Mailbag: Cashman, Mateo, Chapman, Pineda, Sanchez

We’ve got 14 questions in the mailbag this week. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions or comments.


Mark asks (short version): Should the Yankees fire Brian Cashman?

I am on the fence about this and right now I lean towards no. Cashman has been the best big market GM in baseball over the last two decades — teams like the Phillies, Angels, and Red Sox have shown it takes a lot more than a big payroll to be successful — and he’s spent most of his time operating under the “World Series or bust” mandate. That’s tough.

Cashman has his flaws like everyone else. The Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley contracts are disasters, though every big market team has bad contracts on the books. You can’t run a payroll over $170M+ without spending big on free agents, and sometimes those deals go wrong. That’s baseball. The bigger issue is the team’s lack of success with their high draft picks, particularly the first rounders.

The Yankees have mitigated those problems by having success in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, hitting on other free agent signings (Andrew Miller, Brian McCann, etc.), and almost never making a trade they regret. The last trade that is a clear loss for the Yankees is what, Tyler Clippard for Jonathan Albaladejo? I guess Mark Melancon (and Jimmy Paredes) for Lance Berkman is more recent. Cashman’s trade track record speaks for itself.

That said, the Yankees stink, and ultimately the blame falls on the shoulders of the GM. Cashman said so himself the other day. He’s been at this a long time and eventually you get to the point where a new set of eyes with a fresh set of ideas becomes necessary. I am a proponent of total overhauls. If you’re going to fire the GM, fire everyone and start over with a new regime. After all, the GM is only a manager. The people who work under him do the leg work.

Cashman has been a very success big market GM and the Yankees have a ton of money coming off the books in the near future, and you can see the next core beginning to take shape in Starlin Castro, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez. There are a lot of questions there, sure. There are going to be questions with every rebuild though. Those guys are all either at Triple-A or in the show, so they’re close to having an impact and there’s less guesswork involved.

The 2003 Tigers were the worst team I’ve seen, and yet, three years later, the 2006 Tigers won the pennant. It’s possible to rebuild quickly and I do think Cashman can do that. I understand wanting a new GM, I totally get it. I guess I just have no idea who would be better. And I’m worried ownership will bring in a figurehead GM they can push around and effectively take over the baseball decisions.

David asks: Any chance Gene Michael can get involved to turn things around? Letting CANO go, instead signing Ellsbury, not trying for Scherzer or Zimmerman. Hard to believe Girardi’s really that optimistic-this is a bad team. Do the Steinbrenners want to win or just get under $200 million?

Gene Michael is involved. He’s one of Cashman’s special advisors. It was reportedly Michael who pushed to acquire Didi Gregorius, for example. I’m also pretty sure he was the main front office voice pushing to trade Phil Hughes for Johan Santana back in the day. Michael is 77 years old and it’s been more than 20 years since he’s been a GM. He’s not going to step in and fix everything just because he led the rebuild while George Steinbrenner was suspended in the early-1990s.

Arjun asks: Assuming the shift works as intended and BABIP has remained steady as you pointed out, are strikeouts the main reason that offense has declined? If the shift wasn’t around, do you think we would see mid-00 level offense today given the BABIP would probably increase?

I don’t think it’s one specific reason. Strikeouts are a part of it for sure. Ten years ago the league average strikeout rate was 17.1%. This year it’s 21.3% in the early going. There are roughly 76 plate appearances per game these days, so right now we’re seeing roughly 3.2 more strikeouts per game than we were ten years ago. That’s a lot, isn’t it? Fewer balls in play overall means less runs are scoring, absolutely.

There are other factors though. Shifts are one of them, as are improved scouting reports, more specialized relievers, and harder throwing pitchers. Throwing hard doesn’t automatically mean blowing it by someone. The extra velocity could mean weak contact instead of a pitch being squared up. The league average soft contact rate right now is 19.1%. Ten years ago it was 18.2%. I also think teams may be calling up position players before they’re fully ready too. That has always happened, but it may be happening more often nowadays. I have nothing to prove that. Just a guess.

I think it’s only a matter of time until MLB lowers the mound again. I have no idea how much they would lower it or how long they’ll wait to lower it, but it seems inevitable. Expansion does not seem imminent — historically there is an offensive spike in expansion years — so lowering the mound figures to happen before more teams are added to the league. Eliminating the shift would increase offense to some degree. That’s not the only reason scoring is down though.

Mateo. (Jerry Coli)
Mateo. (Jerry Coli)

Nicholas asks: Without checking the stats (which is easy enough to do, I know), it sure appears like Mateo is both running less and running with less success (more pickoffs and CSs) than last year. Any chance all the notoriety has led to opponents better understanding his tendencies, etc. and it’s unlikely we’ll see the overwhelming base stealing success we saw last year (perhaps itself an unfair expectation)?

He is running less. Mateo is 8-for-16 in stolen base attempts through 25 games this year after going 82-for-99 (83%) last year, including 21-for-26 (81%) in his first 25 games. I never really expected the 82 steals thing to happen again — that’s a huge number and no one does it annually anymore — but I didn’t expect Mateo to scale back this much. It could be the result of the other teams focusing on him more, though minor rosters and coaching staffs change so much year-to-year that I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.

It’s possible the Yankees told Mateo to relax a bit and not steal each time he reaches base as a way of keeping him healthy and fresh in the second half. Stealing bases can wear players down and it’s dangerous too. It’s real easy to jam fingers and wrists and get stepped on and all that. This is just a theory. I’m not sure if this is actually what happened. I’m not too worried about it though. As long as he still has the 80 raw speed and is now adding power to his game, I’m happy.

Matt asks: Let’s add another ugly contract to the list to swap Ellsbury for, how about Justin Verlander? He’s owed a ton of money, and Gose/Maybin isn’t exactly inspiring out there in Detroit. Gotta think Detroit wants out of that one, no?

I expected Verlander to have a big rebound season this year, and, well, he has a 6.49 ERA (4.92 FIP) in 34.2 innings. So much for that. The future Mr. Kate Upton is owed $112M through 2019, so he’s owed basically the same money as Ellsbury, only with one fewer year on the contract. The Tigers could use a center fielder and leadoff hitter, and the Yankees could use pitching in the way every team could use pitching.

The problem with an Ellsbury-for-Verlander trade is Verlander’s status as a legacy Detroit Tiger. They’re going to retire his number and stick his name up on a wall somewhere when it’s all said and done. That has value to the Tigers in terms of ticket sales and marketing and merchandise and all that. Ellsbury offers none of that. I do expect Ellsbury to perform better than Verlander going forward, but I can’t imagine the Tigers would trade away one of their biggest stars and most marketable players in a bad contract for bad contract deal.

Andrew asks: If Pineda continues to pitch this poorly is there any chance the Yankees do not offer him arbitration at the end of the year and let him walk as a free agent? I apologize for the wording I used. I’m not 100% on how this situation works out while a player is under team control.

Nah. I can’t imagine the Yankees would non-tender Michael Pineda after the season, not unless he suffers a major injury that would sideline him for all of 2017. There’s no sense keeping him in that case because he would qualify for free agency after 2017 anyway, so you’d be paying him a year to sit out, basically. Pineda is only making $4.3M this season, so his salary next year will be in the $7M range, and that’s nothing. That’s broken down Doug Fister money. If anything, the Yankees would offer Pineda arbitration and trade him rather than non-tender him and let him walk as a free agent.

Bruce asks: Do the Yankees have any recourse to keep Chapman inactive past the 30 day deadline, killing his free agency? Similar to what the Cubs did with Bryant to gain the extra year of control and with the Yankees playing so bad, I imagine his trade value would skyrocket even more if they had the power to hold him down just a little longer.

Nope. He has to be activated as soon as the suspension is over, and because Aroldis Chapman has more than five years of service time, he can refuse an assignment to the minors. There’s nothing the Yankees can do to delay his free agency. The only way Chapman’s free agency can be delayed now is with another suspension, and that’s another problem entirely. The extra year of team control would definitely increase his trade value. The Yankees knew coming in this was a one-year thing though.

Pounder asks: Is it time to take another peek at acquiring Mark Reynolds? What would the Rockies want in return, perhaps a change of scenery would be beneficial for Headley.

Reynolds is the very definition of a replacement level player these days. He hits the occasional home run and can stand at first base and maybe third base, and that’s about it. No way would I a) give up something of value to get him, or b) stick him at third base full-time even with Headley struggling so much. Reynolds strikes me as the type of player you pick up for cash or a player to be forgotten later in the season, once the Rockies decide to sell. Go with Rob Refsnyder at third before Reynolds.

Chris asks: Lets say the losing goes on for another month or so. Do you think the fans could handle a Fire sale? If so could we start a petition?

Casual fans still dominate the market, and most casual fans hate the idea of a fire sale and being bad on purpose even if it is in the team’s best interests. They usually complain about losing seasons and think the solution is signing the best free agents. It’s not just Yankees fans, it’s fans of every team in every sport. I think the RAB community would handle a fire sale just fine, but we’re in the minority among fans.

Chris asks: How likely is the complete black hole we call the Yankees offense attributable to the loss of Kevin Long? The Mets were 8th in HRs last year and are 4th this year.

I’m one of those folks who doesn’t think the hitting coach has nearly as much impact as many seem to think. Are they important? Sure. Is firing one and hiring another the cure for the offense? Nope. It never is. Long has a history of getting players to tap into their power potential — he did it with Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, most notably — and he’s done exactly that in Flushing with guys like Michael Conforto and Daniel Murphy. Murphy’s power was up big time late last year and it’s carried over to this year. Conforto’s hitting for more power than expected too.

I would be a lot more excited about the long-term offensive outlook of some of the Yankees’ young players (Castro, Judge, Sanchez, Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, etc.) if they had kept Long around, but I don’t think the offense stinks because he’s gone. I think it stinks because the veteran regulars are up there in age and are seeing their production slip. It happens. I didn’t think Long should have been fired two years ago, but the Yankees needed a scapegoat, and when the offense stalls out, the hitting coach usually gets the axe.

McCann. (Presswire)
McCann. (Presswire)

George asks: Is McCann’s contract tradeable? Do you think the Yankees would even look to trade him?

I think McCann as a player is very valuable, even with his flaws as a hitter. He still has power and will draw walks, and his defense behind the plate remains solid. He’d be an upgrade behind the plate for what, 25 teams in the league? How many teams can afford a $17M a year catcher though? That’s a sticking point. The Rangers seems like an obvious fit, and maybe the Tigers and Nationals too. I don’t think the Yankees would be opposed to trading McCann at all. I think they’d set the price fairly high though, perhaps too high given his salary. Quality catching is very hard to find these days.

Jordan asks: When is it time to call up Gary Sanchez? He’s been hitting at AAA and any sort of offensive boost would be welcome right about now. If Sanchez hits, it would allow McCann to take a day off (or, with A-Rod out, a half-day off) without the offense taking too much of a hit.

Assuming I counted right, Sanchez’s 35th day in the minors will be Sunday, meaning the Yankees could call him up Monday and have his free agency pushed back a year. He’s having a typical Gary Sanchez offensive year in Triple-A (.271/.326/.506, 144 wRC+) and I’m pretty sure he’d out-hit Austin Romine in the big leagues right now. The Alex Rodriguez injury also opens some DH at-bats too.

McCann slumped hard for a few weeks after taking that foul pitch to the toe, though he’s come on of late, and he’s going to get most of the playing time behind the plate. Is it better to let Sanchez play two or three times a week in the show or everyday in Triple-A? I think you can make an argument both ways. Now, if the Yankees do continue to fall out of the race, they should absolutely call Sanchez up and play him regularly in the second half. Let him split time with McCann behind the plate and grab a few DH starts too. They’re not at that point yet though.

