New York Yankees pitcher Ivan Nova throws in the bullpen during a spring training baseball workout, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, in Tampa, Fla.
By Ryan Hatch
The YES Network’s Jack Curry first reported that the Yankees and right-handed pitcher Ivan Nova settled on a $4.1 million salary for 2016, thus avoiding arbitration.
A team source confirmed the report to NJ Advance Media.
Nova was 6-11 last season with a 5.07 ERA, his first back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2014. After a September 12 outing against the Toronto Blue Jays where he gave up six runs while recording just five outs, manager Joe Girardi yanked him from the rotation. (He started again Sept. 23.)
Curry reported that the 2016 deal includes performance bonuses.
The 29-year-old Nova is in his last year of arbitration, meaning he’ll hit free agency next winter. Nova, over six seasons, is 46-33 with a 4.33 ERA. His best season was 2011 when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
Signing Nova means the Yankees only have closer Aroldis Chapman to settle with before spring training starts.
The Yankees have completed six trades this offseason. They made two trades in the middle of last season, five trades last winter, and five more trades during the 2014 season. This is the way the Yankees do business these days. There have been a few free agent signings mixed in, but for the most part, Brian Cashman’s method of roster building has shifted to the trade market.
No reason to think that will change between now and August 1.
This morning, Aaron made a good point in his Pinch Hitter post: the value of trade chips can evolve over time. Just a few years ago, Adam Warren wouldn’t have been nearly enough to get Starlin Castro, and right now a left-handed reliever probably wouldn’t be enough to get Francisco Cervelli.
If the Yankees are finished making big moves this winter, they might still be open for business during the season, so it’s worth wondering which of their players might see their trade value significantly increase between now and the non-waiver trade deadline? The Yankees might not have any offers they like right now, but by late July, could these 10 fetch a much higher return?
Brett Gardner –Really, Aaron made the case pretty convincingly this morning. Gardner has historically done his best work in the first half, so his value could increase if that trend continues. That could be an easy and obvious trade if the Yankees are sellers are the deadline. If the Yankees are in the hunt, though, trading away a productive and presumably healthy Gardner could be tricky. For one thing, the Yankees would need a ready replacement (that means either Aaron Hicks or at least one of the Triple-A outfielders also putting up big numbers). For another, the Yankees would need a trade partner that’s in the hunt with a need for an outfielder, but presumably with pitching to spare. Might be tough to find a match even if Gardner’s value is high.
Ivan Nova – Another fairly obvious candidate, but here’s where the idea of a mid-season Nova trade gets tricky: If he proves himself as a starter this season, that means the Yankees are using him as a starter, which means they probably need him as a starter. Like with Gardner, that scenario would make Nova easy to trade if the Yankees are sellers at the deadline, but it might be harder if they’re buyers. Maybe there’s a perfect storm of Nova filling in as a quality rotation replacement, and then being traded when an injured starter returns from the disabled list (kind of like Warren last season had the Yankees traded him).
Rob Refsnyder – Let’s say Castro is terrific at second base. He hits, he fields, and he looks like a long-time double play partner for Didi Gregorius. At that point, wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to trade Refsnyder? Right now, the Yankees still need Refsnyder to provide infield depth and perhaps fill in at second base whenever Castro is needed elsewhere. He has in-house value as a bench player and as a bit of infield insurance, but at the trade deadline, it might be worth sacrificing that depth to fill a need elsewhere. That would be especially true if Refsnyder has a nice season and looks even more like an everyday big leaguer who simply doesn’t have an everyday job waiting for him in New York.
Nathan Eovaldi (or Michael Pineda) – Presumably, this would be a sell-only possibility. If the Yankees are out of the race at the deadline, but they’re getting good seasons out of both Eovaldi and Pineda, they might have to make a choice. Target one for a long-term contract, and put the other on the trade market to add more young talent with multiple years of team control. If the Yankees are buyers at the deadline and Eovaldi or Pineda is thriving, they’ll probably prefer to keep the pitching to make a run at the playoffs. But if the Yankees are out of it, that pitching could very valuable.
Mark Teixeira – This winter, Teixeira’s no-trade clause stands as an absolute barrier to any sort of trade. Teixeira’s made it clear he has no intention waiving that no-trade clause, and there’s little reason to think he’d reconsider at this point. However, in the final year of his contract — when he can see there’s little chance the Yankees will want to bring him back — Teixeira might be more open to a trade at the deadline, especially if the Yankees are out of the hunt. Spend two or three months living elsewhere might be worthwhile if he has a chance to chase another World Series. And it might be great for the Yankees, who could get something in return while immediately plugging Greg Bird into the everyday lineup. Again, this would only work if the Yankees are sellers at the deadline. If they’re buyers and in the race, Teixeira might not be as open to leaving.
