Mailbag: Sale, Miller, Didi, Cabrera, Beltran, Hicks, Guerra

Got 16 questions for you in the mailbag this week. 16! You’re lucky I like you. The RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address is the best way to send us stuff.

Sale. (Todd Warshaw/Getty)
Sale. (Todd Warshaw/Getty)

Brian asks: Currently, the Yankees can’t offer the best package for Chris Sale. But if the Yankees immediately trade Chapman, Miller and Beltran for the best prospects they can get for them, and then flip some combination of those new prospects and their current prospects, do you think the Yankees could land Sale? Do you think the Yankees should do that?

Brian obviously sent this question in before the Aroldis Chapman trade, which has changed the farm system dynamic quite a bit. The White Sox are said to be seeking a package of five top prospects for Sale, which probably means they’ll take four top prospects plus a fifth piece. I assume they left themselves some wiggle room to come down a bit from the initial ask.

The Yankees could make a substantial offer right now. For example: Jorge Mateo or Gleyber Torres, plus Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and a lesser fifth piece. That’s quite an offer. An elite shortstop prospect, an MLB ready-ish starter, an MLB ready-ish outfielder, an MLB ready-ish catcher, and a fifth guy. I’m not saying the Yankees should do that, but they could put that on the table. The White Sox would have to think long and hard about that one.

As awesome as Sale is, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Yankees to do that. I’m not saying it’s an unreasonable package, just to be clear. That’s about what I think it’ll take to get it done. It’s just that, given where the Yankees are right now, they need as much young talent as possible. Sale is awesome. Top five starter in the game and he’s signed cheap through 2019. The problem is that’s a win now move and the Yankees aren’t a win now team.

Justin asks: I keep hearing that Miller’s trade value won’t ever be higher… Other then one less season of control and also barring injury and performance decline, shouldn’t he have similar value next season?? Relievers are always needed this time of year.

Similar value, but not the same value. These next few weeks are pretty valuable. They’re the difference between getting Andrew Miller for three postseason runs rather than only two postseason runs. Should the Yankees hold on to Miller through the deadline — that’s what I think will happen — he’s still going to have sky high trade value in the offseason. Still more than Chapman did at the deadline. He’ll just be slightly less valuable than he is right now. Getting that extra postseason run from a guy like Miller is huge. Elite relievers have more impact in the postseason than they do the regular season because the built-in off-days allow them to pitch pretty much every single game.

Anonymous asks: It seems like more and more people have recently been attacking didi up in the zone or even up out of it. Is this nothing, a problem he has always had or a new found weakness opponents are exploiting?

Hmmm, I hadn’t noticed this. I remember last year when Greg Bird came up it was painfully obvious teams were attacking him with high fastballs. I haven’t noticed that with Didi Gregorius. Let’s look at Didi’s numbers on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone and above (via Baseball Savant):

% Pitches AVG ISO Exit Velo
April 32.7% .238 .143 88.3
May 34.1% .148 .000 84.9
June 27.9% .250 .200 89.6
July 29.9% .333 .095 84.6
Didi’s 2016 31.0% .236 .101 86.7
MLB AVG 30.7% .227 .145 86.4

Looks like this may be nothing. Gregorius has not seen more pitches up in the zone recently — if anything he’s seen fewer, though I think that’s just the normal month-to-month randomness that exists in baseball and not a sign teams are changing their approach against Didi — and his results are more or less league average. He doesn’t hit for as much as power on high pitches, and that makes sense to me. Based on what I’ve seen the last year and a half, Gregorius definitely strikes me as a low ball hitter.

Kip asks: There has been a lot of talk previously on how great A-rod is as a coach for younger players. If the Yankees decide to sell does it make more sense to have A-rod being on your bench and helping the kids rather than cutting him and adding an additional shuttle arm or utility bench guy which doesn’t really factor much when you aren’t planning on being competitive this year?

Alex Rodriguez has long had a great reputation for helping young players and being a mentor. It’s impossible to quantify that but I do think he has a real positive impact on the kids. Playing what with amounts to a 24-man roster stinks though. A-Rod doesn’t play much and it’s not like he can even play the field late in a blowout. The roster construction is so bad right now.

Rosters expand in a month, at which point the Yankees a) can more easily carry Alex, and b) figure to call up some prospects. Sanchez, Mason Williams, and Ben Gamel will be up at the very least. Maybe Judge too. I’d like to see A-Rod stick around to work with them, so yeah, I’d ride it out with the 24-man roster in August. If we were in April rather than August, then forget it. Give me the roster spot over the mentorship.

