Thoughts ten days after the end of the regular season

Bird in the AzFL in 2014. (Presswire)
Bird in the AzFL in 2014. (Presswire)

It has now been ten days since the Yankees played their final regular season game. The postseason has kept me from missing the Yankees so far, though that’ll change eventually. Probably after the playoffs. Anyway, I have some thoughts about the 2016 season and the offseason ahead.

1. This is a very important Arizona Fall League season for the Yankees. Usually it’s just a bunch of guys getting extra at-bats. This year the Yankees have one rehabbing big leaguer (Greg Bird), one rehabbing prospect (James Kaprielian), and one reclamation project (Dillon Tate) in the desert. Bird will hopefully be the full-time first baseman next season, and he’s finally getting at-bats in the AzFL after missing the season due to shoulder surgery. Kaprielian, arguably the most talented pitcher in the system, will get a chance to make up for lost time after missing close to the entire season with an elbow problem. Tate’s stock took a hit this summer as his velocity and stuff wavered. The Yankees want to get all three back on track, especially Bird and Kaprielian. They’re important to the future of the franchise.

2. I’m usually paranoid about pitching depth. I’m always in favor of signing that one extra veteran to be the fifth starter and push the kids down to Triple-A. I’d rather have the arms and not need them then need them and not have them, you know? Despite that, I’m weirdly comfortable with the pitching depth the Yankees have at the moment. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell all logged big league time this year, and then there’s Jordan Montgomery and presumably Chance Adams in Triple-A. Severino is the only one of those pitchers with a really high ceiling, but I think they’re all big leaguers, and I think the odds are pretty good we’ll see each of them next season. Definitely the first four, assuming Green is healthy. Is a rotation featuring four of those guys going to win a championship in 2017? Nah. But I like all the live arms that are big league ready or close to it. It’s been a while since the Yankees were this deep in potential starters.

3. Now, even with that pitching depth in mind, I do think the Yankees need to add a starter this offseason. A young controllable guy with high upside would be ideal. Someone like, say, Carlos Rodon or Jon Gray would be the dream scenario, just to throw some names out there. I’m not sure if that’ll happen though. Plan B might be some riskier pitchers either due to injury or poor performance. Rich Hill will be the big free agent name this offseason, and I suspect he’s going to get himself a nice contract. When I say riskier pitchers, I’m thinking more along the lines of Brett Anderson and Jaime Garcia (assuming his option is declined), or a trade for Tyson Ross. There’s a chance they’ll come reasonably cheap, and if healthy, they’ll be pretty good. If not, then the Yankees can turn it over to the kids. Maybe I’m being too optimistic about the young starters. I’m known to do that in the offseason. It just seems like there are zero sure things in free agency. Not even a reliable veteran innings guy to be your fourth starter. So if no trade can be worked out, then taking shots on risky pitchers with upside and using the kids as a backup plan seems like a fine idea.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. I’m not sure how this can be fixed aside from getting an entirely new offense, but the Yankees really need to improve their on-base ability going forward. They had a team .314 OBP (25th in MLB) and a 7.8% walk rate (19th). They also averaged only 3.83 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked 22nd in baseball. Their 77 games with no more than two walks were ninth most in baseball. That’s a problem. The best thing a hitter can do in any given plate appearance is not make an out, and the Yankees were among the worst teams at not making outs this past season. Furthermore, one of their best count-workers (Mark Teixeira) is retiring and two others (Brett Gardner and Brian McCann) might get traded. Hopefully Bird’s return and a full season of Aaron Judge will help correct this somewhat. With others like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, this is just who they are. They’re going up there swinging. Want the Yankees to score more runs? Then adding some more on-base guys to the lineup would be a good start. Gardner and McCann were the only full season regulars with a .331+ OBP in 2016. That ain’t enough.

5. The Yankees re-signed pitching coach Larry Rothschild to a one-year contract last week, which means Rothschild, Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman will be all be free agents next offseason. Probably the other coaches too, though I don’t know their contract statuses. Point is, things are set up well for the Yankees to wipe the slate clean after next season should ownership decide to go in that direction. No one has to be fired. They can all be let go. I don’t expect that to happen, at least not right now, but if the Yankees miss the postseason for the fourth time in five years, who knows. It would be easy to justify making sweeping changes. Either way, Cashman’s contract and Girardi’s contract are up after the season, and that’s going to be a pretty huge story, especially if the club doesn’t play in October again.

