This was a pretty intense week in baseball, and that’s because the Winter Meetings did not disappoint this year. At least not in the bigger picture. This was a week full of player movement. There were blockbuster trades and massive free agent signings, and each night in San Diego seemed to include some sort of plot twist.
The Yankees, though, stayed quiet throughout.
“I honestly can tell you that we’re patient,” Brian Cashman said. “We’re not going to do something that we don’t feel comfortable with. … We got the Cervelli thing done with Justin Wilson, and there was a long period of quiet. We got Chris Young a month after we put an offer out on him, and eventually he came back after he went through the circuit and felt comfortable with where we were at. We made a little adjustment to get it done. And then the Didi thing took a while. Some things may take longer than others in terms of solving every need that we desire, but we’ll see.”
Clearly there’s still work to be done. The Yankees have only three starting pitchers in place (plus a handful of back-end rotation possibilities). The don’t have a clear closer (though they have a few options they could choose from). Their infield is still uncertain with second base and third base possibilities still on the market (while Rob Refsnyder remains in place as an internal option).
The Yankees took some small steps forward early this offseason. They added a left-handed reliever and a right-handed fourth outfielder. They added a little bit of pitching depth with one free agent signing and a few players added to the 40-man roster. They made their first major additions by finding replacements for Derek Jeter and Dave Robertson.
This hasn’t been a silent winter for the Yankees, but this past week was full of noise, and the Yankees didn’t make any of it.
“We’ve got meetings with a lot of people,” Cashman said. “We’re still obviously trying to affect some trades or potential free agent signings. We’ll just stay at it.”
• The Winter Meetings move that most directly impacted the Yankees was the White Sox four-year deal with Dave Robertson. Cashman had created the impression that the Yankees might sign Robertson to former a super-bullpen with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, but that was all about creating a false impression. The Yankees never made an offer, and Robertson’s fate was sealed as soon as Miller was signed.
• Speaking of Miller, he made it clear during a conference call that he doesn’t care about his role in the Yankees bullpen. He didn’t ask the Yankees to name him closer, and he’ll be happy if the Yankees sign a closer this offseason. Last season, Miller and Betances proved the value of a dominant multi-inning middle reliever, and there’s a chance those two will be used the same way next season if the Yankees sign another reliever to handle the ninth. Cashman has said that’s still a possibility.
• Another former Yankees pitcher who landed elsewhere: Brandon McCarthy agreed to a four-year deal with the Dodgers. The Yankees left no doubt that they wanted to bring McCarthy back to add some rotation depth, but four years is a massive and risky investment for a guy who’s had such trouble staying healthy (this season was the first time McCarthy ever reached 200 innings, or even got particularly close). The Yankees weren’t willing to go four years, and so McCarthy landed in Los Angeles during a flood of rotation signings.
• Cashman said the Yankees have put their coaching staff openings on the back burner while focusing on player movement. Still no new hitting coach, and no new first-base coach, and Cashman shot down a report that Marcus Thames had been hired as an assistant hitting coach. Cashman said he hasn’t interviewed Thames and hasn’t decided whether the Yankees will have an assistant hitting coach next season.
• Also still unknown: the status of Hiroki Kuroda. The Yankees have not been told whether he wants to pitch next season.
• Strength coach Matt Krause went to Miami to check on Alex Rodriguez. Cashman said Rodriguez is making progress this winter — he’s moving closer to the weight he’s expected to reach before spring training — but it’s still far to early to have any idea how well Rodriguez will handle full baseball drills.
• The build up to the Rule 5 draft always seems more significant than the draft itself, and that was certainly the case this year. The Yankees picked four eligible players to protect, and that seems to have done the trick. The Yankees didn’t lose anyone in the Rule 5 draft — in either the major league or the minor league portion — and they didn’t add anyone either. Cashman said he preferred keeping the three open roster spots open.
