The Extra Outfielders [2016 Season Review]

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

As our season review series winds down, it’s time to get into the spare part players. The guys who came up from the minors or were picked up off the scrap heap to plug roster holds for a few days or weeks. Every team needs players like this to get through the 162-game season. These days it takes 40-50 players to win. Maybe more. Not 25.

For all intents and purposes the Yankees had five regular outfielders this past season. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were the mainstays. Carlos Beltran was the right fielder until being traded away, which is when Aaron Judge took over. Aaron Hicks was the fourth outfielder all season. The Yankees also used three fill-in outfielders too: Ben Gamel, Mason Williams, and Eric Young Jr. All three had big league time in 2016.

The Blocked Outfielder

The 2015 season was a breakout year for Gamel, who went from fringe prospect to big league consideration by hitting .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 Triple-A games. That earned the 24-year-old a spot on the 40-man roster and a long look during Spring Training this year. He wasn’t going to win an Opening Day roster spot unless someone else got hurt, but the Yankees had their eyes on him.

Gamel started the 2016 season relatively slowly with the RailRiders, hitting .286/.346/.363 (104 wRC+) in his first 23 games. The Yankees called him up for the first time on May 5th. Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) was on the disabled list and Gardner (elbow) was day-to-day after being hit by a pitch, so the bench was shorthanded. Gamel appeared in three games (two starts) and picked up his first career hit in his first career at-bat.

Gamel went 1-for-8 (.125) with a walk and a strikeout in those three games before being sent down once Gardner’s elbow starting feeling better. The Yankees called Gamel up one other team this season: on August 1st, after trading away Beltran. Gamel was on the roster for three days until Gary Sanchez was called up. He laid down a sac bunt in his only plate appearance during those three days.

With Triple-A Scranton, Gamel hit .308/.365/.420 (126 wRC) with 26 doubles, five triples, six homers, and 19 stolen bases in 116 games. That earned him the International League MVP award. A tremendous honor, no doubt, but there was one small problem: the Yankees still didn’t have a spot for Gamel on their big league roster, both short and long-term. Even with Beltran gone. The team is very deep in outfielders and something had to give.

That something was Gamel. On August 31st, a few hours before the deadline to acquire players and have them be postseason eligible, the Yankees sent Gamel to the Mariners for righties Juan DePaula and Jio Orozco, a pair of 19-year-old rookie ball pitching prospects. Orozco is the more highly regarded prospect of the two. At least we got a chance to see Gamel’s long flowing locks before the trade:

Ben Gamel hair

The Yankees traded Gamel because, unlike Tyler Austin a year ago, he wouldn’t have slipped through waivers unclaimed. They needed the 40-man roster space and outfield was a position of depth, so they moved Gamel when his value was at its absolute highest. The guy had just won IL MVP. How much higher could you sell?

Following the trade Gamel was a semi-regular for Seattle in September. He hit .200/.289/.325 (72 wRC+) in 47 plate appearances while striking out 31.9% of the time. I’m not really sure what the Mariners have planned for him going forward — he has two minor league options remaining and there’s a very real chance he’ll spend a third straight season in Triple-A in 2017 — but they offer him a clearer path to big league playing time than the Yankees.

The Injured Outfielder

Williams. (Presswire)
Williams. (Presswire)

Last season was a breakout year for Gamel. It was maybe the most important year of Williams’ career. Following years of poor play and insubordination, the proverbial light bulb went on, and Williams began to take his career more seriously. He tore up Double-A and Triple-A, and earned his first MLB call-up in May. His first taste of the show lasted eight games before a shoulder injury ended his season.

Williams, now 25, tore up his shoulder diving back into first base on a pickoff throw and needed season-ending surgery. His rehab carried over into 2016 and it wasn’t until early July that he played in his first official minor league rehab game. Williams took the usual rookie ball to High-A to Triple-A rehab route, and in 47 total minor league games this summer, he hit .309/.327/.399 (106 wRC+) with ten doubles, two triples, and a homer.

When rosters expanded on September 1st, the Yankees did not call Williams up. Their plan was to leave him with the RailRiders through the Triple-A postseason so he could play everyday and make up for all the time he lost to injury. Plans changed when Judge tweaked his oblique and had to be shut down for the season. The Yankees needed another outfielder, so Williams got the call.

