Halfway There

The Yankees reach the halfway point in the schedule at 40-41 with a -30 run differential and only six players-Beltran, Betances, Chapman, Miller,  Sabathia, and Tanaka- truly having good seasons. Because of the overall mediocrity of the AL, they are only 3.5-games out of a wild card spot. However, picturing this team in the playoffs requires a big imagination.

That’s why the Yankees need to make sure that they operate over the next few weeks using the principal of doing no harm. They must resist the temptation to add pieces to a flawed foundation, or to subtract from their future assets. That doesn’t mean they go into full sell mode now, it’s still a bit too early for that, just that they don’t become buyers.

The next 20 games are all against opponents better than .500, and includes some of the best teams in the league. Unless something really surprising happens, this stretch should prove to everyone that this team isn’t a legitimate contender and the best course of action is to build for the future. And since it ends right before the trade deadline, the Yankees can open for business when it concludes.

Door Number Three

Joel Sherman has a good article today about how the Yankees are boxed in with A-Rod and his lack of roster flexibility. Read it here. I agree with the argument, but disagree with the solution. Instead of cutting him, why not try a stretch with 11 pitchers?

Here’s the truth, the Yankees don’t use their 12th pitcher very often. And, when they do turn to him, they have enough arms on the 40-man to exchange him for a different pitcher. Consider Anthony Swarzak who was called up in the first week of June. Since then he has appeared seven times and pitched nine innings. He hasn’t pitched since June 22nd. The Yankees brought Richard Bleier up a month ago and he has pitched a grand total of eight times and contributed eight innings. Why do the Yankees need a 12th pitcher if this is how they are going to use them? Because here is the thing. Alex is still hitting LHP. He has a line of .275/.327/.510 against them this year. As a team, the Yankees have only managed a .252/.314/.386 line agains them, so Alex is contributing.

But I doubt the Yankees will ever feel comfortable with 11 pitchers and if that is truly the case, then it is getting close to the time to let Alex go or figure out a way for him to get back into the field. With only four spots on the bench, the Yankees cannot afford to give one of them to a 40-year old platoon player. Joel Sherman is right about that.

Free Markets 101

The Yankees love to claim that they support the free market when it suits them, and then turn around and violate the basic principals of free markets when it doesn’t. A great case in this was their acrimonious relationship with Stub Hub. Because the Yankees weren’t getting a cut of the fees Stub Hub collected for reselling tickets, the Yankees stopped doing business with them and launched their own ticket exchange. On that exchange the Yankees got some of the fees and got to set a minimum price for any resold ticket, violating a core principal of free markets. They further violated those principals earlier this year when they eliminated print at home tickets in an obvious attempt to stifle competition.

But now they have made peace with Stub Hub and a new deal is in place. It doesn’t allow print at home tickets and it sets a minimum price floor. I will assume that it also gives the Yankees a nice chunk of the 25% fees Stub Hub collects on any ticket being sold via the platform. It’s just another depressing example of how the Yankees, and pretty much every team, soaks the fan while trying to convince them they are doing them a favor.

What’s The Rush?

There seems to be this sudden urge amongst the fan base and the columnists in the New York area for the Yankees to trade everyone and anyone to cash it in and look to next season. I get it, this season does not look like a promising one. But, I still wouldn’t do it.

Now let me be clear. I think there is probably about a 0.5 percent chance the Yankees somehow win the World Series this year. I think there is only a slightly higher chance they make a significant run in the playoffs. But, the standings tell me they are only four games out of a playoff spot and the calendar tells me it is only June, so I wouldn’t sell just yet.

Now if a team wants to overwhelm the Yankees with prospects for the likes of Beltran or Chapman right now, I would jump at that, but barring that type of offer, what is the harm in waiting until we are close to the trade deadline? That may actually increase the value of the some of these players as desperate teams make stupid moves.

What I would do now is make sure that I don’t disrupt the future in any way. No trades to try to upgrade this flawed team first of all, but more than that I would look to maximize the future assets and minimize some of the ones heading out the door.

First, why is Ivan Nova in the rotation at the expense of Severino? Nova is a free agent after this season and has an ERA over 5 and a FIP just under 5. He is the past, Severino is the future, bring him up and let him learn to pitch in the bigs.

Second, until Teixeira returns, Refsnyder is the first baseman, and after that he gets to play a utility role around the diamond so the Yankees can see what his bat can do.

