Mailbag: Severino, AzFL, Castro, Puig, Miller, PTNBL, Giolito

We’ve got 17 questions in the mailbag this week, so I tried to keep the answers short. The inbox was, by far, the fullest I’ve ever seen it. We got a ton of pre-deadline questions that were all rendered moot by Monday. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the email address. Send your questions there.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Justin asks: What is the current status of Severino’s service time in regards to when he would first be eligible for free agency?

Luis Severino started the season with 61 days of service time, meaning he needs to spend 73 days in the minors to delay his free agency another year. The Yankees activated him off the DL and optioned him to Triple-A on May 30th, then called him back up on July 25th. That’s 56 days in the minors. The Yankees would have to send him down another two weeks to delay free agency. As it stands now, Severino will qualify for free agency after 2021, same as if he remained on the big league roster all season. The extra year of control would be nice, but it would be useless if he doesn’t pitch well. Severino is having success and building confidence right now. Let the kid run with it.

Asher asks: After all the trades, what does the Yankee’s 40 man roster situation look like for the coming offseason? Is Frazier or any of the other new prospects Rule 5 draft eligible?

The Yankees acquired ten prospects at the trade deadline, not counting the two players to be named later in the Ivan Nova deal. Of those ten prospects, only two will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season: outfielder Rashad Crawford (Aroldis Chapman trade) and right-hander Ben Heller (Andrew Miller trade). The other eight guys are at least one more year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility.

There’s no reason to add Crawford to the 40-man roster. He’s still an athlete playing baseball, if you know what I mean. His skills are raw and he still has a lot of development left ahead of him. I suppose some team could take him as a defensive minded fifth outfielder, but nah. There will be better players available to fill that role. The Yankees have already talked about calling Heller up this year, but even if they don’t, they’ll protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Triple-A relievers who throw 100 mph are prime Rule 5 Draft fodder.

Many asks: Who could the Yankees send to the Arizona Fall League this year?

I cheated and asked you folks to ask this question in DotF one night this week, and damn yo, like 50 of you sent it in. Thanks. I’ll never do that again. It took me forever to go through the inbox.

Anyway, teams typically send 7-8 players to the AzFL each season. Usually it’s four pitchers and three or four position players. They’re not all top prospects. Many are guys making up for lost time after dealing with injuries. That’s why Greg Bird and James Kaprielian make sense as AzFL candidates, provided they’re healthy enough to play come early-October. That’s a big if.

Aside from Bird, I count five position players who stand out as AzFL candidates: Miguel Andujar, Aaron Judge, Billy McKinney, Kyle Higashioka, and Mason Williams. I guess Clint Frazier too, though he played out there last season. Judge (knee) and Williams (shoulder) both missed time with injuries, hence the AzFL bid. Andujar and Higashioka are having good seasons and you’d like to see them keep it going. McKinney is the opposite. He’s not had a great year and hopefully he gets on track in AzFL.

It’s always tough to pick pitchers because so many guys are bumping up against their innings limit. Domingo Acevedo went last year and is a candidate to go again due to his lower body and back problems. He’s got some innings to make up. Dillon Tate is an AzFL candidate for sure after the Yankees tweak whatever they tweak. Give him more time to work on that stuff. Jonathan Holder and Gio Gallegos are possibilities too. The Yankees seem to have more AzFL candidates than usual this year, especially on the position player side.

Paul asks: Real talk: is Castro the Yankees’ 2b in 2017? He hasn’t worked out very well. Maybe he’ll be more comfortable both in NY and at 2b? Or do the Yankees pull the plug?

I fully expect Starlin Castro to be the starting second baseman next season. That said, he hasn’t had a good season at all and I’d really like the Yankees to move on and find another second baseman. The guy has over 4,000 plate appearances in the show and he still looks like an overmatched rookie at the plate. No plan whatsoever. Castro has $33.5M left on his contract after this season and I feel like it’s only going to get harder and harder to trade him with each passing year. Move him while you can, then find someone else. Starlin’s closing in on his third replacement level season in the last four years. Next.

Puig. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Puig. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Dan asks: Should the Yankees be/have been in on Yasiel Puig?

I say no. Puig is a declining asset. His performance has gotten worse each season since his 2013 debut — to be fair, he was still above-average as recently as last season — and he’s been dealing with nagging hamstring injuries for more than a full year now. Plus no one seems to like the guy. Jon Heyman reportedly Puig’s recent demotion to Triple-A had as much to do with his clubhouse demeanor as it did his performance. Yes, Puig is still only 25 and he’s insanely talented, but his performance is declining, he’s having trouble staying healthy, and he’s a negative in the clubhouse. Puig seems like a guy who peaked early and is becoming more trouble than he’s worth with each passing season.

Isaac asks: Looking at the 2017 roster, is there room for 3 catchers to rotate around 1B/DH/C? Romine seems to have more value as a quality backup than as a trade chip, Sanchez deserves a longer look at the MLB level, and McCann is still a quality starting catcher. Does it make sense to keep all 3?

Yes, the Yankees could make three catchers work even if they don’t cut ties with Alex Rodriguez. Would it be good roster construction? Absolutely not. Three catchers and one pure DH equals zero flexibility. Two guys would be in the lineup (one at catcher, one at DH) and two would on the bench on any given day, meaning the last two bench spots have to go to an infielder and an outfielder. Carrying three catchers with no A-Rod would be doable. Carrying three with A-Rod? Eh. They could do it, but it wouldn’t be very smart.

Marc asks: Since the Yanks seem to be in future mode, would it not make some sense to acquire a competitive balance pick or two? Wouldn’t it allow them to boost their bonus pool money so they could take advantage with a seemingly high 1st round pick if someone (a la Rutherford) were to fall in their lap?

Oh sure. It always makes sense to add draft picks. The 12 competitive balance lottery picks were handed out in late-July the last few years, but it didn’t happen this year, which makes me wonder if the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement is going to do away with them. Maybe they’re just waiting for the new CBA before dishing them out. Either way, the rules say you can only trade these picks during the regular season for whatever reason, so if the Yankees want to trade for a 2017 draft pick, they have to wait until April. We’ll see what the upcoming CBA does to this whole process.

Craig asks: Was Miller our best free agent signing in recent years? (Maybe ever?) I cannot think of anyone else who so lived up to, and actually exceeded, expectations. Not sure the best way to measure this, as WAR doesn’t capture relievers very well. Maybe WPA/dollar?

Yes, I think so, and we don’t really need a stat to tell us that. I’d say Miller is the team’s best free agent signing since Hiroki Kuroda (the first time), who was their best since CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. Those guys are the big four. They’re the best free agent signings the Yankees have made in the last ten years or so. Maybe their best since Mike Mussina. It’s too bad the rest of the team stinks and Miller couldn’t stay around a little longer. He’s pretty cool.

Eric asks: How does the recent trade activity impact the luxury tax — both this year and next?

There’s not much impact next year because Chapman and Carlos Beltran were going to be free agents after the season anyway. Miller’s $9M “tax hit” is gone and will be replaced next year by Tyler Clippard‘s $6.15M tax hit and Adam Warren‘s arbitration raise. Clippard and Warren figure to work out to $9M or so combined.

This year is a different story. The CBA says the Yankees are hit with pro-rated tax hits for Beltran, Chapman, Miller, Clippard, and Warren. Luckily the math is easy because Beltran’s and Miller’s salaries are the same as the average annual value of their contracts. Here’s the breakdown.

2016 Salary 2016 Tax Hit for NYY
Beltran $15M $9.26M
Chapman $11.32M $6.98M
Miller $9M $5.55M
Clippard $6.1M $2.34M
Warren $1.7M $0.65M
Total $43.12 $24.78M

The Yankees were originally on the hook for a $35.52M tax hit this season between Beltran, Chapman, and Miller. By trading those three and taking on Clippard and Warren, they’re now only on the hook for a $24.78M tax hit this season. That’s a savings of $10.74M in salary plus $5.37M in luxury tax. That’s not nothing! The Yankees saved roughly $16.11M in salary and luxury tax in 2016 with their deadline dealings.

Michael asks: Ivan nova was just traded for two players to be named later. My question is how are those decided? Do they decide on a list of prospects beforehand, or is it dependent on performance, something else?

As far as I know the only hard rule is that the PTBNL has to be named within six months. I’m not sure what happens if the player isn’t named within six months. I assume the team gets angry they didn’t get their player and the commissioner’s office gets involved. From what I’ve seen over the years, there seem to be four PTBNL scenarios:

  1. Pick someone from a list of players the two teams agree to before the trade.
  2. It’s a player who can’t officially be traded yet, like a guy who hasn’t gone through trade waivers or a recent draftee.
  3. “We’ll figure it out later.”
  4. Nothing. Some PTBNL become cash considerations.

It’s been reported that the Nova trade falls into scenario No. 1. The Yankees and Pirates agreed to a list of players and the Yankees will pick two at a later date. It gives them some time to dig in and really scout those guys before making a decision.

Tyler asks: The return for Mark Melancon to the Nationals seems extremely light. He has great numbers and a similar salary and an expiring contract like Aroldis Chapman. Why was he traded for two marginal young relievers? Obviously Chapman is more dominant, but the package is not even in the same ballpark as the Torres McKinney Warren Crawford package. Is this just a credit to Cashman?

It did seem very light to me. To be fair, Felipe Rivero is a 25-year-old southpaw who has touched 99 mph this year and has a ridiculous out-pitch changeup. He’s not a nobody. But yeah, Rivero and a middling prospect like Taylor Hearn — MLB.com ranks Hearn as the 27th best prospect in Pittsburgh’s system — for a rental reliever as good as Melancon surprised me. Chapman is better than Melancon, but man, the Yankees got a top 25-ish prospect and Warren and two others for Aroldis. That’s all the Buccos could get for Melancon? Really? I guess the Pirates just really like Rivero and Hearn.

Anonymous asks: If a player is claimed through waivers, it is my understanding that the team has three options: (1) pull the player back and keep him; (2) release the player outright to the claiming team; or, (3) work out a trade with the claiming team. With respect to the third option, can the claiming team only trade players who have also cleared waivers or is their entire team and farm system available to trade? Thank you.

Players on the 40-man roster have to go through waivers to be traded. No exceptions. Non-40-man roster players don’t have to go through waivers. They can be traded at any time. There are a lot of PTBNL trades in August because waivers complicate things. Say, for example, the Marlins claim Michael Pineda on trade waivers and want to trade for him. They agree to give up Christian Yelich but haven’t yet placed Yelich on waivers. So the Yankees trade Pineda for a PTBNL, Yelich goes through waivers, and once he clears, he’s named as the PTBNL. And if he gets claimed, the Marlins pull him back and the two teams have to wait until the offseason to complete the trade.

Giolito. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Giolito. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Stephen asks: A lot of rumors were tossed around before the deadline. The one that got most attention was the Miller for Giolito (straight up). Given that we now know the actual trade result for Miller, would you have preferred a straight-up trade for Giolito, or the actual return from Cle?

I’d rather have the package from the Indians over Lucas Giolito. Giolito’s really really really good. Maybe the best pitching prospect in baseball. My concerns are that he a) has a major arm injury (Tommy John surgery) in his recent history, and b) seems to have a Pineda-esque “the results aren’t as good as the stuff” quality to him. The Yankees need to rebuild their offense in a big way and Frazier is a potential cornerstone type. Don’t get me wrong, they need everything, arms and bats, but when you’re trading an asset as valuable as Miller, give me the four-player package built around an elite position player prospect over one pitcher. This is a fairly easy call for me.

