The Yankees could use a 2005-esque shake-up, but they don’t have a lot of options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Eleven years ago the Yankees had a truly miserable start to their season. They opened the 2005 season by losing 19 of their first 30 games and falling nine games back in the AL East. Nine back after 30 games! Needless to say, fans were pretty uneasy because that slow start followed the 2004 ALCS collapse. It was not a good time around these parts. No siree.

The 2005 Yankees rebounded of course, winning 84 of 132 games following the 11-19 start. Two reasons they turned it around were a pair of early-May call-ups: Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees shook things up and were rewarded when Cano and Wang had an immediate impact. Robbie hit .297/.320/.458 (105 wRC+) in 132 games and Wang had a 4.02 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 116.1 innings. They gave the team a real shot in the arm.

Getting Wang into the rotation was pretty easy because Jaret Wright got hurt. (Remember when Wright failed his physical and George Steinbrenner signed him anyway because he thought it would lure Leo Mazzone to New York? Good times.) Getting Cano into the lineup took more creativity. The Yankees moved Tony Womack to left field, Hideki Matsui to center field, and basically benched Bernie Williams, who was nearing the end of the line.

The 2016 Yankees, like the 2005 team, have gotten off to a terrible start. They’re 8-15 overall and have lost 13 of their last 17 games. The AL East is much more competitive these days too. Back in 2005 it was the Yankees, the Red Sox, and a bunch of pushovers. Erasing that nine-game deficit was much easier. The current Yankees are six games back in the division with four good teams ahead of them. It’ll be an uphill climb, that’s for sure.

Given their sluggish start and the fact the Yankees have underachieved on both sides of the ball in the early going — the offense has been far worse than the pitching, but the rotation hasn’t been all that good either — the team could use an early-May shake-up like the one the 2005 team received. The problem? The Yankees don’t have a Cano and/or Wang waiting in Triple-A. There’s not much depth at the positions of obvious need. Here are some shake-up ideas.

Give A Young Outfielder Regular Playing Time

If there’s one thing the Yankees have in Triple-A, it’s outfield depth. Both Ben Gamel (136 wRC+) and Aaron Judge (125 wRC+) are off to nice starts, though Slade Heathcott (41 wRC+) has mostly struggled. The Yankees also have Aaron Hicks at the big league level, though he hasn’t played much for a variety of reasons. (Hicks may not seem young, but he’s only a year older than Heathcott.)

Brett Gardner (110 wRC+) has been one of New York’s most productive hitters in the early going. Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) and Carlos Beltran (91 wRC+) have not. Beltran has really struggled of late. He has a 16 wRC+ over the last two weeks. Yikes. Sitting Ellsbury and/or Beltran more often in favor of Hicks or Gamel or Judge or whoever is one way to change the lineup and get some young legs on the field.

I think the best way to go about this is to use a regular rotation that also includes Alex Rodriguez and the DH spot. Something like this, perhaps:

LF CF RF DH
Game One Gardner Ellsbury Beltran A-Rod
Game Two Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod
Game Three Gardner Young OF Beltran A-Rod
Game Four Gardner Ellsbury Young OF Beltran
Game Five Gardner Ellsbury Young OF A-Rod

Ellsbury, A-Rod, and the young outfielder would be playing four out of every five games while Beltran is reduced to playing three times out of every five games, with only two of three starts coming in the outfield. Gardner stays in there full-time because, you know, he’s actually been good this year. The Yankees reduced Bernie’s playing time in 2005 and it’s time to start thinking about doing the same with Beltran.

Calling up Gamel or Judge or Heathcott requires a roster move and cutting someone else loose, and it’s a little too early for that, I think. I’d start by playing Hicks more often. No, he hasn’t hit in the early going (-47 wRC+!), but it’s 28 plate appearances in 23 games. This is a guy who hit .256/.323/.398 (97 wRC+) with eleven homers and 13 steals last year, and we’ve already seen the kind of impact he can have at defense.

Hicks is not going to get his bat going while sitting on the bench. He’s been an everyday player his entire career. This bench thing is new to him. With two of three starting outfielders not really hitting and the team reeling, it’s time to see what Hicks can do with regular at-bats. The Yankees need to figure out what they have in him.

Stick Headley On The Bench

I’ve defended Headley as much as anyone but I can’t do it any longer. He’s been atrocious this year, hitting .156/.267/.156 (24 wRC+) with nary an extra-base hit in 75 plate appearances. As Jared Diamond pointed out yesterday, Headley is only the 13th player in history to start May with a sub-.150 slugging percentage in at least 70 plate appearances. That’s brutal.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

I don’t care how good a player is on defense — Headley has rebounded quite well in the field after last year’s error-fest — there is a minimum acceptable standard on offense and Headley is not meeting it. The Yankees can talk all they want about the quality of his at-bats or how close they think he is to snapping out of it. The bottom line is this is a results oriented business and Headley’s results have been dreadful one month into the season.

