Episode 70: HOF Results, Yankee Designated Hitter

EJ and Scott discuss the Hall of Fame voting results. Tim Raines is in! Later, they ponder if the Yankees missed an opportunity for a cheap, higher quality DH when they signed Matt Holliday.

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Hall of Fame Voting: Writers Still Don't Get It

Sitrep: Hall of Fame voting is complete. Congratulations to Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Pudge Rodriguez for a much deserved call to the Hall. However, two of the best players you ever saw play baseball still didn't make the cut. 

As detailed in last week’s podcast, I would have voted both Clemens and Bonds in before they hung up their spikes. The reason why this bothers me is the same reason why I don’t focus on stats in baseball, even though as an engineer, I am by nature a numbers guy (call me if you want to talk aerospace electronics, orbital slots or SPC - I can do "nerd" with anyone). To me, Hall of Fame voting emphasizes how little joy baseball writers take in watching baseball.  They hone in on numbers, historical context or personality. None of these elements influence me in buying tickets to a game, or subscribing to MLB.TV. I'm not investing my time in baseball for a moral compass, history lesson or stats-immersion experience.  I'm in it to see athletic greatness. 

When you evaluate the worthiness of Bonds and Clemens, you don’t need the numbers or the off-field case studies. Just watch the tape. Pop in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS, and tell me if the barrel-chested righty in Yankee gray isn’t the best pitcher you’ve ever seen. 

Side note: how many all-star strikeout victims did you catch in that firework show?

Oh yea, and the other guy basically filled McCovey cove with Rawlings leather and reminded us that the bases-loaded-intentional-walk was actually an option.

Feel better? Good.

If the Hall is about capturing greatness, I don’t know how it’s taking so long for these two to get an invite. Here's hoping for next year.

Also, isn’t it universally hated when home plate umpires try to steal the spotlight during a game?

Couldn’t we say the same about baseball writers in the Hall of Fame voting process?

Last note: Writers were suspicious of Bagwell's 6 foot - 200 lb frame hitting bashing 30 homers a year, but no one flinches at Pudge, at mighty 5'9"-205 lb, averaging 27+ homers per season from '99 to '01. I don't get it.

What if the Yankees had gone all-in on 2017?

What you see is what you get. That's essentially what Brian Cashman said a week ago, assessing the odds of the Yankees standing pat for the remainder of the offseason at 99.9% (EJ wrote about this last week). It's probably not a playoff team, but it's not too far out of contention. Sitting in the high 70s or low 80s in the win forecast is usually the worst place for a team to be, as not only is such a team not good enough to make the playoffs, but also not poor enough to obtain a high draft pick. This Yankees club is a different case, as there are a plethora of intriguing young players at the major and minor league levels that signify a bright future. What if, though, the Yankees' eschewed its long-term strategy and instead went all-in on 2017?

Let's travel to an alternate universe. One where everything that occurred through the end of the 2016 season remains the same with the exception of the Yankees' plans for the offseason. In this world, instead of patiently waiting for the accumulated prospects to blossom, the front office is ready to harvest its crops on the trade market. And that luxury tax? Who cares! Forget tapering the payroll, the Steinbrenners are now willing to cut blank checks to any free agents they desire. Further, they're also willing to eat money on certain existing contracts, to an extent. No, I'm not talking as much as Jacoby Ellsbury's contract, but others are certainly in play. It's time for a lavish and extravagant shopping spree.

Below are five transactions that happened in this fantasy world. After highlighting each trade or signing, I've provided a before and after look at the Fangraphs' Steamer Depth Charts in order to assess how much of an upgrade each move would be. Without further ado:

1. Trade for Chris Sale

Gleyber Torres? Sure. Clint Frazier? OK. Aaron Judge? Fine. Blake Rutherford? Fair enough. Justus Sheffield? Take him. Maybe it doesn't cost quite that much, or maybe it costs more than that. But in this universe, Cashman trades whatever it takes to get Sale. Fortunately, the farm system is deep enough that there's still quite a bit left over.

With Sale, the Yankees go from this...

Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 9.04.15 PM.png

...to this:

Approximately a 2.5 win upgrade. Maybe more if you're pessimistic about guys like Luis Severino in Chad Green, as I noted in my last piece on Jose Quintana. Of course, the Yankees starting point win projection would be lower under such an assumption.

2. Trade for Brian Dozier

With whatever prospects the Yankees have remaining, the organization grabs Dozier from Minnesota. After this deal and Sale already acquired, the Yankees' top ten prospects would probably all be gone. But who cares? The time to win is now.

What happens to Starlin Castro? Since money is no object, the Steinbrenners eat the majority of his salary in a separate trade. They decide to give up on a player who had shown promise in Chicago and replace him with the slugging second baseman in Dozier.

Adding Dozier and subtracting Castro brings the Yankees from this...

...to this.

