Refsnyder and Williams are the Yankees’ best options in the wake of the Judge injury

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Last night the Yankees won the second game of their three-game series with the Dodgers, but they also lost an everyday player to injury. Right fielder Aaron Judge tweaked his right oblique taking a swing, and although he stayed in to finish the at-bat, he was pulled from the game after the inning was over. Judge will go for an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury.

“It’s possible (he’s done for the season),” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game. “It’s his right rib cage. He’ll have an MRI. We won’t see him for a while … I just told him, ‘You’re out.’ I called him over and he didn’t really argue. We’ve got to get this checked out and see where you’re at.”

Judge’s first month or so in the big leagues has been a mixed bag. He’s hitting .179/.263/.345 (61 wRC+) overall with a 44.2% strikeout rate, so for the most part his at-bats have been unproductive. At the same time, every once in a while Judge will do this …

… and remind you exactly why he’s been so highly touted the last few seasons. That’s not even the longest home run Judge has hit in his short time as a big leaguer. He hit one over the windows of the restaurant in center field last month. Between the power and the strikeouts, it’s amazing Judge ever sees a fastball. It really is.

Anyway, the injury means the Yankees are down not only their starting right fielder in Judge, but also their backup right fielder. Aaron Hicks is still out of action with a Grade II hamstring, remember. At the moment the Yankees have only three healthy true outfielders on the active roster: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Eric Young Jr. That’s it. (I won’t blame you if you forgot about EYJ. I did too.)

Even if the MRI today reveals good news, chances are the Yankees will be without Judge for at least a few days. Oblique strains usually don’t heal overnight. Also, they’re very easy to reaggravate, and Judge isn’t a nobody. The Yankees are going to play it very safe with him. The last thing they want is him to suffer a setback that throws his offseason workouts out of whack. Here are the team’s options with Judge sidelined.

Short-Term Fix

Girardi all but confirmed Rob Refsnyder will step in as the every right fielder for the time being. They really have no other choice. “That’s what I’ll go with now and obviously I’ve got to talk to (Brian Cashman) to see if we’re going to make a move here,” said the manager last night. The only other option is Tyler Austin, who is the most-of-the-time first baseman, so Refsnyder it is.

In sporadic playing time this year Refsnyder has a .268/.342/.333 (81 wRC+) batting line in 159 plate appearances. That’s … unique. He’s drawing walks (10.1%) and making contact (13.2% strikeouts), but he’s also hit for zero power. Refsnyder’s yet to hit a home run and he has only nine doubles too. He works a quality at-bat almost every time up and that’s great. Some extra-base pop would be cool though.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Hopefully the doubles and homers come now that Refsnyder will get a chance to play everyday. His defense is not great in right field — maybe this will press Young into defensive replacement duty in tight games? — but again, the Yankees are pretty much out of options. Based on the guys they have on the active roster, Refsnyder is the best right field solution.

Returning Soon?

Grade II hamstring strains can be pretty serious and they tend to lead to prolonged absences, but Hicks is already back performing baseball activities. He got hurt on August 31st and he’s already started running in the outfield and taking batting practice. Hicks is going to Tampa later today to ramp up his rehab, and it sounds as though the goal is to activate him off the DL when the Yankees arrive for their series with the Rays next week.

As crappy a year as he’s had, getting Hicks back as soon as next week would be pretty huge. At the very least, he could replace Refsnyder for defense in the late innings. Best case scenario is Hicks picks up where he left off in August — he hit .280/.330/.439 (106 wRC+) in fairly regular playing time last month — and takes over right field everyday. A little friendly competition between Refsnyder and Hicks would be good for both, I think. Either way, there’s a chance Hicks will return as soon as next week. That would be pretty awesome.

The Call-Up Candidate

The Yankees have one outfielder on the 40-man roster who is not in the big leagues right now: Mason Williams. Williams returned from shoulder surgery at midseason and hit .317/.335/.410 (112 wRC+) in 46 regular season minor league games, almost all at Triple-A. Typical Mason Williams, basically. At least when he’s going good. Williams has carried that performance over into the postseason with the RailRiders too.

