It’s already known that the Yankees pursued a trade for right-hander Gerrit Cole last winter before the Pirates ultimately sent him to the Astros in mid-January. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post sheds more light on the talks between the Yankees and Pirates, reporting that the Bucs wanted both outfielder Clint Frazier and third baseman Miguel Andujar in exchange for Cole. The Yankees were willing to part with Frazier, as was previously reported, but weren’t on board with adding Andujar to the package. Consequently, the Pirates chose the Astros’ four-player offer, one which yielded modest returns in 2018. Cole has enjoyed an ace-caliber season in Houston, meanwhile, and concussion issues prevented Frazier from making a big league impact this year. Whether Cole would have performed similarly had he gone to New York is anyone’s guess, of course, and the Yankees can take solace in knowing they made out well by keeping Andujar. The 23-year-old’s a strong candidate for top rookie honors in the American League after slashing .298/.328/.527 (128 wRC+) with 76 extra-base hits – including 27 home runs and an AL rookie record-tying 47 doubles – en route to 2.7 fWAR.
A few notes on the Yankees, whom the archrival Red Sox eliminated from the postseason earlier this week:
- It’s “expected” that the Yankees will go after left-hander Patrick Corbin in free agency, sources tell Jon Heyman of Fancred. It’s notable but not surprising that the Yankees may pursue Corbin, as they’re in need of quality starters and he’ll be among the best on the open market. Further, the Bombers attempted to acquire Corbin last winter, and the New York state native explained to Bob Nightengale of USA Today in April that the rumors “excited” his Yankees-loving family. Regardless of where Corbin pitches in 2019, he figures to do so after receiving one of the richest contracts awarded during the upcoming offseason. The 29-year-old, a career-long Diamondback to this point, is coming off a personal-best season in which he logged a 3.15 ERA/2.47 FIP with 11.07 K/9 and 2.16 BB/9 over 200 innings.
- While Corbin may soon end up a Yankee, “it would appear” they’ll say goodbye to fellow pending free-agent starter CC Sabathia, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes. Heyman passes along different information, writing that a reunion “hasn’t necessarily been ruled out.” A Yankee since 2009, the potential Hall of Famer would be difficult to replace both on and off the field for the Bombers, with whom he turned in another fine season in 2018. Despite his age (he turned 38 in July), the big lefty posted a 3.65 ERA across 153 innings. ERA estimators such as FIP, xFIP and SIERA haven’t been as bullish on Sabathia’s work in recent years, though he’s so difficult to square up against that it has enabled him to defy serious regression. Sabathia finished fifth among all pitchers in average exit velocity against (84 mph) this past regular season, per Statcast. Because he’s still such an effective starter, Sabathia has made it known he’ll resume his career in 2019. While he did just undergo knee surgery Friday, it doesn’t seem as if it’ll affect Sabathia’s outlook heading into next year.
- For the first time in 15 years, the Yankees stayed under the luxury-tax threshold this season, David Lennon of Newsday notes. That means if the Yankees exceed the $206MM figure in 2019 (up from $197MM this year), they’ll pay a 20 percent tax for every dollar spent over the mark, as opposed to 50 percent. On paper, that puts them in better position to pursue top free agents such as Corbin, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. But it’s not a slam dunk the Yankees – led by owner Hal Steinbrenner – will spend in excess of $206MM next year, as general manager Brian Cashman told Lennon on Friday: “I don’t want to speak for Hal, but my general feeling from him and for us has been not wanting to line the pockets of others to let them utilize that excess against us. It was mission accomplished in terms of the payroll this year, and taking away advantages that teams have been getting from us because we were exceeding those thresholds.” Cashman added, though, that he believes Steinbrenner’s “a very open-minded person” with respect to spending, perhaps leaving the door open for some big-money moves.
This has been the week from hell for the Yankees, whose season ended Tuesday at the hands of the hated Red Sox in the American League Division Series. Boston summarily disposed of the Yankees in four games, further cementing itself as the superior team in 2018 after it won the AL East with ease in the regular season, finishing with a 108-54 record to New York’s 100-62 mark. To make matters worse, the Yankees learned Friday that they’ll play a large portion of 2019 without one of their most valuable players, shortstop Didi Gregorius, who needs Tommy John surgery on his right (throwing) elbow. Only two of the Yankees’ position players posted a higher fWAR this year than Gregorius, who recorded a 4.6 mark in 569 plate appearances to rank eighth among big league shortstops.
