Saturday Links: Profar, Ohtani, Stanton, Ellsbury

Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)
Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)

Monday should be a pretty busy day, folks. It is the deadline the MLBPA has set to hammer out the posting agreement for Shohei Ohtani. If a deal isn’t done by Monday, he’s going to stay in Japan next season. Also, Monday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. There’s going to be plenty of roster shuffling that day. Here are some other bits of news to check out.

Yankees interested in Profar again

Once again, the Yankees have some interest in former Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar, reports Joel Sherman. Pretty sure this is the third straight offseason the Yankees have been connected to Profar. They’ve been trying to buy low on him since his shoulder problems started a few years ago. Interestingly, Sherman says Texas has interest in some depth arms at the bottom of New York’s 40-man roster, and a deal could be built around them. Huh.

Profar, 25 in February, missed both the 2014 and 2015 seasons with shoulder surgery. He’s hit only .227/.316/.315 (71 wRC+) since coming back, including .172/.294/.207 (40 wRC+) in 22 big league games in 2017. The Rangers sent Profar to Triple-A, where he hit .287/.383/.428 (116 wRC+) in 87 games. They did not give him a September call-up though, and Profar is reportedly preparing to file a grievance because the non-call-up pushed his free agency back a year.

Acquiring Profar would be very similar to acquiring Aaron Hicks. The Yankees would be betting on talent and a chance of scenery. Profar was a tippy top prospect not too long ago, he’s still only 24, he’s a switch-hitter, and he’s played basically every position other than pitcher or catcher. He is out of minor league options, so it’s MLB or bust. That’s one drawback. Ultimately, just stockpile high-end talent. If all it takes is some fringe 40-man roster arms, this is a no-brainer.

Ohtani wants to hit and pitch

Not surprisingly, Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch whenever he comes over to the big leagues, reports Yahoo! Japan (translation via @NPB_Reddit). “Ohtani said he wants to play both ways in MLB. I plan to respect that wish,” said his agent. If you’re interested, Dan Szymborski put together statistical translations and ZiPS projections for Ohtani, which seem quite relevant. Here are the 2018 projections:

  • As pitcher: 3.55 ERA (119 ERA+), 10.4 K/9, +3.3 WAR in 139.1 innings
  • As hitter: .266/.328/.466 (112 OPS+), 12 HR, +2.2 WAR in 305 at-bats

That would be pretty incredible in his first year as an MLB player. And, for what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a 125 ERA+ and 121 OPS+ at Ohtani’s peak at age 27. That would be amazing. I think everyone has kinda assumed Ohtani will want to hit and pitch when he comes over, but now we know for sure. His agent confirmed it. We’ll see how it goes. Doing one thing well is hard enough. Doing both well would be rather remarkable.

Yankees checked in on Stanton

Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)
Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees have reached out to the Marlins to discuss Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. They also checked in back around the trade deadline. Stanton is the big trade commodity this offseason — Heyman says at least eight teams are involved, and I expect more to get involved before it’s all said and done — and so far the Cardinals and Giants have emerged as the most serious suitors.

The Yankees typically check in on everyone during the winter, especially any star players who become available. That doesn’t mean they’re seriously interested in acquiring Stanton. Would they take him if the Marlins make an offer that’s too good to be true? Of course. In that case you get Stanton and figure out where he fits later. That’s why you make the call. In case a favorable deal can be made. Otherwise this is just due diligence. The Yankees have more than enough outfielders as it is.

Ellsbury not yet asked to waive no-trade clause

According to Brendan Kuty, Brian Cashman confirmed this week that the Yankees have not yet asked Jacoby Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause. Last offseason they approached Brian McCann about waiving his no-trade clause fairly early. I assume that’s because there was legitimate interest in McCann at the trade deadline and serious interest again in the offseason, so there was a real chance of a trade. That probably isn’t the case with Ellsbury. Here’s what Cashman told Kuty:

I have not had any dialogue with Scott (Boras), haven’t even approached Scott, I guess it’s a similar situation. I think in both cases — in McCann’s case as well as if there is going to be something for consideration with Jacoby — I would make sure I would stay ahead of it and have to include anybody in the process on their side of it to make sure it’s handled the proper way.

“They have a full no-trade for a reason, and I would walk through that process with the highest level of communication and respect because of it. I haven’t connected with Scott at all, but I know he’s here somewhere, and I’ll make sure I’ll get a chance to talk to him before I leave just generally about everything Scott Boras related for the winter, and I’m sure we’ll also talk about Jacoby as well.

Cashman also said that, as of right now, Ellsbury is the fourth outfielder. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge are entrenched in the corners, and Hicks is the man in center going forward. “They were the best that we had (in the postseason), and so I think we would anticipate going (into 2018) that way again,” said Cashman. The Yankees are going to have to eat a lot of money to trade Ellsbury, but I think they’re more willing to do it right now than ever before, so I expect them to shop him around pretty aggressively. And when the time comes, they’ll ask about the no-trade clause.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Alex Avila

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Weirdly enough, the Yankees could be in the market for a catcher this offseason. Gary Sanchez is one of the best catchers in baseball and the Yankees aren’t about to move him out from behind the plate — “Hell no,” said Brian Cashman to Jon Morosi when asked about moving Sanchez to DH earlier this week — so there is no need for a starting catcher. The Yankees could use a new backup though.

Austin Romine, the backup catcher the last two seasons, hit .218/.272/.293 (49 wRC+) this year and .228/.271/.330 (57 wRC+) the last two years. Forty-four catchers batted at least 400 times from 2016-17. Romine ranks 43rd in wRC+, ahead of only Caleb Joseph. He’s a bad hitter even by backup catcher standards. Also, Romine threw out only 10% of basestealers this year, and his overall defensive numbers are just okay.

Point is, Romine doesn’t really do anything well, at least not according to numbers we have. Being just an okay defender is not enough when you don’t provide any offense. MLBTR projects a $1.2M salary for Romine next year, and while that’s not much in the grand scheme of things, it could push the Yankees to look at other backup catcher options. They might be able to find a more impactful backup catcher, even though most backup catchers provide no impact.

Arguably the best catcher on the free agent market this year is longtime Tigers (and short time White Sox and Cubs) backstop Alex Avila. It’s either Avila or Jonathan Lucroy. Avila has settled in as a backup the last few years and, as a left-handed hitter, he could mesh well with Yankee Stadium. Would it make sense for the Yankees to pursue him? Well, yes, of course. But how aggressive should they be? Let’s see whether Avila fits with the Yankees need.

Offensive Performance

Way back in 2011, during his age 24 season, Avila hit .295/.389/.506 (140 wRC+) with 19 home runs and was an All-Star. True story. He followed it up by hitting .243/.352/.384 (104 wRC+) in 2012 and .224/.334/.360 (96 wRC+) from 2012-15, which isn’t truly awful for a catcher, but it isn’t great. Avila’s playing time was reduced and he became a backup the last two years.

With the White Sox last season Avila put up a .213/.359/.373 (106 wRC+) line with seven homers in 209 plate appearances. Pretty good! The Tigers brought him back this year, and he hit .274/.394/.475 (133 wRC+) in 264 plate appearances with them before being traded to the Cubs, with whom he hit .239/.369/.380 (103 wRC+) in 112 plate appearances. The end result: .264/.387/.447 (124 wRC+) with 14 homers in 376 trips to the plate.

