Betances looking forward to Chapman helping reduce his workload

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

It’s no secret Dellin Betances has endured a huge workload the last two seasons. He’s thrown 174 innings the last two years, nearly 20 more than any other reliever, and most of those innings were high-leverage situations. Dellin hasn’t just been throwing a lot of innings, he’s been throwing a lot of high-intensity innings.

Betances is a physically massive human — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 265 lbs. on the team’s official site — and the workload hasn’t really hurt his performance much. Yeah, he struggled throwing strikes late last season, but he has a history of control problems, so it wasn’t totally out of the ordinary. Fatigue may have been a factor. We just can’t say so definitively.

Either way, ideally Dellin’s workload would not be quite as high as it has been going forward. Relievers don’t throw 85+ high-stress innings year-after-year anymore. Aroldis Chapman will assume some of those high-leverage innings, and Betances said he’s looking forward to having the team’s new closer lighten his load a bit.

“It’s exciting, obviously,” said Betances to Meredith Marakovits when asked about Chapman (video link). “And I think that will help my workload as well, having Chapman there … I think everything will fall into place. Whatever the team needs me to do to help them win, I’ll be ready.”

I think Joe Girardi and the Yankees would like limit Betances to somewhere in the 70-75 inning range going forward, which is still pretty high by reliever standards. Only 19 relievers threw 70+ innings in 2015. Dellin’s shown he can handle a larger than usual workload, and that’s something the Yankees should take advantage of when possible.

Girardi likes to assign his relievers specific innings and it seems like Betances will take over as the seventh inning guy in 2016. That’s not set in stone, but I think it’s heading in that direction. That’s a good spot for Betances because Girardi can use him to get a few outs in the sixth inning on occasion as well. Justin Wilson didn’t do that much last year.

Betances is a big guy and he will turn 28 during Spring Training, so he’s not a young prospect. That doesn’t mean his workload can be brushed aside either. The Yankees want Dellin to help them win not only in 2016, but also in 2017, 2018, and 2019 as well. He’s a core member of the roster, and using Chapman to help lighten the load on Betances is a big positive.

Thanks to Chapman, Joe Girardi has more flexibility with Dellin Betances

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

In his eight seasons as Yankees manager, Joe Girardi has made it pretty clear he likes having defined roles for his relievers. He likes having a set eighth inning guy plus a set seventh inning guy whenever possible. Every manager makes weird moves from time to time, but considering the Yankees have by far the best bullpen WPA during those eight seasons, Girardi’s reliever management is among the best.

Next season Girardi will have another elite reliever at his disposal. The Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller tandem was as good as it gets in 2015, and now the Yankees have added Aroldis Chapman to the mix following this week’s trade. Those three are among the five best relievers in the world by almost every objective measure. Chapman’s off-the-field history is pretty ugly. On the mound, he’s untouchable.

“Given the circumstances that exist, the price point on the acquisition has been modified. We felt this was an opportunity to add a big arm to our bullpen,” said Brian Cashman during a conference call following the trade. The Yankees were able to get Chapman without trading a significant prospect and without subtracting from their big league roster. In pure baseball terms, it was a fantastic trade.

It remains to be seen how Girardi will deploy his new end-game arms, though I’m guessing Chapman will replace Miller as the closer. Miller doesn’t seem to care, and really, there’s no wrong answer. As long as both are pitching in high-leverage spots, it’s fine. Girardi’s a good bullpen manager. I trust he’ll have his best relievers on the mound in the most important situations as often as possible.

Beyond the ninth inning, the addition of Chapman allows Girardi to be more flexible with Betances. He was already pretty flexible with Dellin, using him for four or more outs when the situation called for it, and now he’ll have even more freedom in the middle innings. Girardi can use Betances for two innings today knowing he can rest him tomorrow while still having Miller and Chapman available. That sort of thing.

Dellin’s workload the last two seasons and the compounding effect of all those high stress innings does worry me going forward. It’s not cause for panic or anything like that, but Betances has thrown a lot of intense innings these last two years. They take a toll. Adding Chapman does figure to help lighten the load on Betances next year because there are more elite relievers to soak up the innings. Justin Wilson was great, but he’s not Chapman.

A reliever throwing two innings at a time is not a bad thing in and of itself. Doing it as often as Betances has done at times over the last two years is when it can be a problem. Pitching is inherently dangerous. Pitching while fatigued is even more dangerous. Girardi can still use Betances for multiple innings, but now he’ll have an easier time giving him that extra day of rest when necessary.

