Mailbag: Judge, Reddick, Castro, Sabathia, Didi, O’Brien

We have 13 questions in the mailbag this week. Remember when these things used to only have four or five questions? What the hell happened. Anyway, use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything at anytime.

Judge. (Times Leader)
Judge. (Times Leader)

Nick asks: Is Aaron Judge broken? At what point do we start to worry?

Judge went into last night’s game hitting .224/.286/.378 (91 wRC+) with seven homers, a 7.4% walk rate, and a 26.3% strikeout rate in 217 plate appearances on the season. He hit .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) with eight homers, an 11.2% walk rate, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in 260 plate appearances at Triple-A last year, so the numbers are pretty similar. Judge actually started this season well (123 wRC+ in April) before falling into a 9-for-64 (.141) skid with 22 strikeouts over the last three weeks.

On a scale of 1-10 with one being no concern and ten being outright panic, I’d say I’m at a seven. Judge was always a high risk prospect because he’s so damn big. It’s hard to be a successful hitter at 6-foot-7. There’s a reason there are so few of them in MLB history. Oddly enough, his weakness is pitches away. Tall hitters usually have trouble with inside pitches because their arms are so long. Judge can get to the inside pitch. The outside pitch gives him problems.

Judge reworked his swing mechanics a bit in the offseason, specifically by incorporating a bigger leg kick and changing his hand position, and that was always going to take a bit of an adjustment. I think we’re probably beyond the point where his struggles can be attributed to the new setup at the plate though. Judge does not yet have a full season’s worth of at-bats in Triple-A, which is not insignificant. It’s not like he’s been there for two full years and is still struggling.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about Judge’s performance this year. The athleticism and raw power and overall skill set is there. That’s not the question. There are some approach issues to deal with, and also his size is an obstacle that isn’t going away. Judge just turned 24 and for some reason that is freaking people out. Who cares? They don’t check IDs on the field. The Yankees have the luxury of time here. Judge isn’t even on the 40-man roster yet, so they can let him work through things.

Phil asks: Josh Reddick. If his injury hurts his value as a big FA, can we look to sign him to a pillow contract next season (assuming we’d deal Gardner)? Instant short-term upgrade. He’s hit 30+ in YS.

Reddick’s not going to have to settle for a pillow contract even with the thumb injury. He’s expected back in about a month and that gives him the entire second half to show what he’s got. Reddick has made himself into a very good hitter — he’s hit .277/.337/.452 (121 wRC+) with an 8.3% walk rate and a 13.0% strikeout rate since 2014 — and he’s a fantastic defender in right field. That kind of two-way play is highly valuable and will get Reddick paid. The Alex Gordon contract (four years, $72M) seems reasonable to me.

Hey, if Reddick wants to build value in a left-handed hitter friendly ballpark on a one-year deal, sign him up. Even if the Yankees do take the plunge and decide to sell off parts and rebuild, Reddick would be one heck of a trade asset on a one-year contract. I can’t see it happening though. He’ll be back in a few weeks and he’ll get paid handsomely after the season.

Anonymous asks: Read one of your articles today saying league wide batting average is down about 10 points in the past 8-10 years. I believe lowering the mound 1 inch would put more offense back into baseball. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t think it’s imminent, but I do believe MLB will seriously consider lowering the mound if offense continues to drop. Commissioner Rob Manfred has shown that he is very thorough and wants as much information as possible before making a decision, so I assume he’ll want several years of data before making a change that significant. I have no idea if one inch is the solution. It might be one and one-third of an inch or something weird like that. My guess is Manfred will have his people look into it and come up with a number rather than arbitrarily pick a nice round number like one or two inches.

Steve asks: As a west coast fan, I hate to admit it but I rarely get to catch many games live and thus catch up with most of my Yankee news with your site (thanks by the way) and video highlights. As someone who watches a lot of baseball, how has Castro looked at second? I’ve seen him make spectacular plays and I’ve seen him make some bone head plays … Overall though, are you happy with his D? (That’s what she said!) Has the trade been worth it so far?

I think the best way to describe Starlin Castro‘s defense is that he almost makes a lot of plays. Balls seem to find a way to be just out of his reach. His double play pivots have been noticeably slow at times too. Castro is relatively new to the position, so we should definitely cut him some slack. Overall he’s been fine defensively. Not great, not awful. He makes most of the plays he should make, will occasionally make a spectacular play, and will also occasionally let a ball get by that shouldn’t get by. Starlin hasn’t hit much at all since the Astros series and that’s pretty annoying. My early evaluation of the trade: meh. Not sure what else there is to say at this point.

Castro. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Castro. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

David asks: Forgetting about the probability of it but is it technically possible for the Yankees to get under the cap this year if they were able to trade a whole bunch of folks? I imagine timing might be everything as I assume the cap is based on salaries actually paid so every day that goes by makes it less and less likely.

Sure, it’s technically possible. The Yankees opened the season with a $228M payroll, so they’d need to shed about $40M in payroll to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold. Trading Alex Rodriguez ($18.4M), Mark Teixeira ($15.1), and Jacoby Ellsbury ($14.6M) right now at the one-third point of the season would accomplish that easily. The team would shed two-thirds of the average annual value of their contracts against the luxury tax payroll. The problem is those guys are basically untradeable, at least if the expectation is shedding their entire salary. So yes, it’s possible to get under the luxury tax by trading people, but no, it’s not happening.

Paul asks: Who is CC competing against for comeback player of the year?

The first name that immediately jumped to mind was Yu Darvish, who made his first start back from Tommy John surgery a few days ago. If he pitches at an ace-level for 20 starts, it’ll be hard to give it to someone else. Here are some other candidates:

  • Marcus Stroman: Limited to four starts (and three more in the postseason) last year by a torn ACL. Can you be the Comeback Player of the Year when it’s only your second full season?
  • Michael Saunders: Played only nine games last season due to knee problems, mashing this year.
  • Rich Hill: Can you be the Comeback Player of the Year when you were never great to start with?

The Comeback Player of the Year award generally goes to players who missed a big chunk of time due to injury. CC Sabathia was mostly healthy last season. He missed two weeks with the knee problem and that was it. Sabathia just didn’t pitch all that well. That might work against him. If he keeps this up all season, then yeah, Sabathia will have to be a serious Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Let’s revisit in a few months.

Mike asks: Big Mike reaches his 5 year service time in 2 weeks; so the yanks will need his approval, if they want to send him to the minors.If Pineda doesn’t show improvement over his next two starts, do the Yankees send him to the minors, before he has a say? And who replaces him?

Yes, definitely. The exact date is June 14th, so that is only eleven days away now. On June 14th Michael Pineda will hit five years of service time and be able to refuse any assignment to the minors. Pineda will make two more starts before June 14th. If he doesn’t show significant improvement, send him down and give the rotation spot to … someone. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, whoever happens to be pitching the best at the time.

