Let’s say the Yankees are done for the offseason offensively and the lineup is going to be made up of the players on the team currently. How would you slot them 1-9 in a lineup? Here’s my take:
1- Gardner- LF
2- Headley- 3B
3- Ellsbury- CF
4- Beltran- RF
5- McCann- C
6- Teixeira- 1B
7- A-Rod- DH
8- Gregorious- SS
9- Prado- 2B
This lineup provides a perfect balance of lefty-righty bats. It would go: L-S-L-S-L-S-R-L-R. Obviously, if Beltran and Prado hit like last year, you might actually swap them, but for now let’s rely on their career numbers and not their 2014’s. I like Headley in the #2 spot because he has been a good OBP guy in his career and he breaks up Gardner and Ellsbury. If Ellsbury is set on leading off, you could always swap him with Gardner. If A-Rod is finished, I would put Prado seven and play him in RF with Beltran shifting to DH on most days. Refsnyder or Pirela could then hit 9th
I speculated the other day that if the Yankees brought back Chase Headley they would shop in “the bargain bin of starting pitching”. So I am not surprised that the Yankees did that today, but I am surprised that the pitcher they chose to do it with was Chris Capuano.
Capuano wasn’t terrible in his 12 starts for the Yankees last year. And sadly, $5-million doesn’t get what it used to, but it seems a lot for a guy who made half that last year, and was released in July. He is also 36, so he is a strong candidate for regression. Furthermore, with the addition of Didi and the retention of Headley, the Yankees have a very good infield defensively. Wouldn’t it make sense to sign a ground ball pitcher to take advantage of that? (Capuano really isn’t one). Perhaps the Yankees are expecting Capuano to straighten out his lefty/righty splits from 2014, when he got creamed by lefties. This move certainly adds depth, but it doesn’t seem to be very good depth.
The Yankees have signed Chase Headley for a deal reportedly worth 4/52. I was wrong on the length, but got the AAV right when I speculated about this last week. There are reasons to like this move and reasons not to like it.
Let’s start with the negatives first. Headley will never be the player he was in 2012. Accepting that is important, because expecting him to hit 30 homers next year is a bad bet. Furthermore, his signing means the Yankees may have blocked the opportunity to get younger at second with Refsnyder or Pirela. (more on that in a bit) His health has not been stellar. And I guess the money is a negative, but it also may just be the way the world works now.
Now for the good news. Headley is a plus defender at third. He is a switch-hitter with remarkably similar splits against LHP and RHP. He is still only 30. He makes the Yankees better.
Everyone will now expect the Yankees to trot out a defensive lineup (2-10) like this: McCann, Teixeira, Prado, Headley, Gregorious, Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran, A-Rod. I am not convinced of that. I am wondering if A-Rod is going to make this team. His only path to the lineup now is clearly as the DH. But will the Yankees really have a full-time DH? That depends on A-Rod’s production. The average DH hit .249/.322/.424 last year. In 2013, Alex hit .244/.348/.423. Is it reasonable to expect him to be better than that now at almost age 40 and after a year “off” from baseball? And what happens if Refsnyder and/or Pirela prove in camp that they belong? What happens if Beltran proves he shouldn’t play in the field anymore? Alex Rodriguez got squeezed out of a position today, but he could be squeezed further.
Want a quick explanation for the Yankees lack of moves? Look at the payroll.
Over the past few years the Yankees have gone as high as $228-million in Opening Day payroll and as “low” as $197-million. They usually come in around $210-million. With the Andrew Miller signing, the Yankees are at $180-million. They are projected to pay about $9-milion more in arbitration, so let’s say they are at $190-million. But that also only counts 17 players. So let’s add 8 more players at 500k each and we are now at $194-million, which we will call $195 to account for rounding.
So if you go with the max Opening Day payroll, the Yankees have $33-million left to spend. If you go with the average, they have $15-million. And if you go with the lowest, we are down to $2-million. And it is worth noting, this situation doesn’t get better next year as every big contract is still on the books and guys continue to advance and enter arbitration. 2017 is when the payroll is suddenly purged. Teixeira, Sabathia, Beltran, and Prado come off the payroll and reduce it by $74-milion. In 2018 A-Rod (finally) is gone. And remember, every dollar the Yankees spend over $189-million costs them a 50% penalty in terms of the luxury tax. So Brandon McCarthy’s four-year/$48-million deal would have cost them $16-million next year.
