Today is Derek Jeter‘s 40th birthday and that it utterly depressing. Where does the time go? He was getting called up and I was getting ready to start high school just yesterday, it seems. Say what you want about how things are going this season, but these last 20 years watching Jeter have been some kind of ride. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is a very strong chance he is the greatest Yankee we’ll see in our lifetimes.
Here is your open thread for the off-day. Off-night, really. The Mets are playing and the NBA Draft is taking place (7:30pm ET on ESPN). Talk about that, Jeter’s birthday, or anything else right here. Have at it.
Chad Jennings spoke to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman about a variety of minor league topics this week. The entire post is worth a read, but here are the important injury updates (obligatory reminder that Newman’s timetables have a tendency to be … optimistic):
- RHP Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is throwing bullpen sessions in Tampa, fastballs and changeups only. No breaking balls just yet. He is coming back from a torn capsule and, if he does become an MLB option at some point this year, it won’t be until very late in the season.
- 3B Eric Jagielo (ribcage) is currently rehabbing at the complex in Tampa and is expected to return to the High-A Tampa lineup within ten days or so. He’s been out since late-May and had a 144 wRC+ before suffering the injury.
- OF Ramon Flores (ankle) is still “a ways away,” said Newman. He has not yet resumed baseball activities and it will be a while before he does. Flores was having a real nice year (122 wRC+) for Triple-A Scranton before getting hurt.
- RHP Mark Montgomery (shin) is currently in Tampa working out after being hit in the shin by a comebacker. Seems like they’re taking the injury as an opportunity to work on some mechanical stuff as well.
- SS Abi Avelino (quad), RHP Branden Pinder (groin), and OF Adonis Garcia (hamstring) are all 10-14 days away from returning to their respective teams.
The Yankees are averaging only 3.48 runs per game over the last calendar month. They’ve been held to two runs or less ten times in 27 games during that stretch. Even if Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann start hitting as expected, the Yankees would still be running out a lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki/Alfonso Soriano, and Kelly Johnson/Yangervis Solarte on a regular basis. That’s way too many soft spots. The Bombers need to add some thump to the lineup before the trade deadline even if McCann and Beltran show up to the park and start raking tomorrow.
The Yankees are locked into players at catcher, first base, shortstop, left field, center field, and designated hitter either by contract status or iconic status. There is nothing they can do at those positions other than hope for more production, so, the only spots they can make real changes are second base, third base, and right field. The trade market has yet to develop but the Yankees do actually have some internal options if they want to shake things up. They aren’t future stars or the sexiest names, but they might be upgrades. Here are those internal options with their 2014 PECOTA projections because why not? No one knows what to expect from them at the MLB level and this gives us a point of reference.
UTIL Jose Pirela (PECOTA: .254/.307/.394)
The 24-year-old Pirela has been in the farm system so long that he became a six-year minor league free agent this past winter. The Yankees re-signed him and he is now hitting .320/.361/.466 (130 wRC+) with seven homers and ten steals in 304 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton, his first extended stint at the level after spending most of 2011-13 with Double-A Trenton. He hit .281/.355/.430 (~120 wRC+) with Trenton while repeating the level from 2012-13.
Pirela is a classic stats over scouting report guy. He didn’t hit much in the lower minors but broke out during the 2012 season (123 wRC+). It seemed fishy at the time because he was repeating the level, but he has continued to hit this summer at Triple-A, where he has only five games of prior experience. Pirela has always had an interesting enough bat but he is a poor defender. Eduardo Nunez bad. Well, maybe not that bad, but bad. He moved off shortstop for good in 2012 and has spent most of his time at second base and left field since.
After starting the season as the RailRiders’ everyday second baseman, Pirela has spent just about this entire month in left field while mixing in the occasional start at first base, a position he had never played before this year. (The move off second was prompted by Rob Refsnyder’s arrival.) Unless the Yankees are going to stick Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury in right field — Gardner played one game there earlier this season and it was ugly — Pirela only fits at second base. Either that or move him to right for the first time in his life.
2B Rob Refsnyder (PECOTA: .235/.319/.344)
I’ve written about Refsnyder on more than one occasion this season, so I’m going to keep this short. The 23-year-old has hit .292/.404/.458 (145 wRC+) in his first 14 Triple-A games after tearing the cover off the ball at Double-A and really his entire pro career before that. Refsnyder might not be the team’s best hope for a long-term Robinson Cano replacement (Gosuke Katoh and Angelo Gumbs are among those in the system with higher ceilings), but he is the closest to the show and will get the first crack at the job. His defense is the issue; Refsnyder still needs to improve at second after playing the outfield in college.
