Thoughts during Thursday’s off-day

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The Yankees are off today following their nine-game road trip, and starting tomorrow they play 17 games in 17 days in three different time zones. On the bright side, they don’t have to travel back to the West Coast after that, and only two more times this season do they even have to go to the Central Time Zone. The team’s travel after this upcoming stretch as is easy as it gets. Here are some random thoughts on the off-day.

1. This weekend’s series against the Twins marks the end of what is probably the softest stretch of schedule for the 2014 Yankees in terms of the quality of their opponents: 19 straight games against the Mets, Pirates, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, and Twins. Only the Cardinals aren’t awful. The Yankees have won nine of the first 16 games during that stretch, with the last three against Minnesota still pending. That’s pretty damn good, but I can’t help but feel greedy and wish they could have stolen one or two more. That Adam Dunn walk-off homer game really stings. With the Rays and Red Sox falling behind the rest of the AL East a bit — Tampa is literally one game better than the Astros right now — the division race has opened up a little bit. The Yankees play the Blue Jays and Orioles a combined nine times next month and those games are the most important ones right now. Games against Boston and Tampa aren’t as crucial as they have been the last few years. (They’re obviously still important. You know what I mean.) This isn’t the AL East race we’re used to seeing.

2. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this at some point before, I but I can’t remember the last time the Yankees had a reliever like Dellin Betances. That overwhelmingly dominant flamethrower. Joba Chamberlain was excellent following his call-up in 2007, but even he did not have the kind of strikeout stuff as Betances — Joba had a 37.4 K% in 24 innings in 2007 while Betances is at 44.7 K% in 30.2 innings in this year. (Bet you didn’t realize David Robertson has a 41.5 K% strikeout rate this year, did you?) Mariano Rivera was outstanding in 1996 as John Wetteland’s setup man, but Mo’s dominance was always more surgical than overpowering. You know what I mean, right? Betances just comes out of the bullpen pumping 97+ with a knee-buckling breaking ball that hitters don’t even bother to swing at. They just bail on the pitch and it goes for a called strike. It’s amazing and so much fun to watch. Betances spent a very long time in the minors fighting control problems and battling injuries, and the decision to move him into the bullpen last year was basically a last resort. A desperate attempt by the team to get something out of him. The move into a relief role has worked out to the best case scenario and it saved his career.



3. Obviously the late-1990s Yankees were excellent for many reasons, one of them being their strength up the middle. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were among the best players at their positions, Jorge Posada was just starting to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate, and Chuck Knoblauch was very good until things started to fall apart in 2001. They were getting top notch production from the four most important non-pitcher positions on the field. That is not the case this year though. The Yankees have gotten a combined .266/.331/.379 batting line from their catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and center fielders this year, which is right in line with the .254/.323/.397 league average. Average isn’t bad! It is less than you would like to see though. The Yankees should be getting more production from those positions — neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Brian McCann were hitting much prior to their big games last night (McCann was playing first, remember) — but it has not been there just about a third of the way through the season. Ellsbury and McCann are not going anywhere, but as the Yankees usher out of the Jeter era this winter, improving both middle infield spots should be a top priority. Along with having good pitching (duh), getting big production from those up the middle spots is one of the most surefire ways to contend. Just look at the World Series teams of the last, I don’t know, 25 years or so. All strong up the middle.

4. So, with that in mind, man how perfect would Chase Utley look in pinstripes? Someone asked about him in a mailbag a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to shake the thought of trading for him since. It’s not going to happen for several reasons — his ten-and-five no-trade protection first of all, plus the Phillies would have to be willing to sell and trade their best and most popular player — but the fit is too perfect. Left-handed power and patience, no real platoon concerns, good defense at second base, big market and postseason experience, short-term contract … he’s perfect. The only negative is Utley’s injury history, particularly his knee problems, but 100 games of him and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best second baseman in baseball. The Phillies are pretty bad and they’re only sinking further in the standings, especially with Cliff Lee hurt. Maybe that will push ownership to demand a rebuild. In the unlikely event it happens, the Yankees should be on the phone about Utley immediately. He’s exactly what they need on both sides of the ball.

Categories : Musings
  • Nick J

    Just gonna put this out there: Chase Utley – Hall of Famer?

