Saturday Links: Bour, Trade Value, Conlon, Rasmussen

Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Later today the Yankees and Red Sox will continue their four games in three days series with the second game at Fenway Park. That’s a 4pm ET start. Until then, here are some links to check out.

Bour trade talks only “cursory”

According to Buster Olney, trade talks between the Yankees and Marlins about first baseman Justin Bour have only been “cursory, non-specific.” Olney says the Marlins have let teams know they’re open for business while Jon Heyman reports the club has no intention to trade its affordable core players. That sounds like posturing to me. They’re willing to trade them but say they won’t in an effort to build some leverage.

Bour, 29, is hitting .289/.367/.556 (136 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 77 games this season, plus he’s under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. He put on quite a show in the Home Run Derby before getting knocked out by Aaron Judge. On one hand, Bour would be an enormous first base upgrade for the Yankees, and he’d provide a DH option going forward should Greg Bird ever get healthy. On the other hand, something about trading prospects for a 29-year-old late bloomer at the bottom of the defensive spectrum doesn’t sit well with me.

Three Yankees make FanGraphs’ trade value series

Over the last week Dave Cameron has posted his annual trade value series, in which he ranks the top 50 players in baseball by trade value. It’s not just about performance. It’s about performance and years of team control, things like that. Bryce Harper is obviously excellent, though he doesn’t make the top 50 because he’ll be a free agent after next season. Anyway, three Yankees make the top 50, and they’re the young cornerstones of the franchise.

6. Aaron Judge
12. Gary Sanchez
35. Luis Severino

Judge is behind Carlos Correa, Mike Trout, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor in that order. I have no problems with that. Judge is awesome and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season, though he’s only been this for half-a-season. Those other guys have done it for a full season, at least. Sanchez is the highest ranked catcher and Severino is the 12th ranked pitcher, which is pretty great. Last year there were no Yankees in the trade value series. Now there are three, including two in the top 12.

O’s fourth rounder now a free agent

Jack Conlon, a fourth round pick by the Orioles in this year’s draft, is now an unrestricted free agent, according to both Jim Callis and Hudson Belinsky. The O’s saw something they didn’t like in Conlon’s physical and declined to sign him. They didn’t even make him the minimum offer (40% of his slot value), which is why he’s now a free agent. MLB.com ranked the Texas high school right-hander as the 175th best prospect in the draft class. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Conlon can pitch at 92-95 mph with life on his fastball and back it up with an 81-84 mph slider on days when his mechanics are in sync. His changeup lags behind his other two pitches, though it has some fade and he shows some feel for it. He has a classic pitcher’s build at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds that bodes well for his durability. Conlon lacks consistency, however, because he has a rough delivery with effort and a head whack.

There haven’t been any reports connecting Conlon to the Yankees (or any other team), and they might never come. This might be one of those situations where we skip straight to the signing announcement. I’m certain the Yankees will look into signing Conlon because hey, it’s not often you can pick up a decent pitching prospect for nothing but cash, though the failed physical is an issue. The Orioles are notoriously tough with their physicals, so maybe it’s nothing. Then again, it could be a serious arm problem, so much so that spending money on him isn’t worth the increased risk.

Also, I should note the Rays did not sign Oregon State right-hander Drew Rasmussen, the 31st selection in this year’s draft, also because something popped up in his physical. There are conflicting reports out there about his current status. Some say he’s a free agent because the Rays didn’t make the minimum offer while others say the Rays did make the minimum offer, and Rasmussen will return to school for his senior season rather than become a free agent. Who knows.

Cano’s home run gives AL a 2-1 win in the 2017 All-Star Game

Those socks tho. (Presswire)
Those socks tho. (Presswire)

Once again, the American League has proven it is the superior and more enjoyable league. The AL won the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park on Tuesday night thanks to Robinson Cano‘s tenth inning home run against Wade Davis. The final score was 2-1. Cano hit the homer and was named MVP. Andrew Miller got the save. Ex-Yankees all over the place.

With the win, the AL has tied up the all-time All-Star Game series at 43-43-2. Both leagues have scored exactly 361 runs too. Freaky. The AL has won each of the last five All-Star Games and 17 of the last 21 overall. Total dominance. Here’s video of the Cano home run:

Man do I miss watching that guy’s swing on a daily basis. I still have nothing but love for Robbie.

As for the Yankees, Aaron Judge started the game in right field and went 0-for-3 before being removed. He struck out against Max Scherzer, grounded out again Carlos Martinez, and flew out against Alex Wood. Judge didn’t have to make any tough plays in the field. He made it out in one piece and that’s all that matters.

