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.

Game 82: Independence Day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Happy birthday, America. What better way to celebrate our nation’s independence than by beating the one MLB team not stationed in the good ol’ US-of-A? The Yankees beat the Blue Jays in last night’s series opener and now they’re trying to win back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks. It’s been far too long.

Anyway, the Yankees are starting to get healthier, folks. CC Sabathia and Adam Warren are both back from the disabled list. Sabathia is starting this afternoon’s game and Warren is available in the bullpen. The Yankees could really use the pitching help. Getting Warren back will be particularly helpful given the recent bullpen issues. Beat the Blue Jays. It’s the American way. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It’s a lovely day for baseball in New York. Nice and sunny with only a few clouds in the sky. Not exceedingly hot either. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Starlin Castro (hamstring) took ground balls and hit in the cage today. He is making progress but is unlikely to return before the All-Star break … Matt Holliday (illness) is feeling better.

Roster Moves: To make room for Sabathia and Warren, the Yankees sent Domingo German and Bryan Mitchell down to Triple-A Scranton. Luis Cessa remains as with the team as the stretched out long man. German needs to pitch. He hasn’t been doing much of that the last few weeks.

Final Vote Update: Gregorius is currently third in the Final Vote voting, MLB announced this morning. Mike Moustakas is the leader (duh) and Xander Bogaerts is in second. Here’s the ballot. Voting ends Thursday afternoon.

Judge and Sanchez among five Yankees selected to the 2017 All-Star Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are sending five players to the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami next week. Sunday night the two All-Star rosters were announced and Dellin Betances, Starlin Castro, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino will be there representing the Yankees. The Yankees haven’t had as many as five All-Stars since they had eight in 2011. Here are the full rosters.

Judge will start this year’s All-Star Game after receiving more fan votes (4,488,702) than any other AL player. He’ll be the first Yankee to start the Midsummer Classic since Derek Jeter in 2014, his farewell season. Only Bryce Harper (4,630,306) received more fan votes among all players. Judge has also been invited to the Home Run Derby, though he’s yet to announce whether he will participate.

It goes without saying Judge is very worthy of starting the All-Star Game. He’s been a monster. Judge is currently hitting .327/.448/.687 with an MLB best 27 home runs this season, and he leads the league in runs, total bases, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and both versions of WAR. He is, quite simply, having one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. Love that guy.

Some fun facts about Judge’s All-Star Game selection:

  • He’s the sixth position player drafted by the Yankees to become an All-Star. He joins Jeter, Brett Gardner, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. (The draft has been around since 1965. Bernie Williams was signed as an international free agent, not drafted.)
  • He received more votes than any other player on the players’ ballot. His peers gave him more All-Star Game love than any other player. I bet that means more to Judge than the fan voting.
  • He’s the first AL rookie to be voted an All-Star Game starter since Hideki Matsui in 2003. Matsui was a veteran from Japan though, not a true rookie.

Both Betances and Castro were selected to the All-Star Game for the fourth time in their careers. Betances has made it each of the last four years. Betances, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer are the only pitchers who can make that claim. Castro was an All-Star with the Cubs in 2011, 2012, and 2014. Judge, Sanchez, and Severino are first time All-Stars. Sanchez has also been invited to the Home Run Derby, though, like Judge, he’s yet to decide whether to accept the invite.

The big story here is that four homegrown Yankees are All-Stars, and three of them are no older than 25. Even Castro, the non-homegrown All-Star, is still only 27. I wonder how long it’s been since the Yankees had five under-30 All-Stars? Has to have been a while, right? Judge, Sanchez, and Severino did not need to be selected to the All-Star Game to be validated as cornerstone Yankees, but it sure is cool they made it.

In addition to the five All-Stars, Didi Gregorius is on the Final Vote ballot. He’s up against Elvis Andrus, Xander Bogaerts, Logan Morrison, and Mike Moustakas. Royals fans are probably going to stuff the hell out of the Final Vote ballot like they do every All-Star ballot, but we’ve gotta try to get Gregorius there. He’s fun and he’s awesome. Fans all around the world need to experience the joy of Sir Didi. Here’s the ballot. Go vote a few hundred times.

As for snubs, I’d say Aaron Hicks and Matt Holliday deserved serious All-Star Game consideration, but they’re both currently on the disabled list. That surely worked against them. So did the numbers crunch. The All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 players this year. Either way, five (potentially six) All-Stars is pretty awesome. More than I expected.

Game 75: Win it for Starlin

(Matt Hazlett/Getty)
(Matt Hazlett/Getty)

The Yankees are down yet another player. Starlin Castro was indeed placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain today. He left last night’s game with the injury. Castro joins Aaron Hicks (oblique), CC Sabathia (hamstring), Adam Warren (shoulder), and Greg Bird (ankle) on the shelf. Also, Matt Holliday is still out with his mystery illness/allergic reaction.

The show must go on though. Every team deals with injuries and no one feels bad for the Yankees. The Yankees did get back in the win column last night, though not before the bullpen made things unnecessarily interesting. I could really go for a blowout win. When’s the last time the Yankees had one of those? The bloodbath series against the Orioles, I guess. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Tyler Austin
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 1B Austin Romine
  9. LF Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Luis Severino

It’s a bit cloudy in Chicago and on the cool side. There’s no rain in the forecast though, and that’s the most important thing. This evening’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Castro has a Grade I strain. There’s no word on an exact timetable, but those usually take 2-3 weeks. Sometimes even less … Holliday went for tests but still doesn’t feel right. If it lingers another day or two, he could be placed on the disabled list … Austin’s hamstring is sore, which is why he’s the designated hitter tonight.

