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.

Bailey elects free agency; Yankees add Campos to 40-man roster, activate four off 60-day DL


Busy transaction day for the Yankees. After releasing Chris Martin so he could sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters, the Yankees announced a series of roster moves this afternoon. Here’s the recap:

Campos, 23, returned from Tommy John surgery this year and had a 6.29 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 54.1 innings, mostly with High-A Tampa. Campos came over in the Michael Pineda/Jesus Montero trade and was once one of the top prospects in the organization, but injuries derailed him the last few seasons.

Brian Cashman said over the summer the team would consider adding Campos to the 40-man roster if his stuff returned following elbow reconstruction, and apparently it did. Campos would have become a minor league free agent this weekend had the Yankees not stuck him on the 40-man. He was on the 40-man in 2014 before getting hurt. The Yankees non-tendered Campos last offseason and re-signed him to a minor league deal.

Lindgren had surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his elbow. German and Whitley both blew out their elbows and needed Tommy John surgery. German had his in Spring Training while Whitley had his in May. Williams hurt his shoulder running into the outfield wall in mid-June and eventually needed surgery. There is no DL in the offseason. These four had to be activated no later than Friday.

The Yankees declined their $2M club option for Bailey earlier this week, but he remained under team control as an arbitration-eligible player. Apparently the team slipped him through waivers and dropped him from the 40-man roster. Rather than accept the minor league assignment, Bailey will try his hand at free agency. Makes sense. He seemed like a potential 40-man roster casualty this winter.

So, after all of that, the Yankees have just one open 40-man roster spot at the moment. The deadline to add players to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft is November 20th. Two weeks from Friday. They’ll have to clear some more spots. Austin Romine, Caleb Cotham, and Jose Pirela stand out as candidates to be removed from the roster.

Yankees place Dustin Ackley on 15-day DL; Mason Williams to have shoulder surgery

Williams. (Presswire)
Williams. (Presswire)

The Yankees have placed utility man Dustin Ackley on the 15-day DL with a right lumbar strain, the team announced. Also, Brian Cashman told reporters Mason Williams will have shoulder surgery on August 7th, effectively ending his season. Blah.

Cashman said an MRI showed a herniated disc in Ackley’s back. He received an epidural and will be out 20-30 days. The Yankees are hoping Ackley can avoid surgery, which would end his season. The injury happened at some point after the trade. “He was a hot potato without realizing he was hot. The hot potato fell on our lap,” said the GM.

Ackley, 27, has never had any sort of back trouble before and this is the first time he’s ever been on the DL. He’s gone 0-for-3 at the plate since being acquired from the Mariners for Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez last week. Ackley replaced Garrett Jones as the team’s fifth outfielder/backup first baseman.

Williams, meanwhile, has been out since mid-June with a right shoulder injury. He hurt himself diving back into first base on a pickoff play. Williams has been rehabbing his shoulder since the injury and has dealt with some setbacks, but the Yankees were optimistic he would avoid surgery. It won’t happen. That stinks.

The Yankees activated Slade Heathcott off the 60-day DL and optioned him to Triple-A on Friday, so he can’t be recalled until next Monday because of the ten-day rule. Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, Jose Pirela, and Cole Figueroa are all on the 40-man and waiting in Triple-A. I wonder if the Yankees will just stick with a three-man bench and an eight-man bullpen for the time being.

DotF: Hendrix extends hitting streak in Staten Island’s win

IF Abi Avelino was named the High-A Florida State League Offensive Player of the Week, so congrats to him. Also, Chad Jennings posted a bunch of minor league notes earlier today, so make sure you go check ’em all out. Here are the important injury updates:

  • LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation) is currently on a throwing program “with no complaints,” according to assistant GM Billy Eppler. So now we know Clarkin is throwing with unknown intensity and frequency. Hooray? The left-hander hasn’t pitched at all in 2015 and it seems unlikely he will get into any games before the minor league season ends in a few weeks.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo (knee) had arthroscopic surgery last week and will resume baseball activities in eight weeks, so his season is effectively over. Maybe Jagielo can get healthy in time to play in the Arizona Fall League. The season usually begins in early-October.
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren (elbow) is “progressing well” following surgery to remove bone chips. He’s scheduled to begin a throwing program next week and the expectation is he will pitch again this season. Also, OF Mason Williams (shoulder) is still rehabbing and will be re-evaluated this week.
  • And finally, RHP Brady Lail has been promoted to Triple-A Scranton and RHP Rookie Davis has been promoted to Double-A Trenton, report Matt Kardos and Josh Norris. We probably see a few more guys promoted for final few weeks of the season as well.

