Archive for Musings

Jun
26

Thoughts on Thursday’s off-day

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(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees won the series finale against the Blue Jays last night and now sit only 2.5 games back of first place in the AL East. They were 4.5 games back at the start of that hugely important nine-game stretch against the Jays and Orioles, so they did make up some ground in the standings. Apparently the Yankees did not get home until early this morning because their flight out of Toronto was delayed due to bad weather, so good thing they have the day off. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

1. It’s pretty obvious the Yankees need help to seriously contend for a playoff spot, right? I think we can all acknowledge that. They are still right in the mix of the playoff hunt, but they need help and they need help soon. They can’t wait around for CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda to get healthy. Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have had almost half the season to get going at the plate and it’s just not happening. At some point the Yankees need to act and that time is rapidly approaching. Making a move now to boost the offense and rotation probably means having to overpay, but that’s life. The Yankees dug this hole for themselves and aren’t in a position to show patience to get the best possible value, not unless they want to hurt their chances to contend. They acted quickly to sign Jacoby Ellsbury after determining Robinson Cano wasn’t coming back and they had no problem tacking that third year onto Beltran’s contract. Trading for a pitcher now rather than at the deadline means four or five fewer starts of Vidal Nuno. Getting an infielder now means about 120 fewer plate appearances from the three-headed Brian Roberts/Yangervis Solarte/Kelly Johnson monster. Something has to happen and soon.

2. Like last season, the Yankees have remained in the postseason race improbably. They own a 40-37 record despite a -34 run differential, a run differential that suggests they should really have a 35-42 record. Last season the team managed an 85-77 record despite a -21 run differential (79-83 pythag. record). So, since the start of the 2013 season, the Yankees have won eleven more games than expected based on how many runs they’ve scored and allowed. That’s a pretty significant difference, no? Where is it coming from? Chalking it all up to good luck is lazy at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. There’s always going to be some element of luck involved in baseball, that’s just the nature of a game built around a round ball and a round bat and a big swath of grass, but there is more going on than that. Is it the strong late-inning bullpen? The veteran know-how? Joe Girardi‘s managerial skills? The magic of the pinstripes? It’s probably all of that and more, right? I don’t know the answer but there’s some reason the Yankees have a knack for winning more than they should. “They’re amazing,” said one rival exec to Jayson Stark when asked about the Yankees and their run differential recently. “It’s like they’re incapable of finishing under .500.”

3. As Joel Sherman pointed out the other day, Masahiro Tanaka is lined up to start on Sunday, July 13th, the final game before the All-Star break. Obviously a rainout(s) could throw a wrench into that. This is significant only because if Tanaka does start that game, he will not be eligible to pitch in the All-Star Game. The Collective Bargaining Agreement says anyone who starts that Sunday can’t pitch in the game. They can be named to the roster (and are then obligated to attend and be introduced on the baselines and all that), but they would be inactive and replaced by another pitcher. This happened with Sabathia a few years ago.Tanaka will surely make the All-Star roster and I am totally cool with him not pitching. I mean, it would be neat to see him out there in the game, but the big picture wins out here. I want Tanaka to get the extra rest — his velocity did drop a bit in his last start, by the way — and not waste bullets in an exhibition game. Same with Dellin Betances. I hope he gets selected for the roster but would be totally fine if he doesn’t pitch. The Yankees are going to need those two in the second half if they plan to make a run at a postseason spot.

Heathcott. (Presswire)

Heathcott. (Presswire)

4. The other day we learned outfield prospect Slade Heathcott will miss the rest of the season following yet another knee surgery. It’s his second knee surgery in the last year and third since high school. He’s also had two shoulder surgeries. Overall, Heathcott will have played in only 230 of 576 possible regular season games from 2011-14 once the season ends. It’s impossible to develop when you’re missing that much time in your early-20s. The Yankees drafted Slade in the first round of the 2009 draft, when he was a raw but very athletic and toolsy high schooler. He was going to need time and work to turn those tools into baseball skills, but he has not been able to do that because of the injuries. I mean, he has 1,349 career plate appearances. That’s a little short of three seasons worth for a guy who was drafted five years ago. Heathcott is on the 40-man roster — the Yankees protected him from the Rule 5 Draft this past winter — and I assume he’ll stay there for the time being, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled the release and re-sign trick with him (similar to David Adams and Nik Turley) if they need a 40-man spot later this summer. Heathcott will turn 24 in September and at some point it’s time to simply move on and focus on the development of  healthy players.

5. I really dig the new Homerun Derby format. Here is is, if you haven’t seen it. Long story short, there are now five players per league in the Derby, and the three who hit the most dingers in each league advance to the second round. The player with the most gets a bye to the third round while the other two go head-to-head. The winners of the third round in each league meet in the finals. There are only seven outs per player now, not ten. It should spice up the competition a bit since there is an incentive (extra rest) to hitting the most homers in the first round. Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista are the captains this year. Mark Teixeira is the only Yankee who even remotely belongs near the Homerun Derby and I don’t see Bautista picking him. Jose Abreu has disappointingly said he’s not interested, but Giancarlo Stanton said he wants in, and that’s really the only guy I’m dying to see in the event. And Adam Dunn too. How has that guy never been in a Homerun Derby? For the first time in a long time, I’m actually kinda excited to watch. Kudos to MLB for the format change.

