Thoughts following the Didi Gregorius injury

(Matt Roberts/Getty)
(Matt Roberts/Getty)

The Yankees were dealt some tough news these last two days, as starting shortstop Didi Gregorius suffered a shoulder strain while away at the World Baseball Classic. He’s going to be shut down from baseball activities for two weeks, and it’s possible he’ll miss all of April. Sucks. The Yankees suddenly have an opening at shortstop. I have some thoughts on the injury and the shortstop situation.

1. All things considered, I’m actually pretty relieved Gregorius will be shut down only two weeks. (He’ll then need some time to get back into game shape, and you know the Yankees will be cautious with him.) I was worried this injury would be something much more serious and keep Gregorius out for months, not weeks. A strain is by definition a tear, though obviously this isn’t something so severe he needs surgery. Worst case scenario was Gregorius having a big enough tear in his rotator cuff that he’d have to go under the knife. Thankfully that’s not the case. A little rest and rehab is expected to knock this out. Huge relief. Huge. Losing Gregorius really sucks because he’s a good player and fun to watch, but at least it isn’t worse. This is the best of a bad situation, I’d say.

2. Without Gregorius, the Yankees are going to be really short on left-handed power to start the season. It’s basically Greg Bird. That’s it. Perhaps Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury will turn back the clock to their double digit home run days, but I’m not counting on it. The Yankees have some righty bats who can take advantage of the short porch, so maybe the lack of lefty pop won’t matter. It will almost certainly create some lineup imbalance though. The only left-handed hitting replacement shortstop candidate is Tyler Wade. Everyone else is a righty. The Yankees are now looking at the possibility of a lineup with three lefties (Bird, Ellsbury, Gardner), one switch-hitter (Chase Headley), and five righties (Gary Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday, replacement shortstop). I’d feel a little better about that if Ellsbury, Gardner, and Headley were better hitters than they are at this point of their careers. Alas.

3. Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty yesterday Wade is now indeed in the mix for the shortstop job, and while playing him everyday would be fun as hell, I don’t think it’s the right move. The Gregorius injury shouldn’t change a prospect’s development plan, whether it’s Wade or Gleyber Torres or whoever. Wade is not magically more MLB ready today than he was three days ago because Didi got hurt. The Yankees and every other team sign dudes like Ruben Tejada and Pete Kozma each offseason specifically so they won’t have to rush prospects whenever someone gets hurt. The Yankees know Wade better than I ever will and if they deem him ready to be the starting big league shortstop, even for only a month while Gregorius is out, then they’ll go with him. And hopefully it’ll work. From where I sit, jumping him over Triple-A completely seems like maybe not the best idea, even if it would be the most fun idea (aside from Torres).

Torreyes. (Presswire)
Torreyes. (Presswire)

4. The Yankees now have ten days or so to figure out the shortstop situation before Opening Day. The easiest solution is sticking Ronald Torreyes at shortstop, relying on Castro as the backup, and carrying Rob Refsnyder on the bench as the backup second baseman. That wouldn’t require any kind of 40-man roster move and I’d argue those are three most prepared, ready to help players. The Yankees could do that for a bit, see how it works, then change plans if necessary. My gut feeling is it will not be one guy who fills in at short while Gregorius is sidelined. They’ll probably cycle through a few players, a la Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa at third base while Alex Rodriguez was injured early in 2009. And Rakin’ Ramiro Pena too. Forgot about him. When the Yankees have gone young the last few years, such as calling up Bird and Luis Severino in 2015, and Sanchez and Judge in 2016, it was done as part of a plan. They weren’t called up in response to someone getting hurt. That’s why I think it’ll be some combination of Torreyes, Tejada, Kozma, and Donovan Solano that handles short. That why you sign those guys in the first place.

