Yankees release Slade Heathcott

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

8:45pm: The Yankees have no plans to re-sign Heathcott, reports Chad Jennings. It’s been real, Slade.

8:32pm: The Yankees have given outfielder Slade Heathcott his unconditional release, the team announced this evening. The move clears a 40-man roster spot for lefty Richard Bleier, who was called up earlier today.

I’m not quite sure how the mechanics of the transaction work, but my guess is the unconditional release makes it easier for the Yankees to re-sign Heathcott to a minor league contract. Designating him for assignment would mean exposing him to waivers.

Heathcott, 25, is currently on the Triple-A DL with a knee injury. He’s hit only .218/.260/.287 (50 wRC+) with a 32.0% strikeout rate in 23 Triple-A games this season. Slade made his MLB debut last year and playing sparingly, but he did do this:

That was pretty awesome. Definitely one of the highlights of the season.

Heathcott has been hampered by all sorts of injuries throughout his career, including multiple knee and shoulder surgeries. He’s played only 302 games total from 2012-16. The Yankees have a small army of left-handed hitting outfielders at Double-A and Triple-A, so it’s possible Slade will look for a team that can give him a greater opportunity. We’ll see.

Fun fact: Heathcott leads all Yankees first round picks from 2007-15 in career WAR. He has +0.4 WAR. Now that I think about it, that fact isn’t fun at all.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Got some info about a pretty cool event to pass along: Jack Curry is hosting a luncheon and a Q&A with Don Larsen at NYY Steak on June 9th. That’s the West 51st Street location, not the Yankee Stadium location. All of the information is right here. A ticket gets you a three-course lunch, a baseball autographed by Larsen, and photos. From what I understand there are still some discounted tickets remaining, so act fast.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is showing a regional game tonight, plus there’s NBA and NHL playoff games as well. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Game 46: A-Rod Returns

(Brian Bahr/Getty)
(Brian Bahr/Getty)

After three weeks on the shelf with a hamstring injury, Alex Rodriguez is back in the lineup this afternoon. I wouldn’t say the Yankees have missed him — they went 13-7 during his absence and both Carlos Beltran and Aaron Hicks hit well — but it’s good to have A-Rod back nonetheless. He hit three homers in the six games before the injury and he went deep in a rehab game last night. Hopefully Alex picks up where he left off.

As for the Yankees, their six-game winning streak came to an end last night, but that was bound to happen at some point. The important thing is that it doesn’t snowball into a losing streak. The Yankees start a ten-game, four-city road trip tomorrow, so a win today to close out the homestand and clinch the series would be pretty great. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 1B Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a very nice day in New York. Warm and sunny with no clouds in the sky. Pretty great weather for a ballgame. This afternoon’s game will start at 4:05pm ET for some reason. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Chasen Shreve has been placed on the 15-day DL with a shoulder problem. That’s not good. He’s currently being evaluated He’s been diagnosed with an AC joint sprain. Shreve received a cortisone shot and will not pick up a baseball for seven days … Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot and will miss three more games. Yesterday’s MRI did not show anything different from the MRI he took last month.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up lefty Richard Bleier to replace Shreve in the bullpen. Shreve was placed on the DL and Rob Refsnyder was sent to Triple-A Scranton to clear 25-man roster spots for A-Rod and Bleier. The team has not yet announced a 40-man roster move to accommodate Bleier.

2016 Draft: Jordan Sheffield

Jordan Sheffield | RHP

Background
Sheffield, 20, is Gary’s nephew and he’s from the relatively small town of Tullahoma, Tennessee. He was considered a first round talent out of high school in 2013, but he blew out his elbow as a senior and needed Tommy John surgery, which caused him to drop to the 13rd round (Red Sox). Sheffield rehabbed as a true freshman at Vanderbilt before returning to the mound last year. He has a 2.38 ERA with 101 strikeouts and 33 walks in 90 .2 innings this spring.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-0 and 196 lbs., Sheffield inevitably draws lazy comps to other short-ish righties like Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray (another former Vandy ace). Sheffield throws harder than those two and lives in the 93-96 mph range with his fastball, and he’s able to hold that velocity deep into games. He also throws a mid-80s changeup and a slurvy low-80s breaking ball, both of which are out pitches on their best days. The change is more consistently excellent than the breaking ball. Among all the college arms in this draft class, Sheffield has the best chance for three above-average pitches. The only drawback is the effort in his delivery, which robs him of command. Sheffield has the stuff to start. The concern is he won’t be efficient and will be a five-and-fly guy long-term. Plus he has Tommy John surgery in his history. That’s kind of a big deal even though he’s been healthy since.

