Mailbag: Didi, Sanchez, Clippard, McCann, Pineda, Warren

Monster mailbag this week. Nineteen questions in all. I did my best to keep the answers short and failed miserably. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us stuff.

Didi. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Didi. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Should the yankees be exploring an extension for Didi this winter?

It’s definitely worth exploring, though I think going year-to-year with Didi Gregorius would be perfectly fine too. He’s making $2.425M this season, his first year of arbitration eligibility as a Super Two, so he still has three more years of arbitration coming. Defense still isn’t rewarded through arbitration, and while Didi’s been a very productive hitter this season, it’s not a huge breakout that will send his salary through the roof.

According to the MLBTR Extension Tracker, not a single Super Two shortstop at Didi’s service time level has signed a long-term extension, so we’re in the dark about what it would take. Only two non-Super Two shortstops a similar service time level have signed extensions: Elvis Andrus (eight years, $120M) and Alexei Ramirez (four years, $32.5M). The Andrus extension is a disaster and Ramirez was almost 30 when he signed his deal, so they’re not great benchmarks. Let’s spitball some numbers:

2017: $5M (second of four arbitration years)
2018: $7.5M (third of four arbitration years)
2019: $10M (fourth of four arbitration years)
2020: $14M (first free agent year)
2021: $16M club option (second free agent year)

That’s a four-year deal worth $36.5M with an option for a fifth year. Didi’s base salary is already $2.425M this season, and being a Super Two helps his earning potential. A $2.5M annual raise during his arbitration years doesn’t seem unreasonable, does it? It might be light, if anything. Does it make sense to sign Gregorius to that contract? It does if you believe this season is an indication he’s ready to become a legitimate 18+ homers a year shortstop.

John asks (short version): Given DIDI’s emergence as an above average offensive shortstop, would it make sense to trade him in the middle of this rebuild?

Depends entirely on the offer. Gregorius has been awesome, but I wouldn’t make him off-limits in trades. Not when you could slide Starlin Castro over to shortstop in the short-term and have Tyler Wade, Gleyber Torres, and Jorge Mateo on their way. Young two-way shortstops are always in demand. Off the top of my head the Twins, Athletics, Mets, Reds, and Padres could use one. I’m not saying the Yankees should give Gregorius away, but if another club makes them a real attractive offer, say a young pitcher plus two prospects, they’d be silly not to consider it. Don’t shop him, but be willing to listen. I’m certain the Yankees will.

Peter asks: With the commitment to a youth movement now do the Yankees sign any Major League Free Agents this offseason? Is there anyone even worth targeting?

I said the other day that I think the Yankees need to add a starting pitcher this offseason in the wake of Nathan Eovaldi‘s injury, so I’ll say yes, they do sign a big league free agent. I would bet strongly against them handing out a big contract, however. I think the only way they hand out a huge contract is if Japanese righty Shohei Otani is posted, and right now that is far from certain. Otherwise I expect the Yankees to explore the lower cost market. Maybe a one-year deal for a starter and/or a reliever, something like that. The team’s biggest moves figure to be trades this winter, not free agent signings.

Mike asks (short version): A theory: A right handed power hitter is incentivized by the right field porch to use the entire field, which leads to higher BABIPs. Conversely, left-handers tend to “fall in love” with the porch and become dead pull hitters. Thoughts?

I suppose righty hitters could fall in love with going the other way because of the short porch, but I do agree with Mike’s premise. You want hitters to use the entire field regardless of the ballpark dimensions, but in Yankee Stadium there’s a clear advantage to being able to hit the ball to right field. The Yankees have gone heavy on lefty pull hitters over the years and I understand why. I think an unintended consequence is that they became too one dimensional. Going forward, the best plan of attack may be to focus on the hit tool first, then just let the power boost come naturally. Get guys who can spray the ball around and will work the count. Let the ballpark do the rest.

Dellin & Gary. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Dellin & Gary. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Gilbert asks: Watching the game tonight, I had a thought: has Sanchez ever caught Betances in the minors before? And extended question: how many current Yankees pitchers has Sanchez caught from when they were in the minors?