Pineda would have to remain in the minors the rest of the regular season to push his free agency back — the Yankees actually pushed it back when they optioned him down in 2013 following his shoulder rehab, he should have been a free agent after this season — but the goal of sending him down is to get him on track. Even if you look at this season as a lost cause, Pineda has very little trade value right now. If a stint in the minors gets him on track, it’ll boost his trade value for the offseason. Pineda’s been arguably the worst starter in baseball this season. That usually results in a trip to Triple-A. Reassess after these next two starts.

What is Dan asks: Didi’s advanced fielding metrics from this year look terrible (-7 DRS, -4.5 UZR). Any idea why these numbers are so low? This doesn’t seem to match the eye test.

I wouldn’t look too closely at defensive stats one-third of the way into the season, but I do think Didi Gregorius‘ defense has slipped a bit since last season. He’s still making spectacular plays, but he seems to be botching routine-ish plays more often. Joe Girardi even called him out on it a week ago, at least as much as Girardi will call out a player.

“He needs to improve on it, that’s what has to happen. He’s a better fielder than what he has showed these first two months,” said the skipper to Ryan Hatch. It doesn’t seem like Gregorius has lost athleticism or anything like that. He looks like the same old Didi. It just seems like he’s misplaying some balls, particularly those hit one step or two in either direction. It could just be a slump. Defense is like anything else in baseball. Slumps happen. I’m curious to see whether Didi can shore up his glovework going forward.

C.J. asks: Mike, Is there a match with the Diamondbacks to potentially move Peter O’Brien back to the Yankees to be a backup 1B/OF, 3rd catcher? He strikes out a ton, but he’s young and he’s got a whole lot of RH power. He doesn’t have a position in AZ and he’d be a better option than Ackley (injured), Parmalee, or Swisher.

O’Brien could be a fit, sure. He’d give the team a true backup first baseman who can also play some left field and even step in as the emergency third catcher. Plus he still has that huge right-handed power.

Power was never the question with O’Brien. The question is whether his lack of plate discipline — he has a 28.9% strikeout rate and a 3.2% walk rate in Triple-A this season — would allow him to use that power at the MLB level. O’Brien can hammer a mistake pitch. Can he do enough other things to be a net positive?

The Yankees could use some right-handed power and a backup first baseman. My trade proposal sucks, but what about Rob Refsnyder for O’Brien, straight up? The Diamondbacks need middle infield help — Jean Segura has been fine but Nick Ahmed can’t hit all, so they could stick Refsnyder at second and Segura at short — and also some outfield depth, two positions Refsnyder can play.

My guess is the D’Backs would want quite a bit more. They consider O’Brien one of their best prospects. At the same time, they’re not oblivious to the fact they have no place to play him. Paul Goldschmidt is entrenched at first and they have Yasmany Tomas making big bucks in left field. O’Brien could be a good fit for New York’s roster as kind of the a Dustin Ackley, the part-time player who sees time at first, a corner outfield, and DH.

Ariel asks: I know this is more of a question of one’s loyalty and dedication to his team than a regular ol’ baseball question, but am I a bad fan for rooting for the Yankees to lose on a consistent basis? Just so they have to trade away the three headed monster in the bullpen and guys like Teixeira and Beltran (if they waive their no-trade clause).

Nah, that doesn’t make you a bad fan. I can’t think of any reason to consider someone a bad fan. Maybe rooting against the team or a player just to prove you were right about something? The best thing for the Yankees right now could very well be losing and losing a lot, since it would presumably force the brain trust’s hands into beginning a rebuild. If you believe that is the best thing for the team long-term — at that is a 100% percent reasonable stance at this point in time — then how could anyone blame you for rooting for it? We all want the Yankees to win first and foremost. That doesn’t seem to be much of an option right now though.

Stephen asks: Is there any precedent to trading two elite relievers as part of the same deal? What could the Yankees get if they packaged two – or even all three! – of their big three relievers in a trade?

Chapman. (Elsa/Getty)
Chapman. (Elsa/Getty)

I haven’t found any such precedent at all. The closet thing I can find is the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade a few years ago. Samardzija and Hammel were two of the best available starting pitchers at the 2014 deadline, and the Athletics acquired them both in the same trade. They had to give up Addison Russell to do it though. Hammel was rental while Samardzija had one year of control left.

If the Yankees do decide to take the plunge and sell, they should absolutely be open to the possibility of a package deal with their relievers. I’m sure the Dodgers would love to get their hands on both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, for example. What team wouldn’t? Can they get more if they move them individually than they would as a package deal? I can’t really answer that. My guess is they would end up with more total pieces if they shop them individually but perhaps get the best true impact player if they move them together.

Mark asks: I was wondering what you think the chances are that we may start to see language in contracts regarding failed drug tests and resulting suspensions… I know the suspensions are without pay, but I wonder if teams may eventually want to use such an event to get out of contracts altogether. Love the site and thanks for all your hard work.

Oh I’m sure owners would love to make contracts voidable due to a performance enhancing drug suspension. (But only the bad contracts, right?) I don’t think the MLBPA ever will (or should) agree to that. Giving owners a way to void contracts is a precedent the union does not want to set. The Joint Drug Agreement is by far the best PED testing program in pro sports and the penalties are harsh.

Making contracts voidable gives teams a reason to look the other way, which is the opposite of what should happen. It could create a distrust between the player and team because the team would have some incentive for a player to fail a drug test. Would the Yankees be heartbroken if Alex Rodriguez accidentally took a tainted B-12 shot? Nope. Not at all. Unless the player admits it, it’s pretty much impossible to prove whether he took a banned substance intentionally.

Want to improve the system? It would help by making the team accountable in some way, perhaps by having them donate the player’s forfeited salary to charity. No one really thinks teams are oblivious as to which of their players may be using PEDs, right? There aren’t many secrets in this game. The program is working. Players are getting caught. That’s what supposed to happen. No positive tests doesn’t mean no one is using.

John asks: How do you view Didi and Starlin? Do you think that they’re our long-term solutions up the middle, or are they good, short-term pieces until the farm delivers some of the guys at A and AA? If you think the minors guys are that good, who do you see starting at short and second in, say, 2019?

Closer to short-term fill-in pieces until someone better comes along than long-term solutions. I think Gregorius is closer to being a long-term solution at short than Castro is at second. Their bats are closer than most may realize — Starlin has more power and that’s about it — but Didi is the far better defender at the tougher position. I think it’s harder to find a shortstop like Gregorius than it is a second baseman like Castro, basically.

Jorge Mateo will hopefully fit into the middle infield picture somewhere within a year or two. He’s the obvious internal candidate to assume a long-term middle infield position. The Yankees have a ton of infield prospects but, aside from Tyler Wade, none are particularly close to MLB right now, so it’ll be Castro and Gregorius for a while. My guess is when the team is ready to be a true championship contender again, they’ll have a different double play combination than the one they have right now.

