Incorporating Gary Sanchez and the need to reduce Brian McCann’s workload going forward

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Last month, when the Yankees shipped John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for Aaron Hicks, it created a clear path for Gary Sanchez to get Major League playing time. If not right away next season, then at some point in the near future. Murphy is no longer around representing an obstacle. A big league roster spot is Sanchez’s for the taking.

“I really like Gary Sanchez. I’m hopeful with his high-end ability he can be a big positive impact on (Joe Girardi‘s) lineup choices on a weekly basis, as he chooses when to rest (Brian McCann),” said Brian Cashman to reporters at the Winter Meetings earlier this month. “And we face so many left-handers that it’s nice to have that type of power bat. I’d like to unleash the Kraken — which is Gary Sanchez — on our roster in 2016 if I can, and see if he can do some real positive damage for us.”

Sanchez, who turned 23 earlier this month, had a big regular season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, putting up a 137 wRC+ with 18 homers. (He’s averaged 19 homers per 120 games in full season ball in his career.) He reportedly did some growing up and put himself in position to be a big league option. That definitely was not the case at this time last year. Sanchez’s maturation and development made Murphy expendable.

As with Murphy this past season, getting Sanchez playing time will be a bit of challenge because McCann is going to start. Eh, challenge probably isn’t the right word. I think a veteran like McCann can be very beneficial for a young catcher like Sanchez — “I’m extremely excited to work with him and see his tools on a daily basis and try to help him get better,” said McCann to Jack Curry recently (video link) — but going from playing everyday to playing once or twice a week can be a tough adjustment.

The Yankees do, however, need to start paying some more attention to McCann’s workload. That isn’t to say Girardi has been oblivious to it — Girardi’s an ex-catcher, after all, he know when McCann needs a rest — it’s just that McCann will be 32 in February and he’s been a starting catcher for eleven seasons now. He’s been behind the plate for nearly 11,000 regular season innings. That’s a lot of wear and tear.

McCann may have started to show some of that wear and tear this past season, when he hit .200/.306/.395 (91 wRC+) in the second half and .174/.301/.279 (64 wRC+) in September. He started 43 of 55 games in May and June — that’s a 127-start pace across a full 162-game season — before Girardi started to scale back and give Murphy a little more playing time in July and August. McCann was a workhorse early in the season.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

“You know, you try to keep it around somewhere between 100-120 games, 120 is pushing it a little bit,” said Girardi when asked about McCann’s 2016 workload at the Winter Meetings. “He wants to play every day, and sometimes I’ve got to tell him, ‘You’re going to take a day here.’ But I think you see how he’s doing … I know his bat is important to us and I have to keep him healthy.”

Sanchez is a natural platoon made for McCann just like Murphy was this past season. Starting Sanchez against southpaws next season — assuming he and not someone else is the backup catcher, of course — ensures McCann regular rest and puts Sanchez in position to do the most damage. It also gives him something of a set schedule, which all players appreciate. Sanchez can look at the upcoming pitchers and get an idea of exactly when he’ll play.

Girardi has also been known to use personal catchers at times — Jose Molina and A.J. Burnett is the most notable example, but he also used to pair Frankie Cervelli with CC Sabathia — and Sanchez could get playing time that way. Luis Severino‘s the obvious candidate here. Severino threw to Sanchez with Double-A Trenton the last two years and again with Triple-A Scranton this year. There’s familiarity there.

Either way, Sanchez now has an obvious long-term role with the organization, and his arrival coincides perfectly with what figures to be the back-end of McCann’s career. The Yankees can begin to scale back on McCann’s workload — an inevitability for all veteran catchers — and incorporate Sanchez into the lineup at a comfortable pace. In 2016, that could mean platoon work against lefties and perhaps a stint as Severino’s personal catcher.

Yanks should explore extending Pineda and Eovaldi given price of pitching, upcoming free agent classes

(Getty)
(Getty)

All throughout the offseason, we’ve heard the Yankees are looking for controllable young pitching because aside from Luis Severino, all of their current starters can become free agents within two years. Ivan Nova will qualify for free agency after 2016 while CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka will do the same after 2017. (Tanaka can opt-out of his deal following 2017.)

While the Yankees do have some starting pitching prospects who figure to contribute at the MLB level come 2018 — James Kaprielian and Rookie Davis, most notably — they’ll need more arms. No doubt about it. Looking for young pitching now makes sense. The problem? It’s crazy expensive. Just look at what it took to get Shelby Miller. That package may be something of an outlier, but the point stands. Pitching is expensive.

