Click here to read the transcript of today’s live baseball chat
Brandon Crawford gave the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea a rundown of his daily routine, as the Giants shortstop is busy balancing his time with his wife and four young children alongside workouts and engaging in whatever baseball activities he can manage from his house. On this particular day, for example, Crawford and the Giants’ team yoga instructor met via video conferencing for a session “based on baseball mobility and movements that we need,” Crawford said.
Some more from the National League…
- While Crawford is one of many players staying at home with his family during the shutdown, newly-signed Cardinals left-hander Kwang-hyun Kim is in St. Louis while his family is in South Korea. Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters (including MLB.com’s Anne Rogers) that Kim could potentially return to Korea while Major League Baseball is on hiatus. “I can only imagine the mental challenge [Kim is] under with his wife and children back in South Korea, trying to adapt to a new country, a new team, and then have all this thrust upon him,” Mozeliak said. “So we’re trying to navigate that as best we can, but…clearly this has not been easy for him, and I think all of us could understand why.”
- From that same teleconference earlier this week, Mozeliak also provided updates on some injured Cardinals players. Miles Mikolas continues to make progress after suffering a flexor tendon strain in February and receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection, as Mikolas will soon throw a bullpen session and is currently throwing from 120 feet. Brett Cecil recently took time off from his hamstring injury rehab for personal reasons, but Mozeliak said Cecil will resume the process next week. Cecil suffered what manager Mike Shildt described as a “fairly significant” right hamstring strain in mid-March, and while no specific timeline was put in place, it was thought that Cecil was facing “multiple weeks of treatment.”
- After pitching in Japan in 2019, Pierce Johnson signed a two-year, $5MM deal with the Padres this offseason to mark his return to North American baseball. As Johnson told Fangraphs’ David Laurila, “a few other teams kicked the tires” on the right-hander’s availability, and he also came “really close to taking” an offer to remain with the Hanshin Tigers. Ultimately, Johnson chose the Padres and MLB in order to bring his family back closer to home. Johnson posted only a 5.44 ERA over his 44 2/3 career Major League innings with the Cubs and Giants in 2017-18, though his season in Nippon Professional Baseball greatly elevated his stock, as the righty posted a 1.38 ERA, 14.0 K/9, and 7.00 K/BB rate over 58 2/3 relief innings for the Tigers.
Even with the baseball world shut down, MLB Trade Rumors is still covering any breaking news from around the game, while also exploring some broader topics. Here’s the roundup of the week’s original content from the MLBTR staff….
- “What one piece of advice would you give to a college student who hopes to work in baseball operations one day?” Tim Dierkes’ question was answered by ten of baseball’s top-ranking front office executives, in an insight into what might be the best ways to land a job with a Major League team.
- Jeff Todd’s daily YouTube video updates looked back at a pair of major trades in Padres history — the April 2015 acquisition of Craig Kimbrel from the Braves, and the June 2016 deal that sent James Shields to the White Sox for a then-relatively unheralded infield prospect named Fernando Tatis Jr. Jeff’s other topics this week included a look back at his picks in the MLBTR free agent prediction contest, and rating the trade histories of White Sox GM Rick Hahn and Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen.
- Hahn was also one of the front office bosses profiled this week as part of the GM Trade History series, where readers can grade each executive’s trading prowess. This week, Jeff Todd, Connor Byrne, and Steve Adams covered eight different presidents of baseball operations/general managers — Hahn, the Blue Jays’ Ross Atkins, the Braves’ Alex Anthopoulos, the Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman, the Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto, the Padres’ A.J. Preller, the Phillies’ Matt Klentak, and the Tigers’ Al Avila.
- One of the biggest trades Dipoto and Hazen swung over their respective front office tenures came in November 2016, when the Diamondbacks acquired Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and Zac Curtis. Connor Byrne broke down the many ripple effects from that fascinating swap.
