Get ready for a weekend of hype and attention that is disproportionate to the relevance of the teams in this series. The Red Sox are in town to play three games against the Yankees, and it is always a Very Big Deal whenever these two clubs meet. In reality, this series is about a pair of teams trying to dig themselves out of holes in the AL East, one bigger than the other. The Yankees took three of four in New York and two of three in Boston against their rivals back in April.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Red Sox just wrapped up a brutal West Coast trip through Oakland and Seattle, losing five of seven and being outscoring 36-23. They are 36-43 overall with a -31 run differential. That puts them five games back of the Yankees and in fourth place in the AL East.
Boston had a powerhouse lineup last year, one that was deep with disciplined hitters who worked long at-bats and hit for extra-bases. This season they are averaging only 3.81 runs per game with a team 89 wRC+, so they are comfortably below average. Boston is currently without OF Shane Victorino (hamstring, back), 1B/OF Mike Carp (foot), and 3B Will Middlebrooks (finger). There’s a chance Middlebrooks will return this series, but the other two definitely will not.
As usual, manager John Farrell’s revolves around DH David Ortiz (119 wRC+). 1B Mike Napoli (136 wRC+) is his right-handed complement and UTIL Brock Holt (122 wRC+) has been stellar since taking over the leadoff spot. 2B Dustin Pedroia (97 wRC+) is having a subpar year and, at age 30, you wonder if he’s hitting the early decline phase we’ve seen strike many second basemen. Wouldn’t that be something, if Pedroia’s days as an above-average hitter are already over? Crazy.
3B Xander Bogaerts (101 wRC+) has been very streaky this year and is on the downswing at the moment. SS Stephen Drew (-21 wRC+ in limited time) hasn’t hit a lick since re-signing and platoon bats OF Jonny Gomes (93 wRC+) and OF Daniel Nava (76 wRC+) have been more down than up. The catching tandem of C A.J. Pierzynski (72 wRC+) and C David Ross (51 wRC+) invokes memories of Chris Stewart and Austin Romine. OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (63 wRC+) has been terrible overall but better of late after making some mechanical changes. IF Jonathan Herrera (59 wRC+) is the last guy on the bench.
Friday: LHP Vidal Nuno (No vs. BOS) vs. RHP Brandon Workman (vs. NYY)
Workman, 25, moved back into the rotation after starting the season in the bullpen. He has a 2.88 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 34.1 innings spread across five starts and three relief appearances after a stint in Triple-A. Workman has kept the ball in the park (0.52 HR/9 and 5.9 HR/FB%), but otherwise his strikeout (7.34 K/9 and 20.4 K%), walk (3.15 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%), and ground ball rates (41.5%) are no better than okay. Lefties (.258 wOBA) have had slightly more success than righties (.239 wOBA) in small samples. Workman sits right around 90 mph with his four-seam fastball and a tick below that with his cutter. His two secondary pitchers are a big overhand curveball in the upper-70s and a mid-80s changeup. The Yankees did not see Workman in their previous two series with Boston.
Saturday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Jon Lester (vs. NYY)
Believe it or not, the 30-year-old Lester is in the middle of his best season, right in time for free agency this winter. He has thrown 106 innings of 3.14 ERA (2.84 FIP) ball in 16 starts, and his strikeout (9.25 K/9 and 25.0 K%), walk (2.29 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%), and homerun (0.68 HR/9 and 7.3 HR/FB%) numbers are top notch. His ground ball rate (38.9%) is a career low, however. Lester might run into a little rough patch and see that homer rate climb at some point considering his home and divisional ballparks. His platoon split is literally zero — both lefties and righties have a .304 wOBA against him this season. Lester has really scaled back the usage of his mid-80s changeup this year, throwing only a handful per start, so he is essentially a four-pitch guy with three fastballs now: low-90s four-seamers and sinkers, mid-to-upper-80s cutters, and mid-70s curveballs. The southpaw held the Yankees to two runs in 6.2 innings in Yankee Stadium earlier this season.
Sunday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. BOS) vs. RHP John Lackey (vs. NYY)
Somehow Lackey has improved upon his big return to form 2013 season. The 35-year-old has a 3.45 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 107 innings and 16 starts while walking almost no one (1.77 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%) and keeping the ball on the ground (46.1%). His strikeout (7.82 K/9 and 21.1 K%) and homer (0.76 HR/9 and 8.8 HR/FB%) numbers are good but not quite as good as the walk and grounder rates. Lackey doesn’t have much of a platoon split (lefties have a .303 wOBA while righties have a .298 wOBA) and he doesn’t have a changeup. I mean, he does have one, but he only throws it 1.4% of the time. One or two per start, that’s it. Low-90s two and four-seamers, mid-to-upper-80s cutters, and upper-70s curveballs are Lackey’s four main offerings. He has faced the Yankees twice this year and the starts were on opposite ends of the spectrum: six runs in 5.2 innings at Yankee Stadium and eight innings of one-run ball at Fenway Park.
