Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The One About Jon Lester

The Dodgers, Giants and Yankees toyed around for a little while but we all knew the Jon Lester bidding would be between the Red Sox and the Cubs. In the end, the Cubs won out with a six-year $155 million deal. 

Lester floundered a bit in 2012, at least ERA wise, and had a nice bounce back in 2013 before conveniently posting his career year this season, just in time for his free agency. That's not to say that Lester isn't the real deal because he is and he just earned himself a boatload of cash. Even in Lester's down year he put up 3.2 WAR, which in today's baseball economy could be a $20 million pitcher. That's the low end of a healthy Lester, which is certainly no guarantee for any pitcher but it shows you how consistently solid Lester has been in his career.

Max Scherzer puts up gaudier strikeout numbers and is expected to make more money than Lester during but production wise they are very similar. Considering that Scherzer is looking for $200 million, Lester's contract in comparison might end up a bit of a bargain.

There were rumors during the season that the Sox offered Lester a four-year $70 million extension. Lester appropriately declined and ended up being shipped to Oakland for a year of Yoenis Cespedes. I'm not entirely sure what was offered and what was said but since we now know that Lester will be making more than double the initial Red Sox amount, that's the definition of a low-ball offer. It's hard to say it had an affect on the current negotiations as Lester was still considering Boston, but chances are the Red Sox could have had Lester at whatever price they offered this time, if they only offered it in the summer.

Either way, Lester is now a Cub and the Cubs are now ready to compete for the playoffs, division titles and the World Series, maybe even as early as 2015. Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta make a very formidable front end of the rotation and if Theo has taught us anything it's that he's very capable at filling out the rotation with solid pieces. Behind the big two are Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks with Edwin Jackson and his contract lingering somewhere. 

The previous talk about the Cubs was always about their young hitters and the "need" to swap a young bat for a pitcher. Well, I'm not sold that ever was the case, and it certainly isn't now. The Cubs have three solid starting pitchers and Theo isn't going to trade a young bat to fill out a rotation in the National League as he can do that on the scrap heap in his sleep. In fact, if the Cubs have any holes it's in the field. Third base and left field are currently being filled by Luis Valbuena and Chris Coghlan/Junior Lake but there is someone named Kris Bryant that can and will fill in one of those slots before the summer. The Cubs lineup isn't particularly good right now but given the ages of their core, it should only improve. 

Smarter people than me, like Dave Cameron can tell you more specifically why the Cubs are contenders now, so I'll just lead you there if you don't believe me.

For baseball fans this is exciting because Lester is the first truly compelling domino to fall this offseason. Now we get to watch the Hot Stove heat up with Max Scherzer and trade rumors for those teams who missed out on Lester.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Didi Trade

The Trade: As you know, the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers agreed to a three-way trade. The Yankees are sending Shane Greene to Detroit and receiving shortstop Didi Gregorius. The Diamondbacks will receive Robbie Ray from Detroit along with a young SS Domingo Leyba. 

Shane Greene was never expected to do what he did in 15 starts last year at the major league level, but the fact is he did it and he can be counted on to be a solid fifth starter for the Tigers. Greene doesn't have excellent control (3.32 BB/9) but misses bats at a an above average clip (9.9% SwStr% and 23.4% K%). Even with some regression he should be a nice option for the Tigers rotation and a definite upgrade over Robbie Ray for 2015. 

Ray is still 23 with some projection left and Leyba, as a 19 year old middle infielder with solid results thus far in the minors certainly has a lot of potential. Considering the Dbacks decided on Chris Owings as the every day shortstop, this isn't a bad move for the Dbacks, trading an area with depth. 

However, the best player in this deal is likely Didi Gregorius and this should be considered a win for the Yankees. Although Gregorius has been very mediocre at the plate (84 wRC+) he's considered a plus defender and has succeeded in that area so far at the major league level. Also, while a 84 wRC+ is below average across all hitters, it's average for the position and at 25 years by Opening Day, Gregorius still has some upside with the bat. Steamer projects Gregorius at 1.2 WAR in 392 PAs, so across a full season the Yankees are looking at a two win player with some additional upside.

