Mailbag: Harvey, Cahill, Judge, Carter, Bumgarner, Torreyes

There are 13 questions and 12 answers in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us any questions or comments throughout the week.

Harvey. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Harvey. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Many asked: What about trading for Matt Harvey?

Things aren’t so great between the Mets and Harvey right now. He was recently suspended three days for violating team rules, and it’s since come out that Harvey failed to show up for a game — a game he was not scheduled to pitch, I should add — after a late night out on the town and morning round of golf. Harvey owned up to it and apologized to his teammates and fans and everyone else, but still, that doesn’t excuse it.

A few things about a potential Harvey trade. One, I can’t see a Yankees-Mets trade of this magnitude going down. I do think the general managers, Brian Cashman and Sandy Alderson, would make a deal if they believe it is the best thing for their teams. I don’t think the ownership groups have the stomach for it though. Could you imagine being the Wilpons if they traded Harvey to the Yankees and he thrived? Lordy.

Two, Harvey has an ugly injury history — he is coming back from surgery to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome this year — and a 4.93 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 23 starts and 127.2 innings dating back to Opening Day 2016. He’s more of a reclamation project than a plug-and-play ace. And three, I don’t think his trade value is all that high right now. The combination of injury history, recent performance, and looming free agency (after 2018) drag his value down.

Now, does that mean the Yankees should steer clear completely? Of course not. Perhaps the Mets are completely sick of Harvey — manager Terry Collins indicated the team has tried to rein in Harvey’s off-the-field activity in the past, but to no avail — and are willing to trade him away for not much in return just to eliminate the headache. In that case, he’d be a worthwhile gamble. Potential ace-caliber pitchers are hard to find.

My guess is the Mets will hang on to Harvey because he’s more useful to them on the mound than anything they could get back in a trade at this point. They’re better off hoping he can regain his 2013 and 2015 form. The Mets window to win is right now. While their starters are young and cheap, and while Yoenis Cespedes is in his prime. It’s hard for me to see how trading Harvey improves their chances, so no, I don’t think a deal is happening, either with the Yankees or another team.

Jake asks: Even with what we know now about Alex Rodriguez, which start to the season has been more fun for you guys: A-Rod‘s first month in 2007, or Judge’s in 2017?

I’d say Aaron Judge because he’s doing it as a rookie for an exciting upstart team. A-Rod was already a well-established MVP caliber performer back in 2007, and remember, the Yankees kinda stunk in April 2007. They went 9-14 in April and were so short on pitching Darrell Rasner was in the rotation and Andy Pettitte had to come out of the bullpen twice (!) to soak up innings in losses. A-Rod was awesome but the Yankees weren’t very good. Judge is awesome and the Yankees are good! This is much more fun. I love A-Rod. He’s my dude. But the hot shot rookie mashing will forever be more exciting than the veteran doing it.

Paul asks: Is it time to DFA Chris (No-Contact) Carter and give Refsnyder the job until Tyler Austin returns?

No way. I have zero interest in watching Rob Refsnyder at first base full-time until Greg Bird (or Austin) returns. And no, I don’t want Matt Holliday playing first regularly either. That sorta defeats the purpose. The point behind making him the designated hitter is keeping him off his feet so he stays productive all season. Putting Holliday at first base full-time is a great way to get him to stop hitting in mid-August or whatever.

Chris Carter doesn’t even have 70 plate appearances yet and only twice has he started as many as two games in a row. All the early season interleague games in NL parks have screwed up the lineup a bit. That won’t be the case going forward. The Yankees can put Carter in the lineup everyday now and hope he gets into a groove and starts smacking the ball out of the park. I’m not giving up on him because he hasn’t hit in sporadic playing time. Not when the alternative is Refsnyder.

Kyle asks: Does Cito Culver have any path to the big leagues right now? Too many other prospects seem to be blocking him.

Not really. Culver had a few big games last month and is hitting .247/.347/.554 (153 wRC+) in 20 games with Triple-A Scranton overall, which I guess could be a sign he’s breaking out, but probably not. He did hit .254/.315/.349 (87 wRC+) just last season, after all. Culver is still a very good defender and the Yankees have exposed him to multiple positions — he’s even spent time at first base — so I guess we can’t completely rule out the possibility of him carving out a career as a utility man. I’m just not sure I see it happening with the Yankees, not with Ronald Torreyes in the show and Tyler Wade coming. (Culver was a minor league free agent over the winter and opted to return to the Yankees. If another team saw him as a potential utility guy, I’m guessing he would have gone there because it presented a greater opportunity.)

