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The Home Stretch

The Yankees took three-of-four from Boston, but probably also saw their chances at the division title disappear. A 3.5-game lead with only 26 games to go sounds doable, but is a significant advantage. In fact, Baseball Prospectus sees the Red Sox as 77% favorites to win the AL East.

The good news is the Yankees have their own 3.5-game lead in the wild card race. They have nine games against their immediate pursuers, Baltimore and Minnesota, and a favorable schedule outside of that. Their playoff odds sit at 94% today and it is clear that anything less than a wild card appearance would be a disappointing end to a surprising season.

There are a few questions the Yankee need to find answers to over the next few weeks.

1- What’s the lineup? Hicks is back on the DL. Holliday is back and Todd Frazier hasn’t done much with the bat, last night being an exception. Meanwhile, Chase Headley is hitting well. With Bird back at first, it makes sense to bench Frazier and let Headley play third, but the Yankees might take advantage of an expanded bench to matchup strategically each game and at bat.

2- Can Chapman be turned around? Without Chapman, the Yankees still have a great bullpen, but if they can somehow fix him, it would be incredibly dominant. With the playoffs littered with days off, the Yankees could shorten every game to five innings from their starters with the sextet of Betances, Chapman, Green, Kahnle, Robertson, and Warren. That could be huge.

3- Assuming the Yankees are a wild card team, who gets the start? They currently have four starters clicking and while Severino has clearly been the best, would the Yankees prefer Tanaka’s experience in that spot? The good news is that they have choices.

26 games to go. September should be fun.

A Boxscore for the Ages

Travis d’Arnaud started at third for the Mets last night against the Yankees. Problem is, d’Arnaud is a catcher and never played anywhere else on the diamond in the majors or minors, apart from two games at first in 2012.

What followed was one of the most delightful games of hide the bad fielder you have ever seen. When a righty came up, d’Arnaud typically traded places with the second baseman. When a runner was on first, he typically went back to third to avoid having to try to turn a DP. The official line is a wonderful one- “3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B-2B-3B” Unfortunately, most boxscores are just reporting that he was a “3b-2b” last night which obscures the beauty of it.

The Yankees have been taking advantage of these games against the Mets which is good, because they are going to head into Boston with a rickety starting rotation. Jordan Montgomery is going to have to pitch Friday. If CC Sabathia is healthy, he will start Saturday. If he isn’t, I guess Caleb Smith will. TBD is currently Sunday’s starter, but I would expect the Yankees to put Sonny Gray out there. Not exactly the way you would want to head into a big series, but there is little they can do about it now.

A Real Mess

Last night’s win was a great one, but the Yankees are in a lot of trouble. Yesterday, they put CC Sabathia on the DL. Today, they are putting Tanaka on the DL. Including Pineda, that means the original top 3 starters from the beginning of the year are now all on the DL.

This also means the Yankees have Sonny Gray, Luis Severino, and Jaime Garcia at the front of their rotation. Jordan Montgomery, who was sent to the minors to conserve his innings, will have to come back and give the Yankees what he can. Luis Cessa or Caleb Smith will probably be the fifth starter, unless the Yankees feel like Chance Adams is ready to contribute. Trades can still happen, as long as the pitcher has passed through waivers. The Yankees will definitely be on the lookout for an innings-eating veteran.

My “Toe” Hurts

Ronald Torreyes is a nice story. He is a scrappy player who plays like every minute might be his last. Unfortunately, that has led to the conclusion in the media that he is a good player, and that simply isn’t the case.

I don’t like writing this post. Torreyes is a guy who we should all root for- someone who has overcome the odds and succeeded. But, turning a blind eye to his limitations does no one any favors. Let’s look at some facts.

Entering tonight, Torreyes was hitting .287/.305/.374 in 242 AB’s. Last year he hit .258/.305/.370 in 168 AB’s, so about the same. That’s perfectly acceptable from a backup infielder, but it isn’t acceptable from a regular player. That’s the thing that the pundits ignore. He is a great role player, but he isn’t a starter.