Gary Sanchez and Dellin Betances were never on the same minor league team. Sanchez was always a level or two behind. I’m sure he caught him during Spring Training and stuff, but they were never minor league teammates. Here are the pitchers on the 40-man roster who were minor league teammates with Sanchez at some point:

More than I expected! That doesn’t include Ben Heller, who was technically Sanchez’s teammate in Triple-A for two days following the trade deadline. They were never in a game together down there though. It also doesn’t include guys like CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, who were temporarily Sanchez’s teammate while on rehab assignments. There are 26 (!) pitchers on the 40-man roster right now and 15 were minor league teammates with Sanchez at some point.

Dan asks: Would you consider an offseason trade of Gary Sanchez for Lucas Giolito?

Sure, I’d consider it. I don’t think the Yankees or Nationals would though. Giolito’s the higher ranked prospect, but a 23-year-old power hitting catcher is a pretty valuable commodity too. You could nitpick both of them apart — Giolito had Tommy John surgery, Sanchez doesn’t walk much, Giolito’s minor league numbers aren’t great, Sanchez is a negative on the bases, etc. — but the bottom line is both are very valuable young players. A straight one-for-one swap is fair-ish in a vacuum, I think. Maybe I’m just a raging homer. Brian McCann and Austin Romine give the Yankees the flexibility to trade Sanchez, but if they’re going to trade him, it has to be for a top shelf young player like Giolito. My guess is both teams would say no to this trade though.

Travis asks: Do you think the Clippard acquisition was more buying low to see if he returns to form, then selling high either in off-season or at next trade deadline?

Nah. I think they got him simply to beef up the bullpen in the wake of the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades. Someone is going to have to throw those innings, preferably someone with late-game experience, and Tyler Clippard fit the bill. It was a relatively low cost move to plug a hole, that’s all. Now, if Clippard dominates — and he’s pitched well so far — and the Yankees have a chance to flip him for more than they gave up, I think they’d do it in a heartbeat. I don’t believe that was the original intention though.

Alexander asks: What do you think about McCann as an option for the Indians? The multi year commitment may be a limitation but seems like the Brantley and Gomes injuries plus Lucroy non-trade may open up a need.

The money is going to be a real issue. The Indians clearly need a catcher and Jonathan Lucroy was a perfect fit for them. He’s a righty bat to help balance their lefty heavy lineup and he’s dirt cheap. McCann is neither of those things, but he’s way better than Chris Gimenez and Roberto Perez. Cleveland can’t afford a $17M a year catcher, so the Yankees would have to pay down a ton of money. Would they be willing to do that? Would the Indians be willing to give up the prospects necessary to get the Yankees to do that? McCann fits the Indians because he’s better than the catchers they have in-house. It just seems like his contract will throw a wrench into things.

Roy asks: With the possibility that the Yankees move Brian McCann this month or over the winter, will the Yankees feel the lack of a lefty power hitter? For the first time that I can remember, no one will be a serious home run threat from the left side.

That’s a good point. They will get Greg Bird back next year and hopefully he returns from shoulder surgery strong. He’d be the team’s primary lefty power threat. Him and Gregorius. I think this is more of a “problem” than a problem, because as long as guys like Judge and Sanchez do what we expect them to do, the Yankees are going to hit dingers. Carrying a lefty bench bat sure would make sense though. You still want to have some balance, because you’re inevitably going to run into right-handed pitchers who chew up righties but are susceptible to lefties. Especially relievers.

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

Sean asks: Am I crazy to think that I wouldnt want to trade any of the top prospects for anyone unless its someone like Jose Fernandez? Chris Sale is great and all but he’s kind of up and down, his delivery is kind of conducive to an injury. If you have to give up an arm and a leg for a top pitcher, id rather go for Fernandez

Well, Fernandez has already had a major arm injury (Tommy John surgery in 2014) while Chris Sale has been close to perfectly healthy in the big leagues, so I wouldn’t get too caught up in worrying about injury risk. Every pitcher is an injury risk. Sale and Fernandez are both awesome. Top ten pitchers in the world. Nitpicking who’s better is a waste of time. The difference is their contract situation. Fernandez is going to be a free agent after 2018. Sale is signed through 2019, assuming his no-brainer club options are exercised. That extra year of control is huge. If the Yankees are going to trade prospects for an ace, do it for the guy you’ll control longer.

