2015 Season Previews: New York Yankees

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

New York Yankees

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 80-82 (4th in AL East, 19th in MLB)

Manager: Joe Girardi (648-486 in seven seasons with New York, 726-570 in eight seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 3B Chase Headley (3.8), OF Jacoby Ellsbury (3.7), RHP Masahiro Tanaka (3.5)

Bounce-back Player: 3B/DH Alex Rodriguez

ARod is a miserable human being. He is a cheat, a liar, a disgrace to the game, and a $64 million financial burden over the next three seasons for a team that doesn’t appear to want anything to do with him. That appears to be fine for Rodriguez, who took to ESPN for a profile that painted him as a man who struggles with reality; however, the reality for baseball fans is that he is back on the field, healthy and rejuvenated, and ready to play and make an impact. His success depends on how much time the Yankees are willing to give him on the field. Since the club has Chase Headley, Garret Jones, and Mark Teixeira ahead of him on the depth charts at first, third, and DH, it remains to be seen how he will be used. Rodriguez, though, still has something left in the tank, working out with Barry Bonds (laugh and talk about PEDs all you want) to change his swing and strengthen his production as he ages. Rodriguez could be washed up or he could be a surprising producer. It may be unreasonable to ever expect good things from Rodriguez, on the field and off, but I see a man who, with 500 plate appearances, is capable of 20 to 25 home runs, making him quite useful -still- in an offense-starved league.

Courtesy: NY Daily News
Nathan Eovaldi’s fastball will finally miss some bats in 2015 Courtesy: NY Daily News

Fantasy Player to Watch: RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi’s impressive fastball (4th fastest in MLB in 2014) has put him on the radar for a number of years, but he hasn’t taken a step toward dominance that many with similar electricity have. For example, even with the strong, dominant fastball, Eovaldi allowed 10.1 hits per nine, while striking out just 6.4 per nine. The positive in the low strikeout rate, however, is that Eovaldi walked just 1.9 per nine (3.3 K:BB), which may allow him to be a force if he was to miss a few more bats with his very straight fastball. While people may look to the fact that he is now pitching in the AL East and must deal with the incredible offenses there, you can look at a 25-year-old right-hander who is about to hit his peak. If Eovaldi is able to take a step forward, he’s going to take off and become quite dominant. If you can get him now, before that happens, you can thank me later.

Offseason Overview: The Yankees found their replacement for Derek Jeter when they acquired Didi Gregorius from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-way deal that included Shane Greene going to Detroit. Gregorius is now in his third organization, which shows that people still think he is valuable, but he had negative defensive value in 2014 and his .653 OPS doesn’t help his outlook if his defense is falling off. At just 25, he still has enough potential to outproduce Jeter. Eovaldi, as mentioned above, should be a nice addition to the staff, and with Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda at the top of the rotation, they need Eovaldi to produce and be healthy, something they can’t quite count on out of the other two. Dellin Betances should step right into the closer’s role and be an Aroldis ChapmanCraig Kimbrel type of dominator, which is necessary after David Robertson left for Chicago. Re-signing Headley at third base was necessary due to the unknown of Alex Rodriguez, and Stephen Drew was brought back after a horrific 46 game audition last season, but both are more capable with their gloves than they are with their bats. The Yankees could have one of the best defensive clubs in baseball in 2015 for that reason.

The Verdict: The Yankees aren’t going to be worse in 2014. A full season of Headley should outproduce what Yangervis Solarte was able to do in 2014, and there is more to Brian McCann (.692 OPS), Teixeira (.711 OPS), and Jacoby Ellsbury (.747 OPS) than what they showed last season. The biggest question mark is their pitching. Michael Pineda threw 76.1 innings in 2014, his first in the majors since 2011, after having dealt with major shoulder issues, Masahiro Tanaka is pitching through a partially torn UCL, and CC Sabathia missed all but eight starts due to a right knee injury. Are they going to get enough out of these three to remain competitive? They have Scott Baker, Chris Capuano, and Ivan Nova as pitching depth, but if those three make significant contributions, the Yankees are going to be in really bad shape. It is fair to highly doubt that Tanaka makes it through the 2015 season, and, for that reason, the club will, at some point, be without a number one starter. It also seems fair to think that a winning season is highly unlikely without things breaking completely right. Those things include:

1) 180 or more innings from Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia

2) More productive seasons from Headley, Drew, Ellsbury, Teixeira, and McCann

3) A miracle

The Yankees PECOTA seems right in 2015, but without the above things happening, it is doubtful that they reach 80 wins.

