Heyman: Yankees and Braves talked 10-player blockbuster with Heyward, Simmons, Severino last year

Simmons and Heyward. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Simmons and Heyward. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Last offseason we learned the Yankees and Braves discussed a blockbuster trade that would have brought Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons to New York for a package of prospects. We later found out Luis Severino would have been part of that trade, which makes sense. The Braves were focusing on young pitching in all their trades last winter and Severino was the best young pitcher the Yankees had to offer.

The trade didn’t go through, obviously. Heyward was traded to the Cardinals, Simmons spent another year in Atlanta before being traded to the Angels, and Severino remains a Yankee. Late last night, Jon Heyman reported some more details of the blockbuster proposal, and it was a five-for-five swap. Check out this deal:

To Yankees: Heyward, Simmons, B.J. Melvin Upton, Chris Johnson, David Carpenter
To Braves: Severino, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Ian Clarkin, Manny Banuelos

Holy moly, that is a lot of players and a lot of talent. And also some dead roster weight. Heyman says Heyward was told the Yankees were close to getting him “many times” last offseason, for what it’s worth. Keep in mind Heyward was traded to the Cardinals on November 17th, so the Yankees and Braves discussed this blockbuster very early in the offseason. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. Heyman says the Yankees were the team that declined to pull the trigger, indicating the Braves suggested the five-for-five swap. That makes sense. I have a hard time believing the Yankees would have been willing to put that much young talent on the table — unproven minor league young talent, but young talent nonetheless — and take back what amounted to one long-term piece in Simmons. Heyward was a year away from free agency, Upton and Johnson had albatross contracts, and Carpenter was only a reliever. A good reliever (with the Braves, at least) but still only a reliever. I guess the Yankees could have signed Heyward to an extension, though that doesn’t really change the evaluation of the trade. It’s not like the Braves are giving you the extension. The trade and extension are separate transactions. Based on my 2015 Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, that trade would have sent New York’s four (!) best prospects to the Braves. Sheesh. Too much. Glad they didn’t pull the trigger.

2. I found it pretty interesting Simmons was traded this offseason to the Angels, who are now run by former Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler. I wonder if Eppler was the driving force behind the Yankees’ interest in Simmons. At the very least we know he was on board with trying to acquire Andrelton. That’s understandable. Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the world and one of the best in history. That said, I am perfectly happy with Didi Gregorius, aren’t you?

Andrelton Simmons Didi Gregorius

Simmons is very good. I would so much rather have Gregorius at the price it took to acquire him than Simmons at the price it would have taken to acquire him, and that was true last offseason. And that’s coming from someone who expected Shane Greene to have a really good year last season. I didn’t foresee him struggling that much at all. Simmons is a very good shortstop with big name value. Didi’s production is comparable, he came at a much lower cost, and he’s cheaper. In the past the Yankees went for the big name, not the smart pickup. Who is this team and what have they done with the Yankees?

3. The Heyward angle is interesting because the Yankees had a full outfield. They had Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran last offseason. What they didn’t have was an idea what they’d get from Alex Rodriguez coming off his suspension. I guess the plan was to put Heyward in right field, move Beltran to DH, and then figure things out with A-Rod later. The Yankees approached last offseason as if Rodriguez was going to be a non-factor. They re-signed Chase Headley to play third base and one of the reasons they acquired Garrett Jones was to ensure they had a backup plan at DH. (Also, Beltran was coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, so he was a question too.) They never needed that backup plan. Rod mashed from Day One. Making the four-man outfield work would have been tricky, but remember, Gardner missed a few games in April after taking a pitch to the wrist, and Ellsbury missed seven weeks after hurting his knee in May. These things have a way of working themselves out.

4. This trade was talked about very early in the offseason, so had it gone through, the Yankees probably would not have re-signed Chris Young and instead let Upton fill that role. What else would they do with him? Bossman Jr. was a total disaster in his two years with the Braves — he hit .198/.279/.314 (66 wRC+) in just over 1,000 plate appearances from 2013-14 — but he did actually have a nice year with the Padres in 2015, putting up a .259/.327/.429 (110 wRC+) batting line with five homers and nine steals in 228 plate appearances around a foot injury. That includes a .254/.369/.423 (124 wRC+) line against southpaws. Nice numbers, but as with Gregorius over Simmons, give me the guy the Yankees actually acquired (Young) over the guy they could have acquired (Upton), especially considering the acquisition cost.

