Here is an open thread for the night. There’s a whole bunch of nothing going on tonight, so you’re on your own for entertainment. You folks know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.
So far this season the Yankees have used 43 different players — 23 position players and 20 pitchers — which is the seventh most in baseball. The Mariners lead the way with 47 players and both the Indians and Diamondbacks have been lucky enough to use only 35 players. The Yankees used their fair share of shuttle arms in the first half, though position player injuries also forced them to dip into their farm system more than expected.
We’ve already covered most of those 43 players as part of our Midseason Review. Now it’s time to wrap things up and cover whoever has been left behind. Among them is one regular because I am bad at scheduling. Time to finish off the Midseason Review.
Matt Holliday: As Advertised
When the Yankees signed Holliday in November, he came billed as a good clubhouse guy and a professional hitter with some bounceback potential given his exit velocities and things like that. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. Holliday did turn 37 in January and he very easily could have been at the end of the line. The Yankees bet $13M on a rebound and so far he’s been worth every penny.
Holliday, as the team’s regular DH and occasional first baseman, is hitting .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games so far, and he’s the No. 1 reason the Yankees have the most productive DH spot in the baseball.
- Yankees: 137 wRC+
- Mariners: 129 wRC+
- Indians: 127 wRC+
Oddly enough, Holliday’s strikeouts are way up this year. His 25.7% strikeout rate is on pace to shatter his previous career high (19.6% as a rookie in 2004). I think there’s a chance Holliday is selling out for power, which might partially explain the strikeouts. Holliday has also been pretty streaky. That’s alright though. He’s been productive more often than not, and day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth anyway.
Beyond the on-field production, Holliday has also been a positive on all the young players the Yankees are incorporating into their lineup. Aaron Judge went out of his way to praise Holliday at the All-Star Game media day Monday. Here’s what Judge told Brendan Kuty about Holliday earlier this month:
“I just pick his brain on what he does,” Judge said he often asks Holliday. “‘What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He’s a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?’ I’ve picked up a couple little things.”
“He’s just really committed to his plan,” Judge said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ll talk to him (in the early afternoon) and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing this game? What are you trying to do against this guy?’ Every single time I ask him, ‘What are you working on?’ He’ll say he’s trying to stick to his plan and drive the ball to right field. That’s why he’s so successful. He just sticks to it, no matter the situation.”
An illness, which was recently confirmed as Epstein-Barr, has had Holliday on the shelf since June 24th and holy cow did the Yankees miss his bat these last few weeks. He did play a pair of rehab games last weekend and is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Yankees for the second half opener tomorrow. That’s huge. Holliday has been everything the Yankees could have expected and more.
The Extra Position Players
Among all the random position player call-ups the Yankees have made this year, whether it was an injury fill-in or a one-day audition, the leader in plate appearances is … catcher Kyle Higashioka. He served as the backup catcher in April when an injury forced Gary Sanchez to the 10-day DL and Austin Romine into the starter’s role. Higashioka went 0-for-18 and started only five games. If that changed your opinion of him, you’re thinking too hard.
Another April injury fill-in was veteran Pete Kozma, who served as the backup while Didi Gregorius was hurt and Ronald Torreyes started at shortstop. Kozma went 1-for-9 with the Yankees and had nothing resembling a signature moment. The Yankees lost him to the Rangers on waivers when Gregorius returned and Kozma is still on their bench because Jurickson Profar played his way down to Triple-A.
Last month the Yankees finally got sick of Chris Carter and finally called up Tyler Austin, who missed the start of the season after fracturing his ankle with a foul ball early in Spring Training. Austin mashed with Triple-A Scranton before the call-up, hitting .300/.366/.560 (151 wRC+). He came up, went 2-for-13 with a home run and six strikeouts at the plate, then landed on the 10-day DL with a fairly significant hamstring strain. The Yankees can’t have nice things at first base.
The final two position players both played only one game in the big leagues this year, for very different reasons. After Holliday landed on the disabled list, the Yankees called up third base prospect Miguel Andujar for a day, and he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. He became the first player in franchise history to drive in four runs in his big league debut.
The other one-game position player in the first half was outfielder Dustin Fowler who gave us, hands down, the saddest moment of the season. In the first inning of his first big league game, Fowler crashed into the side wall in foul territory chasing a pop-up, which ruptured his right patella. It was an open rupture, meaning it broke through the skin. Yikes. Fowler had emergency surgery that night and is done for the season.