Early this season Avila looked like one of those “fly ball revolution” guys, the guys who apparently just now realized hitting the ball in the air and out of the ballpark is a good thing. Avila had a 52.2% ground ball rate last year. It was 30.5% in April, May, and June of this season. It didn’t last though. Avila’s ground ball rate climbed as the season progressed and his production dipped.

alex-avila-grounders

So who is the real Avila? The league average-ish hitter with a 44.8% ground ball rate from 2012-16, or the well-above-average hitter with a 38.5% ground ball rate in 2017? The smart money is on the league average-ish guy, and hey, league average is a-okay with me. We’re talking about a backup catcher here.

For what it’s worth, here’s what Avila told Chris McCosky back in June when asked about the fly balls and potential swing changes:

“I haven’t changed anything with my swing,” he said. “It’s the same, it really is. I haven’t tried to make any adjustments with it.”

“Toward the end of last year and going into this year, I was like, ‘I really don’t care (about the shift). I am just going to hit it hard,’” he said. “I’ve got balls through the shift and I’ve hit balls the other way. My focus now is just hitting the ball hard and let whatever happens happen.”

Avila is, for the most part, a dead pull left-handed hitter, so he does get shifted. A lot. The shift has been on for 81% of Avila’s balls in play the last three years, which is Brian McCann/David Ortiz/Chris Davis territory. Being a dead pull hitter is not necessarily a bad thing. It does limit Avila’s ability to hit for average, however.

Fly balls or no fly balls, shift or no shift, Avila’s offensive game breaks down into three things. One, he draws a ton of walks. His career walk rate is 14.0% and over the last three years it’s 17.4%. Two, he strikes out a lot. His career strikeout rate is 28.1%, and over the last three years it’s 32.9%. And three, when Avila hits the ball in the air, he hits it hard. His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives the last three years is 95.9 mph. The league average is 92.1 mph.

With Avila, you’re getting a hitter who hits for a low average because he strikes out and pulls the ball into the shift, but also will draw a ton of walks and hit for power when he gets the ball in the air. Whoever signs him will hope he gets the ball airborne as often in 2018 as he did in 2017. And if not, he can still be a useful hitter based on 2016. Lots of strikeouts, lots of walks, some power depending on his ground ball rate. And zero baserunning value. Avila is every bit as slow as you’d expect a soon-to-be 31-year-old catcher with over 6,000 career innings on his legs.

Defensive Performance

Catcher defense is difficult to evaluate, and for what it’s worth, the various defensive stats all say Avila is below average overall behind the plate. He is basically an average thrower. We know that much. He threw out 31% of basestealers this year and 29.4% the last three years. That is a hair above-average. The pitch-framing numbers are not good:

Pitch-framing is a weird thing. It obviously exists and is a valuable skill, but are the stats we have precise enough to measure it within a tenth of a run? Of course not. The stats we have are good directionally. When we have two sites and three years worth of data telling us Avila is a bad framer, I’m inclined to believe he’s a bad framer. How bad, exactly? That’s debatable. But bad.

The stats at Baseball Prospectus grade Avila as an average blocker — they have him at -0.8 runs blocking in over 1,400 innings the last three years — so put it all together and you get a below-average gloveman. Average throwing, average blocking, bad framing. Most backup catchers are good defenders, or at least talked up as good defenders, and bad hitters. Avila’s kinda the opposite. An average or better hitter and below average defender. You hope the bat makes up for the poor framing. Everything else kinda evens out.

Injury History

Like a lot of catchers his age, Avila has visited the disabled list a few times over the years. Hamstring trouble sidelined him twice last season, and he’s also missed time with knee soreness, a bruised forearm, and banged up fingers over the years. Typical catcher stuff.

The biggest injury concern with Avila is his concussion history. Remember a few years ago when he took a foul tip to the face mask so hard that the damn thing sparked?

Cool visual! But also probably incredibly bad for Avila’s brain. He missed time with concussions every year from 2012-14, and while he did not have a documented concussion from 2015-17, there’s a pretty good chance Avila got rattled behind the plate a few times. It’s scary stuff. Mike Matheny had to retire early due to concussions. Joe Mauer had to move to first base due to concussions.

The hamstring injury last season was just one of those baseball injuries. They happen. Avila doesn’t have a history of chronic hamstring problems. And a catcher missing time because he takes a foul tip to the forearm or fingers, or has sore knees, is not exactly unheard of. Those injuries come with the position. The concussions are another matter. They’re scary and, unfortunately, part of the job.

Contract Estimates

Catchers are always in demand and Avila will have no trouble finding work this winter, pitch-framing problems and concussion history and all. Here are some contract estimates:

Well how about that? Two projections that agree exactly. Avila signed one-year contracts worth $2.5M and $2M the last two offseasons, though neither time was he coming off a 124 wRC+ season with 14 homers. Also, the current free agent catching market stinks. Avila and Lucroy are the best available catchers, and Lucroy was terrible this season.

That two-year, $16M projection is based on Jason Castro getting three years and $24M last year, and injured Wilson Ramos getting two years and $12.5M. That $8M annually seems to be the going rate for a catcher who is kinda sorta good but flawed. Castro hadn’t hit in years. Ramos was coming back from a torn ACL. Avila isn’t a good framer and it’s been a very long time since he hit like he did in 2017. It’s not unreasonable to be skeptical of his ability to maintain that pace.

Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?

In a vacuum, yes. Even the bad hitting version of Avila is an upgrade over 2016-17 Romine, and the offensive/throwing upgrades are likely more than enough to make up for the pitch-framing downgrade. Also, Avila can still fill in at first base like Romine — he’s started 24 games at first base over the years, and has made 43 career appearances at the position — plus he’s a left-handed hitter, which is nice for matchup purposes.

I see two problems with signing Avila to be the backup catcher. One, there’s not a chance in hell the Yankees will spend $8M annually (or thereabouts) on a backup catcher. Not with the plan to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold next season firmly in place. And two, why would Avila sign with the Yankees to back up Sanchez, one of the best catchers in baseball? Who wants that job? The Yankees will be faced with that problem every year going forward.

The Yankees could sign Avila with the idea of giving him, say, 60 starts behind the plate and another 40 or so at DH. There is something to be said for giving Sanchez only 100 starts behind the plate rather than 120-130 as a way to keep him healthy, and potentially reduce wear and tear so he stays productive later in the season. Is that really something Avila would be interested in though? I have to think he’s looking for a starting job, or at least something close to a starting job, after the season he just had.

Avila does fit what the Yankees need on the field, in my opinion. His expected salary doesn’t fit the luxury tax plan though, and I don’t think Avila wants to be stuck behind Sanchez. This is one of those “he’s a fit for the Yankees but the Yankees are not a fit for him” situations. Maybe Avila’s market will collapse this winter and the Yankees can scoop him up on a one-year, $2M-ish contract like the deals he’s signed the last two offseasons. I have a hard timing thinking that’ll happen though. Catching is always in demand and other teams can offer Avila a greater opportunity.

