Going beyond the top relievers [2017 Season Preview]

(Gett Images)
Layne. (Getty Images)

Over the last few days, we’ve covered the four key cogs in the Yankees’ bullpen machine: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard. If healthy, each will take up the main roles in Joe Girardi‘s ‘pen and be called upon for the most important innings this season.

But the bullpen features far more than four guys. There will be at least seven on opening day. The Yankees had 20 different relievers pitch in at least one game last season. They had 26 the year before (24 if you take out position players).

So let’s take a look at the rest of the bullpen. Chances are, far more than the guys listed below will log time in relief, but these are the ones that jump out with a chance right now.

The veteran pick-up

Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frieri. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Last week, the Yankees added Ernesto Frieri on a minor league deal. Frieri didn’t pitch at all in 2016 after an awful spring with the Phillies, but he played for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. While there, he tossed two shutout innings against the Dominican Republic, even striking out Nelson Cruz.

Frieri, just 31 years old, was a pretty solid reliever from 2010-13, highlighted by a 2.32 ERA and 23 saves with the Padres and Angels in 2012. However, he was barely usable in 2014-15 with the Angels, Pirates and Rays with his ERA ballooning as high as 7.34 in 2014. At his best, he utilizes his mid-90s fastball to get hitters out, mixing in a slider and the occasional change or curve.

He’s a real wild card for the Yankees’ pen. There’s a solid chance he’ll make the team (seven batters into spring, he has six strikeouts and one HR allowed) but what he does from there is anyone’s guess. His velocity seems to have returned after falling a bit in 2014-15 and could be the secret to an improved Frieri.

The lefties

Girardi loves his southpaws, so one has to figure there will be at least one on the roster at all times, if not two. That’s not including Chapman, who won’t be used as a matchup lefty and is the definitive closer.

First up is Tommy Layne. Layne, 32, is a classic LOOGY, much better against lefties than righties. He tosses a lot variations of fastballs alongside a slider and curveball to produce some strikeouts. He was perfectly fine in 29 games for the Yankees in 2016 and it’s not outlandish to expect him to have another mid-3.00 ERA with a few too many walks and struggles against righties. Again, classic LOOGY.

Behind him lie a few different options, namely Chasen Shreve and Jon Niese. Niese, 30, has started most of his career and has succeeded at primarily keeping the ball on the ground. He’d provide a solid option as both another lefty and as a long man, two roles Girardi has said he sees Niese filling. He is coming back from a knee injury that he struggled with last season, so a healthy Niese would be an interesting piece.

We all know about Shreve. He was dominant for a couple months in 2015 with his low-90s fastball and changeup before becoming a liability late in ’15 and shuffling between the bullpen and the minors in 2016. The 26-year-old southpaw isn’t a LOOGY with the changeup as an out-pitch, but hitters appeared to figure out his off-speed offerings over the last couple seasons.

Two pitchers who reached Triple A last season are also in the mix for roles this summer, if not earlier. Jordan Montgomery and Dietrich Enns each played roles in Scranton’s success last fall and looked solid in Double A Trenton before that. Enns was added to the 40-man roster this winter. Lefties hit Enns slightly better than righties last season and the soft-tossing southpaw may not be best suited for a role as a LOOGY.

Montgomery — who is potentially in play for a spot in the rotation on opening day, let alone a relief spot — isn’t on the 40-man roster yet. Similar to Enns, Montgomery had a reverse split last year, although neither lefties or righties hit him well. He throws from a high arm slot and has a solid change-up and would be a solid long reliever if he isn’t a starter.

Righties with a taste

Heller (Getty Images)
Heller. (Getty Images)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder got chances last September to help the Yankees bullpen and neither particularly impressed. Heller, a 25 year old who came over in the Andrew Miller trade, throws in the upper 90s with his fastball and mixes in an effective slider. Despite his 6.43 ERA in seven big league innings, he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on because he has the stuff to be effective. He’s posted strong strikeout numbers everywhere in the minors, solid enough to mask occasional issues with walks. I’d expect him to be one of the first relievers called up this spring, if not someone on the roster opening day after a lights-out spring (one run, 8 ks in 9 2/3 innings with 6 BB).

Like Heller, Holder couldn’t seem to have his strikeout numbers translate in his short big league stint (8 1/3 innings). He also uncharacteristically struggled with control. Still, his fantastic strikeout rates (101 Ks in 65 1/3 innings last year over three levels) are the reason he was added to the 40-man roster early at 23 years old. He’s likely behind Heller but still a solid option this spring/summer.

