5:15pm: Tanaka threw ten pitches during today’s throwing session — all fastballs — he told reporters. It was his first time throwing actual pitches and not just lobbing the ball while playing catch. He said everything went well, though it’s unclear what the next step will be.
12:30pm: Masahiro Tanaka continues to make progress with his throwing program as he tries to rehab from a partially torn elbow ligament. George King says the right-hander is now making 90 throws from 120 feet — he started his throwing program with 25 throws from 60 feet last week — though yesterday’s rain in Baltimore forced him to play catch in the Camden Yards lobby instead of on the field.
The Yankees are getting Michael Pineda back tonight and if all goes well, Tanaka will return next month. He still has yet to throw off a mound and progress to game situations and all that, so he’s still a few weeks away. The important thing is that he’s making progress. The Yankees need all the help they can get at this point, and squeezing another two or three starts out of Tanaka in September might be the difference in the postseason race. · (100) ·
First base is a weird position. Teams expect huge offensive production from first base and it’s at the bottom of the defensive spectrum despite being involved in more total plays than any position other than pitcher and catcher. You can’t just stick anyone there either. We’ve seen enough of that firsthand this year. You need offense from first but defense isn’t a huge deal, except for all those times the first baseman handles the ball.
You also rarely hear people talk about a team’s “first baseman of the future” too. There’s plenty of “this guy will be our shortstop for the next ten years,” but first base? Nope. The history of first base prospects is pretty awful as well. Baseball America ranked 37 full-time first baseman among their top 100 prospects from 1995-2005 and only five became bonafide stars: Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Todd Helton, Paul Konerko, and David Ortiz, who made his name at DH.
More recent elite first base prospects like Eric Hosmer and Justin Smoak have been disappointments. Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo are the best of the top first base prospect crop since Fielder while others like Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt were never top prospects. It has historically been a tough position to project and I think that’s because it’s so offense-focused. Hitting is generally considered to be tougher to scout and evaluate than pitching because there is no “textbook” swing. A fastball is a fastball and a slider is a slider. But a swing? Good luck cracking that code.
Anyway, the Yankees are at a point now where the future of first base in the Bronx is up in the air. Mark Teixeira is under contract for another two seasons but he is becoming more and more injury prone with each passing year. His playing time at first base will only go down through injuries and time spent at DH in an effort to keep him healthy. The Yankees have gotten by (barely) with fill-in first basemen during Teixeira’s injuries this season, though I hope that isn’t the plan going forward. To just wing it whenever Teixeira gets hurt.
The Yankees currently have two first base prospect at Double-A Trenton … well, one first base and one kinda sorta first base prospect. The true first base prospect is Greg Bird, who was just promoted and has gone 9-for-30 (.300) with three doubles and three homers during his first week with the Thunder. He had a monster 2013 season (170 wRC+) with Low-A Charleston and offers the kind of left-handed power and patience the Yankees crave. Bird is a recently converted catcher though, so his defense at first can be generously described as a work in progress.
The kinda sorta first base prospect is Tyler Austin, another ex-catcher who has bounced from third to first to right field over the years. He’s spent most of this year playing right in deference to Peter O’Brien and now to Bird. Austin had an outstanding 2012 campaign (~160 wRC+) before a wrist injury marred his 2013 season (103 wRC+). The wrist problem lingered into this season and caused him to miss the start of the year, and after a few slow weeks, he’s hit .319/.362/.518 with six homers since July 1st. It appears 2012 Austin is starting to return as he gets further away from the wrist injury.
Neither Bird nor Austin is a top first base prospect like Hosmer or Fielder — Austin did rank 77th on Baseball America’s top 100 in 2013 — though they are solid prospects expected to be average or better contributors at the MLB level, assuming things work out. League average is valuable, especially when the players are making close to the league minimum in their pre-arbitration years. Austin in particular fits the roster very well as a right-handed hitter with some power who can play both right and first. Bird, as a pure first baseman, is a less perfect fit.
It’s clear at this point the Yankees will need some kind of viable backup for Teixeira going forward just because he gets hurt all the time. It’s not necessarily the 15-day DL stuff either. He’s shown a knack for those 6-7 day injuries, the ones that are short enough to avoid the DL but long enough to force the team to play a man short. The problem is that “backup first baseman” really isn’t a position anymore. No team carries a player specifically for that. They tend to carry, well, someone like Austin, who can play first in addition to the corner outfield, third base, or even catch. Think Mike Carp or Steve Pearce or Scott Van Slyke.