Doug asks: Assume Austin/Judge/Sanchez have solid production for the rest of the year: is there a young pitcher that matches up with them in a trade? Do we sell high like the Pineda/Montero trade?

I wouldn’t be opposed to trading some of the young guys. Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier are the three I’d hang on to most. Tyler Austin, Torres, Mateo … I’d make them available no questions asked. Looking around the league, would the Angels trade Tyler Skaggs for some young players? What about the A’s and Sean Manaea? The Reds and Anthony DeSclafani? I have a hard time thinking the Rockies would make their young pitchers available, but Jon Gray and/of Tyler Anderson would be cool targets. The thing about the Pineda trade is that no one saw it coming. He seemed like someone who would stay put after such a strong rookie season. Trades like this tend to be surprises.

Prem asks: Based on DotF recaps, it appears Cito Culver has found some sort of offensive stroke in the past few months. He turns 24 later this month and the Yankees have a glut of SS prospects. Does he have any value to the Yankees? Ramiro Pena v2.0?

Utility infielder at best. It seems like Culver has had a very good year, but he’s still hitting only .251/.309/.357 (86 wRC+) with a 27.4% strikeout rate overall. And he was repeating Double-A too. Culver can still pick it at short, and that’s a very valuable skill, but yeah, Ramiro Pena v2.0 seems to be the best case scenario here. Cito will be a minor league free agent after this season, by the way.

Dan asks: Can you explain the 60 day DL as it pertains to the 40 man roster during the offseason? Do players have to be added back to the 40 man during the offseason, and if so, what about players who are still expected to be injured come opening day?

There is no DL in the offseason. Players are activated off the DL the day after the end of the World Series. Eligible free agents also come off the roster at the same time, so that day is a massive 40-man roster exodus. The free agents are gone and the 60-day DL guys again count towards the 40-man. The Yankees only have two impending free agents left on the roster after their trade deadline moves (Mark Teixeira and Swarzak), so there’s going to be more than a few roster moves that day after the end of the World Series this year. Players who are still injured come Spring Training can then be placed on the DL again. The exact date seems to change every year, but it’s sometime in March.

Noel asks: Is there a chance either Judge or Sanchez gets enough AB’s to lose their rookie status? I believe its 150 ABs. It would be neat if one or both of them were able to show what they can do for a whole year next year and maybe net us fans a MLB Rookie of the year award.

It’s 130 at-bats and both will almost certainly reach that number this year. The Yankees have 42 games to go, and assuming Sanchez plays three out of every four games and averages three at-bats a game, that’s another 94 at-bats right there. Here’s already at 50 at-bats right now. I expect both Sanchez and Judge to lose their rookie eligibility this year, which means the farm system will take a hit and not rank quite as highly next spring as it does right now, but who cares about that? Graduating prospects to MLB and helping them become impact players is what it’s all about. I guess that means Frazier will have to go out and win Rookie of the Year next season.

Wilson. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Wilson. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Joe asks: We keep talking about the recent trades and how they will have such a great impact on the future, What about the Justin Wilson trade? We traded a 7th, 8th and 9th inning guy for what could amount to half of our future.

The Wilson trade was one of those moves that was confusing at the time and looks better as we get further away from it. Both Green and Cessa are in the rotation right now. Imagine where the Yankees would be without them. Also, Wilson has a 4.57 ERA this season and needed a cortisone shot in his elbow earlier this week. Don’t get too upset about selling high on non-elite relievers, folks. All it takes is either Green or Cessa becoming a back-end starter or setup man for the Yankees to come out ahead on this one.

Mike asks: What about putting Warren in the rotation, and leaving Severino, Green and Cessa in the bullpen? The three of them seem to be nearly identical, hard throwing, two-pitch-FB/slider-type guys that struggle making multiple trips through the lineup.

