Buying at the trade deadline [2017 Season Review]

Without the 2017 deadline, there's no thumbs down! (Getty Images)
Without the 2017 deadline, there’s no thumbs down! (Getty Images)

In 2016, the Yankees sold at the trade deadline, signaling time for a rebuild. A year later? The tables had turned with the Yankees as buyers looking to bolster a club already in playoff contention.

Through two big deals and a few smaller ones, Brian Cashman was able to give the Bombers an extra boost they needed for the stretch run, October and beyond.

July 19
Yankees receive: Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle
White Sox receive: Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard, Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo

In one move, the Yankees solved multiple problems. Need another corner infielder in case Greg Bird doesn’t come back? There’s Frazier. Need to bolster the bullpen that’s gotten slightly overused? Robertson and Kahnle. It was a perfect move.

It did cost the Yankees, but not irreparably. They had to deal Rutherford just a year after drafting him in the first round. While he has plenty of potential, he’s yet to show any power. Clarkin and Polo likely wouldn’t have been protected in the Rule 5 draft, so they were expendable (Clarkin was added to the White Sox’ 40-man, Polo was not after getting hurt in the Arizona Fall League).

And somehow Tyler Clippard got himself traded to the Astros and won a World Series ring. Go figure.

We’ve already written about Frazier, D-Rob and Kahnle‘s respective impact in our season review series, but each has potential impact beyond this season. Robertson is under contract for 2018 while Kahnle won’t be a free agent until 2021. That’s a lot of value, even if the Yankees don’t re-sign the ToddFather.

As far as 2017, they each filled their roles to a tee. Frazier fixed the Yankees’ last hole in the lineup and brought energy to the club (Thumbs Down!). Robertson and Kahnle were studs down the stretch and in the postseason.

July 30
Yankees receive: Jaime Garcia
Twins receive: Dietrich Enns and Zack Littell

Garcia represented a fill-in for the Yankees’ rotation, an extra arm to allow Jordan Montgomery to throw fewer innings in the second half. As a rental, there was no expectation of him sticking around and it’s not like the Yankees expected him to start in the postseason.

He ultimately gave the Yanks 37 1/3 kinda-sorta average innings over eight forgettable starts before throwing 2 2/3 innings in ALDS Game 1. Remember that outing? He wasn’t bad, walking two and striking out three while absorbing eight outs.

Enns made two appearances for the Twins, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits over four innings. He was probably getting DFA’d or outrighted in the offseason, so he was highly expendable.

Littell less so. The 22-year-old righty acquired for James Pazos had a remarkable year between High-A and Double-A in 2017. Between the Yankees’ and Twins’ organizations, he threw 157 innings, struck out 142 and had a 2.12 ERA while going 19-1.

He is a new member of the Twins’ 40-man roster. He may not have made the Yankees’ roster this offseason, but he could be someone the Yanks regret dealing.

Playoff Sonny (Abbie Parr/Getty)
Playoff Sonny (Abbie Parr/Getty)

July 31
Yankees receive: Sonny Gray and International Bonus Pool Money
Athletics receive: Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian and Jorge Mateo

This deal made all the sense in the world. Getting 2.5 years of Gray for three prospects, two of whom were injured and one likely blocked.

Who knows if Kaprielian can stay healthy at this point? He has the stuff to pitch in the majors if he ever does stay on the mound, but that’s seeming less and less likely. Fowler had a pretty bad knee injury and the Yankees had Clint Frazier, not to mention Gardner, Judge, Hicks and Ellsbury in the majors (and now Giancarlo!).

Mateo seemed to have broken out after reaching Double A Trenton, but he was blocked by plenty of outfielders, just like Fowler.

So the Yankees dealt from a position of strength and added Gray, who had two playoff starts after a solid end to the season. He had some homer issues, but he’s still a good middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Yankees and much more affordable than similar arms on the current free-agent market. Even with the strong potential of all three players given up, it’s a deal the Yankees should make every time.

The other trades

– While the Yankees picked up bonus money in the Gray deal, they also dealt two possible Rule 5 picks for extra money in July. They dealt RHPs Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez to the Orioles for a lot of Baltimore’s pool as the O’s don’t really wade into the international market.

Considering the fact that Shohei Ohtani is now a Los Angeles Angel, these moves didn’t quite work out. The Yankees can still use some of the pool on other prospects, including the few remaining ex-Braves, but they couldn’t reel in the big fish of the international market and are left holding a little too much bonus money. Oh well.