- While we’re looking back at past transactions, some other notable past deals were revisited this week. Connor Byrne explored the Cardinals’ ill-fated signing of Greg Holland in March 2018, as well as the January 2017 trade between the Reds and Marlins that resulted in Luis Castillo coming to Cincinnati. Since we just passed the anniversary of Elvis Andrus’ extension with the Rangers, Mark Polishuk looked at how that contract was faring five years into its duration.
- The Offseason In Review series continued, with this week’s entries covering the winter business of the Rangers, Giants, and Reds.
- Steve Adams focused the Rookie Radar on some AL East and NL Central youngsters who could be immediate contributors if the 2020 season gets underway.
- Speaking of young talent, how about a little Prospect Faceoff action? This week’s matchups included Luis Robert vs. Jo Adell, Gavin Lux versus Wander Franco, Jesus Luzardo against MacKenzie Gore, Joey Bart taking on Adley Rutschman, and Casey Mize battling Nate Pearson.
- Why was Yasiel Puig the last major free agent left without a new team? Connor Byrne examines the question by breaking down the outfielder’s 2019 numbers.
- The Rockies haven’t had much recent success in free agency, as Connor Byrne looks at how the club hasn’t gotten any return on its last eight signings of more than $10MM in guaranteed money.
- Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander could be ready for a breakout season, George Miller writes. Steve Adams also looks at a pair of other players in our Breakout Candidate series — Braves southpaw Max Fried and Mariners righty Austin L. Adams.
- As complete games become more of a rarity in baseball, the four consecutive complete games tossed by White Sox starters in the 2005 ALCS stands out as an even more incredible feat today as it did over 14 years ago. TC Zencka revisits that signature achievement from the World Series-winning club.
- The threat of a heavily-shortened or completely canceled 2020 season would be a particularly huge blow to teams built to win now, as Steve Adams and Connor Byrne observe in their looks at how the delayed season impacts the Twins and Athletics.
It was on this day in 1972 that the Montreal Expos traded the franchise’s first star, as Rusty Staub was sent to the Mets for a three-player package consisting of Ken Singleton, Mike Jorgensen, and Tim Foli. All three players ended up being productive regulars during their time in Montreal, so it didn’t turn out to be a bad swap for the Expos, as much as fans missed having “Le Grand Orange” in the lineup. Montreal’s loss was New York’s gain, as Staub hit .276/.361/.428 over 2263 PA with the Mets from 1972-75 and also delivered a huge performance during the Mets’ playoff run in 1973. Staub had a 1.096 OPS over 46 postseason plate appearances that year, and quite possibly could have been World Series MVP had New York beaten the Athletics in the seven-game Fall Classic. Staub ended up playing nine of his 23 seasons in a Mets uniform, returning for a second stint with the franchise from 1981-85.
Some more from Queens….
- A reunion between Matt Harvey and the Mets doesn’t seem likely, as MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo writes that the Amazins “weren’t interested” in Harvey over the offseason and he doesn’t believe the club has been in contact with the right-hander. Given some of the off-the-field controversy that surrounded Harvey during his previous tenure in New York, it probably isn’t a surprise that the Mets have seemingly closed the door on their former All-Star. Aside from a tryout with the Blue Jays earlier this winter, Harvey hasn’t been publicly linked to any teams since his minor league deal with the Athletics expired at the end of the season. Harvey has posted a 5.89 ERA over 307 1/3 innings with the Mets, Reds, and Angels since undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome surgery midway through the 2016 season.
- The Mets announced Friday that a financial aid program had been developed for seasonal game-day staff members. The $1.2MM fund will be mostly given out in the form of “need-based grants” for staffers who directly work for the Mets, while remaining money will be divided among subcontracted workers (employed by Aramark, Impark, and Alliance) who serve in various roles around the ballpark.
- Left-hander Steven Matz is also helping COVID-19 relief efforts, announcing (Twitter links) that his TRU32 charity is donating $32K to first responders and hospitals in New York. The organization’s first donation is going Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, located less than three miles from Citi Field.
