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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
1B-Bird
2B-Castro
3B- Torres
SS-Didi
LF-Frazier
CF-Hicks
RF-Judge
DH-Gardner/TBD

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.

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.

A Big Trade-UPDATING

10:37pm We don’t have anything official, but the Yankees are apparently getting David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Tommy Kahnle from Chicago. The return package is Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and perhaps more.

Let’s break this down piece by piece.

Robertson is clearly a name we know and he has pretty much done what he did here, in Chicago. Adding him back to the bullpen gives the Yankees a lot of firepower at the back of the pen, but at a big price.

Frazier is a pending free agent who can play first or third and has a .214 BABIP, which suggests his .207 average is a fluke. He has a .328 OBP and a .432 slugging, so he is a much better option at first tha what the Yankees have tired so far and he could shift to third if they traded Headley. (That wouldn’t be a shock right now.)

Kahnle is a former Yankee farm hand who they lost to the Rule 5 draft after 2013. It’s all clicked for him this year and he isn’t a free agent until 2021.

Rutherford is the prize going back, but he is only in single A and the Yankees have a ton of outfield prospects/ young guys. Rutherford is projected to be a corner guy, so I can’t kill them for trading him when you consider the wealth they have in the corners right now.

Clarkin was a first round pick in 2013, but he is still in A ball and would need to be protected on the 40-man this offseason. I don’t think the Yankees would want to do that, so this isn’t a loss.

10:50pm- Tyler Clippard is apparently part of the trade which really isn’t a loss at all.

11:02pm- The Yankees are sending a fourth player to Chicago according to reports.

11:10- Think about the potential bullpen choices if this happens. Kahnle, Green, Warren, Robertson, Betances, and Chapman. Wow

11:24- Not sure how to quantify this, but I would bet anything that if D-Rob comes home, Betances moves to the 7th inning. That would diminish his earning potential in arbitration next year which has to factor in this trade.

11:55- Both the Yankees and White Sox have finished their games. Not sure why a trade hasn’t been announced at this point.

12:04- The trade is official! What I said above, plus Tito Polo, a guy the Yankees acquired for Ivan Nova in addition.

This is the type of trade I can handle from the Yankees. Rutherford may turn out to be awesome, but he isn’t considered a center fielder by the Yankees and they hope that Judge and Clint Frazier are going to lock down the corners for years to come. Clarkin is not a guy the Yankees have roster room for, so he is a sunk cost. Polo may be the best of the bunch, but again, the Yankees have a lot of guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Clippard is a salary dump.

In exchange the Yankees have two huge bullpen assets for this year and next, plus Frazier for rest of the year at first. At the very least, this should solidify their wild card chances. At best, they are now contenders for the division.

I won’t go that far, but for a big market team, this is a solid trade. They’ve improved the team this year and next, but havent subtracted from the immmediate future. Perhaps they regret this in 2020, but that means that Judge and Clint Frazier didn’t pan out.

The Word on Bird

The Yankees announced that Greg Bird is going to have surgery tomorrow and there is a six-week rehab afterwards. If everything went well, that would put him back on a baseball field right before Labor Day. The minor league regular season usually ends right around then. so there is little room for him to be able to return and get into rehab games.

And that’s clearly the goal here. Joe Girardi has this to say: “It’s really tough to get on track when you’ve missed basically two whole years. Hopefully he can get some at-bats before the end of the year.”

For now, the Yankees appear to be willing to try a platoon with Choi and Cooper. That’s not an optimal idea for a team with only four bench players, so I wouldn’t expect it to be the ultimate solution. The Yankees will probably look pretty hard at the trade market for first baseman.

Pray for Rain-UPDATED AFTER GAME 1

The Yankees pulled out a victory by the skin of their teeth on Saturday. A dramatic homer in the ninth followed by some nifty escapes in extras, and a bizarre play at first, gave the Yankees a sixteen-inning victory. Now they get to play a doubleheader!