Goodbye, Mark

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

Memory and baseball are bedfellows of randomness. Just like we’re not sure what’s going to happen when a ball is hit or thrown, we have little control over what we remember, regardless of how much or how little. There are baseball-related things I’ll forget the day after they happen and others I’ll remember for as long as I have a memory. Most of those times, my memories are on the field. Two moment off the field, however, stand out.

In February of 2004, I was waiting for my name to be called for a haircut as the TV in the barbershop played Alex Rodriguez‘s introductory press conference. Almost five years later, in December of 2008, I was on a side road, facing the on-ramp to I-95 at Exit 5 of the Connecticut Turnpike. To my right was a McDonalds and to my left was a shipping center–both are still there.

That’s where I was — coincidentally in the town he and his family would eventually call home — when I heard via WFAN that Mark Teixeira was signing with the Yankees for eight years, sneaking out from under the thumb of the Red Sox (and the Orioles according to their fans).

Those eight years on, it’s hard to believe time’s gone as fast as it did; a contract that long feels like it’ll never end. But, as always, time is undefeated. All told, barring any changes today, Tex hit .248/.344/.479/.823 (119 OPS+) in his time with the Bombers. He was a steady, switch-hitting first baseman you could count on for power, patience, and pure, blissfully self-aware dorkiness.

Teixeira Foul Territory

He was the latest in a line of prestigious Yankee first base regulars and he will be missed, as will his insight regarding healthy eating and organized crime (or at least films about it). Greg Bird is poised to take the torch and keep the line moving, but as Tex bows out, this is a time to look back, a time to reflect, and a time to give thanks for Teixeira most always being on the Mark. Fare thee well, number 25; take care of Greenwich for me.

David Ortiz is retiring and the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry will never quite be the same

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

Later tonight David Ortiz will play his final game in Yankee Stadium and his final game against the Yankees in general. I speak for scores of Yankees fans when I say: finally! Ortiz has tormented New York for more than a decade now, and he’s responsible for some of the worst moments in Yankees’ history. As Ortiz said in his recent Players’ Tribune article, “Some players are born to be Yankees … I was born to play against the Yankees.”

Like Alex Rodriguez, there seems to be no middle ground with Ortiz. People either love him or hate him. Unlike A-Rod, most folks love Ortiz. Believe me. It’s true. Maybe not in this neck of the woods, but all around the league and the world. People love the guy. Ortiz is affable, charismatic, and he backs it all up on the field. There are superstars like the vanilla Mike Trout, and then there are superstars. Ortiz is a superstar. The total package.

Say what you want about his legacy. Just know Ortiz is going to go down as arguably the greatest DH the game has ever seen and inarguably as one of the most popular players in recent baseball history. Like it or not, the performance-enhancing drug double standard applies to him. Do we like the player? If yes, then ignore the PED issue, which in this case is a failed test as part of MLB’s screening in 2003, the results of which were supposed to remain confidential. If no, then discredit him entirely.

Ortiz has gotten a pass the same way Andy Pettitte has gotten a pass. People like him so they’re willing to overlook things. And frankly, I couldn’t care less. As someone who thoroughly enjoyed watching A-Rod the last 12 years, who am I to judge? Ortiz is having an off-the-charts monster season at age 40, and I think it has more to do with him not having the same wear and tear on his body as a typical 40-year-old ballplayer because he didn’t play the field all those years than anything else. You’re welcome to disagree.

Growing up, I first came into baseball “consciousness” around 1990 and 1991. Somewhere in there. That’s when I started to really understand what was going on and things like that. For the next 13 years or so, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was very one-sided. The 1999 ALCS, the 2003 ALCS, whatever. The Red Sox might win a few battles along the way, but the Yankees always won the war. There was comfort in that.

Ortiz, along with Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez and others, had a huge role in changing that. Back in the late-1990s and early-2000s there was legitimate hatred in the rivalry — hatred among the players, I mean — and that doesn’t seem to exist now. Blame baseball’s parity. It’s not Yankees vs. Red Sox in the AL East anymore. Now each year it’s Yankees vs. Red Sox and the Blue Jays and maybe the Orioles too.