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(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

The Yankees are back home in the Bronx following their five-win, nine-game trip west of the Mississippi. It felt a lot longer than that for whatever reason. Here are some scattered thoughts before tonight’s series opener against the Blue Jays.

1. I know it’s only June, but the Yankees are entering a crucial stretch of the schedule right now. After putzing around with the other AL divisions and interleague play for the last few weeks, they’ll play their next nine games against the Blue Jays (six games) and Orioles (three games), who have become their primary competition in the AL East. The Rays are completely out of it already and the Red Sox have quite a bit of ground to make up before being a real concern. The Yankees come into this nine-game stretch 4.5 games back of Toronto and a half-game up on Baltimore. It’s very simple: if they play well during these nine games, it’ll leave them right near the top of the division. If they don’t, they end up buried in the standings. These next three series will go a long way towards determining whether the Yankees can actually win the AL East. These head-to-head matchups are of paramount importance and even though there are still 90-something games left in the season, these games need to be treated with a sense of urgency. Kinda like playoff games.

2. Frankie Cervelli is expected to be activated off the disabled list tonight, meaning John Ryan Murphy will go back to Triple-A Scranton and play everyday. Whatever. I’d rather see Murphy stick around as Brian McCann‘s backup but it doesn’t really make much of a difference. I guess there’s a chance Murphy has already played his final game for the Yankees since the trade deadline is coming up in a few weeks, which would suck. I really like him and think he’s someone the team should keep going forward. McCann won’t be able to catch forever, Cervelli can’t stay healthy, Austin Romine is an afterthought, Gary Sanchez is being benched for disciplinary reasons in Double-A, and Peter O’Brien flat out can’t catch. Murphy is the only non-McCann guy at the upper levels the Yankees could legitimately run out there as an everyday catcher if need be. He is their top trade chip though, and the team has so many needs (infield, right field, rotation) that it’s tough to think Murphy will remain in the organization much longer. I am usually all in favor of trading prospects for MLB help, especially non-elite prospects, but he’s the one guy I think the Yankees would be wise to keep. Quality catching is too hard to find.

3. The Yankees are basically out of rotation depth at this point. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are still weeks away and I’m not even sure who would be next in line if another starter gets hurt. I guess David Huff? Either him or Alfredo Aceves again. Neither Shane Greene nor Bruce Billings has pitched all that well in Triple-A, and Manny Banuelos isn’t stretched out enough to be an MLB option. Maybe the Yankees have reached the point where pulling Adam Warren out of the bullpen and stretching him out is their best rotation option. Shawn Kelley just returned from his back injury, so the bullpen would more easily be able to absorb the loss. The problem with converting Warren back into a starter is a) it’ll take several weeks to stretch him back out at this point, and b) how much of an upgrade would he really be over Vidal Nuno? Warren’s excelled in short relief because he can air it out and not have to worry about facing a lineup multiple times. We saw last year that being asked the turn a lineup over wasn’t necessarily the easiest thing for him. I would prefer to leave Warren in his current role and not mess around, but if push comes to shove and more rotation help is needed, isn’t he the best option right now?

(Steve Mitchell/Getty)

(Steve Mitchell/Getty)

4. Since we’re already talking about pitching depth, I want to mention the Marlins designated the slightly interesting Kevin Slowey for assignment yesterday, clearing a roster spot for top prospect Andrew Heaney. (They also designated Randy Wolf for assignment, but there’s nothing to see there.) Slowey, 30, missed a month with shoulder inflammation in 2011 and a bunch more time from 2011-12 with non-arm injuries (abdominal strain, broken rib), and over the last two years he’s pitched to a 4.45 ERA (3.79 FIP) in 129.1 innings as a swingman for Miami. You might remember him from his time with the Twins, and he’s a classic low strikeout (17.7 K%), low walk (4.8%) Twins pitcher. There’s nothing sexy about Slowey at all, but he might be better than Vidal Nuno (5.24 ERA and 4.88 FIP since moving into the rotation). If nothing else, he’s better than Huff. The Yankees could pluck him off waivers, stick him in the bullpen in a long relief role for a few weeks, and see what happens. Even if they have to send Jose Ramirez down for a few weeks to make it happen, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I like Ramirez as much as anyone, but his big league opportunity can wait a few more weeks if it means potentially upgrading the rotation.

5. Following the news of Tony Gwynn’s death yesterday, there were all sorts of fun information and hard-to-believe stats floating around the internet. My favorite (by far) comes from Chris Jaffe, who pointed out Gwynn has the highest batting average in two-strike counts in baseball history by 40 (!) points. Here’s the full list. Gwynn hit an absurd .302 in two-strike counts in his career. Fellow Hall of Famer and totally awesome hitter Wade Boggs is second with a .262 lifetime average in two-strike counts. Former Yankee Luis Polonia is third at .261. (Luis Polonia, huh? Alrighty.) Derek Jeter is tied for 67th all-time with a .228 average with two strikes. During Gwynn’s career, from 1988-2001, all of baseball hit a combined .187 in two-strike counts. He was 115 points better than everyone else. We’re talking thousands of plate appearances too, so this isn’t some small sample noise. Hitting .300+ in general is hard. Doing it in two-strike counts over a 20-year career blows my freaking mind.

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While the Yankees were busy shutting out the Athletics for their fourth straight win last night, another New York sports team was a couple hundred miles south in Los Angeles, playing the franchise’s most important game in two decades. The (hockey) Rangers were trying to climb out of a three games-to-none deficit in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals, winning Game Four on Wednesday to force a Game Five against the Kings on Friday.

