8/28 to 8/30 Series Preview: Atlanta Braves

Homecoming for McCann. (Presswire)
Homecoming for McCann. (Presswire)

Time for some more interleague play. The Yankees open a three-game series with the Braves in Atlanta tonight. This is their first visit to Turner Field since 2012, when they swept three games. The Yankees are 11-2 all-time at Turner Field, including the postseason. This is the only series of the season between these two clubs; there won’t be a return series in New York.

What Have The Braves Done Lately?

Boy do the Braves stink. They had an off-day yesterday and dropped two of three to the Rockies earlier this week. The Braves have lost 13 of their last 16 games and 48 of their last 76 games. They are not good at all. Atlanta is 54-73 with a -109 run differential overall this year, and, remarkably, they are in third place in the NL East. That’s because the Marlins and Phillies are even worse.

Offense & Defense

The Braves are the worst offensive team in baseball in terms of runs per game (3.65) and third worst by wRC+ (86 wRC+). They’ve hit 81 home runs this year, ten fewer than any other team. Atlanta has a small army of pitchers on the DL but their position players are all healthy. No one on the DL or even day-to-day.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Manager Fredi Gonzalez does have some brand names in his lineup. The team’s best player is 1B Freddie Freeman (126 wRC+), and he’s been on and off the DL all season with wrist and oblique problems. OF Nick Markakis (110 wRC+) leads off and OF Cameron Maybin (104 wRC+) typically hits second. Freeman bats third and usually C A.J. Pierzynski (108 wRC+) cleans up. Ex-Yankee OF Nick Swisher (78 wRC+ in limited time), OF Jonny Gomes (92 wRC+), and OF Michael Bourn (63 wRC+) are in a three-way left field platoon at the moment.

Former Yankees farmhand UTIL Adonis Garcia (93 wRC+) has been playing third base on an everyday basis the last few weeks. What a world. SS Andrelton Simmons (85 wRC+) and 2B Jace Peterson (82 wRC+) is the double play combination. C Christian Bethancourt (26 wRC+), C Ryan Lavarnway (83 wRC+), and IF Pedro Ciriaco (68 wRC+) round out the bench with their small sample size stats. That seems like a really weak bench by NL standards.

The Braves have tremendous defenders at short (Simmons), second (Peterson), and in center (Maybin), plus Freeman is solid at first. Simmons is in the conversation for the best defensive player in baseball, regardless of position. The rest of the team? Not so good in the field. Swisher and Gomes are a disaster in left — Swisher’s defense was always underrated during his time in pinstripes, but his knees are shot now — and Markakis isn’t as good as his reputation in right. Pierzynski has never been a good defender behind the plate and that is still true at age 38.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7:30pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. ATL) vs. RHP Williams Perez (No vs. NYY)
Perez, 24, has a 4.76 ERA (4.95 FIP) in 79.1 innings spread across 13 starts and three relief appearances this year, and he does it with ground balls (49.6%). His strikeout (14.3%), walk (11.1%), and homer (0.91 HR/9) rates are really bad. Lefties (.375 wOBA) have also hit him a ton harder than righties (.309 wOBA) in his relatively brief big league career. Perez is a sinkerballer, sitting right at 90 mph with the pitch and throwing it nearly 70% of the time. He also throws an upper-70s changeup and a mid-70s curveball. When in doubt, guess sinker. That’s his bread and butter.

Saturday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (No vs. ATL) vs. RHP Matt Wisler (No vs. NYY)
Fun fact: Severino and Wisler were ranked consecutively on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list before the season. Wisler was No. 34 and Severino was No. 35. A few weeks after the list was released, the Padres shipped Wisler to Atlanta as part of the Craig Kimbrel trade. The 22-year-old northpaw has a 5.43 ERA (5.43 FIP!) in a dozen starts and 64.2 innings this year. His peripheral stats don’t jump out at you at all: 14.1 K%, 7.9 BB%, 35.3 GB%, and 1.67 HR/9. Wisler has gotten clobbered by lefties (.464 wOBA) during his short big league career. Righties (.304 wOBA) haven’t had as much success. Wisler throws two fastballs — low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamers — which set up his low-80s slider. He also throws a few mid-80s changeups per start but not many.

