New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman addresses the media during a press conference announcing the retirement of designated hitter Alex Rodriguez prior to the game between the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Rodriguez will play his last game on Friday August 12, 2016.
By Joe Giglio
Entering play on August 29, the Yankees sat at 67-62 and within 3.5 games of an American League wild card spot. While that record and positioning left six teams (Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Astros, Royals, Mariners) between New York and the top AL wild card spot, sitting in the back seat might actually be an advantage for the next few days.
With the waiver trade deadline coming up on Wednesday, the Yankees would have the ability to claim a player on waivers (and either workout a deal or simply assume the player from the team) or block any team better then them in the standings from doing the same.
According to Buster Olney of ESPN (insider subscription), the Yankees have been ‘aggressive’ on the waiver wire. Specifically, Olney cites the Yankees making things difficult on the Orioles. If Baltimore wants to work out a deal—something they’ve been known to do around this time in recent years—the Yankees are going to have something to say about it.
While it seems hard to believe that the Yankees would sell now that the race has tightened up so much, catcher Brian McCann did clear waivers earlier this month and could be dealt.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez at age 20 in 2013, left, and at age 23 in 2016.
By Brendan Kuty
NEW YORK — Mark Newman won’t forget it.
Newman, then the head of the Yankees‘ farm system, was at its training complex in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. He was with a few youngsters the team was working out. They were playing a game: Hit a home run to right field, center and then left.
Gary Sanchez, then 16 years old, needed just four swings.
“We didn’t have many other kids do that,” Newman said via phone interview on Saturday.
Now 23, Major League Baseball doesn’t have many — or really any — other players doing what Sanchez is right now.
Sanchez went 2-for-4 in Sunday’s 5-0 loss to the Orioles at Yankee Stadium to up his batting average to .405 in 22 games this season. When he hit his 11th career homer (and of the season) on Saturday, he became the fastest player in history to reach the mark. He’s also got eight doubles, 21 RBI and a 1.361 OPS.
Newman and general manager Brian Cashman vividly remember scouting, working out and signing Sanchez to a $3 million bonus in 2009.
At the time, Sanchez was far from an unknown.
“He worked out for everybody,” Cashman said.
But the Yankees dug deep on him.
Newman said every single one of the Yankees’ scouts in the Dominican had seen Sanchez, big with broad shoulders an arm maybe as strong as it is today. International player development executives Donny Rowland and Gordon Blakeley, now a Braves special assistant to the GM, and the organization’s lead Dominican scout Victor Mata each pushed Newman and Cashman to commit to Sanchez.
There was plenty to like.
“Gary was a special player,” said Newman, who retired before the 2015 season. Gary Denbo has since taken over as the organization’s player development leader.
“He had such a good arm for a 15-year-old,” Newman said. “He could catch the ball. He wasn’t a technically solid catcher back then, but his hands were fine. His arm was a plus. The power was a plus. His bat — he had solid hitting ability.”
Despite a lack of formal education, Newman said, he knew Sanchez was bright.
“(Sanchez) had kind of a tough background,” he said. “But he was intuitive about the game. And he was kind of like he is now: quiet, kind of emotionally controlled, even though he’s probably run through some emotions he probably hasn’t experienced before over the last month.”
Another big plus: Sanchez’s bat was a rarity at his position. It’s what separated him from Miguel Sano, whom the Yankees also courted at the time. Sano ended up getting $3.1 million from Minnesota.
“It was his position,” Newman said. “Sano was a third baseman at the time. Gary was a catcher. Gary is still a catcher. Sano has played some third base, but he’s also been a DH and in the outfield.”
In February of 2009, Cashman flew to the D.R. to see a 15-year-old Sanchez up close. He remembers the workout well.
“He looked like a college catcher,” Cashman said, “someone you’d see at Arizona State.”
The workout was at 10 a.m., Cashman said. At 1 p.m., Sanchez walked over to the Mets’ complex — a short distance from the Yankees’ — and worked out for them, too.
“I wished he wasn’t doing that but he was doing that for everybody,” Cashman said. “The price tag was high.”