The rivalry was at its best when Ortiz first landed in Boston, and it only added to the rivalry that the Yankees missed out on him. The old story is that George Steinbrenner pushed Brian Cashman to sign Ortiz, though Cashman shot that down earlier this year. Here’s what he told Scott Lauber in May:

“It’s an urban myth,” Cashman said in a phone interview. “Essentially what occurred here was, any time the Red Sox signed anybody, anything that was on ESPN — ‘The Boston Red Sox today announced the acquisition of whoever,’ a free agent, a trade, whatever — George would turn to me and say, ‘Why didn’t you sign him? I’ve always liked him. He better not be any good.’ And I would tell The Boss, ‘You only can have 25 guys on a roster, Boss.’ At that time, we had [designated hitter Jason] Giambi and [first baseman] Nick Johnson. Did George know who David Ortiz was? No, he had no idea.”

Regardless of what happened with Cashman and Steinbrenner, Ortiz is a Red Sox, and he’s made the Yankees miserable ever since. To the rest of the baseball world, he’s beloved Big Papi with an outsized personality and a knack for clutch hits that seems to good to be true. To the Yankees and their fans, he’s a villain, a symbol of when this rivalry stopped being so one-sided.

Is Ortiz going to the Hall of Fame? Of course he is. You can’t tell the story of baseball history and skip over Ortiz. Sorry, but it’s true. And no, Edgar Martinez doesn’t have to get in first. It doesn’t work like that. Their Hall of Fame cases are independent of each other. Ortiz is on the very short list of the best players at his position and he was a central figure in the most successful period of Red Sox history in nearly a century. Hall of Famer. No doubt.

The David Ortiz era of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is coming to an end tonight and thank goodness for that. He’s been a thorn in the Yankees’ side for far too long. Ortiz had a big role in changing the dynamic of the rivalry which, for a while, wasn’t much of a rivalry. The Yankees always came out on top. He changed that. Love him or hate him, Ortiz is an all-time great player and he was a worthy foe these last 14 years. Because of him, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry won’t ever be quite the same.

Thoughts prior to the final homestand of the 2016 season

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

At some point soon, very possibly tonight, the Yankees will be officially eliminated from postseason contention. Their tragic number is a mere two. Last night’s dramatic win notwithstanding, the Yankees have tanked hard these last two weeks, ever since winning seven straight to climb to within one game of the second wildcard spot. I have some thoughts.

1. It’s pretty telling that as the Yankees were desperate for offense the last week or so, they were more willing to play Billy Butler at first base than Rob Refsnyder at second base, isn’t it? Starlin Castro has been out with his hamstring injury, so the playing time was available, yet those at-bats have gone to Ronald Torreyes and Donovan Solano. (Solano and Torreyes each started four of the last eight games at second.) Butler has started three games at first and already his defense has hurt the Yankees on two occasions. He wasn’t able to reel in CC Sabathia‘s wild throw in Boston on that would-be inning-ending double play, and he botched that routine ground ball last Friday in Toronto. Refsnyder hasn’t hit much lately, and we know he’s not good in the field, but it sure seems like the Yankees will go to great lengths to not give him extended playing time. His only real opportunities to play regularly were at second last year after Stephen Drew got hurt, at first this June after Mark Teixeira got hurt, and in right this month after Aaron Judge got hurt. Each time it was out of necessity, and both times this year the Yankees quickly turned to someone else. Perhaps the whole power-hitting thing will work out. Otherwise I don’t see how Refsnyder fits with the Yankees going forward.

2. I don’t understand playing Butler at first base over Tyler Austin either. I mean, yes, the Yankees were kinda sorta in the race a week ago, and Butler was hitting and Austin wasn’t hitting, but still. As soon as Butler, who should have zero future with the Yankees beyond this week, proved somewhat useful, the struggling young player went to the bench. Would something similar have happened if Gary Sanchez didn’t get off to such a hot start? Don’t get me wrong, I understand sitting a struggling player now and then, but Austin has been outright benched. He’s started one of the last ten games, during which the Yankees faced six left-handed starters. (Hilariously, Austin’s one start was against a righty.) Things very quickly went from “hey look, the young players are helping the Yankees get back into the race” in August to “ewww, Butler and Solano are trying to keep them alive” in September. For a team that is supposedly committed to a youth movement, the Yankees don’t seem very committed to it.