Wisler. (Presswire)
Wisler. (Presswire)

Sunday (1:30pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. ATL) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (vs. NYY)
Teheran, 24, has taken a big step back this year. He has a 4.29 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 157.1 innings in 2015 after pitching to a 3.03 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 406.2 innings from 2013-14. His strikeout (20.5%) and grounder (40.2%) rates are in line with the last few years, but his walk rate (8.2%) has jumped and he’s more homer prone than ever (1.20 HR/9). Teheran has always given up some long balls, but not this many. Like Perez and Wisler, Teheran has been hit harder by lefties (.376 wOBA) than righties (.278 wOBA). Low-90s four-seamers and upper-80s two-seamers are Teheran’s two fastballs. A low-80s slider is his go-to breaking ball, though he also offers low-80s changeups and mid-70s curveballs. When he’s on, Teheran is a borderline ace. He just hasn’t been on all that often this year.

Bullpen Status
Gonzalez has a weak bullpen overall (4.28 ERA/4.18 FIP) and it’s been even weaker these last few weeks, with Jim Johnson traded away and Jason Grilli hurt. Former Yankees farmhand Arodys Vizcaino (0.48/2.21) is closing now. He was part of the Javy Vazquez/Boone Logan trade back in the day. (Atlanta traded Vizcaino to the Cubs then re-acquired him this past offseason.)

The Braves have a few guys in the bullpen you’ll recognize: RHP Edwin Jackson (3.52/3.78), LHP Ross Detwiler (6.58/5.96), and RHP Peter Moylan (2.45/6.12 in very limited time). Moylan didn’t pitch at all year. The rest of the bullpen? You need to be the diehardest of diehards to recognize these guys: RHP Sugar Ray Marimon (6.35/4.10), LHP Matt Marksberry (5.54/4.20), and LHP Andrew McKirahan (4.35/3.32). Amazing. Atlanta had an off-day yesterday, so the bullpen is fresh. Here is our Bullpen Workload page. Check out Talking Chop for the latest on the Braves.

Mailbag: Eovaldi, Dellin, Warren, Walker, Gamel, Umpires

Got a dozen questions in this week’s mailbag and some of the answers are longer than usual. So this is an extra large mailbag. The “For The Mailbag” form is gone from the sidebar and won’t return. If you want to send us a mailbag question, email us at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. The email address is in the sidebar at all times in case you forget.

(Presswire)
Eovaldi. (Presswire)

P.J. asks: Do you think there is any chance the Yankees will sign Nathan Eovaldi to an early extension? I know he’s under team control through the 2017 season. He’s just 25 and pitching extremely well. I would think a early extension say locking up 2 years of his FA through the 2019 season would be good for both parties? Something in the neighborhood of $45 to $50MM over 4 years (2016 through 2019) would seem fair I think.

Yes, I do think there’s a chance the Yankees will try to sign Eovaldi long-term this offseason, certainly moreso than Michael Pineda. Nothing personal, just health reasons. I love Big Mike, but man, his injury history is scary. Eovaldi has made some tremendous strides this year and the splitter is a tangible reason for those strides. This isn’t a small sample size statistical fluke. He’s a different pitcher now than he was even in April thanks to the split-finger pitch.

Eovaldi will have just over four years of service time after this season, so he’s two years removed from free agency. Only four starters have signed a multi-year extension at that service time level over the last four years, according to MLBTR’s Extension Tracker:

  • Jordan Zimmermann: two years and $24M
  • Matt Harrison: five years and $55M, plus one option year
  • Tim Lincecum: two years and $40.5M
  • Brandon Morrow: three years and $21M, plus one option year

Gosh, how about that list for some cautionary tales? Harrison, Lincecum, and Morrow all broke down during their contracts — Harrison and Morrow physically, Lincecum performance-wise — and even Zimmermann’s performance took a step back in year one. Zimmermann and Lincecum only signed two-year deals that gave their teams cost certainty over their two arbitration years but did not buy out free agent years, and both were elite pitchers at the time.

Those four players really don’t help us get a sense of what it would cost to sign Eovaldi, who is probably looking at $6M or so through arbitration after the season. Harrison probably works the best but he was much more effective than Eovaldi at the time of signing his deal — he had a 132 ERA+ in 399 innings in the two years leading up to extension while Eovaldi has a 90 ERA+ in 343.2 innings from 2014-15. Morrow? He bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation, plus he battled injuries.

