The Young Outfielders [2015 Season Review]

Slade & Co. (Presswire)
Slade & Co. (Presswire)

Thanks mostly to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury, the Yankees had an opportunity to audition several of their young outfielders this past season. Of course several of the young guys then got hurt as well. The center field position was cursed for a few weeks there. Whoever played the position kept getting hurt.

I’m not sure many folks expected Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams to make their MLB debuts this summer, but the Yankees dipped into their system for help time and time again, and both got the call. Both made solid impressions before the injuries too. Those two plus Ramon Flores spent time with the Yankees this summer and all three helped in their own way.

First Up: Heathcott

At this time last year, the Yankees were about to non-tender Heathcott and remove him from the 40-man roster. The plan was to non-tender him, re-sign him to a minor league contract, and keep him as a non-40-man player. Heathcott leveraged his sudden free agency into a pretty sweet deal and returned to the organization a few days later.

Injuries, specifically knee and shoulder surgeries, limited Heathcott to nine games in 2014 and 117 games total from 2012-14. It was a long shot he would be able to contribute, but Slade came to Spring Training healthy and in great shape, and he mashed. He hit .333/.450/.545 in 23 Grapefruit League games and received the James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in camp.

The Yankees planned to sent Heathcott to Double-A Trenton to start the season, but his strong spring convinced them he was ready for Triple-A Scranton, so he instead opened the year with the RailRiders. He stayed healthy and continued to hit early in the regular season, putting up a .285/.335/.358 (102 wRC+) batting line in his first 37 Triple-A games. On May 19th, after Ellsbury hurt his knee, the Yankees called Slade to the show for the first time.

Heathcott did not start that first game on May 20th, instead making his MLB debut by coming off the bench in the late innings for defense. He started in center field the next day and went 2-for-3 with a double. The double was his first career hit in his first career at-bat. Three days later, Heathcott launched his first career big league home run.

The kid was on fire. Slade went 6-for-17 (.353) with a double and a home run in his first six big league games … and then he got hurt. All the air was let out of the balloon. A strained quad was the culprit this time, and I guess the good news is it was only a muscle pull, not serious structural damage that required surgery like the knee or shoulder.

The quad injury sidelined Heathcott for two months — he was actually placed on the 60-day DL at one point to clear 40-man roster space — and, once healthy, he returned to Triple-A Scranton. Slade hit a disappointing .257/.300/.336 (84 wRC+) in his final 30 Triple-A games of the season. The Yankees did not call him up on September 1st either. They wanted him to get regular at-bats and not sit on the big league bench.

Heathcott remained with the RailRiders through the end of the minor league season before being called up on September 12th. On September 14th, after entering a game against the Rays as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning, Heathcott hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the top of the ninth. It was, as Michael Kay would say, a UUUGE hit.

That was one of the coolest moments of the season, hands down. Forget the enormity of the hit — the Yankees were desperately trying to stay in the AL East race and needed every win possible — just think about everything Heathcott had gone through in his career up to that point. All the injuries, all the off-the-field problems. He had to overcome an awful lot to get to that point. It was so awesome.

The home run didn’t earn Heathcott more playing time — he received only eleven plate appearances the rest of the way — but he did see time as a defensive replacement and in the late innings of blowouts. The Yankees were in the postseason race and stuck with their regular veteran outfielders. I can’t fault Joe Girardi for that.

In 17 big league games this summer, Slade went 10-for-25 (.400) with two doubles, two home runs, and mean defense in right and center fields. He was also on the wildcard game roster but did not play. Heathcott hit .267/.315/.343 (90 wRC+) with two homers in 64 Triple-A games around the quad injury as well. All things considered, it was a successful bounceback from his injury plaque 2014 season.

Heathcott remains on the 40-man roster and he has a minor league option remaining for next season. If he stays healthy — that will always be a big if — Slade figures to again start the season with Triple-A Scranton, though a Brett Gardner trade could open up a big league roster spot. We’ll see how that works out. For now, he’s put himself in position to be a call-up candidate.

Flores. (Presswire)
Flores. (Presswire)

Next Up: Flores

Although he didn’t offer the same tools, Flores had been more productive than either Heathcott or Williams the last few years in the minors. He played well in Spring Training — he even hit a walk-off Grapefruit League homer (video) — and started the season with Triple-A Scranton. After Ellsbury and Heathcott got hurt, Flores was called up to the big leagues for the first time in late-May.