Long man

The Yankees’ have a series of young pitchers competing for the final rotation spots right now and only two will walk away with said spots. Therefore, the rest will be relegated to Triple A or to spots in the bullpen. Frieri’s addition to the team makes it less likely the team brings two of those losing out north — or actually south 20 miles from Steinbrenner Field to Tropicana Field — for opening day.

Still, there is likely one spot, if not two, for those who lose out. Let’s say Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell get the rotation spots. It’s easy to see Luis Cessa take the long-man role while Chad Green and Montgomery go to Triple A. The latter two would still be likely to see time in the majors and could be see it quickly considering the bullpen shuttle of recent years.

40-man roster and beyond

Barbato (Getty Images)
Barbato. (Getty Images)

There is a gaggle of relievers that got opportunities to show off their stuff this spring with the Yankees, way too many to go through in detail. Johnny Barbato and Gio Gallegos are both on the 40-man and closest to the majors.

Further down the 40-man, Yefrey Ramirez and Domingo German both have strikeout worthy stuff, but they’re starters at the moment and haven’t pitched above Single A. Ronald Herrera, acquired for Jose Pirela a couple years ago, has all of five innings above Double A.

Off the 40-man roster, it’s worth paying attention to a few names. Nick Rumbelow, outrighted off the 40, is coming off Tommy John surgery and once showed promise for a middle relief role. Joe Mantiply — a southpaw who was claimed off waivers, DFA’d and then re-signed to a minor league deal this winter — has solid strikeout rates in the minors but hasn’t thrown much above Double A. Finally, J.P Feyereisen was acquired in the Miller deal with Heller and co. and was solid as a fireman for Double A Trenton in the MiLB playoffs last year. Could be something down the road and I wouldn’t be shocked if he is seen in the majors for a stint this summer.

Spring Training Game Thread: Sabathia’s Fourth Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Only one week of meaningless baseball remains. The Yankees will play their final exhibition game one week from today, and Opening Day is one week from Sunday. Thank goodness for that. Spring Training is fun in it’s own way, but I’m pretty much over it at this point. Bring on real baseball.

Anyway, CC Sabathia is on the mound this afternoon making his fourth Grapefruit League start. He’s allowed nine runs in 6.2 innings so far, though Sabathia never seems to have a good spring. Only once in the last six years and twice in the last eight years had he had a sub-5.00 ERA in Spring Training. Shrug. Here is the lineup the Phillies sent over, and here are the players the Yankees will use today:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Chris Carter
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. CF Aaron Hicks
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

Available Pitchers: RHP Luis Severino, RHP Dellin Betances, and LHP Jon Niese are all expected to pitch today. (LHP Tommy Layne and RHP Ben Heller are both on the lineup card, but Shane Hennigan says they threw in a minor league game this morning.) RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Matt Marsh, LHP Josh Rogers, RHP Eric Ruth, and LHP Nestor Cortes are all up from minor league camp to serve as the extra arms.

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Wilkin Castillo, 2B Tyler Wade, SS Ruben Tejada, 3B Pete Kozma, LF Rob Refsnyder, CF Rashad Crawford, and RF Trey Amburgey will be the second string off the bench. C Radley Haddad, IF Donovan Solano, and IF Abi Avelino are the extra players. Amburgey, Haddad, and Avelino are up from minor league camp.

It’s a little cloudy in Tampa this afternoon, though the weather is plenty good enough for baseball. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET, and you can watch on YES. There’s also MLB.tv and the FOX Sports Go app. Enjoy the game.

Mailbag: Pineda, Carter, Wade, Tanaka, Chapman, 60-Day DL

I’ve got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. As always, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We gets lots each week, so don’t take it personally if you’re doesn’t get picked.

Pineda. (Presswire)
Pineda. (Presswire)

Justin asks: Considering the 2018 free agent market and the Yankee’s current situation with starting pitchers after this season, how much does Michael Pineda need to improve before becoming a Qualifying Offer candidate after this season?

I’m not sure there’s anything Pineda can realistically do this season to get a qualifying offer. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement completely changed everything. The Yankees will pay luxury tax this season, and because of that, they can only receive a pick after the fourth round (!) for a qualified free agent. The qualifying offer will be worth over $18M this coming winter. That’s a lot of money to risk for such a low draft pick.

