Saturday Links: Cave, McKinney, Gardner, Robertson, Top Tools

McKinney. (Times Leader)
McKinney. (Times Leader)

The Yankees and Orioles will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. That’s a 4pm ET start for whatever reason. Here’s some notes and links to check out in the meantime.

Yankees planning to add Cave, McKinney to 40-man

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees plan to add outfielders Jake Cave and Billy McKinney to the 40-man roster this offseason. Unless they trade them first, of course. McKinney, who came over in last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade, will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this December. Cave is due to become a minor league free agent, so he’ll have to be added to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series. McKinney doesn’t have to be added until late-November.

Cave, 24, hit .305/.351/.542 (145 wRC+) with a career high 20 home runs this season. He reportedly made some swing changes in an effort to get the ball airborne more often, which explains the career high home run total, career low ground ball rate (43.1%), and career high strikeout rate (26.3%). The 23-year-old McKinney hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with 16 homers this year. Both he and Cave split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. I’m not sure either guy is a long-term piece for the Yankees, but you can’t lose them for nothing either, so on the 40-man they will reportedly go.

Several Yankees among Law’s best tools

Last month Keith Law published his rankings of the best tools in baseball (hitting, fielding, pitching). Best hit tool, best power, best fastball, so on and so forth. I always enjoy lists like this. Anyway, several Yankees pop up in the various categories, so let’s round ’em up:

  • Best Power: Aaron Judge (second to Joey Gallo)
  • Best Fastball: Aroldis Chapman (second to Chris Sale)
  • Best Splitter: Masahiro Tanaka (first)
  • Best Curveball: David Robertson (fourth behind Corey Kluber, Lance McCullers Jr., Aaron Nola)
  • Best Catcher Arm: Gary Sanchez (fourth behind Willson Contreras, Jorge Alfaro, Yadier Molina)
  • Best Outfield Arm: Aaron Hicks (second to Bryce Harper)

The only real surprise to me is no Luis Severino in the best fastball category. (The top five was Sale, Chapman, James Paxton, Joe Kelly, and Justin Verlander.) Nothing else seems out of place to me. Sorta bold prediction: Chad Green tops the best fastball list next year, unless the only criteria is velocity. Green’s fastball is ridiculous.

Gardner, Robertson nominated for awards

Within the last few weeks MLB and the MLBPA announced nominees for two prestigious awards. Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award while Robertson has been nominated for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. Both awards are decided by fan voting, which seems ridiculous, but whatever. Here is the Marvin Miller Man of the Year ballot. Voting for the Roberto Clemente Award doesn’t begin until October. Here are the nominees.

The Roberto Clemente Award is giving annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Curtis Granderson won the award last year and Derek Jeter won in 2009. As for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, that one goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Granderson won that last year too. Mariano Rivera won it in 2013. Congrats to Gardner and Robertson. Just getting nominated for these awards is an honor.

MLB, NPB negotiating new posting agreement

Before Shohei Otani can come over to the big leagues, Major League Baseball and Nippon Pro Baseball must first agree to a new posting system. The release fee system, which brought Tanaka to MLB four years ago, had to be renewed each year, and earlier this year MLB requested a renegotiation. There’s technically no posting system in place right now, so there’s no official way for Otani to leave Japan for MLB.

Anyway, Jim Allen recently broke down the latest posting system proposals. In both proposals, the compensation paid to the player’s former NPB team would be a percentage of the money he receives from an MLB team. It’s basically 15% up to a maximum of $20M. So, for example, if the Yankee were to sign Otani for $2M, they’d pay the Nippon Ham Fighters a $300,000 release fee. Needless to say, NPB teams are not having it. Under the now expired system, the NPB team sets the release fee ($20M max) and the MLB tam pays it when they sign the player.

Yankeemetrics: Feeling right at home in Queens (Sept. 11-13)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let the good times roll …
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Yankees headed back to the Northeast to play a “road series” against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma. Despite spotting the Rays an early 1-0 lead, the Yankees were unfazed by the early deficit, and thanks to an explosive five-run fourth inning, cruised to a relatively easy 5-1 win on Monday. This game-script has actually become a familiar one for the 2017 Yankees (ranks through Monday):

  • 31st win when the opponent scores first, the most among AL teams and tied for the second-most in the majors.
  • Of course, it also helps that it was the 80th game this season in which they allowed the first runs of the game; only the Phillies and Athletics have more games.
  • 23rd time they scored at least five runs in an inning, tied with the Nationals and Astros for the most 5-or-more-run innings in MLB this season.

