Thoughts 13 days prior to Opening Day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Opening Day is two weeks from yesterday, and we’re at the point of Spring Training where everyone wants it to be over. Even the players. Most of the top prospects are in the minor league camp and the veterans are going through the motions. These are the dog days of March. Just gotta grind it out and wait for the season to begin. Here are some assorted thoughts.

1. Even though the tests came back clean, the Jacoby Ellsbury injury worries me because he has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt. His injuries tend to linger and they have pretty much his entire career. I can’t imagine that will change now that he’s over 30. There are 13 days between now and Opening Day, and the Yankees have outfield depth, so they’re in good shape there, but to get back to the postseason this year, they’re going to need Ellsbury on his A-game from the leadoff spot. Wrist injuries can be pretty serious even without a break. All the inflammation can make it tough to hold a bat properly, and if you can’t hold a bat properly, you’re not going to hit. Hopefully this blows over quickly and Ellsbury gets back on the field by the end of the week. I just worry we’re going to be talking about this hit-by-pitch in three months and how Ellsbury still doesn’t look right.

2. So how many teams do you think called the White Sox about Chris Sale since last week? Probably 29, right? Sale threw some serious verbal barbs management’s way after the whole Adam LaRoche fiasco — he called vice president Kenny Williams a “bold-faced liar,” among other things — and was clearly unhappy with that whole situation. Teams smell blood in the water and if there is any chance the incident could make Sale available, they wanted their foot in the door. GM Rick Hahn told Dan Hayes they have no interest in moving their ace, which is no surprise whatsoever. Sale is one of the most valuable commodities in the game as a true No. 1 starter who is owed a maximum of $47.15M through 2019. I hope the Yankees placed a call out of due diligence. I don’t think they have the pieces to get Sale — Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, and Gary Sanchez maybe piques Hahn’s interest — but you’ve got to at least make the call. And by the way, the White Sox have every right to ask LaRoche to not bring his kid to the clubhouse every day and LaRoche has every right to retire. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said about that.

3. I admit a sliver of doubt is beginning to enter my mind about CC Sabathia getting the fifth starter’s job over Ivan Nova. I still think it will be Sabathia when it’s all said it done, though right now my confidence is like 98% instead of 100%. Like I said, it’s only a sliver of doubt. The team keeps talking about this being an open competition and Brian Cashman seemed pretty sincere while speaking to Meredith Marakovits over the weekend (skip to the 0:44 mark for the fifth starter talk):

Nova didn’t pitch well in his last start and that’s going to hurt his chances of breaking camp in the rotation. He’s going to have to really outperform Sabathia this spring to win that fifth starter’s spot. Anything close to resembling a tie will go to the veteran making $25M. Nova has to leave zero doubt he is the best man for the job. Either way, I’m sure both of these guys are going to end up making a bunch of starts this season. That’s baseball. The Yankees could go into the season with Sabathia as a starter thinking it’s only a matter of time until Nova moves into the rotation anyway.

4. Chasen Shreve has looked phenomenal this spring. The numbers are outstanding — the only base-runner against him in 6.1 innings came on an error — but beyond that, his stuff looks firm and his body language looks way better than it did last September. Shreve looked pretty down on himself late last year and who could blame him? He got torched for a few weeks there. He seems to be more confident this spring and he’s throwing with conviction. Maybe it’s something as simple as being fresh physically after an offseason of rest. After all, almost everyone who was asked about Shreve’s stumble to finish last year chalked it up to fatigue. Perhaps it really was that simple. Either way, Shreve has looked great this spring and I hope it carries over into the regular season. He can be dominant when right.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

5. Know who we’re going to see a lot this season? Kirby Yates. I just have that feeling, you know? Yates has been pretty good this spring but that’s not it. His stuff is good, he has a history of missing bats, and he has 56.1 innings of big league experience to his credit. I could see Yates being a very prominent part of the bullpen shuttle, if not the No. 1 up-and-down guy. Last season Branden Pinder held that role. Pinder was the guy who stuck around longer than the other shuttle relievers whenever there was a chance to stay with the team longer than 48 hours. I feel like Yates is going to be that reliever this season. We’re going to look up in August and this guy’s going to have 40 innings under his belt, isn’t he?