Miscellany
Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the 23rd best prospect in the draft class in their latest rankings. MLB.com had him a bit higher at 19th. The Yankees pick 18th. Sheffield obviously has premium stuff and good baseball bloodlines — his brother Justus was a first round pick in 2014 (31st overall by Indians) — so the unteachables are very good. The only red flags are the elbow and his inconsistent command. And I guess fastball plane, which is a concern for all pitchers on the short side. For what it’s worth, the Yankees have been connected to Sheffield in a few mock drafts recently, and those tend to be informed speculation. There’s probably more than cursory interest there.

Chasen Shreve’s homer problem is too big for the Yankees to ignore

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For six innings plus two outs last night, the Yankees and Blue Jays played a tight game that really could have gone either way. Toronto led 3-1 at the time but a two-run deficit in Yankee Stadium is far from insurmountable. Ivan Nova then hit Edwin Encarnacion with his 103rd pitch, ending his night with two outs in the seventh. It was a rock solid performance from Ivan.

Joe Girardi went to Chasen Shreve for the left-on-left matchup with Michael Saunders after Nova was lifted. It did not go well:

Chasen Shreve play by play

Three batters after Nova was removed, the 3-1 deficit had turned into a 7-1 deficit. Shreve allowed two home runs and a double off the wall, and all three hits came in two-strike counts. He went back out to start the eighth and got a line out to right field and a long fly ball to the warning track in left. Four of the six batters Shreve faced hit the ball to at least the warning track. Yikes.

Unfortunately, this was not just one bad outing for Shreve. He has now allowed seven home runs in 19 innings this season — all seven have come in his last 13.2 innings! — and, if you go back to last August and September, Shreve has been taken deep 14 times in his last 36.2 innings. I mean, holy crap. No other reliever has give up more than eleven homers since August 1st of last season and only four have allowed as many as ten (J.J. Hoover, Steve Geltz, Joel Peralta, Carlos Villanueva).

It goes without saying allowing 14 homers in the span of 36.2 innings is a huge problem, even if those 36.2 innings are split across two seasons. Nine of those 14 home runs have come on fastballs, three have come on splitters, and two have come on sliders, so it’s not like one pitch is consistently hurting Shreve. Hitters are putting good swings on everything. Remember, he gave up the double off the wall and the fly ball to the warning track last night too. Even the non-homers have been loud.

“Early in the year, I think it was just them jumping on fastballs early in the count,” said Shreve to Chad Jennings following last night’s game. “Tonight it was just falling behind. Small ballpark, and if you make mistakes, they’re going to hit them. Especially this team. They hit a lot of home runs.”

Shreve was very good for the Yankees early last season, and especially when Andrew Miller was on the DL for a month. He had a 1.77 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 40.2 innings from April though July last year and he pitched his way into the Circle of Trust™. Shreve struggled big time in August and September, and everyone chalked it up to fatigue. It was totally believable too. He was great in Spring Training and very good the first few weeks of the season. Then, the dingers. Oh the dingers.

It’s reached the point where the Yankees have to consider sending Shreve down to Triple-A for two reasons. One, to hopefully help get Shreve back on track and effective. Two, to get a more reliable reliever in the big league bullpen. I don’t see how you could trust a pitcher that homer prone in anything other than pure mop-up duty, and Girardi still uses Shreve in semi-important spots. There’s no real indication he’ll slide down the pecking order either.

Who replaces Shreve in the bullpen? The Yankees have some options. Tyler Olson, James Pazos, and the recently signed Neal Cotts are available if the team wants a left-on-left matchup guy for the middle innings, something they lack right now. (Shreve has had a sizeable reverse split throughout his big league career.) Johnny Barbato is primary right-handed option. I guess they could always try Chad Green in relief too, or maybe scrap heap pickups J.R. Graham and Layne Somsen.

I’d probably go with Cotts myself — he held lefties to a .178/.243/.330 (.251 wOBA) batting line with a 23.9% strikeout rate last season — but you could make a case for Olson or Pazos or Barbato or whoever. Heck, they could replace Shreve with a shuttle spot and cycle in relievers as necessary. Either way, the point is Shreve is struggling far too much — especially with the home run ball — to remain on the roster. He’s been an ongoing problem.

