Assessing Trade Targets

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Yankees are looking for pitching. It’s shocking, I know, but it’s going on. Even though they ‘found’ a pitcher yesterday by re-signing CC Sabathia to a one year, $10 million contract, it’s unlikely that they’ll just settle in with what they have. Sure, a rotation of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Sabathia, and Jordan Montgomery is solid, but that doesn’t mean they can’t and won’t add to it. We’ve seen the Yankees connected to free agent Alex Cobb a bunch of times this offseason. However, most of the buzz around the Yankees and pitching seems to be concentrated around the trade rumor mill.

Over the past two weeks or so, the Yankees have been linked to no fewer than four starting pitchers in trade rumors. One is division rival Chris Archer of the Rays. Another, also in the AL is Tigers’ starter and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer. The other two hail from the National League–Gerrit Cole of the Pirates, the Yankees’ first round draft pick in 2008, and Patrick Corbin off the Diamondbacks (who became an absolute monster in one iteration of franchise mode in The Show for me many moons ago).

When considering a trade, we’ve got a multitude of factors to weigh, but they can be boiled down to three fundamental categories: cost, control, and performance.

Cost operates on two fronts: How much money and how many players will it take to get your target? Control considers the player’s current contract and that/those of the player(s) you’re giving up. And performance deals, of course, with whether or not the guy is any good or has done well. All three categories can and will intersect when evaluating whether or not to make a trade.

To bring work home with me even more than an English teacher already does, I developed a quick rubric of sors to judge each trade candidate using the aforementioned fundamental categories.

 

Category/Score 3 2 1
Cost $ Low $ Medium $ High $
Cost player Low player Medium player High player
Control 3+ years beyond 2018 1-2 years beyond 2018 Impending free agent
Performance High performance consistently AND recently Some inconsistencies, may be a rebound/regression candidate Consistently poor performance

For the acquiring team, you obviously want the cost to be low and the control and performance to each be high. The better that combination, the more desirable the trade target. Let’s use Giancarlo Stanton as a test case or model to implement this rubric. We have hindsight here and in a vacuum, without the Marlins’ apparently dire financial situation, Stanton would be high on all three categories. He’s got a big contract for a long, long time, and just won NL MVP; in a “normal” world, he would’ve cost an arm, a leg, and then some. But, in reality, Stanton was acquired for a low player cost and even the big cost of his contract–which has him under control for a long time, a double-edged sword, perhaps–is somewhat mitigated by the Marlins kicking in $30 million. By any rubric or measure, this was a no brainer trade for the Yankees to make.

Let’s lead off by looking at Gerrit Cole, the pitcher most consistently linked to the Yankees recently. Cole is projected by MLBTR  to make $7.5 million in 2018. That’s not bad at all. Additionally, he’s also under control for 2018 and 2019. The former puts him at a 3 for Cost $ and a 2 for control. Not a bad start. The player cost is where we hit a bit of a bump or a snag. Yesterday, it got out that the Pirates were going to ask for Gleyber Torres in exchange for Cole, which is, uh, not gonna happen. Good for them for asking, but I’d sooner bet on the snowball in hell. Failing Torres, though, it’s likely the Pirates will then ask for Clint Frazier and more–Chance Adams, perhaps, and another lesser piece. At first blush, that seems to be the going rate for a pitcher of Cole’s reputation, so that could just be the cost of doing business, right? You’ve gotta give to get and all that, and if both sides are hurting, then the trade is probably good. But Cole seems to have more in the bank on reputation than on performance lately. He was downright elite in 2015 but then just sorta good in 2016–and hurt–and pretty meh overall in 2017. He had a big home run spike last year–his HR/FB% more than doubled from the year before–which could explain a lot. But when you’re poised to give up someone as talented as Clint Frazier and a potential league-minimum, back of the rotation guy in Chance Adams, AND another piece, I’d want something more than a guy who’s pretty much the definition of a 2 on my rubric. The idea of Cole seems to be better than the reality.

(Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
(Brian Davidson/Getty Images)

Starting with the money, we get another manageable situation in Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin. He’s projected to make $8.5 million. Another 3 in the Cost $ category. Where he loses out, though, is that this is his last year of team control and he’s a free agent at the end of the year. Big time 1 in the Control category. That would likely bring his player cost down, too, as would performance that was okay-ish in 2017 (4.03 ERA, 4.08 FIP), his second full year back from injury after missing all of 2014. 2016, by the way, was pretty ugly for Corbin (5.15 ERA, 4.84 FIP). What stands out is a garishly high HR/FB% of 15.8% last year; his career mark is 13.8%. Granted he plays in a homer friendly park, but that wouldn’t be likely to move down in Yankee Stadium and the AL East. If I’m feeling generous, I give him a 1.75 in the Performance category and probably a high 1, low 2 for player cost. Overall, I don’t think this one would be worth it unless that player cost dipped way down low.

Archer. (Presswire)
Archer. (Presswire)

Chris Archer is a pitcher who, on the face of things, passes every mark for a Yankee trade target. He’s got a good reputation and has spent his entire career in the AL East. Beyond that, he’s got a team friendly contract that has him making $6.25 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019, $9 million in 2020, and $11 million in 2021; the latter two are club options with buyouts of $1.75 million and $250, 000 respectively. That all makes for a fantastic mark in both Cost $ and Control. Unfortunately, that also means he’d likely be a 1 in Cost Player. Add on the fact that the Yankees would be trading with a division foe and you’re looking at a very steep cost. In terms of the Performance category, Archer is sort of in the same territory as Gerrit Cole; based on the way we think and talk about him, you’d think his stats would be a lot more glowing. While he hasn’t been bad by any real stretch, he’s failed to repeat the great season he had in 2015. A big home run spike in 2016 and 2017 is likely the cause of that. Still, he throws lots of innings (200+ the last three seasons), strikes out lots of guys, and doesn’t walk a ton of batters. Throw in that with the with the contract and this is someone who, unlike Cole, I could see giving up some top-flight talent for.

(Justin Edmonds/Getty)
(Justin Edmonds/Getty)

Michael Fulmer is about to start his third year of MLB service, so his first shot at arbitration won’t be until a year from now. Per Cot’s , Fulmer is also going to qualify for Super 2 status, meaning he’s got an extra year of arbitration, giving his team control of him through 2022. Hot damn. That’s a 3 and then some on the Control category. Even if he signed some sort of extension or contract, his mark in Cost $ is going to be a 3 pretty much no matter what. In terms of performance, Fulmer more or less repeated his ROY season, though with a lower strikeout rate. He kept up a big ground ball rate, though, and did a good job of keeping the ball in the park. That would probably change in moving from Comerica Park to Yankee Stadium, of course. Still, he’s got good control and command and keeps the ball on the ground; if you’re not going to strike people out, those two are the next best things. All this, though, of course means that Fulmer’s player cost is going to be sky high. The Tigers would be justified in asking anything–non-Torres division–in exchange for Fulmer. While there would be doubts in my mind about paying the player cost for Cole and some minor ones in paying the player cost for Archer, those more or less don’t apply to Fulmer. A young, supremely controlled pitcher with history of solid performance? Yep.

Given all this, my preferred order of acquisition would look like this:

Fulmer, followed by Archer, then a toss up between Corbin and Cole. While Cole is definitely the better pitcher, the cost for Corbin would likely be a lot lower, which evens them out a little bit. I’m not sure, obviously, what’s going to happen, but if the Yankees are going to go hard for one of these guys, it should be Fulmer. The farm system would take a hit and it would suck to say goodbye to someone as fun and cool as Clint Frazier, but Fulmer would make an immediate impact and a lasting one.

Saturday Links: Cole, Ellsbury, Diamondbacks, Judge, Fowler

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As of today, pitchers and catchers are 59 days away from reporting to Tampa for Spring Training. Two months. There’s lots to do in those two months too. The Yankees need another pitcher and probably another infielder. and eventually the top free agents are going to have to sign. Anyway, here are some notes to check out.

