The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Archive for the ‘Misc’

Look who’s coming to camp: Sorting through 65-man spring roster02.05.16

Mark Teixeira, Aaron Judge

The Yankees have announced their complete list of non-roster invitations to big league camp. With those 25 names, the team now has 65 players reporting to big league camp. That includes Greg Bird, who obviously won’t be playing because of shoulder surgery, but it does not include Lane Adams, who is still in DFA limbo and could be added to the list if he clears waivers. Here’s a look through all all the players who will be at Steinbrenner Field later this month.

SeverinoSTARTING PITCHERS (15)

On the 40-man: Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa
Minor league free agents: Anthony Swarzak, Richard Bleier, Tyler Cloyd
Organizational prospects: James Kaprielian, Brady Lail, Chad Green, Domingo German
Notable omissions: Caleb Smith, Eric Ruth, Jordan Montgomery, Cale Coshow, Ian Clarkin

No real surprises among the pictures left out of big league camp, but Smith and Ruth are notable because they’re coming off pretty good seasons in Double-A. The fact they’re not coming to big league camp makes me think they’re behind Lail, Green, Swarzak, Bleier and Cloyd for Triple-A rotation jobs. We know they’re behind Cessa and Mitchell (assuming Mitchell isn’t on the big league roster). I assume the Yankees had to guarantee German an invitation to big league camp in order to re-sign him to a minor league deal after his non-tender this winter.

BetancesRIGHT-HANDED RELIEVERS (9)

On the 40-man: Dellin Betances, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Johnny Barbato, Kyle Yates, Vicente Campos
Minor league free agents: Vinnie Pestano, Diego Moreno
Organizational prospects: None
Notable omissions: Mark Montgomery, Chance Adams, Gabe Encinas

Because they Yankees have so many relievers on their 40-man roster, it’s little surprise that they didn’t invite many extras to big league camp. Pestano stands out as a minor league free agent with a real chance to make the Opening Day roster (his best years have been plenty good enough to stick in the big leagues). The omissions come as little surprise, but it would have been interesting to see the Yankees invite Adams, a college reliever they drafted just last year. I’m listing Campos as a reliever, though I’m really not sure whether the Yankees plan to use him as a starter or reliever this season.

ChapmanLEFT-HANDED RELIEVERS (7)

On the 40-man: Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, Tyler Olson
Minor league free agents: None
Organizational prospects: Tyler Webb
Notable omissions: Dietrich Enns

Again, the Yankees have so many relievers on their 40-man that there was little need to add more to the spring training clubhouse. Webb was a no-brainer after a good Triple-A season that ended with an injury and an assignment to the Arizona Fall League. He probably can’t make the team out of spring training, but he should be in the conversation for a mid-season call-up assuming he keeps getting lefties out in Triple-A. There’s no way to know, but I do wonder if the Yankees would have invited Evan Rutckyj to camp. He was a Rule 5 pick and will be in camp with the Braves, but I’m not sure he would have gotten so much as a non-roster invitation with the Yankees.

SanchezCATCHERS (9)
On the 40-man: Brian McCann, Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine
Minor league free agents: Carlos Corporan, Sebastian Valle, Eddy Rodriguez, Francisco Diaz
Organizational prospects: Kyle Higashioka, Santiago Nessy
Notable omissions: Luis Torrens

Coming back from shoulder surgery, Torrens was a long-short for an invitation (no reason to risk him trying to make a big impression and hurting himself again). Otherwise, this group is predictably loaded with minor league free agents and fringe prospects. Higashioka was technically a minor league free agent this winter, but he’s spent his career in the Yankees organization. Nessy is the rare minor league Rule 5 pick who’s actually a little bit interesting. He used to be a fairly highly regarded catching prospect in the Blue Jays organization. The big name here is Corporan, the veteran defensive standout coming to camp to compete with Sanchez and Romine for the backup job in New York.

TeixeiraINFIELDERS (15)

On the 40-man: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Dustin Ackley, Rob Refsnyder, Greg Bird, Ronald Torreyes
Minor league free agents: Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma, Jonathan Diaz, Deibinson Romero
Organizational prospects: Tyler Wade, Jorge Mateo
Notable omissions: Miguel Andujar, Cito Culver

As of last spring, the Yankees were still bringing Culver to camp and hoping for an offensive breakthrough. But it seems that hope has faded as he lost his everyday shortstop gig last season and no longer warrants a look in big league camp. Webb seemed like a safe bet for an invitation, but Mateo was a little less certain only because he’s so young and at least a year or two away from the big league radar. Romero is a fairly recent minor league signing, a bit of third base depth that’s put up pretty good Triple-A numbers in the past. The other minor league free agents are glove-first options.

EllsburyOUTFIELDERS (10)

On the 40-man: Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Aaron Hicks, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel
Minor league free agents: Cesar Puello
Organizational prospects: Aaron Judge, Dustin Fowler
Still in limbo: Lane Adams
Notable omissions: Tyler Austin, Taylor Dugas, Mark Payton

If Adams clears waivers and stays with the Yankees, he’ll presumably be added to the list of non-roster invitees. With him in limbo, it’s interesting that the Yankees didn’t invite Austin, one of the few right-handed, upper-level outfielders in the system. Makes me think Puello — a former Mets prospect signed in December — is ahead of Austin in the Triple-A pecking order. That, coupled with Brian Cashman’s comments about Austin not being considered for first base in Triple-A, makes me wonder if Austin’s a candidate for release this spring. Given the considerable outfield depth, it’s telling that Fowler was invited. His breakout season clearly resonated with the organization.

