Andrew Miller on Aroldis Chapman trade: “I’m here to help in any capacity that I can”

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Earlier this week, the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds in one of their classic out of nowhere trades. The whole thing went down in about an hour, from first rumor to press release. The Yankees added Chapman without giving up significant prospects or dealing anyone off their MLB roster.

Right now the Yankees plan to have Chapman join Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the bullpen, forming the most dominant reliever trio in history. That’s not hyperbole either. The early-to-mid-2000s Astros had a great bullpen threesome in Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel, and Brad Lidge, but not even they were as dominant as Chapman, Miller, and Betances.

My guess is Chapman will take over as the closer next season, mostly because he’s been one of the best closers in the game for a few years now. Miller was awesome in that role last season, so it’s not like he’s being replaced because he didn’t do the job, it just seems like Chapman will get the ninth inning based on reputation. And Miller is perfectly fine with that. Here’s what he told Brendan Kuty after the Chapman deal:

“I signed with the Yankees to win and I’m not stupid, he’s a heck of a pitcher,” Miller told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview Tuesday. “This is what I signed up for. I signed up to play for the Yankees, to win championships, and if (general manager Brian) Cashman and the Steinbrenners and whoever is part of the decision-making process thinks this is part of the answer, and that this is the way to go about it, that’s fine by me.”

Miller never did make any kind of stink about being the closer last season. He came to Spring Training and said he would do whatever the team asked, and it just so happened they needed him to close. “For what they’re paying me, I’ll do anything,” he said in early-May, after Joe Girardi finally declared him the closer.

Reports circulated saying Chapman wants to close when it appeared he was headed to the Dodgers a few weeks ago, though I’m not sure how true that is. Saves do pay, though I think at this point everyone knows Chapman is great and he’ll get paid accordingly in free agency next winter regardless of his 2016 saves total. That said, even the possibility of losing money due to a lack of saves may be enough to make Chapman uncomfortable.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no wrong answer in the late innings. Girardi could use Chapman or Miller or Betances to close and it would be perfectly fine with me. How could anyone think there’s a wrong answer here? They’re all great. If Chapman is more comfortable closing, then let him close and put him in the best position to succeed. Works for me.

As for Betances, what does he think about the Chapman addition? “I’m thinking about the game where we each pitch an inning and K all nine hitters we face,” he said to John Harper. Mmmhmmm.

Yankees lack reliability in the rotation, but not upside

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

So far this offseason the Yankees have worked to improve their lineup (Starlin Castro), their bench (Aaron Hicks), and their bullpen (Aroldis Chapman). They’ve been looking for rotation help all winter, particularly a young starter they can control beyond 2017, but so far they’ve come up empty. With another seven weeks until Spring Training, the Yankees still have time to find another starter.

At the moment, the Yankees do have six starters for five spots, so they have some depth. I’d call it warm body depth rather than quality depth, but depth is depth. And the Yankees are going to need that depth too, because no team gets through a season using only five starters these days. Heck, teams are lucky if they get through a season using only seven starters. That’s the nature of the beast.

The concern with the rotation is the dubious health of the incumbent starters. Every one of them except Luis Severino missed time with an injury last season. All of them except Severino and CC Sabathia had an arm injury. Masahiro Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and Michael Pineda still hasn’t made it through a full season in one piece in his four years with the Yankees.

“I think there’s depth there but there’s questions about health,” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings. “You have Tanaka coming off a minor surgery — I guess you can say there’s no surgery that’s really minor when it’s to a pitcher’s arm — you have Michael coming back after throwing a lot of innings last year. (Ivan Nova) should be better a year removed from his surgery. I think until you see him throwing in Spring Training and throwing the ball like he’s capable of, you wonder a little bit.”

The health concerns with the rotation are legitimate. The Yankees don’t have anyone they can reasonably count on to stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day without incident. Yes, all pitchers are injury risks, but you can safely pencil guys like David Price and Zack Greinke and Jeff Samardzija in for 30 starts a year. They have the track record of durability. The Yankees don’t have anyone like that. At least not with Sabathia at this point of his career.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

What the Yankees do have, however, is a lot of upside in their rotation. I feel like this is getting overlooked this offseason. Tanaka is a true difference maker when healthy. He’s an ace on his best days, and even on his worst days he’s merely ordinary and not awful. Severino has all the potential in the world and we’ve seen Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have extended stretches of dominance (Pineda in 2014, Eovaldi in 2015).

