New York Yankees Rumors

New York Yankees trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Quick Hits: Nationals-Astros, Plantier, Cabrera, Hillman

Palm Beach County has approved $108MM in public funding for a $135MM spring training complex to be shared by the Nationals and Astros, writes James Wagner of The Washington Post. The clubs must still agree to a site for their new spring home. The move to Florida’s east coast also has implications for the Cardinals and Marlins. They are now more likely to remain in their shared complex, which included an opt out based on number of teams in the area.

  • Phil Plantier has been relieved of his duties as hitting coach for the Padres, writes Corey Brock of MLB.com. The Padres featured the worst offense by many measures in 2014, although much of that can be pinned on sub-par personnel. Assistant hitting coach Alonzo Powell is expected to remain with the club.
  • Jose Bautista spoke about Melky Cabrera‘s upcoming free agency on Sportsnet 590 the FAN and handicapped a return at about 50-50, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. According to Bautista, Cabrera will see what’s out there, but he’s “had a good experience in Toronto.” With Colby Rasmus expected to leave via free agency, the Blue Jays outfield could be in a state of flux is Cabrera also departs.
  • Newly hired Astros bench coach Trey Hillman has worn a lot of different hats in his career. Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle profiles Hillman in his latest piece. He was let go from on-field positions with the Royals (manager) and Dodgers (bench coach) before latching on with the Yankees as a special assistant. Per Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News, Yankees GM Brian Cashman approached Hillman about the opening left by former head of minor league operations Mark Newman. Hillman reportedly declined the position because he preferred an on-field role.

AL Notes: Shields, Magadan, Yankees

Prior to last night’s three inning, five run meltdown, Mike Petriello of FanGraphs examined why Royals ace James Shields has failed to live up to his “Big Game” moniker. In a detailed analysis, Petriello discovered Shields’ pitch selection has changed in the postseason and his cutter has been less effective. However, and as Petriello notes repeatedly, it’s hard to draw conclusions from such a small sample of innings.

  • Shields is a popular subject today. WEEI.com’s Alex Speier wonders if Shields’ postseason non-performance will result in a lower free agent price tag. His reputation for October excellence is undeserved – he has the third highest ERA among 65 starters with 10 or more postseason starts. Speier does note that Barry Zito and Edwin Jackson signed rich free agent contracts following lousy postseason performances. The limited market for starters should keep Shields in demand, even if teams are wary of his late season contributions. If anything, this improves the positions of Max Scherzer and Jon Lester.
  • The status of Rangers hitting instructor Dave Magadan and pitching coach Mike Maddux should be determined within the week, reports Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. Per comments from GM Jon Daniels, the future of Magadan and Maddux depends on comfort. New manager Jeff Banister will need to be “confident in how they see the game, in how they communicate with players and who he feels he can lean on.” Magadan is expected to meet with Banister today.
  • After viewing MLBTR’s arbitration estimates for the Yankees, NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty takes a look at who might be tendered. Francisco Cervelli ($2.5MM projected salary), Ivan Nova ($3.3MM), Shawn Kelley ($2.5MM), David Phelps ($1.3MM), and Michael Pineda ($2.1MM) are the five he believes will return. Kuty believes David Huff ($700K) and Esmil Rogers ($1.9MM) may be non-tendered. My own opinion: while the Yankees may seek to replace Huff, there isn’t an urgent need to cut his near-league minimum salary. However, Mike Axisa of River Ave Blues notes that Huff could be the odd man out if New York needs a 40 man roster spot. Rogers does seem to be an easy non-tender choice.

AL East Notes: Yankees, Cespedes, Tazawa, Pearce

The Yankees have promoted pro scout and former hitting coach/player development executive Gary Denbo to senior vice president of baseball operations, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News tweeted yesterday. In a full article, Feinsand and colleague Bill Madden write that Denbo will take over for the retired Mark Newman as head of the team’s farm system. Pat Roessler, who has served as the team’s director of player development since 1995, will not return to the club, Feinsand adds.  Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has recently expressed displeasure with the lack of position players developed by the Yankees’ farm system.

