Thoughts before the second half of the season

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Tomorrow night the Yankees will open the second half of the 2017 season with the first of four games at Fenway Park. Four games in three days against the Red Sox right out of the gate. That’ll be fun. This second half will be … interesting. That’s a good word. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. The Yankees are going to get some more players back very soon. Matt Holliday had his little two-game rehab assignment last week and is expected to rejoin the Yankees tomorrow night, for the series opener against the Red Sox. Starlin Castro is going to begin a rehab assignment soon and is only a few days away from returning as well. Those two guys won’t help the bullpen, which has been the team’s biggest problem for a few weeks now, but they’re going to help in general. The more good players, the better. I’ve seen too many games with Chase Headley batting fifth and Austin Romine batting seventh the last two weeks or so. Until the bullpen gets fixed, either by bringing in new players or having the existing players improve their performance, the Yankees’ best chance to win involves scoring a boatload of runs. Give those relievers as much breathing room as possible. Getting Holliday and then Castro back is going to go a long way toward beefing up the offense.

2. I wonder whether the Yankees and Joe Girardi will take the reins off Chad Green down the stretch. Right now he’s not working back-to-back days, and yeah, part of that is the fact he often throws multiple innings. But even in situations where he doesn’t throw a ton of pitches, he has been deemed unavailable the next night. Green is still relatively new to the bullpen after spending just about his entire career as a starting pitcher, so I get why the Yankees are being careful with him. They’re protecting him. His 2016 season ended early due to an elbow injury, remember. Now that he has some bullpen time under his belt and has been successful, plus most of the rest of the bullpen has been unreliable, I think the Yankees might consider expanding Green’s role a bit and have him pitch back-to-back days in the second half (when appropriate). It would be great if they found some other reliable relievers and didn’t have to push Green, but I’m not sure how possible that is. Is there a realistic scenario in which Green is, say, the fifth best reliever in the bullpen down the stretch? I don’t see it.

3. What will happen with Clint Frazier when Holliday returns? Holliday and later Aaron Hicks. With Hicks is still a few weeks away, so this isn’t a pressing issue. My guess is Frazier will do exactly what Hicks was doing earlier this year, meaning play just about every day and rotate around the outfield. We know Aaron Judge isn’t going to sit. So the Yankees will effectively rotate Frazier, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury between left field and center field. Once Hicks returns, who knows? That’s not really worth worrying about now though. A lot could change between now and then. There could be a trade or Frazier could play his way back to Triple-A by then. Right now though, the Yankees can’t — and shouldn’t — take him out of the lineup given how much damage he’s doing at the plate. The guy has three homers, two triples, one double, and one single in seven big league games. The Yankees have to keep playing the kid. They’ll be at their best with Holliday and Castro and Frazier in the lineup regularly going forward.

4. Speaking about possible trades, right now the Yankees are in the most unpredictable place leading up to the deadline. They could easily justify buying and easily justify selling. And, really, they could do both. I could see them moving, say, Michael Pineda before losing him for nothing as a free agent while also using some prospects to acquire a longer term piece. Buying vs. selling is not binary. The Yankees can do both and, depending on what trade opportunities arise, it would make sense to do both. Remember in the offseason when Brian Cashman said the time wasn’t right to swing a blockbuster trade for a guy like Chris Sale? Well, it’s starting to get to be that time, right? The new core is emerging and the Yankees have more prospects at peak value in the farm system than they could ever possibly use in the big leagues. These days most blockbusters involving non-rentals do not happen at the trade deadline so I don’t expect to see something like that happen before July 31st. A move like that figures to wait for the offseason. Point is, I don’t see the Yankees as strictly buyers and strictly sellers. They’ll have an opportunity to do a little of both at the trade deadline in a few weeks.

5. How ridiculous was Judge’s performance in the Home Run Derby? His swings resulted in 47 home runs and 29 non-home runs. The first round matchup with Justin Bour was thrilling. The second and third round meetings with Cody Bellinger and Miguel Sano were pretty anticlimactic. You knew Judge was going to win as soon as you saw Bellinger’s and Sano’s home run totals. Judge needed eleven home runs to beat Sano in the finals and he got there with 1:53 still on the clock. Insane. Every other player was so clearly fatigued during the Home Run Derby and yet Judge was still at full strength in the final round. How is this guy real? Two things about Judge’s performance: one, he used all fields. Here’s his Home Run Derby spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-home-run-derby-spray-chartJudge hit a few balls into the upper deck in right field, where the left-handed power hitters like Bour and Bellinger were hitting them. Judge was doing that to the opposite field. That’s not normal. And two, Judge hit some balls out of the park without squaring them up. There were more than a few homers that looked like a medium deep pop-up off the bat that just carried over the fence. Nobody does that. Nobody other than Judge. The Home Run Derby was almost like a normal batting practice session for him. He hit to all fields and didn’t get pull happy, and he made it look easy. I’m so happy this guy is a Yankee.

