This isn’t particularly surprising: Hal Steinbrenner indicated the Yankees will lean towards acquiring rental players at the trade deadline this year while talking to Ken Davidoff earlier this week.“I’m not afraid to spend money. I never am. You know that. So when July rolls around, the trade deadline rolls around, we’re going to see where we’re really deficient and we’ll do what we can,” added Hal.
Over the last few years the Yankees have looked for long-term solutions in the offseason and band-aids at midseason. The most notable exceptions are Martin Prado and Alfonso Soriano — Prado had two years left on his contract at the time of the trade last year and Soriano had one year left when he was acquired in 2013, though the Cubs ate a ton of money to facilitate the trade. Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Ichiro Suzuki, Lance Berkman, Jerry Hairston Jr. … all rentals.
There’s an obsession with team control years nowadays — “oh wow, that hard-throwing reliever is under team control through 2018? great trade!” (what are the odds that guy is even MLB caliber in 2018?) — and I think rentals have gotten undervalued in a sense. They typically don’t cost as much to acquire, there’s no long-term risk, and the player has every reason to be at his best given his impending free agency. Rentals are often good bargains.
The Yankees have clear needs on the middle infield — second base moreso than shortstop, they aren’t giving up on Didi Gregorius yet — and every team could use pitching, so I expect those to be the areas of focus. Here’s the list of upcoming free agents. Potential trade targets — guys who have a realistic chance to become available — include Ben Zobrist, Mike Aviles, Daniel Murphy, Bartolo Colon, Johnny Cueto, Doug Fister, Dan Haren, and Scott Kazmir, among others.
I don’t think the Yankees would steer clear of non-rental players this summer if the opportunity to acquire a longer term solution presents itself. The Prado trade showed that last year. Cole Hamels is obviously going to be available, and I think the Padres would give Jedd Gyorko away at this point (78 OPS+ since signing his six-year extension!), but otherwise I’m not sure who else would be a fit. Give it a few weeks and the market will develop.
Got eleven questions for you in the mailbag this week. Send us any questions using the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. If you have any specific questions seeking a direct reply from us — guest post submission, etc. — email me at mike (at) riveraveblues (dot) com. I can’t reply through the mailbag form.
I actually think the best defensive alignment has Gardner in left field, even with Jacoby Ellsbury out injured. Chris Young and Slade Heathcott are both really good defensive center fielders, as is Gardner, but Gardner is the best of the bunch in left field, in part because he’s the most familiar with the position. Young has only played left sparingly in his career (79 games) and Heathcott hasn’t played much at all the last few seasons in general. Basically, Gardner in left and Young/Heathcott in center is a stronger overall defense than the relatively inexperienced Young/Heathcott in left and Gardner in center. I suspect Girardi sees it the same way as well, and that’s why Gardner’s stayed in left.
Neaks asks: Should the Yankees have sent a catcher to the Mariners for Yoervis Medina (or for someone else the M’s were willing to give up)?
The Yankees don’t have a Welington Castillo-esque catcher to send them. Brian McCann‘s not going anywhere, the Mariners probably don’t want Austin Romine (they could have claimed him off waivers last month), and there’s no reason to trade John Ryan Murphy for a reliever right now. The Yankees made a Castillo-for-Medina trade already. It was Francisco Cervelli for Justin Wilson in the offseason. Medina throws hard but can’t throw strikes consistently and the Yankees already have a few of those guys in Danny Burawa and Jose Ramirez. I don’t see this as a missed opportunity or anything like that.
I don’t think Judge and Severino would be enough — I’d want at least two more players if I was the Rockies, including one I could stick on my MLB roster tomorrow — and I’m not sure that means the Yankees should make the trade either. As good as Tulo is (and he’s awesome), the Yankees need to steer clear of those big money long-term contracts that seemingly never end for a little while. Tulowitzki’s injury history is ugly — he got hurt (quad) a day or two after saying he wasn’t going to request a trade — and I have no reason to think it’ll improve with age. If the Yankees were a no-doubt contender this year, yeah, it would make more sense to go all in. But they’re not, they’re a fringe contender, and trading their two top prospects for another guy on the wrong side of 30 making a ton of money doesn’t seem smart at the moment. They’re going to look for rentals at the deadline again. That’s their thing nowadays.
Stan asks: Be the tiebreaker for my Dodger fan friend and I. We were arguing about bullpens … I said that holds and save conversion rate are a much better indicator of a good bullpen than ERA. What are your thoughts?
Sorry, but ERA is better. Holds and saves depend as much (if not more) on the rest of the team as the bullpen itself. The offense and starting pitcher create the save situation by getting the game to a very specific point — up by no more than three runs, etc. Also, setup men can blow saves but not earn them. If Dellin Betances comes in with a one-run lead in the eighth and gives up a solo homer, he gets a blown save even though Andrew Miller would have come on the ninth for the actual save. ERA is not perfect either but it’s better than save conversion rate because at least ERA is telling you how many runs they allow. A closer with a 100% save conversion rate but a 6.00 ERA isn’t good.