To become a qualifying offer candidate, Pineda would have to do something similar to his 2011 rookie season with the Mariners, and even that might not be enough. He had a 3.74 ERA (3.42 FIP) with 24.9% strikeouts and 7.9% walks in 171 innings that year. If Pineda does that again, the Yankees would probably think about making him the qualifying offer because getting him back on an expensive one-year contract wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Still, I don’t have high hopes for Pineda putting it all together this season. He is what he is. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Bob asks: So far Pineda has had an impressive spring, which could mean nothing, but it got me thinking. Suppose Pineda, in his contract year, puts together a great first half. Maybe that puts the Yankees in the hunt for a play-off spot. When you get to the trading deadline, do you deal Pineda because you believe some team will over-pay for him? Or do you keep him in order to keep your play-off hopes alive?

This question was sent in before Pineda’s tough start last time out. I am generally a “go for it” guy. The entire point of playing the game is to win, and if the Yankees are in the race at midseason — I mean really in the race, not five or six games back and “well if we win 20 of our next 25 we’ll have a chance” in the race — they should keep him and go for it. We’re all getting to be a little starved for October baseball, no? The postseason would be cool.

The best answer to this question is: let’s see what’s going in July. Pineda’s situation is similar to Ivan Nova‘s situation last year. The Yankees probably won’t make him the qualifying offer, which means it makes sense to move him at the deadline if he’s still sputtering along and not living up to the potential that is oh so obvious. And if Pineda is pitching well and the team isn’t winning, it would make sense to at least kick the tires on an extension, I think. It never hurts to ask.

Andrew asks: Do you think that Cashman’s contract status might result in him choosing a high floor pitcher like Warren rather then a high ceiling pitcher like Severino for the 4th or 5th starter job?

Nah. I don’t think Brian Cashman‘s contract situation will influence any roster decisions. We’ve seen countless other general managers (in every sport) make big splashy moves in an effort to save their jobs when they’re on the hot seat — Jack Zduriencik throwing all that money at Robinson Cano stands out — but Cashman seems very comfortable with his place with the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner loves him and I think Cashman will be given the opportunity to see this rebuild transition through. I can’t see Cashman making decisions designed to scratch out a few extra wins in an effort to secure a new contract after the season.

Yogi asks (short version): With Bird officially being named the everyday 1B, where does that leave Carter? I find it difficult to believe he is willing to be the backup for the full year. Assuming they can’t trade him, what’s your over/under on Carter being on the roster on May 1?

Definitely over on May 1st. They’re not going to cut the guy 24 games into the season, especially with his primary replacement (Tyler Austin) starting the year on the disabled list. I bet Chris Carter ends up getting a heck of a lot more playing time than we expect. I could see him starting three times a week between first base and designated hitter, especially with all those lefties in the AL East. Greg Bird is coming back from shoulder surgery and Matt Holliday is 37. The Yankees will give them regular rest, I’m sure.

Carter has been dreadful this spring — he’s hitting .122/.234/.195 with 22 strikeouts in 47 plate appearances — but who cares? It’s Spring Training. That just means he’s going to come out of the gate and mash in the regular season. That’s usually how it works out, right? Garrett Jones managed to stick around until the trade deadline and I’m guessing Carter will get similarly long leash. The Yankees won’t cut a dude with this much power a few weeks into the season, nor should they. Not unless you want to see more Rob Refsnyder or Ji-Man Choi.

Carter. (Presswire)
Carter. (Presswire)

Andrew asks: Presuming they are used only as starters, what do you think the innings limits for Warren, Mitchell and Kaprielian would be this season? My theory is that low innings limits for Warren and Mitchell make it more likely they start in the rotation and then get moved to the pen in June, rather then risk having to waste innings stretching them out.

I don’t think Adam Warren will have an innings limit this year. He’s going to turn 30 in August. If he does start the season in the rotation, the Yankees will keep an eye on him and look for signs of fatigue, but I don’t think they’re going to say, “okay, Warren has 140 innings max this year” or anything like that. He’s no kid who needs to be babied. Give him an extra day here and there, otherwise let him pitch.

Bryan Mitchell and James Kaprielian are different stories, obviously. Both missed a bunch of time with injuries last season and need to be handled a little more carefully. Mitchell’s career high is 145.1 innings back in 2013 and I think the Yankees would push him back to 150 innings again this year. Maybe they’d even push him to 175 innings or so if he’s pitching well and looks strong. It’s not like Mitchell hurt his arm last year.