Yankees, Pirates talking Cole trade

As rumored during the Winter Meetings, the Yankees and Pirates are indeed talking about a Gerrit Cole trade, reports George King. The deal “possibly” could include Clint Frazier, and the Pirates are said to want a young big league ready pitcher as well. Chance Adams is the obvious fit there, though who knows, maybe the Pirates prefer Domingo German or Luis Cessa. Strangers things have happened.

On one hand, Cole turned only 27 in September, and he has obvious ace-caliber upside. Plus he’s under control for two seasons, not just one. On the other hand, Cole has gone backwards the last two years. He had a 4.26 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 203 innings this season, which is as close to league average as it gets. League average is fine! A league average workhorse is quite valuable. I just worry about trading an ace package for a guy who hasn’t been an ace in two years.

Yankees, D’Backs talked Ellsbury trade

The Yankees and Diamondbacks discussed a Jacoby Ellsbury trade at some point recently, according to Brendan Kuty, though apparently it was a one-sided conversation. The D’Backs weren’t interested. Arizona appears to be one of the few potential landing spots for Ellsbury given the fact they need an outfielder, and Ellsbury and manager Torey Lovullo know each other from their Red Sox days. Plus Ellsbury has a house in Arizona, apparently.

Supposedly Ellsbury does not want to waive his no-trade clause, which could simply be his way of playing hard to get, and leveraging the no-trade clause into some sort of compensation for agreeing to a deal (pick up his 2021 option)? That might be pushing it. Or maybe Ellsbury doesn’t really want to leave the Yankees because he wants to win, and is willing to accept a reduced role. Whatever it is, he is in control here. If he doesn’t want to go to the D’Backs (or anywhere else), he doesn’t have to.

Judge will be ready for Spring Training

Earlier this week Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty that following his shoulder surgery, Aaron Judge will be ready for the start of Spring Training, though the procedure will throw a wrench into his offseason workouts. Judge will have to start hitting a little later than usual. Here’s what Cashman said:

“He won’t be hitting in the winter the way he’s used to doing but in terms of hitting the ground in spring training he should be fine,” Cashman said. “But as far as his normal cage work and picking up a bat at a certain point, that’s going to be delayed for a period of time. But in terms of the recovered and the rehab puts him well in advance of spring training.”

While every surgery comes with risk, I’m not too worried about Judge because it was a fairly minor procedure — they scoped out a loose body and repaired some cartilage, there wasn’t any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff — and he has plenty of time to recover. Missing some offseason cage time isn’t the end of the world. As long as Judge is ready in time for Spring Training, he’ll get more than enough at-bats to be ready for the season.

Fowler suing White Sox for injury

According to Tom Schuba, former Yankees farmhand Dustin Fowler is suing the White Sox and the agency that manages Guaranteed Rate Field over the injury he suffered this summer. Fowler suffered an open rupture of the patella tendon when his knee hit an electrical box along the sidewall chasing a foul pop-up, as I’m sure you remember. It happened in his first inning as a big leaguer. From Schuba:

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, claims the White Sox and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority acted negligently by not securing the metal box or taking precautions to prevent players from colliding with it. In addition, the suit alleges the White Sox and Sports Facilities Authority failed to adequately inspect the right field wall and the box. The box was installed at knee-level “in a manner so as to create a hidden and undetectable hazard” to Fowler and other ballplayers, the suit alleges. By failing to properly pad, guard or cover the exposed box, the defendants showed “an utter indifference to or conscious disregard” for Fowler’s safety.

The lawsuit says Fowler, who later went to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray trade, suffered “severe and permanent” injuries as well as mental pain and anguish, and adds Fowler has had to spend “large sums of money” on medical care related to the injury. I have no idea whether he has any chance of winning the lawsuit, but I hope Fowler cleans them out and they have to rename the ballpark after him. He started baseball activities as part of his rehab last month, so it seems he’s doing well. Hopefully Fowler wins the A’s center field job in Spring Training.

