Archive for Musings
Although they mathematically still have a chance, the Yankees are not going to the postseason this year. They’re six games back of the second wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them and only eleven games to play, so it would take a historic comeback to make the playoffs. I don’t see this team doing anything historic other than maybe getting no-hit. There will be no October baseball for a second straight year.
The Yankees do still have those eleven games to play though, and playing meaningless baseball for nearly two weeks is not something the Yankees or their fans are familiar with. There haven’t been a lot of truly meaningless games around these parts the last two decades. The focus has shifted to 2015 now and there are a few things the Yankees can do to take advantage of these final eleven games.
Shut Down Whoever Else Is Hurt
Brett Gardner just missed a few days with an abdomen strain — he’s has been awful since returning, in case you haven’t noticed — and Mark Teixeira‘s surgically repaired wrist has flared up again. There is no reason for the Yankees to push these two and have them try to play through injury. No one gets bonus points for being macho. Martin Prado and his hamstring would have fit here as well, but his recent appendectomy took care of that. I’m sure there are other players on the roster dealing with nagging injuries (Jacoby Ellsbury‘s ankle?), so any regulars with an injury that could somehow turn into something more severe shouldn’t be playing. The only exception to this should be Masahiro Tanaka, whose partially torn elbow ligament and progressing rehab is a very unique situation.
Shut Down Dellin Betances
It goes without saying that Betances has been the biggest bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. He went from failed starting pitcher prospect to arguably the best reliever in baseball and an important part of the Yankees going forward, regardless of what happens with David Robertson‘s free agency after the season. The team is counting on Betances to be a core piece of their relief crew going forward and for good reason. He has two out pitches in his fastball and breaking ball and I’m pretty sure standing in the box against him is terrifying.
That said, Betances has thrown the most innings (87.2) and the most pitches (1,328) among full-time relievers this year, and most of those innings and pitches have been high-stress. The Yankees have clearly scaled back on his workload these last few weeks — “No, no. Absolutely not. Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked if he considered using Betances for multiple innings — and understandably so. I know he threw 120+ innings several times in the minors, but throwing 120+ innings every fifth day as a starter is much different from throwing 80+ innings as a high-leverage reliever.
Watching Betances has been literally the most enjoyable thing about the 2014 Yankees. His near-bust prospect to elite reliever story makes him easy to root for. But he’s also worked a lot this year. Betances also has a history of arm problems, both shoulder and elbow, so shutting him down now will allow him to get nice physical and mental break heading into the offseason. The Yankees have every reason to do whatever it takes to keep Betances healthy and effective both now and in the future. With the team out of the postseason, shutting him down before his workload grows even more makes sense.
Give Bryan Mitchell Another Start(s)
Mitchell’s first career start went pretty well on Friday as he limited the Orioles to two runs on six hits and two walks in five innings while being held to an 85-ish pitch count. Considering he had not pitched in a real game in two weeks — the Yankees did have him throw a 50-pitch simulated game at some point early last week to keep him stretched out and sharp — and surely had some first career start jitters to deal with, Mitchell did a fine job.
There is not a whole lot of evaluating that can be done by giving Mitchell another start or two; teams and scouts won’t change their opinion of him based on those short looks (barring injury), but it is an opportunity to let him get more comfortable and gain some experience. Not much, but some, and every little bit helps. The Yankees need pitching help this winter and Mitchell is likely to in the sixth/seventh starter spot heading into the next season. Giving him a few more innings to get comfortable and build confidence is a no-brainer.
Let John Ryan Murphy Start Some Games
Murphy is a good young catching prospect and, like Mitchell, the Yankees should do whatever they can to help him get comfortable and gain experience these last two weeks. Start him seven or eight times in the final eleven games, something like that. Again, 25 at-bats or so won’t (or shouldn’t) change what we think about him, but they could help send him into the offseason feeling pretty good about where he stands in the organization. That’s not nothing.
This isn’t just about Murphy, either. Brian McCann is in the first year of his five-year contract and he’s been a starting big league catcher since he was 22 years old. That’s a lot of squatting behind the plate — most of it during hot Atlanta summers — and a lot of wear and tear. The Yankees would still be able to use McCann at DH, but the goal is to get him out from behind the plate to save him physically, even just a little bit. It would also reduce the risk of a foul tip to the face mask and other incidental injuries like that. Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with McCann, so they should do whatever they can to protect their investment now that they’re out of the postseason mix.
Start Contract Talks With Robertson & Brandon McCarthy
The five days immediately following the World Series constitute the exclusive negotiating period for free agents, though the Yankees will get an extra month to talk with their impending free agents by virtue of not playing baseball in October. Their exclusive negotiating period is really one month plus the five days, and they should take advantage by starting talks with McCarthy and Robertson (and Chase Headley?), two players they should try to retain for obvious reasons. The sooner they start serious negotiations, the better their chances of keeping them off the open market and away from a potential bidding war. There are still eleven games to be played, but the 2014-15 offseason begins now for New York.
The Yankees were off yesterday for the final time this season. Twenty-one games in the next 20 days next up — they play a doubleheader against the Orioles in Baltimore on Friday — then we’ll either be celebrating the team’s miraculous return to the postseason or preparing for an offseason that should be mighty interesting. Here are some random thoughts heading into tonight’s series opener against the Rays.
1. First things first, the Yankees haven’t announced a starter for the second game of Friday’s doubleheader but that’s not really a big deal because of the expanded rosters. David Phelps should be activated off the disabled list before then, so the team will be able to stitch the game together with two or three innings apiece from guys like Phelps, David Huff, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley. I guess it all depends on who is needed in relief these next three games. Either way, cobbling together enough pitching for that doubleheader won’t be a problem. September call-ups make it a piece of cake.
