Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Islanders are playing, and there are a few college basketball games on as well. That’s about it. Have at it.
One week from today, the National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017 will be announced during a live MLB Network broadcast. At this point Tim Raines, who is on the ballot for the tenth and final time, seems to be a lock for induction, as does Jeff Bagwell. He’s on the ballot for the seventh time. Trevor Hoffman, Vlad Guerrero, and Ivan Rodriguez are all on the bubble as well.
Among the 34 players on the ballot this year is Jorge Posada, the first member of the (groan) Core Four to be eligible for Hall of Fame induction. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte hit the ballot in two years, Derek Jeter the year after that. Bernie Williams, the fifth member of the Core Four, was on the Hall of Fame ballot in both 2012 and 2013. He received 9.6% of the vote the first year and 3.3% the second year, which is why he dropped off.
Players need to appear on 75% of the submitted ballots to be elected into Cooperstown. They also need to receive at least 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot another year. Bernie didn’t in 2013, so he dropped off. So it goes. Posada, it seems, is on a similar path. Current voting results indicate he’s in real danger of slipping off the ballot in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
According to the Hall of Fame public ballot tracker, which is the product of the hard work by man of the people Ryan Thibodaux, shows Posada has appeared on only 4.2% of the public Hall of Fame ballots as of this writing. He’s already been mathematically eliminated from received the 75% necessary for induction this year, not that I expected him to get in anyway. Jorge is very much a borderline candidate. Borderline at best, really.
So far 185 ballots have been made public — those are from voters who posted their ballot on social media, in their newspaper, on a blog, whatever — while six others were sent to Thibodaux anonymously. That makes up roughly 44% of the voting body. Posada needs 14 more votes to clear the 5% threshold and remain on the ballot another year. We’re still waiting on ballots from many New York voters, which could help Posada, though historically players have received less support from private ballots than public ballots. It’s a long shot.
Now, I don’t think it would be some kind of grave injustice if Posada doesn’t make it into the Hall of Fame. Hardly. He’s one of my all-time favorite players, but I recognize him as a borderline candidate. Posada was unquestionably one of the best catchers of his era and one of the best in Yankees history, though you have to squint your eyes a bit to really see his Hall of Fame case. It comes down to his offense, because Jorge wasn’t a great (or even good) defender.
Among catchers with at least 5,000 career plate appearances, Posada is 12th all-time in OPS+ (121) and 14th all-time in wRC+ (123). He’s ninth in OBP (.374) and eighth in SLG (.474). As a catcher only, meaning ignoring time as a DH and all that, Posada is seventh all-time in homers (246) and sixth in extra-base hits (599). He’s also first in walks (818) and ninth in times in base (2,356). Posada hit .279/.380/.487 as a catcher. That’s pretty awesome.
There’s no question Posada, a career .273/.374/.474 (123 wRC+) hitter overall, was far better than the average catcher offensively. Far, far better. The question is whether the 12th or 14th or whatever best hitting catcher of all-time is worthy of being inducted into Cooperstown. For the vast majority of Hall of Fame voters this year, the answer has been no. Being part of four World Series titles teams (technically five, but Posada wasn’t exactly a key component of the 1996 Yankees) hasn’t helped his case much.
The fact the ballot is stuffed isn’t helping matters either. Of the 191 ballots on Thibodaux’s tracker, a whopping 110 voted for the maximum ten players. It’s really easy to come up with about 12 players worthy of Hall of Fame votes this year, but there’s only room on the ballot for ten, so inevitably a few deserving players get left out in the cold. Posada’s an easy one to cast aside. Heck, if I had a ballot, I’m pretty sure Jorge wouldn’t be among my “top” ten players, though I haven’t put a ton of thought into it.
Posada’s best shot at getting into the Hall of Fame was always going involve a long stint on the ballot with a gradual increase in support each year. Perhaps a Rich Lederer/Bert Blyleven, Jonah Keri/Tim Raines style campaign would have been necessary. The longer he stayed on the ballot, the more voters would consider him and realize how great he truly was. That was the plan. (As an added bonus, the longer the stayed on the ballot, the more unclogged it would get it.)