Mailbag: Chapman, Nova, Eovaldi, Teheran, Cole, Sanchez

Big mailbag today. Sixteen questions and 15 answers. I started answering and just didn’t stop. Anyway, use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email to send us any questions.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

Daniel asks: I know your preference is to trade Chapman before the deadline regardless of whether the Yankees are in in the hunt for a playoff spot. But what if they ARE in the hunt AND the dominance from the bullpen is just too much to sell away. Is there any chance the Yankees would explore an extension with him so he doesn’t hit free agency? And if so, what would such a deal look like? I just think It’s too much to pass up on, and with the free agent starter field being so thin, why not accentuate that strength for more years to come?

Unless the Yankees pay tippy top dollar, I would be surprised if Aroldis Chapman passed on free agency at this point. He’s so close and he’s in position to set a new record contract for relievers. (Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year, $50M deal is the current record.) Also, I don’t think the Yankees are going to pay top dollar for two relievers, especially since they’re trying to get under the luxury tax threshold.

They could always sign Chapman and trade Andrew Miller, that’s a perfectly viable baseball strategy, but I personally don’t want Aroldis on the team much longer because of the off-the-field stuff. That’s my opinion and you’re welcome to feel differently. When you have a rental reliever this valuable, I say turn him into some future assets, especially when you’re like the Yankees and not a slam dunk World Series contender. If this team was rolling to a division title and an October force to be reckoned with, then keeping him would make more sense. That’s not the case.

Damian asks: Do you think draft picks will ever become a tradeable commodity?

Yes, with restrictions. I don’t think they’ll make every draft pick tradeable — why wouldn’t you ask for, say, a 35th round pick to be kicked into every trade? — so maybe it’ll only be the first two or three rounds. Or maybe the first ten rounds since those are the pick tied to the bonus pool. The 12 Competitive Balance Lottery Picks are tradeable right now and that feels like test case. MLB wants to see it went with those less valuable picks.

I have no idea how teams would value high picks. Is the No. 1 pick equivalent to an elite prospect? I don’t think it should be since the elite prospect is closer to the big leagues and has (presumably) had success in pro ball. There’s less mystery involved with a top prospect. I’m hopeful more draft picks will be made tradeable with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I’m also not going to hold my breath.

Jackson asks: If you’re a GM and I give you a choice of selecting either Moncada off the Sox system or Mateo off the Yankee system, which one do you take and why? Is it a close call, or a no brainer?

Yoan Moncada and it’s a no-brainer for me, sorry. Jorge Mateo has the better speed tool and he’s a better defender at a more premium position, but Moncada has better pure hitting ability and more power potential. Their numbers at the same level (High-A) are actually comparable this year …

Mateo: .312/.372/.518 (165 wRC+) with five homers and 15 steals
Moncada: .312/.442/.484 (165 wRC+) with three homers and 29 steals

… and they were born a month apart, so the numbers tell you they’re similar, but Moncada’s hitting potential is much greater. The Yankees really, really, really screwed up with Moncada. They could have had a star-caliber middle infield prospect for nothing but cash. Yuck. They’re going to regret not pursuing him more aggressively for a long time. The Yankees could have had Moncada and Mateo.

Steve asks: Assuming the qualifying offer is the same as it currently is in the new collective bargaining agreement, do the Yankees make Nova a qualifying offer if he continues to pitch well?

My quick math puts the QO at $17.1M this coming offseason and boy that is a ton of cash. Ivan Nova would have to continue pitching at this level — 2.74 ERA (4.61 FIP) with a 17.4% strikeout rate, a 4.4% walk rate, and a 62.0% ground ball rate — all season for the Yankees to seriously consider making him the QO. Nova won’t get $17M+ annually as a free agent put he’d likely get more total money if he finishes the season the way he finished 2011 and 2013. Let’s check back in a few weeks. Right now the answer is clearly no. That might not be the case comes September.

Stan asks: Would you give Eovaldi the Ian Kennedy contract right now? 5 years 70 mil for a guy who would at least provide 180 IP of 4.20-4.50 era seems to be the going rate.

That’s probably what it would take right now, or thereabouts. Nathan Eovaldi‘s probably going to end up with something like $8M to $10M through arbitration next year, so five years and $70M puts him at $10M in 2017 plus $15M annually for the four free agent years. Eovaldi is six years younger than Kennedy and if he continues to pitch well this summer, his numbers will be better than Kennedy’s were last year. I’d do it. It feels like Eovaldi is only going to get more expensive from here on out.

Teheran. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Teheran. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Nick asks: What is your take on what it would take to get Teheran in a trade? Would it be worth it at all to tap into some of the Yankees middle-IF depth in the system and/or do you think one of the “big” prospects ie Sanchez/Judge/Sev/Bird would need to be included in such a trade?

My policy: never go after young Braves pitchers. They all seem to break down. Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Horacio Ramirez, the late Tommy Hanson … they all fell apart a few years into their careers. Alex Wood had some forearm problems earlier this year and just had to have a start pushed back too. Pitchers break. It happens. The rate at which it happens to young Braves pitches is alarming.

Teheran is only 25 and he is signed affordably for another few years, so on paper he’s someone anyone would want to acquire. He struggled last year (4.04 ERA and 4.40 FIP), but his 2016 numbers (2.57 ERA and 3.46 FIP) look like his 2013-14 numbers (3.03 ERA and 3.58 FIP), so that’s encouraging. The Braves got a haul for Shelby Miller and I assume they’ll look to get a haul for Teheran too. Multiple top prospects plus secondary pieces, which means Mateo and Aaron Judge would have to be on the table. I say stay away. Don’t trust those Braves.

Ryan asks: With the Pirates having Glasnow and Taillon almost ready what are the chances they could make Cole available this winter? And what would the Yankees offer for him? Thanks.

This winter is probably too soon, but yes, I think the Pirates will eventually put Gerrit Cole on the trade market. He’s a Scott Boras client and it’s going to take a massive contract to sign him long-term, and Pittsburgh just doesn’t have that kind of money. Cole can’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season, so there’s no rush right now. It’ll probably another two years until the Pirates think about putting him on the trade market, and when that happens, yes the Yankees should be all over him. For now they’ll keep Cole and try to win with him. He’s a huge part of their success (duh).

Sean asks: At the end of the year, who leads the team in HRs?

Carlos Beltran leads the team with ten homers right now and Brian McCann is second with six. Alex Rodriguez getting hurt and Mark Teixeira being awful means the Yankees have been short on power all season. Even though Beltran has a nice head start, I’ll say McCann leads the team in dingers when it’s all said and done. I feel better about him staying healthy and in the lineup all season, plus there’s a non-zero chance Beltran finds himself elsewhere at the trade deadline.