Todd Frazier turned a pitchers duel into a rout with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 advantage. The likelihood of him simply getting a hit in that situation – runners on first and second – was low: Frazier entered the game hitting .176 with men on base, the second-worst average in the majors (min. 150 at-bats).

The guy on first when Frazier went deep was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base via catcher’s interference for the 30th time in his career, breaking the major-league record for that obscure stat. The mark was previously set by Pete Rose, who got his 29 catcher’s interferences in a major-league-record 15,890 plate appearances; Ellsbury’s 30th came in his 5,308th plate appearance.

The unsung hero of the game was David Robertson, who took over for CC Sabathia with one out in the fifth and two men on base. He got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters and then held the Rays scoreless over next two frames. It was the first time in his career he pitched more than two innings and the earliest he entered a game since April 9, 2011.

How was D-Rob able to dominate the Rays? He peppered the edges of the strike zone with his signature cutter/curveball combo:

robertson

And got a few key outs with his devastating breaking ball (two strikeouts and two groundouts). Robertson’s curve is so nasty because of its ability to get whiffs and grounders at ridiculously high rates. More than 200 pitchers this year have thrown at least 100 curveballs, and only one other – Craig Kimbrel – can match Robertson’s 50 percent whiffs-per-swing rate and his 60 percent groundball rate with the pitch.

… and then see the good times come to a screeching halt
Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a bumpy and exasperating rollercoaster ride down the stretch in September. After enjoying a few days of offensive bliss, the Yankee bats crashed back down to earth on Tuesday. They were held to three hits – and didn’t get a runner past first base after the first inning – in a listless and boring 2-1 loss.

Yes, another one-run loss. It was their 25th of the season, which leads the American League and is also more than twice as many as they suffered last year (12). With a record of 15-25 (.375) in games decided by one run, they are still on pace for the fourth-worst winning percentage in those games in franchise history.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

They wasted another gem by Sonny Gray, who literally threw two bad pitches: his first one of the night, a 94 mph fastball up-and-away that Kevin Kiermaier deposited into the right-centerfield seats, and his 90th of the night, another elevated four-seamer that Adeiny Hechavarria clobbered for a tie-breaking solo homer in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier’s shot was the ninth leadoff homer allowed by the Yankees this season, which is one more than their pitchers gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined. For Gray, it was the first time in his career he surrendered a longball on the first pitch he threw in a game.

This lack of run support has become a recurring nightmare for Gray, who is 3-5 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the team. In those five losses, they have scored a total of four runs. Tuesday’s heart-breaker was the fourth time as a Yankee that he got charged with a loss despite giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such losses suffered by any starting pitcher in the majors since Gray made his first start in pinstripes on August 3. #KillTheWin

Gray certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, so let’s celebrate how terrific he’s been this season. It was his eighth consecutive road start allowing no more than two earned runs, the longest streak in the AL this season. The streak dates back more than three months, and during that stretch he’s posted a 1.99 ERA in those eight road starts, the best mark in the AL among guys with at least 35 innings pitched since June 1.

(AP)
(AP)

Survive and advance
Not even another massive RISPFAIL performance can stop the Fighting Spirit freight train that the Yankees have been riding this season. Despite leaving a small navy of runners on base and wasting a ton of scoring chances, the Yankees escaped with a 3-2 win on Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.

Joe Girardi went to The Binder early, yanking Jaime Garcia with two outs in the fifth inning after he’d only thrown 78 pitches and had allowed just one run at the time. This has become a signature call for Girardi this season — it was the 13th time a Yankee starter was removed before completing five innings, despite not giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such starts by any AL team and tied with the Brewers for the MLB-high.

Yet you could hardly fault Girardi for an early hook with Garcia, given his massive splits when facing batters multiple times in a game (stats and ranks entering Wednesday):

  • 1st time through order: .542 OPS, ranked 15th out of 172 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 2nd time through order: .783 OPS, ranked 88th out of 171 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 3rd time through order: .989 OPS, ranked 114th out of 119 starters with at least 100 batters faced

[And it also helps when you have a Pitching Cyborg — aka Chad Green — with 99 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings and a 1.96 ERA ready to go in the bullpen]

Brett Gardner — living up to his G.G.B.G. nickname — was the rare Yankee who came through in the clutch, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the second inning that would end up as the game-winning hit. He is now 11-for-21 (.524) with the bases loaded since the start of last season, the best mark among any AL player with at least 20 at-bats and the second-best in MLB behind Daniel Murphy.