In all likelihood Posada is going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year, his first year of eligibility. That stinks. At least Bernie stuck around for a second year. Posada is one of the greatest Yankees ever and no one will ever wear No. 20 in pinstripes again. Most players couldn’t dream of having his career. Jorge seems destined to be overlooked as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, which is kinda fitting I guess, because I always felt he was a bit underappreciated during his playing career.
Justus Sheffield | LHP
Sheffield, 20, grew up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, which is about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. As a senior at Tullahoma High School, Sheffield struck out 131 batters in 61.2 innings while allowing only three earned runs. That’s a 0.34 ERA with seven-inning games. He had a 17-strikeout game and also hit .405 with three home runs, which earned him Gatorade National Player of the Year honors. No, he is not related to Gary Sheffield.
Like his older brother Jordan, Justus committed to Vanderbilt, which meant he figured to be a tough sign. Vandy is typically a tough commitment to break. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the 49th best prospect in the 2014 draft class and the second best prospect in Tennessee, behind Vanderbilt righty Tyler Beede. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Justus as the 21st best prospect in the draft class while MLB.com had him 39th.
The Indians selected Sheffield with the 31st overall pick in the 2014 draft, the supplemental first round pick they received as compensation for losing Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency. Rather than be a tough sign, Sheffield was literally the first 2014 draftee to agree to terms. (That we know of, anyway.) The two sides agreed to a below-slot $1.6M bonus only hours after the MLB Network broadcast of Day One of the draft. Slot money for the 31st pick was $1.733M.
The Yankees acquired Sheffield from Cleveland in the five-player Andrew Miller trade at the 2016 deadline. Miller went to the Indians for Sheffield, outfielder Clint Frazier, and righties Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. It was a four-for-one swap.
Because he signed quickly, the Indians sent Sheffield to their rookie level Arizona League affiliate for his pro debut. Sheffield had a 4.79 ERA (2.67 FIP) with 29 strikeouts and nine walks in 20.2 innings after signing. That’s a 30.9% strikeout rate and a 9.6% walk rate. After the season, Baseball America ranked him Cleveland’s fourth best prospect.
During the 2014-15 offseason, Sheffield was arrested back home in Tullahoma for underage drinking and aggravated burglary after breaking into a home in the early morning hours to confront one of the residents about a personal matter. Sheffield pled guilty to underage drinking and a reduced charge of aggravated criminal trespassing, and was sentenced to probation. He also had to donate $500 to a local charity and was allowed to have the charges expunged from his record one year later.
Once the 2015 season began, the Indians assigned Sheffield to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League, where he was the sixth youngest player and second youngest pitcher in the league on Opening Day. He spent the entire season at the level and posted a 3.31 ERA (2.99 FIP) with 24.9% strikeouts and 6.9% walks in 26 starts and 127.2 innings while being nearly three years younger than the average Midwest League player. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the club’s fourth best prospect and 81st best prospect in baseball after the season.
The Indians moved Sheffield up to the High-A Carolina League to begin 2016 — he was the sixth youngest player and youngest pitcher in the league on Opening Day — and he had a 3.59 ERA (3.80 FIP) with 22.8% strikeouts and 9.8% walks in 19 starts and 95.1 innings there before the trade. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the 69th best prospect in the game in early-July, in their midseason top 100 update.
After the trade the Yankees initially assigned Sheffield to High-A Tampa, where he made five starts and had a 1.73 ERA (2.33 FIP) with 27.3% strikeouts and 10.1% walks in 26 innings. A late season bump to Double-A Trenton saw Sheffield make three more starts, postseason included, during which he managed a 4.97 ERA (4.86 FIP) with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 12.2 innings.
All told, Sheffield pitched to a 3.36 ERA (3.61 FIP) with 24.2% strikeouts and 10.4% walks in 27 starts and 134 innings in 2016. He was three years younger than the competition in both High-A leagues. After the season, Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the seventh best prospect in New York’s stacked farm system. He should be in the middle of all the top 100 prospect lists that come out this spring.