    • ALZ

      He is one of those borderline players. His 60 WAR puts him in that same category. He was the best 2b for sometime, but injuries really sapped his HOF case. He only topped 150 games 3 times. Retiring now I think he would fall short, but if he can supplement it with 3-4 more good years I think he could get in.

    • Jedua

      His counting numbers aren’t that great and his peak was kind of short something that voters tend to consider. I think he will be just a borderline HOF’r.

      He was the best second baseman for 3 years though

      • Nick J

        It’s interesting isn’t it. If he’d played 25 years ago then younger SABR types would probably be quite scornful on the basis of his numbers. Could he be the first player of the post-SABR era to get in because ‘he feels like a HOFer’ or because ‘he passed the eye test’?

        Personally, I agree that he just might not quite have the longevity while the lack of high MVP votes and GGs will also count against him. Saying that, another 3 good years puts him over 70 WAR for his career and it could be interesting.

        • PFOJ

          What are you talking about? Utley is a saber favorite. Second baseman with a five year .301/.388/.535 peak and who supplemented that with great base running and defense.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Imma say it… He will not be a HOFer if he retires a Philly. On top of not being the best at what he does for long enough and not having a benchmark number backing him up (5xx HRs, 3xxx hits, etc.). he’s not gonna win enough in Philly to get him over the hump.

      And since the Hall voting is what it is, wellp…. it is what it is.

      • WhittakerWalt

        You’re forgetting one thing: 2nd baseman have a much lower expectation for offense. None of them have 500 home runs. I don’t see that changing any time soon. Not even Cano has much of a shot at that number.

  • MB923

    “I can’t help but feel greedy and wish they could have stolen one or two more. That Adam Dunn walk-off homer game really stings. ”

    Yes that did sting but call it even with the win after when they were losing 3-0 in the 9th with 2 out and 0 on (maybe 1 on, but still).

    • Yangeddard Solarte

      They were also shut out in the 2nd game of the Cubs series until the 9th inning when they needed an errant throw to 1st to tie it and win in extras. And in that 1st game vs the Cards Al Aceves very well could have blown it when Molina’s ball came inches from a HR.

  • Yangeddard Solarte

    1. The Twins definitely aren’t soft. Phil will be ready to pitch this Sunday. And I wouldn’t get too worked up over the standings right now. The Jays always do this hot start and then they fizzle. The same thing happens every year. With all the parity the Rays and Sox aren’t out of it by any means. All it takes is one good stretch to get back in it.

    2. The answer to your question is not since Mariano Rivera in 96. I think Delin is an All Star and a future closer. He, along with JRM, have become as untouchable as Elliot Ness.

    3. Ellsbury has actually done something and seems to be out of his slump. McCann hasn’t done anything except put up an OPS less than Jeter. Can’t really blame Jeter. He’s 40 coming off a broken ankle.

    4. He’d put this club over the top. Ellsbury, Jeter, Utley, Teixera, Beltran, McCann, Soriano, Gardner, Solarte would be one of the best lineups in baseball. Too good to be true though.

    • MB923

      JRM is absolutely Not untouchable. If a star player is on the market, like Shark for instance, expect calls from other GM’s in need of a catcher asking for him.

      I’m not saying they should trade him, but don’t be surprised if they do.

      As far as McCann goes, he has a very unlucky .225 BABIP. Career it’s .285 and last year it was

      I don’t know where it stands now, but in the month of April, McCann had a .375 BABIP in a Non Shift (it was .255 in a shift)

      Big reason is OPS is very low

  • CountryClub

    Betances has been terrific. But Mo was a strikeout pitcher in 96. His stuff was nasty early in his career.

    And don’t forget what Robertson did in 2011. 100 Ks in 66 innings.

    • Mike HC

      Yea, Mo evolved into the surgeon we know him as today. When he first came up, he was blowing guys away with high heat.

      • Darren

        Someone recently made the point that Mo should have been the MVP in 1996. Can’t argue with that. His rising fastball at 96/96 mph was as unhittable as any pitch I can remember, including Mo’s cutter.

        • Improbable Island’s Dirty Midget Whores (formerly RRR)

          Mo simply didn’t pitch enough to be the MVP. I know, I know, he pitched quite a lot for a reliever…but only for a reliever. In terms of value he simply didn’t contribute as much as top starters or top position players.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Now you’re just trolling that one “Chase Utley all the time” commenter.

