Thoughts following CC Sabathia’s injury


Two days ago the Yankees placed CC Sabathia on the 15-day DL with right knee inflammation after he left Sunday’s start in the third inning. He does not need surgery, so that’s good, and Sabathia is hopeful he can return once the 15 days are up. We’ll see. I have some thoughts about the injury and stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Sabathia has been very bad this year — 5.27 ERA (74 ERA+) and 4.82 FIP in 138.1 innings — and it’s easy to think the Yankees are better off without him, but remember, they only have four healthy starters right now. Michael Pineda and Bryan Mitchell are both on the DL, and while Pineda is set to return today, Andrew Miller‘s injury earlier this year is a reminder Pineda might not be 100% effective when he first returns. Hopefully he is. Adam Warren could move back into the rotation if need be but he’s not stretched out. He’s thrown more than 35 pitches just twice in the last two months. Removing an ineffective starter from the rotation is a good thing! Assuming you have the depth to replace him. Do the Yankees? Only if Pineda and Mitchell come back from their injuries with no issues, which are big ifs. The rotation was stretched thin even before Sabathia got hurt. Injuries are rarely — very rarely — a good thing.

2. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman indicated the Yankees will shelve their plan to use a six-man rotation in September following Sabathia’s injury, but I’m sure they’ll still insert a spot sixth starter whenever possible. It’ll be much easier to pull off once rosters expand a week from today. They could plug Mitchell — assuming he’s healthy! — or Warren into the rotation once in a while and have all the call-ups serve as innings-eating arms. The Yankees have used a spot sixth starter whenever possible this season, even when it meant playing with a short bench or a short bullpen, so there’s no reason to think they won’t do it after the Sabathia injury. It just means Mitchell or Warren will make those starts and someone else will be the long man in the bullpen. So the Yankees sacrifice a good bullpen piece to plug their rotation hole. Maybe that’s a sacrifice they can afford to make in September.

3. It’s impossible to know what the injury means for Sabathia and the Yankees long-term. Clearly the knee will have to be managed going forward, but we knew that already. I’m not sure the injury changes anything in that regard. Sabathia said he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen, and that’s great, so maybe that’s where his future lies. Perhaps this latest scare convinced him the knee simply won’t hold up for 100 or so pitches every fifth day. The injury definitely won’t push Sabathia into retirement, I’m pretty confident about that. For starters, he’s not leaving on all that money on the table. It wouldn’t be honorable, it would be stupid. Secondly, Sabathia’s not just going to quit and go out like that. This guy has pitched through everything and is a top of the line competitor. Like tippy top of the line. They’re going to have to drag him off the mound. The Yankees reportedly have insurance on Sabathia’s contract but the exact details are unknown. The policy might only cover his arm for all we know. Insurance usually doesn’t kick in until after a certain number of days missed — the Mets didn’t collect any insurance on David Wright until he missed 60 days, for example — and it might not kick in at all this year since the season is almost over. One thing at a time though. Sabathia’s injury means the Yankees are short a pitcher right now. We’ll have an entire offseason to wonder what it means for the 2016 Yankees. (And 2017 Yankees!)

4. Sabathia’s velocity had ticked up in his recent starts …

CC Sabathia velocity… and he admitted Sunday the added velocity was the result of a “screw it” mentality. Sabathia told Ken Davidoff he had been pitching through knee discomfort and a recent cortisone shot provided minimal relief, so he decided to simply air it out because holding back and trying to protect the knee wasn’t working. The options were a) pitch poorly while trying to protect the knee, or b) put the knee at risk and maybe pitch more effectively. Sabathia did (a) for much of the season, changed over to (b), and it lasted only a few starts. What an awful situation. Either pitch poorly with reduced stuff or increase the injury risk with no guarantee of performing better.

5. Gosh, how much pain must Sabathia have been in to come out of the game like that Sunday? This guy pitches through everything. Sabathia pitched through the bone spur in his elbow back in 2012 even though he couldn’t fully extend his elbow and had limited range of motion. He suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in a September 2013 game and finished the start. Sabathia came right out of Sunday’s game and didn’t try to throw a test pitch or even lobby to stay. He must have been in some serious pain. Criticize his pitching all you want. Sabathia’s always been a team first guy who never didn’t take the ball. To bow out of a game without a fight like that tells you he’d reached the breaking point with his knee. It was too much.