Low-A Charleston (5-4 loss to Hagerstown, walk-off style)

  • SS Jorge Mateo: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 E (fielding)
  • CF Austin Aune: 0-4, 3 K
  • RF Alex Palma: 0-4, 1 K — threw a runner out at second
  • RHP Chance Adams: 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 29/7 K/BB in 21.1 innings for this year’s fifth rounder

[Read more…]

Game 93: Make It Eleven


Thanks to last night’s win, the Yankees are ten games over .500 for the first time since September 13th, 2013. Yes, I too was surprised to find they were ten games over at one point in 2013. The Yankees haven’t been eleven games over .500 since the preview day, September 12th, and that’s what they’re looking to accomplish tonight. Eleven games over .500 and a bigger lead in the AL East.

Ivan Nova is on the mound tonight and he has been rather uneven since coming back from Tommy John surgery. That’s not really surprising, but it doesn’t make it any more enjoyable to watch. For now, all the elbow reconstruction has done is turn Nova from an inconsistent starter into an inconsistent starter with an excuse. Hopefully he shoves tonight. Here is Baltimore’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Ivan Nova

It’s a wonderful day for baseball in New York. Clear skies and warm but not super hot. Pretty great. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch the game on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy, y’all.

Injury Update: Mason Williams (shoulder) is heading to Tampa tomorrow to continue his rehab. He’s been throwing and stuff, and the trip to Tampa usually means the player is ready to really ramp up his workouts. That doesn’t mean minor league rehab games are imminent, but Williams is getting closer.

DotF: Mateo steals three more bases in doubleheader

Got a bunch of updates to pass along:

  • Chad Jennings has a whole bunch of minor league notes to check out. Most importantly, Brian Cashman confirmed OF Aaron Judge is day-to-day with “some minor stuff,” so he’s been out the last three days but it’s not a big deal. Also Jennings hears LHP Ian Clarkin is not expected to have surgery. That’s … good?
  • Other stuff from Jennings: OF Mason Williams (shoulder) has resumed playing catch, OF Slade Heathcott (quad) is close to playing in minor league rehab games, and LHP Jacob Lindgren (elbow) is rehabbing but has yet to begin a throwing program. RHP James Kaprielian is working out in Tampa, but Cashman doesn’t know when he’ll make his pro debut. That’s up to farm system head honcho Gary Denbo.
  • IF Nick Noonan was released from Triple-A Scranton, reports Brendan Kuty. He hit .262/.308/.328 (83 wRC+) in 67 games before landing on the DL. This pretty much confirms IF Cole Figueroa will be the starting shortstop the rest of the season.
  • And finally, 1B Kane Sweeney was named the Appalachian League Offensive Player of the Week. This year’s 29th rounder came into the day hitting .273/.373/.568 (158 wRC+) with three homers in 14 pro games.

Know what I haven’t done this season? Updated the standings. So let’s do that now.

Triple-A Scranton (5-0 loss to Indianapolis) they’re 51-46 and a half-game back in the division

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 K
  • LF Jose Pirela: 2-4 — 13-for-25 (.520) in his last six games
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 2-3, 1 2B
  • RHP Eric Ruth: 6 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 8/6 GB/FB, 1 E (throwing) — 58 of 88 pitches were strikes (66%) … his strong season at Double-A was rewarded with a Triple-A spot start in place of RHP Luis Severino, who is away from the team because his wife is having a baby

[Read more…]

2015 Midseason Review: Odds & Ends

Time to tie up some loose ends and conclude our Midseason Review series. The second half of the 2015 seasons starts tonight, thankfully. I’ve come to appreciate the All-Star break, but yeah, I am ready for more baseball.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

G.I. Jones and the Serial Killer

By bench player standards, Chris Young has been dynamite this season. He’s mashing lefties and playing strong defense, which are his two main job functions. Garrett Jones, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a set role. He’s the backup at first base, yeah, but otherwise he doesn’t play regularly against righties or anything. Jones has started just 28 of the team’s 88 games, for example. He batted 28 times in April. That’s it.

