If Not D-Rob For Closer Next Year, Then Who?

Grant Balfour

With the GM meetings now in the rearview, there’s an even busier Yankee offseason to-do list in place.  They need multiple starting pitchers, they still need to re-sign Robinson Cano, they’re looking to upgrade at right field, catcher, shortstop, third base, and possibly DH, and they may be in the market for a new closer.  Despite being the apparent in-house favorite after Mo’s retirement, Cash stated pretty definitively last week that the Yankees had not designated David Robertson as next year’s closer and that they were looking for a more “proven” option on the free agent market.

Putting aside the comments questioning D-Rob’s capability of closing and the motivation for making them, there is some sound logic to this plan.  The Yankees are missing 60+ elite-level relief innings from their bullpen with Mo out of the picture and those innings aren’t easily absorbed by just signing a rehabbing David Aardsma-type off the FA scrap heap or calling up Mark Montgomery and calling it a day.  The Yankees do need another arm at the back end of their bullpen, and if nothing else, going after a proven closer covers them for the 8th and 9th innings again.  So if it’s not going to be D-Rob trotting out to start the bottom of the 9th next season, who else could it be? Continue reading If Not D-Rob For Closer Next Year, Then Who?

Free Agent: Brian McCann

As we learned a couple of days ago, reports say that the Yankees are aggressively pursuing both Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Leading up to these reports, we heard a ton of rumors about the Yankees’ interest in the catcher, and a good portion of analysts have him destined for the Bronx.

By most accounts, McCann is a perfect fit for the Yankees. He’s a left-handed power hitting catcher who’s still just 29 years old. McCann’s character has come into question after his recent feuds with Carlos Gomez and Jose Fernandez over breaking unwritten rules, but he also has a type of strictness that we haven’t seen out of a catcher since Jorge Posada. In fact, McCann fits so well with the Yankees because he resembles Posada’s his left-handed power and club house personality.

Throughout his career, McCann has hit .277/.350/.473 with a 117 wRC+. He has a great eye at the plate, drawing a 9.5 BB% over his 8 seasons with the Braves, and doesn’t strike out all too much with a 14.5 K%. In recent years, McCann has shown some regression, but he’s also dealt with a number of injuries. It cost him a significant chunk of 2012 and put a damper on his stats. Once he returned from shoulder surgery in Spring Training, McCann looked healthy, as far as catchers go, with the worst injury resulting in just 3 games off before the playoffs. His 2013 slash of .256/.336/.461 is extremely impressive for a catcher recovering from shoulder surgery, but McCann is capable of more. His 2013 BABIP of .261 was hindered by a low batting average (.656) on line drives.

Meanwhile, McCann’s defense has remained exceptional. Even with his shoulder fresh off surgery, McCann threw out 28% of base runners in 2013, which was right on line with his career rates. He also only allowed 3 passed balls in 2013, which we can compare to Chris Stewart‘s 12. And then there’s pitch framing, which earned Stewart a job with the Yankees back in 2012. According to Max Marchi’s catcher framing model and Ben Lindergh of Baseball Prospectus, Brian McCann ranked 5th in baseball in framing for 2013, with 18.5 runs saved, only before Jose Molina, Yadier Molina, Alex Avila, and Derek Norris. The Yankees have shown that they value pitch framing and catcher defense over the last couple of years, and when you combine McCann’s defensive and offensive ability with his demeanor behind the plate, the catcher is a perfect fit for the Yankees’ strategy.

But there are a couple of worries with McCann. As I mentioned earlier, his 2012 shoulder surgery cost him a good portion of that season, but it is also something to watch closely going forward. Labrum tears in the shoulder are complicated injuries that have mixed results. Catchers are less dependent on their throwing arm than pitchers, but there’s still a risk in throwing the ball behind the plate. McCann has thus far proven that his shoulder is healthy, but labrums can easily re-tear for some patients. There’s also some inquiry into how this may effect his offensive performance, as instability in the shoulder can have a detrimental impact on his power. In 2013, he again hit 20 home runs, but it’s hard to tell if he’ll be able to maintain this power if he suffers a setback.