The Rangers lost the game and thus the series last night. It all happened in the blink of an eye in double overtime too, as gut-wrenching a loss as you’ll ever see. Here’s how the season ended:

Brutal. It was over before you knew what the hell happened. Just like that, it was done.

If you’ve been reading RAB long enough you know that I’m a Rangers fan — not nearly as much as I am a Yankees fan, hockey is a distant second sport to baseball for me — so naturally I was pretty bummed out about the loss. But not nearly as much as I have been for recent Yankees postseason exits. The feelings were way different.

To make a long story short, the Rangers were clear underdogs not just in the series against the Kings, but throughout almost the entire postseason. They rallied back from a three games-to-one deficit in the second round and were not the best team in the conference. Not by a long shot, yet they rode an all-world goaltender and overcame some serious adversity to reach the Finals. It was the epitome of the “just get into the postseason and anything can happen” mentality.

So, when the Rangers lost last night, I was disappointed but not devastated. The regular season and especially the postseason run were thrilling and exciting, every step of the way. Following the Rangers as they exceeded expectations and got to within three wins of a championship as a legitimate underdog was not something I was used to seeing as a sports fan. The Yankees are never the underdog. The notion of them even being considered an underdog is silly. That’s just not who they are.

When the Yankees won the World Series in 2009, I felt like there was a sense of relief to go along with the excitement. They were supposed to win. They’re the Yankees. When they lost the ALCS in 2010 and 2012, there were no thoughts of how exciting it was to watch the team get there. All the focus was on their inability to advance further. That whole “win the World Series or the season is a failure” mantra has consumed the franchise and it’s sucked some of the joy out of winning. Not all of it, but some of it. At least that’s how I feel. You’re welcome to feel differently.

Sports are supposed to be fun, right? I watch (entirely too much) baseball because I love it and it’s fun and it’s a great escape from everyday life. There will be some devastating losses along the way, that comes with the territory, but as a Yankees fan the good has outweighed the bad over the years. The opposite is true of being a Rangers fan. There has been more bad than good over the last 15-20 years. So, even though the Rangers lost last night and it completely sucked, it didn’t diminish the ride. All the exciting moments and huge wins over the last few weeks were some of the best times in my life as a sports fan and that’s never going away.

I don’t know, I think this post is coming off as pretty dumb and I’m not sure I’m making my point. I guess I’m trying to say that watching the Rangers the last few weeks was a breath of fresh air in my life as a sports fan. It reminded me that sometimes you’re going to lose and it isn’t a complete and total failure. The memories are still there. I love the Yankees and I choose to be a fan and I fully accept the whole “win or it’s a failure” life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But seeing how the other half lives was eye-opening. If you’re not going to sit back and enjoy the ride regardless of the outcome, then what’s the point?

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(Presswire)

(Presswire)

I wasn’t planning to put together a thoughts post today, but my brain wasn’t working particularly well this morning and I was having a tough time coming up with a decent topic for a post. So, instead, here are a few short nuggets that have been on my mind.

1. I was somewhat surprised the Yankees opted to send Matt Daley rather than Jose Ramirez down to Triple-A Scranton yesterday, when Shawn Kelley came off the disabled list. Ramirez has only thrown 14 total innings this season after opening the year on the shelf with an oblique injury, so I figured they would send him down to continue shaking off the rust. I like that they kept him though. Kelley, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren will continue to handle setup duty, as they should, but the middle innings will all go to Ramirez. Kinda like how Joe Girardi used Betances early in the season, say, down two or three runs in the sixth and seventh innings. (I would say up four or five runs, but, well, you know about the offense.) That’s how Girardi has used his young relievers over the years. Cut your teeth in middle relief, and when the time is right, you’ll get high-leverage innings. Ramirez has a huge arm and he has the potential to be a real weapon in short relief. The Yankees have apparently decided now is the time to get his feet wet, with all those other quality arms in the bullpen around him.

2. You know what was great about Masahiro Tanaka‘s outing last night? He got pissed off after allowing the homer in the ninth inning. You could see it in his face and in his body language. There was definitely some anger behind his pitches to the final two batters. Just look at his velocity spike at the end of the game (via Brooks Baseball):

Tanaka Velocity 061114

Tanaka threw 110 pitches overall and he was throwing his hardest at the end of the game. He was pretty clearly pissed about losing the shutout and he wanted to end the game with authority. As awesome as he’s been on the mound getting  all those silly-looking swings and misses, the thing I love about Tanaka the most is his poise and competitiveness. We hear about players with good makeup all the time, but man, Tanaka is on another level. The guy is a stone-faced killer on the mound.

3. The Yankees clearly used last week’s draft to balance out the upcoming international free agent signings. The international class is going to add a ton of risky, high-upside prospects to the system once the signing period opens next month, though the draft class was relatively light on upside and geared more towards probability. There is no such thing as a “safe” prospect, but guys like LHP Jacob Lindgren (second round) and LHP Jordan Montgomery (fourth) are high probability guys who are good bets to reach their ceilings, barring injury. The talent comes off the board very linearly in the draft these days, the best prospects go first and everyone falls in place behind them, so there weren’t many high-upside guys left available when New York’s top pick (55th overall) came around. Grabbing a quick to MLB guy like Lindgren makes a lot of sense considering the upcoming international signings. Adding a potential impact reliever (who happens to throw left-handed) to the organization at that spot is a great way to maximize the return on that draft slot. I mean, we’re talking about the 55th overall pick. Not the 15th or even the 30th.

