Yankees

Can Free Agents Be Free?

According to this story by Buster Olney (subscription required) on Wednesday 65 free agents remained out of an original pool of 139. Considering that we are ten days away from pitchers and catchers reporting, I find that amazing. And there are some big names out there. Chris Carter, who hit 41 homers last year. Mike Napoli, who hit 34. Matt Wieters and Jason Hammel are available. At what point do these guys take an incentive-laden one-year deal and try to reestablish their value for next season?

And this will have big implications for next offseason as Olney points out. Not only will there be a bevy of players coming off of one-year deals, teams will be patient based on this year. Think about the Yankees. Matt Holiday was a pretty solid signing at $13-million for one year, but what would you say if they had signed Chris Carter for much less than that?

It seems like we have entered a new world in baseball and the players are not catching onto it. Old and expensive is out, young and cheap is in. If you are a superstar, you will get superstar dollars. But if you are not, you had better be very careful how you negotiate because you might be fighting for scraps at the start of spring training. We may start to see rosters comprised of a handful of guys earning $20-million or more and then the rest earning less than $5-million. In short, we are might be witnessing the destruction of the “middle class” in baseball. (I know, I don’t feel sorry for any of them either.)

And all of this drives up the value of prospects. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees, a team loaded with prospects right now, manoeuvres in this new environment.

This Is Better?

I think the Yankees are smart to try to get more fans into the ballpark, but the changes they are making, detailed here, really don’t impress me.

I mean I love going to the playground with my 3-year old, but it’s not something I want to do at the ballgame. And while I understand these changes are directed at a younger generation than mine, I think they completely miss the reason why people aren’t going to the games.

Start with the most obvious problem with the new stadium, its lack of history. Yes, it is much more comfortable and convenient to get around, but the Yankees lost the magic of the old place. You could once look out at a field that had been the home to some of the greatest players and moments in baseball, that’s been lost. So the Stadium no longer has that draw and if you don’t have that draw, and you don’t have a great team, things get tougher.

Now that would probably matter less if the new place was remotely affordable. I don’t drive to the games, but I understand parking is ridiculous, like $40 or more. Add on a decent ticket in the upper deck is $30 and by the time you eat, a single fan has spent close to $100. For a family of four, a trip to the park could easily total $300 or more. And for $300 you can get a pretty nice HDTV these days which lets you watch all the games.

The other problem, and this is not a Yankee-centric problem, is the game of baseball is not a good fit for the modern attention span. Try having a conversation with someone under 30 and see if they can keep eye contact for the duration. I bet they can’t. And while I pick on younger people, I know plenty of people my age and older who can no longer pay attention to things the way we used to have to. I’m not sure what the solution is, but umpires who enforced the real strike zone and kept batters from leaving the box after every pitch and catcher from meeting on the mound three times an inning would help.

I keep wondering if the era of live sports is drawing to a close. The owners of all the major sports have surrendered control to the TV networks while the stadiums they build are really geared to the ultra-wealthy. To me, this is a short-sighted strategy because the big spenders of tomorrow need to get hooked today, but we will have to see what the future holds. Maybe the jungle gyms will be enough.

The Payroll Takes Shape

The Yankees have settled three arbitration cases today so far- Didi ($5.1M), Warren($2.29M)

Long ago, the site MLB Trade Reference pegged those three to almost exactly those numbers. In fact, they missed by a sum of $120,000. In total, they estimated the Yankees to have just about $22M in arbitration awards. With the payroll at about $166M, that puts them right around $188M if they continue to be right.

But, luxury tax thresholds are calculated by the average annual value of contracts, not the actual dollars earned. For example, A-Rod will earn $21M from the Yankees this year to stay home (or $20.5M if he signs with another team for the ML minimum) but his AAV figure is $27.5M.  You also need to figure in the guys who are on the 40-man earning either the major/minor league minimum. And, player benefits count.  Add it all, up and the Yankees are probably around $210M, or $15M over the luxury tax for 2017.

2018 looks a lot better. Right now, the Yankees are probably about $70M under the threshold assuming Tanaka doesn’t opt-out. If he does, that’s another $22M you can add to their space. They will have many of the same guys in arbitration, so they probably will spend at least $30M of that space there. They will also have to retain/replace the following free agents besides Tanaka- Pineda, Sabathia, Holliday, and Clippard. Together those guys are about $53M in AAV.  But, it looks very likely that the Yankees will be able to duck under the threshold in 2018 and therefore reset their potential penalties to the minimum if they go on a free agent binge before the 2019 season.