Kaprielian’s career high is 119 innings between college and pro ball in 2015, and we already know the Yankees are going to handle him carefully. He didn’t appear in his first Spring Training game until last week, and the team plans to bring him along slowly once the regular season begins. I wonder if the Yankees targeted 150 innings or so for Kaprielian last year. If so, that might be the target again this year, albeit with a little more caution along the way.

Nathaniel asks: What are you impressions of Tyler Wade so far this Spring Training, and what kind of future does he have? Yankees or trade bait.

This question was sent in before the Didi Gregorius injury thrust Wade into the starting shortstop mix. I’m glad he’s opened some eyes this spring and people are seeing just how good he really is. I’ve been a Wade fan for years now — there have been plenty of “I’m not seeing it/he’s ranked too high in the top 30” comments and emails over the years — and have always though he’s good enough to be someone’s starting shortstop down the road. Didi’s injury means it could be with the Yankees this year.

It seems the Yankees have made their intentions clear with Wade: they want to keep him, and they’re trying to figure out ways to get him playing time. Hence the whole super utility thing. Gregorius isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, so shortstop isn’t an option. Same with second base and Starlin Castro, so that’s why they’ve been moving Wade around. He’s not a top prospect, so you can’t rule out the possibility of a trade, but I think the Yankees intend to keep Wade and figure out where he’ll play when the time comes.

Nick asks: I am interested in seeing a “wear and tear” comparison between Tanaka and CC. The knee-jerk reaction following another productive season would be “we must re-sign him” but would the Yankees be risking again paying premium dollars for the back end of a pitcher’s career?

Masahiro Tanaka turned 28 in November and the Yankees signed CC Sabathia six months after his 28th birthday. So this coming offseason Tanaka will essentially be six months older than Sabathia was when the Yankees first signed him, back during the 2008-09 offseason. Here are their career workloads through their age 27 seasons:

  • Sabathia: 1,684.1 innings including postseason.
  • Tanaka: 1,810 innings including MLB postseason (can find postseason stats for Japan).

That surprised me. I would have thought Sabathia threw more innings than Tanaka through their age 27 seasons, but nope. Tanaka made 28 starts and threw 186.1 innings for the Rakuten Golden Eagles at age 18 (!) and he’s been a full-time starter ever since. Geez.

Sabathia had another four high-quality seasons after signing his contract, but every pitcher is different, and that doesn’t mean Tanaka will hold up another four years as well. Pitchers get hurt all the time, especially older pitchers with thousands of innings on their arm, and it’s fair to say Tanaka is a greater risk than most given his elbow situation. The Yankees know him and his elbow better than anyone. All they can do is make the best decision based on the available information.

Adam asks: Given that Tanaka has his opt-out available after this year and there’s a possibility that the Yankees could have three pitchers leave town if he does opt out, would it make sense for the Yankees to offer to move up a couple of million from the back years of his contract in exchange for deferring the opt-out for a year?

It’s a nice idea, but there’s no way Tanaka and his agent would go for that. Not unless we’re talking tens of millions of dollars. He’d be walking away from three years and $67M by using the opt-out, which he should clear easily in free agency. Tanaka will probably be able to add $40M in guaranteed money after the season. Maybe $60M. Asking him to push back the opt-out clause means delaying that huge payday and assuming a ton of risk. It’s close to all downside for Tanaka. It would have to be huge amount of money to get him to agree to that. It’s not realistic. I wish it was.

Tanaka. (Presswire)
Tanaka. (Presswire)

Tom asks: Where would the prospects traded in the Chapman deal to the Reds rank in the farm system today (Rookie Davis etc). Haven’t followed to see how they’ve panned out thus far and based on getting back Torres plus, it was obviously a worthwhile deal anyway. Just curious to see what those guys are up to these days.

The trade looked ridiculously lopsided the day it was made and it looks even more lopsided now, and you don’t even need to factor in the Gleyber Torres stuff. Here’s an update on the four players the Yankees sent to the Reds for Aroldis Chapman last offseason:

  • Rookie Davis: Had a 3.71 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 131 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. He’s allowed five runs (four earned) in eleven innings this spring. Pretty good chance Davis will make his MLB debut at some point this season. MLB.com ranks him the 17th best prospect in the team’s farm system.
  • Eric Jagielo: Hit .205/.305/.310 (83 wRC+) with a 30.5% strikeout rate in 111 Double-A games last year. I have no idea what happened to him. Jagielo was not picked in the Rule 5 Draft over the winter and he didn’t get a non-roster invite to camp this year. He also didn’t rank among MLB.com’s top 30 Reds prospects.
  • Tony Renda: Made his MLB debut late last year and went 11-for-60 (.183) in 32 games as a bench player. He has an interesting first hit story. Renda was outrighted off the 40-man roster over the winter and is in camp as a non-roster player.
  • Caleb Cotham: Had a 7.40 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 24.1 innings last season before going down with a knee injury. Cotham announced his retirement earlier this month.