The assumption has been that Brian McCann will eventually have to move to first base, though continues to rate very well defensively in terms of pitching framing, throwing out runners, and blocking balls in the dirt. His bat has been a huge disappointment this season but there is no reason to move him out from behind the plate yet. Since Austin is further along in his development thank Bird and figures to start next season at Triple-A Scranton, he’ll be in position to help the Yankees as soon as next season, perhaps getting his opportunity when Teixeira gets hurt. Bird is still a year or two away and his lack of flexibility hurts his chances. If Austin hits, the Yankees will have some different ways to get him into the lineup. They can’t really do that with Bird.
Until his contract is off the books, Teixeira will be New York’s primary first baseman and that’s just the way it’s going to be. There is no reason to think they’ll bench him or relegate him to DH duty on a regular basis. It would be a drastic change from the way they’ve done business for the last, I dunno, 15-20 years. Teixeira’s injuries will give Austin and later Bird a chance to get into the big league lineup — assuming they’re worth calling up, of course — though staying there is the hard part. The Yankees have had four primary first baseman over the last 30 years and they usually go for stars at the position. The opportunity will come for both Austin and Bird in the next two years, but being a good but not great prospect with the Yankees is a not ideal. They may only be stopgaps until the next big name comes along.
The Yankees and Orioles were rained out last night and think everyone needed that. The team hasn’t had a day off in a while and it can be exhausting watching them struggle to score runs night after night. That goes for both the fans watching at home and the players watching in the dugout. Here are some scattered thoughts following the impromptu off-day.
1. I was talking about this with a friend the other day: If another team claimed Brian McCann off trade waivers this month, say the Dodgers, should the Yankees just let him go like they did Matt Thornton? That would enable them to get out from under the 4+ years and $72M or so left on his contract, but they’d also be letting him go for nothing. McCann hasn’t hit a lick this season and he’s been a huge disappointment, and it’s fair to wonder if this is just a one-year blip or a sign of things to come. He is a 30-year-old catcher with approximately 10,000 big league innings on his legs, remember. Those guys can fall off a cliff in a hurry and without warning. If this is who McCann is going forward, the Yankees would be foolish not to jump at the chance to unload his contract. Obviously this is all hypothetical since no one is claiming him. I was all for signing McCann in the offseason, he fit the team’s needs perfectly, but it hasn’t worked out at all. Figuring out why he stopped hitting — teams have been shifting against him for five years, stop blaming that — and getting back to where he needs to be has to be priority number one this offseason.
2. Speaking of Thornton, I wish the Yankees would stop putzing around with Rich Hill — retired three of nine MLB batters faced this year! — and call up either Tyler Webb or Jacob Lindgren. I understand why they let Thornton go and I’m not going to argue against dumping a soon-to-be 39-year-old lefty specialist with another ~$4.5M coming to him, but I feel like they only took a half-measure by calling up Hill instead of one of the kids. They took advantage of the situation and got an aging, relatively expensive player off the roster, paving the way for a youngster, but they called up a retread instead. Bah. I feel like Hill is such a waste of time. Both Webb and Lindgren have pitched very well in the minors this year and the team talked glowingly about them after the Thornton move. So what’s the point in waiting? We’re not talking about an everyday position player or a starting pitcher who has to learn to turn a lineup over multiple times, they’re one-inning (or even less than that) relievers who have to come in an air it out for a few batters. I don’t see the sense in waiting until rosters expand on September 1st to call one of those two guys up.
3. The 2015 third base situation fascinates me. Are the Yankees really going to run Alex Rodriguez out there everyday at age 39 with a bad hip after he played only 44 games from 2012-13? Would they re-sign Chase Headley and make A-Rod the full-time DH or even release him? Is the plan to have Martin Prado split time with Alex at third base? Something else entirely? I would love to see the Yankees bring Headley back on an Adrian Beltre-esque one-yearpillow contract, but I get the feeling he’s going to go for the biggest payday possible. I know I would. If that means he leaves the team, then I guess A-Rod with Prado as a caddy is the most likely scenario. The Yankees are going to need three infielders this offseason, though you could argue the best possible solutions at third base (A-Rod, Headley, Prado) and second base (Prado, Rob Refsnyder) are already on the team. There won’t be much out there in free agency, as usual.
