Mailbag: Bench, Shuttle, Rest, Kaprielian, Eovaldi, Pineda

We’ve got 15 questions in the mailbag this week. That’s a lot. The RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address is the place to send us any comments or questions throughout the week. We’ll get to as many as we can.

Hicksie. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Hicks-ey. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Justin asks: Of the Yankee bench players who is most and least likely to make it all the way through the season on the 25 man?

Aaron Hicks and Austin Romine. Pretty easy calls, I think. The Yankees did not trade John Ryan Murphy only to give Hicks a leash of a few weeks or months. He’s here for the long haul and I think he’s going to see a lot more playing time in the coming days. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hicks start four of the nine games on the upcoming road trip.

As for Romine, he is simply keeping the backup catcher’s seat warm for Gary Sanchez. Out of everyone on the bench, he is the one who has to most look over his shoulder because a top prospect is breathing down his neck. It only takes 35 days in the minors to delay Sanchez’s free agency, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent the entire first half down there. At some point though I think Sanchez will be up and Romine will be gone.

Nathaniel asks: Not Yankees related, but have you seen John Gant’s funky delivery for the Braves? Is it legal and what are your thoughts?

I did see Gant’s delivery. Here’s the video for folks who have not seen it:

That is totally ridiculous and it seems like a lot of wasted effort, but hey, whatever works. It’s legal because he comes set before beginning his motion and he remains engaged with the rubber the entire time. Gant doesn’t do the double leg kick thing when men are on base. Only from the windup. It’s not a bad delivery, just different, and hey, it makes baseball a little more fun. I’m in favor of that.

Rubaiyat asks: When talking about innings limits, does postseason innings count as well? If the Yankees do go deep in the postseason, then Severino might bump up against the innings the Yankees are hoping he would reach. How would they go about it?

Of course. If anything postseason innings are more taxing than regular season innings because the intensity is ramped up. Those innings absolutely have to be considered. Brian Cashman has acknowledged the Yankees have some workload limit in mind for Luis Severino — he declined to say what it is — and I’m certain that includes the regular season and postseason. I could see them skipping a few Severino starts during the summer, then maybe going to a six-man rotation once rosters expand in September. I would be stunned if they shut him down Stephen Strasburg style. I don’t think any contending team will ever do that again.

Charlie asks: Why are pitchers on the shuttle between the minors and the bullpen considered “fresh arms?” I mean, sure, they haven’t played up at the Bigs yet (or recently), but I assume they are pitching down in the farm system up until they get the temporary call, and then again when they get sent back down. So what makes them fresher than anyone else in the bullpen? Is it just that they’re not facing the same caliber of players or are they rested more by minor league managers who know they are going to be called up as “fresh arms?”

When I say “fresh arm,” I mean someone who hasn’t pitched in a few days. The entire point of the shuttle is to send down a pitcher with a big recent workload and bring up a pitcher who has had the last few days off. Looking at our Bullpen Workload page, James Pazos would qualify as a “fresh arm” because he hasn’t pitched in two days. The Yankees would be able to use him today and tomorrow. They couldn’t do that with, say, Johnny Barbato, who just pitched last night. “Fresh arm” just means the guy hasn’t pitched much recently and is available to throw a lot of pitches right away.

Paul asks: With the plan to rest players already being seen in action, what do you think the approximate target for games played for each player is?

That’s a really good question and I’ve been trying to figure that out. How do these target numbers sound?

Brian McCann: 110 games (119 last year)
Mark Teixeira: 130 games (105 last year due to injury)
Chase Headley: 135 games (148 last year)
Brett Gardner: 130 games (140 last year)
Jacoby Ellsbury: 135 games (106 last year due to injury)
Carlos Beltran: 120 games (120 last year)
Alex Rodriguez: 120 games (135 last year)

Those are games started in the field, not total games played. (For A-Rod it’s game started at DH.) I could see the Yankees pushing Teixeira and Beltran a little harder because they’re impending free agents and they don’t really care about any long-term effects.

Do those target numbers sound good? Whatever the numbers are, I’m sure the Yankees will be flexible and adjust depending on how players are performing. If, say, Ellsbury is tearing the cover off the ball in August and the Yankees are in a tight race, those 135 games could become 145 games in a hurry.

