Mailbag: Heyward, Upton, Commissioner, Jeter, Moncada

Happy pitchers and catchers day, everyone. Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form to send us any questions throughout the week.

Heyward and the good Upton. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Heyward and the good Upton. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Vinny asks: Do you see a scenario next offseason where the Yankees sign one of Jason Heyward or Justin Upton and deal Brett Gardner?

Sure, it’s definitely possible. Both Heyward and Upton are going to get $100M+ rather easily — Heyward could get $200M+ if he has that big breakout year offensively everyone is waiting for — and the Yankees might go for it because they’re both so young. Upton turns 28 in August and Heyward turns 26 in August, so they’d be getting multiple prime years, not just decline years. Upton’s a much better hitter than Heyward and the Yankees do need an impact bat (especially a right-handed one) more than they need another defense first outfielder. Sign Upton to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s deal (seven years, $153M), then flip Gardner for a pitcher? I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but I do think it’s possible.

Jerome asks: If you were elected commissioner, what changes to the game would you try to impose?

Prior to last year, I would have said instant replay was my number one priority, but baseball has that now. The system is imperfect but it’s good enough for me. I would love to get the strike zone automated with lasers or radar or however the hell they would do it, but the umpires’ union wouldn’t go for that. Calling balls and strikes is their baby. They’re not giving that up.

So, instead, I would look at speeding up the game by having hitters keep one foot in the box at all times — I don’t think pace of play is a major issue but I do think it is something that can be improved — and figure out how to get the Mets some real owners. What’s going on in Flushing can’t continue. It’s an embarrassment to the league. I’m sure that will be a legal mess but it’s something I consider important. I’d also look into expanding and adding two teams. (Interleague play is too popular among casual fans to eliminate it.) The game appears to be healthy enough financially to support two new franchises, so let’s do it. It’ll spark interest. Those would be my major points.

Dan asks: If you can only attend one of the scheduled retirement ceremonies, which one would you attend?

I think I would go to Jorge Posada‘s. I would rank my favorite dynasty era Yankees 1) Mariano Rivera, 2) Posada, 3) Bernie Williams, 4) Andy Pettitte, and 5) Derek Jeter. (Note: This doesn’t mean I hate Jeter.) I would absolutely love to go to all four ceremonies this year and I’m going to try to do that, but if I had to pick just one, it would be Posada’s. Switch-hitting catchers with power, patience, and a fiery attitude are my jam.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Christian asks: Will Jeter get a monument in Monument Park? And if so, when will that happen?

I actually answered this question in a previous mailbag but it is worth revisiting in the wake of the recent retired numbers news. Here’s what I said on September 26th of last year:

I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.

All of that still stands. My opinion hasn’t changed since September. I do think Jeter is worthy of a monument but is he going to be the first guy to have one dedicated while still alive? That’s the real question.

Douglas asks: Is there any chance one of the “core four” or Bernie pop up at spring training as a “special guest instructor?”

Oh absolutely. Bernie, Posada, and Pettitte have all already been to camp as guest instructors in previous years, I’m pretty sure multiple times too. Rivera recently told the Associated Press he will not be in camp as a guest instructor this spring but is open to doing it in the future. “It’s too early. I have a lot of other things to do besides that. I’m focusing right now on the church,” he said. As for Jeter, I’m guessing he will spend some time away from baseball so early into his retirement, especially since he seems to have all this other business stuff going on. That said, he does live in Tampa, so he might pop by this year. Eventually he’ll be back as a guest instructor. I’m pretty sure of it.

Joe asks: Will 2015 be the first season since 1992 that the Yankees did not have a future Hall of Famer on the roster?

Yeah it looks like it. The Yankees have had at least one future Hall of Famer on the roster every year from 1993-2014 thanks mostly to Wade Boggs and Jeter, but there were other notables like Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki along the way. Alex Rodriguez has had a Hall of Fame career but there’s no way he’ll get voted in at this point. The players on the projected Opening Day roster with the best chance to get into Cooperstown are Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia. Sabathia was on the Hall of Fame track until these last two years, and Beltran’s right on the bubble. JAWS says Beltran is just short and I think his case will be better if he gets over 400 homers (he’s at 373). Right now, I get the feeling Beltran’s going to fall short of Cooperstown.