The problem at third base is the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement. Womack stunk back in 2005 and Cano was the obvious candidate to take over. Who can replace Headley at third? Ronald Torreyes? Moving players with bench player skill sets into a full-time role usually turns out poorly. Rob Refsnyder? Pete Kozma? Donovan Solano? Solano is hitting .312/.341/.351 (100 wRC+) in Triple-A, you know.

Since no obvious replacement exists, I’d go with the highest upside candidate: Refsnyder. He’s new to third base — he’s played 153.1 career innings at the hot corner between Spring Training and Triple-A — and his defense is rough, but he might actually hit. Stick him at third, get three at-bats out of him, then pull for defense in the sixth-ish inning. When you hit as poorly as Headley has, you losing playing time. That’s the way it should work.

(Yes, I know Refsnyder hasn’t hit much in Triple-A this year. I’m not too concerned about that though. It’s been cold in Scranton and he’s spent a lot of time learning a new position. As long as he’s healthy, I think he’ll be fine.)

Play Ackley or Swisher?

One the biggest reasons the Yankees scored the second most runs in baseball last year were bounceback seasons from A-Rod and Mark Teixeira. A-Rod was suspended for the entire 2014 season and no one knew what to expect from him in 2015. Teixeira was terrible in the second half of 2014. He hit .179/.271/.302 (63 wRC+) with only five homers after the All-Star break that year.

Dustin Ackley hasn’t played a whole lot this year (18 plate appearances!) because it’s tough to get him into the lineup. He’s stuck in the same role as Garrett Jones last year. Teixeira and A-Rod are not doing much damage right now — Rodriguez has looked much better of late, to be fair — and giving Ackley some of their at-bats could spark the offense. This would complicate the outfield plan outlined above. That’s not worth worrying about right now.

The alternative here would be Nick Swisher, who owns a .340/.370/.540 (167 wRC+) batting line with three homers down in Triple-A. I can’t say I put much stock in a 12-year veteran mashing minor league pitching though. Swisher has two bad knees and he’s hit .204/.291/.326 (75 wRC+) in the big leagues the last two years. Call him up and I suspect you’ll get closer to 2014-15 MLB Swisher than 2016 Triple-A Swisher.

This is where Greg Bird‘s injury really hurts. Calling up Bird to take at-bats away from Teixeira and A-Rod would be far more realistic and, likely, far more successful than the Ackley/Swisher plan. With those two you’re just hoping small sample size success translates to long-term success. Ackley was terrible all those years with the Mariners before raking in pinstripes in September. Swisher was bad from 2014-15 and has had a few good weeks in Triple-A. That’s all it is.

The Yankees have had some success turning veterans who looked washed up into useful players (see Chavez, Eric), so we shouldn’t completely write off Swisher as a possibility. Either way, Ackley or Swisher, taking at-bats away from A-Rod or Teixeira is one potential way to inject some life into the offense. For what it’s worth, I think this is the least likely suggestion in this post.

* * *

I’m not sure what the Yankees could do to shake-up the pitching staff other than maybe swap out some relievers. I guess they could replace Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, or Luis Severino with Ivan Nova. My guess is Nova’s going to end up making a bunch of starts at some point anyway. Point is, the Yankees have reached the point where some kind of change needs to be made. The problem is they don’t have a lot of internal options. What you see is what you’re going to get with this team.

Caught In Between

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

In the outfield on a fly ball or line drive, in the infield on a hop, or at the plate anticipating a pitch, being caught in between rarely yields positive results. Sure, you can make a recovery from a bad read, make a diving stop on a grounder, or foul off what you thought was a breaking ball but was really a fastball, but those are the exceptions to the rule; nine times out of ten, the ball will sail over your head, skip over your shoulder, or be strike three, sending you back to the dugout looking just as foolish as if you misplayed a ball or got a bad hop. Being caught in between during the course of a game is bad; being caught in between in the roster-building process is even worse.

Whether on here through the offseason or on Twitter during April’s struggles for the Yankees, I’ve maintained a fairly positive view of the team. And in general, I still hold to that; I think they’ll wind up in the wildcard game again, though that’s getting harder and harder to justify as the team continues to not score at a prolific pace. But given the way this team is built right now, where they are now–right in between–is just about where they should be.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Is it possible that 2015 was the one out of ten I referred before? Is that season the diving catch? The lucky grab? The desperate foul-off? Since 2013, the Yankees have been attempting a rebuild-while-still-competing thing that has gone better than most teams’ attempts at that have, as they’ve managed to win 80something games each time and generally avoid being a complete embarrassment. That’s good enough for mediocrity, but it’s not good enough for future strength and it’s not good enough for present results.

