After moving on from a potential effort to buy the Marlins, Mitt Romney and his family are eyeing the purchase of a share of the Yankees, according to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag. In this case, though, the high-profile politician and businessman would only be looking at obtaining a small portion of the franchise’s highly valuable ownership stake.
- The officially retired Alex Rodriguez doesn’t have any interest in becoming a major league manager, he told Jack Curry of YES Network (Twitter link). Despite his controversial past, Rodriguez’s much-ballyhooed baseball IQ could have made him an interesting candidate down the line. The 41-year-old is currently working with his longtime team, the Yankees, as a spring training instructor – a role he seems to relish, as Billy Witz of the New York Times details. “I think my value for these kids is going to be taking them out to dinner, a three-hour dinner,” he said of mentoring the team’s young players, “and the first hour and a half recognizing that they’ll probably be pretty nervous and pretty tight, and by the second half of that dinner, they’ll start asking real substantial questions. There’s so much that’s expected here in New York, and it’s so difficult to play in New York. And I think as staff mentors, that’s the best thing we can do, is get them ready for what’s expected, because it is a handful.”
The Orioles have acquired lefty Richard Bleier from the Yankees, per a club announcement, with cash or a player to be named later heading back in return. Baltimore designated first baseman/outfielder Christian Walker for assignment to create roster space.
Bleier, 29, had been designated for assignment recently by New York. The soft-tossing southpaw managed a strong 1.96 ERA in his 23 MLB frames with the Yankees last year, but managed only 5.1 K/9 to go with strong walk (1.6 BB/9) and groundball (54.1%) rates.
While that’s obviously rather promising for a debut campaign, Bleier hasn’t compiled the minor-league record to suggest its entirely sustainable. He worked to a 3.72 ERA in his 58 Triple-A innings in 2016, notching just 25 punchouts along the way. And though he has recorded an over 3.29 earned run average in 147 frames at the highest level of the minors, exhibiting excellent command along the way, he has an anemic 3.7 K/9 in that span.
As for Walker, the move rates as a disappointment after indications earlier in the offseason that he could contend for a roster spot. That hope largely came to an end when the O’s brought back Mark Trumbo, though it seemed there was at least some possibility with a big spring — until now. The 25-year-old, a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft, has received only minimal time in the big leagues with Baltimore. Over three seasons of work at Triple-A, he slashed .260/.324/.429. Though he split his time last year between first base and the outfield, that represented his first look on the grass.
7:55pm: Niese can earn a $1.25MM base salary if he cracks the roster, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post (Twitter links). The deal also includes $750K in potential incentives, with separate packages that would allow him to earn to that amount whether he’s functioning as a starter or reliever. Manager Joe Girardi says that Niese will enter camp battling for a pen role, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch notes on Twitter.
5:26pm: The Yankees are poised to sign left-hander Jon Niese to a minor league contract, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (Twitter link). The deal will become official when Niese passes a physical. Niese is represented by O’Connell Sports Management.
A fixture in the Mets rotation from 2010-15, Niese is coming off a rough, injury-plagued 2016 campaign. The Mets dealt Niese to the Pirates in a swap for Neil Walker last winter and the southpaw didn’t see much success in the black-and-gold, posting a 4.91 ERA, 6.5 K/9 and 1.87 K/BB rate over 110 innings as a Pirate. Niese was then dealt back to the Mets in August in exchange for Antonio Bastardo and pitched only 11 innings in his second stint with the Amazins before undergoing season-ending arthroscopic surgery on a torn left meniscus. The Mets declined Niese’s $10MM option for 2017, instead paying him a $500K buyout.
[Updated Yankees roster at Roster Resource]
Thirteen teams attended a workout Niese held earlier this month to demonstrate his health in the wake of his knee injury, and the Marlins also expressed some interest in Niese earlier this winter. Given his track record as a fairly steady and durable starter (3.86 ERA and 171 innings per year from 2010-15), it isn’t surprising that Niese drew a lot of looks as a potential bounce-back candidate.
Sherman reports that the Yankees see Niese as a candidate to both start or come out of the bullpen, and the 30-year-old could fill a need for New York in either department. Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren will be in competition for the fourth and fifth spots in the Yankees’ rotation this season, and Niese adds a more experienced element to that battle.