Yeah, not great. Maybe Jagielo figures it out and maybe Renda carves out a niche as a bench player, otherwise the Chapman trade is going to boil down to Davis for the Reds. If he turns into a decent mid-rotation starter, Cincinnati will probably come out ahead in the “add up the WAR” game, but yeah. Pretty much a disaster. They sold Chapman for pennies on the dollar. Pennies.

As for the question, Jagielo and Renda definitely would not have made my top 30 list. Jagielo might not have made a top 50 list at this point. He was always a bat first guy with questionable defense, and if the bat is gone, he’s a non-prospect. Davis is a legitimate prospect and I would have had him in the top 30. Somewhere in the 19-22 range seems about right, alongside guys like Chad Green and Tyler Austin.

Ryan asks: Do the Yankees have any 60 Day DL candidates when the time comes they can put players on the DL? This could pave the way for a Wade to SS scenario. Thank you.

Gregorius and Austin. That’s it. As best I can tell, the first day teams were able to place players on the 60-day DL was February 14th, and Austin broke his foot on February 17th. Backdating the 60-day DL stint would still allow the Yankees to activate Austin as early as April 18th, so maybe that’s how they’ll make room on the 40-man roster for whoever needs to be added before Opening Day (Wade, Ernesto Frieri, Ruben Tejada, etc.).

The Gregorius situation is different. Putting him on the 60-day DL would mean the Yankees couldn’t activate him until May 19th, and from the sound of things, he could be back much sooner than that. So for now Austin is the only real 60-day DL candidate. (Remember: Teams can only use the 60-day DL when the 40-man roster is full, and someone has to be added to the 40-man right away. You can’t put someone on the 60-day DL and sit on the open 40-man spot.)

David asks: Would there be any benefit to the teams in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues playing one another during spring training? Obviously you want to reduce unneeded travel during the spring, but what about a quick one week swing through a couple teams in the other league to break up the monotony of playing the same teams.

Interesting idea! I think this would be pretty darn cool, though I doubt the clubs would go along with it because it means more travel and all that. Wouldn’t it be cool to see the Yankees spend, say, three days going through the Cactus League? I’m sure the fans there would love it. A Yankees fan in Phoenix doesn’t get to see their team play all that often. Maybe it doesn’t have to be every team that makes the trip. Maybe they could send the Yankees and Red Sox to Arizona for a few days, and the Cubs and Dodgers to Florida for a few days. Seems like it would be pretty neat and exciting, which means it definitely won’t happen. So it goes.

Adam asks: What are your predictions for the 2017 season for the following?

We’re going to post our annual season predictions at CBS at some point soon. Next week, I think. And I’m always wrong. Last year I picked the Mets to beat the Rangers in the World Series, and Aaron Hicks to be the AL’s breakout player. Whoops. Here’s what I’m thinking for this season:

  • World Series: Dodgers over Mariners. Why the hell not?
  • MVPs: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. I’m boring, I know, but they’re the best players.
  • Cy Youngs: Contract year Masahiro Tanaka and Noah Syndergaard.
  • Rookies of the Year: Andrew Benintendi and Dansby Swanson. Too easy.

There doesn’t seem to be much mystery to the division races this year, huh? The Red Sox, Indians, Astros, Nationals, Cubs, and Dodgers are all the clear cut favorites in their divisions, I think. The wildcard races are where it’ll be at. Then again, nothing ever goes according to plan. Perhaps the Cubs and Indians will be hit with a huge World Series hangover a la the Royals last year.

Open Thread: March 23rd Camp Notes

The Yankees neither won nor lost today. They tied. First of the spring. The Yankees were down 5-0, then they chipped away and tied the game in the top of the ninth. There’s the ol’ Fighting Spirit. Aaron Hicks had a double and a walk while Aaron Judge had a double and a single. Jacoby Ellsbury had a pair of knocks. Oh, and Ronald Torreyes homered. How about that?