The rebuild has been caught in between, despite the ostensibly admirable goal of looking to get younger and more flexible. After 2013, the Yankees could’ve kept to that and their goal of spending less money, but they went out and signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran instead of retaining their own player in Robinson Cano. Not wanting to sign Cano to a ten-year contract is completely defensible and I understand why the Yankees didn’t, especially in a post-Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols deals world. But to follow that up with signing three expensive players–one of whom has been borderline disastrous thus far–is the height of cognitive dissonance and a sign of a lack of commitment to a plan. If you’re going to spend, spend wisely. If you’re not going to spend, just don’t spend.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

For a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in two of the last three years, the Yankees have surprisingly little to show for it. They haven’t drafted high. They don’t have a stocked farm system with prospects ready to make an impact with a reasonable chance of sustaining that impact, though, in fairness, that stems from their years of legitimate contention between 2009-2012. But at the same time, their Major League team isn’t quite good enough to compete for a championship. I’m not saying championship or bust; hat mindset led to a completely barren farm system and a fanbase that’s seemingly unwilling to sit through a rebuild. However, what satisfaction is there in being perpetually just good enough to compete for the wildcard?

It’s time for the Yankees to move out of being caught in between. Either flex the financial muscle that is so much stronger than any other team’s and be that behemoth of the past, or commit to an actual rebuild. No more half measures.

Saturday Links: All-Star Game, Ellsbury, Prospects, DL

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox continue their weekend series tonight at Fenway Park. Man, I hate Saturday night games. The game isn’t even on FOX but I blame them anyway. Blah. Anywho, here are some links to help you pass the time until first pitch.

2016 All-Star Game voting underway

It’s that time of the year again. Fan voting for the 2016 All-Star Game starters is underway and yes, it is ridiculously early. It is every year. Here’s the ballot. You’re allowed to vote up to 35 times per email address and the voting doesn’t end until June 30th, so you’ve got plenty of time to vote for Chase Headley over and over again.

Teams game-planning for Ellsbury’s catcher interferences

Already three times this season Jacoby Ellsbury has been awarded first base on a catcher’s interference. That’s unusual — there have been only three other catcher’s interference calls in all of baseball this season — but not for Ellsbury. Since 2008, his first full season, his 17 catcher’s interference calls are the most in baseball. No one else has more than 13.

Those 17 career catcher’s interference calls are fourth most in history, behind Pete Rose (29), Dale Berra (18), and Julian Javier (18). Ellsbury has proven to be so proficient at getting catcher’s interference calls that teams are now game-planning for it. From Jared Diamond:

It’s happened enough that Ellsbury has earned a reputation around the league. Hector Ortiz, the catching instructor for the Texas Rangers, said he normally teaches his catchers to set up at an arm’s length behind the batter. When the Yankees came to town this week, Ortiz took special care to warn his players about Ellsbury’s strange talent, and to prepare for it.

“If you’ve got a guy that is consistently dropping the head of the bat that way, then we want to be an arm and a half,” said Ortiz. “You talk about it, to get away. They move back and they stay away from that.”

I don’t think anyone is accusing Ellsbury of hitting the catcher’s mitt on purpose. That’s just his swing path and the way he lets the ball travel deep in the zone. Opponents are game-planning for it not only to keep Ellsbury off base, but also keep their catchers healthy. They don’t want anyone to reach out too far and wind up with broken fingers. What a weird skill.

Three Yankees among top 20 DSL/VSL prospects

Earlier this month the great Ben Badler posted his annual look at the top 20 prospects from the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues last season. It’s not a ranking, just an alphabetical list of 20 names. The Yankees have three of the top 20 thanks to the 2014-15 international spending spree. The article is behind the paywall, so I can’t give away too much. Here are the nuts and bolts:

  • SS Diego Castillo: “Castillo was one of the most polished, fundamentally sound players in the 2014 signing class, with excellent instincts in all phases of the game.”
  • OF Estevan Florial: “Florial has outstanding tools, with scouts hanging 70s on his speed and arm strength in center field. He has good bat speed and plus raw power, ranking second in the league in slugging.”
  • 3B Nelson Gomez: “Gomez (is) a physical righthanded hitter with huge raw power, though a lot of scouts were skeptical whether his swing-and-miss tendencies would allow his power to translate against live pitching.”

Castillo, 18, hit .331/.373/.444 (130 wRC+) in 56 DSL games last year. He signed for $750,000 and is a personal favorite as a deep sleeper. I’m a sucker for guys who are polished and instinctual at such a young age. Castillo should come stateside later this summer and play with one of the rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates, so prepare to hear much more about him in the coming weeks and years.

