Yankees can still add depth for the stretch run with small waiver trades

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Despite trading away valuable veterans at the deadline, the Yankees remain in the wildcard race and have a chance to at least make these last few weeks interesting. Are they the front-runners for the second wildcard spot? No. But they’re within striking distance, and as long as they’re close, they should continue to push for a postseason spot. If you’re not going to do that, what’s the point?

The Yankees are an obviously flawed team that is now at least fun to watch. They were pretty boring for most of the season. All of the recent call-ups have made things way more interesting, and I’m pretty sure they’ve made the Yankees an overall better team too. There are still ways to get better, and the Yankees can still make upgrades through waivers trades in the coming weeks.

A really quick crash course on trade waivers: every player on the 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers to be traded after the deadline. If the player goes unclaimed, he can be traded anywhere. If he is claimed, he can only be traded to the claiming team. Trade waivers are completely revocable, so if a player is claimed, he can be pulled back. Pretty much every player is placed on trade waivers this month. By putting everyone on waivers, teams mask the guys they actually want to trade.

Players must be in the organization by 11:59pm ET on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster and that’s a hard deadline. There are no loopholes around that one. Obviously if you make a waiver trade, you want to be able to take that player into October. But the Yankees aren’t in position to think that far ahead yet. They have to get to the postseason first, and if that means making a trade after August 31st, so be it.

The Yankees are committed to this transition and playing the kids, as they should be. There are still ways to upgrade the roster around them and improve the team’s chances of contention, and the Yankees should look to do that in the coming weeks. Here are the obvious spots Brian Cashman & Co. could look to upgrade for the stretch drive, plus some potential targets on teams out of the race.

The Sixth Starter

The last turn through the rotation has gone well thanks to Chad Green and Luis Cessa, who are replacing the injured Nathan Eovaldi and the ineffective Luis Severino. Severino is the sixth starter by default right now, which isn’t great because he has some things to work on in Triple-A. There’s always room for more pitching, though right now, the pickin’s are slim. Unless you want to pay big for someone like Jeremy Hellickson, that is. One veteran candidate stands out as a possible trade target.

De La Rosa. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies: The Rockies were three games back of a wildcard spot as recent as August 4th, though they’ve struggled of late and have slipped to seven games back. De La Rosa, an impending free agent, has a 5.07 ERA (5.19 FIP) in 110 total innings this season, though that doesn’t tell the whole story. He started the year in the rotation, pitched terribly, got demoted to the bullpen, then eventually rejoined the rotation.

De La Rosa made his first start back in the rotation against the Yankees and held them scoreless over five innings, as you may remember. Since rejoining the rotation the 35-year-old southpaw has a 3.56 ERA (5.00 FIP) in 78.1 total innings. The Yankees have been connected to De La Rosa before, both as a free agent and in trades, so there may be lingering interest. You could do a lot worse than a guy with a history of missing bats, getting grounders, and experience pitching in a harsh home ballpark for your sixth starter.

The Extra Reliever

No, they’re not Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard have done a fine job in the seventh and eighth inning since the trade deadline. The middle relief is still a bit sketchy — Tommy Layne and Blake Parker haven’t done much to solve things — and besides, there’s always room for another quality reliever. Reliever prices have been pretty high, though there’s a chance they may come down as rebuilding teams look to unload impending free agents rather than lose them for nothing after the season. Here are some potential bullpen targets.

Jim Johnson, Braves: The Braves have been signing and flipping scrap heap arms for prospects all year. They did it with Bud Norris, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Grilli, and Lucas Harrell. Johnson has a 3.50 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 46.1 innings thanks to an improved strikeout rate (24.2%) and his typically excellent ground ball rate (56.6%). He’s been closing the last few weeks, ever since Arodys Vizcaino landed on the DL with an oblique problem. Johnson’s on a cheap one-year contract.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
Logan. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Boone Logan, Rockies: The Yankees went from having two of the three best lefty relievers in baseball to no reliable southpaws at the trade deadline. Miller and Chapman are gone, leaving guys like Layne, Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier to pick up the slack. It hasn’t gone too well. Logan is having a phenomenal contract year, pitching to a 2.65 ERA (2.42 FIP) in 37.1 innings. More importantly, he’s held left-handed batters to a .148/.213/.253 batting line with a 32.6% strikeout rate and a 62.5% ground ball rate. He’s been a shutout left-on-left matchup guy.