Kevin asks: Not Yankee related, but do you think we’ll see another father-son combo in the Majors again anytime soon? Torii Hunter and his son?
I think it’s going to be a very, very long time before we see another father-son combination. It’s only happened twice in history: Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. (1990-91 Mariners), and Tim Raines Sr. and Jr. (2001 Orioles). That’s it. Hunter has already said he is considering retirement after the season, and his son Torii Jr. (draft-eligible this year) isn’t much of a prospect, so they seem like an unlikely pair. I suppose the Twins could draft Torii Jr. and call him up in September as a gimmick, but I don’t think it’ll happen. That would be kinda lame too. I do think the father/son thing will happen again at some point but not anytime soon. You need someone old and good and someone young and really good. Hard to do.
Aaron asks: Aaron Judge to 1B? It seems like he has the “body” for it, and it might make sense if he’s not going to come up this season anyway, with Mark Teixeira in clear decline years. Does a move to 1B raise or lower his value? I don’t think Judge is “blocked” at the MLB level by anyone in RF, but it seems like capable corner outfielders are easier to find than would be a 6’7″ 1B.
It absolutely lowers his value. Judge is a big dude but he’s a really good athlete and he’s an asset in right field, with range and a strong arm. Is he going to be a Gold Glover? No. But he’s a solid defender who is more than capable of playing right field on an everyday basis. Chances are Judge will have to move to first base at some point down the line like many other corner outfielders, but there’s zero reason to do it now. That move to first might be 10-12 years away. Even with the Yankees having a decent number of outfielders at the upper levels of the minors, Judge is clearly the best and should stay there as long as possible. He’s way more valuable there.
George asks: Anything on how much time the new rules have saved per game? Seems like the batters are stepping out of the box, maybe a little less than before.
I researched it during the very first week of the season and found that games were, on average, about eight minutes shorter this year than last. MLB officially reported the average time of game was down 8.5 minutes in April according to Travis Sawchik, so the rule modifications are working. Now, 8.5 minutes doesn’t sound like much, and it really isn’t, but it is an improvement, especially since offense has ticked up ever so slightly this year (about 4% in terms of runs per game league-wide). That means there’s more action condensed into a shorter amount of time. Part of the problem in recent years was that games were taking longer yet fewer runs were being scored, so there wasn’t a whole lot happening. MLB has been able to cut down on (some) of the standing around during at-bats. I didn’t think pace of play was a critical issue but there was definitely room for improvement, and it has indeed improved.
Al asks: Do all players on the 40 man roster get at least the league minimum salary, or does that require being on the 25 man roster?
It depends on the contract but generally no, players on the 40-man don’t get the MLB minimum in the minors. Players in their pre-arbitration years (and sometimes arbitration years) sign split contracts that pay them one salary in MLB (league minimum usually) and another in the minors that is substantially lower. The Yankees signed Jose DePaula to a split contract this offseason — he gets $510,000 in the show and $175,000 in the minors. Players with guaranteed contracts, like, say, Allen Craig still get their full salary in the minors, but it’s rare a player with a guaranteed contract winds up in the minors in the first place. That means something when wrong somewhere along the line. Pre-arbitration and arbitration contracts typically aren’t guaranteed.
Dan asks: Could Mark Montgomery be an option to reinforce the bullpen at some point this season?
I think it’s unlikely. Montgomery’s had a nice bounceback year in Double-A and now Triple-A, but there are a lot of bullpen arms ahead of him on the depth chart. Guys on the 40-man roster too, who are easier to call-up. And, among the non-40-man guys, Montgomery won’t get called up before Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow. They’re simply better pitchers at this point. Hopefully these last few weeks are an indication Montgomery is close to regaining his 2011-12 form and this is a question we have to revisit down the line.
James asks: Serious question: Is Stephen Drew the worst Yankee starter in the modern era?
Well, to be fair, Didi Gregorius has been worse this year, at least offensively because he’s hit for zero power. Drew has a 69 OPS+ and 0.2 bWAR through 41 games, putting him on pace for 0.8 WAR through 162 games. We can’t really extrapolate bWAR like that, but this is just for fun, so bear with me. Anyway, Didi has a 51 OPS+ and 0.0 bWAR so far. Here’s a table with various measures of Yankees awfulness:
|All-Time||Expansion Era (1961-Present)|
|Lowest AVG||.168 – Red Kleinow in 1908||.195 – Tom Tresh in 1968|
|Lowest OPS+||43 – Pee Wee Wanniger in 1925||58 – Clete Boyer in 1964|
|Lowest WAR||-2.0 – Johnny Sturm in 1941||-1.6 – Bernie Williams in 2005|
That’s among players who qualified for the batting title only, because we’re focusing on regulars. The guys who played every day despite an utter lack of production. (Hensley Muelens had -2.4 bWAR in 1991, lowest in team history regardless of playing time.) Drew is hitting .182 and is on pace to have the lowest average since Kleinow while Gregorius is on pace to have the lowest OPS+ since Wanniger, conveniently. So I guess his means the answer is no, Drew isn’t the worst regular in modern team history. His defense counts for something.