We all like to anoint winners and losers immediately with trades but this one looks pretty even all around. The Tigers upgrade their rotation on a team trying to win a title, the Yankees acquired their current and future SS at a reasonable cost and the Dbacks traded a position of strength for some guys with potential. Not bad.

This trade only happened in the morning but it hasn't taken long for people to talk about the struggles of someone replacing Derek Jeter. While it's an interesting thought, I don't actually think Didi is going to struggle with being the guy after Jeter. This simply wasn't a large enough move to merit high expectations. If the Yankees sold the farm for Tulowitzki, then I could see where his play would be under immense scrutiny. Gregorius is simply a nice, young player at a premier position and given the baseline (or lackthereof) that Jeter set last season, Didi shouldn't have any issues clearing it. But maybe I'm just the idiot that expects Yankee fans to be reasonable. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Matt Williams, Bad Bullpen Manager

Matt Williams, like many other managers, doesn't always use his bullpen efficiently, especially in close games in the playoffs with his season on the line. But, as Dave Cameron delightfully laid out in Just A Bit Outside, he was pretty terrible last night

It's a story we have all seen too many times before. I won't lay out all the details because Cameron does that better than I can but the general gist is the that back of the Nationals bullpen lost the game, while their best relievers watched. 

However, I do want to point out Cameron's specific take down of this logic in baseball and how it would never play in other sports:
There is no parallel to this in other sports. NFL teams that trail by a touchdown don't put in their backup linebackers until their offense takes the lead again. NBA teams don't use their worst bench players in the first half, saving their good reserves for the end of the game, as long as they're winning when the fourth quarter rolls around. Baseball is the only sport where it's perfectly acceptable to lose a game because the worst players on your roster didn't create a lead for your best players to protect. Not using your best relievers in a tie game, or even down a single run -- while employing them to "save" a game where you only need to get three outs before you give up three runs -- just doesn't make sense.
What's funny is that oftentimes you will hear arguments for keeping in an ace starting pitcher because you want to go down with your best. Now, I would disagree with that statement as it's proven that even the best pitchers facing a lineup for the fourth time are less successful than regular old middle relievers, but the general idea makes some sense, even if it's factually wrong. In this same NLDS series, Matt Williams took out Jordan Zimmermann who was throwing a fantastic game for Drew Storen who ended up blowing the lead. Drew Storen for his one inning is a better pitcher than Zimmerman in the ninth, but I can at least appreciate the idea of someone sticking with their guy. Grady Little clearly should have taken out Pedro, but you can somewhat understand him wanting to sink or swim with his guy, unfortunately/unsurprisingly he sank.

By that same logic, once a starting pitcher is out, you would think managers would generally want to go down with their best of the pen. Right? But no, they go down swinging with the soft under belly of their relief, hoping and wishing for a three run lead to secure.

Old habits die hard. Kill the save.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Quick NL Wild Card Game Preview

If we learned anything from last night it's that in a one game playoff, no team should leave in their starting pitcher for too long.

With the best relief in the league, the Royals allowed James Shields to start the sixth inning and he inevitably struggled. 

With a four run lead ethe A's allowed Jon Lester to start the eighth inning and he inevitably struggled.

Madison Bumgarner is a great pitcher, but if it's the sixth inning or later, the Giants are better off going with one of their relievers than forcing Bumgarner to face someone for a fourth time.

Edinson Volquez has a great ERA, isn't quite the same pitcher as Bumgarner, but he too shouldn't be allowed to pitch many innings tonight. If I was the Pirates, I would ask for Volquez to get through the Giants lineup twice, and not get greedy for anything more.

The Giants have the pitching edge with Madison Bumgarner, but if Bruce Bochy overuses him, that advantage could become a glaring weakness as we saw with Jon Lester and his 111 pitches. 

Assuming the Pirates don't get too greedy with Volquez and that the Giants use Bumgarner reasonably, this game could come down to the lineups, of which the Pirates have a sizable advantage. While the Giants 101 wRC+ as a team ranks third in the AL it is behind the Pirates 108 wRC+ which ranked second behind the Dodgers (110). However, against lefties the Pirates only had a 97 wRC+ as a team compared to a 99 wRC+ for the Giants against righties. 

