Mailbag: Judge, Bird, Sands, Nats, Vargas, Pirates, Severino

Got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions through the week.

The Judge. (Presswire)
The Judge. (Presswire)

Dan asks: Aaron Judge‘s power tool was never higher than 60 on Do you think its that low? Also, do you think that with Judges Drago-esque strength, that as long as he maintains average contact rates, that he can hit 25 to 30 plus home runs?

I’ll answer the second question first: yes, definitely. Judge is more than capable of hitting 25+ or even 30+ home runs at his peak. That’s what he was projected to do as a prospect and we’re seeing him on that pace now. As for the first question, raw power and game power are different things, and I believe ranks game power. Judge’s raw power, which is simply the ability to hit the ball hard and far, is clearly an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Anyone who can hit the ball on top of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field in batting practice on the regular has 80 raw power.

Game power is different. Someone like, say, Hunter Renfroe may have 70 raw power, but because he struggles to make contact and isn’t very disciplined at the plate, it plays more like 50 power. That’s game power. The ability to use that raw power in games. When he was coming up, putting a 60 on Judge’s game power seemed reasonable to me. He is so huge and there were legitimate questions about his ability to control the strike zone against MLB caliber pitching. 80 game power is rare, but I’m sure you could find some scouts willing to drop a 70 game power on Judge right now.

Joe asks: Is Starlin Castro walking at a higher rate than usual? What was his walk total through this point in the season in years past? Could be a maturing approach?

Eh, yes and no. Castro drew two walks in the first 13 games of the season, then drew three in the next four, so I think there might be some recency bias at play here. Going into last night’s game Castro had a 6.3% walk rate, which is below the 8.7% league average and up from his 3.9% walk rate last year. His swing rate on pitches out of the zone sits at 37.1%, which is basically identical to last year (37.5%). Starlin’s career walk rate is 4.8% and my guess is when the season ends, he’ll be somewhere in that neighborhood again.

Dylan asks: Can Carter be optioned to AAA? Would that make sense? If they did that who would they call up — Refsnyder? Is there precedent for a FA signing (that got some real money like Carter) being sent down?

Chris Carter is out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without first passing through waivers. More importantly, he now has five full years of service time, allowing him to refuse any assignment to the minor leagues. So the answer is: no, Carter can’t be sent down. He’d refuse the assignment. I’m not sure who the Yankees would call up anyway. Rob Refsnyder is the only real alternative and the only thing he offers over Carter is versatility. Meh.

There is no real precedent for sending a free agent signing to the minors because of that five-year rule. They all refuse the assignment because the minors stink. A few years ago the Yankees asked Jason Giambi to go to Triple-A for a bit when he was struggling, but he declined. We’ve seen plenty of veteran players come from overseas and get sent to the minors (Kei Igawa, Yasiel Puig, Rusney Castillo, Byung-Ho Park, etc.), but not many true MLB free agents. By time they hit free agency, they have enough service time to refuse a Triple-A stint regardless of their options status.

Richard asks (short version): Now that CC is successfully reinventing himself by adding an effective cutter, I was thinking, why didn’t he do this when he still had his dominant velocity? Why don’t pitchers in general SERIOUSLY consider adding or refining another pitch while they’re young?

Adding a pitch is hard! And if you’re peak CC Sabathia, a perennial Cy Young contender and 200+ inning workhorse dominating hitters with a fastball/slider/changeup mix, why risk getting beat on some crummy fourth pitch you’re tinkering with on the side? Pitchers mess around with grips and different pitches all the time. In Spring Training, when they throw on the side during the season, whenever. They don’t take those pitches into games because they aren’t comfortable throwing them in a competitive environment. Sabathia added the cutter once it became clear what he was doing before wasn’t going to work, and that’s a credit to him, because many pitchers later in their career can’t add another pitch and find success.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Dan asks: If Bird continues to struggle, and Tyler Austin is healthy, at what point do the Yankees option Bird and give Austin a shot?

We haven’t gotten an update on Austin in a month now, which doesn’t necessarily means his rehab has been slowed. It just means we haven’t heard anything. (The Yankees are fairly tight-lipped with injuries.) Based on the timetable provided at the time of his injury, Austin should start doing baseball related stuff fairly soon, if he hasn’t already. Then he has to go through minor league rehab games and all that. And because he got hurt so early in camp, Austin basically has to go through Spring Training. Point is, he’s not particularly close to returning.

Since Austin is at least a few weeks away, Greg Bird doesn’t have to worry about him coming to take his job yet. If Bird is still struggling when Austin is healthy, yes, the Yankees will have to consider making a change at first base. At that point we’ll be in May and Bird will be over 100 plate appearances. If he’s still not hitting then, that’s a real problem and the Yankees will have to consider alternatives, including Austin. Let’s see where Bird is once Austin is actually healthy and on the field with a few minor league games under his belt.

Brent asks: Donny Sands, is he a failed third basemen converted catcher or because we have a surplus of infielders they tried to add depth in other areas? Also, he seems to have struggled a bit with PB and people running all over him, not knocking him for it it’s a tough transition and hasn’t been too bad considering. How long is his leash as a catcher before they move him back to third or another position?

Failed third basemen don’t go behind the plate. They go to first base or maybe the corner outfield. The Yankees put Sands behind the plate because they feel he has the tools and aptitude to handle the position, and that’s where he would be most valuable to them long-term. They made the decision to put Sands behind the plate a while ago, possibly before they even drafted him (eighth round in 2015). It didn’t have anything to do with the infield depth. Catchers are harder to find than infielders, so if you have a kid who looks like he can catch long-term, give it a try. Sands has only been catching full-time since the 2015-16 offseason, so the passed ball issues and all that are due to a lack of experience. Not everyone takes to the position as quickly as Luis Torrens, a converted infielder who looked like he’d been catching his entire life as soon as he got back there.

Jackson asks: Even if the Yankees are contention at the trade deadline, with Washington’s problems in the bullpen, could you see NY trading Betances and/or Clippard for close-to-majors starting pitching in anticipation of next year? If the market for relievers is as tight as last year they could get multiple solid prospects.

I don’t think the market for relievers will be as robust as last year. Last year feels like a bit of an anomaly. If the Yankees do sell at the trade deadline — I think that’s a huge “if” — Dellin Betances would be their top trade chip. Betances or Masahiro Tanaka. Tyler Clippard? Eh. The Yankees got him for a Grade-C prospect last year and I see no reason to expect more at the deadline. He’s getting more home run prone with each passing year and getting outs isn’t quite as easy as it once was for him. I don’t think his trade value is all that high.

My guess is the Nationals end up acquiring David Robertson in a salary dump at some point. It makes too much sense. There’s an obvious need and the White Sox are already familiar with Washington’s farm system after the Adam Eaton trade and Chris Sale trade talks, so things could come together quickly. If the Yankees and Nationals do discuss Betances, I assume the Yankees will again focus on acquiring the best possible talent, not filling specific positions. If that leads them to close to MLB ready pitching, so be it.

P.J. asks: If the Royals become sellers and the Yankees buyers at the trade deadline what do you think of the Yankees going after Lefty SP Jason Vargas as a rental?

Vargas missed most of 2015 and 2016 with Tommy John surgery, and through four starts this season, he has a 1.40 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 28.9% strikeouts and 2.1% walks in 25.2 innings. He’s been phenomenal. We also have about 1,200 innings telling us Vargas is not actually this good, so a crash back to Earth figures to be coming. Vargas had a 3.85 ERA (4.24 FIP) in 554.1 innings from 2012-15, so he was solid for a few years before the elbow gave out. General rule of thumb: don’t pay for outlier performance at the deadline.

The Royals are terrible — they recently scored no more than two runs in eight straight games — and they have a lot of core players set to become free agents after the season, including Vargas. If they’re out of the race in July, GM Dayton Moore will have no choice but to consider selling. A healthy and effective Vargas would be a decent trade chip. Thing is, I don’t think the Yankees will trade prospects for a rental. I mentioned this last week when someone asked about Lance Lynn. Unless Vargas or another rental starter comes really cheap, I think the Yankees will focus their efforts (and prospects) on acquiring a pitcher they can control long-term.

Vargas. (Presswire)
Vargas. (Presswire)

Jake asks: With the Pirates reportedly looking for outfield help, what would they need to offer the Yankees for Brett Gardner for Cashman to take them seriously?

Not happening. I get why this question was asked, but Brett Gardner isn’t a fit for the Pirates. They’re a small payroll team and they’re not going to take on a $12M a year outfielder. And, even if the Yankees agree to eat money to facilitate a trade, it’ll mean they’d want a qualify prospect in return. The Pirates aren’t giving up a prospect for a 33-year-old outfielder when they have Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco locked up long-term, and Austin Meadows sitting in Triple-A. Pittsburgh is trying to trade a veteran outfielder (Andrew McCutchen). Not bring another one in. The best trade partner for Gardner still appears to be the Giants.

David asks: If you could only keep 1, would it be Gleyber or Didi? I bet this is harder to answer than you anticipate.

It is a difficult question. Gleyber Torres is a top notch prospect and a potential superstar. Didi Gregorius is an above-average Major League shortstop, in my opinion. Do you take the new big screen television, or what’s in the mystery box? Could be a trip to Hawaii, could be a sack of potatoes. It’s the known quantity vs. upside potential. In these situations I almost always take the proven big leaguer. In this case, I’ll take Torres, because I do believe he’s a budding star who will one day be the centerpiece of the next great Yankees team. I don’t think this is an obvious choice at all though. Gregorius is a really good player and Gleyber is a 20-year-old with a handful of games above High-A. You could easily argue Didi is the right pick. I’d roll the dice with Torres. Go big or go home.

Eddie asks: I’m not saying he’ll achieve it, but what type of progression do we need to see from Sevy to have him be considered the team’s Ace next year? Also, does Tanaka have to be gone?

Don’t worry too much about the ace label and who is the No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Just get as many quality pitchers as possible. Does Luis Severino have the potential to be an ace? It sure looks like it based on his start to the season, though it is only four starts, remember. Let’s see what happens once the innings pile up and the league gets another look at him. It’s impossible not be excited by what he’s done so far.

I don’t expect the Yankees to spend big on a free agent pitcher this offseason because of the luxury tax situation — I think it’s less than 50/50 they re-sign Tanaka if he opts out — and if that is the case, Severino almost becomes the staff ace by default. That doesn’t automatically make him an ace caliber pitcher. When I think of an ace, I think of a top 15-20-ish pitcher in baseball. A guy who pitches deep into games consistently, dominates on his best days, and keeps his team in the game on his worst days. I’m excited with what I’ve seen from Severino so far. I still think we’re a long way from considering him an ace though.

Anonymous asks: Which team would win more games (assuming identical league average pitching): 9 peak Ozzie Smiths or 9 peak Jason Giambis.

Fun question! My initial reaction is the Ozzies would be better because, at his peak, Smith was a league average-ish hitter. Giambi at his peak was never close to an average defender. The Ozzies are full of better athletes and would save a ton of runs in the field. Opposing teams might have like a .450 BABIP against the Giambis because they’d be so immobile in the field. Here is each player’s best seven-year stretch:

  • Ozzie Smith (1985-91): .278/.360/.350 (99 OPS+) and +40.8 WAR (6.2 WAR per 162 games)
  • Jason Giambi (1999-2005): .298/.436/.571 (164 OPS+) and +39.2 WAR (6.4 WAR per 162 games)

Close! At least in terms of bWAR per 162 games. That said, Giambi may have been a +6 WAR player at his peak at first base, but put him at shortstop and he might be a +3 WAR player because his defense would be so bad. Maybe even +2 WAR. Ozzie’s bat would be light at the corner spots, though I think he’d handle it better defensively. I think the Ozzies (average offense, average pitching, elite defense) would win more games than the Giambis (elite offense, average pitching, miserable defense).

Mailbag: Buxton, Severino, Chapman, Giants, Lynn, Warren

There are 14 questions in this edition of the mailbag. It’s a long one. Either that or I’m typing slower these days, because this one took forever to put together. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is our email address.

More like Buston amirite?
More like Buston amirite? (Getty)

John asks: The Yankees have a few buy-low trade guys on their roster, what about Byron Buxton if he continues to struggle?