Sheffield is a short little southpaw — he’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 lbs. — with big stuff. His fastball is more of a two-seamer than a four-seamer, with run down and back in on left-handed batters. It sits mostly in the low-90s and has topped out at 96 mph. That’s pretty good velocity given his age (he doesn’t turn 21 until May) and size.
A low-to-mid-80s slider is Sheffield’s primary secondary pitch. He used to throw a curveball back in the day, but it’s morphed into a slider since signing and become a more reliable offering. Sheffield also throws a mid-80s changeup that has made a lot of progress since high school and is now an average-ish offering. On his best days, he’ll take two swing-and-miss secondary pitches out to the mound. Here’s some video from September.
The arrest a few years ago was a surprise because Sheffield was praised for his makeup prior to the 2014 draft. He completed his probation and hasn’t had any other legal problems, either before or since the arrest.
Sheffield will open the 2017 season as a 20-year-old in Double-A, where he figures to be one of the youngest players and pitchers in the Eastern League on Opening Day. You can never rule out a player starting extremely well and forcing a promotion, but I think Sheffield will remain with Double-A Trenton almost all season. He could make a handful of Triple-A starts at the end of the regular season and in the postseason or something like that, I suppose. The Yankees like to do that stuff. A midseason promotion seems unlikely though given his age and developmental needs.
It’s easy to overlook Sheffield in the system, isn’t it? He wasn’t even the headliner in his own trade (that was Frazier), and the Yankees landed other bigger name prospects like Gleyber Torres and Dillon Tate at the deadline. And they drafted Blake Rutherford. And guys like Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian are prospect list holdovers from last year. It’s really easy to forget about Sheffield.
That said, I think Justus is the Yankees’ best pitching prospect at the moment. His medical history is cleaner than Kaprielian’s — Sheffield has never had an injury, arm or otherwise — and his arsenal is more advanced than Albert Abreu’s. Fastball plane and homeritis is always a concern with sub-6-foot pitchers because they tend to lack downhill plane on their fastballs, but Sheffield has some natural sink on his heater and has kept the ball in the park as a pro (career 0.46 HR/9), which is encouraging.
There is no such thing as a low-risk pitching prospect — Sheffield has been healthy to date, but that doesn’t mean he can’t blow out his arm on the first day of Spring Training — but I feel like Sheffield carries less risk than the typical 20-year-old hurler. He has three pitches already, and he’s athletic and he repeats his delivery well. I’m optimistic his control will improve in time. Sheffield has less to figure out than most kids this age.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how Sheffield handles his assignment to Double-A this season. A good season at that level would put him in the game’s top tier of pitching prospects and make him a potential big league option for the Yankees as soon as 2018. It’s not often a high school pitcher reaches the big leagues within four calendar years of being drafted, but Sheffield has a chance to do it. That’s pretty awesome.
Three offseasons ago the Yankees committed significant dollars to reshape their offense. After years of relying on the home run (not a bad thing!) and playing station-to-station baseball (a bad thing), New York invested big in a pair of speedsters. Jacoby Ellsbury was brought on board as a free agent and Brett Gardner was retained with an extension. That’s $205M worth of table-setters right there, with three-quarters of that money going to Ellsbury.
The attempt to diversify the offense hasn’t worked as hoped. In the three years since the signings, the Yankees ranked 20th, second, and 22nd in runs per game. The year they ranked second was the year zombie Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez rose from the dead to hit a combined .252/.357/.513 with 64 homers in just under 1,100 plate appearances. It wasn’t because Ellsbury and Gardner raised hell atop the lineup.
Derek Jeter‘s retirement tour kept him glued to the No. 2 lineup spot in 2014, but over the last two years, Ellsbury and Gardner have batted first and second in whatever order in 200 of 324 possible games, or 62%. Needless to say, building the top of the lineup around their speed hasn’t worked as planned for a number of reasons, and as a result, the Yankees are now considering breaking up the Gardner-Ellsbury combo.
