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.

Don’t Take The Bait

The Red Sox are off on a very Yankee-like spending spree. They added  $200-million in contracts, and with a free agent pitcher probably on the horizon, they could be closing on $400-million soon. It’s up to the Yankees to not let this distract them.

Let’s be honest, I don’t think Boston wanted to go this route. Just last spring, they were sounding their usual lament about the Yankees and their spending. I think they meant it when they said it, but then they lost 90 games and things changed in Boston. I suspect that Red Sox ownership wants to make sure the ballpark remains full, and take advantage of a protected draft pick. So, they snagged Hanley and Pablo and now the baseball world will look for the Yankees to answer.

They shouldn’t They shouldn’t even bat an eye at any of this. This isn’t the mid-2000’s when the Yankees and Red Sox were locked in a steel cage fighting each other as the two dominant teams in the sport. Remember, from 1998-2005 the Yankees and Red Sox finished 1-2 in the AL East every year. They were mortal enemies and yin and yang. That’s no longer the case. They haven’t finished 1-2 in the AL East since 2009 (with either team first) and the baseball universe has dramatically changed. Money is everywhere and free agency has become a much, much more perilous endeavor. Fewer truly good players are making it to free agency, and the ones that do are getting seriously overpaid.

So what should the Yankees do now? They should make a run at Chase Headley, but keep things to a reasonable level. It is worth remembering that Headley had a .651 OPS when the Yankees traded for him. He then hit .265/.390/.434 at the Stadium, but ended the year with a combined line of .243/.328/.372. That is not someone I would give a four-year contract to, or pay much more than $12-million a year to. Other teams might, and the Yankees should let them.

Martin Prado needs a place to play in 2015. People keep saying he can be a second baseman, but he hasn’t really been one in a number of years. Putting him there for all of 2015 isn’t a great plan defensively, but he can play third. Take it with a grain of salt, but Steamer projects Prado to hit for almost the same slash line as Headley in 2015. Putting Prado at third has the added bonus of giving Refsnyder and Pirella a shot to win the second base job. That would be a very positive development.

There are simply too many questions hanging over the 2015 Yankees to envision them as a serious playoff contender right now. They certainly could make it, but until we know about Tanaka’s arm, Nova’s arm, McCann and Ellsbury’s bats, etc., we won’t know if they have a legitimate shot. They could spend a bunch of money and still not change the questions. Better to let the other teams spend now and just focus on getting younger.

 

 

Boston Today

The Red Sox sure have a way of surprising.  My thought going into this off season was to try to acquire a starting rotation.  But with offense down and pitching up in MLB, Ben Cherington has decided to do just the opposite.  One would assume he is acquiring the difficult to acquire asset with goals of moving some of that asset to acquire the supposedly easier asset to acquire in pitching.

If the season started today, here’s my line-up:

cf – Mookie Betts (R)

2b – Dustin Pedroia (R)

dh – David Ortiz (L)

lf – Hanley Ramirez (R)

3b – Pablo Sandoval (S)

1b – Mike Napoli (R)

ss – Xander Bogaerts (R)

rf – Rusney Castillo (R)

c – Christian Vasquez (R)

The obvious observation is that the Red Sox line-up remains heavy on the righties.  This kind of reminds me of when the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, adding to lefty hitter with the Red Sox already extremely lefty in their line-up, especially their top 5 hitters (Gonzalez, Crawford, Ortiz, Ellsbury with only Pedroia being a righty).

But we are still several months away from spring training, let alone opening day.  With a stockpile of offense, albeit in, my opinion, not the best talent, the Red Sox do have chips to work with to acquire a starting rotation.  Namely if they can move a player like Cespedes and his salary, then perhaps Jon Lester fits in rotation as a free agent.  In addition, there must be room for the likes of Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks on other teams…um, when I write those names, I lose total confidence that anyone would provide 100 cents on the dollar for any of them.

So aside from Cespedes, the Red Sox might have to be willing to trade minor leaguers like Blake Swihart, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Garin Cecchini (where would he ever play? The Red Sox just signed 2 players in Ramirez and Sandoval to the 2 positions he plays.), Devon Merrero and a few others.

