Assorted Thoughts: MVP, Manager, New York Sports

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Al Bello/Getty)

Happy Sunday, RAB. I hope you guys are all doing well. Since I won’t “see” you until then, I wanted to wish you readers–at least you American ones–a Happy Thanksgiving as we approach my favorite holiday. How do you beat a holiday devoted to food? If only there were all day baseball instead of all day football. Alas. In the spirit of said holiday, I did want to give thanks to you all for continuing to read my work and the (incredible) work of everyone here at the site. It’s beyond rewarding to know that you come here for your Yankee news and discourse when there are so many other options available out there. At the same time, it’s both humbling and a great source of pride. Thank you for your continued support. Yankees only.

Let’s start our Sunday musings by discussing the league MVP awards that were handed out last week. Every year, I tell myself I’m going to care less and less about this stuff and it generally holds true. I may make a case for someone or hope someone wins, but this isn’t like ten years ago on the internet when I lived and breathed this type of stuff. Back then, it was a way to flex analytical muscles and show your deeper understanding of the game, especially when you confronted someone more ‘traditional.’ Thankfully, I’ve (mostly) given up that ghost and just sort of take these things as they come. We live in an information age and players who might have lost undeservingly still get lots of recognition and will continue to do so, thanks to sites like Baseball Reference. Case in point? Luis Severino. I was totally fine with him winning third place for the AL Cy Young Award this year. He was clearly a step behind Corey Kluber and Chris Sale, and there is no shame in that, especially after his 2016. But then there was the AL MVP award.

Jose Altuve beat out Aaron Judge and I was, temporarily, Mad Online about that fact. This isn’t to say Altuve isn’t deserving or anything like that. I just think Judge was more deserving. With a few exceptions, Judge beat Altuve soundly in most statistical categories. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter that much because they were pretty close in overall value, even if they got there in very different ways–that’s the cool thing about baseball–but I’m still a bit chapped Judge didn’t win. Altuve had a better narrative–and didn’t have a six week slump–and that’s why he won. Bah humbug. Whoops, wrong holiday season.

Bam Bam. (Getty)
Bam Bam. (Getty)

As for the next Yankee manager, consider me firmly in the camp of Hensley Meulens. He’s relatively young. He’s got coaching experience both acutely–hitting coach–and broadly–bench coach and Netherlands manager during the WBC. As an added bonus, he’s a polyglot who speaks English, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, and Papiamento. All of those languages are crucial to players on the Yankees and Bam Bam’s skills in speaking them would only serve to make better communication between manager and players. That seems to be what he Yankees are looking for, first and foremost, and it’s the overall trend in baseball. 95% of what a manager does is behind the scenes anyway; there isn’t that much variation in on-field tactics at this point in baseball history, so having a guy who can connect to his players and communicate with them most effectively is what’s most important. From what we can see on the outside, Meulens seems to be the man for the job.

Ignoring the actual records of some of the teams, it seems that we’re in a pretty damn good place with New York sports, huh? The Giants may be a disaster, but they could have their next franchise QB soon. The Jets have played a little better than expected and have some exciting young talent. The Nets are at least interesting and the Knicks, led by the Unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, seem to have a bright future as well. I can’t speak well to hockey, but that leaves us with the Yankees and Mets. The Mets may be a question mark, but things are unquestionably optimistic-looking for the Yankees after this surprise season. We could be seeing a renaissance in New York sports and that would be great for the city and the area.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving, all. I hope you have a great holiday with friends and family. Thanks as always for reading.

Yankees trade Rumbelow to Mariners for two minor leaguers

Sears. (Post and Courier)
Sears. (Post and Courier)

The 40-man roster cleanse has begun. This afternoon the Yankees announced they have traded Nick Rumbelow to the Mariners for minor league pitching prospects J.P. Sears and Juan Then. Sears is a lefty. Then is a righty. The trade opens up a 40-man roster spot.

Rumbelow, 26, returned from Tommy John surgery earlier this year to throw 40.1 innings with a 1.12 ERA (1.89 FIP) for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He allowed eight runs in 15.2 big league innings as an up-and-down arm in 2015. The Yankees added Rumbelow to the 40-man roster a few weeks ago to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent.

