The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


On the 40-man: Slade Heathcott

Slade Heathcott, Brian McCann, Chris Young

Up next in our look through every member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster is a guy who was not on the 40-man last winter (but was on the 40-man the winter before). Removed from the roster a year ago and brought back last season, Slade Heathcott’s unusual career path now has him in position to compete for a bench role and perhaps fill in as a regular should there be an injury in New York. Of course, Heathcott himself also needs to stay healthy.

HeathcottSLADE HEATHCOTT

Age on Opening Day: 25
Acquired: First-round pick in 2009; re-signed last winter
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 draft November 2013; re-added for a May 20 call-up

In the past: A first-round pick out of high school, Heathcott’s life and career have been tumultuous, including off-the-field difficulties and on-the-field injuries. At his best, he’s been a toolsy center fielder similar to Brett Gardner (perhaps with a better arm and maybe fewer on-base skills). At his worst, Heathcott’s missed significant time with shoulder and knee injuries (before last season he’d only once played more than 76 games in a season). Yet another injury prompted the Yankees to remove Heathcott from their 40-man roster last winter, but he impressed in spring training, got off to a terrific start in Triple-A and made his Major League debut before going down with a quad injury. When Heathcott returned in September, he hit one of the most memorable home runs of the year in a win against the Rays.

Role in 2016: If the Yankees didn’t already have two left-handed, speed-oriented center fielders on their roster, Heathcott might be a favorite to win a bench spot. As it is, the Yankees can more easily find room for a right-handed hitter, which could leave Heathcott back in Triple-A fighting for attention in a crowded outfield with Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, Lane Adams and Aaron Judge. If there’s an injury in New York, Heathcott would seem to be a natural replacement option in at least a platoon role. If nothing else, Heathcott could take advantage of a revolving final bench spot to get at least a little more big league time and make some sort of impact off the bench.

Best-case scenario: Ideally, the Yankees will get full and productive seasons out of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellbury — plus a nice breakout year from Aaron Hicks — all of which would leave Heathcott with very little big league opportunity. But even that might not be the worst thing for Heathcott, who really needs a full healthy season at any level to reestablish himself as a young outfielder capable of becoming an everyday big leaguer. Returning to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and getting close to 500 at-bats would be a terrific sign for Heathcott, boosting his value as either a big league candidate or a trade chip.

Worst-case scenario: How many injuries can a guy handle? Already, Heathcott’s been through more than his share, and the worst-case scenario is that another injury is simply too much. If Heathcott’s knee or shoulder goes out again, the Yankees would have to seriously consider moving on (and they certainly have the depth to do so). Heathcott’s become a popular guy in the Yankees’ system. He’s done a lot to get his life in order and his career back on track, but if he can’t stay healthy, his baseball future will become awfully murky again. The worst-case scenario is that his body simply can’t hold up.

What the future holds: As with so many other young, left-handed outfielders in the Yankees’ system, Heathcott’s future may depend on performance and opportunity. The Yankees simply don’t have enough at-bats to go around should all of their on-the-verge outfielders earn big league playing time, and so someone might have to become a trade chip eventually. If the Yankees can eventually trade Gardner, a better opportunity might present itself, but that’s a concern for another day. For right now, Heathcott needs to prove he can be healthy enough and productive enough for the Yankees to contemplate a future with him in the picture.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 29th, 2016 at 6:04 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Better opportunity awaits some of last year’s September call-ups

J.P. Arencibia, Slade Heathcott

Since the topic of September call-ups was already on the table, I was curious to look back at just how many Yankees were given September call-ups last season. It was a total of 13, with CC Sabathia and Dustin Ackley also activated from the disabled list to further increase the number of active players on the roster (Mark Teixeira was officially placed on the disabled list, which is the only reason there were 39 active players instead of the maximum 40).

Of those 13 September call-ups, how many will have any sort of lasting impact in the Yankees organization?

There are actually quite a few who could stick around to have some sort of long-term role in the organization (one of them has basically guaranteed some sort of footnote in team history by playing a role in acquiring perhaps the best relief pitcher in the game today). Trying to break them into categories, here are the 13 September call-ups from last season. Who’s going to be more than a late-season addition this year?

Yankees Rays BaseballThe guys who see greater opportunity ahead

Gary Sanchez – At this time last year, Sanchez was still facing critics who saw no way for him to stay behind the plate as a big league catcher. Today, those critics still exist, but their voices are being drowned out by those who believe in last year’s improvements. Since September, no one in the organization has seen a door open quite as widely as it opened for Sanchez when the Yankees traded away John Ryan Murphy.

James Pazos – Initially buried beneath the Yankees’ considerable bullpen depth, Pazos took full advantage of his September opportunity by pitching well enough to win a spot on the Wild Card roster ahead of Chasen Shreve and Chris Capuano. Now Pazos finds himself legitimately in the discussion for the Opening Day bullpen. Hard to say who are the favorites for those open spots, but Pazos is certainly in the mix.

Austin Romine – Seems strange to list two catchers as having significantly improved opportunities — especially considering there should be room for only one of them — but Romine was essentially discarded last season and might not have gotten a September call-up if not for a mild Sanchez injury. Being put back on the 40-man roster, though, put Romine right back in the mix, and the Murphy trade has also given Romine at least a chance to make another run at a Yankees bench job. He was nowhere near that possibility on August 31.