Flores made his MLB debut on May 30th in Oakland, and he stood out more for his glove than his bat at first. He made several stellar defensive plays in the spacious Coliseum, including throwing a runner out at the plate (video) and making a diving catch in foul territory (video). The Yankees traveled to Seattle next and Flores threw another runner out at the plate, coincidentally Dustin Ackley.

Flores recorded his first career big league hit on a ground ball single against Jesse Chavez, and in his first nine games with the team, he went 7-for-26 (.269) with a double. That includes a 3-for-4 game against the Nationals on June 9th. The Yankees eventually decided to bring up a center field capable defender and Flores was sent back to Triple-A for a few weeks. He rejoined the Yankees in early-July for a few games after Carlos Beltran landed on the DL with an oblique strain. On July 4th, Flores bunted into a walk-off error.

The Yankees sent Flores back to Triple-A shortly thereafter, where he stayed until being traded to the Mariners with Jose Ramirez for Ackley at the deadline. Flores went 7-for-32 (.219) in 12 games with the Yankees and hit .286/.377/.417 (133 wRC+) with seven home runs in 73 Triple-A games before the trade. He played 14 games with Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. The Mariners flipped him to the Brewers for infielder Luis Sardinas last week.

The Yankees have a lot of upper level outfield depth and something had to give. Flores was arguably the most productive of the group and I think he’s got a good chance to carve out a lengthy career as a platoon bat, but he’ll be out of minor league options next season and the Yankees don’t have a spot for him on the big league roster. Using him to get a piece who fits the roster better made perfect sense.

Williams. (Presswire)
Williams. (Presswire)

Third In Line: Williams

Like Heathcott, Williams is a tooled up outfielder whose stock had fallen big time in recent years. Slade’s stock fell because he kept getting hurt. Williams? His stock fell because he didn’t hit — .236/.298/.319 (74 wRC+) in over 1,200 minor league plate appearances from 2013-14 — and had attitude problems in the minors. The Yankees believed in the talent though and added him to the 40-man roster last offseason.

Williams did not play as much as Heathcott in Spring Training but he did play well, hitting .313/.400/.625 with three doubles and a triple in 15 Grapefruit League games. The Yankees assigned him to Double-A Trenton once again — Williams was there for part of 2013 and all of 2014 — and his hot spring carried over. Williams hit .317/.407/.375 (131 wRC+) with more walks (13.2%) than strikeouts (11.8%) in 34 games with the Thunder.

The Yankees bumped Williams up to Triple-A in mid-May to replace the called up Heathcott, then, after a few weeks with the RailRiders, Williams was called up to the big leagues, this time to replace Flores. He made his MLB debut as the starting center fielder on June 12th and hit a two-run home run for his first career hit in his second at-bat. Not a bad debut, eh?

Williams stayed in the lineup as the starting center fielder and, after a little three-game cold streak, he went 5-for-10 with three doubles, a walk, and no strikeouts during a four-game tear in mid-June. Through eight big league games, Williams had gone 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a home run. He also made several spectacular catches in the outfield.

Unfortunately, Williams’ season came to a premature end on June 19th. He suffered a pretty fluke right (throwing) shoulder injury sliding back into first base on a pickoff throw. It was an innocent looking play. Williams just landed awkwardly and his shoulder popped in and out of the socket. He stayed in the game to run the bases but was lifted after the inning.

The Yankees placed Williams on the 15-day DL with inflammation and the injury wasn’t considered serious. The inflammation and discomfort never did go away though. On July 17th, almost exactly one month after getting hurt, the Yankees announced Williams needed season-ending surgery to clean up the shoulder. They slid him to the 60-day DL to clear 40-man space around that time as well.

Williams went 6-for-21 (.286) with those three doubles and that home run in eight MLB games before getting hurt. He hit .318/.397/.398 (133 wRC+) with 14 doubles, 13 steals, and more walks (11.5%) than strikeouts (9.8%) in 54 total minor league games. It’s a shame he got hurt because Williams was doing a really great job re-establishing himself as a prospect.

Front shoulder injuries are tricky for hitters and it may take Williams some time to get back to 100% next year. He’s expected to be ready to go for Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be all the way back. Either way, Williams is still on the 40-man roster and he has two option years left. He’ll stick around for a while, even if Heathcott is ahead of him on the call-up depth chart.

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.