5. I have a hard time blaming Didi’s injury on the WBC. Players make thousands and thousands of throws from the start of Spring Training through the end of the season, and this injury could have happened on any one of them. What was so different about this one? The injury happened during an exhibition game. How is the intensity any different than a Grapefruit League game? Joe Girardi said Gregorius hurt himself making a throw from second base on a double play, a throw he’s made countless times before and will make countless times again. Same deal with Mark Teixeira‘s wrist in 2013. What was so different about the swings he took in batting practice with Team USA and the thousands he would have taken with the Yankees? I am in no way convinced Didi’s injury is a result of the WBC. It just so happened Gregorius was away when it happened. Heck, the Yankees are probably a little happy about that since the WBC will pay his salary while he’s on the disabled list (I think). I know it’s cool to hate the WBC and we need to be outraged and assign blame all the time, but sometimes injuries just happen. That’s baseball. An infielder hurting his shoulder making a throw is not something caused by the WBC.

Looking at the Yankee Offense via Steamer Projections

(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)

Insert cliche about anticipation here. As we’ve been over since the last out of the World Series was recorded, we’re ready for baseball to begin again, aren’t we? That snowstorm last week may have made us feel trapped in winter for a few days, but the calendar is ticking away and we’re getting closer to Opening Day. The end of the WBC this week will likely speed things up as well, as it feels like a hill that needs to be conquered before we speed to the real season (but definitely a fun hill at that!).

The Yankees this year are somewhat up in the air. No one’s really expecting them to do anything much in the way of competing–myself included–but you can’t help but dream with all the potential on the team. Frankly, this is a best-of-both-worlds scenario and part of why I’m so looking forward to this season. If the Yankees are ‘bad,’ well, so be it. At least there are a bunch of young, exciting guys to watch. If they happen to compete? Awesome! An unexpected surprise. Even though I’ll watch and listen to most every game and definitely care in the moment, on a macro level, this season is going to be the epitome of Joe’s old maxim of Zen Baseball: just relax and enjoy it.

Regardless of that, curiosity’s got the best of me, so I wanted to take a look at what we might be in store for in 2017. We’ve already taken a look at ZiPS, so let’s try our hand at the Steamer projections for the Yankees.

Leading things off, Gary Sanchez paces the team in fWAR projection. Steamer projects him for 3.6 fWAR this year. Didi Gregorius follows him at 2.2 and Chase Headley rounds out the top three at 2.0. I was a bit surprised to see Headley at the third position, but Steamer likes his defense a lot and pairing that with near average offense (96 wRC+) gives him a solid projection. I’d sign up for that from Headley in a heartbeat.

In terms of wRC+, Steamer gives the nod to Greg Bird, projecting him for a 123 mark, just a head of Matt Holliday at 121 and Sanchez at 118. All in all, Steamer projects six Yankees to be over 100 in terms of wRC+: those three as well as Brett Gardner (101), Aaron Judge (106), and Chris Carter (107). Last year, only Brian McCann (103), Carlos Beltran (135), and Sanchez (171) were above average for the team in a significant number of plate appearances. That, frankly, is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t mean this stuff will actually happen, but that would be a welcomed sight after last year’s mostly disappointing offense.

In terms of counting stats, Sanchez is projected to lead the team with 27 homers, then Bird at 23, followed by Carter at 22, though in limited playing time. Steamer also has Judge at “only” 17 homers, but also with under 400 PA. Adjusting him up to 500 PA gets him in the neighborhood of 22-23.

Regarding homers, there was one thing I wanted to touch on: Didi Gregorius’s total. It seems him dropping to 15 and, call it a silly gut feeling, but I think that’s about right. Didi did add some power last year, but I’m not sure 20 homers is going to be the norm for him. If he drops lower than 15, too, that’s fine, given his defense. I think 10-15 is more where he’s going to live, not 15-20, or even more.