UTIL Zelous Wheeler (PECOTA: .245/.316/.390)
The Yankees signed the 27-year-old Wheeler as a minor league free agent over the winter, mostly because they had a need at third base and he has a ton of experience there. Plus it didn’t hurt that he put up decent numbers at the Double-A and Triple-A levels the last few seasons (~106 wRC+). Bring him to Spring Training then see what happens in Triple-A type of deal.
Wheeler has put up an impressive .308/.365/.469 (134 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 59 games with Triple-A Scranton while playing all over the field — he’s played at least ten games each at third base, shortstop, and right field. He’s also spent time at second base throughout the years. Wheeler was never a top prospect — he failed to crack Baseball America’s top 30 lists in some pretty bad Brewers’ systems a few years ago, for what it’s worth — but he’s versatile and he’s hitting well at the highest level of the minors. That could be enough to get him a call-up given the current state of the roster.
OF Zoilo Almonte (PECOTA: .252/.300/.419)
Almonte, 25, has had two cups of coffee with the Yankees since last year and they haven’t been particularly impressive (50 wRC+), but he continues to hit at Triple-A, putting up a .268/.314/.455 (111 wRC+) line with ten homers in 223 plate appearances this year. Zoilo absolutely can not hit lefties (.394 OPS vs. LHP at Triple-A this year) despite being a switch-hitter, so his only value comes as the left-handed half of a right field platoon. The Yankees already have Ichiro doing on okay job in that role, but Ichiro hits lefties better than righties and Almonte could give them more power from the position.
IF Scott Sizemore (PECOTA: .245/.330/.392)
Like Almonte, the 29-year-old Sizemore has been up and down a few times this year, going 5-for-16 (.313) in pinstripes while hitting .265/.327/.387 (99 wRC+) with three homers in 226 Triple-A plate appearances. He has had to shake off the rust after missing nearly two full years with a pair of knee surgeries. Sizemore has destroyed minor league lefties in a limited sample this year (.880 OPS), which matches up with his career 122 wRC+ against MLB southpaws before the knee problems. He could serve as a right-handed platoon option at either second or third.
* * *
I don’t think the Yankees will cut ties with Roberts. He’s hit well enough over the last week or so and they seem to appreciate his long at-bats and veteran presence*. I don’t believe Soriano is safe though, and Solarte could always be optioned to Triple-A to clear another roster spot. It’s not like he’s done much with the bat over the last month anyway. Johnson has received some more playing time of late but could still go. Ichiro? Forget it. He’s on the roster until he decides to retire.
If the Yankees do decide to cut bait with Soriano, I think Pirela or Wheeler would be the best bests to replace him, preferably Pirela because he’s younger and might actually have a future with the team. Refsnyder needs more time to work on his defense and doesn’t offer the same kind of versatility. If they kick an infielder to the curb as well, I’d go with Pirela/Wheeler or Sizemore. That’s just my opinion. I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer here other than calling up Refsnyder and playing him twice a week. None of these guys are going to save the offense, but they could be an upgrade over what the team is running out there right now. The tricky part is figuring out which one will help the most.
* I resisted the “veteran presents” joke, but only this time!
Thursday: The Yankees will indeed give the Padres permission to speak with Eppler about their GM opening, reports Jon Heyman. Teams usually won’t block an front office member from interviewing for a promotion like this, so this isn’t a surprise.
Wednesday: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Padres have required permission to interview Yankees assistant general manager Billy Eppler for their now open GM position. Josh Byrnes was fired over the weekend and Eppler, a San Diego native who started his career as a scout with the Padres, is one of several candidates for the job. Buster Olney says he will receive “serious consideration.”
Eppler joined the Yankees in 2004 and was the director of pro scouting from 2005-11 before being promoted to assistant GM. The promotion appeared to put him in line to take over for Brian Cashman whenever the time came. The Padres did not interview Eppler for their last GM opening during the 2009-10 offseason, though he did interview for the Angels’ job three years ago and was reportedly the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto. It’s only a matter of time before Eppler becomes a GM, either as Cashman’s successor or for another team. · (51) ·
The Yankees won the series finale against the Blue Jays last night and now sit only 2.5 games back of first place in the AL East. They were 4.5 games back at the start of that hugely important nine-game stretch against the Jays and Orioles, so they did make up some ground in the standings. Apparently the Yankees did not get home until early this morning because their flight out of Toronto was delayed due to bad weather, so good thing they have the day off. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts.
