Monday, November 23, 2015

Yankees Have Some Competition for Jeff Samardzija

After the 2015 season ended the Hot Stove season began and almost immediately many free agents were linked to the New York Yankees, none more than Chicago White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija, a Notre Dame football standout and former member of the Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs, was offered a qualifying offer that he declined this offseason thus attaching draft pick compensation to any team that signs him whether it be the New York Yankees, the early favorites, or another team. Another team like maybe his former team, the Chicago Cubs.

According to CBS Local News in Chicago the Cubs Theo Epstein met with Samardzija for dinner last week and presumably spoke about where he will be throwing his 200 innings in 2016. Samardzija is currently residing in Arizona during the offseason and is coming off a somewhat disappointing contract year where he posted an 11-13 record with a 4.96 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. What Samardzija lacks on the back of his baseball card though he more than makes up with projections, durability, the lack of miles on his arm and his ceiling with the right pitching coach, like a Larry Rothschild.

Samardzija spent the first six-and-a-half seasons with the Cubs, who drafted him in the 2006 MLB First Year Players Draft, before being traded in 2014 in the deal that sent shortstop and top prospect Addison Russell to Chicago. Samardzija has worked with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio before, for two-and-a-half seasons to be exact, and had his best seasons under Bosio so Chicago is thinking that they can get him back to the pitching success he had in 2013 and 2014 if signed.

This will be an interesting negotiation since Samardzija already turned down a contract extension worth a reported $80 million from the Cubs and Epstein before he was traded. Stay tuned because the Yankees just got some serious competition for the right-hander from Notre Dame.

Most Popular Article of the Week: Yankees Sign Francisco Diaz

The New York Yankees have added some minor league catching depth to help fill the gap left behind by the trade of John Ryan Murphy this week by signing former Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates product Francisco Diaz. Diaz is a switch-hitting catcher that is also listed as a left fielder on Baseball Reference and enters the 2016 season at 26-years of age.

Diaz played in High-A last season for the Pirates so there is no indication that this will be anything more than a depth signing much like the Eddy Rodriguez signing from earlier this winter. Kyle Higashioka was a catcher in the Yankees system at an advanced age for his affiliate and hit free agency this season so Diaz is likely to replace Higashioka in Tampa or Charleston.

Welcome to the family Francisco.

Should Brett Gardner Stay Or Should He Go Now

Over the past few weeks, there have been numerous reports that the Yankees have discussed trading left fielder Brett Gardner with multiple teams. With so many reports, it feels inevitable that he will be dealt at some point this offseason. I'd hate to see that happen as I like Gardner but with every report I think in the right move (looking at you Cleveland) a trade might be for the best. Below are my top three reasons why the Yankees should deal Gardner now as well as some reasons to keep him.

1) His value will likely never be higher - In 2015 Gardner made his first All-Star appearance and despite a sub-par second half he finished with yet another solid campaign. With three years and $39 million left on his contract, he is likely to contribute effectively to any team he is on for the duration of the contract. His contract will end at 35 so teams won't be tied down to him in his late thirties.

2) Injuries could start to add up - Alan Cockrell cited a wrist injury as the reason for Gardner faltering in the second half. For the majority of his career, he has played 140+ games. His only serious injury was an elbow injury in 2012. Despite the fact, he has avoided serious injuries due to his all-out style of play he misses games or is sometimes playing at less than 100%. His speed is his most valuable asset at the plate and in the field. Speed is usually the first skill to start to deteriorate as players age and the rate at which it disappears for Gardner could be exacerbated by all those smaller injuries piling up.

3) Capable comparable players on the roster - The Yankees have the recently acquired Aaron Hicks (switch hitter), Slade Heathcott (left), Mason Williams (left) and the recently added Ben Gamel (left) on the 40-man roster. All have comparable skill sets to Gardner. Gamel probably isn't an option in center field however. All the players are cheaper and younger than Gardner. If the Yankees traded Gardner, all four of these players could be options in left field. A trade of Gardner could also lead to the Yankees going after the likes of Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon. I don't believe that the Yankees will go after a high priced outfielder, but it is definitely on the table.

That sweet sweet defense

Now that I've laid out reasons to trade Gardner I want to point out there are some reasons to keep him if they don't find a deal to their liking.

1) Contract - The same reasons that make him a trade asset (contract length, contract salary, age, and production) also make him a valuable contributor to the Yankees. With contracts going up if Gardner keeps up his production, the Yankees will be getting a relative bargain during the duration of the deal. When his contract is up at age 35, he could easily transition into a Rajai Davis type of role for the Yankees and make room for younger players like Bryce Harper hopefully. That brings me to my next point.

2) Veteran acumen - Did you know that Brett Gardner is the second longest tenured Yankee? He started his MLB career in 2008. Only Alex Rodriguez has been on the team longer. With Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran all scheduled to hit free agency within two years and the influx of rookies that seems to be happening leadership from Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann will be all the more important. What separates those three players is that only Gardner came up through the minor league system. His knowledge of the Yankees organization would be immeasurable in helping position players like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird when they become full-time players.

