Here is an open thread for the night. The Knicks and Nets are playing, and there’s a whole bunch of college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about anything except religion or politics here. This ain’t the place for that.
As promised, we’re answering your questions this week. Keep them coming, both to the voicemail and the email.
The usual notes:
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Freicer Perez | RHP
Freicer Perez was signed by the Yankees for the bargain basement price of $10,000 back in 2014. A native of Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, the second-largest city in the country, Perez was a relative unknown in that year’s international free agent class, and was little more than a footnote in the Yankees spending spree that summer. He was also the veritable ‘old man’ of the group, as he was a few months beyond his 18th birthday when he signed. By the time the summer was over the Yankees had spent around $17 MM in bonuses, and another $12-plus MM in taxes.
And Perez might just be the best of the bunch.
Perez was 19 by the time he made his professional debut in 2015, checking in at right around the league-average age for pitchers in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League. He spent the entirety of the season there, tossing 69.2 IP of 3.23 ERA ball. Perez posted strong peripherals, as well, with a 22.7% strikeout rate, 5.7% walk rate, and 48.0% ground ball rate.
Despite his strong effort, Perez remained entirely off of the radar at this point. That’s not terribly surprising, giving his low profile in a massive IFA class and his lack of jaw-dropping numbers, but relative anonymity is always something that I find interesting. Perez didn’t even appear in a Baseball America article until September of 2016. But I digress.
The Yankees continued the slow and steady approach with Perez, as he spent all of 2016 at short-season Staten Island. He was far less successful against the better competition, posting a 4.47 ERA in 52.1 IP. It wasn’t just his run prevention numbers that slipped, either – he struck out fewer batters (20.6%), walked way more (10.5%), and essentially stopped garnering grounders (32.7%). It was a speed bump statistically, but he nevertheless started popping up on prospects lists – and the two may well be related. You see, Perez went from throwing in the low-90s in 2015 to bumping triple-digits in 2016, so his struggles may be attributed to attempting to harness his newfound stuff.
And that’s just what he did in 2017, posting a 2.84 ERA in 123.2 IP at Low-A Charleston. He brought his strikeout rate back up to 22.7%, trimmed nearly two percentage points off of his walk rate (8.7%), and rediscovered the joys of keeping the ball on the ground (43.4% grounders). And, despite the perils of selective endpoints, it’s worth noting that he scuffled out of the gate (5.79 ERA in April), and then dominated the rest of the way (2.46 ERA, 24.1% K%, and 8.0% BB% in his final 109.2 IP). That’s enough to put him onto some prospect radars outside of the Yankees fandom, too.
Perez is the exact sort of pitcher that the Yankees have sought out in recent years, checking in at 6’8″ and around 200 pounds, with the ability to throw the baseball incredibly hard. His fastball sits in the the mid-90s, routinely flirting with the 100 MPH threshold, and it has a nice bit of sink to it. The simple fact that he has that much velocity with that much movement gives him an edge over similarly hard-throwing prospects.
Mechanically, there’s some good and some bad for Perez. There’s some natural deception in his delivery, his arm speed is consistent, and the total package is fairly clean, with nothing that screams disaster-in-waiting. At the same time, though, he does not repeat his delivery well, as he has a tendency to raise or lower his arm slot, which can completely mitigate the deception in his delivery. He hides the ball for a long time, but the arm slot can telegraph when a breaking ball is coming. And that may be the reason why the command of all but his fastball is subpar at best.
Perez is often compared to fellow Yankees farmhand Domingo Acevedo as a result of all of this, and it’s not too hard to see why. To his credit, though, Perez is more athletic than Acevedo, and a bit more polished on a comparative level.
Perez should open the season at High-A Tampa, and I suspect that he’ll spend at least half of the season there (if not longer), regardless of how well he performs. Barring disaster, I suspect he’ll finish the season at Double-A Trenton.
It’s difficult not to love the fastball, with its easy velocity and natural movement. And I’m a believer in his change-up when his mechanics are right. If he’s going to be a starter at the highest level, however, he will need to refine at least one of his breaking balls. Everything that I have seen and read suggests his curve is the less bad of the two, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up scrapping his slider for that; or, in a broader sense, giving up one to focus on the other. Combining his fastball with a couple of average secondary offerings would be enough to make him a mid-rotation starter. Absent that, he could be a dominant reliever with a 100 MPH fastball and a show-me pitch or two. I’ll be following him closely this season, as I’m fascinated to find out what happens next.
Ten questions in this week’s mailbag. The first Grapefruit League game is four weeks from today, you know. Baseball is getting closer. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the email address.
Many asked: What about Travis Shaw?
