Heyman: Gardner, Prado, Drew all clear trade waivers

Via Jon Heyman: Brett Gardner, Martin Prado, and Stephen Drew all cleared trade waivers this month. That means they can all now be traded to any team. It doesn’t mean the Yankees want to move them, of course, but they can if they want. The Nationals claimed Matt Thornton off trade waivers the other day and the club let him go for nothing.

As a reminder, teams will pass almost all of their players through trade waivers this month. They are completely revocable, so players can be pulled back if claimed. Most of the time they try to hide a player they’re looking to move by putting a whole bunch of players on waivers on the same time. The Yankees figure to claim a player or three this month if for no other reason than to block them from going to one of the teams they’re trying to catch in the standings. I’m surprised no one claimed Gardner.

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Deadline pickups already paying big dividends in the field

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear the Yankees needed to beef up their offense. They were getting very little from right field and second base in particular, plus third base became a black hole as soon as Yangervis Solarte returned to Earth. The Yankees needed to do something to add to their lineup, something more than wait for Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran to turn their seasons around.

Improving the offense wasn’t their only need at the trade deadline. The Yankees also needed to upgrade their infield defense because it was disastrous. Truly one of the worst infield defenses I have ever seen and it would have been a lot worse if not for the club’s emphasis on shifting to compensate for the lack of range. The bad defense was the most consistent part of the team too — every day the infield would cost them. It was amazing to watch, really.

The Yankees are locked into Derek Jeter at short and Mark Teixeira at first for better or worse, though there was nothing standing in way of acquiring upgrades at second and third bases. Acquire those upgrades is exactly what they did, swinging a deal for Chase Headley last month and bringing in Stephen Drew just before the trade deadline. Headley has long been a solid gloveman and while Drew would be playing out of position at second base, his athleticism and quickness made him a decent bet to outperform Brian Roberts.

Headley’s bat hasn’t been anything special yet (86 wRC+ in 58 PA), but he has been outstanding in the field. He gobbles up everything hit his way and seems to really excel at going to his right for backhanded stops. Drew has been with the team for only five games, and while he hasn’t done much with the bat either (64 wRC+ in 18 PA), he’s looked pretty comfortable at second. We haven’t gotten much of a look at him, of course, but Roberts was bobbling routine plays towards the end of his time with the Yankees. Drew hasn’t done that.

With some help from the indispensable Baseball Savant, here is a quick and dirty look at how the Yankees have fared at turning ground balls into outs this season. Real basic stuff, how many grounders are being converted into outs with no adjustment for hit quality or hit location or anything like that. Obvious sample size caveats apply:

Total Grounders BABIP Grounders Per Error
Before Headley Trade 1,164 .255 28.4
Since Headley Trade 198 .227 66.0
Since Drew Trade 67 .194 67.0

The AL average is a .250 BABIP on ground balls this season, so the Yankees were just a touch worse than that before acquiring Headley. Even with all the shifts and whatnot, they were still a bit below-average because of the general lack of range and sure-handedness they had around the infield. It felt a lot worse, to be honest.

Since acquiring Headley though, that has dropped to a .227 BABIP, much better than the league average. The infield has also cut their rate of making an error — errors aren’t the best way to measure defense, but I’m mentioning them because the Yankees did seem to have a knack for getting to the ball and failing to make the play for much of the year — basically in half. That isn’t all because of Headley, but he is a big part of it. Solarte was sneaky bad in the field and Kelly Johnson never looked comfortable at the hot corner (or first base, for that matter).

The infield defense has improved even more since Drew arrived, though it has been less than a week, so who really knows. The numbers do match up with the eye test though, and that’s always cool. You don’t need to be a trained scout to see how improved defensively the infield has been the last few weeks. Headley is a tremendous upgrade over what the Yankees had at the hot corner for most of the year. Drew looks comfortable at second and has been better than Roberts.

