Yankees

The Big Picture

At 1-4, we thought disaster was imminent. At 9-5, we can dream of October baseball. But I think the rational fan realizes this is the likely future- they will lose a bunch, they will win a bunch, and they most likely end up around 85-wins. Yes, you can make more optimistic arguments and more pessimistic ones, but let’s move beyond that and focus on the critical issues about this season. There are four big issues the Yankees need to solve between now and the end of the season-whenever that is.

1- What is the 2018 rotation?
If you buy the premise that the next championship is in the future, you need to think about this. Tanaka can opt out. Pineda and Sabathia are going to be free agents. That means the Yankees have to find solid internal replacements in 2017. Are those Severino and Montgomery? We shall see, but if not, how long can they afford to wait before trying out someone else? And if Sabathia or Pineda scuffles, how long is the leash?

2- Who are Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird? At their best, they are the middle of the lineup for years to come. But none of them have shown that ability over even half a season. Can they produce at those levels for a full year?

3- Will the prospects turn into players? Some are off to great starts, some are not, but this is a critical year for a number of the Yankees prospects. Can Frazier make it to the Bronx? Can Sheffield throw himself into contention for a 2018 roster spot? Will Mateo rebound from a rough 2016? Is Andujar ready to challenge at 3B? These performances will dictate the Yankees moves at the deadline and in the offseason.

4- Who is the manager and GM of the 2018 Yankees? I suspect that both Girardi and Cashman will be back, but what if this team loses 90 games? Then what?

So enjoy the wins, and try not to get too down about the losses. The big picture is that 2017 is about building a better future.

Long-Term Thinking-UPDATED

The Yankees announced almost all of their remaining roster moves today and showed that they are going to focus on the future.

First, Aaron Judge is going to be the starting right fielder.

Next, Luis Severino is the 4th starter.

Both of these moves are absolutely the right choices as they allow the Yankees a chance to see how these prospects can perform and if they are part of the long-term solution.

In other news the Yankees announced:

Rob Refsnyder is headed to AAA which pretty much guarantees that Pete Kozma will be the backup infielder with Didi out.

Eight (ugh) guys are in the pen. Chapman, Betances, Clippard, Warren, Layne, Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve.

One of those arms, will head to the minors when the Yankees name a 5th starter (April 14th or so). Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery will make two minor league starts in the interim, presumeably to decide which one gets the job, though I suppose Luis Cessna could jump back into the race with good minor league numbers.

So, the Yankees still need to pick their fifth starter and demote a bullpen arm to make that happen. That leaves one big decision, what happens to Chris Carter?

With 12 arms headed north, the Yankees have room for 4 bench players. Nicks is one. Kozuma is presumably another. A backup catcher, almost certainly Romine, is three. Do the Yankees want to leave the last spot to a guy who has hit 6-for-51 with 26 K’s this spring and can only play first? One would think not, but the Yankees are starting him today, so this will probably go down to the wire.

UPDATE- Yankees currently lead 9-0 in the bottom of the first today. They sent 13 batters to the plate and everyone of them got a hit or reached base except…Chris Carter who was 0-for-2.

The WBC Strikes Again!

The Yankees announced today that Didi Gregorious will start the season on the DL due to an injury suffered in the WBC. Didi is expected to miss a total of six weeks from now, so he should be back around the end of April. You may recall that in 2013, Mark Teixeira had the same thing happen to him, but ended missing almost all of the season, playing in only 15 games. So, don’t expect the Yankees to be big “fans” of the next WBC.

Brian Cashman thankfully dismissed the idea that Gleybar Torres will take Didi’s place. The Yankees have a number of options.
1- Move Ronald Torreyes into the starting lineup in place of Didi. This will require them to get a new backup infielder.
2- Move Castro back to short and find a new secondbaseman.
3- Use one of the depth guys in camp like either Pete Kozma or Ruben Tejada either as the shortstop or to fill in as backup infielder.
4- Think about Tyler Wade.

#1 makes the most sense and either Kozma or Tejada could be a good fill-in as backup infielder for now. #4 is probably too aggressive as Wade hasn’t even played above AA-ball yet, but the Yankees are grooming him to be a multi-positional player, and he was originally a shortstop, so maybe now would be a good time to get him on the roster and see what he can do?

No matter how they slice it though, losing Didi is going to hurt. He hit 20 homers last year and provides some lefty balance to a lineup that needs it. He is not an ideal middle of the lineup guy, but having him there at the start of the year would have kept some pressure off the other young guys. We can only hope that he won’t follow in Teixeira’s footsteps and that he will be back on the field, and healthy, in six weeks.