Dellin Betances threw the third inning for the AL and danced in and out of danger. His inning went single (Zack Cozart), strikeout (Charlie Blackmon), strikeout (Giancarlo Stanton), walk (Bryce Harper), walk (Buster Posey), ground out (Daniel Murphy). Luis Severino did not pitch in the game. He said he was slated to pitch the 11th had the game continued. Lame, but I guess he could use the rest.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Gary Sanchez came off the bench to replace Salvador Perez. He grounded out against Brad Hand and struck out against Kenley Jansen. (Future Yankee?) Yonder Alonso was on second base with one out in a 1-1 game that at-bat. Womp womp. Not a great day for the Yankees, but whatever. Who cares?

Here is the box score and video highlights. Now that the All-Star Game is over, every team in the league will have Wednesday and Thursday off. The Yankees begin the second half Friday night at Fenway Park for the first game of a four games in three days series with the Red Sox. Going right back into the fire, eh? Enjoy the rest of the All-Star break.

Aaron Judge wins 2017 Home Run Derby, all our hearts

If you don't know now you know. (Presswire)
If you don’t know now you know. (Presswire)

Monday night at Miami, Aaron Judge stole the show and won the 2017 Home Run Derby. He beat Justin Bour 23-22 in the first round, Cody Bellinger 13-12 in the second round, and Miguel Sano 11-10 in the third round. Judge was on another level. The last two rounds were actually anticlimactic.

The first round matchup with Bour was the highlight of the night. The hometown Marlin clubbed an incredible 22 home runs and had the crowd going nuts. Judge came back to hit 23 with time to spare. It was amazing. Bour had an amazing and fun round, and Judge knocked him right out.

In the second round Judge socked home runs measuring 504, 507, and 513 feet. He also hit one off the Marlins Park roof that didn’t count, so he really socked 24 against Bour. Judge also went opposite field into the second deck a few times, where the lefty power guys were hitting bombs. It was insane. Here’s some video:

Judge is the fourth Yankee to win the Home Run Derby, joining Tino Martinez (1999), Jason Giambi (2003), and Robinson Cano (2012). His 47 home runs are a Yankees record for the Home Run Derby. He could have topped Stanton’s record of 61 homers had they allowed him to hit until time expires. (As the higher seed, his round ended as soon as he topped his opponent’s total.)

As for Gary Sanchez, he knocked off Stanton in the first round 17-16 before losing to Sano in the second round 11-10. Sanchez seemed to run out of gas in the second round. Oh well. Nice try, Gary. Not bad for the second most awesome young Yankees slugger.

2017 Midseason Review: The Catchers

With the world of baseball enjoying the All-Star break, this week is as good a time as any to look back and review the first half of the Yankees’ 2017 season. It was a really interesting first half, wasn’t it? Let’s begin today with the two catchers.

Yo soy Gary. (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Yo soy Gary. (Adam Hunger/Getty)

The history of the Yankees is littered with excellent offensive catchers. Back in the day there was Bill Dickey, then Yogi Berra, then Elston Howard, then Thurman Munson, then Jorge Posada. Now the Yankees have Gary Sanchez, a homegrown 24-year-old All-Star in his first full season as the starting catcher. He gives the Yankees yet another excellent offensive catcher to anchor the lineup. His backup, Austin Romine, is homegrown too. Let’s review the first half of their season.

Gary Sanchez: Nearly repeating 2016 in 2017

What Sanchez did last year, smashing 20 home runs in 53 games en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, made it impossible to estimate his true talent level coming into the 2017 season. Expecting him to sustain a 60-homer pace was unrealistic. The question is how much would his production fall?

Turns out, not much. At least not until Sanchez hit the skids a bit the final week before the All-Star break. His numbers through the same number of plate appearances as last year are freakishly similar:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR K% BB% BABIP
2016 229 .299/.376/.657 171 20 24.9% 10.5% .317
2017 229 .289/.376/.517 139 13 23.1% 10.0% .333

Sanchez has gone 1-for-13 since his 229th plate appearance to drag his overall season batting line down to .276/.360/.591 (127 wRC+), which is still pretty awesome. Only Salvador Perez has more home runs among all catchers. (He has 18.) Among the 24 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, only Alex Avila (156) and Buster Posey (142) have been more productive overall in terms of wRC+.