Overall, Steamer seems to like the Yankee offense, at least as an improvement over last year’s team. ZiPS is definitely more bullish on Judge–projecting him to hit 30 homers–but Steamer seems to have the playing time distribution down better, excepting Judge being part-time. We’ve got to remember that projections aren’t predictions. We should use them to guide expectations, a starting point rather than an ending one. Regardless, things are looking up for the Yankees at the plate. It may not be a return to full on Bronx Bombers status, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Thoughts following the Grapefruit League off-day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees enjoyed their first off-day of the Grapefruit League season yesterday, and this afternoon they’ll be back at work with a road game against the Rays. That game will not be televised. Lame. Anyway, I have some thoughts as the regular season creeps closer and closer.

1. The Yankees have been a run-scoring machine during Grapefruit League play and I don’t know what to think. Going into yesterday’s off-day, the Yankees were second among all teams in runs (101) and first in both homers (26) and extra-base hits (70) this spring. They were also fourth in batting average (.283) and fifth in OPS (.836), and in both cases the clubs ahead of them all play in the more hitter friendly Cactus League. Heck, the Yankees were the only Grapefruit League team among the top eight teams in OPS prior to yesterday’s off-day. That doesn’t even include their ten-run outburst against Team Canada because, technically, that was a World Baseball Classic exhibition and not a Spring Training game. Last spring the Yankees scored 116 runs and hit 20 homers in 32 games. This spring they’re already up to 111 runs and 29 homers in 18 games (counting the Canada game). I’ve been doing this long enough to know getting your hopes up based on Spring Training stats, even team-wide stats, is a recipe for having your heart broken. The Yankees won’t have Gleyber Torres (.421/.429/.842 this spring) and Billy McKinney (.462/.563/1.077) doing this during the regular season, for example. Still, I do think the 2017 Yankees will score more runs than the 2016 Yankees, and this spring is something of a sign of things to come. Carlos Beltran was really good in 2016, but going from an offensive core of C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Carlos Beltran, and DH Alex Rodriguez last year to C Gary Sanchez, 1B Greg Bird, RF Aaron Judge, and DH Matt Holliday this year sure feels like an improvement, doesn’t it? I don’t think this spring tells us the Yankees will be an offensive juggernaut this year. Not at all. But I do think their performance this spring compared to last spring tells us the offense is in a better place.

2. Opening Day is two weeks and five days away at this point, and right now I don’t think there are clear favorites for the fourth and fifth rotation spots. My prediction coming into camp was Luis Severino and Luis Cessa getting rotation spots, Bryan Mitchell landing in the bullpen, and Chad Green winding up back in Triple-A. I see no reason to change that at the moment. None of those four has had one of those dominant springs you simply can’t ignore, and, at the same time, none has pitched so poorly that they’ve knocked themselves out of the race. Heck, based on their spring performances, Adam Warren might be the front-runner for a rotation spot right now. I would be surprised if the Yankees went with him over the kids though. They seem to like Warren as a do-it-all reliever. It is not early in Spring Training anymore. The regular season isn’t that far away. It would be nice to see one or two of these young starters pull ahead of the pack and claim a rotation spot soon.

3. Needless to say, I hope James Kaprielian pitches Friday, not Thursday. Over the weekend Joe Girardi said Kaprielian will likely pitch either Thursday or Friday, and Thursday’s game won’t be televised while Friday’s will be, so yeah. Pitch him Friday, pretty please with a cherry on top. The Yankees brought Kaprielian along slowly this spring following last year’s elbow injury and I get it. There’s no reason to push it. That and some comments made by various folks with the Yankees in recent weeks lead me to believe Kaprielian will indeed get the 2015 Severino treatment this year. That means relatively short starts with High-A Tampa early in the season — by short starts I mean five innings and 75 pitches or so — before a bump to Double-A Trenton, where his workload will increase a bit. And then another bump to Triple-A Scranton, where his workload will increase even more. That will, in theory, save some innings for the end of the season should the Yankees decide to call Kaprielian up to the big leagues. (That is far from guaranteed to happen, of course.) It’ll also allow them to bring him along slowly early in the season. The Yankees really seem to love Kaprielian and who can blame them? His stuff has received rave reviews and he’s an off-the-charts makeup guy. I think they’d love it if he forces the issue this year and reaches the Bronx by September. I also think the Yankees have the big picture in mind and will be cautious, moreso than they were with Severino in 2015.

