Reports: Yanks are “shopping everyone,” including Miller

(Tim Bradbury/Getty)
(Tim Bradbury/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are very active on the trade market early this offseason. At the very least, it appears they are gauging interest in all their players. “Sounds like the Yankees are shopping everyone,” said one executive to Rosenthal, “with the exception of (Luis) Severino.”

Jon Heyman hears Andrew Miller‘s name is being circulated, though it’s unclear how serious the Yankees are about moving him. Heyman says the asking price would be a pretty high as well. A top of the rotation starter or a significant package of players. Miller doesn’t have a no-trade clause and had forearm problems this year, remember.

“We’re open to all ideas — as always,” said Cashman to Heyman when asked about Miller’s availability. “It doesn’t mean I’d do anything but if the Dutch never asked the Indians for Manhattan you’d be living in New Jersey.”

I can’t help but imagine a scenario in which the Yankees trade Miller for a stud pitcher — Heyman speculates the potentially available Stephen Strasburg might be a match — then flip some prospects for Craig Kimbrel to take over as closer. That would be pretty damn sweet. Too good to be true, really.

On paper, this is one of the best free agent markets in years, though the Yankees seem likely to be more active on the trade market due to limited roster and financial maneuverability. They don’t have a ton of open roster spots and they didn’t shed any big contracts after the season. It’ll take a payroll bump to add a significant free agent.

Last offseason the Yankees surprisingly traded Shane Greene and Martin Prado in separate trades. I mean, we all know pretty much anyone can be traded at any time, but I can’t imagine many folks expected Greene and Prado would be moved. The Yankees needed rotation help and they need infield help, yet they still dealt away a starter and an infielder.

“I’m open to anything. I’m always open to anything. I’m not afraid,” said Cashman to Rosenthal. “You have to be pretty aggressive and open to trade a good young pitcher under team control (Greene), a left-handed prospect (Manny Banuelos), or a guy like Prado who fits you like a glove.”

Cashman acknowledged he doesn’t “anticipate Severino, (Greg) Bird, and (Aaron) Judge being traded,” but again, he wouldn’t rule anything out. I wouldn’t either. The Yankees tend to run a very tight ship too. Moves often come out of nowhere. “I’m open to having dialogue, no matter what. Dialogue is a good thing,” added the GM.

The GM Meetings take place this week in Boca Raton, and while some deals may go down, historically this week has been more about laying groundwork and having preliminary talks. The idea of the three-team Curtis Granderson trade was first broached at the GM Meetings back in November 2010, but the deal itself wasn’t completed until a few weeks later at the Winter Meetings, for example.

I looked at the Yankees’ trade chips last week. An extra starter like Michael Pineda or Ivan Nova seems like a candidate to be traded, though who knows. The Yankees have pitching depth but they could use more quality pitching, if that makes sense. Also, second base and bench help figures to be on the agenda. We’ll see.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

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

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.

The Young Stud Starter We’ve All Been Waiting For [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Early last offseason the Yankees spent a lot of time talking about the need to get younger and get more results from the farm system. They were right, they definitely needed more youth and help from within, but would they actually follow through? Or was it just lip service? We’ve heard the “we need to get younger” spiel before.

The Yankees walked the walk last winter after talking the talk. The got younger through trades, most notably acquiring Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, and once the season started, they dipped into their farm system for help whenever a need arose. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams were both called up when Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, and more relievers got an opportunity than I care to count.

No call-up had a greater impact in 2015 than right-hander Luis Severino, who came into the season as New York’s second best prospect. Coming into the season, I thought it was possible we’d see Severino this year, though likely as a reliever in the second half. The Yankees had other plans.

A Brief Look in Spring

The Yankees invited Severino to Spring Training and that was totally expected. They moved him very aggressively through the system last year and he finished the season with Double-A Trenton, so a Spring Training invite made sense. Severino, who turned 21 right as camp opened, made just two Grapefruit League appearances, allowing three runs (two earned) in 2.2 innings. He struck out five.