In all likelihood, Girardi will use one guy in the seventh inning (Betances?), one guy in the eighth (Miller?), and one guy in the ninth (Chapman?). That’s what his history suggests. Maybe he’ll match up with Betances and Miller from time to time, but assigning innings is his thing. If he’s open to it, the addition of Chapman gives Girardi a little more freedom to use Betances in the middle innings while still giving him the proper rest.

Andrew Miller on Aroldis Chapman trade: “I’m here to help in any capacity that I can”

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

Earlier this week, the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds in one of their classic out of nowhere trades. The whole thing went down in about an hour, from first rumor to press release. The Yankees added Chapman without giving up significant prospects or dealing anyone off their MLB roster.

Right now the Yankees plan to have Chapman join Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the bullpen, forming the most dominant reliever trio in history. That’s not hyperbole either. The early-to-mid-2000s Astros had a great bullpen threesome in Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel, and Brad Lidge, but not even they were as dominant as Chapman, Miller, and Betances.

My guess is Chapman will take over as the closer next season, mostly because he’s been one of the best closers in the game for a few years now. Miller was awesome in that role last season, so it’s not like he’s being replaced because he didn’t do the job, it just seems like Chapman will get the ninth inning based on reputation. And Miller is perfectly fine with that. Here’s what he told Brendan Kuty after the Chapman deal:

“I signed with the Yankees to win and I’m not stupid, he’s a heck of a pitcher,” Miller told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview Tuesday. “This is what I signed up for. I signed up to play for the Yankees, to win championships, and if (general manager Brian) Cashman and the Steinbrenners and whoever is part of the decision-making process thinks this is part of the answer, and that this is the way to go about it, that’s fine by me.”

Miller never did make any kind of stink about being the closer last season. He came to Spring Training and said he would do whatever the team asked, and it just so happened they needed him to close. “For what they’re paying me, I’ll do anything,” he said in early-May, after Joe Girardi finally declared him the closer.

Reports circulated saying Chapman wants to close when it appeared he was headed to the Dodgers a few weeks ago, though I’m not sure how true that is. Saves do pay, though I think at this point everyone knows Chapman is great and he’ll get paid accordingly in free agency next winter regardless of his 2016 saves total. That said, even the possibility of losing money due to a lack of saves may be enough to make Chapman uncomfortable.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no wrong answer in the late innings. Girardi could use Chapman or Miller or Betances to close and it would be perfectly fine with me. How could anyone think there’s a wrong answer here? They’re all great. If Chapman is more comfortable closing, then let him close and put him in the best position to succeed. Works for me.

As for Betances, what does he think about the Chapman addition? “I’m thinking about the game where we each pitch an inning and K all nine hitters we face,” he said to John Harper. Mmmhmmm.

The Good, the Bad, and the Funny of 2016 ZiPS Projections

2016 ZiPS

Yesterday morning, 2016 ZiPS projections for the Yankees were released over at FanGraphs. There are an awful lot projection systems out there but ZiPS has emerged as the most reliable — especially when it comes to translating minor league or overseas performance — of the bunch. Dan Szymborski’s system is pretty rad.

Anyway, projections are always fun to look at, though you have to take them with a grain of salt. (Those are the WAR projections in the image above.) Remember, projections are not predictions of what the player will do next season. They’re just an attempt to estimate the player’s current talent level. Got it? Good. Here are some Yankees projections that caught my eye for one reason or another.

Aaron Judge

Judge has maybe the most LOL worthy projection, and I mean that in a nice way, not a ZiPS is stupid way. The system him pegs him for 30 home runs … and a 35.0% strikeout rate. That’s just perfect. Judge still has some work to do to combat soft stuff away and I think if the Yankees did stick him in the show right now, he would strike out 30% of the time or more. Then again, 30 dingers! That’s fun. No other Yankee projects for 30 homers.

Greg Bird

In terms of OPS+, Bird projects as the best hitter in the organization right now. ZiPS has him at .252/.324/.486 (122 OPS+) with 26 dingers in 2016. Mark Teixeira (119 OPS+) and Alex Rodriguez (115 OPS+) are the only other players close to Bird. I can buy this. Bird showed a lot of Yankee Stadium friendly pull power in his cameo this year (eleven homers in 46 games) though I do worry teams will LOOGY the hell out of him. Then again, the only non-Yankee lefty starters in the AL East right now are David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore. Not exactly Murderer’s Row of southpaws there aside from Price.