Mason appeared in only 12 games with the Yankees and five of them were as either a late-inning defensive replacement or at the end of a blowout. In his seven starts, Williams went 8-for-25 (.320) with three multi-hit games. His biggest moment came on September 25th, when he tied the game in the ninth inning with a single against Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna.

All told, Williams put up a .296/.321/.333 (77 wRC+) batting line with a 41.4% strikeout rate in a mere 29 plate appearances after being called up. He also played some mean outfield defense. Those numbers don’t really help us in any way. They don’t tell us anything about Williams going forward. The most important thing is that the shoulder is healthy.

Depending how the offseason shakes out, Williams could come to Spring Training next year with a legitimate chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Heck, if the Yankees trade Gardner, Williams might have a chance to win a starting outfield job. He does have a minor league option remaining for next season, which means at worst, he’ll go back to Triple-A Scranton and be the first outfielder called up when the inevitable injury strikes.

The Designated Pinch-Runner

The only photo of Young with the Yankees. (Presswire)
The only photo of Young with the Yankees. (Presswire)

Not long after trading Gamel to the Mariners, the Yankees picked up Young in a cash trade with the Brewers. The veteran speedster was going to be the team’s designated pinch-runner in September, the job Rico Noel held last year and Freddy Guzman held in September 2009. All Young had to do was run. That’s it.

Turns out the Yankees didn’t need Young all that much. The 31-year-old appeared in six games with the Yankees, and two of those appearances came in the late innings of blowouts, when Joe Girardi wanted to get the regulars off their feet. Young pinch-ran four times, and on two of those four occasions the next batter hit a home run, so he didn’t even have to run.

In those six games Young stole one base, scored two runs, and went 0-for-1 at the plate. He also played five innings in the outfield. That’s it. Some years the September pinch-runner has more impact than others. This was not one of those years. The Yankees outrighted Young off the 40-man roster after the season and he elected free agency. So it goes.

Scouting the Trade Market: Houston Astros

Musgrove. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Musgrove. (Bob Levey/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Astros are prepared to do something big this offseason. They had a breakout 2015 season, winning 86 games and beating the Yankees in the AL Wildcard Game before losing to the Royals in the ALDS. Rather than build on that success in 2016, they slipped to 84 wins and fell five games short of a postseason berth. They want to wipe that disappointing 2016 season from their memories.

So far this winter Houston has been connected to big name players like Edwin Encarnacion and Miguel Cabrera. More realistically, the Astros are also said to have interest in Yankees catcher Brian McCann, who has been deemed expendable thanks to the emergence of Gary Sanchez. Jason Castro is a free agent and the ‘Stros want a veteran backstop who can lead the staff and also provide some offense. McCann can do exactly that.

The Yankees are reportedly willing to eat up to half the $34M remaining on McCann’s contract to facilitate a trade, but if they do that, they want a better package in return. Makes sense. Pitching is said to be the top priority this offseason and I’m guessing that will be the focus in any McCann trade. McCann has a full no-trade clause, so he’s in control here. There are indications he will approve a trade to the Astros because they figure to contend and he’ll be able to DH. We’ll see.

Despite all their tanking over the years, Houston’s farm system is not loaded with talent at the moment. They’ve got plenty of good prospects, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like the Yankees will be sifting through a farm system as deep as, well, their own. Here are some ‘Stros youngsters who could pique New York’s interest as they work through a McCann trade. The players are listed alphabetically and all scouting reports come from MLB.com.

RHP Chris Devenski

Background: Devenski, 26, was a 25th round pick by the White Sox in 2011. The next year he was sent to the Astros as the player to be named later in the Brett Myers trade. Devenski worked as both a starter and reliever in the minors, and after making his MLB debut as a starter this season, he settled into a relief role and had a 2.16 ERA (2.34 FIP) in 108.1 innings. Only Michael Fulmer bested Devenski in fWAR (3.0 vs. 2.8) and bWAR (4.9 vs. 2.8) among AL rookie hurlers.