Stephen asks: It seems that with Chapman here games end one of two ways-either all 3 of our studs go 7-8-9th, or they are all in need of rest and we don’t get any. Would it make more sense to split them up a bit-Say Chapman be Closer #1, Miller #2, and Betances in super high leverage 8th innings?

I don’t think the Yankees are good enough to do that. They need all the wins they can get, and if that means using all three guys in one game, so be it. They’re not in position to start planning one or two or three days down the line. They’re not good enough to take their foot off the gas. Ideally, yes, using only two of three each day would be a great idea. The Yankees can’t afford to do that though. Wins are too precious already.

Dan asks: Since defensive shifts seem to hurt LHBs more than RHBs, do you think we’ll eventually see guys who are pull hitters batting right handed only rather than switch hit, or is the platoon advantage too great?

Josh asks: Have you ever heard of a Switch Hitter becoming solely a Righty or Lefty Hitter later in their career? Can you imagine Tex moving to be only a Righty?

Might as well lump these two together. My guess is the platoon advantage is too great to change sides because of the shift. There are way more right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers, so switching to right-handed only means you’re getting way more at-bats with the platoon disadvantage. Remember, these guys have been switch-hitting for a long time, so most of them have never faced pro caliber stuff from the same side of the plate. It’s a much different look and it can be a difficult adjustment.

As for the second question, plenty of hitters have dropped switch-hitting later in their careers. Shane Victorino did it two or three years ago — he actually went back to switch-hitting briefly — and I remember Bobby Kielty batting right-handed exclusively at the end of his career. Fun fact: both Eduardo Nunez and Francisco Cervelli were switch-hitters in the minors. It wasn’t working it so they stopped. Switch-hitting is a huge, huge advantage. Guys who drop it usually do it as a last resort to try to stay in the league. Teixeira has been awful this year, but I don’t think he’s at that point, not after the year he had last season.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
Hill. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Ruby asks: If the Yankees are buyers, what do you see them pursuing? Rich Hill (with 20+ other teams)? A corner infielder who bats lefty? More bullpen depth? There doesn’t seem like an obvious spot to make a big upgrade.

Hill is going to be the rental pitcher every team goes after. My guess is he winds up on the other side of the bay with the Giants. The Yankees need like three bats. They really do. But where can they put them? Third base, okay, but Chase Headley‘s not going anywhere, so they have to figure out how to make that work. First base is an option if Teixeira’s neck injury lingers. Someone like David Freese could be the solution to provide corner infield depth.

If the Yankees do make a trade to add pieces at the deadline, I think they would prioritize players they could control beyond this year. Every teams needs pitching so of course they could target a starter. What about an outfielder? Beltran will be gone after the season and the Yankees could always clear another spot by trading Brett Gardner. The Yankees won’t admit it but they’re in a holding pattern until their big money deals expire. They didn’t pursue upgrades aggressively in the offseason and I don’t think they’ll do so at the deadline either.

Rob asks: Every season we get a few rants from Michael Kay and company on YES about the need for a team error. Should that be a thing?

I feel like that’s a bit of a cop out. What about half-errors? Say the shortstop bobbles the ball, rushes the throw, and the first baseman fails to make a makeable scoop. Why not give each player a half-error instead of giving one player the error or assigning a team error? Errors are kind of dumb and they’re a bad way to evaluate defense, but players do care about them. Fielders don’t like being charged with them and pitchers wish every hit was an error instead. A team error seems a little silly when most defensive plays involve three players or less.

Travis asks: Could the Yankees move Headley to 1B following Teixeira’s departure and sign Martin Prado for 2-3 years to play 3B? The only 3B prospect close to the show is Andujar and he is 2-3 years away, right?

Eh, I’m not sure spending money on soon-to-be 33-year-old Prado is such a good idea. Does this question even get asked if Prado doesn’t spend eight weeks in pinstripes? Also, moving Headley to first base means taking away pretty much the only thing he’s good at these days (third base defense). The Yankees have to start getting younger. Have to. Signing Prado doesn’t accomplish that. He’s someone you sign if you’re a team on the postseason bubble looking for an extra win or two. I don’t think the Yankees are in that place right now.

Rubaiyat asks: There’s apparently only 6 active players left who played during the 1990s (A-Rod, Beltre, Beltran, Colon, Ortiz and Pierzynski. Plus Joe Nathan is still kicking around). Who do you think lasts the longest among this group?

Adrian Beltre, definitely. Not only did he just sign an extension that runs through 2018, he’s the only one of those guys who still contributes on both sides of the ball. That bodes well for his ability to stick around. I suppose Bartolo Colon could be one of those ageless guys who just keeps playing as long as someone will pay him, but I’d be surprised if he’s still pitching come 2018. Beltre’s the clear choice for me.

Conor asks: With Sanchez on the AAA DL for 2 weeks, is it possible for the Yankees to take him with them on their road trip? If it didn’t break any rules, I’d do it so that he could watch McCann and Romine prepare, talk with Girardi and Pena, and generally get some more experience in the big league ballpark. Might make him a bit more relaxed when he’s called up for good.

They’d have to officially call him up to do that, I believe. The Yankees (and some other teams) used to bring a few top prospects up in September and let them hang around the team without actually adding them to the roster. They’d go through workouts and all that stuff with the rest of the team, but they weren’t allowed to be in the dugout during the game, so they’d go sit in the stands somewhere. MLB and MLBPA agreed to put an end to that. I guess they didn’t want these kids coming up and going through all that without getting the benefits of being on the roster (salary, service time, etc.). Letting Gary Sanchez hang around with the team while on the DL would be pretty great, but I’m pretty sure they don’t allow that kind of stuff.

Mailbag: Baez, Hicks, Nationals, Miller, De Leon, Eovaldi

Big mailbag this week: 15 questions and some of the answers are kinda long. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us questions throughout the week.

Baez. (Dylan Buell/Getty)
Baez. (Dylan Buell/Getty)

Matt asks: I know we’re all focused on Gallo at the moment (I know I’m probably doing Choo + Gallo for Ellsbury + Chapman + Sanchez in my MLB the Show Franchise), but how about that Javier Baez? He’s looked pretty good at 3B defensively, and has major power potential. What would it take to get him?

I’ve been secretly hoping Cubs closer Hector Rondon has some big time meltdowns this month and next month so they trade Baez for Aroldis Chapman. I’m not holding my breath though. The Cubs obviously look great, but the one thing they lack is a shutdown lefty reliever. Travis Wood and Clayton Richard have been fine. They’re not guys you want to run out there against, say, Bryce Harper or Adrian Gonzalez or Brandon Belt in playoff game though, you know?