6. The Yankees signed Sabathia to his five-year, $122M extension during the 2011-12 offseason, and he’s now ended each season of the contract injured. In 2012 he had the bone spur in his elbow. In 2013 it was the hamstring. Last year it was his knee surgery, and this year it’s the knee again. (Well, I guess he might not finish this season hurt, but you know what I mean. He’s had physical problems each year.) Sabathia was very much on the Hall of Fame track before these injuries started to set in, and, after all the concern about all those innings on his arm, it’s his legs that are giving out. The bone spur in his elbow has been his only arm injury. Remember when everyone was worried about A.J. Burnett‘s durability when the Yankees signed him? He was healthy during his entire contract and then some. Pitchers, man. They all seem to get hurt, but predicting how and when and why is an exercise in futility.

The Speed of the Game

It’s Friday night and I’m standing in left-center at Teufel Field. It’s the bottom of the first inning and there are runners on first and second with one out and the fourth hitter for the opposing team is at the plate with a 1-1 count (thank you, speed up rules). Our pitcher sets on the mound, rears his arm back, and arcs the ball towards home plate. The batter swings and sends a sinking line drive in my direction, slightly to my left. Eyes squinted in the less-than-idea lighting, I sprint towards the ball charging forward, sliding at the last second, securing the second out before popping up and trying (and failing) to double up the runner at second. This play could’ve happened at least three times in the amount of time it took me to write this and for you to read it. The game is fast, and that’s just slow-pitch softball. On Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, I got even more education on the speed of the game.


For the first time, I sat in the Legends seats–Section 14B, Row 2. As someone who played ball growing up and has watched and attended countless games, viewed from all over various in-stadium locations, I certainly knew how quick the game could be, but being so close hammered the point home (rudely at times, like Abraham Almonte’s screaming foul liner that buzzed our collective tower).  From Didi Gregorius‘s speed to the velocity of the pitches delivered by Luis Severino, Danny Salazar, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller, “fast” was the best way to describe yesterday.

With regards to that ‘micro-level’ speed, sitting so close to the action only furthered my appreciation for just how incredibly difficult baseball can be. The way hitters can react quickly enough to not just hit the ball, but hit it with authority, driving it all over the place, never ceases to amaze me. The way infielders can react to sharp ground balls and calmly field them is a near marvel; that they can seemingly flick their wrists and throw the ball harder than I could overhand is another feat that leaves me speechless. Because the players aren’t zooming around the field like they would be in basketball, hockey, soccer, or football, we don’t necessarily think of baseball as a speed sport, but it is unavoidably so.

On the ‘macro-level’ of speed, there was the pregame ceremony for Jorge Posada. As I watched him receive his plaques and gifts, I couldn’t believe almost four calendar years have passed since Jorge suited up for the Yankees. While his former teammates lined the infield grass, I remembered playing Wiffle Ball with friends in my front yard, imitating the batting stances of the men I was looking at–Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Posada himself… Obviously, many years have passed since then, but the memory didn’t–and still doesn’t–seem all that distant. Like the thrown and batted balls, like the lighting-fast pitches, the memories of players passed reminds us that the game moves quickly no matter how you look at it. We could all do well to slow down and appreciate it, from the tiny bursts of speed on the basepaths, to the (hopefully) magnificent careers blossoming in front of us.

With AL East cushion gone, Yankees face an uphill battle the rest of the way


Just about two weeks ago, the Yankees were sitting pretty atop the AL East with a season-high seven-game lead. They just scored 21 runs in Texas (in one game!) and had won for the eighth time in their last nine games. Remember that? It was so awesome. Everything was going right and it looked like that seven-game lead was only going to grow larger and larger.

Now that lead is completely gone. Gone and then some, really. The Yankees lost their fifth straight game last night and also lost for the ninth time in their last 13 games. Rough. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, loaded up at the trade deadline and have won ten straight games — they outscored their opponents 55-20 in the ten games — catching and passing the Yankees for the top spot in the division. Toronto is now a half-game up.

I didn’t think the Yankees would cruise the rest of the season and win the AL East with ease, but I did think that seven-game lead would last longer than two weeks. I mean, what the hell. The Yankees have played miserable baseball for almost two weeks and their margin for error is gone. They’re essentially tied with the Blue Jays in the standings and now begin a new 50-ish game season to decide the AL East.

