Game 73: Warren’s Last Stand?

"Nice work as a starter, Adam. We have another job in mind for yor." (Presswire)
“Nice work as a starter, Adam. But we have another job in mind for you.” (Presswire)

In a week or so, the Yankees will send a starter to the bullpen and go back to a normal five-man rotation. All signs point to Adam Warren being the odd man out even though he has been no worse than their third best starting pitcher this season. He’s had success in a setup role and the Yankees do need help there, so it’s an easy move. It would be an undeserved demotion to say the least.

Tonight’s series opener against the Astros may be Warren’s chance to show the Yankees he belongs in the rotation, not the bullpen. I honestly have no idea what he needs to do to keep his rotation spot — anything short of a shutout may seal his fate. Life ain’t fair, man. Having too many starting pitchers is a good thing … as long as the five best are actually in the rotation. Here is the Houston lineup and here is New York’s party like it’s 2013 lineup:

  1. CF Chris Young
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. LF Jose Pirela
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. 2B Gregorio Petit
    RHP Adam Warren

It’s sunny and hot in Houston. The Minute Maid Park roof will probably be closed for air conditioning reasons, not because it’s raining. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally, depending where you live. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As you can tell from the lineup, both Drew and Petit are back. Drew was activated off paternity leave and Petit was recalled from Triple-A Scranton. Branden Pinder and Diego Moreno were sent down yesterday to make room on the roster. The Yankees are rolling with a six-man bullpen.

Injury Update: Andrew Miller (forearm) played catch again and everything went well. He’ll take tomorrow off then throw again Saturday … Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is running at 75-85% and isn’t ready for rehab games yet … Brett Gardner and Brian McCann are fine, just an off-day against the lefty starter.

Misc. Update: Andy Pettitte was in the clubhouse and in full uniform before the game. He only threw batting practice though. No comeback planned.

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Game 71: Maybe Don’t Allow 10+ Runs Again?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees allowed 11 and 12 runs in their last two games, respectively, and not surprisingly both resulted in losses. In fact, they’ve allowed 11, 12, 12, 2, 9, and 11 runs in their last six losses, which is really bad. The last two losses came with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, which is even harder to swallow. Pineda got roughed up by literally the worst offense in baseball.

Tonight the Yankees turn to their former ace CC Sabathia to do something Pineda and Tanaka couldn’t the last two days — pitch a winnable game. They’re averaging over seven runs per game on the homestand. The offense is holding up its end of the bargain. The Phillies are really bad, worst offense in baseball in terms of runs per game (3.21), so everything is set up for Sabathia to have a good start. Now he just needs to actually do it. Here is Philadelphia’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    LHP CC Sabathia

Really gross day in New York today. Hot and sticky, and there are thunderstorms in the forecast tonight. I’m not sure when they will start and stop — the rain was supposed to start this afternoon but that didn’t happen — so it’ll be a surprise. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot yesterday after an MRI showing nothing serious. He could return as soon as tomorrow … nothing new with Jacoby Ellsbury (knee), who is still taking batting practice and running the bases. No word on when he’ll take the next step in his rehab, which I assume involves some game action.

Roster Moves: Stephen Drew has been placed on the paternity list and Ramon Flores was sent to Triple-A, the Yankees announced. Bryan Mitchell was called back up — Drew going on the paternity list allowed the Yankees to bring him back before the ten days were up — as was Jose Pirela. The Yankees have a bunch of games against lefty starters coming up, so Pirela figures to play these next few days.

Start Time Update (6:51pm ET): The start of the game will be delayed, the Yankees announced. It is not raining right now but it is expected to start any minute. No word on a start time. “We will have one once the weather system moving thru the area works its way through,” said the team, according to Dan Barbarisi. First rain delay of the season!

Start Time Update (7:59pm ET): The Yankees say the game will begin at approximately 8:25pm ET. Baseball!

Sunday Links: A-Rod Promo, Eddy Julio Martinez, Drew

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees and Rangers wrap-up their three-game series later tonight with the ESPN Sunday Night Game. Sigh. Getting sick of all these late Sunday games. Anyway, here are a handful of links to hold you over until first pitch.