David asks: I know that Teixeira has a no trade clause. If the Yankees place him on waivers, and he is claimed, and the Yankees don’t ask for anything in return, is that still considered a “trade?” Could they let him and his contract go?

There’s actually been some debate about this over the years. Technically a no-trade clause is a “no assignment clause” and everything in baseball is an assignment. When you send a player down, it’s an assignment to the minors. When you trade a player, it’s an assignment to another team. When you lose a player on waivers, it’s also an assignment to another team. The MLBPA says no-trade clauses should cover all assignments, including waivers. MLB says nope, trades only. I’m not really sure what the answer is here. My guess is if the Yankees tried to dump Mark Teixeira on trade waivers and he didn’t want to go, the union would fight it.

Mike asks: What happens to Rob Refsnyder after this season? Do you think they are auditioning him as a trade piece, or do you think the Yankees see him as a high-upside bench player?

Can we just out the “high-upside” part and go with bench player? If they’re auditioning him as a trade piece, it isn’t going very well, but I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think the Yankees consider Refsnyder an everyday player at any position for a number of reasons. He probably won’t hit enough for right field or first base and he won’t defend enough for second. I think they see him as a possible bench piece if he can hit enough. I also have a hard time thinking the Yankees would make Refsnyder off-limits in trade talks. He’s a role player who’s in the process of carving out a role.

Adam asks: What are the chances a team claims Ellsbury in August? Let’s say someone does, should the Yankees just let him go for nothing but salary relief? Will they?

Never say never, but the odds of a team claiming Jacoby Ellsbury are very small. And if some team does claim him, I think the Yankees would let Ellsbury and the remaining $95M or so left on his contract go. How could they pass that up? Ellsbury isn’t very good anymore and that contract is as bad as it gets. If another team makes the mistake of claiming him, say thank you and unload the contract. The Blue Jays did this years ago when the White Sox claimed Alex Rios. He was a good (but not great) player, but they had a chance to get out of the $60M left on his contract, so they let him go on waivers.

James asks: Out of all the people the Yankees received in the trades it seems like the person no one is talking about that could make an impact is Ben Heller. What do you think about him. He isn’t even in the Yankees top 30 prospects but he could be a great set up man.

Heller actually ranked higher than McKinney when Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked the 50 best prospects traded at the deadline. They had Heller at No. 22 and McKinney at No. 24. (Tate was No. 21.) He seems fairly well-regarded. Heller throws hard and he has a good slider, which makes him like countless other bullpen prospects, and that’s why I’m a little hesitant to run him up the prospects list. What’s the difference between Heller and, say, Johnny Barbato? That isn’t to say Heller is bad. As a third piece in a trade, that’s pretty good. I just want to see a little more before penciling him in to the long-term high-leverage reliever picture.

Mailbag: Sale, Miller, Didi, Cabrera, Beltran, Hicks, Guerra

Got 16 questions for you in the mailbag this week. 16! You’re lucky I like you. The RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address is the best way to send us stuff.

Sale. (Todd Warshaw/Getty)
Sale. (Todd Warshaw/Getty)

Brian asks: Currently, the Yankees can’t offer the best package for Chris Sale. But if the Yankees immediately trade Chapman, Miller and Beltran for the best prospects they can get for them, and then flip some combination of those new prospects and their current prospects, do you think the Yankees could land Sale? Do you think the Yankees should do that?

Brian obviously sent this question in before the Aroldis Chapman trade, which has changed the farm system dynamic quite a bit. The White Sox are said to be seeking a package of five top prospects for Sale, which probably means they’ll take four top prospects plus a fifth piece. I assume they left themselves some wiggle room to come down a bit from the initial ask.

The Yankees could make a substantial offer right now. For example: Jorge Mateo or Gleyber Torres, plus Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and a lesser fifth piece. That’s quite an offer. An elite shortstop prospect, an MLB ready-ish starter, an MLB ready-ish outfielder, an MLB ready-ish catcher, and a fifth guy. I’m not saying the Yankees should do that, but they could put that on the table. The White Sox would have to think long and hard about that one.

As awesome as Sale is, I’m not sure it makes sense for the Yankees to do that. I’m not saying it’s an unreasonable package, just to be clear. That’s about what I think it’ll take to get it done. It’s just that, given where the Yankees are right now, they need as much young talent as possible. Sale is awesome. Top five starter in the game and he’s signed cheap through 2019. The problem is that’s a win now move and the Yankees aren’t a win now team.

Justin asks: I keep hearing that Miller’s trade value won’t ever be higher… Other then one less season of control and also barring injury and performance decline, shouldn’t he have similar value next season?? Relievers are always needed this time of year.

Similar value, but not the same value. These next few weeks are pretty valuable. They’re the difference between getting Andrew Miller for three postseason runs rather than only two postseason runs. Should the Yankees hold on to Miller through the deadline — that’s what I think will happen — he’s still going to have sky high trade value in the offseason. Still more than Chapman did at the deadline. He’ll just be slightly less valuable than he is right now. Getting that extra postseason run from a guy like Miller is huge. Elite relievers have more impact in the postseason than they do the regular season because the built-in off-days allow them to pitch pretty much every single game.

Anonymous asks: It seems like more and more people have recently been attacking didi up in the zone or even up out of it. Is this nothing, a problem he has always had or a new found weakness opponents are exploiting?

Hmmm, I hadn’t noticed this. I remember last year when Greg Bird came up it was painfully obvious teams were attacking him with high fastballs. I haven’t noticed that with Didi Gregorius. Let’s look at Didi’s numbers on pitches in the upper third of the strike zone and above (via Baseball Savant):

% Pitches AVG ISO Exit Velo
April 32.7% .238 .143 88.3
May 34.1% .148 .000 84.9
June 27.9% .250 .200 89.6
July 29.9% .333 .095 84.6
Didi’s 2016 31.0% .236 .101 86.7
MLB AVG 30.7% .227 .145 86.4

Looks like this may be nothing. Gregorius has not seen more pitches up in the zone recently — if anything he’s seen fewer, though I think that’s just the normal month-to-month randomness that exists in baseball and not a sign teams are changing their approach against Didi — and his results are more or less league average. He doesn’t hit for as much as power on high pitches, and that makes sense to me. Based on what I’ve seen the last year and a half, Gregorius definitely strikes me as a low ball hitter.

Kip asks: There has been a lot of talk previously on how great A-rod is as a coach for younger players. If the Yankees decide to sell does it make more sense to have A-rod being on your bench and helping the kids rather than cutting him and adding an additional shuttle arm or utility bench guy which doesn’t really factor much when you aren’t planning on being competitive this year?

Alex Rodriguez has long had a great reputation for helping young players and being a mentor. It’s impossible to quantify that but I do think he has a real positive impact on the kids. Playing what with amounts to a 24-man roster stinks though. A-Rod doesn’t play much and it’s not like he can even play the field late in a blowout. The roster construction is so bad right now.

Rosters expand in a month, at which point the Yankees a) can more easily carry Alex, and b) figure to call up some prospects. Sanchez, Mason Williams, and Ben Gamel will be up at the very least. Maybe Judge too. I’d like to see A-Rod stick around to work with them, so yeah, I’d ride it out with the 24-man roster in August. If we were in April rather than August, then forget it. Give me the roster spot over the mentorship.

James asks: Do teams every include a conditional PTBNL when trading a rental player? Something like “if the team receiving Chapman is unable to resign him team gets x player from the Yankees”

I’ve never heard of that happening but I’m sure it has happened somewhere along the line. Players to be named later have to be named within six months, so if you trade a guy for one of those conditional PTBNLs at the deadline, that gives the team until January to re-sign him. But! Why wouldn’t you just agree to re-sign him and not make it official until, say, February, to skirt the PTBNL agreement? I guess that could ruin working relationships.

Makaikai asks (short version): Is there a limit on how many perks teams can provide for their minor league players, such as better travel and lodgings and food?

Nope and this has long been considered a spot where a team could give themselves a possible competitive advantage. Spending a little more on things for minor leaguers such as a nutritionist or better travel or better equipment could help players develop better and improve morale. It could also help you lure minor league and international free agents, as well as tough to sign draft picks.

Why hasn’t a team done this? Mostly because owners don’t like to spend money. So few minor leaguers actually make it, remember. Shelling out extra cash for a nutritionist or a better bus for your Single-A team when only one or two guys on the roster will actually stick in the big leagues isn’t enough of a reward, I guess. Also, the MLBPA doesn’t care about minor leaguers, only their members (40-man roster players). They’d rather see the owner spend that $200,000 on a 40-man roster player than a new minor league bus. (I have no idea how much buses cost. Does $200,000 sound right?)

Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)
Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)

Craig asks: Ok, with Torres and McKinney, where do you think the Yankees’ farm system ranks now?

The Yankees might have a top ten system right now. Back half of the top ten, but top ten. Somewhere around eighth or ninth or tenth. Maybe a touch lower. They’ve got five no doubt about it top 100 guys (Torres, Mateo, Judge, Sanchez, Blake Rutherford) and one other fringe top 100 guy (James Kaprielian), plus several big time risers (Miguel Andujar, Chance Adams). The 2014-15 international class is starting to arrive too. The Yankees have impact prospects at the top of the farm system and depth in the low minors. If that’s not good enough to be a top ten system, I’m not sure what else it’ll take.

Greg asks: With the addition of Torres at Tampa, are the Yankees creating a current logjam at SS/2B? Is there enough room at the various teams to find full-time spots for everyone?

It’s definitely not ideal having so many players splitting time at shortstop and other positions, but at the end of the day, you take the talent and sort it out later. Torres has never played a position other than short in his career, and my guess is he’s going to get a crash course at second base a la Mateo fairly soon. The kid just got traded and is still learning the staff and everything, so they’re giving him some time to catch his breath right now.

This is more of a “problem” than a problem. In a perfect world everyone would play their natural position every day until they couldn’t do it anymore. Shortstops tend to be great athletes, so moving them around to different positions isn’t as big a deal. And of course, there’s going to be some attrition. Players will have to share shortstop in the low minors, but they time to get to Double-A and Triple-A, there will be fewer bodies to compete with for playing time. Not everyone will make it.

Daniel asks: Do you think Hal/Levine pushed for Warren as a second piece to “stay competitive”? Could the Yankees have gotten stronger secondary pieces if they didn’t insist on a major league reliever in the deal? Thanks!

That’s what has been reported, that one of the reasons Hal Steinbrenner signed off on the trade was the inclusion of Adam Warren, who could step in to replace Chapman as a trusted reliever. It’s silly, but it is what it is. And nah, I don’t think they could have gotten better secondary pieces by not taking Warren. Warren’s not a nobody. It’s not like they were going to get Torres and Eloy Jimenez instead. That alternative probably would have been some other okay-ish prospect, maybe not even one as good as Billy McKinney. That trade went so much better than I ever could have imagined that I feel sorta silly wondering how it could have been even better.

Rick asks: I see the Yankees just promoted Oswaldo Cabrera to Pulaski from the GCL after just 7 games (.455/.471/.818). When can I start getting excited about this 17 year old?

Whenever you want! The Yankees signed Cabrera for only $100,000 last year, so it wasn’t a high profile signing. The Yankees do have a good track record at find quality players on the cheap though. Both Severino and Mateo signed for under $300,000 back in the day, you know. Ben Badler (sub. req’d) gave a mini-scouting report on Cabrera in a chat a few weeks back:

He’s a good player and a nice signing by the Yankees for $100,000 … Not super tooled-up guy, but he’s a smart, instinctive player who’s been a consistent performer against live pitching going back to last year with quick hands at the plate and good bat-to-ball skills. Definitely a sleeper to watch.

