Here is the nightly open thread. The Knicks, Islanders, and Devils are all playing, and that’s about it. Talk about anything here that is religion or politics.
Late Friday evening the Yankees announced their 2018 Spring Training schedule. Pitchers and catchers are due to report Tuesday, February 13th, and the first Grapefruit League game will be played Friday, February 23rd. Here are the key dates:
- Pitchers and catchers report: Tuesday, February 13th
- First workout: Wednesday, February 14th
- Position players report: Sunday, February 18th
- First full squad workout: Monday, February 19th
- First Grapefruit League game: Friday, February 23rd (home vs. Tigers)
The full schedule is as follows:
The Yankees will make two trips to the other side of Florida next spring, including once to play the Mets in St. Lucie on Wednesday, March 7th. The Mets will visit Tampa three days later. That last game on the spring schedule against the Braves is at SunTrust Park. Then it’s up to the cold north to start the season.
All told, the Yankees will play 33 exhibition games, including 16 home games at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The various networks will release their spring broadcast schedules in a few weeks. All networks have been scaling back their spring coverage in recent years — those midweek afternoon games don’t get good ratings, apparently — but a good 20-25 of those 33 games should be televised.
Spring Training season tickets are on sale right now. You can buy them here. Individual spring game tickets will go on sale sometime in January. The Yankees open the 2018 regular season on Thursday, March 29th in Toronto. The season begins midweek now to accommodate extra off-days during the season.
With six weeks to go before Spring Training, the Yankees have openings at second and third bases, and no shortage of ways to fill them. They could stay in house with guys like Ronald Torreyes, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar, or they could dive into the free agent or trade markets for help. There’s an argument to made for both approaches.
One of the best available free agent infielders is Todd Frazier, who was briefly a Yankee last season and has made it no secret he wants to stay in New York. Frazier seemed to genuinely love being a Yankee. According to Brendan Kuty, the two sides remain in contact, but Frazier wants a multi-year contract and the Yankees want to stay under the $197M luxury tax threshold, so the financials could be an issue.
Frazier, 32 next month, hit .213/.344/.428 (108 wRC+) with 27 home runs overall in 2017, including .222/.365/.423 (114 wRC+) with eleven homers in 66 games with the Yankees. He’s a flawed hitter, no doubt, but he is productive, he can play a fine third base, and he’s an asset in the clubhouse. Are those enough reasons to bring him back? Let’s talk this out.
The case for re-signing Frazier
Like I said, Frazier is a flawed hitter but he is productive. He hits for power and he draws walks, and his strikeout rate is basically league average. There’s also reason to believe Frazier will be more comfortable in his second season with the Yankees. More comfortable with the ballpark, the division, his teammates, the city, the works. A midseason trade can be overwhelming. It’s a lot of change in a short period of time.
The Yankees don’t need Frazier to hit in the middle of the order. They can stash him in the bottom third of the lineup and let him pop 20-something homers, maybe more given his extreme fly ball tendencies and all the hitter friendly ballparks in the AL East.
A right-handed hitter who pulls the ball that much won’t take advantage of the short porch, but that’s okay. Frazier is not lacking power. He’ll hit the ball over the fence to left field just fine. I’m surprised the Red Sox aren’t showing more interest in Frazier given how many fly balls he pulls to left field. Seems like a good fit for Fenway Park.
Bringing Frazier back would accomplish two things, in theory. It would give the Yankees a solid complementary player, and also allow youngsters like Torres and Andujar develop at their own pace. I love prospects as much of the next guy, but even the most talented prospects can falter. What if Gleyber pulls a 2017 Dansby Swanson in 2018? Frazier would give the Yankees protection, and he won’t break the bank.
The case against re-signing Frazier
I suppose the case against Frazier starts with his flaws as a hitter. He is an extreme fly ball hitter, which is good for power numbers, but it can also hurt your batting average. As we saw this year, Frazier is prone to weak fly balls and pop-ups. They’re average killers. Frazier has hit .220 in his last 1,242 plate appearances because of those weak fly balls and pop-ups.
The Yankees ran into some problems last season where they struck out in bunches — their team 21.8% strikeout rate was only 13th in MLB and basically league average (21.6%), believe it or not — and adding the totally awesome Giancarlo Stanton won’t solve that problem. Frazier doesn’t strike out a ton (21.7% in 2017), but a pop-up and a strikeout are damn near the same thing. His low average could compound the team’s offensive weakness.
