Gardner will have arthroscopic surgery next week

Brett Gardner will have arthroscopic surgery to remove inflamed tissue in his right elbow next week, the Yankees announced. Team doctor Dr. Ahmad will perform the procedure and it will likely end Gardner’s season.

Gardner suffered a bone bruise and an elbow strain on a sliding catch in the team’s 11th game of the season and has since suffered three setbacks during his rehab. He made it as far as minor league games in the first two attempts. The Raul IbanezAndruw Jones platoon has been absurdly productive in left field in the meantime, but the Yankees really lack speed on offense without Gardner. Plus their defense suffered big time. Whether or not they try to plug the hole via trade remains to be seen.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Shouldn’t he be ringing the closing bell? (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

The good news is that the Yankees are going to get their second and final West Coast trip of the season out of the way in mid-to-late-July. In fact, after this trip the farthest they’ll have to travel the rest of the year is to Tampa. That’s pretty cool. Unfortunately that means we have to wait a few more hours for tonight’s game and stay up late to catch all nine innings. It could be worse, they could be going to Anaheim.

Here’s an open thread to hold you over until the regular game thread comes along. The only baseball game being played right now is the Red Sox and White Sox (Buchholz vs. Quintana), and you can watch that one on MLB Network. You folks all know how this works by now, so have at it.

Yanks send Darnell McDonald to Triple-A, release Nelson Figueroa

Via Donnie Collins, outfielder Darnell McDonald has cleared waivers and been assigned to Triple-A Empire State. The Yankees designated him for assignment on Tuesday to clear a roster spot for CC Sabathia. McDonald will join Chris Dickerson, Kosuke Fukudome, and Cole Garner as the only healthy outfielders on the Triple-A roster.

In other news, right-hander Nelson Figueroa was released from the Triple-A squad. The 38-year-old pitched to a 3.92 ERA (4.82 FIP) in eight starts and eight relief appearances for Empire State. A few of the older roster fillers figure to be on their way out in the coming weeks as late-season promotions are made. Figueroa was the first casualty.

Lessons from the Lin saga

Reuters Pictures

As a New York native, I was disappointed to hear that the Knicks declined to match Jeremy Lin’s offer sheet, allowing him to sign with the Houston Rockets.  Watching Lin’s emergence out of obscurity to become an impact player (and the phenomenon that was Linsanity) was one of the more exciting things to happen to the Knicks in recent memory for this tepid NBA fan.  I figured it was a no-brainer that he would be re-signed by the Knicks, especially after the arbitrator ruled that Lin (and Steve Novak) would be granted “Bird Rights” that would allow the Knicks to pay them more than what their cap situation should allow.  On top of all the promise Lin showed on the court, his off-court financial impact seemed like sufficient incentive to keep him.  Maintaining fan enthusiasm would seem to be an important priority with the Nets moving to Brooklyn this year, and looking like a possible contender.

The main justification for the decision seems to be the third year in Lin’s contract, which would pay him about $15 million and cost the Knicks a lot of money in luxury tax.  There are certainly a number of angles to this story, such as whether the decision to let Lin go was a financial move, a basketball move, or the result of petty machinations of a petulant owner.  I won’t claim to know enough about the Knicks or the NBA to single out one of these as the decisive cause, but you can consult Moshe if you want a more informed (and impassioned) take.

While there are certainly major differences here, the Lin decision brings to mind some tough choices that the Yankees may have to make in the near future if they are serious about getting their payroll below $189 million in 2014.  The impending free agencies of Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Derek Jeter are interesting parallels.  As has been discussed extensively on this blog and elsewhere, if the Yankees are able to get their 2014 payroll below $189 million, they will be able to save a ton of money.  They will do this by resetting their luxury tax rate and having a portion of their revenue sharing payments refunded, the latter of which is particularly compelling because that money subsidizes their small-market competition. [Read more…]

Scouting The Trade Market: Nate Schierholtz

There’s a decent chance the Yankees will be without Brett Gardner for the rest of the season, but that’s not the only reason they should be keeping an eye on the outfield trade market. Nick Swisher will be a free agent after the season and Curtis Granderson will be after next season, right before the 2014 payroll plan takes effect. Add in Robinson Cano‘s impending free agency (after 2013), and suddenly a cheap outfielder looks like something that should be near the top of the priority list.

