Tag: Jacoby Ellsbury

Mailbag: Cole’s hard hit rate, Germán’s future, Ellsbury’s contract, and trading with Boston

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Happy Friday, everyone. Got a handful of questions in this week’s mailbag. As always, send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We answer our favorites each week.

Jeff asks: Not to sound too complain-y about Gerrit Cole, but small sample size aside…what does the underlying data say in regards to hit Hard Hit percentage being the highest of his career?

Atlanta socked three dingers against Gerrit Cole a few days ago and made a bunch of hard contact otherwise. Home runs have been a problem for Cole this year (10 allowed in 41 innings), but he’s given up his fair share of dingers in the past. But as Jeff points out, Cole’s 45.5 percent hard hit rate is the highest of his career. Previously, it maxed out at 39.8 percent in 2018 with Houston. Last year, he had a 35.5 percent rate.

Before digging deeper, it’s important to note that hard hit percentage makes up any batted ball with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or higher. It can be a popup or grounder too, not necessarily just a line drive or a deep fly ball. Pointing this out matters. For instance, if you look back at Cole’s 2018 season, you’ll see that his hard hit rate was one of the worst in the league (13th percentile). However, his expected batting average (91st percentile), expected slugging (83rd percentile), and xwOBA (89th percentile) were all superb. Even though there were a lot of high exit velocities against him, hitters didn’t square up too often.

So at first glance, a high hard hit rate against Cole isn’t necessarily a big deal this season. I’d say that the bigger concern is opponents’ higher barrel rate against him. Right now, that stands at 11.1 percent (career-worst, 7.6 previous high in 2017) and is in the 27th percentile of MLB. I’m still pretty comfortable chalking that up to a small sample size, though. His stuff certainly hasn’t deteriorated. He just hasn’t put everything together for one outing yet. Frustrating? Yes. But I have no reason to doubt it’ll come around.

I have one theory as to why batters are barreling Cole’s pitches more often this season. Cole has seemed to struggle throwing his curveball for strikes, which is something he could do in the past. Take a look:

Basically, Cole’s only been able to locate his fastball for a strike with consistency in 2020. That probably makes things easier for hitters — they aren’t seeing knee-buckling curveballs dropped into the strike zone like in years past. It’s one less thing to keep them honest.

Iron Mike asks: What do you think Domingo Germán’s future is with the Yankees next year? Also if the Yankees are in dire need of pitching, can’t he technically pitch after the 3rd game of the playoffs?

I’ll get your second question out of the way first: yes, he can technically return after the third game of the playoffs, but I would not expect that to happen. As far as I know, he’s home and not preparing for a return. I doubt the Yankees would want to throw him out in a high leverage spot for the first time in 2020, anyway.

As for next year: I think Germán will be a rotation candidate. The Yankees will have no shortage of openings with James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and JA Happ all potentially gone via free agency. Plus, Luis Severino won’t be ready for the start of the season. And, considering how comfortable the Yankees were with bringing in Aroldis Chapman twice after a domestic violence suspension, I can’t envision anything different here.

Brian asks: Has there been any update on the Ellsbury contract situation? Will he be paid the same prorated salary that other players are earning, and is there any news on whether or not the Yankees are still trying to avoid paying him because he sought unapproved medical advice?

It’s been radio silence on Jacoby Ellsbury for months now. I believe the last we heard was that the MLBPA filed a grievance on the outfielder’s behalf in attempt to regain the remaining $26 million on his contract. Unless the two sides settle, there will be an arbitration hearing.

If Ellsbury wins the grievance, he’ll get his full $26 million. He was released well before this pandemic changed the fate of the 2020 baseball season. Per Forbes, players not on 40-man rosters receive their full guaranteed contracts. Had the Yankees kept him around, he’d have earned roughly $9.6 million. Tough luck for the Bombers, I suppose, but there’s a chance the team walks away without paying him a penny if they win the hearing.

Old friend Steven asks: The most obvious selling team is the Red Sox. If Chaim Bloom came to you, the Yankees GM, and said everyone but Devers, Benintendi and Eduardo Rodríguez were on the table, who would you target?

