Full Strength–Or Something Like It

Apr 4, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird (33) works out during batting practice prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Like any full baseball season worth its salt, the second half for the Yankees has been an unpredictable series of ups and downs. At times, they’ve looked as dominant as they did in the early season; at other times, they’ve looked as hapless as they did in June. Overall, though, they’re holding the line and keeping their first wildcard position with some room to spare. The division is also in reach, but they’re gonna need a boost to catch the Red Sox. Enter Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Greg Bird. All three are on rehab assignments right now and are the cavalry to the Yankees’ main fighting force.

All three players are returning from varying circumstances. Castro is in the midst of an All-Star season, just injury riddled. Holliday is hoping to recover from a mid-season crash after a solid start. And Bird is hoping to take off, finally, after a disastrous and frustrating stretch of bad health. Despite those different paths to this spot, the ‘destination’ is clear: give the Yankee lineup a much wanted and much needed spark to help push them over the edge. The challenge for the Yankees, then, is to incorporate these guys into a lineup that has been molded and established without them.

Let’s not worry about arrival times for the moment and just take a look at what the lineup may look like when all three are back in action.

Though Holliday was hitting there during his hot times early on and Bird was slotted for there at the beginning of 2017, neither should bat at the top of the lineup right now. The top five, really, should look about the same as it has recently:

  1. Brett Gardner OF
  2. Aaron Hicks OF
  3. Aaron Judge RF
  4. Gary Sanchez C
  5. Didi Gregorius SS

Now comes the part where we might expect Bird to hit, but I’d imagine Joe Girardi would want to break up the lefties. He can do so in two ways, by either inserting Holliday in the six spot, or keep Chase Headley there, who’s had a solid, if powerless, season. Also, given Bird’s presence in the lineup, this shifts Headley back to third and Todd Frazier to a bench role (I imagine he’ll play against LHP to ease Bird’s transition). The other wrinkle here is Castro. Given the year he’s had, I think he’d get preference to bat sixth, bumping Headley down to seventh. The ripple effect here, of course, is it pushes the veteran Holliday to eighth and Bird to ninth.

6. Castro 2B

7. Headley 3B

8. Holliday DH

9. Bird 1B

That lineup is…really friggin’ good. It has the potential to absolutely mash. Best laid plans and all, but that lineup, with Frazier, Ronald Torreyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Austin Romine on the bench is just fierce. Even if Girardi gives deference to Castro and Holliday as veterans and moves them around towards the top, the bottom loses nothing with Gregorius and/or Hicks moving down.

Is this a bit of rosterbating? Sure, but why not? This year has been better than any of us could’ve imagined and I’m feeling positive right now. That lineup, combined with a rotation of Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia in the playoffs, backed up by a dominant bullpen, is a recipe for playoff success. Get there, Yanks, and you’ll do some damage.

Thoughts in the middle of the 2017 Subway Series

Make the entire team out of Aarons. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Make the entire team out of Aarons. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees won the first game of the 2017 Subway Series last night, and the two teams will play the second game tonight before the series shifts to Citi Field. I don’t like this home-and-home setup. I’d rather two three-game series. Give me a definite winner and bragging rights. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. How great is it to have Aaron Hicks back? I was planning to write that even before he hit the game-winning home run last night. Hicks is up to .284/.389/.518 (142 wRC+) with 12 homers in 65 games this season. It’s too bad he missed so much time with the oblique strain, but he’s back now, and he’s having an impact. On both sides of the ball. He shut the Red Sox down with arm Friday night, then made some real nice catches in center field Sunday night. Between that and the two clutch homers he’s hit the last few days, it’s safe to say Hicks has come back and not missed a beat. I’m all-in here. I think the first half version of Hicks is here to stay. He’s always had talent, the tools were so obvious last year even when he struggled, and now he’s putting it all together. It’s very exciting. He’s given the Yankees a nice little shot in the arm since returning from the disabled list last week. Welcome back, Hicksie.

2. Gary Sanchez has gone from being saddled with unrealistic expectations following last season to being underrated this year. He’s currently hitting .273/.350/.511 (128 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 84 games this season. Here is the full list of catchers who’ve posted a 120 OPS+ or better with 25+ home runs in a season at age 24 or younger: Johnny Bench (three times!), Gary Carter, Matt Nokes, Mike Piazza, and Rudy York. That’s it. Sanchez might not finish with either number, the 120 OPS+ or 25+ homers, but he’s certainly within striking distance, and those guys are the kind of company he’s keeping with this performance. Does Sanchez need to improve his defense, specifically blocking balls in the dirt? Absolutely. But he is a special hitter, especially relative to his position, and it seems an awful lot of people aren’t appreciating that. Sanchez has been getting vilified way way way too much lately, and the passed ball related benching sure hasn’t helped matters. Gary is a franchise catcher and he has the talent to hit in the middle of the order for a World Series contending team, and he’s established himself as exactly that with roughly one full year in the big leagues. Sanchez received gobs of attention and praise last year, and rightfully so. This year he’s not getting nearly enough.