Associated Press photos
Whether it was right or wrong, I’m still not sure, but it was certainly interesting yesterday to hear Brian Cashman talk about the value of a 2015 draft pick, despite the fact it’s coming at the cost of one of the Yankees most successful draft picks of the past decade.
“You saw how quickly the (Ian) Clarkins and (Aaron) Judges have climbed the prospect list,” Cashman said. “Once we got (Andrew) Miller, it created a circumstance for us where Miller plus the draft pick weighed out for us as we move forward as a better buy than having to go all-in on (Dave) Robertson.”
It was not by random chance that Cashman used Clarkin and Judge to illustrate his point. By letting Robertson leave, the Yankees will get a sandwich pick at the end of next year’s first round. Clarkin and Judge were sandwich picks just two years ago — compensation for losing Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano — and they have emerged as two of the top prospects in the system. Judge is the team’s No. 1 prospect according to the latest rankings from Baseball Prospectus. Clarkin is No. 4 on that list.
There seems to be a sort of turning of the page happening with the Yankees system. Aside from Brett Gardner’s extension during spring training, there has been no effort to keep the most recent homegrown core in place, but there has been a renewed focus on building a new core that might trickle onto the big league roster in the next year or so.
Francisco Cervelli has been traded away. Same for Shane Greene. Robertson was allowed to leave via free agency. So were Phil Hughes and Robinson Cano. It’s not that the Yankees are intentionally getting rid of these players — and let’s not pretend they had some new version of the Core Four in place — but the Yankees are not putting overwhelming emphasis on keeping the homegrown players who have already reached the big leagues. Being homegrown is not reason enough to commit.
“I wouldn’t say we let Cano walk,” Cashman said. “He was taken with a significant offer. I don’t really look at it as if we’ve let anyone walk. In this case, I don’t think Robertson had anything to do with Cano. Robertson we did not make an offer. We made a significant one on Robbie. Obviously Seattle stepped up and blew the field away.”
On the other hand, the Yankees do seem committed to keeping their minor league prospects in hopes of having waves of young talent reach the big leagues soon. They have not sacrificed Judge or Clarkin or Luis Severino this offseason. Even at the most recent trade deadline, the only minor league talent the Yankees lost was a player without a clear positional path to the big leagues (Peter O’Brien) and a pitcher with plummeting stock whose new team didn’t even protect him from the Rule 5 draft (Rafael DePaula).
Again, not saying it’s right or wrong — certainly there are timing and other roster issues in play here — only that it’s interesting to see the Yankees clearly trying to build from within, while whatever homegrown foundation was put in place in recent years seems mostly expendable (Gardner, Ivan Nova and Dellin Betances might be the exceptions).
“It’s a different system that we’re operating in, there’s no doubt about it,” Cashman said. “Obviously I think the game has evolved to a level where all teams are in play, whether you’re looking down in Miami and seeing the extension they gave to their home-grown talent, which probably 10 years ago wasn’t feasible.”
With a different system comes different methods and different players, and if all goes well, that will create a different homegrown core on the Yankees roster in the near future.
“I would think the fan base is connected to the pinstripes and hopefully the winning teams that we always intend to put on the field,” Cashman said. “Obviously if we get quality players, (reporters) will write quality stories, and (fans) will get to know them better, and they’ll bond with them, whoever they may be.”
Associated Press photos
General manager Brian Cashman said he’s not particularly close to finding a new hitting coach, and that process might have to wait a few days to get rolling again.
“I’ve got that on the back burner,” Cashman said. “There’s too much going on right now with the trade and free agent market to get distracted.”
Cashman also denied a report that Marcus Thames will be the team’s assistant hitting coach next season.
“That’s false,” Cashman said. “I have not talked to Marcus Thames at all, actually. … I’m looking for a head guy first, and then I can consider if I want to play with an assistant or not. I saw there was a report out there that we hired an assistant or were planning on hiring an assistant. We’ve got to go with the head guy first and then talk about if we even want to have an assistant to the head guy. But we don’t have a head guy.”