That was the first time many of us were able to see Severino pitch. It was only Spring Training, yeah, but getting a glimpse of rarely seen prospects is what makes all those meaningless games in March pretty fun in their own way.

Severino was sent to minor league camp on March 15th, as part of the first round of roster cuts. The Yankees didn’t keep him around for a longer look in Spring Training. They sent him to minor league camp so he could focus on getting ready for the regular season. The team wanted Severino to be ready to help whenever he was needed during the regular season.

Preparation in the Minors

The minor leagues are about development, first and foremost. And even though he was a consensus top 100 prospect coming into the season, Severino did have some things to work on this year. He needed to improve the consistency of his slider and changeup more than anything. There’s also the usual stuff every 21-year-old needs to work on: holding runners, fielding his position, repeating mechanics, that sorta stuff.

The Yankees also used Severino’s time in the minors to prepare him to join their rotation in the second half. He was there to learn, sure, but the Yankees also wanted to make sure his workload would not be an issue down the stretch in case they needed him. After going through the messy Joba Rules and seeing the Stephen Strasburg shutdown a few years ago, the Yankees wanted to limit Severino’s innings in an under-the-radar way.

Severino returned to Double-A Trenton to start 2015 and the Yankees didn’t let him throw more than five innings in a start, regardless of his effectiveness. He allowed one hit, struck out eight, and threw 53 pitches in five scoreless innings in his first start, but that was it, Severino was out of the game after five innings. Severino made eight starts with the Thunder and only once did he throw more than five innings: he completed six innings on 97 pitches on May 5th.

The reins were loosened a bit after Severino was promoted to Triple-A Scranton. He made eleven starts with the RailRiders, averaged 5.2 innings per start, and three times completed seven full innings. Severino only averaged 88.3 pitches per start, however. He was throwing more innings but not necessarily more pitches.

In his 19 minor league starts this summer, Severino had a 2.45 ERA (2.45 FIP!) in 99.1 innings across the two levels. The Yankees deemed him ready for the big leagues.

Welcome to the Show

The Yankees called Severino up after failing to land a starter at the trade deadline. They kicked the tires on various pitchers but never did get close to anything. Severino was their solution. They said they were going to emphasize youth this year and this was by far the biggest sign they were committed to that plan. Remember, the Yankees were in first place and trying to hold off the Blue Jays when Severino was called up. Winning was the priority.

Severino made his MLB debut on August 5th against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. They didn’t exactly ease him into it, huh? Severino allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and no walks in five innings. He struck out seven. It was a rather impressive debut for the kid.

When it was announced Severino was going to be called up, Brian Cashman made two things clear. One, it was not an audition. Severino was joining the rotation and he was going to start every fifth day, good or bad. Two, Severino had no workload restrictions. I don’t believe that was 100% true — were they going to let him throw 230 innings? probably not — but the team had put him in position to pitch without an innings number hanging over his head.

The workload was not a concern and neither was Severino’s performance. He allowed two runs in six innings against the Indians in his second career start. His third start was easily the worst of his first six career starts, and it wasn’t even all that bad: three runs in six innings against the powerhouse Blue Jays in Toronto. Carlos Beltran lost a ball in the sun that opened the floodgates, as you may recall (video).

Though his first six starts, Severino pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.95 FIP) in 35.1 innings. He had a strong strikeout rate (23.5%) but walked a few too many (9.7%) and served up dingers (1.02 HR/9). That’s pretty common for a young pitcher. They walk people because they nibble, and they tend to be a little too cocky with their fastball and think they can get simply throw the ball by hitters at times, hence the homers.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As good as Severino was, the Yankees only went 3-3 in his first six starts because they never scored any damn runs for him. Twenty runs total in those six starts and only eleven when Severino was actually on the mound. In his seventh start, Severino finally had a clunker. The Blue Jays punished him for six runs on six hits and three walks in only 2.1 innings. It was ugly.

Severino shook off the bad start and dominated next time out, holding the Rays to one run in 5.2 innings. He struck out seven. That was good to see. Pitchers have disaster starts, it happens to everyone over the course of the season, but with a young kid like Severino, you want to see how he responds, and he responded very positively.