Fowler came up to replace Andujar after hitting .293/.329/.542 (137 wRC+) down in Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up before Clint Frazier. They like him that much. Fowler’s injury is so sad. I feel terrible for the kid. The good news is he is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training. Plus he’s on the big league disabled list collecting service time and big league pay, so his bank account is doing better. But still, you know Fowler wants to play. What a terrible and sad moment.
The Extra Pitchers
For the first two months or so of the season, the Yankees did away with the bullpen shuttle. The days of calling up a new reliever every day to make sure Joe Girardi had a fresh arm in the bullpen were over. The Yankees stuck with their guys. Then the bullpen melted down and started blowing leads left and right, and the Yankees started shuttling guys in and out regularly. Such is life. The shuttle returned last month.
The one shuttle reliever who made the Opening Day roster is Bryan Mitchell. Back-to-back rough outings (seven runs in 2.2 innings) earned him a demotion to Triple-A at the end of April. He came back up briefly at the end of May and again at the end of June. So far this season Mitchell has a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 16 big leagues innings and a 3.60 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 35 Triple-A innings. He’ll be back at some point in the second half, I’m sure of it. Mitchell’s time to carve out a long-term role with the Yankees is running out though.
Luis Cessa, who was in the running for an Opening Day rotation spot, has made three starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees this year. The three starts came when CC Sabathia was on the disabled list and they did not go well (eleven runs in 13.2 innings). The three relief appearances were better (two runs in eleven innings). The end result is a 4.18 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 23.2 innings. I like Cessa — I seem to the be the only one who likes Cessa — and hope we see more of him going forward.
Four shuttle relievers have made their MLB debut this season: Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, and Tyler Webb. They’ve combined for the the following line: 31 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 16 BB, 30 K. Replacement Level ‘R Us. German showed the most potential among those four. By far, I think. He also returned from Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and needs to pitch, not sit in the big league bullpen as the eight reliever. He’s in Triple-A where he belongs. Also, Ben Heller spent a day with the Yankees. He faced three batters: grounder, walk, walk-off single off his butt. He does have a 2.68 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 37 Triple-A innings though.
* * *
The Yankees have used 43 players this season and over the last four years they’ve averaged 56 players per season, so recent history suggests we’re going to see several new faces in the second half. New faces from outside the organization or the farm system. Probably a little of both.
A trade! A small one, but a trade nonetheless. The Yankees have shipped lefty reliever Tyler Webb to the Brewers for Triple-A first baseman Garrett Cooper, both teams have announced. This is very much a spare part for spare part trade. The Yankees need first base help and the Brewers need a lefty reliever, so they got together for a minor deal.
Cooper, 26, is hitting .366/.428/.652 (171 wRC+) with 17 homers in 75 Triple-A games this season, though he’s playing in an extreme hitter’s park in Colorado Springs. So far this year’s hit .442/.503/.829 at home and .300/.359/.500 on the road, in all the other hitter friendly Pacific Coast League ballparks. Consider yourself forewarned: don’t read too much into the overall stat line.
The Yankees are tentatively scheduled to face four left-handed starters in the first give games of the second half, so I think there’s a decent chance the right-handed hitting Cooper will join the Yankees in Boston tomorrow for his MLB debut. They’ve been use Austin Romine as a platoon first baseman in recent weeks and no. Just no. I highly doubt the Yankees are looking at Cooper as a long-term first base solution. He’s a Tyler Austin replacement, basically.
Webb, 27 next week, has allowed three runs in six innings with the Yankees this year. He also has a 3.24 ERA (2.15 FIP) in 33.1 Triple-A innings. This was his fourth year spending time at Triple-A. The Pirates took a look at Webb as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training, and, when he didn’t stick, he cleared waivers and was returned to the Yankees. Going to the Brewers should be a pretty good opportunity for Webb.
With Webb gone and Tommy Layne recently released, the Yankees are left with Chasen Shreve as their only real lefty reliever option. (Not counting Aroldis Chapman.) There’s Joe Mantiply in Triple-A, and I guess they could give Caleb Smith or Dietrich Enns a try in relief, but that’s about it. The Yankees have been looking for a lefty reliever since the offseason and there’s no reason to think that’ll change.
The Yankees now have an open 40-man roster spot and an open 25-man roster spot, both of which could go to Cooper if he is called up. I suppose the other alternative is playing Matt Holliday, who is tentatively scheduled to come off the disabled list tomorrow, at first base and continuing the four-man outfield rotation. Hmmm. Then again, the Yankees would be playing both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury against lefties in that scenario. We’ll see.
