It’s time to give Chapman a temporary break from closing

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have a bit of a closer problem right now. Aroldis Chapman was able to close out last night’s game, though not before allowing a two-run home run to Amed Rosario. It was the third straight game in which Chapman has allowed a run. Already this year Chapman has allowed more runs than he did in any season from 2014-16, and that’s despite missing a month with an injury and there still being six weeks to go in the season.

The Yankees have had a closer problem pretty much all season, but things are really starting to come to a head now, with the postseason races heating up and every win being so crucial. They’re 4.5 games back in the AL East and can’t afford to fall any further behind, and they’re 3.5 games up on a wildcard spot with about seven teams breathing down their neck. Letting late leads slip away is a good way to blow a postseason spot, and Chapman has done this a few too many times this year.

The facts: Chapman has been more hittable this season and he isn’t missing as many bats as he once did. He still misses a lot of bats compared to the average pitcher, but his swing-and-miss rate is way down compared to the rest of his career. The Yankees didn’t give Chapman a record contract to be a bit better than average. They brought him in to be super elite and to lock down every late lead. Some numbers:

  • Strikeout Rate: 32.2% (career 41.6%)
  • Swing & Miss Rate: 12.4% (career 17.2%)
  • Opponent’s Batting Line: .229/.325/.336 (career .162/.267/.237)

Everything is down — well, up in the case of the opponent’s batting line, but you know what I mean — and it goes beyond those three stats as well. Chapman’s chase rate is down, so hitters aren’t expand the zone as often. His hard contact rate is up too, so when batters do get the bat on the ball, they’re hitting it fairly well. Here’s what really scares me:

aroldis-chapman-contact-rate

The ability to miss bats in the strike zone, the very essence of what has made Chapman so dominant in his career, has been fading. And this is all related, of course. Chapman’s strikeouts are down and his hard contact is up because hitters are making more contact on pitches over the plate. Why is that happening? I don’t know. We’ve tried to figure it out. Whatever it is, something’s not right. This clearly isn’t the same guy we saw last year.

I don’t want this to turn into another “what’s wrong with Chapman” discussion, so let’s get away from that and get down to the matter at hand: should Chapman remain the closer? I mean, no, because he is clearly not the best (or second best, or third best, or fourth best, or even fifth best at this point) reliever in the bullpen. I’m not sure anyone would argue otherwise. The following two statements are true:

  1. The Yankees have several better options to protect a small lead in the late innings right now. David Robertson is the easy replacement closer candidate, though Monday night, it was Robertson in the eighth and Dellin Betances in the ninth. Both guys are qualified to close.
  2. The Yankees need to get Chapman back on track. As deep as the bullpen is right now — seriously, they could let Robertson and Betances share closing duties, and still have Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle (and Adam Warren!) for all other situations — the Yankees are at their best when Chapman is Chapman.

Chapman said all the right things following the game last night. “My job is to be ready to pitch everyday. As far as where I pitch, that’s not up to me. If at some point they need to remove me from the closer’s position, I’m always going to be ready to pitch,” he said to Brendan Kuty. Does Chapman want to close? Of course. Everyone does. And that’s good. You want your players to be motivated.

For the Yankees, however, giving up on Chapman as their closer four months into a reliever record five-year contract would be pretty embarrassing. Also embarrassing: missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years. That’s what’s at stake here. It’s one thing to ride it out with Derek Jeter hitting second in his final season just because he’s Derek Jeter. It’s another to stick with a struggling Chapman in close games because he’s so early into his mammoth contract.

The Yankees may have been thrown a bit of a lifeline last night when Chapman pulled up lame covering first on the final play of the game. He hurt his right hamstring, and while Chapman said it’s no big deal, the Yankees are going to send him for tests today. A minor hamstring injury would open the door for a quick reboot on the 10-day DL. Let someone else close for the time being and let Chapman work through some things during his side work without tying up a roster spot. That sort of thing.