2. With free agency becoming diluted, one of the few notable free agent outfield bats available this winter will be ex-Yankee Melky Cabrera. He had a big season with the Blue Jays, hitting .301/.351/.458 (124 wRC+) with 35 doubles and 16 homers before breaking a finger sliding into a base over the weekend, ending his season. Obviously there is a lot of skepticism surrounded Melky gives his past PED issues, but he is only 30 years old and he’s a true switch-hitter who hits both lefties (116 wRC+) and righties (127 wRC+). Plus he never strikes out (10.8%), which is a highly desirable trait in this strikeout heavy age. His defense isn’t anything special but he does have a strong arm for right field. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) suggested Melky could wind up with Shane Victorino’s contract (three years, $39M) while a scout told Jeff Blair teams are willing to offer Jhonny Peralta’s contract (four years, $52M). My gut says Cabrera will wind up with the bigger contract of those two, given the market. Does Melky make sense for the Yankees at that price? The team already has three outfielders under contract at a combined $50M or so per year the next two years. Would they really add a fourth eight-figure outfielder? The Yankees can use someone like Melky in the lineup, but I’m not sure he fits unless they trade Brett Gardner.
3. Now, that said, I think Carlos Beltran has to be the everyday DH next season. Or at least the most of the time DH, four or five games a week. There are two reasons for this. One, the guy is barely mobile at this point of his career and he’s a Raul Ibanez-esque liability in right field. My tolerance for bad defensive corner outfielders is surprisingly high, but not that high. Beltran’s been scary bad in right this year. Two, his health. I know Beltran is having the bone spur taken out of his elbow this winter, but he also has bad knees and at his age, the likelihood of breaking down physically is pretty high. Giving him more time at DH should reduce his injury risk, in theory. So, in this scenario the Yankees would have room for someone like Melky in right field, but again, are they willing to spent that much money on another outfielder? If the Yankees are going to hand out another $10M+ per year contract to a position player, the infield seems like the place to do it.
4. Stephen Drew has not hit a lick with the Yankees (32 wRC+) but I contend the trade was still worth it because now the team knows he is definitely not the guy to sign to play shortstop next season. The fact that he isn’t even playing regularly at this point seems like they are admitting that is the case. Besides, it’s not like the Yankees gave up anything of value to get him in the first place. They took a low-cost flier and it didn’t work out, that’s life. I don’t believe Drew is really as bad as he’s shown this year but I also don’t think the “he didn’t have a proper Spring Training” excuse is all that valid anymore either. He’s at 239 plate appearances and shown no signs of snapping out of it. (It’s worth noting Kendrys Morales is still struggling to find his way after signing late as well.) The upcoming free agent market is shockingly deep with shortstops, namely Drew, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, and Asdrubal Cabrera. I assume the Yankees will sign one of those guys — they all have their pluses and minuses, I don’t see an obvious one to target right now — and eliminating Drew from the pack makes life that much easier. These few weeks after the trade were an audition and Drew flunked.
5. What exactly is Brendan Ryan‘s role on the Yankees going forward? I know they re-signed him (two years plus a player option!) as a backup plan for Derek Jeter should his ankle give him more trouble this year, but I don’t buy for a second that they would install him as the starting shortstop next year. I’d much rather see the Yankees re-sign Drew before going with Ryan as the starter. They’d have to whiff on every one of the free agent shortstop for Ryan to get a chance to play everyday, and I don’t see that happening. Ryan’s contract isn’t exactly an albatross ($2M in 2015) but he has no trade value. He has played in seven of the team’s last 33 games (five starts) and really doesn’t seem to have a defined role at this point. I wonder if the Yankees would look for a better backup infield infielder, then outright Ryan off the 40-man roster and down to Triple-A Scranton. If he gets claimed off waivers, so be it. He won’t refuse the outright assignment if he clears waivers because then he would forfeit the remainder of his contract, and I have a hard time believing that will happen. It’s a weird situation. No hit, all glove backup infielders have zero value if they’re playing as infrequently as Ryan does.
6. As far as second base goes, I think my perfect world scenario has Martin Prado at second and Alex Rodriguez at third base to open next season. A-Rod is coming back and I’m sure the Yankees will stick him out there at the hot corner early on. Then, when Alex inevitably gets injured, the Yankees slide Prado to third base and play Rob Refsnyder at second. A-Rod hasn’t played a full healthy season since 2007 and I have no reason to think 2015 will be the year he does it. Not at age 39 and after two hip surgeries and nearly two full years away from the game. I like Prado the most at second base, he fits there way better than in right field or at third base in my opinion, but I also want the Yankees to give Refsnyder a chance next year. I mean, at some point they have to try one of their young position players, and he’s the obvious candidate knocking on the door. Prado’s versatility gives the team flexibility and I’m sure Rodriguez’s brittle body will create the opportunity.
Yes, I’m swiping Mike’s bit, kind of. He’s invited me to do so for years, and now seems like a good time to take him up on the offer.
Brian Cashman‘s contract expires after this season. With the possibility of his team missing the postseason for the second consecutive year, fans have speculated that Cashman’s 16-year tenure as GM could come to an end.
Plenty of fans, particularly the loudest ones, have hoped that is the case. But it appears that they will be disappointed.
Playoffs or no playoffs, the Yankees intend to offer Brian Cashman a new contract this winter, according to pretty cool guy Jon Heyman. His sources indicate that ownership doesn’t blame Cashman for the way the last two seasons have unfolded.
(Perhaps because their own meddling has played a role?)
