Hal indicates two rotation spots will be up for grabs in Spring Training

Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

At this very moment, with pitchers and catchers still eleven weeks away from reporting to Spring Training, the Yankees have three rotation spots accounted for. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda will occupy the top three spots in whatever order. The other two spots? Those are up in the air right now, and Hal Steinbrenner indicated both could go to young pitchers.

“There’s going to be competition in the starting rotation (in the spring), we know that,” said Hal during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “We’ve got (Adam) Warren. We’ve got (Chad) Green, (Luis) Cessa, (Luis) Severino, (Bryan) Mitchell. We’ve got good options for two spots. That’s going to be pretty fun to watch, I think.”

The Yankees are going young wherever possible, so much so that they’ve been trading productive veterans for prospects since the trade deadline. The Brian McCann trade is the most recent reminder. Going young in the rotation is slightly different than going young in the lineup because of innings limits and things like that, but it is doable. Anyway, I have a few thoughts on this.

1. Hal is probably just posturing. The Yankees would say they’re planning to go young in the rotation even if they were dead set on acquiring another starter. There’s nothing to be gained from broadcasting your free agent and trade intentions. The Yankees have been connected to a few free agent starters this year, most notably Rich Hill and Jason Hammel, and I don’t think Hal’s statement changes anything. The fact the team has gone young and put their money where their mouth is these last few months makes what Hal said even more believable, and that’s good. It’s never good to appear desperate during free and trade talks.

Severino. (Elsa/Getty)
Severino. (Elsa/Getty)

2. Severino isn’t locked into a spot. Steinbrenner mentioned Luis Severino among the pitchers set to compete for a rotation spot and that’s reassuring. I don’t think Severino should be considered a lock for the 2017 rotation by any means. Not after what happened this year. Let Severino come to Spring Training and earn a rotation spot by showing he has faith in his changeup and can consistently locate his secondary pitches. And if he does that, great. Put him in the rotation. If not, send him to Triple-A to keep working on things. Severino would be far more valuable to the Yankees in relief than in Triple-A, but this is about the big picture here, and the team shouldn’t give up on him as a starter yet. Patience, yo.

3. The competition isn’t limited to Spring Training. Spring Training competitions are overblown. They happen every year in every camp, so they are worth following, but the competition doesn’t end on Opening Day. Whoever wins the roster spot — in this case two rotation spots — has to perform well to keep the job, otherwise someone else will get a chance. The Yankees have some nice rotation depth at the moment — in addition to guys Hal listed, there will also be Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, and Jordan Montgomery in Triple-A — so if they give someone a few starts and he’s not cutting it, they can make a change quickly. You don’t win a roster spot in Spring Training and automatically get to keep it all season. The competition never ends.

4. How will the 26th roster spot come into play? Reports indicate MLB will adopt the full-time 26th roster spot with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will change how teams build their roster at least somewhat. My guess is most teams, including the Yankees, will use that roster spot on an extra pitcher. Teams would much rather run out of position players than run out of pitchers.

The extra roster spot would give the Yankees the flexibility to do something unconventional like, say, a six-man rotation or tandem fifth starters. They could have their fifth starter go through the lineup twice, then the tandem reliever comes in to go through the lineup twice as well. That’s an entire post for another time, but the 26th roster spot could definitely impact the way the Yankees build their rotation. Heck, maybe Hal meant they’re going to use a six-man rotation, sign a starter, then let the kids compete for the fifth and sixth spots. Who knows?

The Spare Part Position Players [2016 Season Review]

Butler. (Presswire)
Butler. (Presswire)

Over the last two years the Yankees have been pretty good about dipping into their farm system whenever a position player need arose. Last year Slade Heathcott and Greg Bird got opportunities, most notably. This year Ben Gamel and Rob Refsnyder were the go-to options before the trade deadline sell off. Whenever possible, the Yankees went young.

It wasn’t always possible, however. Inevitably, the Yankees ran into a few instances in which they didn’t have a young player available to plug a roster hole. That led them to call up a journeyman veteran or pick up someone off the scrap heap. The Yankees did this a few times this past season, and you know what? It worked out pretty darn well in some instances.

