Yankees

Why Chance It?

The MLB Draft is one of the more inexact sciences in life so critiques of individual picks should be used sparingly, but the Yankees have left me scratching my head with their first-round pick. Clarke Schmidt has a lot of the things you would want in a future Yankee. He’s reportedly a great kid, he throws really hard and he went 4-2 with a 1.34 ERA for the University of South Carolina this year. The only problem is, he had Tommy John surgery in May.

That means he will definitely miss the rest of this year. And he will probably miss at least half of next year. I get that he is reportedly one of the top arms in the draft, but his arm doesn’t work right now and might never work the same way again. And unlike many of the past years, the Yankees were picking in the middle of the draft (16th) rather than the back of the draft. In fact, you can draw an uncomfortable parallel between this pick and the Andrew Brackman pick of ten years ago. Brackman was hurt when the Yankees picked him, but they defended the choice by saying that next to David Price, he had the best arm in the draft. The Yankees were picking thirtieth overall then, but consider some of the guys they could have drafted instead of Brackman- Chris Sale (Round 8), Jordan Zimmerman (Round 3), Corey Kluber (Round 10), Craig Kimbrell (Round 14), Rick Porcello (Round 27) Danny Duffy (Round 2)…you get the idea. Instead they turned to Brackman because they were so desperate for a top-end arm they thought it was worth the risk.

It’s way too early to tell if this will pan out. They may not even sign the guy, but it seems like a dumb risk at this point. The Yankees are probably not going to be picking anywhere as high as 16th next year. They already have an injured, first-round pick recovering from Tommy John, in James Kaprielian. (Ironically also the 16th-overall pick in 2015.) Why double down?

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 Big June Start For Big Mike

Michael Pineda may be the most frustrating pitcher I have ever seen in a Yankees’ uniform. He can go out and absolutely dominate a game and then get absolutely torn apart in his next start. He’s now made 83 starts for the Yankees and his record is a mediocre 29-30 with a 4.05 ERA. I don’t think he is in the team’s future plans. In fact I would suspect the best-case scenario for the Yankees is that Pineda pitches well enough to make an arbitration offer a no-brainer and the Yankees can then let him get his riches elsewhere while pocketing a draft pick. But, if there is any hope of the Yankees unlocking the vault for a contract extension, he needs to show them they can trust him in a big spot.

Tonight is one of those starts. The Yankees have a chance to win the series over Boston and send them away trailing by 3 in the division. Conversely, a loss puts the race at a game and gives Boston the series win. Which Mike will show up? Nobody knows, but throughout his career he holds a 4-5 record against Boston with a 4.73 ERA. The Yankees will face David Price, a guy they usually hit well (He’s 14-10 against them, but with a 4.55 ERA) so they should have some chances, but only if the “good” Pineda shows up.

It will be fascinating to watch and I am sure Brian Cashman and his team will take note of what they see. They have a big decision to make about Pineda in the next few months.

Conspiracy Theories

David Ortiz has come up with a doozy. According to Ortiz, the Yankees were behind the New York Times report that named him as one of the players who failed the 2003 PED test. According to Ortiz, this was because “The only thing that I can think of, to be honest with you, a lot of big guys from the Yankees were being caught. And no one from Boston.” This is breathtakingly stupid in a number of ways.

1- How did the Yankees leak the information? How could they have gotten it if no other club had it?

2- The New York Times owned a piece of the Red Sox when they published that. I don’t think they were interested in helping the Yankees.

3- The Mitchell Report was written by a director of the Red Sox and commissioned by an owner of the Brewers. If you want a conspiracy theory, maybe that’s why not a single Red Sox or Brewer was named in it?

Ortiz still hasn’t admitted to it or come up with the reason he failed the test, like he said he would years ago.

He is however probably right that the leak came from New York. After all, MLB’s offices are right on Park Avenue in midtown.

A Good Reminder

The Yankees hot start has been exciting to watch, but it has also opened up a dangerous possibility. Would the team look to add players at this year’s deadline in order to win a championship now? If the Yankees are still playing like this in two months, the pressure to do so will be enormous.

So I hope Brian Cashman has archived this series on his DVR. Houston looks very good, and boy can they hit, shredding three Yankee starters, including two who would be part of the playoff roatation.

That’s what I take away from the series, the Yankees don’t have the pitching to compete with the best teams. And with 3/5ths of the rotation already likely to be on the open market after the season, they need to stay away from the lure of short-term rentals to get it. This is a process that won’t be completed in 2017, but patience is always very, very hard for this team. Hopefully, this weekend shows them to just keep their heads down and work with what they have.

Dial it Down

Aaron Judge may be the best story in baseball right now. He has amazing power and he is showing it prolifically, but unfortunately people are getting stupid with their comparisoions and need to stop.

Judge isn’t Jeter or, and I can’t believe I have to say this, Mantle. Jeter was 22 when he broke in and Mantle was 19. Judge is 25. He could still improve, but 3,000 hits or 500 homers are very, very, unlikely so let’s set the expectations a bit lower.