Few fanbases stand 100% behind the general manager. There’s always a set of people who believe that they’re the smartest people in the room, and they’re vocal so they can prove it to everyone. Yet it seems that this group is larger than it was the last time Cashman’s contract expired.
At that point, after the 2011 season, I fully supported bringing back Cashman. Since the inception of RAB the three of us (now four with Jay) have felt that Cashman is the guy for the job.
Now? I’m not so sure. Hence, a “thoughts on” post.
1. Where is this team headed? The Yankees had some tough decision to make last off-season. Not only did they face a depleted roster, but their far-and-away most productive hitter hit the free agent market. The time seemed ripe for a rebuilding effort.
They could have acted far differently. They could have re-signed Robinson Cano and signed Masahiro Tanaka without sacrificing the 18th pick in the draft. Instead they went in a completely different direction, trying to patch multiple weaknesses with high-priced free agents.
As Mike wrote earlier this week, the Yankees face an even tougher set of decisions this winter. Do they double down on their spending strategy to bring in Jon Lester? Do they seek out an offensive upgrade — Nelson Cruz or Hanley Ramirez? They’ve already committed $168 million to the 2015 team, and that covers just 10 players.
It seems kind of silly to hold back this off-season after going big and seeing little results this past season. Yet, as Mike noted, they certainly need to rethink how they operate as the team around them modify their philosophies.
The point is, in the past we’ve had some idea of the direction the Yankees were taking. Right now? I have none, and I don’t think anyone else outside the organization does, either.
The further point is, I’m not totally sure Cashman is the guy to take the team in a different direction.
2. Is it a higher ups problem? There are plenty of young executives from other clubs the Yankees could poach for a potentially vacant GM spot. But if they’re not allowed to actually make decisions, will it even matter?
The larger question is of whether ownership is truly a problem here. Yes, the Steinbrenners have opened their wallets to help the team, but are they spending that money wisely? Are they meddling to too great a degree? These are questions we have difficulty answering from the outsider perspective.
We’ve seen certain instances where the higher ups step in to make decisions. Rafael Soriano remains the most prominent example. Ichiro Suzuki, too. So how many decisions is ownership forcing on the team? How independently can the GM act?
The Diamondbacks just fired their GM, Kevin Towers. They’ll find someone soon to fill that role. Will he have any success? It’s tough to say, because, as my dear friend Leo said, Ken Kendrick still owns them. It has become pretty apparent that ownership is part of the problem here. Knicks fans have known this for far more than a decade.
If the problem does lie with the higher ups, then does it even matter who holds the GM position? In that case, having Cashman, who has been around the Steinbrenner family his entire adult life, might be an advantage.
3. Would a good candidate even want the job? Many of us have dreamt of becoming the GM. (And a few among us have delusions that we’re qualified.) Who would turn down the opportunity if offered?
Plenty of people. Perhaps the most qualified candidates wouldn’t find the Yankees’ job attractive. Two highly regarded executives, Jason McLeod of the Cubs and David Forst of the A’s, declined to interview for the Padres GM job earlier this year. Would they interview for the Yankees’ gig, knowing that ownership gets involved in baseball decisions?
The absolute worst case scenario is to let Cashman walk only to hire some retread GM, because none of the elite candidates want the job. I like Kevin Towers well enough, but I don’t want to see him replace Cashman as GM of the Yankees.
There’s no point in letting Cashman go if they’re not going to replace him with an elite GM, or a young executive on his path to greatness. Firing Cashman and then hiring (shudders) Ed Wade or Jim Bowden or Jim Hendry seems like a sure step backward. What if they’re the only guys lining up to interview for the job?
4. A Theo/Hoyer situation? By most visible measures, Billy Eppler has done a fine job in the last few years, first as pro scouting director and now as assistant GM. The Padres courted him for their vacant GM position, and nearly hired him. The man is in demand. Might it be his time to shine?
The Yankees could choose to promote Cashman and move Eppler into the GM role, a situation similar to how Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein operate in Chicago. On a practical level that might not accomplish much. Epstein surely continues to call shots in Chicago, just as Ken Williams continues to call shots in Chicago even though Rick Hahn is the GM.
At the very least, this kind of nominal move could keep Eppler in New York. Given the work he’s done in the last few years and the reputation he’s established, that seems desirable. The Yankees have an obstacle, in that they already have a team president. While most of us have less than perfect impressions of Randy Levine, it’s not as though the Steinbrenners are just going to fire him because they want to move Cashman into that position.
The holiday weekend is over and it’s back to business as usual. These first days after a long weekend are always the worst. The Red Sox come to town for a three-game starting tonight as well, and those games are always a chore. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous thoughts following the off-day.
1. By far, the biggest storyline of September will be Masahiro Tanaka‘s rehab from his partially torn elbow ligament. His recent “general soreness” setback was not encouraging, but, based on what we know right now, it seems like a dead arm phase. He has worked out at Yankee Stadium the last few days and even played catch. I know it feels like Tommy John surgery is inevitable — it is really, it’s only a matter of time once the ligament tears even a little bit — but I strongly disagree with everyone who says Tanaka should have the surgery now just to get it over with. I know the procedure has a high success rate, but all the pitchers who have had complications during their rehabs from elbow reconstruction just within the last year (Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, Patrick Corbin, Brandon Beachy, Jonny Venters, etc.)are a reminder of how risky it still is. And besides, four (four!) doctors advised the Yankees and Tanaka to go the rehab route. Brian Cashman said Tanaka was personally examined by Dr. David Atlchek, Yankees team doctor Dr. Chris Ahmad, and Dodgers team doctor Dr. Neal ElAttrache during the injury conference call, and Jon Heyman reported the test results were also sent to Dr. James Andrews for consultation. When four (four!) of the leading doctors in the field tell you go with the rehab option, you go with the rehab option. Having the surgery against the recommendation of four doctors would have been beyond irresponsible. It would have been a fireable offense for whoever ordered it. Tanaka might end up having surgery because that’s just how elbows work. Pitchers break. But hopefully this “general soreness” is just a blip in the rehab and he’s able to make a start or two late in the season just so we can some chance to evaluate him heading into 2015.