The 21-year-old Sears is the better of the two prospects coming to New York. The Mariners selected him with their 11th round pick in this year’s draft, and he threw 27.2 relief innings with a 0.65 ERA (1.45 FIP) and 46.4% strikeouts in his pro debut. MLB.com ranked Sears as the 21st best prospect in Seattle’s system before the trade. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Sears attacks hitters with a fastball that sits 87-90 mph but plays above its velocity due to the deception created by his low-three-quarters slot, and because he knows how to effectively change hitters’ eye levels while pitching to both sides of the plate … Neither his slider nor his changeup are particularly advanced, with scouts pegging them as average offerings … Sears earns plaudits for his competitiveness on the mound, and his track record as a strike-thrower in college speaks for itself.

The 17-year-old Then is a recent international signee who made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League this year. He threw 61.1 innings with a 2.64 ERA (2.90 FIP). I can’t find anything about the kid at all. He wasn’t a high profile signing and it’s tough to find info on kids this far down the minor league ladder. Then is very much a low level minor league lottery ticket.

The Yankees are very deep in right-handed relievers and they figured to unload one (or more) prior to Monday’s deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, which is why Rumbelow was moved. Rather than let him go for nothing as a minor league free agent, the Yankees were able to flip him for two prospects. Neat.

Update (10:22pm ET): Baseball America posted their trade analysis. Here’s their scouting report on Then:

The Yankees added yet another high-upside righthander to their stable of similar pitchers. Then signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2016 for $77,000 and was one of the most impressive pitchers in the DSL this summer, going 2-2, 2.64 with 56 strikeouts in 61.1 innings. Scouts who saw Then this year saw a pitcher with smooth, clean delivery that produced 90-94 mph fastballs as well as two offspeed pitches—a changeup and a curveball—that project as above-average offerings in the future.

Well then. Or should I say well Then? Kyle Glaser says Then was “maybe the highest upside pitcher” in Seattle’s system before the trade. Even though he is 17 and a mile away from the big leagues, Then is a pretty nice get as the second piece for a guy like Rumbelow.

Saturday Links: Profar, Ohtani, Stanton, Ellsbury

Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)
Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)

Monday should be a pretty busy day, folks. It is the deadline the MLBPA has set to hammer out the posting agreement for Shohei Ohtani. If a deal isn’t done by Monday, he’s going to stay in Japan next season. Also, Monday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. There’s going to be plenty of roster shuffling that day. Here are some other bits of news to check out.

Yankees interested in Profar again

Once again, the Yankees have some interest in former Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar, reports Joel Sherman. Pretty sure this is the third straight offseason the Yankees have been connected to Profar. They’ve been trying to buy low on him since his shoulder problems started a few years ago. Interestingly, Sherman says Texas has interest in some depth arms at the bottom of New York’s 40-man roster, and a deal could be built around them. Huh.

Profar, 25 in February, missed both the 2014 and 2015 seasons with shoulder surgery. He’s hit only .227/.316/.315 (71 wRC+) since coming back, including .172/.294/.207 (40 wRC+) in 22 big league games in 2017. The Rangers sent Profar to Triple-A, where he hit .287/.383/.428 (116 wRC+) in 87 games. They did not give him a September call-up though, and Profar is reportedly preparing to file a grievance because the non-call-up pushed his free agency back a year.

Acquiring Profar would be very similar to acquiring Aaron Hicks. The Yankees would be betting on talent and a chance of scenery. Profar was a tippy top prospect not too long ago, he’s still only 24, he’s a switch-hitter, and he’s played basically every position other than pitcher or catcher. He is out of minor league options, so it’s MLB or bust. That’s one drawback. Ultimately, just stockpile high-end talent. If all it takes is some fringe 40-man roster arms, this is a no-brainer.

Ohtani wants to hit and pitch

Not surprisingly, Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch whenever he comes over to the big leagues, reports Yahoo! Japan (translation via @NPB_Reddit). “Ohtani said he wants to play both ways in MLB. I plan to respect that wish,” said his agent. If you’re interested, Dan Szymborski put together statistical translations and ZiPS projections for Ohtani, which seem quite relevant. Here are the 2018 projections:

  • As pitcher: 3.55 ERA (119 ERA+), 10.4 K/9, +3.3 WAR in 139.1 innings
  • As hitter: .266/.328/.466 (112 OPS+), 12 HR, +2.2 WAR in 305 at-bats

That would be pretty incredible in his first year as an MLB player. And, for what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a 125 ERA+ and 121 OPS+ at Ohtani’s peak at age 27. That would be amazing. I think everyone has kinda assumed Ohtani will want to hit and pitch when he comes over, but now we know for sure. His agent confirmed it. We’ll see how it goes. Doing one thing well is hard enough. Doing both well would be rather remarkable.