That might be too broad analysis as the Pirates are unlikely to start too many left handed hitters tonight. Travis Snider might be the only one. Madison Bumgarner is still a fantastic pitcher, one of the best in the league, but he won't be feasting on Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Gregory Polanco and the other Pirates that can't hit a lick against south paws. The Giants meanwhile could throw a slew of left handed hitters to battle Edinson Volquez, but Gregor Blanco and Travis Ishikawa don't really inspire fear. 

Checking the marquee this seems like an easy victory for the Giants, but it's not as simple as Bumgarner for Volquez. The Pirates have a smart front office with the manager that listens. I'm thinking they go to the pen early, only asking Volquez to throw 3-4 innings which he can do and I think that their lineup gives them a slight edge. 

Prediction: Pirates, 5-4 (because last night's prediction was so close...)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Brian Cashman to Stay in NY

According to Buster Olney, Brian Cashman will be staying in New York as the GM of the Yankees.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

Looking at the very recent history during the past offseason, Cashman (*or the Yankees generally, as it's tough to know exactly who decided what move) has failed pretty miserably.

Carlos Beltran: 3 years/$45 Million and -0.5 WAR
Brian McCann: 5 years/$85 Million and 2.3 WAR
Jacoby Ellsbury: 7 years/$153 Million and 3.6 WAR
Masahiro Tanaka: 7 years/$155 Million and 3.2 WAR

In total for 2014 this came to $75 million for 8.6 WAR. Even if you assume a win is roughly $7 million, that's about $15 million the Yankees wasted, just on this year. Now, those are long term contracts and there is time for the players to theoretically earn their money but the youngest hitter among them is 31 years old and the starting pitcher has a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) and could require Tommy John surgery in the immediate or not too distant future. So, the likelihood that all of these players suddenly earn their keep, isn't necessarily a smart bet. There is also a chance that a $15m loss of value could be the best the Yankees get from their 2014 buying spree.

On the other hand, Cashman had a terrific trading deadline this season where he really used the Yankees financial strength to acquire good talent without overspending $9m per win as he did in the offseason . Dave Cameron laid out the case for Cashman's great deadline acquisitions in his "The Yankees Successful Summer of Reclamations" so I will just lead you there rather than re-has all the details. The simple point is that guys like Chase Headley, Martin Prado, Brendan McCarthy and co. were able to be productive players for the Yankees this summer, unlike the ghost of Carlos Beltran.

That's just talking about the last 12 months and Cashman has been the GM since 1998. There is a lot to consider when analyzing Cashman's track record, both good and bad. Also, the Yankees operating system might be slightly different than some other teams. Yes, they have deeper pockets than most, if not all, but Brian Cashman doesn't have as much say as some of the other teams' GMs do. It's certainly helpful when ownership is willing to spend money, but it's also problematic when there is a power struggle between the GM and people telling the old boss what to do down in Tampa. That was apparently (somewhat) aired out a few years, with Cashman given more power but let's just say Billy Bean has more say than Mr. Cashman. But yet again, Carlos Beltran three years? 

A more thorough analysis of Cashman's record is necessary, especially being able to decipher, if possible, what was a Cashman move and what what wasn't. It's well known that the Yankees have struggled to develop young talent, but what is a systematic issue and what is just bad luck? Is someone like Jesus Montero a point for Cashman since he was a top five prospect, or is it a point against as his MLB track record has been piss poor. When people point to Cano as being the last solid position player the Yankees developed, can we point to Austin Jackson or Brett Gardner? Are Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain evidence as to Cashman's inability to produce front line pitching or just bad luck because, well that's pitching. 

The Yankees have been a contender throughout Cashman's tenure but they also enter 2015 with an injured C.C. Sabathia owed at least $48m, they owe Mark Teixeira $45m to be an average player, they owe all the salaries mentioned previously and we still haven't addressed the elephant in the room - Alex Rodriguez who plans on playing and is still owed $61m not accounting for any pay bonuses he could receive for certain HR milestones. I think we all know that resigning A-Rod to a $275m deal wasn't Cashman's idea, but he's still largely responsible for the situation the Yankees find themselves in, and unfortunately I'm still not sure if it's a good or bad idea to keep him on to get through it. 