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Gardner’s Extension: Planting a Seed of Stupidity in Spending

Yankees OF Brett Gardner
Yankees OF Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner is a good baseball player. He has been around since 2008, but he didn’t really get a full-time shot until 2010. He posted a 6.0 WAR in 2010 due to his 97 runs, 47 stolen bases, 79 walks, and solid defense while manning left field  (123 games) and center field (44 games) throughout that season. He followed that up with a good 2011, compiling a 4.9 WAR and leading the American League in stolen bases (49) while seeing his wRC+ fall below 100 (97). The 2012 season was lost due to right elbow surgery (he played in 16 games), and the 2013 season was solid (3.2 WAR), while Gardner become better than league average in creating runs (108 wRC+) while leading the AL in triples (10) and manning center full-time for an injury-crippled Yankee squad.

However, this winter, the Yankees have been very active, acquiring a new catcher in Brian McCann, a solid rotation addition in Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, and adding one of the elite players on the open market – Jacoby Ellsbury – from their division rival, Boston. This clearly improved the roster and should allow the Yankees to be much more competitive in 2014 and beyond, but with these additions, especially the addition of Ellsbury, Gardner’s name was listed throughout many rumors, as his bat isn’t going to produce the numbers that many corner outfielders are capable of.

On Sunday, the Yankees signed Gardner to a four-year, $52 million extension. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had this to say about the signing:

“He would be a leadoff hitter and playing center field for most organizations because most organizations don’t have multiple center-field options. There are certain places that need a center fielder and would love to have a leadoff hitter. He fit that criteria, and you have to pay him that way.”

Do you?

Gardner3Are there other teams out there that have two players locked into the same role, and, why, when the club was so cautious (prior to this offseason) of the payroll, was it necessary to give a decent player $13 million per season in average annual value for his age 31 to 34 seasons, when he will, likely, be less likely to run and maintain defensive value?

The Atlanta Braves just signed Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million extension last week, so it wouldn’t be ideal for the Braves to try to sign Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz to a deal similar to what the Dodgers paid Erisbel Arruebarruena, as both are defensive-minded shortstops, though Simmons showed unexpected pop in 2013. Should the Yankees be excused from this type of investment because of their revenue streams?

Sure, there are other teams that have decided to employ solid defense in the outfield, potentially leaving some runs on the base paths to ensure that it is harder for the opposition to score. The Cleveland Indians, for example, went into the 2013 season with three capable center fielders in their outfield – Michael Brantley in left, Michael Bourn in center, and Drew Stubbs in right – and they became contenders, winning 92 games in 2013 after winning just 68 in 2012. Certainly, Nick Swisher‘s addition, improved production from Jason Kipnis, and surprising seasons from Yan Gomes and Ubaldo Jimenez helped, but…maybe it was the defense.

The Angels had Peter Bourjos penciled into center in 2013 until hamstring and wrist injuries kept him on the disabled list for 106 games in 2013. With Bourjos, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton, the Angels, on paper, had a group of three center fielders, as well; although, it would be a reach to consider Hamilton a center fielder at this point. There is also the dynamic offensive numbers that Trout can put up wherever he is playing that separates him from any of the Indians’ outfielders, as well as Gardner – so with Bourjos gone and J.B. Schuck and Kole Calhoun taking his spot, Trout manned center and, once again, posted MVP-caliber numbers while the Angels finished with a disappointing 78 wins.

There are certainly arguments for defensive value that make the Gardner extension reasonable, but $13 million per season seems like a lot of money for the 20th most valuable outfielder in baseball from 2013, tied with Rays’ outfielder Desmond Jennings and Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton with a 3.2 WAR. There are so many other options who could have been more affordable for New York as players like Coco Crisp, Marlon Byrd, and Shane Victorino could have been available to them, and they each posted more productive seasons while earning similar totals to what Gardner will earn from 2015 through 2018. 

Beyond Gardner’s peers, should the Yankees be concerned about his production when compared to his past production?

