Update: Carlos Beltran signs with Astros, not Yankees

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Arguably the best DH option for the Yankees is off the board. According to multiple reports, former Yankee Carlos Beltran has agreed to a one-year deal worth $16M with the Astros. He gets a full no-trade clause as well. Carlos and Brian McCann, together again.

The Yankees reportedly had interest in re-signing Beltran to replace McCann at DH, but Mark Feinsand says they never made him a formal offer. That doesn’t mean much though. It just means they didn’t put a piece of paper in front of him to sign, not that they didn’t talk money.

Beltran, 39, hit .304/.344/.546 (135 wRC+) with 22 home runs in 99 games with the Yankees before being traded away as part of their deadline sell-off. He wasn’t quite as good with the Rangers after the trade, hitting .280/.325/.451 (103 wRC+) with seven homers in 52 games.

Interestingly enough, Beltran’s contract is worth less than the qualifying offer this offseason ($17.2M). A few days before the trade I said the Yankees shouldn’t consider Beltran a qualifying offer candidate because he’d probably accept it, and while it wasn’t a given, the money suggests it was a possibility.

There is no shortage of DH bats available in free agency. The big name is Edwin Encarnacion, but geez, I can’t imagine the Yankees would pay huge money and forfeit their first round pick to sign a soon-to-be 34-year-old DH. They got rid of like four old and expensive DHs this year. Why rush to sign another?

Other free agent DH candidates include Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, and Brandon Moss. I suppose we shouldn’t rule out Jose Bautista or Mark Trumbo either, though they’re cut from the same “expensive and forfeit a pick” cloth as Encarnacion. That’s not something the Yankees should be doing right now, I don’t think.

When in doubt, bet on the Yankees targeting the lefty pull-hitter. That’s their go-to demographic when looking for short-term roster fillers. Think Travis Hafner and Raul Ibanez. I guess that makes Moss the likely target? Ryan Howard, Colby Rasmus, Pedro Alvarez, and Michael Saunders are other possibilities.

Scouting the Trade Market: Houston Astros

Musgrove. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Musgrove. (Bob Levey/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Astros are prepared to do something big this offseason. They had a breakout 2015 season, winning 86 games and beating the Yankees in the AL Wildcard Game before losing to the Royals in the ALDS. Rather than build on that success in 2016, they slipped to 84 wins and fell five games short of a postseason berth. They want to wipe that disappointing 2016 season from their memories.

So far this winter Houston has been connected to big name players like Edwin Encarnacion and Miguel Cabrera. More realistically, the Astros are also said to have interest in Yankees catcher Brian McCann, who has been deemed expendable thanks to the emergence of Gary Sanchez. Jason Castro is a free agent and the ‘Stros want a veteran backstop who can lead the staff and also provide some offense. McCann can do exactly that.

The Yankees are reportedly willing to eat up to half the $34M remaining on McCann’s contract to facilitate a trade, but if they do that, they want a better package in return. Makes sense. Pitching is said to be the top priority this offseason and I’m guessing that will be the focus in any McCann trade. McCann has a full no-trade clause, so he’s in control here. There are indications he will approve a trade to the Astros because they figure to contend and he’ll be able to DH. We’ll see.

Despite all their tanking over the years, Houston’s farm system is not loaded with talent at the moment. They’ve got plenty of good prospects, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like the Yankees will be sifting through a farm system as deep as, well, their own. Here are some ‘Stros youngsters who could pique New York’s interest as they work through a McCann trade. The players are listed alphabetically and all scouting reports come from MLB.com.

RHP Chris Devenski

Background: Devenski, 26, was a 25th round pick by the White Sox in 2011. The next year he was sent to the Astros as the player to be named later in the Brett Myers trade. Devenski worked as both a starter and reliever in the minors, and after making his MLB debut as a starter this season, he settled into a relief role and had a 2.16 ERA (2.34 FIP) in 108.1 innings. Only Michael Fulmer bested Devenski in fWAR (3.0 vs. 2.8) and bWAR (4.9 vs. 2.8) among AL rookie hurlers.