Yankees checked in on Stanton

Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)
Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees have reached out to the Marlins to discuss Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. They also checked in back around the trade deadline. Stanton is the big trade commodity this offseason — Heyman says at least eight teams are involved, and I expect more to get involved before it’s all said and done — and so far the Cardinals and Giants have emerged as the most serious suitors.

The Yankees typically check in on everyone during the winter, especially any star players who become available. That doesn’t mean they’re seriously interested in acquiring Stanton. Would they take him if the Marlins make an offer that’s too good to be true? Of course. In that case you get Stanton and figure out where he fits later. That’s why you make the call. In case a favorable deal can be made. Otherwise this is just due diligence. The Yankees have more than enough outfielders as it is.

Ellsbury not yet asked to waive no-trade clause

According to Brendan Kuty, Brian Cashman confirmed this week that the Yankees have not yet asked Jacoby Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause. Last offseason they approached Brian McCann about waiving his no-trade clause fairly early. I assume that’s because there was legitimate interest in McCann at the trade deadline and serious interest again in the offseason, so there was a real chance of a trade. That probably isn’t the case with Ellsbury. Here’s what Cashman told Kuty:

I have not had any dialogue with Scott (Boras), haven’t even approached Scott, I guess it’s a similar situation. I think in both cases — in McCann’s case as well as if there is going to be something for consideration with Jacoby — I would make sure I would stay ahead of it and have to include anybody in the process on their side of it to make sure it’s handled the proper way.

“They have a full no-trade for a reason, and I would walk through that process with the highest level of communication and respect because of it. I haven’t connected with Scott at all, but I know he’s here somewhere, and I’ll make sure I’ll get a chance to talk to him before I leave just generally about everything Scott Boras related for the winter, and I’m sure we’ll also talk about Jacoby as well.

Cashman also said that, as of right now, Ellsbury is the fourth outfielder. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge are entrenched in the corners, and Hicks is the man in center going forward. “They were the best that we had (in the postseason), and so I think we would anticipate going (into 2018) that way again,” said Cashman. The Yankees are going to have to eat a lot of money to trade Ellsbury, but I think they’re more willing to do it right now than ever before, so I expect them to shop him around pretty aggressively. And when the time comes, they’ll ask about the no-trade clause.

Update: Yankees interview Aaron Boone, Hensley Meulens for managerial job

Bam Bam. (Getty)
Bam Bam. (Getty)

Friday: The Yankees interviewed Meulens yesterday and Boone today, the team announced. I’ve seen a few beat writers on Twitter say Meulens was impressive. Impressive during his conference call, at least. Thomson, Wedge, Meulens, and Boone are the four candidates so far. Supposed the Yankees are only going to interview five or six. Chris Woodward is rumored to be another candidate.

Monday: According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees will interview both Aaron Boone and Hensley Meulens for their managerial opening. There’s no word on when exactly they will interview. Also, Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees asked the Athletics for permission to interview their manager Bob Melvin, but the A’s said no.

Boone was first mentioned as a managerial candidate last week. He played for the Yankees briefly in 2003 — you may remember that home run he hit — and has been working as an analyst for ESPN since he retired a few years ago. Boone has no coaching or managerial experience, but these days teams aren’t shy about hiring rookie skippers. It initially wasn’t clear whether he’d actually get an interview, but now we know he will.

Meulens, 50, was a top prospect with the Yankees way back when. He’s one of the most famous busts in franchise history, in fact. Following his playing career Bam Bam gradually worked his way up the minor league coaching ranks before joining the Giants. He was their hitting coach from 2010-17 — Meulens was on the coaching staff for their three recent World Series titles — and was named their bench coach this offseason.

In addition to his MLB work, Meulens has also coached and managed in international competition over the years. He and Didi Gregorius are close. They work together each winter and were both part of the The Netherlands’ World Baseball Classic squad earlier this year. Like just about everyone from Curacao, Meulens speaks multiple languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, and Papiamento. That is an obvious plus for a manager. Meulens has been considered a future manager for several years now.

So far the Yankees have only interviewed Rob Thomson and Eric Wedge for their managerial opening. Brian Cashman told Mark Feinsand the next interview is set for Thursday — things are on hold while Cashman is at the GM Meetings the next few days — though he declined to say who it’ll be with. Could be Boone, could be Meulens, could be someone else entirely. We’ll find out soon enough.

The Yankees’ Five Shortest Home Runs of 2017

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Thanks to a multitude of factors, 2017 was the year of the home run. There were more homers hit this season (6,105) than in any other season in baseball history, and the Yankees contributed to that greatly. They led baseball with 241 home runs, including 161 homers by players no older than 27. Hooray for the youth movement.