I don’t have high expectations for Sabathia, not even with the new knee brace, but at least Nova will be further away from Tommy John surgery. He’s been very up and down in his career. The ups have been really good though! The downs? Well they’re why he’s the sixth starter and not assured a rotation spot. And who knows, maybe the new knee brace is the magic cure-all Sabathia needs. Even becoming a league average innings eater would be a huge upgrade.

Tanaka turned 27 last month and is the third oldest of the team’s six starters. Sabathia is the elder statesman at 35 and Nova’s the second oldest. He’ll be 29 in two weeks. Pineda (26) and Eovaldi (25) are in their mid-20s and Severino’s just a kid at 21. It would be one thing if the Yankees had a rotation full of Sabathias — veteran guys trying to stave off Father Time and remain effective in their twilight years. That’s not the case. The rotation is pretty young aside from CC.

The best way to describe the Yankees rotation is boom or bust. There’s a lot of injury risk and the bust rate is quite high. Much higher than I think anyone feels comfortable with. There’s also the boom potential that is being ignored for whatever reason. Tanaka, Severino, Pineda, and Eovaldi are a helluva quartet. That’s three young power starters with swing-and-miss stuff — now that Eovaldi has the splitter — plus Tanaka, a master at getting hitters to chase.

The rotation as is doesn’t make me feel very comfortable because there are so many health question marks. I’m not sure adding a reliable innings guy would make me feel much better though. The Yankees may add a young controllable starter, but, for the most part, they’ll sink or swim with this rotation in 2016. The injury risk is scary. But don’t forget the upside either.

“I think our guys are capable of getting it done. But the thing is, you have to keep them out there for 30 to 32 starts,” said Girardi. “I think our rotation has a chance to be good. But we’ve got to keep them out there.”

Prospect Profile: Chad Green

(Joel Bissell/MLive.com)
(Joel Bissell/MLive.com)

Chad Green | RHP

Background
Green, 24, grew up in Effingham, Illinois, which is roughly halfway between St. Louis and Indianapolis. He played both baseball and basketball at Effingham High School, where he was a three-time All-Conference and two-time All-Area honoree. Chad’s twin brother Chase also played baseball, and went on to use up all five years of eligibility at Southern Illinois.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Green among their top 200 prospects for the 2010 draft, but they did rank him the No. 12 prospect in Illinois. The Blue Jays selected Green out of high school with their 37th round pick but failed to sign him. He instead followed through on his commitment to Louisville and stepped into a low-leverage relief role as a freshman.

Green posted a 1.93 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 16 walks in 42 innings in his first year on campus. He remained in the bullpen as a sophomore, throwing 46.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA and 42/23 K/BB. After the season, Green headed to the Cape Cod League, where he really broke out with a Bourne Braves. He pitched to a 2.79 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 42 innings against the top college players in the country.

The Cardinals moved Green into the rotation his junior year. He threw 104.1 innings across 18 starts, posting a 2.42 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 27 walks. That earned him Second Team All-Big East honors. Green allowed five runs in 12 innings in two postseason starts, both wins. Louisville advanced to the College World Series but was eliminated after losing their first two games, so Green didn’t get a chance to pitch in Omaha.

Green left Louisville after 193 innings with a 2.38 ERA, the best in school history at the time. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the ninth best prospect in Kentucky and the 267th best prospect in the 2013 draft class. The Tigers selected him in the 11th round (336th overall) and signed him for $100,000. The Yankees acquired Green from Detroit in the Justin Wilson trade earlier this month.

Pro Career
The Tigers had Green start his pro career with their High Class-A affiliate — he went for a quick tune-up with their rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate first — where he worked as a reliever following his big workload in school. Green had a 3.54 ERA (3.22 FIP) with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 20.1 pro innings in 2013.

Despite the solid showing in High-A, the Tigers sent Green to their Low Class-A affiliate for the 2014 season. He spent the entire year at the level, throwing 130.1 innings with a 3.11 ERA (3.08 FIP). Green struck out 23.9% of batters faced and walked 5.4%. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s 29th best prospect following the season in their 2015 Prospect Handbook.

