Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear the Yankees needed to beef up their offense. They were getting very little from right field and second base in particular, plus third base became a black hole as soon as Yangervis Solarte returned to Earth. The Yankees needed to do something to add to their lineup, something more than wait for Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to turn their seasons around.
Improving the offense wasn’t their only need at the trade deadline. The Yankees also needed to upgrade their infield defense because it was disastrous. Truly one of the worst infield defenses I have ever seen and it would have been a lot worse if not for the club’s emphasis on shifting to compensate for the lack of range. The bad defense was the most consistent part of the team too — every day the infield would cost them. It was amazing to watch, really.
The Yankees are locked into Derek Jeter at short and Mark Teixeira at first for better or worse, though there was nothing standing in way of acquiring upgrades at second and third bases. Acquire those upgrades is exactly what they did, swinging a deal for Chase Headley last month and bringing in Stephen Drew just before the trade deadline. Headley has long been a solid gloveman and while Drew would be playing out of position at second base, his athleticism and quickness made him a decent bet to outperform Brian Roberts.
Headley’s bat hasn’t been anything special yet (86 wRC+ in 58 PA), but he has been outstanding in the field. He gobbles up everything hit his way and seems to really excel at going to his right for backhanded stops. Drew has been with the team for only five games, and while he hasn’t done much with the bat either (64 wRC+ in 18 PA), he’s looked pretty comfortable at second. We haven’t gotten much of a look at him, of course, but Roberts was bobbling routine plays towards the end of his time with the Yankees. Drew hasn’t done that.
With some help from the indispensable Baseball Savant, here is a quick and dirty look at how the Yankees have fared at turning ground balls into outs this season. Real basic stuff, how many grounders are being converted into outs with no adjustment for hit quality or hit location or anything like that. Obvious sample size caveats apply:
|Total Grounders||BABIP||Grounders Per Error|
|Before Headley Trade||1,164||.255||28.4|
|Since Headley Trade||198||.227||66.0|
|Since Drew Trade||67||.194||67.0|
The AL average is a .250 BABIP on ground balls this season, so the Yankees were just a touch worse than that before acquiring Headley. Even with all the shifts and whatnot, they were still a bit below-average because of the general lack of range and sure-handedness they had around the infield. It felt a lot worse, to be honest.
Since acquiring Headley though, that has dropped to a .227 BABIP, much better than the league average. The infield has also cut their rate of making an error — errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but I’m mentioning them because the Yankees did seem to have a knack for getting to the ball and failing to make the play for much of the year — basically in half. That isn’t all because of Headley, but he is a big part of it. Solarte was sneaky bad in the field and Kelly Johnson never looked comfortable at the hot corner (or first base, for that matter).
The infield defense has improved even more since Drew arrived, though it has been less than a week, so who really knows. The numbers do match up with the eye test though, and that’s always cool. You don’t need to be a trained scout to see how improved defensively the infield has been the last few weeks. Headley is a tremendous upgrade over what the Yankees had at the hot corner for most of the year. Drew looks comfortable at second and has been better than Roberts.
Going from below-average defenders to above-average defenders at two of the four infield spots is a big, big deal. The Yankees had a weirdly built roster earlier in the season in that their best defensive players (Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury) were marginalized by a pitching staff that focused on getting ground balls to avoid cheap homers at Yankee Stadium. Thanks to the Headley and Drew additions, the Yankees now have an infield defense better suited for the strength of the pitching staff, and their impact in the field has been obvious.
According to both Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin, the Padres will name Rangers assistant GM A.J. Preller their new general manager. An official announcement is expected later today. Preller beat out Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler for the job, as well as MLB executive Kim Ng and Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen.
Eppler, a San Diego native, was said to be the front-runner for the job just yesterday. If yesterday’s report is to be believed, this is the second time he will have finished second in the running for a GM job. He was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels’ gig a few years ago. Eppler has been with the Yankees since 2004 and was the director of pro scouting from 2005-11 before being promoted to assistant GM. As I’ve been saying, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a GM, either as Brian Cashman’s successor or with some other team. · (50) ·
Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees dumped lefty reliever Matt Thornton on the Nationals after Washington claimed him off trade waivers. The Yankees literally gave Thornton away — the Nats claimed him and the Bombers could have pulled him back off revocable waivers, but they opted to send him and the $4.5M or so left on his contract south to the nation’s capital for no return. It was a surprising move only because the Yankees need as much pitching as they can get these days.
“We have some young left-handers who are emerging quickly that we’re excited about,” said Brian Cashman to Dan Martin after the move was announced. “It’s about flexibility in 2014 and 2015. I’m not shut down for business, whether it’s buying, whether it’s reshuffling the deck, as we’re doing today … We’ve been mixing and matching all year. That’s not going to stop. I can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Both Cashman and Joe Girardi cited the team’s collection of upper level lefty bullpen prospects — Tyler Webb, James Pazos, and 2014 second round pick Jacob Lindgren were all mentioned by name — as one reason why they let Thornton go. (Girardi didn’t seem to fully trust him, which I’m guessing made the move easier.) It seems they simply believe they can replace him from within and better use that $4.5M elsewhere. Given their recent history with veteran lefty relievers on multi-year contracts, dumping Thornton before he went all Damaso Marte or Pedro Feliciano on them makes sense.