Chapman for Baez is a dream scenario for me. I’d do it tomorrow. It’s more likely the Cubs would need Miller in a Baez deal to ensure they get a few years of control. I have a hard time thinking they’ll give Baez up for a rental, even one as good as Chapman. Baez is still only 23 and he has maybe the most electric bat speed in baseball …

… so he has a legitimate chance to be a 30+ homer hitter who plays above-average defense pretty much anywhere on the infield. The Yankees have a long-term need a third base, obviously. Baez has always had high bust potential for an elite prospect because his plate discipline is non-existent. The guy swings at everything. He has a 35.0% strikeout rate and a 5.7% walk rate in the big leagues (27.6 K% and 7.2 BB% in Triple-A).

Long-term, Baez my settle in as a .280/.300/.530 hitter who strikes out 190 times, hit 35 bombs, and saves 5-10 runs a year with his glove. There’s also a chance his chronic plate indiscipline means he never becomes better than a .240/.260/.400 hitter. Given the current state of the Yankees and their long-term needs, I’d absolutely take a chance on Baez’s talent, especially if it only takes a reliever to get him. Even one as good as Miller.

Anonymous asks: It will never happen, but with Hicks hitting with regular playing time, would it be better to have A-Rod and Beltran platoon? Small sample sizes so far, but A-Rod has been better against LHP and Beltran has been better against RHP, and Hicks is an infinitely better glove in RF than Beltran is.

A straight platoon might not be the best way to go about it, but scaling back on Alex Rodriguez‘s and Carlos Beltran‘s playing time to get Aaron Hicks more at-bats is definitely something the Yankees should consider. Hicks looked pretty darn good once he started playing everyday and the team owes it to themselves to give him more reps since he can be a piece for the future. Beltran will be gone next season and A-Rod the season after.

My guess is the Yankees will end up playing Hicks three or four times a week going forward with A-Rod, Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner all getting an extra day off. The Yankees spent all offseason talking about giving their regulars rest but it hasn’t really happened yet, mostly because the offense struggled and Joe Girardi kept playing his best players. Hicks has been hitting rockets all over the field lately. He needs to play more often.

Christopher asks: With the Nationals signing Strasburg long term does it make it any more likely that their young rotation options would be available for trade? Could you see the Yankees being able to pry Lucas Giolito away for one of the relievers and/or Mark Teixeira?

I think it means their young rotation options will be less available in trades. The Nationals now have $55M annually tied up in two starters (Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer) and they’ll need the cheap rotation options to offset the cost. Guys like Joe Ross and Giolito allow them to fill out the back of their rotation with high-upside players on the cheap. My guess is they’ll look to move Gio Gonzalez ($12M options for 2017 and 2018) to clear salary and a rotation spot for Giolito at some point, perhaps as soon as the trade deadline.

And no, I don’t think one of the big relievers plus Teixeira is enough to get Giolito. Not even if that reliever is Dellin Betances, who is the cheapest and under control the longest out the team’s three end-game arms. If the Nationals move Giolito, who is the best pitching prospect in all the land, it’ll be for a bonafide superstar. They’d move him if the Marlins made Jose Fernandez available. Someone like that.

Paul asks: What was the exit velo of Headley’s HR?

The first homer was 98.5 mph (Ian Kennedy) and the second was 99.6 mph (Chris Sale). The MLB average exit velocity on home runs is roughly 104 mph this season. Going into last night’s game, Chase Headley‘s average exit velocity on all batted balls was 85.9 mph. The MLB average is 89.5 mph, so yeah, Headley is well below that.

Exit velocity is useful but limited. There is such a thing as a 100 mph pop-up, for example. Launch angle matters too. Exit velocity is like batting average. If you tell me a guy is a .300 hitter, I can infer he’s a pretty good hitter. That .300 average does not tell me if he’s a singles hitter, a power hitter, someone who walks a lot, nothing like that. It’s one piece of information, not the only piece of information.

Rick asks: I just got done watching Chris Sale mow down the Yanks and was struck by his resemblance to a pitcher we all know well. If you look at Sale’s body type, motion, repertoire and stuff, it reminds me a lot of Andrew Miller. I know Miller failed as a starter early in his career. But, now that Miller has figured it out at the big league level, what do you think of the idea of trying him next spring training as a starter. If it fails, he can always go back to relieving. If it succeeds, we potentially have an ace starter at a bargain basement (for a starter) salary.

Sale is definitely what people thought Miller would be earlier in his career. Tall, lanky, hard-throwing, filthy slider. For whatever reason Miller’s control was abysmal as a starter earlier in his career. We’re not talking about command here, just basic strike throwing. He walked 11.8% of batters faced as a starter from 2007-08, and it’s not like he was striking out a ton of batters either (17.5%).

Miller also had strike throwing problems as a reliever up until 2012, when Bobby Valentine tweaked his mechanics and simplified his delivery. Valentine’s year in Boston was a total disaster. The only good thing he did was fix Miller. I get it can be tempting to put Miller and his new mechanics in the rotation, but he doesn’t have a third pitch, and we don’t know how his stuff will hold up over 100 pitches. Miller is not an ordinary reliever. He’s one of the best in the world. I wouldn’t risk changing his role.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

David asks: I saw a report that Mateo was being worked out at 2nd base and that its likely we will see him in the field there in the coming weeks. Does this have implications on the big club or is it more to give Mateo a little flexibility with the glut of shortstops in the minors.

Even if Jorge Mateo is long-term shortstop at the big league level — and there is no indication he needs to move off the position for defensive reasons — playing some second base in the minors is beneficial because of the shift. It allows him to get familiar with the right side of the infield so he’s prepared whenever he’s asked to play shallow right field or whatever against a left-handed pull hitter. Most shortstop prospects will spend at least a little time at second base in the minors. It’s good experience. This is not a permanent change. Mateo is still a shortstop first and foremost.

P.J. asks: Do you think there is any possibility that the Yankees try and re-sign Aroldis Chapman to a contract rather than trading him before he becomes a FA?

Definitely can’t rule it out but it would surprise me. The Yankees are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold and they already have one reliever making big money. Would they really commit something like $20M or $22M a year for two bullpen arms? Maybe! They did it with Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano a few years ago. As good as Chapman is, if the Yankees are going to limit their spending for luxury tax purposes, there are other places they should spend their money besides the bullpen. Like pretty much everywhere else on the roster.

Dan asks: My question is…it’s seems like analytics is shifting away from Moneyball. Do you see it moving to another area of baseball? I read on MLBTR that the Red Sox are moving towards analytical medicine. Do see that as the next big thing?

Health has been the latest “market inefficiency” for a few years now. The league is so competitive these days that it’s not just about having the best players, it’s about having the best players on the field as much as possible. Teams are investing in better nutrition and training methods and things like that — the Yankees have looked into optimizing sleep for their players (they did it in Spring Training) — to keep their guys as close to 100% as possible.

Neuroscience is another one. I’ve read about teams putting draftees through tests that measure their reaction time and the way their brain works. It’s nothing super intense. From what I understand it’s basically a computer exercise almost like an IQ test. But teams are doing that now. They’re trying to measure brain function and hope it translates to pitch recognition and things like that. We’re beyond the point of “OBP is undervalued” and “FIP is better than ERA.” Teams are going far more in-depth.