Secondly, Frazier will turn 32 next month, so he’s getting to the point where you have to start worrying about age-related decline. And what is Frazier’s decline going to look like? His average is already low and if he starts to lose some power, he could morph into a below average hitter quickly. And if his defense slips too, well, it won’t take long for the natives to get restless.
A short-term contract would mitigate the risk. The Yankees wouldn’t be locked into Frazier long-term, so if he does begin to decline, they can move on quickly. That said, thanks to the luxury tax plan, every dollar the Yankees spend on Frazier is a dollar they can not spend elsewhere. A low-average hitter at increasing risk of age-related decline might not be the best use of finite payroll space.
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Ultimately, the decision to re-sign or not re-sign Frazier is going to come down to price. If he sticks with his multi-year contract demand and wants, say, $10M to $12M per season, it’s difficult to think Frazier will wind up back with the Yankees. But, if his market fails to materialize and he’s still looking for a job in February, perhaps he would be open to a one-year deal at, say, $8M or so. You never know. He’d get to stay close to home and have a chance to win, and that could appeal to him.
Part of me worries Frazier is getting overrated because he’s a high-energy guy who is easy to root for, plus he had some big hits in the postseason. Don’t get me wrong, being a great clubhouse guy has define value and should not be overlooked. At the same time, there were a lot of complaints about Frazier’s pop-ups and cold stretches following the trade. He can be a frustrating hitter, for sure.
As the seventh or eighth place hitter, the Yankees could probably live with Frazier’s low batting average and weak pop-ups as long as he socks the occasional dinger and plays a solid third base. And if someone like Andujar forces the issue, Frazier is versatile enough to play first base or maybe even left field in addition to DH, so he wouldn’t be blocking anyone.
I think Frazier’s market is worth monitoring. If he’s still looking for a job later in the offseason, then it would be time to pounce. Right now, I don’t think it makes sense for the Yankees to come in with a market rate offer. There’s no reason to do that given how slow the free agent market is moving in general.
For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have 1-2 holes left on their roster: Second and third base. It’s easy to see Gleyber Torres taking one of those spots by May 1, if not Opening Day, hence why it’s 1-2 holes and not a firm two. How they fill that last hole could be creative or it could be as simple as sticking Ronald Torreyes there until a younger, more talented option emerges.
Yet day after day, the Yankees are tied to starting pitchers. Gerrit Cole, Michael Fulmer, Chris Archer, Patrick Corbin, etc. Heck, even Yu Darvish, a pitcher who appeared (or still appears) to be wildly outside the Yankees’ budget-conscious price range this offseason. Part of these constant rumors may be to drive up the price for fellow contenders, but I have a feeling it goes beyond just that.
While an optimist would say that the Yankees are already set in the rotation, I’m here to advise you otherwise. Finding another starter — whether in free agency, a trade or otherwise — is not a luxury, but a necessity.
Why do the Yankees need another starting pitcher? After all, they retained both potential free agent losses with Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. They acquired Sonny Gray in part due to his remaining control years. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery earned spots in the 2018 rotation with their superb 2017s.
But each of those five pitchers comes with significant question marks. Perpetual knee issues or partially torn UCLs for some and 2017 workloads well past their career-highs for others. If there’s an argument for how the 2018 Yankees are worse than the 2017 Yankees, it starts with things going wrong health-wise in the rotation. The scary thing is that rotation-based argument is easy to make.
Just like each of the pitchers in the Yankees’ rotation, there are flaws with each of the available pitchers. Gerrit Cole couldn’t avoid home runs in 2017 and has only one ace-like season, yet the Pirates are asking (as they should) for the moon in exchange. Michael Fulmer comes with more control, but perhaps even more in return and he did just crater in the 2017 second half. Free agents like Darvish and Arrieta are on the wrong side of 30 with big money demands.
The Yankees could very well determine that their best option for that sixth starter already lies in house. That’s valid. Watching what Chad Green’s done in 114 MLB innings makes you wonder how well he can do in a swingman role and perhaps 20 starts next year. Having a packed and reliable bullpen already makes a transition to the rotation possible for Green.
And the Yankees’ farm system is filled with intriguing arms that could be MLB ready. Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, Domingos German and Acevedo. One of those guys could break through and provide the starts that will be necessary beyond the Yanks’ top five guys.
