Game 105: Win Another Series

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The post-trade deadline Yankees opened their post-trade deadline schedule with another win last night, their seventh in the last eight games. Remember when the Yankees couldn’t buy a series win? They’ve now won three straight series and have a chance to win their fourth straight tonight. Things turned around in a hurry.

With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, we’ve entered the dog days of summer, the daily grind of getting through August before the races really heat up in September. That doesn’t make these games any less important, of course. Every game you win in August is one less game you have to win in September. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP CC Sabathia

Nice warm day in New York today. A bit cloudy now but no rain or anything to worry about. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) is progressing well following surgery and he had his stitches taken out today. The hope is he’ll begin baseball activities in the near future … Aaron Hicks (oblique) and Tyler Austin (hamstring) will begin minor league rehab assignments with Triple-A Scranton tomorrow … Starlin Castro (hamstring) has not started running yet, in case you missed it earlier.

Roster Moves: The Yankees sent down Jonathan Holder and Garrett Cooper following last night’s game, the team announced. That cleared roster space for Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray, who joined the team today. If you’re into uniform numbers, Garcia will wear No. 34 and Gray will wear No. 55. Both wore No. 54 with their former teams, though that’s Aroldis Chapman‘s number.

Rotation Update: The Yankees will use a six-man rotation this week. Sabathia starts tonight, Masahiro Tanaka starts tomorrow, Gray starts Thursday, Garcia starts Friday, Jordan Montgomery starts Saturday, and Luis Severino starts Sunday. They plan to go back to a five-man rotation after that. It’s possible Garcia and Gray could be flip-flopped. Depends whether Gray’s plane lands in time today for him to do his between-starts work.

Starlin Castro’s ongoing hamstring issues could push Yankees into August trade market

(Stephen Brashear/Getty)
(Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Thanks to a series of hamstring injuries, Starlin Castro has played in only six of the Yankees’ last 30 games. He spent two weeks and change on the disabled list in late-June and early-July, then a week after returning, he went back on the disabled list with another hamstring strain. Supposedly it’s two different strains. The second wasn’t a reaggravation of the first. Whatever. Point is, Starlin is hurt, and he’s not coming back anytime soon.

“He is still a ways away. He still hasn’t run,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin yesterday when asked about Castro’s status. The Yankees and Castro are in wait and see mode. They have to give him time to heal and then get him ready for big league games, which is a long-ish process. If Starlin were to start running on, say, Friday, he’s still roughly two weeks away because he has to run, take batting practice, get in rehab games, etc. That’s not good.

With Castro out for the foreseeable future, the Yankees have two options here. One, they could stick with the status quo and keep running Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade out there. Torreyes played well as the fill-in shortstop in April and he’s playing well right now, so going with him seems fine. At the same time, he played an awful lot earlier this month, and it got old quick. Wade? I like him a lot, though he has looked overmatched at times. (Many times.)

Option two is go out and get another infielder, which is tough to do now that the trade deadline has passed. Maybe the Yankees should have signed Danny Espinosa after the Angels released him and before he hooked on with the Mariners two weeks ago? Eh. He can really play defense, but he also hit .162/.237/.276 (39 wRC+) before being released and is a .207/.282/.354 (70 wRC+) hitter in his last 1,800 plate appearances dating back to 2013. I’m not going to complain about missing out on Espinosa. I was just throwing a name out there.

An August waiver trade to add a stopgap second baseman is certainly possible, though I get the sense the Yankees aren’t eager to trade a prospect and/or take on salary for a stopgap. Castro is going to be the second baseman when he returns. Potential August waiver trade candidates include Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker, Jed Lowrie, and Brandon Phillips, so there will be infielders available. It’s just a question of whether the Yankees want to trade prospects or (more realistically) take on their salary to facilitate a trade for a stopgap player.

My guess is the Yankees are going to stand pat and roll with Torreyes and Wade for the time being. If Castro’s hamstring strain continues to linger or he suffers a setback, then maybe they’ll look to make a trade. Their top two middle infielders in Triple-A right now are Cito Culver and Donovan Solano, so yeah. The Yankees can’t afford to lose anyone else. Perhaps a small depth trade for a non-40-man journeyman is coming. Another Solano type.

So far the Yankees have not just gotten by without Castro these last few weeks, they’ve thrived. They’ve been able to climb back into first place. They added reinforcements at the trade deadline and Torreyes has shown he can be quite productive in short bursts. The ability to get the bat on the ball and run like hell can go a long way. The Yankees are at their best with healthy Castro though, so over these next few weeks, the priority will be getting him healthy for the stretch run. And if his recovery takes longer than expected, the Yankees may to look for some last minute help.