The problem currently is that the Yankees are ignoring that too. But, I suspect they might not if they had options. The 40-man roster has only four guys who can play the middle infield on it-Castro, Didi, Torreyes, and Wade. Castro is hurt and Wade is 6-for-47 in his career so far. Barring a trade, Torreyes is the best option.

Based on reports tonight, the Yankees missed a great chance at a trade. Jay Bruce went to Cleveland for a small prospect because Cleveland agreed to pay his entire remaining salary ($4-million or so). The Yankees apparenly offered more than that prospect-wise, but wanted the Mets to take on some of the salary.

I really hope the reports are wrong. Bruce would have been a huge boost to the lineup and $4-million seems a small price to pay for a guy with 29 homers this year. Matt Holliday has collapsed since his virus, and is now on the DL, so Bruce could have been a great fit.

One final note. When Clint Frazier had to be removed from the lineup right before game time, it exposed the Yankee roster. They currently only have 12 hitters active. With Frazier unavailable, the bench tonight was Romine and Wade. Wade can play a lot of positions, but that isn’t enough depth. I hope they bring up another hitter soon.

A Touch of Gray

The Yankees added a big piece for today and the future with the addition of Sonny Gray. I won’t claim Gray is an ace, but I think he slots into the tier just below. Here’s why the deal makes sense.

1- The Yankees needed a better starter than Caleb Smith and while Jamie Garcia could eat up innings, he isn’t going to do what Gray can. Assuming Tanaka’s resurgence is for real and Severino holds up, the Yankees have four good options to turn to in October. And Gray obviously taking the ball every fifth turn makes it a lot likelier they make it to October.

2- Next year Pineda and Sabathia are gone. Tanaka could opt out. Pitching has grown amazingly expensive and the Yankees can stay away from the free agent market and look to a guy like Chance Adams to join Gray, Severino, Montgomery, and maybe Tanaka in the rotation.

3- Consider the young lineup the Yankees can employ through at least the next two seasons-

Catcher: Sanchez
3B- Torres

Every one of those guys is under contract until at least 2020 with some much longer than that. Gardner is the only one over 30, and no one else would turn 30 while in that lineup. Assuming Frazier and Torres work out, the Yankees don’t need to go to free agency for a bat until 2020 at the earliest. They could, but they don’t have to. They also have guys like Wade to plug in around the diamond and Andujar to cover third. They traded two guys who could turn into good hitters, but they also have that covered for a few years. And by keeping Florial, they kept their highest-ceiling hitter outside of Torres or Frazier.

4- Don’t sleep on the international money they’ve added. They are aggressively pursuing the top international market to try to develop more prospects. This helps with that.

5- The guy I think they will miss the most is Kapriellian. He’s a big time arm, but he has also been an injury disaster. He won’t be back before the middle of the next year at the earliest. He may haunt them, but this isn’t a terrible risk to take because his ceiling isn’t that much higher than Grays and the Yankees have Gray through 2019.

6- Finally think about the 40-man roster. The Yankees face a crunch there and this will help mitigate that. It would be wonderful to keep every prospect, but the reality is you can’t. Depending on their age when you draft them, you have four or five years before you have to protect them.

Some will see this as evidence that the Yankees are turning back to their old ways. I would disagree with that. Adding Gray gives them a cost-controllable pitcher for next year. It will allow them to get under the luxury tax and they have plenty of youth to refresh their player pool. I think we should tip our caps to Brian Cashman. When you consider where this team was a year ago and how he has transformed it, he deserves our praise.

Deadline Blog

2:53-As in years past, I thought I would do a live blog of the trade deadline. So far we have some smaller trades. The Red Sox solidified their bullpen by getting Addison Reed from the Mets. The Astros got Liriano from the Jays and the Cubs got Justin Wilson from the Tigers. For now, the Yankees are said to be at an impasse with Oakland for Sonny Gray. Let’s see what the next hour brings.