Ben Gamel (or Mason Williams)– If you were an opposing general manager, what would you think of Gamer (or Williams) as a trade chip this winter? They’re clearly redundant for the Yankees, which makes them fairly tradeable, but Gamel is coming off an unprecedented season, and Williams is coming off a resurgent season that ended with another injury. Those would be pretty risky acquisitions right now, but if Gamel can repeat his Triple-A success (or if Williams can repeat last year’s success while also staying healthy), one of those two might begin to look a lot more attractive. Might not be enough to headline a big splash, but might be enough for another Dustin Ackley type acquisition.
Aaron Hicks – This would be a strange player to trade away if his value actually does increase. If Hicks thrives and looks like an everyday player, shouldn’t the Yankees hold onto him? Maybe. But if Hicks thrives while the big league outfield stays healthy and Aaron Judge puts up huge numbers in Triple-A, it might make sense to sell high on Hicks and open a big league job for Judge (who would presumably take Hicks’ role as a lineup regular against lefties while playing occasionally against righties). Sure, in that scenario the Yankees would probably prefer to trade one of the older outfielders, but there might not be a market for those guys. Trading Hicks could ultimately be the best and most valuable way to let Judge begin getting his feet wet in preparation for an everyday job in 2017.
Jacob Lindgren – A good young left-handed reliever with potential to become much more than a left-on-left specialist? That’s a nice trade target for most teams, but the Yankees have somewhat similar alternatives in their system. Not that Chasen Shreve or James Pazos has Lindgren’s ceiling or prospect status, but those two do have pretty good arms, and if either Shreve or Pazos – or both –puts together a strong season, the Yankees could use Lindgren as a trade chip with significant value. Could also trade either Shreve or Pazos, but Lindgren’s prospect status might make him more valuable to a team looking to rebuild.
Tyler Wade – Must like an on-the-verge lefty, a 21-year-old Double-A shortstop has significant value. That’s especially true if Wade can show the same speed, defense and on-base skills that put him prominently on the radar in High-A last season. A young middle infielder like that would be exactly the kind of guy the Yankees would love to develop for themselves, but Wade could be expendable if Gregorius has another good year and Jorge Mateo continues to look like a future everyday player. Teams love to trade for prospects who have graduated to the upper levels and could be in the big leagues within a year or two. With a strong showing in Double-A, Wade could emerge as exactly that kind of player, and the Yankees might enough shortstop depth to deal him.
James Kaprielian – Kind of a break-glass in emergency option. I doubt anyone in the Yankees organization would like to trade Kaprielian this year — in fact, they’d probably prefer that he pitches well enough to put himself on the untouchable list — but if this roster stays healthy and really does look like a World Series contender at the trade deadline, Kaprielian could emerge as the kind of prospect who could headline a significant trade without forcing the Yankees to part with Judge, Bird, Mateo or Gary Sanchez. A good first full season of pro ball could make Kaprielian a headline-type trade chip. Might be worth keeping, but could be worth trading if the price is right.
After the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2013, my email inbox filled with messages complaining that the organization had no plan in place. Key veterans were showing signs of a steep decline, the farm system wasn’t nearly ready to plug any holes, and ownership — despite being on the verge of investing nearly a half-billion dollars in new payroll — was about to balk at the asking price of organizational mainstay Robinson Cano.
What exactly was this team trying to do?
If the Yankees were rebuilding, why were they giving Jacoby Ellsbury seven years and Carlos Beltran $45 million? If they were spending heavily, why not commit to the 10 years it would take to keep Cano, who seemed to be playing his way into Monument Park? If the minor league system really could develop its own impact players, why had the farm system missed the mark so often in the previous five or six years?
With the Yankees in transition two years ago, there seemed to be a lack of trust on every front. The fan base didn’t necessarily trust Hal Steinbrenner to spend money, didn’t trust Brian Cashman to make the right choices, didn’t trust the minor league system to develop Major League players, and didn’t trust Joe Girardi to use those players even if they were developed properly. If there was a plan in place, it wasn’t necessarily easy to recognize, much less buy into.
Two years later, only half of that is still true. And the other half really varies from fan to fan.
Yes, the Yankees have a plan in place. Like it or not, that plan is pretty easy to recognize and understand. Steinbrenner, Cashman and Joe Girardi seem united in an effort to get younger and more cost controlled.
• Steinbrenner has spent money, but perhaps not as recklessly as before, and certainly with an effort to avoid lengthy commitments beyond a player’s early to mid 30s. Even in an offseason with no Major League free agent signings, the Yankees have taken on money with the Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman contracts.