James asks: Do teams every include a conditional PTBNL when trading a rental player? Something like “if the team receiving Chapman is unable to resign him team gets x player from the Yankees”

I’ve never heard of that happening but I’m sure it has happened somewhere along the line. Players to be named later have to be named within six months, so if you trade a guy for one of those conditional PTBNLs at the deadline, that gives the team until January to re-sign him. But! Why wouldn’t you just agree to re-sign him and not make it official until, say, February, to skirt the PTBNL agreement? I guess that could ruin working relationships.

Makaikai asks (short version): Is there a limit on how many perks teams can provide for their minor league players, such as better travel and lodgings and food?

Nope and this has long been considered a spot where a team could give themselves a possible competitive advantage. Spending a little more on things for minor leaguers such as a nutritionist or better travel or better equipment could help players develop better and improve morale. It could also help you lure minor league and international free agents, as well as tough to sign draft picks.

Why hasn’t a team done this? Mostly because owners don’t like to spend money. So few minor leaguers actually make it, remember. Shelling out extra cash for a nutritionist or a better bus for your Single-A team when only one or two guys on the roster will actually stick in the big leagues isn’t enough of a reward, I guess. Also, the MLBPA doesn’t care about minor leaguers, only their members (40-man roster players). They’d rather see the owner spend that $200,000 on a 40-man roster player than a new minor league bus. (I have no idea how much buses cost. Does $200,000 sound right?)

Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)
Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)

Craig asks: Ok, with Torres and McKinney, where do you think the Yankees’ farm system ranks now?

The Yankees might have a top ten system right now. Back half of the top ten, but top ten. Somewhere around eighth or ninth or tenth. Maybe a touch lower. They’ve got five no doubt about it top 100 guys (Torres, Mateo, Judge, Sanchez, Blake Rutherford) and one other fringe top 100 guy (James Kaprielian), plus several big time risers (Miguel Andujar, Chance Adams). The 2014-15 international class is starting to arrive too. The Yankees have impact prospects at the top of the farm system and depth in the low minors. If that’s not good enough to be a top ten system, I’m not sure what else it’ll take.

Greg asks: With the addition of Torres at Tampa, are the Yankees creating a current logjam at SS/2B? Is there enough room at the various teams to find full-time spots for everyone?

It’s definitely not ideal having so many players splitting time at shortstop and other positions, but at the end of the day, you take the talent and sort it out later. Torres has never played a position other than short in his career, and my guess is he’s going to get a crash course at second base a la Mateo fairly soon. The kid just got traded and is still learning the staff and everything, so they’re giving him some time to catch his breath right now.

This is more of a “problem” than a problem. In a perfect world everyone would play their natural position every day until they couldn’t do it anymore. Shortstops tend to be great athletes, so moving them around to different positions isn’t as big a deal. And of course, there’s going to be some attrition. Players will have to share shortstop in the low minors, but they time to get to Double-A and Triple-A, there will be fewer bodies to compete with for playing time. Not everyone will make it.

Daniel asks: Do you think Hal/Levine pushed for Warren as a second piece to “stay competitive”? Could the Yankees have gotten stronger secondary pieces if they didn’t insist on a major league reliever in the deal? Thanks!

That’s what has been reported, that one of the reasons Hal Steinbrenner signed off on the trade was the inclusion of Adam Warren, who could step in to replace Chapman as a trusted reliever. It’s silly, but it is what it is. And nah, I don’t think they could have gotten better secondary pieces by not taking Warren. Warren’s not a nobody. It’s not like they were going to get Torres and Eloy Jimenez instead. That alternative probably would have been some other okay-ish prospect, maybe not even one as good as Billy McKinney. That trade went so much better than I ever could have imagined that I feel sorta silly wondering how it could have been even better.

Rick asks: I see the Yankees just promoted Oswaldo Cabrera to Pulaski from the GCL after just 7 games (.455/.471/.818). When can I start getting excited about this 17 year old?

