By Steve Adams
The Yankees announced that they’ve acquired veteran catcher Erik Kratz from the Indians in exchange for cash considerations.
The 37-year-old Kratz has spent parts of the past seven seasons in the Majors, logging a combined .200/.248/.362 batting line in 647 plate appearances as an up-and-down reserve option. He’s had a very nice year with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate, however, posting a robust .270/.359/.472 slash with 13 homers in 324 plate appearances. Kratz has also thwarted 37 percent of stolen base attempts against him this season in Triple-A and posted characteristically solid framing marks (per Baseball Prospectus).
Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine figure to remain the two primary catchers in the Bronx, but the addition of Kratz gives the Yankees a veteran option to serve as a third catcher down the stretch in September when rosters expand. Notably both Sanchez and Romine are facing potential suspensions following the recent brawl with the Tigers, so Kratz can help fill in during those times as well.
By Mike Axisa
While every offseason is important for every team, the upcoming offseason is a crucial one for the Yankees. They’re going to try to supplement their new and exciting young core with quality veterans, all while staying under the $197M luxury tax threshold in 2018. That is much easier said than done. They’ve put their austerity plan on hold once before and I’m sure they don’t want to do it again.
In addition to all the roster machinations, the Yankees also have to deal with the impending free agencies of Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi. They’re both on expiring contracts. I’m not sure what’ll happen with Girardi. My guess is Cashman is coming back though. I’m pretty sure of it. The quick-fix rebuild is going well and Hal Steinbrenner loves him. No reason not to think Cashman won’t get a chance to see this through.
It’s very possible the Yankees will have other front office matters to deal with in addition to Cashman’s new contract. Derek Jeter is in the process of purchasing the Marlins and, according to Mark Feinsand, industry buzz is Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo is a candidate for Miami’s general manager job. I had a feeling that would happen. Denbo and Jeter are very close and have known each other a long time. Since Denbo was Jeter’s minor league manager way back in the day.
Denbo has done a little of everything with the Yankees over the years. He currently runs their player development system and has since October 2014, when he replaced the retired Mark Newman. Denbo has also been a minor league manager, a hitting coordinator, the assistant minor league director, and the big league hitting coach for the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Nippon Ham Fighters. And he’s scouted a bunch. He’s done it all.
The farm system under Newman wasn’t all that productive, and things have turned around dramatically since Denbo took over. It would be folly to give him all the credit — the Yankees have a small army of people working in player development — but he certainly deserves a lot of it. Denbo created Captain’s Camp, he brought in all new minor league managers and coaches, and the recent results speak for themselves. It’s easy to understand why Jeter would want Denbo, even beyond their personal relationship.
The question is this: what can the Yankees do to keep Denbo, assuming Jeter would indeed like to bring him to Miami? A raise and a promotion is the obvious answer, but it very well might be nothing. There might be no way to keep him. Denbo could be looking for a new challenge with a new organization, a chance to captain his own ship, and the Yankees can’t really offer that opportunity. MLB’s not expanding anytime soon. A new team with a new owner is as clean a slate as you can get in this game. The Marlins offer that.
What I suppose the Yankees could do is offer Denbo their general manager position. The Yankees could create one of those new president of baseball operations positions that has become popular around baseball, bump Cashman up there, and move Denbo up into Cashman’s old job. Cashman stays — I think that’s happening no matter what — and it might allow them to keep Denbo, albeit in a new position. The problem with that is Cashman is still running the show. The general manager doesn’t have the usual autonomy under a president of baseball operations.
I thought the Yankees would do this three years ago, the last time Cashman’s contract was up, with the idea of promoting then-assistant general manager Billy Eppler to general manager. It didn’t happen and a year later Eppler left to take over as the general manager of the Angels. The Yankees moved forward and are in a much better place right now than they were two years ago. That’s not a knock on Eppler. He’s awesome. It just goes to show that you can lose a key piece like Eppler and life will go on.
And yet, losing Denbo feels like it would be a much bigger blow than losing Eppler, and Eppler was Cashman’s right-hand man. The farm system has become much more productive since Denbo took over and the Yankees have more quality prospects on the way. You don’t want to lose the guy in charge of the pipeline. Maybe the Yankees will be able to keep Denbo in some capacity. Maybe there’s nothing they could realistically offer to prevent him from leaving. Whatever happens, the goal doesn’t change. Develop players and build a championship team. If someone else has to step in and do it, so be it.
By Dan Martin
There may not have been a more effective reliever than Adam Warren for most of the summer. From May 27 through Aug. 16, the right-hander gave up just two earned runs in 27 ²/₃ innings, good for a 0.65 ERA.
Lately, though, Warren has been hit significantly harder and been off with his command.
Not only did a wild pitch lead to a run in the Yankees’ 6-2 loss to Cleveland on Monday night in The Bronx, Warren also gave up a solo homer to Austin Jackson.
It was the fourth straight outing in which Warren was scored upon. And in those 3 ¹/₃ innings, he’s given up five runs, all earned — including two homers.
