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.

Update: CC Sabathia returns home after completing stay at rehab center


November 4th: Sabathia completed his stay at the rehab center last Friday, reports George King. He’s back home with his family in New Jersey. Hooray for that.

October 28th: Got some good news to pass along. According to Jon Heyman, CC Sabathia is expected to check out of his alcohol rehab center either later this week or early next week. Neither the Yankees nor Sabathia have confirmed anything. Sabathia checked into the rehab center on October 4th, so his stay will last roughly four weeks.

Now just because Sabathia is close to completing his stay at the rehab center, it doesn’t mean his alcohol problem is behind him. Not at all. He’ll have to work on his recovery literally the rest of his life, and especially in the next few weeks and months and years. Rehab was just the start and so far everything is going well. That’s good to hear.

The baseball aspect of Sabathia’s rehab is kinda uncomfortable to talk about, but it is something we should discuss. Since he’s leaving rehab relatively soon, it should have no impact on his offseason routine. Most pitchers don’t begin throwing until mid-to-late November or even December anyway. Sabathia has confirmed that is his usual offseason schedule when discussing injuries in recent years.

The first few weeks of the offseason are downtime. This year Sabathia spent them in rehab rather than on vacation. Unless he has to return to rehab at some point — that would be next level bad and not for baseball reasons — there’s no reason to think Sabathia’s offseason routine will be out of whack this winter. He’s still a few weeks from throwing anyway.

The good news is Sabathia is getting healthy and apparently making progress. He’ll have to keeping working at it going forward of course, but it looks like he has a strong support group in place, including the Yankees. As far as baseball is concerned, there’s no reason right now to think Sabathia won’t be ready come Spring Training.

CC Sabathia and the Importance of Life Outside Baseball [2015 Season Review]


Once upon a time, CC Sabathia was a rock in the Yankees rotation. He was the guy who allowed Joe Girardi to sit back and relax every fifth day, because Girardi knew Sabathia would give the team a quality outing. The Sabathia of old was an ace in every way — he soaked up innings and they were all high quality innings. It was great.

The Sabathia of old is now just old Sabathia. All those innings and all those years of his massive frame coming down hard on his right (landing) knee have taken a toll on Sabathia physically. At age 35, things don’t work as well as they once did. Sabathia was ineffective in 2013 and both hurt and ineffective in 2014. What would 2015 bring? No one knew heading into Spring Training.

A Spring Away from the Spotlight

Sabathia’s season ended in mid-May last year due to ongoing knee problems, which eventually required a clean out procedure in mid-July. The surgery was season-ending but it was much better than the alternative: career-threatening microfracture surgery. Sabathia had his knee cleaned out and came to camp healthy and ready to pitch.

The Yankees didn’t necessarily hide Sabathia during Spring Training, but he did most of his prep work away from the spotlight in minor league and simulated games. The team wanted him in a more controlled environment following knee surgery. Sabathia made just three Grapefruit League starts and got hammered: nine runs on 14 hits and three walks in ten innings. He did the rest of his work on the side.

“I don’t give a (expletive!) what stock they put in (my performance),” said Sabathia to reporters at the end of March. “It is what it is. I’ve had Spring Trainings where I’ve given up a lot of runs and went out and had a good season. I’ve had Spring Trainings like last year where I didn’t give up (any) runs and I gave up (six) in the first game (Opening Day against the Astros). So you all can put stock in whatever you want. I’m not really worried about it.”

Sabathia wasn’t worried about his spring performance and that’s good, an athlete needs to be confident, but it didn’t make fans feel any better. He struggled big time from 2013-14 and it would have been nice to see some zeroes in camp. It’s Spring Training, it wouldn’t have meant anything, but geez, seeing him get lit up so soon after knee surgery was not reassuring.

Reliably Unreliable

Once again, the start of the season was a struggle for Sabathia. He allowed five runs (four earned) in 5.2 innings against the Blue Jays in his first start of the year — that was the third game of the season, the Yankees gave Masahiro Tanaka the Opening Day start (and Michael Pineda the second game) after Sabathia started Opening Day every year from 2009-14 — and then allowed four runs in seven innings next time out.

