Trade Deadline Rumors: Starter, Verlander, Alonso, Duda, Reed

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
(Duane Burleson/Getty)

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is now only eleven days away and the Yankees have already made one big move, acquiring Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox. I get the feeling they’re not done. That doesn’t necessarily mean a blockbuster is coming, but I don’t think the Yankees are going to stop here. Anyway, here’s the latest from the trade rumor circuit.

Yankees still looking for a starter

Not surprisingly, the Yankees are still looking for rotation help, reports Ken Rosenthal. They’re casting a wide net. Controllable guys and rentals. They’re all in play. Michael Pineda is out for the season and I don’t think the Yankees want to continue running Bryan Mitchell or Luis Cessa out there every fifth day. You don’t go out and make that trade with the White Sox only to skimp on the rotation, you know?

“I’m going to stay engaged. We are going to remain careful buyers. We want to maximize our present while protecting (our) future,” said Cashman to Meredith Marakovits following the White Sox trade. Unless the Yankees budge on their unwillingness to trade close to MLB prospects, it’s hard to think they’ll land a high-end controllable starter. And that’s okay. They could really use one of those guys, but I am totally cool with keeping the top position player prospects. Build around bats. Even after trades and graduations, the Yankees still have plenty of depth in the farm system to land a useful starter.

“No indication” Yankees are after Verlander

There is “no indication” the Yankees are after (former?) Tigers ace Justin Verlander, reports Jon Morosi. Detroit is very bad this season (43-50) and there’s been plenty of talk they will sell at the trade deadline. Verlander, 34, has a 4.54 ERA (4.25 FIP) in 20 starts and 117 innings this season, though just last year he was the runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting thanks to a 3.04 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 227.2 innings.

Including the remainder of his $28M salary this year, Verlander is still owed roughly $70M through 2019, and his contract includes a $22M vesting option for 2020 based on Cy Young voting. Morosi says the Tigers are willing to eat some money to facilitate a trade, but how much? I doubt it’ll be a ton. I feel like there’s way too much downside here. Verlander was great just last season, sure, but he’s entering his mid-30s and has a ton of innings on his arm. Trading for mid-30s past prime Verlander feels like an old Yankees move.

Yankees talked Alonso, Duda, Reed, Neshek

Before the trade with the ChiSox, the Yankees were talking to the Athletics about Yonder Alonso, and to the Mets about Lucas Duda and Addison Reed, report Morosi and Mark Feinsand. They were also in the mix for Pat Neshek, per Rosenthal. I suppose the Yankees could still go after Reed or Neshek because there is no such thing as too many good relievers, but it seems very unlikely with Robertson and Kahnle on board. Alonso and Duda? There’s no need for those guys now. Not unless someone gets hurt.

With Greg Bird out for most of the rest of the season, it only made sense for the Yankees to explore the first base trade market. Ji-Man Choi and Garrett Cooper had some success this month, though Cashman wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t looking for upgrades. One thing to keep in mind: the Yankees were pretty much the only team with a need at first base (or DH). There was plenty of supply (Alonso, Duda, Matt Adams, Justin Bour, etc.) but very limited demand, so they were able to let the market come to them, then take the most favorable terms.

Reed. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)
Reed. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)

A’s scouting Low-A Charleston

In a crazy coincidence (nope), the A’s have had a top scout watching Low-A Charleston recently, according to Rosenthal. There’s no need for Alonso now. Sonny Gray is still out there though. With Blake Rutherford traded, the best prospect on Charleston’s roster is outfielder Estevan Florial by a mile. Others of note include catcher Donny Sands, infielders Diego Castillo and Hoy Jun Park, and righties Nick Nelson, Freicer Perez, and Nick Green.

Unlike the White Sox trade, I have a hard time believing the Yankees could swing a deal for Gray using a Single-A kid as the center piece. Gray is too in demand for the A’s to take someone that far away from the big leagues as the headliner in a trade. Oakland can and will insist for a closer to MLB prospect and the Yankees will probably decline. That said, the A’s have made some weird trades lately, and if the Yankees can get a deal done for Gray with a Low-A kid fronting the package, they should jump all over it. Prospects that far down in the system aren’t close to helping at the MLB level and they’re so risky because they still have so much development left ahead of them.

Yankees were “in strong” for Quintana

Before he was traded to the Cubs, the Yankees were “in strong” for lefty Jose Quintana, according to Feinsand. “They were quietly deep in it,” said one executive. Rosenthal hears the Yankees did make an offer for Quintana, and Cashman told Brendan Kuty the White Sox asked the Yankees for players similar to the ones they received from the Cubs. So I guess that means an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres?), a very good pitching prospect (Chance Adams? Justus Sheffield?), plus two lesser pieces.