David Robertson has quickly become the Yankees’ best and most indispensable reliever

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees ran into a bit of a predicament last night. CC Sabathia labored through the first four innings against the Rays — he allowed only one run, but he had to work hard for just about every out — and Tampa was again threatening in the fifth. They had two on with one out, and the middle of the order due up. The Yankees were up 5-1 at the time, so with one swing of the bat, it could’ve been 5-4.

Normally, that’s a Chad Green situation. He’s been the middle innings monster all season, often throwing multiple innings when the starter’s outing is cut short. It was a classic Green situation. The problem: Green was not available. He threw 2.1 innings and 47 pitches Sunday. So, Joe Girardi did the next best thing. He went to David Robertson. And he stuck with him. Nine up, eight down, 2.2 scoreless innings to get through the seventh.

The role of Green was played by Robertson last night. Green is the guy we’re used to seeing enter in the middle of the game, fire off 2.2 scoreless innings, then hand things over to the late-innings guys. Robertson is usually the one-and-done reliever. He pitches the seventh or the eighth or the ninth, and that’s usually it. But, with Green unavailable, he went out and threw those 2.2 innings. Needed only 36 pitches too.

“That was his last hitter. I had (Dellin Betances) ready to come in. It was his last hitter. He kept his pitch count down and we felt comfortable running him back out there,” said Girardi of Robertson’s lengthy performance following last night’s game (video link). “I think he’s really adopted the attitude that ‘I’m a real team player and I’ll do whatever you want.’ He said that from Day One … Let’s win. Whatever you need to do, do it.”

It has now been eight weeks since the Yankees re-acquired Robertson, and in those eight weeks he’s thrown 26.2 innings with a 1.35 ERA (2.36 FIP) and stellar strikeout (35.6%) and walk (7.7%) numbers. After the trade Robertson told Girardi to use him whenever and not worry about a set role, and the manager has obliged. Robertson has appeared in 22 games with New York. Here’s when he’s entered:

  • Fifth Inning: One game (last night)
  • Sixth Inning: Two games
  • Seventh Inning: Six games
  • Eight Inning: Eight games
  • Ninth Inning: Four games
  • Extra Innings: One game

“I look at the spot in the fifth inning when I came in as being the same as coming in in the eighth inning. That was point where we needed to stop their momentum,” said Robertson following last night’s game (video link). “I don’t care when I pitch. I’ll do whatever it takes to get us back to the playoffs and give us a chance to get another ring.”

Since returning to the Yankees, Robertson has been the team’s best reliever. Well, second best behind Green, I’d say, but Green seems to be in his own little world of awesomeness. Robertson has been the best among the team’s regular late-inning guys. Betances has had walk trouble all year, and it has been extreme at times. Aroldis Chapman has had his ups and and downs too. Tommy Kahnle has disappointed and Adam Warren is hurt. Robertson has been steady and reliable.

Acquiring Robertson was never a luxury — remember how bad the bullpen was at the time of the trade? — though he’s become even more of a necessity than I think even the Yankees expected. Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery are no longer locks for five innings, nevermind six, and Green isn’t available for days at a time given his multi-inning role. It’s been Robertson who has stepped in to fill in the gaps, and do whatever the team needs. Sometimes it’s get three outs, and sometimes, like last night, it’s been get eight outs.

The Yankees lack a reliable lefty specialist, but they probably don’t need one either

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Since the start of this past offseason, the Yankees have reportedly been looking for a reliable left-on-left reliever. They looked for one all winter and again before the trade deadline, but came up empty. Tommy Layne (remember him?) started the season in that role before pitching his way off the roster. The Yankees haven’t had a true lefty specialist since.

Chasen Shreve has spent the bulk of the summer on the big league roster and he’s not really a lefty specialist, and Joe Girardi doesn’t use him like one. Shreve has been throwing one or two innings in lopsided games for a few weeks now. He’s essentially a short relief mop-up man, not a matchup guy. This is why:

  • Righties against Shreve (career): .208/.301/.412 (.307 wOBA)
  • Lefties against Shreve (career): .248/.336/.428 (.329 wOBA)

Shreve is a fastball-splitter pitcher. He lacks that quality breaking ball he can sweep across the plate to get left-handed hitters to chase, hence his career-long reverse split. Shreve doesn’t have the tools to be a left-on-left matchup guy. Asking him to do that would be to ignore his skill set and focus only on handedness.

The Yankees have two other left-handed relievers on the roster right now: Aroldis Chapman and Caleb Smith. Smith is a long man who has the same problem as Shreve as a fastball-changeup pitcher. He doesn’t have that put-away breaking ball. Chapman has lost his closer’s job and would be the most overqualified lefty specialist in history based on his career accomplishments. The Yankees are trying to get him back on track so he can pitch full innings in close games, not match up in the middle innings.