Scouting Report: “The key to his success is his plus changeup, which allows him to get swings and misses from lefties and righties alike despite having otherwise fringy stuff. Devenski’s fastball operates at 89-91 mph and tops out at 93. He also has a curveball that he can throw for strikes. Devenski can’t overpower hitters, but he keeps them off balance and doesn’t beat himself with walks or homers.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Devenski has the tools to start thanks to his three pitches and good control. His velocity ticked up as a reliever — he averaged 92.3 mph and topped out at 97.6 mph in 2016 — but even at 89-91 mph he can have success turning a lineup over multiple times, especially if he maintains his 4.9% walk rate. The upside here is a cheap back-end starter with the fallback option of a pretty good reliever.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There are reasons to believe Devenski is not as good as he was this past season. I can’t help but look at his 33.5% ground ball rate and 0.33 HR/9 (3.5 HR/FB%) and think that’s probably not going to last long-term, especially not for a dude with an 89-91 mph fastball as a starter in a small ballpark like Yankee Stadium. That doesn’t mean Devenski can’t still be valuable with, say, a 1.00 HR/9 as a starter, it just means his 2016 performance probably isn’t who he will be going forward.

RHP Michael Feliz

Background: The 23-year-old Feliz originally signed with the Athletics as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic, but his contract was voided after he failed a drug test. The Astros scooped him up, he served his 50-game suspension, and he’s since blossomed into a hard-throwing righty. Feliz received a cup of coffee last year and spent the entire 2016 season in Houston’s bullpen, where he had a 4.43 ERA (3.24 FIP) with a great strikeout rate (35.2%) and an okay walk rate (8.2%) in 65 innings.

Scouting Report: “His fastball sits in the mid 90s and gets up to 98 mph. His slider is his best secondary offering, and his changeup gives him a third quality offering. He mostly works around the zone, but his delivery will need more refinement before he truly commands all of his pitches. If he can make the necessary adjustments, he’ll have all the makings of a frontline starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Feliz has good size — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 lbs. — and tremendous raw stuff, though he didn’t throw his changeup a whole lot in relief this year. The natural ability is there, as is the potential to start long-term. A 23-year-old kid with this kind of arm is always worth pursuing.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Like many young kids with big arms, Feliz lacks overall command and it’ll come down to improving his delivery. That’s not easy to do. Also, some other scouting reports, such as Baseball America‘s (subs. req’d), aren’t as enthusiastic about his slider and changeup as MLB.com. Feliz has talent. He is need of refinement though, and he may not be ready to step into the rotation next season.

RHP Francis Martes

Background: Martes went to the Astros in the Jarred Cosart trade with the Marlins, when he was still in rookie ball. He’s since developed into one of the game’s top pitching prospects. Martes, 20, had a 3.30 ERA (2.73 FIP) with a 25.0% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate in 125.1 Double-A innings this summer, where he was more than four years younger than the average Texas League player. MLB.com currently ranks him as the 29th best prospect in baseball.

Scouting Report: “(Martes) now operates at a consistent 93-95 mph with a peak of 98. His breaking ball improved even more significantly last year, becoming a devastating power curveball. His changeup is in its nascent stages but shows some promise. Martes’ control also got a lot better during his first full year with his new organization … (He’s emerged as) a potential frontline starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Martes is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and he’s nearly MLB ready. He figures to start next season at Triple-A and could earn a midseason call-up, regardless of whether he’s with the Yankees or Astros or whoever. The fastball/curveball combination points to a future at the front of a big league rotation.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? As with most 20-year-old pitching prospects, Martes is still rough around the edges. He doesn’t have much of a changeup, and that’s a pretty big deal. His control isn’t all that great either. Martes is very exciting. That fastball/curveball combo is as good as it gets. But until he refines his changeup and strike-throwing ability, it’s hard to think he’ll be an effective MLB rotation option.

RHP Joe Musgrove

Background: The Blue Jays drafted the 23-year-old Musgrove with the 46th overall pick in the 2011 draft, then traded him to the Astros in the ten-player J.A. Happ trade at the 2012 deadline. (Ten-player J.A. Happ trade!) Musgrove was a borderline top 100 prospect coming into 2016. He made his MLB debut in August and had a 4.06 ERA (4.18 FIP) with nice strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.3%) rates in 62 innings spread across ten starts and one relief appearance.