Almost a two win boost. Playoffs, here we come!

3. Sign Yoenis Cespedes

With Aaron Judge undoubtedly included in one of the previous two trades, it's time to find his replacement. And no, Aaron Hicks is not going to step in. If you're a fan of the trope "When George was alive...", it's your lucky day. Like father like son, Hal wants to spend big to get the biggest name, and Cespedes is that guy.

Using Judge as a piece to get Sale or Dozier and replacing him with Cespedes changes the right field forecast from this...

...to this.

Only about a win better. It's something, though. And really, this is an upgrade over Hicks more than Judge, since the latter was used to acquire either Sale or Dozier.

4. Sign Kenley Jansen (in addition to Aroldis Chapman)

Another year, another elite bullpen trio. Jansen would take Andrew Miller's spot, who was one of the big three entering 2016. This, of course, is in addition to the Chapman signing the Yankees made in reality.

Signing Jansen while eliminating replacement level innings thrown by Richard Bleier, Domingo German, Dietrich Enns, and "The Others" changes the Yankees' bullpen estimate from this...

...to this.

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 2.32.59 PM.png

Best bullpen in baseball? Best bullpen in baseball. But we're not done, yet.

5. Sign Justin Turner

Chase Headley's a nice player, but Turner is better. Like what happened with Castro, the Yankees eat the remainder of Headley's contract in another swap.

Dumping Headley and signing Turner improves the hot corner from this...

...to this.

Tack on another 1.5 WAR.

Before we get to the finished product...

If you've made it this far, you've probably noticed or questioned a few things. First, let me just say that this isn't supposed to be completely realistic. Nonetheless, I'll try to explain a couple of working assumptions.

One might be how the Sale and Dozier trades were pulled off without including some or all of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, or Luis Severino. It's an assumption I'm making that the Yankees would be able to pull off those deals without trading those pieces. Sanchez is by far the most valuable of this trio, and I'm labeling him untouchable. Severino's (disappointing 2016) and Bird's (shoulder) trade values are down, so I'm going forward with the idea that they won't be as useful in acquiring Sale or Dozier as those down on the farm. I'm not saying the front office wouldn't part with Bird or Severino to make the trades I've hypothesized, but rather, I'm assuming they can get done without them (and Sanchez). I mean, the farm system is arguably the best in the sport, right? The other options should be able to get these deals done.

Additionally, one might also wonder why I passed on making a change at designated hitter. After taking a look at other free agent options, like Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, it turns out that neither are significant upgrades over Matt Holliday and Bird in terms of WAR. So I'm assuming that the Yankees sign Holliday, just like real life. Saves me some time.

The Projected Results

These five moves add 6.8 WAR to the Yankees' projection, which is less than I had anticipated before starting this piece. That pulls the Yankees up to at least a 90-win squad, perhaps more when considering the shift in power by taking Sale away from the Red Sox. Ultimately, this is a surefire playoff team, which is precisely what this world's Yankees organization is going for. Assuming good health, here's how the 25-man roster would ideally shake out:

C: Gary Sanchez/Austin Romine

1B/DH: Greg Bird/Matt Holliday/Tyler Austin

2B: Brian Dozier/Ronald Torreyes

3B: Justin Turner/Ronald Torreyes

SS: Did Gregorius/Ronald Torreyes

OF: Brett Gardner/Jacoby Ellsbury/Yoenis Cespedes/Aaron Hicks/Tyler Austin

SP: Chris Sale/Masahiro Tanaka/Michael Pineda/CC Sabathia/Luis Severino

RP: Aroldis Chapman/Dellin Betances/Kenley Jansen/Tyler Clippard/Adam Warren/Tommy Layne/Scranton Shuttle Reliever

That's a pretty fun looking team. A handful of excellent right-handed hitters, a lethal bullpen, and an elite one-two punch at the top of the pitching staff. Perhaps the rotation could still use a little help at the back-end and the lineup could use some lefty power, but nonetheless, this universe's squad is a strong one.

The organization's future is weakened, but not totally crushed. Sale's friendly contract and the young core of Sanchez, Gregorius, and Bird is still promising. The farm system may go from near the top to the bottom of the league's best, but there are still young assets at the Major League level.

Is all of this realistic? Well, no, because none of this happened. But could it have? The trades probably could have happened, given the organization's lush young talent. What's most unrealistic in this scenario is the free-spending in free agency and willingness to eat dead money. 

The point of this wasn't to be completely realistic. It was intended to be fun. It's a loosely plausible look at what could have been. In another sense, it helps illustrate just how far the Yankees, as presently constructed, are from being a playoff team. That isn't to say that they have no chance, as the team's current projected win total isn't far out of the playoff picture. It's just not likely. Even though we've grown accustomed to the organization's World Series or bust mantra, we can still enjoy the 2017 club despite it being an underdog.

Podcast Episode 69: Is Cashman Done?