I suppose the Yankees could always make a rare September trade for a lefty reliever — they did make a September trade for Brendan Ryan in 2013, after Derek Jeter got hurt — but I doubt that’ll happen. Besides, that player wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason roster anyway. He could help in September but not October. The Yankees do not have a reliable left-on-left reliever right now — even Chapman has had some issues with lefties lately — and, truth be told, they really don’t need one, because:

(vs. LHB) AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
Dellin Betances .116/.269/.151 .216 46.2% 11.5% 55.3% 0.00
Chad Green .143/.200/.286 .211 50.7% 6.7% 18.8% 0.87
David Robertson .171/.240/.284 .228 37.5% 8.3% 52.9% 1.09
Adam Warren .211/.268/.293 .237 24.4% 7.3% 45.5% 0.47

Aside from Tommy Kahnle, who hasn’t had much success against lefties this year (.318 wOBA), the Yankees top right-handed relievers are all very effective against lefties. Betances and Robertson have been better against lefties than righties this year, at least in terms of wOBA, and both Green and Warren have been great against opposite hand batters too. I know Green’s shockingly low 18.8% ground ball rate against lefties is a little scary, but I’ll live with it when it comes with a 50.7% strikeout rate. He doesn’t get squared up often anyway.

The Yankees aren’t desperate for a left-on-left matchup reliever right now because they have four righties who can get out lefties. And here’s the important part: Girardi seems to understand that. Girardi leaves all those guys in to throw full innings, often more in the cases of Green and Warren. He doesn’t get cute trying to match up with a lefty. He didn’t do it when they had Layne and he’s not doing it now. That’s good. Stick with your best arms rather than try to force something for the sake of handedness.

Looking ahead to the postseason — the Yankees have to get there first, of course — potential opponents do have some quality left-handed hitters. The Indians have Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, at least when they’re healthy. The Astros have Brian McCann. The Red Sox have Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mitch Moreland. The Twins have Joe Mauer, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario. The Orioles have Chris Davis and Seth Smith. The Angels have Kole Calhoun. So on and so forth.

Potential postseason opponents have strong lefties in their lineup, so it would’ve been nice to add a quality left-handed specialist at some point. It’s a little too late though, and besides, in the late innings of a close game, who do you want facing Brantley or Benintendi or Davis, some lefty specialist or Robertson or Betances or Green? Exactly. Give me the high-end righties over the matchup lefties. That’s what we’re going to see down the stretch and that’s why I don’t think the lack of a reliable lefty specialist is that big a deal.

Now, here’s the x-factor: Jaime Garcia. Even though he had his last start skipped, he’s going to end up starting against at some point during the regular season. It’s hard to see how he fits into a potential postseason rotation barring injury though. He has that killer breaking ball to neutralize lefties and could be a potential left-on-left matchup option. The numbers:

  • Righties against Garcia (2017): .263/.347/.441 (.335 wOBA) with 16.0 K% and 11.3 BB%
  • Lefties against Garcia (2017): .242/.277/.379 (.282 wOBA) with 26.3 K% and 3.9 BB%

Jordan Montgomery‘s numbers against lefties aren’t so great (.319 wOBA), plus he’s never pitched out of the bullpen before, which is why I don’t think he’s much of a lefty reliever candidate. Garcia has some bullpen experience — he relieved a bunch as a rookie and made two bullpen appearances last season — and besides, unlike Montgomery, the Yankees presumably aren’t worried about his long-term development. Garcia very well might be the team’s best option for a left-on-left matchup reliever in the postseason, should they decide they absolutely need one.

At this point in time, the Yankees do not have an obvious lefty specialist in their bullpen, and it’s really no big deal considering how effective their top righties are against lefties. A lefty specialist is one of those things teams would like to have but don’t absolutely need. Neither the Cubs nor the Indians had a lefty specialist last year. They just had really good relievers. That’s where the Yankees are. Who needs a lefty specialist when Robertson, Betances, Green, or Warren (or Chapman) could be getting those outs instead?

Yankeemetrics: Different city, same ending (July 17-19)

(AP)
(AP)

Stranded on second
The road trip continued westward to Minnesota, and the result was a familiar one. An inconsistent offense on Monday night led to another gut-wrenching close loss, 4-2, droppping the Yankees’ record in games decided by two or fewer runs to 14-23 this season. The only team worse in MLB? The Phillies.

The most frustrating part of the game was that they had six doubles – setting themselves up to drive in a bunch of runs – yet scored only twice. Only once before in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) had the Yankees finished a game with at least six extra-base hits and no more than two runs scored – an 8-2 loss on August 12, 1965 to the …. Minnesota Twins.

