With final luxury tax figures reported, a brief comparison to our estimate

At the completion of this season, I published a final estimate of the Yankees’ 2016 Competitive Balance Tax liability for no discernible benefit. Last week, the final tax payments were reported (bold emphasis is mine):

A record six teams are paying baseball’s luxury tax this season, led by the Los Angeles Dodgers at $31.8 million and the New York Yankees at $27.4 million.

The Yankees are paying for the 14th straight year since the tax began, raising their total to $325 million. New York has said it hopes to get below the threshold by 2018.

There you have it. With $27.4M due to the league office, I underestimated what the Yankees owed. My forecast was for a $26.4M levy. That’s not too far off, especially after considering my disclosures regarding where my calculation could have gone wrong.

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Bringing Chapman to the Bronx is a mistake

It was no secret that the Yankees wanted to acquire a closer this offseason. Though Dellin Betances would have been perfectly suitable for the role, the organization clearly prioritized building a super bullpen. It was so important that everything else was put on hold. The team got what it wanted when news broke that Aroldis Chapman agreed to a five-year, $86M contract to return to the Bronx.

Chapman’s blazing fastball and personal baggage return to the Bronx after a few months with the World Champion Chicago Cubs, who acquired him from the Yankees before the July 31 trade deadline. The Cuban southpaw is one of the best relievers in baseball and would make any team’s bullpen better, however, there’s plenty of reason to grumble about Chapman rejoining the Yankees.

First, let’s talk about Chapman the person. I can’t tell you what to think or how to root, but the domestic abuse allegations make it very difficult for many, including me, to root for Chapman. Even if you believe Chapman, who says he didn’t lay a hand on girlfriend, you still have to reconcile that he recklessly fired his gun eight times inside his garage. Who does that? How sure are the Yankees that it’ll never happen again? I guess the Yankees believe they could void the remainder of his deal should any future incident pop up, which feels dirty on its own.

Some, clearly including the Yankees (cough Hal), have no problem overlooking Chapman’s prior behavior. I suppose it’s one’s prerogative to gloss over the situation, but even for those who are willing to, there are baseball reasons to not like this deal.

First and foremost, I can admit that Chapman is absolutely an upgrade to the bullpen for 2017. After Betances and Tyler Clippard, the rest of the relief picture is murky. With Chapman in tow, Betances and Clippard will work in the seventh and eighth innings, leaving fewer high leverage innings for inferior relievers to have opportunities in. Ultimately, Steamer’s +2.5 fWAR projection for Chapman should be a full two-to-three win upgrade over the replacement level relievers (i.e. Nick Goody, Chasen Shreve) that will have a reduced workload. That all sounds great, right? Not so fast.

In a vacuum, adding two or three wins is a pretty good deal at a $17.2M salary next year. However, the needle still hasn’t moved significantly for the Yankees, who are still looking at something like 83 wins next year. The team has been between 84 and 87 wins over the last four years, and this team not only projects to be in line with that, but doesn’t feel any better than those recent squads. It’s possible that the Yankees sneak into a Wild Card spot in 2017, but that’s no certainty. And yes, we’ve seen the advantage of a deep bullpen in the postseason in recent years. But without other upgrades, it’s not easy to picture the Yankees reaching October in the first year or Chapman’s deal. And based on Cashman’s comments, there aren’t any other significant changes coming. Continue reading

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Holliday is a smart signing for the Yankees

The Yankees’ offseason to-do list is now one task shorter after the team reportedly signed Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13M deal yesterday. The longtime left fielder for the Rockies, Athletics (not so long), and Cardinals will join the Yankees to become the club’s primary designated hitter. He could see time in the field at first base and the outfield, but the rigors of everyday play in the field for the soon-to-be 37 year-old should be no more. Defense isn’t what the Yankees need from him, anyway. The team needs him to hit the snot out of the ball in 2017, and given his track record and outlook, he is more than capable of doing so.

Holliday is a shrewd addition in a free agent class chock-full of players of his ilk. He was’t the most obvious candidate for the Yankees, with a Carlos Beltran reunion seeming inevitable and the rumors regarding Edwin Encarnacion. Yet, Holliday makes the most sense compared to not only Beltran and Encarnacion, but the remaining available hitters of that mold.

PlayerAgePlate AppearanceswRC+WAR
Matt Holliday375281211.8
Carlos Beltran405981070.7
Edwin Encarnacion346401252.3
Mark Trumbo315871091.1
Jose Bautista366181282.9
Mike Napoli355561030.9
Brandon Moss334421020.4
Steve Pearce344141121.4
Steamer 2017 Projections via Fangraphs. Player age is his end of 2017 season age.