That’s both good and bad. It’s good because hey, meaningful baseball down the stretch! We really haven’t experienced that around these parts the last two years. You had to squint your eyes and try real hard to see the 2013-14 Yankees as contenders even though they did hang around the wildcard races far longer than they should have. It’ll be fun to see the Yankees back in the thick of a division race, you know? That’s the entire point of being a fan.

At the same time, it’s bad because the Blue Jays are better than the Yankees. At least on paper, I guess. They have a better offense — that is not an overreaction to the Yankees not scoring the last week, Toronto’s had an insane offense all season — as well as a better rotation and team defense. Both Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey have pitched exceptionally well the last few weeks, and, of course, they added David Price. That is … substantial.

The Yankees do have a better bullpen than the Blue Jays — Toronto’s bullpen is much improved since the trade deadline though — but the bullpen is dependent on the rest of the team. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller only become a factor if the offense and rotation put them in position to be a factor. So that’s a problem. Both the eye test and projection systems agree: the Blue Jays have a better roster and therefore a better shot to win the division going forward. That’s life.

It’s silly to call the Yankees an underdog given their payroll, but, based on the talent on their roster, they’re looking up at the Blue Jays. They’re the team playing catch up and the team that will have to outperform expectations to win the division. The Yankees did that for the first four months of the season! They exceeded expectations and took control of the division … then the lead evaporated in two weeks.

Can they get back into that mode of exceeding expectations? Gosh, who knows. Can Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira hit like MVP candidates again? Can Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury dominate atop the lineup? Can the bullpen stay on track and avoid burnout despite being asked to get like 12 outs a night? That’s a lot of questions — a lot of big questions — the Yankees need to answer in a positive way to win the division.

Simply put, the Yankees need to catch some breaks now, the same way they were going to need to catch breaks if they wanted to contend coming into the season. Not too many people expected them to sit in first place so long and I’m certain not many expect them to hold off the Blue Jays and win the AL East at this point. The two teams have ten head-to-head games remaining — including three this weekend! — and that’s an opportunity to bury or be buried.

I wish the Yankees would have done more at the trade deadline and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned older players like A-Rod and Teixeira are hitting a wall, or that Ellsbury and Miller haven’t been right since coming off the DL. The pitching has been pretty great of late but otherwise there’s not a whole lot to feel optimistic about right now. That’s only natural. The Yankees have looked really crummy the last few days.

That said, teams are never as bad as they look when they’re playing their worst and they’re never as good as they look when they’re playing their best. The Yankees are in the middle of their worst stretch of the season while the Blue Jays are in the middle of their best. That’s what it took for Toronto to make up all that ground in the standings. At some point they’ll lose and yes, at some point the Yankees will actually score a few runs. The last two weeks aren’t necessarily indicative of who these clubs will be going forward.

Let’s not mince words: the Yankees have made things very difficult on themselves with this recent stretch of poor play. That wonderful seven-game lead is gone and now they basically have to go toe-to-toe with a better team the rest of the season if they want to win the division. At the same time, no one is underestimating the Yankees more right now than Yankees fans. The AL East race isn’t over. It’s just getting started again.

Thoughts following Monday’s off-day

"Remember to download Portalball, everyone!" That's P-O-R..." (Presswire)
“Remember to download Portalball, everyone!” That’s P-O-R…” (Presswire)

The Yankees spent yesterday’s off-day in Cleveland, which seems like an appropriate punishment after getting swept at home by the Blue Jays. The AL East lead has been trimmed from six games to 1.5 games in 12 days, though the Yankees are still three games up on Toronto in the loss column. That sounds a little better. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. As ugly as that series was against the Blue Jays, it is worth remembering the pitching staff held Toronto’s high-powered offense to ten runs in three games. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat heading into the series. One game was decided by one run, another by two runs. That’s nothing. The offense just went into a miserable slump at a bad time and the pitching staff received no support. The offensive slump won’t last forever, in fact I bet it’ll end very soon, and when it does we’ll all feel better about things. The Blue Jays deserve all the credit in the world for the sweep. But let’s not act like the three games were an accurate representation of the 2015 Yankees either. The pitching staff did a fine job against that offense and when the Yankees start hitting again, things won’t look so lopsided.

