Quick Hit: Yanks Re-Sign Slade Heathcott

Missed this yesterday, but via Joel Sherman, the Yankees re-signed outfielder Slade Heathcott to a MiL deal yesterday.  The deal includes an invitation to Spring Training.  You’ll remember that Heathcott was non-tendered in November to clear roster spots for upcoming moves.  Apparently there wasn’t much interest in Heathcott among the rest of MLB, as he sat out there for over a month before being re-signed.

Once a top 5 prospect in the organization, Heathcott all but fell off the prospect map after playing in only 9 games last season before being shut down with another knee surgery.  He’s battled knee and shoulder problems since his pro career began, and has played in just 309 total games since being drafted in 2009.

Despite all the health problems and the removal from the 40-man roster, Heathcott is relatively young at 24 years old and could open the season in the Triple-A outfield thanks to the glut of other prospects expected to play in Double-A.  That puts him close to a potential call up at some point, roster spot or no roster spot, if he can stay healthy.  The chances of that are slim based on past history, but you never know.  If he can stay on the field, maybe Heathcott can do enough to reignite some late prospect shine. Continue reading Quick Hit: Yanks Re-Sign Slade Heathcott

MiL Notes: Campos Re-Signed And Another Util Infield Option

Under the wave of coverage of the Chase Headley re-signing yesterday, the Yankees made a couple more small MiL moves.  Here they are, courtesy of Matt Eddy:

Jose Campos, non-tendered off the 40-man roster 2 weeks ago, was re-signed to a new MiL deal.  He missed all of the 2014 season following TJS and has pitched 111.2 total innings in 3 years since being acquired, but he may have a small sliver of prospect hope left at age 22.

– The catching depth has been thinned out a bit this offseason.  The Yanks have addressed that by signing 25-year-old catcher Juan Graterol.  He’s spent his entire career up to this point in the KC organization and is a .270/.322/.335 hitter in 9 MiL seasons.  Expect him to slot in somewhere at the top of the organization to provide backup insurance.

– Another infielder was signed to boost Triple-A depth as well, this time in the form of 27-year-old Cole Figueroa.  He’s a .290/.378/.391 career MiL hitter and hit .233/.286/.326 in 49 Major League PA with the Rays in 2014.  Between him, Nick Noonan, and Jonathan Galvez, the Yankees now have plenty of second, short, and third base coverage at SWB.  They needed that already and could need it more if/when Refsnyder gets called up to the show. Continue reading MiL Notes: Campos Re-Signed And Another Util Infield Option

Report: Yanks Sign Util IF Nick Noonan To A MiL Deal

And I said the Yankees wouldn’t be making any big moves today.  Silly me.  While the rest of MLB was wheeling and dealing with actual players of significance this morning, the Yanks went out and added themselves another potential piece of the infield puzzle.  If you aren’t familiar with Noonan’s body of work, here are the essentials:

  • Career .219/.261/.238 hitter in 111 Major League at-bats, all of which came in 2013 for the Giants.
  • Career .262/.316/.368 hitter in 3,300+ MiL at-bats over 8 seasons in the SF system.
  • Plays mostly second base and shortstop; has played a little bit of third.

Looks like Jonathan Galvez just got himself some serious competition to make it to the final roster cut in spring camp.  Who needs starting pitching when you have this many flexible infielders at your disposal?  Right, Mike Woodson?

Mike Woodson Face

 

Right.

Continue reading Report: Yanks Sign Util IF Nick Noonan To A MiL Deal

Early Offseason Big Picture: Optimism vs Pessimism re 2015 – a Group Chat

Scott:The Worst is Yet to Come,” happy sunshine guy Dan Szymborski reports in predicting late-stage-empire decay of the post-90s/2000s Yankees. Let’s discuss: Agree or disagree?

         Quick initial take: Agree with Dan that (a) declining oldsters are preventing improvement at many positions, (b) imminent help from the farm is modest, and (c) the free agent pool has gotten shallower now that teams extend young talent before free agency. On the other hand, (a) they’re already an above-average team, (b) some free-agent and rookie talent infusions are likely for 2015-16, and (c) they won’t lose literally a whole rotation (5 starters) to injury every year (like in 2014), right? Can the impending improvements exceed the impending declines enough to net the several extra wins they need to make the playoffs?