The two very big reasons the Yankees should pursue Giancarlo Stanton

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The offseason is not yet two full weeks old, but already the two biggest stories of the winter are clear. The first is Shohei Otani’s impending move to MLB. The Nippon Ham Fighters announced they will indeed post Otani at some point this winter. MLB, MLBPA, and NPB still need to work out some posting agreement details, and once that happens, all 30 clubs will make a pitch to the righty-slash-slugger.

The second biggest story — these are stories 1A and 1B as far as I’m concerned — is the Giancarlo Stanton trade sweepstakes. The Derek Jeter led ownership group wants to cut payroll to get the Marlins back into the black, and the quickest way to do that is by trading the team’s highest paid player. Stanton will make $25M next year and unloading that makes getting the financials in order easier.

Trading Stanton, the probable NL MVP coming who is coming off a 59-homer season, is pretty much the worst possible way for the new ownership group to make a first impression, but they seem dead set on doing it. Already rumors are the flying that the Cardinals, Giants, Phillies, and Red Sox are talking to the Marlins about Stanton. I suspect it’s only a matter of time until other teams (Dodgers? Astros? Rangers? Cubs?) get involved.

The Yankees inquired about Stanton at the trade deadline and my guess is they’ll check in again this offseason, if they haven’t already. The Yankees check in on everyone. Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t at least pick up the phone and make the call. Acquiring Stanton may seem like a long shot — there are other more desperate teams in the mix — but there are two very big reasons the Yankees should get involved.

1. Stanton is really good! A just turned 28-year-old who hit .281/.376/.631 (156 wRC+) with 59 home runs and sneaky good defense is a true franchise player and someone who makes every team better. Yes, the Yankees basically already have Stanton 2.0 in Aaron Judge, but there are three outfield spots plus the DH spot. You make room for a guy like Stanton. He’s a balance of power player. He can change an entire division outlook by himself.

The Marlins are seemingly so focused on cutting payroll that it’s entirely possible Stanton will come at a relative discount. His contract is massive — he’s owed $295M from 2018-27 — and because of that, Miami might not receive full price in terms of prospects. I don’t think Stanton will come at zero prospect cost. I expect the Marlins to get some very good young players. Stanton is that damn good and enough teams are involved to drive up the price. The idea of getting Stanton while doing nothing but taking on the contract and giving up some fringe prospects is a pipe dream.

Now, that said, the Marlins did recently hire player development head Gary Denbo away from the Yankees, so he knows the farm system. That could facilitate a trade. Denbo undoubtedly has some personal favorites in the farm system and could push for them when he’s inevitably consulted prior to the trade. That could mean getting Stanton at an easier to swallow cost. Unlikely? Sure. But you never know. It’s worth checking in for this very reason.

2. Drive the price up for the Red Sox. This is the big one. The BoSox are desperate for a power bat — they somehow finished dead last in the AL in home runs in 2017 — and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has never been shy about making a big splash. Why trade for Stanton when you could just sign J.D. Martinez, who Dombrowski knows from their time in Detroit? Well, Stanton’s a more well-rounded player and younger, and in terms of average annual salary, he might be cheaper too.

There are enough teams reportedly interested in Stanton that the Red Sox will have competition for him, but bidding against the Cardinals and Giants is not the same as bidding against the Yankees. The history and intradivision rivalry adds another layer to things. Remember the Jose Contreras bidding war? Mark Teixeira? Things are different when the Yankees and Red Sox are bidding against each other. It’s unlike any other rivalry in baseball.

Keep in mind Cashman and the Yankees have a history of feigning interest in a free agent in order to make life complicated for the Red Sox. They did it with Carl Crawford. Doing the same with Stanton is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned, and there are three reasons it could be very effective.

  1. They have the prospects to get Stanton.
  2. They could easily find room for him in the lineup.
  3. They look poised to take over the top of the AL East.

Faking interest in a player to drive up the price for a rival only works if the interest is believable. If the Red Sox wanted J.T. Realmuto and the Yankees showed interest, it would seem kinda weird because they already have a great catcher in Gary Sanchez, you know? Stanton’s a different story. Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t been good in a while, Brett Gardner is getting up there in age, and we still don’t know whether Clint Frazier or Aaron Hicks are actually any good. The Yankees having interest in Giancarlo would be completely plausible.

* * *

As onerous as Stanton’s contract appears, I think it’ll look pretty darn good in about 16 months, after Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sign their new deals as free agents. Those two could very well end up making $40M annually. Once that happens, paying $30M a year for Stanton will look mighty good. The Yankees should throw their hat into the Giancarlo ring because he’s really good and a deal could come along that is too good to pass up. And, of course, their interest could make life harder for the Red Sox, and that’s always a plus.

The Official RAB 2017-18 Offseason Plan

"Wait, what did that idiot at RAB say we should do?" (Presswire)
“Wait, what did that idiot at RAB say we should do?!?” (Presswire)

One week ago yesterday, the Astros clinched the first World Series championship in franchise history. There are now three months of offseason to go before Spring Training begins. Free agents are free to sign with any team as of Tuesday morning, though it’ll be a few weeks before the hot stove really picks up. That’s how the offseason usually goes.

So, with the offseason still young, it’s time to put together our official RAB Offseason Plan. Last year’s plan was dumb. Among my moves: signing Mark Melancon, trading Luis Severino (and more!) for Sonny Gray, and trading Brett Gardner for Jaime Garcia. Why does anyone read this website? On the bright side, I nailed the whole “Gray and Garcia could be fits for the Yankees” thing. Yay?

Last offseason we had to make some assumptions about payroll. That is not the case this year. We know the Yankees are going to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold in 2018. They wanted to get under the threshold a few years ago, but it didn’t happen. The Yankees won’t miss out on another opportunity. Our payroll limit for next year is $197M. That part is easy. No more assumptions.

One thing I will not do in this post is hire a new manager and coaching staff. Evaluating a manager — or a pitching coach, or a third base coach, or a bullpen coach — is basically impossible as an outsider. I’m not even going to attempt to cobble together a coaching staff. It’s a waste of energy. That’s all I have to say about the coaching staff. Let’s get on with the offseason plan, shall we?

Rule 5 Draft Protection

Not the sexiest place to start, but a place to start. The Rule 5 Draft protection deadline is the next upcoming offseason deadline anyway. The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection this year by calling up Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade at midseason. There are still several others who need to be added though. Here’s my protection list:

  • Add to 40-man: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Thairo Estrada, Billy McKinney, Gleyber Torres
  • Leave exposed in Rule 5 Draft: Abi Avelino, Nestor Cortes, Rashad Crawford, J.P. Feyereisen, Mike Ford, Anyelo Gomez, Johnny Loaisiga, Alex Palma, Stephen Tarpley

There seems to be some confusion about Gleyber’s Rule 5 Draft status. Some are saying he’s not eligible and others (me) are saying he is. Rule 5 Draft status can be confusing for international players. In this case, we have an easy reference point. Mets shortstop Amed Rosario signed at 16 on July 2nd, 2012. He was added the 40-man roster last offseason because he was Rule 5 Draft eligible. Torres signed at 16 on July 2nd, 2013, so he should be Rule 5 Draft this offseason. Rosario is the benchmark here. Gleyber’s going on the 40-man roster.

