Monday Notes: Sabathia, Tanaka, WBC, Otani

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

The 2017 Winter Meetings are in full swing down at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just south of Washington, DC. Here are the day’s Yankees-related rumors and here are some other bits of news and notes.

Sabathia doing well after knee surgery

At a charity event over the weekend, CC Sabathia told Evan Drellich he is doing well following right knee surgery earlier in the offseason. His throwing program is set to begin today. Sabathia had what the Yankees called a “routine clean-up” procedure on his knee after the season, the knee that has given him all that trouble in recent years. The procedure was planned well in advance. It wasn’t a surprise or anything.

Sabathia, 36, is entering the final year of his contract, and he’s probably the second best starter on the team right now. I know if the Yankees were facing a must win game and my choices to start were Sabathia or Michael Pineda, I’d go with Sabathia. Don’t know about you. Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher this summer and had his best season since 2012. I’m hopeful the new approach will allow him to remain effective at least one more year. Given his age and all those innings on his arm though, you never really know.

Tanaka wants to pitch in WBC

Even after pitching in the 2009 and 2013 events, Masahiro Tanaka would like to pitch in the World Baseball Classic next spring, he told the Japan Times. “There’s been no development (in my roster status), but of course I have the motivation (to play),” he said. Tanaka threw 9.1 innings across one start and seven relief appearances in the 2009 and 2013 WBCs. He won the title with Japan in 2009.

Japan nor any other team has released their final 2017 WBC roster. Those aren’t due until January. Interestingly enough, Japan did not take any MLB players in the 2013 WBC. Not even Ichiro. It was all NPB players. It’s unclear if that’s a new policy or just a one-time blip. They did use MLB players in the 2006 and 2009 WBCs. If Tanaka wants to pitch, the Yankees can’t stop him. I don’t like the idea of him throwing intense innings in March any more than you do. Blah. Tanaka is one of several Yankees who could wind up playing in the WBC.

Otani hopes to come to MLB next offseason

According to the Japan Times, Nippon Ham Fighters ace Shohei Otani has told the team he wants to be posted next offseason. He signed a new one-year contract with the (Ham) Fighters over the weekend, ensuring he won’t be posted this winter, but next winter is apparently his target. “I know that the club will respect my will whenever I decide I want to go (to MLB). It is pleasing to get that support and I’m thankful for it,” said Otani.

Otani, who has been working out with Tanaka this offseason, is the best player in the world not under contract with an MLB team. You could argue he’s the best hitter and pitcher not in MLB. Otani will turn 23 in July, meaning he will be subject to the international hard cap put in place by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. My guess is MLB and the MLBPA will agree to make Otani exempt from the hard cap. Either that, or he’s going to come over when his earning potential is severely limited.

The Reinvention of CC Sabathia [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The end of CC Sabathia‘s contract has not been pretty and I’m not sure any of us are surprised. The Yankees went into the contract — and the contract extension following 2011, at that — knowing they were paying for the great years up front and would have to live with the ugly years at the back-end. Sabathia pitched very well from 2009-12 before all the wear and tear began to take their toll.

We’ve spent the last few years hoping. Hoping Sabathia would figure out how to pitch with diminished stuff and hoping he’d regain some effectiveness. He didn’t have to be an ace anymore. But league average would have been nice. Heck, it would have been an upgrade. Sabathia had a 4.81 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 424.1 innings from 2013-15, after all. We came into this season hoping again. This time, those hopes and prayers didn’t go for naught.

The Spring Competition

The Yankees hold competitions in Spring Training every year and most of them are rigged. Some are legitimate, but they’re usually for bench or bullpen spots. Rarely do the Yankees leave a rotation spot or a regular lineup spot up for grabs in camp. That’s why it was a little tough to believe them when they said Sabathia would have to compete for a rotation spot in camp. It was Sabathia vs. Ivan Nova.

Early during Grapefruit League play, Nova thoroughly out-pitched Sabathia. He allowed two runs in his first three spring starts and nine innings. Sabathia allowed ten runs in 7.1 innings in his first three starts. The Yankees insisted it was a true competition, and Nova was in the lead. Then he allowed ten runs in his next two starts and nine innings while Sabathia finished well, and that was that.

Even if this was a true competition, I’m sure the Yankees wanted Sabathia to win. They wanted nothing more than to see Sabathia grab a rotation spot and run with it. They were paying him a ton of money for things he’s done in the past, and they badly hoped he would contribute something this year. Sabathia finished the spring strong while Nova hit a bump in the road, so the veteran southpaw got the job.

“There was a lot of discussion,” said Joe Girardi at the end of camp. “A lot of it came down to CC’s September last year. He’s been there so many times. As I said, the decision that sometimes you make in April is not necessarily what happens in May. And I gotta tell you: it was really hard and it was not a decision that we were trying to prolong or not try to inform the players.”

