Archive for the ‘New York Yankees’ category

Increasing Variability in Free Agent Contracts

February 21, 2017

The feeling I get from this year’s free agent signings is that we are going to have greater variability in free agent signings going forward than we’ve had in the past.  What I mean by this is that the best players are going to continue to get more, while the players who are only sort of good are going to get less.

I certainly haven’t done any meaningful analysis of this issue, so I’m just stating my general impression of this year’s free agency period as it reaches its close.

What I think is going on is that as teams get better at calculating a player’s total value, based on offense, defense, base running, etc., they are going to make their free agent signing decisions based on those increasingly accurate valuations.  Players whom a lot of teams value at more than 1.0 wins above replacement, regardless of how each team actually calculates that value, are going to continue to get increasingly large multi-year contracts.  Those players whom the vast majority of teams value below 1.0 wins above replacement, are going to get a whole lot less, either one guaranteed season or minor league offers.

Sometimes, it just takes one team who values a player much more highly than any other team does and is over-anxious to get that player signed early in the free agent period before prices might go up to result in a contract that seems divorced from the player’s actual value.  The Rockies’ decision to give Ian Desmond $70 million this off-season seems a case in point.  In fairness to Desmond, as a shortstop or center fielder, he may be worth the money the Rockies gave him, and it is quite likely he’ll end up playing plenty of games there, as well as possibly 2B or 3B, as many or more games as he actually plays at 1B in Denver, depending on who gets hurt.

Almost all the one dimensional sluggers did surprisingly poorly this year (Kendrys Morales is the one notable exception), because teams saw that a lot of these guys aren’t consistently worth more than 1.0 WAR when you take everything into account.  Also, there are always going to be a lot more available players around each off-season worth less than 1.0 WAR than there are available players worth more than 1.0 WAR.

In a somewhat unrelated note, Dave Cameron of fangraphs.com rates the San Francisco Giants signing of Mark Melancon as his sixth worst move of this off-season, mainly because the guarantee is so large and he believes Melancon only needs a slight drop in arm strength to lose a lot of effectiveness going into his age 32 season.  Cameron thinks the Giants might have been better off signing a couple of less expensive relievers and signing another left fielder.

Cameron certainly has a point, but it seems to me a little like asking a rooster not to crow when the sun comes up.  Everyone in MLB knew the Giants were desperate for a proven closer after their bullpen’s late season and post-season collapses, and everyone pretty much knew that Melancon was going to be their guy, since the Yankees, Dodgers and maybe the Cubs were probably going to price Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen out of their reach.  And indeed, both Chapman and Jansen signed for significantly more money plus opt-out clauses after the Giants signed Melancon.

Brian Sabean & Co. lusted for Melancon and were going to have him, and the $64 million guarantee they gave him was obviously the price to ensure they got him, since there had to be a lot of other teams that wanted an upgrade at closer but knew they couldn’t afford either Chapman or Jansen under any circumstances.

It’s also worth noting that Cameron listed the Dodgers’ signing of Sergio Romo at one year and $3 million as an honorable mention for best move of the off-season.  I understand why the Giants decides it was time to let Santiago Casilla move on, because they had different opinions regarding Casilla’s role going forward and Giants manager Bruce Bochy had obviously lost all confidence in Casilla by the post-season.  However, I still don’t understand why the Giants were willing to let Romo walk away, if he could have been signed late in the off-season for only one year and $3 million.  There’s definitely a strong possibility that Romo signing with the Dodgers for relative peanuts will come back and bite the Giants in 2017.

The Yankees Have No Class

February 18, 2017

Instead of simply savoring their arbitration win over Dellin Betances (he gets the $3 million the Yankees proffered instead of the $5 million he asked for) quietly, Yankees President Randy Levine publicly blasted Betances and his agents today for asking for too much in arbitration.  No class.