EJ and Stacey welcome Jim to the podcast and the blog. They first interrogate Jim for his position on current baseball events, then discuss whether the Yankees are done for the offseason, and finish by debating if the Yankees should pay up for Jose Quintana. 

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An Early Look at the Back of the Rotation

Before I begin my first post, I just wanted to give a shout out to the crew here at IIATMS - it's a pleasure to join the community here, and I'm looking forward to interacting with everyone.  A little about me: I graduated from Middlebury College in 2011 with a Bachelor's Degree in History and as the Sports Director at 91.1 FM WRMC...so, of course I have a career in pharmaceuticals. Baseball has been an obsession for me for as long as I have conscious memories - and I've been an unabashed Yankee fan for the entirety of my life. I've spent, and continue to spend, more time on a baseball diamond than I can count. I love analyzing baseball statistics both new and old. Additionally, I love writing about in-game observations about the mechanics of the game - I am a misplaced baseball rat who loves scouting and analyzing player mechanics.  So with that, read on for the point of the post!

With just over a month remaining until pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Tampa, Brian Cashman has stated that he is 99% sure that he is done acquiring starting pitching that can factor into the 2017 starting rotation.  For now, let’s take Cashman at his word despite the fact that there are numerous reclamation projects available on the free agent market and a blockbuster lurking for anyone who has the prospects to meet the Chicago White Sox asking price for Jose Quintana.  The first three spots in the rotation are relatively clear.  Masahiro Tanaka is the unquestioned ace of the staff, a pitcher who has possibly become underrated in recent years as he continues to be reliable and often brilliant.  CC Sabathia had a bounce-back 2016 campaign, and while he is not the ace of yesteryear, the Yankees hope that he can continue his resurgence and be a steadying force in the middle of the rotation.  The enigmatic Michael Pineda continues to tease with ace-caliber stuff that has yet to translate into anything more than mediocre performance.  Barring any roster developments that lead to any of the aforementioned pitchers departing the roster, all three are guaranteed rotation spots.

The final two spots in the Yankee rotation will be the most intriguing competition in Spring Training this year as there are no less than 5 candidates for those spots.  While some may argue that Dietrich Enns, Chance Adams, or Jordan Montgomery could sneak into the 5th spot of the rotation with a strong Spring, they are certainly further down the depth chart than the other five, and all can probably use further seasoning in AAA.  In no particular order, the following pitchers will all get a shot to earn a spot in the rotation: Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, and Adam Warren.  The below statistics give a snapshot of each of the competitor’s performance last year with the Yankees.

*Statistics are all as Yankees; stats with other teams not included

Chad Green showed flashes of competence as a starter last season, and generally surprised Yankee fans with his, at times, overpowering stuff, which featured a 92-96 MPH fastball with life and a sharp slider.  I think it’s safe to say that while Green was not on the radars of many Yankee fans at this time last year, there are many fans who want to see what Green can do with more starts, though his performance last season does give reason for pause.  As you can see in the above statistics, Green was very hittable, giving up 9.7 H/9 and 2.4 HR/9, while also allowing walks right at the league average ratio.  These numbers explain why he over-performed his FIP by more than half a run.  That said, it’s easy to dream on Green as he posted the highest K-rate of any Yankee starter not named Michael Pineda.  As with so many pitchers, Green’s Achilles Heel is his lack of a usable third pitch, which can also help explain his overall inability to prevent baserunners.  Green tinkered with a cutter after a demotion to AAA, but before he had a chance to really show it, Green went down with a season-ending elbow injury.  By all reports, he is healthy and was able to go through his normal offseason routine.  If Green can find another pitch to help him turn lineups over more than once, he has enough to be a solid starter.  If not, he will likely be destined to pitch out of the bullpen.

Luis Cessa also showed flashes of being a capable starting pitcher last season.  In a vacuum, Cessa probably showed the best potential to start last year, pairing an excellent walk rate with an average hit rate and a below-average, but playable strikeout rate.  Cessa outperformed his FIP by more than a full run (!) primarily due to an astronomically high HR rate.  Cessa will not be able to match his ERA performance over the course of a full season pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of the AL East if there is not some regression of his HR rate this year.  There is a lot to like about Cessa, though.  He only began pitching as a 19 year old in the Mets’ farm system in 2011, so it is possible that there is more development left ahead for Cessa.  Additionally, he sports four solid pitches, which is more than any other pitcher on this list can boast, giving him the ability to pitch deeper into games.  If Cessa can continue to develop his repertoire and limit the long-ball, he has the potential to be a steady inning-eater in the back of the rotation.