• Cashman has traded for young big leaguers with upside and multiple years of control. As a general rule, Cashman’s trade track record is pretty strong, and he’s been able to acquire a lot of mid-20s talent while holding onto his top prospects. And those prospects really have developed nicely.
• Girardi has begun to trust his young players a little more, giving guys like Didi Gregorius, Chasen Shreven, Luis Severino, Greg Bird and eventually Rob Refsnyder significant roles last season. When Ellsbury was hurt, Girardi was willing to roll with a bunch of young call-ups without the organization making a desperate trade for a proven outfielder.
At this point, it’s easy to see that the Yankees have a plan to get younger and eventually clear significant payroll. Whether that’s a plan worth buying into, though, is up for debate.
This morning’s Pinch Hitter, Aaron, sees the plan as a good way to build a young core while preparing to supplement that core with a big free agent or two in just a few years (when the free agent market could be phenomenal). Aaron sees potential in the players Cashman has acquired and sees long-term success on the horizon.
But not everyone agrees.
Success or failure of the Yankees’ plan depends on the health of various starting pitchers, the development of several young position players, and the production of multiple veterans who are either currently under contract or will presumably be under contract when the Yankees inevitably jump back into the free agent market. Whether you trust the Yankees’ plan might depend on the way you answer these five questions:
1. Do the Yankees have a rotation built for the long-term?
Aside from CC Sabathia, every Yankees starting pitcher is still in his 20s. Age is not a problem with this rotation, but injuries might be. How long can Masahiro Tanaka avoid Tommy John surgery? What’s going on with Nathan Eovaldi’s elbow? How long before Michael Pineda runs into another disabled list stint? The emergence of Luis Severino is certainly a positive, but aside from Brady Lail and Luis Cessa, the Yankees don’t have another up-and-coming starter who consistently ranks among their Top 30 prospects and has also had any meaningful success beyond A ball.
2. Can the Yankees build a productive middle of the order from within?
Beltran and Mark Teixeira become free agents at the end of this season, and Alex Rodriguez becomes a free agent after next season. Getting away from those contracts seems like a good thing, but those three could very well be the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters on Opening Day. That means the entire heart of the order is heading toward free agency, and Brian McCann is the Yankees’ only other real slugger tied to a long-term contract. Losing impact bats means finding more impact bats. In theory, Bird, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge should be ready replacements, but that’s a lot of offensive responsibility on the shoulders of young, relatively unproven players.
3. Are the Yankees going to have to keep supplementing their bullpen?
As last year’s shuttle from Triple-A to the big leagues kept cycling through reliever after reliever, it became clear the Yankees have a long list of internal bullpen candidates. From Branden Pinder to Jacob Lindren to Nick Rumbelow to James Pazos, the Yankees have relief arms with potential, yet the past two winter they’ve spent significant money to add Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Obviously Dellin Betances looks like a mainstay, but the Yankees are going to need a few more homegrown relievers to step up as something more than placeholders.
4. How are the other long-term commitments going to play out?
Because of the money attached, and because the contracts are about to end, a lot of the Yankees payroll attention seems to focus on Teixeira, Beltran, Rodriguez and Sabathia, but those aren’t the only multi-year deals on the books. If he doesn’t opt out, Tanaka is signed through 2020. So is Ellsbury. So is Castro if the Yankees pick up their team option. The Yankees don’t get a completely clean slate in a couple of years. Money saved and player development — from Gregorius and Aaron Hicks to James Kaprielian and Jorge Mateo — could offset some of the problems if those commitments fall flat, but the Yankees are financially banking on continued production.
5. What are the Yankees going to do with their vacated payroll?
This much we know: There is money coming off the books, and the Yankees would like to get under the luxury tax threshold. But what’s that going to mean, exactly? Are the Yankees going to lower payroll significantly the next two winters in an attempt to reset their luxury tax rate, then invest heavily in what could be a game-changing free agent class after the 2018 season? Are short-term spending limits going to leave the Yankees significantly lacking in upcoming seasons? Will Steinbrenner stomach the money necessary to go after a guy like Bryce Harper should he actually hit the open market? In other words, what’s the end game of this new Yankees financial game plan?
By Yankees standards, it’s been a relatively quiet offseason in the Bronx.
With less than a month to go until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the Yankees have spent a total of $0 on free agents this winter. Though they have made some upgrades via trade, acquiring closer Aroldis Chapman, second baseman Starlin Castro and outfielder Aaron Hicks, those moves weren’t enough for a majority of Yankees fans on this site.