If used as a reliever, Niese would join Tommy Layne as the top left-handed options out of the pen, with closer Aroldis Chapman obviously being saved for end-game scenarios. The Yankees were linked to such notable lefty relievers as Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins earlier this offseason, though Niese comes at a lower price tag — both Logan and Blevins will earn $6.5MM in guaranteed money in 2017, with the potential for more if the Indians and Mets respectively exercise club options on each southpaw.
While Niese has never been much of a strikeout pitcher over his career, he does own an impressive 50.1% ground ball rate, which would serve him well pitching at Yankee Stadium. Of course, Niese’s problems in 2016 were largely caused by the long ball, as he saw his home run rate spike to a whopping 22.1% last season. While such a giant increase could’ve been an aberration, Niese’s home run rates have been on the rise in each of the last four seasons.
The baseball world is abuzz about the controversial recent comments of Yankees president Randy Levine, who criticized Dellin Betances’ $5MM filing in his losing arbitration case this past week. After emerging victorious in arbitration, Levine described the filing as a “half-baked attempt” to “change a well-established market” for setup men, further noting that Betances was not a closer — the reliever type that typically commands big arbitration salaries — any more than Levine himself was an astronaut.
Levine’s decision to call out Betances after defeating him in a case was questionable, but he was right that arbitration pays relievers based on their role rather than their value. Indeed, my arbitration model forecasted Betances would land at $3.4MM, only a few ticks higher than the Yankees’ $3MM filing, and probably very close to where Betances could have bargained had he and the Yankees opted to negotiate a one-year deal to avoid arbitration.
Setting aside the decorum or business wisdom of the quote, the least accurate part of Levine’s comment was his description of Betances’ filing as an attempt to “change a well-established market.” Arbitration is not a market, or at least it is not a market in the way that people generally mean when they talk about markets. There are no multitudes of buyers and sellers trying to exchange the services of relievers in arbitration. Free agency is a market. Arbitration is a manufactured system of loosely defined rules that players and owners have agreed upon as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The difference is more than semantic. On the free agent market, Betances would be priced like a closer, in the sense that he pitches as well as one. Left up to a free market for his services, Betances could be paid like a closer. This happened just a couple years ago when Andrew Miller, with one career save, received a four-year deal for $36MM from none other than the New York Yankees.
Arbitration, on the other hand, follows a system of rules. Relievers are paid in arbitration based on a series of imperfect retrospective metrics that do not quite estimate value of a performance, rather than a prospective set of metrics designed to estimate the value of a performance, as teams attempt to use in free agency. Each player and team bargain independently, with no other buyers or sellers allowed to enter negotiations like in a typical market.
The most compelling comparables for Betances are those who primarily held setup roles, rather than closer roles, in the bullpen. Limiting to relievers in the last five years who had fewer than 20 saves in their platform year, we only get four pitchers who earned more than $2MM, and all four earned between $2.5MM-2.9MM. Even within that group (Neftali Feliz, Kris Medlen, Mark Melancon, and Drew Storen), all four pitchers had either been closers for longer periods of time than Betances. Medlen had been a starter for a period of time as well.
Looking only at setup men who accumulated large numbers of holds, the comps get even bleaker for Betances. Only four pitchers have gone into arbitration with 70 career holds (Betances has 78 career) in the last five years, and all have received less than $2MM.
Where Betances does differentiate himself is the fact that he has 22 career saves—he does have some closing history—and that he has struck out a whopping 404 hitters in 254 2/3 innings with a career ERA of 2.16. No one discussed in the part-time closer group above or the group with a significant number of career holds could touch those statistics.
And while detailed sabermetric statistics are unlikely to be persuasive in arbitration, Betances’ three All-Star berths were probably one of the better hopes for Betances and his representation. In fact, in recent years, only Craig Kimbrel entered his first year of arbitration with three career All-Star selections, and although he signed a multi-year deal, that only came after the Braves filed at $6.55MM, conceding quite a high value for a player recognized as Betances has been. Only two other players in the last five years even had two All-Star selections going into their first year of arbitration: Aroldis Chapman in 2014 and Andrew Bailey in 2012, who received $5MM and $3.9MM, respectively.
The catch is that Kimbrel had 139 career saves by the time he initially filed for arbitration, while Chapman had 77 and Bailey had 75. At just 22 career saves, Betances was bound to be paid mostly like a setup guy. My model estimates that had Betances’ 28 holds in 2016 all been saves (giving him 40), he would have been estimated to receive $4.5MM instead. If we turn his 50 holds in his pre-platform seasons into saves, that projection shoots up to $6.3MM. But turn those 78 relief appearances back from saves to holds, and we are left with his $3.4MM projection. Levine is, in fact, not an astronaut, and despite Betances’ performance being out of this world, he himself is neither an astronaut nor a closer.
