A-Rod’s return will help the Yankees even though he limits their flexibility

The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
The Return of Rod. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Let me preface this by saying this is not a “the Yankees are better off without Alex Rodriguez” post. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rodriguez started slow this season (like many Yankees) but had started to turn things around right before injuring his hamstring. The Yankees can use his right-handed bat. No doubt about it.

That being said, there is no denying A-Rod‘s return robs the Yankees of some roster flexibility. He can’t play the field and he provides negative value on the bases. As long as Rodriguez hits, you’ll live with that other stuff, and I do think he’ll hit. “Alex is a professional hitter, we know he is going to be able to hit,” said fill-in DH Carlos Beltran to Kevin Kernan earlier this week.

Rodriguez’s return means a few different things for the roster and the Yankees in general. Some of it is no big deal, and some of it is pretty damn important. His return changes the entire complexion of the team. Consider this a preview of A-Rod’s return from the DL.

The Roster Move

Might as well start here. I fully expect the Yankees to send Rob Refsnyder back to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot for A-Rod, and yeah, I’m sure there will be outrage. In our poll last week nearly 60% of the over 2,000 votes were in favor of keeping Refsnyder and sending Ronald Torreyes down. I just can’t see it happening.

Torreyes started two games over the weekend, including one at third base, a position the Yankees have been trying to teach Refsnyder. Also, I don’t think the Yankees want to use Starlin Castro as the backup shortstop. I think they consider him a second baseman and a second baseman only for the time being. All signs point to Refsnyder going down for A-Rod.

The DH Spot

It’s really hard to ignore how well Beltran took to the DH spot during Alex’s absence. Beltran has hit .322/.344/.780 (196 wRC+) with six homers as a DH this year compared to only .245/.278/.392 (80 wRC+) with four homers as a right fielder. It’s not a huge amount of data — Beltran has batted 64 times as a DH and 108 times as a right fielder — but it’s what we have.

A-Rod’s return is going to push Beltran back into right field, which, at the very least, is going to hurt the team defense considerably. If you buy into the numbers, Beltran’s offense will take a hit as well. (I don’t think it’s quite that simple, especially not with those sample sizes.) What else can the Yankees do though? They’re at their best when Beltran and A-Rod are in the lineup, and there’s only one way to get both into the lineup at the same time.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

What About Hicks?

Beltran going back to right field means Girardi and the Yankees will again have to find ways to get Aaron Hicks into the lineup. Hicks hit .276/.338/.431 (107 wRC+) in 69 plate appearances during A-Rod’s absence and, just as importantly, I feel he’s looked way more comfortable at the plate. Back in April he seemed to be jumping at everything. It looked like he was trying to hit a five-run home run each time up.

The plan coming into the season was to give the regulars a little more rest and that hasn’t happened yet, partly because A-Rod was hurt and partly because the Yankees really struggled for a while, so Joe Girardi kept running everyone out there in hopes of getting a win. Hopefully now that Hicks has shown he can productive with regular at-bats Girardi will be more willing to use him.

These things have a way of working themselves out. Someone will get hurt or banged up and need a few days, which will clear playing time for Hicks. Until that happens, the only way to get Hicks into the lineup is by sitting Beltran, A-Rod, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner more frequently. That’s easier said than done, especially considering the way Beltran and Ellsbury have been hitting of late.

Can He Really Not Play The Field? Like At All?

This section is probably a waste of words and brainpower because the Yankees have been completely unwilling to play Rodriguez in the field since last May. He didn’t even bring a glove to Spring Training. They continue to say he’s a DH and a DH only. I’m not asking whether he can play third base twice a week or anything like that though. Can A-Rod really not play five or six innings at first base once every ten days or so? With a fly ball pitcher on the mound? And give him the next day off to recover?

It’s not much, but something like that can be a help because it’ll get Beltran (and Mark Teixeira) off his feet and Hicks into the lineup. Teixeira’s neck is acting up again and he hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball either. Sitting him for a few innings here and there wouldn’t kill the Yankees at the moment. There’s no reason to think this will happen though. A-Rod’s medicals must be really scary for the Yankees to not even consider playing him in the field once in a blue moon.

* * *

The Yankees are a better team today than they were yesterday because A-Rod is back. When he’s healthy, I think he can still be a very productive player. The lack of flexibility totally stinks though. It really does. Beltran has to go back to right field and Hicks has to go back to playing sporadically. That’s not ideal. Girardi and the Yankees have to figure out a way to make this work, because A-Rod can give the team a big lift as they look to continue climbing the standings.

