Hall of Fame Season

2018hof-ballot

I love the smell of rehashed arguments in the morning. Welcome, folks, to another season of Hall of Fame voting. It’s that most wonderfully awful time of year again that I swear I’m going to quite every year. But, like Michael Corleone, every time I’m out, they pull me back in (that’s pretty much the only thing I know about The Godfather Part III). I think this happens because when I was first truly active about baseball on the internet, my first “cause” was the candidacy of Bert Blyleven. From there, it moved on to Mike Mussina and I can’t help but be drawn into this stuff year in and year out.

Some general thoughts, given the Joe Morgan letter and what not…First, the idea of purity in any generation or at any tie of baseball is complete and total garbage. Segregation, gambling, juiced balls, amphetamines, steroids, you name it–there has never been any sort of “pure” competition in baseball. To say that steroids are any worse than these things is specious at best. The Steroid Era, or whatever you want to call it, happened and we can’t ignore that, and neither can a museum about baseball. Not including players from that era is irresponsible at best and damaging to the history of the game at worst.

I’ll never have a real Hall of Fame ballot, but if I didn’t do this next part, this post wouldn’t be worth much, would it? First, I’m just gonna list the ten players on the above ballot I feel are most deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, regardless of circumstance.

Three locks: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones. Bonds and Clemens are two of the best player’s in the game’s history, hands down. Their numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves and don’t need input from me. Chipper was incredible, probably a bit underrated, even. There aren’t a lot of guys, let alone third basemen, who went .300/.400/.500 for their career and he’s one of them.

Two pitchers: Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. Though I dislike the latter player off the field, it’s hard to deny he was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his career. Mussina, as I’m sure you all know, was a fantastic pitcher as well, and criminally underrated. These two deserve to be in.

Two first timers: Jim Thome and Scott Rolen. Scott Rolen was Adrian Beltre before Adrian Beltre became what we all know him as today. An incredible fielder and a great hitter. Rare would be a situation in which two third basemen were inducted at once, but if anyone deserves to be alongside Chipper Jones, it’s Rolen. They were the two best at their position in the game. Thome as a tater-mashing (612 career) OBP (.402 career) machine whom everyone liked. He’s in.

A lefty and two righties: It took a bit of convincing for me over the years–and I don’t know why–but I’m on board with the Larry Walker thing. He was an absolutely great hitter and it wasn’t just Coors. Even with spending a ton of time there, his career OPS+ is still 141 and his career wRC+ is 140. He was not just a product of his environment. Remember the .300/.400/.500 thing? It applies to Walker, as well as Edgar Martinez, one  of the best right handed hitters of his time and the best ever at his position. Another one of those? Manny Ramirez. Love him, hate him, whatever, he’s another .300/.400/.500 guy and he’s on the shortlist for best righty hitters ever.

No use for the podium this year. (Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)
(Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)

If I could add players to this ballot and supersede the arbitrary ten person limit, I’d also add Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield. And, despite my hands off stance regarding steroids, I can see the argument in not voting for Manny since he was caught and suspended twice. The one guy I really want to see in but I’m not sure if he should be in is Johan Santana. There were few–if any–pitchers better than him from 2004-2010, but I just can’t fully convince myself that it was a long enough time for him to play, regardless of his absolute dominance. One thing in his favor is that he actually compares very favorably to Sandy Koufax, another pitcher who was all peak and little longevity. In fact, Johan even beats him in ERA+, 136-131. Something I’ll have to hypothetically wrestle with for my hypothetical ballot.

Regardless of what people may think, given their various positions and interests, the Hall of Fame is a great museum to the history of baseball. To tell the history of baseball, all the best players need to be included or else the Hall is lying to its patrons and customers. We can’t ignore an era or the accomplishments of certain players because we don’t like them or don’t like what they did. Doing so is intellectually dishonest and ignores the complexity of both baseball and life.