Upton. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Upton. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

5. The Braves would have had to kick in money to make this trade work, right? I can’t imagine they realistically expected the Yankees to give up all that young talent and take on all that salary. Not counting the arbitration-eligible Carpenter, the four guys who would have come to New York in the trade were owed a combined $133.15M across 13 contract seasons. I know a $10.24M average annual value doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not actually spread out across 13 seasons. Most of those seasons overlap. Heyward’s very good and so is Simmons, but how could the Braves not kick in money to facilitate this trade? Substantial money too. They’d have to pay down something like $30M or even $40M of that $113.15M. Giving up all that talent and taking on all that money makes no sense for the Yankees, not when only one of the five players they were set to receive was a significant long-term asset (Simmons).

6. I think both the Yankees and Braves are better off now than they would have been had the trade gone through. The Yankees kept Severino, kept their other prospects, and acquired Gregorius to take over at short. The Braves turned Heyward into Shelby Miller, then Miller into three really good young players (Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair). Simmons fetched a top 20 pitching prospect (Sean Newcomb), another very good pitching prospect (Chris Ellis), and a tradeable veteran (Erick Aybar). Upton’s contract was dumped on the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade with actual prospects going back to Atlanta, and Johnson was sent to the Indians for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn in a trade that rearranged money to make things more favorable for both teams. (The Indians got a lower average annual value and the Braves now have the money coming off the books a year earlier than they would have.) And then Banuelos and Carpenter ended up being traded for each other anyway. I’m sure both the Yankees and Braves were disappointed they weren’t able to work out a trade last year. From the looks of it, both teams are better off with the way things worked out.

7. I’m (very) glad the Yankees walked way from this trade — I don’t mean that in a prospect hugging way, it’s just a lot of talent to give up for two impact players, one of whom was a year away from free agency — and I’m also glad to see they’re at least willing to discuss their top prospects in trades. Too many teams out there seem completely unwilling to even consider making their best prospects available. Young talent is important! It’s also fairly unpredictable and risky. I really like Judge and think he has a chance to be a +4 WAR outfielder down the road, but at the same time, I also recognize he might never get there because he’s so damn big and strikeouts will always be an issue. Banuelos hasn’t been the same since Tommy John surgery. Clarkin got hurt a few weeks after the blockbuster was discussed. I’m glad the Yankees are emphasizing young talent now. That’s what they need to do at this point. They’d also be smart to not make all their top prospects off-limits. There’s always a point where dealing a highly touted young player makes sense, and teams owe it to themselves to explore those opportunities. They’re often fleeting.

Luis Severino’s Next Step Toward the Front of the Rotation [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Heading into the trade deadline last season, it was pretty clear the Yankees needed some rotation help. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova were struggling, Michael Pineda had just come down with a forearm issue, and Adam Warren was not stretched out after moving to the bullpen. Masahiro Tanaka and Nathan Eovaldi carried the load there for a while, and they needed help.

The Yankees tried to trade for a starter. They were connected to all sorts of pitchers prior to the deadline. Rentals, long-term buys, you name it. Nothing came at a price they liked. So, rather than trade for a starter — ten (!) starting pitchers were traded in the days leading up to the deadline: David Price, J.A. Happ, Mat Latos, Alex Wood, Mike Fiers, Mike Leake, Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir, Dan Haren — the Yankees dipped into their farm system and called up top pitching prospect Luis Severino.

Severino, who turned only 22 last month, came up and made eleven mostly spectacular starts, giving the Yankees 62.1 innings of 2.89 ERA (4.37 FIP) ball. Outside of Price and possibly Hamels, none of those traded starters could have given the Yankees as much impact as Severino. He was excellent, so much so that it was fair to ask whether he deserved to start the wildcard game. (Ultimately it didn’t matter who started because the offense did nothing.)

Coming into the 2016 season, Severino is not just the exciting young pitcher who represents the future of the rotation. He’s an important member of the team. The Yankees will need Severino to pitch well this summer in order to return to the postseason, and while that can be a lot to ask of a young starter, those were the exact circumstances he faced last year. Severino’s goals for the season are help the team win and continue to take steps towards the front of the rotation. I have two questions for 2016.

How Can He Improve?