Oswaldo is supposedly the younger brother of Yankees farmhand Leobaldo Cabrera, though I’m not sure that’s accurate. The internet tells me the hometowns listed on their MiLB.com pages are 430 miles apart. For now I’m in the information gathering phase. Cabrera’s been tearing the cover off the ball for weeks now, and like I said, the Yankees have a great track record finding cheap talent internationally. And if Badler calls him a sleeper, I’m paying attention.

Brian asks: Now that we know that Prince Fielder is done for the year, do the Rangers match up at all for a trade for Beltran at DH?

Oh sure. The Rangers match up for pretty much any kind of trade. They have all sorts of talent to offer. I hadn’t made the Carlos Beltran connection following the Fielder injury. That’s a good fit. Fielder wasn’t hitting at all (63 wRC+) so Beltran would be an enormous upgrade at DH.

Right now Texas seems content with rotating players in and out at the position, including Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo. Shin-Soo Choo (back) is expected to return fairly soon too. Their priority has to be pitching at this point. The staff has been decimated. If they come asking for Beltran, the Yankees should be all ears even with this recent hot streak.

Well, they brought him in to break records ... (Elsa/Getty)
Well, they brought him in to break records … (Elsa/Getty)

Nick asks: Assuming he didn’t drastically improve down the stretch, I’m curious what Ellsbury would get on the open market as a free agent after this year. Headley type money?

Alex Gordon is roughly the same age as Jacoby Ellsbury and he signed for four years and $72M over the winter. That’s coming off a season in which he hit .271/.377/.432 (122 wRC+) in 104 games around a groin injury. Ellsbury’s hitting .267/.331/.372 (90 wRC+) this year, so yeah, I don’t think Gordon money would happen. Chase Headley got four years and $52M. Maybe split the difference between Gordon and Headley and call it four years and $62M? That sounds about right. That’s compared to the $84.4M Ellsbury will actually earn the next four years. Meh. The money itself doesn’t bother me. It’s all those years. Seven years for a 30-year-old speed guy!

Anonymous asks: So, yeah, Aaron Hicks. What happens next?

I’m guessing he’s a goner come Monday. He’s started the last six games and seven of the last eight, and I bet he starts at least two games this weekend, if not all three. This feels like a last gasp “you have to show us something now or we’re getting rid of you” stretch. Based on the way he’s talked about him the last few weeks, Joe Girardi has clearly run out of patience with Hicks. The Yankees have a bunch of Triple-A outfielders they could try in his place, so it’s not like they’re short on alternatives. Barring a huge weekend, I think Hicks gets traded somewhere by Monday’s deadline, probably a rebuilding team like the Phillies or Athletics.

Casey asks: I am not entirely sure how the August trading and waivers works, but could you go through some of the Yankees that could work in an August trade. Like Mark Teixeira if he starts hitting? Chase Headley? Anybody else?

To make a trade in August, you have a put a player on trade waivers. If he gets claimed, you can pull him back, but you can only trade him to the claiming team. If he goes unclaimed, you can trade him anywhere. Every good player with a reasonable contract will get claimed. Andrew Miller? Insta-claimed. The Mets will claim Miller to block the Nationals from getting him, for example.

Guys like Teixeira and Ellsbury, who have massive contracts not at all in line with their production, will go unclaimed. If someone claims Ellsbury, I think the Yankees would let him go and stick the other team with the contract. Brett Gardner stands out as a possible August trade candidate. Maybe Starlin Castro? I think Beltran would get claimed in a block move, ditto any halfway useful arm. I wouldn’t call August trades rare, but they are uncommon. I’d be against the Yankees doing something next month.

Brian asks: I’ve seen rumors that the Brewers are fielding calls on 31-year-old rookie Junior Guerra, who’s having a good season for a bad Milwaukee team (6-2, 2.85 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Good target for #TeamBuy? And do the Yankees and Brewers match up well for a trade?

That’s an interesting one. Guerra is old even by late bloomer standards. A year ago he had a 3.39 ERA (3.11 FIP) as a swingman in Triple-A with the White Sox. This year he has a 2.85 ERA (3.80 FIP) as a starter with the Brewers. The one thing Guerra has going for him that makes me think he’s not a total fluke is a nasty splitter. Check it out:

How do you value a guy like this? Guerra’s a 31-year-old rookie who is suddenly pitching like a rock solid mid-rotation (or better!) starter. Yeah, he’s got five years of team control left, but he’s also approaching the age where you’d expect him to begin to naturally decline. Guerra had a bunch of injuries earlier in his career, and he’s pitched basically non-stop since 2011. Spring Training to the minors to winter ball to Spring Training to the minors to winter ball to Spring Training … like that.

The Brewers are rebuilding so I’m sure they’ll take prospects for Guerra — anything this guy gives them is gravy, why wouldn’t they listen to offers? — and the Yankees have a lot of those. Finding a match won’t be tough. The question is how do you value him. The Yankees plucked Vidal Nuno out of an independent league and traded him for a half-season of an established big leaguer, but Nuno was also 25, not 31. This is a tough one.

Chris asks: Has any player participating in the World Baseball Classic suffered a more career-altering injury than the wrist injury Teixeira suffered in 2013? Tex’s 2012 wasn’t up to his usual standards, but the wrist injury cost him pretty much all of 2013 and lingered through most of 2014 as well.

I will admit to not doing exhaustive WBC injury research, but I do remember ex-Yankee Luis Ayala blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery during the first WBC back in 2006. Here is the Washington Post’s story on the injury:

Though doctors believe Ayala sustained the injury while making his six pitches to Team USA slugger Alex Rodriguez, he did have pre-existing elbow concerns. Ayala underwent surgery in October to remove a bone spur in his right elbow, and though he had been declared healthy by team doctors, the club twice petitioned Major League Baseball to prevent him from pitching in the tournament.

Of course it’s A-Rod’s fault. Anyway, Ayala had a 2.75 ERA (3.68 FIP) from 2003-05, then had a 3.19 ERA (4.37 FIP) with his new elbow ligament after coming back in 2007. He then slumped to a 5.01 ERA (4.49 FIP) from 2008-09, spent 2010 in the minors (6.42 ERA), then resurfaced with the Yankees in 2011. Ayala’s still pitching, you know. He has a 3.12 ERA in 40.1 innings in the Mexican League this season.

Mailbag: Buying, Nova, White Sox, Pineda, Betances, Enns

Got a dozen questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything. We got a lot of submissions each week and I can only pick so many (the ones I know the answers to!), so don’t be discouraged if yours doesn’t get picked.

Reddick. (And Khris Davis.) (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Reddick. (And Khris Davis.) (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Charles asks: We’ve heard so much about being sellers at the deadline, but theoretically who would you target specifically if they were to get back into the Wild Card/Division hunt?

I haven’t thought too much about this, to be honest. The Yankees definitely need another bat — they really need like two or three bats, but one step at a time — and they could use another starter as well. Theoretically, the Yankees could make one trade with the Athletics to satisfy their major needs at the deadline. The three A’s I’d target:

  • Josh Reddick: Hitting .301/.380/.445 (123 wRC+) with six homers and nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (29) in 59 games around a broken thumb. (He got hurt sliding into second in a game against the Yankees back in May.) Reddick’s an excellent defensive right fielder too.
  • Danny Valencia: Hitting .298/.349/.478 (124 wRC+) with 12 homers in 72 games. He’s a brutal defensive third baseman but he can play first. Despite his productive season, the A’s have started cutting Valencia’s playing time to get a look at younger players. Susan Slusser says they may end up designating him for assignment because there’s so little trade interest.
  • Rich Hill: Hill missed a month earlier this season with a groin strain, and he had to leave his last start after only five pitches with a blister. The nagging injuries stink, but Hill has a 2.25 ERA (2.54 FIP) with a ridiculous 28.9% strikeout rate in 14 starts and 76 innings. He’s pitched like an ace since resurfacing with the Red Sox last year. Hill would be a worthy rotation addition, assuming he gets over the blister soon.

Of course, this plan would require the Yankees to basically release Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and that would surprise me. Yeah, I suppose it’s possible, but it would surprise me. Carlos Beltran slides to DH full-time, Reddick takes over in right, and Valencia takes over at first. Hill replaces … someone in the rotation. Ivan Nova or Nathan Eovaldi, probably.

Reddick and Hill are impending free agents and will almost certainly be traded before the deadline. Valencia would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year, but it sounds like no one really wants him. Either way, these are three available players who would fill immediate needs for the Yankees. I love A-Rod and Teixeira, but replacing them with Reddick and Valencia down the stretch would be a massive upgrade.

What would it take to get these three? Beats me. The A’s have made some terrible trades recently (Josh Donaldson, Drew Pomeranz, etc.), so perhaps not as much as we think. They’ve had interest in Rob Refsnyder before, and their trades always seem to be more quantity than quality. Maybe they’d take something ridiculous like Refsnyder, Chad Green, Aaron Hicks, and Wilkerman Garcia. Laugh if you want, but this is the same team that traded Donaldson for Brett Lawrie and stuff.

Aside from the Oakland three, others players the Yankee could target in a hypothetical “buyers” scenario include Jay Bruce and Andrew Cashner. Maybe Carlos Gonzalez, though he’s under contract at big money next year. Offense is a must. The Yankees have been one of the worst hitting teams in the AL this year, and they’re not going anywhere without another bat. You can only win so much when you struggle to score four runs a night in Yankee Stadium.

Nicholas asks: would there even be a little market for Nova? He’s not good-but it is a sellers market for starters. He has no future with the team- they have to try to trade him.

Oh yeah, I definitely think so. There’s always a market for pitching, and Nova figures to come cheap. Another team would surely be willing to scoop him up as a fifth starter/depth starter type. Last deadline Joe Blanton and Mat Latos were traded. Tommy Milone and Felix Doubront were dealt at the deadline the year before. There’s always a market for these cheap back-end starter types. The Yankees won’t get anything exciting for Nova, but they’ll get something, and that’s better than getting nothing when he leaves as a free agent after the season.

Bill asks: I read recently that the White Sox are looking for center field help. Is there a match with the Yankees and Brett Gardner as the center piece of any deal heading to the White Sox?

Yeah I think it’s possible. There are two questions that have to be answered to make a deal work. One, do ChiSox want another lefty leadoff hitting outfielder when they already have Adam Eaton? They may want a bigger bat. And two, does Chicago have enough pieces to make it work for the Yankees? No veteran outfielders with two and a half guaranteed years left on their contracts like Gardner have been traded in recent years, so we don’t have a good trade package benchmark.

Here is MLB.com’s top 30 White Sox prospects list. Their system isn’t necessarily bad, though they do lack depth beyond the top few guys. I assume righty Carson Fulmer is off-limits, and righty Spencer Adams may be as well. Would the Yankees be wrong to ask for two prospects for Gardner? Say, righty Jordan Stephens and infielder Jake Peter? That seems a little light for a productive player like Gardner. My trade proposal sucks. I do think the White Sox could have interest in Gardner though, for sure. It’s just a matter of finding a match.

Mark asks: The new stadium is beautiful, but the lack of majestic upper decker shots makes it feel lackluster. Has anyone actually hit an upper deck shot in the new stadium? Do we have to endure 100 years of no upper deck homers?

