Yankees can’t protect a four-run lead, drop the series opener 6-5 to the O’s

You can lose in many ways, and the way the Yankees lost tonight was quite frustrating. New York took a nice 5-1 lead — padded by homers by Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez — and let the Orioles score five unanswered runs to lose this one 6-5. Their record fell to 1-3.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Taking the lead

The Yankees got the first inning started with a Brett Gardner single, a stolen base, and a Gary Sanchez walk. Greg Bird swung right through a 91 mph fastball right down the middle to strike out but Holiday sliced a single to right to bring Gardner in for a 1-0 lead. Jacoby Ellsbury followed it up with a strike out and Starlin Castro popped up to end the threat. Could’ve scored more there but a lead is a lead nonetheless.

The Orioles got a run back quite quickly. Luis Severino allowed a double to Seth Smith to start the bottom of first and an RBI-single to Adam Jones (which just went past Greg Bird’s reach). After Manny Machado struck out, Chris Davis followed it up with a hard grounder that was stopped by Castro but not quite fielded, making it runners on first and second with one out. The Yankees had a chance to end the frame with a double play but Chase Headley‘s throw to second hit Jones in the helmet. Not a banner inning for the Yankee defense — but with Severino striking out Wellington Castillo, they got out of it allowing only one run.

Holliday was in charge of another set of runs later on. With Gardner on third, Holliday absolutely squared up on a hanging splitter from Ubaldo Jimenez for a two-run home run. 3-1 Yankees. During the Yankees’ slow start, Holliday’s emergence has been a bright spot. After tonight, he’s hitting .308/.438/.615. Not expecting that to be sustainable but he’s hitting and seeing the ball very well, which is what all you could ask of him.

Top of the fifth, Gary Sanchez finally got to join in on the fun. With Gardner on second with a double, Jimenez hung another splitter up the zone and Sanchez ruthlessly punished him, driving the ball way into the deep part of the left field seats for a 5-1 Yankees lead. We’ve seen Sanchez hit some scorching grounders in the first few games of the season. This is what happened when he was able to elevate it for a long, long distance.

Severino: not quite there yet

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

I felt that Severino was cruising along until the bottom of fifth. Before allowing that three-run homer to Machado, he had allowed only one run in 4.2 IP while striking out five. His fastball averaged at 96.8 mph, which meant he was throwing pure gas pretty much the entire start. His fastball also had a nice 10.80 average vertical movement, which means that the fastball showed some nice rise. Not bad at all.

However, after allowing a single to Schoop and walking Jones, Sevy allowed a three-run home run to Machado to make it 5-4 Yankees. That was one major blemish of his start — could’ve been a much nicer-looking start at, let’s say, one run allowed in five innings. I don’t think he really missed his spot either. Sanchez barely moved his glove but Machado used his quick hands and power to drive it out of the park. He’s one gifted ballplayer.

Anyways, here’s his final line. Hopefully something better next time he’s up: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.

Blowing the lead

After Jonathan Holder and Tommy Layne combined for a scoreless sixth, the Yankees put in Tyler Clippard to pitch the seventh inning, which seems to be the formula nowadays. He induced a grounder to third from Jonathan Schoop but Headley shanked the throw quite low and the ball went past Bird’s glove. Schoop moved to second and advanced to third on Hardy’s sac bunt.

With a 5-4 lead and a runner on third, New York had the infield in as Clippard faced Seth Smith. However, that didn’t matter as Smith smashed a fastball up over the right field fence to give Baltimore a 6-5 lead. Welp. Clippard is a good pitcher with a flyball tendency and that can happen once in awhile with guys like that.

Once they took the lead, the Orioles had their eighth-and-ninth inning reliever equations working perfectly – Brad Brach struck out the side  and Zach Britton did what Zach Britton usually does, which is getting saves with his ridiculous sinker. 6-5, the Orioles won and Yankees lost and that’s all she wrote.


You know how Sanchez wasn’t getting much BABIP love earlier this season? He got some back tonight. As mentioned, Sanchez smacked a huge home run in the fifth inning and later, he also hit a bloop single. A bloop single! That BABIP number is regressing to the norm as we speak.

Meanwhile, Greg Bird continued to struggle. He struck out thrice in four at-bats, dropping his season average to .063. Again, not too worried about him. It’s only been four games into the season. That kind of slump can happen to any good hitters in random four-game stretch during a season.

Brett Gardner swung one hot bat tonight. He had three hits — one of them double — and two stolen bases as well. Matt Holliday went 2-for-2 with a homer and two walks. Ellsbury and Castro — the no. 5 and 6 hitters of lineup — combined for 3-for-8. The offensive stats would’ve seemed much more positive than they do now had the Yankees secured the lead for a win.