But by then, the Yankees were already convinced.
“We had lived through the Jorge Posada years,” Cashman said, referring to the Core Four catcher who was one of the best hitters at his position. “There are very few offensive-complimentary catchers — if you get to the majors as a catcher, you can already defend. Obviously the bat wasn’t a question. All that led us to believe he could, with a lot of hard work, be a special player for us.”
Newman said he believes that Sanchez’s hard work won’t stop despite his success.
“He wants to be a good player,” Newman said. “He really, really wants to be a good player.”
By Dan Martin
Maybe getting back to The Bronx will do Aaron Judge some good as his fantastic first few games are fading into the distance.
The towering rookie right fielder appeared ready to live up to every lofty expectation when he had five hits — including two homers and a double — in his first three major league games.
Since then, it’s been a far different story.
And while Joe Girardi has become fond of pointing out that not every rookie is Gary Sanchez, Judge’s recent dropoff has been steep.
In his last seven games — keeping in mind he’s appeared in a total of 10 in his major league career — Judge is 3-for-26. Perhaps most alarmingly, he’s struck out 13 times in that stretch, while walking only twice. And of those three hits, none was for extra bases.
One scout who watched Judge over parts of the past two seasons at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre said the 24-year-old is displaying the streakiness he showed frequently in the minors.
“It’s no secret he’s vulnerable to breaking balls, and teams are making the adjustments he’s forced them to make,” the scout said. “This would be expected from any rookie, especially one that’s been inconsistent in the past. He’s a confident kid and always come out of these things before, so I think he will again.”
On Sunday, Judge had three strikeouts for the first time, but still managed to see a team-high 22 pitches, impressing Girardi with his patience.
Having Sanchez around isn’t just helping the Yankees on the field. It’s also helping business.
Sanchez’s home run binge began in earnest toward the end of the most recent homestand, when he homered four times in the last four games before the Yankees went to the West Coast.
He returns with nine home runs and as the focal point of the New York sports world.
Perhaps that’s why tickets for Friday’s series opener against Baltimore are listed at an average of $126.78, the highest for a game since Alex Rodriguez’s finale on Aug. 12, according to TiqIQ, a company that monitors the secondary ticket market.
Only the series against the Red Sox at the end of September has higher prices.
The Yankees will again turn to unheralded rookie Luis Cessa to take the mound in an important game on Friday, and they hope he can deliver as well as he did his last time out against the Angels in his first major league start.
In Anaheim, Cessa tossed six scoreless innings in a 5-1 win. He is set to be followed by another rookie, Chad Green, on Saturday.
The good news for Aaron Hicks? He went 7-for-14 with a walk on the recent road trip. Unfortunately for the Yankees, all seven of those hits were singles and he didn’t drive in any runs. Still, he’s gotten his OPS up to .597, the highest it’s been since late June.
Chicago Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman throws a pitch during the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 6-3 victory over the San Diego Padres in a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in San Diego.
By Joe Giglio
While Dellin Betances has been more than adequate in the closer role, the idea of reuniting Chapman and Betances in a dominant bullpen duo has to be at least an intriguing idea for the Yankees.
On Thursday, Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball outlined the dollar range it would take to land the soon-to-be free agent when the market opens for business in November: More than $50 million over four years.
The reason? That figure still remains the biggest contract given out to a closer. According to Heyman, Chapman wants to beat it:
Especially now that Andrew Miller has been traded, Aroldis Chapman could be a candidate to return. Chapman is expected to seek to beat Jonathan Papelbon’s record $50-million, four-year contract for a closer.
Based on his ability, stuff, and performance both in 2016 (1.84 ERA) and since debuting in 2010 (2.13 ERA, 15.1 SO/9), Chapman is a good bet to be the closer that gets it.
Chapman, 28, has pitched to a 1.42 ERA since joining the Cubs.
When the Yankees take a look at the upcoming free-agent class (and the dearth of starting pitchers available), the idea of once again starting a season with a deep, dominant bullpen could make more sense than spending on mediocre starting pitching.