Thoughts following the Rule 5 Draft protection deadline

New 40-man roster player Billy McKinney. (Presswire)
New 40-man roster player Billy McKinney. (Presswire)

It has been three weeks since the Astros won the World Series and we’re still waiting for something exciting to happen this offseason. Yesterday was the deadline for teams to add players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, and that’s the most exciting thing that has happened so far this winter. I’m going through hot stove withdrawals here. Would be cool if something fun happened soon. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. Last night the MLBPA announced they have extended their (completely arbitrary) deadline to figure out a posting agreement for Shohei Ohtani, and the fact they extended the deadline leads me to believe the sides made good progress yesterday, and the finish line is in sight. Supposedly one of the pending issues is the posting window. The MLBPA wants to shorten the period in which NPB teams can post their players. Right now they can be posted any time between November 1st and February 1st. MLBPA wants to cut it down to two weeks in November so it doesn’t hold up the rest of the free agent market. That seems like something they can work out, right? I hope so. The union really botched this. They agreed to this posting system and the international hard cap, and now they don’t like. Speak up at the table next time, fellas. Maybe hire a labor professional to negotiate on your behalf rather than give the job to an ex-player everyone likes? Could be cool. Hopefully everything gets worked out today and Ohtani gets posted soon. The sooner Ohtani comes over, the better it is for MLB and the MLBPA.

2. I was a little surprised Jonathan Loaisiga was added to the 40-man roster yesterday, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. Loaisiga is clearly talented, though he’s had a lot of injuries in his career (103.2 innings total in five years), and has only thrown 2.1 innings in a full season league. In the past, you could leave a guy like Loaisiga unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft and not think twice about it. Even if he got picked, he’d come back at some point. Nowadays rebuilding teams are more open to selecting talented low level kids, sticking them on their MLB roster all season, then sending them back to the minors the next year to continue their development. The Padres did that not only with Luis Torrens last year, but also Allen Cordoba, who had never played above rookie ball prior to last season. A few weeks ago Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told Derrick Goold they need to rethink their Rule 5 Draft protection strategy after losing Cordoba, and I think that applies to the Yankees too. They probably don’t protect Johnny Lasagna this year had they not lost Torrens from their Low-A roster last year.

3. Two things about the 40-man roster space clearing trades prior to the Rule 5 Draft protection deadline. One, I’m pleasantly surprised the Yankees were able to open space exclusively through trades. They got something back for their players (Garrett Cooper, Caleb Smith, Nick Rumbelow, Ronald Herrera). They’re not going to lose them for nothing on waivers. Even the 37th, 38th, 39th, and 40th guys on the 40-man roster had some trade value. Cool. And two, I didn’t expect Bryan Mitchell and Chasen Shreve to survive the 40-man roster purge, but perhaps I should have. Shreve may be out of minor league options, but he’s left-handed and he’s had some success in the big leagues. That’s not someone you cast aside unless absolutely necessary. As for Mitchell, he has a really great arm, even if the results haven’t been there yet. His curveball spin rate (2,750 rpm) the last two seasons is well above the league average (2,477 rpm), and these days curveball spin rate is all the rage. The Astros used curveball spin rate to find Charlie Morton. Tom Verducci is writing about it. This is a copy cat league. Other teams are going to start emphasizing curveball spin rate now. Maybe that’s enough of a reason to keep Mitchell. Or, at least it’s enough of a reason to hold onto him for the time being to see if a better trade offer than what was available prior to yesterday comes around.

4. Speaking of the Astros, I think it’s kinda funny that, after hearing for however long that a strong bullpen is necessary to win the World Series, they won the World Series with that disaster of a bullpen. Their bullpen allowed 37 runs in 61.2 innings in the postseason. That’s a 5.40 ERA. Their best relievers in the playoffs were starters. Lance McCullers Jr. had the four-inning save in ALCS Game Seven, Brad Peacock had a 3.2 inning save in World Series Game Three, and Charlie Morton had a four-inning save in World Series Game Seven. Houston’s bullpen was a mess and they won the World Series anyway. Does that mean having a strong bullpen is not as important as generally believed? Nah. Sign me up for dominant bullpen all day, every day. Timing is everything though. The Astros got good relief work (mostly from starting pitchers) in the games they really needed it. There is no magic formula for winning the World Series. Pitching by itself doesn’t win championships. The best way to win the World Series is to be good at everything. Hitting, pitching, defense, baserunning, everything. Do as many things well as possible and things will work out. For the Astros, their depth starters came through when their regular relievers did not.

