The first road trip of the 2019 season is in the books and the Yankees are heading home for a nine-game homestand against the Royals and various shades of Sox. But first, the Yankees have an off-day today. Here are some assorted thoughts.
1. The latest Luis Severino injury is real bad news. Lat strains can be season killers — Johnny Cueto (2013) and Noah Syndergaard (2017) recently had seasons derailed by lat issues — because they are real easy to reaggravate. It’s similar to an oblique injury in that the recovery and rehab can be going well, then one sudden movement and bam, there’s a setback and you’re right back to square one. I suppose the good news is Cueto and Syndergaard showed no long-term effects and were excellent (and healthy) the very next season. The bad news is Severino getting back to normal next season doesn’t help the Yankees this season. Also, Severino has the rotator cuff inflammation on top of the lat strain, though being shut down these next six weeks will help clear that up. The Yankees are going to be without their best starting pitcher for at least another two months now between the six-week shutdown period and getting back into game shape, and that’s the best case scenario. These are two “be overly cautious because you don’t want any long-term problems” type of injuries too, so Severino could be out even longer. At this point, the Yankees should just not expect to get anything from Severino this season. Don’t count on him returning and treat anything he gives the team as a bonus. (I can already hear Aaron Boone, Brian Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner and whoever else saying that getting Severino back at midseason will be like making a trade and I am preemptively Mad Online.)
2. In the practical sense, what do I mean when I say the Yankees should “not expect to get anything from Severino this season?” I mean they should approach the trade deadline with the intention of adding another starting pitcher, and a good one too. The Yankees half-measured a little too much this past offseason — they reset their luxury tax rate last year and managed to spend right up to the $226M second luxury tax threshold this year while adding one difference-making free agent (Adam Ottavino), and I’m glad we’re shutting down RAB because I have no idea what to say about that — and they are very much a win-now team. When you’re trying to win a World Series, at some point you have to go get the best players and not worry about the best bang for the buck. Here are some starters who could potentially be available at the trade deadline:
- Madison Bumgarner, Giants
- Mike Minor, Rangers
- Ivan Nova, White Sox
- Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays
- Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays
Bumgarner hasn’t looked all that good in his three starts thus far — I watched his outing against the Padres the other day and nothing was coming easy, every at-bat was a grind (there’s also this) — but obviously he’s the big name there. Who knows how the Yankees view him. Personally, I want to see Bumgarner look closer to vintage Bumgarner before considering a trade. The name value outweighs the actual value quite a bit at the moment. Sanchez is the guy who interests me the most. Rather, I should say he’s the one I’ll be following most closely the next few weeks. I’m not sold on giving up a big package to get him yet. He’s battled finger injuries the last two seasons (last year he hurt himself on his suitcase) and he’s looked okay in his first two starts. The velocity and movement are there. Sanchez is somehow still only 26 and before the finger issues he was a strikeout/ground ball monster who posted a 3.00 ERA (3.55 FIP) in 192 innings in 2016. If we start to see that guy again this summer, he’s the starter I want at the trade deadline. Under control next year, has had success in the AL East, misses bats and gets grounders. Sanchez checks quite a few boxes. We’ll see how the next few weeks play out. Right now, given Severino’s situation, I think the Yankees should be looking hard at the starting pitcher trade market and be prepared to act when the time comes — and as soon as possible — and I’m not talking about a back-end innings dude either.
3. I know it’s still very early and he’ll probably be fine over the long haul, but man, I’m not feeling too good about Zack Britton right now. The results haven’t been good (5.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K), and we’re seeing the same exact problems that plagued him last year. Specifically, he’s struggling to command his sinker and he’s falling behind in the count a ton. I don’t think he’s nibbling. I think he straight up can’t throw strikes. Also, Britton’s trademark sinker velocity is right where it was last year, not where it was during his monster years with the Orioles. Look:
Britton added velocity to his sinker as the season progressed last year and he got further away from the Achilles injury, and I was hopeful that would carry over to this season. It hasn’t happened. Maybe the sinker velocity will bounce back once the weather warms up and he gets into midseason form, but this is year one of what is effectively a three-year contract (because of the player option), and we’re already hoping the velocity ticks up in the summer months. Not great! Waiting around for the 31-year-old two years removed from arm problems to regain velocity is not a good place to be. The thing is, Britton can still be effective at this velocity. Very effective, in fact. He just needs better command than what he has right now (i.e. none), and a better infield defense too. I’m not declaring it a bad signing yet. It’s early and Britton’s track record carries weight, plus the Yankees deserve the benefit of the doubt. I’m just saying I’m not overly encouraged at the moment. I was hoping to see vintage Britton — or at least something close to it — following his first fully healthy offseason in several years. That has not been the case. The whole Super Bullpen thing only works when guys are pitching as expected and Britton most certainly is not, and it’s been a few years and several injuries since he’s been the pitcher the Yankees seem to expect him to be (given his contract).
