7/24 to 7/26 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This is a new era of Twins baseball. Longtime manager Ron Gardenhire was fired following last season and has been replaced by Hall of Famer Paul Molitor. I’m sure the Yankees are sad to see Gardenhire go. They were 76-28 (.731) against the Twinkies during the Gardenhire era (2002-14), including the postseason. Four of those Yankees losses came against peak Johan Santana from 2004-06. So yeah. The Gardenhire era was good to the Bombers.

What Have The Twins Done Lately?

The Twins are good! Though things haven’t gone well lately. They beat the Angels yesterday but lost four straight prior to that. They won seven of eight before that. Minnesota is 51-44 with a +7 run differential overall, leaving them 6.5 games behind the Royals in the AL Central. They are sitting in a wildcard spot, however. This is the first meeting of the season between the Yankees and Twins.

Offense & Defense

With an average of 4.17 runs per game and a team 91 wRC+, the Twins are a below average offensive team. That’s not surprising given Target Field, their spacious home ballpark, where this three-game series will be played. Minnesota is without superprospect OF Byron Buxton, who is on the DL with a thumb strain. He is not due back this series. That’s a shame, I would have liked to have seen him in action.

Anyway, Molitor’s offense is still headlined by the handsome 1B Joe Mauer (99 wRC+), who is more name value than actual production these days. Mauer still has the prettiest swing in baseball though. Look at this thing:

Flawless. No sweeter swing out there. With Mauer on the decline, Minnesota’s top hitter is 2B Brian Dozier (129 wRC+), who’s really good, not just Twins good. 3B Trevor Plouffe (112 wRC+) and OF Torii Hunter (103 wRC+) are Dozier’s supporting cast. DH Miguel Sano (156 wRC+ in very limited time) has enormous raw power I hope to not see this weekend. Good on the Twins for calling up their top prospects because they were the best options at positions of need.

The rest of Molitor’s regular lineup includes C Kurt Suzuki (60 wRC+), OF Eddie Rosario (90 wRC+), OF Aaron Hicks (93 wRC+), and SS Danny Santana (48 wRC+). Former Yankees farmhand C Eric Fryer (102 wRC+ in very limited time) and former Yankee UTIL Eduardo Nunez (112 wRC+) are both on the bench. Nunie is having himself a nice little year in a part-time role. Fryer came to the Yankees from the Brewers for Chase Wright (!) in February 2009 and was then flipped to the Pirates for Eric Hinske at the deadline that year. UTIL Eduardo Escobar (86 wRC+) and OF Shane Robinson (70 wRC+) are the other two bench players.

The Twins are slightly below average defensively overall despite having standout defenders up the middle — Suzuki, Dozier, Santana, and Hicks are all at least above-average in the field. The corners are pretty bad, particularly the range-challenged Hunter and Plouffe. Mauer doesn’t move too well these days after catching all those years. They’re good defensively at the important positions. Everywhere else … eh.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (8pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (vs. NYY)
Philbert! St. Philip of Hughes has a 4.15 ERA (4.63 FIP) in 123.2 innings this year, so after his stellar breakout campaign a year ago, he’s gone right back to being the guy he was with the Yankees from 2010-13. His strikeout rate is way down (14.1%), he still isn’t getting any grounders (34.4%), and his walk rate is miniscule (2.3%). Following a one-year reprieve, Phil’s home run rate has shot back up into normal Phil Hughes territory (1.67 HR/9 in 2015 after 0.69 HR/9 in 2014). Righties (.354 wOBA) have been hitting him harder than lefties (.327 wOBA), which is the opposite of his career history. Hughes, 29, sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer and a touch below that with his cutter. He also throws a mid-70s curveball and very few mid-80s changeups. More than 80% of his pitches are fastballs. Hughes is fairly predictable.