– In exchange for Rob Refsnyder, the Yanks acquired Double A first baseman Ryan McBroom in mid-July. Refsnyder had been DFA’d and McBroom was a non-prospect. He did fill a hole as depth after the team had run through multiple first basemen in the majors. McBroom had previously hit some homers against the Trenton Thunder, so it was good to get him out of the opposing dugout.

– Along the same lines as the McBroom deal, the Yankees dealt LHP Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper. Cooper filled in for Chris Carter/Greg Bird for a month or so before going down with injuries. Webb gave up a grand slam on literally his first pitch with the Brewers. Seriously!

– Lastly, at the waiver deadline, the Yankees acquired Erik Kratz from the Cleveland Indians to be their depth catcher. He had two hits in two at-bats, produced 0.1 WAR and mostly rode the bench before being outrighted off the roster this offseason.

2018 Outlook

For next year, the Yankees still have Gray, Kahnle and Robertson as well as, to a lesser extent, McBroom and the bonus pool money. McBroom is hitting over .400 in Mexico right now!

But at the 2017 deadline, Cashman acquired a starter and two late-inning relievers for 2018. He has plenty of prospects left if he wants to add further at next season’s deadline.

As for the prospects traded away, it’ll be nice to see what Fowler can do in the majors this year. The rest of the prospects dealt are either further away from the show or are unlikely to even reach the majors in 2018. Regardless, monitoring their development from afar will be a pleasant side gig for Yankees fans.

Tommy Kahnle: The former Trenton Thunder reliever returns [2017 Season Review]

Even when it's not the Wild Card Game, he always looks this hyped up. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Even when it’s not the Wild Card Game, he always looks this hyped up. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Four years ago — when he was striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings with the Trenton Thunder — it was easy to imagine Tommy Kahnle being an impact reliever with the New York Yankees.

A year ago? That was tougher to imagine.

Kahnle’s 2017 season is a story of a reliever figuring things out and arriving in a place able to showcase his talents.

Before the trade

There’s a reason Kahnle wasn’t highly sought after prior to the 2017 trade deadline. The former Rule 5 Draft pick had long struggled with his command, walking north of a batter every other inning even in the minors. LaTroy Hawkins, former Yankee (and nearly every other team), called him “one of his worst teammates ever.” His high velocity, accompanied by top-notch strikeout rates, made him an interesting prospect, one on which both the Rockies and White Sox took a chance.

What changed in 2017 were the walks. In 36 innings with the White Sox, he walked just seven batters after walking 20 in nine fewer innings a year prior. Meanwhile, he actually upped his strikeouts, K’ing a shocking 42.6 percent of batters while more than halving his walk rate. Surely some of this was small sample size noise, but it looked like a legitimate turnaround.

And so on July 19, he was flipped with more well-known players Todd Frazier and David Robertson to the Yankees for Blake Rutherford, Tito Polo, Ian Clarkin and Tyler Clippard. Despite Frazier and Robertson’s respective reputations, Kahnle seemed to be the centerpiece of the deal. Under team control for 3.5 seasons and not even arbitration eligible, he was both cheap and effective. The two veterans had larger contracts with shorter terms.

An ugly August

Kahnle pitched in his first game after the trade and struck out two batters in an inning. He struck out eight batters over six outings before allowing a hit and didn’t walk anyone until his 11th game in New York. But beginning in late July, he gave up a fair number of hits.

From July 29 to Aug. 30, he gave up 17 hits and walked five in 12 1/3 innings. He continued to get strikeouts, 14 to be exact, but he allowed a .327/.383/.481 line. He essentially turned the opposition into 2009 Derek Jeter.

Kahnle’s worst stretch in pinstripes came in three outings from Aug. 18-23 against the Red Sox and Tigers. While recording just five outs, he gave up five runs on seven hits, one home run and two walks, striking out just one. Before that stretch, he’d allowed the go-ahead inherited runner to score in a crushing loss to Boston on Aug. 13 and hadn’t seemed like the surefire middle inning reliever the Yankees had acquired.

His fastball and slider velocity both trended down in August by about 0.8 mph, which may have been due to fatigue. He’d thrown in 20 games over his last 43 days by the end of the month. He was already at 57 total appearances after throwing in just 52 games between AAA and the majors in 2016 and 57 in 2015.