Eovaldi did not receive a big signing bonus when he was drafted ($250,000 as an 11th rounder) and his $3.3M salary this year is his first significant payday. He might jump at the security of a multi-year contract. The $45M to $50M over four years that P.J. suggested might be a little pricey but I do think it’s in the ballpark. Let’s say $6M next year (second arbitration year), $9M the year after that (third arbitration year), and then $12M each for the two years after that (both free agent years). That’s four years and $39M. Throw in a $1M signing bonus and call it an even four years and $40M. Sound reasonable? Maybe! Something tells me this won’t be the last time we discuss an Eovaldi extension.

Adam asks: How many years does a team have control of minor leaguers (International FA/College/High School) before they have to be added to 40-man?

This is all driven by the Rule 5 Draft. Players who have to be added to the 40-man roster but are not are then eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, which means another team can take them and try to keep them on their big league roster all season. Here’s what the rulebook says about 40-man roster eligibility:

  • Players who were 18 or younger on the June 5th preceding their signing get four years before being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.
  • Players who were 19 or older on the June 5th preceding their signing get three years before being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.

It goes by age and signing date regardless of whether the player was drafted or signed as an international free agent. Generally speaking, high school players from the 2011 draft, college players from the 2012 draft, and international players from the 2011-12 signing period have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason. A few years ago eligibility was pushed back a year — players 18 or younger used to only get three years while players 19 or older got two before being Rule 5 Draft eligible — and that took some of the luster of the Rule 5 Draft. That extra year of control means more suspects are weeded out from the prospects.

Dellin. (Presswire)
Dellin. (Presswire)

Adam asks: Is anyone talking about or worried about Dellin Betances’ workload? On pace for another 87 innings this year. I realize he is a large, strong dude, but he is used quite a lot.

I can’t remember seeing anyone talk about it, but yeah, I do have some concern about his workload. Dellin threw 90 innings in 70 appearances last year and is already at 66 innings in 58 appearances this year, so he’s on pace for roughly 85 innings and 76 appearances. That’s an awful lot of work by today’s reliever standards — David Robertson has never made more than 70 appearances or thrown more than 66.2 innings in a season, for example — so of course there is some concern.

Dellin was a starter in the minors, but pitching on a set schedule as a starter and sporadically as a reliever are very different things. Also, Betances has an average Leverage Index of 1.73 when entering games this year, tenth highest among 140 qualified relievers. So it’s not just a lot of innings, it’s a lot of intense, stressful innings. Dellin has already walked more batters this year than he did last year (27 to 24) and it seems like he isn’t as razor sharp as he was a year ago. He’s still great! But there have been a few more hiccups this summer. Perhaps that is due to the workload. Betances is awesome and he’s a big strong guy, and so far that workload has not stopped him from being elite. Going forward though, it’s not unreasonable to be a tiny bit worried.

Nathan asks: What are the chances that Adam Warren could be traded after this season a la David Phelps and paired with a prospect (Rob Refsnyder or Gary Sanchez) for another cost controlled pitcher or infielder? Seems as if the Yankees are dead set on not letting Warren start and another team could probably use that.

I could see it, sure. Warren’s a good pitcher but he’s not indispensable. As always, it would depend on the return. Phelps and Martin Prado netted them a pretty exciting young pitcher in Eovaldi (plus other stuff), so is another trade like that out there? If so, the Yankees would be foolish not to at least consider it. I do think Warren is pretty valuable to the Yankees though, moreso than Phelps was simply because he’s a better pitcher (3.37 ERA/3.77 FIP vs. 4.29/4.15) and more durable. Warren’s been completely healthy throughout his career while Phelps has had an arm injury in each of the last four seasons. I think the Yankees would be much more hesitant to part with Warren than they were Phelps. If I were another team though, I’d absolutely try to pry Warren loose this winter and stick him in my rotation.

Todd asks: So after not hitting almost his whole minor league career, I haven’t seen Cito Culver’s name in a while. Has our former #1 draft pick been released?

Nope, he’s still in the system. Culver, who turned 23 on Wednesday, has spent most of the year as the everyday shortstop for Double-A Trenton, though he did also spend some time with Triple-A Scranton when they needed an extra infielder. He went into last night’s game hitting .199/.252/.276 (52 wRC+) in 381 plate appearances this year, which is, uh, not good. Culver is a career .227/.306/.312 (80 wRC+) hitter in over 2,600 minor league plate appearance since being the 32nd overall pick in the 2010 draft. Swing and a miss, that pick was. (To be fair, everyone wanted Nick Castellanos with that pick, and he’s stunk too, but at least he reached MLB.)