Associated Press photo

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Yankees announce 25 non-roster invitations to big league camp02.05.16

Mateo Jorge milb

The Yankees have announced their non-roster invitations, and they include only a handful of surprises. Perhaps most notable is the inclusion of last year’s top draft pick James Kaprielian and young shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo. Among the notable omissions are outfielder Tyler Austin and another former top draft pick, Cito Culver, each of whom has been invited to camp in recent years.

In addition to every player on the 40-man roster, here’s the list of non-roster invitations:

STARTING PITCHERS
RHP James Kaprielian
RHP Brady Lail
RHP Domingo German
RHP Chad Green
LHP Richard Bleier
RHP Tyler Cloyd
RHP Anthony Swarzak

RELIEF PITCHERS
LHP Tyler Webb
RHP Diego Moreno
RHP Vinnie Pestano

CATCHERS
Carlos Corporan
Francisco Diaz
Sebastian Valle
Kyle Higashioka
Eddy Rodriguez
Santiago Nessy

INFIELDERS
Jorge Mateo
Tyler Wade
Jonathan Diaz
Pete Kozma
Donovan Solano
Deibinson Romero

OUTFIELDERS
Aaron Judge
Dustin Fowler
Cesar Puello

MILB.com photo

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Sign of the times: Will batting averages climb as the game re-adjusts?02.05.16

Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill

One negative side effect of that 1998 Yankees team is that it set an unrealistic standard of what a good team is supposed to be. In most situations, it’s an unfair comparison. It’s like using Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle as the standard for a good player. A player doesn’t have to be a Hall of Famer to be really, really good. A team doesn’t have to be one of the most successful of all time to be a World Series contender.

But for the purposes of today’s Pinch Hitter topic, let’s go back to that 1998 Yankees team.

As Mike mentioned this morning, those ’98 Yankees hit .288 as a team, a full 37 points better than the 2015 Yankees and 18 points better than any team in the American League last season. (By the way, the ’98 Yankees also hit quite a few home runs and had a terrific pitching staff, but I suppose that’s beside the point.)

Here’s the thing about that ’98 team batting average, though: the Yankees didn’t even lead the league that season. The Rangers had the highest team batting average in 1998. The average American League team hit .271 that season, which is better than the A.L. leading Tigers hit in 2015. The league’s worst team batting average in 1998 would have been the fifth-best in 2015.

Jacoby EllsburyIt really was a different game back then. And in some ways, baseball might have to cycle through a new generation of players to fully adapt to the changes.

Players don’t hit for the same average these days. That’s true in the Bronx and it’s true throughout baseball. Some of that is surely because pitchers throw so hard. Some of that is certainly because improved data has improved defensive positioning. And some of that is because hitters were taught to play baseball in one era and now find themselves playing in another era.

Why doesn’t Mark Teixeira bunt more often? Because that’s not what Teixeira has been trained to do. Why doesn’t Brian McCann go the other way more often? Because that’s not the way he hits. No hitter likes to drift away from his most potent strength — most hitters who struggle with the shift seem to be power hitters, and teams don’t want them to stop taking swings that might lead to home runs — but old dogs aren’t the only ones who sometimes have trouble learning new tricks. Old baseball players, it seems, have the same problem.

As the game changes, though, players have changed. And so, it seems, have the Yankees.

Greg Bird is a left-handed power hitter, but he’s not a pure pull hitter like McCann. Maybe that’s just Bird’s nature as a hitter, but it may also be the product of a player who’s 10 years younger than McCann and learned to hit in an era of defensive shifts with an emphasis on hitting to all fields.

The Yankees have also moved away from hitters whose value is linked to pull power. Sure, they’ve focused on some of those sort of hitters when they’ve gone bargain shopping — looking for a player who might out-play his contract, it makes sense to try a guy who might hit a few extra home runs at Yankee Stadium — but aside from McCann, their recent investments have been in players who are a little more multi-dimensional at the plate (the Jacoby Ellsbury contract and Brett Gardner extension were specific attempts to become less dependent on home runs; Mike mentioned that Starlin Castro has found success working toward the opposite field a little more often).

Hitting for average isn’t the only reason the Yankees won so many games in 1998, and simply hitting for a higher average in 2016 wouldn’t be enough to replicate that level of success.

Associated Press photo

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Pinch hitting: Mike Pinto02.05.16

Brian McCann

Our next Pinch Hitter is Mike Pinto, a 57-year-old whose earliest baseball memory is Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run. Mike was at Yankees Stadium in 1977 when Reggie Jackson had his three homer game, and he ran on the field after the Yankees won the World Series. “Grabbed a clump of infield grass as a souvenir,” he wrote, “and planted it in my back yard in Brooklyn.” You can follow Mike on Twitter: @MikePintoNYY

For his post, Mike wrote about a familiar problem with the Yankees’ lineup: the abundance of players prone to low batting averages because of the shift.

Mark TeixeiraShift happens

One of my concerns before the 2015 season, was that the Yankees batting order was way too left-handed — when a righty was on the mound, every starting position player would be batting lefty — and the pull-happy lineup would once again be victimized by extreme defensive shifts.

