Here is tonight’s open thread. The Ravens and Browns are meeting on Monday Night Football, plus the (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are playing as well. There’s also some college basketball going on too. Talk about those games, Young signing with the BoSox, or anything else here.
The Yankee outfield was given more shape on Wednesday when the team acquired Aaron Hicks from the Twins for John Ryan Murphy. Ironically enough, that shape is a little more amorphous now than it was before the trade. The term “amorphous” generally carries a negative connotation, the implication for the Yankees going forward is one of flexibility, not shapelessness.
It’s most likely that Hicks will slot in as the team’s fourth outfielder to start the year, but that alone could carry a great deal of playing time, as Chris Young appeared in 140 games for the Yankees last season. That much playing time is easy to envision for Hicks. Given his defensive reputation, he’ll likely be replacing Carlos Beltran on a daily/nightly basis, which will give the Yankees a strong defensive outfield in the late innings, something any team would gladly sign up for.
Nominally, Hicks will be the fourth outfielder, but there’s potential for him to play an even bigger role. He’ll definitely swap out for Beltran in the late innings, but given Joe Giradi’s tendency to platoon and his desire to rest players, Hicks will get plenty of burn in the starting lineup. Brett Gardner (fairly or unfairly) already gets his fair share of platooning as he sits semi-frequently against lefties. That’s a trend that’ll probably continue, given that Hicks hit lefties very well last year–.375 wOBA; 139 wRC+; .188 ISO–and has done similarly over the course of his (short) career–.354; 125; .175. Gardner was also, apparently, playing through injury in the second half and it’s a certainty we’ll see Hicks start in place of Gardner when Brett starts to slow down a bit after playing for long stretches. The same could be said for Jacoby Ellsbury, who probably wasn’t healthy for more than a month and a half of last season; he also had his fair share of struggles against left-handed pitchers and the fact that Hicks can play center–88 games there last year–means the Yankees will still be able to run out a mostly strong defensive outfield, even if one of Gardner or Ellsbury is sitting.
One knock on Hicks, a switch hitter, is that he doesn’t hit right handed pitching well. That rang true in 2015 as he racked up just a .292 wOBA/82 wRC+ against them. His career numbers against non-southpaws are just as ugly: .269/66. In this way, he’s definitely similar to Chris Young, who also couldn’t hit right handed pitching. However, for his career, Hicks does have a 9.2% walk rate against right handed pitchers, something slightly encouraging that the team could build on. And, taking it with a shaker of salt, Hicks did hit right handed pitchers fairly well in the minor leagues, posting a .371 OBP against them. It’s not the most reliable data, but it shows that, at some point, Hicks did something well against righties.
Despite those struggles, though, it’s easy to see why Hicks could be an upgrade over Young. His ability to play center field–and play it well–means that the Yankees can feel fully confident when they match up for platoons or have to rest someone. Hicks will also play the entire 2016 as a 26 year old, which in and of itself means there’s potential for more growth and development. Trading for Hicks was certainly a surprise, but it’s something that gives the Yankees a lot of flexibility in one spot on the field. Given the way the team looks, that’s a welcome sign.
As expected, the Yankees did not tender any qualifying offers to free agents prior to today’s 5pm ET deadline. They haven’t officially announced anything yet, but yeah. Their only free agents this offseason are Chris Young, Stephen Drew, and Chris Capuano. None of worth even half a qualifying offer.
Long story short, the QO is a one-year contract worth $15.8M that entitles the player’s former team to draft pick compensation if he signs elsewhere. The deadline to accept or reject the QO is next Friday. No player has ever accepted the QO and I don’t think anyone will accept this year either.
Here’s the list of QO for this offseason. (Warning: Auto-play video.) There are several surprises so far (Marco Estrada! Ian Kennedy! Colby Rasmus!), so we might actually see a player accept this year. Except we’ve been saying that four years in a row now. Either way, no extra 2016 draft picks for the Yankees.
At 9am ET this morning, a total of 139 players officially became free agents. Here’s the full list. Only three of those 139 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew and Chris Young. The Yankees hold exclusive negotiating rights with them until 12:01am ET this Saturday, when free agency officially begins. Here’s the offseason calendar.