“We’ve kicked it around (since) the second half last year,” said Brian Cashman during a YES Network interview earlier this week (video link). “Is it best to split them up? Who should really bat leadoff? Those type of things. And I’m sure those will pop back up this Spring Training. It could stay that way. It’s ultimately going to be Joe’s call … I think Joe’s going to get a better feel when he sees everything in camp — if it’s all healthy — and who’s best for that two-hole, then where’s the best guy slot after that. We’ll see how it plays.”
Changing the lineup can sometimes be really simple and at other times really complicated. Splitting up Gardner and Ellsbury is one of those times when it’s complicated, I think. There are a lot of ramifications up and down the lineup, and even in the clubhouse as well. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it down bit by bit.
1. Of course Gardner, not Ellsbury, should bat leadoff. Ellsbury has the more lucrative contract and is the bigger name, but Gardner is the better player and better hitter, and therefore the better fit for the leadoff spot. Consider their offensive numbers over the last few years (defense doesn’t matter when it comes to lineup spots):
Ellsbury steals a few more bases and hits for a slightly higher average, and that’s about it. Gardner is better at everything else, including all the other aspects of baserunning (BsR). The most basic job of the leadoff man is to get on base, and Gardner has a higher on-base percentage than Ellsbury over the last year (.351 to .330), the last two years (.347 to .324), the last three years (.340 to .326), the last four years (.341 to .333), the last five years (.341 to .331) … on and on we could go.
Furthermore, Gardner sees a heck of a lot more pitches than Ellsbury. That is kinda the secondary job of the leadoff man, right? To work the pitcher and prolong the at-bat so everyone else in the lineup gets an idea of what’s coming? Right. Gardner saw 4.09 pitches per plate appearance last season, 29th most in baseball. Ellsbury saw 3.73 pitches per plate appearance, which was 108th most. Gardner has a big advantage over the last three years too (4.23 to 3.73).
Looking ahead, both Steamer (.340 OBP to .324 OBP; 101 wRC+ to 91 wRC+) and ZiPS (.330 OBP to .324 OBP; 104 OPS to 97 OPS+) project Gardner to both get on base more often and be a better overall hitter than Ellsbury this coming season. Unless you’re one of those folks who believes the quality of a leadoff hitter can be measured exclusively by his stolen base total, there’s no statistical argument to be made Ellsbury deserves the leadoff spot over Gardner.
2. Okay smarty pants, who bats second then? The second spot in the lineup is an important one. Old school baseball folks will say that spot should go to a bat control guy who can hit behind the runner, hit-and-run, things like that. New schoolers believe your best overall hitter should hit second because he’ll get more at-bats than he would hitting third or fourth, plus he’d bat with more men on base than he would as the leadoff hitter.
Ellsbury fits the mold of an old school No. 2 hitter. He struck out only 13.4% of the time last year (career 13.6 K%), the 25th lowest strikeout rate among the 146 hitters qualified for the batting title. Ellsbury is most certainly not New York’s best hitter though. That’s probably Gary Sanchez. (I wouldn’t be completely shocked if, say, Greg Bird out-hits Sanchez in 2017.) Girardi has batted power hitters second in the past, most notably Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, but I have a hard time believing he’d do it with Sanchez. He seems entrenched as the No. 3 hitter.
So if Gardner is leading off, Sanchez is hitting third, and Ellsbury is moving down in the lineup, who is the best candidate to hit second? My nomination: Chase Headley. He’s a better on-base player than Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro — Headley had a .331 OBP last year whereas Didi and Starlin were at .304 and .300, respectively, and ZiPS suggests more of the same in 2017 — but he probably won’t pop 20-something homers like those two. He’s better in a table-setting role. Gregorius and Castro are better used killing rallies with homers a bit lower in the order.