6. An anonymous Yankees person bashing Greg Bird really don’t sit well with me. If you missed it last week, here’s the full quote from a “Yankee insider” to Bill Madden:

“You really have to wonder what’s with this guy,” a Yankee insider complained to me earlier this week. “You’d think with Judge and Sanchez, the guys he came up through the system with, doing so well up here he’d want to be a part of this. Apparently not.”

What garbage. I suppose a “Yankee insider” could be anyone, even someone outside the organization, but I doubt it. The Yankees haven’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt after Randy Levine trashed Dellin Betances and Lonn Trost ripped on non-wealthy fans. They have a history of doing this stuff. There are two possibilities here, right? Either Bird isn’t actually hurt and doesn’t want to be a big leaguer, or Bird is hurt and someone with the Yankees said something stupid. Hmmm, I wonder which one it is? Anyway, the bigger point here is that all this stuff keeps happening with the players the Yankees should be building around and promoting. Betances is no worse than the fourth best homegrown reliever in franchise history and the team president rips him because he had the audacity to ask for what he’s worth. Frazier is the top prospect the Yankees acquired in a trade that sent a very popular player the other way, and the Yankees made a spectacle of his forced haircut. Now Bird is hurt and someone is questioning whether he actually wants to play. What the hell is that? It’s one thing to say Betances overreached with his arbitration salary request. It’s another to question a dude’s competitiveness and desire like the “Yankee insider” did with Bird. Questioning someone’s heart on the condition of anonymity is straight up gutless. There’s no other word for it.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects

(Al Bello/Getty)
Frazier. (Al Bello/Getty)

Late last week, Baseball America released their updated list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. White Sox 3B Yoan Moncada remains in the top spot, which isn’t too surprising. The Moncada hype train still has a full head of steam.

Seven Yankees made the updated top 100 list, the same number that made the preseason list. A few of the names have changed, however. Here’s where the Yankees rank:

3. SS Gleyber Torres (Preseason: 5th)
36. OF Blake Rutherford (Preseason: 45th)
48. OF Clint Frazier (Preseason: 39th)
55. RHP Chance Adams (Preseason: Not ranked)
70. OF Estevan Florial (Preseason: Not ranked)
72. LHP Justus Sheffield (Preseason: 91st)
88. OF Dustin Fowler (Preseason: Not ranked)

Adams, Florial, and Fowler jump into the top 100 while preseason No. 85 Jorge Mateo (poor performance), No. 87 RHP James Kaprielian (injury), and No. 90 OF Aaron Judge (graduated to MLB) fell out of the top 100. Looking back, it’s pretty funny Judge slipped from 53th to 76th to 90th on Baseball America’s preseason top 100 lists the last three years, and now he’s an AL MVP candidate (favorite?) as a rookie. Good times. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the latest top 100, so let’s get to them.

1. Gleyber’s injury hasn’t changed his prospect status. Despite undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago, Torres remains on the very short list of the best prospects in baseball. That indicates the injury to his non-throwing arm hasn’t soured anyone on his long-term outlook. The lost development time stinks, no doubt about that, but it’s a correctable injury to his least important limb. (That sounds bad. You know what I mean.) It was a freak injury and a pretty rare injury, but there is some precedent here. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart needed Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow in August 2011. He tore his ligament in a collision at second base. Cozart had surgery in August and was ready for Spring Training. He was in Cincinnati’s lineup on Opening Day 2012. Torres had his surgery in June, two months earlier in the season than Cozart. And Cozart has had no trouble with the elbow since. Tommy John surgery is really bad and always risky. In Gleyber’s case, it’s not as bad as it would be with his throwing arm, and because of that, he remains a tippy top prospect.

2. Why did Rutherford and Frazier switch spots? For all intents and purposes, Rutherford and Frazier have switched spots since the preseason list. They’re still pretty close together — they’re separated by 12 spots on the midseason top 100 — but they did flip. For some reason Baseball America now prefers Rutherford whereas four months ago they preferred Frazier. Hmmm. What changed? Frazier, 22, hit .257/.345/.474 (123 wRC+) with 12 homers, 21.3% strikeouts, and 11.6% walks in 73 Triple-A games before getting called up. Rutherford, 19, is hitting .278/.343/.384 (111 wRC+) with one homers, 19.3% strikeouts, and 8.8% walks in 64 Low-A games. Which performance is more impressive? It’s Frazier for me. Pretty clearly too. But it’s not just about numbers though. The scouting report will forever be more important than the stats. I’m curious to know why Rutherford climbed (slightly) and Frazier fell (slightly). If anything, Frazier’s stock is up in my eyes, and not only because he’s now socking dingers in the big leagues. Forget about all that for a second. Frazier is better commanding the strike zone this year and he’s tapping into his power more often. He hit 12 homers in 73 Triple-A games. His previous career high was 16 homers in 119 games last year. I dunno. Feels like ever since the trade, people have been looking for reasons to dog Frazier, whether it’s silly stories about his attitude or nitpicking his game and dropping him in prospect rankings. Dropping him below Rutherford (who is awesome!) seems like more of the same.