Also, the Yankees activated both Sergio Santos and Diego Moreno off the 60-day DL and outrighted them to Triple-A Scranton today, the team announced. Santos refused the assignment and instead elected free agency. Moreno could not elect free agency since this was his first outright assignment, but he’ll become a minor league free agent in a few days anyway.
Santos, 32, appeared in only two games with the Yankees this season before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He started the season with the Dodgers, was released in early-June, then signed with the Yankees a few days later. Santos’ most notable act as a Yankee was escaping a bases loaded, no outs jam against the Marlins on June 15th.
Moreno’s most notable act as a Yankee was throwing 5.1 hitless and scoreless innings of relief against the Rangers on July 28th, after Capuano failed to escape the first inning.
Over the last few seasons the Yankees have cycled through many fourth outfielders, some good (Andruw Jones) and some not so good (Brennan Boesch, etc.). Others like Zoilo Almonte and Ben Francisco came and went as well. Good bench players are hard to find and it’s pretty common to have a different fourth outfielder every season.
This year the Yankees had one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball in Chris Young, who they first scooped up off the scrap heap late last year. He made some adjustments with then hitting coach Kevin Long, had a strong September last season, and agreed to return in a reserve role. The move worked out well for everyone.
The Quick Return
The Mets released Young last year after he hit .205/.283/.346 (81 wRC+) in 88 games. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal, gave him a few games in Triple-A, then called him up in September. Young put up a .282/.354/.521 (147 wRC+) batting line in 23 games and even hit a walk-off homer. Pretty great for a guy the Yankees signed off the scrap heap at midseason, no?
The Yankees were impressed enough with Young — and vice versa! — that they quickly re-signed him last offseason. He signed a one-year deal worth $2.5M with a bunch of incentives on November 9th. It was the team’s first transaction of the winter and one of the very first offseason moves in all of baseball. Neither side wanted to wait around, I guess. The Yankees had their fourth outfielder and Young had a home for the season.
Destroyer of Lefties
With two left-handed hitting starting outfielders plus another who is a switch-hitter that is better against righties, Young’s role as a platoon bat was pretty obvious. It wasn’t going to be a straight platoon with another player, but instead something of a rotation, with Young starting against lefties while any one of the other three guys sat. His ability to play all three outfield spots gave Joe Girardi some flexibility.
But, first and foremost, Young had to hit lefties, and boy, he crushed southpaws this season. The 32-year-old put up a .327/.397/.575 (162 wRC+) batting line with seven home runs in 175 plate appearances against left-handers this summer. He was better against southpaws in the first half than the second half, sure, but that overall production? Hard to complain about that.
Young hit five home runs in April, and the most notable was this game-tying solo shot against Drew Smyly and the Rays, which came when the Yankees were in a middle of a run-scoring funk:
Through the first half of the season Young hit .354/.411/.646 against lefties and was a must-have in the lineup any time the Yankees faced a southpaw. His second half wasn’t as good (.296/.381/.493) but it was still pretty damn awesome. Young spoiled us early. When he didn’t hit as well late, it made it seem like he fell off a cliff. That wasn’t really the case, at least not against lefties.
The Yankees brought Young back because they believed he could be a force against left-handed pitchers and that’s exactly what he was. He hit them hard all year and especially so in the first half. By platoon bat standards, Young was as good as anyone in the game.
Destroyed by Righties
On the other side of the coin, Young didn’t do much of anything against right-handed pitchers this season. He actually faced more righties (181 plate appearances) than lefties (175), and put up a .182/.246/.339 (58 wRC+) line against northpaws. Yikes. Young did hit seven homers against righties, the same number he hit against lefties, but two were against the extremely homer prone Alexi Ogando (1.65 HR/9!) and two were against position players (Josh Wilson, Jonny Gomes).
That said, some of the homers Young hit against righties were pretty important. This game-winner against Will Harris of the Astros stands out the most:
One thing that really stood out about Young this season was his streakiness. You can see it in his day-by-day wOBA graph below. There are some crazy peaks and valleys:
Part of that had to do with getting a little too much playing time while Jacoby Ellsbury was on the DL. Young played against righties more than he should have those few weeks — even with Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams getting opportunities — and that exposed him a bit. But still, the streakiness was there. Young would crush the ball for a few weeks then totally disappear.