6. Both Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will be free agents following this season, and the Yankees sure seem to be looking forward to having their big contracts off the books. They’ll have more payroll flexibility and two open roster spots for young players once they’re gone. But you know what? That’s an awful lot of offense walking out the door. You’re talking about the team’s best power hitter and best all-around hitter. That doesn’t mean the Yankees should look to retain Teixeira and/or Beltran — what are the odds they continue to be the club’s best power hitter and best all-around hitter in 2017 and beyond, in their late-30s? — just that the potential offensive hit is something they have to consider. This might be no big deal. Teixeira and/or Beltran could struggle this year and make replacing them easy. If that happens though, the Yankees probably aren’t making the postseason. The more they produce this season, the better it is for the Yankees in 2016 and the tougher it will be to replace them in 2017.

Weathering the Storm

Jacoby Ellsbury HBP

Looking back on my sports day yesterday, I’m realizing it was fraught with disaster-potential. In the afternoon, Jacoby Ellsbury left the game after being plunked in the right wrist. Later last night, my UConn Huskies bowed out of the NCAA Tournament, bested and humbled by the superior Kansas Jayhawks. Given the Ellsbury, HBP, the Huskies’ loss could’ve been the cherry on top of a very crappy sundae; instead, since that Ellsbury’s x-rays were negative, the basketball game was the sundae itself. Regardless of food metaphors, the HBP got me thinking about the Yankees and the lineup depth they’ll likely have to tap into at some point during the season if/when someone or multiple someones go down with a long-term injury.

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

Up the middle, the Yankees are actually in fairly good shape. Should Didi Gregorius go down, the (somewhat) newly acquired Starlin Castro can move over from his new home at second base to his old one at shortstop. While this leaves a hole at second base–one that could otherwise be created by a Castro injury–the Yankees have an assortment of options: Dustin Ackley, Rob Refsnyder, and even Ronald Torreyes, if he’s still around. None of those options are ideal, mind you, for various reasons. Ackely probably ‘is what he is,’ as they say, at this point of his career, but he’s a lefty hitter in Yankee Stadium, now for a full season. That always has the potential for fireworks. Refsnyder may not be defensively graceful, but there’s upside in his bat. Even Torreyes–who only has a handful of ML plate appearances–has some potential to tap into; he’s a career .298 hitter in the minors and has a strikeout rate under 7%. The impact on the batting lineup would be fairly minimal in this case. Both Castro and Gregorius figure to be bottom-of-the-order hitters anyway, and their potential replacements would be as well. Those replacements also have hitting profiles that are similar to those of Starlin and Didi, further mitigating any wrinkles.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Moving inward, the Yankees have Gary Sanchez in waiting should Brian McCann go down. It feels like we’ve been waiting on Sanchez to take over at catcher forever, and this is the year that we could get it. Granted, it’ll be bittersweet should it happen at McCann’s expense. McCann is still a middle-of-the-order hitter, and an injury here would upset things. Chase Headley would likely move up into the sixth spot with Sanchez slotting in behind him. Sanchez, though, as big power potential and if things broke right, he could find himself in a more meaningful spot.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

In the outfield, Aaron Hicks provides upside and insurance at all three spots and Brett Gardner is a more-than-capable center field option should Jacoby Ellsbury go down. Additionally, the Yankees have Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Ben Gamel on the 40-man roster to fill in on the bench. Dustin Ackley can also play the corners if necessary. This is where potential lineup disturbances will have the most impact. All three regular outfielders–Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran–bat at the top of the order. Even with some upside left–and success against lefties–Hicks likely isn’t a top-of-the-order bat, and neither are the other potential fill ins. If an outfielder sustains an injury, I’m guessing Starlin Castro shoots up to hit in the two hole.

Rob Refsnyder
(Getty)

The corner infield spots present a big challenge for the Yankees in terms of depth. Greg Bird‘s injury leaves them without a true backup option at first base and aside from Chase Headley, the Yankees don’t really have anyone strong at third, having abandoned the Castro At the Corner experiment already. Refsnyder has been taking reps there, which is probably his best shot to make the team out of Spring Training. This is much less ideal than Ref filling in at second, where he’s already shaky defensively despite some experience there.