Paul asks: Do you think the Yankees would sit Beltran for Judge near the end of the season? Like if they are out of it? It would be good to see what you have for the next season.

If the Yankees are that far out of it, I think Beltran might waive his no-trade clause to go to a contender for the rest of the season. The Royals, Indians, White Sox, Rangers, and Astros all seem like potential landing spots. I wouldn’t rule the Nationals out either. They could stick Bryce Harper in center and Beltran in right if Ben Revere doesn’t start hitting. If Beltran sticks around and the Yankees are out of it, I think it’s more likely they’ll give the extra playing time to Hicks. I’m not sure, really. Let’s reassess in a few weeks.

Gene asks: What would the Yankees have to add to Chapman to get De Leon from LAD?

I think the Dodgers would have to add something, not the Yankees. Jose De Leon is a very good pitching prospect — Baseball America had him 23rd on their top 100 — but I think he’s getting overrated a bit because his stats are so good. He’s a mid-90s fastball guy whose slider and changeup are still inconsistent and not reliable weapons just yet. Plus he’s had shoulder problems this year. De Leon missed the start of the season with an ankle problem, made a start in Triple-A two and a half weeks ago, then had to be shut down with a sore shoulder. Not great, Bob. De Leon is a risky asset. Chapman for De Leon is probably fair value. It’s on par with the Miller for Eduardo Rodriguez deal. The Yankees shouldn’t have to kick anything in. I’d prefer a pitcher not dealing with arm trouble though.

De Leon. (Tulsa Drillers)
De Leon. (Tulsa Drillers)

Brent asks: The Yanks farm system is stacked with infielders at the lower levels. They have a legitimate 10 infielders who are all fair to serious prospects. As much as there’s no such thing as depth and these things work themselves out do the Yanks start converting to another position or trade for other prospects of need or young controllable players?

Off the top of my head, these are the legitimate shortstop prospects the Yankees have at Single-A and below: Mateo, Abi Avelino, Hoy Jun Park, Kyle Holder, Angel Aguilar, Thairo Estrada, and Wilkerman Garcia. They also have Tyler Wade in Double-A and everyone’s next favorite prospect Diego Castillo set to come stateside this year. I still feel like I’m forgetting someone.

Anyway, that’s a ton of prospects! The Yankees have been rotating players around different positions to make sure they all get time at short — Park, Holder, Aguilar, and Estrada are basically splitting time at second, short, third, and DH with Low-A Charleston — which isn’t ideal, but what can you do? You’d rather see players spend the majority of their time at their most natural position and dabble elsewhere.

There is going to be some natural attrition here and a few of these guys will fizzle out. It’s inevitable. These prospects are definitely valuable trade commodities though — obviously some are more valuable than others — because shortstops are always in demand. If I were another team with a need at short at the MLB level, I’d be all over Wade. He’s not going to be a star but he can hold the position down for a few years and soon.

Mateo and Wilkerman are the prizes. They’re the best prospects of the bunch. The Yankees should (and will) set a high price for them. They’ll get moved for impact players, if at all. The others could all go in trades as the second or third piece. They’re good prospects, not great prospects, and not great prospects in Single-A usually aren’t headliners in big trades. Having so many legit shortstop prospects is a good “problem,” and the Yankees should definitely look to capitalize by trading some. You can’t keep ’em all.

Wyatt asks: If the Yankees fall out of contention do you think they might dangle Eovaldi? I really think it would be a mistake to trade him but he’ll be a free agent at the end of next season and he looks like he could be on his way to a huge contract.

The Yankees supposedly listened to offers for Nathan Eovaldi last offseason and I’m sure they’ll do it again. As I continue to say: it doesn’t cost anything to listen. Even with an unsightly 4.44 ERA (93 ERA+), Eovaldi really seems to be making big strides with his splitter and overall effectiveness. He’s been truly dominant at times. He hasn’t been as hittable (.257 AVG/.301 BABIP against in 2016 compared to .275/.320 from 2011-15) and his strikeouts are way up:


Source: FanGraphsNathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi is still only 26 too. He’s got a few peak years remaining. His trade value is somewhat limited by the fact he’ll be a free agent after next season. The Yankees would only be trading a year and a half of him at the deadline, not three or four years of him. Every team needs pitching so there will definitely be a market for Eovaldi. The Astros strike me as a good fit because their rotation is full of guys who throw in the upper-80s and rely on deception.

Anonymous asks: What would it take to land Freddie Freeman, looking towards 2017 and beyond … say Bird, Betances, Heathcott and Sanchez? I know, my trade proposal sucks.

That seems like an awful lot, no? I know Greg Bird is hurt and Betances is “only” a reliever, but that’s two pretty good young players (Bird and Gary Sanchez) plus an impact big leaguer for a not cheap first baseman. (Freeman’s salaries jump into $20M+ range next year and he’s signed through 2021.) Freeman’s only 26 and he’s really good! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sure I’d give up that much for a first baseman getting a market rate salary. The Braves should ask for two young players plus a big leaguer for Freeman. I’m just not sure it makes sense for the Yankees. Why not keep Bird and see what you have there?

Ricky asks: We’ve already seen two starters, CC and Severino, miss time with injuries. Pineda has been ineffective at best. Nova is inconsistent. Beyond the current #6 and #7 (Luis Cessa and Chad Green), who in the system could become the 8th or 9th starter?

Oh boy. The Yankees will really be scrapping the bottom of the barrel at that point. They have their six big league starters — the five guys in the Opening Day rotation plus Ivan Nova — with Cessa and Green as the No. 7 and 8 starters. Bryan Mitchell would be No. 7 if he were, you know, healthy.

Behind those eight I think lefty Richard Bleier might actually be next in line. He’s not a prospect — he’s 29 and was signed as a minor league free agent over the winter — but he has a 3.10 ERA (3.20 FIP) in Triple-A. Brady Lail hasn’t exactly lit up Triple-A, and calling him up means committing to a 40-man roster spot. Bleier is someone the Yankees could call up, then drop from the 40-man without regret. (Obligatory reminder: No team has good No. 8 and 9 starters.)

Toshiki asks: I understand Sonny Gray still is A’s ace yet he is struggling this season. Do you think it would be appropriate for the Yankees to take this opportunity and make a move for him? I believe he is a great pitcher. His value could be at all time low but there is always that risk of his recent struggles move with him into the pinstripes.

As long as he’s healthy, I would be all for the Yankees acquiring Gray despite his struggles this season. He’s really, really good. Tough as nails too. Gray is the kind of guy you want on the mound in a must win game.

