What Took Them So Long?

The Yankees announced today that Rob Refsnyder will work out at third base this spring. I can’t understand why he hasn’t been working out there and all over the diamond for weeks now.

Here’s what we know about Refsnyder. He has a good bat, one that projects to be decent in the big leagues. He also doesn’t appear to be an everyday second baseman. I say that because the statistics when he played there briefly last year weren’t great, and because there is no way the Yankees go and trade for Castro if they thought Refsnyder could play second on a regular basis. So why didn’t the Yankees tell him to spend the winter trying out some other positions?

It makes no sense. Castro is going to be in pinstripes for the next four years at minimum. By that time Refsnyder will be out of options and on another team. Furthermore, the Yankees have Ackley on the roster to backup second if needed. Sure, Castro or Ackley could get hurt, but the Yankees have stashed a couple of glove guys in the minors to prepare for that. So keeping Refsnyder as a second baseman only keeps him in the minors in 2016 which doesn’t make a ton of sense when you look at the Yankees bench.

We know two guys who will make the bench, Hicks and Ackley. There will be a backup catcher, and assuming that the Yankees carry 12 pitchers, always a good bet, one other player. If Refsnyder can play some third, he becomes a favorite for this spot. For one thing, he is a righty bat, something the Yankees could use. For another, he came to the Yankees as an outfielder so it is reasonable to expect that he could fill in there in a pinch.

Think about that bench. You have a backup catcher TBD. You have Hicks covering all the outfield spots with Ackley backing him up in the corners and at second and first. You have Refsnyder covering third and second, and the outfield in a pinch. You have decent pinch-hitting options, and the flexibility to use them because of the multiple ways you can cover things defensively. That makes a ton of sense for the 2016 Yankees. I just wonder why it took them so long to think of it.

Good Idea/Bad Execution

The Yankees are taking a lot of heat for getting rid of print-at-home tickets this season. Part of that is because of the terrible optics of the deal- more on that in a minute. Part of it is because of the absurd defense they have used for the idea- more on that too. But overall, this is a good idea. In fact, I would say the idea hasn’t gone far enough. They should get rid of all physical tickets.

Physical tickets were a necessary evil for years, but they are obsolete in the 21st century with the advent of the cell phone. Between smart phones and basic cell phones, the technology exists to get rid of paper tickets entirely. Just like airlines have, stadiums can provide apps with barcodes for people to get into games. And if someone doesn’t have a smart phone, how about a text message with a unique string of characters to allow entry at some sort of kiosk? With a little thought and planning, teams could easily get rid of physical tickets.

And that would be a good thing because it would eliminate the easiest way for people to defraud potential buyers- scalping fake tickets. With the printing capabilities out there today, people can easily create very authentic looking fake tickets at home and scalp them outside a stadium easily. Here’s an example from 2015 in Indianapolis. Eliminating this kind of fraud is a worthy idea.

But the Yankees have done a terrible job of making the case for it. For one thing, the crackdown on paper tickets appears to be an attempt to stop reselling of tickets on Stub Hub. The Yankees have opened their own ticket exchange and they don’t want Stub Hub taking away from that action. They can pretend otherwise, but that is the real reason they don’t want print-at-home tickets.

And they should stop with their bizarre defense that this has something to do with the free market. A free market is one without regulation, yet getting rid of print-at-home tickets is obviously a regulation. Furthermore, baseball is rife with violations of the free market. The Yankees Ticket Exchange sets a minimum price floor for tickets where a free market would allow supply and demand to determine prices. MLB allows teams to have geographic monopolies where a free market would never allow that. I could go on and on, the point is there is nothing close a free market in baseball.

So get rid of the paper tickets, but work with all secondary markets to figure out how. That’s a win-win for everyone.

 

The Chapman Conundrum

The Yankees have brought someone with serious character questions into their clubhouse. That’s a responsibility they cannot evade.

The Yankees should be honest. Chapman isn’t in camp with them without his electric fastball and dominant numbers. If he wasn’t a great pitcher, the Yankees would never have bothered with him considering the allegations he faces. That hardly makes the Yankees unique. Sports figures are given way too many chances because of their natural abilities. Organizations make these moral compromises all the time. It would be nice if they were more honest about them.