Scouting Report: “The key to his success is his plus changeup, which allows him to get swings and misses from lefties and righties alike despite having otherwise fringy stuff. Devenski’s fastball operates at 89-91 mph and tops out at 93. He also has a curveball that he can throw for strikes. Devenski can’t overpower hitters, but he keeps them off balance and doesn’t beat himself with walks or homers.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Devenski has the tools to start thanks to his three pitches and good control. His velocity ticked up as a reliever — he averaged 92.3 mph and topped out at 97.6 mph in 2016 — but even at 89-91 mph he can have success turning a lineup over multiple times, especially if he maintains his 4.9% walk rate. The upside here is a cheap back-end starter with the fallback option of a pretty good reliever.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There are reasons to believe Devenski is not as good as he was this past season. I can’t help but look at his 33.5% ground ball rate and 0.33 HR/9 (3.5 HR/FB%) and think that’s probably not going to last long-term, especially not for a dude with an 89-91 mph fastball as a starter in a small ballpark like Yankee Stadium. That doesn’t mean Devenski can’t still be valuable with, say, a 1.00 HR/9 as a starter, it just means his 2016 performance probably isn’t who he will be going forward.

RHP Michael Feliz

Background: The 23-year-old Feliz originally signed with the Athletics as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic, but his contract was voided after he failed a drug test. The Astros scooped him up, he served his 50-game suspension, and he’s since blossomed into a hard-throwing righty. Feliz received a cup of coffee last year and spent the entire 2016 season in Houston’s bullpen, where he had a 4.43 ERA (3.24 FIP) with a great strikeout rate (35.2%) and an okay walk rate (8.2%) in 65 innings.

Scouting Report: “His fastball sits in the mid 90s and gets up to 98 mph. His slider is his best secondary offering, and his changeup gives him a third quality offering. He mostly works around the zone, but his delivery will need more refinement before he truly commands all of his pitches. If he can make the necessary adjustments, he’ll have all the makings of a frontline starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Feliz has good size — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 lbs. — and tremendous raw stuff, though he didn’t throw his changeup a whole lot in relief this year. The natural ability is there, as is the potential to start long-term. A 23-year-old kid with this kind of arm is always worth pursuing.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Like many young kids with big arms, Feliz lacks overall command and it’ll come down to improving his delivery. That’s not easy to do. Also, some other scouting reports, such as Baseball America‘s (subs. req’d), aren’t as enthusiastic about his slider and changeup as MLB.com. Feliz has talent. He is need of refinement though, and he may not be ready to step into the rotation next season.

RHP Francis Martes

Background: Martes went to the Astros in the Jarred Cosart trade with the Marlins, when he was still in rookie ball. He’s since developed into one of the game’s top pitching prospects. Martes, 20, had a 3.30 ERA (2.73 FIP) with a 25.0% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate in 125.1 Double-A innings this summer, where he was more than four years younger than the average Texas League player. MLB.com currently ranks him as the 29th best prospect in baseball.

Scouting Report: “(Martes) now operates at a consistent 93-95 mph with a peak of 98. His breaking ball improved even more significantly last year, becoming a devastating power curveball. His changeup is in its nascent stages but shows some promise. Martes’ control also got a lot better during his first full year with his new organization … (He’s emerged as) a potential frontline starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Martes is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and he’s nearly MLB ready. He figures to start next season at Triple-A and could earn a midseason call-up, regardless of whether he’s with the Yankees or Astros or whoever. The fastball/curveball combination points to a future at the front of a big league rotation.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? As with most 20-year-old pitching prospects, Martes is still rough around the edges. He doesn’t have much of a changeup, and that’s a pretty big deal. His control isn’t all that great either. Martes is very exciting. That fastball/curveball combo is as good as it gets. But until he refines his changeup and strike-throwing ability, it’s hard to think he’ll be an effective MLB rotation option.

RHP Joe Musgrove

Background: The Blue Jays drafted the 23-year-old Musgrove with the 46th overall pick in the 2011 draft, then traded him to the Astros in the ten-player J.A. Happ trade at the 2012 deadline. (Ten-player J.A. Happ trade!) Musgrove was a borderline top 100 prospect coming into 2016. He made his MLB debut in August and had a 4.06 ERA (4.18 FIP) with nice strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.3%) rates in 62 innings spread across ten starts and one relief appearance.

Scouting Report: “Musgrove takes advantage of his big, physical frame to throw his low-to-mid-90s fastball from a good downhill plane. He mostly attacks hitters with his fastball and pounds the zone with it, creating plenty of ground ball outs. He also has a good curveball and some feel for his changeup, but both of his secondary offerings still need more refinement … He has all the makings of a future workhorse starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The MLB.com scouting report doesn’t mention what Baseball America (subs. req’d) calls “plus command/control,” which allows everything to play up. Musgrove is a no-doubt starter long-term thanks to his ability to locate four pitches — PitchFX has him throwing a slider in addition to the fastball/curveball/changeup in the scouting report, and you can that slider in the video — and that’s exactly what the Yankees are looking for.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons, really. Musgrove is not a budding ace or anything. His ceiling isn’t sky high. He’s more likely to settle in a solid mid-rotation pitcher, which is perfectly fine. Not exciting at all, but fine.