Saturday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. MIN) vs. LHP Tommy Milone (vs. NYY)
Milone, 28, has pitched to a 3.38 ERA (4.71 FIP) in 69.1 innings this season. He’s given up a ton of fly balls (38.5% grounders) and homers (1.43 HR/9) with few strikeouts (16.8%) and walks (7.6%). Milone has gotten knocked around by righties (.363 wOBA) but has dominated lefties (.217 wOBA). Might be worth starting John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann tomorrow because of that platoon split. Sunday’s a day game after a night game, so McCann is likely to sit anyway. Might as well just start Murphy against Milone on Saturday and McCann on Sunday instead of vice versa. Anyway, Milone is a soft tosser, averaging 87.5 mph with his four-seam fastball this season. His two-seamer and cutter are a tick below that. Low-80s changeups and low-70s curveballs are Milone’s two offspeed offerings.

Gibson. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Gibson. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Sunday (2pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. MIN) vs. RHP Kyle Gibson (vs. NYY)
Man, I absolutely loved Gibson back during the 2009 draft. I thought he would end up somewhere along the lines of what Matt Harvey is today. The Twins took Gibson with the 22nd overall pick, seven picks before the Yankees took Slade Heathcott. I was crushed. I hoped he would keep falling. Anyway, the 27-year-old Gibson has a 3.19 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 118.2 innings with a great ground ball rate (54.6%) and slightly lower than average strikeout (17.1%), walk (7.5%), and homer (0.83 HR/9) numbers. He has a reverse split this year (.318 vs. .285 wOBA in favor of righties), which is the opposite of the rest of his career to date. Gibson’s fastballs sit in the low-90s and he throws approximately two two-seamers for every one four-seamer. A mid-80s slider is his go-to breaking ball, and he’ll also throw plenty of mid-80s changeups per start. Gibson’s not the pitcher I thought he would be, but he is pretty good.

Bullpen Status
Believe it or not, the Twins have a below average bullpen (3.87 ERA/4.12 FIP). You’d think they’d have a solid relief crew given their record. Molitor does have a dominant closer in LHP Glen Perkins (1.37/2.23), so if they have a lead after eight, it’s close to an automatic win. RHP Blaine Boyer (2.81/4.32) has been setting up and LHP Brian Duensing (5.32/3.95) sees left-on-left matchup work.

RHP Casey Fien (4.30/4.50), RHP Trevor May (4.43/3.29), LHP Ryan O’Rourke (0.00/1.94 in very limited time), and Rule 5 Draft pick RHP J.R. Graham (3.53/4.63) round out the eight-man bullpen. Perkins pitched yesterday and May threw 53 pitches in two innings on Wednesday, otherwise the bullpen is fresh. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. then head over to Twinkie Town and Aaron Gleeman’s site for the latest on the Twins.

2015 Post-Draft Top 30 Prospects

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Thanks to the 2015 amateur draft and one minor trade, the Yankees added a swarm of new prospects to the farm system over the last several weeks, since I posted my Pre-Draft Top 30 Prospects List. Now that the draft signing deadline has come and gone, it’s time for a system update, because who doesn’t love prospect lists?

I considered waiting another week or so before posting this because of the upcoming trade deadline, but I figured it was worth posting now, as a snapshot in time before prospects are potentially traded away. I do expect the Yankees to make a deal or three at the deadline. They’re too good and too flawed not to, right? Chances are someone on this list won’t be in the organization this time next week.

Anyway, the only player to graduate to the big leagues since I posted by Pre-Draft Top 30 is Chasen Shreve. He’s two outs over the 50-inning rookie limit. As I did with the Pre-Draft Top 30, rather than post a simple 1-30 list, I’m going to break the prospects into groups because that’s more interesting. And remember, this is my personal list. You’re welcome to disagree. The cool thing is we can all be right — there’s no correct way to rank prospects. We all have opinions and they all stink. Away we go.

The Top Two

1. OF Aaron Judge (Pre-Draft Rank: 1)
2. RHP Luis Severino (Pre-Draft Rank: 2)

Same top two as before the draft and before the season. No reason to change things up. Judge hasn’t played in a week due to a supposedly minor day-to-day injury — he’s not on the DL and no, I don’t think he’s not playing because of some of kind of trade, that makes absolutely zero sense and the Yankees have never done anything like that before — but that’s not going to change my rankings. Both Judge and Severino are among the 50 best prospects in baseball, arguably among the top 30, and clearly the two best in New York’s system.

