Dellin Betances isn’t the only Yankee who could play in the 2017 WBC

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

In a few weeks baseball players all around the league will leave their teams in Spring Training to participate in the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic. Pool play begins March 6th in South Korea, and the tournament will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full 2017 WBC schedule.

The 16 countries do not have to finalize their WBC rosters until January, though we already know Dellin Betances will pitch for the Dominican Republic. He committed to them recently. Betances was on Team USA’s preliminary roster but instead choose to honor his family by pitching for the Dominican Republic squad. So far he’s the only Yankees player to commit to the WBC.

The Yankees are not as star-laden as they once were — a few years ago a case could have been made their entire starting infield belonged in the WBC — so they don’t figure to send a ton of players to the WBC next spring. Chances are Betances won’t be the only Yankee to participatein the event, however. In fact, farmhand Dante Bichette Jr. already played for Brazil in the qualifying round in September. Who knew? (Brazil did not advance.)

So, as we wait for the commitments to trickle in and the final rosters to be announced, lets look at the Yankees who could wind up joining Betances and participating in the WBC. Keep in mind the WBC is not limited to big league players — some countries can’t field an entire roster of MLB players, hence Bichette playing for Brazil — and the rosters are 28 players deep, not 25, so there are extra spots.

Canada: Evan Rutckyj

Rutckyj, who recently re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent, was the team’s 16th round pick back in 2010. The Braves took a look at him this past spring as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but Rutckyj failed to make the Opening Day roster and instead returned to the Yankees. He struck out 14 in 11.2 innings around a relatively minor elbow procedure during the 2016 regular season.

Only eleven pitchers born in Canada have appeared in the big leagues over the last three years — only seven did so in 2016 — and five of those eleven threw fewer than 20 innings. Three of the other six are now retired (Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Phillippe Aumont). Rutckyj, who grew up across the river from Detroit in Windsor, has had some Double-A success as a reliever and could make a Canada roster that has been heavy on minor league pitchers in previous WBCs.

Colombia: Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal

Colombia clinched their first ever WBC berth by winning their qualifying round back in March. They won a pool that included France, Spain, and Panama. Both Polo and Vidal were on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round and chances are they will be on the actual WBC roster as well. Only six Colombian-born players appeared in MLB in 2016, one of whom was Donovan Solano and none of whom were an outfielder like Polo and Vidal.

Vidal, 20, has spent most of his career with the various short season league teams in New York’s farm system. He went 2-for-8 with a double and played in all three qualifying games in March. Polo, 22, came over from the Pirates in the Ivan Nova trade. He was Colombia’s extra outfielder in the qualifying round. He appeared in two games as a a pinch-runner and defensive replacement and did not get an at-bat. Both Vidal and Polo figure to play in the WBC in March.

Dominican Republic: Gary Sanchez (Starlin Castro?)

WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)
WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Over the last three seasons, the leader in bWAR among Dominican-born catchers is Welington Castillo. Sanchez is second. For all the great baseball players to come out of the Dominican Republic, the island hasn’t produced much catching talent in recent years. Their catching tandem in the 2013 WBC was Francisco Pena, Tony’s son, and Carlos Santana, who is no longer a catcher.

The Dominican Republic’s current catching pool includes Sanchez, Castillo, Pena, Pedro Severino of the Nationals, and Alberto Rosario of the Cardinals. I have to think they want Sanchez and Castillo there. Then again, Tony might want Francisco on the roster, and I’m sure the Yankees would rather Sanchez spend his first Spring Training as the No. 1 catcher learning the pitching staff.

The Yankees can’t stop Gary from going to the WBC if he’s invited though. They might need Pena to pull some strings, which would be kind of a dick move. I’m sure Sanchez would love to play. Bottom line: Sanchez is arguably the best Dominican catcher in baseball right now and inarguably one of the two best. In what is intended to be a best vs. best tournament, Gary belongs on the Dominican Republic roster.

(For what it’s worth, Victor Baez reports Pena promised Sanchez he would be considered for the WBC team, but acknowledged things may change before the final roster is submitted.)

As for Castro, he has an awful lot of competition on the Dominican Republic middle infield. Robinson Cano is the presumed starter at second with someone like Jose Reyes or Jean Segura at short. Jonathan Villar, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, Jhonny Peralta, and some others are WBC candidates too. Castro’s a possibility for the tournament but probably isn’t part of the club’s Plan A infield.

Japan: Masahiro Tanaka

Interestingly enough, not a single MLB player was on Japan’s roster for the 2013 WBC. Not even Ichiro Suzuki. They filled their entire roster with NPB players. Japan has had big leaguers on their roster in previous WBCs, including Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka, just not in the last one. Will they invite big leaguers this time? I honestly have no idea. We’re going to have to wait and find out.

If Japan does want current MLB players, Tanaka figures to be near the top of their list. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and on the very short list of the best Japanese-born pitchers on the planet. The Yankees can’t stop Tanaka from playing in the 2017 WBC. Brian Cashman confirmed it during his end-of-season press conference. Needless to say, the thought of Tanaka suffering an injury during the WBC is enough to make you squeamish. The Yankees have already been through that once before, with Mark Teixeira and his wrist in the 2013 WBC.

For what it’s worth, Tanaka has participated in the WBC twice before. He was on Japan’s roster in both 2009 and 2013, throwing 9.1 total innings across one start and seven relief appearances. Maybe that was enough for Tanaka? Maybe he’s had his fill of the WBC — Japan won the 2009, so he has a championship — and would rather focus on the Yankees in Spring Training and putting himself in the best position to use his opt-out the team in the best position to win? Gosh, I hope so.

