Yankees, Sabathia reportedly agree to one-year, $10M deal

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

CC Sabathia is staying with the Yankees. According to Mark Feinsand, the Yankees and Sabathia have agreed to a new one-year contract worth $10M with incentives based on innings pitched. The deal is pending a physical which, despite Sabathia’s knee, shouldn’t be an issue since the Yankees know all about his medicals. The Yankees have not yet confirmed the agreement.

Sabathia, 37, reportedly spoke with the Angels and Blue Jays this offseason, though he made it clear his first choice was remaining with the Yankees. “This is my home. I want to see this thing through. I want to come back here and finish things off. This is where I want to be,” said Sabathia following the ALCS Game Seven loss a few weeks ago.

“There were very competitive offers out there that really made CC take his time,” said Sabathia’s agent to Joel Sherman. “In the end, he feels there’s unfinished business to attend to. Loves his teammates, clubhouse and the moves the Yankees are making this offseason. (Sabathia) wanted to come back for his 10th season with the New York Yankees.”

Given his age and performance and leadership, there’s a pretty good chance Sabathia and the Yankees are operating on the Andy Pettitte plan now, meaning they keep working out new one-year contracts as long as Sabathia wants to continue pitching. That would be cool. There’s no such thing as too much pitching and this signing doesn’t break the bank.

This past season Sabathia threw 148.2 innings with a 3.69 ERA (4.49 FIP), and he did it with the same cutter heavy approach that revived his career in 2016. He’s a soft contact machine now. Sabathia had the lowest average exit velocity (83.9 mph), fifth lowest hard contact rate (24.1%), and sixth highest soft contact rate (27.2%) in baseball in 2017.

Sabathia will join Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery in the rotation. The Yankees have been connected to a bunch of young controllable starters in recent days, including guys like Gerrit Cole and Michael Fulmer, and I don’t believe re-signing Sabathia will stop that. I think the Yankees still want another starter.

With Sabathia back on a $10M deal, the Yankees are approximately $23M under the $197M luxury tax threshold, though keep in mind they have to set some money aside for midseason additions and call-ups. In addition to another starter, the Yankees could use another infielder after trading away Starlin Castro and Chase Headley.

Saturday Links: Cole, Ellsbury, Diamondbacks, Judge, Fowler

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As of today, pitchers and catchers are 59 days away from reporting to Tampa for Spring Training. Two months. There’s lots to do in those two months too. The Yankees need another pitcher and probably another infielder. and eventually the top free agents are going to have to sign. Anyway, here are some notes to check out.

Yankees, Pirates talking Cole trade

As rumored during the Winter Meetings, the Yankees and Pirates are indeed talking about a Gerrit Cole trade, reports George King. The deal “possibly” could include Clint Frazier, and the Pirates are said to want a young big league ready pitcher as well. Chance Adams is the obvious fit there, though who knows, maybe the Pirates prefer Domingo German or Luis Cessa. Strangers things have happened.

On one hand, Cole turned only 27 in September, and he has obvious ace-caliber upside. Plus he’s under control for two seasons, not just one. On the other hand, Cole has gone backwards the last two years. He had a 4.26 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 203 innings this season, which is as close to league average as it gets. League average is fine! A league average workhorse is quite valuable. I just worry about trading an ace package for a guy who hasn’t been an ace in two years.

Yankees, D’Backs talked Ellsbury trade

The Yankees and Diamondbacks discussed a Jacoby Ellsbury trade at some point recently, according to Brendan Kuty, though apparently it was a one-sided conversation. The D’Backs weren’t interested. Arizona appears to be one of the few potential landing spots for Ellsbury given the fact they need an outfielder, and Ellsbury and manager Torey Lovullo know each other from their Red Sox days. Plus Ellsbury has a house in Arizona, apparently.

Supposedly Ellsbury does not want to waive his no-trade clause, which could simply be his way of playing hard to get, and leveraging the no-trade clause into some sort of compensation for agreeing to a deal (pick up his 2021 option)? That might be pushing it. Or maybe Ellsbury doesn’t really want to leave the Yankees because he wants to win, and is willing to accept a reduced role. Whatever it is, he is in control here. If he doesn’t want to go to the D’Backs (or anywhere else), he doesn’t have to.

Judge will be ready for Spring Training

Earlier this week Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty that following his shoulder surgery, Aaron Judge will be ready for the start of Spring Training, though the procedure will throw a wrench into his offseason workouts. Judge will have to start hitting a little later than usual. Here’s what Cashman said:

“He won’t be hitting in the winter the way he’s used to doing but in terms of hitting the ground in spring training he should be fine,” Cashman said. “But as far as his normal cage work and picking up a bat at a certain point, that’s going to be delayed for a period of time. But in terms of the recovered and the rehab puts him well in advance of spring training.”

While every surgery comes with risk, I’m not too worried about Judge because it was a fairly minor procedure — they scoped out a loose body and repaired some cartilage, there wasn’t any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff — and he has plenty of time to recover. Missing some offseason cage time isn’t the end of the world. As long as Judge is ready in time for Spring Training, he’ll get more than enough at-bats to be ready for the season.