The Yankees do need to figure out the long-term center field situation at some point, and Buxton is a top of the line defensive center field, but my goodness, the kid just can’t hit. He’s hitting .082/.135/.122 (-35 wRC+) with a 46.2% strikeout rate in 52 plate appearances this year. That’s after hitting .225/.284/.430 (86 wRC+) with a 35.6% strikeout rate last year, and he needed an insane September (.287/.357/.653, 165 wRC+) to get his numbers there.

At the same time, Buxton turned only 23 in December, and the guy is an incredible athlete and a former tippy top prospect. The raw talent is there. Buxton seems to be struggling more with his approach than with a lack of ability. Here are all the fastballs Buxton has let go for called strikes this year, via Baseball Savant:

byron-buxton-fastballsMaybe swing at a couple of those? When you’re struggling to make contact and letting hittable fastballs go by for called strikes, that’s a problem. Perhaps Buxton is a Carlos Gomez type. That insane athlete with a ton of baseball talent who needs 2,000 or so big league plate appearances to figure it out. That’s kinda what the Twins have to hope, right? (To be fair, Buxton has just over 500 plate appearances in MLB.)

I am always open to buying low on talented young players. The questions with Buxton are: One, is he fixable? Two, are the Twins really going to sell low? Three, where does he fit? The Yankees have a full big league outfield right now with two very good outfield prospects in Triple-A (Clint Frazier, Dustin Fowler). And four, what does it cost? I’d never close the door on acquiring a player as talented at Buxton. It just seems like there are some issues to work through first.

Alex asks: Is Kaprielian even a prospect anymore? When/if he comes back in 2019, he’ll be 25 years old, presumably in single A, with fewer than 50 innings pitched over the previous 3 years, and already eligible for the Rule 5 draft. What are the odds he ever makes the majors?

Of course he’s still a prospect. James Kaprielian will be 24 when he gets back into games next season, and besides, they don’t check IDs on the mound. If you can pitch and get outs, they don’t care if you’re 22 or 32 or 42. Jacob deGrom made his MLB debut a month before his 26th birthday. Tanner Roark was two months shy of his 27th birthday. Steven Matz was a first round pick in 2009 and he didn’t throw his first professional pitch until 2012 because he got hurt so much, yet he was a top 100 prospect prior to both 2015 and 2016. Kyle Zimmer throws like ten innings a season and he’s still on top 100 lists every year.

Kaprielian needing Tommy John surgery sucks. It really does, especially since he missed most of the 2016 season as well. By time he gets back into games next year, he’ll have thrown 45 total innings from Opening Day 2016 through midseason 2018. That’s a lot of lost development time he won’t get back. As long as Kaprielian comes back strong and doesn’t lose too much stuff, he’ll still have the potential to help the Yankees at the MLB level, and that makes him a prospect. I’m not saying his prospect stock hasn’t taken a hit, because it clearly has. It’s still way too early to write Kaprielian off though. Let’s see what he looks like post-surgery first.

Frank asks: Keith Law seemed a little down on Luis Severino over the years stating that his short stride would be a hindrance to his pitching acumen. I know there is a stat that shows perceived velocity (by the batter) as opposed to actual velocity. Is Severino’s stride affecting that perceived velocity?

I’m not sure Law’s issue with Severino’s legs was his stride length. I think he was concerned Severino doesn’t use his legs enough in his delivery, putting a lot of stress on his arm. Masahiro Tanaka really gets down and uses his legs in his delivery. So does Dellin Betances. Severino doesn’t drive as much and that means a lot of his velocity comes from his arm. That doesn’t guarantee he’ll get hurt, but it’s not ideal. You’d like him to use his legs a little more.

Anyway, yes, we have stats on actual velocity and perceived velocity. Perceived velocity is how fast the pitch looks to the hitter when taking into account where the pitcher releases the ball. The closer he releases the ball to the plate, the faster it looks. Here are Severino’s numbers in his career so far, via Baseball Savant.

IP Actual FB velo Perceived FB velo Difference
2015 62.1 95.3 95.1 -0.2
2016 71 96.6 96.0 -0.6
2017 20 96.6 96.1 -0.5

Severino is listed at 6-foot-0, so he’s not a big guy by pitcher standards. Because his stride is relatively short, his fastball is playing about a half a mile an hour slower than what the radar gun tells you, which is not a big difference but is a difference nonetheless. Fortunately Severino has velocity to spare. It would be cool to see him use his lower half a little more, but I’m not sure how possible that is at this point. That seems like a pretty big mechanical change.

Antony asks: What are your thoughts on velocity separation on pitches? I was watching Luis Severino’s 2014 appearance during the 2014 Future Games and his slider was around 83-84 MPH while his fastball was sitting around 95+. His slider during his big league career seems to be significantly faster (88 mph+). Which would you prefer? I faster slider or slower slider? I can see an argument for both sides. A faster slider means less time to react, but a slower slider with the same arm slot would mean a bigger separation from the faster slider.

There’s no right answer here. It works differently for every pitcher. Severino is without question throwing his secondary stuff harder now than he did a few years ago, when he was more low-80s with the slider and changeup. Now they’re closer to 90 mph. Here is that Futures Game performance Antony mentioned:

Looks like a totally different guy, huh? The slider is more sweepy than it is now. For Severino, I think the harder slider may work best. His slider has pretty sharp break when thrown properly, and he still has close to a 10 mph separation between the two pitches. (Trackman has his average fastball at 96.8 mph and average slider at 87.2 mph in the super early going.)

For a guy like CC Sabathia, who needs to finesse hitters and show them a wider range of velocities to keep them off balance, separation between pitches is more important. For Severino, who is throwing so hard and has such lively stuff, he can survive with a smaller velocity separation. It would be cool if he threw a 96 mph fastball and a 76 mph slider that looks like a fastball out of his hand, but that’s not really possible.

Mike asks (short version): If my understanding is correct, the Yankees will need to add Kaprielian to the 40-man roster following next season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Could you possibly see MLB changing the Rule 5 draft rules in the future to grant an extra year before protection for pitchers that undergo Tommy John (or any other injuries that cause significant time to be missed)?

Kaprielian will be Rule 5 Draft eligible following next season, so a few months after he comes back from elbow reconstruction. The Yankees won’t have much time to evaluate him before deciding whether to put him on the 40-man roster. My guess right now, 20 months before this decision has to be made, is yes, the Yankees will add Kaprielian to the 40-man despite all the missed time. He’s very talented and you’d hate to lose him to some rebuilding team willing to stash him in their bullpen all summer.

As for the rule change, it’s an interesting idea that I think would be beneficial for both players and MLB long-term. At the same time, the Rule 5 Draft exists as a way to get players to the big leagues as quickly as possible, and I don’t think MLBPA will agree to push back eligibility for a year, even for injured players. They actually pushed eligibility back one year in 2007. Under the old rules, Kaprielian would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after this season. That extra year took a lot of the fun out of the Rule 5 Draft. Teams had one fewer year to evaluate players, which meant some more exciting prospects for available. I think giving injured players that extra year would be a good idea. I just don’t see MLBPA agreeing to it.

Anonymous asks: If Michael Pineda continues to pitch the way he has in his past two starts, is a candidate for the QO?

Yes, definitely, if he keeps this up, which is a massive “if.” I’m hopeful Pineda is starting to figure some things out and will become a consistently reliable starting pitcher. I need to see much more than two starts to really buy in though. Pineda hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. The next blowup is still possibly only five days away.

Keep in mind the qualifying offer will be north of $18M this offseason, and because the Yankees will pay luxury tax this season, they can only a receive a compensation draft pick after the fourth round. They’d have to be very comfortable risking the $18M for that dinky draft pick. In the grand scheme of things, an expensive one-year deal for Pineda wouldn’t be bad at all. But the luxury tax is a factor here. Let’s revisit this in a few months and see where Pineda and the Yankees are at.

Dan asks: Since Chapman has a third pitch, a changeup, are you or were you ever of the opinion that he should be a starter?

I thought Aroldis Chapman should have been a starter way back when the Reds first signed him in January 2010. That ship sailed a long time ago though. Chapman was a starter in Cuba and he did start during the 2009 World Baseball Classic, which is when he really jumped into the limelight. This lanky 21-year-old left-hander showed up to the WBC throwing an effortless 95-98 mph and people went nuts.

Chapman started his career with the Reds as a starter in the minors, but he had some serious control problems (40 walks in 65.2 innings in 2010) so they stuck him in the bullpen to simplify things. The next year, 2011, Chapman came down with a shoulder issue after Cincinnati tried him again as a starter, and that was that. He hasn’t started a game since.

One of the great what ifs in recent baseball history is Chapman as a starter. Would he throw 105 mph as a starter? No, probably not. But could he sit 98-100 mph from the left side? Maybe! Chapman has had issues throwing strikes (12.3 BB% from 2011-15) which probably doesn’t bode well for his chances to succeed in the rotation. At the same time, who knows? Maybe it clicks one day like it did with Randy Johnson. I get why the Reds put Chapman in the bullpen at the time. I can’t help but wonder what he would be doing as a starter though.

Adam asks: Hey Mike. I live in SF and hate the Giants and their fans. However, we match up perfectly with them and their lack of OF options. What are some trade possibilities for the two teams? Gardner, Hicks and even Frazier.

So far this season Giants left fielders are hitting .115/.184/.202 (8 wRC+) with -1.0 fWAR. Woof. They were planning on a Mac Williamson/Jarrett Parker platoon, and now both are hurt. They’ve been playing Aaron Hill — former second baseman Aaron Hill! –and journeyman Chris Marrero in left field lately. The Giants recently signed Melvin Upton too. Brutal, brutal production from a corner position.

The Yankees have plenty of outfielders to offer the Giants. Want a proven veteran who will save a lot of runs in spacious AT&T Park? There’s Brett Gardner. Want to roll the dice on a talented switch-hitter? There’s Aaron Hicks. Would you rather go young and look to build for the future? Clint Frazier and Fowler are there. Reclamation project? Take a chance on Mason Williams. The Yankees match up well as trade partners for the Giants. Is the opposite true?

San Francisco’s farm system isn’t great and I imagine they’ll keep top prospects Tyler Beede, Bryan Reynolds, and Christian Arroyo. Those guys are probably off-limits. Here is’s top 30 Giants prospects list. Joan Gregorio, their No. 8 prospect, has Yankees written all over him, no? A 6-foot-7 righty with good velocity and a promising slider? Yeah. Righty Chris Stratton is a busted former first rounder. A Stratton-for-Williams change of scenery trade would be interesting.

Michael asks: How does the fan interference rule work re: umpire discretion? We saw Judge awarded a triple, but could someone like Jorge Mateo hypothetically have been awarded an inside-the-park home run?

Aaron Judge has five home runs and one triple that went over the fence this year, so it’s really six homers. Here’s that over-the-fence triple from Sunday night:

On that particular play, it was up to the field umpires to place Judge at a base. They called it fan interference, and because the replay crew at MLB’s office didn’t see enough evidence to overturn the call, they had no say in placing the runner. The field umpires determined Judge would have reached third base on the play. Props to him for hustling. And yes, they could have awarded a faster runner an inside-the-park homer if they felt he was going to make it without the fan interference, but I wouldn’t count on that ever happening.

It’s not often you see players awarded a triple on plays like this. The umpires usually put the player at second base and that’s that. Umps can also award home plate if the runner leaves first base on a ground rule double, but they never ever ever do. I hate that so much. Especially with two outs and the runner going on contact. How many times do we see the ball hop over the fence when the runner is already at third? It seems like these guys make the same calls over and over to avoid being second guessed. At least they gave Judge a triple Sunday. I can’t imagine he’ll get too many of those.

Rich asks: I’m a little concerned about Clippard’s workload to start the season. It seems as though he has pitched in all but three or four games with many high stress innings. What’s Clippard’s workload going to end up looking like this year and is there any concern about over using him so early into the season?

