Happ’s Back

The Yankees have finally made a move and that is bringing JA Happ back on a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third year. The average salary is an amazing $17-million.

If you pencil in Happ for around 170 innings a year, that works out to $100,000 an inning. At that price, I really wonder how long it will be before we see expanded rosters that allow teams to take advantage of a minimum MLB salary for relievers that works out to about $9,000 an inning?

But until then, this is an acceptable deal. Lance Lynn just got 3-years and $30-million guaranteed from Texas. Momma’s let your babies grow up to be starting pitchers.

It’s Quiet

Not surprisingly, Noah Syndergaard is still a Met. More surprising, Andrew MCCutchen got a three-year/$50-million deal from the Phillies. The Yankees clearly made a shrewd move signing back Gardner for one year at $7.5-million in this market. We have heard a bunch of rumors about the Yankees, but for now nothing much is happening. Let me run down some of the rumors out there now.

The Syndergaard trade was supposedly going to cost Andujar as the big piece, but no word on what else.

I still don’t buy it Syndergaard isn’t coming to the Bronx and I also saw Buster Olney saying Happ has multiple two-year offers and seems content to wait until a team gives him three, so if the Yankees were trying to get him to decide, it failed.

Someone pointed out that the logjam in the meetings probably comes from a standoff between Harper and Machado’s agents. Neither wants to see the other get a better deal. Not sure how that gets resolved.

The Yankees were apparently never close to getting Corbin because his agent told them the starting bid was 6/126 and they said no thanks. Good for them for sticking to their plan.

The Red Sox are said to be looking to cut payroll, maybe by trading Porcello. Makes sense as they are probably right at the threshold for the biggest luxury tax penalties, including seeing their draft pick drop ten spots.

Craig Kimbrel wants six years. Good luck with that!

That’s all for now. Remember that the meetings are in Vegas, so plenty could happen tonight after all of the East Coasters like me are in bed. Back tomorrow.

Leverage

Let’s say you run a baseball team and you want to sign a free agent pitcher. You’ve made a competitive offer for two-years, but the pitcher wants three. What can you do short of caving in and giving the third year to get the deal done quickly?

What if you float a rumor that you are in hot pursuit of a much, much, better starter? If the free agent pitcher finds that out, he might suddenly decide to take the two years from you and not run the risk that you will complete the trade and yank your offer to him.

This is the scenario I thought of when I heard the Mets, Marlins, and Yankees were in talks ok a trade where Noah Syndergaard ends up in the Bronx. This is a way for the Yankees to try and force Happ’s decision so they can move on down their shopping list.

My reasoning is simple, what would motivate the Mets to send one of their aces across town? I understand they have a new GM, but Syndergaard is going to bring back a good return wherever he goes and if he goes to the Bronx and pitches like he is capable of, the new Mets GM looks pretty bad. The risk for the Mets is really, really, high in that trade.

So before you head to sleeep with visions of Thor dominating for the Yankees dancing in your head, just stop and think it through. Then again, these are the Mets we are talking about, and I probably shouldn’t discount that part of it.

Yankees Over Country?

I’m very, very conflicted about the news that Randy Levine is in the running to be the next White House Chief or Staff. The Yankee fan in me would be thrilled to see him go, as I have never been much of a fan. But as an American, I worry that Levine’s addition to the White House would not be a great move for the country. I think I may have to choose what’s best for the country here. (And for those of you who laughed at this rumor, here are a couple of dots to connect. Levine was deputy Mayor under Giuliani who is obviously a big supporter of the President and his lawyer. In addition, the President used to hang out with George Steinbrenner and know most of the Yankee execs pretty well. This isn’t a crazy notion.)

In actual news, the Winter Meetings have started and as of 6pm the Yankees haven’t done anything, with the exception of Brian Cashman swatting down the notion of Bryce Harper coming to New York. When asked, Cashman somewhat chastised reporters for asking and said the Yankees already have six outfielders. (Hmmm….that means he is counting Ellsbury) and that Harper playing first is not something the Yankees would do. I suspect that the Yankees would happily take Harper at a price much lower than he is going to get, but that upon hearing he rejected $300-million from Washington, they quickly decided to move on.

Cashman did say that he has had multiple meetings about Manny Machado and that makes some sense. Didi is hurt and a free agent after this season. Andujar is a a great hitter, but his defense is suspect at third. Machado could play short and then move over to third. I’m not endorsing a Machado signing, but I can see the argument for it. Personally, I would sign one of the many second base options out there for a one-year deal and move Gleybar to short. I would also use the money you could have spent on Machado to lock up some of the guys in arbitration and close to arbitration.

