Full Strength–Or Something Like It

Apr 4, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird (33) works out during batting practice prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Like any full baseball season worth its salt, the second half for the Yankees has been an unpredictable series of ups and downs. At times, they’ve looked as dominant as they did in the early season; at other times, they’ve looked as hapless as they did in June. Overall, though, they’re holding the line and keeping their first wildcard position with some room to spare. The division is also in reach, but they’re gonna need a boost to catch the Red Sox. Enter Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Greg Bird. All three are on rehab assignments right now and are the cavalry to the Yankees’ main fighting force.

All three players are returning from varying circumstances. Castro is in the midst of an All-Star season, just injury riddled. Holliday is hoping to recover from a mid-season crash after a solid start. And Bird is hoping to take off, finally, after a disastrous and frustrating stretch of bad health. Despite those different paths to this spot, the ‘destination’ is clear: give the Yankee lineup a much wanted and much needed spark to help push them over the edge. The challenge for the Yankees, then, is to incorporate these guys into a lineup that has been molded and established without them.

Let’s not worry about arrival times for the moment and just take a look at what the lineup may look like when all three are back in action.

Though Holliday was hitting there during his hot times early on and Bird was slotted for there at the beginning of 2017, neither should bat at the top of the lineup right now. The top five, really, should look about the same as it has recently:

  1. Brett Gardner OF
  2. Aaron Hicks OF
  3. Aaron Judge RF
  4. Gary Sanchez C
  5. Didi Gregorius SS

Now comes the part where we might expect Bird to hit, but I’d imagine Joe Girardi would want to break up the lefties. He can do so in two ways, by either inserting Holliday in the six spot, or keep Chase Headley there, who’s had a solid, if powerless, season. Also, given Bird’s presence in the lineup, this shifts Headley back to third and Todd Frazier to a bench role (I imagine he’ll play against LHP to ease Bird’s transition). The other wrinkle here is Castro. Given the year he’s had, I think he’d get preference to bat sixth, bumping Headley down to seventh. The ripple effect here, of course, is it pushes the veteran Holliday to eighth and Bird to ninth.

6. Castro 2B

7. Headley 3B

8. Holliday DH

9. Bird 1B

That lineup is…really friggin’ good. It has the potential to absolutely mash. Best laid plans and all, but that lineup, with Frazier, Ronald Torreyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Austin Romine on the bench is just fierce. Even if Girardi gives deference to Castro and Holliday as veterans and moves them around towards the top, the bottom loses nothing with Gregorius and/or Hicks moving down.

Is this a bit of rosterbating? Sure, but why not? This year has been better than any of us could’ve imagined and I’m feeling positive right now. That lineup, combined with a rotation of Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia in the playoffs, backed up by a dominant bullpen, is a recipe for playoff success. Get there, Yanks, and you’ll do some damage.

Game 120: Going for the Subway Sweep

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Subway Series has been pretty enjoyable so far this season, has it not? The games have been close and exciting, and of course the Yankees have won all three, so that’s fun. The Mets swept all four Subway Series games back in 2013, remember. Time to return the favor. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B Todd Frazier
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. RHP Luis Severino

Very nice weather in New York today, and it’ll continue tonight. The rain isn’t coming until early tomorrow morning. Tonight’s Subway Series finale will begin at 7:10pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on YES and WPIX locally, and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the ballgame.

Injury Updates: Garrett Cooper was placed on the 10-day DL with left hamstring tendinitis, the Yankees announced. That’s why Austin is back and in the lineup … Aroldis Chapman (hamstring) threw a bullpen session today and everything went well. He won’t be available tonight. The hope is he’ll be available tomorrow … Matt Holliday (back) and Starlin Castro (hamstring) will both begin rehab assignments tomorrow. Castro is going to Triple-A Scranton and Holliday is going to High-A Tampa.