Higgy. (Presswire)
Higgy. (Presswire)

4. Last season was a breakout year for Kyle Higashioka, who earned a spot on the 40-man roster and is more exciting than most soon-to-be 27-year-old minor leaguers because he’s a catcher with power and good defense. He’s smacked two home runs in Spring Training already. But, if you’re hoping he beats out Austin Romine for the backup catcher’s job, don’t hold your breath. The way the Yankees have used them this spring tells you everything you need to know about their plans. Romine has way more Grapefruit League plate appearances than Higashioka (25 to 15) and he’s tied with Gary Sanchez for the most innings caught in camp. Also, Romine has started eight games and come off the bench once. Higashioka has started one game and come off the bench nine times. Romine has spent more time catching the big leaguers as a result. Barring injury, Romine will start the season as Sanchez’s backup. We’ll see Higashioka at some point. At worst he’ll be a September call-up, and chances are he’ll be up earlier than that as an injury replacement because catchers have a way of getting banged up. I do think Higashioka, not Romine, will be the backup catcher come the 2018 season. For now, Romine is the guy. The way the Yankees have used these two in camp tells us everything we need to know.

5. I totally understand why the rules are in place for the World Baseball Classic and why they may be implemented in the minors, but holy cow, after seeing the extra innings rules in action over the weekend, they’re even worse than I imagined. For those who are unaware, once a WBC game reaches the 11th inning, each half-inning starts with runners on first and second. Two games went to eleven innings this weekend. It feels like the road team has the advantage with these rules because they bat in the top half of the inning, and are immediately putting pressure on offensively. Also, extra innings create a certain level of suspense — if you’re rooting for one of the two teams, tension as well — and the extra innings rules break that suspense completely. I feel like, if you’re going to do something dumb by putting runners on first and second to start each inning, just go full dumb and start the bases loaded. Let’s get really ridiculous, you know? Thankfully, commissioner Rob Manfred recently said these extra innings rules are not being considered for MLB. They’re being looked at as a way to avoid overworking pitchers in the minors. That’s fine. I get that. Just not in meaningful big league games, please.

6. Watching the WBC, I just can’t see how the “act like you’ve been there before” mentality is more enjoyable than raw emotion. These games have been so exciting. Pitchers are pumping their fist after a big strikeout, batters are throwing up their hands after getting on base, and the crowd feeds off it. I get that it’s difficult to play with that much energy day in and day out during the long 162-game season, but geez, after every little show of emotion people shout it down. A guy hit a homer and flipped his bat? Stop showing up the pitcher. A pitcher pumped his fist after striking out two in a row to escape a bases loaded jam? Act you’ve been there before, buddy. MLB could learn a thing or two from the WBC. The league is trying hard to cultivate young fans, and guess what? No young fan is going to be attracted to a guy hitting a homer, putting his head down, and jogging around the bases. Let the players show emotion. Embrace it. The crusty old unwritten rules are doing more harm than good. They’re unwritten for a reason. Because if MLB sat down and wrote them out, everyone would see how stupid they are.

Imagining Extreme Platooning

#GREGBIRD (Presswire)
#GREGBIRD (Presswire)

Okay, who’s about ready for Spring Training to end and the season to start? Nevermind the fact that this area is, apparently, about to get hammered with snow; it’s pretty much baseball season, dammit! At this point, all we can do is hope everyone gets through March healthy and heads into April charged up and ready to go. Additionally, all the principals of the Yankees seem to be performing well and, hair and arbitration cases aside (ugh), there isn’t much drama surrounding the roster formation; all we’re really waiting on is the fifth starter competition. In terms of the lineup, we know who’s going to be there, just not how it’s going to shake out.

