Yankeemetrics: Two up, two down in Cleveland (Aug. 3-6)

(AP)
(AP)

Sorry, Sonny
Thursday’s series opener in Cleveland — a sloppy and frustrating 5-1 loss — was definitely not the ideal way to welcome Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees franchise.

Four batters into the game and the Yankees had already committed three errors behind Gray and the Yankees were quickly in a 2-0 hole. Whoops. It was the first time the Yankees committed three errors in any inning since October 2, 2010 against the Red Sox.

For Gray, this was a recurring nightmare that he thought had ended when he left Oakland, which leads the league in errors. Instead, he now has 13 unearned runs allowed on his ledger, tied with Derek Holland for the most in the majors through Thursday.

Gray pitched well as the Yankee gloves failed behind him, showing his toughness in pitching out of jams and limiting the damage on the scoreboard. He finished with two earned runs allowed on four hits in six innings, and for that solid effort, gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

Gray is the first pitcher in nearly 60 years to post those numbers or better (at least 6 innings, 2 earned runs or fewer, 4 hits or fewer) in his debut with the Yankees — and lose. The last guy to be this unlucky was Duke Maas in 1958. Maas (no relation to Kevin, I think) was traded by the A’s to the Yankees in mid-June, and then made his pinstriped debut as the starter in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers on June 21.

The Yankees bats also provided little offensive support as they were dominated by Corey Kluber, who tossed an 11-strikeout, three-hit complete game while giving up one run. That was his fourth straight start with at least eight strikeouts and one earned run or fewer allowed against the Yankees, the longest such streak ever by any pitcher against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Bombers
It was deja vu all over again on Friday night for the Yankees, as the mistakes in the field piled up and their offense remained in a miserable slump, resulting in another disappointing loss.

The “star” of the defensive lowlights was Gary Sanchez, who had his 12th passed ball of the season, the most in the majors despite the fact that he missed nearly a month of games in April and early May. He also has 10 errors, the second-most among catchers through Friday.

While the Yankees could barely touch Kluber’s stuff on Thursday, they put plenty of runners on base against Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen, but repeatedly failed to cash in on those chances. For the 15th time this season, they outhit their opponent (11-8) but still lost; only the Blue Jays (16) and White Sox (21) had suffered more losses in games when out-hitting their opponents through Friday.

Jaime Garcia contributed to the miserable night with a mediocre outing. He coughed up six runs in 4⅔ innings and couldn’t find the strike zone (four walks, one wild pitch), earning himself this #NotFunFact:

He’s one of just seven players in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow that many runs, not get out of the fifth inning and walk at least four batters in his Yankee debut. The most recent guy to do it was CC Sabathia on Opening Day 2009 … okay? And the others are Tim Redding (2005), Bob Wiesler (1951), Fred Sanford (1949) and Karl Drews (1946).

(AP)
(AP)

Chase “Hero” Headley
While the bats remained silent on Saturday, the defense was outstanding and the Yankees got a stellar effort from Jordan Montgomery to survive a 2-1 nail-biter in Cleveland.

It was perhaps one of the team’s most unlikely wins, given how dominant Danny Salazar and the rest of the Indians pitchers were against a feeble Yankee lineup. They struck out 15 times, were on base just nine times and scored only two runs. In the last 100 years, no Yankee team had ever won a game with that many strikeouts, fewer than 10 baserunners and no more than two runs scored … before Saturday.

Montgomery was terrific, allowing one run on three hits in five innings, and making a strong statement that he should be a key part of the rotation down the stretch (which is now a hot topic for us banter about after he was optioned to Triple-A following Sunday’s game). Although Monty rarely dazzles like a Severino or Pineda, he consistently puts up solid numbers and keeps the Yankees in the game while he’s on the mound.

Consider this stat: Saturday was the 16th time this season that he held the opponent to three runs or fewer. Only five other Yankee pitchers have done that within their first 21 career games: Dave Righetti, Doc Medich, Masahiro Tanaka, Mel Stottlemyre and Spec Shea.

Chase Headley rescued the Yankees from another depressing loss when he belted a tie-breaking home run in the top of the eighth inning. Headley, who has quietly been one of the best hitters in the league since the All-Star break deserves a #FunFact for his heroics on Saturday: He is just the third Yankee first baseman in the last four decades with a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later against the Indians – Jason Giambi (2005) and Don Mattingly (1984 and 1986) are the others.

