2017 Midseason Review: Holliday and the Rest of the Roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this season the Yankees have used 43 different players — 23 position players and 20 pitchers — which is the seventh most in baseball. The Mariners lead the way with 47 players and both the Indians and Diamondbacks have been lucky enough to use only 35 players. The Yankees used their fair share of shuttle arms in the first half, though position player injuries also forced them to dip into their farm system more than expected.

We’ve already covered most of those 43 players as part of our Midseason Review. Now it’s time to wrap things up and cover whoever has been left behind. Among them is one regular because I am bad at scheduling. Time to finish off the Midseason Review.

Matt Holliday: As Advertised

When the Yankees signed Holliday in November, he came billed as a good clubhouse guy and a professional hitter with some bounceback potential given his exit velocities and things like that. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. Holliday did turn 37 in January and he very easily could have been at the end of the line. The Yankees bet $13M on a rebound and so far he’s been worth every penny.

Holliday, as the team’s regular DH and occasional first baseman, is hitting .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games so far, and he’s the No. 1 reason the Yankees have the most productive DH spot in the baseball.

  1. Yankees: 137 wRC+
  2. Mariners: 129 wRC+
  3. Indians: 127 wRC+

Oddly enough, Holliday’s strikeouts are way up this year. His 25.7% strikeout rate is on pace to shatter his previous career high (19.6% as a rookie in 2004). I think there’s a chance Holliday is selling out for power, which might partially explain the strikeouts. Holliday has also been pretty streaky. That’s alright though. He’s been productive more often than not, and day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth anyway.

Beyond the on-field production, Holliday has also been a positive on all the young players the Yankees are incorporating into their lineup. Aaron Judge went out of his way to praise Holliday at the All-Star Game media day Monday. Here’s what Judge told Brendan Kuty about Holliday earlier this month:

“I just pick his brain on what he does,” Judge said he often asks Holliday. “‘What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He’s a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?’ I’ve picked up a couple little things.”

“He’s just really committed to his plan,” Judge said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ll talk to him (in the early afternoon) and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing this game? What are you trying to do against this guy?’ Every single time I ask him, ‘What are you working on?’ He’ll say he’s trying to stick to his plan and drive the ball to right field. That’s why he’s so successful. He just sticks to it, no matter the situation.”

An illness, which was recently confirmed as Epstein-Barr, has had Holliday on the shelf since June 24th and holy cow did the Yankees miss his bat these last few weeks. He did play a pair of rehab games last weekend and is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Yankees for the second half opener tomorrow. That’s huge. Holliday has been everything the Yankees could have expected and more.

The Extra Position Players

Among all the random position player call-ups the Yankees have made this year, whether it was an injury fill-in or a one-day audition, the leader in plate appearances is … catcher Kyle Higashioka. He served as the backup catcher in April when an injury forced Gary Sanchez to the 10-day DL and Austin Romine into the starter’s role. Higashioka went 0-for-18 and started only five games. If that changed your opinion of him, you’re thinking too hard.

Another April injury fill-in was veteran Pete Kozma, who served as the backup while Didi Gregorius was hurt and Ronald Torreyes started at shortstop. Kozma went 1-for-9 with the Yankees and had nothing resembling a signature moment. The Yankees lost him to the Rangers on waivers when Gregorius returned and Kozma is still on their bench because Jurickson Profar played his way down to Triple-A.

Last month the Yankees finally got sick of Chris Carter and finally called up Tyler Austin, who missed the start of the season after fracturing his ankle with a foul ball early in Spring Training. Austin mashed with Triple-A Scranton before the call-up, hitting .300/.366/.560 (151 wRC+). He came up, went 2-for-13 with a home run and six strikeouts at the plate, then landed on the 10-day DL with a fairly significant hamstring strain. The Yankees can’t have nice things at first base.

The final two position players both played only one game in the big leagues this year, for very different reasons. After Holliday landed on the disabled list, the Yankees called up third base prospect Miguel Andujar for a day, and he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. He became the first player in franchise history to drive in four runs in his big league debut.