The upcoming free agent classes don’t offer much help either. Stephen Strasburg will be the best free agent starter next offseason, and the second best is probably Brett Anderson. Francisco Liriano, Alex Cobb, and Clay Buchholz headline the 2017-18 free agent pitching class. Like I’ve been saying, this offseason’s free agent class was the best in years, and that means going forward too.

Given the cost of pitching and the lack of high-end starters in upcoming free agent classes, the Yankees’ best option for controllable pitching behind 2017 might be the guys already on the roster, specifically Eovaldi and Pineda. They’re still in their mid-20s — Pineda turns 27 in January and Eovaldi turns 26 in February — and both have had flashes of success in New York.

At the same time, both Pineda and Eovaldi have been pretty inconsistent in recent years, and both guys have a major arm injury in their history. Eovaldi had Tommy John surgery eight years ago and Pineda had surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2012. Both guys missed time with injuries this past season too — Eovaldi’s season ended in mid-September due to elbow inflammation and Pineda missed a month with a forearm strain.

The injury history and inconsistency are obvious red flags, though they also potentially help keep contract extension prices down. It’s a classic risk vs. reward situation. Eovaldi and Pineda are reasonably young and have the tools to be very successful, but there are enough red flags to justify going year-to-year contractually. I can understand both sides of the argument, extending them or going year-to-year.

Not many pitchers have signed extensions with four years of service time in recent years. Jordan Zimmermann took a two-year deal during the 2013-14 offseason that didn’t delay free agency — it only gave the Nationals cost certainty over his remaining two arbitration years. The last multi-year deal that bought out free agent years for a pitcher at this service time level was Matt Harrison’s five-year, $55M deal in January 2013.

Ideally, I think an extension for Pineda and/or Eovaldi would cover four years, so their final two arbitration years plus two free agent years. An option or two would be cool as well. The Yankees would get control of both through 2019 and the two pitchers would hit free agency at 29-30, an age where they could still land a big free agent deal. MLBTR projects Eovaldi for $5.7M through arbitration next year and Pineda for $4.6M. Using that as a starting point, how’s this for potential framework?

Eovaldi Pineda
2016 (Arb. Year) $5.5M $4.5M
2017 (Arb. Year) $7.5M $7M
2018 (FA Year) $13M $13M
2019 (FA Year) $15M $15M
2020 (Option) $17M ($1M buyout) $17M ($1M buyout)
Total Guarantee $42M + option $40.5M + option

I just spitballed some numbers and looking them over, they seem too low. Wouldn’t you give Pineda and Eovaldi four years and $40M or so guaranteed right now given the current market? Mike Leake got five years and $75M. Jeff Samardzija got five years and $90M. Eovaldi’s currently scheduled to hit free agency at age 27 and Pineda will be 28. The market generally rewards youth, as long as they stay reasonably healthy and effective.

At the same time, I’m not sure how much higher the Yankees should go given their injury issues. Neither Pineda nor Eovaldi received large signing bonuses as amateurs — Pineda signed for $35,000 out of the Dominican Republic and Eovaldi got $250,000 as an 11th round pick — but they made $2.1M and $3.3M through arbitration in 2015, respectively. They have some financial security and may not jump at an extension.

Either way, the point isn’t the Yankees absolutely should sign Pineda or Eovaldi to a contract extension. It’s that they should at least explore the possibility and see what the other side has in mind. Perhaps both players ask for too much and that’s that, no deal can be worked out. It might have already happened for all we know. On the other hand, if the Yankees haven’t checked in, one or both might be more open to an extension than they realize.

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They know more about Pineda and Eovaldi than we ever will and it’s possible they have concerns about their health and effectiveness, and aren’t willing to assume the long-term risk. Extending both players is just one idea to give the Yankees some controllable starters beyond 2017. The trade market seems crazy and free agency doesn’t offer much help. Paying Pineda and/or Eovaldi might be the best way for the Yankees to get the pitching they need.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 28th, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features pull-down menu in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Holiday Open Thread

I’m going to be out of town the rest of the week, so unless there’s breaking news, I don’t plan to post anything. I’m going to leave you with two videos. The first is every single home run the Yankees hit in 2015. All 212 of ’em. The second is ESPN’s 30 for 30 feature on Orlando and Livan Hernandez, called Brothers in Exile. It tells their life story, basically. I saw it on television when it originally aired and it was really, really good. Check it out.

So, until I get back to town, this is your open thread. Use it talk to about whatever you like, except religion and politics. This ain’t the place for that. Happy Holidays, everyone. Hopefully Santa brings the Yankees a young starter.