Justin Verlander is the latest player to contribute towards the COVID-19 relief effort, as the Astros ace and his wife Kate Upton announced (via Twitter) that Verlander’s weekly paycheck will be donated to a different organization every week. “We’ll also be highlighting the organization that we choose so that that everyone can see the amazing work they’re doing right now,” Upton said. As per the terms of the recent agreement between the MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball, Verlander is part of the group of players (who have reached salary arbitration or are on guaranteed contracts) that will receive roughly $5K per day in both April and May. Now, all of the money Verlander receives from those payments will go to a variety of worthy causes.
Some more from around the baseball world…
- Major League scouts will soon be permitted to contact prospects for the 2020 draft and the 2020-21 international signing period (as well as the prospects’ families and advisers) beginning next week, CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson writes. MLB halted all scouting activities as part of the league-wide shutdown in March, and any sort of in-person workouts or meetings are still banned. ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel reports that teams are also not permitted to view any video footage of such workout sessions that took place after March 27. That said, teams can gather data and video on players (from third parties or from the prospects’ representatives) prior to that date, and also contact the prospects’ teams by phone, e-mail, or any other type of indirect method. With some rough plans now in place for a shortened 2020 draft, teams will now have some avenues to gain fresher information on players they might wish to select. The amateur draft will now take place in July, while the next international signing period (originally scheduled to open on July 2) could be pushed back as far as January.
- The 2020 season was already going to be a new experience for Matt Moore after the left-hander signed with Nippon Professional Baseball’s SoftBank Hawks, though the coronavirus pandemic has created an extra layer of unexpected adversity. Moore talks to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal about the differences and similarities between playing and living in Japan as opposed to the majors, his offseason courtship from SoftBank that included a private workout for the team, and how playing for the Hawks marks something of a return. Moore spent four years living in Japan as a child when his father was transferred to a U.S. Air Force base in Okinawa.
Contract extensions have been a key part of Jon Daniels’ team-building strategy over his 14+ years as the Rangers’ general manager, and the richest of those extensions was completed seven years ago today. Elvis Andrus agreed to an eight-year, $120MM contract that also contains a $15MM vesting option for the 2023 season.
The new deal began with the 2015 season, which would have been Andrus’ first free agent year. Andrus was already signed to a previous extension — a three-year/$14.4MM pact for the 2012-14 seasons, which were Andrus’ three arbitration years — and thus Texas needed to make a sizeable investment to keep Andrus off the open market. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted at the time of the deal, “Scott Boras has managed to secure the largest extension ever for a shortstop in terms of new money,” which was perhaps a necessary step given that Boras usually advises his clients to test free agency. (In fact, the Andrus deal has been cited for years as one of the relatively few examples of a Boras Corporation client signing a long-term extension that covers free agent seasons.)
At the time of the deal, it’s quite possible the Rangers felt they would ultimately be on the hook for only the first four years (and $62MM) of the extension. Andrus had opt-out clauses after both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and as deep as a week into the 2018 campaign, he looked like a strong candidate to exercise that first clause given his improved offensive production in 2016-17. However, a fractured elbow cost Andrus two months of the 2018 season and he never really got on track after the injury, thus informing his decision to stick with Texas in 2019.
Last season, Andrus just flat-out struggled, hitting .275/.313/393 (76 wRC+, 78 OPS+) over 648 PA, with a career-low 5.2% walk rate and a major lack of quality contact, as per his Statcast numbers. In the wake of that poor season, Andrus again chose to pass on his opt-out clause, leaving Texas owing the shortstop $43MM through the 2022 campaign and now not really knowing what to expect from Andrus performance-wise over those three seasons.