A return to form

After his slight downturn, Kahnle was removed from most high leverage innings in September and subsequently began to thrive. His velocity didn’t jump, but he cut down on the usage of his slider. He’d used it 25.3 percent of the time in July. But once he came to the Yankees, he cut it down to 15.2 percent in August and 5.8 percent in September. Meanwhile, he increased his reliance on his changeup in August and became fastball heavy in September.

For the final month of the year, he allowed just eight hits in 10 innings (though he walked five) and gave up just one run. He struck out 15 of 41 batters faced and didn’t give up a single extra-base hit. That was the Kahnle the Yankees were expecting in the trade.

It was perfect timing for the Bombers, who would need his arm in October.

Postseason excellence until the end

With Dellin Betances out of the mix, Kahnle moved up a spot in Joe Girardi‘s circle of trust in the postseason. He returned the favor by not giving up a run until the Yankees’ last game.

In the Wild Card Game, he recorded seven outs, his most of the season and highest total since his rookie season. While he struck out just one batter, he retired every batter he faced and provided the bridge from Robertson to Aroldis Chapman to secure the Yankees’ advancement. He also got a bit lucky on a peculiar grounder down the first-base line.

His shining moment was likely ALDS Game 4. Entering the game with two on and none out in the eighth inning, he proceeded to strike out five of the next six batters en route to his first (and only) save of the year. He was dominance personified and allowed the Yankees to save Robertson and Chapman for the crucial Game 5 two days later.

Kahnle pitched two scoreless innings in ALCS Game 2 before throwing three scoreless in the Bronx over Games 3 and 5. He allowed some hard contact in the last outing as he worked past his career-high in innings. He’d previous thrown 68 2/3 with the Rockies in 2014, but eclipsed that with 74 between the regular season and playoffs this year.

So that fatigued reared its ugly head in Game 7 against the Astros. He allowed three runs, tarnishing his unblemished postseason and turning a 1-0 game into a 4-0 game. With the way Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers were pitching, it may not have mattered, but it felt like the nail in the coffin for the Yankees.

2018 Outlook

Kahnle remains under Yankees control for a while and figures to keep his prominent spot in the bullpen, provided he can keep up his 2017 breakout. His walk rate certainly climbed post-trade and he’ll have to prove whether his turnaround in command was for real or a mere flash in the pan.

Still, even with an elevated walk rate, Kahnle was still an effective reliever for the Yankees and will continue to be a key cog in middle relief. His first full year in pinstripes is a big opportunity for the 28-year-old righty.

MLBTR’s arbitration projections and a potential Didi Gregorius extension

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the next few weeks and months, the Yankees and every other team will tweak their roster in an effort to contend in 2018. Some teams are more serious about contention than others. The Yankees are ready to win, they showed it this year, and they’ll try to do it next season while getting under the $197M luxury tax threshold.

A few weeks ago Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors posted his annual arbitration salary projections, and because the Yankees have a large arbitration class — nine players total, including several key contributors — their salaries will be a big factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. These players are a bargain relative to what they’d get on the open market, though their salaries add up. Here are the arbitration projections:

Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate overall. It has trouble with outlier players — Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into his first arbitration year with two Cy Youngs — though it gets us in the ballpark and often much closer. Let’s dive into the projections a bit.

1. It’s time to consider a Gregorius extension. Didi has emerged as a true core player for the Yankees. He’s an above-average hitter and an above-average defender, and he’s a big part of the clubhouse culture. Gregorius can become a free agent following the 2019 season, and I think it’s time the Yankees start thinking about signing him long-term. He’s only 27 and quality in-their-prime shortstops are awfully hard to find.

The Jean Segura extension is a perfect benchmark for Gregorius. Segura signed his five-year, $70M deal earlier this year, two years prior to free agency at age 27, the exact same point of his career as Gregorius is right now. Look at the numbers:

Segura in year prior to extension: .319/.368/.499 (126 wRC+) and +5.0 WAR
Gregorius in year prior to extension: .287/.318/.478 (107 wRC+) and +3.9 WAR

Segura career: .280/.319/.396 (91 wRC+) and +8.6 WAR
Gregorius career:
.266/.313/.413 (94 wRC+) and +11.5 WAR

Segura had the better platform year prior to signing his extension, though Gregorius has the better body of work overall. That five-year extension worth $70M is the benchmark for Didi. The market has been set.