Andrew asks: What kind of free agent contract do you think Chase Headley would have gotten if it weren’t for his ridiculously good 2012 season?

Headley’s monster 2012 season was so obviously a career year. He’s not going to do that again and I don’t think the Yankees or any other team expects him to. It definitely helped him this offseason though, the same way Ellsbury’s career year helped him last offseason. Teams still absolutely pay for past performance, just not as much as they once did. Headley signed for four years and $13M annually this winter. Without that career year, I think he’d end up with something like four years and $10M annually, or maybe even three years and $10M annually. Jed Lowrie got three years and $7.6M per year this winter and Headley’s clearly a better player. The gap is bigger than $2.4M per year. So my guess is four years and $40M total without that huge year.

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

Nicolai asks: Wouldn’t every team that signs Yoan Moncada trade him under almost no circumstances for several years? I mean, how could you get even close to equal value in a trade considering his signing bonus?

Yeah pretty much. I mean, sure, there’s always a chance he could end up in a blockbuster for someone like Mike Trout or Bryce Harper in a year, but the chances of that happening are remote. Whoever spends all that money to sign Moncada is going to hold onto him as long as possible and tout him as the future of the franchise — their Trout or Harper, basically — until they’re blue in the face. The team that signs Moncada is paying all that money because they really want him. Not to trade him in a year or two.

DJ asks: Are we seeing a “golden age” of Cuban talent? Scouts seem to be especially high on Yoan Moncada, Yoan Lopez and now Yadier Alvarez. Are these prospects really this great or are their agents/handlers just doing a great job of selling them to the baseball world?

It sure seems like a golden age, doesn’t it? Every year there’s one or two top guys — like top top guys, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, etc. — becoming available and eventually the well will dry up. The island isn’t that big. I don’t know when that will happen, but eventually all the top (top) players will be off the island and Cuba will become something like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, when the best players available each year are 16-17 year old kids. That shift might be happening right now with the 19-year-old Moncada and 18-year-old Alvarez being the current top available position player and pitcher, respectively. It may seem like it now, but Cuba’s not going to keep spitting out 20-something superstars forever.

James asks: How long does a team control a player after they sign them as an international free agent? In other words, how many years are you getting Moncada for by giving him a signing bonus of $30-40 million dollars?

Players get six full years in the minors before becoming eligible for minor league free agency. That goes for drafted players and international free agents. The team could then add the player to the 40-man roster after the sixth year to prevent them from becoming a minor league free agent — the Yankees did this with Melky Mesa in 2010 — which means they could then spend another three years in the minors, their three option years. And then on top of that, there’s the player’s six years of team control at the MLB level. So we’re potentially talking about 15 years of team control. But that never really happens. If a guy’s not on the 40-man roster before becoming eligible for minor league free agency, there’s usually a reason.

Bryan asks: Who are the longest tenured MLB players? With A-Rod debuting in 1994, I’m curious how many other current active players (if any?) have been around since the strike.

Now that his suspension is over, A-Rod is the longest tenured active player in MLB. He made his big league debut on July 8th, 1994, 19 days before his 19th birthday. He is the only active player who played during the 1994 season, so he’s the only guy left from the strike year. Here are the next five longest tenured active players:

  • LaTroy Hawkins: Debuted at age 22 on April 29th, 1995. He said he’s planning to retire after 2015.
  • Jamey Wright: Debuted at age 21 on July 3rd, 1996. Just signed a minor league deal with Texas.
  • Bartolo Colon: Debuted at age 23 on April 4th, 1997.
  • Torii Hunter: Debuted at age 22 on August 22nd, 1997.
  • David Ortiz: Debuted at age 21 on September 2nd, 1997.

A bunch of players debuted in 1998, including Beltran, Aramis Ramirez, A.J. Pierzynski, Bruce Chen, and Adrian Beltre. Joe Nathan, Tim Hudson, Buddy Carlyle, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jose Molina all debuted in 1999. Farnsworth and Molina are currently free agents who appear to be getting pushed into a forced retirement, so I guess they’re not really active. Anyway, that’s it. Only 16 players who played in the 1990s are still active today if you count Farnsworth and Molina.