The game still had its highlights, however, with a few notable performances by our Baby Bombers. Clint Frazier legged out two ‘hustle’ doubles, giving him eight extra-base hits in his short 11-game career, the second Yankee ever to with that many hits for extra bases in his first 11 career games. The other? Someone named Joe DiMaggio.

One night after getting his first big-league hit, Garrett Cooper went 3-for-4 and drove in a run, earning our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Over the last 100 seasons, he’s the only Yankee first baseman to have a three-hit game this early into his career (fourth game).

Caleb Smith pitched in his first major-league game, giving the Yankees the honor of being the first team this season to have 12 players make their MLB debut. Although he ended up allowing the game-winning runs, his performance was noteworthy: he’s the first Yankee since Jose Rijo in 1984 to make his debut as a reliever and strike out at least five guys in the game.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One game, two wins
Tuesday was a win-win for Yankee fans on and off the field: the team beat the Twins 6-3 thanks to some rare clutching hitting, while the front office delivered some much-need bullpen and corner infield help via a blockbuster trade with the White Sox.

On the field, facing their ol’ buddy Bartolo Colon, the Yankees chased the 44-year-old in the fifth inning as they exploded for five runs to erase a 3-1 deficit. Here’s a #FunFact about Colon (with a shout-out to loyal Twitter follower and guest RAB writer @LFNJSinner): Colon has faced 500 different players in his career, and two of them were the two managers in the dugouts for this series – Joe Girardi (1-for-2 vs. Colon) and Paul Molitor (2-for-8 vs. Colon).

Let’s not forget amid this current collapse that this Yankees team doesn’t ever quit. It was their 14th comeback victory when trailing by at least two runs in the game; only the Diamondbacks and Astros (both with 15) had more such wins through Tuesday.

As for the big news off the field, the Yankees and White Sox completed their first major-league trade since they acquired Nick Swisher in exchange for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez in November 2008.

By adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (welcome back, guys!) on Tuesday, the Yankees once again appear to be building a dynamic super-pen filled with power flamethrowers to dominate the middle and late innings.

Entering Wednesday, there were 18 relievers in the American League that had pitched at least 20 innings and boasted a strikeout rate of at least 32 percent. Five (!) of them will be wearing pinstripes for the rest of the season – Tommy Kahnle (42.6%), Dellin Betances (42.5%), Chad Green (37.4%), David Robertson (35.6%), Aroldis Chapman (32.7%).

At first glance, Todd Frazier‘s 2017 slashline doesn’t seem to be very encouraging: .207/.328/.432 in 280 at-bats. But their might be some bad luck baked into those numbers. His BABIP of .214 was the second-lowest among qualified hitters at the time of the trade. That includes an unfathomable .144 BABIP in 40 home games.

Statcast metrics tell a similar story: Using the launch angle and exit velocity of his batted balls, you can get a better picture of a hitter’s quality of contact and his true skill, independent of ballpark, defense, etc. That can be expressed in a metric called expected weighted on-base average (wOBA), which is just like OBP but gives a player more credit for extra-base hits.

Based on that method, Frazier had a spread of 29 points between his expected wOBA and actual wOBA, the 10th-largest differential among the 175 players with at least 250 at-bats this season. To put that into perspective, his actual wOBA of .333 ranked 109th in that 175-player sample — the same as Yunel Escobar — while his expected wOBA of .362 ranked 35th — on par with guys like Cody Bellinger (.365) and Robinson Cano (.367).

After a slow start, Frazier also has been heating up recently. Since June 17, he has a wRC+ of 140 in 96 plate appearances – a mark that ranks in the 80th percentile among all players and is better than any other Yankee in that span (min. 75 PA).

Deja vu all over again
If the Yankees were truly going to pull out of their never-ending tailspin and actually win a series, a trip to Minnesota to face the Twins would seem to be the perfect way to jumpstart an extended run. Consider these stats entering this series:

  • 19-6 (.760) at Target Field, the highest winning percentage for any team at any stadium since at least 1913 (min. 15 games).
  • Had never lost a series at Target Field, which opened in 2010.
  • Won five straight series overall against the Twins, tied for their longest active series-win streak versus any AL team (also won five in a row against the Royals).
  • Oh, and the Twins have the worst home record in the AL.

Welp.

Historical success couldn’t help the Yankees, as they lost Wednesday afternoon and fell to 0-8-2 in their last 10 series since sweeping the Orioles at Yankee Stadium June 9-11. It was their first series loss against the Twins since 2014 and their first in Minnesota since 2008.

