Mailbag: Asdrubal, Shortstops, Kang, Reynolds

The Yankees have a doubleheader tomorrow, meaning there won’t be time for the mailbag in the morning. My options were either post the mailbag a day early or not at all, so I went with the former. I’ve got five questions this week and three are kinda long. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you’d like to send us anything throughout the week. The mailbag will still be posted Friday morning going forward.

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Brian asks: Mentioned in the “thoughts” piece, but there are a number of SS available in free agency this year. Doesn’t Asdrubal Cabrera make the most sense as a guy who is only 28 years old?

Like I said in the post, Cabrera and every one of the other shortstop free agents comes with their pluses and minuses. Hanley Ramirez is a legitimate middle of the order hitter but he gets hurt all the time and is awful in the field. Stephen Drew is very good in the field but looks like he forgot how to hit. J.J. Hardy is also a legit shortstop but his power fell off big time this year. Jed Lowrie can hit when he’s not hurt or busy being a butcher in the field.

Cabrera, who will turn 29 in November, had two pretty big years with the Indians from 2011-12, putting up a 116 wRC+ with 41 homers across those two seasons. He slumped down to 94 wRC+ last year but has rebounded to hit .247/.311/.398 (101 wRC+) with 14 homers so far in 2014. The defensive stats hate Cabrera, consistently rating him as a below-average defender throughout his career. From what I’ve seen, he has a knack for the highlight play but will botch the routine play more than a big league shortstop should. (He’s playing second base for the Nationals right now, in deference to Ian Desmond at short.)

Asdrubal is a switch-hitter who has been better against righties (111 wRC+) than lefties (100 wRC+) over the last four years, and the split has been even more pronounced the last two years (106 vs. 80 wRC+). He does have power though, plus he doesn’t strike out much either (17.1%), a skill that is increasingly valuable in this offensively starved era. The defense is iffy and because he was traded at midseason, the Nationals won’t be able to make Cabrera a qualifying offer, so he won’t cost a draft pick to sign. I’m not sure Cleveland would have made him the offer anyway.

The fact that Cabrera is only 28 is nice, but I wouldn’t overvalue his age and the perception that he has more upside remaining. The guy has has played almost 1,000 games and has more than 4,000 plate appearances to his credit. We have a pretty good idea what he is at this point, and that’s an average-ish hitter with good power for the position but sketchy defense. It’s worth noting Cabrera is swinging at more pitches than every before these last two years — both in and out of the zone — so maybe he’ll get back to being a 115+ wRC+ hitter with some more plate discipline. He’s a viable shortstop candidate but I wouldn’t get too caught up in his age. The other guys are very good players in their own right.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

J. Kelly asks: Even with a deep SS free agent class and that being the most likely route the Yanks go in search of a SS, who would be some potential trade targets to fill that spot?

The obvious big name shortstop trade target is Troy Tulowitzki, who as far as we know is not even going to be on the market. The Rockies have been very hesitant to deal him. Tulowitzki also just underwent surgery to repair a torn hip labrum, which is pretty scary. If he slows down at all the field, his value is going to take a huge hit. Even with his annual injuries, Tulo is the best shortstop in baseball and it’s not all that close. I’d take 100 games of him and 62 of a replacement level shortstop over any other shortstop in baseball. I just don’t see him being available.

The other big name shortstop trade candidate is going to be Jimmy Rollins, who is under contract next season for $11M after his option vested. He’s already said he’s open to accepting a trade under the right circumstances and I think coming to the Yankees to replace Derek Jeter seems like something right up Jimmy’s alley. He has quietly had strong year, hitting .243/.323/.394 (102 wRC+) with 17 homers, 28 steals, and his usually strong defense. I know he’s an old guy and the Yankees should avoid old guys at all costs for reasons, but trading for one year of Rollins is not a bad idea if the free agent prices are through the roof in my opinion. Not at all.