4. Speaking of free agency, here is the 2014-15 crop of free agents. It’s a thin class and I wonder if the Yankees would have interest in bringing Melky Cabrera back to play right field. Other than him, the only other free agents who even closely resemble impact hitters are Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Hanley is hurt all the time and will probably require a nine-figure deal. Sandoval could end up with Beltre money (five years, $80M) and I worry he might eat himself out of baseball once he gets a huge contract. His conditioning issues are long-running and well-documented. Melky might come with the fewest questions among the big free agents, which is really saying something given his performance-enhancing drug suspension a few years ago. Cabrera just turned 30 on Monday, he’s hit very well this season (135 wRC+ heading into last night’s game), and he’s a switch-hitter with some power and a ton of contact ability. His defense kinda stinks but he does have a strong arm, which makes him a good candidate for right field in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees know Melky and he knows them, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be easier to work out a deal. It could mean in the opposite, in fact. With the caveat that I am terrible at estimating free agent contracts, my guess is he gets something like four years and $56M to $60M, or Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson money.
5. Looking over that list of free agents makes me think the Yankees really need to re-sign Brandon McCarthy. Not at any cost, obviously. He is coming off a two-year deal worth $18M, though he is both two years older and not as good as he was when he signed that contract. His price should come a bit, in theory. Given the dearth of quality pitching and general market inflation, I’m guessing that won’t be the case though. Maybe two years and $20M gets it done this time. McCarthy does have a very scary history of shoulder injuries — he hit the DL at least once with a shoulder issue (including multiple stress fractures) every year from 2007-13 — so there would be a lot of risk involved. He’s pitched very well in pinstripes though, showing he can deal with pitching in the tougher league and in a small ballpark in his limited time. The Yankees will need rotation help next year and if they can get McCarthy to come back at a reasonable price, they should be all over it. Lock him up during the exclusive negotiating period, before he even gets to free agency.
- LF Jose Pirela: 1-3, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 1 K — threw a runner out at the plate
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
- CF Zoilo Almonte: 3-5, 1 RBI
- 1B Kyle Roller: 2-3, 2 2B, 1 RBI — 14-for-37 (.378) with four doubles and four homers in his last ten games
- SS Zelous Wheeler: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 E (throwing)
- LHP Manny Banuelos: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 4/3 GB/FB — 42 of 67 pitches were strikes (63%) and he was sitting around 91 … first Triple-A start since May 2012 … he’s strung together some really good starts lately, good to see him finishing the year on a high note
- RHP Branden Pinder: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 WP, 0/2 GB/FB — 20 of 36 pitches were strikes (56%)
- LHP Tyler Webb: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 15 of 24 pitches were strikes (63%)
The Yankees were rained out tonight, and earlier this afternoon they announced Michael Pineda will start tomorrow night’s game as scheduled. Shane Greene is being pushed back to Saturday, with Brandon McCarthy going Friday and Chris Capuano going Sunday. The Yankees are taking advantage of the rainout and Thursday’s off-day by giving Hiroki Kuroda a nice seven-day rest. He needs it.
Here is your open thread for the Yankees baseball-less lineup. The Mets are playing, MLB Network will air a regional game, plus the Little League World Series is on. Talk about any of those games or anything else right here.
Via George King: The Yankees have until the end of the week to submit a contract offer to Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo. Several teams have already made him an offer, though it’s unknown if the Yankees are one of those teams. Castillo is expected to sort through the offers in the coming days and could sign next week.
The Yankees had Castillo in Tampa for a private workout last week, and they reportedly like him more at second base than in the outfield. Most teams like him in the outfield. Castillo has had private workouts with several teams and King says he still has a few more scheduled this week. I have no idea whether signing Castillo is a smart move — reports indicate he could get as much as $50M — though the Yankees certainly have a long-term need at second. If that doesn’t work, the outfield is always a fallback option. · (138) ·
2:53pm: Erik Boland says the game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on September 12th. That means the Yankees will play 21 games in 20 days to close out the regular season.
