Guest Post: The bullpen has the potential to be special, but will it be better than last year’s?

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, whose work can be found at Double G Sports, among other places. He’s previously written guest posts on Chris Capuano and Ike Davis.

The new closer. (Presswire)
The new closer. (Presswire)

The Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman to go with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, giving New York all three of the relievers who struck out at least 100 batters in 2015 and arguably the strongest 1-2-3-relief punch since the 1990 Cincinnati Reds “Nasty Boys” trio of Norm Charlton, Randy Myers and Rob Dibble.

Last year, the troika of Chapman, Miller and Betances threw 212 innings, with 347 strikeouts and a 1.66 ERA. They ranked 1-2-3 in strikeouts per nine innings among all major-league relievers, all finishing in the top-7 for lowest opponents’ batting average, and there is no doubt that Chapman has brought a lot of attention toward the Yankee bullpen.

By talent and what you hear on sports-talk radio, the 2016 Yankees bullpen should be one of the best ever and better than the 2015 Yankees bullpen. But on performance, it’ll be hard for this coming year’s group to improve on the group that was. In fact, the Yankees last season were 66-3 when leading through 6, 73-2 when leading through 7, and 81-0 when leading after 8. Joe Girardi’s bullpen was tied for second in all of baseball with 5.3 fWAR. Additionally, by WPA (Win Probability Added), the Yankees bullpen ranked third, at +8.5.

The loss of Adam Warren and Justin Wilson, who combined for 96 1/3 quality relief innings and were worth 3.7 WAR last season, should not be underestimated and one could argue that the addition of Chapman is not as huge as it could have been, with Warren departing for Chicago and Wilson being shipped off to the Tigers.

Moving Warren hurt somewhat, but made sense because of the return. The North Carolina graduate made 17 starts last year and appeared in 26 other games out of the bullpen. He had a 3.29 ERA, the lowest of any pitcher on the team with over 100 innings. Despite yo-yoing between the bullpen and starting rotation, Warren posted an impressive 2.29 ERA and 4.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in relief.

While trading Warren for Starlin Castro was necessary to plug a hole at second base, moving Wilson to the Tigers for two mediocre Triple-A starters – Luis Cessa and Chad Green – seemed questionable. Certainly the two youngsters are under team control for a combined 12 seasons, but Wilson was also a key cog in the 2015 bullpen, posting a 2.69 FIP in 61 innings. He went 5-0 with a 3.10 ERA and 66 strikeouts. He was also able to get both lefties and righties out.

It’s also important to note that Chapman is essentially replacing Wilson. Both are hard throwing lefties with excellent strikeout numbers and the difference between their performances may not be as big as many might think. Wilson finished with a WPA of 2.58, while Chapman finished with a WPA of 2.59. While Chapman was worth 2.5 fWAR last year, Wilson wasn’t far off at 1.5 fWAR. Their Steamer projections also predict a similar one WAR split next season.

On Friday, Chapman and the Yankees avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to a one-year contract worth $11,325,000 — or more than seven times what Wilson will make (with two fewer years of control). Chapman is an upgrade, no question, but by losing the Warren and Wilson, the Yankees will be putting a lot more stress on the top of that pen. And that stress could shift entirely to Betances, Miller, and Chapman. With the two 28-year-olds gone, the question becomes who are now the Yankees’ middle relievers?

Of the organizational products, right-hander Bryan Mitchell and left-hander James Pazos likely will get the best looks. The 23-year old Mitchell can start or come out of the bullpen. Pazos, who appeared in 11 big league games and didn’t allow a run in five innings after Hal Steinbrenner included him in the list of untouchables before the July 31 trade deadline, appears to have a good shot of breaking camp with the big club.

Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren are also left-handers like Wilson. Despite a solid rookie season where Shreve posted a 3.09 ERA, advanced stats suggest that he is good candidate for a sophomore slump and he imploded during the final month of the season. Lindgren, the team’s second-round selection in 2014, has only thrown seven big league innings and underwent elbow surgery last June.

Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody and Branden Pinder, who all made cameos last season figure to be in the mix. Youngster Johnny Barbato, who was acquired from the Padres for Shawn Kelley, was put on the 40-man roster and perhaps he will get a shot to make the team. It wouldn’t even be shocking to see Kirby Yates, Vinnie Pestano or Anthony Swarzak soak up innings at some point.

Brian Cashman can take a plunge into free agency with a couple of interesting right-handed relievers available. Ground ball specialist Burke Badenhop is still unemployed as March approaches. Veterans Casey Janssen and Ross Ohlendorf can be had. They can extend a minor league contract to Long Island native Joe Nathan, who turned 41 over the winter and underwent Tommy John last April. They can even take a flier on former Met Vic Black, who has battled injuries and control issues.

The Yankees have gotten used to strong bullpens, with Girardi proving himself as a bullpen whisperer. In fact, according to how they’ve actually performed, the Yankees haven’t had a below-average bullpen in two decades. This year should obviously be no different and in the best-case scenario for New York, Betances and Miller lead a bridge to Chapman, turning games into a season-long six-inning affair.

The three-headed bullpen monster creates the potential for an all-time bullpen trio, but it’s no guarantee that this unit will be much better than last years.

Warren and Wilson trades mean Yankees are now short on options for important innings

Will Mitchell be the new Warren? (David Banks/Getty)
Will Mitchell be the new Warren? (David Banks/Getty)

Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees traded away both Adam Warren and Justin Wilson on back-to-back days last week. I say somewhat surprisingly because although Warren and Wilson never felt untouchable, at least not to me, it didn’t seem like they would be moved given their effectiveness and years of cheap control. Both were valuable members of the staff in 2015.

The Yankees did trade both though, and regardless of how you feel about the trades, you don’t have to try too hard to understand them. Warren was traded for 25-year-old middle infielder who has already gone to three All-Star Games and is signed affordably for another four years. Wilson was dealt for two Triple-A starting pitcher prospects to rebuild depth.

I understand the trades, though that doesn’t change the fact the Yankees traded away two pretty good pitchers who were expected to throw important innings next season. There was always a chance Warren could have ended up in the rotation, but, at the very least, he and Wilson were two of the team’s four best relievers. They’d be two of the three best on many teams.

“You lost two really important pieces,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch. “Wilson did a tremendous job in the seventh inning and Adam went between starter and bullpen, and was the guy that we could turn to in the bullpen and either be a seventh, eighth, or ninth if we didn’t have that guy … Obviously I’m going to miss Adam. There’s a relationship there. But to get something good we had to give up something good.”

Soon after the trades, Nick Ashbourne pointed out Warren and Wilson combined to be Francisco Liriano this past season, and that kind of production is not easy to replace. Are the Yankees good at building bullpens? Oh yes, absolutely. They’ve been very good at it in recent years. I’m pretty confident they can adequately replace Warren and Wilson. I’m just really curious to see how they do it.

Internal options are plentiful and lately Plan A has been trying to find help from within. To me, the trades represent big opportunities for Bryan Mitchell and Jacob Lindgren. Mitchell will have a chance to step right into that swingman role Warren filled so capably. Lindgren is the obvious candidate to replace Wilson as the lefty setup guy who can throw full innings. The Warren and Wilson trades can be viewed as votes of confidence for Mitchell and Lindgren.

At the same time, it is only December 15th, so the Yankees still have several weeks to look outside the organization for help, and I’m sure they will. At this time last year I don’t think any Yankees fans even knew Chasen Shreve existed. I know I didn’t. The Yankees picked him up in early-January and he had five really good months in pinstripes. I would honestly be stunned if they don’t bring in some sort of big league pitching help between now and Spring Training.

Will that soon-to-be-acquired pitching depth plus internal options like Mitchell, Lindgren, and all the other relievers on the 40-man roster adequately replace Warren and Wilson? Maybe! Who knows though. Heck, 2016 Warren and Wilson might not replace 2015 Warren and Wilson. Relievers are notoriously unpredictable. The Yankees believe they can replace those two though. The trades wouldn’t have been made otherwise.