Box score, WPA graph and standings

Get your box score and standings from ESPN, and WPA graph from Fangraphs.

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees are at it again at the Camden Yards tomorrow at 4:30 pm. Tanaka will look for redemption from his poor opening day start while the Orioles will send Kevin Gausman.

DotF: Rutherford has big game in Charleston’s walk-off win

Let’s begin with two quick notes, including an update on RHP James Kaprielian:

  • Kaprielian went for his MRI and dye contrast MRI today, and he will see a Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Tuesday, the Yankees announced. That ain’t good. Players usually don’t go see ElAttrache for second opinions until there’s something scary in the MRI.
  • Baseball America posted a list of the youngest players on Opening Day rosters at each level. SS Gleyber Torres is the youngest player in the Double-A Eastern League and IF Oswaldo Cabrera is the youngest player in the Low-A South Atlantic League. Several other Yankees make appearances on the various lists.

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton were rained out. No word on the makeup dates yet. The weather should be good enough for both clubs to begin their seasons Saturday. I’ll get the Gleyber Torres Watch up in the sidebar once he, you know, plays a game.

High-A Tampa (5-0 loss to Lakeland)

  • SS Jorge Mateo: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K — he’s been at shortstop both games so far
  • 3B Kyle Holder: 0-4, 3 K
  • LF Trey Amburgey: 0-3, 2 K
  • DH Matt Snyder: 0-3, 3 K
  • CF Tito Polo: 0-3, 2 K — the 2-3-4-5 hitters were a combined 0-13 with ten strikeouts
  • 2B Nick Solak: 0-3
  • RF Jhalan Jackson: 1-3 — he didn’t play last night, so this is his season debut
  • RHP Taylor Widener: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HB, 1 Balk, 6/3 GB/FB — 49 of 69 pitches were strikes (71%) … last year’s 12th round pick was a reliever in college, but the Yankees are trying him in the rotation a la RHP Chance Adams
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4/5 GB/FB — 45 of 67 pitches were strikes (67%)

Low-A Charleston (9-8 win over Lexington, walk-off style) they scored four runs in the ninth to win

  • SS Hoy Jun Park: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B
  • 3B Oswaldo Cabrera: 3-5, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 K — this dude is a hitting machine … he hit .345/.396/.523 (163 wRC+) in 52 rookie ball games last year
  • RF Blake Rutherford: 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K — had the game-tying two-run single in the ninth inning (there was an error on the play, hence only one RBI) … first pro game in right field … he played two games in left and 20 in center field last season
  • LF Leonardo Molina: 2-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K — walk-off single
  • CF Estevan Florial: 2-4, 1 R — this is a really fun outfield
  • 1B Isiah Gilliam: 1-3, 2 RBI, 1 K
  • 2B Angel Aguilar: 1-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI
  • RHP Freicer Perez: 3.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HB, 1 Balk, 3/2 GB/FB — tough first start, but he’s poised to become a no-doubt top 30 prospect this summer, even in this farm system
  • RHP Adonis Rosa: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 4/3 GB/FB — 45 of 62 pitches were strikes (73%) … 22-year-old had a 2.19 ERA (3.03 FIP) in 78 innings between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston last year … they’re going to use tandem starters here for a while because they have more starters than rotation spots

Game Four: Escape from Florida

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees are finally (finally!) out of Florida. They’d been stuck in the Tampa area for all but one day since Spring Training started in mid-February. Now they’re in Baltimore for a three-game weekend series with the Orioles. After that, it’s back to the Bronx for the first homestand of the season. Can’t wait. I’ve thoroughly missed baseball at Yankee Stadium.

Tonight Luis Severino will made his first start of the season, and I think this much is true: barring injury, he’ll make 25-30 starts this season. I just don’t know how many will be in MLB and how many will be in Triple-A. Severino was very bad as a starter last season and he didn’t exactly wow anyone in camp either. Hopefully he takes it to another level during the regular season. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

Not the greatest weather in Baltimore today. It rained earlier in the afternoon and it’s cold and cloudy now, but at least the rain stopped. They shouldn’t have any trouble getting the game in tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Bird is nursing a nagging right ankle injury, according to Bryan Hoch. He fouled a pitch off the ankle during the final week of Spring Training and has been icing it heavily since. Obviously it’s not bad enough to keep him out of the lineup though.