3. The last two points speak to the challenge the Yankees will face going forward: developing young players while trying to win. Those two things don’t always go hand in hand, and yes, the Yankees are absolutely going to try to win next season. There’s no reason to think Hal Steinbrenner won’t make the rounds this offseason talking about championship caliber rosters and expectations and all that. The odds are strongly in favor of the Yankees trying to win while they rebuild transition, and that can get messy if the kids don’t produce right away, which is often the case. Butler is playing over Austin and the young relievers have been pushed aside. Stuff like that can’t happen next year. The young players have to be the priority, even if it they don’t give the team the best chance to win in the short-term.

4. I noticed Luis Severino has started to vary the timing of his delivery slightly in his last two games. He’s added a little pause at the top of his left lift. To the RAB action news footage:

Luis Severino delivery

Severino hasn’t done that every pitch. It’s only been a handful of times in his last two games. Fewer than five. And as far as I can tell, there’s no real pattern. He doesn’t do it only in two-strike counts, or only when ahead in the count, or only when throwing fastballs, nothing like that. Pitchers changing the timing of their delivery seems to be a new fad around baseball. Johnny Cueto and his four deliveries get the most attention, though I’ve noticed a pretty drastic increase in quick pitches around the league the last year or two. Pitching is all about disrupting timing, and in this age with super advanced scouting reports, varying the timing of the delivery is a possible way for pitchers to gain an advantage. It adds an element of unpredictability. Severino is going to be suspended following last night’s ejection, it’s a certainty, so we might not see him again this season. This is something we’ll have to file away for next year to see if it continues.

5. With six days left in the regular season, my feeling right now is Michael Fulmer will be named AL Rookie of the Year and Sanchez will finish second. I also think the chances of Sanchez winning right now are the best they’ve been since he was called up. That’s even after going 2-for-16 (.125) in Toronto over the weekend. Nineteen homers in 48 games is ridiculous. He could have hit 19 homers across a full season as a starting catcher and been the Rookie of the Year favorite. Only ten other rookie catchers in history have hit 19 homers in a season, and they all had at least 400 plate appearances. Sanchez has 209. At the same time, Fulmer currently leads the AL with a 2.95 ERA, and he’ll need to throw at least 6.1 innings in his final start of the season tomorrow night to qualify for the ERA title. I don’t think that’ll matter though. You can’t support Sanchez for Rookie of the Year and discredit Fulmer for not having enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. They’ve both had tremendous rookie seasons and would be very deserving of the award. My guess right now is Fulmer’s sustained excellence over close to a full season will trump Sanchez’s historically great two months, but it’ll be close.

6. For whatever reason I’ve been thinking about right-handed hitters with opposite field power a lot lately. I guess because Sanchez and Austin have poked a few into the short porch. Anyway, via Baseball Savant, here are the right-handed hitters — including switch-hitters hitting righty — with the most opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium since Opening Day 2013, when the Yankees stopped having a good offense:

  1. Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano: 6
  2. Starlin Castro, Wil Myers, Mike Napoli, Mike Trout: 4
  3. Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Evan Longoria: 3

Eleven other righties have hit multiple opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium over the last four seasons and only one of those eleven was a Yankee: Sanchez. Others include guys like Logan Forsythe, Desmond Jennings, and Yasiel Puig, who doesn’t even play in the same division or league. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. I just wanted to see the leaderboard. The Yankees haven’t had many good righty hitters in recent years. A-Rod and Soriano were by far the best power hitters, and now Castro is in that mix. Otherwise we’re talking about Derek Jeter, Vernon Wells, Francisco Cervelli, guys like that. Not exactly power hitters. Twenty different right-handed hitters have hit multiple opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium since 2013, and only six actually played for the Yankees. That isn’t necessarily bad — there are a lot more non-Yankees than Yankees, after all — but some more righties with right field pop would be a welcome addition to the lineup going forward. Hopefully Sanchez, Austin, Aaron Judge, and Clint Frazier can provide that.