3. I like Ronald Torreyes. When the Yankees acquired him, I said I was excited about his potential to be a high-energy utility infielder who excelled at getting the bat on the ball, and that is pretty much exactly what he’s become. At the same time, Torreyes has played in 83 of 117 games this season — he’s started 67 of those 117 games — and that is entirely too many. I understand Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro have missed long stretches of time with injuries, though Torreyes is still playing too much. I firmly believe Tyler Wade should have, at the very least, been starting at second base against righties these last few weeks. I know he’s looked terrible when he has played, but Wade is quite talented, and he was given no chance to settle in and get comfortable. Torreyes has gone 15-for-56 (.268) with no power and no walks (and no steals) since Wade had that disaster game against the Rays a few weeks back, when the big spot kept finding him. Torreyes isn’t good enough on either side of the ball to get as much playing time as he has. Hopefully when Castro returns, Joe Girardi goes back to using Torreyes as a once or twice a week utility infielder, though I’m not getting my hopes up. He seems to like getting him into the lineup fairly regularly.

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

4. As soon as it was reported Derek Jeter would be part of the group purchasing the Marlins — the first time he was going to buy the team, not the most recent time — I couldn’t help but wonder what it would mean for his relationship with the Yankees. It would be kinda weird to mingle with one franchise when you own another, right? Then I realized absolutely nothing is going to change because Jeter is never around the Yankees. I don’t mean for that be a knock against him. He just isn’t around much. Jeter has come back for some ceremonies over the years (1996 reunion, jersey retirements, etc.) and that’s it. This is the third season since Jeter retired and we’re still waiting for our first random “and look who’s here, that’s Derek Jeter at the game today” sighting. The Yankees-Jeter relationship is a two-way street. They both benefit. Even with Jeter now involved with the Marlins, I can’t see him cutting ties with the Yankees. There’s too much to lose by doing that.

5. That all said, there is one aspect of the Jeter-Marlins business that could impact the Yankees. Jeter could look to poach front office talent. Maybe he’ll take Randy Levine and/or Lonn Trost, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I’m talking about all the baseball people inside the organization he’s known for years. Two names immediately jump to mind: Gary Denbo and Rob Thomson. Denbo and Jeter have a very good relationship dating back to Derek’s minor league days, when Denbo was a coach in the farm system, so there’s trust there. He could be someone Jeter tries to lure to Miami. Denbo is the Yankees’ vice president of player development and he basically runs the farm system, a farm system that has produced some really exciting talent lately. Thomson, Girardi’s bench coach, has known Jeter forever and he’s worn all sorts of different hats with the Yankees over the years, including director of player development and vice president of minor league development. Usually when someone comes in and takes over a baseball operations department like Jeter reportedly will do with the Marlins, they bring in people they know and trust, and both Denbo and Thomson fit the bill. (So does Red Sox third base coach Brian Butterfield.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeter try to nab some of the Yankees front office talent by offering higher profile positions with the Marlins once the sale goes final.

Thoughts in the middle of the seven-game road trip

Eyes open, Clint. (Presswire)
Eyes open, Clint. (Presswire)

The Yankees had a mid-road trip off-day yesterday, and tonight they’ll begin a three-game series with the last place Blue Jays. The Blue Jays being in last place doesn’t mean these games will be easy though. They never are. It sure would be nice to gain some ground in the AL East race this week before the Red Sox come to New York for a three-game set this weekend. Anyway, let’s get to some thoughts.

1. Given how crummy he’s been the last few weeks, I can’t help but wonder whether the Yankees will just keep Matt Holliday on the 10-day DL until rosters expand on September 1st. Probably not, but they did do something similar with Dustin Ackley in 2015. Ackley was placed on the disabled list with a right lumbar strain on August 4th — Holliday was put on the disabled list with a left lumbar strain on August 6th — and the Yankees didn’t activate him until September 1st even though he’d been on a rehab assignment and was ready to go before rosters expanded. What’s the upside here? Not tying up a 25-man roster spot with a designated hitter who stopped hitting, basically. The difference is Holliday is a respected veteran while Ackley was a change of scenery reclamation project guy, so maybe the Yankees don’t want to treat Holliday like that. I guess it depends how the offense performs between now and then. If they’re still slumping, the Yankees might bring Holliday back to see if he can give them a spark with a healthy back. If they’re clicking, they might extend that disabled list stint a little bit until they have those extra roster spots in September.