The Yankees slipped out of first place and limped to the finish line this past season, though it was not Severino’s fault. He pitched to 2.19 ERA (3.99 FIP) in his final four starts and 24 innings. Severino was available out of the bullpen for the wildcard game and if the Yankees had advanced to the ALDS, he likely would have started Game One.

In his first taste of the big leagues, Severino finished with a 2.89 ERA (4.37 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings. He had a good strikeout rate (22.0%), but again, a few too many walks (8.6%) and homers (1.30 HR/9). That’s not uncommon for rookie pitchers. Severino got a ton of ground balls (50.9%) and didn’t have a huge platoon split, holding righties to a .213/.267/.435 (.303 wOBA) batting line and lefties to .244/.331/.374 (.314 wOBA).

I’m not sure you could have asked for more from Severino. The Yankees moved him up the minor league ladder very aggressively — he ended the 2013 season with four starts with Low-A Charleston after making six appearances with the Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees, so yeah — and Severino answered the bell every time. He pitched well in pinstripes, handled a little adversity, and seemed very poised. Severino was damn impressive. We’ve waited a long time to see a Yankees develop someone like this.

Room for Improvement

Coming into the season, the scouting report on Severino said he had a big fastball and promising secondary stuff. The fastball sat mid-90s and touched 100 on occasion in the past, though we never did see him hit triple digits with the Yankees. (PitchFX says his fastest pitch as a big leaguer was 98.94 mph.) Both Severino’s slider and changeup were impressive yet inconsistent. That’s too be expected.

Now that he has spent some time in the big leagues, we have PitchFX data for Severino, so let’s look at how his stuff grades out. (MLB averages for starting pitchers in parentheses.)

% Thrown Avg. Velocity Whiff% GB%
Fastball 51.4% (56.6%) 95.8 (91.9) 8.2% (6.9%) 45.3% (37.9%)
Slider 34.1% (12.5%) 89.6 (84.5) 8.9% (15.2%) 58.1% (43.9%)
Changeup 14.6% (11.6%) 88.6 (83.3) 19.3% (14.9%) 63.2% (47.8%)

Captain Obvious: Severino throws everything way harder than the average big league starter. We’re talking an average of 5 mph or so harder. That 12.5% MLB average slider usage is a little misleading because not every pitcher throws a slider, so that skews the numbers. Still, throwing 34.1% sliders like Severino did is on the high end. You won’t see many starters throw more sliders than that.

Also, Severino’s slider got way fewer swings and misses than the average slider. He got ground balls with the pitch, but the whiffs were few and far between. There’s clearly some room for improvement there, and it could be something as simple as pitch selection. Throwing a slider in some unconventional counts — pitching backwards, as they say — could lead to more swings and misses.

The PitchFX data more or less matches the scouting reports coming into the season. Severino has a big fastball and inconsistent secondary stuff, especially the slider. He’s only 21 though. This is par for the course. Severino still has some learning to do and the learning will take place the MLB level. The stuff he showed this summer was plenty good enough to succeed.

Looking Ahead to 2016

The Yankees have seven starters either under contract (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia) or team control (Severino, Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, Ivan Nova) for next season, which means there will some number crunching this offseason and/or in Spring Training. Severino should be a lock for the rotation though. In fact, Joe Girardi pretty much confirmed it when he said the team is planning to “have Severino for a full year (in 2016)” during his end-of-season press conference.

Severino might not throw 200+ innings next year — he threw 161.2 total innings this year, up from 113 last year — but he will be counted on for high quality innings every fifth day in 2016. The Yankees have been trying to develop an young, impact starter like this for a long time. It appears they’ve finally succeeded with Severino.

Severino, Bird, Judge, and Sanchez rank among Baseball America’s top 20 International League prospects

(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)
(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

Baseball America wrapped up their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league with the Triple-A International League today. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Indians SS Francisco Lindor sits in the top spot. The Yankees have four players on the list: RHP Luis Severino (No. 2), 1B Greg Bird (No. 6), OF Aaron Judge (No. 10), and C Gary Sanchez (No. 18).

