The Fill-in Starting Pitchers [2017 Season Review]

Cessa. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Cessa. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Although they went into Spring Training with two open rotation spots and physical concerns with the other three spots, the Yankees made it through the 2017 season using only eleven different starting pitchers. Only ten teams used fewer. Furthermore, the Yankees had only eight pitchers make at least five starts this year. Those eight pitchers accounted for 158 of the Yankees’ 162 starts this season.

Pitching depth is a necessity in baseball, not a luxury, and the Yankees got some decent production out of their depth arms this year. Given how often pitchers get hurt, the performance of your sixth or seventh starter can very easily be the difference between a postseason berth and a long offseason. Times to review the three starters who drew the most fill-in starts during the 2017 season.

Luis Cessa

It wasn’t until mid-June that the Yankees were forced to use a sixth starter for the first time. A hamstring injury sent CC Sabathia to the disabled list, and while Cessa’s overall Triple-A numbers weren’t great (4.15 ERA and 4.40 FIP in 65 innings), he’d allowed only five runs in his previous three starts and 20 innings. He was the hot hand. Plus he lined up perfectly with Sabathia’s rotation spot.

Cessa made three starts while Sabathia was sidelined, during which he allowed eleven runs on 13 hits and six walks in 13.2 innings. One start was okay (three runs in five innings) while the other two were bad (four runs in four innings, four runs in 4.2 innings). Joe Girardi kept the leash short with Cessa — he averaged only 82 pitches in those three starts, all Yankees losses — which was understandable.

The Yankees kept Cessa around as a long reliever following Sabathia’s return, and he pitched fairly well in that role, allowing six runs in 14.2 innings across five appearances. One real disaster outing against the Reds (three runs in one inning) skew the numbers a bit. Cessa tossed 4.2 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays on July 4th and 3.1 scoreless innings against the Rays on July 30th.

Following a quick stint in Triple-A, Cessa returned to the Yankees in mid-August, making a spot start against the Mets on August 14th when Sabathia’s knee acted up. He allowed two runs in 4.2 innings and had to be pulled after throwing 66 pitches with what appeared to be a back injury. Cessa would not pitch again this season. He was placed on the disabled list the next day with what the Yankees called a rib cage injury. It was season-ending.

In five spot starts this season Cessa pitched to a 5.82 ERA (6.25 FIP) and held hitters to a .256/.360/.535 batting line in 21.2 innings. In five relief appearances, he had a 3.14 ERA (4.83 FIP) and a .259/.333/.389 opponent’s batting line in 14.1 innings. (Cessa also had a 3.46 ERA and 3.86 FIP in 78.1 Triple-A innings.) Pretty bad all around, save those long relief outings against the Blue Jays and Rays.

I am a Cessa fan — I know that puts me in the extreme minority — because I like his athleticism (former shortstop!), I like his velocity (averaged 95.4 mph and topped out at 99.5 mph in 2017), and I like that he throws four pitches. That said, Cessa shelved his curveball and changeup as the season progressed and started to lean heavily on his fastball and slider:

luis-cessa-pitch-selection

The swing-and-miss rate on Cessa’s slider this year: 21.4%. The MLB average is 16.9%. The whiffs-per-swing rate on Cessa’s slider this year: 43.2%. The MLB average is 35.2%. When you’re getting empty swings like that on your slider, why bother messing around with a curveball and changeup, especially when you’re trying to stick around and establish yourself in the big leagues?

Cessa will turn 26 in April and he has a minor league option remaining for next season, so he figures to again be an up-and-down depth arm in 2018. He doesn’t want to become Bryan Mitchell. That good arm/bad results guy who runs out of options without having carved out a role in the big leagues. Depending how the rotation depth chart shakes out, the Yankees might be best served by putting Cessa in the bullpen full-time next year, and letting him air it out with an upper-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider. He just might surprise you.

Jaime Garcia

Jaime. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Jaime. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Despite strong overall results, the rotation was enough of a concern at the trade deadline that the Yankees added two starters, not one. Michael Pineda went down with Tommy John surgery, Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery were piling up innings, and Sabathia’s knee is an ongoing concern. So, on July 30th, the Yankees traded pitching prospects Dietrich Enns and Zack Littell to the Twins for veteran southpaw Jaime Garcia. They then traded for Sonny Gray the next day.