2. Obvious thought is obvious: the Yankees are going to use a rotating designated hitter while Holliday is out. Holliday’s injury buys Clint Frazier more time in the big leagues (I think), which means when Aaron Hicks returns, the Yankees will have five outfielders on the roster. The Yankees will be able to get four of them into the lineup every game going forward. A designated hitter rotation also means more rest for Gary Sanchez, whose passed ball issues could be fatigue related, and don’t forget about Chase Headley or Starlin Castro either. Being able to keep Castro in the lineup while getting him off his feet so soon after the hamstring injury seems beneficial. I guess the same is true with Greg Bird, should he make it back before the end of the month. Point is, I don’t see anyone taking over that designated hitter spot full-time with Holliday out. Everyone is going to get time there, and given the current roster, that’s not a bad thing at all. Once Hicks comes back the Yankees will have four outfielders worth playing every day, and now they can do that.

3. Speaking of Hicks, I am really looking forward to seeing him back in the lineup. Hopefully it happens later this week. I totally understand why someone would be worried he will revert to the 2014-16 version of Hicks after the injury — as great as he was before the injury, it was only 242 plate appearances — and hey, it might happen, but I’m all-in on the new Hicks. I think the 2017 version is here to stay. That doesn’t mean he’ll sustain his current .290/.398/.515 (145 wRC+) batting line forever and ever, but I buy him as a true talent .380 OBP hitter with 20+ homer power going forward. A switch-hitter who can do that, steal some bases, and play strong outfield defense is one heck of a ballplayer. Hopefully Hicks hits the ground running when he comes back. The Yankees could use another legit bat, especially from the left side of the plate. Hicks and Bird would really help balance the lineup, though one thing at a time. Get Hicks back first and go from there.

4. How about Chad Green? I thought he had a chance to be a real nice short reliever — it was one of my ten bold predictions before the season, after all — but never did I think he would be this. What is this, exactly? This is this:

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Opp. AVG/OBP/SLG
2017 Green (as reliever) 1.41 2.31 39.3% 6.8% 32.1% 0.81 .133/.205/.243
2014 Dellin Betances 1.40 1.64 39.6% 7.0% 46.6% 0.40 .147/.218/.224

That 2014 season was Dellin’s huge breakout season and his most dominant season to date. It’s one of the best reliever seasons of the century. And yet, the only real difference between 2017 Green and 2014 Betances is ground ball rate and, by extension, home run rate. Otherwise the two are indistinguishable. That’s how good Green has been this season. I understand the temptation to make him a starter again, though as far as I’m concerned, he should never start another game. Some guys are just built for the bullpen. Wade Davis is that way. Untouchable in relief but decidedly mediocre as a starter. Green doesn’t have a changeup and he probably wouldn’t be able to continue throwing his fastball 70% of the time when he has to turn a lineup over a second (and third) time. The Yankees have, for all intents and purposes, dug up another Betances. Green’s been that good.

5. The Yankees are going to have to get a new backup catcher this offseason. I like Austin Romine. Seems like a nice guy. He was magnificent when the Yankees need him to play everyday in April. But he’s not very good. Not even by backup catcher standards. He’s hitting .221/.283/.297 (55 wRC+) and that’s awful. Runners are 18-for-21 (86%) — 18-for-21! — stealing bases against him and that too is awful. Go back to last year and it’s 38-for-45 (84%). The catcher defense stats at Baseball Prospectus say he’s is a tick above average at framing pitches (+2.4 runs) and exactly average at blocking (+0.0 runs). Romine is a classic Nichols Law catcher. What’s the carrying tool here? You want your backup catcher to be able to do something well, right? Usually it’s throw and play defense, but some clubs have gone offense first with their backup. Romine doesn’t give you any of that. He doesn’t hit and his defense is just okay, both according to the numbers and the eye test. There’s something neat about a homegrown guy overcoming a litany of injuries in the minors to carve out a big league career, but neat stories don’t win games. The drop off from Sanchez to his backup is always going to be substantial. That’s unavoidable because Sanchez is so good. But the Yankees can do better than Romine. They can and they should. We’ll have all offseason to talk about potential trade and free agent backup catcher targets. Right now, all I’m saying is Romine isn’t very good, even by backup catcher standards. That roster spot has a lot of room for improvement.