Billy Butler

On August 13th, the Yankees released Alex Rodriguez because they had no room on their roster for a right-handed platoon DH. On September 14th, the Yankees signed Billy Butler because they needed a right-handed platoon DH. Baseball, man. I like to think the front office conversation went like this:

Hal: “Brian, get me a butler.”
Cashman: “Done.”
Hal: “Wait no I meant …”

In all seriousness, the Yankees signed Butler because they used Austin Romine at DH against Clayton Kershaw earlier that day. They had no one else to fill that role. The Yankees were trying hard to stay in the wildcard race and Butler was freely available — the Athletics released him a few days earlier — so they picked him up for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

Butler’s first few days in pinstripes were rather productive. He went 1-for-3 and drove in two runs in his first game. The next day he smacked a two-run pinch-hit home run. Four days later he ripped a pair of doubles. Butler went 8-for-18 (.444) with two doubles and a homer in his first week as a Yankee. Pretty nice for a cost nothing pickup.

For whatever reason Joe Girardi decided to start Butler at first base a few times and that was a predictable disaster. He made two egregious misplays — Butler missed a pickoff throw and booted a grounder — that led directly to runs. Yuck. The man has no business owning a glove.

The Yankees fell out of the rate in late September and Butler’s playing time diminished. Tyler Austin and Refsnyder got those at-bats instead. Butler went 10-for-29 (.345) with those two doubles and one homer in 12 games with New York. He became a free agent after the season — I’ve seen some confusion about this, the fact his A’s contract ran through 2017 means nothing to the Yankees, they’re not on the hook for that — and there’s basically no reason for the Yankees to bring him back.

Chris Parmelee

The Yankees were dealt a pretty significant blow in February, when Bird injured his shoulder working out and needed surgery. His season was over before it even had a chance to begin. The team signed Parmelee to effectively replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, but that’s it. He was only going to help the big league team in an emergency.

That emergency came in early June. Mark Teixeira landed the disabled list with a knee problem, so the Yankees were down their top two first baseman. Third string first baseman Dustin Ackley was hurt too. First base duties fell to Parmelee and Refsnyder. On June 8th, in his first start as a Yankee, Parmelee went 3-for-5 with a double and two home runs in the team’s comeback win over the Angels.

The next day Parmelee drove in another run, but because the Yankees can’t have nice things, he hurt his hamstring stretching for a throw at first base a few innings later. He had to be helped off the field. Parmelee was placed on the disabled list, where he remained the next two months. It was one of those years.

Once healthy, the Yankees sent Parmelee back to Triple-A, where he remained the rest of the season. Overall, he went 4-for-8 with a double and two homers with the Yankees while putting up a .248/.335/.449 (124 wRC+) batting line with eleven homers in 64 games with the RailRiders. Parmelee hit a three-run home run in the Triple-A Championship Game to help Scranton to a win.

After the season Parmelee became a minor league free agent. I suppose the Yankees could bring him back to be their Triple-A first baseman again next year, but guys like this tend to be one and done. Parmelee will look for more playing time elsewhere and the Yankees will find someone else to play first for Scranton.

Ike Davis

At one point in June the Yankees were down to their fifth string first baseman. Teixeira (knee), Bird (shoulder), Ackley (shoulder), and Parmelee (hamstring) were all hurt. The job was Refsnyder’s. After Parmelee’s injury, the Yankees scooped up Davis just to provide some veteran depth at first. Ike had opted out of his minor league deal with the Rangers a few days earlier.

Davis appeared in only eight games with the Yankees — four starts and four appearances in relief of Refsnyder — and he went 3-for-14 (.214) with one walk, five strikeouts, and no extra base hits in those eight games. He did actually drive in a run though. In his very first at-bat in pinstripes, no less.