As for Chapman, he clearly doesn’t seem to get it. He maintains that he did nothing wrong, yet he does not contest the police report which states that he used a gun to fire eight shots from his garage. And while seven of those shots didn’t leave the garage, one of the shots landed in an empty lot near his property- meaning it could have killed someone who was simply standing outside of his house.

I in no way condone violence against women, but the sad truth of this case is we will never know what really happened that night in regards to the allegations that Chapman choked a female. The police couldn’t sort out the conflicting stories, and the DA refused to charge Chapman because they didn’t feel there was enough evidence. (I am dismayed that you can apparently fire a gun eight times recklessly in Florida and not commit a crime.) That doesn’t mean Chapman is innocent of the choking charge, but it also means he will not be found guilty by a court of law. Our justice system is based on the presumption of innocence and we have to accept that in regards to the choking allegations.

But that still doesn’t excuse the gun play and this is where I would like to see the Commissioner and the Yankees take a stand. Chapman should be kept away from guns in my opinion. He should be ordered to seek some counseling (acceptable under the CBA) and he should get some sort of suspension. It should also be made clear to him that any additional incidents will not be tolerated. MLB gets the first crack at this, but the Yankees should be ready to act if MLB doesn’t. They took responsibility for Chapman the minute they traded for him.

 

Three Strikes…

MLB announced this afternoon that Jenrry Mejia has been banned from baseball for failing a third test for PED use. (Technically, he can apply for reinstatement a year from now, but he must sit out two years before playing again.)

It’s an amazing story of stupidity. Mejia has been suspended at the start of the season last year for 80 games for failing the first test. He was suspended for 162 games almost immediately after returning to the team and is now out of baseball. This is a guy who was going to make over $1-million this year, despite his suspension, and has now failed three drug tests in less than a calendar year.

Give MLB credit for putting in a plan with serious teeth to try to clean up the game. I should note however that this case involves a 6-foot, 200-pound, reliever who threw in the low 90’s. You simply can’t tell who is cheating with your eyes.

 

It Won’t Be Long

Ever since I was a kid, the end of the Super Bowl meant only one thing to me- baseball season was almost here. Back then, the gap was much greater, a month or so, but now it is only a few short weeks thanks to the NFL moving the Super Bowl into February. In fact, pitchers and catchers report next Friday, only 11 days from now.

And while there are still some very good free agents still available, I am going to declare the Yankee offseason over. Which means we can look at this chart, and realize that the Yankees are the only team in baseball that hasn’t signed a free agent this offseason.

I’m completely on board with that, and I think the Yankees had a great offseason mostly. They got a better version of Chris Young, at a much cheaper price. They got a second baseman who is young and a three-time All-Star, and they traded for one of the best closers in baseball. But I wish they had done one other thing- signed some of their starters to extensions.

Luis Severino is the only starter who is guaranteed to be under contract beyond 2017. Nova is a free agent after this season. Sabathia will be either after this one or 2017, depending on if his option vests. Pineda and Eovaldi are under contract through 2017. Tanaka has an opt-out after 2017. I would have liked to have seen the Yankees target either Eovaldi or Pineda for an extension this offseason. Both have faults, but both have the stuff to make a ton of money as free agents.

But ultimately that is a minor quibble about a solid offseason. The Yankees are getting younger and spending smarter. That will pay huge dividends down the road.

The First Injury of 2016

Joel Sherman is reporting that Greg Bird will need labrum surgery and will miss all of 2016.

The good news for the Yankees is that Teixeira is apparently healthy and ready to go. It is very unlikely that Bird was going to be anything more than AAA depth this year. In addition, by happening now the Yankees have a chance to address their depth, or lack of depth at first base. I would expect Ackley to get a lot of time there during spring training.

The bad news is that Bird won’t be available to replace Teixeira when he gets hurt and the Yankees now face the prospect of making him the starting first baseman in 2017 after he has missed an entire season.  It probably won’t deter them from handing him the job, but it injects more uncertainty into it.

It Won’t Be Long Now

I’ve argued before that the NL will adopt the DH soon and we have the clearest evidence of that yet today. Rob Manfred said today that National League teams “might” embrace the DH. Here’s one quote:

“Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you’d think you were talking some sort of heretical comment. But we have a newer group. There has been turnover, and I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and traditions of the sport.”

I think it is inevitable for a number of reasons.

