Monday, December 8, 2014

"Don't Count Yankees Out on Jon Lester"

Catching up From the Winter Meetings

All the New York Yankees pertinent information, I hope, right here in one place. Enjoy and check back regularly as we will be updating this as the night goes on and as much as we can.

The Interesting Story Surrounding Yoan Moncada

From Vice Sports comes a very interesting story centered around Yoan Moncada and his defection from Cuba. It's a very interesting, and somewhat long, read and definitely worth the time. Smells fishy to me but if the Yankees sign him, whatever. Anyway, enjoy the article and give Vice Sports a click or two to show them some gratification and support for such a great article:

Twenty-three years ago, Rene Arocha walked out of Miami International Airport and into a waiting car, away from the Cuban national baseball team he was traveling with. Since then, Cuban ballplayer defections have followed a similar script: a clandestine and illegal exit followed by a treacherous and complicated path toward free agency.
Teams have come to accept that they may never truly know the full details of how Cuban players often end up in the major leagues. Most teams don't want to know. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to illegal activities.
But even executives who have spent years in the international player market are marveling at the mystery and innuendo surrounding 19-year-old Cuban phenom shortstop Yoan Moncada: his legal exit from Cuba, his subsequent romantic pairing with a player agent, and his representation by an accountant who has never had an athlete client in any capacity. Nobody has seen a Cuban defection story quite like this.
"It doesn't make it comfortable for me, but in a way, we sort of have come to expect it with this market," one American League team executive said of Moncada's situation. "It makes us ask questions, but in the end, someone is going to spend smartly to get the services of a player that can change a franchise. Most teams are going to have a little reservation about the story itself, but I don't think it's going to stop the industry from paying."
The thing about the story is that it's so unusual. The details of Moncada's journey are nothing like those of the usual high profile Cuban free agent. And many of those details remain obscured.
"I don't know if I have the full facts," said one National League team executive.
Major League Baseball declined to give the details of their investigation of Moncada that led to him being declared a free agent last month. Moncada still needs to be cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign.
Moncada is now reportedly in Florida after having spent four months in Guatemala establishing residency for his free agency. Presumably, Moncada will spend some time in St. Petersburg where his agent David Hastings, a CPA by trade, resides and runs his own accounting firm. Hastings, like Moncada, has kept a low profile, although he agreed to an interview last week.
"In some ways," Hastings said to start the interview, "I hope you understand that I won't be able to answer all your questions."
Moncada, Hastings said, arrived in Guatemala in August after having spent June and July in a country outside of the United States that he would not name. Some reports say he was in Argentina.
Moncada's exit from Cuba was legal. He received a visa from the Cuban government to travel outside the country. Eventually, Hastings confirmed, Moncada ended up in Guatemala.
Hastings won't talk about what role Nicole Banks—a California based agent with previous experience representing Cubans—played in Moncada's travels.
Banks is rumored to be romantically involved with Moncada and to have possibly had his child in September. In early October, a baby registry existed on the website that listed Banks' and Moncada's names with a due date of September 2014. That registry has since been changed to show only Banks' name and a September 2015 due date.
Details of Banks' personal relationship with Moncada would be irrelevant if not for the fact that a September 2014 due date would place Banks in Cuba during December 2013 or January of this year. Hastings acknowledges that Moncada did not leave Cuba until June.
So the plans for Moncada's exit from Cuba may have been hatched as early as last year, and may have been formed with help from an American citizen who is also a player agent. Because Moncada's exit from Cuba was legal, it's unlikely that Banks would face any charges of violating the U.S.'s embargo with Cuba. But nobody outside of Moncada's inner circle knows the full details of the relationship and the people who do know aren't speaking about it. Hastings only acknowledges that Banks is involved in some way. Some speculate that Moncada and Banks are married, which could have aided his exit from Cuba.
"You'll have to ask Nicole," Hastings said when asked about Banks' role.
Hastings became involved, he said, after one of his clients—presumably Banks, although he wouldn't confirm that—brought Moncada to him.
Banks did not respond to several requests for comment on this story.
Banks' participation in the process would have likely aided Moncada. She has previouslyhelped Cuban players obtain legal means of arriving in Guatemala and has processed the paperwork for players to obtain free agency. In September, she spoke to VICE Sports about the process.
"'Carta de invitación' is basically that someone in Guatemala sent them tourist visas and they left Cuba with that," she wrote in an email. "The person who sent the visa was responsible for their expenses etc. With the new Cuban immigration, any Cuban (there are exceptions) is able to get a passport and travel outside the country."
