There are ten questions in the mailbag this week. The Grapefruit League season begins tomorrow and that means we can start mailbaggin’ about actual baseball again. Hooray for that. Anyway, send your mailbag questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Ross asks: In your opinion, what are the chances that the DJ LeMahieu signing is ‘live research’ for how Nolan Arenado’s offensive production might translate to Yankee Stadium/the AL East? In other words: Do you think any part of that signing was ‘Hey, let’s get a decent player and we’ll also find out if a true CO bat plays in our league as we look toward spending big on 3b if Andujar cannot hack it after one more, full season?’
Hah, interesting! That would be something. I don’t think this was a factor in the LeMahieu signing at all though. He and Arenado are very different hitters. LeMahieu is an opposite field singles hitter who hits a lot of ground balls. Arenado is one of the most extreme fly ball hitters in baseball (career 37.0% grounders) who mostly pulls the ball, though can poke it over the fence the other way. This would be like signing Derek Jeter to gain insight into how Gary Sanchez plays outside Yankee Stadium. If anything, Troy Tulowitzki is a better “live research” subject for Arenado because he is — or was at his peak with the Rockies — a fly ball guy with pull tendencies. I have no idea what sort of player Tulowitzki will be at this point of his career, but, if he’s still getting the ball in the air to left field, it’ll potentially tell us more regarding Arenado than LeMahieu serving singles to right. The Yankees signed LeMahieu because they love his glove and think there’s some upside in the bat. That’s all.
Geoff asks: I find it surprising that you rarely see a lefty starter prospect on the NYY top prospect list, and equally surprising that it is rarely if ever never discussed considering where the team plays it’s home games. It’s been this way for years; Sheffield and Clarkin were rarities.
It is unusual. I don’t think the Yankees (or any team, for that matter) focuses on handedness with prospects. They grab the best talent, try to develop it, and go from there. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you pick and choose prospects to draft or sign based on the hand they throw with or the side of the plate they hit from. Just get the best possible players. That said, you’d think the Yankees would run into more good lefties than they have over the last 15-20 years through sheer random chance. It’s been Manny Banuelos, Justus Sheffield, and Ian Clarkin. That’s it. I suppose we could throw Jordan Montgomery into the mix but he was never a top 100 prospect type. This isn’t anything to worry about. Not with the Yankees turning into a player development machine. It’s just an oddity.
John asks: I was surprised to see Taylor Widener appear as #83 on MLB 2019 Prospect list, and you have him so low (#28) on the “what if we didn’t trade them” prospect list. Has something changed since he went to Arizona he is now viewed so highly?
Yeah, I don’t get it either. MLB.com is the only site with Widener in their top 100 list. Seems to me they are heavily weighing his performance, which was great last year. Threw 137.1 innings, all in Double-A, with a 2.75 ERA (2.99 FIP) and very good strikeout (31.9%) and walk (7.9%) rates. Lefties hit him more than you’d like (.232/.301/.405) and MLB.com’s report even notes some “forecast an eventual move to the bullpen.” Fastball/slider righties who lack a weapon to neutralize lefties and might be facing a future in the bullpen are everywhere. Is there a meaningful difference between Widener and Trevor Stephan, for example? Widener is a good prospect but MLB.com’s ranking is an outlier. They have to be putting a lot of stock into the performance, and hey, that’s fine. There’s no right way to rank prospects.
Alberto asks: Lets say for some reason the Yankees are no longer an MLB team, meaning no baseball from the Bronx. Would you stop following baseball or who would follow or think could follow?
Definitely wouldn’t stop following baseball. There’s no chance that happens. I don’t think I would latch onto another team. My routine right now is, when I’m not watching the Yankees, I watch whatever game or team around the league interests me at that point in time. Last year I watched a ton of Angels games because of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. I also found myself watching the A’s a bunch because they were a fun group. It worked out nicely because the A’s and Angels are on the West Coast, so I could flip over once the Yankees finished their game and still catch all nine innings. With no Yankees, I’d just be a fan of baseball rather than latch on and become a fan of another team.
Joe asks: Does Dallas Keuchel on a one year deal make sense? Tanaka and CC probably both prefer extra rest.
Absolutely. Keuchel on a long-term contract scares me but I’d take him on a one-year contract no questions asked, and figure out how the rotation works later. You know someone will get hurt and the “six starters for five rotation spots” thing will take care of itself. Give Keuchel one year and $35M for all I care. I don’t think the Yankees are open to another high-priced addition at this point, short or long-term, and I don’t think Keuchel will have to settle for a one-year contract either. I could see him getting something similar to Jake Arrieta’s contract. Two guaranteed years with a player option and one of those funky multi-year club options. Keuchel’s definitely not going to get Patrick Corbin or Yu Darvish money. Never was. I expect him to still get multiple years though.
Matthew asks: Do you foresee teams faking injuries to get around the 3 batter rule? Who’s to say the guy’s arm didn’t get sore? Football teams fake injuries to slow down no huddle offenses (for example) and there’s not much anyone can do about it other than a public shaming by the opposing coach in the press conference.