Should Teixeira be injured for a long period of time, I’d imagine we’ll see Chase Headley march across the diamond to play first, unless the Yankees opt to keep Chris Parmalee around and bring him up. That might actually be the better option. While Refsnyder has more upside and moving Headley would get Ref on the field, Parmalee has shown some degree of Major League success and using him allows for keeping Headley where he’s comfortable and most effective.

An injury to Alex Rodriguez would likely mean a rotation of players–Tex, McCann, and Beltran–into the DH spot with fill-ins at their vacated positions–Hicks in the outfield; McCann at first, perhaps; Sanchez and/or Austin Romine at catcher.

An old team like the Yankees needs to have depth. Despite not doing any shopping on the Major League free agent market, the Yankees do seem to have a fair amount of depth at most positions. No one wants injuries to happen, but they most certainly will. There might be some dropoffs, but it appears the Yankees have set themselves up to not fall off of a cliff when their mainstays get hurt.

Thoughts following the Spring Training off-day

The Board of Trustees. (Presswire)
The Board of Trustees. (Presswire)

The Yankees had their first Spring Training off-day yesterday. They’ll jump back into Grapefruit League play with a game against the Red Sox later tonight. That will in no way be blown out of proportion, I’m sure. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. We’ve reached the dog days of March. The novelty of baseball being back has worn off and most of the top prospects have been reassigned to minor league camp. Now we’re just going to watch a bunch of big league players go through the motions and get ready for the upcoming season, which can be rather tedious. The grind has officially begun. Spring Training is too long — Eno Sarris (subs. req’d) spoke to a bunch of players (and non-players) and most agree Spring Training could be shorter — but it’s long out of necessity. Starting pitchers need time to get stretched out and it’s also good for players to have a chance to heal up from any nagging spring injuries. Twenty days to Opening Day. It’s so close and yet it feels so far away.

2. I’m not surprised the Yankees pulled the plug on Starlin Castro at third base, but I am surprised they ended the experiment so soon. He never did appear in a game at the hot corner. All he did was take some grounders at third during infield practice. This makes me wonder if Castro needs more work at second base than the Yankees realized. He is new to the position, so it would be completely understandable. Castro couldn’t have possibly learned all the nuances of second base in the 258 innings he played at the position last year. I’m guessing the third base experiment is on hiatus and not over completely — what are the chances we hear about Starlin possibly playing third next spring? 98%? — but clearly the Yankees weren’t comfortable moving forward with it at this time. That seems like a smart move. Asking Castro to learn his second new position within an eight-month span could have been overwhelming.

3. It’s still possible the Yankees will go outside the organization for a backup third baseman — I could totally see a shuttle reliever for an out of options infielder trade going down on, like, April 3rd — but right now things are looking pretty good for Rob Refsnyder in terms of making the team. He’s actually played more innings at third base (23) than second (17) this spring, and only Chase Headley (33) and Deibinson Romero (24) have played more innings at the hot corner in Grapefruit League games. (Romero was reassigned to minor league camp Sunday.) There’s still enough time for someone like Pete Kozma or Ronald Torreyes to win a bench job, though they do seem to be long shots. Refsnyder looks like the guy right now. Kinda weird how the Yankees steadfastly refused to call up Refsnyder last summer despite Stephen Drew‘s long periods of nothing, yet now had him change positions as a way to improve his chances of being on the Opening Day roster.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

4. Right now I think the backup catcher race is advantage Austin Romine. Joe Girardi has all but dismissed Carlos Corporan as a candidate, which surprised me, leaving Romine and Gary Sanchez. They’ve played the exact same number of innings behind the plate (26) but Romine has stood out more offensively, which he was going to have to do to win a roster spot. Sanchez literally doesn’t have a hit yet; he’s 0-for-10 with three walks and a strikeout. Romine is 5-for-14 (.357) with three doubles. In a way, Sanchez is making this easy for the Yankees. Five weeks in the minors delays his free agency another year, and sending him down to gain that extra year of team control would have been weird had he mashed in camp. I don’t think the Yankees care too much about fan backlash or things like that, but at least now they can say they want Sanchez to play everyday so he can continue to work on things in Triple-A and have it be totally believable. Saying that when a guy hits .350 in camp is a little tougher to believe. We’ll see. Lots of Spring Training left.

