Thoughts before the start of the six-game homestand

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees had an off-day yesterday, and tonight they’ll begin a six-game homestand with the first of three against the Red Sox. The Orioles will then be in town this weekend. After that, the Yankees are heading out to the West Coast for the first time this season. It’s been a while and I have some thoughts on stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Perspective time: The Yankees have played 54 games this year, exactly one-third of the season, and they’re 32-22 with a +70 run differential. I would have signed up for that in a damn heartbeat back in Spring Training. Furthermore, the Yankees have done that even though a) Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Aroldis Chapman all missed a month with injuries, b) Masahiro Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst starters in baseball, and c) first base has been an absolute black hole offensively. Pretty amazing the Yankees are where they are. Maybe they’re actually good? Not maybe. They are good. Even now, when they’re not winning as often as they did a few weeks ago, they haven’t completely cratered. They’ve been able to play .500 ball over the last few weeks. Even their slumps aren’t that bad. The Yankees have avoided those long rough patches that can sink a season. We’ll see how things go over the final 108 games of the season, but right now, it’s really tough not to feel good about this team going forward. The Yankees have some really fun and exciting pieces to build around for the first time in a long time.

2. One of those building blocks is Aaron Judge, who is hitting .324/.429/.681 (194 wRC+) with an MLB leading 18 home runs. I’ve always been a huge Judge believer and even I never expected this. PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection — the system’s most optimistic projection — coming into the season was .283/.380/.530 with 24 home runs. Judge would have to go hitless in his next 53 at-bats (!) to drag his slugging percentage down to .530. Mike Trout’s unfortunate injury means the AL MVP race is going to be wide open come the end of the season, and given the way he’s playing, Judge is going to be right in that mix. He went into last night’s games second in bWAR (behind Trout) and third in fWAR (behind Trout and, uh, Zack Cozart) in MLB, so yes, he has truly been one of the best players in baseball this season, rookie or veteran. My hunch is Carlos Correa, the best player on the best team in baseball, is going to benefit most in the MVP race from Trout’s injury. Judge will too though.

3. There are still 100-something games to go, though at this point, Judge is far and away the leading candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year. There’s no race right now. Judge would win unanimously if the voting were held today, which of course it isn’t. Andrew Benintendi was the popular preseason pick — he was my Rookie of the Year pick — but he’s hitting .269/.342/.413 (96 wRC+) and is under +1 WAR. The race right now is for Rookie of the Year runner-up, and you know what? It very well might be Jordan Montgomery. Here is the AL rookie fWAR leaderboard real quick:

  1. Aaron Judge: +3.0
  2. Mitch Haniger: +1.3
  3. Jordan Montgomery: +1.2
  4. Ben Gamel: +1.2
  5. Guillermo Heredia: +0.9

Two Yankees, two Mariners, and one Yankee-turned-Mariner. My point isn’t that Montgomery deserves to be the Rookie of the Year runner-up, just that the Yankees have two rookies on the roster providing good (Montgomery) to great (Judge) production. Last time that happened was when, 2005 with Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang? And that doesn’t include Sanchez, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, or Luis Severino, the youngest player on the 25-man roster.

4. Speaking of the rotation, the Yankees are one-third of the way through the season, and they’ve only used five starting pitchers so far. Montgomery, Severino, Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda. That’s it. The Cardinals and Braves are the only other teams to use no more than five starters this season. Seventeen teams, more than half the league, have used eight different starters already. The Yankees have played well overall this season, and they’ve also been blessed with good health, at least on the pitching side. Tanaka, weirdly enough, has been the only starter who has pitch poorly enough to make you think about replacing him, but his track record (and contract) all but assures that won’t happen. Will this continue all season? I seriously doubt it. Only one team this century, the 2003 Mariners, made it through an entire season with only five starters. If nothing else, the Yankees figure to use a spot sixth starter at some point to give their regular starters a rest. Point is, one of the reasons the Yankees are where they are is the fact their five best starting pitchers have stayed on the mound and made every start.