3. I am still the low man on Adams. Adams keeps climbing prospect rankings and that’s pretty cool to see. The reliever-to-start conversion couldn’t be going any better. I ranked Adams as the tenth best prospect in the system in my most recent top 30 list, behind three players who did not make Baseball America’s midseason top 100. That isn’t to say I think he’s a bad prospect. He’s not! He’s really good. But ranking Adams in the middle of a top 50 list suggests you think he can be an impact pitcher soon, or that he’s very likely to remain a starter long-term, and I’m not sure I buy either right now. I have some reservations about his overall command, about the life and plane on his fastball, and about his complete inability to keep Double-A and Triple-A hitters on the ground this year. A 42.7% ground ball rate at those levels is pretty darn scary. Just about every pitching prospect worth a damn puts up good grounder numbers in the minors simply by overwhelming all the low quality hitters you inevitably find at every level. Adams hasn’t been able to do that. Hopefully I’m wrong and he’ll soon be an impact pitcher for the Yankees. The fact the Yankees haven’t called him up despite their pitching needs — even as a reliever at this point — is a pretty good indication the team doesn’t consider Adams ready to help, however. I feel like a spot in the middle of the top 100 is a bit aggressive, but to each his own.

Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)

4. Florial has a really unique profile and I don’t know how to rank him. So far this season the 19-year-old Florial is hitting .300/.383/.502 (152 wRC+) with eleven homers, 15 steals in 21 attempts, and an 11.4% walks in 74 Low-A games. That is across the board excellence for a kid who is more than two years younger than the average South Atlantic League player. At the same time, Florial has a 30.2% strikeout rate, which is awfully high. You don’t often see a player pair that strikeout rate with the kind of overall success at the plate Florial is having. It’s very unique, though we are watching Judge do the same thing in the big leagues, so it’s not unprecedented. Does the strikeout rate mean Florial will fail against more advanced pitchers as he climbs the ladder? Or does the strong overall numbers indicate he will make the adjustment and cut down on the whiffs as he moves forward? This much is clear: Florial’s tools are off the charts. He’s got power from the left side of the plate, he runs well, he’s a very good center fielder, and he has a rocket arm. Based on the natural talent and overall production, Florial is a top 100 caliber prospect. I’m just not sure what that strikeout rate means. I’m more fascinated than alarmed.

5. Mateo could wind up back on the top 100 soon. Mateo has been tearing the cover off the ball since being bumped up to Double-A Trenton. He hit .240/.288/.400 (97 wRC+) in 69 games while repeating High-A and is at .417/.533/.750 (249 wRC+) in 13 games since being promoted. I mean, 13 games is 13 games, we probably shouldn’t read too much into them, but it sure is nice to see Mateo raking for the first time in more than a year. I don’t think Baseball America was wrong to drop him out of their midseason top 100. Not at all. That said, Mateo certainly has the tools to climb back into the top 100 in the future, and his Double-A performance is going to make people take notice. The Yankees have plenty of top 100 caliber prospects and I feel like they’re most willing to part with Mateo in a trade despite his upside. His success in Double-A is perhaps rebuilding some trade value leading up to the deadline and the offseason. It can’t hurt. That’s for sure.

6. Andujar keeps getting snubbed. I am the low man on Adams and the high man on Miguel Andujar, it seems. I’m not saying Andujar is a no doubt top 100 prospect, but I do think he deserves serious consideration, and he’s yet to sneak into any top 100 list. For shame. Andujar is hitting .302/.336/.479 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A this year and he’s gone from a 98 wRC+ in 2015 to a 111 wRC+ in 2016 to a 121 wRC+ in 2017, so he’s trending in the right direction. That said, Andujar has to improve his defense, and I guess that’s why he’s not making any top 100 lists. Not everyone is sold on him remaining at third. Defense is the No. 1 priority right now and I’m glad the Yankees are letting him work on it in Triple-A. I don’t want Andujar playing first base and I don’t want him learning the hot corner on the fly in the big leagues. Third base in Triple-A is the appropriate spot for him. Robinson Cano never made a top 100 list, you know. Not once with any publication. I’m not saying Andujar will be the next Cano — Robbie is about 90% of the way to the Hall of Fame at this point, it’s not pair to compare any prospect to him — but in a few years, I definitely think he’s the type of player who will have people saying “how was this guy never on a top 100 list?”