The upcoming free agent pitching market is terrible now that Strasburg re-upped with the Nationals, so anyone looking for an impact pitcher is going to have to turn to the trade market. Gray is going to be the No. 1 target because he’s about to get expensive through arbitration, and the A’s tend to flip their top players before they get too expensive.

I’m so used to saying the Yankees probably don’t have the pieces to make a competitive offer for someone like Gray, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. They can go into a bidding war and put guys like Judge, Sanchez, and Mateo on the table. That will get anyone’s attention, right? I’m not saying they should trade all three for Gray. They have the pieces to make a strong offer though. Like I said, Gray’s someone I’d target. About 28 other teams will as well.

Mailbag: Trout, Tanaka, Pomeranz, Freese, Sabathia, Judge

Got 14 questions in the mailbag this week. We’re getting a lot of questions asking for injury updates on prospects (James Kaprielian, etc.), and folks, if I had any, I’d give them to you. I’d stick them in DotF or give them their own post if it was significant enough. Everything I know is on the site. Anyway, the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us questions throughout the week.

Trout. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Trout. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Peter asks: If the Yankees emptied the farm would they have enough to trade for Mike Trout? Would the Angels want it? Should the Yankees do it even if it took the best package they have of Sanchez, Mateo, Severino, and Judge? My Trade Proposal Sucks, I know.

Angels GM Billy Eppler has said the team has no plans to trade Trout, and even though that’s the kind of thing every GM says about their star player, I believe him. Trout is too special to trade, even with the Angels looking worse by the day. I suppose it’s possible Eppler has some leftover love for certain Yankees prospect following his time in the front office, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Not when it comes to a Trout trade.

Trout is the kind of player you trade anything and everything to acquire. How could the Yankees say no to a package that includes, say, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, Gary Sanchez, and Kaprielian? They couldn’t possibly say no. It is a heck of a lot easier to rebuild a farm system than it is to have the best player in the world in his mid-20s. I don’t think Trout will be traded, but the Yankees should call and offer everything anyway.

Matt asks: What’s the date Gary Sanchez would need to remain in the minors until in order to delay his free agency one year? Do you think the Yankees will call him up immediately after that date has passed to see if he can help generate some sort of offense?

The date has already passed. It was Monday this week. Austin Romine has been mostly fine as the backup and while Sanchez would likely be an upgrade, I don’t have a problem with the Yankees keeping him in Triple-A a little longer so he can play everyday. Romine’s playing well, so ride it out and maybe turn him into a prospect via trade come July. There’s no reason to make a change at backup catcher just yet. It would be different if Romine were stinking up the place.

Mendel asks: If Tanaka keeps up this kind of production, and the Yankees continue their terrible season, would/should they consider trading him at the deadline? And what kind of package can they get in return?

This question was sent in before the Yankees won a bunch of games over the last week. Obviously the chances of them selling — which were small to start with — have gone down quite a bit since them. If, however, they do take a plunge and sell later this summer, as unlikely as that may be, they have to make Masahiro Tanaka available. Don’t half-ass it. Put everyone on the table.

The Yankees could market Tanaka as a No. 1 starter with a year and a half of team control remaining, so he’d help you for two postseason runs. The Yankees should even be open to eating some money to increase the prospect haul. David Price was traded for two young MLB players (Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly) and a good prospect (Willy Adames), so that’s the benchmark for Tanaka. Two players you can plug into the big league roster — given the team’s roster situation, a starting pitcher would be preferable — plus a third piece.

Andrew asks: How does the Nationals re-signing of Strasburg affect their re-signing of Bryce Harper and the possibility of Harper signing with the Yankees if at all?

I don’t think it changes anything. I guess it shows it’s not impossible to sign a top Scott Boras client to an extension right before free agency, but Stephen Strasburg and Harper are two different people with different motivations. Strasburg is a pitcher who has already had a major arm injury, remember. That’s not insignificant. Harper is as confident in his talent as any player we’ve seen. He seems like the type determined to smash contract records. Harper is the kind of player who will go into free agency and take the biggest contract, no questions asked. If the Yankees make that offer, they’ll get him.

Jason asks: Humor me here, I’m just going to throw out a couple of names for you to opine on in case the Yankees decide to buy instead of sell or just shake things up a little bit: Nick Markakis, Carlos Gonzalez, Drew Pomeranz, Yasmany Tomas.

I don’t see the point in adding another declining veteran outfielder like Markakis and Gonzalez, even if they are still productive. At least Tomas has youth on his side, plus he’s right-handed, so he makes more sense than the other guys. The Yankees need to keep a spot open for Judge and it’s unlikely Jacoby Ellsbury is going anywhere, which means acquiring Tomas or CarGo or Markakis pushes Brett Gardner out the door. No thanks.

Pomeranz, who has a 1.80 ERA (2.61 FIP) with a 31.9% strikeout rate in 40 innings this season, has always been interesting. It’s a question of health, more than anything. He’s got an out pitch curveball and a lively low-90s fastball, so the stuff is fine. More than fine, really. Pomeranz just has no track record of staying on the field. He’s thrown 120+ innings once in his career, and that was way back in 2012. The Padres got him for Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynksi over the winter, so I wouldn’t pay substantially more than that. How about Rob Refsnyder and Chasen Shreve, plus maybe a non-top prospect? My trade proposal sucks. I’ll roll the dice on a bat-missing southpaw with two years of team control remaining even with the health issues.

Pomeranz. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Pomeranz. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Travis asks: If the Nationals are in on Miller or Chapman at the deadline, what kind of return could the Yankees get (if they decided to deal either one)? Example: (my trade proposal sucks) Chapman for Victor Robles, Austin Voth and Trevor Gott.

Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman have different value because of their contract situations. Chapman is the better pitcher, but Miller has more value because he’s under contract for two years beyond this one. Back when he was a rental Miller was traded for Eduardo Rodriguez, and I think that’s the benchmark for Chapman. One stud young player. I’d love love love to see the Yankees get Joe Ross for Chapman, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Ross is too damn good at this point.

The Robles/Voth/Gott package would be a pretty good return for Chapman in my opinion. Voth is pretty close to MLB ready as a Triple-A starter, Gott is a bullpen option right now, and Robles is the top prospect lottery ticket in the low minors. He’s basically the outfield version of Mateo. Lucas Giolito and Trea Turner are presumably untouchable. I’d focus on Robles, Voth, righty Reynaldo Lopez, and outfielder Andrew Stevenson in trade talks. Here is MLB.com’s top 30 Nats prospects, if you want to look them over yourself.

John asks: Do you think the Yankees should look into acquiring David Freese? The Pirates have an excess of infielders with Kang back. What would it take to get him, and is it realistic? Thanks.

Freese would definitely make sense and I think he’s more realistic than most trade targets sent into the RAB inbox. (No offense, folks.) Jung-Ho Kang came back a few days ago, mashed two homers in his first game, and he’s been starting at third base ever since. Freese is basically a platoon first baseman and fill-in third baseman now, and Pittsburgh has Jason Rogers in Triple-A to fill the same exact role. (Rogers can play other positions too.)