The Prospect Debuts [2017 Season Review]

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

Even though the Yankees were not considered a slam dunk contender going into the 2017 season, there were plenty of reasons to be excited. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge were two of them. We were also looking forward to seeing some of the team’s top prospects make their MLB debuts at some point. Gleyber Torres and Chance Adams didn’t debut this year for different reasons, but plenty of others did.

Because so many things went right at the MLB level (Aaron Hicks breaking out, for example) and because the Yankees went out and made in-season upgrades (Todd Frazier trade), the Yankees did not have to lean heavily on any of their position player prospect call-ups. They came up, got their feet wet, and that’s about it. Time to review the four young position player prospects who made their MLB debuts this summer.

Miguel Andujar

Andujar finally had that big breakout season in 2016, and after hitting .312/.342/.494 (126 wRC+) with seven homers in 67 games with Double-A Trenton to start 2017, the Yankees moved him up to Triple-A Scranton. Nine days later he was in the big leagues, replacing the ill Matt Holliday. Against the White Sox on June 28th, his first MLB game, Andujar went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk, and a stolen base. He also drove in four runs.

Andujar became the first player in Yankees history to drive in four runs in his MLB debut. He was the first player with three hits and four runs driven in in his big league debut for any team since … Steven Matz? Steven Matz. Matz went 3-for-3 with a double and four runs driven in during his MLB debut on June 28th. Okie dokie. He’s a pitcher, you know.

The Yankees sent Andujar back down the next day — he returned for a day as an injury replacement a few days later, but did not play — because their plan was to use him against the left-handed Carlos Rodon before bringing up a more permanent replacement. Andujar returned in September and appeared in three games, all as a late-inning replacement in blowouts. He went 4-for-8 with two doubles as a big leaguer while hitting .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) with 16 homers and a 13.6% strikeout rate in 125 games split between Double-A and Triple-A.

Andujar of course survived the 40-man roster purge last month and, more surprisingly, he was not included in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. That surprised me. A cheap, young, and talented MLB ready third baseman seemed like someone the Marlins would target in the deal, but nope. Third base is open long-term for the Yankees, especially now that second base is clear for Torres. Andujar needs to work on his defense, sure, but chances are he’ll get a longer opportunity to help the Yankees at some point next year.

Dustin Fowler

Hands down, the worst moment of an otherwise wildly fun and exciting 2017 season for the Yankees was Fowler’s injury. The injury itself wasn’t particularly gory or gruesome, though the circumstances were awful. In literally his first inning as a big leaguer — Fowler was called up on June 29th, as the more permanent replacement for Andujar — Fowler crashed into the side wall chasing a foul pop-up at Guaranteed Rate Field, and blew out his knee.

Fowler suffered an open rupture of the right patella tendon and needed emergency surgery, which ended his season. In his first inning as a big leaguer. Terrible. The kid didn’t even get an at-bat. He was due to lead off the next inning. Fowler spent the rest of the season on the disabled list — at least he got to accrue 95 days of service time and big league pay while on the disabled list, as if that’s some consolation —  and was included in the Sonny Gray trade at the deadline. Had he been healthy, I’m not sure he gets traded. It might’ve been Estevan Florial instead.

Prior to the injury Fowler ripped up Triple-A, hitting .293/.329/.542 (138 wRC+) with 13 home runs and 13 steals in 70 games before getting called up. He is no longer with the Yankees, but the good news is that according to John Shea, Fowler’s rehab is progressing well and he is current working out at the A’s complex in Arizona. MLB.com ranks him as the third best prospect in Oakland’s system and their center field depth chart is very weak. Fowler is expected to be ready for Spring Training. I hope he wins the center field job in camp.

Clint Frazier

Spring Training got off to a pretty ridiculous start for the headliner in last summer’s Andrew Miller trade. First the Yankees made a spectacle of Frazier getting a haircut to conform to the team’s hair policy rules. Then there was a flat out made up story that Frazier asked to wear Mickey Mantle’s No. 7, which required an apology from Suzyn Waldman. The damage had already been done though. Clint became the new media whipping boy.

