Site update: 12/1/15

Good afternoon, everyone.

We had a bit of a server issue late last night which, at first, seemed to wipe out the site entirely. But then, hope emerged, and now, it looks like our posts are back and that we only lost a majority of the images we had stored on the server. So all is not lost, thank goodness.

We are working on getting the site fully operational again and we ask for your patience while we do this.

We hope to be up and running again soon.


Jason Heyward is Perfect for the Yankees. Here’s How He Breaks the ‘Zombie Roster’ Problem.

Typically for Brian Cashman’s front office, we have not heard much about the Yankees plans for this offseason, other than that they are trying to shop Brett Gardner. As far as I can tell, the Yankees have not been directly connected to Heyward, although some have noted how well hit fits on the team.

Let’s review the case for Jason Heyward, quickly:

Heyward has produced 6.5, 3.4 (5.3 over 150 games), 5.2 and 6.0 fWAR over the past four seasons. He has been a remarkably consistent offensive player, with wRC+s of 121, 120, 110, and 121 over that time period. He was the 7th best hitter in baseball by fWAR over that time period, just ahead of Robinson Cano and Paul Goldschmidt. Among outfielders, only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutcheon were better.

Heyward’s performance is somewhat controversial given that a great deal of his production relies on defense. He has averaged 18.3 UZR/150 over his career. In terms of defensive fWAR, Heyward is 5th in baseball over the last four years behind Lorenzo Cain, JJ Hardy Yadier Molina, and Andrelton Simmons with 58.9 runs saved.

How Heyward Breaks the ‘Zombie Team’ Problem

Heyward is the youngest elite free agent to actually hit the market in a long time. He won’t turn 27 until August of next season. A ten-year contract will take him only through his age-35 season. I tried searching for the last MLB free agent to be this good and this young, and I couldn’t find anyone in recent memory.

Here’s what an aging curve for a player like Heyward looks like, via BTBS:


Most elite free agents hit the market around the age 29-31 marks. At that point, the average elite player’s decline has already started, and is about to get very steep. We’ve seen that with players like Robinson Cano (free agent at 31) and Jacoby Ellsbury (free agent at 30), who hit the steep part of their declines almost instantly after signing the big contract.

With Heyward, on the other hand, the Yankees can buy peak years on the free agent market. Assuming they give him a 10-year deal, they’ll only have to deal with a few years of steep decline. Heyward isn’t as good as Cano or Ellsbury were at their peaks, but he’s probably going to be better over the life of his free agent contract than either of them will be.

This is exactly the type of player that the Yankees should be dumping their money into. The Yankees biggest problem in roster construction is the zombie contract problem. I’ve written before about the resource curse in professional sports.

Here’s the problem: almost all teams built on expensive free agent will settle into an equilibrium that looks a lot like the 2013-2015 Yankees. Free agents will be very good for a few years, but inevitably settle into a decline phase. Teams then go out and buy more free agents to compensate. If the second generation of free agents declines before the first generation’s contracts are up, the team can’t break out of the trap of a roster that’s good enough to compete but not good enough to win championships, forever. It’s a zombie team.

Here’s one example. Let’s create a theoretical formal model, assuming the following:

  • A team has a budget for 9 free agents
  • Free agents can either be ‘elite’ or ‘declining’
  • An elite player is worth 2 wins above average. A declining player is MLB average.
  • All free agents are elite for 3 years, and declining for 5 years
  • All free agent contracts are for 8 years
  • The remaining roster is filled with average players (81 wins per 25 players), from the farm system or lesser free agent acquisitions.

If a team signs 1 elite free agent per year, you get a curve that looks like this:


That doesn’t look good. This is a zombie team. The majority of it’s elite players are always in decline over the long term. It will occasionally be good, and may occasionally sneak into the playoffs, but will never be great.

How can we fix this problem? Let’s go with Cashman’s apparent strategy: sign elite free agents in waves of 3. Think Burnett/Teixeira/Sabathia, or Ellsbury/Tanaka/McCann. Here’s what a 3-wave curve looks like:

That’s a little bit of an improvement, but still not great. The zombie team is mediocre for 7/8 seasons, and elite for 1/8 seasons.

Now, let’s consider a Heyward-type free agent. Let’s assume that Heyward’s 8-year contract buys 5 years of elite production and 3 years of decline production. Let’s also assume that you can sign two Heyward-types for every nine elite free agents. You get this:


We still get an eight-year cycle for truly great teams, but we also get a number of division-winner type years.** The pattern settles into this: 93-87-87-87-89-87-89-93-87…

Now, this is obviously just a thought experiment. We could probably substitute in real data for the parameters we asserted, and I may do that in a future post if I have the time. But I think this makes the argument very well. Teams like the Yankees desperately need to sign younger players, even if they are very expensive. Heyward is a uniquely young player in recent free agent history. They should pay the premium to sign him, instead of paying that same premium on another Cano or Ellsbury a year or two down the line.

* A five/four-wave, curve, for reference. I’m skeptical that 5 elite free agents are regularly available, so I didn’t include it as a possibility. If it were possible, though, it would be a great strategy.