On the other end of the baseball world — seriously, NL West baseball is like an alternate universe compared to the AL East — a young and cheap outfielder expressed some displeasure with his reduced role. Nate Schierholtz, 28, of the Giants has been relegated to spot start and pinch-hitting duties this season because the starting trio of Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, and Gregor Blanco have been so good. Manager Bruce Bochy simply can’t take them out of the lineup. As you’d expect, Schierholtz would prefer to be somewhere with more opportunity.

“There’s not one thing I can’t say I love about this place,” he said yesterday, “but I think I’ve come to the realization that maybe I’m not their guy. I’m not in the cards having a future here … I came in with the expectation to play maybe a little bit more than we’ve seen. A week-long slump kept me back on the bench for a couple more months … It’s a tough hole to dig myself out of and leaves me wondering if they don’t have a future for me here.”

Schierholtz has not and contractually can not request a trade, so he’s just voicing his frustrating. The Giants have no obligation to move him and there’s no indication that they’re even open to the idea, but usually when a player goes public about wanting to play somewhere with more opportunity, it’s only a matter of time before he winds up in a different uniform. That’s where the Yankees potentially fit in. Here’s a breakdown of the San Francisco outfielder…

The Pros

  • A left-handed swinger, Schierholtz has tagged right-handers for a .287/.358/.454 batting line (122 wRC+) this year and .268/.330/.434 (107 wRC+) since the start of 2010. His .166 ISO against righties during that time would surely be better if AT&T Park didn’t have one of the biggest right fields in baseball (89 HR Park Factor for LHB per FanGraphs, 82 per StatCorner).
  • Schierholtz puts the ball in play, striking out in a below-average 16.8% of his career plate appearances. Over the last three seasons it’s 15.9% against righties. As you can see from his spray chart, he does quite a bit of damage back up the middle and into the gap the other way.
  • Pick any defensive metric — UZR (+17.2), DRS (+7), Total Zone (+1), FRAA (+1.2), or ADR (+11) — and it’ll say Schierholtz is at least an average defender in the corner outfield if not better. He’s a true right fielder with a strong and very accurate arm, one of the better outfield arms in the game.
  • He’s cheap and still under team control for a while. Schierholtz will earn $1.3M total this season before being arbitration-eligible for the second time this offseason and the third time next offseason. He’ll be eligible for free agency after 2014.

The Cons

  • Schierholtz is a platoon player. His career .292/.326/.408 line (95 wRC+) against southpaws doesn’t look awful, but it’s a .125/.167/.219 line (-4 wRC+) this year and .231/.275/.286 (52 wRC+) since the start of 2010. He did most of his damage against lefties years ago.
  • If he doesn’t get a hit, he’s probably not going to reach base. Schierholtz’s career walk rate is a miniscule 5.9% and he’s swung at 35.8% of the pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone. That’s astronomical. He’s lucky he can make contact well.
  • You’re not getting much speed. He’s only 19-for-33 in stolen base attempts in his big league career, a 58% success rate. Down in the minors it was a 68% success rate in twice the attempts. It’s just not his game.
  • Schierholtz has been on the DL twice in the last four years, the first time for a groin strain in 2009. Last summer he fouled a ball off his right foot and suffered a hairline fracture, missing a month. I have a hard time counting a fluke injury like that against him, however.
  • Schierholtz is out of minor league options, meaning he can’t be sent to Triple-A without first passing through waivers. He also hasn’t played an inning in center field in his professional career. That really limits flexibility.

If the Yankees do let Swisher walk after the season, one of the most cost effective ways to replace him would be with a platoon. I don’t love the idea of using two roster spots to fill one position, but platoons can be very productive as we’ve seen this season in left field following Gardner’s injury. Andruw Jones is an obvious fit for the right-handed half of the Swisher-replacing platoon and a guy like Schierholtz makes an awful lot of sense for the left-handed half. Young-ish, cheap-ish, can hit righties and play strong defense. Lots to like.

At same time, the Yankees are a club that places a lot of value on power and patience. Perhaps the short right field porch would help get Schierholtz over the 20-homer plateau, but he’s not a guy who will work the count and draw walks. It’s just not who he is. He’s going to go up to the plate and swing the bat whether he gets a pitch to hit or not. Robinson Cano is the same way and it works for him, but Schierholtz isn’t that caliber of hitter. The limitations against southpaws and the lack of plate discipline are real knocks against him.

As I said, there is no indication that the Giants are looking to move Schierholtz right now even though he’s unhappy with his role. They’re reportedly looking for a right-handed outfield bat and (like everyone else) bullpen help leading up to the trade deadline, two things the Yankees really don’t have to offer. Since the two clubs don’t match up well in a trade — and the fact that replacing Dewayne Wise with Schierholtz would leave the Yankees without a real backup center fielder — this would probably be a deal best explored in the offseason. I do like him as a player though and think there’s a chance he’ll be surprisingly productive in the friendlier offensive environment.