If the Yankees are going to be buyers at the deadline, they’re more likely to go for a temporary replacement at first base rather than a long-term solution. Despite comments from an anonymous person in the front office, there’s still belief that Greg Bird can be the first baseman of the future.
Assuming the Yankees go that route, Domenic covered the options pretty well already. However, I’d like to throw out a name of a player that’s under long-term control and could fill the short-term need as well.
Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph is in just his second MLB season and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020. This isn’t a rental. But with first base prospect Rhys Hoskins knocking on the door of the major leagues, the team has made Joseph available.
Does he fit the Yankees? Let’s take a look:
Joseph has been in the major leagues for nearly a year and a half now. He was called up last May. Initially, he was primarily a platoon bat alongside Ryan Howard. However, his early power earned him everyday playing time last summer before Howard surged in the second half.
This year, he has been the starting first baseman all season. He put together an abominable April (.179/.222./.254 in 19 games) before killing the ball in May to the tune of a .300/.373/.600 line with seven home runs. He’s hit well since then. In total, he’s hit .252/.313/.466 (102 wRC+), below the average first baseman’s line. Still, it’s better than anything out of a Yankees’ first baseman this season. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .273/.339/.529 (125 wRC+) since May 1.
Diving further into his stats, Joseph has one significant tool: Power. 32 of his 74 hits have gone for extra bases, including 15 home runs. He hit 21 home runs in just 347 plate appearances last year. That power has been his calling card at every level. Through 670 MLB PAs, he has 36 home runs and 31 doubles to go with a .233 ISO.
He struggles to command the strike zone. His walk rate is up from 6.3 to 7.7 percent this year, but his strikeout rate also climbed from 21.6 to 23.5. Hoskins, who will likely take his job soon, has drawn plenty of walks in the minors, which Joseph never did.
Joseph, who turns 26 on July 16, was drafted by the Giants as a catcher, but concussions moved him out from behind the plate. He’s a well below-average first baseman. Better than Howard, but not by much. He makes the routine plays better than Chris Carter but his lack of range limits his ability to make any tough plays.
He’s also a negative on the base paths. His 25.7 ft/s sprint speed according to Statcast would make him the slowest player on the Yankees and he’s tied for third in baseball in double plays grounded into with 15, just two behind teammate Maikel Franco and Matt Kemp for first place. He often pulls the ball on the ground, though he hits the ball to all fields in the air. He’s still primarily a pull hitter, as you’ll see below.
He’s produced 0.2 bWAR (0.0 fWAR) this year after 0.5 bWAR (0.9fWAR) as part-time player last year. The Phillies have the third worst bWAR at first base, only one spot ahead of Yankees. That’s largely because of Joseph’s fielding and nearly zero production from the Phillies’ backups.
Contract and injury situation
Joseph is very cheap when it comes to first base options on the market. He won’t be a free agent until 2023 and won’t make above the minimum until 2020. He’s been barely above replacement level thus far, but his contract gives him value, especially for a team that has received below replacement value at first this year. He still has options left as well.
As for injuries, Joseph has had a clean bill of health in the majors. His concussions issues have subsided in the last two years and that led to his resurgence as a prospect and, ultimately, his call-up to the majors. He’s been able to handle first base consistently without breaking down this season.
While he’s under control, the Phillies aren’t in a spot to demand much. Most teams don’t have a need for a no-glove first baseman with some power as most teams already have someone who at least fits that. The Yankees are one of a few teams that have an opening and could make sense.
Teams also know that the Phillies need to dispatch Joseph to give Hoskins an opportunity in the majors. Neither has the range to play the outfield and they’re both RHBs, so one has to go. Acquiring him shouldn’t cost too much more than a secondary or tertiary prospect or so.
Does he make sense for the Yankees?
Joseph would be an immediate improvement for the Yankees at first in the lineup, adding some power towards the end of the lineup. Realistically, he could do what Carter was expected to do. He’d make sense in a platoon with Ji-Man Choi for the time being as Joseph was solid in that role last season.
If you’re going to acquire a first baseman with this much control, you need to be certain that he fits into your long-term plans. And it doesn’t seem like he fits in New York beyond this season. In the case Bird comes back healthy, Joseph becomes a platoon bat at best. Expendable or optionable like he is for the Phillies at worst. If Bird isn’t healthy, the Yankees would likely acquire a veteran free agent to start in his place.
Joseph could be a serviceable placeholder with the requisite power to play first. The 25-year-old is not someone to acquire for significant assets, but he’s a useful depth piece in the short term. If the Yankees are intrigued by Pat Neshek, a package deal could work. Ultimately though, it’s tough to see where Joseph gets playing time beyond 2017 in New York.