Not the most picturesque swing, but it got the job done there. The Yankees dropped Davis from the roster when Teixeira returned from the disabled list. Ike went to Triple-A, hit .217/.318/.391 (103 wRC+) with five homers in 26 games for the RailRiders, then was released. He was the epitome of short-term help. The Yankees needed a first baseman for a few days in June and Davis filled the role.

Donovan Solano

Infield depth was a big concern coming into Spring Training, so much so that the Yankees signed three veterans to minor league deals: Solano, Pete Kozma, and Jonathan Diaz. All three spent the entire minor league regular season with Triple-A Scranton. Solano was the RailRiders’ best hitter from start to finish, putting up a .319/.349/.436 (124 wRC+) batting line with an International League leading 163 hits.

The Yankees didn’t plan to call the 28-year-old Solano up, but when Starlin Castro felt a tug in his hamstring running out a double in mid-September, their hand had been forced. Solano appeared in nine games with the Yankees, including six starts, and he went 5-for-22 (.227) at the plate. One of the five was a home run.

Solano was in the right place at the right time. He had the best season among the veteran Triple-A infielders and it just so happened Castro hurt his hamstring late in the season. That got Solano back to the big leagues, albeit briefly. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster soon after the end of the regular season and he elected free agency. Next year another random Triple-A infielder will hit another random September home run.

Cashman confirms Yankees will again give Adam Warren a chance to win a rotation spot in camp

Adam loves it. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Adam loves it. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Once again, Adam Warren will be given a chance to win a rotation spot in Spring Training. Brian Cashman told Erik Boland that Warren will come to camp as a starter next year, and if he doesn’t win a rotation spot, he’ll move to the bullpen. Cashman said Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard are the only bullpen locks at the moment, because duh.

Warren, 29, had a 4.68 ERA (5.12 FIP) in 65.1 total innings this past season, including a 3.26 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 30.1 innings with the Yankees. He made one start with the Cubs and allowed one run in five innings against the Reds. For his career, Warren has a 3.88 ERA (4.16 FIP) in 111.1 innings as a starter and a 3.51 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 243.1 innings as a reliever. I have some thoughts on this.

1. Of course Warren should come to camp as a starter. There’s no reason for the Yankees not to bring Warren to Spring Training stretched out a starting pitcher. There’s nothing to lose. They can see what he looks like as a starter, decide where he fits best, then put him there. If that’s in the bullpen, so be it. Nothing wrong with having a stretched out reliever.

With close to an entire offseason to go, the Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda ticketed for the 2017 rotation. I’ll be surprised if they don’t bring in someone from outside the organization for the fourth spot. Then there are all the kids for the fifth spot. Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell … those guys will all be in camp as starters too. Warren is another name to throw into the mix. That’s all.

2. The best value starters may be relievers. This free agent pitching class is so impossibly bad that one team (Angels) has already signed a reliever (Jesse Chavez) with the intention of turning him into a starter. Rather than spend big money for a potential fifth starter, the Halos found a cheaper and more creative alternative. I wouldn’t be surprised if Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill get jobs as starters this winter too.

If Warren were a free agent right now, wouldn’t teams look at him as a rotation option? Of course they would. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t. Sign him and see what he can do as a starter, knowing the bullpen is always a fallback option. The Yankees are in position to do exactly that without the hassle of a free agent bidding war or anything like that. Warren is already on the roster.

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

3. Trade value! Because the free agent class is so thin, trades are going to be very popular, and not only in the offseason. It’ll carry over into the regular season too. Teams that can’t get the pitching they need this offseason — and it figures to be a lot of teams — will keeping looking for arms next summer leading up to the trade deadline.

Should Warren have success as a starter, even as a serviceable fourth or fifth starter, his trade value will increase. He’d only have so much value as a middle reliever. Back end-starter with an extra year of control though? Forget it. Those guys are in demand. I’m not saying Warren would fetch a big return as a starter. Just a bigger return than he would as a reliever.

4. Warren starting doesn’t have be permanent. This is kinda important. Winning a rotation spot in Spring Training doesn’t mean Warren will be in the rotation all season. The Yankees have all those young starters, so Warren may only have to hold down the fort until Green gets over his elbow issue, or until Severino finds his changeup, or until Cessa stops giving up dingers. That sort of thing.