I wouldn’t do that the rest of the season. Let’s see what the kids can do. I think the “they’re all too similar” stuff is generally overplayed — it cracks me up when teams arrange their rotations at the start of the season and worry about splitting up the lefties — and isn’t much of a concern. Luis Severino has some very real issues to work on in Triple-A. Green and Cessa can stay in the rotation for the time being. I would definitely like the Yankees to bring Adam Warren to Spring Training as a starter next season though. Maybe he can be the guy to fill Eovaldi’s spot.

Matt asks: Does the Eovaldi injury change your view on what the Yankees should do with Pineda going forward?

Yes. It has to, right? Earlier this year I was in the “extend Eovaldi, let Pineda walk” camp, and now there’s no reason for that camp to exist. Bottom line: the Yankees need pitching beyond 2017, and now one of the available pitchers (Eovaldi) is way less desirable. Pineda is still frustrating as hell, but he’s healthy, he’s relatively young (27), and he misses bats. I’m not convinced he’ll ever be more than a mid-rotation starter, though at least the potential for improvement exists.

Jonathan asks: Since Eovaldi will be non-tendered, where does his rehab take place and who pays for it?

The Yankees are on the hook for the cost of his surgery and rehab and all that. They also have to give him access to their facilities to do his rehab work, though I believe he has the option to rehab elsewhere if he wants. Once he signs with another team, that team assumes the responsibility of his rehab and New York is off the hook. Players who get released after being injured aren’t hung out to dry. The Collective Bargaining Agreement says the team has to take care of them as if they are a player on the roster, and it’s been like that for years and years and years.

Frank asks: I was reading a Fangraphs piece and noticed that David Price has a 3.3 WAR.  While his K% and BB% is good he still has allowed more hits per inning and also has an ERA over 4.  How has he managed such a really good WAR?

There are two main versions of WAR right now: FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. FanGraphs WAR is based on FIP, and FIP is based on strikeouts, walks, and homers. That’s it. Price has excellent strikeout (24.0%) and walk (5.2%) rates and an average-ish homer rate (1.11 HR/9). The FanGraphs version of WAR is blind to the number of hits (9.39 H/9) and runs (4.19 ERA) Price is allowing.

B-Ref WAR is based on actual runs allowed, which is why they have Price at +2.2 WAR, a full win below FanGraphs. I prefer B-Ref WAR myself. At the end of the day, we’re trying to quantify performance, not project forward, so the runs matter. That’s the job of the pitcher: prevent runs. It doesn’t matter if he strikes out 15 guys a night or gets 20 line drives at defenders. You might feel better about the 15-strikeout guy sustaining his performance going forward, but if the 20-line drive guy kept runs off the board, then he kept runs off the board and WAR should reflect that.

Mailbag: Refsnyder, Minors, Teixeira, Robertson, Holder

I’ve got 14 questions for you in the mailbag this week. I also have a bunch of guest post submissions sitting in my inbox that I haven’t been able to get to yet, so if you’ve sent one in, I’m not ignoring you. I’ve just been busy this week. I hope to get to them soon. If you want to send us anything, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the email address to use.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Justin asks: Will the Refsnyder third base experiment get revisited a little bit down the stretch?

Maybe if there’s an injury, otherwise I don’t think so. Rob Refsnyder has played one inning at third base in the big leagues, and that was during an interleague game in an NL park. He was double-switched out one inning later. Chase Headley has gotten three days off since the All-Star break and Ronald Torres was at third base all three times. If the Yankees didn’t use Refsnyder at third then, I’m not sure when they will. They don’t seem comfortable with him at the hot corner at all, and to be fair, he is still very new to the position. We might see him at third in September, but I would bet against it becoming a regular thing.

David asks: At what point does a player (who has been called up) lose prospect status? If Sanchez and Judge lose prospect status in 2016, how well does the Yankees’ system rank among MLB teams overall? Still Top 5? Top 15?

MLB’s rookie limits are 130 at-bats for position players and 50 innings for pitchers, and 45 days of service time outside September for all players. Once you reach one of those limits, you are no longer technically a rookie. When it comes to prospect status, most places just stick with 130 at-bats or 50 innings. Service time is too much of a hassle to track.

