Winter Meetings 2

Nothing major has happened so far, but it is worth remembering that it is three hours earlier in San Diego. They may be just getting warmed up.

Here are some story lines that caught my eye tonight.

1- The White Sox are apparently close to getting Jeff Samardzjia. I know an A’s fan and he recently asked me if I understood what the $%!! Billy Beane was doing. I don’t, but I think the guy has built enough of a track record to have the fans believe in him. That being said, Donaldson, Moss, Samardzjia…where does it end and what is the plan?

2- Jon Heyman has reported today that the Yankees are willing to go to four years on David Robertson and Chase Headley. I am not excited by that, but let’s see what happens.

3- Interesting that Ken Rosenthal blew up the Internet earlier with news that Lester was closing on the Cubs/Giants, but hasn’t addressed it since.

4- Jerry Crasnick is reporting that Scott Boras is seeking “multiple years and substantial dollars” for Kendrys Morales. I would think Morales would have learned something from last offseason, but we shall see.

Lester News-UPDATED 7:25PM

Ken Rosenthal just tweeted “Barring late change, Lester choosing between Cubs and SF Giants”

I think we all know that “late change” means more money from Boston. Let’s see what happens.

UPDATE 4:55- As BL points out in the comments, Lester’s agent denies this report. Jon Heyman reports that Giants and Cubs are “favorites” but Red Sox have not been informed they are out. Buster Olney speculates that Lester’s agents like to present teams with a “take down price” and that Boston has been presented with that. Rosenthal hasn’t tweeted anything beyond his initial report.

The Giants part intrigues me as they obviously need a third baseman. They went to a $150-million payroll last season and they already have almost $130-million committed for 2015. Are they willing to go well above $150-million?

UPDATE 7:25- I was waiting for this- Jerry Crasnick tweeted “Don’t count out the Yankees with Jon Lester”

If the Yankees are going to sign a major free agent pitcher, and I hope they won’t, I hope it is Jon Lester. Is that a backhanded endorsement?


Winter Meetings Update 1

No big news so far, but here are a few items worth mentioning.

1- Buster Olney says Jon Lester will decide by tomorrow where he is going to pitch. That should get the free agent pitching market going on a number of levels.

2- One guy who didn’t wait is Jason Hammel who went back to the Cubs for 2-years/$18-million with an option for a third year.

3- The Veterans’ Committee did not elect anyone to the Hall of Fame. Quite honestly, I am getting sick of all the debates and whining about the Hall of Fame and who didn’t get in. Today’s flavor seems to be Jim Kaat, who by all accounts is a lovely guy and I enjoy his broadcasting. But he is tied for 386th place in career ERA (old stat) and 375th-place in ERA plus (new stat) is this a guy who should be in the Hall of Fame?

4- The Yankees and Giants are apparently the favorites to get Chase Headley. FanGraphs named him the #1 bargain free agent this offseason. (Brandon McCarthy was second) Pegging him at a contract of 4-years/$56 to $60-million. I can’t wrap my head around that. Headley is a nice player, good glove, switch-hitter, but $14 or $15-million a year for him? We shall see.

5- The White Sox have apparently decided to go hard after David Robertson. There are still people saying the Yankees aren’t out of it, but I can’t see them spending anywhere near what Robertson could get on the free agent market to retain him.

Things should heat up later today as all the GM’s get checked in and going.

Crank Up The Rumor Mill

The Winter Meetings are upon us. The hot stove will be ablaze and plenty of moves will follow. We will post frequently as news warrants.

For now, a few predictions about what will unfold over the next four days. These are guaranteed to be wrong, but let’s have some fun.

1- Max Scherzer doesn’t come close to signing a deal, but everyone keeps reporting that he does.

2- David Robertson gets a 5-year/$50 million deal from Houston.

3- Jon Lester gets a contract over $150 million

4- The Red Sox trade for Jordan Zimmermann

5- The Yankees trade for Danny Espinosa

6- Melky Cabrera gets $100-million deal.

And away we go!

Miller Time

Busy day for the Yankees as they have just added Andrew Miller to the bullpen on a four-year/$36 million deal. This could be one of the better free agent signings the Yankees have made, it just depends on what they do with him.

I don’t think anyone will argue that Miller was one of the best relievers in the league last year. He has filthy stuff and even though he is a lefty, he didn’t suffer against righty hitters, posting a slightly lower OPS against them. You can read an interesting breakdown of his career and trajectory here. (quick take- very promising)

But here’s where things can go really well for the Yankees, or just well. They can do the traditional thing and slot Miller in as the “8th inning guy” or even the closer. That would be fine. But if they are smart, they will take Miller and Betances and realize they have two amazing weapons to deploy in close games.

The whole idea of a closer has gotten out of whack. Most closers don’t stay closers for very long. (For example look at the Top-10 save lists from year to year. Lots of changes.) Saves are a very overrated statistic as you get one if you come in and pitch an inning with a lead of no more than 3 runs, or you come in in a 5-0 game, but the bases are loaded. Plenty of mediocre pitchers can come into a game and pitch an inning of relief without surrendering three runs. Yet, managers have become beholden to the closer and saving that pitcher for the 9th. The Yankees have a chance to change that.