Ruby asks: The rotation is exasperating, the bullpen doesn’t (really) need another stud reliever, Chapman has 3 plus plus pitches and has the physique of a workhorse starter. Why not put Chapman in the rotation? The Yankees are in last place and have nothing to lose. His fastball velocity would drop to what? 98? It could be electric and fill those empty seats at the Stadium.

Some Reds fans I know are still upset the Reds never gave Chapman a chance to start in the big leagues. He did start in the minors, though he came down with a shoulder issue and that more or less put an end to that. Chapman is never going to start a game but I do think he has the stuff to do it if given the chance. My only concern is the walks. The guy has a career 12.2% walk rate out of the bullpen. Between the strikeouts and walks, his pitch count will get up there in a hurry, so he might be a five and fly pitcher. I think Chapman could do it though. It’s just never going to happen. Not in New York and not anywhere else. The suspension would have been the perfect time to stretch him out, right?

Marc asks: You had mentioned Big Papi as a pick for the HOF, yet Sheffield is getting no love. Careers are remarkably similar. What is the deal?

Let’s start with a side-by-side comparison of their stats:

Ortiz 9,569 .285/.378/.548 139 509 1,663 47.2 51.6
Sheffield 10,947 .292/.393/.514 141 509 1,676 62.1 60.3

At his peak, Gary Sheffield was more a devastating hitter than David Ortiz. Sheffield’s seven-year peak was a 160 wRC+ from 1995-2001. Ortiz’s is a 144 wRC+ from 2005-11. Sheffield did give a lot of value back defensive, it should be noted. Ortiz doesn’t have that problem.

The difference between the two comes down to Ortiz’s clutch reputation and his persona. People love him. Also, he had a hand in breaking the Red Sox’s curse and won some other World Series titles too. Sheffield was a bit of a grump who was a jerk to many of the Hall of Fame voters, and that will work against him.

If you sat down with someone who knew nothing about baseball and told them the history of the game, you could skip right over Sheffield. You can’s skip over Ortiz. They might be statistically similar, but the reputation and general likeability of Ortiz is going to get him into the Hall of Fame.

Mailbag: Trades, Braun, Hicks, Gallo, Judge, Eovaldi, Myers

Got a dozen questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. As always, send any questions or comments to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We can’t answer them all, but we’ll try our best.


Eric asks: This will never happen but it’s strangely fun to think about. If the Yankees are out of it and decide to be sellers at the deadline, who could the Yankees realistically sell off? What teams would these pieces fit? Easiest answer is Chapman who we could easily flip for a package better than what we gave up.

Yeah, Aroldis Chapman is the big one. Assuming the off-the-field stuff doesn’t get in the way — it very well might — pretty much every contender out there would have room for him. The Nationals reportedly had interest even after the domestic dispute, so they’re a possibility. The Cubs, Giants, White Sox, Rangers, Astros, Mets … pretty much any good team in the race in July. (The Dodgers nixed their trade for Chapman after the incident, so they might not be interested.)

Two years ago Andrew Miller was traded for Eduardo Rodriguez at the deadline, which is good framework for a Chapman trade. Instead of taking two or three prospects, the Yankees could shoot for the one high quality young player. Chapman for Joe Ross? Chapman for Phil Bickford? Chapman for Joey Gallo? Rangers GM Jon Daniels has been known to pay big for rentals at the trade deadline.

Here are the other players the Yankees could market at the trade deadline, as well as some potential landing spots:

I’m sure the Yankees could find a taker for Starlin Castro, but he seems like someone they’ll keep and build around. Same with Didi Gregorius. Those two are keepers unless you get blown away with an offer. Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury are a tad too pricey to be moved, I think. It would be different if they were rentals, but they still have multiple years left on their contracts.

As I said yesterday, the Yankees need to be honest with themselves and trade away players at the deadline if they’re out of it. Chapman, Teixeira, and Beltran are the obvious candidates to go because their contracts are up after the season. They shouldn’t stop there though. See what teams are willing to give up for Gardner and Miller again. Same with Pineda and Eovaldi. Even Betances. It doesn’t hurt to listen.

Anonymous: Not a question, but you forgot one possible bad-contract trade (that will never happen because of Ell’s no-trade provision + the public relations fallout). Ellsbury + prospects for Braun. If Milwaukee could get Ells playing well, they could possibly flip him to another team for even more prospects.

The money is about the same — Ellsbury ($110M) and Ryan Braun ($100M) are both under contract through 2020 — but Braun is the better player right now. He’s not the perennial MVP candidate he was a few years back, but he hit .285/.356/.498 (129 wRC+) with 25 homers and 24 steals last year, and he went into yesterday’s game with a 183 wRC+ in the early going this year. Even with his terrible defense, give me Braun over Ellsbury.

The Brewers aren’t getting enough out of this, not unless the Yankees kick in some quality prospects. It’s not just that they’d be getting the inferior player, they’re also getting a player the fans have no attachment to. Brewers fans still love Braun and he helps the team sell tickets and merchandise. Ellsbury wouldn’t do that. This one doesn’t make sense for the Brewers. The Yankees would either have to eat a bunch of cash or kick in some good young players to make it work.

Jon asks: If Aaron Hicks doesn’t end up hitting much, Could it be worth it to test that arm out as a pitcher?

It is nowhere near time to consider this. Hicks hit .256/.323/.398 (97 wRC+) with eleven homers and 13 steals in 97 big league games just last year. Plus he plays great defense. So he’s gotten off to a 2-for-22 (.091) start in sporadic playing time. Big deal. If a few years down the line he continues to not hit — and I mean really not hit, like an 70 wRC+ guy — then maybe consider a move to the mound. That is a very long way away though.

Anonymous: Now that Beltre is blocking him for another 2 years, what do you think it would take to get Joey Gallo? Can you imagine how many HRs he’d hit in Yankee Stadium? Obviously this would require unloading Headley, maybe back to SD for another bad contract like Upton Jr.

Gallo is absolutely someone the Yankees should target. The Rangers could always play him at first base, so it’s not like they have nowhere to stick him, but right now he’s blocked at third base and even in the corner outfield. Chase Headley shouldn’t stand in the way of a Gallo trade. Get him and figure the rest out later.

The 22-year-old Gallo is the best power hitting prospect in the game. It’s true 80 power. He has that Giancarlo-esque “he’s going to hit 40 homers no matter what park he plays in” pop. Enjoy:

Gallo is going to strike out a ton — he had a 39.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A last year, though it is down to 23.8% in the early going this year — but even if he hits .220 in the big leagues long-term, he’s going to wind up hitting about 500 home runs. The power is unreal. Gallo’s can also run a little and is pretty good defensively at the hot corner. Between the lefty pop and the long-term need at third base, he’s an obvious fit for the Yankees.

What would it take? Well, Gallo is a top ten prospect in all of baseball, and he’s MLB ready, so he won’t come cheap. What about Miller for Gallo, straight up? Betances for Gallo? My trade proposal sucks. I have a hard time thinking the Rangers would be interested in a prospect for prospect trade. Those rarely happen. Otherwise I’d say trade pretty much anyone for him. Aaron Judge or Jorge Mateo and others? Sure. The “what would it take” question is always the hardest. Clearly though, Gallo’s a fit for the Yankees.

Joe asks: When a player (Rumbelow) has season ending injury in the minors vs. the majors (Pinder) – what are the rules surrounding their 40 man status and benefits? Does Pinder benefit from service time accrual while Rumbelow doesn’t?

Yep. You get to collect service time and MLB salary when you’re on the MLB DL. Players like Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder sign split contracts, so they make one salary in the big leagues and a lower salary in the minors. Rumbelow got hurt in the minors, so he’s stuck with his Triple-A salary — usually in the low six figures — and won’t accrue service time. (He does still get the healthcare, licensing money, etc.) Pinder got hurt in the show, so he gets MLB salary and service time. Getting hurt sucks, but if you’re a fringe player and you’re going to blow out your elbow, you’d rather do it in the show than in the minors.

Andrew asks: What would have to happen to see Aaron Judge get called up this year?

Bobby asks: If Judge came up, would the Yankees lose a year of team control? When Sanchez’ promotion was discussed, the date of his future free agency was a main part of the conversation but it hasn’t been the same thus far with Aaron.

Going to lump these two together. No, the Yankees would not lose a year team of control if they called Judge up now. At this point of the season any player who is called up to the big leagues for the first time will not be able to pick up a full year of service time. The Yankees would control Judge through 2022 regardless of whether they called him up tomorrow or September 1st.

As for an actual call-up, there are only two scenarios I see. One, the Yankees do sell at the deadline and Beltran and/or Gardner are moved, and they want to give Judge an audition. Two, a September call-up. Ben Gamel and Slade Heathcott are already on the 40-man roster and are presumably first in line to be injury replacements. That’s about it. I don’t think the Yankees will call Judge up to try to spark their offense or something like that.

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

Anonymous asks: What would a trade for Wil Myers look like? Next year with Beltran and Teixeira most likely gone the Yankees will have holes at 1B and RF. Wil Myers can play both 1B and RF while playing primarily RF with Greg Bird at 1B. I know Myers has his own injury history too but this does seem like a good fit.

I do like the idea of Myers. He’s healthy now — he’s had a lot of wrist problems in recent years — and he’s been rather productive this season. Myers is hitting .303/.333/.506 (122 wRC+) in the early going after hitting .253/.336/.427 (116 wRC+) around the wrist injury last year. The Padres are playing him at first base full-time, but he is only 25, so you could always stick him back in the outfield too. He seems like a nice fit.

Again, the “what would it take” question is the toughest. Myers has been traded twice before, once as the headliner for an ace (James Shields) and once for a big package of prospects (Joe Ross, Trea Turner, and others). The Padres are looking to add prospects and shed payroll, but Myers seems like someone they could keep and build around, right? You trade for prospects and hope they turn into Wil Myers, basically. He’s pretty good, he’s cheap, and he’s under team control through 2019. If San Diego wants to flip this guy for prospects, say Judge and some others, I say go for it.

Deren asks: Eovaldi was only(!!) 95-96 last night with his fastball. Do you think that can be tied into his success against the rangers? Many hard throwers often come up and quickly find out that fastball velo isn’t everything anymore. I believe even King Felix had to make a similar adjustment when he first arrived. He settled into 92-95 before long (With nasty movement and location). How much of last nights success was because Eovaldi wasn’t trying to throw as hard as he can and focus on changing speeds, location, and movement?

I noticed this during the broadcast too, but it seems the TV gun was off. PitchFX says Eovaldi averaged 97.4 mph with his fastball Tuesday, which was his second highest average velocity in a game so far this season. His velocity was right where it normally sits (via Brooks Baseball):

Nathan Eovaldi velocityI hate to be a buzzkill, but this seems like a “the TV gun was off” thing and not a “Eovaldi took a little off and located better” thing. The PitchFX data says it was the same old Eovaldi. He was throwing hard.

David asks: With how dominant (and efficient) Betances and Miller have been until now, and assuming they stay way, does Chapman automatically assume the closers role upon his return? Or does he have to earn that spot now?

I could see Joe Girardi easing Chapman back into things at first. Maybe one or two lower leverage appearances before giving him important innings. I think their perfect world scenario is Chapman comes back and they use him to protect a four or five run lead that night, just to get his feet wet. After that, I think he’s going right into the closer’s role. That’s fine with me. It doesn’t seem to bother Betances or Miller at all and I have no reason to think it’ll be an issue. Now, if Chapman comes in and blows his first save, the second-guessing will be epic.