Season PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG WAR
2008 141 0 18 16 13 5.7 21.3 0.296 0.228 0.283 0.299 1.1
2009 284 3 48 23 26 9.2 14.1 0.311 0.270 0.345 0.379 2.3
2010 569 5 97 47 47 13.9 17.8 0.340 0.277 0.383 0.379 6.0
2011 588 7 87 36 49 10.2 15.8 0.303 0.259 0.345 0.369 4.9
2012 37 0 7 3 2 13.5 18.9 0.417 0.323 0.417 0.387 0.3
2013 609 8 81 52 24 8.5 20.9 0.342 0.273 0.344 0.416 3.2

His best season will be three-plus years ago when the 2014 season starts and his production has been all over the place since then. You can see that Gardner’s walk rate has gone from 13.9 percent  in his breakout 2010 to 8.5 percent in 2013, while, at the same time, his strikeout rate jumped to a full-season worst 20.9 percent in 2013. Gardner may have been pressing due to a need to be productive with all of the injuries around him, but if he isn’t on base, he isn’t running, and if he isn’t running, where does his value lie? It lies in his defense and if he isn’t playing center field, does that decrease his overall value?

Gardner2Again, there is such a thing as an elite defense, but teams tend to want big offensive production from their corner spots. Brett Gardner is not as sexy in left as he is in center, and with Jacoby Ellsbury unlikely to ever reach the outlier power numbers that he showed in 2011 ever again, there isn’t room for error, regression, or depreciation in Gardner’s skill-set over the next four seasons for him to be worth this investment.

Whether a win is worth $5 million, $7 million, or it is immeasurable, this contract seems unlikely to contain any room for surplus value for the Yankees.

While the Yankees may be able to afford a failed investment that a team like the Reds, Rays, or Pirates can’t, but $52 million for a league-average player doesn’t seem like a wise investment – cost of a win be damned.

Losing the Captain and the Heart of Baseball

Derek Jeter, Courtesy: ian-oconnor.com
Derek Jeter, Courtesy: ian-oconnor.com

Derek Jeter announced that the 2014 season would be his last on Wednesday, giving fans a full season of farewells, just as the league provided (along with some wonderful parting gifts) to the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, during the 2013 season. After 20 seasons of Hall of Fame worthy production, it may be fair to wonder if a part of the New York Yankees will disappear with him.

Posada, Rivera, Jeter, and Pettitte - The "Core Four"
Posada, Rivera, Jeter, and Pettitte – The “Core Four”

The “Core Four” of the Yankee dynasty will officially be gone after the 2014 season. Jeter, Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte, led the Yankees to five World Series titles and seven American League pennants over 17 playoff appearances since the start of the 1995 season. While Pettitte and Posada slowly faded away from the club, the departure of Rivera and Jeter seem to sting a bit more.

It was easy to connect Rivera to this generation of Yankee dominance – as he was responsible for finishing 952 games and collecting a save in 652 of them, not counting his 42 postseason saves and 0.70 ERA over 141 postseason innings. Rivera and “Enter Sandman” were connected to that dominance and the lack of hope that so many opposing teams felt from this era of Yankee success.

YankeesHowever, it was and always has been Derek Jeter as the heart and soul of this group. With the names of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio hanging behind him and around him, Jeter overcame the shadows of greatness to become a lingering figure for those who will come next, creating an unreasonable expectation for the man who steps foot at shortstop from Opening Day 2015 and beyond – just as David Robertson will face as the new closer in 2014.

The accolades were numerous for Jeter:

  • Five-time Gold Glove winner
  • Five-time Silver Slugger winner
  • 13 All-Star games
  • 3,316 hits (10th all-time) NOTE: Jeter is 198 hits from Tris Speaker (5th), 119 hits from Cap Anson (6th), and 104 hits from Honus Wagner (7th)
  • 1996 American League Rookie of the Year
  • 2000 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player
  • 2000 World Series Most Valuable Player
  • Two-time American League Hank Aaron Award winner (2006, 2009)
  • 2009 American League Roberto Clemente Award winner
  • 2010 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award winner

Jeter1While all of those awards and honors detail his effort and character, the immeasurable value of his leadership will remain one of his most impressive skills and traits. He overcame the distractions of Alex Rodriguez, Pettitte, and Jason Giambi, when their names were linked to the Mitchell Report and other steroid rumor. Additionally, he undertook a leadership role in leading baseball back to provide healing for America after the 9/11 attacks, and, while the Yankees dropped Game Seven to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, he has still found a way to cope with the insanity of the New York media circus and the audacity of those around him, or in the game, who have attempted anything to get an edge.