Garcia made his Yankees debut on August 4th and it did not go well. Not at all. He allowed six runs (five earned) in 4.2 innings in Cleveland. Yuck. After that though, Jaime reeled off a six-start stretch in which he pitched to a 2.97 ERA (4.67 FIP) in 30.1 innings. Girardi had a short leash and didn’t let Garcia face the middle of the lineup a third time often, but hey, that’s a serviceable six-start stretch. Coincidentally enough, Jaime’s best game as a Yankee came against the Twins, his former team, on September 18th.

Nine strikeouts and one unearned run on four hits and one walk in 5.2 innings against the team chasing you for the top wildcard spot. Could you imagine if Garcia had pitched like that in a postseason race against the Yankees after they’d traded him? Good gravy. The hot takes would burn down the internet. Garcia helped the Yankees sweep the Twins that series, which effectively ended the race for the top wildcard spot.

Jaime made eight starts for the Yankees after the trade — they used a quasi-six-man rotation for parts of September, so at one point Garcia went 13 days between starts — throwing 37.1 innings with a 4.82 ERA (4.87 FIP) overall. Not great, but they, the Yankees needed the pitching depth, and the six-start stretch in the middle was fine. Garcia was on the ALDS and ALCS rosters and he did get into a postseason game, tossing 2.2 hitless mop-up innings in Game One against the Indians, sparing the other relievers in the loss. (The bullpen was shot after the Wild Card Game, remember.)

Garcia was a rental. He’s a free agent now and there are no indications the Yankees may bring him back, though, to be fair, there are no indications the Yankees plan to do anything right now. Things have been pretty quiet the last few days. I suppose the Yankees could look at Jaime as a one-year candidate should they opt against bringing Sabathia back. I doubt it, but you never know.

Caleb Smith

(Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Smith. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Smith’s season started with the biggest opportunity of his career. He was in camp with the Cubs as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Chicago wanted him so much they worked out a trade with the Brewers to get him. In a prearranged deal, Milwaukee picked Smith in the Rule 5 Draft, then immediately traded him to their NL Central rivals for an undisclosed sum of cash. The Cubbies wanted Smith, but they had the last Rule 5 Draft pick and were worried he wouldn’t last, so they made the trade.

Things didn’t work out for Smith with the Cubs. He allowed three runs (all on solo homers) in 6.1 Cactus League innings and was returned to the Yankees at the end of camp. It was going to be tough for Smith to crack Chicago’s roster given their depth anyway, and once he started serving up dingers in Spring Training, that was that. The Cubs took a look, didn’t like what they saw enough to keep him, then sent him back to the Yankees.

The Yankees had Smith start the season back in Double-A — he spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Trenton — but moved him up to Triple-A Scranton a week into the season. He was lights out with the RailRiders. I’m talking 2.11 ERA (3.32 FIP) with 25.6% strikeouts in 15 starts and 89.2 innings before getting his first MLB call-up in July. The Yankees needed another long man and Smith was their pick.

Smith’s first big league outing went better than the line score indicates: 3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K. He retired the first six men he faced before things unraveled when some ground balls found holes in his third inning of work. The outing was good enough to earn Smith a spot start a few days later, in Pineda’s suddenly vacant rotation spot. He made two starts and neither went particularly well:

  • July 23rd at Mariners: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB 2 K on 56 pitches
  • July 29th vs. Rays: 3.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K on 71 pitches

Despite being a lefty with good velocity — Smith’s fastball averaged 93.6 mph and topped out at 97.1 mph during his brief MLB stint — and a good changeup, Smith struggled to put hitters away in his two spot starts, especially once the lineup turned over. Realistically, I don’t think there was anything he could do in those two starts to convince the Yankees they didn’t need Garcia and/or Gray. That he struggled made the decision to make the trades that much easier.

Smith went back to Triple-A for a few weeks after that before returning in mid-August as a reliever. In six relief outings to close out the season, he allowed eight runs in 8.2 innings, with opponents hitting .265/.359/.559 against him. A disastrous three runs, no outs appearance against the Rangers on September 8th skews his numbers a bit for sure. But still, Smith did not pitch all that well in the show. He threw 18.2 total innings with a 7.71 ERA (5.62 FIP).

