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The Crystal Ball

The Yankees and Rays open the MLB season in less than 48 hours, so it is time for me to make my annual predictions.

AL East
1-Boston
I liked them a lot more before Price came down with elbow problems because I think Sale is going to have a tough transition to Boston and Price’s absence will only heighten the pressure. Still, they have the most talent in the division. I think they squeak out the AL East with 89 wins.

2-Toronto
They will be right on Boston’s heels, but ultimately fall just short. I still think they get a wild card spot

3-Yankees
I will go into this more tomorrow, but I have them 3rd and missing the playoffs.

4-Baltimore
I think the East will be the most competitive division in baseball and the Orioles will be above .500.

5-Tampa
It’s too big a leap for me to consider them anywhere else than last.

AL Central
1-Cleveland
Clearly the class of their division by a lot. Probably the easiest path to the playoffs in the game,
2-Kansas City
I think Jorge Soler has a big year, but they aren’t going to challenge Cleveland.
3-Minnesota
This is a team that I think can surprise a lot of people with some young bats. Byron Buxto and Miguel Sano will form the core of a new emerging power in the division.
4-Detroit
I just don’t see a lot to like on the Tigers and I only picked them 4th because of the reality of the 5th team in the division.
5-Chicago
Full rebuild on the South Side and if they get good performances from players they will trade them at the deadline.

AL West
1-Houston
They dwelled at the bottom of the league for a long time, but all of those top draft picks are rounding into form. Also added some solid veteran presence with McCann and Beltran. The best team in the AL.
2-Texas
Still very good, but a step behind the Astros. I think they earn the other wild card.
3-Anaheim
It is a shame that Mike Trout has to languish on a so-so team.
4-Seattle
Felix Hernandez worries me. There are a lot of innings on that arm. I also don’t think Cano repeats last year’s success.

Playoffs
Toronto over Texas in wild card game
Houston over Boston in ALDS
Cleveland over Toronto in ALDS
Houston over Cleveland in ALCS

NL East
1-Washington
I love the Mets rotation, and I worry about Strasbourg, but the Nats edge them out in the end,
2-Mets
Thor may be the best pitcher in the game outside of Kershaw and they have plenty behind him even with Matt’s elbow woes. Look for Zach Wheeler to make a successful return from TJ surgery. They get a wild card.
3-Philadelphia
I think they have a lot of young talent and they play competitive baseball until the end.
4-Atlanta
New stadium and a lot of young guys. They will be back in the middle of things soon.
5-Miami
My pick for the biggest disappointment in the league.

NL Central
1-Cubs
The class of MLB and plenty of youth to stay that way for awhile.
2-Pittsburgh
I think they edge out the Cards for this spot.
3-St. Louis
Always solid if not spectacular.
4-Cincinnati
I think this is the year Billy Hamilton steals 100 bases.
5-Milwaukee
I think Johnathan Villar won’t be far behind Hamilton.

NL West
1-LA
That is one tough rotation and they have Saeger at short for the next 15 years.
2-San Francisco
Good enough for a wild card, but not the division. I think Matt Moore really enjoys his first full year in the NL.
3-Colorado
Lots of nice talent and I think the Desmond signing works. Keep an eye on Jon Grey.
4-Arizona
I think they edge out San Diego for 4th.
5-San Diego
Not really sure what they are doing, but they are the only game in town with the exodus of the Chargers, so hopefully the fans come out.

PLAYOFFS
Mets over Giants in wild card
Dodgers over Nats in NLDS
Cubs over Mets in NLDS
Cubs over Dodgers in NLCS

And Cubs over Astros in the World Series. After all they won back-to-back in 1907 and 1908, so why not again?

Is This The Lineup?

Tanaka makes his last start of the spring today and the Yankees are using a lineup that could be their opening day lineup. It is:

Gardner-L
Sanchez-R
Bird-L
Holliday-R
Ellsbury-L
Castro-R
Headley-S
Hicks-S
Torreyes-R

It’s perfectly balanced between lefties and righties and it splits Gardner and Ellsbury up. I suspect Didi would hit 5th and Llsbury would be lower, if he was healthy.

Interestingly, it doesn’t include Aaron Judge. That could be a sign, but Judge has done everything the Yankees could have hoped for this spring. His slash line is .321/.390/.509 and he has struck out 12 times in 53 AB’s. Normally, I would think that would get him the job, but the Yankees may want to give Hicks one last chance to play everyday. Judge or Hicks is one of the bigger decisions left in camp.

There are two other big ones.

1- The final two rotation spots. I think Severino has done enough things to earn one and that Jordan Montgomery will lock the other down with a good start on Thursday. He’s been really impressive in camp. That would kick Brian Mitchell to the pen most likely as Luis Cessna has already been sent down.