Yankee fans probably don’t want to read a recap of Luis Severino’s 2016, as he woefully underperformed most fan’s expectations.  While many fans and writers have expressed the opinion that Severino should begin a transition to a full-time reliever, the Yankees plan to give him another shot to earn a rotation spot in 2017.  As awful as Severino was a starter last season, he was still able to strike out hitters at an above average rate.  Also, he is only a year removed from an excellent 2015 that saw him fly through the minor leagues and make 11 mostly excellent starts in the big leagues.  There is little argument that Severino has a higher ceiling than any other starter listed here.  He is equipped with a mid-high 90’s fastball and a plus slider.  Severino’s command is currently well below-average as he often left pitches over the heart of the plate, missing his catcher’s target by more than a foot in some cases.  Most distressing however, was the disappearance of Severino’s trust, use, and effectiveness of his changeup, a pitch that was lauded by hordes of scouts as his best pitch as recently as the beginning of 2015.  Changes in the velocity and shape of the pitch were apparent to the human eye last year, namely a jump in velocity.  Watching Severino at the Futures game in July 2014, Severino operated with a changeup that sat at 80-82 MPH with late life, and he used it as his primary off-speed pitch.  Last year, Severino’s changeup sat in the high 80’s and it would largely disappear from his arsenal most outings.  The key to unlocking Severino’s potential as a starter lies in not just his ability to develop command, but to rediscover the changeup that made him one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.  If he can accomplish that, Severino will be a mainstay in the rotation not just in 2017, but for years to come.

Bryan Mitchell was a forgotten man for much of 2016, as he missed most of the year with a fluke foot injury sustained during Spring Training.  Mitchell was poised to make an impact, as Brian Cashman confirmed that Mitchell was set to make the team as a reliever out of Spring Training.  Instead of spending the year with the Yankees, Mitchell spent most of the year rehabbing, making 5 cameo starts for the Yanks in September.  While Mitchell sported an excellent ERA in those starts, his ERA belies some troubling underlying stats, namely that Mitchell walked more batters than he struck out.  Both rates are well-below Major League averages, and are the primary culprits for Mitchell’s FIP being almost a full run higher than his ERA.  Mitchell has been a well-regarded prospect in the Yankee system for years, and has previous success at the big league level, but he is also plagued by the lack of a usable third pitch, relying on his fastball and slider.

Lastly, Adam Warren finds himself in the familiar position of heading to Yankee Spring Training stretched out as a starter, while likely being ticketed for the bullpen.  The statistics he compiled with the Yankees last year were entirely out of the bullpen, after a sub-par performance both in the rotation and in the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs.  Warren is a known entity to the Yankees, and has performed admirably as a swingman in the past for the Yanks.  As a starter, he can show hitters four pitches, though he primarily uses his fastball, slider, and changeup, with the curveball being used sparingly as a “show-me” pitch in recent years.  While the veteran has proven versatile, his best role may be as a stabilizing force in middle relief and as a safety net should some of the Yankees young starters falter or get hurt.

The Yankees have no shortage of imperfect options to fill out the remaining 2/5 of their rotation as they prepare for Spring Training.  I’m sure the Yankees are hoping one of those spots will be filled by Luis Severino, and I wholeheartedly agree – no other potential starter on the 40-man roster has Severino’s upside, and if it all clicks for him, the Yankees could be considerably better than projected.  I personally prefer Warren in the bullpen as he’s proven comfortable in that role, and Joe Girardi tends to rely on his inner circle of trusted pitchers at the expense of some younger relief arms.  Given the choice between Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green, I would lean towards beginning the year with Cessa as the 5th starter.  Both Mitchell and Green’s high octane fastball and slider combination could be highly useful in a thin bullpen behind Chapman and Betances, and they could conceivably remain somewhat stretched out so that they can piggyback off of any of the starters in the event of a short outing, as their stuff plays up in shorter 1-3 inning outings.

In reality, all of these starters will probably see some time in the starting rotation this year due to injury or underperformance.  While each pitcher have some significant hurdles to overcome, it is relatively easy to see a path for Major League success for each this season.  I’m inclined to believe that the outlook for the back of the Yankee rotation is not quite as dire as some of the projections would lead you to believe.

The All "No Votes for the Hall of Fame" Team

Earlier this week, Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated put together a list of ten of the best players to drop off of the Hall of Fame ballot without receiving a vote (though, players that made the ballot but did not receive a vote were not reported until 1978). It's a mouthful of a title, to be sure, but it's also an endlessly intriguing topic - particularly when you consider that Armando Benitez, Jacque Jones, Bill Mueller, Aaron Sele, Kenny Rogers, and David Eckstein have all received votes over the last five years. I was in the midst of some frustrating downtime when I read Jaffe's piece, so, naturally, I put together a 25-man roster using his guidelines. 

And here it is.

Catchers

Mickey Tettleton (C - Starter)

Tettleton was a career .241/.369/.449 hitter (122 OPS+), averaging 27 HR per 162 games. He was a switch hitter with no real platoon split (.821 OPS against RHP, .810 against LHP), and his defense was at least passable when he was in his 20s.

