Postseason Bound! Yankees clinch at least a wildcard spot with 5-1 win over Blue Jays

The Yankees are officially going back to the postseason. Saturday afternoon’s 5-1 win over the Blue Jays means the Yankees will be, at worst, the second wildcard team. The magic number to clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game is just two. October baseball, I’ve missed you so.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Don’t Hit It At Them, Hit It Over Them
In the first few innings Saturday, the only way the Yankees were not going to hit into a bad luck double play was by hitting the ball over the fence. Three times in the first five innings the Yankees had into a stupid double play. Three times! To recap:

  • In the second, with Chase Headley trying to steal second, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a hard-hit grounder up the middle and right at shortstop Ryan Goins, who was running to second to cover on the steal. He stepped on the bag and threw to first in the blink of an eye.
  • With runners on first and second in the fourth, Didi Gregorius hit a line drive at second baseman Darwin Barney, who doubled Aaron Judge off second base. The ball was hit too hard and Barney’s throw was too quick for Judge to get back in time.
  • In the fifth, Todd Frazier broke for second in a 3-2 count, and Brett Gardner hit a line drive right at Goins. He made the catch and casually threw to first to double up Frazier. Todd was basically at second base when the catch was made. So dumb.

Those double plays were the only reason Joe Biagini escaped with three runs allowed in five innings. The Yankees threatened in nearly every inning, yet it took them not hitting a ball into the field of play to score three runs. Headley drew a walk to start the fifth and stole second, then Starlin Castro worked a one-out walk to put two men on base. That’s when Greg Bird hit the go-ahead three-run home run.

That made all those stupid bad luck double plays worth it. Well, no, they were still annoying as hell, but at least the Yankees scored some runs along the way. That was Bird’s third homer in his last seven games. His last six hits: home run, home run, double, single, double, home run. Would be nice to really get Bird going before the postseason.

Six Strong For Sonny
For the eighth time in his ten starts as a Yankee, Sonny Gray did not allow more than two earned runs Saturday afternoon. And for the seventh time in those ten starts, he completed six full innings, even though there seems to be this idea floating around that he’s been a five-and-fly pitcher. Gray did have to wiggle out of some jams Saturday, including out two runners on base in three of his six innings, though the only damage was a Teoscar Hernandez solo home run in the third.

Gray’s final line: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K on 96 pitches. I thought maybe he would start the seventh and do the batter-to-batter thing against the bottom of the lineup, but nope. Joe Girardi went to the bullpen with a chance to lock down a postseason spot. Two of Gray’s three walks went to two of the final five batters he faced. He walked Josh Donaldson to start the sixth and Kendrys Morales with one out to put the tying run on base, but a great Gardner running catch and a ground ball later, the inning was over. Solid. Unspectacular. Sonny.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Leftovers
Seven hits for the offense, the biggest of which was Bird’s dinger (duh). Frazier drove in an insurance run with a solo homer in the eighth, and Castro brought in another insurance run with an infield single in the ninth. Doubles for Judge and Gary Sanchez, homers for Bird and Frazier, and singles for Headley, Ellsbury, and Castro. Sanchez, Castro, Sanchez, and Headley (two) had the walks.

Nine up, nine down, four strikeouts for the bullpen. Chad Green had the seventh, David Robertson the eighth, and Aroldis Chapman the ninth. The Rogers Centre crowd gave Jose Bautista a huge standing ovation in the eighth inning as he plays what is likely his final home series as a Blue Jay. Robertson struck him out. Love it. Also, the final out to clinch a playoff spot? Rob Refsnyder. Perfect. Just perfect.

aaron-judge-didi-gregorius

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score and updated standings, MLB.com has the video highlights, and FanGraphs has the postseason odds. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The final road game of the regular season. Possibly the final road game of the season overall! I hope not. That would be lame. The Yankees and Blue Jays will wrap up this three-game series Sunday afternoon. That’s a 1pm ET start. Jaime Garcia and Marcus Stroman are the scheduled starting pitchers.

