Here is tonight’s open thread. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are in action, but there’s a ton of college hoops on the schedule. You’re on your own for entertainment otherwise. Good night to catch up on Netflix. I’m close to finishing Mr. Robot myself. I highly recommend it. Anyway, go nuts.
When the Yankees took the plunge and sold at the trade deadline, they wound up acquiring a dozen prospects (and one Adam Warren) in their four seller trades. Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, and Clint Frazier were the headliners and the prospects everyone is talking about, understandably so. They’re all legitimate top 100 prospects and among the best young players in the organization.
The trades were not only geared towards impact players, however. The Yankees also added a ton of depth — again, they acquired 12 prospects — and the secondary pieces shouldn’t be overlooked. Ben Heller has already pitched in the big leagues. Erik Swanson and J.P. Feyereisen have sneaky good arms. Tito Polo is a pretty good bet to carve out a Major League career as an extra outfielder. Those guys have value too.
The most high-profile secondary piece the Yankees added at the deadline is outfielder Billy McKinney, who came over from the Cubs with Torres and Warren in the Aroldis Chapman trade. McKinney was the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft — he had been connected to the Yankees often enough at the time that I wrote a draft profile — and was later traded from the A’s to the Cubs in the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija trade.
The Yankees picked up McKinney while his stock was down. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked the 22-year-old as the 69th best prospect in baseball coming into the season — not last year or the year before, this year, 2016 — but, at the time of the trade, he was hitting .252/.355/.322 (102 wRC+) with one home run in 349 Double-A plate appearances while repeating the level. Last year he hit .285/.346/.420 (116 wRC+) at Double-A.
McKinney performed quite a bit better after the trade, putting up a .265/.337/.444 (117 wRC+) batting line with four homers in 169 plate appearances with Double-A Trenton, including the postseason. That looks good on the surface, but for close to a bat-only dude repeating the level, it’s not nearly enough to maintain top 100 prospect status. McKinney is, to paraphrase Brian Cashman, an asset in distress. They bought low and hope to build him back up.
There are reasons to believe McKinney can be built back up. For starters, his age. He turned 22 in August. Had he gone to college, McKinney would have been a draft-eligible junior this year. Secondly, his raw talent. He wasn’t a first rounder by accident. McKinney has impressive hitting tools, which were on display just last season. And third, his health. His 2015 season ended in mid-August after he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a hairline fracture, Mark Teixeira style.
Everything in baseball starts from the ground up, including hitting. It’s tough to hit when you don’t have a solid base underneath you, and thanks to the knee injury, McKinney’s lower half was compromised this year. How much? We don’t know exactly. Player development chief Gary Denbo thinks the injury was at least somewhat a factor in McKinney’s disappointing season. From Jim Callis:
“He had issues with his knee and didn’t have all his balance and stability in his lower half, which makes it difficult to be a consistent hitter,” Denbo said. “He’s just now getting healthy. He’s working very hard to improve his timing and lower-half stability, and also to let his raw power play in games. He started to do that late in the season and he has been one of our best performers down here.”
It’s not crazy to think a healthy McKinney could bounce back next season. Not considering his age and talent. That’s what the Yankees are hoping, anyway. They got him almost as a throw in, after all. McKinney is not the centerpiece of the farm system or anything like that. He’s a reclamation project.
Now, what happens if McKinney does rebound next season? First, celebrate! That’d be cool. Secondly, the logjam of upper level outfielders could become even logjam-ier. Right now, the Triple-A Scranton outfield figures to feature some combination of Frazier, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Dustin Fowler. Maybe Aaron Judge too. That leaves McKinney back in Double-A for a third straight season. Not ideal, but what can the Yankees do?
Given the state of the organization right now, it appears the best thing for both McKinney and the Yankees is that he plays well enough to re-establish some trade value. Instead of being the No. 3 piece like he was in the Chapman deal, he could maybe be the No. 2 piece in a deal at some point in future. Or maybe even the headliner in a smaller trade that brings immediate MLB help. That seems to be the best case scenario. McKinney rebuilds value and the Yankees flip him elsewhere, where he’ll have a better opportunity for MLB playing time.