In his third start, Sabathia held the Tigers to two runs in eight innings in a tough complete game loss. It was a game the Yankees should have won, but their offense let them down. That’s baseball sometimes.

Those first three starts were essentially a microcosm of Sabathia’s season. A lot of bad with enough good mixed in to keep you hoping a turn around was coming. Sabathia allowed seven runs in five innings in his next start, and come the end of June, he owned a 5.59 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 16 starts and 95 innings. That’s basically half a season.

The Sabathia we saw from 2013-14 was the Sabathia we were seeing in 2015. His strikeout (20.2%) and walk (4.4%) rates were wonderful, but he was exceptionally homer prone (1.80 HR/9) and not the same caliber of workhorse — Sabathia averaged just under six innings per start in those first 16 starts. From 2009-12, Sabathia failed to complete six innings only 13 times (!) in 129 starts. He did it six times in his first 16 starts of 2015.

Committed, For Better or Worse

The Yankees made is clear they were committed to keeping Sabathia in the rotation in late-June, when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery and Adam Warren was sent back to the bullpen. On merit, Warren had no business being demoted. He was pitching well as a starter — especially at that time too, he was really starting to settle in — and was one of the five best starting pitchers in the organization. He might have been the second or third best at time.

And yet, the Yankees were committed to Sabathia, and obviously his contract has something to do with that. I’m guessing the team wouldn’t have been so hesitant to yank him from the starting rotation if he was owed, say, $10M in 2015 rather than $53M from 2015-16 (and possibly $73M from 2015-17). Sabathia stayed in the rotation, and in his next eight starts, he had a 4.57 ERA (5.30 FIP) in 43.1 innings. That’s … better?

To their credit, the Yankees started to shelter Sabathia in the second half. They rearranged the rotation whenever possible — they did this with off-days and an occasional spot sixth starter — to make sure he avoided the Blue Jays, for example. The Yankees knew Sabathia was a detriment, and while they were not willing to take him out of the rotation, they did the next best thing. They used him sparingly.

The Knee Brace That Fixed Everything, Maybe

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Sabathia during his seven years in pinstripes, it’s that he’s willing to pitch through just about anything. He pitched with knee pain most of 2010 and with a bone spur in his elbow in 2012. Sabathia suffered a Grade II hamstring strain in September 2013 and finished the damn start. For better or worse, Sabathia wanted to be out there.

That’s why, on August 23rd, it was disheartening to see Sabathia remove himself from a start against the Indians. He was struggled big time — he allowed two runs on four hits and four walks in only 2.2 innings — and the pain in his right knee simply became too much. He pulled himself from the start without even attempting a test pitch or lobbying to stay in the game.

Sabathia had his right knee drained multiple times throughout the course of the season, and it seemed like it was working, but the pain was too much to take that Sunday afternoon. The initial reaction was Sabathia’s season was over. That always seems to be the first reaction whenever a pitcher gets hurt. The Yankees sent CC for tests, tests that showed no new damage, just inflammation. He needed rest.

After all of that, Sabathia missed only the minimum 15 days. The Yankees put him on the DL and activated him as soon as possible. He didn’t need any additional surgery or anything like that, just rest. Well, rest and new knee brace. Sabathia had been wearing a sleeve on his knee for much of the season, but, after the injury in August, he switched to a clunkier brace that reduced the bone on bone contact.

For whatever reason, the new knee brace or otherwise, Sabathia was awesome after coming off the DL. Five starts, 29 innings, and only nine runs (seven earned) allowed. He held hitters to a .224/.320/.327 batting line. It wasn’t the old ace version of Sabathia, but it was a heck of a lot better than what the Yankees were getting from him most of the season. He allowed one earned run or less in four of those five starts.

The Yankees were never not going to have Sabathia in their postseason rotation — he probably would have been their fourth starter at best had they qualified for the ALDS, but he was going to be in the rotation, that was clear — but after his September dominance, he belonged in that postseason conversation. Sabathia really stepped up in that final month.