University of Miami law professor David Abraham said the Cuban government relaxed its rules regarding travel visas three years ago in order to encourage more foreign investment. Cuba banked that most people who obtained travel visas would return to Cuba. Many haven't.
"Now they are measuring the gains against the losses," Abraham said.
For several months, Moncada was able to live in Guatemala in relative anonymity. Despite being a prized prospect and despite news of his exit from Cuba being known in baseball circles, most industry people had no idea where he was. Some speculated he was in Los Angeles. Some said he might be hiding in the Dominican Republic. But writer Jesse Sanchez's story on November 2 announced to the baseball world that Moncada was living in Guatemala. Hastings said that article changed everything.
"At that point we were forced to put on a showcase as soon as possible," Hastings said. "Since that time, we've basically have had him sequestered, voluntarily, since it's not the best place for anyone that's potentially worth that much money to walk around."
Immediately after the story's publication, Hastings said he hired two armed guards to protect Moncada 24 hours a day. Hastings said several incidents since Moncada's location was revealed have had them fearing for Moncada's safety.
"It's certainly not the most perfect situation, but we've hired people that we think we can trust and we've managed so far, so we just keep our fingers crossed every day," Hastings said. "We've been down there several times. It's not like we just dropped him off and told him to fend for himself. We've done the best we could."
Ideally, Hastings said, they wanted to hide Moncada in Guatemala until they could obtain a visa for him to travel to the U.S. Then, they could hold a showcase in the U.S. without any safety concerns. But Hastings said the visa process was complicated and lengthy.
As of last week, Hastings said Moncada had a visit with the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala scheduled for January 15, but that he was trying to get an earlier date. Moncada's presence in Florida means Hastings has probably obtained that earlier meeting.
Moncada's workout in Guatemala on November 12 drew about 70-100 scouts and executives, a testament to the shortstop's talent. Some teams had as many as six people attend. A security guard from St. Petersburg stood on the third base line, and according to one person in attendance, had a gun holstered under each arm.
Moncada hit batting practice and fielded grounders. To the disappointment of many scouts, he was not able to face live pitching because the Guatemalan national team was in Mexico for the Central American Games. With Guatemala not being a predominant baseball nation, there were no other viable pitchers for Moncada to face.
"I think they are fairly naïve, the baseball people handling him," said one National League team executive. "It's a lot like a lottery ticket for them."
Hastings' inexperience has had other agents prowling. Two Scott Boras representatives, Alex Ochoa and Bobby Brownlie, were kicked out of the workout after they were spotted sitting in the stands, according to several people in attendance.
"They showed up at the showcase without an invitation, without a phone call, very arrogant as far as I'm concerned," Hastings said. "Since I had already talked to one of their representatives and told them I was not interested, but all of a sudden they showed up at the showcase and it was pointed out to me. I had security tell them to leave. I don't know what other reason they were there for, but again, they showed up without getting my approval, which I wouldn't have given them in the first place as I had already told them 'thanks but no thanks.'"
Boras sent the following statement: "We care about players. We know that understanding a player's value means seeing his skills in person. Our concern is that Cuban players often take advice from unqualified advisors. That undermines the true value of their skills. It has already cost Cuban players many millions of dollars. We want to see that change."
Hastings said he is not looking for a partner, although he declined to comment about whether anyone else was helping fund Moncada's representation.
"To this point I'm confident that I can represent my client adequately," Hastings said. "I certainly wouldn't do it if I didn't think I could. Now, could that change tomorrow? Sure. I'm open. I'm confident I can represent my client as well as anybody, at this point. "
Moncada's situation is also unlike other recent Cuban defectors because he falls under baseball's labyrinthine international signing cap rules as a player who is under 23 and doesn't have five years experience in Cuba's National Series. This means that the team that signs him will have to pay heavy fines, and give up the chance to sign other international amateur free agents. But teams are still eagerly lining up.
Some teams, like the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers, are ineligible to sign Moncada until July 2 because they spent past their allotted bonus amounts in 2013. Some teams, like the New York Yankees, will be unable to sign Moncada after July 2 of next year because they've exceeded their bonus amounts during this year's signing period.
The market for Moncada, then, will also depend on when he signs. Hastings will have to make a smart decision on how quickly he wants his client signed.
With his mad dash airport exit in 1991, Arocha set the template for the modern Cuban baseball defection. But it wasn't until Moncada was allowed to leave legally this year that the story got really weird. 

