Archive for the ‘New York Yankees’ category

Another Slow MLB Off-Season

January 10, 2019

It’s been another slow MLB off-season, and this baseball blogger is finding it hard to find much to write about except how slow the off-season free agent signing period has been.

Is it collusion? Maybe, maybe not.  Given the past history, I’m am always justifiably suspicious when teams stop spending on free agents.  Player salaries were down in 2018 for the first time since 2010.  However, things aren’t exactly rosy for MLB in spite of a currently booming economy.  Post-season TV ratings are down, and eleven teams failed to draw two million fans or average 25,000 fans per game in 2018, with attendance in Tampa and Miami absolutely dreadful by recent standards.

Add to these trends are the fact that analytics have given teams a reason not to spend quite so much on free agents.  Mainly that seems to be playing out in shorter free agents contracts, rather than lower annual averages.

I have been particularly impressed with the accuracy of mlbtraderumors.com’s contract predictions for its list of the top 50 free agents this off-season, at least in terms of the amounts of the contracts that have signed so far.  The main difference between the predictions and the actual contracts signed so far is that many of the contracts are a year shorter than predicted, but actually feature higher average annual salaries.  As such, it really could be possible that teams have simply gotten smarter about giving long-term deals to the majority of free agents, who are not reasonably likely to any good in those last additional seasons.

[As an aside, I noticed that mlbtraderumor’s predictions piece got many comments criticizing the fact that it hadn’t accurately predicted most of the actual signing teams.  In my opinion these criticisms are kind of stupid and fairly typical of a lot of the negative comments people like to write.  With 30 MLB teams, the vast majority of the top 50 free agents are going to have three to five teams serious about signing them, with numerous other teams who see the player as a Plan B if the free agent they really want signs with someone else and also a few bottom-feeders like the Twins last off-season willing to jump in at the last minute if the free agent can be signed as a relative bargain.  That makes it pretty hard to accurately predict which team signs which free agent.  The contract-length-and-amount predictions, and the relative accuracy thereof, feels a lot more pertinent and significant to me.]

It’s also worth noting that we could expect Bryce Harper and Manny Machado to go into January unsigned, as both are trying to wring record-setting deals out of their respective suitors.  Neither Harper (injuries, inconsistency, maturity level) or Machado (maturity level, post-season performance) is without his faults, which means it’s going to take some work to get them the deals that they and their agents dream about.

Like last season, some of the players who haven’t signed yet are going to get squeezed, particularly if they aren’t Harper and Machado — these two will get paid no matter what — it’s just a matter if they are guaranteed $200M+ or $300M+.  Of course, none of the still free agents is going to go to bed hungry anytime soon.

As a final note, I appreciated the creativity of the most recent big free agent signing, that of Zach Britton.  While it guarantees Britton $39M, which was just a little more than mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it provides tremendous flexibility to both the Yankees and Britton.  Britton can opt out after two years and $26M, and after year three the Yankees have a $14M team option for 2022.  Although I have a problem with Scott Boras’ conflicts of interest and his Trumpesque puffery, he is extremely creative in terms of working out the best possible deals for his most elite clients.  I can’t imagine that Britton doesn’t feel pretty good about this deal.

Advertisements

This Year in the Australian Baseball League

January 4, 2019

With this off-season’s MLB free agent signing period slow going indeed, this baseball blogger has been somewhat hard-pressed to come up with topics to write about.  Thus, you, gentle reader, have been subjected to numerous posts about Asian baseball, where the signings of foreign players have been more forthcoming.  Besides, the fringes of the professional baseball world interest me and seem like a ripe topic that few other baseball blogs cover.

Thus, it feels like a good time for a post on the action in this year’s Australian Baseball League.  The ABL isn’t in the same class as the big four Caribbean Winter Leagues (Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela), but is probably better than the Winter Leagues in any of Panama, Nicaragua or Colombia.  It plays a short season, even by Winter League standards, of about 40 games.

The ABL is heavily subsidized by MLB as a way to develop interest in baseball in Australia and to help generate a continuing supply of Aussie prospects for MLB.  I could not help but notice earlier today that, while the ABL’s website provides very detailed box scores, including game temperatures and wind speeds, it does not report attendance numbers, a sure sign that the games are not well attended by the standards of even this level of professional baseball and must be subsidized by someone to keep the league afloat.

The ABL draws an interesting mix of Australian players and Independent-A American players not quite good enough during the summer to secure work in the Big Four Caribbean Winter Leagues.  The Circuit also draws a smattering of pro players from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

The top pitcher in the ABL this season is Shota Imanaga.  Imanaga is a potentially a world class NPB pitcher, who is coming off a brutal 2018 summer season and apparently pitching in the ABL this winter to get himself back on track.