Some other Yankees and AL East notes from around the league…

  • In his latest Yankees Inbox piece for MLB.com, Bryan Hoch discusses a number of offseason topics, including the club’s search for starting pitching and a shortstop, as well as its likely inactivity on the market for Cuban players. Hoch won’t be surprised to see the Yankees pursue one of the big three starters (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields), and all indications are that the team will look externally for a shortstop. MLBTR’s Zach Links recently profiled Asdrubal Cabrera, noting that he could be a fit for the Bombers at short.
  • Yoenis Cespedes‘ recent agency change does little to change the possibility of the Red Sox signing him to an extension, writes WEEI.com’s Alex Speier. Cespedes is still expected to hit the open market on the heels of past comments with the A’s about looking forward to testing the open market. While he did take a bit more ambiguous stance when asked by Boston reporters late in the year — “€œI’€™m still not sure if I want to sign an extension or if I want to be a free agent. It’s too soon.” – Speier feels that a new contract for the Roc Nation Sports client is unlikely.
  • David Laurila of Fangraphs spoke with Red Sox setup man Junichi Tazawa at the end of the season about his role with the team and his level of satisfaction with his 2014 results. Tazawa explained, through an interpreter, that he feels he proved his endurance out of the bullpen and is happy to fill whatever role Boston asks of him, especially after they stuck with him through his previous Tommy John surgery. However, Laurila cites a Japanese source in reporting that Tazawa’s preference would be to pitch as a starter. Tazawa wouldn’t comment on any preference when asked directly about the role change, though he did note that he feels he could build up that level of endurance again. The 28-year-old made four starts for the Sox in 2009 and made 28 more in the minor leagues before settling into the big league bullpen.
  • Steve Pearce‘s role on the 2015 Orioles is a bit nebulous at this point, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com, as it’s somewhat contingent on how the rest of the roster shapes up. The O’s will potentially lose Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency, and it’s not a given that they’ll tender Alejandro De Aza a contract. Pearce himself is due a large raise in arbitration after his outstanding 2014 season, but Baltimore will happily pay him whatever he is ultimately owed, writes Kubatko. He looks back at the series of events which saw Pearce released and claimed by the Blue Jays. Pearce, of course, was able to refuse the claim due to the nature of release waivers, and he did so knowing that the O’s would soon try to bring him back. The soon-to-be 32-year-old has one year of team control remaining before free agency and earned just $700K in each of the past two seasons.


Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees

The Yankees will have to make additions while sorting through several high-priced injury question marks on their roster as they try to rebound from consecutive years outside the postseason.

Guaranteed Contracts

  • Masahiro Tanaka, SP: $133MM through 2020 (Tanaka can opt out after 2017)
  • Jacoby Ellsbury, OF: $126.8MM through 2020 ($21MM club option for 2021, $5MM buyout)
  • Brian McCann, C: $68MM through 2018 ($15MM club option for 2019, can vest to become player option)
  • Alex Rodriguez, 3B: $61MM through 2017
  • C.C. Sabathia, SP: $48MM through 2016 ($25MM vesting option for 2017, $5MM buyout otherwise)
  • Brett Gardner, OF: $48MM through 2018 ($12.5MM club option for 2019, $2MM buyout)
  • Mark Teixeira, 1B: $45MM through 2016
  • Carlos Beltran, OF: $30MM through 2016
  • Martin Prado, IF: $22MM through 2016
  • Brendan Ryan, SS: $2MM through 2015 ($2MM club option for 2016, become $1MM player option if declined)

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The emotion of the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera retirement tours over the last two seasons may have softened the blow of missing the playoffs for Yankees fans.  Now that the last of the “Core Four” has retired, eyes are focused on the present and what the Steinbrenner family, the newly-extended Brian Cashman and a revamped baseball operations department will do to get this team back into contention.

