Wednesday Night Open Thread

I don’t want to get too political, but earlier today President Obama announced the United States will seek to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, so I wrote about what could mean for baseball down the road over the CBS. You should read it. Hopefully one day it will be easier for Cuban players to come over to MLB, and I don’t say that because I want the Yankees to sign all of them (I do!), but because MLB is the best league in the world and this is where the best players should be.

Anyway, this is your open thread for the evening. The Devils and Nets are playing, plus there’s college basketball on somewhere. Please don’t talk about politics or anything like that. This isn’t the place for it. If you want to talk about the Cuba stuff, please keep it to baseball. Thanks in advance.

Eddy: Yankees sign infielder Cole Figueroa to minor league deal

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

The Yankees have signed infielder Cole Figueroa to a minor league contract, reports Matt Eddy. No word on whether he received an invitation to Spring Training but I assume that is the case. The Rays designated Figueroa for assignment in November and released him a few days later. They originally acquired him from the Padres in the Jason Bartlett trade way back in December 2010.

Figueroa, 27, made his MLB debut this past season and had a 74 wRC+ in only 49 plate appearances. He hit .282/.371/.389 (114 wRC+) with three homers and four steals in 71 Triple-A Games this year, his third season at the level. Figueroa is a career .285/.359/.378 (108 wRC+) hitter with eight homers and 17 steals in nearly 1,200 career Triple-A plate appearances now. He’s obviously not much of a power hitter or base-stealer.

Pretty much the only reasons Figueroa is interesting are his incredible strikeout and walk rates. He’s struck out only 81 times (6.8%) while drawing 119 walks (10.0%) during all the time in Triple-A. Figueroa has walked more than he’s struck out at every minor league stop since a 21-game stint in High-A back in 2009. His career rates in the minors are 11.8 BB% and 8.8 K%. That’s pretty incredible. Like Dean Anna but even more extreme.

Figueroa has spent most of his time at second and third bases but has also played some shortstop and a tiny little bit in the corner outfield. He’s the son of ex-big leaguer Bien Figueroa and has grown up around the game, which is why friend of RAB R.J. Anderson says Figueroa is really smart on the field. With Chase Headley re-signed, the best Figueroa can hope to do is beat out Jose Pirela for a bench job in Spring Training. Otherwise he’s just an extra body for Triple-A Scranton.

Reports: Yanks were among runners-up for Brett Anderson

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

According to Jeff Passan and Buster Olney, the Yankees were among the runners-up for left-hander Brett Anderson, who signed with the Dodgers earlier this week. The Braves, Royals, and Athletics were also after him. The Dodgers gave Anderson a one-year contract worth $10M with a bunch of incentives a few days ago.

As noted in our Scouting The Market post a few weeks ago, the Yankees tried to acquire Anderson several times in the past, so their interest in him as a free agent this winter is no surprise. They tried to get him from the Athletics last offseason and again from the Rockies at the trade deadline this past season. Anderson, who will turn 27 in February, was the youngest free agent on the market this winter.

I’d love to know what the Yankees were willing to offer Anderson — chances are we’ll never find out, of course — because that $10M deal seems a little crazy for a guy with his injury history. (Anderson has thrown only 206.1 innings since 2011.) Most contract estimates pegged him for a $7M salary on a one-year deal coming into the winter. I guess $10M isn’t all that crazy then. Reclamation projects don’t cost $1M or $2M anymore.

The Yankees re-signed Chris Capuano yesterday and I suppose that could be a direct result of losing out on Anderson. Once they realized they weren’t getting Anderson, they turned around and gave the money to Capuano. That sort of thing. The Yankees do need multiple starters this winter though, so maybe they would have signed Capuano even if they had landed Anderson. Who knows.

Anderson is still really young and has upside remaining — the upside being he continues to pitch exactly like he has but actually stays healthy all year — but there is no shortage of reclamation project arms still available. Chad Billingsley, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Josh Johnson, and Alexi Ogando have all had a bunch of injury problems in recent years and remain on the market. Still plenty of opportunity for the Yankees to add even more injury risk to the rotation.