Fowler suing White Sox for injury

According to Tom Schuba, former Yankees farmhand Dustin Fowler is suing the White Sox and the agency that manages Guaranteed Rate Field over the injury he suffered this summer. Fowler suffered an open rupture of the patella tendon when his knee hit an electrical box along the sidewall chasing a foul pop-up, as I’m sure you remember. It happened in his first inning as a big leaguer. From Schuba:

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, claims the White Sox and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority acted negligently by not securing the metal box or taking precautions to prevent players from colliding with it. In addition, the suit alleges the White Sox and Sports Facilities Authority failed to adequately inspect the right field wall and the box. The box was installed at knee-level “in a manner so as to create a hidden and undetectable hazard” to Fowler and other ballplayers, the suit alleges. By failing to properly pad, guard or cover the exposed box, the defendants showed “an utter indifference to or conscious disregard” for Fowler’s safety.

The lawsuit says Fowler, who later went to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray trade, suffered “severe and permanent” injuries as well as mental pain and anguish, and adds Fowler has had to spend “large sums of money” on medical care related to the injury. I have no idea whether he has any chance of winning the lawsuit, but I hope Fowler cleans them out and they have to rename the ballpark after him. He started baseball activities as part of his rehab last month, so it seems he’s doing well. Hopefully Fowler wins the A’s center field job in Spring Training.

The Erstwhile Manager [2017 Season Review]

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Joe Girardi‘s tenth season as manager of the Yankees turned out to be his final season as manager of the Yankees. And, weirdly enough, he was dismissed after the club exceeded all expectations and made it to within one game of the World Series. Just consider the preseason projections real quick:

And yet, after the season Hal Steinbrenner admitted the Yankees would have changed managers even if they’d won the World Series. “I’m sure there would have been more pressure. It would have been maybe a more difficult decision to make. But I would have made it because I felt like that was best for the organization moving forward,” he said.

There are two parts to being a manager. There are the parts we see and the parts we don’t see. The parts we do see are the batting orders and pitching changes, things like that. The parts we don’t see is everything that happens behind closed doors in the clubhouse, on the team plane, at the hotel, at home. Those relationships that develop between men who are with each other basically non-stop from mid-February through October.

The stuff we don’t see is apparently what led to Girardi being let go after the season. Brian Cashman cited concerns about Girardi’s ability to “communicate and connect” with his players, which is a pretty big deal considering communication is a manager’s No. 1 priority. The Yankees are building a very exciting team with a lot of young players. You don’t want that to be derailed by a manager with communication issues.

The thing is, those alleged communication issues came as a pretty big surprise to us outsiders. At least I thought so. The Yankees played well this season, all their young players had incredible years, the veterans blended in nicely even while having their roles reduced … what was the problem? I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was deemed enough of a problem that a change was necessary. After ten years and 910 wins, Girardi is out as manager.

We can’t evaluate the behind the scenes stuff. We kinda have to take the Yankees’ word on that. The on-field stuff is another matter, though even that is difficult to evaluate. The manager’s job is to put his team in the best position to succeed, right? He can do that and it still might not work out. That’s baseball. We’re not privy to which relievers are and are not available on a given night, things like that. Let’s try to evaluate Girardi anyway, shall we?

Bullpen Usage

Girardi has long had a reputation for being a strong bullpen manager, though he was always quite rigid. He likes to have a closer, an eighth inning guy, a seventh inning guy, and if possible even a sixth inning guy. Girardi didn’t deviate from his assigned innings all that often during the regular season. Most relievers like to have set roles. Girardi seemed to like having set roles even more than the players.

This season Girardi was thrown a curveball by Aroldis Chapman‘s early season injury and ineffectiveness, Tyler Clippard‘s meltdown, and Dellin Betances‘ walk problems. The plan was Clippard in the seventh, Dellin in the eighth, and Chapman in the ninth. That lasted maybe a month before changes were necessary. Betances became the closer when Chapman was hurt, and at one point, he pitched four times in 24 days because there weren’t any save chances. Clippard blew more than a few eighth inning leads during that time.

It wasn’t until about midseason, when it was clear Chad Green wasn’t a fluke and David Robertson had returned, that the bullpen settled down. And the first half bullpen problems weren’t all Girardi’s fault, of course. It’s not his fault Chapman temporarily stopped throwing his fastball by hitters or that Betances stopped throwing strikes. Should he have realized it sooner and pulled the plug? Eh, maybe. It’s not like he was loaded with options though.

Leverage index can help give us an idea who pitched in important situations the most, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the most important aspect of bullpen management. Make sure your best guys are on the mound in the most important situations. Generally speaking, anything with a leverage index of 2.0 or greater is considered high-leverage. Here is the team’s leaderboard for high-leverage appearances:

  1. Aroldis Chapman: 18
  2. Dellin Betances: 16
  3. Adam Warren: 11
  4. Tyler Clippard: 9
  5. Chasen Shreve: 7
  6. Jonathan Holder: 5
  7. Chad Green: 4
  8. David Robertson: 4 with Yankees (12 with White Sox)
  9. Tommy Kahnle: 4 with Yankees (10 with White Sox)

I’m surprised Robertson had only four high-leverage appearances with the Yankees. I’m not surprised Green only had four though, because even when it was clear he was a monster, he entered a lot of games in the middle innings, which usually aren’t high-leverage spots. That doesn’t mean his work was any less important. Clippard getting almost as many high-leverage appearances as Warren despite only being a Yankee for half a season though? Yikes.