Last week, we asked our readers to vote on whether they were satisfied with the Yankees’ offseason. Fifty-five percent of participants voted “No.”
The picture above is from the early days of last year’s spring training. It was taken less than 12 months ago, just a shot of a bunch of guys trying to establish roles on the Yankees’ pitching staff. Right in the middle, you’ll find Chasen Shreve. With his shaved head looming above everyone else is Andrew Miller.
You know who else is in this picture?
Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers, Andrew Bailey, Jose Ramirez, and that might be David Carpenter hidden behind Shreve’s right shoulder. That’s a lot of guys who were worth out attention a year ago, who are no longer in the mix.
Sure, the Aroldis Chapman acquisition gets a lot of attention, and for good reason, but that’s hardly the only change to the Yankees’ bullpen. Only two of the seven relievers who broke camp with the Yankees last season are still in the organization, and the turnover is even more overwhelming if you go back to 2014 when 25 different pitchers made at least one relief appearance for the Yankees. Of those 25, only two are still in the organization: Dellin Betances and Bryan Mitchell.
This is a radically transformed group of relievers. Betances emerged, then Andrew Miller signed, then Chapman was acquired to complete the trio, but as K.D. wrote in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post, the Yankees’ bullpen is going to have to extend beyond those three big names. The team had three very effective late-inning relievers last year — and those three carried pretty heavy workloads — but those three only accounted for a little more than a third of the team’s total relief innings. The bullpen is going to have to extend beyond Betances, Miller and Chapman.
So how does this transformed group of relievers come together to form a complete bullpen? Well, I suppose it starts by sorting through a long list of options. Here are 21 names worth at least some bullpen consideration heading into spring training.
Locked into spots Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller
These three are obvious. The only thing that could keep them out of the Opening Day bullpen would be an injury or a suspension. The later concern is obviously focused on Chapman, who might have to miss some time because of a domestic assault accusation that the league is investigating. There does not seem to be a police investigation happening, but the league doesn’t need a legal conviction to issue its own punishment. As long as Chapman is active and healthy, he’ll be in charge of the ninth inning.
Hard to define Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve
What are the Yankees to make of these three? Do they need Nova in the rotation, and if not, can he be effective in a long relief role? Is Mitchell ready to take on a Warren-type role in the big leagues, or is he more valuable — and better suited — as a spot start candidate being stretched out in Triple-A? Did last year’s first five months make Shreve a natural favorite for a bullpen job this year, or did his final month raise enough red flags that he’s no higher on the pecking order than the other young relievers fighting for a job? These are three pretty different pitchers, but what they have in common is a sense of unpredictability in terms of role and performance. Beyond the late inning trio, these three could be seen as the bullpen front runners, but it’s also possible none of the three will actually break camp in a big league relief role.
Reclamation projects Vinnie Pestano, Anthony Swarzak, Kirby Yates
With two minor league deals and one minor trade, the Yankees have added three relievers with big league experience and — at one point, anyway — a decent amount of big league success. Pestano is probably the biggest name of the bunch because as recently as 2014 he had a really good stretch as a late-inning setup man, and before that he had an excellent two-year stint with the Indians. He turns 31 next month and has strikeout potential. Swarzak might actually be a better fit than Pestano because he’s been a multi-inning reliever in his career, and the Yankees could use someone who can give two or three innings at a time (he might also be a candidate to provide a veteran presence in the Triple-A rotation). Yates is the youngest and least experienced of the bunch, but he did rack up a lot of strikeouts with the Rays in 2014. If the Yankees can get him to harness his fastball, Yates could be a factor. Think of him as kind of the Chris Martin of this spring training.
Triple-A shuttle right-handers Johnny Barbato, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Diego Moreno
Aside from Barbato, everyone in this group shuttled back and forth from Triple-A last season. Moreno is now the long-shot of the group because he’s no longer on the 40-man roster (though his rotation experience last season could make him a long relief candidate). Of this group: Pinder got the most big league experience last season, Goody and Barbato had the best minor league numbers, and Rumbelow is probably the most highly touted prospect. Pretty hard to know going into spring training who might currently sit highest on the perceived depth chart. Chances are, a lot of these guys will bounce back and forth again, but the Yankees would love to have one or two really stand out and make a case for a lasting role.
Triple-A shuttle left-handers James Pazos, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Olson, Tyler Webb
Last season, the Yankees seemed perfectly comfortable carrying three or four lefties in their bullpen (I seem to remember they went as high as five lefties at one point, but that wasn’t quite as manageable). Seems safe to assume the Yankees would be willing to carry three or four lefties again this season. Pazos impressed as a September call-up, and Lindgren carries significant potential. Also, don’t forget about Shreve, who might be in a different situation but certainly factors into this discussion. Without a 40-man spot, Webb is probably a long shot. Hard to know what the Yankees think of Olson, who made the Mariners Opening Day roster last season and was recently acquired in a small trade.