Re-Emergence of the Ace

The Yankees did indeed slot Sabathia in as their fifth starter to open the regular season, and his first start was … okay. Not great, not terrible. Just okay. He allowed three runs on four hits and four walks in six innings against the Tigers. By fifth starter standards, that was okay. The rest of April was not. Sabathia allowed 12 runs on 25 hits and eleven walks in his first four starts and 21.1 innings. He struck out 15. That’s a 5.06 ERA (4.04 FIP).

The calls to remove Sabathia from the rotation — if not outright release him in the final guaranteed year of his contract — grew louder with each passing start. The problem was Michael Pineda and Luis Severino. They were much worse than Sabathia — Pineda had a 6.33 ERA (5.29 FIP) in April, Severino a 6.86 ERA (3.71 FIP) — so he was, at best (worst?), third in line to be removed from the rotation.

It’s a good thing the Yankees didn’t remove Sabathia from the rotation following his dreadful April, because over the next month and a half, he was an absolute monster. I’m talking six runs allowed (four earned) total in his next seven starts and 44 innings. He allowed zero earned runs in four of those seven starts. Sabathia’s best start came June 10th, when he chucked seven scoreless against the Tigers.

Following the dreadful April, Sabathia was sitting on a 2.20 ERA (3.30 FIP) through eleven starts and 65.1 innings on June 21st. There was All-Star Game talk, Comeback Player of the Year talk, Cy Young talk, all of that stuff. Sabathia emerged as the Yankees’ second best starter in the season’s first three months or so. He wasn’t the CC of old, but he chewed up innings and was very effective. It was awesome. Just awesome.

The Step Back to Reality

The regression monster came for Sabathia in late-June. All that success in May and early June was built around an unsustainably low home run rate. Sabathia had a 0.28 HR/9 (3.1 HR/FB%) in those first eleven starts and 65.1 innings and there was no chance that would last. Not in Yankee Stadium and not with the ball suddenly flying out of the park this year.

Sabathia allowed one home run on June 22nd, one on June 28th, two on July 4th, then nine total from July 9th through August 17th. A picture graph is worth a thousand words:

CC Sabathia home run rateYup. The home runs came and they came in bunches. From June 22nd through August 17th, a two-month stretch of games, Sabathia pitched to a 6.78 ERA (5.33 FIP) in eleven starts and 65 innings. He also allowed 13 home runs, which works out to a 1.80 HR/9 (18.8 HR/FB%). Remember that 2.20 ERA (3.30 FIP) on June 21st? It ballooned to 4.49 ERA (4.31 FIP) by August 17th. That was not fun.

The Strong Finish

Given the last few years, it was easy to think Sabathia’s strong start to the season was basically a low home run rate fluke. He didn’t pitch well at all from 2013-15, and what we saw from late-June through mid-August was more of the same. Those eleven good starts to open 2016 were the outlier. Sabathia had come back to Earth and would limp to the finish line as he had the previous three years.

That didn’t happen though. Sabathia finished the season quite strong. He allowed no more than one earned run in five of his final eight starts and pitched to a 2.37 ERA (4.20 FIP) overall. The ball was still leaving the yard (1.28 HR/9 and 17.1 HR/FB%) but that was going to happen given his home ballpark. The Yankees were fighting for their postseason lives and Sabathia gave them some huge outings, like when he threw seven shutout innings in Toronto on September 25th.

Of course, the Yankees lost that game because the offense never scored, but you can’t blame that on Sabathia. His season can be divided into three parts: eleven good starts, eleven bad starts, then eight good starts. That’s … pretty good? I’ll take what I am arbitrarily classifying as 22 good starts out of 30 total starts from late-career Sabathia any day of the week.

All told, Sabathia finished the 2016 season with a 3.91 ERA (4.28 FIP) in those 30 starts and 179.2 innings. That’s his lowest ERA since 2012 and his lowest FIP since 2013. He did it with an average strikeout rate (19.8%) and a good ground ball rate (50.1%), which is a pretty good recipe for success. Sabathia did walk a few too many (8.5%) and his home run rate finished at 1.10 HR/9 (12.6 HR/FB%), which is pretty normal.

I don’t think many will disagree with me when I say Sabathia’s rebound and spurts of excellence were one of the best parts of the 2016 season. This dude pitched his heart out for the Yankees for a lot of years, even when he wasn’t doing so well. There was never any question about his desire to win and commitment to the team. It was tough to watch him struggle these last few years, and it was awesome to see him have success again. How could you not love this guy?

The New CC Sabathia

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This past season, we did not see the same Sabathia we saw from 2009-15. He made some changes over the last year, some of them rather significant, and they could explain his newfound success. Three stand out.