Carlos Torres, Brewers: Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been an irrational Carlos Torres fan for a few years now. He’s have a strong season in Milwaukee (2.86 ERA and 3.78 FIP) and he’s a rubber-armed swingman, someone who can throw two or three innings at a time and pitch back-to-back-to-back days with no problem. As an added bonus, Torres would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2018. The Yankees don’t have a long man at the moment and Torres would fill that void well.

The Big Bench Bat

Pitching is pitching and teams always need it. These next two positions are September specialties. Only once rosters expand does it make sense to dedicate a spot to an extra lefty bench bat, something the Yankees lack right now. (Their current bench is Mark Teixeira, Aaron Hicks, Ronald Torreyes, and Austin Romine.) Expanded rosters give teams the flexibility to carry a dedicated pinch-hitting specialist, which can come in handy. Here are two candidates.

Ryan Howard, Phillies: Go ahead and laugh. After all, Howard is hitting .198/.252/.445 (78 wRC+) on the season and he’s been a punchline for three or four years now. He hasn’t even hit righties this year (.206/.268/.472). So why target him? Because Howard is a short porch friendly left-handed hitter who can still hit a baseball to the moon …

… and he’s hitting .378/.425/.838 (228 wRC+) this month. The Phillies have been trying to give Howard away for close to two years now. Picking him up for cash considerations, say the pro-rated portion of the league minimum, to pinch-hit 12-15 times in September as literally the 40th man on the 40-man roster is a super-low-risk move. One well-timed dinger in those 12-15 September at-bats would make it all worth it.

Justin Morneau, White Sox: The Howard logic applies to Morneau, though Morneau is at least hitting a respectable .275/.312/.480 (108 wRC+) in limited time with the White Sox this year. They signed him at midseason following offseason elbow surgery and the club has since fallen out of the race, so there’s not much point in keeping him. As with Howard, Morneau could be a strategic September pinch-hitter as long as he comes super cheap.

The Pinch-Runner Specialist

Designated pinch-runners have become a September staple. The Yankees don’t have a true burner in Triple-A, and in fact their best pinch-runner option may be Jorge Mateo, who will have to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft protection after the season anyway. Is it worth calling him and starting his service time clock for that? Maybe. There are other candidates around the league though.

Emilio Bonifacio, Braves: Bonifacio never has been able to carve out as a role as a super utility guy, but he can still run, and he currently leads the Triple-A International league with 37 steals (in 42 attempts). He’s always been a bit reckless on the bases, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but at least he won’t hesitate to run. Bonifacio is mighty aggressive.

Michael Bourn, Diamondbacks: Bourn’s days as an elite base-stealer are over because he’s old by speed guy standards (33), but he can still run a little and is 12-for-17 in steal attempts this year. I also think there’s something to be said for his base-stealing experience and knowing pitchers (and their moves) around the league.

Mastroianni. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Mastroianni. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Darin Mastroianni, Twins: A sexy name? Nope. But neither was Rico Noel last year, and Rico did the job well. Mastroianni has been up-and-down and hurt this year, so he hasn’t played much and only has ten steals (in 13 attempts). This is a guy who went 56-for-67 (84%) in steal attempts from 2013-15 though. Remember, the September pinch-runner only has to run. He doesn’t have to hit or even field. Just run. Mastroianni can run.

* * *

The important thing here is expanding rosters. There’s no sense in acquiring someone like Howard or Mastroianni right now. They’re guys you acquire on August 31st and activate on September 1st, once rosters expand so you don’t have to cut someone loose. The Yankees can still commit to playing the kids while upgrading the margins of their roster, either with some extra arms or bench players. And as long as they’re in the postseason race, even minor league upgrades are moves worth making.