Michael asks: In one of this week’s DotF, you noted that Gabe Encinas’s “prospect expiration date has passed.” Out of curiosity, does every prospect have a different expiration date in your mind or do you give every player (barring injuries) until, say, 23 years old to start figuring AA out? Are you ever surprised by late bloomers? Does Gabe have a chance to be one?

It’s different for every player because every player is different. A blanket “one size fits all” approach never works in baseball. You can’t say “you need to be in Double-A by age 22 or you’re behind schedule.” No. Doesn’t work like that. For a guy like Encinas, who has a huge fastball but questionable secondary stuff and command, the fourth year in Single-A pretty much confirms it’s just not happening like you hoped.

As for late bloomers, you’re always aware it’s possible because the player has talent. There’s a reason he was drafted and given the opportunity to play professional baseball. The natural ability is there and yes, sometimes it takes guys a little longer. Corey Kluber and Jacob deGrom were late bloomers. They didn’t establish themselves at the MLB level until they were close to 27. Encinas has a chance to do that — he’s going to continue to get opportunities because he throws hard — the same way any prospect has a chance to figure out it late.

Ackley-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)
Ackley-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

Mike asks: Given that Ackley’s arm isn’t strong enough for him to play third, how did he manage to play a couple innings in right field for Seattle last year? Did Seattle have an outfielder with even less arm in left? Is Ackley a viable backup right fielder for New York, or purely LF/1B/2B?

The short answer: the Mariners. Who knows why they do things. They’re currently playing Nelson Cruz in right field and Franklin Gutierrez at DH. I don’t get it either. Besides, it’s not like Dustin Ackley played a ton of right field last year. He played two innings across two games. The first time he replaced Cruz in right in a blowout, and the other time he started the game in left, then slid over to right because Rickie Weeks had pinch-hit for Seth Smith, and Weeks had only worked out in left field after spending most of his career at second. The Yankees could run Ackley out to right field if necessary, but Hicks is clearly the No. 1 option there.

Frank asks: I’m not sure if this a dumb question, but since there are a lot if SS prospects in the organization, can the Yanks FO move some of the players back and forth from a minor league club to another? For example, can Wade be moved to AAA for 2 weeks or so then Mateo fill in at AA, and subsequently Holder would get a taste of High A. This way the prospects would get a taste of each level. Or is this just too complicated?

There’s no reason they couldn’t move players around. There’s no limit to the number of transactions a team can make or anything like that. Clubs usually don’t move prospects around until they meet development goals, however. That’s why guys will spend a full season at a level even though they’re hitting something like .330. The team wants the player to work on certain things, and they promote them when they feel they’ve met those goals. Promotions are a “reward” for development, not necessarily good numbers. You won’t see teams move prospects around just to give a player a little taste of a different level for the heck of it.

Vidhath asks: Just found out that Jaron Long was released. Seemed a bit surprising to me, since he was relatively young and made it to AAA for the first time after a steady climb. Was his stuff that bad that they thought he wouldn’t have a chance in the majors?

That’s exactly what it was. He lacks stuff. Baseball Prospectus (no subs. req’d) got a look at Long in 2014, and he topped out at 88 with below average curves and changeups. “Long does not have the stuff to pitch in the majors. His below-average FB and CH lack the necessary impact to provide any value as more than an org filler or desperation call-up,” said the write-up. I remember seeing him in a Spring Training game last year and thinking the same thing. He didn’t even have one worthwhile pitch. The stats would lead you to believe Long could help at some point, but once you see him in action, you realize the limitations. Matt DeSalvo was the same way back in the day.

Samuel asks: We hear Rumbelow is being stretched out and then first game it’s attempted he needs TJ. Is there a connection at all or am I grasping at straws?

I don’t think there’s a connection. Nick Rumbelow didn’t even get a chance to really stretch out. He got hurt warming up for his second inning of the regular season. Multiple inning appearances were not new to him — Rumbelow got four or more outs 21 times last year — so it’s not like he was being pushed into uncharted territory. If he had gotten hurt in the middle of his fifth inning or something like that, then yeah, there might be a connection. This just seems like one of those things. Elbow ligaments snap. It happens.