4/7 to 4/9 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

At long last, the Yankees have escaped Florida. Aside from that quick little one-day trip to Atlanta for the exhibition game at SunTrust Park last week, the Yankees have been stuck in the Tampa area since mid-February. They’re now in Baltimore for a three-game weekend set against the Orioles. After that, the first home stand of the season. Thank goodness.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Orioles had an even wonkier schedule than the Yankees this week. They opened the season with a little two-game series against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards. They played Monday, had an off-day Tuesday, played Wednesday, then had another off-day Thursday. What is that? Good grief. The O’s won both games against the Blue Jays, including the first on a Mark Trumbo walk-off home run.

Offense & Defense

Davis. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Davis. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Fightin’ Showalters have scored six runs in their two games so far, and in typical Orioles fashion, four of those six runs have come on home runs. Adam Jones hit a two-run shot while Trumbo and Chris Davis hit solo homers. Here are the numbers so far and each player’s 2017 ZiPS projection:

2017 Stats 2017 ZiPS Projection
C Welington Castillo 3-for-7 (.429), 1 2B .243/.304/.421 (91 wRC+), 17 HR
1B Chris Davis 2-for-8 (.250), 1 HR .239/.334/.509 (121 wRC+), 39 HR
2B Jonathan Schoop 1-for-7 (.143) .264/.297/.453 (97 wRC+), 22 HR
SS J.J. Hardy 0-for-7 .249/.287/.368 (71 wRC+), 10 HR
3B Manny Machado 2-for-7 (.286) .289/.349/.511 (127 wRC+), 32 HR
LF Hyun Soo Kim 0-for-3 .294/.370/.434 (117 wRC+), 11 HR
CF Adam Jones 2-for-8 (.250), 1 2B, 1 HR .267/.304/.450 (97 wRC+), 27 HR
RF Seth Smith 1-for-4 (.250), 1 2B .252/.341/.434 (107 wRC+), 14 HR
DH Mark Trumbo 2-for-8 (.250), 1 2B, 1 HR .251/.307/.491 (109 wRC+), 32 HR
C Caleb Joseph N/A .227/.274/.358 (65 wRC+), 9 HR
UTIL Ryan Flaherty N/A .217/.288/.357 (70 wRC+), 7 HR
OF Joey Rickard 0-for-5 .244/.314/.334 (75 wRC+), 4 HR
OF Craig Gentry 0-for-2 .216/.280/.264 (52 wRC+), 1 HR
1B/OF Trey Mancini 1-for-4 (.250) .263/.314/.436 (98 wRC+), 21 HR

Like the Yankees, the Orioles are using early season off-days to skip their fifth starter. They have three off-days within the first nine days of the season and four off-days within the first 16 days of the season. Geez. Unlike the Yankees though, the Orioles are using the extra roster spot to carry a fifth bench player, not an eighth reliever. The only position player they’re missing is outfielder Anthony Santander, a Rule 5 Draft pick who is on the disabled list with an elbow injury.

Baltimore has played two games and they’ve faced one right-handed starter and one left-handed starter. They’re platooning the left-handed hitting Kim and Smith with the right-handed hitting Rickard and Mancini. Smith and Rickard hit leadoff in the two games, then the thunder followed in the two through five spots: Jones, Machado, Davis, Trumbo. Yikes. Schoop and Hardy have hit eighth and ninth, respectively, in both games so far.

The Orioles are going to hit a ton of home runs this season. That’s what they do. They will not, however, steal bases. This is largely the same roster as last season — the only notable changes are Castillo in for Matt Wieters and Smith in for Pedro Alvarez — and last year the O’s stole 19 bases total. 19! Rickard led the club with four. Gentry can fly and he’s a quality pinch-running option. Otherwise this is a station-to-station team that lives and dies with its power.

On defense, Baltimore is very good to great all around the infield — Davis doesn’t get enough credit for being a good defensive first baseman — and mediocre to bad in the outfield regardless of who is in the corners. Jones is still a decent center fielder but he has started to lose a step. Gentry is, far and away, the best outfield defender on the roster, and his bat makes him a bench player only. Castillo is a pretty good thrower behind the plate.

Pitching Matchups

Gausman. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Gausman. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Friday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (vs. NYY)
I still do not understand using Ubaldo before Zach Britton in the AL Wildcard Game last season. I don’t understand it and I never will. Jimenez, now 33, had a typical Ubaldo Jimenez season in 2016: 5.44 ERA (4.43 FIP) with 19.6% strikeouts, 11.3% walks, and 49.0% grounders in 142.1 innings. Actually, that’s a bit worse than a typical Ubaldo season. Makes the Wildcard Game decision even more confusing. Last season Jimenez worked right around 90 mph with both his two and four-seam fastballs, and his go-to secondary pitch is a low-80s splitter. He also throws a mid-80s slider and a mid-70s curveball. Ubaldo is cut from the same cloth as Michael Pineda. Every once in a while he’ll come out and dominate, but most of the time he’ll leave you frustrated.

