The Competing Alternatives

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

In a vacuum, it’s never a bad thing to go into a season with more than five options to fill out a team’s starting rotation. After all, how many times have we heard the line, “There’s no such thing as too much pitching” thrown about? It’s a cliche that is true; having “too many pitchers” from which to shape a rotation is like having “too much” pizza. But that is only true in a vacuum, not reality. What if it’s too much Pizza Hut/Domino’s/Papa John’s? We could certainly argue that one slice of that “pizza” is already too much. And in baseball reality as opposed to a baseball vacuum, having lots of pitchers doesn’t necessarily mean you have lots of good pitchers. So stand the (potential) 2016 New York Yankees.

Given the end of the 2015 season, the Yankees have no fewer than seven pitchers who could all lay some claim to spots in the starting rotation. Of course, given their contracts, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia aren’t leaving that rotation any time soon. Nathan Eovaldi, returning from injury, impressed in the second half and he’ll likely round out the rotation’s top three. He’ll be followed by the sometimes big Michael Pineda in the fourth spot and Luis Severino, who proved he belonged in the Majors during the second half, will finish out the five. No one, however, makes it through a season with only five starters, so we’ve got to consider Ivan Nova and Adam Warren as other options in the rotation. Every single one of these pitchers has some sort of question mark as we move to 2016.

All of those pitchers, save for Warren and Severino, spent time on the Major League disabled list at some point in 2015 and there’s a good bet that Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda hit the DL at some point in 2016 (though you could say this about any pitcher who’s ever picked up a baseball). Aside from that, there’s the performance concern with Eovaldi and Severino. While they certainly shined in the second half, can they repeat it? Eovaldi’s got a whole bunch of innings that don’t look like the ones he compiled after his disaster start in Miami and Severino is still in his early 20’s with big potential, but also big bust potential (stop me if you’ve heard the one about young Yankee starters not living up to their promise with the organization). This is all a roundabout way of saying that the Yankees would be wise to go shopping for a starting pitcher–either by free agency or trade–once the World Series ends. Predicting the trade market is hard and, remember, your trade proposal sucks, so let’s just focus on three free agent starters that I’m sure will be a frequent topic of conversation ’round these parts in the next few weeks: David Price, Jordan Zimmerman, and Jeff Samardzija.

Price is the obvious number one choice here. He’s a big lefty who’s shown he can hack it in the American League for a long time and the Yankees love that. Zimmerman is a big righty who’s thrown no fewer than 195 innings since 2012 and has excellent control. Samardzija, as he has been previously, has already been linked to the Yankees and is a potential reclamation projects, something the Yankees also love.

I hate this. (Elsa/Getty)
Price. (Getty)

In that old, familiar vacuum, Price is the guy the Yankees want, need, and sign; he’s almost too perfect for them not to. But in that old, familiar reality, there are two big roadblocks to price: time and money. It’s highly likely that the front office and/or ownership will view a potential big contract for Price as just another CC Sabathia contract: pretty great at first and then an absolute disaster by the midway point.

With Zimmerman, there’s likely to be a draft pick issue: do they want to give up a draft pick for Not The Best Guy Available? There’s also the fact that Zimmerman will likely demand a huge price tag, which his performance may not live up to. Don’t get me wrong here as Zimmerman is a very good pitcher, but he’s been “up and down” (though all good) in the last few years. He’s got two dominant ones–2012 and 2014–and two seasons that are “only” above average-good (2013, 2015). The Yankees may balk at Zimmerman’s (potential) salary demands if they don’t think he’s capable of being that 2012/2014 guy more often.

Samardzija. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Samardzija. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Then there’s Samardzija. Like Zimmerman, he may have draft pick compensation tied to him. Like Zimmerman, and to a greater extent than Zimmerman, there are most definitely performance concerns with him. After all, he just had his worst professional season in which his strikeout rate dropped 5.1% from the year before and his groundball rate plummeted to below 40%. Despite that, there is a ‘bang for your buck’ factor with Shark if he signs a pillow contract to see him through to the next offseason.