This question was sent in a few days ago. Clippard pitched seven times in the first eleven games of the season — add in off-days and he pitched seven times in the first 15 days of the season — but he had this week off. He didn’t pitch once against the White Sox. Clippard’s last appearance was that cardiac save against the Cardinals last Saturday. So it’s been a while since he’s gotten into a game. He might pitch tonight just to get work.

Clippard has always been a workhorse. He averaged 77.4 innings a year from 2010-15 before throwing only 63 last year, which is basically a normal reliever’s workload. Clippard threw 527.1 innings from 2010-16, easily the most among all relievers. Brad Ziegler was a distant second with 463. I think his early season workload was an anomaly. The Yankees played a bunch of close games in a short period of time. That’s all. Joe Girardi is really good about resting his relievers and I’m sure he’ll be careful with Clippard, even though he’ll be a free agent after the season and the Yankees have no long-term attachment to him. They still want him fresh and productive in August and September.

Steve asks: If lets say everything continues as is and the Yankees are buyers and Cardinals have a down season, what do you think of Lance Lynn as a short term pickup options. By the summer should be far away from the TJ surgery to be fully effective again hopefully. Also, wouldn’t cost anything too exorbitant and free agent at the end of the year so no long term money tied up.

Interesting target! Lynn will turn 30 next month and he’s going to be a free agent after the season, so he’s a pure rental. So far this season he has a 3.12 ERA (5.04 FIP) in 17.1 innings and three starts. He missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery, so he’s shaking some rust off right now. From 2012-15, his four full seasons as a starter, Lynn had a 3.38 ERA (3.39 FIP) and averaged 189 innings per season. His ground ball (43.3%) and walk (8.7%) rates weren’t great though. (He had a 22.6% strikeout rate.)

The most important thing right now is that Lynn’s stuff has returned following Tommy John surgery. His fastball is still in the low-to-mid-90s and his slider has its usual bite. Here’s video of his last outing:

The Cardinals looked pretty bad when we saw them last weekend, and if they’re out of the race at the trade deadline, it would make sense to at least listen to offers for Lynn given his impending free agency. Two years ago the Giants traded a borderline top 100 prospect (Keury Mella) and fringe big league player (Adam Duvall) to acquire rental Mike Leake. (Duvall went up and down a few years before breaking out as a 33-homer guy in 2016.) Is that a reasonable trade benchmark for Lynn?

If so, would the Yankees equivalent be … Fowler and Rob Refsnyder? Or Chance Adams and Tyler Austin? If that’s the cost, I’m guessing the Yankees will pass. They seem dedicated to the youth movement, and while I can’t imagine someone like Refsnyder or Austin standing in the way of a trade, dealing Fowler or Adams for a rental ain’t happening. If the Yankees do make a trade for a starter this year, I suspect it’ll be for someone they can control behind this season.

Simon asks: Who has been the better versatile pitcher type for the Yankees? Adam Warren or Ramiro Mendoza?

Warren is sort of the modern day Mendoza, though Mendoza was more of a true swingman. He averaged eleven starts a season from 1996-2000. Warren has made 20 starts total in parts of six seasons with the Yankees. Let’s compare the numbers quick. (These cover Mendoza’s first stint in pinstripes only, not his ill-fated 2005 return.)

Mendoza 277 57 698.2 4.08 112 3.97 +11.5
Warren 181 20 328.2 3.31 122 3.68 +4.9

Warren was better on a rate basis in terms of ERA and FIP — ERA+ adjusts for the state of the league (Mendoza pitched in a much more offensive era) and Warren still has him beat — but Mendoza endured much heavier workloads. Warren has thrown 80+ innings in a season only once as a big leaguer (131.1 in 2015). Mendoza averaged 110.8 innings per year from 1997-2001. Also, Mendoza has four World Series rings, though championships are a team accomplishment, not an individual accomplishment. Warren would have four rings with those 1996-2000 rosters too.

Because he threw so many more innings and was more of a true swingman, I’ll say Mendoza was the better Swiss Army Reliever for the Yankees. Warren’s really good though! He’s reliable, he bounces back well after throwing back-to-back days or multiple innings or whatever, and Girardi can use him in any role. Warren is one of those guys who should always be a Yankees. He just fits.

Jim asks: Was just curious what the innings limit on Jordan Montgomery for this season? Will that mean a move to the bullpen later in the season?

The Yankees seem to be pretty flexible with their innings limits. They play it by ear more than set the limit at, say, 30 innings more than last season. Severino went from 113 innings in 2014 to 161.2 innings in 2015, and hey, maybe that’s why he struggled in 2016. It was too much of an increase. Anyway, here are Montgomery’s innings totals:

2013: 79 (college)
2014: 119 (college and pro ball)
2015: 134.1 (minors)
2016: 152 (minors)

That’s a very nice, steady progression. It’s not unrealistic to think the Yankees could pencil Montgomery in for 180 or so innings this year. MLB innings are more intense than minor league innings, so they’ll keep an eye on him, but yeah, his innings are built up well. I don’t think we’ll see Montgomery move to the bullpen later in the season. Not for workload related reasons, anyway.

Don asks: My request is simple, yet honest: Please consider doing a post on the history of RAB. While I know the site was founded by you, Ben and Joe, my understanding is limited beyond that. Is this something you’d consider? Regardless of your decision, this is a great opportunity for me to just say thanks for the years of amazing content. Selfishly, I hope you guys do this for another ten years.

The history of RAB probably isn’t interesting enough for a full post. Ben, Joe, and I were all blogging about the Yankees in separate places back in 2006 and early 2007. Here’s my old site. Here’s Joe’s. They’re so bad I’m embarrassed to link to them, but whatever. I was finishing up school at the time and was basically counting down the days until graduation, so I decided to start writing about the Yankees as a hobby. Nothing more.

I believe it was Ben who first had the idea to combine forces, so to speak. Instead of writing about the Yankees separately, why not do it together at one spot? I was the third wheel. Ben and Joe decided to start RAB — which was still nameless at the time — then asked me to come along for the ride. It took us a few months to find our bearings and figure out the best way to move forward. A set schedule was better than posting at random times each day. Game threads turned out to be pretty cool too. We didn’t have those once upon a time.

The three of us came into this with small readership bases (and I do mean small) already established, so we had an audience right away. Back at my old site I’d get about 15 hits a day. Not 15,000. 15. I’d say the 2008 season is when RAB really took off. The beat writers covering the team at the time (Pete Abraham, Mark Feinsand, etc.) were very kind to us and promoted our work. Then, during the 2008-09 offseason when the Yankees started signing every free agent, RAB really hit its stride. People wanted to read about the Yankees and there we were.

The rest is basically history. Ben, Joe, and I went into this as college kids and now we’re all in our 30s and responsible adults. We’ve had many others contribute to the site along the way and we also brought Jay aboard to help with the technical stuff, which is so far over my head it’s not even funny. None of us ever thought RAB would grow into what it is. I think we all kinda figured it would be a funny hobby for a little while until we found better things to do.

Mailbag: Pitcher Trade Targets, Otani, Pineda, YES, Barbato

I’ve got eleven questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us questions, comments, links, or whatever else throughout the week.

Grendall Kaveman. (Jason O. Watson/Getty)
Grendall Kaveman. (Jason O. Watson/Getty)

Daniel asks: If the Yankees manage to contend this season, and they are in the market for a young, controllable starting pitcher, who do you think would be a realistic trade target other than the often-mentioned Quintana?

This question comes up every few months and it’s always worth revisiting because the Yankees will never not need pitching. And with next year’s rotation so up in the air, I’m sure we’re going to talk plenty about potential pitching targets in the coming weeks and months. Here are three non-Quintana possible pitcher trade candidates.

LHP Brandon Finnegan, Reds: He probably walks too many guys for the Yankees liking (11.4 BB% in 2016), but a four-pitch lefty who has shown signs of missing bats and getting grounders is always someone worth looking at. Finnegan turned 24 today — he’s three and a half months younger than Jordan Montgomery — and he won’t be a free agent until after 2021. The big question is whether the Reds consider him a long-term building block, or someone expendable as part of the rebuild.

RHP Kendall Graveman, Athletics: Graveman was part of the Josh Donaldson trade and he’s emerged as a solid starter while throwing basically the same pitch in the same spot over and over. If you’re going to throw only one pitch as a starter, sinkers at a knees is the way to go. Graveman is 26 and he won’t be a free agent until after 2020, but the A’s have a history of trading their best players once they start to get expensive through arbitration, and Graveman will be arbitration-eligible for the first time after the season.

RHP Vince Velasquez, Phillies: Supposedly the 24-year-old Velasquez has fallen out of favor with the front office a little bit, and his name popped up in trade rumors over the winter, so I guess he could be available. He throws hard and misses bats (27.6 K% in 2017) and the Yankees love that, but a lack of grounders (34.8 GB% in 2016) and an ugly injury history — Velasquez had biceps and shoulder woes last year, plus other arm issues in the minors — are red flags. Velasquez is under team control through 2021.

The Rockies seem to have more young starters than rotation spots, though they need as much pitching as they can get in Coors Field, so I bet they’ll hang onto it all. As always, pitchers on rebuilding clubs like the Brewers (Jimmy Nelson?) and Padres (uh, nevermind) can’t be ruled out either. Who knows who will be made available down the line? The Yankees love their prospects, though I expect them to cast a wide net for pitching. They’ll check in on anyone and everyone.

Eric asks: Hi – isn’t the debate over whether NYC is a Yankee or Mets town tiresome? I think both teams have a solid base and the floating fans go where there is more excitement at the moment.

Yes. It seems to be driven entirely by the media and Mets fans, specifically the 7 Line Army. Whatever floats their boat, I guess. The Mets are finally good again and the Yankees have hit a lull, so if there was ever a time to argue New York is a Mets town, this is it. At the end of the day, the Yankees are the most recognizable brand in sports, and it’ll be basically impossible for the Mets to match their popularity, either now or in the future.

David asks (short version): Like you, I find it hard to believe Otani will come to MLB this offseason and forego tens of millions of dollars. But let’s assume he does, can you speculate on how it plays out? I would think there’s no official announcement until the NPB season is over; will MLB teams trust back-channel info and sit out the Intl signing season to save pool dollars?

With Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish, we were left wondering whether they’d be posted right up until they were actually posted. We only saw rumors they could come over, nothing definitive. There was plenty of “their team might wait because they don’t think they’ll get enough money now” talk going around. Things might be different with Shohei Otani given the international hard cap, and teams kinda have to hope it is. They’ll need advance notice so they can plan their July 2nd activity. Otherwise they basically have to guess.

Because the hard cap makes this a level playing field financially — teams still have to pay the $20M release fee, and every single one of them can afford it, don’t believe otherwise — this becomes more of an old fashioned sell job. You’ll have to sell Otani on the team and the ability the win, the ballpark, the city, the fans, the whole nine. (And promise to let him hit?) My guess right now is Otani will not come over this offseason and will instead announce he is coming over next year. That gives MLB teams a chance to plan ahead, and it’ll also put the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Astros, Nationals, and others back in the mix. (Those teams are limited to $300,000 bonuses this year due to prior spending penalties.)

Big Mike's big ovation. (Al Bello/Getty)
Big Mike‘s big ovation. (Al Bello/Getty)

Mike asks: During the home opener, a stat was fed to the booth: Pineda was throwing 20% changeups this time vs. 4% usually. 1) This was certainly not Austin Romine‘s idea, was it? 2) Does it strike you as a possible magic bullet?

I’ll answer the second question first: no. I don’t believe there’s a magic fix for Michael Pineda or any pitcher for that matter. I think Monday was just Pineda having a great day. Nothing more. I’ve seen enough of this guy to know better than to read too much into one start. If he does it again, and again after that, and again a few more times after that, I’ll start to buy into it. For now, it was just a good day for Pineda.

As for the first question, it’s possible the changeups were Romine’s idea, though neither he nor Pineda said anything about increased usage of his changeup after Monday’s game. Romine caught Pineda six times last season and he had a 3.82 ERA in 35.1 innings. With Gary Sanchez and Brian McCann, Pineda had a 5.00 ERA. Here is last year’s pitch selection by catcher:

IP Fastballs Sliders Changeups
84 52.4% 39.3% 8.3%
Romine 35.1 51.9% 41.0% 7.1%
Sanchez 56.1 51.2% 43.3% 5.5%

Romine did call for the changeup more often than Sanchez, but not by much. We’re talking roughly three extra changeups every two starts. That doesn’t mean Romine won’t push the changeup on Pineda this year, of course. Pitching plans and approaches change. Like I said earlier, I’ve watched this guy pitch enough to know it’s not wise to think something clicked because he had a great start. He’s done this before. I need to see more before buying in even a little.