Girardi acknowledged a Williams call-up was possible last night — “It’s going to be really difficult (with a short bench) … There’s outfielders down there that we’re going to have to talk about because we’re short,” he said — and given where the Yankees are in the postseason race, everything has to be on the table at this point. They surely want Williams to get as many at-bats as possible following shoulder surgery, but playing with a short bench in a postseason race makes no sense.

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Remember, the Yankees originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell one more Triple-A start to iron things out earlier this month, but as soon as Chad Green got hurt, they called Mitchell up because he was the best option. The same applies to Williams. Would they like him to get more at-bats with the RailRiders? Surely. Judge’s injury has forced their hand though, and with a playoff spot within reach, having the best team possible has to be the priority.

Scranton’s season will end no later than Saturday — it can end as soon as tomorrow — and I’m guessing Williams won’t make it that far. He’ll be up before then, perhaps later today. The RailRiders would be pretty screwed during the International League Championship Series, but the big league team is the always the priority. Chances are we’ll see Mason very soon.

The Long Shots

The three other outfielders with Triple-A Scranton are not on the 40-man roster: Clint Frazier, Cesar Puello, and Jake Cave. I can’t see them calling Frazier up a year before he’s Rule 5 Draft eligible. That would be a big time panic move. Puello and Cave are a different story because cutting them loose in the offseason wouldn’t be a big deal. If the Yankees do decide to give Williams more at-bats in Triple-A following surgery, Puello or Cave could get the call instead. This section is called “The Long Shots” for a reason though. I don’t see this happening. Puello, Cave, and Frazier are all options available to the Yankees. They’re not that desperate yet though.

* * *

The Judge injury isn’t devastating — he wasn’t hitting much outside the occasional dinger — but it further thins out the Yankees’ outfield. Refsnyder is a short-term solution and Hicks might be back next week, which would be cool. My guess is we’ll see Williams sooner rather than later too. There’s a clear need and he can be useful, even if he’s only a defensive replacement for the time being. The Yankees may not want to use Refsnyder in right or call up Williams before the end of the Triple-A season, but they’re short on outfielders at the moment, and those two are their best immediate options with Judge and Hicks out.

Update: Aaron Judge exits game with right oblique strain

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

9:01pm: Judge left the game with a right oblique strain and will undergo an MRI tomorrow, the Yankees announced. Well that’s no good. Here’s video of the injury:

8:45pm: Aaron Judge left tonight’s game after the fourth inning with an unknown injury. Replays showed him grimacing after a swing and the trainer did come out to check on him, but Judge remained in the game to draw a walk and run the bases. He was lifted after the inning.

Hopefully the Yankees are playing it safe and only removed their prized young outfielder as a precaution. The team is already without Aaron Hicks, so if Judge misses any time, Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder would have to step into right field full-time. There’s also Mason Williams in Triple-A.

For what it’s worth, Judge missed a few weeks with a knee injury in Triple-A earlier this year, which he suffered diving for a ball in the outfield. The Yanks haven’t released an update on Judge, so stay tuned.

Update: Green diagnosed with sprained UCL and strained flexor tendon

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Saturday, 4:58pm: Today’s tests revealed a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and strained flexor tendon, according to reporters in Baltimore. Green is going for a second opinion. Injuries like that often result in Tommy John surgery, though Green may be able to avoid the knife if the UCL sprain is minor.

Friday, 8:10pm: Green left the game with right elbow pain, the Yankees announced. That’s a big ol’ WELP. Green’s going to head for additional tests and all that.

8:01pm: Chad Green exited tonight’s start in the second inning with an unknown injury. His velocity did seem to be down in his second inning of work, though that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Didi Gregorius called for the trainer and Green exited the game without throwing any test pitches.

The Yankees traded away Ivan Nova at the deadline and Nathan Eovaldi‘s elbow exploded a few weeks ago, so they’re short on starters as it is. They do have Luis Severino available and he would be the obvious candidate to replace Green should he need to miss an extended period of time. Bryan Mitchell is in Triple-A too.

Now, that said, Severino has been pretty terrible as a starter this season, plus the Yankees seemed to be counting on him to improve their middle relief situation these last few weeks of the season. We’ll see what happens. The Yankees have not yet released an update on Green, so stay tuned.