Severino was really good in his limited look last season but there is definitely room for improvement. There always is. I already wrote about his need to get his slider down in the zone, and that’s a big one to me. Severino has really good stuff — he used three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) regularly last year — and now he just needs to work on his location a bit. That’s not at all uncommon for pitchers his age.

The long ball was a bit of a problem last summer as well, and while Yankee Stadium is to blame for some of that, Severino shoulders some of responsibility too. Five of the nine homers he allowed came in two-strike counts, when hitters are supposed to be on the defensive, not squaring up hittable pitches. This goes back to Severino’s need to locate better down in the zone. Once he does that, some more balls should stay in the park.

Left-handed hitters also gave Severino some trouble, though you wouldn’t know it looking at the raw numbers. Righties had a .303 wOBA against him and lefties had a .314 wOBA. The difference is in the strikeout and walk rates. Severino had a 27.6% strikeout rate and a 6.9% walk rate against righties, and that’s awesome. Against lefties it was only a 17.3% strikeout rate and a 10.1% walk rate. That’s not so good. I’m not too worried about the strikeout rate, but I would like to see Severino cut down on the free passes against batters of the opposite hand.

We’re nitpicking at this point, which is a good sign. That means Severino has no obvious, glaring flaws that need correcting. His stuff is firm, he misses bats, and he gets ground balls (50.9%). He just needs to fine tune some things, like his slider location, his walk rate against lefties, and keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate in two-strike counts. These are normal things a 22-year-old must work on. Now he has to actually do it. Making adjustments is easier said than done.

How Many Innings Will He Throw?

The Yankees say Severino has no restrictions this year and there’s no reason to believe them. Severino is the crown jewel of their quasi-rebuild and they’re not going to put their just turned 22-year-old stud pitcher in danger by overworking him. “I’m not going to put a number out there. It can take on a life on it’s own,” said Brian Cashman last month, which more or less confirms there is some number they’re targeting.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Keeping Severino’s workload target a secret is the best possible thing the Yankees can do. Workload limits can become a distraction in a hurry. We saw the Joba Rules in 2007. They were unavoidable. There was also the Stephen Strasburg shutdown — people are still talking about that — and even last fall Matt Harvey’s innings were talked about non-stop. The Yankees have a number. There’s no reason to put it out there.

Last season Severino threw a career high 161.2 innings, up from 113 innings in 2015, so we’re talking about a 48.2 innings jump from year to year. The Verducci Effect, the theory that an increase of 30+ innings is dangerous, has been disproven many times over the years, but I can’t imagine too many teams are willing to push a young pitcher 50+ more innings one year to the next. Severino’s innings increase last year is the upper bound of what seems comfortable, if that makes sense.

Those 161.2 innings last year put Severino in position to throw something like 185-190 innings this year. Only seven pitchers have thrown 200+ innings in their age 22 season this century: Mark Buehrle, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Madison Bumgarner. Prior got hurt the very next year and was never the same again. The other six proved to be workhorses who chucked 200+ innings year after year.

That means nothing as far as Severino is concerned. It doesn’t mean he has a six in seven chance of becoming a horse. Every pitcher is different. I listed those seven pitchers just to show how rare it is for a pitcher this young to throw that many innings. Severino’s in position to throw 200+ innings in 2016. My guess is he falls short by design. The Yankees like to give their other starters extra rest whenever possible and there’s no reason to think Severino is different. He might even get more rest than everyone else. He’s simply too valuable to the franchise.

* * *

The Yankees need Severino to pitch well and pitch often this season to help get them back to the postseason. At the same time, he is still a 22-year-old kid and his development is far from complete. He has things to learn and he has to physically build himself up to withstand the grind of a 34-start season. There will be growing pains along the way because there are always growing pains. The Yankees and Severino hope those growing pains are just a bump in the road on the way stardom in 2016.

Saturday Links: Ellsbury, Severino, Comcast, Headgear

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This is the last Saturday without some kind of baseball game — Spring Training, regular season, postseason, whatever — until November. That is pretty, pretty awesome. Here are some assorted links I have to pass along.

Ellsbury among worst contracts, Severino among best assets

Over at ESPN, Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to rank the 25 worst contracts (subs. req’d) and 25 best assets (subs. req’d) in baseball. Albert Pujols, who still has six years and $165M left on his deal, ranks as the worst contract while Carlos Correa checks in as the best asset. Mike Trout is second. I’d be more interested to see the 25 best contracts, but Szymborski included players in their pre-arbitration years.

