Peter Gammons: Splashes and notes from the Orlando Winter Meetings

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla—Brian Cashman has done the big deals, like Mike Mussina, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia. He worked for George Steinbrenner, which meant living in the immediate, and when he and Hal Steinbrenner set out to make over the Yankees from their post-Messersmith Decision prominence—from Reggie Jackson to Alex Rodriguez—to a team whose history and resources take them to the level of multi-dimensional power, he did it with patience, and he did it with modesty and he did it with detail.

Steinbrenner once allowed that he appreciated that, in the end, “Brian Cashman always tried to do what was in the best interest of the Yankees.” And when it came time to run the franchise with regards to the team’s best interests and not the back pages, talk radio, or whatever media outlet most watched on TVs, iPhones or Apple Watches.

Since Sabathia and Teixeira helped them win the 2009 World Series, Cashman’s Yankees have never drawn fewer than three million fans. They’ve averaged 90 wins a season. Cashman traded Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller for prospects, really good prospects named Gleyber Torres and Justus Sheffield and Clint Frazier as Chapman and Miller dueled in the seventh game of the World Series.

Then after the season, when Gary Sanchez became the new Roy Campanella, he made another trade, sending Brian McCann to the Astros for two pitchers fresh out of the Gulf Coast League, Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. McCann, of course, went on to be a significant contributor to the World Champion Astros. During the summer, three different scouts called Guzman one of the best arms they’d seen all season, and he was with Staten Island in the New York-Penn League. Asked about the precision work in evaluating such a prospect so many levels from Yankee Stadium, a Yankee official said “we may have one of the best prospect teams in the game in 2018 in Ft, Lauderdale,” and mentioned Guzman, a throw-in.

Now Jorge Guzman belongs to the Marlins, a theoretically important non-economic piece of the Giancarlo Stanton deal thanks to Gary Denbo’s knowledge of the organization he left to help Derek Jeter in Miami. In fact, remaining Marlins pro scouting director Jim Cuthbert was very aware of Guzman, but that’s another story.

The night the Yankees beat the Twins in the Wild Card play-in game was far louder, far more emotional than when they won in 2009, and fans were trying to get used to the lack of feel in the new stadium. It seemed like 2003, which normally would be a fork in the road to Aaron Boone, but it brings all that together to this point. Yankee fans bought and embraced Aaron Judge, Sanchez, Luis Severino, et al. Their team hit 241 homers. They won seven post-season games, six more than the Red Sox have won since the 2013 world series.

Now, as Gene Michael rebuilt the Yankees into a lefthanded team to play in the old Stadium and the Mantle/Maris teams hooked ‘em into the right field seats, Cashman has reassembled the Bronx Bombers for this park. Yes, Stanton hit 59 homers last season, Judge 52. They combined for more balls hit 115 MPH or harder than the rest of the major leagues. They are monsters together in a park that was designed to hit the ball to right centerfield, which in today’s game isn’t restricted to left-handed batters. Of all the hitters who had the best production going to the opposite field (measured by w/OBA), Judge was second to J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer was third as the top left-handed batter and Stanton was sixth. Sanchez has huge right centerfield pop. The Cubs think Gleybar Torres was born to hit home runs in this park. And that doesn’t even begin to get to Greg Bird, et al.

Cashman built one of the best bullpens in the game last summer. He probably needs another starter, but with all the talent up and down the organizational line, he can get a Gerrit Cole, who was once their first pick out of high school and remains close to Damon Oppenheimer.

Stanton and Judge are from the same cloth, modest, respectful, thoughtful. They’re now the biggest show in baseball. Red Sox fans do not want to waste an Advent Sunday thinking about the potential of having four lefthanded starts in their rotation against them, plus Sanchez and Torres…or the reminder from one Yankee official that Frazier and Miguel Andujar will be in there sometime this season.

Oh yes, and Cashman and Steinbrenner have them under the luxury tax threshold, so instead of being taxed at 50% when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado come out next fall, it will be 20%. Many psychologists believe that no matter what we may believe, 90% of decisions are inherently irrational.

So Cashman has made the Yankees outliers hitting in a stadium that in many important stretches has little outfield over which the 21st Century Bombers can launch.

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At this point, with the Stanton and Shohei Ohtani news breaking over the weekend, the biggest storylines for the winter meetings here at Disney World are now in syndication.

Disney is a short ride to Yeehaw Junction and the question of whether baseball can ever have success in Florida, and the fact that they are not at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, speaking of Yeehaw.

These meetings traditionally have been the Gateway to spring training, where the major signings and trades are made so fans can spend the Twelve Days of Christmas feeding lineup variations into their laptop programs. It still holds. The Red Sox, who now have market challenges from the Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, have to decide if they have to respond to Giancarloville and pay Scott Boras what he wants for Martinez or Hosmer. “Scott will wait it out,” says one A.L. club president. “Dave Dombrowski doesn’t like to wait. He likes one stop shopping.” As he did with Craig Kimbrel, David Price, Chris Sale and Tyler Thornburg the last two off-seasons.

