6/1 to 6/4 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

This is the second stop (of four) on the Yankees two week tour of the AL East. The returns from Baltimore were, speaking generously, underwhelming. And the red hot Blue Jays are next up on the docket.

The Last Time They Met

This is the second time this year that the Yankees ended a month against the Orioles, and opened the following month against the Blue Jays. The Yankees hosted the Blue Jays for a three-game series in the beginning of May, winning two out of three. Some notes:

  • Aaron Judge tormented Toronto’s pitching staff, going 6-for-12 with 5 R, 3 HR, and 7 RBI. His OPS reached a season-high 1.251 by the end of the third game.
  • Luis Severino had his worst start of the season in the first game, pitching to the following line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 K. He was hurt by shaky defense, though, as a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning yielded two runs.
  • Brett Gardner was slashing .205/.318/.329 with 2 HR (81 wRC+) heading into the series; by the time it was over he was batting .247/.354/.435 with 4 HR (117 wRC+).
  • The Yankees starting pitching was dreadful all-around. Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia combined to allow 15 ER in 16 IP, while striking out just 12 batters.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more interesting information.

Injury Report

Starter Aaron Sanchez is back on the disabled list with blister issues, and his timetable is up in the air. He was throwing a bit last week, but was shut down again on May 30. Outfielder Steve Pearce was put on the DL a couple of weeks ago with a strained calf, and he’s not expected back until late June or early July. Both were expected to play large roles for the team in 2017, but neither has been able to stay on the field.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays have dealt with a staggering amount of injuries in 2017. Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Pearce, Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano have all hit the disabled list at some point, as have bench players Anthony Alford and Darrell Ceciliani. The combination of extraordinarily bad luck with health and some under-performance has conspired to leave them below .500 and in last place in the AL East.

They showed signs of life in May, though, with an 18-10 record and a +29 run differential. Martin and Donaldson are now healthy and productive, and the 36-year-old Jose Bautista has made a complete about-face, and is now batting .251/.364/.460 (123 wRC+) with 10 HR. And, for what it’s worth, many Blue Jays fans will happily point out that Kendrys Morales is currently outhitting Edwin Encarnacion.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager John Gibbons has had to shuffle his lineup several times over due to injuries, with the bottom four spots in the lineup serving as a veritable carousel. Now that almost everyone is healthy, however, the Blue Jays have nearly returned to their ideal lineup. To wit:

  1. Kevin Pillar, CF
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Kendrys Morales, DH
  5. Justin Smoak, 1B
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  8. Devon Travis, 2B
  9. Ezequiel Carrera/Chris Coghlan, LF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada all but shut the Yankees down last month, allowing just seven base-runners and one run in 7 IP, while striking out 7. He’s currently tied for 9th in the majors in K-BB% with Luis Severino, and 10th in K% (just ahead of Severino, Lance McCullers, and Michael Pineda) … and he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher. And one of those pitches is an 89 MPH fastball. Estrada may be getting by on smoke and mirrors, but he’s been doing it for long enough that he has silenced most doubts.

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/27) – 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Francisco Liriano

There was a time when Liriano was one of the most desirable assets in the majors, and his name dominated Yankees trade rumors (or trade desires, at least). That feels like an eternity ago, though, as the 33-year-old has struggled mightily over the last year and change, posting 4.94 ERA/4.90 FIP since the beginning of 2016. He’s still racking up strikeouts, and his velocity is similar to his best days with the Pirates – but he’s walking more and more batters, and he’s simply more hittable now.

Liriano is still a three-pitch guy, utilizing a low-90s fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s change-up. The slider is ostensibly his best pitch, but it’s been hit hard in 2017. This will be his first start since coming off of the DL.

Last Outing (vs. CLE on 5/10) – 2.0 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 3 BB, 0 K

Saturday (1:07 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Joe Biagini

Biagini was a Rule 5 pick last year, and he spent the entirety of the season in the bullpen. He found success there, but he had been a starter throughout his minor league career so there were rumblings that he’d get a chance in the rotation. Injuries to Sanchez and Liriano made that move a necessity, and he has been in the rotation since May 3. He has posted the following line through five starts: 23.1 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 20 K, 3.86 ERA, 3.21 FIP. That’s not bad for someone forced into a larger role on a moment’s notice.

The 27-year-old is a true four-pitch pitcher. He throws a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s cutter, a mid-80s change-up, and a curveball in the upper 80s. Biagini’s cutter is his best pitch; he uses it to get whiffs and generate grounders (he has a 60.8 GB% on the year).