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox were off yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as can be this time of year. Closer RHP Koji Uehara (2.82 FIP) has been very good but not as good as last season. He’s allowed five runs this year, all on solo homers. LHP Andrew Miller (1.45 FIP) has been spectacular, RHP Junichi Tazawa (2.89 FIP) slightly less so.
The rest of the bullpen includes RHP Burke Badenhop (3.10 FIP), LHP Craig Breslow (4.50 FIP), and RHP Edward Mujica (4.73 FIP). RHP Rubby De La Rosa (3.19 FIP) just lost his rotation spot when Clay Buchholz came off the disabled list and is the long man by default. You can check up on the status of the Yankees’ relievers at out Bullpen Workload page. For everything else you need to know about the Red Sox, I recommend Over The Monster.
Seven questions in this week’s mailbag. If you want to send us something, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. We get a lot of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if yours is not answered.
Paul asks: What would happen if Derek Jeter decided he wasn’t retiring?
I think we all know what would happen. The Yankees would re-sign him to a contract similar to this year’s (one-year, $12M plus incentives) and he’d play shortstop everyday next season. I know it, you know it, Jeter knows it, the Yankees know it, everyone knows it. He has the organization wrapped around his finger.
What should happen? The Yankees should walk away if Jeter un-retires because their goal should be to put the best possible team on the field. Not the most marketable team, the team with the best chance to win. It’s hard to see how the Cap’n at shortstop accomplishes that at this point of his career. The upcoming free agent shortstop crop (Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera) is deep and there are better options. It’ll never happen though. Jeter’s going to retire after the season and this is all hypothetical.
Masamyhiro asks: I know it’s ridiculous but what’s the real limitation to NYY signing even more of the international free agents this year? Is it purely financial, do certain players prefer other teams, or do the Yanks simply believe that some of them won’t translate well to MLB? Following up on that, is there heavy recruiting in international free agency a la Masahiro Tanaka this past offseason, or do the kids simply follow the money?
It’s a combination of everything, really. Every team views these players differently and not all think they’re worth the money. The Latin American market is very secretive — teams find players when they are like, 13-14 years old, hide them at their academies and keep them out of sight from the other scouts. It happens all the time. You can’t spend money on talent you don’t get a chance to properly evaluate it. I suppose that’s similar to a Tanaka-esque recruiting pitch — many times these players will agree to sign years in advance, occasionally with under-the-table payouts up front. Remember, a lot of these kids live in poverty, and signing to play baseball is the best way to help their families. They jump on whatever money they can get.
Preston asks: What do you think of Dexter Fowler as a trade target? He would slot nicely into the 2 hole between Gardner and Ellsbury and would be signed through 2016.
That would be three no-to-low power outfielders for a team already short on power. I’m not sure it fits. Fowler is a switch-hitter who consistently gets on base (.377 OBP this year and .380 OBP from 2012-14) and is a 15-20 steal, 10-15 homer guy at his best. The defensive stats hate him in center and he has one inning in right field in his career. Giving up some prospects to get him for right seems like a poor fit for both the offense and defense to me. The on-base ability to awesome, but the current roster is begging for another power hitter, not another speedy leadoff type.
CS Yankee asks: Good to see that Ty is finally pitching again. How did Ian Clarkin and Ty Hensley compare when they were drafted? Who had the higher scouting grades, BP rankings, and how did you (Mike) rate them?
In my opinion, Clarkin was the better prospect at the time of their respective drafts. Hensley threw harder and they had similar quality breaking balls, but Clarkin’s changeup was much more advanced. He’s also left-handed, which is a plus. Again, that’s just my opinion. Here is how they were ranked by the various scouting publications in their draft years:
- Clarkin: #18 MLB.com, #17 Baseball America, #43 Keith Law (subs.req’d)
- Hensley: #26 MLB.com, #23 Baseball America, #36 Keith Law (subs. req’d)
Keep in mind that they’re being ranked in different draft classes. The 2013 draft was generally considered to be stronger than the 2012 class, so Clarkin ranking higher than Hensley despite the tougher overall draft class pretty much confirms he was considered the better prospect at the time. That’s fine though, that doesn’t mean Hensley wasn’t a good prospect. He’s obviously been derailed by injuries, but taking him 30th overall was perfectly reasonable.
Sandeep asks: If Bud Black is let go from the Padres, should the Yankees look into finding a role for him? He seems to be one of the smarter baseball managers out there and I believe he’s often received praise on this site. What would his role be?
I like Black as a manager because he always seems to make good strategic moves — maximizing the platoon advantage, putting his players in good positions to succeed, etc. — whenever I watch the Padres. I have no idea what he’s like managing people in the clubhouse, though I doubt he would have remained on the job for 7+ years if players didn’t like him.