Game 100: Back on Track

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

It looks like the Yankees are finally starting to right ship. They played terrible baseball for a good month there, but they’ve now won six of their last eight games and are a healthy 8-5 in the second half. The bullpen is much improved and the offense is providing enough runs. My guess is the Yankees will be an even better team after Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Anyway, the Rays are in town for a really important four-game series this weekend. They’re a game and a half back of the Yankees in the standings, so they’re a direct competitor for the AL East title and a wildcard spot. This weekend is a good chance to create some distance with Tampa. Burying them would be preferable, but one game at a time. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. DH Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now, the bad news: there’s rain in the forecast tonight. It’s supposed to start right around first pitch and continue until the wee hours of the morning. A delay or an outright postponement is a very real possibility. Hope for the best. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin a little after 7pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (oblique) and Tyler Austin (hamstring) are tentatively scheduled to begin minor league rehab assignments once this homestand ends next week … Starlin Castro (hamstring) is in wait-and-see mode. They’re going to reevaluate him in a few days and determine whether he can resume baseball activities.

Game 87: The Start of the Second Half

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Welcome to the first day of the rest of the season. The All-Star break is over and we’re officially into the dog days of summer. The Yankees begin a four-game set with the Red Sox in Fenway Park tonight. Best case scenario is they leave this series with a half-game lead in the AL East. Worst case scenario is they leave 7.5 games back. A few too many things have been playing out to the worst case scenario for my liking lately.

The Yankees return from the All-Star break with a 45-41 record and a healthy +98 run differential, though they’re also 7-18 in their last 25 games, which is pretty darn awful. They haven’t won a series or back-to-back games or more than a month now. Hopefully everyone got their heads clear during the break and the second half serves as a fresh start. The Yankees could really use one. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It is cloudy, cool, and humid in Boston this evening. There is rain in the forecast, though not until later tonight. It shouldn’t be a problem unless the game goes to extra innings or something. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Michael Pineda has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and Tommy John surgery has been recommended. He will get a second opinion first … Greg Bird (ankle) has been diagnosed with inflammation in his os trigonum, which is essentially an extra bone in his ankle. He received another cortisone shot, and if that doesn’t work, he may need surgery. The surgery comes with a 6-8 week rehab timetable, meaning he could be back for September … Starlin Castro (hamstring) will play another minor league rehab game tonight, and could return as soon as tomorrow depending how he feels.

Roster Moves: Welcome back, Matt Holliday and Jordan Montgomery. Holliday (illness) was activated off the disabled list and Montgomery was called back up. He didn’t even miss a start … Pineda was placed on the 10-day DL, allowing the Montgomery to return before his ten days in the minors were up … Rob Refsnyder was sent down to clear a roster spot for Holliday … welcome to the big leagues, Garrett Cooper. He’s been added to the roster following yesterday’s trade. He essentially takes Tyler Webb‘s 25-man and 40-man roster spots. This will be Cooper’s MLB debut. Next time the Yankees need a 40-man spot, they’ll slide Pineda to the 60-day DL.

2017 Midseason Review: The Infielders

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, our expectations surrounding the infield were fairly high. Greg Bird was raking in Spring Training, and it seemed as though he hadn’t missed a beat; and, in the event that he did, Chris Carter was around as an overqualified back-up. Starlin Castro had shown flashes of brilliance in 2016, and had been hyped-up by some as a potential breakout player. Chase Headley … well, his defense had improved, and he was better after a calamitous first month. And Didi Gregorius was coming off of a great all-around season. What could possibly go wrong?

The First Basemen

Expectation: Bird and Carter would form a more than competent platoon, of sorts, with Carter playing first against tougher LHP, and allowing Bird to rest a bit more often than a normal team composition would dictate. ZiPS projected a .234/.307/.449 line for Bird, and .223/.316/.509 for Carter.

Reality: Bird is on the disabled list for the second time in his career, as the result of an ankle injury. He’s played just 19 games, and is hitting on a .100/.250/.200 slash line. And Carter has earned himself two DFA’s by hitting .201/.284/.370 and absolutely brutal defense at first. The starter is currently Ji-Man Choi.

I almost don’t want to write more about first base, as it’s rather depressing. Bird’s injury (and the resulting fallout from the front office) has cast a shadow over the team’s season, and it has only grown darker as the team struggled over the last few weeks. His return is still up in the air, and surgery is a distinct possibility. And it is that uncertainty that is most frustrating.