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(Ed Zurga/Getty)

(Ed Zurga/Getty)

The Yankees were able to get to Seattle a few hours early last night thanks to the rainout in Kansas City. I’m not gonna lie, getting a night away from the struggling offense was pretty nice. It can get mighty frustrating when you have to watch it game after game. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts a few hours before the series opener against the Mariners.

1. The Diamondbacks surprisingly designated Trevor Cahill for assignment yesterday, and I say surprisingly because there is still roughly $18M (!) left on his contract through next year. Teams are usually reluctant to eat that kind of money, but bravo to Arizona for recognizing a sunk cost and being willing to improve their team. Cahill is only 26 and he was good as recently as last year (3.99 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 146.2 innings), so someone will surely give him a job once he clears waivers and becomes available for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. The Yankees should be looking to replace Vidal Nuno, though it’s worth noting Cahill lives and dies by the ground ball. (He had a 17.1% strikeout rate and a 57.8% ground ball rate from 2011-13.) As you’ve surely noticed, ground balls and the Yankees’ infield do not mix well. That said, he’s almost certainly better than Wade LeBlanc — Cahill had a 3.04 ERA (2.87 FIP) with 26.5% strikeout rate and a 47.5% ground ball rate in 23.2 relief innings for the D-Backs after being demoted to the bullpen a few weeks ago — and if the Bombers can convince him to come to New York, they should do it. Pitchers usually don’t come to the AL East and Yankee Stadium to rebuild value unless it’s a last resort though. (For what it’s worth, Nick Piecoro says GM Kevin Towers made it sound like Cahill agreed to go to the minors when he clears waivers.)

2. Shawn Kelley‘s second rehab game went fine last night by all accounts, so he is expected to be activated off the 15-day DL in time for tomorrow’s game. I assume either Matt Daley or Jose Ramirez will be sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot. Doesn’t really matter either way. The important thing is that the back-end of the bullpen is getting some much needed help, so Joe Girardi will be able to take it a bit easier on Dellin Betances and Adam Warren in front of David Robertson. We’re in mid-June now and Betances and Warren are still on pace for 94 and 89 innings this season, respectively, and it seems like all that work has started to catch up to them of late. Girardi has already indicated he won’t necessarily stick Kelley in the eighth inning right away — did you realize he’s been out for a month already? time flies — which makes sense. I love Betances in his current fireman role and both Kelley and Warren seem to be at their best when they start an inning clean and only throw exactly one inning. The bullpen’s about to get a pretty big boost and it is definitely needed right now.

3. Speaking of bullpens, just about every reliever I wanted the Yankees to sign this past offseason has flopped, namely Jose Veras, Grant Balfour, and Brian Wilson. Others like Eric O’Flaherty, Joel Hanrahan, and Jesse Crain have yet to pitch this year. Boone Logan has been on the disabled list twice and Joe Nathan has completely melted down for the Tigers. Like, spectacularly. The only two free agent relievers who signed biggish contracts and have been good so far this season are Joaquin Benoit and Joe Smith. I thought the Yankees needed to sign a pretty good reliever this winter after losing Mariano Rivera to retirement, but instead Betances has stepped up to fill the void. The Yankees replaced an elite reliever with another elite reliever from within. Obviously Betances is not Mo, he’s got a long way to go before being mentioned in the same breath as Rivera, but the relief crew hasn’t missed a beat this year. It’s been pretty impressive to watch. Every year Girardi & Co. seem to unearth a new weapon.

4. You’ve probably seen it by now, but if not, Manny Machado had a little meltdown against the Athletics this weekend. Two meltdowns, really. First he got in Josh Donaldson’s face because he felt he was tagged too hard (really?), then he threw his bat at … someone on the other team. It looked like he tried to throw it at the pitcher but it wound up going towards the third baseman, who was not Donaldson at the time. Here’s the video of the tag play and here’s the video of the bat throwing. The Orioles threw up and in at Donaldson twice in the series, and the Athletics threw inside at Machado right before he threw the bat. I’m guessing Machado and Fernando Abad (who threw at Machado) will both be suspended some length of time this week. Anyway, this an unnecessarily long way of pointing out Machado is hitting .254/.288/.381 (81 wRC+) over the last calendar year. The fans at Camden Yards booed him following each one of his at-bats during last night’s 0-for-4. Boy that honeymoon sure is over, huh? Machado got lumped in with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as part of the next wave of superstars, but he was always a notch below those two because of his general lack of plate discipline. Now the kid is throwing fits because he didn’t like the way he was tagged. Maybe it’s time for a little wake up call stint in the minors? Don’t get me wrong, I’d take Machado on the Yankees in a heartbeat, but he’s part of the problem right now for Baltimore, not part of the solution.

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(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The Yankees are off today following their nine-game road trip, and starting tomorrow they play 17 games in 17 days in three different time zones. On the bright side, they don’t have to travel back to the West Coast after that, and only two more times this season do they even have to go to the Central Time Zone. The team’s travel after this upcoming stretch as is easy as it gets. Here are some random thoughts on the off-day.