Two weeks ago, as part of their annual 40-man roster cleanup, the Yankees traded Smith (and Garrett Cooper) to the Marlins for pitching prospect Mike King and $250,000 in Shohei Ohtani international bonus money. Smith wasn’t going to survive the 40-man roster purge and the Yankees got what they could for him. This is a good thing for him. Smith will turn 27 in July, and he figures to have a much better big league opportunity with Miami next year than he would with the Yankees. Hopefully things work out for him. He’s stuck with it for an awful long time in the minors.

Saturday Links: Otani, League Top 20 Prospects, Cessa

The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)
The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)

The offseason is off to a pretty good start. Last night we learned Masahiro Tanaka will not opt-out of his contract, and instead give the Yankees his age 29-31 seasons for $67M. Not bad. Not bad at all. Now the Yankees can now move on to other things, like finding a new manager. Here are some notes and links to check out.

Otani’s move on hold while MLB, MLBPA, NPB haggle

According to Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman, Shohei Otani’s move to the big leagues is on hold while MLB, MLBPA, and NPB haggle over the posting agreement. The posting agreement expired last month, though MLB and NPB agreed Otani would be grandfathered in under the old agreement, meaning the Nippon Ham Fighters would still get the $20M release fee. The players’ union doesn’t like that arrangement. From Sherman:

But MLB cannot enter into any transfer agreement with any country — Japan, Korea, Cuba, Mexico, etc. — without approval from the MLB Players Association, as stated in the CBA. And the union, to date, has refused to make an exception for Otani, concerned about the precedent and fairness of the player receiving, say, $300,000 and his former team $20 million.

Under the international hard cap Otani can only receive a small bonus — the Yankees and Rangers reportedly have the most bonus money to offer at $2.5M or so — and sign a minor league contract, which is nothing. He’s getting screwed beyond belief, financially. I get why MLBPA doesn’t want to set this precedent, but maybe do something about it during Collective Bargaining Agreement talks? It’s a little too late now. You agreed to the hard cap, you dolts.

Anyway, my guess is Otani will indeed end up coming over at some point this winter. It seems like he really wants to despite the hard cap. So far this Otani stuff is following a similar path as the Tanaka stuff a few years ago. He wants to come over, oh no his team might not post him, now MLB and the NPB are at an impasse during posting system talks … blah blah blah. Same story, different year.

Otani undergoes ankle surgery

Oh, by the way, Otani had ankle surgery last month, according to the Kyodo News. The ankle had been bothering him since late last year, when he rolled it running through first base in October. He then reaggravated it in November. The ankle injury as well as a nagging quad problem limited Otani to only 231 plate appearances (.332/.403/.540) and 25.1 innings (3.20 ERA and 10.3 K/9) in 2017.

The surgery comes with a three-month rehab, meaning Otani is expected to be back on his feet by January. That could throw a wrench into his offseason workout routine. Obviously the surgery is a red flag and something MLB teams must consider when pursuing him, but given the nature of the injury — rolling your ankle while running through first base is kinda fluky — and the fact his arm is sound leads me to believe it won’t hurt his market at all. It could mean Otani is brought along a little more slowly in Spring Training, however.

More Yankees among BA’s league top 20 prospects

Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)

It just dawned on me that I never passed along Baseball America’s remaining league top 20 prospect lists. I did post Triple-A, Double-A, and High-A, but that’s all. There are still four more levels to cover, and many Yankees prospects. Let’s get to them quick:

