Thoughts following the West Coast trip

More like Gary Slamchez. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
More like Gary SLAMchez. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Yankees just wrapped up a successful six-game West Coast trip that still somehow feels like a bit of a letdown. I guess because the two losses were close games that were very winnable. The Yankees are five games back of the Orioles for the second wildcard spot, and wouldn’t you know it, six of their next nine games are against Baltimore. This upcoming stretch is: crucial. I have some thoughts.

1. I’m a bit surprised the Yankees didn’t shuffle their rotation to ensure Masahiro Tanaka faces the O’s in these next two series. They would have needed to use a sixth starter at some point during the road trip, and again at some point during the series in Kansas City next week. Then again, the Yankees have an off-day today and again next Thursday, which really would have spaced out Tanaka’s starts. He’s been better on extra rest this year, no doubt about it, but there is such a thing as too much rest too. I don’t blame them for starting Tanaka as often as possible. They need all the wins they can get. It just seemed lining him up against the O’s would have been a good idea. Right now he’s not scheduled to face them at all.

2. Beyond all the dingers, I’ve been really impressed by Gary Sanchez‘s overall approach at the plate. All the scouting reports through the years said he has a good approach, and for whatever reason “good approach” has become synonymous with “high walk rate.” That’s never been Sanchez though. He had a 7.9% walk rate in the minors and he’s drawn six unintentional walks in 80 big league plate appearances this year. We have seen that good approach though. Sanchez seems to do a good job laying off breaking balls in the dirt and getting himself into hitter’s counts. In fact, he’s gotten into a hitter friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count 32 times in his 80 plate appearances this year, or 40%, which is about league average. (That’s not counting the intentional walks). This is a kid who’s been an everyday player for less than a month, remember. Small sample size warnings and all that apply, obviously. It just seems like Sanchez really knows what he’s doing at the plate. The power is a product of that approach.

3. Brian McCann caught Tuesday night and that kinda throws a wrench into this theory, though I still wonder if his sudden move to DH is at least somewhat health related. Yes, of course the Yankees want to get Sanchez behind the plate, but before Tuesday night, Austin Romine had caught Sanchez’s previous two off-days. McCann is a warrior. We’ve seen the guy play through all sorts of injuries since he arrived in New York — earlier this season he had toe and elbow issues, and last year he had a knee problem so severe that he altered his batting stance — and maybe now he’s nursing something a little more serious than the typical day-to-day catcher stuff. Perhaps there’s some concern about a concussion? Either way, the Yankees are definitely saving some wear-and-tear on their veteran catcher by giving him so much time at DH. McCann probably hasn’t felt this good physically in late-August in a long time.

4. Aaron Judge‘s recent struggles — he’s in a 3-for-26 (.115) slump with 13 strikeouts — don’t concern me at all. Not yet. It’s way too soon for that. Do I wish he was mashing like Sanchez? Of course. But it’s not terribly surprising a guy his size is having some trouble in his first exposure to big league pitching. Judge had similar problems when he first got to Triple-A last year. This is why the Yankees called him up two weeks ago, to begin the adjustment period. It might take some time too. A few hundred plate appearances or so. We’ve already seen all the tools that make Judge such an impressive prospect. The huge power, the rocket arm, the surprising athleticism, all of that. He just needs to figure out how pitchers are approaching him and how to overcome his massive frame at the highest level. That’s hard!

Cessa. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Cessa. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

5. So how about Luis Cessa and Chad Green? It looks like the Yankees might have something with those two. Even if they’re ultimately nothing more than relievers, that’s still a pretty nice haul for a good but not great reliever like Justin Wilson. I think Cessa has a better chance to start long-term than Green because he has more pitches and seems more willing to pitch inside, though I have no way to prove that last point. Point is, these two very clearly have big league caliber arms. They’re going to be in the Yankees’ plans going forward in some capacity, either starter or reliever. Getting two starters — even fourth of fifth starters, which is what these two profile as — out of that trade would be phenomenal. Guys like that are getting $10M a year as free agents. Given the state of the organization and their current needs, that trade looks better and better by the day.

