Eleven questions in the first mailbag of the 2019 regular season. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll answer as many as I can each week.
Billy asks: With deGrom, Sale, Verlander and other starters getting extensions, would it be wise for the Yankees to extend Tanaka and Paxton now? What would be a fair extension for them?
It wouldn’t be a bad idea. An extension with Masahiro Tanaka might be tough because he’ll presumably have to take a pay cut with his next deal, and who wants to agree to a pay cut two years in advance? Including this season, Tanaka has two years and $45M coming his way. Would he take, say, two years and $34M (the J.A. Happ deal) on top of that? If yes, the Yankees would be able to announce it right away and reduce his luxury tax hit from $22.14M to $19.75M (average value of four years and $79M). I dunno. That one seems unlikely.
A James Paxton extension seems much more realistic. He’ll make $8.575M this year and will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year. The Cubs just gave Kyle Hendricks four years and $55M at the same service time level as Paxton. That deal begins in 2020, so include his $7.405M salary for 2019, and it is effectively a five-year deal worth $62.405M. Hendricks is a year younger than Paxton and he’s been healthier in his career to date, though that seems like a good reference point for an extension.
Given the Sonny Gray fiasco, I wouldn’t blame the Yankees for waiting it out just to make sure Paxton is someone they want to keep long-term. Then again, the Yankees signed Javier Vazquez long-term before he ever threw a pitch in pinstripes, and they had no trouble trading him. An extension for Tanaka might be tough now because it would presumably include a pay cut. A Paxton deal along the lines of the Hendricks deal? I’m down with that.
Pete asks: I don’t know if there’s any way to track/validate this, but it sure seems like contract extensions are being handed out more frequently now than ever before. Or are we just talking about them more?
Extensions are being handed out more frequently this year. Courtesy of the MLBTR Extension Tracker, here are the number of extensions signed from January 1st through April 1st (roughly Opening Day) the last few years:
- 2019: 22 (eight by impending free agents)
- 2018: 8 (none by an impending free agent, but Charlie Blackmon missed the cutoff by three days)
- 2017: 14 (two by impending free agents)
- 2016: 13 (two by impending free agents)
- 2015: 13 (one by an impending free agent)
More impending free agents took themselves off the market with extensions since January 1st this year than did during the same time period from 2015-18 combined. Teams have weaponized free agency. Drive salaries down — the MLB average salary is on pace to decline for the second straight season, which is unprecedented — and make free agency as undesirable as possible, then leverage it into below-market contract extensions. This was the endgame.
Ross asks: Given the Yankees’ ability to increase value and turn low-level draft pitchers into prospects, should the Yankees’ draft as many pitchers as they reasonably can with the intent of using many of them to swap later, once their value is increased?
Roster spots are a finite resource. It’s a good plan, in theory, though they have to stash these guys somewhere. Extended Spring Training doesn’t last forever — whoever doesn’t get assigned to a roster at the end of ExST gets released — so there are only so many places to stash pitchers. Drafting pitchers and hoping they increase their trade value and can be moved before you run out of roster spots in mid-June is tough. The Yankees, like every other team, draft more pitchers than position players each year because there’s always a greater need on the mound. Realistically, I’m not sure they could go even heavier on arms without screwing up their minor league rosters. The Yankees have been pretty good at turning late round picks into tradeable commodities (Phil Diehl, Cody Carroll, Josh Rogers, Taylor Widener) the last few seasons. They could try to do it more, though roster limits are an obstacle.
Juan asks: The Yankees optioned Wade to AAA. If they trade him before the season starts and his new team puts him on the MLB roster, did he lose an option? Or does the option only get triggered if a played is demoted once the season begins?
A player has to spend 20 days in the minors to burn an option. They don’t have to be 20 consecutive days. Just 20 days throughout the season. In Juan’s scenario, Tyler Wade would keep his final option year, which is not necessarily good news for him. He’d presumably rather burn through his final option year and force the team to either keep him on the big league roster going forward, or expose him to other teams willing to put him on their big league roster.
Bill asks: To me, the trade for Tauchman is a real slap in the face to Wade. Wade played 6 positions in ST, hit well, and runs well. Isn’t Wade capable of playing CF if needed? Yankees should do him a favor and trade him. Thoughts?
No to doing Wade a favor and trading him. It is harsh but that is the business. I agree Wade could use a fresh start in an organization better able to give him a greater opportunity for consistent playing time. The Yankees are under no obligation to give him that fresh start though. He has a collectively bargained minor league option remaining and the Yankees are free to stash him in Triple-A as depth. Wade’s not the first player to have the rug pulled out from under him at the end of Spring Training — remember Francisco Cervelli after the Chris Stewart trade? also, the Orioles unexpectedly sent Chance Sisco to Triple-A after claiming Pedro Severino last week — and he won’t be the last. It sucks, but that’s the business.
Kyle asks: Why do Aaron Judge’s projections look awfully low? Fangraphs piece on right fielder power rankings had him second, but with a .255 average and a .517 slugging percentage, despite much better marks in over 1200 PA.