“While opposing managers lauded Severino’s stuff—a 92-97 mph fastball that typically sits at 95 and is complemented by a solid low-80s changeup and solid-average slider—many were equally impressed with his command, composure and athleticism on the mound,” said the write-up. The 21-year-old Severino had a 1.91 ERA (2.50 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings with Triple-A Scranton before being called up to the big leagues.

Bird, 22, hit .301/.353/.500 (146 wRC+) with six homers in 34 games with the RailRiders before being called up. “He combines a disciplined approach at the plate with a balanced swing and quick hands to drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark,” said the scouring report. “Bird made significant strides at first base this season: His footwork around the bag is serviceable and he has improved at picking balls in the dirt.”

Judge, 23, put up a .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) line with eight homers and a 28.5% strikeout rate in 61 games for Scranton this summer. “(Judge) struggled for stretches against experienced pitchers who found holes in his swing with breaking and offspeed pitches,” said the write-up. “He did show the ability to make adjustments and punish mistakes. Judge uses a gap-to-gap approach with bat speed and natural strength to drive the ball.”

As for Sanchez, the scouting report says he was “more mature off the field” and “in noticeably better shape this season.” The write-up also noted his “improved plate discipline” allowed him to better tap into his power in games. “He has double-plus arm strength behind the plate, and though he worked hard at improving his receiving, it remains the biggest hurdle for him to clear at catcher.” Sanchez, 22, hit .295/.349/.500 (145 wRC+) with six homers in 35 games for the RailRiders.

I was a bit surprised 2B Rob Refsnyder didn’t make the top 20, especially since Baseball America’s prospect rankings tend to be performance driven. Then again, I guess that could be why Refsnyder didn’t make the International League list. He had a good (123 wRC+) but not truly great year with the RailRiders. Others like RHP Bryan Mitchell, OF Slade Heathcott, and OF Ben Gamel are fine prospects, but not top 20 in the league caliber prospects.

Other league top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League, Rookie Appalachian League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Low-A South Atlantic League, High-A Florida State League, Double-A Eastern League

Refsnyder, Heathcott, Sanchez all make Wildcard Game roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:

PITCHERS (9)
RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP James Pazos
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Adam Warren
LHP Justin Wilson

CATCHERS (3)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (7)
2B/OF Dustin Ackley
1B Greg Bird
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
2B Rob Refsnyder
DH Alex Rodriguez
IF Brendan Ryan

OUTFIELDERS (6)
RF Carlos Beltran
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
OF Slade Heathcott
PR Rico Noel
OF Chris Young

I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.

Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.

Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.

The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.

Something to Celebrate

I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)
I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)

In a matter of hours, the 162 game marathon that is the Major League Baseball season will be officially over for everyone (unless we get some tiebreaker action!). The Yankees are one of ten teams both skilled enough and lucky enough to keep marching towards the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. As a team they already got to celebrate–and why shouldn’t they? This is a team that very few people thought could make the playoffs. In most best-case scenarios in February and March, this was an 85-win team that might scratch at contending for the second wildcard spot. Now, they sit assured of a spot in that wildcard game that will probably (hopefully?!) be in the Bronx. The notion that the Yankees–or any team–shouldn’t celebrate making the Wildcard Game is just silly to me. What that team is celebrating is not just the accomplishment of making it one more day, but acknowledging the impressive feat of being one of ten teams standing after 162 games. These celebrations are as much about–if not more–what has happened rather than what will happen. Anyway, now that the team has celebrated and been celebrated, let’s take a look at some individual Yankee players and what they have to celebrate about 2015.