Paul Lo Duca

Lo Duca had a six-year stretch as a solid everyday catcher, posting a 103 OPS+ and averaging 3.1 bWAR from 2001 through 2006.

Infielders

Cecil Cooper (1B - Starter)

It surprised me quite a bit to find that Cooper received no love on his lone crack at the Hall of Fame. He finished in the top-five in MVP voting three times, won a couple of Gold Gloves, and led the league in RBI twice. 

Ray Durham (2B - Starter)

Durham had a solid yet unspectacular career, which was largely defined by a modest power/speed combo and a healthy walk rate. He was essentially an above-average regular from ages 24 through 34, averaging 3.1 bWAR a year in that stretch.

Troy Glaus (3B - Starter)

Glaus is another player that surprised me here. He led the league in home runs once, and won the World Series MVP in 2002 - and that's usually enough to have a writer or two toss a vote your way.

Rich Aurilia (SS - Starter)

If you remember Aurilia, it's likely because you're (1) a Giants fan, or (2) you appreciate a tremendous outlier like his 2001, when he led the league in hits and cranked out 37 HR. He was a steady, league-average shortstop for a long time otherwise.

Mark Grudzielanek

One of my proudest moments as a young baseball fan was being able to spell 'Grudzielanek' with ease. There might be more deserving infielders out there, but we're making a 25-man roster here, and he can fill in at 2B and SS.

Todd Zeile

Zeile was a league-average hitter (104 OPS+) for parts of sixteen seasons, and saw 100-plus games at C, 1B, and 3B (his primary position). 

Outfielders

Brian Giles (LF - Starter)

Arguments that Giles is a borderline Hall of Famer are a bit overstated, but he flat-out raked at his peak. His average line from 1999 through 2005 was .303/.418/.554 (151 OPS+), with 102 R, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 10 SB, and 5.1 bWAR.

Jimmy Wynn (CF - Starter)

When I first drafted this list, I had Wynn on the bench, opting for defense over offense. I'm switching things up this time around, as I simply can't overlook someone with three 7+ bWAR seasons and an another three 5+ bWAR efforts.

Oscar Gamble (RF - Starter)

I changed this one up, too, largely because of his 80-grade hair and this wonderful image:

Well, that, and the fact that he had a 141 OPS+ at his peak (from 1973 through 1982).

Raul Mondesi

I changed gears again (sorry Jermaine Dye). Mondesi was a terrific hitter through age-26 (127 OPS+ in nearly 2500 PA), and he had one of the best outfield arms that I've ever seen.

Devon White

White is one of the greatest defensive center fielders of my lifetime, if not of all-time. He was also a league-average-ish hitter (98 OPS+), and a good to great base-runner.

Designated Hitter

Richie Sexson

Sexson's career was a relative blip on the radar, as his last full season came at age-32 (and his last productive season was the year before) - but from 2001 through 2005 he averaged 42 HR per 162 games, slashing .270/.363/.537 (135 OPS+). That'll do from the DH slot.

Starting Rotation

Mark Langston

The man dealt for Randy Johnson was a very good pitcher in his own right, leading the league in strikeouts three times and finishing in the top-ten in bWAR five times (including seasons of 7.3 and 8.7 bWAR).

Gary Nolan

Nolan was one of the best young pitchers in the game before his arm fell off in 1973. He posted a 127 ERA+ from ages 19 to 24, averaging 3.5 bWAR along the way. And that includes 6.3 bWAR in 1967 ... his rookie year, during which he turned 19.

Sam McDowell

Sudden Sam led the league in strikeouts five times, and sits 15th on the all-time K/9 list. He was the best pitcher in the AL in 1965, when he led the league in bWAR (8.1) and ERA (2.18).

Jason Schmidt

Schmidt is best-remember for signing a big contract with the Dodgers in 2007 (3-years, $47 MM), and starting just ten games over those three years. Prior to that, however, he was a solid mid-rotation starter, pitching to a 126 ERA+ over six years with the Giants.

Frank Tanana

Tanana is 21st all-time in strikeouts and 35th in innings pitched, having spent the vast majority of his 21-year career as a league-average starter. He also finished 9th in Cy Young voting in 1977 - a season in which he led the league in pitcher bWAR, ERA, and ERA+.

Bullpen

Eddie Guardado

Everyday Eddie averaged 71 appearances a year from 1996 to 2003, pitching to a 122 ERA+ along the way. His best stretch came from 2002 through 2005, when he averaged 35 saves and a 157 ERA+.

Roberto Hernandez

Hernandez is 9th in games finished and 14th in games played on the all-time leaderboard. He made at least 43 appearances per season every year from 1992 through 2007, retiring after 2007. 

Jose Mesa

Mesa might have been the best reliever in the game in 1995, when he posted an insane 418 ERA+ and a league-leading 46 saves. His career totals are dragged down a bit by the five years he spent as a starting pitcher - he had a 114 ERA+ as a reliever.