MLBPA pushing for 7-day DL

According to Joel Sherman, the MLBPA plans to push for a 7-day DL as part of the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with MLB. Right now the league has 15-day and 60-day disabled lists, as well as a special 7-day DL for concussions only. That 7-day DL comes with all sorts of concussion protocol, including approval from MLB’s medical director before the player can be activated.

Sherman says the union has pushed for a 7-day DL in the past, though it never received approval from the owners. Apparently there’s concern teams would manipulate the system, perhaps by putting a starting pitcher on the 7-day DL to gain an extra roster spot when he isn’t scheduled to pitch for a few days. I could totally see the Yankees doing something like that with a sixth starter, couldn’t you?

There is a 7-day DL in the minors, and once upon a time MLB had 10-day and 21-day disabled lists. There’s nothing special about 15 days. It’s just a round number. I’m in favor of a shorter DL to give teams some more flexibility — the Yankees played with a 23-man roster for a few days this week because Alex Rodriguez and Aaron Hicks were banged up — though I understand there are some things to work out. It’s not quite as simple as it seems.

Yankeemetrics: Heroes and zeroes [April 22-24]

Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)
Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)

Stealing a win
The Yankees woke up from their nightmare and temporarily broke out of their massive slump on Friday night, beating the Rays 6-3 in the series opener. Yes, six runs is considered an offensive explosion these days.

Jacoby Ellsbury may not have started the game, but he still delivered the most electrifying moment of the season so far, swiping home in the bottom of the fifth inning to even the score at 3-3. It was the first straight steal of home by a Yankee at Yankee Stadium since Gerald Williams on May 29, 1993 vs. the White Sox.

Ellsbury also sparked the offense with two hits and two RBI in three at-bats after taking over for the injured Aaron Hicks. He is the first Yankee in more than four decades — since Jerry Kenney in 1969 — to come off the bench and produce at least two hits, two RBI, a stolen base and a run scored in a game.

Let’s go streaking
Break out the champagne, folks … the Yankees finally put together a win streak with a dramatic walk-off victory on Saturday against Tampa Bay.

Brett Gardner was the hero, tying the game in the seventh inning with an RBI infield single and then earning himself a Gatorade shower with a two-out towering blast into the right field seats in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was his sixth career walk-off hit, the most by any Yankee since his debut in 2008.

Gardner also became just the third Yankee left-fielder in the last 85 seasons to hit a two-out, walk-off homer, joining Gary Thomasson (1978) and Charlie Keller (1941).

The Rays called up their top pitching prospect, Blake Snell, to start the game and the 23-year-old lefty put on quite a show in the Bronx. He worked five innings, allowing one run on two hits with six strikeouts and a walk. Mixing his mid-90s fastball with a knee-buckling curve plus a handful of changeups and sliders, Snell had a truly impressive and historic performance.

He is the only pitcher in the last 100 years to make his major-league debut against the Yankees and pitch at least five innings, allow no more than two hits while striking out at least six batters. The last guy to make his major-league debut against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and give up one run or fewer with six-or-more strikeouts was Luis Tiant in 1964.

No sweep for you
All good things must come to an end. The Yankees dropped the series finale on Sunday, failed to complete the three-game sweep and fell back into last place in the AL East.

Their offensive struggles continued with just one run scored on six hits, the eighth time in 17 games this season they’ve been held to two runs or fewer. That’s tied for the most such games in the American League this season.

As much as you can blame the cold bats for the loss, the Yankees were never in this game thanks to a horrible outing by Michael Pineda. The Rays pummeled him in the first inning, belting out six consecutive two-out hits — two of which left the ballpark — to take a 5-0 lead.

Pineda gutted out another four frames and finished with one of the most bizarre pitching lines you’ll ever see: five innings, 10 hits, seven runs, nine strikeouts, four home runs, one walk. Yes, there’s some dominance in there (nine strikeouts), but also a bunch of poorly located fastballs/meatballs (four homers).

With that Hekyll-and-Jyde performance, Pineda became the first Yankee pitcher in the last 100 seasons to allow four-or-more home runs and strike out at least nine batters in a game. In the past 20 years, the only other Yankees to give up 10-plus hits and have nine-plus Ks in an outing of fewer than six innings pitched were Roger Clemens (2003) and David Cone (1998).

Overall, the Rays got 12 hits and struck out 16 times. Never before in franchise history had Yankees pitchers given up that many hits and recorded that many strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. etched his name in the Yankee record books with a rare and nearly unprecedented display of power on his 27th birthday. He is just third player ever with a multi-homer game at Yankee Stadium (old or new) on his birthday, along with Justin Morneau (2009) and Bernie Williams (2003).

Let’s try to find a bad contract-for-bad contract trade for Jacoby Ellsbury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jacoby Ellsbury is a problem. Following last night’s 1-for-3 game, he is hitting .263/.321/.383 (95 wRC+) with 4.8 WAR in two years and 13 games as a Yankee. He’s now 32 years old, his defense is kinda sorta slipping, and he is still under contract for another four years and 149 games. Ellsbury is talented and he could certainly turn things around, but yeah. Outlook not so good.