  • OF Estevan Florial (Low-A No. 2): “He’s a higher-risk, high ceiling prospect who has further refinement to come, but special tools.”
  • RHP Jorge Guzman (NYPL No. 2): “(The) 21-year-old took a big step forward as a pitcher this year … He mixed in his curveball and changeup more regularly, which only made his plus-plus fastball more effective.”
  • RHP Trevor Stephan (NYPL No. 9): “Stephan sat 92-94 mph but touched 95-96 regularly. His slider got plenty of swings and misses thanks to his ability to bury it.”
  • RHP Juan De Paula (NYPL No. 14): “De Paula was one of the more skilled pitchers in the league, showing an ability to control the strike zone and throw in and out, up and down, raising and lowering hitters’ eye levels and never letting them get real comfortable in the batter’s box.”
  • IF Oswaldo Cabrera (NYPL No. 16): “Managers and scouts felt confident about Cabrera’s ability to hit for average and get on base … Scouts are concerned that Cabrera’s tools are more modest than his work ethic and feel for the game.”
  • RHP Luis Medina (Appy No. 6): “Medina’s upside is enormous. He attacks hitters with a true 80-grade fastball on the 20-80 scouting scale and sits anywhere from 96-100 mph … Medina pairs his heater with two potentially above-average secondaries. His curveball works in an 11-to-5 arc and is his preferred knockout pitch, whereas his changeup lags a little behind.”
  • RHP Deivi Garcia (Appy No. 15): “Garcia’s fastball sits in the low 90s and touches as high as 96 mph … His curveball is nearing plus status and boasts high spin rates and firm shape.”
  • SS Oswald Peraza (GCL No. 14): “Peraza is a smart, savvy player and a good athlete. He has a smooth, efficient stroke, good bat-to-ball skills and manages his at-bats well with a good sense for the strike zone.”
  • SS Jose Devers (GCL No. 19): “Devers’ glove is ahead of his bat, but he held his own against older competition in the GCL, showing a sound swing and contact skills, though without much power.”

In the Appalachian League chat, 3B Dermis Garcia was called “a very divisive player” because his pitch recognition isn’t great and he’ll probably end up at first base, but “(on) the flip side, he’s got enormous raw power and a strong throwing arm.” Also, OF Blake Rutherford placed 18th on the Low-A South Atlantic League list. Eek. Hopefully he bounces back next year. Rutherford’s a good dude.

Cessa activated off 60-day DL

A small transaction to note: Luis Cessa was activated off the 60-day DL yesterday, the Yankees announced. The Yankees now have four open spots on the 40-man roster. They’re going to go to Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects later this month. Chances are the Yankees will have to open a few more 40-man spots, in fact. Cessa, 25, had a 4.75 ERA (5.75 FIP) in 36 swingman innings this year before going down with a rib cage injury. I like him more than most. I think Cessa has a chance to be a nice little back-end starter and soon.

After deep playoff run, the Yankees will again have to monitor pitcher workloads in 2018

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point in the coming days, we’ll find out whether the Yankees need to add one starting pitcher this offseason, or two. The deadline for Masahiro Tanaka to opt-out of his contract is Saturday, and if he opts out, the Yankees will need to replace Tanaka and CC Sabathia. If he doesn’t opt out, the Yankees will only have to replace Sabathia. And they very well could replace Sabathia with Sabathia. Re-signing him seems like a definite possibility.

As things stand right now, the only thing we know for sure about the 2018 rotation is that it will include Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery. My guess is both Chad Green and Adam Warren will come to Spring Training stretched out as starters, though the smart money is on both going back to the bullpen. Luis Cessa and Domingo German will be around as depth, plus Chance Adams and maybe Justus Sheffield will debut at some point in 2018 as well.

This year the Yankees had to monitor the workloads of all their starting pitchers for different reasons. Severino and Montgomery are young pitchers gradually increasing their workloads. The Yankees have handled Tanaka with kid gloves since his 2014 elbow injury. Sabathia’s knee is an ongoing concern. Gray has had some injury problems in recent years as well, so giving him extra rest from time to time was a priority.

And, as things stand now, the Yankees are again going to have to monitor the workloads of their starters next season thanks to their deep postseason run. Severino and Montgomery threw more innings this season than ever before. By a lot too.

  • Severino: 209.1 total innings (previous career high: 161.2 innings in 2015)
  • Montgomery: 163.1 total innings (previous career high: 139.1 innings in 2016)

The Yankees were so concerned about Montgomery’s workload — big league innings are not the same as minor league innings because there’s more stress and intensity involved — that they went out and added Jaime Garcia so they could send Montgomery to Triple-A to control his innings there. Severino seemed to tire out a bit in the postseason. I thought he was noticeably fatigued in the fourth inning of ALCS Game Six.