2:49pm: Tonight’s Yankees-Orioles game has been postponed due to rain, according to Marly Rivera. There has not yet been an official announcement. No word on when the game will be made up, but they could play a doubleheader tomorrow or the makeup game on Thursday’s mutual off-day. The Yankees and Orioles do not have any other mutual off-days this season. · (34) ·
Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear the Yankees needed to upgrade their lineup and their rotation. The pitching help never came, at least not in the form of something other than a scrap heap pickup, but the team did add three position players at the deadline. Chase Headley was acquired to shore up third base, and, about a week later, Stephen Drew and Martin Prado were brought in for second base and right field, respectively.
The Yankees were getting close to nothing from those three positions before the trade deadline. The team’s third basemen hit .224/.321/.301 from June 1st through the Headley trade while their second basemen and right fielders hit .204/.259/.319 and .228/.254/.290, respectively, in June and July before the Drew and Prado trades. That’s pretty awful. The Yankees had (at least) three dead spots in the lineup for a two-month stretch and something had to be done. That couldn’t continue.
Headley, Drew, and Prado stepped right into the lineup and immediately improved the team’s defense even though the latter two were playing out of position. Surely the focus was on upgrading the offense, but improve the defense was also important and the Yankees accomplished that with the trades. The offensive production has not been there yet, at least not from Drew and Prado. Headley is hitting .250/.354/.382 (110 wRC+) in pinstripes and it would be unfair to lump him in with the other two. He hasn’t been great with the bat but he hasn’t been part of the problem either.
Drew and Prado, however, has been totally unproductive in their limited time with the Yankees. Drew is hitting .154/.195/.231 (12 wRC+) in 41 plate appearances so far, and two of his three hits (!) came in his first two games with the team. He’s gone 1-for-28 with no walks since. He has consistently had long at-bats (4.12 pitches per plate appearance) but, as we saw with Brian Roberts, that is close to meaningless if those at-bats don’t turn into times on base. He’s been very good defensively in my opinion, especially since he’s playing a new position, but that hasn’t been enough.
Prado, on the other hand, is hitting .189/.250/.297 (51 wRC+) with a homer in 40 plate appearances with the Yankees. He took David Price deep a week ago and has three singles with no walks since. Prado wasn’t hitting much with the Diamondbacks before the trade (89 wRC+), though he was trending in the right direction, with a .282/.326/.411 (103 wRC+) batting line in the two months prior to coming to New York, but he has not sustained that success in pinstripes. I don’t think anyone was expecting peak Prado, when he was consistently a 117+ wRC+ player with the Braves, but I think we were all hoping for something better than this.
Now, both Drew and Prado are playing new positions and that could be hurting their offense. Drew didn’t have a proper Spring Training and Prado is also changing leagues. If nothing else, those are reasons to hope they will improve going forward. Not hitting since joining the Yankees doesn’t mean they will not hit forever, but these last eleven games or so happened. They’re in the books and neither player has helped the struggling offense. The Bombers averaged 4.01 runs per game before the trade deadline and they’re at 3.82 runs per game since. Obviously facing Corey Kluber and Detroit’s staff last week will skew the numbers a bit, but Bud Norris? Carlos Carrasco? Anthony Ranaudo?
The Yankees lack a bonafide number three or four hitter in the wake of Robinson Cano‘s departure and that type of hitter simply wasn’t available at the trade deadline. The team was going to have to get by with smaller upgrades to add depth to the lineup, and the Drew and Prado additions theoretically did that. They have yet to hit though, failing to meet the low “better than Roberts and Ichiro” standard this far. The Yankees don’t have the pitching or the impact hitters at other positions to continue carrying multiple dead spots in the lineup. Drew and Prado have to start producing for the team to have any hope of climbing back into the postseason race.
Via Ken Davidoff: The Yankees are likely to support MLB COO Rob Manfred as baseball’s next commissioner. Manfred is up for the job along with MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner. Richard Sandomir and Michael Schmidt note Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg were also interviewed for the job but not nominated. Manfred and Werner are considered the favorites with Brosnan lagging behind.
Davidoff says the Yankees figure to support Manfred because of his relationship with the players’ union and the belief that he’ll be able to keep both big and small market teams happy going forward. Manfred spearheaded MLB’s investigation into Biogenesis and testified against Alex Rodriguez during his appeal, though I highly doubt that has anything to do with the team’s willingness to support him. Supporting Manfred is all about what Yankees ownership believes is best for their billions of dollars, not a grudge against A-Rod.