1. The new knee brace. Sabathia’s right knee is a wreck. He’s said it’s bone-on-bone at this point because all those years of his massive 6-foot-6, 300 lb. frame coming down on the knee, his landing knee, have taken their toll. Sabathia has had multiple surgeries, and for most of last season he pitched with a sleeve on his knee. It wasn’t much at all. He used it because it was comfortable.

Late last season Sabathia switched to a clunkier knee brace that provided more stability. His performance improved immediately and he continued to wear it this season. Everything in baseball starts from the ground up, even pitching. Pitching with a compromised lower half ain’t easy. Sabathia can now land more comfortably with the knee brace, and of course that’s going to help his performance. Imagine pitching through pain in your landing knee all the time.

2. The new cutter. This is a pretty big deal. Right-handed hitters absolutely annihilated Sabathia last season. They had a .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) batting line against him. That’s close to MVP caliber. Sabathia needed something to neutralize righties, and his solution was a cutter. A cutter he actually threw. He’s messed around with the pitch in the past, but this year he stuck to it.

CC Sabathia pitch selection

Sabathia effectively replaced his straight four-seam fastball with a cutter. That little cutting action is often the difference between getting squared up and missing the barrel. Sabathia busted righties inside with the cutter all season, and the result was a .258/.325/.400 (.316 wOBA) batting line against. That’s not great, but it sure is a heck of a lot better than what he did against righties last season.

“I’m obviously throwing different pitches,” said Sabathia in August. “I throw the cutter, I throw the two-seamer. So, yeah, I’m a different pitcher than I was three, four years ago. It’s obviously helped that I’m healthy. I have more choices. I can use my changeup, I can throw the backdoor slider, my cutter, obviously. I’m more well-equipped with what I have now.”

3. His sobriety. At the very end of last season Sabathia left the Yankees and checked himself into rehab. Little did we know he had been battling alcoholism for years. Sabathia finally decided to do something about it and that’s great. Far too many people are afraid to ask for help. Sabathia did it despite the inevitable scrutiny that comes with being a Yankee, and yes, he was absolutely scrutinized.

It’s impossible to know how much Sabathia’s sobriety affected his on-field performance, but I have a hard time believing the impact is negligible. He’s in a better place mentally and emotionally, and physically too. How is that not going to translate on the field in some way? I don’t think Sabathia’s sobriety explains his newfound effectiveness entirely — the cutter and knee brace are important too — but I definitely believe it’s a factor.

Outlook for 2017

Sabathia stayed healthy this season — well, aside from a little groin issue in May — so his $25M option for next season vested. He’ll be back next year, and you know what? That’s not a bad thing. Expensive, sure, but this version of Sabathia provides some nice rotation stability. The Yankees need some of that. Given the weak free agent class, having the big lefty back in 2017 will be nice. So Hal Steinbrenner’s wallet will be a little lighter. Boohoo.

Right after the season Sabathia had a “routine” cleanup procedure on his troublesome right knee that was planned weeks in advance. Everything went well and he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for Spring Training. The new cutter and knee brace (and sobriety) give me reason believe Sabathia can again be effective next season. There are tangible explanations why he pitched well this summer. That’s better than the wishcasting we did last the few years, that’s for sure.

Update: Qualifying offer will be $17.2M this offseason

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

October 13th: The qualifying offer is $17.2M this offseason, according to Jon Heyman. That’s a bit higher than initially expected. It doesn’t change anything for the Yankees though. Teixeira is their only free agent eligible for the qualifying offer and he retired, so yeah.

July 28th: According to Buster Olney, the qualifying offer for the upcoming offseason is estimated at $16.7M. That’s up from $15.8M last season and $15.3M the offseason before. The QO is a one-year deal set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and the deadline to make the offer is five days after the end of the World Series. Players then have seven days to accept or reject.

The Yankees only have one serious QO candidate: Carlos Beltran. He’s hitting .305/.347/.548 (134 wRC+) with 21 homers in 95 games this season, though his defense leaves much to be desired. I don’t think the Yankees should make Beltran the QO because he’ll probably accept it — who is giving a soon-to-be 40-year-old free agent $16.7M, even across two years? — and I don’t see that as a good thing for the reasons I outlined yesterday.

Mark Teixeira and Ivan Nova are New York’s only two other impending free agents, and based on what we heard earlier today, Nova will be traded prior to Monday’s deadline. Teixeira has been beyond awful this season, hitting .190/.270/.325 (59 wRC+) with nine homers in 71 games around a knee problem. A year ago at this time he looked like a QO candidate. Now? Now he can’t get off the team fast enough.

It’s also possible for CC Sabathia to become a free agent after the season, though that would require him to suffer a shoulder injury that would void his $25M vesting option for 2017. A healthy Sabathia is not a QO candidate at this point of his career. Sabathia with a shoulder injury? No chance. With Aroldis Chapman gone, Beltran is the Yankees’ only QO candidate. We’ll see what happens with him.