It was reported following the White Sox trade that the Yankees offered Rutherford to Chicago for Quintana, though the rest of the package is unknown. If Rutherford was the headliner, then it’s easy to understand why the ChiSox passed and went with the Cubs’ package. I think the Yankees were willing to give up a really nice package to get Quintana, but even then they would set a limit and not increase their offer. I guess that’s why Quintana is a Cub now. For shame. He really would have been a nice get from a pure “he’s a good pitcher” perspective.

Yankees acquire Frazier, Robertson, Kahnle from White Sox

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Any question about whether the Yankees would be buyers or sellers has been answered. Tuesday night the Yankees swung their largest trade deadline deal in several years, finalizing a seven-player trade with the White Sox that brings Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson to New York. Tyler Clippard, Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo are going the other way. Both teams have announced the trade. It’s a done deal. Officially official.

“Those are all guys who can help us accomplish what we’re trying to,” said Brett Gardner, who texted Robertson after the trade, to Bryan Hoch following Tuesday’s game. The Yankees are assuming the remainder of Robertson’s contract, which isn’t bad by any means. He’s owed the balance of his $12M salary this year plus $13M next year. Frazier is a rental and Kahnle will remain under team control through 2020 as an arbitration-eligible player.

Frazier, 31, is hitting .207/.328/.432 (103 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 81 games this season, and while that doesn’t sound exciting, it’s a massive upgrade over what the Yankees have been getting from first base this year. Joe Girardi confirmed Frazier will play both first and third bases, and I’m sure he’ll be in the lineup everyday. Also, Frazier is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s great with young players and in general. The Yankees value that.

Robertson and Kahnle will help a bullpen that has been way too shaky this season. Kahnle, 27, was originally selected in the fifth round by the Yankees in the 2010 draft. They lost him to the Rockies in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft and he eventually made his way to the White Sox. Kahnle has been unreal this season. Dude has a 2.50 ERA (1.47 FIP) with 42.6% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 36 innings. He’s been better than Robertson.

The 32-year-old Robertson has a 2.70 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 33.1 innings with 35.6% strikeouts and 8.3% walks, so typical David Robertson stuff. Welcome home, D-Rob. He and Kahnle are going to give the bullpen a huge shot in the arm. The Yankees are — and this isn’t hyperbole — replacing one of the worst relievers in baseball this season (Clippard) with one of the best (Kahnle). And then getting Robertson on top of that.

The big piece going to the White Sox in the trade is Rutherford, New York’s first round pick in last year’s draft. The 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .281/.342/.391 (112 wRC+) with two home runs in 71 Low Class-A games this season. That’s pretty good for a 20-year-old kid in full season ball, though maybe not quite what everyone hoped coming into the season. Either way, Rutherford remains an excellent prospect.

Polo and Clarkin, both 22, are decent prospects and nothing more at this point. Clarkin was one of the Yankees’ three first round picks in 2013, so once upon a time he was a pretty big deal, but he hasn’t really been the same since missing the entire 2015 season with an elbow issue. Polo came over from the Pirates in last year’s Ivan Nova trade and projects as a fourth outfielder. He’s very likely to play in MLB at some point.

Clippard was thrown into the trade as a way to offset some salary, and also clear a 40-man roster spot. (The Yankees still have to clear two more 40-man spots.) Clippard started the season in the Circle of Trust™, but he’s been getting bombed the last few weeks, forcing the Yankees to use him in lower leverage spots whenever possible. He has a 4.95 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 36.1 innings this year. Yuck. Addition by subtraction.

Now that it’s crystal clear the Yankees are going to add pieces at the trade deadline, they figure to buckle down and look for a starting pitcher. Michael Pineda is done for the season and running guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa out there every fifth day isn’t a good idea. I don’t think the Yankees will trade top prospects for a someone like Sonny Gray, necessarily, but I do expect them to search around for a veteran innings guy.

Scouting the Trade Market: Jaime Garcia

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

The trade deadline is roughly a week and a half away now, and already the big pitching trade candidate has been moved. Jose Quintana is a Chicago Cub and the focus has now turned to Sonny Gray. There are plenty of other pitchers on the market too. None have the track record of Quintana or the upside of Gray, but there are pitchers out there ready to be dealt.

Among them is Braves southpaw Jaime Garcia, an impending free agent having an okay season (4.33 ERA and 4.25 FIP in 106 innings). The Braves are not absolutely miserable this season — they came into today 45-46 with a -35 run differential — though they are still rebuilding, and a free agent-to-be like Garcia is a prime piece of trade bait. Does he make any sense for the Yankees? Let’s break it down.