2. I’m disappointed we are unlikely to see Jacob Lindgren this month but I get it. He’s thrown 80 innings this year, which is a ton for a slider-heavy reliever, and there is definite risk to adding a player to the 40-man roster before he is Rule 5 Draft eligible, especially since you’re only calling him up for a few weeks in September. I do wonder how much of this is related to the team’s place in the postseason race though. Would the Yankees have been more willing to bring him to help out these last few weeks if they were only, say, a game out of the second wildcard spot rather than four games back with four teams ahead of them? Lindgren made his first appearance with Double-A Trenton on August 6th, when the Yankees were only one game back of the second wildcard. He then threw 3.1 innings in his first three outings with the Thunder while the big league squad fell to four games back of a postseason spot. Lindgren then threw two innings in each of his next four appearances. Maybe that’s when the decision was made that he would not come up in September, so they moved forward with a plan to make sure he got all of his innings in before the end of the minor league season. Either way, I fully expect Lindgren to come to big league Spring Training next year with a chance to win a bullpen job. He’ll certainly make his MLB debut at some point in 2015. You don’t draft a reliever with your top pick unless you intend to get him to the show in a hurry.
3. As of this morning, the Yankees have 43 players on the 40-man roster when you include Alex Rodriguez (suspended) and both CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova (60-day DL). I count eight players who will come off the 40-man as free agents this winter (Chris Capuano, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki) and another five who can be easily cut loose (Matt Daley, David Huff, Josh Outman, Esmil Rogers, Zelous Wheeler), giving the team ten open spots heading into the winter. Tyler Austin is a lock to be added to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure while others like Branden Pinder, Nick Goody, Mark Montgomery, Mason Williams, and Danny Burawa are on the fence. I’d bet on at least three of those guys being protected, maybe even four. (Just don’t ask me which three or four.) Anyway, add those guys and those ten open spots are really five or six open spots. Calling up Lindgren and/or Rob Refsnyder for a month before they’re Rule 5 eligible would even further limit roster flexibility. Guys like Jose Campos, Slade Heathcott, Chase Whitley, Preston Claiborne, and Austin Romine could wind up getting the axe this winter just so the team can re-sign or replace Robertson, McCarthy, et al as it is. I’m not quite sure where this is heading, but the point is the Yankees are facing a real 40-man crunch this winter and I have a hard time seeing how it will improve without the unexpected unloading of a big money contract or three.
4. Yesterday ESPN stats guru Mark Simon posted some hard-hit ball data — I really wish this stuff was available publicly somewhere — and the Yankees ranked dead last in all of baseball in hard-hit ball rate for the month of August at 12.4%. That is hard-hit balls per at-bat, not balls in play, just to be clear. The Twins (!?) led baseball at 19.1% last month and the league average is somewhere around 15.2%. This is all based on human stringers watching every game and recording the data, so it is imperfect. It’s not HitFX data. Anyway, I dug through Simon’s archives and found that, as of August 4th, the Yankees had the 14th highest hard-hit ball rate this season at 15.3%, so basically league average. That number obviously came down last month, after the trade deadline. This matches up with the eye test, in my opinion. The Yankees as a team don’t see to hit the ball hard all that consistently, with Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury the only notable exceptions. There are a ton of weak fly balls and five or six-hop ground balls every game. More than usual. When I look up and down the roster and see, say, Brian McCann with a .245 BABIP or Mark Teixeira with a .235 BABIP or Carlos Beltran with a .254 BABIP, it’s not surprising. It doesn’t seem like anyone on the roster is having a “bad luck” season. These guys just flat out are making crap contact and getting crap results as a result. That is totally subjective, of course, but Simon’s data does back up what my eyes are telling me. Unless these guys magically regain bat speed in the future, it’s difficult to believe their offensive performances will substantially improve based on the quality of the contact they’re making.
5. The Yankees have 17 home games left this season — the most in baseball, by the way — and I would put money on Derek Jeter starting all 17 of those games. Barring injury, of course. Maybe not all at shortstop, but in the lineup every single day. The team is fading out of the postseason race and their attention will shift to maximizing all things Jeter this month, especially profits. It’s just smart business. They’d be stupid not to do that. I know Jeter hasn’t been very good this year, especially these last few weeks, but holy crap there’s only a month left in his career. I have a very difficult time remembered the pre-Jeter years and I think the post-Jeter years will be weirder than the post-Mariano Rivera years. Jeter is the last tie to the dynasty years, teams that were a huge part of my formative year. You don’t forget that stuff and with Jeter gone, the page will be officially turned. It’s just … weird. I feel like all I’ve known is the Jeter era Yankees — I know I’m not the only one who feels like that — and that whole chapter of franchise history is about to close. Getting old sucks, man.
The Yankees were off yesterday for the third time in the last week. It’s not often that happens during the season outside of the All-Star break. For a team with an older roster and intentions of making a run at a postseason spot, a bunch of off-days bunched together in the middle of August might do them some good. Anyway, here are some miscellaneous thoughts.