As far as the Yankees are concerned, anything they get from McKinney is gravy. He’s not one of their top prospects and they’re not relying on him to fill a roster spot long-term. They rolled the dice on his talent as the third piece in the Chapman trade, and if he rebounds, great! If not, well, that’s baseball. When a guy like McKinney is one of your second tier prospects and almost an afterthought in your system, things are looking up.
Blake Rutherford | OF
Rutherford, 19, was born in Morristown, New Jersey, and he lived there until age two, when his family moved to Southern California. He played both baseball and football at Chaminade College Preparatory School in Simi Valley, and as a senior last spring, Rutherford hit .577 with 13 doubles and nine home runs in 27 games. He was invited to play in the Under Armour All-America Game in 2015 and spent two summers with Team USA’s 18-and-under team, helping them win gold in Japan last year.
Rutherford has been on the radar as a prospect a very long time, so much so that he committed to UCLA following his freshman year of high school. Prior to the 2016 amateur draft, Rutherford was ranked as a top ten prospect in the draft class by Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th). The Yankees selected him with their first round pick, No. 18 overall, and maxed out their bonus pool to sign him to a well-above-slot $3,282,000 bonus.
“Blake’s a guy that we’ve scouted for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier with him falling to us,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer after the draft. “He’s hit at a high level, he can run, he’s a really good defender in center field, and he’s got power. He’s got a chance to have all the tools to profile. The fact that he’s performed on a big stage with Team USA, where he’s been a quality performer, makes it really exciting for us.”
Rutherford slipped out of the top ten for two reasons. One, his age. He turned 19 in May, which makes him older than most high school draftees. And two, he had big bonus demands, which isn’t surprising because he was a projected top ten pick. There are rumors Rutherford had a pre-draft deal in place with the Mets, who held the 19th pick, but the Yankees grabbed him one pick earlier and met his asking price.
“Oh man, I don’t think it’s hit me yet. It will hit me soon,” said Rutherford to Tony Ciniglio after the draft. “I grew up a Yankees fan. I loved the Yankees and the organization, I loved the people. It’s an amazing legacy, and it’s a pretty incredible situation.”
Following a quick tune-up stint in the rookie Gulf Coast League, the Yankees bumped Rutherford up to the rookie Pulaski Yankees so he could face a higher caliber of competition. Rutherford was the best player on the field pretty much every game, hitting .382/.440/.618 (186 wRC+) with seven doubles, four triples, and two homers in 25 games and 100 plate appearances with Pulaski. Add in the GCL stint and he hit .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) with three homers in 130 plate appearances in his pro debut earlier this year.
Rutherford’s season ended prematurely due to a pair of minor injuries. He tweaked his knee running through first base on August 8th and missed Pulaski’s next eleven games. Then, on August 24th, Rutherford hurt his hamstring running out a ground ball. Pulaski had already been eliminated from postseason contention and the regular season was ending in a week, so the Yankees played it safe and shut their first round pick down. Rutherford’s knee and hamstring were healthy enough for him to participate in Instructional League in September.
At 6-foot-3 and 195 lbs., Rutherford is well built with all sorts of physical projection. He’s a left-handed hitter with good bat speed and a level swing that allows him to cover the entire plate. Rutherford’s hit tool is highly regarded and he has a plan at the plate, plus he’s already shown power in games. He projects as a classic No. 3 hitter. A guy who can hit for both average and power down the road. Here’s some video:
The offensive potential is what got Rutherford drafted in the first round, but he’s not a bat-only prospect. He runs well and has good outfield instincts, which allow him to play center field. There are mixed reports on his arm; some say it’s strong while others indicated it’s below-average. They all agree it’s not a top tier arm, so should Rutherford move out of center at some point, left field is the more likely destination than right.
Beyond the athletic ability, Rutherford draws rave reviews for his makeup — he helped out at a baseball league for kids with disabilities throughout high school, as Mike Persinger writes — and work ethic. A player who projects to hit for average and power, provide value on the bases and in the field, play with energy, and be a genuinely good dude off the field is a potential franchise cornerstone.
The Yankees have not been shy about sending prep draftees to full season ball the year after the draft and Rutherford figures to follow that path. Unlike, say, Gosuke Katoh and Dante Bichette Jr., Rutherford is more than ready for the assignment because he’s a polished hitter, not just a guy with big rookie ball stats. He turns 20 in March and will be one of the youngest players in the Low-A South Atlantic League to open the 2017 season, assuming that’s where the Yankees send him.
