Is the six-man rotation worth keeping?

CC needs a rest. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Yankees are using a six-man rotation this week more out of necessity than preference, simply because they can’t pull Phil Hughes out of the rotation given the schedule. If they want to do that, they’ll have to wait until next Monday’s off day at the earliest. The White Sox pulled off a six-man rotation for a few weeks earlier in the year, but we usually don’t see big league teams employ them because a) rarely does a club have six quality starters, and b) they don’t want to take starts away from their top arms. Given this current Yankees team though, I think there’s some merit to sticking with a six-man starting staff beyond the next week…

The Upside

The Yankees didn’t make a trade before Sunday’s deadline, so the rotation you see now is (probably) the rotation you’re going to see later in the year. CC Sabathia is a given, but he’s also on pace to throw 250.1 IP through 34 starts. That’s 13 more than he threw last year, 20 more than he threw the year before, and three innings shy of his career high. I’m sure he could throw the 250+ IP with no problem, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. At some point they have to take their foot off the gas and give him extra rest.

Brian Cashman admitted to being in “no man’s land” when it comes to Bartolo Colon, who has already thrown more innings this year than he has in any season since 2005. I don’t worry too much about him physically breaking down (I figure if a 38-year-old breaks down, it probably was inevitable), I worry more about fatigue down the stretch. The Yankees would be in big trouble if Colon shows up in September barely able to crack 90 because he’s running out of gas. Some extra rest over the next two months would help a bit. A.J. Burnett (on pace for ~205 IP) and Freddy Garcia (~185) are fine in terms of innings, no much of a concern there. I’d be more worried about Garcia’s projected ~30 IP jump from last season if he wasn’t a velocityless junk-baller.

There’s also the element of having more time to evaluate Hughes. It becomes less lessĀ  a question if he bombs tonight, but if he pitches well or even just holds his own, the Yankees really would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving him some more starts. I suppose they could accomplish the same thing by using him in long relief, but that’s irregular work and won’t help control the workloads of everyone else in the rotation. By keeping him in the starting rotation, everyone benefits, especially the guys expected to be in the potential postseason rotation.

The Downside

Unless the Yankees suddenly decide they can live with a six-man bullpen, a six-man rotation will hamper their roster construction because they’ll have to carry 13 pitchers. I’m almost certain they could get away with just six relievers, but I have no reason to believe they’d try it. A 13-man pitching staff means just three bench players, and at the moment those three are Frankie Cervelli, Andruw Jones, and Eduardo Nunez/Eric Chavez. That’s fine for a short period of time, but Alex Rodriguez will be back soon and the Yankees are going to need a roster spot for him. They’re obviously not going to cut Chavez or Jones, and sending Nunez to Triple-A means they won’t have a true middle infielder on the bench. There’s not much flexibility there.

I guess the other potential negative would be giving the core starters too much rest, if such a thing exists. Between the five days off between starts and various off days, it could throw those guys off their rhythm. Starting pitchers are creatures of habit, they tend to have very set routines between starts and six-man rotation would be screwing around with that routine.

* * *

Rosters expand 30 days from now, and two off days this month make the schedule a little easier to navigate. They could stick with the six-man rotation for now and get by with the three-man bench until A-Rod comes back. He’s going to start baseball activities on Thursday, so you have to figure he’s at least two weeks away from rejoining the team because of a minor league rehab stint and all that. We’ll be in the middle of the month by the time he comes back, so then the Yankees could shift to a six-man bullpen for two weeks before rosters expand. There is an off day in there to make life easier, but there’s also a doubleheader as well. It’s doable, especially if they’re liberal with the call-ups and send-downs should they need an fresh arm.

Depending on who you ask, the Yankees have either a 96.6% or 97.9% chance of making the playoffs this season. They’re a game back of Boston for first place in the AL East, but the important thing is that they’re seven games (eight in the loss column) ahead of the Angels for the wildcard. That’s a pretty big margin for error, so it’s not like they desperately need every win. They can afford to manipulate their rotation a bit just to rest the top guys heading into September and (hopefully) October, and I think there are some very real benefits to employing a six-man rotation for the next few weeks. Enough of a benefit that it outweighs the downside.

Burnett and Posada explain trade waivers

There’s a chance that you woke up this morning and saw this headline in the Post: “Yankees Burnett, Posada on trade waivers.” For the uninitiated, this might have induced a spit take. We normally associate waivers with releasing a player. Are the Yankees really going to cut bait on two underperforming veterans?