The guys who see roughly the same opportunity ahead

Rob Refsnyder – Given the idea of a rotating 25th man and the possibility of using Starlin Castro as a backup third baseman and shortstop, I suppose Refsnyder’s opportunity might be slightly greater than it was at this time last year, but it’s certainly no better than it was when he rejoined the roster in September. The Yankees actively pursued a second baseman to play ahead of Refsnyder, leaving him once again fighting to prove he belongs either in a bench role or as an alternative solution at second base.

Nick Rumbelow – Like Refsnyder, I guess you could make a case that Rumbelow’s opportunity has improved — he’s at least getting mentioned as a bullpen candidate this offseason — but it’s essentially the same situation he was in last year. The Yankees still have a lot of bullpen options, and Rumbelow is simply one of many competing for innings and attention. He was on the radar before he rejoined the team in September, and he’s certainly still on the radar today.

Slade Heathcott – The Yankees still have a left-handed left fielder. They still have a left-handed center fielder. They still have a left-handed second baseman who can play the outfield. And they now have a switch hitter as their fourth outfielder. That means Heathcott is still somewhat stuck as a guy who seems ready to play a big league role, but might not have a spot available. And he’s in that boat with Mason Williams and Ben Gamel (and potentially Jake Cave).

Nick Goody – Late last season, Goody finally found his way onto that Triple-A shuttle between Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and New York. He rode that shuttle one last time as a September call-up, and he seems to still be in line for a seat on that shuttle again this season. Goody is coming off a nice year, but he has limited Triple-A experience compared to some of the other big league bullpen candidate. He’s in a better spot than he was one year ago, but perhaps not in a better spot than he was in September.

Caleb CothamThe guys who were traded away

Caleb Cotham – Wasn’t even invited to big league camp last spring, but he pitched his way into a big league call-up in late July and clearly impressed Joe Girardi. For a while, it seemed Cotham was becoming a favorite, and the Yankees kept him on the roster despite having such an abundance of right-handed alternatives. His biggest impact was ultimately as part of the package used to acquire Aroldis Chapman from the Reds.

Jose Pirela – Given a late September call-up in 2014, it seemed the Yankees were finally really to buy into Pirela’s bat and versatility. He handled lefties pretty well last season, and when last year’s September call-ups first arrived, it seemed Pirela was ahead of Refsnyder in the second base pecking order. That clearly changed by the end of the year, and the Yankees decided to trade Pirela to open a 40-man spot. They got a minor pitching prospect in return.

The guys who were cut loose

Chris Martin – A somewhat surprising choice for the Opening Day roster, Martin had a terrific month of April but ultimately spent much of the season in the minors. He did return in September as a late call-up. He had pretty decent strikeout numbers, and Martin was ultimately granted his release so that he could sign a more lucrative contract to pitch overseas.

Chris Capuano – The bizarre season of Capuano finished with one last call-up in September. He was designated for assignment four times last season, all in the span of a month. The Yankees kept bringing him back just to serve as a guy who could eat fairly meaningless innings. He wound up signing a minor league deal with the Brewers this offseason.

Andrew Bailey – Former Oakland A’s closer finally worked his way back from shoulder surgery and returned to the big leagues. It was a nice story, even if he didn’t put up particularly nice numbers. The fact he stayed healthy enough to actually get back to the Majors was a plus for Bailey, and now he could have an opportunity to make the Phillies bullpen.

Rico Noel – Very different story from Bailey, but another very cool story in its own way. Noel is a one-tool player, but that one tool is really perfect for a September call-up, the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal clearly with September in mind. They even used him mostly as a pinch runner in Triple-A just to get him ready. He came up, stole some bases, and was quickly desiganted for assignment. It doesn’t get more September call-up than that.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 29th, 2016 at 2:56 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

September could provide opportunity for young Yankees standouts

Mateo Jorge milb

Blame it on all those years I spent covering minor league baseball, but I really like September call-ups. Yes, it’s strange to end a season with a different roster setup than was used throughout the year, but I don’t see that as a real problem. As long as everyone is allowed to do it, the playing field remains level. A few things I like about expanded rosters:

1. It rewards a team for having depth. A winning roster in Triple-A is relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but a good Triple-A roster does provide reinforcements, and at the end of the year, teams with strong depth are rewarded with a few extra bodies who can do more than help finish off a lopsided game. If a team is smart enough to stockpile a pure pinch runner or an extra lefty specialist, good for them.

2. It gives fans something to look forward to. Whether a team is out of the hunt or in the hunt, there’s always something exciting about seeing a new guy step up to the big leagues. As David wrote in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post, September call-ups often serve as a welcome introduction to organizational prospects. Young guys can learn simply by being around a winning team, or they can get their feet wet with some playing time on a losing team.

3. It doesn’t significantly shift the balance of power. It shouldn’t anyway. If a team is leaning heavily on its September call-ups to make a massive difference, that team is probably in trouble to begin with. The best 25 players should be on the big league roster already. September is more about supplementing and gaining some flexibility. Occasionally a player has a massive impact, but that’s hardly the norm. And if it happens, great! We should celebrate a rule that helps a team discover a hidden gem.

4. It’s a different roster, but a fair roster. One team might play a game with 35 players while their opponents have just 30, but that’s not because one team was allowed 35 and the other was allowed only 30. Of course the 15-day disabled list creates some limitations for certain teams, but that’s the nature of injuries: they’re problematic. If anything, an expanded roster should help a team that’s been struck by an injury bug.