Losing Warren and Wilson is pretty scary, especially since none of the shuttle relievers impressed this summer and no one in the rotation seems capable of going 6+ innings consistently. I’d be lying if I said I was comfortable with the bullpen as is, even with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller holding down the late innings. Lots of games are lost in the middle innings. We’re not going to know whether the Yankees adequately replaced Warren and Wilson until the season starts, but, right now, it’s clear there’s work that needs to be done to replace two high-leverage arms.

“Are those guys in place yet? No,” said Girardi when asked about replacing Warren and Wilson, “but I think they will be by the time we start the season.”

Yankees swap Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan for Starlin Castro


For the second time this offseason and the fifth time in the last 13 months, the Yankees have brought in a change-of-scenery player to add youth to the roster. New York acquired Starlin Castro from the Cubs on Tuesday night, sending Adam Warren and a player to be named later to Chicago. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s official. Officially official.

Castro, 25, joins Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, Dustin Ackley, and Aaron Hicks as young players the Yankees have acquired in trades since last November. All five are talented — they’ve all appeared on at least one Baseball America top 100 prospects list, for what it’s worth — and all five fell out of favor with their former teams. The Yankees swooped in and picked them up as part of their on-the-fly rebuild.

This past season Castro hit .265/.296/.375 (80 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 578 plate appearances. He started the season as Chicago’s shortstop and stayed there for 109 games before being moved to second base. Castro hit .353/.373/.588 (161 wRC+) with six home runs in 42 games after changing positions. Obviously the Yankees are hoping to get that guy going forward.

“He looked like a different player after the position change,” said Brian Cashman to reporters Tuesday evening, after the trade was announced. “I like that he’s athletic. I like his age. (I like that he) can play multiple positions and adds balance to lineup. He’s a contact-oriented player. He’s a free swinger, but a contact (freak) … (Castro) checks a lot of boxes — youth, flexibility.”

The various defensive stats consistently rated Castro as a below-average defender at short. He only played 258 innings at second base, so looking at numbers would be useless at this point. I reckon his second base defense can’t be any worse than what the Yankees were looking at from the Ackley/Rob Refsnyder platoon. Castro is signed through 2019 for $41.4M with a 2020 club option worth $16M. That’s pretty affordable by today’s standards.

Castro’s a former tippy top prospect with big upside, so the appeal is obvious. There’s also major downside too: he’s been one of the worst players in baseball two of the last three years by WAR. His good years have been good but not great (117 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR in 2014) and his down years have been abysmal (74 wRC+ and 0.1 fWAR in 2013). Special assistant Jim Hendry was the Cubs GM when they signed, developed, and summoned Castro to MLB, so he surely had input into this move.

In Warren, the Yankees are giving up a valuable and a versatile arm capable of doing pretty much anything. Start, long relief, middle relief, setup … Warren’s done it all for the Yankees the last few seasons. The 28-year-old had a 3.29 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 131.1 innings spread across 17 starts and 26 relief appearances in 2015. He was arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and is projected to earn $1.5M in 2015. Warren is three years from free agency.

Although the Yankees were planning to bring Warren to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, he was likely no higher than sixth on their rotation depth chart behind Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, and Eovaldi in whatever order. Still, Warren’s shown he can succeed in pretty much any role, so he was going to have a important place on the roster in 2016. He’ll be missed.

At this time of the year, a player to be named is usually a non-40-man roster player who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. That’s not the case here though. Joel Sherman says Brendan Ryan will be the player to be named. They’re holding off because the Cubs don’t want to fill another 40-man spot before Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Once the draft passes, Ryan will go to Chicago. The Yankees will have two open 40-man spots when it’s all said and done.

Ryan, 33, hit a weak .229/.275/.333 (64 wRC+) in 47 games and 103 plate appearances around a variety of injuries in 2015. He makes his money in the field with his glove, not at the plate. Castro will be the starting second baseman but also figures to double as Gregorius’ backup at short. That would make Ackley and/or Refsnyder the backup plan at second base. We’ll see how that shakes out.