1. This weekend’s series against the Twins marks the end of what is probably the softest stretch of schedule for the 2014 Yankees in terms of the quality of their opponents: 19 straight games against the Mets, Pirates, Cubs, White Sox, Cardinals, and Twins. Only the Cardinals aren’t awful. The Yankees have won nine of the first 16 games during that stretch, with the last three against Minnesota still pending. That’s pretty damn good, but I can’t help but feel greedy and wish they could have stolen one or two more. That Adam Dunn walk-off homer game really stings. With the Rays and Red Sox falling behind the rest of the AL East a bit — Tampa is literally one game better than the Astros right now — the division race has opened up a little bit. The Yankees play the Blue Jays and Orioles a combined nine times next month and those games are the most important ones right now. Games against Boston and Tampa aren’t as crucial as they have been the last few years. (They’re obviously still important. You know what I mean.) This isn’t the AL East race we’re used to seeing.

2. I’m pretty sure I’ve said this at some point before, I but I can’t remember the last time the Yankees had a reliever like Dellin Betances. That overwhelmingly dominant flamethrower. Joba Chamberlain was excellent following his call-up in 2007, but even he did not have the kind of strikeout stuff as Betances — Joba had a 37.4 K% in 24 innings in 2007 while Betances is at 44.7 K% in 30.2 innings in this year. (Bet you didn’t realize David Robertson has a 41.5 K% strikeout rate this year, did you?) Mariano Rivera was outstanding in 1996 as John Wetteland’s setup man, but Mo’s dominance was always more surgical than overpowering. You know what I mean, right? Betances just comes out of the bullpen pumping 97+ with a knee-buckling breaking ball that hitters don’t even bother to swing at. They just bail on the pitch and it goes for a called strike. It’s amazing and so much fun to watch. Betances spent a very long time in the minors fighting control problems and battling injuries, and the decision to move him into the bullpen last year was basically a last resort. A desperate attempt by the team to get something out of him. The move into a relief role has worked out to the best case scenario and it saved his career.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

3. Obviously the late-1990s Yankees were excellent for many reasons, one of them being their strength up the middle. Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams were among the best players at their positions, Jorge Posada was just starting to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate, and Chuck Knoblauch was very good until things started to fall apart in 2001. They were getting top notch production from the four most important non-pitcher positions on the field. That is not the case this year though. The Yankees have gotten a combined .266/.331/.379 batting line from their catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and center fielders this year, which is right in line with the .254/.323/.397 league average. Average isn’t bad! It is less than you would like to see though. The Yankees should be getting more production from those positions — neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Brian McCann were hitting much prior to their big games last night (McCann was playing first, remember) — but it has not been there just about a third of the way through the season. Ellsbury and McCann are not going anywhere, but as the Yankees usher out of the Jeter era this winter, improving both middle infield spots should be a top priority. Along with having good pitching (duh), getting big production from those up the middle spots is one of the most surefire ways to contend. Just look at the World Series teams of the last, I don’t know, 25 years or so. All strong up the middle.

4. So, with that in mind, man how perfect would Chase Utley look in pinstripes? Someone asked about him in a mailbag a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to shake the thought of trading for him since. It’s not going to happen for several reasons — his ten-and-five no-trade protection first of all, plus the Phillies would have to be willing to sell and trade their best and most popular player — but the fit is too perfect. Left-handed power and patience, no real platoon concerns, good defense at second base, big market and postseason experience, short-term contract … he’s perfect. The only negative is Utley’s injury history, particularly his knee problems, but 100 games of him and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best second baseman in baseball. The Phillies are pretty bad and they’re only sinking further in the standings, especially with Cliff Lee hurt. Maybe that will push ownership to demand a rebuild. In the unlikely event it happens, the Yankees should be on the phone about Utley immediately. He’s exactly what they need on both sides of the ball.

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(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees were off yesterday but there was still some rather large news delivered. Brian Cashman confirmed CC Sabathia will miss at least six weeks following the stem cell treatment on his twice surgically repaired right knee, meaning the team has lost its six-time Opening Day starter until at least July. If the stem cell treatment doesn’t work, Sabathia will presumably have surgery and miss even more time. That’s not good. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

1. Losing Sabathia for what is essentially two months — when you include the time he has already spent on the disabled list — really sucks. I have been an unabashed optimist about his ability to adjust to reduced velocity as he grew older, perhaps foolishly, but this injury means he will lose a lot of the time necessary to make those adjustments and learn how to pitch with his new arsenal. We’ll probably never truly find out, but I’m very curious to know how long the knee has been bothering him. Maybe the injury has contributed to his struggles these last few weeks — at least the location issues since it his landing knee — and man I really hope that is the case because at least then we’d have an explanation. It would be really great if Sabathia came out on the other end of this injury and pitched effectively, even as like a 4.00 ERA innings eater, but I think the odds of that happening are on the small side. This really bites.

2. So obviously now we’re going to be talking about the Yankees trading for a starter nonstop, with Cliff Lee and Jeff Samardzija the two big names. Lee might not even available, the Phillies are weird like that, but we all Samardzija will be out there. The Cubs are in a perpetual rebuilding process. Do the Yankees have the young pitching — Chicago has a ton of position player prospects and has been targeting arms in trades the last year or two — to swing a deal for him? Not unless the Cubs are open to a bunch of Single-A guys like Luis Severino and Rafael DePaula. Outside of Manny Banuelos and Shane Greene, the Yankees don’t have any upper level prospect arms to offer. If they did, they’d probably be in the big league rotation right now. Jason Hammel would cost considerably less to acquire and might be the more realistic trade target just based on the likely asking price and available trade chips.