Vince asks: there has been a lot of speculation that the yankees will let chapman walk w/o even trying to keep him. why would they trade for him if thats the case? its not like they were just a closer away from winning it all.

Because he can help them win this year. The “they are not a closer away from winning it all” logic is silly because you can apply that to any transaction ever. Why trade for Starlin Castro when they are not a second baseman away? Why would the Red Sox sign David Price when they aren’t a starter away? It’s a team sport and you need to build the puzzle. Aroldis Chapman is a piece of that puzzle. A very good piece of that puzzle. Simply put, the Yankees are a much better team with Chapman on the roster. No, he may not be the piece that gets them over the top, but he moves them closer to the finish line.

Didi-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)
Didi-ey. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

Marc asks: True or false: Yankees could potentially have the best defensive infield in baseball.

Eh, I’ll say false. They do have an above-average defensive infield, though I think Castro is still a little rough around the edges at second, and by time he figures that out, Teixeira will probably be gone. If Starlin makes big strides in the first half, then yeah, the Yankees might have the best defensive infield in the game down the stretch. Who are the other candidates? The Royals and Giants for sure. The Rockies and Marlins are sneaky good too. For now, I’ll say the Yankees have a top ten defensive infield but not top five. Castro’s inexperience is the only major drawback now that Headley seems to have remembered how to throw.

Eric asks: Do you think a combination of the injuries suffered recently (Rumbelow, Mitchell) and potential success by relievers like Kirby Yates and Johnny Barbato change the bullpen shuttle plan in any fundamental way? It seemed like last year the shuttle was used to such an extreme due to depth and lack of a player emerging from the herd of young relievers. Maybe we only see it this year if the bullpen is extremely taxed.

Success by Barbato and Yates would change the shuttle dynamic more than the injuries, I think. The idea of shuttling out relievers and always having a fresh arm or two is great, but ultimately the Yankees are going to go with the roster that gives them the best chance to win. If Barbato emerges as someone worth keeping around — I’m much more confident in him doing so than Yates — then the Yankees will keep him around. None of the shuttle guys did that last year. The injuries to Rumbelow and Bryan Mitchell stink, but that’s why you build depth. If anything the personnel has changed as a result of the injuries, not the plan.

Chris asks: Hi Mike, I just finished reading your draft thoughts and then read your post prior to the 2015 about James Kaprielian. To sum up, it seems that despite the polish, it was thought he did not have a lot of upside. Now that Kap has been able to maintain more zip on the fastball, do you still feel that he does not have a lot of upside, with the exception of potentially being a fast mover through the system? Or has he changed your opinion? It seems to me that with the sustained increase in velocity, on top of the polish, that he could potentially exceed those expectations from spring of 2015. Your thoughts?

The extra velocity definitely changes his ceiling. He went from 89-91 as a sophomore to 91-93 as a junior to 93-95 as a pro. That’s a huge jump. I want to see Kaprielian sustain it throughout the summer before fully buying in, but this is definitely encouraging. Before the velocity bump he was considered more of a mid-rotation starter. With the extra velocity, Kaprielian has a chance to pitch closer to the front of the rotation. Maybe not a true ace, but more of a No. 2 than a No. 3. Like I said, I want to see him hold the velocity a little longer before we start rewriting scouting reports, but this is definitely a positive sign. It’s not often a college starter shows up in pro ball and adds velocity. If anything, the opposite usual happens because they go from starting once a week to once every five days.

David asks: Gun to your head do you extend big mike or nasty nate today assuming they want a similar deal. Both seem doomed to meet their respective ceiling. Mike has the more recent injury history but also better success. Nate seems more durable but could end up in the pen.

My head says Nathan Eovaldi, my heart says Michael Pineda. I think Pineda has a better chance to pitch at an above-average clip long-term, but I also think he’s a much bigger risk because of his shoulder surgery. Eovaldi is so far removed from his Tommy John surgery — it’s been nine years now — that I don’t think his risk of a second Tommy John surgery is considerably higher than Pineda’s risk of a first Tommy John surgery. The new ligament has held up under all those triple digit fastballs. I would have to go with Eovaldi over Pineda because of health. If you want to go with Pineda over Eovaldi, I wouldn’t argue much. I think there’s a good case to be made for both guys.