The team doesn’t need to go out and spend big on Darvish or trade top-end prospects for Cole. That’s not what I am implying. In fact, the Opening Day and playoff rotations may already be set in the Bronx and going big on the trade or free agent market may be a misallocation of resources for a team that still has a need on the infield.
Making either one of those moves would put the Yankees more firmly ahead of Boston in the AL East arms race and give them another weapon to match Cleveland and Houston come playoff time. It would answer a lot of questions that exist about the team as currently constituted and would allow them to ease the workloads of Severino, Montgomery or anyone they deem necessary to protect.
Like with the Giancarlo Stanton deal, the free agent market may move in the Yankees’ favor. That’s much less likely with the trade market: The Tigers, Pirates and others can wait for a more desperate team in July or even 2019. But no free agent has received a deal of more than three years this offseason and an unforeseen bargain may be out there in February.
The solution to their pitching concerns may indeed exist within the organization already and that’s why it’s not worth panicking if they don’t make a move. But when the Yankees are tied to starting pitchers for the next few months, don’t scoff. There is a need on the roster and whether it can be filled in-house remains to be seen.
Welcome to 2018. In exactly six weeks, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa to begin preparing for one of the most highly anticipated Yankees seasons of my lifetime. I can’t wait. Until then, here are some miscellaneous thoughts as we begin the new year.
1. In order, I’d say the Yankees’ biggest needs right now are another infielder, another starter, and a new backup catcher. (I’ve more or less given up on the new backup catcher idea.) As much as I like infield prospects like Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade, I have a really hard time believing the Yankees will go into the new season with two rookies on the infield. Or one rookie and Ronald Torreyes. The CC Sabathia re-signing gives the club five starters, so they don’t need another pitcher, but they do need another infielder in my opinion. Not a big name guy or an expensive free agent or anything like that. Just a capable veteran infielder who can hold down the fort until the kids force their way into the lineup, then be cast aside into a bench role or even off the roster once the kids take over permanently. A stopgap, basically. Even two stopgaps wouldn’t be a bad idea, luxury tax payroll space permitting.
2. You’re going to hate me for this, but looking over the list of available free agent infielders, I can’t help but think a Stephen Drew reunion could be in the cards. The Yankees have had a thing for him for a while now — have you been checking out the monthly MLBTR Archive posts? they’ve been connected to Drew for years — and the fact they have a new manager could equal something of a fresh start. Drew spent the last two seasons as a bench player with the Nationals, hitting .261/.325/.458 (103 wRC+) overall and playing the three non-first base infield positions, and playing them well. The batting line is deceptive — Drew hit .266/.339/.524 (124 wRC+) in 2016 and .253/.302/.358 (70 wRC+) in 2017 — though the Yankees theoretically have enough offense to career a zero at the bottom of the lineup. All they need is someone to play second or third base, and catch everything behind their ground ball heavy rotation until Torres or Andujar or whoever is ready. Drew can do that. He won’t be expensive, he can play a position(s) of need, and he’d be a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium. I dunno, the chances of a reunion seem annoyingly high to me.
3. We should start hearing about some minor league contract signings soon. People complain about the signing, complain when the player gets called up, then complain when he gets designated for assignment because he got that big hit that one time. Seen it a million times. As deep as the farm system is right now, there are always roster gaps to be filled. Erik Kratz is already back for catching depth. An infielder and a veteran innings pitcher are likely as well. I’m not sure there will be much more than that. Maybe the Yankees bring in two or three veteran hanger-on infielders on minor league contracts and let them compete for one Triple-A roster spot in camp. Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done that. In the past, these minor league depth signings were always important because you knew the Yankees would probably need to call on these guys at some point. Now? Now when the Yankees have a need, they have actual prospects to call up. Calling up Clint Frazier as an injury replacement is much more fun than calling up Thomas Neal or Zelous Wheeler.
4. Clearly, the Yankees want another starting pitcher. They’ve been connected to Gerrit Cole for weeks and at some point they made trade offers for Michael Fulmer and Chris Archer. They’re not just looking for depth here. They’re aiming high. There’s never a bad time to add a quality young starter, though I think they are motivated by four things. One, the Yankees know success can be fleeting and they want to do everything possible to win in 2018. Two, they have some physical/workload related concerns about their current starters after a deep postseason run in 2017, and want protection. Three, they’d rather get the starter now and avoid a potential bidding war at the trade deadline, when prices can get out of hand. And four, they have more prospects than they know what to do with, and they want to cash some in as trade chips before the bloom starts to come off the rose, if you catch my drift. The Sabathia re-signing means the Yankees are not desperate though, so they can wait out the Pirates for Cole or the Tigers for Fulmer until they get a deal they like. And if they a deal doesn’t fall into place, that’s okay. They have five starters ready to go. Point is, I think the Yankees very much want another starter, and I think the plan is to wait and wait and wait until they can get that starter on their terms.