Based on what we know, Derek Jeter is clean – outside of the laundry list of women that he has cycled through over the years; however, Jeter is New York – he is the Joe Namath face of the game, he is the water cooler and hot dog stand conversation between fans, he is the neon lights and the hustle and bustle of Times Square, and he is pinstripes and the lore that comes with the Yankee franchise.

Sure, the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann, but none of those men will be Jeter. No one will ever be Derek Jeter. While some baseball players leave a legacy of numbers and amazing stories, Derek Jeter has touched the game in a different way. Even after being tied to the “Core Four” for such a large part of his career, Jeter separated himself to become a larger part of baseball in New York.

Jeter is the Yankees. Jeter is the pinstripes. Jeter is New York. Jeter is Major League Baseball.

When he leaves the game after the 2014 season, the heart of the game will need to beat a little harder for the rest of baseball to work. While the Yankees may wonder how to replace Jeter for quite some time, Major League Baseball as a whole has to do the same thing.

With all teams reaching Spring Training by the end of this week, the 2014 season just became a bit more special. While the tributes, gifts, and focus on Derek Jeter may become obnoxious by the All-Star break, he has earned it. Love or hate the Yankees, you still have to respect Jeter.

Pretend GM: Signings and Trades That Should Be Made

With the big signing of Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees on Wednesday, the market for free agency and trades could explode over the next several days. With that in mind, I was thinking about some deals that would make tremendous sense for several teams…although, they could just make sense to me. Regardless, here are some deals that I’d like to see made over the next few weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

Cincinnati Reds Trade Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner

PhillipsWhy This Trade Makes Sense: The Yankees clearly want to get back to the top, as their $155 million investment in Tanaka showed. With Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, and Scott Sizemore as the current options at second base, New York could use a more reliable name to replace Robinson Cano. While the Reds don’t have an immediate replacement ready for Phillips (outside of Henry Rodriguez or another position change for Billy Hamilton), they need to clear some payroll in order to lock up Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake, all of whom are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as well as Homer Bailey, who will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Phillips, who is due $50 million over the next four years, could be a bargain based on the current market, while his ability to play defensively at an elite level will provide quite a bit of value, as well. Gardner is unlikely to provide the on-base skills that Shin-Soo Choo provided last season in Cincinnati, but he would provide elite-level defensive skills, speed, and solid on-base skills (career OBP of .352). Gardner, earning $5.6 million in 2014 prior to reaching free agency after the season, would be an upgrade over a 2014 version of Hamilton, while providing quite a bit of financial flexibility to shore up the rotation for the coming seasons in Cincinnati. Even if Cincinnati had to chip in $10 million in salary relief, it would be an interesting deal for both clubs.

Baltimore Orioles Sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $14 million deal

burnettWhy This Signing Makes Sense: In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles surprised the world by contending and finishing 2nd in the AL East with 93 wins. In 2013, there was a slight regression, as the team dipped to 85 wins after doing very little over the offseason. The Orioles have been very active in the minor league free agent market this winter, but they could use a splash, and Burnett would be a tremendous addition to the club’s rotation. Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman make a good, young rotation, but Burnett would be the anchor for the staff, and his presence would allow the club to move Norris to a (more appropriate) bullpen role. Burnett is from Maryland and he has been rumored to be retiring if he doesn’t re-sign with Pittsburgh, but Baltimore is close to home and he can keep his wife happy, and the spare change for one year would be worth it for both sides. Burnett rebuilt his value with two tremendous seasons with the Pirates, and he is worth a one-year deal for Baltimore for another shot at the AL East for the tattooed right-hander. Sure, it seems like it is going to be Pittsburgh or bust, but the Orioles are contenders with a healthy Manny Machado and consistent production from Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters – the O’s need to do their due diligence here.

Toronto Blue Jays Sign Matt Garza to a five-year, $60 million deal (I know he was rumored to have signed with Milwaukee for four-years, $52 million pending a physical, but it isn’t official…yet)

GarzaWhy This Signing Makes Sense: The Jays need another solid option in their rotation to compliment R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow, so that their offense isn’t wasted on sloppy rotation options like Esmil Rogers, Ramon Ortiz, Aaron Laffey, and Rickey Romero, who combined to make 27 starts last season. While Garza has some injury concerns, the Blue Jays have already given him a dynamic weapon – Dioner Navarro. With Navarro as his catcher, Garza has logged 338.1 innings and managed a 3.25 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, while Garza has posted a 4.07 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with anyone else behind the dish. While there is risk involved due to Garza spending 170 team games on the disabled list the last three seasons with right shoulder and elbow injuries, the Jays need a pitcher who is capable of pitching in the AL East (Garza has done it before), can toss 180 or more innings (Garza has done it four times), and would be a significant upgrade over Rogers, Todd Redmond, and J.A. Happ, while the club waits for Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Alberto Tirado, Daniel Norris, and Sean Nolin to reach the majors. Garza may not be a number one starter, but he is a strong number two or three option on a club that should compete with an absolutely loaded offensive group.

