Game 97: End of the Road Trip

(Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
(Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

This eleven-game, ten-day road trip through three times zones finally comes to an end this afternoon. The Yankees have a chance to close it out with a series win too. They haven’t won a series in more than a month now. Since massacring the Orioles that weekend at Yankee Stadium. It’s been far, far too long.

On the bump this afternoon is left-hander Caleb Smith, who will be making his first big league start. The Yankees opted to start Smith over Luis Cessa this afternoon for whatever reason. With an off-day tomorrow and a chance to a) win a damn series, and b) clinch a winning road trip, I imagine it’ll be all hands on deck out of the bullpen. Here is the Mariners’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. DH Matt Holliday
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP Caleb Smith

You’re not going to believe this, but it’s cool and cloudy in Seattle today. Today’s series finale will begin at 4:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Ji-Man Choi has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, the team announced. I figured that would happen. Choi will remain with the Yankees as a non-40-man roster player.

Game 93: The New Guys

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Yankees and Twins are wrapping up their three-game series this afternoon, and the Yankees will have three new players in uniform. Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle are all available today even though their flight from Chicago was held up by bad weather and they’re not expected to arrive at the park until around first pitch. The Yankees are a much better team right now than they were 24 hours ago. No doubt about it.

As for this afternoon’s game, the Yankees have a chance to do something they haven’t done in more than a month now: win a damn series. They’re 0-7-2 in their last nine series dating back to that massacre weekend against the Orioles. It’s about time for this extended run of crappiness to end. The front office went out and got the Yankees some help. Now it’s up to the players to turn things around. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. RF Clint Frazier
  7. 1B Garrett Cooper
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is a lovely afternoon for baseball in the Twin Cities. Nice and sunny with temperatures in the 80s. Good day to play hooky and sit in the bleachers. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: Even with Tyler Clippard going the other way in the trade, the Yankees still needed to clear two 25-man and two 40-man roster spots following the trade. Ji-Man Choi was designated for assignment to clear one of each. Chasen Shreve was sent down to clear the other 25-man spot and Rob Refsnyder was designated for assignment to clear the other 40-man spot. Choi will likely clear waivers and go to Triple-A Scranton. I bet Refsnyder ends up getting traded for nothing in particular. Either that or they’ll lose him on waivers.

Uniform Numbers: Clint Frazier has switched from No. 30 to No. 77, which is an expert troll move. He said it has nothing to do with Mickey Mantle though. He thought it would look cool with No. 77 and No. 99 in the outfield. Robertson is wearing his old No. 30. The other Frazier, Todd, is wearing No. 29. He wore No. 21 with the Reds and White Sox. I guess the Yankees are just never going to put that number back in circulation, huh? Kahnle is wearing No. 48.

2017 Midseason Review: The Infielders

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, our expectations surrounding the infield were fairly high. Greg Bird was raking in Spring Training, and it seemed as though he hadn’t missed a beat; and, in the event that he did, Chris Carter was around as an overqualified back-up. Starlin Castro had shown flashes of brilliance in 2016, and had been hyped-up by some as a potential breakout player. Chase Headley … well, his defense had improved, and he was better after a calamitous first month. And Didi Gregorius was coming off of a great all-around season. What could possibly go wrong?

The First Basemen

Expectation: Bird and Carter would form a more than competent platoon, of sorts, with Carter playing first against tougher LHP, and allowing Bird to rest a bit more often than a normal team composition would dictate. ZiPS projected a .234/.307/.449 line for Bird, and .223/.316/.509 for Carter.

Reality: Bird is on the disabled list for the second time in his career, as the result of an ankle injury. He’s played just 19 games, and is hitting on a .100/.250/.200 slash line. And Carter has earned himself two DFA’s by hitting .201/.284/.370 and absolutely brutal defense at first. The starter is currently Ji-Man Choi.

I almost don’t want to write more about first base, as it’s rather depressing. Bird’s injury (and the resulting fallout from the front office) has cast a shadow over the team’s season, and it has only grown darker as the team struggled over the last few weeks. His return is still up in the air, and surgery is a distinct possibility. And it is that uncertainty that is most frustrating.

And Carter – the should-have-been safety net – failed catastrophically. We always knew that he was a feast or famine hitter, but that had still resulted in a .221/.318/.474 slash line (116 wRC+) in five seasons as a regular. There was some sentiment that he was struggling as he adjusted to playing part time, but that excuse went out the window once he became the full-time first baseman. His 73 wRC+ ranks dead last among first basemen.