The QO offer entitles the team to a supplemental first round draft pick should the player reject the offer and sign elsewhere as a free agent. Signing a QO free agent means forfeiting your highest unprotected draft pick. It’s worth noting players who accept the QO can not be traded until June 1st of the following season, so if your plan is to make Beltran the offer and trade him if he accepts, it won’t fly. At least not immediately.

It’s worth noting the new upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement could change the QO system and I think that’ll happen, but chances are it’ll be minor tweaks rather than an overhaul. If MLB and the MLBPA reach an agreement before the end of the World Series, then the new system will presumably take effect. If not, the current QO system stays in place until the two sides announce any changes. The current CBA expires December 1st.

Brian Cashman’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Offense, Pitching, Youth Movement, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With the 2016 season now over, Brian Cashman held his annual State of the Yankees press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. Some actual news came out of it, though nothing major. You can watch the entire press conference in bits and pieces right here, if you’re interested. As we did with Joe Girardi’s end-of-season press conference the other day, here are the important points from Cashman’s presser as well as some thoughts.

The Offense

  • On the 2016 offense: “We weren’t very consistent with runs scored and (the offense was not) as dynamic as it was the previous year … I think a lot of the opportunities for better run production is going to come from improved results with runners in scoring position.”
  • On improvement going forward: “It’s going to be coming from improved play from the younger guys coming up through the system … Hopefully they solidify things moving forward and provide more consistent production than what we got in 2016. So lots of competitions taking place. Right field and first base.”
  • On considering right field and first base settled for 2017: “I think there will be some hesitancy (to bring in outside help) … I would say that that would be the way that we would like to approach Spring Training next year. The kids get a shot at it. That doesn’t (stop me from) being open-minded to the opportunities that present themselves.”
  • On signing a big bat: “I can’t really speak to the free agent market because some of these guys are still playing … My initial thought would be to allow us to go into the spring with competitions coming from the youth movement, which I admit is risky … I’m willing to be flexible, and those dialogues will be very important.”

Cashman is very candid and at one point he said flatly “our offense was bad.” No sugarcoating it. Now, that said, it doesn’t sound as though the Yankees are planning to jump into anything big in an effort to score more runs going forward. Plan A is to stick with the kids and hope guys like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird and others contribute more next season than they did this season. That seems to be their perfect world scenario.

Will the Yankees close the door on signing a big name free agent? Never. It just doesn’t seem like there’s anything that makes sense right now. They could spend a ton of money on a DH like Edwin Encarnacion, and where does that get them? Back to where they were with Alex Rodriguez four years ago, basically. Something might fall into their lap that makes sense, but based on everything Cashman said, if the offense improves next year, it’ll be because the young players come into their own.

The Pitching Staff

  • On trading for an ace (coughChrisSalecough): “I think that type of deal is a deal where you’re that final piece away. I think we have an exciting young nucleus that’s coming … But there are some flaws, honestly, in this roster still. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete for a postseason berth. That doesn’t mean you can’t play in October. But the type of concept that you’re speaking of — I’m sure that everybody knows who you’re talking about by asking that question — but that to me (is a trade you make if) you’re an organization that’s one piece away, you back up the truck (and trade) four and five players. You have to be one piece away, and I would not recommend that type of decision as we approach the 2017 season. I think that would be dangerous.”
  • On adding an elite reliever: “My job is to get as much as we can find. In the front end of the season last year 7-8-9 was special … So my job is just to find as much quality arms, whether they’re fireballers or sidewinders or soft-tossers. The only important thing is getting outs and we had trouble getting outs in the middle (innings) there and that’s unacceptable. Continue to try to fortify. The more the merrier.”
  • On non-tendering Nathan Eovaldi: “We’ll just wait for that process play out. Clearly this is a Tommy John situation, and I know it’s obvious (he’s going to be non-tendered), but I’d rather not speak to any of it until the process plays out.”
  • On pitching help from within: “We’re still young but we have other guys pushing their way into the mix, and we’ll see what they look like in Spring Training.”

As with the offense, Cashman doesn’t sound eager to spend huge dollars — there’s no one to spend it on anyway this offseason — or gut his prized farm system to add an impact pitcher. I’d argue Sale is a piece you go get no matter what because he’s so good, so young, and so cheap that he makes any team better. He could help get the Yankees over the hump and into the postseason next year, and still be ace caliber when the kids hit their primes.

Cashman mentioned the Justin Wilson trade as “Exhibit A” of how they’ll likely attack the rotation this offseason, meaning trade for youth and depth so they have as many options as possible. Given how hard it is to acquire even decent pitching this year — a team traded two real live prospects for two months of Ivan Nova, remember — acquiring as much cheap depth as possible seems like a smart move. I liked what I saw out of Chad Green and especially Luis Cessa this year. Another one of those deals would be sweet.