Are they ready?
Luis Cessa, Vicente Campos, Brady Lail
Just to be clear, I’m including Campos only because he’s on the 40-man roster, so we know he’ll be in camp. We also know the Yankees have some faith in him, otherwise they wouldn’t have put him back on the 40-man following a statistically unimpressive season. Are the Yankees planning to move him into the bullpen, and if so, how quickly can he advance? Surely he’s not a big league candidate out of spring training, but perhaps by the end of the season he will be. Cessa and Lail might be more realistic options out of camp, but even those two are probably long shots given their relatively limited Triple-A experience. Most likely, the Yankees prefer to have Cessa and Lail stretched out as rotation insurance in Triple-A, but the team needs a long man and either Cessa or Lail looks sharp, would they be ready to handle a big league job?
Couple of things worth having on your radar this afternoon:
1.The non-waiver trade deadline is August 1 this year
At today’s owners’ meetings in Florida, commissioner Rob Manfred announced that for this year only, baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline will be pushed back a day to August 1. The usual trade deadline, July 31, falls on a Sunday, and it seems the league would prefer a day as busy as the trade deadline fall on a normal work day. No big deal, just worth remembering (though I’m sure you’ll be reminded often as the deadline approaches).
2.No charges filed against Aroldis Chapman
This doesn’t mean the league can’t punish him, but Chapman will officially face no charges in connection to his domestic issue in October. The Sun Sentinel reports that a closeout memo was made public today, and in it the Broward State Attorney’s Office announced that there will be no charges due to insufficient evidence and inconsistent accounts (basically the same reasons no arrests were made in the first place).
The whole situation still seems fishy and uncomfortable. Chapman’s girlfriend initially called 911 and claimed to be hiding in the bushes because she’d been choked, pushed and hit. Now the girlfriend says she doesn’t remember ever saying Chapman struck her and she doesn’t want to press charges. Remains to be seen whether the league finds cause for suspension. Arrested or not, if it’s acknowledged and confirmed that Chapman was pushing or in any way hurting his girlfriend, I would think the league could and should do something.
Just yesterday Hal Steinbrenner said Chapman should be considered “innocent until proven otherwise.”
New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino (40) looks up as he gets Boston Red Sox left fielder Hanley Ramirez (13) to pop out for the first out of the 2nd inning as the New York Yankees host the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. 8/5/15
Speaking with the YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits recently at the Yankees’ complex in his native Dominican Republic, Severino was asked if he believed he could assume the role as the No. 1.
“Of course,” he said. “I think I can be.”
Immediate reaction: While Severino is bright and seems to understand English reasonably well, he’s not exactly fluent. He’s also just 21 years old and hasn’t done a ton of on-camera interviews. So I don’t believe Severino was trying to deliver a statement that he’s the team’s best pitcher. Of course, he might be. He’s immensely talented. He’s young. He’s coachable, from what I understand. Severino, typically humble and soft spoken, was just being positive and showing confidence in his substantial abilities, at least I think.
Background: Severino entered the summer of 2015 as clearly the Yankees’ top prospect, having breezed through Double-A Trenton before dominating with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He stock continued to rise immediately after he was called up. In 11 starts, Severino went 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA. He’ll enter 2016 as a key cog in the Yankees’ rotation, perhaps their most valuable asset.
Verdict: He’s not wrong. In a pitching rotation with a ton of health questions, Severino could establish himself as the ace, and sooner rather than later. The current presumed No. 1 and Opening Day starter, Masahiro Tanaka, has been good the last two years but he’s probably fallen just short of the performance level expected when the Yankees signed him to a seven-year, $155-million deal out of Japan. He’s also got a partial tear in his right elbow that could require Tommy John surgery at any time. Severino might not be far off from being the ace, which says something about his ability and the state of the Yankees’ starters.
Aside from adding a few minor league starters, the Yankees have yet to seriously address their glaring rotation concerns. They’ve acknowledged them, just haven’t added a proven big league starter to provide depth and alternatives. If anything, the Yankees lost their best piece of rotation depth when they traded away Adam Warren.
Is there still time to add some depth?
Rotation pieces on the trade market have been tough to come by — if prices weren’t so high, the Yankees might have already traded Brett Gardner for a starter — but the free agent market still has some recognizable names available. Obviously the top free agent starters are off the market at prices that suggest the Yankees were never really in the bidding to begin with, but there might still be a bit of valuable depth.