5. Jacob Lindgren was both the first 40-man roster player and first bullpen shuttle reliever to be reassigned to minor league camp this spring, and depending on how you want to look at it, the move could be telling or nothing at all. Lindgren is coming off elbow surgery, so the Yankees may want him to take it slow in minor league camp, where he won’t experience the same pressure to win a roster spot. At the same time, non-roster guys like Diego Moreno, Richard Bleier, and Tyler Cloyd are still in big league camp, and whatever innings they throw are innings Lindgren could be throwing. It’s not like those guys are serious candidates to make the Opening Day roster. Lindgren’s overall Grapefruit League numbers are ugly — he had one disaster appearance followed by two scoreless innings — but I don’t think the stats had anything to do it. Lots of guys have hideous numbers right now. I think sending him out was simply an indication the Yankees don’t believe Lindgren is ready to help at the big league level right now. Relievers can get by with bad command — none of the big three relievers have even average command — but they usually can’t get by with bad control, and right now Lindgren has bad control. He has to work on that.

6. My most recent Opening Day bullpen prediction has already been blown up with Lindgren being sent out. So much for that. We know Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will get two of the seven bullpen spots, and Ivan Nova will get one of the others as long as the five starters ahead of him stay healthy. Right now I have those four remaining bullpen spots going to Chasen Shreve, Bryan Mitchell, Nick Rumbelow, and Branden Pinder. Pinder replaces Lindgren from my original projection and gets the spot over Nick Goody and Johnny Barbato, mostly based on seniority. He threw the most innings and had the most up-and-down trips among the shuttle guys last year. Nova and Mitchell give the Yankees two long men, which will come in handy early in the season as the Yankees ease their starters into things. Shreve is pretty much a lock at this point thanks to his excellent Grapefruit League showing and overall body of work last year. The Rumbelow and Pinder spots are shuttle spots. They might be on the Opening Day roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stick around very long. Besides, one is keeping the seat warm for Aroldis Chapman. The bullpen competition will be a year long adventure.

Tinkering for Tanaka?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

While it hasn’t been hard in the last few years to claim the title of ‘best Yankee starting pitcher,’ it’s one that undoubtedly goes to right hander Masahiro Tanaka. At times, there have been pitchers who’ve performed better than he has, but on balance, it’s difficult to compete with him. Whenever he’s on the mound, there’s a feeling that something special can and will happen; I think it’s safe to say that all of us want him to pitch as much as possible. Unfortunately for Tanaka, the Yankees,  and us the fans, he’s been unable to make at least 25 starts in both of his seasons in the US and has never reached even 160 innings pitched. To boot, he’s coming off surgery this offseason, so his health is a question going into the 2016 regular season (just like everyone else not named “Luis Severino,” who comes with his own concerns).

As of now, Tanaka is lined up to start Opening Day vs. the Astros, which is unsurprising. The honor is mostly ceremonial, but throwing your best pitcher on Opening Day is also a nice way to get off on your best foot early on in the season. That goes doubly when the team you’re playing first–the Astros–is a fellow potential Wild Card contender for later on in the season. The frequent breaks in the April schedule also offer an interesting temptation to the Yankees as it regards to Tanaka. With regular rest for each start, the Yankees can swing a way to have him make six starts in April, all against possible playoff teams.

If (when) he starts on Opening Day, he would be lined up to pitch again on Sunday the 10th against the Tigers if the Yankees opted to cycle through their rotation fully before returning to Tanaka. Continuing on that schedule would give him five starts in the month: 4/4; 4/10; 4/15 (Mariners); 4/21 (A’s); 4/26 (Rangers). There’s also a way the Yankees could get him six starts in the month by taking advantage of the off days and not using their back-end starters. Pitching Tanaka with exactly four days of rest, regardless of the rotation, would allow him to start on 4/4 (Astros); 4/9 (Tigers); 4/14 (Blue Jays); 4/19 (A’s); 4/24 (Rays); and 4/29 (Red Sox).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The effect here is two-fold: it gives Tanaka–the best pitcher–the most possible starts and it allows the Yankees to skip players they might want to skip, whether it’s CC Sabathia for purposes of easing him back into the rotation and keeping his knee healthy, or wanting to tinker with Luis Severino’s innings, as not to wear him out early in the year. The Yankees may say Severino has no restrictions, but as Mike noted in his season preview for Severino, there’s no reason to believe them.