A player asking for too much in arbitration is a win for the team, since it means it’s that much more likely the arbitrator will pick the team’s number.  Meanwhile, Betances responded by saying it will be that much easier for him to leave as a free agent in 2020.

Doesn’t management realize the value of a Dominican American star who was born and raised in New York City?  I’m reminded of Joe Dimaggio‘s hold-out in 1938.  Dimaggio had an incredible first two major league seasons, was an enormous star in NYC, a city with a huge Italian American population, and Dimag thought he deserved to be paid what he was worth.

The Yankees didn’t give it to him, because in those days they didn’t have to.  The reserve clause was in its heyday, and a player had no choice but to hold out until eventually accepting very close to the number the team originally wanted to pay him.

Those times have changed, and treating a box office attraction like Betances like an ingrate jerk just makes no sense.  Betances isn’t quite a superstar yet, and he didn’t pitch well in the closer role late last season.  However, I think that probably had more to do with a short-sample size slump/fluke or the  fact that Betances had been worked hard during the immediately preceding two and two-thirds seasons.

In fact, the Yankees may be betting on the fact that they will succeed in burning out Betances in his set-up role before he can become a free agent.  I wouldn’t necessarily count on it.  A player of Betances’ size and strikeout rates tends to blow out his knees and back before his pitching arms.

Mark my words — if Betances eventually develops into the closer one has to expect him to become and he’s healthy three years from now, don’t be surprised if Betances signs with the Mets for less than absolute top dollar in order to stick a nail in Yankees management.

Meanwhile, the Yankees are pretty much guaranteed to have one of their stars far less happy than he should be going into the 2017 season.  It’s just more evidence that the Bombers are far more willing to be mediocre than they were under King George.

More Thoughts on This Year’s 1B/DH Free Agents

February 13, 2017

Adam Lind signed today with the Washington Nationals on a one year deal with a team option for a second season which guarantees Lind $1.5 million.  The amount of the guarantee is just about the lowest possible on a major league deal for a veteran player like Lind (at least in terms of the unwritten MLB salary scale) and is still something of a surprise considering that Lind hit 20 HRs last season and has a proven track record as a slugger.

I’m not saying that Lind should have received a lot more, but even a $2 million guarantee would have represented 33% more than what he actually got.

In the context of this year’s market for one dimensional 1B/DH players, it ultimately was not surprising that no one claimed Byung-ho Park off waivers.  That was certainly what the Twins were counting on.

However, it is still interesting that not even one MLB team thought that Park was worth a $9.25 million gamble for three years of control for a player whom the Twins valued more than twice as highly a year ago.

For Park, starting the 2017 season at AAA Rochester is probably the best thing that could happen to him.  He’ll get to play every day there, continue to work on his newly shortened swing, and likely earn his way back to the Show in 60 or 70 games.  As fangraphs noted just before Park was designated for assignment, there are plenty of things about Park’s 2016 performance to suggest he still has potential as an MLB player if he can make some more adjustments.

Pedro Alvarez is beginning to look like he might be the odd man out, as there can’t be many more landing places given the recent signings of Mike Napoli, Chris Carter and now Lind.  That said, Alvarez was a more productive hitter than Lind last year, so I expect him to get more than a $1.5 million guarantee, although it certainly looks like he now has little hope of more than a one-year deal.

There always seems to be something of a herd mentality in MLB front offices, and I don’t necessarily think that small contracts for this kind of player this off-season means that these guys won’t get better contracts in future off-seasons.  This year’s deals may have had more to do with the glut of these players on the market — in an off-season where there are fewer of them, they may do better.

Also, if some of these guys on one year deals can do better in 2017, or in Chris Carter’s case, have the same season in 2017 that he had in 2016, they’ll get better deals next off-season.

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter Finally Have Teams for 2017

February 8, 2017

Mike Napoli and Chris Carter finally agreed to 2017 contracts today.  The Texas Rangers have reported guaranteed Napoli $8.5 million for one year, and the New York Yankees $3.5 million to Chris Carter.  Carter can earn another $500,000 in plate appearance based performance incentives.

