Game 72: The Return of Ivan Nova

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

For the first time since April 19th of last season, Ivan Nova will be on the mound for the Yankees this afternoon. The real Yankees too. Not the Tampa Yankees or another minor league affiliate. His rehab from Tommy John surgery is complete and today he returns to the rotation. What to expect? Who knows. Nova was unpredictable even before having his elbow rebuilt.

The Yankees are getting Nova back today but, more importantly, they have to avoid being swept by the Phillies. The Phillies! The worst team in baseball. The worst offense in baseball has scored eleven runs in each of the first two games of the series — the Phillies went from averaging 3.10 runs per game to 3.32 runs per game thanks to the Yankees — and today they’re sending ace Cole Hamels to the mound. Good grief. Here is the Phils’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. LF Chris Young
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    RHP Ivan Nova

It’s a gorgeous day in New York. Nice and sunny with temperatures comfortably in the upper-70s/low-80s. Just a perfect afternoon for a ballgame. Today’s series finale will begin 1:05pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and, depending on where you live, MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Teixeira (neck) took batting practice and felt good, so he’s back in the lineup … Andrew Miller (forearm) played catch today for the first time since being shut down. He made 25 throws and everything went well … Brendan Ryan was placed on the 15-day DL with an upper-back strain. One thing after another with that guy.

Roster Move: Jose DePaula was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for Nova, the Yankees announced … Ryan to the DL cleared the 25-man roster spot.

Taking stock of the Yankees’ trade chips leading up to the deadline

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have focused on rental players at the trade deadline while doing their long-term shopping in the offseason. That isn’t always the case — Martin Prado had two and a half years left on his contract at the time of the trade last year — but that definitely seems to be their preference. Hal Steinbrenner already confirmed rentals are the plan this summer as well.

Earlier this week we heard the Yankees have “sworn off” trading their top prospects for rentals, and that’s all well and good, but every team says that this time of year. If the Tigers offer David Price for Luis Severino, are the Yankees really going to say no to that? Probably not. Anyway, the Yankees have some needs heading into the trade deadline as always (righty reliever, second base, etc.), so let’s sort through their trade chips to see who may and may not be dealt this summer.

The Untouchables, Sorta

The Yankees rarely trade players off their big league roster at the trade deadline, and, when they do, it’s usually a Vidal Nuno or Yangervis Solarte type. Not someone who was a key part of the roster. I think Dellin Betances is the team’s best trade chip right now — best as in he’d bring the largest return by himself — but they’re not going to trade him for obvious reasons. Same with Michael Pineda and, yes, even Didi Gregorius.

Among prospects, Severino and Aaron Judge are the closest to untouchable, and I don’t think they should be completely off the table. They’re very good prospects, not elite best in baseball prospects, and the Yankees should at least be willing to listen. (I suspect they are.) Does that mean they should give them away? Of course not. The Yankees would need a difference-maker in return, likely a difference-maker they control beyond this season.

The Outfielders

Alright, now let’s get to the prospects who might actually be traded this summer. We have to start with the outfielders. The Yankees have a ton of them. You could argue too many, though I won’t. Just this season the Yankees have had Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Ramon Flores make their big league debuts. Judge was just promoted to Triple-A Scranton, where the Yankees also have Ben Gamel and Tyler Austin. Jake Cave is with Double-A Trenton.

Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

That’s a lot of outfielders! Obviously some are more valuable than others, especially with Heathcott (quad) and Williams (shoulder) on the DL, but that’s a legitimate surplus the Yankees can use in a trade(s) at the deadline. Judge is the big prize here, though he’s supposedly untouchable. My guess is healthy Williams and Flores have the most trade value out of everyone else because teams could realistically plug them right onto their MLB roster. The Yankees are in position to trade a young outfielder or two while still having enough depth for themselves.

The “Blocked” Prospects

Prospects who don’t necessarily fit into a club’s long-term plans are prime trade bait. Gary Sanchez sure seems likely to be made available this summer assuming he returns from his bruised hand reasonably soon. (He was hit by a foul tip last week.) The Yankees value defense behind the plate very highly. They’ve made that clear. Sanchez, while improving slowly and steadily, isn’t much of a defender at all. The bat is more projection than results — 108 wRC+ in just over 800 Double-A plate appearances from 2013-15 — which isn’t uncommon for a 22-year-old.