Girardi’s bullpen usage during the regular season is whatever. That period in May and June when Clippard was blowing games while Betances sat in the bullpen was quite annoying, otherwise it was a typical Girardi season. The postseason, however, was a much different story. Girardi’s bullpen work was exceptional in October, particularly in the Wild Card Game, in which Luis Severino recorded one out.

“We talked prior to the game. You bring up that scenario that if he takes line drive off the shin, what do you do? I didn’t think that he was going to get one out. I didn’t bring that scenario up,” said Girardi after the game. “And you know, part of that is trying to decide who to bring in, and we talked about Greenie and Robbie would be the first two guys that we would bring in tonight, no matter when the situation was, to try to put innings out, and to get as much out of them as we could.”

That’s exactly what happened. Green came out of the bullpen, got some big outs in the first inning, and Robertson bridged the middle innings. Robertson was Girardi’s go-to reliever in the postseason and he used him every chance he had, for as long as he could. Robertson appeared in eight of the team’s 13 postseason games and five times he threw more than an inning. Chapman was used for more than three outs on several occasions as well.

The postseason is a much different animal than the regular season, and in terms of his bullpen usage, I thought Girardi was just outstanding in October. He went to his best relievers regardless of inning and did as much as he could to put the Yankees in position to win. Sometimes it didn’t work out — Robertson gave up four runs and didn’t get an out in ALCS Game Six — but for the most part, it did. Girardi’s regular season bullpen usage was typical Girardi. In the postseason, he was fantastic.

Platoon Advantage

Throughout Girardi’s tenure the Yankees consistently ranked near the top of the platoon advantage leaderboard. Last season 68% of their plate appearances came with the platoon advantage, second most in baseball. The year before that they led baseball with 73%. The year before that they were third at 70%. From 2008-16, the Yankees were consistently one of the best teams at getting the platoon advantage.

That all changed this season, when only 51% of the team’s plate appearances came with the platoon advantage, slightly under the 52% league average. And it’s not Girardi’s fault. The Yankees lean more right-handed with their lineup nowadays, thanks mostly to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, but also keep in mind righties like Todd Frazier and Chris Carter held down regular lineup spots for an extended period of time as well. There are more righty pitchers in baseball than lefties, so yeah.

Is getting the platoon advantage a managerial skill? Yeah, I think so, to some degree. It depends on the personnel, obviously. The Yankees were near the top of the league in plate appearances with the platoon advantage from 2008-16 and part of it was Girardi and part of it was the roster. This year they were middle of the pack mostly because of the personnel, and they still scored the second most runs in baseball.

Instant Replay

In the first three seasons of the replay system, Girardi and the Yankees had one of the highest overturn rates in baseball. They had the second highest success rate in 2016 (69%) after having the highest in 2015 (75%) and 2014 (82%). This year they were had a 67% overturn rate, second highest in baseball behind the Twins (68%). When Girardi challenged, more often than not it was overturned.

Now, that said, Girardi has also ranked near the bottom in total challenges over the years. Last year they challenged the fewest plays in baseball. The year before they challenged the ninth fewest and the year before that it was the fifth fewest. That changed this season. The Yankees challenged 49 plays during the regular season, sixth most in baseball. How about that? The Rangers led the way with 63 challenges.

I’d been beating the “Girardi should challenge more who cares about the overturn rate” drum for a while now, so I’m glad Girardi did challenge more season. That he did so while maintaining that high overturn rate is pretty cool. The problem, of course, is the one play Girardi didn’t challenge. In Game Two of the ALDS, Green appeared to hit Lonnie Chisenhall in the hand with a pitch, which loaded the bases and set up Francisco Lindor for the grand slam. Replays showed the ball hit the knob of the bat, but Girardi didn’t challenge in time even though Sanchez was telling him to challenge, so the hit-by-pitch count and the grand slam happened.

“There was nothing that told us he was not hit on the pitch. By the time we got the super slow mo, we were a minute — probably beyond a minute — and it was way too late,” said Girardi after the game, explaining the non-challenge. “They tell us we have 30 seconds … Being (an ex-catcher), my thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm. That’s how I think about it.”

That was about as bad an excuse as Girardi could’ve come up with. They give you two challenges in the postseason! It was a huge moment, Girardi didn’t challenge it, and the Yankees paid dearly. Who knows what happens had they challenged. Maybe they lose anyway. Or maybe they win the series in four games instead of five, and they outlast the Astros in the ALCS because the team is better rested. It was a bad, bad, bad, bad decision at the time. The Yankees bailed Girardi out by coming back to win the series.

The Gary Sanchez Incident

Girardi was a staunch defender of his players. He had their backs even when they didn’t deserve it. On August 4th, for really the first time during his tenure with the Yankees, Girardi threw a player under the bus. Sanchez committed a passed ball that allowed a run to score against the Indians, and after the game Girardi laid into Gary while speaking to reporters.