A few days ago Jim Bowden reported the Brewers may sign Mike Moustakas and trade Shaw, and he specifically mentioned the Yankees as a possible landing spot. Hmmm. I’m not sure that one passes the sniff test. Would the Brewers really spend big on Moustakas, who may not be an upgrade on Shaw, then trade Shaw for whatever they can get? I mean, sure, it’s possible. Just seems a little far-fetched.
Anyway, in this hypothetical, yes it would make sense for the Yankees to go after Shaw. He’s a left-handed power bat with a not excessive strikeout rate (22.8%) who can play a surprisingly good third base, and also back up first base as well. And he’s cheap. This coming season is his final pre-arbitration season. That’ll fit well in the luxury tax plan. Also, Shaw’s nickname is the Mayor of Ding Dong City, and I could totally go for that.
Could the Yankees build a trade around Chance Adams with some strong secondary pieces? That’d be my preference. It’s possible for Shaw, Greg Bird, and Miguel Andujar to co-exist going forward. Brett Gardner might be gone next year, freeing up left field for Aaron Judge (or Giancarlo Stanton), and opening the DH spot for a first/third/DH rotation between Shaw, Bird, and Andujar. I dunno. I’d be for a Shaw trade. The “sign Moustakas and trade Shaw” idea seems a little out there though.
Brian asks: If they add another starter is there a way they can hold CC back a bit so his season starts in May, to keep him fresher for Oct.?
I’m sure the Yankees could figure something out, though I’m not sure CC Sabathia is the guy I’d worry about. He doesn’t pitch all that deep into games and I’m sure his knee will give him a little two-week vacation at some point too. Luis Severino might be the guy who needs to have his workload monitored early so he can be fresh late. I expect the Yankees to use a sixth starter fairly regularly this year to give the regular five starters extra rest. Maybe they’ll go with a straight six-man rotation, or maybe they’ll just call up a spot starter every so often to rest guys. I suppose the Yankees could stash Sabathia on the disabled list for a few weeks to start his season later, though I’m not sure he’d be thrilled with that. Anyway, yes, there are ways to do it. It can be done. Is it necessary? I’m not sure.
Kris asks: If Aaron Hicks gets injured or simply doesn’t perform, both of which are possible, which do you see as the more likely scenario assuming nobody in the outfield gets traded first: 1. Ellsbury gets plugged in to play CF. 2. Gardner slides over to CF and Frazier starts in LF. Personally I’d go with the second option, even if it does make the lineup even more right-handed heavy than it already is. What do you think?
My preference would be Gardner in center and Clint Frazier in left, though I get the sense the Yankees would stick Jacoby Ellsbury in center in that case. Performance might not matter much either. If Ellsbury is on the bench and not hitting, the Yankees might use him in center to see if regular playing time will wake his bat up. And if he’s playing sparingly and killing it, of course they’ll put him in center full-time. Realistically, for Frazier to get called up from Triple-A, it might take two simultaneous outfield injuries, and that usually happens once or twice a year. Hicks and Ellsbury were both hurt at the same time last season, which is why Frazier was called up in the first place. We’ll see. The Yankees have an outfield logjam right now, but before you know it, Jake Cave will be on the roster for two months. That’s usually how it works. Depth disappears quick.
Paul asks: Talk to me about what Judge needs to do to beat the 1st year arbitration record Kris Bryant just set.
Bryant was arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and his $10.85M salary is the new record at that service time level, breaking Ryan Howard’s old $10M record. Both Bryant and Howard went into arbitration with a Rookie of the Year and an MVP. Judge has the Rookie of the Year. Now he needs to win MVP. I don’t think two more second or third place finishes will do it, even with a boatload of homers. That MVP award is crazy valuable. So, basically, Judge needs to keep doing what he did this year, and win an MVP either this year or next. If he does that, the Yankees will happily pay him a record salary for a first time arbitration-eligible player.
Ross asks: Could the Yankees sign Darvish to say a $190 million, 15-year deal, and have the bulk of the money paid during the first 7 years? They could say they think he’d be an effective reliever in his 40s.
MLB would flag it as luxury tax circumvention. That scenario is pretty obvious. The Red Sox would surely raise the point to the Commissioner’s Office, the same way the Yankees would if the Red Sox tried to sign Yu Darvish to that contract. Pretty much any sort of creative contract designed to lessen the luxury tax burden — what about two years and $30M with an opt-out, and a $28M salary in year one? — will get flagged and MLB will not approve the contract. NHL teams ruined it for everyone. They handed out a bunch of those 15-year contracts with seven years at a low salary tacked on the end to lower salary cap hits, and the league had to change the rules. MLB will notice if the Yankees or any other team tries something like that.