Other than those two, I suppose the Tigers could shop Jose Iglesias if they’re happy with Eugenio Suarez at short. Iglesias hasn’t played all year due to stress fractures in his shins, so his value is down. (I don’t see the point in trading for a glorified Brendan Ryan when you already have the real Brendan Ryan.) Everth Cabrera seems to be on the way out with the Padres, the Cubs have a bunch of young shortstops to offer if you’re willing to give them an ace, the Mariners might move Brad Miller or Chris Taylor if they really believe in one or the other, and I’m sure the Mets would give Ruben Tejada away at this point. That looks to be about it for the shortstop trade market, though surprise names always pop up every winter.

Travis asks: Have you heard anything linking the Yankees to Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang? Has good defense and power from right side.

Outside of a recent Nick Cafardo report saying the Cardinals had interest at one point, there hasn’t been anything linking the Yankees or any other team to Kang. The 27-year-old is hitting .360/.463/.757 with 33 doubles and 38 homers in 107 games for the Nexen Heroes this year, easily the best season of his very good career. Here are the obligatory stats (the obligatory video is above):

2006 19 Hyundai KBO 10 21 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 8 .150 .150 .200 .350
2007 20 Hyundai KBO 20 15 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .133 .133 .133 .267
2008 21 Woori KBO 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 Woori KBO 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 Nexen KBO 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 Nexen KBO 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 Nexen KBO 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 Nexen KBO 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen KBO 107 458 98 137 33 2 38 107 3 3 62 98 .360 .463 .756 1.219
9 Seasons 892 3517 465 904 190 10 137 535 51 28 381 593 .298 .382 .503 .885
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2014.

Kang is said to be a true shortstop with strong defense, and his best offensive tool is his big power from the right side. Supposedly he’s a dead fastball hitter who struggles against good breaking pitches, which would be a major concern if true. Remember, Kang is playing in Korea, where the level of competition is even lower than Japan.

I remember reading something a few years ago that pointed it almost all the successful position players to come over from Asia were outfielders because the game on the infield is simply too fast and too big of an adjustment. Akinori Iwamura is the most notable recent Asian import to make it work on the infield in MLB, and he was nothing more than a league average player for two and a half years. Others like Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka flopped despite being high-profile pickups and stars in Japan. That doesn’t mean Kang will be a bust, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I don’t know nearly enough about Kang right now to say whether the Yankees should have interest in him, but I’m sure they’ll do their due diligence. He’s a shortstop and he has power, two things the Yankees desperately need. Reports say he will be definitely posted this winter, and MLB’s posting agreement still uses the old posting rules. It’s a blind bid for the right to negotiate with the player for 30 days. The release fee nonsense Masahiro Tanaka went through only applies to Japanese players.

JPK asks: I’m for re-signing Chase Headley and DHing A-Rod. But an acceptable alternative in my mind would be to go back after Mark Reynolds, agree or disagree?

I like Reynolds. He’s a potentially useful player if you look at what he is instead of focusing on the strikeouts. Reynolds went into last night’s game hitting .196/.288/.392 (87 wRC+) with 21 home runs, and it’s worth noting his offensive production has declined from a 116 wRC+ in 2011 to a 109 wRC+ in 2012 to a 95 wRC+ last year to an 87 wRC+ this year. He can split time at the two corner infield spots and DH on occasion. The Yankees have sorely lacked power and a true backup first baseman this year, two roles Reynolds would fill. Would I give him 600 plate appearances? No way. But if he would take a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training and try to win a 250-300 plate appearance bench job, great. I wouldn’t guarantee him multiple millions or anything. Remember, Reynolds turned the Yankees down last offseason to sign with the Brewers because they offered more playing time.

James asks: Obviously offense is down around the league, and many chalk it up to lack of PED’s, shifts, and strong bullpens. It also seems that the strike zone is much bigger than it used to be, the low and away pitch just off the plate often gets called, along with just below the knees. Any statistical proof of an increased strike zone from this year compared to the last few seasons?