Current Stuff

The just turned 31-year-old Garcia is pitching like his usual self this season in that he’s getting a ton of ground balls (54.7%) and an average-ish number of strikeouts (18.2%). His walk rate (9.0%) is a tad high, though remove the intentional walks and it’s a more manageable 8.1%. That’s right in line with last season (7.7%). Garcia wasn’t very good last year (4.67 ERA and 4.49 FIP) but he was great the year before (2.43 ERA and 3.00 FIP).

Generally speaking, Garcia is a true five-pitch pitcher with two low-90s fastballs (four-seamer and sinker). His go-to secondary pitch is a fading low-to-mid-80s changeup. He also throws a low-80s slider and a loopy mid-70s curveball. The curveball is his least used pitch at 6.4% this year. Garcia throws everything else at least 11% of the time. Here’s some video:

There really has been very little change in Garcia’s stuff since Opening Day 2015. He’s averaging 91.5 mph and topping out at 94.3 mph with his fastballs, he’s throwing the same number of breaking balls and changeups, and his grounder and swing and miss rates are all holding steady. That’s good. Garcia has been same guy for three years now. His performance has fluctuated wildly, though that’s more location relation than stuff related.

Injury History

Garcia’s injury history is very ugly. He’s had Tommy John surgery (September 2008), rotator cuff surgery (May 2013), and surgery to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (July 2014) among all sorts of other nagging issues. Garcia threw only 220.2 innings total from 2012-14 while with the Cardinals. (Weirdly, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak ripped Garcia in 2014 for having his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery.)

The injury history is very scary but, to Garcia’s credit, he has been completely healthy since returning from the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in May 2015. He hasn’t missed a start since. That said, the best predictor of future injury is past injury, and Garcia has had several major arm problems and major arm surgeries in his career. Every pitcher is an injury risk. Garcia is much riskier than most given his injury history.

What Would It Take?

Garcia is a rental and I suppose the Braves could argue he’s a qualifying offer candidate likely to sign a free agent contract in excess of $50M, meaning they want something back equal or greater to the supplemental first round pick they would receive in the offseason. That seems like a real stretch though given his performance and injury history.

Mark Feinsand says a dozen teams have expressed interest in Garcia and that doesn’t surprise me. Pitching is always in demand and Garcia is solid enough despite the injury risk. Ground ball lefties are always a hot commodity. Here are some rental veteran starters who have been traded in recent years:

  • Ivan Nova: Traded for two top 20-30 organizational prospects (Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley).
  • J.A. Happ: Traded for a top 15 organizational prospect (Adrian Sampson).
  • Dan Haren: Traded for two non-top 30 organizational prospects (Elliot Soto and Ivan Pineyro).
  • Mike Leake: Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Keury Mella) and a young big leaguer (Adam Duvall).
  • Scott Kazmir: Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Jacob Nottingham) and an organizational top 20-30 prospect (Daniel Mengden).

The Braves will presumably push for a Leake/Kazmir package while interested teams counter with a Haren package. Leake had a much longer track record of being a league average innings eater. Kazmir had an ugly injury history like Garcia, but also a much better recent performance. Nova and Happ were having terrible seasons at the time of their trades, and Haren was a veteran guy at the end of the line.

The Kazmir trade feels like the best benchmark to me even though he was lights out with the Athletics (2.38 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 109.2 innings) before being traded to the Astros. Kazmir was an injury risk then like Garcia is now, and both offered the potential for above-average performance. And maybe the Kazmir trade is a reason to stay away from Garcia. Kazmir had a 2.38 ERA (3.16 FIP) before the trade and a 4.17 ERA (5.19 FIP) after the trade.

Anyway, using the Kazmir trade as a benchmark, we’re talking about a top 10 and a top 30 prospect for Garcia. Not all farm systems are created equal, however. A top ten prospect in the Yankees system is at worst a borderline top 100 guy. The Astros had a very strong farm system at the time of the Kazmir trade, though it wasn’t as good as New York’s is now. A Yankees equivalent to Nottingham and Mengden is something like Billy McKinney and Ian Clarkin.

As unexciting as Garcia may be, I think there will be enough competition for him that the price gets driven up and the Braves wind up acquiring two pretty nice prospects for him. The Yankees have a lot of nice prospects. So many that they’re probably going to end up losing some for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft and on waivers through various other 40-man roster moves in the offseason. Turning some of those guys into a rental starter like Garcia seems worthwhile.

Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?

(Daniel Shirey/Getty)
(Daniel Shirey/Getty)

The Yankees have needed another starter pretty much all season even though there was really no way to squeeze another starter into the rotation. Michael Pineda‘s injury takes care of that. There’s an opening in the rotation and Garcia would a fine — albeit unexciting — stopgap. Ground ball heavy lefties will always have a place on the Yankees pitching staff thanks to the Yankee Stadium short porch.