Such risks are baked into any extension, of course, and it’s worth noting that Andrus’ hitting potential was a question mark even back at the time of his 2013 deal. Though he had been a highly-touted prospect (Baseball America ranked Andrus as the 19th-best prospect in the sport prior to the 2008 season) during his time in the Rangers’ farm system, Andrus’ minor league numbers weren’t overly impressive. Even at the big league level, he hit only .275/.342/.353 over his first 2591 MLB plate appearances.
That said, 2012 marked Andrus’ best offensive showing to date, as he hit .286/.349/.378 over 711 PA and reached the AL All-Star roster for the second time in his career. And, it’s unfair to say that Andrus wasn’t a valuable offensive player early in his career, considering that his solid average and OBP were augmented by superb speed and baserunning. Combine these skills with a solidly above-average glovework at shortstop, and it’s easy to see why Texas felt comfortable making a long-term bet on Andrus’ future.
Had that extension not been signed, Andrus would have been a 26-year-old free agent hitting the free agent market in the 2014-15 offseason. There wasn’t much in the way of premium middle infield talent available that winter, so even though Andrus didn’t do a ton to elevate his stock over the 2013-14 seasons, his young age and hints at further productivity could have still potentially led to a nine-figure contract. An Andrus free agent deal could have been something of a forerunner to Jason Heyward’s deal with the Cubs a year later, with a team choosing to pay a premium for a 26-year-old, non-elite offensive player based on their overall skillset and future breakout potential. Heyward had a much better hitting track record than Andrus, so the shortstop wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the $184MM and eight years Heyward got from the Cubs, though it isn’t a reach to guess that a team could have given Andrus a six-year commitment.
Though it isn’t known whether Andrus will be able to get back on track in 2020 (if there is a season) or beyond, the uncertainty of the back end of his deal doesn’t mean the extension was a mistake for the Rangers. As per Fangraphs, Andrus has already delivered $85.8MM worth of value over the first five years of the contract, surpassing the $77MM he has earned in real-life money. Andrus was a major contributor to the Rangers’ AL West titles in 2015 and 2016, and while he has never matched his offensive peaks of 2016 and 2017, his sheer durability has also been a big point of value — the fractured elbow is the only significant injured list stint of Andrus’ entire career.
Indeed, that wayward pitch from Keynan Middleton (on the second-last at-bat of a 7-2 Angels win over the Rangers on April 11, 2018) might end up being the real what-if moment of Andrus’ tenure with the Rangers. Had Andrus gone on to match his 2016-17 numbers in an uninterrupted 2018 season, he would surely have opted out of his contract and, even in the slow-moving 2018-19 free agent market easily topped the four years and $48MM left on this Texas deal. In such a scenario, the critics currently bemoaning the Andrus extension would probably have then been criticizing Daniels for negotiating an opt-out clause into the deal in the first place.
Andrus is a notable question mark for a Texas team that is looking to turn things around after three losing seasons. While the 2020 season could end up being a wash, getting one more solid year out of Andrus in 2021 or 2022 could be enough to mark down the extension as a win for the Rangers in the eyes of the general fanbase. Even if 2019 is the beginning of end for Andrus as a productive regular, he has still done enough over the course of his contract to make it a decent return for the Rangers, even if that hoped-for leap into superstardom for Andrus never happened.
Over the last month, MLBTR has continued its annual Offseason In Review series, looking at what all 30 teams did or didn’t do this winter. Though this offseason has unfortunately continued on longer than anyone could have imagined, we’ll still publish an entry for every team, gauging how their transactions have set them up for the 2020 season.
Here is the updated list of teams covered to date:
- Chicago White Sox
- Cleveland Indians
- Detroit Tigers
- Kansas City Royals
- Minnesota Twins
The roster churn continued for the Giants, who made a plethora of lower-tier (and fairly inexpensive) acquisitions that includes a few familiar faces returning to the Bay Area.
