The Good, the Bad, and the Injuries of Greg Bird [2017 Season Review]

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Down the road, when we look back at this 2017 season, we’ll remember it for the young players who emerged to make the Yankees more competitive than pretty much everyone expected. Aaron Judge broke the rookie home run record. Gary Sanchez missed a month and still led all catchers in homers. Luis Severino pitched well enough to get Cy Young votes. All homegrown, all 2017 All-Stars, none older than 25.

There was supposed to be a fourth member of that emerging homegrown core. Greg Bird, who played very well during his late 2015 debut, was returning from shoulder surgery and set to take over first base full-time. That shoulder surgery caused him to miss the entire 2016 season, so it wasn’t a minor procedure. He had plenty of rehab time though — Bird did play in the Arizona Fall League last year — and was primed for a breakout season.

And in Spring Training, the 24-year-old Bird couldn’t have looked more ready for that breakout season. He hit .451/.556/1.098 with eight homers and more walks (12) than strikeouts (10) in 23 Grapefruit League. Bird led all players, Grapefruit League or Cactus League, in homers, total bases (56), and extra-base hits (16) this spring. Eight homers, seven doubles, one triple, seven singles. That was Bird’s spring. He was ready to pick up where he left off in 2015.

Of course, things didn’t play out that way. Bird again dealt with injuries and needed another surgery, this time to his ankle. What was supposed to be a breakout season instead featured a .190/.288/.422 (86 wRC+) batting line in 170 plate appearances. A total bummer. Not quite a second consecutive lost season, but pretty darn close. This season was about the good, the bad, and the injuries for Bird, though not in that order.

The Bad

Fun fact: Bird hit third on Opening Day. Not Judge, not Sanchez, not Matt Holliday or Starlin Castro. It was Gregory P. Bird, Esq. By the end of April, he was hitting eighth. Bird hit a miserable .107/.265/.214 (37 wRC+) in the season’s first month. He went 6-for-56 — 6-for-56! — in April, and three of those six hits came in one game against the Cardinals. Bird started the season 1-for-26, had the three-hit game, then slipped into a 2-for-31 rut. Yikes.

On one hand, it wasn’t a total surprise a player who missed all of last season with major shoulder surgery got off to a slow start. On the other hand, holy cow Bird was really freaking bad. The rest of the Yankees were great! The Yankees went 15-8 with a +43 run differential in April despite getting negative production from first base. They could afford to ride out Bird’s slump and reap the rewards later. But we never did see any real indications Bird was ready to bust out.

Throughout April, there were signs Bird was not right physically. It wasn’t the shoulder. It was his right ankle. He fouled a pitch off the ankle in the very last Grapefruit League game of the spring and it was still bothering him in April. Those suckers hurt. Paul O’Neill has talked about them on YES Network broadcasts a bunch of times over the years. He’s said he’s fouled pitches off his shin or foot in April and still felt it in September. I went through the trouble of finding the pitch earlier this year, so he’s the foul ball that created the injury:

greg-bird-ankle

Looked innocent enough. Joe Girardi sat Bird for a few games early in the season — he sat for the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth games of the season, to be exact — hoping that would knock it out. But apparently not. On May 2nd, with his batting line sitting at an unsightly .100/.250/.200 (29 wRC+), the Yankees placed Bird on the 10-day DL with what they called a bruised ankle.

The Injuries

“In watching him yesterday, and talking to (hitting coach Alan Cockrell) about his work yesterday, I just didn’t feel like there was a lot of explosion in his lower half,” said Girardi after Bird was placed on the disabled list. “We talked after the game. We felt that we just need to give this some time … He just felt like his ankle wasn’t working properly. Yesterday was the first day I really, really noticed it. Players play through things but this one just seems to not be healing. We’re pretty confident there are no breaks. But bone bruises, they’re tricky. They can last months.”

Indeed, they can last months. In fact, it was what was originally called a bone bruise that landed Bird his first MLB opportunity. Mark Teixeira fouled a pitch off his shin in August 2015, it hurt like hell, and weeks later a hairline fracture was discovered when the shin didn’t get better. That created an opening at first base. Now, two years later, there was fear the same would happen to Bird. A seemingly minor injury would blow out into something major. And that’s exactly what happened.

The ankle injury saga included a lot of important steps, so let’s recap this thing timeline style:

  • May 2nd: Bird placed on 10-day DL.
  • May 18th: Bird begins running.
  • May 24th: Bird begins baseball activities. Fielding grounders, hitting, running the bases, etc.
  • June 1st: Bird begins a minor league rehab assignment.
  • June 15th: Yankees pull Bird from his rehab assignment due to continued discomfort.
  • June 20th: Bird sees a specialist who gives him a cortisone shot.
  • June 28th: Bird resumes working out, but experiences renewed soreness.
  • July 14th: Bird sees another specialist, who gives him another cortisone shot.
  • July 17th: Bird sees yet another specialist, who says he needs surgery to treat “inflammation in his os trigonum.”