Starlin Castro vs. Rob Refsnyder

Projection for Castro: .274/.310/.405 (98 OPS+) with 2.2 WAR. Projection for Refsnyder: .248/.318/.395 (98 OPS+) with 1.9 WAR. That’s basically the same! I’m not sure if I buy that though. I’d bet on Castro outproducing Refsnyder by a pretty decent margin if given the same playing time. There’s also the “they acquired Castro because they think he’s going to get a lot better” thing. Either way, the objective projection system sees Castro and Refsnyder as basically equal.

Oh, and by the way, ZiPS projects a .253/.310/.415 (100 OPS+) batting line for Dustin Ackley next season. Am I the only one who would sign up for that right now, no questions asked? Ackley’s hit .238/.298/.365 (89 OPS+) in his last 1,900 plate appearances.

No Innings

ZiPS projects Masahiro Tanaka to lead the Yankees in innings with … 157.7. Yikes. Luis Severino is second with 154 innings. That just reflects the rotation’s health concerns — injury history is baked into the ZiPS algorithm — which are significant. After all, CC Sabathia led the team with only 167.1 innings this past season, so having no one reach even 160 innings next year would not be the most surprising thing in the world.

The Yankees need some arms. We’ve known this for weeks. This starting staff is risky as hell. Lots of upside and lots of downside, and when four of the five projected 2016 starters missed time with injuries in 2015, the downside outweighs the upside.

The Bullpen Shuttle

In terms of FIP, the best projection among the various bullpen shuttle relievers belongs to … Nick Goody at 3.68. Jacob Lindgren (3.73 FIP) is right there with him. Everyone else is at a 4.00-ish FIP or above. Lindgren and Goody lead the way with 29.5% and 27.3% projected strikeout rates, respectively. We all know about Lindgren, he was the top draft pick who zoomed to MLB, but Goody had a ridiculous 2015 season in the minors (1.59 ERA and 2.06 FIP with 33.2 K%). He might be getting overlooked as a potential bullpen factor in 2016.

The Comps

ZiPS works by comparing players to others with similar statistical profiles, so it spits out a list of comps for each player. The No. 1 comp is included in the FanGraphs post and I always enjoy these because they have a way of knocking you back down to Earth. Take Severino, for example. His No. 1 comp? Kris Benson. Benson was the first overall pick in the 1996 draft and a pretty big prospect back in the day.

Glancing at the list, Dellin Betances is the only Yankee to get a Hall of Famer as his No. 1 comp (Goose Gossage). Well, Pete Kozma drew a Leo Durocher comp, but that’s Leo Durocher the light-hitting infielder and not Leo Durocher the Hall of Fame manager. Andrew Miller drew a Billy Wagner comp and you could argue Wagner’s a Hall of Famer. Bird got a Roberto Petagine comp. Judge? He got Jesse Barfield. Gary Sanchez drew Todd Zeile and Eric Jagielo drew Mark Reynolds. Matt Nokes as the No. 1 comp for Brian McCann gave me a good laugh.

Dallas Keuchel wins 2015 AL Cy Young award; Miller and Betances get votes

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

Thanks in part to his dominance of the Yankees, Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel was named the 2015 AL Cy Young award winner tonight. Tigers and Blue Jays southpaw David Price finished a relatively close second while Athletics righty Sonny Gray finished third. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances received down-ballot Cy Young votes. Miller received one fourth place vote and one fifth place vote, finishing tenth overall. Betances received one fifth place vote and finished 14th in the voting. No other Yankees received Cy Young votes, as expected. None of the starters had a good case for even a fifth place vote.

Cubs righty Jake Arrieta between out Dodgers co-aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for the NL Cy Young. The MVPs will be announced tomorrow night. The Yankees do not have any finalists, but as with the Cy Young, I’m sure one or two players will get down-ballot votes. Someone will vote for Alex Rodriguez, right?

The Effectively Wild Dellin Betances [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I don’t think there was a more exciting development last season than Dellin Betances going from suspect pitching prospect to dominant setup man. Betances has been in the organization a very long time — he predates RAB! — and during that time he’s experienced everything. Success, failure, trade rumors, more success, more failure, injuries, you name it. Dellin’s road to the big leagues was long and difficult.

After being a surprise last season, the Yankees had some very high expectations for Betances heading into the 2015 season. He was expected to anchor the bullpen along with free agent pickup Andrew Miller — the Yankees let David Robertson walk and replaced him with Miller, saving payroll space and picking up a draft pick in the process — and he did just that, though things didn’t come as easy for Dellin in 2015 as they did in 2014.

The Walks of Spring

After Robertson was allowed to leave, it was unclear whether Betances or Miller would close. Both guys were worthy of the job as far and as I was concerned, there was no wrong answer. Heck, Joe Girardi even talked about using them as co-closers, matching up in the eighth and ninth innings rather than having one dedicated pitcher for each inning.