Torresmania

Gleyber Torres is showing why the Yankees were smart to insist on him as part of the Chapman trade last year. He earned the AFL MVP award and is currently putting up a line of .455/.458/.1000 in spring training. It’s only 22 AB’s, but for a guy who just turned 20 and hasn’t played above A-ball, it’s very impressive. But it is creating expectations no player can possibly live up to.

The thing is, he needs to be sent to the minors as soon as Didi gets back from Team Netherlands and allowed to continue to develop in a quieter environment. As tempting as it might be to see what he could do in the bigs, the downside of shattering his confidence, is too large. Instead, let him open the year in Trenton. If he does well there, he moves up to Scranton. And if he can handle that, bring him up sometime this season. That would still be an incredibly aggressive timetable for a 20-year old player. The reality is that he will probably struggle at times this year and if he even ends the season in Scranton, that would be a great success.

The Yankees are not lacking young players or great stories. We are already going to see if Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird can follow up their impressive debuts with full-season efforts. It seems like Aaron Judge is putting a lock on right field. That’s 1/3rd of the lineup under 25. And when you add Castro and Didi, you have more than half of the lineup under-28. It’s been a long time since the Yankees had that.

The Yankees need to sell tickets, so they will always talk about contending and playing for a championship, but if this season ends with Sanchez, Bird, and Judge showing they are bonafide big leaguers over a full season and a couple of the other prospects looking ready to help in 2018, it will be a success no matter what the record is.

George The Second?

Randy Levine has never been very smart about keeping his mouth shut. His most recent performance was out of the old book of Steinbrenner.

Not content with just winning the arbitration case against Delia Betances, Levine blasted his agents, and Betances in a pointless attack that will only poison relations with him down the road.

I understand why the Yankees chose to go to arbitration with a Betances. While the gap between them was only $2-million this year, if Betances had made $5-million, like he asked for, he would have been eligible to significantly increase that in arbitration next year. And, after 2018, the Yankees may have found themselves on the hook for a second closer salary-wise.

That doesn’t excuse the stupidity of Levine or the absurdity of the system. Betances may be the most valuable reliever in the game over the past three years. Throw out saves and he is right there with them all. But arbitrators rely on saves and Betances didn’t have enough of them to earn his bigger payday. Levine should ha e pocketed the win and moved on. This was an unforced error.

Spring Is Here!

The bags are unpacked and the gear is ready to go. Pitchers and catchers reported today in Tampa and in a few weeks we will have box scores once again. How great is that?

Camp for the Yankees should be interesting, even though you can almost predict the final roster right now. On offense, it seems almost certain that the 13 guys headed north will be Sanchez, Romine, Bird, Carter, Castro, Didi, Headley, Torreyes, Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Hicks, and Holliday. The pitching is murkier because 2 spots in the rotation are open, but I would expect to see the following 11 guys make the team: Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Severino, Green, Warren, Chapman, Betances, Clippard, Mitchell, and Cessa, with the final spot going to a left-handed reliever.

So, why is camp interesting with almost all of the final roster set? Because it is all about the future. We will get a look at almost every top-10 prospect in the system and should start to get an idea of when these guys are realistically going to make the Bronx. The two closest right now would be Frazier and Kaprielian. The Yankees hope Frazier is their left fielder of the future and Kapreilian is a part of the 2018 rotation. Both could force their way to the Bronx early in 2017 if they play well. While Torres will also certainly get plenty of attention, keep your eye on Miguel Andujar. The Yankees need to see if he can continue to hit and handle third as they eye him as a possible replacement for Headley. I’m also excited to see Chance Adams and Dietrich Enns. Adams went 13-1 between A ball and AA with over a strikeout an inning. Enns went 14-4 between AA and AAA with 124 K’s in 140 innings. When you consider that Tanaka has an opt-out after this year while Sabathia and Pineda are free agents, the Yankees will need some of their younger arms to step forward.

Trade Coming?

The other day I posted this: 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?

Well I guess I need to say something now because the Yankees just signed him for the bargain basement price of $3-million.

The price is great, but I don’t think this is a good fit with the way the team is presently constructed. Holliday and Carter are too similar. They are both righties and they are both best suited for a DH role.

But, if you had to, you could put Carter at first. The problem is that is where Greg Bird should be. So maybe you put Holliday in left, but then where does Brett Gardner go? The Yankees could simply be adding Carter as righty power on the bench. But if you carry 13 pitchers, you only have four bench spots. A guy who can really only play first doesn’t make a lot of sense in that scenario.

Perhaps the Yankees are just taking a flier for spring and will see if they can flip Carter for something towards the end of camp? Or they have another trade in the works? Because absent that, I don’t get this. Yes, the price is great, but the fit is poor.

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.