Mike Stanton

Only Jesse Orosco made more appearances than Stanton - and he received one vote for his efforts. His best season came in 1997, his first with the Yankees, when he posted a 176 ERA+ and held lefties to a minuscule .157/.250/.157 slash line.

Mike Timlin

Timlin led the Majors in appearances once, in his age-39 season - a season in which he had a 203 ERA+ and 2.9 bWAR (the best mark of his career). He was better than most remember, with a career 125 ERA+ over an eighteen-year career.

Todd Worrell

Worrell dealt with injuries throughout his career, and spent two full seasons on the disabled list. Despite that, he had a 122 ERA+ in over 600 appearances. He also won the Rookie of the Year in 1986, when he pitched 103.2 IP across 74 appearances, and led the league with 36 saves.

-----

What do you think about this squad? If we take all of the players at their peak, I'd have to say that this is a World Series contender. If we instead focused on their career norms, we'd still be looking at a playoff team.

 

How Derek Turned Me Around to "No Thanks" on Quintana

Not many blog posts change anyone’s mind. Heck, not many writings of any kind change anyone’s mind. That's a sad observation I'm making, especially given that (when I'm not blogging) brief-writing is one of the main subjects I teach. But I’m not silly-cynical enough to say nothing ever persuades anyone. I’ve seen minds changed by logical points and strong writing -- which is exciting, and gives you some faith in humanity, however briefly.

Derek’s post on the furiously debated Jose Quintana trade possibility is one of those mind-changing works. I’d been gunning hard for a Quintana trade, including on this blog’s podcast, where I suggested this: if the Yankees get Quintana for Gleyber TorresClint Frazier, and a B+ to A- type of prospect or two, then they’d basically have traded the late 2016 Miller/Chapman haul for Quintana. Nabbing four years of an underpaid top starter for a half-year of Chapman and one and a half years of Miller, especially with the Yankees ending up re-signing Chapman, would be a steal. But Derek completely turned me against a Quintana trade for two broad reasons.

First, the upside isn’t enough. Quintana’s likely 3.5-WAR performance likely won’t make the Yankees a likely playoff team given that (a) the Yankees' barely-over-.500 projection for 2017 means they’re more than one starter away from contention, and (b) Quintana's 3.5-WAR projection could be just a 2.5-win gain, given the team's underwhelming yet useful depth of probably 1-WAR fifth through seventh starters. Of the back-end starters: I'm partial to Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren; others may prefer Chad GreenLuis CessaDietrich Enns, or a mid-season callup of the almost-ready Chance Adams. But the point is that value over replacement level is a generalization that can vary based on a team's depth -- and on a team with a lot of 0.5-1.5 WAR options, a 3.5-WAR player adds a tick less value than he would on a shallower team.

Second, the cost of Quintana is too high. I respect Derek’s humility in admitting he could be called a “prospect-hugger” for arguing against buying Quintana with prospects. We all can get too enamored of the highest-end possible outcomes of our favorite prospects. But I don’t think it’s prospect-hugging to say that three top prospects -- Chicago's price -- easily could outperform early-30s Quintana by later this decade when the Yankees might be contenders again. Three top prospects probably become one flop, one OK contributor, and one genuinely good player -- and that package easily could match or exceed the just over 3 WAR expected from each of Quintana’s end-of-decade seasons.

I’m not saying Chicago’s high Quintana pricetag is unreasonable. Chicago's prospect hauls for Sale and Eaton include so much talent, and so much majors-ready talent, that they actually could hope to contend in 1-3 years. So Quintana could remain a key part of the next contending Sox team -- leaving the Sox now in an enviable position: they value keeping Quintana enough to dump him for only an offer they can’t refuse. If the current Yankees were the sort of contending or nearly-contending team that one more star pitcher could take over the top, then sure, pay Chicago's king’s ransom –- as Boston did, surrendering a huge bucket of prospects for Sale. But the Yankees aren’t there, and I give Steinbrenner, Cashman, and the rest of the front office credit for acknowledging that.

Is Brian Cashman Done for the Offseason? The 25-Man Roster as it Stands Today

Brian Cashman says the roster is pretty much set for Spring Training:

Is he being honest, or does Cashman have a trick up his sleeve? Let's take a look at the 25-man roster at the moment:

Starting Infield: 1b Greg Bird, 2b Starlin Castro, SS Didi Gregorius, 3b Chase Headley, C Gary Sanchez

All set here. There are no obvious free agents, farmhands, or available players to upgrade any of these guys. Collectively, they should be an above-average group. Starlin Castro is the weak link, but his contract is also by far the hardest to move. 