How could you not love Rutherford? There’s very little not to like about him. He’s a true four-tool player — his arm is the only thing that’s lacking — and a good athlete with baseball smarts. His upside is significant and he could be a rare quick moving high school bat. Splitting next season between Low-A and High-A wouldn’t completely shock me. Rutherford has that kind of ability.
The Yankees have a loaded farm system right now. They have several high-end prospects and a ton of depth, and Rutherford has as much long-term ceiling as anyone in the system. There’s a good chance, maybe even a great chance, that at this time next year Rutherford will be the top prospect in the organization, even ahead of the totally awesome Gleyber Torres. It’s been a long time since the Yankees landed a talent like Rutherford in the draft.
For much of the offseason, most Yankees-related rumors involved their search for a new designated hitter and their pursuit of Aroldis Chapman. Since the Matt Holliday and Chapman signings, most of the talk has focused on the team’s search for middle relief, particularly left-handers. They Yankees have been connected to Justin Wilson, Boone Logan, Mike Dunn, and Brett Cecil, among others.
Chapman gives the Yankees one of the top lefty relievers in baseball. Arguably the best and no worse than the third best behind Andrew Miller and Zach Britton, though he’s not someone Joe Girardi will bring in to face, say, Chris Davis in the sixth inning. Chapman’s the closer and the ninth inning is his domain. The innings before that are up to lesser relievers. Here is New York’s lefty reliever depth chart behind Chapman:
- Tommy Layne
- Chasen Shreve
- Richard Bleier
- Dietrich Enns
- Joe Mantiply (re-signed to minor league deal)
- Jason Gurka (signed to minor league deal)
Think Bleier belongs above Shreve? I won’t argue with you. Bleier did see some higher leverage work down the stretch in September while Shreve hasn’t been very good since July 2015. Either way, Layne is at the top and everyone else is behind him in whatever order. Jacob Lindgren (non-tender), James Pazos (trade), and Tyler Webb (Rule 5 Draft) are all gone.
Looking at that depth chart, it’s easy to understand why the Yankees would seek a better left-hander for the bullpen, and there are several available. Is it worth investing money and a roster spot in another southpaw though? Given the state of the roster, I don’t think another lefty is a necessity at all, for a few reasons.
1. Layne might actually be pretty good. Guys like Layne are very hit or miss. He’s 32-year-old journeyman who didn’t make his MLB debut until age 27, and he’s been in four organizations (Diamondbacks, Padres, Red Sox, Yankees) in the last five seasons. He’s been traded for cash, non-tendered, and released. Layne is the definition of freely available talent. You don’t give up anything of value to get players like him.
The thing is, Layne is above replacement level, at least when it comes to facing left-handed batters. We all saw him last year, he’s a quintessential funky lefty with an 80-something mile-an-hour fastball and a sweepy breaking ball, yet he makes his work. His numbers against lefties the last three seasons:
Not a huge sample size, but that’s not Layne’s fault. That’s just the life of a left-on-left matchup guy. Overall though, he’s been pretty darn effective against same-side hitters. The walks are kinda annoying (you had one job!) but Layne has gotten enough strikeouts and grounders to compensate. If a free agent had those numbers, he’d have our attention.
The Yankees have flushed a lot of money down the toilet on proven veteran lefties like Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte and Matt Thornton over the years, and those guys serve as reminders that there is no such thing as a proven reliever. Even the most established veterans can go poof in an instant. Layne has been pretty damn effective in his limited MLB time against lefties and he costs basically nothing. Why sign a free agent who might not even be an upgrade?
2. The Yankees have righties who can get out lefties. For most of this past season, the Yankees didn’t have a true matchup lefty in the bullpen. Shreve was on the roster a bunch and so was Bleier, but, for the most part, they were lower leverage relievers. Whenever there was a lefty at the plate in a big spot in the late innings, Miller was on the mound. Or Dellin Betances.