Severino and Judge crack Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list

Severino and Judge, yet again. (Presswire)
Severino and Judge, yet again. (Presswire)

On Thursday night, Baseball America released their annual top 100 prospects list during a live MLB Network broadcast. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant claimed the top spot and was followed in order by Twins OF Byron Buxton, Cubs SS Addison Russell, Astros SS Carlos Correa, and Dodgers SS Corey Seager. The full top 100 can be seen right here.

The Yankees landed two players in the top 100 and they’re two players you expect: RHP Luis Severino ranks 35th and OF Aaron Judge ranks 53rd. Interestingly enough, Baseball America ranked Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada tenth during the television broadcast, but he isn’t on their online list. I can’t remember them ever ranking an unsigned player before.

Anyway, in the subscriber-only report, Baseball America gave Severino a 70 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) for both his fastball and changeup. He received a 60 for his control and a 50 for his slider. (50 is average, 60 is above-average, 70 is well-above-average.) Judge received a 70 for power, a 55 for his arm, and 50s for his hit tool, speed, and defense. Five average or better tools is really, really good.

Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com ranked Judge as the 23rd, 49th, and 68th best prospect in baseball, respectively. Those three plus Baseball America’s ranking average out to 48th overall. Severino was ranked 23rd by MLB.com and 51st by Baseball Prospectus. (He didn’t make Law’s.) Those two rankings plus Baseball America’s average out to 36th overall. Two consensus top 50 prospects ain’t bad at all.

Update: In a supplemental piece, J.J. Cooper said 1B Greg Bird didn’t miss the top 100 by much.

Thursday Night Open Thread

It appears Derek Jeter‘s post-playing career life is now shifting to radio. Sirius XM Radio announced earlier this week that Jeter and his The Players’ Tribune website are launching a weekly nationally broadcast radio show on XM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio channel 85. Here’s the press release. The show will air every Wednesday at 7pm ET. (The first broadcast was yesterday. Sorry I didn’t say something sooner.) The show will have rotating hosts much like the website has rotating contributors. I’m not much of a sports radio guy, but if that’s your thing, check it out.

This is your open thread for the night. Neither the Knicks nor Nets are playing because apparently a full week for the NBA All-Star break just isn’t long enough. The Rangers and Islanders are playing though, and there’s the usual slate of college hoops too. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Shameless Self-Promotion: I answered some questions for Razzball’s Yankees season preview, so check that out. Feel free to hate on me for the Rob Refsnyder answer.

Guest Post: Umpire Tim McClelland Retires After 33 Years in Baseball: Tied to the Yankees Forever

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who you may know from the comments as Roadgeek Adam. Adam wrote about long-time umpire Tim McClelland and his ties to the Yankees. McClelland did not work due to a back injury last year and recently retired.

McClelland and Jorge Posada in the 2003 ALCS. (Getty)
McClelland and Jorge Posada in the 2003 ALCS. (Getty)

Veteran Major League Baseball umpire Tim McClelland has retired after 33 years in the game. Hired by the American League in 1981, the Michigan State University product umpired his first game on September 3, in a game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox (which also included the MLB debut of Jesse Barfield!) Tim McClelland had back surgery in 2014, which kept him out the entire season and had him considering retirement. Earlier this week, that officially happened.

McClelland is notably famous for the day of his first ever ejection, which we mostly know as the Pine Tar Game, July 24, 1983. We Yankees fans know quite well the story behind the Pine Tar Game, with Billy Martin questioning George Brett’s bat after a home run that would’ve given the Royals the lead. The bat supposedly had too much pine tar compared to the league rules, and after talking with fellow umpires Drew Coble, Joe Brinkman and Nick Bremigen, McClelland officially agreed with Martin and called Brett out (overturning the home run).