Michael asks: What do you see as Dustin Ackley‘s role once healthy for September? The playoffs? And for next year?

Same as Garrett Jones, basically. Except I imagine Greg Bird will get any backup first base reps — as well as any big left-handed pinch-hit plate appearances — in September and maybe even the postseason. I guess that leaves Ackley as the fifth outfielder who plays once or twice a week down the stretch, maybe less depending on the various postseason races. Next year could be a different story, especially if the team asks him to work at second base over the winter, which I think will happen. (It’s not a new position, he’d just be getting reacquainted with an old position.) I think the Yankees want to turn Ackley into their Brock Holt, the guy who plays semi-regularly to give everyone else a rest. Next year he could see time at second base, first base, and all three outfield spots, maybe starting two or three games a week. Assuming he hits a little, of course. That’s a big if.

Gamel. (Bill Tarutis/Times Leader )
Gamel. (Bill Tarutis/Times Leader )

Geoffrey asks: What about Ben Gamel? Aaron Judge obviously attracts the most attention, but Gamel is clearly having a very impressive year in AAA. How do you think he fits into the Yankees’ plans? Trade chip?

Gamel’s having a fantastic year. A breakout year, really. The team’s tenth round pick in 2010 hit .276/.352/.392 (112 wRC+) at mostly High-A two years ago and .261/.308/.340 (80 wRC+) at Double-A last year, but this season he’s hitting .304/.360/.474 (140 wRC+) for Triple-A Scranton. Gamel always had a promising hit tool, the question was his power, and it’s taken a step forward this season. He went into last night’s game with nine homers after hitting two last year and ten total from 2011-14.

The problem with Gamel — this isn’t so much a “problem” as it is a set of circumstances — is that he’s a left-handed hitting outfielder in an organization loaded with them. The Yankees have Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury on the big league roster. They also have Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott on the 40-man roster. Both Gamel and Jake Cave will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, so they’ll have to be added to the 40-man as well. That’ll be six lefty hitting outfielders on the 40-man and at Triple-A or above going into next season. (Easy to see why they could afford to trade Ramon Flores, right?)

That’s a lot of one thing. Yes, you need multiple outfielders, but not that many of the same type of outfielder. Gamel is at a disadvantage because he’s worst defender of those six lefty hitting outfielders, and also has the least prospect pedigree. My guess is the Yankees add Gamel and Cave to the 40-man in the offseason and look to trade one or even two of these outfielders. Maybe Williams and Cave. Or Heathcott and Gardner. Who knows. The outfield depth is good for the Yankees but bad for Gamel.

John asks: If Major League Baseball was serious about protecting arms, why not expand rosters to say, 30 players? More arms = more rest, less innings from starters, etc.

I don’t think rosters will expand to all the way to 30 players — that’s a couple extra million bucks the owners would have to fork over in salary, per diem, and travel costs! — but I do think we’ll see a 26th man added to the roster reasonably soon. Maybe not this coming round of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations (after next season), but perhaps in the next round after that. Adding the 26th man for doubleheaders seems to have been the first step towards increasing the active roster from 25 players to 26. Starters are throwing fewer innings (not just for the Yankees, I mean all around the league) and games are much more competitive because of the league-wide parity, so relievers are getting burnt out. The MLBPA has reasons to push for a 26-man roster beyond the usual “add a roster spot and that’s another player making good money” stuff. This could potential keep players healthy and extend careers. That’s good for everyone, including fans.

Justin asks: If the Yankees did end up trading for Johnny Cueto or David Price, what would happen if they refused to cut their hair or beard? Their contract with their former teams wouldn’t have any appearance stipulations. Would the Yankees really trade a top prospect and then bench an ace over their hair policy?

I’m not sure but they might be able to suspend them for breaking team rules, and suspensions are pretty pricey for guys at that pay scale. There are no appearance clauses in contracts but teams do have rules, some more strict than others. The Yankees have their hair/facial hair policy and require players to wear suits on road trips. Other teams are much more relaxed. Maybe the union could file a grievance over something like this. Not really sure. Sitting out or getting suspended because you refuse to cut your hair or shave your beard wouldn’t kill the market for guys like Cueto or Price, but teams and other players would notice. Refusing to conform to team rules gives off a “not a team player” vibe.