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/28) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Sunday (1:07 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

The Yankees knocked Stroman around earlier this year, chasing him from the game after scoring 5 runs in just 3 innings. He’s been a big part of the Blue Jays turnaround since then, pitching into the sixth inning in all five starts and posting a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 IP. His underlying numbers aren’t all that different from last season, but he has been much better in terms of run prevention. Chalk it up to run sequencing, cluster luck, and contrasting fortunes with runners on-base.

Last Outing (vs. CIN on 5/29) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

Toronto had one of the worst bullpens in the majors the last time these teams met, with a 5.08 ERA and 8 blown saves in April. May was a completely different story, as their bullpen posted a 3.06 ERA and blew just two saves. With the exception of Jason Grilli (and his 6.35 ERA), everyone in the Blue Jays bullpen is pitching well right now, with closer Roberto Osuna and his 1.42 May ERA leading the way.

That being said, the bullpen has been leaned on fairly heavily the last few games. They were needed for 9 innings between Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, with Osuna and set-up man Joe Smith being called for on both days.

Yankees Connection

Russell Martin is currently batting .243/.387/.405 (123 wRC+) with 5 HR in 33 games. He missed two weeks with an injury earlier this month, but he’s been on a tear since returning. He’s also played third base five times already, as the team scraped by with Donaldson on the DL

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Yankees are facing a different Blue Jays team this time around; one that’s much closer to its 2016 incarnation. With an offense at almost full-strength and two of the team’s top starting pitchers taking a turn, this is sure to be a tough series. And that’s part of what has slowly made the Yankees-Blue Jays rivalry so good of late. I never really thought of the Blue Jays as a hateable team, but here we are.

It will be interesting to watch Biagini, as well. The ceilings of most Rule 5 picks are fairly low, so he’s more than delivered so far. If he can be a competent starter, then the Blue Jays will have come away with the biggest steal since Johan Santana.

Yankeemetrics: Rising Legend of Aaron Judge (May 1-3)

(AP)
(AP)

Blue Jays at home in the Bronx
Looking to get back on track after dropping the final game of their weekend set against Baltimore, the Yankees were hardly thrilled to see the Blue Jays as the next opponent on their homestand this week.

After beating the Yankees 7-1 on Monday night, Toronto improved to 13-7 in the Bronx since the start of the 2015 season, the only visiting team with double-digit wins at Yankee Stadium over the last three years.

Luis Severino was coming off the finest performance of his career — seven shutout innings vs. Boston last week – but he produced his worst outing of the season on Tuesday, an unsurprising result given the opponent. Severino entered the game with a 5.89 ERA vs. the Blue Jays, his highest against any team he’d faced more than once, and that mark grew to 6.38 after he allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings.

The Yankees were down only a run through five frames, but the Blue Jays broke the game open with a three-run sixth inning that included the rare 2-RBI sacrifice fly, on an acrobatic catch by Jacoby Ellsbury near the wall.

This was just the fifth time since the statistic was first tracked in 1954 that the Yankees had surrendered a multi-RBI sac fly in a game. The others: Sept. 16, 2014 vs Rays (also the last time it happened in MLB and also involving Ellsbury); July 24, 1990 vs Rangers; May 15, 1983 vs White Sox; July 9, 1961 vs Red Sox.

(AP)
(AP)

Aaron Judge, probably human?
The Yankees first losing streak since the opening week of the season ended nearly as quickly as it began thanks to an easy 11-5 win on Tuesday night, snapping their mini-two-game skid.

The Bronx Bombers lived up to their famous nickname, scoring those 11 runs on 16 hits, including five homers. This was their second five-homer game in 2017 (also on April 28 against Baltimore), making it the first season in franchise history that the Yankees produced multiple five-homer games within the team’s first 25 contests.

The homer barrage was led by the starting outfielders, with Aaron Hicks contributing a solo shot while Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner belted two homers each. It was just the second time in the last 50 years that two Yankee flycatchers each hit multiple homers in the same game. The only other instance was when Mel Hall and Jesse Barfield went deep twice on May 27, 1991 against the Red Sox.

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

It was Gardner’s second multi-homer game in the past four games, a notable feat considering that Gardner had only two multi-homer performances on his ledger in his first 1,085 career games.

Even more improbable is the fact that G.G.B.G. had yet to record his first RBI this season prior to the start of this power outburst on April 29 – in fact, his 76 plate appearances through April 28 were the most by any zero-RBI player in MLB.

Despite the huge contributions up and down the lineup in this game – six players had multiple hits and five players drove in at least one run – of course it was Judge that stole the show with his 11th and 12th home runs of the season.

Judge’s first one in the third inning was a 337-foot wall-scraper that just made it over the fence in right field, the shortest home run he’s hit so far in his career. The second one was a moonshot with a launch angle of 38.7 degrees, the highest for any home run he’s hit so far in his career.