The surgery, which was performed on July 18th, removed the os trigonum, which was an extra bone in his ankle. They’re not uncommon. I was born with one in each foot and they’ve never bothered me in any way. They’re just … there. It seems Bird fouled the pitch off his foot in such a way that disturbed the extra bone. Anyway, Bird’s surgery came with a six-week rehab, which meant there was a chance he’d return before the end of the season, but given his career to date, it was tough to count on him getting healthy.

“In nearly four months since first injuring my ankle, it had been increasingly frustrating to have only questions and no answers,” said Bird after finding out he needs surgery. “All this time, I have wanted nothing more than to be out there playing the game I love as a member of the New York Yankees. My season is not over. I plan to do everything in my power to return and help our team win in 2017.”

Because the miserable April and ankle injury weren’t bad enough, a “Yankee insider” ripped Bird while speaking to Bill Madden, and essentially questioned his desire to play. The quote:

“You really have to wonder what’s with this guy,” a Yankee insider complained to me earlier this week. “You’d think with Judge and Sanchez, the guys he came up through the system with, doing so well up here he’d want to be a part of this. Apparently not.”

The identity of the “Yankee insider” still isn’t known and probably won’t ever be known because that person is a gutless coward. You want to question someone’s desire and competitiveness? Fine, but put your name on it. Don’t hide.

“I don’t think I would be too happy about it,” said Girardi when asked how he’d feel if someone made similar comments about him. “Only the player knows, and I would be a little bit upset if someone questioning my desire and integrity … He’s done everything we’ve asked, it just hasn’t happened.”

The Good

This was a tough, tough season for Bird. Fortunately, the six-week recovery timetable meant there was still a chance he could contribute down the stretch, and on August 16th, Bird started another minor league rehab assignment. He went 11-for-26 (.423) with three homers in nine rehab games with Triple-A Scranton. Most importantly, his ankle — and surgically repaired shoulder — was feeling good.

Bird returned to the Yankees on August 26th, 117 days and one os trigonum bone lighter after being placed on the disabled list. I thought the Yankees would just wait until rosters expanded on September 1st to bring him back, but no, they wanted him in the lineup as soon as possible. And sure enough, Bird struggled out of the gate. He went 11-for-58 (.190) in his first 20 games back from the ankle injury. It was a continuation of April, basically.

Despite those ugly 20 games, there were some positive signs and things that led you believe Bird would soon figure it out. For one, he was healthy! For the first time in nearly two years. His shoulder was fine and his ankle wasn’t bothering him at all. And two, Bird was showing more power. Four of those eleven hits left the park — he had only one homer in April — and his soft contact rate dropped from 23.7% before the injury to 13.0% after the injury.

On September 20th, in the 152nd game of the regular season, Bird finally had that long awaited breakout. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles in a win over the Twins. The next game he went 1-for-4 with a homer. The game after that he went 1-for-3 with a double and a walk. Then back-to-back-to-back games with a home run. Bird was finally having an impact, better late than never.

In those final ten games of the regular season Bird went 11-for-29 (.379) with four doubles and four homers. His final season numbers were ugly — again, he hit only .190/.288/.422 (86 wRC+) in 170 plate appearances — but he was starting to snap out of it just in time for the postseason. The Yankees had been short a bat for a while. Basically since Holliday got sick and stopped hitting in June. Bird stepped in to fill the void late in the season.

During the Wild Card Game, Bird drove in what proved to be the game-winning run with a two-out single to drive in Sanchez. He went 4-for-18 (.222) in the ALDS against the Indians, and while his average was low, he made up for it with walks (.364 OBP) and also two homers. Bird’s second ALDS homer was probably my favorite homer of the season. Bird drove in the game’s only run in the 1-0 win in Game 3 to keep the season alive.

I love everything about it. I love that, given the circumstances, the home run basically saved the season. I love Matt Vasgersian’s call. I love that the crowd completely drowned out Vasgersian’s call. I love that the camerawork made it look like the ball was going to land in the upper deck. I love that Bird hit it against Andrew Miller. Not because I don’t like Miller. He’s awesome and forever cool in my book. He’s just so good and he normally chews up lefties, yet Bird took him deep anyway. So good. So, so good.

Bird added another home run in the ALCS against the Astros, and he finished the postseason hitting .244/.426/.512 with three homers and 12 walks in 13 games. He was probably the team’s most consistent hitter in the playoffs. Yes, Bird did get thrown out at the plate (twice!) in the ALCS, and that was a major letdown. Both plays probably changed the series in Houston’s favor. What can I say? Speed and baserunning was never Greg’s thing.

After missing all of 2016 with shoulder surgery, and after being dogged by injuries and idiot Yankee insiders for the first five months of 2017, Bird finally arrived late this season, and became the impact hitter the Yankees have expected him to become for years now. Seven homers in his final 23 games? Tons of walks? Surprisingly nimble first base defense (Bird can really stretch, eh?)? We’ve waiting a long time to see this Greg Bird. It was glorious.