2. The lack of trade deadline activity is already starting to come back to bite the Yankees. They were looking to add a right-handed reliever, didn’t, and there was Branden Pinder in the tenth inning Friday night. They kept an eye out for a second baseman, didn’t get one, and Stephen Drew has predictably been invisible since the deadline. Starting pitcher? They wanted one of those too but didn’t land one. Now they’re breaking in Luis Severino in the middle of a postseason race, which might turn out fine, except calling up Severino was something they could have done anyway, even if they had made a trade. (Unless they traded him for David Price, of course.) The Dustin Ackley trade is insignificant, it’s unlikely he would have had any impact had he not gotten hurt, so the roster right now is basically the same roster that got them through the first half of the season.

3. The current second base situation — again, literally Drew and Brendan Ryan — says a lot about what the Yankees think of Rob Refsnyder, doesn’t it? They can say whatever they want about liking him long-term, but actions speak louder than words. The second base situation has become so untenable that if they believed Refsnyder could help, he’d be up here. (Longer than four games, I mean.) They’ve been very aggressive with their prospects this year, whether it was the outfielders or the relievers or Severino, yet there is Refsnyder stuck in Triple-A. They must really not believe his defense is ready or simply do not expect him to hit much. The Yankees are pretty good at evaluating their own prospects — yes, they do miss on some, that’s inevitable, but when’s the last time they traded away a young player they truly regret? — so calling them stupid would be sorta silly. Refsnyder’s prospect stock was always more stats than scouting report, and the stats this year haven’t been knocked your socks off (131 wRC+). That’s not enough for a bat first guy in Triple-A. I wish they’d call Refsnyder up just because I’m sick of watching Drew pop up three times a game, but I’m guessing there’s also a pretty good reason Refsnyder has not gotten an extended trial.

4. Based on this weekend, Pinder seems to be getting an opportunity to work his way into the Circle of Trust™. He’s been up and down a whole bunch of times this year — I count five different call-ups — and Joe Girardi used him against the top of that Blue Jays lineup not once, but twice. Either the scouting reports have been wrong (possible!) or Pinder has been throwing harder than ever before, averaging 97.2 mph and topping out at 98.4 mph with his fastball in his last three outings. That’s some serious gas. His slider is pretty sharp too:

Branden Pinder slider4

That’s a nice looking slidepiece, though of course they don’t all look like that, just some. Adam Warren is stuck in low-leverage mop-up man purgatory, partly because he can throw three innings at time, and it seems like Pinder is at the front of the line among the relievers going up and down all season. Giving a young reliever high-leverage work for the first time can be a little scary — it did come back to bite the Yankees on Friday, after all — but everyone has to start somewhere, and I get the sense Pinder is being given an chance to show he deserves to stick and not ride the Triple-A shuttle.

5. All things considered, this has been a pretty great development year for the Yankees, don’t you think? Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius in particular have made tremendous strides since the start of the season, especially Eovaldi with his sporkball. I mentioned last week that pitching coach Larry Rothschild had Eovaldi start with a forkball grip to get used to it before shortening up to a splitter grip, and I was able to dig up some better photos of the grips. The photo on the left is from April and the photo on the right is from Eovaldi’s start Friday against the Blue Jays:

Nathan Eovaldi grips

Eovaldi’s fingers were split far apart with his fingertips on the white of the baseball back in April. Now his fingers are on the seams. Also note the location of the “horseshoe” of the seams. In April it was between his fingers, right at the knuckles. Now it’s outside his fingers and closer to his thumb. Maybe I’m the only one who finds this interesting. As for Gregorius, his defense is much improved — does he not play a beautiful shortstop when he’s not making boneheaded decisions? his defensive tools are ridiculous — and so is his offense because he stopping pulling almost everything in mid-May (via Texas Leaguers):

Didi Gregorius spray chart

Eovaldi and Gregorius are the most notable examples of development at the MLB level this year, but in the minors we’ve also seen Ben Gamel turn into a legitimate prospect, and Gary Sanchez take his game to the next level offensively, and Jorge Mateo handle an aggressive promotion to Low-A Charleston, so on and so forth. It’s not all good — Tyler Austin went backwards, for example — but most of it has been positive. I’ve always felt the Yankees were really good at identifying and acquiring talent. Their knack for finding useful pitchers in the double digit rounds of the draft year after year is not dumb luck at this point, for example. The problem has been developing that talent, and so far this year a lot of development has been positive, including Eovaldi and Didi at the big league level.

