Cashman confirms Yankees unlikely to start the season with a six-man rotation

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

With each passing year, there is more and more talk the Yankees may use a six-man rotation going forward. Maybe not all season, but part of the season. The team went to great lengths to give their starters extra rest whenever possible last summer — Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi made 63 of their 107 starts with extra rest (59%) — and I’m sure that will be the case this coming season too.

At the moment, the Yankees intend to start the 2016 season with a normal five-man rotation, Brian Cashman confirmed to Bryan Hoch. “Right now, it’s more likely that we go the conventional route and have five starters,” said the GM. “And whoever is the loser out of that battle for five spots would potentially be a long man in the ‘pen, waiting in the wings. But who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.”

The April schedule includes a ton of off-days, as usual, so the Yankees will be able to give their starters plenty of extra rest without jumping through too many hoops early in the season. In fact, whoever starts Opening Day will be able to make each of his first four (and five of his first six) starts on extra rest thanks to scheduled off-days. I assume Tanaka will get the ball on Opening Day, but we’ll see.

Here is a real quick and dirty tentative rotation schedule for April. The Yankees must be looking forward to all those early-season off-days this year. Check this out:

April rotation schedule

The Yankees will be able to have their starter on extra rest 16 times (!) in the first 20 games. They won’t have to use a starter on normal rest until April 17th, the 12th game of the year. And doesn’t that April 27th game sure look like the perfect time to use a spot sixth starter? It would give the rest of the rotation two extra days of rest before their next starts thanks to the off-day on the 28th.

That all looks pretty good to me. Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur, so the Yankees will want to take it easy on him early next year. Eovaldi’s season ended early due to an elbow issue as well. Sabathia’s knee flared up again in September and Pineda hasn’t pitched a full season since 2011. Luis Severino figures to be the other starter and he’ll be on some sort of innings limit. The Yankees have good reason to want to give these guys extra rest.

Of course, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The Yankees have to get through Spring Training with five healthy starters before they can start mapping out rotation schedules and possible dates to use a sixth starter. “I think if you can give guys extra rest, that’s always a benefit,” added Cashman. “But theory and practicality, that’s where the rubber meets the road. We have a long way to get to before that really is a legitimate option or not.”

I’m sure we’ll hear more about the possibility of a six-man rotation in the coming weeks. It’s unavoidable. It’s what people talk about when there’s nothing else to talk about. That talk will only grow louder if the Yankees do manage to trade Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller for a starter in the coming weeks. I don’t think it’ll happen, but you never know. No one expected Alex Rodriguez to become a Yankee on this date in 2004, right? Right.

Rob Refsnyder ranks ninth among MLB.com’s top second base prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

MLB.com’s look at the top ten prospects at each position continued yesterday with second base. Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada predictably topped the list, and was followed by Reds IF Jose Peraza and Cubs 2B Ian Happ in the top three. Rob Refsnyder placed ninth on the top ten list. MLB.com’s scouting reports are free, as always.

“An outfielder at Arizona, Refsnyder’s transition to second base has been slow and steady. It’s always encouraging when a solid hitter in the Minors performs well in his big league debut, and that’s exactly what Refsnyder did in 2015,” said the write-up. Here’s a piece of their latest scouting report:

He recognizes pitches and manages the strike zone better than most players. Refsnyder’s compact right-handed stroke yields line drives to all fields and he projects to top out at 12-15 homers per season … While Refsnyder has improved at second base, he’s not a smooth defender and likely won’t ever be more than adequate there. He’s not suited for the left side of the infield, though he has the average speed and arm strength to get the job done on an outfield corner.

Like it or not, the Yankees have made it pretty clear they’re not comfortable with Refsnyder playing a full-time role at this point in time. They didn’t give him much of a look despite Stephen Drew‘s long stretches of nothing last year, then they acquired Starlin Castro to be their long-term second baseman earlier this offseason.

That isn’t to say the Yankees will never be okay with Refsnyder playing regularly. It might happen someday. Right now though, there’s no obvious place for him on the 25-man roster, which means another season in Triple-A. There are pretty much only two ways Refsnyder can have an impact for the 2016 Yankees: 1) Castro or Didi Gregorius get hurt, or 2) as a trade chip. That’s about it.