Looking back now, the offense performed the way I thought it would (other than A-Rod unexpectedly hitting 33 home runs).

They hit more team home runs (212) but also continued a lack of hitting for average. Carlos Beltran led all regulars with a .276 batting average. In 2014, the Yanks finished 14th out of 15 in the A.L. when it came to on-base percentage, and Jacoby Ellsbury led the team with only a .271 batting average, yet all we heard from Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman after the ’14 season was that the Yankees didn’t hit enough homers. No mention of the good old fashion stat called batting average.

Last year made two years in a row that not one Yankees batter with a qualifying number of plate appearances hit above .276. Think about that!

My point: the Yankee obsession with left-handed batters trying to pull the ball, plus the proliferation of extreme shifts, equals low batting averages and a brand of baseball not conducive for postseason success.

It’s bad timing to be loading up on lefty bats (many of them slow footed) when the league has become completely shift oriented.

Yes, Chris Young and the backup catchers were right-handed, and you can throw in the light-hitting backup infielder Brendan Ryan, but overwhelmingly the position players the past two years were left-handed.

Outfield: Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran(S), Heathcott, Williams, Flores, Jones
Infield: Headley(S), Gregorius, Drew, Teixeira(S), Johnson, Roberts(S)
Catcher: McCann

At the trading deadline in ’14, the Yankees did trade for right-hander Martin Prado who hit .316 in August and September, but he was quickly traded off. And at the ’15 deadline, they traded for another lefty in Dustin Ackley.

This is not by chance. This is by design.

No team sees more shifts, and no team sees more hits taken away, than the Yankees. There are no situational adjustments. No bunting to third base at opportune times. No premium placed on hitting to all fields and hence hitting for high average and on-base percentage. And most importantly, no recognition by management that the Yankees have gotten away from the offensive formula that helped them win four World Series championships in five years from 1996 to 2000.

If that’s too long ago for you to remember, or if you weren’t around, all you had to do was watch the 2015 Royals. Kansas City hit for average, hit to all fields, and were situational. They were “grinders” who tried to get on base not hit home runs. When they got on base, they forced the opposition into mistakes with their aggressive base running. They trusted each other using a “keep the line moving” attitude. They reminded me so much of the late ’90′s Yankees, and it frustrated me because the Yankees have changed the culture and philosophy of that dynasty team.

Well, with that all in mind, I now see a potential positive shift in philosophy.

Starlin Castro2016: Shift In The Right Direction?

First off, let me say kudos to Cashman on the trade for Starlin Castro. Adam Warren was a versatile and valuable pitcher, but this was a good deal.

Second base has obviously been a position of need since the Yanks parted ways with Robinson Cano. Just as importantly, the right-handed bat of Castro will help balance out the lefty hitting lineup. Castro turns only 26 in March, and has a manageable contract. He is also the type of right-handed hitter that can benefit from the short porch in right field because he can hit to the opposite field.

I found his one-on-one interview with Meredith Marakovits on the YES Network back in December to be enlightening. Castro said he got off to a really bad start last season because he was trying to pull everything. The adjustment he made was closing his stance (bringing his left foot closer to the plate) which helped him drive the ball to right field, which he feels is his natural way of hitting.

The success of Castro could become more than just filling one position of need. It could more importantly bring a shift in the overall philosophy of the Yankees. The short dimensions in right field at Yankees Stadium could help him hit more home runs while at the same time not being victimized by the shift because he hits to all fields. Castro has the potential to be a .300 hitter. That would be refreshing.

Of all the dynasty years, 1998 was the best. The ’98 Yankees won a staggering 125 games – 114 in the regular season and another 11 in the postseason, including a four-game sweep of the World Series.

Did they hit for average? Oh boy, did they hit for average!

Bernie Williams: .339 (A.L. batting title)
Derek Jeter: .324
Paul O’Neill: .317

And how about this stat: the ’98 Yanks had a team .288 batting average!

Also in ’98, when Ken Griffey Jr. hit 56, Sammy Sosa 66 and Mark McGwire 70 home runs, the Yankees did not have anyone hit more than 28 homers (Tino Martinez)

Hopefully Castro (and soon Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge) show that in this new age of non-stop shifts, right-handed hitters with opposite field power can be as good and possibly a better approach to targeting the short porch in right field.

Associated Press photos

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On the 40-man: Brian McCann02.04.16

Brian McCann

Up next in our look through every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster is the team’s everyday catcher, who was an early target two winters ago when the team didn’t have a proven everyday catcher on the roster. Rather than roll the dice with Francisco Cervelli or a prospect, the Yankees gave Brian McCann a five-year deal. His left-handed swing seemed like a good fit for Yankee Stadium, but his numbers so far have not matched those he put up in Atlanta. 

McCannBRIAN McCANN

Age on Opening Day: 32
Acquired: Free agent signing in November 2013
Added to the 40-man: Made his Major League debut June 10, 2005

In the past: The Braves second-round pick in 2002, McCann was part of a wave of homegrown players who filled key roles in Atlanta through much of the past decade. He’s a seven-time All-Star, six-time Silver Slugger and gets favorable reviews from his pitching staff. Pitch framing information suggests he’s usually helped the pitching staff by getting borderline strikes. Last season he set a new career high with 26 home runs and tied a career high with 94 RBI, but his OPS was still well below his career numbers.