Thoughts following Luis Severino’s debut

We’ve been having some pretty serious technical problems here — the front end of the site was working fine for the most part, but the back-end was completely borked, hence the recent lack of posts — but things seem to be working fine now.


Top pitching prospect Luis Severino made his big league debut Wednesday night, holding the Red Sox to two runs in five innings. He struck out seven, didn’t walk anyone, and allowed only two balls to be hit out of the infield. I was planning some kind of breakdown post, but when I started writing it I found myself jumping all over the place, so I guess it’s better to put it in thoughts format. Here it is, a day late because of our technical issues.

1. Overall, Severino looked very impressive while also looking very much like a 21-year-old kid making his MLB debut. He faced 18 total batters and a) threw only five first pitch strikes, b) went to six three-ball counts, and c) threw at least five pitches to 12 batters. On the bright side, he got to 14 two-strike counts. Otherwise Severino was behind in the count a whole bunch and had lots of long counts, which is one of those “21-year-old kid making his MLB debut” things. Severino also put a 2-0 fastball on a tee for David Ortiz, which he promptly hit halfway up the right field bleachers. Not the most well-pitched at-bat:

Luis Severino David Ortiz

Yeah. Rookie mistake. Don’t do that again, Luis. Giving up a long homer to Ortiz is something of a baptism for a rookie Yankees starter, I suppose. At least Severino got his out of the way early. Otherwise yeah, the long at-bats were annoying but expected. They come with the territory when breaking in a rookie hurler.

2. The initial PitchFX data said Severino threw only four changeups, but that didn’t seem right. The reclassified data at Brooks Baseball shows he threw 17 changeups, which makes much more sense. That matches up with the eye test. The data says Severino had a nice pitch mix — 51 fastballs, 26 sliders, 17 changeups — and that backs up the scouting reports. He was billed as a guy with a big fastball (averaged 96.5 mph) and secondary stuff that ranged from ordinary to excellent depending on the day, though he is not afraid to throw anything at any time. Severino’s a 21-year-old kid, remember. He’s not a finished product. His offspeed stuff is still being refined. That he threw plenty of sliders and changeups was very encouraging though. Lots of pitchers get fastball heavy early in their careers — especially if they have mid-90s heat — because they’re most confident in that pitch. Severino used everything.

3. I’m curious to see how Severino’s fastball plays going forward. Yes, he has a ton of velocity (topped out at 98.3 mph) but his stride is pretty short, so he’s releasing the ball further away from the plate. David Robertson sat 91-92 mph for the most part but hitters reacted like it was 97 because he had that long stride. Severino’s kinda the opposite. He’s not that tall (6-foot-0) and the Red Sox swung and missed only three times at his heater, or 5.9%. The league average swing-and-miss rate for a four-seamer is 6.9%. It’s one start, so we have to watch this going forward, though I do wonder if Severino’s fastball will “play down” relative to the velocity because of his lack of extension, so to speak.

3. Severino almost seems to be throwing a cutter, not a slider. The break is so short and he throws it very hard. Look at this thing:

Luis Severino slider

PitchFX clocked Severino’s slider at 90.3 mph, which is bonkers. The fastest slider among qualified starters this year belongs to Jake Arrieta at 90.2 mph, and Arrieta does not throw a normal slider. Jacob deGrom (89.6 mph) has a slider in the “Severino range” and that’s about it. It’s unusual to throw a slider that hard. The Yankees are a cutter organization, they teach one to most pitching prospects — Manny Banuelos and Ian Clarkin both added one, for example — so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Severino added one as well. If Severino was indeed throwing a slider, then boy is it short and snappy.

4. It could simply be a product of facing so many left-handed batters, but geez, Severino loves that outer half to righties/inner half to lefties. He lived there all night (this is from the catcher’s view):

Luis Severino pitch location

That’s another thing to watch going forward. Every pitcher has a comfort zone and maybe Severino’s is that side of the plate. His fastball is so good and his slider/cutter is sharp, so it won’t be a huge problem if he gets predictable and lives on that side of the plate every start, but at some point you want to see him come inside to righties and stay away from lefties, just to keep them honest. Again, one start, no big deal right now. Just something to watch.