6. Aaron Hicks in August: .303/.333/.455. It’s only 69 plate appearances, so let’s not go retiring his number yet, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence he picked up the pace offensively as soon as he started playing regularly. Hicks has been abysmal most of the season. Unforgivably awful. The Yankees very clearly believe in his talent though and they’re sticking with him. When you’re a rebuilding transitioning team, the last thing you do is give up on high-end athletes with loud tools after 200-something plate appearances in your uniform. The Twins are a disaster and they have a history of giving up on players only to watch them find success elsewhere. (Carlos Gomez, Danny Valencia, Wilson Ramos, and even Francisco Liriano jump to mind.) They deserve zero benefit of the doubt when it comes to evaluating talent. The Yankees, meanwhile, have been getting better at developing young players the last year or two. Hicks is without a doubt worth a longer look in my opinion. If nothing else, he’s playing himself into some more trade value for the offseason.

7. Two recent non-Yankee roster moves I didn’t like: Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Buchter being optioned to the minors. The Blue Jays sent Sanchez down to limit his innings and free up a roster spot for a few days. He’s expected to be called back up as soon as his ten days are up. The Padres said they sent Buchter down due to fatigue and used his declining spin rate (!) as evidence. Both guys were sent down for non-performance reasons and I hate that. Sanchez is going to get Cy Young votes! He deserves to be in the big leagues. Buchter has a 3.00 ERA (2.96 FIP) and has been San Diego’s best reliever all season. If he’s fatigued, he’s supposed to go on the DL, not Triple-A. The rules say the Blue Jays and Padres have the right to make those moves, but man, what an awful message to send. Two productive players who deserve to be in the show are losing service time and big league pay because it’s convenient to the team. There’s something to be said for rewarding performance and maintaining a positive relationship with your players. I’m glad the Yankees have never seemed overly concerned with service time. Regardless of the motives, sending Sanchez and Buchter down looks real bad.

Tanaka dominates, Sanchez homers again in 5-0 win over Mariners


Source: FanGraphs

Gosh, that was so close to being a perfect West Coast trip. The Yankees went 4-2 in the six games, and they allowed only two runs in one loss and held a two-run lead in the other loss. Blah. They beat the Mariners in Wednesday afternoon’s series finale by the score of 5-0. Good game. Would watch again. I’m still out of town, so let’s bullet point this recap one more time:

  • Normal Rest? No Problem: More brilliance from Masahiro Tanaka. Yawn. He allowed one walk, one double, and five singles in seven scoreless innings Wednesday while striking out five and getting ten outs on the ground. Tanaka now has a 3.11 ERA and a 3.23 FIP in 168 total innings this season. As of this writing, he’s fourth among all pitchers in fWAR. Tanaka is somehow elite and underrated despite being a Yankee. What a world.
  • Yo Soy Gary: This Gary Sanchez stuff is getting a little crazy. This is “video game on rookie” stuff. Sanchez hit another home run, his eighth in the last ten games, to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the first. In the later innings the Mariners intentionally walked him twice. Sanchez is the first player to be intentionally walked twice in a game within the first 21 games of his career since … Brian McCann. Spooky. He’s the first Yankees to be intentionally walked twice in a game since Robinson Cano in 2013.
  • Chip Away: The Yankees built their 5-0 lead by scoring one run in five separate innings. Tyler Austin and Mark Teixeira drove in runs with singles, and Brett Gardner and Starlin Castro drove in runs with sac flies. The Yankees had nine hits and five walks in their nine offensive innings. Sanchez (homer, double, two walks) reached base four times. Gardner, Teixeira, and Aaron Hicks each reached base twice.
  • Leftovers: Tyler Clippard (two outs) and Dellin Betances (four outs) closed out the game after Tanaka … Ronald Torreyes went 1-for-4 in the game and 9-for-16 on the trip. He had two hard-hit balls turn into outs Wednesday too … Aaron Judge went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the game and 1-for-18 with nine strikeouts on the road trip. No surprise the 6-foor-7 dude needs a little adjustment period … and finally, congrats to Joe Girardi. This was his 800th win as Yankees manager.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. The West Coast trip is over and the Yankees have an off-day Thursday. They’ll then have a quick three-game weekend homestand with the Orioles. Right now both pitchers are listed as TBA for Friday night’s opener. Luis Cessa and Yovani Gallardo line up to pitch that day, for what it’s worth.

Minor League Update: Since I’m still out of town, I’m going to take the easy way out tonight. Here are the box scores and here’s the short version: Mason Williams and Jake Cave each had three hits, Ben Gamel and Clint Frazier had two hits, Luis Severino allowed four runs in 5.2 innings, Dustin Fowler had two hits, Chance Adams struck out ten in 4.1 innings, Yefrey Ramirez struck out eight in eight one-hit innings, and the trio of Blake Rutherford, Dermis Garcia, and Isiah Gilliam went deep.