7/19-7/22 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Oaks? (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It all started with the trip out to Oakland. The Yankees were in fourth place with a 23-21 record when they arrived at the Coliseum in late-May, but they swept that series and have since won 34 of 47 games to vault into first place in the division. This weekend they’ll be in the East Bay for a four-game set.

What Have They Done Lately?

The A’s are on fire. They walked off with a win over the Rangers yesterday and have won four of five since the All-Star break. If you back to the first of the month, they’ve won ten of their last 12. At 47-44 with a +13 run differential, Oakland is in third place in the AL West and is right in the mix for one of the two Wild Card spots.

Offense

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Although they average just 3.8 runs per game, the A’s have scored 51 runs during this 12-game hot streak (4.3 per game). Their best hitter all season has been Josh Reddick (140 wRC+), who leads the club in every meaningful offensive statistic. Big money signing Yoenis Cespedes was out with a hand injury the last time these two clubs met, but he’s healthy now and brings 134 wRC+ to the cleanup spot. It’s been a while since they’ve had a middle of the order that powerful; you probably have to go back to the Milton Bradley/Frank Thomas/Nick Swisher trio in 2006.

Recent call-ups Brandon Moss (159 wRC+ in 104 PA) and Chris Carter (243 wRC+ in 36 PA) have hit the snot out of the ball lately, adding some depth to the lineup. Seth Smith (128 wRC+ vs. RHP) and Jonny Gomes (146 wRC+ vs. LHP) form a mean DH platoon while Coco Crisp (80 wRC+) is flanked by Reddick and Cespedes in the outfield. Infielders Jemile Weeks (75 wRC+), Brandon Inge (68 wRC+), and Cliff Pennington (53 wRC+) haven’t done much of anything, ditto backstops Kurt Suzuki (40 wRC+) and Derek Norris (56 wRC+). Spare infielder Brandon Hicks (49 wRC+ in limited time) hit the walk-off dinger yesterday.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP A.J. Griffin
A former college reliever turned starter, Griffin will be making his fifth career big league start tonight. He’s pitched to a shiny 2.63 ERA (4.65 FIP) in his first four starts (24 IP) with less than stellar rate stats: 6.00 K/9 (17.2 K%), 2.25 BB/9 (16.5 BB%), 1.50 HR/9, and 39.4% grounders. My expert analysis says his .194 BABIP will correct at some point. The 24-year-old sits right around 90 with his four-seamer fastball, but his upper-60s (!) curveball is his bread-and-butter. Here, check it out. Griffin also throws low-80s sliders and changeups.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Friday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Tommy Milone
The Yankees didn’t do anything to debunk the whole “can’t hit soft-tossing lefties they’ve never seen before” narrative by scoring just two runs off Milone in 6.2 innings back in April. Part of the Gio Gonzalez trade, Milone owns a 3.54 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 18 starts this season, relying on control (2.05 BB/9 and 5.5 BB%) more than anything else. He doesn’t strike guys out (5.98 K/9 and 16.2 K%), doesn’t limit homers (1.26 HR/9), and doesn’t get ground balls (39.4%). A mid-to-upper-80s fastball sets up a wide array of offspeed pitches, including a changeup right around 80, a mid-70s curve, and a mid-80s cutter. The changeup is his top secondary pitch and he has a reverse split because of it, so stacking the lineup with righties only helps him out.

Saturday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Jarrod Parker
Everyone’s talking about Mike Trout and rightfully so, but Parker is having himself one helluva rookie campaign as well. The 23-year-old right-hander came over from the Diamondbacks in the Trevor Cahill trade and has pitched to a 3.16 ERA (3.49 FIP) in 91 innings across 15 starts. His strikeout rate is solid (7.02 K/9 and 18.9 K%) and he limits homers (0.40 HR/9), but he will walk guys (4.05 BB/9 and 10.9 BB%) and give up fly balls (39.3% grounders). Parker works off his two low-to-mid-90s fastballs (two and four-seamer) and mixes in low-80s changeups and sliders. The Yankees have never seen him and he’s had some really good starts against good teams — like this one, this one, and this one — so this will be an interesting one.

