The Trade Deadline and the Rule 5 Draft

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

I still feel like the season has just started, but we’re already fewer than seven weeks away from the non-waiver trade deadline. We’ve already taken a very brief look at what the Yankees could be in the market for prior to July 31st, though the shopping list has changed somewhat because the starting rotation has sorted itself out and David Robertson is one day from returning. Brett Gardner‘s elbow injury continues to linger though.

Anyway, rather than talking about needs, I want to spend some time talking about what the Yankees have to offer in trades. Specifically, I want to discuss three young right-handed pitchers: Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, and Mikey O’Brien. All three are having solid years and are pitching at the Double-A level or above, which is when you can really start to get serious about thinking a guy may be able to help your big league roster at some point relatively soon. More importantly, all three guys share one thing in common that is beyond their control: they’re all eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this coming offseason.

The renewed emphasis on the farm system in the mid-aughts resulted in a lot of players being protected or left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft in recent years. The Yankees famously lost Ivan Nova to the Padres for about three weeks in 2008, and over the years we’ve seen guys like George Kontos and Lance Pendleton get selected in the Rule 5 Draft before being returned. Zack Kroenke was selected and returned in 2008 before being retained by the Diamondbacks in 2009.

At the same time, the Yankees have protected hordes of players from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. Right now they’re carrying Brandon Laird, D.J. Mitchell, Austin Romine, Corban Joseph, and Zoilo Almonte on the 40-man for that very reason. In the past it’s been guys like Ryan Pope and Reegie Corona, Anthony Claggett and Kevin Russo, Romulo Sanchez and Chris Garcia. Some saw time in the big leagues after being added to the 40-man, some didn’t. None of them had any kind of impact and were all eventually cut off the roster.

Now obviously protecting a player and possibly getting some mileage out of him is preferable to losing him for $50k in the Rule 5 Draft, but it’s not an either/or situation. The Yankees could also use some of those borderline players in trades before they become Rule 5 eligible to clear up the 40-man roster crunch before it even happens. The Red Sox did this to a certain extent last summer when they acquired Erik Bedard in exchange for four miscellaneous prospects, two of whom — Stephen Fife and Chih-Hsien Chiang — were Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season.

That’s kinda where O’Brien, Marshall, and to a much lesser extent Warren fit in. They’re right on that protect/expose bubble and the question becomes: are they more valuable on the 40-man roster in the coming years or as trade bait? How necessary are these three with similar pitchers like David Phelps and Mitchell already on the 40-man? The answer could very easily be yes, there’s always going to be a need for pitching. That’s not always a given though, not every prospect is going to make it. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean the Bombers should they go around shopping these guys, but perhaps they should be among the first offered when it does come time to talk trade.

The Yankees are carrying 48 players on their 40-man roster right now thanks to the eight 60-day DL guys, but at least three of the 40 healthy players — Dellin Betances, Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa — are unable to help the big league team right now if needed. They just aren’t ready for it. A case can be made that Corban Joseph and Matt Antonelli belong in that group as well. There are going to be bubble players every year with regards to the Rule 5 Draft, and many times the best way to maximize what you get out of those guys is by trading them before they’re even eligible.

Winning streaks, close games, and hoping for a blowout

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won six straight games and outside of the series opener against the Mets, they all have one thing in common: they were close games. Three of the last four games were decided by one run and four of the last five were decided by two runs or less. The one exception was a game separated by three runs. The bullpen has been worked hard but they continue to get the job done, preserving all those small leads. Joe Girardi is pushing all the right buttons right now.

David Robertson‘s expected return tomorrow will be a huge boost to the relief corps, especially if all this close game nonsense continues. The Yankees have played just 11 games decided by four of more runs in the last calendar month, a span that covers 28 games. They’re 8-6 in one-run games and 14-9 in two-run games overall, which means more than one-third of their contests this season have been separated by no more than a bloop and a blast. That’s a lot of tight baseball and with Mariano Rivera out for the season, a lot of stressful late innings.

The offense has continued to struggle with men in scoring position, particularly with the bases loaded, but the Yankees are averaging 5.2 runs per game during this 16-4 stretch. It’s not like they’re scratching and clawing for every run, they’ve just happened to score almost exactly five runs per game and not ten in one game and one in the next. The pitching staff has been doing its job and the timing has just worked out that every night features a close game that could go either way. It happens from time to time, and right now everything is breaking New York’s way.

Wins are wins and I’ll take them in any shape or form, but all the close games of late have been quite nerve racking. A few blowout wins in Washington this weekend — which won’t happen because their pitching staff is insane — would be very much appreciated just so every game doesn’t have me on the edge of my seat. A stress-free win would be appreciated at some point. Get Freddy Garcia some garbage time innings, ease Robertson back into things, maybe get Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano off their feet for a few innings … we could all use a little of that.

