Going beyond the top relievers [2017 Season Preview]

(Gett Images)
Layne. (Getty Images)

Over the last few days, we’ve covered the four key cogs in the Yankees’ bullpen machine: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard. If healthy, each will take up the main roles in Joe Girardi‘s ‘pen and be called upon for the most important innings this season.

But the bullpen features far more than four guys. There will be at least seven on opening day. The Yankees had 20 different relievers pitch in at least one game last season. They had 26 the year before (24 if you take out position players).

So let’s take a look at the rest of the bullpen. Chances are, far more than the guys listed below will log time in relief, but these are the ones that jump out with a chance right now.

The veteran pick-up

Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frieri. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Last week, the Yankees added Ernesto Frieri on a minor league deal. Frieri didn’t pitch at all in 2016 after an awful spring with the Phillies, but he played for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. While there, he tossed two shutout innings against the Dominican Republic, even striking out Nelson Cruz.

Frieri, just 31 years old, was a pretty solid reliever from 2010-13, highlighted by a 2.32 ERA and 23 saves with the Padres and Angels in 2012. However, he was barely usable in 2014-15 with the Angels, Pirates and Rays with his ERA ballooning as high as 7.34 in 2014. At his best, he utilizes his mid-90s fastball to get hitters out, mixing in a slider and the occasional change or curve.

He’s a real wild card for the Yankees’ pen. There’s a solid chance he’ll make the team (seven batters into spring, he has six strikeouts and one HR allowed) but what he does from there is anyone’s guess. His velocity seems to have returned after falling a bit in 2014-15 and could be the secret to an improved Frieri.

The lefties

Girardi loves his southpaws, so one has to figure there will be at least one on the roster at all times, if not two. That’s not including Chapman, who won’t be used as a matchup lefty and is the definitive closer.

First up is Tommy Layne. Layne, 32, is a classic LOOGY, much better against lefties than righties. He tosses a lot variations of fastballs alongside a slider and curveball to produce some strikeouts. He was perfectly fine in 29 games for the Yankees in 2016 and it’s not outlandish to expect him to have another mid-3.00 ERA with a few too many walks and struggles against righties. Again, classic LOOGY.

Behind him lie a few different options, namely Chasen Shreve and Jon Niese. Niese, 30, has started most of his career and has succeeded at primarily keeping the ball on the ground. He’d provide a solid option as both another lefty and as a long man, two roles Girardi has said he sees Niese filling. He is coming back from a knee injury that he struggled with last season, so a healthy Niese would be an interesting piece.

We all know about Shreve. He was dominant for a couple months in 2015 with his low-90s fastball and changeup before becoming a liability late in ’15 and shuffling between the bullpen and the minors in 2016. The 26-year-old southpaw isn’t a LOOGY with the changeup as an out-pitch, but hitters appeared to figure out his off-speed offerings over the last couple seasons.

Two pitchers who reached Triple A last season are also in the mix for roles this summer, if not earlier. Jordan Montgomery and Dietrich Enns each played roles in Scranton’s success last fall and looked solid in Double A Trenton before that. Enns was added to the 40-man roster this winter. Lefties hit Enns slightly better than righties last season and the soft-tossing southpaw may not be best suited for a role as a LOOGY.

Montgomery — who is potentially in play for a spot in the rotation on opening day, let alone a relief spot — isn’t on the 40-man roster yet. Similar to Enns, Montgomery had a reverse split last year, although neither lefties or righties hit him well. He throws from a high arm slot and has a solid change-up and would be a solid long reliever if he isn’t a starter.

Righties with a taste

Heller (Getty Images)
Heller. (Getty Images)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder got chances last September to help the Yankees bullpen and neither particularly impressed. Heller, a 25 year old who came over in the Andrew Miller trade, throws in the upper 90s with his fastball and mixes in an effective slider. Despite his 6.43 ERA in seven big league innings, he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on because he has the stuff to be effective. He’s posted strong strikeout numbers everywhere in the minors, solid enough to mask occasional issues with walks. I’d expect him to be one of the first relievers called up this spring, if not someone on the roster opening day after a lights-out spring (one run, 8 ks in 9 2/3 innings with 6 BB).

Like Heller, Holder couldn’t seem to have his strikeout numbers translate in his short big league stint (8 1/3 innings). He also uncharacteristically struggled with control. Still, his fantastic strikeout rates (101 Ks in 65 1/3 innings last year over three levels) are the reason he was added to the 40-man roster early at 23 years old. He’s likely behind Heller but still a solid option this spring/summer.

Long man

The Yankees’ have a series of young pitchers competing for the final rotation spots right now and only two will walk away with said spots. Therefore, the rest will be relegated to Triple A or to spots in the bullpen. Frieri’s addition to the team makes it less likely the team brings two of those losing out north — or actually south 20 miles from Steinbrenner Field to Tropicana Field — for opening day.