Anyway, more as news happens.

Boston Keeps Eovaldi

Mark Feinsand is reporting that the Red Sox have re-signed Eovaldi to a big deal- 4-years for $67.5 million.

I’m not that shocked as despite the two TJ surgeries, the talent is clearly there. The crazy thing is that Chris Sale is now the fourth-highest paid pitcher in the Red Sox rotation. Young, cost-controllable starting pitching is the biggest commodity in the game right now.

As for the Yankees, do they go after Happ, or go back to the trade market?

Could He Have Pitched in NYC?-Updated

If you draw a circle extending out about 200 miles around New York City you would include parts of 11 states from Virginia to New Hampshire. You would come across hamlets like Manchester, Vermont, and big cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. You would also find the town of Cicero, NY, home to Patrick Corbin within the circle.

I mention this because there has been this argument I never understood about how Corbin is a perfect fit because he grew up in New York and was a Yankee fan. New York State is a big place and while Corbin did indeed grow up within its borders, he grew up a long way away from the Bronx. So, I can’t see how where he grew up would have helped him handle the Bronx or the pressures of pitching there with a huge contract.

That won’t be the Yankees problem as he apparently, has decided to take a six-year/$120-million deal from Washington. The Yankees apprently stopped bidding at five years and $100-million, so you can probably ignore all those stories about how much he wanted to come “home”. There are very few times that a player doesn’t take the biggest payday like Corbin did here. (Which is absolutely their right).

Putting aside the fact that anyone you sign as a free agent is going to be overpaid, the Yankees now face an interesting choice. They will probably try to sign one of two guys they have employed before, Happ or Eovaldi. Both will be overpaid, Happ in years and Eovaldi in money, so which should they pick? To me, it’s simple, Eovaldi is seven years younger and the better long term bet. I would much prefer him for four years than Happ for three. I would bet a healthy amount one of them will be back in the Bronx next year.

And once that is done, the Yankees will be sorely tempted to get into the Machado or Harper market. More on that later.

UPDATE- Apparently Corbin is getting $20-million more than I originally said so six-years for $140-million, but some may be deferred.

Making a Bad Thing Terrible

Apparently trading Robinson Cano is a big to do for the Mariners and they’re trying to get the Yankees to bite by their willingness to take back Jacoby Ellsbury. The problem with this idea is that Cano has five years and $120-million still owed to him, while the Yankees will be rid of Ellsbury in two years for “only” $47-million more. There is no world where the Yankees make that swap.

But, I strongly suspect the Yankees are going to rid themselves of Ellsbury somehow this offseason. They have brought Gardner back, which means they have four outfielders already and no room for Clint Frazier. Unless they come up with a trade that includes Frazier, Ellsbury is probably a goner. If I were the Yankees, I would call Detroit and see about swapping him for Jordan Zimmermann. The salaries are almost a perfect match and the Yankees could use Zimmermann as a swing guy for the next two seasons. Clearly he would be massively overpaid, but they would at least get something that could be remotely useful.

And finally, I get the anger over Torreyes being DFAed, but while he was fun to watch he is not an everyday player. He’s not even a great backup player. The Yankees can find better options, and actually might have one in Tyler Wade.

Can He Pitch in New York?

The Yankees have traded for James Paxton, sending Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Don Thompson-Williams to Seattle.

Let’s start with this, Paxton isn’t an ace, even if his stuff is ace-quality. (Here’s a different opinion) He can be great, but has never been healthy enough to be the frontline guy. He has also been a much better pitcher at Safeco than on the road, which brings up the title of this post- the ultimate X factor in this trade.

But if he can pitch in the Bronx, this is a good addition, possibly a spectacular one. Let’s put Paxton in the third spot behind Severino and Tanaka for now, and they have a solid top-3. If they can add a better starter, Paxton becomes one or the best 4th starters in the league. He’s also still in arbitration, so they aren’t going to spend a lot here.

As for the players going out, Sheffield’s star had clearly dimmed. The Yankees brought him up for a peek in September and were so unimpressed that they put a different left hander from the minors on their playoff roster. The whispers have been growing that he is a reliever and not a starter in the majors, so the Yankees are probably smart to cut bait now.

Swanson actually might be the bigger loss as he has shown a lot in the minors and while the debate about his ceiling is ongoing, he probably will contribute right out of the gate. Thompson-Williams is a lottery ticket, who knows what he will do.