A's v. Royals

It's been a while since I've posted here. Actually, I haven't even posted an article, or blog post if you will, this entire season. But, the postseason is as good a time as any, so aw here it goes!

At 8:07 PM, and most likely at least a few minutes after, the Royals and A's will face off in the American League wild card play-in game. The most thrilling playoff games are undoubtedly the game sevens (or I suppose the game fives in the 'first' round in the playoffs or if you can remember, the first round in the old NBA playoff format) and as a one-game playoff we're essentially getting an immediate game seven. This should be fun.

It would be fun if the matchups weren't exciting but they most certainly are, and it starts with the guys on the mound. The A's and Royals are fortunate enough to throw their best starters on the mound for the biggest game of their season. The A's are sending out their mid-season ace acquisition, Jon Lester while the Royals have their 2013 offseason acquisition James Shields on the bump. 

An ace is a funny and elusive title with pretty arbitrary definitions. Is the ace simply the best starter on a team meaning there are 30 and only 30 aces at any  given time? Is an ace one of the top 20 starters in the league? Is an ace someone that simply is consistent and provides innings for his team throughout the season, saving the bullpen for the rest of the team? It's certainly arbitrary but by any definition you would like to choose, Jon Lester and James Shields are very good starting pitchers and most likely can be defined as aces. 

On Boston and Oakland this year, Lester has thrown 219.2 innings this year, pitching to a phenomenal 2.46 ERA. ERA, as we all know, can be a misleading statistic, but Lester's peripheral numbers back it up with a 2.80 FIP, 3.10 xFIP and 3.09 SIERA. Overall, according to Fangraphs, he's been worth 6.1 WAR. Shields, while not as good as Lester, has been great himself pitching to a  3.21/3.59/3.56 ERA/FIP/xFIP line while being worth 3.7 WAR in 227 innings pitched.

If you care about the sort of thing, both players could be defined as "clutch." James Shields has earned the nickname "Big Game James" and won a World Series game in 2008, but he also has a disappointing 4.98 ERA in 34.1 postseason innings. Meanwhile Jon Lester has a 2.11 ERA in 76.2 postseason innings, while also winning 4 games on the Red Sox run to the World Series last year. Whether or not the numbers back up the narrative and whether or not you believe such a thing, neither player will be backing away from the moment. 

I would easily say that the A's have the starting pitching advantage here, but in a one-game playoff with a fully rested bullpen, the starting pitcher doesn't have as much of impact or at least shouldn't have as much as an impact if the manager was smart. The Royals probably have the best bullpen in the AL, leading the league in WAR (5.9). The bottom of their bullpen may not be elite but their main guys have been absolutely fantastic all season. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera setting up Greg Holland is probably the best trio of relievers on any team in baseball. Kelvin Herrera throws over 98 mph consistently and had a 1.41 ERA in 70 IP. Wade Davis had a 1.00 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 72 innings pitched and Greg Holland simply saved 46 of 48 games while striking out over 37% of the batters he faced. 

James Shields' biggest strength might be his ability to log tons of above average innings for whichever team he is on but in this one game, the Royals don't need him for another 7+, just four good innings would be enough. Jon Lester is the better pitcher but James Shields + that bullpen is good

Sean Doolittle is as good a closer as they come, but the Athletics bullpen although certainly not a weakness, isn't in the same class as Kansas City. They have a lower ERA (2.90 compared to 3.30 for KC) but that could also be a part of the ballpark and defense. Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero setting up Doolittle is quite delicious, don't get me wrong, but Herrera/Davis/Holland could go down as the new Nasty Boys, if the Royals were to make a run here. 