7. As poorly as these last two weeks have gone, that run in August and early-September was a lot of fun, and they Yankees won’t be mathematically eliminated from the postseason race until the final week of the regular season. That’s way better than I expected back in April and May. The Yankees were bad in the first half and they reacted appropriately by selling at the deadline and calling up MLB ready young players in the second half. That it led to a little run was gravy. This team still has a lot of problems to address going forward, especially on the pitching side, and there’s no guarantee things will be better next season. At least now it appears the Yankees have a plan and are executing it. For a few years the plan seemed to be hang on for dear life and hope to luck into a postseason spot. We can see the future of the lineup taking shape (Sanchez, Judge, Castro, Frazier, Greg Bird, etc.) and almost all of the big money contracts coming off the books. If things go according to plan, the Yankees will soon have a lot of young players in the lineup with their best years ahead of them, and an awful lot of money to spend. That’s pretty exciting.

Finding Success

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

One way or another, the 2016 season is going to end in a week’s time. Chances are, the Yankees will be packing up their lockers and heading to their respective corners of vacation, golf, and other recreational activities as their counterparts on other teams bask in the stressful glow of October baseball. There was a time when we’d consider such a happening an unwavering failure for the Bombers. But from this endpoint, it’s hard to look back and consider 2016 anything other than an unmitigated success for our boys in pinstripes.

Coming into this season, the Yankees were a flawed and fairly incomplete team, relying on continued high-level performances from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to anchor the offense; they were also expecting Luis Severino to build off of a positive end to 2015 and emerge as a force in the rotation to back up Masahiro Tanaka. If all of that happened, they were looking at the playoffs, even if in the form of the Wild Card game once again.

Literally none of those things happened. A-Rod didn’t even last the full season; Tex announced his retirement and has looked like a shell of himself most of the time; and Severino looked more like 2008 Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy than 2015 Luis Severino. But, a funny thing happened on the way to a playoff-less season: the Yankees found success in other avenues.

Masahiro Tanaka
(Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka has had a fantastic season and is a contender for the AL Cy Young Award. He came into the year as the Yankees’ rotation rock and lasted the entire way as such. As his pitching went, generally, so did the Yankees; he was the one reliable starter they had and he was as good as gold.

While he wasn’t up to his career standard — and likely never will be again — CC Sabathia had a bounceback year, posting (to date) a 104 ERA+, a far better showing than 2013-15’s marks of 84, 73, and 86. Watching him find success again was a pleasure, given all he’s meant to the Yankees since 2009.

When it was clear that 2016 wasn’t likely to end in much more than a lack of playoffs, the Yankees found success on the trade market. However much it hurt to watch a guy as good — in more ways than pitching — as Andrew Miller leave the club — with Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran departing as well — the restocking and rearming the Yankee farm system went through in the summer was more than worth it. By shedding those players, the Yankees help set themselves up for success in 2017 and beyond.

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Of course, nothing did that quite as much as the successes of the Baby Bombers, led by Gary Sanchez‘s remarkable display of power. While his performance in 2016 was more sustained, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green all had flashes of brilliance that give promise to 2017. Sanchez’s spark gave the Yankees a surprise run towards the second wild card that will probably fall just short, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to watch. How often does a team sell at the deadline, then compete for the playoffs anyway?

This all begs the question of what a successful 2017 will look like for the Yankees. From a team and competition standpoint, it’s hard to see things looking much different than this year. The team going into 2017 is likely to be flawed enough — especially in the rotation — that a shot at the playoffs is all that could be expected.

Individually speaking, there is plenty to look forward to. Continued excellence from Gary Sanchez is obviously one of those things. We should, however, temper our expectations. While he’ll likely finish this partial season with 20 or more homers, we must remember that if he hits “only” that many in a full season next year, it’s still a great thing for a young catcher.

For Aaron Judge, success will be ironing out the hole in his swing and winning the right field job out of Spring Training.

For the young pitchers — Severino and Cessa, in particular — success will be finding a role. Both can do that by improving their secondary pitches to the point where turning over a lineup is a probability, not just a possibility. The more success they have in this endeavor, the more success the Yankees will have as a team.

The Yankees and 2016’s major awards

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

We’re now less than two weeks away from the end of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL Rookie of the Year, which should go to Corey Seager easily, the other major awards in both leagues feature very tight races. Pretty fun.