“He’s not making his pitches,” manager Joe Girardi said after the Yankees dropped the series opener to the Indians. “I look at tonight, it looked like it was a slider that was up in the zone [that Jackson hit out].”
Warren said he was “a little bit all over the place” and was more bothered by the wild pitch that allowed Bradley Zimmer to score from third base after Warren replaced Luis Severino with two outs in the seventh.
The pitch was supposed to be an inside fastball, but Warren held it too long and it wound up away and in the dirt and Gary Sanchez couldn’t block it.
The play gave Cleveland a 4-2 lead.
“I would rather somebody beat me than give away a run,” Warren said. “I know we have a chance with [Corey] Kluber on the mound if we keep it to one [run]. I felt like that was a big run crossing right there to make it two runs. … I completely missed my spot.”
Girardi seemed stunned by the errant pitch.
“Very seldom are you going to see Adam throw a wild pitch with a fastball in the dirt,” Girardi said. “It’s probably the first one I’ve ever seen.”
Jackson took Warren deep on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the eighth to give Cleveland more of a cushion.
Warren’s problems, though, extend beyond Monday’s game and with the Yankees also trying to get Aroldis Chapman right, they can hardly afford to see Warren scuffle for too long.
“I haven’t been as sharp,” Warren said. “I feel like I’m more throwing than pitching.”
He plans on spending time with pitching coach Larry Rothschild on Tuesday to sort it out.
“It was just one of those nights,” Warren said. “I have some things to work on [Tuesday].”
By Brendan Kuty
By Randy Miller
By Dan Martin
DETROIT — Greg Bird hasn’t played for the Yankees in nearly three months, but that could finally change on Friday when they return home to face the Mariners.
The first baseman went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday and is slated to play a full nine innings at first on Thursday in another rehab start.
If all goes well — a big “if” for Bird and the Yankees this season — manager Joe Girardi said he would be reevaluated following Thursday’s game.
And Starlin Castro (hamstring) shouldn’t be far behind, meaning that Ronald Torreyes likely will return to a utility role — even after a four-hit performance in Wednesday’s 10-2 win over the Tigers at Comerica Park. Castro, with SWB, finished a suspended game on Wednesday 2-for-5.
Torreyes has helped the Yankees survive Castro’s absence, just as he did earlier in the season, when he filled in for the injured Didi Gregorius.
“[He’s] been aggressive and it’s worked for him,” Girardi said of Torreyes’ approach. “He figured out how to do [play in the majors] last year. He has a pretty simple swing and understands what needs to do to be prepared.”
Torreyes said he’s ready to go back to being a sub, but he’s continuing to impress his teammates — and offset the absence of Castro.
“He’s had I think eight hits in two days and saw five pitches, maybe,” Gregorius said with a laugh. “He’s attacking. That’s all he does.”
As for Bird, the Yankees will welcome his left-handed power bat — so it’s not a surprise they are ready for his return.
Bird has been sidelined since May 1, after a bone bruise he suffered during spring training flared up. Surgery to remove a bone from his right ankle seems to have alleviated the problem.
Whenever Bird gets back, Girardi will have some decisions to make. Though he is loath to announce plans before he is forced to, the manager said Chase Headley would continue to see time in the field.
“You figure things out when they happen,” Girardi said. “That’s my job. Obviously, if everyone stays healthy — and if you’re producing — you’re gonna play. We’re gonna find ways for you to play.”
By Ken Davidoff
DETROIT — Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees have experienced a strange disconnect all season, haven’t they? Some of the fallen ace’s worst times in 2017 have occurred as his teammates were loving life, and vice versa.
So as Tanaka makes his return from the disabled list Tuesday night, opening the Yankees’ three-game series with the lousy Tigers at Comerica Park, let’s not tie the fates of team and pitcher, because the correlation just hasn’t been there. Rather, let’s recognize the fascinating solo voyage that Tanaka is set to ride from now until he determines his work address for 2018 and beyond.
Call it the Opt-Out Odyssey, and we’re down to the home stretch.
“The team always has to come first,” Tanaka said Sunday, through an interpreter, after he played catch at Fenway Park. “You’re playing for this team. You want to contribute in the best way that you can, but … it’s really been an up-and-down season. … You really have to face that reality.
“I think the thing is that when you get yourself back on track and you start performing better, that means you’re contributing to the team. The bottom line is, that’s basically what I’m trying to do.”
In other words, if he focuses on helping the Yankees, his contract situation will take care of itself.
His contract situation generates chatter because of its arguably unprecedented context. We haven’t seen a player of Tanaka’s caliber put himself out there when he has a well-known medical condition — or have you not heard about the partially torn UCL in his right elbow? — that makes him a de facto time bomb.