The Tigers jumped Green straight to Double-A this past season — High-A to Low-A to Double-A is an atypical development path, I’d say — where he had a 3.93 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 148.2 innings. He had solid strikeout (20.9%) and walk (6.6%) rates while being about six months younger than the average Eastern League player.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., Green is a big and physical right-hander with a low-90s sinker that is his key to success. He throws a lot of strikes with the pitch and consistently locates it at the knees. The Tigers introduced Green to a splitter last season and it has since emerged as his top secondary offering. He’s still working to gain consistency with the pitch.

Green also throws a sharp low-80s slider that he struggles to locate on the outer edge to righties. He tends to miss way off the plate or hang it over the middle. The split-finger, which replaced a changeup, is Green’s put-away pitch against both righties and lefties at the moment. There’s not much video of him available, so here’s a clip from April 2014, when he was in Low Class-A with the Tigers.

Green’s delivery is pretty simple and in-line with the plate, allowing him to throw strikes with his fastball with ease. He’s been praised for his ability to outsmart hitters and keep them off balance. Also of note: Green’s a very good athlete and a strong fielder, which is not insignificant for a ground ball pitcher.

2016 Outlook
After pitching well and spending the entire season in Double-A in 2015, Green is ticketed for the Triple-A Scranton rotation next season. I’m guessing he’ll get an invite to big league Spring Training so the coaching staff and front office can see him up close. Assuming he pitches well with the RailRiders, Green figures to make his MLB debut at some point next year, even if he’s only an up-and-down arm at first. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so a 40-man roster spot hangs in the balance.

My Take
Pitching prospects like Green don’t excite me much but the Yankees seem to have success with guys like this, guys who can throw strikes and pitch off their fastball. David Phelps and Adam Warren are the most notable recent examples. The Yankees worked with both to develop secondary stuff. Green’s new-ish splitter is promising and I’m guessing tightening up the slider will be a point of emphasis going forward. There’s nothing sexy about back-end starters, but the Yankees need cheap rotation help, and Green just might be able to help in that capacity.

Scouting The Trade Market: Chad Bettis

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Despite their perpetual interest, the Yankees have yet to land a young starting pitcher controllable beyond 2017 this offseason. They have reportedly focused on acquiring such a player in trade talks involving Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. The closest they’ve come to getting a young starter is picking up Luis Cessa and Chad Green in the Justin Wilson trade.

The Rockies seem like a team that should be focused on adding young pitching, not trading it away, but GM Jeff Bridich told Patrick Saunders he is “open to whatever, I mean it” earlier this offseason. Open to whatever as long as it helps improve the team, of course. Right-hander Chad Bettis could be a possible under-the-radar trade target for the Yankees as they look to add that controllable pitcher to their rotation. Is he a fit? Let’s take a look.

The Performance

Might as well start with some background information. Bettis, 26, was Colorado’s second round pick in the 2010 draft out of Texas Tech. Baseball America ranked him as the 86th best prospect in the game prior to the 2012 season — he was one spot behind Mason Williams — and Bettis made his big league debut late in 2013. He spent 2014 going up and down before spending the majority of 2015 in the team’s rotation. Here are his overall MLB stats.

G GS IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 16 8 44.2 5.64 4.93 14.4% 9.6% 46.7% .395 .351
2014 21  0 24.2 9.12 5.52 10.2% 7.9% 45.9% .488 .394
2015 20 20 115.0 4.23 3.85 19.5% 8.4% 49.3% .345 .323
TOTAL 57 28 184.1 5.22 4.33 16.9% 8.6% 48.1% .380 .340

Bettis was called up two seasons ago and came down with a case of Coors Field. He was limited to relief work last year and it was the first time he worked out of the bullpen in his career. Those 2013-14 numbers are ugly. No doubt about it.

I’m choosing to focus on Bettis’ 2015 performance because it’s most recent, and also because it was the first time he was given an opportunity to stay in the rotation for an extended period of time. Going up and down sucks. Once he had a chance to settle in, Bettis posted an average strikeout rate and an above-average ground ball rate, which is a nice starting point.

Coors Field uglified his overall numbers — Bettis had a 4.99 ERA (3.90 FIP) at home and a 3.35 ERA (3.79 FIP) on the road in 2015 — because that’s what it does, though I’m not one of those people who thinks road performance indicates the true talent level of a player who just so happens to be stuck on the Rockies. After all, Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, and AT&T Park are pretty great places to pitch.

