Yankees acquire Aroldis Chapman from Reds in five-player trade

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The best end-game bullpen in baseball just got even better. The Yankees have acquired left-hander Aroldis Chapman from the Reds for four prospects, the team announced. Third baseman Eric Jagielo, righty Rookie Davis, righty Caleb Cotham, and second baseman Tony Renda are going to Cincinnati in the four-for-one swap. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Official.

For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman confirmed the plan is add Chapman to Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to form a Murderer’s Throw (h/t @rileysteele11) bullpen, not trade someone away. “We completed this trade with the intent of having Chapman, Miller, and Betances as a real force in the back-end of the bullpen,” said the GM on a conference call with reporters.

Chapman, 27, is currently being investigated by MLB under the new domestic violence policy due to an incident that occurred in October. Tim Brown and Jeff Passan have the details. Long story short, Chapman’s girlfriend said he choked her and threw her against a wall during an argument. He also fired eight shots in the garage of his Miami home. No arrests were made.

Cashman said the Yankees did their “due diligence” before the trade and noted the Reds had “modified” their “price point” in recent weeks, meaning they lowered their asking price following the incident. The incident caused a deal that would have sent Chapman to the Dodgers to fall apart a few weeks ago. MLB is investigating and there’s a chance Chapman may be suspended.

Chapman is currently scheduled to become a free agent next offseason and a suspension of at least 46 days would delay his free agency another year. The domestic violence policy is new so no precedents have been set yet. We’ll see what happens. MLBTR projects Chapman to earn $12.9M through arbitration next year, so it’s a hefty salary by reliever standards, but it is only a one-year commitment. (For now, anyway.)

On the field, Chapman is the hardest thrower in baseball history and one of the most dominant relievers in the game. He used a fastball that averaged 100.4 mph (!) to post a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings this past season. That 41.7% strikeout rate was actually Chapman’s lowest since his rookie season in 2011. He’s struck out 45.0% of the batters he’s faced the last four seasons. That’s just bonkers.

For all intents and purposes, the trade is Chapman for Jagielo and Davis. Cotham and Renda are basically throw-ins. Cotham was a 27-year-old rookie this past season who was stuck in an organization with more upper level bullpen depth than they know what to do with. Renda, who came over from the Nationals in the David Carpenter trade this summer, is a light-hitting contact guy whose arm relegates him to second base. He went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft a few weeks ago.

Jagielo, 23, was New York’s first round pick in 2013 (26th overall) and is the best prospect in the trade, in my opinion. He hit .284/.347/.495 (141 wRC+) with nine homers in 58 Double-A games this past season before jamming his knee sliding into home plate in June and needing season-ending arthroscopic surgery. The knee and an oblique strain have limited Jagielo to 143 games the last two years.

The 22-year-old Davis broke out with High-A Tampa this past season, pitching to a 3.70 ERA (2.22 FIP) in 97.1 innings before a late-season bump to Double-A Trenton. He was the Yankees’ 14th round pick in 2011. Davis is a huge guy (listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 lbs.) with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball. He made significant strides with his command in 2015 and earned himself a spot on the 40-man roster after the season.

The Yankees traded away Justin Wilson and Adam Warren earlier this offseason and Chapman more than makes up for the loss of Wilson. The team does still need rotation help however, preferably someone they could rely on to soak up innings. Betances, Miller, and Chapman are a hell of a thing, but Joe Girardi doesn’t want to have to use them every single day either.

The Bullpen Shuttle: The Mainstays [2015 Season Review]

Cotham. (Presswire)
Cotham. (Presswire)

Over the last few years the Yankees have gotten pretty good at finding useful arms in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Some become bonafide studs (17th rounder David Robertson), some become solid contributors (14th rounder David Phelps), some become trade chips (15th rounder Shane Greene), and some provide short-term help (17th rounder Preston Claiborne).

Coming into the 2015 season, the Yankees had a bunch of these mid-to-late round arms either at the Triple-A level or ready for it. They had no shortage of interesting relievers in the upper levels of the minors. That’s for sure. So, to take advantage of those arms, the Yankees employed a bullpen shuttle this year, calling up and sending down fresh arms as necessary. The transactions were almost daily. Here are the five relievers who rode that shuttle more than anyone.

Caleb Cotham

A variety of injuries have hampered Cotham throughout his career, limiting him to 315.2 innings from 2010-14 even though he worked as a starter. The team’s fifth round pick in the 2009 draft started the season with Double-A Trenton because there was simply was no room for him at Triple-A. Cotham’s old for a prospect — he turned 28 earlier this month — so other guys were the priority.