Mexico: Luis Cessa, Gio Gallegos

Fifteen pitchers born in Mexico have appeared in the big leagues over the last three seasons, and 13 of those 15 did so in 2016. The two exceptions are ex-Yankees: Manny Banuelos and Al Aceves. Banuelos is coming off another injury and Aceves spent the 2016 season in the Mexican League. Mexico figures to try to build their WBC rotation from a group that includes Marco Estrada, Julio Urias, Jorge De La Rosa, Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, and Miguel Gonzalez.

Cessa and Gallegos — fun fact: the Yankees signed Gallegos away from a Mexican League team as part of a package deal with Banuelos and Aceves in 2007 — could be candidates for Mexico’s bullpen. Especially Cessa since he has MLB experience. Gallegos might not get much consideration given the fact he has yet to pitch in the show. Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria, and Oliver Perez are likely to be Mexico’s late-inning relievers, but they’re going to need other pitchers for middle relief, especially early in the tournament when starters have limited pitch counts.

Keep in mind both Cessa and Gallegos figure to come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Cessa will be among those competing for a rotation spot, which is kind of a big deal. Gallegos, who the Yankees added to the 40-man roster earlier this month to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, is trying to reach the show for the first time. As much as I’m sure both guys would love to represent their country in the WBC, they would be better off hanging around Spring Training and focusing on winning a roster spot with the Yankees at this point of their careers.

Netherlands: Didi Gregorius

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

The Dutch team has had to rely heavily on players from Honkbal Hoofdklasse, the highest level of pro ball in the Netherlands, to fill their WBC roster in the past. The same figures to be true this year. Only six Dutch players have played in MLB the last two years: Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, and Kenley Jansen. So, if nothing else, the Netherlands doesn’t have to worry about their infield or closer. They’ll need Honkballers in the outfield and rotation.

It’s entirely possible the Netherlands will look to take all five of those infielders to the WBC because, well, they’re the best players the country has to offer. Profar has played first base and Bogaerts has played third, so the starting infield could very well be those two on the corners with the other three guys splitting time up the middle and at DH. Gregorius was not on the 2013 WBC roster, and with his Yankees roster spot secure, he could jump at the opportunity to play for the Netherlands.

Team USA: Tyler Clippard (Brett Gardner? Jacoby Ellsbury?)

Even with Betances committing to the Dominican Republic, Team USA’s potential bullpen is insane. Zach Britton closing with Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel setting up, Wade Davis as the fireman, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson as the middle relievers … goodness. What are the odds of that happening though? Extremely small. Some of those guys are going to pass on the tournament. Happens every WBC.

The Team USA bullpen in 2013 included Kimbrel and, uh, Luke Gregerson? Tim Collins? Mitchell Boggs? Vinnie Pestano? Yup. Yup yup yup. Team USA’s leader in relief innings in 2013 was Ross Detwiler. So yeah. The odds of a super-bullpen are so very small. Clippard could be among the club’s Plan B or C relievers. Team USA is going to miss out on a ton of the top guys, no doubt, so who’s next in line? Clippard could be one of them.

Along those same lines, I suppose Gardner and/or Ellsbury could receive outfield consideration if enough top guys drop out. We already know Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are passing on the tournament. Team USA would need to receive a lot of “nos” before considering Ellsbury and Gardner for their outfield — they ranked 12th and 20th in bWAR among American-born outfielders in 2016 — but hey, you never know.

* * *

The Yankees are said to have interest in bringing Carlos Beltran back, and I have to think he will suit up for Puerto Rico in the WBC next spring. The next generation of Puerto Rican stars has arrived (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez) but Beltran is still insanely popular in Puerto Rico, and he usually gives the people what they want. Aroldis Chapman, on the other hand, won’t pitch for Cuba regardless of whether he returns to the Yankees. No expatriates on the national team.

Tanaka’s Falling Strikeout Rate

Masahiro Tanaka
(Getty)

There’s no denying that Masahiro Tanaka had a brilliant season in 2016. For the first time in his three-year career, he had a legitimate shot at the Cy Young Award and ended up finishing seventh in the balloting. He tied his career high in ERA- at 72 and was close to his career high FIP- of 78 with a mark of 80 this year; he put up a career high ground ball rate while notching new career lows in infield fly ball percentage and home run/fly ball percentage. The only thing he didn’t do as well as he’d done previously is strike batters out.

Continuing a trend, Tanka’s K/9 dipped again this year, falling to 7.44 from 8.12, which was down from 9.31 in 2014. His K% shows a similar downturn, going from 26 in 2014 to 22.8 in 2015 and 20.5 in 2016. 20.5 K% is still good, especially considering he’s never posted a BB% above 4.5 (this year’s mark). And given the change in approach that Mike described here, a drop in strikeout numbers wouldn’t be unexpected. Still, it’s worth taking a look to see what’s behind the dip in whiffs because punchouts are fun and the most efficient way to get a batter out.

tanaka cap tip
(AP)

Let’s start with the out-pitch, the one whose reputation came in tow when Tanaka arrived in MLB, the splitter. In 2014, he generated a 46.01 whiff/swing rate on the pitch. It dropped to 33.33 in 2015, then to 30.00 in 2016. As a percentage of his strikeouts, the splitter has gone from being about half of them (2014) to about a third of them or a little more (2015-16). Of course, when your groundball/balls-in-play percentage is in the mid to high sixties with a pitch, the declining strikeout rate is something you can live with. Tanaka’s slider tells a similar story. The whiff/swing rate on his slider has gone from 39.55 to 34.38 to 33.16. The GB/BIP rate has gone from 31.37 to 39.00 to 40.74.