Minor league team apologizes for A-Rod “juice” box promotion

On Friday, the High-A Charlotte Stone Crabs (Rays) scheduled an Alex Rodriguez “juice” box promotion for their game against the Tampa Yankees. The team was going to hand out juice boxes labeled “The Sports Drink: 100% Juiced. Side Affects include: tainted records, inflated ego, omission from the Hall of Fame, and more!”

First of all, an A-Rod steroids joke? I award you no points for creativity. Secondly, Marc Topkin reports both the Yankees and Rays objected to the promotion, so it was cancelled. The Stone Crabs then issued an apology, according to Topkin. Here’s part of the text:

“On behalf of our entire organization I apologize to the New York Yankees, our affiliate club the Tampa Bay Rays, and all fans who may have taken offense,” said Stone Crabs General Manager, Jared Forma.  “While our intent was to raise awareness for the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition and the Salvation Army, we realize this promotion may have been offensive to many and for that we are sorry and have decided to cancel the promotion.  The Stone Crabs organization has the utmost respect for the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays organizations and wishes both organizations only the best in the future.”

Yeah, that probably wasn’t a good idea. It’s fine to hate A-Rod, most do, but an affiliated minor league club scheduling a promotion mocking an active player? That’s not going to sit well with the team, the league, and the MLBPA. Better luck next time.

Yankees among teams interested in Cuban OF Eddy Julio Martinez

According to Jesse Sanchez, the Yankees are one of several teams interested in free agent Cuban center fielder Eddy Julio Martinez, who has already been cleared to sign by MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. Sanchez says Martinez is in showcase mode right now — he’s held several workouts for scouts and has a few more scheduled.

Martinez, 20, has been described as an “impact talent” according to Kiley McDaniel, who says he has 70 speed and 50 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. Jeff Passan hears Martinez’s signing bonus could approach $10M. There’s no indication whether Martinez is ready to sign, but he is subject to the international spending pools, so the Yankees can offer him any amount until June 25th, the final day of the 2014-15 signing period. If Martinez doesn’t sign by then, New York can only offer him $300,000 due to the penalties from last year’s international spending spree.

I don’t know much about Martinez at all, just what’s in this post basically, but, as always, I am pro adding young up-the-middle talent at all times. The Yankees have dipped their toe in the Cuban market the last few years but have yet to dive in — they attend showcases and invite players in for private workouts, but have yet to pull the trigger and sign one. Their last notable Cuban signing was Jose Contreras more than a decade ago.

(In other Cuban player news, Ben Badler reports highly touted 21-year RHP Norge Ruiz has left the island, but the Yankees won’t have a shot to sign him because he won’t be cleared until well after June 25th.)

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

For first time, Cashman noncommittal about Drew’s job security

A few weeks ago, when Stephen Drew was scuffling offensively but playing solid defense, Brian Cashman told Andrew Marchand the team was not considering a change at second base. “No. I think Drew’s been fine,” said the GM. “Right now, I’m not looking at anyone being an alternative at second base to Drew. I’m surprised you asked the question.”

Now, in late-May, Drew is still scuffling at the plate and playing solid defense, and, for the first time, Cashman indicated Drew’s job may not be set in stone. “(Drew has) got rope, but if someone pushes his way into the mix, so be it,” said Cashman to Joel Sherman yesterday. “I am open to having Drew all year or someone else taking this if they can. I can’t predict what is going to happen.”

That someone would be Rob Refsnyder, who continues to tear the cover off the ball for Triple-A Scranton after shaking off his slow start. His defense is pretty bad, so he’d fit right in with the Yankees (hardy har har), but at least there’s a shot at an offensive upgrade. Drew’s been terrible at the plate, has been going back to last season, and his leash shouldn’t be all that long. Slade Heathcott is doing well in his very (very) limited big league cameo. Maybe that will make the Yankees more willing to roll with another young player.

Lack of production from up-the-middle positions holding the Yankees back

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Back in the day, the late-1990s dynasty was built on excellent production from the up-the-middle positions. The Yankees were getting high-end production from Jorge Posada at catcher, Derek Jeter at short, and Bernie Williams in center. Chuck Knoblauch never did put up huge numbers with the Yankees like he did with the Twins, but he still had a .377 OBP as the starting second baseman from 1998-99.