Donaldson’s long ball sinks the Yanks 4-2 in the series finale

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

In a matchup of young starters, Marcus Stroman and the Blue Jays came up victorious. Nathan Eovaldi showed flashes of brilliance early on, locating his fastball well and his secondary pitches fooled hitters, but a few mistakes to good hitters proved costly as he came away as the loser. With the exception of the fourth inning, the Yankee bats went mostly silent against Stroman, and New York dropped the series finale in the Rogers Centre.

Grounderfest in the Six

Marcus Stroman, only 24 years-old, is the Blue Jays ace and he will give Yankees fits for a long time. He can cut, sink, locate, etc., basically a lot of things you want from a pitcher. He also seems to be friendly with the 6 God so that’s pretty neat. Earlier today, the Phillies’ Vincent Velazquez struck out 16 in a C GSHO. Stroman mowed down the batters in a different way: weak contact.

The Yankees rallied to score a couple in the fourth. A-Rod got hit by the pitch and Mark Teixeira dunked a single to right. With one out, runners on first and second, Brian McCann hit a grounder to Ryan Goins, but the second baseman couldn’t handle it, loading the bases. With the count full, Carlos Beltran hit a grounder that he just beat out to avoid a double play. Also, the run scored and New York took a 1-0 lead.

They weren’t done scoring. Stroman walked Chase Headley to load the bases again, bringing up Starlin Castro. During the Castro at-bat, Stroman threw a sinker way low and Russell Martin – who was brilliant with blocking low pitches all series – let it pass towards the side for a wild pitch. 2-0 Yanks.

That was about the only blemish in Stroman’s outing. After walking Jacoby Ellsbury in the fifth, he did not allow a baserunner, retiring 11 straight batters until the end of his outing. Did I mention how efficient his pitching was? Stroman had a 17-2 GB/FB ratio, which is pretty darn neat. He pitched eight full innings and threw 98 pitches (66 for strikes). New York’s woes in RISP situations continued as well, as the lineup went 1-for-5 in scoring chances.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Temporarily Nasty Nate

Eovaldi had his splitter working tonight – at least early on. For the first four innings, he was the pitcher that many envisioned to be – a power guy with deadly secondary stuff.

For the first four innings, Eovaldi struck out five – all of them on breaking pitches (four splitters and a slider). His fastball worked pretty well to set the knockout secondary pitches up, which is pretty much a recipe for success for most ML pitchers. It was reminiscent of a lot of his outings during his hot second-half stretch in last season.

Boom (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The bottom of fifth was a different story. With two outs and runner on, Kevin Pillar hit a double that put runners on second and third. Next up: Josh Donaldson. The reigning AL MVP tends to punish mistakes. Eovaldi hung a splitter up the zone and Donaldson did not miss any of it. He crushed it into the center field second deck for a 3-2 Jays lead – a sight that you’ll see in multiple end-of-the-year highlights for sure. 89 mph in, 111 mph out. Eovaldi hung another meatball up the zone the next inning. He threw a slider up the zone that Troy Tulowitzki didn’t miss for a solo homer. 4-2 Jays.

He entered the seventh inning, got two outs, but surrendered another XBH to Donaldson – a double. Joe Girardi pulled Eovaldi out of the game, ending an enigmatic start. Eovaldi’s line: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 K’s. The strikeout numbers are nice but the homework for Nasty Nate is to allow less mistake pitches.

Rest of the Game

Johnny Barbato relieved Eovaldi in the seventh and got out of it. He also pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth. Overall, he picked up two strikeouts in 1.1 IP, bringing season totals to 4.2 IP with 7 K’s and 0.00 ERA. He may not be pitching in a glamorous role now (at least for this season, with Dellin BetancesAndrew MillerAroldis Chapman in back of the bullpen) but he’s slowly earning brownie points. As Mike pointed out earlier, he’s looking more like a keeper in the roster.

In the ninth, the Jays put in 21-year-old Roberto Osuna to close out the game and he was brilliant, retiring all three Yankee hitters for a save. 4-2 Toronto victory.