Napoli’s contract is about what I had been expecting, although the deal reportedly includes a team option for 2018 and so presumably a buy-out.  Carter’s guarantee is less than I expected, although perhaps not a lot less.

Fangraphs valued Napoli’s 2016 performance at $8.1 million and Carter’s at $7.1 million.  Given the age difference, the Yankees appear to have made the more team-friendly signing.  Carter also gives the Bombers a power bat they sorely need.

Carter must feel seriously disrespected after leading the National League in home runs last year.  That could be a good thing for the Yankees if it inspires Carter to try to improve his game and prove that 2016 was no fluke, at least in terms of his ability to hit home runs in bunches.  If he hits 40+ HRs for a second consecutive seasons, he’ll get a much better deal next off-season, regardless of his lack of other marketable skills.

It’s also interesting to see the Yankees engaged in February bargain-basement shopping.  Things have sure changed since George owned the team.

Somehow, it seems like kind of a relief that these two are finally signed.  Despite Carter’s talk of possibly playing in Asia in 2017, he ultimately did get a deal that’s just enough to keep him in the U.S.

Guys like Napoli and Carter, who don’t find the market they were expecting, almost always end up signing before Spring Training starts.  Still, until it happens, there’s always at least a chance that something weird will happen, like the NL’s reigning home run champ playing the next season in Japan or South Korea.

Rooting for Dellin Betances in Arbitration

January 20, 2017

The New York Yankees and Dellin Betances are going to arbitration.  Betances is asking for $5 million; the Yankees are offering $3 million.  I’m rooting for Betances.

This is nothing new in that my allegances are usually with the players: the players, not ownership, put the cans in the seats.   However, in this case, reading that the Bombers renewed Betances’ 2016 contract at the major league minimum strikes me as just wrong.

There is obviously something more to the story.  Even the cheapest, small market teams usually give tiny raises to young players before they become arbitration eligible.

However, many teams, if the player will not accept the raise the team unilaterally elects to give, whatever that might be, choose to punish the player by renewing him at the minimum for not accepting the unilaterally imposed small raise.  I have to think that is why Betances got a $5,000 raise in 2015 which was probably the amount of the rise in the major league minimum and got no raise at all in 2016, when presumably the national cost of living index did not rise and the major league minimum did not go up.

In my mind, it is just so short-sighted.  The Yankees are the wealthiest team in baseball, and even if Betances wasn’t willing to accept the raise the Yankees wanted to give him when the Yankees could set whatever raise they wanted, it is just dumb not to give him that raise.  Instead, the Yankees elected to punish him to save, what, $50,000 or $100,000?  Chump-change in terms of the team’s $225 million plus player payroll, thereby guaranteeing that Betances will never ever give the Yankees one plug nickel when the time comes that Betances is the one with the leverage.

Another element of this story is that Betances is old relative to his major league service time and performance, which will have some impact on his future earning ability.  Betances is one in a long line of storied major league pitchers who always had great stuff, but who took a long time to develop command (some of these guys obviously never do).

Betances finally found his command in his age 26 season, and his performance has been other-worldly since then.  Still, he sees younger guys making more money because they reached the Show sooner, even if they now aren’t as good.  Add to that the fact that the Yankees are so good that despite his tremendous performance over the last three years, he’s notched only 22 saves, because the Yankees always had somebody at least as good with more experience who got the saves opportunities.

In short, Betances feels he deserves to get paid, and the Yankees probably assume that, since they are the rich, rich Yankees, players will always demand top money regardless.   Even so, it’s doubtful that taking Betances to arbitration serves the Yankees in the long run.

Maybe the situation with Betances is soured already.  However, the Yankees are also sending a message to every other player in the organization that each player ought to stick it to the Yankees or the team will stick it to them.