Of course Gleyber gets protected. (Scranton Times Tribune)
Of course Gleyber gets protected. (Scranton Times Tribune)

Abreu and Acevedo are two of the best pitching prospects in the system, so they’re getting protected. Teams are more willing to grab a Single-A kid and stash him on the MLB roster all season no matter how poorly he performs (coughPadrescough), which is why Abreu has to be protected. In the past, he’d be someone you could leave unprotected because you know he’d be coming back even if he did get picked. McKinney seemed to come into his own this season and after having success at Triple-A, he’s prime Rule 5 Draft fodder. Can’t lose him for nothing. He gets protected. Estrada is a personal favorite, but beyond that, he’s a strong defensive middle infielder who can hit a little, and had success at Double-A in 2017. That’s someone I want to keep. Give me those up-the-middle athletes.

Among the players I’m leaving exposed, the only tough-ish decision for me was Johnny Lasagna. He’s been getting a lot of hype lately, but, at the end of the day, he has a lengthy injury history and he’s thrown exactly 2.1 innings above the short season leagues. If a team wants to pop Loaisiga in the Rule 5 Draft and see whether he can stick next year, let them. Odds are he’ll be offered back at some point. Feyereisen and Cortes will both get selected, I think. I could see Cortes throwing like 140 innings for his hometown Marlins next year. I just don’t have room for either guy on the 40-man. Gomez is the sleeper here. He had a great 2017 season (1.92 ERA and 2.19 FIP at four levels) and has lively stuff (mid-90s heat, good changeup). I bet someone grabs him. When you have a really good farm system, you can’t protect everyone. C’est a la vie.

At the moment the Yankees have two open 40-man roster spots, so we need to open three more to accommodate our five Rule 5 Draft protections. To open those spots, I am outrighting Austin Romine, Garrett Cooper, and Chasen Shreve. Romine will elect free agency should he clear waivers. Cooper and Shreve have never been outrighted before, so they can’t elect free agency if they clear waivers. Shreve will get claimed because he’s left-handed and breathing. Cooper probably slips through. (I prefer Tyler Austin as my righty first base bat.) Either way, those are my three 40-man roster casualties.

Arbitration

Given the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold, arbitration is a pretty big deal this offseason. I mean, it is every offseason, but especially this one. The Yankees have a pretty significant arbitration class and these guys will chew up a sizeable chunk of the payroll. Here are my arbitration payouts:

It is extension time for Gregorius. I gave him a five-year deal worth $42.5M as part of last year’s offseason plan, but since that didn’t happen in real life, we’ve got to try again this offseason. Jean Segura’s five-year, $70M deal with the Mariners is the template here. Segura was coming off a better season when he signed that deal, but Didi has the better overall body of work, and there’s a year’s worth of inflation to consider. Shortstops who are above-average on both sides of the ball and are still only 27 are worth long-term investments. It’s time.

Everyone else’s arbitration salary is set at their MLBTR projection. Easy enough, right? Maybe there’s some wiggle room here — could the Yankees get Gray at, say, $6.3M instead of $6.6M? Maybe. I’ll stick with the MLBTR projections. Romine and Shreve would’ve been arbitration-eligible too, had we not cut them loose to open 40-man roster space for Rule 5 Draft players.

Free Agents

The new backup catcher. (Jon Durr/Getty)
The new backup catcher. (Jon Durr/Getty)

Okay, now comes the fun stuff. This offseason the Yankees don’t need a major shopping spree to bolster the roster. They only need a few tweaks. “Is there a lot of heavy lifting necessary? No. But we’re always trying to be better,” said Brian Cashman the other day, which is how I see things. The core is in place. We’re looking for complementary players. A supporting cast. I’m making only three Major League free agent signings this winter:

  • CC Sabathia: Two years, $20M.
  • Yusmeiro Petit: One year, $3M.
  • Rene Rivera: One year, $2M.

Boring! Sorry if you were hoping for Yu Darvish or J.D. Martinez or Wade Davis or something. This isn’t a great free agent class, and with the luxury tax threshold a consideration, there’s not much payroll room for a big signing. Not once Masahiro Tanaka decided to stick around. Here’s my rationale.

1. Meeting Sabathia halfway. The Sabathia deal is all about compromise. I was originally penciling him in for a one-year deal worth $14M or so, but I get the sense he’s going to push for two guaranteed years. I’m reluctant to do that. With Sabathia talking so much about how much he wants to stay in New York — “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,” he said after the ALCS Game Seven loss to the Astros — he’s got to meet me halfway. I’m trading that second guaranteed year for a lower average annual value (and luxury tax hit). Sabathia’s made a fortune already. This is money his kids and his kids’ kids won’t even be able to spend. He trades a little less cash for the second guaranteed year, the comfort of home, and playing for an upstart contending team.

2. Filling out the bullpen. As things stand, six of the seven bullpen spots are taken. There are the Plan A relievers (Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Chad Green) and the Plan B relievers (Betances, Kahnle, Warren). It would be easy — and understandable — to leave that seventh spot open for a younger bullpen arm and treat it as a shuttle spot. Maybe Ben Heller gets it, or Domingo German, or Nick Rumbelow, or whoever. I’d rather sign Petit, who threw 91.1 innings with a 2.76 ERA (2.85 FIP) and great strikeout (28.5%) and walk (5.1%) rates for the Angels this year. He’d give the Yankees another multi-inning reliever along with Green and Warren, which will come in handy should the team decide to take it easy on their starters given their workloads this year. Petit’s done it all over the years. Start, long man, middle reliever … he even closed some in 2017. He’s had a tough time getting contracts the last few offseasons — last year he didn’t sign his minor league deal with the Angels until February — but I really like the idea of him as the seventh reliever. Besides, you know there will injuries. The young guys like Heller and German will still get their chances.

3. A new backup catcher. No, Rivera is not the most exciting choice for backup catcher, but … it’s the backup catcher. The 34-year-old spent time in the Yankees farm system years ago — while with Double-A Trenton in 2010, Rivera hit the first ever professional home run allowed by Stephen Strasburg — and he’s a veteran dude who can kinda sorta hit (91 wRC+ in 2017) while doing things well behind the plate. His arm is strong (37% caught stealing) and his overall defensive numbers have been very good in recent years. Plus Rivera has a reputation for working well with young pitchers. Noah Syndergaard credited Rivera for helping him become a better pitcher after he served as his personal catcher in 2016. And who knows, maybe he’ll mentor Gary Sanchez and get him to take his defensive game to the next level too. That’d be neat. If nothing else, you can count on Rivera to be very good behind the plate, and he might even hit a little too. That represents an upgrade over what Romine gave the Yankees in 2017.

Trades

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
Yelich. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Gosh, I love trades. They’re so fun. They’re essentially a challenge — I think the players you’re giving me will help me more than the players I’m giving you — and there are so many more roster ramifications to analyze. You’re adding players and subtracting players at the same time. Trades are fun! Here are my offseason trades:

  • Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, and Nick Solak to the Marlins for Christian Yelich.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury and $53.7M ($17.9M per year from 2018-20) to the D’Backs for Kirby Bellow.
  • Jonathan Holder to the Cardinals for Breyvic Valera.
  • Bryan Mitchell to the Pirates for Daniel Zamora.

(Reminder: my trade proposals suck.)