After Tuesday’s two-homer, four-RBI night, Judge’s numbers reached historical proportions for a player this early into the season. He is the:

  • Third Yankee ever to hit at least 12 homers in the team’s first 25 contests, joining A-Rod (14 in 2007) and Babe Ruth (12 in 1921). Notably, A-Rod finished that 2007 MVP season with an MLB-best 54 homers while the Great Bambino led the majors with 59 homers in 1921.
  • Second player in MLB history at the age of 25 or younger to compile at least 12 homers and 25 RBI within the team’s first 25 games of the season. The other was Eric Davis in 1987, who went on to have an All-Star campaign with 37 homers and 100 RBI for the Reds.

Judge also etched his name in the record books with his singular performance at the plate on Tuesday night. He is the:

  • Third Yankee right fielder to have at least two homers, two walks and four RBIs in a game, a list that also includes a couple franchise legends in Dave Winfield (1985) and Joe DiMaggio (1936).
  • Youngest Yankee (at the age of 25 years, 6 days) with a multi-home run, multi-walk game since a 24-year-old Mickey Mantle in 1956.
(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Judge re-writes record books, again
No deficit is too big for this team, which celebrated yet another improbable come-from-behind victory on Wednesday night. Down 4-0 before they came to bat in the first inning and 6-3 after two frames, the Yankees rallied to win 8-6 and reclaim sole possession of first place in the AL East. This was their fifth comeback win when trailing by at least three runs this season, matching the Cubs and Astros for the most in the majors.

Matt Holliday got the scoring started early, crushing a three-run, 446-foot bomb in the first inning. It was the 300th career home run for the 37-year-old veteran, a milestone blast that confirms Holliday as one of the game’s rare sluggers with an elite hit tool: He is one of three active players to have at least 300 homers and a .300 career batting average, along with Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.

Aaron Judge added to his ever-growing legend with his 13th dinger of the season in the third inning. The unprecedented 435-foot blast to dead-center made the 25-year-old power-hitting cyborg the youngest player in major-league history to hit at least 13 homers within the team’s first 26 games.

Looking for another impressive #AaronJudgeFact? Here’s the short list of right-handed batters since 1950 to match Judge’s 13 homers within the season’s first 26 games: Nelson Cruz (2015), A-Rod (2007), Pujols (2006), Mark McGwire (1992), Mike Schmidt (1976) and Willie Mays (1964).

5/1 to 5/3 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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

The calendar has flipped to May, and I’m not sure which is more surprising – the Yankees being tied for first place in the American League, or the Blue Jays having the second-worst record in all of baseball. It is essentially a meeting of one team firing on all cylinders, while another experiences several worst-case scenarios, and it is quite refreshing to be the former after being the latter for a couple of years (even if it’s only May 1).

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Toronto from September 23rd through the 26th in their final road series of the 2016 season. They lost three of four to the Blue Jays, securing a sub-.500 record against AL East opponents, and were effectively eliminated from postseason contention. Some other points of interest:

  • The Yankees were shut out in the first two games, which contributed to a 33-inning scoreless streak. They snapped that streak in the third game (though, they still lost 4-3).
  • Tyler Clippard pitched on back-to-back nights, and the results were not pretty – 1.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, two losses, and a blown save.
  • Luis Severino started game four, and retired just three batters before being ejected following the second brawl of the game. The Yankees ended up using eight pitchers in total … and still managed to win 7-5 thanks to a five-run outburst in the top of the ninth.
  • The game wasn’t over following that outburst, though. Dellin Betances loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th and turned the ball over to Tommy Layne with no outs. Layne allowed two inherited runners to score, but managed to ease the door shut nevertheless.

You can read more about the series in Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

Third baseman Josh Donaldson (right calf injury) and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (right hamstring injury) are both on the disabled list, and neither is eligible to return during this series. J.A. Happ is on the disabled list, as well; he might be activated this week, but he isn’t scheduled to start against the Yankees. And Aaron Sanchez may end up joining them after he is re-evaluated sometime today, as a result of a bloody split fingernail during Sunday’s game (his first game back from the DL, following an issue with a blister on the same finger).

Their Story So Far

The aforementioned injuries have been a major story for the underachieving Blue Jays, who currently sit at 8-17. They took two out of three from the Rays this past weekend, winning back-to-back games for the first time this year along the way. It has been a less than ideal start for a team with designs on returning to the playoffs this year.

Jose Bautista’s struggles have been well-documented, too. The 36-year-old is batting .178/.309/.244 (61 wRC+) with 1 HR in 110 PA. Last year was by far his worst post-breakout effort, and he has dealt with a laundry list of injuries over the last few seasons. Is it simply a matter of age catching up with him? Or is it merely a slump? That may well be the biggest question Blue Jays fans are asking themselves right now.