The Yankees had one player on each list. Jacoby Ellsbury ranked 13th on the worst contracts list, sandwiched between Shin-Soo Choo and Justin Verlander. “Ellsbury’s Gold Glove days are behind him, though he remains at least a competent defensive center fielder, which means, at least theoretically, that flexibility keeps the number of (possible trade) suitors higher than some of the more limited players higher on this list,” said the write-up. Others like Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia didn’t make the worst contracts list because their deals expire soon.

As for the good news, Luis Severino ranked 21st on the best assets list, right behind Sonny Gray and a few spots ahead of Carlos Carrasco. “Severino’s 4.37 FIP wasn’t as impressive as his 2.89 ERA, but that should also improve considerably given he was a 21-year-old who started the season in Double-A and was thrown directly into a pennant race,” wrote Szymborski. I have to say, I’m not used to seeing the Yankees having a player on a best assets list. Or only one player on a worst contracts list, for that matter. Times are a changin’.

No progress in YES/Comcast squabble

There still has not been any progress in the YES Network/Comcast dispute. “Nothing to report,” said one YES executive to Ryan Hatch earlier this week. Again, the dispute is over rights fees. YES wants to charge cable providers a bit more money to carry the network going forward, and Comcast doesn’t want to pay, citing declining ratings and other things. I hope the two sides work something out before Opening Day. It seems likely Comcast customers will be left in the dark for Grapefruit League games, however. (Spring Training games are available on MLB.tv with no blackouts, thankfully.)

(ESPN)
(ESPN)

MLB, MLBPA to test new protective headgear for pitchers

According to William Weinbaum, this spring 20 big league pitchers will test out a new protective headgear that is a “hybrid of a cap and a helmet.” It weighs 10-12 ounces and has a carbon fiber shell, and as you can see in the photo above, it resembles a visor. “The average thickness is about 0.7 inches and is greatest in places most susceptible to catastrophic injury,” writes Weinbaum.

It’s unknown if any Yankees will use the new protective headgear, though no one in camp has worn them while throwing bullpens or live batting practice, as far as I know. Bryan Mitchell took a line drive to the nose last year, and a few years back Aroldis Chapman was hit in the face by a line drive during Spring Training, so I guess they’re the obvious candidates to wear some kind of new protective visor.

Chewing tobacco may soon be banned at Yankee Stadium

Thanks to a bill introduced by New York City Councilman Corey Johnson, smokeless tobacco may soon be banned at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, reports Tim Rohan. “If New York passes this bill, and I think it will, it moves us dramatically closer to the day when smokeless tobacco is prohibited in all Major League cities,” said Matthew Myers, the president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The Yankees (and Mets) have told Johnson they will support the bill.

Chewing tobacco is already banned at Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium, and AT&T Park after similar bills were approved unanimously in those cities. The goal isn’t so much to prevent players from using smokeless tobacco — it is a personal choice, after all — it’s to prevent them from using it on television where kids can see it. Tony Gwynn passed away following a battle with salivary gland cancer and Curt Schilling is still fighting mouth cancer, both of which have been attributed to their use of chewing tobacco as players. I don’t know if any Yankees use it regularly — CC Sabathia always seems to have a wad in his lip on days he doesn’t pitch, right? — but it soon may be off-limits.

Keeping the slider down can help Severino get to the next level in 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees currently have six starters for five rotation spots, yet of the five, only Luis Severino did not miss time with an injury last season. The 22-year-old came up in August and made eleven mostly excellent starts, and now he’s slated to be a full-time member of the rotation in 2016. That’s exciting. The Yankees haven’t had a young MLB pitcher this promising in almost a decade.

Severino is still just a kid of course, and inevitably there will be growing pains at some point. That’s just the way it is. Hitters will adjust to him and he’ll have to adjust back, and then they’ll do it all over again, hopefully for years and years and years. Severino had a 2.89 ERA (137 ERA+) in his 62.1 innings last year, but his 1.3 HR/9 and 4.37 FIP show there is room for improvement.

“Oh, he could get better. The consistency of his pitches. The command of his fastball. And all of that will happen has he smooths out his delivery, which it seems like he has quite a bit,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Brendan Kuty. Severino flew through the minors — he made 65 starts and threw 320.2 innings in the minors, which is nothing — so of course he’s going to have to work on consistency and things like that.