Still, there is likely one spot, if not two, for those who lose out. Let’s say Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell get the rotation spots. It’s easy to see Luis Cessa take the long-man role while Chad Green and Montgomery go to Triple A. The latter two would still be likely to see time in the majors and could be see it quickly considering the bullpen shuttle of recent years.

40-man roster and beyond

Barbato (Getty Images)
Barbato. (Getty Images)

There is a gaggle of relievers that got opportunities to show off their stuff this spring with the Yankees, way too many to go through in detail. Johnny Barbato and Gio Gallegos are both on the 40-man and closest to the majors.

Further down the 40-man, Yefrey Ramirez and Domingo German both have strikeout worthy stuff, but they’re starters at the moment and haven’t pitched above Single A. Ronald Herrera, acquired for Jose Pirela a couple years ago, has all of five innings above Double A.

Off the 40-man roster, it’s worth paying attention to a few names. Nick Rumbelow, outrighted off the 40, is coming off Tommy John surgery and once showed promise for a middle relief role. Joe Mantiply — a southpaw who was claimed off waivers, DFA’d and then re-signed to a minor league deal this winter — has solid strikeout rates in the minors but hasn’t thrown much above Double A. Finally, J.P Feyereisen was acquired in the Miller deal with Heller and co. and was solid as a fireman for Double A Trenton in the MiLB playoffs last year. Could be something down the road and I wouldn’t be shocked if he is seen in the majors for a stint this summer.

Ten Yankees among 2017 World Baseball Classic rosters

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

Earlier this evening, the various World Baseball Classic rosters were announced during a live MLB Network broadcast. Bits and pieces of the rosters have leaked over the last several months. Now they’re all official.

A total of ten Yankees, including three-sevenths of their projected Opening Day bullpen, will participate in the tournament. Here are the full rosters (PDF link) and here are the various Yankees:

Michael Pineda was listed on a version of the Dominican Republic roster that leaked earlier today, but he wasn’t on the final roster. Huh. Severino is part of the Dominican Republic’s “Designated Pitcher Pool” and won’t play in the first round. Teams can add two pitchers from their DPP after each round.

Bleier is on the DPP for Israel, and since they’re not expected to make it out of the first round, chances are he won’t leave Spring Training. Everyone else is on the WBC active roster. Gallegos is ostensibly competing for a big league bullpen spot, and I can’t help but wonder if being away from the Yankees will hurt his chances.

I kinda had a feeling Clippard would sneak on to the Team USA roster. They were never going to get all their top relievers, and he figured to be among the second tier arms they turned to. Clippard will join former Yankees Andrew Miller and David Robertson in the Team USA bullpen. That’ll be fun. Bring them back with you, Tyler.

Cuba doesn’t allow expatriates to represent the country, so no Aroldis Chapman in the WBC. Gary Sanchez declined an invitation to play for the Dominican Republic because he wants to spend his first Spring Training as the starting catcher learning the pitch staff and whatnot. Masahiro Tanaka also declined to play for Japan.

Aside from those guys, the only other players in the Yankees organization who I thought might sneak on to a WBC roster were Luis Cessa (Mexico), Evan Rutckyj (Canada), and Carlos Vidal (Colombia). Vidal was on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round last spring, but has since being dropped.

The 16-team tournament begins March 6th and will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full WBC schedule.

Update: 2017 Salary Arbitration Filing Day Signings

Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Didi gonna get paid. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Original Post (Friday, 12pm ET): Today is a significant day on the offseason calendar. The deadline for teams and their arbitration-eligible players to file salary figures for the 2017 season is 1pm ET. The team submits the salary they believe the player deserves while the player submits the salary he feels he deserves. Simple, right?

The Yankees have seven arbitration-eligible players on the roster right now. They started the offseason with nine, but Nathan Eovaldi and Dustin Ackley were released when 40-man roster space was needed back in November. Here are the seven arbitration-eligible players and their projected 2017 salaries, per MLB Trade Rumors:

Most arbitration-eligible players around the league will sign a new contract prior to the filing deadline. Last year the Yankees signed Pineda and Ackley before the deadline, but ended up filing figures with Gregorius, Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Aroldis Chapman. It was the first time they failed to sign an eligible player before the filing deadline in several years.

It’s important to note exchanging figures today doesn’t mean the two sides have to go to an arbitration hearing. They can still hammer out a contract of any size at any point. In fact, the Yankees were able to sign Gregorius, Eovaldi, Nova, and Chapman not too long after the filing deadline last year. New York hasn’t been to an arbitration hearing since beating Chien-Ming Wang during the 2007-08 offseason.

We’re going to keep track of today’s Yankee-related arbitration news right here, assuming nothing crazy like a long-term extension happens. I’m not counting on it. Make sure you check back for updates often. The deadline is 1pm ET, but the news tends to trickle in all throughout the afternoon.

Update (Friday, 11:39am ET): The Yankees and Gregorius have agreed to a one-year contract worth $5.1M, reports Jon Heyman. Exactly as MLBTR projected. Gregorius made $2.425M last season, which was his first of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two. A long-term extension was always a long shot. Didi can’t become a free agent until after the 2019 season.