Prospect Profile: Tyler Webb

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Tyler Webb | LHP

Background
Webb, whose full name is Jon Tyler Webb, is from the tiny little town of Nassawadox on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He pitched at Northampton High School. Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him as one of the 31 best prospects in the state for the 2009 draft, and Webb ultimately went undrafted out of high school. He instead followed through on his commitment to the University of South Carolina.

Webb worked as a swingman during his freshman year with the Gamecocks, pitching to a 3.96 ERA with 36 walks and 13 strikeouts spread across seven starts and ten relief appearances. He held the same role as a sophomore, and while Webb improved to a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings across five starts and 17 relief appearances, he struck out only 28 and walked 17. USC won the College World Series both years.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Webb, who was a draft-eligible sophomore, as one of the 40 best prospects in South Carolina after the 2011 college season. The Reds selected him in the 48th round (1,465th overall pick) of the 2011 draft and whatever bonus they offered Webb wasn’t enough. He opted to return to school for his junior season.

USC moved Webb into the bullpen full-time as a junior and he was excellent, pitching to a 1.56 ERA in 39 appearances. He struck out 58 and walked 18 in 57.2 innings. Despite that performance, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Webb among the top prospects in the state for the 2012 draft and he went undrafted, so he returned to school for his senior season. (The draft was shortened from 50 rounds to 40 rounds in 2012.)

Webb took over as the team’s closer as a senior and saved 17 games with a 1.47 ERA in 43 innings. He struck out 60, walked 14, and, for the second straight year, did not allow a homer. That earned him a spot on the All-American Third Team. Webb appeared in 32 games that spring and set the school’s all-time record with 110 career pitching appearances. He finished his career at USC with a 2.34 ERA and a 182/62 K/BB in 173 innings.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Webb as the 17th best prospect in South Carolina for the 2013 draft but not as one of the top 500 draft prospects overall. The Yankees selected him in the tenth round (314th overall) as a way to save draft pool space — they signed him to a well-below slot $30,000 bonus almost immediately, saving a little more than $100,000 in draft pool space. (That money eventually went to Aaron Judge‘s above-slot bonus.)

Pro Career
The Yankees assigned Webb to Short Season Staten Island after the draft but he didn’t stay there long. After striking out eight and walking two in five hitless innings, they bumped him up to Low-A Charleston. Webb had a 3.86 ERA (3.25 FIP) with 40 strikeouts and only six walks in 30.1 innings across 16 appearances with the River Dogs to close out his first taste of professional baseball.

Assigned to High-A Tampa to open the 2014 season, Webb made only eight appearances there before being moved up to Double-A Trenton. He had a 2.77 ERA (1.24 FIP) with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings and eight appearances with Tampa. Webb’s stint with the Thunder was also relatively short — he was there for only 35.2 innings and 23 appearances, during which he had a 4.04 ERA (2.65 FIP) with 51 strikeouts and 14 walks.

The Yankees moved Webb up to Triple-A Scranton late in the season and he had a 4.05 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 20 innings across 17 appearances with the RailRiders. He struck out 26 and walked seven. All together, Webb had a 3.80 ERA (2.74 FIP) with 94 strikeouts (32.1%) and 22 walks (7.5%) in 68.2 relief innings at three minor league levels in 2014.

Scouting Report
First things first: Webb is huge. He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. Not a small man. Despite all that size, Webb’s fastball is only average, usually sitting in the 90-92 mph range even as a full-time reliever. His upper-70s curveball is a decent second offering but not a knockout pitch. I’m guessing the Yankees had him tinker with a cutter at some point as well. Here’s some video from his senior year at USC:

Webb’s average-ish stuff plays up a little bit because he has some funk in his delivery and hides the ball well. It’s a classic lefty specialist profile — lefties have hit .216/.264/.353 with a 40.5% strikeout rate and a 4.0% walk rate against Webb as a pro for what it’s worth, which isn’t much because it’s only 126 plate appearances spread across parts of two seasons — without a ton of upside. Webb has an okay fastball, can spin a breaking ball, and uses his delivery to create deception. Textbook matchup southpaw.