One thing that has to be remembered is that even as rich as the Yankees are, there are some players who might sign for a little less than absolute top dollar because they want to remain with the franchise that developed them or gave them their first big league opportunity or because they want to play in New York.  Some players, like most recently Yoenis Cespedes, really seem to thrive under the brightest lights, or the cultural or life-style options the Big Apple provides.  If you’re a player from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Japan, South Korea or a lot of other places, NYC has a lot to offer.

Whether Betances wins or loses the upcoming arbitration hearing, the best revenge will be staying healthy and continuing to strike out more than 11 batters per nine innings pitched.  That way, Betances will eventually get the big money from the Yanks or someone else.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.  Every pitcher would remain healthy and effective forever if it was solely a matter of hard work and will power.  In the meantime, Aroldis Chapman will continue to get the save opportunities, and the Yankees will continue to work Betances hard as a set-up man, since they know they won’t get any team-friendly contract extensions from Betances and his agents any time soon.

Unless, of course, team and player agree to a multi-year extension before the arbitration hearing.

Nippon Ham Fighters to Post Shohei Otani after 2017 Season?

December 5, 2016

mlbtraderumors.com posted a piece this evening stating that NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters have announced they will post super-prospect Shohei Otani after the 2017 season.  This seems like a real possibility only if Otani made it clear to the Fighters that he wants to be posted.

The only reason for the Fighters to post Otani two years earlier than they reasonably had to would be to avoid him getting hurt.  Otherwise, Otani is clearly worth more to the team than the same $20 million they will get for him whether they post him next off-season or three years from now.

Otani cannot be unaware that he is the best player in NPB and that his major league earnings will certainly be greater the younger he leaves for MLB.  I would expect him to command a $200 million plus contract next off-season in addition to the posting fee.

After helping the Fighters win the 2016 Nippon Series, as Masahiro Tanaka did before insisting that the Rakuten Golden Eagles post him a few years back, Otani’s ability to successfully demand posting is very high.  NPB teams don’t want to look bad to their fan bases by preventing obvious major league talents from going on to greater wealth, fame and professional fulfillment in MLB, particularly when they have reached the top of the mountain in NPB.

I see Otani as strictly a pitcher in MLB, except perhaps for occasional pinch-hitting opportunities if he signs with a National League team.  For that reason, though, I’d like to see a National League team sign him, although I expect the Yankees and Red Sox will have a lot to say about that.

The Current Pitcher Most Likely to Win 300 Games

October 25, 2016

In June of 2009, I wrote a blog piece entitled Of Course, Someone Else Will Win 300 Games.  After the 2012 season, I wrote a post which looked at the issue more deeply, and I concluded that it was more likely not that a pitcher pitching in 2012 would win 300 games.

In two updates to the 2012 piece, I reversed course and concluded that it was less likely than not that a current pitcher would win 300 games.  My most recent post from after the 2015 season is here.

While I am still of my revised opinion that it is less likely than not that a current pitcher will win 300 games, I think the odds are better today than they were a year or two ago, mainly because of the huge come-back season Justin Verlander had in 2016, about whom I will talk about more below.

In my original post, I listed the average number of career wins the last four 300 game winners (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) had at the end of their age 30 through age 40 seasons:

Average: 137 (30); 152 (31); 165 (32); 181 (33); 201 (34); 219 (35); 235 (36); 250 (37); 268 (38); 279 (39); 295 (40).

This is the age of the last four 300-game winners in the season in which each won their 300th game: Maddux 38, Clemens 40, Glavine 41 and Johnson 45.  In short,  and as you probably already knew, you have to be really good for a really long time to win 300 games.