Refsnyder, Heathcott, Sanchez all make Wildcard Game roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:

RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP James Pazos
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Adam Warren
LHP Justin Wilson

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy
Gary Sanchez

2B/OF Dustin Ackley
1B Greg Bird
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
2B Rob Refsnyder
DH Alex Rodriguez
IF Brendan Ryan

RF Carlos Beltran
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
OF Slade Heathcott
PR Rico Noel
OF Chris Young

I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.

Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.

Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.

The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.

Workout Day Notes: Eovaldi, Capuano, Shreve, Beltran

Today is an off-day around baseball, but both the Yankees and Astros held a workout at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. Needless to say, CC Sabathia checking into rehab was the big story. Everyone in the organization stood behind him, from Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi to his teammates. “We play for CC now,” said Alex Rodriguez.

While Sabathia’s announcement dominated the workout today, there is some other news and notes to pass along. Here’s the important stuff from today’s workout:

The wildcard game rosters do not have to be made official until 10am ET tomorrow. An official announcement should come around that time.

Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Position Players


The Yankees are in position to clinch a wildcard spot very soon, possibly tonight, so it’s time to start thinking about the wildcard game roster. Earlier today we sorted through the pitching staff, trying to figure out which ten or eleven pitchers the Yankees will carry in the wildcard game. It was easier said than done.

Ten or eleven pitchers — my guess is ten, but you never know — leaves 14-15 position player spots to fill. Joe Girardi will have a decent-sized bench at his disposal, but ideally it won’t come into play too much. The starting lineup will decide the game. As we did with the pitchers, let’s go through the position player group and try to figure out who will be on the wildcard game roster next Tuesday.

The Locks

This is the easy part …

Catcher: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy
First Base: Greg Bird
Second Base: ???
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
Third Base: Chase Headley
Outfield: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran
Designated Hitter: Alex Rodriguez

That’s nine of the 14-15 position player spots right there and they’re all self-explanatory right? Right. That is eighth-ninths of the starting lineup and the backup catcher. All easy calls. Next.

Second Base

For most of the summer, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan platooned at second base. That is no longer the case. Drew has been dealing with some dizziness/concussion issues that may end his season, but even before that Dustin Ackley wrestled the starting job away from him. Ackley got some playing time, hit right away, and he’s continued to play against right-handers.

Meanwhile, Rob Refsnyder has started each of the Yankees’ last four games against left-handed starters, not Ryan. Chances are Refsnyder will start against lefties Wade Miley, Rich Hill, and Wei-Yin Chen the next three days too. Like Ackley, he got a few at-bats, got some hits, and has received more playing time. That Drew/Ryan platoon was together for 140 games or so. The last 16 have gone to Ackley/Refsnyder.

Smackley. (Presswire)
Smackley. (Presswire)

At this point there is no doubt Ackley will be on the wildcard roster. The rest of the guys is where it gets tricky. Refsnyder is starting against lefties, but would the Yankees actually start him in the wildcard game if they face, say, Dallas Keuchel or Scott Kazmir or Cole Hamels? I get the sense Girardi would stick with Ackley in that situation and just roll with his best player.

If Refsnyder’s not going to start the game, then what’s his role? Pinch-hitter against a lefty reliever. That’s all. I guess he could pinch-run too, but there figure to be other guys on the roster to do that. Refsnyder’s not going to come in for defense. Pinch-hitter against a lefty is a big deal though! It could be the difference in the late-innings of a close game. Given the extra bench spots, I think Refsnyder’s in.

With Ackley and Refsnyder on the roster, the Yankees will need to carry a shortstop-capable backup infielder. Neither of those guys can play short. Not even in an emergency. That leaves a spot for Drew or Ryan. In a vacuum, I’d take Drew over Ryan eight days a week and twice on Sundays. But Drew isn’t healthy and we shouldn’t count on him getting healthy before the wildcard game. He’s still dealing with this dizziness/concussion stuff and has been for almost two weeks now. That puts Ryan on the wildcard game roster along with Ackley and Refsnyder.

The Pinch-Runner

Rico Noel will be on the wildcard game roster. I’m sure of it. One of the benefits of shrinking the pitching staff in the postseason is creating an open roster spot for someone just like Noel. A burner who can come off the bench to pinch-run in the late innings of a close game. Look at Rico run:

The kid can fly and his speed can potentially have a huge impact in the wildcard game. The Yankees brought Noel up this month strictly to pinch-run and I fully expect him to be on the postseason roster. Remember, they carried Freddy Guzman on the postseason roster in 2009 for this exact reason. Noel’s on the wildcard roster. I have no doubt about it.