McClelland immediately ejected George Brett, who wanted a piece of the young umpire at that point. McClelland also ejected Royals manager Dick Howser, coach Rocky Colavito and pitcher Gaylord Perry for trying to get the bat away from the umpires (by using the bat boy) so it would not be brought to the umpire’s room and make a trip to the American League office, run by Lee MacPhail. As we know, MacPhail overturned the decision of McClelland and the Yankees lost the game 5-4. It would not be the last time McClelland’s had to deal with questionable bats, as in 2003, Sammy Sosa used a corked bat (“reserved for batting practice”) against the late Geremi Gonzalez of Tampa Bay. McClelland, now 20 years removed from the Brett incident, ejected Sosa, and the ground out RBI that Sosa made with the bat was reversed. (This is also the most recent time a person has been caught using a corked bat.)

McClelland also gained some notoriety in the 2009 American League Championship Series between the Yankees and Angels. First off, he was the third base umpire in Game 4 when Jorge Posada got caught in a rundown in the 5th inning between third base and home plate. Robinson Cano used this opportunity to advance to third, and both Posada and Cano were both tagged out by Mike Napoli. Instead, McClelland only called Posada out because he felt Cano was touching third base when he was tagged. The other call involved Nick Swisher leaving third base too soon when tagging up to advance to home. On that call, McClelland was quoted: “I’m not sure I believe the replay of that one.” In other words, he thinks that he’s right.

Tim McClelland was also the home plate umpire for the David Wells’ perfect game on May 17, 1998. He has also been a part of seven no-hitters, including Phillip Humber’s perfect game in 2012. In all, McClelland worked parts of 33 seasons, umpiring officially 4,236 games with 1,075 at home plate. He’s been part of five Division Series (1997, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006), nine Championship Series (1988, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009) and four World Series (1993, 2000, 2002 and 2006) as well as three All-Star Games (1986, 1998 and 2003).

As far as ejections, McClelland ejected 77 players, coaches and managers, including the four on July 24, 1983. He’s ejected people from the Yankees 12 times, including every single manager from Yogi Berra through Joe Girardi (except for Buck Showalter).

Honestly, losing McClelland is a big loss to Major League Baseball. While some people were very displeased with his ball and strike calling style, which is notoriously slow, he was one of the most respected umpires as voted by the players. I have major respect for the great McClelland, who I honored in my fantasy league this year, and he’s going to finish a career that is well-respected. I will miss the great McClelland behind the plate, and I am sure many others will as well.

2015 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Palma. (MiLB.com)
Palma. (MiLB.com)

Tomorrow is a pretty big day in Yankeeland. Pitchers and catchers are set to officially report to Spring Training, that’s always fun, plus Joe Girardi will hold his annual start of camp press conference. He’s got a new look roster and a returning Alex Rodriguez to discuss. Tomorrow is also RAB’s eighth birthday, and that’s sorta neat.

But, most importantly, tomorrow I will post my annual Top 30 Prospects List, which is both an awful lot of work and something I enjoy compiling each year. Before we get to the Top 30 though, we have to look at the Not Top 30 Prospects. These are five players on the outside of this year’s Top 30 who I think have a chance to make the jump into next year’s Top 30.

Only one of last year’s Not Top 30 Prospects climbed into the actual Top 30 this year, and I’ve learned over the years that one out of five ain’t all that bad when it comes to this stuff. As a reminder, these are not prospects 31-35. They’re just five guys listed alphabetically who I think could be Top 30 caliber prospects after another season of development. Got it? Good. Let’s get to it.

RHP Simon De La Rosa
Signed out the Dominican Republic for only $50,000 back in October 2012, De La Rosa spent 2013 in the Dominican Summer League and last year in the rookie Gulf Coast League, where he had a 4.43 ERA (3.81 FIP) with 28.0 K% and 13.2 BB% in 42.2 innings. De La Rosa is a big and lanky kid at 6-foot-3 and 185 lbs., and he already sports three pitches in his low-to-mid-90s heater, tight curveball, and promising changeup. The curveball is his money pitch. As the walk rate suggests, he needs to work on his location. De La Rosa is older than the typical international prospect in rookie ball — he turns 22 in mid-May — but he has bat-missing stuff and just needs to improve his control more than anything. Obviously that’s easier said than done. I think De La Rosa could make the jump to start 2015 with Low-A Charleston. If not, Extended Spring Training and Short Season Staten Island await.