Third, when/if Teixeira returns you play him as much as possible to see if you can find anyone to trade for him, or if he will hit enough to make a qualifying offer, and therefore a draft pick, a good idea. But, if he keeps going the way he was going previously, you start phasing him out in August.

Finally, you minimize A-Rod at DH and put Beltran in there more frequently. That will allow the Yankees to see Hicks more, and decide what he is, 4th outfielder or potential starter, and protect Beltran as potential trade bait in July.

And here’s the most important thing. If they do go the sell route, they need to do it right. That means not trying to compete next year, but solidifying a decent prospect base with plenty of more assets and looking to 2018 as a realistic timeframe to compete again. But more on that later.

Worst Loss Ever!

To quote Comic Book Guy, last night was the worst loss ever.

At least as far as regular season games go.  Bases loaded, no one out in the bottom of the 9th.  How did the Red Sox mess this up?  John Farrell found a way.  First, he pinch hit Dustin Pedroia for Travis Shaw.  Shaw would have been going against a lefty, so I have no major beef with this move, except that Christian Vazquez was on deck and he has been a complete disaster at the plate for the past several weeks.  Why not let Shaw have a crack at it and pinch hit for Vazquez instead?  Both Shaw and Vazquez have been struggling but Shaw is the better hitter.

Pedroia struck out, Vazquez hit a fielder’s choice to the catcher.  Next, Farrell pinch hit for Marco Hernandez with a guy making his major league debut in Ryan LaMarre.  Nothing against LaMarre, but when your first major league at bat is with the bases loaded and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th, there is a fair chance you’ve never been more nervous.  And nervous he was.  First pitch, foul.  Second pitch, swing and a miss and a miss by 1 foot, a very weak and nervous swing.  Third pitch, swing and a miss, inning over.

Craig Kimbrel coughed it up in the top of the 10th and the Red Sox went on to lose 3-1.  This was a crushing loss.  If any one of those 3 had a hit, I probably wouldn’t be writing about but a manager’s job is to improve the odds and put people in positions they can succeed.  LaMarre was in way over his head and that blame falls on Farrell.

We’ll see how the Red Sox recover from this one.

First Is Cursed!

I don’t think I have ever seen a depth chart at a single position get decimated in the way the Yankees’ first base situation has been. Let’s recap.

1- Greg Bird, first baseman of the future and the insurance to a Mark Teixeira injury, goes down in the offseason with season-ending shoulder surgery.

2- Dustin Ackley, the new backup first baseman, hurts his shoulder on a slide and has season-ending, shoulder surgery.

3- Mark Teixeria gets hurt and may require season-ending surgery. He might also come back.

4- Chris Parmalee, the guy they invited to camp when Bird was injured and stashed in the minors, gets hurt catching a throw to first. He has a grade 2, hamstring tear, and will probably miss two months.

So first of all, Rob Refsnyder should get an exorcism performed on the first base area.  Second, this could be a good development long-term.

The Yankees don’t have a position for Refsnyder. He isn’t good enough at second for them. He took a couple of balls off his face at third and they soured on that idea. His arm hasn’t starred in the outfield. But they like his bat and if he hits, they can figure out ways to accommodate his glove.

Ideally, Refsnyder can become a multi-positional talent. If they can put him anywhere on the field, except catcher, center, and short, that is a huge asset to have. They can tolerate a below-average glove if they can hide it by moving it around the diamond.

And ultimately that is what 2016 should be about for this team- experimenting. See what Refsnyder can do at first, and with the bat. See if Pineda can turn into the pitcher his stuff says he should can be. See if Hicks is worth developing, and if Romine has a bigger future than backup catcher.  See what Chapman and Beltran can get you on the trade market, instead of the draft pick down the road.

The Yankees won’t do that unless things fall apart in the next month. Barring that, the best a fan can hope for is last year’s approach- do no harm. The 2016 Yankees could be a lot of things, champions seems the most unlikely. Make sure you don’t mortgage the future to chase an impossible dream.

 

The A-Rod Problem

The Yankees short-circuited Alex Rodriguez’s return to the lineup last night by suddenly sending him to Trenton and making it sound like he won’t be back in the Bronx until tomorrow at the earliest. That’s a short term answer to what is looking like a long term problem- A Rod’s lack of flexibility.