JoMo. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
JoMo. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

5. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion and ongoing headaches are pretty scary. He suffered damage to his brain, that’s what a concussion is, and we’ve seen more than a few players have their careers derailed by concussions. Mike Matheny had to retire due to ongoing concussions. Justin Morneau was never really the same after getting kneed in the head a few years ago. One of the reasons both Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada had to stop catching was a string of concussions. Matheny, Mauer, and Posada were all catchers who took years of foul tips to the face mask, but still. Concussions can do serious damage and the Yankees have to be safe and careful with Ellsbury. Forgot about the “Aaron Hicks is awesome and he can play center field everyday in the meantime” thing. This is about protecting a player and his career and his quality of life. Yeah, I’m glad Hicks is getting a chance to play everyday, but I didn’t want him to get his chance like this. Hopefully Ellsbury comes out of this okay.

6. I’m actually a little happy Gleyber Torres struggled a bit in his first two weeks in Triple-A. Happy probably isn’t the right world. I think it’s a net positive though. Gleyber hasn’t failed much, if at all, in his career to date. In the grand scheme of things, it’s beneficial he’s facing some adversity and learning how to make adjustments. That’s not something you want a player to experience for the first time in the big leagues, though sometimes it’s unavoidable. (Severino never struggled until he got to MLB.) The fact Torres is still taking his walks despite having a tough time at the plate is an indication he’s sticking with his approach, and that’s what you want to see. When a player starts getting away from what makes him successful, that’s when you get a little worried. Gleyber admitted to D.J. Eberle the other day that he’s a little overwhelmed at the moment, and I appreciate the honesty. Baseball will humble you in a heartbeat. Seeing a top prospect struggle for any length of time is no fun, but in the long run, these rough few weeks with the RailRiders will help make Torres a better player.

7. Even though the starters aside from Tanaka have pitched well overall this season, the Yankees are still carrying eight relievers, which is such a waste of a roster spot. Chad Green is the seventh reliever in the bullpen, not even the eighth, and he’s pitched twice in the last 13 games. Tommy Layne has made three appearances and thrown 14 pitches (!) in the last 14 games. I get there’s always concern about extra innings or a short start or whatever, but whenever that happens, the Yankees have the bodies to get through it. They can then adjust their pitching staff accordingly the next day. I feel like that roster spot, the eighth reliever spot, could be better used on another bench player, especially with the corner infield spots being black holes. Greg Bird is coming back soon, so perhaps he’ll replace the eighth reliever. Ultimately, we’re talking about the 25th man on the 25-man roster here, and whoever that is won’t play a whole lot. It still feels like the Yankees are really overdoing it on arms right now when there are glaring needs at first and third bases.

DotF: Torres hits first Triple-A homer in Scranton’s win

I don’t think I’ve updated the standings once this season, so let’s do that today. First, here are the day’s notes:

  • In case you missed it earlier, 1B Tyler Austin was activated off the 60-day disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Scranton. Kinda surprised. My boring take: The Yankees know what they’re doing. Crazy, I know.
  • OF Mark Payton has rejoined Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. He was squeezed down to Double-A Trenton recently. Jason Gurka being released and Ruben Tejada being traded opened up roster spots for Austin and Payton. (Austin didn’t count against the roster on rehab.)
  • Welcome to MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list, OF Dustin Fowler. Rockies RHP Jeff Hoffman graduated to the big leagues with yesterday’s start, so Fowler slid onto the list at No. 100 to replace Hoffman. The Yankees now have eight players on MLB.com’s top 100.