Reasons to Believe

Ah, late December. The last out of the World Series seems a distant memory, but we still have over a month and a half to go until Spring Training. And despite the warmth around these parts lately, the gloomy overcast that’s accompanied it makes spring feel impossibly far away. Still, it’s the holiday season and regardless of what you celebrate, this is generally a time of hope, of optimism. So, for a few moments, let’s be optimistic about the Yankees and look at the reasons we have to believe that next year will be better than last.

Power and Patience 

Goodbye, baseball. (Photo credit: Kim Klement/Reuters)
Goodbye, baseball. (Photo credit: Kim Klement/Reuters)

Taking walks and hitting homers are generally considered ‘older player’ skills in baseball, as opposed to speed and contact, which are generally associated with younger players. The middle of the Yankees’ lineup–some combination of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran–is rather old, but also rather good at taking walks and hitting for extra bases. Essentially, these guys are good at what they’re “supposed” to be good at. There’s no need for these guys to worry about smacking singles or taking the extra base; these guys need to focus on the old “take and rake” approach that made them successful. Granted, there are injury concerns with all of them, but when they’re on the field, they produce (and we’re trying to shoo away negativity for a few hundred words).

Mandatory Improvement

And they have a special handshake. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
And they have a special handshake. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury had some bumps in the road in 2015. For Gardner, it was the second half of the year. For Ellsbury, it was every part of the year after his return from injury. Gardner’s had second half slumps before and will hopefully be better in 2016. Ellsbury, on the other hand, seemed to hit rock bottom in 2015 and unless he’s hurt all year again, there’s no way he could be any worse than he was. Even a modicum of improvement from Ellsbury would help the team greatly and he can give it, so long as he finds a way to not relive last year.

Continued Growth

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Despite some forearm trouble at the end of the year–and too many hits given up–Nathan Eovaldi took a step forward as a pitcher during his first year with the Yankees. With that confidence under his belt, and another year of tutelage from Larry Rothschild, we could see Eovaldi grow even more and tap more deeply into the potential that his stuff shows so often. Similarly, Luis Severino got a taste of the big leagues last year and performed more than admirably. He seems ready to take a step forward to help solidify the (likely-to-be-shaky) Yankee rotation.

The Bright Future

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Greg Bird showed us something last year. And not only did it give the Yankees a boost they needed during Tex’s absence, but it gave us some hope for the future of the Yankees. If Bird could do it, maybe Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge can. Maybe Bryan Mitchell can. Prospects are, by their very nature, long shots. Greg Bird is by no means a guarantee to perform like he did or even close to it again, but he showed us that he can. It made us believe that others could, too.

The people woo are close to me know that I love baseball and, since i’s a typical topic of conversation anyway, they ask me how I think the Yankees will do in the coming year. My honest answer is that it’ll probably be similar to last year: somewhere between 84-88 wins and fighting for that second wildcard. But in the back of my mind, I always think they can do more, will do more. They have some of the pieces necessary to be better than that, even if my better judgment says they won’t. This is the time–the time before Spring Training–for hope and belief. This year, I’m choosing to believe.

Guest Post: Who Punched the Delicatessen Man? The Yankees at the Copacabana

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who you know as Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, and Jerry Kenney.

(Books on Baseball)
(Books on Baseball)

The early part of the 1957 season for the Yankees would qualify as extremely interesting, considering the season wrapped up with the Yankees losing to the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series, 4 games to 3. The early Yankees were very streaky, and by mid-May, the team was starting to show some signs of getting out the streaky form, only to revert back. However, May and June became more famous for an event that occurred off the field, and the delicate history between Billy Martin, George Weiss and Casey Stengel, all of which changed as a result.

May 15 – The Game Before

The Yankees won a game at Yankee Stadium against the Kansas City Athletics on May 15, 1957. The winning pitcher was Tom Sturdivant, who was coming off a complete game loss against the Cleveland Indians and Herb Score/Bob Lemon (the future Yankee manager). That game on May 7 also happened to be the game where Herb Score was nailed in the eye on a liner from Gilbert McDougald. That ball managed to deflect to third and McDougald was thrown out at first. Score would be carted off the field in a stretcher while Lemon came in and threw 8.1 innings of one-run baseball. Tom Sturdivant gave up 2 runs, 5 hits, 2 walks and 9 strikeouts.