Whenever you want! The Yankees signed Cabrera for only $100,000 last year, so it wasn’t a high profile signing. The Yankees do have a good track record at find quality players on the cheap though. Both Severino and Mateo signed for under $300,000 back in the day, you know. Ben Badler (sub. req’d) gave a mini-scouting report on Cabrera in a chat a few weeks back:

He’s a good player and a nice signing by the Yankees for $100,000 … Not super tooled-up guy, but he’s a smart, instinctive player who’s been a consistent performer against live pitching going back to last year with quick hands at the plate and good bat-to-ball skills. Definitely a sleeper to watch.

Oswaldo is supposedly the younger brother of Yankees farmhand Leobaldo Cabrera, though I’m not sure that’s accurate. The internet tells me the hometowns listed on their MiLB.com pages are 430 miles apart. For now I’m in the information gathering phase. Cabrera’s been tearing the cover off the ball for weeks now, and like I said, the Yankees have a great track record finding cheap talent internationally. And if Badler calls him a sleeper, I’m paying attention.

Brian asks: Now that we know that Prince Fielder is done for the year, do the Rangers match up at all for a trade for Beltran at DH?

Oh sure. The Rangers match up for pretty much any kind of trade. They have all sorts of talent to offer. I hadn’t made the Carlos Beltran connection following the Fielder injury. That’s a good fit. Fielder wasn’t hitting at all (63 wRC+) so Beltran would be an enormous upgrade at DH.

Right now Texas seems content with rotating players in and out at the position, including Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo. Shin-Soo Choo (back) is expected to return fairly soon too. Their priority has to be pitching at this point. The staff has been decimated. If they come asking for Beltran, the Yankees should be all ears even with this recent hot streak.

Well, they brought him in to break records ... (Elsa/Getty)
Well, they brought him in to break records … (Elsa/Getty)

Nick asks: Assuming he didn’t drastically improve down the stretch, I’m curious what Ellsbury would get on the open market as a free agent after this year. Headley type money?

Alex Gordon is roughly the same age as Jacoby Ellsbury and he signed for four years and $72M over the winter. That’s coming off a season in which he hit .271/.377/.432 (122 wRC+) in 104 games around a groin injury. Ellsbury’s hitting .267/.331/.372 (90 wRC+) this year, so yeah, I don’t think Gordon money would happen. Chase Headley got four years and $52M. Maybe split the difference between Gordon and Headley and call it four years and $62M? That sounds about right. That’s compared to the $84.4M Ellsbury will actually earn the next four years. Meh. The money itself doesn’t bother me. It’s all those years. Seven years for a 30-year-old speed guy!

Anonymous asks: So, yeah, Aaron Hicks. What happens next?

I’m guessing he’s a gone come Monday. He’s started the last six games and seven of the last eight, and I bet he starts at least two games this weekend, if not all three. This feels like a last gasp “you have to show us something now or we’re getting rid of you” stretch. Based on the way he’s talked about him the last few weeks, Joe Girardi has clearly run out of patience with Hicks. The Yankees have a bunch of Triple-A outfielders they could try in his place, so it’s not like they’re short on alternatives. Barring a huge weekend, I think Hicks gets traded somewhere by Monday’s deadline, probably a rebuilding team like the Phillies or Athletics.

Casey asks: I am not entirely sure how the August trading and waivers works, but could you go through some of the Yankees that could work in an August trade. Like Mark Teixeira if he starts hitting? Chase Headley? Anybody else?

To make a trade in August, you have a put a player on trade waivers. If he gets claimed, you can pull him back, but you can only trade him to the claiming team. If he goes unclaimed, you can trade him anywhere. Every good player with a reasonable contract will get claimed. Andrew Miller? Insta-claimed. The Mets will claim Miller to block the Nationals from getting him, for example.

Guys like Teixeira and Ellsbury, who have massive contracts not at all in line with their production, will go unclaimed. If someone claims Ellsbury, I think the Yankees would let him go and stick the other team with the contract. Brett Gardner stands out as a possible August trade candidate. Maybe Starlin Castro? I think Beltran would get claimed in a block move, ditto any halfway useful arm. I wouldn’t call August trades rare, but they are uncommon. I’d be against the Yankees doing something next month.

Brian asks: I’ve seen rumors that the Brewers are fielding calls on 31-year-old rookie Junior Guerra, who’s having a good season for a bad Milwaukee team (6-2, 2.85 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Good target for #TeamBuy? And do the Yankees and Brewers match up well for a trade?