Cahill. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Cahill. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Frank asks: So, how about Trevor Cahill as a potential target? Dude is killing worms and missing bats. He’s using his curveball more than ever before, which indicates there could be a reason for his success instead of being a fluke. He’s a pure rental, which could be viewed positively or negatively, dirt cheap, and shouldn’t cost a top prospect to acquire because of the fact he’s a rental. He’s also had success in the bullpen should starting not work out during the season’s second half. Seems like a pretty good fit. What do you think?

I’m going to need to see more before buying into Cahill, even with the increased curveball usage. Six starts and 35.1 innings isn’t enough to make me a believer, not after how poorly his last attempt at being a starter went in 2014. Cahill is only 29 and he is getting a ton of strikeouts (30.1%) and ground balls (57.1%), but are we sure this is really a new him? He’s always been a big ground ball guy. That’s not a surprise. His career strikeout rate is only 17.1%, however.

That isn’t to say the Yankees should steer clear of Cahill completely. I just want to see more before endorsing him as a trade target. He is still walking a ton of batters (11.0%), which is not unusual for him, and at some point I feel like his 0.51 HR/9 (9.1% HR/FB) will regress to his career 0.88 HR/9 (12.2% HR/FB) marks. I’d rather not be left holding the bag when it happens. The Padres are rebuilding and Cahill will almost certainly be available at the trade deadline. He’s worth monitoring for the time being and revisiting closer to July 31st. I am intrigued but not sold yet.

John asks: Judge has been putting up some insane numbers, but it does seem like a lot of the home runs come during garbage time. Has there been any analysis done on his performance at particularly important points of the game? And how that compares to the average?

Going into last night’s game Judge had hit 13 home runs this season — it would be 14 if not for that stupid triple! — and five of the 13 have come with the score separated by no more than three runs. There was a stretch earlier this year in which Judge hit eight homers in the span of two weeks, and all but one came with the score separated by at least five runs. Anyway, here are the leverage stats prior to last night’s game:

Low Leverage 55 .362/.455/1.000 286 10 23.6% 14.5%
Medium Leverage 54 .267/.389/.556 156 2 31.5% 14.8%
High Leverage 12 .333/.333/.583 152 1 16.7% 0.0%
Total 121 .317/.413/.760 215 13 26.4% 13.2%

wRC+ is the important number there because that tells you how Judge has performed relative to league average. He’s been at least 52% better than average in all leverage situations. Of course, he only has a 12 plate appearances in high leverage situations, and a dozen plate appearances spread across 30-something games is pretty meaningless.

Judge grounded out to end the game with the tying run on base against the White Sox last month, which seemed to create this “Judge isn’t clutch” narrative. Whatever. If you’d rather have someone else at the plate in the big moment, be my guest. Judge has been ultra-disciplined this year and when he makes contact, he crushes the ball. I’ll take my chances with him at the plate in any situation any day of the week.

Rob asks: I feel like Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard should have their bullpen roles swapped. Am I wrong?

As good as he’s been this year, Clippard still scares me because of all the fly balls. I’m worried they’re going to start carrying over the fence once the weather warms up. I am president of the Adam Warren Fan Club and I do think he’s a better pitcher than Clippard, so yes, in that sense switching their roles would make sense. Joe Girardi‘s bullpen management is pretty straight forward. His best reliever pitches the ninth, his second best pitches the eighth, etc.

That said, sticking with Clippard as the seventh inning guy and using Warren as kinda this Swiss Army reliever who can throw multiple innings probably makes more sense in the grand scheme of things. I just wish he’d see more important situations. There are 192 relievers who have thrown ten innings this season, and Warren ranks 132nd in leverage index. He’s in the bottom third of the league. Part of that is the Yankees having so many blowout wins, but still, I feel like Warren is being underutilized. Jonathan Holder has entered five games with the Yankees either tied or leading by no more than two runs. Warren has three. Eh.