“He needs to improve. Bottom line,” said Girardi after the game. “I don’t have a problem with his effort, but sometimes he shows his frustrations. He’s late getting down. That’s what I see sometimes, and it’s something we’ve been working on and we continue to work on. He’s capable of doing a better job.”

Tame in the grand scheme of things, though that was easily the most we’ve ever heard Girardi criticize a player. And it wasn’t just any player, it was his franchise catcher who was already under the microscope. He inflamed the situation. Gary’s defense became a Very Big Deal the rest of the season, to the point that people were talking about starting Austin Romine in the postseason, which is madness.

Girardi benched Sanchez after that, and he did it in what was probably the best possible way. Gary sat the next day, which was a day game after a night game, so he was probably going to sit anyway. The next day was an off-day, then Sanchez was the DH the day after that before going back behind the plate. That’s three straight days away from catching but only one day out of the lineup, a day he was likely to sit anyway.

A narrative was born that the benching woke Sanchez up at the plate, which I would buy if he hadn’t gone 9-for-26 (.346) with three doubles and three homers in his previous seven games, but whatever. Between the benching and the fact Sanchez’s calls to challenge the Chisenhall hit-by-pitch were ignored, it seemed as though Girardi did not fully trust Gary, at least behind the plate. That’s not good. The manager — the ex-catcher manager — and the team’s young franchise catcher should be on the same page. I suppose it’s possible Girardi’s relationship with Sanchez could’ve contributed to his dismissal.

* * *

Before the Yankees let Girardi go, there were weeks of rumors that Girardi would make the decision to step away himself, so he could spend more time with his family and avoid getting burnt out. Managing for ten years is not easy, especially in New York. Hal and Cashman had been in Girardi’s corner for years and I assumed he still had their support, and if you have their support, you’re in good shape. I figured Girardi would be back if he wanted to be back.

Girardi did want to be back. He said so in interviews after being let go. The Yankees are going in another direction though, and it doesn’t really matter whether we think it is the right move or the wrong move. It happened and it’s done with. Girardi will undoubtedly land on his feet — he’s said he wants to manage again at some point, though it seems he’ll wind up in a broadcast booth somewhere next year — and the Yankees will likely win a boatload of games next year because they’re so talented and deep organizationally, making Boone look smart.

Given how they exceeded expectations so greatly, the case can be made that the 2017 season was Girardi’s most impressive with the Yankees. Behind closed doors though, enough problems had surfaced (or were beginning to surface) that the Yankees decided a change in leadership was necessary. Parting ways with Girardi came as a shock to me and I know it did to many others. We’re not in the clubhouse though, or on the plane or at the hotel. The stuff we don’t see is the reason the Yankees are moving forward with a new manager.

Mailbag: Ohtani, Stanton, Pettitte, Lowrie, Greinke, Harrison

We’ve got 13 questions in the mailbag this week, the first post-Winter Meetings mailbag of the winter. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll get to as many as I can each week.

Ohtani (Joe Scarnici/Getty)
Ohtani (Joe Scarnici/Getty)

Many asked: Would you rather the Yankees have signed Shohei Ohtani or made the Giancarlo Stanton trade?

Ohtani, easily. That doesn’t mean I think the Stanton trade is bad. The Stanton trade was great! But the Yankees need an Ohtani (23-year-old potential ace signed dirt cheap) more than they need a Stanton (power hitting corner outfielder on a huge contract). I know Ohtani has the elbow thing, but even if he needs Tommy John surgery and misses 18 months, that’s still four and a half years of cheap production during his prime years. The Yankees made the Stanton trade simply because it was way too good to pass up. Anytime you can get a top ten player in baseball at that price, you do it. But they didn’t need another corner outfielder. They do need another pitcher though.

Patrick asks: Hey Mike! Was just wondering what the heck the Yankees are going to do with the 3.25M in international spending money? Since they haven’t shown much interest in the Braves prospects that are available- are they saving them for Raimfer Salinas and Antonio Cabello? Kind of weird they haven’t signed with anyone yet.

It’s $3.5M and they’re going to spend it on players, probably Salinas and Cabello because they’ve been connected to them the longest, but maybe on some others as well, like Julio Pablo Martinez. Those three guys are the best available international free agents now that all the worthwhile ex-Braves prospects signed. The international bonus money doesn’t have much trade value now that Ohtani has signed — the Mariners traded $1M for a Double-A depth arm earlier this week, so yeah — so they might as well spend it. They have until June 25th to spend it too. It doesn’t have to happen before the end of the year or anything like that. It’ll go somewhere soon enough.

Dave asks: Do the Yankees have to stay under the tax the whole year or just on opening day?

Their end-of-season payroll, as calculated per the luxury tax rules, has to be under the threshold. It would be possible for the Yankees to, in theory, start the season with with a $200M payroll, then dump enough salary in a midseason trade to get under the $197M threshold. In reality, that would be close to impossible to do because other teams would know why the Yankees are looking to dump salary, and they’d leverage the crap out of it in trade talks. They have to stay under all year, basically. Can’t be under on Opening Day then add salary like crazy during the season.

Steve asks: How about this idea: the Yankees restructure Stanton’s contract to smooth out the backloading. In other words, they would move money from the back end to the first 3 years. No change to AAV for LT, the player’s union would obviously be ok with it, BUT it induces Stanton to opt out and you let him walk. Basically, you make it a pricey 3 year deal and get away from the back end. If he gets hurt or opts in, you are in the same spot you were anyway minus some time value of money.