The co-closers plan never materialized. Betances had some big time control problems in Spring Training and was missing some velocity, which was a cause for concern but not outright panic. He allowed five runs in 8.1 Grapefruit League innings, striking out nine and walking six. Betances brushed off questions about his velocity, but, near the end of camp, he really seemed to cut it loose and his control suffered even more.

“The velocity will come. It’s the same thing as last year in Spring Training. I just trusted it. This year I’m trying to do a little extra with whatever I have instead of just trusting it,” said Betances in March. “I just have to pitch more. The more I pitch, the better I feel. That’s always been (the case), ever since I moved to the bullpen. The more I’d get to pitch, the better I’d feel.”

Betances struggled with his control through the end of Spring Training — he struck out three batters in the final exhibition game but also walked one and allowed a hit, which was another problem, he was very hittable in camp — and given his history of control problems, there was no guarantee Dellin would snap out of it once the games counted.

“There’s not concern for me now. If it was to go on for a long time you’d be concerned,” said Girardi. “Power pitchers usually take a little bit longer to get going … We’ll keep it consistent. It’s a long year. We’ll keep it consistent with what we’ve done in Spring Training. He’ll be ready to go.”

Early Struggles

The control problems carried over into the regular season. Betances walked two batters in each of his first three appearances — that’s six of 18 batters faced (33.3%) — while striking out only three. Only 36 of his 81 pitches in those three outings were strikes. Here’s his strike zone plot via Baseball Savant:

Betances strike zone

When Betances missed, he missed by a lot. This isn’t a guy who nibbled at the edges and didn’t get some calls. Dellin overpowers hitters in the strike zone, that’s his thing, and he was nowhere close to the zone in those first three appearances. Also, his velocity had not yet returned all the way. He was still humping it in there in the mid-90s, but it was max effort and with no control whatsoever. Here is his game-by-game velocity graph for 2014 and the first three games of 2015, via Brooks Baseball:

Dellin Betances velocityBetances allowed just one unearned run on three hits and six walks in 3.1 innings in those first three appearances, so the results from a runs allowed perspective were fine. Dellin was clearly not right though. He labored constantly. After an inauspicious Spring Training, Betances struggled in early-April, and it was fair to wonder if his pre-2014 control problems had again surfaced.

“I feel good. I mean, the confidence is there,” said Betances in April. “I’m making pitches when I need to and I’m just following (Brian McCann‘s) game plan and trying to help the team win. I feel better the more I pitch and I’m just getting into a good rhythm.”

An All-Star, Again

On April 14th, the day after that third appearance of the season, it was like someone flipped a switch. Betances started dominating and looked like the 2014 version of himself. He struck out two and walked none in an inning in his fourth appearance of the season on April 15th. Two days later he struck out another batter and walked none in an inning. Two days later he struck out two and walked one in 1.2 innings.

From April 15th through the end of the May, Dellin allowed two unearned runs on seven hits and five walks in 24 innings, striking out 41. Opponents hit .091/.143/.103 in 84 plate appearances during those 24 innings. At one point he struck out 38 of 76 batters faced, exactly half. The old Dellin was back it was glorious. Even his velocity returned. When Miller landed on the DL for a month, Betances filled in at closer and went 6-for-6 in save chances.

Dellin’s perfect 0.00 ERA lasted until June 5th, when he was charged with one run on a hit and two walks against the Angels. That was the near disaster game, when the Yankees led 8-1 going into the final inning, but allowed six runs and the tying run to reach third base before recording the 27th out. Dellin took his first loss on June 23rd, when he was charged with four runs in an inning against the Phillies. (Nick Rumbelow allowed three inherited runners to score.)

Even with that messy outing against Philadelphia, Betances finished the first half with a 1.53 ERA (1.75 FIP) in 47 innings. He struck out 77 and walked 19, though six of those 19 walks came in his first three outings. That performance earned Betances his second straight All-Star Game nod, and this time he actually got in the game. Dellin threw a scoreless seventh inning in the Midsummer Classic.

Betances continued to be a bullpen force immediately after the breaking, throwing 17 scoreless innings to start the second half. He allowed seven hits and seven walks while striking out 24. Opponents hit .123/.219/.140 against him in 64 plate appearances.

In his first 56 appearances of the season, Betances pitched to a 1.13 ERA (1.70 FIP) in 64 innings. He struck out 41.2% of batters faced while walking 10.6%, which is high, but Dellin allowed so few hits that it didn’t really matter. After those first three appearances he was back to being the 2014 Betances, the guy who dominated all hitters with an overpowering fastball and a knee-buckling breaking ball. The plan to team Betances with Miller and own the late innings was working to perfection.