Those four positions are the hardest to fill in baseball, historically. Third base is tough too, but not as tough. Quality first basemen and corner outfielders are plentiful. Catchers, middle infielders, and center fielders are not, which is why teams are more willing to sacrifice offense for defense at those positions. It’s really hard to find someone who can hit there, so at least get someone who will catch the ball.

Right now, the Yankees have too many defense-first — in some cases, defense-only — players at the four up-the-middle positions. Jacoby Ellsbury in center field is the team’s only up-the-middle player who has been solidly above-average on both sides of the ball so far this season. Brian McCann, Stephen Drew, and Didi Gregorius are providing defense but very little offense, especially the last two.

Position NYY Player NYY AVG/OBP/SLG Average MLB AVG/OBP/SLG
C McCann  .228/.279/.382 (78 wRC+) .235/.302/.363 (83 wRC+)
2B Drew  .188/.271/.350 (70 wRC+)  .262/.321/.391 (96 wRC+)
SS Gregorius  .204/.269/.241 (42 wRC+)  .248/.304/.361 (83 wRC+)
CF Ellsbury .324/.412/.372 (126 wRC+) .257/.319/.391 (96 wRC+)

Those are some really low bars and yet the Yankees are falling short at three of the four positions. Ellsbury’s been awesome at the plate, McCann’s hovering close to average for a catcher thanks to his power, and both Drew and Gregorius have been well-below-average. Those two haven’t hit at all. Like, not even a little. There’s not much of a reason to expect either guy to hit much going forward either, but at least Gregorius has youth on his side.

There’s no good way to measure defense this early in the season. You have to take any stats with a huge grain of salt because the sample is too small. Based on the eye test, all four players have been above-average defenders in my opinion, even considering McCann’s passed ball/wild pitch issues. Didi’s looked much more comfortable at short in recent weeks yet his early season brain farts are still hurting his reputation. He’s been really good in the field of late.

Overall though, the Yankees aren’t getting enough production from these four positions. It’s really just three positions because Ellsbury’s been great. It’s a bit unfair to lump him in here. The other three guys has been far from great though. McCann’s been okay but hardly what the Yankees thought they were getting. Drew and Gregorius have been miserable at the plate, bad enough that their defense probably doesn’t make up for it.

The Yankees have limited options to replace these guys, and the one guy they didn’t want to replace (Ellsbury) just landed on the DL. McCann’s contract ensures he will remain the starting catcher, and besides, finding a better catcher would be damn near impossible anyway. Quality catchers almost never hit the trade or free agent markets. Drew, on the other hand, is totally replaceable and the Yankees do have some internal second base candidates, namely Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder.

The best internal candidate to replace Gregorius is, well, Drew. Besides, given Didi’s age and ability, he’s someone the Yankees should stick with this year and ride out every growing pain. Give him a chance to play everyday and see what happens. The first 40 games of 2015 aren’t going to write the story of his time in pinstripes. The Yankees just got done playing a Royals team littered with players who struggled early in their careers before figuring it out, after all. Sometimes it takes time.

The Yankees have gotten great production from first base, left field, and DH this season, which has helped cover for the underwhelming non-Ellsbury up-the-middle numbers. Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley are kinda sorta starting to hit too, which will help even more, though the Ellsbury injury hurts. One step forward, one step back. It wasn’t long ago that the Yankees were getting top of the line production from the up-the-middle positions. Now they’re barely getting average production and it’s one of the reason they haven’t been able to get out in front of a wide open AL East.

Stephen Drew quickly emerges as backup third baseman as Yankees look for ways to keep A-Rod in the lineup

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Even prior to last season’s suspension, staying on the field has been a bit of a problem for Alex Rodriguez later in his career. He played 664 of 972 possible games from 2008-13 — he hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2007 — due to a variety of injuries, ranging from the very minor (pulled calf in 2010) to the very major (hip surgery in 2009 and 2013).