Throw in his career-worst ERA (4.92 in 133 2/3 innings) and the fact he had to go on the DL briefly with right shoulder inflammation, and you’ll find industry folks speculating Tanaka will pass on his opt-out and stick with the Yankees for the remaining three years and $67 million — terms the Yankees wouldn’t view as an albatross if Tanaka continues mounting the peripherals (4.27 strikeouts per walks this season) that he compiled prior to his break.
I asked a high-ranking official of a big-market club whether he thought Tanaka could beat three years and $67 million on the open market this winter if he pitched respectably the rest of the way. The official responded, on the condition of anonymity: “Maybe on total value. I doubt he gets that AAV (annual average value of $22.33 million). I bet he doesn’t opt out, but it’s a guess.”
I asked a competing agent (Tanaka is represented by Casey Close) the same question.
“Definitely no on AAV,” the agent said, not for attribution. “I’m not sure he gets more on the total.”
A second high-ranking official of a second big-market club offered this anonymous wisdom: “I suspect Tanaka, with only three years [left], may look to get more, but I think a bigger factor is how much he likes playing there. It’s hard for me to see him opting out.”
Tanaka appears to like playing for the Yankees, although as you can see from his words above, he isn’t exactly an open book. And if he CAN pitch more like an ace the rest of the way, decreasing the gopher-ball tendency that has cursed him, and even help the Yankees get deep into the playoffs? In an underwhelming free-agent class, with Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish topping the starting-pitching list, maybe Tanaka would calculate that it would be worth putting himself out there. Or, a la CC Sabathia, he could use the threat of the opt-out as leverage to get an extension from the Yankees.
If you enjoy the off-the-field drama of baseball’s finances, Tanaka presents a fascinating case. If that’s not your bag, then enjoy seeing whether he can pitch the Yankees to their first postseason series since 2012. That would connect all of our plot lines in the most exciting manner possible.
By Brendan Kuty
By Mark W. Sanchez
All 6-foot-7, 250 pounds of Domingo Acevedo, the towering right-hander with a rocket arm that touches 103 mph, was worried.
The trade deadline approached and so did what he feared would be his Yankees conclusion. His name reportedly was bandied about in trade talks for Oakland’s Sonny Gray, and whispers let Acevedo think the only team he has known for his five-year professional career was about to become his former team.
But 4 p.m. on July 31 came and went, and Gray was heading to The Bronx. Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo and James Kaprielian got the call Acevedo dreaded.
“It was pretty hard. The team here is like a family,” Acevedo, the Double-A Trenton pitcher, rated the Yankees’ eighth-best prospect by, said in Spanish over the phone Friday. “And it’s hard starting over someplace new, where you don’t know anyone and you don’t know their rules and routines. I think whereever I go I’m going to work hard and keep proving that I can stay focused. Trades are a part of the game I can’t control.
“I think there certainly was the possibility [to be traded]. To be honest, I’m not sure what happened. Only God knows what’s best for me.”
What’s been best for Acevedo is surprising control. The 23-year-old is a three-pitch starter with a developing slider, impressive changeup and fastball that lives in the mid- to high 90s. But what’s opened the Yankees’ eyes the most is how accurate he’s been.
In 118 innings split between High-A and Double-A, to where he was promoted in mid-May, Acevedo has struck out 125 and walked just 27, to go along with a 3.28 combined ERA.
“Just his ability to throw strikes at a very hard rate,” Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell said of what’s impressed him. “Honestly that’s been the biggest thing with me. The higher he goes, the more strikes he throws with all three pitches. Considering, you look at his body, and he’s [6-foot-7], there’s a lot of moving parts. But he’s still able to throw strikes. It’s a testament to how his body works. … I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
But not by the fastball that few this side of Aroldis Chapman can boast. And speaking of Chapman, “We’ve spoken a little,” Acevedo said. “His advice is not to focus too much on velocity, but more to hit within the zone. He says you should definitely have good velocity, but when you take command of your pitching, everything usually falls into place. He also said not to overstrain yourself.”
Acevedo has been with the Yankees since 2013, when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a ball of clay to mold. He’s struggled with injuries since until he broke out this season – his 118 innings pitched this year is easily a career high, topping last year’s 93. As a result, the Yankees are holding him to five innings per start as a way to protect his health.
Despite persistent back injuries last season and a right arm built for blowing batters away, Borrell said he still envisions Acevedo’s future in the rotation.
“I’ve been a starter this whole time,” said Acevedo, who credited improved mechanics for his 2017 success. “I like the position, and I think I can continue being a starter because thank God I have the right control in my pitching.”
Topping off Acevedo’s season was a trip to the Futures Game in Miami on July 9, notable for him mostly because his mother “who has always supported me” could see him pitch on TV from the Dominican Republic — even if she saw him allow three runs in an inning in the game.
So Acevedo returns to a team that is now without his teammate, Mateo, which is sad, but isn’t the news he was fearful of.
“Very tough. It’s hard to see all these guys go,” Borrell said about the trade-deadline deal. “We want [prospects] to succeed, whether it’s with us or with someone else.”
Acevedo has his preference.