6. I am really curious to see how the Yankees are going to handle Luis Severino‘s workload down the stretch. Joe Girardi has pushed Severino a little harder and a little deeper into the game than I expected the last few times out. He threw 116 stressful pitches in five innings against the Tigers last Monday, then threw 107 pitches in 6.2 innings against the Indians on Sunday. Severino started the seventh inning with 95 pitches and a seven-run lead Sunday. If you’re looking to save bullets wherever possible, that seems like a spot to do it. The Yankees know Severino and his health better than anyone, so maybe they’re comfortable letting him throw 200-something innings this season. Other 23-year-olds have done it — Felix Hernandez (238.2 innings in 2009), Clayton Kershaw (233.1 in 2011), and Madison Bumgarner (201.1 in 2013) are the most notable recent examples — and been perfectly fine short and long-term. (Others like Patrick Corbin and Jair Jurrjens haven’t been as lucky.) Severino threw a career high 161.2 innings two years ago, so the push up to 200 might not be that big a deal. There is no standard blueprint for this stuff. Some guys can handle it and some can’t. I have no doubt whatsoever the Yankees will do whatever they believe to be best for Severino long-term. I just never considered the possibility that it could be letting him pitch with no real restrictions.

Attitude Adjustment

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

If you’re reading this, chances are you know a little bit about me. For those of you who don’t, let me tell you that I’m a teacher (high school English) by trade. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve had to rely on one trait more than any: flexibility. It took me a long time to land a full time position, so I was ‘stuck’ doing long-term sub positions in southwestern Connecticut from April 2013 to February 2016. In that time, I taught grades 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in five different schools (one middle, four high) to different populations, from different courses/curricula, and in five different districts. To boot, most of the time, I was parachuting in after the start of the year and had to find my bearings on the fly. If not for flexibility, I’d’ve drowned. It might be time to exercise similar flexibility for the Yankees.

All year, I’ve been saying this is a ‘house money’ season for the Yankees. Given the roster, expectations weren’t high; a second wildcard spot seemed like the ceiling. Of course, early season hotness blew the doors right off of that. Despite some hiccuping in June, the Yankees went into the trade deadline like buyers and came away with a much improved Major League roster and, until recently, a first place position in the AL East. Now, they sit in the first wildcard seat, controlling their own destiny. And with many games left against the first place Red Sox, the division isn’t far out of reach.

According to the FanGraphs projection mode, the Yankees have a 69.4% chance of making the playoffs. Using the season-to-date mode, their playoff chances are even higher at 79.8%. If we flip over to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds table, they’re at 81.8%. Coupling this with the Yankees’ deadline moves and the general feeling you get, it’d be hard to call missing the playoffs anything aside from a disappointment.

If we allow ourselves some dispassion for a minute, we can rationalize a missed playoff run. Aaron Judge will have had a killer season. Gary Sanchez, too. Clint Frazier came up and held his own. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery will have taken huge steps forward. Didi Gregorius, too. With Sonny Gray aboard, the rotation for 2018 feels a lot better than it did even a month ago. Those are all great things for the Yankees in 2017 and 2018, regardless of this year’s record.

But dispassionate analysis is for the offseason. Right now, we’re in the heat of things, quite literally as August marches on. I want this team to make the playoffs. This team can and should make the playoffs. They’ve worked hard and gone through some rough patches and ‘deserve’ to have that rewarded with a real shot at number 28. The rotation and bullpen are stacked for a playoff run and they could do some real damage in a short series, especially if the bats heat back up to support them.

Another important factor of teaching is holding students to high expectations, or at the very least, adjusting those expectations as they perform. The Yankees have performed above and beyond their original expectations for 2017 and it’s time to ask more of them. Play today. Win today. That’s it.

Thoughts following the 2017 trade deadline

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees were big buyers at the trade deadline this year. They traded several top prospects in deals that very clearly qualify as win now moves, and yet, they didn’t mortgage their future either. All told the Yankees added seven players (Garrett Cooper, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Sonny Gray, Tommy Kahnle, Ryan McBroom, David Robertson) and subtracted eleven players (Ian Clarkin, Tyler Clippard, Dietrich Enns, Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian, Zack Littell, Jorge Mateo, Tito Polo, Rob Refsnyder, Blake Rutherford, Tyler Webb) in five separate trades. I have thoughts on all this, so let’s get to ’em.

1. We have to look at the trade deadline activity two ways: short-term and long-term. In the short-term, the Yankees added five veteran players to their big league roster these last few weeks (Frazier, Garcia, Gray, Kahnle, Robertson) and subtracted one (Clippard). Those guys represent huge upgrades. Frazier hasn’t been great by any means, but he is effectively replacing the revolving door at first base, and those guys were so bad. So, so bad. (Chase Headley has been far and away their best first baseman this year, so yeah.) The Yankees were able to hang around the postseason race even while getting nothing from first base and having a leaky bullpen. Now they’ve added a few wins worth of players for the second half. How many wins? That’s up for debate. Depends how you value relievers. I think these moves have a chance to add as many as five or six wins to the ledger the rest of the way, and given where the Yankees sit on the almighty win curve, adding five wins will have an enormous impact. Going from, say, 80 wins to 85 wins is no big deal. You’re not really in the postseason mix with 85 wins. Making the jump from 88 to 93 wins though? That’s huge. That pushes you from wild card contender to possible division winner. That’s where the Yankees are right now. There’s no way to look at these trades as anything other than massive upgrades in the short-term, for the 2017 Yankees.