Absolutely not. In August teams place many of, if not most of, the players on their 40-man roster on waivers. It’s part of the process that allows them enact trades for the rest of the month. It does call for a quick explanation, as a primer for those who haven’t heard of trade waivers, and as a reminder for everyone else.

On Sunday at 4 p.m. the period where major league teams could freely exchange players expired. This is typically referred to as the trade deadline, but it’s really the non-waivers trade deadline. Teams can still swap players in August, but they need to pass through an additional obstacle. That is, a GM can trade any player in August as long as he clears waivers, which necessarily means placing him on waivers. And so we’ll see stories in the coming weeks about X and Y players being placed on waivers. Make little of these.

Let’s use Burnett as an example. Let’s say that Cubs GM Jim Hendry truly has lost his mind, and he puts in a claim on Burnett. The Yankees then have three options. They can work out a trade with the Cubs, they can simply dump the remainder of Burnett’s contract on the Cubs, or they can pull him back. Tempting as it might be to foist Burnett’s contract on some unsuspecting GM, I imagine the Yankees would revoke the waivers on Burnett and keep him on the team. They can place him on waivers again, in an attempt to pass him through, but you can only pull back a player once. If he gets claimed a second time, he’s property of the claiming team.

The entire point of trade waivers is to see who passes through unclaimed. Once a player clears, his team can trade him anywhere else. Chances are the better players in the league, especially ones with reasonable contracts, get claimed and therefore are blocked from any deals. For instance, if the Yankees put Brett Gardner on waivers he’d certainly get claimed. The Yankees would then pull him back, and that would be the end of any trade possibilities involving him. Chances are, the Yankees won’t even both placing Gardner on waivers. But you can be damn sure they’ll use the waiver process for all of their high-priced veterans. In fact, according to the Post, they’ve also placed Rafael Soriano, in addition to Posada and Burnett, on waivers.

Teams can also swap players not on the 40-man roster, which certainly creates opportunities. So while the Yankees cannot trade Dellin Betances, since he’s on the 40-man roster and hasn’t a prayer of clearing waivers, they could conceivably trade Adam Warren or Jesus Montero this month if it meant upgrading the major league roster. Of course, they’d have to find a player on a major league roster who has already cleared.

Any team can place a waiver claim, but when awarding the claim it goes to the team with the lowest win percentage in the same league. That is, if the Red Sox and the Astros put in a claim on Burnett, the Red Sox are awarded the claim, because they’re in the American League. But if the Astros and the Phillies put in a claim, the Astros are awarded, because they have the lower win percentage. (Same goes for, say, the A’s and the Red Sox.) This process leads to many trailing teams placing claims in order to block contenders from swinging a deal. This can be used both to block significant pieces and to block trade chips. For example, in 2009 the Yankees placed a claim on the Red Sox Chris Carter, because that muddled the deal that sent Billy Wagner to Boston.

The report of Burnett, Posada, and Soriano being placed on waivers is probably not the last of its type you’ll see this month. In itself, it is meaningless. It does become a bit more reasonable if they clear, but even then there is little to no chance that the Yankees would deal any of these players. In fact, there’s almost no chance they trade anyone on their major league roster, so we can effectively ignore trade waivers from them. What’s meaningful is seeing what players on non-contenders clear waivers. Those are the ones that could possibly help down the stretch run.

CC battles through eight in win over ChiSox

This game was dangerously close for far too long. The Yankees jumped out to quick 2-0 lead then tacked on another run, but the White Sox scored two and seemed to have a runner or two in scoring position with less than two outs all game long. But hey, a win’s a win…