(Since he wasn’t called up until September 1st, Noel will technically have to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have two position player injury spots available thanks to Mark Teixeira and Mason Williams.)

The Backup Outfielder

Noel will be on the wildcard game roster but he’s not really a backup outfielder. He’s a pinch-runner and that’s all. (The scouting reports indicate Noel is a pretty good defender, but the Yankees haven’t used him defensively all that much.) The Yankees will still need to carry a legitimate backup outfielder if for no other reason than to replace Beltran for defense in the late innings. Chris Young, who is the only righty hitting outfielder on the roster, held that job all season and I expect him to be on the wildcard roster. I know he’s stumped lately, but there’s no reason to think the Yankees won’t carry Young in October. In fact, I’m not sure how you can look at the 39-man active roster and saying Young doesn’t belong on the wildcard game roster. He’s in.

The Final Roster Spot

We still have one last roster spot to fill. The nine locks above plus Ackley, Refsnyder, Ryan, Noel, and Young gets us to 14 position players. I suppose the Yankees could carry eleven pitchers, but I doubt it. It was hard enough coming up with ten pitchers worth a spot on the wildcard roster. One last position player makes sense.

There’s no point in carrying three catchers, so Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are out. The remaining candidates are Jose Pirela and Slade Heathcott, assuming Drew is indeed done for the year. With Refsnyder on the roster, there’s no need for Pirela, another righty hitter. Yeah, Pirela can play the outfield if necessary, but he’s an emergency option out there only. Noel and Ackley are available as emergency outfielders. I also think Pirela would have played more this month if he was a serious wildcard game roster candidate.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

That leaves it between Heathcott and a possibly but not likely healthy Drew. If Drew is not over high dizziness/concussion symptoms by next week, this questioned gets answered for us. In the unlikely event Drew is healthy though, would it make sense to carry another infielder or another outfielder? I think an extra outfielder makes more sense. Between Ackley, Refsnyder, and Ryan, you’ve got the second base starter and two backups. The only backup outfielder is Young considering Noel’s job is pinch-running.

Heathcott gives the Yankees another potential pinch-runner — he’s no Rico, but he’s faster than Young or Refsnyder — and another quality defender, as well as a left-handed bat on the bench. In fact, Drew and Slade are the only possible lefty bats off the bench, and one’s hurt. Besides, if Drew is healthy, it’s Ryan or Heathcott, not Drew or Heathcott. I’d take Heathcott over Ryan.

With Slade on the roster, the Yankees would have two backup infielders even without Drew (or Ryan), and Heathcott at least has a chance to contribute offensively and defensively. I mean, if Drew’s healthy and on the roster, what’s the point of Ryan? What does he offer in a winner-take-all game? I’d expect neither guy to actually play in the game, but, if pressed into action, it’s easy to see Slade having more potential impact than Ryan.

So after all of that, here’s the 25-man wildcard game roster we’ve kinda sorta pieced together today:

Catchers (2) Infielders (7) Outfielders (6) RHP (5) LHP (5)
McCann Bird Gardner Masahiro Tanaka (SP) Andrew Miller
Murphy Ackley Ellsbury Dellin Betances Justin Wilson
Gregorius Beltran Adam Warren Chasen Shreve
Headley Young Andrew Bailey Chris Capuano
A-Rod (DH) Heathcott Nova/Severino/Pineda CC Sabathia
Refsnyder Noel (PR)

Remember, the Yankees can change their 25-man roster prior to the ALDS should they advance, and they’ll have to change it too. They’d need to get more starting pitchers on the roster. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. One thing at a time.

That appears to be the best 25-man roster the Yankees can carry in the wildcard game. Maybe not the most talented, but the most useful given the circumstances. We’re not planning for a best-of-five or best-of-seven series. It’s one game. One stupid little game where anything can happen. Hopefully Girardi won’t have to use anyone beyond the nine starting position players, Beltran’s defensive replacement, Tanaka, and the big three relievers. That’s the best case scenario. If the Yankees need to dip any deeper into their wildcard game roster than that, then, well, just hang on tight.

Sherman: 15 teams showed interest in Slade Heathcott last offseason

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This past offseason, the Yankees non-tendered outfielder Slade Heathcott only to bring him back on a minor league contract. Declining to tender Heathcott a contract was the only way to get him off the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers. They were able to drop him from the 40-man roster, keep him off waivers, and bring him back to the organization.