Game 126: End of the Road Trip

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

This was only a six-game West Coast trip but it sure felt a lot longer, didn’t it? A lot happened. Gary Sanchez mashed, the offense vanished for a game in Anaheim, Anthony Swarzak barfed all over a close game Monday night, CC Sabathia dominated yesterday … lots to unpack with this trip.

The West Coast swing ends this afternoon with the third of three against the Mariners. The Yankees really do need to win this game to have any shot at the postseason. Monday’s loss was a killer. It really was. The Mariners are one of the teams ahead of them in the standings and the Yankees need to win as many of these head-to-head games as possible.

I’m not going to have time to add the lineups to the post, so I’ll instead direct you to @YankeesPR on Twitter. They should have the lineup posted there. The internet tells me it’s been sunny all day in Seattle, so the Safeco Field roof should be open. Today’s game will begin at 3:40pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Sorting through the Yankees’ long list of September call-up candidates

No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

One week from tomorrow all 30 clubs will be able to expand their active rosters and carry up to 40 players. Most clubs carry fewer than 40 players once rosters expand, and that’s their choice. Roster size is not an unfair advantage if one team calls up ten extra players and another only calls up three. That’s long been a pet peeve of mine, calling September call-ups unfair. As long as everyone plays by the same rules, it’s fair.

Anyway, the Yankees have been one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to expanding their roster in recent Septembers. Last season they called up eight players on September 1st. Eight! I’m not sure we’ll see a first wave of call-ups that large again, but you can be sure the Yankees will add some extra arms and position players on the first day possible. They always do and there’s no reason not to. Let’s run down this year’s September call-up candidates.

The Locks

Generally speaking, the first wave of call-ups are players who have been up-and-down a bunch of times throughout the season and are still on the 40-man roster. That means Nick Goody, Richard Bleier, Chasen Shreve, and Rob Refsnyder are safe bets to come up on September 1st. Ditto Ben Gamel, though he hasn’t spent as much time on the big league roster this year as those other guys.

The Yankees are already carrying three catchers, so those five guys above may be the only players called up right away on September 1st. That would give the Yankees three extra bullpen arms — Bleier is working out of the Triple-A Scranton rotation at the moment, so he’d give the club a long man, which they lack right now — plus an extra infielder and an extra outfielder. That covers all the bases on the first day of expanded rosters.

The Maybes

By maybes, I mean players who may not be called up right away on September 1st. They’ll have to wait a few extra days or weeks for whatever reason, usually because the Yankees want them to work on things in Triple-A. This group of players includes Johnny Barbato, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Mason Williams. All five of those guys are on the 40-man roster. Here’s why they’re a maybe and not a lock for an instant September 1st call-up:

  • Barbato: Barbato started the season in the big league bullpen but has spent much of the year in Triple-A, where his control has been an issue. He was up briefly earlier this month and did not retire any of the four batters he faced. The Yankees could keep Barbato down a little longer so he can continue to working on his location.
  • Heller: Acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, Heller was actually up with the Yankees for a few days earlier this month, though he did not appear in a game. Heller has pitched well and is fairly new to Triple-A, though as a reliever, that’s not a big deal. I think the odds are better than 50/50 that he will be called up on September 1st, but it’s definitely not set in stone.
  • Mitchell: Blah. Mitchell pitched so well in Spring Training and looked poised to assume a big role in the bullpen, then he broke his toe covering first base and has missed pretty much the entire season. Mitchell is on a rehab assignment right now, and while that might be enough to get him ready for game action, the Yankees could send him to Triple-A for more consistent work rather than let him sit in the bullpen unused for long stretches of time.
  • Severino: No, I don’t think Severino is a lock for a September 1st call-up. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A with clear instructions to work on his changeup and so far he’s made one start since being sent down. He’ll make two more before September 1st. Hey, maybe that’s enough to make the team believe Severino trusts and will use his changeup, but I’m not sure I buy it. He might be down there a little while longer.
  • Williams: Williams missed most of the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, though he did return about a month ago and has been playing regularly. More time in Triple-A to make up for the lost at-bats seems like a smart move. Williams won’t get at-bats sitting on the MLB bench. Remember, the Yankees kept Slade Heathcott down much of September last year so he could play everyday following his quad injury. Doing the same with Williams makes sense.