When the Bombers missed the playoffs last year, they responded by spending over $500MM on new contracts for free agents and re-signed talent.  It doesn’t seem like the Yankees are prepared for another spending spree, in part because two of last year’s big signings (Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran) underperformed.  Combine those setbacks with a huge swath of injuries that sidelined almost the entire Yankees rotation, and it’s somewhat surprising that the club managed to win even 83 games.

The biggest issue facing the Yankees is that many of their highest-paid players can’t be counted on to stay healthy or play up to their usual standard in 2015.  C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and has already suffered a decline in performance in recent years.  Mark Teixeira managed to play in 123 games last year but his wrist problems will always require a backup option.  McCann and Beltran could’ve just had off-years, or they could possibly be on the decline as well.

And then there’s Alex Rodriguez, returning from his year-long suspension as a complete mystery in terms of what he’ll be able to contribute.  The plan for A-Rod seems to be a rotation between DH, third base and possibly first base, to spell Teixeira.  Until the Yankees know if Rodriguez can handle regular time at third, however, it will somewhat hamstring their other winter plans.  They have an interest in bringing back Chase Headley, though obviously Headley will want to play every day, and limiting Rodriguez to a 1B/DH role will cut down on the DH at-bats that might be needed for another aging players like Beltran or McCann.

One possible solution would be to pencil Martin Prado in as the third baseman and to acquire a stopgap option to play second or give prospect Rob Refsnyder a shot at the job.  If Rodriguez’s body can hold up under regular playing time at the hot corner, then Prado can then primarily play second base, with the occasional game at 3B to spell A-Rod.  Prado’s versatility is a nice tool for the Yankees to have, and since he posted an .877 OPS in 137 PA after joining the club at the trade deadline, his bat may have awoken after a rough first half with the Diamondbacks.

With Rodriguez likely looking at a healthy share of DH at-bats, Beltran will have to see much more time in right field than the 32 games he played at the position last season.  Beltran’s elbow injury both kept him out of RF and likely played a big role in his struggles at the plate, so if he’s healthy, he could be back to his usual productive self.  For depth’s sake, however, the Yankees will definitely look to add a backup outfielder who could regular playing time or at least would be Beltran’s late-inning defensive replacement.  Someone like Gerardo Parra (who the Brewers could non-tender or look to trade this winter) would be a nice fit in this role.

Replacing Jeter is impossible from a big-picture standpoint, though replacing Jeter’s 2014 on-field production (-0.3 fWAR, 73 wRC+) at shortstop shouldn’t be hard.  There will inevitably be a big media spotlight on whichever player becomes Jeter’s successor at short, and the Yankees have a couple of options: they can pursue a young shortstop as a true long-term heir apparent, or they could look for an established veteran (who might be more used to the pressure) to play the position for a few seasons until a younger option can be groomed or acquired.

If New York chooses the veteran route, there are free agent shortstops like Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie available.  Hanley Ramirez is the top free agent shortstop on the market, though if the Yankees are indeed hesitant about giving big money to players over 30 years old, then a player with Ramirez’s injury history and defensive limitations wouldn’t be a good fit.  Stephen Drew could be re-signed at a relative discount price, though it’s hard to see the Yankees handing Drew the starting job coming off his poor 2014 season.  It’s possible the Yankees’ top choice to replace Jeter may already be off the board, as J.J. Hardy signed an extension with the Orioles rather than test free agency.

If the Yankees went for a younger option at short, they could talk trade with the Diamondbacks or Cubs, each of which have a surplus of young shortstops.  Chicago’s surplus, of course, is of a higher pedigree since it involves former All-Star Starlin Castro and blue chip prospects Addison Russell and Javier Baez.  As MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote in his recent Cubs offseason outlook piece, however, the timing may not be right for the Cubs to trade their middle infield depth.  Plus, even if Chicago was willing to deal, the Yankees may not have the prospect depth to meet the enormous asking price the Cubs would demand for any of those players.  Swinging a deal for one of Arizona’s slightly lesser-regarded young shortstops (Didi Gregorius, Nick Ahmed, Chris Owings) could be a more palatable option.