2015 Outlook
Given his zoom up the ladder and proximity to the Major Leagues, I expect Webb to get an invitation to big league Spring Training come February. I don’t think he has much of a chance of winning a bullpen job, but it will be an opportunity to show the staff what he can do and put himself in position for call-up later in the season. Kinda like Preston Claiborne in 2013. Either way, impressive camp or not, Webb is ticketed for a return to the Triple-A Scranton bullpen to start next season.

My Take
I like Webb in a “he’s exceeded all expectations a senior sign in the tenth round” kind of way. He’s a little older than the typical prospect (turns 25 in July), but if all he ever does is reach MLB and throw about ten good innings, it’s successful draft pick. Webb might be most useful to the Yankees as a trade chip though — granted, players like this don’t have a ton of value, but some team might like him as the second or third piece in a trade — because the organization has a lot of left-handed relief depth at the moment. Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, and Jacob Lindgren are ahead of Webb on the depth chart and James Pazos is right behind him. Webb will get an opportunity to open eyes in Spring Training, and not only the Yankees’.

Capuano a nice depth pickup, but only part of the rotation solution

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees came into the offseason in a need of at least one starting pitcher — preferably two! — and that was before they used Shane Greene to acquire Didi Gregorius. After that trade they definitely needed two starters. New York acquired one of those starters yesterday by re-signing Chris Capuano to a reasonable one-year contract, and Brian Cashman made it clear Capuano will be in the rotation during a conference call yesterday afternoon.

“He’ll come to Spring Training as a starter. He’s coming in as one of our starters,” said the GM. Capuano joins CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka as rotation locks, assuming Sabathia’s knee and Pineda’s shoulder and Tanaka’s elbow make it through camp in one piece. Both David Phelps and Adam Warren are coming to Spring Training as starters, and Cashman also named Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Jose DePaula, and Esmil Rogers as internal rotation options.

Needless to say, there’s nothing particularly exciting about bringing Capuano back. He’s a boringly serviceable back-end starter who seems to pitch just well enough to keep his team in the game while occasionally throwing a gem. (Over the last four years, Capuano has as many starts with an 85+ Game Score as Zack Greinke and Doug Fister. It seems like once or twice a year he’ll unexpectedly throw a masterpiece.) Is he the fourth starter we were all hoping for? Nah. But does he help? Sure.

And Capuano is nothing more than that, a help. He’s not the answer to the team’s rotation problems all by himself. He’s just a very small part of the solution, a solution that frankly the Yankees might not completely find this winter. There are two top free agent starters still on the board (Max Scherzer and James Shields), no more mid-rotation guys, and then a whole lotta Capuano types and reclamation projects. Unless Hiroki Kuroda decides to continue playing*, those middle of the rotation starters are all gone.

* I get the feeling that if Kuroda does decide to continue playing, there will be one big announcement. “Hiroki Kuroda has decided to pitch in 2015 … and oh by the way the Yankees have signed him for one year and $15M.” Something like that. I don’t think it’ll be a prolonged free agency.

“We are never done or finished, so I will continue to be engaged in the free-agent and trade markets … I think it’s safe to assume we are open to any legitimate possibilities to improve our club,” said Cashman during yesterday’s conference call (via Chad Jennings and George King). “Obviously making sense in the current circumstances that we have … The preference would be to never have to go to the free agent market to get what you need, but that’s just not realistic.”

Since the Yankees seem disinclined to pursue Scherzer — I assume the same is true for Shields, though I won’t rule them out on either pitcher until they sign elsewhere — the only way they’re going to get an impact starter this winter is through trade, which is always possible. The Padres and Mets have arms to spare, the Phillies are still looking to unload Cole Hamels, the Reds could still move Johnny Cueto or Mike Leake, so on and so forth. A trade is pretty much the only way the Yankees will get guys who pass the “better than Capuano” test unless they change course on Scherzer and/or Shields.