Going from below-average defenders to above-average defenders at two of the four infield spots is a big, big deal. The Yankees had a weirdly built roster earlier in the season in that their best defensive players (Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury) were marginalized by a pitching staff that focused on getting ground balls to avoid cheap homers at Yankee Stadium. Thanks to the Headley and Drew additions, the Yankees now have an infield defense better suited for the strength of the pitching staff, and their impact in the field has been obvious.

Yankees send Zoilo Almonte and Zelous Wheeler to Triple-A

As expected, the Yankees have sent outfielder Zoilo Almonte and utility man Zelous Wheeler to Triple-A Scranton. The moves clear room on the active roster for Stephen Drew and Martin Prado. The Yankees still need to clear a spot for righty Esmil Rogers, who is joining the bullpen. Chase Whitley is a candidate to be sent down, where he would be able to stay stretched out as the de facto sixth starter. We’ll find out soon enough.

Update: Disregard, I’m an idiot. Brian Roberts being designated for assignment clears the roster spot for Rogers, so the Yankees are carrying eight relievers at the moment.

Yankees send Kelly Johnson to Red Sox for Stephen Drew

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

For the first time since the Mike Stanley trade in 1997, the Yankees and Red Sox have hooked up for a trade. The Yankees have acquired Stephen Drew and $500k from their division rivals in exchange for Kelly Johnson, the team announced. Brian Cashman told reporters Drew will take over as the team’s everyday second baseman.

Drew, 31, has hit a weak .176/.255/.328 (56 wRC+) with four homers in 145 plate appearances this year after signing at midseason. He has been much better of late, hitting .237/.341/.474 (126 wRC+) with two homers since the All-Star break. After the long layoff and the lack of a proper Spring Training, it took Drew a little while to get going with the bat. He is a dead pull left-handed hitter who might be able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch.

The Yankees had interest in Drew in each of the last two offseasons, though he declined to sign with them because of questions about how much he’d play as well as his position with Derek Jeter entrenched at short. Drew has never played a position other than shortstop — literally zero innings somewhere other than short (and DH) at both the big league and minor league level — so the second base experiment might be messy. He could always see time at short whenever Jeter needs a day off, of course.

Johnson, 32, is currently on the disabled list with a groin injury. He hit .219/.304/.373 (88 wRC+) with six homers in 227 plate appearances this season while playing mostly first and third bases. The Yankees signed him to be at least a platoon player at the hot corner, but Yangervis Solarte‘s season-opening hot streak and Mark Teixeira‘s injuries forced Johnson to spend a lot of time first base. The signing made perfect sense on paper but it just didn’t work out.

Like Johnson, Drew will be a free agent after the season, so this is a swap of rental players and the rearranging of some furniture. Drew is a very good defender at short but we have no idea how he will fare at second base. Brian Roberts, who was designated for assignment today, was giving the team neither offense nor defense in recent weeks, so it won’t take much for Drew to be an upgrade. As he did with his other trades this month, Cashman grabbed a potential upgrade at minimal cost. Hard to complain about that.

Rosenthal: Red Sox re-sign Stephen Drew

Via Ken Rosenthal: The Red Sox have re-signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract worth $14.1 pro-rated, so basically the qualifying offer he turned down over the winter. He will presumably take over shortstop with Xander Bogaerts moving back to third base. Drew will be a free agent again after this season, but because he did not spend the entire season with Boston, they will not be able to make him a qualifying offer.

The Yankees had on again, off again interest in Drew during the offseason and even in recent weeks — we recently heard they would reconsidering signing him after the draft — which makes sense given the infield situation. Just this morning I said I expected Drew to sign with the Tigers after the draft, which shows what I know. Kendrys Morales is still unsigned, and if the Yankees lose Carlos Beltran to elbow surgery, he would make some sense as a full-time DH and replacement middle of the order bat.

Cafardo: Yankees may consider Stephen Drew after the draft

Via Nick Cafardo: The Yankees may re-consider signing Stephen Drew after the draft passes next month, when they would not have to forfeit their second round pick. The team also doesn’t want the Red Sox to gainĀ another compensation pick after essentially giving them one as part of the Jacoby Ellsbury signing.