1. In the last two games against the Rays this weekend, Joe Girardi went to Shawn Kelley in seventh inning fireman situations before giving the ball to Dellin Betances to start the eighth. Earlier in the season, we would have seen Betances come in to pitch out of the jam in the seventh before throwing the eighth as well. Maybe not in back-to-back games, but definitely in one of the two. Girardi has scaled back on Betances’ workload — the attempted three-inning outing against the Orioles last week was a bit of a special case because he had not pitched in five days and the Yankees were off the next day — using him for four or more outs only six times in 14 appearances since the All-Star break (17.2 innings). In his 14 appearances before the All-Star break, Betances was asked to record four or more outs ten times (19.1 innings). The plan might be to limit him to one-inning outings the rest of the season unless there are extenuating circumstances, like an upcoming off-day or a particularly long stretch of inactivity. Betances is up to 73 innings this year, the most of any full-time reliever in baseball — it’s also the most innings thrown by a Yankees reliever during the Girardi era, surpassing the 71.2 innings Joba Chamberlain threw in 2011 — and most of them have been stressful high-leverage innings. They have to be careful not to run Betances into the ground. The Yankees and Girardi are right to lighten up on him these next few weeks, and this past weekend might have been an indication of how the bullpen pieces will fall into place the rest of the way.
2. With that in mind, it was noticeable Adam Warren didn’t even warm up during the Tampa series. Kelley was the first and only guy up in those important seventh inning spots. Warren hasn’t pitched since his meltdown against the Orioles last Monday. He hasn’t been very good these last few weeks — 5.46 ERA and 4.06 FIP in 28 innings since June 1st — and maybe that outing against Baltimore was the final straw. The one that led to Girardi taking him out of important situations. That would be preferable to, say, Warren nursing an injury and not being available in general. If that is the case, that he is out of the Circle of Trust™ for the time being, it could open the door for Esmil Rogers to see some setup work whenever Kelley and/or Betances is unavailable. Rogers has pitched well during his brief stint in pinstripes and he has had success in a short relief role in the past — 3.06 ERA and 3.13 FIP in 44 appearances and 53 innings with the Indians in 2012 — which could be enough to land him some more responsibility. It’s amazing how the bullpen changes throughout the season. Every year, without fail. Kelley was the setup man, Warren the emerging relief ace, and Betances the great unknown in April. Now Betances is the shutdown relief ace, Kelley is the shaky seventh inning guy, and Warren is (temporarily?) untrustworthy. And we’re talking about Esmil Rogers pitching important innings.
3. Derek Jeter served as the DH both Saturday and Sunday and I think we’re going to see a bit more of him at DH in the coming weeks. Carlos Beltran returned to right field and Jeter has simply played a ton in the field this year. He’s started 102 of the team’s 122 games at shortstop and his recent slump — .237/.250/.322 (55 wRC+) with a 74.0% ground ball rate in August compared to .289/.340/.320 (86 wRC+) with a 60.5% ground ball rate in July — could be fatigue related. We are talking about a 40-year-old coming off a major ankle injury, remember. That doesn’t mean Jeter will be the full-time DH, but he might spend two or even three days a week there going forward. Beltran is no great shakes in the outfield, but Jacoby Ellsbury‘s range and the small Yankee Stadium right field make it easier to hide him. Especially since the Yankees (still) have a ground ball heavy pitching staff. Jeter at DH means Stephen Drew at short and Martin Prado at second, which is a tremendous double play combo defensively, as we saw over the weekend. The Yankees are not going to flat out take Jeter off short, not at this point, but giving him some more time at DH definitely improves the team. (It also gives them more time to evaluate Drew at short up close.)
4. I can’t imagine the Yankees will go through this coming offseason without trading a catcher. I don’t know who it will be, but they’ve reached the point where someone has to go. Brian McCann is locked in at the big league level and Gary Sanchez is ready to be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton. That leaves two spots (McCann’s backup, Sanchez’s caddy) for Frankie Cervelli, Austin Romine, and John Ryan Murphy. The tricky part is trading the “right” catcher, so to speak. Cervelli gets hurt all the time and Romine seems to have played his way out of the team’s long-term plans, which means they don’t have much trade value. McCann obviously isn’t going anywhere, leaving Sanchez and Murphy. I really like Murphy and think he’s on track to become a rock solid all-around catcher (not a star), so I would be hesitant to give him up, but Sanchez has a chance to become a true impact bat, something the Yankees desperately need. His defense needs work and even if he can’t catch in the long run, first base will open sooner rather than later. The club needs both pitching and offense help this winter, and unless some team is willing to give up more than expected for Cervelli or Romine, it makes the most sense to move Murphy. Teams will move mountains for young catchers who can actually catch, and potential impact bats like Sanchez are super valuable in this offense-challenged era.
5. By all accounts, the Yankees are a “major player” for Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo, who is sorting through offers and is expected to pick his new team relatively soon. They supposedly like him more as a second baseman than as an outfielder, which puts them in the minority. Either way, the Bombers have long-term openings at second and in right, so they could make it work either way. I absolutely do not think they need to go all out to sign him after missing out on other big time Cuban players like Yasiel Puig or Jose Abreu — that’s the kind of logic that resulted in Kei Igawa back in the day — but I do think the Yankees should be in the business of aggressively acquiring assets, especially guys in the prime of their careers. Castillo is only 27 and the Bombers have a decided lack of prime-aged regulars. Blocking a prospect like, say, Rob Refsnyder at second or Austin in right is a non-factor in my opinion. The prospects (and Castillo!) have not proven anything, so the more options the Yankees give themselves, the more likely they are to land a bonafide Major League regular. If everyone works out and the club is left with a logjam, great! That’s not a problem. It’s an envious situation. I have no idea how good Castillo really is, but if the Yankees think he’s legit, then they should absolutely flex their financial muscles to bring him in. They went bonkers for international free agent amateurs last month. Now continue it with a more high-profile player to give the big league team more immediate help.