I’ve touched on this a few times in the last month–there really hasn’t been much to discuss, huh?–but I wanted to revisit something I briefly mentioned in my post about Chris Carter:

If the Yanks really want to hammer lefties and eschew defense a bit in the process, they can. They can accomplish this dual ‘goal’ by being aggressive with their platooning in the outfield. Aaron Hicks can play center in place of Jacoby Ellsbury. Matt Holliday can “play” left field in place of Brett Gardner. The latter move would free up a spot for Carter to DH, giving the Yankees an all-right handed lineup against lefties, save for Didi Gregorius at short.

Joe Girardi does like to play matchups, though I’m not sure he likes it so much as to do what I suggested there. Still, it’s fun to draw up lineup scenarios and imagine what they would do. Frankly, the Yankees could destroy lefty pitching if they approached it with an eye towards ignoring defense (not likely). Taken to the extreme, they could go even farther than my suggestion.

C: Austin Romine

1B: Chris Carter

2B: Starlin Castro

3B: Chase Healdey

SS: Didi Gregorius

LF: Matt Holliday

CF: Aaron Hicks

RF: Aaron Judge

DH: Gary Sanchez

ON the plus side, as mentioned, this lineup would probably be death to left handed pitching. With Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench, late inning defense and match ups could be solved via substitution. The big snag in the plan, though, is using Sanchez as the DH. Every team in baseball hates using their second catcher. And, really, with Romine, is there really going to be that much of a boost? Probably not.

Little CC. (Presswire)
Little CC. (Presswire)

The best bet for a balance of platoon and potential is likely to be trotting out Sanchez at catcher, Greg Bird at first, and Carter at DH. Last year, it’s worth noting, Hicks didn’t live up to his potential against lefties, so if you buy that performance, you could swap out Gardner in center to help cover Holliday in left. Of the two, Gardner is preferable to Ellsbury against lefties.

For the first time in a while, the Yankees are going to be a bonafide threat to lefty pitching. When they want to, they’ll be able to put out an immensely powerful lineup against southpaws, which should help them steal some games. If they can do that while also exposing Greg Bird to lefties in hopes of him improving, it’s a win/win.

Thoughts two weeks into the Grapefruit League season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, fine, the Grapefruit League season isn’t exactly two weeks old, but it’s close. Thirteen days. So sue me. The Yankees continue their exhibition schedule today with a World Baseball Classic tune-up game against Team Canada. Luis Severino lines up to start. That game, unfortunately, will not be televised. Lame! Anyway, I have a few thoughts on things and stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Speaking of Severino, a few weeks ago we learned he’s changed his mechanics ever so slightly in an effort to improve the quality of his changeup. He now breaks his hands closer to his body. Nothing major. Severino says it helps with his changeup, and hey, whatever works, right? Anyway, let’s see what this actually looks like, shall we? Here is 2016 Severino on the left and 2017 Severino on the right:

2016-severino-vs-2017-severino

The GIF is synced up on the moment Severino begins his delivery, meaning when he moves his left foot. The difference with his hands is pretty easy to see. Last year Severino broke his hands out in front of his chest. This year they’re breaking down by his waist. How does that help his changeup? I have no idea. Interestingly enough, when he starts his delivery, Severino isn’t taking as big a step toward first base with his left foot, which is why he’s releasing the ball a split second earlier this year (GIF on the right) than last year (GIF on the left). His tempo this year looks better. That doesn’t mean he’ll perform better, of course, but one of the knocks on Severino throughout his career has been his less than picturesque delivery. Now it looks a little more streamlined and less herky jerky. Could be something, could be nothing.

2. Spring Training pitcher usage can give you a glimpse into the team’s internal depth chart, especially with prospects, and Jordan Montgomery has gotten much more run than fellow minor league starters Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, Daniel Camarena, Dietrich Enns, Brady Lail, and Yefrey Ramirez this spring. Montgomery has thrown multiple innings on an every fifth day schedule, and each time he’s been the first guy out of the bullpen following the projected big leaguers. From the outside looking in, Montgomery appeared to be the club’s most big league ready pitching prospect coming into the spring, and his usage during Grapefruit League play all but confirms the Yankees see him that way. That doesn’t mean he can sneak up and win the fifth starter’s job or anything, but he is at the front of the line for a call-up whenever another starter is inevitably needed. The Yankees don’t seem to consider Adams, Camarena, et al quite as ready to help at the MLB level based on their sporadic usage this spring. Montgomery has been more of a priority. (I wonder how often Ronald Herrera would have pitched this spring had he not come down with shoulder inflammation.)