After the 2017 season, Imanaga looked like a potential future MLB prospect, as I mentioned that off-season.  In 2018, however, he went 4-11 in NPB with a brutal 6.80 ERA.  His command deteriorated significantly from the prior two seasons, and he seems to have hurt by the rise in NPB home-running hitting this past season.  He still managed to strike out 80 batters in 84.2 innings pitched, and his performance in the ABL this winter suggests there is nothing fundamentally wrong with his pitching arm, always a concern for a pitcher listed under 5’10” and 180 lbs.

Against a much lower level of competition, and limited so far to six starts and 35 IP, Imanaga has posted a 0.51 ERA and 57 strikeouts while allowing only 14 hits, one home run and one walk.  If nothing else, Imanaga’s foray to the ABL should certainly boost his confidence going into the 2019 NPB season.

Frank Gailey, Ryan Bollinger, Mikey Reynolds and Zach Wilson are examples of typical North American players playing in the ABL this winter.  Ryan Bollinger pitched pretty well in the Yankees’ system last summer, mostly at the AA level, and he struck out 97 batters and 111.2 IP.  He has been signed by the Padres this off-season with an invitation to Spring Training, but will most likely start the 2019 season at AAA El Paso.

Needless to say, the ABL is a refuge for Australian players who just can’t give up the enjoyment they get from playing professional baseball.  Former major leaguer Travis Blackly, for example, is still around at age 36 pitching effectively Down Under (and in the very low Indy-A Pacific Association during the Northern Hemisphere summer).  He’s now pitched professionally in at least seven countries (U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia).

Steve Kent and Luke Hughes are a couple of old Aussie war horses who have played in the MLB system and the ABL for many years.  Hughes played in the majors for the Twins and the A’s from 2010-2012.

More recent major leaguer Gift Ngoepe, originally of South Africa, is playing well in the ABL this season.  After a brutally bad 2018 season mostly for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in Buffalo, which caused him to get released in mid-August, Ngoepe is obviously hoping a strong winter in Oz will get him contract to play baseball somewhere next summer.

Pete Kozma and Josh Collmenter, two other familiar major league names, are in basically the same boat as Ngoepe — Kozma is trying to resuscitate his career after a rough year in the Tigers’ organization, and Collmenter is trying to come back from injuries that kept him out of action throughout the 2018 regular season.  Kozma, at least, has signed an minor league contract to return to the Tigers’ organization with invitation to spring training in 2019.

 

Oliver Drake’s Ongoing Odyssey and Other Minnesota Twins Notes

December 29, 2018

In the aftermath of the Twins’ signing of Nelson Cruz for $14.3 million for 2019, I was looking at the Twins’ now surplus of right-handed power bats, and I happened to notice that Oliver Drake had a very successful 19 relief appearance run (2.21 ERA) for the Twins last season but is no longer with the team.

Drake played for five different major league teams last year and six since the start of the 2017 season.  The reason for this is obvious: Drake has great stuff and has success in AAA, but he has command issues and was awful at the major league level last year until the Twins selected him off waivers.  Drake started the season for the Brewers, was ineffective and then sold to the Indians, probably for a box of crackerjack.  He pitched poorly in Cleveland, and the Angels selected him off the waiver wire on May 31st.  Drake didn’t pitch well in Anaheim, and was selected off waivers by the Blue Jays in July 26th.  Ditto in Toronto, and the Twins claimed him off waivers on August 3rd.

Despite finally pitching well in the Twin Cities, the Twins tried to pass him through waivers again in late October/early November, and the Rays grabbed him.  The Rays tried to pass him through waivers at the end of the month, and the Blue Jays once again grabbed him.  At least once the regular season ended, Drake’s subsequent travels were virtual, rather than real, and Drake is presumably sitting at home waiting to see whom he ends up with in its time to start Spring Training.

With service in parts of four major league seasons now, but only about 2.5 years of major league service time, Drake isn’t yet arbitration eligible but is certainly out of minor league options.  What that means is that, unless he is first released, the last team to claim him off waivers will likely have to give him a major league contract in the $565,000 to $575,000 range.

Well, that’s small potatoes in today’s game, particularly for a pitcher with his potential.  However, the Twins didn’t think he was worth that modest guarantee, and the Rays didn’t think so either once they obtained somebody they liked better for their 40-man roster, almost certainly because he can’t be sent down to the minors if he’s ineffective without passing him through waivers yet again.  He’s also going into his age 32 season, so many teams may doubt he’ll ever have sufficient command to take advantage of his plus stuff at the major league level.

