Yankees

Strategy

The Yankees did a last-minute shuffle of their rotation this weekend that didn’t make sense at first, but does if you think a bit deeper about it. Moving Sonny Grey to Sunday’s gamne while putting CC Sabathia on the mound Tuesday and Jamie Garcia on Monday seemed odd. The Yankees are playing the Twins, their closest pursuers in the wild card, starting Monday and they had their three best starters- Grey, Taanaka, and Severino, lined up to get the ball. And the excuse they used, trying to keep Sabathia off the turf in Toronto didn’t ring true because they have an off day Thursday and six guys who can start. Skipping Sabathia in Toronto wouldn’t have been that hard. So what’s going on?

This is all about Luis Severino. By making this move the Yankees are lining Severino up to get the ball in a wild card game start. He will pitch Friday in Toronto, Wednesday in the Bronx, and then have an extra day off before a Tuesday wild card start. You can’t argue with that logic, he’s been their best pitcher, but it goes deeper than that. As mentioned above, if the season ended today the Yankees would face the Twins in that wild card game. By moving Severino, the Yankees avoid letting the Twins face him two weeks before potentially facing him in the playoffs. In fact, the Twins have never faced Severino, the only AL team not to have done so. It is a bit of a risk because the Yankees haven’t sewn anything up yet, but their playoff odds are almost a lock at this point (Magic number is 8. Angels would have to go 13-0 if Yankees finish 6-7.)

Furthermore, it sets things up for the ALDs if the Yankees make that. Grey is now slated to pitch Saturday in Toronto, and probably would get the ball in a ALDS Game 1. Tanaka would have plenty of rest before an ALDS Game 2 with Severino getting the ball again in Game 3. We’ve still got a few weeks to worry about it and things could always change, but for now that’s the way the Yankees are setting things up.
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On a separate note, the Yankees clinched their 25th-straight season with a winning record Saturday. It’s the second-longest streak in baseball history behind the Yankees of 1926-1964. A few facts I find interesting about that bit of trivia.

1- Over half of all losing seasons the Yankees have had since 1926 (9 total) came during Steinbrenner’s tenure.

2- Since 1903, they have had a total of 21 seasons with a losing record. They’ve had 18 seasons with more than 100 wins.

A Night at Citi Field

Last night’s game was a bit of a bummer, but my experience was not. For $25, I got to sit three rows behind the Yankee on-deck circle. When the Rays decided to move their three games against the Yankees to Citi Field, MLB put all the tickets online for $25 a piece. If you acted quickly, like I did, you ended up with some very, very, nice seats.

I had been to Citi Field once before, and it still remains a very nice ballpark. When I originally went to Citi Field, I had not been to the new Yankee Stadium. Now that I can compare the two, I see a lot of similarities, though Citi Field feels more intimate. (It does seat about 9,000 fewer fans) I was struck once again by how I couldn’t see the whole field from a really nice seat. Not surprisingly, Yankee fans were out in force and the place was loud. My only complaint about the whole experience is that MLB decided not to open the upper levels of Citi Field, but then decided to sell standing room only tickets at $15 a piece. This put a tremendous strain on the concessions and bathrooms on the lower level as there were too many fans and not enough concessions and toilets. It was a beer vendor’s dream however as they didn’t have to walk through the stands to sell a beer, standing in the concourse brought the customers to them. My friend and I, who have attended many playoff games and Opening Days together, could not recall ever seeing lines like we saw last night.

With 18 games left on the schedule, the Yankees have no one to blame but themselves if they can’t clinch the wild card. The schedule was already favorable with only a road trip to Toronto splitting up 14 remaining home games. Now they have this quasi-home set and a five-game lead in the wild card race. Baseball Prospectus has the odds of them making the playoffs at 99.2%. That seems about right.

Thank You, Stick

You could start a very interesting debate trying to apportion the credit for this era of Yankee history to say five people. But no matter what five names you ended up with, Gene Michael would have to be one of them.

It was Michael who took over control of the team when George Steinbrenner was banned from baseball. It was Michael who rebuilt the farm system, installed Buck Showalter as manager, and traded for Paul O’Neill. And it was Michael who withstood the tantrums and ravings of the Boss, not allowing him to undo all the work that Michael had accomplished.

Without Michael you probably would have seen Derek Jeter in a different uniform. You certainly would have seen Bernie Williams traded. Michael had to actually lie to Steinbrenner and tell him other teams didn’t want Bernie, to keep him from being sent to another club. You probably would not have seen five championships and it is very possible that the Yankees are currently playing in a stadium in North Jersey.

In short, Yankee fans of the past twenty-five years owe an enormous debt to Gene Michael. RIP

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.
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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.

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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.

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.