Yankee bullpen can’t stop the bleeding in the 8-4 loss to Toronto

The six-game winning streak was nice while it lasted but it came to an end tonight versus the Blue Jays. Ivan Nova turned in a nice start but obviously, it often takes more than just a nice start to get a team win. Chasen Shreve and Nick Goody allowed four runs combined while hitters not named Austin Romine, Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius failed to collect a single hit.

Getty Images

Ivan the Not Terrible

Remember when Ivan Nova just didn’t look like a competent ML pitcher? He just turned in three decent/solid starts in a row. Many, including I, wondered how he’d do replacing Luis Severino in the rotation. Right now, I don’t know if I’d remove him easily.

Nova wasn’t without mistakes tonight but he struck out 8 in 6.2 IP, which is a good amount for someone who came into the game with 4.45 K/9 rate. His fastball had that old bite with good velocity while his curve was just flat out nasty. More of this, please. As frustrating inconsistent he’s been in his career, his upside can be tantalizing.

I told you he wasn’t without mistakes, right? In the fourth, with a runner on, he induced a soft grounder from Devon Travis to third. It seemed like Headley had a chance to grab it and throw the runner out but he bobbled it, extending the inning. The next batter, Ryan Goins, squared one up for a 2-RBI double to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. Sure, working with an extra out is not easy but he has to be able to get out of the inning unscathed, especially against the light-hitting No. 9 hitter.

In the sixth, Nova gave up a solo HR to Russell Martin for a 3-1 Jays lead. That, by the way, was the first homer of the season for the former Yankee catcher. Prior to tonight, Martin only had one XBH (a double) this season and he goes on to hit two dingers against Yankee pitchers, because of course. Another earned run was charged to Nova in the seventh when Shreve let the inherited runner score on a Michael Saunders HR.

Getty Images

Several Occurrences of Offense

The Yankees scored a run in the third. Headley led off with a single and Didi followed it up with a bunt hit. A passed ball advanced both runners to scoring position and Aaron Hicks earned a four-pitch walk to load the bases with no out. I mentioned that Yankees “scored a run” right? I did mean that they only scored one run in the situation. Jacoby Ellsbury flew out softly to left, not advancing the runner to home. Brett Gardner hit into an RBI fielder’s choice to give Yankees a 1-0 lead and Carlos Beltran flew out to end the inning.

Flash forward to seventh inning, with Marco Estrada’s pitch count up and Yankees trailing 7-1, Headley and Gregorius hit back-to-back solo homers to close the gap. Both of the dingers came on changeups that hung up in the zone but still, it’s the big league hitters’ job to punish mistakes. The Yankees continued their barrage of solo home runs in the ninth with an Austin Romine bomb off of Chad Girodo (an 80-grade Guido name btw) but of course, they were not enough to overcome the lead that Toronto had.

Summary of his season (Getty Images)

Not Keeping It Close

Speaking of the Toronto lead, they were amplified by two big HRs off of Chasen Shreve. In the seventh, Girardi pulled Nova out after an Edwin Encarnacion HBP and put the lefty in. Shreve hung a very mediocre slider in the middle of the zone and Saunders didn’t miss any of it, 5-1 Jays. Shreve allowed a full-count double to Smoak and followed it up by giving up a dinger to Martin (his second of the night and season!) to let the game out of control. After tonight, he has pitched 19 innings and allowed seven (!) home runs. That’s a 3.32 HR/9 rate, which is pretty awful. You wonder what happened to this guy after dominating for most of 2015. Relief pitchers can be quite volatile like that.

Nick Goody came into relief with two outs in the eighth. He gave up consecutive walks to Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson to begin his outing. Encarnacion grounded an RBI single to left to make it 8-3 Jays. Not a banner performance for a young guy who’s trying to stick to the roster. Two non-elite relievers had middling performances today and it was that kind of night for the Yankees.

Box Score, Highlights, WPA, Standings

Here’s tonight’s box score, video highlights, updated standings and WPA.

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees are going to face the Jays tomorrow in a 4 pm matchup of lefties – J.A. Happ versus C.C. Sabathia. Will they extend the losing streak or start a new winning one? We’ll see.

DotF: A-Rod homers in final game of rehab assignment

In case you missed it earlier, C Gary Sanchez has a non-displaced fracture in his right thumb and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Sucks. He was hit by a foul tip last night. C Sebastian Valle has been bumped up Double-A Trenton to fill Sanchez’s roster spot, so says Shane Hennigan.