Sanchez is still only 22 but he is also in his second minor league option year, meaning he has to stick in MLB or be exposed to waivers come the 2017 season. That’s still a long way away in the grand scheme of things. Long enough for his defense to improve to the Yankees’ high standards? Probably not. It’s not impossible, just unlikely. As with Jesus Montero and Peter O’Brien before him, Sanchez seems very likely to be dealt no matter how promising his bat appears simply because it doesn’t look like he’ll be a good catcher and doesn’t really have another position.

Eric Jagielo is blocked but not really — the Yankees did just sign Chase Headley to a four-year contract, but Jagielo probably won’t stay at third base long-term anyway. He might be headed for left field or, more likely, first base. And, if that is the case, Jagielo’s future impacts Greg Bird, a true first base prospect. Mark Teixeira‘s contract will expire after next season and ideally one of these two will step into to replace him at first. It’s easy to say the Yankees should look into their crystal ball, decide whether Jagielo or Bird will be the first baseman of the future and trade the other, but that’s not realistic. Either way, Jagielo and Bird shouldn’t be off-limits in trade talks.

Stock Down

Coming into the season, I would have said prospects like Ian Clarkin, Domingo German, Ty Hensley, and Luis Torrens fit into the “candidates to be traded” group for different reasons. Maybe even Jacob Lindgren too. They’ve all since suffered significant injuries. German and Hensley both had Tommy John surgery, Torrens had shoulder surgery, and Lindgren had a bone spur taken out of his elbow this week. He might be back in September. German, Hensley, and Torrens are done for the year.

Clarkin has not pitched in an official game this year because of some kind of elbow problem. He was shut down with tendinitis in Spring Training and reportedly pitched in an Extended Spring Training game back in May, but we haven’t heard any updates since, and he hasn’t joined any of the minor league affiliates. (Extended Spring Training ended a few days ago.) It’s hard not to think the worst in a situation like this. Clarkin and these other guys are still eligible to be traded, but injured non-elite prospects usually don’t have much value. The Yankees are better off holding onto them and hoping they rebuild value with a healthy 2016.

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Not As Valuable As You May Think

Like the fans of the other 29 teams, we overvalue the Yankees’ prospects. We’re not unique. Everyone does it. Rob Refsnyder? He’s slightly more valuable than Tony Renda, who New York just acquired for a reliever who had been designated for assignment. An all-hit/no-glove prospect pushing a .750 OPS at Triple-A isn’t bringing back a whole lot. Think Pete O’Brien without the power.

Jorge Mateo? He’s loaded with ability. He’s also 20 and in Low-A, so three years away from MLB, give or take. The further away a player is from MLB, the less trade value he has. Same deal with Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade. These guys absolutely have trade value. Just not as a centerpiece in a significant deal. They’re second or third pieces in a big deal, headliners in a smaller deal.

Miscellaneous depth arms fit here as well. Jose Ramirez, Tyler Webb, Branden Pinder, guys like that. They’re all interesting for different reasons and hey, they might have some MLB value for a few years, but they’re basically throw-ins. And no, lumping two or three good prospects together doesn’t equal one great prospect. Most teams already have prospects like the guys in this section in their farm system. They aren’t game-changers in trade negotiations.

Straight Cash, Homey

The Yankees’ single greatest trade chip is their payroll and their ability to absorb salary. That helped them get Prado at the trade deadline last year, for example. Or Bobby Abreu years ago. Whether Hal Steinbrenner is willing to take on substantial money to facilitate a trade is another matter. I mean, I’d hope so, especially for a rental player who won’t tie down future payroll when the team tries to get under the luxury tax threshold again. The team’s ability to take on big dollars separates them from most other clubs in trade talks. Their financial might is absolutely valuable when talking trades.

* * *

Even if the Yankees do make Severino and Judge off-limits — all indications are they will — I think they have enough mid-range prospects to acquire upgrades at the trade deadline. Not huge ones, we can forget all about Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto is Severino and Judge are off the table, but Sanchez, Jagielo, and the various outfielders will generate some interest. Finding a match will be more difficult than scratching together tradeable prospects, which was an issue for New York for several years in the mid-2000s.

Pitching staff gets roughed up again in 11-6 loss to Phillies

Man why couldn’t it just rain all night? Following an 81-minute rain delay, the lowly Phillies wrecked the Yankees for the second straight day, winning 11-6 on Tuesday night. The Yankees have now allowed 11+ runs in three straight games, all losses.They’ve dropped three straight and eight of their last 13.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Six Runs Should Be Enough
The Yankees scored six runs in 4.1 innings against Sean O’Sullivan and four of them came on solo homers. Brett Gardner, Garrett Jones, Chase Headley, and Alex Rodriguez did the honors. Those were runs two through five. The Yankees scored their first run the ol’ fashioned way — Gardner doubled, Headley moved him to third with a ground ball, and A-Rod sac flied him in. That all happened in the first inning.