Scouting Report: “Musgrove takes advantage of his big, physical frame to throw his low-to-mid-90s fastball from a good downhill plane. He mostly attacks hitters with his fastball and pounds the zone with it, creating plenty of ground ball outs. He also has a good curveball and some feel for his changeup, but both of his secondary offerings still need more refinement … He has all the makings of a future workhorse starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The MLB.com scouting report doesn’t mention what Baseball America (subs. req’d) calls “plus command/control,” which allows everything to play up. Musgrove is a no-doubt starter long-term thanks to his ability to locate four pitches — PitchFX has him throwing a slider in addition to the fastball/curveball/changeup in the scouting report, and you can that slider in the video — and that’s exactly what the Yankees are looking for.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons, really. Musgrove is not a budding ace or anything. His ceiling isn’t sky high. He’s more likely to settle in a solid mid-rotation pitcher, which is perfectly fine. Not exciting at all, but fine.

RHP David Paulino

Background: Like Martes and Musgrove, the 22-year-old Paulino was acquired in a trade when he was still in rookie ball. The Astros got him as the player to named later in the Jose Veras trade with the Tigers in 2013. Paulino was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at the time. This season he had a 1.91 ERA (2.32 FIP) with 28.6% strikeouts and 5.4% walks in 94 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A. Paulino made his MLB debut in September and allowed four runs in seven innings. MLB.com currently ranks Paulino as the 70th best prospect in baseball.

Scouting Report: “(Paulino) came back from his elbow reconstruction to operate at 93-95 mph and hit 98. His curveball also has improved significantly, becoming a legitimate power breaking ball and giving him a second pitch that grades as well above-average when at its best. Paulino has made strides with his changeup too, and he had no problem regaining his control after Tommy John surgery … He has frontline-starter ceiling but also little track record.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Paulino’s raw stuff is electric. Mid-90s gas, a bat-missing curveball, and an improving changeup, all with decent control. On top of that, the kid is listed at 6-foot-7 and 215 lbs., so he’s a big intimidating presence on the mound who gets great extension out in front. It’s very easy to dream on Paulino and envision him becoming a top of the rotation starter.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Injuries, for starters. Paulino had Tommy John surgery in 2013, and that along with some other issues limited him to 106.1 total innings from 2011-15. Also, Paulino was suspended for a month this past season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Like Jorge Mateo, but a longer suspension. Even if the suspension doesn’t bother you and you’re willing to overlook the injuries, the bottom line is this kid has thrown 203.1 innings over the last six years. Total. That’s an awful lot of development time missed.

OF Kyle Tucker

Background: The only position player in this post was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft. Tucker, 19, is the younger brother of Astros outfielder Preston Tucker. Kyle hit .280/.354/.433 (125 wRC+) with ten homers and 33 steals, plus promising strikeout (16.6%) and walk (9.8%) rates, in 122 games between Low-A And High-A this season. MLB.com currently ranks him as the 49th best prospect in baseball.

Scouting Report: “Tucker makes consistent hard contact thanks to fast hands, a balanced left-handed swing and a mature approach. He also has plenty of raw power and could deliver 20 homers per season once he fills out his lanky 6-foot-4 frame … (Tucker) profiles best in right field. He has solid arm strength and speed, though he figures to lose a half-step once he matures physically.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Because he’s one of the best pure hitting prospects in the minors, that’s why. Tucker is not quite Christian Yelich but it’s the same basic skill set. Quick hands and a sweet lefty swing that generate oodles of hard contact. The Yankees have a ton of outfielders in their farm system, but that doesn’t matter. Tucker is better than pretty much all of them. He’s the best prospect in Houston’s system in my opinion and therefore the best non-big leaguer the Yankees would be able to pry loose in a McCann trade.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Aside from the fact Tucker is only 19 and in Single-A, meaning there’s still plenty of time for things to go wrong, I can’t think of one. I guess also because he doesn’t satisfy the Yankees’ long-term pitching needs?

* * *

The Yankees have had interest in righty Lance McCullers Jr. before, specifically last year during Andrew Miller trade talks, but the Astros shot that down. I assume McCullers is still off limits. The same is probably true of righty Forrest Whitley, Houston’s first round pick in this past summer’s amateur draft. Here is MLB.com’s top 30 Astros prospects list, if you want to sift through that some more.

I’d love to see the Yankees get Tucker in a McCann trade, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, even if they eat $17M of the $34M left on his contract. Out of everyone else in this post, Musgrove is the guy I hope the Yankees target. He has four pitches and good command, plus he got his feet wet at the MLB level this year, so he’s ready to step right into the rotation. It would be nice to have a young pitcher who is more than a good stuff/bad command guy one of these years, you know?