** There is random chance associated with any MLB season. That’s why projection systems tend to underestimate the win of the best teams and underestimate the wins of top teams. For example, here are PECOTA’s 2015 projections.


Report: Yankees Shopping Ivan Nova

I hope everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.  It was a quiet week in Yankeeland, but there was one small story I wanted to go back and touch on before we pressed on into the heart of the offseason.

Last week Joel Sherman reported that the Yankees had “let teams know Ivan Nova is available” in a trade if they were interested.  This is noteworthy for two reasons.  One, the Yankees are on the record as being in the market for starting pitching this offseason and Nova is a starting pitcher, and two, Nova really wasn’t good this past season and hasn’t been anything special in his MLB career.  The idea of teams lining up to make the Yankees a trade offer after finding out he’s available is borderline laughable.

Sherman’s report went on to explain that the Yankees are looking for starters with more years of team control remaining, something that Nova does not have.  The 2016 season will be his final arbitration year before free agency and the Yankees must be hoping they can move him for somebody who will be around a little longer rather than keep him next year and then lose him for nothing.

And therein lies the real story in this report.  This isn’t about the Yankees trying to add more cost-controlled starting pitching in 2016 so much as it’s about the Yankees’ plans for Nova in 2016 and beyond.  What this report tells me is that the Yankees not only don’t see Nova as part of their starting rotation plan next year, but they also aren’t planning on re-signing him after next year.  They’ve already started the process of moving on from Nova and they’d rather trade him now and get something back that they need than hold onto him next year as a redundant, unnecessary part of the roster.

That organizational mindset is spelled out in Sherman’s report.  He takes special care to point out that the Yankees “are not selling low on Nova” and then rattles off all the positively spun things that could be used to up his trade value in talks.  He’ll be healthier next year, he’ll be motivated, he’s cost-efficient in his final arb year, and he’s still in his physical prime at age 29.  All of those things are or could be true, but if they’re all true then why are the Yankees trying to trade the guy?  He’s a young, cost-controlled starting pitcher and they have said they’re looking for young, cost-controlled starting pitchers.  The only reason they would be looking to move him is if they were selling low.

So take the report however you want, but the truth is that Nova has been inconsistent in his Yankee tenure and he’s lost the position he once held as an important piece of the team’s future plans.  By my count he’s the 7th starter on the current 40-man roster, and if the Yankees think they can turn their 7th starter into a better starter, that’s something they should pursue.  Nova isn’t going to bring that kind of return back on his own, but I could see a scenario or two in which he’s part of a multiple player package that brings back a better young starter.

Yankees late afternoon news and notes: 11/23/15

Some late afternoon news and notes for you on this chilly November day.

  • Gil Patterson is heading back to the A’s organization. Susan Slusser first reported the move on Twitter. Patterson was with the Yankees as a Minor League pitching coordinator for three seasons. Before that, he was with A’s as a roving pitching instructor from 2008-2012 after serving as a coach in the organization.
  • In case you missed it this weekend, Joel Sherman wrote a piece called “10 pitchers who could be the Yankees’ next Nathan Eovaldi.” It’s pretty interesting. Tell me what you think of the choices in the comments.
  • Ken Rosenthal published a piece yesterday about how the Yankees’ financial restraints could cost them both Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. My question is, why did they even sign Miller in the first place if they’re so willing to trade him? Seems silly to me. But hey, what do I know? I’m blogger who writes in my mom’s den.
  • The person who started a chain of events that I still can’t to this day believe happened will be the Dodgers’ new manager. He’s like Voldemort around here and we do not say his name.
  • I don’t know about you, but I’m enjoying the crazy trade rumors that have been floating around so far this offseason. And we’re still 133 days away from the Yankees playing again! We have a long way to go.

Enjoy your evening.

Report: Cano is unhappy in Seattle

cano in seattle

So it is being reported that Robinson Cano is sleepless in Seattle (so sorry) and that if he could, he’d come back to New York.

Wow, who saw this one coming?

I’m just kidding. We all saw it coming, especially after the transcripts and audio of Andy Van Slyke‘s crazy radio interview last week were passed around more than shots of Fireball on a Bravo TV show. In the interview, Van Slyke trashed Cano and basically blamed him for everyone getting fired in Seattle. He also inexplicably blamed Obamacare, but that’s for another post on another blog.

As for Cano coming back to New York? It’s a long shot. In our behind the scenes e-mail chain, Domenic suggested a bad contract swap of Jacoby Ellsbury for Cano (and cash or prospects to make-up the difference in salary). And I’ve seen other people jokingly suggest a Gardner for Cano swap.

This could just be frustration building up for Robbie. After a respectful 87-75 finish in 2014, the Mariners finished 76-86 this past season. And Cano was hampered by illness which led to some of the worst numbers of his career in the first half of 2015. Cano’s second half was much more in line with his career numbers, but a sports hernia was diagnosed after the season ended and he had it surgically repaired at the beginning of this offseason.

