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.

Buying Low Again

The Yankees clearly didn’t trust Rob Refsnyder or Dustin Ackley to play second base every day. That isn’t unusual for them, they tend to shy away from youth whenever they can.  What is unusual is that they didn’t do a knee-jerk veteran signing. Instead, they traded for a three-time All-Star who is only 25.

Starlin Castro will be the Yankees’ second baseman next year and for the three after that, since he is signed to an affordable four-year/$38-million deal. (There is a $16-million team option for 2020 the Yankees could also exercise.)

In exchange for Castro, the Yankees are sending Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan to the Cubs. That’s not a huge price for a three-time All-Star, so why am I titling the post “Buying Low”?

That’s because Castro isn’t the player he was when he signed an 8-year/$60-million deal with the Cubs. He no longer appears to have the 20-steal speed, and he has had two bad offensive seasons in his last three years. In addition, his defense at shortstop was bad last year.

But here is what the Yankees see. They see a guy who is one year removed from a .292/.339/.438 season. They see a guy who tore the cover off the ball in August and September last year after moving to second base full-time while playing good defense there. They see a guy who has been durable. And they see a guy who is actually a month younger than their current starting shortstop and is only a year older than Rob Refsnyder. And they see a guy who may have solved some off the field problems.

So, you can’t accuse the Yankees of abandoning their youth movement, or shelling out big bucks. Four years at $38-million doesn’t get you a decent starter in this market. (The impetus of this deal is the fact that the Cubs gave Zobrist 4/56 to take over second. That’s a Yankee move, or former one.)

Adam Warren was a nice piece, but he wasn’t a good starter and the Yankees should be able to fill the fourth arm in the bullpen spot fairly easily.

And Castro solves a roster problem for the Yankees. They can now put Ackley on the roster with no worries. He is their backup at second, left, and probably first. That’s an upgrade for sure. Castro can play short and probably third. If they don’t trade Gardner, they have Hicks to backup the outfield, another upgrade. They still need a backup catcher, but the bench could be quite versatile.



The Price of Pitching

The Yankees are said to be looking for a young starter with 0-3 years of time in the big leagues. Good luck to them, that is probably the most valuable commodity in the game.

While the recent contract signings of Greinke and Price grab the headlines. Look at some of the lesser deals that have been signed. Mike Pelfrey just got a two-year/$16-million deal from the Tigers. This is a guy coming off of a 6-11 season with an ERA of 4.26. Advanced metrics give him an ERA of 4, but that isn’t much better.

Or consider Darren O’Day, a nice middle reliever. He’s 32, and has 14 saves in his career, yet he is getting a four-year deal worth just under $8-million a year.

Or Ryan Madson, who missed three years, but pitched well in KC this year and just got three years at $7-million each from the A’s. The A’s!

Pitching prices are out of control and that is a reflection of the money flooding the game.

So while the Yankees should absolutely chase young, cost-controllable pitching, they also need to think about their own backyard and some of the pitchers they already control. How about giving them extensions before they hit arbitration/free agency? Three guys come to mind, Betances, Eovladi, and Pineda.

Betances is not even arbitration eligible yet, but after next season he will be and the way he is pitching he will cost a lot very quickly. Could the Yankees buy some cost certainty with him now? Considering he is going to make “only” $507,000 next year, I bet they could, why not try?

Eovaldi and Pineda are tougher cases because they are two years away from free agency and both had injuries in 2015. But, could the Yankees buy out a couple of years of free agency from them right now? It’s certainly worth a shot.

I will be absolutely ok with the Yankees forgoing the free agent market this offseason and keeping their best prospects. But, they need to plan for future costs as well. Locking some of these guys up now can help them do that.

Pricey Price

Well, Dave Dombrowski can’t be accused of being a liar.  He said his main goals this off-season were to sign a top flight starter, acquire a back of the bullpen arm and a complimentary right-handed bat off the bench.  Check, check and check.