Saturday (4pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (vs. NYY)
The O’s have so many early off-days that they can skip not only their fifth starter, but their fourth starter too. Gausman got the ball on Opening Day and he’ll get the ball in the fourth game of the season as well. The 26-year-old right-hander held the Blue Jays to two runs in 5.1 innings in his season debut Monday. Last season he had a 3.61 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 179.2 innings and good gravy, Gausman dominated the Yankees in six starts: 41 IP, 33 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 35 K, 2 HR. That’s a 1.10 ERA and 2.51 FIP. He shut them down every time out. Gausman is a three-pitch pitcher with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a knockout mid-to-upper-80s splitter. A low-80s slider is his third pitch. Hopefully all the new faces in the lineup will help the Yankees avoid being dominated by Gausman again this summer.

Sunday (1:30pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BAL) vs. TBA
Officially, the O’s are listing this rotation spot as TBA. It will be Wade Miley, however. He is currently on the 10-day disabled list with flu-like symptoms, which is total garbage and just a way for the team to manipulate the roster. It allowed them to carry an extra player for a few days. Miley will be activated for Sunday’s start. He threw an 87-pitch simulated game Tuesday to get ready. Yeah. Miley, 30, was terrible overall last season (5.37 ERA and 4.45 FIP) and somehow even worse with the Orioles (6.17 ERA and 3.79 FIP) than the Mariners (4.98 ERA and 4.76 FIP) after coming over in a midseason trade. His overall strikeout (19.3%), walk (6.9%), and grounder (47.3%) rates were okay. At this point of his career Miley works right around 90 mph with his two and four-seam fastballs, in the mid-80s with his slider and changeup, and in the mid-70s with his curveball. The one thing that always stands out to me about Miley starts are how quickly he works. He gets the ball and is ready to throw. He puts the pressure on the batter to be in the box and ready to swing.

Bullpen Status

Okay, I kinda lied earlier. The Orioles are carrying both a fifth bench player and an eighth reliever. The Miley disabled list move makes that possible. So far Buck Showalter has only had to use four of his bullpen arms. Here are the real numbers and the fake projections:

Role 2017 Stats 2017 ZiPS
LHP Zach Britton
Closer 3 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K 2.25 ERA (2.27 FIP)
RHP Brad Brach
Setup 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K 3.04 ERA (3.38 FIP)
RHP Darren O’Day
Setup N/A 2.76 ERA (3.58 FIP)
RHP Mychal Givens
Middle 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K 2.95 ERA (3.11 FIP)
LHP Donnie Hart
Middle N/A 3.45 ERA (3.88 FIP)
LHP Vidal Nuno
Middle N/A 3.77 ERA (4.14 FIP)
RHP Tyler Wilson
Long 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K 4.96 ERA (4.77 FIP)
RHP Oliver Drake Long N/A 3.81 ERA (3.76 FIP)

Britton’s had a tough go of it early on. I watched his two outings and he was struggling to locate both times. He missed some time with an oblique issue in Spring Training and it seems like he’s still trying to get locked in with his command. Brach, O’Day, and Givens are a nice little trio of righties and they each have a different look. It’s not like you’re going to see a parade of fastball-slider guys out of the bullpen.

Both the Yankees and Orioles had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpens are well-rested. Checkout our Bullpen Workload page anyway.

Opening Week Overreaction: The Struggles of Sanchez and Bird

(John Raoux/AP)
(John Raoux/AP)

To say that Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird had a disappointing opening series would be a fairly strong understatement. The duo combined to bat .077/.143/.115 against the Rays this week, and by fWAR’s reckoning they’ve already cost the Yankees -0.4 wins. It’s a less than ideal start to the season, to say the least – particularly for two players that are being counted on to be cornerstones of the team’s offense this year. And it feels more surprising than might normally be the case, given Sanchez’s utter dominance in August and September last year, and Bird’s Spring Training performance (lest we forget that he was arguably the best hitter in baseball in March).

As was the case when I wrote about Masahiro Tanaka earlier this week, I offer a brief disclaimer: this is a minuscule sample size. It’s three games against a good pitching staff in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors. There’s no reason to worry at this juncture. However, it is worth taking a look to see if there are any trends that may explain this mini-slump.