Choi is the starter for the time being, and he has made a decent impression in a four games. He’s hitting .182/.308/.727 in 13 PA, with 2 HR and 2 BB, and there’s no real challenger for his position in the organization right now. And, for what it’s worth, he does have a career .853 OPS in 851 PA at Triple-A.

Second-Half Forecast: The Yankees will acquire a first baseman via trade, and shut Bird down sooner rather than later.

The Second Basemen

Expectation: Castro would continue to be a competent yet frustrating presence at the keystone. ZiPS projected a .272/.305/.419 slash line, which isn’t too far off from his career norms (in 4000-plus PA).

Reality: Castro is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which was a major blow to the team’s lineup. He’s currently slashing .313/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) with 12 HR in 313 PA.

The 27-year-old Castro absolutely raked in April, batting .352/.362/.549 (154 wRC+) with 5 home runs. He also had a 7.1% walk rate, which is impressive for the free-swinger. His performance dipped in May (97 wRC+, 3.4 BB%), but he showed improvements in June (117 wRC+, 4.2 BB%) prior to hitting the DL. Castro earned an All-Star nod for his first-half, but had to be replaced due to that injury.

Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes have filled-in since the injury. I’ll have more on them in a bit.

Second-Half Forecast: Castro will be back soon, and his numbers will continue to fluctuate. With so much strong production in the bank, however, we may end up seeing a career year.

The Third Basemen

Expectation: Headley would be a warm body at the hot corner, with competent defense. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be a bit better with the bat. ZiPS had him at .247/.324/.376.

Reality: Headley has been a warm body at the hot corner, but his defense has regressed. His offense (91 wRC+) is right in-line with 2015 (92 wRC+) and 2016 (92 wRC+), even with a blistering hot start.

This is who Headley is at this point. He’s batting .254/.329/.373 (92 wRC+) since Opening Day of 2015, and his highs (142 wRC+ in April) are always met with ridiculous lows (15 wRC+ in May). That’s fine when he’s playing strong defense, as he did in 2016, but he has been a borderline disaster out there in 2017. DRS has him at -5 runs already, and he has already surpassed last year’s error total.

Second-Half Forecast: More of the same, unfortunately. Though, I could see a Miguel Andujar cup of coffee happening down the stretch.

The Shortstops

Expectation: Gregorius would continue to win our hearts with his surprising power, slick defense, and top-notch Twitter game. ZiPS was bearish on the power spike, projecting a .262/.308/.404 line.

Reality: Pretty darn close, albeit with nearly a month lost to a shoulder injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic. He’s hitting .291/.321/.458 with 10 HR (104 wRC+) on the year, and nearly made the All-Star team.

Gregorius is one of the most likable players in baseball, as evidenced by the fun he had trying to garner that final vote. The fact that he has proven that last season wasn’t a fluke helps, too, and he is currently a top-10 shortstop by both WAR (7th in MLB) and wRC+ (9th). And keep in mind that WAR is a counting stat, so the fact that he’s 26th among shortstop in PA helps to bring that number down. He may not be a Hall of Fame talent, but that’s perfectly acceptable – he’s still really, really good.

Second-Half Forecast: Gregorius will keep it up. He’s the safest bet among the infielders to be an above-average player for the remainder of the season, and I’m confident that he will.

The Reserves

Expectation: Ronald Torreyes and Co. would be perfectly adequate bench players.

Reality: Torreyes and Co. have been perfectly adequate – but they’ve had too play more often than anyone would have wanted.

Torreyes spent most of April as the team’s starting shortstop, and he was surprisingly competent. He posted a .313/.313/.433 slash line (95 wRC+) while Gregorius was on the mend, and his defense was more than passable. He has been overextended and a bit exposed since then, though, as he has already surpassed last year’s PA mark, and stands to play more as the season wears on. He’s another fun player, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more than what he’s done already.

Wade was called upon to shore up the bench when Castro landed on the DL, and he has picked up five starts at second in those two weeks. He has yet to get on-track (.107/.219/.179 in 32 PA), but his versatility and speed should earn him more opportunities in the coming months. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (134 wRC+) with 5 HR and 24 SB at Triple-A this year, and he might just be the best reserve the team has right now.