So I would suspect the Yankees to continue on the path they have since their splurge last offseason. Yes, they signed Miller, but he ended up costing less than Robertson and got them a draft pick. They might bring back Headley, but I doubt they go higher than 3/39 for him. They will probably shop in the bargain bin of starting pitchers and hope to catch some lightning in a bottle like they did with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia a few years ago.
It will make a part of the fan base very unhappy, but it is the right approach. If things come together, they can definitely contend for a playoff spot. If they don’t, they will be mediocre or worse. But I still think it is a better approach than trying to spend their way out of where they currently are.
By the time I finish writing this, the Dodgers may have completed another trade. While the first half of the Winter Meetings was about where Jon Lester would end up, the second half have been about the Dodgers and their radical makeover. It seems like they have traded Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and others. They have added Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, and most important from a Yankee-standpoint, Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy came to agreement on a four-year/$48-million deal last night with the Dodgers.
I’m ok with that from the Yankees point of view. McCarthy was a revelation in pinstripes, but those 14 starts are not a reason to forget about financial sanity. The facts remain that until last year he had never thrown more than 170 innings, or made more than 25 starts in his career. He also never struck out guys at the rates he did last year. Hopefully, for McCarthy, 2014 is indicative of a better approach and a healthier career, but I would never have bet four years on that, or $48-million.
But the Yankees could have used someone like McCarthy for their 2015 rotation. For now they have too many questions with not enough answers. This will surely increase the Scherzer drum beats, but hopefully they are too smart for that. We shall see.
Will tonight be the night that Jon Lester makes his decision? It is reportedly a two-team race between Boston and Chicago as Lester has informed the Giants he won’t be joining them. (Props to Lester for phoning them himself). Most of the free agent market is waiting for Lester, so it would be great if he would decide.
Let’s focus on a few other notes.
Interesting admission by Brian Cashman that the Yankees didn’t make an offer to David Robertson and had no intention of ever signing him and Miller, but pretended they might because they didn’t want to hurt his value because they liked him. I can’t imagine the other teams in the league are thrilled that the Yankees tried to help Robertson get a bigger contract.
You have to wonder if the Giants turn to Chase Headley now that they know they won’t be spending money on Lester. I have to think that the reports that Headley had a four-year/$65-million offer were wrong. Why wouldn’t he have accepted that by now?
Once Lester signs, who is next? Francisco Liriano went back to Pittsburgh today for three-years/$39-million so he is out, but there are a ton of arms out there. I am surprised that James Shields seems to have escaped notice by most people.
A pet peeve of mine is how many baseball people don’t understand the point of Moneyball. It wasn’t that Oakland valued OBP above all else. It was that Oakland realized that OBP wasn’t being valued and therefore they could exploit it. Oakland’s whole mind set is to exploit the areas in baseball that are being undervalued while selling the areas they think are overvalued. That’s why they built a defensive juggernaut a few years back and why they traded a bunch of prospects this year.
Interesting situation building in Cincinnati. Apparently they want to contend in 2015, but they also feel the need to cut payroll. That’s a tough needle to thread.
Max Scherzer reportedly wants a deal bigger than $200-million. Good luck to him with that.
More tonight if news happens in the next hour or so.
David Robertson is taking his talents to the Southside of Chicago. He has reportedly agreed to a 4-year/$46-million deal to close for the White Sox. I say good for him, and good for the Yankees.
I really liked David Robertson. He is a great pitcher, and he seemed to be an all-around good guy. But, I don’t like closers or the idea of them. Too much is invested in three outs in the 9th. I much, much prefer a more flexible approach. Once the Yankees signed Andrew Miller, they didn’t need Robertson and they can now adopt that flexible approach. In 2014 Miller was abetter pitcher than Robertson. In 2015 he will cost less than Robertson and the Yankees will get a draft pick from the “swap”. The Yankees are better with Miller instead of Robertson, and Robertson is richer in Chicago. It’s a nice win-win for both.
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?
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!
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.