Joe asks: As a potential trade target, what do you think of Dallas Keuchel of the Astros?
I would love it but that is definitely not happening. The Astros are good now (wtf?) and Keuchel’s emerging as a bonafide ace. I buy him too. I don’t think it’s a fluke. He has three elite ground ball pitches in his sinker, changeup, and slider — he has a 64.3 GB% this year and had a 63.5 GB% last year, the highest in MLB by a qualified starter in five years — and is basically the most dominant ground ball starter since peak Derek Lowe/Tim Hudson. No way would the Astros trade their ace — their ace who is under team control through 2018, remember — this season. If anything, they’re going to add pitching and make a run following their hot start. I’d love Keuchel on the Yankees. But file this under “not happening.”
OF Mason Williams has been promoted to Triple-A Scranton. I can’t help but worry this means bad news is coming for Jacoby Ellsbury. They wouldn’t promote Williams when Slade Heathcott is going to be sent back down in two weeks, right? Hopefully I’m just going crazy.
Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Durham in ten innings, walk-off style)
- CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 1 R
- LF Ramon Flores: 2-5, 1 R, 1 RBI — had eight extra-base hits in his first eleven games and just one in 25 games since
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-5, 1 R, 1 RBI
- RF Tyler Austin: 2-5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K — hopefully he’s starting to heat up
- DH Ben Gamel: 1-5, 1 RBI, 3 K — walk-off single off ex-big leaguer Ronald Belisario
- C Austin Romine: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
- RHP Masahiro Tanaka: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 25 of 41 pitches were strikes (61%) … he was scheduled for three innings or 45 pitches … after the game, Tanaka told Fred Kerber he “felt pretty good” and was able to “pitch all my pitches with force” … it seems like Tanaka will make at least two more rehab starts after this to get his pitch count, but so far so good
- RHP Joel De La Cruz: 4.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 5/1 GB/FB — 43 of 69 pitches were strikes (62%)
- LHP Jacob Lindgren: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K — 12 of 22 pitches were strikes (55%)
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 13 of 20 pitches were strikes (65%) … K% from 2011-15: 41.1%, 39.4%, 29.9%, 24.3%, 23.1%
Use this as your Tanaka game thread/open thread for the night. In addition to the Triple-A Scranton game, MLB Network is showing the Cubs and Padres later tonight (Kyle Hendricks vs. Ordisamer Despaigne), plus there’s playoff hockey and basketball going on. Talk about those games or anything else right here.
Late last night Keith Law posted his first mock draft of the season (subs. req’d), and he has the Diamondbacks taking Vanderbilt SS Dansby Swanson with the first overall pick. I believe that is the third different player (at least the third, might be more) tied to Arizona for the top pick these last few weeks. Law has the Astros taking LSU SS Alex Bregman second overall and the Rockies taking UC Santa Barbara RHP Dillon Tate third.
With their first of two first round picks, the 16th overall selection, Law has the Yankees taking California HS C Chris Betts. I wrote him up just yesterday. Betts is a left-handed hitting bat first catcher with good defensive tools who may not stick at the position long-term. He’s not a lost cause behind the plate but not a lock to stay there either. Even if he does move to first base down the line, Betts’ bat should play.
Law then has the Yankees selecting Pennsylvania RHP Mike Nikorak with their second first rounder, the 30th overall pick, which is the compensation pick for losing David Robertson. Nikorak was the consensus top high school pitching prospect in the draft not too long ago, but his stock has taken a bit of a hit lately due to some control issues. Here’s a snippet of his free MLB.com scouting report:
Nikorak came out this spring sporting the same 94-97 mph fastball he showed early last summer, with a free and easy delivery. Even if he loses a tick or two, the heater is still effective because it features plenty of run and sink. He shows the makings of a plus curveball at times and also flashes at least a solid changeup.
Strike-throwing issues or not, getting an arm like Nikorak’s would be a major coup for the Yankees with that 30th overall pick. Betts and Nikorak would be a crazy good haul with major upside, albeit a haul with the usual risk that comes with high school players. There are no safe bets.
Law says the Yankees are also in on New York HS OF Garrett Whitley, Tennessee HS RHP Donny Everett, California HS RHP Drew Finley, and Florida post-grad RHP Jacob Nix. Here are my profiles for Everett and Finley. Whitley has arguably the most offensive upside in the draft and seems likely to be off the board by time the Yankees pick. Nix, who got screwed over by the Astros last year, has looked marvelous this spring.