Game 117: The Subway Series

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Cessa. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The roles have reversed from last year’s Subway Series, when the Yankees had just waved the white flag and the Mets were still chasing the playoffs. Both teams are reeling right now, though, and tonight’s pitching match-up represents something close to the bottom of the barrel for both teams. Nevertheless, this series represents an opportunity for the Yankees to get back on-track against a subpar team, with the added (and somewhat artificial) drama of an inter-borough rivalry.

Here’s the lineup that Luis Cessa will face tonight; and here’s the group that will square-off against Rafael Montero:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Aaron Hicks, CF
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Didi Gregorius, DH
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Chase Headley, 1B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Ronald Torreyes, 2B
  9. Tyler Wade, SS

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, and will be broadcast on both YES and ESPN (for those out of market fans).

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) threw a bullpen session today and was “very encouraged.” He’s expected to throw one more bullpen session, then come off the 10-day DL as soon as he’s eligible (Saturday) … Starlin Castro (hamstring) ran the bases today and is on track to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday … Greg Bird (ankle) and Matt Holliday (back) both took batting practice again. Bird will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday.

Roster Move: To get Cessa on the roster, the Yankees sent down Caleb Smith.

Game 116: Rubber Game

Bat Gary 1-9 and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Bat Gary in all nine spots and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox have split the first two games of this game three-game series, which means tonight’s series finale is the difference between being 3.5 games back in the AL East or 5.5 games back in the AL East come Monday morning. There are still 46 games to play after tonight, but at some point the Yankees have to stop treading water, you know? The division title is within reach. It’s not going to win itself though.

Now, the bad news: tonight the Yankees are facing Chris Sale, who has been the best pitcher in the AL all season. His numbers are insane: 2.57 ERA (1.98 FIP) with 36.5% strikeouts and 4.6% walks. HOWEVA, the Yankees have won both times they faced Sale this season. Don’t get me wrong, he pitched great (two earned runs in 15.2 innings), but eking out a win is possible against him. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. 3B Todd Frazier
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

The weather was pretty much perfect for baseball all afternoon. Too bad this game had to be played tonight. It’s a little cloudy in New York right now, though there’s no rain in the forecast, and that’s the most important thing. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and ESPN will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) will begin a minor league rehab assignment Wednesday while Starlin Castro (hamstring) will begin one Friday … Matt Holliday (back) took batting practice today. I guess that means he’s inching closer to a return.

Roster Move: The Yankees sent down Gio Gallegos and called up Caleb Smith, the team announced. Smith was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, so he’s available for very long relief, which I hope is not necessarily. Joe Girardi said Luis Cessa is tentatively scheduled to start in Masahiro Tanaka‘s place tomorrow.

Game 110: Severino Sunday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As crummy as the Yankees — the offense in particular — have looked over the last six days, it’s pretty amazing they come into today’s series finale with a chance to split a four-game series against the defending AL champs. I’m not sure scoring two runs and hanging on for dear life is a sustainable strategy, but it worked last night. Maybe it’ll work again today. I’d prefer a stress-free blowout win. Those are cool.

The six-man rotation comes to an end this afternoon, at least in theory, as Luis Severino makes his first start since that five-inning, 116-pitch grind against the Tigers on Monday. Hopefully he’s feeling good after the extra day of rest. Severino’s numbers are out of this world this year: 2.98 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 28.2% strikeouts, 6.5% walks, and 51.5% grounders. Man. Go get ’em Sevy. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. SS Didi Gregorius
  4. RF Aaron Judge
  5. 1B Chase Headley
  6. 3B Todd Frazier
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Luis Severino

Another cool and cloudy day in Cleveland. Not exactly a picturesque day for baseball, but it’ll do. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:10pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Roster Move: Matt Holliday was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left lumbar strain, the Yankees announced. Not sure how long he’ll be sidelined, but given the way he’s been hitting, the Yankees aren’t losing much. Garrett Cooper was called up from Triple-A Scranton to fill the roster spot. How unexciting.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) is going to hit in the cage today, and the plan to take full batting practice and begin fielding/baserunning drills next week.