The Yankees acquired Prado using one piece of their catching surplus in prospect Peter O’Brien, and the club still has John Ryan Murphy, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine all battling for the backup job behind McCann.  Any two of these players could be expendable with top prospect Gary Sanchez on the farm, though Sanchez has yet to play beyond the Double-A level and is at least a season away from getting serious consideration from a big league job.

The biggest trade chip the Yankees have, of course, is their financial might.  Headley, Prado and Brandon McCarthy were all acquired for a fairly negligible prospect return at midseason since New York was simply able to take those contracts off the Padres’ and Diamondbacks’ hands.  Rather than surrender draft picks to sign qualifying offer free agents or deal away what little farm depth they have, the Yankees could pursue more trades with rivals looking to create payroll space.

If the Yankees did want to make a splash in free agency, however, Jon Lester could be an attractive target since (due to the fact that he was traded at midseason) he can be signed without any draft pick compensation.  The Yankees have a particular admiration for Lester, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, and the southpaw would bring both quality and much-needed durability to New York’s rotation.  Max Scherzer could also draw interest from the Yankees this winter as another front-of-the-rotation upgrade, not to mention James Shields, who is expected to be available at a lower price than those other two aces.

While adding a top starter could technically give the Yankees a rotation surplus if everyone is healthy, that’s a giant “if” given how many injury-plagued starters are in the rotation.  C.C. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery and even if he’s 100 percent health-wise, the lefty has still been on the decline for the last two seasons.  Ivan Nova will be out until May at the earliest as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.  Michael Pineda looked dominant when he was on the mound, yet had another injury setback when he missed three months with a bad shoulder.

The most tenuous injury situation involves Masahiro Tanaka, who took MLB by storm in his rookie season before a slight UCL tear caused him to miss 10 weeks.  Tanaka returned to make two starts in late September and reported he was pain-free, so for now, it appears the righty may have dodged the Tommy John bullet.  Any recurrence of the injury, however, could lead to surgery for Tanaka and at least a year on the DL.  Tanaka is yet another high-paid superstar the Yankees don’t know if they can count on in 2015, and his uncertain health status is the club’s strongest argument for making a play for the likes of Scherzer, Lester or Shields.

Shane Greene‘s strong rookie season earned him a spot in the 2015 rotation, so presuming that leaves New York with a tentative starting quartet of Tanaka, Greene, Pineda and Sabathia.  If the Yankees don’t land that ace-level pitcher, they could turn to familiar faces in McCarthy (who is open to a return) or Hiroki Kuroda, who is again weighing retirement or a return to Japan.

Kuroda faced the same choice last offseason and rejected a $14.1MM qualifying offer before re-signing with the Yankees on a one-year, $16MM deal.  It stands to reason that Kuroda will receive another QO this winter — if the Yankees were comfortable in issuing him a qualifying offer last year before knowing if he’d return to MLB, they’d probably feel similarly comfortable this year.  Kuroda still posted solid numbers and 199 IP at age 39 last season, and he’ll draw enough interest from teams that I’d suspect he’ll reject this offseason’s $15.3MM qualifying offer to look for another slightly-richer one-year pact.  It’s fair to assume the Yankees have the inside track on Kuroda’s services if he does return, though the Dodgers and Angels are also looking for starting pitching and can offer Kuroda a job closer to his home in southern California.

Dellin Betances‘ phenomenal success as the Yankees’ setup man has led to speculation that he could take over as closer in 2015 and New York could afford to let David Robertson leave in free agency.  The Yankees are one of the few teams who can afford to issue a qualifying offer to a closer, and while it’s possible the QO could scare off some teams who don’t want to give up a first-round pick to sign a one-inning pitcher, MLBTR’s Steve Adams argued that Robertson’s status as the best closer available will still land him a significant deal, possibly in the range of four years and $52MM.  A lockdown bullpen has been such an important part of recent Yankees history that I can see the Bombers re-signing Robertson and re-teaming he and Betances to create a lot of seven-inning games.