He ended the season with a 4.73 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 29 starts and a team leading 167.1 innings, which obviously isn’t very good despite the great finish. Right-handed batters crushed Sabathia — they hit .303/.362/.500 (.370 wOBA) against him while lefties hit a mere .186/.235/.283 (.231 wOBA). Manny Machado hit .286/.359/.502 (.370 wOBA), for comparison. Righties absolutely destroyed Sabathia.


Bigger than Baseball

It can be easy to forget baseball players are regular people too. Regular people with kids who keep them up at night and bills they hate paying and other problems. Sabathia had a drinking problem, little did we know. A problem severe enough that he decided he needed help at the end of the season.

Sabathia approached Girardi on the final day of the regular season and told him he needed treatment. The Yankees, who were set to play in the wildcard game a few days later, gave their erstwhile ace their unwavering support. This was about Sabathia the person, not the baseball player, and Sabathia is beloved and respected within the organization. He’s a team leader, without question.

How severe was Sabathia’s drinking problem? Severe enough that it even spilled into the clubhouse near the end of the season. From Wally Matthews:

After the Yankees’ game with the Baltimore Orioles was rained out on Friday afternoon, Sabathia was seen by reporters walking unsteadily as he left the Yankees’ clubhouse. The normally affable pitcher also failed to respond to the greetings of reporters who have known him for a long time.

A short time later, an onlooker noticed Sabathia offering a paper cup containing a brown liquid to a teammate who was finishing up a workout, urging the teammate to “take a sip.” The teammate refused, saying he still had some running to do. Sabathia was then ushered out of the building and into a waiting cab by a third teammate.

Yikes. We’ll never know what pushed Sabathia to get treatment — did his wife give him an ultimatum? did he come to the decision on his own? did his teammates push him? — but the important thing is he decided to get treatment. Sabathia was criticized by some for leaving the team right before the start of the postseason, that was inevitable, but this isn’t like getting a tooth pulled. He couldn’t put it off. Addiction ruins lives.

So on Monday, October 5th, the day between Game 162 and the wildcard game, Girardi and Brian Cashman took part in a press conference at Yankee Stadium to discuss Sabathia leaving the team. “I applaud CC for his courage. He is not alone in this,” said Cashman. “What CC’s dealing with is a life issue. It’s bigger than the game we have tomorrow night.”

From a baseball perspective, Sabathia leaving the team had little impact. James Pazos made the wildcard game roster in his place, but pitching wasn’t the issue in the loss to the Astros, so Sabathia being on the roster wouldn’t have made a difference.

From a human being perspective, Sabathia is doing what is best for himself and his family. He’s a father and a husband first, and a baseball player second. I’m sure leaving the team right before the postseason killed him. But baseball is a secondary concern at a time like this.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Sabathia is expected back for Spring Training and will enter the final guaranteed year of his contract. (His 2017 vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, which has been fine so far.) As long as he’s healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t be in the rotation. The Yankees are going to want to see if the new knee brace leads to a sustained improved performance, plus they still owe him a boatload of money, so his leash will be long.

The Stories to Come

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Despite my background as an English teacher, something that I don’t usually care for in sports is the narrative thereof. As someone who deals with and has dealt with novels, short stories, and the like professionally for a while now, you’d think I’d dig stories and how they unfold over a long period of time, but as any of my students of recent vintage could tell you, plots are far less engaging and important than characters are. Still, they’re unavoidable and, without them, the other stuff can’t, won’t, and doesn’t happen. With the season (unfortunately) over for the Yankees, there won’t be the “characters” and their actions–their play on the field–to distract us from the storylines that will emerge over the next few baseball-less months. These, like all things baseball, will lead to copious (if not repetitive) arguments amongst fans, so let’s try to preview what they’ll be to better prepare ourselves.