2. As for the long-term outlook, the Yankees added one year of Robertson, two years of Gray, and three years of Kahnle beyond 2017. (Garcia and Frazier are rentals.) They managed to do that without compromising their big league core and without trading their very best prospects, most notably Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, plus also Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield. (How was Estevan Florial not in this trade?) Out of all the prospects the Yankees traded, Fowler was the only one with a chance to have real staying power for the Yankees next season, and even that would have depended on his recovery from knee surgery. Kaprielian, Mateo, and Rutherford all would have needed more time in the minors. Mateo’s really the only one of those three who had even a chance to help the Yankees in 2018. Kaprielian has lost too much development time the last two years to fast track at this point. Others like Enns, Webb, and Polo aren’t really impact pieces. Last year the running gag was the Yankees didn’t sell, they bought for the future. And that’s true! This year they really bought for the future by adding big league players with years of team control. That they were able to do that without trading anyone off their big league roster or any of their top MLB ready or near MLB ready prospects is pretty awesome.

3. Both teams took on a lot of risk with this trade. Gray has had some injury problems over the last 18 months or so and he’s the only player the Yankees acquired. If his arm gives out, they’re left with nothing. The A’s picked up two prospects coming back from major injuries (Kaprielian and Fowler) and another who didn’t hit for basically a year and a half in High-A (Mateo). And I totally get it for the Athletics. They landed two high-end up-the-middle players and a pitcher who showed ace-caliber upside when healthy. Oakland can’t afford talent like that in free agency. The only way they get players like that is through the draft, through international free agency, and through trades. They shot for the moon with upside and took on the some increased risk to get players like this, because you know what? If Fowler and Kaprielian were healthy, the Athletics weren’t getting them in a trade. This trade has serious boom or bust potential for both teams. It’s going to take a while to judge this trade and boy, it has the potential to look real lopsided for someone.

4. I mentioned this after the White Sox trade and it bears repeating: the front office just sent a very loud and clear message through the clubhouse. We believe you’re good enough to win and we’re going to get you the help you need. That has to feel good. The Michael Pineda injury left a gaping hole in the rotation — I like Caleb Smith and Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell, but getting sub-five-inning starts every fifth day couldn’t last — so the Yankees went out and got two starting pitchers. They needed bullpen help so they got two relievers. They needed a first baseman so they got, well, a third baseman and moved their third baseman to first. That’s pretty great. Last year the Yankees sold and that let everyone in that clubhouse know the front office did not think they’re good enough to win. This year is the complete opposite. I’m sure the guys who were with the team last year especially appreciate it. Things turned around in a hurry.

5. The Yankees have six starters for five spots right now and Joe Girardi declined to reveal what they’re going to do with the rotation yesterday. The general belief seems to be that Jordan Montgomery‘s rough July will earn him a demotion to Triple-A. That’s probably what’ll happen. Putting Garcia in the bullpen is another option. Whatever happens, six viable starters for five spots is a luxury and I’m glad the Yankees brought in both Gray and Garcia. You know the Yankees are going to need all these guys to make starts at some point. All these guys and then some. We haven’t seen the last of Smith or Cessa or Mitchell. That’s baseball. The sport has a way of making pitching depth disappear. Also, keep in mind Montgomery and Luis Severino have some sort of innings limit this year. Brian Cashman confirmed it yesterday. He told Bryan Hoch we “can look at” their workloads and assume the team will have to back off at some point. Having six starters for five spots makes it easier for the Yankees to skip a Montgomery or Severino start now and then, or stash Montgomery in Triple-A for a few weeks and ease up on him that. (Severino’s not going down.) Three days ago the Yankees had four starters for five spots. Now they have six and it’s awesome. Managing Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads will be much easier now. Those innings will now go to no-doubt big league caliber arms.

Garcia. (Presswire)
Garcia. (Presswire)

6. The Yankees haven’t made a meaningful August trade in a very long time — the last came back in 2009, when they picked up Chad Gaudin from the Padres (for cash) to take over as the fifth starter — though I get the feeling that may change this year. They could really use another bat. I know Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks are on the mend, but I’m talking about another bat even beyond them. Matt Holliday seems to be going full Travis Hafner (never go full Travis Hafner) and the elder Frazier hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball either. And how long do you want to rely on Headley staying red hot or Brett Gardner coming through with walk-offs? I was really hoping the Yankees would add a bat at the deadline and since they didn’t, I get the feeling they’re going to wish they did pretty soon. I could totally see a waiver trade going down at some point. A lefty hitter who can play a little first base would be ideal. Yonder Alonso and Jay Bruce immediately jump to mind, though others like John Jaso and Matt Adams could be options too. Alonso, Bruce, and Jaso might be pure salary dumps. Just take they money and who cares, we don’t need a prospect back. Point is, I think the Yankees will find themselves in the market for another hitter at some point soon even with Castro and Hicks inching closer to a return. They’re all-in already. Their recent trades confirmed it. So if they believe they need a bat, they’re going to go get one. They won’t rest on their laurels.