With or without Robertson, expect the Yankees to pursue a veteran lefty reliever to fill the hole left by Matt Thornton, who was let go on waivers last summer.  Andrew Miller stands out as the best left-handed option (and one of the best relievers in general) available in free agency, and he could serve as Betances’ setup man.  The Yankees could take a page from the Royals’ book by signing Miller AND re-signing Robertson, sandwiching them around Betances to create a terrifying late-game relief trio.

David Huff, David Phelps, Shawn Kelley and Esmil Rogers are all eligible for arbitration this winter and since all pitched well in 2014 (at least peripheral-wise in Kelley and Rogers’ cases), expect all four to be tendered contracts and brought back into the bullpen mix.  The Yankees could also exercise their inexpensive team option on Andrew Bailey for 2015, though since hasn’t pitched at all since undergoing shoulder surgery in July 2013, Bailey is just a lottery ticket at this point.

The rumor mill inevitably connects the Yankees to virtually every top free agent during the offseason, both because agents like to raise their clients’ asking prices by claiming the league’s big spenders are interested and because the Yankees usually do cast a wide net.  Throwing more money at free agents might leave the club with even more albatross contracts, however, and even the Yankees have a spending limit.  It’s more likely the Yankees will look to fill their roster holes through trades rather than free agency, though expect them to explore all options lest the playoff drought extend to three years.


Minor Moves: Guzman, Abreu, Phelps

Here are the latest minor league transactions, with the newest moves at the top of the post.  All moves reported by Baseball America’s Matt Eddy unless cited otherwise.

  • Jesus Guzman elected free agency rather than accept a Triple-A assignment from the Astros, Union Radio’s Pascual Artiles reports (Twitter link).  Houston outrighted Guzman off its 40-man roster earlier this month.  Guzman was acquired from the Padres last December and hit .188/.272/.248 in 184 plate appearances in 2014.
  • Second baseman Tony Abreu has elected to become a free agent, leaving the Giants organization.  Abreu has been with the Giants for the last two seasons, appearing in three games with the team in 2014 and 53 in 2013.  Abreu has 615 PA to his name since debuting in the majors in 2007, posting a career .254/.283/.373 line for the Giants, Royals, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.
  • Second baseman Cord Phelps has elected free agency.  Phelps played for the Orioles in 2014, appearing in three Major League games and hitting .259/.361/.388 over 403 PA at Triple-A Norfolk.
  • The Dodgers re-signed left-hander Robert Carson.  The southpaw posted a 5.74 ERA over 62 2/3 IP in the minors with the Angels and Dodgers in 2014, getting released by L.A.’s red team in May and signing with L.A.’s blue team a week later.  Carson threw 33 innings for the Mets in 2012-13, posting a 6.82 ERA in his brief time in the Show.
  • Left-hander Pedro Hernandez has elected to become a free agent, leaving the Rockies.  Hernandez posted a 6.42 ERA in 88 1/3 IP for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2014, and made one start for the Rockies in July.  The southpaw has a career 7.33 ERA over 66 1/3 IP with the Rockies, Twins and White Sox since 2012.
  • The Rockies released and then re-signed right-hander Simon Castro, according to the club’s official transactions page.  He first signed with Colorado in April but didn’t pitch at all in 2014 due to injury.  Castro was ranked as the game’s 58th-best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season while in the Padres farm system, and was dealt to the White Sox as part of the Carlos Quentin trade package in the 2011-12 offseason.  His Major League experience consists of 6 2/3 IP with Chicago in 2013.
  • Left-hander Cesar Cabral, most recently of the Yankees organization, has elected to become a free agent, Examiner.com’s Dan Pfeiffer reports (Twitter link).  Cabral appeared in four games for the Yankees in 2014, totaling one inning pitched and allowing three earned runs.  His Major League resume also includes 3 2/3 IP for New York in 2013.  The southpaw has a 4.01 ERA, 2.58 K/BB rate and 420 strikeouts over 422 1/3 career minor league innings.