These guys all come with some risk, but we could argue it’s less collective risk than the risk represented by the pitchers currently in the Yankees’ employ. One of them–or any of the other free agents I didn’t list here–is a necessity, though. The 2015 Yankee rotation is not sustainable for 2016, even with great bullpen management  by Joe Girardi. Each of these guys could be the wrong option for the listed reasons, but they could also be the right guy for the listed reason. Though he’s not the best of the bunch, Zimmerman probably represents the best option for the Yankees. He’s more of a sure thing that Samardzija and is likely to be less costly–both in terms of years and money–than David Price.

Ironically enough, though, after all these words, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither of these three guys landed in the Bronx for 2016 and beyond. I might be a touch disappointed, but I wouldn’t necessarily be shocked either. Whether it’s these guys or others, however, the Yankees need to do something to bolster the rotation going forward, even if there are a lot of options already in house. Because you can never have too much pitching.

Saturday Open Thread

Back to two postseason games today. Having only one game the last two days was kinda boring. I already miss the avalanche of baseball every night. Anyway, here is today’s playoff schedule:

  • Blue Jays at Royals (Price vs. Ventura): 4pm ET on FOX Sports 1
  • Cubs at Mets (Lester vs. Harvey): 8pm ET on TBS

That Cubs-Mets series should be a lot of fun. No one asked me, but I’d take the young Cubs hitters over the young Mets pitchers going forward. Too much injury risk with pitchers. The 1990s Braves and early-2000s Athletics are the only clubs in the last 25 years or so who managed to keep a group of pitchers together and healthy for an extended period of time.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. In addition to the two postseason games, you’ve also got a ton of college football and the Islanders in action. Talk about those games or anything else here.

DotF: Gary Sanchez off to great start in Arizona Fall League

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Before we get to the first fall/winter ball update of the season, here are a bunch of minor league notes and links to pass along:

  • LHP Ian Clarkin, who did not pitch in official games at all this season due to ongoing elbow trouble, will make his first Arizona Fall League start on Monday, reports Josh Norris. Clarkin did pitch in Instructional League the last few weeks.
  • Baseball America posted a Scout’s Take piece on C Gary Sanchez. (It’s free. You don’t need a subscription.) The scout likes Sanchez as a potential middle of the order bat and also sees him as an average defender, which is nice improvement from where he was earlier in his career.
  • Based on the Twitter feeds of various players, the Yankees had Alfonso Soriano and Scott Rolen working with their minor leaguers during Instructional League. Rolen and farm system head Gary Denbo know each other from their days with the Blue Jays.
  • Know that giant Ferris wheel they’re building in Staten Island? It’s creating headaches for Short Season Staten Island, writes Everett Merrill. Construction has limited parking and led to traffic delays, and even knocked the team’s phone lines out for a few days. Attendance took a hit this year and the team is trying to come up with aggressive marketing strategies for next season.
  • And finally, with 1B Greg Bird and RHP Luis Severino graduating to MLB, OF Ben Gamel and SS Thairo Estrada jumped on MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list, according to High-A Tampa. Here’s the full list.

Now let’s get to the fall ball action, starting with the Arizona Fall League.

AzFL Surprise (6-5 loss to Peoria) Tuesday’s season-opener

  • C Gary Sanchez: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 PB — hit the first home run of the AzFL season … the linked scouting report above says the passed ball was a cross-up, remember most of these pitchers and catchers haven’t worked together before
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 2-4, 1 2B — he’s here in place of 3B Eric Jagielo, who is still recovering from his knee surgery … it’s an infielder for infielder replacement, so Austin has to play first (or third I guess, but he hasn’t done that in a while)
  • SS Tyler Wade: 2-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI — the AzFL will be a good test for him since he’ll be facing a bunch of older pitchers

AzFL Surprise (5-4 win over Peoria in ten innings, walk-off style) Wednesday’s game

  • DH Gary Sanchez: 3-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • LF Dustin Fowler: 0-3, 1 K
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 23 of 35 pitches were strikes (66%) … first game action since late-June … he missed the end of the regular season due to a tendon issue in his hand

AzFL Surprise (3-0 win over Mesa) Thursday’s game

  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 K — started and batted cleanup in each of their first three games, so it appears he’s going to play a lot these next few weeks
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 2B Tyler Wade: 0-2, 1 K
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 20 of 27 pitches were strikes (74%) … he hit 99 mph according to Josh Norris, who also posted video

AzFL Surprise (20-6 win over Mesa) Friday’s game … no Yankees prospects played

The various Caribbean Winter Leagues have either just started their seasons or will do so relatively soon. Here are the assignments so far.