Starting with number one, there are some pitchers we should discuss; chief among them is Masahiro Tanaka. TANAK may not have been quite-as-brilliant in 2015 as he was in 2014, but this was still a successful year for him. By the way, let’s talk for a moment about how crazy it is that I’m saying a year for a pitcher was “successful” and “not-quite-as-good” despite a K/BB of 5.71 and a WHIP of 0.994. The former is good for fifth in the AL among pitchers with at least 150 IP and the latter is good for first. Performance, though, is only part of why Tanaka’s been successful this year. While he missed some time recently, his elbow has more or less held up despite a whole lot of armchair-doctoring by media and fans alike at the beginning of the season. There’s a reason that doctors, the Yankees, and Tanaka didn’t opt for surgery and this year has proved it a wise decision. His elbow ligaments could snap tomorrow, but that goes for any pitcher at any time and one should never have surgery when it isn’t necessary. Try to imagine the Yankees’ season without Tanaka in the rotation. He’s the only one among the Yankees’ starters with at least 100 IP who has an ERA+ of over 100 (114); without him, there’s no way this team is in the postseason.

Sticking with the starters, there’s Luis Severino. Few, expected him to be on the team this year; even fewer expected him to have this much of an impact as a starter. Despite some hiccups and some general first-time-in-the-Majors-rough-around-the-edgesness, Severnio has been spectacular. He’s held his own against big lineups at times. He’s flashed plus stuff. He’s helped Tanaka carry the rotation in the second half and has definitely pitched his way into not only the playoffs, but also the 2016 rotation.

Lastly in the pitching category, appropriately enough, there’s the dynamite combo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better 1-2 bullpen combination than this one anywhere in the Majors. While Betances has looked more human lately, he managed to mostly repeat an incredible 2014 and he and Miller solidified a very-shaky-at-times relief corps to give the Yankees a much-needed late-game edge. Miller, meanwhile, stepped right into the line of Yankee closers and wowed us all year with a dominant fastball/slider combination that left many batters baffled. The back end of a bullpen is important in a regular season, but is paramount the in the playoffs; the more we see these two in the coming weeks, the more likely it is that they and the team have done something special.

Moving to the lineup, we’ll start with number two–don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a position-by-position breakdown–and discuss Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy. Like most of the Yankee offense, McCann hasn’t looked great of late, but that doesn’t mean this season isn’t something to celebrate. He raised all four portions of his slash line from last year and managed to belt a career high 26 homers. He’s also already tied his career high in RBI with 94, so anything he drives in today will represent a new career high. His backup also had a great season as JRM hit more-than-admirably and seemed like a veteran behind the plate in very limited duty. As a bonus, he also provided the hands-down best quote of 2015 by anyone in the Yankee organization.

I’ve already touched on Mark Teixeira‘s great season, so I’ll be brief here. Tex had a fantastic season and his absence has definitely been felt in the last few weeks, even if Greg Bird has done incredibly well both for the team and himself, something completely unexpected in and of itself, and also worthy of celebration. The Yankees now have a very good problem regarding Bird, Tex, and the next two guys we’ll touch on–Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran–and how to get them all at bats.

Raise your hand if you thought Carlos Beltran wasn’t toast after April. Put your damn hand down, you liar. At the end of April, Carlos had an OPS of .481 (!) and had exactly zero home runs. From May on, he’s hit .292/.352/.506 with 19 homers. His bat was steady and stable throughout the summer and we’ll finally get to see his playoff prowess put to the test.

Then, finally, there’s Alex Rodriguez. Al. Al from Miami. Summer of Al. How many times did we tweet these things over the last few months? The finish hasn’t been pretty, but how delusional would you have seemed in March if you said A-Rod was going to hit 33 homers this year? I thought he MIGHT, MAYBE hit 15-20 and be average overall at the plate. He completely shattered those expectations and now a finalist for Comeback Player of the year. Considering there were a lot of people who said he might never play a game for the Yankees again, this is nothing short of an amazing year for Alex and I couldn’t be happier for him. Even though a lot of the crap he’s dealt with is of his own doing, he still deserves to celebrate this year just as much as anyone, if not more. Here’s hoping for a repeat of 2009 from Alex and his teammates.