5. With each passing day I am talking myself more and more into trading for Giancarlo Stanton. Don’t get me wrong, he’s awesome, but I never felt like he was someone the Yankees would pursue aggressively for a variety of reasons. The luxury tax plan, their crowded outfield, the farm system, etc. And yet, I am more and more coming around on the idea of making a serious push to get him. Dan Szymborski put together long-terms ZiPS projections for Stanton with the various trade suitors and his projections with the Yankees are just bonkers:

giancarlo-stanton-zips

That’s a .639 slugging percentage and 48.8 homers per season from 2018-22, Stanton’s age 28-32 seasons. Goodness. And who know what’s crazy? It doesn’t seem outrageous. I can totally buy Stanton hitting like that the next five years. The Yankees almost certainly won’t trade for Stanton for the reasons I listed above, but gosh, if they can get him for something less than full price in terms of prospects, I’d be all for it. I know Bryce Harper will be a free agent in a year and available for nothing but money, but Harper doesn’t help you win in 2018, and chances are Harper’s eventually contract will make Stanton’s look pretty good.

6. I was not at all surprised Jose Altuve won the AL MVP and I don’t think the lopsided voting results — Altuve received 27 first place votes while Aaron Judge received only two — reflects the feelings of the voters either. My guess is an awful lot of those voters had Altuve and Judge basically neck-and-neck for the award, but when it came time to separate them, most sided with Altuve because Judge slumped the first few weeks of the second half. The 27-2 split in first place votes makes it seem like this was an easy decision. I don’t think that reflects reality though. Just about all the voters who put out columns explaining their votes said Altuve and Judge were close. And, the weird thing to me, I’ve seen a lot of people explaining why they didn’t (or wouldn’t have) vote for Judge rather than why they voted for Altuve. The biggest separator in the voting is not something Altuve did. It’s something Judge didn’t do, and that’s be consistent, which is apparently a factor in MVP voting now? Judge had the slump and still made fewer outs than Altuve and hit for way more power this season, and if you believe the metrics, he was a more valuable defensive player too. Eh, whatever. Winning AL Rookie of the Year unanimously and finishing second in the AL MVP voting is above and beyond anything I expected from Judge this year.

7. I am weirdly indifferent about the managerial search. I don’t have a favorite managerial candidate and there’s no one I absolutely do not want the Yankees to hire either. I felt this way going into the search and I thought things would change once some names came out, but nope. Still don’t feel strongly about any of the candidates, one way or the other. Among the candidates, I guess my favorite right now is Hensley Meulens because he has extensive coaching experience and spent a lot of time working under Bruce Bochy, a truly great manager. I do think the whole “he speaks five languages” thing is getting overblown. It’s a valuable skill, sure, but speaking five languages doesn’t help if you don’t know what you’re talking about in the first place. (Also, Meulens is not fluent in Japanese. He supposedly can speak some words and phrases, mostly baseball related, but it’s not like he’s at the conversation level.) After Meulens, I am really intrigued by Chris Woodward, who seems to be highly regarded within baseball and has risen up the coaching ranks rather quickly. That doesn’t happen unless a lot of people think you’re really good at what you do. We’ll see where this goes. Like I said, I do not have a personal favorite right now. I’m kinda ambivalent about the whole thing.