5. It’s an opportunity. Rico Noel isn’t much of a hitter, but man, he can really run. Perhaps that one skill isn’t enough to land him a spot on a 25-man roster, but I have no problem with that skill being enough to get a month of service time late in the year to show a larger audience what he can do. September also gives some minor league veterans a chance to play a role, and it gives a fringe prospect a chance to at least chip in as a reward for a good year.

And since it doesn’t seem Major League Baseball is planning to get rid of September call-ups any time soon, it might be fun to spend part of this Friday looking ahead to the next wave of Yankees September call-ups. Who might be crowded out of the big league picture through most of the regular season, but might finally get an opportunity when roster expand?

Here are five possibilities:Josh Bell, Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge – Right-handed power
There’s a solid chance Judge could make his big league debut before September, but that’s not a given. If the Yankees outfield regulars stay healthy and Aaron Hicks has a nice year, the Yankees might not have much for Judge to do through most of the season. If and when they need some outfield depth, they could simply cycle through the four projected Triple-A outfielders already on the 40-man roster (Gamel, Heathcott, Williams, Adams). If the Yankees can open a 40-man spot in September, though, it might be worthwhile to see if Judge can provide some pop once rosters expand.

Jorge Mateo – Late-inning speed
Last year, the Yankees signed and called up Noel — a minor league veteran with a .059 batting average in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — strictly to serve as a pinch runner. This year, the Yankees might have a far more exciting alternative in Mateo, one of the team’s high-end prospects who can run about as well as anyone in the game. Best I can tell, Mateo needs to be protected from the Rule 5 draft next winter anyway, so it wouldn’t disrupt things to put him on the 40-man a couple of months early to take advantage of his speed. Might be nice to let him get a few innings in the field and an at-bat or two, as well.

Tyler Webb – Left-handed specialist
Before he got hurt last season, Webb had a 0.00 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP and nearly a strikeout per inning against Triple-A lefties last season. He’s thoroughly overshadowed at the moment because the Yankees have six — six! — left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster ahead of him. That might make a mid-season call-up pretty tough, but Webb’s a legitimate bullpen prospect, and if he pitches well again this season, the Yankees will have to make a choice about protecting him from the Rule 5 draft in the winter. If he’s going to be worth a 40-man roster spot in November, he might very well be worth a roster spot and a call-up in September.

Pete Kozma – Defensive replacement
Think of Kozma as a younger version of Brendan Ryan. For the Yankees, he’s a bit of ready insurance at shortstop, a position where they’re a little bit thin in the short term (should either Didi Gregorius or Starlin Castro get hurt, Kozma would probably be the first player called up to take on a utility role). If he’s not needed during the season, Kozma could still find some big league time as a September call-up to play plus defense in the late innings. He would be a very specific role player, but there could be value in having Kozma — or fellow defensive standout Jonathan Diaz — handle second or third in the late innings of a close game.

Kyle Higashioka – Third catcher
Assuming the Yankees carry Gary Sanchez on the Opening Day roster and lose Austin Romine because he’s out of options, the Yankees will enter the season with only two catchers on their 40-man roster and without a true standout behind the plate in either Triple-A or Double-A. That could lead to a September opportunity for someone, whether it’s minor league free agent Sebastian Valle (a former top prospect with the Phillies), minor league veteran Eddy Rodriguez (who has just a little bit of big league time on his resume), or perhaps Higashioka, who’s long been touted as a defensive standout without particularly good offensive numbers. When the Yankees inevitably want to add a third catcher in September, I suppose they could choose to carry a good glove man who’s been with the organization since 2008.

MILB.com and Associated Press photos

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 29th, 2016 at 11:56 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: David Posamentier

Ryan Goins, Rico Noel

Today’s Pinch Hitter is writer and director David Posamentier, who most recently co-wrote and directed a dark comedy called Better Living Through Chemistry. David lives in Los Angeles with his wife and 7-month-old son. Despite being in California for the better part of the past 15 years, David wrote that his roots “are still deeply planted in Northern New Jersey.” That’s where David grew up a die-hard Yankees fan in Demarest. He went to college at NYU and “feels lucky to have attended more Yankee playoff games than most will in a lifetime.”

For his post, David took on the controversy of the final month of the regular season. September call-ups: One of the dumbest things imaginable or another quirk in this perfectly quirky game?

Yankees Rays BaseballIn baseball, more than any other sport, I believe hope springs eternal. Sure, that’s easy for a Yankees fan to say. With bottomless coffers furnished by lucrative television and merchandising deals, the organization has the means to go out and get any player, at any cost, at any time.

However, Yankees fans will be the first to tell you that the lavish spending of yore has been replaced by a more prudent and frugal front office. And, unlike in years past (see: George Steinbrenner), it seems the organization is willing to compete best it can while making this transition, sleeping well knowing it just might not win the World Series every season.

But despite a 2016 Yankees roster peppered with question marks and glaring deficiencies, the phrase “pitchers and catchers reporting,” brings with it a renewed sense of hope. It’s a funny game that way, and as we’ve seen year in and year out, anything is possible.

For that reason I believe hope is the one unifying core emotion shared by all baseball fans, especially this time of year.

Find yourself sitting next to a Marlin’s fan on a plane, or a Baltimore fan in line at the DMV, or a Brewers die-hard checking out at the super market, the conversations are upbeat and full of promise: What if that young first-round stud breaks camp with the team and lives up to his potential? What if the cagey veteran lefty with the creaky knee can somehow turn back the clock? Is the big bat recovering from injury ready to thump once again?