Role in 2016: Starting catcher, left-handed power bat, and possibly mentor to the guy who will eventually replaced him behind the plate. McCann isn’t fighting for a job, and his expectations are pretty obvious. The Yankees expect him to lead the pitching staff and hit some home runs. If Gary Sanchez makes the team as the backup catcher, McCann will also be asked to teach the organization’s top young catcher how to do the job at the big league level. All of these things seem to come naturally to McCann. He’s emerged as a clubhouse leader in his two years with the Yankees.

Best-case scenario: At this point, it makes little sense to expect McCann to hit for the kind of average he had during his best years in Atlanta, but he’s coming off a Silver Slugger season, so it’s perfectly reasonable to hope for 25-plus home runs and close to 100 RBI. Being a true power threat is a big part of McCann’s ideal season. He’s also capable of being one of the better pitch framers in the game, helping coax a strong season out of a shaky pitching staff. His ability to throw out runners has improved since he joined the Yankees. The best-case scenario also includes Sanchez playing well enough that McCann can take somewhat regular days off to stay healthy and productive, but an All-Star caliber season isn’t out of the question for McCann.

Worst-case scenario: The shift has already taken away some of McCann’s offensive value, and last season’s numbers suggest he’s also gotten worse at framing pitches (or at least, he’s not standing out like he used to). The worst-case scenario is that years of carrying a heavy workload in Atlanta are starting to take their toll, and McCann is on the verge of a steep decline. He’s gone through offensive droughts in recent years. A sustained drought would leave the Yankees without one of their trusted run producers, perhaps before Sanchez is ready to step in and fill the void.

What the future holds: McCann is under contract through 2018 with a team option for 2019. Ideally, he’ll begin to yield some of the catching duties to Sanchez, and he could transition into more of a DH/C within the next couple of years (especially after Alex Rodriguez is gone; and if Sanchez lives up to his billing). McCann still has more than half of his contract remaining, so even as the Yankees’ top catching prospect is on the verge of a big league job, McCann still has a future with the team. How productive that future will be remains uncertain and difficult to predict.

Associated Press photo

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Expecting significant turnover when non-roster invitations announced02.04.16

Joe Girardi

People keep asking when the Yankees are going to announce their non-roster invitations to big league camp. My short answer is: I’m not sure, but it should be any day now. Last year, the Yankees announced their non-roster invitations on February 5, so that’s a year from tomorrow.

What I know for certain is that there should be quite a bit of turnover from last year’s group.

Last spring, the Yankees wound up inviting a total of 68 players to big league camp. They initially had 66 — counting the guys on the 40-man roster — then they added two more right before pitchers and catchers officially showed up.

Of those 68 players invited a year ago, 30 are no longer in the organization. Another four or five should not be considered locks for a big league invitation this spring. That means half of the guys invited to camp last year might not be back this year.

SabathiaSTARTERS
14 invited last year, 5 no longer with the team
Still in the organization: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, Vicente Campos, Domingo German
No longer with the team: Chris Capuano, Chase Whitley, Jose De Paula, Scott Baker, Kyle Davies

Most of the rotation turnover involves depth options who played small roles last season (if they played a role at all). Of the returning starters, Campos might be more of a bullpen option at this point, and German might not get a big league invitation after his Tommy John surgery. We already know a few new starters who will be brought into camp this spring: Luis Cessa has a 40-man spot, Anthony Swarzak (if he’s going to be stretched out) should be there on a minor league deal, and surely Brady Lail will get an invitation after getting to Triple-A last season. I also assume minor league free agent Richard Bleier was guaranteed a big league invitation when he signed his minor league contract.

MillerRELIEVERS
20 invited last year, 10 no longer with the team
Still in the organization: Dellin Betances, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, Diego Moreno, Andrew Miller, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, James Pazos
No longer with the team: Justin Wilson, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Chris Martin, Jose Ramirez, Danny Burawa, Andrew Bailey, Wilking Rodriguez, Jared Burton

The Yankees had a total of 14 right-handed relievers in big league camp last season, and only five of them are still with the organization. Of those five, Moreno is not on the 40-man and not necessarily guaranteed a big league invitation. From the other side, the Yankees brought six left-handed relievers to camp last spring and still have five of those. Still, that’s pretty significant turnover with only half of last spring’s relievers still in the organization. Obviously Aroldis Chapman will be there this year. So will relatively minor 40-man roster additions Kirby Yates and Tyler Olson, and prospect Johnny Barbato has been moved to the 40-man roster as well. We also already know veteran Vinnie Pestano will be there on a minor league deal.

SanchezCATCHERS
9 invited last year, 4 no longer with the team
Still in the organization: Brian McCann, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Eddy Rodriguez, Kyle Higashioka
No longer with the team: John Ryan Murphy, Juan Graterol, Francisco Arcia, Trent Garrison

Most significant change here is trading away Murphy and signing Carlos Corporan to a minor league deal. I suppose Graterol has basically been replaced by minor league free agent Sebastian Valle, and Francisco Arcia is essentially replaced by Francisco Diaz. We’ll see what over low-level organizational catchers gets a chance to come to big league camp to catch a few bullpens and maybe get some at-bats, but it’s basically the same old story. Always a lot of catchers brought to big league camp. Last year, the Yankees had to decide between Romine and Murphy for the backup role in New York. This year, it seems they’ll have to choose from Romine, Sanchez and Corporan.