This isn’t just about raw innings totals though. Montgomery and especially Severino pitched deeper into the year than ever before. The Yankees were one game away from the World Series! That means a shorter offseason recover. And this applies to the veterans too. Tanaka and Sabathia, should they come back, as well as Gray will miss out on a few extra weeks to rest this winter because of the postseason run.

The whole World Series hangover phenomenon is not new. Pitchers who pitch deep into the postseason and have shorter offseasons than usual have been coming back the next year and struggling for a long time now. That’s part of what made Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera so great. Those guys played seven-month seasons, not six-month seasons, because the Yankees were always in the playoffs. Yet they never broke down physically.

As much as we’d like them to turn out that way, the Yankees can’t proceed under the assumption Severino and Montgomery are essentially unbreakable like Pettitte and Rivera. This year they had to be careful with their workloads eclipsing their previous career highs. Next year they’ll have to worry about any lingering effects from those big workloads this year, and well as the shorter offseason that comes with going to Game Seven of the ALCS.

The Yankees know this, of course. Remember the Javy Vazquez trade? The second one? The Yankees made that trade because Sabathia, Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett worked hard in 2009 and pitched into November en route to the World Series championship. The Yankees wanted an innings eater to help lighten the load on the other guys. So they went out and got Vazquez, who at the time had just thrown 190+ innings for the tenth straight season to bolster the back of the rotation.

Now, the Vazquez trade didn’t work out in 2010. He stunk. But the idea was sound. Get another innings eater for the back of the rotation so it’s easier to pull Sabathia, Pettitte, and Burnett a little earlier than usual without overtaxing the bullpen following their long 2009 seasons. That’s where the Yankees are now. Their starters just threw a ton of innings and pitched deep into October, and there might be a carryover effect in 2018.

Perhaps the need to add rotation depth this winter isn’t as great as it was following 2009. The farm system is much richer now. Cessa, German, Adams, and Caleb Smith are basically MLB ready. Back in 2009, their best MLB ready pitching prospects were, uh, Ivan Nova? Zach McAllister? Good big leaguers! But the farm system was much thinner, and the Yankees didn’t have an Adams waiting, that top pitching prospect, or a Sheffield not far behind.

I’ve always been a pitching depth guy. Bring in as many viable starters as possible and don’t worry about where they all fit, because odds are you’ll need all of them at some point anyway. If the Yankees re-sign Sabathia, retain Tanaka, and bring in a veterans innings dude who pushes Montgomery to Triple-A to start 2018, I wouldn’t lose any sleep. Montgomery would be back in MLB before you know it. The long season and big workloads are something the Yankees have to be cognizant of next year, and that could mean making another Vazquez-esque trade.

Yanks activate Holliday, call up four others as rosters expand

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
Matt’s back. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

September roster expansion has arrived and the Yankees added five players to the active roster Friday. Matt Holliday was activated off the disabled list and Jordan Montgomery, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, and Erik Kratz were all called up from Triple-A Scranton. Luis Cessa, who is out with a rib cage injury, was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Kratz. The Yankees now have 30 players on the active roster.

Holliday has been out since August 4th with a back problem and, prior to that, he’d been dealing with an illness for weeks. He is hitting .229/.319/.430 (98 wRC+) with 16 home runs this season, but, in the 31 games prior to the back injury, he hit a weak .175/.263/.307 (51 wRC+) in 156 plate appearances. I’m curious to see how the Yankees use him. Will Holliday step back into the lineup as the full-time DH? Or will he see more time on the bench until he proves he deserves more at-bats? We’ll see.

Montgomery and Mitchell were locks to be called up — at least I thought they were — and I’m pleasantly surprised to see Heller get the call over Jonathan Holder. Holder got the call pretty much every time the Yankees needed a shuttle arm this summer, so I figured he’d come up on September 1st and Heller would remain in Triple-A. Instead, Heller is up and Holder is still down. Holder will be up soon enough though. Probably after the Triple-A postseason.