Once Ohtani announced he selected the Angels, he credited it to the intense pursuit and diligence of Billy Eppler. By the time most executives and agents arrive Sunday, we are on to the next Big Tickets, which come in two categories: power bats and starting pitchers. And until the major players are resolved, the major floors of the market may not be resolved.

The power bats begin with Martinez, Hosmer, Carlos Santana and even Jose Abreu, although he will come with a workable contract and the White Sox talent asking price. With the Giants out on Stanton will they text Scott Boras and jump into the Martinez waiting line?

Boras as is often the case, will be a marquee actor in these meetings; it’s hard to forget the 4 a.m. call from Boras and Jeff Musselman in Dallas with the details of the $252M deal for Alex Rodriguez with the Rangers, which eventually meant doing my last two days of live hits for ESPN from the hotel lobby serenaded by festive carolers while I was like the last man out of Saigon.

Boras began the Martinez off-season with suggestions of a seven year, $210M deal. He has hinted at something similar for Eric Hosmer. And something very big for Mike Moustakas. Precise markets will begin to emerge on the trio this week, although, for instance, if the Red Sox get in on Hosmer and his natural swing path that seems geared for Fenway Park (when Keith Law and I disagree on someone like Hosmer, it is not media-wars, it is knowing one another so long that debate is part of our career DNAs), it may drag on with budget debates, luxury tax stare-downs and a few mystery teams hiding beneath the Disney World Christmas tree.

Hosmer’s value has been well-debated. Age is not a factor; he essentially is the same age as Chris Taylor. His ability to launch balls in the air have been questioned. But while Martinez’s 45 home runs were astounding last season, he has played more than 123 games in a season once.  If you’re the Giants and play not only in AT&T Park—where winds cut down his right centerfield power—but another 36 in Dodger Stadium and Petco—is that a concern. For Boston, he goes to Fenway as a DH and, the opposite of Hosmer—faces thee months of breaking through the East wind that blows in off Massachusetts Bay. This will be fascinating.

Boras also holds a card in the starting pitcher market in Jake Arrieta. Some team(s?) will view Arrieta’s career lack of innings, his competitiveness and potential October stuff and pay him as a Scherzer/Strasburg alpha dog. And then the world turns to Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb and views of their respective ceilings.

When the Cubs signed Tyler Chatwood for three years and $38M Thursday, most got it. He pitched and had to recover from pitching in the light air of Coors. His three year earned run average on the road is 2.57. He’s a couple of years off Tommy John Surgery. A hot, muggy July afternoon with the wind blowing out at Wrigley is going to seem like a beach day on Lake Michigan compared to Coors Light. The Cubs love Chatwood’s stuff, his makeup and feel that getting away from Coors, he can make some additional changes with pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Yes, he is two years off Tommy John Surgery. “Look at the pitchers that get to free agency, and they’re all signed as if they haven’t had some physical issue,” says one Cubs official. Cobb had Tommy John, So did Lynn, so did Darvish. There’s always risk with any big pitching contract.” The Red Sox certainly didn’t anticipate David Price’s “unique elbow.”

Cobb and Lynn automatically become major meetings’ items. And knowing the TJ history,  several teams are expected to try to sign Drew Smyly, put him through his post TJ rehab and hope he can pitch in 2019. Someone may do the same with Michael Pineda.

But Chatwood’s contract speaks volumes about how smart franchises regard starting pitchers’ innings, how over a season that can last from March to November they maintain a bullpen, and how pitching staffs are regarded in totality, with starters, relievers, optionable alternatives and the need for multi-positional players in the era of three man benches. On that subject, an Arizona executive who is ever-prepared about any and all facets of his team and the sport was asked whether there was more long-term value in Archie Bradley as a lights-out closer or as a 180-190 inning starter with Scherzeresque stuff. The reply: “TBD.”

What will be interesting in Lake Buena Vista is what starting pitchers turn out to be available in the trade market. Which means the question line begins with whether or not the Rays will trade Chris Archer. It makes sense, depending on where the Rays are in their will-I-stay-or-will-I-go budget process; Archer has top end stuff, he may need to move on to enjoy post-Labor Day baseball, and he likely will attract a sizable price to a team that still faces a lot of questions about its future home and place in the American League East.

The Rays will likely trade Jake Odorizzi, but Archer? Another TBD.

If Tampa decides to market Archer, he and Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole become the focus of teams that need a big front end starter. The Pirates are listening on 2018 free agents Cole and Andrew McCutchen; if the Yankees feel they need another big starter, they go to the front on Cole.