Zev asks: Did the Yankees potentially lose an entire year of service time for Jordan Montgomery by pitching him on the 12th instead of the 16th?

Yes, actually. That’s assuming he spends the rest of the season in the big leagues, which I don’t think is a safe bet given the way the Yankees shuttle pitchers in and out. In the world of baseball 172 days equals a full year of service, though the regular season actually runs 183 days each year, so you have to keep a player down 12 days to ensure they finish the season with 171 days of service time, thus delaying free agency. (Most teams wait a few extra days to be safe and also be less obvious about it.)

The Yankees called Montgomery up on April 12th, the 11th day of the season, so he was kept down for ten days. Two more days in Triple-A this season will push Montgomery’s free agency back from the 2022-23 offseason to the 2023-24 offseason. That is a lifetime away in pitcher years. My guess is Montgomery will end up spending those two extra days in Triple-A at some point, probably much more than that, but I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s ready, let him pitch. I’m not going to sweat a non-top pitching prospect’s service time.

Update: The new Collective Bargaining Agreement stretched the season to 187 days. They added some extra off-days at the MLBPA’s request. I forgot about that. So that means prospects have to be kept down 16 days to delay free agency, not 12. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Arjun asks: How much do you think minor league versus major league scouting reports affect performance of pitchers who get promoted? I would assume that scouting reports are far more detailed and poured over at the major league level. Is there a lot of adjusting for pitchers to understand how to use those scouting reports to their advantage?

Scouting reports in the minors are pretty detailed. Not as detailed as they are in MLB simply because there’s more data available about big leaguers, but clubs get in-depth reports in the minors. I absolutely think having better scouting reports helps young pitchers in the big leagues, but keep in mind this cuts both ways — the hitters have better scouting reports on the pitchers too. And, ultimately, the pitcher still has to execute. You can have the best and most detailed scouting reports in the world, but if you hang a slider, it won’t matter.

Mickey asks: Have you noticed a change to the center field camera from last season to this season? It seems to be more center than in years’ past. Possibly due to the renovations at Yankee Stadium?

I was hoping we’d get a true center field camera this season now that the center field area has been renovated, but alas, it did not happen. The main YES camera angle is still offset a tad. Here is this year’s camera angle and last year’s:


It looks a little closer to true center field, but not quite all away. That’s about as close as they can get it anyway. They’d have to get the camera higher up to avoid having the pitcher blocking the plate with a dead center angle, and if they do that, the camera guy is going to be in front of the center field scoreboard. I guess I’ll just be envious of all the teams with true center field cameras.

Kevin asks (short version): With today’s news that Barbato was released to make room for Jordan Montgomery, it got me thinking about the Jose Quintana decision. I can see he was released on November 2, 2011 with a number of other players. Does that mean he was not included on the 40 man roster for Rule 5? Is it possible to look at who the Yankees kept instead of him?

The Yankees did not release Quintana. He became a minor league free agent. Typically a player needs to play six years before qualifying for minor league free agency, but if he gets released before that, he can become a minor league free agent after every season going forward. That’s what happened with Quintana. He originally signed with the Mets, spent a few years in their farm system, then got released after failing a drug test and getting suspended. The Yankees scooped him up and he spent parts of four seasons in the farm system.

Quintana became a minor league free agent following the 2011 season, a few weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Yankees added five players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft that offseason: David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, Zoilo Almonte, David Adams, and Corban Joseph. All five were top 30 prospects at the time. Brandon Laird was also on the 40-man roster that winter. Who knows whether Quintana would become what he is today had he remained with the Yankees — probably not since joining the White Sox changed his entire career path — but the Yankees goofed letting him go. Plain and simple. No one bats 1.000 in this game.

Mike asks: At what point do statistics become significant? Obviously the answer is “it depends” but when can we start to take success (or struggles) seriously?

It depends on the stat. Some stabilize and become reliable more quickly than others. Off the top of my head, strikeout rate is the fastest one, for both pitchers and hitters. That stabilizes pretty quickly. The FanGraphs Glossary has a good breakdown of reliable sample sizes for different stats. I’d love to see similar info for PitchFX stats like whiff rate for individual pitches, etc. One day, maybe. It’s possible to acknowledge a player is having a great start (Aaron Judge) or bad start (Greg Bird) after only a few games without saying “this is who he is now.” Ideally, I’d wait until the end of April before digging deeper.

Barbato. (Presswire)
Barbato. (Presswire)

Brent asks: Was dfa ing barbato the best choice? Seemed like he might have upside as a reliever and were starting a project converting him to a starter? Would refsnyder or someone else be a better option and will we permanently lose barbato?

I have no idea what will happen with Johnny Barbato next, though optionable relievers with a history of missing bats tend to get scooped up on waivers. My guess is we see a trade involving cash or a player to be named later in the coming days. I figured Barbato would be a 40-man roster casualty soon — not getting a September call-up last year was pretty telling — and I’m actually surprised he lasted this long. I thought he would go over the winter.

The Yankees have four healthy position players on the 40-man roster and not in MLB right now: Miguel Andujar, Jorge Mateo, Rob Refsnyder, and Mason Williams. Andujar and Mateo aren’t call-up candidates yet, so Refsnyder is the infield depth and Williams is the outfield depth. That’s it. The Yankees have enough pitcher call-up candidates (Luis Cessa, Dietrich Enns, Gio Gallegos, Chad Green, Chasen Shreve, etc.) but only one infielder. Cut Refsnyder, then you’ll have to cut someone else to call-up an infielder should someone get hurt. Simply put, it’s much easier for the Yankees to replace Barbato than Refsnyder.

Dan asks: When a minor leaguer gets Tommy John surgery, at what point do we consider him being “back” in the minors versus making rehab starts in the minors? To put it another way if Kaprelian starts a game next June in low-A is he “rehabbing” or is he back? It’s not like he has to build up arm strength to help out the big league team. They could theoretically have him pitching no more than 3 innings at a time for several months next year.

Eh, it’s hard to say, and I’m not sure it’s all that important either. Chances are the Yankees will have James Kaprielian make his first few appearances in Extended Spring Training, so once he pops back up with one of the minor league affiliates, that’s when you’ll know the team believes he’s ready for more intense competition. Those first few starts are going to be rehab starts no matter what. I’m not sure there will be a moment we can say Kaprielian is “back” the way Ivan Nova came back from Tommy John when he returned to the MLB team. Hopefully he gets through his rehab well and comes back a better pitcher. That’s all I’m worried about.

Mailbag: Holliday, Carter, Austin, Yelich, Judge, Frazier, Torres

Big mailbag this week. Fifteen questions. You guys are excited about the new season, huh? The mailbag email address is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send your questions there each week.

Holliday. (Presswire)
Holliday. (Presswire)

Nick asks (short version): I understand why Holliday is the favorite for the DH job this year, but I do wonder why it seems like he is such a lock over Chris Carter. Carter does bring tremendous power and is far younger and less likely to completely collapse.

Matt Holliday‘s contract and track record are going to ensure he has a long leash, though at this point of their careers, he and Carter aren’t all that far apart in terms of expected production. The shape of their production is different, but you’re going to get similar overall value. The numbers:

Holliday in 2016: .246/.322/.461 (109 wRC+), 20 HR
Carter in 2016: .222/.321/.499 (112 wRC+), 41 HR

Holliday ZiPS for 2017: .244/.325/.447 (106 wRC+), 14 HR
Carter ZiPS for 2017: .223/.316/.509 (117 wRC+), 37 HR (that’s assuming full-time duty)

Holliday will strike out less and Carter will draw more walks, and neither will provide much value on the bases. The Yankees are hoping Holliday will be more productive as a full-time designated hitter because it’ll keep him off his feet and avoid wear and tear, but, at the same time, he is also 37, and that’s not a good age for a baseball player.

It’s obviously too early to give up on Holliday and I do think he could very well end up being more productive this year than last year as a designated hitter in Yankee Stadium. I also don’t think he should have the job indefinitely. If he’s not looking too good a few weeks into the season, I absolutely hope the Yankees start giving some of his at-bats to Carter. Older players have a way of making you keep waiting for a slump to end, you know?

John asks: I count 5 players on 40 man who probably can’t help us this year, have little or no experience in AAA: J. Mateo, M. Andujar, Y. Ramirez, R. Herrera, D. German. Is this too many future prospects tying up usable roster space for this year? We’ve lost some usable pieces like Goody, Bleier, Pazos, Mullee, And Lindgren who if healthy could have helped this year. Is roster balanced enough?

I could see all three of those pitchers (Yefrey Ramirez, Ronald Herrera, Domingo German) helping the Yankees in some capacity this season. Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar are top prospects who had to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Can’t risk losing guys like that for nothing. Among the players the Yankees cut loose over the winter, Jacob Lindgren is the only one who I think could come back to bite them, and he’s going to miss the  season with Tommy John surgery. Others like Nick Goody and James Pazos are up-and-down depth arms, and the Yankees have plenty of those. Mateo and Andujar are the only players on the 40-man right now who I think have no chance of helping the Yankees in 2017. I think everyone else is a call-up candidate, some sooner than others.

Mark asks: Assuming Tyler Austin looks great at the plate once he’s healthy, what do you see as his short and long term role with the big league club? With Bird, Holliday and Judge entrenched in their positions and Carter and Hicks ready off the bench, I’m not seeing where he has a role with this club this year barring any injuries.

In the short-term Austin’s role will likely be up-and-down depth player. Whenever someone gets hurt or they need an extra right-handed bat for a few days, he figures to be the guy who gets the call over Rob Refsnyder (once healthy). Long-term, I’m guessing the Yankees would like to have him in their first base/corner outfield/designated hitter mix. Holliday is on a one-year contract and there’s no guarantee Carter will be around in 2018 either — he will remain under control as an arbitration-eligible player next year, so the Yankees could bring him back if they want — so they’ll have ways to get Austin on the roster. It’s not easy to break through with Austin’s profile. Those right-handed hitting/right-handed throwing corner bats need to provide a lot of thump to stick around.

Joe asks: I see Ben Gamel is out there in Seattle fighting for a roster spot in the outfield. How do you think the players we acquired in the trade (Jio Orozco and Juan de Paula) last year develop this year and beyond?

Gamel did not make the Mariners and has been sent down to Triple-A, his third straight season at the level. That’s not good. He’s very much at risk of becoming a Quad-A type. (Refsnyder is in the same boat.) The two kids the Yankees got for Gamel are still only 19, so they’re super young. Orozco will be in the Low-A Charleston rotation this season and DePaula will start back in Extended Spring Training before joining one of the short season leagues in June. They’re both right-handed pitchers.

Orozco is the better prospect of the two because his curveball and changeup are further along. Neither was particularly close to my top 30 prospects list but and Baseball America had them in Seattle’s top 30 last year, so they’re not nobodies. I’m hoping Orozco can get to High-A next year and DePaula can do enough this year to start next season with Low-A Charleston. For that to happen, they have to develop more consistency with their secondary stuff. Neither has ace ceiling or anything like that. The Yankees hope they’ll develop into nice back-end starters down the line. Fringe MLB players like Gamel usually don’t fetch much in a trade.

Paul asks: I’m looking to take my kids to a Thunder game this year. Realistically, when do you think which prospects might be there? How long will Torres be there and does Rutherford get there this year? Any chance they overlap?

I can’t see Blake Rutherford getting to Double-A in his first full pro season. He might not even get to High-A. Keeping him in Low-A the entire season would be completely reasonable. Mateo should get to Double-A at some point though, perhaps before the start of June. He and Gleyber Torres could very well overlap. June might be the sweet spot. That’s early enough that Torres, Andujar, and Justus Sheffield should still be with Trenton, but also late enough that Mateo (and Ian Clarkin?) figures to be up from High-A.