Yes, absolutely. Jon Roegele put together a great PitchFX analysis of the strike zone back in January, showing that the zone is shrinking on the corners but getting bigger at the knees. A few days ago Jeff Sullivan showed the bottom of the zone has continued to get bigger this season. It’s easier to get a strike at the knees now than ever before — pitching coach Larry Rothschild made sure to emphasize the low strike in Spring Training — and I think that has absolutely contributed to the decline in offense around the league. Those pitches are hard enough to hit as it is, and now batters can’t let them go because they’re being called strike.

Yankees erase four-run deficit, rally for 8-5 win over Rays

I feel like it’s been a long time since the Yankees had a game like this, a game in which both the hard-hit and weak-hit balls fell in for hits. Thanks to the bullpen, New York rallied to erase an early four-run deficit and beat the Rays by the score of 8-5 on Wednesday night.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

One Out
I don’t think Chris Capuano could have gotten anyone out on Wednesdayeven if the hitters were blindfolded. He had nothing — less than nothing, really — en route to allowing four runs in one-third of an inning. Yes, Mark Teixeira and Stephen Drew combined to miss a foul pop-up to start the game — Teixeira over-ran it, Drew didn’t get there in time — and Ben Zobrist took advantage of the extra out by leading off the game with the single, but that hardly matters. Capuano was fooling no one.

Following Zobrist’s single, Capuano struck out Brandon Guyer, walked Evan Longoria after getting ahead in the count 0-2, allowed a one-run double to Wil Myers, walked James Loney, then allowed one-run singles to Yunel Escobar and Logan Forsythe. That’s it. Chase Whitley came out of the bullpen to allow a sacrifice fly to Ryan Hanigan for Tampa’s fourth run. Four hits, two walks, four runs, one out. Capuano threw 36 pitches, eight of which were fouled off to extend at-bats. He has now allowed 18 runs in his last 22.1 innings. Ewww.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Six Unanswered Runs
It’s hard not to be discouraged when your team falls behind 4-0 before they get a chance to hit, but the Yankees shook it off and rallied to score six (!) unanswered runs from the first through fifth innings. Brian McCann started the scoring with a first inning solo homer, then he kept it going with a two-run single in the third. Chris Young (single, stolen base) and Jacoby Ellsbury (single, stolen base) set those two runs up in the third.

The game-tying fourth run was another solo homer, this one off Young’s bat. How about that? The Mets cast-off and Yankees September call-up was pushed into the lineup by the Brett Gardner‘s abdominal strain, and he helped create two runs in the span of two innings. The next two runs took an act of the baseball gods — McCann scored from first on a Teixeira triple. Think how absurd that is. McCann was hit by a pitch, then Teixeira ripped a line drive into the right field corner. Myers kicked it around a bit, allowing McCann to score and Teixeira to get to third. It could have easily been ruled an error and double, but the official scorer was feeling generous and gave Teixeira a hit. It was his sixth triple in pinstripes.

The triple gave the Yankees the lead for the first time in the game, and Chase Headley extended that lead to 6-4 with a run-scoring single to plate Teixeira. I’m not sure how in the world to look this up, but I think it’s safe to say the Yankees haven’t scored six unanswered runs many times this year. That’s tough to do in general. Nevermind when you have one of the lowest scoring offenses in the league. Great job by the offense chipping away and rallying to get back in the game.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Big Time Bullpen
Know who else did a great job? The bullpen. Capuano was done one out into the game and the duo of Whitley (2.2 innings) and Preston Claiborne (two innings) kept the Rays off the board and not only gave the offense a chance to get back into the game, but also allowed Joe Girardi to not go to his late-inning relievers earlier than he would have liked. Whitley and Claiborne allowed just three hits and a walk in their 4.2 shutout innings.