The Royals will trade Danny Duffy, but likely cannot get full value until he pitches in the regular season and shows is surgery for floating objects in his elbow are no longer a factor. The Giants will trade Jeff Samardzija’s contract, and talent. The Braves will trade Julio Teheran, who was spooked by their new, homer-happy park.

Then come the relievers, who play such a huge role in today’s game. Wade Davis is a free agent, 28 Postseason appearances and a World Series ring on his resume. Greg Holland returns to the market, Brandon Kintzler hits it for the first time. All have closing histories, but now that teams have learned to value match-ups and leverage positions, Brandon Morrow, Joe Smith, Addison Reed, Bryan Shaw and Pat Neshek become important. The Royals will trade Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria. Morrow was a star for the Dodgers with his 98 MHP 4 seamer/curveball combination.

They also have younger players who are interesting. One is second baseman Whit Merrifield, who stole 34 bases, has power and superior makeup. They want a position prospect and a pitching prospect, which might be difficult for the Mets to find, even though they are in the second base market with talk of Jason Kipnis and Ian Kinsler; the Indians can keep Jose Ramirez at second, put Yandy Diaz at third and either put Kipnis in the outfield or in a trade. With a paucity of lefthanded relievers in the era of the Bullpen Magic Kingdom, the Royals may be able to get the two prospects for Scott Alexander.

The Dodgers, who were thought to be a major player for Ohtani and who might have pulled off Stanton with a Yasiel Puig package, now become a team to watch. So are the Texas Rangers, with Daniels ever on the prowl. Would Toronto deal Josh Donaldson a year before free agency? Doubtful, but worth watching.

Certainly the non-Yankee fans from South Jersey to St. Albans, Vt. Will be watching the Mets and the Yankees. Without capital and with so many pitchers hurt, the Mets are not in a position to play big. Mickey Callaway is going to have a major impact on the pitching, but if Matt Harvey doesn’t make it back—and he’s reportedly had a minor issue already—they are thin, with offensive needs at third, second, and first surrounding Amed Rosario.

The Red Sox believe that if Hanley Ramirez has a big, healthy 2018, Blake Swihart and Sam Travis come, and Xander Bogaerts has the bounce-back they anticipate, they will score enough runs. David Price bought a house in Naples, Fla. and is working out. Pitching coach Dana Levangie, who was the assistant pitching coach who ran the bullpen, says “when I read how Brandon Morrow was calling down to the dugout asking to pitch in every World Series game, I thought how when Price went to the bullpen, he called down every day to let the bench know he wanted to pitch. He was tremendous with the young relievers, always helping them.”

Dombrowski will make deals. He hopes Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg come back healthy. They expect serious progression from Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. They have two major projects for the spring: rekindle the self-confidence Bogaerts lost, and get Joe Kelly into what he was before the Cardinals’ sinker-slider mantra changed him. His sinker skids (into lefty bat paths, as he admits), it doesn’t have heavy sink. He throws 98-99, and the Sox think he can be a Morrow, 4-seam fastballs up, curveballs, and if he gets that back, he can be an important bridge to Craig Kimbrel in Kmbrel’s walk year.

What the Red Sox now see is that when Theo Epstein built this ownership group into a three ring champion, it was with a long-term vision of using their revenues to build a scouting and development power. Things happened, and while the core of the Epstein/Ben Cherington/Mike Hazen regime is young, their recent Steinbrenneresque year-to-year agenda has seemingly left them with a window that will be closing in two years.

So what the sight of Judge and Stanton, Gregorius, Torres, Bird, Sanchez and Frazier prompts them to do in a market with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and the rising Celtics and Bruins will be fascinating. They like to have a few shiny new objects when they hit the land of gambling addiction at the end of January, and what the long-term cost of once again catching up to the Yankees will require the vision that has Cashman back in the high life, again.

Comments

  1. Mr. Gammons, I criticized one of your recent articles as being sub-par, but this is vintage Hall-of-Fame writing. Congratulations!

  2. Brian Witherell says:

    John Donaldson?

  3. Peter – I spent much of my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s reading the wonderful writing of Will McDonough, Leigh Montville, and you in the Globe. I especially remember your rambling, chock-full-of-information Sunday Globe pieces. This article sent me back, for a few moments. Many thanks.

  4. Harvey Dodd says:

    Wade Davis only has one works series ring, not two.