Dan asks: Let me preface this with saying, I think the Yanks will be in contention all season (they’re better than they’ve played in April). But, assuming the Yanks perform like they’ve done in April for the whole year, and that this results in a protected draft pick (currently they’d pick 7th), would the fact that they wouldn’t give up first round compensation alter the Yanks approach to Free Agency next year?

It could. I still think the main factor is going to be money. The Yankees don’t seem interested in handing out a big money long-term contract anytime soon. The protected pick could result in them having more interest in players who get caught up in the system and are sitting there unsigned in February, like Dexter Fowler and Yovani Gallardo this year. No one likes giving up a draft pick, but giving up a second rounder instead of your first is a much easier pill to swallow.

Noa asks: I feel like I am in the minority and I just think Aaron Judge’s strikeouts will always be way too high for him to be productive. He doesn’t seem to hit for enough power or even be enough a productive all-around player to justify the strikeouts. This would be bold, and I’m sure you oppose this, but could the Yankees trade him while he still has lots of prospect value and if so, what could they possibly get back for him?

That’s very possible. Judge is certainly a risky prospect. He’s a classic boom or bust guy and the strikeouts are definitely a red flag. As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees don’t have an untouchable prospect. They could trade anyone in the system and I wouldn’t be heartbroken. That doesn’t mean I’d give them away, of course. The Yankees have traded away players at the peak of their prospect status before — Jesus Montero, most notably — and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it with Judge.

Baseball America had Judge at No. 76 in their annual top 100 list, which was his lowest ranking in the various lists this spring. Some other prospects in the No. 76 range who have been traded in recent years include:

  • Billy McKinney, No. 83 in 2015: Second piece in the Jeff Samardzija/Addison Russell trade.
  • Jake Marisnick, No. 79 in 2014: Second piece in the Jarred Cosart/Colin Moran trade.
  • Avisail Garcia, No. 74 in 2013: Main piece going to White Sox in three-team Jake Peavy/Jose Iglesias trade.

I definitely understand why some folks are skeptical of Judge’s long-term potential, and like I said, I’d definitely put him on the table in a trade. He’s not untouchable. The Yankees really need some fresh blood in their lineup and Judge has the most offensive potential in their system, and the guy is in Triple-A and close to MLB ready. He seems like someone worth holding on to, not a chip you cash in.

Mailbag: Heathcott, Betances, A-Rod, Herrera, Rotation

I have 14 questions and 13 answers in the mailbag this week. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you want to send any questions or comments throughout the week.

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

T.J. asks: I might have missed this over the course of Spring Training, but while I was perusing the Yankees 40-Man Roster, there was no Slade Heathcott to be found. That led me to the Scranton roster, where Heathcott is listed, but states that he is not on the 40-Man. Was he outrighted during the spring or is this some kind of conspiracy?

I have no idea what is going on with this. Heathcott has not been listed on the 40-man roster on the official site since being sent out in Spring Training, yet the Yankees have not made an official announcement about him removed from the 40-man, and teams announce every transaction. They send out little one sentence press releases like “so and so has been outrighted to Triple-A.”

That never happened with Heathcott, which leads me to believe he is still on the 40-man. Furthermore, when the Yankees sent Slade to minor league camp, the announced he has been optioned to Triple-A, and you can only option 40-man players. Non-40-man guys are “reassigned,” not “optioned.” Mistakes have happened before — a year or two ago Tyler Austin was not listed on the 40-man for a few days — but this has been going on three weeks already. You’d think it would be fixed by now.

There’s also this: why would the Yankees remove Heathcott from the 40-man? They didn’t need a spot at any time. Everyone who made the Opening Day roster was already on the 40-man. Furthermore, Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension cleared a 40-man spot, so the Yankees have been at 39 players since the end of camp. And even if they needed a spot, Greg Bird and Bryan Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates. This has to some kind of clerical error. Heathcott should still be on the 40-man.

Chris asks: Would the Yankees Entertain trading Betances because he’ll be getting a huge raise after this year through arbitration? And what do you think they can get for him?? I know it’s crazy talk but I was just curious.

Damian asks: If everything but the bullpen goes wrong in the next four months, is there any chance the Yankees actively shop Betances or Miller? Seems like they could get a nice haul back from a playoff team and still have a pretty deep (though not as dominant) BP for the future. Was the Giles trade a benchmark?

Might as well lump these two together. I do think the Yankees would consider moving Dellin Betances in a trade as long as they are getting a big return. In fact, Joel Sherman reported a few days ago the Yankees listened to offers for both Betances and Chapman over the winter. That’s in addition to Andrew Miller, who was on the block all offseason.

As good as he is, there are valid reasons to trade Betances. He’s about to get expensive through arbitration, he has a history of arm injuries and a history of control problems, and relievers in general are just so damn volatile. Go back to 2013 and guys like Greg Holland, Joe Nathan, Jesse Crain, Danny Farquhar, and Neal Cotts were among the top 15 relievers in WAR. It can go quick and without warning.

The Ken Giles trade does establish a benchmark, though there are some key differences. Most notably, the Phillies traded five years of Giles. The Yankees would only be trading three years of Betances this offseason. Betances is better than Giles, but those two extra years of control are huge. A cheap young starter the Yankees could plug right into their rotation plus prospects seems like an appropriate return for Dellin.

I’m not sure the Yankees should actively shop Betances (or Miller) after the season, but they should absolutely be willing to listen to offers. And there’s no reason to think they won’t. Dellin’s soon to be escalating salary should not be a driving factor. He’s still going to very underpaid relative to his performance, and besides, the Yankees have money. Any trade should be about the talent coming back to the Yankees.


IJ asks: Saw in today’s weekly notes that Dellin Betances turned down a modest raise and the Yankees renewed his contract at league minimum, why would Dellin turn down a modest raise? Does that effect arbitration hearings or something else in the long term that it would make sense to do that? Couldn’t the Yankees have just said, “Hell with it give him the bump whether he wants it or not?”

Betances turned it down on principle, basically. He rejected the team’s offered raise because he felt it was too small, and he did not want to accept a low offer and set a precedent. I know, it sounds silly, but that’s what happened. I guess Dellin and his agent wanted to send a message. Declining the raise won’t have a huge impact on his salary next year as a first time arbitration player, and it might not have any impact whatsoever. I’m certain he and his agent considered that. Betances figures to smash arbitration records for a non-closer reliever. A few extra grand this year won’t change that.

Jeff asks: Why is A-Rod listed negatively defensively on Fangraphs when he hasn’t played in the field at all so far this year?

FanGraphs has Alex Rodriguez at -1.3 runs defensively on the season so far, and that’s the positional adjustment for DH. Positional adjustments are explained here. Long story short, some positions are more valuable than others, so players who play important positions (shortstop, etc.) get a boost while players at less important positions (left field, etc.) get docked. The positional adjustment for DH is -17.5 runs per 1,458 innings (162 nine-inning games), indicating a DH is -17.5 runs less valuable than an average defender. Those -1.3 runs charged to A-Rod are the pro-rated positional adjustment.

Jackson asks: There was some prospect buzz over the winter about guys who haven’t played any games yet, college guys like Will Carter and Brandon Wagner. In addition, it seems Katoh and Jose Mesa, Jr., who already have 2 plus years under their belt in the system have gone MIA. Any reason why the Yankees can’t give them more development/playing time? They’re not injured, correct?

Carter started the season with Low-A Charleston, made one start, then was placed on the DL for an unknown reason. Wagner, Mesa, and Gosuke Katoh are presumably in Extended Spring Training right now, ditto others like Drew Finley, Jeff Degano, and Kolton Mahoney. Mesa is the only one that really surprises me because he’s a reliever, he’s 22, he dominated last year (2.23 ERA and 2.28 FIP), and he finished the season in Charleston. He might be hurt. Otherwise I have to think he would be in High-A Tampa.

Wagner and especially Katoh seem like victims of the numbers crunch. The Yankees have a lot of infield prospects at the lower levels, so much so that guys like Thairo Estrada, Hoy Jun Park, Kyle Holder, and Abi Avelino are bouncing around the infield. Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar are playing short and third, their respective natural positions, full-time because they’re among the team’s best prospects. Everyone else is bouncing around. There’s no room for Wagner or Katoh anywhere. Finley and Degano are presumably fine-tuning in ExST and not hurt. And even if they were hurt, good luck getting that information.

Geoffrey asks: In the DotF this morning, you mentioned that Ronald Herrera is 20 and on the RailRiders, which seems rather notable. I don’t remember reading much about him besides getting him for Jose Pirela, what’s his story? Is he a potential big league call up?

The call-up to Triple-A was only temporary. Herrera made a spot start there because Tyler Olson and Luis Cessa were getting moved around at the MLB level. Still though, Herrera is only 20 and he’s in Double-A, and that’s impressive. He’s almost four years younger than the average Double-A Eastern League player. Here is Baseball America’s scouting report on Herrera from their free trade write-up:

Herrera’s not particularly physical, standing only 5-foot-10, and does not have much projection left, but he’s very athletic with an easy-to-repeat delivery. With the fastball, he shows above-average command to both sides of the plate and touched 94 mph while sitting 90-93. Herrera also throws a cutter and a big, soft curveball. But the change this season came when Herrera began to trust the fastball more, setting up the cutter and curve, instead of trying to trick hitters, as one evaluator said.

The Padres got Herrera from the Athletics in the Kyle Blanks trade two years ago, then San Diego sent him to the Yankees in the Pirela trade over the winter. He’s always limited walks (career 5.7 BB%) and his strikeout rate did jump from 14.5% in 2014 to 16.8% in 2015, so that’s interesting. Herrera’s not a top prospect by any means, but he has a chance to be a useful big league arm for sure. Next year seems more realistic than this year.


Mark asks: Curious to see your prediction for what the opening day starting staff will be next year as well as in 2018. With Kaprelian on the fast track along with CC’s vesting, Tanaka’s opt out and both Pineda’s and Eovaldi’s arbitration all coming up, do you think we’ll see as many as 4 new names in the rotation by 2018?

I would not be surprised if the Yankees looked to trade Michael Pineda and/or Nathan Eovaldi this coming offseason. They’re both due to become free agents following next year and the qualifying offer is no guarantee — will the qualifying offer even exist then? — so they could move both rather than lose them for nothing. Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino aren’t going anywhere, but CC Sabathia could pitch his way into the bullpen, I suppose. How does this sound:

2017 Opening Day Rotation 2018 Opening Day Rotation
SP1 Tanaka Severino
SP2 Severino Trade Pickup No. 1
SP3 Pineda or Eovaldi Trade Pickup No. 2
SP4 Trade Pickup No. 1 James Kaprielian
SP5 Sabathia Mitchell or Cessa
SP6 Mitchell or Cessa Mitchell or Cessa

I’m going to guess — and this is nothing more than a guess — either Pineda or Eovaldi is traded after this season. Not necessarily for another starter — Trade Pickup No. 1 could come from a completely separate deal — but traded. Tanaka is going to opt-out of his contract following 2017 as long as he’s healthy, and both Sabathia and Pineda/Eovaldi will become free agents as well. Trade Pickup No. 2 comes in a separate trade, maybe something involving Didi Gregorius with Mateo taking over at short.

Point is, I don’t see the Yankees spending on a free agent starter following this season or next season. Stephen Strasburg is by far the best pitcher scheduled to hit free agency those two winters, and the Yankees are unlikely to hand out a $200M+ pitching contract at this point. They’re waiting for the big contracts to expire. They’re not looking to add any. Perhaps that changes with the 2018-19 epiphany free agent class.

Rob asks: During one of the games this last week one of the YES broadcasters (O’Neil I think) said young players may struggle with the shift when they first come up because they don’t shift, or at least don’t shift very much, in the minors. Is that true?