The Lineup We Might See

The Blue Jays offense has struggled this season, scoring just 3.56 runs per game. That’s not surprising, considering the lack of production from Bautista, and the fact that Donaldson and Tulowitzki have played only 9 and 16 games, respectively. With the team remaining at less than full-strength until the second week of May, here’s what the Yankees are likely to see this week:

  1. Kevin Pillar, CF
  2. Ezequiel Carrera, LF
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Kendrys Morales, DH
  5. Justin Smoak, 1B
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Chris Coghlan, 3B
  8. Darwin Barney, 2B
  9. Ryan Goins, SS

Manager John Gibbons doesn’t have any one locked-in lineup, though, so we will probably see some Steve Pearce in LF and Devon Travis at 2B. And, given how many lineups they’ve used over the last ten days or so, we may well see three completely different groups.

The Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada had a career year as a 32-year-old back in 2015, his first with the Blue Jays, and few thought that he would repeat it in 2016. A year and five starts later, though, and the front office must be quite pleased with itself as Estrada boasts a 3.26 ERA (129 ERA+) in Toronto. How has he done it? Despite a small-ish stature and a sub-90 MPH fastball, Estrada is incredibly difficult to hit – only Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Max Scherzer have allowed a lower batting average against since the beginning of 2015.

Nearly 90% of Estrada’s pitch selection revolves around his upper-80s four-seam fastball and upper-70s change-up. He’ll mix in a cutter and a curveball every now and then, as well. The stuff is underwhelming in terms of velocity, but he has deception in his delivery, and everything that he throws moves all over the place.

Last Outing (4/25 vs. STL) – 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Mat Latos

Three short years ago, Latos ranked among the best young pitchers in the game. He posted a 113 ERA+ in 952 IP through his age-26 season, and featured a low-to-mid 90s fastball and wipeout slider. Injuries struck in 2014, though, and have continued to do so. He has bounced between six organizations over the last two-plus seasons, owing to said injuries and an ugly 79 ERA+ between 2015 and 2016. There are also rumblings that Latos is a less-than-ideal teammate, which may well contribute to teams giving up a bit quickly on a pitcher still several months shy of his 30th birthday.

Latos’ fastball velocity now sits in the low-90s, rarely reaching its heights from a few years back. He throws a four-seamer and a two-seamer, as well as a mid-to-upper 80s slider that is still picking up whiffs.

Last Outing (4/27 vs. STL) – 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 4 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

Stroman was expected by many to be the Blue Jays ace last season, which is a bit unfair to a 25-year-old pitcher with 24 MLB starts under his belt. He fell short of those expectations, posting a 4.37 ERA (98 ERA+) and just 1.4 bWAR; he did stay healthy, tossing 204 IP after missing nearly all of 2015 with an injury. He also maintained excellent groundball (an MLB-best 60.1%) and walk (6.3%) rates. Stroman turns 26 today.

Nearly 60% of Stroman’s offerings this year have been his low-to-mid 90s two-seamer, which has led to his typically high groundball rates. He also throws a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a mid-80s slider, and a low-80s curveball.

Last Outing (4/28 vs. TOR) – 7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 10 K

The Bullpen

The Blue Jays bullpen was excellent on Sunday, tossing 8 innings following Sanchez’s injury, allowing just eight base-runners and one run, while striking out 9. Prior to that game, however, the group sported a 5.05 ERA, and had blown an MLB-worst 8 saves. Closer Roberto Osuna accounts for three of those blown saves, and is sitting on a 5.63 ERA in eight appearances. Jason Grilli (7.27 ERA in 8.2 IP) and Ryan Tepera (5.93 ERA in 13.2 IP) are the other primary offenders.

It will be interesting to see how Sunday’s happenings influence Gibbons’ bullpen management during this series. At the very least, it’s unlikely that they can piece together a bunch of innings on Monday evening.

Yankees Connection

Russell Martin is the only real connection to the Yankees franchise that we will see this week. And I still miss him.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The slumping Bautista loves hitting at Yankee Stadium – he’s a career .273/.420/.582 hitter in the Bronx, with 17 HR in 194 at-bats. This is the pessimistic fan inside me talking, but I am preemptively angry at him busting out of his slump against the Yankees. Perhaps this will be an instance of the reverse jinx, though.

And it bares repeating that there were two bench-clearing brawls the last time these teams met. Many of the players are different nowadays, but this rivalry has become more intense in recent years. Here’s hoping the Yankees come out on top this time, letting their bats and gloves do the talking.