The general flow of offseason narratives is obviously dictated by when your team is eliminated from the playoffs, and with that time upon the Yankees, we’ve already seen the first part of the narrative cycle. Joe Girardi had his end-of-season conference and discussed many things, among them, possible changes for next year. Given that the Yankees–or any team for that matter–can’t really get into actual changes with the playoffs still on-going, we have to speculate about what changes will come internally before any roster changes are made. That story starts with the departure of Billy Eppler, long-time Yankee assistant GM, who’ll be taking over GM duties for the Angels. Will he take any staffers with him? Will he try to trade for some pet-players in the farm system? How will this affect the Yankees’ general approach to free-agency? More broadly to that last point, who will or won’t the Yankees sign in the offseason?

The team we saw in 2015 was flawed, but good enough up until the last two months of the season. There is room for improvement, but where will the Yankees find that room? Second base is probably the only spot where an offseason upgrade can occur, given the blockages at just about every other position on the field. Will they roll with a Dustin Ackley/Rob Refsnyder platoon until one of them forces the other out? Will they make a run at Ben Zobrist since he won’t have draft pick compensation attached to him since he was traded mid-season? We know Brian Cashman tried to acquire Zobrist from the A’s before the A’s got him, but Cash didn’t like the cost. The outfield could use some improvement–as the second halves of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury could tell you–but where is that upgrade coming from? Both Gardner and Ellsbury are locked into contracts, and I’m not sure either is very tradeable right now. Ellsbury certainly isn’t because of his salary and the remaining years on his contract. And though Brett Gardner’s contract is reasonable, a team would really have to love him to make a trade for him. Gardner’s a good player, don’t get me wrong, but he’s probably more valuable to the Yankees now than whatever piece they’d get back in the present (this is mitigated if the Yankees sign a big OF like Justin Upton or Jayson Heyward and flip Gardner for pennies on the dollar).

Of course, there’s also the rotation. David Price is obviously the big target and in prior years, I don’t think there’d be any doubt about the Yankees blowing him out of the water with an offer. However, it’s very possible (even likely?) that the Yankees will view a Price contract as the second-coming of the CC Sabathia contract. Will they try for Jordan Zimmerman as a less flashy option? Will they try for Jeff Samardzija on a pillow contract? This will all go down between November and February before we get into the next phase of narratives: the Spring Training phase.

Who will be invited to Spring Training, both on the veteran side and on the prospect side? Are we going to get another Raul Ibanez or Marcus Thames? Who’s going to headline the new crop of prospects we all dream about? And once all that’s done, the “provisional” roster set, we’ll get to argue about Spring Training battles. This will depend on whom the Yankees sign, but the two biggest ones on the horizon are the aforementioned Ackely/Refsnyder and the rotation, particularly what will happen if Ivan Nova is tendered a contract, how the team plans on using Adam Warren, and what happens with (a hopefully healthy and recovering) CC Sabathia.

While we’re all staring out the window waiting for spring, we’ll definitely have plenty to talk about. What forms do you think the Yankee narratives will take? Who’ll be in or out? What will surprise us most? What will be so obvious we should’ve seen it coming?

Joe Girardi’s End-of-Season Press Conference: Ellsbury, Gardner, Rotation, Refsnyder, More

Earlier this morning at Yankee Stadium, Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season State of the Yankees press conference. There was no major news announced — no coaches were fired, no players are having offseason surgery, nothing like that — which is a good thing, I suppose. Girardi instead reflected back on this season and looked ahead to next season.

The press conference was shown live on YES and you can watch the entire thing in the two videos above. Here are the highlights with some of my thoughts as well.

The Second Half Slump

  • On players getting worn down this year: “When I look at our club, we struggled down the stretch, to me more offensively than anything that we did. You can look at things a couple different ways. You could say ‘were they tired?’ I don’t know. Everyone during the season is going to get physically worn down … We do have a lot of players that are considered to be the prime age, we have some older players in Alex and Carlos.”
  • On possibly playing the veterans too much: “With the info in front of me and being prepared and having discussions with my coaches, we’re not so sure that it would have worked any better (had we done it differently). I did the best I could, is the bottom line.”
  • On having a different plan next year: “You always try to put a reason on certain things. Try to understand it, how you can learn from that, do you try to do something different next year? In these situations, it’s something I’ll think long and hard about this winter … For whatever reason some guys struggled in the second half, the last month, whatever it is.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s second half slump: “I’ll evaluate what I did with Brian McCann this year and see could you do it a little different next year to keep him physically strong.”