Severino came to the big leagues billed as a three-pitch pitcher and we saw exactly that last year. He’s got a lively fastball, a promising slider, and a changeup that fell off the table when he threw it properly. Looking over the PitchFX data, there are plenty of positives to take from last season (MLB averages in parentheses).

% Thrown Avg. Velo. Whiff% GB%
Fastball 51.4% 95.8 (92.4) 8.2% (6.9%) 45.3% (37.9%)
Slider 34.1% 89.6 (84.2) 8.9% (15.2%) 58.1% (43.9%)
Changeup 14.6% 88.6 (83.3) 19.3% (14.9%) 63.2% (47.8%)

Almost all of that looks good. Severino throws all three pitches regularly and they all have well-above-average velocity, and they all get a lot of ground balls too. The fastball and changeup generated swings and misses at an above-average rate as well. The slider? Not so much.

The swing-and-miss rate on Severino’s slider was a real eyesore last season. It was far below the league average, which seems impossible after watching him live, but the numbers don’t lie. “His third pitch is a mid-80s slider thrown with power, which still takes a back seat to his fastball and changeup but projects as solid average when he’s finished developing,” said Baseball America (subs. req’d) in their scouting report prior to 2015.

The slider — specifically the ability to get whiffs with the slider — is something Severino could really improve going forward. Don’t take that as a knock. Severino was pretty awesome last season. Imagine how much more awesome he can be if he can start generating some more empty swings with his slider. He knows it’s something that can be improved too.

“My breaking stuff (can improve). Pounding the zone, throwing strikes. Getting down in the zone, throwing my breaking ball down in the zone,” said Severino to Kuty when asked about how he can get better going forward. Getting the ball down is always a good idea, and Severino ostensibly did a good job of that considering his overall ground ball rate (50.9%), but take a look at his slider pitch locations specifically (click for a larger view):

Luis Severino slider locations

That’s an awful lot of sliders up and in the zone. Ideally Severino would bury the slider down and away to righties and down and in to lefties. Last summer David Laurila culled some quotes about backup sliders, which are surprisingly effectively because they’re hard to pick up and they don’t move the way the hitter expects …

Adam Warren backup slider

… but Severino wasn’t throwing backup sliders. He was simply missing his spot, especially when you consider how many sliders were up and away to lefties. (It took me way too long to find an example of an effective backup slider. Nothing from Severino, nothing from Michael Pineda, nothing from Masahiro Tanaka, so down the line I went until I got to the now departed Adam Warren.)

Give the effectiveness of his fastball and changeup, the slider figures to be a focal point for Severino going forward, both in Spring Training and continuing into the season. The pitch has pretty good action, we saw it last year, but right now Severino elevates it a little too often, which causes problems. Once he is able to consistently locate his slider down, he’ll get more swings and misses, and it could also improve the effectiveness of his fastball. Nathan Eovaldi’s fastball played up once he emphasized the splitter. Same could happen with Severino and an improved slidepiece.

The Yankees are going to need Severino to pitch effectively this season in order to contend, even though he just turned 22 and will have to endure the usual growing pains associated with young pitchers. His workload will be monitored, stuff like that. Severino’s stuff is very good as it is, but there is an obvious way he can improve the effectiveness of his slider, and that’s by keeping it down in the zone. If he can begin to do that consistently, he’ll inch closer to his ceiling as a frontline starter.

Joe Girardi’s Spring Press Conference: Chapman, Tanaka, Castro, Gardner, Ellsbury, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa for Spring Training today, meaning the first steps of the marathon that is the 2016 season have been taken. Joe Girardi met with reporters for his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning, and of course he was asked about all aspects of the team.

“Pretty much (quiet). I think it was evidence in the amount of time it took someone to ask a question this morning,” said Girardi when asked about this being a normal camp because they’re no huge stories. “We haven’t had the big story and that’s nice … It is a pretty regular Spring Training. I hope that doesn’t make it a boring Spring Training, but it is regular.”

Normal spring or not, Aroldis Chapman dominated this morning’s press conference, with questions about his pending suspension, the domestic dispute incident, and his role as closer. You can watch Girardi’s press conference right here (it’s chopped up into smaller clips.) Here’s a recap of the important stuff with some thoughts thrown in.