  • CC Sabathia really, and I mean really had to grind this one out. He didn’t have his good slider and didn’t have much command of his changeup, which is why he allowed ten hits to one of the weaker offenses in baseball. Alexei Ramirez touched him up for a two-run homer in fourth, but double plays helped him escape the second, third, and fifth innings. Adam Dunn, who went from awesome to embarrassingly bad in one winter, struck out to end rallies in the sixth and eighth. Sabathia only threw 104 pitches but they were 104 tough pitches, it’s pretty impressive he completed eight full innings.
  • The Yankees had a run just seven pitches into the game. Brett Gardner started the game off with an infield single (stop sliding into first, kthxbye) and came around to score on Curtis Granderson‘s single. Grandy scored two batters later when Robinson Cano singled him, then scored two innings later on Cano’s double play. It looked like the Yanks were on their way to another blowout win, but Jake Peavy settled down and allowed just three of the final 16 men he faced to reach base.
  • Granderson and Mark Teixeira were the only batters in the lineup with multiple hits, though Gardner (single), Cano (single), Eric Chavez (single), Jorge Posada (single), Andruw Jones (pinch-walk), and Eduardo Nunez (walk) all reached once. Nick Swisher and Frankie Cervelli combined for a particularly ugly 0-for-7 with two whiffs each. Just one of the final 14 men they sent to the plate reached base, and that was Andruw’s pinch-walk.
  • How awful does Dunn look? As if the 0-for-4 with three strikeouts wasn’t bad enough, he also misplayed a ball in the first and let another one that he should have handled get past him. He has three hits against left-handed pitchers this year (three!!!), the same number as the lefty hacking Clayton Kershaw. The boos were quite loud, and I can’t imagine he’s anything but miserable. As for Peavy, his stuff clearly isn’t what it was in San Diego. I watched him quite a bit with the Padres, and the life just isn’t there anymore. His fastball used to run all over the place in the mid-90’s, now it just kinda wiggles in their right at 90. For shame. He did a fine job in this game though, obviously.
  • Mariano Rivera slammed the door in the ninth with nine pitches, all strikes. Here’s the box score, here’s the nerd stats, here’s the standings.

Game two of this four-game set will be played Tuesday evening, when Phil Hughes could be pitching for his job against John Danks. Full-blown recaps will return then, it’s been a hectic few days.

Sanchez homers in Charleston win

Jorge Vazquez was named the Triple-A International League Offensive Player of the Week while Preston Claiborne was dubbed the High-A Florida State League Pitcher of the Week. Randy Flores, meanwhile, will be released tomorrow.

Triple-A Scranton Game One (4-2 loss to Lehigh Valley) makeup of a May 19th rain out
Kevin Russo, 2B & Mike Lamb, DH: both 2 for 4, 1 R – Russo doubled … Lamb whiffed
Greg Golson, CF, Jorge Vazquez, 1B & Brandon Laird, 3B: all 0 for 3 – Golson walked and whiffed twice … JoVa and Laird struck out once … Vazquez also committed a fielding error
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 RBI – the RBI single came off a rehabbing big leaguer, a brand name
Jordan Parraz, RF: 0 for 2, 1 BB, 1 K
Austin Krum, LF & Doug Bernier, SS: both 1 for 3 – Krum drove in a run
Pants Lendleton, RHP: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1-8 GB/FB – 45 of 76 pitches were strikes (59.2%)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP, 1-3 GB/FB – 13 of 20 pitches were strikes (65%)
Randy Flores, LHP: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1-2 GB/FB – 16 of 28 pitches were strikes (57.1%)

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Yankees will release Randy Flores tomorrow

Via Danny Knobler, the Yankees will release lefty Randy Flores tomorrow by mutual consent. He signed a minor league contract in May, but was pretty bad with Triple-A Scranton and didn’t get a chance to show what he’s got with the big league team. Left-handed batters hit .259 with 14 hits in as many innings off Flores coming into today, and tonight he gave up a two-run bomb to lose the game.

A-Rod will begin baseball activities on Thursday

Via Chad Jennings, Alex Rodriguez will head to Tampa on Wednesday and begin baseball activities on Thursday as he rehabs from last month’s knee surgery. The Yankees don’t have (or haven’t announced) a firm date for his return yet, but that’s not a surprise since this will be his first time back out on the field. It goes without saying that he’ll need some kind of rehab assignment

Game 107: Captainless

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

Derek Jeter is not playing tonight after two straight finger-damaging days. Saturday he took a ground ball off his right middle finger, and yesterday Jake Arrieta got him in the same digit with a fastball. Thankfully x-rays came back negative and it’s just a bruise, but count on the Cap’n being out of the lineup for at least one night and maybe more.

That’s bad because the roster is already stretched thin. The Yankees are carrying 13 pitchers and just three bench players, none of whom can really play the middle infield. Eduardo Nunez will play short in Jeter’s absence, which means Eric Chavez will be the regular third baseman for the time being. The more he plays, the more likely he is to get hurt. There’s no backup shortstop, and the backup second baseman is Frankie Cervelli. I’m sure Jeter could play in an absolute emergency, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Here’s the starting nine…

Brett Gardner, LF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Eric Chavez, 3B
Jorge Posada, DH
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Frankie Cervelli, C

CC Sabathia, SP

It’s an 8:10pm ET start, and YES will carry the game for ya. Enjoy.