Walker and former Yankees starting catcher Chris Stewart. (Presswire)
Walker and former Yankees starting catcher Chris Stewart. (Presswire)

Adam asks: Greg Bird to Pirates for Neil Walker. Thoughts?

I think that is fair but I don’t think the Yankees would do it, based on the way they held on to their top prospects at the trade deadline. The Pirates need a first baseman — Pedro Alvarez is almost certainly going to be non-tendered this offseason — and Bird would be a great cheap, long-term option for them. Walker is one of the most productive second baseman in baseball, but he’ll also be a free agent after 2016, and Pittsburgh has a ton of infield depth, with Jung-Ho Kang, Jordy Mercer, and Josh Harrison at the MLB level plus Alen Hanson in Triple-A.

Both teams would be dealing from a position of strength to address a weakness. The Pirates have a ton of infielders and need a first baseman. The Yankees need a second baseman and have several first base candidates if you include Sanchez and Eric Jagielo. I just don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird for one year of the switch-hitting Walker, who went into last night’s game hitting .267/.327/.431 (110 wRC+) but has been graded as a below-average defender for years now. Maybe Ivan Nova for Walker works? One impending free agent for another? My guess is the Pirates would balk at a one-for-one deal. Walker’s one of the top second baseman in the game and Nova’s a good but not great starter.

Andrew asks: So, say the Yankees and Blue Jays end the season tied for the AL East title and the first wild card spot. Is there a one-game playoff to decide who gets which spot or is it decided based on head-to-head record (i.e. 2005 Red Sox-Yankees).

They’d play a tiebreaker game to decide the division in that case. Under the old single wildcard system they would simply use head-to-head record, but, under the current system, they’d actually play a game to decide the division title. (Home field advantage in the tiebreaker game goes to the team with the better head-to-head record during the regular season.) There’s a huge difference between winning the division and getting stuck playing in a winner take all wildcard game, and both MLB and the MLBPA don’t want that being decided by something as trivial as head-to-head record. So far there’s been just one tiebreaker game under the current playoff system: the Rays beat the Rangers in Game 163 in 2013 to decide the second wildcard spot. Here’s the box score. Tampa Bay went to the postseason, Texas went home.

Samuel asks: How far ahead are teams made aware of which umpires are calling which games? As a follow up question to that — obviously there are “pitcher’s umpires” and “hitter’s umpires” is there a place that shows a list of who is most friendly to both?

I’m not sure how far in advance teams are told about the umpire crew. The umpire schedule is presumably set before the season, so there’s probably a master list somewhere every team can access. Just a guess. I don’t want to spoil much, but I’m working on a post about the strike zone and umpires for CBS, and every player has said their teams have umpire scouting reports available. The pitchers and catchers use them way more than hitters, which makes sense. The hitters don’t really seem to worry too much about who is behind the plate. Baseball Savant, which is so good it’s intimidating, has an umpire option that allows you to see PitchFX data for umpires. Here’s the called strike on pitches out of the zone leaderboard. Angel Hernandez has the highest rate of called strikes on pitches out of the zone this year (6.864%) while Tom Woodring has the lowest (3.879%). Can’t say I’m surprised to see Hernandez atop that leaderboard. He’s the worst.

DotF: Ackley doubles in first minor league rehab game

Got a bunch of notes to pass along, via Chad Jennings, Bryan Hoch, and Brendan Kuty:

  • C Gary Sanchez suffered a hamstring injury running out a double play ball last night and has been placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL. Sanchez was on track to be the third catcher when rosters expand Tuesday. Stinks. Consider this a reminder to never hustle, kids. Gotta think the Yankees will go with Austin Romine as the third catcher now. They’ll need to clear a 40-man spot for him.
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder will be called up when rosters expand, but OF Aaron Judge will not. “We’re not going to bring somebody just to bring them. In Judge’s case, there’s currently not a need,” said Brian Cashman. Also, there’s no point in adding him to the 40-man roster yet.
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren (elbow) is on a throwing program but is not yet throwing bullpen sessions, so right now he is unlikely to return to the big leagues next month. The Yankees could put him on the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man spot for someone else though.
  • The Arizona Fall League rosters will be announced next Tuesday, according to Josh Norris. Lindgren and Eric Jagielo (knee) seem like good bets for the AzFL to make up for lost time, if healthy. Maybe LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow) too, but that seems unlikely.
  • Congrats to Rookie Pulaski manager Tony Franklin, who was named the Appalachian League Manager of the Year. Also, 2B Gosuke Katoh, OF Carlos Vidal, and LHP Nestor Cortes were named to the league’s end-of-season All-Star Team.
  • And finally, make sure you check out Norris’ article on SS Hyo-Jun Park. Park, 19, signed for $1.2M out of South Korea as part of last summer’s international spending spree, and he has impressed on both sides of the ball in his pro debut this year.