The Yankees acquired Kratz from the Indians in a cash trade yesterday and he’ll be the third catcher the final month of the season. Kyle Higashioka is currently on the Triple-A disabled list and he’s missed an awful lot time this year. Only 96 plate appearances all season. I imagine he’ll remain with Scranton through the postseason. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine will serve their suspensions at some point, so Kratz is going to play a bit.

Garrett Cooper (hamstring) and Clint Frazier (oblique) are on the disabled list and figure to be activated at some point this month. There are eight players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now: Holder, Higashioka, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, Caleb Smith, and Tyler Wade. Austin, Smith, and Wade can’t come up yet because of the ten-day rule. The other guys will have to wait until the Triple-A postseason ends, I imagine.

Previewing the Yankees’ upcoming September call-ups

Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

This coming Friday, on September 1st, all 30 big league teams will be allowed to expand their active rosters from 25 players up to 40 players. Most teams end up going with 30-35 players in September. Maybe two or three clubs a year actually go with the maximum 40 players. Either way, rosters are going to expand in a few days and every club has reinforcements coming.

The Yankees have been fairly aggressive with September call-ups in recent years. Aggressive in the sense that they call up a lot of extra players in general, especially on September 1st. Last year they called up six players on September 1st. The year before it was seven players. The year before that it was nine players. Nine call-ups on September 1st! Good gravy. The Yankees tend to call up plenty of help the first day possible. I’m surprised more teams don’t do the same.

So, with September call-ups only a few days away, there’s no better time to look ahead at who the Yankees could bring to the big leagues once rosters expand. Let’s take a trip through the organizational depth chart. Come with me, won’t you?

The Injured Guys

Might as well start here. The Yankees currently have five players on the MLB disabled list: Luis Cessa, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, Matt Holliday, and Michael Pineda. Pineda’s done for the season following Tommy John surgery. I’m not really sure what’s up with Cessa. We haven’t heard any updates on him since he was sidelined by rib cage issue on August 15th. Should Cessa get healthy before the end of the season, he’ll join the Yankees, I’m sure.

Both Holliday and Cooper are on minor league rehab assignments right now and in all likelihood both will be activated Friday, the first day rosters expand. Frazier recently started taking swings and going through some other baseball activities, so he’s a little further behind Cooper and Holliday. Once he gets healthy and goes through the requisite minor league rehab assignment — assuming there are still minor league games being played at that time — Frazier will be activated and join the Yankees for the rest of the season. Pretty straightforward here.

The September Locks

Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

As always, the safest bets for September call-ups are guys who were up earlier this season. There are eleven such players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ben Heller, Ronald Herrera, Kyle Higashioka, Jonathan Holder, Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Montgomery, and Tyler Wade. All eleven of those guys have seen big league time this year. Some more than others.

Like I said, the Yankees have been fairly aggressive with their September 1st call-ups in recent years, so I expect several of these players to join the Yankees on Friday. Montgomery is an absolutely lock. He’s going to get a September call-up and step right back into the rotation, I suspect. Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos have been the primary up-and-down relievers this season, and since the Yankees like to load up on pitching reinforcements whenever possible, my money is on all three guys showing up to Yankee Stadium this Friday.

Austin and Wade are all obvious September call-ups candidates as well, though there is a catch here. They were both sent down recently and need to wait out the ten-day rule first. Wade was sent down Friday, when Starlin Castro was activated, so he can’t come back up until Monday. Austin was sent down Saturday to make room for Greg Bird. He can’t come back until Tuesday. The ten-day rule is a bit of a hassle. It is what it is.

The Guys Who Might Have To Wait

As noted, there are eleven players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now. I expect four to be called up on September 1st: Mitchell, Montgomery, Gallegos, and Holder. That’s all. The other seven will have to wait a little bit for different reasons. Austin and Wade have to wait because of the ten-day rule. Here’s my thinking on the remaining five guys.

1. Higashioka and Herrera are both hurt. Pretty good reason for not calling them upright away, I’d say. Herrera is currently pitching in rookie ball rehab games and is expected to join the Double-A Trenton rotation (or maybe Triple-A Scranton rotation) for the postseason next week. Herrera was called up twice this year as an emergency fill-in. It was one of those “crap we need a long man and he’s the only guy lined up” situations. Well, two of those.

