Moreso than ever before, Yankees need to strike a balance between now and the future at the trade deadline

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2015 season is roughly one-third of the way complete right now, and it it plainly obvious the Yankees are a flawed team. The bottom of the lineup has too many black holes, a few of the starting pitchers have been below-average, and the middle relief crew is generally underwhelming. And then there’s a injury risk on top of that. A few key players have had trouble staying healthy in recent years.

The Yankees are a flawed team, yeah, and they happen to play in a division full of flawed teams. The Blue Jays can’t pitch, the Orioles don’t seem to do any one thing particularly well, the Rays have a patchwork rotation and a top heavy lineup, and the Red Sox have a super shaky rotation and a disappointing offense. It’s impossible to look at this division and come away thinking any one of the five teams is the favorite. It’s the most mediocre division in baseball.

And yet, the Yankees currently sit atop this mediocre division despite losing 13 of their last 19 games. That’s how bad the division is this year. Six wins in 19 games and they aren’t buried in the standings. At the same time, the team with the worst record in the AL East (Red Sox) is only games 4.5 out, so all five clubs are bunched together. It doesn’t look like anyone will run away with the division nor get buried and finish something like 20 games out.

FanGraphs projects all five clubs to finish within six games of each other, and while that doesn’t mean it will necessarily play out that way, it goes to show how even the talent level is in the AL East. Because of this, I think the division is going to come down to two things. One, which team gets the best and most unexpected contributions? Logan Forsythe has a 139 wRC+ for the Rays, for example. Jimmy Paredes has a 136 wRC+ for the O’s. That sort of stuff.

I also think it’s going to come down to the club that most aggressively seeks upgrades prior to the trade deadline. Not necessarily the most moves, but the earliest moves too. Get a player on July 31st and he helps you for two months. Pay a little extra and get him on June 30th, and well, he helps you that much more. In a division this tight, that extra month can make a big difference. And since all five clubs have obvious needs, expect plenty of trade rumors these next few weeks.

With that in mind, the Yankees have to find a balance between going for it and planning for the future moreso this year than at any point in the last, I dunno, 25 years or so. The division is there for the taking! That can’t be ignored! Win the division, get to the postseason, and anything can happen. Two wildcard teams went to the World Series last year, remember. Get in and you can win, and the Yankees should absolutely try to win the AL East this summer. That’s why they play.

The Yankees also have several older players on the roster they’ll need to replace in the next year or two. All those big contracts are starting to come off the books, starting next year with Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, and continuing the following year with Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. The Yankees actually have prospects to maybe replace those guys too. I say maybe because prospects are prospects and who knows, but these guys are at Double-A and Triple-A now. That’s exciting.

No player should be untouchable in a trade, but right now it makes more sense for the Yankees to hold on to their top young players rather than give them up at the deadline to make a push. There has to be a balance between now and later, and you know what? I’m confident Brian Cashman & Co. can strike that balance because they did it last year. They acquired Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, and Martin Prado at the deadline year while giving up nothing they really miss.

Last year’s deadline was a bit of an anomaly — all three of those moves worked out exceptional well. That usually isn’t the case. Make three moves at any given trade deadline and chances are one will be a dud. That’s just baseball and it’s true for trades of every magnitude. Minor deals, mid-range deals like last year, or blockbusters. Going small — but not too small — mitigates some of the risk while still bringing potential reward.

The Yankees can win the division this year. I know this because I’ve seen the rest of the AL East play and holy moly is it bad. Winning the AL East should be the priority because what the hell else is the point of playing? The next few years shouldn’t be cast aside for the sake of winning this year either. The Yankees do need to develop a new core — they have some pieces in place, namely Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and (gasp!) maybe even Didi Gregorius — and that can’t be ignored.

Going for it in 2015 and building for 2016 and beyond is possible. Not easy! But possible, and that has to be the mentality this summer. Don’t sacrifice one for the other.

Poll: Fitting Masahiro Tanaka back onto the roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees will welcome arguably their best pitcher and inarguably one of their most important players back from the DL, as Masahiro Tanaka returns to the rotation after missing a month with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain. Tanaka will be limited to 80 pitches after making just two Triple-A rehab starts, but, at this point, 80 pitches from Tanaka is preferable to none. That goes without saying.

Joe Girardi has already said Chris Capuano will move into the bullpen to make room for Tanaka in the rotation, which isn’t surprising. Adam Warren has been too good his last four starts to remove him from the rotation. They owe it to themselves to see if he can be a cheap, reliable starter going forward. The Yankees do still have to fit Tanaka on the 25-man roster, and there are several ways they can do that. They have two candidates to bump down to Triple-A and three candidates they could drop from the roster all together. Here’s a quick overview of said options.