Sturdivant was in the middle of one of his better streaks. Sturdivant had thrown a 7-hit complete game against the Athletics earlier in the month (May 2). On May 15, he threw a complete game shutout (called by Hall of Fame umpire Nestor Chylak) against the Athletics. This game had 5 hits, 1 walk and 3 strikeouts, complete opposites of the loss the week prior. The next start was yet another complete game against the Washington Senators on May 24. This time, he gave up 4 hits, 1 run, 7 walks and 6 strikeouts. (You wouldn’t see a 7 walk player throw a shutout in this day and age!)

That stretch of excellent starts for Sturdivant was ruined in his next start, also against the Washington Senators on May 29. The starter gave up 6 earned runs in 6.1 innings and 7 hits. Ralph Terry and Bob Turley wrapped up the game with 1.2 clean innings. The Yankees that day had a complete game thrown against them instead by Pedro Ramos, one of those extremely rare switch-hitting pitchers (who would become a Yankee in 1964 for Terry!).

May 15-16 – A Trip to the Nightclub

Billy Martin was due to have his 29th birthday on May 16, 1957. Martin was an eccentric infielder for the Yankees and a particularly fond student of manager Casey Stengel. However, his personality had become a burden on General Manager George Weiss. Weiss felt that a Yankee should be a professional on and off the field and that his behavior was a poor influence on stars Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. It has been noted that they didn’t need Martin’s encouragement to be unprofessional off the field, and that became evident on the night of May 15.

Mantle, Ford, along with catcher Yogi Berra, pitcher Johnny Kucks and outfielder Hank Bauer took Martin to a nightclub on West 47th Street, the famous Copacabana. On that particular night, the headline entertainment for attendees was the great Jazz artist Sammy Davis, Jr. Things went pretty smoothly for the clan of Yankees who attended the nightclub, until a group of white bowlers entered the Copacabana. These bowlers began to heckle Davis, who had big fans in the Yankee players. Though they were drunk from their party, they came to the back of Davis.

It is at this point where details become hard to find, and some of the players deny their participation or lack thereof. The reports were that Bauer had baited and punched Edwin Jones, a 40-year-old owner of a delicatessen in the Bronx. Berra claimed that “nobody did nothing to nobody,” while Mantle noted in a later civil trial that he was so wasted that he was unsure who threw the first punch. This broke out at 2:30 AM on May 16, and the New York Daily News claimed potentially on the blocking of Jones’ view. Words were exchanged between the clan and Jones’ which contained 19 people. Jones was taken to the hospital with a busted nose and jaw.

May 16 – The Evening After

After reports of all this came out in the news, Casey Stengel became red-faced. Stengel generally had been a hands-off manager since taking over in the 1949 season, but this took things to another level. Stengel noted to the press that the players would have to pay extra for their “entertainment.” Stengel noted that he would talk to front-office officials about the nightclub escapades and deal with it.

Daily News front page dated May 17, 1957 Headline: YANKS BENCH 2 IN COPA BRAWL Beck Repays Another 100G It Was a Hit, Say Jones, But Hank Calls it Error Delicatessen owner Edwin Jones, 40, feels his battered jaw as he rests at 602 W. 188th St. Jones says he's still a Yankee fan, but he's going to sue Hank Bauer for $250,000, charging Hank slugged him at the Copacabana. Hank, hoisting a couple of bats for last night's Stadium game, said he did not strike Jones. Casey Stengel, irked at his players' nightclubbing, bench Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra.

At the same time, Stengel made punishment immediate. Whitey Ford was pulled from the start he was due to make on May 16 for Bob Turley and Yogi Berra was benched in favor of Elston Howard. He put Bauer in the 8-hole (just above the pitcher, since there was no designated hitter at the time), but left Mantle alone. Stengel’s justification for leaving Mantle in the three-hole, was that he was not going to sacrifice an attempt to the win the pennant because of the brawl.

Neither Billy Martin nor Johnny Kucks were scheduled to play in the May 16 game and were unaffected. The moves proved to be magical, like most of the Professor’s. Turley threw a 4-hit shutout of the Athletics with 5 walks and 8 strikeouts. The lineup jumped on Alex Kellner and tagged him for 2 runs in 3 innings. Mickey McDermott finished the last 5 innings and gave up 1 run on 3 hits. One of those three runs came from a solo shot by Mantle.

As for fines, Dan Topping, president of the team, laid out 6 fines, totaling $5,500 (1957 USD; $46,000 today) on June 3. $1,000 fines were levied against Bauer, Berra, Ford, Mantle and Martin for their behavior. A $500 fine was also given to Kucks because he had a lesser salary. Stengel noted that he was upset over the stiff fines, but Weiss noted that it was not because of anything between the manager and the front office.