I’m a Warren believer and think he could be a solid starting pitcher. The chances of him being more effective as a starter than, say, Severino or Green in the short-term seem pretty high to me. The Yankees stuck with Austin Romine and sent Gary Sanchez to Triple-A for more seasoning this year, and they were rewarded in the second half. Going with Warren in the rotation while some of the kids get more time in Triple-A could be the best possible thing for the Yankees long-term.

The Yankees’ Five Biggest Defensive Outs of 2016

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Yesterday we relived the five biggest hits recorded by the Yankees this season, using win probability added. It’s not a perfect measure, of course, but it does a nice job for an exercise like this. Now it’s time to turn things around and look at the biggest outs record by the Yankees this past season. Not by the hitters, silly. No one cares about those. By the pitchers and the defense.

The Yankees played more than a few nail-biters this season, especially down the stretch in August and September, so there are no boring ground outs or pop-ups here. These outs were all recorded in pretty intense late-inning situations. It should no surprise then who was on the mound for most of them. So, once again with an assist from the Baseball Reference Play Index, here are the five biggest outs recorded by the Yankees this past season.

5. Shreve vs. Salvador Perez

The Yankees had some awful luck with rain delays this year. They had an inordinate number of ninth inning rain delays that threw a wrench into their bullpen plans and cost them games. It stunk.

On August 30th, the Yankees were in Kansas City playing the second of three games against the Royals. A 59-minute rain delay forced Masahiro Tanaka out of the game after five effective innings — he only threw 71 pitches too — and of course the bullpen blew the 4-2 lead after that. Lorenzo Cain doubled against Adam Warren and Kendrys Morales had a sac fly against Dellin Betances.

The game went to extra innings, and the Yankees took a 5-4 lead on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s run-scoring single off Joakim Soria. Brian McCann and Chase Headley started that rally with singles. With his key relievers already used, Joe Girardi went to Ben Heller for the save opportunity in the bottom of the tenth. It didn’t go well. Hit batsman, stolen base, single, stolen base, strikeout, intentional walk loaded the bases with one out.

That was it for Heller. Girardi went to Chasen Shreve to face Morales, and he managed to strike him out on three pitches. Unexpected! The strikeout pitch was maybe the best splitter Shreve has thrown since last year. That was only the second out of the inning though. There was one more out to go, and thankfully Sal Perez didn’t square up a splitter left up in the zone. He hit a fairly routine game-ending fly ball to center. To the video:

That was Shreve’s first and thus far only career save. The win was New York’s fifth in the span of seven games and was part of that great 13-4 stretch that got them back in the postseason race. WPA of Perez’s fly out: +.270. (The Morales strikeout was +.264.)

4. Betances vs. Eric Hosmer

Because one extra innings game against the plucky Royals wasn’t enough, the Yankees played another one the very next day following Shreve’s save. This game was also 4-4 heading into extras, but rather than end in the tenth, it went all the way to the 13th. Shreve, Tommy Layne, Warren, Blake Parker, and Heller combined for six hitless innings in relief of Luis Cessa. How about that?

The Yankees manufactured a run in the top of the 13th — a single (Didi Gregorius), a double (Starlin Castro), and a sac fly (McCann) did the trick — allowing Girardi to give the ball to Betances for the save chance in the bottom of the 13th. Betances, naturally, walked the leadoff man. Sigh. Never easy.

Because Betances can’t hold runners, a leadoff walk usually turns into a double, but that didn’t happen. Hosmer hit a tapper back to Dellin that he grabbed between his damn legs, then turned into a rally killing 1-6-3 double play. Check it out:

And they said Betances can’t throw to bases. He did just find there la la la you can’t tell me otherwise. A Morales fly ball followed to end the game. The Yankees earned back-to-back 5-4 extra-innings wins over the Royals in Kansas City. Pretty crazy. The Royals never ever ever lost games like that from 2014-15, which is why they went to the World Series each year. WPA of the double play: +.285.