Potential trade partners for Brett Gardner dwindling due to hot stove activity

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees right now are very much open to trading pricey veterans for prospects. They sold big time at the deadline and continued selling in the offseason by sending Brian McCann to the Astros for two Single-A pitching prospects. The Yankees have reportedly dangled Brett Gardner and Chase Headley in trade talks this winter, and I’m sure they’d love to move Jacoby Ellsbury too, but, you know.

Two teams that stood out as obvious suitors for Gardner addressed their outfield needs last week. The Nationals traded for Adam Eaton and the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler. Both clubs needed a defensively competent center fielder — Gardner plays left for the Yankees in deference to Ellsbury, but he could still handle center full-time, no problem — and a top of the order on-base guy. The Nats and Cards went in another direction.

Gardner is a good player, not a great one, and the two years and $23M left on his contract is not unreasonable. And besides, the Yankees have shown a willingness to eat money to facilitate trades. They did it with Carlos Beltran at the deadline and McCann a few weeks ago. Salary shouldn’t be a problem. The problem is finding a team that actually needs Gardner, a defense first outfielder with on-base skills. Here are the remaining potential trade partners I came up with.

Baltimore Orioles

Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Current Outfield: Adam Jones in center and Hyun-Soo Kim in left, with Joey Rickard and Rule 5 Draft picks Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez candidates for right. They also have the option of moving Chris Davis to right field and playing prospect Trey Mancini at first.

Why Would They Want Gardner? He’s a heck of a lot better than Rickard and the Rule 5 Draft kids — Santander has never played above High-A — and he’d give the O’s a legitimate leadoff hitter, something they really lack. Jones was their leadoff hitter most of this past season. Yeah. Also, the Orioles have an opening at DH, remember. They could put Gardner in left, Kim at DH (where he fits best), and stick with the kids in right.

So Are They A Fit? Yes with the caveat that they’re an AL East rival, and intradivision trades are rare. I don’t think that closes the door completely, it just makes it unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch he’d have no problem trading with the Orioles.

“If I can trade with the Red Sox and the Mets, I can trade with the Orioles. I can trade with anybody. If it’s in our best interest, whether it’s short- or long-term, it doesn’t matter what the other teams get. Does it make sense for us? If it happens to be them, I don’t really care.”

What do the O’s have to offer the Yankees for Gardner? Geez, beats me. Their farm system isn’t in great shape (here’s their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and I doubt they’d be willing to give up pieces from their big league roster. I’m sure the Yankees could find some combination of minor leaguers to make it work though.

Cleveland Indians

Current Outfield: Tyler Naquin in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. Brandon Guyer and Abe Almonte are expected to hold down left field until Michael Brantley returns from shoulder surgery.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Not too many reasons at this point. The Indians seem focused on adding a big middle of the order bat to share first base and DH with Carlos Santana, and I suppose if those plans go awry, they could circle back and import Gardner to be part of a rotating DH system. He’d give them a more traditional leadoff hitter too. They used Santana at leadoff most of last season, which was somewhat a waste of his power because he batted with fewer men on base.

So Are They A Fit? Nah, I don’t think so. Naquin had a nightmare postseason but a very good regular season, good enough to finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and earn a starting spot in 2017. They’ll ride it out with Almonte and Guyer until Brantley returns, which could be as soon as April.

Detroit Tigers

Current Outfield: Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez on the corners, with Anthony Gose and JaCoby Jones in the mix for center. Tyler Collins could get a crack at the job too, though he’s best in a corner.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Gardner is much better than the group of players vying for Detroit’s center field job at the moment. Of course, the Tigers traded away Cameron Maybin earlier this winter, and they seem to be scaling back on payroll a bit. Salary dumping Maybin only to turn around and acquire Gardner would be a bit weird, don’t you think?

Of course, plans change, and the Tigers are looking at a more winnable AL Central right now. The Twins stink, the White Sox are selling, and the Royals might have to sell at the deadline since basically their entire core will hit free agency next winter. The Tigers won 86 games in 2016 despite going 4-14 (4-14!) against the Indians. What are the odds of that happening again? Small. Gardner would improve their chances in a much more winnable division.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe! I think the Yankees would have to eat money to make a trade happen, which I doubt would be a deal-breaker. If the Yankees ate money to trade Beltran and McCann, I’m sure they’d do the same for Gardner.