Update (Friday, 12:27pm ET): Romine and the Yankees have an $805,000 agreement in place, says Heyman. Quite a bit below MLBTR’s projection, relatively speaking. Romine made made $556,000 last season. This was his first trip through arbitration.

Update (Friday, 4:52pm ET): Pineda and the Yankees have agreed to a one-year contract worth $7.4M, per Heyman. That’s up from his $4.3M salary in 2016. It pays to be a (middling) starting pitcher. Pineda came in just under his MLBTR projected salary.

Update (Friday, 4:55pm ET): The Yankees have a $2.29M agreement with Warren, according to Josh Norris. Almost exactly what MLBTR projected. He made $1.7M a year ago. Warren will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018 as well.

Update (Friday, 5:30pm ET): The Yankees announced they have agreements in place with both Hicks and Layne. They’re one-year contracts. No word on the money yet though. That leaves Betances as the only unsigned arbitration-eligible player. I’m not surprised. Contract talks weren’t smooth last year.

Update (Friday, 7:13pm ET): Betances filed for $5M and the Yankees countered with $3M, according to Heyman. That’s a pretty significant gap. They might end up going to a hearing. Then again, I said the same thing about Chapman last year, and they hammered out a deal. Get that paper, Dellin.

Update (Friday, 7:56pm ET): Layne received $1.075M, so says Bryan Hoch. He was arbitration-eligible for the first of four times as a Super Two this offseason, so he’s under team control through 2020. Then again, Layne is already 32 and he’s been in four organizations the last five years, so yeah.

Update (Tuesday, 6:00pm ET): The Yankees and Hicks agreed to a $1.35M salary for 2017, reports Ronald Blum. Just a touch below MLBTR’s projection. Hicks made $574,000 last season. He will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019.

The Revolving Door of Trusted Middle Relievers [2016 Season Review]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Coming into the 2016 season, the bullpen was an undeniable strength for the Yankees. At least in the late innings, anyway. The trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman were basically automatic for the few months they were together. Getting the ball from the starter to those guys was often a challenge, however.

By and large, the middle relief was too often a weakness for the Yankees this past season. It wasn’t just getting the ball from the starter to the end-game guys either. It was getting the job done when those guys weren’t available, or holding the other team down when the Yankees were trailing and the offense was trying to get back into the game. Joe Girardi wound up with a revolving door of trusted “fourth” relievers this year.

The Still Broken Shreve

Man, Spring Training was such a tease. Chasen Shreve had such a horrible finish to last season, a horrible finish everyone hoped was nothing more than fatigue, that when he showed up to Spring Training and dominated, it was easy to think he was back on track. The 26-year-old southpaw allowed one hit and one walk in ten scoreless Grapefruit League innings. He struck out eight. Woo! Too bad it didn’t carry over into the regular season.

Shreve made the Opening Day roster and he was Girardi’s go-to reliever behind the big three. (Big two, really, since Chapman was suspended.) He started his season with six straight scoreless outings, then the runs came. Two in an inning against the Athletics on April 21st. One more against the Rangers five days later. Another two runs four days after that. From April 21st through May 25th, Shreve allowed eleven runs and seven homers (!) in 13.2 innings.

Following a three-run meltdown against the Blue Jays on May 25th, Shreve was placed on the 15-day DL with relatively minor shoulder sprain. He did his rehab, and two and a half weeks later, he was activated off the DL and optioned to Triple-A Scranton. Shreve spent the rest of the season as an up-and-down arm. He was called up and sent down three different times from June 12th through September 1st, when rosters expanded.

Shreve’s best moment of the season came in Kansas City on August 30th. He inherited a one-run lead in the tenth inning, though the contact happy Royals had the bases loaded with one out. Shreve escaped the jam by striking out Kendrys Morales and getting Salvador Perez to fly out harmlessly to center. It was his first career save and two of the biggest outs of the season.

All told, Shreve had a 5.18 ERA (5.75 FIP) in 37 games and 33 innings. His strikeout rate (23.2%) was fine, but there were too many walks (9.2%), too few grounders (44.9%), and way too many homers (2.18 HR/9). The long ball was a problem last year too, remember. Shreve has allowed 15 homers in his last 50.67 innings with the Yankees. That’s one dinger every 3.1 innings or so. Egads.

Shreve was so good the first four months last season that it was worth giving him another shot this year, to see if fatigue really was the root cause of his second half issues. Obviously it wasn’t. He struggled again this season. Basically all summer. Shreve tried different things too. At midseason he shelved his trademark splitter and went with a slider.

Chasen Shreve pitch selection

By the end of the season Shreve was so far down the depth chart that he barely pitched. He appeared in two of the team’s final 19 games. The Yankees were down three runs and seven runs in the two appearances. Girardi didn’t even give Shreve any token “let’s see if we can get him back on track” outings late in September after the Yankees fell out of the race. He was unusable.