RHP David Paulino

Background: Like Martes and Musgrove, the 22-year-old Paulino was acquired in a trade when he was still in rookie ball. The Astros got him as the player to named later in the Jose Veras trade with the Tigers in 2013. Paulino was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at the time. This season he had a 1.91 ERA (2.32 FIP) with 28.6% strikeouts and 5.4% walks in 94 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A. Paulino made his MLB debut in September and allowed four runs in seven innings. MLB.com currently ranks Paulino as the 70th best prospect in baseball.

Scouting Report: “(Paulino) came back from his elbow reconstruction to operate at 93-95 mph and hit 98. His curveball also has improved significantly, becoming a legitimate power breaking ball and giving him a second pitch that grades as well above-average when at its best. Paulino has made strides with his changeup too, and he had no problem regaining his control after Tommy John surgery … He has frontline-starter ceiling but also little track record.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Paulino’s raw stuff is electric. Mid-90s gas, a bat-missing curveball, and an improving changeup, all with decent control. On top of that, the kid is listed at 6-foot-7 and 215 lbs., so he’s a big intimidating presence on the mound who gets great extension out in front. It’s very easy to dream on Paulino and envision him becoming a top of the rotation starter.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Injuries, for starters. Paulino had Tommy John surgery in 2013, and that along with some other issues limited him to 106.1 total innings from 2011-15. Also, Paulino was suspended for a month this past season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Like Jorge Mateo, but a longer suspension. Even if the suspension doesn’t bother you and you’re willing to overlook the injuries, the bottom line is this kid has thrown 203.1 innings over the last six years. Total. That’s an awful lot of development time missed.

OF Kyle Tucker

Background: The only position player in this post was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft. Tucker, 19, is the younger brother of Astros outfielder Preston Tucker. Kyle hit .280/.354/.433 (125 wRC+) with ten homers and 33 steals, plus promising strikeout (16.6%) and walk (9.8%) rates, in 122 games between Low-A And High-A this season. MLB.com currently ranks him as the 49th best prospect in baseball.

Scouting Report: “Tucker makes consistent hard contact thanks to fast hands, a balanced left-handed swing and a mature approach. He also has plenty of raw power and could deliver 20 homers per season once he fills out his lanky 6-foot-4 frame … (Tucker) profiles best in right field. He has solid arm strength and speed, though he figures to lose a half-step once he matures physically.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Because he’s one of the best pure hitting prospects in the minors, that’s why. Tucker is not quite Christian Yelich but it’s the same basic skill set. Quick hands and a sweet lefty swing that generate oodles of hard contact. The Yankees have a ton of outfielders in their farm system, but that doesn’t matter. Tucker is better than pretty much all of them. He’s the best prospect in Houston’s system in my opinion and therefore the best non-big leaguer the Yankees would be able to pry loose in a McCann trade.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Aside from the fact Tucker is only 19 and in Single-A, meaning there’s still plenty of time for things to go wrong, I can’t think of one. I guess also because he doesn’t satisfy the Yankees’ long-term pitching needs?

* * *

The Yankees have had interest in righty Lance McCullers Jr. before, specifically last year during Andrew Miller trade talks, but the Astros shot that down. I assume McCullers is still off limits. The same is probably true of righty Forrest Whitley, Houston’s first round pick in this past summer’s amateur draft. Here is MLB.com’s top 30 Astros prospects list, if you want to sift through that some more.

I’d love to see the Yankees get Tucker in a McCann trade, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, even if they eat $17M of the $34M left on his contract. Out of everyone else in this post, Musgrove is the guy I hope the Yankees target. He has four pitches and good command, plus he got his feet wet at the MLB level this year, so he’s ready to step right into the rotation. It would be nice to have a young pitcher who is more than a good stuff/bad command guy one of these years, you know?

Gary Sanchez finishes second to Michael Fulmer in Rookie of the Year voting

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Alas, Gary Sanchez‘s two historic months were not enough to be named 2016 Rookie of the Year. Earlier tonight the BBWAA announced Tigers righty Michael Fulmer, not Sanchez, won the AL award. Sanchez finished second in the voting and Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin was third.