    I’d absolutely be game as a nice transition to what will either be Refsnyder or godknowswhat. Not breaking the bank for him, though.

  • mikhel

    What I remember about Rivera in 1996 was that he throw a lot of fastballs, albeit not the 97-98 mph Betances can throw, but he eliminated a lot of batters with fastballs high in the zone and them trying to hit the heater… though Mark McGwire hit one so hard that it landed on the black seats, probably the longest homerun I saw Rivera give up (there was also one that struck the RF foul pole in Cleveland that was so freaking high and on a line drive looked like it had a chance to leave the park, back when Rivera seemed to blow games constantly vs the Indians).

    • mikhel

      Also Phil Hughes was lights out as a reliever… though I don’t remember exactly if he was a K pitcher or not.

      • MB923

        As a reliever, his K% is 31.8%, so yes he was a K pitcher as a reliever.

    • WhittakerWalt

      That McGwire homerun was in ’97, after Mo had taken over the closer job. Mo only gave up one homer in ’96, to Rafael Palmeiro.

      • Kosmo

        Yes 1997 I remember the game it was in Oakland if my memory is correct.

        • WhittakerWalt

          It was at home. He hit it into the black.

  • emac2

    “…the decision to move him into the bullpen last year was basically a last resort. A desperate attempt by the team to get something out of him.”

    I don’t think I agree with this.

    When he was drafted The consensus was that he would have a very difficult time starting but that it wasn’t because of his stuff and many if not most expected him to end up in the pen.

    Even if you expect someone like that to end up in the pen you try them as starters for a lot of reasons. It might be viewed as a last resort or option by some but it was just the normal development process. Minor league numbers don’t matter. He learned how to pitch, tested his limits and found a niche where he can be amazing in the majors. This is a development success in every way unless you want to say being a great MLB pitchers isn’t as important as staying at your minor league position.

    You could say they tried the starter option too long but maybe he needed that to embrace a bullpen career. I think drafting players like this and hoping they work out as starters but settling for awesome relievers is a very viable strategy.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      “I think drafting players like this and hoping they work out as starters but settling for awesome relievers is a very viable strategy.”

      That’s pretty much every team in baseball’s strategy regarding pitchers. This is not uncovering some new ground here.

      • emac2

        I would argue that anyone who thinks the Betances was saved by a last desperate attempt to salvage value isn’t looking at things that way.

        BTW – What percentage of your posts uncover new ground? Do you think it’s over 1%?

        Do you think your “discoveries” haven’t been figured out by countless others before you?

        • ALZ

          Where do you think most relievers come from. A very large number of them are failed starters.

          • emac2

            What’s your point?

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          When all else fails, attack the commenter.

          I don’t go claiming I’m anything special, flapjack.

          I have no clue what your first sentence refers to but, if you feel spending about six seasons trying to develop a guy, through surgery, then turning him into a reliever at about the last second should be a strategy to adopt, hey, I don’t have to work for your organization.

          • emac2

            How can anyone talk so much when they have nothing to say? This is a Yankee forum not your bathroom.

            Choose to have a life.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner

              Sticks and stones….

    • The Great Gonzo

      Where did you get your info on ‘consensus’ regarding Betances from? I have never read that he was going to have a difficult time starting.

      Alot of good major league starters had control issues when they were coming up. Cliff Lee, if memory recalls.

  • Darren

    One more thought which is hopefully a sneak preview of a longer post at some point soon.

    Today is the 19th anniversary of Jeter’s major league debut. As a 20 year old!

    It’s been really cool to see the outpouring of affection for him in every city. I don’t think even Ripken or Ryan came close to that. Hope he gets one more ride up Broadway too.

  • Mandy Stankiewicz

    1. speaking of the sox being bad, Lucchino is now back peddling on his 70/4 offer to Lester, now calling it a ‘starting point’

    • I’m One

      I think that’s a valid statement on his part. Rarely do people go into negotiations with their final offer as their first, unless they don’t care if that offer is rejected. I don’t think that’s the case with Lucchiano/Lester.

      • Mandy Stankiewicz

        Totally true. I guess this was suppose to be more of a snarky response to the recent front office culture shift in Boston since exorcising their large contracts to LA, and hiring Ben C as the GM–as well as his ‘air of genius’ from 2013′s season.