Assorted Thoughts: MVP, Manager, New York Sports

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)

Happy Sunday, RAB. I hope you guys are all doing well. Since I won’t “see” you until then, I wanted to wish you readers–at least you American ones–a Happy Thanksgiving as we approach my favorite holiday. How do you beat a holiday devoted to food? If only there were all day baseball instead of all day football. Alas. In the spirit of said holiday, I did want to give thanks to you all for continuing to read my work and the (incredible) work of everyone here at the site. It’s beyond rewarding to know that you come here for your Yankee news and discourse when there are so many other options available out there. At the same time, it’s both humbling and a great source of pride. Thank you for your continued support. Yankees only.

Let’s start our Sunday musings by discussing the league MVP awards that were handed out last week. Every year, I tell myself I’m going to care less and less about this stuff and it generally holds true. I may make a case for someone or hope someone wins, but this isn’t like ten years ago on the internet when I lived and breathed this type of stuff. Back then, it was a way to flex analytical muscles and show your deeper understanding of the game, especially when you confronted someone more ‘traditional.’ Thankfully, I’ve (mostly) given up that ghost and just sort of take these things as they come. We live in an information age and players who might have lost undeservingly still get lots of recognition and will continue to do so, thanks to sites like Baseball Reference. Case in point? Luis Severino. I was totally fine with him winning third place for the AL Cy Young Award this year. He was clearly a step behind Corey Kluber and Chris Sale, and there is no shame in that, especially after his 2016. But then there was the AL MVP award.

Jose Altuve beat out Aaron Judge and I was, temporarily, Mad Online about that fact. This isn’t to say Altuve isn’t deserving or anything like that. I just think Judge was more deserving. With a few exceptions, Judge beat Altuve soundly in most statistical categories. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter that much because they were pretty close in overall value, even if they got there in very different ways–that’s the cool thing about baseball–but I’m still a bit chapped Judge didn’t win. Altuve had a better narrative–and didn’t have a six week slump–and that’s why he won. Bah humbug. Whoops, wrong holiday season.

Bam Bam. (Getty)
Bam Bam. (Getty)

As for the next Yankee manager, consider me firmly in the camp of Hensley Meulens. He’s relatively young. He’s got coaching experience both acutely–hitting coach–and broadly–bench coach and Netherlands manager during the WBC. As an added bonus, he’s a polyglot who speaks English, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, and Papiamento. All of those languages are crucial to players on the Yankees and Bam Bam’s skills in speaking them would only serve to make better communication between manager and players. That seems to be what he Yankees are looking for, first and foremost, and it’s the overall trend in baseball. 95% of what a manager does is behind the scenes anyway; there isn’t that much variation in on-field tactics at this point in baseball history, so having a guy who can connect to his players and communicate with them most effectively is what’s most important. From what we can see on the outside, Meulens seems to be the man for the job.

Ignoring the actual records of some of the teams, it seems that we’re in a pretty damn good place with New York sports, huh? The Giants may be a disaster, but they could have their next franchise QB soon. The Jets have played a little better than expected and have some exciting young talent. The Nets are at least interesting and the Knicks, led by the Unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, seem to have a bright future as well. I can’t speak well to hockey, but that leaves us with the Yankees and Mets. The Mets may be a question mark, but things are unquestionably optimistic-looking for the Yankees after this surprise season. We could be seeing a renaissance in New York sports and that would be great for the city and the area.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving, all. I hope you have a great holiday with friends and family. Thanks as always for reading.

Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

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.

Thoughts before the 2017-18 offseason officially begins

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

Later tonight the Astros will attempt to clinch the first World Series championship in franchise history while the Dodgers look to force a Game Seven. As a baseball fan, I’m rooting for Game Seven. This has been a very fun series and I’m not ready for baseball to go away yet. Either way, Game Seven or no Game Seven, the cold embrace of the offseason is right around the corner, and I have some thoughts.