The Padres are terrible and they just fired GM Josh Byrnes, and there are rumblings even more moves will be made as the new ownership group cleans house and brings in their own people. Black is a pitching guy who played 15 years in the big leagues and was the Angels pitching coach under Mike Scioscia from 2000-06. Unless the Yankees were to fire Larry Rothschild (I don’t see that happening at all), I’m not sure where he’d fit in. Minor league pitching guru? Would he be open to doing that after being on a big league coaching staff for a decade and a half? I like Black based on what I’ve seen but I’m not sure there’s a role for him with the Yankees.
Pounder asks: With defensive shifts becoming more and more engrained, how will this affect the game in the long run? Will the “science” of hitting start to be taught among the lower levels of the sport, including Little League, high school and college? Could these shifts de-emphasize the power game as well, making Punch and Judy hitters more prevalent?
I’m pretty sure the art of hitting to all fields is taught at every level already, especially in the minors and in college. It’s up to the players to do it though, the coaching staff can only do so much. Some players refuse or are flat out unable to adjust — it drives me nuts whenever Michael Kay talks about a player refusing to go against the shift and act likes it’s a piece of cake. If it were take easy to hit the baseball exactly where you want, everyone would hit about .500 — or are simply at their best when they pull the ball. Brian McCann already has eleven opposite field hits this season after getting between 10-15 every year from 2009-13. He’s hitting against the shift more often, but is it doing him any good? At some point don’t you have to consider letting him go back to being himself?
Anyway, eventually hitters will adjust to the shift just like they adjusted to curveballs and sliders way back in the day. There will still be players who can’t beat the shift just like there are players who struggle against breaking balls. The game evolves and those players either adapt or get run out of the league. If anything this should make power hitters more valuable. If baseball is going to devolve into a league of singles hitters, the guys who can put runs on the board with one swing will be even more important. That’s just my opinion as a fan of the long ball. Trying to consistently score runs with extended rallies in an age of infield shifts and advanced scouting reports and specialized relievers strikes me as a fool’s errand.
Brian asks: Have we seen anything from the 6th, 7th and/or the 8th starters to indicate that the Yankees may have a long term answer amongst them?
Vidal Nuno (12), David Phelps (ten), and Chase Whitley (eight) have only combined to make 30 starts so far, so we haven’t seen a ton of them yet. (We have seen plenty of Phelps the last two years, obviously.) At this point, I think it’s fair to say Phelps has the best chance of being a starter long-term while Nuno has the smallest chance. He is left-handed though, a niche in the bullpen always awaits. I’m not quite sure what to think of Whitley yet, but I feel better about his ability to pitch in the big leagues in some capacity than I did three months ago. The one thing I know for certain is that I hope the Yankees never need all three of these guys in the rotation at the same time again in the future.
Guest: Tim Kurkjian of ESPN. He’ll be covering the Yankees-Red Sox game on Friday, and then the Yankees-Rays on Monday. We talk about how those rivalries have changed over the last few years. There’s also plenty of trade deadline talk.
Before that Mike and I talk for quite a while about the state of the team — it turns out you can talk for a while when you miss a week and change.
iTunes link: here
Remember to email in your questions before Friday’s show (recorded Thursday night), podcast at riveraveblues.com.
You can also give us a call us at 716-393-5330 and leave a voicemail. We’ll play it on air and answer it. It’ll feel more radio-like that way.
In case you missed it earlier, Chad Jennings posted a ton of injury updates today. He spoke to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman about a bunch of other stuff as well, and you can read it in this post and this post. In other news, RHP Jordan Foley, 1B Connor Spencer, and RHP Joe Harvey were added to the Short Season Staten Island roster, the club announced. They were the Yankees’ fifth, eighth, and 19th round picks a few weeks ago.
Triple-A Scranton Game One (7-4 win over Syracuse in seven innings) makeup of the April 4th rainout
- LF Jose Pirela: 2-4
- C John Ryan Murphy: 0-4, 1 R, 1 K, 1 PB
- RF Zoilo Almonte: 2-4, 2 R
- 3B Zelous Wheeler: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — 11-for-34 (.324) in his last ten games
- DH Kyle Roller: 2-3, 1 R, 1 BB
- 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB — got picked off first
- SS Dean Anna: 0-2, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
- CF Taylor Dugas: 1-3, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 K – I wonder if another team likes him enough that he can be a third or fourth piece in a trade before the deadline
- RHP Alfredo Aceves: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1 HB, 3/3 GB/FB — 54 of 75 pitches were strikes (72%)
- RHP Danny Burawa: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 18 of 27 pitches were strikes (67%)
- RHP Matt Daley: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 18 of 26 pitches were strikes (69%) … 29/5 K/BB in 20 innings at this level
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.