Major League Signings
- Kevin Gausman, SP: One year, $9MM
- Wilmer Flores, IF: Two years, $6.25MM (includes $250K buyout of 3.5MM club option for 2022)
- Drew Smyly, SP: One year, $4MM
- Hunter Pence, OF: One year, $3MM
- Tony Watson, RP: One year, $3MM (Watson negotiated a new one-year pact, rather than exercise the 2020 player option in his contract)
- Tyler Anderson, SP: One year, $1.775MM (re-signed after Giants non-tendered him at Dec. 2 deadline)
- Total spend: $27.025MM
Trades And Claims
- Acquired IF Zack Cozart and IF prospect Will Wilson from the Angels for LHP prospect Garrett Williams (Cozart was released in January)
- Acquired cash considerations from the Athletics for SP/RP Burch Smith
- Claimed RP Jarlin Garcia off waivers from the Marlins
- Claimed IF Kean Wong off waivers from the Angels
- Claimed SP Trevor Oaks off waivers from the Royals
- Claimed RP Jake Jewell off waivers from the Angels
- Claimed SP Rico Garcia off waivers from the Rockies
- Claimed OF Jose Siri off waivers from the Mariners
- Claimed SP Luis Madero off waivers from the Angels
- Selected RHP Dany Jimenez from the Blue Jays in the Rule 5 Draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Pablo Sandoval, Billy Hamilton, Yolmer Sanchez, Trevor Cahill, Tyson Ross, Nick Vincent, Joey Rickard, Rob Brantly, Andrew Triggs, Darin Ruf, Drew Robinson, Sam Moll, Cristhian Adames, Tyler Heineman, Zach Green (Jerry Blevins, Brandon Guyer and Matt Carasiti were also signed to minors contracts but have since been released)
- Madison Bumgarner, Will Smith, Kevin Pillar, Stephen Vogt, Fernando Abad, Dan Winkler, Kyle Barraclough, Ricardo Pinto
It wasn’t nearly as headline-grabbing as the Giants’ attempt to land Bryce Harper in the 2018-19 offseason, but San Francisco similarly looked into making an impact move in this winter’s free agent market. The club at least explored the possibility of signing Nicholas Castellanos (though there were conflicting reports about the depth of that interest) and Yasiel Puig was also on the radar. Neither signing materialized.
Instead, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi continued his more measured overhaul of the roster. Yes, such staples as Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, and Brandon Crawford are all still in the orange and black. However, just because the Giants haven’t engaged in a slash-and-burn rebuild doesn’t mean a rebuild isn’t happening. Just look at the sheer volume of new talent that has been brought into the organization to surround those veteran pillars over Zaidi’s 17 months in charge of the team.
This offseason did see two major names depart the organization, as Will Smith signed with the Braves and postseason hero Mason Sau….er, Madison Bumgarner left for the NL West rival Diamondbacks. But, the Giants also brought back a pair of names from their early-decade glory days, as Pablo Sandoval re-signed on another minor league contract and Hunter Pence ended up being San Francisco’s biggest outfield acquisition.
Pence’s career seemed to be running on fumes after he left the Giants following the 2018 campaign, yet an overhauled swing led to a surprising .297/.358/.552 slash line over 316 plate appearances with the Rangers last season. Advanced metrics indicated Pence’s production was no fluke, though there is some uncertainty about whether a repeat performance is possible as Pence approaches his 36th birthday. He was limited to 83 games due to back and groin injuries in 2019, and the move back to the National League means Pence no longer has the benefit of the DH spot — 202 of his 316 PA last season came as a designated hitter.
That said, a $3MM contract doesn’t represent a major risk on San Francisco’s part, and the team doesn’t expect Pence to play every day. Pence will serve as the primary right-handed hitting complement to the left-handed hitting corner outfield duo of Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson, as the Giants are eager to see what the two 29-year-olds can do after their promising 2019 seasons.
Center field is more of a question mark. Kevin Pillar hit 21 homers in 2019 and was a clubhouse leader, but the Giants opted to non-tender the veteran center fielder rather than pay him a projected $9.7MM in salary arbitration. Steven Duggar was also optioned to Triple-A prior to the roster freeze, and while Duggar is likely to re-emerge in the big leagues if the season gets underway, minor league signing Billy Hamilton could be the current favorite for the bulk of center field playing time.