The Next Four

3. C Gary Sanchez (Pre-Draft Rank: 3)
4. RHP James Kaprielian (Pre-Draft Rank: N/A)
5. SS Jorge Mateo (Pre-Draft Rank: 7)
6. 1B Greg Bird (Pre-Draft Rank: 5)

Yeah, so things aren’t too clear after the top two. Slotting Kaprielian in was more difficult than I thought it would be — I think there are valid reasons to rank him as high as third and as low as sixth in the system. Can’t see him any lower than that. I think the perception he is low-upside is very unfair — I’m not saying he’s an ace, but he’s not exactly David Phelps either — in fact I think he’s the kind of pitching prospect who could exceed expectations as a four-pitch guy with command, especially if his late-spring velocity spike was legit. I like Kaprielian’s combination of medium-ish upside and high probability more than Mateo (high upside, low probability) and Bird (medium upside, medium probability).

The Injured Four

7. LHP Ian Clarkin (Pre-Draft Rank: 4)
8. 3B Eric Jagielo (Pre-Draft Rank: 6)
9. C Luis Torrens (Pre-Draft Rank: 8)
10. LHP Jacob Lindgren (Pre-Draft Rank: 12)

Gosh I wish I knew what was up with Clarkin. The latest reports say he hasn’t had elbow surgery but that isn’t exactly encouraging when he’s still yet to begin pitching in games. I can’t help but think back to Manny Banuelos in 2012, when he missed the season with a bone bruise in his elbow, then blew out his elbow during his rehab and needed Tommy John surgery in October. Yuck. Jagielo (knee), Torrens (shoulder), and Lindgren (elbow) are all out long-term with injuries too. Jagielo and Lindgren might come back late in the season but Torrens is done for the year. I love Torrens as a prospect and think the other three guys are safe bets to big leaguers of various calibers, assuming they get healthy.

Around The Horn, Sorta

11. SS Tyler Wade (Pre-Draft Rank: 10)
12. 2B Rob Refsnyder (Pre-Draft Rank: 11)
13. 3B Miguel Andujar (Pre-Draft Rank: 9)

Three very different infield prospects. Wade’s a no-doubt shortstop with zero power but good bat-to-ball skills and speed. Refsnyder is a bat first guy with questionable defense who is as big league ready as he’s going to get. Andujar is the most well-rounded player and has the highest upside of the three, but his overall performance hasn’t been great in the minors, and at some point it would be cool if the numbers start to come consistently.

The Four Righties of the Prospectocalypse

14. RHP Bryan Mitchell (Pre-Draft Rank: 13)
15. RHP Rookie Davis (Pre-Draft Rank: N/A because I’m an idiot)
16. RHP Drew Finley (Pre-Draft Rank: N/A)
17. RHP Brady Lail (Pre-Draft Rank: 20)

Kinda cool (and convenient) the four right-handers landed back-to-back-to-back-to-back like this. Mitchell spit hot fire out of the big league bullpen for a few weeks and is ready to help in that role, though the Yankees want him stretched out, which is understandable. Davis has made tremendous strides since being the team’s 14th round pick back in 2011, especially with his command. He’s a classic bulldog pitcher. Finley is sort of like the 2011 version of Davis but more projectable and with better draft day command. Lail is a high probability starter with four pitches and know-how. The Yankees did a tremendous job turning him into a legitimate prospect after taking him in the 18th round of the 2012 draft out of a high school in friggin’ Utah.

Low Ceiling, High Ceiling, And Everything Between

18. OF Ramon Flores (Pre-Draft Rank: 14)
19. OF Jake Cave (Pre-Draft Rank: 16)
20. SS Abi Avelino (Pre-Draft Rank: 21)
21. SS Thairo Estrada (Pre-Draft Rank: 29)
22. OF Leonardo Molina (Pre-Draft Rank: 26)
23. SS Kyle Holder (Pre-Draft Rank: N/A)

A collection of position players with different skill sets. Flores is an MLB ready lefty swinging outfielder who could end up carving out a ten-year career as a platoon bat. Cave is basically that as well, but a little further away and center field capable. Avelino, Estrada, and Holder are all lower level shortstops. Avelino (speed guy) and Estrada (contact guy) are both better hitters than Holder, who’s a better defender than those two as well as every other shortstop in the system. None of the three are gonna hit for power. Or at least aren’t expected to long-term. Molina is the most long-term project in the system — he has incredible natural tools and instincts, but is (still!) only 17 and not yet close to fully mature physically. The ultimate boom or bust prospect.