Reports: Yankees have identified trade partner for Brian McCann; Astros interested

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

As expected, the Brian McCann trade rumor mill has started to heat up early in the offseason. The Yankees weighed offers for their erstwhile catcher at the trade deadline, most notably from the Braves, and are expected to do the same this winter. They’re trying to get younger and under the luxury tax threshold in the near future. Moving McCann would help accomplish both.

“The catching market is very thin, so it’s not surprising to anybody (teams are interested in McCann),” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff and Joel Sherman at the GM Meetings this week. “A lot of teams have expressed interest and offers that I’ve said no to. If I ever get to a point where something makes enough sense, then Mac will have the final say, as he’s earned the right to have that final say.”

According to Mark Feinsand, Cashman has already identified one realistic trade partner for McCann. Jon Morosi says the Astros are interested — it’s unclear whether Houston is the team identified as a realistic trade partner — which makes sense. They need a catcher now that Jason Castro is a free agent — they played Evan Gattis behind the plate 55 times last year, yikes — and also a lefty bat to balance their lineup. Some notes and thoughts on all this:

1. Remember, McCann is in control here. McCann has a full no-trade clause, so he is in total control of the situation. He doesn’t have to go anywhere he doesn’t want to go. In fact, Sherman says Cashman “has deals he can make for Brian McCann right now,” but has waved them off because McCann is unlikely to accept a trade to those teams. McCann hasn’t given the Yankees a list of approved clubs. He’ll look at it on a case-by-case basis.

“I haven’t said, ‘Hey he has to be here or it’s not going to happen.’ Nor has Mac given me permission to do that,” said B.B. Abbott, McCann’s agent, to Sherman. “Mac basically wants them to come to him. If Cash says there is a deal in place, then I’ll go to Mac and he will say nay or yay … I don’t think this is a slam dunk that it happens, I really don’t. He made a choice to be in New York because that is where he wants to be and he got a full no-trade clause because of that.”

Ken Rosenthal says McCann prefers the American League because he doesn’t want to catch 120+ games a year anymore, and wants to be able to DH. Apparently he told the Yankees he felt better physically in September than he had in years after handing the catching reins over to Gary Sanchez. That said, Rosenthal added McCann would also approve a trade to the Braves, his hometown team.

2. Okay, so what could the Yankees get from the Astros? Supposedly the Yankees want young pitching in a McCann trade. That’s the long-term need, anyway. The Yankees pushed for Lance McCullers Jr. (and Vince Velasquez) during Andrew Miller trade talks with Houston last offseason, but it’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen for McCann. (Velasquez is with the Phillies now anyway.)

Musgrove. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Musgrove. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Even after removing McCullers from consideration, the Astros still have a handful of young arms worth targeting in a McCann trade. None of them are future aces — the Yankees aren’t getting anyone with that kind of upside for McCann anyway — though a few of them are potential long-term rotation pieces. Let’s run them down quickly (2016 ERA/FIP):

  • RHP Chris Devenski (2.16/2.34 in 108.1 IP): Devenski, 26 on Sunday, spent most of the season in the bullpen. He has four pitches though, so there’s at least a chance he can start. Devenski’s minor league track record isn’t great, and given his success as a reliever in 2016, my guess is he’s a bullpener for life now. Once a fringe guy has that much success in relief, he usually stays there.
  • RHP Michael Feliz (4.43/3.24 FIP in 65 IP): The 23-year-old Feliz has the Michael Pineda starter kit: mid-90s gas and a wipeout slider, but his changeup lags. Like Devenski, he spent most of the season in the bullpen, but I think he’ll get another chance to start given his age.
  • RHP Joe Musgrove (4.06/4.81 FIP in 62 IP): Musgrove was a top 100 prospect last year but he doesn’t look like a typical top pitching prospect. He’s a command and control guy with a low-90s gas and three secondary pitches (slider, curve, change). Musgrove turns 24 next month.
  • RHP David Paulino (5.14/4.29 in 7 IP): Paulino is a flamethrower. He sits mid-90s and touches 99 mph, even as a starter, and his curveball is an out-pitch. He’s still working on his changeup though. Paulino turns 23 in February. He missed all of 2014 following Tommy John surgery.
  • RHP Brady Rodgers (15.12/5.31 in 8.1 IP): Rodgers, 26, is the least heralded pitcher in this post, but the guy legitimately throws six pitches (four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider, curveball, changeup) and he locates. Nothing sexy about him, but he’ll be a big leaguer for a while, even with a fastball that sits 90 mph.