Based on how much he’s played the last week, Gary Sanchez should clear 130 at-bats this season. Whoever gets called up to replace Alex Rodriguez on Saturday, either Aaron Judge or Tyler Austin, figures to lose rookie eligibility as well if they do indeed play regularly. If, say, both Sanchez and Judge lose prospect status down the stretch, the Yankees would still have a top ten farm system in my opinion, if not top five. They’d still have four legit top 100 guys in the system in Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo, and Justus Sheffield. Maybe James Kaprielian too.

As long as the Yankees are losing prospects for good reasons (graduated to MLB) and not bad reasons (injury, poor performance), then I couldn’t care less about the farm system dropping in the rankings. Give me the talent in the big leagues. That’s the whole point of acquiring prospects and building a strong system. To improve the MLB team.

Stephen asks: Now that Teixeira is retiring, I thought it would be a good time to compare Teixeira and Giambi’s Yankee careers. The easy answer would be to say that Tex had the better career because 1) they won a world series and 2) he could play defense…but looking at the numbers quickly, it is somewhat surprising to see Giambi seemed to have outshined Tex by more than a little bit offensively. Thoughts?

Jason Giambi has better offensive numbers for sure. I think Mark Teixeira has been the better all-around player. Here’s the side-by-side comparison of their careers in pinstripes:

Games PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR RBI BB% K% bWAR fWAR
Teixeira 923 3,981 .249/.344/.480 120 201 606 11.6 18.1 20.8 18.3
Giambi 897 3,693 .260/.404/.521 145 209 604 16.8 19.1 22.0 21.8

Both versions of WAR say Giambi was the more valuable player (in fewer games), though WAR doesn’t handle first base defense well. I think it sells Teixeira well short in the field, and it probably overrates Giambi a bit too. Giambi was a way better hitter than Teixeira, but he gave a ton of value back in the field. Teixeira has been comfortably above-average on both sides of the ball. Bottom line: they were both very productive in pinstripes.

Noah asks: David Robertson has been gone for a couple of years now and the no runs DMC era is over. I think many people forget how dominant Robertson was for the Yankees (especially in 2011) because of how good Betances, Miller, and Chapman have been. Where do they stand when compared to each other? Is Robertson’s 2011 still better than Betances or Millers’ 2015?

That 2011 season was Robertson’s big breakout season and the best season of his career. He’s had plenty of excellent seasons since, but that was his absolute peak. Here’s how 2011 Robertson compares to last year’s version of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller:

IP ERA FIP WHIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 bWAR fWAR
2011 Robertson 66.2 1.08 1.84 1.13 36.8 12.9 46.3 0.14 4.0 2.6
2015 Betances 84 1.50 2.48 1.01 39.5 12.1 47.7 0.64 3.7 2.4
2015 Miller 61.2 2.04 2.16 0.86 40.7 8.1 48.3 0.73 2.2 2.0

I don’t think you can say one of those three is clearly better than the other two. I’m not a big believer in reliever WAR — I think it drastically understates their value, especially high-leverage relievers like these three — and if I had to pick one, I think I’d go with 2015 Betances because of the sheer number of innings. He threw roughly 20 (20!) more innings than the other two guys. Either way, all three were awesome. The Yankees have had some truly remarkable relief seasons in recent years. We’ve been spoiled as fans.

Bob asks: Please tell us more about Abiatel Avelino who, considering his age, has had a pretty good year in Tampa and has held his own in Trenton so far. Is he a good prospect?

Avelino, 21, was bumped up to Double-A Trenton a week or two ago, and he’s hitting .269/.336/.379 (110 wRC+) with 22 doubles, six homers, 21 steals in 35 attempts (60%), an 8.1% walk rate, and a 16.0% strikeout rate in 105 games between High-A and Double-A this season. I’ve had him on my top 30 list a few times (including this year) and he’s basically a slap hitter with speed and good defense at short. Avelino has always been billed as a guy with great baseball instincts whose whole is greater than the sum of the parts. He’s a decent prospect who probably fits best in a utility role.