Late Inning Defense
Believe it or not, Young played in 140 games this season. He only started 77 though. The other 63 came off the bench as either a pinch-hitter (12 times), pinch-runner (three times), or defensive replacement (48 times) for Carlos Beltran. I thought Young’s defense was good from a “catch the ball” perspective, but boy, he can’t throw at all. That was a problem at times with runners taking the extra base. Young played all three outfield spots — he played center in midseason, but at some point Girardi decided he was better off with Young in a corner and Brett Gardner in center — and was fine. Not great, not awful, but fine.
Sometimes with bench players there’s a give and take. You trade bad defense for offense and vice versa. That wasn’t the case with Young this season. He hammered lefties, occasionally took a righty deep, and made all the catches he was supposed to make. All things considered, Young was one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball in 2015, if not the best. He finished with a .252/.320/.453 (109 wRC+) batting line and 14 homers in only 356 plate appearances, and he ranked 71st among all outfielders with 1.1 bWAR and 80th with 1.2 fWAR. Remember there are 90 starting outfield spots in MLB. Pretty great for a fourth outfielder.
Looking Ahead to 2016
Thanks to those 356 plate appearances, Young earned an extra $1.375M in incentives this year, so the Yankees paid him $3.875M to be arguably the best extra outfielder in baseball. That works. Young will be a free agent again this winter, and while a reunion is certainly possible, he could try to turn his strong season into a two-year contract. He’s already said it’s “too soon” to know whether he’ll be back. Even with their need for a righty hitting fourth outfielder, I would be surprised if the Yankees gave Young multiple years. This marriage might not last beyond 2015.
By fourth outfielder standards, the Yankees struck gold this season with Chris Young, who carried his late-season success in 2014 over into 2015. The Yankees quickly re-signed Young to a one-year contract last offseason, but last week he told Dan Martin and George King it is “too soon” to know whether he will return to the Bronx next year.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen this year or what opportunities I would have,” said Young. “I think I did a good job of taking advantage of the chances I got. I’ve made some good adjustments since coming here toward the end of last year and did the things I need to do to become productive … We’ll see what happens, but I’ve enjoyed being here.”
Young, 32, hit .252/.320/.453 (109 wRC+) with 14 home runs this past season. Believe it or not, he actually played in 140 games this year, but only 77 of them were starts. He came off the bench to pinch-hit or replace Carlos Beltran defensively in the other games. Young’s primary job was to hit lefties, and he put up a strong .327/.397/.575 (162 wRC+) batting line against southpaws in 2015.
Despite a miserable August — .122/.234/.268 (40 wRC+) with a 29.8% strikeout rate — Young was actually better in the second half (119 wRC+) than the first (103 wRC+). That surprised me. I guess that ugly August made it easy to overlook his productive September (122 wRC+). Young was also fine defensively as far as catching the ball goes. His arm? It was … not good.
The Yankees have two left-handed hitting starting outfielders plus a switch-hitter in Beltran who is more productive against righties. A right-handed hitting fourth outfielder isn’t a necessity, but it would fit the roster much better than another lefty. The Yankees have a slew of lefty hitting fourth outfielder candidates, most notably Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and even Dustin Ackley.
Young figures to try to turn his productive season into a multi-year contract — Scott Hairston, another righty hitting fourth outfielder, turned his huge 2012 season with the Mets into a two-year contract — but I can’t imagine the Yankees will go for that. My guess is they will look for the next Chris Young this offseason, a guy coming off a down year with a chance to bounce back in a platoon role.
The list of right-handed hitting fourth outfielder candidates set to hit free agency this winter includes Rajai Davis, Chris Denorfia, Jonny Gomes, Steve Pearce, and Drew Stubbs. They’re the most notable. The Yankees are going to want a good defender so they can replace Beltran in the late innings, which rules out Gomes and Pearce. There’s always the non-tender and trade markets too.
Young did a fine job for the Yankees this summer — he was streaky as hell, but very productive overall — though he strikes me as the type of player they won’t overpay to keep. It’s the whole “let him walk a year early rather than a year late” line of thinking. If they can bring Young back on another one-year deal, great. My guess is he’ll be looking for a little more security.
Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:
I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.
Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.
Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.
The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.