Game 102: ChiTown

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The trade deadline has come and gone. The Yankees didn’t do anything other than pick up Dustin Ackley, so they’re sticking with the roster they have and whatever they get from their farm system. I find that quite risky! But it is what it is. The post-deadline portion of the season starts tonight on Chicago’s south side.

The Yankees dropped their last two games to the Rangers but have generally played well of late. They’re 9-4 with a +24 run differential since the All-Star break, stretching their AL East lead to six games. That’s pretty good. Heck, if you’d have told me before the season that the Yankees would be six games up on deadline day, I’d have taken it in a heartbeat. Shake off those last two losses and get a win tonight, mmmkay? Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. 2B Brendan Ryan
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s nice and sunny in Chicago yet not nearly as hot as it was in Texas the last few days. Mid-80s, not 100+. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 8pm ET and you can watch live on good ol’ YES. Enjoy the game, everyone.

Injury Updates: Brett Gardner and Brian McCann are fine, just sitting against the lefty Carlos Rodon … CC Sabathia (dehydration) is doing much better. He was discharged from the hospital in Texas and has rejoined the team in Chicago.

Roster Moves: In case you missed it earlier, Garrett Jones was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Ackley and Esmil Rogers was released so he could sign with a team in KoreaChris Capuano cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. He can reject the assignment and elect free agency if he wants … Slade Heathcott was activated off the 60-day DL and optioned to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced.

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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.

Game 84: The Return of Ellsbury and Miller

Yay good players. (Presswire)
Yay good players. (Presswire)

The Yankees made two big trades today! Well, no, not really. People just like to say getting someone back from the DL is like making a trade for whatever reason. Both Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) and Andrew Miller (forearm) have rejoined the team today, so they’re whole again. Or at least closer to being whole. They still have some dudes out with injury.

Miller and especially Ellsbury will be asked to contribute right away because the offense has had trouble scoring more than three runs a game lately and because CC Sabathia is back on the mound tonight. Sabathia has not pitched well at all this year — he’s made 16 starts and allowed fewer than four runs only six times — but he’s staying in the rotation, so the Yankees are hoping he turns in a surprisingly strong performance tonight. Hopefully Ellsbury and Miller can help pick up the slack. Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Chris Young
  6. C John Ryan Murphy
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. 3B Gregorio Petit
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now, the bad news: It’s raining. Has been for most of the afternoon but it’s just light rain at the moment. There’s more rain in the forecast later tonight, though it appears there’s a big enough window to get the game in. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. First pitch is scheduled for a bit after 7pm ET. The game will be on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Moves: Both Ramon Flores and Nick Rumbelow were sent down to Triple-A Scranton to make room for Ellsbury and Miller, the Yankees announced. Not unexpected.

Injury Updates: Chase Headley is day-to-day with a sore calf … Brendan Ryan (back) has resumed baseball activities and could begin a minor league rehab assignment soon … Mason Williams (shoulder) has renewed soreness after throwing, so his rehab has been slowed down. Surgery is not being considered at this time … Slade Heathcott (quad) is still shut down. He’s not close to returning.

All-Star Update: According to MLB’s update, Brett Gardner is currently fourth in the AL Final Vote voting. There is basically no chance anyone other than Mike Moustakas wins based on the way Royals fans stuffed the ballots for the starters. Here’s the ballot anyway … No Yankees will be in the Home Run Derby, unsurprisingly. Here are the participants.

Game 76: Pineda, Yankees going for series win over Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I have made the executive decision to downgrade Michael Pineda from Big Mike to Midsize Mike, at least temporarily. Pineda didn’t just get hammered last time out (eight runs in 3.1 innings), he has a 6.10 ERA in his last seven starts and 38.1 innings overall. That dates back to the 16-strikeout game. Pineda has a shiny 2.89 FIP this year. That’s awesome! He also has a 4.25 ERA (93 ERA+). That’s not awesome.

The Yankees need to get Pineda back on track and soon — preferably starting today against the Astros — because I don’t think they can get to the postseason if they’re stuck with Midsize Mike the rest of the season. One thing at a time though. Get the win today, take the four-game series from the Astros, and hope Pineda starts earning back the Big Mike moniker. Here is Houston’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. LF Garrett Jones
  7. RF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Michael Pineda

There are thunderstorms in Houston today, so the Minute Maid Park roof will be closed once again. This afternoon’s series finale will begin just after 2pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and, depending where you live, MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Roster Move: Guess what? Esmil Rogers is back! He has been called up from Triple-A Scranton and Gregorio Petit was sent down, so the Yankees have a seven-man bullpen and a three-man bench right now. Today was Esmil’s day to start for the RailRiders, so he’s good for a lot of innings if necessary. Slade Heathcott was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Rogers.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) hit and ran the bases again today. He’ll head to Tampa tomorrow and will begin playing in minor league rehab games this week, the Yankees say.

Young outfielders doing well during their auditions so far this season

(Getty)
Williams. (Getty)

I’m not going to lie. If you had told me back before the start of Spring Training that both Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams would make their MLB debuts before the All-Star break this season, I would have assumed the starting outfield had been decimated by injuries. Not just the starters, but the backups too. Heathcott (injuries) and Williams (poor performance) were not on my big league radar at all coming into 2015.

Instead of fading into prospect obscurity this year, both Heathcott and Williams had strong showings in Spring Training that carried over into the regular season. Slade was simply fully healthy for the first time in basically his entire career. Williams had the proverbial light bulb turn on and finally got serious about his career. It took injuries for them to get to the show — Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) for Heathcott, then Heathcott (quad) for Williams — but both Heathcott and Williams put themselves in position for the call-up and they deserve credit for that.