William: My take on it is this: Predicting gloom and doom sells papers and creates pageviews and makes off season people read ZiPS. Teams like the Orioles in 2014 and yes, the Royals and Giants show that a lot has to go right for a team to get the golden apple and a lot can go wrong too. And it depends on if you write as a fan or write analytically. Anybody looking at ZiPS will say, “Gee, it looks like this is a 78-win team.” The fan will say, “Gee, maybe a lot of these guys can get back close to their career norms and the season will be fun.” I do not lose my optimism until the team really shows after a couple of months that it just isn’t working this year.

         Projections are just that. They are taken with a grain of salt and all it takes is a splash rookie or a rejuvenated veteran or two and some good pitching to turn into the Red Sox of 2013. Those Red Sox came in last place the year before and the year after, so who knows until the games are played?

Moshe: A 78 win projection at the start of the offseason for a team in transition isn’t that bad. They add guys like Robertson, McCarthy, Headley, and a SS, they should be in the 84-86 range, which is fine and within striking distance of a playoff spot. We all knew a day of reckoning for their huge contracts would come eventually. If the end result is a half a decade of 85 wins or so and flitting near a playoff spot, I can live with that.

Jason: That’s a perfectly reasonable stance, Moshe. I seem to have grown more pessimistic with this team as I’ve watched it age, like myself. I had a long discussion with a Mets fan the other day and I was weighing the idea of “who will have a better team for the next 5-7 years, Yanks or Mets”. And we went through position by position, touching down into the farm system enough without fully raking it over and we both honestly felt that the Mets could have a better cumulative record over that time.

         But the unknowns are many and as Moshe noted, we just don’t know. Maybe those millions paid to the international kids will pay tremendous dividends. Perhaps Beltran, CC and Teix will recapture some of what earned them those paydays. Hopefully Tanaka’s arm holds up and Pineda and Nova are back strong for the foreseeable future.

         So yeah, I’m a bit pessimistic, but I can easily look a little sideways and see how this team embraces the underdog role and puts up a few good seasons while the youth is served.

Scott: I agree with Moshe on 85-ish wins and Jason’s “unknowns are many” point that the ceiling is higher if a few core guys stay healthy. Sure, any team has “if all are healthy” optimism – but not many have health questions about a strong, but recently injured, but young, top three SP like Tanaka/Pineda/Nova.

         The bigger question: will they accept that they have to gamble on the kids? Free agency isn’t what it used to be, now that teams lock up Poseys/Trouts early, leaving for free agency mainly declining 30somethings like Teix, CC, Beltran, McCann, A-Rod, and (soon) Ellsbury. I’m eager to see if they give Refsnyder the 2B gig, Greene the SP role he earned, Pirela a utility spot, Lindgren a quick promotion, Murphy a higher-playing-time backup role, etc.

         Sure, maybe they’ll decide against one or another youngster based on scouting reports I don’t have – but I’ll be really pessimistic about the future if they decide (a) re-signing Headley means Prado goes to 2B so Refsnyder rots at AAA, (b) signing Jake Peavy or another 3rd/4th starter shoves Greene out, (c) Brendan Ryan plus Chris Young equals no room for Pirela, and (d) the A-Rod/Teix need for DH/1B as a rest home means Murphy gets only the minimal 30-40 backup catcher games. But their hope of competing in 2-3 years depends on internal hitting talent: literally nobody in 2014 had an OPS+ above 111; and nobody from 2014 is very likely to exceed that in 2014. If they don’t give shots to Ref, Pirela, Murphy, and eventually folks like Bird/Jagielo, the offense will just decay further as their average to mildly-above-par hitters like Ellsbury, Gardner, Prado, Teix, McCann, Beltran, and Headley (on the expected 3-4 year deal) get deeper into their 30s.

E.J.: The Yankees have a ton of money. They are also badly in need of a rebuild. Brian Cashman’s primary focus should be building a team that can win in 2016 and 2017, not 2015. I agree with the consensus that this is mostly likely an 80-something win team, and I’m okay with that. The Royals and Giants were 80-something win teams too.

         Letting David Robertson go and locking up Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy are great 2016 and beyond moves. The nice thing about having money is you can put together that 80-something team while you rebuild.

