Weekend Open Thread

This is the final weekend open thread of the offseason (!) and I feel kinda bad I don’t have any links to pass along, but I was out of town these last few days and didn’t have much time to read. Instead I’ll pass along this Dave Cameron post explaining why the Yankees are the most underrated team in baseball heading into the 2016 season. Health is a significant question. No doubt about it. But the Yankees have a chance to be very good this year, even if some fans don’t seem to want to admit it.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The NBA is in their All-Star break and tonight is the Rising Stars Challenge (9pm ET on TNT), if you’re interested. The Rangers are playing and there’s some college hoops on the schedule as well, so talk about whatever you like right here.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The NBA All-Star skills competition (slam dunk contest, three point contest, etc.) is on tonight (8pm ET on TNT), plus the Islanders are playing and there’s a ton of college hoops on the schedule too. Have at it.

Sunday: For the last time this offseason, this is the final night of the weekend open thread. Hooray for that. The NBA All-Star Game is on tonight (8pm ET on TNT), plus the Rangers are playing and there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about all that right here.

An Even Distribution

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

About a month ago, I wrote about some way too early lineup musings and as the report date for pitchers and catchers approaches, I’ve been thinking about the Yankees’ lineup again. This time, though, the thoughts aren’t about the hitters and their positions in the lineup, but rather their positions on the field.

Going back generations, the Yankees’ offense has always been buoyed by strong up-the-middle hitters, especially center fielders and catchers. Most organizations would be lucky enough to have had one or two players of the caliber the Yankees have trotted out across their history: Bill Dickey; Yogi Berra; Elston Howard; Thurman Munson; Jorge Posada; Earle Combs; Joe DiMaggio; Mickey Mantle; Bernie Williams. The four “worst” players in that collection are borderline Hall of Famers. Throw 20 years of Derek Jeter into the mix–as well as players like Willie Randolph and Robinson Cano at the keystone–and it’s easy to see why the Yankees have earned their “Bronx Bombers” moniker and have had so much offensive success. Of course, this isn’t to discount what the prolific hitters the Yankees have at the corners have done. From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees have had legendary and elite players fill left, right, first, and third. Coming into the 2016 season, the Yankees are set up to have some balance in their lineup, with no position/position grouping dominating the lineup.

Taking a rather general and broad view–the forest, not the trees–let’s look at the position groups of the Yankees’ likely starters and see what we can find. For organizational purposes, I’m placing A-Rod in the “corner” category, since DH is more like a corner position anyway.

On the corners, we have the aforementioned Tex and A-Rod, as well as Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, and Carlos Beltran. Four of these players are going to be a key part of the offense, as, together, they’ll occupy some combination of spots one/two and some combination of spots three-five or six. The other is Headley, who’ll be a bottom of the order guy regardless. On the negative side of things, Tex, Rodriguez, and Beltran are all old and could break down at any time in the season. Headley is coming off a career worst year. Gardner had an abysmal second half. On the positive side of things, Tex, Al, and Carlos are all capable of great power that can help carry the team. Almost anything Headley does will be an improvement. Gardner tends to have good first halves and will (hopefully) be healthy again.

 (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Up the middle, returning players Brian McCann, Didi Gregorius, and Jacoby Ellsbury are joined by newcomer Starlin Castro. Castro and Ellsbury, like Headley, are coming off of forgettable years. Brian McCann isn’t getting any younger and Didi’s offensive ceiling probably isn’t much higher than his production was last year. On the plus side, Castro and Ellsbury, like Headley, likely can’t be any worse than they were last year and there is tons of room for improvement for both of them, especially for Castro if he doesn’t have to be a mainstay of the offense. Despite aging, McCann was solid last year and is likely to provide similar power. If things go the way they should–hell, even if they mirror last year–Didi doesn’t need to be much more than he is on offense, especially given his glove.