The question is are the Yankees open to trading prospects for a rental when they’re slipping out of the race, or would they rather stick in-house with the kids? Bryan Mitchell started last night and Luis Cessa starts tonight. Brian Cashman said Chance Adams could get a shot at some point too. The thing is, those kids have workload limits, and pitching is one of those things you’d rather have too much of than not enough.

There’s also this: Garcia would be auditioning for a rotation spot next year. Aside from Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, the Yankees have no idea what next season’s starting rotation will look like, and Garcia is one of those lower cost free agents they could target to fill out the rotation and stay under the luxury tax threshold. The trade would give the Yankees and their staff a chance to evaluate him up close. That’s not nothing.

For me, Garcia makes perfect sense for the Yankees. He shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire, he wouldn’t tie up long-term roster or payroll space, and there’s at least a chance at excellence. You probably won’t get it, but Garcia has had some very good seasons in his career. In a 12-start sample, who knows what’ll happen? If the Yankees are going to go after a rental starter rather than a long-term piece like Sonny Gray, Garcia may be the best option.

The Yankees are reportedly in on David Robertson again, and Todd Frazier too

Frazier. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Frazier. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is two weeks from today and already things are starting to heat up. Jose Quintana went to the Cubs last week, and yesterday the Nationals addressed their bullpen issues by acquiring Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the Athletics. The draft is in the rear-view mirror and the All-Star break is over. Teams are getting serious about fixing their roster problems.

According to Jon Heyman the Yankees had scouts in Chicago over the weekend and they’re believed to have some interest in White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier and closer David Robertson. Apparently the Yankees are focused more on Robertson than Frazier at the moment. Heyman says the Red Sox also had a scout on hand and are after both players as well. Hmmm. Anyway, let’s talk this rumor out.

1. Does it pass the sniff test? Yeah, for sure. I always start here because there’s so much nonsense out there that it’s worth taking a step back to figure out what’s real and what’s a stretch, but this one definitely makes sense. The Yankees are said to be looking for a third basemanChase Headley has picked it up at the plate the last few weeks, but still — plus Frazier can also play first base as well. That position has been a black hole all season. Robertson? The Yankees need all the bullpen help they can get, this weekend’s performance in Boston notwithstanding.

2. Frazier would be an upgrade, though maybe not a big one. I get the sense many folks consider Frazier a near star caliber player and big time slugger. He’s good, but he’s not that. Not close, really. He’s hitting .207/.328/.432 (108 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 81 games this season. That’s good. It’s not great and it’s not awful. That’s more or less what the Yankees hoped to get from Chris Carter, right?

Now, that said, Headley is hitting .258/.342/.369 (92 wRC+) overall this season, and first base has been so bad that eight different players have started at the position. The Yankees are at the point that they’re scouring Triple-A for guys like Garrett Cooper. That’s never good. Frazier has played 94 games and 740.1 innings at first base in his career, including four games this year. He’s familiar with the position and the Yankees could stick him over there.

The 31-year-old Frazier is a semi-local kid from Point Pleasant, plus he’s a pure rental who will be a free agent after the season, so he shouldn’t cost a ton of acquire. Would he be an upgrade? Yeah, he would, especially at first base despite being a flawed low-average hitter. Is it worth paying a big price to get him? I don’t think so. Not with other first baseman like Lucas Duda, Yonder Alonso, and Justin Bour out there and able to provide more thump.

Robertson. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Robertson. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

3. This isn’t the first time the Yankees have had interest in bringing Robertson back. The Yankees have tried to bring Robertson back to New York several times since letting him leave as a free agent three years ago. They claimed him on trade waivers in August 2015 and you don’t do that unless you’re willing to take on the contract. The Yankees also spoke to the White Sox about Robertson this past offseason.

The 32-year-old Robertson has been dynamite this season, throwing 33.1 innings with a 2.70 ERA (3.05 FIP). Tons of strikeouts (35.6%) and not an unmanageable number of walks (8.3%). Typical Robertson. He’ll make you sweat at times but he gets the job done more often than not. Every bullpen in baseball has room for this guy. He’s an upgrade for everyone, including the Yankees, who could use a Seventh Inning Guy™.

The White Sox and Nationals reportedly agreed to a Robertson trade back during Spring Training, so he’s definitely available. That deal fell apart because the two sides couldn’t agree on the financials. From Bob Nightengale:

The White Sox are shopping him, the Nationals need him, and they nearly completed a deal for him before spring training. The Nationals, according to executives with direct knowledge of the deal, were to send 19-year-old left-hander Jesus Luzardo and minor league infielder Drew Ward to the White Sox for Robertson, with the White Sox eating about half of the $25 million remaining in his contract. But the deal got hung up over money.