Game 154: A Win And They’re In

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Even though the Yankees lost last night’s series opener to the Blue Jays, the magic number dropped to one because both the Angels and Rangers lost. Thanks for that, Astros and Athletics. The clinching scenario is very simple now. With their next win, the Yankees clinch a postseason spot. They’d also clinch with one loss each from the Angels and Rangers, but that’s lame. Winning to clinch your spot is so much cooler.

Last night’s loss combined with the Red Sox’s win essentially puts the AL East title out of reach — FanGraphs put New York’s division odds at a mere 3.0% — which means it’s wildcard or bust. Win Saturday, clinch a postseason spot, then party like hell. Then go out and win three more to clinch homefield advantage in that Wild Card Game. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. DH Chase Headley
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. 3B Todd Frazier
    RHP Sonny Gray

Another nice and sunny day in Toronto, so the Rogers Centre roof figures to be open. Today’s game will begin a little after 4pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Luis Severino was hit by a line drive in the back of his left shoulder during batting practice. He was down on the ground for a bit before he resumed playing catch. The Yankees say he’ll ice is down and is otherwise fine. Good gravy … Adam Warren (back) threw another bullpen session today and is slated to throw a simulated game Tuesday. He’ll be activated after that if all goes well … Aaron Hicks (oblique) played in an Instructional League game today, according to Antonio Mendes. The Yankees hope to get him back sometime next week so he can play in a few big league games before the postseason.

Saturday Links: Otani, Top Double-A Prospects, Robertson

Dingers. (Getty)
Dingers. (Getty)

The final road series of the 2017 regular season continues this afternoon with the middle game between the Yankees and Blue Jays in Toronto. That’s a 4pm ET start. Here are some links and notes to check out in the meantime.

Manfred doesn’t expect any side deals with Otani

While speaking to Jim Hoehn earlier this week, commissioner Rob Manfred said he doesn’t expect teams to get away with any sort of side deal with Shohei Otani, should he come over to MLB this offseason. There’s been plenty of speculation that whichever team signs Otani could agree to a massive contract extension in advance, then sign him after some predetermined length of time. Here’s what Manfred said:

“With respect to the speculation about what clubs are going to do, in today’s basic agreement structure, there’s only so much that you can do in an effort to avoid the rules and I have an outstanding staff in New York,” Manfred said. “If you’re talking about doing something with a 14-year-old kid in the Dominican Republic that nobody’s ever heard of, you might get past us. Given the focus on Otani, not only by our office, but by the clubs as a group, I think that it’s very, very unlikely that a club is going to be able to avoid the rules and not be caught.”

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes language targeting potential international hard cap circumvention. Ben Badler has a breakdown. Among other things, teams can not agree to sign players to an MLB contract at a set point in the future, or give him non-monetary compensation. Masahiro Tanaka‘s contract, for example, included moving allowances and an interpreter and round trip flights between New York to Japan.

MLB wants to treat Otani like any other player, meaning when he inevitably signs a big extension, they want it to be in line with other players at that service time level. The largest contract ever given to a player with one year of service time is the seven-year, $58M deal the Braves gave Andrelton Simmons. That was five years ago, so inflation has to be considered. If Otani comes out and throws 170 innings with a 3.50 ERA and hits .280/.350/.450 in 400 plate appearances next year, how would MLB be able to argue he is not at least a $150M player?

Three Yankees among top Eastern League prospects

Baseball America (subs. req’d) continued their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league this week with the Double-A Eastern League. Red Sox 3B Rafael Devers sits in the top spot. Three Yankees farmhands made the list, not including Athletics SS Jorge Mateo, who placed eighth on the list based on his time with Trenton before the trade. Here are the three Yankees:

  • 10) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar has above-average raw power and should have the bat to profile at third base … His hands are soft enough and his arm is strong enough, but he has a tendency to lower his arm slot, which leads his throws astray.”
  • 11) LHP Justus Sheffield: “He couples his fastball with a slider and changeup that waver in their consistency but project as plus for some scouts … Some see him as a No. 2 starter, while others see a back-end starter or a potentially dominant reliever based on his shorter stature and durability questions.”
  • 12) RHP Domingo Acevedo: “Opposing managers marveled at the way Acevedo can place his fastball, which parks in the mid-90s and can touch as high as 98 mph …He tends to throw mostly fastballs, so the Yankees mandated he go offspeed in certain counts, even against his instincts.”