So Betances does not in fact have the halo that typically accompanies a ninth-inning role. In the strictest sense of the word, he is not a closer. Okay … so he does not get coffee. Fine. But let’s discuss how Betances compares to other great relievers and figure out where he stands when we divorce ourselves from the role-based approach to paying arbitration-eligible players.
If arbitration were to reward relievers based on their performance, rather than their context-based statistics, Betances would have entered arbitration in a much more favorable position. Betances has 404 career strikeouts, which is more than any relief pitcher ever to enter arbitration for the first time in the modern era. In the last five years, only Kimbrel himself has even come close with 381 strikeouts, followed by Kenley Jansen at 347. Jansen received a one-year deal for $4.3MM back in 2014.
Limiting to pitchers with 300 career strikeouts and career ERAs under 2.50 (Betances is at 2.16), the only pitchers that emerge are closers already discussed above: Kimbrel, Chapman, and Jansen. From this perspective, Betances filing at $5MM would seem reasonable. Another potential comparable in terms of skill set would be Trevor Rosenthal, who received $5.6MM a year ago from the Cardinals with a 2.66 career ERA and 303 career strikeouts.
Of course, if we know that arbitration is based on retrospective performance, it stands to reason that looking at pitchers based on context-free numbers was unlikely to be persuasive. After all, a lights-out minor league pitcher gets paid the league minimum for his first three-plus seasons. Context matters. What might have been more compelling to an arbitration panel is a statistic like WPA or “Win Percentage Added” as presented by FanGraphs. This statistic simply uses a rough estimate of what the probability a team would win when a pitcher enters an inning (based on inning, score, and base-out situation) and again after he leaves or the inning ends.
For example, when Betances entered with a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning on August 31 against the Royals, the Yankees had a 79% chance of winning. After he saved that game, that 79% chance reached 100%, which gave him 0.21 WPA that day. But when Betances came in with a one-run lead and a runner on first in the seventh inning of an April 12 hold opportunity against the Blue Jays, and struck out Jose Bautista before retiring the side in the eighth en route to a one-run victory, Betances got a nearly identical 0.20 WPA combined for the seventh and eighth innings, because of his large effect on the Yankees’ probability of winning that game as well.
String together Betances’ entire career thus far, and he has 9.30 WPA. That would stand right next to Kimbrel himself, who had 9.29 WPA through 2013 when he first entered arbitration. It would top Jansen, who stood at 7.46 WPA upon reaching arbitration, and well ahead of Chapman, Rosenthal, and Bailey, who had 5.77, 5.72, and 5.05 WPA, respectively at those points in their careers.
I doubt that would have made a strong enough case given the historical importance of saves and holds (in that order), but it might have helped a panel see an alternative way of valuing what Betances has added to the Yankees’ win totals, without resorting to the same old stat columns.
In the narrow sense, Levine is right that Betances has not been a closer. That is almost entirely why the Yankees won this case, because everything else would have shined a brighter light on Betances’ performance.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman tells Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald that he wants his team to develop top talent rather than acquiring it via the free-agent market. The lens of the piece is the Yankees’ rivalry with the Red Sox, which has changed in recent years as the Yankees have backed away somewhat from their previously big-spending ways. Here’s the latest on the Yankees’ current approach, as well as a player the Yankees and Red Sox did compete with one another to acquire.
- A number of key players, including Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, are set to become free agents in the 2018-19 offseason. But Cashman says the Yankees aren’t building their strategy on the availability of those types of talents. “We’re not planning that way,” says Cashman. “We’re waiting to transition out of some contracts and some older players and then eventually I’m hoping that we develop enough young players that would prevent us from having to go crazy in the free agent market. … Doesn’t mean we won’t participate in free agency, but we’re hoping to develop.” The Yankees, of course, did make a splash in free agency this winter, signing Aroldis Chapman to a record-shattering deal for a reliever. They also added Matt Holliday and Chris Carter. Still, they didn’t dominate the winter the way they have in the recent past, and will head into 2017 with a number of young players at key positions.