With Mark Teixeira’s contract set to come off the books, the Yankees currently only have $127.7 million on the books for 2017. As the team goes young, there will be ample room to spend—perhaps even on a record-setting deal for a relief pitcher.
By Mike Axisa
More like Gary SLAMchez.
The Yankees just wrapped up a successful six-game West Coast trip that still somehow feels like a bit of a letdown. I guess because the two losses were close games that were very winnable. The Yankees are five games back of the Orioles for the second wildcard spot, and wouldn’t you know it, six of their next nine games are against Baltimore. This upcoming stretch is: crucial. I have some thoughts.
1. I’m a bit surprised the Yankees didn’t shuffle their rotation to ensure Masahiro Tanaka faces the O’s in these next two series. They would have needed to use a sixth starter at some point during the road trip, and again at some point during the series in Kansas City next week. Then again, the Yankees have an off-day today and again next Thursday, which really would have spaced out Tanaka’s starts. He’s been better on extra rest this year, no doubt about it, but there is such a thing as too much rest too. I don’t blame them for starting Tanaka as often as possible. They need all the wins they can get. It just seemed lining him up against the O’s would have been a good idea. Right now he’s not scheduled to face them at all.
2. Beyond all the dingers, I’ve been really impressed by Gary Sanchez‘s overall approach at the plate. All the scouting reports through the years said he has a good approach, and for whatever reason “good approach” has become synonymous with “high walk rate.” That’s never been Sanchez though. He had a 7.9% walk rate in the minors and he’s drawn six unintentional walks in 80 big league plate appearances this year. We have seen that good approach though. Sanchez seems to do a good job laying off breaking balls in the dirt and getting himself into hitter’s counts. In fact, he’s gotten into a hitter friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count 32 times in his 80 plate appearances this year, or 40%, which is about league average. (That’s not counting the intentional walks). This is a kid who’s been an everyday player for less than a month, remember. Small sample size warnings and all that apply, obviously. It just seems like Sanchez really knows what he’s doing at the plate. The power is a product of that approach.
3. Brian McCann caught Tuesday night and that kinda throws a wrench into this theory, though I still wonder if his sudden move to DH is at least somewhat health related. Yes, of course the Yankees want to get Sanchez behind the plate, but before Tuesday night, Austin Romine had caught Sanchez’s previous two off-days. McCann is a warrior. We’ve seen the guy play through all sorts of injuries since he arrived in New York — earlier this season he had toe and elbow issues, and last year he had a knee problem so severe that he altered his batting stance — and maybe now he’s nursing something a little more serious than the typical day-to-day catcher stuff. Perhaps there’s some concern about a concussion? Either way, the Yankees are definitely saving some wear-and-tear on their veteran catcher by giving him so much time at DH. McCann probably hasn’t felt this good physically in late-August in a long time.
4. Aaron Judge‘s recent struggles — he’s in a 3-for-26 (.115) slump with 13 strikeouts — don’t concern me at all. Not yet. It’s way too soon for that. Do I wish he was mashing like Sanchez? Of course. But it’s not terribly surprising a guy his size is having some trouble in his first exposure to big league pitching. Judge had similar problems when he first got to Triple-A last year. This is why the Yankees called him up two weeks ago, to begin the adjustment period. It might take some time too. A few hundred plate appearances or so. We’ve already seen all the tools that make Judge such an impressive prospect. The huge power, the rocket arm, the surprising athleticism, all of that. He just needs to figure out how pitchers are approaching him and how to overcome his massive frame at the highest level. That’s hard!
5. So how about Luis Cessa and Chad Green? It looks like the Yankees might have something with those two. Even if they’re ultimately nothing more than relievers, that’s still a pretty nice haul for a good but not great reliever like Justin Wilson. I think Cessa has a better chance to start long-term than Green because he has more pitches and seems more willing to pitch inside, though I have no way to prove that last point. Point is, these two very clearly have big league caliber arms. They’re going to be in the Yankees’ plans going forward in some capacity, either starter or reliever. Getting two starters — even fourth of fifth starters, which is what these two profile as — out of that trade would be phenomenal. Guys like that are getting $10M a year as free agents. Given the state of the organization and their current needs, that trade looks better and better by the day.