An Ackley/Refsnyder platoon was somewhat intriguing, but I also think it was one of those things that sounds okay in December and leaves you pulling your hair out in May. There’s a lot of risk here. Warren’s going to be tougher to replace than I think many realize, and Castro has been more down than up in recent years. There’s also some crazy high upside. Castro’s a high-level talent and is about to enter what should be his prime years.

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Fernandez. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

As far as the Yankees are concerned, yesterday was the slowest Winter Meetings day I can remember. Very few rumors came out of Nashville and those that did mostly involved stuff we’ve already heard, like Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller being available. It was a boring day, to say the least.

“Clearly, I’m not comfortable with recommending anything that’s come my way, despite a lot of dialogue, and my opponents are not comfortable with the things I’m suggesting at this time,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. With a reportedly tight payroll, the Yankees continue to focus on trades, not free agents.

Here are Monday’s rumors if you missed any of the little bit that happened. Once again, we’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this open thread, so make sure you check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:30am: The Yankees are among the teams “digging” on Jose Fernandez, meaning they’re asking around about his health, makeup, and work ethic. The Marlins understandably want five or six young players for their ace. Why ask for anything less? For what it’s worth, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said flatly “He’s not available.” [Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, Clark Spencer]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have interest in Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Miami has liked Bryan Mitchell as a starter and Adam Warren as a reliever in the past, which seems backwards, but whatever. It’s the Marlins. [George King]
  • 10:38am: The Yankees have reached out to free agent catcher Tyler Flowers, who was non-tendered by the White Sox last week. He’s deciding between the Yankees, Rays, and Braves. I wrote about Flowers in last week’s mailbag. He seems like a Yankees type because he rated as an elite pitch-framer in 2015. Flowers is from Georgia and the Braves offer way more playing time potential, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands in Atlanta. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 12:03pm: Five teams, including the Reds, Orioles, and Angels, have their eye on Jake Cave for Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Cave seems like a goner. Whether he sticks on the 25-man roster all year is another matter. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 1:00pm: The Yankees are willing to include Luis Severino in a package for Jose Fernandez. The belief is the Yankees do not have enough to land Fernandez though, even if they include Greg Bird in the deal. [Joe Frisaro]
  • 1:32pm: The Yankees say Luis Severino is not going anywhere. He wasn’t in their offer for Jose Fernandez and there are no ongoing talks. Sounds like the Marlins are trying to get the Yankees to blink and include Severino in the package, more than anything. [Joel Sherman]
  • 5:50pm: The Yankees and Cubs have talked about a trade that would bring Starlin Castro to New York. No word on any other pieces that would be involved. Castro’s young and I guess that means he offers upside, but he’s also been among the worst players in baseball two of the last three years. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 6:08pm: Brett Gardner is not part of the current Starlin Castro talks with the Cubs. The Cubbies don’t want Jacoby Ellsbury either. Chicago is said to be working on all sorts of stuff — they’re after Ben Zobrist, discussing Javier Baez with the Braves and Rays, etc. — so this is part of some master plan for them. [Joel Sherman]
  • 6:14pm: Talks with the Cubs about Starlin Castro are in the early stages. The Yankees tend to keep things very close to the vest, annoyingly so at times (it’s boring!), so chances are this is coming from the Cubs’ side. [Jon Heyman]
  • 6:37pm: The Cubs have “been curious” about Adam Warren, whatever that means. Warren’s not a sexy name but he’s become incredibly valuable to the Yankees. I’m not sure Castro is enough of an upgrade at second base to move him. [Joel Sherman]
  • 7:51pm: The Yankees and Cubs are moving closer to a Starlin Castro trade. The Cubs just agreed to sign Ben Zobrist so it’s only a matter of time until Castro goes. [Buster Olney]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Cashman says Warren is “going to come in as a starter” next season

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

As expected, Brian Cashman confirmed Adam Warren will come to camp next season as a starting pitcher, reports Erik Boland. “(He is) going to come in as a starter. That would be the plan,” said the GM. There is no reason not to bring Warren or Bryan Mitchell or whoever to Spring Training stretched out as a starter next year. No-brainer.