Higashioka, meanwhile, is currently out with a shoulder injury that is not believed to be serious. There’s even some talk he could be ready to go by time rosters expand Friday. That would be cool. A third catcher is a September staple, and keep in mind Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine have suspensions pending. They’re appealing, though at some point they’re going to have serve at least part of their suspensions, and having Higashioka on the active roster will make it much easier to get by without those guys. He has to get healthy first though.

2. The Yankees have mostly avoided Andujar and Heller. There have been plenty of opportunities to call up both guys this year, and they have seen big league time. Andujar had the one great game against the White Sox. Heller has made two appearances with the Yankees this season, most notably throwing two scoreless innings in the 16-inning win at Fenway Park right after the All-Star break.

Andujar. (Times Leader)
Andujar. (Times Leader)

The Yankees could have easily — and justifiably — called up Andujar and/or Heller on several other occasions this season, but choose to go in another direction. With Andujar, he’s a bonafide prospect who needs to improve his defense, so keeping him in Triple-A to work at the hot corner rather than play sporadically at the MLB is understandable. Heller? I’m not sure. The Yankees seem to prefer Gallegos and Holder for whatever reason. I’m a Heller guy. The Yankees aren’t.

Point is, because these two have been passed over for call-ups these last few weeks, I don’t think they will be September 1st call-ups when rosters expand. Both will likely have to wait until the Triple-A postseason ends, which could be as early as next weekend or as late as September 19th. There aren’t going to be many at-bats available for Andujar, and with Heller, how many mop-up relievers does a team need? I think both will have to wait until the RailRiders are done playing.

3. German needs to pitch. From June 6th through July 28th, a span of 52 days, German made eight appearances and threw 350 total pitches. That’s all. This kid’s a starter! But he spent so much time with the Yankees as their seldom used eighth reliever that it took a few Triple-A outings to get stretched all the way back out. German has thrown 115 total innings this season and that’s not much at all. This is his first full season since Tommy John surgery, so I imagine the Yankees are monitoring his workload closely. I still think they want German to log more innings this season. That’s why I think he’ll stay with Scranton, start every fifth day through the end of their season, then come up to sit in the bullpen.

Non-40-Man Roster Guys

Every once in a while the Yankees will take a player who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, add him to the 40-man roster, and call him up September. Rather than wait to add the player to the 40-man at the November deadline, they get a head start on things and call him up in September. Romine received his first taste of the big leagues that way in September 2011. The Yankees did the same thing with James Pazos in 2015.

That does not happen often, however, and I do not think the Yankees will do it this September. Gleyber Torres is hurt, Domingo Acevedo has been shut down due to his workload, and Albert Abreu missed a big chunk of the season with injuries and has yet to pitch above High-A. They’ll all be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and the Yankees will add them to the 40-man roster prior to the November deadline, no doubt. Not a second earlier, however. Torres and Acevedo are unavailable and Abreu is a Single-A kid. Calling them up would be pointless.

Other 40-man roster hopefuls like Jake Cave and Billy McKinney wouldn’t have a defined role in September. Romine was the third catcher. Pazos was the third lefty. Cave and McKinney would be … the seventh and eighth outfielders? Not exactly a big priority. I suppose the Yankees could add Cave to the 40-man roster — he’s going to be a minor league free agent this winter, so the Yankees will have to add him to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series to avoid losing him — as a reward for his great season, but nah. Roster space is at a premium.

E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)
E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)

Now, that all said, there are two non-40-man players who I think could get a September call-up. One is Eddy Rodriguez, and he will only get called up if a) Higashioka doesn’t get healthy reasonably soon, and b) both Sanchez and Romine have their appeals heard and must serve their suspensions. So basically only if the Yankees run out of eligible catchers. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. If it does, the Yankees will have no choice but to clear a 40-man roster spot to call up Rodriguez.

The other non-40-man call-up candidate? I don’t know. It’ll be the designated September pinch-runner, whoever that ends up being. Last year it was Eric Young Jr., the year before it was Rico Noel, and the year before that it was Antoan Richardson. Back in 2009 it was Freddy Guzman. Guzman was on the postseason roster all three rounds that year. True story. The Yankees have made it clear they value the designated September pinch-runner.