3. I have to think Matt Holliday will play left field and first base in a game at some point. Even if the Yankees plan to use him as a designated hitter and a designated hitter only, it would be wise to give him some action at those positions this spring, just in case. Holliday has played both positions before — he played ten games at first last season, his only experience at the position — but if he’s needed in the field during the regular season, even in an emergency, you don’t want it to be the first time he sees a ball hit at him all year. A tune-up appearance or two at first and in left is in the cards, I imagine. The real question is whether the Yankees will play Chris Carter in left at some point this spring. He’s played 77 career games out there, most in 2013 and none since 2014. It would be another way to get him into the lineup though. I mean, it’s hard to think of a reason not to put Carter in left field for a Grapefruit League game or two. Might as well try it and see what happens. But, if the Yankees don’t do it, we’ll know they have zero plans to put him in the outfield this year. First base and designated hitter only.

4. I don’t remember where I heard this — it’s possible it was something discussed during a game broadcast and not written in an article — but Johnny Barbato is working on a splitter this spring. He used a splitter earlier in his career, before the Padres moved him to the bullpen full-time, and now he’s trying to get it back. Barbato has good velocity on his fastball and he throws both a slider and a curveball, which we saw last year. Now he’s working on a fourth pitch, the splitter. And he’s worked multiple innings in each of his Grapefruit League appearances. Hmmm. Spring Training is the time of year when pitchers work on random pitches, so chances are this splitter business goes nowhere. Still, the Yankees went into last year planning to try Nick Rumbelow and Tyler Webb as starters — Rumbelow blew out his elbow in April while Webb did make some starts and extended relief appearances with Triple-A Scranton — and I wonder if they might try to same with Barbato. What’s the worst that could happen? He gets smacked around as a starter with the RailRiders and they move him back into a short relief role? Kinda funny how Barbato went from “I wonder if they’ll drop him from the 40-man roster to make room for Carter” to “wait are they going to try him a starter?” in, like, two weeks.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

5. I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the World Baseball Classic — it seems folks hate the WBC, then the games start and they love it — because the players are really into it and the games are often intense. The Israel vs. South Korea game Monday was as entertaining as any postseason game last year. The WBC is also a chance to watch players we normally don’t get to see, either because they play in the minors or overseas. (Israel’s starting shortstop, Rockies farmhand Scotty Burcham, spent all of last season in the Low-A South Atlantic League.) Pools A and B have started in South Korea and Japan, respectively, so the game times haven’t been viewer friendly, but Pools C (Miami) and D (Mexico) start later this week. (Here’s the full schedule.) Marlins Park is completely sold out for Saturday’s game between Team USA and the Dominican Republic. That’s going to be awesome. So I guess that was the long way of saying I am pro-WBC and am glad the tournament has started. Yay baseball.

6. Great work by MLB ensuring the topic of conversation will be “how do we fix baseball?” when the new season begins in a few weeks. All this talk about pace of play and weird extra innings rules and all that has everyone discussing ways to speed things up and make the game more enjoyable for casual fans. Now everyone thinks baseball is broken. It’s not! Baseball is great. Are there ways it could be better? Of course. There’s always room for improvement and baseball is no exception. It’s just that now, instead of talking about the excitement of a new season and baseball being loaded with all these insanely talented young players, everyone is talking about fixing the game. Not great, Bob. Going to be tough to cultivate new young fans, something MLB is desperately trying to do, when everyone is perpetuating the myth baseball is broken. And this is all on MLB and the MLBPA too. They’ve made all these rule changes front and center.