Bettis is not a big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 lbs. on the team’s official site — and the usual concern with pitchers that size is they’re unable to get good downward plane on their fastball and thus become fly ball prone. Bettis has gotten a good amount of grounders in his career to date, so that doesn’t really seem to be a problem. He had a 0.86 HR/9 (11.0 HR/FB%) this past season and 1.03 HR/9 (11.8 HR/FB%) over the last three years, which is average or a tick better. Maybe more than a tick considering his home park.

Also, despite the higher than average walk rates — that was the case all throughout the minors as well — Bettis has a reputation for pitching aggressively. “Bettis is tenacious and attacks hitters with everything he throws,” wrote Baseball America in their 2013 Prospect Handbook. The walk rates are the result of control issues, not an unwillingness to go after hitters. Walks are annoying. Walks because the pitcher nibbles are even more annoying.

I’m not sure anyone has come up with a good way to normalize the Coors Field effect. (There’s evidence simple park factors don’t fully adjust for the thin mountain air.) Given the sample size and his home ballpark, I’m inclined to outright ignore what Bettis has done to date, at least when trying to project what he’ll be going forward. Too many complicated variables at play.

The Stuff

To me, the scouting report is much more important than the stats with Bettis. It’s almost like he’s a prospect at this point. Bettis is a five-pitch pitcher who throws three fastballs (four-seamer, sinker, cutter), a curveball, and a changeup. The cutter is often misclassified as a slider by PitchFX for whatever reason.

Here is some PitchFX data on Bettis’ arsenal. This is 2015 data only because it’s the most recent, and also because he spent time in the bullpen the two previous years. That can screw things up. Pitchers rarely throw all their pitches in relief. (Adam Warren was a notable exception.) The MLB averages are in parentheses.

% Thrown Avg. Velo. Whiff% GB%
Four-Seam 48.9% 92.8 (92.4) 5.6% (6.9%) 48.4% (37.9%)
Sinker 10.8% 91.7 (90.8) 5.9% (5.4%) 57.1% (49.5%)
Cutter 9.6% 87.9 (88.0) 20.7% (9.7%) 65.7% (43.0%)
Curveball 15.0% 74.7 (77.8) 13.9% (11.1%) 25.6% (48.7%)
Changeup 15.8% 85.6 (83.3) 19.6% (14.9%) 73.5% (47.8%)

Bettis’ fastball velocity is more or less average — PitchFX says he topped out at 97.2 mph and 96.5 mph with the four-seamer and sinker this past season, respectively — and he gets an above-average number of ground balls with both his four-seamer and sinker, but not many swings and misses.

The cutter looks like a well-above-average pitch given the rate of whiffs and grounders, but he only threw it 9.6% of the time in 2015, so it could be sample size noise. In fact, Bettis threw only 179 cutters this past season, so yeah. The changeup is interesting. It looks like a great pitch based on whiffs and grounders, yet left-handed batters hit Bettis kind hard this season.

This could be a sample size issue, though I do think the velocity might have something to do with it too. Ideally a pitcher would have a 10 mph or so separation between his fastball and changeup. Bettis approximately had a 7 mph separation in 2015, less if you look at the sinker. The lack of big time separation could indicate the pitch is more hittable than the swing-and-miss and grounder numbers indicate. Here’s some video:

I suppose it’s only fair to point out the extreme separation between Bettis’ fastball and curveball after talking about the lack of separation with the changeup. He got some ugly swings with that slow curve in the video.

Playing at altitude doesn’t only allow the ball travel farther when hit, it also changes a pitcher’s stuff. It’s a physics issue — in the thin air, the ball encounters less resistance as it spins towards the plate. I don’t want to get too nerdy, but the interaction between the spinning seams and the molecules in the air determines how the ball moves. That interaction at sea level is different than it is on top of a mountain.

That’s a big reason why the Rockies have had such a hard time finding pitchers who can have consistent success in their home ballpark — they don’t know how their stuff will behave in the thin air until they get there. Bettis has a track record of missing bats all throughout the minors and the PitchFX data suggests he has options to get whiffs and grounders. Get him out of Coors Field and his stuff may firm up.

Injury History

Bettis has had some arm problems in his career, most notably losing the entire 2012 season to a strained muscle behind his shoulder. Didn’t throw a single pitch that year. Bettis did not have surgery and he hasn’t had any shoulder trouble since, and his velocity has returned to it’s pre-injury levels. (He lost 2-3 mph in 2013 but it has since returned.)