Yelich. (Harry How/Getty)
Yelich. (Harry How/Getty)

Dennis asks: I agree with your sentiments that Christian Yelich is criminally underrated. Obviously, the Marlins aren’t moving him but if they did, what do you think it would take to get him. My Trade Proposal Sucks but would a Clint Frazier and James Kaprielian get them talking. Marlins are short on pitching.

This question was sent in before Kaprielian’s elbow started acting up again. Frazier and healthy Kaprielian would have to be the start of a package, not the package. And the other pieces would have to be fairly significant too. Yelich turned only 25 in December and he’s owed $46.75M total through 2021 with an affordable ($15M) option for 2022. He’s young, excellent, and signed cheap. Tough to beat that combination. Yelich hit .290/.365/.406 (118 wRC+) from 2013-15 before hitting .298/.376/.483 (130 wRC+) last season, so he’s still getting better.

There aren’t many players I would consider trading Torres to acquire, but Yelich is one of those players. I’d rather build a hypothetical package around Frazier and healthy Kaprielian. I’m just not sure that’s possible. The third and fourth pieces might have to be players like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. I can’t see the Marlins trading a borderline star signed so affordably for a bunch of prospects. They’ll need some MLB players in return. They could ask for Judge and Greg Bird and more and I don’t think it would be crazy at all. I’m not saying I’d do it, but the Marlins wouldn’t be crazy to ask.

Doron asks: Finally, the Yankees are in a position in which they have youngsters that warrant an early career extension to lock in a payday for the players, and for the Yankees to obtain cost certainty and not have to go to arbitration. The ? is, at what point do the Player Association push for a Bird Rule a la NBA for teams to be able to retain their own players without it counting against the salary cap for luxury tax purposes?

There’s no salary cap in baseball! The luxury tax effectively acts as a salary cap now. MLBPA may push for something similar to the Bird Rule, but I can’t see MLB ever agreeing to it. The owners want the luxury tax to keep costs down. They’re not going to put a mechanism in place that allows clubs to exceed the luxury tax threshold without penalty. The Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers may push for a Bird Rule, but most clubs aren’t particularly close to the luxury tax threshold, and they’d fight it. Bottom line: the luxury tax is in place to, in order, 1) save money by creating an artificial salary cap, and 2) promote competitive balance. I can’t see MLB letting rich clubs skirt the luxury tax with a Bird Rule.

Greg asks: What is the point of the Rule 5 Draft?

To prevent teams from hoarding talented players and burying them in the minors indefinitely. Nowadays there are all sorts of mechanisms in place to help players get to MLB and stay in MLB as long as possible. That wasn’t always the case. Back in the day when there was no amateur draft, you could sign all the talented prospects and keep them as long as you want. That’s how the Yankees won all those championships. Nowadays players have only three minor league option years, and everyone has to pass through waivers when they’re being removed from the 40-man roster. The goal is give these guys every opportunity to get to and stay in the big leagues.

Adam asks: What’s the over/under date for Judge moving up from the 8th spot? There’s something awful about seeing Ellsbury 5th when literally every other hitter would be more appropriate in that spot.

I’m going to set the over/under on Judge moving out of the eighth spot permanently — not just a game higher in the lineup here or there — at June 5th. That’s an off-day for the Yankees between Games 56 and 57, so almost exactly the one-third point of the season.

Judge has looked pretty good so far, no? He’s only 2-for-12 (.167) at the plate, but his at-bats have been good and he’s not swinging at everything with two strikes. Here are all the two-strike pitches he’s seen this year, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-two-strike-pitchesThe Rays kept trying to get Judge to chase that breaking ball down and away in two-strike counts and he did a pretty good job laying off, for at least that one series. I count three swings and misses and four balls in play, so hooray for that.

Jacoby Ellsbury is 5-for-11 (.455) with a double and a home run so far, so he’s doing his part and not giving Joe Girardi a reason to think about moving him further down the lineup yet. It’s early though. It’s three games. Let’s see where Judge and Ellsbury and everyone else is in a few weeks, then reevaluate things.

Garret asks: Don’t you think the Bethancourt pitching and catching for the Padres greatly increases the feasibility of them keeping Torrens all season?

Sure, but even then Luis Torrens is still only their third catcher. Keep in mind their starting catcher, Austin Hedges, is a 24-year-old top prospect himself, so his development and playing time will be a priority for the Padres. Keeping Torrens is doable but far from ideal, and if they manage to keep him on the roster all season, how much will he play and how much will it hurt his development? The Yankees signed Torrens in July 2012 and, because of his shoulder surgery, he only has 673 career plate appearances. There is definitely value in catching bullpen sessions and sitting in on scouting meetings and all that, but ultimately the kid needs to play and play a lot to get better.

Michael asks: Does Ronald Torreyes have any options remaining? If he has options remaining and if he struggles, do you see a possibility of the Yankees sending him down when Didi returns instead of designating Pete Kozma for assignment?

This question was sent in before Torreyes socked that home run the other night. As far as I can tell Big Toe definitely has one option remaining and likely two. Even if Torreyes were to struggle as the fill-in shortstop, I think the Yankees would keep him over Kozma as the utility infielder. He’s the better player at this point and I’m not sure Torreyes has anything to gain by playing in Triple-A. Maybe he’ll end up struggling so much the Yankees decide to send him down to rebuild confidence, but I don’t see it happening. Torreyes will be fine and the Yankees will cut ties with Kozma, which was the plan all along.

Richard asks: I’ve been trying to read the tat the runs up on Matt Holiday’s huge arm. What does it really say?

Joe Strauss says it’s an Old Testament verse (Job 38:4): “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” Holliday is a religious guy, apparently. Strauss’ story says he and other Cardinals players used to meet weekly to discuss how to apply lessons from the Bible to their baseball careers. So there you have it.

Headley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Headley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Kevin asks: I know it’s early, but Chase Headley is definitely off to a better start than in previous years! If he continues to hit decently well (I don’t know let’s say .750 OPS), do you think he has any trade value come August (if the Yankees decide to sell again)? Do you see the Yankees maybe trading him, or keeping him since there are no immediate options to replace him at third?

I think the Yankees are willing to trade Headley right now and will be for the duration of his contract, regardless of what he’s doing on the field. Maybe this hot start will boost his value somewhat, though I don’t see it. Teams know Headley. They have a book on him and two or three month’s worth of at-bats aren’t going to sway them too much. The White Sox figure to trade impending free agent Todd Frazier at some point, so any team looking for third base help figures to check in on Frazier before Headley. Which teams need a third baseman anyway? I don’t see too many. An injury can always change things though. Anyway, yeah, Headley is on the trade block, now and through the end of his contract.

Adam asks: Yelling at Frazier about his hair, calling it a distraction, and now the impossibly stupid decision of Suzyn Waldman telling the world that he (Frazier) asked for Mantle’s number. I can’t help but feel like someone in the organization is going out of their way to embarrass a promising, young player. What is your take?

Nah. If the Yankees have problems with Frazier, they’d handle it behind closed doors, not drag him through the mud publicly. (Dellin Betances probably disagrees with that.) That helps no one. These aren’t the George Steinbrenner in his heyday Yankees. The hair thing was beyond stupid. It’s hair. The fact it became a distraction — a hair cut distraction! — tells you all you need to know about the archaic hair policy. No one does baseball sanctimony quite like the Yankees.

The Mickey Mantle stuff was completely avoidable — the Yankees shot it down and Waldman apologized to Frazier — but the damage is done. It’s out there and in the court of public opinion, Frazier is guilty. Anyone who doesn’t like him will hold it against him. Real talk forthcoming: without Alex Rodriguez to kick around anymore, many fans and media folks needed a new, easy target. Then the punk kid with bright red hair that was a little longer than usual came into their lives. Frazier is going to be a whipping boy going forward. That has been made crystal clear.

Bill asks: What do you think of the decision to rotate Gleyber Torres at multiple positions at Double-A Trenton? Should the Yankees have him focus on becoming a better shortstop or on improving his versatility?

I’m okay with moving him around. Torres is a good defensive shortstop and his bat is going to play anywhere, so it doesn’t hurt to see how his athleticism plays at other positions. I’m not sure whether second base or third base is the best spot long-term. I guess Gleyber will answer that question, right? He might feel more comfortable at third because he’s still on the left side of the infield. Or maybe he likes second better because there’s more action on the middle infield. If the Yankees didn’t have a quality big league shortstop, I’m not sure I’d be on board with moving Torres around. But, since they have Didi Gregorius, I’m cool with it. The best Yankees team going forward has both guys in the lineup.

Mailbag: Betances, Bird, Ellsbury, Judge, Kaprielian, Machado

Got eleven questions for you in the mailbag this week, the final mailbag before the start of the regular season. I’m excited. Are you? Hope so. This should be a fun year. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can email us your questions throughout the week.

Also, don’t forget to vote for the 2017 Prospect Watch! Voting closes at 12pm ET.

Front foot should land on your toes, not your heel, kids. (Presswire)
Front foot should land on your toes, not your heel, kids. (Presswire)

Seamus asks: I know Dellin Betances doesn’t really ramp up his velocity until the end of spring training/beginning of the regular season. I think he topped out at 95 today. I was wondering what his velocity was during the World Baseball Classic? Did he up it to his normal velocity for the tournament?

This question was sent in last Friday, following Dellin’s first appearance with the Yankees after returning from the World Baseball Classic. There’s no PitchFX in the Grapefruit League, so any velocity readings for Betances in Florida are based on the scoreboard or a scout’s gun, if that information is available. Here are the fastball velocity numbers from his five WBC appearances, per PitchFX since the games were in MLB ballparks:

  • March 9th: 97.1 mph average and 97.8 mph max
  • March 12th: 97.6 mph average and 98.5 mph max
  • March 14th: 96.7 mph average and 98.3 mph max
  • March 16th: 97.6 mph average and 99.2 mph max
  • March 18th: 98.1 mph average and 99.2 mph max

Last season Betances averaged 98.4 mph and topped out at 102.0 mph (!) during the regular season, so while he’s been a little below that this spring, keep in mind Dellin has been a slow starter in the velocity department the last few seasons. From Brooks Baseball:


April has always been Betances’ worst month of the season in terms of average velocity. He, like many other pitchers, tend to ramp it up in the summer months, when it’s hot and they can really get loose and air it out. Having watched each of Dellin’s televised outings this spring, both with the Yankees and in the WBC, I can tell you he looks pretty much exactly like Dellin Betances. No worries for me here. That 95 mph reading last Friday was probably the result of a lack of a reliable radar gun.

Anonymous: The Yankees have won a lot of spring training games this year, but how much of this exhibition game success is due to the superiority of the team’s minor league talent vs the milb talent of other teams? Can this success be quantified by throwing out late-inning scores, concentrating on innings in which major leaguers play against major leaguers (e.g., starting pitching in AWAY games), or some other method? Would any of these exercises be more predictive of regular season success than the uselessness of raw ST records?

The Yankees have had a lot of late-inning comeback wins this spring — they’re 25-8-1 overall (counting the exhibition game against Team Canada) and have already clinched the best record in all of Spring Training — which suggests the prospects and minor leaguers are doing most of the heavy lifting in those games. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Number of games leading after six innings: 18 (18-0 record in those games, though on one occasion they blew the lead, then rallied to win anyway)
  • Number of games tied after six innings: 6 (3-2-1 record in those games, and in the tie they rallied in the ninth to tie the game after the other team took the lead in the late innings)
  • Number of games trailing after six innings: 10 (4-6 record in those games)

Yup, there have definitely been a few late inning comebacks this spring, especially over the last week or so. The Yankees have a couple of walk-off wins last week, and a few other games in which they rallied late for a win. That wasn’t happening all spring though. Early on the Yankees were bludgeoning teams. They’d take the lead early and hold it the rest of the game. There’s some recency bias to the whole “the kids keeps coming back and that’s why they’re winning” idea.

I don’t think this means much of anything anyway. Yeah, the Yankees have a great farm system, so having the extra talent helps, but that in and of itself doesn’t guarantee success. Craig Gentry, a light hitting journeyman speedster, is hitting .333/.443/.549 in 62 plate appearances for the Orioles this spring. Does that mean anything? No. It just means weird stuff happens in small samples, especially when you throw in the noise of Spring Training.