Luzardo went to the A’s in yesterday’s Doolittle/Madson trade. The Yankees equivalent to Luzardo and Ward would be something like Domingo Acevedo and Billy McKinney. The high-upside starter and promising bat with some production issues. It’s not a perfect equivalent but it’s in the ballpark. We’re not talking Justus Sheffield and Gleyber Torres here. Two good, not great, prospects.

The Yankees are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold next season and Robertson, who is making $12M this year and $13M next year, would make that more difficult. Then again, if the White Sox eat half the money as they reportedly agreed to do with the Nationals earlier this year, it would be much more tolerable. A pro-rated $6M Robertson this year and a $6.5M Robertson next year is pretty good. That’s Tyler Clippard money. Geez, now I got myself all excited.

4. Are the Yankees just trying to drive up the price for the Red Sox? It would not be the first time the Yankees have done this. Most notably, Brian Cashman wined and dined Carl Crawford during the 2010 Winter Meetings just to make the Red Sox sweat. Crawford was cool with it because it put more money in his pocket. The White Sox would be thrilled to pit the Yankees against the Red Sox in a Frazier/Robertson bidding war, even a phony one.

My guess is the Yankees have limited interest in Frazier because they’re hoping to get Greg Bird back and don’t consider Frazier a big enough of an upgrade on Headley to justify trading prospects for a rental. I do think their interest in Robertson is real and they want to bring him back. They’ve tried too many times the last few years for me to believe they’re just driving up the price for Boston. Robertson is still very good, he addresses a need, and he already knows the ropes around here. That’s pretty big.

* * *

Cashman recently said the Yankees will be “careful buyers” at the trade deadline and do believe they will be very protective of their top prospects. I don’t think it’s lip service. Does that mean someone like, say, Clint Frazier will be completely off limits? Nah. They’d make him available in the right deal. They’d be stupid not to. Frazier and/or Robertson is not that deal though. Those are guys the Yankees could acquire using that army of mid-range prospects they have in the farm system.

Saturday Links: Bour, Trade Value, Conlon, Rasmussen

Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Later today the Yankees and Red Sox will continue their four games in three days series with the second game at Fenway Park. That’s a 4pm ET start. Until then, here are some links to check out.

Bour trade talks only “cursory”

According to Buster Olney, trade talks between the Yankees and Marlins about first baseman Justin Bour have only been “cursory, non-specific.” Olney says the Marlins have let teams know they’re open for business while Jon Heyman reports the club has no intention to trade its affordable core players. That sounds like posturing to me. They’re willing to trade them but say they won’t in an effort to build some leverage.

Bour, 29, is hitting .289/.367/.556 (136 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 77 games this season, plus he’s under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. He put on quite a show in the Home Run Derby before getting knocked out by Aaron Judge. On one hand, Bour would be an enormous first base upgrade for the Yankees, and he’d provide a DH option going forward should Greg Bird ever get healthy. On the other hand, something about trading prospects for a 29-year-old late bloomer at the bottom of the defensive spectrum doesn’t sit well with me.

Three Yankees make FanGraphs’ trade value series

Over the last week Dave Cameron has posted his annual trade value series, in which he ranks the top 50 players in baseball by trade value. It’s not just about performance. It’s about performance and years of team control, things like that. Bryce Harper is obviously excellent, though he doesn’t make the top 50 because he’ll be a free agent after next season. Anyway, three Yankees make the top 50, and they’re the young cornerstones of the franchise.

6. Aaron Judge
12. Gary Sanchez
35. Luis Severino

Judge is behind Carlos Correa, Mike Trout, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor in that order. I have no problems with that. Judge is awesome and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season, though he’s only been this for half-a-season. Those other guys have done it for a full season, at least. Sanchez is the highest ranked catcher and Severino is the 12th ranked pitcher, which is pretty great. Last year there were no Yankees in the trade value series. Now there are three, including two in the top 12.

O’s fourth rounder now a free agent

Jack Conlon, a fourth round pick by the Orioles in this year’s draft, is now an unrestricted free agent, according to both Jim Callis and Hudson Belinsky. The O’s saw something they didn’t like in Conlon’s physical and declined to sign him. They didn’t even make him the minimum offer (40% of his slot value), which is why he’s now a free agent. MLB.com ranked the Texas high school right-hander as the 175th best prospect in the draft class. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Conlon can pitch at 92-95 mph with life on his fastball and back it up with an 81-84 mph slider on days when his mechanics are in sync. His changeup lags behind his other two pitches, though it has some fade and he shows some feel for it. He has a classic pitcher’s build at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds that bodes well for his durability. Conlon lacks consistency, however, because he has a rough delivery with effort and a head whack.