1. Both Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman have reported the Yankees are likely to replace Joe Girardi with someone from outside the organization, which leads me to believe Brian Cashman & Co. want to start fresh with a new voice and not stick with the status quo (so to speak) by promoting from within. That could mean the entire coaching staff gets overhauled. The Yankees have already given the coaches permission to interview elsewhere, though that doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. That’s a professional courtesy every team grants their coaches when they change managers. When the Yankees decided to move on from Joe Torre, it was an open secret they wanted Girardi to take over. This time around it feels like things are more wide open, that Cashman isn’t going into the managerial search with a replacement in mind. It’s a pretty bold decision. Given how much success the Yankees had this season, especially the young players, rocking the boat with a new manager and coaching staff is surely not a decision Cashman took lightly. The managerial search might be a little longer than usual just to ensure thoroughness.

2. We will know no later than Saturday whether Masahiro Tanaka is opting out of his contract. If the Astros win tonight, we’ll know Friday. If the Dodgers win tonight, we’ll know Saturday regardless of what happens in Game Seven. I think he’s opting out. So do most RAB readers. I would be surprised if the Yankees and Tanaka work out an extension beforehand. I think it’s more likely the Yankees call his bluff and let him opt-out rather than let him leverage the opt-out into an extension. As far as I’m concerned, the best possible thing is Tanaka not opting out, and sticking to original terms of his contract. Getting his age 29-31 seasons at $67M sounds pretty great to me. I know Tanaka had a rough season overall, especially the first half, though I still believe he has several great seasons to offer. Tanaka reminded everyone just how good he can be in the postseason. So I guess my preferred outcome rankings are 1) Tanaka doesn’t opt-out, 2) the Yankees and Tanaka agree to an extension, and 3) Tanaka opts out.

3. For the first time, I feel like there’s an honest to goodness chance the Yankees move Jacoby Ellsbury this offseason. It’s going to hurt, don’t get me wrong. They’re going to have to eat a lot of money — Ellsbury has three years and $68M guaranteed left on his deal — to make it happen, but that’s the price you pay when you make an ill-advised free agent signing. I think Ellsbury moves because a) the Yankees have three better outfielders on the MLB roster (Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge) plus Clint Frazier knocking the door, and b) he was flat out benched in the postseason. The Yankees played 13 postseason games and Ellsbury appeared in only six. He started only four times. Ellsbury has been pushed aside. The Yankees will have to navigate his no-trade clause to get rid of him, but the writing is on the wall, and I think Ellsbury knows he’s the odd man out. That could push him to accept a trade. Where? I’m not sure. Seattle is always mentioned as a possibility because Ellsbury grew up in Oregon, but his hometown is 300 miles from Seattle. That’s like saying the Yankees should sign a free agent because he’ll be close to his home in Richmond. Anyway, I wouldn’t say Ellsbury will definitely be moved this winter. But I do think the Yankees are more open to eating (significant) salary to make it happen than they have been at any point previously.

4. In hindsight, the Adam Warren injury really hurt the Yankees in the postseason. He missed the final few weeks of the regular season with a back problem, and while he was able to make one appearance before the playoffs, it wasn’t enough to know where he stood in terms of effectiveness. Warren was great this year. He had a 2.35 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 57.1 innings and he was, at best, the fourth best reliever in the bullpen. But going into the postseason, it was Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson in the late innings, and Chad Green in the middle. Tommy Kahnle then emerged as another setup option. Dellin Betances couldn’t be trusted given his ongoing walk problems. Given how little length the Yankees got from their starters in the postseason — they played 13 postseason games and only seven times did the starter complete five innings — having that one extra multi-inning reliever could’ve come in handy. That’s normally Warren’s role. But it wasn’t clear he was 100% healthy and effective, and given the magnitude of each game in the postseason, Girardi relied on his top three guys and Kahnle heavily. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. The Yankees lost Games Six and Seven of the ALCS because they didn’t hit. But having that one extra reliable reliever couldn’t made a difference along the way.