Chase Headley is maybe possibly kinda sorta starting to hit a tiny little bit, but he’s still not hitting for any power, and at some point the Yankees will have to make a change barring a huge breakout. Freese, who is on a one-year contract, would be a fine fill-in. The Pirates could use some pitching help, both starters and relievers. Would Nick Goody or James Pazos for Freese work? I wouldn’t offer much more than that. Freese could fit though, yeah.

Andy asks: I’m looking at Mateo’s stats on Fangraphs and it’s tough not to be impressed. How does BABIP work for the minor leagues, though? Mateo’s .456 is outrageous, as is his 212 wRC+. Is it easy for good players to post really high BABIP’s in the low(ish) minors?

A .456 BABIP is very high even for the minors, but it’s not at all uncommon for top prospects to post sky high BABIPs. Kris Bryant had a .405 BABIP between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, for example. Refsnyder had a .377 BABIP that same year. There’s a lot of bad in the minors. Bad pitching and bad hitting. That doesn’t mean it’s easier to hit, but pitchers make more mistakes and the good prospects don’t miss them. Given his speed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jorge Mateo finished the season with a .400 BABIP or so. It’s not crazy. A .380+ BABIP in the minors doesn’t automatically mean a hitter got lucky. And the opposite is true for pitching prospects. A sub-.250 BABIP isn’t uncommon.

Paul asks: What is Girardi’s nickname for Aroldis Chapman?

Chappy! That’s actually not a Joe Girardi original though. People have been calling him Chappy for years now. It fits the standard Girardi nickname nomenclature, so he’s stuck with it.

Jonathan asks: I’m curious to see any promotion predictions you may have for top prospects. Player, current level, and when this year (if applicable) you think we might see them make the jump to the next level, then the next ya know? To the highest level you think they’ll reach this year.

Promotion season is coming up. They usually start happening in early-June and continue throughout the summer. Mateo to Double-A is the obvious one and I think it’ll happen next month. Tyler Wade will have to slide over to second and make spot starts at short. Mateo is the priority prospect there. Miguel Andujar could move up to Double-A as well. He’s had a strong season overall and did spend all of last year with High-A Tampa. Can’t keep him there forever.

That’s probably it for the notable position players, unless you count Sanchez and Judge getting big league time at some point. On the pitching side, Domingo Acevedo figures to move up to High-A assuming this recent lower body injury is nothing serious. Chance Adams could get bumped from High-A to Double-A, and Jonathan Holder going to Triple-A is an easy call. Kaprielian’s injury threw a wrench into things. He’s might be in Double-A right now if he were healthy. He could still get there if he comes back reasonably soon.

The Yankees have a bunch of injured players coming back (Luis Torrens, Wilkerman Garcia, Ty Hensley, Austin DeCarr) plus others in Extended Spring Training (Drew Finley, Jeff Degano) who are going to join an affiliate at some point. I think players like Wade, Dustin Fowler, Hoy Jun Park, Abi Avelino, Thairo Estrada, and Kyle Holder are at their levels to stay this season.

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

Anonymous asks (short version): What about trading CC Sabathia to the Giants?

The thinking here is Sabathia has pitched decently in the early going, he’s from the Bay Area, and the Giants have big time concerns at the back of their rotation. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain have been very bad. I would be surprised if Sabathia accepted a trade at this point though, even home to Northern California because his family lives in New Jersey full-time now. The salary is an obstacle; there’s no such thing as an untradeable contract, but Sabathia’s deal is as much a deal-breaker as any in baseball. I could see this if Sabathia were a rental. Maybe he’d be willing to go pitch in San Francisco for two months and try to get another ring. But a year and a half? That’s pushing it.

Paul asks: Anecdotally, people swing on 3-0 counts more often than even 2 or 3 years ago. Does the data back this observation up?

It definitely seems like more players are swinging 3-0 this season. Not only Yankees, all around the league. Offense is down and I guess teams think ambushing a 3-0 pitch from time to time will help them score. Alex Rodriguez famously hit his 660th homer last on a 3-0 pitch last year (video). Here are the league averages as far as back as Baseball Savant can go before it starts timing out:

2016: 7.4% swings in 3-0 counts
2015: 7.9%
2014: 8.4%
2013: 7.7%

Unexpected! I sorta love it when the numbers are the complete opposite of what my eyes are telling me. It’s good to be humbled once in a while. Anyway, swinging 3-0 has gone down the last few years, though we’re talking about a window of one percentage point here, from 7.4% to 8.4%. That’s not a huge difference, but it is a difference nonetheless. I’m guessing that come the end of the season, the rate will again be up around 8.0%.

Asher asks: Why the heck does Eovaldi not throw a 2-seamer more often? Pitcherlist pointed it out, and then perusing Fangraphs showed me that it has markedly more movement than his 4-seamer while carrying almost the same velocity (his max with the 2-seamers is still 100.7mph!) yet in his entire career he’s only thrown 545 of them compared to almost 6000 four-seamers.

I prefer Brooks Baseball for PitchFX info, and it says Nathan Eovaldi threw a sinker earlier in his career, but he hasn’t thrown it regularly since 2012. He threw zero sinkers in 2013, 36 sinkers in 2014, and none since. I’m not sure why he scrapped it, though I’m sure there’s a reason. Eovaldi probably didn’t feel comfortable locating it given the movement or something like that. It could be worth tinkering with again. I tend to think when a pitcher stops throwing a pitch all together, especially early in his career when he’s still looking to establish himself, it’s because it was one of his worst pitches and he kept getting burned on it.

Anonymous asks: Where do you feel Aaron Judge’s K rate needs to be in Triple A for you to be comfortable bringing him up to the majors? And, once he’s up, what should it be for him to have success?

I don’t think there’s a magic number, and really, the box score is not going to tell us when Judge is big league ready. He’s someone you’ll really have to see to know when he’s ready. Judge has a very specific weakness (soft stuff away) he’s set out to correct and his strikeout rate is nothing more than a proxy for that weakness. Even if he cuts his strikeout rate down to, say, 15%, he might still be flailing away at breaking pitches away. The flaw could still exist even if the numbers look great, you know?

Long-term I think Judge will settle in as a 25% strikeout rate guy, which is higher than average but not outrageously so. That’s Jay Bruce/Mark Trumbo territory. His first few weeks and months in the big leagues could easily feature a 35.0% strikeout rate though. There figures to be an adjustment period. As long as Judge hits for power, draws walks, and plays a solid right field, that strikeout rate is fine. I do not think he’s a budding superstar. I see Judge as someone who could become a +3 to +4 WAR outfielder, and maybe someone who has a +6 WAR career year along the way.

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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR RBI fWAR bWAR
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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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
Sabathia
: 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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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.