There haven’t been any reports connecting Conlon to the Yankees (or any other team), and they might never come. This might be one of those situations where we skip straight to the signing announcement. I’m certain the Yankees will look into signing Conlon because hey, it’s not often you can pick up a decent pitching prospect for nothing but cash, though the failed physical is an issue. The Orioles are notoriously tough with their physicals, so maybe it’s nothing. Then again, it could be a serious arm problem, so much so that spending money on him isn’t worth the increased risk.

Also, I should note the Rays did not sign Oregon State right-hander Drew Rasmussen, the 31st selection in this year’s draft, also because something popped up in his physical. There are conflicting reports out there about his current status. Some say he’s a free agent because the Rays didn’t make the minimum offer while others say the Rays did make the minimum offer, and Rasmussen will return to school for his senior season rather than become a free agent. Who knows.

2017 Second Half Preview: Recalibrating expectations for the Yankees (and Aaron Judge)

Be still my heart. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Be still my heart. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The All-Star break is official over and the Yankees return to work tonight with the first of four against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. They’re playing four games in three days thanks to a doubleheader on Sunday. The second half ended miserably for the Yankees and they will have to turn it around really quickly — as in tonight — to avoid getting buried in the standings.

The Yankees are currently 45-41 with a +98 run differential. Believe it or not, that’s the fourth best record and second best run differential in the AL. They are currently 3.5 games back of the Red Sox in the AL East and essentially tied with the Rays for the two wildcard spots. The Twins are one game back. We’ve spent the last few days reviewing the first half. Now it’s time to preview the second half. Come with me, won’t you?

Schedule Breakdown

Between rainouts and off-days and all that, the Yankees have only played 86 games this year, tied with the Mets for the fewest in baseball. That’s good because it gives them games on hand against their competitors — the Rays have played 90 games, for example — and bad because they have to squeeze in more games in the second half, which means fewer off-days and tired bodies. Here’s a real quick schedule breakout:

  • Home games remaining: 38
  • Road games remaining: 38
  • AL East games remaining: 36 (14 vs. Red Sox, 10 vs. Rays, six vs. Orioles, six vs. Blue Jays)
  • Interleague games remaining: 6 (two vs. Reds at Yankees Stadium, four vs. Mets home-and-home)

The Yankees close out the season with three games at home against the Blue Jays, who figure to be well out of the race and in “let’s get the season over with and go home” mode. Their second to last series is a three-gamer against the Rays at home. That has the potential to be pretty damn big given the current standings. The Yankees also play the Royals (one makeup game) and Twins (three games) within the final two weeks of the season and those teams could be in the wild card race too.

Can Judge Keep This Up?

The question on everyone’s mind. Can Aaron Judge keep this up? The guy is hitting .329/.448/.691 (197 wRC+) this season and no one does that. And the guys who do it don’t strike out 29.8% of the time. Judge is also rocking a .429 BABIP. That won’t last, right? Common sense says no. Exit velocity says why the hell not?

  1. Aaron Judge: 97.2 mph average exit velocity
  2. Miguel Sano: 94.9 mph

The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 19. Judge hits the ball harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and that’s not hyperbole. Judge is a never before seen combination of hitting ability, athleticism, and brute strength. “He’s so quiet and simple that he looks like a contact hitter trapped in an ogre’s body,” said Charlie Blackmon to Bryan Hoch after the Home Run Derby.

Judge had a 201 OPS+ in the first half — OPS+ and wRC+ are essentially the same thing, the player’s overall offensive value, but they’re calculated differently — which is insane. Here are the last seven players to post a 200 OPS+ or better in the first half — that takes us back to the sicko Barry Bonds years — and what they did in the second half:

First Half Second Half Final Line
2015 Bryce Harper .339/.464/.704 (226 OPS+) .320/.457/.586 (184 OPS+) .330/.460/.649 (198 OPS+)
2013 Miguel Cabrera .365/.458/.674 (213 OPS+) .316/.411/.565 (174 OPS+) .348/.442/.636 (190 OPS+)
2013 Chris Davis .315/.392/.717 (202 OPS+) .245/.339/.515 (138 OPS+) .286/.370/.634 (168 OPS+)
2012 Joey Votto .348/.471/.617 (200 OPS+) .299/.483/.402 (151 OPS+) .337/.474/.567 (177 OPS+)
2011 Jose Bautista .334/.468/.702 (226 OPS+) .257/.419/.477 (147 OPS+) .302/.447/.608 (182 OPS+)
2009 Albert Pujols .332/.456/.723 (211 OPS+) .332/.427/.582 (167 OPS+) .327/.443/.658 (189 OPS+)
2005 Derrek Lee .378/.452/.733 (211 OPS+) .287/.380/.581 (155 OPS+) .335/.418/.662 (174 OPS+)

A few things about this. One, all seven of those players saw their performance slip in the second half. Harper came the closest to repeating a 200 OPS+ in the second half and he was 16 OPS+ points away. Two, all seven of those players were outrageously good in the second half. Their performance slipped, but they were still monsters. Hooray for starting with such a high baseline.