I haven’t seen every game played in the new Yankee Stadium, but I have seen most of them, and the only upper deck shot I can remember was hit by Russell Branyan (duh) off Javy Vazquez (also duh). You can see it at the 0:37 mark of this video:

I seem to remember someone — I think it was Raul Ibanez when he was a Yankee — hitting a homer into the suite level, but I can’t find the video. Branyan showed that upper deck shots are not impossible at the new Yankee Stadium, but they are going to be incredibly rare. That’s the only one I know of in the park’s seven and a half seasons of existence.

Update I: Commenter Dr. Martin van Nostrand points out Brandon Allen hit a home run into the upper deck off Bartolo Colon back in 2011. Here’s the video. There’s a bonus Hideki Matsui on the A’s cameo:

Update II: Found that Ibanez homer into the suite level I was talking about. You can see it at the 1:33 mark of this video:

Jeff asks: If any, what are the differences between Rookie ball and Short Season ball (both technically and skill-level)?

The game itself is the same. It’s not like there are different rules or anything like that. The key difference is the level of competition. Rookie ball is generally for kids new to pro baseball who are very raw and need a lot of instruction. We’re talking teenagers fresh out of the high school and recent international signings. The travel is generally easier too. In the Gulf Coast League they bus out, play a game, and return home later that day. The GCL and Arizona League are the two true rookie ball complex leagues. The level of competition is low and travel is Spring Training-esque.

The other short season leagues, like the Appalachian League (Pulaski) and NY-Penn League (Staten Island), are for players who are a little more advanced, like recent college draftees or young players with a year or two or rookie ball under their belt. They also play a traditional schedule with three and four-game series, long bus rides and road trips, things like that. The Appy League is technically rookie ball while the NYPL is technically Single-A. As far as the Yankees go, the GCL is the lowest level of domestic baseball in the system. Pulaski is a notch above that and Staten Island is about two notches above that.

Anonymous asks: Michael Pineda‘s cutter. Why doesn’t he ever throw it in on the hands of lefties? Can we start a petition to have Mo teach him that tactic?

For starters, it’s very hard to do. Most pitchers have trouble locating precisely to the glove side and Pineda is no exception. Mariano Rivera was able to do it consistently and that’s why he’s going to the Hall of Fame. I agree Pineda (and Eovaldi) need to do a better job pitching inside — I’m not saying they have to hit guys, just stop them from looking out over the plate all the time — but it’s also not easy. If it was, everyone would do it.

Travis asks: Is there a way to see the ground ball percentage for minor league pitchers? If so, can you rank the top 5 or 10 best ground ball pitchers in the Yankees system? I’m sure Will Carter is up there somewhere.

As far as I know, there’s nowhere to find easily sortable minor league ground ball rates. When I cite grounder rates in DotF, I go to the player’s page on MLB Farm and do the quick math myself based on the batted ball totals. Here’s Carter’s page. He has 126 grounders with 40 line drives, 25 fly balls, and one pop-up. That equals a 65.6% ground ball rate (126 ÷ (126+40+25+1)).

For all ground ball rates in the system, you can go to MLB Farm’s team pitching stats page, import the data into Excel, then run the numbers yourself. The only problem is player stats are listed by level, so there’s a Vicente Campos in High-A and a Vicente Campos in Double-A, for example. I did the gory math and combined everything that needed to be combined. Here’s the top five grounder rates in the system this year (min. 50 IP):

  1. RHP Will Carter: 65.6%
  2. RHP Kyle Haynes: 57.6%
  3. RHP Cale Coshow: 56.7%
  4. RHP Cody Carroll: 54.7%
  5. LHP Ian Clarkin: 52.8%

Not a surprise to see Carter at the top and by a large margin. I have no idea what he looks like as a starter, but I saw him throwing 97 mph sinkers out of the bullpen with Staten Island last year. Nice arm for a 14th round pick. Some other notables: RHP Domingo Acevedo (47.2%), RHP Luis Severino (45.7%), RHP Chance Adams (42.9%), RHP Vicente Campos (40.9%), and LHP Dietrich Enns (38.5%).

Among pitchers to throw at least 50 innings this year, the lowest grounder rate in the system belongs to RHP Eric Ruth. He’s at 34.4%. One thing to keep in mind is minor league grounder rates are not very predictive. Most top pitching prospects will post sky high ground ball rates — Phil Hughes was over 60% in his minor league days, for example — because they’re so good and they overwhelm so many hitters. You also have to remember many pitchers are working on things and doing stuff they wouldn’t normally do, like, say, throw 25 changeups per start. I wouldn’t say these numbers are useless, but don’t obsess over them either. Campos won’t necessarily be a 40% grounder guy at the next level.

Paul asks: Hypothetical- let’s say Betances stays a set-up man for his career, but has a lengthy career doing what he’s doing now. Let’s give him 12 total years of this. Total domination, all-star appearances, but basically no saves. Does he get into the HOF?

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

You know, I think it would be possible, though I think it would have to be 12 years of this Dellin Betances plus another few years just to compile strikeouts and innings and all that. A 12-year-career is awfully short for a Hall of Famer. Billy Wagner played 14 full seasons and was basically the left-handed Betances — he threw 15-20 fewer innings per year but also had all those saves — and he received only 10.5% of the vote last year, his first on the Hall of Fame ballot. It seems voters are more aware of the importance of bullpens, and if Wagner’s voting percentage increases steadily in his final nine years on the ballot, it could be a good sign for Betances.

Dellin is basically going to have to be the Mariano Rivera of setup man to make the Hall of Fame, and by that I mean be consistently excellent. There were always three or four closers each year who were statistically similar (or better!) than Rivera, but Mo did it year after year after year. He’s going to the Hall of Fame because of his dominance and longevity. There will be setup men who pitch as well as Betances each year, but if he keeps doing this for a decade, I think he’ll get Hall of Fame support. Dellin won’t be Hall of Fame eligible for at least another 12 years, which gives the voting body a lot of time to warm up to setup relievers.

Nick asks: Over the past several weeks, many organizations have been sending high ranking scouts and officials, in person, to watch mainly the back end arms of the bullpen. Why with all of the advantages of today’s technology do teams continue to send these sorts of professionals to watch what could probably be more efficiently broken down via digital video, etc.?

Oh they do video scouting too, for sure. I’ve seen folks ask people like Keith Law and the Baseball America crew this question in their chats, the answer is always “there are things you can see in person that you just can’t pick up as well in video.” What things, exactly? I have no idea. I’m no scout. I totally buy there being nuances that you can see up close and in person that you can’t pick up in video though, especially from behind home plate.

Nick asks: It has been a frustration of mine for a while that the team very rarely provides updates on injuries to players in the Minors (Judge, Kaprielian, Lindgren to give a few current examples). Is this team policy or is it simply that the beat reporters aren’t that interested and so aren’t asking for updates?

This isn’t unique to the Yankees. Most teams are tight lipped with minor league injuries — in yesterday’s Scouting the Market: Cubs post I mentioned pitching prospect Dylan Cease is currently hurt and no one knows what’s wrong with him — and believe me, they’d love to remain keep MLB injuries secret too, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement says all injuries must be disclosed. Yes, it’s very frustrating to be kept in the dark all the time, but the clubs have no obligation to disclose minor league injuries, so they don’t. I don’t blame them. The less medical information that is out there, the better.

Nate asks: Watching the All-Star game one of the broadcasters said that Daniel Murphy credits Kevin Long with his offensive improvements. He is not the first player to openly credit KLong with helping them. With the dismal offensive output of our beloved Yankees, do you think they made a mistake by letting him go? I think I remember reading here that KLong was the necessary scapegoat. In KLong’s last year with the Yankees the offense was pretty bad. Was his approach to coaching more/less/equally impactful to that of any other batting coach?

Yes I thought it was a mistake and I’m pretty sure I wrote that when Long was fired. It was an obvious scapegoat firing. The Yankees had just missed the postseason for the second straight year, so someone had to take the fall, and the hitting coach made sense because the offense stunk. Turns out giving 1,600+ plate appearances — more than 25% of the team’s total! — to the reanimated corpses of Derek Jeter (76 OPS+), Ichiro Suzuki (89 OPS+), Brian Roberts (86 OPS+), and Alfonso Soriano (71 OPS+) in 2014 was bad for the offense. Who knew?

“Kevin is an exceptional hitting coach. He did a tremendous job. The players trust him,” said Brian Cashman after Long was fired, which was weird. Long has a history of getting hitters, especially lefties, to not just reach their power potential, but exceed it. He did it with Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano here, and with Daniel Murphy with the Mets. Long was blamed for turning Teixeira and Brian McCann and whoever else into dead pull hitters when that’s who they were all along. It’s impossible to quantify hitting coach impact, but the players swore by Long and there are several examples of players he made by through subtle adjustments.

Williams: Would Kyle Hendricks be a good best case scenario projection for Dietrich Enns? I just refuse to believe Enns’ numbers can’t translate. Hendricks has a similar repertoire, had success in the minors and relies on weak contact.

That would be the absolute best case scenario. I really underrated Hendricks. He has a 2.27 ERA (3.33 FIP) this year and a 3.13 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 371.1 career big league innings, so this dude is really good. Hendricks might have true 80 command on the 20-80 scouting scale — it’s at least a 70 command — which allows his 86-88 mph sinker play up. It also helps that he has a great changeup and plays in front of a great defense.

Enns is not a true soft-tosser — he’s mostly 88-92 mph with both a slider and changeup — but he doesn’t have Hendricks’ command or out-pitch changeup. Very few do. It’s not unheard of for players to jump a grade or two in command in their mid-to-late-20s — Cliff Lee did it and became an ace — but it’s not something you can count on either. I think Enns could maybe be a servicable swingman type for a few years. Not many can do what Hendricks does though. It’s a very unique profile.

Mailbag: Free Agents, Austin, McCann, Sanchez, Gregorius

I’ve got ten questions for you in this week’s second half opening mailbag. Ten questions qualifies as a small mailbag these days. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything.

Coghlan. (Norm Hall/Getty)
Coghlan. (Norm Hall/Getty)

Phil asks: Looking at next year’s FA class, who do you see as B-list guys we could sign to 1-2 year deals that could help as stop-gaps or maybe break out to re-up their value?

Here’s the upcoming free agent class. Oddly enough, the best one-year contract reclamation project starter may be … Ivan Nova. Rich Hill seems to have pitched his way into a two-year deal at this point. Besides, pitchers don’t come to the Yankees to rebuild value. The AL East and Yankee Stadium is not a good place to try to improve your stock if you do your work on the mound.

As for hitters, Chris Coghlan is someone who could be interesting as a super utility guy. The former Rookie of the Year is hitting only .155/.244/.278 (40 wRC+) this season, but he put up a .265/.346/.447 (119 wRC+) line in almost 1,000 plate appearances from 2014-15 while playing first, second, third, left, and right. A lefty hitter who can do that is worth a shot as a bench piece. Here are some other one-year deal candidates that stand out to me:

  • 1B Mitch Moreland: Moreland has some outfield experience and is a lefty pull hitter who can take aim for the short porch. He’d be an okay stopgap if Greg Bird‘s shoulder isn’t ready to go come Opening Day.
  • UTIL Steve Pearce: Pearce is never going to put up a 161 wRC+ like he did in 2014 again, but he can hit lefties while playing first base and the corner outfield. He can also be an emergency option at second and third. Pearce would be a really great righty hitting complement to Bird.
  • OF Jon Jay: Jay would only make sense if the Yankees let Carlos Beltran walk and trade Brett Gardner, and even then they have all those lefty hitting Triple-A outfielders. He hits for average, gets on base, makes contact, and plays solid defense. You can do worse for a stopgap outfielder.