Possibility, excitement, optimism … hope.

However, a baseball season is long. Very long. The kind of interminable grind that can be humbling, even sobering, at times. I still remember my wife’s face (A woman who cares not for sports. No sports. None.) when I told her that a baseball season is 162 games long. She honestly thought I was making that number up. But, after I showed her the schedule to prove it was truly that long, she sighed deeply, then let fly a stream of colorful language, inquiring, “Why are you wasting your time watching all these @#$%^*& games in mid-July when it doesn’t look like the Yankees are even that good!?”

Hope. That’s why.

The July 31st trade deadline is that first mile marker that can reinvigorate a team and convince the fan base that all is, in fact, not lost. Organizations no longer in the hunt can often unload big-name talent in exchange for blue-chip prospects with an eye to build for next season, while those in the playoff mix can swing deals for a missing piece that just might propel their squad into the playoffs. Lest we forget about the Yankees trading for the likes of David Cone, Cecil Fielder, David Justice and, of course, Aaron Boone. But, unfortunately, not all these moves end with your deadline acquisition hitting an extra-inning walk off home run in Game 7 of the ALCS.

And so July bleeds into August and the dog days of summer begin to sap the life from many clubs. But, with your team still hanging around the playoff conversation — and your wife still roundly unimpressed with your dedication and optimistic outlook — the one last beacon of hope that remains, also happens to be one of the more polarizing.

Jose PirelaThis is, of course, the September call-ups, when teams expand their active rosters from 25 to 40 players.

From the media, to front office representatives, to those down on the field, the disapproval and downright vitriol of the expanded rosters across the game has been shocking. Despite baseball being more cerebral and analytical than ever, with metrics and stats for nearly all facets of the game, there is still a very large population of hardcore traditionalists who believe that the season is a war of attrition. You have 25 players on your squad, wire-to-wire, and that’s it. Non-negotiable. End of story. And to augment and expand rosters in, arguably, the most critical time of the year is an abomination.

Baseball is the national pastime. No denying that. It’s a game with a rich history and rules, regulations, and nuance that have been around for over 150 years; both written (the bases are still 90 feet apart, as they were in 1845!) and unwritten (stand there and style after a long home run, someone else in your lineup is getting plunked). All things considered, they designed a pretty perfect game. But, as someone who loves the tradition, for the life of me, I fail to see the downside in the expanded rosters and consider it just another quirk in the myriad baseball has to offer.

For those teams long out of the mix, September call-ups provide invaluable experience for young players on the verge. Not only on the field, as they face the best competition in the world, but off it as well, where prospects learn to conduct themselves in the clubhouse, with the media, on road trips, etc. Those are the kind of intangibles that can only be learned “on the job.”

More importantly, for those teams vying for a playoff spot, the expanded roster brings with it much needed reinforcements. And these call-ups can be far more than just a pair of fresh legs off the bench. They can likely affect the outcome of the postseason and the complexion of a roster for years to come.

2002, Francisco Rodriguez – Threw only 5.2 innings in September but logged an impressive 13 strikeouts, a dominating display that landed him a spot on the postseason roster where he remained nearly unhittable. Appearing in 11 playoff games, he went 5-1 and struck out 28 batters in 18.2 innings (still trying to forget how he shredded the Yankees in the ALDS striking out 8 in 5.2 innings) in helping the Angels win their first World Series title.

2005, Ryan Zimmerman – With the Nationals hovering around .500, they called up their young third basemen. And, while they fell short of the playoffs, they watched him hit .397/.419/.569, play sparkling defense, and develop into a stalwart of the Nationals for the next decade.

2008, David Price – His 14 innings with 12 strikeouts and a 0.929 WHIP in September were enough for Price to work his way onto the postseason roster and be used as a dominant lefty out of the pen, most memorably striking out Boston’s JD Drew to clinch the Ray’s a spot in the World Series.

Jesus MonteroThe Yankee Universe has also had its fair share of immediate impact September call-ups who have gone on to lead productive careers in the majors; players like Dioner Navarro, Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke. Even the embattled Jesus Montero was a major contributor during his call-up in September of 2011, hitting .328 with four home runs in 18 games. More recently, players like Greg Bird and Luis Severino (though not technically September call-ups) have shown themselves to be future stars, and the lesser known pitcher James Pazos (a true September call-up who appeared in 11 games with no earned runs) and outfielder Rico Noel (appeared in 15 games, stealing five bases, scoring five runs) were each a critical role player in helping the Yankees secure a spot in the Wild Card game last October.

Personally, I’m willing to endure the countless pitching changes, endless procession of pinch hitters and defensive substitutions if it means getting a glimpse into the team’s future. Or if it means allowing a journeyman veteran who’s toiled away in the minors, or battling back from injury, one more shot at the big league level. And, if it increases the chances of making the postseason, even better.

With the Yankees making a proactive shift to get younger, more athletic, and foster talent from within rather than splurge on overpriced free agents, it feels like an expanded roster in September is the best possible way to evaluate talent. To roll back this event is not only a disservice to the minor leaguers who work and dream for that cup of coffee in the fall, but for the fans too. Luckily, as far as I know, Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball have no immediate plans to eliminate expanding rosters in September. And I hope it stays that way… I hope.