The 2016 Yankee offense is essentially the opposite of its pitching staff, the latter dominated by one position grouping: relievers. While the Yankee rotation mirrors the lineup with a healthy blend of risk and reward, the bullpen is clearly where the reliability and elite performance lie. At the plate, the Yankees are in a position of balance, with no group the clear focus or the clear carrier. Despite some risks, the hitters are set to compliment each other, with those recovering offsetting those who may be declining. This team may not have any hitters of the same caliber as the ones listed before–even if A-Rod and Tex are still around, they’re not necessarily what they used to be–but it can still be successful.

Mateo, Sanchez, Judge rank among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Prospect season continued last night as Baseball America announced their annual top 100 prospects list. Dodgers SS Corey Seager sat in the top spot — he was the No. 1 prospect on every top 100 list this year — with Twins OF Byron Buxton and Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada behind him in the top three.

The Yankees landed three players on Baseball America’s list: SS Jorge Mateo (No. 26), C Gary Sanchez (No. 36), and OF Aaron Judge (No. 76). Mateo is the highest ranked Yankees prospect* since Jesus Montero ranked third behind Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in 2011. Yes, that was a thing that happened.

* I’m not counting Masahiro Tanaka, who ranked fourth on the 2014 list. Tanaka was no prospect. C’mon.

Anyway, here is some really hardcore analysis of this year’s various top 100 prospect lists. You’re not going to find in-depth analysis like this anywhere else. Prepare to have your mind blown.

Baseball America Baseball Prospectus MLB.com Keith Law Average
Judge 76 18 31 36 40
Mateo 26 65 30 55 44
Sanchez 36 92 59 57 61

The Yankees have three top 60-ish prospects according to the consensus rankings and that’s pretty cool, especially since Judge and Sanchez are in Triple-A and knocking on the door of the big leagues. Give me upper level prospects over kids in the low minors eight days a week and twice on Sundays.

In addition to the top 100, Baseball America also posted their farm system rankings a few days ago. The Yankees ranked 17th overall, up from 18th last year. They were 18th the year before that too. Considering Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB in 2015, I’d say 17th is a nice step up.

Rosenthal: Yankees, Aroldis Chapman avoid arbitration with $11.325M deal

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

6:43pm ET: The Yankees have announced the one-year deal with Chapman, so it’s official.

6:39pm ET: The Yankees and Aroldis Chapman have avoided arbitration with a one-year contract worth $11.325M, reports Ken Rosenthal. The two sides were scheduled to go to a hearing next Friday. Chapman filed for $13.1M while the team countered with $9M, so they settled a bit above the midpoint.

I have to say, I’m pretty surprised Chapman’s camp settled. It appeared he had a very good chance to win an arbitration hearing since the Yankees were offering less than a $1M raise. (He made $8.05M in 2015.) Other closers with similar service time like Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon received raises north of $2.5M earlier this winter.

Chapman, 28 later this month, had a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings last season. He will become a free agent next offseason and this feels like it will be a one-year marriage. It seems likely the Yankees will make Chapman the qualifying offer and walk away after the season rather than sign another huge reliever deal.

With Chapman signed, the Yankees have now resolved all of their arbitration cases. They previously settled with Nathan Eovaldi ($5.6M), Michael Pineda ($4.3M), Ivan Nova ($4.1M), Dustin Ackley ($3.2M), and Didi Gregorius ($2.425M).

Heyman: Chapman’s arbitration hearing set for Feb. 19th

(Andy Lyons/Getty)
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, Aroldis Chapman‘s arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 19th, one week from today. He filed for a $13.1M salary last month while the Yankees countered with $9M. “If you can’t make a deal, someone else makes it for you,” said Brian Cashman to Brendan Kuty.

The Yankees have not been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back during the 2007-08 offseason. At the hearing, the three-person panel hears arguments from the two sides explaining why the player deserves the salary they filed, then the panel picks one of the two salaries. Nothing in between.

It seems to me Chapman has a pretty good chance of winning the arbitration hearing. He made $8.05M last season, so the Yankees are offering less than a $1M raise following a season in which Chapman had 33 saves with a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings. Aroldis was also an All-Star for the fourth straight year.