Game 109: My Kingdom For Some Runs

(David Maxwell/Getty)
(David Maxwell/Getty)

The 2017 season is now two-thirds of the way complete. The Yankees begin the final third of the season tonight three games back in the AL East and 1.5 games up on a wildcard spot, which isn’t a bad place to be. Could be better, could be worse. Beats being several games out like the last few years.

Now the Yankees just need to offense to snap back into shape. They’ve scored six runs in their last four games, all losses, and three of those four games were started by Anibal Sanchez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Trevor Bauer. Yuck. Struggling to score against those guys would be understandable in, like, 2013. Not 2017. End the losing streak, fellas. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. DH Gary Sanchez
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cool and partly cloudy in Cleveland this evening. Not a bad night for baseball, aside from the fact it’s Saturday. Weekend night games are the worst. Anyway, tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Matt Holliday tweaked his lower back taking a swing last night and could be placed on the disabled list. I look forward to the Yankees played shorthanded for three or four days before putting Holliday on the disabled list, then rushing Aaron Hicks back from his rehab assignment to fill the roster spot.

With Aaron Hicks on the mend, the Yankees will soon have to make some roster and playing time decisions

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Later tonight nominal fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks will start a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton. He’s been sidelined since June 26th with a right oblique strain. Oblique injuries are really tricky. They’re very easy to reaggravate. And because Hicks is a switch-hitter, he and the Yankees had to be extra careful during his recovery and rehab.

Prior to the injury the 27-year-old Hicks was enjoying a breakout season, a breakout season that had him in the All-Star Game conversation. He hit .290/.398/.515 (145 wRC+) with ten homers and nearly as many walks (15.3%) as strikeouts (17.4%) before getting hurt. Among the 281 players with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Hicks ranks 14th in OBP and 19th in wRC+. He was awesome.

Since Hicks got hurt, a whole lot has changed. The Yankees lost for the seventh time in nine games to blow their division lead the day Hicks got hurt. Now the Yankees have won seven of their last nine games to climb back in the AL East race. They’re still only a half-game back following last night’s loss. Also, Jacoby Ellsbury returned from the disabled list and has since been relegated to fourth outfielder duty, both by his play and Clint Frazier‘s play.

Simply put, when Hicks got hurt, the Yankees were trending down and it was not pretty. Now, with Hicks nearing a return, the Yankees are winning games and they’ve added several new players to the roster. Frazier came up from the system and all the trades brought in Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Sonny Gray, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. Hicks is returning to a much better and more formidable team.

Because he’s missed more than a month and because he’s a switch-hitter with two swings to hone, my guess is Hicks will need more than one or two rehab games. The plan might be to have him rejoin the team next Friday at the start of the next homestand. That would give him eight days worth of minor league games. Hopefully that’s enough. We’ll see. Whenever Hicks is ready to come back, the Yankees will have to make some roster decisions.

Opening A Roster Spot

If Clint goes down, we riot. (Elsa/Getty)
If Clint goes down, we riot. (Elsa/Getty)

At the moment the Yankees are carrying a three-man bench with a backup catcher (Austin Romine), a backup infielder (Tyler Wade), and a backup outfielder (Ellsbury). They’re also carrying six starters and seven relievers, and for at least one turn through the rotation, the Yankees will use all six starters. They say they’re going back to a five-man rotation after that. Does that mean Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A? Garcia to the bullpen? Both are possible.

The easiest way to open a roster spot for Hicks would be sending down that 13th pitcher (whoever it is) and getting back to a normal four-man bench. As much as you may want them to, the Yankees are absolutely not going to release Ellsbury this year. At the very least, the Yankees are going to wait until the offseason to see whether they can unload him in a salary dump trade first. Saving even $4M or $5M a year on his contract is better than nothing.

The other option, which Brian Cashman has floated, is sending down Frazier. Man, if that happens, I will be Mad Online. I can’t see it happening at this point. Frazier has been productive and the Yankees are in it to win it now. You don’t go out and trade all those prospects only to turn around and send down Frazier, who has had an impact in his short time as a big leaguer. That’s not putting the best roster on the field.