I guess MLB would go with the honor system? I don’t know what the plan is here. Requiring a pitcher who leaves with an injury before facing three batters to automatically be placed on the injured list is unreasonable. All throughout the season we see pitchers removed from games as a precaution, then a day or two later they’re fine. You can’t ask a pitcher who maybe has an ache or some tightness to gut it out for another batter or two to avoid the required injured list stint. I suppose MLB could put someone at each ballpark who confirms the injury, but even that doesn’t seem fullproof. I’m not sure what the solution is here. I guess MLB could just run with it, and if they think injury removals are being abused, they could circle back and find a solution. Make sure it’s actually a problem before coming up with a solution, basically.
Rubaiyat asks: Do you have to play ten full seasons to earn a pension, or could you play nine full and a few months in the tenth season to get it? Also, with most players not being able to play 10 years to earn a full pension, do you see the CBA pushing for a lower amount of years needed to earn one?
Ten full years of service time locks in the full pension. It doesn’t have to be ten consecutive years, just ten years. You can be a journeyman who splits parts of 16 seasons between Triple-A and MLB, and as long as you get to ten full years of service time, you lock in the full pension. The full pension is north of $200,000 annually these days. Players can begin receiving that at age 62. (They could also tap into a smaller pension at a younger age.) The important number for most players: 43. Forty-three days of service time locks in a $34,000 per year pension. The more service time you accrue, the larger the pension until you max out at ten years. For up-and-down guys who have no real shot at ten years in the big leagues, those cups of coffee and September call-ups are important. Every little bit of service time increases the player’s pension. The current service time requirements have been in place for decades and they’re set by the MLBPA. The tricky part is funding the pension plan if the service time requirements are lowered. The pension plan is funded by the players, the teams, and MLB itself. They’d have to get everyone on board and convince them to pay more into the fund to make this work, and good luck with that.
Chris asks: Doesn’t the Machado deal wreak of Robbie Cano’s similar mistake of taking the money instead of the wins?
First of all, this isn’t a good comparison because Robinson Cano already had a World Series ring when he became a free agent. Win a ring, then get paid. What’s so wrong with that? Secondly, why is it a mistake to chase money instead of wins? Had Machado signed with a no doubt World Series contender (like the Yankees!) the critics would just say he’s taking the easy way out. He doesn’t want to be The Man so he’s going to a team with other great players, blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda. And third, given their incredible farm system and apparent willingness to spend, couldn’t you argue only a handful of teams are better set up for success the next six or seven years than the Padres? The Chargers are gone. San Diego has one-team city now and the Padres are going after it hard. Good for them. I will never ever ever blame a player for chasing the money. You’re never going to make everyone happy so don’t even bother trying. Just do what’s best for you.
Steve asks: In retrospect, do you think the Yankees receive good value on the Mark Teixeira free-agent deal?
I do. Teixeira hit .248/.343/.479 (120 wRC+) with 206 home runs and +17.8 WAR during his eight-year contract. He had one MVP caliber season (2009) and helped the Yankees to a championship as well. Straight $/WAR says Teixeira provided $110.8M in value on a $180M contract, so in that sense it was a bad deal, but $/WAR is overly simplistic. The cost of a win is not linear and it is not the same for every team. Using the same $/WAR calculation for the Yankees as the Rays or White Sox makes no sense.
The Yankees were a contending team every year from 2009-16. They didn’t always make the postseason but they tried. The goal going into each season was to make the postseason and win the World Series. Every additional win they added to the roster increased their chances of achieving that goal. This wasn’t a 75-win team getting to 78 wins. It was an 88-win team getting to 91 wins, or a 92-win team getting to 95 wins. Those extra wins are huge at that point on the win curve, and since the Yankees’ brand is built on winning, they should be (and historically have been) willing to pay extra for those wins. They did with Teixeira.
Casey asks: What are the chances the Yankees didn’t go after Harper to get Trout when he is a free agent? Still could extend Hicks after this season and when Trout is available sign him to play Center and slide Hicks to a corner outfield and still have Judge and Stanton to rotate between the 3 outfield and DH spots.
Small. It’s not smart to plan around players who won’t become free agents for another few years. Lots can change between now and then. Trout’s performance could collapse or (more likely) the Angels could give him a massive lifetime contract. I am much less confident in Trout reaching free agency than I was Manny Machado and Bryce Harper two years ago. Those two always seemed like good bets to test the open market. I’m not sure about Trout. Also, waiting for Trout doesn’t help now. The Yankees should be focused on improving the 2019 Yankees, not waiting around to improve the 2021 Yankees. There are two possible championships to be won between now and then! If Trout becomes a free agent in two years and he is still Mike effin’ Trout, I will be very loud and make it very clear I want the Yankees to sign him. That said, under no circumstances should the Yankees pass on opportunities to improve now with an eye on Trout later. There are too many variables at play. Besides, how are the Yankees going to pay Trout when they have to pay their core?