3) Valuable skillset - It is not a surprise that the teams interested in acquiring Gardner are mostly looking at him as a center fielder. The Yankees have two starter quality center fielders while some teams don't have one. That is not the luxury it appears to be though. At this point, the Yankees have to assume that Jacoby Ellsbury is going to miss at least ten games and likely much more. Over the first two years of his contract he has played 260 of a possible 324 games. Having Gardner to slot in regularly is a huge asset as a starter-quality center fielder.

There are plenty of reasons for Gardner to stay or go. My gut tells me that the Yankees will hold on to him unless they can get some quality cost-controlled young starting pitching in return. I believe Brett Gardner is a professional who knows the business and will not be affected by the rumors. There is no harm in exploring the trade market during the hot stove. With Thanksgiving this week the Hot Stove is sure to pick up soon.

ICYMI: Remember! Not All Trades Are Good.

By: Bryan Van Dusen

We're not even three weeks removed from the end of the World Series, and Brian Cashman has already made a couple of moves to prepare the Yankees for the 2016 season. Sure, those two moves (you know what they were) weren't earth-shattering, however we've heard some rumors that certainly could be.
"Did you hear about so-and-so being traded for so-and-so?"

Okay, "earth-shattering" may be a little melodramatic, but trading Brett Gardner would be a very significant move, and when it comes to anything significant you have to be careful.

On the one hand, dealing away Jose Pirela is certainly not a zero loss, but if Ronald Herrera (the guy the Yankees got back in that deal with the Padres) doesn't pan out the team and it's future won't really be affected.

To a lesser extent, the same could be said about the John Ryan Murphy for Aaron Hicks deal. While Hicks could see quite a few starts next season, even if he doesn't work out the Yankees aren't going to be scrambling in order to repair the situation.

But to trade away Brett Gardner, who has been a key player for the Yankees in six of the last seven years (he missed most of 2012 with an elbow injury, which led to surgery), would be no small loss.

Even last season, which was arguably his worst since becoming a regular with the Bombers, Gardner still had a bWAR of 3.3, and Fangraphs placed a dollar value of $20.4 million on him. So you can say that Brett wasn't as good as any of us hoped, but you can't say he was worthless. And to lose that much production, without getting anything significant back, would most certainly hurt.

So what would be "good"?
No, not Starlin Castro.
Yeah, I know. The rumors surrounding a swap of Gardner for Castro have been shot down. But we can still learn something from them.

First of all, Castro is a shortstop, and the Yankees certainly don't need one of those. While Didi Gregorius wasn't an all-star last season, and likely won't be next year or the year after that or... you get the picture, he's still does a very good job at short.

Secondly, even if Starlin were to move to second base (he did play there for 258 innings last season), I'm not sold that he'd be that much better than the combination of Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder. Castro is likely to improve at the plate next season, as he is only 25 years old. But on that note, Ackley is just 27 while Refsnyder is 24. And it's not out of the realm of possibility that Dustin and Rob would be just as good... if not better.

In fact, the best possible outcome of a Gardner for Castro swap would be the Yankees signing Jason Heyward or Justin Upton to replace Brett in the outfield. And even if that were to happen, I'd still look back at the Gardner/Castro trade and sigh, because no matter the situation you want to get the most you can out of players.

I felt the same way, and said so much, when it came to the Red Sox trade for Craig Kimbrel. I understand that Boston has a very good farm system, and can certainly afford to take the hit it took in that deal, but the fact of the matter is that the Sox still could have gotten more out of the package they sent away for Craig. Especially when you consider that having an elite closer is meaningless if you can't take a lead into the 9th inning anyway.

Look, we're bound to hear more rumors about trades involving Brett Gardner, and it could turn out that Gardner is on the team come Opening Day 2016. But let's not be content with just anything. If Cashman can turn Brett Gardner into Carlos Carrasco, then that would be fantastic, as it makes the 2016 rotation look mighty good (Tanaka, Carrasco, Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino *drool*... and yes, I'm trying to forget that Sabathia would be in there somehow).

A deal involving Brett Gardner has to result in a "win" for the Yankees. After a deal like that, we have to be able to look at the team and clearly see an improvement. We absolutely should not have to wait around for the team to sign a Jason Heyward in order to be happy with it.

Make sure you don't fall into the "any trade would be a good trade" trap.

If the Rays Keep Selling…

The Tampa Bay Rays started the offseason off by sending right-handed pitcher Nathan Karns and CJ Riefenhauser to the Seattle Mariners for a package revolving around Brad Miller but the Tampa Bay GM may not be done there. According to Marc Topkin of the Rays may not be done there and they may be in the market to sell off another starting pitcher or more, well a starting pitcher not named Chris Archer anyway. I know this is extremely unlikely, a team trading to a division rival they are in direct competition with inside the American League East Division, but if the Rays keep selling hopefully Brian Cashman is calling and hopefully Brian Cashman is buying.