Joseph asks: If the White Sox place Robertson on waivers, do you think the Yankees will claim him like they did last year? If so, Do they work out a trade, do the White Sox just assign him to the Yankees or neither?

Not including his partial rookie season in 2008, Robertson is currently having the worst year of his career, pitching to a 4.18 ERA (4.12 FIP) in 47.1 innings. He’s had some really high profile meltdowns too. For example:

Yeah, that’s bad. Robertson is owed the remainder of his $11M salary this season, plus $12M next season and another $13M the season after that. He’s not cheap by reliever standards. Robertson is worth a deeper look outside a mailbag setting because I’m not sure what exactly the problem is. Given the money owed and the fact there are some signs of decline, I’d steer clear. I don’t think the White Sox would just give Robertson away, but I wouldn’t risk a claim either.

Bryan asks: Will Gardner gain 10 and 5 rights at the end of this season? I’ve seen people say both yes and no. I’d think that if he doesn’t gain them, he would almost be a must-move for the offseason with the amount of talent we have coming up in the OF and the logjam created between him and Ellsbury. Then, if we were to trade him, what kind of package do you think he could bring back?

No on the 10-and-5 rights. It’s ten years of continuous service, and Brett Gardner wasn’t up for good until August 2008. He won’t get 10-and-5 rights until August 2018. There is no no-trade clause in Gardner’s contract, not even a partial one, but he gets a $1M bonus if traded. That’s better than nothing, I guess.

I think the Yankees are going to end up trading Gardner this offseason to help clear up their outfield logjam. I’m sure they’d prefer to trade Jacoby Ellsbury, but that’s not happening, so Gardner it is. Sucks. Gardner will be two years away from free agency after the season, and when Dexter Fowler was traded two years prior to free agency (Rockies to Astros), he fetched an MLB ready mid-range pitching prospect (Jordan Lyles) and an MLB ready platoon outfielder (Brandon Barnes). I guess that’s a good template for a Gardner trade?

Anonymous asks: RA Dickey has thrown 200+ innings in 5 straight seasons. HR rate isn’t ideal for the Bronx, but he’s a dependable innings eater. What about signing RA Dickey to a 1-2 year deal in the offseason as a back end option?

If the Yankees plan to try to contend next year, then I say no, aim higher. Dickey is 41 and he’s having his worst season since before he joined the Mets (4.61 ERA and 5.27 FIP), so I’m not sure what he offers a contending team at this point other than veteran presents. (I hear he gives good veteran presents.) If the Yankees are willing to focus on player development and aren’t so concerned with winning in 2017, Dickey could make sense as an innings guy. Someone has to pitch, right? He’s someone you can count on for 180+ innings and to start every fifth day, no questions asked.

Mark asks: Probably already asked a million times, but with ARod retiring how does his remaining contract count against next years luxury tax? Is he not essentially a $20M+ advisor? I’m sure I’m missing something obvious. Thanks for all the great work you guys do.

Nothing changes as far as the luxury tax is concerned. The Yankees will still be hit with a $27.5M luxury tax hit next season — luxury tax hits are based on the average annual value of the total contract (ten years, $275M), not actual salary ($20M in 2017) — even though A-Rod is being released after tonight’s game. When you release a player, it’s like he’s still on your roster for payroll purposes. It doesn’t matter that he’s staying on as an advisor. And if another team signs A-Rod, the Yankees can subtract the pro-rated portion of the league minimum from the $27.5M. That’s the only break they’ll get. The Yankees are fully aware of this and are willing to accept it, obviously.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Jason asks: Not sure if you’ve mentioned this before, but if the Yankees do for whatever reason decide to sign Chapman in the offseason, would they surrender a draft pick because he was traded (from them, if that matters) during the season? Would this also apply to Melancon?