2018 Outlook

It wasn’t all that long ago that there was speculation the Yankees would pursue impending free agent Eric Hosmer this offseason. Would Bird stay healthy? Would Bird hit even if he did stay healthy? We didn’t know the answers to those questions, and truth be told, we still don’t. We’ve only seen flashes of greatness from Bird. Next season will be his final pre-arbitration year and we’re still waiting for even a half-season of quality play, nevermind a full season.

Signing Hosmer never seemed all that realistic to me given the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. I mean, I suppose it could happen. The Yankees do still have an opening at DH, after all. But I don’t think it’ll happen. The Yankees love Bird and they want him to be their full-time first baseman, and he’s going to get another opportunity to do exactly that next season. And the goal is simple: stay healthy. If Bird stays on the field, I truly believe he can become one of the better first basemen in baseball. There are 30 homers and a .400 OBP batting eye in there, waiting for Bird to stay healthy enough to be unleashed.

The Yankees and the 2017-18 Offseason Calendar

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Last night the Astros won the first World Series championship in franchise history with a Game Seven win over the Dodgers. Game Seven was a bit of a dud, but the series sure was exciting overall. And the Yankees came so close to playing in it as well. Just one win away.

Anyway, now that the World Series and the 2017 baseball season are over, the offseason is officially underway. There are a ton of important dates and deadlines coming up these next few weeks, plus some not so important ones as well. Here is the offseason calendar and what each of these dates means for the Yankees.

Today, November 2nd: The start of free agency, kinda
As of 9am ET this morning, all eligible players became free agents. Once upon a time players had to file for a free agency, which was a waste of time, so now it happens automatically. Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Matt Holliday, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia all became free agents this morning. That opens four 40-man roster spots. (Pineda was on the 60-day DL and didn’t count against the 40-man.)

Saturday, November 4th: Option decisions due
In most cases option decisions are due three days following the end of the World Series. Some contracts set an earlier date for the option decision — Jimmy Rollins’ contract stipulated the Phillies had to exercise his option for the 2011 season following the 2009 season, for example — though that doesn’t happen all that often anymore. Three days after the World Series is pretty standard around the league now.

The Yankees have one option decision this offseason and it is a big one: Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out. He can opt out of the final three years and $67M remaining on his contract and test the free agent waters. Most RAB readers expect that to happen. We’ll get a definitive answer by the end of the weekend.

Monday, November 6th: Qualifying offers, roster deadlines, awards finalists
Five days after the World Series, teams must decide whether to offer eligible free agents the $17.4M qualifying offer. Tanaka is New York’s only qualifying offer candidate. Frazier isn’t eligible because he was traded at midseason. Even if the Yankees want to re-sign Sabathia, they, can probably do so for less than the qualifying offer. They’re trying to get under the $197M luxury tax threshold next year, remember. Every dollar counts.

Also on this date, players must be activated off the 60-day DL. Aside from Pineda, who came off the roster when he became a free agent today, the only player on the 60-day DL is Luis Cessa. So those four open 40-man roster spots I mentioned early? One is going to Cessa on Monday. Oh, and eligible players become minor league free agents on this date. Jake Cave is the Yankees’ most notable minor league free agent, and he’ll reportedly be added to the 40-man roster. Other notable impending minor free agents include Dante Bichette Jr. and Daniel Camarena.

And finally, the various awards finalists will be announced on this date. A few years ago MLB started announcing three finalists for each major award as a way to build hype and stay in the news, and hey, it’s worked. The Yankees have several awards candidates this year. Aaron Judge will win Rookie of the Year and figures to be among the MVP finalists. Luis Severino could be the third Cy Young finalist along with Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. Could Joe Girardi be among the Manager of the Year finalists? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Tuesday, November 7th: Start of free agency, Gold Gloves announced
The five-day exclusive negotiating period expires on this date, so starting next Tuesday, free agents will be truly free. They can negotiate and sign with any team. MLB free agency is a slow slog, however. There aren’t a rush of signings on the first day like in the NFL, NHL, and NBA. Those are salary cap leagues and players want to make sure they don’t get left out in the cold when cap space runs out. MLB free agents have no such concerns, so they’re patient.

Also on this date, the 2017 Gold Glove award winners will be announced. The Yankees have two Gold Glove finalists this year: Judge and Brett Gardner. Gardner has a pretty good chance to win his second straight Gold Glove in left field. He’s up against Alex Gordon, who’s lost a little something off his fastball, and Justin Upton. Judge probably won’t beat out Mookie Betts, but never say never.

Wednesday, November 8th: Silver Sluggers announced
Judge is going to get an outfield Silver Slugger and I have to think Gary Sanchez will win the Silver Slugger behind the plate. He led AL catchers in basically everything. Salvador Perez and Welington Castillo are Gary’s only real competition. I can’t believe I just wrote three sentences analyzing Silver Sluggers.