Clearly the cream of the current crop, Gallardo turns 30 in February and he’s coming off a 3.42 ERA across 30 starts with the Rangers. Wouldn’t be out of the question to think he could get something close to the $70 million the Royals gave Ian Kennedy. He’s had an ERA higher than 3.66 only once in the past five years. Pretty steady rotation piece, but he’s presumably priced out of the Yankees’ comfort zone.
Bounceback Candidates Doug Fister, Mat Latos, Kyle Lohse, Alfredo Simon
Although Latos just turned 28 in December and could have significant upside if he can return to his 2013-24 level of production, he was so unreliable last season that it’s hard to point to him as a clear upgrade over what the Yankees already have. At the right price, sure, but Latos comes with his own questions. From this group, the name that stands out to me is Fister, mostly because the Yankees very specifically need depth. They need someone who can step into the rotation if there’s an injury, but could otherwise fall into the bullpen. Fister pitched in relief last season, and as a bounceback candidate, he might be available on a short-term deal. To me, he makes some sense, but Jack Curry says the Yankees aren’t interested in signing Fister to a two-year deal, and they believe that’s what it will take to sign him.
Rehabbers Bronson Arroyo, Chad Billingsley, Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Cory Luebke, Justin Masterson, Mike Minor
On a minor league deal or a very, very cheap big league deal, it would be fun to roll the dice on Lee or Lincecum, but those are real gambles. Hard for any team to bank on them heading into next season. I suppose that’s the point of this entire group: they’re all high-risk guys who don’t bring much confidence but might bring some upside if the dominoes fall just right. If someone from this group sees an opportunity with the Yankees and wants to come to camp on a non-roster deal, have at it. Ultimately, though, these guys are even less dependable than the pitchers already in place for the Yankees.
Veteran Innings Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Wandy Rodriguez, Eric Stults, Randy Wolf, Jerome Williams
Yikes. Not the most encouraging group. Maybe someone here would take a minor league deal to play a veteran role in the Triple-A bullpen, but I’m not sure any of these would be a better option than Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa or Brady Lail. These are really just emergency innings eaters at this point, and signing them would mean hoping for a Rich Hill-type miracle. Some of these guys have had nice big league careers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good big league options at this point.
Wild Cards Joe Blanton, Mark Buehrle
Expectation is that Buehrle will retire, but he’s actually coming off a 3.81 ERA in Toronto, and if the Yankees could get that out of their seventh starter, I’m sure they’d take it. But are they really going to sign a guy who’s been routinely clobbered in Yankee Stadium? I’ve always like Buehrle for some reason, and he’s really had a nice career, but he might not be the answer. Blanton, on the other hand, is interesting. He has rotation experience, so he could be an emergency fill-in, but he could also move easily into the bullpen where he was actually terrific last season. Blanton had a 1.05 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning out of the bullpen last season. Could be a nice two-inning reliever who could, in an emergency, be stretched out as an experienced starter. UPDATE: Scratch that. Blanton signed with the Dodgers.
Thanks to the John Ryan Murphy trade, Gary Sanchez will come to Spring Training with a very good chance to win the Yankees’ backup catcher job. Brian Cashman said he would like to “release the Kraken” a few weeks ago, indicating he wants Sanchez to be on the roster to begin his apprenticeship under Brian McCann. The job is his for the taking.
It feels like Sanchez has been around forever — he did sign back way back in 2009, after all — but he turned only 23 last month, and last season he was still 2.4 years younger than the average Double-A Eastern League player. Sanchez has always been a powerful hitter, that’s his calling card, so the focus of his work the last few years has been on the defensive side of the ball.
Measuring catcher defense is difficult as it is, and it has been close to impossible at the minor league level, though last week Baseball Prospectus introduced some new stats that help us paint a picture of minor league catcher defense. Here’s the primer, which is free. No subscription required. Long story short, the new stats measure pitch-framing, blocking, and throwing. All are expressed in runs saved, the standard currency of defense.
It goes without saying these new catching measures are not exact because no defensive measures are exact, especially at the minor league level. These are estimations more than anything, and for our purposes, that will work. I want to look at Sanchez’s defensive progress in general. Let’s dive into his year-by-year improvement.
2012: 68 games at Low-A and 48 games at High-A
(FRAA is Fielding Runs Above Average. It’s simply framing plus blocking plus throwing.)
Heading into the 2012 season, Baseball America (subs’ req’d) said the then-19-year-old Sanchez struggled to catch breaking balls, so much so that “some scouts believe he’s a lost cause as a receiver.” Their scouting report did say he had “plus arm strength,” which has been the one defensive constant throughout Sanchez’s career. The kid’s always had a rocket.