If we take a look at the splitter and where Tanaka likes to throw it, we get a good idea of why whiffs and grounders happen. The bottom drops out of the splitter and the batter either swings over it or beats it into the ground. The conclusion drawn before–fewer strikeouts, more grounders–is fleshed out here as well. Take a look at the whiff/swing rate on Tanaka’s three most popular spillter locations in 20142015, and 2016; there’s a general downward trend, suggesting that hitters are making more contact with those pitches, even if they’re not doing a lot with them. His slider has shown a similar trend, gathering more grounders in the lower part of the zone as the years have gone on.

We tend to take a drop in strikeout rate as a cause for alarm among pitchers and I’m generally inclined to agree with that quick assessment. However, while it’s something to watch with our beloved, underrated TANAK, I’m not overly worried. He showed this year that he can be incredibly successful without having to get too many strikeouts and, frankly, this is a microcosm of him as a pitcher. Each game, Tanaka seems to bring a new strategy, a new approach to the mound and that’s been true on the broad scale of his three year career. As a pitcher who seems to reinvent himself every start, he’s capable of displaying greatness in myriad ways, strikeouts or not.

Masahiro Tanaka finishes seventh in AL Cy Young voting

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

Earlier tonight, the BBWAA announced Red Sox righty Rick Porcello has won the 2016 AL Cy Young award. He won despite receiving fewer first place votes (14-8) than Tigers righty Justin Verlander, who finished second in the voting. Indians righty Corey Kluber finished third. Here are the full voting results.

This was the second closest vote in Cy Young history. Porcello beat out Verlander by a mere five voting points. The closest vote ever? Back in 2012, when Verlander finished four points behind David Price. Womp womp. Porcello won because he had way more second place than Verlander (18-2), and also because two writers left Verlander off their ballot entirely. A Red Sox pitcher second placing his way to the Cy Young is fitting, I’d say.

Anywho, Masahiro Tanaka finished tied for the seventh in the voting with Blue Jays righty Aaron Sanchez. Tanaka received one fourth place vote and four fifth place votes. He finished behind Porcello, Verlander, Kluber, Orioles closer Zach Britton, White Sox lefty Chris Sale, and Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ. Tanaka received Cy Young votes for the first time this year, and they were well deserved.

Also noteworthy: ex-Yankee Andrew Miller finished ninth in the Cy Young voting. He received one third place vote. Hooray for that. Gary Sanchez finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting and Joe Girardi finished fifth in the Manager of the Year voting. The MVPs will be announced tomorrow.

The Ace of the Staff [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Masahiro Tanaka‘s first two seasons with the Yankees were rather eventful. He was dominant for long stretches, especially early in the 2014 season. There were also injuries, including the partially torn elbow ligament and wrist and hamstring problems. And for a while last year, Tanaka was extremely homer prone. He was never actually bad though. Even with the dingers, he was still really good.

In 2016, Tanaka had his best and first full season with the Yankees. He wasn’t as overwhelmingly dominant as he was early in 2014, but he was consistently excellent and one of the best pitchers in the entire league. In fact, Tanaka was so good that when the Cy Young voting results are announced next Thursday, he figures to be among the top five or six names. Any doubts about Tanaka being an ace were answered in 2016.

Six Months of Excellence

With most players, I’m able to split these season review posts into different sections for different parts of the season. A hot start, a slow finish, things like that. It’s not possible with Tanaka. He was outstanding from start to finish this summer, and even his one “bad” month wasn’t even bad. It would have made for a fine season for any of the team’s other starters. Check it out:

April: 2.87 ERA (2.86 FIP)
May: 2.91 ERA (3.68 FIP)
June: 4.12 ERA (3.32 FIP)
July: 2.45 ERA (3.52 FIP)
August: 3.00 ERA (2.94 ERA)
September: 2.70 ERA (5.17 FIP)

Tanaka made 31 starts and he allowed no more than two runs in 20 of them. That was the fourth most such starts in the league. He had 12 starts of at least six innings and no more than one run allowed. That was third most in the league. His five starts of at least seven scoreless innings were the most in the league.

The best outing of Tanaka’s season came against the home run happy Orioles on May 5th, and in true 2016 Yankees fashion, they lost the damn game. He allowed five singles and one walk in eight scoreless innings at Camden Yards, striking out seven. Then the bullpen blew it. Womp womp.

Against the Yankees’ three biggest division rivals, the Red Sox and Blue Jays and Orioles, Tanaka pitched to a 1.80 ERA (2.92 FIP) in seven starts and 45 innings. His worst start against one of those three teams came on April 12th in Toronto, in his second start of the season. Tanaka allowed two runs on five innings. That was his worst start against those teams.

Down the stretch in August and September, when the Yankees were making that little late-season run at a postseason spot, Tanaka had a 1.86 ERA (2.77 FIP) in eight starts and 53.1 innings. Overall this year, opponents hit .236/.272/.373 against him. That’s essentially Michael A. Taylor (.231/.278/.376). Tanaka turned everyone into an up-and-down fourth outfielder.

Tanaka’s season ended prematurely due to what Joe Girardi called a “slight, slight, slight” forearm strain. It was in the muscle up near his wrist, not near the elbow ligament. Tanaka skipped one start, and after the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention, they decided to play it safe and shut him down completely. Had they been alive in the race, he would have made his scheduled start in Game 161. (Or so they say.)