Monday, November 13th: Qualifying offer decisions due
Players get seven days to mull over the qualifying offer. Should Tanaka opt-out, he’ll decline the qualifying offer. He’s not opting out of three years and $67M to take the one-year, $17.4M qualifying offer. We’ve seen a few players accept the qualifying offer the last few offseasons, so I’m sure it’ll happen somewhere around the league this winter.

November 13th to 16th: GM Meetings in Orlando
The GM Meetings are held to handle various off-the-field matters, but, in recent years, more and more transactions are going down at the GM Meetings. I guess that’s inevitable when you get stick all 30 GMs in one place for a few days. Two years ago the Yankees and Twins made the Aaron HicksJohn Ryan Murphy trade during the GM Meetings.

Also during these days, the major awards will be announced. Awards week will start with Judge and Cody Bellinger being named the Rookies of the Year on Monday. Managers of the Year will be announced Tuesday, Cy Youngs will be announced Wednesday, and MVPs will be announced Thursday.

November 20th: Deadline to set 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft
Given the depth in the farm system, this is one of the most important days of the offseason for the Yankees. This is the day they must add players to the 40-man roster to prevent them from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft next month. A partial list of Rule 5 Draft eligible players:

  • Pitchers: RHP Albert Abreu, RHP Domingo Acevedo, LHP Nestor Cortes, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP Stephen Tarpley
  • Position Players: IF Abi Avelino, OF Rashad Crawford, IF Thairo Estrada, 1B Mike Ford, 1B/OF Billy McKinney, OF Alex Palma, IF Gleyber Torres

Abreu, Acevedo, and Torres will definitely be added to the 40-man roster because they are three of the best prospects in the system. Also, it’s already been reported McKinney will be added to the 40-man as well. I think the Yankees will add Estrada — middle infielders who can hit a bit are worth keeping around — and I’m curious to see what happens with Loaisiga. He’s been getting a lot of hype lately, though he’s thrown only 103.2 innings in parts of five seasons due to injuries, and none of those innings have come above Low-A. I think you leave him exposed.

December 1st: Non-tender deadline
Usually the non-tender deadline — that is the deadline to submit a contract offer to all pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players — is December 2nd, but December 2nd falls on a Saturday this year, so they moved it up to December 1st. Specifically, the deadline is 8pm ET on December 1st. A whole new batch of free agents will hit the market on this date.

Aside from Erik Kratz, who figures to be dropped from the 40-man roster long before the non-tender deadline, the Yankees don’t have any real non-tender candidates. Perhaps they’ll non-tender someone like Kyle Higashioka or Ronald Herrera, then re-sign him to a minor league deal? They’ve done the non-tender/re-sign trick many times over the years. That allows teams to drop a player from the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers.

December 10th to 14th: Winter Meetings in Orlando
The busiest week of the offseason. Historically, the biggest deals of the winter go down during the Winter Meetings. That includes trades and free agent signings. Last year the Yankees signed Holliday and agreed to re-sign Aroldis Chapman during the Winter Meetings. The year before that they made the Starlin Castro and Justin Wilson trades during the Winter Meetings. This is always a busy week. Even if deals don’t get done, there are gobs of rumors. It’s fun.

December 14th: Rule 5 Draft
The Rule 5 Draft marks the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings. Everyone heads home afterward. The Yankees have a strong farm system and there are only so many 40-man roster spots to go around, so they’re going to lose players this year. That’s just the way it goes when you have a lot of quality prospects. Last year the Yankees lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft: Tyler Jones, Caleb Smith, Luis Torrens, and Tyler Webb. The Padres kept Torrens all year. Jones, Smith, and Webb were all returned before the end of Spring Training.

As a reminder, players picked in the Rule 5 Draft have to remain on their new team’s 25-man active roster all next season, or be placed on waivers and offered back to their original team. The Yankees have not made a Rule 5 Draft pick since taking Cesar Cabral and Brad Meyers back in 2011. There’s no reason to think they’ll pick someone this year. They barely have enough 40-man space for their own players. There’s not enough room to stash another club’s fringe big leaguer.

January 13th: Deadline to submit salary arbitration filing figures
This is the day teams and their arbitration-eligible players file salary figures with MLB. The player files what he thinks he should earn in 2018 and the team counters with what they think he should earn. Most players will sign a contract before exchanging figures. The Yankees for the longest time signed all their players before the filing deadline, though in recent years they’ve exchanged figures with a few players, only to sign them shortly after the deadline. Not a big deal, really. For the most part though, arbitration-eligible players sign before this date. Only a small percentage wind up filing salary figures.