5. Boy, MLB is really squeezing every dime out of this postseason, huh? FOX is showing quick seven-second commercials between at-bats and during mound visits now. Both FOX and TBS green-screened advertisements on the batter’s eye during the previous postseason rounds:

alcs-ad

Commercial breaks between innings are longer too. I timed one at three minutes a week or two ago, after talking to a few people who felt the breaks were longer this postseason. Commercial breaks are two minutes and 25 seconds during the regular season, and two minutes and 45 seconds for national broadcasts. Now they’re three minutes for the postseason. Geez. I mean, MLB has every right to make money. The ads are just so in your face now, whether it’s plastered on the batter’s eye or taking over the screen during the mound visit or making you wait longer between innings. It won’t be long before advertisements are on uniforms. Get ready for them. They’re coming. It seems MLB has managed to monetize every other inch of real estate and airtime available.

Thoughts after the Yankees part ways with Joe Girardi

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees will have a new manager next season. Yesterday morning the team announced they have parted ways with Joe Girardi, and “parted ways” is the best way to describe it. Girardi’s contract expired after the season, so he wasn’t fired and he didn’t quit. The Yankees are just moving on now that his contract is up. That’s how the Joe Torre era ended. Changing managers is a pretty big deal and I have some thoughts on all this, so let’s get to ’em.

1. I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again: I firmly believe managers and coaches have a shelf life. At some point their message and managerial style goes stale and it’s time for a change, and I think Girardi had reached that point with the Yankees. I thought he did last year, honestly. That doesn’t mean Girardi was a bad manager. His tenure in New York was a smashing success as far as I’m concerned. His worst season was 84 wins, and that was with rosters that had no busy winning 84 games in 2014 and 2016. It is entirely possible for the following two statements to be true:

  1. Joe Girardi is a very good Major League manager.
  2. Joe Girardi is not the right manager for the 2018 (and beyond) Yankees.

I think that’s what happened here. Brian Cashman came to the conclusion that while Girardi has been very successful overall in New York, it was time for a change because his style and approach had gone stale, and things weren’t going to get any better going forward. Girardi is pretty high-strung, you can see it in his face, and that wears on you after a while. It wears on everyone. And I don’t think you want to expose your young players to that sort of environment. That doesn’t mean Girardi is a bad manager. Not at all. It just means he’s not a good fit for the Yankees at this point in time, so Cashman recommended the change and ownership gave the green light.

2. Building on that last point, there wasn’t one thing that led to the decision to part ways with Girardi, I don’t think. I don’t think the non-challenge in the ALDS was the straw that broke the camel’s back or anything like that. That was a huge, huge screw up. But I don’t think that’s why the Yankees made the change. I think this is the result of several smaller things gradually building up over time. Joel Sherman wrote yesterday that Girardi and Cashman had become increasingly at odds over certain strategies and decisions, and Girardi’s intense persona only exacerbated things. Perhaps Girardi’s apparent lack of trust (or limited trust) in Gary Sanchez had something to do with it. Sanchez is far more important to the Yankees than any manager. That’s not a battle Girardi was going to win, assuming the relationship with Sanchez was enough of an issue for the front office to take notice. Anyway, like I said, I think Girardi being shown the door was the result of many small things adding up over time, and eventually reaching a point where it couldn’t continue. It happens. Often much sooner than ten seasons into a managerial stint too.

3. I was not surprised to see the Yankees and Girardi part ways. There had been enough rumblings these last few weeks about Girardi feeling burnt out and possibly stepping away to spend more time with his family that this always seemed possible. It’s not like the two sides splitting up came out of nowhere. I was surprised to hear both sides confirm this was a decision made by the Yankees. That I didn’t expect. If this marriage ended, I expected it to end because Girardi decided to walk away. I didn’t expect the Yankees to decide this wasn’t working out anymore. That caught me off guard. What happens if the Yankees win Game Seven of the ALCS and go to the World Series? Would that have changed anything? I don’t think it would have. This seems like something Cashman has been kicking around for a while, and this decision would have been made regardless of outcome. Maybe winning the World Series would’ve changed things? That’s probably the only way things don’t change. That didn’t happen though, so even though the Yankees got to within one game of the World Series in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, Cashman decided to change managers. Tough. Not wrong, necessarily, but a tough business, this is.