6. Aaron Hicks in August: .303/.333/.455. It’s only 69 plate appearances, so let’s not go retiring his number yet, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence he picked up the pace offensively as soon as he started playing regularly. Hicks has been abysmal most of the season. Unforgivably awful. The Yankees very clearly believe in his talent though and they’re sticking with him. When you’re a
rebuilding transitioning team, the last thing you do is give up on high-end athletes with loud tools after 200-something plate appearances in your uniform. The Twins are a disaster and they have a history of giving up on players only to watch them find success elsewhere. (Carlos Gomez, Danny Valencia, Wilson Ramos, and even Francisco Liriano jump to mind.) They deserve zero benefit of the doubt when it comes to evaluating talent. The Yankees, meanwhile, have been getting better at developing young players the last year or two. Hicks is without a doubt worth a longer look in my opinion. If nothing else, he’s playing himself into some more trade value for the offseason.
7. Two recent non-Yankee roster moves I didn’t like: Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Buchter being optioned to the minors. The Blue Jays sent Sanchez down to limit his innings and free up a roster spot for a few days. He’s expected to be called back up as soon as his ten days are up. The Padres said they sent Buchter down due to fatigue and used his declining spin rate (!) as evidence. Both guys were sent down for non-performance reasons and I hate that. Sanchez is going to get Cy Young votes! He deserves to be in the big leagues. Buchter has a 3.00 ERA (2.96 FIP) and has been San Diego’s best reliever all season. If he’s fatigued, he’s supposed to go on the DL, not Triple-A. The rules say the Blue Jays and Padres have the right to make those moves, but man, what an awful message to send. Two productive players who deserve to be in the show are losing service time and big league pay because it’s convenient to the team. There’s something to be said for rewarding performance and maintaining a positive relationship with your players. I’m glad the Yankees have never seemed overly concerned with service time. Regardless of the motives, sending Sanchez and Buchter down looks real bad.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge celebrates after hitting a home run in his first major-league at-bat during the second inning at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 13, 2016.
By Randy Miller
SEATTLE — It was only a couple weeks ago that the Yankees’ hottest rookie was the 6-foot-7 hulk they now have playing right field for them every day.
Before do-it-all catcher Gary Sanchez caught fire and starting looking like a young Mike Piazza, Aaron Judge was making the headlines by setting records by homering in his first two games and having extra-base hits in his first three.
Judge looked like a star in the making going 7-for-18 with two homers and four RBIs in his first five games.
Since, he’s 1-for-18 with three RBIs over his next five games, this mini slump dropping his average from a sizzling .389 to .222.
What’s the deal?
Judge still is having his share of quality at-bats although striking out a lot, but a lot of pitchers are using the same strategy to get him out.
“I’ve been getting the same thing since day one, even the minor leagues … curveballs, curveballs, off-speed,” Judge said Sunday before a 5-0 Yankees win over the Seattle Mariners. “It hasn’t changed.”
And it won’t change until Judge, a 24-year-old native Californian, makes them change.
Sunday was another tough at the plate Judge, who was 0-for-4 with a hit by pitch, run scored and three whiffs.
Once again, he had a diet of mostly slow curves and changeups.
“It’s just been something I’ve seen in the minor leagues and up in the major leagues since the first day,” Judge said.
That’s because Judge is a fastball killer.
“I think everybody’s a good fastball hitter,” he said. “I think the league average on the curveball is around .200, so it’s just part of the game. It’s all about adjustments. They’ll make adjustments, so I’ve got to make mine.”
Judge still is making ways to contribute.
On Sunday, he used his arm in the first inning Sunday to throw out Robinson Cano, who was trying to turn a single into a double, then scored a second-inning run after being hit.
The day before, Judge brought in a run in the Yankees’ 5-1 win with a flyball.
“For me, it’s all about quality at-bats,” Judge said. “The only stats I really look at are RBIs and runs. If I can go up there and drive in guys and touch home plate as many times as I can … I feel like I’m having some quality at-bats.”