I don’t know about other teams, but the Yankees absolutely shift in the minors. From what I understand they use increasingly more shifts as you get closer to MLB, so they don’t shift much in Low-A but do shift a lot in Triple-A. That makes sense, right? You have to give players a chance to learn their position gradually. They had Mateo working out at second base in Instructional League last fall to help him get used to the right side of the infield in preparation for the shift, for example.

Teams are not aligning their defense the “old fashioned way” in the minors and then telling their young players to go out and execute the shift at the MLB level with no training. That’s silly. Young players struggle with the shift when they first come up for the same reason they struggle with anything: baseball is hard. The game is faster at the big league level and they’re playing against the very best players in the world. I can’t imagine there’s a team out there not using the shift to some degree in the minors. If such a team exists, they’re behind the times.

Brian asks: I feel like the Yankees starters are throwing a lot of pitches per plate appearance and it’s one of the reasons they aren’t lasting more than 5 innings (Tanaka aside). Where do they rank in terms of the rest of the league in this?

Believe it or not, the Yankees’ rotation is averaging 3.86 pitches per plate appearances so far this year, tied for 11th lowest among the 15 AL teams with the Astros and Indians. That surprised me. The league average is 3.97 pitches per plate appearance and only the Twins (3.81) and Blue Jays (3.74) are lower than the Yankees. Here are the individual starter averages:

Severino: 3.96
: 3.94
Eovaldi: 3.91
Pineda: 3.85
Tanaka: 3.83

Adam Wainwright is baseball’s most efficient pitcher (3.29) so far and Derek Holland is the least efficient pitcher (4.45). The Yankees have had some very long innings and high pitch counts because they’ve allowed a lot of base-runners. The rotation’s 1.36 WHIP is sixth highest among the AL teams. The individual at-bats are not necessarily long, but they face more batters per inning.

Steven asks: Both John Ryan Murphy and Aaron Hicks are off to very cold starts in their new uniforms. How much do you think the change of scenery affects both of them? And in Hicks case, how much of his struggles are due to his lack of starts thus far? I thought he’d be taking more starts from Beltran, but Carlos has been too hot to sit very often.

I think both guys are struggling because of a lack of playing time so far. Hicks has 23 plate appearances in 14 games and Murphy has 27 in 16 games. I can understand being buried behind Brian McCann on the Yankees, but being buried behind Kurt Suzuki on the 5-11 Twins? Rough. Poor JRM. I’m not sure the change of scenery itself has hurt either guy much. Hicks changed roles, going from everyday center fielder to fourth outfielder, which could be having an impact. Murphy is in the same role as last year. I think it’s just one of those things, to be honest. The noise of a small sample. Boring answer, but we’re talking about 20-something at-bats spread across two and a half weeks of games.


Paul asks: How crazy of an idea is it for Gardner to switch LF and RF with Beltran so that Gardner is in whichever field the batter is more likely to hit to?

Brett Gardner has played one game in right field in his career and I remember it. It was at Fenway Park two years ago and he looked completely lost out there. I remember he misread two or three balls because they sliced away from him more than he expected. This could work with someone like Hicks, who is used to both corner spots, but not Gardner given his inexperience in right.

Andy asks: What do you make of the Yankee’s rotation ranking 4th in the MLB in SIERA (3.40)? Do you expect the results to catch up with the underlying skills soon?

The rotation has a 5.01 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 3.38 xFIP, and a 3.30 SIERA at the moment. Last year the starting staff had a 4.25 ERA, 4.04 FIP, 3.75 xFIP, and a 3.85 SIERA. The Yankees are big believers in DIPS Theory, they’ve made it clear with the players they’ve acquired, and that’s all well and good. Lots of strikeouts, lots of grounders, few walks, and few homers is a wonderful recipe for success.

I think the Yankees have a rotation that will generally post lower FIP/xFIP/SIERAs than ERA for a few reasons. One is Yankee Stadium, which is very homer happy, and I don’t think the ERA estimators account for that properly. Two is the fact guys like Eovaldi and Pineda are hittable. That might be true with Severino as well. SIERA does account for balls in play (FIP and xFIP donot), but it’s not perfect. Come the end of the season, I think all four stats will be much closer to 4.00. The 5.01 ERA is too high and the 3.30 SIERA is too low because weird stuff happens in the first 14 games.

John asks: I realize that it’s early yet and that we’re all hoping that A-Rod turns things around. But if we get to June 30th or so and he still has a .163/.250/.302 split through 250 or so plate appearances, do you think the team will finally cut ties? I know the Yankees have been reluctant to release players with time left on their contracts, but several other teams have done so recently (Swisher’s an example). The Yankees gave Soriano until July 4th two years ago, and his stats were better than Alex’s so far this year.

They Yankees were only paying Alfonso Soriano $5M in 2014 and that was the final year of his contract. Cutting him loose didn’t hurt the wallet too much. Cutting A-Rod at midseason would mean eating $30M and no one wants to do that. The Braves ate $10M in one season to release Swisher (the Indians were paying the rest of his salary), which is very different than $30M across two years. I would be surprised if A-Rod is struggling that badly comes June. I would be even more surprised if the Yankees released him at that point. I think they would seriously consider releasing him in the offseason if he does go the entire season looking down. Like done done.

Mailbag: Bench, Shuttle, Rest, Kaprielian, Eovaldi, Pineda

We’ve got 15 questions in the mailbag this week. That’s a lot. The RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address is the place to send us any comments or questions throughout the week. We’ll get to as many as we can.

Hicksie. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Hicks-ey. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Justin asks: Of the Yankee bench players who is most and least likely to make it all the way through the season on the 25 man?

Aaron Hicks and Austin Romine. Pretty easy calls, I think. The Yankees did not trade John Ryan Murphy only to give Hicks a leash of a few weeks or months. He’s here for the long haul and I think he’s going to see a lot more playing time in the coming days. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hicks start four of the nine games on the upcoming road trip.

As for Romine, he is simply keeping the backup catcher’s seat warm for Gary Sanchez. Out of everyone on the bench, he is the one who has to most look over his shoulder because a top prospect is breathing down his neck. It only takes 35 days in the minors to delay Sanchez’s free agency, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent the entire first half down there. At some point though I think Sanchez will be up and Romine will be gone.

Nathaniel asks: Not Yankees related, but have you seen John Gant’s funky delivery for the Braves? Is it legal and what are your thoughts?

I did see Gant’s delivery. Here’s the video for folks who have not seen it:

That is totally ridiculous and it seems like a lot of wasted effort, but hey, whatever works. It’s legal because he comes set before beginning his motion and he remains engaged with the rubber the entire time. Gant doesn’t do the double leg kick thing when men are on base. Only from the windup. It’s not a bad delivery, just different, and hey, it makes baseball a little more fun. I’m in favor of that.

Rubaiyat asks: When talking about innings limits, does postseason innings count as well? If the Yankees do go deep in the postseason, then Severino might bump up against the innings the Yankees are hoping he would reach. How would they go about it?

Of course. If anything postseason innings are more taxing than regular season innings because the intensity is ramped up. Those innings absolutely have to be considered. Brian Cashman has acknowledged the Yankees have some workload limit in mind for Luis Severino — he declined to say what it is — and I’m certain that includes the regular season and postseason. I could see them skipping a few Severino starts during the summer, then maybe going to a six-man rotation once rosters expand in September. I would be stunned if they shut him down Stephen Strasburg style. I don’t think any contending team will ever do that again.

Charlie asks: Why are pitchers on the shuttle between the minors and the bullpen considered “fresh arms?” I mean, sure, they haven’t played up at the Bigs yet (or recently), but I assume they are pitching down in the farm system up until they get the temporary call, and then again when they get sent back down. So what makes them fresher than anyone else in the bullpen? Is it just that they’re not facing the same caliber of players or are they rested more by minor league managers who know they are going to be called up as “fresh arms?”

When I say “fresh arm,” I mean someone who hasn’t pitched in a few days. The entire point of the shuttle is to send down a pitcher with a big recent workload and bring up a pitcher who has had the last few days off. Looking at our Bullpen Workload page, James Pazos would qualify as a “fresh arm” because he hasn’t pitched in two days. The Yankees would be able to use him today and tomorrow. They couldn’t do that with, say, Johnny Barbato, who just pitched last night. “Fresh arm” just means the guy hasn’t pitched much recently and is available to throw a lot of pitches right away.

Paul asks: With the plan to rest players already being seen in action, what do you think the approximate target for games played for each player is?

That’s a really good question and I’ve been trying to figure that out. How do these target numbers sound?

Brian McCann: 110 games (119 last year)
Mark Teixeira: 130 games (105 last year due to injury)
Chase Headley: 135 games (148 last year)
Brett Gardner: 130 games (140 last year)
Jacoby Ellsbury: 135 games (106 last year due to injury)
Carlos Beltran: 120 games (120 last year)
Alex Rodriguez: 120 games (135 last year)

Those are games started in the field, not total games played. (For A-Rod it’s game started at DH.) I could see the Yankees pushing Teixeira and Beltran a little harder because they’re impending free agents and they don’t really care about any long-term effects.

Do those target numbers sound good? Whatever the numbers are, I’m sure the Yankees will be flexible and adjust depending on how players are performing. If, say, Ellsbury is tearing the cover off the ball in August and the Yankees are in a tight race, those 135 games could become 145 games in a hurry.

Michael asks: In one of this week’s DotF, you noted that Gabe Encinas’s “prospect expiration date has passed.” Out of curiosity, does every prospect have a different expiration date in your mind or do you give every player (barring injuries) until, say, 23 years old to start figuring AA out? Are you ever surprised by late bloomers? Does Gabe have a chance to be one?

It’s different for every player because every player is different. A blanket “one size fits all” approach never works in baseball. You can’t say “you need to be in Double-A by age 22 or you’re behind schedule.” No. Doesn’t work like that. For a guy like Encinas, who has a huge fastball but questionable secondary stuff and command, the fourth year in Single-A pretty much confirms it’s just not happening like you hoped.

As for late bloomers, you’re always aware it’s possible because the player has talent. There’s a reason he was drafted and given the opportunity to play professional baseball. The natural ability is there and yes, sometimes it takes guys a little longer. Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom were late bloomers. They didn’t establish themselves at the MLB level until they were close to 27. Encinas has a chance to do that — he’s going to continue to get opportunities because he throws hard — the same way any prospect has a chance to figure out it late.

Ackley-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)
Ackley-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

Mike asks: Given that Ackley’s arm isn’t strong enough for him to play third, how did he manage to play a couple innings in right field for Seattle last year? Did Seattle have an outfielder with even less arm in left? Is Ackley a viable backup right fielder for New York, or purely LF/1B/2B?

The short answer: the Mariners. Who knows why they do things. They’re currently playing Nelson Cruz in right field and Franklin Gutierrez at DH. I don’t get it either. Besides, it’s not like Dustin Ackley played a ton of right field last year. He played two innings across two games. The first time he replaced Cruz in right in a blowout, and the other time he started the game in left, then slid over to right because Rickie Weeks had pinch-hit for Seth Smith, and Weeks had only worked out in left field after spending most of his career at second. The Yankees could run Ackley out to right field if necessary, but Hicks is clearly the No. 1 option there.

Frank asks: I’m not sure if this a dumb question, but since there are a lot if SS prospects in the organization, can the Yanks FO move some of the players back and forth from a minor league club to another? For example, can Wade be moved to AAA for 2 weeks or so then Mateo fill in at AA, and subsequently Holder would get a taste of High A. This way the prospects would get a taste of each level. Or is this just too complicated?