All told, Tanaka made a career high 31 starts this year — that includes his time in Japan, he never made more than 28 starts in a season for a Rakuten Golden Eagles because the season is shorter in NPB and starters pitch every sixth day instead of every fifth — and he fell one stupid little out short of 200 innings. Here’s where he ranked among AL starters:

Innings: 199.2 (10th)
ERA: 3.07 (3rd)
ERA+: 142 (t-3rd)
FIP: 3.51 (5th)
WHIP: 1.08 (5th)
K%: 20.5% (19th)
BB%: 4.5% (3rd)
GB%: 48.2% (11th)
HR/9: 0.99 (9th)
K/BB ratio: 4.58 (4th)
Pitches per Inning: 14.7 (1st)
bWAR: 5.4 (3rd)
fWAR: 4.6 (6th)

By almost any measure, Tanaka was one of the top five or six starters in the American League this season. Had he not missed those last two starts, we’d be able to argue he was one of the top three or four. Tanaka was that good this year. He’ll get some well-earned Cy Young votes — he won’t win the Cy Young, but he’ll get votes — and will perhaps finally be recognized as one of the top starters in the game. A man can dream.

The New Look Tanaka

There’s a common misconception about Tanaka, that his fastball velocity has not been the same since his elbow injury in 2014. It’s not true. Tanaka’s four-seamer averaged 92.7 mph in 2014 and 92.7 mph in 2015. It was 92.1 mph this season. A starter losing half-a-mile an hour across three seasons is not unusual, especially considering his career workload. Furthermore, Tanaka’s fastball topped out at 96.7 mph in 2014, 96.3 mph in 2015, and 96.7 mph in 2016. The top end velocity is there too.

What has changed, specifically this past season, is the type of fastball Tanaka throws. Home runs were a real problem last year. Tanaka had a 1.46 HR/9 (16.9 HR/FB%) and a 47.0% ground ball rate last season. In an apparent attempt to keep the ball in the park, he started throwing more sinkers. From Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka pitch selectionThe sinker didn’t have the same velocity as the four-seamer — it averaged a mere 90.4 mph and topped out at 95.0 mph in 2016 — but gosh, the thing moved all over the place. PitchFX says Tanaka’s sinker average 8.2 inches of horizontal movement, fourth most among all sinkers, and 6.0 inches of vertical movement, which was eighth most. Replacing a straight four-seamer with a moving sinker sure seems like a good way to curtain home runs.

Sure enough, Tanaka’s home run rate dropped to 0.99 HR/9 (12.0 HR/FB%) this year even though his overall ground ball rate (48.2%) didn’t increase much. That extra movement is often the difference between the hitter squaring the ball up and hitting it off the end of the bat though. And keep in mind homers were up big time around the league this year. Tanaka cut his homer rate by one-third despite the league-wide increase in pop.

Now, as you can see in the graph, Tanaka didn’t sustain his sinker heavy approach all season. By August and September, he was again throwing his four-seamer more than the sinker. Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps hitters were starting to adjust to the sinker and Tanaka adjusted back. Coincidentally (or maybe not), Tanaka’s two worst home runs months of the season were August (1.15 HR/9) and September (1.69 HR/9). Hmmm.

One thing we’ve come to learn about Tanaka these last three years is that he’s really crafty. He’s not a blow-you-away type. He succeeds with deception and trickery. He outsmarts hitters. He doesn’t overpower them. Tanaka throwing more sinkers in response to the homers was a smart adjustment that seemed to work. I’m not sure why he stopped throwing the sinker later in the season, but I guess we’ll see what happens in 2017.

Outlook for 2017

Next season is a very important season for Tanaka and the Yankees. He’ll be able to opt out of his contract after 2017 and enter free agency, and as long as he’s healthy, I fully expect him to do that. Tanaka would be leaving three years and $67M on the table, and if he repeats his 2016 effort in 2017, he’ll clear that easily in free agency. Heck, his performance could slip some and he’d still clear that easily. That’s the market these days.

The opt-out is not something worth worrying about now. That’s a problem for next offseason. It goes without saying that for the Yankees to have any shot at contention next season, even for a dinky second wildcard spot, they need Tanaka to be on top of his game. He’s an ace. He is. And if the Yankees lose him for any stretch of time or he pitches at something less than ace-level, their playoff chances will take a huge hit. This summer, Tanaka showed he’s up to the task of leading the rotation.

Random Thoughts

Andrew Miller
(Getty)

The World Series

With the Chicago Cubs clinching the NL pennant, earning a spot in the World Series opposite the Cleveland Andrew Millers, one of the two longest World Series droughts in baseball will come to an end. Many have noted all the stuff that’s happened since the Cubs had last been in the Fall Classic (1945) and this will be the first time the Cubs franchise will play in a World Series that features players of color.

As it has been since 2009, rooting in the World Series will be relatively stress free. That’s the one upside of the Yankees missing the playoffs that I always mention this time of year. Watching playoff baseball–or any sport’s playoffs, for that matter–without having to live and die with each pitch is a wonderful experience. Granted, the combination of having an infant with me and the 8 PM start times, I really only get a few innings of stress-free enjoyment until the Sandman–and I don’t mean Mariano Rivera–comes and gets me.

MatsuiMVP
(AP)

Awards Season

When the World Series ends, awards season begins to kick off the Hot Stove season. I used to be very into this time of year, getting very passionate about whom I thought should win, spilling a lot of digital ink and dying on a lot of digital hills about this. Still, that doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the idea of having opinions about this thing. Without doing any sort of real research, my picks for the awards are:

AL MVP: Mike Trout. It should just be Trout until…whenever? I know there are cases for other players this year, but the MVP is Mike Trout and probably will be Mike Trout next year, too.

NL MVP: Kris Bryant. Great year? Check. Successful team? Check. A narrative? Check. Dude’s probably got this in the bag and has for a long while.