Oh, I think this is an easy one: Xander Bogaerts. Though I have to imagine that he probably wouldn’t be on the table, either. The 27 year-old shortstop is in the first year of a six-year deal, though he can opt out after 2022. He’s currently hitting .276/.342/.505 (123 wRC+) for Boston and is coming off a 7 WAR season.

Frankly, there’s really not much else on this roster that’s attractive. I *suppose* the Yankees could benefit from either Nate Eovaldi or Martín Pérez, but that’s a real stretch. Been there, done that with Eovaldi, who hasn’t been good since 2018 anyway. He’s also under contract through 2022. Pérez has actually been OK this season (3.45 ERA and 4.56 FIP in 31 1/3 innings), but he’s not particularly inspiring. His career DRA is 6.13. Barf.

Finally, with the departures of Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, there’s not much left in this bullpen to look at. I do think that Phillips Valdez is intriguing (0.98 ERA, 3.15 FIP in 18 1/3 innings). His changeup, which he throws 47.1 percent of the time, has been pretty nasty. He’s got a 36.9 percent whiff rate on the pitch.

Anyway, the Yankees and Red Sox haven’t pulled off a trade since the Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson swap in 2014. That was the first time to two sides made a swap since 1997! Baseball Reference has the rundown of all Yankees-Red Sox trades here.

News & Notes: Staffing shakeup continues, Luxury Tax Bill, Germán update, and more

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Gerrit Cole has been the apple of everyone’s eye over the past week or so. That’s understandable, of course. It’s nice to have the best pitcher in the world suit up for the Yankees, isn’t it? Anyway, there are a few other things that have happened over the last week. Some of the forthcoming items may have flown under the radar during all the excitement surrounding Cole.

Yankees fire strength and conditioning coach

Shocker. Injuries decimated the Yankees this season, so something had to give. There’s no official announcement, but the New York Post reports that the Yankees let go of Matt Krause, the team’s strength and conditioning coach for the last six seasons. Whoever replaces Krause won’t have a high bar to clear.

Although there were some injuries out of anyone’s control, such as Aaron Hicks’s elbow or Edwin Encarnación’s wrist fracture, the sheer number of muscle injuries grew unbearable. It seemed like the entire roster combined to strain every muscle known in the human body. Plus, there were far too many setbacks — from Giancarlo Stanton to Luis Severino to Dellin Betances.

Krause may be the fall guy here, but it’s not all his fault of course. For instance, what happened during various players rehab work may have been largely out of his hands. But in terms of preparedness for game action? That seems to have been more up Krause’s alley. Perhaps a revised or new conditioning program will help prevent and reduce the amount of muscle injuries.

Yankees’ 2019 luxury tax bill comes in at $6.7 million

The Yankees are luxury tax payers once again. They were under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold last year, but exceeded the limit in 2019 per the AP. In terms of real dollars, the Yankees payroll totaled $226 million this season.

The Yankees will be over the threshold again in 2020 which makes the team a “repeat offender”. There are harsher penalties for clubs that are over the limit in consecutive seasons, as follows:

…New York’s rate will rise from 20% to 30% on the first $20 million over, 32% to 42% on the next $20 million and 62.5% to 75% on any amount above $248 million. If the Yankees exceed $248 million, which now appears likely, their top selection in the June 2021 amateur draft would be dropped 10 places.

The Yankees may be able to get under the $248 million limit depending on what happens with JA Happ and Jacoby Ellsbury, but it’ll be hard for them to get down to the next lowest tier of $228 million. Cot’s has the Yankees at just over $256 million for Competitive Balance Tax purposes currently.

A Domingo Germán update

Klapisch’s tweet pretty much tells the story. Hopefully Germán is indeed getting the help he needs and the victim has received and/or is continuing to receive ample care.

The Yankees can’t plan to have Germán early on in the season as a suspension of some length seems likely. He’s not needed anyway with JA Happ, Jordan Montgomery, and Michael King around for the fifth starter’s gig.