Once the Yankees had the lead, Girardi went to Adam Warren, who looks like he’s gotten a second wind. His last three or four outings have been very good. He held Tampa to two singles — one was erased on a ground ball double play — in 1.2 innings before giving way to Dellin Betances, who got the final out of the seventh inning after allowing a broken bat single to Loney. The Yankees just can’t get that guy out. Betances jams him with high-90s gas, breaks his bat, and it still falls in. Argh.

Anyway, Betances struck out one in a perfect eighth inning and Esmil Rogers allowed a solo homer in the ninth after the Yankees tacked on some insurance runs. (The homer ended the bullpen’s 29-inning scoreless streak.) All told, five relievers combined to hold the Rays to one run on seven hits and one walk in 8.2 innings. It’s usually very bad news when you need your bullpen to get 26 outs, even after rosters expand, but those five guys did an excellent job in this game. Whitley and Claiborne deserve a ton of credit for holding down the fort in the early innings.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Headley (single), Ichiro Suzuki (bloop double misplayed by the outfielders), and Young (line drive double) combined for the team’s seventh and eighth runs in the eighth inning, so it was  really eight unanswered runs, not six. McCann, Teixeira, and Headley collectively went 5-for-9 with two walks, a hit-by-pitch, a triple, and a homer as the three, four, and five hitters. Nice to see the middle of the order do something.

Ellsbury and Jeter went a combined 0-for-8 with a walk. Pretty amazing they still managed to score eight runs with the top two hitters in the lineup doing that. Young went 3-for-4 and was a triple away from the cycle. Considering they signed him off the scrap heap and are paying him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum for a month, Young justified his signing with this one game. That’s all it takes when a player comes that cheaply.

Know who had an unlucky night at the plate? Brendan Ryan. He hit four balls right on the screws and all four were right at defenders, one to left field and three to third base. Ryan had some great swings on Wednesday night and was left with nothing to show for it. Sucks.

Believe it or not, this was the first time all season the Yankees rallied to win a game after being down four runs at one point. In fact, it was the first time they came back to win after being down four runs since 2012. They didn’t do it last season at all.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, head over to FanGraphs has a bunch of other game stats and ESPN is the place to go for the updated standings. Depending on the outcome of the late game, the Yankees will be either 4.5 games (Mariners lose) or 5.5 games (Mariners win) back of the second wildcard spot with 19 games to play. FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 1.0% at this very moment.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Rays will wrap up this three-game series on Thursday night. Michael Pineda and Alex Cobb will be on the mound in the rubber game. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the final game of the homestand. There are only nine home games left in the season (and Jeter’s career), you know.

Game 143: Fading

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees have faded out of the postseason race and have little chance — FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 1.0% — of claiming the second wild-card spot. There are still 20 games to be played though, and that’s kinda weird. The Yankees have not played a whole lot of truly meaningless games these last few seasons, so this is a new experience for a lot of folks. They managed to stay in the race a little longer even last year, for example. Anyway, here is the Rays lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. DH Derek Jeter
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. LF Chris Young
  9. SS Brendan Ryan
    LHP Chris Capuano

It’s cool and the sky is gray in New York, but there is no rain in the forecast and that’s all that matters. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start just after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Updates: Carlos Beltran (elbow) was scratched from the original lineup with soreness … Martin Prado (hamstring) and Frankie Cervelli (concussion) both took batting practice before the game. Prado may be available to pinch-hit but the Yankees don’t want to push it … Brett Gardner (abdomen) is at least another few days away from returning … Brandon McCarthy will start the first game of Friday’s doubleheader. The starter for the second game is TBA and it will likely be a September call-up heavy bullpen game.

Tanaka scheduled to pitch in minor league game on Monday

Masahiro Tanaka will pitch in a minor league game at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa on Monday, Joe Girardi told reporters. He came through yesterday’s 45-pitch simulated game just fine and will throw a bullpen session on Friday as preparation. I assume Tanaka will pitch in an Instructional League game next week, not another simulated game. Girardi hinted that Tanaka could be activated off the disabled list to start for the Yankees next weekend if Monday’s outing goes well.