I would expect over the next 21 days the Red Sox to start to move the above assets in exchange for quality starting pitching and hopefully the signing of Lester.  And let’s hope other MLB teams are willing to play the game with Boston, lest they leave Cherington with all offense and no defense, I’ve heard that can leave a GM a dull employee.

A Team of Outfielders

This morning I’m left scratching my head.  Yes, part of it is my dandruff condition, but also the Red Sox now have 8 outfielders in the fold.  Oh yeah, and they are doing exactly what they said they wouldn’t do and that is sign 30+ year old players to big contracts.

Reports are flying around this morning that the Red Sox have agreed to terms with both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.  Both men have reportedly agreed to 5 year deals worth in the range of $90-$100m.  The Ramirez deal seems firm while there are suggestions the Sandoval deal isn’t a lock so let’s focus on the Ramirez deal.

With Ramirez, who will be 31 when the season starts, the Red Sox have perhaps a third baseman or a left fielder.  If Sandoval signs, Ramirez will be in left, if Sandoval doesn’t sign, Ramirez is your new third baseman.  Signing both would mean the Red Sox have the following major league outfielders on their roster:

Ramirez, Betts, Victorino, Cespedes, Castillo, Bradley Jr., Craig and Nava.  Holt played a few innings there too last season, but let’s leave him out of this discussion.

What are they going to do with all of those outfielders?  Really, what?  I think this means Cespedes is a goner.  He has 1 year left on his deal, has told the world he will test free agency and the Red Sox aren’t allowed to tender him meaning they would not get a draft pick if they lose him.  Yes he has power, but he produced a sub .300 OBP last year and despite having a great arm, doesn’t seem to have a glove.  There were also whispers, quickly refuted by the Red Sox, that he wasn’t a teachable player.

That still leaves a logjam, but it is a start at clearing it out.

Ramirez wasn’t popular amongst his Red Sox teammates when he was traded in 2005 but he is a good offensive player when healthy and 9 years later, perhaps he has tamed his attitude a bit and won’t cause any friction.  Signing him is a direct contradiction to proclamations last year that long term deals to older players is a mistake.  Perhaps that leaves me with hope that Jon Lester still might re-sign.

I guess I have nothing left to say as there are far too many holes in the Red Sox team for me to get excited over 1 or 2 free agent signings.  Someone still has to pitch and right now their rotation is a mess.

Elvis Was A Hero To Most

Word is the Rangers are shopping Elvis Andrus and the Yankees just might be interested. Andrus is 26 and about to start an 8-year/$120-million deal with two interesting clauses in it. First, Andrus can opt out of the deal after both the 2018 and the 2019 seasons. (The Rangers love those opt out clauses) and he also has a vesting option for 2023 which is triggered by either 550 PA’s in 2022, or a combined 1,100 PA’s in 2021 and 2022.

Neither of those clauses would be a concern if Andrus was still the player he was in 2012. In 2012, he appeared to be an emerging offensive force who was a defensive whiz. Now he appears to be a declining player on both offense and defense. Clearly, any team that acquires him will need to be very cautious.

Now part of the reason for that may be that he showed up to camp in 2014 overweight and he hurt his right shoulder early in the season. A healthy shoulder may bring back some of the lost defense and losing the weight would certainly do that. If Andrus goes back to being the defender he was in 2012, he becomes a lot more valuable. But his bat is the bigger problem. His 2014 line of .267/.314/.333 is slightly worse than the 2014 average AL shortstop (.257/.307/.359) That’s not something you pay $15-million a year for.

So how much do you pay? That’s the key question. If the Rangers were willing to knock pay $5-million of his salary each year, Andrus becomes a lot more interesting to me. Yes, there are definite risks involved, but remember this guy is only 26. He becomes the youngest Yankees position player by almost 5 years if a deal is made. The Yankees can risk $10-million a year on him and hope he becomes more like his 2012 self, but even if he doesn’t, a 2015 infield with Andrus instead of Brendan Ryan is a better one.