That Acevedo mandate is pretty interesting. It’s certainly not uncommon for teams to mandate pitchers throw, say, a certain number of changeups per start. But go offspeed in specific counts? That’s a new one. I wonder whether that shows up in the stats at all. Acevedo had a 2.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 79.1 innings for Trenton, but did he get predictable because he was throwing offspeed in certain counts? Hitters could’ve keyed in on that.

Anyway, Sheffield and Acevedo are the two highest rated pitchers on the list. Also, SS Gleyber Torres was not eligible for this list because he only played 32 games with Trenton before being promoted, otherwise I’m sure he would’ve ranked first or second. The conflicting scouting reports on Andujar are kinda funny. This report says his hands are “soft enough” while the Triple-A International League list said his “hard hands could be too much to overcome.” Hmmm.

Also, in the chat, Josh Norris said SS Thairo Estrada was very close to making the list. “Managers around the league paid him plenty of compliments for his ability to get on base and play solid defense at both second and shortstop (once Torres left for Scranton) as well as his leadership abilities on the field and work ethic behind the scenes,” said the write-up.

Robertson a Marvin Miller Man of the Year award finalist

MLBPA announced this week that David Robertson is the AL East finalist for this year’s Marvin Miller Man of the Year award. Eduardo Escobar, Mike Trout, Steven Matz, Anthony Rizzo, and Buster Posey are the finalists for the other divisions. Each team nominates a player and the six finalists were chosen through fan voting. The winner will be decided by a player vote. The Marvin Miller Man of the Year award goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community most inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” MLBPA makes a $50,000 donation to charity on the winner’s behalf. Mariano Rivera won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award back in 2013, so Robertson is trying to follow in Mo’s footsteps (again).

Blue Jays hammer Tanaka, Yankees drop series opener 8-1


Source: FanGraphs

There will be no postseason clincher Friday night. The Yankees were blown out 8-1 by the Blue Jays in the first game of their final road series of the regular season. The magic number remains two — it could still drop tonight depending what the Rangers and Angels do — and the Yankees are still 14-5 in their last 19 games. Let’s recap this loss with bullet points, because it was ugly and because it’s Friday night, and then let’s never talk of this game again:

  • MasaHRo: Not a good outing for Masahiro Tanaka. Not at all. He gave up three home runs, all on hanging offspeed pitches and two in two-strike counts. The big blow: a grand slam by Ryan Goins. Ryan Goins! That’s like giving up a grand slam to Brendan Ryan. The Yankees were already down 4-1 at the time, so all the grand slam did was make it a laugher. Teoscar Hernandez (long solo homer) and Russell Martin (wall-scraping two-run shot) also took Tanaka deep. His final line: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 6 K. Yuck.
  • One & Done: The Yankees got off to a such a great start Friday night. Five pitches into the game they were up 1-0 on Aaron Judge‘s 46th (*47th) home run of the season. It was a bomb too. The Yankees did not score again. Judge walked to start the fourth inning, but never moved from first. He doubled to start the seventh inning, but never moved from second. Judge went 2-for-2 with a homer, a double, and two walks. The rest of the Yankees went 1-for-27 (.037) with two walks. Gary Sanchez, to be fair, hit two rockets right at defenders.
  • Leftovers: Tommy Kahnle, who was warmed up and ready to go when Tanaka served up the grand slam to Goins, struck out the only batter he faced. One batter too late, eh? … seven up, six down for mop-up men Jonathan Holder and Gio Gallegos … the one non-Judge hit was a third inning double by Todd Frazier, who then fell for the hidden ball trick at second base. Here’s the video. That kinda night.