The numbers say Sanchez was slightly below average blocking balls in the dirt in 2012, and his throwing was average. (The combined average caught stealing rate for the South Atlantic League and Florida State League was 28% that year.) The knock on Sanchez’s throwing for most of his career was his release, not his arm strength. He took forever to get rid of the ball, and when you do that, the arm strength plays down.
At this point of his career, Sanchez was close to a bat-only prospect. He hit .290/.344/.485 (129 wRC+) with 18 homers in 116 total games that year, and holy crap, that’s incredible for a 19-year-old catcher in full season ball. It was very clear Sanchez could hit. His defense lagged big time.
2013: 94 games at High-A and 23 games at Double-A
+0.0 at Double-A
Apparently scouts saw some improvement in Sanchez’s defense during that 2012 season. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said Sanchez had “solid athleticism and receiving skills” going into 2013, which is much better than the whole lost cause thing we read a few paragraphs ago. Baseball America again lauded Sanchez’s arm but did note he was “an erratic defender prone to lapses in receiving.”
The blocking numbers got much worse in 2013. Sanchez is a big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 235 lbs. on the team’s official site right now, and he was a little chunky back in A-ball — and he’s not the most mobile catcher, so it was understandable why he struggled to block pitches in the dirt. He did reach Double-A that year, which is where pitchers start to combine stuff with command.
The throwing was very good, however. The combined average caught stealing rate for the Florida State League and Eastern League was only 31% that year, so Sanchez was far above that. The “he can really throw but his receiving sucks” defensive profile isn’t uncommon for young catchers — many of those guys end up on the mound if they can’t hit, like Kenley Jansen — and Sanchez fit the profile to a T.
2014: 110 games at Double-A
The 2014 season is when we first started to see some generally positive defensive scouting reports on Sanchez. Before the season, Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “still needs to work on blocking balls,” but his “arm has been rated as high as an 80 by some scouts.” And, for the first time, he “took charge behind the plate and was handling staffs with much more authority than in years past.”
We don’t have much framing data for 2012 or 2013 because it isn’t available for Single-A that far back, so the 2014 season is the first time we have a decent sample of framing data for Sanchez. And wow, he really performed well. I am still very skeptical of framing stats — especially for minor leaguers since there’s no PitchFX (they’re just estimations) — but it is obviously a valuable skill, and BP’s stats suggest Sanchez was really good at it a year ago.
The blocking was still below average but better in 2014 than it was in 2013, and the throwing remained excellent. I wouldn’t say Sanchez’s framing improved in 2014 — we don’t have any reliable numbers for 2012-13 — but it looks like his blocking ability did. Progress? Progress! At least based on this admittedly imperfect stats.
2015: 58 games at Double-A and 35 games at Triple-A
The scouting report from Baseball America (subs. req’d) heading into last season said Sanchez’s arm “remains an impressive tool” while adding he is “still working to become more adept as a receiver and a blocker.” That jibes with the numbers so far. The throwing stats love him but the blocking stats haven’t.
The framing numbers came back to Earth a bit last year, but again, Sanchez’s blocking improved. He went from -5.5 blocking runs in 2013 to -1.5 in 2014 to +0.0 in 2015. At the same time, his throwing numbers have actually gotten worse. Sanchez’s caught stealing rate remains really good — the combined average for the Eastern League and International League was a 30% caught stealing rate in 2015 — but it has been trending down, and his throwing runs total has fallen from +2.5 to +1.9 to +0.0.
Interestingly enough, Eric Longenhagen (subs. req’d) saw Sanchez in the Arizona Fall League, and said he “showed signs of fixing the glacial way he rises from his crouch when he throws down to second base by often just eliminating the middle man and throwing from his knees.” Unconventional? Sure. But hey, if it works, great. I could have sworn MLB.com had video of such a throw, but apparently not. For shame. (If anyone finds it, let me know.)
After the 2015 season Baseball America (subs. req’d) said Sanchez has “an extremely strong arm” and has “spent years refining his receiving and blocking.” The scouting report also said he “still has some polish to add as a receiver,” which makes sense because, you know, he just turned 23. No one is a finished product at that age, especially not a catcher defensively.
Point is, Sanchez’s defense seems to have come a long way from “lost cause” based on the both the scouting reports and stats. The stats are still somewhat rudimentary of course, but they continue to get better with each passing year. That they match up with what the scouts are saying — blocking needs work, arm is great, etc. — is encouraging. We’re on the right track.