7. Let’s not overlook the $1.5M in international bonus money coming from the Athletics in the trade. That’s the third trade the Yankees have made for international money in recent weeks. They also picked up undisclosed sums from the Orioles in separate deals involving minor league righties Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez. Jesse Sanchez says the Yankees now have $3.5M in international bonus money to play with, and as I mentioned in my recent July 2nd write-up, the Yankees have been connected to some of the best available prospects. Odds are they have deals lined up for this money. They didn’t acquire it just because. We’re going to hear about more international signings soon. The Yankees traded away three really talented players in the Gray trade, though the $1.5M in bonus money will go toward replenishing the system.

7a. I suppose there’s also a chance that $1.5M in bonus money — or the $3.5M that Sanchez says the Yankees still have to spend — could go to Shohei Otani after the season, though I’m still not convinced Otani is coming over to MLB. Too many teams have maxed out their bonus pools already. Maybe he really doesn’t care about the money and is willing to come over for a fraction of his actual worth. I’ll believe it when I see it. My guess is the $3.5M in bonus money the Yankees still have to spend is going to the available Latin American amateurs they’ve been connected to the last few weeks. We’ll see.

8. Yesterday’s moves, meaning the Gray trade and the Yefry trade, opened up one 40-man spot total. Gray essentially slides into Mateo’s spot. Fowler was also on the 40-man, though he’s hurt and on the 60-day disabled list, so he wasn’t actually counting against the 40-man. Ramirez was on the 40-man and now he’s gone, so that’s the open spot. The Yankees aren’t going to use that spot until they need it, though the larger point here is the Yankees are opening up 40-man spots for the offseason. Clarkin, Littell, and Polo all would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I’m not sure they were going to be protected. Finding space wasn’t going to be easy. Others like Yefry, Enns, Refsnyder, and Webb were at risk of losing their 40-man spots to other players. Rather than potentially losing those guys for nothing, the Yankees traded them for an actual return. With a trade as significant as the Sonny Gray deal, the 40-man roster isn’t a huge consideration. You go out and get that dude even if means having to designate someone else for assignment. With smaller deals with Jaime Garcia and international bonus money and all that, the 40-man roster absolutely is a consideration. Forty-man roster management is important and the Yankees unclogged things a bit at the trade deadline. That’s not nothing.

9. I’m not normally one to toot my own horn, but I’m going to do it now. As part of my half-baked offseason plan, I suggested the Yankees trade for … Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia. How about that? For Garcia, I suggested sending Gardner to the Cardinals. Good one, idiot. The Gray trade though? I was sending Severino, Mateo, Fowler, and Refsnyder to the A’s. The Severino part sounds silly now given what he’s become, and it is, but he was pretty terrible last year and his stock was unquestionably down. My proposal had stock down Severino and the real trade had injured Kaprielian. How far apart are stock down Severino and injured Kaprelian in value? Not too much, I don’t think. That’s the long way of me saying my silly trade proposal was in the ballpark! See? Every so often I come up with an idea that isn’t completely ridiculous. I feel validated.

10. One final point: the Yankees are in first place right now and were in position to buy at the trade deadline because of their young players. The veterans have helped along the way, no doubt, but the Yankees had three homegrown All-Stars age 25 or younger this year in Severino, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. They didn’t trade for those dudes. Homegrown all the way. The Yankees have won seven of their last eight games and nine of their last eleven games, and have you noticed the batting order?

2. Clint Frazier
3. Aaron Judge
4. Gary Sanchez

The future is now. The Yankees went from sellers at the trade deadline last year to buyers at the trade deadline this year because their young players have stepped up and had an impact early in their careers. Right now, this is Judge’s and Sanchez’s and Severino’s team. Frazier’s working his way into that conversation and pretty soon others like Torres, Adams, Sheffield, Miguel Andujar, and Tyler Wade are going to get similar chances as well. The Yankees traded away nine prospects in these various deals and still have Torres, Andujar, Adams, and Sheffield in the minors. Pretty cool. When the Yankees decided to sell last year, I thought it was a necessary step, and I figured it would take maybe two or three years for them to reap the rewards. Instead, 12 months later, the Yankees are in first place and have even more really good and really fun young players set to arrive within before next year’s trade deadline. What an exciting time to be a Yankees fan.