Drake was originally a 43rd round draft pick out of the U.S. Naval Academy.  He now has a career major league ERA of 4.59 with 151 Ks in 137.1 innings pitched and a WHIP of 1.46.  He’s good enough that a lot of teams want him at the right price, but don’t seem to be willing to give him any guarantees.

With the signing of Nelson Cruz and the earlier claiming off waivers and signing of C.J. Cron for $4.8M, the Twins are now officially overloaded with defensively challenged, right-handed hitting sluggers.  Cruz and Cron will get plenty of playing time because of their 2019 salaries unless either gets hurt, but the Twins also have Miguel Sano, who is too young and has too much potential to give up on yet, and also Tyler Austin, who came over from the Yankees when the Twins traded Lance Lynn at the 2018 trade deadline.  With the corner outfield slots taken up by young lefty hitters Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler, one would have to think the Twins would be willing to listen to trade offers for Austin.

Austin is already 27 and hasn’t established himself as a major league regular yet.  He doesn’t hit for average or draw many walks, but he sure has right-handed power with 24 HRs in only 404 major league plate appearances.  He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the San Francisco Giants, who could use another corner outfielder with right-handed power.

Because Austin is out of options, maybe the Twins would be willing to trade him to Giants for minor league reliever (and personal favorite) Tyler Rogers.  Tyler’s twin brother Taylor has had three successful seasons as a reliever for the Twins, and the Tyler has been mighty good at AAA the last two seasons.  Obviously, there would be some great PR for the Twins to have twin relievers pitching on their major league roster to start the 2019 season.  That said, the Twins will probably hold on to Austin since he cheap and provides insurance if Cruz, Cron or somebody else gets hurt.

I have to say that I like the fact that the Twins are active every off-season, seeking out deals at the right price that might reasonably make the team better.  It didn’t work in 2018, but if you keep trying every off-season, it may well work eventually.

Houston Astros Reach Deal with Michael Brantley

December 18, 2018

It’s being reported that the Astros have reached a two-year deal with Michael Brantley for $32 million.  It’s less than the three years and $45 million that mlbtraderumors.com predicted and significantly less than the three-year $50 million deal the Phillies gave Andrew McCutchen about a week ago.

It feels like the trend the last few off-seasons is that the first of similar players like McCutchen and Brantley to sign gets the better deal.  It also fits in with the recent trend that teams are going to squeeze the second tier free agents like Brantley much more than in the past.

Brantley is coming off a fine 2018 and he still runs well.  But he’ll be 32 in 2019, and he missed a lot of playing time to injuries in 2016 and 2017.  In my mind this feels like a fair deal in terms of the fact that there are a wide range of outcomes for what Brantley’s performance will be over the next two seasons.  It could be a great deal for the Astros if Brantley is healthy and productive, or it could be a waste of $25M to $30M if he gets hurt again or suddenly gets old.

I was very pleased to see that the Mets have signed Rajai Davis to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.  Davis, now 38, has had a remarkable major league career for a player of his modest professional beginnings.

The Pirates originally drafted Davis in the 38th round, and the Bucs thought so little of him that they included him as the trade piece in a 2007 deal in which they received Matt Morris and all of what was then a very large $12M remaining salary commitment through 2008.  Morris was dreadful for the Pirates, and Davis was immediately useful to the SF Giants.

Unfortunately, Davis got off to a slow start (1 for 18) in 2008, and the A’s claimed him off waivers.  Davis had probably his best major league season for the A’s in 2009, and that firmly established Davis as a major league player in the eyes of MLB teams.  Davis’ base-stealing ability is elite, but, alas, he’s never gotten on base enough to take full advantage of it.

Davis has never been a star, but he’s always been good enough to stick around and play regularly more often than not during the last decade.  The fact that he’s still around at age 38 is a testament to his abilities to take advantage of the opportunities that were finally afforded to him and to play at a consistently decent level that least one major league team thought he was a low cost way to plug a gap in the outfield.  He’s also been able to stay healthy when many other outfielders have not.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Andrew McCutchen for $50 Million

December 12, 2018

The Phillies have reportedly reached a three year deal with Andrew McCutchen that promises him $50 million.  Although it’s not much more than the $45M guarantee mlbtraderumors.com predicted, it feels like a lot for a 32 year old outfielder who can no longer play center field and had an OPS under .800 last season.