Dan asks: As a Yankees fan I could not be happier with the start to the season. I feel as though the overall comparison between this team and the Cubs is fair. BUT, I am a little worried that this team is getting too much attention and that we could be jumping on the “the rebuild is complete” train a tad too early. Thoughts?

Joey asks: So I love the current path the Yankees are on. Young prospects new faces of the franchise. But I feel were being dealt some fools gold. We’re number 1 in the east and I’m afraid that’s going to make us buyers at the deadline. Do you think Cashman knows this? The most I would like to see us acquire is a Innings eater on the cheap who’s deal is expiring. Do you think Cashman stays course with the rebuild or is this going make us veer off course and get a top flight starter?

I’m going to lump these two together because they’re basically the same question. Why would you be afraid the Yankees might be good and buy at the trade deadline? I’d rather they be in contention and buy than fade out of the race and sell again. As long as Cashman is calling the shots, I’m confident the Yankees will stick to their plan and not overreact to anything. If ownership gets involved, well, all bets are off. I just can’t see the Yankees gutting their farm system to get that one big piece at the deadline (rental Yu Darvish?) — they haven’t done that in a very long time anyway — after everything they’ve done in the last 12 months. I think Cashman will stick to his plan, look for lower cost upgrades a la the 2014 deadline (Brandon McCarthy, Martin Prado, etc.), and continue to build around the young players. Give me all the attention and winning as possible. I want the Yankees in the race and thinking about upgrades, not looking for ways to deal veterans for prospects again.

Bumgarner. (Jamie Squire/Getty)
Bumgarner. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Matt asks: What do you think the odds are that Bumgarner gets dangled once he’s back and healthy? He’s got a team friendly deal through 2019 and could fetch the Giants quite a haul. What trade proposal that sucks do you have?

I’ve been joking around the last few weeks that I can’t wait for the Yankees to trade Clint Frazier for post-dirt bike accident Madison Bumgarner, but nah, it’s not going to happen. Bumgarner is one of those players who will never be traded. You might as well ask me if the Cubs will dangle Kris Bryant. Bumgarner and Buster Posey are the face of the Giants, and as terrible as San Francisco has been this season, they strike me as more of a “take a step back and go for it next year” team, not a “tear it down and rebuild” team. Yes, they could get a haul for Bumgarner if they ever put him on the market, and yes, I’d want the Yankees to be all over him. I just don’t see this happening. Imagine adding a healthy Bumgarner to this team. That’d be amazing.

Anonymous asks: Is it me or has Gary Sanchez hit more ground balls this year than last year? If so, is this concerning?

Sanchez had a 49.3% ground ball rate last year, and it’s 53.3% this year. That’s not a big enough difference to worry about right now. He’s played eleven games! Sanchez has been hitting well since coming off the disabled list even though some of his rockets have gone for outs. The first four games before the injury weren’t particularly pretty. Since coming back though, Gary looks more like the player he was last season. So yes, his ground balls are up slightly, but no, it’s not worth worrying about at this point. The sample size is way, way, way too small.

Seth asks: At what point are you convinced what Ronald Torreyes is doing at the plate is the real deal? Regardless, do you feel that he could be an integral piece to a championship a la Luis Sojo?

I do believe Torreyes is a championship caliber utility infielder. I’m not sure I’d want to give him 150 starts and 600 plate appearances, but as a 200-something plate appearance backup infielder? Sign me the hell up. Torreyes makes a ton of contact, he’s good enough defensively, and he plays with a ton of energy. He’s everything I want in a utility player, and I could totally see him maintaining a .300-ish average off the bench because he puts the ball in play so much. It’s not a glamorous job at all, but quality depth players like Torreyes are really important. Those guys who can, say, fill-in for your injured shortstop for a month and contribute on both sides of the ball are often the difference between contenders and pretenders.

Justin asks: Was a little surprised Green was sent back down so soon. Isn’t the upcoming 20 plus days with out a off day a perfect time to give him a spot start and give rotation a extra day? Also isn’t using the “Scranton Shuttle” to spot start Green, Cessa, and Mitchell a better plan then just using it for fresh bullpen arms?