Joe Girardi said the same thing about the coaching search being put on the back burner for now, then he was asked about the possibility of bringing in Hideki Matsui as a coach.
“We love having him around, wherever it’s at,” Girardi said. “Whether it’s in the course of the season, whether he’s walking in our clubhouse and being around the guys, whether it’s in Spring Training. He’s a real pro. And he has a lot of information that he can pass on to younger players, to older players, about how to play the game and how to approach an at bat, how you hit through a long season. Matsui was one of the favorites in the clubhouse, as well. And we love just having him around. He brings a smile to everyone’s face.”
Not exactly an endorsement. Not exactly a dismissal.
A few other notes from this second day of the Winter Meetings:
• Although there’s no clear closer now, Girardi said he will not plan to have a closer by committee next season. “I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that. When we started out this season Betances was pitching the fifth and sixth inning. In the end he was pitching sometimes the sixth, seventh inning. So that takes time to get ironed out.”
• Girardi has not talked to Didi Gregorius, but he has a message planned. “I think the most important thing for Didi, and I’ll stress it, and I’ll have all the coaches stress it and the people around him, you just need to be yourself,” Girardi said. “You don’t need to try to be Derek. I think Robertson did a really good job of filling in for a superstar, a legend, a Yankee legend and was just himself. And we need to pay attention to that and make sure that Didi (knows): hey, go out and play, just do what you do.”
• Biggest remaining need? “When I look at our club, I think you have to think about the depth of the rotation,” Girardi said. “And as I said, we’re going to get Nova back, which is going to help. But in the back of your mind there’s some question marks. Michael Pineda has not thrown 200 innings in a while. CC is coming off his injury. Yeah, we feel good about it, but until you get into the rigors of the season you’re not really sure exactly what’s going to happen. And Tanaka is coming off an injury, and we feel good about that. But like I said about CC, you have to go through it. You need depth in your rotation. You have to. I don’t know how many starters we used last year, but I know we lost four. So we used a lot and that’s something that’s a concern.”
• Girardi said he’s spoken to Chase Headley this winter, but he has not spoken to Brandon McCarthy.
• Cashman said he has not heard from Hiroki Kuroda or Kuroda’s agent, so the Yankees still don’t know whether Kuroda plans to pitch or retire next season.
• Girardi has seen videos of Alex Rodriguez’s offseason workouts, but Cashman said he hasn’t had any recent communication with A-Rod. “We’re never going to know until we get him out there playing in games and stuff, what we’ve got,” Cashman said. “Even in fairness to him, as he’s knocking the rust off, like whether you’re playing every year or not it’s hard to judge people in Spring Training regardless. It probably is something you have to get in-season to in the early portion.”
• The Yankees checked in on the possibility of trading for Jeff Samardzija. “There wasn’t a match from their perspective,” Cashman said.
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Brian Cashman just met with beat writers here in San Diego and provided a fairly simply formula for why the Yankees didn’t so much as make an offer to Dave Robertson.
The team decided Robertson was worth less than Andrew Miller plus a draft pick plus $10 million.
“It might not be the popular decision,” Cashman said. “But I think it’s the best one.”
Cashman said he essentially took Robertson off the board as soon as he signed Miller. He previously created the impression that the Yankees might sign both Miller and Robertson — building the notion of some sort of mega-pen with Miller, Robertson and Dellin Betances — because he wanted to help Robertson “maximize his free agent value.”
Truth is, Robertson was out of the mix the minute Miller was on the roster.
When Robertson’s agent approached the Yankees this week, Cashman told him the Yankees weren’t going to be involved in the actual bidding. The Yankees never made an offer to Robertson, and Robertson’s agent never asked for a specific contract from the Yankees. Cashman said the Yankees were never in a position to sign Robertson before they signed Miller because the early Robertson discussions simply never got that far.