3. As for some other possible trade targets, guys like Justin Masterson and Brandon McCarthy jump out because they’re due to become free agents this offseason and their teams are terrible. Masterson has lost nearly three miles an hour off his trademark sinker this year and besides, he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher (61.6% in 2014 and 56.1% from 2011-13). A pitcher who relies on his infield that much is a very bad fit for the Yankees given their current roster. I mean, yeah, you can play Brendan Ryan at short on days he starts, but that would only help so much. McCarthy, on the other hand, is another ground ball heavy guy (54.1% in 2014 and 45.6% from 2011-13), except he has a long history of injury problems. He’s visited the disabled list at least once with a shoulder injury every year from 2009-13. It’s only a matter of time until he gets hurt this year. The Yankees need to add some reliability to the rotation, someone with a track record of durability who can miss bats and won’t live and die by the infield defense. That’s the perfect world scenario. Does that pitcher exist? I don’t know.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

4. Anyway, let’s shift gears to another potentially devastating injury, the bone spur in Carlos Beltran‘s elbow. He received a second cortisone injection a few weeks ago and that’s bad news — cortisone shots are supposed to provide instant relief and the need for a second shot indicates the first isn’t working. Beltran is scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews today and it seems more and more likely he is destined for surgery, which would keep him out either 6-8 or 8-12 weeks, depending on who you ask. Either way, it’ll be a while. Given the state of the rotation, the Yankees are basically going to have to out-hit their pitching staff this summer to contend, and that will be very difficult without the best all-around hitter on the roster. I know Beltran was in a big slump before he got hurt, but I think it was only a matter of time before he snapped out of it and started to hit like he did earlier this season. Between him potentially missing so much time and the shaky non-Masahiro Tanaka starters, extended winning streaks will be very tough to put together.

5. That said, if Beltran does need surgery and will have to miss so much time, the Yankees have to sign either Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales in my opinion. Joe made the case for signing both and while that would be neat, I don’t think it’ll happen. Both guys have something to offer but squeezing Drew into the lineup to full take advantage of what he has to offer (specifically his defense) will be tough until the Yankees commit to playing Derek Jeter at DH on a near full-time basis. Considering they played him at short and moved Ryan to first base (!!!) on Sunday, I’m guessing there’s close to zero chance of that happening. Morales, meanwhile, would more or less replace Beltran’s switch-hitting bat and he could slot right in as the regular DH. Alfonso Soriano would have to play right field everyday, and while that isn’t ideal defensively, he has said he prefers playing the field than sitting around for innings on end as the DH. The small sample numbers back that up. Signing Morales to replace Beltran would be the bigger upgrade in my opinion and give the Yankees a better chance to out-hit their pitching staff, so to speak.

6. I think Drew is going to sign with the Tigers almost immediately after the draft. Like, literally the day after. I remember reading somewhere that the earliest he and Morales could sign without requiring the signing team to forfeit a draft pick was the day after the first day of the draft, so Friday, June 6th. I think he’ll be a Tiger that day. Detroit’s shortstops have been atrocious (29 wRC+) and they are so very clearly in win now mode. Max Scherzer, Victor Martinez, and Torii Hunter are all free agents after this season and others like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, Joe Nathan, and Anibal Sanchez aren’t getting any younger. The window could not possibly get any more open. GM Dave Dombrowski tends to be decisive when addressing the team’s needs and owner Mike Ilitch has certainly not been shy about opening his wallet to improve the team. Many teams we see deals that are so obvious and such great fits not happen for whatever reason. I think this is an exception. Drew to the Tigers feels inevitable.

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May
08

Thoughts on the off-day

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(Harry How/Getty)

(Harry How/Getty)

The Yankees are done with the West Coast portion of their six-game road trip and will rest today before beginning a three-game series against the Brewers in Milwaukee tomorrow night. Hooray interleague play, if that’s your thing. Here are some scattered thoughts on the off-day.

1. The Angels series was a big positive for the Yankees, beyond the whole won two of three thing. David Phelps, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vidal Nuno pitched very well, their best outings of the season (against a very good offense), and the team needed to see something that indicated the rotation was not in complete tatters. It’s only one start each, I know, but there were signs of progress, especially for Kuroda. I thought his stuff was fine in his first six starts, he had just no command of anything. The command appeared to come back Tuesday night and that was good to see. He was vintage Kuroda that game. I guess it took him a little longer than usual to get a feel for his offspeed stuff. The Yankees could probably still use another starter with Ivan Nova out for the year and Michael Pineda on hiatus, but at least now it doesn’t feel like all pitching hope is lost.

2. The Yankees will play their next 12 games and 15 of their next 19 games against National League clubs. Ten of those 15 games are on the road too, so they’re going to lose the DH spot for a good chunk of the next two weeks. I think Joe Girardi will simply rotate Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Beltran into the starting lineup during the NL park games rather than sitting one guy in particular during that stretch of games. There’s really nothing else they can do unless someone gets hurt, which hopefully won’t happen. Furthermore, the Yankees will play 13 straight games against teams that either are bad or figure to be bad this year (Mets, Pirates, Cubs, White Sox) following this series with the Brewers. Yeah, there are lots of road games coming up (14 of the next 20!), but this is one of the softer stretches of the schedule this season. Good time to get on a roll and bank some wins.