Interesting. The problem with this is the time value of money. A dollar today is worth more than a dollar a year from now. Stanton will make $77M in real dollars from 2018-20 and $86M from 2025-27, the final three guaranteed years of his contract. Right now, $77M across three years is pretty darn pricey in the world of baseball. It makes Stanton one of the highest paid players in the game. In seven years though, $86M across three seasons will be much easier to swallow. Rearranging the contract in such a way would make sense from a “let’s get Stanton to opt out” perspective, but economically, it’s probably not worthwhile for the Yankees. Besides, unless he gets hurt, I think the chances of Stanton opting out are much better than people think. Wait until Bryce Harper and Manny Machado get paid next year, and Nolan Arenado and Anthony Rendon get paid the offseason after that.

Morris. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Morris. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Ken asks (short version): As a big fan of Andy Pettitte, I have thought since his retirement that he had maybe a 50/50 shot at being elected to the HOF someday, but with Jack Morris’ election, do you agree that Andy’s chances just increased?

It might, though Hall of Fame voters don’t think in terms of “this guy got in and that means that guy has to get in now” when casting their votes. Also, the BBWAA didn’t vote Morris in. He exhausted his 15 years of eligibility on the BBWAA ballot. Morris was voted in by the Modern Era Committee, a 16-person panel of Hall of Famers and current executives. You are right though, Pettitte’s career was better than Morris’.

W-L IP ERA ERA+ FIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/BB WAR
Pettitte 256-153 3,316 3.85 117 3.74 6.6 2.8 0.8 2.37 +60.9
Morris 254-186 3,824 3.90 105 3.94 5.8 3.3 0.9 1.78 +43.8

Neither won a Cy Young and they both have five finishes in the top five of the voting. Morris has three World Series rings and was a key member of all three teams. Pettitte has five rings and was a key member of all five teams. Pettitte threw way more postseason innings (276.2 vs. 92.1) with an identical ERA (3.81 vs. 3.80), though docking Morris for the workload is unfair. He didn’t play in the Wild Card era. In fact, 92.1 postseason innings is a frickin’ ton for his generation. Pettitte used HGH. Morris is an ass.

If Morris is in the Hall of Fame, yes, Pettitte should be in the Hall of Fame. Easily too. The fact the BBWAA did not vote for Morris and he needed one of the committees to get in probably doesn’t bode well for Andy, ditto the HGH stuff. I think Pettitte is a borderline Hall of Famer myself. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

John asks: Seeing that the four teams on Stanton’s approved list were the four LCS teams, do you think he’s a Yankee if the team doesn’t come back to win against the Twins and the Indians?

Huh, I hadn’t realized that. I don’t think losing the Wild Card Game would’ve changed anything though. Stanton had the Dodgers on his approved list because they’re good and they’re his hometown team. He had the Astros and Cubs on his approved list because they’re good and they’re the last two World Series winners. He had the Yankees on his approved list because they’re good and young and look like an emerging powerhouse. That’s probably all there is to it. Had the Twins gotten to within one game of the World Series this year, I don’t think they would’ve ended up on Stanton’s approved list instead of the Yankees or anything like that. For all intents and purposes, Stanton’s approved list was the four teams that look set up the best going forward.

Jeff asks: Lowrie’s got one (1) year left on his deal in Oakland, can play 2nd or 3rd and was even able to fake SS early in his career. Switch hitter, plays multiple infield positions, and is pretty cheap (Especially now Castro and Headley have been moved) at 1yr/7mil. Does he make sense? What would Beane ask for?

Jed Lowrie is my preferred second base (or third base!) solution at the moment. He hit .277/.360/.448 (119 wRC+) with a lot of doubles (49!), a lot of walks (11.3%), and not a lot of strikeouts (15.5%) this past season. He’s a switch-hitter, he can play second or third, and he’s owed $6M ($7M luxury tax hit) in 2018. Perfect. Pretty much exactly what I want in a stopgap infielder. Lowrie isn’t much of a defender, though I’ll live with it given everything else. I’m not sure what it would take to get him, but if the price is reasonable, Lowrie would be my pick for infield trade target. Domingo Acevedo for Lowrie, straight up? I’d do it, which I guess means the A’s wouldn’t.

Dan asks: How about Ellsbury for Greinke (and their respective contracts) straight-up? Yanks would take on salary long term, but it adds a quality veteran #2-ish arm that would cost less than the Arrieta’s of the world.

Zack Greinke for Ellsbury would essentially equal the Diamondbacks selling the fourth place finisher in the NL Cy Young voting for $70M. That’s the difference in contracts. Greinke is still so good — he had a 3.20 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 202.1 innings this year — that I think the D-Backs could get similar salary relief and actual talent in return. I mean, the Marlins unloaded $265M in Stanton and got Starlin Castro, Jorge Guzman, and Jose Devers back. That’s something. Ellsbury types are available for cheap in free agency. Sign Jon Jay, for example. You don’t need to trade an ace to get him. I do think the D-Backs want to move Greinke and his salary. He’s been on the block since the new front office regime took over last year. But I don’t think they’re so desperate to move him that they’ll trade him straight up for Ellsbury to get the salary relief. Not enough in this for Arizona.