Soon after the deal, Ken Rosenthal reported the Yankees are “working on other things” and could reallocate the savings from Thornton elsewhere. I know $4.5M doesn’t sound like much, especially when the team has a $200M+ payroll and $3.5M of the $4.5M comes next year, but Hal Steinbrenner is very focused on the bottom line and it does appear the club is bumping up against some kind of payroll limit. Hal reportedly had to give Cashman approval to up payroll at the trade deadline, and even then they had cash thrown into the Brandon McCarthy ($2.05M), Chase Headley ($1M), and Stephen Drew ($500K) deals.
The Yankees are presumably still looking to add some rotation help this month — Chuck Garfien noted Yankees special assistant Jim Hendry was in Chicago scouting the White Sox last night, presumably because the very available John Danks was pitching (he got capital-D destroyed) — and the Thornton deal gives them some extra money to make that happen. Not having that roster spot married to a specific veteran pitcher makes swapping out players easier as well, even if we’re only talking about calling up fresh arms whenever they’re needed. (Like today.)
I don’t see this as the Yankees admitting signing Thornton was a mistake. Not at all. Circumstances have changed over the last few months and right now the financial and roster flexibility is more valuable to them than a good but not great left-handed specialist. It’s not often you get to simply walk away from a contract like that, even a relatively small one like Thornton’s. The Yankees took advantage and are now in position to use the savings elsewhere, specifically on a rotation upgrade. I don’t think getting rid of Thornton was the endgame. I think it was the first domino.
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- If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, then the name Neil Medchill should ring a bell. He spent a few years in the organization before being released last summer. Medchill currently plays in an independent league, but, as Brett Dolan writes, he is giving up the rest of his season and possibly his career to donate bone marrow to a cancer patient. He entered the donor registry recently and got a call a few months later. Check out the story. Great stuff by Medchill.
- RHP Luis Severino has been named to Baseball America’s All-Prospect Team for July. He was on the May team too. Severino is having a whale of a season, though he is currently out with a supposedly minor oblique issue.
Triple-A Scranton (4-1 loss to Syracuse)
- 1B Jose Pirela & LF Zoilo Almonte: both 0-4 — Almonte struck out twice
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 1 K, 1 HBP – 7-for-29 (.241) in his last six games
- DH Kyle Roller: 0-3, 1 R, 1 K
- 3B Zelous Wheeler: 2-3, 1 BB
- C Austin Romine: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — picked a runner off first with a snap throw … 13-for-38 (.342) in his last ten games
- LHP Matt Tracy: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 7/2 GB/FB — 54 of 88 pitches were strikes (61%)
- RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 16 of 24 pitches were strikes (67%) in his Triple-A debut
Bah, that was an annoying loss. The Yankees simply ran out of good relievers in the 12th inning — really the 11th inning, but they survived that — and dropped a very winnable game to the Tigers after holding a multi-run lead. No fun. The final score was 4-3. Let’s recap with bullet points since I got home late:
- One, Two, Three Runs: David Price was making his first start for the Tigers, but the Yankees have seen him plenty of times before, so there wasn’t much “facing the new guy” hype. The Yankees got to him for one run in the second (Brian McCann solo homer), the third (Jacoby Ellsbury doubled in Brendan Ryan), and the fifth (Martin Prado solo homer) before Price settled down and retired 14 of the final 17 men he faced. He struck out ten, walked none, and allowed the three runs on eight hits in 8.2 innings.
- Out of Gas: It seemed like Hiroki Kuroda flat out ran out of gas in that seventh inning, when the Tigers rallied to tie. He gave up a quick run in the first on two singles and a sac fly, then settled down and retired 14 straight until Andrew Romine took him deep leading off the sixth. The seventh inning rally was an infield single (Victor Martinez) and two outfield singles (Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila) to tie game. Kuroda allowed three runs in seven innings and was gone after only 91 pitches. Given his recent history of late-season fades, that’s not exactly encouraging.
- Battle of the Bullpen: Hands down, my favorite moment of the night was Dellin Betances vs. Miguel Cabrera. Miggy got ahead in the count 2-0 but Dellin got him to swing and miss at the next three pitches, the last a 100 mph heater on the outside black. I needed a cigarette after that. It was wonderful. Betances, Shawn Kelley, David Huff, and Esmil Rogers combined to allow just one base-runner in 3.2 innings. Rich Hill hit the only batter he faced and eventually Matt Daley served up the game-winning homer to Avila. He’s allowed four homers in 14.1 innings this year. The bullpen has been worked very hard of late and at some point the crack in the dam was going to break open. It happened in the 12th. That’s life.