The Yankees and Orioles were rained out last night and think everyone needed that. The team hasn’t had a day off in a while and it can be exhausting watching them struggle to score runs night after night. That goes for both the fans watching at home and the players watching in the dugout. Here are some scattered thoughts following the impromptu off-day.
1. I was talking about this with a friend the other day: If another team claimed Brian McCann off trade waivers this month, say the Dodgers, should the Yankees just let him go like they did Matt Thornton? That would enable them to get out from under the 4+ years and $72M or so left on his contract, but they’d also be letting him go for nothing. McCann hasn’t hit a lick this season and he’s been a huge disappointment, and it’s fair to wonder if this is just a one-year blip or a sign of things to come. He is a 30-year-old catcher with approximately 10,000 big league innings on his legs, remember. Those guys can fall off a cliff in a hurry and without warning. If this is who McCann is going forward, the Yankees would be foolish not to jump at the chance to unload his contract. Obviously this is all hypothetical since no one is claiming him. I was all for signing McCann in the offseason, he fit the team’s needs perfectly, but it hasn’t worked out at all. Figuring out why he stopped hitting — teams have been shifting against him for five years, stop blaming that — and getting back to where he needs to be has to be priority number one this offseason.
2. Speaking of Thornton, I wish the Yankees would stop putzing around with Rich Hill — retired three of nine MLB batters faced this year! — and call up either Tyler Webb or Jacob Lindgren. I understand why they let Thornton go and I’m not going to argue against dumping a soon-to-be 39-year-old lefty specialist with another ~$4.5M coming to him, but I feel like they only took a half-measure by calling up Hill instead of one of the kids. They took advantage of the situation and got an aging, relatively expensive player off the roster, paving the way for a youngster, but they called up a retread instead. Bah. I feel like Hill is such a waste of time. Both Webb and Lindgren have pitched very well in the minors this year and the team talked glowingly about them after the Thornton move. So what’s the point in waiting? We’re not talking about an everyday position player or a starting pitcher who has to learn to turn a lineup over multiple times, they’re one-inning (or even less than that) relievers who have to come in an air it out for a few batters. I don’t see the sense in waiting until rosters expand on September 1st to call one of those two guys up.
3. The 2015 third base situation fascinates me. Are the Yankees really going to run Alex Rodriguez out there everyday at age 39 with a bad hip after he played only 44 games from 2012-13? Would they re-sign Chase Headley and make A-Rod the full-time DH or even release him? Is the plan to have Martin Prado split time with Alex at third base? Something else entirely? I would love to see the Yankees bring Headley back on an Adrian Beltre-esque one-yearpillow contract, but I get the feeling he’s going to go for the biggest payday possible. I know I would. If that means he leaves the team, then I guess A-Rod with Prado as a caddy is the most likely scenario. The Yankees are going to need three infielders this offseason, though you could argue the best possible solutions at third base (A-Rod, Headley, Prado) and second base (Prado, Rob Refsnyder) are already on the team. There won’t be much out there in free agency, as usual.
4. Speaking of free agency, here is the 2014-15 crop of free agents. It’s a thin class and I wonder if the Yankees would have interest in bringing Melky Cabrera back to play right field. Other than him, the only other free agents who even closely resemble impact hitters are Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Hanley is hurt all the time and will probably require a nine-figure deal. Sandoval could end up with Beltre money (five years, $80M) and I worry he might eat himself out of baseball once he gets a huge contract. His conditioning issues are long-running and well-documented. Melky might come with the fewest questions among the big free agents, which is really saying something given his performance-enhancing drug suspension a few years ago. Cabrera just turned 30 on Monday, he’s hit very well this season (135 wRC+ heading into last night’s game), and he’s a switch-hitter with some power and a ton of contact ability. His defense kinda stinks but he does have a strong arm, which makes him a good candidate for right field in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees know Melky and he knows them, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier to work out a deal. It could mean in the opposite, in fact. With the caveat that I am terrible at estimating free agent contracts, my guess is he gets something like four years and $56M to $60M, or Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson money.
5. Looking over that list of free agents makes me think the Yankees really need to re-sign Brandon McCarthy. Not at any cost, obviously. He is coming off a two-year deal worth $18M, though he is both two years older and not as good as he was when he signed that contract. His price should come a bit, in theory. Given the dearth of quality pitching and general market inflation, I’m guessing that won’t be the case though. Maybe two years and $20M gets it done this time. McCarthy does have a very scary history of shoulder injuries — he hit the DL at least once with a shoulder issue (including multiple stress fractures) every year from 2007-13 — so there would be a lot of risk involved. He’s pitched very well in pinstripes though, showing he can deal with pitching in the tougher league and in a small ballpark in his limited time. The Yankees will need rotation help next year and if they can get McCarthy to come back at a reasonable price, they should be all over it. Lock him up during the exclusive negotiating period, before he even gets to free agency.
I know Friday morning is usually the mailbag slot, but c’mon, yesterday was the trade deadline. It wasn’t just any ol’ trade deadline either, it was the most active and unpredictable trade deadline in a long time. Lots of big names were moved, and, somewhat surprisingly, there were a lot of big leaguer-for-big leaguer trades. Only a handful of prospects changed hands. Seems like teams are finally starting to come around on the idea of prospects being overrated. MLB players are where it’s at. Here’s a recap of all the deadline moves and here are some scattered thoughts.
