Yankees get discount on Aroldis Chapman and his baggage

Perhaps the Yankees took Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” to heart this offseason. After acquiring Starlin Castro a few weeks ago, the Yankees took the plunge to obtain closer Aroldis Chapman from the Reds yesterday. Castro, as I noted before, has been involved in a couple of off-field incidents. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is currently investigating Chapman for his role in a domestic violence incident at his home in Florida. The details are murky, but the Yankees struck a deal with Cincinnati anyway. Indeed, it appears the Yankees would prefer to laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

There’s nothing to say about Chapman’s ability that you probably don’t already know. At any rate, I’ll provide a few tidbits. He’s one of the top relievers in baseball, if not the very best. The Cuban lefty possesses the highest velocity fastball in the big leagues, regularly hitting 100 MPH. He has the highest strikeout rate of all-time (42.9%), minimum 300 innings pitched. Finally, his career ERA and FIP are 2.17 and 1.97 respectively. There’s no need to look any further to understand why the Yankees wanted him.

But for as incredible of a pitcher Chapman is, he might be just as bad of a person. After a trade that would have shipped him to the Dodgers fell through, a police report of a domestic violence incident at Chapman’s Florida home trickled out to the media. Tim Brown and Jeff Passan have the summary of the police report on Yahoo. Chapman was not arrested for his involvement, but that doesn’t necessarily save him from scorn. It’s more or less of a he-said-she-said, but there was clearly an argument that incited some sort of physical altercation between Chapman and his ex-girlfriend. We probably won’t ever know if Chapman choked his girlfriend and pushed her against a wall (her claim), or if he “poked” her in the shoulder and she fell to the ground (Chapman’s claim). Nonetheless, either action is in poor judgement. No, there weren’t any signs of injury on Chapman’s ex-girlfriend, but that is by no means a saving grace. That’s not all, though: in an apparent fit of rage, Chapman fired eight bullets in his garage while alone. That’s an alarming way to blow off some steam. Oh, and did I mention that the couple’s child was in the home during the entire confrontation? Yikes. Continue reading

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Another day, another trade: Justin Wilson sent to Detroit for prospects

Less than 24 hours since dealing Adam Warren for Starlin Castro, the Yankees made another trade this evening. Another pitcher is on his way out of the Bronx, this time its southpaw Justin Wilson in exchange for two prospects from the Tigers. The minor leaguers are Luis Cessa and Chad Green, both right-handed starting pitchers apparently acquired to add some rotation depth in Triple-A.

Wilson’s stint was short in the Bronx, previously acquired in a swap with the Pirates last offseason for Francisco Cervelli. His 2015 performance was rock solid in pinstripes: he pitched to a 3.10 ERA/2.69 FIP in 61 innings (1.5 fWAR) and a superb 27.1% strikeout rate. The lefty flamethrower averaged 95 MPH on his fastball and had no problems retiring both right and left-handed hitters. It didn’t take long for him to become the de facto “seventh-inning guy”, and he should take on a similar or better role in Detroit.

Philosophically, this is a peculiar trade for the Yankees. We’re used to them being the side moving prospects for a major leaguer, not vice versa. Furthermore, it’s not like Wilson was expensive or nearing free agency. He’s under control for the next three seasons, and projected to make $1.3 million in arbitration. That’s peanuts. Continue reading

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Yankees get their second baseman in Starlin Castro

Since Robinson Cano departed in 2013, second base has been a black hole for the Yankees. However, in 2016, the Yankees won’t go with a has-been like Brian Roberts or Stephen Drew in a lackluster attempt to fill the void. Tonight, the Yankees traded Adam Warren and a player to be named later to the Cubs in exchange for Starlin Castro, who will be the regular second baseman going forward. He’s certainly not Cano, but he is a young and controllable player with upside.