Reclamation Prospects

24. OF Tyler Austin (Pre-Draft Rank: 18)
25. RHP Domingo German (Pre-Draft Rank: 17)
26. RHP Austin DeCarr (Pre-Draft Rank: 19)
27. OF Mason Williams (Pre-Draft Rank: 22)
28. OF Slade Heathcott (Pre-Draft Rank: 23)
29. RHP Ty Hensley (Pre-Draft Rank: 28)
30. RHP Jose Ramirez (Pre-Draft Rank: 24)

All seven of these guys are trying to come back from something and rebuild their prospect stock. Austin has been hurt both this year and the last several years, and he’s not hitting in Triple-A at the moment. German, DeCarr, and Hensley are all working their way back from Tommy John surgery. Williams (shoulder) and Heathcott (quad) are currently on the MLB DL — they’ve both exhausted their rookie eligibility due to service time, but I don’t worry about that, it’s too much of a hassle — after, uh, turbulent careers to date. Turbulent’s a good word. Ramirez’s stuff is electric but the results don’t match, and his injury history is scary.

The Next Five

RHP Domingo Acevedo (Pre-Draft Rank: N/A)
SS Angel Aguilar (Pre-Draft Rank: 25)
LHP Jordan Montgomery (Pre-Draft Rank: 27)
RHP Branden Pinder (Pre-Draft Rank: N/A)
2B Tony Renda (Pre-Draft Rank: N/A)

No specific order here, the players are listed alphabetically. Acevedo has touched triple digits with his fastball and his frame is ridiculous (listed at 6-foot-7 and 190 lbs!), but his command is spotty and his breaking ball isn’t defined. The upside is incredible. The chances of him reaching his ceiling are also microscopic. Montgomery, Pinder, and Renda are all boring-ish lower upside guys who are safe bets to contribute at the MLB level in some capacity, even if they’re only extra players. Pinder’s done that already. Aguilar has as much offensive upside as any of the team’s shortstop prospects aside from Mateo, but, you know, they can’t all be in the top 30.

Mailbag: Iwakuma, First Innings, Paxton, Bird, Expansion

The trade deadline is a week away now and I’ve got a dozen questions in this edition of the mailbag. Remember to use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us questions throughout the week.

Iwakuma. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Iwakuma. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Mike O. asks: Any interest in Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners? Pending free agent, looked good his last two starts after coming off the DL, could be a good buy low candidate.

Make it three good starts since coming off the DL — he allowed two runs in seven innings against the Tigers yesterday. Iwakuma missed a bunch of time with a lat strain this year and has 4.50 ERA (5.14 FIP) in 42 innings overall, with all of the major damage coming back in April before the injury. The 34-year-old had a 3.52 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 179 innings last year and a 2.66 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 219.2 innings the year before, when he finished third in the Cy Young voting.

Iwakuma doesn’t strike out a ton of batters (career 20.8%) but he never issues walks (5.0%) and does keep the ball on the ground (50.0%), which is a good combination. He’s a sinker/splitter/slider guy like many Japanese hurlers. He is, dare I say, Hiroki Kuroda-like. Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka were teammates with the Rakuten Golden Eagles from 2007-11, so the Yankees have access to firsthand knowledge of him as a teammate and person. I’m not sure I’d say you’d be buying low on Iwakuma, he’s awfully good and I don’t think the lat strain is going to scare too many teams away, but he would be a fine rotation addition.

Sean asks: If you had to give up either Aaron Judge or Luis Severino, who would it be?

Severino for sure. First and foremost, pitchers have a much higher attrition rate due to injury. Scott McKinney’s research has shown top 20 pitching prospects bust much more often than top 20 position player prospects — position players busted 40.8% of the time, pitchers 62.7% (!) — and that right there is reason enough to deal Severino before Judge in my opinion. Also, if you look at the Yankees specifically, I think their need for a potential impact bat in the next year or two is greater than their need for a potential impact pitcher. Trade Severino before Judge all the way. But keep both, preferably.