Mid-January 2018: 2018 Hall of Fame class announced
Next summer’s Hall of Fame class figures to be at least four players deep: Vlad Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome. Omar Vizquel might get in this year too. Eh. Chipper and Thome will be on the ballot for the first time. Vlad and Hoffman fell only a handful of votes short last year, and should get over the hump this year. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Edgar Martinez, and Mike Mussina have slowly been gaining support in recent years, though probably not enough to make it this year.

Among the former Yankees on the ballot this year are holdovers Clemens, Mussina, and Gary Sheffield, and newcomers Johnny Damon, Andruw Jones, Hideki Matsui, Carl Pavano, and Kerry Wood. I’m curious to see what happens with Andruw. I don’t think he’ll get in this year and maybe not ever, even though his peak was incredible and he is on the very short list of the best defensive players in history. Damon had a long and very productive career, but falls short of Cooperstown for me.

Early-to-mid-February: Arbitration hearings
Last year the Yankees went to their first arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang back in 2008. The Yankees went to a hearing with Dellin Betances last offseason, won the ruling, then president Randy Levine needlessly took shots at Betances. How stupid. Generally speaking, teams and players try to avoid arbitration hearings because they can get messy and awkward, so they work out a contract beforehand.

With Dellin though, there is clearly some level of bad blood here. He wasn’t happy with Levine last year and rightfully so. The smart money is on the Yankees avoiding hearings with all their players, because that’s usually how it goes. Betances might take them back to a hearing though, if he thinks he has a better case this year. Lots of walks won’t hurt much in arbitration. Certainly not enough to negate the ten extra saves he picked up this year and the fourth straight All-Star Game selection. We’ll see.

Mid-February: Spring Training begins!
Hooray for that. The Yankees haven’t announced their reporting dates yet, though that’ll come soon enough. No team has announced their reporting dates yet. Spring Training is going to be a little different next season because the Yankees will have a new manager, potentially a new coaching staff, and wildly optimistic expectations.

March 29th: Opening Day!
The Yankees open next season on the road against the Blue Jays. Also, the season starts on a Thursday next year, not a Sunday or Monday as usual. The MLBPA pushed for a few more days off during the season in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, so Opening Day was moved up a bit to accommodate the extra off-days. The Yankees open on Thursday in Toronto then come home for the Yankee Stadium opener the following Monday.

Houston Astros win the 2017 World Series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time in franchise history, the Houston Astros are World Series champions. The ‘Stros beat the Dodgers in a somewhat anticlimactic Game Seven at Dodger Stadium earlier tonight. The final score was 5-1. Here are the box score, the video highlights, and the WPA graph.

The highlight of the game was, for sure, George Springer’s second inning two-run home run against Yu Darvish. That gave the Astros a 5-0 lead. Darvish allowed nine runs in 3.1 innings in his two World Series starts. Ouch. Springer, a semi-local kid from New Britain, hit .379/.471/1.000 in the series — that includes and 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Game One — and was named World Series MVP. He tied Reggie Jackson’s and Chase Utley’s World Series record with five homers in the series.

The Astros do feature some personnel with ties to the Yankees. Most notably, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran wore pinstripes from 2014-16 before moving to Houston (for different reasons) this offseason. Congrats to them. Especially Beltran. He’s been waiting a long time to get a ring. Does he ride off into the sunset now?

There’s also Tyler Clippard, who wasn’t on Houston’s postseason roster after blowing more than a few games for the Yankees earlier this year. Clippard’s getting a ring. Life ain’t fair, man. Also, Lance McCullers Jr.’s father Lance Sr. played for the Yankees from 1989-90. He was traded to the Tigers for Matt Nokes.

Congrats to the Astros and their long-suffering fans, even though I hate them for beating the Yankees in the ALCS. The franchise has been around since 1962 and this is their first championship. And congrats to the Dodgers too. They had a great season. And now … the offseason.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

As of today, the Yankees do not have a general manager or a coaching staff. Brian Cashman‘s contract, as well as the contracts of everyone on the coaching staff, expired yesterday. Cashman is going to be back. Everyone knows that. And chances are he already has a new contract in place, and the Yankees are just waiting for the World Series to end to announce it. The coaching staff? That’s a different story. The Yankees need to find a new manager before piecing that together.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the evening. The Dodgers and Astros are playing Game Seven of the World Series tonight (8:20pm ET on FOX), so that’ll be fun. The Knicks and Devils are both playing as well. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

After deep playoff run, the Yankees will again have to monitor pitcher workloads in 2018

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point in the coming days, we’ll find out whether the Yankees need to add one starting pitcher this offseason, or two. The deadline for Masahiro Tanaka to opt-out of his contract is Saturday, and if he opts out, the Yankees will need to replace Tanaka and CC Sabathia. If he doesn’t opt out, the Yankees will only have to replace Sabathia. And they very well could replace Sabathia with Sabathia. Re-signing him seems like a definite possibility.