Betances, like fellow bullpen mates Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, has actually been better against lefties than righties the last few years. Crazy, I know. A righty who can get out lefties. What a time to be alive. Here are their platoon splits over the last three seasons:
|vs. RHB||vs. LHB|
|Betances||.160/.261/.264 (.242 wOBA)||.173/.244/.243 (.221 wOBA)|
|Clippard||.195/.287/.333 (.276 wOBA)||.202/.277/.336 (.270 wOBA)|
|Warren||.250/.320/.394 (.314 wOBA)||.197/.275/.310 (.255 wOBA)|
Betances overpowers everyone, Clippard has that dead fish changeup, and Warren still uses four pitches as a reliever. It’s not difficult to understand why all three of them have had success against lefties the last few years. Now, will they continue to have that level of success going forward? That’s the big question. I’m not all that confident in Clippard maintaining that level of production, but Dellin and Warren? Not too worried.
Point is, the Yankees shouldn’t be desperate for a left-on-left matchup reliever because they have several righties who can get lefties out too. I know Girardi loves his matchups, so much so that he overdoes it at times, but sometimes bringing in the lefty pitcher to face a lefty hitter just isn’t necessary. Betances, Clippard, and Warren can get the job done themselves.
3. How many great lefty hitters are in the AL East anyway? David Ortiz is retired. James F. Loney is gone. Carlos Delgado and Carlos Pena have been out of the game for years now. The days of the AL East housing the most fearsome left-handed hitters in baseball are pretty much over. Here are the projected left-handed hitting regulars among the four division rivals:
- Blue Jays: Ezequiel Carrera
- Orioles: Chris Davis, Hyun-Soo Kim
- Rays: Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller
- Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mitch Moreland
Davis is the one dude who is legitimately terrifying because he can hit the ball a mile when he connects. Benintendi is going to be really good one day, I think, perhaps as soon as 2017, but otherwise we’re looking at players who are nuisances more than major threats. Maybe I’m selling Bradley short, but even if you include him in a group with Davis and Benintendi, there still aren’t many lefty hitters in the AL East you dread seeing at the plate in a big spot.
Yes, the Yankees do play games outside the division. Lots of them, in fact. But 75 of their 162 games next season will be against the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, and Red Sox. Nearly half the schedule. And aside from Davis and Benintendi (and Bradley), there aren’t many AL East left-handed hitters who make a shutdown left-on-left reliever a necessity.
4. Is there even room in the bullpen for a LOOGY? This, to me, is the biggest point in this post. Can the Yankees afford to dedicate a roster spot to a true matchup reliever? A guy who comes in, faces one or two batters, then bolts. Someone who finishes the season with 34 innings in 78 appearances. That kinda thing. I’m not so sure.
Everything in baseball is trending towards using pitchers less and less. Part of that is trying to keep them healthy, and part of that is maximizing effectiveness. Teams have begun pulling their fourth and fifth starters after the second time through the lineup to avoiding giving hitters a third look at them. CC Sabathia‘s effectiveness waned noticeably when his pitch count climbed over 80-85 in 2016.
Thing is, teams still need guys to throw all those innings, and dedicating a bullpen spot to a one-batter matchup reliever means those innings fall on other relievers. The Yankees had 121 games in which the starter did not throw more than 100 pitches this year. That blows my mind. That was the eighth most in baseball and second most in the AL. Only the Angels got fewer 101+ pitch starts from their rotation. That puts a lot of responsibility on the bullpen.
As it stands right now, the Yankees have one bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka, who the team treats with kid gloves. Sabathia really should be limited to 85 pitches or so these days, and Michael Pineda had a hard time completing five innings by the end of 2016. Then you have a bunch of kids lined up for the fourth and fifth spots. Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green … we’re going to see all of them next year.
Chances are the Yankees are going to ask their bullpen to soak up a lot of inning next season, to the point where carrying two long relievers might not be such a bad idea. Having a left-on-left matchup guy might not be practical. The seven bullpen spots may need to go to pitchers who can throw full innings, not five (pitches) and fly.
Here is tonight’s open thread. All five local hockey and basketball teams are in action tonight and there’s some college hoops on the schedule as well. Talk about all that stuff and more right here.
Tuesday: The Yankees have traded Goody to the Indians for cash or a player to be named later, the team announced earlier today. That almost certainly means cash. I can’t remember the last time “cash or a player to be named later” was actually a player to be named later. Anyway, at least the Yankees got something for Goody rather than losing him for nothing on waivers.
Monday: Late last week, the Yankees finalized and officially announced the Aroldis Chapman signing. Jon Heyman says Chapman will receive an $11M signing bonus and a $15M salary each year of the five-year deal. That means he’ll make $56M during the first three years of the contract, before the opt-out. It’s still a $17.2M luxury tax hit.