2:57- Yankees have traded a AA arm to Baltimore for more international signing bonus money.

2:58- Here we go. Jack Curry is reporting that Sonny Gray will be traded to the Yankees. No word on what is being sent to Oakland.

2:59- Jeff Passan says the Yankees are sending Fowler, Mateo, and Kapriellian back.

3:01- Joel Sherman confirms those names.

3:02- Kapriellian and Fowler are big prospects, but both of them are out for the year. I’m stunned that the A’s would take a guy recovering from TJ surgery and a guy who suffered a horrific leg injury.

3:06- Passan adds that Yankees will get more international bonus money from Oakland.

3:07- While I am bummed we won’t see Dustin Fowler in a Yankees’ uniform, I’m still going to root like crazy for him.

3:09- Mark Feinsand tweets that the Red Sox are “likely done”.

3:11- one way to evaluate this trade will be in a few years when we know what Florial has become.

3:14- Just a guess, but with Gray scheduled to start tonight in Oakland, I don’t think we see him take the mound until Thursday as he has to get here and the Yankees have a day game on Wednesday.

3:16- Yankees just confirmed the trade.

3:20- I think it is a fair exchange. The A’s get three legit prospects, but two come with big risks attached. The Yankees solidify the rotation for the next few years and keep guys like Frazier, Torres, and Adams.

3:28- Ken Rosenthal reports the Dodgers are looking at Tony Watson.

3:34- Jon Herman says the Astros, Dodgers, and Nationals are the final three for Brad Hand while Joel Sherman says the Dodgers have moved away from Yu Darvish.

3:38- Ken Rosenthal reporting that Tony Watson is headed to the Dodgers.

3:40- Bob Nightingale says the Rangers are pessimistic that they will be able to move Darvish.

3:42- Jeff Passan echos that reports and adds that Zach Britton looks to be staying put as well.

3:47- Tom Verducci points out that only one position player has been traded today. Teams want pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

3:53- Jack Curry says Gray will start “at beginning of road trip” so my Thursday guess might be a good one.

3:56- Rosenthal and Heyman report that Padres will keep Brad Hand.

4:07- Nats get Brandon Kintzler

4:14- Ken Rosenthal says Darvish was traded.

4:15- Apparently to the Dodgers

I think that’s it. I will be back later with some thoughts on the big Yankee trade.

The Price For Gray

The Yankees and A’s are still talking, trying to come up with a trade for Sonny Gray. I’m going to try to come up with a reasonable trade for both sides.

Gray is a risk and an opportunity for the Yankees. While he was a great pitcher in 2014 and 2015, his 2016 season was an injury-riddled disaster. He started this year on the DL, started slowly, but has looked great since. If healthy, he would be under team control through 2019 after two more arbitration hearings. He would slot in nicely next year to a rotation with really only Severino and Montgomery as sure things for 2018 at a reasonable ($8-million) salary. And that’s why it makes sense for the Yankees to go after him, If, and this is a big IF, they can do it without sacrificing the vital parts of the future.

So what does that mean? It means the Yankees need to do it without sacrificing the obvious future pieces we can see now. We already know Sanchez is the catcher, Bird, if healthy, is at first, Didi and Castro are in the middle of the infield, and Judge is in right. Didi is the oldest of that bunch at 27. Beyond them we can see Torres playing a role at third, second, or short with Frazier in left and guys like Andujar and Fowler competing for time. They will also need pitching, so Sheffield and Adams must be kept.

The amazing thing is, the Yankees could still avoid trading any of those guys and still have enough to get Gray. Jorge Mateo is tearing up AA and can fly, but is blocked by the talent ahead of him. Estevan Florial is a raw, 19-year old the scouts love, but he is a world away in A ball. Both are top-10 prospects because of their talents, but both also could flame out. The Yankees have enough talent ahead of them to justify their inclusion in a trade for Gray.