The Yankees value catcher defense highly — they’ve traded away bad glove catcher prospects like Jesus Montero and Peter O’Brien in recent years — and they’ve been very patient with Sanchez the last few seasons. His bat was always going to buy him time, and lately his defense appears to be improving as well, so much so the team was comfortable trading Murphy.
Sanchez figures to get his first real opportunity at the big league level this coming season, and surely the Yankees hope his glovework will improve even more under McCann, Joe Girardi, and Tony Pena. His bat will forever be his main tool. But, if he is able to settle in as even an average defensive MLB catcher, Sanchez will be an incredibly valuable asset for the Yankees.
Luis Arroyo (r.) saved 13 of Whitey Ford’s 25 wins during the 1961 season for the Yanks.
The joke around the Yankees back in 1961 went something like this, as Bobby Richardson recalls: “We used to kid that Whitey could only go so far and Luis would pick him up and finish.”
Yes, in a Yankee season dominated by the chase for baseball’s home run record by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and a World Series title, little Luis Arroyo, a relief pitcher, of all things, was one of the most important men to wear pinstripes. In fact, he saved 13 of Whitey Ford’s 25 victories.
And Arroyo, who died at age 88 last week in his native Puerto Rico, will always have a place in Yankee history for that remarkable season. And because he was the first player born in Puerto Rico to suit up for the Yankees.
“I was sure sorry to hear about Luis,” Richardson says. “I remember so well how much he meant to the ballclub, especially in 1961. It was a great year for him. It seems like he was coming in every game.”
While the M&M Boys pursued Babe Ruth’s hallowed record, Arroyo had a relief season for the ages in an era when pitching was not nearly as specialized as it is now. Arroyo, a 5-8 lefty, used a devastating screwball to go 15-5 with a 2.19 ERA and a then-record 29 saves. He also was 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in the World Series win over the Reds.
Arroyo finished sixth in the AL MVP voting — Maris was first, Mantle second and Ford fifth.
In the 1979 book “The Relief Pitcher” author John Thorn relates an anecdote in which the Yankees gave Ford a day at the Stadium late in the year. At one point, a truck came in from center field with a giant roll of Lifesavers on it. As Thorn, who is now Major League Baseball’s official historian, wrote, “As it neared Ford, out popped Arroyo!”
Both Richardson and Joe Pepitone, who was not on the 1961 team but was Arroyo’s teammate in 1962-63, recall that Arroyo enjoyed a cigar.
Pepitone chuckles softly when he starts talking about his old teammate and notes that he tracked Arroyo’s ‘61 season from the minors, enjoying how much help Arroyo gave Ford. “Whitey Ford’s pickup guy,” Pepitone says. “I followed Luis’ season. I knew how great he was then.”
Then Pepitone tells of how when they were teammates, Arroyo would deliver a playful warning: “They all knew I liked to stay out late back then,” Pepitone says. “Luis might have a stogie in his mouth and he’d look at me and say, ‘Pepi, don’t fool with my money.
‘Get some rest!’
“He was a gentleman,” Pepitone adds. “He was very quiet and he always did his job.”
Arroyo, a native of Penuelas, Puerto Rico, did not make the majors until he was 28 years old. He was 11-8 for the Cardinals in 1955 and even made the All-Star team, but bounced around to the Pirates and Reds afterward. The Yankees bought him from the Cincinnati organization in July of 1960 when he was already 33. Their $30,000 investment was worth it — he went 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA the rest of the ‘60 season and soared in ‘61.
Arroyo dealt with threats and racism during his career, too. Bill Francis, senior researcher at the Baseball Hall of Fame, wrote in a 2013 piece in Yankees Magazine about the Yankees’ early Latin American stars. In it is an anecdote in which Arroyo gets a death threat in a letter delivered to his hotel.
The letter’s author said if Arroyo took the Stadium mound again, “I will shoot you through the head.” Arroyo wanted to pitch anyway, saying, “I’ll pitch when they call on me — here or any other place,” Francis wrote.
When Arroyo came into a game the next day, he claimed he wasn’t even thinking about the hate: “All I knew was I had the bases loaded,” Arroyo told Francis.
Arroyo did not have the same success in 1962 or 1963 and by the end of ‘63, he was finished in the majors. He retired with a 40-32 record, 45 saves and a 3.93 ERA in 244 games. He spent time as a Yankee scout and his bio on the website of Society for American Baseball Research gives him credit for signing Ricky Ledee.
The SABR bio also notes that Arroyo was “one of Puerto Rico’s most celebrated and best-loved baseball players.”
“Everybody liked him,” Richardson says. “I know our team respected him tremendously. There was a great rapport there.”