David asks: Not to put the jinx on, but has a team ever had players win rookie of the year in back-to-back years? Could the Yankees be the first if Torres does it this year? If there’s been two, has there been 3? Yankees could have legitimately had a shot at that too if they’d called Sanchez up earlier in the year in 2016.
Oh sure. The Dodgers just did it with Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers had five straight Rookies of the Year from 1992-96 (Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, Todd Hollandsworth). The last AL team with back-to-back Rookies of the Year was the 2004-05 Athletics (Bobby Crosby, Huston Street). The Mariners did it from 2000-01 (Kaz Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki).
Gleyber Torres will have to compete with Shohei Ohtani for the AL Rookie of the Year award this season, though I’d say he has as good a chance of winning the award as anyone. He’s talented and has a clear path for playing time, which is important. Playing time is half the battle. My AL Rookie of the Year dark horse: Andujar! Assuming he takes over at third base reasonably quickly and plays regularly.
Michael asks: What are your thoughts on the new muscular Aaron Hicks?
I’m not sure where it originated, but a picture of a jacked as hell Hicks made the rounds on Twitter a few days ago. I guess he wants the Yankees to have three 50-homer outfielders. Here’s the photo:
That is indeed Hicksie. Either that or it’s some dude who looks an awful lot like him and has the same tattoos. My guess is Hicks isn’t that much bigger than last year. That’s a mid-workout photo so he was looking especially ripped. If Hicks is bigger and it helps him perform better, great! If he’s bigger and it hurts his performance, that’d suck. Let’s see what he looks like when he shows up to Spring Training a few weeks.
Adam asks: Does Lance Lynn make the most sense of any available pitcher, trade or free agent?
Eh, maybe. I still think Lynn is going to end up with $14M+ per season this offseason — who knows in this market though — and in that case, he’s not especially luxury tax friendly. Also, he rejected the qualifying offer, so the Yankees would have to give up two draft picks and some international bonus money to sign him. Lynn is pretty good though. A solid workhorse type. He’s a year removed from Tommy John surgery and he lives and dies with his fastball, so that’s kinda scary, but he’s a quality starter. The Yankees haven’t been connected to Lynn at all and I don’t think they’re going to jump in. I think they’d either go big with Darvish or trade for a younger, cheaper pitcher. Not spend big(-ish) and give up draft picks for a second tier guy.
Dan asks: Do you buy into the rumor that at least one free agent might wait until midseason to sign with a team, just because he isn’t getting the contract terms that he wants? Do you think that many players are ultimately going to have to settle for much less than what they were expecting to get, just to play next season?
Earlier this week Jeff Passan reported an unnamed top free agent said he’s willing to wait until midseason to get a fair deal. Yes, I buy a free agent saying that. No, I don’t think he’d actually go through with it. When push comes to shove, I think everyone is going to sign for what they can get. The players who have gone the “wait and sign at midseason” route were older players at the end of their careers. Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt, guys like that. Not prime age free agents who should be cashing in big. This is a weird offseason and I might be completely wrong about the not sitting out until midseason part. It just seems like such an extreme step for me.
Mike asks: Hi Mike, any updates on the rest of the coaching staff for this season?
The Yankees haven’t officially announced any coaching staff hires aside from re-signing Larry Rothschild, though that is not all that unusual. They tend to announce these things all at once at the end of the offseason. Some teams announced hires as they go during the winter, some teams do it at the end. The Yankees do it at the end.
Here’s what we know about Aaron Boone’s coaching staff at the moment.
- Bench coach: Josh Bard (Boone confirmed at Winter Meetings)
- Hitting coach: Marcus Thames (expected to be promoted from assistant hitting coach)
- Assistant hitting coach: Unknown who they will hire, or if they’ll even have one
- Pitching coach: Rothschild (announced by Yankees)
- First base coach: Reggie Willits (Boone confirmed at Winter Meetings)
- Third base coach: Phil Nevin (Boone confirmed at Winter Meetings)
- Bullpen coach: Mike Harkey (expected to return)
- Infield Coach: Carlos Mendoza (expected to be added to the staff)
Bard (Dodgers bullpen coach) and Nevin (Giants third base coach) are being hired from outside the organization while Willits (outfield and baserunning instructor) and Mendoza (infield coordinator) are being promoted from the minor league staff. Rothschild, Thames, and Harkey were all on Joe Girardi’s staff the last few seasons. That’s all we know about the coaching staff at the moment. Eventually the Yankees will get around to making it official.
Anyway, here is an open for the night. The three local hockey teams are playing and that’s it. No local NBA action or college basketball in general. Talk about anything here, as long as it is not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.
This offseason has been borderline insufferable. Outside of Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Ohtani moving early, it’s been a slow trickle of small signings and few big moves. Even the rumors have been sparse at best.