Success of makeshift rotation could change how Yankees approach pitching market


Given the number of pitching injuries they suffered this season, the Yankees should have been out of the postseason race a long time ago. I mean out out. At one point five of the organization’s six best starting pitchers were on the disabled list and right now three of their top four Opening Day rotation members are still out with injuries. The Masahiro Tanaka injury the week before the All-Star break should have been the final straw. It should have been over after that.

Instead, Brian Cashman & Co. have cobbled together a five-man rotation that not only prevented the Yankees from falling apart, but has actually improved upon what the team was getting out of their starters earlier in the season. The rotation had a 4.10 ERA (3.92 FIP) before Tanaka got hurt and they have a 3.39 ERA (3.26 FIP) since. That’s remarkable. A notable trade (Brandon McCarthy), a scrap heap pickup (Chris Capuano), a timely call-up (Shane Greene), and a return to health (Michael Pineda) have kept the club afloat. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild deserves a lot of credit.

The Yankees figure to be in the market for pitching help this winter because they and every other team look for pitching help every winter. One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how much pitching a team already has or how bad the offensive environment is around the league, teams will always look for more arms. In the case of the Yankees, they’ll be bringing back three injury risk starters next season in Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), and CC Sabathia (knee). Greene and David Phelps provide some depth, but the need for some rotation protection is obvious.

The upcoming free agent pitching class is top heavy thanks to Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields, three inarguably excellent pitchers who come with their own unique sets of pluses and minuses. All three will require pretty massive contracts — Shields is likely to get the smallest deal of the three and I have a hard time believing he’ll sign for fewer than four or five years at this point — and in the case of Scherzer and Shields, forfeiting first round draft picks as well. They’re worth it though. Those three guys are legitimate top of the rotation arms.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

The Yankees are already paying Sabathia and Tanaka top of the rotation dollars and, unless they up payroll substantially next year, fitting another $20M+ per year starter doesn’t seem doable without skimping on offense. They have opened the season with a payroll in the $195M to $215M range in six of the last seven years, and Cot’s says they already have $168.8M committed to only ten players next season. Considering how their offense has been below-average for two straight years now, fixing it should be the top priority this winter.

This season showed the Yankees are capable of building a quality rotation with smaller moves and lower profile pickups. Would they be a better team with Scherzer or Lester? Absolutely. But I think the focus has to be on adding depth this winter, not one big star player. Given all those risky starters under contract, the Yankees should focus on adding two or even three starters this offseason. The alternative to spending, say, $25M annually on Lester could be spending $20M combined on two of McCarthy, Jason Hammel, and the reclamation projects that are Brett Anderson and Justin Masterson, giving the club more options and keeping the contract lengths short.

Now, those are just a bunch of names I’m throwing out there and I’m an idiot. Who knows what it will take to sign those guys in reality or if any of them will want to come pitch in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have shown they are adept at not only identifying starting pitchers who are better than what they’ve shown recently, but also getting more out of them then expected. It’s not a one-time thing either. They’ve done it with Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and even Hiroki Kuroda in recent years. That’s a valuable skill they can use to their advantage. (The fact that no one can hit anymore works in their favor as well.)

The Yankees are still the Yankees and they’re always going to be in the mix for big name free agents. That’s what they do. Lester in particular is very tempting as an AL East proven workhorse left-handed ace with big market chops, and I fully expect the team to be all in on him this winter. But, as I said the other day, I think the Yankees are where they are right now because of their unwavering reliance on long-term, big money contracts. I think their ability to dig up quality starters out of seemingly nowhere is incredibly valuable and would allow them go to a different route this winter, eschewing yet another long-term pitching contract in favor of shorter term deals that add depth and flexibility.