The Yankees sent Andujar down to the minors the next day because they didn’t have regular at-bats to give him and there’s no point in making the kid sit on the bench. Andujar is really breaking out in the minors this year — he’s hitting .302/.336/.476 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A — but he needs to work on his third base defense, so that’s what he’s doing. I’m glad the Yankees have resisted the temptation to move him to first to plug a short-term hole.

The other one-game position player in the first half was outfielder Dustin Fowler who gave us, hands down, the saddest moment of the season. In the first inning of his first big league game, Fowler crashed into the side wall in foul territory chasing a pop-up, which ruptured his right patella. It was an open rupture, meaning it broke through the skin. Yikes. Fowler had emergency surgery that night and is done for the season.

Fowler came up to replace Andujar after hitting .293/.329/.542 (137 wRC+) down in Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up before Clint Frazier. They like him that much. Fowler’s injury is so sad. I feel terrible for the kid. The good news is he is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training. Plus he’s on the big league disabled list collecting service time and big league pay, so his bank account is doing better. But still, you know Fowler wants to play. What a terrible and sad moment.

The Extra Pitchers

For the first two months or so of the season, the Yankees did away with the bullpen shuttle. The days of calling up a new reliever every day to make sure Joe Girardi had a fresh arm in the bullpen were over. The Yankees stuck with their guys. Then the bullpen melted down and started blowing leads left and right, and the Yankees started shuttling guys in and out regularly. Such is life. The shuttle returned last month.

The one shuttle reliever who made the Opening Day roster is Bryan Mitchell. Back-to-back rough outings (seven runs in 2.2 innings) earned him a demotion to Triple-A at the end of April. He came back up briefly at the end of May and again at the end of June. So far this season Mitchell has a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 16 big leagues innings and a 3.60 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 35 Triple-A innings. He’ll be back at some point in the second half, I’m sure of it. Mitchell’s time to carve out a long-term role with the Yankees is running out though.

Luis Cessa, who was in the running for an Opening Day rotation spot, has made three starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees this year. The three starts came when CC Sabathia was on the disabled list and they did not go well (eleven runs in 13.2 innings). The three relief appearances were better (two runs in eleven innings). The end result is a 4.18 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 23.2 innings. I like Cessa — I seem to the be the only one who likes Cessa — and hope we see more of him going forward.

Four shuttle relievers have made their MLB debut this season: Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, and Tyler Webb. They’ve combined for the the following line: 31 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 16 BB, 30 K. Replacement Level ‘R Us. German showed the most potential among those four. By far, I think. He also returned from Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and needs to pitch, not sit in the big league bullpen as the eight reliever. He’s in Triple-A where he belongs. Also, Ben Heller spent a day with the Yankees. He faced three batters: grounder, walk, walk-off single off his butt. He does have a 2.68 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 37 Triple-A innings though.

* * *

The Yankees have used 43 players this season and over the last four years they’ve averaged 56 players per season, so recent history suggests we’re going to see several new faces in the second half. New faces from outside the organization or the farm system. Probably a little of both.

Rangers claim Pete Kozma off waivers from Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Rangers claimed Pete Kozma off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. Kozma was designated for assignment Friday when Didi Gregorius returned from the disabled list. Texas needed a backup infielder, apparently.

Kozma, 29, went 1-for-9 (.111) at the plate and played 34 innings in the field, all but one at shortstop, during his short time in pinstripes. He was on the roster as the backup infielder while Gregorius was on the disabled list and that’s pretty much it. That was the only reason he was around.

With Kozma gone and Donovan Solano out long-term with a calf injury in Triple-A, the Yankees lost some infield depth this week. They still have Tyler Wade and Ruben Tejada in Triple-A, plus Rob Refsnyder as well, so maybe it’s not a big deal.

Game 21: Didi’s Return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are getting closer to being whole. Didi Gregorius, who has not played at all this season thanks to a shoulder strain suffered during the World Baseball Classic, returns tonight and is in the starting lineup. Hooray. I’ve missed Didi. Let’s not forget Ronald Torreyes though. Dude stepped in and hit .308/.308/.431 (106 wRC+) as the starting shortstop while Gregorius was out. He was pretty rad.