The annual 20 games in 20 days stretch begins next Tuesday and I have no doubt the Yankees will use a spot sixth starter at some point just to give their starters extra rest. They’ve been doing that the last few years. The ten-day rule means Chad Green can’t be called back up until May 20th, the fifth game of the 20 games in 20 days stretch. That works well for spot start purposes. Go through the rotation once, then call him up. Even then though, it doesn’t necessarily have to be Green even though he’s pitched the best out of the depth starters. The Yankees could just as easily call up Luis Cessa for a spot start, or Bryan Mitchell, or Daniel Camarena. Sending Green down to stay stretched out in the meantime makes more sense than stashing him in the bullpen as the mop-up reliever. He’ll be back at some point, and sending him down won’t prevent the Yankees from using a spot sixth starter during the 20 games in 20 days stretch.

Mailbag: Darvish, Judge, Cole, Gray, Profar, Bullpen, Castro

There are 15 questions in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything throughout the week.

Darvish. (Ron Jenkins/Getty)
Darvish. (Ron Jenkins/Getty)

Vismay asks: Cole Hamels is out for at least 8 weeks. Things are going bad for the Rangers, and Darvish is a FA after this season. Could Yankees trade for Darvish? What could the Yankees offer?

There’s already been plenty of speculation the Rangers could move Yu Darvish at the trade deadline if things don’t turn things around soon. Texas went into yesterday’s game in last place in the AL West at 11-17 with a -6 run differential. That’s the third worst record in the AL. Last season the Rangers did win 95 games, but they did it with a +8 run differential. +8! There were signs this team is not as good as last year’s record indicated, and we’re seeing it now.

Two things about Darvish. One, if the Rangers do make him available, it’ll be because they don’t think they can sign him to an extension, and if that’s the case, you have to assume he’s dead set on testing free agency. He’ll be a pure rental. And two, Darvish returned from Tommy John surgery less than one year ago. He has a 3.30 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 139 innings since coming back, though his walk rate has climbed to 8.5%, which isn’t unusual for a pitcher returning from elbow reconstruction. There is some risk here.

Every contender in baseball is going to want Darvish should the Rangers make him available. The Yankees will be competing with the Dodgers, Cubs, Astros, Nationals, Red Sox, etc. Of course, they have the prospects to make a big offer, so that’s not a problem. No other team can offer a Gleyber Torres. The Yankees probably aren’t going to do that though. As I seem to say every mailbag, if they’re going to dip into their farm system to get a pitcher, I think it’ll be someone they can control long-term, not a rental. Not even a rental as good as Darvish.

Frank asks: Judge currently has a 1.024 OPS and is on pace for 50 plus homers. Both metrics are most likely unsustainable. However given his outstanding start and very solid defense, what would he need to do (maintain) in order to become a true 4/5 WAR player this year?

This question was sent in early in thes week. Aaron Judge now has a 1.251 OPS and is on pace for 81 home runs. We’ve seen no signs of slowing down thus far. It’s pretty incredible. Going into last night’s games Judge led all players, both position players and pitchers, with +2.5 bWAR and +2.2 fWAR. He’s on pace for roughly +15 WAR and no, that won’t happen. You know it’s still early in the season when numbers extrapolate out like that.

Anyway, given his refined approach at the plate and solid defensive work, I don’t think a +5 WAR season is out of the question at all for Judge. (I feel like the baseball gods won’t let us get through the season without him going through a .125/.200/.250 with 49.0% strikeouts month though.) ZiPS projects Judge at .241/.318/.515 (120 wRC+) the rest of the season, which seems low based on what he’s doing now, but is still pretty great. Doing exactly that the rest of the way should be plenty good enough to get him to +5 WAR, possibly even +6 WAR.

William asks: Considering Romine’s performance while stepping in for Sanchez, what do you think he has increased his trade value to? What teams might be interested? Does he have more value as the Yankees back-up?

Nah. I don’t think 60-something plate appearances are nearly enough to change a team’s mind about a player these days. At least not smart teams. This sort of thing happens every year, doesn’t it? A fringy player has a great April and folks start saying his trade value has gone up, as if the rest of his career doesn’t matter. What did we learn about Austin Romine these last few weeks that he didn’t know before? That he can fill-in as a starting catcher for a month? Okay, what’s that worth, exactly? Not much. The Blue Jays need a backup catcher, though I can’t see an intra-division trade happening. Given their catching depth chart, I believe Romine has more value to the Yankees on their roster than anything he could realistically fetch in a trade. Backup catchers aren’t hot commodities, even coming off a good month as a fill-in starter.