Here are the current pitchers  I think are most likely to win 300 based on their current ages (during the 2016 season) and career win totals:

CC Sabathia (35) 223

Justin Verlander (33) 173

Zack Greinke (32) 155

Felix Hernandez (30) 154

John Lester (32) 146

Clayton Kershaw (28) 126

Max Scherzer (31) 125

David Price (30) 121

Rick Porcello (27) 107

Madison Bumgarner (26) 100

What you look for in projecting a pitcher to have a long career is that he throws really hard, he strikes out a lot of batters, and he doesn’t throw a whole lot of innings before his age 25 season.  That said, Greg Maddux didn’t strike out batters at an extremely high rate, even as a young pitcher, and he threw a lot of major league innings before his age 25 season.  Still, these factors remain relatively good corollaries for predicting longevity in a major league pitcher.

For these reasons, I like Justin Verlander’s chances of winning 300 the best.  His 2016 season, in which he struck out 10 batters per nine innings pitched and led his league in Ks, suggests he’s all the way back from whatever was holding him down in 2014 and 2015 and can be expected to pitch many years into the future, provided he isn’t worked as hard as he was from 2009-2012.

Add to this the fact that Verlander is pretty close to the average of the last four 300-game winners (the “Last Four”) through his age 33 season, and I, at least, have to conclude he’s still got a reasonably good shot at winning 300.

For pretty much the same reasons, I like Max Scherzer’s odds going forward as well.  In his age 31 season, he recorded a career-high 11.2 K/IP rate, he didn’t pitch a whole lot of innings at a young age and he’s really racked up the wins the last four seasons.  There’s no reason to think at this moment that he cannot continue to throw the 215-230 innings he’s consistently pitched the last four seasons for many more seasons to come.

CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw are all ahead of the Last Four.  However, their ability to last long enough to win 300 is very much in question for each of them.  Sabathia had a come-back season in 2016, but he’s won only 18 games the last three years, and I don’t see him at his age, his size and his recent injury history winning another 77 major league games.

Felix Hernandez is well ahead of the Last Four at the same age, but he looks to be on the verge of the arm injury many have been predicting for the last several years.  In 2016, Hernandez strikeout rate was the lowest of his career, his walks rate was the highest, and he threw fewer innings than in any season since he was an 18 year old minor leaguer.

Clayton Kershaw is undeniably great, but he missed 12 starts this season to a herniated disk in his back.  Herniated disks aren’t something that typically heal fully and never return for someone who is as active as a professional athlete, unless they are very, very lucky.

There have always been a lot of questions about whether Zack Greinke can consistently pitch 210-220 innings is a season, and 2016 did nothing to dispel that concern.  David Price has likely been overworked his last three seasons.  Jon Lester has settled into a very nice groove of pitching between 200 and 220 innings a year, and quite likely for that reason has had only one less than successful season since 2008.

Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner are really too young and too far from 300 wins to merit much consideration at this point.  Young pitchers who rack up the wins can fade as fast as Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.

Even so, there was no way a year ago that I could have imagined Rick Porcello would make a list of the ten pitchers I thought had the best chance to win 300 games.  He threw a lot of professional innings before his age 25 season (although never 200 in a season), and he didn’t strike anyone out.  Starters who can pitch but don’t strike anyone out tend to go the way of Mark Fidrych and Dave Rozema.

However, something strange happened.  Porcello has started striking people out, with his 2015 and 2016 rates the highest of his career, while also improving his command.  It’s rare for a pitcher to improve his strikeout rate significantly this late in his major league career without adding or perfecting another pitch or dramatically improving his command, but the information I was able to find on line suggests that Porcello credits making better in-game and between-game adjustments and that he’s getting better coaching in terms of correcting minor mechanical flaws sooner based on video tape analysis.  On the other hand, Porcello came up so young that he may just still be learning as a pitcher and has become better at pitching to each American League hitter’s weakness.

One thing that would help the current generation of pitchers greatly in the quest for 300 career wins is another round of major league expansion.   There’s nothing like a watering down of the talent pool to elevate the best players’ performances.  The Last Four’s generation benefited from expansion in 1993 and 1998, but it doesn’t look like there will be another round of expansion any time soon.