CastroINFIELDERS 
15 invited last year, 8 no longer with the team
Still in the organization: Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder, Cito Culver
No longer with the team: Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan, Garrett Jones, Kyle Roller, Jose Pirela, Cole Figueroa, Nick Noonan, Jonathan Galvez

Because he’s on the 40-man roster, I suppose Bird will technically be allowed in big league camp, but he obviously won’t be doing anything. I’m also not sure Culver will be invited back after another disappointing season at the plate. It’s entirely possible the Yankees will have just five returning infielders from last year’s spring training roster. Among those lost are three guys who spent most of the season in the big leagues, so that’s a significant turnover. Obviously Starlin Castro will be taking Drew’s spot, and this winter’s transaction champion Ronald Torreyes will essentially take Pirela’s spot. We also know Dustin Ackley will be there, and minor league free agents Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano and Jonathan Diaz will be this year’s version of Figueroa, Noonan and Galvez. Question is, will the Yankees add a first baseman? Last spring, the team had Bird, Jones and Roller providing insurance at first. This year? Not much.

GardnerOUTFIELDERS
10 invited last year, 3 no longer with the team
Still in the organization: Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin
No longer with the team: Chris Young, Ramon Flores, Jake Cave

One free agent, one trade and one Rule 5 pick have slightly thinned the Yankees’ outfield options, but that’s not an issue. The Yankees are still deep in the outfield and won’t have any problem finding enough outfielders to get through spring training. Aaron Hicks is taking over the platoon role, and Ben Gamel is basically a one-for-one replacement for Flores. There’s always a chance Cave will be back before the end of spring training, and Lane Adams will surely be invited if he clears waivers and stays with the organization. Worth wondering whether the Yankees will bring Austin back to big league camp, and whether they’ll see enough playing time to be worth inviting Dustin Fowler.

Associated Press photo

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Key Yankees trios extend from the bullpen to the bench02.04.16

Andrew Miller

When the Red Sox paid a hefty prospect price for Craig Kimbrel, effectively setting a high price for a dominant relief pitcher, the Yankees owed it to themselves to explore the market for Andrew Miller.

It was never particularly likely that Miller would be enough to fetch the sort of rotation upgrade the Yankees were looking for, but Brian Cashman wasn’t given much wiggle room with the payroll, and so he had to explore every alternative. I don’t think he really wanted to trade away Shane Greene, John Ryan Murphy or Adam Warren, but he ultimately decided the price was right. He had to check into the same thing with Miller.

In the end, I agree with what Nick wrote in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post. I think the Yankees ultimately made the right choice in keeping Miller. They simply weren’t going to get enough in return to make such a trade worthwhile.

But keeping Miller has created an interesting situation for the Yankees, one which the value of one player is tied to him being a part of a larger group. Having Miller is one thing. Having a proven closer is great, but having an interchangeable late-inning trio is a real game-changer.

Here’s a look through a few interconnected trios on this Yankees team. Which would be most weakened by a single player getting hurt or having a brutal season?

ChapmanThe late-inning relievers – Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances

Obviously, this is the group that sparked this idea. The Yankees were awfully good last year with Justin Wilson as the third late-inning reliever. In theory, they should be a little better with Chapman in the mix, if only because it really gives Joe Girardi the versatility to use each of these guys in whatever role he deems necessary. Losing even one of these guys would significantly change the dynamic. Doesn’t matter which one. Playing with two dominant relievers instead of three brings less flexibility, less depth, and increases the likelihood of a lesser reliever handling a pivotal situation.

Who would be the fourth piece? Ideally, I guess it would be Chasen Shreve, but really it could be any one of the young relievers fighting for a job in spring training. Doesn’t really matter who it is, as long as someone steps forwards and sets himself apart as a guy who could capably plug a hole should one of these three be unavailable. Nick Rumbelow? Jacob Lindgren? Branden Pinder? James Pazos? Doesn’t matter who, but it would be helpful to have someone step up.

TanakaThe hold-your-breath starters – Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi

Luis Severino is young, CC Sabathia is old, and Ivan Nova is unpredictable – we’re well aware there’s not a particularly reliable starter on the Yankees’ roster – but I’m singling out the three above because they each carry some obvious injury concerns along with some obvious reasons for optimism should they stay healthy enough for 30-plus starts. Severino and Sabathia will also factor heavily into whether the Yankees have a good or bad rotation, but it’s Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi who stand out to me as the real difference makers. Either they’re good, or they’re basically non-factors.

Who would be the fourth piece? I guess that’s Nova, in that he’s the guy who would most likely step into the rotation should one of these three go down with an injury. Might also be Bryan Mitchell, who brings his own sort of wild-card quality. Impressive arm, but if the Yankees need him, can he use that arm to become an impressive Major League starter?

TeixeiraThe limited-flexibility hitters – Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Greg Bird

That’s limited defensive flexibility, the guys limited to first base or DH, and already this group is down to two. Even though Bird wasn’t expected to make the big league roster, his value to the Yankees was significant because he gave the team depth behind two of its most important and most volatile hitters. Sure, Teixeira is a good defender, but most of his value comes from his bat (all of A-Rod’s value comes that way). Having Bird in the mix brought some comfort, because it meant the Yankees had a clear contingency plan. Cutting this trio to a duo has left the Yankees vulnerable.