Gary Sanchez

Sanchez does not have an extra-base hit yet. That isn’t shocking in and of itself – most every hitter in Major League Baseball will have several such stretches throughout the season. Sanchez went six straight games without an extra-base hit in September; it just didn’t stand out as much because he was hitting .374/.441/.798 when that streak started, and could do no wrong. It’s much easier to shine a light on such a stretch when it opens the season, and leaves a hitter slashing .071/.071/.071.

What could be causing this, aside from luck, random variation, and every small sample size caveat you can think of?

It’s interesting to note that Sanchez has yet to go to the opposite field. He was a pull-heavy hitter in 2016, with just 15.1% of his batted balls going the other way – but he’s pulling nearly two-thirds of balls in play to left this year (an increase of 9.5 percentage points), and going up the middle more. The shift-savvy Rays are undoubtedly aware of his preexisting tendency to pull the ball, and played him as such in the opening series … and it seems as though Sanchez played right into their hands.

Sanchez is also swinging at more pitches (from 44.9% last year to 54.2% this year), and making more contact (from 71.1% to 75.0%). That seems indicative of bad luck for Sanchez, as more balls in play oftentimes means more hits – especially when the ball is hit hard. And, as per FanGraphs, he’s hitting the ball harder than last year, and significantly so as his soft contact rate has dropped by 9.4 percentage points to a ridiculously low 9.1%. Despite this, his BABIP sits at .091.

The extra swinging may be indicative of Sanchez pressing (as is the fact that he hasn’t taken a walk yet), but it isn’t a sign of impatience. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strikezone (32.8% in 2016 against 24.1% this year), and he’s seeing a robust 4.5 pitches per plate appearance. That 4.5 P/PA mark would have placed him third in all of baseball last year, and puts him 30th among 199 qualified hitters at this point.

It is difficult to really dig into Sanchez’s numbers and find something disconcerting, with the possible exception of his ignorance as to the opposite field. And, even then, he thrived in 2016 by hammering the ball to the pull side.

Greg Bird

Despite his impressive 2015 debut, monster Spring Training, and undeniable hype, Bird was always entering 2017 as something of an unknown. He missed all of 2016 with an injury that has a spotty track record for recovery, and we seem to forget that he had played a total of 80 games above Double-A (34 at Triple-A and 46 in the majors) prior to this year. The projection systems were all over the place as a result, with ZiPS forecasting a middling .234/.307/449 line, PECOTA sitting in the middle at .244/.328/.457, and Steamer tossing out an optimistic .264/.346/.489. He was great at Triple-A and with the Yankees, but it was a long time ago over a small-ish sample size.

There are a few red flags in the even smaller sample size that is 2017, though. As per PITCHf/x, Bird has a horrendous 40.0% contact percentage, and is whiffing on 22.2% of his swings. Both marks would have been the worst in baseball last year, and both are in the bottom-ten this year (his contact percentage is dead last). His strikeout rate has dropped by 1.2 percentage points when compared to 2015, even as strikeout rates have risen by over two percentage points; he’s also swinging at fewer pitches overall, and seeing plenty of pitches (4.5 P/PA). It isn’t all bad on this front.

That being said, unlike Sanchez, Bird does not seem to be making good contact. His hard- and medium-hit rates have dropped precipitously, and he’s making soft contact on 37.5% of the balls he puts in play. That helps to explain his .083 BABIP, as does the fact that (per FanGraphs) he’s yet to hit a line drive. This could be a classification, of course, but the eye test confirms that he hasn’t quite driven the ball yet. Oddly enough, all of his batted balls have gone to center or left thus far, making him the anti-Sanchez in that regard.

The lack of pulled balls could be encouraging in and of itself, as the shift was something of a problem for Bird in 2015. Would mentioning small sample sizes here be beating a dead horse?

This was supposed to read as an overreaction, which is generally pessimistic. However, it is difficult to parse these numbers and not see how influenced they are by the simple fact that the duo has combined for 28 plate appearances in three games. It’s still the first week of the season, they’re both just 24-years-old, and they’re both supremely talented hitters with some measure of success in the show (however brief it may have been). And some of the underlying numbers serve as a testament to bad luck more so than anything else.

Even so, it would be lovely if their bats could wake up with gusto this weekend.

Mailbag: Holliday, Carter, Austin, Yelich, Judge, Frazier, Torres

Big mailbag this week. Fifteen questions. You guys are excited about the new season, huh? The mailbag email address is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send your questions there each week.

Holliday. (Presswire)
Holliday. (Presswire)

Nick asks (short version): I understand why Holliday is the favorite for the DH job this year, but I do wonder why it seems like he is such a lock over Chris Carter. Carter does bring tremendous power and is far younger and less likely to completely collapse.