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Still late morning here in San Diego, and another key free agent just came off the market. Here are a few quick notes:
• Setting a baseline for predicting a Brandon McCarthy contract, Francisco Liriano has signed a three-year, $39-million deal with the Pirates. McCarthy and Liriano are each 31 years old, they’ve each had some injury issues in the past, and they’re both coming off a strong second half in 2014. I wouldn’t say they’re a perfect match, but they’re fairly close. MLB Trade Rumors ranked McCarthy 14th and Liriano 15th in its ranking of top free agents.
• According to Peter Gammons, there is optimism that Chase Headley will choose a team by the end of the day. The Giants and Yankees have clear interest in acquiring a third baseman, and they’re the team’s most often linked to Headley, but there’s some question of just how far either team is willing to go (and there’s some disagreement about whether a four-year, $65-million deal is actually on the table). At one point Headley seemed like a solid buy-low option, but his value has really climbed in this thin infield market.
• One potential source of infield depth is about to come off the market. Jim Bowden reports the Braves are close to a deal with Alberto Callaspo, who would presumably play second base in Atlanta. Not that Callaspo would have been a great fit for the Yankees, but I suppose he could have been a candidate to basically provide an experienced alternative to Jose Pirela off the bench.
• White Sox general manager Rick Hahn refused to comment on his team’s new deal with Dave Robertson because the signing isn’t official just year. Mark Feinsand reports that Robertson won’t take his physical until Wednesday at the earliest, so that deal won’t be finalized for at least another day.
Associated Press photo
Day 2 of the Winter Meetings is just getting started here in San Diego, and there has been significant movement in the past few hours.
Most of the Day 1 action happened late last night, headlined by Dave Robertson agreeing to a four-year, $46-million deal with the White Sox. The Yankees already signed the market’s other big-name reliever, Andrew Miller, to a four-year deal of his own. Now the Yankees are left to watch Robertson move on while they try to sort out how to handle the ninth inning next year.
Five quick thoughts on the departure of Robertson and what it might mean going forward.
1. We know the Yankees were willing to go four years for a late-inning reliever, but while they were willing to give $9 million per year, it seems they weren’t willing to give $11.5 million. That’s a pretty substantial difference — a total of $10 million difference between the Robertson and Miller contracts — but it doesn’t seem completely overwhelming. Robertson’s track record, experience in New York and proven ability to handle the ninth inning are significant factors. Those help explain the difference in salary. If it were up to me, I’d rather have Robertson and pay the extra money. Not that I dislike the Miller deal, just saying if I had to choose one or the other, I’d go with the known quantity. Robertson’s been awfully good for quite a while now.
2. One other factor to consider is the draft pick. By signing Miller instead of Robertson, the Yankees get an additional pick at the end of the first round. The White Sox have a protected pick, which is good for them, but not much of an issue for the Yankees (the system no longer works so that the Yankees simply pick in the White Sox spot). The Yankees added pick will be somewhere around No. 30, depending on where other free agents sign.
3. Soon after Robertson turned down the qualifying offer, the early word was that Robertson still liked the idea of staying in New York, but he clearly wasn’t going to stay just for the sake of staying. Frankly, the Yankees had plenty of time to extend his contract and make sure he stayed for the next three or four years, but they never did. Brett Gardner got a spring training extension this year. Robertson didn’t. It’s worth remembering that Robertson is one of the farm system’s greatest success stories of the past decade or so, and he was allowed to walk away. Could very well turn out to be the right move, but it’s a curious one for a franchise that’s been talking recently about wanting to get more impact from within. Here’s a guy who gave them impact, and the Yankees wouldn’t commit to him into his early 30s.
4. Right now, I don’t think anyone can say who the Yankees closer will be next season. Miller and Dellin Betances could form a sort of mix-and-match solution in the ninth inning, one of those two could emerge as the go-to closer, or the Yankees could still sign an additional reliever specifically to handle the ninth inning. There are quite a few relievers still available, including guys like Jason Grilli, Casey Janssen, Rafael Soriano and Sergio Romo who have closing experience. There might have been some dreams of a Miller-Betances-Robertson trio, but the Yankees could still form a pretty strong late-inning situation with one of those less expensive options.