Would would be the fourth piece? That’s the big question, isn’t it? If Rodriguez were to go down, the fourth piece would probably be Carlos Beltran, with Aaron Hicks or one of the Triple-A outfielders stepping into right field. If Teixeira gets hurt, though, first base would most immediately fall to Dustin Ackley. If he can’t produce, the Yankees will have to either get creative — Brian McCann? Chase Headley? — or go looking for a trade partner.

EllsburyThe everyday outfielders – Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran

Ellsbury and Gardner are easily interchangeable because they’re similar players, but this group can be thought of as a trio because they share an immediate backup. Hicks is second on the depth chart in left field, center field and right field. If any one of the everyday starters goes down, it means more at-bats for Hicks (and more pressure on Hicks to finally live up to his potential as more than a platoon player). These three are also coming off uneven seasons in 2015. Ellsbury and Gardner started out incredible hot, but slowed drastically. Beltran started the season ice cold, but he spent most of the year as the Yankees’ most consistent hitter.

Who would be the fourth piece? Obviously it’s Hicks, but the wild card here might be Aaron Judge. In Hicks and Judge, the Yankees have two fairly young outfielders who the organization believes could become everyday players. If Hicks can’t improve upon his 2015 season, then the Yankees could eventually turn to Judge as the third piece of their regular outfield puzzle.

GregoriusThe left side of the infield – Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro

Aside from first base, these are the Yankees’ everyday infielders. But where they’re most interconnected at the moment is on the left side, where the Yankees have set Castro as the most immediate backup to both Gregorius and Headley. It’s a bit of a dice roll. Sure, the Yankees have guys like Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes who could fill in if necessary, but those are not everyday-type players. They have backup options at second base, which is the reason it would be so helpful to have Castro capable of playing shortstop and third. If one of these three goes down — or if Castro isn’t as versatile as hoped — the left side would be just as vulnerable as first base.

Who would be the fourth piece? The fourth piece that makes this sort of left-side combination work is a combo of Ackley and Rob Refsnyder. If those two weren’t available to handle second base, the Yankees couldn’t very well move Castro to third and short. Next in line if one of these three gets hurt, though? Maybe Kozma? At least he’s a high-end defender with experience.

HicksThe prominent bench players — Aaron Hicks, Dustin Ackley, Rob Refsnyder

Can’t really declare Refsnyder to be the final bench player just yet, but he seems to be as good a fit as anyone at the moment. Obviously the bench will also have a backup catcher, but that’s a pretty specific role. It’s these three who would best provide the Yankees with some versatility, giving Girardi an ability to keep his veteran players rested while giving Hicks, Ackley and Refsnyder somewhat regular at-bats. Last year’s offensive decline seemed to highlight the need for regular days off during the regular season. The bench could be a key piece of the puzzle this season.

Who would be the fourth piece? Out of spring training, I would guess either Slade Heathcott or Ben Gamel. Those two are not naturally fits at the moment because they’re left-handed, but an outfield injury would easily open an opportunity for one of those two (or Mason Williams, who’s coming back from a shoulder injury) to play a bench role. Otherwise, Torreyes stands out because he has options and can shuttle back and forth from Triple-A, playing a true utility role and letting the Yankees really mix and match with that 25th roster spot.

JudgeThe big-name prospects – Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo

An outfielder, a catcher and a shortstop. One likely to open in Triple-A, one a possible favorite to open in the big leagues, the other almost certainly going back to High-A. These three really have nothing to do with one another, except that they’re the high-end prospects that signify some of the improvements within the Yankees’ farm system. If one of them falls flat or gets hurt, it would be a big-time blow to the organization which seems to be finally developing some everyday position players capable of having a real impact in New York.

Who would be the fourth piece? James Kaprielian seems to be generally accepted as the Yankees’ fourth-best prospect, and he’s an important piece of the puzzle because he’s the one best positioned to give the Yankees a standout pitching prospect (which they currently lack now that Luis Severino has graduated to the big leagues). A big year by Kaprielian could further change the perception of the Yankees’ farm system.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Pinch hitting: Nick Kirby02.04.16

Andrew Miller, Brian McCann

Today’s Pinch Hitter is a familiar name for this series. Nick Kirby led off the series last year, and he’s been a series regular the past few winters. Now 23 years old and living Manayunk, PA, Nick graduated from the University of Delaware last year. He roots for the Yankees because of his father, who is from Long Island, and he lists is current hobbies as sales/marketing, health and fitness, and baseball (not necessarily in that order).

For his post this year, Nick takes a look at one of the offseason trade chips who ultimately stayed put.

Andrew MillerThroughout the offseason, there has been constant chatter and speculation regarding the possible trade of Andrew Miller. Brian Cashman, who was asked on November 9 about Miller, did nothing to squash the rumors by saying, “We’re open to all ideas — as always. It doesn’t mean I’d do anything, but if the Dutch never asked the Indians for Manhattan you’d be living in New Jersey.”