7. Have you noticed just about all the Yankees commercials this spring are focused on the kids? Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have been getting the face time, not big name veterans like Aroldis Chapman, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka. Even Clint Frazier has been in some promo videos. It’s neat to see and also a bit of a shock to the system. It’s been nothing but Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez and all those dudes the last two decades. The Yankees are all-in on this youth movement and that even extends to their advertising. They’re selling the kids, not the veterans. The times, they’re a changin’.

It’s time for the Yankees to relax their hair policy

(Getty)
(Getty)

Without fail, whenever the Yankees trade a player away or let him walk as a free agent, that player shows up to his new team with longer hair and a beard. Happens all the time. Same thing in the offseason too. Players go home for the winter and skip shaving every day. I don’t blame them. Shaving sucks.

The Yankees’ hair policy — hair above the shoulders, no facial hair below the lip — has been around since the 1970s, when George Steinbrenner decided his players should look professional and business-like. A few players have pushed the limits of the hair policy in recent years — we’ve seen CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera take the mound with five o’clock shadows — but, generally speaking, it’s still a strict rule.

The hair policy has been in the news the last few weeks and months thanks largely to Clint Frazier, who, before being traded to the Yankees last year, was known for his long curly bright red locks. He trimmed his hair following the trade and again before Spring Training, though it’s still on the long side. From yesterday’s game:

clint-frazier-hair

Billy Witz says Jennifer Steinbrenner, George’s daughter, enforces the team’s hair policy. She scolded both Frazier this year and Ben Gamel last year for the length of their hair, says Witz. I’m sure more than a few other players have heard from her over the years too.

The Yankees are free to run their business however they see fit, though at this point, after all these years, it’s probably time to loosen up the hair policy. It’s not the 1970s anymore. It’s 2017. The Yankees are building a very young and exciting team, yet the hair policy takes away part of the players’ personality. Frazier with his poofy red hair is a ton of fun. Frazier with a short haircut is just another ballplayer.

Surely there’s a happy medium here, right? Somewhere between a Joe Girardi crew cut and letting everyone look like Brent Burns. Hair down to the shoulders but not below, neatly trimmed beard or goatee. That sound doable? Keep in mind the Yankees could market the hell out of this. “Clint Frazier wig day” at Yankee Stadium would be a smash hit. The Yankees have been far too corporate (and boring) in recent years. This would help liven things up.

The Yankees brand is built on winning, not a hair policy. They’re not going to lose fans by letting players let grow their hair out a bit. It just seems like, given everything the Yankees are doing to build a young and energetic team, sucking some of the personality out of it with a 40-something-year-old grooming policy seems counterproductive. Let the players be themselves. Baseball is supposed to be fun, not business-like. Most folks watch baseball to escape the real world.

Recent reliever trades show the Yankees hit the jackpot with the Chapman and Miller deals

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In the early days of Spring Training, we’ve gotten a nice little peek at some of the best young players the Yankees have in their much ballyhooed farm system. Aaron Judge socked what will probably go down as the longest home run of the spring, Gleyber Torres doubled to left and right fields the next day, and Clint Frazier has been wearing out the opposite field with extra-base hits. It’s been fun!

Judge was one of New York’s three first round picks back in 2013, and, as you know, Torres and Frazier both came over at last year’s trade deadline. So did outfielder Billy McKinney, who hit a home run Sunday, as well as Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. We didn’t get to see Justus Sheffield make his spring debut Tuesday because the game wasn’t televised, but he was another trade deadline pickup as well.

Last summer the Yankees were uniquely positioned heading into the trade deadline and Brian Cashman & Co. took advantage in a big way. They turned Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, two relievers (great relievers, but relievers nonetheless), into three top 100 prospects, plus several others. The reliever trade market had really taken off in previous months and both the Cubs and Indians were pretty desperate despite sitting in first place. They had baseball’s two longest World Series droughts and wanted to get over the hump. Sure enough, the trades helped both get to the World Series.