Carl asks: What are the odds that a setup man wins the Mariano Rivera Award this season? Dellin Betances and Wade Davis both make strong cases.

I highly doubt it only because the nine-man voting panel — Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman — is a bunch of ex-closers. Of course they’re going to vote for closers. Greg Holland won the Mariano Rivera Award last year despite not even being the best reliever on his own team. I’m surprised they didn’t just give it to Fernando Rodney because he led the league in saves. This isn’t a sophisticated award. It’s going to be the best closer in the league each year. Simple as that. Setup men don’t stand a chance.

J.R. asks: In the Orioles series preview you mention, “This club hasn’t had a top pitching prospect max out since Mike Mussina.” Who was the last Yankees pitching prospect that maxed out?

Andy Pettitte. Chien-Ming Wang was never a top prospect. I mean a top top prospect. A top 100 guy. The Yankees have been really bad at getting their top pitching prospects (top prospects in general, really) to max out and reach their ceiling. It has undeniably been a problem. The Yankees never had top picks though. The O’s used top ten draft picks on Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Matt Hobgood, Brian Matusz, Wade Townsend, Adam Loewen, and Chris Smith since 2000. Hobgood, Townsend, and Smith never reached MLB, Loewen threw 164 big league innings (85 ERA+) before becoming an outfielder, Bundy’s been hurt most of the last two years, and Gausman’s been jerked around. Matusz, a lefty specialist, the best of the bunch by default at this point. Egads.

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

Kevin asks: Is it just me, or have the Yankees been struggling to go from first to third on a single and scoring from first on a double? It seems this is especially true with noted speedsters Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. How much is this hurting the Yankees offense?

Yes, that is definitely true. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are the only guys on the team who can really run — Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew are next best runners on the team and they’re average-ish — so the Yankees don’t rate too well on the bases. The FanGraphs all-encompassing base-running stat says the Yankees have added 1.5 runs on the bases this year, which is middle of pack. That includes stolen bases, first-to-thirds, advancing on wild pitches, everything.

As a team, the Yankees take the extra base 37% of the time. They got first-to-third on a single 28% of the time, second-to-home on a single 52% of the time, and first-to-home on a double 39% of the time. The MLB averages are 39% (taking the extra base in general), 28% (first-to-third on a single), 57% (second-to-home on a single), and 42% (first-to-home on a double). First-to-third hasn’t been a problem, it’s the scoring plays. Perhaps that’s a third base coach Joe Espada thing? Maybe he’s really conservative. I wouldn’t blame him, necessarily. This offense is pretty good and can score in a hurry. No need to be super aggressive. The Yankees have been a tick below average at taking the extra base but not terrible — last year they took the extra base only 33% of the time.

Matt asks: The Yanks seem to score a lot of 1st inning runs. Any way to see how they compare to all other MLB clubs?

Oh yes, the Yankees are the undisputed kings of first inning runs this season. They’ve scored 86 first innings in 2015. 82! The Rockies rank second with 65. The gap between the Yanks and Rockies is the same as the gap between the Rockies and the 15th ranked team (Braves and Diamondbacks). They can thank Ellsbury, Gardner, A-Rod, and Teixeira for that. The top four of the lineup has been crazy productive. The White Sox, by the way, rank dead last in MLB with 27 first inning runs. The record for first inning runs is 147 by the 2000 Cardinals. The Yankees are on pace for 148. It’ll be close!

John D. asks: What about Juan Uribe? As a former SS, could he fake it at 2B for 2+ months?

I love Uribe, he’s one of my favorite players in baseball and I’d love to see him in pinstripes, but he’s played six innings at second base since 2012. He hasn’t played the position with any sort of regularity since 2011. Uribe is hitting .272/.331/.409 (107 wRC+) this year and he’s an excellent defender at third base despite his portliness, plus he’s been a big part of two World Series teams (2005 White Sox and 2010 Giants), so that experience would be welcome. If there was a way to add Uribe to the bench — he’s hitting .288/.362/.596 (164 wRC+) against lefties and would make a fine platoon partner for Chase Headley — I’d be all for it. Starting second baseman probably isn’t happening at age 36 though, even for a relatively short period of time.