That’s Probably It

Brian Cashman said that “the heavy lifting was done” after signing Chapman. He held out the possibility of a minor free agent move, or a trade of Brett Gardner, but he said Chase Headley will be at third when the season starts.

That means a couple of things. First and foremost, there are two open spots in the rotation and a bunch of young arms with an opportunity to grab them. I expect the Yankees want Severino to take one of them, but I think it will really be based on how he and everyone else does in camp.

Second, it means the offense is a bit of a mystery. The Yankees were weighed down last year by Teixeira and A-Rod, who are both gone, but plenty of questions remain.  Can Bird and Sanchez replicate their debut seasons?  Can Judge adjust to the majors? Is Hicks a useful player? Will Didi and Castro continue to progress. When you think about the possibilities for the season, the questions on offense are probably the greatest variables.

Finally, we can see the outlines of the bullpen. Put Clippard, Betances, and Chapman at the end of it. Add Warren, if he isn’t a starter. Throw in a long guy from the young group of rotation candidates. That leaves 2 spots. I would expect one to go to a lefty and the other to be the one to be a transitory spot that the Yankees use to keep a fresh arm around.

One last note. In bad news that you can also take as good news, the Yankees lost four players in the Rule five draft.  It’s a lot of talent leaving the organization, but another indication of how deep the farm system is as only one other club even had two players selected

 

Chapman’s Back-UPDATED

Ken Rosenthal reporting Chapman is getting five years and $86-million.

Let me preface this by saying I would not have made this move. But, I also understand the Yankees’ thinking which I assume was this:

1- We need stars to get those expensive seats sold.  Chapman and his freakish 102-mph fastball puts asses in seats.

2- We need to stay somewhat competitive to keep those expensive seats filled.  Chapman and Betances at the end of games should help us there.

3- We didn’t want to give up a draft pick and sign a free agent- Chapman does that.

4- Chapman is 28, hardly a geezer and our youth movement can continue.

5- We know this guy and we know he can handle New York.

Maybe I’m the geezer, but a world where a guy gets $17-million to pitch 60 or so innings doesn’t make sense to me.  It’s a huge inefficiency, but that could change if we see Girardi use Chapman more than he did this year.

And while the money is ridiculous, it only really matters if it prevents the team from making moves down the road,  Since they are shedding payroll in huge way again next season and the spending caps reign them in almost everywhere else, free agency is probably the place they should invest some money.  Let’s just hope they do it intelligently this time. Despite my objections, I cannot argue they were stupid here.

UPDATE- A couple of contract details on Chapman

1- He has an opt-out after three years

2- He has a full no-trade for three years

3- After three years, he has a no trade to teams in California

Apart from not understanding what Chapman had against California, these contract details are fine. While opt-outs are viewed as bad, they are great IF the team is smart enough to walk away when they are exercised.  We may get a sense of that with the Yankees next offseason if Tanka opts out.

UPDATE- The opt out is not as favorable, because they are paying an $11-million signing bonus.  So if Chapman opts out after three years he gets $56-million for his works.

 

Yanks Sign Holliday

According to multiple reports the Yankees have signed Matt Holliday to a 1-year deal for $13-million.

This is the kind of free agent signing I can absolutely support. He doesn’t cost a draft pick and he is only signed for next season. Assuming he doesn’t have a no-trade clause, he might even be a useful trade chip at the deadline.

Holliday can still hit.  He probably shouldn’t be in the outfield anymore, and started playing first last year . Joel Sherman actually suggested this and a signing of Luis Valbuena this morning.

Best of all, this probably means that Encarnacion is headed elsewhere.

Payroll is now about $173-million.

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

McCann is Gone

The Yankees have traded Brian McCann to Houston for two minor league pitchers. The Yankees will send $5.5 million to the Astros each of the next two years meaning they save $11.5-million each of the next two seasons.

The two prospects they get back are interesting, but a ways away from the majors. Albert Abreu is ranked #7 in the Houston system with a fastball that touches 99. He struck out 104 in 90 innings at low A ball, but walked 49. Jorge Guzman has reportedly thrown 103, but is still in rookie ball.