Harrison. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)
Harrison. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

Nik asks: I know he surfaces every now and then, but what do you think about Josh Harrison filling it at 2B/3B? He turned in a solid performance last year, even with a down BABIP, and chipped in a bit of everything (except walks). He’s in the last year of his contract, so he wouldn’t be an albatross if he didn’t work out. Is this the type of guy worth targeting, or only if he sweetens another deal (*cough* Gerrit Cole *cough*)

I had a feeling the Pirates would look to unload Harrison this winter. He’s owed $10.25M next year with similarly prices options for 2019 and 2020, so he’s sneaky expensive in terms of the luxury tax plan, and he “rebounded” to hit .272/.339/.432 (104 wRC+) with 16 homers this year. That’s after hitting .285/.318/.389 (92 wRC+) from 2015-16. Harrison is basically Castro, offensively. He’s a better defender than Castro, sure, but you’re getting Starlin level production at the plate. And that’s fine, I guess. I feel like the perception of Harrison as a player is greater than the reality of Harrison as a player. I get the feeling the asking price is going to reflect the perception of Harrison and not the reality. He’s okay. That’s about it.

Sam asks: Who is the backup first baseman right now if Bird goes down? (Inevitable question) Could we see a rotation of one of Judge/Stanton over there?

Right now it’s Tyler Austin, I guess. But that’ll probably change before Spring Training starts. I don’t see Aaron Judge or Stanton working out at first base this year. They’re both still young enough and good enough outfielders that moving them for defensive reasons isn’t necessary. Judge is coming back from (minor) shoulder surgery and Stanton will be in camp with a new team for the first time. They have enough on their plate. Asking them to spend some time at first base in Spring Training seems a little unnecessary. Down the road at some point, yeah, probably. Not yet.

Rob asks: Buster Olney had a column this week making the case for batting Judge leadoff. Setting aside whether or not Boone and the Yankees would do something so unconventional (it seems unlikely) the numbers are compelling. Judge gets on base a ton (he broke Ted Williams’s rookie walk record!). He takes a lot of pitches (over four per at bat). Plus leadoff means more at bats for the team’s best hitter. Drawback would be nobody on base (at least in the first at bat). Thoughts?

I saw Buster’s column and I didn’t think it was as crazy as the general reaction I saw in our comments and on Twitter, but I wouldn’t do it. Buster’s argument is Judge is a great on-base player who sees a ton of pitches, which is exactly what you want in a leadoff hitter. And these days teams are more willing to use a power hitter in that leadoff spot. George Springer hit leadoff for the Astros all year, for example. Francisco Lindor hit leadoff for the Indians.

Those guys do not have Judge power, however. Bat Judge leadoff and you guarantee him 150 plate appearances with no one on base (leading off the game), right out of the gate. He would get a few more plate appearances during the course of the season — the difference between batting first and batting third is roughly 39 plate appearances per 162 games, though it might be more for the Yankees because their offense figures to be so good — but I don’t think it would be enough to make up for all those at-bats with the bases empty. It’s not like the Yankees are lacking a leadoff hitter, you know? Judge is not an ordinary power hitter. It’s one thing to bat a 20-homer guy leadoff. Bat Judge leadoff? Nah. Guaranteeing that nearly one-quarter of his plate appearances are with the bases empty is a bad idea.

Jim asks: Some kind of Ellsbury – Zobrist deal?

The Cubs would say no, the Yankees would say yes. Zobrist was pretty terrible this past season, hitting .232/.318/.375 (82 wRC+) overall, but he’s owed only $29M in real dollars from 2018-19 and has a $14M luxury tax hit. Ellsbury is owed $68.4M in real dollars from 2018-20 with a $21.86M luxury tax hit. Even if the Yankees agreed to eat, say, $20M to make this happen, why would the Cubs do it? Yeah, they could put Javy Baez at second and Addison Russell at short full-time, but that’s an awful lot of money for a guy to be your fourth outfielder. The Yankees would do Ellsbury-for-Zobrist in a second because of the savings, both real dollars and luxury tax dollars. Whatever Zobrist gives them would be a bonus.

Matthew asks: The concept of “immaculate inning” made me think of how often a pitcher has a three up, three down, three pitches inning. All three batters retired (no double plays, pickoffs etc). I’m betting very rare. And what should we call such a feat? Mini Innings.

Minimum Inning? Flawless Inning? I’m not sure what to call it. I’m not that good with PitchFX and Statcast, so I have no idea how to search for three up, three down, three pitch innings within longer appearances, so like within a start or a multi-inning relief appearance. I did get the Play Index to spit out pitchers who had a three up, three down, three pitch relief appearance. Here’s the last five:

  • August 16th, 2017: Emilio Pagan vs. Orioles
  • August 11th, 2016: Aroldis Chapman vs. Cardinals
  • July 29th, 2016: Scott Oberg vs. Mets
  • June 29th, 2014: Tommy Hunter vs. Rays
  • May 31st, 2010: Brandon League vs. Twins

So it didn’t happen at all from June 2010 through June 2014, then it happened twice in the span of two weeks. Go figure. It happens more often than I thought it would. Hitters are taught that if the first two guys make quick outs, you’ve got to take some pitches and work the count as the third guy. Not only to make the opposing pitcher work, but also to give your pitcher a chance to catch his breath in the dugout.