Meantime, his average is dropping by the day.
“I think his at-bats have been good,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s kind of what hitters go through. I look at (Tuesday) night. I thought he was patient. When we needed him to drive in a run, he drove in the run. He drove in a couple of runs in Anaheim (last weekend) when we were there; he got a big base-hit.
“I think his at-bats are good. Hits will come.”
Can Judge hit for a decent average as a big leaguer?
“I haven’t seen him enough to really make a decisive answer on that, but I think he’s going to hit,” Girardi said. “I do. I watch his approach. I watch his patience. He’s so strong that there’s balls that he misses (hitting square) that are probably going to be home runs … that sort of thing. So I think he’s going to hit.”
Yankees outfield prospect Clint Frazier talks to reporters at Coca-Cola Field in Allentown, Pa., before playing his first game for the organization on Aug. 2, 2016. Frazier played left field for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Lehigh Valley two days after being traded from Cleveland to the Yankees.
By Brendan Kuty
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It wasn’t a smooth move for Clint Frazier.
The 21-year-old joined the Yankees as the jewel of a high-profile deal that sent elite closer Andrew Miller to the Indians. Ranked as his new team’s top overall prospect by MLB.com, the outfielder hardly knew anybody and wanted badly to prove to his teammates and organization that he wasn’t all hype and hair.
“I’m kind of pressing right now,” Frazier said before Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s 8-0 loss to Lehigh Valley at Coca Cola Park on Tuesday. “For the first time, I’m pressing.”
Frazier said he’s starting to relax, however.
“I’m feeling good, though,” he said. “I’m in a good place. I’m in a good environment.”
Manager Al Pedrique said he sees Frazier playing a bit more loosely.
“Takes a while for a young player like him to come to a new organization, new teammates and a different way to do things in the clubhouse and on the field,” Pedrique said. “But, again, he has some tools, definitely.”
Hitless in his last 12 at-bats after going 0-for-4 on Tuesday, Frazier is hitting .222 with two homers and a .613 OPS since joining the Yankees.
It hasn’t all been bad, though. In the 10 games before his recent slump, he hit .311 with a double, a triple and a homer.
The last week or so, in particular, hasn’t been the easiest for Frazier. He knew two players when he joined the team after the deadline: first baseman Tyler Austin and reliever Ben Heller, who came over with him from Cleveland.
Austin got called up to the Yankees more than a week ago. Heller was summoned on Tuesday.
“So for me to kind of get out of my comfort zone and make friends with new people has been good for me. I’ve been with the Indians the last few years and I developed really good relationships over there and I see no reason I can’t do the same thing here,” Frazier said.
Tom Wilson, the Triple-A hitting coach, and Frazier have also been working on what Wilson has called “small adjustments” at the plate.
They came after Frazier joined the team and told the staff he’d been struggling a bit toward the end of his Indians tenure. In his final 14 games with Cleveland — nine at Double-A, five at Triple-A — Frazier had hit .175 with 20 strikeouts in 57 at-bats.
The two have worked specifically on keeping Frazier’s lower half back, which will allow him to make more consistently strong contact, Wilson said.
“It’s not a big deal,” Wilson said. “It will take some time and it’s gotten better every day so far. … He’s got some real talent. You can see right away why he was a first-round pick.”
He said changing organizations hasn’t been as easy as he thought, but that he’ll be fine.
“Yeah, for sure. It’s an adjustment period for me right now, both mentally and physically. So, the past few games, (Wilson) and I have really gone in there and worked on a few things (to) make me feel more comfortable and make me feel more relaxed mentally and physically. So I’m going out there and competing every at bat and trying to be the best player I can.”
Anthony Swarzak leans over after giving up a two-run home run to Ian Kinsler in the seventh inning as the New York Yankees host the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium. 6/12/16 Bronx.
By Ryan Hatch
NEW YORK — The Yankees placed right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday afternoon with what they’re calling right rotator cuff inflammation.
To replace him on the 25-man roster New York brought up righty Ben Heller from Triple-A.