Erik Kratz is back

With Kyle Higashioka lined up to take over backup catcher duties, the Yankees retained a veteran insurance policy in Kratz on a minor league deal according to Jon Heyman. The 39 year-old backstop spent time with the Giants and Rays this season and the Brewers a year prior. He’s also spent time in the Yankees’ organization every year since 2017. He went 2-for-2 with a double in four games for the Bombers in 2017 and spent time in Scranton in both 2018 and 2019.

MLBPA files grievance on behalf of Jacoby Ellsbury

It’s been about a month since news broke that the Yankees are planning to withholdin Jacoby Ellsbury’s 2020 salary. Now, as expected, the MLB Players Association has filed a grievance on Ellsbury’s behalf.

This stems from the Yankees’ claim that Ellsbury received unauthorized medical treatment which would be a violation of his contract. On the flip side, Ellsbury’s contention is that he was treated for a non-baseball related condition, which doesn’t require his employer’s permission.

I’m inclined to think that this will end up settled before any hearing occurs. The PA certainly doesn’t want a precedent to be set with having a guaranteed deal turned to dust, whereas the Yankees would probably be happy to settle for pennies on the dollar rather than the full $26 million remaining. How any savings would affect the luxury tax is unclear, though I’d assume it would reduce the team’s bill for 2020.

Yankees have discussed free agent Joe Panik

According to Buster Olney, the Yankees have considered signing second baseman Joe Panik. The former Giant and (briefly) Met is a free agent, though is unlikely to receive more than a minor league deal with a spring training invite.

Not pretty. (Baseball Savant)

Panik had a few nice seasons with San Francisco, but has struggled offensively since 2018. He first came up in 2014, the most recent championship season for the Giants, and hit .282/.345/.408 (106 wRC+) in 1,818 plate appearances and accumulated 8.9 fWAR. Since then, the 29 year-old left handed hitter has batted .249/.311/.334 (76 wRC+).

Panik is a local product and ostensibly has interest in staying close to home, though there’s not necessarily a clear path for him on the Yankees’ major league roster without injuries. He hasn’t hit for two years and his underlying Statcast data isn’t promising. Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada would be ahead of Panik on the depth chart, meaning Panik would be destined for Triple-A.

One step closer to an automated strike zone

The Major League Umpires Association and Major League Baseball announced a five-year labor deal. As part of the deal, we could see an automated strike zone within the next five years. The umpires agreed to cooperate with the league on its testing and implementation should the league decide to institute the change.

The Atlantic League experimented with a computer calling balls and strikes this summer. If and when it comes to MLB, it’s going to take some getting used to:

Report: Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury Involved in Contract Dispute

Happier days.

Well, I can’t say I saw this coming. I think we all expected the Jacoby Ellsbury era to end with a whimper after the Yankees cut him several days ago, but that was not to be. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about Ellsbury in the coming weeks. That’s about the only thing we know for sure right now.

Anyway, according to Jon Heyman, the Yankees do not plan to pay Jacoby for 2020:

This builds off a New York Post report I mentioned in today’s mailbag. George King reported that the team was filing a grievance over the remaining sum owed to Ellsbury ($26 million). Evidently, he violated the terms of his deal by rehabbing at an off-site facility.

A new report from the New York Daily News reveals that the Yankees were “were tipped off that Ellsbury had been receiving treatment at the Progressive Medical Center in Atlanta, headed up by a controversial physician named Viktor Bouquette.” The paper goes into some detail about those controversies. Complicating the story: there seems to be a PED element as well, and MLB is investigating.

This is all very interesting, to say the least. A few immediate thoughts:

1) While I initially found it interesting that this news came right after we learned Ellsbury’s contract is not insured for 2020, that link is now tenuous at best. Per the NYDN, the Yankees learned about this a few months ago and alerted MLB, which then took action. Nothing to do with insurance aside from timing.

2) This is a very aggressive tactic by the Yankees. I mean, outright refusing to pay Ellsbury to spur action from him and his camp (Scott Boras is his agent) certainly feels much different than simply filing a grievance over a contract violation. I’m not really sure why, but the optics are different.