Jorge de la Rosa a longshot for Yanks rotation

(Jack Dempsey/AP)

What does it mean for a team to express interest in a player? I’ve been writing about hot stove issues for five years now and I still don’t have a clear definition. Did they call his agent? Did they sit in a conference room and ponder the possibilities? I’m sure it means different things to different people, too, which makes it harder for us to determine a team’s intent. In today’s Daily News Mark Feinsand and Peter Botte write that, “the Yankees have expressed interest in lefthander Jorge de la Rosa.” It’s an interesting thought — a plan B should they lose out on Cliff Lee — but I’m not sure de la Rosa fits with the Yankees.

The first thing that stands out about de la Rosa is his walk rate. In his career he has walked 4.55 per nine, and that number has come down only slightly in recent years. In the last two seasons he has a walk rate of 4.05 per nine, which is still quite high. For comparison, A.J. Burnett‘s walk rate was 4.22 per nine in 2009, which was the second highest mark of his career. It was 3.76 per nine this year. I imagine Rockies fans often uttered, “throw strikes!” in earnest when de la Rosa was on the mound.

The Burnett comp can be taken a step further. Before signing with the Yankees Burnett boasted a strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings. That’s the rate at which de la Rosa struck out batters in 2010. His career rate is 7.98 per nine innings, though he did see a considerable jump when moving from the Royals to the Rockies in 2008. The problem is that when Burnett came to the Yankees he saw his strikeout rate take a dive. After striking out 9.56 per nine in 2007 and 9.39 per nine in 2008, Burnett struck out just 8.48 per nine in 2009 and 6.99 last season. The last thing the Yankees need is another high strikeout, high walk pitcher who loses his strikeout stuff.

The Yankees need a pitcher who can give them length. CC Sabathia can go deep into games, but everyone else in the rotation has issues. Phil Hughes didn’t have many eighth inning appearances in 2010, and forget about it with Burnett. In 2009, when de la Rosa pitched a career-high 185 innings he averaged just a sliver more than 5.2 innings per start. Burnett averaged 5.2 innings per start last season. All those strikeouts are nice, but if they mean de la Rosa is regularly turning the ball over to the bullpen in the fifth or sixth inning, I’m not sure it helps the team all that much.

De la Rosa’s low innings totals should also raise a red flag. Not only has he topped out at 185 inning, but after that he hasn’t pitched more than 130 innings in any season. Part of this involves his injury history. From 2006 through 2010 he has spent 164 days on the DL, each time with a hand or arm in jury. True, one of them was a non-recurring fingernail tear, so perhaps we can write that off as a fluke. But we can’t write off an elbow strain that caused him to miss 41 days in 2007, nor can we look the other way when we see that he missed 74 days last season with a strained flexor band in his middle finger. He also ended the 2009 season with a strained groin. In fact, if you head to Baseball Injury Tool you can see that he’s had five separate hand injuries. I’m not sure if that bodes poorly for his future, but I can’t imagine it bodes well.

What does de la Rosa bring to the table, beyond strikeouts? He does get a decent number of ground balls, and posted the highest rate of his career in 2010. I’m not sure that’s sustainable in any way — I’d definitely take his career track record over a 121 inning sample. He also could stand to benefit from leaving Coors Field; his HR/FB ratio is consistently high. Then again, Rockies pitchers in general don’t have a higher than average HR/FB ratio. If changing stadiums helps bring that rate down, though, de la Rosa could be a quality pitcher. He has produced xFIPs of 4.06, 3.76, and 3.77 in the last three years. His numbers have trended higher, at least in part, because of that HR/FB ratio.

In writing this post I’ve tried to look for the positives in de la Rosa. I remember when the off-season started I thought he might be a decent addition. But then I started researching him a bit more, and nothing really impressed me. If his strikeout rate takes a hit in the transition from the NL West to the AL East, he has even less worth to a team. The Rockies tried to retain him, but it appears as though he’s seeking the biggest payday. Let another team sign him to a four or five year deal. The Yankees might be short on pitchers should they lose out to Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retires, but even then I’m not sure I’d get on board with signing de la Rosa. He just has “bad experience” written all over him.