All Things Aroldis

  • On an appropriate punishment: “I think that’s up to the commissioner to decide. That’s not my job. Obviously I wasn’t in the room when they put the (domestic violence) policy together. I have not reviewed the cases … I know it’s very serious and we have to take it very serious. To me, it’s very important when there’s an issue, it’s taken care of.”
  • On behavioral concerns: “Obviously you look at behavioral patterns to see if guys are maturing … We’ve all probably done things in our lives we wish we could do a little differently. I want to get to know him before I really form an opinion about his character. It’s unfortunate sometimes players get labeled before you a chance to know him.”
  • On conduct: “I think there’s an expectation of conduct and how you’re supposed to handle things. The court of law is different than the court of MLB or the MLBPA (or) the public’s opinion. I think we have a responsibility as athletes with the way we present ourselves on and off the field, and I’m okay with that.”
  • On Chapman’s decision to appeal any suspension: “I think it tells you he wants to question the suspension … Does it tell me maybe he (doesn’t think he did) something wrong? I don’t think it says that.”
  • On getting to know Chapman: “I think it’s really hard to form a really good opinion by talking on the phone. There’s some language issues there … He’s very thankful to be here … But until I really get around him it’s really hard to form an opinion.
  • On making Chapman the closer: “He’s been a closer most of his career. It’s (a role) he’s probably most comfortable with. Andrew Miller did a tremendous job … Andrew has been a reliever most of his career — setup guy, seventh inning guy, lefty specialist — I thought it would be (easier for him) to adjust to it better than Chapman.”
  • On the trade itself: “His name was brought up, then it kinda died, then it happened really fast. I had some information about it (but) I was not given much information.”

Girardi danced around any questions regarding Chapman’s domestic dispute incident, which was to be expected. Technically MLB’s investigation is still ongoing and he wasn’t going to say anything remotely controversial. Girardi deflected everything with “that’s up to MLB” and “I have to get to know him,” basically.

I hope commissioner Rob Manfred announces the suspension soon, however long it may be, so Chapman can file his appeal and go through the process. The longer this goes on, the more of a distraction it will be. Let’s rip the band-aid off, so to speak. The sooner we can begin focusing on nothing but baseball, the better. During the press conference you could tell Girardi felt the same way.

The Rotation

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow: “We will watch him closely to see where he’s at … We’ll make sure that we put him in a situation where he’s ready to go pitch before he gets into a game. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.”
  • On the fifth starter spot: “I think you have to let things work their way out in Spring Training. I know (CC Sabathia‘s) name has been brought up in that conversation, as well as Ivan Nova. Sometimes things have just a way of working out. The competition just goes way. A lot of times, unfortunately, that comes down to health … The big thing is that we have five healthy starters when we leave Spring Training. That’s my goal. We’ll take the five best starters.”
  • On managing workloads: “I thought putting an extra starter in there helped them … I think just watching them physically and watching their innings (is important). You have to be sensitive to your bullpen that it doesn’t get overworked. I think we were able to manage that because (the young relievers) were able to come up and be interchangeable.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s workload: “I think he’s a guy that can handle 200 innings.”

There were surprisingly few questions about the rotation. I guess that’s what happens when you have five pretty clearly established starters plus a sixth starter who’s been around the block. I don’t buy Sabathia being involved in any kind of fifth starter competition though. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be in the rotation. We all know that. As for Severino throwing 200 innings … we’ll see. I’d bet against it.

The Position Players

  • On Brett Gardner playing hurt: “He actually got hit (in the wrist) in April. This was something he dealt with all year long, and if you remember his July, it was an MVP type of month. Sometimes it’s hard to predict. Was it fatigue? Was it the wrist? Did he just get in a bad way? … Everyone plays beat up, that’s the bottom line. That’s what happens in our game … You hope players are honest enough with you that when it becomes too much, they come to you. He never felt it was too much and we didn’t either.”
  • On expecting veterans to produce again: “I think you can expect it. You have to manage them physically and their workload in a sense to make sure they’re strong at the end of the season. And that’s something when you’re fighting for that spot to get into the playoffs, it gets harder to manage that workload … I think the versatility of our club should help that.”
  • On mending fences with Jacoby Ellsbury: “I have talked to him over the winter … I had a tough decision. Brett Gardner has been pretty successful here too. Maybe he wasn’t as big a free agent signee as Jacoby Ellsbury, but Brett Gardner has been extremely productive in his career. That was a hard decision. I was going to disappoint someone immensely. I did what I thought was best for the team.”
  • On Starlin Castro at third base: “It’s something that I need to talk to him about to see where he is. I have not talked to him. I want to talk to him face-to-face about the possibility of what do we do if we need to give (Chase Headley) a day off. That’s something that will be important when we get to Spring Training to talk about.”
  • On A-Rod: “He is our DH and we expect him to be productive … He’ll be ready.”