If you look at Paxton’s career, he is better than Sonny Gray was when he came to the Yankees. The problem is, Gray was pretty good and it didn’t work out. Will Paxton be Gray, Jeff Weaver, or Ed Whitson, or is he more of a pitcher in the mold of Kuroda, Mussina, or Hernandez? That’s the question.

They Buried The Lead

The Aaron Boone press conference had gone about 45 minutes when the Yankees dropped the bombshell that Didi needs Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Boone wouldn’t give a timetable other than to say the Yankees thought he could play “the bulk” of the season with the team. The operation is scheduled for next week so until it actually happens, guesses seem silly.

Before that happened, Boone had three notable comments.

1- While he stopped just short of handing Voit the job at first for next year, he ceme really close and in his extended answer about Voit he didn’t mention Greg Bird once. He did get a follow up on Bird and said he had a lost season, but they believe in his talent.

2- Boone admitted that Severino does tip his pitches “from time to time” but said there was nothing wrong with him physically.

3- Boone said that for Andujar it is all about pre-pitch positioning and footwork that will determine his defensive future. He said the glove and arm were fantastic and also praised his bat.

Back with more after Cashman speaks.

Cashman had a number of notable comments.

1- He all but traded Sonny Gray saying it “hasn’t worked out here” and saying it was on him “to find something that would work better” and “it’s in our best interests to see if we can match up with somebody”.

2- all the coaches are coming back for 2019.

3- He was asked in regards to Gray about figuring out what players could thrive in NYC and if they were better at doing that than they used to be. Cashman’s answer was interesting because he admitted that it was a problem and said that he and his team don’t just look at the numbers, but talk to as many people as they can to figure out if a player will fit well in NY.

4- CC Sabathia had the same knee operation that he had last year and Cashman fully expects him to pitch next year. (Though he didn’t say it would be here)

Those are the highlights, but based on some research I found that Tony Womack had TJ surgery in October of 2003 on his throwing arm and made it back for Opening Day. That’s about the only guy I could find with that quick a turnaround, nine months seems like a better number and that means we are probably looking at the All-Star Break.

Good Season?

I’m not one of those Yankee fans who believes the team has to win a title or the season is lost. To me, progress is the key metric. At the end of the year can you say the Yankees have improved and gotten closer to winning a title, or did they take a step back? I would say this year was another step forward.

Start with the luxury tax, which the Yankees didn’t pay and therefore have reset their tax rate. That’s a big deal because they have even more financial flexibility than they did. That’s a positive.

Next go to Torres and Andujar who both established themselves as players with bright futures ahead of them. Coupled with other young stars, the Yankees clearly have a solid young core to build around.

And I think you have to give the new manager a good review. Boone surprised me with his easy demeanor and he was a breath of fresh air to watch compared to Girardi who looked like he could explode at any minute. I think he is a perfect guy to nurture the young talent and while he made a big mistake the other night, I think he will learn from it.

Some people might be tempted to add Voit to this list and while you can not deny what he did, I am still not convinced we didn’t just see the second coming of Shane Spencer, who exploded on the scene in 1998 but barely lasted 500 games in the majors.

We also have to take into account the bad, specifically Gray, Bird, Sanchez, and Montgomery. Montgomery got hurt, so let’s not dwell on him other than to say his development into a quality starter has been dealt a setback. Gray was simply a disaster and the Yankees almost certainly have to figure out a way to get him out of New York. Bird presents a much bigger dilemma. Was his 2015 debut the mirage and the sub .200 batting average in almost 500 plate appearances since then the truth? I’m not sure, but the Yankees have to figure it out and either move on, or fix him.

That leaves Sanchez and we need to be careful with assumptions about him. First off, he was terrible with passed balls, but did you know that the Yankee pitchers had a 3.49 ERA when he was catcher this year? It was below the team ERA and why below Romine’s 4.09, so let’s not claim that pitchers were uncomfortable with him behind the plate. And let’s be honest, would we be paying attention to his catching if he was hitting like he had in 2017? It’s hard to figure out what went wrong in 2018, a BABIP of .197 certainly didn’t help his batting average and his line drive rate was way down, which hurt his slugging. Maybe his contact wasn’t as clean as in years past? Maybe it was something else, but the fact remains that he is still not even 26 and the Yankees were reminded of his talent Saturday Night in Boston.

Jacoby Ellsbury gets his own category because he didn’t even make it on the field and has two years and around $47-million left on his deal. I don’t know how the Yankees get rid of him, but they need to.

Add it all up and I think this was a positive year with some important improvements. To take the next step, the Yankees need to figure out how to get better starters and they will need to make some long-term financial decisions. More on that soon, but tomorrow I will recap the Cashman/Boone press conference being held at the Stadium.