(AP)
(AP)

#Sevy4MVP
Finally … the Bronx Bombers are back. The Yankees offense, which had been M.I.A. for the past week, exploded for eight runs on Sunday, more than they had scored in their previous five games combined. But it was the brilliant pitching of Luis Severino and a shutdown performance by the Yankee bullpen that truly shined in the 8-1 win.

It was the fourth game this year that the pitching staff allowed no more than three baserunners. The last time a Yankees team did that? 1929!

Sevy, the undisputed ace of the 2017 staff, cemented his status as a no-doubt Cy Young contender with another lights-out performance: two hits, one run, nine strikeouts over 6⅔ dominant innings. I think this is a good list to be on:

He also became the first Yankee pitcher in more than 20 years to beat the Indians in Cleveland while holding them to no more than two hits. The last guy to do it? David Cone in the 1996 opener … and we know how that season ended.

Severino’s effort would have been another wasted gem in a deflating loss if not for the team’s offensive explosion in the sixth and seventh innings. The five-run sixth was sparked by the most unlikely source, a bases-loaded triple off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. The struggling lefty entered the day hitting .163 with runners in scoring position, the sixth-lowest batting average among AL players (min. 50 PA).

The three-run seventh, on the other hand, was powered by a much more familiar name — Mr. Aaron Judge — who smoked a 94 mph fastball into the rightfield seats for his 35th homer of the season. And, of course, with that blast, Judge etched his name in the baseball record books once again: He is the only rookie outfielder in major-league history with at least 35 homers and 75 walks in a season.

2017 Midseason Review: The Infielders

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, our expectations surrounding the infield were fairly high. Greg Bird was raking in Spring Training, and it seemed as though he hadn’t missed a beat; and, in the event that he did, Chris Carter was around as an overqualified back-up. Starlin Castro had shown flashes of brilliance in 2016, and had been hyped-up by some as a potential breakout player. Chase Headley … well, his defense had improved, and he was better after a calamitous first month. And Didi Gregorius was coming off of a great all-around season. What could possibly go wrong?

The First Basemen

Expectation: Bird and Carter would form a more than competent platoon, of sorts, with Carter playing first against tougher LHP, and allowing Bird to rest a bit more often than a normal team composition would dictate. ZiPS projected a .234/.307/.449 line for Bird, and .223/.316/.509 for Carter.

Reality: Bird is on the disabled list for the second time in his career, as the result of an ankle injury. He’s played just 19 games, and is hitting on a .100/.250/.200 slash line. And Carter has earned himself two DFA’s by hitting .201/.284/.370 and absolutely brutal defense at first. The starter is currently Ji-Man Choi.

I almost don’t want to write more about first base, as it’s rather depressing. Bird’s injury (and the resulting fallout from the front office) has cast a shadow over the team’s season, and it has only grown darker as the team struggled over the last few weeks. His return is still up in the air, and surgery is a distinct possibility. And it is that uncertainty that is most frustrating.

And Carter – the should-have-been safety net – failed catastrophically. We always knew that he was a feast or famine hitter, but that had still resulted in a .221/.318/.474 slash line (116 wRC+) in five seasons as a regular. There was some sentiment that he was struggling as he adjusted to playing part time, but that excuse went out the window once he became the full-time first baseman. His 73 wRC+ ranks dead last among first basemen.

Choi is the starter for the time being, and he has made a decent impression in a four games. He’s hitting .182/.308/.727 in 13 PA, with 2 HR and 2 BB, and there’s no real challenger for his position in the organization right now. And, for what it’s worth, he does have a career .853 OPS in 851 PA at Triple-A.

Second-Half Forecast: The Yankees will acquire a first baseman via trade, and shut Bird down sooner rather than later.

The Second Basemen

Expectation: Castro would continue to be a competent yet frustrating presence at the keystone. ZiPS projected a .272/.305/.419 slash line, which isn’t too far off from his career norms (in 4000-plus PA).

Reality: Castro is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which was a major blow to the team’s lineup. He’s currently slashing .313/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) with 12 HR in 313 PA.

