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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: FanGraphsNathan Eovaldi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Cashman, Mateo, Chapman, Pineda, Sanchez

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McCann. (Presswire)
McCann. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR RBI fWAR bWAR
Ortiz 9,569 .285/.378/.548 139 509 1,663 47.2 51.6
Sheffield 10,947 .292/.393/.514 141 509 1,676 62.1 60.3

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Puello, Mitchell, Chapman, Gooden, Nicknames

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

Puello. (Presswire)
Puello. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

ERA FIP K% BB% bWAR
2009-11 Papelbon 2.89 2.72 28.9% 7.5% +5.2
2013-15 Chapman 2.05 1.82 45.3% 11.7% +6.5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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