5. I still wish the Yankees would have traded for a starter at the deadline and yes, I still would have traded Severino for David Price or Cole Hamels. Give me the no-doubt ace. The last two months of a postseason race are not exactly the ideal time to break in a rookie starter, at least not to me. Don’t get me wrong, Severino looked very good and I’m excited to see him again on Tuesday. But, for the purposes of winning the division and making a deep run in October, another starter sure would have helped. This rotation is basically the bare minimum for contention.

Thoughts following the 2015 trade deadline

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

Yesterday afternoon, the 2015 non-waiver trade deadline came and went with a lot of rumors, but ultimately no moves by the Yankees. They did pick up Dustin Ackley on Thursday, but that’s all, just the one small move. The lack of trade deadline activity was … unexpected. I have some thoughts.

1. I’ve been saying for weeks I expected the Yankees to make a move or three before the trade deadline, but it didn’t happen, and I’m really surprised. I figured the combination of sitting atop the AL East and missing the postseason the last two years would spring Brian Cashman & Co. into action to try to get whatever help they could to make sure they get back to the playoffs this year. Know what I mean? They don’t want to spend another October at home. The restrain was pretty impressive. The Yankees said they weren’t going to trade their top prospects and they stuck to their guns. It would have been very easy to give up, say, Luis Severino for David Price and go for the kill, but it didn’t happen. Unexpected!

2. Now, that said, was hanging on to every last top prospect the right move? That’s debatable. I’m in the camp that thinks the Yankees have a wonderful opportunity in front of them — seriously, can you expect Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to hit like this again next year? — and they should have been willing to trade a top or prospect or two to bolster with an impact player, say Price or Ben Zobrist or whoever. I’m glad the Yankees were willing to make Jorge Mateo available for Craig Kimbrel for a few reasons, including the fact shortstop is a position of depth in the system. The Yankees literally have more shortstop prospects than roster spots — guys like Abi Avelino, Angel Aguilar (when healthy), and Yonauris Rodriguez have been stuck playing second or third base this summer — with more on the way thanks to last summer’s international spending spree. (Also, Mateo is sooo far away from MLB. He’s not going to have an impact anytime soon and lots can go wrong.) Every report indicated the Yankees wouldn’t move their upper level prospects and me, personally, I would have been more open to moving them at the trade deadline given the team’s current situation. When the unwillingness to trade prospects gets in the way of getting someone like Price, yeah, maybe that’s going to a little too.

3. Not getting some kind of pitching depth before the deadline was really, really risky. Every pitcher ever is at risk of getting hurt, that’s the nature of the business, though it feels like the Yankees are more at risk than most. Michael Pineda is already on the DL. CC Sabathia has had his knee drained twice this season already. Masahiro Tanaka has his whole elbow situation. Ivan Nova‘s working his way back from Tommy John surgery. Nathan Eovaldi is their most reliable starter right now and, as we saw last night, completing six innings is a challenge. Another starter to protect against injury and soak up some innings really would have been appreciated. And ace would have been awesome! But an innings guy like Mike Leake or even J.A. Happ would have worked. The Yankees are one more pitching injury from having some big problems. They’re already stretched thin as it is.

IPK. (Presswire)
IPK. (Presswire)

4. I have to think the Yankees will be keeping a really close eye on the August waiver trade market for pitching depth. More than usual. Both the Padres and White Sox did not make any trades yesterday because they feel they still have a run in them, but I can’t imagine that will last. How could it? Rental pitchers Ian Kennedy and Jeff Samardzija figure to be available at some point, especially Kennedy because he’s not a qualifying offer candidate. Yovani Gallardo, Bartolo Colon, and Aaron Harang are other August trade candidates. Obviously some of these guys are more desirable than others. (The issue with waiver trades is that teams below the Yankees in the standings can claim players just to block them from going to New York. So, for example, what are the odds the Blue Jays don’t claim Samardzija? Basically zero.) I’m just really worried about the rotation and the pitching staff in general. Hopefully everyone stays healthy in the second half, but man, I really wish the Yankees were able to bring in another starter before the deadline yesterday. What they have available right now feels like the bare minimum. It’s juuust enough to get by if everything breaks right.