Leftovers

The four-five-six hitters of the Yankee lineup had a hit each. The rest? 0-for-18 with two walks and a HBP. It’s not what you want. A-Rod’s slow start worsened with his 0-for-3 performance, lowering his season avg. to .120 (.507 OPS).

Box Score, WPA, Highlights and Updated Standings

Here’s tonight’s box score, highlights, WPA and updated standings.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees come back home tomorrow and start a series versus the Mariners for this weekend. I’ll be at the Sunday game, excited to see Robbie Cano back in Bronx and hopefully much nicer weather than the opening series!

DotF: Sanchez’s walk-off homer gives Scranton a win in Swisher’s debut

Can't imagine many other big league veterans would be this happy to be in Triple-A. (Photo via @swbrailriders)
Can’t imagine many other big league veterans would be this happy to be in Triple-A. (Photo via @swbrailriders)

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 win over Syracuse in ten innings)

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • DH Rob Refsnyder: 1-5
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — in a 2-for-21 (.095) slump with nine strikeouts
  • C Gary Sanchez: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — two-run walk-off monster dong
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 1-4 — can’t say I ever expected to write his name in DotFDonnie Collins says the base hit was an infield single, and that one of the outs was a long fly ball to right field that might have been a home run at Yankee Stadium
  • RHP Tyler Cloyd: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 3/5 GB/FB — 48 of 79 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/3 GB/FB — 26 of 36 pitches were strikes (72%)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 19 of 30 pitches were strikes (63%) … hey, no homers allowed!
  • RHP Vinnie Pestano: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 13 of 22 pitches were strikes (59%)

[Read more…]

Game Eight: Rubber Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The six-game turned five-game road trip ends tonight with the rubber game against the Blue Jays. A win to clinch the series victory would be awfully sweet. A 3-2 road trip is always better than a 2-3 road trip, especially when you get that last win over a division rival.

Nathan Eovaldi is on the mound and he did something in his last start he usually doesn’t do a whole lot: give up homers. He gave up two of them in five innings after allowing ten homers in 154.1 innings last year. Hopefully Eovaldi fares a little better tonight with the game inside and not in the freezing cold. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Starlin Castro
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s another really cold day in Toronto, so the Rogers Centre roof will be closed. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: McCann (toe) is back in the lineup, obviously. He is wearing some sort of extra padding to protect his toe after taking that foul tip the other night.

King: Yankees renewed Betances at league minimum after he rejected contract offer

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Yankees renewed Dellin Betances‘ contract at the league minimum this offseason after he rejected their initial offer. The team was more or less free to pay Betances whatever they want because he has fewer than three years of service time. Here’s more from King:

According to Betances, the Yankees offered him a contract for $540,000 this year. Betances said he didn’t sign it, on the advice of his representative, Jim Murray. He knew if he didn’t ink the contract, the Yankees could renew him at any number. And that’s what the club did: Betances is making $507,500 this season, which is what he made a year ago.

Betances and his agent turned down the raise on principle. He’ll still be well-paid this season — by normal people standards, not baseball player standards — and they’ve now let the Yankees know they weren’t happy with their initial offer. Both Jacob deGrom and Brad Boxberger rejected raises this past offseason as well, and both had their contracts renewed. Gerrit Cole complained about his small raise before begrudgingly accepting the offer.

Players with fewer than three years of service time have basically no negotiating leverage. Teams are free to pay them whatever they want, though most clubs have some sort of sliding scale based on service time and other accomplishments (awards, All-Star Games, etc.) to keep things fair and simple. A few years back Mike Trout was the highest paid player with fewer than three years of service time in history. He made $1M.

While I understand there may be concern the contract renewal will create bad blood between Betances and the Yankees, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s a business. This is the system that was collectively bargained. The Yankees had every right to new renew his contract the same way Betances had the right to reject an offer. Dellin’s a pro. He’s still going to go out and do his job.

Next offseason Betances will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time, so he’s got a substantial raise coming his way. Jonathan Papelbon holds the record for first time arbitration-eligible relievers at $6.25M, but he was a closer, and saves pay big in arbitration. I don’t know what the record is for first time non-closers, but I imagine Dellin is in position to break it, especially if he goes to his third All-Star Game this summer.