After bouncing between Double-A and Triple-A for much of the summer, Cotham finally earned his first MLB call-up on July 29th, taking the place of Chris Capuano after Capuano allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Rangers. Cotham made his big league debut that night and struck out four of seven batters faced in 1.2 innings.

Cotham spent August going back and forth between Triple-A and MLB as part of the shuttle before getting called up for good once rosters expanded in September. He pitched well enough in the final month of the season, allowing three runs in six innings across ten appearances. At one point it appeared Joe Girardi was using Cotham as his No. 4 reliever behind Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson.

Cotham flashed some good stuff during his brief MLB stint — PitchFX says he featured a low-to-mid-90 heater and upper-80s slider — and finished with a 6.52 ERA (6.55 FIP) in 9.2 MLB innings. Blame a four-run, two-homer, two-inning dud against the Twins on August 17th for most of that. Cotham struck out eleven and walked one in his 9.2 innings in pinstripes.

Because he has a lengthy injury history and is the oldest of the shuttle relievers, I think Cotham is in danger of losing his 40-man roster at some point this offseason. But, if he manages to stick around into the 2016 season, he’ll again be an up-and-down arm, helping chew up innings whenever necessary.

Nick Goody

The 24-year-old Goody was New York’s sixth round pick in the 2012 draft. He was expected to be a quick-moving reliever, but his career was put on hold due to Tommy John surgery. He threw three innings in 2013, got hurt, then threw 31.1 innings after returning in 2014.

Goody. (Presswire)
Goody. (Presswire)

The Yankees had Goody start the season with Double-A Trenton this year because that was the appropriate level for him given his experience and rehab and whatnot. And he dominated. Goody had a 1.73 ERA (2.21 FIP) with 59 strikeouts and 14 walks in 41.2 innings for the Thunder before getting bumped up to Triple-A Scranton in early-July.

On July 30th, Goody was called up to the big leagues for the first time, replacing Cotham on the roster. (Like I said, these transactions were almost daily.) He made his MLB debut that night, getting one out, then he pitched again the next day, allowing a run in an inning against the White Sox. One day later, Goody was back in the minors. So it goes.

Goody was called up on two other occasions in August — he threw one inning each time then was sent back down — before coming up when rosters expanded in September. He didn’t pitch a whole lot in the season’s final month. Only 2.1 innings across three appearances. Goody allowed three runs in 5.2 big league innings total in 2015.

After throwing 62.1 innings in the minors (1.59 ERA and 2.06 FIP), it seemed like the Yankees wanted to take it easy on Goody in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery, so he was a just-in-case arm in September. He’s a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy with a history of missing bats (career 35.0 K% in the minors) who figures to get a greater opportunity to help the Yankees in 2016.

Chris Martin

Unlike the other guys in the post, the Yankees did not draft Martin. They acquired him from the Rockies in a cash deal last offseason. He replaced Gonzalez Germen on the roster, who replaced Claiborne. Simply put, the Yankees felt Germen was better than Claiborne, and Martin was better than Germen, so the moves were made. Incremental upgrades are still upgrades.

Martin, 29, is unlike the other guys in this post in another way as well: he was on the Opening Day roster. It became obvious pretty early on the Yankees liked Martin more than we realized. He struggled a bit in Spring Training but still made the team, then was literally the first reliever Girardi used this season. Martin struck out the side in order on Opening Day: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson.

Girardi continued to use Martin regularly the rest of April, even asking him to pick up a save on a night the main relievers were unavailable. He pitched well for the first few weeks as that first reliever outside the Circle of Trust™. Martin wasn’t in the Circle yet, but you can tell he wasn’t far outside either. Opponents hit .167/.222/.214 with 13 strikeouts and two walks in eleven innings against Martin in April.

The first few days of May were rough and Martin eventually landed on the DL with an elbow issue. He returned three weeks later and was immediately optioned to Triple-A Scranton. After four appearances there, he returned to New York, allowed five runs in 3.1 innings across three appearances, then was sent back to Triple-A. He was officially on the bullpen shuttle.

Another elbow injury caused Martin to miss four weeks in July and August — he developed a staph infection from a big bite on his hand and it spread to his elbow — but he got healthy in time to return to the Yankees in September. He allowed three runs on eight hits and three walks in 4.2 innings and six appearances down the stretch. Martin never was the same after that first elbow injury.