5. As for the Ackley pickup … meh. Not really a needle-mover. Ackley’s a slight upgrade over Garrett Jones because he’s better defensively and can play second base, though he’s less likely to run into the occasional short porch homer. Ackley is several years younger — which means he has more “upside,” as people like to say — and is under contractual control for a few extra seasons. It’s certainly not difficult to understand why they replaced Jones with Ackley. Both Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez will be out of minor league options next year and the Yankees didn’t figure to have a spot for either, so they consolidated the assets, turned them into something else, and started to clear up the a 40-man roster logjam. The team has a frickin’ ton of outfielders and relievers in the upper levels of the minors. They dealt from a surplus for sure. It’s a boring yet fair trade that doesn’t figure to have much noticeable on-field impact. If you’re upset about this one, maybe take a step back and chill out for a bit.

6. I could be wrong, but it seems like the Yankees are going to stick with the Stephen Drew/Brendan Ryan platoon at second base for the foreseeable future. Rob Refsnyder‘s not going to come up and take over on an everyday basis anytime soon. That could change in an instant, I have a hard time thinking Ryan will hit like this much longer, but right now the plan seems to be Drew and Ryan. The Yankees have been hesitant to use Refsnyder this year, almost certainly because of his defense, so if they don’t call him up soon to play second, I’m not sure he’ll get another opportunity this year unless there’s an injury. Heck, even Ackley might be ahead of Refsnyder on the depth chart at this point. Maybe next year will be the year for Refsnyder.

Thoughts four days prior to the 2015 trade deadline

Samardzija. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Samardzija. (Jason Miller/Getty)

The 2015 non-waiver trade deadline is just four days away now, and while the Yankees have not yet made any moves, I expect that to change fairly soon. Here are some stray trade deadline thoughts.

1. Boy that Troy Tulowitzki trade last night was something else, wasn’t it? Came out of nowhere. I assume the Rockies are going to flip Jose Reyes, otherwise the deal doesn’t make too much sense for them, but it’s a big upgrade for the Blue Jays. Yeah, they still need pitching, but a dominant offense will get you to the postseason more often than not. (Also, don’t underestimate the defensive upgrade, Tulowitzki’s a way better gloveman than Reyes right now.) I’ve felt the Blue Jays were the Yankees’ biggest threat in the AL East for a few weeks now, and while that seven-game cushion is nice, the division race ain’t over. The Yankees and Blue Jays still play 13 more times this season. Over/under on the total number of runs scored in those 13 games is set at 149.5.

2. As for the Yankees, I do still expect them to make a trade or two before Friday’s deadline. Nothing that happened over the last week or two has changed that belief. If anything, the recently winning only makes me more convinced they will do something. The Yankees are not just a win now team, they’re a win now team that hasn’t been to the postseason in two years. They have every reason imaginable — reputation, financial, the whole nine — to upgrade a roster with some obvious needs. This is what the Yankees do. They bought at the deadline even when their postseason chances were microscopic the last two years. I’ll be stunned if they don’t do something meaningful — by meaningful I mean a starting pitcher, a late-inning bullpen arm, or an everyday position player, not a fringe roster guy — before 4pm ET Friday.

3. The Tigers seem to be on the fence about whether to buy or sell, and assuming they hold onto David Price, I think my top target among the remaining available starters would be Jeff Samardzija. (I want the Yankees to go hard after Price if he does become available though.) Samardzija has the fewest flaws among the guys left on the board, specifically Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Yovani Gallardo, and all those guys with the Padres. He’s a power pitcher who misses bats and is also a workhorse who can go seven innings and 110+ pitches regularly. It would be nice to have at least one of those guys in the rotation, wouldn’t it? Also, between playing football at Notre Dame and pitching for the Cubs, Samardzija has experience in hectic sports markets. I don’t think New York would bother him too much. Leake, Gallardo, and all those other guys are useful in their own ways, but I think Samardzija could be a real difference-maker. (But go get Price first.)