But one persistent rumor in recent weeks has been the Yankees’ interest in Yu Darvish. After adding Stanton and re-signing CC Sabathia, the Yankees have around $22 million to work with in order to fill out their roster under the luxury tax. Darvish, as the best pitcher (sorry Jake Arrieta) on the market, should command an average annual salary north of $20 million, seemingly putting him out of their self-imposed price range.
It’s easy to say that the Yankees should ignore the luxury tax and aim for the home run signing or multiple signings in general. The luxury tax shouldn’t act as a salary cap and the team has enough revenue to offset yearly luxury tax bills, even the more punitive ones of the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement. Plus, with few teams active on the free agent market, there is an opportunity to swoop in an find real bargains that were unforeseen in November.
But the Yankees are operating with the luxury tax as their cutoff this year, so staying under $197 million is an imperative that would take them out of the Darvish sweepstakes. That is, unless they decide to shed salary. The most commonly thrown-out name that the Bombers would move to get under their cap is David Robertson. Robertson was arguably the Yanks’ best reliever down the stretch last year and will have a suitably big role in their pen this year.
So is it worth dealing a key reliever in order to sign a potential top-of-the-rotation starter? Below is the case for that very move:
1. Yankees have depth in the bullpen: Adding back Robertson was huge for New York last year. He allowed just four runs in 35 regular season innings before the trade and then came through with huge innings in the Wild Card Game and ALDS Game 5. The Yankees likely don’t make the ALCS without him.
But with the depth of the Yankees’ pen, Robertson may just be expendable. Aroldis Chapman-Dellin Betances-Tommy Kahnle-Chad Green-Adam Warren is still one of the best top five relief corps in the league. It’s certainly better than the Chapman-Betances-Warren-Tyler Clippard-Jonathan Holder top five the Yankees had in April last year. It stands to reason that Holder can handle lower leverage innings or one of the other shuttle relievers can emerge as the sixth man in the pen (Ben Heller is my personal fave there).
2. They don’t have the same depth in the rotation: The argument against Darvish, in general, is that the Yankees have five starters, the same five starters that got them within a game of the World Series last year. That’s fair. But those five are all injury risks or question marks for next year. Even Luis Severino, the 2017 ace, faces some hurdles after exceeding his career-high innings total by more than 40 innings last year.
Beyond the top five, what do the Yankees have? Luis Cessa and his perfectly mediocre track record is likely the first up. After him, it’s a combination of prospects and Wade LeBlanc. Nothing inspiring, particularly when Cessa and co. will have to make plenty of starts in the average scenario.
Adding Darvish lessens the pressure on every other starter and allows the team to move slower with a Jordan Montgomery or Severino to keep them fresh late in the year. And adding another top-flight starter would allow the Yankees to shift 1-2 of their starters to the pen in October, mimicking what the Astros did in the 2017 but with a better bullpen to boot.
3. Darvish has a chance to be special in pinstripes: This can’t be understated. Despite two pitch-tipping marred World Series starts, Darvish has a lot of talent and could be a key positive on the biggest stage.
The 31-year-old starter isn’t too far removed from Tommy John surgery, but he’s been successful since coming back. His K-BB rate has remained right around his pre-TJ levels, though he’s given up more hits and home runs. After making adjustments to his pitch mix after his trade to Los Angeles, his strikeout rate spiked and his results improved.
His age is a concern, even though he fits the Yankees’ mold of tall framed pitchers who strike guys out. Signing a starter over age-30 to a long-term deal can end terribly (see: Burnett, A.J.) and we may not see 2013 Darvish again. But even post-surgery Darvish is a valuable piece who can help the team maximize its current window despite a potential tail-off towards the end of any contract.
4. Robertson can get a strong (but not elite) return: While you may see this as exchanging one strength for another and making the bullpen weaker, Robertson can get the Yankees something in return. With just one year left on his deal, D-Rob won’t elicit an Andrew Miller-esque return. But you’re still talking about one of the better relievers in the game with an end-of-game and postseason pedigree.
Perhaps the Yankees would target an infielder to fill one of their other holes in return. But it’s more likely they would be able to add to their stockpile of prospects while opening some room for a lesser free agent infielder.
The team obviously wants to unload Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract. It just doesn’t seem likely that will happen. Brett Gardner would be another option for a veteran to deal and trading him would open a spot for the Yankees’ glut of outfielders. But after multiple OFs have already moved this offseason and plenty remain on the free agent market, it’s tough to see what Gardner’s market would be.
Shedding salary seems perverse for a team playing in the biggest market with ownership that isn’t crying poor like their crosstown rivals. But that’s where the Yankees are at right now if they want to add Darvish, or Arrieta for that matter. You’d hate to see Robertson leave yet again, but perhaps it may be worth it in this scenario.