Here is MLB.com’s top 30 Astros prospects list, if you’re interested in looking that over. My top three targets are Musgrove, Feliz, and Devenski, in that order, and I want the Yankees to get another piece too. You can’t trade a top ten catcher, even one on the wrong side of 30 like McCann, straight up for a pitching prospect. That’s asking for trouble. The second piece doesn’t have to be great, but there has to be something else.

3. The Yankees should be open to eating money. Money is the single biggest advantage the Yankees have over the rest of the league. Hal Steinbrenner is content with marginalizing that advantage by focusing on getting under the luxury tax, but it’s still an advantage. The Yankees should absolutely be willing to eat some of the $34M left owed to McCann the next two years in order to get a larger return. They ate money to facilitate the Carlos Beltran trade at the deadline, so I assume they’re willing to do the same with McCann. It just needed to be said. Essentially trading money for prospects is exactly the kind of move the Yankees should make.

4. Again: The Yankees don’t have to trade McCann! I’ve said this a bunch of times already and I get the feeling I’m going to repeat it another hundred times before the end of the offseason. The Yankees don’t have to trade McCann. Keeping him is a viable option. Having the best catching tandem in baseball sure would be cool, right? Especially since the two guys hit from opposite sides of the plate.

“Based on his success the past season, Sanchez is the everyday catcher. (McCann) can DH and catch a minimum of two games a week. We have two power-hitting catchers, one right and one left who hit 20 homers,” said Cashman to George King. By all means, take offers for McCann and negotiate like hell. If someone steps up with a strong offer, great, take it. If not, just keep him. No need to make a move for the sake of making a move.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Monday

Bye, Carlos? (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Bye, Carlos? (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

The 2016 non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET this afternoon, and the Yankees have already been very active. One of the most active teams in baseball, really. Within the last week they traded Aroldis Chapman, traded Andrew Miller, and added Tyler Clippard. Chances are they aren’t done either.

“Stay tuned. A lot more things could happen,” said Brian Cashman to reporters during a conference call following the Miller and Clippard trades yesterday. “If you want to become a super team, there are ways you have to go about it. We’re trying to get back to a situation where we can build an uber-team, and a sustainable one.”

Here are Sunday’s rumors. Once again, we’re going to keep track of the day’s Yankee-related rumors right here in this post. I’m going to be running around a bit today — bad timing, I know, but family first — and will do my best to update things promptly. All time stamps are ET.

  • 9:00am: The Astros, Red Sox, Indians, and Rangers are all in on Carlos Beltran. He has not yet been asked to waive his limited no-trade clause and, unsurprisingly, a trade with Boston is considered unlikely. I’m sure the thought of Beltran helping the BoSox win the World Series makes ownership squeamish, even if it means making the best possible deal. Some clubs want the Yankees to eat money to facilitate a trade. [Buster Olney, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:00am: The Yankees continue to listen to offers for Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, Nathan Eovaldi, and Michael Pineda. They also want to unload impending free agent Ivan Nova prior to today’s deadline. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:03pm: McCann remains a possibility for the Braves. They want the Yankees to eat a bunch of money and the Yankees want good prospects in return, so there are some things that need to be worked out. [Mark Bowman]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.

Yankeemetrics: Raise or lower the white flag? [July 25-27]

Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)
Be Like Mike. (Photo: Getty)

No Chapman, no problem
Despite making their first significant “sell” trade-deadline move in more than two and a half decades, the Yankees continued to remain on the fringes of the playoff race with a 2-1 win over the Astros on Monday.

With the win, the Yankees moved to three games above .500 for the first time this season. This is the deepest into the season they’ve gone without reaching that mark since 1991, when they never got more than a game above .500 the entire season. They finished that forgettable campaign with a 71-91 record, their fifth-worth winning percentage in franchise history.

A victory did not look promising less than a minute after Michael Pineda took the mound in the bottom of the first inning; George Springer deposited the first pitch into the right-field seats for a quick 1-0 Astros lead.

It was the first time a Yankee allowed a first-pitch homer to the first batter of the game since the Jose Reyes took Hiroki Kuroda deep in Toronto on June 25, 2014, and just the 11th occurrence since pitch data became available in 1988. Of the 10 other instances, the only other Yankee pitcher who allowed no other runs besides that leadoff homer — like Pineda — was Jack McDowell on July 13, 1995 versus the Twins.