The last Yankee to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who was named 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year after tearing his ACL in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting; a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Is there an AL MVP favorite right now? I mean, of course it should be Mike Trout, but his teammates suck so he won’t win. For shame. I guess Mookie Betts is the favorite now almost by default. The other serious candidates (Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve) are on teams either fading in the standings or out of the postseason picture entirely. That matters in the voting for whatever reason.

The Yankees don’t have a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Their best all-around player has been Didi Gregorius, and sorry, he’s not MVP material. Gary Sanchez hasn’t been up long enough. Masahiro Tanaka? He’s the best and therefore most valuable player on the roster, though it takes an insane season for a pitcher to win MVP. You need to go 24-5 like Justin Verlander did in 2011. A no-doubt Cy Young season and more, basically.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Yankees will not have a player receive MVP votes. Hardly. Lots of weird stuff happens at the bottom of the ballot and I would not at all be surprised if Tanaka and/or Dellin Betances and/or someone else got a ninth or tenth place vote. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod received MVP votes last season, for example. Chances are at least one Yankee will get an MVP vote. No one on the roster will win though. Sorry.

Cy Young

Okay, now we’re talking. Tanaka is a legitimate Cy Young candidate along with Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels. Unlike the MVP ballot, which is ten spots deep, the Cy Young ballot is only five players deep, so it’s going to be tight. Here’s where Tanaka ranks in various stats among AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

Innings: 193.2 (seventh)
ERA: 2.97 (first! … Sale is second at 3.03)
FIP: 3.26 (second behind Kluber, 3.25)
WHIP: 1.06 (fifth)
Walk Rate: 4.4% (third)
Strikeout Rate: 20.5% (20th)
K/BB Ratio: 4.71 (seventh)
Ground Ball Rate: 48.6% (11th)
bWAR: 5.6 (second behind Kluber, 6.4)
fWAR: 5.1 (second behind Sale, 5.2)

Tanaka lags in strikeout rate, otherwise he’s top ten in pretty much every meaningful pitching statistic, including top three in more than a few. Of course, his 13-4 record isn’t very Cy Young worthy, and that’s going to hurt his case. I know Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with a 13-12 record a few years ago, but that was because he was so much better than everyone else. His dominance was too great to ignore. As great as he’s been, Tanaka is not having that kind of season.

My guess right now is either Porcello or Kluber will win the Cy Young, likely Porcello because he’s up over 20 wins. Tanaka’s performance is on par with those two on a rate basis, and in many ways he’s been better. He’s by far the best Cy Young candidate the Yankees have had since CC Sabathia was in his heyday — Sabathia finished fourth, third, and fourth in the voting from 2009-11 — and I think Tanaka will finish in the top five of the voting, possibly even the top three.

Rookie of the Year

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This is going to be interesting. Sanchez has had an unreal start to his career. He’s hitting .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+) with 17 homers in 42 games as a full-time catcher, which is bonkers. It’s also only 42 games. If Sanchez plays every single game the rest of the season, he’ll finished with 54 games played. The fewest games ever played by a Rookie of the Year position player is 52, by Willie McCovey in 1959. Next fewest? Eighty-eighty by Ryan Howard.

At the moment Sanchez is first among all AL rookies in fWAR (+2.9) and is third in bWAR (+2.5). His primary competition: Michael Fulmer of the Tigers, the guy the Mets traded to Detroit along with Luis Cessa to get Yoenis Cespedes last year. Fulmer has a 3.03 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 148.2 innings. That works out to +2.5 fWAR and +4.7 bWAR. Fulmer’s been in the big leagues since April. Voters will have to figure out how to weigh 50-something games of Sanchez against a nearly a full season of Fulmer.

I’d love to see Sanchez win, but if I had a vote, it would go to Fulmer. The difference in playing time is too great. Sanchez is only going to play one-third of a season. One-third! He’s basically a rookie who had a hot start and time ran out before the league had a chance to adjust. At this point I expect Sanchez to receive some first place votes and I think he and Fulmer will finish one-two on the ballot in some order, with Tyler Naquin third. My money is on Fulmer winning right now.

Manager of the Year

Does Joe Girardi deserve Manager of the Year votes? If you believe the Yankees have no business being this close to the postseason race, then yes. If you watch every game and hang on every questionable move — questionable moves every manager makes, by the way — then no chance. Girardi’s had a pretty terrible year, strategically.