And Carter – the should-have-been safety net – failed catastrophically. We always knew that he was a feast or famine hitter, but that had still resulted in a .221/.318/.474 slash line (116 wRC+) in five seasons as a regular. There was some sentiment that he was struggling as he adjusted to playing part time, but that excuse went out the window once he became the full-time first baseman. His 73 wRC+ ranks dead last among first basemen.

Choi is the starter for the time being, and he has made a decent impression in a four games. He’s hitting .182/.308/.727 in 13 PA, with 2 HR and 2 BB, and there’s no real challenger for his position in the organization right now. And, for what it’s worth, he does have a career .853 OPS in 851 PA at Triple-A.

Second-Half Forecast: The Yankees will acquire a first baseman via trade, and shut Bird down sooner rather than later.

The Second Basemen

Expectation: Castro would continue to be a competent yet frustrating presence at the keystone. ZiPS projected a .272/.305/.419 slash line, which isn’t too far off from his career norms (in 4000-plus PA).

Reality: Castro is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which was a major blow to the team’s lineup. He’s currently slashing .313/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) with 12 HR in 313 PA.

The 27-year-old Castro absolutely raked in April, batting .352/.362/.549 (154 wRC+) with 5 home runs. He also had a 7.1% walk rate, which is impressive for the free-swinger. His performance dipped in May (97 wRC+, 3.4 BB%), but he showed improvements in June (117 wRC+, 4.2 BB%) prior to hitting the DL. Castro earned an All-Star nod for his first-half, but had to be replaced due to that injury.

Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes have filled-in since the injury. I’ll have more on them in a bit.

Second-Half Forecast: Castro will be back soon, and his numbers will continue to fluctuate. With so much strong production in the bank, however, we may end up seeing a career year.

The Third Basemen

Expectation: Headley would be a warm body at the hot corner, with competent defense. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be a bit better with the bat. ZiPS had him at .247/.324/.376.

Reality: Headley has been a warm body at the hot corner, but his defense has regressed. His offense (91 wRC+) is right in-line with 2015 (92 wRC+) and 2016 (92 wRC+), even with a blistering hot start.

This is who Headley is at this point. He’s batting .254/.329/.373 (92 wRC+) since Opening Day of 2015, and his highs (142 wRC+ in April) are always met with ridiculous lows (15 wRC+ in May). That’s fine when he’s playing strong defense, as he did in 2016, but he has been a borderline disaster out there in 2017. DRS has him at -5 runs already, and he has already surpassed last year’s error total.

Second-Half Forecast: More of the same, unfortunately. Though, I could see a Miguel Andujar cup of coffee happening down the stretch.

The Shortstops

Expectation: Gregorius would continue to win our hearts with his surprising power, slick defense, and top-notch Twitter game. ZiPS was bearish on the power spike, projecting a .262/.308/.404 line.

Reality: Pretty darn close, albeit with nearly a month lost to a shoulder injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic. He’s hitting .291/.321/.458 with 10 HR (104 wRC+) on the year, and nearly made the All-Star team.

Gregorius is one of the most likable players in baseball, as evidenced by the fun he had trying to garner that final vote. The fact that he has proven that last season wasn’t a fluke helps, too, and he is currently a top-10 shortstop by both WAR (7th in MLB) and wRC+ (9th). And keep in mind that WAR is a counting stat, so the fact that he’s 26th among shortstop in PA helps to bring that number down. He may not be a Hall of Fame talent, but that’s perfectly acceptable – he’s still really, really good.

Second-Half Forecast: Gregorius will keep it up. He’s the safest bet among the infielders to be an above-average player for the remainder of the season, and I’m confident that he will.

The Reserves

Expectation: Ronald Torreyes and Co. would be perfectly adequate bench players.

Reality: Torreyes and Co. have been perfectly adequate – but they’ve had too play more often than anyone would have wanted.

Torreyes spent most of April as the team’s starting shortstop, and he was surprisingly competent. He posted a .313/.313/.433 slash line (95 wRC+) while Gregorius was on the mend, and his defense was more than passable. He has been overextended and a bit exposed since then, though, as he has already surpassed last year’s PA mark, and stands to play more as the season wears on. He’s another fun player, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more than what he’s done already.

Wade was called upon to shore up the bench when Castro landed on the DL, and he has picked up five starts at second in those two weeks. He has yet to get on-track (.107/.219/.179 in 32 PA), but his versatility and speed should earn him more opportunities in the coming months. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (134 wRC+) with 5 HR and 24 SB at Triple-A this year, and he might just be the best reserve the team has right now.

Rob Refsnyder is still around, too, but the Yankees seem to have decided that he’s a 1B/LF/RF. He’s batting .135/.200/.216 in 40 PA, and he hasn’t played since July 2.