I thought Shreve’s performance early last season earned him a chance to show August and September was a fluke, and now we’re seeing it’s not. He’s still giving up a ton of home runs and Girardi can’t rely on him right now. Shreve’s a liability. No other way to put it. Pitchers who give up seven homers in their last 13.2 innings and 14 homers in their last 36.2 innings tend to find themselves in the minors. I think it’s time to make the move for Shreve, both to help the bullpen and help Shreve figure out whatever the hell is going wrong.

A-Rod’s return will help the Yankees even though he limits their flexibility

The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Let me preface this by saying this is not a “the Yankees are better off without Alex Rodriguez” post. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rodriguez started slow this season (like many Yankees) but had started to turn things around right before injuring his hamstring. The Yankees can use his right-handed bat. No doubt about it.

That being said, there is no denying A-Rod‘s return robs the Yankees of some roster flexibility. He can’t play the field and he provides negative value on the bases. As long as Rodriguez hits, you’ll live with that other stuff, and I do think he’ll hit. “Alex is a professional hitter, we know he is going to be able to hit,” said fill-in DH Carlos Beltran to Kevin Kernan earlier this week.

Rodriguez’s return means a few different things for the roster and the Yankees in general. Some of it is no big deal, and some of it is pretty damn important. His return changes the entire complexion of the team. Consider this a preview of A-Rod’s return from the DL.

The Roster Move

Might as well start here. I fully expect the Yankees to send Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot for A-Rod, and yeah, I’m sure there will be outrage. In our poll last week nearly 60% of the over 2,000 votes were in favor of keeping Refsnyder and sending Ronald Torreyes down. I just can’t see it happening.

Torreyes started two games over the weekend, including one at third base, a position the Yankees have been trying to teach Refsnyder. Also, I don’t think the Yankees want to use Starlin Castro as the backup shortstop. I think they consider him a second baseman and a second baseman only for the time being. All signs point to Refsnyder going down for A-Rod.

The DH Spot

It’s really hard to ignore how well Beltran took to the DH spot during Alex’s absence. Beltran has hit .322/.344/.780 (196 wRC+) with six homers as a DH this year compared to only .245/.278/.392 (80 wRC+) with four homers as a right fielder. It’s not a huge amount of data — Beltran has batted 64 times as a DH and 108 times as a right fielder — but it’s what we have.

A-Rod’s return is going to push Beltran back into right field, which, at the very least, is going to hurt the team defense considerably. If you buy into the numbers, Beltran’s offense will take a hit as well. (I don’t think it’s quite that simple, especially not with those sample sizes.) What else can the Yankees do though? They’re at their best when Beltran and A-Rod are in the lineup, and there’s only one way to get both into the lineup at the same time.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

What About Hicks?

Beltran going back to right field means Girardi and the Yankees will again have to find ways to get Aaron Hicks into the lineup. Hicks hit .276/.338/.431 (107 wRC+) in 69 plate appearances during A-Rod’s absence and, just as importantly, I feel he’s looked way more comfortable at the plate. Back in April he seemed to be jumping at everything. It looked like he was trying to hit a five-run home run each time up.

The plan coming into the season was to give the regulars a little more rest and that hasn’t happened yet, partly because A-Rod was hurt and partly because the Yankees really struggled for a while, so Joe Girardi kept running everyone out there in hopes of getting a win. Hopefully now that Hicks has shown he can productive with regular at-bats Girardi will be more willing to use him.

These things have a way of working themselves out. Someone will get hurt or banged up and need a few days, which will clear playing time for Hicks. Until that happens, the only way to get Hicks into the lineup is by sitting Beltran, A-Rod, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner more frequently. That’s easier said than done, especially considering the way Beltran and Ellsbury have been hitting of late.

Can He Really Not Play The Field? Like At All?

This section is probably a waste of words and brainpower because the Yankees have been completely unwilling to play Rodriguez in the field since last May. He didn’t even bring a glove to Spring Training. They continue to say he’s a DH and a DH only. I’m not asking whether he can play third base twice a week or anything like that though. Can A-Rod really not play five or six innings at first base once every ten days or so? With a fly ball pitcher on the mound? And give him the next day off to recover?

It’s not much, but something like that can be a help because it’ll get Beltran (and Mark Teixeira) off his feet and Hicks into the lineup. Teixeira’s neck is acting up again and he hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either. Sitting him for a few innings here and there wouldn’t kill the Yankees at the moment. There’s no reason to think this will happen though. A-Rod’s medicals must be really scary for the Yankees to not even consider playing him in the field once in a blue moon.