The 27-year-old Castro absolutely raked in April, batting .352/.362/.549 (154 wRC+) with 5 home runs. He also had a 7.1% walk rate, which is impressive for the free-swinger. His performance dipped in May (97 wRC+, 3.4 BB%), but he showed improvements in June (117 wRC+, 4.2 BB%) prior to hitting the DL. Castro earned an All-Star nod for his first-half, but had to be replaced due to that injury.

Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes have filled-in since the injury. I’ll have more on them in a bit.

Second-Half Forecast: Castro will be back soon, and his numbers will continue to fluctuate. With so much strong production in the bank, however, we may end up seeing a career year.

The Third Basemen

Expectation: Headley would be a warm body at the hot corner, with competent defense. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be a bit better with the bat. ZiPS had him at .247/.324/.376.

Reality: Headley has been a warm body at the hot corner, but his defense has regressed. His offense (91 wRC+) is right in-line with 2015 (92 wRC+) and 2016 (92 wRC+), even with a blistering hot start.

This is who Headley is at this point. He’s batting .254/.329/.373 (92 wRC+) since Opening Day of 2015, and his highs (142 wRC+ in April) are always met with ridiculous lows (15 wRC+ in May). That’s fine when he’s playing strong defense, as he did in 2016, but he has been a borderline disaster out there in 2017. DRS has him at -5 runs already, and he has already surpassed last year’s error total.

Second-Half Forecast: More of the same, unfortunately. Though, I could see a Miguel Andujar cup of coffee happening down the stretch.

The Shortstops

Expectation: Gregorius would continue to win our hearts with his surprising power, slick defense, and top-notch Twitter game. ZiPS was bearish on the power spike, projecting a .262/.308/.404 line.

Reality: Pretty darn close, albeit with nearly a month lost to a shoulder injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic. He’s hitting .291/.321/.458 with 10 HR (104 wRC+) on the year, and nearly made the All-Star team.

Gregorius is one of the most likable players in baseball, as evidenced by the fun he had trying to garner that final vote. The fact that he has proven that last season wasn’t a fluke helps, too, and he is currently a top-10 shortstop by both WAR (7th in MLB) and wRC+ (9th). And keep in mind that WAR is a counting stat, so the fact that he’s 26th among shortstop in PA helps to bring that number down. He may not be a Hall of Fame talent, but that’s perfectly acceptable – he’s still really, really good.

Second-Half Forecast: Gregorius will keep it up. He’s the safest bet among the infielders to be an above-average player for the remainder of the season, and I’m confident that he will.

The Reserves

Expectation: Ronald Torreyes and Co. would be perfectly adequate bench players.

Reality: Torreyes and Co. have been perfectly adequate – but they’ve had too play more often than anyone would have wanted.

Torreyes spent most of April as the team’s starting shortstop, and he was surprisingly competent. He posted a .313/.313/.433 slash line (95 wRC+) while Gregorius was on the mend, and his defense was more than passable. He has been overextended and a bit exposed since then, though, as he has already surpassed last year’s PA mark, and stands to play more as the season wears on. He’s another fun player, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more than what he’s done already.

Wade was called upon to shore up the bench when Castro landed on the DL, and he has picked up five starts at second in those two weeks. He has yet to get on-track (.107/.219/.179 in 32 PA), but his versatility and speed should earn him more opportunities in the coming months. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (134 wRC+) with 5 HR and 24 SB at Triple-A this year, and he might just be the best reserve the team has right now.

Rob Refsnyder is still around, too, but the Yankees seem to have decided that he’s a 1B/LF/RF. He’s batting .135/.200/.216 in 40 PA, and he hasn’t played since July 2.

Second-Half Forecast: This may be optimistic, but I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Wade, and less of Torreyes (and Refsnyder, if such a thing is even possible). The Yankees have been grooming him for this exact role for some time now; it’s his time to shine.

Game 71: Win a game this isn’t funny anymore

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, I’m sick of this losing business. It’s been going on too long. Yeah, the Yankees won two days ago, but they let another winnable game slip away last night, and that’s been happening far too often the last two weeks. The Yankees have been beating themselves too much. Last night it was the errors. Last week it was the bullpen. Stop it, dudes. You’re better than this.