There’s no reason they couldn’t move players around. There’s no limit to the number of transactions a team can make or anything like that. Clubs usually don’t move prospects around until they meet development goals, however. That’s why guys will spend a full season at a level even though they’re hitting something like .330. The team wants the player to work on certain things, and they promote them when they feel they’ve met those goals. Promotions are a “reward” for development, not necessarily good numbers. You won’t see teams move prospects around just to give a player a little taste of a different level for the heck of it.

Vidhath asks: Just found out that Jaron Long was released. Seemed a bit surprising to me, since he was relatively young and made it to AAA for the first time after a steady climb. Was his stuff that bad that they thought he wouldn’t have a chance in the majors?

That’s exactly what it was. He lacks stuff. Baseball Prospectus (no subs. req’d) got a look at Long in 2014, and he topped out at 88 with below average curves and changeups. “Long does not have the stuff to pitch in the majors. His below-average FB and CH lack the necessary impact to provide any value as more than an org filler or desperation call-up,” said the write-up. I remember seeing him in a Spring Training game last year and thinking the same thing. He didn’t even have one worthwhile pitch. The stats would lead you to believe Long could help at some point, but once you see him in action, you realize the limitations. Matt DeSalvo was the same way back in the day.

Samuel asks: We hear Rumbelow is being stretched out and then first game it’s attempted he needs TJ. Is there a connection at all or am I grasping at straws?

I don’t think there’s a connection. Nick Rumbelow didn’t even get a chance to really stretch out. He got hurt warming up for his second inning of the regular season. Multiple inning appearances were not new to him — Rumbelow got four or more outs 21 times last year — so it’s not like he was being pushed into uncharted territory. If he had gotten hurt in the middle of his fifth inning or something like that, then yeah, there might be a connection. This just seems like one of those things. Elbow ligaments snap. It happens.

Vince asks: there has been a lot of speculation that the yankees will let chapman walk w/o even trying to keep him. why would they trade for him if thats the case? its not like they were just a closer away from winning it all.

Because he can help them win this year. The “they are not a closer away from winning it all” logic is silly because you can apply that to any transaction ever. Why trade for Starlin Castro when they are not a second baseman away? Why would the Red Sox sign David Price when they aren’t a starter away? It’s a team sport and you need to build the puzzle. Aroldis Chapman is a piece of that puzzle. A very good piece of that puzzle. Simply put, the Yankees are a much better team with Chapman on the roster. No, he may not be the piece that gets them over the top, but he moves them closer to the finish line.

Didi-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)
Didi-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

Marc asks: True or false: Yankees could potentially have the best defensive infield in baseball.

Eh, I’ll say false. They do have an above-average defensive infield, though I think Castro is still a little rough around the edges at second, and by time he figures that out, Teixeira will probably be gone. If Starlin makes big strides in the first half, then yeah, the Yankees might have the best defensive infield in the game down the stretch. Who are the other candidates? The Royals and Giants for sure. The Rockies and Marlins are sneaky good too. For now, I’ll say the Yankees have a top ten defensive infield but not top five. Castro’s inexperience is the only major drawback now that Headley seems to have remembered how to throw.

Eric asks: Do you think a combination of the injuries suffered recently (Rumbelow, Mitchell) and potential success by relievers like Kirby Yates and Johnny Barbato change the bullpen shuttle plan in any fundamental way? It seemed like last year the shuttle was used to such an extreme due to depth and lack of a player emerging from the herd of young relievers. Maybe we only see it this year if the bullpen is extremely taxed.

Success by Barbato and Yates would change the shuttle dynamic more than the injuries, I think. The idea of shuttling out relievers and always having a fresh arm or two is great, but ultimately the Yankees are going to go with the roster that gives them the best chance to win. If Barbato emerges as someone worth keeping around — I’m much more confident in him doing so than Yates — then the Yankees will keep him around. None of the shuttle guys did that last year. The injuries to Rumbelow and Bryan Mitchell stink, but that’s why you build depth. If anything the personnel has changed as a result of the injuries, not the plan.

Chris asks: Hi Mike, I just finished reading your draft thoughts and then read your post prior to the 2015 about James Kaprielian. To sum up, it seems that despite the polish, it was thought he did not have a lot of upside. Now that Kap has been able to maintain more zip on the fastball, do you still feel that he does not have a lot of upside, with the exception of potentially being a fast mover through the system? Or has he changed your opinion? It seems to me that with the sustained increase in velocity, on top of the polish, that he could potentially exceed those expectations from spring of 2015. Your thoughts?

The extra velocity definitely changes his ceiling. He went from 89-91 as a sophomore to 91-93 as a junior to 93-95 as a pro. That’s a huge jump. I want to see Kaprielian sustain it throughout the summer before fully buying in, but this is definitely encouraging. Before the velocity bump he was considered more of a mid-rotation starter. With the extra velocity, Kaprielian has a chance to pitch closer to the front of the rotation. Maybe not a true ace, but more of a No. 2 than a No. 3. Like I said, I want to see him hold the velocity a little longer before we start rewriting scouting reports, but this is definitely a positive sign. It’s not often a college starter shows up in pro ball and adds velocity. If anything, the opposite usual happens because they go from starting once a week to once every five days.

David asks: Gun to your head do you extend big mike or nasty nate today assuming they want a similar deal. Both seem doomed to meet their respective ceiling. Mike has the more recent injury history but also better success. Nate seems more durable but could end up in the pen.

My head says Nathan Eovaldi, my heart says Michael Pineda. I think Pineda has a better chance to pitch at an above-average clip long-term, but I also think he’s a much bigger risk because of his shoulder surgery. Eovaldi is so far removed from his Tommy John surgery — it’s been nine years now — that I don’t think his risk of a second Tommy John surgery is considerably higher than Pineda’s risk of a first Tommy John surgery. The new ligament has held up under all those triple digit fastballs. I would have to go with Eovaldi over Pineda because of health. If you want to go with Pineda over Eovaldi, I wouldn’t argue much. I think there’s a good case to be made for both guys.

Mailbag: Puello, Mitchell, Chapman, Gooden, Nicknames

The ultra-rare Friday matinee game screwed up our usual schedule today, so instead of posting the mailbag first thing, it had to wait until the afternoon. Anyway, I’ve got 14 questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the email address to use if you want to send us any questions throughout the week.

Puello. (Presswire)
Puello. (Presswire)

Chip asks: Ok Mike, I don’t know what to make of this situation so I come to you for your expert genius. Cesar Puello was a guy I predicted I would get irrationally excited about this spring, but the longer he has stuck around and the better he has performed against actual major leaguers I feel like my excitement may no longer be irrational so what’s the deal? Random guy having an awesome spring or former top prospect who got derailed due to injuries showing what he’s capable of when he stays healthy?

My head says random guy having a big spring, my heart says interesting prospect who was hindered by injuries the last few years. Puello played one (1) game last season due to a back injury, and he’s played a total of 263 games from 2012-15 due to injuries and a Biogenesis related suspension. (Puello is the only player suspended as a result of Biogenesis who has not played in MLB.)

Baseball America ranked Puello as the No. 77 prospect in all of baseball back in 2011, so he has natural ability. Heck, they ranked him as the No. 26 prospect in the Mets’ system prior to last season. It’s not like you have to look too far to see the last time he was a prospect. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report from the 2015 Prospect Handbook:

He has flashed every tool but one — the feel to hit … He has plus raw power and at least average in-game juice, but a wild, impatient plate approach inhibits his ability to get to it consistently. Righthanders with good breaking stuff are especially successful at retiring Puello. An average runner with the instincts to play all three outfield positions capably, he has a plus arm that will play in right field.

Aside from injuries, I’m not sure anything has derailed more talented players than the lack of “the feel to hit.” That’s a tough flaw to correct, especially when you’ve missed as much time as Puello has over the years. He’s worth a flier. Absolutely. And the Yankees should be able to give him Triple-A at-bats while Mason Williams is on the DL.

One thing to keep in mind: Puello is out of options. The Mets added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft years ago, and he burned through his three option years. He has a year of service time too. The Mets outrighted him last year because he was out of options and wasn’t going to make the team, but then the back injury popped up, so they rescinded the outright and he spent the season on the MLB DL. Puello’s not a guy the Yankees can send up and down. Once he’s up, he’s up.

Chris asks: Do you know if Mitchell will get MLB pay now that the Yankees said he was going to make the Opening day roster?

Yes, he will. Bryan Mitchell is on the 40-man roster and he’s played in the big leagues in each of the last two years, so he’s currently on the Major League DL. They couldn’t send him to Triple-A and stick him on the minor league DL. Being on the DL is just like being on the active roster. Mitchell will get big league pay — the difference between the MLB minimum salary and even well-paid Triple-A players is hundreds of thousands of dollars — and accrue service time. No one wants to get hurt, but if you’re a guy like Mitchell and you get hurt, you want to spend your time on the big league DL.

Rubaiyat asks: Out of all the shuttle relievers, who do you think will stick around the longest in the majors?

This season or long-term? Johnny Barbato looks like he has a chance to stick around a while this year, and I base that on one regular season appearance and a bunch of Spring Training outings, so take it with a grain of salt. I’ve always felt Branden Pinder is a guy who will spent a lot of time in MLB because he does throw hard and have a good slider. He didn’t wow anyone last year, but the kid went up and down six times (!), and that couldn’t have been easy. I’d like to see what Pinder can do when he gets an extended chance to stay on the roster. Jacob Lindgren‘s the other one. His slider is so good. Aside from injuries, rarely do guys with a breaking ball that good become nothing.


Andrew asks: Assuming Chapman has a Chapman type year once he comes back from suspension, what do you think he gets on the open market?

I think he has a chance to set a new reliever contract record. The current record is Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year, $50M deal with the Phillies a few years ago. Papelbon was great, but Aroldis Chapman has been better …

2009-11 Papelbon 2.89 2.72 28.9% 7.5% +5.2
2013-15 Chapman 2.05 1.82 45.3% 11.7% +6.5

… he’ll be two years younger than Papelbon was at the time of his free agency, and salaries have inflated the last few years. Will teams try to ding Chapman for the domestic violence incident and subsequent suspension? Probably. They’ll use whatever they can to create leverage.

A lot of great relievers will be free agents next offseason — Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon, most notably — though I don’t think that will saturate the market. Teams always need high-end relievers. I could see Chapman winding up with a four-year contract at $13M or $14M per season, so $52M to $56M in total money. It’ll probably have an opt-out after two years or something too.

Richard asks: The BP farm rankings you linked to yesterday had the Red Sox at #5 and the Yanks at 16. Had the Yanks signed Moncada instead of the Sox, how would those rankings have changed?

Of course. Yoan Moncada is a legitimate top 15 prospect in all of baseball, maybe top ten, and guys like that are worth several spots in the farm system rankings all by themselves. Is he enough that the Yankees and Red Sox would switch spots? No way. But with Moncada, I think the Yankees would be much closer to the top ten, perhaps as high as No. 11 or 12.

Chris asks: Dwight Gooden. What was the biggest reason for his downfall: cocaine, overuse at an early age, or hitter figuring him out?

I definitely do not believe hitters figured him out. I think it was mostly overuse, and his physically issues were then exacerbated by the drug problems. Gooden threw 191 innings in the minors at age 18, 218 innings in MLB at age 19, and 276 innings in MLB at age 20. That is pretty insane. That’s a huge workload even back in those days. Those 218 innings are the fifth most by a 19-year-old in MLB history. (Three of the four guys ahead of Gooden started their careers prior to 1940.) The 276 innings are the fifth most by a 20-year-old in history. Doc threw a ton of innings at a very young ago, then he did even more damage to his body with the drug abuse. I was way too young to fully appreciate Gooden’s peak. He was incredible.