The Yankees and Joe Girardi have limited A-Rod to mostly DH duty this season — he’s started 27 games at DH, two at third base, and one at first — knowing his 40th birthday is two months away and those two hip surgeries are not far in the rear-view mirror. And yet, Rodriguez is still dealing with a minor hamstring issue, suffered when he legged out that triple over the weekend. His bat is too valuable and they have to do what they can to keep him healthy.

So, in an effort to keep A-Rod in the lineup, he is no longer being considered Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. Stephen Drew spent some time working out at the hot corner in recent days and was thrown into the fire last night, getting the start at the hot corner. Girardi confirmed this is all because they’re looking to scale back Rodriguez’s time in the field. “We’re just thinking of keeping him at DH mostly,” said the skipper to Mark Feinsand.

Drew had never played third base as a pro before last night but didn’t seem too concerned about manning the hot corner — “I’ll be fine. You’ve got to do it sometime, right?” he said to Feinsand — after all, he had never played second base until the Yankees ran him out there last summer. He spent a few days taking ground balls at third and wasn’t really tested last night. Had one kinda sorta tough play. That was it.

Didi Gregorius played ten innings at third base last year, his only time at the hot corner in his career, but I understand why the Yankees didn’t try him at third. He’s settled in nicely at shortstop after a rocky start and he could possibly be a long-term solution there. Drew’s the guy you move around, the guy on a one-year contract trying to hang on. Jose Pirela, the other third base candidate on the roster, has played only 14 career minor league games at third.

There’s nothing wrong with having Drew or anyone else take ground balls at third base before games — guys work out at other positions all the time — though it was a surprise to see him start a game at the position so soon. The real issue is A-Rod’s lack of flexibility. He’s hitting very well, so the Yankees want him in the lineup every day, but the only real way to do that is by keeping him at DH. That means fewer DH days for the defensively challenged and also old Carlos Beltran, for Brian McCann, for everyone.

Only a handful of teams have full-time DHs these days. It’s basically just the Yankees, Red Sox (David Ortiz), Tigers (Victor Martinez), Athletics (Billy Butler), and Royals (Kendrys Morales). Everyone else uses a rotating DH and MLB seems to be moving in that direction. The Yankees did it the last three or four years in fact. They can’t do it now because of A-Rod, and now his apparently inability to play third even part-time gives Girardi even less maneuverability.

That said, if eliminating Rodriguez’s time in the field is the best way to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis, then that’s what they have to do. A-Rod has very quickly re-established himself as a core piece of the offense. If using Drew at third base is the best way to keep Alex healthy and in the lineup, so be it.

Estimating the length of Stephen Drew’s leash

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Following a 2-for-4 effort in last night’s win over the Blue Jays, shortstop turned second baseman Stephen Drew is now hitting .167/.247/.359 (65 wRC+) on the season. He was hitless in his previous 17 at-bats heading into last night’s game and is in a 7-for-45 (.156) rut in his last 14 games overall. Drew has had his moments, most notably the grand slam in Baltimore, but so far he isn’t doing much better than the .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) line he put up a year ago.

Despite the lack of production, Brian Cashman recently gave Drew a vote of confidence and declared his job safe. “I think Drew’s been fine. Right now, I’m not looking at anyone being an alternative at second base to Drew,” said the GM to Andrew Marchand last week. That’s not surprising. Cashman has always been the type to preach patience, and even if he was unhappy with Drew’s play, he wouldn’t tell the media. That’s just how the Yankees roll nowadays.

That said, if Drew doesn’t start hitting reasonably soon, Cashman and the Yankees will become impatient and look for alternatives. His defense has been very good, no doubt about it, but one team can only have so many dead spots in the lineup. And unlike Didi Gregorius and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees have no long-term stake in Drew. He’s on a one-year contract and figures to be gone after the season. So how long will his leash be? Let’s look at some recent precedents set by the Yankees.

The Tony Womack Leash

Gosh, the Womack signing was so bad. He hit .270/.314/.360 (72 wRC+) with 0.6 fWAR in nearly 1,000 games and 4,300 plate appearances as an everyday player from 1997-2003, had a career year thanks to some St. Louis Cardinals devil magic in 2004 (94 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR), and turned it into a two-year contract worth $4M with the Yankees. Gross.