That’s an interesting one. Guerra is old even by late bloomer standards. A year ago he had a 3.39 ERA (3.11 FIP) as a swingman in Triple-A with the White Sox. This year he has a 2.85 ERA (3.80 FIP) as a starter with the Brewers. The one thing Guerra has going for him that makes me think he’s not a total fluke is a nasty splitter. Check it out:

How do you value a guy like this? Guerra’s a 31-year-old rookie who is suddenly pitching like a rock solid mid-rotation (or better!) starter. Yeah, he’s got five years of team control left, but he’s also approaching the age where you’d expect him to begin to naturally decline. Guerra had a bunch of injuries earlier in his career, and he’s pitched basically non-stop since 2011. Spring Training to the minors to winter ball to Spring Training to the minors to winter ball to Spring Training … like that.

The Brewers are rebuilding so I’m sure they’ll take prospects for Guerra — anything this guy gives them is gravy, why wouldn’t they listen to offers? — and the Yankees have a lot of those. Finding a match won’t be tough. The question is how do you value him. The Yankees plucked Vidal Nuno out of an independent league and traded him for a half-season of an established big leaguer, but Nuno was also 25, not 31. This is a tough one.

Chris asks: Has any player participating in the World Baseball Classic suffered a more career-altering injury than the wrist injury Teixeira suffered in 2013? Tex’s 2012 wasn’t up to his usual standards, but the wrist injury cost him pretty much all of 2013 and lingered through most of 2014 as well.

I will admit to not doing exhaustive WBC injury research, but I do remember ex-Yankee Luis Ayala blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery during the first WBC back in 2006. Here is the Washington Post’s story on the injury:

Though doctors believe Ayala sustained the injury while making his six pitches to Team USA slugger Alex Rodriguez, he did have pre-existing elbow concerns. Ayala underwent surgery in October to remove a bone spur in his right elbow, and though he had been declared healthy by team doctors, the club twice petitioned Major League Baseball to prevent him from pitching in the tournament.

Of course it’s A-Rod’s fault. Anyway, Ayala had a 2.75 ERA (3.68 FIP) from 2003-05, then had a 3.19 ERA (4.37 FIP) with his new elbow ligament after coming back in 2007. He then slumped to a 5.01 ERA (4.49 FIP) from 2008-09, spent 2010 in the minors (6.42 ERA), then resurfaced with the Yankees in 2011. Ayala’s still pitching, you know. He has a 3.12 ERA in 40.1 innings in the Mexican League this season.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Friday

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

As you may have heard, a fake rumor was going around last night that Carlos Beltran had been traded to the Indians. Actually, it wasn’t a fake rumor, per se. It came from this MLB.com article with a bunch of trade suggestions, and Twins people put the deals up on the dang Target Field scoreboard. The internet was abuzz for a few minutes, but no, there was no Beltran trade. Not yet, anyway.

The trade deadline is less than 80 hours away now, and since the Aroldis Chapman trade earlier this week, things have been rather quite around the Yankees. That’s not all that uncommon. They tend to keep things close to the vest. You can read through Thursday’s rumors right here. There’s not too many of them though. Once again, we’re going to keep track of the day’s Yankees-related trade rumors right here, so check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 9:30am: The Rangers have remained in contact with the Yankees about Ivan Nova as well as Andrew Miller and Beltran. Possibly Michael Pineda too. Texas is short on pitching, and they just lost Prince Fielder to season-ending neck surgery, so they have a hole at DH too. [Joel Sherman]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.

DotF: Torres and Amburgey lead the way in Tampa’s win

The notes:

  • High-A Tampa manager Pat Osborn told Randy Miller that RHP James Kaprielian (elbow) has resumed throwing. The Yankees are taking is slow, and, unsurprisingly, it’s unlikely Kaprielian will pitch in another game this season. “He’s playing catch. He’s not off a mound,” said Osborn. “I talked to him the other day. He said he’s doing all right. He’s in his throwing program. As far as his time table and when he’s gonna be back on the mound, I don’t know.”
  • OF Billy McKinney, who was part of the Aroldis Chapman trade, has reported to Double-A Trenton. OF Lane Adams was released to clear a roster spot, the team announced.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off-day.