3. The All-Star Game fan voting has started already — it actually started about two weeks ago, which is crazy early — and as of right now I think three Yankees will be elected to the Midsummer Classic: Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, and Derek Jeter. Jeter could go about 0-for-200 between now and mid-July and he’ll still probably win the fan vote in his final season. MLB might even rig the vote to get him there because last year’s ratings were almost a record low, and Jeter is one of the few players who transcends the sport and has significant marquee value. Either way, it seems like those three are the team’s only serious All-Star candidates. Maybe David Robertson if he rattles off about 25 saves with a sub-1.00 ERA in the next two months. The days of having like, five or six All-Stars every season is long gone. Those years were fun.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

4. After a slow start to the season, Brian Roberts has hit very well of late. Basically since he returned from his little back problem last month. On the other hand, Yangervis Solarte has slowed in recent weeks after his hot start to the season. (He actually had a real nice series in Anaheim.) He wasn’t going to hit like Tony Gwynn all summer, unfortunately. These two have basically reversed their April roles, when Solarte was damn near carrying the offense and Roberts wasn’t doing much from the bottom of the order. It would be cool if they both hit at the same time, but I guess you take what you can get. I still think those two as well as Kelly Johnson would get exposed with regular playing time, so rotating Johnson in a bit more in the coming weeks would be a wise idea. I know they’ve faced a lot of lefties of late, but I don’t think Johnson should automatically be glued to the bench against southpaws. At least he’ll get to play a bunch these next few weeks just because of the interleague games and the need to pinch-hit and all that.

5. Speaking of Solarte, it has only been five weeks but I think we’ve seen enough from him to know he’s a useful big leaguer. When the season started we had no idea what he could be, and the super hot start made it even tougher to judge him. The Yankees grabbed this guy off the scrap heap and he had basically no track to support any kind of projection about his future as an MLB player (other than “he doesn’t have one”). Solarte is a switch-hitter who makes a ton of contact, can play second and third, fill in at shortstop in a pinch, and even play some left field. He did it in the minors and he did it in Spring Training. There’s a spot for a guy with that skillset on the roster, as a bench player at the very least. I mean long-term too, not necessarily just for the remainder of the season. He can help in 2015 in beyond. Solarte’s no star but he’s been an excellent find for the Yankees.

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Apr
29

Thoughts following the off-day

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The Yankees have had three off-days so far this year and each one has a) followed a win, and b) come when the bullpen really needed a rest. That second part isn’t much of a coincidence — Joe Girardi knows he can use his key relievers a bit more heavily with the scheduled off-day coming up. Anyway, the Yankees kick off a three-game series against the Mariners tonight, and here are some scattered thoughts leading up to the opener.

1. Obviously the big story of the week is Robinson Cano‘s return to the Bronx. It’s going to be weird seeing him in another uniform even though I’ve watched more than a few Mariners games already. I guess I mean it’ll be weird to see him in another uniform in Yankee Stadium. I really hope he gets a big standing ovation prior to his first at-bat — step out of the box, tip his cap, the whole nine — but after that, he’s just another non-Yankee. Cano was the club’s best player the last four years and a pretty big part of the team before that, so some level of respect and appreciation is in order. He is arguably the best second baseman in franchise history, after all. I’ll be pretty bummed out if Robbie gets booed tonight. Show some love, people.

2. Anyway, since we’re talking about middle infielders, Brendan Ryan is due back relatively soon. Probably within a week to ten days. I’m curious to see how he will be used because Derek Jeter has not DHed this year. At all. Literally zero games at the position. No one really cared if Dean Anna sat on the bench for four or five days at a time because it was Dean Anna. He was just happy to be in the big leagues. Ryan is making a decent salary ($2M) and has shown he can be an asset with his glove, but how often will he play? Will Jeter start to see more time at DH? And, if he does, what does that mean for the outfield rotation? I think the Yankees should just keep doing what they’ve been doing these first few weeks, and if Ryan is unhappy with sitting on the bench so much, then work out a trade I guess. I’m sure some team out there will take a good glove shortstop (Tigers? Mets?) off their hands.

3. I feel like there has been more small sample run differential analysis* so far this year. It means nothing in April. It doesn’t mean much more at the All-Star break. The Yankees have a -8 run differential despite being five games over .500 because they’ve been involved in an inordinate number of blowouts. Just within the last two weeks they’ve lost games by the score of 11-5, 16-1, and 13-1. Their two blowout wins during those two weeks were 10-2 and 14-5, so that right there works out to a -16 run differential in just those five games. Those are anomaly games and it just so happens a few were bunched together. I believe the team’s record is a far better indication of how they’ve played than their run differential right now. The Yankees have not played like a sub-.500 team at all.

* I don’t even think you can call looking at run differential and pointing out it doesn’t line up with the win-loss record as analysis.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

4. Speaking of those blowouts, the bullpen has allowed 42 runs (34 earned) in 75.2 innings so far this year. Eighteen of those 42 runs (14 of 34 earned) were allowed in 7.2 innings by guys who simply don’t figure to be on the roster very much this year: Bruce Billings, Matt Daley, Cesar Cabral, Shane Greene, and, of course, reliever Dean Anna. That is 42% of the bullpen’s runs allowed in 10% of the innings by guys who are unlikely to be much of a factor this summer. Obviously those runs happened and we can’t strike them from the record, though I thought it was interesting to see just much damage the extra arms have done already. The team’s core relievers (David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances) have been outstanding. Like a combined 1.50 ERA (~2.27 FIP) with a 30.1% strikeout rate in 48 innings outstanding.