Quick Hits: Ramirez, Hitting Coaches, Hudson, Zito

Two-time NPB MVP Alex Ramirez has retired, Jun Hongo of the Wall Street Journal Japan reports. The 40-year-old Ramirez played briefly for the Indians and Pirates between 1998 and 2000, but it wasn’t until he headed to Yakult for the 2001 season that his career really got going. He hit 29 homers that year and quickly emerged as one of the most feared sluggers in Japan, hitting 40 or more home runs three times in his career. Ramirez finished his NPB career in 2013 with 380 homers for Yakult, Yomiuri and Yokohama, then played and coached last season with the independent Gunma Diamond Pegasus club. Here are more notes from around the Majors.

  • Athletics hitting coach Chili Davis has left the team to become the new hitting coach of the Red Sox, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com tweets. Davis hit 350 home runs in a 19-year career with the Giants, Angels, Twins, Royals and Yankees, then worked in the Dodgers and Red Sox systems before signing on with the Athletics prior to the 2012 season. In his previous stint with the Red Sox, Davis served as the hitting coach at Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox will begin interviewing candidates for their assistant hitting coach position this week, Bradford and Alex Speier report.
  • With Davis out, the Athletics are now looking for a hitting coach, and one candidate is Angels assistant hitting coach Dave Hansen, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. The Angels could also promote Hansen to replace Don Baylor, who missed much of last season with a freak leg injury. Hansen, known as a pinch-hitter throughout much of his career, played 15 seasons with the Dodgers, Cubs, Padres and Mariners. The Athletics could also consider Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan, Slusser tweets.
  • If the A’s do have interest in Magadan, the won’t be the only ones. Davis had previously been a top candidate for the open Yankees hitting coach job, and the Yankees could now turn to Magadan, who interviewed Wednesday, George A. King III and John DeMarzo of the New York Post report. The former infielder played 16 seasons with the Mets, Marlins, Mariners, Astros, Cubs, Athletics and Padres.
  • Barry Zito‘s seven-year contract with the Giants didn’t turn out so well, but he did help them land Tim Hudson, Ryan Hood of MLB.com writes. When both pitchers were free agents last winter, Hudson called his former Athletics teammate to see what he thought of playing in San Francisco. “I said it’s a first-rate organization, from the top down,” says Zito, who assured Hudson that Giants fans had changed since the two pitchers had played together in Oakland. “Giants fans had a little more of a rep of just coming out for baseball games and not really having a die-hard presence and creating an intimidating atmosphere. It was very light. I told him 2010 changed everything.” Hudson posted a 3.57 ERA with 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 in 189 1/3 innings for the Giants this season. Zito, meanwhile, says he determined in August 2013 that he would “take some time away from the game and focus on family.” He did not pitch this season.

AL East Notes: Orioles, Yankees, Rays

The Orioles may have been swept in the ALCS, but the club believes their 96 win season (plus three playoff victories) put their division rivals on notice, writes Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. Despite the excellent season, four key players contributed less than expected, which may give the team additional upside next season.

  • Connolly identified five key points for the 2015 Orioles, three of which deal with potential transactions. On base percentage has been an issue in the past few seasons. The Orioles bashed the most home runs in the league for the second consecutive season, but they finished just eighth in runs scored. Prioritizing base runners should translate to more RBI opportunities for the power bats. An ace would be a meaningful addition, although Connolly notes that payroll constraints and a history of avoiding large outlays to pitchers may prevent the club from exploring the top end of the market. Depth was a big reason for this season’s division crown, and it will again be an important consideration. Per Connolly, “it’s Duquette’s specialty.”
  • Bill Madden of the New York Daily News looks to the Royals as a template for the new era of baseball. Unfortunately, that could pose problems for the current Yankees roster. The aging club is years from building a young, athletic team in the mold of the Royals. They do have a good start on an elite bullpen if they re-sign closer David Robertson. Madden believes the Yankees should pursue an additional right-handed reliever with elite velocity along with reform at the scouting and player development level.
  • Andrew Friedman’s decision to leave the Rays is a reflection of the state of the franchise, posits Madden in the same piece. Per Madden, Friedman recognized that his stock would “never be higher” and the Rays were headed in the wrong direction. The club has become increasingly reliant on outside additions with just six home grown players on the final roster. One damning statistic – since selecting Tim Beckham first overall in 2008, Tampa Bay hasn’t developed a player from draft to majors. Madden speculates that Rays manager Joe Maddon could be the next name out the door. His contract concludes after the 2015 season.