Castro, 26 in March, is an aggressive contact hitter with below average power from the right side. He’s mixed in a couple of poor offensive seasons (2013 and 2015) with otherwise above average performances in his other four years. In 2011 and 2014 in particular, Castro was a top offensive shortstop. Despite a couple of crevasses, his track record says he’s capable of being one of the better hitting second basemen in baseball. It’s just a matter of the Yankees getting him on the right track. Continue reading

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Our meaningless 2015 free agent predictions

When I sent the forthcoming spreadsheet to Chris to fill out, he responded: “It’s that time of year to make incorrect free agent predictions! Putting our supposed knowledge up against a random number generator!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Nobody really cares where we think the market’s prizes will land. But here we are, publishing it publicly anyway. We’ll keep track as we go. Just one note: we’re using Fangraphs’ top-82 free agents list from their contract crowdsourcing piece.

The google doc isn’t embedding properly on the homepage, so you’ll need to click “continue reading” in order to see it. Continue reading

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Musing free agency strategy this winter and beyond

In the last year, the Yankees have become a younger team. Players like Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, and Greg Bird have come along and entrenched themselves as long-term assets integral to the organization’s future success at the highest level. Yet, the veteran identity of the club isn’t going away just yet. Much of the roster is still burdened with aging stars at high salaries. Some of them still productive, but merely remnants of their prime seasons that earned them their current megadeals.

Entering the offseason, perhaps the Yankees greatest obstacle to improvement is that no large contracts are expiring. Given Hal Steinbrenner’s desire to compete below the luxury tax threshold, this doesn’t appear to bode well for the club’s chances in the free agent market. Accounting for projected arbitration raises, expiring contracts, and changes in annual salary for current deals, only a hair less than $1 million has been freed up in comparison to last year.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 9.49.19 PM

From that alone, it’s hard to envision the Yankees repeating their post-2008 or post-2013 free agency sprees. Doing so would require not only a huge year-over-year increase in payroll, but also a much larger luxury tax bill. So, if not now, when will there be a greater amount of financial freedom? Look no further past 2016:

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Even more payroll is available after 2017:

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 10.16.00 PM

Note: Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley, and Nathan Eovaldi are free agents after 2017 but not included above. Arbitration increases not considered in previous two tables.

That’s anywhere between roughly $91 and $113 million coming off the books in the in the next two seasons (depending on Tanaka’s opt-out). Unless the club goes all-in this winter, the Yankees are set up to be big players in the post-2016 and post-2017 free agent classes. Exciting! Yet, the players set to hit the market those years aren’t quite as enticing as those available in the in the coming months.

This year, the biggest names available are David Price, Jason Heyward, and Justin Upton. Zack Greinke could opt-out. Others like Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick, Jordan Zimmerman, and Yoenis Cespedes will be highly sought-after too.

After 2016, the list isn’t as deep. If healthy, Stephen Strasburg will be the darling of next offseason’s free agent crop. There will be numerous veteran position players available, albeit past their primes (following is not wholly inclusive): Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Adrian Beltre, Carlos Gomez, Jay Bruce, and Justin Turner. The bullpen crop should feature closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, and Drew Storen. Fast forward to post-2017, and it’s harder to forecast the quality of the crop. Sure, Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez pop out, but remember that a lot can change in the next two years.

Despite payroll flexibility not improving for another season, perhaps ownership will be willing to foot a larger tax bill next season with knowledge that significant salary comes off the books in the next two years? As I mentioned before, it seems unlikely. Considering recent behavior, it appears the team will only spend if money is newly available. When the Yankees added Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, players like Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson were out the door. This year, there isn’t a parallel. Plus, if Hal is truly committed to getting below the $189 million luxury tax threshold, signing big names this winter wouldn’t help the team meet that goal even considering some of the expiring deals in the next two years.

While I certainly don’t expect the team to be big players in the free agent market, no Yankees free agent signing should ever come as a surprise. This is the Yankees after all, even if they haven’t acted like it lately. For now, the safe bet is that the Yankees take a tact similar to last season by trying to acquire young and controllable talent. Yes, there are some exciting names available in free agency this offseason that the franchise would be all over historically, but the apparent financial strategy of now doesn’t mesh with making a big splash in the coming months.

Arbitration estimates via Matt Swartz. Other contract data via Baseball Prospectus.