- Going forward, Cashman says he expects to see different teams drive the winter market and the summer trade market depending on the year. “One year it was the Padres, they spent a ton of money,” he says, referring to the 2014-15 offseason, when the Padres made a number of high-profile trades and signed James Shields. “I think it’s every year it’s different, every winter it seems to be different and other clubs emerge and step up, just like at the deadline the Indians stepped up to deals with us. They’re a small market club that typically doesn’t do that. But this was their window time.”
- While the Yankees/Red Sox free agent arms race isn’t as frenzied as it’s been in years past, the two sides recently did compete for one free agent — Mexican pitcher Hector Velazquez, who went to the Red Sox on a low-profile deal when the Sox purchased his contract from the Piratas de Campeche in the Mexican League. “After the Caribbean Series they told me that the Red Sox were interested,” says Velazquez through a translator. “[S]oon after, Campeche, which is the team that I play for, told me that the Yankees were also interested. The way things in work in Mexico is, Campeche is the one who decides exactly who do you go to. They asked me at the end of the day who I wanted to go to, and I chose the Red Sox because they were the first ones to come to me.”
Ace reliever Dellin Betances had more to say Sunday regarding his arbitration-related dispute with Yankees president Randy Levine, telling reporters – including George A. King III of the New York Post – that he has no regrets over comments he made Saturday. Betances added that he isn’t going to seek out Levine to potentially clear the air between the two. “I don’t feel I need to speak to him, I don’t know how [the Yankees] feel,’’ Betances said. “I am just going to try and prepare for the season and help the team as much as I can.’’ Further, on the heels of MLBPA executive Rick Shapiro calling Levine’s remarks “totally unprecedented” Saturday, union chief Tony Clark weighed in Sunday and referred to them as “unprofessional” (Twitter link via Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan).
- When first baseman Chris Carter was still unsigned at the end of January, his agent, Dave Stewart, suggested that the slugger would have to seriously consider signing in Japan. Carter ultimately didn’t have to take such a drastic measure, of course, as he inked a one-year deal with the Yankees earlier this month. Now, it doesn’t seem as though Japan was ever a legitimate possibility for Carter. The 2016 National League co-leader in home runs (41) told reporters – including Randy Miller of NJ.com – on Saturday that the notion of going to Japan was “probably not that real” and “was more just to cover all bases and check all options.” Carter did admit, however, that he “started getting antsy” when February rolled around and he didn’t have a contract. “It’s definitely a tough offseason this year, but it seems like the game is changing a little bit where there is more emphasis on complete players,” he stated.
The Yankees and reliever Dellin Betances entered their arbitration hearing Friday in agreement that the right-hander should not be treated like a closer, a source told Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, but they weren’t able to find common ground elsewhere. The club argued that Betances didn’t deserve more than the $3MM it had offered because, for one, he had lost a battle for the closer’s job to then-Yankee Andrew Miller in 2015, per the source. New York also pointed to Betances’ defensive woes – he committed three throwing errors and allowed a 100 percent success rate on 21 stolen base attempts last season – and even placed some blame on him for a decline in ticket sales in 2016.
After the Yankees traded Miller to Cleveland on July 31, Betances took over as the Bombers’ closer and followed a pristine August with a rough September. Betances allowed 10 earned runs on 11 hits and eight walks over the final full month of the season, during which the Yankees went 14-14 and officially fell out of the playoff race. The Yankees argued that Betances’ problems down the stretch helped lead to losses, thereby aiding in their drop from first in American League ticket sales from 2002-15 to second a year ago. As preposterous as that sounds, the Yankees nonetheless managed to defeat Betances in the hearing.
The two sides’ dispute took a particularly ugly turn when team president Randy Levine sparked a war of words after the Yankees’ victory. Here’s more on their fight:
- Dating back to his breakout season in 2014, Betances has tossed 247 innings – at least 14 more than any other major league reliever. However, in light of Levine’s comments, Betances suggested Saturday that he might not be as willing to serve as a workhorse for the Yankees anymore. “Some of the stuff they said in that room, they value me as an eighth-inning guy. Is it selfish of me to say now, ‘Hey, guys, I just want to come in for the eighth inning with no runners on?’’’ Betances told reporters, including George A. King III of the New York Post. “That’s not the player I am. I go out there and try to battle with my teammates, but now you go in that room and you see some of that stuff, do you put yourself at risk at all times? It’s fair for me to say that.’’ One of Betances’ friends and teammates, left-hander C.C. Sabathia, chalked Betances’ comments up to the “heat of the moment,” telling King that the 28-year-old “is a smart kid and will be able to separate this and try to help this team win games.’’