Warren, 28, has come to Spring Training as a starter for a few years now, so this is nothing new. The difference now is Warren actually received an opportunity to start this past season — he was in the Opening Day rotation thanks to Chris Capuano‘s quad injury — and showed he can do it.

In 17 starts this summer, Warren had a 3.66 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 96 innings. That includes his rough April, when he struggled to complete five innings and walked almost as many batters as he struck out. Warren really settled in after that first month and went on a nice run for a few weeks before moving back into the bullpen.

“I want to be a starter,” said Warren to Jack Curry recently. “I really wasn’t sure going into last season whether I wanted to be a starter or a reliever, and obviously I got the opportunity to start and I really fell in love with it. Fell in love with getting to see hitters three or four times and thinking through at-bats and what pitches you want to throw.”

At the moment, I’d say the 2016 rotation will include Masahiro Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, and CC Sabathia in whatever order. That’s assuming everyone is healthy and there’s no big offseason trade, stuff like that. Warren and Ivan Nova are the depth starters.

When it comes to the sixth starter, Warren might be at a disadvantage because he’s shown he can excel in a short relief role. Nova hasn’t pitched in relief a whole lot in his career and has never worked as a true one-inning guy. That might put him ahead of Warren on the rotation depth chart. We’ll see.

“I feel like (starting) suits my game better. I really enjoy doing that,” added Warren. “Getting the opportunity to at least compete as a starter is really something I’m really working hard for this offseason and really focusing on to come in to Spring Training to really impress.”

The Value and Versatility of Adam Warren [2015 Season Review]

AdamWarrenIt’s easy to forget Adam Warren received his first extended big league opportunity because of Phil Hughes. Hughes suffered a minor back injury late in Spring Training two years ago, forcing David Phelps into the rotation. That freed up the long man spot and opened the door for Warren to be on the 2013 Opening Day roster.

Since making that Opening Day roster two years ago, Warren has worn all sorts of hats for the Yankees. He’s been a spot starter, a long man, a middle reliever, a setup man … Warren did a little of everything for the Yankees the last two seasons. And, once again, Warren did a little of everything for the Yankees in 2015. He was one of the most valuable pitchers on the staff.

An Opportunity in Spring

Warren came to Spring Training stretched out as a starter, but, even with Phelps traded to the Marlins, there was no obvious rotation spot available. CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi were locked into the top four spots, and depth signing Chris Capuano had a leg up on the fifth spot after pitching admirably down the stretch last season.

Then, on March 11th, Capuano took a misstep covering first base and suffered a Grade II quad strain. He was going to start the season on the DL, opening a rotation spot for Warren. Well, the Yankees tried to pass it off as a competition between Warren and Esmil Rogers, but c’mon. Warren allowed five runs in 16.2 innings across five Grapefruit League starts. He looked like Adam Warren. Uneventful spring, really.

Reliever or Starter?

Warren opened the season as the fifth starter and the first few times out, he looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter. He struggled after turning the lineup over and he wasn’t efficient at all. Warren threw 31 innings in his first six starts — that’s fewer than five innings plus one out per start — with 13 walks and 16 strikeouts. Only once in those six starts did he have more strikeouts than walks. (Really.)

It’s hard to believe there was a time we were waiting for Capuano to return to Warren could shift back to the bullpen, but it happened. Unfortunately Masahiro Tanaka landed on the DL with a forearm injury, so Capuano took his spot, not Warren’s. That actually worked out well. Warren settled in as a starter in May, allowing three runs in seven innings against the Rays on May 13th. It was his seventh start of the season and the first time he completed six innings of work, nevermind seven.

From that point on, Warren was arguably the most reliable pitcher in the rotation. Tanaka was hurt, Sabathia was struggling, Eovaldi still hadn’t figured out the splitter, Pineda was have a tough time after the 16-strikeout game, and Capuano was Capuano. Warren had a 2.96 ERA (4.10 FIP) in eight starts and 51.2 innings from May 13th through June 25th. His best start came on May 26th against the Royals. He held them to one run on two hits in 6.1 innings.