Ultimately, the Yankees don’t have a great No. 2 hitter candidate. Ellsbury has the bat control but is a below-average hitter overall. Castro and Gregorius don’t get on base much. Headley and Sanchez (and Bird and Matt Holliday) are really slow. Aaron Judge strikes out too much. You know who’d theoretically be a nice fit as the No. 2 hitter? Aaron Hicks. Switch-hitter with some pop who can run, doesn’t strike out a ton (18.8 K% in 2016), and will draw walks (8.3%). Of course, Hicks has a lot to prove before becoming a serious consideration for a premium lineup spot.
The lineup is going to change throughout the season, it always does, and it’s entirely possible Ellsbury will emerge as the best possible candidate for the two-hole. Headley seems like the best fit right now because, even though he lacks top of the order speed, he’ll get on base and hit for more power than Ellsbury, plus he’s a switch-hitter, which creates some matchup headaches for opposing managers. Headley has batted second for the Yankees before, 49 starts there the last two years, so it wouldn’t be new to him. He’s my suggestion until a better option emerges.
3. Will Girardi actually move Ellsbury down in the lineup? I can think of 153 million reasons why Ellsbury will remain the leadoff hitter in 2017. Like or not (not!) contract status absolutely plays a role when teams make decisions. It’s one thing to bench a wholly ineffective A-Rod, or slide Brian McCann to DH when Sanchez starts socking dingers left and right. It’s another to drop a guy in the lineup when you owe him $90M over the next four years.
Now, to be fair, Girardi did bench Ellsbury in the AL Wildcard Game two years ago, which I’m sure was difficult even though it was unquestionably the right move at the time. And Girardi did scale back the playing time of his veterans last year (A-Rod, McCann, Teixeira) without the clubhouse breaking into mutiny. Say what you want about Girardi’s on-field management skills. The Yankees have been largely distraction free the last few seasons. He seems to do a wonderful job managing the clubhouse.
Perhaps then demoting Ellsbury lower in the lineup — by demoting I mean dropped to the bottom third of the batting order, not, say, third or fifth — would not be a problem. Ellsbury accepts the demotion, uses it as motivation, and plays his way back to the top of the lineup. (Or demands a trade!) That would be the best thing for everyone. That said, there are too many years and too many dollars left on Ellsbury’s contract for me to think this will actually happen. I’m going to need to see this one to believe it.
4. Don’t forget, a Gardner trade is still possible. The Yankees can split Gardner and Ellsbury up by dropping one, preferably Ellsbury, lower in the lineup. They could also split them up by trading Gardner (or, again, preferably Ellsbury, but nah). Gardner has been on the trade block for more than a year now and reports indicate the Yankees continue to field offers. He remains a Yankee though, and until he’s traded, we have to proceed as if he’ll be around. This is just a reminder that a Gardner trade could make Ellsbury the leadoff hitter by default.
5. So what actually is the best lineup? Good question! Moving Ellsbury, who has been 5% worse than the league average hitter over the last three seasons, down in the lineup makes perfect sense. Except when you look at the rest of the roster and realize the Yankees aren’t exactly loaded with high-end hitters. It’s not like they still have Swisher hitting eighth or something like that. I’d say this is the best possible lineup right now:
- LF Brett Gardner
- 3B Chase Headley
- C Gary Sanchez
- DH Matt Holliday
- 1B Greg Bird
- 2B Starlin Castro
- SS Didi Gregorius
- RF Aaron Judge
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
That allows Ellsbury to act as a second leadoff hitter, so to speak. After the first inning, he’d still be setting the table for Gardner and Headley and Sanchez. He just wouldn’t do it in the first inning. There are a lot of questions in that lineup — will Judge stick with the team on Opening Day or go to Triple-A? is Bird healthy and productive? etc. — but that seems like the best order.