Anyway, the Yankees are back home for a quick little six-game homestand, and this weekend they’ll play the Orioles, the team they’re chasing for first place in the AL East. Hey, it’s never too early to start thinking about the division title, right? The Yankees have won 12 of their last 15 games. If you’re not going to look at their current situation in terms of the postseason race, when will you? Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

Perfect baseball weather in New York today. Not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was in the 80s pretty much all afternoon. It’ll be a little cooler tonight though. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: As expected, Pete Kozma was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Gregorius. That leaves the Yankees with an open 40-man roster spot, which will likely go to Tyler Austin whenever he’s activated off the 60-day disabled list.

Game One: Opening Day

For the first time in 185 days, the New York Yankees will play a meaningful baseball game today. It’s Opening Day, the first day of the 2017 regular season, when every team is tied for first place and thinking this is their year. The Yankees had a phenomenal Spring Training, an everything went right Spring Training, so we’re all feeling good right now. I know am.

This is very much the start of a new era for the Yankees. They’re transitioning away from older veterans to young up-and-comers, with even more youngsters on the way. The farm system is loaded. The old stalwarts, guys like Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, are all gone. The Yankees are trying to build a new core from within, moreso than at any point in the last two decades.

The Yankees are 63-50-1 all-time on Opening Day, but, believe it or not, they’ve actually lost their last five season openers. They’ve lost seven of their last eight too. Seriously. That’s pretty annoying. The Yankees have never once in their history lost six straight Opening Days. That is not the kind of record I want to see them break this year. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s first lineup of the new season:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is sunny and warm in St. Petersburg this afternoon. Pretty much perfect baseball weather, but alas, the Yankees and Rays will be playing indoors at Tropicana Field. The Yankees last opened in Tampa back in 2012, the first of these five straight Opening Day losses. That was the “hey let’s intentionally walk Sean Rodriguez to load the bases for Carlos Pena” game, not that I’m still bitter or anything. Anyway, this afternoon’s game will begin at 1:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the first of 162.

Roster Move: The Yankees officially announced their 25-man Opening Day roster and it is as expected. No surprises or last minute changes. Tyler Austin was placed on the 60-day disabled list to clear a 40-man spot for Pete Kozma. The Yankees are officially calling it a fractured left ankle for Austin, if you’re into specifics. Also, Didi Gregorius was placed on the 10-day DL with a right shoulder sprain. Yes, it’s the 10-day DL now. The 15-day DL is no more. Gregorius was placed on the DL retroactive to March 30th. The Yankees didn’t say anything about backdating Austin’s DL stint.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster; Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve make the bullpen

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning, Joe Girardi informally announced the Yankees’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Aaron Judge will be the right fielder and Luis Severino will be the fourth starter, and the decision to option out Rob Refsnyder means Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. Also, Girardi told Bryan Hoch that Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve will be in the bullpen. Got all that?

The Yankees still need to open a 40-man roster spot for Kozma, though they have a few days to figure that out. The Opening Day roster itself doesn’t have to be finalized with the league until 12pm ET on Sunday, an hour before first pitch. Here’s the unofficial official roster:

CATCHERS (2)
Austin Romine
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (6)
Chris Carter
Starlin Castro
Greg Bird
Chase Headley
Pete Kozma
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Jacoby Ellsbury
Brett Gardner
Aaron Hicks
Aaron Judge

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Matt Holliday

STARTING PITCHERS (4)
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
Dellin Betances
Aroldis Chapman
Tyler Clippard
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Layne
Bryan Mitchell
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren

DISABLED LIST (2)
Tyler Austin (foot)
Didi Gregorius (shoulder)

The Yankees will carry eight relievers for the time being. The team has three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season, allowing them to skip their fifth starter the first two times through the rotation. They’ll do exactly that, then figure out the fifth starter later. They don’t need one until April 16th.