Hamilton hasn’t been able to match even Pillar’s traditionally subpar offensive numbers over his career, but he still provides elite defense and will come at a much lower price than $9.7MM if and when the Giants officially select his contract. The more intriguing option in center field, however, is Mauricio Dubon. After a respectable rookie year, the Giants plan to deploy Dubon on the outfield grass as well as at second base. He could also spell Longoria at third base and Crawford at shortstop.
Dubon’s potential as a multi-position threat makes him an even bigger piece of the Giants’ future, particularly if he shows he can passably handle center field duty. Dubon had been expected to be the regular second baseman in 2020, though since he could be shifting around the diamond, the Giants addressed the keystone with a pair of veteran signings.
Reigning AL Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sanchez inked a minor league deal with the Giants after being non-tendered by the White Sox, while Wilmer Flores scored the only multi-year commitment of San Francisco’s offseason — a two-year deal worth $6.25MM in guaranteed money. Besides second base, Flores can also serve as a corner infielder and could get some first base time against left-handed pitching (in lieu of the left-handed hitting Belt) while Sanchez plays second base and Dubon lines up in center field.
That is only one potential gameplan for new manager Gabe Kapler, however, as the Giants also have Sandoval, Donovan Solano, and Kean Wong available in the infield picture, plus minor league signings Darin Ruf and Zach Green were tearing up Cactus League pitching before Spring Training was halted. It’s fair to assume that any or all of these names could have been mixed and matched even if the season had begun under normal circumstances, and in the event of a shortened schedule with as many games as possible crammed into a reduced timeframe, the Giants are even more likely to rely on depth.
The depth behind the plate, however, took a hit when Aramis Garcia underwent labrum surgery in February. With a projected six-to-eight month recovery period, Garcia could potentially return even on the back end of that timeframe, should the regular season be extended into October (and the postseason into November and beyond). Until then, San Francisco will go with Rob Brantly or Tyler Heineman as Posey’s backup, as Joey Bart will probably not join the MLB roster until 2021, barring a change in strategy for the organization in light of the altered schedule.
Starting pitching was perhaps the clearest need of the winter, and the Giants addressed the rotation by signing Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly for two of the open spots behind Cueto and Samardzija. Both Gausman and Smyly are looking to bounce back after struggling in 2019, with Gausman perhaps having the better chance at a rebound after seemingly getting on track as a reliever with the Reds and suffering some bad BABIP luck (.345) as a starter with the Braves.
It isn’t out of the question that Gausman or Smyly eventually wind up in San Francisco’s bullpen, should any of the Giants’ younger pitchers emerge. Tyler Beede is gone for the season due to Tommy John surgery, leaving Logan Webb, Trevor Cahill, Dereck Rodriguez, Trevor Oaks, and Andrew Suarez to compete for the fifth starter’s job. Any of this bunch could step into another rotation spot if Gausman or Smyly don’t pitch well, plus Tyler Anderson will also get a crack at starting once he fully recovers from knee surgery.
There is very little certainty within any of these options, of course, which could be why there was so little trade buzz about Cueto or Samardzija over the winter. Cueto had less trade value after pitching only 16 innings in 2019 in his return from Tommy John surgery, though Samardzija stands out as a prime trade candidate as he enters the final year of his contract. If the 2020 season is canceled entirely, however, Samardzija would still be eligible for free agency, and the Giants would potentially miss an opportunity to trade a veteran for some additional prospect help or salary relief (as they did by dealing Drew Pomeranz and Mark Melancon at last year’s trade deadline).
The biggest trade of San Francisco’s offseason saw the club focus on adding minor league talent, as the Giants agreed to what was essentially a “buy a prospect” trade with the Angels. The target was 21-year-old shortstop Will Wilson, the 15th overall pick of the 2019 draft, whom the Angels surrendered in order to get the remaining $12.167MM of Zack Cozart’s contract off their books. The Giants absorbed Cozart’s salary and then released him a month later.
