Rule V Draft: Yankees Lose Luis Torrens, Caleb Smith, Tyler Webb

MLB held its Rule V draft this morning. The Yankees lost three players: catcher Luis Torrens and relief pitchers Caleb Smith and Tyler Webb.

Torrens is the big loss here. He was considered a top-10 Yankee prospect, and one of the better Yankee IFA signings in recent memory, before missing the entire 2015 season with an arm injury. He returned in 2016, but wasn't very good (.250/.350/.336, most at Low-A). Torrens has elite defensive tools and is supposed to have hitting potential, but he has less than a full season of experience above short-season ball. That said, I could see him sticking as a backup catcher for a full season with the Reds. He can play defense, and they have nothing to lose. Good gamble by the Reds.

Smith and Webb are more typical Rule V selections. Both are bullpen arms who had okay, but not great, seasons in the high minors. The Yankees won't miss them. 

Scouring the Free Agent Market for Starting Pitching

On the off-chance that you were ignoring all outlets for baseball media yesterday, the Red Sox made a bit of a splash on the trade market. In years past, the Yankees would have attempted to make a counter-splash - but, luckily, that no longer seems to be the case. That does not change the fact, however, that the team is aware that it needs two starting pitchers and, despite Hal Steinbrenner's optimism, filling those slots with internal options seems abjectly terrifying.

To be fair, the free agent market doesn't lend much hope. Rich Hill, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey represented the pitcher with the highest upside and the two most durable options, and all three have already signed. What remains is largely categorized a miasma of risk and disappointment ... and that's mostly fair. The Yankees don't need to find their Chris Sale right now, though, with Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda written into the first three spots in the rotation, and only modest dreams of success. Rather, they need innings, innings, and more innings. And I wouldn't thumb my nose at some upside, either.

With that in mind, here are the available pitchers that most interest me at this time (and, in certain cases, I use the term 'interest' loosely):

Brett Anderson

What can I say? I can't quit Anderson. It's impossible to sugarcoat his injury history, as he has made more 13 starts just once in the last six seasons and just missed the majority of 2016 following back surgery. He won't turn 29 until February, though, and put together a solid, full season as recently as 2015 (180.1 IP, 100 ERA+, 66.3 GB%). This is my high-risk, high-reward name of choice, if the team goes that route.

Jorge de la Rosa

With Colon and Dickey gone, de la Rosa may be the safest bet to soak up innings available. The 35-year-old has made at least 24 starts in each of the last four seasons, throwing at least 134 IP each year (the low marks in both did come in 2016, though, as a result of a groin strain). Last year was the worst full season of his career in a decade, and any expectations should be lowered as a result.

Rubby de la Rosa

There is a non-zero chance that de la Rosa will need Tommy John Surgery in the near future, despite having underwent stem cell treatment on his elbow, and that is likely why the Diamondbacks cut him loose. He threw 160-plus IP in 2014 and 2015, though, and had excellent strikeout (9.59 K/9) and groundball (51.4 GB%) rates in his 13 games (10 starts) last season. He also throws hard, which we know the Yankees love, with his fastball averaging 94.6 MPH in 2016.

Doug Fister

Fister was viewed as a bounceback candidate last year, after suffering through an injury-plagued 2015. He did manage to stay healthy, making 32 starts and tossing 180.1 IP - but he wasn't good, producing 1.1 fWAR and/or 0.0 bWAR. He's clearly in decline, yet he remains a relatively safe bet to give the Yankees innings in the back of the rotation.

Jason Hammel

Hammel is the lone remaining 'safe' pitcher on the market, averaging 171 IP of 105 ERA+ ball over the last three seasons. He's something of a flyball pitcher, with a 40% or so groundball rate over the last four seasons, but he can be counted on for average-ish strikeout and walk rates, and has had success in hitter-friendly Wrigley Field and Camden Yards. I suspect he'll end up with a surprisingly large contract, though, due to his compatriots in free agency.

Colby Lewis

Lewis missed time with a strained lat on his throwing side last year, but came back healthy and effective down the stretch. He threw 375 IP between 2014 and 2015, and has been reasonably durable (and intermittently effective) since returning to the Majors in 2010. He's a true flyball pitcher, which is always scary - but he has had success in the bandbox of Texas regardless.