For what it’s worth, Law has neither Duke RHP Mike Matuella nor Florida post-grad LHP Brady Aiken going in the first round in his mock draft. Both players were candidates to go first overall before blowing out their elbows and needing Tommy John surgery last month. Matuella and Aiken are probably unsignable outside the first round unless a team is willing to blow up their draft pool, which is unlikely.
For most of the offseason, it seemed like a matter of when, not if. Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder mashed at Double-A and Triple-A last summer, putting up a combined .318/.387/.497 (146 wRC+) batting line, and when you do that at the upper levels of the minors, you put yourself in position for a big league call-up. That performance all but assured we would see Refsnyder at some point in 2015.
The Yankees opted to re-sign Stephen Drew to a cheap one-year contract in January, which meant Refsnyder was going to head back to Triple-A to open the season. That was perfectly fine in my opinion. I am not a fan of handing jobs to non-elite prospects out of Spring Training and acquiring defensively capable middle infield depth is never a bad move. There were also some reasons to think Drew could bounce back from his dreadful 2014 campaign.
Instead, Drew has continued to be pretty terrible at the plate this year. His defense at second has been great considering his relative inexperience, but he’s hitting .182/.263/.339 (65 wRC+) through 138 plate appearances this season after hitting .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) in 300 plate appearances last season. We’re talking about a guy with a .168/.244/.311 (51 wRC+) batting line in his 438 last plate appearances. That’s really bad! Those are the kind of numbers that are supposed to send a team scrambling to find a replacement.
Refsnyder, meanwhile, shook off a slow start at Triple-A last month and is now hitting .312/.378/.440 (143 wRC+) on the season with a .304/.385/.451 (139 wRC+) in 490 career Triple-A plate appearances. He’s currently riding a 21-game on-base streak, during which he’s gone 33-for-84 (.393) with ten doubles, eleven walks, and 14 strikeouts. Refsnyder got off to a slow start with Double-A Trenton last year, then a few weeks into the season it clicked and he raked the rest of the way. Maybe he’s just a slow starter, like Mark Teixeira for much of his career.
Of course, Refsnyder’s issue isn’t his bat, it’s his defense at second, and we got a firsthand look at just how shaky he is in the field in Spring Training. The 24-year-old made six errors in only 92 defensive innings during Grapefruit League play, then made seven errors in his first 14 games with the RailRiders. He’s currently at nine errors in 33 Triple-A games at second base this year after making 12 errors in 122 games last year.
“It was awful,” said Refsnyder to Brendan Kuty earlier this week while discussing his error-laden spring. “In Spring Training, I was honestly trying to be perfect. I was trying to do everything correctly and right and it just wasn’t working. I was making error after error.”
Errors are far from the best way to evaluate defense, but in this case the error total matches Refsnyder’s defensive reputation. He’s a recently converted outfielder — this is only his third full season at second base — who has generated questions about, well, everything. His footwork, his ability to turn the double play, all of it. Second base is a really tough position. Drew taking to it as quickly as he did definitely isn’t the norm.
Refsnyder’s defense has settled down in recent weeks — “If I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to make them the way I want to play the game, and I’m trying to play the position as aggressively as possible to be honest,” he said to Kuty — but his glove probably won’t ever be an asset. He’s a bat first prospect and the offensive numbers are there. They aren’t for Drew. Not at all. They’re polar opposites — one is a no-hit/all-glove guy and the other is all-hit/no-glove.
I was totally cool with the Yankees bringing Drew back and giving him a chance to show he could get back to being a productive player with a regular Spring Training. It was a popular excuse but it seemed totally plausible to me. Drew hasn’t hit though. The regular Spring Training didn’t help and there’s basically no indication a turn around is coming. The exit velocity excuse doesn’t even apply — Drew ranked 278th out of 309 players (min. 50 AB) in exit velocity prior to last night’s game.
At this point the Yankees should strongly consider calling Refsnyder up to play second base. That doesn’t mean Drew has to go away forever, he would have value as a utility infielder, but he hasn’t looked like a Major League hitter for quite a while now and those guys should be replaced. That’s how baseball works. Refsnyder might not hit either! That’s the risk with young players. They’re unpredictable. We know with some degree of certainty Drew won’t hit though and at some point the Yankees have to try something different.
When I wrote about Drew’s leash earlier this month, I figured he would get most of the summer to turn things around, perhaps until the All-Star break. I still think that’s the case, but I don’t think it should be. The Yankees have a ready made second baseman in Triple-A who may cost them runs in the field, but could create lots more at the plate. Starting Refsnyder in Triple-A made sense. Keeping him in Triple-A with Drew performing like this and offense scuffling doesn’t.