Granderson’s late homer helps Yanks finish off sweep of Braves

It wasn’t the longest game of the season, it only felt like it. The Yankees finished off a three-game sweep of the Braves with a 3-2 win on Wednesday, their sixth straight win.

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Quick Strike
There are few things in baseball I appreciate more than when the Yankees score in the first inning on the road. Just something about taking the lead before the other team gets to hit is comforting. Derek Jeter led off the game with a line drove double into the right-field gap and came around to score on Alex Rodriguez‘s single back up the middle two batters later. Just like that, a dozen pitches into Tim Hudson’s night, the Yankees had a much appreciated one-zip lead.

REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Kuroda Hangs On
This was not one of Hiroki Kuroda‘s finer starts, and you know that because the game took for-frickin’-ever. Kuroda is one of the slowest workers in baseball when men are on-base — PitchFX says he averages 22.6 seconds between pitches, 19th slowest among 115 qualified starters — and the Braves were threatening every inning. Hiroki stranded a man on first in the first, the bases loaded in the second, a man on second in the third, and men on second and third in the fourth before finally making a mistake in the fifth. Brian McCann clobbered a two-run homer to right after Martin Prado reached on a leadoff broken bat blooper, turning New York’s one-run lead into a one-run deficit.

Kuroda struck out a season-high eight, including strikeouts to escape jams in the first, third, and fourth innings. Sixteen of his 18 outs were recorded on the infield, including the first 13 in a row. He also threw a season high 110 pitches and was pitching in the rain basically all night. It was an ugly outing in the sense that Kuroda labored all night, but two runs in six innings is a result you’ll take every five days no questions asked.

Answer Back
McCann’s homer gave the Braves the lead for all of two batters. The Yankees answered right back in the sixth thanks to another Jeter leadoff hit, this one a flare single to right. Curtis Granderson followed up with his third homer of the month, a big fly ball that hung in the air for quite some time before sneaking around the right field foul pole and landing a few row backs. It was a 1-1 pitch after Jeter singled on a 1-0 pitch, so in reality Atlanta’s lead lasted for five defensive pitches. The Yankees have been doing a great job of responding and not letting games get away from them lately and is part of the reason why they’ve been so successful.

Ground Ball Machine
Cody Eppley might not have a place in the bullpen come Friday because David Robertson is set to be activated off the disabled list, and if does get sent down to Triple-A, he sure went out with a bang. Charged with working the eighth inning with a one-run lead because the primary setup guys have been worked hard of late, Eppley pitched around two singles — one an infield job from Michael Bourn — and a sacrifice bunt by coaxing a rally-killing and inning-ending double play ball from Prado, a play that would have tied the game had it not been turned perfectly. All four batters Eppley faced hit the ball on the ground, raising his season ground ball rate to a staggering 70.5%. That’s what he does, that sinker from the low arm slot isn’t easy to hit in the air. Bravo kid, I hope you stick around beyond Friday.

Two hands, Curtis. (REUTERS/Tami Chappell)

Every bullpen move Joe Girardi makes these days works like a charm. Obviously Eppley was the headliner in relief, but Boone Logan navigated a scoreless seventh while Rafael Soriano did his thing and shut the door in the ninth. The Braves had a runner on-base in literally every inning, but the relief corps followed Kuroda’s lead and kept pitching around danger. Atlanta went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, and one of the two was Bourn’s infield single. It’s nice to be on the other end of the RISPFAIL for once, eh?

Outside of the first and sixth innings, the Yankees did a whole lotta nothing offensively. Hudson retired 13 of 15 between A-Rod‘s first inning knock and Jeter’s leadoff single in the sixth, and the Atlanta bullpen allowed just two unintentional baserunners in three innings. One of those two came when Nick Swisher reached base on a wild pitch following a strikeout. Jeter was the only guy in the lineup with two hits while Granderson, A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Swisher, and Dewayne Wise had one each. The Yankees struck out 14 times and didn’t draw a single unintentional walk. Hudson’s eight strikeouts were a season-high.

Bit of a curious decision to send the runner when Russell Martin had a full count with one out in the second — Martin struck out and Swisher was thrown out at second to end the inning — only because the pitcher was on deck and you’d prefer to clear that spot in the order. Then again, Hudson’s an extreme ground ball pitcher and Russ is a double play candidate, so it makes some sense. That’s NL baseball for ya.

As I said, the Yankees have now won six straight games. They’ve also won nine of ten, 11 of 13, and 16 of 20. R.A. Dickey and the Mets completely wrecked the Rays though the Orioles topped the Pirates, so the Bombers remain in sole possession of first place in the AL East by one game.

And just for the record, at three hours and 36 minutes, this was the fifth longest nine-inning game of the season and seventh longest overall.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some advanced stats, and ESPN the updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are off on Thursday and will open a three-game series in Washington against the Nationals on Friday night. Phil Hughes gets the ball against Gio Gonzalez. If you’re going to be in the nation’s capitol this weekend, you should come to our meet-up on Saturday.