Keep in mind the Yankees have resisted these phantom DL stints — this one might not a phantom DL stint given the hamstring, but you know what I mean, those “he’s not really hurt but we want him to step back and regroup” DL stints — for whatever reason. Masahiro Tanaka was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in April and May and we all kept waiting for the phantom DL stint that never came. The Yankees stuck with him and hey, Tanaka turned it around.

Things are slightly different here because a struggling closer means blown leads and wins turning into losses. Closer is a high-profile role, and when that guy fails, it’s plastered on the front page the next morning. Blown saves are demoralizing. So maybe the Yankees, knowing they have a deep bullpen and better options available, would be more open to giving Chapman a little ten-day vacation in an effort to sort things out on the side. Assuming the hamstring injury is as minor as Chapman says it is, of course. Hopefully it is.

Ultimately, the Yankees are at their best when Chapman is dominating and closing games out in the ninth inning, freeing up Robertson and Betances and everyone else to handle the middle innings. Right now though, Chapman is a liability, and the Yankees don’t have the luxury of rolling the dice in close games. They need those wins to stay in the postseason race and Chapman is not the best man for the closer’s job at the moment. It couldn’t be any more clear.

“I haven’t (thought about making a change at closer) yet,” said Joe Girardi to Kuty following last night’s game. Obviously, I rethink everything everyday, but it’s quite quick after the game and I haven’t really thought about it … I still really believe in him. There are other guys in that bullpen who have had tough times this year and we didn’t abandon him. If you start doing that every time a player starts having a rough time, it can be risky.”

The priorities here are, in order, winning games and getting Chapman back on track. The latter will help you do the former, but the latter hasn’t happened yet. If the hamstring doesn’t land Chapman on the DL, a temporary demotion to lower leverage relief work is in order. This is not two or three rough outings. It’s been pretty much all season. The Yankees have to get Chapman right. Not cross their fingers and hope he protects late leads when better options are available. Until he gets back on track, someone else should handle the ninth inning.

The Yanks may have claimed Marco Estrada on trade waivers, which could mean a few different things

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

It appears the Yankees may have been a little busy on the trade waiver market the last few days. According to Jon Morosi, Blue Jays right-hander Marco Estrada was claimed on trade waivers recently, and Gideon Turk heard from a source who “implied heavily” the Yankees are the claiming team. For what it’s worth, Chris Cotillo hears the claiming team was an AL East club, so yeah.

Real quick trade waivers primer: players who get claimed can only be traded to the claiming team, and players who go unclaimed can be traded anywhere. Since Estrada has been claimed by someone, the Blue Jays now have 48 hours to either trade him to the claiming team, pull him back and keep him, or dump him on the claiming team as a straight waiver claim. Jon Heyman says Toronto isn’t interested in letting him go, so they’ll likely pull him back.

Estrada, 34, will be a free agent after the season, and so far this year he has a 5.09 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 139.2 innings. That’s not close to the 3.30 ERA (4.28 FIP) he put up from 2015-16. Estrada had been pitching better of late before getting smacked around by the Rays last night (six runs in 4.1 innings). The fact he pitched last night is a pretty good indication the Blue Jays will keep him. They wouldn’t have risked an injury if trade talks were serious. Anyway, let’s talk this Estrada business out, shall we?

1. Why would the Yankees claim him? Two possible reasons, assuming the Yankees were indeed the claiming team. One, they kinda need pitching. They have four starters on the disabled list right now: Masahiro Tanaka (shoulder), CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (elbow), and Luis Cessa (rib cage). Sabathia is expected back this weekend and Tanaka shortly thereafter, but still. There’s never a bad reason to add pitching depth. Estrada hasn’t pitched well, but he’s familiar with the AL East and that performance means he might’ve come cheap.

And two, the Yankees are blocking another team from getting Estrada. Claiming him on trade waivers means the Blue Jays can’t trade him to any of the Yankees’ top postseason competitors, specifically the Red Sox and all those teams in the wildcard race. Maybe they don’t want him to go to the pitching needy Astros so they don’t have to worry about facing him in October. Estrada making it all the way to the Yankees on trade waivers means all the teams behind them in the wildcard race passed, however. Still, now those teams don’t even have a chance to acquire him. Any clubs that need pitching will have to look elsewhere.