The problem with an extension is the luxury tax. If Gregorius gets the $9M arbitration projection, he counts as $9M against the luxury tax threshold. Give him the Segura extension, and he counts as $14M (the average annual value of the contract) against the luxury tax threshold, and saving $5M is a big deal. Then again, signing Didi now could equal tens of millions in savings later. An extension has to be a serious consideration.

2. Betances and the Yankees might be in for a messy hearing again. Had Betances won his arbitration hearing last year, he could’ve been looking at a $6.5M to $7M projection this offseason, and we might have been talking about him as a non-tender candidate right now. Instead, the Yankees won, and you can see how arbitration savings add up.

  • Dellin wins last year: $5M in 2017 + $6.5M guesstimate in 2018 = $11.5M total
  • Yankees win last year: $3M in 2017 + $4.4M projected in 2018 = $7.4M total

That $2M in savings last year turns into $4.1M in savings from 2017-18. Arbitration uses the prior year’s salary as a baseline for a raise, so any savings compound over the years. Last year’s arbitration hearing win over Betances may end up saving the Yankees close to $10M from 2017-19. That’s a big chunk of change.

Last year’s arbitration hearing was reportedly ugly, uglier than these things usually are, and team president Randy Levine only made things worse when he ripped Dellin in a conference call afterward. I have no idea whether there is still any bad blood between the two sides, but I suppose another hearing is possible this year.

And here’s the thing: Betances still has a really good case. All the walks this year won’t hurt him much in arbitration because the system isn’t built that way. Saves and strikeouts count. Dellin doesn’t have many saves, but he struck out 100 batters yet again this season, he finished with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.87 to be exact), and he went to his fourth straight All-Star Game. Those are all points in his favor. I’m not sure how this will play out. Whatever happens, hopefully it’s not as ugly as last year.

3. Shreve might stick around until Spring Training. The Yankees spent last offseason and pretty much the entire pre-deadline regular season looking for a reliable left-handed reliever, and they came up empty. I get the sense they’re going to spend the winter looking for a lefty again. For now, Shreve is the in-house option, and his $900,000 projected salary is nothing.

Keep in mind arbitration-eligible players are on non-guaranteed contracts. They can be released in Spring Training and only be paid 30 days or 45 days termination pay, depending when they get cut. The Yankees could sign Shreve, keep him around, see if they come up with a better lefty, and if they do, they could drop him for a fraction of his salary in camp. Harsh, but it happens every year around the league. It’s easy to think Shreve, who is out of minor league options, will be a 40-man roster casualty this winter. Don’t be surprised if he sticks around though.

4. Kratz is a goner. Obvious statement is obvious. The Yankees acquired Kratz to be the third catcher in September only because Kyle Higashioka was injured at the time. He’ll be the very first player dropped from the 40-man roster once space is needed, which will be later this month when the roster has to be set for the Rule 5 Draft. Kratz won’t even make it to the non-tender deadline. Such is the life of a journeyman. Hey, at least he got to hang around with the team during the postseason. He traveled with the club all through the ALDS and ALCS.

5. My estimates were pretty good, actually. A few weeks back I looked at the 2018 payroll situation with regards to the luxury tax. I estimated $25M to $30M for the arbitration eligible players, not including Kratz or Shreve, and Swartz’s model projects this group at $28.5M. Hey, I’m getting kinda good at this.

Add that $28.5M projection to the other contract commitments as per my post a few weeks ago, and we get $163.5M already on the books for next season. It’ll drop to $141.4M should Masahiro Tanaka opt out, which most RAB readers expect to happen. Point is, the Yankees will have about $35M under the $197M luxury tax threshold to play with this winter, assuming Tanaka sticks around. If he doesn’t, it’s closer to $60M. Having that much wiggle, to me, means the Yankees should get serious about signing Didi long-term.

Tommy Kahnle went from having an undefined role during the regular season to being a postseason weapon

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

I don’t think Brian Cashman or the Yankees would admit it, but when they made the big trade with the White Sox back in July, righty Tommy Kahnle was the key piece. Todd Frazier is a rental player and David Robertson, while awesome, is owed quite a bit of a money next season. Kahnle was not just dominant, but he’s cheap and under control through 2020. That’s quite valuable. He was far from a throw-in.

Following the trade, Kahnle never did settle into a defined role with the Yankees. He was a seventh and eighth inning guy with the White Sox, setting up Robertson, but with the Yankees, he’s been more of a jack of all trades. Kahnle would pitch the late innings if the top relievers weren’t available, or handle middle innings work. He also struggled a bit soon after the trade. You could see Joe Girardi wanted to find a spot for him, but couldn’t.