Selling Points

brian-cashman-deadline
(Getty)

What a difference a month makes, huh? Through June and early July, the Yankees have suffered both injuries and insults–mostly in the form of bullpen meltdowns–on their way out of first place in the AL East. Still, they’re in playoff position as they lead in the wildcard spot, which is of comfort; they are also within striking distance of the now first place Red Sox with plenty of baseball left to play. In a vacuum, this team would be in buy-like-crazy mode, especially given the problems its had at first base all year and the bullpen recently, not to mention the rotation. Like always, though, there isn’t a vacuum and there’s a big mitigating factor at play.

This success–however tempered by the last five weeks or so–is unexpected. 2017 was not the year the Yankees were supposed to compete for anything more than a shot at the second wildcard. Now, the playoffs seem a real possibility. While that’s great for obvious reasons, it does somewhat betray the long term plan the organization had going into this year. Once again, the team will have to strike the delicate balance that defines the Yankees: win now AND later. They’re finally set up to do the latter more than the former, but they’ve also managed to do the former.

How the Yankees could buy is obvious. By all accounts, their farm system is–at worst–top five in the league. Even with Gleyber Torres injured, they have a blend of depth and upside in the minors that is (likely) the envy of many around baseball. Should they choose to, the Yankees could deal from a position of strength and depth by upgrading the major league roster at the expense of the minor league one.

But what happens if the Yankees continue to slip? It’s not likely as they’ll soon have players like Starlin Castro and Matt Holliday rejoining them from the disabled list, but let’s play what if. What if the Yankees find themselves in a position to sell again? Ask this a month ago–which was unthinkable at the time, really–and things would’ve seemed a lot better. Despite that, the Yankees do have some valuable pieces they could auction off.

The cons of trading all of these players are obvious–the Yankees need them for the stretch run. Each may have his own reasons, too, but that’s the overarching one.

First up are those two who’ll be returning: Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro. Both have obvious value as bats in any lineup, especially contending ones. Holliday, though, would likely be limited to AL teams. As for Castro, many might recognize this as the absolute top of his market–despite the injury–and avoid paying said cost.

Tyler Clippard would be next, but he completely demolished his own value over the last month plus, pitching like someone who hardly belongs in the big leagues.

Then there’s the real wildcard, Masahiro Tanaka. While he was shaky to start the year, that’s clearly atypical of him; he’s proven his mettle and worth over the last three plus seasons and on talent alone, he’s probably the Yankees’ best Major League trade piece not named Judge, Sanchez, or Frazier. But with his opt out, his trade value is diminished. No one likes uncertainty.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will not be sellers at this deadline. They’re going to be close and they’re going to owe it to their players to give an honest shot at things, even if this is ahead of schedule. If they’re lucky, they can maybe pull off the best of both worlds: improve the major league team by dealing prospects and selling off a major league piece to help replenish the minor league depth. That’s probably a pipe dream, but this season has sort of been one itself, hasn’t it?

Thoughts on the final off-day before the All-Star break

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Good gravy do the Yankees stink right now. They’ve lost 16 of their last 22 games and have gone from four games up in the AL East to barely hanging on to a wild card spot. This is their first 6-16 stretch since May 2003. I guess the good news is that 2003 team won 101 games and went to the World Series? Anyway, I have some thoughts on things, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Forgive me for being positive for a moment. As bad as the Yankees have looked the last few weeks, I feel like their biggest problems are almost all fixable. Unlike, say, 2013 and 2014, when they needed basically an entirely new lineup and three or four new starters, this team seems to have most of the necessary pieces in house. They absolutely need Aroldis Chapman and especially Dellin Betances to right the ship, but I feel like that’s doable. Betances was awesome up until about two weeks ago. As recently as June 26th — last Monday! — he had a 1.09 ERA (1.41 FIP) and opponents were hitting .140/.282/.151 against him. It’s not like he’s been bad all year. I’m not ready to declare Betances permanently broken yet. Not close. Same with Chapman. I think he’s dealing with a World Series hangover more than anything. Get Betances and Chapman back on track, get Starlin Castro and Matt Holliday (and Aaron Hicks) back from the disabled list, and the Yankees will be in much better shape. This 6-16 stretch is no joke. The Yankees have seen their postseason odds drop from 88.1% to 61.1% during his 22-game stretch, per FanGraphs, so it has been very damaging. But I feel the chances of things improving going forward are much better than the last few years.