Instead of using Miller in the 9th as the closer. How about using him in the game when it makes sense? Same thing with Betances. The Yanekes don’t have to designate a closer. If it’s a 3-2 Yankee lead in the sixth and the pitcher is floundering, bring in Miller or Betances. If it’s the ninth, do the same. There are situations where the game hangs in the balance and those are the ones where you want to use your best reliever(s).

The Yankees probably won’t do that, but even if they don’t, this is a good move. Yes, the money is crazy, but this is the world we live in. I think from an incremental standpoint, this move makes financial sense. Miller can influence around 70 games next year as one of the best relievers in the game. A starting pitcher is capped at around 32, and top level starters cost almost three times this. Yes, a starter will pitch more innings, but again it is about the leverage of those innings. The Yankees have two great weapons to deploy in those high-leverage situations.

We Needed A Shortstop

The word is the Yankees have pulled off a trade. As part of a three-way deal, the Yankees are trading Shane Greene and receiving Didi Gregorious. I really like this move.

Yes, Gregorious did not have a good 2014, but he is 24 years-old. (That makes him the youngest Yankee starter by six years in 2015.) His .653 OPS isn’t pretty, but the average AL shortstop only produced a .667 OPS in 2014. He is a lefty, and he is absolutely brutal against LHP in his career so far with a .490 OPS against them as compared to a .743 OPS vs. RHP. But again, he is 24, and he also suffered from some bad luck last year (.257 BABIP versus a 28% line drive rate) Yankee Stadium should help him become a better hitter, and if he is really brutal against lefties you can always pinch-hit for him in a big spot. (You might do that anyway for a normal shortstop) Oh, and he is a good defender by all accounts.

Shane Greene had a very impressive 80 innings for the Yankees in 2014, but it is worth remembering that he is 26 already and has a career ERA of 4.39 in the minors. He could become a nice back of the rotation guy, and that is a great price to pay for a starting shortstop under team control for the next four or five years. (Baseball Reference has him as a free agent after 2019, most other places after 2018)

If you are like me and wanted the Yankees to get younger and more athletic, this is a great first step. This move will not turn them into an offensive powerhouse, but it doesn’t have to. The Yankees’ offensive problems will be solved by guys like McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner, or they won’t be. Gregorious just needs to come in and play good defense and learn the offensive part of the game. By all accounts, he has the tools, now the Yankees need to help him develop into a consistent big leaguer.


Non-Tender was the Night

Last night was the deadline to tender a contract to any player on the 40-man roster who didn’t have one already and the Yankees made four moves. I think all four of them are surprising to a various degree. Let’s take a look at each.

1- The Yankees non-tendered Jose Campos. This is the least surprising because Campos had TJ surgery in April, and hasn’t pitched above low-A ball. Clogging up a 40-man spot with him in 2015 makes little sense. He was the second part of the Pineda trade and could easily be back on a minor league deal.

2- The Yankees non-tendered David Huff. I used to joke that Sergio Mitre must have incrementing photos of Joe Girardi or Brian Cashman because he keep coming back. Huff has turned into that guy. Don’t be fooled by his 1.85 ERA with the Yankees this year, that was luck- his FIP was 4. But, since he probably would have cost less than $1-million and is left-handed, I am surprised they non-tendered him.

3- The Yankees signed Esmil Rogers to a $750,000 deal with incentives that could double it. This surprised me because Rogers wasn’t particularly good for the Yankees, and he hasn’t been very good in his career. Plus he is 29, so he certainly isn’t a prospect anymore. The financial risk is obviously really low, but I still don’t get it.

4- The biggest shock of all. The Yankees non-tendered Slade Heathcott. It’s probably worth it to pause here and recall that in 2009 the Yankees were enamored with a different high school outfielder. They were hoping to pick him and watched him drop almost into their laps, before the Angels scooped up Mike Trout with the 26th pitch. Three picks later, the Yankees took Heathcott. <sigh>  Heathcott was never able to stay healthy enough to live up to his potential, but I imagine lots of teams will be willing to take a chance on him. Maybe the Yankees woo him back with a signing bonus on a minor league deal, but this is a surprise. The Yankees took JR Murphy, Adam Warren, Shane Greene and Bryan Mitchell in the 2009 draft as well, so it may not be a total disaster when all is said and done, but for now they badly missed on their top pick.

Of the non-tendered players from other teams, two names caught my eye.

Justin Smoak has never lived up to the hype. (Remember he was the key piece in the Cliff Lee trade that the Mariners got) But he is still just 27 and has hit .242/.318/.411 on the road, away from Safeco in his career. Unfortunately, he only plays first, but I still think the Yankees should take a flier on him.

Another Toronto non-tender was Andy Dirks. Dirks lost 2014 to injury, but has put up a respectable line of .276/.332/.413 in nearly 300 games in the bigs. He is only 28, so he is worth a gamble by someone.