Anyway, Frazier opened the 2017 season with Triple-A Scranton, where he got off to a bit of a slow start, but he eventually picked it up and hit .256/.344/.473 (123 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 74 games before being called up on July 1st. Frazier replaced Andujar, who replaced Fowler, who replaced Andujar, who replaced Holliday. Got all that?

Frazier’s big league debut — and his first few weeks in pinstripes, really — was quite eventful. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer in his first MLB game, and in his first 15 games, Clint went 17-for-56 (.304) with five doubles, two triples, and three homers. That’s ten extra-base hits and seven singles. One of those three homers was a walk-off three-run shot against the Brewers on July 8th.

That bat speed, man. Frazier turned around a 97.3 mph heater from All-Star Corey Knebel like it was a batting practice lob. By both win probability added and championship probability added, the walk-off blast was the second biggest regular season hit of the year for the Yankees, behind only Brett Gardner‘s three-run jaw-dropper at Wrigley Field.

Frazier stayed in the lineup on an everyday basis because Holliday was hurt, Hicks was hurt, and Jacoby Ellsbury was largely ineffective. He wound up on the disabled list himself on August 10th, after tweaking his oblique during batting practice. The injury kept Frazier out until mid-September, and when he returned, he was largely a bench player who played in blowouts. All told, he hit .231/.268/.448 (82 wRC+) with four homers in 142 MLB plate appearance.

Like Andujar, Frazier somewhat surprisingly wasn’t included in the Stanton trade, so he remains in the organization. The Stanton trade does create some uncertainty about Frazier’s long-term role, however. In Judge and Stanton, the Yankees now have two of best corner outfielders in baseball, so where does Frazier fit? Triple-A depth/injury replacement? DH? Make him fake center field long-term? Trade bait? I’m not sure, and the Yankees might not be sure right now either.

Oh, and by the way, Frazier initially wore No. 30 after being called up, though he gave it up when David Robertson was reacquired. His new number? No. 77. I have no idea whether that is a troll move following the Spring Training nonsense, but I’m going to pretend it is.

Tyler Wade

The players in this post are listed alphabetically, but it all started with Wade. He was the first in the parade of prospect debuts. Wade started the season in Triple-A before being called up on June 27th. He debuted the day before Andujar, who debuted the day before Fowler, who debuted two days before Frazier. That was quite a week. Arguably the four best non-Gleyber position player prospects in the system made their MLB debuts in the span of five days.

Unlike the other guys in this post, Wade did not make his debut as a starter. He came off the bench. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (135 wRC+) with five homers and 24 steals in 71 Triple-A games before coming up, and his first taste of the big leagues came as a pinch-hitter. He pinch-hit for former teammate Rob Refsnyder against future teammate Tommy Kahnle. Wade worked a seven-pitch walk against Kahnle that sparked the go-ahead rally. Too bad the bullpen blew that game.

Wade started in left field the next day and went 1-for-5 with a double, his first MLB hit. He started the next day at second base and went 1-for-4. He started in right field the day after that and went 0-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored. Three different positions in three days in his first three starts as a big league ballplayer. You can do that when you have the athleticism to make plays like this:

After those three starts at three different positions, Wade slipped into a utility role, and he barely played. He accrued 81 days of service time and had only 63 plate appearances. There was also a short Triple-A stint in August mixed in there. Joe Girardi stuck with Ronald Torreyes at second base while Starlin Castro was injured, so from July 1st through the end of the season, Wade was on the MLB roster for 73 games and appeared in only 26.

One of those 26 games came against the Rays on July 27th, in a rare start. Wade had a brutal game, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and a double play. Two of the strikeouts and the double play came in the late innings with either the tying or go-ahead run in scoring position. Ouch. At least the Yankees won. Wade finished the season with a .155/.222/.224 (17 wRC+) batting line in his 63 big league plate appearances, and a .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) line in 85 Triple-A games.