Anyway, Masahiro Tanaka is back on the mound tonight as the Yankees try to figure out why he’s pitching like Javy Vazquez and not the Masahiro Tanaka we saw from 2014-16. I’ll settle for “pitch well enough to win” tonight. Can Tanaka just do that, please? Man, I hope so. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy and humid in New York, which usually means rain. The heaviest stuff isn’t coming until early tomorrow morning. There are some showers on the way later tonight, though it doesn’t look like it’ll be anything heavy enough to delay the game. We’ll see. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:05pm ET and both YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: Chase Headley (back) received an epidural and will be out a few days. Until then, Austin Romine is the backup infielder … Jacoby Ellsbury (concussion) passed the concussion protocol. He’s been taking batting practice and the Yankees are planning his rehab assignment … CC Sabathia (hamstring) threw a bullpen session today for the first time since going on the disabled list … Adam Warren (shoulder) will begin throwing tomorrow.

Update (6:51pm ET): The game will not start on time. Stupid rain. The new start time is TBA.

Update (8:05pm ET): The game is scheduled to begin at 8:40pm ET, so says the Yankees.

The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.

The Yanks are reportedly looking for a third baseman because Chase Headley isn’t giving them much of a choice

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point soon, perhaps tomorrow, the Yankees will get some help at first base. Their first basemen have hit a combined .162/.275/.288 (32 OPS+) so far this season, which is easily the worst production from the position in baseball. Thankfully both Tyler Austin and Greg Bird are on minor league rehab assignments, and Austin could be activated very soon. Bird shouldn’t be too far behind.

Third base is another matter. Everyone is healthy and the Yankees have still received a .223/.292/.330 (68 OPS+) batting line from the position. And that’s with Chase Headley‘s amazing April. He’s crashed hard these last six or seven weeks. It’s actually pretty amazing the Yankees are in first place with the second best run differential in the league despite getting so little from the corner infield positions.

Anyway, according to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees are in the market for a new third baseman. “The Yankees are shopping for a third baseman, according to major league sources,” says Cafardo’s one-sentence report. We’ve already heard the Yankees are grooming Gleyber Torres to take over at the hot corner this year, and now we’re hearing they’re looking for outside help. Let’s talk about this.

1. Does this pass the sniff test? The important question with every rumor. Yes, this one passes the sniff test. Headley has been terrible and it’s only logical that the Yankees would look for an upgrade, especially since they’re in contention. Maybe if they were having the down rebuilding year many expected, they wouldn’t worry about it too much and ride things out with Headley until Torres or whoever was ready. That isn’t the case though. Third base is a major weakness for a first place team, and that first place team is looking for help.

2. What are the conditions? Now, that all said, I don’t think the Yankees are going to go all out for third base help. They’re still identifying themselves as a team in transition with a focus on getting younger. Also, the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold soon (i.e. 2018) is still very much in place. That means these two statements are very likely true:

  1. The Yankees are not going to take on a sizeable multi-year contract.
  2. The Yankees aren’t going to trade any of their top prospects.

There are always exceptions — I don’t think they’d run away if, say, the Mariners made Kyle Seager available — though for the most part, I think those two statements are true. The Yankees are not going to trade their best prospects and they’re not going to jeopardize the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. Other considerations like handedness (a lefty would help balance the lineup) and hitting style (high strikeout vs. high contact, etc.) are secondary.

3. So who’s available? Alright, let’s get down to business. The Yankees reportedly want a new third baseman, so would could be available? The best place to start is always with the last place teams since they’re most likely to sell, though I get the sense the Blue Jays won’t be open to trading Josh Donaldson to the Yankees. Here is a preliminary list of third base trade candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Todd Frazier, White Sox: A solid defender and he’ll be a free agent after the season, which fits the luxury tax plan, but he’s also hitting .195/.306/.396 (88 wRC+). Name value > actual production.
  • David Freese, Pirates: Hitting .258/.361/.411 (109 wRC+) this year with his usual okay-ish defense. Freese is owed a reasonable $4.25M next year with a $6M option for 2019.
  • Jed Lowrie, Athletics: Lowrie, a switch-hitter, was a regular third baseman as recently as 2015, and he’s hitting .293/.360/.483 (132 wRC+). His contract includes a $6M option for 2018. Hmmm.
  • Mike Moustakas, Royals: Almost certainly the best third baseman likely to be available. He’s a rental, he’s hitting .255/.295/.510 (109 wRC+), and he can play the hell out of the hot corner.
  • Martin Prado, Marlins: Currently on the DL with a nagging hamstring issue that has limited him to only 17 games this year. Prado is owed $28.5M from 2018-19, which is a bit of a problem.
  • Trevor Plouffe, Athletics: Meh. Another rental, so that’s good, but Plouffe is hitting .216/.278/.351 (71 wRC+) and has been trending downward for a while now. Plus he’s a crummy defender.
  • Yangervis Solarte, Padres: Never Nervous Yangervis is hitting .250/.329/.353 (86 wRC+) while primarily playing second base this year. He’s due $4.125M next year with club options for 2019 ($5.5M) and 2020 ($8M).