 

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Pitching Staff

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At some point soon, possibly later today, the Yankees will officially clinch their first postseason berth in three seasons. It’s only a wildcard spot, sure, but a wildcard spot is better than nothing. Both the Royals and Giants went to the World Series after being wildcard teams last year, remember.

The wildcard game is considered its own distinct playoff round, which means it gets its own 25-man roster. It’s not a regular season game, so no expanded rosters with September call-ups, but the Yankees would also be able to change their roster prior to the ALDS, should they advance. They can build a roster specifically for the wildcard game.

There have been 12 wildcard teams since the current system was put in place in 2012, and those 12 teams averaged 9.67 pitchers on the roster. Three teams carried eleven pitchers, three carried ten, five carried nine, and one carried eight. There’s no need to carry all the extra starting pitchers, so teams have taken advantage and expanded their benches.

Whoever starts Game 162 for the Yankees on Sunday won’t be on the wildcard roster. There’s no reason to carry him since they won’t be available for the wildcard game on Tuesday. It also wouldn’t make sense to carry the Game 161 starter since he’d be on two days’ rest in the wildcard game. Right now Luis Severino and Michael Pineda are lined up to start Games 161 and 162, respectively, though that can change.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees love to match up with their relievers, so my guess is they end up carrying ten or eleven pitchers in the wildcard game. I’d be surprised if it was any fewer but I suppose it is possible. Which ten or eleven pitchers should the Yankees carry in the wildcard game? Let’s try to figure it out. Later today we’ll tackle the position player side of things.

The Locks

Might as well start with the easy ones to get them out of the way. Masahiro Tanaka will start the wildcard game — he will return from his hamstring injury tonight and start with “no restrictions” (no pitch count, basically), putting him in line for the wildcard game with an extra day of rest — and we know Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Justin Wilson will be in the bullpen. That’s four of the ten or eleven spots right there. You can be sure Girardi would prefer not to use anyone other than those four in the wildcard game too.

If Tanaka’s hamstring acts up tonight, my guess is the Yankees would rearrange their weekend rotation and go with either Severino or Pineda in the wildcard game. (Likely Severino given Pineda’s dud last night.) CC Sabathia is starting tomorrow night and would be able to start the wildcard game on regular rest, though I’d be surprised if he got the call. Yes, Sabathia has pitched better of late, and he is the team’s highest paid starter, but the Yankees wouldn’t even run him out there against the Blue Jays in a regular season game. In a winner-take-all wildcard game? It would surprise me to see him out there if better options available (i.e. Severino).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Safe Bet

Given their need in middle relief and the fact they have four other starters for the postseason rotation, it makes perfect sense for Adam Warren to be on the wildcard game roster and ready for middle innings work. He is currently stretched out to 80+ pitches and lined up to start Friday, which means he’ll be on three days’ rest for the wildcard game. The Yankees could always cut Friday’s start short — say three innings or 50 pitches, something like that — to make sure Warren is fresh for Tuesday. Unless someone gets hurt and Warren has to remain in the postseason rotation, I expect him to be on the wildcard game roster. He’s too good not be in the bullpen for that game. So five of the ten or eleven pitching spots are claimed.

Whither Shreve?

Considering how well he pitched for most of the season, it’s hard to believe Chasen Shreve‘s postseason roster spot is now in question. He’s been that bad in recent weeks. Girardi has already reduced his high-leverage work, so Shreve’s falling out of favor. Once the Yankees clinch, Girardi and the Yankees absolutely should use Shreve as much as possible these last few regular season games to try to get him sorted out, and those last few outings could easily determine his wildcard roster fate. Right now, given his overall body of work, my guess is he’s on the roster.

The Extra Starters

Tanaka is going to start the wildcard game but it would also make sense to carry an extra starter or two in the bullpen, at the very least to serve as a long relief option in case things get crazy in extra innings. As I said, Sabathia would be on full rest for the wildcard game and could serve as the extra starter. Ivan Nova is another candidate — he started Monday and probably won’t start again during the regular season — but I think it’s more likely Nova starts Saturday or Sunday, leaving Severino or Pineda available for the wildcard game. I have a hard time thinking Nova will be on the wildcard game roster, but I guess it’s possible. Do the Yankees need one or two extra starters? I guess that depends how the rest of the roster shakes out. For now I’m thinking Sabathia and another starter will be in the wildcard game bullpen.