Jorge Mateo has been traded and I don’t think the Yankees would use Jacoby Ellsbury as their designated pinch-runner — besides, he’s starting to hit a little bit now, so I imagine he’ll find himself in the starting lineup a little more often going forward — so they don’t have an obvious in-house candidate for that role. If the Yankees are willing to open a 40-man roster spot, they’ll likely go out and get someone to come off the bench and run in September. Not a big trade — they got Young for cash last year — but a trade nonetheless.

* * *

As is often the case, this year’s batch of September call-ups is fairly straightforward. Holliday and Cooper will return from the disabled list Friday while Montgomery, Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos figure to came up from Scranton, giving the Yankees six extra players on the first day rosters expand. Others like Andujar, Austin, German, Heller, and Wade are likely to come up shortly thereafter. Cessa, Frazier, and Higashioka will join the Yankees once they’re healthy, and if Higashioka doesn’t get healthy soon, Rodriguez figures to come up instead. Herrera and a pinch-runner are other possibilities.

I am pro-September call-ups — there are a lot of weirdos out there who don’t like expanded rosters — and it’s always fun to see the young guys come up, but here’s something to keep in mind: the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot. They’re not going to play Andujar (or Cave) for the heck of it. Joe Girardi is going to stick with his regulars because the Yankees need to win, and the regulars give them the best chance to do that. The call-ups are around for blowouts and emergencies. That’s about it.

Game 118: Score runs for Sonny

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time as a Yankee, Sonny Gray will start a game at Yankee Stadium this evening. Perhaps the Yankees will even score runs for him. Gray has made two starts and thrown 12 innings since the trade, and during those 12 innings the offense has scored zero runs. Not one. They’ve scored one run total in the two games he’s started. That’s gotta change.

Of course, scoring runs might not be so easy tonight with Jacob deGrom on the bump for the Mets. He’s having a fantastic season: 3.21 ERA (3.52 FIP) with 29.2% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 151.1 innings. The Yankees have been getting shut down by guys like Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez and Rafael Montero lately. What happens whey face a bonafide ace? It’s ugly. Hoping for the best tonight. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 1B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Sonny Gray

Pretty crummy weather in New York today. Overcast and on-and-off rain all day. There’s no more rain in the forecast tonight, though it’s cloudy and cool and humid. Yuck. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on either WPIX or SNY. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Luis Cessa has been placed on the 10-day DL with a rib cage injury, the Yankees announced. He left last night’s start with the injury. Caleb Smith was called back up from Triple-A Scranton to replace him on the roster.

Injury Update: Joe Girardi indicated the plan right now is to have CC Sabathia (knee) return on Saturday, the first day he’s eligible to be activated. That lines him up perfectly to replace Cessa. Sabathia threw a bullpen session yesterday and will reportedly throw another one at some point this week … Greg Bird (ankle) remains on target to begin his minor league rehab assignment tomorrow. He hopes to be activated sometime next week.

Game 117: The Subway Series

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Cessa. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The roles have reversed from last year’s Subway Series, when the Yankees had just waved the white flag and the Mets were still chasing the playoffs. Both teams are reeling right now, though, and tonight’s pitching match-up represents something close to the bottom of the barrel for both teams. Nevertheless, this series represents an opportunity for the Yankees to get back on-track against a subpar team, with the added (and somewhat artificial) drama of an inter-borough rivalry.

Here’s the lineup that Luis Cessa will face tonight; and here’s the group that will square-off against Rafael Montero:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Aaron Hicks, CF
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Didi Gregorius, DH
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Chase Headley, 1B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Ronald Torreyes, 2B
  9. Tyler Wade, SS

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, and will be broadcast on both YES and ESPN (for those out of market fans).

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) threw a bullpen session today and was “very encouraged.” He’s expected to throw one more bullpen session, then come off the 10-day DL as soon as he’s eligible (Saturday) … Starlin Castro (hamstring) ran the bases today and is on track to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday … Greg Bird (ankle) and Matt Holliday (back) both took batting practice again. Bird will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday.

Roster Move: To get Cessa on the roster, the Yankees sent down Caleb Smith.