So that’s the list for now. Things can and will change in the coming weeks as teams fall out of the race/get back into it, players get hurt, rookies emerge, that sort of thing. I’d say Freese and Prado are the least likely players on that list to be traded before the deadline.

The way I see it, Frazier is the big name, Moustakas is the best player, and Lowrie is the most sensible target. The Yankees might be able to pry Lowrie loose without trading one of their top ten prospects, and he wouldn’t threaten the luxury tax plan since this is the final guaranteed year on his contract. Both Ken Rosenthal and Susan Slusser say the A’s are likely to trade him. Hmmm indeed.

Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

4. Whither Headley? Okay, so the Yankees go out and get a new third baseman. What do they do with their old third baseman? Pretty much the only thing they can do. Turn him into a bench player. Headley would be a backup at first and third bases, and maybe a defensive replacement at the hot corner in the late innings, depending who the Yankees acquire. (Plouffe would need a defensive caddy, for example.)

Last season the Yankees showed they are willing to reduce a pricey veteran’s playing time when a better option emerges. Brian McCann lost playing time to Gary Sanchez. Mark Teixeira lost playing time to Tyler Austin. That said, pushing aside a veteran for an up-and-coming kid is different than pushing aside a veteran for another veteran picked up in a trade. I don’t think the Yankees will have any trouble doing that though. The Yankees are out there looking for third base help because Headley is forcing them to.

5. Whither Gleyber? I can see it now. The Yankees trade for a third baseman and everyone wonders why they didn’t just call up Torres. “The Yankees hate young players!” will be said by someone, somewhere, as Sanchez and Aaron Judge hit balls to the moon and Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery start two out of every five days. It’s inevitable. If the Yankees add a veteran, many folks will wonder why they blocked Torres. Take it to the bank.

In reality though, Torres is a 20-year-old who has played only 43 games above Single-A ball. He’s a very good 20-year-old! But he’s still a 20-year-old. And his first two weeks in Triple-A have produced an .194/.356/.222 (80 wRC+) batting line and four errors in eleven games. Trading for a veteran third baseman and keeping Torres in Triple-A would be a completely reasonable move that would in no way indicate the Yankees have soured on Gleyber or anything like that. The Yankees are reportedly grooming Torres to take over at third base, but only if he forces the issue. Right now, he’s not.

* * *

The longer the Yankees stay in the race and the longer Headley continues to do this, the louder the cries with be for a new third baseman, whether it’s Torres or a trade target or whoever. Now that we’re into June, trade discussions figure to heat up as the rebuilders resign themselves to, well, another year of rebuilding. My guess is the Yankees would prefer to go with Torres at third base later this year, so I think they’ll be patient, see how Gleyber adjusts to Triple-A, and let the third base trade market come to them over the next few weeks.

Chase Headley’s miserable slump shouldn’t change the plan for Gleyber Torres

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

After two days on the bench, Chase Headley returned to the starting lineup yesterday afternoon in the series opener against the Orioles. He went 1-for-2 with a walk and is now 21-for-121 (.174) with a 28.9% strikeout rate over his last 31 games, dating back to the series against the Cardinals. Calling this a miserable slump would be an understatement.