I would absolutely love it if the Yankees’ spring record meant something, be it their ability to contend this year or their ability to contend down the road, when some of the prospects arrive. It doesn’t though. Spring Training is meaningless because it’s always been meaningless. The Cubs have as much young talent as anyone and they went 11-19 last spring. They’re 12-17 this spring. It doesn’t mean anything. Just enjoy the spring for what it is, silly stress-free baseball.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Daryl: Can you talk about Bird’s defense compared to league average? When Bird played 1st, I thought he handled it well over that, what? 1/3rd of the season? I think Mark Teixeira was one of the best 1st basemen defensively during his career- Is bird’s defense terrible bad, mediocre, or just bad when comparing him to a perennial gold glover?

There’s no good way to evaluate first base defense. The stats have a hard time at first base because it’s not really a range-based position. No team is looking for a first baseman who can cover a lot of ground. They’re looking at how someone moves around the first base bag, how he receives throws from other infielders, and how well he can throw home and to second base for force plays. That’s pretty much it.

Both DRS (-3) and UZR (-1.2) say Greg Bird cost the Yankees runs in his 379.2 innings at first base in 2015, and while those specific numbers mean nothing, in this case they do match the scouting reports. Baseball America (subs. req’d) called Bird “average around the bag” prior to that 2015 season. said he has “adequate range and arm strength at first base, though he gets credit for working hard on his defense.” Keith Law (subs. req’d) said Bird “still needs work on fielding ground balls.”

Bird has made some nice scoops at first base this spring, though that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Every first baseman makes a nice scoop now and then. Jason Giambi was a pretty good scooper despite being a pretty terrible defensive first baseman overall. Based on what I’ve seen, which admittedly isn’t much, I’d say Bird’s defense is average or slightly below. Not a disaster but not a guy who will save you a ton of runs either. He’s a bat first player and that is perfectly fine.

Nico asks: Is there anything legally prohibiting “loan” trades? Eg you have a young star closer but are out of contention in July, so you loan him to a contender for the rest of the year, but he comes back to you for the rest of his contract starting next season. Could you ever see it??

There’s nothing against that in the rules as far as I know. And besides, even if there was, it seems like it would be easy to circumvent. The question is what’s appropriate compensation? The Yankees aren’t going to, say, lend Betances to the Nationals for August, September, and the postseason out of the kindness of their heart. They’re going to want something in return, even if they know they’ll get Betances back following the season. I sure as hell wouldn’t risk my player getting hurt while with another team and accept nothing in return.

Perhaps the Yankees and Nationals could agree to a fair value trade like Betances for four prospects, something along those lines, and if Betances gets hurt while with Washington, the Yankees keep the prospects. If not, they return three of the four prospects and get Dellin back after the season. Eh? The team loaning the player would have to get something out of the deal, otherwise there’s no reason to agree to it. It’s all downside.

Mark asks: If an MiLB player is suspended for a PED offense, what happens to his roster spot? Is the team forced to play short-handed?

Oh no, definitely not. It works the same was as an MLB player getting suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. He is placed on the restricted list and the team can bring in another player to fill in the roster spot. Playing shorthanded isn’t safe. The MLBPA is pushing for a 26th roster spot so players can get more rest and pitchers won’t be overworked. Forcing a team, especially a minor league team given all the bus rides and pitchers on innings limits, to play with 24 players because one guy got busted for PEDs wouldn’t be right.

Thomas asks: Just wondering about the retention bonuses that certain players can receive, depending on their roster status – we’ve seen a bunch of teams cut and re-sign a player to avoid paying these bonuses (such as Jon Niese, potentially), but why is there never any controversy about this? Couldn’t it be seen as similar to messing with a player’s service time, or trying to get around luxury tax requirements?

The $100,000 retention bonus is written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Any player with at least six years of big league service time who signs a minor league contract gets the retention bonus if he’s not on the 40-man roster by a certain date and an automatic June 1st opt-out if he’s not on the roster. The Yankees released Niese on March 26th then re-signed him on March 28th, allowing them to avoid paying him the $100,000. Other teams like the Diamondbacks (Gregor Blanco) and Orioles (Chris Johnson) did the same thing this year. The Dodgers opted to pay Brandon Morrow the retention bonus.

I’m honestly not sure why the MLBPA hasn’t made a bigger stink about this, though I suspect it has something to do with the player requesting his release. Niese, for example, could have told the Yankees he wants to see whether another team would carry him on their Opening Day roster, so they granted him his release so he could go look for work. And when nothing panned out, he returned. Niese has banked over $26M in his career to date, so he might not be sweating that $100,000 much. That sound possible? The release/re-sign move happens multiple times every year and no one complains or files a grievance, and the rule wasn’t changed in the latest CBA. Could it really be this easy to circumvent?

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Daniel asks: If a team (say, the Astros) offered to take Jacoby Ellsbury and every penny of his contract, would that be enough to entice the Yankees to accept lesser prospects in a trade for Tanaka? Kind of makes sense from a business perspective.

It only makes sense if the goal is to save money, not maximize your talent base. Other teams have made similar trades because they don’t have the same financial resources as the Yankees. The Braves attached Craig Kimbrel to Melvin Upton in order to unload his contract, for example. The Pirates attached prospects to Francisco Liriano to get rid of his contract. The Yankees have the money to absorb Ellsbury’s contract. Attaching him to a player as good as Masahiro Tanaka simply to save a few bucks doesn’t sit well with me at all. If you’re going to trade Tanaka, trade him for prospects, not salary relief. It’s bad enough the Yankees are caving to MLB and throwing away their financial advantage by getting under the luxury tax threshold. Imagine trading actual good players simply to get rid of a bad player’s contract. Good grief.

Jon asks: Hey Mike, if Judge is sent down to SWB to start the year how many days approx. would he have to stay down to buy back a full year of ML time?

This question was sent in before we learned Aaron Judge would be the starting right fielder. Of course, that doesn’t mean Judge will stay in the big leagues all season. He could struggle and wind up back in Triple-A, similar to Luis Severino last season. I don’t think it’ll happen, but it is definitely possible. Anyway, 63 days is the magic number here. Judge has 51 days of service time, so add the 12 days necessary to delay free agency and you’re at 63 days. Two months, basically. (Teams usually wait a little longer than 12 days just to a) play it safe, and b) be less obvious about it.) Keep in mind Judge is going to turn 25 in April, so delaying free agency means we’re talking about capturing his age 31 season in 2023. I’m not so worried about that. This isn’t like delaying Gary Sanchez‘s free agency last year to capture his age 29 season. Service time shouldn’t be a consideration for Judge. Let the kid play.

Daniel asks (short version): If the Yankees are buyers at the deadline and the Orioles are near last place, could you see the Yankees trading for Machado? If so, do you think they would go over the luxury tax cap in order to work out a long-term deal?

You know, it’s not crazy to think the O’s may have to trade Manny Machado at some point. If they determine they won’t be able to re-sign him following the 2018 season, trading him for a godfather package makes way more sense than letting him walk for a dinky draft pick. I suppose it depends on where they are in the standings and all that, but yeah, a Machado trade at some point in the next 16 months or so doesn’t seem insane.

A few things about the Yankees and a Machado trade. One, the chances of a Yankees-Orioles trade of this magnitude are tiny. The O’s don’t want to see Machado thrive in New York and the Yankees don’t want to see their prospects thrive in Baltimore. There’s a reason blockbuster intradivision trades are so rare. Two, a lot will depend on where the Yankees are in the standings. If they’re contending, I think they’d be more open to a Machado trade. If not, forget it. They’ll keep the prospects.

And third, do the Yankees think it’s possible to sign Machado to an extension, or is he dead set on testing free agency? If there are any doubts about being able to sign him, I think the Yankees will pass. I don’t think the luxury tax situation will be a big concern because that is workable, but I don’t think they want to give up a boatload of prospects for Machado knowing he’s definitely going to become a free agent after next season, even if they’re in the race at the trade deadline. Ultimately, I think the Yankees-Orioles intradivision dynamic means a trade won’t happen. The O’s won’t have any problem finding other suitors with great prospects to offer.

Andrew asks: I feel like we didn’t hear anything about Kap during spring training. What’s his status?

Healthy and ready to go. The Yankees took is slow with James Kaprielian early in Spring Training following last year’s elbow injury, though they did let him make one Grapefruit League appearance two weeks ago. He struck out three in two scoreless innings. Kaprielian was sent to minor league camp later that day and he’s been pitching on the other side of the street since. He struck out six in four innings and change this past Sunday, according to Josh Norris. Kaprielian will start the season with High-A Tampa, and while the Yankees figure to keep him on some sort of pitch/workload limit early on, he’s good to go. Elbow is good and he’s thrown well this spring.

Aleesandro asks: This is hard to quantify, but how much would the Yankees retaining Robinson Cano have affected the team’s current farm system? If they had kept him, how much longer would they have pushed to be a contender?

Yeah, that’s pretty much impossible to answer. The Yankees would be a better team right now with Cano because he’s better than Starlin Castro and Ellsbury (combined), and that’s effectively who replaced him. Ellsbury got the big contract the Yankees were going to give Cano, and Castro has taken over at second base. Robbie would have likely helped the Yankees win a few more games these last three years, which means a worse draft slot (no Kaprielian? no Blake Rutherford?) and perhaps no fire sale at the 2016 trade deadline.

Then again, who’s to say the Yankees wouldn’t have been able to draft Kaprielian and Rutherford anyway, and that Cano himself wouldn’t have been traded for even more prospects at last year’s deadline? Chances are the farm system wouldn’t be as good as it is right now because so much had to go right to get it where it is. Rutherford had to fall for bonus reasons, for example, and both the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades were perfect storms. Re-signing Cano would have changed everything. The payroll situation, the team-building strategy, everything.

Mailbag: Pineda, Carter, Wade, Tanaka, Chapman, 60-Day DL

I’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. As always, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We gets lots each week, so don’t take it personally if you’re doesn’t get picked.

Pineda. (Presswire)
Pineda. (Presswire)

Justin asks: Considering the 2018 free agent market and the Yankee’s current situation with starting pitchers after this season, how much does Michael Pineda need to improve before becoming a Qualifying Offer candidate after this season?

I’m not sure there’s anything Pineda can realistically do this season to get a qualifying offer. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement completely changed everything. The Yankees will pay luxury tax this season, and because of that, they can only receive a pick after the fourth round (!) for a qualified free agent. The qualifying offer will be worth over $18M this coming winter. That’s a lot of money to risk for such a low draft pick.

To become a qualifying offer candidate, Pineda would have to do something similar to his 2011 rookie season with the Mariners, and even that might not be enough. He had a 3.74 ERA (3.42 FIP) with 24.9% strikeouts and 7.9% walks in 171 innings that year. If Pineda does that again, the Yankees would probably think about making him the qualifying offer because getting him back on an expensive one-year contract wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Still, I don’t have high hopes for Pineda putting it all together this season. He is what he is. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Bob asks: So far Pineda has had an impressive spring, which could mean nothing, but it got me thinking. Suppose Pineda, in his contract year, puts together a great first half. Maybe that puts the Yankees in the hunt for a play-off spot. When you get to the trading deadline, do you deal Pineda because you believe some team will over-pay for him? Or do you keep him in order to keep your play-off hopes alive?

This question was sent in before Pineda’s tough start last time out. I am generally a “go for it” guy. The entire point of playing the game is to win, and if the Yankees are in the race at midseason — I mean really in the race, not five or six games back and “well if we win 20 of our next 25 we’ll have a chance” in the race — they should keep him and go for it. We’re all getting to be a little starved for October baseball, no? The postseason would be cool.

The best answer to this question is: let’s see what’s going in July. Pineda’s situation is similar to Ivan Nova‘s situation last year. The Yankees probably won’t make him the qualifying offer, which means it makes sense to move him at the deadline if he’s still sputtering along and not living up to the potential that is oh so obvious. And if Pineda is pitching well and the team isn’t winning, it would make sense to at least kick the tires on an extension, I think. It never hurts to ask.