“The Marlins were close to signing me,” said Chapman in a conference call Friday. “But in the end my wish was to come back to the Yankees. I wanted to be part of a young team like the Yankees have now, and not go to the Marlins because we all know sometimes from time to time they change their team a lot.”
To clear a 40-man roster spot for Chapman, the Yankees designated right-hander Nick Goody for assignment. The 25-year-old Goody pitched to a 4.67 ERA (5.11 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 9.7% walks in 34.2 big league innings spread across multiple stints the last two seasons. New York selected him in the sixth round of the 2012 draft.
I’ve always liked Goody. His Triple-A numbers are ridiculous — he has a 1.64 ERA (2.37 FIP) with 35.5% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 44 career Triple-A innings — and, more importantly, his slider is a bonafide big league out pitch with a 20.8% swing-and-miss rate. (The MLB average on sliders is 15.2%.)
At the same time, Goody doesn’t get ground balls (career 27.3%) and is homer prone (1.82 HR/9), and he didn’t get grounders in Triple-A either (30.8%). That might just be who he is given his low-90s fastball — Goody’s fastest pitch in MLB is 95.0 mph — and if that’s the case, it’s hard to think Goody could ever be a high-leverage option.
So anyway, the Yankees now have seven days to trade, release, or waive Goody. It used to be ten days, but now it’s seven thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A healthy reliever with a good slider and a minor league option remaining might not slip through waivers, especially with bullpens such a focal point these days.
The Yankees are tapped out. Or at least that’s what they’re telling everyone right now. Both Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman say the Yankees are telling agents they need to clear salary before making any more moves this offseason. I estimated New York’s luxury tax payroll for next season at roughly $214M, which is down from $243.8M in 2016.
Needless to say, reports like this will fuel the “Hal Steinbrenner is cheap!” narrative, which is ridiculous. Is it fair to say the Yankees should spend more given the little we know about their revenues? Yeah, I guess. But that doesn’t make a franchise that has given away $325M over the last 14 years cheap. Anyway, I have some thoughts on these payroll reports.
1. This could all be posturing. What do we hear every offseason? Teams say they don’t have money to spend and they don’t want to trade young players. Same old story. The Yankees telling free agents they don’t have money to spend could be more of the same. The team is trying to create some leverage during contract talks. What good could come out of saying “we have a lot of money to spend!” anyway?
2. The team’s recent activity make this more believable. The key to any good fake rumor is making it believable. The Yankees want agents to believe they don’t have much cash to spend? Well, trading Brian McCann for two Single-A prospects and salary relief supports that theory. So does shopping Brett Gardner and Chase Headley. And going young at three positions (catcher, first base, right field). Those moves are geared towards saving money.
Of course, the Yankees spent big to sign Aroldis Chapman this offseason, so there are reasons to be skeptical about their spending limitations. Matt Holliday wasn’t cheap either in terms of annual salary. Even with those signings, Hal has made it very clear he wants to get under the luxury tax threshold soon, and almost every move the Yankees have made since July has been made with an eye on the 2018 payroll. The Yankees are out of money? It sounds silly, but it’s also kinda believable.
3. If it is true, spending all that money on a closer makes even less sense. Now, if it is true the Yankees can’t take on any more payroll, the Chapman signing looks even more questionable. I understand the signing, I do, I just don’t think it was the best use of (apparently limited) resources at this point in time. Signing a closer for $17.2M a year is a move you make when you’re ready to win right now, not a year or two down the line. Banking on a reliever aging well, even one as great as Chapman, is dubious at best. The fact that move could be hindering the Yankees’ ability to make other moves is, dare I say, problematic.
4. The free agent class stinks anyway. The Yankees are going young wherever possible and that’s cool, though there are still some obvious needs on the roster. Another veteran starter to soak up innings would be swell, as would a middle reliever or two. There’s always room for another pitcher(s), especially on a young staff in which innings will need to be monitored.
The current free agent class really stinks though, and it’s entirely possible that even if the Yankees had money to spend, they wouldn’t be comfortable spending it on any of the available players. The apparent need to shed payroll before making another move might not actually be preventing the Yankees from doing anything right now. I’m sure they’d love to do something else, but it’s not like there are a ton of high quality free agents out there waiting to be signed.