Expect some big roster changes. The Yankees have already announced that CC Sabathia, and not Bryan Mitchell, will start this afternoon. Mitchell will almost certainly be recalled for depth. Luis Cessa hasn’t been down in the minors long enough to be recalled without injury, but the 26-man rule for doubleheaders lets the Yankees get around that. I would expect them to add a third pitcher as the bullpen is a mess right now. It wouldn’t shock me to see Chad Green as the closer today. And if the Yankees have to pitch a lot of bullpen innings today, tomorrow will be really interesting as the scheduled starter already is “TBD”.

UPDATE-Three new pitchers it is. Mitchell is the 26th man, Domingo German and Caleb Smith promoted from AAA. I suspect Cessa will start tomorrow and is on a plane to Minnesota. The interesting thing is that they opened a 40-man spot for Smith, a late bloomer who has had a nice year at AAA. I wonder if they are going to look at him as a possible Pineda replacement?

UPDATE- Cessa is starting Tuesday, so tomorrow is still TBD. I wonder if the Yankees are going to see if Caleb Smith pitches in game 1 today, and if not get him on an evening flight to Minnesota?

UPDATE- The Yankees have now won consecutive games for the first time since June 11th/12th. Getting six innings out of CC was huge as they only used the bullpen for three.

The Halfway Mark

Tonight the Yankees play their 81st game, meaning the season is half over. They are on pace to win 87 games, a bit higher than I would have thought in March, but a bit lower than I would have thought a few weeks ago. That’s because the Yankees played their first sixty games 37-23 and the next twenty, 6-14. And that’s the enormous challenge facing this club. What should they do, if anything, to fortify the team for a possible pennant race?

If you say they should fix the root causes of the 6-14 stretch, then the answer is, get more pitching. The Yankees have a team ERA of 4.96 in that stretch while the offense has averaged 5-runs per game.

If you focus on the entire first half, you would say, first base, third base, Tanaka, and the bullpen. Let’s dive into each of those.

First is clearly a disaster. Bird may be the second coming of Nick Johnson and Carter has been terrible in relief of him. Tyler Austin is on the DL, and the farm system doesn’t have much else in the way of help at first. The luxury rental is Eric Hosmer, and I don’t think the Yankees are there yet, but if they stick close to first over the next four weeks, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Third is a simple equation. The Yankees will tolerate Chase Headley until they feel that Andujar is ready to play defense at a major-league level. Barring an injury to either, that won’t change.

Tanaka is simply not going to be removed from the rotation. The Yankees are praying at this point that he can turn things around enough to opt-out of his deal after the season. If he can’t, the Yankees are stuck with him for three more years. Either way, he will be in the rotation as long as he is healthy this season.

And that brings us to the bullpen, and this is an area the Yankees will wait and see on. Before Warren got hurt, things we’re going well. Betances has been bad lately, but overall has been brilliant. Clippard is a mess, but Warren’s return will minimize him. Chad Green has looked good out of the pen, but needs to get thrown into some high leverage situations to see what happens.

The season has been a huge success overall. Judge has shown he can be a great player. Hicks took a huge step forward. Montgomery and Severino look to be rotation pieces for the future. A lot of other prospects have taken big steps forward and the future looks really good. The next four weeks will show how close that future is.

Meet the New Guy at First….

Guess what, Chris Carter is back! How did this happen? Well Tyler Austin was apparently dealing with a hamstring injury when they promoted him and it has turned into a bigger thing. He is going to be out awhile.

Greg Bird isn’t doing so hot, so he is going on the 60-day DL. That sounds worse than it is because he has been on the DL since the start of May, and that means he can be activated whenever he is healthy, or if he is healthy again this year.

That left the Yankees with a couple of choices. They could keep sending Romine out there, but that leaves them exposed at catcher. They could try Refsnyder there, but he isn’t hitting and hasn’t looked great at first. So, Carter gets the call because he is already getting paid, so the Yankees will see if a week off makes a difference.

The interesting thing is the Yankees made another move, sending Andujar down and promoting Dustin Fowler. Andujar had a great debut, you really couldn’t ask for more, but the Yankees wisely want him to get reps at third, and they are not benching Headley.