1. It’s pretty obvious the Yankees need help to seriously contend for a playoff spot, right? I think we can all acknowledge that. They are still right in the mix of the playoff hunt, but they need help and they need help soon. They can’t wait around for CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda to get healthy. Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have had almost half the season to get going at the plate and it’s just not happening. At some point the Yankees need to act and that time is rapidly approaching. Making a move now to boost the offense and rotation probably means having to overpay, but that’s life. The Yankees dug this hole for themselves and aren’t in a position to show patience to get the best possible value, not unless they want to hurt their chances to contend. They acted quickly to sign Jacoby Ellsbury after determining Robinson Cano wasn’t coming back and they had no problem tacking that third year onto Beltran’s contract. Trading for a pitcher now rather than at the deadline means four or five fewer starts of Vidal Nuno. Getting an infielder now means about 120 fewer plate appearances from the three-headed Brian Roberts/Yangervis Solarte/Kelly Johnson monster. Something has to happen and soon.
2. Like last season, the Yankees have remained in the postseason race improbably. They own a 40-37 record despite a -34 run differential, a run differential that suggests they should really have a 35-42 record. Last season the team managed an 85-77 record despite a -21 run differential (79-83 pythag. record). So, since the start of the 2013 season, the Yankees have won eleven more games than expected based on how many runs they’ve scored and allowed. That’s a pretty significant difference, no? Where is it coming from? Chalking it all up to good luck is lazy at best and intellectually dishonest at worst. There’s always going to be some element of luck involved in baseball, that’s just the nature of a game built around a round ball and a round bat and a big swath of grass, but there is more going on than that. Is it the strong late-inning bullpen? The veteran know-how? Joe Girardi‘s managerial skills? The magic of the pinstripes? It’s probably all of that and more, right? I don’t know the answer but there’s some reason the Yankees have a knack for winning more than they should. “They’re amazing,” said one rival exec to Jayson Stark when asked about the Yankees and their run differential recently. “It’s like they’re incapable of finishing under .500.”
3. As Joel Sherman pointed out the other day, Masahiro Tanaka is lined up to start on Sunday, July 13th, the final game before the All-Star break. Obviously a rainout(s) could throw a wrench into that. This is significant only because if Tanaka does start that game, he will not be eligible to pitch in the All-Star Game. The Collective Bargaining Agreement says anyone who starts that Sunday can’t pitch in the game. They can be named to the roster (and are then obligated to attend and be introduced on the baselines and all that), but they would be inactive and replaced by another pitcher. This happened with Sabathia a few years ago.Tanaka will surely make the All-Star roster and I am totally cool with him not pitching. I mean, it would be neat to see him out there in the game, but the big picture wins out here. I want Tanaka to get the extra rest — his velocity did drop a bit in his last start, by the way — and not waste bullets in an exhibition game. Same with Dellin Betances. I hope he gets selected for the roster but would be totally fine if he doesn’t pitch. The Yankees are going to need those two in the second half if they plan to make a run at a postseason spot.
4. The other day we learned outfield prospect Slade Heathcott will miss the rest of the season following yet another knee surgery. It’s his second knee surgery in the last year and third since high school. He’s also had two shoulder surgeries. Overall, Heathcott will have played in only 230 of 576 possible regular season games from 2011-14 once the season ends. It’s impossible to develop when you’re missing that much time in your early-20s. The Yankees drafted Slade in the first round of the 2009 draft, when he was a raw but very athletic and toolsy high schooler. He was going to need time and work to turn those tools into baseball skills, but he has not been able to do that because of the injuries. I mean, he has 1,349 career plate appearances. That’s a little short of three seasons worth for a guy who was drafted five years ago. Heathcott is on the 40-man roster — the Yankees protected him from the Rule 5 Draft this past winter — and I assume he’ll stay there for the time being, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled the release and re-sign trick with him (similar to David Adams and Nik Turley) if they need a 40-man spot later this summer. Heathcott will turn 24 in September and at some point it’s time to simply move on and focus on the development of healthy players.