Triple-A Scranton (7-1 win over Louisville)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-4, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB — he hasn’t hit much since being sent down and they’ll need him to get hot while Sanchez is out
  • DH Aaron Judge: 1-5, 1 RBI, 2 K — he’s in a 7-for-39 (.179) slump with a 30.4% strikeout rate
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB — sixth dinger of the season
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • LHP Phil Coke: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 6/1 GB/FB — 43 of 69 pitches were strikes (62%) … Phil Coke starting in the minors like it’s 2006 or something
  • RHP Conor Mullee: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 18 of 35 pitches were strikes (51%)
  • LHP Neal Cotts: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — eleven pitches, nine strikes
  • RHP Anthony Swarzak: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — eleven pitches, eight strikes

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Update: Gary Sanchez placed on Triple-A DL with fractured thumb


7:12pm: Sanchez has a non-displaced fracture of his right thumb, the Yankees announced. He will be re-evaluated in two weeks. Sucks.

1:53pm: Top catching prospect Gary Sanchez has a “crack in his thumb,” Brian Cashman confirmed to Shane Hennigan this afternoon. Sanchez is heading to New York for further evaluation. He took a foul tip to the hand during Triple-A Scranton’s game last night.

Sanchez, 23, is hitting .297/.340/.536 (155 wRC+) with six homers in 34 games with the RailRiders this year. He made a one-game cameo with the big league team earlier this month. It goes without saying a thumb injury is a pretty big deal. If you can’t hold the bat or grip the ball properly, you’re kinda useless on the field.

Austin Romine, who has played well in limited time as Brian McCann‘s backup, won’t have to look over his shoulder for a little while now. Sanchez has been waiting in Triple-A and is clearly part of the team’s long-term plans behind the plate. It’s only a matter of time until he begins an apprenticeship under McCann.

For now all we can do is hope the injury is not severe and will only sideline Sanchez for a few weeks or even a few days. He’s a young man who is still working on his defense, and he can’t do that if he’s injured.

Game 45: Going for No. 7


The Yankees are back at .500 thanks to their six-game winning streak. Getting to .500 was the easy part though. Building the record up and winning more games than you lose going forward is where it gets difficult. The Yankees can begin that process with a win tonight to stretch that winning streak to seven games. It would be their longest since last June. The good news is they’re 85.7% of the way there already. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 1B Dustin Ackley
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Ivan Nova

It is legitimately hot in New York. The temperature has been hanging around 90 degrees all day, though it’ll be a bit cooler tonight. No clouds in the sky and no rain in the forecast. Nice night for a game. Tonight’s contest will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is playing another rehab game with Double-A Trenton tonight and is expected to rejoin the team tomorrow … Mark Teixeira is out after his neck “locked up.” He’s been having on and off neck issues all season and ia going for an MRI. Joe Girardi admitted to being concerned … Brian Cashman reiterated to Shane Hennigan that Luis Severino (triceps) could be sent to Triple-A once healthy. “First, finish him off his rehab. We expect it to be a (one and done) situation there and then we’ll make a decision whether he gets placed back on the 25(-man roster) in New York or if we send him here to Scranton,” said the GM.

Blue Jays Roster Update: The Blue Jays activated second baseman Devon Travis off the DL today. Manager John Gibbons said that wasn’t the plan coming into the series. I guess they’re looking for ways to boost their offense.

2016 Draft: Connor Jones

Connor Jones | RHP

The 21-year-old Jones is from Chesapeake and he currently pitches for Virginia. He spent his freshman year in the bullpen before moving into the rotation as a sophomore. This spring Jones has a 2.05 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 33 walks in 92 1/3 innings. He was a possible first round pick out of high school in 2013 had he been considered signable. A strong college commitment caused Jones to slide to the 21st round (Padres).

Scouting Report
Jones, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs., pitches off a heavy sinker with a ton of movement in the 88-95 mph range. He’s thrown even harder out of the bullpen. The sinker moves so much that he has trouble locating it. It’s one of those pitches you can just throw down the middle and let the movement do the rest. Jones also throws an inconsistent mid-80s slider that looks like a true out pitch on its best days. His changeup is just okay. Between his work out of the bullpen as his freshman and his two years as a workhorse starter, Jones has earned the bulldog label.

MLB.com and Baseball America ranked Jones as the 16th and 22nd best prospect in the draft class, respectively. Keith Law (subs. req’d) is not as high on him. He had him 57th. The Yankees pick 18th and 62nd. It’s worth noting Virginia pitchers have a poor track in pro ball. Recent high picks like Nathan Kirby (40th overall in 2015), Nick Howard (19th in 2014), Branden Kline (65th in 2012), and Danny Hultzen (2nd in 2011) all got hurt and/or saw their performance take a big step back after leaving Virginia. That doesn’t mean Jones is doomed to fail, but that track record could scare some teams away.