Coincidentally, there’s also a performance trend regarding Tanaka and regular rest. The sample size is relatively small–87.1 innings–but Tanaka has his best split ERA–2.89–when pitching on just four days’ rest. He does his absolute best work on six+ days of rest, but that’s not feasible given the relative weakness of the Yankee rotation, even if they add a sixth starter.

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

This plan isn’t without its obstacles. Tanaka’s coming off of surgery and though everything seems to be going alright on that front, it may not be wise to push him right out of the gate. There are also concerns as they relate to the bullpen. Skipping starters in favor of Tanaka could put some extra strain on the bullpen, the middle of which is yet to be sorted out. This would be less of a concern were Aroldis Chapman around, but his more-than-well-deserved suspension pushes Dellin Betances back an inning and thins out the pre-eighth inning options for Joe Girardi. Employing the Scranton Shuttle could help alleviate the fatigue issue, but it doesn’t necessarily sort out the quality issue.

I’m conflicted on the alternate plans I presented earlier, but my senses want me to want the Yankees to give in to temptation and forgo others in favor of Tanaka getting the most starts. The Yankees faded in the back half of last year and given the age of their roster, it’s not hard to see that happening again. Getting off to the strongest start possible is of the utmost importance and pitching Tanaka six times–with three against division opponents–in April rather than five–with none against division opponents–helps accomplish that.

Thoughts one week into the Grapefruit League season

Run Jorge run. (Presswire)
Run Jorge run. (Presswire)

The Yankees opened their Grapefruit League season one week ago today, and so far they’re 2-5 and have been outscored 37-25. Doomed? Doomed! When in doubt, the Yankees are doomed. Anyway, I have some random thoughts on this beautiful Wednesday in New York.

1. I don’t get to many minor league games each year. Usually only a handful in Coney Island, where the Mets have their Short Season NY-Penn League affiliate, and maybe one or two in Trenton. Spring Training is definitely the best time for me to get eyes on Yankees prospects, and holy crap is Jorge Mateo exciting. You can read all the scouting reports and whatnat, but man, it’s something else to see 80 speed and sneaky power in action. I must have watched his triple ten times since last Wednesday:

I’m not going to change my opinion of Mateo as a prospect or anything based on the four of five Spring Training at-bats I’ve seen. I’m just saying it’s very exciting to see a skill set like that in action. He’s explosive on the field. I ranked Mateo as the No. 3 prospect in the system coming into camp and I stand by that, but I will bump him up to the top of the system in FARP (Fun Above Replacement Player).

2. The Yankees made it through the first week of Spring Training games with no injuries, thankfully. (No, I don’t believe in jinxes. Why do you ask?) Brett Gardner‘s coming back from a bone bruise but that’s a preexisting condition, so to speak. He came to camp hurt. Aside from that, Nathan Eovaldi‘s groin has been tight, though he’ll make his first start tomorrow, so it’s no big deal. Pete Kozma and Donovan Solano have been dealing with some back issues. That’s pretty much it. I always worry about injuries that first week of spring as players make the jump in intensity from drills to game action. So far, so good. The AL East might come down to which team stays healthiest this summer, and the Yankees do seem to have more injury risk than most teams. Getting through even one week of Grapefruit League games with no issues is a positive.