The first major trade domino has fallen. This morning the Cubs and White Sox announced left-hander Jose Quintana is heading to the north side for a package of four prospects, including top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. Quintana’s been on the block for a while and the Cubbies desperate need rotation help, both short and long-term, so the two Chicago teams got together for a blockbuster.
My quick take on the trade: it’s fair for both sides. Boring, I know, but it is what it is. Jimenez is very good, one of the top prospects in the sport, and Cease has a ton of upside despite some arm problems. Quintana is excellent and has been for years now. Even after a slow start to this season, he’s settled in nicely the last few weeks and has dragged his numbers down to 4.49 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 104.1 innings. Plus he’s signed affordably through 2020.
The Yankees have been connected to Quintana in recent weeks and months (and years). Baseball America recently ranked Jimenez and Cease as the 5th and 83rd best prospects in baseball, respectively. The other two prospects in the trade, first baseman Matt Rose and infielder Bryant Flete, weren’t among the Cubs’ top 30 prospects. An equivalent Yankees package would have been something like Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, and two others.
For all intents and purposes, the White Sox traded Quintana for the Andrew Miller package. Two top 100 prospects plus two others. The Yankees have been hesitant to trade their top prospects this far and I’m not surprised they declined to get into a bidding war for Quintana, no matter how much he would have helped them now and going forward. The White Sox have prioritized upside in their recent trades and they’re doing a great job restocking the system.
With Quintana off the board, the best available starting pitcher at the trade deadline will be, uh, Sonny Gray? Maybe Gerrit Cole? We have to see how the market develops. I’d take Quintana over either Gray or Cole, and I love Sonny Gray, at least when he’s healthy. Anyway, the trade deadline is now 18 days away and the first domino just fell. The floodgates could open soon.
Tomorrow night the Yankees will open the second half of the 2017 season with the first of four games at Fenway Park. Four games in three days against the Red Sox right out of the gate. That’ll be fun. This second half will be … interesting. That’s a good word. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.
1. The Yankees are going to get some more players back very soon. Matt Holliday had his little two-game rehab assignment last week and is expected to rejoin the Yankees tomorrow night, for the series opener against the Red Sox. Starlin Castro is going to begin a rehab assignment soon and is only a few days away from returning as well. Those two guys won’t help the bullpen, which has been the team’s biggest problem for a few weeks now, but they’re going to help in general. The more good players, the better. I’ve seen too many games with Chase Headley batting fifth and Austin Romine batting seventh the last two weeks or so. Until the bullpen gets fixed, either by bringing in new players or having the existing players improve their performance, the Yankees’ best chance to win involves scoring a boatload of runs. Give those relievers as much breathing room as possible. Getting Holliday and then Castro back is going to go a long way toward beefing up the offense.
2. I wonder whether the Yankees and Joe Girardi will take the reins off Chad Green down the stretch. Right now he’s not working back-to-back days, and yeah, part of that is the fact he often throws multiple innings. But even in situations where he doesn’t throw a ton of pitches, he has been deemed unavailable the next night. Green is still relatively new to the bullpen after spending just about his entire career as a starting pitcher, so I get why the Yankees are being careful with him. They’re protecting him. His 2016 season ended early due to an elbow injury, remember. Now that he has some bullpen time under his belt and has been successful, plus most of the rest of the bullpen has been unreliable, I think the Yankees might consider expanding Green’s role a bit and have him pitch back-to-back days in the second half (when appropriate). It would be great if they found some other reliable relievers and didn’t have to push Green, but I’m not sure how possible that is. Is there a realistic scenario in which Green is, say, the fifth best reliever in the bullpen down the stretch? I don’t see it.
3. What will happen with Clint Frazier when Holliday returns? Holliday and later Aaron Hicks. With Hicks is still a few weeks away, so this isn’t a pressing issue. My guess is Frazier will do exactly what Hicks was doing earlier this year, meaning play just about every day and rotate around the outfield. We know Aaron Judge isn’t going to sit. So the Yankees will effectively rotate Frazier, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury between left field and center field. Once Hicks returns, who knows? That’s not really worth worrying about now though. A lot could change between now and then. There could be a trade or Frazier could play his way back to Triple-A by then. Right now though, the Yankees can’t — and shouldn’t — take him out of the lineup given how much damage he’s doing at the plate. The guy has three homers, two triples, one double, and one single in seven big league games. The Yankees have to keep playing the kid. They’ll be at their best with Holliday and Castro and Frazier in the lineup regularly going forward.