Through June 25th, Warren owned a 3.59 ERA (4.17 FIP) in 14 starts and 82.2 innings. April was rough, but eventually he settled into a groove and pitched very well for about six weeks there. Considering he was the team’s sixth starter coming into the season, things were working out pretty damn well.

Back to the Bullpen

Tanaka returned from his forearm injury on June 3rd and Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery on June 24th, so suddenly the Yankees had six starters for five spots. (Capuano had been demoted to the bullpen.) The Yankees decided to stick with Nova and send Warren back to the bullpen, where he was so effective from 2013-14. At the time of the demotion, Warren had the lowest ERA among the club’s starters.

“I took it about as well as you can take it,” said Warren to reporters after the demotion. “I was a little frustrated at first because I want to be a starter. They sat down and talked to me about it and I understood where they were coming from, I told them I’m not going to be unhappy out of the bullpen. I enjoyed being out of the bullpen the last couple of years. I’m not upset by any means. For me it’s just getting back to a bullpen routine. You knew the six-man rotation was not going to last, just playing the numbers game I felt this was going to happen sometime.”

Girardi took advantage of Warren being stretched out by asking him to throw 2+ innings in five of his first eleven bullpen appearances. Of course, Warren was also pitching in low-leverage situations more often than not for some reason. At one point from late-June into early-July, he entered six consecutive games in these situations:

sixth inning down four
seventh inning up 14
sixth inning up ten
sixth inning down two
sixth inning down four
seventh inning down two

Not a whole lot of important innings there. The Yankees had a great end-game trio in Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson, but those couldn’t pitch every day, and for some reason Warren wasn’t being used to pick up the slack. I dunno, it was weird.

By time July and August rolled around, Warren had settled back into a true one-inning relief role. He threw 32.2 innings across 25 appearances after being sent back to the bullpen, pitching to a 2.51 ERA (2.76 FIP). Both his strikeout (26.6%) and walk (6.2%) rates were significant better than they had been as a starter earlier in the season (16.0 K% and 7.7 B%). Warren was excellent. That was no surprise though. He was excellent out of the bullpen from 2013-14.

Whatever You Need, Skip

The Yankees ran into some rotation trouble at the end of the season. Eovaldi had to be shut down with elbow inflammation and Tanaka pulled a hamstring, so they had no choice but the use Warren as a starter. He made three starts with a limited pitch count in mid-September, allowing six runs in 13.1 innings.

The bullpen was full of extra arms thanks to expanded rosters, but the Yankees still needed someone to go out and soak up some innings as a starter. Warren again did that. On October 1st, the Yankees needed something else from Warren. The bullpen was taxed and they needed someone to bridge the gap between Sabathia and Betances, the day’s designated closer.

With the Yankees looking to clinch their first postseason berth in two seasons, Warren came out of the bullpen against the Red Sox and held them to one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings. He took the ball from Sabathia and gave it directly to Betances.

The final month of the 2015 season was the Adam Warren Experience in a nutshell. He dominated as a short reliever in early-September, filled in for a few starts in the middle of September, then gave the Yankees a big long relief outing in early-October. Warren is a bullpen jack of all trades. He’s the closest thing the Yankees have had to Ramiro Mendoza since Ramiro Mendoza.

That three-inning outing against the Red Sox was Warren’s final appearance of the 2015 season. He was on the wildcard game roster and was presumably the next man out of the bullpen had the game gone to extra innings. Warren closed out the season with a 3.29 ERA (3.59 FIP) in a career high 131.1 innings across 17 starts and 26 relief appearances. Both bWAR (2.7) and fWAR (2.2) say he was one of the four most valuable Yankees pitchers in 2015.

“Every good club that I’ve been on has seemed to have a guy like Adam Warren that is able to do so many different things for you as a pitcher,” said Girardi at the end of the season. “His value has been as big as any pitcher that we have in that room … He’s invaluable.”

Looking Ahead to 2016

After three seasons of doing whatever the Yankees needed, Warren will finally earn something more than the league minimum in 2016. He’s arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and is projected for a $1.5M salary next year. Barring a surprise trade, Warren will again come to Spring Training as a starter next season. What will be his role during the regular season? A little of everything seems like a safe bet once again.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.