Option No. 1: Demote Lindgren

These are presented in no particular order, but this seems like a natural place to start since Jacob Lindgren is the low man on the pitching staff totem pole. He’s been in the big leagues for about a week now and has allowed six of 15 batters faced to reach base (.400 OBP). Lindgren may be the team’s top bullpen prospect, but bullpen prospects usually have to wow in order to stick around. Had Lindgren dominated those first 15 batters, the decision to send him around would be much tougher. For now, he’s the low man in terms of service time and that guy tends to get demoted whenever a spot is needed.

Option No. 2: Demote Shreve

Shreve has arguably been the team’s third best reliever this season, pitching to a 2.49 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 21.2 innings. He’s struck out 23 of 84 batters faced (27.4%), and heading into last night’s game he’d held right-handed batters to a .162/.212/.286 batting line thanks to his splitter. Shreve is no lefty specialist. The Yankees would be crazy to send him down, except they did it once already this year, when they needed a fresh arm in April. (Of course Shreve had not yet shown he was a bullpen weapon at that point.) Shreve is too valuable to send to Triple-A, even temporarily, but he has options and doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of Lindgren, which could work against him.

Option No. 3: Designate Carpenter

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

We’re now almost one-third of the way through the 2015 season, and thus far David Carpenter has a 4.91 ERA (5.33 FIP) in 18.1 innings. Girardi has been using Carpenter often in an effort to get him back on track — he’s appeared in eight of the team’s last 16 games — but it just hasn’t happened. On one hand, Carpenter has been the team’s least effective middle reliever. On the other, he was pretty damn good with the Braves the last two years (2.63 ERA and 2.88 FIP) and is under team control through 2017 as an arbitration-eligible player, and you’d hate to give that up after only 18.1 bad innings. Then again, what good are those years of control if he stinks? This is a player who’s in his sixth organization already. If nothing else, Carpenter has pitched his way into fringe roster territory and any discussion about designating him for assignment isn’t undeserved. (Carpenter is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and even though he’s been bad this year, he’d get claimed in a heartbeat.)

Option No. 4: Designate Rogers

The Yankees very clearly like something about his Esmil Rogers — to his credit, he does have good stuff and his arm seems resilient — and he started the season well, allowing just four earned runs in his first 16.1 innings. He’s since allowed 13 earned runs in his last 14.2 innings, so his ERA (4.94) and FIP (4.77) suddenly resemble his 2012-14 marks (4.91 and 4.35, respectively). Every team needs a long man and Esmil usually isn’t deciding games, he’s just mopping them up, but the Yankees have some other long man options who could be better, include Capuano.

Option No. 5: Designate Capuano

Capuano has pitched to a 6.39 ERA (4.20 FIP) in three starts since coming back from his quad injury and he does have experience in a relief role, but cutting ties with Capuano all together is possible if the Yankees think he’s done. They already have four lefties in the bullpen and might not want to add another. Then again, Capuano can start, and rotation depth probably isn’t something the Yankees should be giving away at this point. Plus his $5M salary could be factor. Everyone else in this post is making peanuts. Money has a way of buying extra time on the roster.

* * *

It goes without saying that Warren, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances are locked into their roster spots, and I think the Justin Wilson is more safe than not as well. Those other five pitching staff slots are not as safe and any one of the five could wind up going to make room for Tanaka. Lindgren or Shreve could find themselves in Triple-A or one of Rogers, Carpenter, or Capuano could find themselves out of the organization entirely. What’s the best way to get Tanaka back onto the roster?

How should the Yankees clear a roster spot for Tanaka?

Teixeira slams King Felix while Pineda tosses six solid innings in a 7-2 win against the Mariners

After a deflating series loss against Oakland, Yankees brought on their ace (Michael Pineda, of course) against Mariners’ ace — Felix Hernandez. For the first three innings, it looked like a pitchers’ duel with Hernandez having the edge … then things fell apart for him. Yankees scored seven runs combined in fourth and fifth innings, capped by Mark Teixeira‘s grand slam. On the flip side, Pineda delivered another great outing to earn his seventh win of the season. If only Jesus Montero was in Mariners’ lineup. (Yes, I’m cruel.)

Notorious B.I.G. Mike (Source: Getty Images)

Big Mike‘s Homecoming

Prior to the seventh inning, Michael Pineda was just simply, well, awesome. The big guy threw six innings, struck out nine and, very uncharacteristically, walked two. Maybe that bad mound condition also got to him (/tongueincheek).