Whenever we see trades, especially blockbuster trades that go beyond anything we expected, our first inclination is to think the market has changed. The Yankees got massive hauls for Chapman and Miller, which means every great reliever is going to require a massive Torres/Frazier caliber package going forward. It hasn’t worked out that way. Two other great relievers have been traded since those deals:

  • Pirates trade Mark Melancon to the Nationals for reliever Felipe Rivera and minor leaguer Taylor Hearn, whom Baseball America ranked as the 14th best prospect in Pittsburgh’s system in their 2017 Prospect Handbook.
  • Royals trade Wade Davis to the Cubs for Jorge Soler, a 25-year-old former top prospect who is still trying to find his way at the big league level. He came with four years of team control.

The Melancon trade was made one week after the Chapman trade and one day after the Miller trade. The Davis trade went down over the winter. Melancon was a rental like Chapman, and while he’s not as good as Chapman, he’s not that much worse either. And yet, the Pirates turned him into a good reliever and an okay prospect. The Yankees turned rental Chapman into arguably the best prospect in baseball in Torres, plus three others.

The Davis trade really drives home how well the Yankees did with the Miller and Chapman trades. From 2014-15, Davis was the best reliever on the planet, throwing 139.1 innings with a 0.97 ERA (1.72 FIP). He also excelled in the postseason (one earned run in 25 innings), closed out a World Series, and has an affordable contract ($10M in 2017). Somehow the Yankees got more for rental Chapman than the Royals did for a full year of Davis.

We can go back even further to show how much the Chapman and Miller trade look like outliers. Last offseason the Padres acquired four prospects for Craig Kimbrel, including two who landed on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list soon after the trade: Javier Guerra (No. 52) and Manuel Margot (No. 56). Kimbrel had three seasons left on his contract at the time of the trade. Well, two seasons and a club option. There’s an escape there in case things go wrong.

When the Yankees traded Miller, he had two and a half years remaining on his contract. They traded him for four prospects, including two who appeared on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 list a few weeks earlier: Frazier (No. 21) and Sheffield (No. 69). Would you rather have the Nos. 21 and 69 prospects, or the No. 52 and 56 prospects? I’d take Nos. 21 and 69. Prospect rankings are not linear. There’s not a significant difference between Nos. 52, 56, and 69. The difference between Nos. 21 and 52 is pretty huge though.

(For what it’s worth, the prospect valuations at Point of Pittsburgh indicate Frazier and Sheffield were worth a combined $78.5M in surplus value at the time of the trade. Guerra and Margot combined for $44.8M. Top 20-ish position player prospects like Frazier are insanely valuable.)

The Phillies didn’t got a single top 100 prospect in the Ken Giles trade, and he came with five years of team control. They just got a bunch of players with performance and/or health issues. Two years of Jake McGee was traded for a designated hitter (Corey Dickerson) who hasn’t hit outside Coors Field. Three years of Justin Wilson fetched two okay but not great pitching prospects. Four and a half years of Sam Dyson was given away for two non-prospects. Giles, McGee, Wilson, and Dyson have all been among the game’s top relievers the last few seasons, and look at those trades packages.

Point is, compared to some other top reliever trades, specifically the Melancon and Davis deals, the Chapman and Miller hauls look like a minor miracle. It was a perfect storm for the Yankees. They had an elite reliever on a contract that wasn’t burdensome, and the team that wanted him was not only very desperate to get over the hump and win their first World Series in a lifetime, they also had the tippy top prospects to trade. And then it all happened again.

I don’t want to call the Miller and Chapman trades once in a lifetime events, that’s a wee bit over the top, but given everything that happened leading up to and since the deals, it sure looks like everything came together at exactly the right time for the Yankees. They had the right players to offer very motivated buyers. And maybe it won’t work out and all the prospects will bust. Baseball can be a jerk like that. Right now, at this very moment, the Miller and Chapman deals look like franchise-altering trades. You dream of your favorite team making trades like this.