May 21 & June 24 – Jones v. Bauer

On May 21, Edwin Jones came to Bauer and made a citizen’s arrest, because no one would have him arrested (neither the NYPD nor the NY District Attorney’s Office). Jones had Bauer fingerprinted, booked on felonious assault charges, photographed with a mugshot and arraigned on the charges. He was released without bail to his attorney. Bauer’s attorney, Sidney O. Friedman noted denied the charges against him and that they would sue for false arrest despite it being legal unless Jones could prove the charge against him. Bauer told the press that he never hit anyone while being accompanied by two police officers and fans along the street were supporting Bauer.

Jones’ attorney, Anthony Zingales, noted that he would produce two witnesses to help support Jones’ story. One was his brother-in-law, Phil Esposito who claimed that it was in an alcove where Jones was hit. Jones however claimed that that he did not see his assailant. Zingales also noted that they intended to sue Bauer for $250,000 in damages. The hearing for Bauer’s felonious assault charges would be held on June 21.

Testifying in front of a grand jury, Mantle told the prosecutor that “I think Roy Rogers rode through the Copa, and Trigger kicked the man in the head.” This caused the jury to break out in laughter. Ford, Kucks, and Berra also testified in Bauer’s behalf. However, Bauer never came to the stand himself. The grand jury voted “no bill,” meaning there was not sufficient evidence to indict. By this point, Bauer had left the courtroom with his wife. Because of the decision, Jones now became liable for damages relating to the arrest on May 21. Bauer sued him for $150,000, but the records of either lawsuit have never been released.

June 16 – The Final Judgement

Well, while Bauer was dealing with the upcoming grand jury testimony, George Weiss finally got his wish: he was rid of Billy Martin. The infielder was traded with Ralph Terry to the Kansas City Athletics for Suitcase Sampson, pitcher Risold Duren, outfielder Jim Pisoni (both who were sent to Denver) along with Milt Graff, who was an infielder acquired and sent to Richmond. Weiss used the incident, along with a brawl on June 14 against the White Sox as an excuse to trade Martin at the trade deadline (which was June 15 back at the time). The rest is known history, but the fight at the Copa is by far the most famous off-field event in Yankee history aside of Thurman Munson’s funeral in 1979. The true answer of who punched the delicatessen man may never be fully known due to death of players, their denial and their state of intoxication at the time.

King: Yankees looking to add free agent starter on minor league contract

Beachy. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Beachy. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

In addition to targeting young pitchers in trades, the Yankees are also looking to add a free agent starter on a minor league contract this offseason, reports George King. They don’t want to commit significant dollars to a free agent. “They are looking for a starter,” said an executive to King.

As of right now, the Triple-A Scranton rotation figures to include Brady Lail, Jaron Long, and recent pickups Luis Cessa and Chad Green. Bryan Mitchell could be in that mix too, though I’m sure he’ll be given an opportunity to win a big league bullpen job in Spring Training. Matt Tracy, Kyle Haynes, Caleb Smith, and Eric Ruth are other possibilities.

Looking over the list of unsigned free agent starters, pitchers like Brandon Beachy, Chad Billingsley, Josh Johnson, and Shaun Marcum stand out as minor league contract candidates. All four were hurt and/or ineffective this past season, which is why we’re talking about them as non-roster players. I suppose we could include Cliff Lee in this group too.

It’s worth noting the current Collective Bargaining Agreement introduced Article XX(B) free agents. Those are players with 6+ years of service time who sign minor league deals. The CBA entitles them to a $100,000 retention bonus if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, and their deal automatically includes a June 1st opt-out if they’re not called up. Beachy does not qualify as an Article XX(B) but the other guys I mentioned all do.

The Yankees tend to pay minor league free agents well, so the retention bonus is no big deal, but the opt-out date can throw a wrench into roster construction. There’s been a flurry of minor deals leading up to June 1st in recent years as teams traded their Article XX(B) free agents to clubs willing to add them to the 40-man roster rather than lose them for nothing when they opt out.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I write this post every offseason. The Yankees always seem to be on the lookout for a veteran starter who is willing to go to Triple-A, though they haven’t had much luck finding any. Among the veteran starters they’ve signed to minor league deals in recent seasons are Kyle Davies, Scott Baker, Chris Bootcheck, and Chien-Ming Wang. Not the most exciting group.

If nothing else, I expect the Yankees to sign someone to serve as the designated Triple-A innings guy. They grab one of those each offseason just to soak up innings in the minors to protect the actual prospects. It’s a thankless but necessary job. Whether the Yankees can nab someone who might actually contribute at the MLB level remains to be seen. When it comes to non-roster invites, the answer is usually no.