Furthermore, elbow inflammation cost Bettis a little more than a month this past season. He got hurt in late-July, rehabbed for a month after an MRI showed no structural damage, then returned to the mound in late-September and pitched with no issues the rest of the season. Little bit of a scare there. Bettis also missed two months with an oblique strain in 2013, though that’s not a concern. It happens.

The shoulder and elbow injuries are, however, red flags. The only good news is that his shoulder injury only involved a muscle and not his labrum or the tendons in his rotator cuff. Also, the elbow MRI showed his ulnar collateral ligament was intact as recently as this past July. Shoulder and elbow injuries are always bad. Bettis’ appear to have been less bad than they could have been.

Contract Status

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Thanks to all the up-and-down action the last three years, Bettis has accrued one year and 96 days of service time, commonly written as 1.096. He has five years of team control remaining. Two as a pre-arbitration player and three as an arbitration-eligible player. I suppose he could qualify as a Super Two following next season if the cutoff falls low enough, but that seems very unlikely.

Bettis has one minor league option remaining. The Rockies purchased his contract and called him up for the first time in August 2013, and he spent the rest of the year in the big leagues. He burned his first option going up and down in 2014, then burned his second when he was sent to Triple-A to start 2015. That means he has one left, unless he somehow qualifies for a fourth option. Either way, a team that trades for him hopes the options are a moot point. They’ll want to stick him in their rotation and leave him there.

What Would It Take?

Bettis is a former mid-range prospect with five years of team control left, and those guys are usually traded in packages for an established big leaguer, so we have an interesting dynamic here. The Rockies are rebuilding (I think) and presumably want young pieces in return. They have no use for 32-year-old Brett Gardner or 30-year-old Andrew Miller.

Recent trades involving pitchers five years from free agency include …

  • Roenis Elias: Traded as second piece in a deal for Wade Miley.
  • Nate Karns: Traded as headliner in three-player package for Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar.
  • Dan Straily: Traded with Luis Valbuena for one year of Dexter Fowler.
  • Jarred Cosart: Traded with two spare parts for three prospects, most notably Colin Moran and Jake Marisnick.

… and none of that really helps us. The Cosart trade is probably most applicable, which, at the time, boiled down to Cosart for Moran and Marisnick with other stuff thrown in. Baseball America ranked Moran and Marisnick as the Nos. 61 and 79 prospects prior to 2014, the year of the trade. At the same time, Cosart was more highly regarded than Bettis. He was twice ranked as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America, topping out at No. 50 in 2012.

The Yankees traded six years of Shane Greene for five years of Didi Gregorius, and that might be the framework for a Bettis trade. My promising young player for your promising young player. The Rockies need basically everything at this point. Gary Sanchez for Bettis may seem like an overpay but that could be what it takes. Perhaps they can talk them down to, say, Rob Refsnyder, something like that. My trade proposal sucks, I know.

Point is, this isn’t a Gardner or Miller for Bettis plus stuff trade. The Rockies don’t need those guys. If they do trade Bettis, they’re going to trade him for young players. Also, here’s a weird factor to consider: Bettis has not fallen out of favor with the Rockies. The Yankees have targeted guys who have fallen out of favor with their previous teams during their on-the-fly rebuild (Gregorius, Dustin Ackley, Starlin Castro, etc.) so they don’t have to pay full freight. Bettis doesn’t fit that mold.

Wrapping Up

I know there’s nothing sexy about Bettis as a trade target, and you can always come with a reason to not trade for anyone, but look at what he offers. He’s only 26, he has five years of control, he throws five pitches, he gets grounders, he has a history of missing bats, and he has experience pitching in an extreme hitter’s environment. Those are all pluses in my book.

The injury history is a red flag, no doubt about it, as is the history of average at best control. There’s risk. That’s true of every pitcher. The Rockies have indicated a willingness to move just about anyone in an effort to improve, and Bettis is a potential long-term rotation piece with solid stuff who seems like someone pitching coach Larry Rothschild could help take to the next level.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Here’s an interesting piece from former Yankee Greg Golson, who wrote about his experience playing winter ball. He’s looking to get back into affiliated baseball — Golson spent 2014 in an independent league and 2015 in Mexico — and has been playing winter ball in hopes of getting noticed. Golson says that after years of playing in the minors, he “fell in love with the game again” because the goal is winning in winter ball, not development. Interesting stuff. Check it out.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Devils, Islanders, and Nets are all playing, plus there’s a whole bunch of college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, Golson’s article, or anything else here. Have at it.