Chapman is in his third year of arbitration eligibility and other third year eligible closers like Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen, and Drew Storen all received raises of at least $2.5M this winter. The Yankees seem to have based their $9M filing salary on Andrew Miller’s contract. Miller’s an elite reliever, but he lacks Chapman’s track record.

The Yankees and Chapman can still negotiate a contract of any size between now — and even after, for that matter — and the arbitration hearing. I can’t imagine Chapman’s camp is willing to settle for anything less than their $13.1M filing figure though. It seems like he has a very good chance to win a hearing. We’ll see.

In most cases the arbitration hearing is one day and the panel’s ruling is announced the following day, so we probably won’t hear anything on Chapman until Saturday. Maybe Monday since that’s the next business day.

Spring Notes: Tanaka, Sabathia, A-Rod, Castro, Nova, Davis

Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)
Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training in just six days. Many — or most, it seems — are already in Tampa though, so some early camp notes are starting to trickle in. This is good. I am ready for baseball. Here’s a roundup of recent news and notes from Tampa.

Tanaka begins throwing, may be behind other starters in camp

Masahiro Tanaka has gotten back on a mound after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in October. According to Ronald Blum, Tanaka threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium last week in front of pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Bryan Hoch says Tanaka played catch in Tampa today. Afterwards he said he needs to “get innings in (to) see how I feel” before knowing whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Dan Martin Tanaka’s “throwing program was right on target,” though Brian Cashman was a bit more conservative. “He will enter Spring Training maybe a little behind for precautionary reasons. He may be behind going off the bullpen from the beginning, but he is healthy. There are no issues, there are no hiccups,” said the GM to George King.

CC Sabathia was behind the other starters in Spring Training 2013 after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow early during the 2012 offseason. He was ready to start the season on time; the club limited his bullpen work early in camp, and had him make his first few spring starts in controlled minor league games rather than regular Grapefruit League games. Tanaka could do the same this spring. We’ll see.

“When you pitch a good game, you’re the hero,” said Tanaka, who worked out with his former Rakuten Golden Eagles teammates in Japan this offseason, to Brad Lefton. “When you have a bad game, everyone says, ‘Something’s wrong with the elbow.’ There’s no way to handle it other than to just accept that’s the way it’s going to be. If you want to stop such talk, then you just have to go out and keep winning ballgames.”

Sabathia and his knee are feeling great

You can file this in the classic early Spring Training everything is awesome category: CC Sabathia’s knee feels great and he’s doing very well following his stint in an alcohol treatment center, he told Laura Albanese and Mark Feinsand. “I feel great and I’ve been working hard for the last three months and I’m ready to go,” said Sabathia. “I’m excited … This is the best I’ve felt in three years.”

Sabathia, now 35, usually throws year round, but he took a month off from throwing a baseball while in rehab. He’s been throwing off a mound for three weeks now. “I’m definitely in a good place. You’ve never got this thing beat; it’s always there and I’m always going to be a recovering alcoholic, but I’m in a good place,” he said. “This is my 16th year in the big leagues and you can take it for granted. This whole experience has put a new lease on my career and the way I’m viewing it.”

I’d be lying if I said I have even medium high hopes for Sabathia this coming season — I’ve done the “overly optimistic about CC” thing a few times these last three years — but I’m glad he feels great and his alcoholism recovery is going well. That goes beyond baseball and he’ll be fighting it the rest of his life. On the field, if the new knee brace allows Sabathia to give the Yankees, say, 180 league average innings in 2016, that would be an enormous upgrade over what he gave them from 2013-15.

Cashman reiterates A-Rod will be a DH only

As if it was not already clear, Cashman reiterated the Yankees see Alex Rodriguez as a DH and a DH only going forward. “You’ve got to stop asking Alex questions,” said Cashman to Billy Witz. “He’s not playing any position anymore. He’s a DH. He’s a very productive DH. For us to get maximum value out of Alex Rodriguez, he’s going to only DH. If we have to put him in the field somewhere, we’re in trouble.”