And three, most of the second half decline is tied up in power. Aside from Davis, the second half AVG and OBP numbers are good. The power numbers are really good too, but they are down. Not one of those players slugged .600 in the second half. No one even slugged .590. Cabrera lost 60 ISO points in the second half and that’s the smallest decline among those seven players. On average, those players lost 115 ISO points (!) in the second half. Holy moly.

Intuitively, this makes perfect sense. It’s a long season and players get worn down, so fatigue is a factor. They’re not as strong in August and September as they are in April and May. Perhaps fatigue won’t be as much of a problem for Judge because he’s so damn big and strong. Then again, Harper and Davis and Lee are built like tanks and they slipped in the second half. It’s a long season and it takes a toll on the body. That’s baseball.

In all likelihood, no, Judge will maintain this pace all season. That doesn’t mean he’ll revert back to being the 2016 Aaron Judge either. I expect him to continue drawing a ton of walks — his 61 walks are third behind Matt Carpenter (63) and Votto (62) — and remain one of the top offensive forces in baseball even with the AVG and power numbers slipping a bit. Judge has an elite approach and knows how to make adjustments. I’m confident a second half collapse is not coming.

What About Innings Limits?

I wrote about this a week or two ago, so we don’t have to dwell on it too long. The Yankees, like every other team, has a workload limit in mind for their young starters. And they’re more sophisticated than simple innings limits. They monitor stressful pitches and easy pitches, things like that. The Yankees want to keep their top young pitchers healthy and productive, so they’re going to protect their arms. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery are the big names here because they’re in the big league rotation and pretty darn important to the team. Don’t sleep on Chance Adams though. His workload limit could come into play.

The Trade Deadline Is Looming

Future Yankee? (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Future Yankee? (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The July 31st trade deadline is now two weeks and three days away. Jose Quintana has already been traded. Brian Cashman likes to say the Yankees will declare themselves contenders or pretenders, and this team is somewhere right in the middle now. They were no doubt contenders earlier this year. Then they lost 18 of their last 25 games and are fading back into pretender status.

These next two weeks and change will determine how the Yankees act at the trade deadline. If they get hot between now and then, they could look to add some more established pieces. If they continue to slump, they could look to shed some veterans. And they could always do a little of both. Move out a veteran or two while adding a piece for now and the future. It’s not selling. It’s buying for the future.

My guess is the Yankees will end up doing a little of both. I believe Michael Pineda is most likely to get traded because a) he’ll be a free agent after the season, b) he’s not a qualifying offer candidate, and c) he’s not exactly irreplaceable. Matt Holliday is an impending free agent too, but he contributes a lot more on the field and all the young players rave about him in the clubhouse. Judge especially. That’s not nothing.

As for adding pieces, I think Cashman will employ a similar strategy to 2014, when he acquired small upgrades (Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Martin Prado) at basically no cost. Nothing the Yankees miss, anyway. I don’t foresee the Yankees making a trade that costs them a significant prospect. Unlike last year, when it clear the Yankees should sell, things are a little more up in the air this year.

What Qualifies As A Successful Season?

The definition of success varies for each team. For a very long time, success for the Yankees was defined by a World Series championship. Did the Yankees win the World Series? If yes, it was a successful season. If not, it was a failure. Many still think like that, though things have very clearly changed. The Yankees took a step back last season and are now focused on getting younger. Getting younger and contending don’t always mix well.

This year the Yankees got off to such an great start that expectations were raised. I know mine where. I don’t know about you. The offense was putting up a ton of runs and the pitching staff was surprisingly strong. How could you not get excited? The Yankees have crashed hard these last few weeks though, which has been disappointing. It’s been disappointing because they got off to that great start, a great start they haven’t been able to sustain.

For me, a successful season first and foremost will be defined by the young players. Are the young players reaching the big leagues and thriving? So far the answer is a resounding yes. Judge is awesome, Severino is awesome, Gary Sanchez is awesome, Clint Frazier is now doing big things … it’s exciting! And that’s most important. The Yankees are trying to get younger and those young players are taking over. This recent collapse is on the veterans. Not the kids.

At the same time, I will absolutely be disappointed with another postseason-less year, especially after that great start. It’s possible to be excited about the young players and bummed out the Yankees aren’t playing in October again. That’s normal. We all watch because we want the Yankees to win. It’s very clear right now the Yankees are a team on the rise because of the young players. That doesn’t mean winning in the short-term has to take a back seat.