4. The Xander Bogaerts extension (six years and $120M from 2020-25) isn’t all that relevant to Didi Gregorius. There are very few similarities between the two other than position and division. Bogaerts is nearly three years younger, he was a bit better last season (133 wRC+ and +4.9 WAR vs. 121 wRC+ and +4.6 WAR), and he’s healthier. Age and health are the two key differences here. I can’t imagine Sir Didi gets six years or $20M per year at this point. Not so soon after Tommy John surgery and not in this market. That Bogaerts deal is ridiculously cheap. I thought he had a pretty good chance at a $200M contract after the season as a prime-aged impact shortstop. (I’d thought about the Yankees signing him more than once over the winter, possibly even as a third baseman with Gregorius staying at short.) The Alex Bregman extension helped set the market for a potential Aaron Judge extension. The Eloy Jimenez deal shook up the market for a potential Gleyber Torres extension. The Bogaerts extension? I don’t think that has any relevance to Gregorius at all. They are at very different points in their careers — Bogaerts turns only 27 (!) in October — and the Tommy John surgery thing is a complicating factor. Love Didi. He is forever cool with me. He just doesn’t have much of a case for a Bogaerts level deal, even simply in terms of annual salary.
5. There is definitely a “you have to watch him every day to see how good he is” quality to DJ LeMahieu. He’s not going to run a .471 BABIP or hit .533 (!) on ground balls forever, but he grinds out at-bats, he hits the ball hard to all fields, and he’s excellent with the glove. Even at third base, where he had close to zero experience, he played very well defensively. Mixing in a home run every once in a while would be nice, though I’m sure he’ll hit the ball over the fence eventually. Besides, the Yankees have power to spare anyway. When the Yankees are at full strength (if they’re ever at full strength), LeMahieu would be the perfect No. 8 or No. 9 hitter. Pesky hitter near the bottom of the order who can cash in on run-scoring opportunities and also set the table for the top of the order once the lineup tuns over. The injuries have forced the Yankees to use LeMahieu closer to the middle of the lineup in the early going, but what can you do? Injuries force roster and lineup shuffles. Point is, this are going well in LeMahieu’s early days as a Yankee, and I suspect there is a not insignificant number of Yankees fans out there who disliked the signing but like him now after seeing his all-around game these last two weeks. LeMahieu’s not a star or anything. He can help his team win in several different ways though.
6. I already have Troy Tulowitzki in Jacoby Ellsbury territory. Yes, he could fill a role right now, and yeah, healthy players are better than injured players, but he’s a non-factor. The Yankees don’t really miss him and I’m not all that eager to see him back on the field either. Tulowitzki didn’t show much these last six weeks or so to suggest he can be anything more than a bottom of the lineup guy who doesn’t kill his team defensively. Gio Urshela and Tyler Wade are also bottom of the lineup guys, except they’re both legitimately above-average in the field, and they don’t need to be coddled with playing time. (Two weeks ago Boone said the Yankees didn’t want to play Tulowitzki more than two days in a row early in the season.) The idea that Tulowitzki offers upside never made sense to me — it is very weird to me “upside” was used to describe a 34-year-old who hadn’t played in 18 months and hasn’t been good in three years (why are there no anonymously sourced reports saying Craig Kimbrel has upside? oh right because he’ll cost real money) — and I don’t think he’s any better than the guys the Yankees have on the roster right now. Depth is good and important. Tulowitzki and Ellsbury on the MLB roster with Urshela/Wade and Mike Tauchman in Triple-A is preferable to Tulowitzki and Ellsbury on the injured list. It doesn’t seem like the Yankees are missing out on much right now though. Tulowitzki doesn’t move the needle much, if he moves it at all.
7. Speaking of the infield, I don’t get why Urshela is starting over Wade. This one doesn’t make sense to me. (Yes, I know Wade started last night.) Neither guy is going to hit much but they’re going to play comfortably above-average defense. Wade is a way better runner though, and there’s very little chance Urshela will have a long-term role with the Yankees. In all likelihood he’ll be lost on waivers or elect free agency when the Yankees drop him from the roster later this year. Wade is three years younger and there’s at least a chance — a small one, but a chance nonetheless — he can have a long-term role with the Yankees. I dunno. They’re both going to play great defense and not hit much. Wade will add more value on the bases and he’s quite a bit younger. The Yankees would not be sacrificing anything on the field in the short-term and they might be gaining something in the long-term. Wade at second with LeMahieu at third would be my preferred alignment, not Urshela at third and LeMahieu at second. When the difference in expected production is tiny (and effectively zero), relegating the young guy to a bench role so the journeyman can play everyday is backwards to me. Shrug.