5. Things are shaping up beautifully for the Yankees to get a bargain free agent later in the offseason. Maybe that means Neil Walker or Howie Kendrick (or Todd Frazier?) instead of Drew! The free agent market is not moving at all. I blame three things. One, the free agent class generally stinks. Two, the game’s two biggest spenders (Yankees and Dodgers) aren’t spending because they’re trying to get under the luxury tax threshold. And three, every team wants a bargain, and they’re all waiting. It seems these days every front office values players similarly and they all have the same roster building approach. At some point free agents are going to sign. J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are still going to get paid. The second tier guys like Walker and Kendrick figure to be most effected, and that could allow the Yankees to make a nice late signing. Something like last year’s Chris Carter signing, only better. I definitely think that is part of the plan right now. Wait out the slow as hell market and see who is stuck looking for a job in the days leading up to Spring Training.
Anyway, I wrote a thing at CBS about players who would’ve been free agents this offseason had they not signed long-term extensions. Mike Trout! Jose Altuve! Paul Goldschmidt! Could’ve been a fun free agent class. Alas. Also, here again is Richard Deitsch’s collection of the top stories of 2017. There’s plenty of everything in there. Sports, science, crime, politics, you name it. Check it out and read what you like.
Here’s an open thread for final weekend of 2017. Talk about anything here other than religion or politics. You know the routine.
January 1st: Jon Heyman has the contract details. In addition to his $10M base salary, Sabathia can earn an extra $500,000 each for reaching 155, 165, 175, and 185 innings. Sabathia threw 148.2 innings last year and hasn’t thrown 185 innings in a season since 2013. But still, that $2M in bonuses would count against the luxury tax payroll, so the Yankees have to plan for that. Also, the contract includes a full no-trade clause, which is meaningless. Sabathia has 10-and-5 rights.
December 26th: The Yankees announced the signing today. It is officially official. Sabathia will be back in 2018. The 40-man roster is now full.
December 16th: CC Sabathia is staying with the Yankees. According to Mark Feinsand, the Yankees and Sabathia have agreed to a new one-year contract worth $10M with incentives based on innings pitched. The deal is pending a physical which, despite Sabathia’s knee, shouldn’t be an issue since the Yankees know all about his medicals. The Yankees have not yet confirmed the agreement.
Sabathia, 37, reportedly spoke with the Angels and Blue Jays this offseason, though he made it clear his first choice was remaining with the Yankees. “This is my home. I want to see this thing through. I want to come back here and finish things off. This is where I want to be,” said Sabathia following the ALCS Game Seven loss a few weeks ago.
“There were very competitive offers out there that really made CC take his time,” said Sabathia’s agent to Joel Sherman. “In the end, he feels there’s unfinished business to attend to. Loves his teammates, clubhouse and the moves the Yankees are making this offseason. (Sabathia) wanted to come back for his 10th season with the New York Yankees.”
Given his age and performance and leadership, there’s a pretty good chance Sabathia and the Yankees are operating on the Andy Pettitte plan now, meaning they keep working out new one-year contracts as long as Sabathia wants to continue pitching. That would be cool. There’s no such thing as too much pitching and this signing doesn’t break the bank.
This past season Sabathia threw 148.2 innings with a 3.69 ERA (4.49 FIP), and he did it with the same cutter heavy approach that revived his career in 2016. He’s a soft contact machine now. Sabathia had the lowest average exit velocity (83.9 mph), fifth lowest hard contact rate (24.1%), and sixth highest soft contact rate (27.2%) in baseball in 2017.
Sabathia will join Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery in the rotation. The Yankees have been connected to a bunch of young controllable starters in recent days, including guys like Gerrit Cole and Michael Fulmer, and I don’t believe re-signing Sabathia will stop that. I think the Yankees still want another starter.
With Sabathia back on a $10M deal, the Yankees are approximately $23M under the $197M luxury tax threshold, though keep in mind they have to set some money aside for midseason additions and call-ups. In addition to another starter, the Yankees could use another infielder after trading away Starlin Castro and Chase Headley.