Dan asks: Do you think the Mets are only one or two deadline deals away from being able to legitimately contend with the Nationals for the division?

I do! They need two bats, which I know is easier said than done. Ben Zobrist would be a huge upgrade for them, and with Michael Cuddyer banged up, they could use another outfielder as well. Yoenis Cespedes is reportedly out there and he’s a rental, so they wouldn’t have to take on a long-term deal. Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce … why not? Even someone like Gerardo Parra would be a big upgrade. The Mets have saved something like $4.5M in salary this season thanks to Jenrry Mejia’s suspension and insurance on David Wright’s contract. If the Wilpons don’t put that money back into the roster, MLB should just force them to sell the team. This is getting ridiculous. A New York team with a bottom third payroll for several years running is embarrassing for the league.

Andrew asks: Does Chasen Shreve get a few ROY votes at the end of the season?

Nah. Shreve has been awesome but middle relievers usually don’t much Rookie of the Year love. Voters have only three slots on the ballot and at this point Carlos Correa, Devon Travis, Roberto Osuna, Carson Smith, Andrew Heaney, and Billy Burns are ahead of Shreve in the Rookie of the Year race, among others. (Those guys aren’t in any sort of order, that’s just off the top of my head.) That’s fine. Shreve’s been awesome. He doesn’t need Rookie of the Year votes to validate his great season.

Paxton. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Paxton. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Chris asks: There’s been a lot of talk of Jack Z. getting a bit desperate and trying to make a huge deal. As unlikely as it is, do you think he’s crazy enough to trade James Paxton and Alex Jackson for Jacoby Ellsbury?

Why would the Yankees do that? I think Ellsbury’s contract is really bad but at least he’s still a very good all-around player on a contending team. That seems like someone the Yankees should keep for the time being. Jackson is hitting .256/.300/.352 (85 wRC+) this summer and while Paxton has been impressive the last two years (3.33 ERA and 3.69 FIP), he’s only thrown 132.1 innings due to all sorts of injuries. Finger this year, lat strain last year, knee trouble in the minors. The Yankees are a win now team and that’s not a win now trade at all. That’s a “dump the contract and hope Paxton figures out how to stay healthy” trade a non-contender makes. The Mariners would absolutely make that trade, assuming ownership okays the money. Ellsbury is a huge upgrade over Jackson and they won’t even notice Paxton is gone because he hasn’t been on the mound since May anyway.

Liam asks: What are your expectations of Greg Bird? He’s been struggling a bit in Scranton, but a promotion and an injury can have that effect, plus he is still only 22. Is he a future big leaguer or did the fanbase hype him up a bit too much?

Don’t fans hype up every prospect too much? I believe the answer to that is a resounding yes. Bird has been much better the last few games with the RailRiders (since the question was sent in) and I do think he’s a future big leaguer. He’s not too different from Logan Morrison back during his prospect days — a left-handed hitting first baseman with great plate discipline and power potential, though Morrison is a better glove man and struck out less while Bird seems to have better makeup, which absolutely matters.

I will say this: Bird has to hit and hit big to have value. The offensive bar at first base is fairly high (MLB average at the position is .256/.330/.434 with a 111 wRC+) and Bird has to clear that by a decent margin to a positive contributor. He’s not much of a defender and there are concerns about his ability to handle lefties, not to mention his sneaky scary injury history. Top first base prospects also have a shockingly poor track record of reaching their ceiling. Use ctrl + F to search “1b” and scroll through Baseball America’s all-time top 100 prospects list page. There are a few gems in there, but man, it’s ugly.

Mitch asks: Rob Manfred has discussed both expansion and shortening the schedule this week. What’s the earliest you could see either happening? Would you prefer expansion or more playoffs to offset the lost revenue from a shortened schedule?