What Signing Headley Means For The Yankees And Prado

Earlier today it was reported that the Yankees were willing to go four years for David Roberton and Chase Headley. However, they would do so only if the average annual value of those four year deals went down.

This is good news, as I want both of those players back on the team. I spoke about the three-headed monster with Robertson, Miller, and Betances already, but now I want to bring up an important bit about re-signing Chase Headley.

While Headley is unlikely to replicate his 2012 batting numbers (.286/.376/.498, with 31 home runs), I'm willing to bet on him improving the .246/.338/.387 line he's put up over the past two seasons. The addition of Headley would mean that either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela is knocked out of the starting lineup and to the bench, and even though both of those youngsters could be as productive with the bat as Chase would be, I'd feel more confident with the 30 year-old MLB veteran.

But the offensive ability of Headley is not why I'm writing this.

The fact is that without Chase Headley the positional flexibility that Martin Prado brings to the team becomes almost non-existent.

You see, due to Alex Rodriguez likely not being able to play much at third base, Prado would be stuck there the vast majority of the time. There are no more third basemen on the team.

But bring in Chase Headley, and all the sudden Joe Girardi can trot out a lot of different lineups without hurting the team either offensively or defensively. At least not by much. Here are a few examples...

Opening Day Lineup
1. Gardner - LF
2. Prado - 2B
3. Ellsbury - CF
4. Beltran - RF
5. McCann - C
6. Headley - 3B
7. Teixeira - 1B
8. Rodriguez - DH
9. Gregorius - SS

Beltran Needs A Day Off
1. Gardner - LF
2. Prado - RF
3. Ellsbury - CF
4. McCann - C
5. Headley - 3B
6. Teixeira - 1B
7. Rodriguez - DH
8. Gregorius - SS
9. Pirela - 2B

Rodriguez Needs A Day Off
1. Gardner - LF
2. Prado - RF
3. Ellsbury - CF
4. Beltran - DH
5. McCann - C
6. Headley - 3B
7. Teixeira - 1B
8. Gregorius - SS
9. Pirela - 2B

Teixeira Needs A Day Off (you know the meme)
1. Gardner - LF
2. Prado - 3B
3. Ellsbury - CF
4. Beltran - RF
5. McCann - C
6. Headley - 1B
7. Rodriguez - DH
8. Gregorius - SS
9. Pirela - 2B

Without Headley on the team, if Beltran needs a day off you have to put Chris Young in RF to start the game. If A-Rod needs a day off, then again... Chris Young. When Teixeira stubs his toe in the locker room before the game, and needs a day, then I guess they would put ARod at 1B, Beltran at DH, and Young again in RF.

What it comes down to is either playing Jose Pirela (or Rob Refsnyder) or Chris Young. And seeing as how Young hasn't hit over .236 since the 2010 season (1763 plate appearances... not a small sample size), I think we'd all rather give the youngster some playing time.

Get it done, Cash!

Gregorius Will Do Fine in New York, Scout Who Signed Him Says

Replacing Derek Jeter as the Yankees' shortstop won't be easy for Didi Gregorius. Nobody is saying otherwise. 