Jeff Locke

If I had to guess that any of these players will end up on the Yankees, it'd be Locke. He's a lefty, he keeps the ball on the ground (50 GB% for his career), and he shouldn't cost that much. Locke also throws a bit harder than I guessed, averaging a bit over 91 MPH with his fastball. He, like so many others on this list, struggled last year, but he was a league-average starter in 2014 and 2015.

Nix this one - Locke signed with the Marlins while I was writing this.

Jon Niese

Niese's career arc over the last few years has been remarkably similar to Locke, and he shares the same profile. And he has experience pitching in New York, if you think that matters.

Ivan Nova

Hello darkness my old friend.

Jake Peavy

The 35-year-old Peavy has missed time with injuries in each of the last two seasons, and is coming off of the worst season of his career. He also seems like the exact sort of 'veteran presents' type that the Yankees take fliers on.

Tyson Ross

Ross has been linked to the Yankees off and on for what feels like a lifetime, and he is now there for the taking. He's recovering from thoracic outlet surgery (his timetable to return is between February and April), and made just one start in 2016. His velocity also slipped fairly drastically in each of the last three seasons. That being said, he was excellent in 2014 and 2015, racking up strikeouts and groundballs, and might just have the most upside on this list.

Jered Weaver

Weaver is the healthier version of Jake Peavy, though the prospect of a pitcher that allowed 37 home runs last year despite making half of his starts at Angel Stadium playing in Yankee Stadium is equal parts funny and scary. And that may be the only reason that I included him on this list.

If I had to choose from this group, I would probably be most interested in gambling on at least one of Anderson, Rubby de la Rosa, and Ross, while grabbing Locke to eat innings. Hammel is the best of both worlds, but I think he'll be priced out of the Yankees range (which is a weird sentence to write).

What say you?

Podcast Episode 64: New York Yankees Sign Matt Holliday

Domenic, E.J. and Scott discuss the New York Yankees' signing of OF/DH Matt Holliday. 

This episode is a little short at 24 minutes. We had some technical problems and lost our second segment, where we debated fWAR vs. bWAR. As a result, the episode ends a little abruptly. We apologize for that, and hope to record a second episode later this week if Yankees news breaks.

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Yankees Sign Matt Holliday to a One-Year Deal

On Sunday evening, Sweeney Murti reported that the Yankees were close to a deal with Matt Holliday. Minutes later, Jon Heyman confirmed that a one-year, $13 MM deal had been reached. I wrote about Holliday as a potential target for the team's vacant designated hitter slot, alongside eight other names. To wit:

You'll undoubtedly note that Holliday is not a left-handed hitter - but I have to include him, if only because I wanted the Yankees to sign him this time seven years ago. The 36-year-old had virtually no platoon split this year (107 wRC+ vs. LHP, 109 vs. RHP), which has been the case throughout his career. And he garnered praise for learning first base on the fly last year, to boot.

Last season was largely considered a disappointment for Holliday, as the seven-time All-Star posted his worst wRC+ since his rookie season, and produced just 0.3 bWAR / 0.7 fWAR (either mark represents the lowest output of his career). Disconcerting as that may be, it's important to note that his 109 wRC+ would have been third on the Yankees last season (behind Sanchez and Beltran), and right around league-average for a designated hitter. His days as an MVP candidate are long gone, but there's little reason to suggest that he cannot be a competent hitter - particularly if he doesn't have to play the field on anything more than an occasional (or, preferably, emergency) basis.

There are two reasons for optimism about his bat, as well.

The first is that Holliday made a great deal of contact last season (his strikeout rate was five percentage points better than league-average), and he hit the ball with authority. As per Statcast, only Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton had a higher average exit velocity than Holliday. That's it. Two players with prodigious raw power were ahead of him, and Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, and Pedro Alvarez were next. Exit velocity is not necessarily indicative of success (Ryan Zimmerman and his 67 wRC+ were 9th last season) - but it's a great sign nevertheless.