1. I feel too many people view the trade deadline as binary these days, that teams should either buy or sell with nothing in between. That’s not reality though. There is always a middle ground and that’s the way the Yankees went. They made small upgrades and hugged their prospects at the same time. They acquired four no-doubt upgrades in Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, and Martin Prado, and they did so at amazingly minimal cost (and got cash back!). All they gave up were two fringe big leaguers in Vidal Nuno and Yangervis Solarte, two mid-range prospects in Peter O’Brien and Rafael DePaula, and the replaceable Kelly Johnson. I mean, how do you not love that? I don’t know if those moves will be enough to put them over the hump and into the postseason, in fact I’ll so as far as saying it is unlikely they will be, but those are clear upgrades that do not damage the short or long-term health of the franchise. Those are four quality players acquired for nothing the Yankees will miss. Amazing.
2. Now, that said, it’s pretty obvious they still need some pitching. At the very least an innings eater just to, well, eat innings. Someone who can spare the bullpen that extra inning or two every fifth day. The Yankees in position to take on salary in an August waiver trade and I think they will at some point. Cliff Lee re-injured his elbow last night and that makes him a non-option — not just for the remainder of this year either, if he doesn’t pitch at all the rest of this season I don’t see how they could go after him in the winter with all that money left on his contract — but other August trade candidates are John Danks, Scott Feldman, Kevin Correia, Bartolo Colon, Chris Young, Colby Lewis, A.J. Burnett, and James Shields. (How fantastic would a Shields rental be?) I’m not saying the Yankees should go after those guys specifically, just that there should be some pitching options this month, especially as more and more clubs fall out of the race. Win or lose, postseason or no postseason, they need some arms to avoid running their valuable pitchers into the ground.
3. Here’s the upcoming free agent class. There are very few position players listed there I prefer over Prado at his fair value contract and that’s not something to be overlooked. The Yankees got out ahead of the market by extending Brett Gardner before he hit free agency — how amazing does that deal look right now? — and trading for Prado saves them from bending over to sign some meh free agent to plug a hole over the winter, whether it be an outfielder or an infielder or whatever. Free agency is not what it once was, the solution to every problem is not out there in the form of an above-average player every offseason because teams are signing all of their best players to multi-year extension. Trading for those guys is now the way to acquire talent. Prado isn’t a sexy name and frankly I don’t think he’s anything more than a league average player, but league average is valuable and it’s one less thing to worry about this winter.
4. Drew is obviously auditioning to replace Derek Jeter next season. You realize that, right? I know he’ll be playing second base these next two months, but the Yankees and everyone else knows he can play shortstop without a problem. They get to see how he handles New York, how he fits in the clubhouse, how well he can take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, stuff like that. That’s not nothing. Sometimes a player just isn’t a good fit (see: Carl Crawford and the Red Sox) and usually you don’t find that out until after he’s signed. The same applies to Headley, really. The Yankees will get to know him these next few weeks and see firsthand how well he fits the team. If they like what they see, they could look to sign him during the exclusive negotiating period and avoid a bidding war on the open market.
5. When Spring Training opened, the candidates for the non-shortstop and non-first base infield positions were Johnson, Solarte, Brian Roberts, Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, and Dean Anna. Every single one of them is gone. Johnson (trade), Sizemore (release), and Roberts (designated for assignment) were all jettisoned yesterday, Solarte (trade) was moved a few weeks ago, Nunez (trade) was moved back in April, and Anna (waived) was dropped from the roster last month. Pretty amazing that none of them survived the season and Solarte managed to be the best of that bunch. If nothing else, Headley and Drew will be big upgrades defensively — I’m pretty confident Drew will out-defend Roberts on pure athleticism even though he’s never played second as a pro — over that Island of Misfit Infielders. Headley’s already helped with the bat and Drew might. With Roberts gone and Ichiro Suzuki glued to the bench, the Yankees have a bonafide starting caliber Major League player at every position for the first time since 2012. It really is the little things in life that make you happiest.
6. This is a minor point but one worth mentioning: the DePaula and O’Brien trades did help clear up some organizational logjams. I’m pretty sure DePaula will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, so that saves the Yankees a 40-man roster spot. He would have been a borderline protect/expose candidate like Jose Campos this winter, and, as they’ve shown the last few years, the Yankees almost always protect those borderline guys and it limits roster flexibility. Trading DePaula helps that situation. Moving O’Brien also ends the daily lineup/position juggling at Double-A Trenton. Gary Sanchez can catch everyday, Tyler Austin can play first base everyday, and the trio of Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Ben Gamel can play the outfield everyday. Plus the DH spot stays open. Thunder manager Tony Franklin had to wedge O’Brien into the lineup somewhere these last few weeks, but that’s not an issue anymore.
7. I think you can make a very strong argument the three best (healthy) starting pitchers in the AL East were traded yesterday as Jon Lester (Athletics), David Price (Tigers), and John Lackey (Cardinals) were shipped to other divisions. That’s pretty remarkable. Four of New York’s five Opening Day rotation starters are on the disabled list while the Red Sox traded four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation (Lester, Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront) in the last week or so. I don’t really know where I’m going with this, I just thought it was interesting. Two years ago this division housed top notch pitchers in Lester, Price, Shields, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda. Now the best healthy pitcher in the division is … Alex Cobb? Chris Archer? Mark Buehrle? Marcus Stroman? Yeesh.