  • Bayshoni

    Seeing the move of Betances to the pen as a desperate last resort, to salvage his career, is a typical Son of Debbie Downer point of view. The development of Betances is neither unusual nor surprising.

  • Dirk Diggler

    Chase Utley: RAB’s new Shin Soo Choo

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Dom Brown! Dom Brown!

    • No 2013 again

      it’s like RAB is obsessed with good players! Absurd, right?

    • WhittakerWalt

      Is there something wrong with wanting to get good players? I realize it’s not as fun as counting all of Jeter’s groundouts, but it’s something to do.

      • Dirk Diggler

        Just having a little fun — no need to get your knickers in a twist…

  • mick taylor

    if texas falls out of thr race, beltre would be a great fit

  • nsalem

    Mr. Refsnyder OPS’d .920 in May. Hope he gets moved up to Scranton soon.

  • mt

    This is the issue with Utley – wouldn’t you say he is the face of the Phillies franchise (I don’t think its Rollins or Howard or pitchers Lee/Hamels) – hard to trade those types, no matter how far out the team may be – the haul Amaro would require would be massive, I would think.

    Also will Phillies be so far back of NL 2nd wild card that they want to bail in July? Also even with Atlanta’s vaunted pitching and young star position players, they have the worst record of any division leader which may keep Phillies opposed to selling a piece like Utley as trade deadline approaches.

    On the other hand, if Rollins were to agree to waive his NTC due to his 10 and 5 status, I am sure Phils would love to trade him (can’t see Yanks wanting him.) Of course Phils would love anyone to take Ryan Howard’s contract.

    Rather than hoping for Utley, my hope is that Reds/Pirates continue to stumble so some of their pitchers/players become available.

    (In looking at standings, it struck me that the Oakland As run differential at 101 is outstanding – it is over twice the run diff. of the second place Giants who are at 47. Yanks still at a -7.)

  • pinedamaybegreata (formerly Monterowasdinero)

    Seeing the pic of Ichiro made me thankful for our 3 outfielders with speed and good arms. Their speed on the basepaths has also been huge with our overall lack of power. Last night Gardy not forced at second on a comebacker and Ichiro beating out a Jeter GIDP ball that scored a run.

    Speed is good at any age.

  • mt

    As far as improving up the middle numbers goes, we probably need to focus on next year’s SS free agent class – Hardy, Lowrie, Cabrera, Drew, is HanRam a SS going forward, etc. – and hope one of Solarte/Refsnyder/Pirela (may be too optimistic) can hold down 2B or at worst be part of a platoon with a veteran. I am not sure where any improvement to 2B/SS comes this year.

    McCann and Ellsbury picking the pace up will do wonders to those numbers.

  • Duci’s back

    How is 9-7 pretty darn good against those shitty teams?

    • nyyankfan7

      Because winning 9 out of every 16 games gets you 92 wins.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        …and cut!

      • No 2013 again

        Except it was 9-7 against (mostly) mediocre teams. Over the course of 162 games you will face better teams and that pace won’t be sustainable.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          They’re still MLB teams. The wins still count the same.

          You’ll go on winning streaks. You’ll go on losing streaks. You’ll go on blogs in which someone claims a loss in April may cost you the season.

  • TheEvilUmpire

    Does everyone realize that we are a 4 yr extension to drob away from securing a drob-betances-warren troika through 2018? Graft on a better than Thornton loogy and a decent middle reliever or too and that’s a long term elite bullpen!

    • I’m One

      Not sure I’d give a 4-year extension to any non-Prime-years-Mo reliever, but I’d be trhilled to have that group locked up for 2 or 3 more years. Then again, if Warren can be transitioned to a better-than Phelps/Nuno/Whitley starter, I’d take that too and find someone else to fill his BP role. (Glad that will be an option.)

    • Cuso

      Yeah, doubtful that D-Rob gets a 4-year deal after only one as a closer. 3-year is pretty standard fare.

      Although, maybe if the Yanks get a discount they’d do it.

  • TWTR

    There is no way I would trade top prospects for yet another old player in Utley.

    • nyyankfan7

      And in 5 years when 85% of those top prospects have flamed out you will probably be first in line to blame Cashman for not trading those crappy propsects for Chase Utley to get the 2014 team to the playoffs.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I’m not sure I could “picture” TWTR doing that. He’s pretty firm in his “develop, develop” stance on here.