The upcoming free agent class is really light on impact players. There’s Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Yoenis Cespedes if he opts out, and, uh, Ian Desmond? That’s the list. The Yankees are trying like hell to get under the luxury tax threshold, and let’s just say fighting off the temptation to spend big in free agency won’t be tough this winter.

George asks: Girardi said he couldn’t work with a 6 man rotation. If it meant Hicks would get more playing time, it would work. Two thoughts – 6 starters, whoever is supposed to have a “throw day” could be a 1-2 inning reliever that day, start warming up in the 5th-6th since starters need more time. Second – 2 starters + 1-2 relievers at AAA, 6th starter pitches, goes down, reliever comes up. Other starter comes up for next 6th start. Days off make this easier. It doesn’t seem that difficult.

This is not nearly as easy as you make it sound. First and foremost, you need seven starters to make it work, because the ten-day rule prevents you from sending down your sixth starter and calling him back up five days later. Do the Yankees have seven MLB caliber starters? I’m not even sure they have four right now. I guess it doesn’t matter if Chad Green and Luis Cessa are getting blasted every sixth day if you sell at the deadline though.

Also, having pitchers throw one or two innings on their throw day is not something you can do all year. Teams do it once in a while when they’re very light on available relievers. Between-start throwing sessions are usually far less intense than game action. Using a pitcher on his throw day all the time like that means he’s going to run out of gas not only earlier in the season, but earlier in starts as well.

The Yankees only have to get through the rest of July and August — they have four off-days between now and September 1st — before rosters expand and they can go with a six-man rotation. Counting the days on the schedule, Masahiro Tanaka would make nine starts between now and September 1st: five on normal rest and four on extra rest. Use a spot sixth starter once or twice and it’s only three or four starts on normal rest. He’ll live.

Howie: Through Wednesday, Tyler Austin is hitting .294/.376/.633 with 15 walks and 31 strikeouts in 29 games at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Now that he’s healthy again, is he back as a prospect? Could he have a chance at reaching that ceiling he once had?

He’s definitely rebuilt some prospect stock, though he’s not all the way back to where he was a few years ago simply because he’s older now and has lost development time. Austin’s biggest problem over the years has been injuries, specifically wrist problems. It’s not like he lacked hitting ability. Before Austin projected as a potential 20-homer corner outfield bat. Now he might be more like a 15-homer part-time corner outfielder/part-time first baseman. That’s still a useful player, but he’s not someone who’s going to be a real difference maker. It’s great to see him raking in Triple-A. The lost development time is not insignificant though.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Chip asks: Is the current group of young AL Shortstops (Correa, Lindor, Didi, Xander) the best we’ve seen since Jeter, Alex, Tejada and Nomar? And that’s not even including Russell in the NL.

Has to be, right? The best shortstops to debut from 2000-12 are Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez, and Rafael Furcal in whatever order. That’s five All-Star caliber shortstops in the span of 13 seasons. Now all of a sudden we’ve seen Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, and Corey Seager debut within the last three years. (Didi Gregorius is a notch below those guys.) This is definitely the best crop of young shortstops — not just in the AL, but all of MLB — we’ve seen since the Derek Jeter/Alex Rodriguez/Nomar Garciaparra class, hands down.

Paul asks: In the beginning of the year it seemed like McCann was using the entire field pretty effectively, and now it feels like that’s gone away entirely. Is this real or imagined? If real, is there a tangible reason why?

The numbers don’t really bare that out. Here are Brian McCann‘s batted ball direction rates by month this season, via FanGraphs:

Brian McCann batted balls

Last season McCann was at 50.1% pull, 31.5% middle, and 18.4% opposite field. He was right in that range again during the first half. The monthly data reflects the random month-to-month fluctuation that happens in baseball. I don’t think a 55.8% pull rate in June and a 41.7% pull rate in July means McCann has suddenly made a conscious effort to go the other way. That’s just baseball. He’s had some memorable hits the other way this year …

… though I don’t think there’s much to it. He seems like the same ol’ McCann to me, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. He’s very productive for a catcher despite his generally low batting average.

Anonymous asks: Wondering how much trade value Higashioka has. He’s stuffed way down in the depth chart right now. Would he be able to bring anything of note back with how well he’s performed this year? Or do teams see him as a carriage waiting to turn back into a pumpkin? Keep up the awesome work and thanks!

Not much, probably. Kyle Higashioka’s track record as this type of hitter is very short, and if you look around baseball, I’m sure there are a bunch of 26-year-olds mashing in Double-A. Higashioka is a very good defensive catcher and that’s pretty important. He might be the third or fourth piece in a big trade, or someone who goes as a player to be named later. I feel like the Yankees are better off keeping Higashioka and seeing whether he’s for real than trading him for a spare part player.

Anonymous: Fun stat to track the rest of the year– Will Didi wind up with more HRs or BBs? He needed an intentional walk(!) in Saturday’s game to keep the totals even.

There are always a handful of players who finish the season with more homers than walks. Last year Cespedes (35 HR, 33 BB), Adam Jones (27 HR, 24 BB), Nolan Arenado (42 HR, 34 BB), and Salvador Perez (21 HR, 13 BB) all did it. Jones has done it a bunch of times over the years. So has Adrian Beltre.

Gregorius is at eleven homers and eleven walks right now, and like you said, one of the walks was intentional. Didi went on a bit of a homer binge to close out the first half (five homers in eleven games) and that’s not going to last all year. My guess is he finishes the season with 18-20 homers, which would be frickin’ awesome. Who wouldn’t have taken that coming into the season?

Right now Didi has a hilarious 3.5% walk rate. He’d need 572 plate appearances to get to 20 walks at that rate. Gregorius is at 317 plate appearances now and getting another 255 in the second half shouldn’t be a problem as long as he stays healthy. To finish the year with more homers than walks, Didi is either going to have to sustain this recent power binge or just stop walking all together.

Mike asks: Whether or not McCann gets traded, why don’t the Yankees call up Sanchez to split catching duties and keep McCann/Romine on the roster as backup first basemen? Torreyes seems pretty much useless on the roster at this point (barring injury) and Castro even played a game at short last week to spell DiDi. Just seems like Sanchez’s bat is needed more right now than Torreyes’ versatility, and you keep Romine so you have the option to send Sanchez back down.

Should the Yankees sell at the deadline, calling up Gary Sanchez in the second half seems like a no-brainer to me. Let him get his feet wet as McCann’s back up and give him a healthy amount of starts, maybe even half. Austin Romine has been pretty good, but he shouldn’t stand in Sanchez’s way. I say keep Ronald Torreyes — they need the backup infielder more than they need a third catcher/first baseman — and dump Romine, then let Sanchez join the team. Maybe they could get a decent prospect for Romine. Who knows? Added bonus: Higashioka goes to Triple-A.

Sanchez. (Stacy Revere/Getty)
Sanchez. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

Johnny asks: I was looking at the schedule and all the games in September (minus 3 with the Dodgers) are against AL East opponents. Is it possible the brain trust thinks the team can make up significant ground and therefore is hesitant to decide on selling?

The odds of this happening are annoyingly high. The Yankees have 13 games remaining against the Red Sox, 13 against the Orioles, and ten against the Blue Jays. More than 40% of their second half games are against those three teams. So yes, all those games represent an opportunity to gain ground in the postseason race. At the same time, the Yankees beating the Red Sox is good for the Orioles and Blue Jays. Beating the O’s is good for the Red Sox and Blue Jays. They Yankees need at least two of those three teams to go in the tank to catch up. What are the odds of that happening? Also, what reason do we have to believe the Yankees can even beat those teams consistently? They’re 6-15 against them in 2016.

Anonymous asks: If, for example, Chapman had the same 2 years of control left and the same amount of money due, who would have the most trade value, Chapman or A. Miller?

Chapman. Miller is awesome, but Chapman’s track record as an elite reliever is way longer and he’s nearly three full years younger. Also, Miller missed a month with that forearm injury last year. Chapman hasn’t had any injury problems in years. Miller has been better this year on a rate basis and this is definitely a “what have you done for me lately” game, but the combination of age and track record seems too much to ignore.

Mailbag: Vogelbach, Rule 5 Draft, Cardinals, Joba, Mateo

Got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week, the last one before the All-Star break. As always, you can send us questions or comments at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Matt asks: Given the increased discussions about the Yankees being “sellers” at the deadline, is there any chance that the team takes a look at the Cubs’ Dan Vogelbach? Would a Vogelbach for Miller trade be realistic? (And yes, my trade proposal sucks—sorry if this has been asked already elsewhere!)

Vogelbach is the most likely to be traded prospect in all of baseball. Defensively, the kid is basically present day Alex Rodriguez. He’s a bad defensive first baseman who fits best at DH. The Cubs move everyone around to different positions and they haven’t even bothered to try Vogelbach, who is listed 6-foot-0 and 250 lbs., in left field. With Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base and no DH spot in the NL, Vogelbach has no long-term place with the Cubs.

Now, his defense may stink, but boy, Vogelbach can hit. The lefty hitter owns a .301/.413/.536 (152 wRC+) line with 15 homers, a 15.4% walk rate, and a 19.6% strikeout rate in 81 Triple-A games this year. Last year he hit .272/.403/.425 (140 wRC+) in 76 Double-A games around oblique and hamstring problems. MLB.com’s scouting report praised Vogelbach because “(rather) than selling out for home runs, he controls the strike zone, makes consistent contact and uses the entire field.”

The Yankees have the DH spot available as well as a long-term opening at first base, at least until Greg Bird shows he’s back to normal following shoulder surgery, so yes, Vogelbach does seem like someone who could interest them. There’s no way I would trade Miller straight up for Vogelbach though. I’m not even sure I’d take Vogelbach as the second piece for Miller. Vogelbach for Aroldis Chapman is more realistic, but even then I’d want more. The kid can hit, but at the end of the day we’re talking about a 23-year-old DH. If he doesn’t hit, he’s useless.

Matt asks: I noticed when the International League All-Stars were announced the team included 4 Yankees: Green, Sanchez, Judge, and Gamel. This got me wondering, when was the last time the Yankees had 4 All Stars at the AAA level? Particularly, 4 All-Stars who have a change to legitimately contribute at the MLB level in the near future? It seems like the type of thing that would’ve been impossible to imagine a few years ago.

Unlike the other minor leagues, which stay within themselves and play division vs. division in the All-Star Game, the Triple-A All-Star Game is International League vs. Pacific Coast League. The Yankees and Blue Jays lead the way with four International League All-Stars each this year. Here are New York’s Triple-A All-Stars over the years:

2016: Ben Gamel, Chad Green, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez
2015: Kyle Roller, Austin Romine
2014: Jose Pirela
2013: Chris Bootcheck, Thomas Neal
2012: Juan Cedeno
2011: Jesus Montero, Jorge Vazquez, Kevin Whelan
2010: Jonathan Albaladejo, Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez
2009: Shelley Duncan, Austin Jackson, Zach Kroenke
2008: Justin Christian
2007: Shelley Duncan

Okay, I’ve gone back far enough. To answer Matt’s question: a long time. It’s been a long time since the Yankees last had four Triple-A All-Stars, nevermind four Triple-A All-Stars who were legitimate big league prospects. That 2010 class is the closest by default. Most of the guys listed above are journeymen filling out the roster.

Being selected to a Triple-A All-Star Game hardly means the player is destined for a productive big league career. For example: almost everyone listed above. It’s still cool to see the Yankees not only have legitimate prospects in Triple-A, but legitimate prospects playing well enough to make the All-Star team. That’s pretty awesome.

Joe asks: Who are the rule V candidates of note for this offseason?