These days the Manager of the Year seems to go to the manager whose team most outperformed expectations, or improved the most from last season. This year that’s … Terry Francona? I guess John Farrell since the Red Sox were in last place a year ago. I really have no idea how the Manager of the Year voting will turn out. Girardi’s case is built on the Yankees selling and then getting hot for a few weeks in August and September. That will get him votes — Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 — but probably ain’t enough to win.

Comeback Player of the Year

Gosh, who even are the Comeback Player of the Year candidates? Michael Saunders, I guess? Marcus Stroman probably would have won it with even an average season, but he hasn’t been able to do that. In recent years the Comeback Player of the Year has gone to players coming off major injury, like Matt Harvey and Prince Fielder last year. Chris Young (the pitcher) and Rivera are recent winners too. That could put Saunders in the lead.

With no obvious candidate, this is going to come down to the preference of the voters. Does Porcello deserve Comeback Player of the Year after his miserable 2015 season and average-ish career? Or is he just prime age player breaking out? Maybe Doug Fister should win. Or Robinson Cano. Or Chris Tillman. The Yankees’ best Comeback Player of the Year candidate is Sabathia, and as much as I love the big guy, he hasn’t been good enough to win the award. I’d bet on Saunders winning right now, though I have little confidence in that.

Thoughts following the final off-day of the 2016 season

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Thirteen games in 13 days. That’s all the Yankees have left this year barring a miraculous run to the postseason. That seemed slightly less insane about a week ago. Now? Forget it. They’re as close to done as it gets without actually being done. Took a lot longer to get to this point than I expected, so that’s cool. Anyway, I have some thoughts on things and stuff.

1. In terms of on-field decisions, this has been a really bad season for Joe Girardi. The worst in his nine years as manager. That series in Fenway Park was maybe his worst in pinstripes. Between Austin Romine rather than Brian McCann facing Craig Kimbrel and James Pazos facing David Ortiz in a one-run game and CC Sabathia being hung out to dry, Girardi made a lot of really bad moves over the weekend. I’m not talking about moves that just didn’t work out. Every manager makes a ton of those throughout the season. I mean moves that didn’t make sense at the time. The “this doesn’t put the Yankees in the best position to succeed” moves that will occasionally get good outcomes. Overall, I think Girardi has done very well with the Yankees. They seem to overachieve each year and it’s not his fault they’re likely to miss the postseason this season. I just feel like there’s been no adjustments on his part. He manages the same way now that he did in 2008. Platoon matchups reign supreme and his bullpen management doesn’t extend much beyond assigning innings. I firmly believe managers have a shelf life. After a while their style and message get stale and it’s time for a new voice. I was on the fence about Girardi last year and, after this season, I’m at the point now where I think bringing in a new clubhouse leader would be best, especially as the Yankees embark on this “transition.”

2. Trading for a starting pitcher feels imperative this offseason, doesn’t it? A good starter, I mean. Not a fourth or fifth guy to chew up innings. They need someone to fill the role they hoped Michael Pineda (and Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino) would fill. Right now the rotation is one bonafide ace and four back-end starters. (At best.) The Yankees need more bulk innings and more quality innings from the rotation next season to have any chance at contention. None of their top pitching prospects, specifically Justus Sheffield and James Kaprielian, are all that close to the big leagues at the moment. This is a roster hole the Yankees will have to address from outside the organization. They have the prospects to do something big too. Clint Frazier and/or Jorge Mateo could be trade bait. Pitchers break, yes, but you need them too.

3. Second base in the wake of the Starlin Castro injury should be … interesting. Girardi said he plans to use Ronald Torreyes and Donovan Solano there, though the Yankees are probably best off using Rob Refsnyder at second. Torreyes is what he is and that’s a nice utility player. Solano’s a goner after the season. The Yankees are still trying to figure out what they have in Refsnyder, especially defensively. He’s fine in right. Not great, not a disaster. The infield is still a question. Once Aaron Hicks returns, which could be as soon as tonight, the Yankees will be free to move Refsnyder from right field to second base. Will it happen? Nothing suggests it will. The Yankees have been hesitant to play him at second everyday even when presented with the opportunity. It just seems like Refsnyder is a better use of those at-bats than Torreyes and Solano. That’s just me.