I wish the Yankees would at least entertain the idea of giving Alex some time at first base in Spring Training, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Greg Bird is done for the season, leaving Dustin Ackley as the backup first baseman. It would be nice if A-Rod were at least capable of being an emergency fill-in at first base for a few innings. Alas. The DH spot is his and his alone.

Castro will play some third base in Spring Training

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will have Starlin Castro play some third base in Spring Training this year, Cashman told Ryan Hatch. Castro has not played third since rookie ball years and years ago, and that was only a handful of games. He’s played shortstop most of his career, so he is familiar with being on the left side of the infield. Castro moved to second base last August, and I’m not sure giving him another new position to learn right now is the best idea, but we’ll see.

“It’s too early to tell (if he can handle third), so we’ll take the time in Spring Training,” said Cashman. “If (he) can swing over and play some third for us and spell Chase (Headley), that’s a huge benefit for roster flexibility, but if he can’t, we’re not going to force it … If it’s something he’s not comfortable with we’re certainly not going to force that either. But we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks.”

Nova wants to start, because duh

Ivan Nova, who is currently sixth on the rotation depth chart, told Martin he wants to start this year but will pitch out of the bullpen if necessary. “I’m a starting pitcher. I’m not a reliever, but if that’s what they tell me to do, that’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “If I feel bad going to the bullpen, what’s that going to change?”

The Yankees sent Nova to the bullpen briefly last September, but he never did make a relief appearance and instead moved back into the rotation when Tanaka pulled his hamstring. I firmly believe Nova is going to end up making something like 20-25 starts this year. One or three of the other starters will get hurt and he’ll be the guy to step in. The sixth starter always works more than expected, it seems.

Nova, now 29, had a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 94 innings after coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. He didn’t blame his struggles on the elbow — “Whatever happened last year wasn’t because of the Tommy John. I just didn’t pitch good. If I didn’t feel good, I would have said it,” he said — but I do think it’s fair to expect him to improve as he gets further away from the procedure. That’s common. This is also Ivan’s contract year too. I’m sure he’s extra motivated to pitch well, and the Yankees will happily take it if he does.

Beltran, McCann do not want to play first base

Although both Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have briefly played first base for the Yankees, neither wants to do it going forward, they told Anthony McCarron and Brendan Kuty. “No, no, no. I would do anything. Except (play first). It’s a different animal,” said Beltran. McCann added “I don’t think they want me over there. I don’t move too good. I don’t think they want that.”

Both Beltran and McCann have played some first base in pinstripes, so they’re clearly not opposed to the idea, but they don’t want to do it regularly. I understand that. The Yankees shouldn’t want Beltran or McCann to do it at all. Ideally Mark Teixeira stays healthy at first base and mashes taters all season with Ackley backing him up. If it gets to the point where Beltran has to play first, something very bad has happened. By the way, Beltran told Hatch he dropped ten pounds this offseason and joked he “might try and steal some bases this year.”

Cashman confirms Yankees have spoken to Davis

In the wake of Bird’s injury, the Yankees have indeed spoken to free agent Ike Davis, Cashman confirmed to Anthony Rieber. “We’ve talked to Ike Davis. That’s all I can tell you, really. We’ve talked to a lot of people,” said the GM. “Again, in terms of the Greg Bird scenario, we clearly have a need for an everyday first baseman at Scranton. So anybody that we feel is of quality and can fit that bill and is interested and willing to play in Scranton, then we’re going to have those conversations with a number of different people. But we have talked to Ike as well.”

Ken Davidoff says Davis is expected to sign a minor league contract — not necessarily with the Yankees — at some point soon. Davis, 28, hit .229/.301/.350 (83 wRC+) with three homers in 74 games for the A’s last season. He is a year removed from a 109 wRC+ season, however. Davis is a dead pull lefty hitter with power, making him a very good third string first base candidate for the Yankees. At this point of the offseason, he’s the best option to replace Bird in Scranton. Steve Simineri explained why the Yankees should side Davis in a guest post recently.