Swarzak, who was called up to the Yankees in early June, has struggled of late. After holding opposing batters to a .194 average through his first 13 big league games this summer, Swarzak has a 9.00 ERA in his last 11.0 innings that dates to July 23. The seven-year big league vet allowed a huge three-run home run Monday night in the sixth inning against the Seattle Mariners that cost the Yankees the game. With under six weeks left in the season, Swarzak may have thrown his last pitch of the year for New York.
Heller, 25, hasn’t yet pitched in the big leagues. He was brought to the Yankees from the Cleveland Indians in the Andrew Miller trade last month and since pitching for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders he has a 1.42 ERA in six relief appearances.
Here’s more about Heller from the Yankees at the time of the trade:
Heller, 24, is 3-2 with 12 saves in 13 chances and a 1.73 ERA (41.2IP, 23H, 8ER, 12BB, 48K, 2HR) in 43 relief appearances this season at Triple-A Columbus (28G) and Double-A Akron (15G), holding batters to a combined .159 batting average with a 0.84 WHIP. He began the season ranked by Baseball America as having the “Best Fastball” in the Indians organization.
The Wisconsin native was drafted by Cleveland in the 22nd round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft out of Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.). In 150 games (including one start) over four minor league seasons, Heller has a 9-8 record with 31saves and a 2.77 ERA (172.1IP, 53ER, 69BB, 6HR), having allowed just 122H while recording 226K with a .193 opponents batting average.
By Mike Axisa
Despite trading away valuable veterans at the deadline, the Yankees remain in the wildcard race and have a chance to at least make these last few weeks interesting. Are they the front-runners for the second wildcard spot? No. But they’re within striking distance, and as long as they’re close, they should continue to push for a postseason spot. If you’re not going to do that, what’s the point?
The Yankees are an obviously flawed team that is now at least fun to watch. They were pretty boring for most of the season. All of the recent call-ups have made things way more interesting, and I’m pretty sure they’ve made the Yankees an overall better team too. There are still ways to get better, and the Yankees can still make upgrades through waivers trades in the coming weeks.
A really quick crash course on trade waivers: every player on the 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers to be traded after the deadline. If the player goes unclaimed, he can be traded anywhere. If he is claimed, he can only be traded to the claiming team. Trade waivers are completely revocable, so if a player is claimed, he can be pulled back. Pretty much every player is placed on trade waivers this month. By putting everyone on waivers, teams mask the guys they actually want to trade.
Players must be in the organization by 11:59pm ET on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster and that’s a hard deadline. There are no loopholes around that one. Obviously if you make a waiver trade, you want to be able to take that player into October. But the Yankees aren’t in position to think that far ahead yet. They have to get to the postseason first, and if that means making a trade after August 31st, so be it.
The Yankees are committed to this transition and playing the kids, as they should be. There are still ways to upgrade the roster around them and improve the team’s chances of contention, and the Yankees should look to do that in the coming weeks. Here are the obvious spots Brian Cashman & Co. could look to upgrade for the stretch drive, plus some potential targets on teams out of the race.
The Sixth Starter
The last turn through the rotation has gone well thanks to Chad Green and Luis Cessa, who are replacing the injured Nathan Eovaldi and the ineffective Luis Severino. Severino is the sixth starter by default right now, which isn’t great because he has some things to work on in Triple-A. There’s always room for more pitching, though right now, the pickin’s are slim. Unless you want to pay big for someone like Jeremy Hellickson, that is. One veteran candidate stands out as a possible trade target.
Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies: The Rockies were three games back of a wildcard spot as recent as August 4th, though they’ve struggled of late and have slipped to seven games back. De La Rosa, an impending free agent, has a 5.07 ERA (5.19 FIP) in 110 total innings this season, though that doesn’t tell the whole story. He started the year in the rotation, pitched terribly, got demoted to the bullpen, then eventually rejoined the rotation.