Of course, there will be players hitting the baseball, and that's where the Athletics have the edge. It's not a major advantage, but the A's as a team had a 101 wRC+ this season, compared to 94 wRC+ for the Royals. A team's total stats for a season against righties and lefties isn't too indicative of what to expect in one game but the A's hold the edge with the bat regardless. Against lefties (Jon Lester), the Royals had a 97 wRC+ and against righties (James Shields) the A's had a 102 wRC+. It's not a large advantage, but the Athletics undoubtedly hit the ball better than the Royals. 

The Royals have great base running but very little power and on base ability. Their team .263 batting average was second in the American League but their .314 OBP ranked 10th and their .376 SLG ranked only 11th. The Royals get on base via the base hit, but not necessarily the double. They do get to second on the steal however, with the most stolen bases (153) in the AL by a 30 steal margin. The Royals hitting isn't the optimal way to score runs but it 'worked' for them this season. However, their singles approach may not find as many holes against the A's solid defense. According to UZR, the Royals actually had the best team defense in the AL this year and the A's fifth, but the A's aren't as reliant on batting average and singles to generate their offense. 

Assuming the Royals don't allow Shields pitch for more than four (or at most five) innings, they have the overall pitching advantage. However, even with that edge, they might struggle to line up enough hits against Jon Lester and the A's solid bevy of relievers. The A's are no longer the station to station and wait for a dinger team that people pegged them as during the original Money Ball era, but with Adam Dunn, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss they can still throw three power hitting lefties at James Shields and the right-handed power relievers of the Royals. 

We might hear a few points about how the A's limped into the playoffs and have struggled for the last third of the season, while the Royals are flying high in their first appearance since 1985, but I personally wouldn't put much weight into that line of thinking. Including their second half slide, the A's still scored 157 more runs than their opponents, the highest total in the AL while the Royals' +27 ranked only seventh. The Royals are the feel good story but the A's are the better team.  As we know, it's only a one-game series so one swing of the bat could be everything but if I had to pick, I would bet that one swing comes from one of the A's power bats over a string of singles for the Royals.

Prediction: Oakland, 3-2. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Yankees Roundtable!

It has been over a year since we last checked in with fellow Yankee/baseball fans Jeff and Steve about the state of the Yankees. But, after such an active offseason for the pinstripes the time was ripe for another Yankees Roundtable. 

Our email conversation started with a generic question from me and the three of us just took it from there. As usual, it was fun for the three of us and I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, in all of its unedited glory. 

Question: The Yankees have obviously had a busy offseason (goodbye Robbie and hello Ellsbury, Beltran and Tanaka) and it looks like it's finally starting to slow down. With that said are you a fan of the big moves that were made? 

Steve: I'm upset that Cano is gone, and I'm gonna continue to be upset about it all year. Any time you lose an elite guy--one who hits like a beast and plays middle infield--it hurts and I'm sure it'll be the thing to point to all year whenever the Yanks might hit a snag.

That said, it set some things in motion that I'm psyched about. Major contracts for the best guys on the market. I'm especially fond of the McCann and Tanaka signings. Maybe instead of posting for and nabbing Tanakdog they spend $50M on Garza or 60 for Ubaldo and use the rest for S. Drew and Balfour. Honestly, that's probably a more reasonable way to spend the money. But it seems the floor on Tanaka is ~3.75 ERA, 8 K/9 in as many innings as the can squeeze, and the upside is titillating.
My favorite part of the offseason is that the Yanks blew away the bullshit $189M figure. Slow-play decoy or whatever that was, it's clearly a non-factor now and the big bad Yanks just bankrobbed free agency. I will never feel bad about the Yankees spending money. They make the most, spend the most.

Jeff: Great response Steve, and thanks Ben and Steve for including me in this!

To start, I think the Yankees and their fans are in for a real surprise heading into their first season without Mariano Rivera.  The Yankees haven't had to question the 9th inning since Mariano Rivera took over as closer in 1997.  In the first season without Mo to cover the 9th, we as fans have to ask ourselves:  is David Robertson closer material?  The some statistics on their surface look promising; highest WHIP in last 3 years of 1.17 and a career 11.79 K/9 IP. However, any fan who has watched Robertson in the 9th inning when a save situation is at hand knows he isn't Mariano Rivera; he even has 2-3 blown saves per season when he has never been a genuine closer. If Robertson can't handle the 9th, it's going to be a long season. Similarly, do Yankees fans feel confident in the bullpen entering the season?  What does Matt Thornton have to offer?  Will Shawn Kelley regress?  I personally am very excited to see what Preston Clairborne has to offer in his sophomore campaign in the pen and what Dellin Betances will show with the new opportunity as a one inning option.