As far as the voting goes, it wasn’t all that close. Fulmer received 26 of 30 first place votes and amassed 142 total points. Sanchez received the other four first place votes as well as 23 second base votes, which works out to 91 points. One voter left Gary off their ballot entirely. The full voting results are right here.

Sanchez was not called up for good until early-August, but he was in the Rookie of the Year race because he had a historically great two-month stretch. He hit .299/.376/.657 (171 wRC+) with 20 homer runs in 53 games, plus he showed off an insane arm behind the plate. Gary was a two-way threat.

In terms of games played, no player in history reached 11, 18, 19, and 20 career home runs faster than Sanchez. He led all AL rookies in fWAR (+3.2) and was second to Fulmer in bWAR (+3.0). Fulmer had a 3.06 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 159 innings. He was three innings short of winning the AL ERA title.

The Yankees haven’t had an AL Rookie of the Year winner since Derek Jeter in 1996. Sanchez is the third Yankee to finish second in the voting since 1996, joining Robinson Cano (2005) and Hideki Matsui (2003). Cano lost out to Huston Street and Matsui lost to Angel freaking Berroa.

No other Yankees received Rookie of the Year votes, which isn’t surprising. Guys like Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge had less playing time than Sanchez and didn’t have nearly as much impact.

Monday Night Open Thread

I’m posting tonight’s open thread a little earlier than usual because, at some point in the next hour, we’ll find out whether Gary Sanchez has been named AL Rookie of the Year. He’s up against Michael Fulmer and Tyler Naquin. Naquin is the third wheel here; both Sanchez and Fulmer have a legitimate chance to win. Maybe they’ll tie. That’d be weird. The announcement show begins at 6pm ET on MLB Network.

After that, use this as tonight’s open thread. The Giants and Bengals are the Monday Night Football game, plus the Knicks, Nets, and Islanders are in action. There’s a whole bunch of college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about the Rookie of the Year award(s) and those games right here.

International free agency rules may stand in the way of Shohei Otani being posted this offseason

(Masterpress/Getty)
(Masterpress/Getty)

According to J.J. Cooper, MLB’s international free agency rules may prevent the Nippon Ham Fighters from posting right-hander Shohei Otani this offseason. Otani is still only 22, which means if he comes over this winter, he’d only be able to sign a minor league contract. He still qualifies as an international amateur and would count against the bonus pool. Even through the posting process.

Furthermore, because the Yankees are still subject to the penalties from their 2014-15 international spending spree, they would only be able to offer Otani a $300,000 bonus. Obviously that won’t be enough to sign him. The Red Sox, Dodgers, and Angels are in the same boat. Otani doesn’t turn 23 until next July too, so it’s not a matter of waiting a few extra weeks.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1st, so it’s possible the international free agency rules will change and make it more realistic for Otani to be posted. That seems unlikely though. Every change made to international free agency these days further limits spending. There’s no reason to think that’ll change this time around.

Otani would be, by far, the best available pitcher this winter. The (Ham) Fighters could still post him, but they know he’s not going to sign a minor league contract, so there’s no real point. They figure to instead keep him one more year, then post him next offseason, when he’ll be able to sign a contract of any size at age 23. We’ll see. Maybe the upcoming CBA will change things for the better.

This season Otani had a 1.86 ERA with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings while also hitting .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers in 382 plate appearances. The consensus is his future is much brighter on the mound, though when it comes time to sign him, the team that gives Otani the chance to pitch and hit may be the one that gets him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Revolving Door of Trusted Middle Relievers [2016 Season Review]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Coming into the 2016 season, the bullpen was an undeniable strength for the Yankees. At least in the late innings, anyway. The trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were basically automatic for the few months they were together. Getting the ball from the starter to those guys was often a challenge, however.

By and large, the middle relief was too often a weakness for the Yankees this past season. It wasn’t just getting the ball from the starter to the end-game guys either. It was getting the job done when those guys weren’t available, or holding the other team down when the Yankees were trailing and the offense was trying to get back into the game. Joe Girardi wound up with a revolving door of trusted “fourth” relievers this year.