Austin Romine played the unlikely role of hero with a tie-breaking RBI double in the eighth inning. That was the first career go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later for the backup catcher, who is hitting a robust .375 (12-for-32) with runners in scoring position this season, the best mark on the team through Monday.

Milestone alerts! Carlos Beltran’s double leading off the seventh inning was the 524th of his career, passing one Hall-of-Famer (Willie Mays) and moving into a tie for 44th place with another Hall-of-Famer (Ken Griffey Jr.). Up next is Ted Williams with 525 doubles.

Chase Headley’s game-tying single in the fifth inning was his 1,147th career hit, breaking the major-league record for most hits by a Colorado-born player. He surpassed Roy Hartzell, a Golden, CO native who played 11 seasons with the St. Louis Browns (1906-10) and the Yankees (1911-16). According to a 1914 New York Times article, Hartzell was the “handiest utility man the Yankees ever had…he has played every position on the club except battery positions.”

That was easy. (Photo: AP)
That was easy. (Photo: AP)

All aboard the win train
The Yankees sure are making it tough for Prince Hal to push the SELL! button. For a team that’s defined inconsistency, they’ve somehow caught an incredible wave of positive momentum at the most critical juncture of the season, beating the Astros again on Tuesday night. It was another comeback win fueled by dominant starting pitching, some timely hitting and a shutdown back-of-the-bullpen performance.

CC Sabathia posted his best start in more than a month, giving up two runs on four hits while pitching into the seventh inning. He snapped a six-game winless streak during which he allowed at least four runs in each outing. That matched the longest such streak of his career, which he also did in 2002.

Although Sabathia had posted an ugly 7.46 ERA in his previous six turns, it wasn’t like he was getting crushed every night. He still entered Tuesday’s game with the lowest average exit velocity allowed (85.8 mph) among pitchers with at least 200 batted balls in play, and then nearly matched that number against the Astros (86.8).

Dellin Betances pulled off another crazy Houdini act, getting out of a two-out bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning to help seal the win. Hitters are just 2-for-27 (.074) with ducks on the pond against Betances in his career, the second-lowest batting average allowed in that situation among active pitchers (min. 25 at-bats), behind only Pirates lefty Tony Watson (.069).

Aces down
The Yankees desperate playoff push hit a speed bump on Wednesday night as the Yankees squandered a golden opportunity to move within three games of the second Wild Card spot after losing to the Astros, 4-1.

Still, even with the disappointing defeat, the Yankees are 11-5 (.688) all-time at Minute Maid Park, their third-highest winning percentage at any ballpark, behind only Atlanta’s Turner Field (.857, 12-2) and Minnesota’s Target Field (.760, 19-6).

Rotation ace Masahiro Tanaka — who entered the game with a league-leading 1.50 ERA in nine road starts — allowed four runs in five innings and lost for just the third time in 21 starts this season.

The loss also snapped a streak of seven straight Yankee wins in games started by Tanaka, the team’s longest such streak since winning 12 games in a row with Ivan Nova (!) on the mound in 2011. Tanaka has now been tagged for 10 runs and 14 hits in 10 career innings at Minute Maid Park.

Prior to Tanaka’s sub-par performance, Yankee pitchers had allowed just 17 runs in their previous 10 games, their best 10-game stretch of run prevention since July 1998.

Brian McCann drove in the lone Yankee run in the fourth inning with his 15th home run. This is the 11th time in his career he’s hit than many homers in a season, a feat matched by only seven other catchers in MLB history: Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Lance Parrish, Yogi Berra, Jorge Posada and Gary Carter.

7/25 to 7/27 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are out on the road for the first time in the second half. They’re opening an eight-game road trip in Houston tonight, with the first of three against the red hot Astros. These two teams met in the very first series of the season back in April. The Yankees took two of three at Yankee Stadium.

What Have They Done Lately?

Goodness are the Astros hot. They started the season poorly, going 17-28 in their first 45 games, but they’ve gone 37-16 in 53 games since. The ‘Stros were ten games back in the AL West as recently as June 28th. Now they’re only 2.5 games back. Houston just swept the lowly Angels and they’ve won four straight overall. They’re 54-44 and only a half-game back of the second wildcard spot. If the Yankees are going to make a miraculous run at a postseason spot, beating the Astros this series is essential.