And that brings us to Fowler, another top prospect who is getting a shot. Fowler is 22, a lefty, and is hitting .293/.329/.542 in AAA. He has 13 steals, so he has speed. He’s spent most of his time in center, but he can play right and left.

His promotion is interesting because they could have recalled Mason Williams with the injury to Austin, but instead they are DFA’ing him to clear a roster spot. Is Fowler being showcased for a possible trade, or are the Yankees looking at him as a possible replacement for Gardner or Ellsbury? Time will tell.

Injuries Galore

The Yankees left for California in good health. Things have gone downhill quickly.

First we had CC Sabathia get hurt in his start Tuesday. Sabathia went to the DL and the Yankees need a starter for Sunday and the immediate future.

Then came word that Greg Bird is ending his rehab and flying back to NY to see a doctor. That probably puts him back in NY after the All-Star Break in the best of circumstances.

Then Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks left last nights game with injuries and are listed as day-to-day.

And Adam Warren has shoulder inflammation and is headed to the DL.

And the Yankees are 1-3 on this road trip so far.

So the Yankees made a flurry of moves tonight and I would expect more tomorrow. Kyle Higashioka and Mason Williams are up from Scranton with Gallegos optioned and Warren hitting the DL. That leaves the Yankees with 12 pitchers, but it’s probably temporary. Higashioka and Williams are going back to Scranton as soon as Hicks and Sanchez are ready and I would bet the Yankees roll the dice to get at least one more arm here tomorrow with Sunday’s starter listed as TBD. (Bet on Cessa getting the ball though).

All of this makes Luis Severino’s start tonight a big one. They need him to be effective and they need him to go deep into the game. Every team struggles through injuries and the Yankees are going to have to figure this out.

Make This Team Better

The Yankees have almost reached the point where you start to think about the ways to improve this team to make it a legitimate playoff contender. The problem is, that is going to be harder than it looks.

Reflexively, I think most fans would say that the starting rotation is the place to upgrade, but dig a bit deeper. Throw Tanaka’s performance to date out of the equation, and the Yankees have the lowest starter ERA in the majors. The quartet of Pineda, Sabathia, Severino, and Montgomery have been that good. And while advanced stats suggest they are slightly overrated, it isn’t by a huge amount.

So maybe you say Tanaka is the guy to go, but his contract makes that impossible. He can opt-out after this season, or he can stay with the Yankees and keep on earning $22-million a year for the next three seasons. If you remove him from the rotation, he stays and you pay him $66-million to sit in the bullpen. That’s not realistic, so the Yankees really have no choice but to keep sending him out there.

The bullpen has been a strength, and with Chapman due back soon, there is no need to improve it. The Yankees have four guys they can rely on late- Chapman, Betances, Clippard, and Warren, and they have plenty of interesting arms that could add to that quartet.

That leaves the lineup, and there are two obvious holes, first and third. Chris Carter has not been good, but Greg Bird is on the mend and will absolutely get a chance to fill that hole. So that leaves third, and Chase Headley, but the Yankees may also have the answer to that problem internally

Tyler Wade is hitting .307/.372/.449 in Scranton. He has played every position outside of catcher and first. Gleyber Torres is off to good start at Scranton (.273/.403/.418) and he is rotating between second, third and short. Either of them is worthy of a promotion if the Yankees are going to try to replace Headley.

And the Yankees may have set the sequence in motion tonight that leads to that move. They DFA’ed Tommy Lane. That’s because they decided to push Tanaka back a day and need Chad Green to start tomorrow. Since Green is no longer stretched out and they will need to go to the bullpen early, they recalled Domingo German. German was a part of the Prada-Eovaldi trade and he is stretched out. He was also on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees now have an open spot. I would bet that goes to Wade in the very near future.

And that’s why is I expect the Yankees to look inside the organization for help. If a big injury comes along, that could certainly change. But for now, the only logical move is an internal, and not an external, one.