If not for the second inning, the Yankees might have had a chance to actually break out of their slump. All six of the Twins’ runs came in the second frame and all six also came with two outs, a rare two-out implosion by Jordan Montgomery. Over his previous eight starts combined, the lefty had allowed just five two-out runs and had held hitters to a .180/.255/.340 line with two outs.

The Yankee offense couldn’t bail out Montgomery, either, as their struggles with runners scoring positioned deepened (1-for-7), resulting in another disappointing loss. Even more depressing than their lack of clutch hitting is the recurring nightmare of failing to close out series:

The Yankees have now lost their last nine games in which they had a chance to clinch a series win, and have also dropped 10 consecutive series finales, including eight straight on the road. Overall, this was their 10th loss in a “rubber game” (third game of a three-game series in which the teams split the first two games), which leads all MLB teams this season.

Thoughts following the big trade with the White Sox

Frazier. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frazier. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Are the Yankees buyers or sellers? That question was answered definitively last night. The Yankees completed a big seven-player trade with the White Sox that brings Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to New York. Going the other way are Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo. There’s a lot going on here and I have some thoughts, so let’s get to it.

1. For all intents and purposes this trade is Rutherford for Frazier, Robertson, and Kahnle. The Yankees aren’t going to miss Clippard at all. He was included in the trade to offset salary. Clarkin is a former first rounder, but his stock has been slipping since his 2015 elbow injury and he’s fallen behind several other pitching prospects in the system. Polo has a classic fourth outfielder’s profile in a system loaded with outfielders. Also, both Clarkin and Polo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I thought it was unlikely the Yankees would add either to the 40-man roster. They could have lost both guys for nothing in the offseason — I absolutely could see Polo sticking in the big leagues as an extra outfielder next year — and instead they turned them into big league help. The Yankees gave up one very good prospect plus stuff for three players who represent significant upgrades to their MLB roster. No one wants to see Rutherford go, but man, getting two high-end relievers for one top prospect is a hell of thing these days.

2. I don’t think the Yankees soured on Rutherford. I think this was simply a matter of having to give up a top prospect to get the deal done, and getting it done without giving up an MLB or near MLB piece. Rutherford’s really good! He’s also in Low-A ball and the Yankees have Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier in the big leagues with Dustin Fowler waiting once healthy. Don’t forget Tyler Wade and Jorge Mateo either. And even Aaron Hicks. He’s pretty cool too. There’s also Estevan Florial at Low-A as well. The Yankees have more quality outfielders than they could ever possibly roster. If they were going to dip into their system and trade one of their top prospects, the outfielder several years away from the big leagues is the one to give up. The Yankees kept all their close to MLB prospects and the kids who play positions of greater need. Rutherford was probably my favorite prospect in the system, so in that sense I’m bummed to see him go. I totally get it though.

3. My biggest qualm with giving up Rutherford in this trade is the opportunity cost. What else could they have gotten for him? Could the Yankees have used Rutherford as the centerpiece in a package for a controllable starting pitcher? Joel Sherman says the Yankees offered Rutherford to the White Sox for Jose Quintana, so they tried. I guess it wasn’t happening though. It’s only natural to wonder what else was out there. The Yankees do know what else was out there though. They didn’t decide on a whim yesterday to include Rutherford in this trade. They looked around the league, weighed their options, and decided this was the best way to maximize him as an asset. The Yankees haven’t gotten taken to the cleaners in a trade in a long time. Brian Cashman and his staff do their due diligence and there’s no reason to think they didn’t here. I trust that they explored the rotation trade market before agreeing to this deal with Rutherford.

4. One component of this trade you can’t quantify is the message it sends to the players. The guys already on the team. The Yankees just told everyone in the clubhouse we believe in you. We believe you’re good enough to win and we’re going to get you the help you need. Last year the message was the complete opposite. You guys aren’t good enough, so we’re going to trade some of our best players and hope for better days ahead. Now, just a year later, the Yankees are buying. I’m certain the guys in the clubhouse are fired up by this, especially everyone who sat through the trade deadline sale last year. How much will it translate to production on the field? I have no idea. I don’t think this is negligible though. The Yankees sent a message to their players with this trade and that message is we believe in you and we’re going to give you whatever support you need. How could anyone not be excited by that?