3. Miller vs. Carlos Gomez

July 25th was a pretty monumental day for the Yankees. That was the day they officially shifted gears and starting selling at the deadline. Aroldis Chapman was shipped to the Cubs in the afternoon, and later that night, Andrew Miller got into a bit of a jam in his first game back in the closer’s role.

The Yankees managed to take a 2-1 lead over Dallas Keuchel (!) on Austin Romine‘s eighth inning run-scoring double, but to start the bottom of the ninth, the left-handed hitting Luis Valbuena managed to bloop a leadoff single to left. Miller allowed 13 hits all season to lefties — I’m surprised it was that many, to be honest — and that was one of them. The Astros were in business.

Miller bounced back to strike out rookie Alex Bregman, then he coaxed what could have been a game-ending 5-4-3 double play from Evan Gattis, but the Yankees instead got zero outs. Zero. Replays showed Castro stepped off second base a little too early when he made the pivot, and Gattis beat out the back-end of the play. Could have been game over! Instead, Houston had the tying run at second and the winning run at first with one out.

Thankfully, Miller is insanely good, and he got the punchless Carlos Gomez to ground into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play. This one the Yankees turned perfectly. Here’s the video of the two double plays, the failed one and the successful one:

Textbook turn to end the game. Not the kind of play you’ll remember over the course of a long season. Not even close. But in the grand scheme of things, those were two huge outs for the Yankees. The win was part of what I was worried would be the most poorly timed winning streak in history, an 8-2 stretch following the All-Star break. Thankfully, the Yankees sold anyway. WPA of the double play: +.330.

2. Chapman vs. J.D. Martinez

Ugh, this game. It was June 2nd and the Yankees were in Detroit to play a makeup game against the Tigers. Remember that snow-out in April? This was the makeup game. The Yankees went from Toronto to Detroit to Baltimore in a three-day span.

In this game, the Tigers did something no other team did this season: they scored against Betances, Miller, and Chapman. The Yankees had a 5-1 lead thanks to their four-run seventh inning — Ellsbury’s two-run triple was the big blow — but Detroit chipped away, scoring a run against Betances in the seventh and another against Miller in the eigth. Girardi handed Chapman a 5-3 lead in the ninth.

The ninth inning did not go so well. I mean, the Yankees won, but still. In the span of 12 pitches, Chapman loaded the bases with no outs on a single (Mike Aviles), a walk (Jose Iglesias), and a single (Cameron Maybin). There was a wild pitch mixed in there too. Not great, Bob. That brought Martinez to the plate and he’s the kind of hitter who could have easily won the game with one swing.

Chapman executed pretty much a perfect pitch, a 101 mph fastball at the knees. Martinez did the only thing he could do with it, and that was beat it into the ground. Gregorius ranged to his left to start what was probably New York’s prettiest double play of the season. Check it out:

Twist-ending: that didn’t end the game! That got the first two outs of the ninth inning and a run scored to trim the lead to 5-4. The tying run also moved to third base. Chapman then picked up the save by getting Miguel Cabrera to bounce out to second base to end the game. I remember thinking the Yankees should have intentionally walked Miggy and gone after Victor Martinez. Shows what I know. WPA of the double play: +.339.

1. Betances vs. Edwin Encarnacion

This was the best game of the season that I completely forgot about. It was August 15th, and the Yankees earned a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium (!) because Chad Green struck out eleven in six innings (!!!). How did I forget that? Also, the Yankees scored the game’s only run on Aaron Judge‘s double. I feel stupid for forgetting this one.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Yankees-Blue Jays game without some serious late-game drama. Betances started the ninth inning by walking No. 9 hitter Josh Thole. Annoying! Devon Travis popped up in foul territory for the first out of the ninth inning, but Josh Donaldson followed with a ground ball single back up the middle, which put runners on the corners with one out. The tying run was a sac fly away.