Jordan Montgomery started and looked very good, allowing two runs on three hits in 4.1 innings. The first run scored after Judge missed a diving catch and turned a single into a triple, and the second run was an inherited runner allowed to score by the bullpen. Montgomery struck out eight and I assume he really helped his Opening Day roster spot case. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the rest of the news from Tampa:

  • Brendan Kuty has the day’s pitching assignments and hitting groups. Starlin Castro worked out at shortstop, as expected, and Matt Holliday took grounders at third (with a first baseman’s mitt). I wouldn’t read anything into that. Players mess around at different positions all throughout camp.
  • Shane Hennigan has the day’s minor league lineups. Jorge Mateo played center field at some point today, which apparently he’s done a few times already. Also, hitting coach Alan Cockrell said he’s working with Mateo to make some swing changes. Farm system head Gary Denbo hinted at some offensive adjustments recently. [Kuty]
  • Chris Carter has been working on some mechanical tweaks to help him make more contact. “I think the biggest thing is just my lower half … I was always a little more handy. I’m trying to incorporate it a little more and feel like I have a little bit of a better base up there,” he said. [Kuty]
  • Jake Cave will start the season on the minor league disabled list. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee recently, Denbo confirmed. No idea how long he’ll be out. Cave was going to have a hard time getting at-bats in Triple-A anyway. [Hennigan]
  • The Yankees will be at home to take on the Phillies tomorrow. I believe CC Sabathia is starting. That game will be on YES and MLB.tv.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all in action, plus March Madness resumes. ESPN has the Dodgers and Rangers right now, and MLB Network is showing a Spring Training game on tape delay later tonight. Talk about those games or anything else right here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s opportunity?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Didi Gregorius‘ injury is unfortunate in every way, even if he may only miss a month of the season. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement and, much more importantly, a key cog of their future has to deal with an injury that can set him back after he made strides last season and hoped to bring into this season. Furthermore, Gregorius’ best tool is perhaps his arm strength and that could be affected by this injury.

As with every injury in sports, there is now an opportunity for someone else. As Mike detailed the other day and some reporters have indicated, the likeliest scenario is Starlin Castro, despite his prior experience at short, to stay at second while Ronald Torreyes and possibly Ruben Tejada or Pete Kozma take the load at short. This is a fine option, albeit with the lesser offensive (and likely defensive) production at shortstop. It’d be tough to imagine Tyler Wade or Gleyber Torres are quite ready for the job either (again, check out Mike’s piece on this).

There is another option, albeit one that guarantees lesser performance defensively and that is moving Castro to shortstop — he played just three games there last year — and handing the second base job to … Rob Refsnyder. The oft-talked of second baseman has been masquerading as a super utility player for the last year, but perhaps this is the opportunity he needs to prove himself, one way or another.

Joe Girardi talked about how the team sees him as that utility player, working all around the field. “I look at him at second, first, right and left, is how I look at Ref,” Girardi said to the Daily News. “Depending on what we do, that’s why I talked about he can play his way in, and if he’s an extra infielder and outfielder, whatever he is, then you might have to move Castro to play some short. If you give (Chase Headley) a day off and you move Torreyes over, then that would be Ref’s spot at second. Those are the different options we have.”

Is this the chance Refsnyder needs? Well, he’ll need to show some improvements to make it happen.

1. Refsnyder needs to show more at the plate

So far in his MLB career, Refsnyder has had all of 222 plate appearances. For all the talk of him taking over second base during the 2015 season, it would seem like he’d have taken more ABs, but alas, that is not the case. He hit quite well during his 47 PAs in 2015 (131 wRC+) but looked exposed in sporadic stints last season, batting just .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+).

As has been discussed on this website before, he needs to hit for power in order to make at the big league level. He actually had a .512 slugging percentage (.210 ISO) in 2015 and there was reason to believe he has some power potential. With Torreyes, you’re simply not going to get much power, but you’ll get plenty of contact. He hit .258/.305/.374 (81 wRC+) last season in 168 plate appearances and had an 11.9 percent strikeout rate compared to Refsnyder’s 17.1 percent mark.

Refsnyder does walk a bit more than Torreyes, but as detailed below, he’s enough of a negative defensively that he’ll need to more than make up for it at the plate for this experiment to be worth it. While spring stats are relatively meaningless, Refsnyder has struck out in 11 of 39 PAs while Torreyes has just two in 41 PAs. Refsnyder does have a better slash line this spring but neither has impressed with the bat.