Second-Half Forecast: This may be optimistic, but I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Wade, and less of Torreyes (and Refsnyder, if such a thing is even possible). The Yankees have been grooming him for this exact role for some time now; it’s his time to shine.

Selling Points

brian-cashman-deadline
(Getty)

What a difference a month makes, huh? Through June and early July, the Yankees have suffered both injuries and insults–mostly in the form of bullpen meltdowns–on their way out of first place in the AL East. Still, they’re in playoff position as they lead in the wildcard spot, which is of comfort; they are also within striking distance of the now first place Red Sox with plenty of baseball left to play. In a vacuum, this team would be in buy-like-crazy mode, especially given the problems its had at first base all year and the bullpen recently, not to mention the rotation. Like always, though, there isn’t a vacuum and there’s a big mitigating factor at play.

This success–however tempered by the last five weeks or so–is unexpected. 2017 was not the year the Yankees were supposed to compete for anything more than a shot at the second wildcard. Now, the playoffs seem a real possibility. While that’s great for obvious reasons, it does somewhat betray the long term plan the organization had going into this year. Once again, the team will have to strike the delicate balance that defines the Yankees: win now AND later. They’re finally set up to do the latter more than the former, but they’ve also managed to do the former.

How the Yankees could buy is obvious. By all accounts, their farm system is–at worst–top five in the league. Even with Gleyber Torres injured, they have a blend of depth and upside in the minors that is (likely) the envy of many around baseball. Should they choose to, the Yankees could deal from a position of strength and depth by upgrading the major league roster at the expense of the minor league one.

But what happens if the Yankees continue to slip? It’s not likely as they’ll soon have players like Starlin Castro and Matt Holliday rejoining them from the disabled list, but let’s play what if. What if the Yankees find themselves in a position to sell again? Ask this a month ago–which was unthinkable at the time, really–and things would’ve seemed a lot better. Despite that, the Yankees do have some valuable pieces they could auction off.

The cons of trading all of these players are obvious–the Yankees need them for the stretch run. Each may have his own reasons, too, but that’s the overarching one.

First up are those two who’ll be returning: Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro. Both have obvious value as bats in any lineup, especially contending ones. Holliday, though, would likely be limited to AL teams. As for Castro, many might recognize this as the absolute top of his market–despite the injury–and avoid paying said cost.

Tyler Clippard would be next, but he completely demolished his own value over the last month plus, pitching like someone who hardly belongs in the big leagues.

Then there’s the real wildcard, Masahiro Tanaka. While he was shaky to start the year, that’s clearly atypical of him; he’s proven his mettle and worth over the last three plus seasons and on talent alone, he’s probably the Yankees’ best Major League trade piece not named Judge, Sanchez, or Frazier. But with his opt out, his trade value is diminished. No one likes uncertainty.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will not be sellers at this deadline. They’re going to be close and they’re going to owe it to their players to give an honest shot at things, even if this is ahead of schedule. If they’re lucky, they can maybe pull off the best of both worlds: improve the major league team by dealing prospects and selling off a major league piece to help replenish the minor league depth. That’s probably a pipe dream, but this season has sort of been one itself, hasn’t it?

Game 84: The Final Series of the First Half

Maybe the Yankees can find a win up there. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Maybe the Yankees can find a win up there. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

A fun fact: the Yankees have won the first game in each of their last four series. A not-so-fun fact: the Yankees have failed to win each of those four series. Yuck. This weekend’s interleague series with the Brewers is the final series before the All-Star break, and given how poorly things have gone these last few weeks, you know the Yankees want to do well this weekend and head into the break feeling good about things. That’s what I’m hoping.

The first place Brewers (!) are visiting the Bronx for the first time since May 2011. Milwaukee is 0-10 in their last ten games at Yankee Stadium and 1-14 in their last 15 games. Their last win in the Bronx came back in July 1997. Ken Rogers started that game for the Yankees. It’s been a while. Of course, that means nothing. What happened in 2011 and 1997 or any other year as no bearing on what happens tonight, in 2017. Just win, please. Here is the Brewers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. 1B Ji-Man Choi
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

The morning rain has cleared out and it’s turned into a nice day here in New York. Blue sky and some clouds. Not a bad night for a ballgame. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Both Starlin Castro (hamstring) and Matt Holliday (illness) will not rejoin the Yankees this weekend. They’re going to play in minor league rehab games before returning, and both could be back in time for the first series after the All-Star break.

All-Star Update: Earlier today MLB announced a series of All-Star replacements and, no, Gregorius is not replacing the injured Castro on the AL roster. Castro’s spot is going to … Robbie Cano. Baseball is a flat circle.