- Given what transpired between the Yankees and Betances on Saturday, it’s time for Major League Baseball to at least change the arbitration process for relievers, opines FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Although the industry no longer regards saves as the end-all, be-all when valuing relievers, arbiters continue to place too much emphasis on the statistic. In addition to leading all relievers in innings since 2014, Betances is third in strikeout rate and fifth in ERA, yet one obvious reason he lost in arbitration is because he only has 22 career saves. Rosenthal proposes developing a statistical model to replace the current arbitration system, which features a panel of judges and has been in place since 1974, though he concedes that major changes probably aren’t coming.
- Nicolas Stellini of FanGraphs offers a sentiment similar to Rosenthal’s view, arguing that arbitration’s opinion of relievers is “bad for baseball” because it doesn’t properly reward great production from non-closers. Thus, elite setup men like Betances who aren’t on long-term deals have little incentive to overwork themselves before securing sizable paydays. As for Levine, Stellini observes that he “handicapped the franchise for no obvious gain.”
4:47pm: Rick Shapiro, an executive from the players union who argued on Betances’ behalf at his arbitration hearing, has also condemned Levine’s comments, Rosenthal reports. “For the president of the Yankees to say the things he said is totally unprecedented in salary-arbitration history, an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball,” says Shapiro. “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”
1:19pm: Betances’ head agent, Jim Murray, wrote to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal about Levine’s comments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Murray expressed anger about Levine’s decision to speak to the media about Betances’ situation.
“[W]e are not going to be bullied by the Yankees team president. His statements are reprehensible and outright false. His desire to conduct a press conference today amounts to nothing but grandstanding and trying to mislead the media,” Murray says.
“This guy was a 3-time All-Star. He is a unique pitcher that the arbitration system had never seen. He is about as unique as they come. We all knew it was going to be a landmark decision because of what this player has done.”
Betances, for his part, says the situation will make him more inclined to head elsewhere once he becomes a free agent following the 2020 season, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch tweets. “You look at it a little differently now. I think (free agency) will be a little easier when the time comes,” says Betances.
11:06am: Earlier today, it emerged that righty Dellin Betances had lost his arbitration hearing to the Yankees, meaning he will receive $3MM next season rather than the $5MM he had hoped for. Now, Yankees president Randy Levine is criticizing Betances and his representation at Excel Sports Management for what he describes as a “half-baked attempt” to “use a player to change a well-established market,” as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes (all Twitter links). The hitch was that the best-paid relievers are typically closers, and Betances’ experience in that role is limited. Betances’ $5MM filing number had “had no bearings in reality,” Levine says.
“It’s like me saying, I’m not the president of the Yankees, I’m an astronaut. I’m not an astronaut and Dellin Betances is not a closer,” Levine adds.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that there’s “bad blood” between Betances and the Yankees going back to last season, when the Yankees renewed Betances’ salary for the league minimum of $507K despite Betances’ strong performances to that point.
Sherman reports that Betances tried to get the Yankees to negotiate on an extension this offseason, but the Yankees didn’t go particularly far in pursuing the matter. Betances also tried to get the team to settle on a salary for this season, but the two sides disagreed so thoroughly on what Betances should be paid that they instead went to a hearing without much serious discussion.
The basis of the Yankees’ disagreement is that arbitrators generally don’t reward non-closers with big salaries, and that arbitration salaries are mostly based on precedent. Betances briefly closed for the Yankees near the end of last season but didn’t do nearly as well as he’d done in a setup role. Sherman reports that, during the arbitration hearing, the Yankees argued that Betances didn’t have the high saves totals needed to justify a $5MM salary for a first-timer through the arbitration process, and that his struggles down the stretch (he had a 4.30 ERA with 38 strikeouts, 15 walks, and 12 saves in 23 innings following the trade of Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs) were a factor in their reacquiring Chapman this winter. The Yankees in fact felt that even $3MM was too high a salary for Betances at this point but submitted that figure anyway to make it easier to win the hearing.
Over the last several seasons, MLBTR’s yearly Arbitration Trackers in fact demonstrate scant precedent for a salary of $5MM for a setup man with three-plus years of service. It’s worth noting, however, that Betances has mostly dominated throughout his career, posting a 2.16 ERA, 3.5 BB/9 and a ridiculous 14.3 K/9 in parts of five seasons. Those numbers make it difficult to find exact comparables for Betances. Heading into the offseason, MLBTR projected Betances would receive $3.4MM this offseason.