Starting Outfield: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday (DH)

Cashman has been broadcasting his desire to trade Brett Gardner with a bullhorn all offseason. Brett Gardner is still here. My guess is no team was willing to give up any decent prospects in return. I could see Brian Cashman moving him before Spring Training, but the trade deadline seems more likely. The Yankees will have a lot more information about the major league futures of Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and others by then.

Bench: Aaron Hicks, Austin Romine/Kyle Higashioka, Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Austin

Looks pretty good to me. As I said on the podcast last week, I think the Yankees should consider Higashioka over Romine. He hit so well last year, and Romine has been replacement level. Austin and Hicks provide one of the better one-two punches off the bench that the Yankees have had in some time. 

Starting Pitching: Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Chad Greene, Luis Severino

And now we've reached the problem. Those last two spots are completely up in the air. Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell and possibly Dietrich Enns will also get a shot at the MLB rotation in spring training. 

On one hand, this group is thin. The top-3 all have recent history of serious injuries, and none of the bottom group are really close to known quantities. It's not hard to imagine a complete collapse here, where the Yankees are forced to dig deep down into their depth chart before certain prospects are ready.

On the other hand, a lot of thin starting pitching staffs did very well in 2016. The Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers all made the playoffs with horrible starting pitching last season. All made up for it with strong bullpens and good hitting. The Yankees may be able to survive with their current group, at least until the trade deadline.

That said, I think Cashman is underselling the possibility of trading for Jose Quintana. The price is high right now, but no moves have been made. The Yankees could come back in if the price is reduced, especially if they are willing to take most of David Robertson's salary.

Relief Pitching: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren, Richard Bleier, Tommy Layne

The lefties are the obvious weak point here. I don't have a lot of faith in either Bleier or Layne, and the Yankees have been connected to Boone Logan this winter. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Yankees go out and get an upgrade there, but the Yankees could easily go into the season with the current group.

Bottom line: I think the Yankees could be done, but they sure could use another starting pitcher. I think they would be smart to go out and get someone on the low side of that market: Doug Fister, Scott Feldman, Dillon Gee, etc. These guys can eat innings, and potentially provide above-replacement production. 

How much would Jose Quintana benefit the Yankees?

Every team could use a pitcher like Jose Quintana and the Yankees are no exception. Though Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia have concerns of their own, the back end of the club’s rotation is a glaring weakness. Some combination of Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Adam Warren are currently slated to handle the other two spots in the rotation (plus any injury replacement time for the front three). There is upside in that group, but also recent problems with health and effectiveness. Quintana possesses none of those issues and would presumably steal 200 innings from those five young pitchers. So while it’s obvious that the Colombian southpaw would upgrade the Yankees’ rotation, what’s not clear is by precisely how much.

At the moment, Fangraphs’ Steamer Depth Charts projects the Yankees as an 83 win team, far behind the Red Sox’ 93 victory forecast. The Yankees won 84 last year and haven’t done much to change the roster this offseason, so the projection seems reasonable. Although some recent Red Sox clubs have fallen far short of expectations (see: 2012 and 2014), it's hard to envision such a letdown reoccurring. So the division can probably be counted out. Over the last three seasons, the American League’s Wild Card winners have won between 86 and 89 games, so the Yankees probably need to find another handful of wins to sneak into the playoffs in 2017. And even that might not be enough.

Conveniently, Quintana has been worth a handful of wins each year he’s been a full-time member of the White Sox rotation. FIP-based WAR has had Quintana at roughly 5 wins in each of the last three seasons and 3.5 the year before that. Runs Allowed-based WAR has Quintana at 4.0, 3.1, 4.8, and 5.8 from 2013 through 2016. And Quintana’s projection for this seaason? Approximately 4 wins according to both Steamer and ZiPS. Snag Quintana and the Yankees are right in the thick of the Wild Card hunt, right? Not so fast. It all depends on the outlook of the of the innings Quintana would take away from other pinstriped hurlers.

Fangraphs Steamer Depth Charts - Yankees SP

Above is a snapshot of how the Yankees’ rotation is estimated to perform this season according to Fangraphs' Depth Charts. This forecast uses the Steamer projections and adjusts for the website's staff estimate of playing time, which in turn helps determine the win-loss forecast I previously noted. This projection expects the Yankees to need 458 innings from Severino on down. Adding Quintana while ratably adjusting the innings from Severino, Green, et. al. would look like this:

Rotation with Quintana

That brings the rotation from 14.5 WAR to 16.3 WAR, which translates to roughly a two victory upswing. That’s…not quite enough to push the Yankees into certain playoff team territory. So does that mean the Yankees would be an 85 or 86 win club with Quintana, all else being equal? Not necessarily. There are a few caveats with the projections I’m using here.