Oakland Athletics

Jake Smolinski was the A's everyday center fielder in the second half. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Jake Smolinski was the A’s everyday center fielder in the second half. For reals. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Current Outfield: Some combination of Khris Davis, Matt Joyce, Brett Eibner, and Jake Smolinski. Did you know Khris Davis hit 42 home runs in 2016? True story.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The A’s are in the market for a center fielder this offseason, it’s been reported everywhere, and they’ve most recently been connected to Jarrod Dyson of the Royals. Gardner is a very similar player (lefty hitting leadoff type with speed and defense) who happens to be much more expensive. But again, if the Yankees are willing to eat money, his contract may not be an obstacle.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe. The Athletics are a weird team that seems to be stuck between going for it and rebuilding. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they traded for an outfielder making $23M over the next two years despite losing at least 93 games the last two seasons. They’re weird like that.

San Francisco Giants

Current Outfield: Denard Span in center and Hunter Pence in right, with Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker slated to platoon in left. Gorkys Hernandez has a leg up on a bench job.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Left field is wide open. Williamson and Parker did an okay job as platoon partners while Pence was on the disabled list this summer — they hit a combined .230/.338/.402 with eleven homers in 278 plate appearances in 2016, but also struck out 28.5% of the time — though neither is a long-term building block. Williamson is the young one at 26. Parker turns 28 in three weeks.

Gardner would, at a minimum, give the Giants an above-average defender for that spacious left field at AT&T Park. In also guessing he’d outproduce a Williamson/Parker platoon at the plate over a full 162-game season. The Mark Melancon signing pushed San Francisco over the luxury tax threshold and they don’t want to go much higher, so Gardner’s contract could be an issue. Then again, the Giants are built to win right now, while Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, and left field is a sore spot.

So Are They A Fit? Yes, definitely. The Giants have enough prospects to cobble together a trade package (here is their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and the Yankees could eat money to make things work on San Francisco’s end with regards to the luxury tax. The Giants are a fit. A great fit. No doubt.

Seattle Mariners

Current Outfield: Leonys Martin in the middle with some combination of Seth Smith, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger, and possibly even Danny Valencia in the corners.

Why Would They Want Gardner? As an alternative to that hodgepodge of platoon veterans and mid-range prospects slated for the corners. The Mariners are trying to win right now. I mean, they should be. Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz aren’t going to be this productive forever, so anything Seattle can do to improve their short-term chances qualifies as a good move in my book. Gardner represents an upgrade.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in theory, no in reality. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said his team is too left-handed at the moment, which Gardner would only exacerbate. Also, they seem committed to playing those kids in the outfield. So while there is a fit on paper here, I don’t see it happening.

Texas Rangers

Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)
Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Current Outfield: Carlos Gomez in center, Shin-Soo Choo in right, and Nomar Mazara in left. Delino DeShields Jr. and Ryan Rua are the depth options.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The Rangers have no first baseman or designated hitter at the moment. Adding Gardner would allow them to slide Mazara over to right field, his natural position, and put Choo at DH full-time, which is where he belongs at this point. Texas has money and prospects to trade, plus an obvious opening for Gardner in the lineup and on the field.

So Are They A Fit? Yes. Whether the Rangers are willing to make a trade is another matter. They may prefer to hang on to their prospects and address those first base and DH openings through free agency. There are still plenty of those players available.

Toronto Blue Jays

Current Outfield: lol

Why Would They Want Gardner? Kevin Pillar is still the center fielder. That much is clear. But after losing out on Fowler, the Blue Jays have Melvin Upton, Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, and Dalton Pompey penciled in as their corner outfielders. That might be the worst outfield unit in baseball. Gardner would give them a legitimate left fielder and leadoff hitter, allowing them to slide Devon Travis lower in the order, in a run producing spot. That would be a big help considering they effectively replaced Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista with Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. I’m sure that’ll work out fine.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in the same way the Orioles are a fit. The Blue Jays could use Gardner, for sure, but to get him, they’d have to swing a rare intradivision trade. It’s not impossible. Just really tough to do. There’s a reason you don’t see them often. Everyone’s afraid of losing a trade to a division rival.

Sanchez: Blue Jays sign Lourdes Gurriel to seven-year deal

Lourdes Jr. (Getty)
Lourdes Jr. (Getty)

Not surprisingly, a team other than the Yankees has signed free agent Cuban infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. That team is the Blue Jays, according to Jesse Sanchez. Joel Sherman hears it’s a seven-year contract worth $22M. Because of his age, the deal does not count against Toronto’s international spending pool.

Lourdes and his older brother Yulieski defected last year. They were two of the very best players left in Cuba. Yulieski, 32, signed a five-year deal worth $47.5M with the Astros in July. Following a brief stint in the minors, he was called up to Houston and hit .262/.292/.385 (82 wRC+) with three homers in 36 games.

The 23-year-old Lourdes is considered a lesser player than his brother and a very good but not great prospect. He’s not another Yoan Moncada. The consensus is Lourdes will need some time in the minors before helping out at the big league level, like his brother. Both Gurriels are infielders.