5. I really dig the new Homerun Derby format. Here is is, if you haven’t seen it. Long story short, there are now five players per league in the Derby, and the three who hit the most dingers in each league advance to the second round. The player with the most gets a bye to the third round while the other two go head-to-head. The winners of the third round in each league meet in the finals. There are only seven outs per player now, not ten. It should spice up the competition a bit since there is an incentive (extra rest) to hitting the most homers in the first round. Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista are the captains this year. Mark Teixeira is the only Yankee who even remotely belongs near the Homerun Derby and I don’t see Bautista picking him. Jose Abreu has disappointingly said he’s not interested, but Giancarlo Stanton said he wants in, and that’s really the only guy I’m dying to see in the event. And Adam Dunn too. How has that guy never been in a Homerun Derby? For the first time in a long time, I’m actually kinda excited to watch. Kudos to MLB for the format change.
The four-game losing streak is over. The Yankees salvaged the final game of this three-game set up in Toronto, beating the Blue Jays 5-3 on Wednesday night to take the series finale.
The Big Inning
The Yankees’ four-run third inning was confusing because the hitters were not stopping at first base after getting hits. I didn’t know that was allowed. One double and one homer contributed to the rally, plus another two-out double was wasted. Three extra-base hits in an inning? That’s a miracle. The Yankees only had three extra-base hits in an entire game seven times in 22 games this month coming into Wednesday.
The rally all started with a leadoff five-pitch walk by Kelly Johnson. Frankie Cervelli doubled him home with a right-center field wall-banger — that ball just kept carrying and carrying, I thought it was a routine-ish fly ball off the bat — but Brett Gardner (pop up) and Derek Jeter (strikeout) followed with two quick outs. It looked like another one-run-and-done rally. This team has been allergic to big innings of late.
Then, thankfully, Jacoby Ellsbury singled to center to score Cervelli, and Mark Teixeira clubbed a two-run homer to right. Apparently they put some netting over the bullpens at Rogers Centre, so the ball hit the netting and hopped back onto the field. I thought it was a double off the wall at first. Am I going crazy? The netting over the bullpens is new, right? Anyway, Carlos Beltran laced a ground-rule double that was ultimately wasted, but the Yankees managed to score four runs in the inning, three with two outs.
For the second time in a week, Jose Reyes ambushed a first pitch fastball for a solo homer to leadoff the game. That’s getting annoying. Hiroki Kuroda shook the dinger off and worked through the next four innings without allowing a run, giving up four singles. One was an infield single. The Blue Jays did push across two runs in the fifth thanks to a walk (Munenori Kawasaki), a ground-rule double (Reyes), and two-out single (Melky Cabrera), but that was it.
Because the bullpen was a little short — Dellin Betances was unavailable after throwing two laborious innings on Tuesday — Joe Girardi pushed Kuroda into the seventh inning and got one base-runner and one out from him. It would have been two outs if the Yankees were able to turn a double play in something other than slow motion. Kuroda exited with a man on first and one out in the seventh, allowing just the three runs on eight hits and two walks. He struck out four. Kuroda has been much better over the last month or so, but this one was a grind.
Despite their best efforts, the Yankees did manage to score an insurance run in the seventh inning. Two walks (Gardner and Ellsbury) and a hit-by-pitch (Jeter) loaded the bases with no outs (!), then Teixeira brought home Gardner with a sacrifice fly. Beltran struck out, Ichiro Suzuki drew another walk, and Brian Roberts flew out to end the inning. Four base-runners, none put the ball in play. The extra run is always appreciated.
Once Kuroda was out of the game, Girardi went to Shawn Kelley (one single, one fly out) and Matt Thornton (tapper back to himself) to finish off the seventh. Anthony Gose and Reyes pulled off a double steal on Thornton, so the tying run was in scoring position when he broke Adam Lind’s bat for the final out. Adam Warren started the eighth, got a quick ground out from Edwin Encarnacion and allowed a single to Dioner Navarro, and that was that. David Robertson came in for the five-out save. Think Girardi was desperate to win this one?
Robertson, who had not pitched in a week, struck out Juan Francisco and Colby Rasmus on nine total pitches to end the eighth inning. Then he struck out Kawasaki and got ground balls from Gose and Reyes in the ninth inning to close things out. Five outs on 22 pitches. How about that? By the way, Robertson (16.06 K/9 and 44.3 K%) had zoomed by Betances (14.7 K/9 and 43.9 K%) in strikeout rate. He now has 40 strikeouts in his last 18.1 innings (19.64 K/9 and 51.9 K%). Helluva contract push.
The Yankees made two base-running funnies in the seventh inning that ultimately did not matter. Gardner and Jeter were on first and second, respectively, when lefty Rob Rasmussen uncorked a wild pitch. Gardner did not advance even though the ball bounced plenty far away from Navarro. Rasmussen threw another wild pitch later in the at-bat, this one even further away, and Gardner advanced but Jeter did not. Ellsbury ended up drawing a walk, so it didn’t matter. It was just weird.