It’s the strikeouts. Aaron Judge is entering unicorn territory. Basically no one has been a true talent 30% strikeout guy and been this productive, especially this early in his career. Chris Davis had MVP caliber seasons in 2013 and 2014, though those were his fifth and sixth big league seasons. He didn’t arrive in the big leagues as that type of player like Judge. Projections are (largely) based on historical comparisons and Judge is short on comparable players. Most guys who strike out like Judge hit for a lower average with lots of power, which is how you get .255 AVG and a .517 SLG. Add in projections being inherently conservative and there you go.
Ian asks: So given Arenado signed his mega-deal, and the Yankees “may” have passed on Harper and Machado to make a run at him prior to his new contract, what do you think the chances are the Yankees are going to make a run at Anthony Rendon when he (maybe) hits FA after this season?
Not great, honestly. I thought Anthony Rendon was more likely to test free agency than Nolan Arenado was before his extension, mostly because Rendon is a Scott Boras client, and Boras usually pushes his top clients to free agency. My guess — and this is a total guess — is the Nationals will push hard to get a Rendon extension done (or push hard to re-sign him) after losing Bryce Harper. Letting MVP caliber guys walk in back-to-back offseasons seems pretty dumb for a win-now team, especially since they’re in position to reset their luxury tax rate this year, and Ryan Zimmerman’s contract will come off the books after the season. The Yankees would have to increase their payroll quite a bit to make Rendon work. Either that or skimp elsewhere and I’m not sure that’ll happen. Maybe Miguel Andujar settles in nicely at third base and the Yankees don’t need Rendon, but yeah, in theory, the Yankees should go after him. I’m skeptical it’ll happen at this point in time.
Emiliano asks: I wonder if minor league GM’s work for their team or for the franchise and what is their job considering that the franchise “owns” the players. Also, do they move up the ladder and land jobs and the big league level?
Minor league general managers work for their minor league team, not their MLB parent club. Triple-A Scranton’s general manager is Josh Olerud (no relation to John, I think). Double-A Trenton’s general manager is Jeff Hurley. Minor league general managers do what general managers in other industries do. They run the business. Marketing, ticket sales, stadium operations, public and media relations, all that. The general manager oversees it all. I’m sure minor league general managers move up the ladder. I mean, if you’re good at the job, teams at other levels are bound to notice. If you’re looking to become a big league general manager and make baseball decisions though, becoming a minor league general manager probably isn’t the best way to go. It’s the same title but minor league and Major League general managers have different job requirements and require different skills.
Ryan asks: If you could lock one Yankee starter in for say 180 IP and 3.00 ERA this season which one and why? Also- same for hitters but with 115 wRC+? No possibility to do better, but no possibility to be worse.
Gotta be CC Sabathia and Troy Tulowitzki, right? Sabathia’s the man and he is #ActuallyGood, though there’s no chance he’ll give the Yankees 180 innings this year. Sabathia as the 180 IP/3.00 ERA gives you a shot at three aces with Luis Severino and James Paxton. When your fourth and fifth guys are Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ, you’re in great shape. As for Tulowitzki, I think he is clearly the worst hitter in the lineup right now. It seems like he’s hit maybe three balls hard since those two home runs early in Spring Training. What do you do with Tulowitzki and his locked in 115 wRC+ when Didi Gregorius returns? Beats me. Worry about it when the time comes.
Dan asks: The Padres dfa of Bryan Mitchell and the cardinals of chasen shreve made me think, the Yankees are very good at passing along guys they’re done with. I’m thinking moving guys like Tyler Austin, Garrett cooper, ty clippard, even if for very little the Yankees get something. What are some recent examples of players that the Yankees couldn’t get anything for and had to straighten up release?
Not including journeymen who opted out of a minor league contract, the last Major League player the Yankees released was Chris Carter two years ago. Before him it was Tommy Layne a week earlier. They released Ike Davis in 2016 and Esmil Rogers in 2015. There were a lot of releases in the hell season of 2013. Ben Francisco, Clay Rapada, Brennan Boesch, Luis Cruz, guys like that. The last big name player the Yankees flat out released was Alfonso Soriano in 2014. Soriano was cooked and the Yankees couldn’t find a trade partner. Guys like Mitchell, Shreve, and Austin were at least young enough and interesting enough to drum up trade suitors. The Yankees are really good and also pretty deep, so inevitably the guys who don’t fit their roster tend to be better than the typical 24th or 25th man on other rosters, hence the trades.
Eric asks: This isn’t a real question, but I hope you’ll oblige! I don’t know how to make gifs, but I’m fairly sure you guys do. Can you post a gif of Gary watering that plant from the Yard Work commercial? I think all of the RAB faithful would love to save this to their phone.
I am a man of the people, so here is said GIF:
We’re going to get a lot of use out of that this season. The GIF comes from the team’s “Bronx Yard Work” promo commercial. It’s pretty funny. “Ottavino’s Nightmare” and “America’s Perchtime” were good too. Adam Ottavino’s a cool dude. Making fun of himself for the Babe Ruth comments rather than ducking the questions or giving cliched answers was a good way to go.