5. As for things we can quantify, holy smokes is this bullpen going to miss a lot of bats now. The lowest strikeout rate among the regular relievers belongs to Adam Warren at 25.7%. There are currently 152 relievers in the big leagues who have thrown at least 30 innings this season. Four of the top 15 strikeout rates now belong to Yankees:

3. Tommy Kahnle: 42.6%
4. Dellin Betances: 42.5%
8. Chad Green: 37.4%
15. David Robertson: 35.6%

Aroldis Chapman hasn’t thrown 30 innings because he spent all the time on the disabled list, but he has a healthy 32.7% strikeout rate this year as well. Bring me a bullpen full of guys who can miss bats and get outs without allowing a ball in play. To hell with ground balls and weak pop outs and all that. Give me big strikeout totals in the late innings. The Yankees have that now. Well, they have more of it now. Adding Robertson and Kahnle to Betances and Chapman and Green gives Joe Girardi plenty of options when he needs a strikeout. I love it.

(Matthew Stockman/Getty)
Kahnle. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

6. Kahnle is the main piece in this trade. Not Frazier or Robertson. Frazier is the former All-Star and Home Run Derby champ, and Robertson is a Proven Closer™, but Kahnle is the reason the Yankees had to give up Rutherford. He’s been unreal this season — he has a 2.50 ERA (1.47 FIP) with 42.6% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 36 innings — and he’s also only 27 with three full years of team control beyond 2017. And his arbitration salaries won’t be significant because he doesn’t have many career saves (only three). The Yankees believe they just acquired three and a half years of an elite reliever in his prime. Of course, Kahnle has never pitched this well before, mostly because he never threw this many strikes. His career walk rate prior to this season was 14.1%. It was 13.0% in the minors. What changed? Here’s what Kahnle told Colleen Kane back in April:

“It’s just a few changes, one with the leg kick and keeping my head on a straight line,” Kahnle said. “That’s basically keeping me going toward home plate and keeping my fastball command right there. (I’m) just a little more focused as well. (The leg kick) is basically just modified so I don’t sway back or take too long with my arm action. That way I’m opening up. But now I’m more closed with a direct line to the catcher.”

And there you have it. Kahnle streamlined his delivery and is now more on-line with the plate. That’s pretty big for the whole “throw strikes” thing. Will it last? Who knows. I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical. Heck, I am a little. I mean, Kahnle probably won’t be this good forever. He certainly wouldn’t be the first live-armed reliever to figure out how to throw strikes in his mid-to-late-20s though. Robertson did it. Andrew Miller did it. Lots of guys do it. The Yankees believe in Kahnle’s newfound control and that’s why they traded for him. He’s the main piece here. Frazier and Robertson are the big names and they’re pretty awesome in their own right. Kahnle’s the most impactful player the Yankees acquired in this trade.

7. As for bullpen roles, my guess is Girardi will bump Betances back to the seventh inning and use Robertson as the eighth inning guy ahead of Chapman. That’s fine. Dellin’s walk issues and general inability to hold runners mean he is no longer a great option to bring into the middle of an inning to put out a fire. He’s best off starting an inning fresh, at least until he starts throwing strikes again. The best option for that fireman role is Kahnle. He’s got the huge strikeout rate and he won’t beat himself with walks. That’s the guy Girardi should use in the highest of high-leverage spots, when he needs to escape a jam in a close game. Let Betances, Robertson, and Chapman have the assigned innings — you know Girardi is going to assign innings — and let Kahnle be the fireman. This really is a hell of a bullpen now. The Yankees have the three-headed monster in the late innings, Kahnle available to put out fires, and Warren and Green for whatever other situations arise.

8. Speaking of Green, I’ve already seen some speculation that this trade could tempt the Yankees to move him back into the rotation, and I am completely against that. The bullpen is the place for him. Green still doesn’t have a changeup and he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher (29.0% grounders this year). He’s not equipped to turn over a lineup multiple times. I absolutely believe learning how to get outs in the bullpen can help a pitcher when he transitions back to the rotation — I’ve said this before, but I don’t think Luis Severino turns into the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last year — but with Green, I don’t see the tools to start. He’s found a home in the bullpen and there’s no shame in carving out a career as a reliever. Not these days. Let him continue to air it out in one and two-inning stints. If anything, Warren is the guy the Yankee should move into the rotation, not Green. Warren definitely has the repertoire and command to start. (I say that as the world’s biggest Adam Warren fan, so I’m biased.)

9. This trade felt like the start of a series of moves for the Yankees prior to the trade deadline, not the move. I think they’re going to look high and low for rotation help. They’d love a controllable guy, we all know that, but if they have to settle for a rental, they’ll do it. You don’t make a trade like this only to stick with Luis Cessa or Bryan Mitchell every fifth day, you know? A starter is the top priority now and that’s understandable. I could also see the Yankees pursuing a true matchup left-on-left reliever. Someone better at neutralizing lefties than Chasen Shreve. I suppose a bullpen southpaw isn’t all that important since the Yankees have several righty relievers who can get out lefties (Warren, Betances, Robertson), but it would be nice to have. Rotation help is far and away the priority right now. If the Yankees happen to find a lefty reliever too, great. Point is, I think there’s something else coming. The Yankees didn’t make this trade with the intentional of calling it a deadline and hoping for the best.