2. Speaking of Betances, wow do the Yankees have to get him figured out. That has to be priority No. 1. This isn’t a command problem. This is a basic strike-throwing problem. It’s not like he’s missing just off the plate. He’s not getting the ball over the plate all. Betances has a long history of strike-throwing problems, mostly in the minors, though I don’t think he’s ever gone through a stretch this bad. He’s walked eleven of the last 22 batters he’s faced, plus he hit another with a pitch. Geez, dude. I’m not a pitching coach but Betances seems to be a mechanical mess — David Cone pointed out yesterday that Dellin is pulling everything to his gloveside, which usually indicates a pitcher’s upper and lower halves are out of sync — and at this point I’m sure his confidence has taken a hit. Joe Girardi has to take Betances out of a high-leverage role for the time being and let him work things out in mop-up duty. And who knows, he might figure it out in one or two appearances. Dellin seems to go from falling apart to locked in seemingly overnight (and, sadly, vice versa). The Yankees need Betances to be Betances to win. They can’t afford to keep frittering away winnable games.

3. Remember all that stuff earlier in the season about Austin Romine working better with the pitching staff than Gary Sanchez? This season Yankees pitchers have a 3.65 ERA with Sanchez and a 4.41 ERA with Romine. Funny how that worked out, huh? I’m one of those people who thinks catcher’s ERA is stupid as hell and that the catcher’s impact on the pitching staff is often overrated, but I still found that amusing. I don’t doubt that Romine is a better receiver and overall defender than Sanchez. It’s not showing up in the runs prevented numbers though. And still, even if the pitching staff works so much better Romine, the solution is not playing him behind the plate more often. The solution is working with Sanchez and teaching him how to do a better job with the pitchers, because that dude is the future of the franchise and he needs to be behind the plate. At the end of the day, it’s up to the pitcher to execute. The catcher can call the greatest game in the world and frame every borderline pitch, but if the pitcher doesn’t execute, there’s nothing the catcher can do. Romine sure as heck didn’t call those hanging home run pitches from Michael Pineda yesterday, but Pineda threw them anyway.

Frazier. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Frazier. (Bob Levey/Getty)

4. First impression of Clint Frazier: Brian Cashman was not kidding around when he said that kid has “legendary” bat speed. I mean, I saw it in Spring Training, but that’s not really the same. Just about everything Frazier has put in play since being called up has been a rope. Also, he’s putting together quality at-bats. He’s seen 69 pitches in 14 plate appearances (4.93 per) and his swing rate on pitches out of the zone is 28.6%, better than the 30.7% league average, and his contact rate on pitches in the zone is 95.7%. The league average is 85.8%. Super duper small sample size and all that, but Frazier so far reminds me of Aaron Judge in the first week or so of the season. Remember that? Judge didn’t hit much that first week — he went 2-for-15 (.133) in his first five games this year — but he was on everything and having quality at-bats. Frazier has been the same way. The Yankees are probably going to send him down when Holliday returns and that’s fine. Frazier should be getting regular at-bats somewhere, and once Holliday returns, that somewhere figures to be Triple-A. I like what I’ve seen so far. That kid seems to have a plan and he can get the bat to the ball real quick.

5. The silly narratives are already starting with Judge. The other day, I believe it was the FOX game against the Astros, one of the announcers said he needs to be more aggressive in RBI spots and expand the zone to get the run in, if necessary. (It had to be the FOX game. I don’t think anyone on YES would say that.) That’s the Joey Votto narrative. He’s too happy to take his walks and pass the baton when he should be trying to drive the run in! I had a feeling we would hear something like that at some point given Judge’s sky high walk rate (16.8%). The announcers can say whatever they want and us idiot writers can write whatever we want. As long as Judge doesn’t actually do that, it’s fine. I want him sticking with the same approach, and if that leads to a walk, fine. Take the baserunner. Especially with Sanchez and a healthy Holliday and whoever else hitting behind him. Whatever Judge is doing, it’s working. Keep doing it. The guy has been nearly flawless at the plate.

6. For the first time in a long time, I am really excited for the Home Run Derby. Even when Robinson Cano was in it, I wasn’t this excited. I’ve seen both Judge and Sanchez take plenty of batting practice this year and, honestly, I think Sanchez might be the better bet in the Home Run Derby. Judge certainly has more impressive distance and exit velocity on his home runs, but in a batting practice setting, Sanchez hits the ball over the fence (to all fields) more often. And it’s not like he’s hitting cheapies either. Either way, it’s pretty cool two young Yankees stars are in the Home Run Derby. The Yankees have three homegrown All-Stars no older than 25 — and they’re all deserving All-Stars too — and that is pretty damn awesome. The recent losing really stinks. It really does. The foundation is in place though. The core of the next great Yankees team has arrived.

Sunday Musings

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Happy Fourth of July weekend, everyone! Hope you’re celebrating and will be celebrating safely with friends, family, and baseball. What’s on your mind, baseball wise, as the calendar has flipped to July? Here’s what’s on mine.