3) It seems like the Yankees want to recoup money dating back to 2017, which will come close to $70 million in total, a significant amount of money. That’s when Ellsbury started seeing the controversial doctor for rehab. This could get very ugly very fast.

4) NBC’s Craig Calcaterra has a healthy dose of skepticism for the circumstances. He notes that information about the doctor’s controversial past is vague and seemingly disconnected from the Ellsbury case. I think his perspective is fair, and I agree with it. There’s more to this than meets the eye. I can only assume we’ll learn more soon.

5) We really, really don’t have a lot of information here. The Yankees may very well have a clear-cut case against Ellsbury. They very well might be relying on vague, confusing contract language here. Ellsbury might have a legitimate case, too. At this point, we really don’t know. It’s easy to rush to judgement in these situations based on your preconceived notions. It is important not to do so.

6) Now, with that said, I’m having a hard time divorcing this from the broader climate throughout the league. Tensions are very high right now between the MLB Player’s Association and ownership. Players are angry about the state of free agency and have been vocal about it. Moreover, Calcaterra reported the other day that Manfred is already drawing a hard line in the sand with the MLBPA, saying that there will be no economic concessions for labor peace. He then added on Twitter that folks he’d spoken to “took that as a signal” that the league would “seek the elimination of guaranteed contracts.” Now, just a few days later, we get this news about a team trying to contest money guaranteed to Ellsbury. We don’t have nearly enough information to reach any conclusions at all, but it’s easy to be skeptical here.

7) Finally, zooming back in to the Yankees specifically, this entire Ellsbury situation has been so weird for years now. His injuries were very vague. It was always weird when it was reported that he was working out off-site. This is a saga that needs a real, in-depth reported piece. Unfortunately, I still think we’re years away from that. There is a ton of gray area to all of this, and there’s a lot–and I mean A LOT–that we don’t know.

Anyway, as I said, there is a lot more to come. The Yankees may very well have an iron-clad case here. I mean, they’re certainly acting like it. It’s also worth remembering that we don’t yet have Ellsbury and Boras’ perspective yet, which will only further muddy these waters. As always, we’ll keep you posted as things develop.

Buckle up, folks. This is going to be a wild ride.

Thoughts after the Yankees’ 40-man roster shakeup

A blast from the past.

The Yankees make the 40-man roster protection deadline an event last night by adding over a half-dozen players and jettisoning some big names to make room for them. ICYMI, here’s the summary of their moves:

Added: Deivi García, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Estevan Florial, Nick Nelson, Miguel Yajure, Brooks Kriske
DFA’d: Nestor Cortes Jr., Greg Bird
Released: Jacoby Ellsbury

Here are my thoughts on the whole sequence of moves, starting with who the Yankees added:

1. The Easy Adds: As Derek so eloquently detailed Tuesday, the Yankees had four players perceived as locks to add by Wednesday’s deadline: García, Gil, Medina and Florial.

It’s well-known how electrifying Deivi can be, and he nearly earned a spot on the roster last September. With the 40-man spot secured, he could get strong consideration for the Opening Day roster in 2020, though it’s more likely he gets further reps in Triple-A after he struggled with the MLB ball and tired down the stretch in 2019.

Meanwhile, Gil, Medina and Florial are further away from the Majors. Gil and Medina raised their profiles with strikeout-laden 2019 seasons for Single-A Charleston, followed by brief stints with Single-A Tampa. Gil, funny enough, was acquired via trade in March 2018 when the Yankees needed to clear room on the 40-man roster. Medina doesn’t turn 21 until May while Gil will be 22 in June.

Florial had his second consecutive down year, both hampered by wrist/hand injuries in Spring Training. That’s part of why he didn’t make Baseball America’s top 10 Yankee prospects. His chances of reaching the Majors in 2020 are slim (as they are for Gil and Medina), but the outfielder would have easy to keep on a 26-man roster for a rebuilding team. Now, he has to find a way to cut down on strikeouts and tap into his potential before it’s too late.