Double-A Trenton (6-1 win over Altoona)

  • DH Tyler Wade: 0-4, 4 K — zoinks
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-3, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI — his last 15 hits: five doubles, three triples, two homers, five singles
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 0-4, 1 K
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 2-3, 1 2B, 1 RBI — got picked off second … 20 doubles are a new career high … he’s already doubled his previous career high homer total too
  • RF Billy McKinney: 0-3, 1 BB — first game since the trade … he went from a last place team in the Cubs system to a team that is 25 games over .500 and heading to the postseason, so that must be cool
  • SS Cito Culver: 2-4, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 E (throwing) — back-to-back games with a jack
  • 2B Abi Avelino: 1-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (missed catch) — not a bad Double-A debut
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 WP, 5/6 GB/FB — 61 of 98 pitches were strikes (62%) … up to 102.1 innings this season … he threw 134.1 innings last year and 119 the year before
  • RHP Matt Wotherspoon: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2 HB, 2/2 GB/FB — 31 of 47 pitches were strikes (66%)

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and I have two articles I recommend checking out. First, Billy Witz profiled Yankees assistant GM Michael Fishman, who heads up the team’s statistical analysis department. Fishman is the king of the Yankee nerds, I mean that respectfully. Second, Eno Sarris and David Laurila at FanGraphs spoke to a bunch of players about what it’s like to get traded. Their entire lives get turned upside down.

Here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is showing some regional games tonight, otherwise you’re on your own for entertainment. Me? I plan to finish season three of Bojack Horseman. Talk about whatever you want right here. Just no religion or politics.

Olney: Qualifying offer estimated at $16.7M this offseason

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

According to Buster Olney, the qualifying offer for the upcoming offseason is estimated at $16.7M. That’s up from $15.8M last season and $15.3M the offseason before. The QO is a one-year deal set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and the deadline to make the offer is five days after the end of the World Series. Players then have seven days to accept or reject.

The Yankees only have one serious QO candidate: Carlos Beltran. He’s hitting .305/.347/.548 (134 wRC+) with 21 homers in 95 games this season, though his defense leaves much to be desired. I don’t think the Yankees should make Beltran the QO because he’ll probably accept it — who is giving a soon-to-be 40-year-old free agent $16.7M, even across two years? — and I don’t see that as a good thing for the reasons I outlined yesterday.

Mark Teixeira and Ivan Nova are New York’s only two other impending free agents, and based on what we heard earlier today, Nova will be traded prior to Monday’s deadline. Teixeira has been beyond awful this season, hitting .190/.270/.325 (59 wRC+) with nine homers in 71 games around a knee problem. A year ago at this time he looked like a QO candidate. Now? Now he can’t get off the team fast enough.

It’s also possible for CC Sabathia to become a free agent after the season, though that would require him to suffer a shoulder injury that would void his $25M vesting option for 2017. A healthy Sabathia is not a QO candidate at this point of his career. Sabathia with a shoulder injury? No chance. With Aroldis Chapman gone, Beltran is the Yankees’ only QO candidate. We’ll see what happens with him.

The QO offer entitles the team to a supplemental first round draft pick should the player reject the offer and sign elsewhere as a free agent. Signing a QO free agent means forfeiting your highest unprotected draft pick. It’s worth noting players who accept the QO can not be traded until June 1st of the following season, so if your plan is to make Beltran the offer and trade him if he accepts, it won’t fly. At least not immediately.

It’s worth noting the new upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement could change the QO system and I think that’ll happen, but chances are it’ll be minor tweaks rather than an overhaul. If MLB and the MLBPA reach an agreement before the end of the World Series, then the new system will presumably take effect. If not, the current QO system stays in place until the two sides announce any changes. The current CBA expires December 1st.

If the Yankees aren’t going to continue selling, then they need to be smart about buying

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even with last night’s disappointing loss, the Yankees are now 11-6 in their last 17 games, all of which have been played against good teams. They’ve have won series against the Astros, Giants, Orioles, and Indians in recent weeks. Three first place teams and arguably the hottest team in baseball. Who saw this coming? No one.

The recent hot streak has seemingly thrown a wrench into the team’s trade deadline plans. Rather than an all-out sell job, there’s now at least some justification for keeping the band together and going for it. The Yankees are only four games out of a wildcard spot, after all. They have ten games left with both the Red Sox and Blue Jays, the two teams sitting in the wildcard spots at the moment.

The Aroldis Chapman trade was a special circumstance. I always thought he was going to be moved no matter what. His trade value was far too great to let him walk for nothing more than a draft pick after the season. The trade showed that. The Yankees bought super low and sold high. It was a perfect baseball move. Ivan Nova figures to go before the deadline, but that’ll be a fairly insignificant move.