Triple-A Scranton has the best record in all of Triple-A baseball and will clinch a postseason spot fairly soon. Likely before the end of the weekend. That means extra at-bats for Williams and extra starts for Severino and Mitchell. Those playoff games are valuable. They give Severino time to work on his changeup and Williams and Mitchell a chance to play following their injuries. Those guys don’t figure to play much in the big leagues if they get called up on September 1st. Keeping them down is an opportunity to continue their development.

The Rule 5 Draft Guys

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

The Yankees have already gotten a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection work by calling up Heller, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. They still have many other players who need to be protected, but remember, those decisions don’t have to be finalized until late-November. Calling a player up in September isn’t necessary to avoid the Rule 5 Draft. Teams will sometimes call players up in September if they’re planning to add them to the 40-man after the season, just get their feet wet in the show.

We can drop the Rule 5 Draft eligible players into three buckets: definitely going to be protected, possibly going to be protected, and not going to be protected. Usually only the “definitely going to be protected” guys get the early September call-up, and even then it’s not a given. Space on the 40-man roster can get tight. Let’s go ahead and drop the Rule 5 eligible players into those three buckets:

* Higashioka and Culver are not only Rule 5 Draft eligible, they’ll become minor league free agents after the season if they aren’t added to the 40-man roster.

My hunch is the Yankees will protect Higashioka, Enns, and Webb in addition to Andujar and Mateo after the season. That means Cave, Gallegos, Lail, and everyone else will be left exposed. Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, and if he gets popped again, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to the Yankees if he doesn’t stick. I don’t think that’s reason enough to keep him. Not with Gamel and Williams already on the 40-man.

Okay, so with that in mind, the question now becomes: why should these players be called up in September? Mateo’s speed could allow him to be the pinch-runner specialist. Then again, he was suspended for violating team rules not that long ago, and would the Yankees really reward him with a September call-up after that? Eh. I see no reason whatsoever to call up Andujar or Higashioka. Fourth string catchers and third basemen are not necessary. Those guys can wait until the offseason to be added to the 40-man roster.

That leaves Enns and Webb, two lefty pitchers. There’s always room for more pitching in September, so call-ups are possible, and in fact I think they’ll happen. Maybe not until after the Triple-A postseason, but eventually. Webb’s a pure reliever who could audition for a 2017 bullpen spot a la Phil Coke in September 2008. Enns has starter stuff and it I’m interested to see whether the Yankees give him a start in September. (Probably not.) I’m sure they’re looking forward to using a sixth starter on occasion next month, though Severino may be next on the depth chart.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

The Others

Who are the others? The non-40-man veterans in Triple-A. Chris Parmelee, for example. He was up earlier this season before getting hurt, and in fact he had a two-homer game with the Yankees. That was neat. Do the Yankees really need another first baseman with Austin, Refsnyder, and Mark Teixeira on the September roster? Not really. But maybe they’ll throw Parmelee a bone.

Other others include Donovan Solano, a utility infielder having a real nice season in Triple-A, and Cesar Puello, a former top Mets prospect who is having a productive season with the RailRiders after dealing with a back injury last year. Coke was up earlier this season and is still in Triple-A. Actual prospects like Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Holder are in Triple-A but are not yet Rule 5 Draft eligible, so don’t expect them to get called up in September. It’s one thing to call someone up a month before they need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. It another to do it a year early.

My guess is none of these others get called up September. The Yankees have more appealing options at their positions and there’s just not enough 40-man roster space to go around. Those guys will play in the Triple-A postseason and either go home once the playoffs are over, or head to Tampa to stay sharp in case there’s an injury and they’re needed at the MLB level. That’s pretty standard for these types of players in September.

The 40-Man Roster Situation

Alright, so after all of that, my sure to be wrong prediction is the Yankees will call up 12 extra players in September. The 12:

  • Up on September 1st (5): Bleier, Gamel, Goody, Refsnyder, Shreve.
  • Up later in September (7): Barbato, Enns, Heller, Mitchell, Severino, Williams, Webb.

All but Enns, Mitchell, and Webb are on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees will have to clear three spots. They can slide Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL to clear one 40-man spot. That’s easy. Righty J.R. Graham, who has amazingly managed to remain on the 40-man roster since coming over in a minor trade with the Twins in mid-May, is an obvious candidate to be designated for assignment. That’s the second 40-man spot.