Kahnle was pretty excellent in September, and he finished the regular season with a 2.70 ERA (2.30 FIP) in 26.2 innings with the Yankees. He struck out 31.3% of the batters he faced and walked 8.7%. A little surprising, right? Those first few weeks after the trade were a bit rough for Kahnle. Maybe that’s because the Red Sox were stealing signs. Whatever it was, Girardi never really found a set role for Kahnle during the regular season. He pitched in all situations.

When the postseason started, it wasn’t clear how or when Girardi would use Kahnle. It was clear Robertson and Chad Green were the top two setup options behind Aroldis Chapman. Then what? Well, the Wild Card Game answered that for us. Luis Severino bowed out after getting one out, Green and Robertson soaked up 5.1 innings between them, then it was up to someone to bridge the gap to Chapman. Girardi opted for Kahnle with the tying run on base.

Seven up, seven down for Kahnle in the Wild Card Game, which suddenly earned him some trust. Then, in Game Four of the ALDS, Kahnle retired all six men he faced to spare Robertson and Chapman, and make sure they were ready for the winner-take-all Game Five. And in Game Two of the ALCS, after Severino exited with an injury, Kahnle was the first one of the bullpen with the score tied.

All told this postseason, Kahnle has thrown seven scoreless innings with only a walk allowed. He’s retired 21 of 22 batters faced with seven strikeouts and, just as importantly, he’s thrown only 87 pitches in those seven innings. Kahnle has been excellent and efficient, which helps his availability going forward. He threw only 28 pitches in those two innings in Game Two the other day. I doubt he’s off-limits tonight.

“(He’s) been crucial to our success up to this point,” said Girardi during yesterday’s non-workout day. “The one thing we weren’t quite sure about him when we got him is how much we could use him multiple innings. It’s not something he did very much in Chicago, and he was successful in Chicago. And we thought if we took him out of that type of role, would it change who he was? It hasn’t. Which is very big in the playoffs, because some days you don’t have certain relievers.”

Kahnle didn’t come out of nowhere this postseason. I’ve joked about him pulling a 1996 David Weathers this postseason, but Weathers was quite bad during the 1996 regular season. Kahnle was awesome overall this season. He just never really settled into a set role with the Yankees after the trade, and when Girardi doesn’t have a set role for a reliever, it usually means he doesn’t trust him. Kahnle pitching the seventh and eighth innings of the Wild Card Game was not Plan A.

And so far this postseason, Kahnle’s emergence has been crucial for the Yankees. Dellin Betances still isn’t trustworthy in a close game because of his walk issues, and Adam Warren hasn’t pitched a whole lot since coming back from his back injury very late in the season. Warren has made one appearance in the postseason, throwing one inning with the Yankees down three in the ALDS Game One. That’s kinda where he’s at right now. He’s a mop-up guy.

On paper, the Yankees have an excitingly deep bullpen. In reality, the only relievers Girardi seems to trust implicitly are Robertson and Chapman. Green’s meltdown in ALDS Game Two seemed to knock him down a peg or two, at least temporarily. With Betances unable to throw strikes and Warren questionable after the back injury, the Yankees were suddenly faced with having a bullpen short on trustworthy relievers heading into October. Instead, Kahnle has stepped up, retired basically everyone he’s faced, and become a key component of the postseason bullpen.

The big trade with the White Sox is having a huge impact so far this postseason

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

Later tonight, the Yankees will again play another elimination game as they meet the Indians in Game Five of the ALDS. The Yankees were down 0-2 in this series once upon a time. They won Games Three and Four at home to force tonight’s winner-take-all Game Five. I’m sure the Indians are feeling some pressure right now. The Yankees? No one expected them to win anyway. This is all gravy.

The Yankees are one win away from the ALCS for many reasons, including their starting pitching performances in Games Three and Four. Greg Bird has been especially productive so far this postseason, ditto Aroldis Chapman out of the bullpen. You don’t get to where the Yankees are right now by leaning or one or two guys. It takes a team effort to get here and the many folks have contributed to the team’s success.

Through five postseason games so far, one thing is pretty clear: the Yankees don’t get to Game Five of the ALDS without making that big trade with the White Sox in July. The trade that sent Tyler Clippard and three prospects, most notably 2016 first rounder Blake Rutherford, to Chicago’s south side for Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. That was a pretty fun night. The news of the trade broke, and we all waited for the games to end so it could be made official. Remember that?