As with Andujar and Frazier, Wade was not included in the Stanton trade, so he remains in the organization. And depending what the Yankees do the rest of the offseason, it’s entirely possible Wade will go into Spring Training with a chance to win the starting second base job. I imagine it would be between Wade, Torreyes, Torres, and the journeyman infielder the Yankees will inevitably sign to a minor league deal. I like Wade. His MLB stint this year was terrible, no doubt about that, but he has some skills and can be a nice contributor as soon as next season.

Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

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

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Minors Notes: Top Triple-A & Breakout Prospects, Rodriguez

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The 2017 minor league season is officially over. Durham beat Memphis in the Triple-A Championship Game at PNC Field in Scranton last night. The Triple-A Championship Game rotates sites each year like an All-Star Game, and it just so happened to be played in Scranton this year. Too bad the RailRiders didn’t make it. Anyway, here are some minor league notes to check out.

Three Yankees among top International League prospects

Earlier this week Baseball America started their annual series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d) yesterday, with Braves OF Ronald Acuna claiming the top spot. Three Yankees made the list (four if you count OF Dustin Fowler, who was traded away but makes the list at No. 17 due to his time with Scranton):

  • 9) RHP Chance Adams: “One evaluator said that between Adams’ four offerings, he has a chance for three above-average pitches with above-average control … He drew comparisons with Bud Norris and Jordan Zimmermann.”
  • 15) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar drew rave reviews from managers and scouts for his uncanny ability to barrel baseballs with authority as well as his energetic nature on the field … He has a plus arm, quick-twitch actions and a strong work ethic at third base, but below-average footwork and hard hands could be too much to overcome.”
  • 16) OF Clint Frazier: “(Some) evaluators think he always will pair home runs with strikeouts and low batting averages because of a limiting, rigid swing. With sufficient pitch recognition, though, he can be an impact power hitter.”

Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest Andujar fan out there, but even I wouldn’t rank him above Frazier on a prospect list. Frazier seems like one of those prospects people look for reasons not to like. The kid has insane bat speed, the ball explodes off his bat, he works the count well, and he’s fine in either corner outfield spot. What’s the problem here? Anyway, in the chat Carlos Collazo said SS Gleyber Torres would’ve ranked in the top three had he not gotten hurt and fallen short of the playing time minimum. SS Tyler Wade was a consideration for the list as well.

McKinney to begin working out at first base

OF Billy McKinney, who will be added to the 40-man roster after the season, is going to begin working out at first base in Instructional League, reports Robert Pimpsner. Sounds like an assignment to the Arizona Fall League in possible as well, though the Yankees already have a first baseman going to the desert (1B Chris Gittens) and their position player spots are full. Someone could get be getting pulled though. We’ll see.

McKinney, 23, came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with a career high 16 home runs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A this summer. He’s a bat first prospect — his defense in the corner outfield is not great — so it makes sense to increase his versatility and get him time at first base. We still don’t know whether Greg Bird can stay healthy and/or produce consistently. Given the team’s outfield glut, getting McKinney familiar with first base seems like a no-brainer.

Loaisiga, Widener among top 2018 breakout candidates


The crew at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) posted a list of ten breakout candidates for the 2018 season, and two of the ten are Yankees: RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and RHP Taylor Widener. Keith Law had good things to say about Loaisiga last week. Widener was a reliever in the college before the Yankees moved him into the rotation, Chance Adams style. A quick recap of the write-ups:

  • Loaisiga: “(He) features a potentially plus fastball-curveball combination with the ability to throw either pitch for strikes in any count. The fastball consistently hovers around 95 (t97) with late movement … expect him to start shooting up prospect lists.”
  • Widener: “Widener was in the low-to-mid-90s with the fastball, topping out at 96, and it was moving around pretty good … Widener commanded it like a good Double-A starting prospect, not a guy making his first Double-A appearance … Widener projects as an interesting mid-rotation prospect at the upside, with a more likely outcome as a good reliever.”