Rotation candidates Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Jordan Montgomery did not make the Opening Day roster, though it’s only a matter of time until we see those guys in the big leagues. The Yankees will need a fifth starter soon enough, and given his performance last year, I don’t think it’s a given Severino sticks in the rotation all season. Montgomery opened some eyes this spring and could be the first starter called up. We’ll see.

The Yankees open the regular season this Sunday, with a 1pm ET game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. They’ll start the season with a six-game road trip through Tampa and Baltimore before coming home. The home opener is Monday, April 10th. They’ll play the Rays again.

Rob Refsnyder Optioned to Triple-A

(Charles Wenzelberg)
(Charles Wenzelberg)

Earlier today, the Yankees announced that Rob Refsnyder had been optioned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The 26-year-old was batting just .209/.314/.349 in 43 at-bats, and was openly put on the trading block three weeks ago. There was some talk that he could have a shot at heading north in a bench role on the heels of the Didi Gregorius injury, but his inability to play shortstop made that a long shot, and his punchless Spring did little to force the team’s hand.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Refsnyder going forward. The Yankees may be looking to clear a 40-man roster spot, and at least one team – the Rays – was interested in Refsnyder’s services. I wouldn’t be shocked if a (tremendously underwhelming) trade was in the near future.

This move also means that Pete Kozma will be the team’s utility infielder to start the season, as confirmed by George A. King III. He’s a career .222/.288/.293 (58 wRC+) hitter that hasn’t played in the Majors since 2015, but he has a fine glove at shortstop (9.7 UZR/150 in 1399 innings at the position) and experience at second and third, to boot. Kozma is an unexciting player at best, though that is true of most utility infielders – and it’s doubtful that he sees all that much playing time, barring another injury, so it makes sense to use a fungible piece in this role.

Sorting out the 35 players the Yankees still have in big league camp

Bird and Judge. (Presswire)
Bird and Judge. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only six days away, and at this point the Yankees still have nearly a full 40-man roster worth of players in big league camp. They have 35 players in camp and the World Baseball Classic is part of the reason. Some players, like Donovan Solano, have been in camp without actually being in camp these last few weeks. The Yankees and every other team needed the extra bodies while players were away at the WBC.

All throughout this week the Yankees will cut down their roster as they prepare for Opening Day on Sunday. It’s late in camp, so not only will the big league players start playing a full nine innings and back-to-back days, the minor leagues need to do that too. There’s only so much playing time to go around, and at this point of the spring, it’s time for clubs to emphasize their MLB roster players.

Earlier today the Yankees reassigned Solano, Wilkin Castillo, and Ruben Tejada to minor league camp, meaning there are now 35 players remaining in the big league Spring Training. Let’s take stock of those 35 players and figure out where they fit into the Opening Day roster equation. Some will definitely make it, some definitely won’t, and a whole bunch of guys are on the bubble. Let’s get to it.

Definitely Making The Team (19)

Might as well start here since this is our easiest and largest roster group. These are the players we know will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity.

Any doubt about Bird making the Opening Day roster was erased when he was named the starting first baseman last week. It was plenty fair to wonder whether he’d need some time to Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing after missing the entire 2016 season with shoulder surgery, but he’s crushing the ball this spring. No doubts about him now. Everyone else is pretty straightforward, right? Right.

Very Likely To Make The Team (3)

This group includes three players who are not a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but are in prime position to make the club out of Spring Training. The three players: Aaron Judge, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. Judge has had a strong camp to date. I’m not sure what else the Yankees could want to see from him, though I still don’t think the right field job is 100% his right now. Hicks has played well this spring. (Like he does every spring. Career .303/.365/.521 hitter in Spring Training!)

Mitchell and Severino are both competing for a rotation spot, though I think they’re on the roster either way, starter or reliever. Mitchell won a bullpen spot in camp last year and he hasn’t really done anything to not deserve a roster spot since. I still think Severino is the odds on favorite to get one of the open rotation spots. I’m also not convinced he’ll go to Triple-A should he not get a starting spot. The chances of Severino making the Opening Day roster in some capacity sure seem pretty darn high to me. He’s not a lock, but the odds are in his favor.