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Reconciling postseason expectations as a Yankees fan

I’m going to the game tonight. I’m pretty excited to be able to watch some playoff baseball in the Bronx for the first time in two years (spare me the spoiled comments), but I’m also nervous that this could be the last game of the season. I hate the feeling of no more Yankees baseball to watch until Spring Training (or any baseball, for that matter). The playoffs are great, but also bittersweet in that there will be no more baseball to watch in about a month, whether or not the Yankees move on.

Depending on how far the Yankees advance, proclamations will be made about the degree of success the team had in 2015. Generally, the mantra is World Series or bust. I’ve wrote before that such logic is silly, even for an organization as rich as the Yankees. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that watching the regular season unfold with reasonable expectations is much more enjoyable than demanding perfection. Setting World Series victory as an ultimatum on a yearly basis drains from the fun of the sport, and makes actually accomplishing the feat more of a relief than anything.

So whatever happens tonight, I still will be happy with what the Yankees accomplished in 2015. An argument can be made that the front office and ownership has been a letdown since 2012, but 2015 has already been filled with plenty of satisfying stories. Yes, you can still enjoy this team even if you’re pissed that Stephen Drew played too much or that they didn’t acquire David Price at the deadline. Whether it’s the comebacks of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the emergence of Luis Severino and Greg Bird, or the blossoming of Didi Gregorius, there’s been a lot to enjoy the past six months.

Virtually every other team in the postseason bracket is more talented, younger, and deeper than the Yankees. That’s indirectly a condemnation of the front office, but it’s also a credit to the on-field personnel for making it to this stage. If they make a run over the next few weeks, it’s gravy. It’s odd to say, but the Yankees probably shouldn’t have been here. Yes, that same team that seemed to be running away with the division back in July probably deserved the same fate as the 2013 and 2014 clubs.

This isn’t to say that I’d be satisfied with the same expectations next year. I expect improvement. I expected the improvement in this past offseason, but that didn’t really materialize. Rather, a lot went right for this team in 2015, despite some of the unfortunate injuries near the end of the season. I certainly hope the Yankees don’t expect A-Rod or Teixeira to carry the team again in 2016. But that isn’t important right now. We can worry about that in the winter. With first pitch just a few hours away, the Yankees have a clean slate. Time to sit back and root for a deep postseason run, while also appreciating what this team did despite the mediocre projections.

Go Yankees.

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Planning for the Wild Card Game Starter

Barring a wild finish to the regular season, the Yankees will host the American League Wild Card playoff against the runner-up in the Western Division one week from tomorrow. That allows Joe Girardi and his staff a few days to align a starting pitcher for said do-or-die game. Lining up Masahiro Tanaka for the start would be the easy decision had he not tweaked his hamstring recently. He is expected to make one more start, presumably on a date to set him up to potentially pitch in the one game playoff next week. Nonetheless, expect the Yankees to have a contingency plan in order.

At the moment, the starters on September 30th (Wednesday) and October 1st (Thursday) are the ones to watch for next Tuesday’s pivotal game. The starter on the Wednesday would have an extra day of rest for the Wild Card game, while the pitcher the following day would scheduled for normal rest. CC Sabathia last pitched on Friday, and thus would be on regular rest for Wednesday the 30th. However, the starter for that evening is TBA, so Tanaka is certainly in play for that game. Adam Warren would be on normal rest for Thursday the 1st, but the Yankees have that night listed as TBA as well.

Warren and Ivan Nova can be disregarded as potential starters for next Tuesday. That leaves the team with Tanaka, Sabathia, Luis Severino, and Michael Pineda. Tanaka is the favorite assuming good health. Severino and Pineda are likely 2a. and 2b. If Sabathia is truly under consideration, it’s as a nostalgia candidate despite solid performance recently. Continue reading

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Supplanting Stephen Drew

Stephen Drew is a bad hitter. That’s putting it nicely. The Yankees’ second baseman has made it past the halfway point of the season without being displaced, frustrating fans with the team’s persistence to trot him out at the keystone regularly. It’s understandable that he was given a flyer at an affordable five million dollars for the season, but at this stage, his play is no longer acceptable.