My guess is, if the Yankees did indeed win the claim for Estrada, they made it with the intention of blocking him from going elsewhere. I don’t think they really want him, even with all the pitching injuries. The Red Sox are without David Price for who knows how long, Doug Fister has been getting hit hard, and Eduardo Rodriguez has been on-and-off the disabled list all year. Basically every team in the wildcard race needs a starter too, so yeah. I think the Yankees were making sure Estrada didn’t go to one of their pitching needy competitors. That’s all.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

2. So much for payroll being “frozen.” Now, that all said, you don’t claim a player on trade waivers unless you’re willing to take on his contract. You have to be prepared in case the other team decides to salary dump the player as a straight waiver claim. It happened to the Yankees with Jose Canseco in 2000. They claimed him to block him from going to the Red Sox and boom, the (Devil) Rays dumped him in their laps as a waiver claim.

Estrada is owed the remainder of his $14.5M salary this season, which works out to roughly $4M or so. For the Yankees to make the waiver claim, they have to be okay with that $4M hitting their payroll. Remember, they pay an extra 50% on every dollar right now due to the luxury tax, so that $4M is really $6M to the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner has reportedly informed Brian Cashman payroll is “frozen” for the rest of the year, though the Estrada claim would suggest otherwise (ditto the Jay Bruce trade rumors). They’re willing to take on money.

3. Would it make sense to claim other pitchers too? Sure. I mean, it depends on the pitcher, but yeah. The Yankees might’ve been more comfortable claiming Estrada than other pitchers because he’s not that expensive, and because they know he can pitch in the AL East. Other impending free agent pitchers who could be trade waiver targets include, uh, Andrew Cashner and Jhoulys Chacin? Maybe Scott Feldman? There’s not much out there. Estrada is (probably) the best of a bad lot, and if the Yankees did indeed claim him, now no one else can get him.

4. What about claiming other players? Sure, again, and it depends on the player, again. The Yankees could still use another bat, particularly a left-handed hitter, yet they declined to claim Bruce or Curtis Granderson. An infielder who could play second base would be another possible target. A backup catcher? Yeah, that’d work, though the Yankees sure do seem to love Austin Romine. Ultimately, trade waiver claims are made on a case-by-case basis. You don’t just claim every starter because you’re willing to claim Marco Estrada, you know? I’m sure the Yankees will consider every available bat and hey, maybe they’ve claimed a few already.

* * *

The Yankees have not made a significant August trade in several years now — their last notable August deal was getting Chad Gaudin from the Padres for cash in 2009 — and at this point, there’s little reason to expect that to change. They didn’t get Bruce and they’re reportedly uninterested in Granderson. Greg Bird and Starlin Castro are on the mend, and those seem like the bats the Yankees will add for the stretch run.

We don’t know for sure whether the Yankees actually claimed Estrada on trade waivers, but the signs do point in that direction, and it does make sense. They were likely blocking him from going to another team, and if the Blue Jays decided to stick the Yankees with the remainder of his contract, they’d take him because they have four starters on the disabled list. Yeah, the money might be inconvenient, but it’s not a deal breaker. Ultimately, the Blue Jays figure to keep Estrada, and I’m sure that’s what the Yankees expected all along.

Sonny & Sanchez lead Yankees to a 5-4 win over the Mets in Gray’s first home start

That was a satisfying win. Your big trade deadline pickup out-pitches your crosstown rival’s ace? And one of your young core players takes said rival’s ace way out of the park? Good game. Would watch again. The Yankees beat the Mets by the score of 5-4 on Tuesday.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Six Strong From Sonny
Two runs in six innings doesn’t really do Sonny Gray‘s performance justice. He held the Mets scoreless through six innings and cruised most of the game. His only real jam came in the fourth inning, when Yoenis Cespedes beat out an infield single and Michael Conforto walked with one out. Gray popped up Wilmer Flores and grounded out Dominic Smith, and that was that.