But he will be able to handle it, at least according to Reds global scouting coordinator Jim Stoeckel. Stoeckel thinks Gregorius' composure will allow him to succeed in the role, which Jeter held for the past two decades.

And Stoeckel is one to talk, having signed Gregorius in 2007 when he was still just an amateur free agent. 

“He’s comfortable in his skin, handles failure well," Stoeckel told The New York Daily News' Anthony McCarron this weekend. "He’s just a real easy going guy. Nothing gets to him. He’ll love being in New York and, if people give him a chance, they’ll love him.”

Gregorius is projected to have a 5.2 defensive WAR in 2015 to Jeter's 4.0 in 2014, so it's likely people won't have any issues with his glove next season. 

However, his offense could still use some help. He hit just .226 in 270 at-bats with the Diamondbacks last year, something Stoeckel agrees he needs to improve. 

“I think what he needs is to stay healthy, get 500 at-bats and let’s see what the body of work is at the end of it,” he said. “It’s a perfect time for him and a perfect club. Some guys might have a little trouble jumping in there, but he won’t. He’s a very, very good guy, similar, personality-wise, to Jeter. Quiet, intense, always happy."

All that and, for the moment, platooning with Brendan Ryan until he proves himself. Granted, Ryan's a lifelong backup who probably won't keep things that way for too long, but nonetheless, that's the position Gregorius is in right now. 

It'll be interesting to see how quickly he's able to claim the starting job for himself when the season kicks off in April, though it's still unknown how high in the order he'll bat. 

Should The Yankees Trade For Justin Upton?

The Braves are willing to trade away Justin Upton, and it's been said that the Royals, Rangers, Padres, and Indians are interested. I can't help but ask "why aren't the Yankees?"

While the starting rotation, bullpen, and infield still have questions, the outfield seems to be settled. We have Carlos Beltran in right field, Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, Brett Gardner in left field, and the team recently signed Chris Young to be their 4th outfielder. So why waste time on another outfielder when those other questions are more pressing?

Looking at the proposed lineup, as the team is currently built, allows you to see a few problems...

1. Brett Gardner - while it would be great to see his OBP get back up to .345 or higher, and have him run like he did in 2011, this looks to be his spot for 2015.
2. Martin Prado - With a .289/.339/.423 batting line the past three years, with a low strikeout rate, he's a good fit here.
3. Jacoby Ellsbury - better suited as the lead-off man, but will again be needed to fill this spot in the lineup
4. Carlos Beltran - Overall he's not a great hitter, but he does provide some pop.
5. Brian McCann - he led the team in home runs last season, but thanks to a low batting average and on-base percentage the past few years I see him down here.
6. Mark Teixeira - He can still hit around 25 home runs. Other than that? Ugh.
7. Alex Rodriguez - There's a really good chance he'll end up hitting higher in the lineup, but to start the year off I wouldn't place him any higher.
8. Didi Gregorius - There's every chance that he's the least productive hitter on the Yankees, and the 8-hole seems to be the place to hide that guy.
9. Rob Refsnyder/Jose Pirela - if Pirela is the starting 2B for the Yankees, then this is his spot thanks to his running ability, and hitting in front of Garder. If the starter is Refsnyder, then he and Gregorius could swap lineup spots.

The first problem is that the team has two lead-off hitters... Ellsbury and Gardner.

Gardner can still run pretty well, but he doesn't really have the bat to hit anywhere else in the top of the lineup. But Brett is a good hitter, and certainly warrants a spot high in the order.

Meanwhile, Ellsbury has hit 1st the vast majority of his career, and a .290 batting average there vs. .277 while hitting 3rd, tells me he should be put back there.  Not to mention a .432 slugging percentage while leading off versus .388 batting 3rd.

The second problem is a weak "heart" of the order. Carlos Beltran has hit .269 over the last three years, Brian McCann has hit .238 during that same time span, and Mark Teixeira has been even worse at .229. So while you may get as many as 90 home runs out of those three, other than that you can't expect much.