One blockbuster, one salary dump, and two minor trades. Let’s break these down.

1. Capitalizing on the Marlins’ fire sale. Everyone is focused on Giancarlo Stanton and understandably so. He’s awesome and pairing him with Aaron Judge would be a lot of fun. I’m looking at Miami’s other stud outfielder though. Yelich is very good himself and, to me, he fits the Yankees better than Stanton. Stanton adds more strikeouts to the lineup and another corner bat. Strikeouts aren’t the end of the world, but I’d like fewer of them in the lineup going forward, not more.

Yelich is two years younger, substantially cheaper, and more well-rounded than Stanton. And not as good! But he’s still really good himself. Yelich turns 26 next month and he hit .282/.369/.439 (115 wRC+) with 18 homers, 16 steals in 18 attempts, 11.5% walks, and 19.7% strikeouts in 2017. And it was his worst MLB season. In Yelich, the Yankees would be getting an all-fields left-handed hitter …


Source: FanGraphs
… who doesn’t need a platoon partner, is starting to figure out how to pull the ball for power, adds a lot of value on the bases, and plays good center field defense. He’s a rich man’s Gardner, basically. And you’re getting him in the prime of his career — I think he’s on the cusp of becoming a .300/.400/.480 guy who goes 25/25 — and on a very favorable contract. Yelich is owed $7M in 2018, $9.75M in 2019, $12.5M in 2020, and $14M in 2021. His contract also includes a $15M club option ($1.25M buyout) for 2022. It’s a $44.5M guarantee for his age 26-29 seasons from 2018-21, plus you get the 2022 option. Sign me the hell up.

My original plan coming into this exercise was to add Edinson Volquez to the Yelich trade to lower the prospect cost. The Marlins are looking to shed significant payroll this winter — they reportedly may get it down to $55M or so (yikes!) — and the last thing a team looking to cut payroll wants is a $13M pitcher who won’t pitch. Volquez had Tommy John surgery in August. He won’t pitch next year. I was thinking we’d take on Volquez and, say, $10M of his $13M salary, and give up a prospect like Freicer Perez rather than Adams. It just doesn’t work financially though. We can’t fit Volquez under the luxury tax threshold. I mean, we could, it would just mean no Gregorius extension and no Petit. No Volquez means there’s even some leftover cash to use on a bat, though I don’t love the available low cost bats this winter.

Given their plan to slash payroll and strip the roster down, I imagine the Marlins want cheap MLB ready young players in return in any trade. In this deal they’d be getting an MLB ready player (Frazier), a damn near MLB ready player (Adams), a two close to MLB ready players (Solak, Acevedo). I feel like the offer is a little light, but according to MLB.com, the Yankees would be giving up their No. 2 (Adams), No. 6 (Acevedo), and No. 8 (Solak) prospects in addition to Frazier, who was a top 25 global prospect before exhausting his rookie eligibility late this year. The Yankees are still loaded with prospects even after this year’s graduations and trades, plus I’m not the world’s biggest Adams fan given his inability to get ground balls (41.4% in Triple-A) and less than stellar numbers against lefties (42/35 K/BB in 2017), so I’m using that prospect depth to get Yelich. I worry Adams is in for a world of hurt once he gets to Yankee Stadium. I’d rather use him to get a cornerstone type bat in Yelich, who is a two-way impact player that fits in perfectly with the youth movement and gives the Yankees what I think the lineup needs (another lefty bat and more contact).

(Here’s the other thing about Yelich: he wouldn’t stand in the way of signing Bryce Harper next offseason. The 2018 season is the final guaranteed year on Gardner’s contract. Depending how his season goes, the Yankees could move on from him, then add Harper to the cost controlled Yelich and still dirt cheap pre-arbitration Judge. I don’t think you can do things this offseason designed to make room for Harper. But adding Yelich wouldn’t stand in the way of signing Harper. Trading for Stanton would given his contract and the fact he’s another corner outfielder.)

2. Goodbye, Jacoby. Realistically, there’s no way to trade Ellsbury without it hurting. Either the Yankees have to eat a lot of money or take on a bad contract in return. I’m just looking to unload the salary, and the proposed trade turns him into a $4M a year player for the Diamondbacks. Bellow is included in the trade only because the Yankees have to get something in return per league rules. He’s a 25-year-old fringe lefty reliever prospect who had a 3.63 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 39.2 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2017. I’m hoping Ellsbury accepts a trade to the D’Backs, a contending team that could put him in the lineup right away given J.D. Martinez’s free agency. And, with A.J. Pollock due to hit free agency next year, there’s a path to Ellsbury staying in center field too. I dunno. I’m out of ideas. Maybe the Mariners make more sense? I feel like Ellsbury would only approve a trade to a no-doubt contender, and Arizona did win 93 games this year, so yeah. Point is, I’m eating all that money to save $4M a year from 2018-20. getting Bellow back is a non-factor. Trading Ellsbury opens a roster spot and basically clears enough payroll space under the luxury tax threshold to extend Didi.

3. What is a Breyvic Valera? Valera is a personal favorite. He’s a rich man’s Ronald Torreyes, basically. Switch-hitting contact machine who can play anywhere. Valera hit .314/.368/.450 (113 wRC+) with eight homers, eleven steals, 7.2% strikeouts, and 8.1% walks in Triple-A this past season, and he’s played every position other than pitcher or catcher in his career. He’s only 25 too. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Valera as the No. 29 prospect in the Cardinals’ system prior to 2017, and their scouting report called him “compellingly average at everything.” I thought that was amusing. St. Louis really needs bullpen arms and Holder has a chance to pitch in this league for a long time. Maybe they’ll turn him into the next Wade Davis or something. He fits their needs. Valera makes a ton of contact and has some power, and any time a guy can do that, he has a chance to really contribute. Add in the switch-hitting and defensive versatility and it’s a no-brainer for me. In all likelihood Valera is a utility player long-term. Every once in a while a guy with this skill set turns into Ben Zobrist or Jose Ramirez though.

Valera. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Valera. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

4. The obligatory Pirates trade. Gotta make a trade with the Pirates right? The Yankees and Pirates get together for a deal every offseason, it seems. Mitchell is on the 40-man roster chopping block and the Pirates love love love their live arm reclamation projects. He fits their mold. Zamora, 24, is a slightly better than fringy left-on-left reliever prospect. That’s about Mitchell’s trade value at this point. The Pirates selected Zamora in the 40th round of the 2015 draft and he had a 1.76 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 56.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A in 2017. Lefties hit .232/.284/.261 with a 33.3% strikeout rate against him. Here is a free scouting report from Baseball Prospectus. Slider seems workable. Maybe the Yankees can unlock a little more velocity? Getting Zamora is better than putting Mitchell on waivers and getting nothing.

All told, those trades open three 40-man roster spots. We traded five 40-man players (Frazier, Acevedo, Ellsbury, Holder, Mitchell) for two 40-man players (Yelich, Valera). Those three open spots go to our three free agent signings (Sabathia, Petit, Rivera). We’ll have to open space every time we add a player from here on out.

Minor League Contracts

Everyone’s favorite part of the offseason. The Yankees, like every other team, sign stashable Triple-A depth players to minor league deals throughout the winter. Fans complain when they sign, complain when they play in Spring Training, complain when they get called up, and complain when they get designated for assignment because they hit a home run that one time. Seen it a thousand times.