Matt Holliday‘s contract and track record are going to ensure he has a long leash, though at this point of their careers, he and Carter aren’t all that far apart in terms of expected production. The shape of their production is different, but you’re going to get similar overall value. The numbers:

Holliday in 2016: .246/.322/.461 (109 wRC+), 20 HR
Carter in 2016: .222/.321/.499 (112 wRC+), 41 HR

Holliday ZiPS for 2017: .244/.325/.447 (106 wRC+), 14 HR
Carter ZiPS for 2017: .223/.316/.509 (117 wRC+), 37 HR (that’s assuming full-time duty)

Holliday will strike out less and Carter will draw more walks, and neither will provide much value on the bases. The Yankees are hoping Holliday will be more productive as a full-time designated hitter because it’ll keep him off his feet and avoid wear and tear, but, at the same time, he is also 37, and that’s not a good age for a baseball player.

It’s obviously too early to give up on Holliday and I do think he could very well end up being more productive this year than last year as a designated hitter in Yankee Stadium. I also don’t think he should have the job indefinitely. If he’s not looking too good a few weeks into the season, I absolutely hope the Yankees start giving some of his at-bats to Carter. Older players have a way of making you keep waiting for a slump to end, you know?

John asks: I count 5 players on 40 man who probably can’t help us this year, have little or no experience in AAA: J. Mateo, M. Andujar, Y. Ramirez, R. Herrera, D. German. Is this too many future prospects tying up usable roster space for this year? We’ve lost some usable pieces like Goody, Bleier, Pazos, Mullee, And Lindgren who if healthy could have helped this year. Is roster balanced enough?

I could see all three of those pitchers (Yefrey Ramirez, Ronald Herrera, Domingo German) helping the Yankees in some capacity this season. Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar are top prospects who had to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Can’t risk losing guys like that for nothing. Among the players the Yankees cut loose over the winter, Jacob Lindgren is the only one who I think could come back to bite them, and he’s going to miss the  season with Tommy John surgery. Others like Nick Goody and James Pazos are up-and-down depth arms, and the Yankees have plenty of those. Mateo and Andujar are the only players on the 40-man right now who I think have no chance of helping the Yankees in 2017. I think everyone else is a call-up candidate, some sooner than others.

Mark asks: Assuming Tyler Austin looks great at the plate once he’s healthy, what do you see as his short and long term role with the big league club? With Bird, Holliday and Judge entrenched in their positions and Carter and Hicks ready off the bench, I’m not seeing where he has a role with this club this year barring any injuries.

In the short-term Austin’s role will likely be up-and-down depth player. Whenever someone gets hurt or they need an extra right-handed bat for a few days, he figures to be the guy who gets the call over Rob Refsnyder (once healthy). Long-term, I’m guessing the Yankees would like to have him in their first base/corner outfield/designated hitter mix. Holliday is on a one-year contract and there’s no guarantee Carter will be around in 2018 either — he will remain under control as an arbitration-eligible player next year, so the Yankees could bring him back if they want — so they’ll have ways to get Austin on the roster. It’s not easy to break through with Austin’s profile. Those right-handed hitting/right-handed throwing corner bats need to provide a lot of thump to stick around.

Joe asks: I see Ben Gamel is out there in Seattle fighting for a roster spot in the outfield. How do you think the players we acquired in the trade (Jio Orozco and Juan de Paula) last year develop this year and beyond?

Gamel did not make the Mariners and has been sent down to Triple-A, his third straight season at the level. That’s not good. He’s very much at risk of becoming a Quad-A type. (Refsnyder is in the same boat.) The two kids the Yankees got for Gamel are still only 19, so they’re super young. Orozco will be in the Low-A Charleston rotation this season and DePaula will start back in Extended Spring Training before joining one of the short season leagues in June. They’re both right-handed pitchers.

Orozco is the better prospect of the two because his curveball and changeup are further along. Neither was particularly close to my top 30 prospects list but MLB.com and Baseball America had them in Seattle’s top 30 last year, so they’re not nobodies. I’m hoping Orozco can get to High-A next year and DePaula can do enough this year to start next season with Low-A Charleston. For that to happen, they have to develop more consistency with their secondary stuff. Neither has ace ceiling or anything like that. The Yankees hope they’ll develop into nice back-end starters down the line. Fringe MLB players like Gamel usually don’t fetch much in a trade.

Paul asks: I’m looking to take my kids to a Thunder game this year. Realistically, when do you think which prospects might be there? How long will Torres be there and does Rutherford get there this year? Any chance they overlap?