The Yankees currently have five healthy lefty relievers on the 40-man roster, and while none are lockdown Andrew Miller types, that depth could make Shreve expendable. Either way, it’s hard to see him carving out a consistent role with the Yankees at this point. Given the entirety of his career, Shreve’s great four months last season are the outlier, not all the problems he’s had since.

A Few Good Weeks From Yates

Kirby. (Presswire)
Kirby. (Presswire)

I’m mad at myself for not seeing it coming. In recent years the Yankees have developed a habit of picking up a scrap heap reliever in the winter who was very easily to overlook, then, before you knew it, he found himself on the Opening Day roster. Turns out the Yankees liked him more than we realized. Guys like Chris Martin and Cody Eppley are perfect examples.

This year that guy was Kirby Yates, who came over from the Indians in a cash deal in January. Yates shoved in camp — he allowed two hits and one walk in eight scoreless innings while striking out eleven — and bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. Incredible. Kirby had a tough start to the season, allowing three runs in his first six outings, before settling into a nice little groove. From April 24th through May 31st, Yates allowed two runs in 14.2 innings.

That stretch combined with Shreve’s meltdown earned Yates a spot as Girardi’s most trusted non-big three reliever. And for a while, he was great. Then June happened. The Blue Jays tagged Kirby for four runs in one-third of an inning on June 1st. Two weeks later the Rockies tagged him for three runs in one-third of an inning. At one point he allowed at least one run in five of six outings. Ouch.

The final straw came on June 27th, when a long rain delay — long as in three hours and 35 minutes (!) — forced Chapman from the game in the ninth inning. The Yankees had a one-run lead but the Rangers had a man on first with no outs. Yates replaced Chapman after the rain delay and allowed four runs before getting three outs. The inning went strikeout, hit batter, hit batter, single, hit batter, fly ball, single, strikeout. Sigh.

The Yankees sent Yates to Triple-A Scranton the next day, and he didn’t return until mid-August. He spent the rest of the season as a low-leverage mop-up guy, and like Shreve, he was very rarely used down the stretch. Kirby appeared in only five of the team’s 30 games in September. He had a 5.23 ERA (3.97 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (27.2%) but a not good everything else (10.3% walks, 43.6% grounders, 1.09 HR/9) in 41 games and 41.1 innings in pinstripes.

Yates was one of the first to go when time came to unclog the 40-man roster after the season. The Yankees dropped him from the roster a few days after the end of the regular season and the Angels claimed him off waivers, so he’s with Anaheim now. His time in pinstripes is over. Like most middle relievers, Yates had his moments with the Yankees, mostly in May, but for the most part his tenure was forgettable. C’est la vie.

The First Late-Season Addition

Layne. (Presswire)
Layne. (Presswire)

The Yankees remade their middle relief unit with two small moves on August 9th. The first of those two moves was a signing. The Yankees inked veteran southpaw Tommy Layne to a Major League contract not long after he was released by the Red Sox. Boston added Fernando Abad at the trade deadline and deemed Layne expendable, so they cut him loose. Not the best series of moves for them.

At the time Shreve was the only lefty in the bullpen — Miller and Chapman were gone by this point — and he was far from reliable, so the Yankees gave Layne a chance. And you know what? He pitched pretty darn well, all things considered. He had a 3.38 ERA (4.83 FIP) in 16 innings overall, but, more importantly, Layne held left-handed hitters to a .147/.237/.147 batting line in his limited time in pinstripes.

Oddly enough, Layne’s biggest outing with the Yankees came against a bunch of righties. It was September 26th in Toronto, and although New York was up four runs in the ninth, the Blue Jays loaded the bases with no outs on two walks and an error by Dellin Betances. Layne walked in a run and allowed another on a single, but ultimately he escaped the jam thanks in part to his own great play at the plate.

The three batters Layne retired that inning, all with the bases loaded: Josh Donaldson on a fly out to right, Russell Martin on the tapper back out in front of the plate, and Troy Tulowitzki on a fly ball to foul territory. That inning took some gumption, I’d say. Layne earned his pinstripes that inning.

Although he’s already 32 years old, Layne is arbitration-eligible for the first time as a Super Two this offseason. The Yankees control him through 2020, though let’s not think that far ahead yet. Let’s get through 2017 first. MLBTR projects a $1.2M salary for Layne next year, which isn’t nothing, but it’s not enough for the Yankees to consider walking away at the non-tender deadline.

Right now Layne is the team’s best lefty reliever, and he figures to come to Spring Training with an inside track on an Opening Day bullpen spot. I wouldn’t call him a lock for the roster, guys like this can go poof in a hurry, but he’s penciled into a spot for sure.

The Second Late-Season Addition

Parker. (Presswire)
Parker. (Presswire)

A few hours after signing Layne, the Yankees claimed righty Blake Parker off waivers from the Mariners. Parker’s one of those guys who reminds you to basically ignore minor league reliever stats. He had a 2.72 ERA (3.12 FIP) with a 37.3% strikeout rate in 39.2 Triple-A innings for Seattle. With the Yankees, he had a 4.96 ERA (3.94 FIP) in 16.1 innings.