The Catching Situation

  • On Gary Sanchez‘s role in 2017: “Gary Sanchez is our starting catcher next year. That’s his position to lose. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose it. We saw Severino last year helping us get to the postseason. This year, he struggled. We’re very excited about Gary, who always projected to be (a middle of the order bat).”
  • On expectations for Sanchez after his huge season: “It’s hard to expect that and I wouldn’t expect that over the course of a six-month period next year. But I think we have an exciting everyday talent that is going to be one of the best catchers in our game as we move forward, if he stays healthy and stays committed as he’s done the last two seasons now.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s role going forward: “That’s a valuable combination — both (Sanchez and McCann) on the same roster — for us, both being excellent defenders and certainly strong leaders of staff … I didn’t waste my time to see if he would waive his no-trade (at the deadline) because I’ve got to be satisfied first.”
  • On Kyle Higashioka: “We have some young guys that kind of did a nice job for us this year. (Higashioka) has always been a tremendous defender and he’ll be added to our 40-man roster this winter … We’ve been very good here in the last five or so years at developing (young catchers).”

Cashman did not sound eager to move McCann, though I guess he would try to give off that impression even if he were ready to move him. There’s no sense in tipping your hand. He did talk about the value of McCann’s veteran leadership, how nice it is to have a power-hitting lefty/righty tandem behind the plate, and how there are DH at-bats available. Cashman said he’ll listen on McCann, but he values him highly, and he wants something significant in return.

As for Higashioka, adding him to the 40-man roster is a no-brainer. You don’t cut loose a good defensive catcher who hit 20 homers at the upper levels of the minors. At worst, you add him to the 40-man and trade him. Letting him go for nothing is a non-option. I don’t think Higashioka joining the 40-man means McCann or Austin Romine will be traded though. The Yankees could easily send Higashioka to Triple-A and stash him there next season. They don’t have to make a move.

The Coaching Staff & Front Office

  • On the job Joe Girardi did in 2017: “We the front office did what we felt was necessary (at the trade deadline), and his job description is do everything in his power to win with whenever you get … I appreciate his efforts and everything he did from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi favoring veterans over young players: “I don’t think that’s the case at all … I think it has more to do with just assessing the talent. Sometimes it plays into the decision and sometimes it doesn’t. I was really satisfied with the team’s competitive spirit from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi as a lame duck manager next year: “We will go through next year and ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward. There is that built in assumption in the process, where we play our contracts out. My contract expires the next year too … We’re going to focus on the present, which is the cast of characters currently, and how we can maximize value out of all of this right now.”
  • On bringing the coaching staff back: “Everybody is signed except for Larry Rothchild. His contract expires and I will meet with Larry today … I don’t have interest in recommending changes.”

I both am and am not surprised the Yankees are not making any coaching changes. I didn’t think they’ve overhaul the staff, but when you miss the postseason three times in four years, someone usually takes the fall. That’s why hitting coach Kevin Long was let go two years ago. Cashman wants to bring everyone back though — I’m not thrilled with keeping Joe Espada as third base coach, but it is what it is — and I’m sure they’ll get a deal worked out with Rothschild soon.

As for Girardi, Cashman made it clear that he was speaking about both Girardi and himself when he said “ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward.” In the past, both have played out their contracts and gone a year as a lame duck. Once their deals expired, they went to the negotiating table. There were no extensions and there was no reason to think this year would be any different. Business as usual.

Things could get interesting if the Yankees miss the postseason against next year. That’ll be four October-less years in five seasons. Girardi and/or Cashman might not survive that. Then again, I guess it depends how they miss the postseason. Did they crash and burn because all the kids flopped? Or did the fall a handful of games short while the young players established themselves as bonafide big leaguers? That’ll play a factor in Girardi’s and Cashman’s next contracts.

The Rebuild & Youth Movement

  • On the fan response to selling: “We have a worldwide network (of fans) that we’re proud to have … They’re very sophisticated. This was something that we think is something that they wanted to transpire, and they wanted us to press the reset button. And you know, in many cases I was tired of seeing what was transpiring in the first few months this year. Been there, done that, it’s time to do something that wasn’t part of the DNA … I think our fanbase recognizes what we did in July, and responded in kind with a lot of excitement.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s future: “(His performance in) the bullpen is not changing anything for me. That’s where guys go when they can’t be quality starters. I certainly hope that he can be a starter as we move forward. Certainly you’ve got to factor in and keep in mind his age. I think he’s 22, 23. But at the end of the day I have to have patience. I have to be objective that way. There’s a starter profile on him … He will get that opportunity (to start), whether it’s New York or it’s in Scranton next year remains to be seen.”
  • Can Clint Frazier make the Opening Day roster? “I don’t think so … But I remember when Robbie (Cano) — I know he was coming out of our system, the number one pitching prospect at that time was (Chien-Ming) Wang — we anticipated that at Double-A he would be being ready in two years, (but he arrived a) full year in advance after a good winter ball. (Alfonso) Soriano was the same way. It was just like, ‘how we get this guy on the roster?’ When you take the full package, once it all comes together — Gary Sanchez, I guess, is a more recent example too — it’s just like a flood.”
  • On Jorge Mateo playing center field: “We’re trying to diversify. We’ve got a lot of shortstops … It’s just to give us more flexibility. He’s played shortstop, second base, DH, and center in Instructs. We just gave him a crash course. It’s something that’s been part of the evaluation process from the beginning.”