All told, Martin had a 5.66 ERA (3.67 FIP) in 24 appearances and 20.2 innings with the Yankees this past season. (He had a 3.18 ERA and 3.02 FIP in 28.1 Triple-A innings as well.) He worked out an agreement with the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan a few weeks ago and asked the Yankees for his release. The (Ham) Fighters sent the Yankees $750,000 for their trouble and Martin signed a two-year, $1.7M contract. Good for him.

Pinder. (Presswire)
Pinder. (Presswire)

Branden Pinder

No shuttle reliever threw more big league innings or was called up more times than Pinder this season. Pinder, 26, was added to the 40-man roster last offseason thanks to Rule 5 Draft eligibility, and he was called up six (!) different times in 2015. He was called up once in April, once in May, once in June, once in July, then twice in August, the second time for good through the end of the season. Gosh.

Pinder was the team’s 16th round pick in 2011 and he made his MLB debut on April 15th, throwing a scoreless inning against the Orioles. He pitched mostly low-leverage mop-up innings — this extra innings loss to the Blue Jays is the notable exception — so, weirdly, his signature moment of the season was a double. Pinder batted for himself in a blowout game against the Braves and doubled into the left-center field gap. Check it out:

Hey, the guy’s a 1.000/1.000/2.000 career hitter. That works out to a 747 wRC+. Not too shabby. Pitchers love to brag about their hitting and I’m sure Pinder wore out the other guys in the bullpen after that double. I know I would.

Anyway, Pinder made 25 appearances and threw 27.2 innings during those six call-ups this summer. He had a 2.93 ERA (4.72 FIP) with 25 strikeouts and 14 walks. PitchFX measured his fastball in the mid-90s and his slider in the mid-80s. The swing-and-miss rate on his slider was a healthy 17.4%.

It’s tough to evaluate Pinder’s performance because he went up and down so many times, but, based on how often he got the call, he appears to be at the front of the shuttle line. He’s still on the 40-man roster, and he is older than most others on the shuttle, though I think his spot is safe this offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a lot more of Pinder next year.

Nick Rumbelow

Rumbelow’s climb up the minor league ladder was much quicker than the other guys in this post. The 24-year-old was the team’s seventh round pick in the 2013 draft, he dominated four levels of the minors in 2014, then started the 2015 season with Triple-A Scranton before getting called up to the show in late-June. Rumbelow allowed a run in two-thirds of an inning against the Phillies in his MLB debut on June 23rd.

Even with that relatively late first promotion, the Yankees managed to call Rumbelow up four different times this past season. Once in June, twice in August, then once again when rosters expanded in September. His most notable inning of the season came on September 15th, when he inherited runners on the corners with one out in a one-run game, then struck out Steven Souza and Evan Longoria to escape the jam.

Unfortunately, Rumbelow served up a two-run home run to Nick Franklin to blow the lead and eventually take his first career loss in the next inning. The Yankees and Girardi were hoping one of the shuttle relievers would emerge as a reliable option in September but it never did happen. Rumbelow got chances — he threw six innings across seven appearances in the final month — but didn’t force the issue.

Rumbelow pitched to a 4.02 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 15.2 big league innings and 17 appearances with the Yankees this summer, striking out 15 and walking five. He also had a 4.27 ERA (2.72 FIP) in 52.2 Triple-A innings. Rumbelow uses a mid-90s fastball to set up his low-80s slurvy breaking ball and surprisingly effective mid-80s changeup. Opponents swung and missed at the change 19.5% of the time. That’s really good.

Like Goody, Rumbelow is quite young and he has a history of missing bats (career 28.9 K% in the minors), so his place on the 40-man roster is pretty safe. I think he has the best chance among the guys in this post to develop into a late-inning reliever who works high-leverage innings. That doesn’t mean he’ll be that guy in 2016, but I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more of Rumbelow next year.

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.

Workout Day Notes: Eovaldi, Capuano, Shreve, Beltran

Today is an off-day around baseball, but both the Yankees and Astros held a workout at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. Needless to say, CC Sabathia checking into rehab was the big story. Everyone in the organization stood behind him, from Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi to his teammates. “We play for CC now,” said Alex Rodriguez.

While Sabathia’s announcement dominated the workout today, there is some other news and notes to pass along. Here’s the important stuff from today’s workout:

The wildcard game rosters do not have to be made official until 10am ET tomorrow. An official announcement should come around that time.