The Still Broken Shreve

Man, Spring Training was such a tease. Chasen Shreve had such a horrible finish to last season, a horrible finish everyone hoped was nothing more than fatigue, that when he showed up to Spring Training and dominated, it was easy to think he was back on track. The 26-year-old southpaw allowed one hit and one walk in ten scoreless Grapefruit League innings. He struck out eight. Woo! Too bad it didn’t carry over into the regular season.

Shreve made the Opening Day roster and he was Girardi’s go-to reliever behind the big three. (Big two, really, since Chapman was suspended.) He started his season with six straight scoreless outings, then the runs came. Two in an inning against the Athletics on April 21st. One more against the Rangers five days later. Another two runs four days after that. From April 21st through May 25th, Shreve allowed eleven runs and seven homers (!) in 13.2 innings.

Following a three-run meltdown against the Blue Jays on May 25th, Shreve was placed on the 15-day DL with relatively minor shoulder sprain. He did his rehab, and two and a half weeks later, he was activated off the DL and optioned to Triple-A Scranton. Shreve spent the rest of the season as an up-and-down arm. He was called up and sent down three different times from June 12th through September 1st, when rosters expanded.

Shreve’s best moment of the season came in Kansas City on August 30th. He inherited a one-run lead in the tenth inning, though the contact happy Royals had the bases loaded with one out. Shreve escaped the jam by striking out Kendrys Morales and getting Salvador Perez to fly out harmlessly to center. It was his first career save and two of the biggest outs of the season.

All told, Shreve had a 5.18 ERA (5.75 FIP) in 37 games and 33 innings. His strikeout rate (23.2%) was fine, but there were too many walks (9.2%), too few grounders (44.9%), and way too many homers (2.18 HR/9). The long ball was a problem last year too, remember. Shreve has allowed 15 homers in his last 50.67 innings with the Yankees. That’s one dinger every 3.1 innings or so. Egads.

Shreve was so good the first four months last season that it was worth giving him another shot this year, to see if fatigue really was the root cause of his second half issues. Obviously it wasn’t. He struggled again this season. Basically all summer. Shreve tried different things too. At midseason he shelved his trademark splitter and went with a slider.

Chasen Shreve pitch selection

By the end of the season Shreve was so far down the depth chart that he barely pitched. He appeared in two of the team’s final 19 games. The Yankees were down three runs and seven runs in the two appearances. Girardi didn’t even give Shreve any token “let’s see if we can get him back on track” outings late in September after the Yankees fell out of the race. He was unusable.

The Yankees currently have five healthy lefty relievers on the 40-man roster, and while none are lockdown Andrew Miller types, that depth could make Shreve expendable. Either way, it’s hard to see him carving out a consistent role with the Yankees at this point. Given the entirety of his career, Shreve’s great four months last season are the outlier, not all the problems he’s had since.

A Few Good Weeks From Yates

Kirby. (Presswire)
Kirby. (Presswire)

I’m mad at myself for not seeing it coming. In recent years the Yankees have developed a habit of picking up a scrap heap reliever in the winter who was very easily to overlook, then, before you knew it, he found himself on the Opening Day roster. Turns out the Yankees liked him more than we realized. Guys like Chris Martin and Cody Eppley are perfect examples.

This year that guy was Kirby Yates, who came over from the Indians in a cash deal in January. Yates shoved in camp — he allowed two hits and one walk in eight scoreless innings while striking out eleven — and bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. Incredible. Kirby had a tough start to the season, allowing three runs in his first six outings, before settling into a nice little groove. From April 24th through May 31st, Yates allowed two runs in 14.2 innings.

That stretch combined with Shreve’s meltdown earned Yates a spot as Girardi’s most trusted non-big three reliever. And for a while, he was great. Then June happened. The Blue Jays tagged Kirby for four runs in one-third of an inning on June 1st. Two weeks later the Rockies tagged him for three runs in one-third of an inning. At one point he allowed at least one run in five of six outings. Ouch.

The final straw came on June 27th, when a long rain delay — long as in three hours and 35 minutes (!) — forced Chapman from the game in the ninth inning. The Yankees had a one-run lead but the Rangers had a man on first with no outs. Yates replaced Chapman after the rain delay and allowed four runs before getting three outs. The inning went strikeout, hit batter, hit batter, single, hit batter, fly ball, single, strikeout. Sigh.