Judge looks like he could be a very good player for the next decade and the best Yankee rightfielder since Dave Winfield. That would make him “better” than Paul O’Neill, which should be more than enough for Yankee fans. The immortal Yankees are safe, everyone else is in play. Let’s just enjoy it.

Managing Mystery

I have no problem with what Joe Girardi did in the tenth inning today, my problem is with what he did in the ninth inning. Let’s go through it.

The Yankees entered the seventh trailing 4-2. Girardi went to his usual guy for the seventh, Tyler Clippard. They entered the eight in the same sport and Girardi did the same thing, calling on Betances. They entered the ninth in the same spot and here is where Girardi went off the rails bringing in Mitchell.

He had already used Holder, Clippard, and Betances, and Warren was not available, so there are three pitchers left in the pen- Chapman, Layne, and Mitchell. Choosing Mitchell is the absolute wrong choice of the three. Pick Chapman, your best choice for a clean inning, and you hope to score two in the ninth and tie things. Choose Layne, a guy who can only go one inning, and hope he gets you through the ninth still trailing by two. But choosing Mitchell, your only long guy in the pen locks you into a quandary. If you tie the game, but don’t win it, what then?

Girardi correctly determined that Chapman was the best chance to get through the tenth and have a chance to win it. The problem was, he had already used Mitchell and Layne couldn’t give him multiple innings. So he got creative and moved Mitchell to first. That allowed him to use Mitchell as a pitcher again later in the game, but cost him his DH, and current first baseman, Chris Carter. It was a creative solution, but one he could have avoided by thinking a couple of steps ahead in the 9th inning.

But in the bigger picture, the Yankees are 15-8. That’s about as great a start as anyone could have imagined.

A Fortunate Flip

I watched tonight as the Yankees dug a 9-1 hole. I stopped watching there and turned to other things. So I was shocked when I pulled the game up on my IPad later that night and found out that it was tied at 11 and the Yankees had runners on in the tenth.

A quick flip of the channel gave me one of the greatest rewards I have had as a Yankee fan. Holliday parked it, and we celebrated our best win of the season.

The Big Picture

At 1-4, we thought disaster was imminent. At 9-5, we can dream of October baseball. But I think the rational fan realizes this is the likely future- they will lose a bunch, they will win a bunch, and they most likely end up around 85-wins. Yes, you can make more optimistic arguments and more pessimistic ones, but let’s move beyond that and focus on the critical issues about this season. There are four big issues the Yankees need to solve between now and the end of the season-whenever that is.

1- What is the 2018 rotation?
If you buy the premise that the next championship is in the future, you need to think about this. Tanaka can opt out. Pineda and Sabathia are going to be free agents. That means the Yankees have to find solid internal replacements in 2017. Are those Severino and Montgomery? We shall see, but if not, how long can they afford to wait before trying out someone else? And if Sabathia or Pineda scuffles, how long is the leash?

2- Who are Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird? At their best, they are the middle of the lineup for years to come. But none of them have shown that ability over even half a season. Can they produce at those levels for a full year?

3- Will the prospects turn into players? Some are off to great starts, some are not, but this is a critical year for a number of the Yankees prospects. Can Frazier make it to the Bronx? Can Sheffield throw himself into contention for a 2018 roster spot? Will Mateo rebound from a rough 2016? Is Andujar ready to challenge at 3B? These performances will dictate the Yankees moves at the deadline and in the offseason.

4- Who is the manager and GM of the 2018 Yankees? I suspect that both Girardi and Cashman will be back, but what if this team loses 90 games? Then what?

So enjoy the wins, and try not to get too down about the losses. The big picture is that 2017 is about building a better future.

Long-Term Thinking-UPDATED

The Yankees announced almost all of their remaining roster moves today and showed that they are going to focus on the future.

First, Aaron Judge is going to be the starting right fielder.

Next, Luis Severino is the 4th starter.

Both of these moves are absolutely the right choices as they allow the Yankees a chance to see how these prospects can perform and if they are part of the long-term solution.

In other news the Yankees announced:

Rob Refsnyder is headed to AAA which pretty much guarantees that Pete Kozma will be the backup infielder with Didi out.

Eight (ugh) guys are in the pen. Chapman, Betances, Clippard, Warren, Layne, Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve.

One of those arms, will head to the minors when the Yankees name a 5th starter (April 14th or so). Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery will make two minor league starts in the interim, presumeably to decide which one gets the job, though I suppose Luis Cessna could jump back into the race with good minor league numbers.

So, the Yankees still need to pick their fifth starter and demote a bullpen arm to make that happen. That leaves one big decision, what happens to Chris Carter?

With 12 arms headed north, the Yankees have room for 4 bench players. Nicks is one. Kozuma is presumably another. A backup catcher, almost certainly Romine, is three. Do the Yankees want to leave the last spot to a guy who has hit 6-for-51 with 26 K’s this spring and can only play first? One would think not, but the Yankees are starting him today, so this will probably go down to the wire.

UPDATE- Yankees currently lead 9-0 in the bottom of the first today. They sent 13 batters to the plate and everyone of them got a hit or reached base except…Chris Carter who was 0-for-2.