I can’t see Blake Rutherford getting to Double-A in his first full pro season. He might not even get to High-A. Keeping him in Low-A the entire season would be completely reasonable. Mateo should get to Double-A at some point though, perhaps before the start of June. He and Gleyber Torres could very well overlap. June might be the sweet spot. That’s early enough that Torres, Andujar, and Justus Sheffield should still be with Trenton, but also late enough that Mateo (and Ian Clarkin?) figures to be up from High-A.

Yelich. (Harry How/Getty)
Yelich. (Harry How/Getty)

Dennis asks: I agree with your sentiments that Christian Yelich is criminally underrated. Obviously, the Marlins aren’t moving him but if they did, what do you think it would take to get him. My Trade Proposal Sucks but would a Clint Frazier and James Kaprielian get them talking. Marlins are short on pitching.

This question was sent in before Kaprielian’s elbow started acting up again. Frazier and healthy Kaprielian would have to be the start of a package, not the package. And the other pieces would have to be fairly significant too. Yelich turned only 25 in December and he’s owed $46.75M total through 2021 with an affordable ($15M) option for 2022. He’s young, excellent, and signed cheap. Tough to beat that combination. Yelich hit .290/.365/.406 (118 wRC+) from 2013-15 before hitting .298/.376/.483 (130 wRC+) last season, so he’s still getting better.

There aren’t many players I would consider trading Torres to acquire, but Yelich is one of those players. I’d rather build a hypothetical package around Frazier and healthy Kaprielian. I’m just not sure that’s possible. The third and fourth pieces might have to be players like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. I can’t see the Marlins trading a borderline star signed so affordably for a bunch of prospects. They’ll need some MLB players in return. They could ask for Judge and Greg Bird and more and I don’t think it would be crazy at all. I’m not saying I’d do it, but the Marlins wouldn’t be crazy to ask.

Doron asks: Finally, the Yankees are in a position in which they have youngsters that warrant an early career extension to lock in a payday for the players, and for the Yankees to obtain cost certainty and not have to go to arbitration. The ? is, at what point do the Player Association push for a Bird Rule a la NBA for teams to be able to retain their own players without it counting against the salary cap for luxury tax purposes?

There’s no salary cap in baseball! The luxury tax effectively acts as a salary cap now. MLBPA may push for something similar to the Bird Rule, but I can’t see MLB ever agreeing to it. The owners want the luxury tax to keep costs down. They’re not going to put a mechanism in place that allows clubs to exceed the luxury tax threshold without penalty. The Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers may push for a Bird Rule, but most clubs aren’t particularly close to the luxury tax threshold, and they’d fight it. Bottom line: the luxury tax is in place to, in order, 1) save money by creating an artificial salary cap, and 2) promote competitive balance. I can’t see MLB letting rich clubs skirt the luxury tax with a Bird Rule.

Greg asks: What is the point of the Rule 5 Draft?

To prevent teams from hoarding talented players and burying them in the minors indefinitely. Nowadays there are all sorts of mechanisms in place to help players get to MLB and stay in MLB as long as possible. That wasn’t always the case. Back in the day when there was no amateur draft, you could sign all the talented prospects and keep them as long as you want. That’s how the Yankees won all those championships. Nowadays players have only three minor league option years, and everyone has to pass through waivers when they’re being removed from the 40-man roster. The goal is give these guys every opportunity to get to and stay in the big leagues.

Adam asks: What’s the over/under date for Judge moving up from the 8th spot? There’s something awful about seeing Ellsbury 5th when literally every other hitter would be more appropriate in that spot.

I’m going to set the over/under on Judge moving out of the eighth spot permanently — not just a game higher in the lineup here or there — at June 5th. That’s an off-day for the Yankees between Games 56 and 57, so almost exactly the one-third point of the season.

Judge has looked pretty good so far, no? He’s only 2-for-12 (.167) at the plate, but his at-bats have been good and he’s not swinging at everything with two strikes. Here are all the two-strike pitches he’s seen this year, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-two-strike-pitchesThe Rays kept trying to get Judge to chase that breaking ball down and away in two-strike counts and he did a pretty good job laying off, for at least that one series. I count three swings and misses and four balls in play, so hooray for that.

Jacoby Ellsbury is 5-for-11 (.455) with a double and a home run so far, so he’s doing his part and not giving Joe Girardi a reason to think about moving him further down the lineup yet. It’s early though. It’s three games. Let’s see where Judge and Ellsbury and everyone else is in a few weeks, then reevaluate things.