5. The White Sox are pretty serious, huh? They gave Zach Duke a three-year deal to fortify the middle innings, gave Robertson four years to handle the ninth, signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal to add some left-handed balance to their lineup, and late last night they finished up a trade for Jeff Samardzija to add even more muscle at the top of their rotation. That’s been a pretty bad team lately, but the White Sox are suddenly very interesting in the American League Central. Can’t say the Tigers still have a stranglehold on that division.
Associated Press photos
Nightengale: Robertson signs with White Sox • 12.09.14
UPDATE, 1:09 a.m.: Nightengale says the contract is four years, $46 million. That’s a total of $10 million more than the Yankees gave Andrew Miller.
Miller: “I’m happy to get (outs) whenever” • 12.08.14
By most accounts, Andrew Miller was the second-best relief pitcher on the free agent market this offseason, so you’d think his contract negotiations might have involved at least some discussion about the market’s best reliever.
But Miller said the Yankees’ interest in Dave Robertson never came up.
“Honestly, I didn’t really think it was my business either way,” Miller said. “I think for them, obviously I’ve seen David pitch quite a bit in the last few years. He’s been as good as anybody out of the bullpen. I think it would be foolish for anybody to think that he’s not going to help any team in baseball. I would have absolutely zero qualms about him being in the mix. Honestly, I think he’d make us better. Whatever it takes for us to win is what I’m on board with. As far as it comes to the makeup of the team or whatever, that’s not my department and not my responsibility. I’ll leave it to the guys who know what they’re doing.”
Miller said he wasn’t worried about securing a chance to be the Yankees closer. He didn’t make sure he’d get some high-leverage opportunities in the eighth inning. He didn’t ask for assurances that the team would stay out of the relief market the rest of the offseason. He seems happy being a piece of the puzzle, not the keystone at the end of the bullpen.
“I’m pretty confident in myself,” Miller said. “I think I can get three outs at any point in the game, wherever that may be. Whatever it is, it’s fine with me. I want to win. I want to shake hands and high five at the end of the game more than anything. If I have to get two outs in the sixth, there’s value in that. I think that we’re starting to find there’s outs in the game that may be more important than the last three outs of the game in the ninth inning. I’m happy to get them whenever. My job is to go and pitch up to the level of my contract, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be the three outs in the ninth inning.”
It certainly seems the Yankees could be building toward a bullpen with that sort of ambiguity and flexibility. If Robertson is not re-signed — and if a one-inning guy like Jason Grilli isn’t eventually added to the mix — the Yankees could enter the season without a defined closer. They’d have Miller and Dellin Betances as the biggest weapons for key situations, Justin Wilson would presumably face a lot of lefties, Shawn Kelley would be good for some big outs (possibly Adam Warren as well if he’s not in the rotation), and a guy like Esmil Rogers could be a long man with a chance to pitch in late-inning situations if he’s effective.
As for a defined closer? Right now there isn’t one, and that’s just fine with the team’s most high-profile new addition.
“(The closer role) came up very briefly during negotiations when the Yankees were feeling me out to see what my priorities were,” Miller said. “I’ve told everybody so far, and it’s the truth, it really wasn’t a priority for me. It was certainly something that certain teams expected me to come in and do. But for me, my answer for them was that I have no ego in it, and I’m ready to fill whatever role is necessary or fits best for the team. My goal is to win. If I’m handing the ball off to somebody, whoever that may be, I have no problem with that.”
Associated Press photo
Random thoughts on this Friday morning • 12.05.14
It’s Friday, and I’m actually off the clock for about 72 hours. I’m taking a few vacation days to spend today and the rest of the weekend with my parents, who are visiting from Missouri. I’ll check back in on Monday — or late Sunday night — when I get to San Diego for the Winter Meetings. Until then, a few random thoughts.