Trading Ellsbury is far-fetched. He’s owed roughly $110M through 2020, and very few teams can and will be open to taking on that much money. Did you see how long it took good outfielders like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes to sign this past offseason? Ellsbury’s value is down well below those two. And oh by the way he has a full no-trade clause, so he can shoot down any deal. Not great, Bob.

Unless the Yankees eat a ton of money, which just isn’t happening, any Ellsbury trade would have to be a bad contract-for-bad contract trade. Those trades are surprisingly rare — straight salary dumps are much more common — but they do happen from time to time. At Ellsbury’s pay grade though? Forget it. It’s never happened at that salary. Moving Ellsbury in a bad contract-for-bad contract deal would be unprecedented. Not impossible, just unprecedented.

The number of teams with a similar bad contracts to trade are limited — there are lots of bad contracts out there, but few have over $100M remaining — and even fewer need a player like Ellsbury. Finding a match is tough. Here are four possible fits — I guess it’s five, but there’s no sense in listing the Red Sox and some ridiculous Pablo Sandoval scenario — for a bad contract-for-bad contract trade that sends Ellsbury elsewhere. The teams are listed alphabetically.

The Team: Los Angeles Angels
The Player: Albert Pujols
The Remaining Money: $165M through 2021

Does It Make Sense For The Angels? Oh yes. The Halos would shed more than $50M in future salary obligation and get a more dynamic two-way player. They could stick C.J. Cron at first base full-time, put Ellsbury in the leadoff spot and in either center or left field (Mike Trout has played a ton of left field), and then find a cheap DH. Angels GM Billy Eppler may have some lingering affinity for Ellsbury dating back to his time as Brian Cashman‘s right hand man.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? Nope. Even if the two teams finagle the money so the Yankees don’t take on any additional cash, New York would be acquiring the older and much more one-dimensional player. The last thing they need is another lumbering DH type on the wrong side of 35. Sure, they could stick Pujols at first base and let Mark Teixeira leave next offseason, then put Pujols at DH and Greg Bird at first when Alex Rodriguez retires the offseason after that, but yuck. This one doesn’t work for the Yankees at all. That Pujols contract is the worst contract in baseball.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

The Team: San Diego Padres
The Players: Matt Kemp and James Shields
The Remaining Money: $117.75M through 2018 plus another $20.25M in 2019

Does It Make Sense For The Padres? It might! They’re currently rebuilding and looking to both shed money and add prospects. Ellsbury for the Kemp/Shields duo wouldn’t net them any prospects, but it would wipe almost $30M off the books, reduce their annual payroll through 2018, and also land them an upgrade in the outfield. Kemp has a degenerative condition in his hips and is a year or two away from being a first baseman or DH, and DHs do not exist in the NL. Ellsbury gives them the kind of speedy contact hitter who would ostensibly thrive in spacious Petco Park.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? Again: it might! Shields’ contract complicates things because he can opt-out after the season. If Shields opts out, the the Padres would actually end up taking on money in this trade because he would be walking away from $44M. I suppose the two sides could work out a conditional trade — if Shields opts out, the Yankees send a prospect or two over, or kick in more money — but when things start getting that complicated, bet against it happening.

If nothing else, Shields would give the Yankees an innings guy even though he’s dangerously close to a Sabathia-esque decline. Kemp would fit in decently. They could put him in left this year to replace Ellsbury, then put him and Aaron Judge in the corners next season since Carlos Beltran will be gone, and then put him at DH once A-Rod retires. Kemp would also add another righty bat. Would the Yankees take on money to move Ellsbury and take two declining players in return though? Seems unlikely.

Kemp alone would not work — the Padres owe him only $73M through 2019, so significantly less than the Yankees owe Ellsbury — so Kemp plus Shields it is. The Yankees would be taking on more money in the short-term, screwing up their plan to get under the luxury tax threshold, but the contracts would be off the books a year sooner. That’s not something that should be glossed over. They’d get out of the bad deal(s) sooner.

The Team: Seattle Mariners
The Player: Robinson Cano
The Remaining Money: $192M through 2023

Does It Make Sense For The Mariners? Yes if the only goal is shedding approximately $80M and three years worth of contract. No if the goal is improving the roster. Cano is a better player than Ellsbury, there’s no doubt about that, and the difference in the contract commitments is massive. Seattle doesn’t have a ready made second base replacement and they don’t really need another outfielder, so Ellsbury doesn’t fit their roster, at least not in the super short-term. Their motivation for a Cano-for-Ellsbury deal would be dumping all that money.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? No for a few reasons. One, that’s way too much money to take on. The Yankees had a chance to re-sign Cano and balked at that price. I personally would rather have Cano for ten years and $240M than Ellsbury for seven years and $153M, but that’s just me. Obviously the Yankees feel differently, otherwise Robbie would still be wearing pinstripes.