Immediately after the trade, Robertson rejoined the bullpen Circle of Trust™ and Frazier stepped in as the everyday third baseman, pushing Chase Headley to first. Kahnle never really had a set role during the regular season aside from the guy who pitches when the top relievers aren’t available for whatever reason. All three guys helped the Yankees get to the playoffs, and they’ve all contributed in the postseason, especially Robertson and Kahnle.

  • Frazier: Had three hits in ALDS Game Two and also opened the scoring with a double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four on Monday.
  • Kahnle: Five innings of no effs given relief. 15 up, 15 down. That includes 2.1 innings in the Wild Card Game and a two-inning save in ALDS Game Four.
  • Robertson: He’s allowed one run in 5.1 innings so far. Most notably, Robertson threw 3.1 innings of hero ball in the Wild Card Game last week.

When the Yankees acquired Robertson and Kahnle, they brought them in to supplement what was already a strong bullpen … on paper. Chapman struggled basically all year prior to September, and Dellin Betances hasn’t been able to stop walking people. Robertson and Kahnle went from luxury pieces — as if there is such a thing as too many good relievers — too essentials, Robertson in particular.

Frazier is, quite clearly, a flawed hitter. He hits for a low average and pops up a lot — those two things are very related — but he also draws walks and can hit for power, and he improved the third base defense as well. And, on top of that, Frazier has been a Grade-A clubhouse dude. He seems to genuinely love playing in New York and everyone with the team seems to love having him around. Frazier joined the Yankees and fit right in.

To me, the key to the White Sox trade was the fact the Yankees gave up basically nothing off their big league roster. Moving Clippard in the trade was essentially addition by subtraction because he was so bad. These were three immediate upgrades to the roster. Robertson replaced Clippard. Kahnle replaced Chasen Shreve, who was sent to Triple-A. Frazier replaced Ji-Man Choi, who was designated for assignment and eventually sent to Triple-A.

For all intents and purposes, the Yankees turned three revolving door roster spots into quality MLB players with this one trade. They also told the guys who were already here that hey, we believe in you, you’re good enough to win, and we’re going to get you the help we need. First base was a problem, so they got Frazier and moved Headley to first. The bullpen was a problem, so they got two high-strikeout arms. All without moving a player who was helping them win games.

Sure, Rutherford could rebound from his down season and become a future All-Star and No. 3 hitter. Ian Clarkin could develop into a mid-rotation starter and Tito Polo could stick in the league for a decade as a fourth outfielder. There’s always the risk that you’re trading away a quality player(s) and end up regretting up. Every trade is a calculated risk. The Yankees were willing risk Rutherford’s long-term potential for the immediate impact of Frazier, Kahnle, and Robertson, and there’s zero chance they regret it right now.

Keep in mind the big trade with the White Sox was not a pure rental deal. Frazier will be a free agent after the season, but Robertson is under contract next year and Kahnle is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. That was part of the appeal. The trade helps now and later. And right now, the three players acquired in the trade are having an impact in the postseason, especially Robertson and Kahnle. This deal is a major reason why the Yankees are one win away from the ALCS.

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.

The Yankees lack a reliable lefty specialist, but they probably don’t need one either

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Since the start of this past offseason, the Yankees have reportedly been looking for a reliable left-on-left reliever. They looked for one all winter and again before the trade deadline, but came up empty. Tommy Layne (remember him?) started the season in that role before pitching his way off the roster. The Yankees haven’t had a true lefty specialist since.

Chasen Shreve has spent the bulk of the summer on the big league roster and he’s not really a lefty specialist, and Joe Girardi doesn’t use him like one. Shreve has been throwing one or two innings in lopsided games for a few weeks now. He’s essentially a short relief mop-up man, not a matchup guy. This is why:

  • Righties against Shreve (career): .208/.301/.412 (.307 wOBA)
  • Lefties against Shreve (career): .248/.336/.428 (.329 wOBA)

Shreve is a fastball-splitter pitcher. He lacks that quality breaking ball he can sweep across the plate to get left-handed hitters to chase, hence his career-long reverse split. Shreve doesn’t have the tools to be a left-on-left matchup guy. Asking him to do that would be to ignore his skill set and focus only on handedness.