  5. Sun Trust Park is not and was not a homer happy ballpark. It was a new ballpark so everything was magnified.
    Fangraphs park factors show STP tied at 21st for home run park factor with 96. in fact the only park factors that favored hitters according to Fangraphs were line drive, walks and strikeouts.
    Baseball reference give it a 98 overall and a 96 one year for batters

  6. John Inferrera says:

    Peter- I saw my 1st gm at Fenway in 1956 and grew up reading the Globe. I can not tell you how disappointed I was to see you “cherry picking” stats to make Cashman look like a God. So I will “cherry pick” a few. The Red Sox have won 3 AL East titles and a WS in the last 5 yr. The NYY have spent over 1.25 Billion $ in those 5 yrs (including the 2017 Lux Tax est.) to win 4 playoff gms. DD took over a last place team in 2015 (also last in 2014) and: in 2016 won 93 gms & the AL East losing to a Cle team that took the Cubs to the brink in the WS; in 2017 won 93 gms & the AL East losing to the WS winner while resetting the Lux Tax. That team only lost Moreland, Chris Young & Abad from the opening day 25 man roster, while adding a full yr of Devers. Betts, Boegarts. JBJ, Hanley, Price, Porcecello, Carson Smith, Thornberg, Workman et al are rebound canidates. The team only needs one 1B/Dh bat — the easiest thing to find. While the NYY need IP from their SP’s or that bull pen win burn out. Severino 193 IP, Grey 162 IP, Tanaka 178 IP (ERA 4.74) Montegomery 155 and a bunch of young guys won’t cut it. Will Hal S. pop for the $$$ needed to fill out the SP staff and blow past the Lux Tax?

  7. Looks like it is going to be a tough half decade or so for the Red Sox… Win as much as you can in these next 2 years, makes it tough you have to play the Yankees 18 times a year.

  8. I will look at what DD does, but I remain dubious that he will be able to accomplish enough to beat the NYY. I, for one, am dubious that Ramirez still has the ability to be a real RBI threat. I would like to keep JBJ in order to help the pitching staff. I don’t think we have the farm system we had even three years ago. In short, I’m very uncomfortable that the RS can compete. All the NYY had to do is sign one good SP and they look complete.

  9. Dear Mr. Gammons:
    Thanks for the as usual outstanding data driven perspective.
    Stevie Winwood sends his regards…wish he could hit 40 for the Sox.
    Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

  10. Bob in Maine says:

    Now that the Yankees have Stanton, Judge, and Sanchez rooting for the Red Sox now must feel like what it was like in the 1950s and half of the 1960s when the team never had a chance to win.
    Does anyone seriously think the Sox have a chance to win the AL East this coming season? I sure don’t. I’ll probably cancel my cable after the Masters tournament in April because I can’t justify investing 6 months into watching a Sox team that will finish at least 10 games behind the Yankees.

  11. Horace Fury says:

    John I–Keep following the news on the 2017 tax cap. Nightengale reported in USA Today (11/13) that the Sox were one of six teams that went over the cap in 2017 once the benefits amount was added to payroll. You can’t find this yet in the Boston press. If they did indeed go over, what a mess for this offseason and 2018 in terms of tax on payroll over $197MM and then additional tax over $237MM (which is where they’re headed if they sign JDM), losing 2nd and 5th draft picks for signing a QO player (Santana, or, god forbid, Hosmer), and maybe even having first draft pick moved back 10 slots. And after that long recitation, somehow the Yankees, even with Stanton on board, are below the $197MM for 2018.

    • John Inferrera says:

      Horace– Alex Speier of the Boston Globe checked out Nightengale’s claim and refuted it in a story filed Nov. 14. USA’s error stems from the fact that Craig & Castillo (off the 40 man) and Manny’s deferred $$ (counted in the AAV of the active yrs.) do not count towards the 2017 Lux Tax although they must be reported by the Red Sox.

  12. Interesting that the Red Sox projected payroll is 18 million above the Yankees even after the Stanton deal. Yankees likely add a SPer and the Red Sox a DH/1B so that differential probably remains

    Unlike the Yankees the Red Sox window is closing. Time to spend and win or spend the next decade remembering the good times (10 yrs from 2004-2013)

  13. Steven Kip says:

    Since the inception of the new competitive balance tax in 2003, between 2003-2016, the Red Sox paid a total of $25.1M in taxes for being over the salary cap; the Yankees during that same time period paid a whopping $303.9M in taxes.

    Here’s a great website to check out if you really want to dive deeper into the Sox payroll:

    http://www.spotrac.com/mlb/boston-red-sox/

  14. Facts Matter says:

    Just for the record, while there is a tax, there is no salary cap in baseball.

    • Steven Kip says:

      Thanks for catching my mistake Facts Matter. While true that there is no salary cap, there is a salary threshold that if exceeded will result in higher taxes paid.

  15. Jeff Ganeles says:

    Peter…
    Peter Angelos is insisting that any trading partner for Manny Machado agree not to flip him to the Yankees. Please explain to me how this is not blatant collusion??? Thanks.

  16. John Farrell says:

    I’m pretty sure the Yankees won 7 postseason games for what that’s worth.