Remember, once upon a time the Nationals said they were calling up Bryce Harper only temporarily. Then he hit the snot out of the ball for a few weeks and they had to keep him around. Frazier is not Harper, but he is really good, and he is forcing the team’s hand here. He’s done enough to stick. The Yankees may have planned to send Frazier down when Hicks is ready, but plans have to be flexible. Plans change.

Now, that all said, one thing to keep in mind here is that September isn’t far away. Assuming Hicks returns for the start of the homestand next Friday — again, that’s just my assumption, not something the Yankees have confirmed — the Yankees could send Frazier down for three weeks, then bring him right back when rosters expand on September 1st. Reevaluate the roster situation at that time to figure out the best outfield alignment. It’s an option. I hate it, but it’s an option.

So, as things standing right now, the best way to get Hicks back onto the roster is to send down that 13th pitcher, likely either Montgomery or Chasen Shreve. No one else is going down. The other options are release Ellsbury (nope) or send down Frazier (please no). An injury could change things — Matt Holliday back on the disabled list with his mystery illness? — but right now, I’d say it’s drop the 13th pitcher or bust for Hicks.

Finding Playing Time

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

This interests me much more than opening a roster spot. Hicks was out of this world before the injury, and because of that, he belongs in the lineup once he gets healthy. So does Frazier. So does Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge. I know Judge has slumped since the All-Star break, but does anyone actually want him out of the lineup? No way. He could snap out of it at any moment. No one busts out of a slump sitting on the bench.

As it stands the Yankees have four outfielders who deserve to play everyday (Hicks, Frazier, Gardner, Judge) and a fifth outfielder on the 29th richest contract in baseball history. I’m glad the Yankees and Joe Girardi have reduced Ellsbury’s playing time. It needed to happen. Now they’re looking at the possibility of completely burying Ellsbury on the bench as the seldom used fifth outfielder. The right move? Sure. An awkward situation? Yup.

Four outfielders who deserve to play means the return of the outfield rotation, I assume. Gardner will sit against lefties and I guess Frazier and Judge will take turns sitting against tough righties. Hicks will get days off here and there as well. All four of those guys should play as much as possible, and it’s up to Girardi to make it work. Ellsbury will have to be limited to pinch-runner and spot start duty. There’s really no other way to use him.

The wildcard here is the DH spot. Holliday has been pretty terrible for weeks now. If he continues to be terrible, it’s entirely possible the Yankees will scale back on his playing time, freeing up DH at-bats for the four regular outfielders and Ellsbury. “We continue to talk about it … (He) has had some good at-bats, but he really hasn’t gotten back on track. I think he will but it hasn’t happened yet,” said Girardi to George King when asked about Holliday’s slump recently.

The best case scenario is having too many good players. The Yankees don’t want to sit Holliday to open DH at-bats for other players. They want Holliday to mash, Hicks to mash, and Judge and Frazier and Gardner to mash. And they want Ellsbury to mash too. The more good players, the better. Take the depth and the production and enjoy it while it lasts. Realistically, that won’t happen. It’s very rare that everyone is hitting at the same time. That’s baseball.

Once Hicks returns, the Yankees will have to go back to the four-man outfield rotation, and maybe make it a five-man outfield/DH rotation should Holliday not get back on track. There’s really no other way to do it. None of the three current outfielders deserve to be taken out of the lineup, yet Hicks played too well before his injury to go to the bench. The Yankees have to play him to see whether that was for real. Early season Hicks was the best non-Judge hitter on the team, remember.

* * *

For now, Hicks’ return is at least a few days away and maybe more than a week away. Tonight will only be his first rehab game after more than a month on the shelf. A lot could change between now and the time Hicks is ready to be activated. Someone could get hurt, Frazier could play his way down to Triple-A, someone could get traded … who knows? Hopefully the Yankees have to make some tough decisions when Hicks returns. That’ll mean everyone is playing well and no one deserves to lose playing time or a roster spot.