It wasn’t until the seventh inning that the Mets finally got to Gray. He went back out to start that seventh inning with 94 pitches, walked Flores, then gave up an opposite field two-run homer to Smith. First career homer for the oldest looking 22-year-old in baseball. It just barely snuck over the wall in left field. Aaron Hicks nearly made a play on it. I had no problem sending Gray out for the seventh. Sometimes guys hit homers. It happens.

The final line on Gray: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. Two of those five hits were Cespedes infield singles. One thing that doesn’t show up in the box score are all the Mets right-handed hitters who fouled pitches into their feet and shins. At least five or six of them crumbled to the ground. Gray really busts righties inside with his two-seamer, and that’s the result. Pitches to the shins and feet. His pitch locations against righties:

sonny-gray-vs-metsGray reminds me so much of Hiroki Kuroda. He throws the kitchen sink at hitters, but he has velocity, so he’s not a junkballer. And as David Adler wrote last week, Gray varies the break and velocity on all his pitches, so he really has two or three versions of each pitch. His velocity ranges Tuesday night:

  • Four-Seamer: 91.2 mph to 95.4 mph
  • Two-Seamer: 90.0 mph to 94.4 mph
  • Curveball: 81.1 mph to 82.3 mph (only five recorded by Statcast)
  • Slider: 83.9 mph to 87.8 mph

Aside from the curveball, Gray had roughly a four mile-an-hour separation between his fastest and slowest offering with each pitch. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s just enough to disrupt the hitter’s timing. How to do you gear up for, say, an 84 mph slider when you might get 88 mph instead? Kuroda used to do the same thing. Big arsenal with varied breaks and deliveries for everything.

Anyway, Smith’s home run was the first home run Gray has allowed since July 5th, five starts ago. His season home run rate jumped to 0.70 HR/9. That’ll continue to climb because of the move from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium, of course. That’s inevitable. Also, Gray has now thrown at least six innings with no more than two earned runs allowed in nine straight starts. Next longest such streak in the AL? Three by Carlos Rodon and Andrew Cashner.

Small Ball & Dingers
The Yankees finally scored some runs for Gray! They did it against Jacob deGrom too. The Yankees didn’t score a single run while Gray was on the mound in any of his two previous starts. The scoreless tie was broken in the third inning thanks to some little ball. Ronald Torreyes managed to keep a ground ball fair down the third base line for a double, Brett Gardner bunted him to third, and Hicks drove him in with a bloop single for a 1-0 lead.

In the fourth, the Yankees went back to the long ball to create some breathing room. Chase Headley worked a six-pitch walk with two outs to extend the inning, and Jacoby Ellsbury made deGrom pay with a two-run home run into the short porch. It was a Yankee Stadium cheapie all the way, but who cares? Gary Sanchez made it 4-0 in the sixth with a long solo home run. Check out the bat drop:

Love it. Life is short. Pimp every homer like it’s your last. That’s seven homers in the last 18 games for Sanchez. He’s hit 41 home runs in 138 games since being called up last year. Twenty-one at home, 20 on the road. Pretty, pretty good. The Yankees have them a true franchise catcher, folks.

The Yankees scored an insurance run in the eighth inning and a) it turned out to be a very important insurance run (more on that in a sec), and b) it was very nearly multiple insurance runs. An Aaron Judge double and a Didi Gregorius single put runners on the corners with no outs, and Sanchez hit a bullet to center field that Juan Lagares managed to run down. Beautiful over-the-shoulder catch. He was playing shallow and had to race back to the warning track. If that falls in, Gregorius almost certainly scores from first. The Yankees settled for one run and a 5-2 lead.