Money is the ultimate motivating factor for Tampa Bay so having pitchers with question marks and health concerns surrounding them may move to the top of the trade list for the Rays. Players like LHP Drew Smyly who battled shoulder issues for much of the 2015 season and comes attached to around $4 million in salary through arbitration. Players like LHP Matt Moore who will make $5 million in salary in the final season of his deal before three team options kick in. Moore missed a significant chunk of the 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled with his command upon his return. Speaking of Tommy John surgery Alex Cobb should be back on the mound from the UCL ligament replacement surgery around August if there aren’t any setbacks.

Outside of the rotation the team could trade first baseman James Loney to one of the many teams that will miss out on Chris Davis on the free agency market. The team could also look at trading Brad Boxberger, although the team would have to be blown away since he is still relatively effective and on the cheaper side. Tampa has plenty of moveable contracts and attractive pieces that they could literally do as they pleased this winter. Any and all of these moves could open the door for a short-term deal with a veteran such as Rich Hill and could also open the door for top prospects LHP Blake Snell and RHP’s Taylor Guerrieri and Jacob Faria.

The Yankees would obviously have little interest in Boxberger, Loney or Cobb (unless it was essentially a salary dump which Tampa won’t do) but you have to think that either Moore or Smyly would at least interest Brian Cashman somewhat. I’m not saying a deal is going to get made, and I’m especially not saying it’s going to involve the New York Yankees, but what I am saying is that if the conversations are happening I hope Cashman is at least on the conference call list. 

Dodgers to Show Restrain This Offseason Just Like the Yankees?

The New York Yankees are turning the page, reportedly anyway, on the era of George Steinbrenner as the entire organization begins to shift in an entirely new direction. No longer are the Yankees, again reportedly, going to spend heavily on the free agent market for 30-somethings buying out the last season of their primes and a few seasons of their decline. The new plan in New York is to build the farm system, work the trade market and actually show some financial restraint. We all know the Yankees spent in excess of $500 million before the 2014 season and we all know it was management driven decisions that ultimately led to those signings. It seems like Cashman is back in control in the never-ending struggle for power and austerity is on the way once again for New York. Austerity is contagious apparently because it looks like it may be coming to a Los Angeles Dodgers run household near you this offseason.

The two richest franchises in Major League Baseball and the two biggest spenders annually are going to cut back this offseason if you believe everything you read on the internet, because it must be true. Between the two teams in 2015 a little over $500 million was spent including over $300 million by the Dodgers alone including the luxury tax, both teams may finally be seeing the error of their ways. Hal Steinbrenner has expressed a desire and willingness to get the team under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, or whatever it increases to after the 2016 collective bargaining agreement is reached, at least for one season and now the Dodgers co-owner Toddy Boehly is also expressing a desire to cut payroll, Boehly wants to cut payroll by $100 million to be exact.

This is awfully convenient timing for both clubs as this year’s free agent class marks one of the deepest classes in many, many years. The idea of winning a World Series without outspending the rest of the league combined makes sense, the Kansas City Royals won a World Series in 2015 with just $116.6 million in Opening Day payroll this season, but the most important fact that these owners leave out is the fact that it took 30 years to accomplish that. 30 years of building, tearing it down and rebuilding. 30 years of drafting high only to tank the next season and draft high again. It’s not apples to apples, it is apples to oranges.

I hate austerity but I think I dislike $200 million mediocre teams and Scott Boras a little bit more… so you convinced me. I’m a patient man, build from within. 

Final Arizona Fall League Check In

The Arizona Fall League ended on Saturday, November 21st as the Scottsdale Scorpions faced off with the New York Yankees prospects led Surprise Saguaros. If you watched the game the players looked a little tired, and very sloppy, for a Championship Game but at the end of the day the Scorpions went on to win the championship inside their home stadium. The Scorpions beat the Saguaros 6-4 in a game that saw seven errors combined committed, and honestly it could have been as many as 10 errors if not for some generous box scoring, and finished their season with a 18-12 record. Heading into the championship game the Saguaros held a 5-1 head-to-head record against the Scorpions but it didn't matter in the victory.

The Yankees sent Gary Sanchez to play catcher in the game while Tyler Austin and Dustin Fowler started in left field  and center field respectively for the Saguaros. No Yankees pitchers made it into the contest. Sanchez went 1-3 with a walk and a strikeout, Austin went 1-4 with a run scored and Fowler finished his AFL with a 2-3 game including a home run and two RBI. Here is what the Yankees final tally lines looked like from their Arizona Fall League season.

This Day in New York Yankees History 11/23: Enter Steve Sax

On this day in 1988 the New York Yankees signed free agent Steve Sax to a three year deal worth $3.75 million. The fan favorite Willie Randolph was the player that the former NL Rookie of the Year Sax would be replacing which came with a whole new set of responsibilities. The Yankees signed Sax to replace Randolph and the Dodgers countered by signing Randolph to replace Sax.