Luiz asks: Thoughts on Kyle Higashioka‘s first big league experience?

Fans in the RAB comments and on Twitter and other spots are running out of players to hate because the Yankees are playing so well. It’s kinda funny. The usual suspects (Jacoby Ellsbury, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, Michael Pineda, etc.) are all playing well, so down the line fans have gone, and apparently they’ve settled on the temporary backup catcher. Always gotta hate someone, it seems.

Anyway, Higashioka went 0-for-18 with two walks at the plate and several cross-ups behind it in his four weeks as the backup catcher, which hasn’t changed by opinion of him at all. Why would it? Twenty plate appearances scattered across 25 days in his first taste of the show? That’s nothing. It would have been cool if Higashioka had picked up a few hits, though he had some good at-bats recently and hit some rockets right at people. He’ll be fine. Tough debut, no doubt, but Higashioka’s been through worse.

Brian asks: If both Yankee catchers are injured in a single game, who goes behind the plate? I have looked at the various depth charts online, and they don’t show the third-string catcher. Does this happen very often? I can’t remember a position player behind the plate, but it must happen sometimes.

Joe Girardi has said Ronald Torreyes is the emergency third catcher. Greg Bird is injured now, but he started his pro career as a catcher, so I guess that would make him the super duper emergency fourth catcher once he’s healthy? As best I can tell, the Yankees have never used an emergency catcher in their history. They certainly have not since 1980. They’ve had catchers go out an play other positions (Jorge Posada at second base!) but never a player go from another position to catcher without previous experience at the position.

The last time any team used a player as a true emergency catcher was 2013, when the Astros stuck utility player Jake Elmore behind the plate for 4.1 innings. Elmore managed to both pitch and catch in a blowout. Don Kelly, another utility guy, caught six innings for the Tigers in 2011. I remember Pedro Feliz having to catch for the Giants in 2007, though I can’t find video. It definitely happened though:


It’s very rare that an emergency third catcher actually has to go behind the plate. It is something teams have to plan for, of course. I wish managers would be more aggressive using their backup catcher, either to pinch-hit or to replace the starter after he’s lifted for a pinch-runner, that sort of thing, but managers are collectively terrified of running out of catchers.

Chris asks: So if the Pirates do make Gerrit Cole available at the deadline, are we in and at what cost? He’s got 2 years of control left so his value is probably at its highest if he is preforming well at the deadline.

The Pirates are in last place in the NL Central at 12-15 with a -17 run differential, and they’re going to be without Starling Marte, their best player, for a few months. They’re pretty screwed. It’s still early enough in the season that they can climb out of it, but yeah. The Pirates are in trouble. They went 78-83 last year and nothing seems to be better this time around.

Cole can become a free agent after the 2019 season, so get him at the deadline and you’re getting three postseason runs out of him, not just two. He’s the kind of pitcher I think the Yankees would be willing to trade top prospects to acquire. Cole is young (26), really good (3.10 ERA and 3.00 FIP last three years), and not a rental. I can’t imagine the whole 2008 draft thing will be an issue. Holding a grudge helps no one. If the Pirates make Cole available, there will be a lot of competition for him, but the Yankees definitely have the pieces to make a substantial offer.

Michael asks: how would you value Gerrit Cole and Sonny Gray as trade targets this July? Both have had serious-ish health issues in the past and Cashman seems to avoid guys like that (CC, Tanaka, Kuroda, Eovaldi, Pineda, etc. all had mostly clean bills of health at the time of acquisition).

I just answered a question about Cole, so I’ll focus on Gray here. I’m a big Sonny Gray fan but the injuries are disconcerting. He had lat and forearm problems last season, then started this year on the disabled list with more lat problems. Gray came off the disabled list earlier this week and allowed four runs in six innings, including three homers, in his first start. Eh. I need to see more before getting all gung-ho about trading for him again. More health, more innings, more … uh, better performance. More better performance. Unless the A’s give Gray away (why would they?), I’m not comfortable giving up a big package to get him right now. Like I said though, I’m a big fan when he’s healthy. Great pitcher, great competitor.