More than anything, Girardi seemed to indicate he believes his plan to rest players this season was correct given the information, but it didn’t work as hoped. He really seemed to emphasize reviewing what happened this year and coming up with a way to avoid the second half slump again, either through more rest or something else.

Girardi didn’t simply brush off the second half offensive slump as just “one of those things.” He acknowledged it as a real problem and made it clear he believes it can be corrected. He also said he needs to make sure the players buy into whatever plan they come up with going forward. How do they fix it next year? I have no idea. I came away with the impression that Girardi and Yankees will spent a lot of time this winter trying to come up with a way to keep their veterans productive all season in 2016.

Bullpen Struggles

  • On Dellin Betances in September: “I think he became a little human, that’s all. It’s not like he had a 4.00 ERA in those months. He still pitched pretty well … He had a human month. We’ve seen other great relievers have a human month.”
  • On overworking his key relievers: “As far as using them more than I would have liked, no. I paid attention to Dellin’s (workload) numbers in Triple-A, last year, and this year … Miller had a couple weeks off during the season. Wilson’s workload was not as much as Dellin’s.”
  • On Chasen Shreve‘s rough finish: “I think Shreve has a chance to be better because of the struggles he went through and (he) learned a lot about himself. For the first couple of months he was really good and a huge part of his bullpen. We have to figure out what happened, mechanically. There were probably some things that were a little bit off … I think it has a chance to really help him.”
  • On Adam Warren‘s value: “When Adam went back into our rotation it changed our bullpen dramatically. He made our bullpen deeper … He was as valuable as any pitcher we have because of the opportunities he gave us to win games.”
  • On the young relievers: “I think there’s a number of relievers who came up and got good experience … When you move (Warren) into the rotation, now you’re asking kids to do that. At times we were asking a lot of them. I think the experience they got was extremely valuable. It will help them in the future and give us more options. Did they struggle? Yes they did.”

I thought Betances in particular had a really heavy workload between the sheer volume of innings (84, most among all relievers) and high-leverage work (1.64 Leverage Index when entering games, tenth highest among relievers). He has a long history of struggling to throw strikes, and his late season control issues could easily have been him fighting his mechanics, but I can’t imagine the workload helped. Dellin is crazy valuable and it’s tempting to use him four or five outs at a time, but boy, relievers just don’t work like that anymore.

As for the rest of the bullpen, yes, figuring out what the hell happened with Shreve will be a major item this winter. Shreve was awesome for much of the season, he really stepped up when Andrew Miller got hurt, but his finish was abysmal. They need to get first half Shreve back. I also agree that the young relievers got good experience this season, but I don’t think they can continue shuttling them back and forth again next year. It’s time to give one or two an extended opportunity. You’re not going to learn anything about them when they’re throwing two or three innings between being called up and sent back down every other week.

Ellsbury & Gardner

  • On Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury: “Ellsbury felt good. He physically felt pretty good the second half. He did run into the wall (during the final homestand) and I think it affected his shoulder a bit … Speed guys are going to get beat up as much as anyone.”
  • On Brett Gardner being banged up and slumping in the second half: “I’ll look at how I used him. Some of the months he was so good it was unbelievable (and it was hard to take him out of the lineup) … We tried to get him rest. We try to give these guys rest.”
  • On Gardner’s lack of stolen bases after the first few weeks: “Part of it is he wasn’t on nearly as much, and teams pay attention to him obviously a lot. That’s probably something that needs to be addressed because we need that out of him … He never complained about his legs, but when a guy doesn’t steal as much, maybe he doesn’t feel physically 100%.”
  • On sitting Ellsbury in the wildcard game: “You know what, there’s a lot of hard decisions I have to make during the course of the season. At times I sat Gardner for Chris Young and at times I sat Ellsbury …  I went all through kind of scenarios … It came down to a body of work over the season against left-handers. I did what I thought was the best at the time. Did it work out? No.”
  • On having to possibly mend the fence with Ellsbury: “As far as fence mending, I guess that’s to be determined … Only time will tell. I thought we had a great conversation that day. I thought he had a great attitude that day.”