And the other, simply put, is that Holliday obviously wore down as the season went on. His wRC+ dropped each full month (from 126 to 114 to 99 to 67), as did his walk to strikeout ratio, and a broken finger all but ended his season on August 11. Though, to be fair, he did make a fantastic memory in a pinch hit appearance on September 30. The wear and tear of playing the outfield everyday could not have helped matters, particularly as he had dealt with lower body issues throughout the 2015 season (in which he only played 73 games). His current skill-set, health and all, is tailor made for the DH slot.

There may have been better options on the market, as many have suggested thus far, but I am quite confident in Holliday's abilities to bolster the Yankees lineup in 2017. And I wouldn't be surprised if his production looked a bit more like it did in 2014 and 2015, either.

Is Oswaldo Arcia the Ultimate Buy Low Opportunity?

A bit more than twenty four hours ago, former IIATMS blogger and current law student Michael Eder brought the name Oswaldo Arcia to my attention. The 25-year-old outfielder was designated for assignment by the Padres a couple of weeks ago, and is currently a free agent (and, so far as I can tell, the only Major League free agent born in the 1990s). This move came on the heels of Arcia spending time with the Twins (his original organization), Rays, Marlins, and Padres in 2016, just three and a half years removed from being the 41st best prospect in baseball.

How the heck did we get here?

Heading into the 2013 season, Arcia was widely regarded as a top prospect. Jason Parks (then of Baseball Prospectus, now of the Chicago Cups scouting department) gave him plus grades in his hit and raw power tools, and John Manuel of Baseball America wrote that Arcia could "combine the best of both worlds" as a hitter for both average and power. It was no surprise to see him receive such praise, given that he hit .320/.388/.539 with 36 2B, 8 3B, and 17 HR between High-A and Double-A in 2012.

He earned his first call-up on April 15, 2013, and he spent the majority of the season suiting up for the Twins. Arcia held his own as a 22-year-old, batting .251/.304/.430, with 14 HR and a 101 wRC+ in 378 PA. He followed that up by batting .231/.300/.452 with 20 HR and a 108 wRC+ in 410 PA in 2014, increasing his walk rate by 1.5 percentage points to a league-average rate.

In many ways, he seemed like a building block for the Twins. He had an above-average bat and demonstrated signs of improvement, which is a fantastic sign for a 23-year-old (as he was at the end of 2014). There were warning signs, though - most notably a 31.0% strikeout rate, and horrible defensive metrics (he cost the team about a win by both DRS and UZR in 2013 and 2014). The aforementioned scouting reports praised his right field defense, though, and his age was a beacon of hope in and of itself, so he couldn't be written off.

And then the wheels fell off.

Arcia struggled mightily in the Majors, posting an 82 wRC+ over the first month of the season, and then heading to the disabled list with a hip injury. The Twins sent him down to Triple-A as soon as he was activated from the DL, based upon questionable reasoning, where he ended up spending the rest of the season (putting up a paltry 79 wRC+). One could argue that this is indicative of a young player dealing with an injury and resenting his demotion to a level that he had dominated, rather than a lack of talent - but hindsight might just tell us otherwise.

Coming full circle, Arcia hit just .203/.270/.366 this year, suiting up for 222 PA between four different teams. He seemed to find himself with the Rays last summer, hitting .259/.328/.444 in 61 PA, but was cut as he was out of options, and they had no room on the 25-man roster. And he's a free agent once more, and comes with three years of team control (meaning that a team could sign him to a one-year deal, and get two years of arbitration eligibility).

Despite there being no genuine evidence of an attitude problem, one can't help but wonder if there is something going on beyond the numbers. Arcia is a young player with an impressive pedigree, as well as a not insignificant track record at the big league level. It's not unreasonable to say that he probably shouldn't play the outfield at this point (given a lengthy injury history and more subpar defensive metrics) - but is his bat worth a flier?