Dominican Summer League: RHP Andury Acevedo, UTIL Jose Rosario

Mexican Pacific League: RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Luis Niebla, RHP Cesar Vargas

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico): No rosters yet

Venezuelan Winter League: C Francisco Arcia, IF Ali Castillo, RHP Luis Cedeno, OF Ben Gamel, C Juan Graterol, OF Ericson Leonora, RHP Jaron Long, RHP Mark Montgomery, OF Teodoro Martinez, RHP Diego Moreno, and IF Jose Pirela.

Keep in mind that just because a player is on a winter ball roster, it does not necessary mean he’ll play. It just means that team holds the player’s winter ball rights. Also, more players can still be — and inevitably will be — added to winter ball rosters in the coming days and weeks. Right now it sure looks like the VWL is the one to watch.

Friday Night Open Thread

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Blue Jays and Royals are playing Game One of the ALCS tonight (Estrada vs. Volquez) at 8pm ET on FOX. Go Royals? Go Royals. The Devils are playing tonight as well. So talk about those games or whatever else is on your mind right here. Just don’t be a jerk.

Reports: Kevin Reese, Tim Naehring, Jay Darnell among candidates to replace Billy Eppler

Generic photo is generic. (Presswire)
Generic photo is generic. (Presswire)

Soon after the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason last week, assistant GM Billy Eppler headed back home to Southern California to take over as Angels GM, leaving a void in the front office. Eppler has been Cashman’s right hand man for a few years now. For a while it appeared he was being groomed to one take over as GM.

After Eppler took the job from the Angels, Cashman said he prefers to replace him from within, though an outside hire is always possible. “I will look outside, too. But you always want to promote from within if you can. I believe in our system and depth of our personnel,” he said to Joel Sherman.

According to George King and Nick Cafardo, among the internal candidates to replace Eppler are player personnel head Kevin Reese (the former outfielder!) and trusted scouts Tim Naehring and Jay Darnell. Naehring reportedly had a big hand in acquiring Didi Gregorius while Darnell was the scout who recommended Yangervis Solarte.

Cafardo says Naehring has turned down promotions in the past because he is based in Cincinnati and wants to remain close to his family. There was some talk Naehring and Darnell would join Eppler in Anaheim, but Cashman shot that down. “That’s not true. They’re under contract,” the GM said.

The Yankees still have two assistant GMs even with Eppler gone: Jean Afterman and Michael Fishman. Afterman is the contract and legal guru from what I understand. Fishman heads the team’s statistical analysis department. Jon Heyman says special advisor Jim Hendry now has a “big voice in the organization,” though apparently he isn’t a candidate to take over as assistant GM.

I don’t know anything about Reese, Naehring, and Darnell as far as their front office skills, but they’re reportedly candidates to replace Eppler, so they must be highly regarded within the organization. I have to think replacing Eppler is something the Yankees want to do soon, before the offseason really gets underway.

The Best Fourth Outfielder in Baseball [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have cycled through many fourth outfielders, some good (Andruw Jones) and some not so good (Brennan Boesch, etc.). Others like Zoilo Almonte and Ben Francisco came and went as well. Good bench players are hard to find and it’s pretty common to have a different fourth outfielder every season.

This year the Yankees had one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball in Chris Young, who they first scooped up off the scrap heap late last year. He made some adjustments with then hitting coach Kevin Long, had a strong September last season, and agreed to return in a reserve role. The move worked out well for everyone.

The Quick Return

The Mets released Young last year after he hit .205/.283/.346 (81 wRC+) in 88 games. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal, gave him a few games in Triple-A, then called him up in September. Young put up a .282/.354/.521 (147 wRC+) batting line in 23 games and even hit a walk-off homer. Pretty great for a guy the Yankees signed off the scrap heap at midseason, no?

The Yankees were impressed enough with Young — and vice versa! — that they quickly re-signed him last offseason. He signed a one-year deal worth $2.5M with a bunch of incentives on November 9th. It was the team’s first transaction of the winter and one of the very first offseason moves in all of baseball. Neither side wanted to wait around, I guess. The Yankees had their fourth outfielder and Young had a home for the season.