Anyway, the last Yankee with a three up, three down, three pitch outing? Allen Watson, of course. He had one of those against the (Devil) Rays on September 26th, 1999 (play-by-play). Mariano Rivera had a three-pitch inning against the Cardinals back in 2003, but he allowed a baserunner. First pitch hit-by-pitch, second pitch double play, third pitch ground out. Tino Martinez hit the double play. True story. Here’s the play-by-play.

Thursday Night Open Thread

The 2017 Winter Meetings are now over. Officially and unofficially. And, amazingly, basically every top free agent aside from Shohei Ohtani remains unsigned. Our top 20 free agents at CBS are unsigned, not counting Ohtani. That is crazy. I don’t ever remember getting through the Winter Meetings without at least a few top free agents signing. So many relievers have signed though. Teams are loading up on bullpen help before everything else, it seems.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the evening. Broncos vs. Colts is the Thursday NFL game, every local hockey and basketball team except the Rangers is playing, and there is one (1) college hoops game on well. Talk about those games or the mostly lame Winter Meetings right here.

Looking at potential landing spots for Jacoby Ellsbury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the very first time, I went into this offseason believing the Yankees would make a serious effort to move Jacoby Ellsbury. They’re going to have to eat money to do it, but that money is a sunk cost anyway. Either the Yankees pay Ellsbury and keep him on the roster, or they pay him to play elsewhere so they can put the roster spot to better use. Any savings are a bonus.

Aaron Hicks started in center field in the postseason and Brian Cashman made it clear a few weeks ago the Yankees plan to keep Hicks in center field next year. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge aren’t going to be unseated in the corners, plus Clint Frazier is knocking on the door. Then the Yankees went out and traded for Giancarlo Stanton over the weekend, knocking Ellsbury further down the depth chart. Here is that outfield depth chart, which I think is better explained through tiers than a straight 1-6 ranking.

  • Tier One: Judge and Stanton
  • Tier Two: Gardner and Hicks
  • Tier Three: Ellsbury and Frazier

Ellsbury is at best fifth on the outfield depth chart and I am very willing to hear arguments that he’s really sixth behind Frazier. Point is, Ellsbury is getting pushed out, so it’s no surprise reports from the Winter Meetings indicate the Yankees are willing to eat half the $68M left on his contract to trade him. Will that be enough? Would Ellsbury get three years and $34M as a free agent? Probably not, but start by saying you’ll eat half, then go from there.

Ken Rosenthal floated the idea of the Yankees attaching prospects to Ellsbury in a trade, which I hate. Giving up prospects to rid yourself of a bad contract when you’re the richest team in the sport doesn’t sit well with me. This all started because the Yankees a) gave Ellsbury that ridiculous contract in the first place, and b) are adhering to the luxury tax threshold, thus voluntarily throwing away the financial advantage that comes with playing in New York.

Anyway, attached prospects or not, moving Ellsbury will not be easy given his production and contract, plus the whole no-trade clause thing. His market is very limited. How limited? Let’s look. Here are the teams that most stand out as potential Ellsbury suitors. (Given the way these things usually go, this means Ellsbury will be traded to a team not listed in this post at all.)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Current Outfield: A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas

The D’Backs are likely to lose J.D. Martinez to free agency, and the new front office doesn’t seem particularly fond of Tomas, which is why I traded Ellsbury to Arizona in my offseason plan. I thought maybe there would be a fit, especially since Ellsbury and D’Backs manager Torey Lovullo were together on the 2013 Red Sox. (Lovullo was bench coach that year.) There’s a connection to Lovullo, an open outfield spot, and the D’Backs are good enough to contend, which might be enough to convince Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause.

Chicago Cubs

Current Outfield: Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber

Zobrist has declined — he hit .232/.318/.375 (82 wRC+) in 2017, you know — Almora is a platoon player, Heyward is a younger version of Ellsbury, and Schwarber runs around the outfield like he has a full diaper. There’s also the connection to Theo Epstein and the rest of his front office crew, who drafted and developed Ellsbury back in the day. The Cubs are likely to lose Jon Jay, a left-handed hitting center fielder, to free agency. If the Yankees eat enough money — or kick in a pitching prospect, which the Cubs desperately need — would the Cubbies be interested in Ellsbury? I don’t think it would take much convincing to get him to waive his no-trade clause to join Chicago.

Cleveland Indians

Current Outfield: Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Bradley Zimmer, Brandon Guyer (Jason Kipnis?)

There’s a decent chance Brantley will spend more time at DH than in the outfield going forward given his injury problems the last two years, meaning Edwin Encarnacion will have to play first base. The Indians showed they’re willing to play Kipnis in the outfield despite his inexperience, so they could end up with Kipnis-Zimmer/Guyer platoon-Chisenhall in the outfield and Brantley at DH. Adding another outfielder isn’t an absolute necessity, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. And, obviously, there’s the Ellsbury-Terry Francona connection from Boston. As always, the question with Cleveland is money. They don’t have much of it, so how much would the Yankee have to eat to make it happen?