Here are the box score, video highlights, updated standings, and postseason odds. Here’s out Bullpen Workload page. The Yankees and Blue Jays continue this three-game series Saturday afternoon. That’s a 4pm ET start. Sonny Gray and Joe Be-A-Genie are the scheduled starters. Will it be a postseason clincher? I hope. Would be cool.

Game 153: A Good Night to Clinch

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Tonight is the first night this season the Yankees have a chance to clinch a postseason berth. The Yankees need some help though. Three things need to happen to clinch tonight:

  1. Yankees win (duh)
  2. Angels lose to Astros
  3. Rangers lose to Athletics

All three need to happen. Not one of three or two of three. All three. The Rangers have won four straight games to move into a tie with the Halos in the standings, which is why they’re involved in the postseason race now.

That all said, the Angels and Rangers are going to do whatever they’re going to do tonight. The Yankees have no say in that. All they can control is their own game against the Blue Jays in this, the first game of the final road series of the season. A win tonight means the Yankees will be able to clinch a postseason spot with a win tomorrow regardless of what the Angels and Rangers do. Here’s the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. LF Clint Frazier
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The internet tells me it is nice and sunny in Toronto, so I imagine the Rogers Centre roof will be open. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:07pm ET and WPIX will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner is still a little sore after taking a pitch to the shoulder Wednesday, which is why he’s out of the lineup. Sounds like it’s more precautionary than he’s too hurt to actually play.

Rotation Update: The Yankees will start Jaime Garcia, not Jordan Montgomery on Sunday, the team announced. I’m sure that’s all part of their extra rest/line up the postseason rotation plan. As of right now, it sure looks like the Yankees have Luis Severino, Tanaka, and Sonny Gray lined up to start the first three postseason games in that order.

Looking ahead to the 2018 luxury tax payroll situation

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Right now, everyone in Yankeeland is focused on locking down a postseason spot, and understandably so. They’re going to clinch a wildcard spot very soon and the AL East title isn’t completely out of reach. The Yankees have been to the postseason once in the last four seasons, and that was a wholly unsatisfying Wild Card Game shutout loss in 2015. No one wants to see that again.

In the front office though, Brian Cashman and his staff are surely already in 2018 planning mode. Yes, they’re focused on the postseason race too, but they never stop looking for ways to improve, and in mid-to-late September, that means looking ahead to the offseason. It’s a weird dynamic. There’s only so much the front office can do to help the 2017 Yankees at this point. The roster is built. Now it’s up to the players to perform.

Once we get into offseason mode and start thinking about how the Yankees will adjust and improve their roster for next season and beyond, the $197M luxury tax threshold is going to hang over every discussion, every move. Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear he wants to get under the threshold and 2018 is, by far, the best chance the Yankees have had to do it in quite some time. They hoped to do it in 2014, but missing the postseason in 2013 changed things.

So, with that in mind, I figured we might as well break down the current 2018 luxury tax payroll situation, just to see where the Yankees stand heading into the offseason. The short version: they should have a nice chunk of change to spend this winter. The long version: well, let’s get to that now. Here’s a 2018 payroll breakdown.

Guaranteed Contracts

Might as well start with the elephant in the room. Tanaka might opt-out of his contract. He also might not! My guess right now is he will opt-out. I’d say it’s 90/10 right now in favor of opting out or leveraging the opt-out into an extension, CC Sabathia style. For now, Tanaka is under contract next season, so you have to include him in any payroll projection. If he opts out, you adjust. Those seven contract above total $108.42M toward next year’s luxury tax payroll.