De La Rosa made his first start back in the rotation against the Yankees and held them scoreless over five innings, as you may remember. Since rejoining the rotation the 35-year-old southpaw has a 3.56 ERA (5.00 FIP) in 78.1 total innings. The Yankees have been connected to De La Rosa before, both as a free agent and in trades, so there may be lingering interest. You could do a lot worse than a guy with a history of missing bats, getting grounders, and experience pitching in a harsh home ballpark for your sixth starter.
The Extra Reliever
No, they’re not Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard have done a fine job in the seventh and eighth inning since the trade deadline. The middle relief is still a bit sketchy — Tommy Layne and Blake Parker haven’t done much to solve things — and besides, there’s always room for another quality reliever. Reliever prices have been pretty high, though there’s a chance they may come down as rebuilding teams look to unload impending free agents rather than lose them for nothing after the season. Here are some potential bullpen targets.
Jim Johnson, Braves: The Braves have been signing and flipping scrap heap arms for prospects all year. They did it with Bud Norris, Jhoulys Chacin, Jason Grilli, and Lucas Harrell. Johnson has a 3.50 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 46.1 innings thanks to an improved strikeout rate (24.2%) and his typically excellent ground ball rate (56.6%). He’s been closing the last few weeks, ever since Arodys Vizcaino landed on the DL with an oblique problem. Johnson’s on a cheap one-year contract.
Boone Logan, Rockies: The Yankees went from having two of the three best lefty relievers in baseball to no reliable southpaws at the trade deadline. Miller and Chapman are gone, leaving guys like Layne,Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier to pick up the slack. It hasn’t gone too well. Logan is having a phenomenal contract year, pitching to a 2.65 ERA (2.42 FIP) in 37.1 innings. More importantly, he’s held left-handed batters to a .148/.213/.253 batting line with a 32.6% strikeout rate and a 62.5% ground ball rate. He’s been a shutout left-on-left matchup guy.
Carlos Torres, Brewers: Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been an irrational Carlos Torres fan for a few years now. He’s have a strong season in Milwaukee (2.86 ERA and 3.78 FIP) and he’s a rubber-armed swingman, someone who can throw two or three innings at a time and pitch back-to-back-to-back days with no problem. As an added bonus, Torres would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2018. The Yankees don’t have a long man at the moment and Torres would fill that void well.
The Big Bench Bat
Pitching is pitching and teams always need it. These next two positions are September specialties. Only once rosters expand does it make sense to dedicate a spot to an extra lefty bench bat, something the Yankees lack right now. (Their current bench is Mark Teixeira, Aaron Hicks, Ronald Torreyes, and Austin Romine.) Expanded rosters give teams the flexibility to carry a dedicated pinch-hitting specialist, which can come in handy. Here are two candidates.
Ryan Howard, Phillies: Go ahead and laugh. After all, Howard is hitting .198/.252/.445 (78 wRC+) on the season and he’s been a punchline for three or four years now. He hasn’t even hit righties this year (.206/.268/.472). So why target him? Because Howard is a short porch friendly left-handed hitter who can still hit a baseball to the moon …
… and he’s hitting .378/.425/.838 (228 wRC+) this month. The Phillies have been trying to give Howard away for close to two years now. Picking him up for cash considerations, say the pro-rated portion of the league minimum, to pinch-hit 12-15 times in September as literally the 40th man on the 40-man roster is a super-low-risk move. One well-timed dinger in those 12-15 September at-bats would make it all worth it.
Justin Morneau, White Sox: The Howard logic applies to Morneau, though Morneau is at least hitting a respectable .275/.312/.480 (108 wRC+) in limited time with the White Sox this year. They signed him at midseason following offseason elbow surgery and the club has since fallen out of the race, so there’s not much point in keeping him. As with Howard, Morneau could be a strategic September pinch-hitter as long as he comes super cheap.
The Pinch-Runner Specialist
Designated pinch-runners have become a September staple. The Yankees don’t have a true burner in Triple-A, and in fact their best pinch-runner option may be Jorge Mateo, who will have to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 Draft protection after the season anyway. Is it worth calling him and starting his service time clock for that? Maybe. There are other candidates around the league though.