The benefits to playing in Yankee Stadium are obvious. His left-handed power fits well into the Bronx, as well as the other stadiums across the AL East. He could continue to be an annual All Star with the Yankees, but the questions will remain, is he worth it? MLB Trade Rumors projects that he receives a 5 year $80 million offer, which I think is on the low side. Catchers are tough to find in free agency, but the Yankees also have a number of catching prospects. Gary Sanchez is a top positional prospect that could be just a year or two away from the major leagues. J.R. Murphy has also shown major offensive breakout in 2013, and his pitch framing was ranked 5th amongst catchers in Double-A and Triple-A. Continue reading Free Agent: Brian McCann

What We Learned From The GM Meetings

As expected, the GM meetings wrapped up yesterday without any major deals being made or news being broken.  The biggest stories were about things that didn’t happen or aren’t happening, like Masahiro Tanaka still not being posted, no market coming together for Robinson Cano yet, and a potential David Freese trade not materializing.  Still, the Yankees were the most active club of the bunch this week, showing up in full force and scheduling meetings with all their top free agent targets.  They didn’t come away with any commitments but they did position themselves as the favorites for more than a few of the available big names.  Along with establishing that favorable position, here’s a few other things this week’s meetings taught us. Continue reading What We Learned From The GM Meetings

Free Agent: Carlos Beltran

With Curtis Granderson departing, the Yankees are targeting a few outfielders this winter. Yesterday, I wrote about supposed target 1A, Shin-Soo Choo, and today I’ll cover target 1B, Carlos Beltran.

According to some reports, the Yankees made Beltran their top outfield target this winter. Although the 36 year old is far from his prime years, he offers an interesting skill set for the Bombers. His ability to switch hit is something the organization loves, and when Mark Teixeira was recently asked about Beltran, he said that his ability to switch-hit is reminiscent of the types of bats the Yankees had during their 2009 World Series run. Beltran has also continuously pursued the Yankees during his free agent years. In both 2005 and 2012, he contacted the Yankees to offer them a discount, but obviously nothing substantial occurred. The outfielder appears drawn to New York, and after spending six and a half years with the Mets, there’s no doubt that he can handle the New York market.

So he’s a switch-hitter, who may sign for a discount with the Yankees, and has experience with the New York media, but what do his stats look like? Over his career, Beltran has been nothing short of incredible, posting a career .283/.359/.496 slash and a 122 wRC+. Over his last two seasons with the Cardinals, Beltran hasn’t been far off from his career numbers, batting .282/.343/.493 with 56 home runs.

Looking at the more advanced data, the numbers remain fairly consistent. His .314 BABIP for 2013 isn’t far off from his career .303 BABIP, and his 15.0 K% is slightly lower than his career 15.9%. There are some worries with his batted ball rates, as his slightly higher BABIP was driven by an increase in line drives, from a career 19.9% rate to 23.9%, as well as a decrease in ground ball rates. It’s hard to imagine that Beltran can sustain all these line drives, and that would mean a dip in his average, making his 2012 .269 batting average much more projectable than his 2013 .296. Another worrisome trend is his BB%, which declined to just 6.3% in 2013 after a career 10.4%.

In terms of splits, Beltran can still mash as a left-handed batter. He hit .315/.362/.509 against right-handed pitchers in 2013, but was just slightly above league average against left-handed pitcher while posting a 102 wRC+. Beltran struggled most against left-handers in his home ballpark, but this could be due to a combination of small-sample size and the impact of Busch Stadium. According to StatCorner, the park earned an 86 home run rating (with 100 being average) for right-handed hitters.