Brian asks: Who are your favorite non-Yankee announcers? I’m pretty lucky getting Gary Thorne down here in Baltimore and every once in a while like to switch up my feeds.

Thorne is pretty good. He’s in the top ten announcers for me. Vin Scully is still the best in the business in my opinion. There’s nothing better than chilling out at night, watching Clayton Kershaw pitch, and listening to Vin after a long day at the blog factory. Great way to unwind. The Giants (Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow) have a good booth and so do the Mets (Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez). Keith Hernandez is great because he might say something hilariously inappropriate at any time. Example:

Len Kasper (Cubs) and Brian Anderson (Brewers) are great play-by-play men in my opinion. I also really like the Glen Kuiper/Ray Fosse booth for the Athletics. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but Dave Sims, the Mariners play-by-play guy, has really grown on me. When I first purchased back in the day and started watching every team, I couldn’t stand Sims, but now I enjoy him. Go figure.

Ruby asks: Jack Cave was just returned to the Yankees. How common is it for a returned Rule 5 pick to become a significant major leaguer with their original club? What precedents are there with the Yankees?

It seems like it’s much more common for a player to be successful after being returned as a Rule 5 Draft pick than as an actual Rule 5 Draft pick. I guess these players aren’t quite big league ready when they get Rule 5ed, but a few years later, they’re ready to help. Ivan Nova is the most notable example with the Yankees. The Padres took Nova in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft, returned him at the end of Spring Training, and a few years later he became a mainstay in New York.

Other players who have gone on to have big league success after being returned as Rule 5 Draft picks include Ender Inciarte (picked in 2012 by the Phillies), George Kontos (2011 by Padres), R.A. Dickey (2007 by Mariners), Alfredo Simon (2006 by Orioles), and Shane Victorino (2002 by Padres). Victorino was actually a Rule 5 pick twice. He stuck the second time (2004 by Phillies). The success rate is still not very high, but it seems like the players who are returned and get more time to work on their skills in the minors have a better chance of becoming regulars down the line.

Brandon asks: Do you think Nova can perfectly replace Adam Warren? Not sure why but I have a good feeling he’s going to fill the role Warren played last year at the same level.

I don’t know about perfectly, but I do think Nova has a chance to fill that role. The only questions I have are can he a) warm up as quickly as Warren, and b) back as well on back-to-back days? One of Warren’s best attributes was the resiliency of his arm. He threw a few warm up tosses and was ready to go, and he was able to pitch effectively two days in a row. Can Nova do that, especially with Tommy John surgery in the not too distant past? The Yankees gave him almost an inning and a half to warm up the other night, after all.

Don asks: Beltran’s ground out in the first inning got me thinking. He grounded out with runners on second and third, but got the run in and moved the runner up from second to third, a very productive out. Yet, he starts 0-1. If he hit a fly ball and had the same productive result he would be 0-0 with the sacrifice. It’s understandable why a bunt would be a sacrifice because you are giving yourself up, but why the distinction between a Fly out and a ground out?

I’ve had this in the back of my mind for years and I’ve never found a satisfactory answer. Most things I’ve read say it’s because sacrifice flies are considering intentional. The batter was trying to hit the ball in the air to score the run. A run-scoring ground out is considered a ball that was mis-hit, so to speak. I’ve also seen the argument that an RBI ground out is considered a fielder’s choice, implying the fielder could have thrown home for the out but chose not to. I don’t have a good answer for this. I’m of the belief sacrifice flies should be considered at-bats and count against batting average because the hitter had a chance to get a hit and did not. How many hitters are truly up there trying to hit a sac fly? Most of them are up there trying to get a hit, and they settle for a sac fly. The hitter’s intent to give himself up is far more obvious with sac bunts.

Frank asks: I was looking at an article from Fangraphs’ author Cistilli, and I noticed that Didi had a WAR of 3.1 with a wRC+89 in 2015. While Wilmer Flores only had a WAR of 1.9 and he had a wRC+95. Both are good fielders but I am a little confused about the discrepancy in WAR. Can you explain this?

It’s the defense. Flores is not a good defender at all, which is why the Mets went with Ruben Tejada as their regular shortstop in the second half last year, and turned Wilmer into a bench player this year. Last season Gregorius had a +5 DRS and +7.4 UZR. Flores was at -10 DRS and -2.5 UZR at shortstop. That’s the difference right there.


Victor asks: Do you think the Yankees consider Teixeira on 1 year deal with a club option for a 2nd year?

Assuming Mark Teixeira doesn’t fall off a cliff this year — and assuming it doesn’t screw up the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold — I think the Yankees would strongly consider re-signing him to a one-year contract with an option regardless of Greg Bird‘s status. If Bird’s rehab comes along slowly for any reason, pursuing Teixeira on those terms is a no-brainer. And even if his rehab is going well, Teixeira is added depth and would give the team the luxury of sending Bird to Triple-A to knock off any rust. The Yankees aren’t spending like they once did, but I think it’s the big money long-term deals that scare them. A one-year deal for Teixeira, who they know very well, is something the team may be open to.

Paul asks: On a day after Nova pitches, who is most likely to be the guy to take one for the team and pitch 3-4 innings in the event of an emergency?

I have to think it’s Luis Cessa right now. He got stretched out to three innings in Spring Training, so the Yankees could probably send Cessa out there for four innings right now, as long as his pitch count doesn’t get out of control. Barbato and Kirby Yates are true short relievers. One or two innings at the most. Cessa is a starter by trade and he’s somewhat stretched out.

Sean asks: Do we know Girardi’s nickname for each guy on the 25 man roster? What % end in -y?

Oh this is a good one. Let’s build a table and try to fill in the blanks.

Player Nickname Player Nickname
Johnny Barbato  ? Brian McCann  Mac
Dellin Betances  ? Austin Romine  ?
Luis Cessa  ? Starlin Castro Starsky (yup)
Nathan Eovaldi  Evo Didi Gregorius  Didi
Andrew Miller  ? Chase Headley  Head
Ivan Nova  ? Mark Teixeira  Tex
Michael Pineda  ? Ronald Torreyes  ?
CC Sabathia  C Dustin Ackley  ?
Luis Severino  Sevy Carlos Beltran  ?
Chasen Shreve Shrevey? Jacoby Ellsbury  Ells
Masahiro Tanaka  ? Brett Gardner  Gardy
Kirby Yates  ? Aaron Hicks  Hicksy
Alex Rodriguez  Al

Much harder than I expected! I guess maybe that’s because there was so much bench and bullpen turnover this year. (No more Jonesy, for example.) I feel like I’ve heard Girardi call Shreve “Shrevey” before, but I wonder if I’m being confused by everyone joking around and calling him that.

Some guys, like Sabathia and Gregorius, don’t really need nicknames. Heck, Didi already is a nickname. (Didi’s real name is Mariekson Julius Gregorius.) Girardi calls A-Rod “Al” pretty much all the time. Al or Alex. So which ones am I missing? I feel like I’m blanking on a bunch of obvious nicknames here.

Mailbag: Bauer, Montero, Mitchell, Refsnyder, Swisher

I’ve got eleven questions in this week’s mailbag, and some of the answers are pretty long too. As always, you can email us questions at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Bauer. (Presswire)
Bauer. (Presswire)

Bryan asks: Trevor Bauer seems like the kind of pitcher Larry Rothschild could turn around. He’s young, throws mid-90s heat but has control problems. Since the Indians put him in the bullpen would he make sense in a trade for the Yankees as a starter? Something like Nova and Heathcott for Bauer seems reasonable.

Bryan, I’m sorry, but I have to slap a “your trade proposal sucks” on you. Ivan Nova and Slade Heathcott have negligible trade value. The Indians are not trading five years of Bauer — he somehow still has fewer than two full years of service time — for one year of six starter and six years of a sixth outfielder, even with all their outfield injuries. Bauer’s not great or anything, but nope. Not happening. The Yankees would do that in a heartbeat.

Now, that said, I could see the Yankees showing interest in Bauer because he is young (25), he is under team control for a while, and he does strike out a ton of batters. He’s settled into the 91-95 mph range with his fastball and he throws a little of everything. Two-seamers, four-seamers, cutters, sliders, curveballs, changeups, whatever. I see strikeouts on four-seamers, two-seamers, curveballs, and changeups in this video:

Bauer does walk a ton of guys — his 10.6% walk rate was the highest among all qualified starters last year — and the Yankees usually don’t go for that. One of the reasons they targeted guys like Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi was their low walk rates. Also, Bauer has some unique training methods, and he’s butted heads with some coaches over the years. I’m not saying that’s a deal-breaker, just a factor to be considered.

The Indians were open to trading a starter all winter — they reportedly talked to the Yankees about a starter for outfielder trade — and Bauer is the obvious target now that he’s been squeezed out of the rotation. He absolutely fits the “talented young player who is (or may be) falling out of favor with his current team” mold, and those are the types of players the Yankees have been targeting in trades. I am intrigued. I wonder what it would cost.

Patrick asks: The Yanks get a lot of grief for their talent development, out of curiosity, I tried to put a starting team together the players that they drafted/signed and developed? While this team clearly doesn’t win any division, is it competitive at least?

Here is Patrick’s team. He said he stuck to players who spent the “majority” of their minor league time with the Yankees, so guys like Gerrit Cole and Yangervis Solarte don’t count.

C: Francisco Cervelli
1B: Greg Bird, Jesus Montero
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Eduardo Nunez
3B: Jimmy Paredes (maybe John Ryan Murphy?)
LF: Brett Gardner
CF: Austin Jackson
RF: Melky Cabrera
SP: Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Luis Severino
RP: David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Mark Melancon, Zach McAllister, George Kontos, Tyler Clippard, Chase Whitley

Paredes actually spent more time in the minors with the Astros than the Yankees in terms of plate appearances, so he can’t be the third baseman. I’m willing to fudge a little and use him though. I won’t tell if you won’t.

You have to add Nova to the pitching staff somewhere — I’d put him in the rotation and Phelps in the bullpen — and also Mike Dunn too. Dunn has carved out a nice little career for himself as a lefty reliever since being included Javy Vazquez/Boone Logan trade. Arodys Vizcaino, who was also in that trade, spent most of his minor league career with the Braves.

Jose Quintana technically meets the criteria — he threw way more minor league innings with the Yankees (246) than he did with the Mets and White Sox combined (54) — so I guess we have to include him too. He’d be the staff ace. That said, the Yankees didn’t sign Quintana as an amateur. They picked him up after the Mets released him years ago. Letting him go was clearly a mistake. So it goes.

Aside from them, you have spare part players like Ramon Flores and Phil Coke lying around. That’s about it. Manny Banuelos keeps having elbow problems — he was recently shut down with more discomfort — so I’m not sure how you’d put him on the pitching staff. The left side of the infield is weak, but you’ve got a star in Cano, a legit big league outfield, a solid rotation, and a great bullpen. Not too shabby. That team wouldn’t be a pushover.

Jeremy asks: I think it’s pretty obvious that the Yankees “won” the Montero for Pineda deal since Jesus has only played badly when he’s been on the field. But given his prospect value at the time, is Pineda the best we could’ve gotten for Montero? I’m just curious who else you think we might’ve been able to get for Jesus.