Kevin asks: Profar from the Rangers looks like a classic Cashman buy low player with tons of untapped potential. Cost, value, do you want him as much as I do?

This is where Jurickson Profar’s career is at right now: he was send down the other day to make room on the roster for Pete Kozma. Seriously. Profar is still only 24! He also hit .239/.321/.338 (78 wRC+) last year after missing 2014 and 2015 with shoulder surgery, and was hitting .135/.289/.135 (31 wRC+) at the time of his demotion. Also, in 2013, his last healthy season before the shoulder injury, he hit .234/.308/.336 (75 wRC+). We’re talking hundreds of plate appearances too.

The Yankees have asked about Profar in the past, and I’m sure they’d love to buy super low on him while his value is down. The last few years have not been good to him between injuries and poor performance. I’m definitely open to bringing him aboard because hey, why not? Maybe Profar just needs a change of scenery. Busted prospect for busted prospect? Say, Mason Williams for Profar? I can’t see Texas selling that low though. Might as well hang on to the kid and hope he figures it out rather than trade him while his value is in the dumps.

Bill asks: It was mentioned last week about the team being able to blow games open more, it also feels like the main bullpen guys aren’t pitching in more games as a result which could lead to them being more fresh later in the season. Any data to back this up through the 1st month?

It’s true for Dellin Betances and pretty much none of the other main bullpen pieces. Here are the workload numbers so far:

2017 Pace 2016 Totals 2015-16 Average
Dellin Betances 68.5 G and 60.3 IP 73 G and 73 IP 73.5 G and 78.5 IP
Aroldis Chapman 68.5 G and 64.4 IP 59 G and 58 IP 62 G and 62.2 IP
Tyler Clippard 81 G and 72.7 IP 69 G and 63 IP 69 G and 67 IP
Adam Warren 49.5 G and 89.3 IP 58 G and 65.1 IP 50.5 G and 98.3 IP

Keep in mind Chapman was suspended to start last season, so his 2016 and 2015-16 numbers are skewed a bit. Ditto Warren’s 2015-16 average since he was starter for a chunk of 2015. Betances is on pace to throw fewer innings than ever before as a full-time big leaguer while Chapman and Clippard are near their averages.

Reliever usage is a weird thing. We’ll see Chapman and Betances pitch four times in five days or something like that, then go a week between appearances. I don’t always agree with Girardi’s bullpen usage — the rigid assigned innings thing irks me to no end — but he tends to be pretty good at keeping guys rested. Perhaps Dellin’s low early season workload is part of a plan to avoid having him fade like the last two Septembers?

Pete asks: What is the single most surprising (positive or negative) thing about the Yankees this year? Could be one player, group of players (starting pitching), etc. How about in the majors? Again, overall team production, one player hot/cold start, etc.

My biggest surprise for the Yankees so far is the strength of the rotation over Bird being awful because Bird has apparently been hurting. Pineda, Luis Severino, and also Jordan Montgomery have been better than I expected so far. And I expect Masahiro Tanaka to be better going forward as well. CC Sabathia? Eh. We’ll see. The early effectiveness of Pineda, Severino, and Montgomery has been the biggest surprise for me. I wasn’t too comfortable with that back of the rotation at all coming into the new season.

As for the rest of the majors, Ryan Zimmerman is the biggest surprise to me for sure. I thought he was toast last year after hitting .218/.272/.370 (67 wRC+). He’d been declining steadily for years and it seemed like he’d fallen off a cliff. Instead, Zimmerman is hitting .424/.468/.859 (238 wRC+) with eleven home runs. I mean, what? He has eleven homers in 109 plate appearances after hitting 15 in 467 plate appearances last year. Did not see this coming. At all. Not even close.

Joe asks: Castro’s been great this year. Besides looking at his walk rate, is it possible to check the amount of hits that have come in a hitters count and see if he is raising that rate compared to last year? That may show that he’s swinging at better pitches even if he isn’t taking more walks.