Late Control Problems

Dellin’s control problems resurfaced late in the season and they really started in August. In his final 26 appearances and 29.1 innings, Betances walked 17 batters, or 13.9% of batters faced. He walked 12 of the final 63 batters he faced, or 19.0%. It’s not so much that he was throwing fewer strikes overall — Betances threw 60% strikes in September — but when he missed, he missed by a lot and in bunches.

For the most part Betances was able to navigate around the walks. He allowed four runs in 16.2 September innings and two of the four came on solo home runs. Batters had a .371 OBP against Dellin that month though, and only four times in his 14 appearances after September 1st did he have a 1-2-3 inning. September 7th against the Orioles was the most Betances outing ever. He faced six batters, walked three, struck out three, and allowed no runs.

Betances recorded five outs in the wildcard game and allowed an insurance run on a walk, a stolen base, and a stupid little single that was more about Jose Altuve being Jose Altuve than Betances doing something wrong. The pitch was down and away — it wasn’t even a strike — and Altuve just reached out and hooked it to right (video). What can you do?

After September 1st, Betances pitched to a 2.16 ERA in 16.2 innings, though his FIP was unsightly 4.81 FIP due to all the walks. He ended the season with a 1.50 ERA (2.48 FIP) in 84 innings spread across 74 appearances. He struck out 39.5% and walked 12.1% of batters faced, and got a ground ball on 47.7% of balls in play. That is obviously excellent, though it is a very slight step back from his 2014 season. I guess that was inevitable, right? How could Dellin be that good again? All things considered, he came pretty damn close.

Betances led all relievers in innings (84), strikeouts (131), and bWAR (3.8), was second in pitches thrown (1,373), and third in fWAR (2.4) this past season. He’s the first reliever in Yankees history with back-to-back 100 strikeout seasons and only the fourth reliever in history with two 130+ strikeout seasons, joining Dick Radatz, Goose Gossage, and Rob Dibble. Those guys all threw more innings than Betances though. Different eras.

Two Release Points Is One Too Many

Dellin is a physically huge dude. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 265 lbs., and it’s tough to keep those long arms and legs under control. Betances is not a great athlete either — by baseball standards, anyway, but normal person standards he’s out of this world — so he can struggle with his mechanics and repeating his delivery. He’s battled it his entire career.

One of the reasons Betances was so great last season was his ability to release his fastball and breaking ball from the same spot. Owen Watson wrote a really great post on Dellin’s deception back in March. Betances released his fastball and breaking ball from the same release point, so hitters had a tough time differentiating the two pitches, leading to a lot of those funny called strikes on pitches seemingly down the middle.

That was not necessarily the case this season. PitchFX data shows Dellin had different release points for his fastball and curveball. One arm slot for the fastball, one for the breaking ball. The first graph is his vertical release point and the second is his horizontal release point.

Dellin Betances vertical release pointDellin Betances horizontal release point

Last season Dellin’s fastball and breaking ball release points where nice and tight together. Everything came out of his hand in the same spot and that is bad news for the hitter regardless of whether the pitcher is throwing 91 mph with an upper-70s curveball or touching 100 mph with a hammer mid-80s breaking ball like Betances.

Not only did Betances have different release points for his fastball and breaking ball this season, but the two graphs make it appear as though the two release points drifted farther apart as the season progressed. Betances has nasty stuff, even when he’s struggling to throw strikes, but if he has different release points for his heater and bender, it helps the hitter. It gives them a better idea what’s coming.

Why did Dellin have one release point last year and two this year? That’s almost impossible to answer. We can’t rule out fatigue — Betances has pitched a ton the last two years, and especially so in high-leverage spots this year, and all those intense pitches can take a toll — but it could be he fell out of whack with his mechanics and never did get back on track. Again, he has a history of this.

Either way, with one release point or two, Betances was pretty excellent this past season. He wasn’t quite as excellent as last season, when he seemed to overpower everyone and rarely get into jams, but he still kept runs off the board. Things were a little more difficult for Dellin this summer. He made us all sweat a bit, especially in early-April and late-September.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Betances will be in his final pre-arbitration season next year, and while an offseason trade should never be completely ruled out, it would be a surprise if Dellin wasn’t in the 2016 Opening Day bullpen. The Yankees will again count on him to team with Miller and dominate the late innings. They had a .957 winning percentage when leading after seven innings this past season — the MLB average is .882 — and they’ll look to repeat that next year. Betances is a big piece of the puzzle.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

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

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.