Headley, as you know, was excellent to start the season. He was a big reason why the Yankees won eight straight games in the middle of April. Since then though, it’s been all downhill. See?

chase-headley-wrc

Yeesh. Headley has struggled on both sides of the ball too. He had a stretch a few weeks ago in which he committed seven errors in the span of 13 games. Headley has straightened things out defensively the last two weeks or so, but not with the bat. Maybe yesterday’s game was a sign he’s turning things around. I’m not buying it yet.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the Yankees promoted top prospect Gleyber Torres to Triple-A last week, and he played his first three games at the level at third base. (As well as his last two at Double-A.) The Yankees have been working to increase Gleyber’s versatility this season and playing the hot corner is part of that.

Torres, who is going to spend this entire season at age 20, has gone 5-for-21 (.238) in six Triple-A games so far, and is hitting .275/.376/.472 (138 wRC+) overall in 2017. He’s doing pretty much everything you’d want a top prospect his age to do at the upper levels of the minors. Plus he’s doing it while playing relatively new positions in second and third bases.

Given Headley’s awfulness, it’s only natural to wonder when Torres will be called up to take over at third base. Why not now? He couldn’t be worse. Specious logic aside, it is only a matter of time until Gleyber replaces Headley, partly because Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro sure as heck aren’t going anywhere. Third base is the obvious spot for Torres, at least in the short-term.

Fans want Torres to replace Headley right now and I imagine it’s awfully tempting for the Yankees to make the change, especially since they’re surprisingly atop the AL East. It would be pretty easy to justify the move. It would be one thing to bench Headley in favor of, say, Ruben Tejada, a journeyman having a good year in Triple-A. Doing it for a top prospect like Torres is another.

That said, the Yankees have to keep the big picture in mind here, and I do believe they will. We’ve already gone through something like once already this season, right? Gregorius went down with a shoulder injury during the World Baseball Classic and everyone and their mother wanted Torres to play shortstop in the meantime, especially since he was tearing the cover off the ball in Spring Training.

Gleyber. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Gleyber. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

The Yankees didn’t do that though. They had a development plan in place for Gleyber and they stuck to it. The same should be true now despite Headley’s terrible play. Headley being bad doesn’t make Torres more big league ready. (He is closer to MLB ready now than he was during the spring by virtue of playing Double-A and Triple-A games, of course.) The Yankees, despite being in first place, are still a team in transition, and Gleyber’s long-term development has to be the priority, not a quick fix at third base.

“I’m not looking at Gleyber right now on the Major League side,” said Brian Cashman to Dan Martin last week. “I’m just looking at Gleyber taking the next step at Triple-A. Just like when we were faced with, ‘Are you going to bring Gleyber up because Didi is down?’ The answer was, ‘No, we aren’t going to interrupt his player-development process.’ And currently he’s earned the right to go Triple-A.”

Keep in mind the Yankees are moving Torres very quickly already. Prior to this season he’d never played above High Class-A. Thirty-two Double-A games later, he was in Triple-A. Not normal! Not for a 20-year-old, anyway. The Yankees clearly have Torres on an accelerated timetable, which means we could see him in the Bronx later this season. Players this talented have a way of shooting through the minors quicker than expected.

Two conditions have to be met when Torres is called up, in my opinion. One, the Yankees have to believe he’s truly ready for the big leagues and not simply being rushed to patch a hole at the hot corner. And two, he has to play everyday. They can’t call Gleyber up and play him once or twice a week. That would defeat the purpose. There is definitely something to be said for learning while on the big league bench, but Torres is too good to sit more often than not.

This is what I think will happen: the Yankees are going to stick with Headley for the time being, perhaps working in more Ronald Torreyes starts, to give Torres at least a month in Triple-A. That feels like the bare minimum. Keeping him there until the All-Star break wouldn’t be a bad idea. Then, in a few weeks, they’ll reevaluate things. See where Headley is at, see where Torres is at, and make a decision. Perhaps they won’t have to do anything! Who knows?

In my mind, everyone from Double-A on up is eligible for consideration in the big league if we have any needs,” said Cashman to Martin. “I check on what he’s doing everyday like I do all our prospects, but not how he’s going to fit on the big league club in the near-term. I’m not looking at that. Let him get baptized at Triple-A and let’s see how that treats him.”

Point is, the Yankees have to stick to their plan with Torres, whatever it is. Maybe their plan is to call him up in two weeks. I doubt it, but hey, stranger things have happened. The Yankees shouldn’t alter the development plan of their top prospect — arguably the best prospect in all of baseball, at that — because of a slumping big leaguer. Gleyber is going arrive at some point, likely later this year. Headley’s struggles shouldn’t dictate his timetable though.