To be fair, Parker had two disaster outings with New York that skewed his overall numbers. He allowed nine runs with the Yankees and seven came in two appearances. Parker allowed three runs in one-third of an inning against the Royals on August 29th, and four runs in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays on September 23rd. In his other 15.2 innings, he allowed two runs.

Like Layne, Parker’s biggest moment in pinstripes came when he bailed out Betances during a messy ninth inning against the Blue Jays. It was September 6th and the Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth. Three walks, a wild pitch, and two singles put two runs on the board and loaded the bases with one out. Yikes. Parker took over with the sacks full and got the final two outs. It was … eventful.

I’ve seen the end of that game roughly five thousands times and I still get antsy whenever I see Brett Gardner racing back to the wall because it looks like he has no chance to catch up to the ball. Geez. What a game. That was Parker’s second career save. He got his first with the Cubs back in 2013, in an extra innings game when he was the last guy in the bullpen. That sort of thing. I’m guessing this save was a wee bit more memorable for Blake.

Blake Parker save

Good times, good times. Parker, like Yates, is no longer with the Yankees. I mean exactly like Yates too. Parker was claimed off waivers by the Angels a few days after the end of the regular season. The Yankees were clearing their 40-man roster and the Halos deemed Parker and Yates better than what they had in their bullpen. The two lefties stayed and the two righties are gone. The bullpen circle of life.

MLBTR’s projected 2017 arbitration salaries and the Dellin Betances outlier

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

With the 2016 season now complete, we can begin to look forward to the offseason and the 2017 Yankees, and this winter a lot of attention will be paid to arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees have a lot of them. Nine, in fact. Some of them are pretty important parts of the team too.

Yesterday Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors published his annual arbitration salary projections for next season. Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate and it gets more and more precise with each passing season. The numbers might not be exact, but they’re usually in the ballpark. Here’s what Swartz’s model projects for the Yankees’ nine arbitration-eligible players.

That’s $32.8M worth of arbitration salaries next year, which works out to a $14.6M raise over what those nine players earned this past season. As a reminder, players need three years of service time (3.000) to qualify for arbitration in most cases. Some, like Gregorius and Layne, are arbitration-eligible four times as a Super Two. The Super Two cutout this year is approximately 2.127, according to Steve Adams. That doesn’t really affect the Yankees. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the projected arbitration salaries.

1. The Betances projection seems light. The arbitration process is pretty archaic. Old school stats like ERA and saves — especially saves — matter most. Betances has been a setup man for the majority of his career, so he doesn’t have those big money making saves totals, which is going to hurt his arbitration case. We all know Dellin has been one of the two or three best relievers in baseball since Opening Day 2014 though.

Swartz’s model has trouble with elite players with unprecedented resumes. Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into arbitration with two Cy Youngs a few years ago. Betances leads all relievers in innings and strikeouts over the last three seasons by a lot. He struck out 392 batters from 2014-16. Next most by a reliever? Andrew Miller with 326. Yeah. Look at the five highest strikeout totals by a reliever the last three years:

  1. 2014 Betances: 135
  2. 2015 Betances: 131
  3. 2016 Betances: 126
  4. 2016 Miller: 123
  5. 2015 Aroldis Chapman: 115

Yeah. Betances is also a three-time All-Star. Do you know how many other relievers have been to the All-Star Game each of the last three years? None. Not one. Dellin’s the only one. The All-Star Game selections plus the bulk inning and strikeout totals mean Betances is going into arbitration with far more earning potential than most setup men. He could break Swartz’s model, so to speak.

As best I can tell, the record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible reliever is $6.25M by Jonathan Papelbon back in the day. The lack of saves will probably prevent Betances from breaking Papelbon’s record, though I do think he’s going to wind up with a salary closer to Papelbon’s than the projected salary above. Dellin isn’t a normal reliever and projecting his arbitration salary with a one size fits all model probably won’t work.

2. Eovaldi and Ackley are goners. Swartz’s model projects no raise for Ackley. He made $3.2M this year and the model has him making $3.2M next year. That’s what happens when you barely play and barely hit before suffering a season-ending injury. Given the salary and the lack of production, Ackley is a prime non-tender candidate this offseason. The Yankees might release him after the World Series to clear 40-man roster space rather than wait until the December 2nd tender deadline.

As for Eovaldi, the model projects a $1.9M raise, though that’s pretty irrelevant. He recently underwent major elbow surgery, including his second Tommy John surgery, so he’s going to miss the entire 2017 season. There’s no sense in paying Eovaldi that much money to not pitch next season, especially when he’ll be a free agent next winter. The business side of baseball can be cruel. Eovaldi is hurt and soon he’s going to be unemployed too. The Yankees will non-tender him. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it.