The owners will vote on the next commissioner this Thursday at the quarterly meetings, and a candidate needs 23 of 30 votes to be elected. There’s a chance no one will be elected on Thursday and the search for Bud Selig’s replacement will continue for another few weeks. Selig is retiring in January. · (44) ·
When Chris Davis hit that two-run homer off Chris Capuano last night, it gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead that felt a whole lot bigger than one run because of how ineffective the Yankees’ offense has been. Scoring has been a big problem, so when Adam Warren and Chase Whitley combined to let the O’s blow things open in the later innings, the game was over. The Yankees might not score as many runs in the series as Baltimore did on Monday.
The offense was again a huge issue last night, especially considering two of the team’s three runs were gift-wrapped by some defensively hilarity. The bullpen was also an issue, which has been the case more and more often in recent weeks. Last night was an extreme example, obviously, but the bullpen has now allowed at least one run in each of the last four games and in 15 of 24 games since the All-Star break. The bullpen overall has a 3.91 ERA (3.99 FIP) since the break, which doesn’t sound awful, but the AL average is 3.63 ERA (3.68 FIP).
The Yankees have had a revolving door in the last spot or two of the bullpen all season, and guys like Chris Leroux and Alfredo Aceves and Matt Daley have put a dent in the team’s overall bullpen numbers. Joe Girardi has a top heavy bullpen this year led by the two elites in David Robertson and Dellin Betances. Adam Warren was an excellent supporting piece at various points, but that has not been the case lately. In fact, he’s been part of the problem these last few weeks.
Obviously last night was a total nightmare. Three runs on a single, a double, and a homer in one inning of work, giving Warren a 6.97 ERA (5.65 FIP) in 10.1 innings in the All-Star break. Take it back to May 15th (arbitrary!), which immediately follows a stretch in which he threw multiple innings five times in eleven days, and he has a 4.75 ERA (3.60 FIP) in 36 innings. Warren has walked six batters and struck out only five in his last 6.1 innings and he just looks worn down. He’s not locating well or finishing his pitches; his breaking balls are cement mixers more often than not.
Shawn Kelley had a disaster outing against the Indians on Friday night (four runs in one-third of an inning) but otherwise has allowed just one run since the break. He looked a little rough when he first came off the disabled list back in June, but Kelley has sorted it out of late and should clearly be ahead of Warren on the bullpen pecking at this point. I really like Warren as a one-inning, air-it-out reliever, but I just don’t see how Girardi can use him as a high-leverage guy right now. He’s not equipped to help the team in that capacity at this point in time.
The Yankees are carrying eight relievers — it’s a necessity more than overkill right now given the state of the rotation — but the last few spots are for spare arms in case of blowouts. Daley, Bryan Mitchell, and Leroux have cycled in and out of the last bullpen spot just within the last week. Soon Esmil Rogers will take over. Rich Hill (and David Huff) is keeping the left-handed specialist position warm until the Yankees deem someone like Tyler Webb or Jacob Lindgren big league ready, and Chase Whitley is flat out unusable. Four runs in two-thirds of an inning last night, ten runs in 6.1 innings since moving into the bullpen, and 30 runs in his last 28.1 innings overall. I don’t see why he belongs on the MLB roster at this point.
That eight-man bullpen is effectively a three-man bullpen with a lot of filler mixed in. Robertson, Betances, and Kelley should be Girardi’s top choices for important innings — it seems like Huff has worked his way into the Circle of Trust™ as well, but yuck — simply because no one else is pitching well. Warren shouldn’t see big innings because he hasn’t shown us anything recently to make us think he’s reliable. I don’t know if it’s fatigue or something else, but it’s happening. The Leroux, Whitley, and Hill group is there to steal outs whenever they can, basically. Sometimes you get lucky, most of the time you don’t.
At the moment, you could make a pretty strong case Rogers is the fourth best reliever in the Yankees’ bullpen. I’m talking about this very moment in time. There is definitely an argument to be made that Rogers is better able to help you win a game on August 12th than Warren or Whitley or whoever. The Yankees aren’t getting a lot of length from their starters and the offense has been stagnant, so the bullpen has had to work a lot and these emergency type arms have been forced into important situations. That’s a problem. Girardi’s bullpens have been very good over the years, but the combination of a bad offense and a short rotation has this relief crew teetering on the edge of disaster whenever someone other than Betances or Robertson enters the game.