Andrew asks: Do you think that Cashman’s contract status might result in him choosing a high floor pitcher like Warren rather then a high ceiling pitcher like Severino for the 4th or 5th starter job?

Nah. I don’t think Brian Cashman‘s contract situation will influence any roster decisions. We’ve seen countless other general managers (in every sport) make big splashy moves in an effort to save their jobs when they’re on the hot seat — Jack Zduriencik throwing all that money at Robinson Cano stands out — but Cashman seems very comfortable with his place with the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner loves him and I think Cashman will be given the opportunity to see this rebuild transition through. I can’t see Cashman making decisions designed to scratch out a few extra wins in an effort to secure a new contract after the season.

Yogi asks (short version): With Bird officially being named the everyday 1B, where does that leave Carter? I find it difficult to believe he is willing to be the backup for the full year. Assuming they can’t trade him, what’s your over/under on Carter being on the roster on May 1?

Definitely over on May 1st. They’re not going to cut the guy 24 games into the season, especially with his primary replacement (Tyler Austin) starting the year on the disabled list. I bet Chris Carter ends up getting a heck of a lot more playing time than we expect. I could see him starting three times a week between first base and designated hitter, especially with all those lefties in the AL East. Greg Bird is coming back from shoulder surgery and Matt Holliday is 37. The Yankees will give them regular rest, I’m sure.

Carter has been dreadful this spring — he’s hitting .122/.234/.195 with 22 strikeouts in 47 plate appearances — but who cares? It’s Spring Training. That just means he’s going to come out of the gate and mash in the regular season. That’s usually how it works out, right? Garrett Jones managed to stick around until the trade deadline and I’m guessing Carter will get similarly long leash. The Yankees won’t cut a dude with this much power a few weeks into the season, nor should they. Not unless you want to see more Rob Refsnyder or Ji-Man Choi.

Carter. (Presswire)
Carter. (Presswire)

Andrew asks: Presuming they are used only as starters, what do you think the innings limits for Warren, Mitchell and Kaprielian would be this season? My theory is that low innings limits for Warren and Mitchell make it more likely they start in the rotation and then get moved to the pen in June, rather then risk having to waste innings stretching them out.

I don’t think Adam Warren will have an innings limit this year. He’s going to turn 30 in August. If he does start the season in the rotation, the Yankees will keep an eye on him and look for signs of fatigue, but I don’t think they’re going to say, “okay, Warren has 140 innings max this year” or anything like that. He’s no kid who needs to be babied. Give him an extra day here and there, otherwise let him pitch.

Bryan Mitchell and James Kaprielian are different stories, obviously. Both missed a bunch of time with injuries last season and need to be handled a little more carefully. Mitchell’s career high is 145.1 innings back in 2013 and I think the Yankees would push him back to 150 innings again this year. Maybe they’d even push him to 175 innings or so if he’s pitching well and looks strong. It’s not like Mitchell hurt his arm last year.

Kaprielian’s career high is 119 innings between college and pro ball in 2015, and we already know the Yankees are going to handle him carefully. He didn’t appear in his first Spring Training game until last week, and the team plans to bring him along slowly once the regular season begins. I wonder if the Yankees targeted 150 innings or so for Kaprielian last year. If so, that might be the target again this year, albeit with a little more caution along the way.

Nathaniel asks: What are you impressions of Tyler Wade so far this Spring Training, and what kind of future does he have? Yankees or trade bait.

This question was sent in before the Didi Gregorius injury thrust Wade into the starting shortstop mix. I’m glad he’s opened some eyes this spring and people are seeing just how good he really is. I’ve been a Wade fan for years now — there have been plenty of “I’m not seeing it/he’s ranked too high in the top 30” comments and emails over the years — and have always though he’s good enough to be someone’s starting shortstop down the road. Didi’s injury means it could be with the Yankees this year.

It seems the Yankees have made their intentions clear with Wade: they want to keep him, and they’re trying to figure out ways to get him playing time. Hence the whole super utility thing. Gregorius isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, so shortstop isn’t an option. Same with second base and Starlin Castro, so that’s why they’ve been moving Wade around. He’s not a top prospect, so you can’t rule out the possibility of a trade, but I think the Yankees intend to keep Wade and figure out where he’ll play when the time comes.

Nick asks: I am interested in seeing a “wear and tear” comparison between Tanaka and CC. The knee-jerk reaction following another productive season would be “we must re-sign him” but would the Yankees be risking again paying premium dollars for the back end of a pitcher’s career?

Masahiro Tanaka turned 28 in November and the Yankees signed CC Sabathia six months after his 28th birthday. So this coming offseason Tanaka will essentially be six months older than Sabathia was when the Yankees first signed him, back during the 2008-09 offseason. Here are their career workloads through their age 27 seasons:

  • Sabathia: 1,684.1 innings including postseason.
  • Tanaka: 1,810 innings including MLB postseason (can find postseason stats for Japan).

That surprised me. I would have thought Sabathia threw more innings than Tanaka through their age 27 seasons, but nope. Tanaka made 28 starts and threw 186.1 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles at age 18 (!) and he’s been a full-time starter ever since. Geez.

Sabathia had another four high-quality seasons after signing his contract, but every pitcher is different, and that doesn’t mean Tanaka will hold up another four years as well. Pitchers get hurt all the time, especially older pitchers with thousands of innings on their arm, and it’s fair to say Tanaka is a greater risk than most given his elbow situation. The Yankees know him and his elbow better than anyone. All they can do is make the best decision based on the available information.

Adam asks: Given that Tanaka has his opt-out available after this year and there’s a possibility that the Yankees could have three pitchers leave town if he does opt out, would it make sense for the Yankees to offer to move up a couple of million from the back years of his contract in exchange for deferring the opt-out for a year?

It’s a nice idea, but there’s no way Tanaka and his agent would go for that. Not unless we’re talking tens of millions of dollars. He’d be walking away from three years and $67M by using the opt-out, which he should clear easily in free agency. Tanaka will probably be able to add $40M in guaranteed money after the season. Maybe $60M. Asking him to push back the opt-out clause means delaying that huge payday and assuming a ton of risk. It’s close to all downside for Tanaka. It would have to be huge amount of money to get him to agree to that. It’s not realistic. I wish it was.

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Tom asks: Where would the prospects traded in the Chapman deal to the Reds rank in the farm system today (Rookie Davis etc). Haven’t followed to see how they’ve panned out thus far and based on getting back Torres plus, it was obviously a worthwhile deal anyway. Just curious to see what those guys are up to these days.

The trade looked ridiculously lopsided the day it was made and it looks even more lopsided now, and you don’t even need to factor in the Gleyber Torres stuff. Here’s an update on the four players the Yankees sent to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman last offseason:

  • Rookie Davis: Had a 3.71 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 131 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. He’s allowed five runs (four earned) in eleven innings this spring. Pretty good chance Davis will make his MLB debut at some point this season. ranks him the 17th best prospect in the team’s farm system.
  • Eric Jagielo: Hit .205/.305/.310 (83 wRC+) with a 30.5% strikeout rate in 111 Double-A games last year. I have no idea what happened to him. Jagielo was not picked in the Rule 5 Draft over the winter and he didn’t get a non-roster invite to camp this year. He also didn’t rank among’s top 30 Reds prospects.
  • Tony Renda: Made his MLB debut late last year and went 11-for-60 (.183) in 32 games as a bench player. He has an interesting first hit story. Renda was outrighted off the 40-man roster over the winter and is in camp as a non-roster player.
  • Caleb Cotham: Had a 7.40 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 24.1 innings last season before going down with a knee injury. Cotham announced his retirement earlier this month.

Yeah, not great. Maybe Jagielo figures it out and maybe Renda carves out a niche as a bench player, otherwise the Chapman trade is going to boil down to Davis for the Reds. If he turns into a decent mid-rotation starter, Cincinnati will probably come out ahead in the “add up the WAR” game, but yeah. Pretty much a disaster. They sold Chapman for pennies on the dollar. Pennies.

As for the question, Jagielo and Renda definitely would not have made my top 30 list. Jagielo might not have made a top 50 list at this point. He was always a bat first guy with questionable defense, and if the bat is gone, he’s a non-prospect. Davis is a legitimate prospect and I would have had him in the top 30. Somewhere in the 19-22 range seems about right, alongside guys like Chad Green and Tyler Austin.

Ryan asks: Do the Yankees have any 60 Day DL candidates when the time comes they can put players on the DL? This could pave the way for a Wade to SS scenario. Thank you.

Gregorius and Austin. That’s it. As best I can tell, the first day teams were able to place players on the 60-day DL was February 14th, and Austin broke his foot on February 17th. Backdating the 60-day DL stint would still allow the Yankees to activate Austin as early as April 18th, so maybe that’s how they’ll make room on the 40-man roster for whoever needs to be added before Opening Day (Wade, Ernesto Frieri, Ruben Tejada, etc.).

The Gregorius situation is different. Putting him on the 60-day DL would mean the Yankees couldn’t activate him until May 19th, and from the sound of things, he could be back much sooner than that. So for now Austin is the only real 60-day DL candidate. (Remember: Teams can only use the 60-day DL when the 40-man roster is full, and someone has to be added to the 40-man right away. You can’t put someone on the 60-day DL and sit on the open 40-man spot.)

David asks: Would there be any benefit to the teams in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues playing one another during spring training? Obviously you want to reduce unneeded travel during the spring, but what about a quick one week swing through a couple teams in the other league to break up the monotony of playing the same teams.

Interesting idea! I think this would be pretty darn cool, though I doubt the clubs would go along with it because it means more travel and all that. Wouldn’t it be cool to see the Yankees spend, say, three days going through the Cactus League? I’m sure the fans there would love it. A Yankees fan in Phoenix doesn’t get to see their team play all that often. Maybe it doesn’t have to be every team that makes the trip. Maybe they could send the Yankees and Red Sox to Arizona for a few days, and the Cubs and Dodgers to Florida for a few days. Seems like it would be pretty neat and exciting, which means it definitely won’t happen. So it goes.

Adam asks: What are your predictions for the 2017 season for the following?

We’re going to post our annual season predictions at CBS at some point soon. Next week, I think. And I’m always wrong. Last year I picked the Mets to beat the Rangers in the World Series, and Aaron Hicks to be the AL’s breakout player. Whoops. Here’s what I’m thinking for this season:

  • World Series: Dodgers over Mariners. Why the hell not?
  • MVPs: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. I’m boring, I know, but they’re the best players.
  • Cy Youngs: Contract year Masahiro Tanaka and Noah Syndergaard.
  • Rookies of the Year: Andrew Benintendi and Dansby Swanson. Too easy.

There doesn’t seem to be much mystery to the division races this year, huh? The Red Sox, Indians, Astros, Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers are all the clear cut favorites in their divisions, I think. The wildcard races are where it’ll be at. Then again, nothing ever goes according to plan. Perhaps the Cubs and Indians will be hit with a huge World Series hangover a la the Royals last year.

Mailbag: Lineup, Velocity, Rookie of the Year, Torres, Norris

We’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week, the penultimate mailbag before Opening Day. As always, use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything.

Reggie and Holliday. (Presswire)
Reggie and Holliday. (Presswire)

Zachary asks: I used Baseball Musings lineup tool and ZiPS/Steamer/ATC projections to try to find the best 2017 lineup for the Yankees. No matter the numbers I used, the tool insisted that Matt Holliday leading off would produce the best run-scoring lineup in 2017. Thoughts on that? Is it something you would do as manager? Can you see Joe doing something that radical?

The lineup tool is a bit outdated — the model is based on research from 2006 — and all it does it put the highest OBP player in the leadoff spot. If two players are within a few OBP points of each other, it’ll give the higher SLG player more at-bats. When I put together the All-RAB Era Team a few weeks back, the lineup analysis tool stuck 2007 Jorge Posada in the leadoff spot because he led those players in OBP. Just about every projection system has Holliday leading the Yankees in OBP by a point or two over Brett Gardner.