Philadelphia Phillies Sign Ubaldo Jimenez to a five-year, $85 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Phillies first round pick, seventh overall, is protected, so while Jimenez would require draft-pick compensation, it would only be a second round pick going to Cleveland for Jimenez. After a tremendous second half in 2013 (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 84 innings), Jimenez rebuilt his value, and, at the age of 30, would be a solid right-handed option for the Phillies to place between Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Jimenez has had some success during his career in the NL East:

I Split W L ERA GS GF CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9 SO/BB
Atlanta Braves 3 5 3.79 9 0 1 1 54.2 47 25 23 6 28 66 1.372 10.9 2.36
Miami Marlins 1 2 4.07 5 0 0 0 24.1 23 19 11 1 16 31 1.603 11.5 1.94
New York Mets 2 3 3.40 6 0 0 0 39.2 27 15 15 4 21 29 1.210 6.6 1.38
Washington Nationals 5 1 2.61 7 0 0 0 48.1 39 14 14 1 16 36 1.138 6.7 2.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/22/2014.

For those who don’t want to do the math, Jimenez is 11-11 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 162:81 K:BB over 167 innings and 27 starts, and while that isn’t perfect, especially in a ballpark that is more favorable to hitters, Jimenez should, at least, be worth the money as an innings eater if he isn’t elite like he was in the second half of 2013. The Phillies may not be contenders, but they’ll always be spenders. They don’t have any arms ready in their system and Jimenez would be a huge upgrade over Roberto Hernandez and Ethan Martin, who appear to be options for the rotation currently.

Oakland Athletics Sign Nelson Cruz to a three-year, $27 million deal

Why This Signing Makes Sense: The Cruz market appears nearly dead after there was draft-pick compensation added to a PED suspension, but Cruz is still just 33 and he is coming off of an All-Star season with solid production (27 home runs and 76 RBI in just 109 games). With very little interest and risk involved, it’s the perfect opportunity for Oakland to swoop in and make an interesting signing. While the club has some solid right-handed pop in Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, the remainder of the lineup is filled with left-handed hitters, including Josh Reddick, Eric Sogard, Brandon Moss, as well as switch-hitters Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie. Another right-handed, middle-of-the-order bat would be a tremendous addition, as Reddick or Moss could sandwich between Cruz and Cespedes, providing quite a bit of value and production for a team that struggles to find offense in a cavernous home ballpark. However, Cruz has struggled in Oakland, posting a .192/.248/.352 triple-slash in 202 career plate appearances there. The late first round pick and discounted contract, though, could be enough to overlook his struggles, while providing a little more punch to the Oakland lineup.

Texas Rangers Sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $24 million deal

ArroyoWhy This Signing Makes Sense: Arroyo has been homer prone in the past and doesn’t have the stuff to avoid bats, but he has averaged 211 innings pitched over the last nine seasons and is someone whom the Rangers could count on with Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison coming back from injuries and Derek Holland on the shelf until mid-2014. Arroyo survived in a bandbox in Cincinnati over the last eight seasons, so he would be just as likely to post 200-plus innings and an ERA around 4.00 in Texas, especially with spacious ballparks like those in Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim within the division. There isn’t draft-pick compensation tied to Arroyo, and with Masahiro Tanaka gone and no real hope of acquiring David Price in a trade, the Rangers just need five starting pitchers, and Arroyo is a nice, reliable addition for the middle or back-end of the Texas rotation.