Triple-A Scranton Game One (5-0 win over Lehigh Valley) makeup of last Thursday’s rainout

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-3, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB — he’s hitting .383/.432/.642 in his last 30 games … wowza
  • 2B Jose Pirela: 2-4, 1 R
  • DH Dustin Ackley: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K — first rehab game … my guess is he stays here until Monday, then rejoins the Yankees when rosters expand Tuesday, assuming his back holds up
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-2, 1 RBI, 1 BB — September pinch-runner candidate OF Rico Noel pinch-ran for him late in the game and stole a base
  • LF Slade Heathcott: 2-3, 2 RBI
  • C Austin Romine: 0-2, 1 BB
  • LHP Chaz Hebert: 7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/13 GB/FB — 64 of 88 pitches were strikes (73%) … that is one hell of a spot start for the kid who spent most of the year with High-A Tampa … he was up to help out during the doubleheader

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today, so check out this Billy Witz article on the bullpen revolving door. The Yankees have been shuttling relievers back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A Scranton all season, and these are real people whose lives change in an instant. The actual call-up/send-down process involves a lot of people and a lot of “drop everything and get to New York” moments. Pretty interesting stuff.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing tonight and MLB Network is showing a bunch of games as well. Who you see depends on where you live. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Yankees send Nick Goody down to Triple-A Scranton

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following yesterday’s game, the Yankees sent Nick Goody back down to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. He had been called up prior to the game to give the bullpen a fresh arm. Goody threw 20 pitches in a scoreless ninth inning yesterday, which is apparently all the Yankees needed from him.

Goody, 24, has ridden the bullpen shuttle this season and has allowed two runs in 3.1 big league innings. He has a 1.70 ERA (2.16 FIP) with a 33.1% strikeout rate and a 8.8% walk rate in 58.1 minor league innings split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year.

The Yankees won’t be able to bring Goody back when rosters expand on September 1st because of the ten-day rule — they won’t be able to call up Nick Rumbelow on September 1st either after sending him down yesterday — so he’ll have to wait a little longer to return to the show. Just a few days though.

A corresponding roster move was not announced yesterday. My guess is the Yankees will activate Bryan Mitchell (face) off the 7-day concussion DL. He threw a 30-pitch simulated game Tuesday and everything went well. Caleb Cotham‘s ten days will be up Friday, so he’s another call-up option. Or maybe they’ll bring Chris Capuano back to troll us all.

I suppose the Yankees could call up a position player with both Mark Teixeira (shin) and Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) banged up, but that would surprise me. I have a hard time believing they would go with a six-man bullpen, even temporarily until rosters expand. Everything they’ve done the last few years suggests they play with a short bench before a short bullpen. We’ll see.

Poll: The Designated Pinch-Runner in September

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Five days from now teams will be able to expand their rosters and carry up to 40 active players. I can’t remember a team ever carrying the maximum 40 players, but they can do so if they choose. The Yankees are planning to be aggressive with their September call-ups and get them on the roster right away. No waiting around for the Triple-A postseason to end or anything like that.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will use one September call-up spot for a designated pinch-runner. Most teams do these days. Last year the pinch-runner was Antoan Richardson — Richardson is the answer to the “who scored the winning run on Derek Jeter‘s walk-off single in his final home game?” trivia question — and a few years ago it was Greg Golson. Freddy Guzman was the pinch-runner late in 2009. He was on the postseason roster, you know. He pinch-ran twice in October, both times in the ALCS. So that’s World Series Champion Freddy Guzman to you.