There’s no chance Joe Girardi will bat Holliday leadoff. He’s a veteran middle of the order guy and that’s where Girardi will hit him. If I were manager, I wouldn’t bat Holliday leadoff either. For starters, I don’t think Holliday will actually out-OBP Gardner. Secondly, that’s a waste of Holliday’s pop. If you have two players with similar OBPs, I say bat the guy with power a little lower in the order so there are more men on base when he hits. The Cubs are planning to bat Kyle Schwarber leadoff and Ben Zobrist cleanup. That seems completely backwards to me. If you think Schwarber is a 30-homer guy, you’re setting him up to hit a lot of solo homers by batting him behind the pitcher.

Paul asks: There are several examples of prospects who have seen their mph tick up with the Yankees. Is this normal for other teams? Is it just kids’ bodies maturing, or do the Yankees have some advantage in their training program that maximizes fastball speed?

This does happen elsewhere, but it happens so often with the Yankees that I don’t think we can wave it off as a fluke at this point. James Kaprielian, Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, Taylor Widener, and Chad Green are among those who gained velocity after joining the organization. It must be something with the Yankees’ throwing program or training regimen, right? For what it’s worth, here’s what Eric Longenhagen said in his weekly chat this week:

John: are you able to tell how the yankees’ development team is getting velocity boosts out of so many college arms? change in delivery, selective drafting, conditioning, or something else?

Eric A Longenhagen: There seems to be a common arm action so I’d guess they have a way to teach it. It’s pretty cool. We’ll start talking about the Dodgers like this soon, I’m guessing. Like half a dozen of their guys were touching 95+ yesterday on Day 1 of minor league spring training games.

That’s about the best answer I can give. When one or two guys add velocity, maybe it’s just a fluke. When five or six or seven (or more) do it, there’s probably something to it. Ever since Gary Denbo replaced Mark Newman as the farm system head in October 2014, the team’s player development seems to have taken a big step forward. It’s only been two seasons, but the top prospects aren’t stalling out and several lower profile guys are making big gains. It’s exciting.

Robert asks (short version): Hindsight is always 20/20 and I trust the front office (especially with cash almost fully in charge) but do you think there’s some regret from within trading solarte a few years back? He’s developed into a nice little player who can play multiple positions teams now seek.

Oh sure. I’m guessing the Yankees would like to take that trade back given what they know now. Yangervis Solarte isn’t a star or anything, but he’s hit .275/.330/.428 (110 wRC+) with +4.7 fWAR and +4.8 bWAR since the trade. Chase Headley has hit .256/.333/.379 (97 wRC+) with +6.9 fWAR and +5.9 bWAR during that time. The difference in their salaries are pretty substantial too. I do think Headley’s advantage in defense outweighs the difference in offense, but ultimately, it’s similar production at very different prices.

Remember though, at the time of the trade Solarte was a career minor league journeyman who hit well the first 40 games of the season (.336/.414/.521) before completely falling off (.180/.264/.256 the next 41 games) and having to be sent to the minors. There was reason to think the clock had struck midnight. What can you do? You win some and you lose some, and when your biggest trade mistake over the last three or four years is trading away Yangervis Solarte, you’ll be fine.

Anonymous asks: According to Baseball America, the Yankees had the 27th best prospects ranking in 2004. The following year Robinson Cano would have his rookie season, the first in a career that currently has him easily as one of the top 20 2B of all time, and likely top 5 by the time he retires. The system produced little else (CM Wang, Melky Cabrera, Tyler Clippard, Dioner Navarro.) Would you rather take that 2004 prospect group or the current one?

Oh man, that’s tough. On one hand you have a Hall of Fame caliber second baseman (Cano), an elite reliever (previous versions of Clippard), and a solid everyday outfielder (Melky) in addition to Chien-Ming Wang‘s two excellent years before his injuries. On the other hand you have everything guys like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier and Aaron Judge and Kaprielian can become. They won’t all work out. We know that. But the sheer volume of prospects suggests the Yankees will get several quality players out of this group.

It’s hard for me to say no to a likely Hall of Famer, so I’ll take the 2004 group thanks to Cano. But! Keep in mind Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird are no longer prospect eligible. New York’s best non-prospect eligible young big leaguer in 2004 was, uh, Travis Lee? Seriously, try to find a quality young player on that roster. Sanchez and Bird are two pretty significant bats, and if you add them to the current farm system, I’d take it over the 2004 group. Otherwise I’ll hitch my wagon to Robbie Cano.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Seth asks: Which Yankee rookie could you possibly see winning ROY? What would need to happen or what kind of stat line do you think they would need to put up to win? Are there any early ROY favorites in the AL right now?

There are really only two candidates for 2017: Judge and Green. Others like Torres and Frazier probably won’t spend enough time in the big leagues to be serious Rookie of the Year candidates. (If Sanchez couldn’t win Rookie of the Year doing what he did last year, how could Gleyber or Frazier?) Judge and Green could very well spend the entire season in the big leagues and in prominent roles. Judge as the starting right fielder and Green as a starting pitcher. Playing time is important.

The Rookie of the Year award tends to skew towards position players — Michael Fulmer, Jacob deGrom, Jose Fernandez, and Jeremy Hellickson are the only starters to win the award since 2007 — so I think Judge’s chances of winning the award are better than Green’s. He’ll be in the race if he gets his strikeouts under control and smacks, say, 25 dingers or so. When it’s all said and done, the power numbers will get Judge votes, not WAR. (Sanchez, Bird, Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell aren’t Rookie of the Year eligible anymore. Too many at-bats and innings.)

That said, Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is the odds on favorite to be the AL Rookie of the Year right now. He’s got a full-time lineup spot and he’s annoyingly good. I suppose White Sox righty Lucas Giolito should be considered a Rookie of the Year candidate, though he hasn’t looked very good since being called up. My sleeper pick: Athletics righty Jharel Cotton, who has a rotation spot locked up. I could see him putting up nice numbers in that ballpark.

Ethan asks: Hey Mike! I was looking back at the old Top 30 Prospects lists from, and saw that Refsnyder hit his peak at #4 in the Yankees’ system in 2015 when they had only 2 players in the Top 100. Just wondering with the current system having 7 Top-100 players, where do you think Refsnyder would be placed if he was at his prospect peak?

Those were the days, eh? When a good but not great prospect like Rob Refsnyder was among the five best prospects in the system. For the record, the highest Refsnyder ever ranked on my top 30 lists was No. 6 in 2016. That ranking was based more on his probability of being a solid big leaguer than pure upside. Refsnyder at his prospect peak would have ranked no higher than 15th on this year’s top 30. Way too many players with more upside in the system to rank him any higher. I think there’s a chance Refsnyder will still be able to carve out a career as a righty platoon bat, but he’s going to have to start hitting for power. Below-average defenders who only hit singles aren’t a hot commodity, you know?

Elliot asks: For the first time since following you guys, Gary Sanchez isn’t even a candidate for the minor league spotlight (sidebar) this season. With all of the deadline moves and graduations last lear, who gets your vote? Torres? Frazier? Kaprielian? Mateo? What options!!!

I’ll post the annual Prospect Watch poll a few days before Opening Day. I don’t want to post it early and have someone get hurt or traded, and have to do it all over again. And like you said, there are a ton of good candidates this year. Torres, Frazier, Kaprielian, Blake Rutherford, Justus Sheffield, Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, on and on it goes. In most years someone like Adams or Dustin Fowler would be prime Prospect Watch fodder. I’m not even sure I’ll include them in the poll at this point. No, I don’t believe in the Prospect Watch curse — the little pixels in the RAB sidebar don’t have those kind of powers — so it’ll again be a choice among the top prospects, and gosh the Yankees sure do have lots of them.

Nico asks: Sorry if I missed this, but does Spring Training offensive performance appear to correlate at all with regular season offensive performance? I know it won’t be a exact correlation, but still – would be good to know how much stock to put into the yankees’ ST dominance.

Alas, there’s very little correlation between Spring Training performance and regular season performance. And that applies to everything. Team record, offense, pitching, the whole nine. Lance Rinker and Neil Paine ran the numbers and found a tiny little correlation between spring and regular season offensive performance. So tiny that it’s basically insignificant. Bird probably won’t have a 1.500 OPS during the regular season, sadly.

There have also been a ton of studies (like this one, this one, and this one) showing spring win-loss records don’t mean much either. My go to example: the 2001 Mariners had the second worst Spring Training record among AL teams (13-19), and then went 116-49 during the regular season. The only AL team with a worst spring record that year? The Yankees, who went 9-20 in the spring, won 95 games during the regular season, then beat the Mariners in the ALCS. The Yankees are hitting well and winning games this spring and that’s cool. It doesn’t tell us much about the upcoming season, unfortunately.

Headley and Gleyber. (Presswire)
Headley and Gleyber. (Presswire)

John asks: The “problem” of too many shortstops has been talked about a lot here on RAB. Are the yankees showing their hand this spring in terms of where the expect Torres to wind up? It seems that with Didi gone at the WBC Torres has been getting way more action at second than at short. If Torres plays well this season in the minors at second, what are the chances he’s starting at second for the yanks on opening day in 2018?

Torres has played many more innings at short (42.1) than at second (16) this spring, and I don’t think it’s a secret what the Yankees are doing with their shortstops. They want to increase their versatility because a) versatility is good, and b) it’ll allow them to get everyone into the lineup at once. Chances are the best Yankees teams in 2018 and beyond feature both Torres and Didi Gregorius, and, well, how are you supposed to get them into the same lineup? The same goes for Mateo (center field) and Tyler Wade (outfield). I do think there’s a chance Gleyber will reach MLB in 2017, which would presumably set him up to be on the 2018 Opening Day roster. At which position? Who knows. The Yankees seem to be trying to figure that out themselves.

Nathan asks: How interesting or uninteresting, or competitive, would this team be? Sanchez at C, Bird at 1b, Wade at 2nd, Didi at SS, Gleyber at 3b, Frazier in LF. Fowler in CF and Judge in RF. On personal level, I don’t know if they’d be good, but I think they’d be fun as heck to watch, and easy to cheer for.

Very interesting and not terribly competitive, I don’t think. You’ve got five rookies in the lineup plus two non-rookies playing their first full MLB season, and history (and common sense) tells us there will be growing pains. Even Mike Trout struggled in his first attempt at the big leagues (.220/.281/.390 in 40 games in 2011). They would be fun to watch though. That’s for sure. The lineup includes lots of exciting young guys who play with a ton of energy and you’re right, they’d be easy to root for. Chances are that lineup wouldn’t be very good in 2017, but they sure would be entertaining.

Andrew asks: I know backup catcher isn’t that big of a deal. But with Derek Norris being released by Washington, he’s better than Romine right? Worth it to sign him to a league minimum deal since Washington already on the hook for the rest?

I wouldn’t be a league minimum deal. Like every other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible player, Norris was on a non-guaranteed contract. The Nationals released Norris earlier this week on the last day teams could release players with non-guaranteed contracts and only pay them 30 days termination pay. Norris will receive roughly $688,000 of his $4.2M salary, and he can now sign a contract of any size with any team. Players who have been released from guaranteed contracts and are still being paid are the guys you can sign for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. That doesn’t apply to Norris.

As for the question, yes I’d absolutely prefer Norris to Austin Romine for the backup catcher spot. Is that the job Norris wants though? Hard to think he wants to spend his age 28 season stuck behind Sanchez when several clubs could offer more playing time behind the plate. The White Sox, Angels, Rays, Diamondbacks, and Brewers could all offer Norris their starting catcher job. Perhaps the job market will be so dry Norris would be willing to sign a cheap deal with the Yankees to back up Sanchez, but I can’t see it. These seems like one of those “he makes sense for the Yankees but the Yankees don’t make sense for him” deals.

Brian asks: Last year Billy Butler beat out Brian McCann in a footrace. Who wins in Chris Carter vs. Matt Holliday?

I haven’t seen either guy run enough this spring to form a solid opinion. I’ll go with Carter because he has youth on his side. I’ll roll the dice with the 30-year-old over the 37-year-old. Neither Carter nor Holliday will be in the lineup for their speed though. They’re there to sock dingers. I wonder who’d win a footrace between Sanchez and Bird? They’re both young and in shape, though neither is fleet of foot. Make it happen, Yankees.