Offense & Defense

Reigning AL Manager of the Year runner-up A.J. Hinch has a comfortably above-average offense (in terms of runs scored) at this disposal. The Astros are averaging 4.61 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+, and their 126 homers are sixth most in the league. Houston has two players out with day-to-day injuries: C Jason Castro (99 wRC+) and UTIL Marwin Gonzalez (86 wRC+). Castro has a hand contusion and Gonzalez has an ankle sprain.

Altuve. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Altuve. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Hinch has a fairly set lineup. RF George Springer (126 wRC+) leads off, Gonzalez typically hits second, 2B Jose Altuve (166 wRC+) hits third, SS Carlos Correa (127 wRC+) cleans up, and 3B Luis Valbuena (116 wRC+) bats fifth. Altuve is very much in the early AL MVP mix right now. He’s hitting .360/.428/.575 with 26 doubles, 17 homers, 25 steals, 44 walks, and 40 strikeouts. Goodness. C/DH Evan Gattis (92 wRC+) and LF Colby Rasmus (82 wRC+) are regulars as well. (Yes, Gattis has been catching lately.)

C Carlos Gomez (59 wRC+) has been pretty terrible both this year and since coming over at least year’s trade deadline. Not the best year for the impending free agent. OF Jake Marisnick (49 wRC+) and OF Preston Tucker (74 wRC+) are on the bench. And finally, the Astros announced they are calling up top prospect IF Alex Bregman (174 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A) today. Bregman, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, is arguably the best prospect in the minors. He’s expected to play short, third, and even some left field.

In the field, the Astros are excellent in the outfield and on the middle infield. They have good to great defenders at all five of those positions. Gonzalez has been playing first base of late and is okay there. So is Valbuena at third. Gattis is a disaster behind the plate; he’s 8-for-18 (44%) throwing out runners this year, which is out of line with his career average (23%). Bregman’s a good defender at short, though he’s going to end up playing out of position somewhere.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (8:10pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Keuchel is the AL West version of David Price. Whenever the Yankees play a series against his team, he’s going to pitch. They can’t escape him. Keuchel, 28, is not having a very good follow-up to his Cy Young winning season a year ago. He owns a 4.70 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 20 starts and 126.1 innings, and his strikeout (20.5%), walk (7.5%), grounder (56.8%), and homer (1.07 HR/9) rates are all quite a bit worse than they were in 2015. He’s also getting hammered by righties. Keuchel has never been a hard thrower and he typically sit 88-90 mph with his trademark sinker. A mid-80s cutter and an upper-70s slider are his go-to secondary pitches. He’ll also throw a low-80s changeup, though for some reason he’s not throwing it as much this year. Weird. The Yankees saw Keuchel on Opening Day and scored two runs in seven innings.

Tuesday (8:10pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Doug Fister (vs. NYY)
The Astros signed Fister to a one-year “prove yourself” deal over the winter, and for the first few starts, it looked like a disaster. He allowed 14 runs in his first four outings and 22.1 innings before settling down and getting into a groove. The 32-year-old has a 3.42 ERA (4.63 FIP) in 19 starts and 118.1 innings, and while his underlying numbers stink (15.2 K%, 8.2 BB%, 47.3 GB%, 1.14 HR/9), Fister is quite good at getting soft contact when things are going right. Lefties have hit him a ton harder than righties. A ton. Load up that lineup with lefties tomorrow night. These days Fister sits 85-88 with his sinker and 69-72 mph with his curveball. Those are his two main pitches. He’ll also mix in some mid-80 cutters, low-80s sliders, and upper-70s splitters per start, but not many. The Yankees did not see Fister in the first series with the Astros this season.

McCullers. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)
McCullers. (Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Wednesday (8:10pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (vs. NYY)
Over the winter, when the Yankees were fielding offers for Andrew Miller, they reportedly wanted McCullers from the Astros. Houston wouldn’t give him up, and now the 22-year-old has a 3.33 ERA (2.74 FIP) in 12 starts and 70.1 innings after starting the season on the DL with a minor shoulder issue. He’s got fantastic strikeout (29.3%), grounder (57.2%), and homer (0.26 HR/9) numbers, but he walks way too many (13.7%) and lefties can give him a hard time. McCullers sits in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and in the mid-80s with his power curveball. A mid-80s curveball! Not only does it sit in the mid-80s, but McCullers throws it a ton too. A whopping 48% of the time, in fact. He’s thrown more curveballs than fastballs in ten of his 12 starts, including each of his last four. That’s insane. In. Sane. McCullers also throws a low-90s cutter and upper-80s changeup, but very rarely. Less than 10% of the time combined this season, on average. Lance Sr. played for the Yankees from 1989-90, by the way.