Beyond that I expect the A’s would need at least one more piece. Billy McKinney, originally drafted by Oakland, but traded to the Yankees las year by the Cubs, has out a nice season together between AA and AAA. He profiles as a left fielder, and the Yankees clearly don’t need that depth right now more than a pitcher. His inclusion and a lottery-ticket type pitcher would be a fair return. Oakland would get a potential shortstop and center fielder of the future plus McKinney and a pitcher with a chance. The Yankees would have a rotation upgrade for this year, and a solid piece in 2018 and 2019.

We Have A Starter

The Yankees made a smart trade today, shipping two middling prospects to Minnesota for Jamie Garcia. Garcia is not a great pitcher, but he eats innings and that is exactly what the Yankees need out of a fifth starter.

The prospects are Dietrich Enns and Zach Littel. Enns is closer to the majors, but Littel is the better prospect. The problem, from the Yankees’ perspective, is that both need to be put on the 40-man this offseason, or risk being selected in the Rule 5 draft. The Yankees’ 40-man roster is getting really crowded, so this is a way to trade these guys for something, instead of losing them for nothing later.

And Garcia fills two needs. Caleb Smith wasn’t getting it done, so the Yankees upgraded their rotation. And this sends a message to the A’s that they won’t overpay for Sonny Gray. It’s a solid move.

Running on Empty?

One of the unstated reasons the Yankees might try to add a starter, any starter, between now and the deadline is that both Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery are probably going to face innings limit problems in the future.

With 65 games left, each starter should get approximately 13 starts if healthy. Through 19 starts, Severino has thrown 120.2 innings. He threw 160 in 2015 and 150 in 2016. Montgomery has thrown only 101 innings so far and threw 140 last year.

Now the Yankees aren’t about to announce the innings limits for these guys and this is guesswork only. But most teams use a percentage for the jump from year to year, 20 to 30 percent seems to be the usual range. Using those numbers, Severino could go as high as 195 innings with Montgomery clocking in at 180. That would leave both with a cap of about 75 more innings.

That would be more manageable, but still would require the Yankees to juggle their spots and probably skip them at least once or twice the rest of the way. That’s why I think they are going to hone in on a starter over the next week and use a six-man rotation more than once the rest of the way.

Mission Impossible?

I started writing this Saturday. In the interim, this came out which is the same idea essentially. I’m still posting mine because it contains a specific idea.

If I’m Brian Cashman, I am trying to figure out how to send Jacoby Ellsbury somewhere else. The simple truth is that he is currently their fourth-best, healthy, outfielder. When Aaron Hicks is healthy, he will slip to 5th. By next spring, I am pretty sure he will rank even lower than that. This contract is a disaster and an easy way to improve the Yankees is to move past it.

There are three big obstacles in the way of that:

1- The Yankees owe him $68-million between his salary from 2018 through 2020 and his 2021 option buyout.

2- He has a no-trade clause.

3- The Yankees aren’t about to eat $68-million dollars, but trading him for another bad contract doesn’t make sense unless the position is one of need- ie. not the outfield.

Based on that, I think the Yankees should call the Giants and talk about a Jeff Samardzjia-Jacoby Ellsbury trade. Samardzjia is owed $57-million through 2020 and has an ERA north of 5 currently. I assume even with that the Yankees would need to kick money in to at least equalize the contracts, but this is the place I would start. Find a team with a bad pitching contract and see if you can make a deal. Samardzjia has a limited no-trade clause, so that complicates things further, but there are always ways to get around that. If it worked, the Yankees would have a guy who has thrown 200 innings each of the last three seasons and is on pace to do so again. Yes, they are not great innings, but the Yankees could use a starter who can eat up innings right now. And with the certainty that Sabathia and Pineda won’t be back next year, a veteran starter isn’t the worst idea in the world.

It’s worth noting that Ellsbury is on the bench today against a RHP with Frazier in left and Gardner in center. He was benched against the LHP last night, so I suspect the Yankees are trying to “encourage” him to be flexible about his no-trade clause. Let’s see what happens.