2. The borderline additions: Yajure and Nelson were mentioned by most outlets as bubble players with some favoring Yajure as a “must add.” Kriske, though, came as a surprise even if his name was mentioned.

All three are right-handed pitchers who spent time in Double-A last season, but that’s where the similarities end. Yajure specializes in control, issuing just 30 walks in 138 2/3 innings across High-A and Double-A last season. Though just 21, he has missed development time with Tommy John surgery that knocked out his 2017 season, but he’s fully recovered and has hit 97 on the gun.

However, unlike the four locks, Yajure didn’t make either Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10s. He should start in Trenton after making two starts there in 2019 and could rise from there.

Nelson, meanwhile, reached Triple-A briefly after excelling in the Eastern League. High strikeout rate, high walk rate, the 2016 fourth-rounder has potential to make the Majors in 2020, though that would most likely come in relief as he’s behind García and Michael King for now.

Kriske was the lone full-time reliever of the bunch. Another pitcher who has gone under the knife for TJ, he’s the oldest player added at 25 and is a former sixth-round pick as a senior sign from USC. He could be the latest homegrown college reliever to find his way up the Yankees pipeline. The Bombers wouldn’t have added him to the 40-man as a 25-year-old reliever if he weren’t MLB ready in the near future.

The right-hander added a splitter after joining Trenton, and it appears to have worked wonders for him. Look at his funky motion (and the swings and misses).

3. Yankees not nearly done: So the Yankees are now at 40 men exactly with their 40-man roster. That leaves them no room for Domingo Germán when he’s eventually reinstated from the Commissioner’s exempt list, nor for retaining free agents like Brett Gardner, Dellin Betances, Cameron Maybin or Austin Romine. Or, if this is your cup of tea, Gerrit Cole.

The Yankees had to add the seven players above by Wednesday or else they would have been ripe for the Rule 5 draft in a couple of weeks. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used as trade bait between now and the start of 2020. In fact, the Bombers might have added one or two players to maintain leverage in ongoing trade talks.

As mentioned above, the Yankees acquired Gil in March 2018. They did so after adding Jake Cave to the 40-man roster the previous fall, only to need room for Brandon Drury in Spring Training. A similar fate could befall Nelson, Kriske or one of the other recent additions, or one of the higher-end prospects (Deivi, Gil, Medina Florial) could be packaged in a larger deal.

I thought the Yankees were going to swing a trade, hence why they went up until the 8 p.m. deadline. They could have been working on one and just didn’t find one that made sense. The Rays, meanwhile, dealt Jose De Leon and Christopher Sanchez to alleviate their own logjam, though they also DFA’d Matt Duffy.

4. Current 40-man roster composition: The Yankees are far from done and they’ll need to excise players currently on their 40-man to make any further MLB moves. But as they stand right now, they have 24 pitchers and just 16 hitters on the roster, with Germán still in the organization as a de facto 41st man while awaiting suspension. While that split remains lopsided, it’s because the Yankees like their pitching prospects. They had enough good ones that other teams would have snapped up, and now they’ll have to sort them out.

Chances are, not all 24 pitchers will make it through the next three months until pitchers and catchers report. Here’s how I see the current chopping block, in order:

  1. Stephen Tarpley
  2. Jonathan Holder
  3. Chance Adams
  4. Brooks Kriske
  5. Albert Abreu

Holder and Tarpley are each fine up-and-down arms, but they haven’t proven themselves more than OK middle relievers in a team full of pitchers. Holder is arb eligible for the first time and is projected to make $800K in 2020, but he also had a 6.31 ERA over 41 1/3 innings last year. Even with a strong 2018, he might struggle to make it through, as could Tarpley. Both had injuries that hampered their 2019 seasons.

Adams hasn’t taken as a starter, so it’s probably time to move him to relief full time and see if a healthy version of him can make it as a reliever. Kriske and Abreu, though both in Double-A and near the Majors, each have an injury history and could be expendable.