Atlanta Braves Trade Alex Wood to the New York Yankees for Gary Sanchez

Why This Trade Makes Sense: C.C. Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Hiroki Kuroda make a great top three and Ivan Nova showed drastic improvements last season, but the Yankees are relying on David Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Manny Banuelos at the back of the rotation in 2014. While Alex Wood has one of the more violent deliveries you’ll ever see, he has solid stuff and is ready to be productive immediately in a major league rotation. With Brandon Beachy healthy and David Hale and Gavin Floyd capable of filling the back of the Braves rotation, Wood could be expendable for Atlanta to seek a long-term option at catcher with the departure of Brian McCann to the Yankees via free agency. Evan Gattis has a lot of power and Christian Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skills, but neither seem like strong options as an everyday catcher for Atlanta. While Sanchez still needs some seasoning and he could use a change of scenery due to his makeup and maturity concerns, the Braves have several upcoming arms, as usual, and they have a long-term need at catcher. Sanchez could be the answer and the eventual elbow surgery that Wood will need is worth this type of deal for Atlanta, and the production that the Yankees get out of Wood could be useful, as well.

The Cold Stove: Waiting for the 2015 Free Agent Class

 

Seattle Mariners' 2B: Robinson Cano
Seattle Mariners’ 2B: Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran all signed big deals within a matter of weeks, and then…baseball fans were left wondering what happened to the stove, and while a watched pot never boils, the wait for the next big signing seems to be longer than the Cubs World Series drought…ZING!

The 2014 free agent class certainly had some impressive names on the list, and after Clayton Kershaw signed his seven-year, $215 million extension on Thursday, the list of 2015 upcoming free agents took a major hit. Teams have a lot of money due to the incoming television mega-deals that Major League Baseball has signed, and that revenue is allowing clubs to lock up many of their homegrown players prior to reaching free agency. With so few superstars actually reaching free agency, it appears that those who do are going to cash in with some lucrative deals, even if they aren’t necessarily worthy such an investment.

Masahiro Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka

Teams seem quite hesitant to lock up the likes of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana, and while Garza doesn’t require draft-pick compensation like Jimenez and Santana, can you blame teams for not wanting to give out a five-year, $80 to $100 million deal to those types of pitchers? The pitching market will likely be set and begin to move after Masahiro Tanaka signs, which will require a team to give $20 million in a posting fee on top of a $100 million deal for a player who has never thrown a pitch at the Major League level. It seems terrifying from these poor, baseball blogger’s eyes to see teams shelling out this kind of money to:

  • Masahiro Tanaka: Tanaka has gone 53-9 with a 1.44 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 611.1 innings over the last three seasons in Japan – while tossing 30 complete games and averaging eight innings per start over 76 starts. The wear and tear on his arm rivals that of Daisuke Matsuzaka, yet he’ll be the top free agent and teams are clamoring to invest heavily in him. It’s as if teams forgot that Matsuzaka’s shoulder and elbow looked like road kill after 61 starts in Boston – and his career was a train wreck. Is Tanaka worth nine figures?
  • Ubaldo Jimenez: Jimenez was 20-25 in his first 61 starts in Cleveland, posting a 5.10 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over 340.2 innings…and then the second half of 2013 happened, and Jimenez was 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over 13 starts and 84 innings and he is suddenly an ace! Sure, Indians’ pitching coach Mickey Callaway helped Jimenez with his balance and delivery, but did he make him into the same pitcher who went 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in the first half of 2010, or will Jimenez return to the mess that he was in his first 61 starts in Cleveland? Is Jimenez worth $75 to $90 million?
  • Ervin Santana: Santana was a salary dump last winter, as the Los Angeles Angels sent him to the Kansas City Royals with $1 million (the Royals paid the remaining $12 million of his contract) after Santana posted a horrific 5.16 ERA, 74 ERA+, 1.27 WHIP and 9-13 record over 30 starts and 178 innings in 2012. Then, Santana went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA, 127 ERA+, and 1.14 WHIP over 211 innings and 32 starts, and he is the second coming of Christ…or is he? If Santana was the top state-side arm on the market, wouldn’t he be worthy of an offer? Maybe clubs are being cautious of Santana, who has had three full seasons with ERAs over 5.00 and ERA+ under 90, while tossing in five seasons with an ERA under 4.30 and an ERA+ of 106 or more, and they aren’t too keen on the idea of giving $100 million (which Santana was said to be seeking) for such dramatic, roller coaster production. Salary relief or not, Santana was acquired for Brandon Sisk, who missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, a 28-year-old relief prospect. Is he worth this type of commitment?
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com
Courtesy: twinsdaily.com

Perhaps the slow movement of the pitching market is because of how ugly it actually is once you look at the numbers, while teams could be looking ahead to the 2015 free agency class. Even without Kershaw, there appears to be much better options available, and with so many pitchers with options, could teams be hoping to cash in on acquiring strong pitchers coming off of down seasons who won’t necessarily cost their respective clubs draft-pick compensation?