I’m going to pretend Jeter intentionally dropped Navarro’s line drive in the fourth inning. There was a runner on first, Jeter had to jump to catch it, but the ball hopped out of his glove and hit the turf. Jeter picked it up, stepped on second for one out and fired to first for the double play. Both Navarro and Encarnacion (the runner at first) froze because they thought the line drive was caught. Two innings earlier Jeter fielded a Kawasaki chopper and never bothered to throw to first even though replays made it appear he had a play. Whatever.
Ellsbury went 3-for-4 with a walk and his only out was a line drive right at Reyes at short. He was thrown out trying to steal for only the third time this year, but replays did show he might have been safe. Girardi did not challenge the play. Gardner, Beltran, and Johnson also had a hit and a walk each. Jeter singled, Ichiro walked, and Cervelli doubled. Roberts was the only player in the starting lineup who failed to reach base. The Yankees did go 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but who cares at this point. A win’s a win.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has the nerdier stats, and ESPN has the updated standings. The Yankees were 4.5 games back of first place at the start of this nine-game stretch stretch against the Blue Jays and Orioles and are 2.5 games back at the end of it. Progress!
This quick little three-game road trip it over. The Yankees are off on Thursday, then they will welcome the Red Sox to the Bronx for a three-game series. That series is going to get hyped up way, way too much given the present state of the two clubs. Vidal Nuno and Brandon Workman will start the opener on Friday night. Head over to RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game or any game on the upcoming six-game homestand live. It’s the last homestand before the All-Star break, you know.
In case you missed it earlier, RHP Preston Claiborne has been placed on the Triple-A DL with a shoulder injury. He is essentially the team’s eighth reliever at the moment, the guy they call up with they need a fresh arm.
Triple-A Scranton was rained out. They will make this game up as part of a doubleheader on July 10th.
Double-A Trenton (7-3 loss to Bowie)
- CF Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 K — threw a runner out at third
- C Gary Sanchez: 3-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 PB — 12-for-28 (.429) in his last seven games
- 1B Peter O’Brien: 0-4
- RF Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
- LHP Eric Wooten: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 8/3 GB/FB — 59 of 87 pitches were strikes (68%)
- RHP Nick Goody: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 11 of 18 pitches were strikes (61%)
Via Jim Callis: The Yankees have signed eighth round pick UC Irvine 1B Connor Spencer to a a full slot $157,000 bonus. The team’s only remaining unsigned player in the top ten rounds is ninth rounder Vanderbilt SS Vince Conde, who is still playing in the College World Series. You can see all of New York’s picks at Baseball America and keep tabs on the draft pool situation with our 2014 Draft Pool Tracker.
Spencer, 21, hit .364/.451/.476 with 15 doubles and one homerun in 66 games this spring. That’s the only homer he hit in three years with Irvine. In their pre-draft scouting report, Baseball America said Spencer is “simply a hitting machine” and his “sweet lefthanded swing is tailored to use the opposite field and the middle of the diamond.” They also say he controls the strike zone well and is a solid defender at first who has seen some time in left. · (10) ·
These first two games in Toronto have been awful. The Yankees didn’t just lose both games, they got blown out in one and committed a walk-off error in the other. It was not pretty. The Yankees are off tomorrow and then they’ll return home for the final homestand of the first half. Get this win, salvage the series, enjoy the off-day, and go home. Here is the Blue Jays lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- DH Carlos Beltran
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 3B Kelly Johnson
- C Frankie Cervelli
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
It’s raining again in Toronto, so the Rogers Centre roof will be closed for the game. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES. Enjoy.
Injury Update: CC Sabathia (knee) will begin an official minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on Saturday, Joe Girardi announced. That will start his 30-day rehab window and give him time for at least five rehab starts.
Via Donnie Collins: Right-hander Preston Claiborne has been placed on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list with a shoulder injury. The nature and extent of the injury is unknown. Claiborne pitched in last night’s game but eventually walked off with the trainer.
Claiborne, 26, had a 3.57 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 17.2 innings across a few short stints with the Yankees this season. He has a 2.76 ERA (2.84 FIP) in 16.1 Triple-A innings as well. Claiborne was essentially the team’s eighth reliever, getting the call whenever a fresh arm was needed. He wasn’t on the active roster but he was part of the bullpen. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, shoulder issues are scary. · (8) ·