Now, based on last year and his overall tendencies, this is the lineup I’m guessing Girardi would run out there if the Yankees do decide to split up Ellsbury and Gardner:
- LF Brett Gardner
- 2B Starlin Castro
- C Gary Sanchez
- DH Matt Holliday
- SS Didi Gregorius
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Greg Bird
- RF Aaron Judge
- 3B Chase Headley
Don’t ask me why, that just seems very Girardi-ish to me. Gregorius saw plenty of time in the middle of the lineup last year, and Castro was elevated to second on more than a few occasions. (Fifteen times, to be exact.) Sixth is low enough that Ellsbury is not getting premium at-bats but still high enough not to insult him. Then you’ve got the two kids in Bird and Judge, then Headley, who Girardi never bothered to elevate in the lineup for an extended period of time last summer even though he hit .269/.344/.426 (107 wRC+) in the final 135 games of the year.
Like I said earlier, I’m going to need to see Ellsbury dropped in the lineup before I believe it. Consider me skeptical. I half expect Gardner to be the one who gets demoted to seventh or eighth or whatever. It’s good the Yankees have been discussing this for a while now, since the second half of last season according to Cashman, now we just need to see if it leads anywhere. If there were one year left on Ellsbury’s deal and more viable top of the lineup alternatives on the roster, I’d be more optimistic about the chances of him being dropped. For now, I’m not expecting much.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Nets are the only local pro sports team in action tonight, and there’s some college basketball on the schedule too. Not a whole lot going on, so talk about whatever here.
All things considered, this has been a pretty quiet offseason for the Yankees. They did make one notable trade (Brian McCann) and two pricey free agent signings (Matt Holliday, Aroldis Chapman), but otherwise things have been really slow for a solid month now. That’s what happens with a weak free agent class and trade prices sky high.
The Yankees will have some position battles in Spring Training, as always, but generally speaking, the roster is kinda set. There are no glaring needs. It’s not like they traded Chase Headley and don’t have a third baseman. New York does need pitching depth the way every team needs pitching depth, they’re just unlikely to add it. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it earlier this week.
“We have stay engaged with the marketplace, but I think more likely than not — 99% likely — we are going to be going to camp with what we have,” said Cashman on Jim Bowden’s radio show Monday. “That’s Tanaka, CC, and Pineda locked in to three spots, and then five guys competing for the final two spots between — in no order — Warren, Cessa, Green, Mitchell, and Severino.”
Cashman first said he wasn’t optimistic about adding pitching during the Winter Meetings last month, and he’s stuck to his guns. Hal Steinbrenner said pretty much the same thing. That’s typical Cashman (and Hal) though. He says he doesn’t expect to do anything all winter, then bam, something happens. Bottom line: you can never truly rule the Yankees out on anything. Anyway, I have some quick thoughts on this.
1. I still think the Yankees will add a starter. I know the Yankees insist they need to dump salary before making a move, but I don’t totally buy it. I have a hard time thinking they’ll pass up the opportunity to sign a player to a little one-year contract if something pops up. Maybe nothing will pop up! There are still so many low level starters on the market (Doug Fister, Jorge De La Rosa, Scott Feldman, Ryan Vogelsong, etc.) that surely one or two will still be on the market on the eve of Spring Training, right? Right??? Anyway, yeah, I think the Yankees will scoop someone like this up on cheap one-year contract at some point. Maybe even a minor league deal.
2. I feel pretty good about the young pitchers, actually. Cashman listed the team’s four most notable young starters in Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. (Adam Warren ain’t so young anymore.) We saw all four of them in the show last season. Further down in the system are Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams, and Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera. (Enns and Herrera are on the 40-man roster.) I’m a young pitcher skeptic; I always assume the worst when a young guy gets called up for the first time. I oddly feel pretty confident in this group though. I guess I was encouraged by what I saw last year. That and the fact there are so many of them. Odds are good one or two (or more!) will emerge as reliable options going forward. (I hope.)
3. Still, some veteran depth would be cool. At the end of the day, they’re still young pitchers, and their performance will be unpredictable and their workloads will have to be monitored. You don’t want to push these guys to the point where they’re at increased risk of injury, and if they struggle, you want to be able to send them to Triple-A if necessary. Development isn’t always pretty. Severino last year was a reminder of that. A veteran starter, even a scrap heap guy like Fister or De La Rosa, is a safety net in case the kids need to be shut down or sent down. And if not, great! The Yankees won’t let a scrap heap veteran stand in their way. Bottom line, the more pitching to protect the young arms, the better.