Based on the depth chart as well as my offseason moves, the Yankees don’t need much in Triple-A. There are no glaring lineup needs. The projected starters right now:

Prospects at nearly every position! The RailRiders need a backup catcher and a utility guy who can play anywhere and sit for a few days at a time without disrupting his development. Also, I’d rather sign a veteran innings dude than stick Sheffield in the Triple-A rotation right out of the gate — a little more Double-A time wouldn’t be the end of the world for him — and I don’t want guys like Will Carter and Brody Koerner to be Plan A in the Scranton rotation. Here are my minor league signings (here’s the minor league free agents list):

  • RHP Christian Binford: Former Futures Gamer! Binford prior to the 2014 Futures Game: 2.53 ERA (2.71 FIP) in 266.2 innings. Binford since the 2014 Futures Game: 5.31 ERA (4.99 FIP) in 456.1 innings. Yikes! Binford is only 24 and he’s thrown 140-ish innings in four of the last five seasons, so he fits as the innings guy. Plus he’s young and had prospect shine with the Royals once upon a time. Squint your eyes and there’s some upside.
  • RHP Brandon Cumpton: Cumpton had a 4.02 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 100.2 innings for the Pirates from 2013-14, then he had Tommy John surgery in March 2015 and missed the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons. He finally got healthy and returned to the mound this year. His pre-Tommy John stuff was good. I’d stick him in the bullpen and see what happens.
  • UTIL Cito Culver: Might as well bring back Cito, right? He’s been the utility guy at Triple-A Scranton for a few years now and he’s done the job well enough to keep getting re-signed, so I might as well re-sign him again.
  • LHP Paco Rodriguez: I’ve always like Rodriguez. He’s got a funky delivery and a good enough breaking ball to be a potential left-on-left matchup option. Rodriguez had Tommy John surgery in October 2015 and his stuff hasn’t returned all the way yet.
  • C Jackson Williams: Can’t hit a lick — he’s a career .220/.303/.319 (70 wRC+) hitter in over 3,000 minor league plate appearances — but he can defend. Williams is a veteran dude (age 31) who’s settled in as a Triple-A backup the last few years. That’s what you want. Someone who knows and accepts the role.

Don’t like the minor league contract guys? Well, too bad. Not sure what to tell you. For the most part these guys are filling thankless but necessary roles. Injuries and call-ups are inevitable, and someone has to step in and pick up the slack.

The Shohei Otani Situation

Bring to me. (Getty)
Bring to me. (Getty)

I suppose it’s about time we get to the biggest prize of the offseason, huh? I saved Otani for the end because the Yankees — or any other team, for that matter — can’t and shouldn’t plan their offseason around him. I explained all that the other day. He’s only going to make the league minimum next season, so we don’t need to earmark a big chunk of change under the luxury tax threshold for Otani.

So anyway, yes, I’m going full court press here as part of my offseason hypothetical. Give Otani every last international bonus dollar and make one hell of a sales pitch. Get Tanaka involved. Get Hideki Matsui involved. Get Reggie Jackson involved. Sell the Yankees for what they are: an up-and-coming powerhouse in a great city loaded with young talent, and a team with a history of paying their best players top of the market dollars. The short version:

“We just got to within one game of the World Series. Our rookie right fielder hit 52 homers. Our 24-year-old catcher missed a month and still hit 33 homers. We have a 23-year-old righty who’s going to finish third in the Cy Young voting. We have the No. 1 prospect in baseball, per MLB.com. We’ll let you hit and pitch. Have you seen the short porch? Imagine what it’ll do for you power numbers. No team in baseball can offer you the chance to pitch and DH with the kind of young core, plus we pay well.”

Sound good? Now, because the financial playing field is relatively level, we can’t just assume the Yankees will sign Otani as part of this little exercise. I mean, we could, but we have to be somewhat realistic. Otani will make his decision based on his personal preferences and we have no idea what they are. Maybe he wants to go to a veteran team. Maybe hitting isn’t that big a deal for him. Maybe he wants to go to the West Coast. Who knows.

Anyway, since we are pursuing Otani aggressively, we have to come with an answer here. Does he sign with the Yankees, yes or no? Let’s ask the Magic 8 Ball.

shohei-otani-magic-8-ball

WELP. So much for that. Too bad, Otani would’ve slotted nicely into the open bench spot. We tried. Gave it our best effort. Offered as much money as possible and made the best sales pitch we could. Ultimately, Otani decided to go to [other team] and that’s baseball. He was free to make his own decision. It’ll be fun beating him on the field.

Final Product

Okay, so after going through all that, I have the luxury tax payroll at approximately $189.3M going into 2018. Here’s my payroll spreadsheet. There’s some wiggle room there with the pre-arbitration salaries, but generally speaking, we are left with $7.7M for in-season additions. Is that enough? I dunno. Every time you call someone up, it adds to the payroll. Just say, for example, Kahnle pulls a Mitchell and breaks his foot covering first base in Spring Training. Now you have Kahnle and the call-up who replaced him counting against the luxury tax payroll. Hopefully $7.7M is enough. Here’s the 25-man roster I ended up with.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Gary Sanchez 1B Greg Bird LF Brett Gardner Luis Severino Aroldis Chapman
Rene Rivera 2B Starlin Castro CF Christian Yelich Masahiro Tanaka David Robertson
SS Didi Gregorius RF Aaron Judge Sonny Gray Chad Green
3B Chase Headley OF Aaron Hicks CC Sabathia Dellin Betances
IF Ronald Torreyes UTIL Breyvic Valera Jordan Montgomery Tommy Kahnle
1B Tyler Austin Adam Warren
Yusmeiro Petit

On the 40-man and in the minors (15): RHP Albert Abreu, 3B Miguel Andujar, OF Jake Cave, RHP Luis Cessa, IF Thairo Estrada, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Domingo German, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Ronald Herrera, C Kyle Higashioka, OF Billy McKinney, RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Caleb Smith, IF Gleyber Torres, UTIL Tyler Wade

My 2018 Yankees look an awful lot like the 2017 Yankees, huh? Swapping out Ellsbury for Yelich is the major change. The rest is just rearranging furniture. Keep in mind the Yankees will have Gray, Kahnle, and Robertson for a full season in 2018. That will hopefully lead to several wins worth of improvement. A few thoughts on the roster I wound up with.

1. For all intents and purposes, the Austin and Valera bench spots are shuttle spots. It would’ve been awfully nice to have Otani in one those spots, but alas. He signed with [other team]. And again, I really don’t love any of the projected low cost free agent bats. Adam Lind? Mark Reynolds? Austin Jackson? Meh. I’m going to say in house and show some faith in the kids. Those two shuttle spots give the Yankees some flexibility. If the Red Sox are coming to town with Chris Sale, David Price, and Drew Pomeranz scheduled to pitch the three games, Austin’s righty bat would come in handy. If you’re going to an NL park, someone like McKinney could come up to serve as a lefty bat off the bench. Or the Yankees could use one of those spots to carry an eighth reliever on occasion, or if they want to bring up a spot sixth starter to give the regular starters an extra day of rest. The Yankees don’t have to be locked into Austin and Valera for the 24th and 25th roster spots. That’s just who I’d put there to start the season. Those spots can be used to tailor the roster as necessary throughout the season. Sooner or later the best players will step up and seize those spots.