I though the Ellsbury question was pretty funny. Girardi was asked about saying he had to mend the fences with Ellsbury but quickly pointed out he never said that. He was asked whether he had to mend the fences at the end of last year, that’s it. He never thought much of it. Girardi spoke to Ellsbury this offseason and this seems like a whole bunch of nothing.

Girardi again made it clear the Yankees want to rest their veteran players as much as possible this season, and he indicated the Castro and Aaron Hicks pickups will allow them to do that. (He also said Castro and Didi Gregorius are young and don’t need as much rest.) He didn’t name names and didn’t explain how he intends to rest these guys, but I think we all have a pretty good idea. We’ll find out soon enough.

Miscellany

  • On goals for 2016: “Our goal is to win the World Series. Bottom line. I appreciate how hard our guys played all year, how they never gave up last year, but you know what? We didn’t get to where we wanted. We lost in the first round of the playoffs … Our goal is to win the World Series. That’s why we come to Spring Training.”
  • On getting over 2015: “It’s never easy … I really don’t get over it until baseball ends. Completely ends. There’s an emptiness inside that you should be there. You try to avoid that one-game playoff and be a division winner. Our first goal is win the division this year.”
  • On biggest spring concerns: “There’s some competition here. When you look at some spots in our bullpen, I think we have to iron that out. And I always have concerns about players trying to do too much. I will let them know you’re not going to impress me in your sides, you’re not going to impress me in the first week of games.”
  • On some new additions: “We added Castro, who gives us an everyday second baseman that has been productive in his career. (This) is a young man that has almost 1,000 hits and is only 25 years old … We added a switch-hitter as an outfielder, which gives us more of an opportunity to rest maybe our two left-handers out there against left-handers more often, in a sense. I think we’re deeper.”
  • On young players contributing again: “You might be a non-roster player, you might be in Double-A when you get sent down, but you may have a chance to contribute … That wasn’t an easy job for the relievers — I was honest with them, I told them what was going to happen — but be the guy what when we make another move, is throwing well … Anything can happen. If you’re in uniform, anything can happen, so give everything you’ve got.”
  • Are the Yankees better than last year? “I think so. I think on paper we are better. Paper doesn’t really mean anything until you go out and compete … I think there’s more depth. I think our younger players in the minor league system have gotten a taste (and are eager to contribute).”

There wasn’t as much talk about young players contributing this year. There’s been a lot of that the last few years. I guess that after last season — Girardi mentioned Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Rob Refsnyder (among others) by name when asked about who impressed him last season — and an offseason in which the Yankees signed zero big league free agents, it’s common knowledge they’re going to rely on young players again. That’s pretty cool. And kinda scary.

Searching for Innings

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In bolstering their pitching staff this year, the Yankees opted to continue their recent trend of bullpen dominance. From Mariano Rivera to Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, and Andrew Miller, the Yankees have had the ninth inning on lockdown for years. Robertson, Dellin Betances, and others have helped secure the earlier innings over the past few seasons as well. Going into 2016, Betances and Miller will be joined–dubiously–by Aroldis Chapman to form a veritable Fluffy in the late innings. There’s little doubt that the Yankees’ relief corps will be elite in 2016 and just like 2014 and 2015, it’ll be expected to anchor the Yankees’ pitching staff. That proposition isn’t all that bad when considering the talent in the bullpen and Joe Girardi‘s generally awesome management thereof. However, there is a chance for the Yankees’ great relievers to be overworked due to the potential lack of innings from their starters.

The 2016 ZiPS Projections–which Mike discussed here–do not think highly of the Yankees’ starters’ workload. They predict that no Yankee pitcher will reach 160 innings and that 2/5 of the Yankee rotation–CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda–will be under 130 IP. This is obviously a concern, though not a new one. In 2015, the Yankees ranked 12th in innings by starting pitchers and were also 12th in innings pitched per start. It is worth noting, however, the the Yankees’ starters were 5th in fWAR in 2015 despite the lack of innings. Talent, it appears, is not necessarily the problem, but there’s still a problem.