Houston Astros

Current Outfield: George Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick

A long shot, for sure. Springer and Reddick are locked into two of the three outfield spots and Gonzalez was too good last season to bump out of the lineup for Ellsbury. Marisnick is younger, cheaper, and better defensively than Ellsbury as well, so Ellsbury wouldn’t even fit as a reserve player. I have to think Ellsbury would okay a trade to the defending World Series champions, but the Astros don’t need him.

New York Mets

Current Outfield: Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto (rehabbing from shoulder surgery)

Could you imagine the reaction if the Mets took on Ellsbury — essentially the Yankees’ scraps — after the Yankees traded for Stanton? It would be ugly, and for that reason I don’t think it would happen. Even the shameless Wilpons would consider the optics terrible, even though adding another center field capable outfielder wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Would Ellsbury waive his no-trade clause to stay in New York? Something tells me he won’t even have to think about it.

San Francisco Giants

Current Outfield: Denard Span, Hunter Pence, Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson

This past season Giants outfielders hit .253/.311/.374 (79 OPS+) with 38 home runs in a little over 2,000 plate appearances, if you can believe that. It’s no wonder why they were in on Stanton. Ellsbury’s defense would fit well in spacious AT&T Park, though I get the sense the Giants, who ranked dead last in MLB with 128 home runs in 2017, want a bigger bat. Maybe they’d take on Ellsbury on a secondary piece? Sign Jay Bruce or someone like that first, then trade for Ellsbury and a small piece of his contract for depth? An Ellsbury-for-Jeff Samardzija bad contract swap doesn’t make any sense for San Francisco since they need pitching too. Also, the Giants did lose 98 games this year. I’m not sure Ellsbury would waive his no-trade clause to join a team that far away from contention, despite their recent World Series titles. Stanton sure didn’t.

Texas Rangers

Current Outfield: Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields Jr., Shin-Soo Choo, Willie Calhoun

That is a sneaky bad outfield. Choo and Calhoun would both be a full-time DH if they were on separate teams, but since they’re on the same team, one has to play the outfield, and that’s not good. Both DeShields and Mazara are young enough and talented enough to stay in the outfield full-time going forward. A Choo-for-Ellsbury bad contract swap makes sense for Texas — they’d be able to put Calhoun at DH and upgrade their outfield defense — but doesn’t help the Yankees at all. They’re looking to clear the roster spot for a younger player and save money, not rearrange the furniture with another bad contract. I don’t see much of a fit here, even before considering whether Ellsbury would waive his no-trade clause to join the Rangers.

Toronto Blue Jays

Current Outfield: Kevin Pillar, Steve Pearce, Teoscar Hernandez, Ezequiel Carrera

Goodness. That outfield. The whole intra-division thing complicates a potential trade, though I don’t think the Yankees would be afraid to dump Ellsbury on an AL East rival. I think they’d do it if that’s their best option. Would the Blue Jays take on Ellsbury in a salary dump? Would Ellsbury sign off on a trade to that sinking ship in Toronto? Despite the desperate need for outfield help north of the border, I don’t see the Blue Jays as a realistic fit for Ellsbury.

Washington Nationals

Current Outfield: Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin

Jayson Werth’s contract just expired, but the Nationals don’t really need an outfielder to replace him because the guys who replaced Werth when he was on the disabled list this year (Taylor and Goodwin) were way better than him. The Nationals dried up as a potential Ellsbury landing spot as soon as they acquired Eaton last year. I think Ellsbury would okay a trade to Washington should a deal be worked out, plus the Nationals are a haven for unwanted Scott Boras clients, so I can’t completely rule them out as a possibility. I just think it’s unlikely.

* * *

Rebuilding teams like the Athletics, Padres, Phillies, Reds, Royals, Tigers, and White Sox would very likely be interested in trading for Ellsbury as long as a good prospect(s) is attached. Take on, say, $5M a season and get a prospect(s)? Why not. What caliber of prospect? Well, that’s up for debate. The Twins ate $4M or so to trade Jaime Garcia to the Yankees and they ended up with Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns, but that was $4M. We’re talking about eating $5M or so with Ellsbury each year for the next three years, so $15M total.

The bigger issue with that sort of trade is why in the world would Ellsbury agree to go to a rebuilding team? The solution could be releasing him. As a condition of accepting the trade, Ellsbury could ask his new team to release him, allowing him to sign anywhere for the prorated portion of the league minimum. The Yankees clear a roster spot and part of Ellsbury’s contract, the rebuilding team gets a prospect(s) for taking on some cash, and Ellsbury gets to pick his next team and offer his services at a dirt cheap price. A win-win-win? Not sure I’d go that far. But it could work.

Like I said, I don’t love the idea of attaching prospects to Ellsbury to unload the contract, but that may be the Yankees’ only choice, unless one of those clubs listed above decides Ellsbury is worth a couple million bucks and trading a non-prospect or two. I do think the Yankees are very motivated to move him right now though, especially after the Stanton trade. Perhaps they believe they have a deep enough farm system that trading a prospect or two to free up cash at the MLB level is worthwhile.