Catching up on the past week • 12.29.14
Hey everyone, I’m actually still on vacation, which isn’t a bad thing considering how quiet things have been lately. Here are a few quick just-in-case-you-missed-it updates on what’s going on in the world of the Yankees.
Kuroda reportedly returning to Japan
Asked over and over again about the status of Hiroki Kuroda, Brian Cashman has repeatedly said that he was still unsure whether Kuroda wanted to pitch again in 2015. Cashman said he expected — just a gut feeling, it seemed — that Kuroda would want to pitch, but no one seemed sure whether Kuroda would want to pitch in the big leagues or in Japan. Now it seems Kuroda has made the decision to pitch one last season in Japan before retiring. Despite acquiring Chris Capuano and Nathan Eovaldi, the Yankees seem to be still in the market for a starting pitcher, and another one-year deal with Kuroda might have been a nice fit. His three years with the Yankees were awfully good. Nothing flashy, just good and steady.
Claiborne claimed by the Marlins
The Yankees announced last week that reliever Preston Claiborne has been claimed off waivers by the Marlins. Claiborne, 27, had a nice first month or so in the big leagues back in 2013, but he’s basically been a DFA candidate since 2014 spring training (he went into that camp with a solid chance to make the team, but pitch so badly his 40-man spot was in doubt). During a few call ups this past season, Claiborne was perfectly fine as an up-and-down reliever who could fill in when necessary, but that role can be filled by any number of young relievers this season (Pinder, Burawa, Whitley, Ramirez) including the recently acquired former Mets reliever Gonzalez Germen. It was the addition of Germen that led to Claiborne being designated in the first place.
Scherzer speculation continues
Until Max Scherzer signs somewhere, it seems he will forever be connected to the Yankees. Even with the front office saying over and over again — from Cashman to Randy Levine — that they don’t expect to spend on a big-money target like Scherzer, there’s still some thought that plans might change and the Yankees will decide to break the bank. One such bit of speculation comes from my friend Jon Morosi, who compares Scherzer’s free agency to that of Mark Teixeira. It’s a cautionary tale for many reasons. One is that there’s always a chance the Yankees will make a sneaky play for an expensive player. Another is that such a massive commitment carries huge risk. I’ve written before that, when he signed, Teixeira seemed like a relatively safe long-term investment, and we’ve all seen how that’s worked out.
Yankees pay $18.3 million luxury tax
Taken directly from The Associated Press: For the first time since the current luxury tax began in 2003, the Yankees won’t be paying the most. The luxury tax was put in place as a slowdown on spending by high-revenue teams, and teams pay based on the amount they are over the $189 million threshold. The Dodgers owe $26,621,125 based on a $277.7 million payroll for purposes of the tax, which calculates payroll based on the average annual value of contracts for players on the 40-man roster and includes benefits. … The Yankees cut their payroll and owe $18.3 million in tax, down from $28.1 million for 2013. New York originally hoped to get under the threshold but wound up more than $36 million over. The Yankees have gone over every year, totaling nearly $271 million. New York pays at a 50 percent rate, the highest called for in baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.
Penn State wins the Pinstripe Bowl
I really don’t care too much about the Pinstripe Bowl, and it really has very little to do with the Yankees, but this was kind of a cool Yankees-related-story. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken — a team captain — used Derek Jeter’s locker for the bowl game, then he sent the game into overtime with a 45-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation before winning it with an extra point. Kind of a football version of a walk-off hit in the final at-bat, right?
Associated Press photo
Well, quite a bit has happened since I got on this airplane. Here are some quick thoughts about all of the Yankees pieces that have moved around in the past two hours or so:
Two things that immediately jump to mind about the key piece coming to the Yankees in the Marlins trade:
1. He’s young. In that way, this reminds me very much of the Didi Gregorius acquisition. Yes, Eovaldi has plenty of warts – he gave up the most hits in the National League last season, he’s never had huge strikeout numbers despite his velocity – but he was born in 1990 and has 79 big league starts already. This guy is younger than Branden Pinder, who has some legitimate promise and was just added to the 40-man roster last month. Eovaldi is 24. Masahiro Tanaka just turned 26. Michael Pineda turns 26 in January. Ivan Nova will be 28 all next season. Suddenly CC Sabathia and placeholder Chris Capuano are the only members of the Yankees rotation who are in their 30s. And that’s to say nothing of Manny Banuelos, Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley and — eventually — Luis Severino. Just like at shortstop, the term “upside” actually applies to this Yankees rotation for 2015 and beyond.