The Yankees re-signed Capuano because they need multiple starters and he was among the best of the non-elite remaining on the board. A signing like this was inevitable, even if they had signed Scherzer or Shields first. Capuano should only be part of the rotation fix and not the whole thing. At worst, he’s a stopgap until Ivan Nova is healthy or Luis Severino is deemed ready. At best, he’s 2011 Freddy Garcia. If the Yankees stop here and don’t add anymore pitching, then yeah they have a problem. There’s still a lot of offseason left and Cashman is clearly open to more moves. As long as Capuano is nothing more than one piece of the solution, then he’s a fine depth addition.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Yankees re-signed Chris Capuano to a perfectly reasonable one-year, $5M contract. Capuano makes me nervous whenever he’s on the mound, I’m not a fan of finesse lefties at all, but he’s a serviceable depth piece who can be easily shipped to the bullpen or even dropped from the roster if a better option comes along. Now, if he’s the only pitcher the Yankees bring in this winter, that’s a problem. I don’t think that’ll be the case though.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Talk about those games, the return of Capuano, or anything else right here. Have at it.

Headley’s signing is good for Refsnyder and Pirela

Jose Pirela
(AP Photo)

All Rob Refsnyder has done is hit. After starting slowly following the 2012 draft, he’s put up monster numbers at every level of the minors in the last two seasons, ending 2014 in AAA with a .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) line. It seems, or at least seemed, that his time in the Bronx is near.

Then the Yankees re-signed Chase Headley, which pushes Refsnyder out of immediate consideration for a starting spot.

It might appear as though the Yankees crowded Refsnyder out of a spot, but by re-signing Headley they might have made his transition to the big leagues easier. The same is true for Jose Pirela, and other candidate for an infield position before Headley signed.

It’s all about versatility

The trade for Martin Prado last July gives the Yankees flexibility. They took advantage right away, starting Prado multiple times at 2B, 3B, LF, and RF. It appears that he’ll start the season as the everyday second baseman, but that could change at any time — not because of Prado’s performance, but because others are stepping up.

Instead of starting Refsnyder at second out of the gate, they’ll have him continue what he started at Scranton Wilkes-Barre. If he continues pummeling the ball as he did in 2014, he can force his way into a call-up even if Prado is performing to expectations.

As of today, Alex Rodriguez is the Yankees’ primary DH. That could change between now and Opening Day, but let’s assume it’s true. In that case, who are the Yankees two biggest on-field risks? Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran. Should anything happen to either, Prado can move to the outfield and Refsnyder can take over at second base.

(Refsnyder did play nine games in the outfield last year, and another 42 in 2012. He was an outfielder in college. But it appears that the Yankees want him to stay at second base. There’s a better chance that they move Prado to the OF rather than Refsnyder.)

Pirela is a man of many positions, having started multiple games at every spot except catcher in 2014. He also continued hitting well, a 117 wRC+ in 581 PA at AAA, which followed a 118 wRC+ in 530 PA at AA in 2013. Basically, ever since he reached AA he’s started to hit. Given his versatility, the Yankees can easily find a spot for him whenever a need arises.

Pirela can slide in for anyone who gets hurt, other than Brian McCann. The Yankees can work in Refsnyder in the event that anyone other than Didi Gregorius gets hurt, moving Prado to whatever position and inserting Refsnyder at 2B.

By fielding a team of veteran major leaguers, the Yankees can let Pirela and Refsnyder signal when they’re ready. With their flexibility, they can probably work in one of those guys at almost any time. Additionally, they provide depth in case of injury. If any of the seven non-mask-wearing fielders gets hurt, the Yankees have an easy way to fill the void.

When the Yankees signed Chase Headley they didn’t block two young players. They merely changed the way they’ll fit into the 2015 plans. It might be for the better, for all parties.