Scouting the Trade Market: Tommy Joseph

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

If the Yankees are going to be buyers at the deadline, they’re more likely to go for a temporary replacement at first base rather than a long-term solution. Despite comments from an anonymous person in the front office, there’s still belief that Greg Bird can be the first baseman of the future.

Assuming the Yankees go that route, Domenic covered the options pretty well already. However, I’d like to throw out a name of a player that’s under long-term control and could fill the short-term need as well.

Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph is in just his second MLB season and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020. This isn’t a rental. But with first base prospect Rhys Hoskins knocking on the door of the major leagues, the team has made Joseph available.

Does he fit the Yankees? Let’s take a look:

Current performance

Joseph has been in the major leagues for nearly a year and a half now. He was called up last May. Initially, he was primarily a platoon bat alongside Ryan Howard. However, his early power earned him everyday playing time last summer before Howard surged in the second half.

This year, he has been the starting first baseman all season. He put together an abominable April (.179/.222./.254 in 19 games) before killing the ball in May to the tune of a .300/.373/.600 line with seven home runs. He’s hit well since then. In total, he’s hit .252/.313/.466 (102 wRC+), below the average first baseman’s line. Still, it’s better than anything out of a Yankees’ first baseman this season. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .273/.339/.529 (125 wRC+) since May 1.

Diving further into his stats, Joseph has one significant tool: Power. 32 of his 74 hits have gone for extra bases, including 15 home runs. He hit 21 home runs in just 347 plate appearances last year. That power has been his calling card at every level. Through 670 MLB PAs, he has 36 home runs and 31 doubles to go with a .233 ISO.

He struggles to command the strike zone. His walk rate is up from 6.3 to 7.7 percent this year, but his strikeout rate also climbed from 21.6 to 23.5. Hoskins, who will likely take his job soon, has drawn plenty of walks in the minors, which Joseph never did.

Joseph, who turns 26 on July 16, was drafted by the Giants as a catcher, but concussions moved him out from behind the plate. He’s a well below-average first baseman. Better than Howard, but not by much. He makes the routine plays better than Chris Carter but his lack of range limits his ability to make any tough plays.

He’s also a negative on the base paths. His 25.7 ft/s sprint speed according to Statcast would make him the slowest player on the Yankees and he’s tied for third in baseball in double plays grounded into with 15, just two behind teammate Maikel Franco and Matt Kemp for first place. He often pulls the ball on the ground, though he hits the ball to all fields in the air. He’s still primarily a pull hitter, as you’ll see below.

(Baseball Savant)
(Baseball Savant)

He’s produced 0.2 bWAR (0.0 fWAR) this year after 0.5 bWAR (0.9fWAR) as part-time player last year. The Phillies have the third worst bWAR at first base, only one spot ahead of Yankees. That’s largely because of Joseph’s fielding and nearly zero production from the Phillies’ backups.

Contract and injury situation

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Joseph is very cheap when it comes to first base options on the market. He won’t be a free agent until 2023 and won’t make above the minimum until 2020. He’s been barely above replacement level thus far, but his contract gives him value, especially for a team that has received below replacement value at first this year. He still has options left as well.

As for injuries, Joseph has had a clean bill of health in the majors. His concussions issues have subsided in the last two years and that led to his resurgence as a prospect and, ultimately, his call-up to the majors. He’s been able to handle first base consistently without breaking down this season.

While he’s under control, the Phillies aren’t in a spot to demand much. Most teams don’t have a need for a no-glove first baseman with some power as most teams already have someone who at least fits that. The Yankees are one of a few teams that have an opening and could make sense.

Teams also know that the Phillies need to dispatch Joseph to give Hoskins an opportunity in the majors. Neither has the range to play the outfield and they’re both RHBs, so one has to go. Acquiring him shouldn’t cost too much more than a secondary or tertiary prospect or so.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Joseph would be an immediate improvement for the Yankees at first in the lineup, adding some power towards the end of the lineup. Realistically, he could do what Carter was expected to do. He’d make sense in a platoon with Ji-Man Choi for the time being as Joseph was solid in that role last season.

If you’re going to acquire a first baseman with this much control, you need to be certain that he fits into your long-term plans. And it doesn’t seem like he fits in New York beyond this season. In the case Bird comes back healthy, Joseph becomes a platoon bat at best. Expendable or optionable like he is for the Phillies at worst. If Bird isn’t healthy, the Yankees would likely acquire a veteran free agent to start in his place.

Joseph could be a serviceable placeholder with the requisite power to play first. The 25-year-old is not someone to acquire for significant assets, but he’s a useful depth piece in the short term. If the Yankees are intrigued by Pat Neshek, a package deal could work. Ultimately though, it’s tough to see where Joseph gets playing time beyond 2017 in New York.