The Yankees have some big time prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, including Judge and Jorge Mateo. Miguel Andujar and Luis Torrens too. The first three guys will definitely be added to the 40-man roster. I can’t imagine Torrens will be though. He’s nowhere close to ready for MLB duty, even as a sparsely used backup catcher. Some team might pick Torrens, but I doubt he’d even make it through Spring Training. This is one of those situations where the best way to keep him is to leave him unprotected, because you know he’ll be offered back.

Others eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after the season include Jake Cave, Tyler Webb, Brady Lail, Dietrich Enns, Kyle Higashioka, and Cale Coshow. Cave’s an interesting one because he’s been a Rule 5 pick once before, which means he can elect free agency rather than return to the Yankees if he doesn’t stick with his new team. I’m curious to see what the Yankees do with Cave and all their other upper level lefty hitting outfielders. They can’t all of ’em. Does the Rule 5 Draft stuff make Cave trade bait? My guess right now is Judge, Mateo, Andujar, Webb, Higashioka, and Cave (assuming he isn’t traded) get protected. No one else.

Update: Higashioka will be a minor league free agent after the season. Forgot about that. My bad. He’ll still be Rule 5 Draft eligible if he signs a minor league contract with the Yankees or any other team though. The Yankees could add Higashioka to the 40-man roster to prevent him from hitting free agency.

Judge will added to the 40-man roster in November. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Judge will be added to the 40-man roster in November. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Adam asks: Why are the Cardinals not mentioned as a potential trade partner when looking at where guys like Miller or Chapman could be sent? They would seem to have a need in their bullpen and while their farm system has been ranked around the same as the Yankees’ they always seem to do a good job of player development.

Trevor Rosenthal is having a shockingly bad season — he went into yesterday with 22 walks and a 5.28 ERA (4.17 FIP) in 29 innings  — while other bullpen veterans like Jonathan Broxton, Kevin Siegrist, and Seth Maness have been hurt and/or ineffective. Korean important Seung-hwan Oh (1.67 ERA and 1.69 FIP) has been awesome and is manager Mike Matheny’s only reliable late-innings reliever right now.

The Cardinals are not catching the Cubs in the NL Central, no one is, but they remain in the wildcard mix. The bullpen is an obvious place to upgrade. We should definitely be talking about them more as a possible trade partner. Here’s their MLB.com top 30 prospects list, if you want to look that over. I love righty Jack Flaherty, have since the 2014 draft (he was said to be unsignable, but the Cardinals were able to buy him away from UNC), and I’d want him in any trade involving one of the big three relievers. Catcher Carson Kelly and (injured) lefty Marco Gonzales are also personal faves.

Mary asks: Why doesn’t MLB have something similar to the NFL draft scouting combine? I realize that some teams are still playing such as in the College World Series, but what about moving the draft a little later and having a scouting combine for teams to get a look at the players in that kind of environment? Do you think it will ever happen?

There has been talk about doing something like this for the top 200 draft prospects per the MLB Scouting Bureau. Those guys are already subject to performance-enhancing drug tests. The scheduling is difficult because, like you said, the college baseball season is still going on. Plus the high school season usually ends a few weeks before the draft, so you’d be expecting kids to come in when they’re not in midseason form.

I’m not sure how much useful information teams can gain from a scouting combine anyway. Are they going to change the scouting reports they’ve been building for years just because a guy hits few batting practice homers or runs a 4.4 40? If so, a combine might do more harm than good. Baseball’s much different than football. At the NFL combine teams are looking at players who will be on their roster next year. Baseball draft picks are years away.

Daniel asks: I know its way too early, but care to guess the Yankees starting 9 position players and top 3 SP for Charleston next year? There seems to be at least 10 actual position player prospects in the 3 rookie league teams alone.

Thanks to the 2014-15 international free agent haul and the last two drafts, it looks like the 2017 Low-A Charleston River Dogs will be the most exciting minor league affiliate we’ve seen in a very, very long time. Here’s an extremely preliminary roster:

Catcher: Luis Torrens
First Base: Drew Bridges (?)
Second Base: Hoy Jun Park (repeating the level)
Shortstop: Wilkerman Garcia
Third Base: Dermis Garcia
Outfield: Estevan Florial, Blake Rutherford, Isiah Gilliam, Leonardo Molina
Starting Pitchers: Drew Finley, Nick Nelson, Austin DeCarr, Jeff Degano (?)

First base is the only position where it looks like the River Dogs won’t have a really good prospect, assuming Park is held back. (Nick Solak will almost certainly start with High-A Tampa.) I suppose the Yankees could move Gilliam back to first base, the position he played as an amateur, but he’s doing well in the outfield right now. Those four outfielders will do the “rotate among the three outfield spots plus DH” thing the Yankees have going on in Triple-A Scranton right now.

Obvious caveat: a lot can change over the next nine months. Guys will get hurt, traded, held back in Extended Spring Training, all sorts of stuff. As it stands right now, it looks like that group of players will head to Charleston next season. I’m sure the actual finished product will be different, perhaps substantially so.

Anonymous asks: I know you’re pretty high on Tyler Wade, & your recaps often mention how he’s holding his own offensively at a young age in AA, but have you noticed his soaring error total lately? He’s up to 19(!) as of 7/4. I know minor league error totals can be high, but is there any concern here?

Wade is now up to 20 errors in 81 games: five in 27 games at second and 15 in 54 games at short. Last season Wade made 35 errors in 124 total games, so he’s more or less on the same pace. I don’t worry too much about minor league error totals though because these are minor leaguers. They’re still learning the game and they’re going to make mistakes. Also, the fields aren’t as well-groomed as MLB fields, so there are lots of tricky hops and things like that.

MLB.com’s scouting report says Wade has the “quick feet and hands to go with solid arm strength” necessary for shortstop, so the tools are there. Is he going to be a Gold Glover? Probably not. But he can play the position. Wade has close to no power — it’s 30 power, not true 20 power on the 20-80 scouting scale — but he’s a lefty hitter who makes contact (16.2 K%), knows the strike zone (12.8 BB%), can run (16-for-20 in steal attempts), and can play short. He’s doing all of that as a 21-year-old in Double-A, where he’s more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player. That’s a really good prospect. If I were another team with a hole at shortstop, I’d be looking to trade for Wade to be a stopgap the next few years.

Joba. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Joba. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Dustin asks: Now that he’s DFA’d by the Indians, should the Yanks bring Joba back?

My initial reaction was nah, why bother? Joba Chamberlain hasn’t been all that good for about five years now. That said, the bar he has to clear is “better than Anthony Swarzak,” so yeah. Maybe it is worth it. Joba had a 2.25 ERA (3.82 FIP) with a 22.0% strikeout rate and a 13.4% walk rate in 20 innings with the Tribe after pitching to a 4.28 ERA (4.36 FIP) from 2012-15. Has anything changed? Did he learn a new pitch or improve his command, anything like that? Glossing over the numbers, the answer seems to be no. Same old Joba. There’s nothing wrong with bringing him back on a minor league deal, but when it comes to the MLB roster, I say roll with Nick Goody and Johnny Barbato first.

Jeff asks: Chase Headley is slashing .297/.369/.494 with a 129 wRC+ since he hit his first HR on May 12th. Do you think this is sustainable for him, or just an outlier similar to his 41 wRC+ prior to this run?

Another outlier, and that’s coming from a Headley fan. The real Headley is somewhere between the 41 wRC+ and 129 wRC+, though closer to the latter. A year ago Headley hit .259/.324/.369 (91 wRC+), and ZiPS pegged him for .251/.328/.392 (98 wRC+) this year. That’s pretty much exactly who I think he is. A bit below league average offensively and above-average defensively. Headley’s been awesome the last few weeks. I expect him to level off and settle in a little south of league average in the second half.

Steve asks: How bout a buy-low candidate in someone like Patrick Corbin either at the trade deadline or in the off season? I think I remember at one point he was included in one of your articles as the type of pitcher the Yankees go for with his peripherals. Also, do not exactly trust the D-Backs to be putting him in the best position to succeed based on their track record. Interesting candidate or not worth the trouble?

I’ve always liked Corbin and felt validated when he had his breakout 2013 season (3.41 ERA and 3.43 FIP). Then he blew out his elbow the next spring and needed Tommy John surgery. Go figure. Corbin, 26, had a 3.60 ERA (3.35 FIP) in 85 innings after returning last year, but so far this year he has a 4.90 ERA (5.05 FIP) in 101 innings. His strikeouts (16.9%) are down while both his walks (8.2%) and homers (1.51 HR/9) are up. That’s … bad.

Corbin’s stuff has bounced back well from Tommy John surgery. He’s still throwing in the low-90s and using his slider and changeup as much as ever. It’s not uncommon for location to be off following elbow surgery, though it seems Corbin’s command was fine a year ago. He’s also going to be a free agent after the 2018 season, so he wouldn’t be a super long-term rotation addition. Corbin’s someone who is worth a deeper analysis outside a mailbag setting. For now, I’ll call my interest “limited.”

Dave asks: Does a suspension of this type (i.e. a violation of team policy as opposed to, say, a drug suspension) hurt Mateo’s trade value?

I don’t think so. Other clubs will cite the suspension (“makeup concerns”) as a reason to talk down Mateo’s value when negotiating with the Yankees, but has his value as a player changed? No. Mateo’s still the same guy on the field, and teams have shown time and time again they will put up with a player who is a jerk (or worse) as long as he can play, and Mateo can play. If no club is willing to pay full price to get Mateo, that’s fine, the Yankees can keep the dynamic top 25-ish overall prospect.

Alex asks: My question is do you think it’s the right decision for Judge to hit in the AAA HR derby? Will it mess up his swing right as he’s getting hot and starting to strike out less?

We hear about this every year. One or two players who participate in the Home Run Derby slump in the second half, and inevitably it gets blamed on the Derby rather than just baseball being baseball. Pick eight players at random and chances are one or two of them will have down second half. That’s just baseball. If one night of glorified batting practice screws up Judge’s swing so much that he can’t hit the rest of the season, then he’s not going to amount to much anyway. The Home Run Derby is a total non-issue to me.

Mailbag: Stanton, Webb, Bird, Degano, A-Rod, 1st Rounders

Only nine questions in the mailbag this week — “only” nine, I should say — and that’s because some of the answers are a bit longer than usual. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us anything. Questions, links, comments, whatever.

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
I’m not sure how to feel about Stanton and Barry having an awkward fist bump/high five moment. (Duane Burleson/Getty)

James asks: I heard Harold Reynolds on MLB tonight say the Yankees need to go out and get Stanton. While I don’t think it will ever happen, what do you think it would take to make that happen, and do you think they should do it?

Giancarlo Stanton has come out of his ugly slump — he went into last night’s game on a 16-for-45 (.356) hot streak in his last eleven games, with three homers — but man, that slump had to scare the crap out of the Marlins. He went 12-for-102 (.118) with a 41.7% strikeout rate in 29 games, so it lasted a month. There’s still $314M (!) left on his contract through 2027 (!!!). It’s no sure thing he’ll use that opt-out after 2020.

Stanton is still only 26 years old, so he still has a ton of prime years left. And the guy hit .265/.346/.606 (152 wRC+) with 27 homers in 74 games just last year. In a huge ballpark. The guy missed half the season because of a broken bone in his wrist and he still finished tenth in the NL in homers. You can count the number of players capable of doing this …

… on one hand. I am definitely intrigued by the possibility of buying low on Stanton, assuming the recent slump has soured the Marlins on him so much that they’re willing to trade him for pennies on the dollar just to get out from under the contract. The Yankees have money and almost all their big contracts are coming off the books within the next two years, so it should work financially.