It’s really tough to say. The Yankees offered Montero for Roy Halladay back in the day, and the Blue Jays said no, so he wasn’t going to fetch a true ace. Here’s a really quick look at the top pitchers age 25 and under in 2011, the season immediately prior to the Michael Pineda/Montero trade:

  • Clayton Kershaw (6.5 WAR): He had just won his first Cy Young. No chance at a trade.
  • Gio Gonzalez (4.3 WAR): Was traded to the Nationals that offseason. I think the A’s would have seriously considered a Montero-led package. Gio had four years of team control remaining.
  • Matt Harrison (4.0 WAR): Harrison finally had a breakout year in 2011 and helped the Rangers get to the World Series. Not sure Texas goes for Montero with Mike Napoli at catcher, Mitch Moreland at first, and Michael Young at DH.
  • Jeremy Hellickson (3.8 WAR): I can’t imagine the Rays would trade the reigning Rookie of the Year to a division rival.

After those four you have guys like Pineda, Jhoulys Chacin, Vance Worley, Jair Jurrjens, and Trevor Cahill, plus a bunch of others who were presumably off-limits (David Price, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Jordan Zimmermann). Sees like Gio was the best case scenario.

Pineda was a really good haul for Montero. He had a fantastic rookie season — Pineda is still the only starter in history to post a 9.0+ K/9 and a sub-3.0 BB/9 as a rookie — and five years of team control remaining. Pineda got hurt and it sucks. That’s baseball. The Yankees still managed to come out ahead in the trade.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Many asked: Would it be crazy to make Bryan Mitchell the fifth starter?

(This question — these questions really, since a few people asked — was sent in before Mitchell broke this toe, but I’m going to answer it anyway because I think it’s a good one.)

I think it would be crazy. I like Mitchell a lot — there’s a reason I had him as the team’s No. 7 prospect coming into the season — but he still doesn’t have a changeup and his command still isn’t even average. That didn’t change in Spring Training. As good as he looked in camp, I am not at all convinced Mitchell is ready to outperform CC Sabathia and Nova as starting pitchers right now. Let him start in the bullpen and force the issue, the old school way.

Chris asks: Do you guys think the Yankees are screwing up another prospect with Refsnyder just like they did Joba? Of course they are not the same beast but it appears the development of both has been grossly mishandled. Hey Rob, come to spring training and fight for a job…oh yeah, that job isn’t second anymore it’s third…oh yeah and you have to hit the snot out of the ball too.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking a player to try another position when they’re blocked at the MLB level, and Rob Refsnyder is indeed blocked by Starlin Castro. The Red Sox moved Mookie Betts from second base to center field because of Dustin Pedroia. Manny Machado moved to third because of J.J. Hardy. Daniel Murphy moved to second because of David Wright. Chase Headley, who has been a great defensive third baseman throughout his career, used to play left field in deference to Kevin friggin’ Kouzmanoff. This stuff happens all the time.

At some point the onus falls on Refsnyder. The Yankees gave him a chance to make the team. Putting him at third base was about finding a way to get him on the roster, not screwing up his development. And yes, he had to hit in Spring Training. It’s common for young players to be asked to perform before giving them a job. I’m not saying Refsnyder wasn’t put in a difficult position. He was. But the Yankees asked Ronald Torreyes — who is a year and a half younger than Refsnyder, by the way — to do the same thing this spring and he did it, so he got the job.

Many asked: What about Nick Swisher?

I don’t see where he fits. Not only has he hit .204/.291/.326 (75 wRC+) the last two years, but where would the Yankees play Swisher? He’d have to be the backup first baseman and fifth outfielder — a fifth outfielder with two bad knees at that — which is Dustin Ackley‘s job. Ackley is seven years younger, able to play second base, and probably the better hitter at this point as well. I guess the Yankees could stash Swisher in Triple-A as first base depth instead of Chris Parmelee, but eh. Swisher was awesome for the Yankees from 2009-12. Brian Cashman knocked it out of the park with that trade. I don’t see any room for 35-year-old Nick Swisher on the 2016 Yankees though.

Josh asks: I saw your update that no news about Betances was good news about Betances, however I was wondering how his workload has been this spring and how it compared to last year? He got off to a slow start last year and some theorized that it was due to not having thrown enough innings during spring training. Did the Yankees run him out there more? Or is the mentality for late inning guys still in the Mo-Mold of six drive-by innings?

Here are Dellin Betances’ official Grapefruit League inning totals over the last three years:

2014: 12.1
2015: 8.1
2016: 6.0

That does not include minor league game appearances, and who knows what those numbers are. (Dellin threw an inning in a minor league game earlier this week.) Betances is probably going to throw one more inning this spring — I’m guessing it’ll be tonight, so then he has two days off before Opening Day — and finish the spring with eight innings when you count that one minor league game inning we know about.

So, anyway, that all means Dellin’s workload this spring was basically the same as last year. He’s getting the veteran treatment. Betances did change his offseason routine — he said he gave himself a few extra weeks to rest before throwing again — which may have helped him this spring. Whatever he’s been doing this year, it’s worked so far. No issues whatsoever with Betances this spring.

David asks: I had a question about streaming, the answer to which I cannot find anywhere. I know that the Yankees are supposed to be covered by MLB’s new in-market streaming deal with FOX, but I haven’t really seen any follow-up on that since November. Google is surprisingly unhelpful. Do we know for sure that this is happening? I’ve only been able to stream spring training games via, leading to my concern.

The in-market streaming is definitely happening, though it won’t work the way I thought it would. I thought it would be as simple as paying for the service, authenticating your credentials, then firing up Apparently it won’t work that way. Maury Brown has some more details:

Those that have ditched their televisions in favor of going with just internet content will be in a lurch if they wish to take advantage of getting games in their local markets. Users will need get the games streamed through FOX Sports Go, or FOX distribution points online. Like the MLB All-Star Game, users will have to authenticate to show which FOX regional sports network is part of their TV carrier’s package. Games will not be streamed as part of MLB.TV Premium, which includes the league’s popular At Bat for mobile devices.

You will still need to subscribe to YES through your cable provider, though it doesn’t seem as though there will be any additional fees. (A few years ago the Yankees on YES in-market streaming package was an extra $50.) So you’ll subscribe to YES, sign into the FOX Sports Go app, then provide your cable provider details for authentication. I thought it would be built right into Lame. Still better than nothing though. Hope that helps.

Trout. (Presswire)
Trout. (Presswire)

James asks: To my furthest knowledge teams are willing to play between 6-8 million a year per 1 win( going off war). So with that math: if mike trout were to hit free agency right now mathematically how much would he get?

These days it’s closer to $8M per WAR, but that’s the league average. Every team is different. One win is worth more to the Yankees given their spot on the playoff bubble than it is to, say, the Phillies. The Yankees might be willing to pay $12M for that one additional win. Anyway, assuming $8M per WAR and the fact Trout is only 24 and his worst big league season was +8 WAR, his true on-field value is north of $64M per year. It’s probably closer to $80M. I could see him easily getting $40M per season if he were a free agent right now, maybe even $45M, but baseball is not at the point where a player is going to make $60M+ per season. I truly despise $/WAR analysis though. I understand the concept and it is important, but it’s become such a lazy crutch. Wins have different values to different teams at different points in time.

Jonathan asks: I’m wondering if you, or any other Yankee fans are feeling a bit disenfranchised by the Yankees PR and moves this off season? From the stub hub elitist comments, to the Chapman trade (essentially taking advantage of the market value of a player due to a domestic violence case). However as a lifelong fan, it’s not like I can just stop being a fan. But I can’t say my morale with this team has me proud to be a fan. Just wondering if you, or any of the other die hards feel the same?

Oh yeah, I definitely feel the same way and I’m sure others do as well. I’ve made it clear I did not like the Aroldis Chapman trade because of the domestic violence incident. When someone allegedly chokes and pushes their girlfriend, and shoots a gun in their house, the reaction shouldn’t be “how can this benefit us?” The StubHub thing was so ridiculous it almost felt intentional. Maybe it was part of some big social experiment or something. The fan experience at Yankee Stadium is pretty lame — why are the concessions so bad? even the new stuff they added this year is all gimmicky — and then you’ve got Hal Steinbrenner talking about his desire to cut payroll every chance he gets. It’s hard to just stop being a fan, but man, the Yankees have been pretty terrible at fostering positive PR recently.

Sam asks: You brought up that Girardi has been the manager for 9 years now in your coach post, could you do a 25 man roster of the best players from those 9 years based on each player’s best season?

A 25-man roster is a bit excessive. I’m going to pass on that. I will put together a roster of the best seasons at each position during the Joe Girardi era, however. I’m going to list two teams. The first team will be off the top of my head to see how the ol’ memory is working. The second team will be listed by WAR, the boring way. Here are the teams:

Mike’s Memory Team WAR’s Team
C 2009 Jorge Posada 2015 Brian McCann (2.8)
1B 2009 Mark Teixeira  2009 Teixeira (5.3)
2B 2012 Robinson Cano  2012 Cano (8.4)
SS 2009 Derek Jeter  2009 Jeter (6.5)
3B 2009 Alex Rodriguez  2008 A-Rod (6.8)
LF 2011 Brett Gardner  2010 Gardner (7.3)
CF 2011 Curtis Granderson  2011 Granderson (5.7)
RF 2012 Nick Swisher  2012 Swisher (3.8)
DH 2009 Hideki Matsui  2015 A-Rod (3.1)
SP 2011 CC Sabathia
2009 CC Sabathia
2008 Mike Mussina
2011 Sabathia (7.5)
2009 Sabathia (6.2)
2012 Hiroki Kuroda (5.5)
RP 2008 Mariano Rivera
2014 Dellin Betances
2015 Dellin Betances
2008 Rivera (4.8)
2011 David Robertson (4.0)
2014 & 2015 Dellin (both 3.7)

Hey, I did pretty good! I was way off on catcher — 2009 Posada is fifth behind two McCann seasons and two Russell Martin seasons by WAR — and I made the mistake of not picking the only year A-Rod played a full healthy season at third base under Girardi. I had the wrong year on Gardner. I thought 2010 was his big breakout year, not 2011. And no, I don’t think Gardner was actually worth seven wins in 2011. WAR can be dumb like that.

I undersold Robertson’s stellar 2011 season. It’s easy to forget how insanely good he was that year. Mussina’s 2008 season is the fourth best season by a starting pitcher under Girardi at +5.2 WAR, so I’m essentially correct. WAR’s not precise enough to think there’s a significant difference between +5.2 WAR and +5.5 WAR, no disrespect to Kuroda. Also, the difference between 2015 A-Rod and 2009 Matsui is only +0.4 WAR, so not big deal there.

Some other seasons worth highlighting (in no particular order): 2015 Andrew Miller, 2009 Andy Pettitte, 2009 Johnny Damon, 2012 Rafael Soriano, 2009 Phil Hughes, and 2008 Joba Chamberlain. Am I missing anyone obvious?

Mailbag: Trade Targets, Strasburg, Ohlendorf, Rodriguez

Got ten questions in the mailbag this week, and some of the answers are longer than usual. As always, make sure you use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us questions.

Lee. (Presswire)
Lee. (Presswire)

Matt asks (short version): Who might the Yankees target for their next “guy with lots of talent, but hasn’t put it together yet” trade? I happen to be a big fan of Mike Foltynewicz, whom I don’t even see on the Braves Depth Chart at the moment.

Foltynewicz is a good one and he definitely fits the Yankees’ mold as a hard-thrower (averaged 95.1 mph in 2015) with a history of missing bats. His walk rates are probably a bit too high though. The Yankees tend to seek out low walk guys like Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda. Foltynewicz had surgery in September to remove blood clots from his arm and the Braves are bringing him back slowly this spring.

