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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.

A Pitching Clinic-UPDATED

It finally happened, the Yankees and Red Sox played a game in under three hours. All it took were two of the best pitched games you will see.

Chris Sale was better, at least until his manager made him try the 9th inning when he was looking a bit gassed in the 8th, But Tanaka got the win because he kept the Red Sox off balance all night. Their biggest threat was a runner on second with 1 out, and Tanaka retired the final 14-straight.

So the Yankees take the abbreviated series and now have the first place Orioles coming for a visit. It should be an exciting weekend.

UPDATE Never had heard this used before, but a complete game shutout that takes under 100 pitches, is apparently called a “Maddox” in honor of the great Greg Maddox. Tanaka got earned that tonight.

All Rise

Aaron Judge had a pretty good 25th-birthday. He hit a pretty nice opposite-field homer and added a great catch diving into the stands. Chapman came close to throwing it all away, but the Yankees prevailed 3-1.

I want to gripe about replay. Judge’s play in the stands was an easy call to miss as an umpire, but also an easy call to reverse upon viewing a replay. For whatever reason, it took a long time for the MLB replay crew to reach the right conclusion.

Here’s my idea, have a lot of people watching the games in the “pod” in NYC and reviewing any close play before a replay challenge is made. Yes, you would be reviewing calls that may never be challenged, but hopefully you would cut down on the interminable time it takes to review and adjudicate a call which seems to be an easy one on replay. If MLB is serious about speeding up games, they have to speed up replay.

Lastly, a word about Luis Severino. A night like tonight shows you why the Yankees think he can be a frontline starter. His development will be one of the most important things to watch in 2017.

Big Series?-UPDATED

The Yankees head to Fenway tonight for a three-game set with the two teams separated by just a half-game in the standings. So, you could make the case this is a big series. But, it is April. And no matter what happens, I am pretty sure that the team that loses his series will be able to recover over the final 144 games. So, I would say no, but I think there are some very interesting things to watch.

1- Judge and Bird at Fenway. Bird has played thre before, but he is off to a bad start and needs to get going. Judge is tailor-made to do damage at Fenway. The most impressive power I have ever seen there was the 1999 home run derby when McGwire was hitting moon shots over the monster. (sidenote, Andy and I were there in person and may have started a rumor that the state police were closing the Mass Pike because they were afraid balls would hit cars). Judge has some amazing power and could send a ball well into the night.

2. Sale versus Tanaka. Andy is ready to build a statue of Sale on Yawkey Way And Sale has dominated the Yankees in his career. Meanwhile, Tanaka has scuffled against Boston. Will this be the mismatch it appears to be?

3- How does Girardi manage these games? Is he going to treat them as bigger than a usual April game? By using Betances and Chapman for multiple innings maybe? Or will the fact that the Yankees have first place Baltimore on the schedule next, keep these at April intensity?

4- Severino in Fenway, part 2. He got shellacked there in his first try last August. Can he do better this time?

5- Which Yankee will Matt Barnes unnecessarily head hunt? I kid, I kid. Enjoy the games!

UPDATE We have a rain out, so we are going to have to wait for the series to start, and only see two games this week. The game will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on July 16th.

Opening Day!

It’s finally here, the start of the baseball season. And for the first time in ages, the Yankees will be starting a lineup with more guys in their 20’s than any other decade.

That’s the reason for optimism if you are a Yankees fan. There will be frustrating times, but this lineup should be significantly better than last year’s. Bird and Sanchez are much better bets now than Teixeira and A-Rod were in 2016. Judge, Didi, and Castro are all ascending, while Gardner and Headley are not declining significantly- yet. The biggest questions are Ellsbury and Holliday. Ellsbury because of bad performance and Holliday because of age. I expect Holliday to be fine, while Ellsbury continues to haunt the Yankees.

But the reason for pessimism is the other side of the ball. The Yankee rotation is a mess. It starts with an ace, Tanaka, but goes way downhill from there. Sabathia, a second starter only in name, is years away from his peak. Pineda has never put together a full season that matches his ability. Severino is an unknown and the Yankees haven’t named a fifth starter yet. Add it all up, and most days will see the Yankees turning to the bullpen early.

Luckily, that’s a strength. They have a quartet of relievers they can trust and plenty of intriguing arms behind that. This is a team that should dominate close games. But the rotation will stress the bullpen and the Yankees have to hope that Severino becomes a frontline stater while the farm system provides help.

Add it all up and you have a .500 team. They will flirt with both contention and irrelevance, but in the end I think they squeak out an 83-79 record that puts them in third in the division and out of the playoffs.