Most notably, Steamer is the high system on the four guys expected to get the bulk of the remaining innings: Severino, Green, Mitchell, and Cessa. ZiPS, on the other hand, expects far less. A comparison (in which I prorate ZiPS innings projection to match Fangraphs' Depth Charts):

Young Pitchers Projections

There’s a two-win difference between Steamer and ZiPS for Severino and the others. That means that, perhaps, Quintana could be up to a four win upgrade. Maybe more if he pitches as well as he did last year. However, if we follow ZiPS conservative approach for the young pitchers and hold all else equal, we'd have to assume the Yankees starting point win total projection (without Quintana) would be 80 or 81 instead of 83. That means that in the end, though a conservative approach makes Quintana more valuable in comparison, the Yankees would still be in the same ending win curve position with the six-foot-one lefty in hand.

Quintana would inch the Yankees closer to contention in 2017, but wouldn't make the squad a shoe-in. That said, he wouldn’t be an acquisition for only this year. He's controllable for three more seasons after 2017, thanks to a team-friendly deal he signed with the White Sox. Those additional years will be his age 29, 30, and 31 seasons, right in the prime of his career. Dan Szymborski kindly sent me Quintana's ZiPS projections for the remaining life of his contract:

4-year ZiPS projection for Jose Quintana courtesy of Dan Szymborski.

4-year ZiPS projection for Jose Quintana courtesy of Dan Szymborski.

13.5 WAR in four seasons is pretty darn good. The Yankees need that kind of help in the rotation during that time period because Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia could all leave via free agency after this season. This potential acquisition would be just as much about the future as would be for this coming season. But to add Quintana to the team through 2020, the Yankees would have to sacrifice some of its minor league crop.

What would the cost be? Not as much as his ex-teammate Chris Sale fetched, but undoubtedly a substantial package. The South Siders reportedly asked the Astros for RHP Joe Musgrove, OF Kyle Tucker, and RHP Francis Martes in talks for Quintana.

What would be a similar package from the Yankees standpoint? First, let's get a better understanding of the quality of those 'Stros players. Martes and Tucker are Houston's two best prospects per Baseball America. The former, 21 years-old, pitched well in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League in 2016. The latter, Tucker, was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft and raked his way up to High-A as a 19 year-old. Musgrove, 24, was the club’s sixth-best prospect entering last season per the same publication before exceeding rookie eligibility this year. At midseason, Baseball America ranked Martes 29th, Musgrove 32nd, and Tucker 35th in its league-wide top 100 prospects list. As another point of reference, Chris Mitchell provided me the KATOH forecasts for each player's controllable years:

Musgrove's forecast is a midseason release of KATOH, as he exceeded rookie eligibility. KATOH does not consider Major League results.

Musgrove's forecast is a midseason release of KATOH, as he exceeded rookie eligibility. KATOH does not consider Major League results.

For some background, KATOH is a stats-only forecast method while KATOH+ considers Baseball America's rankings (an attempt to blend scouting with stats). Additionally, the controllable years factor in the distance from the Majors. So a player who topped out in Triple-A has a six year projection, Double-A seven, High-A eight, so on and so forth.

My best guess for a Yankees equivalent would be Gleyber Torres (Kyle Tucker), Clint Frazier (Francis Martes), and Luis Severino (Joe Musgrove). The midseason Baseball America rank and KATOH/KATOH+ projections for those three:

While I think Torres and Severino make sense as equivalents, it's hard to find a match for Martes as the Yankees don't really have a pitcher quite like him. Martes is both highly touted by scouts and favored by advanced metrics. Though Frazier is a position player, his Baseball America ranking is at least similar to that of Martes, and both should start 2017 in Triple-A. Maybe Kaprielian would have worked here if he was healthy last year. If you're thinking that this is a ton for Quintana, you're not wrong. Chicago isn't going to get fleeced. Of course, some negotiating could probably whittle down the package, but this gets us an idea of a starting point.

By strictly comparing the long-term WAR totals from my hypothetical package against Quintana's four-year forecast, the Yankees come up short. That makes sense, it's a similar concept to the time value of money.  Any excess value the prospects provide over Quintana in the long run is the interest the Yankees pay. Of course, that interest probably wouldn't be felt until after Quintana's contract is complete. 

Killing two birds with one stone is the goal of a potential Quintana deal. It can (sort of) help the Yankees push toward contention immediately, though the roster doesn't have much room for error. Additionally, It helps the Yankees contend in 2018 and beyond, provided that other continuous improvements are made and the remaining prospects blossom.

In spite of Quintana's allure, I don't think the Yankees as currently constituted are talented enough to justify this potential acquisition for three of the organization's top young players. Perhaps the asking price comes down, but Quintana isn't quite the ace that the Yankees would need for it to make a significant immediate difference. I know the Yankees are starved for pitching help, but this is a team in transition that shouldn't divert from its path. Quintana is really good, but not the type of player that an organization should change its plans for. I say this at risk of being labeled a prospect hugger, but I'd much rather take a chance on Frazier or Torres becoming studs by the end of Quintana's deal.