The State of the Union

It would be an overstatement to call the state of the Yankees precarious at this point, even if that’s the first word that comes to mind after two weeks of bullpen disasters and a slide out of first place. The team is still in the lead for the first wild card and, frankly, I never expected this group to be here when the season was about to start.

I’ve heard and seen talk of adjusting expectations and that at this point, a lack of playoffs would be a severe disappointment for this edition of the Yankees, but there’s a part of me that’s hesitant to agree with that. Would I be bummed if this team missed the playoffs? Definitely. Maybe. They’ve mashed and played better than expected; the playoffs would be a great reward for that. But from the outset, this year was about developing the young players; Greg Bird notwithstanding, this year has been a success for that as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Jordan Montgomery have flourished in staring roles for the team, with Chad Green emerging as a reliable bullpen option to boot. Hopefully Clint Frazier‘s big night last night is a sign of more success for 2017.

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

The All Stars

Aaron Judge leads the AL in All Star votes. Gary Sanchez is having the best overall season of any AL catcher, though Salvador Perez of the Royals is leading the vote behind the plate. Still, it’s hard to say both of the Yankees’ youngsters won’t be All Stars. As I’ve matured as a fan, I’ve longed for my favorite team’s players to skip the All Star Game, opting for rest and rehab, rather than strain in an exhibition. But this year, it’s different. Though both have played in the Futures Game, this is likely to be the first (of many) All Star appearances for both players. That makes it special. And on top of that, they deserve it. As they say, you always remember your first and both Judge and El Gary should be proud to represent the Yankees at the game.

On that note, there’s another reason–a less important one–for Judge and Sanchez to play in the game. It signals to the league as a whole that the future is now for the Yankees, that they’re reloading and retooling, not rebuilding. Judge and Sanchez are going to be an important part of returning the Yankees to dominance. That’s obviously a good thing for us as Yankee fans, but isn’t it just as easy to argue that they represent something more important to baseball as a whole? People, silly people, really, love to root against the Yankees. They love for the Yankees to be the heel. For the last few years, the team has been so mediocre that they bordered on irrelevance and I’d imagine hating them was hard. Everyone loves a villain and the Yankees are poised to be that once again.

Also, Aaron, if you’re reading this, please participate in the Home Run Derby. Please.

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

A Good Problem to Have?

With Clint Frazier joining the big league team, the Yankees have four outfielders they’d want to start for only three positions. Barring MLB letting them play four outfielders and bat ten men like slow pitch softball, someone is going to need to sit every night. Well, not exactly. With Matt Holliday out with a viral infection–let’s hope he’s not patient zero of some apocalyptic nightmare disease–one of the four can DH each night for the time being. That keeps everyone fresh and keeps bats in the lineup. As a plus, all four guys are good enough defensively that it won’t cost them. When Holliday comes back, there may be an issue. There definitely will be when Aaron Hicks returns. This, however, is a great logjam to have and I’m sure it’ll work itself out in time.

Thoughts following the Castro injury and Tyler Wade call-up

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

Another day, another injured Yankee. Last night Starlin Castro went down with a right hamstring strain and tests today will determine the severity. The Yankees are calling up Tyler Wade, arguably their best healthy infield prospect, to replace Castro, which seems to indicate he’s heading to the disabled list. Sigh. The Yankees are now without Castro, Aaron Hicks (oblique), CC Sabathia (hamstring), Greg Bird (ankle), Matt Holliday (illness), and Adam Warren (shoulder). I have thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. I know we’re all excited to see Wade — well, I know I am, I don’t know about you — but losing Castro really bites. Even after cooling off these last few weeks like the rest of his non-Aaron Judge teammates, Starlin still owns a .315/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) batting line with 12 home runs. The Yankees will miss that. The offense seems to be snapping out of its recent funk — the Yankees have scored 12 runs the last two days, which is hopefully the start of something big — but it’s still not all the way back yet. Castro is an important complementary bat around Judge and Gary Sanchez. All these injuries mean the lineup simply is not as deep as it was a few weeks back. Stinks.

2. The Yankees aren’t calling Wade up to sit. I expect him to play second base pretty much every day while Castro is out — I wouldn’t be opposed to starting Ronald Torreyes against tough lefties, at least initially (the Yankees are going to see Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon the next two games, for what it’s worth) — which is probably the best thing for him. The Yankees are grooming Wade to be a super utility guy, someone who can play a different position every day, but that’s not easy! Veterans have a tough time doing that. Asking a kid to do it in his first taste of the show is less than ideal. Replacing Castro gives Wade a chance to play a familiar position day after day, and get his feet wet in the big leagues. Once he’s comfortable, the Yankees can start moving him around. The Starlin injury bites. There’s no doubt about that. The upside is Wade gets to step into the lineup and play one position, not be asked to move all around the field right away.