The sixth run tied the game — more on how the Phillies scored six runs in a second! — and it was charged to O’Sullivan even though he was sitting in the dugout. Headley and A-Rod hit back-to-back homers in the fifth, then Carlos Beltran ripped an opposite field double to end O’Sullivan’s day. Lefty reliever Elvis Araujo served up the game-tying double to Chris Young. Why they let the lefty pitch to Young with a base open and Didi Gregorius on deck with two outs in the inning, I’ll never understand. But they did and the Yankees took advantage. Six runs! Woo!

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

No Mas
CC Sabathia‘s can’t stay in the rotation anymore. He just can’t. Six runs in 4.2 innings against the worst offense in baseball on Tuesday night, giving him a 5.65 ERA on the season. That’s after a 5.28 ERA last year and a 4.78 ERA the year before. This is year three of this. Ivan Nova returns tomorrow, and unless Nova completely implodes coming off elbow surgery, there is no doubt Sabathia is not one of the five best starters in the organization. None.

Just about all the damage on Tuesday came in the fourth inning, when the Phillies scored five runs thanks to a two-run Cameron Rupp homer and a three-run Maikel Franco homer. Right-handed batters were hitting .327/.367/.558 (.394 wOBA) against Sabathia coming into the game and Philadelphia’s righties went 6-for-11 with two doubles, two homers, two walks, and one strikeout against him on Tuesday. He has nothing to put them away. Chuck and duck.

Barring a shoulder injury, there are two and a half years left on Sabathia’s contract at huge dollars. That’s not going away. The Yankees are stuck with it. Mike Mussina was sent to the bullpen with 5.53 ERA in 2007. A.J. Burnett was run out of town after a 5.20 ERA from 2010-11. Sabathia’s only redeeming quality is his ability to get out lefties, so send him to the bullpen and make him earn his way back to the rotation. But, instead, the Yankees will continue to talk about CC reinventing himself and he’ll be back out there in five days, actively hurting the team.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Blown Chances, Again And Again
The Yankees had more than a few opportunities to take the lead against the crummy part of Philadelphia’s bullpen. They stranded a runner at third base in the fifth, had a runner thrown out at the plate on the contact play (and still stranded runners on the corners!) in the sixth, stranded runners on the corners again in the seventh, and left a man on first in the eighth. One hit in a dozen at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The Phillies were trying to give the game away in the middle innings, the Yankees didn’t capitalize, and Philadelphia made them pay in the ninth. The no-doubles defense (a.k.a. the more singles defense) allowed a leadoff double to Ben Revere — it was a single to right, but Revere’s speedy and Beltran is not, so it was a double — then Dellin Betances plunked Cesar Hernandez and gave up a rocket two-run double to Franco. That dude has destroyed the Yankees the last two games.

Betances hit another batter before giving way to Nick Rumbelow, who walked a batter to load the bases before allowing a three-run triple to to Andres Blanco in his MLB debut. For the second straight night, the worst offensive team in baseball hung eleven runs on the Yankees. The Phillies scored 22 runs in the first two games of this series after scoring 23 runs in their previous eight games. Gross. Really, really gross.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Leftovers
Betances was charged with four earned runs in the top of the ninth after allowing one earned run all season coming into this game, giving him a 1.25 ERA. He looked pretty rusty, which I guess isn’t surprising considering he hadn’t pitched in five days and says he likes regular work to keep his mechanics sharp. At least Chasen Shreve threw another perfect inning. He’s pretty awesome.

The Yankees scored six runs on 13 hits. That’s good! Gardner, Headley, A-Rod, Beltran, and Young each had two hits. (Headley’s homer was the 100th of his career.) The only starter without a hit was Jose Pirela. I mean, six runs is good. The Yankees scored six runs in this game and eight runs in the first game of the series and lost both. Can’t really blame the offense.

And finally, Yankees starters have now allowed at least six runs in three straight games for the first time since July 2008, according to James Smyth. The culprits: Sidney Ponson, Andy Pettitte, and Darrell Rasner.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights, as well as the updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, because they are things that exist. This is series No. 23 for the Yankees and booth combination No. 14 for YES. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Phillies will wrap-up this three-game series on Wednesday afternoon, when Ivan Nova makes his return to the rotation following Tommy John surgery. It’ll be his first big league start since April 19th of last year. His opponent? Cole Hamels. Head over to RAB Tickets if you want to catch the final game of the homestand live and in person.