Triple-A Scranton (6-3 win over Rochester) they are 32-22 and in second place in the North Division, 4.5 games back of Lehigh Valley

  • 3B Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-3, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 3-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB — his first Triple-A homer was a three-run go-ahead shot … has been 3-for-22 (.136) in his last seven games
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 2B, 3 K
  • RF Clint Frazier: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K — in a little 5-for-27 (.185) slump
  • LF Mason Williams: 0-4
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 29 of 44 pitches were strikes (66%) … I guess they’re going to get him stretched back out while he’s down here
  • RHP Domingo German: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 6/3 GB/FB — 62 of 94 pitches were strikes (66%) … 65/17 K/BB in 59.1 innings for Big Germ
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — eight of eleven pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and this one comes at a good time, I think. That was a tough road trip through Baltimore and Toronto, so today gives them team a chance to reboot before six games against the Red Sox and Orioles. Winning two of three each of these next two series would be swell. In the meantime, check out Dan Martin’s feature on Brett Weber, the man who tells Joe Girardi whether to challenge a call on the field. Thanks to Weber, the Yankees have baseball’s highest success rate (75.2%) on getting calls overturned since the current replay system was put in place in 2014.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the evening. The baseball schedule is light tonight, but MLB Network is showing a regional game at 7pm ET, and ESPN will have the Dodgers and Nationals at 10pm ET. Also, Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals is on as well. Go Preds. Talk about those things, the Weber article, or anything else here that isn’t religion or politics.

2017 Draft: Jeren Kendall

Jeren Kendall | OF

Background
Three years ago the now 21-year-old Kendall was a potential top three rounds talent who slipped to the Red Sox in the 30th round because he was dead set on attending Vanderbilt. In his three years with the Commodores, Kendall is a career .309/.390/.558 hitter with 32 homers and 65 steals in 178 games. That includes a .306/.380/.570 line with 15 homers and 18 steals in 56 games this spring.

Scouting Report
Thanks to a wide array of high-end tools, Kendall came into this year as a serious candidate to go first overall. He’s an outstanding runner who uses his speed to steal bases and run down balls in center field. Kendall also has a strong throwing arm. His bat speed and power potential from the left side of the plate are both very exciting, plus he has a disciplined approach at the plate. It’s a true five-tool package. The big concern with Kendall is the abundance of swing-and-miss in his game. He’s struck out in 24.1% of his plate appearances with Vanderbilt, including 25.0% this spring. That is simply way too much for a top college hitter. There is legitimate worry Kendall will require a complete swing overhaul before he can reach his considerable offense ceiling against advanced pro pitching. The tools are very loud. Kendall has star potential. But he’s also quite risky.

Miscellany
After coming into the spring as a potential No. 1 pick, Kendall has slipped in the various draft rankings these last few weeks. That said, he still ranks quite highly. MLB.com ranks him as the sixth overall prospect in this year’s draft class while Keith Law (subs. req’d) has him tenth and Baseball America has him 17th. The Yankees pick 16th. If you’re looking for a top talent who could potentially fall, this is the guy. He won’t fall due to bonus concerns through. If Kendall falls, it’ll be because teams aren’t convinced he’ll hit at the next level.

2017 Draft: Hans Crouse

Hans Crouse | RHP

Background
The 18-year-old Crouse attends Dana Hills High School in Orange County. So far this spring he has a 0.88 ERA with 99 strikeouts and 17 walks in 63.1 innings. He’s committed to Southern California.

Scouting Report
Crouse has some of the best raw stuff in the entire draft class. He sits 94-96 mph with his fastball and ran it up as high as 97 mph during a showcase event earlier this year. His breaking ball is more of a slurve than a true slider or a true curve, and he throws it anywhere from 78-84 mph. Crouse, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 lbs., is still working to refine his changeup, though he is comfortable throwing it. The biggest concern here is a high-effort delivery, which has many thinking Crouse’s future lies in the bullpen. Also, for what it’s worth, Crouse is a really excitable high energy kid who makes it very clear with his mannerisms on the field that he loves playing baseball.