The Rest of the Rest

Assuming Warren, Shreve, and two spare starters are on the wild card roster, the Yankees still have two or three pitching spots to fill to get their staff up to ten or eleven. They have no shortage of candidates, that’s for sure. Andrew Bailey, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Chris Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, Chris Martin, Caleb Cotham, and Nick Goody are all on the active roster at the moment. Those last two or three arms will come from that group.

Process of elimination: Goody is out because he’s barely pitched in September, making only two appearances. He seems to be at the very bottom of the Triple-A reliever depth chart. Martin is basically one rung higher — he’s made five appearances this month and three lasted one out. He’s out too. Mitchell looked pretty sharp in short relief earlier this season but has not been all that effective since taking the line drive to the face. Can’t afford to risk his wildness in a winner-take-all game. He’s out.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

That leaves Bailey, Pazos, Pinder, Rumbelow, Capuano, and Cotham. Bailey is a Proven Veteran™ who Girardi has tried to squeeze into some tight spots of late. Sometimes it’s worked (last Friday against the White Sox), sometimes it hasn’t (last Wednesday in Toronto). Pazos and Capuano are lefties, and I thought it was interesting Capuano was used in a true left-on-left matchup situation Monday night (he struck out both batters). He warmed up again for a similar spot last night, but did not enter the game. Pazos has been okay — lefties are 2-for-7 with a walk against him this month — but not great. The next few days could be telling. If we see Capuano get more lefty specialist work, he’ll probably be the guy.

Out of all the guys on the bullpen shuttle, Pinder has spent the most time on the big league roster this year while both Rumbelow and Cotham seemed to get chances to grab hold of a middle relief spot at various points. Neither really did. Both have shown flashes of being useful. Flashes shouldn’t be enough to get them on the wildcard roster though. Right now, I believe both Bailey and Capuano will make the wildcard roster with the caveat that Capuano could get smacked around in the coming days and lose his spot. In that case I think they’d take Pazos as the emergency lefty specialist.

The mechanics of getting Bailey on the roster are simple. He was in the organization before August 31st, so he’s postseason eligible, but he didn’t get called up until September 1st. That means he has to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have three pitching injury spots to play with: Chase Whitley, Sergio Santos, and Diego Moreno. (The injury replacements have to be pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player. No mixing and matching.) Whitley and Santos had Tommy John surgery while Moreno had bone spurs taken out of his elbow. Bailey replaces one of them. Pazos would get one of the other two spots if he makes the roster.

Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is in the middle of a throwing program but has already been ruled out for the wildcard game. The hope is he can join the bullpen should the Yankees advance to the ALDS. Probably should have mentioned that earlier. Anyway, so after all of that, here’s my ten-man pitching staff guesstimate for the wildcard game:

Righties
Bailey
Betances
Nova (or Severino or Pineda)
Tanaka (starter)
Warren

Lefties
Capuano
Miller
Wilson
Sabathia
Shreve

That might be it right there. The Yankees don’t have to carry an 11th pitcher. Ten is plenty — especially since both Sabathia and Nova/Severino/Pineda would be available for super long relief — and is right in line with the previous 12 wild card teams. If they do carry an 11th reliever, I think it would be a righty just to even things out. So … Cotham? Girardi has used him in some big-ish situations of late. Either way, the 11th pitcher’s role on the wildcard roster would be what, 25th inning guy?

The ten-man pitching staff includes Tanaka (the starter) and two extra starters for long relief purposes, giving Girardi a normal seven-man bullpen. For one individual game, that should be plenty. The pitching game plan is pretty simple too, right? Get at least five innings from Tanaka, then turn it over to Wilson, Betances, and Miller. Warren is the next “trusted” reliever. If Girardi has to start dipping into guys like Capuano or Bailey or Shreve, something’s gone wrong.