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Pitching Staff

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At some point soon, possibly later today, the Yankees will officially clinch their first postseason berth in three seasons. It’s only a wildcard spot, sure, but a wildcard spot is better than nothing. Both the Royals and Giants went to the World Series after being wildcard teams last year, remember.

The wildcard game is considered its own distinct playoff round, which means it gets its own 25-man roster. It’s not a regular season game, so no expanded rosters with September call-ups, but the Yankees would also be able to change their roster prior to the ALDS, should they advance. They can build a roster specifically for the wildcard game.

There have been 12 wildcard teams since the current system was put in place in 2012, and those 12 teams averaged 9.67 pitchers on the roster. Three teams carried eleven pitchers, three carried ten, five carried nine, and one carried eight. There’s no need to carry all the extra starting pitchers, so teams have taken advantage and expanded their benches.

Whoever starts Game 162 for the Yankees on Sunday won’t be on the wildcard roster. There’s no reason to carry him since they won’t be available for the wildcard game on Tuesday. It also wouldn’t make sense to carry the Game 161 starter since he’d be on two days’ rest in the wildcard game. Right now Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are lined up to start Games 161 and 162, respectively, though that can change.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees love to match up with their relievers, so my guess is they end up carrying ten or eleven pitchers in the wildcard game. I’d be surprised if it was any fewer but I suppose it is possible. Which ten or eleven pitchers should the Yankees carry in the wildcard game? Let’s try to figure it out. Later today we’ll tackle the position player side of things.

The Locks

Might as well start with the easy ones to get them out of the way. Masahiro Tanaka will start the wildcard game — he will return from his hamstring injury tonight and start with “no restrictions” (no pitch count, basically), putting him in line for the wildcard game with an extra day of rest — and we know Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson will be in the bullpen. That’s four of the ten or eleven spots right there. You can be sure Girardi would prefer not to use anyone other than those four in the wildcard game too.

If Tanaka’s hamstring acts up tonight, my guess is the Yankees would rearrange their weekend rotation and go with either Severino or Pineda in the wildcard game. (Likely Severino given Pineda’s dud last night.) CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow night and would be able to start the wildcard game on regular rest, though I’d be surprised if he got the call. Yes, Sabathia has pitched better of late, and he is the team’s highest paid starter, but the Yankees wouldn’t even run him out there against the Blue Jays in a regular season game. In a winner-take-all wildcard game? It would surprise me to see him out there if better options available (i.e. Severino).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Safe Bet

Given their need in middle relief and the fact they have four other starters for the postseason rotation, it makes perfect sense for Adam Warren to be on the wildcard game roster and ready for middle innings work. He is currently stretched out to 80+ pitches and lined up to start Friday, which means he’ll be on three days’ rest for the wildcard game. The Yankees could always cut Friday’s start short — say three innings or 50 pitches, something like that — to make sure Warren is fresh for Tuesday. Unless someone gets hurt and Warren has to remain in the postseason rotation, I expect him to be on the wildcard game roster. He’s too good not be in the bullpen for that game. So five of the ten or eleven pitching spots are claimed.

Whither Shreve?

Considering how well he pitched for most of the season, it’s hard to believe Chasen Shreve‘s postseason roster spot is now in question. He’s been that bad in recent weeks. Girardi has already reduced his high-leverage work, so Shreve’s falling out of favor. Once the Yankees clinch, Girardi and the Yankees absolutely should use Shreve as much as possible these last few regular season games to try to get him sorted out, and those last few outings could easily determine his wildcard roster fate. Right now, given his overall body of work, my guess is he’s on the roster.

The Extra Starters

Tanaka is going to start the wildcard game but it would also make sense to carry an extra starter or two in the bullpen, at the very least to serve as a long relief option in case things get crazy in extra innings. As I said, Sabathia would be on full rest for the wildcard game and could serve as the extra starter. Ivan Nova is another candidate — he started Monday and probably won’t start again during the regular season — but I think it’s more likely Nova starts Saturday or Sunday, leaving Severino or Pineda available for the wildcard game. I have a hard time thinking Nova will be on the wildcard game roster, but I guess it’s possible. Do the Yankees need one or two extra starters? I guess that depends how the rest of the roster shakes out. For now I’m thinking Sabathia and another starter will be in the wildcard game bullpen.

The Rest of the Rest

Assuming Warren, Shreve, and two spare starters are on the wild card roster, the Yankees still have two or three pitching spots to fill to get their staff up to ten or eleven. They have no shortage of candidates, that’s for sure. Andrew Bailey, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Chris Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Martin, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody are all on the active roster at the moment. Those last two or three arms will come from that group.