Associated Press photos

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Friday, January 29th, 2016 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Thursday notes and links: “I want to be adding value to the team”

A few notes and links from this Thursday exactly three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training:

Alex Rodriguez• At the New York Post, Kevin Kernan just caught up with Alex Rodriguez, who’s been working out in Miami and says he feels ready to build off last season’s success. “And I want to be adding value to the team both in the clubhouse and on the field,” Rodriguez said. “I’m happy and excited about our young players coming up. I’m excited about our bullpen.” Rodriguez also offered his approval of the Aroldis Chapman and Starlin Castro additions. I really do wonder if he might be a positive influence on each of those guys.

Pretty significant trade in the American League East today with the Rays sending hard-throwing reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies for power-hitting outfielder Corey Dickerson. Colorado had too many left-handed bats and the Rays had pitching to spare. In Dickerson, the Rays add some much-needed offense, but it’s worth noting that he has pretty extreme home/road splits. In his career, Dickerson has a 1.085 OPS in Colorado with a .695 OPS on the road. But, he’s pretty young and pretty cheap and he brings some left-handed balance to the Tampa Bay outfield.

• The crew at Baseball Prospectus has released its choices for the top 101 prospects in baseball. The Yankees put three names on the list: Aaron Judge at No. 18, Jorge Mateo at No. 65, and Gary Sanchez at No. 92. Lists like this inevitably vary from one publication to another. Baseball America picked Mateo as the top prospect in the Yankees’ system, while MLB Pipeline has picked Sanchez as the No. 2 catching prospect in baseball (Prospectus has four catchers ahead of Sanchez). Here’s the Baseball Prospectus top 10 list of Yankees prospects.

• Over at River Ave. Blues, Mike Axisa took a look through the possibilities for the Yankees Triple-A roster. Mike sees Lane Adams leaving Tyler Austin crowded out of the picture to Double-A. He also sees the pitching staff as wildly unpredictable (definitely agree with him on that front). I wonder if non-roster invitations might give us some indication about which way the Yankees are leaning with certain pitchers.

• One other thing that could impact the Triple-A roster: the Reds have a wide open spot in their outfield, and Reds general manager Dick Williams mentioned Rule 5 pick Jake Cave in the long list of candidates for the left field job. Williams also mentioned Yorman Rodriguez, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Kyle Waldrop — most of whom I know absolutely nothing about. I do know that both Sceblar and Waldrop are left-handed hitters like Cave, so that might make it a little more difficult for Cave to stick. Ultimately, assuming the Reds don’t make a move for a veteran outfielder, it seems Cave has about as good an opportunity as any Rule 5 pick can ask for.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 9:00 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

On the 40-man: Chase Headley

Chase Headley

Moving on in our look at every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster is a source of significant uncertainty heading into this season. In only the second year of a four-year deal, Chase Headley is coming off the worst season of his career. Last year he set a single-season high for errors with a single-season low for OPS. He’s been much better in the past, and the Yankees are banking on a rebound. 

HeadleyCHASE HEADLEY

Age on Opening Day: 31
Acquired: Traded from San Diego in 2014, re-signed last winter
Added to the 40-man: New contract became official December 15, 2014

In the past: A top prospect at the end of his minor league career, and primarily a left fielder when he broke into the big leagues — back when the Padres thought Kevin Kouzmanoff was their future at third — Headley eventually took over San Diego’s hot corner and had a breakout season in 2012 when he lead the National League in RBI and finished fifth in MVP voting. He’s been more of a solid on-base guy than a true slugger in more recent seasons, but last year was a dud as he had a .693 OPS while struggling through 23 errors.

Role in 2016: Aside from a few minor league signings and the vague hope that Starlin Castro can handle third base in a pinch, the Yankees have done absolutely nothing to improve their depth behind Headley. The third base position is his, and there’s really not a Plan B in place. Joe Girardi has acknowledged this winter that Headley has worked on his throwing to regain some of the confidence that was clearly lost last season. Offensively, the Yankees aren’t expecting Headley to be a game changer, but they certainly expect an OPS in the .700s and not the .600s. It doesn’t seem out of the question that Headley could open the season as the team’s No. 9 hitter.

Best-case scenario: A return to that one outrageous season in 2012, when Headley was a legitimate slugger and a Gold Glove winner, seems unrealistic (even that one standout season was mostly built on a tremendous second half). More realistic is simply a return to Headley’s career norm. Before last season, he was career .266/.347/.410 hitter with a perfectly dependable glove at third base. Simply getting back there would be an improvement. Even better would be offensive production more similar to what the Yankees saw from Headley last July and August when he hit .331/.407/.463 for 175 at-bats. That kind of high without the extreme lows of last June and September would be encouraging and productive. Right now, it’s hard to aim much higher than that.

Worst-case scenario: The Yankees are in real trouble at third base. This winter they traded away Jose Pirela (their most readily available depth at the position), and they traded away Eric Jagielo (arguably their best third base prospect, assuming you believe in his ability to stick at the position). Without those two, the Yankees are thin at third, and if Headley’s no better than he was last season, they might not have any place to turn. They’re committed to Headley for two more seasons after this one. If he’s bad again, would the Yankees simply move Castro to third, try Rob Refsnyder at second, and relegate Headley to a bench role?

What the future holds: With a contract that runs through 2018 and no third base alternative on the horizon, Headley seems locked in as the third baseman of the present and the immediate future. As long as he’s not a total zero, the Yankees will probably stick with him while holding out hope that he gets things turned around. If Miguel Andujar has a big year in Double-A, that might change things, but even then Andujar probably wouldn’t be ready to challenge for the big league job until mid-2017 at the earliest. For the time being, third base is Headley’s for better and for worse.