The Yankees have gone the designated pinch-runner route so many times in recent years that it’s safe to assume they’ll do so again this year. Who will that player be next month? That’s a tough question to answer. There is no super obvious candidate. (No, they’re not going to stick Jorge Mateo on the 40-man roster and start his options clock several years early just to pinch-run a few times in September.) Let’s run down the possibilities.

Internal Options

The most obvious — and, frankly, only — pinch-runner candidate on the 40-man roster is Slade Heathcott. Heathcott still runs very well even after multiple knee surgeries, we saw it earlier this year, plus he’s ultra-aggressive. If the Yankees use Slade to pinch-run and want him to steal a base, he’ll go first or second pitch. That’s just his style. Heathcott left Friday’s Triple-A game, didn’t play for a few days, but has since returned to the lineup, so I assume he’s healthy now.

Other 40-man pinch-runner options include … uh … well … Jose Pirela? Maybe Cole Figueroa? The Yankees don’t have any other good candidates on the 40-man roster, not with Mason Williams out for the season following shoulder surgery. I suppose Ben Gamel or Taylor Dugas could be pinch-runner options, though neither has the blazing speed you expect from a pinch-running specialist. This guy needs to fly. Instincts are not enough. Heathcott’s certainly the best option among 40-man roster players, assuming he’s healthy.

Minor Trade

The Yankees acquired Guzman in an ultra-minor trade in August 2009 to be their pinch-runner specialist late in the season and in the postseason. The Red Sox acquired Quintin Berry in August 2013 to be their pinch-runner down the stretch. A few days ago the Mets traded for Eric Young Jr. to be their September pinch-runner. Teams trade for pinch-runners late in the season all the time.

Picking out a pinch-runner trade target is tough because it’s not about stats — who cares if the guy isn’t hitting or is riding the bench in Triple-A? Can you run? If you can, you’re a candidate for the job. Looking around Triple-A, someone like Chase d’Arnaud (26 steals in 106 Triple-A games with the Phillies) or Shawn O’Malley (37 steals in 88 games at multiple levels for the Mariners) could work. They have speed. A small trade is always possible. Good luck finding a target though. Only the scouting report matters for these players, and every team has different reports. Stats are irrelevant.

Noel's back. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

The Dark Horse

The Yankees may have already acquired their September pinch-runner: Rico Noel. They brought him in back in July and he’s been bouncing back and forth between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton these last few weeks, stealing ten bases in 29 games. Here’s a mini-scouting report from J.J. Cooper, who wrote up the 26-year-old Noel as a possible Rule 5 Draft pick this past offseason:

Rico Noel, of, Padres: Noel has plenty of Triple-A time, can play center field, gets on base and has outstanding speed. But he has bottom-of-the-scale power and a fringe-average hit tool at best.

That scouting report is fairly recent. The fact Noel has 20 total steals in 25 attempts this season — he was with the Padres before hooking on with the Yankees — suggests the “outstanding speed” part is still at least somewhat true these days, nine months since Cooper’s report. The “bottom-of-the-scale power and fringe-average hit tool at best?” Who cares. No one’s asking him to hit.

Noel is currently riding the bench in Triple-A and, aside from two spot starts, he has been used exclusively as a pinch-runner this month. Not just for slow guys either, he pinch-ran for Heathcott on two occasions. Noel had been an everyday player prior to this season. Are the Yankees using August to get him accustomed to sitting around on the bench then pinch-running at a moment’s notice? Maybe! We shouldn’t rule Noel out as a candidate.

Do Nothing

The do nothing option always exists. The Yankees don’t need a pinch-runner next month. It’s just a thing they’d like to have available late in close games. If the Yankees don’t have anyone in the minors they trust to run in key spots, or if they can’t swing a trade in the next few days, they could just move forward with no designated pinch-runner and keep using Chris Young in the role like they have been all season. I don’t think that will happen, but it is always possible. We shouldn’t rule it out.

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For what it’s worth, I expect the Yankees to add a pinch-runner next month, and Heathcott is probably the favorite simply because he is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot after designating Chris Capuano for assignment yesterday, so adding Noel wouldn’t be a headache, but I think that spot is earmarked for someone else. Andrew Bailey, most likely. Heathcott is perfectly qualified as long as he’s healthy. Should he get hurt at some point, the Yankees might be stuck scrambling for a pinch-runner down the stretch. Anyway, time for the poll.

Who should be the designated pinch-runner in September?