AL Cy Young: Masahiro Tanaka. Why? Because I’m being a homer, dammit, that’s why.

NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez. Call this a sentimental pick, but I don’t care. Jose Fernandez and the way he approached baseball represent everything good and right about the game. His attitude made baseball fun for him and those around him in myriad ways. The voters should honor his spirit with this year’s award, then create an award named after him from here on out.

AL ROY: Gary Sanchez. I’m still a homer.

NL ROY: Cory Seager. This one is so obvious it’s almost boring. If you wanna throw Trea Turner a vote or two, fine, but it’s likely to be Seager, as it well should be.

Changes

Once again, the Yankees are going to look way different next year than they did this year. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are gone. It’s possible that one of Brett Gardner or Brian McCann will be gone. It seems that the team’s only constant has been change lately, though this year’s additions may be a bit harder to predict. I’m sure they’ll go after a big bullpen arm, but beyond that, I’m really not sure. But, either way, I’m looking forward to seeing a new group out there for 2017, especially when that means full years from Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and hopefully Greg Bird.

Brian Cashman’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Offense, Pitching, Youth Movement, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With the 2016 season now over, Brian Cashman held his annual State of the Yankees press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. Some actual news came out of it, though nothing major. You can watch the entire press conference in bits and pieces right here, if you’re interested. As we did with Joe Girardi’s end-of-season press conference the other day, here are the important points from Cashman’s presser as well as some thoughts.

The Offense

  • On the 2016 offense: “We weren’t very consistent with runs scored and (the offense was not) as dynamic as it was the previous year … I think a lot of the opportunities for better run production is going to come from improved results with runners in scoring position.”
  • On improvement going forward: “It’s going to be coming from improved play from the younger guys coming up through the system … Hopefully they solidify things moving forward and provide more consistent production than what we got in 2016. So lots of competitions taking place. Right field and first base.”
  • On considering right field and first base settled for 2017: “I think there will be some hesitancy (to bring in outside help) … I would say that that would be the way that we would like to approach Spring Training next year. The kids get a shot at it. That doesn’t (stop me from) being open-minded to the opportunities that present themselves.”
  • On signing a big bat: “I can’t really speak to the free agent market because some of these guys are still playing … My initial thought would be to allow us to go into the spring with competitions coming from the youth movement, which I admit is risky … I’m willing to be flexible, and those dialogues will be very important.”

Cashman is very candid and at one point he said flatly “our offense was bad.” No sugarcoating it. Now, that said, it doesn’t sound as though the Yankees are planning to jump into anything big in an effort to score more runs going forward. Plan A is to stick with the kids and hope guys like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird and others contribute more next season than they did this season. That seems to be their perfect world scenario.

Will the Yankees close the door on signing a big name free agent? Never. It just doesn’t seem like there’s anything that makes sense right now. They could spend a ton of money on a DH like Edwin Encarnacion, and where does that get them? Back to where they were with Alex Rodriguez four years ago, basically. Something might fall into their lap that makes sense, but based on everything Cashman said, if the offense improves next year, it’ll be because the young players come into their own.

The Pitching Staff

  • On trading for an ace (coughChrisSalecough): “I think that type of deal is a deal where you’re that final piece away. I think we have an exciting young nucleus that’s coming … But there are some flaws, honestly, in this roster still. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete for a postseason berth. That doesn’t mean you can’t play in October. But the type of concept that you’re speaking of — I’m sure that everybody knows who you’re talking about by asking that question — but that to me (is a trade you make if) you’re an organization that’s one piece away, you back up the truck (and trade) four and five players. You have to be one piece away, and I would not recommend that type of decision as we approach the 2017 season. I think that would be dangerous.”
  • On adding an elite reliever: “My job is to get as much as we can find. In the front end of the season last year 7-8-9 was special … So my job is just to find as much quality arms, whether they’re fireballers or sidewinders or soft-tossers. The only important thing is getting outs and we had trouble getting outs in the middle (innings) there and that’s unacceptable. Continue to try to fortify. The more the merrier.”
  • On non-tendering Nathan Eovaldi: “We’ll just wait for that process play out. Clearly this is a Tommy John situation, and I know it’s obvious (he’s going to be non-tendered), but I’d rather not speak to any of it until the process plays out.”
  • On pitching help from within: “We’re still young but we have other guys pushing their way into the mix, and we’ll see what they look like in Spring Training.”

As with the offense, Cashman doesn’t sound eager to spend huge dollars — there’s no one to spend it on anyway this offseason — or gut his prized farm system to add an impact pitcher. I’d argue Sale is a piece you go get no matter what because he’s so good, so young, and so cheap that he makes any team better. He could help get the Yankees over the hump and into the postseason next year, and still be ace caliber when the kids hit their primes.

Cashman mentioned the Justin Wilson trade as “Exhibit A” of how they’ll likely attack the rotation this offseason, meaning trade for youth and depth so they have as many options as possible. Given how hard it is to acquire even decent pitching this year — a team traded two real live prospects for two months of Ivan Nova, remember — acquiring as much cheap depth as possible seems like a smart move. I liked what I saw out of Chad Green and especially Luis Cessa this year. Another one of those deals would be sweet.