Process of elimination: Goody is out because he’s barely pitched in September, making only two appearances. He seems to be at the very bottom of the Triple-A reliever depth chart. Martin is basically one rung higher — he’s made five appearances this month and three lasted one out. He’s out too. Mitchell looked pretty sharp in short relief earlier this season but has not been all that effective since taking the line drive to the face. Can’t afford to risk his wildness in a winner-take-all game. He’s out.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

That leaves Bailey, Pazos, Pinder, Rumbelow, Capuano, and Cotham. Bailey is a Proven Veteran™ who Girardi has tried to squeeze into some tight spots of late. Sometimes it’s worked (last Friday against the White Sox), sometimes it hasn’t (last Wednesday in Toronto). Pazos and Capuano are lefties, and I thought it was interesting Capuano was used in a true left-on-left matchup situation Monday night (he struck out both batters). He warmed up again for a similar spot last night, but did not enter the game. Pazos has been okay — lefties are 2-for-7 with a walk against him this month — but not great. The next few days could be telling. If we see Capuano get more lefty specialist work, he’ll probably be the guy.

Out of all the guys on the bullpen shuttle, Pinder has spent the most time on the big league roster this year while both Rumbelow and Cotham seemed to get chances to grab hold of a middle relief spot at various points. Neither really did. Both have shown flashes of being useful. Flashes shouldn’t be enough to get them on the wildcard roster though. Right now, I believe both Bailey and Capuano will make the wildcard roster with the caveat that Capuano could get smacked around in the coming days and lose his spot. In that case I think they’d take Pazos as the emergency lefty specialist.

The mechanics of getting Bailey on the roster are simple. He was in the organization before August 31st, so he’s postseason eligible, but he didn’t get called up until September 1st. That means he has to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have three pitching injury spots to play with: Chase Whitley, Sergio Santos, and Diego Moreno. (The injury replacements have to be pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player. No mixing and matching.) Whitley and Santos had Tommy John surgery while Moreno had bone spurs taken out of his elbow. Bailey replaces one of them. Pazos would get one of the other two spots if he makes the roster.

Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is in the middle of a throwing program but has already been ruled out for the wildcard game. The hope is he can join the bullpen should the Yankees advance to the ALDS. Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Anyway, so after all of that, here’s my ten-man pitching staff guesstimate for the wildcard game:

Righties
Bailey
Betances
Nova (or Severino or Pineda)
Tanaka (starter)
Warren

Lefties
Capuano
Miller
Wilson
Sabathia
Shreve

That might be it right there. The Yankees don’t have to carry an 11th pitcher. Ten is plenty — especially since both Sabathia and Nova/Severino/Pineda would be available for super long relief — and is right in line with the previous 12 wild card teams. If they do carry an 11th reliever, I think it would be a righty just to even things out. So … Cotham? Girardi has used him in some big-ish situations of late. Either way, the 11th pitcher’s role on the wildcard roster would be what, 25th inning guy?

The ten-man pitching staff includes Tanaka (the starter) and two extra starters for long relief purposes, giving Girardi a normal seven-man bullpen. For one individual game, that should be plenty. The pitching game plan is pretty simple too, right? Get at least five innings from Tanaka, then turn it over to Wilson, Betances, and Miller. Warren is the next “trusted” reliever. If Girardi has to start dipping into guys like Capuano or Bailey or Shreve, something’s gone wrong.

Ready or not, Yankees will need their young relievers to get big outs the rest of the way

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

As you know, the Yankees have used their last bullpen spot or two as a revolving door this season, shuttling young relievers in and out as fresh arms were needed. Fifteen different relievers were called up from Triple-A Scranton as part of the shuttle this season, eight of whom were called up and sent down multiple times. Ten of those relievers made their Major League debuts.

On the bright side, that’s a lot of young players getting an opportunity this season. Getting to the big leagues is one heck of an accomplishment. On the other hand, none of those relievers stuck around long enough to make any sort of impression. Branden Pinder leads the group with 26.1 big league innings this year, though that is spread across five separate call-ups. He threw eleven innings in August and no more than 6.1 innings in any other month.

It’s too late in the season now for anyone to get an extended look, but it’s not too late for one or some of these young relievers to make an impact. Despite being 13 pitchers deep, the bullpen is short right now, at least in terms of relievers Joe Girardi actually trusts. Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson are still around, but Adam Warren is in the rotation and Chasen Shreve has hit a wall. The Circle of Trust™ is three men deep right now.