Two, the Yankees now have Starlin Castro at second base, so they don’t really need Cano. An Ellsbury plus Castro for Cano deal would be fun in an lolwtf way — it would also even out the money slightly — but c’mon. The Yankees aren’t going to add Castro to the trade and still take on $40M or so just to get rid of Ellsbury. Not happening.

In a vacuum where positions and things like that don’t matter, I’d trade Ellsbury for Cano in an instant. This ain’t no vacuum though. That stuff matters and neither player fits the roster of their would-be new team. Ellsbury for Cano seems like the kind of trade none of us would even consider had Cano not been a Yankee once upon a time.

The Team: Texas Rangers
The Player: Shin-Soo Choo
The Remaining Money: $102M through 2020

Does It Make Sense For The Rangers? Finally, a trade that seems remotely plausible. Ellsbury and Choo both signed seven-year contracts two offseasons go, and while Ellsbury received an additional $23M in guaranteed money, Choo’s deal was back-loaded, so the two are owed similar dollars from 2016-20. Bridging the gap between the $102M left on Choo’s deal and the $110M left on Ellsbury’s doesn’t seem like it would be a huge issue, right?

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Rangers GM Jon Daniels has reportedly coveted Ellsbury for years, so I’m sure there’s still some level of interest there. The problem? The Rangers have a good young center fielder and leadoff hitter in Delino DeShields Jr., who is making close to the league minimum. Texas also has a top flight center field prospect in Lewis Brinson at Triple-A. They have options at that position, so it’s not a pressing need.

Either way, the Rangers will have a declining veteran outfielder making $20M+ a year through 2020 on their roster. The question is whether they prefer Choo or Ellsbury, who are very different players. Ellsbury is the two-way threat and Choo is the bat first guy. They both have their pluses and minuses. This would almost be like a change of scenery trade.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? I think so, even if the money is evened out. The Yankees need Choo’s offense — he’s hit .259/.360/.419 (114 wRC+) with the Rangers, including .276/.375/.463 (127 wRC+) in 2015 — more than they need Ellsbury’s two-way skill set. Choo slots in perfectly in left field in the short-term, then at DH in the long-term once A-Rod is gone. As with the Rangers, the Yankees are going to have a declining veteran outfielder making $20M+ a year on their roster no matter what. Would they prefer that player to be Choo or Ellsbury?

* * *

It goes without saying those four bad contract-for-bad contract trades above are all pretty unrealistic and very unlikely to happen. This just goes to show how tough it would be to move Ellsbury without eating a significant chunk of money. It’s not impossible, crazier things have happened, but his trade value is very low for the time being. And of course there’s the whole no trade clause thing.

My sense is the Yankees really like Ellsbury as a player and wouldn’t look to move him in a bad contract-for-bad contract deal. Their best course of action is to remain patient and hope he shakes off his slow start, and gets back to being the dynamic leadoff hitter he was prior to his knee injury last year. Ellsbury’s contract is really bad, and while trading him seems like a good idea, it’s very possible the best bang for all that buck will come from Ellsbury, not a declining player on another team’s roster.

Some calm and collected thoughts about the struggling Yankees’ offense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost for the sixth time in seven games last night, and in all six losses, the team scored no more than two runs. They again blew scoring opportunities and went 1-for-whatever with runners in scoring position Wednesday night. The Yankees are struggling in a bad way right now. It would be easy to go on a bumbling tirade against the offense — I’ve done my fair share of that over the years — but let’s not do that. Let’s talk about this offensive malaise in a calm and rational way, because we’re adults. (Well, most of you are.)

1. Joe Girardi is the type of manager who stands up for his players through thick and thin, but even he had to call out Didi Gregorius for his base-running blunder in the seventh inning last night. It was that egregious. “It’s bad base-running. You’ve got to understand what your run means … That’s a blunder we have to take care of,” said Girardi after the game. Gregorius had the entire play in front of him and he still didn’t stop to make sure he wasn’t tagged out. That’s Baseball 101. Every team is going to go into an offensive funk at some point(s) throughout the season, that’s just the way the games goes. But when you start adding bad mental mistakes on top of it, things get ugly. That was a bad, bad play by Gregorius. It’s the kind of play that earns someone a spot on the bench for a day or two.