The Catching Situation

  • On Gary Sanchez‘s role in 2017: “Gary Sanchez is our starting catcher next year. That’s his position to lose. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose it. We saw Severino last year helping us get to the postseason. This year, he struggled. We’re very excited about Gary, who always projected to be (a middle of the order bat).”
  • On expectations for Sanchez after his huge season: “It’s hard to expect that and I wouldn’t expect that over the course of a six-month period next year. But I think we have an exciting everyday talent that is going to be one of the best catchers in our game as we move forward, if he stays healthy and stays committed as he’s done the last two seasons now.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s role going forward: “That’s a valuable combination — both (Sanchez and McCann) on the same roster — for us, both being excellent defenders and certainly strong leaders of staff … I didn’t waste my time to see if he would waive his no-trade (at the deadline) because I’ve got to be satisfied first.”
  • On Kyle Higashioka: “We have some young guys that kind of did a nice job for us this year. (Higashioka) has always been a tremendous defender and he’ll be added to our 40-man roster this winter … We’ve been very good here in the last five or so years at developing (young catchers).”

Cashman did not sound eager to move McCann, though I guess he would try to give off that impression even if he were ready to move him. There’s no sense in tipping your hand. He did talk about the value of McCann’s veteran leadership, how nice it is to have a power-hitting lefty/righty tandem behind the plate, and how there are DH at-bats available. Cashman said he’ll listen on McCann, but he values him highly, and he wants something significant in return.

As for Higashioka, adding him to the 40-man roster is a no-brainer. You don’t cut loose a good defensive catcher who hit 20 homers at the upper levels of the minors. At worst, you add him to the 40-man and trade him. Letting him go for nothing is a non-option. I don’t think Higashioka joining the 40-man means McCann or Austin Romine will be traded though. The Yankees could easily send Higashioka to Triple-A and stash him there next season. They don’t have to make a move.

The Coaching Staff & Front Office

  • On the job Joe Girardi did in 2017: “We the front office did what we felt was necessary (at the trade deadline), and his job description is do everything in his power to win with whenever you get … I appreciate his efforts and everything he did from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi favoring veterans over young players: “I don’t think that’s the case at all … I think it has more to do with just assessing the talent. Sometimes it plays into the decision and sometimes it doesn’t. I was really satisfied with the team’s competitive spirit from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi as a lame duck manager next year: “We will go through next year and ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward. There is that built in assumption in the process, where we play our contracts out. My contract expires the next year too … We’re going to focus on the present, which is the cast of characters currently, and how we can maximize value out of all of this right now.”
  • On bringing the coaching staff back: “Everybody is signed except for Larry Rothchild. His contract expires and I will meet with Larry today … I don’t have interest in recommending changes.”

I both am and am not surprised the Yankees are not making any coaching changes. I didn’t think they’ve overhaul the staff, but when you miss the postseason three times in four years, someone usually takes the fall. That’s why hitting coach Kevin Long was let go two years ago. Cashman wants to bring everyone back though — I’m not thrilled with keeping Joe Espada as third base coach, but it is what it is — and I’m sure they’ll get a deal worked out with Rothschild soon.

As for Girardi, Cashman made it clear that he was speaking about both Girardi and himself when he said “ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward.” In the past, both have played out their contracts and gone a year as a lame duck. Once their deals expired, they went to the negotiating table. There were no extensions and there was no reason to think this year would be any different. Business as usual.

Things could get interesting if the Yankees miss the postseason against next year. That’ll be four October-less years in five seasons. Girardi and/or Cashman might not survive that. Then again, I guess it depends how they miss the postseason. Did they crash and burn because all the kids flopped? Or did the fall a handful of games short while the young players established themselves as bonafide big leaguers? That’ll play a factor in Girardi’s and Cashman’s next contracts.

The Rebuild & Youth Movement

  • On the fan response to selling: “We have a worldwide network (of fans) that we’re proud to have … They’re very sophisticated. This was something that we think is something that they wanted to transpire, and they wanted us to press the reset button. And you know, in many cases I was tired of seeing what was transpiring in the first few months this year. Been there, done that, it’s time to do something that wasn’t part of the DNA … I think our fanbase recognizes what we did in July, and responded in kind with a lot of excitement.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s future: “(His performance in) the bullpen is not changing anything for me. That’s where guys go when they can’t be quality starters. I certainly hope that he can be a starter as we move forward. Certainly you’ve got to factor in and keep in mind his age. I think he’s 22, 23. But at the end of the day I have to have patience. I have to be objective that way. There’s a starter profile on him … He will get that opportunity (to start), whether it’s New York or it’s in Scranton next year remains to be seen.”
  • Can Clint Frazier make the Opening Day roster? “I don’t think so … But I remember when Robbie (Cano) — I know he was coming out of our system, the number one pitching prospect at that time was (Chien-Ming) Wang — we anticipated that at Double-A he would be being ready in two years, (but he arrived a) full year in advance after a good winter ball. (Alfonso) Soriano was the same way. It was just like, ‘how we get this guy on the roster?’ When you take the full package, once it all comes together — Gary Sanchez, I guess, is a more recent example too — it’s just like a flood.”
  • On Jorge Mateo playing center field: “We’re trying to diversify. We’ve got a lot of shortstops … It’s just to give us more flexibility. He’s played shortstop, second base, DH, and center in Instructs. We just gave him a crash course. It’s something that’s been part of the evaluation process from the beginning.”

No surprise Cashman isn’t giving up on Severino as a starter. That would be silly. He has the stuff to start, at least when he has a feel for and confidence in his changeup, and he’s so young that you give him a chance to figure things out in that role. I think at worst, Severino showed he can be a really great reliever. He still offers upside as a starter and the Yankees should without question allow him to continue developing in that role.

I thought the Cano and Soriano comparions for Frazier were interesting. They were all highly regarded prospects with high-end skills, and Cano and Soriano forced the issue. They were too good to keep down in the minors any longer. Frazier has the potential to do the same this year. The big difference here is position. The Yankees needed a new second baseman when Soriano and later Cano came up. They’re not desperate for outfielders right now. Still, once Frazier is ready, you make room for him. He’s a special talent.