As for the straight 229 plate appearances comparison, it’s kinda freaky, no? The AVG, OBP, BABIP, strikeout rate, and walk rate are nearly identical to last year. The difference falls within the error bars of baseball randomness. The similarities go beyond those numbers too. Sanchez’s hard contact rate (41.8% vs. 37.2%) and pull rate (54.1% vs. 52.6%) are nearly identical. So is his chase rate (32.9% vs. 30.8%) and contact rate in pitches in the zone (83.7% vs. 85.0%).

This season Sanchez is hitting fewer ground balls (49.3% vs. 42.6%), which is a good thing! You want him hitting the ball in the air. At the same time, his HR/FB rate has dropped from 40.0% to 26.0%. That was to be expected though. No one can hit two out of every five fly balls out of the park. That was never going to last. The fewer grounders is good though. The more Gary hits the ball in the air, the more damage he’ll do. He’s not hitting at a 60-homer pace anymore. It’s more like a 35-homer pace. And that is pretty cool.

One thing I think everyone has noticed about Sanchez’s season to date is that he’s had an awful lot of hard-hit outs. I mean, he hits the ball hard a lot, so it’s bound to happen, but it seems like Gary has had more line drives find gloves than any one player reasonably should. Here are the numbers:

% Batted Balls at 100+ mph AVG on 100+ mph balls BABIP on 100+ mph balls
Sanchez 36.6% .561 .432
MLB AVG 19.4% .650 .564

Okay, so we’re not imagining things. Sanchez has had an inordinate number of hard-hit batted balls — I used 100 mph exit velocity as my cutoff because humans are obsessed with round numbers — for whatever reason. Part of it is probably his pull rate, right? Sanchez pulls the ball a lot so teams shift their defenses to that side. Some of it is probably plain ol’ bad luck too. Hopefully that luck pendulum swings back in Gary’s favor in the second half.

On the defensive side, Sanchez has had a bit of a rocky season, I’d say. He’s especially had trouble blocking pitches in the dirt. We saw Joe Girardi pull him aside in Chicago after he failed to block a Masahiro Tanaka splitter two weeks ago. The catcher defense stats at Baseball Prospectus say Sanchez was 1.4 runs below average blocking balls in 316 innings last year. This year he’s at 0.5 runs below average in 400.2 innings. Hmmm.

The numbers say Sanchez has been a bit better this year blocking balls but still below average overall. The eye test tells me he’s been worse this year, but who knows. Your eyes lie. Perhaps I was too distracted by all those glorious dingers last season to notice his blocking deficiencies. Point is, blocking pitches has been an issue for Sanchez this year and it’s something he needs to improve going forward.

In terms of throwing, Gary has been great. He’s thrown out eleven of 30 would be basestealers, or 37%, well above the 27% league average. Last year he had a 41% caught stealing rate, so he’s not too far off that mark. Not enough to be a red flag. Baseball Prospectus rates his pitch-framing as a tick above average too (+1.7 runs). The same was true last year (+1.6 runs). Not great, not awful. Good enough.

Aside from the biceps injury, which thankfully has not lingered, Sanchez’s sophomore season has gone about as well as we could have hoped. His power numbers have taken an expected step back but he’s still a force at the plate. Add that to average-ish defense (above-average throwing, average framing, below-average blocking) and you’ve got one of the top catchers in the league and a deserving All-Star. Sanchez’s sophomore season has been pretty awesome.

Austin Romine: A competent backup who shined in April

Catcher at first base. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Catcher at first base. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

In the fifth game of the season, Sanchez felt a tug in his biceps taking a swing and had to be placed on the disabled list. The Yankees were 1-4 at the time and their star offensive player — this was before Aaron Judge‘s ridiculousness — just suffered an injury that would require a month’s rest. Not ideal! Especially when that guy is your starting catcher and your options to replace him are fairly limited.

With Sanchez sidelined, the Yankees turned to Romine as their starting catcher because they really didn’t have much of a choice, and holy cow did he deliver. The 28-year-old Romine hit .316/.349/.456 (111 wRC+) with two doubles and two homers in 63 plate appearances while Sanchez was out, including going 4-for-6 with two walks and no strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Hot damn!

Not even the biggest Austin Romine fan expected him to do that when Sanchez’s injury pressed him into everyday duty. The pitching staff performed well that month as well and Romine received a lot of credit. (Probably too much.) Sanchez is the clear No. 1 catcher for the Yankees and he took over as the starter as soon as he returned from the disabled list, as he should have. Romine did an incredible job filling in those four weeks though.