Betances will not qualify for free agency until after the 2019 season, when he’ll be nearing his 32nd birthday. The Yankees have him for the rest of this year plus three more seasons, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. In all likelihood the team will get the best years of Dellin’s career before he hits the open market. What happens then? That’s something to worry about in 2019.

Thursday Links: Severino, Wearable Technology, Payroll

Sevy. (Presswire)
Sevy. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Blue Jays wrap up their three-game series with the rubber game in Toronto tonight. After that, the Yankees return home for a nine-game homestand against the Mariners, Athletics, and Rays. They’re seeing the M’s and A’s early this year, huh? Well, anyway, here are some stray links and notes.

Severino changes agents

According to Jerry Crasnick, young right-hander Luis Severino recently switched agents. He left the Beverly Hills Sports Council and is now represented by Paul Kinzer of REP1 Baseball. Kinzer is no small time agent. He represents Starlin Castro, Edwin Encarnacion, Geovany Soto, and Jhoulys Chacin, among others. Aramis Ramirez and Rafael Furcal were Kinzer clients during their playing days as well.

For what it’s worth, Kinzer clients do have a history of signing long-term extensions before reaching free agency. Both Castro and Encarnacion jumped at the security of a long-term deal early in their careers, for example. Severino did not receive a big signing bonus as an amateur ($225,000), so he could be open to signing an extension and locking in that big payday. What kind of contract would it take? That’s a topic worth it’s own post.

MLB approves “wearable technology”

The rules committee has approved two forms of “wearable technology” for this season, reports Ronald Blum. Players are now allowed to wear the Motus Baseball Sleeve, which measures the stress on elbows, and the Zephyr Bioharness, which measures heart and breathing rates. Here’s more from Blum:

Data from the devices cannot be transmitted during games but must been downloaded afterward … Clubs may use the data only for internal purposes, and it will be shared with the player. It cannot be provided to broadcasters or used for commercial purposes. Players can decide whether or not to use the technology and determine who can receive the data.

MLB and the MLBPA still haven’t made an official announcement for whatever reason. The MLBPA has some concerns about privacy — “The next thing you know, the pitcher’s going to have a phone in his pocket taking selfies,” said Brett Gardner to Blum — and wearable technology will again be reviewed as part of the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement talks.

This all sounds pretty great to me, especially the sleeve that measures all the different stresses on a player’s elbow. Anything that can help detect and possibly prevent injuries is a-okay in my book. Then again, I’m not the one wearing this stuff, so what do I know. By the way, the rules committee also approved a pair of bat sensors that can be used during batting practice, but not games. They record bat speed, swing paths, all that good stuff.

Yankees have MLB’s top payroll*

The Yankees opened this season with baseball’s largest payroll at $223M, reports Bob Nightengale. The Dodgers are right behind them at $222M. There’s a catch though. This only covers the salaries of players on the active Opening Day roster. It doesn’t include money paid to players on other teams, of which the Yankees have very little. They’re paying $3M to Martin Prado. That’s it.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, are paying $18M to players not on their roster this season, including Matt Kemp, Mike Morse, and Hector Olivera. All things considered, Los Angeles still has baseball’s highest total payroll at roughly $254M. That’s down about $50M from last season. ($50M!) The Yankees are a distant second at $228M, and the Tigers an even distanter third at $200M. New York’s payroll is up $5M from last season and $10M from five years ago, give or take.

MLBTR’s Offseason in Review

I forgot to link to this earlier, but better late than never, I guess. MLBTR covered the Yankees as part of their annual Offseason In Review series two weeks ago. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a comprehensive review of the club’s offseason activity, as well as a look at the questions they still have a roster. Make sure you check it out. Tons of great information in there.

Barbato looks like a keeper, not a shuttle candidate, so far this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Coming into Spring Training, Johnny Barbato was an afterthought in the competition for an Opening Day bullpen spot. At least I thought so. The Yankees had a ton of bullpen candidates in camp, many of them with big league experience, and I figured they would get first dibs. Instead, Barbato out-pitched them all in camp, and won a spot on the roster.