2. How would it work defensively?

Losing Gregorius is a blow to the Yankees’ team defense. While defensive metrics were down on Didi last season, it’s likely that Gregorius would have been a defensive plus for the month or so he’ll now miss. Last season, Torreyes only played 99 innings at shortstop, his only time at short in his brief MLB career. He made one error in 11 starts there while UZR had him at -0.7 there (-15.9 UZR/150). Again, short sample size, hard to judge.

So what would happen if instead of Torreyes getting extended time at short, Castro shifted over and Refsnyder moved to second in his place? In Castro’s case, it could actually work out well. Castro has been seen as a definite negative in his 1,524 innings at second over the last two years with a -7.4 UZR. At shortstop, he’s been a minus in his career, albeit less so. He only played 20 innings there last season, but it is his natural position. He wasn’t particularly adept there (negative in DRS each season except 2012).

And then there’s Refsnyder. To be fair, he’s only played 147 MLB innings at second base, but they haven’t been pretty, either in terms of statistics or the eye test. He has a -3 DRS and -2.6 UZR in those innings and has been better, albeit in similarly small samples, at each other position he’s played in the majors. 1B, LF and RF are the ones he has more than an inning played (He actually graded out well in RF during 132 2/3 innings last year, if that’s worth anything). It’s also simply hard to forget how inept he looked at times during his stint at second in 2015. It seemed like a common announcer phrase during that time was “past a diving Refsnyder.”

All of this is to say that defensively, this pairing could be tough to stomach, hence why it’s so necessary that Refsnyder hit if he’s going to be anything more than a Quadruple A player.

3. Easy to change course

Putting Refsnyder in at second would be a perfect chance to see whether he sinks or swims at the big league level. He’d have the chance to know he’s starting every day for certain period and the team would see if he can produce with that comfort level. I have my doubts, but it’s an imperfect solution just like every other replacement for Gregorius.

If he didn’t perform after a few weeks, it’s easy to course correct. First of all, this is only temporary since Gregorius should miss only a month or so. With Torreyes on the roster, it’d also be simple enough to begin giving him the starts if the defensive minuses are too much or Refsnyder simply hack it at the plate.

The questions about Refsnyder can seem pretty glaring, but this would be a chance to answer them in a low cost scenario. It’s not like Torreyes will be much better with the bat. The worst case is that Refsnyder is so unpalatable at second that the team decides to send him back down to AAA quickly. In the best case, the Yankees find a suitable backup with restored promise for when Gregorius returns.

The Middle Relief Duo [2017 Season Preview]

Clippard. (Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)
(Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees have had an elite bullpen most every year for what feels like an eternity at this point, owing largely to the incomparable Mariano Rivera, and the ability to churn out high-end relievers that would close for most teams (particularly David Robertson and Dellin Betances, who spent most of their time with the team pitching in the 7th or 8th inning). A willingness to open up the checkbook helps, too, as Rafael Soriano, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman all thrived. It isn’t just the 8th and 9th inning guys, though.

A sizable portion of the team’s success in building strong bullpens lay in its middle relief core. We’re all familiar with the Scranton Shuttle, and oftentimes discuss the top-heavy nature of the bullpen – but that’s not quite fair to the pitchers that handle the 6th and 7th, if only for a season or two. Joe Girardi loves having defined roles for his relievers, and having dependable arms to bridge the gap between the starter and Betances/Chapman will be vital this season (lest we forget that two of the five starters will essentially be rookies).

Luckily, the Yankees have two reliable arms to lean on in that role.

Tyler Clippard

Here’s your semi-regular reminder that the Yankees traded Clippard straight-up for Jonathan Albaladejo in 2007, who would go on to throw a grand total of 59.1 IP in parts of three season with the team, pitching to a 4.70 ERA (5.21 FIP).

Clippard has been a dominant reliever for the better part of a decade now, posting a 2.77 ERA (144 ERA+) in 587.2 IP out of the bullpen, while serving as a Bizarro World version of Michael Pineda. That is, his FIP in that time (3.59) is significantly higher than his ERA, which leads to his bWAR (12.3) being much stronger than his fWAR (7.1). He has accomplished this by maintaining consistently low BABIPs (.234 as a reliever), ridiculously high infield flyball rates (16.2%, against a league-average that tends to fall between 9.5% and 10%), and plenty of strikeouts (27.7 K%).