No surprise Cashman isn’t giving up on Severino as a starter. That would be silly. He has the stuff to start, at least when he has a feel for and confidence in his changeup, and he’s so young that you give him a chance to figure things out in that role. I think at worst, Severino showed he can be a really great reliever. He still offers upside as a starter and the Yankees should without question allow him to continue developing in that role.

I thought the Cano and Soriano comparions for Frazier were interesting. They were all highly regarded prospects with high-end skills, and Cano and Soriano forced the issue. They were too good to keep down in the minors any longer. Frazier has the potential to do the same this year. The big difference here is position. The Yankees needed a new second baseman when Soriano and later Cano came up. They’re not desperate for outfielders right now. Still, once Frazier is ready, you make room for him. He’s a special talent.

Injured Players

  • On James Kaprielian and the Arizona Fall League: “(Instructional League is the) process to finish him off so he goes to the Fall League. That’s the plan. So the public has been alerted … He’s not on the official roster. The roster on the website is not the official roster. I know Twitter will look at it like ‘OMG what’s going on here?’ … He’s healthy and he’s throwing max potential.”
  • On CC Sabathia‘s knee: “I think CC is going to have a knee (procedure). He’s going next week … It’s just going to be a routine cleanup. It’s not something that is a concern or considered serious. It’s something that is expected and was expected the last two months.”

My audio was all garbled and I couldn’t get a clean transcription, but Cashman said that while Kaprielian is not on the AzFL roster, the league is aware the Yankees plan to send him as long as he comes through Instructs in one piece. He pitched in a game the other day and by all accounts everything went well. And yes, Cashman actually said OMG. Oh em gee.

Miscellany

  • On the disappointment of 2016: “It was a series of twists and turns of this year. We obviously had high hopes … It was a mixed bag. It was a very frustrating and difficult process in the first three months of the season, and I think it was a very exciting dynamic that transpired in the final three months this season. Ultimately, we know when the dust settled, when it’s all said and done, the 2016 season did not achieve the stated goal, which was the first get to the playoffs and try to compete for a championship in October. “
  • On the luxury tax: “Haven’t had any open discussions since no one has any idea what the CBA is going to be like … We’ll certainly be very interested in ‘resetting the clock’ and not being in position to lose more money than any other clubs because we’re penalized more than ever.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka and the World Baseball Classic: “I don’t think we have say in that … Even though he felt healthy and looked fine and all that stuff, we made the right choice in saying you know what, see you in the spring, whether it’s going to be in Tampa or in the WBC.”
  • On trying to win in 2017: “Every decision we have to make — whether it’s deciding support staff, coaches, the manager, anybody in the front office, and most importantly the players — every decision is designed to get us closer to being the last team standing, and that’s the approach that’s got to take place. And that can happen in 2017. That’s the goal, but every decision (has be made with a) World Championship in mind.”

If I recall correctly, teams can hold players out of the WBC if he finished the previous season injured. Did Tanaka finish the season hurt? Technically, yeah. He missed his last two starts with a forearm injury. But he was never placed on the DL though, and both the GM and manager admitted he would have made his final start had the team not already been eliminated. We’ll see. If Tanaka wants to go and the Yankees can’t stop him, what can you do other than help he doesn’t get hurt?

The luxury tax stuff is just the worst. Hate hearing about it. Every time we do it’s a remainder the Yankees are willfully throwing away their market advantage and scaling back payroll at a time every other team is raising payroll. The Yankees seem to have convinced a lot of fans that resetting the tax rate is good and necessary. Is the luxury tax saved enough to make up for the lost postseason and ticket revenue? I hope so. Otherwise this will all have been a giant waste of time.