Foley. (Robert Pimpsner)
Foley. (Robert Pimpsner)

RHP Jordan Foley
Foley, 21, was New York’s fifth round pick out of Central Michigan in last summer’s draft ($317,500 bonus). He pitched to a 4.10 ERA (3.26 FIP) with 23.1 K% and 9.4 BB% in 37.1 innings after turning pro last summer, most with Staten Island. Foley is an arm strength guy, sitting in the low-90s and touching 96-97 as a starter. He’ll sit closer to that 96-97 mph range when working out of the bullpen. His second pitch is a low-80s splitter, and he also throws an okay mid-80s slider. Foley, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs., has a pretty substantial head whack in his follow through (video) and it hurts his command. Between the spotty command and the head violence, many expect Foley to wind up in the bullpen long-term. I like him better there too. The Yankees will probably give him a chance to start this coming season if only to accumulate innings. If they stick him in the bullpen full-time, he could be an MLB option as soon as the second half of 2016. Low-A Charleston is in the cards this coming season.

OF Dustin Fowler
The Yankees grabbed Fowler in the 18th round of the 2013 draft and got him to turn pro with an above-slot $278,000 bonus. He was a multi-sport guy in high school, playing football and wrestling in addition to playing baseball. Fowler is a pure tools guy who has shown quite a bit of improvement since signing, and his .257/.292/.459 (104 wRC+) batting line with nine homers, 19.5 K%, and 4.8 BB% in 66 games with the River Dogs last year sums up his game well. He has power — Fowler is a lefty swinger listed at 6-foot-0 and 185 lbs. — but doesn’t know the strike zone well and can be over-aggressive. His above-average speed doesn’t show up in the stolen base total (three in five attempts) but he can run. Fowler’s a project. He has a lot of physical ability and just needs to learn how to turn it into baseball tools. Chances are he will return to Low-A Charleston to begin the 2015 season.

Montgomery. (Post and Courier)
Montgomery. (Post and Courier)

LHP Jordan Montgomery
The 22-year-old Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation and has a track record of performing well against high-caliber college competition. The Yankees signed him for $424,000 as their fourth round pick last season and Montgomery put up a 3.79 ERA (2.30 FIP) with 25.3 K% and 7.6 BB% in only 19 innings after turning pro. Montgomery has the prototypical workhorse frame at 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs., and he’s a four-pitch guy with an 89-92 mph fastball, a low-80s changeup, a slow upper-70s curveball, and a show-me cutter I’m sure the Yankees will work to improve. They love their cutters. Montgomery’s stuff all plays up because he locates well and has very good feel for his craft. It’s a boring profile but there’s potential here. He’s cut from the David Phelps/Adam Warren cloth. After three years in the SEC, Montgomery figures to start next year with High-A Tampa.

OF Alex Palma
Palma signed out of Venezuela for $800,000 in July 2012 and played in the GCL last year after spending 2013 in the Dominican Summer League. He performed very well last summer, hitting .305/.318/.451 (118 wRC+) with four homers, nine steals, 6.8 K%, and 1.4 BB% in 220 plate appearances. The strikeout and walk rates are evidence of how easily he makes contact, but he’s not a slash hitter. Palma is listed at 6-foot-0 and 201 lbs. and he has raw power, mostly to the pull side as a right-handed hitter. He’s a good athlete and a sound defensive outfielder with a strong arm who fits best in right field. Palma is close to maxed out physically even though he is only 19, but his raw tools right now are plenty good enough. As soon as he learns he doesn’t have to swing at a pitch just because he can reach it, Palma should rocket up prospects lists. I expect him to start the season in Extended Spring Training before joining either Staten Island or the organization’s new rookie ball affiliate in Pulaski.

King: Yankees held second private workout for Yoan Moncada yesterday

(Bay Area Sports Guy)
(Bay Area Sports Guy)

1:01pm: Jon Heyman says Moncada is done with his private workouts and Hastings has begun fielding contract offers. “Dynamic, electric, explosive, robust talent. All thirty teams will have some degree of interest. The competition will be fierce for his services, no doubt,” said one scout to Heyman while cautioning “there are just enough holes to keep him in the .260 range.”

12:00pm: According to George King, the Yankees had Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada in Tampa for a second private workout late yesterday. Their first private workout was a month ago. King says the Yankees are leery of the money it’ll take to sign Moncada, but I think that’s just posturing. You don’t bring a guy back for a second workout if you’re not interested.