2. Gosh, I love the lineup possibilities. We talk a lot about versatility, and usually when we talk about versatility, we talk about positional versatility. Guys who can play multiple positions. There’s also something to be said for lineup versatility too. Yelich can hit leadoff or cleanup. Hicks has the profile to hit basically anywhere. Gregorius fits well in the middle of the order or at the bottom. Here’s how I’d line ’em up:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. CF Christian Yelich
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. DH Aaron Hicks (the plan is a DH rotation, not Hicks at DH full-time)
  9. 3B Chase Headley

Hitting Bird third and Yelich fifth works too. So does hitting Yelich second and Judge third. Or Yelich leadoff, Hicks second, Gregorius third, Judge fourth, Sanchez fifth, and Gardner ninth. The new manager, whoever it ends up being, will have a lot of flexibility with that group of players. Some hitters only fit into certain lineup spots because of their skills. This roster has a lot of well-rounded players who don’t look out of place anywhere.

3. No lefty reliever is no problem as far as I’m concerned. Robertson, Green, and Warren can all get out lefties. So can Betances when he’s right. In a close game with a big lefty bat at the plate, I want one of those high-end late-game righties on the mound, not some random southpaw just because he happens to throw with his left hand. I have Smith and Rodriguez stashed in Triple-A, plus Bellow and Zamora (and James Reeves) as additional lefty depth, just in case the Yankees determine at some point it’s imperative to have a lefty reliever. I don’t think it’s necessary. Take the best and most talented arms. Don’t worry about handedness.

4. I like the pitching depth more than I thought I would. I let go of a lot of pitching during the offseason. Adams, Acevedo, Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve are all gone. And yet, even after all of that, we still have Cessa, Gallegos, German, Herrera, Rumbelow, and Smith as immediate 40-man roster call-up candidates. We did lose a potential impact call-up candidate in Adams, though a) that’s what it takes to get a guy like Yelich, and b) I’m not sold on his ability to come up and be an immediate impact guy anyway. I wouldn’t push Sheffield aggressively — he’s such a good pitching prospect, just let him develop at his own pace rather than try to rush things — though he could debut at some point in the second half. Point is, even after all my hypothetical offseason moves, the Yankees would still have enough arms stashed in Triple-A that they could shuttle guys in and out as necessary, and also use spot sixth starters on occasion if they’re worried about workloads.

5. So what did this offseason plan accomplish, exactly? The goal every offseason is to get better, and I think I did that considerably by going from Ellsbury and Romine to Yelich and Rivera. Otherwise we replaced Todd Frazier and Matt Holliday with Austin and Valera, and, uh, that doesn’t sound great. The 2018 rotation is exactly the same as the end of 2017 rotation, so any improvement will have to come from a full season of Gray and less awfulness from Tanaka. I expect Petit to have an understated impact as well. His ability to go two or three innings at a time allows our new manager to take it easy on the starters, and also save the high-leverage guys for the next day.

Trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold — remember, the Yankees can’t spend right up to the $197M threshold this winter, they must leave space for in-season additions — was a real challenge, especially since I have no idea what would be an appropriate amount to leave for midseason additions. I left $7.7M. Would $5M have worked? Or $2M? Maybe we really need $15M? I don’t know. For this luxury tax plan to work — and by work I mean get under the threshold and remain competitive — the Yankees will need their cheap young players to produce, and I’m not just talking about Judge, Sanchez, and Severino. The secondary pieces like Montgomery, Heller, German, and even Torres will have to help as well. In a way, they’re the key to this whole plan.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Tyler Chatwood

(Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
(Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

The Yankees starting rotation is far more settled heading into 2018 than it was this past season, and it’s a pretty good feeling. Luis Severino earned a top-three finish in the Cy Young voting, Masahiro Tanaka rebounded brilliantly from a poor first half, Sonny Gray was mostly as good as advertised, and Jordan Montgomery was the best rookie starting pitcher in baseball, and all four will be in the rotation this coming season.

That leaves one spot open for a potential reunion with CC Sabathia, an internal candidate like Chance Adams, international free agent-to-be Shohei Otani (perhaps their primary target), or “other.” There’s a great deal of off-season to go, but it is clear that, as of this writing, the Yankees need a fifth starter. And my favorite free agent for that role is Tyler Chatwood.

Recent Performance

Let’s take a look at Chatwood’s numbers over the past two seasons:

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Two things jump out immediately – he didn’t throw a full workload in either season, and he regressed fairly heavily from 2016 to 2017. Well, those things, as well as the fact that Coors Field is still a veritable death trap for pitchers, given that his 4.69 ERA was actually 7% better than league-average (relative to the conditions in which he played) … but I digress.

Chatwood was quite good across the board in 2016, and something closer to mediocre in 2017, and there’s obviously value in both. The middling strikeout and walk rates leave something to be desired, but his groundball rates are elite, he limits hard contact (league-average was 31.8% in 2017), and his home run rate was actually a tick above-average. There are reasons to believe that he is closer to the pitcher that we saw in 2016 than last year’s version as a result.

And, as you might suspect, he has been significantly better on the road the last two years:

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The sample sizes are relatively small, and Chatwood pitched in a division with three pitcher’s parks on the docket, but the underlying numbers nevertheless paint him as a different pitcher on the road. His walk rate is still discouraging, but he picks up more whiffs and garners less hard contact on the road, which may be indicative of him changing his plan of attack to suit his environment. He is not as good as the 2.57 road ERA indicates, but he has been a far better pitcher than his overall numbers suggest.

The Stuff

Chatwood throws five different pitches, each of which has a fair bit of moment. It may be a bit disingenuous to call him a true five-pitch guy, though, as his change-up is more of a show-me pitch than anything else, and he doesn’t use it all that often. Take a look:

brooksbaseball-chart

His fastball and sinker velocity ticked up this past season, jumping from the low-90s to sitting comfortably in the mid-90s, which fits the league-wide trend in velocity. And all of those pitches have a great deal of movement, which allows him to induce grounders with all five.

Chatwood boasted healthy whiff rates on his change-up (20.16%), slider (16.9%), and curve (12.9%) last year, which has led some to speculate as to why he doesn’t use his off-speed stuff more often. That curveball is also a groundball generating machine, with 70.4% of those put into play were worm burners. And, while we still have a great deal to learn about the usefulness of spin rate, it’s worth noting that Chatwood’s curveball (4th among starting pitchers) and four-seamer (7th) have elite spin rates, as per Statcast.

Injury History

The reason why Chatwood threw so few innings in 2016 is because he underwent Tommy John surgery in the Summer of 2014, and was on an innings limit as a result. He made just four starts in 2014 and missed all of 2015 as he rehabbed from the procedure. That was the second such surgery of his career – the first came way back in 2005, when he was a 15-year-old pitching for Redlands East Valley High School.

Having two Tommy John surgeries is never a good thing, so caution may be a key word thrown around by any team interested in his services – but he has otherwise been mostly healthy as a professional. He spent time on the disabled list in 2017 with a calf strain, and that’s about it.