2. He pitched 199.2 innings last season. That’s two-thirds of an inning more than Hiroki Kuroda pitched last season, and Kuroda led the Yankees in innings pitched by quite a bit. The Yankees have some obvious questions about rotation durability, but Eovaldi gave a bunch of innings and 33 starts last season. It’s true that a young arm could blow out under the weight of a heavy workload, but that’s an unavoidable hazard. The Yankees need someone who can provide some durability in the rotation, and Eovaldi has done it before.
Jones plays three positions: First base, right field and designated hitter. Those happen to be three positions where the Yankees face real uncertainty about durability and production.
This addition seems to be a safeguard for Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez, but it comes at the cost of roster versatility. Barring another move, the addition of Jones basically fills the Yankees bench John Ryan Murphy, Chris Young, Brendan Ryan and Jones. There’s no longer space for a Jose Pirela-type utility man (Pirela might win the second base job, but that’s not the same as having a guy that versatile on the bench).
So does this mean Ryan to backs up both shortstop and second base, Rodriguez backs up at third base, Jones backs up at first base, and a Jones/Young platoon backs up in the outfield corners?
Here’s what the numbers show: The prospect coming to the Yankees is a 22-year-old kid who spent 2014 in Low-A with a 2.48 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, 8.2 strikeouts per nine, and 1.8 walks per nine.
Here’s what Baseball America says: Just a few days ago, German was named the Marlins sixth-best prospect, and here’s what the magazine wrote about him in connection to today’s trade: “Pitchability isn’t German’s strength right now, but throwing strikes is. He has an easy delivery he repeats well to go with a loose, live arm that produces above-average life on a heavy sinking fastball that sits in the 91-96 mph range and touches 97. He’ll need to develop his secondary stuff to be a future rotation option in Miami.”
Here’s what an opposing team’s scout had to say: “Chance to be a back-end starter or potential bullpen piece. (In rookie ball in 2013), the fastball was 91-94 but needed strike control and polish. Excellent feel for the changeup (83-87) and wider break (on the) curveball (78-81) that needed to tighten. Interesting arm to acquire.”
When the Yankees traded Shane Greene to get Gregorius, Billy Eppler called it robbing Peter to pay Paul. In that way, the Yankees today robbed Paul to pay back Peter. Instead of giving up a young starter to help the infield, the Yankees today gave up an infielder to add a young starter.
Barring another move for someone like Asdrubal Cabrera, the Prado trade leaves second base wide open for either Pirela or Rob Refsnyder, and the Yankees really do seem willing to let those two battle for the job. Doesn’t mean that will happen — if a guy like Cabrera can be acquired on a good deal, I”m not sure they would/should pass up the opportunity — but the Yankees are clearly opening the possibility that seemed to close when they acquired Chase Headley.
Prado was a nice fit for this team — he can play a lot of positions, and that’s nice for a team with so many questions in the lineup — but he wasn’t especially cheap, and trading him let the Yankees get younger in both the rotation and infield. I like Prado a lot, but I think there’s a chance Refsnyder can be just as good offensively while Pirela can be just as versatile (though probably not as good) defensively.
Let me start by saying Phelps was one of my favorite guys on the Yankees roster. Not that he was a go-to source for anything — he’d always laugh at me when I’d try to get real information out of him — but we’re both from Missouri and found that common ground a long time ago before he ever reached the big leagues. When I grew a bit of a beard last spring and kept it through the season, Phelps gave me a hard time about it at every opportunity. I tried to return the favor by giving him a hard time about choosing Notre Dame over the University of Missouri. On a personal level, I liked having Phelps around, and I truly believed — and still believe — that he made some real strides just before that minor elbow injury last season.
That said, I’m not sure the Yankees were ever sure what to do with Phelps. They knew he could start, but it seemed they never really wanted to trust him with that job unless forced to do so. They knew his stuff might play up in short bullpen stints, but Adam Warren and Dellin Betances had jumped ahead of him in that pecking order. He was a useful piece for many jobs, but he never really had a specific job.
In that way, I can understand sacrificing him for a guy who’s nearly four years younger with nearly 200 more big league innings. I hope Phelps gets a chance to establish himself in Miami. I hope his young family is happy down in Florida. I hope he has a long career. I’m just not sure that long career was ever meant to happen with the Yankees.
I know almost nothing about Germen, and what I do know about him can be found on his page at Baseball Reference: He strikes out quite a few guys, puts a decent number of guys on base, and just turned 27 years old in September.
Don’t really need to know much about him to make this evaluation: The Yankees believe Germen is better than Claiborne.
Although he had a really, really good first month or so in the big leagues, Claiborne was never an overpowering bullpen arm and he was never a guy predicted to have a significant role in New York. I honestly thought he might be designated for assignment out of spring training this year, and I still think there’s a chance he’ll clear waivers and stick with the Yankees as Triple-A depth.