Miscellany
The various scouting reports see Crouse as a late first round/early second round talent. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him the highest in his last draft rankings. He had Crouse 22nd. MLB.com had him 31st and Baseball America had him 37th. The Yankees have the 16th pick. It’s worth noting the Yankees tend to go for polished prep arms early in the draft. They save the big hard-throwing projects for the later rounds.

Yankees activate Tyler Austin, option him to Triple-A

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have activated Tyler Austin off the 60-day disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. They had an open 40-man roster spot, so no other move was required. The 40-man is now full.

Optioning Austin to Triple-A comes as a bit of a surprise, only because New York’s first basemen have been a disaster all season. You’d think they’d want to give Austin a shot rather than stick with Chris Carter, but apparently not. I guess they’re going to roll with Carter (and Rob Refsnyder) until Greg Bird returns, which could be in a few days.

Austin, 25, fouled a ball off his foot/ankle during batting practice early in Spring Training and suffered a fracture. He started a minor league rehab assignment two weeks ago and went gone 15-for-44 (.341) with two doubles, two triples, and one home run in 13 games.

The Yanks are reportedly looking for a third baseman because Chase Headley isn’t giving them much of a choice

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point soon, perhaps tomorrow, the Yankees will get some help at first base. Their first basemen have hit a combined .162/.275/.288 (32 OPS+) so far this season, which is easily the worst production from the position in baseball. Thankfully both Tyler Austin and Greg Bird are on minor league rehab assignments, and Austin could be activated very soon. Bird shouldn’t be too far behind.

Third base is another matter. Everyone is healthy and the Yankees have still received a .223/.292/.330 (68 OPS+) batting line from the position. And that’s with Chase Headley‘s amazing April. He’s crashed hard these last six or seven weeks. It’s actually pretty amazing the Yankees are in first place with the second best run differential in the league despite getting so little from the corner infield positions.

Anyway, according to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees are in the market for a new third baseman. “The Yankees are shopping for a third baseman, according to major league sources,” says Cafardo’s one-sentence report. We’ve already heard the Yankees are grooming Gleyber Torres to take over at the hot corner this year, and now we’re hearing they’re looking for outside help. Let’s talk about this.

1. Does this pass the sniff test? The important question with every rumor. Yes, this one passes the sniff test. Headley has been terrible and it’s only logical that the Yankees would look for an upgrade, especially since they’re in contention. Maybe if they were having the down rebuilding year many expected, they wouldn’t worry about it too much and ride things out with Headley until Torres or whoever was ready. That isn’t the case though. Third base is a major weakness for a first place team, and that first place team is looking for help.

2. What are the conditions? Now, that all said, I don’t think the Yankees are going to go all out for third base help. They’re still identifying themselves as a team in transition with a focus on getting younger. Also, the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold soon (i.e. 2018) is still very much in place. That means these two statements are very likely true:

  1. The Yankees are not going to take on a sizeable multi-year contract.
  2. The Yankees aren’t going to trade any of their top prospects.

There are always exceptions — I don’t think they’d run away if, say, the Mariners made Kyle Seager available — though for the most part, I think those two statements are true. The Yankees are not going to trade their best prospects and they’re not going to jeopardize the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. Other considerations like handedness (a lefty would help balance the lineup) and hitting style (high strikeout vs. high contact, etc.) are secondary.