4. The Yankees insist they will not trade their top prospects for a rental — when was the last time they did that anyway? when they agreed to give up Jesus Montero for Cliff Lee? — and that’s all well and good, but it is something every team says this time of year. I don’t think Luis Severino would (or should) be off the table if Price became available, for example. That said, I do wonder if the Yankees will end up dealing pieces off their MLB roster at the trade deadline. The game seems to be gearing more towards MLB player for MLB player trades — I guess because everyone is trying to win now and no one wants to wait for prospects — and within the last year alone we’ve seen the Yankees trade Yangervis Solarte, Vidal Nuno, Kelly Johnson, Francisco Cervelli, Shane Greene, David Phelps, and Martin Prado in deals for other big league players. Could that happen again? We’d be foolish to rule it out. Ivan Nova‘s name reportedly popped up in talks with the Reds about Johnny Cueto. Nova, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chasen Shreve strike me as the MLB players the Yankees are most likely to deal at the deadline, should a trade like that go down. Don’t ask me why, just a hunch. Nova and Eovaldi would have to go in substantial moves though, like the Nova for Cueto swap.

Iwakuma. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Iwakuma. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

5. The August waiver trade market will be very interesting this year because there should be a lot of higher priced players available. More than usual. James Shields, for example. He’s someone who still figures to be available come August because no one will risk claiming that contract. I’m not saying the Yankees should make a run at Shields, just that he figures to be available. Dan Haren, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Matt Garza are other examples. Haren (free because the Dodgers are paying him) and Iwakuma ($3M or so the rest of the season) might not make it to the Yankees on waivers because they’re so cheap. Other clubs figure to claim them first, even if it’s only to block a trade. The Yankees usually aren’t very active in August waiver deals — again, the only players they’ve acquired in post-deadline trades since 2009 are Chad Gaudin, Steve Pearce, and Brendan Ryan — but I feel like this season is very different because they missed the postseason the last two years. I feel like there’s extra motivation to make upgrades, even if they have to wait until August.

6. Random thing that struck me while watching last night’s game: right now, in 2015, Mark Teixeira is better than every player the Braves traded to the Rangers for him back in 2007 combined. Eight years later! Not counting last night’s game, Teixeira is at +2.6 WAR this season. This is the package Texas received for Teixeira (and Ron Mahay): Elvis Andrus (-0.1 WAR), Matt Harrison (0.0 WAR), Neftali Feliz (-0.1 WAR), Jarrod Saltamacchia (-0.1 WAR), and Beau Jones (out of baseball since 2012). I’m not sure where I’m going with this or whether it means anything, I just thought it was interesting. It looked like the Rangers set themselves up for a decade with that trade two or three years ago, but it went south in a hurry. Meanwhile Tex is still plugging along and mashing taters. Bet on proven star-caliber players, I guess.

7. Last week Jeff Sullivan put together a neat post looking at where the Mariners have gone wrong this season. They were expected to contend in the AL West at the very least, and some had them as AL pennant favorites. Instead, they’re sitting near the bottom of the standings. Jeff compared each player’s actual WAR to their projected WAR coming into the season to find the “missing” wins. I want to do something similar with the Yankees really quick, though they’re exceeding expectations, not falling short.

Prior to last night’s game the Yankees were 55-42 (.567), which is quite a bit better than FanGraphs’ projected .503 winning percentage coming into the season. The Yankees were beating their projection by six wins through only 97 games. Here is how each player’s actual WAR compares to their preseason projected WAR pro-rated to 97 games (this doesn’t include last night’s game, but one game won’t change much anyway):

Projected WAR vs. Actual WAR through 97 games

This is showing actual WAR minus projected WAR. Positive means a player is performing better than the projections and negative means the opposite. Negative does not necessarily mean negative WAR, it just means less WAR than projected. Got it? Good.

Alex Rodriguez, as expected, is the main projection out-performer here. The projections expected nothing from him and he’s been awesome. Teixeira, Michael Pineda, and Eovaldi have all exceeded projections by a full win already — Pineda’s been shaky at times but the projections didn’t expect much given his injury history — while Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka have fallen short of projections by more than a win. Ellsbury and Tanaka because of injury, Headley because he didn’t do much on either side of the ball earlier in the season.

Add all of that together and you get +3.5 wins. The team’s actual record is six games better than projected, and the missing 2.5 wins come from guys like Slade Heathcott (+0.4 WAR), Mason Williams (+0.3 WAR), and all the other call-ups who have had a brief but positive impact so far. Also, WAR seems to underrated DHs. Most players perform worse than expected as the DH because they’re not used to sitting around, similar to pinch-hitters. A-Rod‘s WAR might be underrating his true value.