Thoughts six days before the 2017 trade deadline

The best photo. (Presswire)
The best photo. (Presswire)

The Yankees are finally back home after the All-Star break and that long road trip. Tonight they’ll open a nine-game homestand with the first of two against the Reds. Four of those nine games are against the Rays. That’s a pretty darn big series by late-July standards. The Yankees and Rays are neck-and-neck in the standings. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. The trade deadline is six days away now and rotation help is, pretty darn clearly, the top priority for the Yankees. I expect them to bring in a starter. Maybe only a low cost rental, but someone. Beyond a starter, I hope the Yankees also go out and add another bat at first base. Matt Holliday hasn’t hit at all since coming back from his illness, and at his age, there’s always a chance this is the beginning of the end. Another first baseman would also allow the Yankees to scale back on Todd Frazier and Chase Headley as their performance warrants. Headley’s been hitting well of late, but what if he slips into another deep slump? Also, a new first baseman would mean more lineup depth and less reliance on Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, two kids in their first long 162-game MLB season. Adding another first baseman, particularly a left-handed hitter, makes way too much sense to me. I prefer Yonder Alonso but Lucas Duda would work too. And because basically no other contender needs a first baseman or designated hitter, the Yankees are in position to sit back and let the market come to them before the deadline. They can make an lowball offer, and whoever accepts it first, gets it. The alternative for the A’s and Mets is losing their rental first baseman for nothing as free agent after the season. Neither Alonso nor Duda is a qualifying offer candidate. Not with how slowly the first base market moved last offseason. They’d both jump all over the qualifying offer. That works to the Yankees’ advantage. Adding a first baseman strikes me as one of those things that, if the Yankees don’t get it done before the deadline, we’ll be wishing they did.

2. Speaking of Headley and Frazier, right now I think the Yankees have their defensive assignments backwards. Headley should be at third and Frazier should be at first. Frazier is a better third baseman than Headley, at least statistically, but not by much. Not enough to negate the big defensive downgrade at first. We’ve already seen Headley’s inexperience at first base cost the Yankees a run. Friday night he ranged too far to his right to field a ground ball he should have let the second baseman handle, then missed the bag when he had to rush back. Frazier has much more experience at first base and is less likely to screw something up. Headley’s throwing has been fine for weeks now, and his range is sneaky good at third, particularly to his right. I say go with two players at positions they’re familiar with rather than one guy at a position he’s familiar with and another who is crashing coursing at a new position. Headley’s inexperience at first base has already cost the Yankees one run. They don’t want it to happen again. Let the guy with plenty of first base experience play first base.

3. Is it possible changes to the baseball are to blame for Masahiro Tanaka‘s struggles? I don’t necessarily mean the ball being juiced and flying out of the park. Research by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchell Lichtman showed the balls being used this year are not the same as the balls being used in the past based on several criteria. One of them is the height of the seams. The seams are not raised as much. Not to get super nerdy, but the seams are what make a pitch move. There’s a friction between the seams and the air molecules. Change the size and shape of the seams and you’re going to change the way the ball moves. Could the smaller seams explain why so many more of Tanaka’s splitters and sliders have hung up this year? I suppose it’s possible. It seems unlikely though. The difference in the seams isn’t that big. I was just reading something about the balls being juiced the other day and that popped in my head. Tanaka relies on his non-fastballs so much that anything that could change the flight of the ball could have a big impact on his performance.

So glad he's back. (Presswire)
So glad he’s back. (Presswire)

4. I think my favorite thing about the new-look bullpen — aside from the general awesomeness and added depth — is that it is basically Joe Girardi proof. Girardi assigns his relievers specific innings and rarely deviates from that plan, for better or worse. There have been too many instances over the years in which someone other than the team’s best reliever (i.e. Dellin Betances) was on the mound in a crucial situation because it wasn’t that reliever’s inning. How many seventh inning leads or tie games slipped away earlier this year because it was Tyler Clippard‘s inning? Too many. Now, that’s not a problem. Betances, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman are all more than qualified for high-leverage work. As long as it’s late in the game and the score is reasonably close, one of those guys will be on the mound, and that’s great. They’ll still have their assigned innings, whatever they are, and it won’t really matter because they’re all really good. The bullpen is assigned innings proof.