Destroyer of Lefties

With two left-handed hitting starting outfielders plus another who is a switch-hitter that is better against righties, Young’s role as a platoon bat was pretty obvious. It wasn’t going to be a straight platoon with another player, but instead something of a rotation, with Young starting against lefties while any one of the other three guys sat. His ability to play all three outfield spots gave Joe Girardi some flexibility.

But, first and foremost, Young had to hit lefties, and boy, he crushed southpaws this season. The 32-year-old put up a .327/.397/.575 (162 wRC+) batting line with seven home runs in 175 plate appearances against left-handers this summer. He was better against southpaws in the first half than the second half, sure, but that overall production? Hard to complain about that.

Young hit five home runs in April, and the most notable was this game-tying solo shot against Drew Smyly and the Rays, which came when the Yankees were in a middle of a run-scoring funk:

More than anything, Young seemed to have a knack for breaking games open and driving in insurance runs. Four of his first eight homers came with the Yankees already ahead, though he also had one go-ahead homer and two game-tying homers.

Through the first half of the season Young hit .354/.411/.646 against lefties and was a must-have in the lineup any time the Yankees faced a southpaw. His second half wasn’t as good (.296/.381/.493) but it was still pretty damn awesome. Young spoiled us early. When he didn’t hit as well late, it made it seem like he fell off a cliff. That wasn’t really the case, at least not against lefties.

The Yankees brought Young back because they believed he could be a force against left-handed pitchers and that’s exactly what he was. He hit them hard all year and especially so in the first half. By platoon bat standards, Young was as good as anyone in the game.

Destroyed by Righties

On the other side of the coin, Young didn’t do much of anything against right-handed pitchers this season. He actually faced more righties (181 plate appearances) than lefties (175), and put up a .182/.246/.339 (58 wRC+) line against northpaws. Yikes. Young did hit seven homers against righties, the same number he hit against lefties, but two were against the extremely homer prone Alexi Ogando (1.65 HR/9!) and two were against position players (Josh Wilson, Jonny Gomes).

That said, some of the homers Young hit against righties were pretty important. This game-winner against Will Harris of the Astros stands out the most:

Young actually improved against righties in the second half of the season, but that’s relatively speaking. He had a .180/.228/.328 batting line against righties in the first half and .189/.302/.378 against them in the second half. Of course, that’s because Girardi stopped playing him against righties. Young had 138 plate appearances against same-side pitchers in the first half and only 43 in the second half.

One thing that really stood out about Young this season was his streakiness. You can see it in his day-by-day wOBA graph below. There are some crazy peaks and valleys:

Chris Young wOBAPart of that had to do with getting a little too much playing time while Jacoby Ellsbury was on the DL. Young played against righties more than he should have those few weeks — even with Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams getting opportunities — and that exposed him a bit. But still, the streakiness was there. Young would crush the ball for a few weeks then totally disappear.

Late Inning Defense

Believe it or not, Young played in 140 games this season. He only started 77 though. The other 63 came off the bench as either a pinch-hitter (12 times), pinch-runner (three times), or defensive replacement (48 times) for Carlos Beltran. I thought Young’s defense was good from a “catch the ball” perspective, but boy, he can’t throw at all. That was a problem at times with runners taking the extra base. Young played all three outfield spots — he played center in midseason, but at some point Girardi decided he was better off with Young in a corner and Brett Gardner in center — and was fine. Not great, not awful, but fine.

Sometimes with bench players there’s a give and take. You trade bad defense for offense and vice versa. That wasn’t the case with Young this season. He hammered lefties, occasionally took a righty deep, and made all the catches he was supposed to make. All things considered, Young was one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball in 2015, if not the best. He finished with a .252/.320/.453 (109 wRC+) batting line and 14 homers in only 356 plate appearances, and he ranked 71st among all outfielders with 1.1 bWAR and 80th with 1.2 fWAR. Remember there are 90 starting outfield spots in MLB. Pretty great for a fourth outfielder.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Thanks to those 356 plate appearances, Young earned an extra $1.375M in incentives this year, so the Yankees paid him $3.875M to be arguably the best extra outfielder in baseball. That works. Young will be a free agent again this winter, and while a reunion is certainly possible, he could try to turn his strong season into a two-year contract. He’s already said it’s “too soon” to know whether he’ll be back. Even with their need for a righty hitting fourth outfielder, I would be surprised if the Yankees gave Young multiple years. This marriage might not last beyond 2015.