Even on a hometown discount, passing on Robinson Cano was the smart move for the Yankees


The Yankees are now in year three of the post-Robinson Cano era. The team has lacked a dominant offensive force since Cano left and it’s been painfully obvious at times. It wasn’t until this season that the Yankees finally found a long-term replacement at second base in Starlin Castro too. We all knew losing Robbie was going hurt. It wasn’t a surprise.

Based on everything we heard at the time, Cano would have taken a discount to remain with the Yankees, but not a big one. He wanted to get paid and that was his right. The Yankees maxed their offer out at seven years and $175M before the Mariners blew them out of the water at ten years and $240M. How could Cano say no to that? Seattle made the decision easy.

A friend of Cano’s told Mark Feinsand that Robbie was willing to take a larger discount than originally reported to remain in New York, however. The friend says Cano would have taken an eight-year deal at $200M, which is the Yankees’ final offer plus one additional year at the same average annual value. This is second hand information, it’s not coming directly from Cano, so take it with a grain of salt.

This news about Cano’s willingness to take a larger than reported discount doesn’t really change anything. He’s still a Mariner and the Yankees can’t have a do-over. I wouldn’t say the report raises some questions, but it does spark some thought. Three things immediately jumped to mind when I read what Cano’s friend told Feinsand.

1. Leaving $40M on the table would have been, uh, bold. I have a hard time believing Cano would have really taken $200M from the Yankees over $240M from the Mariners. This isn’t Andrew Miller turning down an extra $4M from the Astros to sign with the Yankees. We’re talking about $40M. Hey, Robbie had already made a lot of money at that point of his career, so maybe he really would have turned down an extra $40M (!) to stay in New York. It just seems so very unlikely, right? How does anyone turn down that much money? The MLBPA would have crushed Cano too. They would have been so pissed. I don’t doubt Feinsand’s reporting. I doubt Cano’s friend. This one doesn’t pass the sniff test.

2. Even at that price, passing on Cano was smart. Okay, so let’s say Cano really would have come back on an eight-year deal at $200M. Does that mean it would have been a good idea? Only if the goal was to get better value than the deal he took from the Mariners. We’re still talking about a player who had just turned 31 and averaged 160 games a year at a physically demanding position. The wear and tear could not be ignored.

Cano was truly great for the Yankees from 2009-13. The Yankees wouldn’t be getting 2009-13 Cano though. They would have been signing 2014-21 Cano, the guy who unquestionably would have been on the downside of his career. Robbie is having an excellent season to date (155 wRC+) but last season the Mariners got a scare when he put up a 116 wRC+ and barely resembled the Cano from the last half-decade. A contract of that size means you end up holding your breath an awful lot.

That 2013 season was a big wake up call for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira‘s wrist gave out, CC Sabathia‘s performance collapsed, and Alex Rodriguez‘s (other) hip gave out. The huge money contracts all started to go bad at once. Cano was great, but so were Teixeira and Sabathia and A-Rod once upon a time. Even at the “discount” rate of eight years and $200M, the Yankees were smart to not want pay big money through Cano’s decline years.

3. The problem wasn’t letting Cano walk, it was replacing him with Ellsbury. The Yankees essentially signed Jacoby Ellsbury to replace Cano, and that was bad. Now they’re going to end up paying big for someone’s decline years anyway. I know Ellsbury has been hitting well these last few weeks, but overall, his time in pinstripes has been largely forgettable. Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they’d like a do-over.

If given the choice between Ellsbury at seven years and $153M and Cano at eight years and $200M, give me Cano each and every time. I’d rather see the Yankees pony up for the elite homegrown player. Letting Robbie walk was a smart move long-term. The problem is the Yankees signed Ellsbury to replace him, so they still wound up with an expensive player heading into his mid-30s, except this one isn’t as good as the guy they had. The Yankees wanted to get back into contention in 2014 though, so when Cano walked, they pounced on Ellsbury. Blah.

* * *

The rational business side of baseball and the emotional fan side of baseball don’t always see eye to eye. I would have loved nothing more than to cheer Cano on as he chased 3,000 hits in pinstripes and cemented his place in Monument Park. At the same time, I understand committing huge bucks to Robbie’s age 31+ seasons was not a good idea. I can’t imagine the Mariners are looking forward to the remaining seven years of his contract.

I have a tough time believing the friend who says Cano would have taken eight years and $200M to return to the Yankees. That’s too steep of a discount. Either way, it doesn’t matter now. Cano is in Seattle and the Yankees are worse off without him in the short-term and better off without him in the long-term. That was always going to be the case.