Associated Press photo

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 6:22 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Yankees avoid arbitration with Ivan Nova

NovaAroldis Chapman is the last Yankees player without a set contract for next season.

First reported by Jack Curry, the Yankees today avoided arbitration with Ivan Nova, settling on a one-year deal worth $4.1 million with incentives. That’s right in line with his projected salary of $4.4 million.

For now, Nova looks like the Yankees’ most immediate piece of rotation insurance. Presumably he’s sixth in line for a rotation spot, but given the injury concerns of most other Yankees starters, there’s a solid chance he’ll end up pitching plenty of innings and making more than a handful of starts. If everyone is healthy out of spring training, Nova could slide into the bullpen in the vacated Adam Warren role.

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 4:04 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Rotation depth off the board: Fister reportedly lands in Houston

Fister1

It’s looking less and less likely the Yankees are going to add any meaningful depth to their rotation this offseason.

Today, another bit of potential rotation insurance came off the board when Doug Fister reportedly agreed to a one-year, $7-million deal with the Astros. According to Chris Cotillo, the contract has incentives that can boost the total value to $12 million. I thought Fister made some sense for the Yankees — former starter who’s had some good seasons and could presumably slide into the bullpen if everyone stays healthy — but Jack Curry reported weeks ago that the Yankees were not likely to make a run at him.

With Fister gone, there really aren’t many short-term depth possibilities out there. Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee are nice pie-in-the-sky candidates, but neither brings any sort of dependability. Mat Latos probably wouldn’t want to pitch for a team that might not have room for him in the rotation. Yovani Gallardo is presumably too expensive for the Yankees’ current payroll preference (worth noting that matching the Astros’ $7-million contract with Fister would have cost the Yankees $10.5 million because of the luxury tax).

The Yankees could still swing another trade for rotation depth, but I tend to think if there were a viable trade opportunity out there, it would have happened by now. It’s certainly not a secret that the Yankees would like to acquire some young pitching, but teams don’t seem eager to give up decent young arms. Even the teams that might have interest in Brett Gardner as an outfield upgrade – White Sox, Angels, Indians, maybe the Cubs – could just as easy go after a free agent outfielder without sacrificing any rotation depth.

Pitchers and catchers report in three weeks.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 2:03 pm. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

A bullpen alternative: Prioritize workload, not specific roles

Joe Girardi

After enough conversations with relief pitchers, I’ve come to believe there is something different about the ninth inning. I think baseball perhaps makes too much of it, but I do think closing out a game is a unique challenge. And I think there’s something to the idea of a relief pitcher being comfortable in a defined role, knowing when and how he’ll be used from day to day. I can’t dismiss those factors.

But at the same time, I couldn’t agree more with Max and Sean in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post: Rigid roles are not the best way for the Yankees to use their new late-inning trio. At times that might be the perfect way to use them, but there’s a lot to be said for bringing a true weapon into a key situation in the fifth or sixth inning, and the Yankees have that luxury because their bullpen is so deep. They can — for example — use Dellin Betances to put out a fire in the fifth inning and still have a traditional setup man and closer waiting to finish things. There’s a lot to be said for Max and Sean’s proposal, and it might make more sense than anything else.

But let me propose something else: Daily bullpen assignments based on workload.

This idea works only because Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman are essentially interchangeable. Perhaps they’re not identical, but all three are capable of doing basically the same jobs. All three can get lefties out. All three can get righties out. All three can get a strikeout when necessary. All three can serve as a setup man. All three can close out a save situation.

If they are essentially interchangeable, then perhaps the most important factor to consider is how best to keep them rested and healthy throughout the season. Prioritizing each pitcher’s workload means assigning daily roles based first and foremost on which pitcher is most in need of rest.

Use the freshest reliever first.

Use the least rested pitcher last (and only if necessary).

Essentially, Girardi could look at his bullpen card each day and determine which of his big three relievers he would least like to use, and which he would most like to use. Who needs a break, and who doesn’t? Based on that assessment, Girardi could give each reliever one of four assignments: First priority, second priority, third priority and unavailable. He would then use them in order based on late-and-close situations. For example…

BetancesLet’s say Miller hasn’t pitched in three days, but Betances pitched yesterday. In that case, Girardi would presumably prefer to give Betances a day off — but he wouldn’t necessarily have to give him a day off — and so the late-inning list might look something like this:

1. Andrew Miller
2. Aroldis Chapman
3. Dellin Betances

If it’s a two-run game in the seventh inning, Miller handles the seventh. If it stays a two-run game to the end, Chapman pitches the eighth and Betances – because the situation now dictates using all three — pitches the ninth. If, however, the Yankees score four runs in the bottom of the eighth, there would no longer be a need for Betances, so he would get the day of rest Girardi had been hoping for all along.

There’s no sense forcing a slightly tired Betances into a game only because his title of “setup man” says he’s supposed to pitch. If he’s a little bit tired, only use him if it’s a really close game that actually needs the full 1-2-3 punch. There’s no way to know whether a game will need all three until it’s into the ninth inning, and so it would make sense to hold Betances until the very end.

MillerNow let’s say it’s Betances who hasn’t pitched in three days, but Chapman has been used three out of four days and absolutely needs a rest. Then the late-inning list might look something like this:

1. Dellin Betances
2. Andrew Miller
3. ——
X. Aroldis Chapman (unavailable)

If that’s a five-run game through eight innings, and the opposing team cuts it to two runs in the top of the ninth, then Betances would handle the bottom of the ninth and get the save situation. He’s the one who’s most fresh, so he should be at the top of the pecking order. If it’s a two-run game through seven innings, then Betances would handle the eighth and Miller would pitch the ninth (assuming the situation remains unchanged).