The Ninth Inning
For the first time since 2012 and only the third time in his career, Aroldis Chapman has allowed a run in three straight appearances. And, like Sunday, a rookie took him deep to the opposite field. On Sunday it was Rafael Devers. On Tuesday it was Amed Rosario with a two-run homer into the short porch. A Yankee Stadium cheapie? Indeed. Something’s (still) not right with Chapman though. Some numbers from Tuesday:

  • Fastballs: 12
  • Sliders: 11
  • Swings & Misses: 2 (out of 23 total pitches)

As Mike Petriello notes, Chapman had thrown 23+ pitches in an outing 73 times prior to Tuesday, and never once did he throw as few as 12 fastballs in those 73 appearances. He was noticeably slider heavy in this game. They weren’t particularly good sliders either. The Rosario homer came on a cement mixer on the outer half. Not good. Chapman looks basically nothing like the flame-throwing monster the Yankees thought they signed.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

But wait! It gets worse. Chapman got hurt. He hurt his right hamstring covering first base on the final play of the game. It actually happened during the pitch. Replays showed him grimacing after releasing the ball and before breaking to cover first base. Chapman said it’s nothing serious. Joe Girardi said he’ll go for tests Wednesday. Either way, healthy hamstring or not, Chapman has not been very good lately, and that has been the case for far too much of the season.

Leftovers
The non-Chapman relievers were pretty great. Tommy Kahnle replaced Gray following Smith’s home run in the seventh and got three quick ground ball outs on ten pitches. Dellin Betances, in his third straight day of work, pitched around a two-out walk and struck out Conforto to end the eighth inning. He represented the tying run at the time.

The Yankees had nine hits and two walks against deGrom in his 7.1 innings, which I totally expected. deGrom was charged with all five runs. Gregorius, Sanchez, and Torreyes each had two hits while Hicks, Judge, Headley, and Ellsbury had one each. Judge and Headley drew the walks. Nice night for the bats against a truly great pitcher.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score and updated standings while MLB.com has the video highlights. We have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Subway Series shifts to Citi Field. The Yankees and Mets will now play two games out in Flushing. Jaime Garcia and Robert Gsellman — not Seth Lugo, as originally scheduled — will be the starting pitches Wednesday night. Lugo was placed on the 10-day DL with a shoulder impingement Tuesday afternoon. Gsellman will be making his first start back from a hamstring injury. RAB Tickets can get you into the ballpark for either game remaining in the series.

DotF: Higashioka swats two home runs in latest rehab game

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was suspended due to rain in the middle of the fifth inning. They’re going to finish it tomorrow. Here’s the box score if you can’t wait that long.

Double-A Trenton (6-4 loss to Akron in eleven innings)

  • CF Jeff Hendrix: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB — 17-for-32 (.531) in his last eight games
  • 2B Nick Solak: 4-6, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1 K — 17-for-52 (.327) in 12 games with Trenton
  • SS Thairo Estrada: 3-6, 2 RBI
  • 1B Ryan McBroom: 1-5, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Rashad Crawford: 0-5, 1 R, 3 K — in a 1-for-22 (.045) slump
  • RHP Will Carter: 3.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 5/3 GB/FB — 48 of 78 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • RHP Cody Carroll: 2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 25 of 42 pitches were strikes (60%) … 79/27 K/BB in 60.2 innings

[Read more…]

Game 118: Score runs for Sonny

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time as a Yankee, Sonny Gray will start a game at Yankee Stadium this evening. Perhaps the Yankees will even score runs for him. Gray has made two starts and thrown 12 innings since the trade, and during those 12 innings the offense has scored zero runs. Not one. They’ve scored one run total in the two games he’s started. That’s gotta change.

Of course, scoring runs might not be so easy tonight with Jacob deGrom on the bump for the Mets. He’s having a fantastic season: 3.21 ERA (3.52 FIP) with 29.2% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 151.1 innings. The Yankees have been getting shut down by guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez and Rafael Montero lately. What happens whey face a bonafide ace? It’s ugly. Hoping for the best tonight. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 1B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Sonny Gray

Pretty crummy weather in New York today. Overcast and on-and-off rain all day. There’s no more rain in the forecast tonight, though it’s cloudy and cool and humid. Yuck. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on either WPIX or SNY. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Luis Cessa has been placed on the 10-day DL with a rib cage injury, the Yankees announced. He left last night’s start with the injury. Caleb Smith was called back up from Triple-A Scranton to replace him on the roster.