The ninth inning meltdown suffered a quick death. On the very next pitch after the Donaldson single, Encarnacion hit into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play that was as pretty as it was clutch. To the very necessary video:

Heck of a play there by Headley to first stop the ball, then to make the throw to Castro at second to start the game-winning twin-killing. That was a close one. The Yankees won the game, gained some more ground in the standings, and gave us a few weeks of excitement in the second half. What a play that was. WPA of the double play: +.374.

* * *

In case you’re wondering, and I know I was, the final out of that crazy September 6th game against the Blue Jays, registered at +0.230 WPA, making it the team’s ninth biggest defensive out of the season. This was the Brett Gardner catch at the top of the left field wall. You know what I’m talking about, right? Of course you.

That felt like the biggest out of the season, because it was. WPA doesn’t factor in the context of the postseason race. The Yankees were playing maybe their best baseball of the season at that point — they’d won eight of their previous dozen games — and the win moved them to within 3.5 games back of a playoff spot. Losing that game to Toronto, one of the teams the Yankees were chasing in the wildcard race, would have been crushing. Instead, it was a win.

The Mystery that is Michael Pineda

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty

Last night the Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak thanks largely to yet another Gary Sanchez homer. His three-run blast in the seventh inning gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. It was his 17th (17th!) home run in 42 games since being called up. Pretty incredible. Without him the Yankees would not be even remotely close to a wildcard spot right now.

Before Sanchez played hero, Michael Pineda gave the team 5.1 strong innings, during which he struck out eleven and generated 19 swings and misses. Pineda also allowed two runs on five hits, and of course the big blow came with two strikes and two outs. Brad Miller’s two-run triple came on a slider too far up in the zone …

Michael Pineda Brad Miller

… which is the kind of mistake pitch Pineda has thrown all season. Going into last night’s start opponents were hitting .193/.248/.287 against Pineda with two strikes this year. That sounds really good! Except the MLB average is .176/.246/.279. That’s the average pitcher. Someone with a ferocious slider like Pineda should beat those numbers pretty easily.

Following last night’s game, Pineda is sitting on a 4.89 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 30 starts and 165.2 innings. He’s on pace to have one of the worst 200-strikeout seasons in baseball history. Seriously. Pineda has 195 strikeouts right now, and with two starts to go, he should get over 200 easily. Here’s the list of pitchers to strike out 200 batters with a 4.80+ ERA and a 3.60+ FIP:

1999 Pedro Astacio: 5.04 ERA and 4.57 FIP with 210 strikeouts
1996 Mike Mussina: 4.81 ERA and 4.04 FIP with 204 strikeouts
1986 Mark Langston: 4.85 ERA and 3.95 FIP with 245 strikeouts
1938 Bobo Newsom: 5.08 ERA and 4.53 FIP with 226 strikeouts (in 329.2 innings!)

Moose! How about that? I never would have guessed Mussina had a season like that. Anyway, those are four pretty good pitchers. Mussina was excellent and so was Langston for a long time. Newsom went to a bunch of All-Star Games back in the day. Astacio is the worst pitcher of the bunch, but hey, he played 15 years in the big leagues.

The thing is, this doesn’t feel like a blip for Pineda. That 1996 season was out of the ordinary for Mussina. Ditto 1986 for Langston. Pineda has been pitching like this since his 16-strikeout game last year. I don’t know if the 16 strikeouts have anything to do with it — did he push too hard and hurt himself or change his mechanics? — or if it’s just a coincidence, but that’s how far this goes back. This isn’t new.

Why does Pineda struggle so much despite a quality fastball/slider combination, good extension thanks to his 6-foot-7 frame, and good control? There’s no shortage of theories. The three most common:

  1. He loses focus. When a guy gets beat with two strikes and/or two outs all the time, it’s easy to think he loses focus and doesn’t execute. On the other hand, it could be he’s trying too hard and makes mistakes because he’s trying to be perfect. Point, it’s possible this is a mental thing.
  2. His command stinks. Command and control are different. Control is basic strike-throwing ability. Getting the ball over the plate. Pineda can do that. Command is dotting the corners and living out of the middle of the zone. Pineda can’t do that. He’s a classic good control/bad command pitcher.
  3. He lacks a third pitch. Pineda has a changeup. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He just rarely throws it. Pineda threw four changeups out of 98 pitches last night. He’s thrown 7.8% changeups this year. Hitters know that when push comes to shove, they’re getting a fastball or a slider. The changeup is not even on their mind.