The Yankees have two other left-handed relievers on the roster right now: Aroldis Chapman and Caleb Smith. Smith is a long man who has the same problem as Shreve as a fastball-changeup pitcher. He doesn’t have that put-away breaking ball. Chapman has lost his closer’s job and would be the most overqualified lefty specialist in history based on his career accomplishments. The Yankees are trying to get him back on track so he can pitch full innings in close games, not match up in the middle innings.

I suppose the Yankees could always make a rare September trade for a lefty reliever — they did make a September trade for Brendan Ryan in 2013, after Derek Jeter got hurt — but I doubt that’ll happen. Besides, that player wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason roster anyway. He could help in September but not October. The Yankees do not have a reliable left-on-left reliever right now — even Chapman has had some issues with lefties lately — and, truth be told, they really don’t need one, because:

(vs. LHB) AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
Dellin Betances .116/.269/.151 .216 46.2% 11.5% 55.3% 0.00
Chad Green .143/.200/.286 .211 50.7% 6.7% 18.8% 0.87
David Robertson .171/.240/.284 .228 37.5% 8.3% 52.9% 1.09
Adam Warren .211/.268/.293 .237 24.4% 7.3% 45.5% 0.47

Aside from Tommy Kahnle, who hasn’t had much success against lefties this year (.318 wOBA), the Yankees top right-handed relievers are all very effective against lefties. Betances and Robertson have been better against lefties than righties this year, at least in terms of wOBA, and both Green and Warren have been great against opposite hand batters too. I know Green’s shockingly low 18.8% ground ball rate against lefties is a little scary, but I’ll live with it when it comes with a 50.7% strikeout rate. He doesn’t get squared up often anyway.

The Yankees aren’t desperate for a left-on-left matchup reliever right now because they have four righties who can get out lefties. And here’s the important part: Girardi seems to understand that. Girardi leaves all those guys in to throw full innings, often more in the cases of Green and Warren. He doesn’t get cute trying to match up with a lefty. He didn’t do it when they had Layne and he’s not doing it now. That’s good. Stick with your best arms rather than try to force something for the sake of handedness.

Looking ahead to the postseason — the Yankees have to get there first, of course — potential opponents do have some quality left-handed hitters. The Indians have Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, at least when they’re healthy. The Astros have Brian McCann. The Red Sox have Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mitch Moreland. The Twins have Joe Mauer, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario. The Orioles have Chris Davis and Seth Smith. The Angels have Kole Calhoun. So on and so forth.

Potential postseason opponents have strong lefties in their lineup, so it would’ve been nice to add a quality left-handed specialist at some point. It’s a little too late though, and besides, in the late innings of a close game, who do you want facing Brantley or Benintendi or Davis, some lefty specialist or Robertson or Betances or Green? Exactly. Give me the high-end righties over the matchup lefties. That’s what we’re going to see down the stretch and that’s why I don’t think the lack of a reliable lefty specialist is that big a deal.

Now, here’s the x-factor: Jaime Garcia. Even though he had his last start skipped, he’s going to end up starting against at some point during the regular season. It’s hard to see how he fits into a potential postseason rotation barring injury though. He has that killer breaking ball to neutralize lefties and could be a potential left-on-left matchup option. The numbers:

  • Righties against Garcia (2017): .263/.347/.441 (.335 wOBA) with 16.0 K% and 11.3 BB%
  • Lefties against Garcia (2017): .242/.277/.379 (.282 wOBA) with 26.3 K% and 3.9 BB%

Jordan Montgomery‘s numbers against lefties aren’t so great (.319 wOBA), plus he’s never pitched out of the bullpen before, which is why I don’t think he’s much of a lefty reliever candidate. Garcia has some bullpen experience — he relieved a bunch as a rookie and made two bullpen appearances last season — and besides, unlike Montgomery, the Yankees presumably aren’t worried about his long-term development. Garcia very well might be the team’s best option for a left-on-left matchup reliever in the postseason, should they decide they absolutely need one.

At this point in time, the Yankees do not have an obvious lefty specialist in their bullpen, and it’s really no big deal considering how effective their top righties are against lefties. A lefty specialist is one of those things teams would like to have but don’t absolutely need. Neither the Cubs nor the Indians had a lefty specialist last year. They just had really good relievers. That’s where the Yankees are. Who needs a lefty specialist when Robertson, Betances, Green, or Warren (or Chapman) could be getting those outs instead?