Other key players, most notably Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller, seem more likely to stay put now thanks to this recent winning streak. Do I still think the Yankees should sell? Yeah, I do. I’m not saying give guys away, but accept the postseason probably isn’t happening — FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 9.0% as of this writing — and buy for the future by trading away veterans. It’s what smart teams do.

If the Yankees don’t continue selling, then I think they should look to buy at the deadline, albeit in a conservative way. I’m not saying they should go out and trade top prospects for big name players just because they’re big name players. If there’s a trade to be made for, say, a young starting pitcher under control long-term, then yeah, it’s worth looking into even if it costs top prospects. That’s always the case though, not just at the trade deadline.

Anyway, the 2011 Pirates are the perfect example of the type of buying I’m talking about. The Pirates were 54-51 on the morning of the 2011 trade deadline and 3.5 games back of a postseason spot, so they were in a similar situation as the Yankees right now. Pittsburgh had a young team and was in the process of trying to build something sustainable, which the Yankees are trying to do right now as they wait for their big contracts to expire.

Rather than spend big at the deadline, the Pirates took small bites and added Ryan Ludwick and Derrek Lee in minor trades. They got Ludwick from the Padres in a cash deal and Lee from the Orioles for a non-top 30 prospect. Both guys were veteran players in the final years of their contracts who filled clear needs for Pittsburgh. They bought, but in a smart way that didn’t compromise what they were trying to build. Ultimately, the 2011 Pirates faded out of the race, which is something the Yankees could very well do in August and September.

That’s that kind of buying I’d like to see the Yankees do if they don’t continue to sell before the deadline, and let’s face it, it’s looking less and less likely they’ll sell the longer this hot streak continues. (They’ll play three against the last place Rays this weekend too. That’s not good for #TeamSell.) The Yankees clearly need another bat — they need like three bats, but one thing at a time — and another pitcher wouldn’t hurt, either starter or reliever.

Lind. (Presswire)
Lind. (Presswire)

How can they fill those needs on the cheap, a la the 2010 Pirates? That’s the hard part. Here’s the list of upcoming free agents. Any super cheap veterans look appealing? The Mariners would probably give Adam Lind (87 wRC+) away at this point so they could get Dan Vogelbach in the lineup, and Lind would potentially give the Yankees a DH alternative to Alex Rodriguez. Lind always seemed to rake in Yankee Stadium when he was with the Blue Jays.

I’ve mentioned Danny Valencia before and he’s another possibility. He’s having a productive year (126 wRC+) but the Athletics are cutting back on his playing time so they can get a look at some younger players. Susan Slusser recently reported there’s so little trade interest in Valencia — supposedly he’s a bit of a clubhouse cancer, but who knows — that he might get designated for assignment. He’s not a rental, but he is non-tender-able after the season. That all makes Valencia a potential cheap upgrade at first base or DH.

The pitching market is a little tougher to decipher because there’s so little available that even replacement level arms like Lucas Harrell are fetching a top 15-ish org prospect. Luke Hochevar probably won’t come cheap. Same with Joe Smith. What about Carlos Torres? The Yankees had interest in him before the season and the rubber-armed reliever has a 2.90 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 49.2 innings with the Brewers. Does Torres satisfy the “better than Swarzak” criteria? Maybe!

The names of specific targets aren’t all that important. The plan of attack is what really matters. If the Yankees don’t sell any more, then fine. I won’t like it but there’s nothing I can do about it. In that case they should look to bring in some help to improve their chances, and do it in a way that doesn’t hurt the future. The Pirates showed it can be done back in 2011. I’m not saying it’ll be easy, but it can be done.

I think the worst thing the Yankees could do at the deadline is nothing. Not selling and not buying, even conservatively. No improvements for the future, no improvements for the present. Yuck. Standing still would be a big letdown. I think the Yankees should look to move guys like Beltran and Miller and whoever else before Monday, but if the recent hot streak has ownership wanting to contend, then it’s up to the front office to bring in reinforcements that don’t hurt the future of the club.

Yankeemetrics: Raise or lower the white flag? [July 25-27]

Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)
Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)

No Chapman, no problem
Despite making their first significant “sell” trade-deadline move in more than two and a half decades, the Yankees continued to remain on the fringes of the playoff race with a 2-1 win over the Astros on Monday.