2. Given the way the Yankees are built — and the way every team is built, really — their offense starts at the top of the lineup, and right now Jacoby Ellsbury is hurting the club. He did have the double and yet another catcher’s interference last night, but through 51 plate appearances this season, Ellsbury is hitting .220/.264/.320 (63 wRC+) with three walks. He’s currently in a 1-for-15 slump. The Yankees are going to give Ellsbury an awfully long leash thanks to his contract, so I don’t expect him to be moved down in the lineup anytime soon. Maybe Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will flip flop and in the one-two spots or something, but hitting Ellsbury seventh or eighth? Not happening. Ellsbury has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt in a way that impacts his performance for weeks or months — that’s exactly what happened with last year’s knee injury — so I can’t help but think back to that pitch he took to the wrist in Spring Training. Either way, Ellsbury is part of the problem right now. A big part of it.

3. This to me is the is the single biggest reason the offense has sputtered so much recently. Here are numbers since the start of the homestand:

Mark Teixeira: 1-for-15 (.067)
Brian McCann: 1-for-16 (.063)

Teixeira’s slump actually dates back to the Detroit series (3-for-30), though, to be fair, he is still drawing a ton of walks and providing value that way. Teixeira and McCann are not high average hitters, but they do hit the ball out of the park, and right now they’re not doing that. They’re not hitting much of anything. Gardner and Carlos Beltran are the Yankees’ two hottest hitters — they have a combined .463 OBP on the homestand — so they’re putting the team in position to score. The two guys hitting behind them are slumping bad and those opportunities created by Gardner and Beltran are being wasted. That’s why those two have scored six total runs on the homestand despite that .463 OBP, and three of those six runs have come on their own home runs. Getting Teixeira and McCann going is Priority No. 1 in my opinion. They are the keys to turning this mess around.

4. The Aaron Hicks Hate Train seems to be up and running already. The guy has 21 plate appearances in 13 games and eight of them have come the last two nights. The Yankees took a player who is used to playing every day and made him into a bench player, and that can be a tough adjustment. It looks to me like Hicks is pressing and trying to do anything he can to impress during his limited playing time. He saw four pitches in three at-bats last night. This is a guy with a 10.0% walk rate in the big leagues and a 14.4% career walk rate in the minors. Hicks is making more of an effort to be aggressive and swing at pitches in the strike zone, but I doubt he wants to be this aggressive. He’s jumping at everything. That’s not his game. The Yankees are going to see a lot of left-handed starters over the next week — my guess is either Gardner sits against Rich Hill tonight if his neck is still stiff, or Alex Rodriguez sits and Beltran slots in at DH — and hopefully that allows Hicks to settle in and feel more comfortable. He has a new role with a new team in a new city. No wonder why he’s started slow.

5. The bottom of the lineup has been pretty abysmal of late. Chase Headley has had a rotten start to the season with the bat — he’s one of only five players with at least 40 plate appearances and zero extra base hits — and his only saving grace right now is his batting eye. He’s drawn eight walks and has a .333 OBP — he didn’t draw his eighth walk until Game 32 last year — which is fourth highest on the team, believe it or not. But still, walking only gets you so far. Eventually Headley is going to have to do something more than push a ground ball single through the infield. Gregorius had two hits including a homer last night to snap a 3-for-25 (.150) slide and Starlin Castro has quietly gone 7-for-38 (.184) since the end of the Astros series. That’s not a lot of production from the bottom of the lineup. No one expects those guys to carry the team offensively, but they do have to provide support, and it’s hasn’t happened of late. When your fourth and fifth hitters slump like Teixeira and McCann have, you look for others to pick up the slack, and the bottom third of the lineup ain’t doing it.

6. I don’t see any potential quick fix for the offense. I suppose Girardi could shake up the lineup, but even if he does that, what lineup should he use? Bat Gardner and Beltran first and second, then make them go up to the plate in the three through nine spots wearing everyone else’s jersey? The Yankees are not a true talent .189 hitting team with runners in scoring position because I don’t think any lineup in baseball history is a true talent .189 hitting team in any situation. At some point Ellsbury will go on one of his insane hot streaks, and at some point Teixeira and McCann will hit a baseball out of the park. It’s going to happen. How soon? Soon, hopefully. Right now the best (only?) thing the Yankees can do is stay the course, clean up the sloppy mistakes like Didi’s base-running blunder last night, and wait for their good at baseball players to start being good at baseball again.

What the heck is going on with Jacoby Ellsbury’s defense?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2016 season is only eleven games old, but we’ve already seen several defensive miscues by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury, who has played every inning of every game so far, has specifically made four misplays that stand out in the early going. Mistakes happen. That’s baseball. But four mistakes in eleven games? That’s unusual.

Ellsbury’s four misplays have all led to runs, which is partly bad luck — not every miscue should result in runs, Yankees — and partly a result of outfielder misplays often leading to extra bases, making it that much easier to score. Let’s look at these four miscues and try to figure out exactly what the hell happened, and whether it was simply one of those things or a sign of declining skills.