         I don’t agree that the usefulness of mega contracts is over. I do think that the current Yankee starting roster has too many huge contracts and too little roster flexibility. The harm of having late-contract Teixeira on the roster is less about the money they pay him, and more about having no real choice other than counting on a 1 WAR player in 2014 to be a real contributor. The Yankees need to break up the age cohorts on their roster in the worst way. A 1-2 year break from mega contracts is the way to do that.

         Here is my standard for a successful season: 2015 will be successful if, at the end of the year, the Yankees look poised to win more games in 2016 than 2014. If that means winning a game or two fewer because they gave Rob Refsnyder an early shot at 2nd, or because they traded players away at the deadline, that’s okay.

Kenny: I’ll agree with you all in terms of a 2015 projection of 80ish wins, though I think the Yankees make some moves to help immediately. They’re going to have to sell seats, and while A-Rod will do that, he’s not playing 80 home games. I wouldn’t be surprised if they traded for a middle infielder.

         I think there are some positives this year. If you bring McCarthy back, that rotation doesn’t look all that bad. There are four legit starters there if Nova looks like himself again, and while Sabathia’s situation doesn’t look good, you could pick worse pitchers to play the role of wild card.

         I also think Brian McCann picks up where he left off. He had a rough transition to the AL in the first half of 2014, but seemed to be hitting his stride late last summer. If his entire rotation doesn’t drop like flies again, leaving him the task of learning a new pitcher every week, maybe you get a Brian McCann year out of him. That would at least settle your stomach a little bit when it comes to big contracts.

         If all else fails, we can watch Chris Young hit 40 HRs this year.
Continue reading Early Offseason Big Picture: Optimism vs Pessimism re 2015 – a Group Chat

Wilson-Cervelli: Quick Takes + a Worry about Lost Depth

Wow, is my timing awesome: on Tuesday, I write a hosanna to Francisco Cervelli’s bright 2015 future of increased Yankee playing time, but apparently Brian Cashman disagrees or (gasp) doesn’t read me, because he traded Cervelli the next day for LHP Justin Wilson. I feel like Karl Rove on election night 2012 screaming about how Romney is still winning right as his fellow Fox Newsers gave up the ghost. So, a few quick takes on the trade:

(1) Don’t Cry for Me, Venezuela. I praised Cervelli as an above-par catcher who could free up Brian McCann both to rest and to spell Teixeria — but I can’t fault Cashman for trading him. In retrospect, I may have lowballed Cervelli’s injury history, especially his 2014 migraines, which don’t seem major, except that migraines are a known problem for folks who have had concussions. I still think the Yankees were a better team with than without him, but he’s not exactly indispensable or reliable.

(2) Pleased to Meet You, Lefty. Justin Wilson is an interesting get. He’s a lefty, which adds some value because the Yankee pen is righty-heavy, but he’s not a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy); he has basically no lefty-righty split. I like lefties with little split: he’s a better bet to face lefties than a non-elite RHP like Warren, Kelley, or a RH starter; but he’s not a LOOGY you can’t leave in the full inning for fear the righties will mash him. But is he good enough? His 138.1 IP is just enough data to believe his 2.99 ERA / 3.45 FIP, and he should adjust to Yankee Stadium fine because he has no real home-road split and isn’t prone to the homers (just 0.5 HR/9) that are the bane of pitchers in the Bronx. A mid-3s ERA would arguably tie him with Adam Warren as the second-best or third-best reliever, depending on whether they lose D-Rob. Flip the handedness and Warren is actually a pretty good comp: both were mediocre minor-league starters whose move to the bullpen made them high-K relievers who reach the mid-high 90s. As relievers, their HR/9, BB/9, and K/9 are pretty similar — 0.9/3.2/8.0 for Warren, 0.5/4.0/8.3 for Wilson. Wilson is somewhat wilder, but — key for a hitter’s park — is noticeably less homer-prone and K’s a tad more.. If you think of the trade yield as “Adam Warren, but with added lefty value,” it doesn’t sound bad.