Here are the names of some pitchers who could reach free agency next winter if their options are not picked up:

While these pitcher WILL (at least currently scheduled) reach free agency after the 2014 season:

Homer BaileyJosh Beckett, Jorge De La Rosa, Ryan Dempster, Gavin Floyd, Kyle Kendrick, Jon Lester, Colby Lewis, Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy, Jake Peavy, Wandy Rodriguez, Max Scherzer, and James Shields.

HanRam
Los Angeles Dodgers SS: Hanley Ramirez

With San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Colorado Rockies outfielder/first baseman Michael Cuddyer, and designated hitters like Detroit Tigers Victor Martinez, Boston Red Sox David Ortiz, and Chicago White Sox Adam Dunn, the hitting market is also relatively strong; although, not as enticing as the possible pitchers who could be available next winter.

There are still some useful names out there on the free agent market, but is it time to wonder whether it is the player names (Nelson Cruz), the draft-pick compensation (Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, Jimenez, Santana), or teams looking to the potential free agent market in 2015 that is causing the hot stove to have frozen? With teams reporting to Spring Training in about five weeks, there could be busy days ahead of us, or there could be a lot of agents being replaced by dissatisfied baseball players who were left behind.

Kevin Towers: Where the Diamondbacks Are Going

Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com
Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com

Maybe this is an overreaction, but Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers appears to be crippling the future of the team by making some strange trades. Certainly, Towers has many years of experience, holding the San Diego Padres GM position from 1995 through the 2009 season before being fired in October, then taking over in the desert in late September of 2010. As with any operational move completed by a baseball franchise, some will work and some won’t, but the last three major moves by Towers appear to be crumbling the foundation of long-term success for the Diamondbacks.

Skaggs
Angels new LHP Tyler Skaggs

When the club acquired Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels last week, they added a powerful bat, but they also added a first baseman and designated hitter who will be playing the outfield, as current first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, was already present and had an MVP-caliber season in 2013. The Diamondbacks first had to acquire an additional arm to trade to the Angels, and they did so by dealing Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox for left-handed starter Hector Santiago. Towers then packaged Santiago with 22-year-old prospect Tyler Skaggs, who was rated the No.10 prospect in baseball by MLB.com prior to the 2013 season, in the deal for Trumbo, while acquiring a couple of fringy players, outfielder Brandon Jacobs and right-handed pitcher A.J. Schugel, as players who were named later in the deal. Eaton, who turned 25 in early December, was listed as the Diamondbacks’ starting centerfielder prior to the deal, and he has been supplanted by A.J. Pollock, who turned 26 in early December and appears to have a lot of Drew Stubbs to his game (solid defender, good power and speed, and a lot of swing and miss). Eaton was highly regarded by many saber-guys for his .450 career minor league on-base percentage and .951 OPS, and giving him up for Santiago, a back-end rotation starter (along with his five years of team-control), to acquire Trumbo was odd, but then Towers moved Skaggs. While Skaggs was pretty terrible in a very difficult league for pitchers in 2013 (4.59 ERA, 1.47 WHIP), he managed to strikeout 9.3 batters per nine as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. After watching Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran go from a 5.08 ERA and 1.44 WHIP as a 21-year-old in Triple-A in 2012 to 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP as a 22-year-old in the majors in 2013, could the Diamondbacks have just given up the arm that they appear to now covet in free agency, as they have been rumored to be interested in both Matt Garza and Masahiro Tanaka. Power may be in short supply around the league and you may never know how a prospect will turn out, but if Arizona had kept Skaggs and Eaton and signed Shin-Soo Choo, wouldn’t they be just as likely to contend?

Speaking of a powerful bat…

Upton
Braves OF Justin Upton

With power in such short supply, as Kevin Towers so boldly claimed after acquiring Trumbo, wouldn’t dealing Justin Upton and his team-friendly contract, along with third baseman Chris Johnson, to the Atlanta Braves for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, and minor leaguers Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury have been considered a bad idea when using that philosophy? There were a lot of underlying issues that led to the Diamondbacks apparent “need” to deal Upton last off-season, but, considering the type of prospect that they just gave up to get a player with a career .768 OPS, shouldn’t Towers have aimed higher in dealing Upton, who has a career .830 OPS? Certainly, Martin Prado is a fine player and his versatility is very useful, but his bat doesn’t play all that well as a full-time third baseman, where he will be playing in 2014, and heading into his age-30 season, it is fair to wonder if he should have been the centerpiece in an Upton deal, especially as Upton enters his age-26 season in 2014, making him younger than even Trumbo! If power is so valuable, why would Upton not be worth a legitimate prospect and a player, considering his contract and disregarding whatever “issues” were making him so useless to Arizona?