Injured (2)

Baseball can be cruel. The Yankees lost both Didi Gregorius and Tyler Austin to injury this spring, and while neither suffered a severe long-term injury, they are going to miss the first several weeks of the regular season. Austin fouled a pitch off his foot and broke a bone. He could return to game action in mid-April. Gregorius strained his shoulder making a throw and could be out until May. Yuck. Both Austin and Didi are disabled list bound to begin the regular season.

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Most players in this group will be shuttle pitchers. Chad Green is competing with Severino and Mitchell (and Warren, I guess) for the two open rotation spots, and I feel the Yankees are much more willing to send him to Triple-A rather than stash him in the bullpen. Jordan Montgomery has impressed in camp, so much so that Joe Girardi is talking about him as a possible Opening Day roster option. Can’t say I expected to have him in this group at the outset of Spring Training.

Aside from Green and Montgomery, the other three pitchers in this group are all relievers: Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve. We will inevitably see those guys in the Bronx at some point this season, though I’d say it’s less than 50/50 they’re on the Opening Day roster. Heller probably has the best chance to win a job out of camp. He’s had a fine spring and is, in my opinion, the best bullpen prospect in the organization.

Rob Refsnyder, who has been mentioned as a trade candidate at times this spring, didn’t have much of a chance to make the Opening Day roster at coming into the spring. Then Austin and Gregorius got hurt which, if nothing else, opened the door for Refsnyder a little bit. His inability to play shortstop hurts him, obviously. The Yankees would have to be comfortable using Castro at shortstop.

An unexpected Opening Day roster candidate is Tyler Wade, who has played well this spring and could get a look at shortstop while Gregorius is sidelined. The question is whether the Yankees want to tie up a long-term 40-man roster spot — the veteran non-roster infielders in camp can be dropped off the 40-man roster as soon as Gregorius returns, but Wade will be on the 40-man for good — so Wade can fill-in for a month. I have him in this group for a reason though. I think it’s possible the Yankees go with him at short while Didi is out.

Oh Geez, They Might Actually Make The Team (3)

It happens every year, doesn’t it? Some random player you forgot the Yankees acquired shows up to camp, performs well, and before you know it, he’s on the Opening Day roster. Kirby Yates did it last year. Chris Martin the year before. Cody Eppley a few years before that. You never see it coming with these guys. Here are this year’s candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Ernesto Frieri: The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal two weeks ago, which suggests they were impressed by the way he threw with Colombia during the WBC.
  • J.R. Graham: Graham recently had a three-run disaster outing, but eight of his ten Grapefruit League appearances have been scoreless. Ten strikeouts and two walks in 9.1 innings too.
  • Pete Kozma: Kozma’s chances of making the Opening Day roster improved with the news of the Gregorius injury as well as the Solano and Tejada demotions. He’s a candidate to help fill in either at shortstop or as the utility infielder.

With Gregorius hurt and two open bullpen spots, I’d put the chances of at least one of these five players making the Opening Day roster at: annoyingly high. My money is on Frieri making it. He’s looked pretty darn during the World Baseball Classic and with the Yankees, plus his experience as a Proven Closerâ„¢ will work in his favor.

Esmil Rog ... I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)
Esmil Rog … I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)

Long Shot To Make The Team (1)

The Yankees reassigned their very best prospects to minor league camp last week, which took some of the excitement out of the remaining Grapefruit League games. It was that time of the spring though. The kids have to go get ready for their seasons. The at-bats aren’t there any more in the big league camp. The regulars are going to play and play a lot this week.

The final player still in big league camp is catcher Kyle Higashioka. He is No. 3 on the catcher depth chart, which means he is heading to Triple-A Scranton until someone gets hurts or rosters expand in September, whichever comes first. Higashioka’s only chance to make the big league roster out of Spring Training involved and injury to Sanchez or Romine, and, thankfully, the Yankees have stayed healthy behind the plate.