The Yankees reportedly worked out both Gurriel brothers over the last few months, though, as has been the case with big name Cuban players for a while now, they didn’t sign either one. The last high-profile Cuban player signed by the Yankees was Jose Contreras.

Thursday Notes: Beltran, Blue Jays, IFAs, Qualifying Offer

(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)
(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)

There are, at most, ten more baseball games left this season. It could be as few as six. That stinks. The offseason is fun in it’s own way, but nothing is better than actual games. That’s why we all watch. Anyway, make sure you check out MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees post. Nice little rundown of what could happen this winter. Here are some other news and notes.

Blue Jays had interest in Beltran

The Blue Jays had interest in Carlos Beltran prior to the trade deadline, reports Gerry Fraley. Toronto skipper John Gibbons confirmed the club considered a run at Beltran this summer. “Beltran was a guy we even talked about. We saw him over the years with the Yankees and what a great hitter he was, a clutch type performer,” said Gibbons prior to the start of the ALDS.

The Red Sox also reportedly tried to acquire Beltran prior to the deadline, and just like with Boston, it’s unclear whether the Yankees would have actually gone through with an intra-division trade with the Blue Jays. Toronto’s farm system is not nearly as good as the Red Sox’s, though I’m sure the two sides could have found a match if they really set their mind to it. The Blue Jays scored eight runs in the five-game ALCS — five of the eight came in Game Four — and they clearly needed another bat. Beltran would have been able to help. No doubt.

MLB pushing for international draft

To no surprise whatsoever, MLB is pushing for an international draft as part of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with MLBPA, reports Buster Olney. MLB has wanted an international draft for years now — it’s a way to keep costs down for owners, that’s the only goal here — but the union has yet to give in. I wonder if this will be the year though. Here are some more details from Olney:

Under the terms of MLB’s initial concept, the new international draft system would start in March of 2018, with a 10-round draft held over two days. As the new structure evolved, with terms grandfathered into the process, the minimum age for draft-eligible players would be 18 years old by 2021 … As part of baseball’s proposal, MLB would operate facilities in the Dominican Republic, where international draft prospects would be invited to live to develop their skills and education before becoming eligible.

Two things. One, those kids are going to have to wait two more years to get their payday, no matter how large or small it may be. That sucks. Right now they can sign at 16. Under this proposal they have to wait until they’re 18. And two, this is yet another incentive for teams to be bad. Bad clubs already get the largest draft bonus pools and protected picks. Now they’ll get access to the top international talent without worrying about other clubs offering more money.

This proposal — thankfully that’s all this is right now, a proposal — is great for the teams and owners. They’ll save money and also get two extra years to evaluate these kids before deciding whether to sign to them. It stinks for the players, who have to wait to get paid and risk having their skills erode before they can cash in. You have no idea how many kids sign at 16 only to then fill out physically and lose the electric athleticism that got them paid. An international draft is inevitable. Hopefully MLBPA doesn’t relent this CBA and we get a few more years of true free agency.

Qualifying offer system could change with CBA

The qualifying offer system may also be revamped with the new CBA, reports Joel Sherman. The QO isn’t going away, but the MLB and the MLBPA may make it so players can not receive the QO in consecutive years. That means the Orioles wouldn’t be able to get a draft pick for Matt Wieters this offseason since they gave him the QO last offseason, which he accepted. Something like that.

I can’t imagine MLB and MLBPA will ever completely severe ties between the draft and free agency — they don’t want rich teams to have access to the best free agents and first round talent — so this might be the next best thing. If this proposal goes through, you might see some more players sign one-year contracts so they can go back out on the market with no draft pick attached. I think most guys will look to grab the largest payday as soon as possible though. Being set for life financial is pretty cool, I hear.

One thing the Yankees can learn from each of the four remaining postseason teams

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

At the moment, four teams still have a chance to win the World Series. Someone will end a long title drought this year too. Among the four clubs still alive, the Blue Jays have the shortest title drought, and they last won in 1993. The Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Indians last won in 1948. The Cubs? There were only 46 states in the union the last time they won a championship. Seriously. Look it up.

Obviously the four teams still alive are all very good, and any time a team has success, there’s something that can be learned from them. Front offices around the league wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t look at these four clubs and try to figure out what they’re doing better than everyone. The Yankees, who have been thoroughly mediocre the last four years, are no different. Here’s one thing they can take from each of the four teams still playing.

Cubs: You can have a great defense without shifting

The Cubs had a historically great defense this season. Truly historic. In terms of simple defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of batted balls they turned into outs, the 2016 Cubs were the 75th best defensive team in history (out of over 2,000 team seasons). Baseball Prospectus rates them as the best defensive team ever in park adjusted defensive efficiency. Whether they’re first best or 75th best doesn’t really matter. The Cubs were a phenomenal fielding team in 2016. No doubt about it.