- Leftovers: So how about that infield defense? Chase Headley made several excellent plays, Brendan Ryan and Derek Jeter both made nice lunging catches (Ryan bobbled his but still caught it), and Mark Teixeira made a few nice scoops at first. The defense is so, so much better than it was earlier in the year … the Yankees didn’t have a hit after Carlos Beltran‘s leadoff single in the ninth. They had two runners reach scoring position in the final seven innings (Prado’s leadoff double in the seventh, Ichiro Suzuki‘s stolen base with two outs in the ninth) … Prado and Ellsbury each had two hits while Brett Gardner, Teixeira, and Headley went a combined 0-for-14. Headley hit a ball to the wall off Joe Nathan in the 12th. I thought it was gone off the bat, but alas.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights — go watch the highlights if only to see Dellin fan Miggy again — while FanGraphs has some other stats and ESPN has the updated standings. The Orioles beat the Blue Jays and both the Mariners and Royals won, so the Yankees are six games back in the AL East and one game back of Toronto for the second wildcard spot. FanGraphs has their playoff odds at 19.1%. Chris Capuano and Justin Verlander will be the pitching matchup on Wednesday night, in the third game of this four-game set.
One year ago today, MLB announced Alex Rodriguez‘s record 211-game suspension for his ties to Biogenesis. It was the same day he made his season debut after having hip surgery. A-Rod appealed the ban, played out the rest of the season, and eventually had it reduced to 162 games. I’m pretty sure he is still the best right-handed hitter in the organization right now. The Yankees could use him.
Anyway, the DEA arrested Anthony Bosch for conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids today. He’s the former Biogenesis chief who cooperated with MLB and sang like a bird as soon as they agreed to pay his legals bills and not sue him. You can read up on the whole mess right here. The most important thing is that T.J. Quinn says new names will emerge and more suspensions are likely on the way. I have so little interest in reliving this stuff. Beat David Price and win tonight’s game. That’s all I want to think about. Do it for A-Rod. Here’s the Tigers lineup and here’s the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- DH Carlos Beltran
- C Brian McCann
- 3B Chase Headley
- RF Martin Prado
- 2B Brendan Ryan
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
It’s nice and hot in New York. Blue skies, no rain, really nice summer night for baseball. First pitch is scheduled for just after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.
Our friends at TiqIQ are giving away a pair of tickets to your choice of six 2014 Yankees games included in the flex plan package. The list of available games is right here. All you have to do to enter the giveaway contest is either login through Facebook or enter your email address in the widget below and follow the steps. That’s it. It only takes a few seconds and requires minimal brainpower. Friday is the deadline to enter, so get on it. Good luck.
As expected, Masahiro Tanaka played catch for the second consecutive day today and everything went well, Joe Girardi confirmed. Tanaka made 50 throws with increased intensity from 60 feet, so he doubled yesterday’s workload. Long way to go obviously, but so far, so good. · (80) ·
The Yankees have sent left-hander Matt Thornton to the Nationals via trade waivers, the team announced. Washington claimed him and the Yankees simply did not pull him back, so it’s a straight waiver claim. Thornton and the $4.5M or so he is owed through next season go to the Nationals for no return. Jon Heyman first reported the news. Ken Rosenthal says New York is working on other moves and may reallocate that money elsewhere.
Rich Hill was called up to replace Thornton, say the Yankees. He’ll join David Huff to give Joe Girardi two lefty relievers. Hill signed a minor league deal with the Yankees a few weeks ago after being released by the Angels. He made four appearances with Triple-A Scranton and is a pure specialist thanks to a funky sidearm motion. Think Clay Rapada. The Yankees are currently carrying an eight-man bullpen out of necessity — their starters aren’t pitching deep into games at all — but swapping out one lefty specialist for another doesn’t really change their depth.
Thornton, 37, had a 2.55 ERA (2.73 FIP) in 24.2 innings across 46 appearances this year, so Girardi was wisely using him as a matchup guy. Left-handers hit .237/.306/.250 against him with a 17.2% strikeout rate. Thornton had good numbers overall but he allowed half of the runners he inherited to score since June 1st and his 7.8% swing-and-miss rate ranks 179th out of the 217 relievers to throw at least 20 innings this year. Letting a soon-to-be 38-year-old lefty specialist who relies primarily on his fastball, can’t gets swings and misses, and is owed ~$4.5M makes sense.
The Yankees do have some lefty relief depth in the minors, most notably Tyler Webb and Jacob Lindgren. Webb has climbed from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton while holding lefties to a .190/.248/.270 batting line in 2014. He has an 81/18 K/BB in 57.1 innings overall. Lindgren was just drafted in June and has a 30/4 K/BB in 13.1 pro innings. He was just promoted to Double-A Trenton. I suspect Hill is just keeping a spot warm for Lindgren, who could be called up when rosters expand in September, after he gets a few more minor league innings under his belt.
The Yankees haven’t had much luck giving multi-year contracts to lefty relievers these last few years, though unlike Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano, they were able to move Thornton to another team before it got ugly. This move is about the Yankees feeling they can better use that $4.5M elsewhere on the roster given the left-handed bullpen options they have in the upper minors. That’s all. How they spend the savings now is what will be really interesting.