Fangraphs says that McCutchen was worth roughly $21M in 2018 and $29M in 2019 (he gets on base, drawing 95 walks last season, despite a declining batting average and power numbers), and the Phillies are obviously trying to put together a winning team in 2019 and 2020, so the deal makes a certain amount of sense.  It also suggests that the Phillies probably won’t be the winner in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes if they’ve now agreed to pay this kind of money for another right fielder.

The signing is obviously good for Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock, who are roughly in the same group of free agent outfielders as McCutchen, but not so good for Harper who now has one less team willing to bid up his final free agent contract.

There haven’t been a lot of signings so far, but the McCutchen and Patrick Corbin signings don’t suggest that this will be as tough an off-season for free agents as last off-season was.

Billy Hamilton Is Now Available

December 1, 2018

The Cincinnati Reds elected not to offer Billy Hamilton a 2019 contract since he was projected to get $5.9 million through the arbitration process this off-season.  I hope the SF Giants make a run at him, because his defense is still outstanding.

MLB Trade Rumors has predicted the Giants will sign for Diamondbacks outfielder A.J. Pollack for four years and $60M.  While Pollack played center in Arizona, it doesn’t look like he has the range to cover AT&T Park’s Death Valley.  Even signing Pollack for free agent money, it seems like the Giants could find a place for Hamilton with Pollack moving to one of the corner outfield positions.  The Giants’ pitchers would certainly benefit from an outfield featuring both Hamilton and Pollack.

Rumors suggest that the Giants will not be in on Bryce Harper sweepstakes.  The other free agent outfielders available are Michael Brantley, Andrew McCutchen, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones.  All of them are basically corner outfield types who won’t help you make the post-season unless you already have a very good team that needs an upgrade at one of the outfield corners.

Winter League Notes

November 9, 2018

With the free agent market yet to heat up (CC Sabathia re-signed with the Yankees for $8M, but that’s about it), I’ve been following players in the Caribbean Winter Leagues.  Here are a few I want to note.

The Nationals’ Victor Robles is lighting it up in the Dominican Winter League.  Youngsters of Robles’ talent and closeness to the majors usually don’t get to play in the Caribbean Winter Leagues unless they were hurt during the summer season, which Robles was.  He played in only 73 summer season games, so the Nats are letting him get some live game reps in the the Dominican Republic this winter.

Robles’ winter season may well end after only 20 or 25, like Eloy Jiminez last winter, because his MLB team doesn’t want to risk injury.  However, the Nats may want to give him reps since he’s definitely a candidate to make the Nationals’ roster out of Spring Training if/when Bryce Harper leaves for the big money.

Every baseball blogger, I suspect, is looking for players who are much better than anyone else seems to realize.  One of the players I’ve been watching in this regard is left-handed starter Tyler J. Alexander.  For several years he pitched his summers for Fargo-Moorhead in the Indy-A American Association and winters in the Mexican Pacific League.  He was consistently good with high strikeout rates, but couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s attention.

Alexander shook things up in 2018, starting the season with the Sussex County (New Jersey) Miners of the Can-Am League.  The Can-Am League isn’t any better than the American Association, but it probably gets more scouting because it’s on the East Coast.  He pitched well enough there to finally get a contract to pitch in the second half of the Mexican League (Summer) season.

This winter Alexander has elected to pitch in the Dominican Winter League, rather than the Mexican Pacific League, I think because he’s hoping to finally get someone’s attention in a league that pays a real wage.  He’s been great through his first five starts with a 2.13 ERA and 25 Ks in 25.1 IP.  If he can keep it up the rest of the winter, maybe somebody (besides me) will finally take notice.

Two Dominican Winter League pitchers who have done a lot to keep their high-paying summer league dreams alive are Esmil Rogers and Tommy Milone.

Esmil Rogers had a more than $1M contract to pitch in the KBO in 2018, but he broke his hand about half-way through the season and got cut, probably losing roughly the second half of his $1M+ contract.  He currently has a 2.53 ERA after five DWL starts.  If he can keep it up, a KBO team will play him at least $500,000 to pitch in South Korea in 2019.

Tommy Milone was a marginal major leaguer in 2018, his age 31 season.  He’s pitching in the DWL to prove that he’s worth a split AAA/major league contract in 2019.  So far, so good — Milone hasn’t allowed an earned run or a walk in his first four starts, while striking out 19 in 22 IP.  That’s what a soon to be 32 year old player of Milone’s caliber needs to do to show MLB teams he’s worth bringing back for another season as AAA insurance.