Now here’s the kicker: no team in baseball used fewer infield shifts than the Cubs this season. The shifts didn’t follow Joe Maddon from Tampa, apparently. Huh. Chicago used the shift for only 10.1% of the batters their pitchers faced in 2016. The next lowest rate belongs to the Royals at 10.6%. The Astros used by far the most shifts this summer (33.2%) and the Yankees used the seventh most (26.5%). They’re weren’t all that far away from being second (Rays, 29.3%).

How did the Cubs field such a great team without shifting? Well, it starts with having tremendously athletic players gifted with defensive tools. That’s kind of a prerequisite for a great team defense. The Yankees have a few of those players themselves. The Cubs also seem to emphasize their pitchers’ strengths rather than the hitter’s tendencies. They get the hitter to hit the ball where they want him to hit the ball, not where he wants to hit the ball. Make sense? It’s hard to explain, but they do it.

The Yankees allowed a .284 BABIP with normal defensive alignments this year and a .304 BABIP when using some kind of shift, which is, uh, backwards. You should be allowing a lower BABIP with the shift. This isn’t to say the Yankees should abandon the shift all together. That’s an overreaction. Perhaps scaling back on the shift would make sense though. I’m not really sure. Point is, the Cubs showed this year you don’t need to shift heavily to be a great defensive club.

Indians: Keep all your pitching depth. All of it.

It’s amazing the Indians are so close to the World Series considering they are without their No. 2 (Carlos Carrasco) and No. 3 (Danny Salazar) starters. Also, No. 4 starter Trevor Bauer cut his finger fixing his drone over the weekend and had to have his ALCS start pushed back from Game Two to Game Three. Injuries like that can cripple a team in the postseason. Could you imagine if the 2009 Yankees had lost A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in September, and then Chad Gaudin cut his finger fixing his stupid drone in October? They’d be done.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

And yet, the Indians have won every single game they’ve played this postseason despite those injuries because of their pitching depth. Josh Tomlin, Cleveland’s nominal fifth starter who at one point in September was demoted to the bullpen, has given the team two strong outings in the playoffs. Lefty Ryan Merritt, who has eleven big league innings to his credit, will get the ball in Game Five tomorrow, if necessary. Rookie Mike Clevinger is the backup plan.

The Yankees do have some rotation depth at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell next year. Chad Green too. Then there are Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery. Chances are the Yankees will need most of these guys at some point next year, if not all of them. That’s baseball. That isn’t to say the team should make their pitching depth off-limits, because there’s always a point when it makes sense to trade someone, but hanging on to all of these guys sure seems like a smart move.

Dodgers: Postseason narratives are meaningless

The Dodgers have won four games this postseason. Noted playoff choker Clayton Kershaw has pitched in all four of them. Sunday night, when everyone expected him to melt down in the seventh inning because he had a 20-something ERA in the seventh inning of postseason games, he tossed a scoreless frame. It’s almost like there is no such thing as a bad seventh inning pitcher.

Anyway, I have no doubt the Yankees (and pretty much every other team) have bought into some of this stuff over the years. You can’t convince me Carlos Beltran‘s postseason reputation didn’t factor into New York’s decision to sign him three years ago. (Beltran, by the way, has hit a less than stellar .250/.351/.393 in his last 25 postseason games.) These narratives are just that. Narratives. They’re fun stories to tell. They have no predictive value. Don’t get caught up in the hoopla. Just focus on getting the best talent possible and having it on the field more than everyone else.

Blue Jays: Don’t be whiny children

Does anyone actually like the Blue Jays? Outside Toronto, I mean. They’re the Rasheed Wallace of baseball. They complain about every call then bitch about it after the game. The other day Jose Bautista said “circumstances” were working against the Blue Jays in the first two games of the ALCS, and by “circumstances” he meant the home plate umpires. Late in the season the Blue Jays refused interviews with certain reporters — they literally hung media head shots in the clubhouses with giant red X’s across them — because they didn’t like some of the criticism.

Imagine scoring three runs total in three ALCS games and blaming it on the umpires. Imagine being so upset by something a reporter said or wrote that you boycott them entirely. Could they be any more thin-skinned? The Yankees are pretty good at avoiding this stuff, thankfully. Joe Girardi will occasionally say something about the umpires when there’s an egregious mistake, but I can’t remember the last player to openly complained like Bautista. So, the lesson to be taken from the Blue Jays is this: don’t be jerks. Give people a reason to like you. People around the country have enough reasons to dislike the Yankees as it is.