Luis Cessa, meanwhile, could fit on that list as he’s out of options, and the Yankees have that glut of pitchers on the roster. If J.A. Happ, Jonathan Loaisiga or Germán are moved to long relief in 2020, Cessa’s spot becomes tenuous, as it does if Adams breaks through.

Key date to watch out for: Dec. 2. That’s the non-tender deadline, which could be Holder, Cessa or Tarpley’s last stand.

5. Bird’s likely exit: Though the Yankees could potentially retain Bird after designating him for assignment Wednesday, I wouldn’t count on it. As he has more than three years of service time, he can elect free agency if he clears waivers.

With Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu and Mike Ford all on the roster, the Yankees scarcely have room for a first base-only player like Bird that can barely stay on the field. His one-week stint in the Dominican Winter League was encouraging but not enough to save his roster spot.

If he hits free agency, maybe New York could work a Minor League deal with their erstwhile first baseman. The organization has certainly believed in him enough to keep him through a laundry list of injuries, and they were rewarded briefly in the 2017 postseason.

Ah, well. At this point, Bird is better off seeking greener pastures with an organization that has more of an opening at first. The talent has always been there, so hopefully his body can hold up wherever he ends up in 2020.

6. The end of the Ellsbury Era: It was time for the Yankees to move on from the veteran outfielder, even if it meant eating $26 million in the process. It’s been 25 months since Ellsbury donned Yankee pinstripes and Brian Cashman didn’t seem confident in Ellsbury’s renewed health during the GM’s end-of-year press conference.

“It’s hard to say based on how things have played out,” Cashman said of Ellsbury’s availability after Aaron Hicks’ surgery. “Right now he’s not someone in a position health-wise where I can answer anything in the affirmative.”

Ellsbury had $21 million due his way in 2020, though the New York Post reported that was uninsured. The Yankees had previously been able to insure his contract, so they weren’t on the hook for all of his 2018 and ’19 salaries. (To clarify, Ellsbury got all the money owed to him, but an insurance company partially compensated the Bombers.) He also is due $5 million to buy out his option for 2021.

The seven-year, $153 million contract is a notable blemish on Cashman’s strong history of signing position players in free agency. In the same offseason, Shin-Soo Choo earned a similar seven-year deal from the Rangers and was an All-Star in 2018. He was worth 14.1 WAR to Ellsbury’s 9.5 ove the last six seasons, and he still has another year to go.

Meanwhile, the Ellsbury signing came on the heels of Robinson Cano’s exit to Seattle. The Yankees reportedly offered him $175 million over seven years, but the second baseman signed for less AAV ($24 million) over 10 seasons. After a lackluster 2013 season where the Bombers’ offense cratered, the team might have felt it needed to make a splash on offense when they signed Ellsbury in addition to Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

Ultimately, the signing did not work out at all, outside of Ellsbury’s single-season, career and postseason catcher’s interference records, all set with the Yankees. OK, I guess I’m the only one who cares about that last part. It was time for the Yankees to close this chapter.

7. Bye to Nasty Nestor: Lastly, the Yankees removed Cortes from the 40-man roster. He doesn’t have as big a name as Ellsbury or Bird, but baseball’s Mr. 305 should be remembered fondly for his contributions to the 2019 Yankees.

The final numbers are ugly. He had a 5.67 ERA/5.57 FIP and a 79 ERA+, allowing 16 home runs over 66 2/3 innings. The soft-tossing left-hander rarely topped 90 mph, but he got by on guile and an advanced pitching acumen.

Cortes was the bulk guy to form an impressive tandem with opener Chad Green from May well into the summer. The duo helped the Yankees stave off rotation armageddon. Green obviously deserves more of the accolades when it comes to the Yankees’ opener success, but Cortes kept it going. As the bulk pitcher, he helped the Yankees get wins over the Rays (x2), Indians, Astros and Twins, among others.

As the Yankees have previously DFA’d him and the Orioles sent him back in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, I’m pretty certain he can elect free agency. Another team could use him in a bulk/opener role. For whatever reason, I feel as if he’d fit the Seattle Mariners well.

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