The shortening the schedule thing seems almost impossible. There are major economic issues there — assuming they cut back to 154 games, owners would have to be willing to give up four home dates, plus they’d have to work it all out with the television contracts. Those deals have minimum broadcasting requirements that need to be met. Also, if they do cut eight games (approximately 5% off the schedule), are the owners going to ask the players to take a 5% pay cut? I wouldn’t put it past them. The players are the ones asking for fewer games, after all. If they do go to a 154-game schedule, I don’t think it’ll happen for very long time. I think it’s more likely they add a few more off-days and stretch the season out over a longer period of time.

As for expansion, I think that could happen reasonably soon. Within five years or so. (That doesn’t mean it will happen, of course, just that it’s feasible.) Baseball is certainly healthy enough financially to add two more teams, and there are no shortage of cities able to support an MLB franchise. San Antonio, Portland, hell, New York could support a third team in Brooklyn or northern New Jersey. (The Yankees and Mets would never ever ever ever let that happen though.) If I had to pick between expansion or more playoffs, I’d go expansion. I don’t want MLB to turn into the NBA or NHL, where more than half the league gets into the postseason.

DotF: Mateo stays hot in Charleston’s loss

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Indianapolis)

  • SS Cole Figueroa: 0-3
  • CF Jose Pirela & LF Ramon Flores: both 0-4
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 1 K
  • 1B Greg Bird: 0-2, 1 E, 2 BB — he’s reached base multiple times in each of his last five games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 2-4, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB — keeps raising that trade value
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-3, 2 K
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 37 of 53 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 23 of 41 pitches were strikes (56%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 17 pitches, nine strikes (53%) … Triple-A debut for the guy who came over from the Padres in the Shawn Kelley trade
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K — eleven of 15 pitches were strikes (73%) … 70/14 K/BB in 48.1 innings … ranks seventh in the system in strikeouts, and all six of the guys ahead of him have thrown at least 20 more innings

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

I’m not sure you could have expected a series against a division to go as well as the series with the Orioles did. Three wins — three convincing wins — pushing the O’s seven games back in the standings when they could have climbed to within one. Doesn’t get much better than that. Love this team. They’re en fuego right now.

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s win will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. The Mets are facing Clayton Kershaw tonight and MLB Network is showing a regional game. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Sweep! Tanaka cruises, offense crushes Ubaldo in 9-3 win over O’s

So that game-slash-series went well, eh? The Yankees finished off the sweep of the division rival Orioles on Thursday afternoon, clobbering Ubaldo Jimenez and various relievers in the 9-3 victory. A+ series, would watch again. The Yankees have won five of six games since the All-Star break and 12 of their last 16 games overall.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

First Inning Runs
The four-run first inning was almost a zero-run first inning. The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs against Ubaldo thanks to a single (Jacoby Ellsbury) and two walks (Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez), though Mark Teixeira struck out and Carlos Beltran popped out to shortstop. The bases were still loaded, but quickly there were two outs. Not ideal! Blowing big first inning opportunities like that is just the worst.

Thankfully, Second Half Chase Headley picked up Teixeira and Beltran with a booming first pitch double off the center field wall, right near the door to the home bullpen. I thought it had a chance to get out off the bat. Had to settle for off the wall instead. Ellsbury and Gardner scored easily while A-Rod, even running with two outs, would have been out at the plate had the relay throw not been off-line. Alex is not so fleet of foot these days. Here’s the dismount:

Alex Rodriguez slide

The double gave the Yankees a nice 3-0 lead, and Didi Gregorius extended it to 4-0 with a ground ball single through the right side of the infield to score Headley from third. (He took third on the throw to the plate.) Gosh, blowing that bases loaded, no outs opportunity would have been ugly. Headley picked ’em up though. The Yankees are up to an incredible 86 first inning runs this year. The Rockies have 65, the next highest total. Bonkers.

Clobberin’ Time
The scoring didn’t stop after the first. Ellsbury hit a leadoff home run in the second, Stephen Drew (double) and Ellsbury (sac fly) drove in runs in the two-run third inning, then Ellsbury doubled in another two runs in the fifth. Left fielder David Lough made an ill-advised slide coming in on a fliner, missed the ball, and it scooted by him and into left field. Four in the first, one in the second, two in the third, two in the fifth. That’s a good day. Ubaldo was charged with seven runs in 2.1 innings. He went from a 3.29 ERA to a 3.81 in an afternoon.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

My Hero Masahiro
Bah, that eighth inning ruined what was an otherwise dominant showing from Masahiro Tanaka. Both J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado swatted garbage time solo homers in the eighth, after the game was all but decided. (Chris Davis hit a solo homer way back in the second inning.) Homers are Tanaka’s only real bugaboo. As long as they’re solo shots though, it’s not the end of the world. Hope he gets that under control soon.