Contract Estimate

MLB Trade Rumors predicted a 3-year, $20 MM deal for Chatwood, ranking him as the sixth best starting pitcher on the market (not including Shohei Otani). That feels a bit light for a 28-year-old with a recent history of success, but his ugly overall numbers and twice-repaired elbow may well give some teams pause. The market was light last year, as well, with Rich Hill being the only free agent starter to get a multi-year deal worth $10 MM or more per year.

If I had to hazard a guess, I would go with something closer to 3-years, $30 MM.

Does He Fit the Yankees?

Chatwood is young, he throws hard, his pitches have great movement, and he keeps the ball on the ground – that sounds like the sort of package that the Yankees would salivate over. And, should Otani not come to the Yankees (be it by staying in Japan, or signing elsewhere), I could see him being at or near the top of the team’s list.

That being said, the Yankees are trying to limit payroll, and I don’t know that they’d view Chatwood as the player to invest precious dollars in, given the team’s internal options and potentially cheaper options on the market. The fit in a vacuum is obvious, but it becomes less so when viewed under the totality of it all.

Shohei Otani is both the No. 1 target and a back-burner issue for the Yankees this offseason

Dingers. (Getty)
Dingers. (Getty)

Free agency is now underway. The five-day exclusive negotiating period is over and, as of 12:01am ET this morning, free agents are free to negotiate and sign with any team. MLB isn’t the NFL, NBA, or NHL though. There aren’t a flurry of Day One signings because there’s no salary cap. MLB free agency, like the regular season, is a marathon rather than a sprint.

Although the free agent signing period has opened, the No. 1 offseason target on every team’s list is still not available. Nippon Ham Fighters righty/slugger Shohei Otani has not yet been posted for MLB teams, and depending who you ask, he might not be posted at all this winter. MLB, MLBPA, and NPB are haggling over the posting system. It’s clear Otani wants to come over this winter. Now he just needs all parties involved to let him.

The 23-year-old Otani is basically the coolest baseball player on Earth. He’s a 100 mph throwing starter with wicked breaking stuff who also socks dingers on the days between starts. Otani hit .332/.403/.540 in 231 plate appearances with a 3.20 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 25.1 innings around ankle and quad injuries in 2017. Last year, when fully healthy, he hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers and had a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings.

Otani’s appeal is obvious. He’s young and he has a chance to not only contribute on both sides of the ball, but be an impact player both on the mound and at the plate. The consensus is Otani has more potential as a pitcher, but at this point, it makes sense to see whether he can hit and pitch. There is so much value to be gained. And if you have to pull the plug as a hitter or pitcher at some point, so be it.

The Yankees scouted Otani during the season (duh) and they’re expected to pursue him aggressively this offseason — Joel Sherman recently reported “they plan to push as hard as possible” to land Otani — which makes perfect sense. They have a fun up-and-coming team and Otani would fit right in with the exciting young core. He’s five months younger than Luis Severino! Of course this guy should be their No. 1 offseason target.

At the same time, the Yankees can’t — and shouldn’t — focus on Otani this winter. They need to proceed with their offseason as if they won’t sign Otani. That means filling out the rotation and coming up with a solution for the designated hitter spot (one set player? revolving door?), among other things. There are two reasons for this.

1. Otani might not come over. Back when Masahiro Tanaka was coming over, there were weeks and weeks of “he’s coming over/he’s not coming over/posting system negotiations could hold it up” talk. The same thing is happening here. I expect everyone to come to their senses and to get it worked out in time. But, until it happens, there’s always a chance Otani won’t be posted this winter. You can plan your offseason around a No. 1 target who might not actually be available. The Yankees don’t want to miss out on other players because they’re waiting for Otani.

2. It’s a minimal financial investment. This is the big one to me. Unless MLB, MLBPA, and NPB completely rewrite the international hard cap rules, which is possible but extremely unlikely, signing Otani will involved three financial commitments:

  1. The release fee paid to the (Ham) Fighters.
  2. His signing bonus.
  3. His 2018 salary.

MLB and the NPB already agreed Otani would be grandfathered in under the old posting agreement, meaning the (Ham) Fighters will set the maximum $20M release fee. Whichever team signs him, pays it. Every single MLB team can cut a $20M release fee check for Otani right now. Don’t let the owners trick you into thinking otherwise.

The signing bonus is a relatively small investment. Otani is subject to the international hard cap and teams only have so much international bonus money left to spend. Mark Feinsand says the Yankees have as much available international money as any team.

Eight teams have the ability to pay Ohtani a signing bonus of more than $1 million: the Rangers ($3.535M), Yankees ($3.5M), Pirates ($2.27M), Twins ($1.895M), D-Backs ($1.87M), Marlins ($1.74M), Tigers ($1.072M) and Mariners ($1.056M).

Conversely, 12 teams are prohibited from giving a signing bonus of more than $300,000 as a penalty for exceeding their bonus pools under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement: the A’s, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, Royals and White Sox.

Otani’s salary next season is an important consideration for the Yankees given their luxury tax plan. Because of the international hard cap rules, Otani can only sign a minor league deal, and he has to be treated like any other rookie. That means three pre-arbitration seasons and three arbitration seasons before qualifying for free agency. Otani will earn the $545,000 minimum salary in 2018. That’s nothing. It won’t complicate the luxury tax plan at all.

So the financial investment boils down to the league minimum salary that is a drop in the bucket for every club, international bonus money every team is planning to spend one way or another, and the $20M release fee every team can afford. The financial playing field is level. That means the Yankees won’t be able to blow everyone away with a big offer like they did for Tanaka. That lowers their odds of signing him some degree.

The more important factor here is Otani’s league minimum salary in 2018. That won’t have much impact on the Yankees’ plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. They can go about their offseason, get the pieces they need, and if they land Otani at some point along the way, great! His salary won’t blow up the luxury tax plan. Treat him almost like a luxury item. Build your team as if you won’t get him, and if you do, it’s the icing on the cake.

Yankees do not tender qualifying offer to any free agents

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, the Yankees did not tender the qualifying offer to any of their free agents prior to today’s deadline. The qualifying offer is a one-year contract set the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and this offseason it is worth $17.4M. Free agents who reject the qualifying offer are attached to draft pick compensation.

The Yankees only had one free agent worthy of the qualifying offer this offseason: Masahiro Tanaka. He did not opt out of his contract over the weekend and will stay with the Yankees. Had Tanaka opted out, of course the Yankees would’ve made the qualifying offer. He’s not going to walk away from three years and $67M only to take the one-year, $17.4M qualifying offer.

Matt Holliday, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda are the only other Yankees free agents eligible for the qualifying offer. Todd Frazier and Jaime Garcia are not eligible because they were traded at midseason. Pineda will miss most of next season following Tommy John surgery, so of course he didn’t get the qualifying offer. Neither Holliday nor Sabathia is worth $17.4M these days. The Yankees still might re-sign Sabathia to a smaller contract.

Nine free agents received the qualifying offer before today’s deadline. Here’s the list. Big name free agents Yu Darvish and J.D. Martinez were not eligible for the qualifying offer after being traded at the deadline. Those nine players have a week to accept or reject the qualifying offer. The new draft pick compensation rules are pretty convoluted. Here’s a primer.