Bullpen Status

At +6.1 fWAR, the Astros have the most productive bullpen in baseball this season. (The Yankees are second at +5.6 fWAR.) Houston’s relief crew ranks third in bullpen ERA (3.06) and first in bullpen FIP (3.00), so yeah, they’re good. Here is Hinch’s eight-man bullpen:

Closer: RHP Will Harris (1.76 ERA/1.85 FIP)
Setup: RHP Luke Gregerson (3.27/2.44), RHP Ken Giles (4.08/3.07)
Middle: RHP Chris Devenski (2.27/2.75), LHP Tony Sipp (4.91/5.48), RHP Pat Neshek (2.64/3.86), RHP Michael Feliz (4.04/3.10)
Long: RHP Scott Feldman (2.40/3.79)

Giles was expected to be the closer, Gregerson started the year as the closer, and Harris went to the All-Star Game as the closer. Bullpens, man. Nothing ever goes according to plan. Giles has already allowed more homers (five) and nearly as many earned runs (18) in 39.2 innings with the Astros than he did the last two seasons with the Phillies (three and 20, respectively). He had a disaster start to the season but has been much better of late.

Houston’s bullpen has a ton of different looks. Harris is a cutter pitcher, Giles and Feliz are the hard-throwers, Gregerson is the slider specialist, Neshek is the funky delivery guy, and Feldman is the finesse veteran. Hinch has all sorts of options in his bag of tricks. Feldman threw 30 pitches in yesterday’s blowout win over the Halos. No other relievers had to pitch, so the ‘pen is fresh. Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on the status of Joe Girardi‘s relief crew.

Trade Deadline Notes: Nats, Sabathia, Blue Jays, Pineda

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The trade deadline is now only nine days away, and according to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 9.6% chance to make the postseason. That’s not very good. Buster Olney (video link) said yesterday Aroldis Chapman could be dealt as soon as this weekend, though I’m not sure I buy that. “The Yankees are playing it smart and will likely take it to the end to get the most,” said an official with another team to George King. Here are the latest trade rumblings.

Nats make top prospects off-limits

Despite their interest in Chapman, Barry Svrluga reports the Nationals will not trade top prospects Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, or Reynaldo Lopez for the hard-throwing lefty. Every team says they’re unwilling to trade their top prospects this time of year, so I wouldn’t make too much of this. It’s just posturing.

If the Nationals are serious about getting Chapman (or Andrew Miller), they’ll have to put one of those guys on the table. Lopez seems most likely, mostly because he’s the lowest rated prospect of the bunch. He’s not bad — Baseball America had him 48th in their midseason top 100 — the other guys are just really, really good. Based on what Miller fetched two years ago, I think Lopez would be a fair return for Chapman.

Blue Jays scouted Sabathia

The Blue Jays had a scout watching CC Sabathia‘s most recent start, reports Jon Heyman. George King says the Astros, Mets, Marlins, and Cubs also had scouts on hand Thursday. It’s worth noting Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro was in the Indians’ front office all those years Sabathia was in Cleveland, including most as GM. There’s a bit of a connection there.

We heard Sabathia has been drawing some interest the other day, though I have a hard time believing it’s serious interest. I’m guessing it’s more “if you eat a ton of money we’ll take him off your hands” interest. Also, an intradivision trade with the Blue Jays probably isn’t happening, even though you could argue trading Sabathia to an AL East rival would be good for the Yankees.

Giants, Astros, Cubs among teams to scout Pineda

The Giants, Astros, Cubs, and “a ton” of others were on hand to see Michael Pineda‘s most recent start, report Jon Morosi and Chris Cotillo. Pineda had his first scoreless start of the season Wednesday, and he had maybe his nastiest slider of the season too. As Katie pointed out in Yankeemetrics, Pineda generated 18 swings and misses with his slider that game, the most by any pitcher in baseball in 2016.

The Yankees are at the point where they have to figure out what they want to do with Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. Do they want to keep them long-term? If so, they should start thinking about extensions. If they don’t want them long-term, then they should trade them soon to get as much back as possible. I understand waiting and hoping they rebuild value in the second half, but I think it’s more likely they’ll lose value going forward between the injury risk and being closer to free agency.