I never understood this from the start. The reasoning behind the rumor was that Miller was under a team friendly contract and could possibly fetch a starter. What kind of starter were the Yankees really going to get for a 30-year-old closer? The asking prices for Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller were astronomical, so at best the Yankees would have been looking at a No. 2 starter, but more likely a No. 3. The last thing the yanks need is another average starting pitcher.

The thought was that this would make sense because Dellin Betances could be shifted to the closer role. That’s all well and good, but who would pitch the eighth in that situation? The seventh?

Once Adam Warren and Justin Wilson were dealt, the rumors died down for a bit, but after the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman, they re-intensified. The Yankees could trade Miller and still have an elite one-two back end with Betances and Chapman.

It was a natural reaction to strengthen a weakness (the rotation), but strengthening a strength is another way to improve a club, and that’s what the yanks did with the pen. In reality, acquiring a No. 3 starter wouldn’t have accomplished much. Yes, it would have added pitching depth, but the Yankees already have six starters anyway.

Give me a super pen over another No. 3 starter any day.

Another reason, and maybe the most obvious, for keeping Miller, is that he was simply brilliant last year. Miller converted 36 of 38 saves while pitching to a 2.04 ERA on his to way winning the Mariano Rivera Award for the best relief pitcher in the American League. He is also a consummate professional who doesn’t care what inning he pitches. The man just wants to win, and he has an excellent chance to do that here.

But the biggest reason to keep Miller is Betances.

Betances has logged 174 innings over the past two years, and we saw it catch up with him toward the end of 2015. Betances was still effective, but he looked much more human during August and September then he did during the first half of last season. Betances threw more innings than any other relief pitcher last year, something that the Yankees are hoping to avoid this year. Keeping Miller will allow the Yankees to avoid using Betances for multiple innings at a time, and they can also give him extra days off when the starters can go seven innings.

Removing Miller from the bullpen would mean more innings for a pitcher who’s thrown more than any reliever over the past two seasons.

I understand and acknowledge that the Yankees have question marks in the rotation, and that Miller could have fetched a decent starter. However, the fact is that the Yankees now have a clear identity of a team led by a flame-throwing bullpen. The Royals used that identity to win the World Series last season, and if the yanks can catch a couple breaks and stay healthy, maybe they can do the same.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

On the 40-man: James Pazos02.03.16

Jame Pazos

Because this has been a pretty prospect-heavy day to begin with, I thought we’d continue our look at the Yankees’ 40-man roster by diving into one of the system’s unheralded prospects. Last spring training, the Yankees invited six left-handed relievers into camp, and James Pazos was the least known of the group. This spring, it seems entirely possible — if not likely — the Yankees will bring seven left-handed relievers into camp, but this time Pazos will find himself in the conversation for an Opening Day roster spot. 

PazosJAMES PAZOS

Age on Opening Day: 24
Acquired: 13th round of the 2012 draft
Added to the 40-man: For a September call-up last year

In the past: Drafted out of the University of San Diego and signed for $100,000, Pazos came to the Yankees with a reputation as a “physical and aggressive” reliever, according to Baseball America. He’d worked out of the bullpen in college, and the Yankees never really tested him as a starter. A 2013 trip to the Arizona Fall League put him somewhat on the radar, and he followed that assignment with a strong 2014 season split between Double-A and Triple-A. He opened last season on the disabled list, but once he got going, Pazos put up big strikeout numbers in Triple-A, got a September call-up, and pitched his way onto the Wild Card roster.

Role in 2016: While Pazos has certainly risen up the ladder and put himself on the map, he’s still on a 40-man roster that has five other left-handed relievers (Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren and Tyler Olson). He also has Triple-A lefty Tyler Webb competing for attention and an opportunity. His strong big league debut certainly put Pazos in the conversation for a big league job out of spring training, but it seems unlikely that job will be handed to him without a fight. Beyond Chapman and Miller, my early guess at the lefty pecking order is something like this: Shreve, Pazos, Lindgren, Webb, Olson.

Best-case scenario: With a mid-90s fastball and a slider, Pazos has a pretty typical combination of bullpen weapons. And in the minor leagues, he’s shown a pretty typical combination of high strikeout totals to go with some high walk totals. The best-case scenario is also pretty typical of a young reliever: that he can keep the strikeouts and cut down on the walks. He held Triple-A lefties to only a .179 batting average last season, but he showed reverse splits when he got to the big leagues. Ideally, Pazos could show enough to make the Opening Day roster, start the season as a matchup lefty in the middle innings and eventually prove himself to be capable of handling later innings regardless of matchups.

Worst-case scenario: Even though his overall results were pretty decent, Pazos had the same number of walks as strikeouts during his big league audition last season, and big league lefties actually knocked him around a little bit (they hit .273 against him). If Pazos can’t throw enough strikes or handle enough lefties, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees sticking with him for long. He doesn’t have to be a true matchup guy, but the Yankees are still going to prefer a left-handed reliever who can handle matchups when they arise. If Pazos can’t do the job, he could be quickly overshadowed by the other left-handed options fighting for opportunity and attention.