(3) But Trading from Overrated Caching Depth? I’m not sold on the remaining backup catchers. Stick a fork in Austin Romine, he’s done: turning 26 this month, and all he has to show for it are lines of .243/.303/.365 in AAA (445 PA spanning 3 years) and .204/.247/.281 in MLB (181 PA). I get how J.R. Murphy jumped him in line, but that says more about Romine’s decay than about Murphy’s performance, which is unimpressive: .259/.321/.416 in two half-seasons at AAA. Before you get excited about his 81 good major-league AB in 2014, remember that his minor-league line was better in 2013 (a solid but not overwhelming .270/.342/.430 an AAA) than in his poor 2014 (a lower-power, lower-contact, lower-walk .246/.292/.397 at AAA) — so there isn’t really evidence he’s outgrowing his performance as a mediocre AAA hitter.

(4) But J.R. is Good Enough for Backing Up. While I’m no Murphy booster, he’s probably fine as a backup — and Wilson is worth more than the Cervelli-Murphy dropoff from league-average hitting (about 2 WAR/season) to replacement-level or slightly better hitting (0-1 WAR/season). Pro-rate that to playing only a third of a season, and the falloff is about 0.5 WAR. A solid reliever like Wilson replacing whoever the last bullpen guy would’ve been (Huff?) easily could exceed half a win.

(5) But Watch Out for the Depth Loss. The main implication of losing Cervelli may be that you can’t, as I suggested Tuesday, give him 80-100 games to free up Brian McCann both to rest more, to DH some, and to spell Teixeria at 1B. Murphy is fine to catch a quarter-season as a bankup, but not fine to catch a half-season to let McCann DH/1B, because then you’re basically leaving your catcher (McCann) in the lineup and adding a weak hitter (Murphy) with the DH/1B spot. It’s like when Brendan Ryan or Kelly Johnson played 1B. In short, unlike Cervelli, Murphy probably isn’t good enough to justify more time and let your catcher surplus help you rotate enough offense through 1B/DH.

(6) But Cashman Can Find 1B/DH Depth, But He Didn’t in 2013-14. As you can tell from how I just admitted I have five buts, I have mixed emotions here. My last point is that one subtle but real negative of the Cervelli trade is that the team just lost useful 1B/DH depth. You’d think that’s an easy hole to fill, but it wasn’t in 2013 (Lyle Overbay) or 2014 (Ryan/Johnson). Hopefully Cashman conjures up a better 2015 contingency plan than his failed 2013-14 contingency plans of hoping Teixeira gets into the best shape of his life. Continue reading Wilson-Cervelli: Quick Takes + a Worry about Lost Depth

Thoughts On The AZFL Selections

I missed this when it first came out yesterday, but the Yankees announced their MiL representatives for the 2014 Arizona Fall League season and it’s quite the group. Via Josh Norris, the players selected were Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Eric Jagielo, Tyler Austin, Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder, and Alex Smith. The pitching reps aren’t all that sexy, but that’s a top crop of hitting prospects. Some random thoughts on the picks and what it means for each player.

– As far as Bird, Austin, and Cotham are concerned, this is a way to get back some of the at-bats and innings they lost due to injury this season. Austin battled some wrist problems again and has hit .275/.336/.419 in 437 PA for Trenton. Bird missed a lot of time early in the season as he worked back from his latest back issue. He’s swung the bat well (.272/.374/.479) in 414 PA split 75/25 between High-A and Double-A. Cotham has pitched 52.0 innings spread across multiple levels this season, I believe dealing with some kind of arm injury. For these 3, it’s about the reps.

– For other guys, I think there’s more to it than that. Pinder and Jagielo each missed time with injury as well, but they have a little more to prove. Pinder is Rule 5 eligible this winter and the Yankees need a better idea of whether he’s worth protecting. He’s pitched as high as Triple-A this season, but the sample size is limited and they need to know if his solid results (3.78 ERA in 16.2 IP) are legit. Makes sense to toss him into a notorious hitters’ league and see how he fairs. Continue reading Thoughts On The AZFL Selections

Robert Refsnyder moves to the outfield – for now

refsnyder

It has been well documented that Robert Refsnyder has been hitting the ball very well this year. This follows a very quick journey through the Minors after ending his college career with a College World Series title and the MOP award. Last year, the Yankees moved Refsnyder to second base, as they thought his lack of power hitting would play better there than as a corner outfielder. No doubt this move looked even better when Robinson Cano left for Seattle.