Play No. 1: J.D. Martinez single in Detroit

They say the toughest play for an outfielder is the line drive hit right at you, and that line drive was hit pretty much right at Ellsbury. He knew off the bat he had to retreat, so he had the correct jump, but the ball was closer to left field than he seemed to realize, so it feel in for a base hit.

“It kind of just died out,” said Ellsbury to Erik Boland after the game. “It just went straight down. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to recover on it. I got a great jump on it.”

It appears Ellsbury simply misread this ball in terms of its location left to right. He got the right jump and broke back, but he was about ten feet too far to the right. The fact that this was a line drive hit at him makes me think the ball knuckled unexpectedly. Ellsbury was there, but not there there. Know what I mean?

Play No. 2: Jose Bautista double in Toronto

This one Ellsbury clearly misread off the bat. His first step was in! Look:

Jose Bautista Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury took a few steps in, then had to stop and retreat to right-center field. Those few wasted steps coming in put him behind the play and allowed Bautista’s double to drop in. Ellsbury almost caught it because he’s still really fast, but ultimately he couldn’t recover from that bad first step.

Also, look where the Yankees had Ellsbury positioned. He was shaded heavily towards left field for Bautista, who is an extreme pull hitter. Check out his 2014-15 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

Jose Bautista spray chart

So yeah, Bautista is a big time pull hitter. The Yankees had Ellsbury positioned in the right place — he should be shading him towards left field — but Bautista had to go and be good at baseball and hit the ball to right-center. That didn’t help matters. Bottom line though, Ellsbury’s first step was in when it should have been back. That cost him a chance to make the play. This one is on Jake.

Play No. 3: Robinson Cano‘s single on Saturday

The speedy Ketel Marte managed to score all the way from first on that play, which just can’t happen. Marte and Mariners third base coach Manny Acta deserve credit for their aggressiveness and willingness to push the envelope, so let’s not take anything away from them. They caught Ellsbury napping. Look at his reaction:

Jacoby Ellsbury Ketel Marte

It sure looks like Ellsbury assumed Marte was going to stop at third base. He was caught off guard. While this play sucked and you hate to see players take seemingly routine plays for granted, I have a hard time dinging Ellsbury too much for this one. Marte and Acta were very aggressive. They were aggressively aggressive.

“It was the first time I think I’ve given up a single and the guy scored from first. First time for everything,” said CC Sabathia, who gave up the hit, to George King after the game.

As best I can tell, only 12 runners scored from first on a single last season. This is something that happens like 99.99% of the time. Ellsbury got caught off guard not because he’s lazy or anything like that, but because this is a play that basically never happens. Marte and Acta deserve more credit than Ellsbury deserves blame, I think.

Play 4: Nori Aoki triple on Sunday

This play is much different than I remembered when I wrote Sunday’s game recap. Ellsbury was in a full sprint and attempted the dive, and just missed. Looking at it again, I don’t think he could have pulled up to play the ball on the hop. His options were a) attempt a diving catch, or b) retreat into the gap to chase after the rolling ball, in which case it’s at least a double and maybe still a triple.

Also, let’s once again look at where the Yankees had Ellsbury positioned:

Jacoby Ellsbury Nori Aoki

The Yankees again had Ellsbury shaded towards left field. Why? Because Aoki is an extreme opposite field hitter. Here is his spray chart for the 2014-15 seasons, via Baseball Savant:

Nori Aoki spray chart

The Yankees had Ellsbury positioned in the proper spot for the opposite field left-handed hitter, but Aoki hooked it to the right side of center field. So it goes.

“It’s a triple for him anyway,” said Ellsbury to Chad Jennings after the game. “So you just try to cut the ball off and if you’re not going to catch it, try to block it.”

Now that I’ve had more time to watch this play, this isn’t really a defensive miscue on Ellsbury’s part. That ball was ticketed for extra-bases anyway. Ellsbury could have played it conservatively and retreated to the wall, or he could have played it aggressively and tried to make the catch. He did the latter and it didn’t work out.

* * *

Looking over these four defensive plays, I see two legitimate miscues (Bautista and Martinez), one aggressive play gone wrong (Aoki), and one surprise play that I’m not sure any center fielder would have expected (Cano/Marte). You can blame Ellsbury for two plays for sure, maybe three.

Ellsbury has not hit much in the early going and he didn’t hit at all last year after coming back from his knee injury, but he still provided value with his glove. He’s had two notable misreads in the early going and two other plays that have made his usually strong defense look rough. Bunching the four plays together in eleven games hasn’t helped matters either.

Unless injury is involved, nothing you see in eleven games should change your opinion about a player too much. Ellsbury is 32, so a defensive decline would not be unprecedented, but it’s far too early to say that with any certainty. His defense has not been good so far. Right now I still think it’s a blip more than something more serious.