I have to agree with Steve that I am upset to see Cano go.  However, I am glad the Yankees didn't enter into an Albert Pujols-like 10 year contract with him either.  Still, without Cano at 2B, the infield looks extremely thin entering 2014.  It would be really nice to see the Yankees not have to rely on Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts as
everyday players.  

As far as the FA signings, I am very excited to see what Tanaka has to offer (especially since I think if the Yankees hadn't signed Tanaka that money would be going towards the overrated Ubaldo Jimenez). McCann is an intriguing signing.  I don't see him catching for too many years though, especially if Gary Sanchez comes knocking on the door in a year or two.  The FA signing I'm most upset about, however, is Jacoby Ellsbury.  Seven years and $153 million for someone whose top asset is speed.  Most alarming is that much money for a leadoff
hitter with a career .350 OBP.  I would have preferred to see the money go towards Shin Soo Choo.  Choo turned down a seven year, $140 million offer.  Choo is only one year older than Ellsbury but has a career .389 OBP (including a .423 OBP last year for Cincy).  Is a leadoff hitter's primary purpose not to get on base?  Choo also has the greater power stroke.  Finally, I do enjoy the Beltran signing, despite his age.  Beltran, as long as he stays healthy, should be a steady middle of the lineup source of RBI and has always produced in the playoffs.

My overall impression of the offseason is that it's more of the same. However, more of the same is the reason the Yankees found themselves old/crippled and missing the playoffs last season.  It's the tail end of the core four from the late 90's and it's time the Yankees focus on improving the farm system.  With the best draft pick entering this season since the 90's all the Yankees proceeded to do was sign multiple Type A free agents and lose their top draft picks.  The Yankees need to learn a lesson from World Series Champion Cardinals and focus on rebuilding the farm system.  While I agree with Steve that it's nice to see the Yankees invest so much money into the team, signing 30+ year old FA's who are at the tail end of their prime only prevents the Yankees from developing players who will be a foundation of the organization for years to come.

Biggest questions entering the season:
1.  What will the bullpen have to offer?
2.  Will CC be the ace the Yankees need?  What does Tanaka have to
offer?  What does Pineda have to offer?
3.  Do Jeter and Teix each have 140+ games in them for this season?
Will Kelly Johnson and/or Brian Roberts be productive?

2014 will be an interesting one.  Let's Go Yankees!!

Ben: Well Jeff, that's a lot to process. Give me a minute to read that. OK, let's discuss...

It looks like we are all in agreement that losing Robbie hurts. One of the knocks on the Yankees is that they can't seem to develop players from within, as you pointed out Jeff. Since the core four, Robbie is really the only guy that has produced at a star level. His loss will hurt on the field for the Yankees and off the field for their precious fans.

I'm also happy the Yankees said goodbye to the $189 million limit and went into FU mode spending hundreds of millions of dollars, quite literally. However, I fear their spending might be sub-optimal.  Jeff, you make some great points regarding Ellsbury. There are a lot of question marks there for a $153 million man. However, I slightly disagree with Choo being a better alternative. Although Ellsbury relies on his speed, players like him actually tend to age well and he plays a more premier position whereas Choo is relegated to the corners. However part II, the Yankees already have a B-Grade Ellsbury in Gardner. 

I'm a fan of the McCann signing, it rights a wrong in letting Russ leave last year. I am also excited by Tanaka but I think I would prefer what Steve mentioned in spreading the wealth around a little more evenly. Assuming their offseason is done, the Yankees still have some alarming holes considering all the money that was spent. 

With all of that said, do you guys think the Yankees offseason is done? Will they get another reliever? It's hard to imagine the Yankees entering the season with their current infield. Any potential trade targets you see, either around the corner or during the season?