Arcia is a career .239/.309/.462 hitter against RHP (110 wRC+), with 38 HR and an average walk rate in 750 PA. Most of that production was in 2013 and 2014, to be sure, and we have two years in between that cannot be readily dismissed. However, Arcia was injured throughout 2015 and 2016, and the Twins organization hasn't exactly capitalized on its slew of top prospects over the last half dozen years or so. And a left-handed hitter with plus power and significant pull tendencies (his 45.3% pull rate ranks 36th among 297 qualified batters since 2013) sounds wonderful in Yankee Stadium.

The title to this post may seem hyperbolic and ... well ... it probably is. Arcia has been bad for two years, in both Triple-A and the Majors, and four separate teams gave up on him over the last six months. That's never a good sign. That being said, the Yankees are a rebuilding team, and Arcia is still young enough that you can see the promise of prospect lists and two partial seasons of production. And, with a vacant DH slot begging for a left-handed power hitter, a potential fit exists. If Arcia is awful, he could be cut without incident - but if he's good, they have three years of team control (and a trade chip). 

In short, after far too many words, Arcia is the type of guy that a team in this position should take a chance on. A minor league deal would be for the best, but the downside to an MLB deal is basically nil.

New MLB/MLBPA CBA: Implications for the New York Yankees

MLB and MLBPA have a new CBA. There will be no lockout. Hooray!

There were several notable changes in the new CBA. How do they effect the Yankees?

Luxury Tax: $195m in 2017, up to $210m over 5 years; Much higher luxury tax at very high levels (unspecified)

This hurts the Yankees. In the short term, they will be able to add a little more payroll than a team trying to get under $189m again. How doable is $195m this year?

The Yankees currently have somewhere in the neighborhood of $172m committed to the roster for next year at the moment. If they sign Aroldis Chapman for the rumored 5-year, $90m contract, they are already up to $190m. My guess is it would take a trade of one of Tanaka, Gardner, or Headley to get them down below.

However, it's definitely doable in 2018. The Yankees currently have just $95m committed to the 2018 roster, and the pre-2018 free agent class lacks big spending targets. Even if the Yankees drop $50m per year on some combination of Rich Hill, Aroldis Chapman, and Luis Valbuena, they can easily clear $197 once CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez come off the books.

In the long term, the Yankees won't have the option of going to a Dodgers-style $300m+ payroll without paying a much larger penalty than the old system. We may have to settle for only two of Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw and Manny Machado.

Qualifying Offers: No More Draft First Round Pick Penalty

I'll let MLB Trade Rumors do the explaining here:

First-round picks will no longer be sacrificed in signings of QO-declining players, Jon Morosi of MLB Network tweets. These changes will not apply until the following offseason, Morosi notes on Twitter.

All teams will stand to sacrifice draft picks if they sign players who declined qualifying offers, Stark tweets, but at varying levels. Organizations that are over the luxury tax line will punt a second and a fifth-round choice, while those who are under the threshold would stand to sacrifice a third-rounder.

This is a big win for any team that plans to sign a lot of free agents, like the Yankees. They can sign the mid-tier type (think Kenley Jansen or Justin Turner, although this doesn't kick in until next season) free agents at a much lower cost. They'll be at a slight disadvantage if over the luxury tax against their nearly-as-high spending competitors, but 2nd round picks are much less important than first round picks. Great news.

No International Draft; Hard-Capped IFA Spending

The Yankees contributed to breaking the IFA system by signing 10 of the top 30 players two periods ago. There will be no international draft, but teams will be limited to a hard cap in signing bonus money. The Yankees would obviously prefer to go back to unlimited spending, but that isn't happening. A draft would have been both a fiasco and unfair to the players, so I think this is positive for baseball, and mostly neutral for the Yankees.

 

You've Got Questions? We (Might) Have Answers.

We will be recording Episode 63 of the It's About the Yankees Stupid Podcast this evening, beginning around 7 PM EST. Apologies for the late notice - we'll send out the question signal much earlier next time - but, given the slow-moving nature of this off-season, now seems like a good time to tackle whatever minutiae we can handle.

If you would like to become internet famous and have your question read and answered, feel free to:

  1. Post it just below this, in the comments.
  2. Send it to me on Twitter, @DomenicLanza.
  3. E-mail it to us at stupidyankeespodcast@gmail.com.

We look forward to hearing from you.