3. At this point I’m pretty convinced Bryan Mitchell will be in the bullpen come Opening Day. He’s making regular starts this spring and he’s been with the established big league players in workout groups, plus Joe Girardi has mentioned him by name as a candidate for the Super Utility Reliever role Adam Warren filled the last two years. (To be fair, Girardi mentioned Ivan Nova as a candidate for that role as well.) The Yankees have some Triple-A depth in case they need a spot starter at some point — Luis Cessa is on the 40-man roster and I figure he’s first in line for a call-up — so they can afford to carry Mitchell as a reliever. His ability to throw multiple innings is an obvious plus, though I really liked what I saw out of him in short relief last season, at least before he took the line drive to the nose. PitchFX has his fastball averaging 96.7 mph and topping out at 99.3 mph last year, and, well, this is his curveball:

Bryan Mitchell curveball1

Mid-90s gas and that bender is going to play in short relief. Mitchell has been unable to develop a reliable changeup over the years — he uses a cutter as his primary weapon against lefties — and this will be his final minor league option season, so he’s kinda running out of time. I get why he may be something of a long man out of the gate this year, but I am a Mitchell fan — I had him seventh on my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, which is way higher than anyone else — and think he could emerge as a pretty good middle relief option behind the big three relievers by the end of the season. As soon as he realizes he doesn’t have to nibble because his stuff is good enough to overpower hitters in the strike zone, Mitchell could really be something.

4. Right now the rotation is lined up to go Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia come the start of the season. There are still a few weeks between now and Opening Day, so things can change, but Tanaka is lined up perfectly to start Opening Day and the other two guys are right behind him on the pitching schedule. That’s how things line up right now, and it makes sense because that’s the rotation the Yankees used to start last season. Eovaldi started the fourth game and Warren started the fifth game last year. This year it’ll probably be Eovaldi fourth and Luis Severino fifth. That’s fine with me. The Opening Day rotation order means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Bartolo Colon started Opening Day for the Mets last year and things worked out just fine for them. The rotation order at the end of the season and heading into the postseason is what really matters.

5. The Orioles agreed to sign Pedro Alvarez the other day — it’s a one-year deal at $5.75M with $1.5M in incentives, which is more than I thought he’d get at this point of the year — so they have yet another power bat in their lineup. Alvarez, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, and Manny Machado could all legitimately top 30 homers this season. At the same time, the O’s have a lot of strikeouts in their lineup — Davis and Alvarez could combine for 90 homers and 450 strikeouts, like for real — but not the high on-base hitters to compensate. They were third in homers last year (217) but 26th in OBP (.307), which is why they finished only ninth in runs (713). Ninth is pretty good generally speaking, just not when you’re third in dingers. Alvarez and Trumbo aren’t going to help much in the OBP department. Between all the strikeouts — over the last three seasons Davis (31.0%), Alvarez (27.7%), and Trumbo (25.6%) rank second, fourth, and ninth in strikeout rate, respectively — and the guys with OBPs hovering around .300, it’ll be tough for the O’s to sustain rallies in 2015. They’re going to be the ultimate #toomanyhomers team. If they don’t hit the ball out of the park, they won’t score. They’ll have the offense people think the Yankees have.

Heyman: Yankees and Braves talked 10-player blockbuster with Heyward, Simmons, Severino last year

Simmons and Heyward. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Simmons and Heyward. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Last offseason we learned the Yankees and Braves discussed a blockbuster trade that would have brought Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons to New York for a package of prospects. We later found out Luis Severino would have been part of that trade, which makes sense. The Braves were focusing on young pitching in all their trades last winter and Severino was the best young pitcher the Yankees had to offer.

The trade didn’t go through, obviously. Heyward was traded to the Cardinals, Simmons spent another year in Atlanta before being traded to the Angels, and Severino remains a Yankee. Late last night, Jon Heyman reported some more details of the blockbuster proposal, and it was a five-for-five swap. Check out this deal:

To Yankees: Heyward, Simmons, B.J. Melvin Upton, Chris Johnson, David Carpenter
To Braves: Severino, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Ian Clarkin, Manny Banuelos