Sunday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Bartolo Colon
The Yankees tagged their former teammate for six runs in six innings back in May, but otherwise Colon has provided the A’s with a 3.88 ERA (3.99 FIP) in 111.1 innings this year. His strikeouts (5.50 K/9 and 14.6 K%) are way down from last year, though his ground ball (47.7%) and walk (1.46 BB/9 and 3.9 BB%) rates have improved to help mitigate the damage. Bartolo remains a fastball-only pitcher, though he’s mostly low-90s with a four-seamer and upper-80s with the two-seamer now. Those 95s and 96s of last year are a thing of the past. Colon will break out a low-90s slider and low-80s changeup but very rarely. Handful of times per start, if that.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
Manager Bob Melvin ran through half his bullpen yesterday, including closer Ryan Cook (2.77 FIP), right-handed setup man Grant Balfour (3.63 FIP), and left-handed setup man Sean Doolittle (0.76 FIP in limited time). The recently recalled Evan Scribner (2.37 FIP) has pitched his way into higher leveraged work despite only making seven appearances. Lefty Jordan Norberto (4.15 FIP) is more of a multi-inning guy than a specialist while Jerry Blevins (3.89 FIP) is that one batter matchup southpaw. Right-hander Jim Miller (4.47 FIP) rounds out the seven-man bullpen. Oakland had Monday off and none of their relievers have pitched in even two straight games, so the bullpen is fresh.

The Yankees’ relief corps got a much needed break yesterday thanks to Hiroki Kuroda‘s rain-shortened complete game. The late-game guys, particularly Rafael Soriano, had been worked pretty hard since the All-Star break. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage and both Athletics Nation and Beaneball for the latest and greatest on the Athletics.

Freddy Garcia, David Phelps, and the 5th Starter

(Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Later on tonight, Freddy Garcia will make his fourth start since returning to the rotation due to Andy Pettitte‘s injury. He’s had one good start (against the Rays), one really good start (against the Red Sox), and one pretty bad start (against the Angels). Freddy’s been much better than he was in April and I think the best way to describe his recent performance is “serviceable.” Pretty much exactly what the Yankees need him to be while Pettitte is on the shelf.

Meanwhile, David Phelps was scheduled to make his third minor league start since being sent down later this afternoon, but the Yankees recalled him from Triple-A yesterday. He had a nice but pitch count shortened start against the Rays before being sent down nearly two weeks ago, and he’s since thrown a dominant start (in Double-A) and very good start (in Triple-A) in the bush leagues. Over his last 21 innings between the minors and Majors he’s struck out 31 batters. A big league rotation spot opened up with Andy’s injury and you can kinda see that Phelps smells the blood in the water.

It’s not a coincidence that Garcia and Phelps were pitching on the same days and with the same exact schedule. Freddy is the weak link in the rotation at the moment and if the Yankees were to pull the plug anytime soon, Phelps is ready to step right in seamlessly. Garcia hasn’t really done anything to warrant losing his rotation spot unless he tosses up a second straight dud tonight, and even then I think he would get the benefit of the doubt. He built up some goodwill last year and the team sure seems to like his veteran savvy.

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

There is some merit to swapping the two right now, however. For one, it would give the Yankees a chance to evaluate Phelps as a big league starter over an extended period of time. With the 2014 payroll plan looming as well as the free agencies of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, digging up a cheap starter sure would be a big help. Even if he were to flop during an extended rotation audition, there is value in knowing he might not be able to be that cheap fifth starter down the line. There’s also the trade value aspect of it; pitching well would improve Phelps’ value on the market.

Secondly, Garcia pitched pretty well out of the bullpen earlier this season. It was a small sample in low-leverage spots of course, but at least he showed the willingness and ability to change roles. There’s a clear opening in the bullpen for a non-specialist reliever, someone who can throw an inning or two without turning everything into a stressful situation. Perhaps Garcia could be that guy, a 2009 Al Aceves type until Chad Qualls is replaced by whoever. Then again you could say the exact same thing about Phelps. He’s shown what he can do in a relief role already.

There is certainly no urgency to make a change, I’m just thinking out loud more than anything here. It’s very hard to ignore what Phelps has done over the last two or three weeks and as fans we always want to see the young kid over the old veteran with no future with the team. Our prospect crushes must be validated, dammit. The Yankees have a nice comfy lead in the division though, so whatever decision they make isn’t anything that will put a big dent in their playoff chances. I’d rather not see the kid bounce back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, but at least they’re letting Phelps do it in the minors instead of forcing it in the show. That’s where they ran into trouble with Joba Chamberlain. No matter which of these two starts while the other relieves, the Yankees will have a solid fifth starter and a solid multi-inning reliever at their disposal.