It feels like only a matter of time until a six-man rotation becomes the norm around baseball. Individual pitchers are generally throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, and with a full-time 26th roster spot seemingly on the horizon, soon it’ll be much easier to carry that extra starter. Right now it takes a little roster creativity to make a sixth starter work.
The Yankees, like many teams, have used a spot sixth starter at times the last few years. Someone gets called up, makes one start to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest, then gets sent back down the next day. We’ve seen Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green used in this way the last three seasons. Mitchell, Green, Luis Cessa, and Luis Severino are candidates to do this in 2017. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams too, possibly.
Yesterday I wrote about the possibility of a tandem fifth starter system, which sounds great in theory, but probably wouldn’t fly in reality. It could work for a team in a deep rebuild with nothing to play for — the Rockies tried a four-man rotation and with four sets of tandem starters in 2012, when they lost 98 games — but a team trying to contend like the Yankees? Nah. Seems like it would be tough to pull off.
Tandem starters might not be doable. But some sort of six-man rotation? That definitely seems possible. It doesn’t have to be a full-time six-man rotation, remember. That would require playing with a six-man bullpen (nope) or a three-man bench (yup). Let’s call it a modified six-man rotation, in which the Yankees use their young pitching depth as a series of sixth starters.
In a nutshell, you call one guy up for a spot start, send him down the next day, then six days later you call up another young starter to make the next spot start. The Yankees wouldn’t be able to call up the same guy for both starts — players must remain in the minors ten days after being sent down, unless someone is placed on the disabled list — but they have the depth to swing it. Something like this:
Day One: Masahiro Tanaka
Day Two: CC Sabathia
Day Three: Michael Pineda
Day Four: Severino (or whoever wins the rotation spot)
Day Five: Cessa (or whoever wins the rotation spot)
Day Six: Mitchell as spot sixth starter
Day Seven: Tanaka
Day Eight: Sabathia
Day Nine: Pineda
Day Ten: Severino
Day Eleven: Cessa
Day Twelve: Green as the spot sixth starter (Mitchell can’t be recalled yet due to the ten-day rule)
The exact names may change, but that’s the idea. And this is doable because the young starters have minor league option years remaining. Mitchell has one left while Cessa, Severino, and Green each have two. Montgomery and Adams, who are also spot sixth starter candidates, have yet to be added to the 40-man roster, so they have all three options remaining. Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera were just added to the 40-man and have all three options too. Can’t forget them.
Furthermore, the Yankees have optionable relievers, which is a necessity to make this spot sixth starter thing work. Guys like Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, Gio Gallegos, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve can all be sent up and down without being exposed to waivers in 2017. Send a reliever down one day, call up the spot sixth starter the next, then send down the spot sixth starter and call up another reliever the day after that. See? Simple.
Keep in mind the Yankees don’t have to do this all season. April is, as always, loaded with off-days. The Yankees have three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season. They have eight off-days in the first 43 days of the regular season. Basically one every five days. Yeah. It’s not until mid-May, when they begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days on May 16th, that the Yankees need to seriously consider using a spot sixth starter to give their regular rotation extra rest.
With any luck, the Yankees will be in position to consider using a spot sixth starter (or tandem starters!) all season. That will mean everyone will have stayed healthy and all the young starters won’t be needed to plug big league rotation spots. We know that’s very unlikely, which is why depth is important. Counting guys like Montgomery, Adams, Enns, and Herrera, the Yankees just might have enough arms to use spot sixth starters all year.
Remember, this is as much about the veterans as it is the kids. Tanaka and Sabathia would benefit from the extra rest now and then, as would the younger pitchers, especially since they’ll all presumably be on some workload limit. Cessa led the kids with only 147.2 innings in 2016. It’s not like these guys are all set to throw 190 innings in 2017, you know? Using a spot sixth starter, something the Yankees have done in the past and have the personnel to do this coming season, benefits everyone.