I was actually kinda surprised Girardi acknowledged Gardner’s lack of stolen bases — he did go 20-for-25 in steal attempts this year, for what it’s worth — as a problem. I figured he’d just brush it off. I’m not a huge stolen base guy, especially early in the game (I’d rather not risk losing the base-runner with the middle of the order due up), but if they can Gardner to be more aggressive next year, great!

The “mending the fence” question with Ellsbury was interesting. That’s an Ellsbury problem as far as I’m concerned, not a Girardi problem. Sitting Ellsbury was the right move in my opinion. Is he really going to hold a grudge after the season he had? If Ellsbury is upset with anyone, he should be upset with himself for putting Girardi in a position where he had to pick between him and Gardner in a winner-take-all game.


  • On CC Sabathia‘s rotation status: “I thought when you look at his last seven or eight starts, once you look at his starts with his knee brace, things got better. He pitched much better. I think right now, you view him as a starter, you see how he physically bounces back again.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and giving him extra rest between starts: “I think that’s another discussion we have to have. We had some physical concerns going into the season and I think we were trying to be proactive in that situation, but I think he answered the bell pretty well … I think he answered (questions about his elbow). I think he showed that was not an issue during the course of the season.”
  • On any offseason surgeries: “As of right now, I don’t think so … As we look at guys, Jake’s knee healed up fine, we didn’t have any issues … there’s nothing scheduled right now.”

Girardi did not address Sabathia’s stint in rehab at all. The answer about whether he is considered part of the rotation next year was purely performance and health (knee) based, and he gave the answer I expected. There’s no reason to think they’ll remove Sabathia from the rotation at this point as long as he’s physically able to take the mound.

The Young Players

  • On who we could see next year: “We feel Aaron Judge is going to make a big impact. We feel Gary Sanchez is going to make a big impact. We feel good about the improvements he made (in 2015) … You’ve got a Brady Lail … To me, when there’s talent, there’s an opportunity they’re going to have an impact for you. When you have players who are extremely talented, they get there before you anticipate, and that’s what happened this year.”
  • On Rob Refsnyder not getting a bigger opportunity: “The one thing as a club you always want to have is depth … If we would have kept Refsnyder — there were still some question marks that had to be answered about him, about playing the position, there were shifts taking place, we wanted to make sure (he was) complete aware of — we probably would have had to release someone and we weren’t ready to do that.”
  • On giving young kids playing time: “You don’t want a young player playing once or twice a week when there’s still development that has to happen. You don’t want to slow that down … John Ryan Murphy did very well. I thought he thrived in that situation.”
  • On trying Refsnyder and Murphy at other positions: “I don’t really see a Refsnyder going back to the outfield. I think we will continue to try to develop him as a second baseman. We believe his bat is going to play … Could you toy around with a Murphy playing a different position? I think you could. I think he’s athletic enough. I’m not opposed to that. I’m not opposed to doing anything if it has value and I think it’ll help us.”

The Yankees had Murphy work out at first base late in the season and he takes ground balls at third base regularly before games — he also played a little bit of third in the minors — and that might be worth exploring in the future. I like (love!) him behind the plate, but a little versatility wouldn’t hurt.

As for Refsnyder, one thing is becoming clear: the Yankees weren’t happy with his defense when he was called up in July, but they felt he improved after going to Triple-A and was more ready in late-September. The outfield is a waste of time to me. Put Refsnyder in the outfield and he’s just another guy. He has to remain at second to have the most value. Do the Yankees feel Refsnyder’s defense is ready for full-time play? That remains to be seen.

Also, it was interesting Girardi mentioned Lail by name. Lail, Judge, and Sanchez were the only prospects to get mentioned by name. Lail had some success in Triple-A this year and figures to be a call-up option next season. That Girardi is mentioning him by name — he mentioned Refsnyder and Severino by name at last year’s end-of-season press conference, for what it’s worth — indicated Lail is in the plans next year.