So I guess Johnny Lasagna being a prospect is a thing now? He originally signed with the Giants out of Nicaragua back in 2013, but they released him a year later after some injury issues. The Yankees picked him up, he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last year, and came back looking good this year. Loaisiga turns 23 in November, and he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., plus he has an injury history, so there are some things working against him. Still, the Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap, and now he’s being written up as a breakout prospect. Pretty cool.

Rodriguez is “99%” sure he’s retiring

C Eddy Rodriguez, who spent the last three seasons with Triple-A Scranton (and part of one season with Double-A Trenton) is “99%” sure he’s retiring, reports D.J. Eberle. For much of this year Rodriguez was third on the catcher depth chart while C Kyle Higashioka was hurt, though he never did get a call-up. His one MLB cameo came with the Padres in 2012. He took Johnny Cueto deep in his first at-bat.

Rodriguez, who defected from Cuba with his family when he was a kid, is still only 31 years old. He’s not much of a hitter — he hit .189/.240/.308 (51 wRC+) in 446 plate appearances with the RailRiders the last two years — but he’s long been regarded as a great defender and clubhouse guy. Rodriguez wouldn’t reveal his post-playing days plan to Eberle, but he seems like the kind of guy we’ll see on a Yankees minor league coaching staff/instructor list in the near future. Either way, the Yankees need a new veteran good guy backup catcher for Scranton next year.

Attractive Opposites

World Series Phillies Yankees Baseball

I’ve said often that the 2009 World Series winning Yankee team is my favorite of all the championship teams. I was finally old enough to appreciate a World Series win and I watched nearly every inning of that season. Additionally, I was (way too) active on this site and met a lot of great people through it. Every night was a new, fun, exciting experience on the road to dominance and an eventual championship. On its face, the 2017 version of the Yankees has very little to do with that team.

The 2009 team was built and focused around veterans. There were the ‘holdovers’ like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano. The team brought in Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeria. That team was expected to win and to win big. And that’s what they did. Including the playoffs, they won 114 games en route to World Series number 27. The 2017 team, on the other hand, was built around young players and the hope that maybe if everything broke right, they could fight for the second Wild Card spot. Obviously, things have gone better than that and this year has been, probably, the most enjoyable year of my Yankee fandom since 2009.

Every night, this team is fun to watch. Of course, there have been frustrating moments of offensive and bullpen related frustrations, but those pale in comparison to how great it feels to watch young players playing great on a nightly basis. From Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge knocking dingers, leading their respective positions in offense, to Didi Gregorius‘s further offensive development and stellar throwing arm, to Luis Severino and Chad Green reaching heights that seemed well beyond anything we could think of, to Clint Frazier making an unexpected debut, young players have fueled the good times in 2017.

2009 featured walk off after walk off and it was amazing. I’ll not soon forget he A-Rod walk off against the Red Sox or walk off weekend against the Twins or all the playoff heroics of A-Rod and others. That sense of drama hasn’t quite been there more than a few times in 2017, but the wins have been satisfying nonetheless.

We’ve talked a lot about expectations this year and how the lack thereof has made this a stress free year of rooting. A different feeling than the expectations-laden one in 2009 for sure. But, at the end of the rooting day, there is a sense of calm I’ve felt regarding both squads. In 2009, I always knew the team would come through. I knew they’d get the big hit. I knew they’d win even when it looked like they wouldn’t. There was a level of comfort knowing just how damn good they were, knowing that they were the best. Even as expectations now rise for the 2017 team–anything less than a DS appearance would be disappointing at this point–there’s a comfort level in knowing that they blew past what we should have expected long ago.

Baseball is supposed to be fun, whether you’re playing or watching. Since 2012, the fun times for the Yankees have been few and far between, with plenty of frustration flung in there. 2017 hasn’t been that at all. 2009 seemed predestined for a championship and I’ve got no idea what 2017 will really do, but the ride has been fun as all hell and I hope it goes on for a long time and ends with a big parade.