Since returning to backup duty, Romine has hit a weak .183/.245/.215 (23 wRC+) overall, dragging his overall season batting line down to .231/.284/.306 (57 wRC+). He’s also played some first base, including starting three straight games at the position two weeks ago. Romine has handled first base well defensively — he’s made a few plays look a little more difficult than they actually were, though he made them, and that’s what counts — and he’s even gone out of his way to help tutor Sanchez with his blocking.

Romine is what he is at this point. He’s a hard-working backup who does his best work behind the plate and will occasionally surprise you with a clutch hit. When the Yankees needed him to step up during Sanchez’s injury, he did it in a huge way. The Yankees wouldn’t be hanging around the postseason race without him. Romine is a role player now and going forward. His 2017 season is already a success thanks to April.

Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will participate in the 2017 Home Run Derby

Hell yes. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Hell yes. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees will have not one, but two players in the Home Run Derby this year. Both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez announced today they have accepted Home Run Derby invitations and will take their hacks next Monday at Marlins Park. Awesome. Here’s their announcement. Both guys are planning to use Yankees regular batting practice pitcher Danilo Valiente for the Home Run Derby.

It’s uncommon but not unprecedented for one team to have two players in the Home Run Derby. Both Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes were in the Home Run Derby in 2014, when they were with the Athletics. Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau did it as members of the Rockies that year too. There have been other teammates in the Home Run Derby over the years as well.

Judge and Sanchez will be the first Yankees to participate in the Home Run Derby since Robinson Cano swung away in three straight from 2011-13. The last Yankee other than Cano in the Home Run Derby was Nick Swisher in 2010. Three Yankees have won the Home Run Derby: Cano (2011), Jason Giambi (2002), and Tino Martinez (1997). Giambi finished third in the 2003 Home Run Derby.

MLB changed the Home Run Derby format two years ago. Players are now given five minutes to hit as many home runs as possible — they can earn bonus time based on home run distance and things like that — and they meet head-to-head in a bracket style tournament, so it’s possible Judge and Sanchez could face each other. The players are seeded 1-8 based on their season homer total.

I’m sure there are some people out there freaking out about Judge and/or Sanchez screwing up their swings in the Home Run Derby, though the “curse” is largely a myth. There’s been a ton of research on it, like this, this, and this. Pick eight players at random and chances are several of them will perform worse in the second half than the first. That’s all the Home Run Derby curse is. Just sit back and enjoy it.

So far the only other confirmed Home Run Derby contestants are Giancarlo Stanton, the defending champ and token hometown player, and Miguel Sano. Cody Bellinger has been invited, though he said he will not participate unless his father (ex-Yankee Clay Bellinger) can rearrange his schedule to make it to Miami to pitch to him. Both Joey Gallo and Bryce Harper declined invites.

Judge and Sanchez among five Yankees selected to the 2017 All-Star Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are sending five players to the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami next week. Sunday night the two All-Star rosters were announced and Dellin Betances, Starlin Castro, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino will be there representing the Yankees. The Yankees haven’t had as many as five All-Stars since they had eight in 2011. Here are the full rosters.

Judge will start this year’s All-Star Game after receiving more fan votes (4,488,702) than any other AL player. He’ll be the first Yankee to start the Midsummer Classic since Derek Jeter in 2014, his farewell season. Only Bryce Harper (4,630,306) received more fan votes among all players. Judge has also been invited to the Home Run Derby, though he’s yet to announce whether he will participate.

It goes without saying Judge is very worthy of starting the All-Star Game. He’s been a monster. Judge is currently hitting .327/.448/.687 with an MLB best 27 home runs this season, and he leads the league in runs, total bases, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and both versions of WAR. He is, quite simply, having one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. Love that guy.

Some fun facts about Judge’s All-Star Game selection:

  • He’s the sixth position player drafted by the Yankees to become an All-Star. He joins Jeter, Brett Gardner, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. (The draft has been around since 1965. Bernie Williams was signed as an international free agent, not drafted.)
  • He received more votes than any other player on the players’ ballot. His peers gave him more All-Star Game love than any other player. I bet that means more to Judge than the fan voting.
  • He’s the first AL rookie to be voted an All-Star Game starter since Hideki Matsui in 2003. Matsui was a veteran from Japan though, not a true rookie.

Both Betances and Castro were selected to the All-Star Game for the fourth time in their careers. Betances has made it each of the last four years. Betances, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer are the only pitchers who can make that claim. Castro was an All-Star with the Cubs in 2011, 2012, and 2014. Judge, Sanchez, and Severino are first time All-Stars. Sanchez has also been invited to the Home Run Derby, though, like Judge, he’s yet to decide whether to accept the invite.