A non-tender wouldn’t necessarily mean Eovaldi’s career in pinstripes is over. The Yankees could re-sign him to a smaller contract with an eye on 2018. They’ve done that before, sign injured pitchers to a two-year deal and rehab them in year one. Think Jon Lieber and Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma. The second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but with pitching so in demand, it’s probably worth exploring a two-year deal with Eovaldi. Just not at the projected salary.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Extension time for Gregorius? Gregorius made $2.425M this past season and projects to make $5.1M next season, which is a $2.675M raise. His salary projects to more than double. Didi will be in his second of four arbitration years as a Super Two next year, so if we apply similar raises going forward, we get $7.775M in 2017 and $10.45M in 2018. That’s a real quick and dirty way of estimating his earning potential the next three years.

That rough estimate puts Gregorius at $23.325M from 2016-18 before he hits free agency. Is it worth it to explore a long-term extension this offseason? It is if you think his power breakout this past season was real, and there are reasons to believe it is. Gregorius is only 26, remember. He’s entering what should be the best years of his career. A four-year deal that guarantees him $35M or so seems worthwhile for the Yankees. We’re talking about a prime age player at a premium position.

At the same time, the Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors, namely Tyler Wade in Double-A plus both Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo in High-A. I wouldn’t worry about that though. Gregorius is a talented young player at a hard to fill position and those guys are worth locking up. If there’s a logjam at shortstop when Wade and Torres and Mateo and whoever are ready, great! That’s a good problem.

4. Big Mike‘s big salary. Being a starting pitcher is pretty good when arbitration time arrives. Even mediocre starters like Pineda get hefty raises. He made $4.3M this past season and projects for $7.8M next year, so we’re talking about a $3.5M raise. That’s despite a 6-12 record and a 4.82 ERA (90 ERA+) in 175.2 innings. That stuff matters in arbitration.

Pineda’s raise has more to do with his 207 strikeouts and AL leading 10.6 K/9. And really, $7.8M is still below market value for a pitcher of Pineda’s caliber. Guys like him will run you $10M to $12M or so in free agency. Probably more these days. It would be worth asking Pineda and his representatives what it would take to get an extension done this offseason, simply because the upcoming free agent pitching classes are so weak.

5. The remain projections are fair. The projections for Warren ($2.3M), Hicks ($1.4M), Layne ($1.2M), and Romine ($900,000) seem just about right. Not high enough to consider a non-tender and not low enough to see it as a bargain. That could change in a year, but right now, they’re fair. Weirdly enough, it wouldn’t surprise me if all four of those guys are on the 2017 Opening Day roster and it wouldn’t surprise me if all four are jettisoned in the offseason. I feel like we’re in for some surprises this winter.

Layne may be pitching his way on to the 2017 Yankees, but roster space will be tight

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For much of the first four months of the season, the Yankees had two of the three best left-handed relievers in baseball in their bullpen in Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Those two plus Zach Britton are the holy trinity of end-game southpaws. They’re not lefty specialists. They dominate batters on both sides of the plate.

After wisely trading away Chapman and Miller at the deadline, the Yankees picked up lefty Tommy Layne as soon as the Red Sox cut him loose. Boston acquired Fernando Abad at the trade deadline and didn’t need Layne anymore, so they flat out released him. Abad’s been pretty terrible, so that hasn’t worked out for them. Such is life. The Yankees wound up with a decent southpaw and gave up nothing to get him.

The 31-year-old Layne has done a fine job for the Yankees since being picked up, pitching to a 3.00 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 15 innings overall while holding lefties to a .161/.257/.161 (.205 wOBA) batting line. His finest moment in pinstripes came Monday night, when he was brought in to face the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup — all righties, of course — with the bases loaded and no outs. He closed out the win thanks in part to his own great play at the plate:

Layne had a rough outing last night, including giving up a home run to the right-handed hitting Aaron Hill, though that’s not a big deal. It was the second of back-to-back days after a stressful game Monday night — Layne threw 24 pitches Monday after throwing 24 pitches total in his previous five outings — so I’m sure the tank was far from full. Such is the life of a left-handed specialist.

At the moment the Yankees are not particularly deep in lefty relievers. Chasen Shreve seems to have fallen out of favor, Jacob Lindgren will be out until 2018 following Tommy John surgery, and others like Richard Bleier and James Pazos probably aren’t the guys you want to count on in big spots. I suppose Tyler Webb and/or Dietrich Enns could be options starting next season should the Yankees protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.

That last part is pretty important. Space on the 40-man roster will be tight this offseason, so Webb or Enns or both might not be protected. The Yankees are going to have to free up several spots soon after the end of the World Series, and while much of that can be accomplished by cutting loose players like Anthony Swarzak and Kirby Yates, it won’t be enough. In most cases a scrap heap lefty specialist like Layne would be on the chopping block too.

Therein lies the question: how confident are the Yankees in Layne performing this way going forward? The Red Sox didn’t release him out of the kindness of their hearts. Lefties hit .255/.355/.333 (.312 wOBA) against Layne when he was with Boston earlier this year, and that’s no good. Success can be very fleeting for relievers like him, the funky finesse guys who rely on deception. Remember Clay Rapada? He was nails in 2012 but couldn’t even get through Spring Training in 2013.