The Yankees decided last year that Alex is only a DH now. That handcuffs Joe Girardi when he is making out a lineup as he can’t DH other guys without sitting Alex, but other guys are clearly good DH candidates. When Alex is hitting, that’s a small sacrifice, but when he isn’t it is a real problem.

And Alex hasn’t really hit this year. He was actually starting to hit when he got hurt, but his overall numbers are ugly- .194/.275/.444  Add in the fact that Carlos Beltran is clearly not a good fielder anymore and you can make a convincing argument that Beltran should be the full-time DH. The problem with that is then you start Aaron Hicks presumably, and he hasn’t hit enough to justify that.

For now the Yankees should run Alex out there most of the time. When they face a LHP they should always use him. When they face a tough righty, they should consider benching him and let Beltran DH. Try that until the All-Star Break and see what happens. If Alex hits reasonably well, keep that plan in place. But if he continues to hit the way he has until now, then the Yankees need to reduce his AB’s even further and start to think about cutting ties permanently with him.

At The Quarter Pole

The Yankees entered the second quarter of their season last night and are still sub-.500, but are within three games of that mark for the first time in 22 games.

The offense has looked better, scoring runs at a rate of 4.42 per game in May versus 3.36 in April. The pitching has been better too, dropping the runs allowed from 4.73 in April to 4.11 in May. So the trends are positive, but the questions still linger. Here are my questions heading into the second quarter.

1- Will the starters do enough? The formula is simple, six innings and then the Big 3. But the starters aren’t even averaging six innings an appearance and their cumulative ERA of 4.82 is 23rd in MLB. If you want a reason for optimism, every starter has a FIP lower than their current ERA.

2- Is there someone who can provide a “4th” arm out of the bullpen? The Yankees will need someone else besides the Big 3 to step up and be able to provide outs in a big spot. I don’t think Chason Shreve is that guy. Is it Goody or Yates? That’s a big question.

3- Is Texeira’s start a sign or a fluke? Advanced stats are mixed on this one. His walk rate and line drive rates are encouraging, but his strike out rate has surged as has his ground ball rate. Furthermore, his BABIP is .265, so bad luck isn’t really an issue.

4- Is Girardi going to implode before the All-Star Break? I worry about Joe, he just looks stressed and I think he is managing stressed. He pulled Eovaldi from a one-hitter the other night after 85 pitches and went to the Big 3. He can’t keep doing that.

5- Is the bench going to help? Hicks looks better, though his overall numbers are bad. Ackley has done nothing of note, and Torreyes is fading fast. Could the Yankees look to Refsnyder as the permanent bench player?

Overall, you have to give the Yankees a grade of C- or D+ so far, which is better than the F they would have earned two weeks ago. But it is also a long way from where they want to be.

Keep On Shuffling

The Yankees overhauled their roster before tonight’s game to get fresh arms, and a full bench. Phil Coke is DFA’ed. While Chad Green and Conor Mullee are headed back to Scranton. In their place are Luis Cesna, James Pazos, and Rob Refsnyder.

I wouldn’t expect any of them to last long. Refsnyder is probably only here until A-Rod is ready to return later this week. Cessna or Pazos will be sent down when Saabthia is brought back Friday, and the other may be sent down for Johnny Barbato, who is eligible to return on the 19th. But, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Yankees are using their 40-man roster efficiently, spreading out the innings over 15 or so pitchers instead of the usual 12. The way the starting pitching has been recently, don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

Better

I won’t argue that the Yankees have a long way to go. They are still four games under .500 and buried in the AL East. But make no mistake, they sent a message with this homestead. Winning series against Boston, Kansas City, and Chicago, is no easy feat, and neither is a 7-3 homestead.  Coming home with a 9-17 record, The Yankees had to rise to the occasion, and they did.

How did they do it? Much better offense and great bullpen work. In fact, while the offense was the chief worry coming into this homestead, I would suggest the rotation is the biggest one leaving it. Tanaka hasn’t looked great the last two times out, and he had been their only consistent starter.  Sabathia and Severino are on the DL, while Pineda looks completely lost. Chad Green will make his MLB-debut tomorrow and the Yankees will have to cross their fingers that he can give them some innings.

Now they head onto the road for seven games, return home for three games, and then head on the road for eight more. It’s part of an overall stretch where the Yankees are going to play 40 games in 41 days from May 2nd to June 12th, thanks to the earlier rain out in Detroit. That will test their depth and their resolve. One challenge down, plenty still to come.