Emilio Bonifacio, Braves: Bonifacio never has been able to carve out as a role as a super utility guy, but he can still run, and he currently leads the Triple-A International league with 37 steals (in 42 attempts). He’s always been a bit reckless on the bases, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, but at least he won’t hesitate to run. Bonifacio is mighty aggressive.
Michael Bourn, Diamondbacks: Bourn’s days as an elite base-stealer are over because he’s old by speed guy standards (33), but he can still run a little and is 12-for-17 in steal attempts this year. I also think there’s something to be said for his base-stealing experience and knowing pitchers (and their moves) around the league.
Darin Mastroianni, Twins: A sexy name? Nope. But neither was Rico Noel last year, and Rico did the job well. Mastroianni has been up-and-down and hurt this year, so he hasn’t played much and only has ten steals (in 13 attempts). This is a guy who went 56-for-67 (84%) in steal attempts from 2013-15 though. Remember, the September pinch-runner only has to run. He doesn’t have to hit or even field. Just run. Mastroianni can run.
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The important thing here is expanding rosters. There’s no sense in acquiring someone like Howard or Mastroianni right now. They’re guys you acquire on August 31st and activate on September 1st, once rosters expand so you don’t have to cut someone loose. The Yankees can still commit to playing the kids while upgrading the margins of their roster, either with some extra arms or bench players. And as long as they’re in the postseason race, even minor league upgrades are moves worth making.
Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is caught stealing in the eighth inning at Angel Stadium on August 21, 2016 in Anaheim, as Yankees second baseman Stalin Castro gets ready to take catcher Gary Sanchez’ throw.
By Randy Miller
ANAHEIM, Calif. — The new-look Yankees made quite an impression over the weekend on the best player in the game.
All world Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, stuck on a really bad ballclub, was amazed getting his first look at five Yankees rookies who were in Triple-A when the teams met in May at Yankee Stadium.
“They’re all young stars,” Trout told NJ Advance Media on Sunday before the Angels’ 2-0 win over the Yankees.
The Millwood, N.J. native who still spends his offseasons in South Jersey was dead serious. He’s that high on catcher Gary Sanchez, right fielder Aaron Judge, first baseman Tyler Austin and the two rookie pitchers who started the final two games of the series, Luis Cessa and Chad Green.
“They’re good for the game,” Trout said. “When younger guys get opportunities, you like to see them take advantage of it.”
Perhaps Trout will play with these youngsters down the road. He’s only in the second season of a six-year, $144.5 million contract that includes a full no-trade clause, but the 52-72 Angels are on pace for a 94-loss season that would be the franchise’s worst since 1980 despite having a record-high payroll of more than $164 million.
“It sucks for sure, but we’ve got a good front office,” Trout said. “We’ll see what happens.
What Yankees fans would love is Trout patrolling center field someday in a lineup that includes Sanchez, Judge and perhaps a few of the organization’s best prospects, the likes of outfielder Clint Frazier, shortstop Gleyber Torres and second baseman Jorge Mateo.
Trout responded with a crooked smile when he was told Sunday that Yankees fans want him badly.
“I know,” he said. “I hear it all the time.”
He hears the same thing from fans of the other two clubs close to home, the Phillies and Mets.
Trout has been a superstar since debuting in the majors in 2011, but he’s still a young man at 25.
Does he ever see himself wanting to play closer to home?
As you’d expect, Trout wouldn’t touch that question.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t comment.”
Regardless, Trout thinks the Yankees’ future will be bright.
Trout was 3-for-10 at the plate over the weekend, but just 1-for-5 with two strikeouts and a hit by pitch in seven plate appearances against Cessa and Green.
Trout really liked what he saw from Cessa.
“He’s got a bunch of pitches,” Trout said. “He obviously throws hard. He kept us of-balanced and that’s what a good pitcher should do.”
Catching Trout’s eyes most was Sanchez, who was 3-for-4 on Friday, homered on Saturday and threw out Trout on a steal attempt Sunday, just the third caught stealing in 23 attempts this season for the Angels superstar.
“So far Sanchez has been great,” Trout said. “All of their young players look really good. I’m impressed.”