The Yankees are shedding Sabathia’s contract ($25M annually for luxury tax purposes) as well as Matt Holliday‘s pricey one-year commitment ($13M) after the season. The good news: that’s $38M freed up! The bad news: they have to replace Sabathia and Holliday somehow. Michael Pineda ($7.4M), Todd Frazier ($12M pro-rated), Jaime Garcia ($12M pro-rated), and Chris Carter ($3M) are among the smaller commitments coming off the books as well. All told, roughly $52M worth of veterans will be leaving the luxury tax payroll this offseason, not counting Tanaka.

Arbitration-Eligible Players

Erik Kratz will be arbitration-eligible for the third time this offseason as well, though he’s as good as gone. He’ll be among the first players (if not the first player) designated for assignment when time comes to clean up the 40-man roster. I suspect Shreve will be a 40-man casualty as well. He’s out of minor league options, and when a middling up-and-down reliever runs out of options, they tend to get cast aside for the next optionable up-and-down arm. Such is life.

Anyway, the Yankees have a pretty sizeable arbitration class. Gregorius could end up earning north of $8M next season while Gray should clear $6M. What’ll happen with Betances? He went to his fourth straight All-Star Game this year and, even with the walks this season, his track record puts him among the best relievers in the game. Also, he went 10-for-11 in saves while filling in for Chapman, and saves pay in arbitration. Even if Dellin were to go to arbitration and lose again, I think he’s looking at $5M or so next season.

Warren, Romine, and Kahnle won’t get huge raises given their roles and track records — Warren might get $3.5M or so, but the other guys won’t get much more than $1M — though I have no idea what’ll happen with Hicks. He was outstanding in the first half this year, then hurt and kinda crummy in the second half. Tough to value him. I’d say $3M seems like a possibility. Based on my guesstimates, the Yankees are looking at $25M to $30M in arbitration salaries next year, not counting Shreve. Add that to the guaranteed contracts and we’re at $138.42M total. Let’s call it $140M flat.

Miscellany

  • Dead money ($5.5M): Portion of Brian McCann‘s salary
  • Eleven pre-arbitration-eligible players ($5.995M): $545,000 league minimum each
  • Remaining 40-man spots: $2M estimated
  • Player benefits: $12M estimated

The other big contract the Yankees are shedding after the season: Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees paid him $21M to hang out with Jennifer Lopez this year and he counted against the luxury tax at $27.5M. Woof. That $27.5M worth of dead money on the luxury tax payroll is gone. The Yankees are still paying part of McCann’s salary, but that’s it. No other payments to players no longer on the roster.

Unloading the Sabathia and A-Rod contracts is the biggest reason next year will be the best chance the Yankees have had to get under the luxury tax in quite some time. The second biggest reason? The pre-arbitration-eligible players. Homegrown All-Stars Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino will all make something close to the league minimum next year. It won’t be exactly the league minimum — the Yankees have a sliding salary scale based on service time with escalators for awards, etc. — but it’ll be relative peanuts. Among those three, Judge figures to get the largest 2018 salary for several reasons …

  1. He was the AL’s leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game.
  2. He’s probably going to lead the AL in home runs.
  3. He’s going to win Rookie of the Year, possibly unanimously.
  4. He’s going to finish in the top ten of the MVP voting. Maybe top five.

… but even then his salary will be in the six-figures. The largest pre-arbitration salary ever went to Kris Bryant this year. The Cubs gave him $1.05M. All he had to do was win Rookie of the Year one year, then MVP and the World Series the next. Mike Trout is the only other member of the $1M pre-arbitration club, so yeah. Point is, the Yankees have a great chance to get under the luxury tax threshold next year because their three best players will make something close to the league minimum. What a huge, huge advantage.

Beyond those three, there’s also Jordan Montgomery providing cheap rotation innings and Chad Green dominating out of the bullpen at little cost. And Ronald Torreyes serving as the cheap utility infielder. Now, here’s the thing: I said eleven pre-arbitration players, but that’s not correct. Seven guaranteed contracts plus seven arbitration-eligible players (not counting Shreve) gets us to 14 roster spots, so the Yankees need eleven guys to fill out the roster.