Womack hit the emptiest .280 you’ll ever see during his first month in pinstripes (.280/.330/.329, 80 wRC+) and was erratic at second base, so in early-May the Yankees called up Robinson Cano and temporarily stuck Womack in left field, a position he’d never played before. By June, Womack was a part-time player on the bench. It certainly helped that Cano came up and hit right away, of course.

Womack’s leash was very short — he got one month as a second baseman and about a month and a half as an outfielder before being banished to the bench. We’re already one month into the season and Cashman’s comment sure make it seem like Drew is not in imminent danger of losing his starting job, but perhaps he ends up a part-timer like Womack come mid-June if he doesn’t right the ship.

The Brian Roberts Leash

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

This one is much more recent. The Yankees signed Roberts a year ago to replace Cano, giving him a one-year deal worth $2M despite a recent history of injuries and poor performance. He hit .246/.310/.356 (81 wRC+) and played in only 192 of 648 possible games from 2010-13. Replacing Cano is an impossible task, and the Yankees were hoping Roberts could stay healthy and be a pest at the bottom of the lineup. Nothing more.

Roberts did manage to stay healthy but he never did hit, putting up a .237/.300/.360 (84 wRC+) batting line in 348 plate appearances before being designated for assignment at the trade deadline, coincidentally when the Yankees acquired Drew. The Roberts leash is the trade deadline — hang on to Drew for the next few weeks, ride it out, then if necessary make an upgrade at the end of the July and drop him. So four months, basically. That’s the length of this leash.

The Raul Ibanez Leash

Man, Ibanez was awesome as a Yankees. Except for all those months he wasn’t. Before he started smashing all those clutch homers in September and October, Ibanez hit only .235/.303/.437 (95 wRC+) in 357 plate appearances as a corner outfielder/DH. And remember, Raul’s defense was really bad too. Really, really bad. He was a below-average hitter and a well-below-average defender. Not much to like there, at least not until he started hitting those homers.

The Yankees signed Ibanez to a one-year, $1.1M contract and they stuck with him all season. Raul’s a great guy and easy to like, but finding an upgrade at the DH spot wasn’t going to be all that tough, yet the Yankees stuck it out and were rewarded late in the season. So the Ibanez leash is the full season. The Yankees could stick with Drew, ride out the ups and downs throughout the summer, and hope it all works out in the end.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Miguel Cairo/Jayson Nix Leash

This is the worst kind of leash. This is the “he just won’t go away!” leash. Cairo played with the Yankees in 2004, 2006, and 2007 while Nix was around from 2012-13. Every time it seemed like these guys were about to be replaced or let go as a free agent, they managed to stick around. The Yankees kept bringing them back and we kept wondering why.

So imagine the Yankees not only ride out the season with an unproductive Drew, but bring him back next season in some capacity. And then maybe bring him back the season after that too. Don’t laugh. It could happen. The Yankees tried to sign Drew before both the 2013 and 2014 seasons before finally getting their hands on him. They like something about him and could continue to like that something after the season. The Cairo/Nix leash spans multiple years.

* * *

My hunch is Drew is closer to the Ibanez leash than the Womack leash. He might not necessarily remain the starting second baseman all season if he doesn’t pick up, but I do think Drew will be on the roster all year. And why not keep him around as a bench player if it comes to that? His middle infield defense is valuable and he’d be a better backup option than Brendan Ryan or Gregorio Petit.

The Yankees don’t have a 2005 Cano waiting but they do have Jose Pirela, who is expected to be added to the roster later today. Joe Girardi indicated Pirela will play against lefties, and he does well in that role, he may see more time against righties down the road. Rob Refsnyder is starting to heat up a bit and he’s looming in Triple-A, so the Yankees do have some other second base options to consider. Given how close the AL East race both is right now and figures to be throughout the summer, the Yankees shouldn’t stick with an unproductive Drew if a better option presents itself.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

CATCHERS (2)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

INFIELDERS (7)
Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

STARTERS (5)
Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

RELIEVERS (7)
Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

DISABLED LIST (4)
Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.