Update: Hicks leaves game with right hamstring strain

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

12:10am: Hicks left the game with a right hamstring strain, the Yankees announced. That’s no good. Even if it’s a relatively minor strain, Hicks figures to miss some time. At least rosters expand soon.

11:08pm: Aaron Hicks left tonight’s game in the ninth inning with an apparent right leg injury. He busted it out of the box on a ground ball, put pulled up short of first base and favored his right leg. Could be a hamstring or a quad, but who knows. Aaron Judge took over in right field in the bottom of the ninth. Here’s video of the injury:

If there’s one thing the Yankees have, it’s outfield depth. Even after trading Ben Gamel earlier today. Judge is the everyday right fielder as it is — Hicks is more of the roving fourth outfielder — and the team has Mason Williams waiting in Triple-A. Rob Refsnyder can play some outfield too. Rosters expand tomorrow.

Hick is having an awful season overall, but he’s been much better of late, hitting .291/.333/.456 (112 wRC+) in August. The Yankees need all the offense they can get these days, so losing Hicks is not insignificant. The team has not yet released an update, so stay tuned.

Nathan Eovaldi to have surgery for torn flexor tendon and partially torn UCL

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Nathan Eovaldi‘s time with the Yankees may be over. Eovaldi will have surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon as well as a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, according to the various reporters at Yankee Stadium. The flexor tendon was torn right off the bone. Ouch. Those are two pretty significant injuries, obviously.

The Yankees have not announced a rehab timetable, but I think it’s safe to assume Eovaldi will miss the entire 2017 season. He is scheduled to become a free agent after next year, so chances are the Yankees will non-tender him this winter a la the Royals and Greg Holland. No need to carry him in 2017 only to have him become a free agent once he’s healthy.

Eovaldi has had Tommy John surgery before, way back in his junior year of high school. He threw almost 900 innings on the replacement ligament. There’s a pretty decent chance the injury will end Eovaldi’s time with the Yankees, though they’d always have the option to re-sign him, either after the season as a non-tender or when he becomes a free agent next year.

Over the last two years the 26-year-old Eovaldi had a 4.45 ERA (4.11 FIP) in 279 innings in pinstripes, which just isn’t good. The Yankees brought him in as an extremely hard-throwing project and pitching coach Larry Rothschild did teach Eovaldi a splitter, but it didn’t work out. So it goes. You win some and you lose some. This one is a loss.

Update: Eovaldi leaves start with elbow discomfort

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

8:02pm: Eovaldi left the game with right elbow discomfort, the Yankees announced. He’s going back to New York to be examined. Groan. Eovaldi had elbow discomfort last September and it turned out to be only inflammation, so hopefully they get relatively good news again.

7:37pm: Nathan Eovaldi left tonight’s start after just one inning for an unknown reason. Injury is a pretty safe assumption, I’d say. Eovaldi looked fine during his 12-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning. His velocity seemed fine and there was no obvious “he looked like he tweaked something” moment. Weird.

The Yankees have not yet announced any sort of update on Eovaldi, so stay tuned. They don’t have a true long man on the roster, which means they’re going to blow through their bullpen using guys for one or two innings each. That’s never good.

Jacob Lindgren to have Tommy John surgery on Friday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Left-hander Jacob Lindgren will undergo Tommy John surgery on Friday, the Yankees announced today. Unfortunately this doesn’t feel like much of a surprise. He’s been out since April with an elbow issue and we recently heard he had been throwing off a mound, so the ligament tear is relatively new. That bites.

Lindgren, 23, was the Yankees second round pick (55th overall) in the 2014 draft. They didn’t have a first rounder that year. Lindgren destroyed the minors (1.83 ERA and 2.03 FIP) and was called up to the Yankees briefly last season. He allowed four runs in seven innings before having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow.

The Yankees started Lindgren in High-A this season because he couldn’t throw strikes in Spring Training, and, sure enough, that continued with the Tampa Yankees. He walked nine and uncorked six wild pitches in seven innings before being placed on the DL. Lindgren hasn’t appeared in a game since.

These days teams are giving players 14-16 months to rehab from Tommy John surgery, not 12 months, so chances are we won’t see Lindgren in a game again until 2018. He’s going to qualify for a fourth option, which will allow the Yankees to send him to the minors to make up for lost time come that 2018 season.