Purchasing Germen and designating Claiborne is clearly all about the Yankees trying to get incrementally better. I don’t think Claiborne was meant to play a significant role going forward, and I’m not sure Germen will either.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees just announced the move:
Germen, 27, did not record a decision in 25 relief appearances with the Mets in 2014, posting a 4.75 ERA (30.1IP, 16ER). He also spent time with Triple-A Las Vegas, going 3-1 with six saves and a 2.38 ERA (22.2IP, 6ER) in 18 appearances out of the bullpen.
In 54 career Major League relief appearances over parts of two seasons with the Mets (2013-14), the La Romana, D.R., native has gone 1-2 with one save and a 4.31 ERA (64.2IP, 31ER). He was originally signed by New York-NL as a non-drafted free agent on October 10, 2007.
This trade marks the first between the Yankees and Mets since December 3, 2004, when the Yankees acquired LHP Mike Stanton in exchange for LHP Felix Heredia.
To make room for Germen on the 40-man roster, RHP Preston Claiborne was designated for assignment.
Associated Press photo
Yankees at the break: The bullpen • 07.12.11
This was supposed to be the Yankees obvious strength, instead they’ve spent the season plugging holes and moving Dave Robertson into later and later innings. At this rate, he’ll be their designated 10th-inning reliever by mid-August. The Yankees bullpen has held it together despite a series of injuries and a few disappointments.
The problems started when Pedro Feliciano couldn’t break camp. Pretty soon Phil Hughes was hurt, which forced Bartolo Colon out of the bullpen and into the rotation. Then Rafael Soriano went on the disabled list. Then Joba Chamberlain needed Tommy John. If not for Robertson’s all-star performance, the Yankees bullpen would be a mess. Given the situation, though, it’s been pretty good. CoryWade’s been a nice pickup, Luis Ayala has given the Yankees more than they could have expected, Hector Noesi has filled in from minor league system and Boone Logan has finally had some success after a brutal beginning. All things considered, the situation could be much worse.
At this point, Damaso Marte actually seems closer to a return than Feliciano, but the guy the Yankees really need to get back is Soriano. He would give the bullpen some of the late-inning depth that made it so imposing when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Logan’s shown some recent signs of getting himself straightened out, and that could also be huge in the second half (he was certainly crucial in the second half last season). Every year, relievers are among the most discussed trade possibilities, but it’s worth remembering that last year’s bullpen addition – Kerry Wood – had ugly numbers and was coming back from an injury when the Yankees acquired him. You just never know who might make the difference in a bullpen.
The Yankees have already seen a long line of long relievers up from Triple-A. At this point, George Kontos might have moved to the top of the pecking order. Temporarily lost in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, Kontos has been outstanding with a 2.26 ERA and 59 strikeouts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Back from Tommy John surgery, he seems to have regained a lot of his prospect status. The Yankees also have right-hander Kevin Whelan and veteran lefty Randy Flores putting up good Triple-A numbers. And don’t forget the name Tim Norton. He was terrific before a shoulder injury, and Donnie Collins has reported that he could be back soon.
Beyond the relievers on the verge of the big leagues, the Yankees have had great success with some of the college relievers that they drafted last year. Chase Whitley has already pitched his way to Double-A, Preston Claiborne has a 1.17 ERA and 24 strikeouts in his past 10 outings at High-A, and Tommy Kahnle has a 68 strikeouts and a .194 opponents batting average in Low-A. Ryan Flannery, a 47th-rounder in 2008, has 13 saves and has allowed a total of two walks out of the Tampa bullpen (and this is the second year in a row he’s shown outstanding control). Everyone’s favorite switch pitcher, Pat Venditte, has pitched pretty well in Trenton after a miserable first month.
Is there a new version of Hughes or Chamberlain waiting in the system?
In the past, the Yankees had great success moving Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the Triple-A rotation and into a big league setup role. Could they try a similar trick this season? The Triple-A rotation has been impressive, and guys like Adam Warren and David Phelps have fastballs that might translate to late-inning success. Ivan Nova, too.
The Yankees have Mariano Rivera under contract for one more year, so they don’t have to find his replacement just yet. Soriano can opt out after this season, but surely that’s not going to happen after an injury. Robertson is just now eligible for arbitration, so he’ll still be incredibly cheap. Those are three pretty important pieces coming back next year, and the Yankees should get Chamberlain back at some point next season. There are pieces already in place for next year and beyond. What’s left is for the Yankees to sort through their upper-level pitching depth to decide who can help their rotation, and who’s better suited for a bullpen role in the near future.
Associated Press photos of Rivera and Robertson, headshots of Kontos, Claiborne and Chamberlain
Unable to address their rotation needs, the Yankees have instead built what should be one of the better bullpens in baseball. Of their three major league additions this offseason, two have been relievers. They’ve also locked up two more years with the game’s greatest closer.