There’s little worry about moving Beltran to New York, as his history in Queens shows his potential. Moving him to the confines of Yankee Stadium should help him after years of productive hitting in Shea Stadium, Citi Field, AT&T Park, and Busch Stadium. As a left-handed batter, Beltran will obviously have an advantage with the short right field porch, but in comparison to the other home ballparks he’s played in, he should also see more help pulling the ball as a right-handed batter. As I mentioned with Choo yesterday, Beltran would fit in as a right fielder, and again the small dimensions in front of the short porch should help his fielding.

For what it’s worth, Beltran played under Kevin Long in Triple-A, and the hitting coach still stays in touch with the switch-hitter. So there are a ton of reasons why Beltran makes sense for both sides, but the biggest issue for the Yankees is age. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the outfielder is projected to receive a two year $30 million deal. It’s possible that the bidding reaches 3 years, and in that case he’d be signed through his age 39 season. Even though the contract is much shorter than what Choo would receive, regression is a big worry here. Continue reading Free Agent: Carlos Beltran

The Most Important News Of The Offseason So Far

I know sometimes I write things here that may come across as a bit ridiculous, and I’m the first to admit that there are instances where I intentionally add a dash or 2 of hyperbole to my posts to spark a reaction and discussion in the comment section.  But believe me when I tell you that I’m being 100% honest when I say this.  The idea of Brian Cashman and Jay-Z working together directly, 1-on-1, to negotiate Cano’s new deal is the most fantastically entertaining possibility in the history of MLB hot stove season and if you don’t agree then you have no sense of humor.

Just picture it.  Cash sitting there in his khakis and team polo shirt, Jay in a $10,000 suit and a pair of designer sunglasses with Memphis Bleek and Beanie Siegel flanking him, one of those giant bottles of Spades champagne on ice and a few Cuban cigars on standby to celebrate the new deal when it’s reached.  Straight up Swag City. Continue reading The Most Important News Of The Offseason So Far

If D-Rob Isn’t Capable Of Handling The Closer Role Now, When Will He Be?

David_Robertson_Firefighter

(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

The most surprising thing to come out of Cash’s session with the media yesterday was his statement on David Robertson‘s status as the heir apparent to Mo for next year’s closer role.  Cash reiterated that the Yankees haven’t decided to officially name D-Rob the closer yet, which is fair considering it’s still early in the offseason and the Yanks are in the market for relief help, but he raised my eyebrows with this line about D-Rob’s ability to handle the job:

“I’m not sure if Robertson is capable yet. He’s never done that before.” Continue reading If D-Rob Isn’t Capable Of Handling The Closer Role Now, When Will He Be?

Report: Yankees In Full Pursuit Of Beltran And McCann

According Mark Feinsand and Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, the Yankees are making a “full-court press” in pursuing free agent catcher Brian McCann and outfielder Carlos Beltran.

Though we’ve heard that Shin-Soo Choo is their top outfield target, there are mixed signals with this report, which states that Beltran is the Yankees’ priority. The Rangers have also begun the pursuit on the outfielder, and it seems the Yankees are active early and have a specific plan they don’t want backfiring. I do recall Cashman saying in a pre-offseason interview that although they want to be patient, they don’t want to be left without a backup plan in January. These early moves may come from that philosophy. Although I expect free agents to wait as long as possible to get a solid read on the market, if the Yankees are truly in heavy pursuit, a signing may come quickly, perhaps as early as this week.

After these two signings, the Yankees hope to also re-sign Robinson Cano and Hiroki Kuroda, as well as winning the bid on pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. I’m not sure how they plan to afford all of this while staying under $189 million, so something has to give here.
Continue reading Report: Yankees In Full Pursuit Of Beltran And McCann

Report: Yankees looking to trade for David Freese

Well, this is interesting:

http://twitter.com/FeinsandNYDN/status/400714228249550848

I don’t believe this is a possibility solely because the Yankees believe they need to replace A-Rod, I think Freese it is an insurance policy. Some people seem to be jumping the gun a bit and think that it’s a foregone conclusion that Rodriguez will be suspended. Freese could share third base duties with Rodriguez if the suspension is overturned or is scaled back from the 211 MLB is looking for.