The Red Sox traded for Craig Kimbrel last month, yesterday signed Chris Young and have agreed to terms with lefty starter David Price.  Price’s deal is reportedly for 7 years and $217m or $31m a year and he has an opt-out after the third year.

Price is definitely what the Red Sox needed, a top of the rotation starter.  Someone who can eat up 220 quality innings per year.  His addition allows the Red Sox to push their existing group of starters back a spot and perhaps consider moving Joe Kelly to the pen as he hasn’t shown anything as a starter and has a power arm.  The opt-out clause is interesting as it has been a trend for top talent to ask for the it in hopes of tacking on 3 years or so to their original deal at even higher money.  The hope by me is that Price pitches lights out for the first 3 years and then the Red Sox let him walk as he’ll be 33 by then.  Because the contract for 7 years and this much money is crazy even in the world of baseball.  Face it, if Price doesn’t opt out and/or pitches poorly, this could be a very bad contract for many years to come.

There is no doubting the Red Sox are a far better team now than they were at the end of the 2015 season as they have address very important issues.  At the risk of getting way ahead of myself, let me offer this look:

Rotation (Player, ERA+) : David Price: 172, Clay Buchholz: 132, Eduardo Rodriguez: 112, Rick Porcell0: .87 (he is making $20m this year…but his 2nd half, 3.53 ERA, was far better than his first half, 5.90 ERA) and who knows, Wade Miley: 96 or Henry Owens: 94.

Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel: 1.42, Koji Uehara: 194, Junichi Tazawa: 104, ummm, then the wheels fall off a bit as there is a lot of riff-raff to choose from like Robbie Ross, Tommy Layne, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and the list goes on.  Dembrowski, will likely want to add to this area.

Line-up (Player, OPS+): Xander Bogaerts: 108, Mookie Betts: 118, Dustin Pedroia: 113, David Ortiz: 141, Hanley Ramirez: 90, Pablo Sandoval: 76 (wow he was terrible last year and has to improve), Rusney Castillo: 73 (he too needs to show us something or else he will be traded), Jackie Bradley: 120 and Blake Swihart: 90 (not bad for a 23 year old rookie catcher).

Bench: Travis Shaw: 115 (great but can he do it again?), Brock Holt: 96,  Ryan Hanigan: 81 and Chris Young: 112 (mashed lefties last year).

So all in all there is some promise for this team, the rotation and bullpen could use quality upgrades and the line-up needs to be sorted out but I am happy thus far.  I especially like the off-season because Dombrowski hasn’t traded away the major league ready talent, he has kept the young core of positional plans, Betts, Bradley, Swihart and Bogaerts, in place.  The idea of building both through the farm and select free agency bets is the best way to build a team in my book.  Relying too much on either one can be disastrous.

But let’s not kid ourselves, the Red Sox really need to add depth to the rotation and especially to the bullpen for this team to make a deep push in the postseason.

Price To Boston

I’m sure Andy will have a post about this later, but I just wanted to post now that the news is out that David Price is headed to Boston. The money is big, as we thought it might be- $217-million over 7 years. It makes gives Price the biggest contract ever for a pitcher and assuming it is evenly averaged over the length of the deal, Price will make about $1-million per start.

Price gets rightfully knocked for not pitching well in the postseason, but he is a wonderful pitcher and solves a big problem for Boston. The money in this deal is astounding, especially when you consider how the Red Sox lowballed Jon Lester, but the ultimate way to judge this deal in my mind is if the Red Sox win a World Series with Price. If they do, great deal. If they don’t, ugh. In many ways this is exactly like the Yankees deal with Sabathia after the 2008 season. Both teams gave a stud lefty a seven-year, record-breaking deal, with an opt-out after three seasons. The Yankees won their World Series and then made the mistake of bringing Sabathia back after he opted-out. We will have to wait to see if Boston gets similar results and makes a similar error.