Last week we looked at the first longest Yankees homers of the season. Now it’s time to move to the other end of the spectrum and look at the shortest Yankees homers of the season. Yankee Stadium, as we all know, is the only ballpark that gives up hilariously short home runs. You never see cheap homers into the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park or around the Pesky Pole at Fenway Park. Only the short porch in Yankee Stadium. Crazy.

In all seriousness, the short porch leads to a lot of cheap home runs each season, and sometimes you can do nothing other than shake your head and laugh. My personal favorite are the balls that clear the wall after the hitter slams the bat and curses at himself because he thought he missed his pitch. In honor of the short porch and cheap home runs everywhere, here are the five shortest home runs hit by Yankees in 2017.

5. Ellsbury vs. Yovani Gallardo

The best stretch by a Yankee not named Aaron Judge this year came from Jacoby Ellsbury, who was out of his mind during a four-week stretch spanning late-August and early-September. Ellsbury didn’t have a good year overall, but that hot streak helped the Yankees win a lot of games. He came up big a few times.

On August 26th, one night after a tough extra innings loss, Ellsbury came through with a go-ahead three-run home run against Gallardo. He got the Yankees on the board with a run-scoring single earlier in the game. Here’s the dinger:

Gotta love that short porch. The Yankees were scuffling a bit at the time and runs were hard to come by, especially with Judge still mired in his slump. Ellsbury’s hot streak was well-timed, as was this home run. Distance: 336 feet.

4. Hicks vs. Danny Duffy

Know how Judge dominated the longest homers list? Aaron Hicks dominates the shortest homers list. Didn’t expect that! He hit three of the four shortest homers by a Yankee this year.

The longest of Hicksie’s three short homers came in a loss to the Royals. Duffy crushed the Yankees that day, holding them to two runs in seven innings. The two runs scored on solo homers by Hicks and Chris Carter. The Hicks dinger was an opposite field job into the short porch.

Hicks gave the Yankees the lead! And Carter added to that lead! Then the bullpen completely melted down. Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve combined to allow five runs and get four outs. Ouch. The regular late-inning guys must’ve not been available. Distance: 336 feet.

3. Hicks vs. Addison Reed

Shout out to Reed for showing up in both the longest homers and shortest homers posts. He allowed the fourth longest homer by a Yankee and also the third shortest homer by a Yankee this season.

This home run was, at the time, one of the biggest homers of the season. The Red Sox were in town and the Yankees had lost five of their previous eight games to fall 4.5 games back of Boston in the AL East. It was gut check time. The Yankees had to take a stand to stay in the division race. So of course they fell behind 2-0 in the first inning. Groan. Hanley Ramirez walloped a two-run homer against Jaime Garcia.

The BoSox stretched the lead to 3-0 by time the eighth inning rolled around. Brett Gardner started the eighth inning rally with a walk against Reed, then Hicks, in his second game back from his first oblique injury, got the Yankees on the board with a home run into the right field corner.

I’m not sure how Hicks kept that ball fair. It was a slider right in on his hands, and he was able to keep it just inside the foul pole. The homer got the Yankees to within 3-2, and they went on to add three more runs in the inning to take a 5-3 lead. Hicks then threw out Eduardo Nunez at third in the ninth to help the Yankees to one of their best come-from-behind wins of 2017. Distance: 335 feet. Hmmm. I have my doubts about that one. Looked shorter.

2. Hicks vs. Michel Ynoa

The season was still young and we were all very much in the “is Hicks good now?” mode. It was the 15th game of the season — it was the tenth game for Hicks, personally — and Hicks lined his fourth homer over the wall in right field. Well, no, not over. The ball hit the top of the fence and hopped over.

On one hand, Hicks crushed that ball and it was an extra-base hit off the bat. On the other hand, LOL at that homer. Distance: 335 feet. How? You’re losing me here, Statcast. For what it’s worth, Hit Tracker measured this one at 334 feet. Whatever. A silly homer either way.

1. Gregorius vs. Tony Cingrani

The shortest home run of the season was so short that it was only a few inches away from being robbed. Scott Schebler needed about nine more inches on his vertical to potentially reel this one in. Didi Gregorius provided two insurance runs with this blast, which he of course hooked into the short porch.

That home run was the fourth in three days for Sir Didi, and his sixth in the first 13 games coming out of the All-Star break. Distance: 332 feet. How that measured at 332 feet and the Hicks homer measured at 335 feet, I’ll never know.

