Good Idea!

The Yankees have smartly flexed their financial muscles and given Luis Severino a four-year contract with an option for a fifth year. The deal buys out all four years of Severino’s arbitration process (he is a Super-2 player) and, if the option is exercised, a year of free agency. It will also keep Severino in pinstripes for his 20’s.

These are the kinds of deals the Yankees should absolutely be making with their younger players. Severino is entering arbitration and had asked for a figure just north of $5-million with the Yankees countering for just over $4-million. Assuming he pitched like last year again this year, he would have been asking for a lot more than the $10-million he will get in 2020 and 2021. (Trevor Bauer just got $13-million in his second year of arbitration) Now the Yankees should look at some other young guys on the roster where this would make sense. Torres and Judge come to mind, but they could also try to buy a couple of years of free agency from Hicks, Didi or even Betances. As we have seen time and again, it is so much better to stick with the guys you developed than to fish in the free agent pool.

How Many Wins?

As camps open across MLB consider this hypothetical team made up of current free agents. How many games might it win?

C- Matt Wieters
1B- Logan Morrison
2B- Josh Harrison
SS- Manny Machado
3B- Mike Moustakas
LF- Denard Span
CF- Adam Jones
RF- Bryce Harper
DH- Carlos Gonzalez
Bench- Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Iglesias, Jose Bautista

Rotation- Keuchel, Gonzalez, Buchholz, Shields, and Jackson
Bullpen- Kimbrel, Warren, Axford, Norris, Clippard, Sipp, and Madson

I would guess that this team would at least have a chance at .500.

Change is Coming

Lots of stories out there about rule changes that MLB and the players are considering adopting in the near future. I will link to the ESPN article, but if you subscribe to the Athletic, check out Ken Rosenthal’s piece.

Here are some of the bigger ones and my thoughts.

1-Universal DH- I’ve been saying this has to happen for awhile as pitchers make way too much money to risk injury doing their secondary skill. NL fans will howl, but pitchers hit .115/.133/.149 last year in over 5,000 plate appearances so are we really missing anything?

2- A 20-second pitch clock. I’m not a huge fan of this, but it’s in the minors and speeding up the game isn’t a bad thing.

3- Pitchers must face at least 3 batters in an appaearance. No more Loogys and less pitching changes. I like it.

4- 26-man rosters for the whole season with a 28-man limit in September and only 12 spots can go to pitchers. This is my favorite. No more games where teams have three position players on their bench. With 14 hitters, you can have real pinch-runners on a roster, or a glove guy, or a catcher. And you eliminate the insanity of September baseball, the most important baseball, not even resembling the rest of the season.

There are plenty more, including an idea to penalize teams that keep losing and moving the trade deadline.

Trading Ellsbury

It’s easy to forget that the Yankees still have Jacoby Ellsbury on their roster. He’s become their $47-million missing man. But, Buster Olney is reporting that the Giants have asked about him and would consider trading for him in exchange for another bad contract. Olney mentions Brandon Belt, Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon, Evan Longoria, and Jeff Samardzjia as possible pieces in a swap.

I actually had the Samardzjia idea 18 months ago, but his 2018 was a disaster and his durability, the one thing he had going for him disappeared, so I don’t think it is a good idea today. Longoria has a terrible 2018 and the Yankees would be stupid to take him on even for Ellsbury at this point. Belt is a perfectly adequate first baseman, but the Yankees don’t need another guy who only plays first jamming up the roster. If the Giants would trade Melancon for Ellsbury straight up, the Yankees would do it in a second, but there is a disparity of almost $20-million in salary between the two and you have to guess the Giants would want the money evened out and a prospect at minimum to say yes to that deal. So that brings us to Johnny Cueto.

Cueto is getting almost the exact same salary as Ellsbury, but he has an extra year, so the total commitment left on his deal is $68-million. But, this is the key, he is coming back from TJ surgery and will almost certainly miss the 2019 season. His contract is insured, so the Yankees would probably get back about 75% of the $21-million he is owed, so their commitment would be about $53-million to Cueto between now and the end of the 2021 season. And they could obviously push the Giants to include more salary relief so the money would even out.

Here’s why I make that swap if the money is evened out. Ellsbury in 2019 is almost useless to the Yankees. Assuming he is healthy, more on that in a second, he clogs the roster with an outfielder they don’t want to use. Cueto on the other hand would sit on the 60-day DL, allowing the Yankees to use his place in the active and 40-man rosters this season. And, if he comes back from TJ surgery, you have a rotation candidate for 2020 when Sabathia is gone. And if he can’t helpful, you are in the same position you are in today, owing $47-million to a player who can’t help you. But, you’ve gotten yourself a year of flexibility and by deferring the payment of the $47-million by a year, you’ve saved some money.

Now a few big caveats on this idea. First, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause, so this could be moot from the get go. Second, if Ellsbury is currently hurt, the Yankees would probably be smarter to just put him on their DL and collect the insurance they have on his deal. But if they think he is coming to camp ready to go, they should look to make a trade like this, or choose to write a really big check and make the problem disappear.

He Did It!

Mariano Rivera is the first unanimous Hall of Famer!

I’m just so thrilled by this, and seeing Mussina get in too is a nice bonus, that I’ll have to write more tomorrow.

What An Interesting Weekend

On Friday the details leaked out that the Yankees were trading Sonny Gray to the Reds. No shocker there, Cashman said he thought Gray needed a change of scenery.