Furthermore, the trade that sent Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer, and Bryan Shaw to the Cleveland Indians for Lars Anderson (designated for assignment on 1/24/2013), Tony Sipp (designated for assignment on 11/20/2013), and Didi Gregorius is just as questionable as the package that is highlighted by Skaggs. Bauer was rated as the No.14 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2013 season and the Diamondbacks seemed to sour on him due to his desire to train and prepare in a way that is strange to nearly all people who have had the pleasure of viewing him, with long-tossing from foul pole to foul pole and a crow hop seed from the pitchers mound to the catcher as his first warm-up pitch being a part of his hour long pitching preparation. Still, at just 23 on Opening Day of 2014, his long-term outlook is very good and drafting Bauer 3rd overall in the 2011 MLB Draft and dealing him nearly 18 months later for a slap-hitting, defensive-minded shortstop seems very odd, even with defensive metrics and shortstop values being taken into consideration. When looking at the value that the Indians received in Shaw and Albers, along with the fact that the Diamondbacks no longer roster two players that they received in the deal, this was a steal by the Cleveland Indians…and that is all before looking at how Gregorius may lose the everyday shortstop job to a prospect who was in house when the Bauer deal happened, Chris Owings, since Aaron Hill won’t be giving up the second base job.

Diamondbacks' GM Kevin Towers - answering serious questions?
Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers – answering serious questions?

It is easy to question the style that a franchise is taking and it is even easier to say that you could make better deals than your favorite team’s general manager, but when you consider the recent track record of Kevin Towers in Arizona, most fantasy baseball managers agree – they could do a better job. Is Arizona now the New York Yankees of the west, trading all of their top minor league talent to fill their major league holes? Well, the Yankees never seemed to give away their top prospects without certain, immediate help. Can the Diamondbacks catch the Dodgers? Matching power with Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be an option, as a full season of Matt Kemp (if he isn’t traded), Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, and others will likely make the Dodgers that much more dangerous, and Arizona doesn’t have enough “grit” to overcome the L.A. payroll and talent – especially when they are trading the pieces that could get them over the top for veterans who have shown what they can do. Trumbo and Prado aren’t winning the Diamondbacks any championships, and, while they will make Arizona a bit more competitive, it is the front-line, affordable pitching that would have helped the Diamondbacks slither into contention.

Kevin Towers doesn’t seem to have a clear philosophy of where he is taking the Diamondbacks, and if the moves that he has made this season don’t work out, it is fair to wonder if he can make intelligent decisions going forward for any organization, experience be damned.

The Hot Stove Has Caught On Fire

It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.

The Trades

The Doug Fister Trade

Detroit Tigers get: 2B Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, and LHP Robbie Ray

Washington Nationals get: RHP Doug Fister

FisterIt has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.

Winner: Washington Nationals.

Smelling Fowler

Houston Astros get: CF Dexter Fowler

Colorado Rockies get: RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes

Fowler1Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.

Winner: Houston Astros.

The Unimpressive Three-Way

Cincinnati Reds get: LHP David Holmberg.

Tampa Bay Rays get: RHP Heath Bell and cash from Arizona, and C Ryan Hanigan from Cincinnati.

Arizona Diamondbacks get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL

The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.

Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.

Why Did Beane Make That (Michael) Choice?

Texas Rangers get: OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick

Oakland A’s get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom

ChoiceThis seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.

Winner: Texas Rangers.

The Free Agent Splashes

The Yankees Spend Like Crazy…Again.

Who They Signed: C Brian McCann (five-years, $85 million); OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-years, $153 million);

McCannWhy It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.

Twinkies Filled Their Rotation

Who Minnesota Signed: RHP Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million); RHP Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million);

Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.

Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically

Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)

Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90’s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.

The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer

Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)

Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.

Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another

Who Miami Signed: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (three-year, $21 million)

Who Boston Signed: C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year, $8.25 million)

Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.