Don’t Take The Bait

The Red Sox are off on a very Yankee-like spending spree. They added  $200-million in contracts, and with a free agent pitcher probably on the horizon, they could be closing on $400-million soon. It’s up to the Yankees to not let this distract them.

Let’s be honest, I don’t think Boston wanted to go this route. Just last spring, they were sounding their usual lament about the Yankees and their spending. I think they meant it when they said it, but then they lost 90 games and things changed in Boston. I suspect that Red Sox ownership wants to make sure the ballpark remains full, and take advantage of a protected draft pick. So, they snagged Hanley and Pablo and now the baseball world will look for the Yankees to answer.

They shouldn’t They shouldn’t even bat an eye at any of this. This isn’t the mid-2000′s when the Yankees and Red Sox were locked in a steel cage fighting each other as the two dominant teams in the sport. Remember, from 1998-2005 the Yankees and Red Sox finished 1-2 in the AL East every year. They were mortal enemies and yin and yang. That’s no longer the case. They haven’t finished 1-2 in the AL East since 2009 (with either team first) and the baseball universe has dramatically changed. Money is everywhere and free agency has become a much, much more perilous endeavor. Fewer truly good players are making it to free agency, and the ones that do are getting seriously overpaid.

So what should the Yankees do now? They should make a run at Chase Headley, but keep things to a reasonable level. It is worth remembering that Headley had a .651 OPS when the Yankees traded for him. He then hit .265/.390/.434 at the Stadium, but ended the year with a combined line of .243/.328/.372. That is not someone I would give a four-year contract to, or pay much more than $12-million a year to. Other teams might, and the Yankees should let them.

Martin Prado needs a place to play in 2015. People keep saying he can be a second baseman, but he hasn’t really been one in a number of years. Putting him there for all of 2015 isn’t a great plan defensively, but he can play third. Take it with a grain of salt, but Steamer projects Prado to hit for almost the same slash line as Headley in 2015. Putting Prado at third has the added bonus of giving Refsnyder and Pirella a shot to win the second base job. That would be a very positive development.

There are simply too many questions hanging over the 2015 Yankees to envision them as a serious playoff contender right now. They certainly could make it, but until we know about Tanaka’s arm, Nova’s arm, McCann and Ellsbury’s bats, etc., we won’t know if they have a legitimate shot. They could spend a bunch of money and still not change the questions. Better to let the other teams spend now and just focus on getting younger.

 

 

Boston Today

The Red Sox sure have a way of surprising.  My thought going into this off season was to try to acquire a starting rotation.  But with offense down and pitching up in MLB, Ben Cherington has decided to do just the opposite.  One would assume he is acquiring the difficult to acquire asset with goals of moving some of that asset to acquire the supposedly easier asset to acquire in pitching.

If the season started today, here’s my line-up:

cf – Mookie Betts (R)

2b – Dustin Pedroia (R)

dh – David Ortiz (L)

lf – Hanley Ramirez (R)

3b – Pablo Sandoval (S)

1b – Mike Napoli (R)

ss – Xander Bogaerts (R)

rf – Rusney Castillo (R)

c – Christian Vasquez (R)

The obvious observation is that the Red Sox line-up remains heavy on the righties.  This kind of reminds me of when the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, adding to lefty hitter with the Red Sox already extremely lefty in their line-up, especially their top 5 hitters (Gonzalez, Crawford, Ortiz, Ellsbury with only Pedroia being a righty).

But we are still several months away from spring training, let alone opening day.  With a stockpile of offense, albeit in, my opinion, not the best talent, the Red Sox do have chips to work with to acquire a starting rotation.  Namely if they can move a player like Cespedes and his salary, then perhaps Jon Lester fits in rotation as a free agent.  In addition, there must be room for the likes of Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks on other teams…um, when I write those names, I lose total confidence that anyone would provide 100 cents on the dollar for any of them.

So aside from Cespedes, the Red Sox might have to be willing to trade minor leaguers like Blake Swihart, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Garin Cecchini (where would he ever play? The Red Sox just signed 2 players in Ramirez and Sandoval to the 2 positions he plays.), Devon Merrero and a few others.