Ramon Flores also made his MLB debut earlier this year — he actually came up when Heathcott got hurt then went down for Williams — so that’s three young outfielders the Yankees have called up already this season. All three had some immediate success too. Heathcott went 6-for-17 (.353) in his cameo, Flores had some hits against top notch pitching (Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez) and played great defense, and Williams walloped a no-doubt two-run home run in his second at-bat in pinstripes. As far as first impressions go, all three did well.

As is the case with any young player, especially those not considered tippy top prospects at the time of their call-up, these three guys are auditioning for big league jobs. Heathcott, Flores, and Williams want to show the Yankees they can play everyday. On the other side of the coin, the Yankees want those three outfielders to show other teams they can play everyday to boost their trade value. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the team called Williams up last week instead of recalling Flores — the Yankees want to show off as many of these guys as possible.

This is a simple numbers game. Brett Gardner and Ellsbury are locked into long-term contracts and Carlos Beltran is signed through next year with Chris Young and Garrett Jones on the bench as reserves through the end of 2015. With Alex Rodriguez hitting so well at DH, Beltran is stuck in the outfield. Not only are Heathcott, Flores, and Williams waiting in Triple-A, the Yankees also have Ben Gamel and Tyler Austin at that level as well, plus Aaron Judge and Jake Cave are sitting in Double-A. The Yankees have a lot of outfielders and something has to give. They can’t keep everyone. There’s not enough roster spots to do that.

Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Flores. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees have enough Triple-A and Double-A outfield depth to trade at least one of their young outfielders this summer to plug another roster hole. Since Heathcott is on the DL, that leaves Flores and Williams as trade bait. Flores is the more predictable player while Williams has the greater upside. Whom you want to see the Yankees keep is a matter of preference. There’s no right answer. The team shouldn’t label either untouchable though — other clubs will value Flores and Williams differently and the Yankees should be willing to act on either player.

Looking ahead, the Yankees can use one of these guys as the fourth outfielder next season, though the problem is Heathcott, Flores, and Williams are all left-handed hitters. The Yankees would prefer a righty fourth outfielder to balance out the roster. The best fit for the roster among young outfielders might actually be Austin, a righty hitter who can play the corner outfield as well as first base. He’s had a down year though (76 wRC+) and isn’t in the big league conversation right now.

Judge is hopefully the long-term answer in right field once Beltran’s contract is up. I imagine that’s the plan but this is baseball, and things rarely go according to plan, especially with prospects. That’s why the outfield depth is a good thing. Maybe Williams ends up the long-term right fielder. Or Flores. Or Austin. Or maybe Gardner turns into trade bait and Flores and Judge are flanking Ellsbury in two years. Who knows? The depth gives the Yankees lots of options, and one of them absolutely should be trading prospects. That’s why you have ’em.

So far this season things have worked out to almost the best case scenario for these young outfielders. Heathcott and Williams rebuilt some value early in the season and those two plus Flores made strong first impressions in their brief MLB cameos. Judge, Gamel, and Cave are also having nice years in the minors. Austin’s been the only negative. This depth allows the Yankees to trade one of their young outfielders at the deadline this year to improve their roster elsewhere. A few months ago, dealing some of these guys would have been the definition of selling low.

Game 50: Late Night on the West Coast

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The only thing that sucks worse than a Yankees loss is waiting until late at night for a Yankees loss on the West Coast. The Yankees have dropped the first two games of this four-game series to the Athletics — which team is in first place and which one has the worst record in the league again? — and we’ve had to wait until the wee hours of the morning for both games to go final. Blah.

Anyway, the Yankees have lost two straight and 12 of their last 16 games, yet they somehow aren’t buried in the AL East. Quite the opposite in fact. The division is just that bad. Still, the Yankees can’t keep losing at this pace. The offense, the defense, and the pitching has let them down in not so equal parts. Start righting the ship with a win tonight, mmmkay? Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. LF Ramon Flores
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s cool and foggy in Oakland tonight, though there is no rain in the forecast. First pitch is scheduled for 10:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Roster Move: As expected, Slade Heathcott (quad) was placed on the 15-day DL and Flores was called up from Triple-A Scranton.

Injury Updates: Jacob Ellsbury (knee) is working out in a pool and getting treatment. That’s about it … Garrett Jones is dealing with plantar fasciitis but it’s manageable … Gregorio Petit (hand) has started taking batting practice … Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) has started playing in Extended Spring Training games.

Yankees place Slade Heathcott on 15-day DL with quad strain, call up Ramon Flores

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

Earlier today, Joe Girardi told reporters in Oakland the Yankees will place Slade Heathcott on the 15-day DL with a Grade II quad strain. “I can tell you it’ll be longer than 15 days,” said Girardi when asked about a timetable. Ramon Flores has been called up from Triple-A Scranton to fill the roster spot.

Heathcott, 24, told reporters on Thursday that the quad has been bothering him on and off since the offseason. I guess the team sent him for tests at some point, which confirmed the Grade II strain. Chris Capuano suffered a Grade II quad strain in Spring Training and was out from early-March through mid-May, for what it’s worth. Heathcott’s not a starting pitcher who has to get stretched out though.

Girardi said that with both Heathcott and Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) on the DL, he’ll use Brett Gardner in center field more often going forward. That makes sense — Chris Young hasn’t hit for about a month now and Flores is best used in left field. Hopefully Flores gets a chance to play like Heathcott, even if he’s only the left-handed half of a left field platoon with Young.

Flores, 23, has hit .294/.389/.425 (140 wRC+) with four homers in 42 games with Triple-A Scranton this season. This will be his first taste of MLB. Donnie Collins says Flores was in the RailRiders’ lineup tonight before being scratched, so chances are he is not with the Yankees and is still traveling out west. I guess they have to play a man short tonight.