The Yankees can go a few different ways for that final 40-man spot. They could designate someone else for assignment, maybe Anthony Swarzak or James Pazos. I don’t think that’ll happen though. In fact, Pazos is probably going to be called up in September, so it’s really 13 call-ups, not 12. I suppose someone like Bleier or Blake Parker could be cut loose next month, or even Tommy Layne. There is some dead weight here.

Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)
Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)

The other option is to call up Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow and place them on the 60-day DL. Both are currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. It sounds easy enough, though there are some complications with this. Both Lindgren and Rumbelow got hurt while in the minors, and calling them up to place them on the 60-day DL means they can not be optioned down again next year. They’d accrue service time on MLB DL instead.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal, especially in Rumbelow’s case. He had his surgery in April and may only spend only a month or two on the DL next year. Lindgren just had his surgery and would spent the entire 2017 season on the DL. Calling them up and placing him on the 60-day DL to clear up a 40-man roster spot is doable, but it throws a wrench into next year’s plans. Me? I’d just cut ties with Swarzak. I do wonder if the Yankees would drop Pazos from the 40-man roster given his control and injury issues this year though.

* * *

The Yankees are committed to their “play the kids” plan right now, so much so that Alex Rodriguez has been released and others like Teixeira and Brian McCann have had their playing time reduced. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue in September, and if anything, more kids may get chances next month. Expanded rosters will give the team extra arms and whatnot, and it’s an opportunity to give these youngsters even more of a chance to show whether they belong in the team’s long-term plans.

(Update: Heller was called up yesterday. Adjust accordingly.)

Yankees top Mariners 5-1 thanks to Sabathia’s great start, Ellsbury’s homer


Source: FanGraphs

Tuesday night’s 5-1 win over the Mariners was one of the Yankees’ best all-around games in quite a while. Just a real solid, crisp win. Good pitching, good hitting, the works. I want to see more games like this the last five and a half weeks of the season. West Coast night games get bullet point recaps, so let’s get to it:

  • Si Si: Man, what a job by CC Sabathia. The big lefty held the Mariners to one Aaron Judge aided run — Judge took a circuitous route in right field on Leonys Martin’s fly ball, leading to a triple — in seven otherwise stress-free innings. He struck out seven and allowed only three hits and one walk. That was Sabathia’s best start since mid-June and one of his best of the season overall.
  • Ellsburied: The Yankees scored their first run when Ronald Torreyes continued his hot hitting with a double to left. Kyle Seager committed an error earlier in the inning that opened the door for New York. The big blow of the night was Jacoby Ellsbury‘s two-run home run in the fifth inning, which turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 Yankees lead. Ellsbury is up to six homers on the season.
  • The Late Innings: Judge atoned for his bad read in right with a sixth inning sac fly to stretch the lead to 4-1. An error and a Didi Gregorius double created another insurance run in the ninth inning to make it 5-1. Nice little night for the bats. They had nine hits overall, drew three walks, and went 4-for-12 (.333) with runners in scoring position.
  • Leftovers: Tommy Layne and Dellin Betances tossed scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively … Ben Heller warmed up in the ninth in case the Yankees blew it open. He still hasn’t made his MLB debut … Torreyes went 3-for-4 with two doubles. He’s 8-for-12 with four doubles and a homer on the road triple … Gary Sanchez had just one, hit a single. Bust!

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. The Yankees wrap up their West Coast trip with the series finale against the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon. That’s a 3:35pm ET start. Former Rakuten Golden Eagles teammates Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia will be on the mound.

Minor League Update: I have neither the time nor the energy for a full DotF tonight. Here are the box scores and here’s the short version: Rob Refsnyder and Ben Gamel had singles, Bryan Mitchell allowed one run in four innings in his latest rehab game, Thairo Estrada whacked a homer, Justus Sheffield allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.2 innings, and Freicer Perez threw six one-hit innings.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Tonight the Yankees will play their final West Coast night game of the season. Hooray for that. The Yankees have three more 8pm ET starts remaining (in Kansas City next week), then it’s nothing but day games and 7pm ET starts the rest of the way. That’s music to my ears. This team isn’t worth staying up late for, to be honest.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is showing a regional game, and aside from that, you’re on your own for entertainment. Have at it.