2- What the Yankees do with Chris Carter. He’s been terrible, hitting .128 with a single home run while striking out 25 times in 47 AB’s. With Bird showing no lingering rust and having a great spring, what role would Carter play? The smart thing would be to cut him loose and eat his $3-million, but the Yankees could go a different route. With three days off during their first seven games, they don’t need a 5th starter until probably April 15th. They could carry Carter for that stretch instead of a 13th pitcher and see if he can help in any way. They would still have 7 arms in the pen as usual, just an extra bat on the bench.

We shall see, only five days until the season starts!

Three In The Hall

Congrats to Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez on making the Hall of Fame.

I still don’t get these voters.

Bagwell gets in, but Edgar Martinez and Vlad Guerrero don’t?

Manny gets 25% and Bonds gets 53% while Sosa gets 8%? Remove PEDS from this equation and I would say you have three clear HOFers so why the vote differences?

Schilling loses a bunch of votes for what reason? I get it, the guy is a jackass, but plenty of those are already in the HOF and it just makes the writers look small.

Perhaps transparency will improve this process next year  For now, I am still scratching my head.

 

Sale To Boston-UPDATED

The Red Sox have scooped the Nationals and acquired Chris Sale from Chicago. The cost is Juan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe, and Victor Diaz.

This is exactly the type of trade a team like Boston should make. They are giving up a ton in prospects, but they are getting arguably the best pitcher on their staff. Sale, Price, and Porcello are a great top-3 and make the Red Sox clear favorites in the AL. Furthermore, while Moncada especially looks like a gem, none of the prospects traded down contributed significantly to Boston’s AL East-winning club in 2016.

From the Yankees point of view I will point out that they could have signed Moncada, but backed off because with luxury tax penalties he would have cost them essentially double what he ultimately received. The front office should remember that as they build for 2017.

UPDATE- Red Sox are also “throwing in” $31.2-million to cover Moncada’s remaining salary. In separate news, Fenway Franks are now $10 each.

The New CBA And The Yankees

Here’s  a good summary of the new baseball labor deal.

For the Yankees, the key numbers are the luxury tax thresholds, actually called the “competitive balance tax” which start at 195 million this year and increase to 210 in the last year of the deal.

There are two keys to the CBT. First, the more times you violate it, the bigger the tax for the excess. 20% then 30%, then 50%. Second, there are additional penalties for going $20-million over, an additional 12% of that amount, and $40-million over, let’s call it 45% of that amount.

So a team that has a $250-million payroll in 2017 would pay a flat 20% on the first $20-million over 195. 32% on the next 20 million and 62.5% on the last 15 million. Add that all up and you have an extra $20-million, not prohibitive. But shift that $250-million to a third-time violator, and you have $36.65-million in tax.

For the Yankees, this presents an opportunity.  Even with arbitration cases, their payroll is “only” going to be around $160-million next season before any potential free agent signings or trades. Next year it gets cut by at least $50-million, and you can add another $22-million to that if Tanaka opts out. So, barring complete stupidity, they should be well under the luxury tax the next two years

And I suspect that’s exactly what they will do.  The post-2018 free agent class will be headlined by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, both younger than Aaron Judge, and has lots of depth behind it.  The Yankees can spend the next two years seeing how their prospects pan out and then jump in to free agency with a big splash after 2018.  They certainly may sign a free agent this offseason, they might take on payroll in a trade, they might try to buy out some free agency years from arbitration-eligible guys like Didi, but I bet they won’t spend more than an additional $35-million.

 

Labor Peace

The details are still sketchy, but the owners and players have apparently agreed to a 5-year labor deal. Here are the big items I have read so far:

No international draft

No roster changes, either expanding to 26-men or reducing from 40-men in September.

Luxury tax will start at $195-million next season, up from $189 this year, and increase from there.

The draft pick/arbitration process is “changing”.

I will update this post tomorrow morning when we should have more details.

More details are coming out

As noted in the comments, the All-Star Game no longer “counts”. The pennant winner with the best record gets home field in the World Series.

There will be a hard cap on each teams international spending.

New major leaguers will no longer be allowed to use smokeless tobacco.

Exceeding the luxury tax by $40-million will result in a draft pick reduction/drop

The season will start midweek in 2018 to allow four additional off days to be built into the schedule

THe disabled list is being switched to a 10-day DL, not a 15-day DL. This is a very smart idea as teams won’t be so reluctant to wait and see on injuries.