The Primary Back-Ups [2017 Season Review]

Romine. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Romine. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

If you would’ve told me that the Yankees would spend most of April with both Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius on the disabled list, I would have been shocked to learn that they were arguably the best team in baseball in the first month of the season. And, amazingly enough, that was the case. That was largely due to Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, and Matt Holliday tearing the cover off of the ball for those four weeks – but Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes did their part, too.

Austin Romine

Gary Sanchez left the game after straining his right bicep on April 8, and ended up spending twenty-one games on the disabled list. Romine was pressed into full-time duty as a result, and he did just about as well as one could expect. He slashed .281/.314/.406 (88 wRC+) with a couple of home runs while Sanchez was out, and garnered praise for his defense and handling of the pitching staff; whether or not that was earned is another story, of course. But I digress.

Romine was relegated to the bench when Sanchez returned, and his offense slipped dramatically in the more sporadic role. He hit just .194/.256/.248 (34 wRC+) in 182 PA the rest of the way, failing to go deep even once. Romine ended the season with a .218/.272/.293 slash line, and his 49 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR were tied for the worst among the forty-nine catchers that amassed at least 200 PA. That didn’t stop some from calling for him to be the starting catcher, though, given Sanchez’s defensive woes and Romine’s reputation as a stout defender.

Is that reputation fair, though?

Baseball Prospectus breaks down catching into several categories, including framing runs, blocking runs, and throwing runs. Romine’s struggles with the running game are well-known, so it is no surprise to see that he was worth -1.2 throwing runs. However, he was also a negative in terms of blocking the ball in the dirt, as evidenced by his -0.3 blocking runs – and that’s a trend that has followed him from Triple-A to the majors. In reality, framing is Romine’s only real strength; and, as valuable as that is (he picked-up 4.1 runs last year, which is a borderline elite mark when adjusting for playing time), framing alone does not make a great catcher.

The ability to handle a pitching staff is kind of a nebulous quality. Pitch framing is a portion of that, as is calling the game – but the latter is all but impossible to measure. One factor that people tend to bring up in that regard is catcher ERA, flawed as that may be. For what it’s worth, Romine sported a 4.23 CERA last year, as compared to 3.45 for Sanchez.

All that being said – would it be an exaggeration to say that the most memorable aspect of his season was the punches he threw in August’s brawl against the Tigers?

Torreyes, apparently in a John Woo film. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Torreyes, apparently in a John Woo film. (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Ronald Torreyes

Unlike Romine, Torreyes opened the season knowing that he would be starting for a stretch. Gregorius opened the season on the disabled list following a shoulder injury in the WBC, and Torreyes was in the lineup on Opening Day. He started 18 of the 20 games that Gregorius missed, batting .308/.308/.431 (93 wRC+) with a home run in 65 PA. He didn’t take a walk in that entire stretch, swinging at 61.9% of pitches along the way; for comparison’s sake, the league-average swing rate is 46.5%.

Torreyes moved back to the bench when Gregorius returned, but he ended up starting an additional 67 games the rest of the way, most of which came at second base while Castro was on the mend. And he did his best work at the keystone, slashing .327/.353/.426 (107 wRC+) in 177 PA while starting there. It’s difficult to take much, if anything, away from that – but most players do perform better with more consistent playing time. Torreyes has a limited ceiling on offense, to be sure, but he rose to the occasion with the Yankees needed him to start for an injured teammate.

He ended the season with a .292/.314/.375 (82 wRC+) slash line in 336 PA.

The defensive metrics all paint Torreyes as somewhere around average at second, third, and short, and that’s perfectly acceptable for a utility player. It’s difficult to fully trust the numbers, given the sample sizes, but that matches the eye test, as well. He’s a bit miscast as a full-time shortstop, but he’s far from an embarrassment there.

And who can forget the TOE-Night Show?

2018 Outlook

Austin Romine will be heading through arbitration for the second time, and MLBTR projects a $1.2 MM salary. I suspect that the Yankees will be looking to replace him this off-season in an effort to add a back-up that moves the needle in one way or the other, be it someone with a solid bat that can DH in a pinch (maybe Alex Avila), or one that is a legitimately strong defensive presence. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the organization on Opening Day, but that almost certainly isn’t the team’s plan.

And Torreyes may well be a lock to stick with the team for the time being. He can hit a little and play decent defense at the non-1B infield positions, and he’s still pre-arbitration. There might be upgrades available, but I don’t think the team will look to add salary for a position (or positions) that could be filled by Gleyber Torres. Torreyes’ time with the Yankees might be limited once the season begins, though.