3. I think there’s a chance Wade is up for good. If he performs well as Castro’s replacement, the Yankees will keep him up as that super utility player. It’s not like the bench couldn’t use the upgrade. Heck, perhaps he’d get a second half audition at third base given the long-term need at the position. The Yankees have moved Wade all around the infield in his career and they introduced him to the outfield in the Arizona Fall League last year for this exact reason. To get him on the roster and into the lineup. They like him a lot. Point is, I don’t think this is necessarily an injury fill-in and nothing more. Wade will get a chance to earn a spot and stick with the team going forward. This is a great opportunity for him. It’s a chance to leave the minor leagues behind.

Wade and a friend. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Wade and a friend. (Jon Durr/Getty)

4. The roster move figures to be quite simple. Castro to the disabled list and Wade called up. There’s still an open 40-man roster spot with Chris Carter having been designated for assignment, so there’s no need to clear a spot. Castro to the DL, Wade up. Easy peasy. I do wonder, however, if the Yankees would use the Castro DL stint to get around the ten-day rule and bring Mason Williams back, then send Rob Refsnyder down for Wade. That would give the Yankees a true fourth outfielder — neither Williams nor Refsnyder figure to hit much, but at least Mason can go get it in the outfield — and they’re not going to need Refsnyder’s ability to play (“play”) second since Wade and Torreyes can cover every infield position. I suppose they could keep Refsnyder around as a right-handed platoon bat, especially with a bunch of lefty starters coming up, but meh. My guess is the straight Castro-Wade swap. Swapping out Refsnyder for Williams wouldn’t be a bad idea though.

5. I can’t help but wonder whether Gleyber Torres would be getting called up instead of Wade right now if he were healthy. Gleyber was playing second base in addition to third down in the minors, so the Yankees could have plugged him right into the lineup to replace Castro. Man, that would have been fun as hell, wouldn’t it? Alas. The Yankees always try to downplay expectations with their prospects — Brian Cashman said last week a Torres call-up hadn’t really crossed the team’s minds, but come on — but I absolutely believe they were prepping Gleyber for a second half call-up. Probably to play third base, though if an injury opened up second base or shortstop, he would have ended up there. Now there’s an injury at second base and Torres isn’t there to take over. /sobs

6. Don’t overlook the Jorge Mateo angle here. Abi Avelino is going from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton to replace Wade and Mateo is going from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton to replace Avelino. Mateo is hitting .240/.288/.400 (97 wRC+) this season, and going back to last year, he has a .249/.299/.387 (98 wRC+) batting line in 804 plate appearances at High-A Tampa. Not good! That said, I think there’s a chance the promotion will energize him a bit. I hope it does, anyway. I think the Yankees would love to see Mateo mash with Trenton and rebuild some value so they could trade him at some point, either at the deadline or in the offseason. Among all their top 100 caliber prospects, I always thought the Yankees considered Mateo the most expendable. Don’t ask me why. Just a hunch. Hopefully Mateo gets his act together with the Thunder and can contribute to the Yankees in some way down the line, either on their roster or as a trade chip.

Thoughts following Gleyber Torres’ Tommy John surgery news

Gleybaby :( (Scranton Times Tribune)
Gleybaby :( (Scranton Times Tribune)

Over the weekend, top prospect Gleyber Torres managed to tear the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on a play at the plate. He will have season-ending Tommy John surgery. It sucks so much. Sooo much. The injury combined with the disaster West Coast road trip make this one of the worst weeks in recent Yankees history. No doubt about it. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the injury and the fallout.

1. If this injury comes with a silver lining, it’s this: the injury is to Gleyber’s non-throwing elbow, and he’s a position player. The Tommy John surgery rehab timetable for position players is usually 6-8 months, not the 14-16 months it is for pitchers nowadays. The Yankees say they expect Torres to be ready in time for Spring Training — the Arizona Fall League or winter ball isn’t going to happen though — and that isn’t aggressive at all. There is always risk with surgery and the lost development time shouldn’t be ignored. Torres is going to lose 300 or so plate appearances and he’ll never get them back. At the end of the day, this is a severe injury, but it is also fairly straightforward and correctable. And he is only 20. It’s not like he’s 25 or 26.

2. A torn elbow ligament and Tommy John surgery is pretty darn common these days, though the way Torres tore his ligament is pretty unique. When’s the last time someone blew out their elbow on a slide? Heck, when’s the last time someone blew out their non-throwing elbow? Usually the ligament tears during a throw, even with position players. I can’t remember ever hearing of a player tearing his elbow ligament on an impact play like a slide into home plate. Weird. Torres must have really come down on that elbow hard, huh? Or maybe the ligament was already frayed and on the verge of tearing, and the slide was the straw that broke the camel’s back. At the end of the day, it was a fluke injury suffered during a fairly common baseball play. It’s just weird that it resulted in this injury.