Castro is hitting .362/.402/.543 (167 wRC+) overall this season, though eventually that will come back to Earth because he’s not a true talent .407 BABIP hitter. No one is. Not even peak Ichiro. That doesn’t mean Starlin has not improved as a hitter, however. He sure looks better to me. Here are the numbers Joe asked about:

2016 Castro when ahead in the count: .351/.438/.649 (116 OPS+)
2017 Castro when ahead in the count: .435/.567/.565 (137 OPS+)

2016 Castro with pitcher ahead: .207/.209/.286 (91 OPS+)
2017 Castro with pitcher ahead: .171/.171/.229 (60 OPS+)

OPS+ is the number to focus on because it tells you how Castro has performed relative to the league average. That .435/.567/.565 line in hitter’s counts this year looks great! And it is! But the league average in hitter’s counts is .283/.467/.488, not your standard .250-ish/.310-ish/.410-ish batting line.

Anyway, Castro has been better in hitter’s counts and worse in pitcher’s counts so far this year, though I wouldn’t read too much into it at this point. The season is still young and we’re talking only a handful of plate appearances here. Maybe Starlin really is doing a better job attacking in hitter’s counts. That’d be cool. I think it’s still too early to say that definitively though.

Blastro. (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Blastro. (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Nathaniel asks: Whose first two months in the majors do you find more impressive? Gary Sanchez who came up and dominated, or Aaron Judge who struggled tremendously in September, adjusted and has been one of the best Yankee hitters early on this season?

They’re both very impressive accomplishments, obviously. Sanchez did what he did despite the physical demands of being a starting catcher. Judge made some big time adjustments to get to where he is today. I’m going to go with Judge because I’m a sucker for a redemption story. He’s heard for years his size is a detriment to making contact, failed miserably last year, but still worked hard and turned himself into a monster. Lots and lots and lots of folks were down on Judge over the winter. Lots. He’s worked hard to get to where he is. So has Gary! But I think making the adjustments Judge has is more impressive than playing through more bumps and bruises like Sanchez did a year ago.

Steve asks: I know it is only 14 home games but attendance is down about 3,600 people a game from last year. Stadium is only be filled to about 74% capacity. With a winning and exciting team I was surprised to see this continued downward trend in attendance.

Attendance does not change nearly as quickly as so many people seem to think. When the Yankees win three straight games, a flock of 7,000 people do not rush out and buy tickets. There is always a lag between team performance and attendance changes, and it’s usually months. It takes time for teams to reel fans back in and also create new fans willing to spend their money on baseball games. The Yankees were bad and boring the first four months last season. Ditto the entire 2013 and 2014 seasons. One great month — as excited as I am, that’s all this is right now, one great month — isn’t enough to bring everyone back. A few more months like this will create more excitement and get people back to the park.

Joseph asks: What kind of package would it take to land somebody like James Paxton? He’s still under team control until 2021 and obviously has great stuff. However, his injury history should obviously bring down his value as well.

A year or two ago I said a Gardner-for-Paxton trade didn’t make sense for the Yankees — it was rumored the Yankees asked about Paxton at the time, but were rejected — and welp. Shows what I know. Paxton has a 1.43 ERA (1.53 FIP) with a 30.0% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate this year. He’s also a lefty who throws hard and can’t become a free agent until the 2020-21 offseason, and that’s pretty cool. Paxton’s injury history is very ugly though. That’s the drawback.

Trading for Paxton would be a wonderful idea. But why would the Mariners do it? Unless they’re planning to start a rebuild while guys like Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager are productive and owed big money, Seattle is more likely to add pieces that subtract their best pitcher. (Sorry, Felix.) Their window to win is right now and they have baseball’s longest postseason drought. I can’t see them throwing in the towel now. They’re trying to win and need Paxton to do that. And, if the Mariners do dangle Paxton, they wouldn’t be wrong to ask for Torres and more.

Michael asks: Do you think there’s a realistic chance the Yanks re-sign Pineda? Assuming he has a good 2017 (it’s still early), is there a precedent set for someone with 5 years of underwhelming performance and inconsistency who figures it out one year before FA?

Yeah, I think there’s a chance because Pineda is still on the right side of 30 and it shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to sign him. Ivan Nova got three years and $26M this past offseason. How much more will it take to bring Pineda back, realistically? I guess that depends how the rest of his season plays out. The Yankees know Pineda better than anyone. They know his stuff, the statistical info, his personality, his health, everything. All of that will factor into the decision. The Yankees do need pitching, so I imagine bringing Pineda back at the right price will be on the table.

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.