They’re not going to fill all eleven spots with pre-arbitration-eligible players, however. They’re probably going to sign a pitcher to replace Sabathia (or re-sign Sabathia himself) and probably add a veteran bat to replace Holliday and/or Frazier (or re-sign Frazier himself), plus who knows what else. Judge, Sanchez, Severino, Montgomery, and Green are pre-arbitration locks. Torreyes figures to still be around and there will probably be a few cheap bullpeners too (Ben Heller? Jonathan Holder?). Inevitably the Yankees will sign some veterans though.

Alright, so when we add all that together, the guaranteed contracts plus arbitration and pre-arbitration players plus the dead money plus the miscellaneous expenses (benefits, other 40-man guys) we get roughly $165M. The luxury tax threshold is $197M next year, so the Yankees are left with $32M or so to play with. It’ll be about $55M if Tanaka opts out, which I think will happen. That would be $55M to replace Tanaka, Sabathia, Holliday, and Frazier, plus other miscellaneous upgrades.

* * *

Because the Yankees appear to have $32M to spend this offseason — I say appear because this is all one giant estimate — even if Tanaka doesn’t opt-out, I wonder whether they’ll look to lock up some of their young players to long-term extensions. If a player does sign an extension, next year’s luxury tax hit becomes the average annual salary of the contract. So giving Sanchez, say, six years and $45M would give him a $7.5M luxury tax hit rather than his league minimum salary. That’s a pretty big deal.

At the same time, signing young players to multi-year extensions that buy out future arbitration and free agent years is generally great for business. There are always exceptions — some guys get hurt or just stop hitting and the contract becomes a dud, that’s baseball — but more often than not, teams are glad they signed their players. The sooner the better too. Salaries only go up the longer you wait. The Yankees have five obvious extension candidates and I’d rate them in this order, in terms of priority:

  1. Sanchez: You don’t let young catchers who hit like this get away. I don’t care how many passed balls he allows. Sign him and enjoy having the game’s top hitting catcher for the next decade.
  2. Gregorius: He’ll be a free agent following the 2019 season, and the only reason I don’t have him above Sanchez is all the young shortstops in the system. Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, etc. Still, a shortstop who is above-average on both sides of the ball and is as wonderful as Didi is off the field is worth keeping.
  3. Gray: Like Gregorius, Gray will be a free agent following the 2019 season. I am normally cool with going year-to-year with pitchers because of the injury risk, and I’d probably wait another year with Gray, but there is some urgency here. He’s not under control for that long.
  4. Judge: I have no idea how this dude will age because of his size. It’s such a unique profile. Also, the Yankees already have Judge under team control through his age 30 season, so they’re getting his prime. It’s not like he’s due to become a free agent at age 26 or something.
  5. Severino: Pitchers break, man. Severino is at the bottom because the Yankees have him through the 2022 season. He’s not hitting the open market anytime soon. Going year-to-year is fine with me. The Yankees did that with Chien-Ming Wang and saved millions when he broke down. They can afford to pay big arbitration raises, if necessary.

Steering clear of big money free agents — that doesn’t mean staying away from free agents entirely, just the super expensive ones — would give the Yankees enough payroll space to sign one or two of their young cornerstone players to a long-term contract, which will potentially save millions down the road. Short-term pain (higher luxury tax during pre-arbitration years) for long-term gain (below market salaries in the future). The Yankees signed Robinson Cano to an extension through his arbitration years and first few free agent years and didn’t regret it for a second.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are going to sign anyone long-term until they get under the luxury tax threshold and reset their luxury tax rate, which is currently the maximum 50%. Once they do that, they’ll be in much better position to lock up their own players (Sanchez, Judge, Severino, etc.) and spend big for free agents (coughBryceHarpercough). The Yankees have some payroll space to play around with this offseason, though they won’t spend wildly like they did during the 2013-14 offseason. This is their best chance to get under the luxury tax threshold and they’re not going to miss it.