Rob Refsnyder is still around, too, but the Yankees seem to have decided that he’s a 1B/LF/RF. He’s batting .135/.200/.216 in 40 PA, and he hasn’t played since July 2.

Second-Half Forecast: This may be optimistic, but I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Wade, and less of Torreyes (and Refsnyder, if such a thing is even possible). The Yankees have been grooming him for this exact role for some time now; it’s his time to shine.

Scouting the Trade Market: First Basemen

Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On the off-chance that Ji-Man Choi is not a true-talent 216 wRC+ hitter, the Yankees are going to need a first baseman to solidify and stabilize both the lineup and the infield defense. Chris Carter played himself into a second DFA, Greg Bird may require surgery on his balky right ankle, and none of the team’s internal options seem befitting of a team with playoff aspirations.

All of that put together, assuming the Yankees do not continue to struggle into the waning days of July, should make them something of a buyer as the trade deadline approaches. The question then becomes a simple matter of who is available, and at what cost?

The simplest way to hazard a guess at the marketplace is to see what rentals are available (meaning who will be a free agent at season’s end). As per MLB Trade Rumors, that group is mildly enticing:

  • Yonder Alonso, Oakland A’s
  • Pedro Alvarez, Baltimore Orioles
  • Lucas Duda, New York Mets
  • Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
  • Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
  • John Jaso, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Adam Lind, Washington Nationals
  • Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
  • Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
  • Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers
  • Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
  • Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
  • Danny Valencia, Seattle Mariners

There are several names that can be ruled out immediately – Alvarez (trading within the division for a player reminiscent of Chris Carter), Lind (the Nationals aren’t selling), Moreland (the Red Sox aren’t selling), Morrison (trading within the division for someone that needlessly bashed Gary Sanchez), Reynolds (the Rockies aren’t selling), and Santana (the Indians aren’t sellers) are unlikely to pop-up on the Yankees radar for various reasons. Napoli is an unlikely target, as well, given that he may be the worst first baseman in the game this year, with a 77 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR. That leaves us with:

Yonder Alonso

Alonso has been one of the best stories of this half-season, serving as a standard bearer for the flyball revolution (or the juiced ball, whichever point of view you prefer). He is currently slashing .280/.375/.568 with 19 HR in 280 PA, good for a 150 wRC+. There have been some signs of regression, though, as Alonso hit .267/.353/.433 with just 3 HR (114 wRC+) and an elevated strikeout rate in June. He’s also struggled with some nagging injuries, which has been the case on an almost year-to-year basis.

I’d be a bit weary of Alonso, due to how inflated his numbers are by his incredible May. A team might be willing to pay for his line on the season, rolling the dice that he’s broken out after years of mediocrity, and the A’s are sure to shop him aggressively.

Lucas Duda

The Yankees have not made many deals with the Mets, but it does happen on occasion – and there could be a definite match here, as the teams trend in different directions. Duda finally seems to be healthy, and he’s batting .249/.359/.548 with 14 home runs and a 137 wRC+ in 231 PA. He has a 123 wRC+ for his career, and he posted a 134 wRC+ between 2014 and 2015, so this isn’t a complete outlier. Duda may not hit for average, but he takes plenty of walks (11.5% for his career) and hits for power (.211 ISO).

As a result of this, Duda is likely the best hitter of this group, when healthy. That caveat bears repeating, but he feels like the safest bet to be a middle of the order thumper.

Todd Frazier

Frazier is a solid defensive third-baseman, so this is cheating a bit – but he has played a few games at first this year, and 94 in his career. He’s batting .215/.332/.450 with 16 HR (107 wRC+), but that is weighed-down by his early struggles. Frazier raked in June, with 8 HR and a 144 wRC+ in 109 PA, and he has hit for power throughout his career. His month-to-month inconsistencies, however, have followed him for several years now.

That being said, Frazier is an interesting target, if only because of his positional versatility. If Bird manages to get healthy or another internal option rears his head, Frazier could shift across the diamond and relieve Headley of everyday duty. He’s a feast or famine type, but the famine isn’t as bad some other options.

Eric Hosmer

I struggled with including Hosmer here, as the Royals aren’t all that far from contention. He’s in the midst of a bounceback season (he’s always better in odd-numbered years), with a .313/.371/.484 slash line (126 wRC+) in 348 PA, and he’s been a key to the team’s turnaround. The Royals have several key players coming up on free agency this off-season, though, so they may be inclined to cash-in now, instead of chasing a wild card berth and little else.