Like it or not, Girardi is going to have use some of these young relievers to get important outs in these final 18 games of the season. He tried to do that last night. Things didn’t go too well:

Yankees Blue Jays

That’s a lot of sketchy relief pitchering. On Monday we saw Girardi use Caleb Cotham in the eighth inning of a one-run game with an insurance run standing on third. James Pazos and Cotham tag-teamed the ninth inning against the top of the Blue Jays lineup Sunday. Nick Rumbelow and Bryan Mitchell have both gotten the call in an important-ish situations at various points.

The Yankees do have some veterans in the bullpen, namely Andrew Bailey and Chris Capuano (and I guess Chris Martin), though neither is really suited for higher leverage work. They have experience, sure, but Bailey’s still coming back from major shoulder surgery and Capuano’s nothing more than a long man. The young kids and their power arms are better options right now, in theory. Experience is great, but present talent wins out.

With the starters failing to go longer than six innings on the regular, Girardi and the Yankees will be forced the bridge the gap with these young guys. They can’t use Wilson and Betances for multiple innings each day, not even this late in the season. Someone, be it Pazos or Pinder or Rumbelow or Bailey, is going to have to step up and get some big outs at some point these last 18 games. The Yankees don’t have any other options.

Warren’s return to the rotation thins out the bullpen even further

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later tonight, Adam Warren will return to the rotation to help the Yankees following Nathan Eovaldi‘s regular season-ending bout of elbow inflammation. He’s only going to throw something like 60-65 pitches because he’s not fully stretched out, though that’s not really a problem because the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers these days. It’ll take two or three starts to get Warren all the way stretched out.

Warren was pitching quite well when the Yankees stuck him in the bullpen earlier this summer and he followed that by pitching well in relief too. He had a 3.59 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 14 starts and a 2.51 ERA (2.77 FIP) in 25 relief appearances. Warren’s been in the league full-time for three seasons now. He’s proven himself as a rock solid Major League caliber pitcher who can fill almost any role. That’s a mighty valuable piece.

That doesn’t make losing Eovaldi any less significant considering how well he pitched the last three months. Warren is a capable fill-in starter, though the Yankees will really feel Eovaldi’s loss in the bullpen. That 13-man bullpen includes only three relievers Joe Girardi actually seems to trust. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are two of the three, of course, and Justin Wilson is the third. Chasen Shreve‘s recent struggles mean he probably won’t see a high-leverage inning anytime soon.

Warren was, essentially, the fourth member of the Circle of the Trust™. His usage has been a little weird at times this season, but when push comes to shove, I’m guessing Girardi wants Warren on the mound ahead of anyone other than Miller, Betances, and Wilson. Nine of Warren’s last 15 appearances have come in games separated by no more than two runs. Girardi started using him in more important situations over the last month or so.

Losing Warren now creates a pretty substantial hole in the bullpen. Miller, Betances, and Wilson can’t pitch every night, leaving Shreve as the fourth option almost by default. That’s not good given the way he’s pitching right now. Girardi used Caleb Cotham to get relatively big outs the last two days — he pitched down one in the eighth with an insurance run at third last night, and he faced Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista in the ninth inning Sunday — so maybe he is being auditioned. Same with James Pazos, who also pitched in the ninth inning Sunday.

The Yankees do have former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey in the bullpen, and while he could be someone who sees more important innings, he hasn’t pitched well since being called up. He’s faced 14 batters with the Yankees and allowed three walks, two singles, and one home run. Opponents have swung and missed five times at his 63 pitches. Yeah, he’s a former All-Star, but Bailey’s last All-Star Game was also Ty Wigginton’s only All-Star Game. It’s been a while.

Bailey is coming back from major shoulder surgery and physically isn’t the guy he was earlier in his career. His shoulder have been compromised to some extent. It’s unrealistic to expect him to return from a torn shoulder capsule and start handling late-inning work again. Girardi could try it, and hey, maybe it’ll work over the final 19 games of the season. Weird stuff happens in small samples. It would be a surprise though. More than likely, youngsters like Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Bryan Mitchell, Cotham, and Pazos will have to step up.

Make no mistake, in these huge games down the stretch, Girardi is going to lean on Miller and Betances more than usual. Same with Wilson to a lesser extent. He’s gone to great lengths this season to rest those guys so they can be as fresh as possible for the stretch run. The late innings are fine. Getting the ball from the starter to Betances and Miller is where things can get hectic, and that’s where Warren will be missed the most.