Holy moly, that is a lot of players and a lot of talent. And also some dead roster weight. Heyman says Heyward was told the Yankees were close to getting him “many times” last offseason, for what it’s worth. Keep in mind Heyward was traded to the Cardinals on November 17th, so the Yankees and Braves discussed this blockbuster very early in the offseason. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. Heyman says the Yankees were the team that declined to pull the trigger, indicating the Braves suggested the five-for-five swap. That makes sense. I have a hard time believing the Yankees would have been willing to put that much young talent on the table — unproven minor league young talent, but young talent nonetheless — and take back what amounted to one long-term piece in Simmons. Heyward was a year away from free agency, Upton and Johnson had albatross contracts, and Carpenter was only a reliever. A good reliever (with the Braves, at least) but still only a reliever. I guess the Yankees could have signed Heyward to an extension, though that doesn’t really change the evaluation of the trade. It’s not like the Braves are giving you the extension. The trade and extension are separate transactions. Based on my 2015 Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, that trade would have sent New York’s four (!) best prospects to the Braves. Sheesh. Too much. Glad they didn’t pull the trigger.

2. I found it pretty interesting Simmons was traded this offseason to the Angels, who are now run by former Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler. I wonder if Eppler was the driving force behind the Yankees’ interest in Simmons. At the very least we know he was on board with trying to acquire Andrelton. That’s understandable. Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the world and one of the best in history. That said, I am perfectly happy with Didi Gregorius, aren’t you?

Andrelton Simmons Didi Gregorius

Simmons is very good. I would so much rather have Gregorius at the price it took to acquire him than Simmons at the price it would have taken to acquire him, and that was true last offseason. And that’s coming from someone who expected Shane Greene to have a really good year last season. I didn’t foresee him struggling that much at all. Simmons is a very good shortstop with big name value. Didi’s production is comparable, he came at a much lower cost, and he’s cheaper. In the past the Yankees went for the big name, not the smart pickup. Who is this team and what have they done with the Yankees?

3. The Heyward angle is interesting because the Yankees had a full outfield. They had Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran last offseason. What they didn’t have was an idea what they’d get from Alex Rodriguez coming off his suspension. I guess the plan was to put Heyward in right field, move Beltran to DH, and then figure things out with A-Rod later. The Yankees approached last offseason as if Rodriguez was going to be a non-factor. They re-signed Chase Headley to play third base and one of the reasons they acquired Garrett Jones was to ensure they had a backup plan at DH. (Also, Beltran was coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, so he was a question too.) They never needed that backup plan. Rod mashed from Day One. Making the four-man outfield work would have been tricky, but remember, Gardner missed a few games in April after taking a pitch to the wrist, and Ellsbury missed seven weeks after hurting his knee in May. These things have a way of working themselves out.

4. This trade was talked about very early in the offseason, so had it gone through, the Yankees probably would not have re-signed Chris Young and instead let Upton fill that role. What else would they do with him? Bossman Jr. was a total disaster in his two years with the Braves — he hit .198/.279/.314 (66 wRC+) in just over 1,000 plate appearances from 2013-14 — but he did actually have a nice year with the Padres in 2015, putting up a .259/.327/.429 (110 wRC+) batting line with five homers and nine steals in 228 plate appearances around a foot injury. That includes a .254/.369/.423 (124 wRC+) line against southpaws. Nice numbers, but as with Gregorius over Simmons, give me the guy the Yankees actually acquired (Young) over the guy they could have acquired (Upton), especially considering the acquisition cost.

Upton. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Upton. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

5. The Braves would have had to kick in money to make this trade work, right? I can’t imagine they realistically expected the Yankees to give up all that young talent and take on all that salary. Not counting the arbitration-eligible Carpenter, the four guys who would have come to New York in the trade were owed a combined $133.15M across 13 contract seasons. I know a $10.24M average annual value doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not actually spread out across 13 seasons. Most of those seasons overlap. Heyward’s very good and so is Simmons, but how could the Braves not kick in money to facilitate this trade? Substantial money too. They’d have to pay down something like $30M or even $40M of that $113.15M. Giving up all that talent and taking on all that money makes no sense for the Yankees, not when only one of the five players they were set to receive was a significant long-term asset (Simmons).