ChapmanLet’s say all three are rested and fully available. There’s no reason to stay away from anyone, which means Girardi can set his late-inning list however he’d like. If he thinks it’s important to have a set closer whenever possible, that’s fine. The late-inning list can look something like this:

1. Dellin Betances
2. Andrew Miller
3. Aroldis Chapman

Chapman is held in reserve as the true closer, a role I don’t necessarily like, but a luxury the Yankees can have because of their tremendous depth. Betances and Miller could be interchangeable based on matchups, but as we’ve established, lefty-righty matchups don’t make much difference to these guys, so Girardi can stick to their assignment of the day.

If Nathan Eovaldi is out of gas with two outs and two on in the sixth inning of a one-run game, Girardi can go straight to Betances. Say Betances gets out of that jam, he can stay in for the seventh. If necessary, Miller can then handle the eighth, and Chapman would be available for the ninth. If there’s no need to use any of the big three until the ninth, Girardi could stick to the card and use Betances to close, or he could call an audible and go straight to Chapman.

If Betances ends up getting four outs and the other two don’t pitch at all, then the next day, Betances would move to No. 3 on the pecking order to be used only if absolutely necessary; the other two would become the go-to Nos. 1 and 2 options.

Joe GirardiObviously this structure would not perfectly fit with Girardi’s usual preference for defined roles. A pitcher in the No. 1 spot, for example, would go into a game not knowing whether he would be used to put out a fire at the end of the fifth inning, to serve as a setup man in the eighth, or to close out a game in the ninth.

Each pitcher would, however, know pregame where he falls on the list. The pitcher assigned No. 1 would go into a game knowing he would be the first of the trio to enter the game. It’s a level of uncertainty no different from that of a fireman-type reliever who knows he might be be called into escape a jam at any moment (a role in which both Betances and Dave Robertson excelled before shifting to more traditional late-inning jobs).

In terms of getting loose and mentally prepared, the three late-inning pitchers — and bullpen coach Mike Harkey — are surely smart enough to recognize late-and-close situations, which means they’re smart enough to begin mentally and physically preparing when they see a key spot on the horizon.

The added benefit would be that, if there is a “fireman” type situation developing, the reliever in the No. 1 slot would know it’s his turn to put out the blaze. There would be no wondering between Miller and Betances about which one Girardi might choose.

The downside: it leaves, presumably, the most worn out pitcher to handle the save in a game that’s been close throughout (but that’s often the case with a traditional closer as well). It also means sometimes calling on the freshest reliever to handle a job that might require only a few pitches (to get out of a jam in the sixth, for example). Perhaps it’s better to use the least rested pitcher for that job so that he doesn’t have to throw very many pitches.

Ultimately, I’m not sure there’s a perfect way to use a bullpen, and I actually think Girardi is pretty good at bullpen management as it is. My idea might not work, and it might cause more confusion than anything else, but it might also be a way to prioritize health and workload above all else. It’s a luxury available only to a team with three truly interchangeable relievers, each one capable of handling any given situation on any given night.

Associated Press photos

 
 

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Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 11:59 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Pinch hitting: Max Frankel and Sean Morash

Andrew Miller, Brian McCann

Our next Pinch Hitter is a one-two punch. Max Frankel and Sean Morash run a (mostly) baseball blog called Off The Bench. They’re both former college baseball players, and for the past five years, their blog has worked to “present original content from a unique viewpoint, offering insights into how the game is played and how it could be played better.” Max and Sean wrote that they’ve addressed issues ranging from the role of politics in sports to the best way to grip a curveball. You can follower them at @blogoffthebench on Twitter and at offthebenchbaseball.com.

For their post, Max and Sean take a look at the Yankees’ dominant late-inning bullpen trio in search of the best way to utilize such a set of relievers.

The Yankees Have Baseball’s Best Bullpen, Now How Do They Use It?

Aroldis ChapmanBefore I really sink my teeth into the meat of this New York Yankees bullpen sandwich, I have to note that Aroldis Chapman is currently under investigation for a domestic violence incident. For the purposes of this post, I will largely be ignoring any potential disciplinary action against Chapman as it is impossible to predict at this point. Commissioner Manfred has never levied a domestic violence suspension, so there is no precedent for how many games a player might be suspended in a situation like this. Internet conjecture that Chapman might miss 50 or 100 games, is just that, conjecture.

What we can say with some certainty is this: With Chapman, for however many games he’s eligible, the Yankees have a bullpen unlike any other. Teamed with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, Chapman gives the Yankees a collection of shutdown relievers perhaps unrivaled in baseball history.

Last season, Chapman, Miller, and Betances were 1st, 2nd, and 4th in strikeout percentage in MLB, and among pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings, all three were in the top five in fewest earned runs , top 10 in fewest hits allowed, top 15 in lowest ERA, and top 10 in WAR from relievers (Betances was No. 1).

In short, the Yankees have three of baseball’s five best relief pitchers.

That’s probably a good thing because the Yankees’ starting rotation is going to be a bit of a struggle. Rumor had it the front office had been working all winter to bolster the starting staff. Apparently, they made very little progress as the rotation today is the same as it was last week and last month and the month before that.