Quick Hits: Minor Leaguers, Cardinals, Yankees

A group of former minor leaguers has filed a lawsuit protesting that while they were playing, they received less than minimum wage and did not receive overtime, working for tiny monthly salaries to pursue their dream of making it to the Majors. Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star traveled to Clinton, Iowa as part of a long exposé on working conditions in the minor leagues. Class A players, for example, only make about $6,300 for an entire season, earning only per diems for instructional leagues and mandatory spring training. NBA and NHL minor leaguers make many times that amount. The extremely low wages for minor league baseball players might not be a hardship for early-round picks who receive six- or seven-figure bonuses, but they’re especially tough on the many players who sign for only a few thousand dollars. Here are more notes from around the game.

  • A number of Cardinals players were at Busch Stadium Friday to pack their belongings, with some players not knowing whether they’ll return next season, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. 2014 was “up and down,” says Peter Bourjos, who made $1.2MM this season and is eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. “Inconsistent playing time, inconsistent results — that’s how it goes sometimes. If there’s an opportunity out there, I’d like to play every day.” One player who sounds like he’ll certainly be returning is John Lackey, who says he has “every intention” of playing next season even though the Cardinals have an option on him for the league minimum salary. Also, impending free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski says he’d like to continue playing. It’s unlikely that the Cardinals will re-sign him, however, with Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz at the catcher position.
  • Two years after their last playoff game, the Yankees‘ roster is dramatically different, Chad Jennings of the LoHud Yankees Blog writes. Of the 19 players Yankees who appeared in Game 4 of the 2012 ALCS, just four — Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia — are under contract for 2015.

Free Agent Faceoff: Ervin Santana vs. Brandon McCarthy

MLB Trade Rumors is firing up this year’s version of the Free Agent Faceoff series, in which comparable free agents are analyzed side by side. Each post will conclude with a reader vote on the value of the players involved. The first faceoff featured three shortstops. In the second, we’ll look at a pair of starters:

It’s a common consensus this year that the free agent class for starting pitchers has a great deal of separation between the top three starters — Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields — and the rest of the class. While opinions on the ranking of those three vary (perhaps a topic for another installment in this series!), there’s a cloudier picture when it comes to the second tier of free agents. Most of the pitchers in the second tier come with some form of blemish on their record, be it a checkered injury history, the possibility of a qualifying offer, inconsistent year-to-year results or some combination of the above. Today we’ll take a look at a pair of 31-year-old starters who can each try to make a case that he’s the best among the second tier: Ervin Santana and Brandon McCarthy. (This is, of course, not to say that the “best among the second tier” is specifically limited to these two.)

McCarthy vs. Santana is somewhat of a case of tantalizing upside versus steady and reliable. McCarthy totaled an even 200 innings in 2014 — the first time in his career he’s reached that mark and just the second time in which he’s topped 180 frames. Santana, on the other hand, threw 196 innings and has topped the 200 mark on five occasions in his career. He’s averaged 207 innings per season over the past five years — durability to which McCarthy cannot lay claim.

In four of the aforementioned seasons, Santana has posted an ERA south of 4.00 — bottoming out at 3.24 last season in Kansas City. McCarthy’s best seasons came in 2011-12 with Oakland when he posted a combined 3.29 ERA in 281 1/3 innings. However, those two seasons are the only in which he’s successfully kept his ERA under 4.00.