In the first six innings, Pineda had it all going – he located his mid-90’s fastball very well, sometimes just almost automatically into Brian McCann‘s glove, and his secondary pitches – change and slider – were on point. It seemed like he got swings-and-misses and called strikes on all three of them and that’s what the Yankees looked for when they traded for him – a future ace.

In the seventh inning perhaps he ran out of gas; he allowed four baserunners in a row – single, RBI triple, RBI double and a walk. Joe Girardi then pulled him for Justin Wilson. The lefty did not allow any more runs to keep Pineda’s earned runs at two. Pineda now has a 3.33 ERA/2.38 FIP in 70.1 IP with a 7-2 record this year. Not bad!

(Source: Getty Images)

Offense Explodes Against… Felix Hernandez??? 

The Yankees struck in the 4th inning. Well, “struck” may be a bit of a generous term but they did score two against Felix after not managing a baserunner prior! It’s not often that you see a guy like Hernandez allow three walks in a frame. He’s a tough pitcher and the ways the Yankees got runs that inning … weren’t the strongest. Brett Gardner scored on a wild pitch during an Alex Rodriguez at-bat and McCann grounded into a double play with bases loaded and no outs – hence, a 2-0 lead. It’s kind of a mixed feeling – you had a bases loaded with no outs with a run in but you only managed to score one more – but then again, it was against Felix Hernandez. It’s like getting a B on a hard exam: the result is there against a tough task but you could have done much better. Oh well.

Well, Felix allowed a walk to Stephen Drew (who came into the game 1-for-28 in the previous 9 games) the next inning so that was a bit of a rough stretch for him. Ramon Flores followed it up with a single to right. Gardner worked a hard-fought walk (after several checked swing calls) to get the bases-loaded with no outs again. Chase Headley hit a sac fly to drive a run in, 3-0. A-Rod squibbed a grounder through the hole to load the bases again.

When you hit a grand slam off one of the best pitchers (Source: Getty)

Up comes Mark Teixeira and he crushed a 91 mph fastball down the middle over the left field fence: grand slam! It was the second ever allowed by Hernandez in Safeco Field (the other one was from 2012 by Alberto Callaspo, thanks Katie Sharp!) so yeah, we were in for a rarity tonight. That was Tex’s 15th of the year in 52 games. That’s well on the way to 40+ homer territory for season. I am excited, aren’t you?

Leftovers (aka good bullpen tonight, man)

Justin Wilson (Source: Getty Images)

Justin Wilson came into the game to relieve Michael Pineda with runners on first and second with no out. The lefty overpowered Mike Zunino for a swinging strikeout and induced a 5-3 double play to end the inning. Nifty!

Dellin Betances came in for the eighth inning and, well, it was the same ol’ story. He got both Logan Morrison and Robinson Cano to strikeout swinging. It also seemed like Nelson Cruz struck out a breaking ball way outside but the ball went all the way to the backstop and the outfielder made it to first base. The next hitter, Kyle Seager, grounded out sharply to Teixeira to end the inning. Betances now has 12 punchouts in the past 4.1 innings pitched. That’s absurd. Pineda + Betances in a same game is like, a high-strikeout, low-walk pitching display heaven. Baseball is pretty fun when you have these two guys in a same team.

Chasen Shreve came in the bottom of ninth and closed things out. I noticed that he bumped his fastball velocity up to 93 mph tonight – maybe he’s more comfortable with how he has pitched. Last time out, Shreve struck out four in 1.1 IP of relief against the Athletics. Tonight, he didn’t strike anyone out (in fact, he gave up some loud flyouts) but he got the job done to shut the door.

Box Score, WPA, Standings

Here’s the box score, WPA chart and update standings. Yankees have the sole possession of the first place in division again thanks to the Rays losing 7-3 to the Angels tonight. So that’s that.


Source: FanGraphs


Tomorrow, another big guy (CC Sabathia) takes the hill in Safeco Field against Mike Montgomery – a former first rounder making his MLB debut. Can we have a winning streak going on? I miss those nice things.

DotF: Mason Williams has huge game in Scranton’s loss

Got some notes to pass along:

  • IF Cole Figueroa was named the Triple-A International League Offensive Player of the Week, and RHP Eric Ruth was named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. Congrats to both.
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa, according to Nicholas Flammia. Montgomery had a 2.68 ERA (2.03 FIP) in 43.2 innings for the River Dogs after being the team’s fourth rounder last year. He spent three years in an SEC rotation with South Carolina. No surprise he manhandled Low-A.
  • The Yankees have signed OF Teodoro Martinez out of the independent Frontier League and assigned him to High-A Tampa, according to Flammia. The 23-year-old had been in the Rangers’ system the last few years. He was hitting .277/.320/.404 in 12 games with the Rockford Aviators, and I’m guessing this is a “they need a warm body” move and not a “hey this guy might have some ability” move. OF Slade Heathcott and OF Ramon Flores are in MLB and a bunch of other outfielders were moved up as a result. Need someone to sit on the bench.