8. I really like Drew Smyly — I even wrote a post about the Yankees potentially trading for him back in the day — but man, that is an underwhelming return for Price. Friend of RAB and Rays fans Tommy Rancel is one of the smartest baseball dudes I know and even he agrees the return was light. Smyly’s good and Franklin should have some sort of MLB career, but that’s it. That Willy Adames kid is an 18-year-old project in Single-A. Where’s the young stud big leaguer or elite prospect? That trade was made to fill needs and not acquire the most talent possible, and acquiring the most talent is what I think you have to do when trading someone of Price’s caliber.
9. The Red Sox did fine in their trades assuming Allen Craig hasn’t permanently forgotten how to hit. I’m interested to see what happens with Yoenis Cespedes next year. They don’t get the standard six years of team control over him — his contract stipulates that he has to be non-tendered after his fourth year, and because he has to be non-tendered, they can’t make him a qualifying offer and recoup a draft pick. Will they really let him walk after next season for nothing? Or will they re-sign him into his 30s, something they’ve been hesitant to do with other players and refused to do with their homegrown ace? If not, will they be looking to trade him at the deadline next summer? That’ll be fascinating.
I usually do these thoughts posts first thing in the morning and following an off-day, but I figure with the trade deadline looming tomorrow, I might as well run it now. Tomorrow figures to be pretty busy even if the Yankees do not make a move. There will still be lots of rumors. Here are some scattered thoughts heading into the series finale with the Rangers as well as the trade deadline.
1. I fully expect the Yankees to make a move before the deadline tomorrow and I think they’re going to end up making multiple moves, actually. One for a pitcher, one for a bat, maybe another really minor deal for additional pitching depth. As for who they’re going to wind up with … I have no idea whatsoever. John Danks and Josh Willingham are as good a guess as anyone, but the Yankees tend to keep things very close to the vest and most of their moves come out of nowhere. It would really surprise me if a) they did nothing between now and the deadline, and b) if they traded away any top prospects. The last time they traded away top prospects was when, the Curtis Granderson deal? Brian Cashman & Co. are all about buying low, expecting players to rebound, and giving up mid-range prospects. The only way a top prospect goes is if a stud like David Price comes to New York. I don’t see that happening within the next day and a half.
2. It blows my mind the Red Sox are (probably) going to trade Jon Lester rather than extend him. They made all those moves these last few years to emphasize financial and roster flexibility, and for what? Isn’t Lester exactly the kind of guy you keep forever and ever? This is different than the Yankees and Robinson Cano because the Red Sox don’t already have like four crippling long-term contracts on the books. You sign Lester long-term knowing you’re probably going to end up with the 2013 version from 2015-18 or so, not the 2014 version, but that’s fine. What’s the point if that flexibility if you’re not going to use it to keep a homegrown ace who helped you to two World Series titles and is still in his prime? The Red Sox are going to try to win next year, right? It’s much easier to win with Lester than without him. Yeah, sure, they could re-sign him after the season, but they’ve yet to make anything close to a market value-ish offer and if they haven’t done it yet, I’m not sure why you’d expect them to make one in free agency. Plus as soon as he gets traded away, the chances of re-signing him go down some amount.
3. If the Red Sox do trade Lester — it really does seem inevitable at this point, though I expected them to scratch him from today’s start anyway, he could always wind up starting Friday against the Yankees if no deal gets done — it would help the Yankees a lot. For starters, they wouldn’t have to face him anymore this season. The teams most rumored to be on him right now are NL clubs (Dodgers, Pirates, Brewers, Cardinals) and the Athletics, who the Yankees do not face again in the regular season. Of course, New York’s main competitors like the Orioles and Blue Jays won’t have to face him anymore either. Also, once Lester is traded, his new team won’t be able to make him a qualifying offer after the season, meaning the Yankees won’t have to surrender a first round pick when they inevitably sign him over the winter. Well, maybe it’s not inevitable they sign him, but it is inevitable they will be connected to him. AL East and postseason proven lefty ace? C’mon, that dude has pinstripes written all over him. Plus the Yankees seem to love their former Red Sox players. The fit is too perfect.
4. The bullpen really seems to be getting worn out, especially Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. They’re currently on pace for 97 and 80 innings, respectively, and their effectiveness has waned in recent weeks. They haven’t been bad (last night notwithstanding), just not as good as they were earlier in the season. I know they were both starters in the past and the bulk innings total shouldn’t be a problem, but airing it out for one or two innings at a time in high-leverage situations is not at all the same as starting on a set five-day schedule with a comfortable routine. Shawn Kelley has been much better of late and he will lighten their workload just a little bit, plus I think Chase Whitley could become a factor as a one or two-inning bullpener, but the Yankees play nothing but close games these days. It’s tough to see how Betances and Warren will get some more rest in the coming weeks. Trading for relievers is always sketchy, but getting another end-game capable arm to help spread the workload around would both help this year and in the future by allowing Joe Girardi to take it easy on the young guys with an actual future with the team.
5. So I had to look it up after last night’s game: J.P. Arencibia is hitting .269/.269/.808 against the Yankees this year and .154/.209/.269 against everyone else. Seven of his 19 hits and half of his 42 total bases have come against New York. This is Delmon Young in the postseason kind of stuff. Arencibia has always hit the Yankees hard — 126 OPS+ vs. NYY compared to a career 77 OPS+, plus 12 of his 70 homers (17%) have come against the Yankees in 11.6% of his career plate appearances — and man it sucks because he’s such a bad hitter overall. The guy went from a 36 OPS+ to a 69 OPS+ just last night. Some guys just have it in for a certain team or a certain pitcher for whatever reason. It’s like Brett Gardner owning Yu Darvish. It just happens. Baseball is weird like that.
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.
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.
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?
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.