DotF: Pulaski Yankees open their season with a loss

Some notes and links:

  • OF Tyler Austin has been activated off the Triple-A Scranton DL, reports Chad Jennings. Austin hurt his hip diving for a ball in the outfield a week or two ago. Now he just needs to start hitting (76 wRC+).
  • RHP Jordan Foley will be bumped up from Low-A Charleston to start for Triple-A Scranton tomorrow, according to Donnie Collins. The RailRiders need a spot starter because their rotation is discombobulated thanks to all the recent call-ups. Foley, last year’s fifth rounder, gets the nod.
  • Check out this Josh Leventhal story on Calfee Park, home of the Pulaski Yankees. The park opened in 1935 and needed an upgrade, so team owners David Hagan and Larry Shelor spent $3.2M to give the place a facelift. By the way, the team mascot is Calf-E.

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 win over Louisville)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 0-5, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 HB — in a 7-for-39 (.179) slump
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-3, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 4-4, 2 R, 2 2B — 10-for-20 since coming off the DL
  • RHP Esmil Rogers: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 6/2 GB/FB — 46 of 67 pitches were strikes (69%)
  • RHP Chris Martin: 2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 27 of 46 pitches were strikes (59%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — only 13 of 29 pitches were strikes (45%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 14 of 20 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 71: Maybe Don’t Allow 10+ Runs Again?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees allowed 11 and 12 runs in their last two games, respectively, and not surprisingly both resulted in losses. In fact, they’ve allowed 11, 12, 12, 2, 9, and 11 runs in their last six losses, which is really bad. The last two losses came with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, which is even harder to swallow. Pineda got roughed up by literally the worst offense in baseball.

Tonight the Yankees turn to their former ace CC Sabathia to do something Pineda and Tanaka couldn’t the last two days — pitch a winnable game. They’re averaging over seven runs per game on the homestand. The offense is holding up its end of the bargain. The Phillies are really bad, worst offense in baseball in terms of runs per game (3.21), so everything is set up for Sabathia to have a good start. Now he just needs to actually do it. Here is Philadelphia’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    LHP CC Sabathia

Really gross day in New York today. Hot and sticky, and there are thunderstorms in the forecast tonight. I’m not sure when they will start and stop — the rain was supposed to start this afternoon but that didn’t happen — so it’ll be a surprise. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot yesterday after an MRI showing nothing serious. He could return as soon as tomorrow … nothing new with Jacoby Ellsbury (knee), who is still taking batting practice and running the bases. No word on when he’ll take the next step in his rehab, which I assume involves some game action.

Roster Moves: Stephen Drew has been placed on the paternity list and Ramon Flores was sent to Triple-A, the Yankees announced. Bryan Mitchell was called back up — Drew going on the paternity list allowed the Yankees to bring him back before the ten days were up — as was Jose Pirela. The Yankees have a bunch of games against lefty starters coming up, so Pirela figures to play these next few days.

Start Time Update (6:51pm ET): The start of the game will be delayed, the Yankees announced. It is not raining right now but it is expected to start any minute. No word on a start time. “We will have one once the weather system moving thru the area works its way through,” said the team, according to Dan Barbarisi. First rain delay of the season!

Start Time Update (7:59pm ET): The Yankees say the game will begin at approximately 8:25pm ET. Baseball!

2015 Draft: Yankees sign second rounder LHP Jeff Degano to below slot bonus

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

According to Bob Elliott, the Yankees have signed second round pick LHP Jeff Degano to a $650,000 signing bonus. That is well below the $1,074,400 slot value for the 57th overall pick. We heard Degano was in Tampa two weeks ago, indicating the two sides were close to a deal.

Degano, 22, was at Indiana State from 2013-15 but missed most of 2013 and all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. He returned to the mound this spring and pitched to a 2.36 ERA with a 126/28 K/BB in 99 innings, and he was especially strong down the stretch after shaking off the elbow reconstruction rust. Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently said Degano has “first-round stuff” but fell in the draft because he is almost 23 and because of his injury history.

When healthy, Degano sits 90-93 mph with his fastball and will touch 95 from the left side. His go-to pitch is a hard slurve — not quite a slide, not quite a curve, it’s in between — in the 78-82 mph range. Degano also throws a changeup but it needs work. He has the size (6-foot-4 and 200 lbs.) and stuff to start. I’m guessing Degano will head to Short Season Staten Island sometime soon.