Last week David Hastings, Moncada’s representative, said he and his client hope to pick a new team relatively soon so Moncada can get to Spring Training. Hastings mentioned next Monday as a target date but it didn’t sound like a firm deadline. Moncada has already been declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. He can sign at any moment.

By now you know the 19-year-old Moncada is considered a budding superstar, a switch-hitter with power and speed to go with strong defensive chops. King says the Yankees see Moncada as a second baseman long-term though there’s really no consensus about his future position. The consensus is basically “anywhere but pitcher, catcher, and shortstop.” Here’s some game footage of Moncada from an under-18 tournament in 2013.

“He would have to start at Single-A and that is a lot of money for somebody to begin at that level,’’ said an international scout to King. “If he was in the draft, he would be a first-round pick, but that’s a long way from that type of money for a 19-year-old.’’

Moncada’s bonus is expected to be in the $30M to $40M range — King says the Dodgers are willing to go to $40M, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and that will be taxed at 100% regardless of who signs him due to the international spending rules. Moncada’s a $60M to $80M investment, all up front. The Yankees are unable to sign an international player for more than $300,000 the next two signing periods due to last summer’s spending spree, so Moncada is their last chance to get a top talent for a while.

Six-man rotation is a conversation worth having for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Today is the final day of the offseason. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to officially report to Spring Training tomorrow, though more than a few Yankees are already in Tampa working out at the team’s complex. Tomorrow it’ll be official though. Like officially official. Spring Training is about to begin, folks.

Down in Tampa yesterday, pitching coaching Larry Rothschild told Bryan Hoch the Yankees plan to discuss using six starters early in the season, in April and possibly May. They briefly used a six-man rotation at the end of last season — obviously it’s easier to pull off with expanded rosters — and as early as last August we heard it was something the team was considering for 2015.

“It’s a result of some of the stuff that’s gone on over the last few years, not just here, but everywhere,” said Rothschild to Hoch. “We’re aware of situations here and early in the season, we need to get these guys through these stretches. Being that possibly early in the spring, some of them aren’t going to be able to throw a lot, we’re going to need to build them up too and give them the extra days when we can.”

A six-man rotation seems ambitious — the Yankees might have a hard time cobbling together five starters by the end of Spring Training based on the injury risk in the current rotation — though there’s no harm in discussing it. It might be unconventional, but baseball has been trending towards using pitchers less and less over the last, I dunno, 30-40 years or so. This is the logical next step. Let’s look at this a little deeper.

What Are The Benefits?

In the most basic terms, the less a pitcher pitches, the less likely he is to get hurt. The Yankees have two major injury risks in the rotation in Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) and CC Sabathia (knee), and pitching every sixth day instead of every fifth could help keep them on the field. I’m certain that’s what the Yankees are thinking. They want these guys to get through the entire season in one piece.

Pitchers in Japan work just about once a week and, according to Eno Sarris, they’ve undergone Tommy John surgery less than half as often as their MLB counterparts. Eno also spoke to Brian Bannister, a former big leaguer who spent time in Japan, and he said the extra time off does help while also noting NPB training methods are much different. “The recovery process in Japan is very deliberate with massage and soaking in alternating hot/cold water common,” he said. This isn’t as simple as “six-man rotation = less elbow injuries because look at NPB.” The preparation is different too.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, now here is the important part: reducing the risk of injury is not guaranteed. Tanaka’s elbow has already been compromised and it could be that there’s nothing that can be done to improve his chances of staying on the field. The doctors have already given him the okay to pitch in games. If his elbow’s going to give, it’s probably going to give regardless of whether he’s starting every fifth day or every sixth day. Same with Sabathia’s knee. The Yankees could go through all the trouble of using a six-man rotation and these guys could still get hurt again.

Using a six-man rotation will ostensibly help the Yankees keep their starters healthy, and that’s a good thing. Their starters are actually pretty good when they’re healthy and they want those guys to make as many starts as possible. At this point a six-man rotation would be reactive instead of proactive — Tanaka and Sabathia (and Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova) have already suffered their major injuries. They’d just be trying to stop them from getting worse.