Steve: The remaining market on free agent relief pitchers is paper thin. Dotel, K-Rod, Frank Frank, Marmol, Farnsworth...yuck. I kinda like the idea of giving a one-year deal to Oliver Perez, who had something of a renaissance last year in Seattle. But the Yankees already have their lefty in Matt Thornton.

Looking at the deals given out recently to Jason Hammel and Scott Baker, one-year deals for less than 10 mill, why not grab someone like Paul Maholm for cheap. Keep David Phelps in the swingman role, strengthening the bullpen a bit while adding an insurance starter. Barry Zito is out there too, just sayin.
Honestly, the options look limited at this point. Chase Headley's name has been thrown around, which would be a great fit if not a major upgrade. Brett Gardner will be the trade chip until he's gone. And the Yanks have a few pieces close to the bigs that might entice. Would love to see them make an infield upgrade, but it's hard to see where it can be done. Guys?

Ben: The relievers that available are pretty middling. But you might be on to something by strengthening the rotation a tad. Paul Maholm has a lot of faults, soft tossing fly ball lefties in Yankee Stadium aren't the greatest, but it would give the Yankees a few extra bullets for their 5th starter. 

But, if they're going to look at other pitcher options, why not think bigger at a guy like Ubaldo Jiminez? I'm less interested in Bronson Arroyo (for obvious reasons) and Ervin Santana (fly-ball prone) but if the Yankees are going to open up the bank why stop at just over the $189 and not go all in with Ubaldo? Ubaldo has been very up and down in his career and here is certainly some worry about his 2nd half last year being more of a blip than a trend but he's also rumored to be going to Toronto. Snagging a competitors target while solidifying the rotation sounds like a very Yankees-esque move to finish a very Yankees-esque offseason. 

I would run for the woods if I was a team with a smaller budget or a team that would be relying on Ubaldo to duplicate his 2014 but the Yankees just need a solid 4th or 5th starter and Ubaldo would be one of the league's best in that role. David Phelps is a capable and intriguing-ish quasi-innings eater (high praise, right?) and Michael Pineda is still lingering around for sure but I'd prefer having them as backup plans which inevitably come to fruition when talking about starting pitchers staying healthy. 

As far as the IF is concerned, Headley is a name that keeps coming up. I imagine the Yankees have an eye on him but are worried about his 2013 season. Maybe they're waiting to see if he can turn it around this season before engaging in some trade talks, even if that will make his price higher.  

None of the Yankees current prospects are too good to give up, and although we've talked about how they need to improve their farm and get some young talent in there, the greatest value the Yankees prospects could give based on the current model is a trade. But the IF options look a little meager. Depending on what happens with the Cubs and Reds however, Jeff Samardzija and Homer Bailey start looking like some trade targets...

Jeff: Great responses all, I'm enjoying this!

As may have been implied from my first response I am very iffy about the bullpen going into this season; in particular I'm not very confident with Robertson as closer.  Would be very interesting if they can develop once stud SP prospect Betances into a closer (his numbers were very good in AAA once he was converted into a reliever I believe (writing this from my phone and can't look up)).  I would like the Oliver Perez signing (why does the bullpen have to be restricted to only one lefty reliever?) and was really hoping to see the Yanks sign Crain.  Fernando Rodney (I don't think he's signed yet?) might be intriguing too.  Like I said earlier, strength of bullpen really depends on second Yankees seasons of Shawn Kelley and Preston Clairborne.  

As far as the infield goes, also as I wrote previously, not feeling confident at all in having both Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts slated as starters.  Yankees options also become thinner if they are going to try and sign another infielder with Michael Young retiring (for the record, I would've preferred the Yankees signing Young over Youk last season).  They could always resign Mark Reynolds and have him split with Kelly Johnson?  Nothing very exciting out there and nothing exciting in the farm system.  With all of the excess outfielders and the terse infield depth I would have enjoyed seeing the Brett Gardner for Brandon Phillips swap happen.  