5. Robertson has handled the ninth inning pretty well, hasn’t he? Kelley before him too for that matter. I understand that replacing Mariano Rivera is a daunting task, but so far the Yankees have handled it well. Robertson has had to wiggle out of some jams already but that’s how the other half has lived all these years. We’ve enjoyed countless stress-free 1-2-3 innings from Rivera over the years while other teams were biting their nails because their closer issued a leadoff walk or a one-out double in a one-run game. Not every club has a Craig Kimbrel or a Kenley Jansen. Kelley did an excellent job filling in while Robertson was on the DL, but Robertson is clearly the guy going forward. He proved everything he needed to prove as a setup man these last few seasons and now it’s his time to shine. So far, he’s done just that.

6. I was at Saturday’s game with Ben and he noticed that the Yankees have already cleared a space for another retired number in Monument Park. You can kinda see it in this photo, all the way on the right of the retired numbers. Now, obviously Jeter’s number will be retired during his massive retirement ceremony at the end of the season a la Rivera last year, right? Right. The Yankees have also talked about retiring Joe Torre’s number in the near future, perhaps as soon as this season. I think it was Hal Steinbrenner (or maybe Brian Cashman) who mentioned over the winter that more number retirements are on the horizon as well, which could mean Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams. Maybe Paul O’Neill too, since apparently no one else is worthy of his number. So I guess my question is who is that open spot in Monument Park being saved for? Jeter at the end of the season? Torre at midseason? Someone else entirely? Suspense!

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Apr
22

Thoughts following the off-day

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Nuno throws weird. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Nuno throws weird. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

There was no update on Ivan Nova yesterday after he had his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament re-evaluated in New York during the off-day. It’s tough not to assume the worst and it has nothing to do with the lack of an update. Partially torn UCLs almost always result in Tommy John surgery at some point, usually right away. Nova hasn’t been great this year but it is still a pretty big blow to the Yankees because he can pitch very well for extended periods of time. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts.

1. Back before Spring Training I said Nova needed to show the Yankees who he really is this season, meaning is he someone who can be a core piece going forward or just another back-end arm? He won’t get the opportunity to show the team anything now, and, given the timing of the injury, he only has one more full season of pitching (2016) left before qualifying for free agency. We still don’t know what Nova is now, after nearly three full years in the rotation, and chances are half the 2015 season and all of 2016 won’t provide much clarity. In addition to weakening the rotation this year, the injury won’t help the Yankees determine whether Nova is worth a decent financial commitment and a rotation spot long-term. This really throws a wrench into things.

2. With Vidal Nuno in the rotation (at least temporarily) and Bryan Mitchell being shipped back to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot for David Robertson, it sure seems like Preston Claiborne will be sticking around for a while. He really struggled down the stretch last year and was terrible in Spring Training, plus his outing on Sunday was pretty shaky despite two scoreless innings. Robertson’s return means Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren will move down a notch into eighth and seventh inning roles, respectively, and both Dellin Betances and David Phelps are more deserving of middle relief work than Claiborne right now. Claiborne feels like the default long reliever by default even though he can only go two (maaaybe three) innings at a time. It’s a weird bullpen situation and not really ideal. I’d prefer to see someone like Shane Greene or Al Aceves up as the true long man.

3. If the Yankees aren’t going to swap Claiborne out for a real long man, then a second left-hander might be better use of the roster spot. They have series coming up against the Red Sox, Mariners, and Rays, three teams loaded with lefty bats. Nova got hurt at a bad time — this is when it would have been really nice to have Nuno available as an extra southpaw in the bullpen. With Cesar Cabral gone, the only upper-level lefty reliever in the organization is Fred Lewis, and he hasn’t been all that good with Triple-A Scranton these first few weeks. He’d need a 40-man roster spot as well. So yeah, while it would be nice to have a second southpaw available these next two weeks or so, the Yankees won’t have one without making a series of roster moves.

4. That series against the Mariners starts one week from today and will be Robinson Cano‘s first time back in the Bronx since leaving as a free agent. I’m interested to see the fan reaction — I assume he’ll get booed, but I hope he gets cheered in at least his first at-bat because he was the team’s best player for four years and he helped them win a World Series. I also think it’s kinda silly to boo him for taking more money when the Yankees have been buying other teams’ best players for decades — but I’m more interested to see how the Yankees pitch to him and set up defensively. They should know Robbie better than anyone. They should know the best places to pitch him and where he tends to hit the ball when he puts it in play. Here is his spray chart:


Source: FanGraphs

Cano slashes line drives to all fields, but when he hits the ball on the ground, he tends to pull it to the right side of the infield. When he hits a fly ball, it usually to go the other way to left and left-center field  (right to Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury). We also know Robbie will bunt to the beat the shift (remember this?), so how do they defend him? I haven’t the slightest idea. I’m very interested to see how the Yankees go after him now that he’s wearing the wrong uniform.

5. So who hits a homer first, Ellsbury or Mark Teixeira? Teixeira seems like the easy call because of their reputations, but I’m not so sure. He is coming back from the wrist injury and has a ton of rust to shake off, plus I can’t ignore how David Ortiz and Jose Bautista saw their power numbers take a hit in the first few months following their tendon sheath injuries. Ellsbury is healthy and he’s swinging the bat very well so far, so there is nothing to overcome other than his own power-hitting limitations. He could golf one out tonight and I wouldn’t be surprised. But Teixeira? I’m not expecting much right away.

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