What About The Rest Of The Roster?

A six-man rotation means either a three-man bench or a six-man bullpen. The extra roster spot has to come from somewhere. If the Yankees go with a three-man bench, it means one of Chris Young, Garrett Jones, or Brendan Ryan won’t make the roster because one spot needs to go to a backup catcher, and I find cutting one of those guys unlikely. They all make seven figures. Maybe someone gets hurt in camp — Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, for example — opening a spot and making a three-man bench doable.

More than likely though, the Yankees would use a six-man bullpen based on their current roster. Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers — one of whom could end up the sixth starter — are both capable of throwing multiple innings, as is Dellin Betances. Justin Wilson isn’t a lefty specialist, he can throw a full inning. (A LOOGY has no place in a six-man bullpen.) The Yankees have the personnel to swing a six-man bullpen, especially since Joe Girardi is so meticulous about rest and keeping his relievers fresh. Plus they have the bullpen depth in the minors to make call-ups when necessary.

A Chance To Get Creative

That last part about call-ups is where it gets interesting. The sixth starter doesn’t have to be one starter, it could be a collection of starters. For example, Bryan Mitchell could make the start, then be sent down to Triple-A for an extra reliever, say Chris Martin. Then, when that rotation spot comes up again, Martin goes down and Chase Whitley comes up. (Mitchell couldn’t come up because of the ten-day rule.) Then after Whitley’s start, he goes back down in favor of a reliever, say Jacob Lindgren this time. When the rotation spot comes up again, Lindgren goes down and Mitchell comes up. Rinse, repeat. Make sense?

If the Yankees want to keep both Warren and Rogers in the bullpen so they can be used for multiple innings — a good idea with a six-man bullpen — Mitchell and Whitley could work in tandem as the sixth starter, pitching on the same schedule and alternating starts in MLB and Triple-A. Jose DePaula could be part of this arrangement too. He’s got an option left. It sounds great in theory because it allows the Yankees to keep a full seven-man bullpen most of the time with the sixth starter only on the roster the days he’s needed. These are people though, remember. Imagine being Mitchell or Whitley and having to do all that traveling from Triple-A to MLB for a day or two every other week. It would really suck and could impact performance.

How’s The Schedule Look?

Usually the month of April is cluttered with off-days because of weather concerns, enough that teams can often avoid using their fifth starter for a rotation turn or two. Off-days allowed the Yankees to avoid using their fifth starter (Freddy Garcia) until the 13th game of the season in 2011, after three full turns through the rotation. The Yankees won’t have that luxury this year. Here’s the April schedule from the official site:

April 2015 Schedule-001

The regular season starts on April 6th, the Yankees have the token “in case it rains on Opening Day off-day” on the 7th, then they play eight games in eight days. So right off the bat they need their fifth and potentially sixth starter. Following the off-day on the 16th, they play 13 games in 13 games, so again, there’s no chance to hide the fifth and sixth starter. After that off-day on the 30th, they play 17 games in 17 days.

Point is, there is no chance to skip the fifth and/or sixth starter early this season, and that might be part of the reason why the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation. The scheduled off-days don’t really allow for much extra rest early in the season and they want to make sure Tanaka, Sabathia, and everyone else gets a little breather in April. A six-man rotation is the only way to do it.

Okay, So What’s The Downside?

A six-man rotation does sound wonderful. As I mentioned though, it messes with the rest of the roster by taking a spot from the bench or bullpen. It also means fewer starts from your top starters. Starters average 32.4 starts in a five-man rotation and only 27 starts in a six-man rotation across a 162-game system. For the Yankees, that means five or so fewer starts each from Tanaka and Pineda, their best pitchers. Of course, without a six-man rotation, those two could end up making way fewer starts due to injury.

The idea of using a six-man rotation is more complicated than it seems. First of all, the Yankees would have to find six starters worthy of being in a big league rotation, which isn’t all that easy. It also screws with the rest of the roster and any health benefits aren’t guaranteed. It is a conversation worth having though. The Yankees have undoubtedly done more research on six-man rotations that us, and if they have reason to believe it will reap real benefits, then it’s a plan worth putting into place.