As far as the SP go, I am hoping Pineda fits in as the 4/5 the Yankees need right now.  I don't think the Yankees should go out and sign Ubaldo (as I think he is overrated) or Ervin Santana (as Ben pointed out very fly ball prone).  What I would like to see is the Yanks make a move for Justin Masterson out of Cleveland (either through FA or trade).  I think Masterson is a better version of Chien Ming Wang and his propensity for ground balls would work very well at Yankees Stadium.  He really took the step up in Cleveland last year and could be a solid #2 in the Yankees rotation for years to come.  His name excites me a lot more than Homer Bailey or Jeff Samardzija (Ben suggestions).  

One note that I didn't mention in my first response is my new appreciation for Joe Girardi.  Was not a huge fan of his as a manager prior to last season (even with the WS in 2009).  What he did with the team last season considering all of he injuries and age was brilliant, and I look forward to Girardi being manager for many years to come.

Steve: Good stuff, Jeff.

I'm not worried about Robertson at closer. Obviously you don't replace Mo (good call bringing that up). But D-Rob has been one of the best relievers in the game for the last few years and I don't see why he can't bring that into the ninth. It'll be the 7th, 8th to worry about now. Maybe they avoided the Rodney/Balfour types to give Robertson some confidence going into the ninth inning role, but that'll prove to be a mistake. Agree that Crain would have been a great get.

I'm not on board with acquiring Brandon Phillips' decline. I know the hole at 2B is huge, but Gardner is just a straight-up more valuable piece. I'd way rather see him used to net someone like Bailey. I agree that Masterson is a nice trade target, but I see Bailey as head and shoulders above him.

At this point, if the Yanks are gonna spend more money, it's gotta be for the infield, and Stephen Drew is the guy. Cashman said the "heavy lifting" is over, so maybe they really are done spending. If they do, it's gotta be for Drew. I'd be surprised if they spent more for Ubaldo/Arroyo.

Ben: Unfortunately Mark Reynolds signed with Milwaukee (as did Lyle Overbay) and similarly, Carlos Pena was given a minor league deal by the Angels. With Mark Teixeira's wrist supposed to hurt him at least for the first half of the season, it's unfortunate the Yankees let both of those guys go elsewhere. If Teixeira misses any time this season the Yankees are going to be in big, big trouble. Their options include another Overbay-esque type player or Soriano/Beltran with a first base mitt. #notgood.

I'm not worried about Robertson closing for this team but I am worried about their bullpen. As Jeff says, the Yankees have some intriguing options in Preston Claiborne and Dellin Betances but you would like more intrigue with the mop-up and have someone else to rely on in the later innings. I think the contract that the Rays gave Balfour would have been awesome in NY, even if the Yankees would have to spend a little bit more. I'm not necessarily a fan of giving up a draft pick to help the relief, but the Yankees need to do something to improve the pen. I don't believe they need a "proven closer" but they need good pitchers in the pen, and right now that's a debatable statement. 

I would love for the Yankees to sign Stephen Drew. I don't actually think he's all that great but the Yankees are relying on sticks and glue and the aura of Derek Jeter. As we mentioned, if they are going to break open the bank, then break it open. The draft pick is valuable and would be going to Boston which would kind of suck, but so would missing out on the post season again. 

As for Brandon Phillips, I think Gardner is a better player and I wouldn't make that kind of deal as is. I do like Bailey though, and depending on if/when the Reds realize they messed up this whole offseaon and want to reset, why not think big? A big deal acquiring Bailey and Phillips for Gardner and a couple of their prospects that disappointed in 2013 (Williams, Austin, Heathcott) could maybe get the job done although it's likely unrealistic as of now. 

While I would like the Yankees to do more heavy lifting, Cashman's statement is likely accurate as there isn't much lifting to be done really, outside of Stephen Drew, Ubaldo Jiminez and Ervin Santana. I refuse to even add Arroyo's name to that mix, as an announcement of him on the Yankees would make me nauseous. 

The Yankees course of action might be to push their luck and if it breaks (or when Brian Roberts inevitably gets hurt) to take a look at the midseason trade market. One thing is for sure, the Yankees are going to be on all year long.