Players have to spent the entire season with the same team to be eligible for the qualifying offer, so since Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon were traded at the deadline, they will not be attached to draft pick compensation. Those two plus Kenley Jansen will be the three big free agent relievers after the season. I’d prefer Jansen myself, though he’s going to cost a first round pick, and that kinda sucks. As good as he’s been, Melancon’s velocity is down and he’s not getting nearly as many grounders as in the past, so he’s probably at the bottom of my target list. I’m already preparing myself for the Yankees to re-sign Chapman. It feels inevitable at this point.

Hunter asks: What happens to Alex’s number 13 after Friday? Held for retirement, immediately back in circulation, or given the Paul O’Neill treatment?

Good question! I have no idea whatsoever. I could totally see the Yankees putting it right back in circulation — they gave out No. 46 the Spring Training after Andy Pettitte lefty for the Astros as a free agent — and I could also see them retiring it at some point. Nothing would surprise me. The Yankees still have not retired No. 2, you know. That will happen soon. If they do retire No. 13, it’ll probably be in a few years. Now watch Ronald Torreyes show up to camp wearing No. 13 next spring.

R.J. asks: Hey Mike, can you explain what are the area code games and how the players are selected to play for the teams they play for? Thanks

The Area Code Games are one of the major high school showcase events each year. They’re actually going on right now. There are eight teams that draw players from different regions of the country, and the eight teams are named after MLB franchises.

  • Chicago White Sox: Midwest
  • Cincinnati Reds: Four Corners and Hawaii
  • Kansas City Royals: Pacific Northwest
  • Milwaukee Brewers: Southern California
  • New York Yankees: Northeast
  • Oakland Athletics: Northern California
  • Texas Rangers: Texas and Louisiana
  • Washington Nationals: Southeast

The Area Code Games teams are just named after MLB franchises. There’s no affiliation. The kids aren’t Yankees prospects. They’re not coached by Yankees coaches, nothing like that. It’s just the team name. The Area Codes Games are why there are photos of Mike Trout in a Yankees hat and Bryce Harper in a Reds hat floating around the internet:

(WhatProsWear.com)
(WhatProsWear.com)

As far as I know most players are invited to the Area Code Games, especially in the traditional baseball hotbeds, but there are open tryouts as well. The games are played at Long Beach State’s Blair Field in August each year, and it gives the kids a chance to strut their stuff against other elite high school players in front of hundreds of scouts. The Area Code Games are the first big scouting event of the draft season.

Craig asks: Jonathan Holder. I confess I never heard of him (notwithstanding some passing references in RAB) until I read the Fangraphs piece on Grant Dayton of the Dodgers today.  But Holder’s numbers this year in AA and AAA are pretty mind-boggling.  In the mix for 2017?

Mind-boggling is a good way to describe Holder’s numbers: 1.86 ERA (1.49 FIP) with a 39.4% strikeout rate and a 3.4% walk rate in 53.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He was the team’s sixth round pick in 2014 — Holder was the closer at Mississippi State and Jacob Lindgren was the setup man/fireman — and the Yankees tried Holder as a starter last season. He performed well (2.52 ERA and 2.85 FIP in 118 innings), though I guess the team didn’t like what they saw, because they stuck him back in the bullpen this year.

Holder is a low-to-mid-90s fastball/curveball pitcher and I don’t think he’s a future closer or anything like that. I know the numbers are great, but trust me, there are hundreds of relievers putting up silly numbers in the minors. Holder is more of a middle reliever type, someone who rides the shuttle a la Nick Goody and Branden Pinder. One of those guys. Of course, I said the same thing about Robertson back in the day, then he jumped two grades of command overnight, so who knows.

Max asks: Given that Tex announced his retirement today; it makes me wonder. How much longer are you gonna keep this site going, Do you see it as a lifelong thing? Do you think baseball will even be here in 40 years?

I can promise you right now this won’t be a lifelong thing. RAB’s tenth anniversary is in February and I can’t see going another ten years. Ben, Joe, and I started the site when we were all in college because we wanted to write about baseball. Now we’re all in our 30s and, ugh, responsible adults. Priorities have changed. The best answer I can give is saying I’m taking it year-to-year at this point. It has nothing to do with the state of the Yankees. It’s all about me and whether I want to continue doing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

Brian McCann batted balls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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