Roster Moves: In addition to placing Castro on the disabled list, the Yankees also sent down Jonathan Holder, and called up both Tyler Wade and Tyler Webb. The Yankees already had an open 40-man roster spot for Wade, so no other move was required. Technically Webb replaces Castro on the roster since the injury allows the Yankees to get around the ten-day rule. Wade is replacing Holder. The active roster is now 16% Tylers.

Thoughts following the Castro injury and Tyler Wade call-up

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

Another day, another injured Yankee. Last night Starlin Castro went down with a right hamstring strain and tests today will determine the severity. The Yankees are calling up Tyler Wade, arguably their best healthy infield prospect, to replace Castro, which seems to indicate he’s heading to the disabled list. Sigh. The Yankees are now without Castro, Aaron Hicks (oblique), CC Sabathia (hamstring), Greg Bird (ankle), Matt Holliday (illness), and Adam Warren (shoulder). I have thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. I know we’re all excited to see Wade — well, I know I am, I don’t know about you — but losing Castro really bites. Even after cooling off these last few weeks like the rest of his non-Aaron Judge teammates, Starlin still owns a .315/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) batting line with 12 home runs. The Yankees will miss that. The offense seems to be snapping out of its recent funk — the Yankees have scored 12 runs the last two days, which is hopefully the start of something big — but it’s still not all the way back yet. Castro is an important complementary bat around Judge and Gary Sanchez. All these injuries mean the lineup simply is not as deep as it was a few weeks back. Stinks.

2. The Yankees aren’t calling Wade up to sit. I expect him to play second base pretty much every day while Castro is out — I wouldn’t be opposed to starting Ronald Torreyes against tough lefties, at least initially (the Yankees are going to see Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon the next two games, for what it’s worth) — which is probably the best thing for him. The Yankees are grooming Wade to be a super utility guy, someone who can play a different position every day, but that’s not easy! Veterans have a tough time doing that. Asking a kid to do it in his first taste of the show is less than ideal. Replacing Castro gives Wade a chance to play a familiar position day after day, and get his feet wet in the big leagues. Once he’s comfortable, the Yankees can start moving him around. The Starlin injury bites. There’s no doubt about that. The upside is Wade gets to step into the lineup and play one position, not be asked to move all around the field right away.

3. I think there’s a chance Wade is up for good. If he performs well as Castro’s replacement, the Yankees will keep him up as that super utility player. It’s not like the bench couldn’t use the upgrade. Heck, perhaps he’d get a second half audition at third base given the long-term need at the position. The Yankees have moved Wade all around the infield in his career and they introduced him to the outfield in the Arizona Fall League last year for this exact reason. To get him on the roster and into the lineup. They like him a lot. Point is, I don’t think this is necessarily an injury fill-in and nothing more. Wade will get a chance to earn a spot and stick with the team going forward. This is a great opportunity for him. It’s a chance to leave the minor leagues behind.

Wade and a friend. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Wade and a friend. (Jon Durr/Getty)

4. The roster move figures to be quite simple. Castro to the disabled list and Wade called up. There’s still an open 40-man roster spot with Chris Carter having been designated for assignment, so there’s no need to clear a spot. Castro to the DL, Wade up. Easy peasy. I do wonder, however, if the Yankees would use the Castro DL stint to get around the ten-day rule and bring Mason Williams back, then send Rob Refsnyder down for Wade. That would give the Yankees a true fourth outfielder — neither Williams nor Refsnyder figure to hit much, but at least Mason can go get it in the outfield — and they’re not going to need Refsnyder’s ability to play (“play”) second since Wade and Torreyes can cover every infield position. I suppose they could keep Refsnyder around as a right-handed platoon bat, especially with a bunch of lefty starters coming up, but meh. My guess is the straight Castro-Wade swap. Swapping out Refsnyder for Williams wouldn’t be a bad idea though.

5. I can’t help but wonder whether Gleyber Torres would be getting called up instead of Wade right now if he were healthy. Gleyber was playing second base in addition to third down in the minors, so the Yankees could have plugged him right into the lineup to replace Castro. Man, that would have been fun as hell, wouldn’t it? Alas. The Yankees always try to downplay expectations with their prospects — Brian Cashman said last week a Torres call-up hadn’t really crossed the team’s minds, but come on — but I absolutely believe they were prepping Gleyber for a second half call-up. Probably to play third base, though if an injury opened up second base or shortstop, he would have ended up there. Now there’s an injury at second base and Torres isn’t there to take over. /sobs

6. Don’t overlook the Jorge Mateo angle here. Abi Avelino is going from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton to replace Wade and Mateo is going from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton to replace Avelino. Mateo is hitting .240/.288/.400 (97 wRC+) this season, and going back to last year, he has a .249/.299/.387 (98 wRC+) batting line in 804 plate appearances at High-A Tampa. Not good! That said, I think there’s a chance the promotion will energize him a bit. I hope it does, anyway. I think the Yankees would love to see Mateo mash with Trenton and rebuild some value so they could trade him at some point, either at the deadline or in the offseason. Among all their top 100 caliber prospects, I always thought the Yankees considered Mateo the most expendable. Don’t ask me why. Just a hunch. Hopefully Mateo gets his act together with the Thunder and can contribute to the Yankees in some way down the line, either on their roster or as a trade chip.