Eddy: Yankees sign Vinnie Pestano, three others to minor league contracts

Pestano. (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)
Pestano. (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

The Yankees have started filling the gaps in the upper levels of the farm system. Matt Eddy reports the team has signed righty reliever Vinnie Pestano, outfielder Cesar Puello, catcher Sebastian Valle, and lefty Richard Bleier to minor league contracts. I assume Pestano received an invite to big league Spring Training. Not sure about the others.

Pestano, 30, is the most notable of the bunch. He spent most of last season in Triple-A with the Angels, pitching to a 2.10 ERA (2.58 FIP) in 34.1 innings. Pestano also threw 11.2 ineffective innings with the big league team (nine runs and 23 base-runners). What are the odds his grandmother calls him Vincent? Like 99.8%, right? Definitely.

Anyway, a few years ago Pestano had a great season as a setup man with the Indians, pitching to a 2.32 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 62 innings in 2011. He had a strong follow-up season in 2012 (2.57 ERA and 3.42 FIP) but has struggled since, posting a 3.97 ERA (4.79 FIP) in 65.2 innings for the Indians and Halos while spending a bunch of time in Triple-A.

The Yankees subtracted Adam Warren and Justin Wilson and added Aroldis Chapman this offseason, so while they could use bullpen help, but I wouldn’t pencil Pestano into the Opening Day roster just yet. I think he’s nothing more than a depth arm, one who might not even get through Spring Training if he doesn’t impress. If anything, Pestano may be the guy who fills in at Triple-A if a few of the relief prospects who spent 2015 on the shuttle make the big league team.

Puello, 24, is a former top Mets prospects who got caught up in the Biogenesis scandal a few years ago. In fact, Eddy notes Puello is the only player suspended for his ties to Biogenesis who has yet to play in MLB. Puello played only one game this past season, going 0-for-3 in a rookie ball contest. He missed the season with a stress fracture in his back and was released in late-August.

Puello. (Sarah Glenn/Getty)
Puello. (Sarah Glenn/Getty)

When healthy and not suspended, Puello hit .252/.355/.393 (98 wRC+) with seven homers and 13 steals in 105 Triple-A games in 2014. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 77 prospect in the game way back in 2011, one spot ahead of Andrew Brackman. How about that? “(Puello is an) average runner with the instincts to play all three outfield posts capably … His minor league track record suggests he could platoon against lefthanders,” wrote Baseball America in their 2015 Prospect Handbook, when they ranked him the No. 26 prospect in the Mets system.

The Yankees are loaded with Triple-A outfielders at the moment, even with Jake Cave going to the Reds in the Rule 5 Draft. Some combination of Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Aaron Judge, Ben Gamel, and Tyler Austin figures to be the Triple-A outfield next year, though one of those guys could end up on the MLB bench. Puello might be ticketed for Double-A Trenton, where the Yankees lack outfield options.

The 25-year-old Valle hit .279/.341/.413 (118 wRC+) in 70 Double-A games with the Phillies this past season. They originally signed him out of Mexico in 2006. As with nearly every catcher the Yankees acquire these days, Valle has a reputation for being a strong defender. My guess is he will open next season with Double-A Trenton. The Yankees don’t have an obvious everyday catcher for the level at the moment.

Bleier, 28, is a journeyman who’s spent the last few years bouncing around different organizations. He had a 2.57 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 171.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A with the Nationals in 2015. Bleier is an extreme control pitcher: he had a 9.5% strike rate (!) and a 2.4 walk rate this past season. Either the Yankees are going to try Bleier in relief (he’s done that before) or he’s just an innings guy for Double-A and Triple-A next year.

In addition to these four, the Yankees also signed catcher Eddy Rodriguez and infielder Pete Kozma to minor league deals this offseason. I’m sure they’ll sign a few more players to minor league contracts in the coming weeks. They’re said to be looking for a starting pitcher and will need some Triple-A infielders since both Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda were in the Chapman trade. The Yankees usually don’t announce their non-roster invitees until early-February, so it’ll be a while until these deals are made official.