Now, with the Red Sox potentially on their way to a fourth World Series title since 2004 and the Yankees having been dealt a brutal blow well before 2019 begins, the question is: How will the Evil Empire strike back? Well, if the Yankees plan to go big-game hunting in free agency – as they’ve done on many occasions – perhaps they’ll respond by signing the Dodgers’ Manny Machado. The four-time All-Star infielder, 26, is set to hit the open market, where he’s sure to become one of the highest-paid players in the history of the sport.
Even with a healthy Gregorius, New York would’ve been a speculated suitor for Machado, whom it chased at this past summer’s trade deadline before the AL East rival Orioles dealt him to the Dodgers. With Gregorius in the fold, Machado likely would have slotted in at third base in 2019, sending AL Rookie of the Year Candidate Miguel Andujar to first base or designated hitter. Andujar’s on the heels of a huge season offensively, but he was a butcher at third, finishing last among major league infielders in both Defensive Runs Saved (minus-25) and Ultimate Zone Rating (minus-16). Despite Andujar’s woeful season in the field, he may well remain at third next year if the Yankees add Machado, considering both Gregorius’ health and Machado’s preference to line up at short.
For the majority of his career, which began in 2012, Machado has played third, where he has been eminently successful. Machado has registered 84 Defensive Runs Saved and a 50.6 UZR at the position, while he has logged minus-10 DRS at short and a minus-6.1 UZR at shortstop, with all of the damage having come this past regular season (minus-12 DRS, minus-6.5 UZR) after he moved back to short. In spite of his defensive shortcomings, Machado served as one of the majors’ preeminent players in 2018, notching the game’s ninth-highest fWAR among position players (6.2) on the strength of his fourth straight 30-home run campaign. He’d give the Yankees’ already strong offense yet another formidable hitter, joining Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez and Andujar, though the right-handed Machado wouldn’t provide the right-heavy lineup variety in terms of handedness.
Speaking of Torres, the Yankees may simply turn short over to him next year as they await Gregorius’ return and entrust the keystone to a far less expensive alternative to Machado. There are plenty of familiar veteran second basemen set to hit free agency in the offseason, including now-Yankee Neil Walker, though no one from the group is anywhere near the caliber of Machado.
For now, Machado and the still-alive Dodgers are focused on winning a championship, but it seems doubtful he’ll return to LA thereafter. The club has an excellent third baseman in Justin Turner and a great shortstop in Corey Seager, who missed most of 2018 on account of TJ surgery, after all. Thus, regardless of how the Dodgers’ season ends, it seems Machado’s destined to put on a new uniform in 2019. Do you expect New York to be the team that awards him one of the richest contracts in the history of baseball in the offseason, or will someone else win the much-anticipated derby?
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Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post opines that the Yankees should sign Manny Machado – who’s rumored to have the club at the top of his wish list – to a shorter-term deal with a higher average annual value. Machado, who turned 26 in July, is one of the youngest superstars to hit free agency in the game’s history, and almost certain to command a deal that nears (or, perhaps, surpasses) a decade in length. Sherman, however, thinks the Yanks could sway the SS/3B with a five-year pact that guarantees a record $40MM per season; the club, after all, has been bit by lengthy contracts given to Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Jacoby Ellsbury in recent seasons, and a short-term deal (perhaps with an opt-out attached) would allow Machado to again hit free agency while he remains in the relative prime of his career. With shortstop Didi Gregorious set to undergo Tommy John Surgery and perhaps miss at least part of the 2019 season, and third baseman Miguel Andujar posting historically low defensive marks at third base (-25 DRS in 132 games), Machado certainly figures to be a prime target for the Bombers this offseason.
The Yankees were impressed enough with Aaron Boone’s first season at the helm to bring back his entire staff for 2019, tweets George A. King III of the New York Post. Boone made a number of changes to the staff after the 2017 season, promoting Marcus Thames to hitting coach and installing bench coach Josh Bard, third-base coach Phil Nevin and first-base coach Reggie Willits, among others. The 2018 coaching crew will get a chance to run it back after an impressive 100-win season and a second straight playoff appearance.
Here’s a couple other notes from around the MLB…
- The Diamondbacks are replacing their natural playing surface with artificial turf in advance of the 2019 season. Arizona’s baseball operations staff conducted in-depth research, finding their new dual-fiber surface provides performance and health benefits previously unavailable. The retractable roof at Chase Field made it increasingly difficult to maintain consistent growing conditions for their natural surface. Arizona will join Tampa Bay and Toronto as the only franchises to utilize an artificial turf, though the Rangers are reportedly considering a similar surface for their new stadium. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News writes that Texas has yet to make a decision on the playing surface for the stadium set to open in 2020, but decision-makers within the organization will be closely monitoring the situation in Arizona.
- Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun writes that there’s symbolic value to the Orioles’ attempts to woo top Cuban prospect Victor Victor Mesa, even if they can’t close the deal. Considering the Marlins’ recent push to collect international spending pool money and their cultural ties to Cuba, Miami is now widely considered the favorites to sign Victor Victor Mesa, though Mesa’s intentions are as of now unclear.
- In a separate tweet, Meoli suggests that the Orioles summer trade of starting pitcher Kevin Gausman to the Braves was motivated by financial considerations. Though not initially presented as a primary concern, the trade cleared Gausman and Darren O’Day’s contracts from the Baltimore ledger in 2019 and beyond. Gausman has two more seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining after making $5.6MM in 2018. Darren O’Day has yet to pitch for the Braves, though he’ll likely have a role in their bullpen next season as he’s under contract for $9MM in 2019.
Yankees southpaw CC Sabathia underwent knee surgery today, Jack Curry of YES Network was among those to cover on Twitter. It does not sound as if the news will impact the veteran hurler’s plans to pitch in 2019.
GM Brian Cashman says it’s the same procedure that Sabathia underwent this time last year, though it’s tough to find documentation of that. If Sabathia went under the knife in 2017, it may have been a repeat of a 2016 cleanup procedure. Or, perhaps, that two-year-old operation is what Cashman was referring to.
Regardless, the prior work did not prevent Sabathia from turning in a third-consecutive productive campaign. The 38-year-old has not tallied big innings totals of late, but it’s hard to turn up your nose at the output, particularly given his age. Since the start of the 2016 campaign, Sabathia has spun 481 1/3 frames of 3.76 ERA ball with 7.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.
Most importantly, those solid results have come without any significant injury troubles. Though Sabathia has taken some time off here and there, he has averaged 29 starts annually since a 2014 campaign that was cut short by knee surgery. In that light, perhaps, the newest procedure represents just another part of an ongoing maintenance regimen that has proved to be successful.
Surgery aside, whether or not another reunion is to occur isn’t yet clear. But Sabathia certainly gave the Yanks everything they hoped for when they promised him $10MM for a single-season term last winter. And with the club making clear they’re ready to move on from rotation mate Sonny Gray, it seems there’ll be plenty of room for Sabathia to fit in the payroll and the rotation if the club so wishes.
Sonny Gray’s tenure with the Yankees hasn’t panned out nearly as well as the organization had hoped, and general manager Brian Cashman candidly told reporters Friday that he plans to explore trade scenarios this offseason (Twitter link via Newsday’s David Lennon). “We’re entering the winter open-minded to relocation,” Cashman said of Gray. “…It’s probably best to try somewhere else.”
It’s highly atypical to see a baseball executive display that level of candor when discussing a potential trade of a player, but the writing has been on the wall for quite some time now. Gray was dropped from the team’s rotation amid considerable struggles this summer, and the Yankees didn’t carry him on their postseason roster.
Acquired in a high-profile trade that sent Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo and James Kaprielian to the Athletics in July 2017, Gray gave the Yankees 65 1/3 innings of 3.72 ERA ball down the stretch that season. He was far more homer-prone than he’d been in Oakland — perhaps to be expected given the radical shift in his home park — but the 2018 season was an ugly one for Gray. In 130 1/3 innings this season, he posted a 4.90 ERA with a career-worst 3.94 BB/9 mark and a career-high eight hit batters.
To his credit, Gray notched an 8.49 K/9 mark, maintained the velocity on his fastball (93.3 mph average), generated a solid 10.1 percent swinging-strike rate and induced grounders at a characteristically strong 50 percent clip. Nearly all of his struggles were confined to pitching at Yankee Stadium, where he turned in a ghastly 6.98 ERA and allowed 11 home runs in 59 1/3 innings. When pitching away from the Bronx, Gray logged a strong 3.17 ERA and yielded just three homers in 71 innings of work.
That home/road disparity, paired with Gray’s track record and relative youth — he’ll turn 29 in November — should make him a popular buy-low candidate for teams looking to supplement their rotation. He’s only controlled for one more season and comes with a projected arbitration salary of $9.1MM (courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz). However, Gray entered the 2018 season with a career 3.45 ERA and peripheral stats that largely backed up that mark. The former No. 18 overall draft pick was an All-Star in 2015 and finished third in American League Cy Young voting that season when he tossed 208 innings (his second consecutive 200-inning season) with a 2.73 ERA, 7.3 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. He dealt with shoulder and forearm issues in 2016-17 but has avoided the disabled list in his time with the Yankees.
Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius underwent an MRI yesterday that revealed a ligament tear in his right elbow, manager Aaron Boone revealed to reporters today (all Twitter links via The Athletic’s Marc Carig). He’ll require Tommy John surgery to repair the injury, and an exact timeline on his return is presently uncertain, though rehab for position players is shorter than it is for pitchers. Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News writes that Boone expressed a belief that Gregorius could return in time “to play the bulk of the season with us,” and she further tweets that GM Brian Cashman suggested a “summer” return for Gregorius is possible.
The injury is fairly jarring, as Gregorius wasn’t known to have previous elbow pain. However, Boone explained to reporters that Gregorius felt something in his elbow at Fenway Park when making a relay throw during the American League Division Series. Despite the obvious discomfort that followed, Gregorius gutted out the remainder of the series before undergoing an MRI after the conclusion of the Yankees’ season.
The uncertainty surrounding Gregorius will add a major wrinkle to the Yankees’ offseason. The team has already been linked to free agent Manny Machado dating back to last offseason, and the fact that Gregorius isn’t likely to be ready to open the season will only further fuel that connection. Adding a shortstop won’t be an imperative for the Yankees, who do have substantial depth with Gleyber Torres, Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade all on the roster. Nonetheless, they’ll surely at least explore their options — likely including everything from smaller-scale depth additions to an earnest pursuit of Machado, one of the highest-profile free agents in recent history.
The very fact that Boone has suggested Gregorius will return to the Yankees is of some note. He’s up for a relatively hefty arbitration raise after hitting .268/.335/.494 with a career-high 27 home runs for the Yanks this season; MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects Gregorius to earn $12.4MM in 2019 — a sizable step up from this past season’s $8.25MM salary. Gregorius would be eligible for free agency upon completion of the 2019 season.
If the timeline for his return is lengthy enough, however, the Yankees would likely be forced to consider a non-tender of Gregorius. The final determination on his timetable, of course, won’t be made until after he undergoes surgery, but a salary north of $12MM would be a substantial price to pay for half a season, and Torres’ natural position is shortstop. Utilizing Torres at short in 2019 would open up an even wider slate of possibilities, as the second base market has ample supply that could vastly outstrip the demand at the position.
- Elsewhere in the AL East, the Yankees face a tough question on a player entering his final season of control. Joel Sherman of the New York Post argues that the team ought to strongly consider working out an extension with shortstop Didi Gregorius. Sherman wonders whether the recent Jean Segura contract (five years, $70MM plus option) might serve as a starting point in talks, rightly suggesting that it may well cost a bit more to lock up Gregorius. The 28-year-old is projected to earn $12.4MM in his final trip through arbitration and is a half-season closer to free agency than was Segura. He’s also fresh off of his best season, having posted a .268/.335/.494 slash with 27 home runs in 569 plate appearances. Outfielder Aaron Hicks and reliever Dellin Betances could also be considered for long-term deals, Sherman opines.
The move comes as a surprise for the still-excellent hurler, who is wrapping up a four-year, $46MM contract. At the time, only Jonathan Papelbon and B.J. Ryan had secured larger guarantees as relievers. Even in the four years that have followed, only Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon and Wade Davis have landed larger total guarantees.
There’s little in terms of recent precedent for players representing themselves in major negotiations. Huston Street was self-represented when he negotiated his final contract with the Angels, signing for two years and $18MM. Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez, meanwhile, reportedly may have negotiated the bulk of his extension with Pittsburgh himself; Vazquez switched representation on multiple occasions in the year preceding that deal, with one player rep telling MLBTR at the time that Vazquez had been with as many as four or five different agencies in the calendar year leading up to his extension.
Digression aside, the 33-year-old Robertson (34 next April) will head into free agency with yet another strong case for a multi-year deal. While he won’t reach the $46MM heights of his most recent contract given his age, Robertson is still fresh off a quality 3.23 ERA with 11.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 and a 45.3 percent ground-ball rate in 69 2/3 innings. He kept his ERA south of 3.50 and averaged at least 10.8 punchouts per nine innings in all four seasons of his expiring four-year pact, and his 2017 season — 1.84 ERA, 12.9 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 2.57 FIP, 2.76 xFIP — was nothing short of outstanding.
Robertson’s 92.6 mph average fastball in 2018 was actually a slight bit better than it’s been in recent seasons, though he saw his opponents’ swinging-strike rate, chase rate and hard-contact rate all trend in the wrong direction. Even with those dips, though, there’s little reason to expect anything less than a two-year deal for Robertson at a time when relievers figure to be more coveted than ever before. And given Robertson’s uncanny durability — no fewer than 60 games and 60 2/3 innings pitched in a season since 2010 — teams may well view him as a less-volatile option than several of his peers.