The Mariners could improve one all fronts some time soon, especially now that Jack Zduriencik has been replaced in the front office by former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, and if that does happen, Cano will probably be more inclined to stick it out up there in the Pacific Northwest.

What do you all think? If there was a way to get Cano back, would you do it? And if so, how? Both outlandish and serious trade proposals are welcomed in the comments.

Let’s try and make this fun, and as usual, please be respectful to your fellow IIATMS readers.

2015 Arizona Fall League Wrap-Up


The Arizona Fall League championship game was played on Saturday, with the Scottsdale Scorpions defeating the Surprise Sagueros 6-4.  The Yankees were well represented in the Surprise lineup, with Gary Sanchez starting at catcher and hitting cleanup, Tyler Austin starting in left field and hitting 6th, and Dustin Fowler starting in center and hitting 8th.  They all performed well too, each recording at least 1 hit in the game and Fowler hitting a home run.

With the AZFL season officially over, here’s a final tally for the Yankee representatives:

Sanchez: .295/.357/.625, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 16 R in 88 AB
Austin: .272/.344/.444, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 13 R, 7 SB in 81 AB
Fowler: .279/.313/.410, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 14 R, 7 SB in 61 AB
Tyler Wade: .220/.313/.268, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6 R in 41 AB

Ian Clarkin: 24.2 IP, 34 H, 16 ER, 14 BB, 17 K, 5.84 ERA in 6 App
Chaz Hebert: 14.1 IP, 13 H, 7 ER, 10 BB, 12 K, 4.40 ERA in 7 App
Tyler Webb: 12.1 IP, 13 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 12 K, 5.84 ERA in 9 App
Domingo Acevedo: 12.0 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 11 K, 2.25 ERA in 7 App

The standout numbers still belong to Sanchez, who fell short in his bid to win league MVP despite leading in homers and ribbies.  But Fowler also had a nice showing for himself and Acevedo flashed the plus stuff that got people buzzing in Staten Island this season.  I would keep trying to develop him as a starter for the time being, but he showed that the framework for a fallback plan to high-velocity reliever is also in place.

A few guys performed well and hopefully made bigger names for themselves heading into 2016, a blue chip prospect continued to shine on his way to breaking into the big leagues for good, and everybody stayed healthy.  All in all, I think you have to call that a successful showing for the organization in this year’s AZFL.

Yankees Protect 3, Add Davis, Gamel, And Barbato To The 40-Man Roster

Guess the Yankees weren’t worried about leaving any roster spots open for free agent signings after all.  As the team announced, they added 3 players to their 40-man roster today to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft: Double-A right-hander Rookie Davis, Triple-A righty reliever Johnny Barbato, and lefty-hitting Triple-A outfielder Ben Gamel.  With the earlier move by the Rays to claim Chase Whitley off waivers clearing an extra spot, the 40-man roster is now full.

I’m actually a bit surprised.  I though the depth at their positions would be Barbato and Gamel’s undoing and instead it seems to be the reason they were kept over guys like Jake Cave and Chaz Hebert.  This tells me the Yankees are definitely planning to dip into that depth on the trade market.  We’ve seen them do it already this year, I think we’re going to see it happen again.  Maybe it’s Gamel, but guys like Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams have to be looked at as trade pieces now just like Brett Gardner.

Davis could be on the fast track to Triple-A if he starts hot in Trenton next year, and that puts him on the Major League radar in 2016.  You have to protect a guy like that.  His stuff and his command took big steps forward this season and now the Yankees get a chance to see what they really have in him as a Major League prospect.

It’ll be interesting to see who slips through the Rule 5 Draft now and who doesn’t.  I could see a team taking a chance on Hebert or Tony Renda.  Have to think the Yankees are counting on Cave to make it through.

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 11/20/15

No time to chit-chat, let’s get right into the links.

– On Monday, Nick Ashbourne of BP Bronx made the case for trading Andrew Miller.

– On Tuesday, Rob Abruzzese of Bronx Baseball Daily reviewed how the Yankees have used their strong organizational catching depth to help build part of the current roster.

– El duque of It Is High… had a few good retirement gift ideas for David Ortiz.

– On Wednesday, Jason Cohen of Pinstripe Alley profiled David Price as a potential free agent target.

– Mike Axisa of RAB profiled new top pitching prospect James Kaprielian.

– Daniel Burch of The Greedy Pinstripes mused on the importance of not expecting repeat seasons from Teix and A-Rod in 2016 and the need to add more offense.

– On Friday, Christopher Carelli of Yankees Unscripted wondered if the Yankees would be bold enough to trade both Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller.

From the IIATMS team:

– On Tuesday, I dished on a variety of early offseason topics that I haven’t had a chance to write about.

– On Wednesday, Stacey issued a heartfelt goodbye to David Ortiz after he announced that 2016 will be his final season.

– On Thursday, I reviewed the roster situation and Rule 5 protection possibilities ahead of today’s deadline.

Let me know if I missed any good ones in the comments.  Here’s “Space Lord” to get your weekend started early.  Such a classic 90s song.

Enjoy, gang.