Offseason moves will help the Yankees use the entire field going forward

(Andy Lyons/Getty)
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

By now it’s no secret the Yankees are one of the most pull happy teams in baseball, which is why they see so many infield shifts. Their 44.4% pull rate this past season was the highest in baseball by more than a full percentage point (Blue Jays were second at 43.3%). Over the last three years the Yankees have a 41.6% pull rate, fifth highest in baseball. (Interestingly, three of the four teams ahead of them are AL East clubs. The Red Sox are the AL East club not in the top five.)

Part of this is absolutely by design. The short right field porch at Yankee Stadium rewards left-handed batters who pull the ball, so the Yankees have targeted those kinds of hitters in both big (Brian McCann) and small (Kelly Johnson, etc.) moves. There’s now a stigma associated with pulling the ball due to the increased use of shifts, which is unfair. Pulling the ball is the best way to hit for power — the MLB average was a .267 ISO when pulling the ball in 2015. It was .142 when going the other way.

That said, there’s an obvious benefit to having a diverse offense. It can be pretty easy to defend a team of pull hitters, especially when the few hitters capable of spraying the ball all around aren’t at their best. We saw this in the second half this summer. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are the team’s two best all-fields hitters and when they stopped hitting, the offense was one batted ball to the right side of the field after another. That’s a problem.

“I love home runs as much as the next guy – and, in fact, probably more – but there needs to be a little added dimension to us offensively, and we have those guys in place to do that,” said hitting coach Alan Cockrell to Chad Jennings earlier this offseason. “I’m not going to say playing the game like the Kansas City Royals did, but the little things that add a dimension to a club that pitchers just don’t want to face you.”

There is still half an offseason to go, but right now it appears the Yankees will bring back largely the same offense next year. Teaching guys like McCann and Mark Teixeira to not pull the ball just isn’t going to happen at this point of their careers. Both tried to go the other way more often in recent years — McCann in 2014, Teixeira in 2012 — and it had a negative impact on their production. They are who they are. Let them be.

The Yankees did, however, add two new offensive pieces this offseason, and both stand to help the Yankees diversify their offense. Starlin Castro is the most notable offensive pickup and he’s historically used all fields in his career. In fact, a week ago we looked at an adjustment he made to his stance that better allowed him to use the entire field after he fell into a rut trying to pull everything. Castro’s right-handedness and ability to go the other way are welcome additions to the lineup.

The Yankees also added Aaron Hicks earlier this winter. Hicks only projects to be platoon player at this point, but the guy he replaced, Chris Young, is one of the most extreme pull hitters on record. (Batted ball data goes back to 2002.) Hicks is a switch-hitter and his batted ball profile is pretty interesting. It matches up well with what the Yankees would like to see from their hitters.

Aaron Hicks batted ball

As a left-handed batter (vs. R), Hicks pulls the ball a little more often, so he is in position to take advantage of the short porch. But, as a right-handed batter (vs. L), Hicks is an all-fields guy who actually goes the other way more than he pulls the ball. Hicks figures to platoon in the lefty heavy outfield and will see most of his action against southpaws, so his all-fields approach as a right-handed batter will give the offense a much different look than it had with Young.

Brian Cashman said the Yankees will look to diversify their offense following the season — “The method to signing Jake and Gardy were to be table-setters, to be those guys who can get on base and wreak havoc … It was supposed to start changing the evolution of the picture of this team being only home run oriented,” he said to Jennings — and the additions of Castro and Hicks are a step in that direction. Their batted ball profiles aren’t a coincidence. They were targeted for a reason. (Many reasons, really.)

The Yankees are always going to be a home run hitting team. That’s their identity. They’re the Bronx Bombers because their ballparks have always been conducive to dingers, particularly to right field. The current incarnation of Yankee Stadium is the most extreme example. It would be foolish to shy away from that homer hitting identity given their ballpark. Homers are very good. The Yankees should continue hitting lots of them. Hitting the ball out of the park is what the Yankees do.

At the same time, the Yankees have run the risk of being too one-dimensional in recent years. There’s always been a kernel of truth behind the #toomanyhomers movement that never did get expressed properly. There is no such thing as hitting too many homers, but there is such a thing as not scoring enough runs in other ways. With simple base hits becoming harder to come by these days thanks to the shift, the need to diversify the offense and add players who can hit to all fields became too great for the Yankees to ignore.

“We need to talk about the culture of what we are offensively and how we have players in place to have an even better offense,” added Cockrell. “Those types of things will be things we’ll talk about this winter and things we’ll address in Spring Training.”