With the win, the Yankees moved to three games above .500 for the first time this season. This is the deepest into the season they’ve gone without reaching that mark since 1991, when they never got more than a game above .500 the entire season. They finished that forgettable campaign with a 71-91 record, their fifth-worth winning percentage in franchise history.

A victory did not look promising less than a minute after Michael Pineda took the mound in the bottom of the first inning; George Springer deposited the first pitch into the right-field seats for a quick 1-0 Astros lead.

It was the first time a Yankee allowed a first-pitch homer to the first batter of the game since the Jose Reyes took Hiroki Kuroda deep in Toronto on June 25, 2014, and just the 11th occurrence since pitch data became available in 1988. Of the 10 other instances, the only other Yankee pitcher who allowed no other runs besides that leadoff homer — like Pineda — was Jack McDowell on July 13, 1995 versus the Twins.

Austin Romine played the unlikely role of hero with a tie-breaking RBI double in the eighth inning. That was the first career go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later for the backup catcher, who is hitting a robust .375 (12-for-32) with runners in scoring position this season, the best mark on the team through Monday.

Milestone alerts! Carlos Beltran’s double leading off the seventh inning was the 524th of his career, passing one Hall-of-Famer (Willie Mays) and moving into a tie for 44th place with another Hall-of-Famer (Ken Griffey Jr.). Up next is Ted Williams with 525 doubles.

Chase Headley’s game-tying single in the fifth inning was his 1,147th career hit, breaking the major-league record for most hits by a Colorado-born player. He surpassed Roy Hartzell, a Golden, CO native who played 11 seasons with the St. Louis Browns (1906-10) and the Yankees (1911-16). According to a 1914 New York Times article, Hartzell was the “handiest utility man the Yankees ever had…he has played every position on the club except battery positions.”

That was easy. (Photo: AP)
That was easy. (Photo: AP)

All aboard the win train
The Yankees sure are making it tough for Prince Hal to push the SELL! button. For a team that’s defined inconsistency, they’ve somehow caught an incredible wave of positive momentum at the most critical juncture of the season, beating the Astros again on Tuesday night. It was another comeback win fueled by dominant starting pitching, some timely hitting and a shutdown back-of-the-bullpen performance.

CC Sabathia posted his best start in more than a month, giving up two runs on four hits while pitching into the seventh inning. He snapped a six-game winless streak during which he allowed at least four runs in each outing. That matched the longest such streak of his career, which he also did in 2002.

Although Sabathia had posted an ugly 7.46 ERA in his previous six turns, it wasn’t like he was getting crushed every night. He still entered Tuesday’s game with the lowest average exit velocity allowed (85.8 mph) among pitchers with at least 200 batted balls in play, and then nearly matched that number against the Astros (86.8).

Dellin Betances pulled off another crazy Houdini act, getting out of a two-out bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning to help seal the win. Hitters are just 2-for-27 (.074) with ducks on the pond against Betances in his career, the second-lowest batting average allowed in that situation among active pitchers (min. 25 at-bats), behind only Pirates lefty Tony Watson (.069).

Aces down
The Yankees desperate playoff push hit a speed bump on Wednesday night as the Yankees squandered a golden opportunity to move within three games of the second Wild Card spot after losing to the Astros, 4-1.

Still, even with the disappointing defeat, the Yankees are 11-5 (.688) all-time at Minute Maid Park, their third-highest winning percentage at any ballpark, behind only Atlanta’s Turner Field (.857, 12-2) and Minnesota’s Target Field (.760, 19-6).

Rotation ace Masahiro Tanaka — who entered the game with a league-leading 1.50 ERA in nine road starts — allowed four runs in five innings and lost for just the third time in 21 starts this season.

The loss also snapped a streak of seven straight Yankee wins in games started by Tanaka, the team’s longest such streak since winning 12 games in a row with Ivan Nova (!) on the mound in 2011. Tanaka has now been tagged for 10 runs and 14 hits in 10 career innings at Minute Maid Park.

Prior to Tanaka’s sub-par performance, Yankee pitchers had allowed just 17 runs in their previous 10 games, their best 10-game stretch of run prevention since July 1998.

Brian McCann drove in the lone Yankee run in the fourth inning with his 15th home run. This is the 11th time in his career he’s hit than many homers in a season, a feat matched by only seven other catchers in MLB history: Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Lance Parrish, Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada and Gary Carter.