* * *

The Yankees are a better team today than they were yesterday because A-Rod is back. When he’s healthy, I think he can still be a very productive player. The lack of flexibility totally stinks though. It really does. Beltran has to go back to right field and Hicks has to go back to playing sporadically. That’s not ideal. Girardi and the Yankees have to figure out a way to make this work, because A-Rod can give the team a big lift as they look to continue climbing the standings.

Yankee bullpen can’t stop the bleeding in the 8-4 loss to Toronto

The six-game winning streak was nice while it lasted but it came to an end tonight versus the Blue Jays. Ivan Nova turned in a nice start but obviously, it often takes more than just a nice start to get a team win. Chasen Shreve and Nick Goody allowed four runs combined while hitters not named Austin Romine, Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius failed to collect a single hit.

Getty Images

Ivan the Not Terrible

Remember when Ivan Nova just didn’t look like a competent ML pitcher? He just turned in three decent/solid starts in a row. Many, including I, wondered how he’d do replacing Luis Severino in the rotation. Right now, I don’t know if I’d remove him easily.

Nova wasn’t without mistakes tonight but he struck out 8 in 6.2 IP, which is a good amount for someone who came into the game with 4.45 K/9 rate. His fastball had that old bite with good velocity while his curve was just flat out nasty. More of this, please. As frustrating inconsistent he’s been in his career, his upside can be tantalizing.

I told you he wasn’t without mistakes, right? In the fourth, with a runner on, he induced a soft grounder from Devon Travis to third. It seemed like Headley had a chance to grab it and throw the runner out but he bobbled it, extending the inning. The next batter, Ryan Goins, squared one up for a 2-RBI double to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. Sure, working with an extra out is not easy but he has to be able to get out of the inning unscathed, especially against the light-hitting No. 9 hitter.

In the sixth, Nova gave up a solo HR to Russell Martin for a 3-1 Jays lead. That, by the way, was the first homer of the season for the former Yankee catcher. Prior to tonight, Martin only had one XBH (a double) this season and he goes on to hit two dingers against Yankee pitchers, because of course. Another earned run was charged to Nova in the seventh when Shreve let the inherited runner score on a Michael Saunders HR.

Getty Images

Several Occurrences of Offense

The Yankees scored a run in the third. Headley led off with a single and Didi followed it up with a bunt hit. A passed ball advanced both runners to scoring position and Aaron Hicks earned a four-pitch walk to load the bases with no out. I mentioned that Yankees “scored a run” right? I did mean that they only scored one run in the situation. Jacoby Ellsbury flew out softly to left, not advancing the runner to home. Brett Gardner hit into an RBI fielder’s choice to give Yankees a 1-0 lead and Carlos Beltran flew out to end the inning.

Flash forward to seventh inning, with Marco Estrada’s pitch count up and Yankees trailing 7-1, Headley and Gregorius hit back-to-back solo homers to close the gap. Both of the dingers came on changeups that hung up in the zone but still, it’s the big league hitters’ job to punish mistakes. The Yankees continued their barrage of solo home runs in the ninth with an Austin Romine bomb off of Chad Girodo (an 80-grade Guido name btw) but of course, they were not enough to overcome the lead that Toronto had.

Summary of his season (Getty Images)

Not Keeping It Close

Speaking of the Toronto lead, they were amplified by two big HRs off of Chasen Shreve. In the seventh, Girardi pulled Nova out after an Edwin Encarnacion HBP and put the lefty in. Shreve hung a very mediocre slider in the middle of the zone and Saunders didn’t miss any of it, 5-1 Jays. Shreve allowed a full-count double to Smoak and followed it up by giving up a dinger to Martin (his second of the night and season!) to let the game out of control. After tonight, he has pitched 19 innings and allowed seven (!) home runs. That’s a 3.32 HR/9 rate, which is pretty awful. You wonder what happened to this guy after dominating for most of 2015. Relief pitchers can be quite volatile like that.

Nick Goody came into relief with two outs in the eighth. He gave up consecutive walks to Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson to begin his outing. Encarnacion grounded an RBI single to left to make it 8-3 Jays. Not a banner performance for a young guy who’s trying to stick to the roster. Two non-elite relievers had middling performances today and it was that kind of night for the Yankees.

Box Score, Highlights, WPA, Standings

Here’s tonight’s box score, video highlights, updated standings and WPA.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees are going to face the Jays tomorrow in a 4 pm matchup of lefties – J.A. Happ versus C.C. Sabathia. Will they extend the losing streak or start a new winning one? We’ll see.