Hosmer is the youngest option here, at 27-years-old, and might be the least obtainable player in this group. There’s probably a team out there that would swing a deal for him with an eye towards re-signing him, and that’s unlikely to be the Yankees.

John Jaso

Jaso is strictly a platoon player at this point, with only 69 PA against LHP since the beginning of 2015. He has done fairly well in that role, though, with a 119 wRC+ against righties in that stretch (108 in 2017). Jaso is hitting .250/.326/.459 with 7 HR (107 wRC+) in 193 PA on the season, spending time at first and in both outfield corners.

If I had to handicap this group, I would bet that Jaso is the most available and most easily attainable player. He’s also the most uninspiring, though, as someone that only partially fills the need at first.

Danny Valencia

I nearly left Valencia out due to his character issues, but that hasn’t necessarily dissuaded the Yankees lately. The 32-year-old journeyman (he has played for seven teams since the beginning of 2012) is batting .272/.335/.412 with 8 HR (104 wRC+) in 310 PA, as he adjusts to being a full-time first baseman for the first time in his career. Those numbers are a bit skewed, though – he had a 53 wRC+ in April, but a 122 wRC+ since. And that 122 wRC+ is essentially the happy medium between his 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Valencia offers some positional flexibility, having spent time at first, third, and both corner outfield spots. His defense isn’t particularly strong at any position, though. I do like Valencia’s bat, but I do worry that his bouncing around the majors and last year’s fight with Billy Butler may be indicative of a somewhat toxic presence.


Each and every one of these guys likely represents an upgrade over Choi, though I wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about bringing Jaso or Valencia on-board. Jaso would need to be leveraged as a platoon bat in order to extract the most value, and Choi’s production at Triple-A, age, and five years of team control may just merit being afforded that same opportunity. And, as much as I try to avoid harping on unquantifiable concerns, Valencia’s history is disconcerting for such a young team.

That leaves us with Alonso, Duda, Frazier, and Hosmer. I won’t hazard any trade proposals, as mine would almost certainly suck, but I would be most interested in Duda, Hosmer, Alonso, and Frazier, in that order. And, depending upon the cost, I think that all four are worth kicking the tires on.

The Yankees have cut ties with Chris Carter (again), but that doesn’t solve their first base problem

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Chris Carter‘s second stint in pinstripes is over. Following yesterday’s loss, the Yankees designated Carter for assignment for the second time this season. Second time in the last two weeks, really. The only reason he was brought back was Tyler Austin‘s hamstring injury. The Yankees decided enough was enough yesterday.

All told, Carter hit .201/.284/.370 (73 wRC+) with eight homers and a 36.5% strikeout rate in 62 games with the Yankees, including 1-for-12 (.083) with four strikeouts since being brought back. When a guy is in the lineup for his bat and he’s being removed for pinch-hitters like Austin Romine and Tyler Wade in the late innings, the writing was on the wall. Joe Girardi‘s patience ran out weeks ago.

With Austin and Greg Bird still sidelined, the Yankees will now turn the first base reins over to Ji-Man Choi, a 26-year-old journeyman on a minor league contract. Choi has bounced from the Mariners to the Orioles to the Angels to the Yankees over the last 19 months. Last season, in his first and so far only big league stint, Choi hit .170/.271/.339 (67 wRC+) in 54 games with the Halos. If he does that again, he’ll be a downgrade from Carter.

The Yankees are turning to Choi for three reasons, basically. One, they’ve exhausted their patience with Carter. They’ve given him plenty of chances and he hasn’t produced. The Yankees and Girardi would live with the strikeouts if he were hitting the ball out of the park like last season, but he’s not. He’s not hitting home runs and his defense, which was fine in April and May, has become untenable. Carter has failed to make too many routine plays.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two, Choi has been hot lately. He’s hitting .289/.371/.505 (137 wRC+) in 56 Triple-A games overall this year, and that includes a 14-for-45 (.311) stretch with six home runs in his last 12 games. He has eight home runs on the season overall, and six have come in the last two weeks. If you’re going to make a change and bring up someone new to play first base, the guy who is on a hot streak in Triple-A is as good a choice as anyone.