Given the price the Yanks paid for Chapman, it seems this opportunity kind of fell into their laps, and they reasoned that strengthening the pitching staff would be a positive, no matter how it happened.

If that’s the case, they made the right call and a savvy move.

The Yankees’ rotation right now consists of Masahiro Tanaka, an ace with some injury questions; Michael Pineda, a streaky but talented pitcher; two potential innings eaters in Ivan Nova and Nathan Eovaldi; and a huge question mark in CC Sabathia. They also have Luis Severino, who showed promise in his rookie year but is likely not a rotation stabilizer.

Given the unpredictability of this staff — it could be pretty well above average or an absolute catastrophe — it is easy to get excited about the prospect of essentially shortening games to six innings before turning the ball over to Betances, Miller, and Chapman to nail down the final nine outs.

That type of dominant 1-2-3 punch in the back of the bullpen is, of course, what propelled the Royals to the World Series in 2014 and helped get them a title last season. However, we’d argue that dogmatically establishing, for instance, Betances the 7th-inning guy, Miller the 8th, and Chapman the 9th — as Royals manager Ned Yost did with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland — would be a big mistake.

While Yost saw success with his late-game formula, he was often criticized for his inflexibility, and while it is really enticing to hand the ball to a super-trio and forget about it, it makes more sense to base pitching decisions on in-game situations rather than inning assignments.

Girardi likes his Roles

In 2014, Betances pitched 70 games for the Yankees and had a 1.40 ERA. He was stellar, and as the Yankees learned more and more about how special he was, his usage changed.

At first, through the end of June, Betances pitched in the sixth and seventh innings nearly as much as he pitched in the eighth or ninth. He was manager Joe Girardi’s hottest reliever, and Girardi used him whenever the situation dictated a show of force.

However, as the season wore on, and it became clear that Betances wasn’t just hot. He was, in fact, the Yankees’ best relief pitcher, and he took on more of a traditional setup role. After July 1, 2014, Betances had just one appearance before the seventh inning.

That trend continued in 2015 when Betances did not throw one pitch before the seventh inning and most of his outings involved pitching in the eighth. He had just two appearances in which he did not pitch in the eighth. Although Betances was just as spectacular in 2015 (he didn’t allow a single earned run until the middle of June), he frequently pitched in four and five-run games and once pitched in a 13-3 victory over the Red Sox (one of the instances in which he did not pitch the eighth).

It is clear that Betances was pitching when it was his turn to pitch, with some regard to game situation, but certainly with the “setup man” label in mind.

Entered 7th or earlier Entered 8th or earlier % of games 8th or later
First half 2014 16 19 54%
Second half 2014 13 22 62%
2015 Total 21 53 75%

On the Platoon Splits

Two parts of the Yankees’ three-headed bullpen monster happen to pitch left handed, and as a result, Girardi is in a great position to maximize his bullpen’s potential platoon advantage. While none of the big three show any real weakness, the team would be wise to work to maximize their strengths.

Again, this requires some flexibility and a willingness to deviate from the usual late-game script. Below are lefty-righty splits for the 2015 season:

2015 Season Ave vs. RHB OPS vs. RHB Ave vs. LHB OPS vs. LHB
Betances .175 .558 .135 .454
Miller .131 .444 .233 .602
Chapman .194 .554 .143 .451

With two lefties and a do-it-all righty, Girardi has the ability to mix and match against sluggers late in games. Though Betances and Miller don’t obviously conform to conventional wisdom about pitchers having more success against batters of the same handedness, its likely that these stats are more the product of small samples than a larger trend. Since all three are extremely effective when facing batters of either handedness (all the numbers in the chart above are just ridiculous), Girardi can focus on matching his pitchers against batters who may fare significantly worse against pitchers of a certain type.

Dellin BetancesSo What’s the Formula?

Now that Girardi has a new late-inning shutdown toy to play with, he could easily do the Yostean thing and simply slide Betances into the seventh inning, follow the script and crack a cold one with his work complete.

What he should do, however, is use Betances more like an old school “fireman” reliever, a term coined for pitchers who came out of the bullpen to put out whatever fire was burning, regardless of inning or silly title. This fireman reliever may not have a designated inning, but he’s capable of getting outs in any situation.  The cookie cutter approach used by Yost should be replaced by a more fluid, matchup-and-situation tact.

If Masahiro Tanaka has done his job through six innings and seems to be tiring, it’d be really great to turn the ball over to three of the best one-inning pitchers we’ve seen and watch them work. I’m in no way advocating that Girardi avoid “going Yost” when the situation presents itself, but Girardi would be wise to not even hesitate to get Betances — or one of the other two big guns if that’s how the platoon advantage dictates — in the game early if the situation demands it.

That Girardi has already named Chapman his “closer” entering spring training is the first sign that he’s heading toward a rigid approach.  Screwing with the late-game formula is a welcome policy if it leads to more wins.

While that might seem obvious to most fans, baseball is a copycat game. Whenever one team finds a formula that seems to work, others scramble to put their spin on it (see the Moneyball strategy and an emphasis on high on-base percentage hitters, for an obvious example).

Yost, like Girardi now, has had a lights-out triumvirate in the back of his bullpen for most of two seasons and used it a certain way, to great and undeniable success.

If the Yankees are smart, they’ll ignore KC’s success, despite what the Royals have accomplished. There’s a better way to do things.

Associated Press photo

 
 

Posted by:Chad Jenningson Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 9:00 am. InMisc with Comments Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post


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