To this point, the argument seems skewed heavily in Santana’s favor, but McCarthy’s case is certainly not without merit. When looking at the two through a sabermetric lens, McCarthy can be seen as not only the better pitcher, but arguably one of the better pitchers in the league. McCarthy’s 2.86 FIP in 2011 led the league, and a comparison of their marks in ERA (3.81 vs. 3.87), FIP (3.44 vs. 4.19), xFIP (3.43 vs. 3.88) and SIERA (3.60 vs. 3.93) all favor McCarthy. The Yankees were likely drawn to McCarthy’s sabermetric profile this July when trading for him, and that investment paid off handsomely, as McCarthy pitched to a stellar 2.89 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in 90 1/3 innings down the stretch.

McCarthy has generated more ground-balls than Santana since buying into sabermetric principles back in 2009, but he took his ground-ball rate to a new level in 2014 (52.6 percent) while Santana regressed in the same area (42.7 percent). Both pitchers possess strong command and can miss bats, but McCarthy has shown better control over the past four seasons while Santana has bested McCarthy in strikeout rate each year. McCarthy’s strikeout rate did jump in 2014, along with his velocity (career-best 92.9 mph average fastball), but Santana’s strikeout rate rose as well (even against non-pitchers in the NL).

Other factors to consider: Santana will pitch all of next season at age 32, while McCarthy won’t be 32 until July. Additionally, Santana is eligible to receive a qualifying offer, meaning he could again come with draft pick compensation attached to his name; McCarthy is ineligible to receive a QO after being traded midseason.

Each player has been on the receiving end of a Free Agent Profile at MLBTR (McCarthy’s penned by me, Santana’s by Tim Dierkes), which provide even more in-depth looks at the pros and cons of each. Use those as you wish to help formulate an opinion before voting…


AL East Notes: Duquette, Napoli, Minaya, Long

Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe examines Dan Duquette’s unusual journey to becoming the Orioles‘ GM. A Boston-area native, Duquette realized his dream at 36 years of age when he was named GM of the Red Sox, but that came to an abrupt end in 2002 when he was dismissed by new owners, only to see the Sox — anchored by a number of players he drafted or acquired — win the World Series two years later. Duquette spent 10 years away from the game, coaching his kids’ teams, founding a league in Isarael and running a college summer team, Abraham notes. Duquette revealed to Abraham that he was offered multiple jobs that he turned down — including a position with the Braves and an adviser role with the Red Sox — because he believed he’d get another crack at a GM role. Duquette feels the time away has made him friendlier and put things into perspective; his cousin, Jim Duquette (an analyst for MLB Network), says there are distinct differences between how Dan was with the Red Sox and how he is with the O’s. He isn’t bothered as much by “little things” and is less guarded. “Baltimore isn’t Boston. It isn’t New York. That aspect has been good for him. He doesn’t take himself so seriously,” said Jim.

More from the AL East…

  • Mike Napoli has dealt with injuries to his finger, back and toe, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, but despite all of those issues he’ll be undergoing surgery for a different procedure on Nov. 4 . Napoli will undergo Bimaxillary Advancement surgery in an attempt to end a career-long battle with sleep apnea. “I’ve tried numerous things and none of them worked,” Napoli told Bradford via text. “Dental mouth piece, CPAP machine, medicines … It’s just gotten to the point where I have to get this done.”
  • The Yankees have had serious dialogue about hiring Padres senior VP of baseball operations and former Mets GM Omar Minaya, multiple sources tell Newsday’s Erik Boland. Andy Martino of the New York Daily News tweets that the team would be interested in Minaya in a scouting or advisory role — not as a replacement for farm director Mark Newman. As Boland notes, GM Brian Cashman has brought former GMs into the fold before, hiring Kevin Towers as a special assignment scout in 2009 and hiring Jim Hendry to fill the same role since 2012.
  • Recently fired Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long is generating quite a bit of interest from other clubs, reports Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter links). To this point, Long has already spoken with the Mets, Braves and Blue Jays, including a meeting with Mets GM Sandy Alderson. The D’Backs, Brewers and Pirates are all possibilities as well, per Feinsand.