Seven games into the season, Barbato already looks like a power reliever with some staying power, not someone who will spend his summer tracking mileage between Scranton and the Bronx. (Expense reports are such a pain.) His regular season numbers (3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) are great, but they’re also still meaningless because the sample is so small. Barbato’s stuff and ability to locate is what makes him look so promising.

“First pitch was 95-96 mph. Second pitch was a buckler and I usually don’t buckle on breaking balls. Next pitch ground ball to first. Three pitches. Not a fun at-bat,” said Chris Colabello to George King when asked about facing Barbato following Wednesday’s game. Barbato allowed a two-out walk in an otherwise clean inning that night, and because the Yankees scored in the next half-inning, he picked up his first career win. That’s always cool.

New York acquired Barbato from the Padres for Shawn Kelley last offseason. He was a pretty big deal as a prospect back in the day — San Diego gave Barbato a $1.4M bonus as a sixth rounder in 2010 — because of his live arm, but he never did pick up a changeup, so he had to move to relief. Here is Baseball America’s scouting report (no subs. req’d) following the trade:

He pitches with mid-90s velocity and verve, attacking hitters with a live fastball that sinks and runs as it nears the plate. He throws a true curveball in the high 70s that features extreme break through the zone, and he locates and mixes his two pitches well enough to boast a career strikeout rate of 9.2 per nine innings.

That matches up with what we’ve seen from Barbato early this season and in Spring Training, right? The fastball is lively and his curveball has some very nice bend to it. (Here’s the GIF.) And he has verve. Verve is always good. The scouting report refers to Barbato as a two-pitch pitcher, however. There is no mention of his slider, a slider we’ve seen this year. To the action footage:

Johnny Barbato SL

I do enjoy the little bunny hop following the release. Nice touch. I guess that’s the verve the scouting report was talking about.

Anyway, that’s a slider. Fight me if you think otherwise. I guess maybe it could be a cutter, but it’s no mid-90s four-seamer and it for sure is not a 70-something mile an hour curveball. That’s a pitch that is unaccounted for in the scouting reports. (There’s no mention of the slider in Baseball America’s write-ups over the years.)

That pitch also did not exist until this year according to PitchFX, albeit in limited looks. The Padres hold Spring Training in Arizona, and several Cactus League ballparks are outfitted with PitchFX. Barbato also pitched in the Arizona Fall League a few years back. Here is the very limited PitchFX data we have on Johnny Boombatz, via Brooks Baseball:

Johnny Barbato pitch selectionSee? The slider has come out of nowhere. It’s very possible Barbato was throwing it in the minors last year, but I can’t find any record of it. This appears to be a new pitch Barbato has added at some point since the trade, and that’s pretty cool. The Yankees are known to teach cutters — David Robertson is the best example, but others like Ian Clarkin and Manny Banuelos added the pitch as well — so it wouldn’t be unprecedented if Barbato added a similar pitch since the trade.

Right now Barbato is coming out of the bullpen with a mid-90s four-seamer, his trademark upper-70s curveball, and this new cutter/slider (slutter?) thing at 88-89 mph or so. He throws all three pitches regularly — he’s thrown 21.0% curves and 22.6% slutters so far — and his swing-and-miss rate is a healthy 15.7% in the super duper early going. Joe Girardi seems to trust Barbato too; he brought him into the sixth inning of a tie game against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. The first batter he faced was Troy Tulowitzki.

Last season the Yankees shuttled young relievers in and out of the bullpen every time a fresh arm was needed. And, for the most part, none of the shuttle relievers did anything to distinguish themselves. It’s a tough job, I get that, but no one came out throwing fire and left you wanting to see more. They came up, threw a few innings, then were sent back out and no one really cared. None of those guys did enough to impress the brain trust and stick around.

Barbato has already stood out in a way none of the shuttle relievers did last season. He took advantage of an opportunity in Spring Training and he’s carried that performance over into the regular season. He’s throwing strikes — it’s not uncommon for even the most polished minor leagues to lose the zone a bit early in their MLB careers — and missing bats. It’s early, but so far Barbato looks like someone who should stick around and not ride the shuttle.