Injury Update: Joe Girardi indicated the plan right now is to have CC Sabathia (knee) return on Saturday, the first day he’s eligible to be activated. That lines him up perfectly to replace Cessa. Sabathia threw a bullpen session yesterday and will reportedly throw another one at some point this week … Greg Bird (ankle) remains on target to begin his minor league rehab assignment tomorrow. He hopes to be activated sometime next week.

How much do the Yankees need to limit Jordan Montgomery’s workload anyway?

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Last week the Yankees sent Jordan Montgomery down to Triple-A for one specific reason: to control his workload. Jon Morosi reported Montgomery would pitch on seven days rest going forward and have his innings capped within his starts. Five innings seems to be the organizational standard. It’s easier to manipulate a pitcher’s workload like that in Triple-A than MLB.

“We are going to shorten some outings down there just to cut back a little bit,” said Joe Girardi to George King last week, after Montgomery was sent down. “We do have somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings, where he would be? There was no innings set, but the number was about 180 and the innings are always more stressful here.”

Plans change, of course. The Yankees lost both CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka to injuries last week, so they had to call Montgomery back up to fill out the rotation. The plan to control his workload had to be put on hold because the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and their pitchers keep getting hurt. Winning is the priority. Once Tanaka and Sabathia return, the Yankees will be in better position to cut back on Montgomery’s innings.

Here’s the thing though: how much do the Yankees really need to cut back on Montgomery’s workload? Obviously they know him better than we outsiders, so if they believe they need to take it easy on him the last few weeks of the season, I’m not going to doubt them. I’m more or less thinking out loud right now. Here are Montgomery’s innings totals over the years:

  • 2014: 107.2 innings (college and minors)
  • 2015: 134.1 innings (minors)
  • 2016: 152 innings (minors)
  • 2017: 126 innings and counting (minors and MLB)

Nice, steady progression. Montgomery is a very big and very durable guy — he’s never missed a start, not in high school or college or pro ball — and the Yankees want to keep it that way, so they’re not going to put him at risk of injury through overwork this year.

Now, that all said, let’s do the math here quick. Montgomery started Sunday night, in the 116th game of the season. If he were to start every fifth game from here on out, he’d make nine starts the rest of the season. If he were to average six innings in those nine starts, he’d finish the season at 180 innings on the nose, which is the cap the Yankees seem to have set for him. Convenient! A few things:

1. 180 innings is not a hard cap. The Yankees did not come out and say Montgomery will be limited to 180 innings this year. Girardi said there is “somewhat of a concern that if he got over 180 innings where he would be,” meaning would he be running on fumes and at risk of injury? I’m surprised Girardi threw out that 180 innings number, to be honest. The Yankees have steered clear of revealing workload limits the last few years because there’s nothing good that can come from it. Point is, things are going to be touch and go. The Yankees might want to get to Montgomery to 180 innings, but if he hits a wall at 160, he hits a wall at 160.

2. Averaging six innings per start isn’t easy. My little back of the envelope calculation has Montgomery getting to 180 innings by averaging six innings per start in his final nine starts of the season. Averaging six innings per start is hard! He’s averaging 5.50 innings per start now. Only ten times in 22 starts has Montgomery completed six full innings. The AL average is 5.58 innings per start. Sixty-five pitchers have made at least 20 starts this year and only 28 of them are averaging six innings per start. There’s some wiggle room in my little “six innings per start for nine starts” assumption.

3. What about the postseason, dummy? The Yankees have not played well the last few weeks overall, but they are still in postseason position and very much in the race. Heck, they’re still in the division race. It might not seem like it, but they are within striking distance (4.5 games back) with seven head-to-head games to go against the Red Sox. It’s doable. Unlikely, but doable. The Yankees have a lot to play for these final seven weeks.

Two things about the postseason and Montgomery’s workload. One, the Yankees have to actually get to the postseason before this is a problem. Can’t put the cart before the horse. If the Yankees need to max out Montgomery’s workload to get to the postseason and he’s not available for the playoffs, so be it. And two, I think the Yankees would take the reins off in October and let him pitch no matter what, as long as he’s still effective. Flags fly forever.