As things stand right now, the only thing we know for sure about the 2018 rotation is that it will include Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery. My guess is both Chad Green and Adam Warren will come to Spring Training stretched out as starters, though the smart money is on both going back to the bullpen. Luis Cessa and Domingo German will be around as depth, plus Chance Adams and maybe Justus Sheffield will debut at some point in 2018 as well.

This year the Yankees had to monitor the workloads of all their starting pitchers for different reasons. Severino and Montgomery are young pitchers gradually increasing their workloads. The Yankees have handled Tanaka with kid gloves since his 2014 elbow injury. Sabathia’s knee is an ongoing concern. Gray has had some injury problems in recent years as well, so giving him extra rest from time to time was a priority.

And, as things stand now, the Yankees are again going to have to monitor the workloads of their starters next season thanks to their deep postseason run. Severino and Montgomery threw more innings this season than ever before. By a lot too.

  • Severino: 209.1 total innings (previous career high: 161.2 innings in 2015)
  • Montgomery: 163.1 total innings (previous career high: 139.1 innings in 2016)

The Yankees were so concerned about Montgomery’s workload — big league innings are not the same as minor league innings because there’s more stress and intensity involved — that they went out and added Jaime Garcia so they could send Montgomery to Triple-A to control his innings there. Severino seemed to tire out a bit in the postseason. I thought he was noticeably fatigued in the fourth inning of ALCS Game Six.

This isn’t just about raw innings totals though. Montgomery and especially Severino pitched deeper into the year than ever before. The Yankees were one game away from the World Series! That means a shorter offseason recover. And this applies to the veterans too. Tanaka and Sabathia, should they come back, as well as Gray will miss out on a few extra weeks to rest this winter because of the postseason run.

The whole World Series hangover phenomenon is not new. Pitchers who pitch deep into the postseason and have shorter offseasons than usual have been coming back the next year and struggling for a long time now. That’s part of what made Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera so great. Those guys played seven-month seasons, not six-month seasons, because the Yankees were always in the playoffs. Yet they never broke down physically.

As much as we’d like them to turn out that way, the Yankees can’t proceed under the assumption Severino and Montgomery are essentially unbreakable like Pettitte and Rivera. This year they had to be careful with their workloads eclipsing their previous career highs. Next year they’ll have to worry about any lingering effects from those big workloads this year, and well as the shorter offseason that comes with going to Game Seven of the ALCS.

The Yankees know this, of course. Remember the Javy Vazquez trade? The second one? The Yankees made that trade because Sabathia, Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett worked hard in 2009 and pitched into November en route to the World Series championship. The Yankees wanted an innings eater to help lighten the load on the other guys. So they went out and got Vazquez, who at the time had just thrown 190+ innings for the tenth straight season to bolster the back of the rotation.

Now, the Vazquez trade didn’t work out in 2010. He stunk. But the idea was sound. Get another innings eater for the back of the rotation so it’s easier to pull Sabathia, Pettitte, and Burnett a little earlier than usual without overtaxing the bullpen following their long 2009 seasons. That’s where the Yankees are now. Their starters just threw a ton of innings and pitched deep into October, and there might be a carryover effect in 2018.

Perhaps the need to add rotation depth this winter isn’t as great as it was following 2009. The farm system is much richer now. Cessa, German, Adams, and Caleb Smith are basically MLB ready. Back in 2009, their best MLB ready pitching prospects were, uh, Ivan Nova? Zach McAllister? Good big leaguers! But the farm system was much thinner, and the Yankees didn’t have an Adams waiting, that top pitching prospect, or a Sheffield not far behind.

I’ve always been a pitching depth guy. Bring in as many viable starters as possible and don’t worry about where they all fit, because odds are you’ll need all of them at some point anyway. If the Yankees re-sign Sabathia, retain Tanaka, and bring in a veterans innings dude who pushes Montgomery to Triple-A to start 2018, I wouldn’t lose any sleep. Montgomery would be back in MLB before you know it. The long season and big workloads are something the Yankees have to be cognizant of next year, and that could mean making another Vazquez-esque trade.

The Old Reliable Outfielder [2017 Season Review]

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

It seems strange to think of Brett Gardner as the old man on the Yankees, but that was essentially the role he filled this season. He’s the longest-tenured member of the team, and, of the 51 players that suited-up for the Yankees this season, only Chase Headley, CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, and pub trivia tidbit Erik Kratz are older. And, despite that, he’s still a high-quality starter in left field.

It All Starts with Defense

A few years ago it seemed as though Gardner was losing a step in the outfield. His numbers went from scale-breaking in his first few seasons to between average and very good thereafter, and it is never shocking when a player reaches his 30s and slows down. This season, however, was something of a blast from the past. Twenty-three players put in at least 500 innings in left field in 2017, and Gardner led them all in Defensive Runs Saved, with 17, and fielding percentage, as he went errorless in 1024 innings. He also finished fourth in UZR/150, and ranked near the top in every Inside Edge Fielding category.