The Yankees sent Yates to Triple-A Scranton the next day, and he didn’t return until mid-August. He spent the rest of the season as a low-leverage mop-up guy, and like Shreve, he was very rarely used down the stretch. Kirby appeared in only five of the team’s 30 games in September. He had a 5.23 ERA (3.97 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (27.2%) but a not good everything else (10.3% walks, 43.6% grounders, 1.09 HR/9) in 41 games and 41.1 innings in pinstripes.

Yates was one of the first to go when time came to unclog the 40-man roster after the season. The Yankees dropped him from the roster a few days after the end of the regular season and the Angels claimed him off waivers, so he’s with Anaheim now. His time in pinstripes is over. Like most middle relievers, Yates had his moments with the Yankees, mostly in May, but for the most part his tenure was forgettable. C’est la vie.

The First Late-Season Addition

Layne. (Presswire)
Layne. (Presswire)

The Yankees remade their middle relief unit with two small moves on August 9th. The first of those two moves was a signing. The Yankees inked veteran southpaw Tommy Layne to a Major League contract not long after he was released by the Red Sox. Boston added Fernando Abad at the trade deadline and deemed Layne expendable, so they cut him loose. Not the best series of moves for them.

At the time Shreve was the only lefty in the bullpen — Miller and Chapman were gone by this point — and he was far from reliable, so the Yankees gave Layne a chance. And you know what? He pitched pretty darn well, all things considered. He had a 3.38 ERA (4.83 FIP) in 16 innings overall, but, more importantly, Layne held left-handed hitters to a .147/.237/.147 batting line in his limited time in pinstripes.

Oddly enough, Layne’s biggest outing with the Yankees came against a bunch of righties. It was September 26th in Toronto, and although New York was up four runs in the ninth, the Blue Jays loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and an error by Dellin Betances. Layne walked in a run and allowed another on a single, but ultimately he escaped the jam thanks in part to his own great play at the plate.

The three batters Layne retired that inning, all with the bases loaded: Josh Donaldson on a fly out to right, Russell Martin on the tapper back out in front of the plate, and Troy Tulowitzki on a fly ball to foul territory. That inning took some gumption, I’d say. Layne earned his pinstripes that inning.

Although he’s already 32 years old, Layne is arbitration-eligible for the first time as a Super Two this offseason. The Yankees control him through 2020, though let’s not think that far ahead yet. Let’s get through 2017 first. MLBTR projects a $1.2M salary for Layne next year, which isn’t nothing, but it’s not enough for the Yankees to consider walking away at the non-tender deadline.

Right now Layne is the team’s best lefty reliever, and he figures to come to Spring Training with an inside track on an Opening Day bullpen spot. I wouldn’t call him a lock for the roster, guys like this can go poof in a hurry, but he’s penciled into a spot for sure.

The Second Late-Season Addition

Parker. (Presswire)
Parker. (Presswire)

A few hours after signing Layne, the Yankees claimed righty Blake Parker off waivers from the Mariners. Parker’s one of those guys who reminds you to basically ignore minor league reliever stats. He had a 2.72 ERA (3.12 FIP) with a 37.3% strikeout rate in 39.2 Triple-A innings for Seattle. With the Yankees, he had a 4.96 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 16.1 innings.

To be fair, Parker had two disaster outings with New York that skewed his overall numbers. He allowed nine runs with the Yankees and seven came in two appearances. Parker allowed three runs in one-third of an inning against the Royals on August 29th, and four runs in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays on September 23rd. In his other 15.2 innings, he allowed two runs.

Like Layne, Parker’s biggest moment in pinstripes came when he bailed out Betances during a messy ninth inning against the Blue Jays. It was September 6th and the Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth. Three walks, a wild pitch, and two singles put two runs on the board and loaded the bases with one out. Yikes. Parker took over with the sacks full and got the final two outs. It was … eventful.

I’ve seen the end of that game roughly five thousands times and I still get antsy whenever I see Brett Gardner racing back to the wall because it looks like he has no chance to catch up to the ball. Geez. What a game. That was Parker’s second career save. He got his first with the Cubs back in 2013, in an extra innings game when he was the last guy in the bullpen. That sort of thing. I’m guessing this save was a wee bit more memorable for Blake.

Blake Parker save

Good times, good times. Parker, like Yates, is no longer with the Yankees. I mean exactly like Yates too. Parker was claimed off waivers by the Angels a few days after the end of the regular season. The Yankees were clearing their 40-man roster and the Halos deemed Parker and Yates better than what they had in their bullpen. The two lefties stayed and the two righties are gone. The bullpen circle of life.