4. Speaking about possible trades, right now the Yankees are in the most unpredictable place leading up to the deadline. They could easily justify buying and easily justify selling. And, really, they could do both. I could see them moving, say, Michael Pineda before losing him for nothing as a free agent while also using some prospects to acquire a longer term piece. Buying vs. selling is not binary. The Yankees can do both and, depending on what trade opportunities arise, it would make sense to do both. Remember in the offseason when Brian Cashman said the time wasn’t right to swing a blockbuster trade for a guy like Chris Sale? Well, it’s starting to get to be that time, right? The new core is emerging and the Yankees have more prospects at peak value in the farm system than they could ever possibly use in the big leagues. These days most blockbusters involving non-rentals do not happen at the trade deadline so I don’t expect to see something like that happen before July 31st. A move like that figures to wait for the offseason. Point is, I don’t see the Yankees as strictly buyers and strictly sellers. They’ll have an opportunity to do a little of both at the trade deadline in a few weeks.
5. How ridiculous was Judge’s performance in the Home Run Derby? His swings resulted in 47 home runs and 29 non-home runs. The first round matchup with Justin Bour was thrilling. The second and third round meetings with Cody Bellinger and Miguel Sano were pretty anticlimactic. You knew Judge was going to win as soon as you saw Bellinger’s and Sano’s home run totals. Judge needed eleven home runs to beat Sano in the finals and he got there with 1:53 still on the clock. Insane. Every other player was so clearly fatigued during the Home Run Derby and yet Judge was still at full strength in the final round. How is this guy real? Two things about Judge’s performance: one, he used all fields. Here’s his Home Run Derby spray chart, via Baseball Savant:
Judge hit a few balls into the upper deck in right field, where the left-handed power hitters like Bour and Bellinger were hitting them. Judge was doing that to the opposite field. That’s not normal. And two, Judge hit some balls out of the park without squaring them up. There were more than a few homers that looked like a medium deep pop-up off the bat that just carried over the fence. Nobody does that. Nobody other than Judge. The Home Run Derby was almost like a normal batting practice session for him. He hit to all fields and didn’t get pull happy, and he made it look easy. I’m so happy this guy is a Yankee.
“You really have to wonder what’s with this guy,” a Yankee insider complained to me earlier this week. “You’d think with Judge and Sanchez, the guys he came up through the system with, doing so well up here he’d want to be a part of this. Apparently not.”
What garbage. I suppose a “Yankee insider” could be anyone, even someone outside the organization, but I doubt it. The Yankees haven’t exactly earned the benefit of the doubt after Randy Levine trashed Dellin Betances and Lonn Trost ripped on non-wealthy fans. They have a history of doing this stuff. There are two possibilities here, right? Either Bird isn’t actually hurt and doesn’t want to be a big leaguer, or Bird is hurt and someone with the Yankees said something stupid. Hmmm, I wonder which one it is? Anyway, the bigger point here is that all this stuff keeps happening with the players the Yankees should be building around and promoting. Betances is no worse than the fourth best homegrown reliever in franchise history and the team president rips him because he had the audacity to ask for what he’s worth. Frazier is the top prospect the Yankees acquired in a trade that sent a very popular player the other way, and the Yankees made a spectacle of his forced haircut. Now Bird is hurt and someone is questioning whether he actually wants to play. What the hell is that? It’s one thing to say Betances overreached with his arbitration salary request. It’s another to question a dude’s competitiveness and desire like the “Yankee insider” did with Bird. Questioning someone’s heart on the condition of anonymity is straight up gutless. There’s no other word for it.
- LHP Caleb Smith: 1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 14 of 22 pitches were strikes (64%) … ouch, rough All-Star Game appearance
- OF Dustin Fowler was also selected to the All-Star Game but did not play because he is both in the big leagues and injured.
Double-A Trenton is also off until Thursday for the All-Star break. The All-Star Game was tonight (East 7, West 1).
- SS Thairo Estrada: 1-3, 1 R, 2 BB — started and played the entire game
- RF Zack Zehner: 2-3, 1 R, 2 RBI — came off the bench to win MVP honors
- RHP Yefry Ramirez: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eleven of 16 pitches were strikes (69%) … threw the second inning
- LHP Nestor Cortes, 1B Mike Ford, and LHP Justus Sheffield were all selected to the All-Star rosters but did not play. Ford was recently promoted to Triple-A Scranton and Sheffield is out with an oblique injury. Cortes was available but simply didn’t pitch.