The two Aarons and thinking about a new top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, I was a lineup complainer. The lineup would be posted each day at 4pm-ish and I’d complain about it. So and so is hitting too low, this guy is hitting too high, why is bench player flavor of the week not playing, that sort of stuff. A few times a year the Yankees would play the “ideal” lineup. Otherwise it was the same story, day after day. The lineup stinks and I was Mad Online.

I’ve outgrown that, thankfully. Daily lineup complaints are no way to go through life. As long as Joe Girardi doesn’t do something crazy like bat his best hitter ninth (which he never does and would never do), whatever lineup he runs out there is fine with me. So this post shouldn’t construed as me complaining about the lineup. This is more of a rational discussion about the batting order nearly one-third of the way through the season.

For the most part, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding the lineup: Brett Gardner should lead off, and Chase Headley and Chris Carter should bat eighth and ninth, really in either order. I guess that’s three things. Anyway, that stuff is straight forward. Gardner is, yet again, one of the team’s best on-base players and count-workers. Headley and Carter have been terrible and should get the fewest at-bats. Simple, right? Right.

The few spots beyond Gardner are what I really want to discuss. This is my ideal top of the lineup right now, given the available personnel:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge

The three outfielders, left to right. Gary Sanchez has been hitting second most of the season and I am totally cool with that. It works for me. Sanchez has looked a little jumpy at the plate the last few days, but I’m not worried. Hitters go through their ups and downs. Sanchez is one of the team’s best hitters, so by all means, hit him second. Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant won MVPs hitting second in recent years. Power hitters can hit there too.

That said, I like Hicks hitting second over Sanchez right now because, well, Hicks has been the better hitter this season. The better overall hitter and, more importantly, the better on-base threat. Hicks has a .426 OBP this year. Sanchez has a .356 OBP. That’s still good! But it’s not .426. Batting Hicks second means more runners on base for Judge, who has inarguably been the Yankees’ best hitter this season.

Judge started the season hitting lower in the lineup and understandably so, but he’s forced his way up, and now he is in entrenched as the No. 5 hitter. Moving Judge up even further to the No. 3 spot means more at-bats. More at-bats over the course of the season, and a better chance to get Judge that one extra at-bat in an individual game. Through 48 team games the No. 3 spot has 14 more plate appearances than the No. 5 spot for the Yankees. That’s 14 more times Judge would have come to the plate in the late innings. It’s not nothing!

We’re not splitting atoms here. Hicks (.426), Judge (.419), and Gardner (.363) have the three highest OBPs on the Yankees. They make fewer outs than anyone else. Judge is also one of the game’s top power threats. Batting Gardner and Hicks first and second is, by far, the best way to get men on base for Judge. Batting these three atop the lineup also means they get the most at-bats, therefore giving the Yankees more chances to score.

Going with Gardner-Hicks-Judge atop the lineup and Headley-Carter at the bottom leaves you Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Didi Gregorius for the 4-5-6-7 spots. What’s the best way to order them? I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. I’d prefer hitting Sanchez fourth because I think he’s most likely to be an impact bat the rest of the season, but if you said the same thing about Castro or Holliday, I wouldn’t argue (much).

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is getting Judge more at-bats because because the guy is a monster, and the more he plays, the better the Yankees’ chances to win. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion — Girardi said yesterday Ellsbury is still experiencing headaches, so he remains shut down indefinitely — ensures Hicks will be in the lineup everyday, and as long as he’s hitting like this, Hicks is the perfect No. 2 hitter. On-base ability, power, speed, switch-hitter, the whole nine. Perfect.

The lineup almost seems to write itself from there. Gardner leads off, Hicks hits second, Judge hits third. Your two best on-base players and your most devastating hitter. Sanchez, Holliday, Castro, and Gregorius add quality lineup depth through the No. 7 spot too. I get why Girardi hits Sanchez second, Holliday third, and Castro fourth. I do. But nearly 50 games into the season, it’s the clear the more Aaron Judge hits with men on base, the better. The lineup should be built in such a way that maximizes those opportunities.