Steamer, available on Fangraphs, projects Holliday to have the third-best wRC+ of free agents that, entering the offseason, were best fit for the Yankees’ void at DH. Only Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have better outlooks, but neither of those players could be had on a one-year deal. As mentioned, the Yankees were linked to the former, but there wasn’t much indication of any interest in Joey Bats. That makes sense. Though Bautista would have been a fine DH, he doesn’t offer experience at first base like the rest of the group. Again, though, Bautista is going to command a multi-year deal, which the Yankees would have presumedly passed on. Continue reading

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Rule 5 Options for the Yankees

The Yankees added a slew of prospects to their 40-man roster this winter in anticipation of this year’s Rule 5 draft. As a result, the Yankees’ 40-man is currently maxed out, which doesn’t bode well for the Bombers participating in this year’s Rule 5. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult for them to make room, as there’s still plenty of DFA-worthy riffraff on the roster. But there isn’t nearly as much riffraff as there was a week ago, and the Yankees will need some of those spots if they intend to sign any free agents. If I had to guess, the Yankees will probably sit this one out, just as they have every year since 2011. But if the Yankees do decide to make a pick, there are plenty of interesting guys available according to my KATOH projections.

Pitching Help

The Yankees’ 40-man roster is crowded with pitchers, but their cohort of lefty relievers is rather weak. None of Chasen Shreve, Tommy Layne, Richard Bleier, Jacob Lindgren or Dietrich Enns qualify as established big leaguers. And frankly, if any one of those guys were DFA’d this winter, I would hardly bat an eye. There are some promising righties available — Mike Hauschild, Nabil Crismatt and Armando Rivero, to name a few — but if the Yankees take a pitcher, it will most likely be a lefty. Here are a few available lefties who are probably better than Tommy Layne, and might be worthy of a roster spot. Continue reading

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2016 In Review: Chase Headley

Preseason Expectations

After a mediocre 2015, any hope for Chase Headley to rediscover his incredible 2012 form was quashed. That 31 homer, 145 wRC+, and +7.5 fWAR season in San Diego simply was an unattainable aspiration for the third baseman in the Bronx, who truly is much closer to league average than stardom. Being average isn’t bad! That’s essentially what any rational person anticipated from Headley in 2016.

Expecting Headley to be an average player meant a decent but unspectacular offensive output buoyed by plus defense. The former was plausible, while the latter became somewhat concerning after a career high 23 errors in 2015. His fielding woes were perplexing, particularly because of his reputation as a defensive wizard at the hot corner. Nonetheless, there was a good amount of work put into restoring his defensive strength in preparation for 2016, leaving room for optimism on that side of the field.

ZiPS had no qualms about Headley entering the season, and projected an above average all-around performance. Plus defense and a 102 OPS+ in 141 games meant a +2.7 win projection per Dan Szymborski’s system, a forecast the Yankees certainly would have signed up for back in March.

What happened

Nobody could have surmised a worse start to a season than the one Headley had. He hit so poorly that it was as if the Yankees were purposely including a pitcher in the lineup. If someone other than Ronald Torreyes was the next best option at the hot corner, he might not have had as long of a leash as Joe Girardi offered. Continue reading

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Cleaning up the 40-man roster: Part II

Once the World Series ends, either tonight or tomorrow, the offseason begins the following morning. Within the first five days after the last out, eligible players become free agents and the disabled list is eliminated, meaning significant changes in many teams 40-man roster composition. There are other key deadlines this winter that will force the front office to make further changes to the 40-man roster, as I highlighted last week.

Today, I take a look at some players who are in jeopardy of losing their spot on the roster, starting with the most likely to go and ending with least likely to go (in my amateur opinion). This list includes players that I believe the front office will considering removing from the 40-man roster in order to make way for new talent. Without further ado:

1. Nathan Eovaldi: This isn’t a matter of if, but rather, when Eovaldi will be taken off the 40-man roster. There’s no reason to hold a 40-man spot for Eovaldi in 2017 because (a) he’s going to miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery, (b) his forecasted $7.5M salary would be money flushed down the drain, and (c) he’s a free agent after next year. Could he be back on an alternate arrangement off the 40-man? Sure. But there isn’t a good reason to use a valuable spot on him right now. Continue reading

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Precedents for a 2016 Cubs comeback: The 1952 and 1958 Yankees

Trailing three games to one in a best of seven series is usually a death knell. The Cubs were in that very situation entering Sunday, but managed to stave off elimination with a 3-2 victory over the Indians. To break the franchise’s more than a century long championship drought, the club will have to win games six and seven on the road in Cleveland. It’s not an impossible task, but certainly still a lot to ask at this juncture.