Injured Players

  • On James Kaprielian and the Arizona Fall League: “(Instructional League is the) process to finish him off so he goes to the Fall League. That’s the plan. So the public has been alerted … He’s not on the official roster. The roster on the website is not the official roster. I know Twitter will look at it like ‘OMG what’s going on here?’ … He’s healthy and he’s throwing max potential.”
  • On CC Sabathia‘s knee: “I think CC is going to have a knee (procedure). He’s going next week … It’s just going to be a routine cleanup. It’s not something that is a concern or considered serious. It’s something that is expected and was expected the last two months.”

My audio was all garbled and I couldn’t get a clean transcription, but Cashman said that while Kaprielian is not on the AzFL roster, the league is aware the Yankees plan to send him as long as he comes through Instructs in one piece. He pitched in a game the other day and by all accounts everything went well. And yes, Cashman actually said OMG. Oh em gee.

Miscellany

  • On the disappointment of 2016: “It was a series of twists and turns of this year. We obviously had high hopes … It was a mixed bag. It was a very frustrating and difficult process in the first three months of the season, and I think it was a very exciting dynamic that transpired in the final three months this season. Ultimately, we know when the dust settled, when it’s all said and done, the 2016 season did not achieve the stated goal, which was the first get to the playoffs and try to compete for a championship in October. “
  • On the luxury tax: “Haven’t had any open discussions since no one has any idea what the CBA is going to be like … We’ll certainly be very interested in ‘resetting the clock’ and not being in position to lose more money than any other clubs because we’re penalized more than ever.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka and the World Baseball Classic: “I don’t think we have say in that … Even though he felt healthy and looked fine and all that stuff, we made the right choice in saying you know what, see you in the spring, whether it’s going to be in Tampa or in the WBC.”
  • On trying to win in 2017: “Every decision we have to make — whether it’s deciding support staff, coaches, the manager, anybody in the front office, and most importantly the players — every decision is designed to get us closer to being the last team standing, and that’s the approach that’s got to take place. And that can happen in 2017. That’s the goal, but every decision (has be made with a) World Championship in mind.”

If I recall correctly, teams can hold players out of the WBC if he finished the previous season injured. Did Tanaka finish the season hurt? Technically, yeah. He missed his last two starts with a forearm injury. But he was never placed on the DL though, and both the GM and manager admitted he would have made his final start had the team not already been eliminated. We’ll see. If Tanaka wants to go and the Yankees can’t stop him, what can you do other than help he doesn’t get hurt?

The luxury tax stuff is just the worst. Hate hearing about it. Every time we do it’s a remainder the Yankees are willfully throwing away their market advantage and scaling back payroll at a time every other team is raising payroll. The Yankees seem to have convinced a lot of fans that resetting the tax rate is good and necessary. Is the luxury tax saved enough to make up for the lost postseason and ticket revenue? I hope so. Otherwise this will all have been a giant waste of time.

Girardi’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Youth Movement, Severino, Pitching

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

Prior to Sunday’s season finale, Yankees manager Joe Girardi held his annual end-of-season press conference, during which he discussed the state of the franchise and where the team is heading in the future. Things like that. The usual, basically.

You can watch the entire 20-minute press conference right here, if you’re so inclined. I compiled what I thought were the most interesting tidbits and grouped them together below. I also added some thoughts, because why not? Here is our annual recap of Girardi’s end-of-season press conference. Brian Cashman‘s is Wednesday. That’s the most important one.

The Youth Movement

  • On expectations Girardi had for the kids going into 2016: “I was pretty convinced in my mind that (Gary) Sanchez would help us at some point this year. When you look at Aaron (Judge), I thought he had a possibility of helping. I was not sure about Tyler (Austin) just because — the year before was pretty good — he had some physical issues. He was making a position change. But I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s adapted to first base. I hope he’s going to continue to get better. He works really hard and he’s done some things that at times I’ve been surprised what he’s done for us.”
  • Do you have to manage kids differently than veterans? “You manage every group somewhat different because they’re different types of players, but yes. I mean, obviously with (veterans) they’ve been through a lot … You have a history of how they handle those experiences and maybe those slumps. You’re not sure how (young players are) going to react and what they are capable of being, the situation, how they’re going to handle it. But again, you manage differently depending on their strengths and weaknesses.”
  • Who is Girardi looking forward to seeing in 2017? “(I’m) most excited to see some guys that I haven’t seen a lot of. I’m not sure who’s going to be in my 40-man roster either … There are some guys I haven’t seen because of the trades we’ve made. And next year could be an interesting Spring Training as a WBC year.”
  • On expectations for Gary Sanchez next year: “My hope is the expectations aren’t so large that no matter what he does, he can’t reach those expectations. But I think you can expect a talented player and a good player to go out there and improve.”

The expectations for Sanchez next season will be interesting. Interesting and scary. The kid hit like Babe Ruth for three weeks, and as good as Gary is, it’s completely unrealistic to expect him to do that again. Expectations for Luis Severino got out of control last season. I don’t think that contributed to his poor season, but a lot of fans set themselves up for disappointment by expecting an instant ace.

Hopefully Sanchez can be a middle of the order bat next season. I’m sure the Yankees will count on him to be exactly that. But asking him to be one of the best hitters on the planet again, especially across a full season, is not fair at this point. The learning curve for catchers can be steep. Sanchez hitting, say, .270/.320/.450 with 25 homers in 2017 would make him one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. I also feel like many folks would consider that a disappointment.