Many people tagged Refsnyder as a prospect who could move through the system quickly, but learning a new position was likely to slow this process some. Earlier this week, however, Brian Cashman told the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate to have Refsnyder get back to playing some outfield and added to the rumor mill by saying that if he was to get the call this year it would likely be to play in the outfield. The Yankees sorely need some offense and, after reworking his swing with Marcus Thames in Trenton, Refnsnyder’s bat is begging for a chance in the Bronx (he’s hitting .308/.431/.551 right now). Particularly as Carlos Beltran faces more injury time and the ineffective Alfonso Soriano was designated for assignment.

Yesterday, Donnie Collins, from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Times/Tribune, wrote about Refsnyder’s potential temporary position change. The short version is that he is not a fan of the move, primarily because he fears that having Refsnyder stop his work at second base for the short term (assuming the Yankees still want Refsnyder at second for the long term) will push his development back further. I can see his point, and given the looming question marks surrounding the future of the Yankees’ infield I would love to see Refsnyder develop into an everyday second baseman.

The big knock on Refsnyder has been his defense at second base, which really is not surprising given that he only has a season and a half at second under his belt. During the first half of the season, Refsnyder committed nine errors with Trenton. He hasn’t had any errors in Scranton, and Collins believes the youngster will make a solid Major League second baseman. Even more notable is that Gene Michael has also had positive things to say about Refsnyder’s work at second. While Refsnyder may not be ready to play second at the Major League level, all signs seem to indicate that he should be able to make the transition, which I find to be fantastic news.

The other reason Collins doesn’t seem to like this move is due to the Yankees’ questionable status as a contender. Obviously, right now it feels like the Yankees are sinking, thanks to the almost absurd amount of injuries they have had this season (Ivan Nova, Beltran, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Beltran, Masahiro Tanaka, Beltran…) and their often anemic offense. Personally, I tend to be more of an optimist and I’m not ready to count this team out. If they are still hanging around and need a little offensive jolt, why not see if Refsnyder can provide it? It can’t hurt and worst case scenario he goes back to Scranton and continues to work on playing wherever the Yankees are going to put him.

The other take away from the many discussions about Refsnyder seems to be his leadership potential. Much like Derek Jeter does, Refsnyder is saying all the right things, such as “you want to do what’s best for the Yankees and the best for this team” and “I’m a team player. Whatever the coaching staff wants, I’ll do.” The difference is, he seems to be backing it up by playing whatever position the Yankees need or want him to play without a complaint. For a guy who is 23 and on the verge of breaking into the Majors, he seems to be keeping a pretty level head and perhaps this is what has me most excited about him. Refsnyder seems to have the whole package that Yankees fans have been craving for the last few years and I can’t wait to see him take his first hacks in the Majors.

Continue reading Robert Refsnyder moves to the outfield – for now

Quick Hit: Severino Makes the Mid-Season Top-50 for BA and BP

Heading into this season, Luis Severino was widely regarded as one of the better pitching prospects in the Yankees system, and while that may not be saying too much, it was something. Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) named him as a prospect on the rise, and John Sickels saw him as the best Yankees pitching prospect this side of Masahiro Tanaka. He did not, however, receive any love on the national level (with ‘love’ defined as ‘something resembling consideration on any non-Yankees specific prospect list’). And now, Severino is regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. Continue reading Quick Hit: Severino Makes the Mid-Season Top-50 for BA and BP

Yankees kick off international free agent signing with a bang

Just as Katie told us yesterday, the Yankees broke out the checkbook in a big way for this year’s international free agent signing period, including all four of the players she wrote about. While the Yankees have yet to confirm any of these signings, reports have them picking up ten players yesterday for a total of $14.25 million in signing bonuses, far surpassing their assigned 2,193,100. Here is a quick look at the signings so far.

Dermis Garcia (SS): The Dominican power hitter will likely outgrow short, but with his big arm he could look nice at third. He was ranked at the top of MLB.com’s rankings and ninth for Baseball America, earning him $3.2 million from the Yankees.

Nelson Gomez (3B): Another Dominican infielder, Gomez was widely considered the top offensive player in this year’s class, fetching him $2.25 million from the Bronx Bombers. He was ranked second by MLB.com and sixth by BA. Continue reading Yankees kick off international free agent signing with a bang