What the future holds: Because he wasn’t added to the 40-man roster until September, the Yankees never burned an option on Pazos last year. That means he still has three options years left, meaning the Yankees can shuttle him back and forth from Triple-A in 2016, 2017 and 2018 if they wish. Even if they never send him back to the minor leagues, they’ll have team control of Pazos through 2021. In other words, either because he pitches extremely well, or because he simply pitches well enough to be worth keeping around, Pazos could easily stick with the Yankees for several years. Of course, if he’s bad, the Yankees have plenty of alternatives and could move on quickly.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Yankees trio finding its way into Top 100 prospects lists02.03.16

Gary Sanchez, Antoan Richardson

With an MLB Network special, the crew at MLB Pipeline on Friday announced its Top 100 prospects. The announcement came just days after Baseball Prospectus revealed its Top 101 prospects. Lists like these are hardly definitive, but they’re always interesting and perhaps give some perspective on some young players we’ve talked about quite a bit this offseason.

It’s little surprise that Pipeline and Prospectus each included three Yankees — Jorge Mateo, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez — in their rankings. I’m guessing we’ll find the same trio whenever Baseball America announces its own list.

Worth remembering that both Luis Severino and Greg Bird got enough big league time last season to be ineligible for these prospect rankings, so that explains why you don’t see those names anywhere. Here’s a quick look at the Pipeline and Prospectus takes on where the Yankees’ top prospects fit within baseball as a whole.

Mateo Jorge milbMLB Pipleline
No. 30: Jorge Mateo
No. 31: Aaron Judge
No. 59: Gary Sanchez

This was the list announced on Friday, and MLB Pipeline had its top two Yankees ranked slightly ahead of some recent top 10 overall draft picks whose names might be familiar (Jon Gray, Dillon Tate, Carson Fulmer). Pipeline has Mateo ahead of notable shortstop prospects Raul Mondesi and Tim Anderson, each of whom was a top 20 overall selection by Baseball Prospectus. The Pipeline crew seems high on Sanchez, but we already knew that after seeing him ranked second on the Pipeline ranking of the top catching prospects in baseball.

As for raw tools, Pipeline singled out Mateo as being the fastest of all the top 100 prospects. Speed is one thing, “but he’s more than just a raw speedster,” Jim Callis wrote. “He has succeeded on 83 percent of his steal attempts as a pro and led the Minors with 82 in 2015, his first year in full-season ball.” Sanchez was named as “also in the running” for the best arm among position prospects, in the same conversation with third baseman Joey Gallo and outfielder Brett Phillips.

Considering Pipeline ranked the top three Yankees prospects within the top 60, I think you could make the case that, if the list were based on players with less than three months of big league experience — rather than prospects who still have rookie status — the Yankees would have five player in the top 100 with Severino and Bird joining the mix. That’s a strong core of young talent, even if all the pieces don’t show up in the current top 100 lists.

Aaron JudgeBaseball Prospectus
No. 18: Aaron Judge
No. 65: Jorge Mateo
No. 92: Gary Sanchez

After ranking Judge 49th last winter, Baseball Prospectus actually moved him up the list despite a disappointing Triple-A debut. BP has noted Judge’s impressive power potential, ability to play a solid right field, and pretty good approach at the plate (which comes with some inevitable swings and misses). BP seems a little more down on Sanchez and quite a bit higher on some other catchers. In their organizational prospect rankings, BP labeled Sanchez’s future as that of an average big league regular.

In a chat with readers, BP writer Craig Goldstein was asked about Sanchez being ranked behind four other catchers, particularly A’s catcher Jacob Nottingham (who didn’t make Pipeline’s Top 100 and ranked eighth among catchers on Pipeline’s positional list). According to Goldstein: “Sanchez has more power, but comparable hit tools and Nottingham has more value with the glove, as a short answer.” Also in the chat, Goldstein was asked by Judge ranked slightly below two other outfield prospects who landed in the teens. “(Judge is) a fine defender for a corner, with enough athleticism and arm for right field,” Goldstein wrote. “But the two guys named are potential impact defenders in center, which pushed them up the list.”

Asked, for some reason, to rank Yankees starter Luis Severino, Mets starter Steven Matz and Phillies starter Aaron Nola, Goldstein went with Matz followed by Nola followed by Severino. But he noted: “I’m gravely concerned I’m underestimating Severino.”

One other thing from Baseball Prospectus: In a post about 10 players who could jump into the top 100 next year, Yankees shortstop Wilkerman Garcia was singled out. Jeffrey Paternostro wrote: “A strong showing in the New York-Penn League as an 18-year-old (where he will be facing a lot of college arms) would thrust him into the national conversation as one of the better shortstop prospects in baseball.”

We’re still waiting for Baseball America’s top 100 list, but we already know one way in which it should be different from Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline: In its organizational Top 10 rankings, Baseball America had Judge listed third among Yankees prospects behind both Mateo and Sanchez. Both Prospectus and Pipeline consider Sanchez to be the No. 3 Yankees prospect, and Prospectus seems to have Judge

Last year, BA had Severino ranked 35th and Judge ranked 53rd. Obviously Severino has graduated, but I have to imagine Baseball America will find room for that familiar Yankees trio of Judge, Mateo and Sanchez on its own Top 100 list. I doubt they’ll extend beyond those three — James Kaprielian just doesn’t strike me as a Top 100 guy right now, especially such a limited pro debut — but I’m guessing the other three will be in the top 100 somewhere.

These lists don’t prove anything. They just give a glimpse from the outside looking in, providing some perspective of how a third party views the Yankees top prospects relative to the rest of baseball.

Associated Press and MILB.com photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

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