Could we see Zaidi and GM Scott Harris use this same tactic again in 2020? It’s possible, given that there has been some speculation that some teams could be particularly eager to unload salaries due to the reduced schedule, and we already know that Zaidi’s front office is open to any transaction. Then again, it’s also hard to forecast how even a wealthier franchise like the Giants could adjust to the financial uncertainty facing the league.
2020 Season Outlook
The possibility of a reduced or lost season is a major blow to a Giants club that is still trying to figure out which of its current players will be part of its next contending team. Top prospects like Bart or Heliot Ramos could lose an entire year’s worth of minor league seasoning, while the jury will still be out on whether younger members of the MLB roster (e.g. Dubon, Webb) are full-fledged big leaguers or if older but still not established players like Dickerson or Yastrzemski can build on their 2019 numbers.
Fangraphs projected the Giants for a 71-91 record over a full season, a dropoff even from their modest 77-win total from 2019. While the small sample size wildness of a reduced schedule could lead to surprises, the Giants simply don’t match up well on paper with most of the National League, and it seems rather clear that the front office views the 2020 season as a development year.
How would you grade the Giants’ offseason moves? (Link for app users.)
Twenty-eight different contract extensions were signed between teams and players between February-April 2019, and the Yankees were one of the many clubs that joined in on this rush. Aaron Hicks was a season away from free agency at the time, though the outfielder chose to forego the open market in favor of a contract that paid him $64MM in new money through the 2025 season. Right-hander Luis Severino inked a four-year, $40MM deal that covered his four arbitration-eligible years as a Super Two player, and the deal also contains a $15MM club option for the 2023 season, which would have been Severino’s first free agent year.
Another extension came after the season, as the Yankees worked out an agreement with Aroldis Chapman that would see the closer decline his opt-out clause in favor of a three-year, $48MM extension that essentially added an extra year (and another $18MM) onto the final two seasons of Chapman’s previous contract.
Three extensions in less than a year is a pretty notable amount of business for any team on the long-term front. In the Yankees’ case, however, it counts as an absolute flurry given how rarely the Bronx Bombers have engaged in such internal long-term deals. New York’s three extensions in 2019 came on the heels of only six extensions in the previous 18 years.
The reason for this lack of extension action is simple — it was against team policy. “I just don’t believe in contract extensions, and that’s throughout the organization, no matter who it is,” managing partner Hal Steinbrenner told the Associated Press and other reporters in 2010. “Hopefully nobody takes that personally. It’s just business.”
Between the time Steinbrenner officially became the Yankees’ control person in November 2008 and the start of 2019, his anti-extension stance stayed almost completely intact, with two exceptions that somewhat mirrored the Chapman and Hicks situations. C.C. Sabathia also had a contractual opt-out decision following the 2011 season, though he and the Yankees worked out a new deal that gave the southpaw five years and a guaranteed $122MM to overwrite the previous four years and $92MM remaining on his previous contract. Prior to the 2014 season, Brett Gardner (like Hicks) was also just a year away from free agency before New York locked him up for a four-year, $52MM extension.
Beyond the Sabathia and Gardner contracts, however, that was it on the extension front. As Steinbrenner noted, the “no matter who it is” edict even stretched to the likes of Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter, who both reached the open market before eventually (and, in Jeter’s case, not without some contentious words) re-signing with New York. Even general manager Brian Cashman’s last three contracts have only been signed after the GM’s previous deals had expired.
Why would the team take such a hard line? In short, the Yankees always wanted as much flexibility as possible in deciding their future moves, since they had the financial resources to immediately pivot to a better option in free agency or the trade market if such an upgrade was available. Whereas other teams pursued extensions as a way of locking up young talent into their free agent years or at least getting some cost certainty through arbitration years, such concerns simply weren’t on the Yankees’ radar given their free-spending ways.