I would expect over the next 21 days the Red Sox to start to move the above assets in exchange for quality starting pitching and hopefully the signing of Lester.  And let’s hope other MLB teams are willing to play the game with Boston, lest they leave Cherington with all offense and no defense, I’ve heard that can leave a GM a dull employee.

A Team of Outfielders

This morning I’m left scratching my head.  Yes, part of it is my dandruff condition, but also the Red Sox now have 8 outfielders in the fold.  Oh yeah, and they are doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t do and that is sign 30+ year old players to big contracts.

Reports are flying around this morning that the Red Sox have agreed to terms with both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.  Both men have reportedly agreed to 5 year deals worth in the range of $90-$100m.  The Ramirez deal seems firm while there are suggestions the Sandoval deal isn’t a lock so let’s focus on the Ramirez deal.

With Ramirez, who will be 31 when the season starts, the Red Sox have perhaps a third baseman or a left fielder.  If Sandoval signs, Ramirez will be in left, if Sandoval doesn’t sign, Ramirez is your new third baseman.  Signing both would mean the Red Sox have the following major league outfielders on their roster:

Ramirez, Betts, Victorino, Cespedes, Castillo, Bradley Jr., Craig and Nava.  Holt played a few innings there too last season, but let’s leave him out of this discussion.

What are they going to do with all of those outfielders?  Really, what?  I think this means Cespedes is a goner.  He has 1 year left on his deal, has told the world he will test free agency and the Red Sox aren’t allowed to tender him meaning they would not get a draft pick if they lose him.  Yes he has power, but he produced a sub .300 OBP last year and despite having a great arm, doesn’t seem to have a glove.  There were also whispers, quickly refuted by the Red Sox, that he wasn’t a teachable player.

That still leaves a logjam, but it is a start at clearing it out.

Ramirez wasn’t popular amongst his Red Sox teammates when he was traded in 2005 but he is a good offensive player when healthy and 9 years later, perhaps he has tamed his attitude a bit and won’t cause any friction.  Signing him is a direct contradiction to proclamations last year that long term deals to older players is a mistake.  Perhaps that leaves me with hope that Jon Lester still might re-sign.

I guess I have nothing left to say as there are far too many holes in the Red Sox team for me to get excited over 1 or 2 free agent signings.  Someone still has to pitch and right now their rotation is a mess.

Elvis Was A Hero To Most

Word is the Rangers are shopping Elvis Andrus and the Yankees just might be interested. Andrus is 26 and about to start an 8-year/$120-million deal with two interesting clauses in it. First, Andrus can opt out of the deal after both the 2018 and the 2019 seasons. (The Rangers love those opt out clauses) and he also has a vesting option for 2023 which is triggered by either 550 PA’s in 2022, or a combined 1,100 PA’s in 2021 and 2022.

Neither of those clauses would be a concern if Andrus was still the player he was in 2012. In 2012, he appeared to be an emerging offensive force who was a defensive whiz. Now he appears to be a declining player on both offense and defense. Clearly, any team that acquires him will need to be very cautious.

Now part of the reason for that may be that he showed up to camp in 2014 overweight and he hurt his right shoulder early in the season. A healthy shoulder may bring back some of the lost defense and losing the weight would certainly do that. If Andrus goes back to being the defender he was in 2012, he becomes a lot more valuable. But his bat is the bigger problem. His 2014 line of .267/.314/.333 is slightly worse than the 2014 average AL shortstop (.257/.307/.359) That’s not something you pay $15-million a year for.

So how much do you pay? That’s the key question. If the Rangers were willing to knock pay $5-million of his salary each year, Andrus becomes a lot more interesting to me. Yes, there are definite risks involved, but remember this guy is only 26. He becomes the youngest Yankees position player by almost 5 years if a deal is made. The Yankees can risk $10-million a year on him and hope he becomes more like his 2012 self, but even if he doesn’t, a 2015 infield with Andrus instead of Brendan Ryan is a better one.

A Bad Year

Elias had a good stat last night with the MVP vote. 2014 was the first year ever that neither the Red Sox, nor the Yankees had a player get a single top-10 vote.

I think it is fair to say that both teams have a fair amount of work to do this offseason.