But then came wore that the trade was held up because the Yankees were giving the Reds a chance to discuss a contract extension with Gray.

And while we waited for that to resolve, the trade came into focus-Gray in exchange fore the Reds #7 prospect, Shed Long, and a Reds competitive balance pick, which will be 36th in the next draft.

This made sense for the Yankees. They would get a good draft pick for next year and Long is a lefty hitter with a decent shot at becoming a regular at second in the next couple of years. If Didi leaves after 2019, Torres can slide to short, LeMatthieu can play second until Long is hopefully ready in 2021.

And then news came that Gray agreed to a deal with the Reds for three additional years, which explains why the Reds were willing to send a legit prospect and a very valuable draft pick for a guy who didn’t exactly shine in 2018.

And now we have news that the Yankees flipped Long to Seattle for the outfielder the Mariners picked in the second round last year, but is a ways from the majors.

So how do we evaluate the Gray trade? We are going to need to wait for a few years before we can.

Overkill

The Yankees have signed Adam Ottavino to a three-year/$27-million deal.

I like Adam Ottavino. He’s a local kid who has done pretty well. I mean really local, with a decent drive, you could hit his elementary school from my front door. But, I don’t like this signing. For one thing, it’s a risky deal for a guy who has control issues. And, he has a lower ERA on the road than at home, which is odd for a guy who typically pitches in Colorado. I also don’t like that this is a homecoming. That doesn’t always work out well as players put extra pressure on themselves.

Beyond those things, is this the best way to spend money? The Yankees now arguably have five guys who can close games. I get the strategy, but that almost guarantees the Yankees will once again have 13 pitchers, which in turn means 12 hitters, which in turn creates a problem- 3 bench players. One is obviously Romine, and Matthieu is another, but who is the third? Unless they are going to eat the money left on his deal, that would have to be Ellsbury. That means the loser of the first base competition has no spot on the roster, neither does Frazier or Wade.

I get what the Yankees are thinking. Ottavino gives them another pitcher to use in high-leverage scenarios and more protection if Chapman and Betances leave after the season. I just don’t think it is the best use of the money or roster spot.

Yes, Out on Machado

While the Machado rumors from the other day haven’t amounted to anything yet, the Yankees have made a move that shows they won’t be signing Machado- adding DJ LeMahieu on a two-year deal. LeMahieu is a second baseman primarily, but the Yankees plan to use him everywhere in the infield except for short according to Jack Curry. The deal is for $12-million a season according to multiple sources.

There are a lot of ways to look at this deal, and while LeMahieu’s overall numbers away from Coors Field aren’t great, there could be some hidden value here in the way he makes contact. Furthermore, he is a defensive whiz at second, which should transfer well to other infield spots. The Yankees don’t really know what Tulo is going to be, but they can easily jettison him now if he doesn’t work and put Torres at short with LeMahieu at second. That could also be the plan in 2020 if Didi leaves as a free agent.

And, they have added a bat who isn’t a huge step down if they want to replace Andujar for defense in a close game. It’s not the big, sexy move a lot of fans wanted, it it is a smart one. The depth is better, and that means the team is better.

Out On Machado?

Various reports on the web tonight that the Phillies and White Sox are the two remaining teams in the Machado sweepstakes. No one is officially confirming that the Yankees are out, but Jon Heyman is among the writers reporting that the Yankees haven’t made a formal offer to Machado and won’t come close to the $300-million plus he is seeking.

I’m more than ok with this news. Machado is a luxury the Yankees don’t really need and a ten-year contract for him would be a mistake. However, what I won’t accept is the Yankees sitting on gobs of money that could be deployed in smart ways. For example, Aaron Hicks, is 29, a free agent next year, and the best internal replacement candidate for him is at least two years away. How about signing him to a three or four-year deal this season instead of going to arbitration? That’s just one example, and the Yankees have plenty of them. Locking up some guys into their early 30’s instead of letting their values explode year after year makes a lot of sense to me.

Was This Smart?

Here’s an interesting nugget I read the other day. The Yankees are the only team in baseball with five starters under contract who pitched at least 150 innings each last year. I’m not saying that means the rotation is a strength, but it does suggest it isn’t as weak as we have thought.

I bring this up because the Yankees just gave $13-million a year to Zach Britton to put the monster bullpen back together. They now have the established quartet of Chapman, Betances, Britton, and Green to finish games with and they could have a wealth of choices if Holder continues his development and Kahnle bounces back.

So the deal Britton got strikes me as unnecessary. For one thing, the Yankees will be paying Chapman and Britton about $30-million combined for around 120 innings of work in 2019. Using that math, they probably should have just signed Corbin and made their rotation stronger. After all, a baseball team needs to plan to pitch at least 1,377 innings a year and putting a huge chunk of your payroll to a tenth of that seems like a bad idea.

But that also ignores leverage and the Yankees can use the likes of Chapman and Britton in the highest-leverage situations to greatly improve their chances to win. That would make the investment look much better. This is pretty much what they did with David Robertson last year and it was a big reason they won 100 games. So I think usage is the biggest factor in evaluating this deal down the road.

But there is one more, under the radar detail that makes this a good deal for the Yankees. Chapman has an opt-out following the 2019 season and Betances will be a free agent. If Chapman exercises that opt-out, the Yankees can avoid chasing him knowing they have a guy who can close games ready to go. That’s a nice luxury to have and makes this a solid move for the team. Let’s just hope they don’t go overboard and add another reliever at these prices.