls like the Twins, Rangers, Angels, Rays, and Orioles were probably in on the act as well. The only pitchers traded in August were Fernando Rodney, Neal Cotts, Randy Wolf, Oliver Perez, and Eric O’Flaherty. Cotts and Perez are useful left-on-left matchup guys, but otherwise the Yankees don’t have much use for those players. Any attempt to add significant pitching was likely blocked. Aside from Robertson, of course.

Eppler continues to be linked to Angels

Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler continues to be linked to the Angels, who will hire a new GM in the offseason following Jerry Dipoto’s midseason resignation. Dipoto lost a power struggle when owner Arte Moreno sided with manager Mike Scioscia. Bob Nightengale heard from one “high-ranking Angels executive” that Eppler is considered the front-runner for the job while Alden Gonzalez notes Eppler’s name comes up “frequently” in Angels discussions Ken Rosenthal reports the Angels have not yet asked the Yankees for permission to speak to Eppler, for what it’s worth. Eppler interviewed for the Angels job back in 2011 and was reportedly the runner-up to Dipoto. There are a few GM jobs open right now (Angels, Mariners, Red Sox) and I’m guessing this won’t be the last time we hear Eppler connected to one of them.

2016 draft set for June 9th

The 2016 amateur draft has been scheduled for June 9th, reports John Manuel. That’s a Thursday. The draft has historically been held on the first Tuesday of June, but in recent years the start date has moved around due to MLB Network. The draft started on a Monday in both 2012 and 2015, and on a Thursday in 2013 and 2014. As usual, it will be a three-day event next summer.

Manuel says there has been talk of moving the draft broadcast to Omaha to coincide with the College World Series, which would allow some more prospects to attend, but that won’t happen next year. The College World Series usually doesn’t start until mid-June, which would mean delaying the draft two weeks or so. Not ideal. Teams want to get their players, get them signed, and get their careers started.

YES ratings up 31% in the second half

Apparently the thrill of a postseason race has more people watching the Yankees down the stretch. YES Network ratings are up a whopping 31% in the second half, the network announced. Ratings are up even more in certain demographics, and YES is “delivering the best demo viewership” since 2012, whatever that means. Also, nine of the eleven highest rated game broadcasts have come within the last month. If you win, people will watch. If you lose, many will still watch.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, YES, NYCFC, Nicaragua, Mustaches

Bern baby Bern. (Presswire)
Bern baby Bern. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Mets resume the Subway Series later this afternoon at Yankee Stadium. It’s a 4pm ET start. Blah. Until then, here are some stray links I had lying around to hold you over.

How the Yankees will fight A-Rod‘s home run bonuses

Back in Spring Training we heard the Yankees were “confident” they could get out of paying Alex Rodriguez his home run milestone bonuses. Now that the season is underway and A-Rod is mashing taters, the breaking point is rapidly approaching. He is two shy of tying Willie Mays on the all-time home run list with 660 dingers, so it could happen any game now and trigger the first $6M bonus.

Ken Davidoff and Joel Sherman have the breakdown of exactly how the Yankees plan to get out of the bonuses, which are part of a separate marketing contract, not Rodriguez’s player contract. Here’s the nuts and bolts of their report:

According to two sources familiar with the situation, when Rodriguez goes deep with number 660, the Yankees will have a precise period of time — two weeks, as per one of the sources — to declare this as a marketable milestone. If they were to do this, then Rodriguez would sign over the rights to his image and associated branding for the price of $6 million.

Once the Yankees formalize this decision, then A-Rod has a set period of time — 30 days, according to one source — to file a grievance. Though Rodriguez has shied away from publicly discussing this, every indication is that he will challenge the Yankees’ interpretation of the side deal.

The Yankees will have to prove they utilized good faith in declining to declare A-Rod’s 660th homer a milestone. They’ve gone so far as to not include A-Rod in the “Upcoming Milestones” section of their daily press notes.

I dunno, seems like a lot of work to save $6M. They really can’t slap together some generic AROD660 shirts, call them official, and at least break even? Besides, you know they were hoping he didn’t hit the two homers in Detroit just so they could get the attendance boost on the homestand.

YES Network ratings down 21% so far in 2015

According to Richard Sandomir, YES Network ratings have dropped a staggering 21% so far this season, down to 267,000 viewers per game. Woof. The report is from Thursday, so it doesn’t include the last few games of this little hit streak. YES averaged over 400,000 viewers per game when it first launched and 355,000 as recently as 2012. Viewership fell to 244,000 per game in 2013 and rebounded to 288,000 per game last year thanks to Derek Jeter‘s retirement. There are still 145 games left to play, so there’s plenty of time for ratings to increase, but still. That’s a big drop. I imagine it would have been even worse if a whole bunch of people weren’t tuning in to hate-watch A-Rod.

No stadium deal for NYCFC on the horizon

New York City Football Club, the expansion MLS franchise that is doing the pro sports team version of crashing on the couch at Yankee Stadium this year, is not any closer to securing their own stadium. “We’re recognizing it’s probably going to take longer than we thought,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber to the Associated Press yesterday.

”There hasn’t been too much buzz about playing in Yankee Stadium or a baseball stadium yet,” said Garber, referring to problems with the field. ”That will happen soon, after somebody trips on a divot perhaps and perhaps misses a ground ball, but we hope that doesn’t happen.” Uh, yeah. Me too.

When we first learned NYCFC would call Yankee Stadium home, it was reported they would play their home games in the Bronx for three years (!). They still need to find a stadium location, build the place, and move in. So yeah, NYCFC isn’t going anywhere for a while. They’re 1-4-3 on the season and 1-2-1 at Yankee Stadium, in case you’re wondering. They’re playing like an expansion team.

MLB announces new amateur prospect league in Nicaragua

Earlier this month MLB announced a new amateur prospect league will be launched in Nicaragua this summer to provide scouts with “neutral in-game scouting opportunities of unsigned prospects.” This is baseball’s second amateur prospect league — they launched one in the Dominican Republic back in 2012. The league will run until July 4th, and there will be another “season” starting in September.

The press release says 46 players from Nicaragua have signed with MLB teams since 2010 and right now there are 31 Nicaraguan players under contract in MLB or the minors. Everth Cabrera and Erasmo Ramirez are the only players from Nicaragua in the big leagues at the moment. By far the best player to ever come out of the country is Dennis Martinez. (Vicente Padilla and Marvin Bernard are distant runners-up.) I’m glad MLB is branching out and giving young kids a chance to show their stuff. Hopefully they open more prospect leagues in other Latin American countries soon.

The Yankees are growing mustaches, for some reason

And finally, you may have noticed during last night’s game that several Yankees are growing — or attempting to grow, anyway — mustaches. Apparently it is part of some kind of team unity thing. Marly Rivera says Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, Esmil Rogers, Dellin Betances, Garrett Jones, and Stephen Drew are among those growing mustaches, and during the game last night it looked like Jacoby Ellsbury is trying to get in on the act as well. This is either going to be very good or very bad. Maybe a little of both.