 

Kung-Fu Panda

ESPN is reporting that the Red Sox are “all-in” in an attempt to sign Pablo Sandoval.  While the free agency process is filled with posturing and interesting rumors, there’s no doubt Sandoval would be a useful addition.

The worries, however, start with the fact he is not a highly conditioned athlete and history shows that those types don’t generally have long-lasting careers.  Couple that with the fact he is at free agency for the first time and trying to make a financial score, and this might not be the best thing for the Red Sox to do.

He is only 28 years old but let’s consider other baseball players who aren’t/weren’t in tip-top condition:

Prince Fielder – 30 years old and in the middle of a massive contract.  He played in only 42 games in 2014 and while it is too soon to count him out, I’d be very worried if I were the Texas Rangers.

Cecil Fielder – He starred in his 20′s but as his last all-star season was at age 32.  He was out of baseball at age 34.

Greg Luzinski - Now I was young when Luzinski was playing, but I remember him as a large fellow.  Please correct me if I am wrong. His career was done at 33.

John Kruk – At his own admission, he is not a fitness freak and was out of baseball at 34 (although was reasonably productive in his last years).

Ryan Howard – Wow, am I picking on Phillies players or what here?  Ryan is 34 and posted a .690 OPS this year.  His last good year was at age 31 and his contract runs for a few more years so I’d not be optimistic if I were his GM.

Adam Dunn – Announced his retirement at age 34.  His last very good year was at age 30 when he posted a .892 OPS.

Now there are outliers like David Ortiz.  He is a very large man yet here he is at age 38 still being productive and this guy named Babe Ruth played well to age 39.  Also keep in mind, baseball-reference has Kruk still listed at 5′ 10″, 170 lbs.  Sure.  I guess my point is this exercise isn’t scientific but I hope it supports the idea that a 6 year deal at $90-$100m for Sandoval is crazy in my opinion.  His OPS has declined each of the last 4 seasons.  Perhaps you’d get 2-3 good years out of him but also 2-3 lousy years as well.

I’d pass if I were Boston.

 

GM Meetings

The Red Sox have the major task of building a starting rotation.  While they have a handful of OF talent to dangle in any trades, they also have a check book capable of paying some free agents.

2 names that have been discussed in Boston include Jon Lester and the Phillies Cole Hamels.  To get Lester, they need to match his asking price and even if he is offering a “home town discount” it’s still going to cost the Red Sox a great deal to land him.  Hamels, on the other hand, will require spending money (as in paying him his salary) and prospects.  Hamels is on the books for another 4 years at $22.5 each (and a 5th year that vest predicated on durability and good health).  So landing Hamels will mean they are only on the hook for 4 years guaranteed but they spend dearly by giving up prospects.

To me this is a no brainer, they should re-sign Lester.  Let’s say they can get him for 6 years and $120m and please, we all have ideas as to what it will take, but let’s use this as a starting point and acknowledge it could be higher or maybe even lower I if a home town discount is really possbile.  That allows the Red Sox to hold onto their prospects while the down side is an extra 2 years of liability for a pitcher who will be 31 in January.  Still I take my chances on Lester over Hamels.

Lester has proven he can pitch in Boston, not every pitcher can do it.

Now, that’s just one starting pitcher, they need another.  The GM meetings are when both trade and free agent ideas are floated and then the owners meetings are when things start to happen.

He Lied?

I don’t think there were many people out there who believed Alex Rodriguez when he claimed he had never used any of the PED’s he was accused of using, but just in case, this story should put an end to that. Here’s the key quote in my mind, “Rodriguez gave a sworn statement to the DEA and prosecutors that, between late 2010 and October 2012, he did use substances prohibited by Major League Baseball.”

Just to recap. Alex vehemently denied these charges in public, but told a very different story when faced with the option of perjury.

The question I have now is what happens next? I have already stated that I don’t think the Yankees should let A-Rod play for them again, and this only increases my conviction in that belief. I also think that this news will increase the pressure on everyone to figure out a way to let Alex shrink away out of the spotlight. I cannot imagine he will want to face the press and try to explain these inconstancies, and I know the Yankees won’t want him to attempt to do so with an interlocking NY on his head or chest. I don’t know how it happens, but this should convince everyone that Alex Rodriguez should not be in Yankee camp when it opens in three months.