4. Is it bad that as soon as Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, I worried about his trade value? I have no reason to believe the Yankees will move Ellsbury — he has a full no-trade clause anyway — but even the tiniest little chance they will trade him could take a hit with that injury. Ellsbury has played well the last few weeks and losing him hurts the team’s chances to make the postseason, however microscopic they may be, but that doesn’t change the fact his contract is a massive albatross. One of the worst in the game. If the Yankees can move him this winter, they should. Hopefully the knee injury doesn’t scary anyone away. There are enough reasons to steer clear of Ellsbury as it is.

5. There’s no reason for Billy Butler to play over Tyler Austin. The Yankees signed Butler to help against lefties and he’s done that, but with the Yankees falling out of the race, Austin should be the priority. He didn’t play any of the final three games of the Red Sox series, which included two games against lefties. Butler, meanwhile, played first base twice. Nope. Nope nope nope. Give me Austin over Butler at first eight days a week and twice on Sunday. If that means Butler has to sit the days Gary Sanchez serves as the DH, so be it. Butler’s a mercenary. He won’t be around much longer — the Yankees can do better at DH next season, re-signing Butler wouldn’t make too much sense — but Austin might be. The kids should be the priority. Playing Butler over Austin is an “old” Yankees move.

Layne. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Layne. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

6. What do you think, is there any chance Tommy Layne and Blake Parker last the offseason and stick with the Yankees into next year? The upcoming 40-man roster crunch is so severe that my guess is no. The Yankees will need the roster spots for younger players. The fact keeping those two is even a conversation worth having is pretty unexpected though. Maybe they’ll survive the first round of roster cuts the day after the end of the World Series but be on the block later in the winter once space gets tight. We’ll see. The Yankees need to do something about their bullpen. Really the entire pitching staff behind Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances. The other ten pitching roster spots can all be improved.

7. Speaking of the 40-man roster, Johnny Barbato‘s spot can’t be too safe right now, huh? He didn’t get a September call-up this year despite being on the Opening Day roster. Maybe they’ll call him up after Scranton plays in the Triple-A Championship Game tonight, though given the way the Yankees called up everyone as soon as possible without regard for the RailRiders’ postseason roster, I’m guessing no. They haven’t even given Barbato a courtesy call-up to evaluate him across a handful of innings or anything like that. I like Barbato though. He’s got a lively fastball and two breaking balls. That’ll work in middle relief as long as you throw strikes, which is a question with pretty much every young pitcher. Barbato wouldn’t be among the first guys I’d drop from the 40-man roster this offseason, but it seems the Yankees disagree. No September call-up doesn’t bode well for his future with the organization.

8. I will admit to looking over the list of upcoming free agents in an effort to find the inevitable ex-Red Sox player the Yankees will sign this offseason. They seem to do it every year. Even after signing zero free agents last winter, the Yankees made up for it by plucked Layne off the scrap heap after he was released by Boston. Ellsbury, Andrew Miller, Matt Thornton, Kevin Youkilis, Johnny Damon … this goes back a long way. The BoSox don’t have a ton of players scheduled to become free agents after the season, so the Yankees won’t have much to choose from. There’s Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Aaron Hill, and Clay Buchholz if his option is declined, which I don’t think it will be. Meh. Tazawa’s the best of the bunch — in terms of expected future performance that is, not current performance — almost by default. I could totally see the Yankee signing him to help shore up their middle innings too. Sigh. This feels inevitable.

9. As of yesterday, the Yankees are on track to pick 16th overall in the 2017 draft. The absolute lowest they can fall — this means losing every single game the rest of the way — is seventh overall. Realistically, they’d have to go something like 2-11 the rest of the season to get a protected top ten pick, and I have a very hard time believing that’ll happen. Call me an optimist. I’m not sure there will be any free agents worth forfeiting a draft pick to sign anyway. Yoenis Cespedes, Edwin Encarnacion, and Kenley Jansen. That’s about it. I don’t see the Yankees spending for Cespedes or Encarnacion, and I think they’d go for Aroldis Chapman before Jansen. They know Chapman and he won’t cost a draft pick after being traded midseason. In all likelihood New York’s first round pick will be in the 13th to 18th overall range, which is where it’s been the last two years.