5. There’s been lots of talk these last few weeks about the Yankees’ record in one-run games. They’re 9-19 in one-run games so far this year, the second worst one-run game winning percentage in baseball. Only the rebuilding Phillies have been worse. While one-run losses are pretty damn annoying, one-run games are largely coin flip games that aren’t a particularly good measure of a team’s true talent level. Bill James has written a ton about that over the years. One-run games are often decided by one mistake pitch, or a second baseman making too slow a turn to complete a double play, or an umpire’s tight strike zone. Things like that. The unspoken narrative seems to be that teams that win a lot one-run games have better execution and are tougher. Would it have been better if Clint Frazier hit a two-run double instead of a three-run walk-off homer against the Brewers, giving the Yankees a one-run win? Or how about Chapman not stranding the runner at third Sunday? Let that man score and the team’s record in one-run games improves! No, of course that’s not better. A team’s record in games decided by three or more runs better reflects their talent, and this year the Yankees are 46-22 in games decided by at least three runs. All those 19 one-run losses tell you is that the Yankees have been one swing away in more than 40% of their losses this year. When they win, they tend to win with several runs to spare. And when they lose, it’s often a winnable game that is within reach.

6. It was a really minor trade that most likely won’t amount to much of anything, though I did find it kinda interesting the Yankees targeted a first baseman in the Rob Refsnyder deal. The Yankees got caught with their pants down a bit at first base this year. They’ve got Headley starting there now. A few weeks ago Austin Romine — Austin Romine! — started three straight games at the position. Ji-Man Choi was the starter for a little while. They had to go out and trade for a guy like Garrett Cooper. The Yankees don’t want all this to happen again. Greg Bird and Tyler Austin have had a tough time staying healthy the last few seasons, plus first base is a weak spot throughout the organization, so the Yankees are adding some depth there. Remember, Cooper and Austin could very well lose their 40-man roster spots as part of the roster crunch this winter, which means they could be out of the organization come next Spring Training. That’s not an issue with Ryan McBroom, the guy the Yankees got for Refsnyder. He’s the kinda player you want to already have in your organization so you don’t have to scramble after an injury like the Yankees have so many times this season.

The Yankees still live in the past even when focused on the future

Frazier. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

We live in a world in which the corporate culture is, as always, dominated by brands. In terms of sports, the Yankees are arguably the most famous and valuable brand out there, at least on this side of the Atlantic. At this point, the Yankees have built that brand on a tradition of winning and a tradition of, well, tradition itself. In the past few weeks, that idea has manifested itself in a bunch of frustrating ways.

Most recently, there was the manufactured controversy of new acquisition Todd Frazier‘s number of choice. For his entire Major League career–up until this past week, of course–Frazier had worn the number 21. Now he’s wearing number 29. Why? Because of the past. Paul O’Neill’s 21 has gone unworn–save for by Latroy Hawkins and Morgan Ensberg, briefly–thanks to some limbo the Yankees are playing. They won’t retire it, but they won’t issue it. This is beyond silly. I saw a lot of fan reaction in support of Frazier NOT wearing the number because he’s not Paul O’Neill, he’s not “The Warrior” and he hasn’t “earned his pinstripes.” This is hogwash. You now how Todd Frazier earned his stripes? By being traded to the Yankees. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone; he’s done that over his career. If wearing a number makes him more comfortable at the plate, in the field, in the clubhouse, wherever, whenever, then he should be allowed to wear that number. Stop living in the past if you’re not going to retire the number 21.

First, let’s praise Clint Frazier for picking 77 as a great troll move. Yes, he gave the reason that he liked the way 77 balanced Aaron Judge‘s 99 in right, but it’s easy to see that Clint is having a little fun with his number controversy–also fake–from earlier in the year. Second, we got word that when Aaron Hicks returns from the disabled list, he’ll be going down. If this happens, that’s a mistake. Big time. Frazier is clearly one of the three best outfielders on the team, and will likely to continue to be when Hicks comes back; even then, he’s one of the four best and should get every day at bats. Sending him down, even for a brief time, would be ill-advised and really only serve to placate Ellsbury.  Granted Hicks is still a ways away from coming back, but if Frazier is sent down in late August or early September, those are crucial games he’ll be missing with a lesser player getting his at bats. This would betray not only the future in depriving Frazier of developmental at bats, but also the present in that it would actively hurt the Yankees’ chances at the playoffs.

With Starlin Castro now on the DL–again–the Yankees need to think of the future once again: play Tyler Wade every day. He’s up here, he might as well play. Ronald Torreyes is NOT an every day player. Running him out at second will hurt the team in the present. Wade didn’t show too well at the plate in his first cup of coffee, but he deserves to play, since he, unlike Torreyes, has the potential to be a future starter. He should–at the least–play against right handed pitching.

The Yankee organization has done well to market this year around their young stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. They need now to make a full commitment to that future, because those players–as well as Frazier, Wade, and even the regrettably absent Greg Bird–are the brightest parts of the current team and the signs of things to come. Living in the past by deferring to tradition and veterans serves a losing cause.