Two Yankees teams have accomplished the feat of winning games six and seven on the road. The 1952 Bombers did so against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1958, the Yankees did the same against the Milwaukee Braves. That ’58 club not only won games six and seven on the road, but was also on the brink of elimination in game five, just like the Cubs were last night. Let’s take a more detailed look back at how those two famous Yankee clubs overcame unlikely odds, just like the Cubs hope to by the end of Wednesday’s potential game seven.

1952 World Series

The Yankees and Dodgers alternated victories in the first five affairs, leaving Brooklyn up 3-2 and with an opportunity to finish off their crosstown rivals at home. The Dodgers were poised for their first title in franchise history and to obtain sweet revenge after World Series losses to the Yankees in 1941, 1947, and 1949.

Game Six (Yankees win 3-2, full broadcast on YouTube):

Ebbets Field was the host of a pitchers duel between Yankees hurler Vic Raschi and adversary Billy Loes. Neither side broke through for a run until the bottom of the sixth, when Duke Snider launched a solo home run to right. That left the Dodgers nine outs away from the organization’s elusive first title. Continue reading

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2016 In Review: Jacoby Ellsbury

Preseason expectations

After a poor showing in 2015, expectations were understandably low for Jacoby Ellsbury in 2016. He had just posted the worst batting line of his career (83 wRC+, not counting his injured 2010) and was benched in the Wild Card game. It was difficult not to be down on the Yankees’ $153M center fielder, knowing that 2016 was only the third year of his seven year deal.

In February, I argued that Ellsbury was a much better player than he had shown in 2015. My case was built on Ellsbury’s performance in periods of time when we could assume he was healthy, such as the vast majority of 2014 and the very beginning of 2015. If you recall, Ellsbury started 2015 on a tear, with a 124 wRC+ until he succumbed to an injury in late May. My sentiment was optimistic, sure, but I felt that it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Ellsbury play well in 2016 because of the flashes he had shown in his first two years in pinstripes.

Alas, ZiPS didn’t share my cautious optimism. It projected Ellsbury for +2.2 WAR, 26 stolen bases, and a .269/.324/.383 batting line (97 OPS+) in 121 games.

What Happened

Statistically, nothing about Ellsbury’s 2016 season jumps off the page. He stayed healthy, playing in 148 games, but my theory that a healthy Ellsbury would result in better output didn’t hold water. On a rate basis, the 33 year-old fell short of ZiPS’ expectations. He hit .263/.330/.373 (88 OPS+) and accumulated +2.0 fWAR/+2.8 rWAR, depending on your preference. He stole only 20 bases as well, down from the past two years and six below his ZiPS forecast. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Yankee Stadium’s changes for 2017

“Enhancements” are coming to Yankee Stadium. That’s how the Yankees termed the upcoming changes to the ballpark that will be in place for the 2017 season.

“We have listened to our fans and ticketholders and their top requests were for more family-friendly and socially-oriented spaces at Yankee Stadium,” said Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner. “Yankees fans will now have many more dedicated areas for spending time with Guests who have tickets in other sections of the Stadium, allowing all Guests to be able to enjoy the game from multiple vantage points while having unique food and drink options available to them. We are also especially excited to provide an engaging children’s play area for families to utilize prior to and throughout the game. Having these types of spaces in Yankee Stadium is fundamental to the expectations of our fans, and we look forward to making them a huge part of the Yankee Stadium experience in 2017 and beyond.”

Below are my thoughts on the new features added, along with commentary on parts of the stadium that I still lament. Continue reading

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2016 In Review: Starlin Castro

Preseason Expectations

The Yankees acquired Starlin Castro with the idea of the 26 year-old becoming the long-term solution at second base, an opening created because of the departure of Robinson Cano after 2013. Before joining the Yankees, the former Cubs shortstop finished his career in Chicago with his second down season in the past three. Nonetheless, the Yankees undoubtedly felt they were acquiring a talented infielder who had not only showed great promise in years prior, but also in the second half of 2015.

Before the season began, it was difficult to peg precise expectations for Castro’s first year in the Bronx. Would he play as poorly he did in 2013 and most of 2015? Or could be a above average lineup contributor and +3 fWAR player he had been in 2011, 2012, and 2014? The potential was tantalizing despite the volatility of likely outcomes. Continue reading

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