Whats most interesting to me is that the Yankees took two lower-level pitching prospects for McCann because it signals that they are looking long-term. Between these two arms, and some of the other ones they have drafted and acquired, they are trying to build a rotation for 2018 or 2019, not next season.

 

On Offense

The Yankees goal on the offensive side of things should be to continue to free up as much playing time as possible for the younger guys and to use that time to figure out what they have. Let’s go around the diamond.

Obviously, Gary Sanchez is the primary catcher and he needs to get a full season behind the plate.

At first Greg Bird should be the starter, but Tyler Austin should mix in here and in right.

Starlin Castro did enough at second, especially in the second half that the Yankees don’t need to go looking for a replacement. Same thing with Didi at short. Plus with Mateo and Torreyes on the horizon, no need to do anything here.

Third base is a position the Yankees can start to think ahead about. Ideally, Miguel Andujar progresses to AAA successfully and merits a late season call up. If not, perhaps one of the shortstop prospects mentioned above can slide over.  For now Headley recovered enough from a bad start to earn the bulk of the playing time in 2017

While the infield is set, the outfield needs some more roster pruning. Try as they might, the Yankees are not going to get rid of Ellsbury. So they need to hope he hits and be prepared if he does not. That may mean turning him into one of the more expensive platoon players ever, but his 2016 numbers showed a serious split between his performance against righties and lefties.

That leaves Gardner as an ideal trade candidate. Again, I would much rather trade Ellsbury, but Gardner’s contract is reasonable (two more years and $26-million in guaranteed money) so he could be moved.  The Yankees need to do that, because they want to free up the outfield so they can start Judge and Hicks as much as possible. Judge is obvious. Hicks is a guy who looked lost until he got regular time late in the season. The Yankees need to find out if he is the player he was until the end of July, or the guy after that. And, don’t forget that hopefully Clint Frazier will be forcing his way into the mix some time during the 2017 season.

And that leaves DH, where the Yankees can currently pencil in McCann, but if they can swing a trade, they could do a myriad of things. For instance, with Austin and Ackley able to cover multiple positions while hitting from different sides, how about a platoon?  Or simply use it as a spot to rotate through different guys?  For the first time in ages, the Yankees don’t have to give one guy 500 AB’s at DH, they should keep that flexibility.

Friday is the deadline for teams to make their Rule 5 protections and the Yankees have a full 4o-man roster and guys like Andujar and Mateo who must be protected. Expect a wave of DFA’s in the next 48 hours.

The Offseason is Here

Congrats to the Cubs who made many of my family members happy, some of them even living. And with the end of the World Series we can now look forward to the GM meetings this upcoming week and the start of free agency on Tuesday. For the Yankees, this should mean a focus on pitching and then more pitching.

Consider the 2017 rotation,  You have Tanaka. And then you have Tanaka and maybe more Tanaka. Ok, it’s not that bad, but do Sabathia and Pineda inspire a lot of confidence? Severino, as a starter? Cessa or Mitchell? See what I mean here?  Now I certainly wouldn’t back up the prospect truck for Chris Sale, but swapping out Brett Gardner or Brian McCann for a solid, if not spectacular, starter makes a lot of sense. Also buying low on an injury-prone guy like the Dodgers McCarthy, wouldn’t be a bad idea either. He was great in his New York audition and the Yankees could probably get him at a reduced salary for a middling prospect. The idea is to add some stability to a rotation where two or three spots will be left open for the younger guys to show what they can do.

As for the bullpen, I would not under any circumstances sign Chapman. You know who has led the Yankees in saves for the last five year?  Five different guys- Soriano, Rivera, Robertson, Miller, and Chapman,  Betances is perfectly capable of making it six-different guys in six years. For another thing, relief prices are out of whack.  Chapman will probably sign for $15-million per, which on a per-inning basis should make him the most expensive pitcher in baseball.

What I would rather see the Yankees do is sign guys who haven’t been closers, but get lots of strikeouts and see what they can do.  Remember, Andrew Miller wasn’t a closer when he came to town. You also have a lot of intriguing arms coming back from injury-Lindgren, Barbato, Rumblelow- and guys like Holder and Heller, that the Yankees should throw into the mix in 2017. So don’t spend on a closer.

Next, I’ll tackle the offense.