Here’s a fun thought: Jacoby Ellsbury for Stanton. The Marlins would save more than $200M and get a productive two-way player in return. The Yankees get the better and younger player, but absorb all the risk associated with a contract that runs through 2027. There’s always a chance Stanton follows the Mark Reynolds career path and goes from the top young slugger in baseball to a replacement level player who struggles to make contact.

Me? I say what the hell, go for it, even if the trade involves other players. Then again, it isn’t my money. Would you do, say, Aaron Judge for Stanton and his contract? Players like Stanton are rare and special. My guess is the Marlins are not yet willing to trade Giancarlo despite that scary slump the last few weeks. He’s still the face of the franchise.

Michael asks: Now that all top ten picks but Rutherford have signed, if the Yankees used all remaining pool money to sign Rutherford, would that preclude the Yanks from then trying to sign someone like Linginfelter to an overslot bonus to lure him away from college?

First rounder Blake Rutherford has signed since this question was sent in. He received a $3.282M bonus, which is pretty much the most the Yankees could give him while still staying under their bonus pool plus the 5% overage. They have $177 in bonus pool space remaining, as our Draft Tracker shows. The Yankees have maxed out their bonus pool plus the 5% overage every year since the system was put in place.

The Yankees could still sign some late round picks to over-slot bonuses. The bonus pool is not a hard cap. The problem is if they so spend over — specifically, if they give a late rounder more than $100,177 — they have to forfeit next year’s first round pick, and that’s just not worth it. Zach Linginfelter, a potential first rounder who fell to New York in the 16th round due to bonus demands, was always a long shot to sign. It’s not worth signing him now and blowing next year’s draft. Not team has ever surrendered a future first rounder in the draft pool era.

Chris asks: What’s your thoughts on Tyler Webb?  We saw him last night pitching for the Rail Riders and we followed him with the Gamecocks. Would just like to hear your take on him, thanks.

Webb, 25, was a senior sign as a tenth round pick back in 2013, so he was a bonus pool saving pick. The Yankees gave him a $30,000 bonus and saved about $100,000 in pool money, which went to Judge’s over-slot bonus. Webb shot up the ladder in a hurry — he reached Triple-A the year after being drafted — and has performed well all throughout the minors. So far this year he has a 3.35 ERA (2.61 FIP) in 43 innings.

Soon after the draft Webb was labeled a finesse right-hander left-hander and that has unfairly stuck. PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League last year has him averaging 93.3 mph with his fastball. He also has a slider and a changeup, and these days the changeup is the more reliable pitch. The Yankees have actually started him a few times this year because he has three pitches and throws enough strikes.

Webb is going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and he’s a lock to get picked as a lefty who throws reasonably hard and has had success in Triple-A. My guess is the Yankees add him to the 40-man roster. I’m not sure Webb will be more than a middle innings lefty because neither the slider nor the changeup are legitimate put-away pitches, but he should be able to carve out a lengthy career for himself. He’s a nice little find in the tenth round.

(Presswire)
Webb and his changeup. (Presswire)

Paul asks: The Sir Didi trade has been wildly successful in my eyes. I’m trying to think of the last time a trade went that well. Swisher? I guess Chapman counts?

Yeah, the Didi Gregorius trade has worked out spectacularly. I was skeptical about his bat at the time of the trade and I was really impressed by Shane Greene‘s half-season in pinstripes, but it’s hard to complain about that deal now. The Yankees would do that trade again all day, every day. It’s worked out so, so well.

The Nick Swisher trade was a total heist and it looked that way from day one. There was some uncertainty with the Didi trade. Not Swisher. That was one of Brian Cashman‘s best trades. Michael Pineda hasn’t been great by any means, but the Yankees came out ahead in that deal. They got him for two sub-replacement level players the Mariners ended up giving away.

The Aroldis Chapman deal was the result of extenuating circumstances, so I have a tough time giving the Yankees credit for “winning” that one. That was the Reds saying “get this guy out of here,” not “this trade makes us better for the future.” It’s been a while since the Yankees were on the wrong end of a lopsided trade. Tyler Clippard jumps to mind. And I guess Mark Melancon for Lance Berkman too.

Jackson asks: Is there much of a history of players who suffered the same injury as Bird, and if so, a.) to what extent were those players able to re-attain their pre injury levels of play, if ever, and b) how long did it take to get back into a ML game fully recovered ? Examples?

Yeah, there’s been a bunch. In fact, Brian McCann had the same injury (a torn labrum) a few years ago. He played through it in 2012, had the worst season of his career, then had the surgery in October. McCann returned to the field in early-May 2013, so it was eight months from date of surgery to return to MLB. Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez had the same injury and returned to the field in seven months. I’m guessing McCann’s rehab was a little longer because he’s a catcher and the injury was to his throwing shoulder.

Bird had surgery in February, so the 7-8 month timetable would put him on track to return in September or October. Chances are the Yankees will play it safe, so I don’t expect to see him in a game this year. (Maybe he’ll go to the Arizona Fall League for at-bats.) These injuries we’re talking about here are to the hitter’s front shoulder, the power shoulder. Both Kemp and Gonzalez saw a noticeable dip in power immediately after the surgery, and it never quite came all the way back. At the same time, McCann has shown no ill-effects at all. Here’s a quick chart I whipped up following Bird’s injury:

McCann Kemp Gonzalez ISO

McCann really is the best case scenario for Bird. He returned following his shoulder surgery the same player he was before getting hurt. No loss in power, didn’t lose anything off his arm, nothing. The same McCann returned.

The timing of the injury could actually be a positive for Bird’s rehab. McCann, Kemp, and Gonzalez all had their surgeries after the season and were racing against the clock trying to get back for Opening Day. Bird got hurt in February and is going to miss the season. Once he’s done rehabbing, he’ll still have an entire offseason to strengthen his shoulder and whatnot.

Dan asks: Is it fair to blame the Yanks indecision on selling on the second wild card?  They’re 3.5 back of Boston for the first Wild Card.  If there was only one wild card, would they already be selling?

I don’t think you can blame the team’s indecision on the second wildcard exclusively. The Royals and Red Sox currently sit in the two wildcard spots and they have identical 42-36 records, so the Yankees are three games back of both. There’s no difference between the first and second wildcard races at the moment. The presence of the second wildcard is surely a factor, but it’s not the factor. The Yankees aren’t selling because their brand is built on winning, and selling really isn’t in their DNA. They’d hold off on selling even with only one wildcard spot.

Anonymous asks: I see that Jeff Degano repeating short season ball (effectively rookie league) at Pulaski this year after pitching at Staten Island last year. This seems like a very cautious approach; the Yankees have been more aggressive with college-tested pitchers in recent years. Your analysis?

I think something might be up with Degano. Last year’s second round pick — for what’s it worth, he was a bonus pool saving pick who signed a well-below-slot bonus, with the savings going to third rounder Drew Finley — had a fine pro debut, pitching to a 3.80 ERA (3.72 FIP) with a 21.8% strikeout rate and a 10.0% walk rate in 23.2 innings with the Rookie GCL Yanks and Short Season Staten Island. As a college guy, even one who missed a season and half due to Tommy John surgery, I figured he was ticketed for Low-A Charleston this year.

Instead, Degano was held back in Extended Spring Training and assigned to Rookie Pulaski this month, which is a step down from Staten Island in terms of competition. He then went out and walked five batters in two innings in his first outing over the weekend. I can’t help but wonder if Degano showed up Spring Training suddenly unable to throw strikes. He wasn’t exactly blessed with top notch control to start with, and it wouldn’t be unheard of for a young pitcher to suddenly lose the zone. We’ll see what happens in Degano’s next few outings. That could have just been one bad game. The fact he was held back in ExST surprised me and could indicate something is up though.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Seamus: Is it me, or is A-Rod swinging at more first pitches than he ever has before? Could that be one of the (many) reasons he is struggling this season?

That does seem to be the case, yes. Jeff Sullivan wrote a post yesterday showing how much more aggressive Alex Rodriguez has been at the plate in general this season. Here are his first pitch swing rates over the years, via Baseball Savant:

2016: 30.5%
2015: 31.3%
2014: nope
2013: 28.2%
2012: 32.7%
2011: 28.5%

Well so much for that idea. A-Rod has been swinging at the first pitch this season at generally the same rate as the last few years. I do love it when I think something is happening on the field and the data says I’m totally wrong. It’s good to be humbled once in a while. Your eyes lie like hell. Sullivan showed Alex is swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone in general, which helps explains his lack of production. He’s not swinging at more first pitches though.

Craig asks: Your post on Blake Rutherford as well as the note on Kaprielian makes me wonder – has any other MLB team’s first round picks over the last ten years led to less MLB production to date than those of the Yankees?

I went back to the 2000 draft because the last ten years don’t tell us too much. Lots of those guys are still in the minors working their way to MLB. We need a bigger sample.

Here is the total WAR for every team’s first round pick (first and supplemental first) from 2000-15. This only includes players who actually signed, so the Yankees don’t get credit for Gerrit Cole, the Blue Jays don’t get credit for James Paxton, etc.

2000-15 First Round WARI went into this expecting to see the Giants at the top and the Yankees at the bottom, and hey, I was close. The Giants have hit first round home runs with Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster Posey, so I figured they would be at the top. They’re close though.

The Royals are at the top mostly thanks to Zack Greinke and Alex Gordon. The Phillies are second because of Cole Hamels and Chase Utley. I should note I’m giving teams credit for a player even if they traded him away as a prospect. The Braves get credit for Adam Wainwright, the Cubs get credit for Josh Donaldson, so on and so forth.

The Yankees aren’t dead last but they might as well be. The 5.9 WAR difference between the Yankees and Astros is nothing. This is across 15+ years, remember. Yes, the Yankees always pick late in the draft and that hurts, and yes, they did surrender a ton of draft picks to sign free agents, but still, this is really bad. The Yankees have not gotten much from their first round picks at all this century.

Mailbag: Tanaka, Warren, Cave, 80 Tools, Astros, Campos

We’ve got 14 questions and 13 answers in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the email address to use to send us questions throughout the week.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Brad asks (short version): Will the elbow injury stop Tanaka from opting out?

As long as Masahiro Tanaka is healthy and performs well, I fully expect him to opt-out after next season. He is almost two full years removed from the elbow injury now, and as we’ve seen this year, his performance hasn’t suffered much if at all. Tanaka is still pretty awesome. He’s among the league leaders in almost every significant pitching category.

These days $67M isn’t a whole lot of money. Guys like Mike Leake ($75M) and Ian Kennedy ($70M) signed for similar money this winter, albeit over five years rather than three. Jeff Samardzija was coming off a miserable 2015 season and he still landed five years and $90M. As long as the elbow doesn’t act up, I don’t think it will hurt Tanaka much in free agency. He might not get $22M a year, but clearing $67M guaranteed seems totally doable.

Dan asks: We constantly hear from RAB write ups and other spots about the 2014 international signing class “coming state side” what does that exactly mean? When the Yankees sign an international player they stay in their home country until a specific date, birthday, or visa process?

Rich asks: The top International signings by the Yankees in 2014 (Dermis Garcia, Nelson Gomez, etc) played a bit last year, but have yet to play in a game this season. Is there a reason that they haven’t played yet? Is it in part to them being so young? Thanks in advance. Just curious how the Yankees go about this with the kids that are still very young (like those listed above).