Improving Next Year

  • On the rotation: “I think you’re going to see improvement from our starting pitchers. Michael Pineda is not a rookie but it’s almost like he had to start over in a sense because this was the first time in a long time he was expected to take the ball every fifth day. Ivan Nova was coming off a major surgery where command was the last thing to come back … From a health standpoint, I feel a lot better about them.”
  • On the Yankees needing an ace: “Looking at Tanaka, I think he’s a top of line rotation pitcher. Is he a one or a two, I don’t know. I think Sevy has a chance to be a top of the rotation guy … We have five starters that give you a chance to win. That’s the most important thing.”
  • On young players taking a step forward: “I think a lot of those questions we had going into Spring Training have been answered. I think we saw improvement out of players over the course of the season, (like) Didi … We’ll have Severino for a full year, Michael has proved he can stay healthy … We have more pitchers we expect back and no more questions … I think there’s more depth in the organization.”
  • On Refsnyder at second base: “He played well. It’s a small sample. I thought he improved during Triple-A during the course of the season. You at him, you look at what’s available (at second base) and you make a decision … That’s something that will have to address this spring.”
  • On possible trades: “I think anything’s always possible. I do. But I’ve always said about trades, trades only work if both teams can agree. I’m sure that will be looked at.”

Not surprisingly, Girardi mostly deferred questions about offseason moves to the front office. That’s not really his place, though after eight years as manager, I assume he has input. It does seem like the Yankees will bank on their young players taking a step forward next year — not just their young players, but others like Nova bouncing back as he gets further away from surgery — and that’s not surprising. The Yankees stuck with their young players this year and it worked, for the most part. Why would they change it up?


  • On standing pat at the trade deadline: “I think when you look at the contributions (the kids) made, I think we made the right move. I know a David Price did extremely well in his 10-12 starts over there … But when I look at Severino’s body of work, I think we’re all pretty pleased. When I look at Bird’s body of work, I think we’re pretty pleased and glad we kept him.”
  • On A-Rod returning to the infield: “I imagine that he’s probably mostly going to be a DH going forward. That’s something that we’ll probably address over the winter … It’s probable he’s mostly a DH.”
  • On continuing to use a sixth starter next year: “Inserting a sixth starter every once in a while is not a bad, but it becomes something of an up and down shuttle … I think that’s something we really have to address too.”
  • On the coaching staff: “We haven’t even talked about that yet. I haven’t even been in the office until today … I haven’t even thought about that.
  • On his wish list for 2016: “It’s pretty plain and simple: win the World Series. Whatever it takes, that’s what my wish list is.”

Between his comments about Tanaka earlier and saying the spot sixth starter is “something we really have to address,” it seems like Girardi wants to get away from being so protective of the starters and turn them loose, at least more than they did this year. If nothing else, they definitely need more innings from the rotation next year. They can’t go through another season asking the bullpen for 10-12 outs a night.

CC Sabathia checks into alcohol rehab center, will not be available for postseason

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

Monday afternoon the Yankees announced CC Sabathia has checked himself into an alcohol rehab center and will not be available this postseason. Here’s the statement Sabathia released:

“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.

“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.

“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.

“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide.  But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.

“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”

It takes an awful lot of courage for Sabathia to come out and admit this publicly. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sabathia could have easily taken an unspecified leave of absence but he admitted his problem. Good for him and his family. There is no wrong time to get help. You know that if someone you love has ever battled addiction.

“It wasn’t a phone call I was expecting,” said Brian Cashman at a press conference this afternoon. “I applaud CC for his courage. He is not alone in this … What CC’s dealing with is a life issue. It’s bigger than the game we have tomorrow night.”

What does this mean for the postseason? I’m not sure. It’s uncomfortable to think about that right now. Sabathia’s problem is much bigger than baseball and I’m glad he’s getting the help he needs.

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Pitching Staff


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).


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.


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:

Nova (or Severino or Pineda)
Tanaka (starter)


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.