The Offense

  • On situational hitting: “As far as the situational hitting, when I said at times we didn’t hit well, that was a big part. Situational hitting with runners in scoring position, we did not do a good job. There are years that are better years than other years, and the teams that score runs are the teams that do really well in that category, and that’s something that we learned last season.”
  • On the offense wearing down late in the season: “I mean, guys get beat up physically and they get run down in the month of September, and we’re not the only team that goes through that … Your pitching needs to remain constant and sometimes they have to pick each other up. But you know, there’s definite problems. I feel that this club is capable (of having a good offense). I think they’re capable.”

I’m honestly not too worried about the situational hitting. That stuff is so unpredictable from one year to the next. A year ago the Yankees hit .256/.341/.465 (114 wRC+) with runners in scoring position and this year it was .228/.308/.350 (73 wRC+) even though they had the same damn lineup most of the season. As far as moving runners over and that stuff … if the Yankees start obsessing over that, they deserve what they get.

There’s no need to overthink this. Get as many quality above-average hitters as possible, and let the rest take care of itself. Want good hitters with runners in scoring position? Then get good hitters overall. The correlation is pretty damn strong. The Yankees have gone defense over offense at a few too many positions (center, left, short, third) and it’s dragging down the offense overall. The Yankees don’t need better situational hitters. They just need better hitters.

Luis Severino’s Future

  • Is he a starter or reliever? “I think it’s really up to him and the way he pitches. If he’s going to be a starter, commanding the fastball is extremely important. Changeup is coming. Slider is much improved (from earlier this season) … My expectation is he’s still going to be a starter.”
  • Does his final role need to be determined soon? “When you look at the way things went down, he was stuck in the bullpen (because that’s where we needed him). He’s fairly young and aggressive. He’s going to make a case. We’re going to work here with him.”

At no point this season did Severino look like a capable Major League starter. Not once. Not in April, not in his brief August cameo, and not in September. He looked great in relief though. That said, the kid will be 23 in February, and it’s way too early to think about a move to the bullpen full-time. Let him start next season. All season. If that means he has to go to Triple-A, so be it.

Severino’s issues are mostly command related. He admitted he lost confidence in his changeup this year, but he has a pretty good one. We saw it last year. He just lost a feel for it. Severino needs to get comfortable with his changeup again, and do a better job locating pretty much everything. The Yankees could let him work on that in the big leagues next year. I say let him earn it. If the command and changeup don’t look good in camp, Triple-A it is. I’m not counting on Severino to be a big piece of the puzzle next year.

The Upcoming Offseason

  • On the biggest area of need: “(I will) sit down with Brian and let him handle those questions. You know he is the architect of the team. My job is to get the most out of the players, and I don’t want to speak before we’ve had a chance to talk … The other thing is, you know, we talk about it and the players start to wonder how we think about them, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
  • Do they need rotation help? “Well I think we have good players if we stay healthy, but that doesn’t happen very often so I’m sure we will look into that as well.”

Listening to Girardi the last few days, it seems pretty clear he believes the Yankees need to improve everything. The offense, the defense, the pitching staff … all of it. You can’t look at the 2016 Yankees and point to one problem area of the roster. Yes, the offense was the main culprit, but the back of the rotation and the middle of the bullpen were weak too. So was the defense at times. The baserunning too. So bad. So, so bad.

How do the Yankees overhaul most of the roster? Well, plugging in young players is a good start, plus many of the big contracts will soon be off the books. Others like Brett Gardner and Brian McCann could be traded this offseason. The Yankees underwent a lot of change this past season. I don’t think that’s going to stop anytime soon. I think this was only the beginning.

Miscellany

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s improvement: “What he improved on was the amount of innings and starts, and staying healthy — we’re shutting him down in a sense, if (Saturday’s game) meant something, he would have started — so I think that’s a big improvement. And just keep moving forward in that sense. I thought he played well, and when you can count on 200 innings every year, I think it’s the best thing.”
  • On Mark Teixeira‘s final game: “You know, I saw him earlier today and he was smiling and seemed very happy. And I think this day is going to be filled with every type of emotion. I think there’s going to be happiness, there’s going to be sadness, and there’s going to be appreciation for having the opportunity to play this game and to play here and play in front of the fans.”
  • What move would Girardi like to do over? “I was asked yesterday about, are there any decisions that I want like to have a chance to redo? I said no because I don’t have hindsight. I make decisions based in real time. I make decisions based on information that I have. And then you have to deal with the human element. So you know, in every play, in every case, you could second guess if you want to.”
  • On selling at the trade deadline: “I understood why they they traded veterans away. I mean, we were in a situation where we weren’t getting it done. And I think Brian’s job is (evaluate the team), but he also has to look at the future … As an organization, we thought it was in our best interest to make trades to try and get back to the World Series.”
  • Does the World Series or bust mantra need to change? “No, no. I think you should all set your goals. You know I don’t think you should be satisfied with just making the playoffs.”
  • Girardi’s message to fans: “We will do everything we can to bring a championship here. That’s everyone’s job in this organization.”

Girardi’s comments on the trade deadline were pretty interesting. He seemed excited about all the young players and also disappointed that the Yankees were forced to sell. As he said, the goal is to win the World Series every year, and the Yankees had to sell because they were far from World Series contenders. Selling was a result of the team’s failure to perform, and ultimately that (or at least part of that) falls on Girardi.

Don’t expect the goal to change, either. Girardi was clear about that. The Yankees are going to try to win next season, even while incorporating younger players into the lineup. Those things don’t always work well together, not unless every position player comes up and hits like 2016 Sanchez while every pitcher performs like 2015 Severino. I’m curious to see what gets prioritized next year, the development of young players or winning.