That move is risky, of course. Non-tendering a player makes him a free agent, so any team could have swooped in to sign Heathcott. That’s a risk the Yankees were apparently willing to take. Joel Sherman reports six teams contacted Slade’s agent within minutes of the non-tender. A total of 15 teams showed interest in a matter of days. Half the league wanted him.

Despite all that interest, Heathcott returned to the Yankees because the two sides had a handshake agreement in place before the non-tender. Sherman has the details:

Heathcott’s representatives let the organization know they would sign back under three conditions: 1. Heathcott would get $110,000 for the minor league season rather than the $72,500 for which he would have been in line; 2. Heathcott would get a July 1 out, to leave the organization if he had not been put back on the 40-man roster; 3. He would be allowed to use his own doctors and trainers in the offseason rather than those of the Yankees to try to reverse his history of injuries.

The Yankees added Heathcott to the 40-man roster and called him up in May, following Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury, so that July 1st opt-out date never came into play. Good for Slade for leveraging his impending free agency into a nice raise and the ability to use his own doctors. I wonder if Vicente Campos, who also went the non-tender/re-sign route, got a similar deal.

Heathcott, 24, spent most of the season with Triple-A Scranton and on the big league DL with a quad injury. He hit .267/.315/.343 (90 wRC+) in 64 Triple-A games around the injury and has gone 7-for-18 (.389) in the big leagues, including two home runs. Knee and shoulder injuries limited Heathcott to only 177 games from 2012-14. He was New York’s first round pick (29th overall) back in 2009.

The Yankees have at least one more minor league option year on Heathcott, meaning they can send him up and down as many times as they want in 2016. Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave are fellow left-handed hitting outfielders slated for Triple-A, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Yankees do with their depth. Using one or two of those guys to plug a different roster hole via trade would make sense.

Heathcott latest young player to come up big for Yankees in 2015


All things considered, last night’s win was the biggest of the season. The Yankees have been losing ground in the postseason race the last few weeks, so much so that the Rangers are as close to catching them for the first wildcard spot as the Yankees are to catching the Blue Jays in the AL East. They’re three games up on Texas and three games back of Toronto.

The Yankees were six outs away from being no-hit and one out away from an ugly 1-0 loss to last night. They instead rallied for a 4-1 win over the Rays, with the biggest blow coming from Slade Heathcott. He hit an opposite field (!) go-ahead three-run homer off Brad Boxberger in his first big league at-bat since May. It was huge. The Yankees need every win they can get right now.

Heathcott is just the latest young player to step up and help the Yankees this season. He’s not alone. Regulars like Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi have played huge roles after a rocky first few weeks in pinstripes. Others like Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half to become regulars. John Ryan Murphy‘s been on the bench all season. And then there are guys like Heathcott, whose time with the team has been brief.

A total of 17 different players have been called up to make their MLB debut with the Yankees this year, and those 17 rookie players have combined for 1.5 WAR. That’s pretty good considering we’re talking about 178 plate appearances and 112 mostly low-leverage innings. The total performance doesn’t knock your socks off, but there are some big individual moments mixed in there that were pretty incredible. Signature moments, if you will.

Heathcott, obviously, hit his huge homer last night. Bird had his two-homer game against the Twins and also that go-ahead homer against the Orioles last week. Mason Williams went deep in his first big league game and had a two-double game against the Marlins. How many stellar defense plays did Ramon Flores make before he was traded away? I remember him saving a few runs in Oakland, like this one.

Severino stands out on the pitching side, clearly. He’s been pretty awesome aside from last Friday’s clunker. Others like Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder have chewed up some innings and occasionally gotten big outs when pressed into high-leverage work, and now James Pazos seems to be getting a chance in those situations. Caleb Cotham picked up the win last night and Diego Moreno had that brilliant, bullpen-saving outing in Texas.

It’s not just about the rookies though. Like I said, Gregorius and Eovaldi have become rather big parts of the team, and both are only 25. Chasen Shreve was a trusted high-leverage reliever for much of the summer and he just turned 25 not too long ago as well. Gregorius, Eovaldi, Shreve, Bird, and Severino have played the largest roles among the Yankees’ crop of 25 and under players this season, though they’re far from the only one who’ve contributed.

Make no mistake, the Yankees are still a veteran team who are where they are because of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. The veteran dudes were always going to have to carry this team, and they have so far. The Yankees did make an effort to get younger this offseason, at least in moderation, and right now most of those moves have paid dividends. Heathcott’s homer last night was the latest example.