• One sure indication that this free agent market hasn’t played out in the Yankees favor is the fact Chase Headley has gotten a ton of attention lately. He’s a nice player — great glove, does enough offensively, strong presence in the clubhouse — but we just reached the start of December and he’s the best infielder out there. That’s not a great thing for a Yankees team that would like to add not one but two everyday infielders this offseason. With that in mind, last year’s Martin Prado trade looks better and better. Can you imagine trying to find three everyday infielders in this market? If that were the case, wouldn’t the Yankees have to simply roll the dice with either Alex Rodriguez or Rob Refsnyder?
• Andrew Miller is really good, and between him and Dellin Betances, the Yankees could surely find a closer. But I still think if the Yankees do end up signing Miller — without signing Dave Robertson — they might go after a guy like Jason Grilli or Casey Janssen on a one-year deal to potentially handle the ninth inning. Closer is an unusual job, but it’s not necessarily the most important job in the bullpen. Find a one-inning guy who’s been there and done that, and use Miller and Dellin Betances to really shorten the game. Just an idea. I still think the better way to go is simply re-signing Robertson.
• Isn’t it a bit odd that the free agent rumor mill seems to have completely forgotten Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie? Stephen Drew’s name pops up occasionally in reports about the market’s lack of a standout shortstop, and Headley has gotten a ton of attention ever since Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval came off the market, but there’s been hardly a peep about Cabrera or Lowrie. Those two might not be shortstops, but in a market that’s thin on third basemen and second basemen, they can surely find an everyday job somewhere. Maybe even with the Yankees if dominoes fall the right way.
• Some talk earlier this week about the possibility of giving up the pursuit of Headley and simply giving Refsnyder a chance to play second base. How would the market have to develop for the Yankees to engage in similar conversations about letting Brendan Ryan play shortstop every day? He hardly played last season, but he carries a well-earned reputation as a defensive wizard. There are worse fallback options, I just what it takes for the Yankees to legitimately open that particular possibility.
• Six at least fairly interesting Yankees prospects who can play center field in Triple-A and/or Double-A next season: Eury Perez, Jake Cave, Mason Williams, Ramon Flores, Taylor Dugas and Adonis Garcia. That’s not to mention Ben Gamel, and even Jose Pirela got some center field time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year. Point is, the Yankees have a lot of center fielders in the upper levels, so many that I have no idea where exactly Slade Heathcott will play if he re-signs. Losing a first-round pick in a situation like this — ultimately non-tendered because of recurring injuries — is obviously no good, but at this point, I’m not sure Heathcott is a better prospect than a lot of guys just mentioned. Maybe he’ll be back, maybe he won’t, but I have a hard time disagreeing with the Yankees decision that they could no longer hold onto him at all costs. (By the way, all of this is to say nothing of Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge who will surely get most of the time in right field, and give the Yankees two more legitimate upper-level outfield prospects.)
• A quick checklist of topics for the first couple weeks of spring training: Don’t forget to ask about Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Carlos Beltran’s elbow, CC Sabathia’s knee, Michael Pineda’s shoulder, Ivan Nova’s rehab, Mark Teixeira’s wrist, Tyler Austin’s wrist, Martin Prado’s appendix, Brett Gardner’s abdomen, and Alex Rodriguez’s … everything. Offseason injury updates usually fill a day or two down in spring training. They might take up all of February this time.
Associated Press photo
According to Jon Heyman, free agent reliever Andrew Miller is moving closer to what’s expected to be a four-year deal, and the Yankees are said to be one of the teams in the mix. Heyman says the Yankees and Dodgers appear to be the finalists, with the Red Sox recently backing away.
It would be curious to see the Yankees meet Miller’s asking price while balking at Dave Robertson’s, though Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees are basically taking the same stance on both Miller and Robertson: willing to go three years, but not four years in a repeat of the Phillies deal with Jonathan Papelbon.