The big story here is that four homegrown Yankees are All-Stars, and three of them are no older than 25. Even Castro, the non-homegrown All-Star, is still only 27. I wonder how long it’s been since the Yankees had five under-30 All-Stars? Has to have been a while, right? Judge, Sanchez, and Severino did not need to be selected to the All-Star Game to be validated as cornerstone Yankees, but it sure is cool they made it.

In addition to the five All-Stars, Didi Gregorius is on the Final Vote ballot. He’s up against Elvis Andrus, Xander Bogaerts, Logan Morrison, and Mike Moustakas. Royals fans are probably going to stuff the hell out of the Final Vote ballot like they do every All-Star ballot, but we’ve gotta try to get Gregorius there. He’s fun and he’s awesome. Fans all around the world need to experience the joy of Sir Didi. Here’s the ballot. Go vote a few hundred times.

As for snubs, I’d say Aaron Hicks and Matt Holliday deserved serious All-Star Game consideration, but they’re both currently on the disabled list. That surely worked against them. So did the numbers crunch. The All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 players this year. Either way, five (potentially six) All-Stars is pretty awesome. More than I expected.

Sunday Musings

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Happy Fourth of July weekend, everyone! Hope you’re celebrating and will be celebrating safely with friends, family, and baseball. What’s on your mind, baseball wise, as the calendar has flipped to July? Here’s what’s on mine.

The State of the Union

It would be an overstatement to call the state of the Yankees precarious at this point, even if that’s the first word that comes to mind after two weeks of bullpen disasters and a slide out of first place. The team is still in the lead for the first wild card and, frankly, I never expected this group to be here when the season was about to start.

I’ve heard and seen talk of adjusting expectations and that at this point, a lack of playoffs would be a severe disappointment for this edition of the Yankees, but there’s a part of me that’s hesitant to agree with that. Would I be bummed if this team missed the playoffs? Definitely. Maybe. They’ve mashed and played better than expected; the playoffs would be a great reward for that. But from the outset, this year was about developing the young players; Greg Bird notwithstanding, this year has been a success for that as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Jordan Montgomery have flourished in staring roles for the team, with Chad Green emerging as a reliable bullpen option to boot. Hopefully Clint Frazier‘s big night last night is a sign of more success for 2017.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The All Stars

Aaron Judge leads the AL in All Star votes. Gary Sanchez is having the best overall season of any AL catcher, though Salvador Perez of the Royals is leading the vote behind the plate. Still, it’s hard to say both of the Yankees’ youngsters won’t be All Stars. As I’ve matured as a fan, I’ve longed for my favorite team’s players to skip the All Star Game, opting for rest and rehab, rather than strain in an exhibition. But this year, it’s different. Though both have played in the Futures Game, this is likely to be the first (of many) All Star appearances for both players. That makes it special. And on top of that, they deserve it. As they say, you always remember your first and both Judge and El Gary should be proud to represent the Yankees at the game.

On that note, there’s another reason–a less important one–for Judge and Sanchez to play in the game. It signals to the league as a whole that the future is now for the Yankees, that they’re reloading and retooling, not rebuilding. Judge and Sanchez are going to be an important part of returning the Yankees to dominance. That’s obviously a good thing for us as Yankee fans, but isn’t it just as easy to argue that they represent something more important to baseball as a whole? People, silly people, really, love to root against the Yankees. They love for the Yankees to be the heel. For the last few years, the team has been so mediocre that they bordered on irrelevance and I’d imagine hating them was hard. Everyone loves a villain and the Yankees are poised to be that once again.

Also, Aaron, if you’re reading this, please participate in the Home Run Derby. Please.

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

A Good Problem to Have?

With Clint Frazier joining the big league team, the Yankees have four outfielders they’d want to start for only three positions. Barring MLB letting them play four outfielders and bat ten men like slow pitch softball, someone is going to need to sit every night. Well, not exactly. With Matt Holliday out with a viral infection–let’s hope he’s not patient zero of some apocalyptic nightmare disease–one of the four can DH each night for the time being. That keeps everyone fresh and keeps bats in the lineup. As a plus, all four guys are good enough defensively that it won’t cost them. When Holliday comes back, there may be an issue. There definitely will be when Aaron Hicks returns. This, however, is a great logjam to have and I’m sure it’ll work itself out in time.