In the big leagues
Whether you like the Rafael Soriano deal or not, it clearly gives the Yankees one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. They have two legitimate closers, the Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera, and the new guy Soriano, who could step in should Rivera actually begin to show his age. Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson give the Yankees two young right-handers, while Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan give them two legitimate lefties. As long as everyone stays healthy, the last spot in the bullpen will likely go to a long reliever, probably Sergio Mitre as long as he’s not needed in the rotation. The wild card here is Mark Prior, the former elite young starter trying to make his way back to the big leagues after a series of injuries.
On the verge
The Yankees have proven that a pitcher on the verge of helping the big league bullpen doesn’t necessarily have to pitch out of a minor league bullpen. There’s a solid chance at least one of the minor league starters will play some sort of bullpen role this season. Just last year, Ivan Nova made his first big league appearance out of the pen. There has always been some outside-the-organization talk of Andrew Brackman’s potential as a reliever. The same could be said for Graham Stoneburner and Shaeffer Hall, each of whom is expected to be in the Double-A rotation this year. For now, though, all of those pitchers will continue to develop as starters. The Yankees will keep them there until development or need forces a change.
Of the young pitchers actually expected to pitch as minor league relievers this season, right-hander Ryan Pope, lefty Steve Garrison and newly acquired Brian Schlitter are the only ones on the 40-man. Early call-ups will be wide open now that Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo are out of the organization, and those three would certainly be the easiest to move to New York. Assuming they open the season in Scranton, minor league signees Prior and Neal Cotts could also be in the call-up mix. It might be a long shot, but if Brian Anderson, a converted outfielder, can continue to make strides as a pitcher, he could build some level of prospect buzz as a potential major league reliever. He throws pretty hard and had some short-term success last season despite having not pitched in years.
Deep in the system
The top low-level pitching prospects usually develop as starters — regardless of long-term plans — but the Yankees actually have some notable young pitchers already working as relievers in the lowest levels. The stats that stand out come from three college kids taken in last year’s draft.
Tommy Kahnle was the Yankees fifth-round pick — the highest pitcher they took in the draft — and he allowed just three hits while striking out 25 through 16 innings in Staten Island. Chris Whitley (15th round) allowed a .157 opponents batting average and had 44 strikeouts in Staten Island before finishing the season with High-A Tampa. Preston Claiborne (17th round) also skipped straight to Tampa after a 1.18 WHIP with 30 strikeouts in Staten Island. All three could skip Charleston completely to open in Tampa this season, probably depending on how they do in spring training. The wild card here might be Conor Mullee, a 2010 draftee who moved from shortstop to the mound and put up good numbers in the Gulf Coast League.
Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Dave Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre
Scranton/WB: Ryan Pope, Brian Schlitter, Mark Prior, Brian Anderson, Eric Wordekemper, Neal Cotts, Andy Sisco
Trenton: Craig Heyer, Pat Venditte, Adam Olbrychowski, Josh Schmidt, Noel Castillo, Steve Garrison, Wilkins Arias
Tampa: Tommy Kahnle, Scottie Allen, Benjamin Watkins, Ryan Flannery, Francisco Gil, Ronny Marte, Ryan Acosta
Charleston: Preston Claiborne, Chris Whitley, Conor Mullee, Danny Burawa, Kramer Sneed, Manny Barreda, Juan Marcado, Brett Gerritse
If things go to plan, the Yankees seem to have no room for either of their Rule 5 draft picks, Daniel Turpen or Robert Fish. Things also don’t look good for Romulo Sanchez, the hard-throwing right-hander who’s out of options but could make a run at beating Mitre for the long-reliever spot.
In the minor leagues, George Kontos will surely fit somewhere — probably in Scranton — if he doesn’t stick as a Rule 5 pick with the Padres. There are always more relievers than there are spots heading into spring training, and guys like Buddy Carlyle, Kevin Whelan, J.B. Cox and Phil Bartleski should also be in the running for relief spots in Double-A and Triple-A.
Figuring out lower-level bullpens is tricky to say the least. A lot of my predictions are only mildly educated guesses. Some of those assignments will ultimately be determined by spring training performance. Right now, it’s hard to know which of the 2010 college draftees will skip Charleston to open in Tampa and which of the high school draftees will be ready for a full-season assignment instead of a trip to extended spring training. It’s also hard to know what the plans are for new addition Scottie Allen — who came over in the Juan Miranda trade and has worked as both a starter and a reliever — and it’s hard to know what the Yankees will do with young guys coming back from injuries (Manny Barreda, Caleb Cotham, Gavin Brooks, Brandon Braboy, etc.).
Associated Press photo of Rivera, headshots of Robertson, Pope and Claiborne