3. So who’s available? Alright, let’s get down to business. The Yankees reportedly want a new third baseman, so would could be available? The best place to start is always with the last place teams since they’re most likely to sell, though I get the sense the Blue Jays won’t be open to trading Josh Donaldson to the Yankees. Here is a preliminary list of third base trade candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Todd Frazier, White Sox: A solid defender and he’ll be a free agent after the season, which fits the luxury tax plan, but he’s also hitting .195/.306/.396 (88 wRC+). Name value > actual production.
  • David Freese, Pirates: Hitting .258/.361/.411 (109 wRC+) this year with his usual okay-ish defense. Freese is owed a reasonable $4.25M next year with a $6M option for 2019.
  • Jed Lowrie, Athletics: Lowrie, a switch-hitter, was a regular third baseman as recently as 2015, and he’s hitting .293/.360/.483 (132 wRC+). His contract includes a $6M option for 2018. Hmmm.
  • Mike Moustakas, Royals: Almost certainly the best third baseman likely to be available. He’s a rental, he’s hitting .255/.295/.510 (109 wRC+), and he can play the hell out of the hot corner.
  • Martin Prado, Marlins: Currently on the DL with a nagging hamstring issue that has limited him to only 17 games this year. Prado is owed $28.5M from 2018-19, which is a bit of a problem.
  • Trevor Plouffe, Athletics: Meh. Another rental, so that’s good, but Plouffe is hitting .216/.278/.351 (71 wRC+) and has been trending downward for a while now. Plus he’s a crummy defender.
  • Yangervis Solarte, Padres: Never Nervous Yangervis is hitting .250/.329/.353 (86 wRC+) while primarily playing second base this year. He’s due $4.125M next year with club options for 2019 ($5.5M) and 2020 ($8M).

So that’s the list for now. Things can and will change in the coming weeks as teams fall out of the race/get back into it, players get hurt, rookies emerge, that sort of thing. I’d say Freese and Prado are the least likely players on that list to be traded before the deadline.

The way I see it, Frazier is the big name, Moustakas is the best player, and Lowrie is the most sensible target. The Yankees might be able to pry Lowrie loose without trading one of their top ten prospects, and he wouldn’t threaten the luxury tax plan since this is the final guaranteed year on his contract. Both Ken Rosenthal and Susan Slusser say the A’s are likely to trade him. Hmmm indeed.

Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

4. Whither Headley? Okay, so the Yankees go out and get a new third baseman. What do they do with their old third baseman? Pretty much the only thing they can do. Turn him into a bench player. Headley would be a backup at first and third bases, and maybe a defensive replacement at the hot corner in the late innings, depending who the Yankees acquire. (Plouffe would need a defensive caddy, for example.)

Last season the Yankees showed they are willing to reduce a pricey veteran’s playing time when a better option emerges. Brian McCann lost playing time to Gary Sanchez. Mark Teixeira lost playing time to Tyler Austin. That said, pushing aside a veteran for an up-and-coming kid is different than pushing aside a veteran for another veteran picked up in a trade. I don’t think the Yankees will have any trouble doing that though. The Yankees are out there looking for third base help because Headley is forcing them to.

5. Whither Gleyber? I can see it now. The Yankees trade for a third baseman and everyone wonders why they didn’t just call up Torres. “The Yankees hate young players!” will be said by someone, somewhere, as Sanchez and Aaron Judge hit balls to the moon and Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery start two out of every five days. It’s inevitable. If the Yankees add a veteran, many folks will wonder why they blocked Torres. Take it to the bank.

In reality though, Torres is a 20-year-old who has played only 43 games above Single-A ball. He’s a very good 20-year-old! But he’s still a 20-year-old. And his first two weeks in Triple-A have produced an .194/.356/.222 (80 wRC+) batting line and four errors in eleven games. Trading for a veteran third baseman and keeping Torres in Triple-A would be a completely reasonable move that would in no way indicate the Yankees have soured on Gleyber or anything like that. The Yankees are reportedly grooming Torres to take over at third base, but only if he forces the issue. Right now, he’s not.

* * *

The longer the Yankees stay in the race and the longer Headley continues to do this, the louder the cries with be for a new third baseman, whether it’s Torres or a trade target or whoever. Now that we’re into June, trade discussions figure to heat up as the rebuilders resign themselves to, well, another year of rebuilding. My guess is the Yankees would prefer to go with Torres at third base later this year, so I think they’ll be patient, see how Gleyber adjusts to Triple-A, and let the third base trade market come to them over the next few weeks.