10. As for Frazier, he’s going to play everyday and I expect him to spend most of his time at first base. I could see a convoluted platoon in which Frazier (first base) and Chase Headley (third base) play against righties while Frazier (third) and Garrett Cooper (first) play against lefties. Something like that. First base has been an absolute disaster this season — the Yankees have gotten a .183/.272/.355 (66 wRC+) batting line from the position this year, which gave me a headache just typing it out — even when factoring Cooper’s and Ji-Man Choi‘s recent heroics. Frazier, as flawed a hitter as he is, will be a big upgrade. He could be worth as much as +2 WAR to the Yankees the rest of the way relative to the guys he’s replacing. Hopefully he comes in, is energized by being in a postseason race for the first time in several years, and goes all 2000 David Justice in the second half.

Yankees acquire Frazier, Robertson, Kahnle from White Sox

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Any question about whether the Yankees would be buyers or sellers has been answered. Tuesday night the Yankees swung their largest trade deadline deal in several years, finalizing a seven-player trade with the White Sox that brings Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson to New York. Tyler Clippard, Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo are going the other way. Both teams have announced the trade. It’s a done deal. Officially official.

“Those are all guys who can help us accomplish what we’re trying to,” said Brett Gardner, who texted Robertson after the trade, to Bryan Hoch following Tuesday’s game. The Yankees are assuming the remainder of Robertson’s contract, which isn’t bad by any means. He’s owed the balance of his $12M salary this year plus $13M next year. Frazier is a rental and Kahnle will remain under team control through 2020 as an arbitration-eligible player.

Frazier, 31, is hitting .207/.328/.432 (103 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 81 games this season, and while that doesn’t sound exciting, it’s a massive upgrade over what the Yankees have been getting from first base this year. Joe Girardi confirmed Frazier will play both first and third bases, and I’m sure he’ll be in the lineup everyday. Also, Frazier is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s great with young players and in general. The Yankees value that.

Robertson and Kahnle will help a bullpen that has been way too shaky this season. Kahnle, 27, was originally selected in the fifth round by the Yankees in the 2010 draft. They lost him to the Rockies in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft and he eventually made his way to the White Sox. Kahnle has been unreal this season. Dude has a 2.50 ERA (1.47 FIP) with 42.6% strikeouts and 5.0% walks in 36 innings. He’s been better than Robertson.

The 32-year-old Robertson has a 2.70 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 33.1 innings with 35.6% strikeouts and 8.3% walks, so typical David Robertson stuff. Welcome home, D-Rob. He and Kahnle are going to give the bullpen a huge shot in the arm. The Yankees are — and this isn’t hyperbole — replacing one of the worst relievers in baseball this season (Clippard) with one of the best (Kahnle). And then getting Robertson on top of that.

The big piece going to the White Sox in the trade is Rutherford, New York’s first round pick in last year’s draft. The 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .281/.342/.391 (112 wRC+) with two home runs in 71 Low Class-A games this season. That’s pretty good for a 20-year-old kid in full season ball, though maybe not quite what everyone hoped coming into the season. Either way, Rutherford remains an excellent prospect.

Polo and Clarkin, both 22, are decent prospects and nothing more at this point. Clarkin was one of the Yankees’ three first round picks in 2013, so once upon a time he was a pretty big deal, but he hasn’t really been the same since missing the entire 2015 season with an elbow issue. Polo came over from the Pirates in last year’s Ivan Nova trade and projects as a fourth outfielder. He’s very likely to play in MLB at some point.

Clippard was thrown into the trade as a way to offset some salary, and also clear a 40-man roster spot. (The Yankees still have to clear two more 40-man spots.) Clippard started the season in the Circle of Trust™, but he’s been getting bombed the last few weeks, forcing the Yankees to use him in lower leverage spots whenever possible. He has a 4.95 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 36.1 innings this year. Yuck. Addition by subtraction.

Now that it’s crystal clear the Yankees are going to add pieces at the trade deadline, they figure to buckle down and look for a starting pitcher. Michael Pineda is done for the season and running guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa out there every fifth day isn’t a good idea. I don’t think the Yankees will trade top prospects for a someone like Sonny Gray, necessarily, but I do expect them to search around for a veteran innings guy.