Each of the Yankees’ starters carries some level of concern. Four of them–Sabathia, Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, and Nathan Eovaldi–missed time with injuries last year and the other one–Luis Severino–is going into his first full season as a starter in the Majors. With all that said, it’d make sense for the Yankees to look to bolster their rotation with a trade or free agent acquisition. But, at this point, those options don’t seem likely. The organization doesn’t have a ton to offer in a trade and any potentially impactful starting pitcher is long-gone off the market. Additionally, most of the rotation has enough upside–Sabathia being the exception here–that it’s worth gambling on.

Regardless of that gamble, regardless of underlying talent of much of the rotation, the pressure will be on for the starters to add length to their games this year. The addition of Chapman does help push Betances and Miller back an inning each, but this isn’t a video game; those guys can’t pitch 7-8-9 every single game. Going deep into games is certainly rare these days, and the Yankees and Royals showed last year that you can ride a bullpen to the playoffs (and deep into it). Still, the Yankees need to get more length from their starters. No one’s expecting them to toss 7 innings and hand the ball to someone every fifth day, but upping the average innings by a starter to six would be a good start.

Rookie Davis trade, injuries leave Yankees thin on starting pitching prospects

Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)
Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)

Heading into the 2015 season, the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. Only two of their top ten, three of their top 14, and seven of their top 30 prospects were starting pitchers in my opinion. Being heavy on position players is not necessarily a bad thing, but in a perfect world you’d like to have a little more balance in the farm system.

The Yankees did graduate Luis Severino to the big leagues last season, which is a major positive, but most of the rest of their top rotation prospects battled adversity. Check out what those seven starting pitching prospects in my top 30 did last year:

2. Severino: Graduated to MLB wooo!
4. Ian Clarkin: Missed regular season with an elbow injury.
11. Domingo German: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
15. Bryan Mitchell: Spent regular season going up and down an extra arm.
16. Austin DeCarr: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
18. Ty Hensley: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
25. Brady Lail: Had a strong season at Double-A and Triple-A.

Not great! Four of the seven didn’t pitch at all during the regular season season. (Clarkin did pitch some in the Arizona Fall League.) Severino was great, Mitchell was useful, and Lail took steps forward. I guess that’s pretty good, all things considered. The attrition rates for pitching prospects is rather high.

Several lower level pitchers had solid seasons and improved their prospect stock, most notably Rookie Davis and Jordan Montgomery. Davis was traded for Aroldis Chapman last week and Montgomery has yet to pitch above High Class-A. The Yankees did add one significant (James Kaprielian) and one solid (Drew Finley) rotation prospect in the 2015 draft. They also flipped Justin Wilson for two depth arms (Luis Cessa and Chad Green) last month.

So, after all of that, the Yankees’ starting pitching prospect depth chart looks something like this:

Kaprielian
Clarkin
Mitchell
Finley
Lail
Montgomery
Cessa
Green
Other injured guys

We can debate the exact order all day but those are the names and that’s the general order. The Yankees have a true stud in Kaprielian, a potential stud in Clarkin if he’s healthy, then a bunch of depth guys. Mitchell has nasty stuff but still seems to be a ways away from fully harnessing it. Finley is both similar and much further from the show. Lail, Montgomery, Cessa, and Green all have limited upside. The injured guys like German and DeCarr? Who knows.

When it’s laid out like this, it’s easy to understand why the Yankees have focused on adding a young controllable starter this offseason. Severino is their only big league starter under control beyond 2017, and while Kaprielian looks like he could fly through the minors, he has to actually do it before you can count on him as a long-term rotation piece. Clarkin’s injury really stunk. He had a chance to emerge as a top rotation prospect last year if healthy.

Mitchell, Lail, Cessa, and Green give the Yankees some immediate upper level pitching depth heading into the 2016 season, which is good. They might need it given the health concerns in the MLB rotation. Mitchell may crack the Opening Day big league roster as a reliever while the other guys are ticketed for Triple-A Scranton. That’s good. The Yankees have depth arms for whenever a need arises, and it will inevitably arise.

The Yankees again have a position player heavy farm system, and that’s one of the reasons they’re said to be looking for a young controllable starter in a trade. They have Severino and they might have Kaprielian soon, but that’s about it at the moment. Davis could have potentially fit into that long-term rotation equation, ditto guys like Clarkin and German had they not gotten hurt. Instead, a system already thin on starters has gotten a wee bit thinner over the last 12 months.