 

Qualifiers

No surprise, but all eight of the players who could have received a qualifying offer from my Top-10 post the other day did. Four other players did as well-

Francisco Liriano- Reinvented himself in Pittsburgh and a lefty.

David Robertson- A no-brainer for the Yankees

Ervin Santana- Already paying him close to $15.3 million, so why not take a chance on one more year?

Michael Cuddyer- Had an amazing 2013, but only 49 games played in 2014, so I thought this was a bit surprising. I imagine he might accept.

All of the players offered qualifying offers have until November 10th to accept. If they do, they are signed for one-year and $15.3 million. If they don’t, they can continue to negotiate with their current team, but if they sign with another team, that team forfeits its top draft pick. (Unless it is a top-10 pick)

 

 

 

Would You Sign Any Of These Guys?

There are a lot of top free agent lists out there, I just took the top-10 names I saw the most and put them into the post. My question is, if you were the Yankees or the Red Sox, would you sign any of them? Let’s look at the list

#1- Max Scherzer

The good- Incredible last two seasons in Detroit and he is 29.

The bad- Already turned down a six-year/$144-million deal so what will he cost?

#2- Jon Lester

The good- Proven winner in the AL East

The bad- He will be 31 this offseason and will cost a small forunte.

#3- James Shields

The good- Definition of workhorse. 8-straight years with 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings

The bad- Will be 33 when this contract starts and has a 5.49ERA in 60 postseason innings

#4- Pablo Sandoval

The good- Good production at a tough position and only 28.

The bad- Weight concerns and four-straight years of declining OPS.

#5- Hanley Ramirez

The good- Brilliant player when motivated and healthy.

The bad- Not always healthy or motivated. Can he still play enough defense to stay at short?

#6- Nelson Cruz

The good- Power that you don’t see that much anymore.

The bad- PED suspension, 34 years-old, bad defender. Seems destined to be a DH soon.

#7- Victor Martinez

The good- Offensive machine who is also a switch-hitter.

The bad- 36 and probably a DH only very soon.

#8- Melky Cabrera

The good- Has turned into a good offensive player and he is only 30

The bad- PED suspension.

#9- Yasmany Thomas

The good- Young guy with big power.

The bad- He is coming from Cuba so he will need to adjust to MLB.

#10- Russell Martin

The good- Good catcher defensively and offensively

The bad- 32 years old and will attract a premium price in a thin market.

 

So getting back to my original question, would you sign any of these guys if you were the Yankees or the Red Sox? Since I am the Yankee side of this blog, I will focus on that.

A guy like Lester or Scherzer would be nice, but pitching is not the Yankees problem and spending huge money on another starter seems foolish. Shields is more interesting to me as an innings sponge, but assuming he gets an arbitration offer from KC, I wouldn’t want to surrender the draft pick for him.

On the offensive side of things, Russell Martin isn’t needed and Melky Cabrera isn’t wanted. I wouldn’t go near Sandoval or Cruz. That leaves the three tempting players for the Yankees- Ramirez, Martinez, and Thomas.

Ramirez makes sense because the Yankees could put him at short now and move him to third later. He would be an upgrade to the position in 2015 and help an offense in need of fixing. But, is he worth the headaches? That’s the part I am unsure of. If the Yankees could get him for five years at most and $100-million or less, I think they would be very interested, but I would pass.

Victor Martinez would really help the offense, but where are you going to play him? Teixeira, A-Rod and Beltran are probably your 1b/DH combination already. Plus, Martinez is exactly the type of guy the Yankees should stop signing (old) so I would pass.

That leaves Thomas and he is intriguing. The scouts love his power, a commodity in short supply in MLB these days. But, there are questions about his OBP ability and his defense. The market for Cuban players has exploded, so he is going to cost a lot, and I think the Yankees could get better value elsewhere.

So if I am running the Yankees, I avoid all of these guys. I would look at guys like Headley and McCarthy and see what they want to stick around,  but I would not give up a draft pick for any of the top free agents. Spend some money on short deals with lower-tier free agents and hope you hit on some of them. The Giants have shown that a wild card team can win the World Series, so the important thing is to qualify for the playoffs. With the right tweaks, that is attainable for the 2015 Yankees.