6. I think both the Yankees and Braves are better off now than they would have been had the trade gone through. The Yankees kept Severino, kept their other prospects, and acquired Gregorius to take over at short. The Braves turned Heyward into Shelby Miller, then Miller into three really good young players (Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair). Simmons fetched a top 20 pitching prospect (Sean Newcomb), another very good pitching prospect (Chris Ellis), and a tradeable veteran (Erick Aybar). Upton’s contract was dumped on the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade with actual prospects going back to Atlanta, and Johnson was sent to the Indians for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in a trade that rearranged money to make things more favorable for both teams. (The Indians got a lower average annual value and the Braves now have the money coming off the books a year earlier than they would have.) And then Banuelos and Carpenter ended up being traded for each other anyway. I’m sure both the Yankees and Braves were disappointed they weren’t able to work out a trade last year. From the looks of it, both teams are better off with the way things worked out.

7. I’m (very) glad the Yankees walked way from this trade — I don’t mean that in a prospect hugging way, it’s just a lot of talent to give up for two impact players, one of whom was a year away from free agency — and I’m also glad to see they’re at least willing to discuss their top prospects in trades. Too many teams out there seem completely unwilling to even consider making their best prospects available. Young talent is important! It’s also fairly unpredictable and risky. I really like Judge and think he has a chance to be a +4 WAR outfielder down the road, but at the same time, I also recognize he might never get there because he’s so damn big and strikeouts will always be an issue. Banuelos hasn’t been the same since Tommy John surgery. Clarkin got hurt a few weeks after the blockbuster was discussed. I’m glad the Yankees are emphasizing young talent now. That’s what they need to do at this point. They’d also be smart to not make all their top prospects off-limits. There’s always a point where dealing a highly touted young player makes sense, and teams owe it to themselves to explore those opportunities. They’re often fleeting.

Passing Through a Screen Door: On the Duality of Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

On Friday, while my eleventh grade class settled in and waited for the post-lunch bell to signal the resumption of class, one girl–in her finest blue and orange hat–bemoaned the Mets’ loss to the Nationals in their Grapefruit League opener. Wisely–and before I could remind her–she said she knew that Spring Training was only about the players getting through the process in one piece and that she was hopeful for the 2016 Mets, but fearful one of their dynamite starting pitchers would go down for an extended period of time with some colossally devastating injury; her guess was Noah Syndergaard). Her pre-class thoughts summed up the duality of Spring Training deftly: hope and fear.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Looking for tears in the screen door

Luis Severino‘s first inning of work. Jorge Mateo‘s displays of power and speed. Aaron Judge‘s homer. Alex Rodriguez‘s homer.  Whether it’s in the form of current players like Severino and A-Rod showing the same stuff they did last year that made them successful or whether it’s Mateo and Judge giving us those teasing glimpses into the future, we’re reminded of the cliche sense of hope that comes along with Spring Training. Anything can happen. Anything great can happen.

Present or future–however you want to define either term–things always look rosy in March. Maybe it’s the Florida sun glossing over our eyes, too used to the winter clouds and rain; maybe it’s the idea of looking at a blank book, ready to be filled up with 162-plus adventures; maybe it’s that early March intersects with the New Year’s Resolution hangover and the first buzzes of spring cleaning. Regardless of the reason, we can’t help but be hopeful–at least in part–for the April to come and the months thereafter.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Waiting for another disaster

Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow. CC Sabathia‘s knee. Age. These are the other shoe whose drop we’re waiting for after our first hopeful step of spring.  Despite the optimism we may have, we remember that baseball is a game of failure, to a certain extent, and we contemplate the potential pitfalls: injured starters; an aging lineup; a potentially overworked bullpen.

Things are going to go wrong over the course of the baseball season and with so much time between now and Opening Day, we’re left to sit and wonder just how many things will go wrong and just how wrongly they’ll go. Who’ll start slow? Who’ll slump? Who’ll be out for months?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the course of this offseason, I’ve tried to balance the competing realities the Yankees seem to be facing heading into the 2016 season. They are teetering on a dual ledge that can send them plummeting into even more mediocrity or soaring into the playoffs, where anything can happen. It’s easy to look out at the coming season and see the waiting disasters, especially with knowledge of how cruel and random this game can be. But it’s just as easy to look for the tears in the screen door, the signs of hope, the signs that tell us this is going to be a good year. To that feeling, I say, “I was kind of hoping you’d stay.”