When it comes to stuff like this, I always assume the problem is not one specific thing. Throwing twice as many changeups going forward probably won’t fix everything, you know? It’s not that easy. Chances are Pineda’s results don’t match his stuff because he doesn’t throw enough changeups and his command stinks and he loses focus and a bunch of other stuff too.

Anyway, I have no idea where I’m going with this. I was just watching Pineda last night and again wondering how a guy with those underlying skills — two pitchers in baseball have a 25+ K%, 45+ GB%, and a sub-7 BB%: Pineda and Noah Syndergaard (thanks Katie!) — can manage to be below-average at preventing runs for over 300 innings now. It’s hard to believe.

Pineda’s upcoming free agency really complicates things. The Yankees have, at most, another 32-34 starts to determine whether he should be considered part of the future. Ideally the decision would be made this offseason so the Yankees could trade Pineda if he’s not part of the future. That’s better than losing him for a draft pick, or maybe nothing. In reality, the club may want more time to evaluate him.

Two years ago when Pineda returned from shoulder surgery, he looked like someone who had a chance to pitch near the front of the rotation for a few years. He was that good in limited time in 2014. Pineda took a step back last year, and an even bigger step back this year, and that ain’t good. Not at his age and not with his stuff. Pineda is a classic enigma, and the Yankees don’t have much time left to solve this mystery. They’ll have to make a decision about his future relatively soon.

Girardi says Yankees are unlikely to send Luis Severino to winter ball

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Things have not gone according to plan for the Yankees and Luis Severino this season. Following his strong eleven-start cameo last year, Severino was expected to emerge as a mainstay in the rotation this year, if not at the front of it. Instead, the young righty struggled as starter early in the season, so much so that he had to be demoted to the Triple-A and the bullpen. Not great.

Severino, who is still only 22, has resurfaced as a reliever this month and been completely dominant. He’s made four relief appearances in September and allowed three hits and four walks in 8.1 scoreless innings. Severino has struck out nine and held batters to a .107/.219/.179 batting line. It goes without saying he’s looked far better in relief this month than he did at any point as a starter this season.

Thanks to the shift to the bullpen and an early season DL stint, Severino has thrown only 140 innings this season, well short of the 161.2 innings he threw last year. The Yankees insist they see him as a starter long-term and I believe them, but surely they were hoping to stretch his workload this year and get him up closer to 180-190 innings, putting him in position to throw 200 innings in 2017. That’s obviously not going to happen.

The Yankees have one open pitching roster spot in the Arizona Fall League but Severino is over the service time limit, so he’s not eligible. Winter ball is another option, and it would allow Severino to not only build up his workload, but also continue working on his changeup, which he’s stopped throwing in relief. It doesn’t sound like winter ball is in the plans though. From Randy Miller:

“I think he probably has the innings that we want,” Girardi said. “If we do that, there’s concern that he’ll be physically tired going into next year. That’s just my thought. Could he work on (his changeup) in maybe a couple of starts in Instructional League? Yeah, I guess. Let’s just see where we end up.”

Instructs usually run from late-September through mid-October, which means Severino will miss the first few days and hopefully much more than that because the Yankees are in the postseason. Sending him to Instructional League would be ideal because Severino would be with the team’s coaches and instructors, and under their watch. They wouldn’t have to worry about overuse or anything like that.

The concern with winter ball is that it lasts so damn long. The Dominican Summer League season begins October 15th and runs up until Christmas. Sure, the Yankees could shut Severino down earlier, but even then you’re talking about him pitching into November. In meaningless games, remember. It would be much different if he were part of a World Series pitching staff in November. Making sure Severino gets enough rest in the offseason is a priority.