Quick Notes: Sabathia, Higashioka, Kaprielian, Waivers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Brian Cashman held his annual end-of-season press conference this afternoon, and while it brought no major news, he did mention some important stuff. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Sabathia having knee surgery. CC Sabathia is having a “routine cleanup” on his troublesome right knee at some point soon. This has been planned for weeks and it’s not a serious concern.
  • Higashioka going on 40-man. Kyle Higashioka will be added to the 40-man roster, Cashman confirmed. Higashioka had a big year in Double-A and Triple-A and forced the issue. He was due to become a minor league free agent after the season.
  • Kaprielian healthy, still trying for AzFL. James Kaprielian is healthy and pitching at max effort, and if all goes well in Instructional League, he’ll report to the Arizona Fall League. He’s officially not on the AzFL roster right now. The league’s website is not correct.
  • Several players on waivers. Without saying who, Cashman acknowledged the Yankees have started their 40-man roster cleanup and placed several players on waivers. We’ll find out the results soon.

I’ll have a full recap of Cashman’s press conference tomorrow. This is only the important stuff.

Update: Both Kirby Yates and Blake Parker were claimed off waivers by the Angels, the Yankees announced. Also, Anthony Swarzak elected free agency rather than accept an outright assignment to Triple-A. So those are the waiver moves Cashman talked about.

Yankeemetrics: A bittersweet sweep [Sept. 27-29]

(AP)
(AP)

Still breathing
The Yankees staved off elimination on Tuesday night with a gutsy 6-4 win in the series opener, keeping their flickering postseason dreams alive, while snapping Boston’s 11-game win streak. This was the third time in the history of this rivalry that the Yankees beat a Red Sox team riding a win streak of more than 10 games; it also happened in 1909 and 1995.

The Baby Bombers carried the team from start to finish, delivering game-changing performances on the mound and at the plate. Luis Cessa pitched six strong innings of two-run ball, while Gary Sanchez opened the scoring with a first-inning two-run bomb and Tyler Austin capped it off with a tie-breaking two-run homer in the seventh.

Sanchez’s 407-foot shot was a historic one, the 20th time he went deep in just 51 MLB games. That matched the fewest career games needed to reach the 20-homer milestone by any major-league player, a mark he shares with outfielder Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves.

He is the 10th rookie catcher in major-league history to hit 20 homers, and is the only Yankee in that group. Each of the other nine players — Wilin Rosario (2012), J.P. Arencibia (2011), Geovany Soto (2008), Mike Piazza (1993), Matt Nokes (1987), Joe Ferguson (1973), Carlton Fisk (1972), Earl Williams (1971), Rudy York (1937) — played at least 100 games during their rookie campaign.

Austin’s power-hitting feats haven’t been as prolific as Sanchez’s, but it’s hard to argue that anyone else’s homers on this team have been as impactful as Austin’s.

Each of his first four homers in the big leagues have given the Yankees a lead, with three of them coming in the seventh inning or later. Through Tuesday, he had more go-ahead, late-inning homers than any other Yankee this season, despite logging time in just 27 games since his call-up in early August.

Didi Gregorius also joined the homer party, ripping his 20th homer of the season into the right field seats to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in the sixth. He and Starlin Castro are the first middle infielder duo (i.e., primary position is either shortstop or second base) in franchise history to reach the 20-homer milestone in the same season.

David Ortiz, playing his final series at Yankee Stadium, was hitless in five at-bats and whiffed on a 3-2 splitter from Tyler Clippard to end the game, stranding two guys in the ninth inning. This was his 255th career game against the Yankees (including playoffs), but it was the first time that he ever struck out to end the game with the tying run on base.

(AP)
(AP)

Refuse to lose
Down to their final out and on the brink of being officially eliminated from the postseason race on Wednesday, the Yankees rose from the dead with a stunning rally in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox, keeping their microscopic October dreams alive for another 24 hours.

In a season filled with so many heart-pounding victories, the Yankees 82nd win of the season might top them all in terms of the do-or-die circumstances of the game and the sheer miraculous nature of their comeback.

Trailing 3-1 with two outs in the ninth and the bases full, the soon-to-be-retired Mark Teixeira came to the plate and drilled a 99-mph fastball over the fences in center field for a game-ending homer that was historic in so many ways:

  • It was the first regular-season walk-off home run by Teixeira; his 408 career regular season homers entering the game were the most of any player in baseball history who’d never hit a walk-off shot.
  • The pitch was clocked at 98.95 mph, the fastest pitch he’s hit for a home run since July 17, 2009 when he went deep off a 99.0 mph fastball from Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya.
  • It was the ninth walk-off grand slam in franchise history, and the first since A-Rod’s memorable blast against the Orioles on April 7, 2007.
  • Only two other Yankees have ever hit a walk-off homer with the bases loaded against the Red Sox: Charlie Keller on August 12, 1942 and pitcher Red Ruffing on April 14, 1933.
  • Teixeira is the fourth Yankee to hit a walk-off slam with his team trailing at the time. The others are A-Rod, Jason Giambi (May 17, 2002 vs. the Twins) and Babe Ruth (Sept. 24, 1925 vs. the White Sox).
  • Teixeira and A-Rod are the only players in franchise history to hit a two-out, come-from-behind walk-off grand slam.
tex champ belt
(Getty)

Forgotten amid the wild and crazy ending is the fact that this was a classic pitchers duel for much of the night. Bryan Mitchell and Clay Buchholz matched zeroes on the scoreboard, as Mitchell threw seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits while Buchholz gave up one hit over six shutout innings.