Garret asks: Don’t you think the Bethancourt pitching and catching for the Padres greatly increases the feasibility of them keeping Torrens all season?

Sure, but even then Luis Torrens is still only their third catcher. Keep in mind their starting catcher, Austin Hedges, is a 24-year-old top prospect himself, so his development and playing time will be a priority for the Padres. Keeping Torrens is doable but far from ideal, and if they manage to keep him on the roster all season, how much will he play and how much will it hurt his development? The Yankees signed Torrens in July 2012 and, because of his shoulder surgery, he only has 673 career plate appearances. There is definitely value in catching bullpen sessions and sitting in on scouting meetings and all that, but ultimately the kid needs to play and play a lot to get better.

Michael asks: Does Ronald Torreyes have any options remaining? If he has options remaining and if he struggles, do you see a possibility of the Yankees sending him down when Didi returns instead of designating Pete Kozma for assignment?

This question was sent in before Torreyes socked that home run the other night. As far as I can tell Big Toe definitely has one option remaining and likely two. Even if Torreyes were to struggle as the fill-in shortstop, I think the Yankees would keep him over Kozma as the utility infielder. He’s the better player at this point and I’m not sure Torreyes has anything to gain by playing in Triple-A. Maybe he’ll end up struggling so much the Yankees decide to send him down to rebuild confidence, but I don’t see it happening. Torreyes will be fine and the Yankees will cut ties with Kozma, which was the plan all along.

Richard asks: I’ve been trying to read the tat the runs up on Matt Holiday’s huge arm. What does it really say?

Joe Strauss says it’s an Old Testament verse (Job 38:4): “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” Holliday is a religious guy, apparently. Strauss’ story says he and other Cardinals players used to meet weekly to discuss how to apply lessons from the Bible to their baseball careers. So there you have it.

Headley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Headley. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Kevin asks: I know it’s early, but Chase Headley is definitely off to a better start than in previous years! If he continues to hit decently well (I don’t know let’s say .750 OPS), do you think he has any trade value come August (if the Yankees decide to sell again)? Do you see the Yankees maybe trading him, or keeping him since there are no immediate options to replace him at third?

I think the Yankees are willing to trade Headley right now and will be for the duration of his contract, regardless of what he’s doing on the field. Maybe this hot start will boost his value somewhat, though I don’t see it. Teams know Headley. They have a book on him and two or three month’s worth of at-bats aren’t going to sway them too much. The White Sox figure to trade impending free agent Todd Frazier at some point, so any team looking for third base help figures to check in on Frazier before Headley. Which teams need a third baseman anyway? I don’t see too many. An injury can always change things though. Anyway, yeah, Headley is on the trade block, now and through the end of his contract.

Adam asks: Yelling at Frazier about his hair, calling it a distraction, and now the impossibly stupid decision of Suzyn Waldman telling the world that he (Frazier) asked for Mantle’s number. I can’t help but feel like someone in the organization is going out of their way to embarrass a promising, young player. What is your take?

Nah. If the Yankees have problems with Frazier, they’d handle it behind closed doors, not drag him through the mud publicly. (Dellin Betances probably disagrees with that.) That helps no one. These aren’t the George Steinbrenner in his heyday Yankees. The hair thing was beyond stupid. It’s hair. The fact it became a distraction — a hair cut distraction! — tells you all you need to know about the archaic hair policy. No one does baseball sanctimony quite like the Yankees.

The Mickey Mantle stuff was completely avoidable — the Yankees shot it down and Waldman apologized to Frazier — but the damage is done. It’s out there and in the court of public opinion, Frazier is guilty. Anyone who doesn’t like him will hold it against him. Real talk forthcoming: without Alex Rodriguez to kick around anymore, many fans and media folks needed a new, easy target. Then the punk kid with bright red hair that was a little longer than usual came into their lives. Frazier is going to be a whipping boy going forward. That has been made crystal clear.

Bill asks: What do you think of the decision to rotate Gleyber Torres at multiple positions at Double-A Trenton? Should the Yankees have him focus on becoming a better shortstop or on improving his versatility?

I’m okay with moving him around. Torres is a good defensive shortstop and his bat is going to play anywhere, so it doesn’t hurt to see how his athleticism plays at other positions. I’m not sure whether second base or third base is the best spot long-term. I guess Gleyber will answer that question, right? He might feel more comfortable at third because he’s still on the left side of the infield. Or maybe he likes second better because there’s more action on the middle infield. If the Yankees didn’t have a quality big league shortstop, I’m not sure I’d be on board with moving Torres around. But, since they have Didi Gregorius, I’m cool with it. The best Yankees team going forward has both guys in the lineup.