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 loss to Pawtucket)

  • CF Mason Williams: 3-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB — the kind of game he never had the last two years
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4 — in a 5-for-37 (.135), which can’t be helping his chances of a call-up
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 2-3, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 0-4
  • DH Ben Gamel: 0-4, 3 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 HB, 4/5 GB/FB — 54 of 89 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • RHP Chris Martin: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 15 of 25 pitches were strikes (60%)
  • LHP Matt Tracy: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 18 of 28 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 12 of 21 pitches were strikes (57%)

[Read more…]

Game 52: Big Mike Back In Seattle

BIG MIKE IS HERE

For the first time since being traded to the Yankees in January 2012, Michael Pineda will face his former team tonight. He’s never pitched against the Mariners, either at Yankee Stadium or Safeco Field, so I have to think he’ll be a little amped up tonight. You know, one of those “here’s what you’re missing out on, suckers” kinda starts. That would be cool.

Regardless of who is pitching tonight, the Yankees really need to figure out a way to scratch some runs across against Felix Hernandez. Or at least wait him out and go to town on the bullpen. The Yankees just lost three of four to the Athletics and they’ve lost 13 of their last 18 games overall and that needs to end. It’s annoying. I don’t think I’m crazy when I say the Yankees are too good for that to continue. Anyway, here is Seattle’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. LF Ramon Flores
    RHP Michael Pineda

It’s cloudy and cool with a chance of rain tonight in Seattle (shocking, I know), so I’m guessing the Safeco Field roof will be closed for at least part of the game. First pitch is scheduled for 10:10pm ET tonight and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

Roster Update: Adam Warren will remain in the rotation and Chris Capuano will shift to the bullpen when Masahiro Tanaka returns on Wednesday, Joe Girardi told reporters. They’ll still have to send a reliever down to clear a 40-man spot for Tanaka when the time comes. Not surprising. Warren has pitched too well of late to go back to the bullpen.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released the second AL All-Star Game fan voting update today, and no Yankees lead at their positions. Royals fans are stuffing the ballot box — five Royals are on pace to start and three others are second in the voting at their positions. A-Rod is third at DH, McCann and Teixeira are fourth at catcher and first base, respectively, and Jacoby Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner rank 6th, 12th, and 13th among outfielders, also respectively.

2015 Draft: Nick Plummer

Nick Plummer | OF

Background
The 18-year-old Plummer attends Brother Rice High School in Michigan, a few miles outside Detroit. He announced his status as a top draft prospect with authority at the Area Code Games last summer by dominating elite high school pitching. Plummer missed time last fall with mono but showed no lingering effects this spring. He is committed to Kentucky.

Scouting Report
Simply put, Plummer has arguably the best pure hit tool in the draft class, high school or college. His setup at the plate and his left-handed swing are as clean as it gets, with great balance and a direct, level path to the ball. Plummer covers the plate well and makes hard contact to all fields. There is some question about his long-term power potential, but right now he shows enough bat speed to expect at least average home run totals down the road. Plummer has a stocky build at 5-foot-11 and 190 lbs., and while he isn’t a great athlete or a speedy runner, he can play center thanks to his instincts. Plummer has had some conditioning issues in the past, and whenever he reaches the point where he can’t stay in center (could happen next year, could happen in 15 years), left field is the most likely destination because his arm isn’t suited for right.

Miscellany
Baseball America, Keith Law (subs. req’d), and MLB.com ranked Plummer as the 11th, 15th, and 27th best prospect in their latest draft prospect rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, Kiley McDaniel recently said he heard the Yankees have interest in Plummer. It’s very likely Plummer will be the first player drafted out of Michigan in the first round since the Yankees selected Michigan C David Parrish with the 28th pick in 2000. New York drafts 16th and 30th this year and Plummer’s stock seems to be all over the place. Could go as high as the 10-12 range, could slip into the back half of the first round. My guess is he won’t be around for that 30th pick.

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees are still out on the West Coast, which means we have another 10pm ET start tonight. Until then, use this as your open thread to talk about whatever. ESPN is showing the Brewers and Cardinals at 8pm ET and that’s about it as far as nationally televised sports go. The regular game thread will be along closer to game time.