And, while fielding metrics are occasionally fickle, Gardner won the Fielding Bible Award for left field, and was named as a Gold Glove finalist. Both awards represent a blend of advanced metrics and the good ol’ fashioned eye test, so it stands to reason that Gardner was really that good.

An Asset in the Leadoff Spot

Gardner batted .264/.350/.428 (108 wRC+) this year, and he hit a career-high 21 home runs. Those 21 dingers represent exactly 25% of his career output, but I wouldn’t read into it too much – after all, 117 players hit 20-plus home runs this year, up from 111 in 2016, and 64 in 2015. It is worth noting, though, that Gardner’s bump in home runs wasn’t solely a product of Yankee Stadium, as 11 of his bombs came on the road. And there’s no overstating his ability to work the count.

There was a great deal of talk about Gardner’s clutchness in the postseason (more on that in a bit), but he came through in big situations all season long. The difference in his overall production versus his numbers in late and close situations was negligible, and he slashed .302/.393/.566 with 4 HR in 61 PA with runners in scoring position and two outs. As a result of this he led the Yankees in WPA, and finished second in FanGraphs’ Clutch metric (behind Jacoby Ellsbury, of all people).

He Can Still Run, Too

We as fans have been oscillating between loving Gardner for his high-efficiency base-running and lamenting his lack of stolen base attempts for years now. He averaged 58 stolen base attempts per 162 games in his first four seasons, as compared to 29 since he lost most of 2012 to injury. His 23 steals and 28 attempts this year were his most since 2013. That being said, with the modern style of play those 23 steals were good for 17th in all of baseball.

It isn’t just about raw steal totals, though. Gardner’s 82.1% success rate is well-above the break even point (and league-average is 73%), and within the top-20 among players with at least 15 SB attempts. He also ranked 11th in the game in FanGraphs’ BsR, which factors in stolen bases, caught stealing, taking the extra base, or making an out on the basepaths on a batted ball. As per Baseball-Reference, he took the extra base 49% of the time, which is comfortably above the league-average of 40%. For the sake of comparison, Jose Altuve took the extra base 48% of the time this year, and Dee Gordon did so on 60% of his opportunities.

Surprising Durability

Despite having the feel of a player that’s perpetually banged-up, Gardner has appeared in at least 145 games and racked up at least 609 PA in each of the last five seasons. This season represented a career-high of 682 PA for the 34-year-old, and 583 of those came from the top of the order. Given his hot and cold spells, it might make sense for Gardner to sit out a few more games – but his reliability in the field and on the bases combined with his ability to play almost every day is extremely valuable to the team.

The Playoffs

Gardner’s bat was largely silent in the ALCS, but he came through several times in the Yankees 13 game playoff adventure. The most memorable, for me at least, was his absolutely epic 12 pitch at-bat against Cody Allen in the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS. I highly recommend Jeff Sullivan’s detailed account of that at-bat, which could serve as a fine ‘Exhibit A’ of a nebulous ‘professional hitter’ presentation.

Well, that, or Gardner’s go-ahead home run in the Wild Card game, which included an uncharacteristic (and wonderful) stare-down of Ervin Santana:

How awesome was that? The swing, the bat-drop, the stare, the crowd … amazing.

The Bottom Line

As per Baseball-Reference, 2017 was the second-best season of Gardner’s career, as he posted a fantastic 4.9 bWAR. That put him in the top-five at the position, which is kind of amazing in and of itself. Were it not for Aaron Judge towering over the game like a colossus, Gardner would have easily been the team’s MVP.

2018 Outlook

Gardner is perpetually brought-up as a trade candidate, and we may well see more of the same this off-season. Judge has right field on lock, Aaron Hicks was quite good in center, Clint Frazier is ready for an extended look, and Jacoby Ellsbury has an albatross of a contract in center. And Gardner is eminently movable, given his $11.5 MM salary for 2018 and affordable $12.5 MM team option in 2019. It would be much, much better to send Ellsbury packing – but it’s a veritable guarantee that one of the two need to be moved.

That being said, Gardner is a bargain in 2018, and I would be happy to see him in left field for the Yankees on Opening Day. I don’t know how confident I am that that will happen, though.

MLBTR’s arbitration projections and a potential Didi Gregorius extension

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the next few weeks and months, the Yankees and every other team will tweak their roster in an effort to contend in 2018. Some teams are more serious about contention than others. The Yankees are ready to win, they showed it this year, and they’ll try to do it next season while getting under the $197M luxury tax threshold.

A few weeks ago Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors posted his annual arbitration salary projections, and because the Yankees have a large arbitration class — nine players total, including several key contributors — their salaries will be a big factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. These players are a bargain relative to what they’d get on the open market, though their salaries add up. Here are the arbitration projections:

Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate overall. It has trouble with outlier players — Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into his first arbitration year with two Cy Youngs — though it gets us in the ballpark and often much closer. Let’s dive into the projections a bit.