Sunday Sauce

There is really only one baseball matter to discuss this week and it is the potential for a lock out on Thursday. The CBA expires on December 1st and while we have heard rumors of a deal being close, so far nothing has been signed. If the two sides don’t reach s deal, the owners will probably lock out the players Thursday.  Since there aren’t any games scheduled for almost three months, this would be a largely symbolic move, but it would end any transactions until an agreement was made.

It would be stunning if the two sides didn’t figure out a new deal.  It’s been 22 years since baseball had a work stoppage and the game has been racking up money  Franchise values and salaries are through the roof.  Both sides should be motivated to make a deal.  But will they?

From various reports the sense is an international draft is the major sticking point.  The owners clearly want one as it would provide even more cost certainty.  The players will probably acquiesce to one in exchange for more money since it doesn’t affect current union members.  I would guess that raising the luxury tax threshold and doing away with draft pick compensation could get things done.

For the Yankees, the luxury tax threshold will determine the way the offseason develops.  Currently, they have about $135-million committed to next year’s payroll.  Their seven arbitration cases probably bring the payroll around $160-million.  Under the old rules, the Yankees are taxed 50% for every dollar they spend over $189-million, but that tax resets to 22.5% if they drop below $189-million at any point.  Assuming that condition carries over to the next CBA, you could see them adding salary up to, but not above, the luxury tax limit this offseason.

 

More

Cleveland and…?

This much we know, Tuesday will be a pretty magical night in Cleveland. Not only will the World Series start on the banks of Lake Erie, but the Cavaliers will raise their championship banner when they open the NBA season against the New York Knickerbockers.

But which NL team will be there as an opponent?  Before last night I think the smart money was on LA. Now it has shifted to Chicago, but should it have?

Jon Lester is a wonderful pitcher, especially in the postseason, but Kenta Maeda has had a great “rookie” year. And the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw looming for a Game 6 start and you can bet a Game 7 relief appearance.

So don’t punch that Cubs World Series ticket just yet. But one thing is for sure, the next two or three games of the NLCS should be a lot of fun.

A Tale of Two Seasons

If you are going to evaluate the Yankees’ season, you have to divide it into two parts. The first part is everything that happened before August 1st, and the second part is everything that happened from that point forward. Some will quibble that July 25th, the day they traded Chapman, should be the line. But I would argue that the team didn’t embrace a full rebuild until the 1st when they traded Miller and Beltran. By sending those two away for prospects, the Yankees truly committed to a new way of doing business.

Now if you compare the two “halves” you will find the Yankees actually did better once they started their rebuild. They went 52-52 before it with an offense scoring 4.03 runs per game and a pitching staff/defense allowing 4.35.  Afterwards they went 32-26 with an offense scoring 4.83 runs per game and a pitching staff/defense allowing 4.63.

So, you could say the offense got better while the pitching got worse and the overall result was better. If you think about what happened, that makes sense. The Yankees found a hotter hitter than Beltran. Lost a terrible hitter in A-Rod and added some sparks here and there throughout the lineup. On the pitching side they subtracted two huge bullpen pieces, lost Eovaldi to injury, and had to start rookies a lot over the final few weeks.

Now if the Yankees could play next year at the same clip they played since August 1st, they would win 89 games, putting them right in the thick of the playoff race. (It would have earned them the top wild card this year) But of course you can’t just extrapolate things like that. Furthermore, the Yankees have a lot of more work to do if they are going to take this team and turn it into a perennial contender again. Let’s talk more about that tomorrow.

24 Years

Since getting swept in Tampa, which allowed the Yankees to finish their sell off, the club has run off a 13-9 streak. That puts them at four games over .500 again, the best they have been all season, and leaves them 16 wins short of another season at .500 or better.

You have to go back to the 1992 Yankees to find the last time they finished below .500. That was the 4th year of a brutal stretch of baseball- the 1989 to 1992 Yankees were really bad. They lost 90 games twice in that stretch, something the franchise had only done twice before since 1912. But 1992 marked the turning point. Buck Showalter was hired. Bernie Williams came up from the minors and things got better from there. It’s a fun walk back in history for me to look at that team after so many years. I remember going to Opening Day that year and sitting with the guy from the other side of this blog as the Yankees beat the Red Sox. I had to listen for hours to how Phil Plantier was going to be the next great Red Sox after he hit a homer. (Nice call Andy!)

It’s a good time to look back at that team for some of the names that held such promise then, but didn’t pan out. Sam Militello was a top pitching prospect, but injuries derailed him. Pat Kelly had hit the cover off the ball at Columbus and was considered the second baseman of the future. Hensley Muelens, Bam Bam, never hit at all. One day we will look back at this 2016 team and I wonder which guys will be the Bernies and which guys will be the Kellys? Time will tell.