As best I can tell, the Yankees kept Severino in the minors long enough this year to delay his free agency, so he’ll start next season where he started this season: six years away from free agency. Of course, that extra year of control is sorta pointless if Severino continues to struggle like he did as a starter. That said, I feel pretty confident he can be a shutdown late-inning reliever at worst. He’s shown that ability these last few weeks.

The 2016 season was a disappointment for Severino, no doubt about, and hopefully he uses it as a learning experience. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t able to build up his workload, but that is secondary to his health and overall effectiveness. If he can go to Instructs, great. If not, the upside of winter ball almost certainly doesn’t outweigh the potential downside of Severino coming to Spring Training next year at something less than 100% physically.

The Yankees are running out of starting pitching at the worst possible time

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the third time in the last five games, the Yankees’ starting pitcher failed to complete five innings last night. The Dodgers contact-bombed Bryan Mitchell — he got only three swings and misses out of 47 pitches — for eight hits and six runs (two earned) in only 2.1 innings. That came three days after Michael Pineda couldn’t finish five innings with a five-run lead and four days after CC Sabathia struggled to complete four innings.

The rotation outside Masahiro Tanaka has been a problem most of the season. The staff doesn’t have a 4.58 ERA (4.37 FIP) by accident. Not 143 games into the season. Remove Tanaka from the mix and all the other starters have a 5.04 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 626.1 innings. That’s 626.1 innings of meh. Sabathia and some others had their moments earlier this season, but, by and large, the rotation has been a liability, not a strength.

Rosters have expanded and the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers, so they have enough arms to soak up whatever innings need to be soaked up. Of course, no manager actually wants to use his September call-up relievers, at least not this often, including Joe Girardi. Every manager wants their starter to hand the ball off to their usual late-inning relievers. The Yankees haven’t been able to do that much lately, and there’s no help coming for two reasons.

1. There’s no one left to call up in Triple-A. The Yankees have more or less exhausted their rotation depth at this point. Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green getting hurt after Ivan Nova was traded really thinned out the team’s depth. Joe Girardi admitted yesterday they originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell more time in Triple-A in the wake of his toe injury, but there was a need in the rotation due to Green’s injury, so they called him up.

The next best rotation option at this point is probably Richard Bleier, or maybe Phil Coke, who has done a nice job in the Triple-A Scranton rotation of late. Dietrich Enns is bumping up against his innings limit and has already been moved to the bullpen. Adding Jordan Montgomery to the 40-man roster a year earlier than necessary so he can make something like three starts late in the season is crappy roster management. Bleier or Coke it is, and that’s not reassuring at all.

De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)

2. There’s not much of a trade market either. The Yankees and every other team can still make trades through the trade waivers process, though whoever they acquire won’t be eligible for the postseason roster. That’s fine. They goal right now is to get to the postseason, that’s it. Right now cobbling together a postseason rotation is a problem the Yankees would be happy to deal with.

What does the starting pitcher trade market look like in September? Bleak. I’m guessing the only pitchers available are impending free agents on bad teams. That means players like Jorge De La Rosa, Andrew Cashner, and Jhoulys Chacin. Normally I’d say just stick with Luis Cessa and Mitchell, but you know what? If all it costs is a fringe prospect or cash, give me one of those guys as an extra starter for the postseason push. I’d rather have him and not need him than need him and not have him, you know?

* * *

Point is, there are no impact pitchers to be found on the trade market. Not on the trade market and likely not in the farm system either. The Yankees’ very best arms are in the big leagues right now. That’s good from a “this is the best possible team they have” perspective and bad from a “this is the best possible team they have?” perspective. You know what I mean.

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, what you see if what you’re going to get with the Yankees. If they’re going to do the improbable a qualify for the playoffs, Cessa and Mitchell and late-career Sabathia and the mystery that is Pineda are going to be the guys who get them there. Like it or not, those four plus Tanaka are the five best starting pitchers in the organization at the moment.