4. Personally, I do not have a preference about the next manager. At least not right now. Maybe I’ll pick a favorite once some candidates emerge. I don’t know enough about any of the candidates — or who the realistic candidates even are at this point — to have a strong opinion either way. What I do think is the Yankees would want a young-ish manager not only open to analytics, but already familiar with them. And also someone who can keep the team a little more loose and even-keeled than the intense Girardi. I doubt they want a stopgap manager. They want a manager who will be around for a while and grow with the young players, you know? Here’s the big question for me: how much do the Yankees want to change the culture? Are they willing to really shake things up with an outside hire, which could mean more changes to the coaching staff? Or do they like their current mix and want to ruffle as few feathers as possible? Either way, because the manager and the front office work so closely these days, I expect the Yankees to bring in a manager who already has a relationship with Cashman. I doubt they’ll bring in someone who no knowledge of how the team operates and no experience in New York.

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)

5. As for potential managerial candidates, I compiled a list over at CBS, so I’m going to refer you to that. My guess is bench coach Rob Thomson and third base coach Joe Espada are the two leading internal candidates. Thomson is a Yankees lifer who’s done a little of everything over the years, including work in the front office alongside Cashman. Recently both Girardi and Alex Rodriguez (during a postseason broadcast) brought up Thomson unprompted and praised him for his work with the team’s younger players. I mentioned Espada on Twitter yesterday and people freaked out, which I guess was predictable, but it’s kinda silly. Espada’s performance as a third base coach tells you nothing about his managerial qualifications. He checks all the modern manager boxes because he’s young (42), he’s upbeat, he’s very interested in analytics, and he has a good relationship with the front office (Espada was a special assistant to Cashman before joining the coaching staff). And he’s bilingual, which only helps. I’m telling you, Espada’s going to get serious consideration for the managerial job, and he should. He’s already very close with the young players on the roster, plus he’s a smart baseball guy with a well-rounded background. I’m sorry you may not like him because he got some runners thrown out at the plate, but Espada’s worth considering for the manager’s job. I think he and Thomson are the top internal candidates, with Triple-A Scranton manager Al Pedrique a distant third.

6. Two things to keep in mind as the Yankees look for a new skipper. One, they’re not the only team looking for a manager. The Red Sox (Alex Cora), Mets (Mickey Callaway), and Tigers (Ron Gardenhire) have all hired new managers recently, but the Phillies and Nationals are still looking, so the Yankees will have some competition. And two, the Yankees’ job figures to be very desirable. Yes, you’re walking into a situation were you’re going to be expected to win the World Series right away, and that can be challenging. You’re also getting a) a great core of young big leaguers, b) a strong farm system with several top prospects on the cusp of the big leagues, c) a front office and ownership group willing to spend, and d) state of the art facilities in New York and Tampa. And you’re going to get paid well. What more could anyone want in a managerial job? The Phillies and especially the Nationals will give any prospective manager some negotiating leverage. At the end of the day, I think the Yankees have by far the most to offer among the teams still out there looking for a new manager. I don’t see them missing out on the guy they want because the decides another team is a better fit.

7. Might as well close with the obvious: Cashman is definitely coming back. As far as we know he doesn’t have a new contract in place, but ownership following Cashman’s recommendation and parting ways with Girardi confirms it. Hal Steinbrenner is no dope. He wouldn’t listen and act on the recommendation of a lame duck general manager if there was any chance Cashman wouldn’t be back. Cashman will continue to run the show and I think that is 100% the right move. What he’s done over the last two years or so has been pretty amazing. The Yankees went from old and expensive to young and a burgeoning powerhouse in a very short period of time. At this point, I trust Cashman almost implicitly, and if he feels Girardi had worn out his welcome and the Yankees need a new manager, then I believe him. If nothing else, I know a ton of thought and consideration was put into this decision. It wasn’t made on a whim.