The Yankees have been targeting these “out of favor” players over the last two offseasons and it’s worked out pretty well so far. Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius worked out great. This year we’ll see how Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro work out. As always, it’s tough to predict who will be available next offseason, but here are some possible targets for similar trades:

  • 1B/OF Wil Myers, Padres: He had an impressive debut in 2013 (129 wRC+) but he’s struggled to stay healthy since, with ongoing wrist problems the main culprit. He did have a 116 wRC+ in 60 games last year. The Padres are playing Myers at first base, though you could always stick him back in the outfield. Either way, he’s a bat first player.
  • C Mike Zunino, Mariners: Zunino has maybe the worst plate discipline in baseball (.252 OBP in over 1,000 plate appearances!) but he has huge power (video) and is a premium defender. He was drafted by the previous regime and new GM Jerry Dipoto acquired two catchers this winter (Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger), so Zunino’s buried on the depth chart.
  • RHP Alex Meyer, Twins: The Yankees love big hard-throwers and Meyer is listed at 6-foot-9 and 220 lbs., and PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 95.6 mph in his MLB debut last year. His control stinks though, and it’s looking more and more likely he’ll be a reliever long-term. The Twins already sent him to Triple-A this spring, so he’s still has not nailed down an MLB job at age 26. Meyer has some similarities to Dellin Betances, though he doesn’t have Dellin’s breaking ball.
  • RHP Zach Lee, Dodgers: Lee’s stuff did not take the step forward many expected after he stopped playing football a few years ago. He throws a lot of strikes with a mostly 89-92 mph fastball, and he has a few different offspeed pitches. Lee’s a fantastic athlete — he was a four-star quarterback recruit out of high school — and I’m a fan of betting on athletes. The Dodgers have buried him way down on the depth chart too. If he’s in their plans, they have a funny way of showing it.

These guys have name value as former top prospects. They’ve all struggled to find success for whatever reason(s) and they all have some kind of carrying tool. Myers has offensive potential, Zunino has power and defense, Meyer has a big fastball, and Lee has a deep arsenal and control. This is a question worth revisiting in the future as things change around the league.

(Jarred Cosart and Tony Cingrani also crossed my mind as possible trade targets. )

Asher asks: If Refsnyder continues to learn a passable third base, would trading Headley become an option?

Sure, though I think we’re a long way from the Yankees even considering that. Remember, the Yankees would not play Rob Refsnyder over Stephen Drew last season, even though a) Drew was awful for long stretched, b) Drew was a veteran signed a one-year deal, and C) it was a position Refsnyder was familiar with. Is it possible Refsnyder shows the Yankees enough defensive competence and offensive production to convince them he can be a regular at this base? Of course. I just can’t possibly imagine how that would happen this year, especially as a part-time player. Based on everything that’s happened the last year or so, it seems pretty clear fans have a much higher opinion of Refsnyder than the Yankees.

Travis asks: If CC Sabathia were to be released at any point before next season (highly unlikely as it may be) what would happen with his vesting option? Would he just get the $25M he would be owed, then could sign for the league minimum with another team?

I believe he would get the $25M in 2017 for a few reasons. One, if it was that easy to get out of a vesting option, teams would be releasing players much more often. (And the MLBPA would freak.) Two, none of the conditions that would void the option would have been met. Sabathia wouldn’t spend time on the DL with a shoulder problem and he wouldn’t pitch in relief for the Yankees. If any of that happened, the option wouldn’t vest in the first place. Once he’s released, another team could sign Sabathia for the pro-rated portion league minimum, just like any other released player.

Will asks (short version): With all the talk of money coming off the books in the next two years, the implication is that this will trigger a spending spree as has happened in past years when money became available. Do you expect to see such a spree or do you think the team will stick with their recent development philosophy, essentially reserving their money to retain their developed talent long term?

I’m not convinced the Yankees are planning a big spending spree once all the money comes off the books. The team wants to get under the luxury tax threshold, that much is clear, and I don’t think they’ll spend big again until they accomplish that goal. Also, teams have to stay under the threshold two consecutive years to max out the revenue sharing rebates, so getting under might not be a one year thing. (The rebates could always change with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement.)

There’s also this to consider: the upcoming free agent classes are pretty weak. The free agent class we just saw was the best one in years and will be the best one we see until the 2018-19 offseason, the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado/Jose Fernandez offseason. The Yankees could intend to spend again in a year or two, but there simply might be any free agents worth a significant investment. I think the plan is to build a new core from within and supplement through free agency. That’s how the late-1990s dynasty was built and that’s what successful teams like the Giants and Cardinals have done lately.

Daniel asks (short version): After sitting out this offseason on not just big but all free agents, are the Yankees setting up to make the big push to sign Stephen Strasburg? I feel like the only competition they would have would be the Nats and it doesn’t appear they are going to make much of an attempt with Scherzer signed long term and Giolito ready to go.

Strasburg. (Presswire)
Strasburg. (Presswire)

Strasburg is by the best pitcher scheduled to become a free agent next offseason — he’s better than anyone scheduled to hit the market in the following offseason too — and Scott Boras is surely looking to top the Max Scherzer and David Price contracts. Strasburg doesn’t have a Cy Young like those guys, but he is younger, he has fewer miles on his arm, and Boras will happily claim the late-season shutdown a few years ago means he’s a great bet to stay healthy long-term.

This is the kind of contract the Yankees seem to be avoiding right now. Those huge money long-term contracts that now include opt-out clauses, which potentially rob the team of some value. I think a ton of teams will be on Strasburg next year — the Cardinals, Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Astros, Cubs, and Giants could all get involved — and even if not, Boras will figure something out. The Yankees should absolutely inquire. It doesn’t cost anything to make the phone call. It just seems like they’re a few years away from another big signing like this.

Chip asks (short version): The Yankees have used ten second basemen the last two years. What were their combined offensive numbers and how did that compare to Cano over the last two years? If you figure that the early years were the most productive of Cano’s contract and the Yankees got reasonably similar production, then maybe letting him walk while they tried to find a full time replacement was the right move after all.

The Yankees have managed to use ten different starting second basemen and eleven different second basemen overall the last two years. Here’s the list, from most innings at second to least:

  1. Stephen Drew — 1,166.1
  2. Brendan Ryan — 259.2
  3. Brian Roberts — 774.2
  4. Jose Pirela — 186.2
  5. Martin Prado — 140.1
  6. Rob Refsnyder — 106
  7. Yangervis Solarte — 105
  8. Gregorio Petit — 93
  9. Dustin Ackley — 63
  10. Dean Anna — 17
  11. Kelly Johnson — 2

All except Anna (two starts) and Johnson (no starts) started at least nine games at second base. Combined, those guys hit .235/.292/.396 (77 wRC+) in just over 1,200 plate appearances from 2014-15. Throw in the defense and the Yankees have gotten -1.1 fWAR from their second basemen the last two years. Only the White Sox (-1.4 fWAR) have gotten worse production at the position. Robinson Cano, meanwhile, has hit .300/.358/.450 (126 wRC+) with +7.3 fWAR with the Mariners.

The Yankees didn’t get anything close to Cano numbers from their second basemen the last few years and that was completely expected. Robbie was — and still is, I think — the best second baseman in baseball, and that by definition makes him irreplaceable. The Yankees were always going to take a huge hit at second after Cano left. They were willing to trade the short-term hit for avoiding the ugly decline years at the end of the contract. I was totally cool with letting him walk on that contract. Seattle made it very easy to say goodbye.

Jackson asks: In the last couple of drafts, pitchers that Yankees took have seen a bump in velocity. Kap went from 92 to 95/97, Adams from about 93 to about 96 and Carter from low 90s to 96/97. Is this normal for a few percent of pitchers of draft age, or do the Yankees see something in the player before the draft, or is it just luck?

James Kaprielian‘s velocity started to jump late in the spring last year when he was still in college. There were reports he was more 92-94 mph in May, a few weeks before the draft, after sitting 89-92 mph most of his time at UCLA. Kaprielian then went from 92-94 mph to 94-95 mph in pro ball, and he’s apparently sustained that this spring.

When something like this happens once or twice, it’s probably just one of those things. It’s happening repeatedly though. Kaprielian added velocity, as did Chance Adams and Will Carter from the 2015 draft. Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Holder were 2014 draftees who added 2-3 mph. Tyler Webb and Cale Coshow added velocity following the 2013 draft. Something’s going on there.

It’s not uncommon for high school players to add velocity because they start out as babies. They come to pro ball all gangly and full of projection, then they fill out and mature. Most college players have already gone through that by time they’re drafted. They tend to come to pro ball as more of a finished product physically. In fact, it’s not uncommon for college starters to lose velocity in pro ball because they go from starting once a week to once every five days.

I can’t explain why the Yankees have seen some of their recent draftees add velocity in pro ball, and for all we know it could just be one giant coincidence. It’s happened so often that I have to think there’s something to this though. The Yankees brought Gil Patterson back following the 2012 season and he has a great reputation for developing arms. Maybe it’s all Patterson? He left to rejoin the A’s in November, so I guess we’ll see what happens with the 2016 draftees.

Rubaiyat asks: Since he missed so much time due to a variety of circumstances, do you think Ty Hensley will be moved to the pen full time? Or is it better to keep him stretched out?

At this point the best place for him is wherever keeps him healthy. Hensley’s thrown 42.1 innings total in three and a half years of pro ball. Steven Matz has shown it’s possible to come back from missing so much time early in your career — Matz was drafted in 2009 and he didn’t actually pitch in his first pro game until June 2012 because of Tommy John surgery and subsequent setbacks — but he’s the exception, not the rule. Not many players make it back from that kind of layoff.

Hensley came into pro ball as a fastball/curveball pitcher who needed to work on his changeup and command, and he hasn’t been able to work on that stuff because he’s missed so much time. I say keep him in the rotation for the time being for sure. He needs to get innings. But long-term, his future may now lie in the bullpen because he’s lost so much development time. The good news is his rehab is going well according to farm system head Gary Denbo, so we should see Hensley on the mound at some point in 2016.

Rob asks: Few bullpen arms have stood out yet. Ross Ohlendorf tripped his opt-out the other day. Is he worth a flyer?

True story: I own a Yankees’ Ross Ohlendorf player shirt. I bought it back in either 2007 or 2008, when I thought he was going to be a bullpen mainstay. It’s a wash or two away from disintegration at this point. I wear it to bed once in a while. A few years back Ohlendorf reworked his mechanics to add deception, and he now has a real old timey delivery that is just a treasure:

Ross Ohlendorf delivery

That’s outstanding. Anyway, I looked at Ohlendorf when he opted out earlier this week, and I’m not sure there’s much there to get excited about. He’s been very homer prone throughout his career (1.86 HR/9 in 2015 and 1.31 HR/9 career) and neither his strikeout nor walk rates have been anything special, even in relief.

There’s no such thing as a bad minor league contract, so bring Ohlendorf in that case. I’m not sure it’s worth pushing one of the shuttle relievers to Triple-A to give him a big league bullpen spot though. Ohlendorf’s not enough of a clear upgrade.

Michael asks: What was your favorite Alex Rodriguez regular season moment?

You know, as great as A-Rod has been, it was tough for me to come up with an answer here. I was at his 500th home run game, so that stands out to me. I’ll never forget that. I also saw A-Rod hit a walk-off grand slam against the Orioles and Chris Ray early in that 2007 season, so that stands out too:

The Yankees had the bases empty with two outs in the ninth in that game before rallying. Good times. I had a 20-game ticket package that year and I swear, I must have seen A-Rod hit 20 home runs in those 20 games. Every time I went to a game he went deep. What an incredible season he had.

Other regular season moments that stand out: the three homer, 10 RBI game against Bartolo Colon and the Angels, the home run on the first pitch he saw following hip surgery in 2009, his 3,000th hit, and the home run off Ryan Dempster after Dempster threw at him in 2013. Missing anything obvious? As far all-time A-Rod moments, it’ll be hard to top the 2009 postseason. He was a monster from start to finish that October.