Gary Sanchez ranked second on the MLB.com’s catchers list and the Yankees did not have any representatives on the right-handers, left-handers, or first basemen lists. (Greg Bird no longer qualifies as a prospect. Too much MLB time.) The third base list comes out later today and the Yankees won’t have anyone on that either. Shortstops is tomorrow and Jorge Mateo figures to crack the top ten, though shortstop is always a super deep prospect position.

Scouting The Trade Market: Aaron Hill

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Over the last few years the Yankees have made a habit of bringing in low cost, potentially washed up veterans late in the offseason to see if they can strike gold. Sometimes it works (Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez), sometimes it doesn’t (Vernon Wells). Such is life. With a one open bench spot — and a backup third baseman in theory only — the Yankees could make a similar move in the coming weeks.

One apparently washed up veteran who could be a fit for that open bench spot is Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill, who Jon Heyman says is on the trade block. Arizona wants to move him because they have a younger and better option in Brandon Drury. Hill hasn’t been good for two years now, but he could have something left to offer in a limited role as the 25th man on the roster. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s see.

The Performance

Like I said, Hill has not been very good the last two seasons. He hit .244/.287/.367 (78 wRC+) with ten home runs in 541 plate appearances in 2014, then followed it up by hitting .230/.295/.345 (71 wRC+) with six home runs in 353 trips to the plate last season. Yikes. That’s a .238/.290/.359 (75 wRC+) batting line in his last 894 plate appearances.

The last time Hill was actually good was the 2013 season, when he hit .291/.356/.462 (124 wRC+) with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances. Interestingly, Hill pulled the ball much more often that season than he has the last two years. Check it out:

Aaron Hill batted balls

Hill’s soft and hard contact rates have held fairly steady the last four years and they’ve been better than average as well. (League averages are 18.6 Soft% and 28.6 Hard%.) The drop in pull rate is the biggest difference — Hill’s ground ball and fly ball rates have stayed in the same range the last few seasons — which could be an indication his bat is slowing. He might not be able to get around on the ball as quickly as he once did.

At the very least, you’d want someone in what would be Hill’s role to be able to hit pitchers of the opposite hand. He’s a right-handed batter, and, well, his numbers against lefties the last few seasons are not good at all.

Aaron Hill lefties

Hill actually hit righties (77 wRC+) better than lefties (58 wRC+) last season. And man, those walk and strikeout rates are bad news. They’re both going in the wrong direction.

It’s not even clear Hill is a potential platoon candidate at this point. Not great! Second basemen have been known to completely fall off a cliff in their early-30s, and it looks like that may have happened with Hill. Two years ago he was incredibly productive. The last two seasons have been a total disaster.

The Defense

Like most big league second baseman, Hill came up through the minors as a shortstop before shifting to the other side of the bag. He was a full-time second baseman from 2007-13 before the D-Backs stopped playing him everyday in the second half of 2014 because he stopped hitting. Hill has played a little over 1,350 innings at second base and roughly 350 innings at third base the last two years.

The defensive stats were always split on Hill at second base. UZR liked him there while DRS said he was below-average, for example. Based on the eye test, he seemed solid at second, not great but not a liability either. The stats are also split on his work at third base in that tiny sample. Point is, Hill is not some kind of standout gloveman like, say, Juan Uribe. He’s also not unplayable like Pedro Alvarez. You can run him out there at second and third bases on occasion and he won’t kill you.

Injury History

Hill doesn’t have any significant long-term injury concerns like, say, Alex Rodriguez‘s hips. He missed a few games last September with a hamstring pull and missed two months in 2013 when he took a pitch to the hand and broke a bone. Otherwise Hill has dealt with nothing more than random day-to-day stuff the last few seasons. A tight hammy, jammed fingers from sliding into a base, that sort of stuff.

Contract Status

The D’Backs gave Hill a three-year extension worth $35M back in February 2013 — he had one year left on his current deal at the time, so they tacked another three years on top of it — and so far that deal has been a disaster. It started in 2014. Woof. Hill is owed $12M next season, the final year on that contract. He’ll be a free agent next winter.