Of 164 qualified hitters, Drew ranks 12th-worst in wRC+. It’s amazing he’s lasted this long, 270 plate appearances, given the dreadful performance. Sure, he’s popped 12 home runs including one last night, but that alone doesn’t make him deserving of a starting role. His glovework is steady, but again, that isn’t sufficient to justify his presence in the lineup everyday. And, given his miserable 2014, it’s not like this malaise is a fluke. It’s time to move on. Fortunately, the Yankees have an internal option waiting in Triple-A, Rob Refsnyder. He’s not a guaranteed improvement, but what do the Yankees have to lose? Quite frankly, it would be difficult for him to play poorer than Drew has.

Chris ranked Refsnyder the Yankees’ seventh best prospect and profiled him back in February. The Yankees’ fifth-round pick in 2012 has warmed up as the season’s progressed, and has posted a stellar 133 wRC+ through 359 trips to the plate in Triple-A. That’s right in line with what he did last year at the level, albeit with a little less power (ISO down to .121 from .157) and much more contact (K% down to 12.3% from 20.1%). Continue reading

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Re-Post: Nick Rumbelow’s Prospect Profile

2014 Stats:

Level: A/A+/AA/AAA

44 G   58.1 IP   34.0% K%  7.6% BB%   0.04% HR%   35.9% GB%   2.62 ERA   2.05 FIP

Background

After an up-and-down run as a setup guy at LSU, the Yankees selected Nick Rumbelow in the 7th round in 2013 with the hope that he’d be able to work through his command issues and capitalize on his plus stuff. Rumbelow joined the Staten Island Yankees once he finished up at LSU, and something seemed to click for the 21-year-old — he sliced his BB/9 from 4.1 at LSU to 2.0 in the New York Penn League.

2014 Results

Rumbelow’s new-found command carried over into the 2014 season. He posted an uncharacteristically respectable 8% walk rate, which enabled him to rocket through the Yankees minor league system. The 22-year-old mowed down hitters at four different levels. He started the year with Low-A Charleston and worked his way up to Triple-A Scranton, posting gaudy strikeout numbers at every stop along the way.

KATOH, my prospect projection system, really likes what Rumbelow did last season. It forecasts a respectable 2.9 WAR through age 28, which is good for the 174th highest projection among players with at least 200 plate appearances or batters faced last year. Rumbelow’s solid projection is mostly driven by his sky-high 34% strikeout rate from last year, but is also helped by the fact that he yielded just two homers in 58 innings of work. Here’s a look at Rumbelow’s odds of reaching certain WAR thresholds through age 28:

Rumbelow

2015 Outlook

There’s no denying that Rumbelow has the upside of a dominant late-inning reliever, especially now that he’s more or less exorcised the control problems that plagued him in his college days. His fastball sits in the mid 90’s, and he pairs it with decent-enough breaking pitches, but his command is still holding him back. Although it’s come a long way since his LSU, it still isn’t great. Rumbelow should open the year in Scranton’s bullpen, but will almost certainly make his big league debut at some point in 2015. As a reliever, his upside is somewhat limited, but he has more than enough stuff to be able to get both lefties and righties out.

This article was originally published on Pinstripe Alley.

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Chase Headley’s slow start

Entering 2015, Chase Headley was perhaps the least of the Yankees’ concerns. And why would anyone be concerned about him? After his acquisition mid-2014, he impressed in pinstripes and received a four-year contract to stay in the Bronx. The lineup had more pressing questions, such as the viability of Alex Rodriguez or the health of Carlos Beltran. Yet, about a quarter through the regular season, Headley’s been one of the team’s worst performers at the plate (84 wRC+).

At first glance, it seems that Headley has run into a bit of bad luck. A .271 BABIP is low given Headley’s .301 mark last season. Additionally, his batted ball profile lends to the notion that the switch-hitter has been extremely unfortunate at the plate. According to Fangraphs, Headley has hit 26.9% line drives, 45.4% ground balls, and 27.8% fly balls. Not only are these rates quite favorable, but they also are in line with his results last season. So, Headley’s due for some better fortune going forward, right? Not so fast. Continue reading

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