If nothing else, I think Layne has moved to the back of the line of players who could lose their 40-man roster spot this offseason. There are others in front of him who figure to go first, including Swarzak and Yates, and maybe even guys like Johnny Barbato and Conor Mullee. Unless you have a Miller or Chapman, the best approach with lefty relievers seems to be stockpile as many as possible, and hope someone emerges. Layne went from scrap heap pick up to potential part of the 2017 roster in a hurry, but his spot may not be secure.

Sorting through the Yankees’ long list of September call-up candidates

No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

One week from tomorrow all 30 clubs will be able to expand their active rosters and carry up to 40 players. Most clubs carry fewer than 40 players once rosters expand, and that’s their choice. Roster size is not an unfair advantage if one team calls up ten extra players and another only calls up three. That’s long been a pet peeve of mine, calling September call-ups unfair. As long as everyone plays by the same rules, it’s fair.

Anyway, the Yankees have been one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to expanding their roster in recent Septembers. Last season they called up eight players on September 1st. Eight! I’m not sure we’ll see a first wave of call-ups that large again, but you can be sure the Yankees will add some extra arms and position players on the first day possible. They always do and there’s no reason not to. Let’s run down this year’s September call-up candidates.

The Locks

Generally speaking, the first wave of call-ups are players who have been up-and-down a bunch of times throughout the season and are still on the 40-man roster. That means Nick Goody, Richard Bleier, Chasen Shreve, and Rob Refsnyder are safe bets to come up on September 1st. Ditto Ben Gamel, though he hasn’t spent as much time on the big league roster this year as those other guys.

The Yankees are already carrying three catchers, so those five guys above may be the only players called up right away on September 1st. That would give the Yankees three extra bullpen arms — Bleier is working out of the Triple-A Scranton rotation at the moment, so he’d give the club a long man, which they lack right now — plus an extra infielder and an extra outfielder. That covers all the bases on the first day of expanded rosters.

The Maybes

By maybes, I mean players who may not be called up right away on September 1st. They’ll have to wait a few extra days or weeks for whatever reason, usually because the Yankees want them to work on things in Triple-A. This group of players includes Johnny Barbato, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Mason Williams. All five of those guys are on the 40-man roster. Here’s why they’re a maybe and not a lock for an instant September 1st call-up:

  • Barbato: Barbato started the season in the big league bullpen but has spent much of the year in Triple-A, where his control has been an issue. He was up briefly earlier this month and did not retire any of the four batters he faced. The Yankees could keep Barbato down a little longer so he can continue to working on his location.
  • Heller: Acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, Heller was actually up with the Yankees for a few days earlier this month, though he did not appear in a game. Heller has pitched well and is fairly new to Triple-A, though as a reliever, that’s not a big deal. I think the odds are better than 50/50 that he will be called up on September 1st, but it’s definitely not set in stone.
  • Mitchell: Blah. Mitchell pitched so well in Spring Training and looked poised to assume a big role in the bullpen, then he broke his toe covering first base and has missed pretty much the entire season. Mitchell is on a rehab assignment right now, and while that might be enough to get him ready for game action, the Yankees could send him to Triple-A for more consistent work rather than let him sit in the bullpen unused for long stretches of time.
  • Severino: No, I don’t think Severino is a lock for a September 1st call-up. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A with clear instructions to work on his changeup and so far he’s made one start since being sent down. He’ll make two more before September 1st. Hey, maybe that’s enough to make the team believe Severino trusts and will use his changeup, but I’m not sure I buy it. He might be down there a little while longer.
  • Williams: Williams missed most of the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, though he did return about a month ago and has been playing regularly. More time in Triple-A to make up for the lost at-bats seems like a smart move. Williams won’t get at-bats sitting on the MLB bench. Remember, the Yankees kept Slade Heathcott down much of September last year so he could play everyday following his quad injury. Doing the same with Williams makes sense.

Triple-A Scranton has the best record in all of Triple-A baseball and will clinch a postseason spot fairly soon. Likely before the end of the weekend. That means extra at-bats for Williams and extra starts for Severino and Mitchell. Those playoff games are valuable. They give Severino time to work on his changeup and Williams and Mitchell a chance to play following their injuries. Those guys don’t figure to play much in the big leagues if they get called up on September 1st. Keeping them down is an opportunity to continue their development.

The Rule 5 Draft Guys

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

The Yankees have already gotten a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection work by calling up Heller, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. They still have many other players who need to be protected, but remember, those decisions don’t have to be finalized until late-November. Calling a player up in September isn’t necessary to avoid the Rule 5 Draft. Teams will sometimes call players up in September if they’re planning to add them to the 40-man after the season, just get their feet wet in the show.