As our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows, the Yankees now have almost $650,000 in draft pool savings to spend. I’m guessing some of that will go to an overslot bonus for first rounder UCLA RHP James Kaprielian and the rest to players taken after the tenth round. New Jersey HS LHP Andrew Miller (34th) seems like a prime overslot candidate.

Slowly and steadily, Gregorius is turning things around at the plate

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

Let’s start with the obvious: the first 70 games of the Didi Gregorius era have not been pretty. He’s hitting a weak .231/.283/.325 (67 wRC+) overall and his defense, while occasionally spectacular, has been enigmatic at times. Decision-making has been an issue too. I think we all knew there would be some growing pains with Didi this season, but not this many.

Thankfully Gregorius has settled down in recent weeks and looks way more comfortable than he did in April, both at the plate and in the field. “I’m settling down a little bit more. Trying to get more comfortable more at-bats, better at-bats, so it’s getting better,” he said to Chad Jennings recently. The bad decisions don’t really happen anymore and his offense is, very slowly and steadily, trending upward.

Gregorius started well — relatively well, anyway — during the last two seasons with the Diamondbacks before fading as the season progressed. This year he’s done the opposite. Started terribly and now gradually heading in the right direction. That’s … something. I mean, the guy still has a 67 wRC+, but at least there is some semblance of improvement:

Didi Gregorius wOBANo one is claiming Gregorius has suddenly become an offensive dynamo. We’re just looking for some silver linings here, and Didi has indeed gotten better at the plate as the season has progressed. Let’s break his season up into three almost equal parts:

AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ BB% K% Soft% Hard% O-Swing% Z-Swing%
Games 1-23 .212/.274/.242 44 6.8% 17.8% 22.2% 9.3% 35.2% 75.2%
Games 24-46 .222/.290/.349 78 5.7% 17.1% 21.2% 23.1% 33.1% 69.2%
Games 47-70 .253/.284/.373 79 4.5% 14.8% 16.9% 29.6% 30.8% 75.2%

The slash line is what counts the most, at the end of the day we’re all judged on results, but the most important numbers going forward here are the K%, Hard%, and O-Swing%. Gregorius has cut down on his strikeout rate while making more hard contact and swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone. His hard contact rate has improved considerably as the season marches on.

A few weeks ago the Yankees had both Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez, two veterans who know a whole lot about what it takes to be a successful big league hitter, work with Gregorius in an effort to get him headed in the right direction at the plate. Beltran specifically said he worked with Didi to use the same approach in batting practice and in the cage as in games. “I am taking BP seriously, trying to get better,’’ said Gregorius to George King.

The league average shortstop is hitting .248/.298/.358 (81 wRC+) this season, so while Didi is still short of even that low bar, he’s getting closer. Gregorius doesn’t figure to hit for much power outside of a few Yankee Stadium home runs now and then and he doesn’t walk either, so his offensive potential is limited. It’s basically batting average plus a little extra on top. That’s okay though. Gregorius with average shortstop offens plus his defense makes him a slightly above-average player for the position in my opinion.

There are two questions going forward. One, will Gregorius ever actually become a league average hitting shortstop? He’s trending the right way now but that’s not guaranteed to continue. The increase in hard contact and decline in strikeouts are encouraging, sure, but that only goes so far. Two, should Gregorius one day become that league average hitting shortstop, is that good enough for the Yankees? The Yankees will always and forever be driven by star power, and a shortstop with an 81 wRC+ and good defense probably doesn’t fit the bill.

I imagine the Yankees are hoping Gregorius develops the way Brandon Crawford has developed for the Giants. Crawford started out as a no-hit/all-glove shortstop earlier in his career but improved at the plate little by little each season as he entered his peak years. He’s gone from a 81 wRC+ to a 92 wRC+ to a 102 wRC+ to a 132 wRC+ during his age 25-28 seasons. Obviously the Yankees would like more immediate impact from Gregorius, but, if he were to develop on a similar timetable as Crawford, I doubt they’d complain.

For now, Didi has been able to shake off his brutal April and show signs of improvement at the plate. Not just signs of improvement, I mean actual, tangible improvement. He’s hitting better now than he did earlier this season. The numbers say so. His strikeout rate is down and his hard contract rate is up. Progress! It’s progress, very slow and steady progress, but progress nonetheless. Hopefully it continues.