Sanchez homers again in Charleston loss

Double-A Trenton Game One (10-2 win over Altoona in seven innings) makeup of yesterday’s rain out
LF Abe Almonte: 1-4, 2 R, 1 BB, 2 K
3B Jose Pirela: 1-3, 1 SB — left the game after popping up in the sixth for an unknown reason … Addison Maruszak took his place and did not come to bat
2B David Adams: 2-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
DH Cody Johnson: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K — in a 4-for-37 (.108) with 21 strikeouts rut
RF Zoilo Almonte: 2-4, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) — hasn’t drawn a walk in 13 games, which is a little unusual for him
CF Melky Mesa: 1-3, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K,2 SB
1B Luke Murton & SS Yadil Mujica: both 1-4, 1 R, 1 K — Mujica homered and drove in a pair
C Jose Gil: 3-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB — had been in a 2-for-19 skid (.105)
RHP Mikey O’Brien: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 WP, 5/2 GB/FB — 56 of 88 pitches were strikes (63.6%), plus he picked a runner off first
RHP Preston Claiborne: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eight of 11 pitches were strikes
RHP Michael Dubee: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 11 of 16 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 62: Staying Hot

(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

It’s been a pretty great three weeks for the Yankees, who seem to find a new way to win every night. Last night it was a dramatic four-run comeback in the eighth inning off arguably the best setup man in the sport. The Yankees are rolling a quality starting pitcher out there game after game, and tonight the ball goes to Hiroki Kuroda. He’s pitched to a 2.98 ERA in his last nine starts and surely does not want to be the guy to end the winning streak. Here’s the lineup…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
3B Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Nick Swisher
Russell Martin
RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: David Aardsma & Joba Chamberlain

Via George King, right-hander David Aardsma is scheduled to throw a simulated game this Friday. He had been throwing bullpen sessions and live batting practice, but this will be his first game action in over 18 months. Aardsma missed all of last season with both hip and elbow surgery. If the simulated game goes well, a minor league rehab stint won’t be too far behind.

Meanwhile, King also says that Joba Chamberlain has had no problem with his right elbow or foot after throwing off a full mound earlier this week. He’s also been able to run sprints during his workouts. Joba’s coming back from Tommy John surgery and an ankle dislocation, though his return is further away than Aardsma’s.

Starters, mix-and-match setup crew step up during Robertson’s absence

RA! PA! DA! (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Yankees are expected to get David Robertson back for Friday’s series-opener in Washington, making tonight the last time Joe Girardi will have to use his mix-and-match bullpen tactics in the late innings. The one thing Girardi does better than anything else is manage his bullpen and put his relievers in a position to succeed, and year after year they continue to perform. Clay Rapada had no business throwing a scoreless eighth inning against one of the best offenses in baseball with a two-run lead while appearing in his fourth consecutive game last night, yet he did it anyway.

Rafael Soriano has stepped up and performed well as the closer while Robertson and Mariano Rivera were on the shelf, and while that is certainly appreciated, I think it’s the four-man setup crew that deserves the most applause. Boone Logan and Cory Wade started the season as sixth inning matchup guys and became a powerhouse setup duo, striking out 28 of 82 batters (34.1%) while walking just three unintentionally (none by Logan) during Robertson’s absence. Wade did allow back-breaking homers to Mark Trumbo (walk-off) and Miguel Cabrera (game-tying) during this stretch, but otherwise these two shut things down in the late-innings of close games.

Rapada and Eppley have been true specialists, almost never facing batters of the opposite hand. Seven out of every ten batters Rapada faced while Robertson was down were lefties, and he held them to two hits and four walks in 25 plate appearances. The free passes are a bit of an eyesore, though two of the four came in his first two appearances after Robertson’s injury, plus I don’t consider walking Nick Johnson to be a cardinal sin. Johnson tends to do that. Eppley has generated plenty of ground balls against right-handers in his matchup role, getting 11 grounders out of the 19 righties who put the ball in play off him.

Of course, one of the primary reasons this makeshift setup crew has pitched so well during Robertson’s absence has been the starters, who have consistently pitched deep into the game and are keeping the relievers from being overworked. In the 28 games without Robertson, the starter has gone at least six innings 22 times — including 18 times in the last 19 games — and at least seven innings 16 times. The Yankees haven’t had a starter complete fewer than five innings since David Phelps was making spot starts between Freddy Garcia and Andy Pettitte. You can’t say enough about how much strong starting pitching helps the bullpen.

Assuming nothing unfortunate happens between now and Friday, the Yankees are going to turn a very good bullpen back into a great one thanks to Robertson’s return. He’ll help lighten the load on Wade and Logan specifically, but also Soriano as well. The starters are on a collective roll and are pitching deep into the game, which has helped soften the blow while Robertson has been on the mend. Getting him back this weekend won’t solve the RISPFAIL, but it’s going to be a huge addition to a pitching staff that has stepped up and carried the team during this three-week stretch of winning.