We can drop the Rule 5 Draft eligible players into three buckets: definitely going to be protected, possibly going to be protected, and not going to be protected. Usually only the “definitely going to be protected” guys get the early September call-up, and even then it’s not a given. Space on the 40-man roster can get tight. Let’s go ahead and drop the Rule 5 eligible players into those three buckets:

* Higashioka and Culver are not only Rule 5 Draft eligible, they’ll become minor league free agents after the season if they aren’t added to the 40-man roster.

My hunch is the Yankees will protect Higashioka, Enns, and Webb in addition to Andujar and Mateo after the season. That means Cave, Gallegos, Lail, and everyone else will be left exposed. Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, and if he gets popped again, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to the Yankees if he doesn’t stick. I don’t think that’s reason enough to keep him. Not with Gamel and Williams already on the 40-man.

Okay, so with that in mind, the question now becomes: why should these players be called up in September? Mateo’s speed could allow him to be the pinch-runner specialist. Then again, he was suspended for violating team rules not that long ago, and would the Yankees really reward him with a September call-up after that? Eh. I see no reason whatsoever to call up Andujar or Higashioka. Fourth string catchers and third basemen are not necessary. Those guys can wait until the offseason to be added to the 40-man roster.

That leaves Enns and Webb, two lefty pitchers. There’s always room for more pitching in September, so call-ups are possible, and in fact I think they’ll happen. Maybe not until after the Triple-A postseason, but eventually. Webb’s a pure reliever who could audition for a 2017 bullpen spot a la Phil Coke in September 2008. Enns has starter stuff and it I’m interested to see whether the Yankees give him a start in September. (Probably not.) I’m sure they’re looking forward to using a sixth starter on occasion next month, though Severino may be next on the depth chart.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

The Others

Who are the others? The non-40-man veterans in Triple-A. Chris Parmelee, for example. He was up earlier this season before getting hurt, and in fact he had a two-homer game with the Yankees. That was neat. Do the Yankees really need another first baseman with Austin, Refsnyder, and Mark Teixeira on the September roster? Not really. But maybe they’ll throw Parmelee a bone.

Other others include Donovan Solano, a utility infielder having a real nice season in Triple-A, and Cesar Puello, a former top Mets prospect who is having a productive season with the RailRiders after dealing with a back injury last year. Coke was up earlier this season and is still in Triple-A. Actual prospects like Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Holder are in Triple-A but are not yet Rule 5 Draft eligible, so don’t expect them to get called up in September. It’s one thing to call someone up a month before they need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. It another to do it a year early.

My guess is none of these others get called up September. The Yankees have more appealing options at their positions and there’s just not enough 40-man roster space to go around. Those guys will play in the Triple-A postseason and either go home once the playoffs are over, or head to Tampa to stay sharp in case there’s an injury and they’re needed at the MLB level. That’s pretty standard for these types of players in September.

The 40-Man Roster Situation

Alright, so after all of that, my sure to be wrong prediction is the Yankees will call up 12 extra players in September. The 12:

  • Up on September 1st (5): Bleier, Gamel, Goody, Refsnyder, Shreve.
  • Up later in September (7): Barbato, Enns, Heller, Mitchell, Severino, Williams, Webb.

All but Enns, Mitchell, and Webb are on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees will have to clear three spots. They can slide Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL to clear one 40-man spot. That’s easy. Righty J.R. Graham, who has amazingly managed to remain on the 40-man roster since coming over in a minor trade with the Twins in mid-May, is an obvious candidate to be designated for assignment. That’s the second 40-man spot.

The Yankees can go a few different ways for that final 40-man spot. They could designate someone else for assignment, maybe Anthony Swarzak or James Pazos. I don’t think that’ll happen though. In fact, Pazos is probably going to be called up in September, so it’s really 13 call-ups, not 12. I suppose someone like Bleier or Blake Parker could be cut loose next month, or even Tommy Layne. There is some dead weight here.

Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)
Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)

The other option is to call up Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow and place them on the 60-day DL. Both are currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. It sounds easy enough, though there are some complications with this. Both Lindgren and Rumbelow got hurt while in the minors, and calling them up to place them on the 60-day DL means they can not be optioned down again next year. They’d accrue service time on MLB DL instead.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal, especially in Rumbelow’s case. He had his surgery in April and may only spend only a month or two on the DL next year. Lindgren just had his surgery and would spent the entire 2017 season on the DL. Calling them up and placing him on the 60-day DL to clear up a 40-man roster spot is doable, but it throws a wrench into next year’s plans. Me? I’d just cut ties with Swarzak. I do wonder if the Yankees would drop Pazos from the 40-man roster given his control and injury issues this year though.

* * *

The Yankees are committed to their “play the kids” plan right now, so much so that Alex Rodriguez has been released and others like Teixeira and Brian McCann have had their playing time reduced. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue in September, and if anything, more kids may get chances next month. Expanded rosters will give the team extra arms and whatnot, and it’s an opportunity to give these youngsters even more of a chance to show whether they belong in the team’s long-term plans.

(Update: Heller was called up yesterday. Adjust accordingly.)