What Would It Take?

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

I don’t know what it would take, but I do know what it should take: almost nothing. An Aaron Hill trade should be similar to the Vernon Wells trade in that the acquiring team gives up nothing in particular and takes on a little bit of cash. The Yankees ate 25% of the money owed to Wells in that trade, and 25% of the money owed to Hill is $3M. Even that seems a little pricey. The D’Backs are in no position to demand something of value for Hill. They’re looking to shed as much of his contract as possible. That’s all.

Wrapping Up

There’s very little to like about Hill at this point of his career, right? He hasn’t hit in two years — not even lefties! — and while his defense is acceptable, it’s not enough to make up for the expected lack of offense. Plus he’s expensive. Hill would fill a need as a backup third baseman, but so what? He’s been so bad.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling the Yankees might have some interest in Hill. They have a history of rolling the dice on veterans who looked to be done by sticking them in part-time roles, and Hill does fill a need and have a history of righty pop. And he’s familiar with the AL East from his days in Toronto. I feel like that can only help him.

In all likelihood, no, the Yankees will not pursue Hill, even though he figures to come so insanely cheap it would be close to a no risk move. If he stinks, cut him and move on. The D’Backs can’t expect actual prospects and/or significant salary relief in return. I don’t see much upside in Hill, even in a part-time role, but I’ve said that about several other veterans who have gone on to be productive in pinstripes.

Monday Night Open Thread

One year ago today, Rob Manfred officially replaced Bud Selig as MLB’s commissioner. Manfred sat down for a talk with Jeff Passan and discussed a number of important topics, from the domestic violence policy to the future of television contracts to the potential for a work stoppage next year to expansion, with all sorts of stuff in between. Make sure you check it out.

This is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers and Islanders are playing, and there are two college hoops games on as well. Everyone knows how these open threads work by now, so have at it.

Angels claim Ronald Torreyes off waivers from Yankees

(Darin Wallentine/Getty)
(Darin Wallentine/Getty)

Earlier today, the Angels announced they have claimed infielder Ronald Torreyes off waivers from the Yankees. Torreyes was designated for assignment ten days ago when the Yankees claimed outfielder Lane Adams from the Royals, so one way or another his situation was going to be resolved today. His ten days in DFA limbo were up.

Torreyes, 23, came over from the Dodgers with lefty Tyler Olson in a very minor trade two weeks ago. He hit .262/.310/.348 (82 wRC+) in 464 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A last season — Torreyes did appear in eight games with Los Angeles last September — but is a year removed from a .298/.345/.376 (90 wRC+) line in 519 Triple-A plate appearances.

I was irrationally excited about Torreyes because of his contact skills (8.2 K% in 2015), his versatility (can play all over the infield plus left field), and his high-energy style of play. He’s not a huge prospect or anything but Torreyes seemed like someone who had a chance to provide some utility off the bench, even as an up and down guy.

That said, Torreyes is now on his fifth organization since May 2015 (Astros, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Yankees, Angels) which suggests there’s really not much there to be excited about. I do think it’s kinda interesting he wound up with the Angels. Maybe the Yankees had longstanding interest in Torreyes that Billy Eppler took with him to Anaheim.

The retooling is far from complete, but the Yankees have done a really good job so far

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

In more ways than one, Derek Jeter‘s retirement following the 2014 season marked the end of an era for the Yankees. The face of their run of success from 1996-2014 — even the bad years from 1996-2014 weren’t that bad — was gone and the team was going to have to find a new identity. They’re not Jeter’s Yankees anymore. They’re … someone else’s. I’m not sure who yet.

The Yankees as an organization changed course after Jeter’s retirement as well. The goal was always win win win during the Jeter era and understandably so, right? The Yankees had great teams with great players in their primes. That’s when you’re supposed to win, and the Yankees did a lot of winning those years. The team always went after the best players even when they had “overpay.”