Playing that infrequently didn’t exactly help Jones remain productive. He went 6-for-40 (.150) before hitting his first home run on May 22nd, a pinch-hit three-run homer into the Yankee Stadium short porch. That seemed to get him going. Jones is 24-for-89 (.270) with four homers since then, including at least one big one …

… while continuing to play sporadically. Jones is hitting .233/.277/.395 (84 wRC+) with five homers overall — again, he’s been much better since that dreadful start — and all things considered, he’s been really good for his role. That backup first baseman/fifth outfielder/lefty power bat off the bench who rarely plays. This is exactly the kind of veteran dude you want in this role. Not some prospect with an actual future.

John Ryan Murphy, meanwhile, has a total of 85 plate appearances as Brian McCann‘s backup this year, and is hitting .247/.286/.325 (65 wRC+). That’s about on par with the league average for backup catchers. Murphy’s defense has been fine to the untrained eye — he’s thrown out six of 19 attempted base-stealers (32%), so teams have tried running on him in limited action — and for whatever reason the pitching staff has better strikeout (23.4%) and walk (5.6%) rates with him behind the plate than McCann (21.8% and 7.2%, respectively). Could easily be sample size noise.

The Yankees reached the point where something had to happen with their catching depth. Someone had to go, and it was Francisco Cervelli, who was two years from free agency. The Yankees turned him into Justin Wilson, gave Murphy the backup job, and managed to keep Austin Romine in Triple-A as a non-40-man roster player. As an unabashed JRM fan, I’m happy with the way things turned out and I look forward to seeing Murphy continue to develop on both sides of the ball.

Futility Infielders

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

It feels like more, but the Yankees have had four differential utility infielders this season, not counting the just called up Rob Refsnyder. Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan, and Cole Figueroa have hit a combined .209/.243/.310 (~53 wRC+) in 140 plate appearances. Pirela (41 wRC+) has exactly half those plate appearances. There’s a decent chance the Yankees will stick with Refsnyder as the regular second baseman and push Stephen Drew in the backup infielder role going forward, which would still be a net upgrade even as bad as Drew has been. Young, Jones, and Murphy have been pretty good off the bench, all things considered. The infielders have … not.

Get Called Up, Get Injured

When Jacoby Ellsbury hit the DL, the Yankees first called up Slade Heathcott, and it was a great story. Slade has dealt with all sorts of on-the-field and off-the-field issues over the years, so much so that he was dropped off the 40-man roster in the offseason, but he came to Spring Training healthy and played well in Triple-A. He earned the call up, went 6-for-17 (.343) with a homer, then blew out his quad and landed on the DL for a few months. Brutal.

Heathcott’s injury opened the door for Mason Williams, who battled mostly work ethic and makeup problems the last few years, but had the proverbial light bulb go on this offseason. He played well in Double-A and Triple-A, got called up to replace Slade, went 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a homer, then suffered a shoulder injury diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. The day-to-day injury turned into a 60-day DL stint. I repeat: brutal.

The only young fourth outfielder to escape the injury bug in the first half was Ramon Flores, who got called up to replace Williams and went 7-for-32 (.219) with a double. He’s been up and down a few times and hasn’t gotten the everyday opportunity like Heathcott and Williams did before getting hurt. Maybe that’s the team’s way of keeping him healthy. I’m glad the Yankees have given their young outfielders a chance. It sucks they keep getting hurt. Seriously hurt too.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

One Hundred Pitches Or Less

Through 88 games this season, the Yankees have had a starting pitcher throw 100+ pitches only 22 times, tied with the Rockies and Royals for the fewest in MLB. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have both thrown 100+ pitches seven times, Adam Warren did it four times before being put in the bullpen, CC Sabathia has done it three times, and Masahiro Tanaka has done it once. That’s it. The Yankees do have 38 starts of 90-99 pitches, for what it’s worth.

The lack of 100+ pitch starts is the result of many things, first and foremost ineffectiveness. Sabathia and Eovaldi have gotten knocked around a bit at times, Warren struggled in April, and even Tanaka and Pineda went through rough stretches. The Yankees also have a strong bullpen and Joe Girardi has not been shy about going to it early rather than letting his starter go through the lineup a third time. Can’t say I blame him.

That said, the Yankees rank 22nd in innings by starters (510) and eighth in innings by the bullpen (283.1), which is a bit unbalanced. Over the last five years the ratio of rotation innings to bullpen innings is almost exactly 2.0 (1.996, to be exact) in the AL. The Yankees are at 1.80 this year. I’m not saying it can’t work all year, but it would be nice to see Girardi let the starters go a little deeper into games to help avoid bullpen burnout, especially with multi-run leads. I’m not sure asking the relievers to get a dozen outs each night is a built to last strategy.