1. It’s time to consider a Gregorius extension. Didi has emerged as a true core player for the Yankees. He’s an above-average hitter and an above-average defender, and he’s a big part of the clubhouse culture. Gregorius can become a free agent following the 2019 season, and I think it’s time the Yankees start thinking about signing him long-term. He’s only 27 and quality in-their-prime shortstops are awfully hard to find.

The Jean Segura extension is a perfect benchmark for Gregorius. Segura signed his five-year, $70M deal earlier this year, two years prior to free agency at age 27, the exact same point of his career as Gregorius is right now. Look at the numbers:

Segura in year prior to extension: .319/.368/.499 (126 wRC+) and +5.0 WAR
Gregorius in year prior to extension: .287/.318/.478 (107 wRC+) and +3.9 WAR

Segura career: .280/.319/.396 (91 wRC+) and +8.6 WAR
Gregorius career:
.266/.313/.413 (94 wRC+) and +11.5 WAR

Segura had the better platform year prior to signing his extension, though Gregorius has the better body of work overall. That five-year extension worth $70M is the benchmark for Didi. The market has been set.

The problem with an extension is the luxury tax. If Gregorius gets the $9M arbitration projection, he counts as $9M against the luxury tax threshold. Give him the Segura extension, and he counts as $14M (the average annual value of the contract) against the luxury tax threshold, and saving $5M is a big deal. Then again, signing Didi now could equal tens of millions in savings later. An extension has to be a serious consideration.

2. Betances and the Yankees might be in for a messy hearing again. Had Betances won his arbitration hearing last year, he could’ve been looking at a $6.5M to $7M projection this offseason, and we might have been talking about him as a non-tender candidate right now. Instead, the Yankees won, and you can see how arbitration savings add up.

  • Dellin wins last year: $5M in 2017 + $6.5M guesstimate in 2018 = $11.5M total
  • Yankees win last year: $3M in 2017 + $4.4M projected in 2018 = $7.4M total

That $2M in savings last year turns into $4.1M in savings from 2017-18. Arbitration uses the prior year’s salary as a baseline for a raise, so any savings compound over the years. Last year’s arbitration hearing win over Betances may end up saving the Yankees close to $10M from 2017-19. That’s a big chunk of change.

Last year’s arbitration hearing was reportedly ugly, uglier than these things usually are, and team president Randy Levine only made things worse when he ripped Dellin in a conference call afterward. I have no idea whether there is still any bad blood between the two sides, but I suppose another hearing is possible this year.

And here’s the thing: Betances still has a really good case. All the walks this year won’t hurt him much in arbitration because the system isn’t built that way. Saves and strikeouts count. Dellin doesn’t have many saves, but he struck out 100 batters yet again this season, he finished with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.87 to be exact), and he went to his fourth straight All-Star Game. Those are all points in his favor. I’m not sure how this will play out. Whatever happens, hopefully it’s not as ugly as last year.

3. Shreve might stick around until Spring Training. The Yankees spent last offseason and pretty much the entire pre-deadline regular season looking for a reliable left-handed reliever, and they came up empty. I get the sense they’re going to spend the winter looking for a lefty again. For now, Shreve is the in-house option, and his $900,000 projected salary is nothing.

Keep in mind arbitration-eligible players are on non-guaranteed contracts. They can be released in Spring Training and only be paid 30 days or 45 days termination pay, depending when they get cut. The Yankees could sign Shreve, keep him around, see if they come up with a better lefty, and if they do, they could drop him for a fraction of his salary in camp. Harsh, but it happens every year around the league. It’s easy to think Shreve, who is out of minor league options, will be a 40-man roster casualty this winter. Don’t be surprised if he sticks around though.

4. Kratz is a goner. Obvious statement is obvious. The Yankees acquired Kratz to be the third catcher in September only because Kyle Higashioka was injured at the time. He’ll be the very first player dropped from the 40-man roster once space is needed, which will be later this month when the roster has to be set for the Rule 5 Draft. Kratz won’t even make it to the non-tender deadline. Such is the life of a journeyman. Hey, at least he got to hang around with the team during the postseason. He traveled with the club all through the ALDS and ALCS.

5. My estimates were pretty good, actually. A few weeks back I looked at the 2018 payroll situation with regards to the luxury tax. I estimated $25M to $30M for the arbitration eligible players, not including Kratz or Shreve, and Swartz’s model projects this group at $28.5M. Hey, I’m getting kinda good at this.

Add that $28.5M projection to the other contract commitments as per my post a few weeks ago, and we get $163.5M already on the books for next season. It’ll drop to $141.4M should Masahiro Tanaka opt out, which most RAB readers expect to happen. Point is, the Yankees will have about $35M under the $197M luxury tax threshold to play with this winter, assuming Tanaka sticks around. If he doesn’t, it’s closer to $60M. Having that much wiggle, to me, means the Yankees should get serious about signing Didi long-term.