But, since Jeter’s retirement, the focus has shifted a little bit. The Yankees still want to win, but not at the expense of the future, both in terms of prospects and payroll. The club is trying to balance winning now with winning later, which is not easy to do. Last year they added younger players (Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino) to the roster and still qualified for the postseason. That’s rebuilding the Yankees way.

“We can’t rebuild here. That’s not what we’re about, our fan base,” said team president Randy Levine to Brian Heyman recently. “We’re trying to win every year and we’re trying to get younger and transition. Most teams, they have two, three, four years to rebuild. We don’t do that. So the fact that we are rebuilding, all these young players being introduced while we’re being competitive — we were a game from going on — I think that’s very hard to do.”

For most teams, tearing it all down and rebuilding is a necessity. Smaller market teams like the Brewers and Braves can’t retool and try to win at the same time like the Yankees. They don’t have the resources. At the same time, the Red Sox and Angels have shown getting younger and winning is not easy to do simultaneously. They keep trying to incorporate young players and that’s great, but they also keep falling short of expectations.

That Yankees, on the other hand, keep exceeding expectations. Eighty-seven wins last year is nothing to brag about, but they had the fourth best record in the AL, and many folks were counting the club out before Opening Day. The Yankees were being picked to finish in fourth or fifth place. They’ll be picked to finish in fourth or fifth place again next year. That’s just the way it is now. It’s been like that for what, seven or eight years now?

The zombie Yankees never go away though. They’re always more competitive than most of the rest of the league — you can blame the 1994 strike for the last time the Yankees didn’t play meaningful games in late-September — and now they’re not even trying to win. Not entirely, anyway. Their goal is building a new core, and yet they’re not starting the season with close to no chance to win. Winning is a goal, but not the only goal.

Rebuilding sucks. The years of losing sucks. The idea of building the next great team is awesome — only if it works, of course — but sitting through the process of building that team is awful. There’s nothing fun about watching a non-competitive team day after day. No matter how down you may be on the current Yankees, we haven’t had to sit through anything like that in a long time.

I don’t know if this on-the-fly rebuild will work. The Yankees have taken chances on talented guys like Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and Starlin Castro and they might never figure it out. They might never be anything more than complementary players. Severino might be Neftali Feliz. Greg Bird might be Ike Davis. Aaron Judge could be Drew Stubbs. It could all go horribly wrong. Everyone loves the Cubs and Astros rebuilds but forgets about the Rockies and White Sox. It doesn’t always go according to plan.

For now, I do know I am more excited about watching the current Yankees than I have been at any point since 2012. There is bonafide youth and upside on the roster, and I don’t mean Andy Phillips and Jeff Karstens types. I mean potential cornerstone players. The Yankees have really done a fantastic job adding young talent to the roster the last 15 months, and they did it while not being completely uninteresting on the field. As far as I’m concerned, this is exactly the kind of rebuild a big market team should attempt.

Recent free agent signings clear up trade possibilities for Brett Gardner

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the last week, the two best unsigned free agent outfielders came off the board when Justin Upton signed with the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes agreed to return to the Mets. Others like Alex Gordon and Denard Span signed a few weeks back, so, with Spring Training a little less than a month away, Dexter Fowler (tied to draft pick compensation) and Austin Jackson are the top available free agent outfielders.

The Upton and Cespedes signings took away two potential trade partners for Brett Gardner, though a trade with the Mets was never all that likely. I think Brian Cashman and Sandy Alderson would do a deal if they felt it improved their teams, but a crosstown trade might make the ownership groups a little queasy. No one wants to lose a trade to their geographic rival.

Anyway, with Upton and Cespedes (and Gordon and Span) off the board, the trade market for Gardner has become a little more clear. Gardner has been on the market all winter as the Yankees look for ways to land a young pitcher, though the crowded free agent outfield class complicated things. Now the free agent market isn’t so crowded. Here are the teams that could be in play for Gardner.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles did bring back Chris Davis recently, yet their outfield situation remains Adam Jones and some combination of Hyun-Soo Kim, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, and Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard. And I guess Mark Trumbo too. There’s a clear fit for Gardner in Baltimore — the O’s could bat him leadoff and drop Manny Machado into a run-producing lineup spot — but the chances of a major Yankees-Orioles trade are tiny.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies have been after Gardner for a while — they originally wanted Gardner in the Starlin Castro trade — and they could still use a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. Chicago does have a full outfield at the moment (Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler), though Soler’s name has popped up trade rumors, so a Gardner deal could rekindle those efforts. But, again, the problem with a Cubs trade all winter has been their lack of young pitching to offer. I’d argue the Yankees should focus on getting the best possible talent for Gardner regardless of position, but they’re focused on arms.