Anyway, Freese could be a good pickup for the Yankees. He played in 138 games for the Cardinals last year and batted .262/.340/.381/.721. I realize it’s not stellar but Jayson Nix, who played third base the most for the Yankees last season batted .236/.308/.311/.619 in 86 games.
Continue reading Report: Yankees looking to trade for David Freese

Free Agent: Shin-Soo Choo

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees were relieved when Curtis Granderson turned down their 1 year $14.1 million qualifying offer on Monday. Despite the home runs, the team has grown tired of Granderson’s strike outs. The Yankees are now looking at replacements for Granderson, and the first name on the list is Shin-Soo Choo.

Choo spent the majority of his career in Cleveland before a December trade sent him to Cincinnati late last year. Over his career, he’s hit .288/.389/.465, good enough for a 135 wRC+. In 2013, Choo posted his best offensive season yet, hitting .285/.423/.462 with 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Though there were no flukes in the BABIP or batted ball rates, there is worry about Choo’s ability to hit left-handed pitchers. The left-handed batter hit just .215/.347/.265 with an 81 wRC+ in 221 plate appearances against southpaws in 2013. His career 92 wRC+ against lefties proves that small sample size isn’t a factor in his struggles.

But Choo also has value with his glove. He played a below average center field for the Reds, but there aren’t many teams that view him as a center fielder. Choo’s defensive value is in the corner outfield spots, where he has a career -2.5 UZR/150 in right field and a 13.7 UZR/150 in left field. His greatest defensive asset is his arm, which is in the top tier for outfielders. DRS has Choo as an average corner outfielder, with him saving 3 runs above average in left field and 2 runs above average in right field throughout his entire career.

Moving Choo to New York could help him in a number of ways. Though Great American Ballpark is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the game, Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch should increase Choo’s power. With Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano already in the mix for center field and left field respectively, Choo would ultimately see most of his playing time in right field. The small dimensions will again help the outfielder’s range factors. There’s also some optimism that Choo’s struggles against left-handed pitchers could be reversed by hitting coach Kevin Long. Long has a history of correcting inadequacies against left-handed hitters facing southpaws, with  Robinson Cano, Gardner, and Granderson all showing vast improvements over the years.

In comparison to Granderson, Choo is a much more patient hitter with less of a tendency to strike out, but there is certainly a downside to losing Granderson. Although Choo may see a power spike in Yankee Stadium, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll put up anything close to the 40 home run seasons that Granderson was capable of. Choo’s 21 home runs from 2013 were the second highest of his career, only beat by 2010 when he hit 22 home runs at Progressive Field. At most, this might translate to 30 home runs at Yankee Stadium, which while impressive, is not in the same league as the 41 home run or 43 home run seasons Granderson produced in 2011 and 2012. There’s also a very good chance that Granderson has better range than Choo, though there’s no doubt that he has the weaker arm.

Perhaps the biggest factor in all of this is age. Granderson is a year and a half older than Choo, and although that might not tell us much for 2014, the Yankees are likely looking at both players as long term investments. Even with that one-year qualifying offer to Granderson, the outfield market in 2015 is barren, and if Granderson accepted the offer, he may be their best option for next offseason as well. Instead, the Yankees probably see Choo as the safer bet, who has age and a large number of plate appearances to prove his value in 2013. It’ll cost any team considerably more, as MLB Trade Rumors predicts Granderson receives a 3 year $45 million deal and Choo a 6 year $100 million deal. Looking at the future free agent markets, it makes some sense that the Yankees would make such a big yet safer investment for this offseason. Due to the awful free agent market projected in 2015 and the recent trend to extend players in baseball, there’s a risk in a shorter investment to an older Granderson. Continue reading Free Agent: Shin-Soo Choo