Anyway, Tanaka threw 7.2 innings, allowing just the three runs on four hits and no walks. He punched out seven. Tanaka retired 20 of the final 24 batters he faced after the Davis home run in the second, and one of the four base-runners was a routine fly ball Gardner lost in the sun and allowed to sail over his head. (It was ruled an error.) Between the Davis and Hardy homers, while the Yankees were extending their lead, Tanaka retired 18 of 20 batters.

All told, Tanaka threw 101 pitches, including 77 (!) for strikes. That includes a season-high 19 swings and misses. Only four of his 23 outs were recorded on fly balls to the outfield. Tanaka got five infield pops and five ground balls. He also caught a line drive flying towards his face. The garbage time homers are dumb, whatever, he was just pumping strikes in a blowout, but overall Tanaka was dominant. In complete command of the game.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Remember earlier this season when the Yankees couldn’t score if the top of the lineup didn’t do anything? The 6-7-8-9 hitters went a combined 9-for-12 (.750) in this game. Headley went 2-for-4 with a double, Gregorius and John Ryan Murphy both went 3-for-4, and Drew went 1-for-4 with a double. Murphy had a single off the third base bag and a single off the second base bag. Didn’t come close to getting one off the first base bag though. For shame.

Ellsbury, meanwhile, quietly finished a triple shy of the cycle. He went 3-for-4, drove in four runs and grounded out to the pitcher in his final at-bat. Ellsbury is the third Yankee to fall a triple shy of the cycle this season, joining Chris Young, Headley, and Teixeira. Don’t ask me why I looked that up. The 2-3-4 hitters went a combined 0-for-11 with five strikeouts. Go figure.

And finally, Chris Capuano recorded three outs after Tanaka. (Branden Pinder came in to get the 27th out because Joe Girardi didn’t want to not use his last pitching change … wait, what?) Including this game, Capuano has thrown only 5.2 innings and 88 pitches in the last calendar month. From fifth starter to seldom-used mop-up man.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights, and also the up to the minute standings. I guess I should start linking to the postseason odds too, huh? Might as well. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. They’re fun. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The homestand is over and the Yankees are now heading out on a three-city, ten-game road trip. It starts Friday night in Minnesota, when Michael Pineda faced former Yankee Phil Hughes. Fun!

Olney: Yanks expected to listen to offers for Gary Sanchez

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Buster Olney (subs. req’d), rival executives are expecting the Yankees to listen to offers for catcher prospect Gary Sanchez. The team has reportedly “sworn off” trading top prospects like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, but Sanchez is a notch below those guys, and it makes sense to make him available with Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy entrenched at the MLB level.

Sanchez, 22, is hitting .262/.322/.480 (129 wRC+) overall this season with 15 doubles and 13 home runs in 273 plate appearances with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. That’s after hitting 19 doubles and 13 homers in 477 plate appearances at Trenton last year. It feels like Sanchez has been around forever, but he was 2.5 years younger than the average Eastern League player and is currently 4.9 years younger than the average International League player.

Should the Yankees make Sanchez available — and I expect they will — it would not at all be surprising. As I said in our recent trade chips post, the Yankees value defense behind the plate very highly, and Sanchez simply is not a strong catcher. He’s improving but still below-average. Both Jesus Montero and Peter O’Brien, two other bat first prospects faking it behind the plate, were dealt in recent years when they were hitting at the upper levels.

Sanchez now is a worse prospect than Montero was a few years ago but is a better prospect than O’Brien last year, so I guess that means his trade value is somewhere between Michael Pineda and Martin Prado. Not helpful! More than anything, Sanchez’s trade value will depend on whether other teams believe he can catch. That and how much they believe in the bat. All it takes is one club to think he’s an impact hitter to get a nice return.