The third problem is that the Yankees would actually be lucky to get those "90 home runs" out of the heart or the order. Chances are you're actually looking at around 75 homers, which is kind of sad for a team nicknamed the "Bronx Bombers".

We've gone from this...

To this...

Well, there's one man that we know is available (either by trade or free agency) that could help fix those issues... Justin Upton.

While Justin is not going to hit .300, his batting average the previous few years was .271, which would have been tied with Ellsbury for the best batting average on the Yankees last season (not counting Ichiro, as he's no longer a Yankee anyway).

And Upton's 29 home runs last season would have been the highest total for the Yankees in 2014.

I should also note that Upton's contract only has one more year remaining on it. However, trading for him before the season allows the Yankees to give him a qualifying offer and receive a draft pick should he sign elsewhere. But at only 27 years old, I can see the Yankees using the 2015 season as an audition for re-signing him.

I don't want you to think Justin Upton's presence would be great all-around. While the Yankees would be more than happy to see his bat join the team, his glove is definitely not Gold Glove material. In over 2100 innings in left field, between last season and 2013, his UZR/150 is a below average -5.8. In right field it's not a whole lot better, as a 1.5 UZR/150 in over 6500 innings tells me he's pretty much average there.

So Justin Upton isn't a perfect fit, but he'd be a nice upgrade for the lineup, and wouldn't hurt much in the field. So what would it take to acquire him?

Well, the Braves are apparently looking to add a second baseman and/or starting pitcher. And after finishing below .500 last season, I'm willing to bet they aren't going to demand players in return that would immediately thrust them into contention. I mean, I don't think they expect to get somebody like Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez in exchange for Upton.

Also, while they didn't mention getting an outfielder in return, I can't imagine they wouldn't want one. As of right now, not including Justin, the Braves would have BJ Upton, Zoilo Almonte, and Joe Terdoslavich in the outfield. That is hardly an outfield that screams "awesome'. And, for the record, the Braves best outfield prospect is only 18 years old.

So here's my trade proposal. Now, like most trade proposals discussed on the internet, it probably sucks. But I believe it's a fine starting point to discuss the possibility of acquiring Mr. Justin Upton.

Brett Gardner, Rob Refsnyder, and David Phelps for Justin Upton

Okay, that's probably too much for Upton, so Atlanta would have to kick in something else. Like... say... money that can be used for David Robertson and/or Max Scherzer?

What do you think?

ICYMI: Didi Gregorius, Yankee Stadium and BIP Locations

Every time the New York Yankees acquire player or are reportedly linked to a player the first thing I look at are the BIP locations from the previous season. I think the BIP's, or ball in play locations, can tell you a lot about how a player will react and do in their new stadium. Of course there is neutralized batting stats and such, which I look at as well which by the way adds 11 points to Gregorius' average per Baseball Reference, but this visual look works better for me and a lot of others I've been told on Twitter. Let's take a look at what Gregorius' hits in Arizona would look like if he played 2014 in the Bronx.

As always we use this same chart with the same color scheme:

Line Outs
Fly Outs
Home Runs

As you can see it looks like, again in a perfect world, that Didi will improve substantially inside Yankee Stadium. I know it's hard to differentiate on the picture between doubles, triples, and home runs so you may just have to take my word on it. The lightest colored dots in the outfield were doubles in Chase Field and both of them are home runs in New York. The darker blue dots that barely cleared the wall at the 385 mark and the 408 mark were actually triples which also turned into home runs in the Bronx. Didi hit three home runs last year in Arizona that would have been well out of New York as well which equals seven home runs before we even look at line outs and fly outs. Two fly outs easily clear the wall in New York and I like to at least consider balls that reached the warning track. With the difference in humidity and with the wind blowing at least two of those fly outs could have been home runs in New York while another six were at least in the discussion as home runs. Conceivably, and again in a bubble, Didi could have had 10 home runs or more in New York in just 80 games played just by switching to Yankee Stadium. Double that in 160 games and you have a guy with 20 home run power that we have for the next five seasons and all we had to give up was Shane Greene.... tell me again why you want Brian Cashman fired again?