And three, the Yankees simply have nowhere else to turn. Bird is hurt, Austin is hurt, Matt Holliday is hurt, and playing Romine or Rob Refsnyder at first base on an everyday basis is not something anyone wants to see. I know I don’t. The trade market has yet to heat up too. Choi is the best option. Once the Yankees decided Carter wasn’t their guy, next up on the depth chart was Choi because of injuries.

Make no mistake though, Choi is a band-aid, not a permanent solution. I mean, I suppose he could have an unexpected hot streak and hold things down until Bird and/or Austin return, though I can’t imagine the Yankees are expecting Choi to be the guy at first base going forward. Brian Cashman and his staff are surely scouring the trade market for a more permanent solution will Bird’s status is unknown.

The Yankees have lost 15 of their last 21 games (!) and the bullpen has been the primary culprit. First base has been a problem all year though — even when Bird was healthy, he stunk — and the Yankees reached the point where it was time to try someone else. Heck, they reached that point with Carter a few weeks ago, but then Austin got hurt. I don’t think Choi is the answer and yeah, he can be worse than Carter, but the bar has been set so low. It was time to try someone new. Chances are the Yankees will again be looking to try someone new in a few weeks.

DotF: Rutherford, Gilliam extend hitting streaks in Low-A win

Here are the day’s notes:

  • 1B Tyler Austin (foot) faced hitters in live batting practice for the first time today, according to his Twitter feed. He’s been out since fouling a ball off his foot very early in Spring Training. Farm system head Gary Denbo recently said Austin could begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week, as long as things go well the next few days.
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) and LHP Daniel Camarena (shoulder) are likely to miss a few weeks, Triple-A Scranton manager Al Pedrique told Shane Hennigan. With Austin, Choi, and 1B Greg Bird all injured, I wouldn’t expect 1B Chris Carter to be cut loose anytime soon.
  • UTIL Rob Refsnyder was sent back to Triple-A Scranton following last night’s game, the Yankees announced. He was up as the 26th man for the doubleheader. By rule, he had to be sent back down immediately after the game.
  • OF Isiah Gilliam was named the Low-A South Atlantic League Offensive Player of the Week. He went 11-for-23 (.478) with four doubles and two homers last week.

Triple-A Scranton (8-4 win over Pawtucket in 12 innings, walk-off style)

  • 2B Tyler Wade: 2-4, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB — second homer of the season and second homer in the last three days
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 4-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1 BB — tied the game with a two-out double in the ninth … had a chance to finish the cycle with a walk-off home run in the 11th — imagine doing that twice in the span of a month? — but they intentionally walked him … he’s up to .308/.353/.566 on the season
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-5, 1 BB, 1 K — snapped the bat over his knee after the strikeout (here’s a GIF)
  • RF Mason Williams: 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • C Eddy Rodriguez: 2-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 K — walk-off grand slam!
  • 2B Abi Avelino: 0-5, 1 K
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 6/2 GB/FB — 62 of 96 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 , 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 30 of 42 pitches were strikes (71%) … good Frieri showed up tonight

[Read more…]

DotF: Torres and Rutherford both go deep in losses

Triple-A Scranton announced several roster moves today. 1B Ji-Man Choi and LHP Daniel Camarena have been placed on the disabled list — I have no idea what’s wrong with either (Camarena missed the entire 2015 season with an elbow injury, it’s worth noting) — and both 1B Mike Ford and RHP Colten Brewer have been bumped up from Double-A Trenton. The Camarena injury and RHP Chad Green call-up solved the whole “seven starters for five spots” problem real quick.

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 win over Syracuse)

  • 3B Tyler Wade: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 CS — he’s been on base 41 times in his last 16 games (.420 OBP)
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 2 K
  • RF Clint Frazier: 2-5, 2 R, 2 RBI — 13-for-43 (.302) in his last eleven games
  • 1B Mike Ford: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K — nice Triple-A debut
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • DH Mason Williams: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • RHP Chance Adams: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 5/2 GB/FB — 57 of 97 pitches were strikes (59%) … strong Triple-A debut … 39/18 K/BB in 40 innings so far this year … I’d like to see him get the walks down, and I’m sure the Yankees would too
  • RHP Colten Brewer: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 20 of 28 pitches were strikes (71%) … makes his Triple-A debut exactly two weeks after making his Double-A debut

[Read more…]