Going to lump these two together. Players who sign as international free agents each summer usually sign contracts that begin the following season, so guys like Garcia and Gomez signed 2015 contracts in July 2014. Because these kids are 16 years old, they usually spend a year or two in the Dominican Summer League before coming to the U.S. to continue their careers. Very few international signees come over to the U.S. right away. They’re simply not ready for baseball at that level yet.

As for Garcia and Gomez specifically, they started this season in Extended Spring Training in Tampa. ExST is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically a longer version of Spring Training. Once the various short season leagues begin in late-June, ExST ends and players head to the various affiliates (or get released). Lots of young prospects — not just international kids, but recent high school draftees too — start in ExST because teams can give them more personalized instruction. Simply put, the DSL and ExST are for players not yet ready for the day in, day out grind of full season baseball.

Warren. (Getty)
Warren. (Getty)

Several asks: What about getting Adam Warren in a trade?

Oddly enough, a few people sent in this question this week. They all came out of nowhere. Warren has not had a particularly good season (4.56 ERA and 5.23 FIP), and in fact the Cubs optioned him to Triple-A earlier this week. They’re going to stretch him out so he can make a spot start before the All-Star break. Chicago’s in the middle of a 24 games in 24 days stretch due to a makeup game.

Warren, now 28, was very good for the Yankees from 2013-15 and that heavily skews my opinion of him. I put more stock in his 287 innings from 2013-15 than his 25.2 innings in 2016. As long as Warren’s healthy — I suppose the poor performance this year could be the result of an underlying injury — I would definitely have interest in him in any trade with the Cubs. Not as the center piece for a guy like Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, but maybe as the second or third piece in a package. Warren is forever cool in my book.

Paul asks: How many 80 tools are on the Yankees? What about in the minors?

The only slam dunk, no doubt about it 80 tool on the Yankees right now is Chapman’s fastball. Miller’s slider is pretty damn close to an 80 if it isn’t one. Same with Dellin Betances‘ fastball and breaking ball. Tanaka’s splitter is the best individual pitch among the starters, but as good as it is, it’s not an 80 splitter. I guess Nathan Eovaldi has 80 velocity, but his fastball plays down overall because of a lack of command.

What’s the best tool among the position players? I’d say Didi Gregorius‘ and Aaron Hicks‘ throwing arms. They might be closer to 70s than 80s though. Peak Alex Rodriguez had 80 power, but peak A-Rod was a decade ago. Maybe you could argue Mark Teixeira is an 80 defender at first. As for the farm system, MLB.com gives only two 80s in their top 30 Yankees prospects list: Jorge Mateo‘s speed and Domingo Acevedo’s fastball. Not coincidentally, those are measurables. You can put a stopwatch on someone’s speed and a radar gun on his fastball. Putting an 80 on, say, command or power potential involves much more guesswork.

Jeff asks: With Jake Cave seemingly having a breakout year, is he a legit prospect and someone we should be excited about?

Oh sure, Cave is definitely a legitimate prospect. He’s always had tools, but now he’s hitting for more power than ever before, and he’s doing it at Triple-A too. The Reds opted not to keep him as a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring, which is their loss. Now the Yankees have to figure out what they’re going to do with Cave and all their other upper level lefty hitting outfielders, like Ben Gamel and Mason Williams and Dustin Fowler.

Fowler won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, but Cave will be again, and will the Yankees really carry him, Gamel, and Williams on the 40-man roster? Something has to give. My guess one of these guys gets traded away at some point, perhaps as soon as the deadline. Williams is hurt, so trading him probably won’t happen. I prefer Gamel to Cave but you could easily argue otherwise. Cave’s legit though. He’s just stuck in the middle of a lefty hitting outfield logjam.

Dan asks: Apologies if you’ve answered this before, but how long does Severino need to be in AAA for another year of control? If they’re going to be out of it and rebuild anyway, then doesn’t it make the most sense to keep him down until they get that extra year? Rather than have him up at MLB to try to grab an extra win or two.

Luis Severino came into the season with 61 days of service time, meaning he’ll need to be down in the minors for 73 days to delay his free agency another year. That’s 73 days on an optional assignment, not rehab. The Yankees activated and optioned Severino on May 30th, so he’s been down for 24 days already. Day 74 would be Friday, August 12th. The team insists Severino still has things to work on in the minors and I totally believe them. If it’s possible — meaning the rotation doesn’t get decimated by injuries or something like that — keeping Severino down until August 12th would be a smart move, especially if the Yankees continue slipping out of the playoff race. Gaining the extra year of control is a pretty big deal.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Joe asks: Given Didi’s solid offense production, do you think the yanks should trade him? And what kind of return package can they get?

No offense Joe, but your question made me laugh. “The Yankees have a solid young player, so should they trade him?” It’s funny how our first thought is to trade anyone of value. Gregorius is still pretty young (26) and he’s developing into an average-ish hitter while playing premium defense at short. That a nice player to have, no?

Anyway, the Yankees do have a ton of shortstop prospects in the minors, including one reasonably close to the big leagues in Tyler Wade. Trading Gregorius should not be off the table — as far as I’m concerned, no player in the organization should be untouchable — but I don’t think the Yankees should be out shopping him either. Listen to offers and see what comes along. Didi can be part of the solution.

What would I want in a trade? That’s tough. You’d be trading three and a half years of an above-average shortstop — average bat plus above-average glove equals above-average player — who’s shown he can power through some big time pressure. He did a nice job replacing Derek Jeter last year. My trade proposal sucks, but how about one top 100 prospect plus a secondary piece for Gregorius? The Padres stand out as a club in need of a long-term shortstop.

Anonymous asks: If the Yankees are to somehow become Buyers at the trade deadline, what do you see them adding, based on how the roster looks and performed as of now? Impact bat (Carlos Gonzalez?) A top reliever (Will Smith on the Brewers?) Maybe even another Starter (Julio Teheran?) Or possibly even all 3?!?!? (Just using those 3 as examples)

The Yankees need like three bats, two relievers, and one starter to be serious contenders in my opinion, and that’s just too much for one trade deadline. I’d say a bat and some middle relief help is the biggest need. Where could they put that bat? I guess right field or DH if they’re willing to move on from A-Rod (spoiler: they won’t), or maybe first base if Teixeira’s knee doesn’t cooperate.

David asks: Can you please explain how the red Sox have designated Castillo and Craig and were able to send them to aaa. While Reyes is going to be able to find another team.

This is something I learned over the offseason: when players with five or more years of service time are outrighted, they can elect free agency and keep their entire contract. The Rockies could have tried to outright Jose Reyes and send him to Triple-A, but he would have instead elected free agency, picked his new team, and keep collecting his contract. Neither Rusney Castillo nor Allen Craig (remember him?) have five years of service time, so the Red Sox were able to outright them to Triple-A and they had to accept the assignment. In fact, Craig has been outrighted twice, and although players can elect free agency starting with their second outright, Craig would have forfeited whatever was left on his contract because he has less than five years of service. They’re paying him $9M this season plus another $11M next season, so yeah, he wasn’t walking away from that.

Paul asks: In the past, pitchers became relievers when they failed as starters. These days, some pitchers are groomed as relievers from the minors. How does that end up? What are the chances there are quality starters sitting in the bullpens across the league?

I have no doubt there are quality big league starters wasting away in the bullpen around the league. Maybe wasting away isn’t the right way to put it, because quality relievers are valuable too. A lot of times guys will have instant success in the bullpen and they get stuck there forever. That’s what’s happening with Roberto Osuna, who has starter stuff, but is too valuable to the Blue Jays as their closer.

Looking around MLB, Sam Dyson seems like a reliever who might be able to start because he throws three pitches regularly (fastball, curveball, changeup) and has good control (5.6 BB%). Then again, there’s the question of how well his stuff will hold up over 180+ innings. Some guys are just better in the bullpen. Wade Davis is a perfect example. He was a mediocre starter and is now a dominant reliever. I’m sure there are some relievers out there who could be quality starters if giving the chance. Good luck figuring out who they are.

Jim asks: As of this email, CC’s FIP sits at 3.27 while his xFIP sits at 4.53. Can you explain the discrepancy and what we should expect moving forward?

Remember that home run CC Sabathia allowed to Nick Hundley the other day? That was only the third dinger Sabathia has given up this season. He owns a 0.39 HR/9 and 4.2 HR/FB% this year, which is insanely low. It was 1.51 HR/9 and 16.6 HR/FB% last year. Yes, the new cutter explains some of the improvement because Sabathia is better able to bust righties inside, but it doesn’t explain all of it.

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

FIP reflects Sabathia’s crazy low home run rate. His xFIP is higher because it normalizes the pitcher’s homer rate based on their fly ball rate. In English, that means xFIP takes the pitcher’s fly ball rate (36.0% in Sabathia’s case) and says this is how many homers he would have allowed with a league average HR/FB% (12.8%). FIP is telling us what Sabathia has actually done, and that’s allowed three homers. xFIP is telling us what Sabathia would have done with a league average homer rate given his fly ball tendencies.

I don’t love xFIP because pitchers do not have the same home run rate. We know that. Some are better at limiting the long ball than others, so why would we assume they’ll all give up homers at a league average rate going forward? At some point Sabathia is going to give up more homers. It’s inevitable given his home ballpark. So that shiny 3.27 FIP? I wouldn’t expect it to last all year. Sorry. I don’t think he’ll be as bad as his xFIP going forward though because the cutter explains his improvement against righties, who clobbered him last year.

Michael asks: How about the Astros as potential landing spot for Chapman or Miller? Back at .500, they have been running Luke Gregerson out there as closer until recently, now using Will Harris. Ken Giles has been a bust so far.

I wouldn’t count on the Astros trading a big package for a reliever again after the Giles trade, especially so soon. He’s been better of late, but still, that first month was ugly. Also, the Astros have a pretty good bullpen. They’re sixth in bullpen ERA (3.22) and first in bullpen FIP (3.08) among the 30 teams. There’s always room for a guy like Chapman or Miller though. I just wouldn’t expect Houston to big for another reliever via trade so soon after the Giles deal.

Kyle asks: What do you think the Yankees will do with Vicente Campos? If I’m not mistaken he is out of options next year so it’s big leagues or bust. Will they keep him a starter this year to rack up innings and put him in the big league bullpen next year like the O’s did with Bundy, or will they promote him to AAA this year and put him in the pen to see how he does? He seems too good to lose for nothing. Thanks! Love the site.

I was under the impression this is Campos’ final option year too, but it looks like that’s not the case. Here is the quick timeline:

  • November 2013: Added to 40-man roster for the first time.
  • 2014 Season: Spent in minors, burns first option.
  • December 2014: Non-tendered, re-signed to minor league deal.
  • 2015 Season: Spent rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and in the minors. He wasn’t on the 40-man roster, so he didn’t burn an option.
  • November 2015: Re-added to 40-man roster.
  • 2016 Season: Spent in minors, burns second option.

Unless I’m missing something, Campos has one final minor league option remaining for next season. That’s good news, because I’m not entirely sure he would be ready to stick in the big leagues come next April.

Campos, who will turn 24 next month, just got to Double-A for the first time. I imagine he’ll spent the rest of the season there — the Yankees might give him a September call-up if he pitches well the rest of the way — and then open next season in Triple-A Scranton. Once you’re in Triple-A, you’re a big league option. Campos could end up spending next year going up and down before sticking for good in 2018.

Now, if I did miss something and Campos will indeed be out of options next year, then the Yankees would have no choice but to stick him in a long relief role and bring him along slowly. I can’t imagine Campos will be ready to assume an MLB rotation spot next April. I’m not even sure he’s a starter long-term. He maybe wind up a bullpen arm. It looks like he has an option left though. That’s good.