1- Pitching is very expensive. Ian Kennedy just got $14-million a year for the next five years. David Price and Clayton Kershaw cost about $1-million per START. Teams can’t risk injury to these guys doing something they aren’t trained to do.

2- The DH allows teams to hide bad defenders and older hitters and rest players.

3- The AL is kicking the NL’s butt in interleague play. The NL hasn’t won the season series since 2003. You can’t credit the DH for all of that, but you can’t argue that it isn’t helping.

So what are the arguments against it? Well tradition obviously, but baseball has done a good job of invalidating that. From no more day World Series games to light at Wrigley, baseball doesn’t mind blowing up its history. Some owners will mind because it should increase salaries, but that’s also why the Players’ Association will embrace it.

And of course there is the fact that the DH has survived and thrived in the AL for over 40 years. The yells will be loud, but its coming NL fans.

My Annual Hall Of Fame Rant

Once again the idiots people who vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame have covered themselves in ignominy. How in the world is Ken Griffey Jr. not a Hall of Famer? Three voters thought he wasn’t, and therefore he misses the chance to be the first unanimous HOF’er.

The voters also showed their moral certitude by keeping Bonds and Clemens below 50% of the vote. Curt Schilling got more votes than Clemens and Jeff Bagwell got more votes than Bonds which shows you the voters clearly aren’t interested in statistics. And they won’t have McGwire to kick around anymore as he departs the ballot after ten years with 12.3% of the vote.

Another departure from the ballot is Allan Trammell after 15 years which is a shame. (They changed the expiration rules a few years ago and Trammell was grandfathered in for 15 years. Lee Smith was too and has one last year to get 75%)

And Edgar Martinez getting less than 50% of the vote makes me wonder if any of these guys actually watched baseball in the 90’s.

On the plus side, Piazza made it finally. Bagwell should make it next year, and Tim Raines will have a solid shot.

Trevor Hoffman earning 67% of the vote in his first year should get there eventually too, but that total should quash any idea that Mariano might be the first unanimous Hall of Famer. The way things stand today, I think Jeter has the best shot, and he won’t be eligible until 2020. And after if Jeter doesn’t make it, we will probably have to wait for a Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw to see a possible unanimous selection.

 

 

The Other Shoe

A few weeks ago I speculated that the trade of Justin Wilson was a precursor for another move. Today, we have found out what that move is- The Yankees are adding Aroldis Chapman to their bullpen.

From a baseball stanpoint, this trade is a slam dunk. The Yankees are giving up four minor leaguers- Caleb Cotham, Eric Jagielo, Rookie Davis, and Tony Renda. Cotham is a 28-year old bullpen arm. Jagielo is a former first-rounder, but he hasn’t shown enough defense at third to make anyone think he can stick there. He probably needs to move to first, and the Yankees are going to give that spot to Greg Bird. Renda is a second base prospect who came over from Washington in the Carpenter trade. But he is 24, and the Yankees already have added Castro and have Ackley and Refsnyder. Davis is the biggest potential loss as he could become a good starter, but he is probably at least a year, if not more, away.

That’s a quartet you can easily trade away for one of the best closers in the game and a guy who gives the Yankees a ridiculous 1-2-3 punch of Chapman, Miller, and Betances. The best way to cover for so-so starting pitching is with a lights out bullpen, the Yankees have done this.

But from a non-baseball standpoint, this trade could be troubling. Chapman was involved in some sort of domestic incident this offseason where his girlfriend says he choked her and fired a gun. The police investigated and didn’t make any arrests or file charges because of a lack of evidence. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and I can only hope the Yankees did a lot of due diligence before agreeing to this deal because domestic violence should not be tolerated and character matters. That is the part of the trade I am unsure about.

Another Deal

The Yankees have continued their dismantling of their bullpen by trading Jason Wilson to the Tigers in exchange for two prospects.

It’s an interesting move as the prospects are not likely to help in 2016, at least at the start of it. And losing Wilson weakens the bullpen.

I wonder if the Yankees are thinking about flipping one or two of the guys in this deal for something else? The other way to look at it is that the Yankees are loaded with reliever prospects and not loaded with starter prospects, so they made this move with the idea that Shreve or Lindgren could take over the 7th inning next year.

We will have to wait and see, but we may not wait for long.