It was just the third time since at least 1913 where both starters in a Yankee game went six or more innings, didn’t allow a run and surrendered two or fewer hits. The other two instances were on June 18, 2003 against the Rays (Roger Clemens and Victor Zambrano), and Sept. 20, 1958 against the Orioles (Don Larsen and Hoyt Wilhelm).

Good news, bad news
It was a bittersweet win for the Yankees on Thursday, as they completed the sweep over the Red Sox, but saw their playoff dreams extinguished too thanks to the Orioles beating the Blue Jays earlier in the night. Baltimore’s victory also guaranteed that the Yankees will end the season in fourth place in the AL East, their lowest divisional finish since 1992.

David Ortiz said goodbye to the Yankees after going 0-for-1 with a walk in his two plate appearances in the series finale. His 53 home runs against the Yankees are tied with Hank Greenberg for the fourth-most all-time, and his 31 homers at Yankee Stadium are tied with Mickey Vernon for the second-most ever by a visiting player at the ballpark.

Although he’s tormented them over the past decade-plus, Ortiz went hitless in his final 14 at-bats against the Yankees, matching his longest stretch without a hit in this rivalry (also from Sept. 25, 2009 to April 7, 2010).

Making his 30th and final start of the season, CC Sabathia turned in a stellar performance, holding the Red Sox lineup to one run on four hits in seven-plus dominant innings. He earned his 223rd career win, passing former Mets southpaw Jerry Koosman for sole possession of 17th place among left-handed pitchers on MLB’s all-time wins leaderboard. Looking ahead to 2017, next up on the list of lefties is Whitey Ford, who won 236 games in his 16-season career.

CC Sabathia hopes to remain with Yankees beyond 2017

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Later tonight, in the series finale against the Red Sox, CC Sabathia will make his final start in what has been a rock solid bounceback season. He owns a 4.02 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 172.1 innings overall, which is far better than the 4.73 ERA (4.68 FIP) he had a year ago, or the 4.81 ERA (4.40 FIP) line he had from 2013-15. Couldn’t have asked for more from the big man.

At this point Sabathia’s $25M option for next is going to vest — the only way it won’t vest is if he finishes the season on the DL with a shoulder problem, which is very unlikely — and he’ll be back in the rotation next year. And according to Mark Feinsand, Sabathia wants to continue pitching beyond next season, and he would like to remain with the Yankees. From Feinsand:

“It’s definitely gone by quick,” Sabathia said of his eight years in pinstripes. “I know I want to pitch after next year, but I haven’t thought about where or what. Hopefully it will be here. We’ll see.”

“I feel like this is just the beginning of what I’m trying to do. I feel like there’s a lot more still to learn and a lot better to get. It’s exciting … As long as I’m healthy, I feel like I’ll be able to get big-league hitters out. I’ve proven that.”

There are tangible explanations for Sabathia’s success this season. First and foremost, he’s replaced his four-seam fastball with a cutter, which better allows him to get inside on righties and make them uncomfortable. Righties hit .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) against him last year, and this season that’s down to a much more manageable .258/.326/.398 (.316 wOBA). Huge difference.

Also, Sabathia is healthier this season. He missed some time with groin strain back in May, but that was nothing serious. His arm is healthy and his troublesome right knee has held up, thanks in part to the new brace he’s been using. Sabathia is sober too. We shouldn’t discount that. Addiction consumes your entire life. Sabathia is in a better place mentally and physically than he has been for some time.

This reminds me of the Mike Mussina situation back in 2006. Mussina was 37 at the time and he was clearly no longer the pitcher he was in his prime, but he was still capable and familiar, so the Yankees brought him back on a two-year deal for 2007-08. Sabathia will be 37 next year, and like Mussina, he’s not longer what he once was, but he’s shown this year he can still be an effective pitcher.

Not long ago re-signing Sabathia after next season was complete crazy talk. Now? Well, let’s not completely dismiss the idea just yet. I’m not saying the Yankees should re-sign Sabathia. They’ll have all of next season to evaluate him, after all. If he’s able to repeat his 2016 season in 2017, then yeah, maybe a short-term deal to beef up the back of the rotation makes sense. There’s always a need for pitching and the decision doesn’t need to be made right now.

Either way, Sabathia has been the Yankees’ second best starter this season, and there are reasons to believe his success is not a fluke. The cutter and his health are chief among them. Since his option is going to vest, the Yankees will have Sabathia for next season, and they’ll get to see whether his new approach is something built for long-term success. If it is, bringing him back in 2018 might not sound as crazy as it once did.