    • I’m One

      It all depends on the price. I’d like to get an Utley-type player as well, but agree the cost in young talent needs to be taken into consideration. A young core is nice to have (see: New York Yankees, 1996 – 2000, even though I know that was really a once in a lifetime happening).

  • Derek Jeter

    it’s not!

  • stuckey

    Picking up on the search for a 2015 second basemen…

    Robert Refsnyder is picking it up in Trenton (the biggest jump) with a .920 OPS in May (1.142 the last 10 games), and the extreme plate discipline he showed at Tampa hasn’t kicked in yet. He probably won’t strike out less than he walked again like he did last year, but there could be some improvement coming.

    More intriguing, just looking up some scouting reports, is his fielding. Didn’t have a great going of it early in his career, but seemed to have picked it up last season. In the spring Callis said of his defense. “Started slow there, nice improvements 2nd half last yr, can be adeq to avg.”

    This season, his fielding percentage is up, but more interesting, his range factor is up a good margin. It was 3.85 over 108 games over 2 levels last year. This year in 47 games its 4.68.

    • I’m One

      There’s still a long way for him to go, but this is definitely good news. Would be great if he performed well enough for a 2nd half call up to AAA.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Very good to hear. Thanks.

  • LarryM Fl

    I have been impressed with Betances, Murphy and Solarte. These guys have been a real pleasure to watch as they perform above expectations. Betances has a regular slot to get steady work and growth as does Solarte being a switch hitter.

    Murphy is the player who I believe will improve further with added time. His approach behind and at the plate appears way beyond his actual big league playing time. If Girardi can rest McCann behind the plate with a given dayoff or two and or a day at first when Teix. is unable to play.We get more of Murphy. A young player with something to offer. I hope that he does not become trade bait because I believe he can help now and in the future. I can not be waiting in the wings for Sanchez as our future catcher especially when his ability behind the plate is not big league ready. It may never be ready. With McCann and Teix. in their 30′s, I say “hold on to Murphy.” Get what you can for Cervelli if his trade value is less than expected. You can bet his performance value for the team will follow suit. The other teams are not blind.

  • rogue

    Amaro is fighting for his job. That’s why he overpaid Ruiz and won’t trade any of the veterans.

    Yes, this isn’t the AL East we’re used to seeing, but these aren’t the Yankees we’re used to seeing, either. That’s a good thing. Gone are the days where we would sit back and wait for the HRs that would come (they didn’t in the playoffs, outside of 2009). It was bad baseball. The Yankees would struggle in the playoffs, and in pitcher parks.

    Today, the team relies on speed, and contact, to go along with plate patience. The results are a better road record (17-11) vs 11-11 at home and a team built for postseason play. Sure the regular season will be more of a struggle, but with the extra WC and parity in the AL East, that’s not that big of a deal. Good INF D and a deeper rotation are the only things needed to get this team back to WS contention.

  • Cuso

    My cousin and I have been on the “Utley-to-the-Yankees-somehow” watch for like 6 years. I’d tease him about it when Cano was here because it looked impossible. He thought it made sense that he played 1B if he came here. I mention all of this illogical nonsense because….

    …it’s just as nonsensical now.

    Last year, when we contemplating the “slim” possibility that Cano might actually sign elsewhere – it seemed real. Utley could become a Yankee next year. He’s a free agent – it fits perfectly for a 2-yr $28-30M deal!

    And then he signs an extension with the Phillies mid-season. The Phillies stink last year, too. Utley knew the Phillies weren’t going anywhere and he opted to sign an extension to finish his career there. The only way he waives his 10&5 rights is to go home to the West Coast.

    For all the naysayers that believe he’d waive to “have a chance to win” with the Yankees – wake up. That may have meant something 10 even 5 years ago. But “becoming a Yankee” doesn’t give you a better chance at a ring than becoming a Dodger or a Giant does at this point.

    This is not pessimism for the outcome of our season. This is realism about what players view as their best chance to win vs. their legacy in a place they’re comfortable.

    • Cuso

      Dr. Evil invented the quotation mark.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Correction, Dr. Evil’s father did. He also accused chestnuts of being lazy.

        • Cuso

          Ooh, You’re right! Good one. I stand corrected