* *

On paper, it seems Montgomery’s workload might not be that big of an issue down the stretch. If the target is 180 innings, he figures to have innings to spare even if he starts every fifth game from here on out. The caveat here is that Montgomery might show signs of fatigue (i.e. ineffectiveness) before reaching 180 innings, and he might be completely unavailable for the postseason should the Yankees qualify. The Yankees will deal with that when the time comes.

As much as we and the Yankees are focused on the here and now, this is all about the future. Montgomery looks like a keeper and the Yankees want to keep him healthy and productive. Young mid-rotation starters are awfully valuable. Guys with Montgomery’s numbers will cost you about $15M a year in free agency. His health and workload will have to be monitored as we approach the end of the season, though right now, it’s entirely possible any restrictions might now be much of a factor after all.

Hicks’ and Frazier’s injuries show the Yankees can’t have too many outfielders

Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)
Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)

For a few weeks this summer, it seemed like the Yankees had a great problem on their hands: Too many outfielders.

Clint Frazier was lining extra-base hit after extra-base hit, Aaron Judge was, well, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner was hitting home runs and Aaron Hicks was on his way back to the majors. That’s four guys for three spots, not to mention the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but with Ellsbury and Matt Holliday‘s respective struggles, playing time wouldn’t have been an issue.

With Frazier’s oblique injury, the Yankees’ outfield was cemented for the time being with Hicks, Gardner and Judge and a few too many Ellsbury starts. Oblique injuries take a while to heal, as evidenced by Hicks’ time away from the team, so the outfield overload is an issue the team can deal with when it actually comes to pass.

But the oblique injuries to Hicks and Frazier should be a warning to the front office not to deplete its outfield depth going into 2018.

It seems logical for the Yankees to pursue a trade for Ellsbury, who will have three years and about $68.5 million left on his deal after this season. The team would have to absorb some of that money and/or take back a bad contract, but it’d leave the Yankees with four outfielders for three spots. In theory, that can be an issue. But that’s only at the surface.

Yes, the team would have four men for three spots, but that’s assuming perfect health. Hicks has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Frazier’s out now. Judge lost time in 2016 with a knee and oblique injury, respectively. While Gardner has placed at least 145 games each year since 2013, he’s been banged up plenty and the ability to give him days off in his age-34 season is important.

Performance-wise, there are concerns with each. Hicks and Judge each look like entirely different hitters from last season and how they can sustain their improvements will help define the 2018 OF. Gardner is getting older and has been off and on all season. Frazier is only 22 and didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a 92 wRC+ in 117 PAs.

That right there is enough of a reason to keep all four guys with concerns across the board, but the team will also have the ability to start all four plenty with the open DH role. Holliday is a free agent after this season and hasn’t hit his weight while dealing with injuries. He’ll be 38 come spring training next year and it looks unlikely he’ll be back in pinstripes.

The Yankees will surely seek out another veteran either via free agency or trade (Carlos Santana please!) that can take DH bats or act as Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres insurance. However, the team is also trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season so they can be even more competitive in the 2018-19 offseason. Adding a high priced veteran shouldn’t be in the cards, even if it means taking a chance on a cheaper option like Chris Carter was this year.

The counterargument to giving DH ABs to the four-man outfield (and Gary Sanchez, among others) would be the ability to flip one of the OFs at their peak value for another piece to the roster puzzle, whether a starter or infielder or otherwise. Only Gardner is close to free agency, but his one year of value is likely more valuable to the 2018 Yankees than the players he could get in return.

With Judge staying in place, that leaves Hicks and Frazier as potential trade chips. Maybe if the Yankees still had Dustin Fowler set to return for 2018 it would make sense to deal from this position of strength this winter. But the Yankees OF depth close to the majors is down to Jake Cave and Billy McKinney, neither of whom you can count on for significant contributions as rookies next year.

And if you want to win a championship, you need both depth and talent. Keeping the outfield together minus Ellsbury for 2018 is the best way to go about building a contender. If they need to acquire controllable starters via trade, they have plenty of prospects still in the minors to deal. But the current outfield is worth keeping together for another season.