Of course, the franchise has become somewhat more cost-conscious in recent years, which likely explains the Bombers’ openness towards extensions in 2019. After 15 years of overages, the Yankees finally ducked under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold during the 2018 season, allowing them to reset their penalty clock for 2019 (when they surpassed the threshold again). Though New York didn’t go to the extremes of other big-market clubs like the Cubs or Red Sox in limiting or eliminating their luxury tax payments, the Yankees saw value in getting under the tax line once, plus they had the additional bonus of being able to cut their tax bill while still remaining competitive since so many of the club’s young stars seemingly broke out at the same time.
With the CBT penalty reset, the Yankees had the freedom to explore a tactic like signing Severino through his arbitration years. The deal was seen at the time as very canny, given that Severino seemed to be a burgeoning ace, and thus in line for an escalating arb price tag. In Hicks’ case, he may have had extra motivation to sign an extension given how the restrained 2017-18 and 2018-19 free agent markets left a lot of players settling for below-market deals or having long waits on the open market. Hicks could have preferred the security of just remaining in New York, and his price was apparently satisfactory enough for the Yankees to make the long-term commitment to a player they obviously wanted to retain.
The early returns on both deals, however, haven’t been good. Injuries limited Hicks to only 59 games in 2019 and he underwent Tommy John surgery last October, putting him out of action until at least June (though he might not miss any game time at all, given the delayed start to the season). The news was even worse for Severino, who tossed just 12 innings last season due to injuries and then underwent a Tommy John procedure of his own in late February. The righty now won’t be back on the mound until early in the 2021 campaign.
It isn’t yet clear if the disastrous starts to both of these extensions may have once again made the team wary of such longer-term deals, or if Steinbrenner and the Yankees front office still consider the process to be sound — after all, there’s still plenty of time for Hicks and Severino to make good on their deals. Since big-picture concerns likely inspired the club’s decision-making towards those extensions in the first place, it’s safe to assume that inevitable changes to the sport’s financial structure will also impact the Yankees’ future approach more so than a pair of Tommy John surgeries.
Both baseball and the world at large are gripped with the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, plus there’s also the fact that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the players’ union is up in December 2021. With these factors in mind, it isn’t a stretch to say that the way baseball does business could be vastly different two years from now, which could leave the Yankees and several other teams hesitant about committing any more long-term money until things can be figured out.
Working out an extension for, say, Aaron Judge seems to pale in comparison to such matters. But, when trying to guess whether or not New York will (once the roster freeze is lifted) seek out multi-year deals for the likes of Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu, Miguel Andujar, or any number of other players, it’s worth noting that the Yankees generally don’t extend players very often, and it wouldn’t be a shock if they return to their old wait-and-see approach.
Agent Rafa Nieves’ newly-founded Republik Sports agency will represent several players formerly represented by Nieves at Wasserman. A video published earlier today on Republik’s official Twitter feed reveals the names of 11 players who will continue to be represented by Nieves at this new firm.
We already heard last night that Nationals outfielder Victor Robles (a Nieves client at Wasserman) was joining Republik, and the other ten names cited in the video include a mix of prominent veteran and up-and-coming stars. The list consists of Indians infielder Jose Ramirez, Reds right-hander Luis Castillo, Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco, Athletics right-hander Frankie Montas, Blue Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, Rockies righty Antonio Senzatela, Padres outfielder Franchy Cordero, Marlins catcher Francisco Cervelli, and White Sox relievers Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera.
As we’ve seen in several past cases of representatives changing agencies or starting new agencies, it’s quite common for players to continue using the same agent even after that rep becomes part of another company. We saw this in 2017 with Nieves himself, as several of the aforementioned players (namely Ramirez, Robles, Herrera, Colome, Cervelli, Polanco, and Montas) all went with Nieves when the agent moved from the Beverly Hills Sports Council to Wasserman.