The 32-year-old was in the midst of what may have been his worst season prior to being acquired by the Yankees last year, which raises some red flags. There are reasonable explanations for that, though, including the sheer incompetence of the Arizona Diamondbacks; and not just in a general sense, either, as they may’ve asked Clippard to shelve his slider. It was far from his best offering (though, he had excellent results with it in 2015), as he’s always been a fastball/change-up pitcher – but not having that show-me pitch in his pocket could have led to hitters being better able to sit on straighter stuff. The increased use stands out quite a bit:

clippard-slider

It also bears noting that his fastball velocity dropped with the Diamondbacks, leading to less separation against his bread and butter change-up:

clippard-velocity

That increase, depending upon the tracker, is between 0.6 MPH and 0.8 MPH, which is noteworthy. As per PITCHf/x, Clippard’s fastball velocity was 90.8 with the Diamondbacks and 91.5 following the trade (which is close to his career velocity of 91.8). Combining the increased slider usage, increased velocity, and competent coaching staff, Clippard’s peripherals in his time with the Yankees were right in-line with his career norms.

Adam Warren

(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)
(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images North America)

Calling Warren’s time with the Cubs a disaster might be putting it far too lightly. He posted a 5.91 ERA (5.83 FIP) in 35.0 IP with Chicago, posting career-worsts in K% (17.8), BB% (12.5), GB% (43.3), HR/FB (16.7%), ERA, and FIP, earning a trip to the minors in doing so. And the most frustrating part of it all may be that there’s nothing on the page that screams bad luck (his BABIP was a career-low .242, and that HR/FB wasn’t absurdly high), nor did his pitch selection or velocity change all that much. To wit:

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

The only thing that stands out here is the dip in the use of his slider, which has been an effective pitch throughout his career. It isn’t as though he stopped using the pitch, though, and the fact that he went deeper into counts more often than ever last year may have reduced his use of the pitch as he attempted to avoid walks.

As was the case with Clippard, however, Warren bounced back in the Bronx, with all of his peripherals gravitating to within spitting distance of his career norms, and his ERA dropping to 3.26 (4.30 FIP). It may be a simple matter of an extended slump coincidentally ending when he went back to the Bronx (he allowed 12 ER in his last five appearances with Chicago, and then reeled off nine straight scoreless outings with the Yankees), or it could be some combination of comfort and coaching. There may not be a genuine explanation, in short – but it’s comforting that the Yankees received the Warren of old.


When the season begins, I suspect that Clippard will serve as the designated 7th inning arm, with Warren acting as a fireman, of sorts. Girardi used Clippard to record more than three outs just once in 29 appearances, whereas Warren went more than an inning nine times (including four times in a row in late September). And given their ages and recent patterns of use, that makes sense.

As for what to expect statistically, the projection systems see Clippard essentially duplicating his 2016 season, and Warren splitting the difference between 2016 and his career norms. I think both will be better than that, due to Girardi’s ability to manage the bullpen (as well as my irrational attachment to both pitchers).

Spring Training Game Thread: Montgomery’s Big Chance

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This afternoon left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first and possibly only Grapefruit League start. The Yankees have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and Montgomery has opened enough eyes this spring that he’s now being considered for the Opening Day roster. Today will be his best chance to show what he’s got against actual big league hitters rather than the minor leaguers he mostly faces out of the bullpen.

In other roster battle news, I guess we have to start keeping a close eye on right field, huh? Joe Girardi said yesterday the Aarons are neck and neck right now. Hicks is hitting .256/.341/.513 with two homers this spring. Judge has a .273/.360/.477 batting line, and also has two homers. So I guess these last eight exhibition games will determine who gets that right field job. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent on the road trip:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Chris Carter
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. C Austin Romine
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 2B Donovan Solano
  9. SS Pete Kozma
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

Available Pitchers: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Ruben Tejada, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Billy McKinney will come off the bench. C Radley Haddad, IF Billy Fleming, OF Mark Payton, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo are the extra players. Haddad, Fleming, and Payton are up from minor league camp for the road trip.

Available Position Players: LHP Jason Gurka, RHP J.R. Graham, LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, and RHP Matt Wotherspoon are all expected to pitch after Montgomery. RHP Travis Hissong, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Andrew Schwaab, and RHP Colten Brewer are the extra arms. Feyereisen, Wotherspoon, Hissong, Coshow, Schwaab, and Brewers are up from minor league camp. (Feyereisen was a non-roster invitee, but he was reassigned to minor league camp earlier this month.)

The Yankees made the long 100-mile trip south to Port Charlotte, where it is warm and sunny, for this afternoon’s game. Today’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and you can watch live on ESPN and MLB.tv. This is the only ESPN broadcast of the spring for the Yankees. Enjoy the game.