Drew, 31, will probably need several weeks to get ready for MLB game action at this point, even if he has been working out in the meantime. (I’m sure he has.) The best case scenario is what, probably one week to get ready? As Joe wrote yesterday, the Yankees could clearly use help on the infield — if Carlos Beltran needs surgery, Derek Jeter could serve as the regular DH with Drew at shortstop — but it’s obvious no other team is going to jump in to sign him before the draft. With only three weeks to go, I think they could wait. He wouldn’t move the needle enough in those three weeks to justify losing the pick.

Do Drew and Morales make sense if Beltran needs surgery?

Kendrys Morales
(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

I have this buddy — most of you probably know him — who IMs me at least once a week clamoring for the Yankees to sign Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

And?

Drew we know makes some level of sense. The Yankees still need some infield help. Despite his relative health so far, and his improving performance, they can’t ignore the injury risk of Brian Roberts. Fun as he’s been to watch, Yangervis Solarte could go away at any time. The Yankees can’t really afford that kind of drop-off at this point.

Once they signed Carlos Beltran, Morales didn’t make sense for the Yanks. They had Mark Teixeira installed at first base, and with four outfielders they had their DH needs covered. There just weren’t enough at-bats for a guy who certainly deserves them. There was always the “if Mark Teixeira misses significant time” caveat, but other than that there wasn’t much connection between Morales and the Yankees.

Beltran’s injury changes the scene a bit. If he does require immediate surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, the Yankees have room to add a bat. With two MLB players waiting for a team to sign them, the Yankees have a perfect opportunity to improve.

Morales: DH and spelling Teixeira

The Yankees need a healthy Teixeira if they’re going to make a run at the postseason. They’ve already missed him for two weeks. To lose him again, especially with Beltran out, would further cripple the offense. We got a little scare earlier this week, when Teixeira sat out a game and complaining of tired legs. He ran poorly, even for himself, during the weekend series in Milwaukee.

Adding Morales gives Girardi a viable backup for Teixeira. Playing Morales at first allows Teixeira to take a full day off, or to rest up a bit at DH. Kelly Johnson could do that, sure, but what happens if Roberts gets hurt? Johnson can’t play the entire right side of the infield.

Morales’s primary role would be at DH, with Alfonso Soriano taking over in right field. His arm might not be fit for the job, but he’s shown considerably more range than Beltran this season. It’s a trade-off that the Yankees will have to take. They can still get Soriano days at DH and on the bench, as he’s been doing all year. That will free up some at-bats for Ichiro as well.

Drew: Mitigating Jeter

The rise of Solarte has made the Yankees infield a bit better than we anticipated going into the season. Unfortunately, Jeter’s defense has been even worse than imagined. The pitching staff has had its troubles, and it’s tough to blame the entire problem on shaky infield defense, but it sure hasn’t helped them. Drew is no defensive wizard, but he represents an upgrade over the current corps.

Signing Drew only works if Girardi makes Jeter the primary DH in Beltran’s absence. Perhaps Jeter can stay fresher if he’s off the field, providing a bit more offense than he is now. Drew plays his natural position, at which his bat provides the most value.

Given the state of the Yankees infield, there doesn’t need to be a very strong case made for Drew. He’d help.

What about pitching?

With three-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the DL, the Yankees might need some pitching help. We know Ivan Nova is lost for the season. Who knows if CC Sabathia, with a degenerative knee condition, or Michael Pineda, with an injury so close to his surgically repaired right shoulder will come back — let alone come back and pitch effectively. If the Yankees are going to open their wallets, shouldn’t it aid the pitching staff?

In an ideal world, sure. But in the real world, there aren’t any major league caliber pitchers on the free agent market. A few might become available in July, but the Yankees can’t count on that. They have to take measures to improve the team where they can when the opportunities arise. Right now, the opportunities lie in Drew and Morales.

There is little to no chance the Yankees sign both, giving up their second- and third-round draft picks in the process. (Unless Boras comes up with one of his creative package deals, a la Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.) Either could help the Yankees if Beltran misses significant time. Strangely enough, it might even make them a more balanced team in the process.