Chicago White Sox
Reports indicate the White Sox were in on both Upton and Cespedes in recent weeks, though they were not willing to extend their offer beyond three years. The ChiSox have added both Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason in an effort to fix one of MLB’s least productive infields, and they shouldn’t stop there. They’re not good enough to be AL Central favorites and not bad enough to rebuild. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu in their primes, the White Sox should continue adding in an effort to contend, and Gardner would be a massive upgrade over Avisail Garcia. Quintana or Carlos Rodon for Gardner isn’t happening, but could Erik Johnson? That’s the extent of Chicago’s pitching depth.

Cleveland Indians
The Indians, again. They talked to the Yankees about an outfielder for pitcher trade earlier this winter, though obviously nothing came of it. Cleveland has plenty of pitching to spare and they need outfield help — Michael Brantley will be out until at least May following shoulder surgery, so their outfield mix right now is Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Collin Cowgill — so it seems like there should be a match. The problem? The Indians operate with a very strict budget and don’t have room for a $13M a year outfielder. The Yankees would have to pay down some of Gardner’s salary, which of course means they should expect more in return. The Tribe likely have their eyes on cheaper outfield options.

Los Angeles Angels
It never seemed like the Angels were going to make a serious run at Cespedes or Upton. They have a clear need for a left fielder — the currently have a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon planned, and yikes — and some pitching depth to spare, namely Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Matt Shoemaker. Some are more available than others, obviously. (Heaney’s close to untouchable, I think.)

Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

I think there’s a real possibility for an Angels trade right now. Angels GM Billy Eppler is said to be a big Gardner fan and the Halos really need both a leadoff hitter and another lefty bat. Gardner would push Kole Calhoun into a middle of the lineup spot. He’s a great fit for them, assuming it works financially. (The Angels want to stay under the luxury tax threshold and have about $12M in wiggle room.) I don’t think I would call a trade likely, but I do think if Gardner is dealt, the Angels are the favorite to land him.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot of outfielders (Matt Holliday, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss) but no true center fielder. Grichuk’s the most athletic of the group so he has the center field job by default. St. Louis doesn’t strike me as the kind of organization to make a knee-jerk reactionary move, but it’s tough to ignore all the improvements the Cubs made this winter, so the Cardinals could feel some pressure to keep pace. Gardner would solve a clear roster problem and the Cards have some young pitching to offer (Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney). Money is no issue either — St. Louis bid big for Heyward and David Price, and were in the market for Chris Davis, yet they’ve only walked away with Mike Leake this offseason.

Washington Nationals
I’m not sure the Nationals are a possibility for Gardner following the Ben Revere trade. Yes, they made a run at Cespedes, so they’re still willing to add an outfielder, but Gardner and Cespedes are very different types of players. Washington might not want another left-handed hitting leadoff type with Revere on board. Never say never, but it appears the Nationals are no longer a match for Gardner following the Revere trade.

* * *

Keep in mind the Yankees are not the only team with a spare outfielder at the moment. The Dodgers would probably love to move Andre Ethier before he gains ten-and-five rights in April, plus the Rockies have four outfielders for three spots (Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Gerardo Parra). The outfield trade market is not limited solely to Gardner. Outfield needy teams have options.

Realistically, the Angels and Cardinals appear to be the best possible fits for Gardner. The White Sox, Cubs, and Indians are also potential suitors to a lesser extent. I still don’t expect the Yankees to trade Gardner before Spring Training, but at least now the trade market is a bit more clear with the big name free agents off the board. That also means there are fewer suitors, though there are still several clubs out there in need of outfield help.