3. As good as he is — and Torres is insanely talented — probably the biggest weakness in his game right now is his baserunning. He’s overly aggressive and it leads to a lot of pickoffs and outs on the bases. There were a few of them back in Spring Training. Torres would push the envelope when he shouldn’t have, and the result was an out. Not a fatal flaw! A correctable flaw through experience. Here’s the slide that resulted in the injury:

That’s not a headfirst slide. That’s more of an awkward feet first slide with an arm extended. Perhaps the awkwardness of the slide contributed to the injury. I mean, it almost certainly did. Torres plays with a lot of energy and you’d hate to take that aggressiveness away from him. Pushing the envelope is a good thing (at times). But, in this case, that aggressiveness combined with crummy slide fundamentals led to an injury. Gleyber’s baserunning issues resulted in something much worse than an out this time.

4. Interestingly enough, after Torres got hurt Triple-A Scranton manager Al Pedrique told Amy Moritz the Yankees teach their players not to slide headfirst. Headfirst slides are too dangerous. Here’s what Pedrique told Moritz before the torn ligament was discovered:

“It’s one thing that we teach as an organization, try not to have the guys slide head-first, any base and especially home plate because of all the gear the catcher has on,” Pedrique said. “When I saw the slide it was a concern and then afterwards when I saw him stay on the ground, definitely it was a scary moment for everybody. He came back from the hospital. Everything’s normal. So from that end, we’re very excited he didn’t get hurt worse. Again, that’s one thing we try to tell the player and teach them how to slide. But in the moment of the game, the competition, sometimes they don’t use the information to slide feet-first.”

“Injuries are part of the game but if we can avoid one like that one, we’re going to do the best we can to make sure they understand the reason why we don’t like the head-first slide,” Pedrique said. “He’s a young guy. He has a long way to learn about a lot of things in the game but he has a lot of talent and again thank God he didn’t get hurt worse.”

Mike Trout tore ligaments in his thumb during a headfirst slide a few weeks ago. Feet first slides are dangerous too! Everything in baseball is inherently dangerous. Former Yankees prospects David Adams and Ravel Santana suffered catastrophic ankle injuries on feet first slides and were never the same. But there are so many tiny bones and ligaments in your hands. Players are bigger and faster than ever before, and when you hit that bag with all that force, it can be easy to break or tear those little bones or ligaments. I’m guessing the Yankees are not the only team trying to teach their players to avoid headfirst slides, and I’m glad they’re doing it. Sometimes the player’s instincts take over and they go in with their hands though.

5. I absolutely believe the Yankees were planning to call Torres up at some point, possibly soon after the All-Star break. They promoted him quickly from Double-A and there’s been chatter they were grooming him to take over at third base. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Gleyber still needed to improve his defense at third before getting called up, but I think he would have gotten comfortable there fairly soon. He made a remarkable amount of process this season otherwise. Now a call-up is completely off the table. Even if you didn’t love the idea or weren’t sold on Torres being a short-term upgrade at third base, the option existed. Now it doesn’t. That bites. I thought Torres would be up at some point in the second half and help right away. Not like Gary Sanchez helped last year, but enough.

6. So, with that in mind, the Yankees are probably going to ramp up their search for third base help. I’m not 100% convinced they’ll buy at the trade deadline, but they will do their due diligence. Chase Headley has settled in following an uneven start to the season. He hit .251/.329/.383 (92 wRC+) last year and he’s at .249/.329/.364 (86 wRC+) this year. This is pretty much who he’ll be going forward. It’s one thing to sit Headley for a top prospect like Torres. It’s another to sit him for a veteran you pick up in a trade. Guys like Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie might not be enough of an upgrade to sacrifice the prospects. Mike Moustakas would be a different story, though the Royals have climbed back into the race, so he might not be available now. Furthermore, teams know Torres is a non-option now, so the Yankees doesn’t have much leverage. That top prospect they could call up instead of trading for your guy isn’t available. Right now, my guess is Headley will be the third baseman the rest of the season. I didn’t think that was the case before the Torres injury.

7. All things considered, the injury is worse news for Torres than the Yankees. He was maybe weeks away from making his big league debut, and now he’ll have to wait until at least next season, maybe longer if the Yankees decide to be be cautious after surgery. The Yankees aren’t losing anyone off their big league roster — I personally thought Torres would get called up, but it was not set in stone — and they’re not losing a trade chip either because Torres is presumably atop their untouchables list. Tommy John surgery for position players has an extremely high success rate — the only position players to have a real hard time with the rehab are catchers, who use their arms so much — and Torres didn’t even hurt his throwing elbow. The injury bites because Torres will miss so much development time. That’s baseball. Players get hurt but there’s still another game to play tonight. The division title ain’t gonna win itself. Onward.