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Off-Season: Preparing To Be 2020 World Series' Champions
1 year ago  ::  Dec 05, 2019 - 10:48AM #381
Posts: 12,354

Could the Robbie Ray for Clint Frazier talks start up again?


Rumors were swirling on trade deadline day, July 31, about Robbie Ray switching dugouts – the Diamondbacks were playing the Yankees in New York at the time – and putting on the pinstripes in exchange for outfielder Clint Frazier.

That trade didn’t end up coming to fruition as the baseball world was shocked to see Zack Greinke being the Diamondback pitcher dealt, not to the Yankees but to the Houston Astros, who beat New York in the American League Championship Series a few months later.

Frazier could end up in the desert after all if an ESPN senior writer’s blockbuster proposal comes true.

David Schoenfield released an article on Wednesday dreaming up one blockbuster signing or trade for every team.

He put the Yankees and Diamondbacks as trade partners with Ray going to New York for Frazier, straight up.

This would be less than what the Diamondbacks were reportedly asking for when discussions originally took place.

Jon Heyman tweeted on July 31 that the Diamondbacks were asking for Frazier in addition to three prospects for Ray. In the tweet he added, “that’s not happening” with Heyman citing fellow writer Bob Nightengale calling the talks dead.

Ray’s value has certainly decreased in the last few months.

The 28-year-old left-hander dealt with injuries at the end of the season and had a 5.56 ERA from Aug. 3 until his final start on Sept. 28. He also now only has one year of control left, serving basically as a rental player for the 2020 season.

Although, Frazier didn’t do too much to increase his value at the end of the season either.

The 25-year-old played in 16 games the final month of the season and hit .176 with one home run and four RBIs, striking out in 11 of his 34 at-bats.

Frazier did do an admirable job covering for the injured Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton through the first few months of the season, however, hitting .283 in 51 games with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs.

Once Edwin Encarnacion was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in June, Frazier was sent to the minors, at the time calling the move, “surprising”.

It appeared Frazier was happy to remain a Yankee, however, posting this after the trade deadline passed.

Schoenfield said Frazier could fill the Diamondbacks’ need for an outfielder until Alek Thomas (the team’s #1 overall prospect according to, Kristian Robinson and Corbin Carroll are ready to make their debut a few years down the road.

Arizona didn’t tender a contract to Steven Souza Jr. on Monday and have yet to re-sign Adam Jones, leaving a gaping hole in right field.

The Diamondbacks would be getting five years of control with Frazier as he is not set to hit the free agent market until 2025. He becomes arbitrational eligible in 2021.

The move would also save the Diamondbacks quite a bit of money with Ray scheduled to make over $10 million in 2020, according to Spotrac.

Meanwhile, Schoenfield mentioned the Yankees would like to see what new pitching coach Matt Blake and the analytics staff could do with Ray, who racks up strikeouts (a career-high 235 in 2019) but also struggles with walks, having 84 in 174.1 innings pitched last season.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Ray’s name pop up in trade predictions this offseason and it surely won’t be the last. Columnist Jay Jaffe said earlier the Diamondbacks would be a playoff team in 2020 if they trade Ray to the Chicago Cubs in a package for outfielder Kyle Schwarber.

1 year ago  ::  Dec 05, 2019 - 11:23AM #382
Posts: 6,881

Dec 5, 2019 -- 10:48AM, NY23 wrote:

Could the Robbie Ray for Clint Frazier talks start up again?

No, not unless free agent to be Ray is willing to sign a contract extension with the Yankees.

1 year ago  ::  Dec 05, 2019 - 1:21PM #383
Posts: 12,354

Yankees remain optimistic about reunion with free agent Brett Gardner

The Yanks are focused on Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg at the moment

As the Yankees focus their efforts on landing free agents Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, they remain optimistic about a reunion with outfielder Brett Gardnerreports SNY's Andy Martino.

Martino notes that the Gardner situation could potentially resolve when the Yankees' payroll situation is clearer.

In November, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was open about the team's desire to have Gardner back, and wouldn't say whether he felt it would take more than a one-year deal to get it done.

"I wouldn't compromise our efforts to re-signing a player," Cashman said when asked about the potential length of contract Gardner could receive. "He just clearly put himself in a great position this free agent winter because of the year he's had. We've known how good Gardy has been and is for a long time. ... We'd love to have that continue."

Gardner, 36, earned $7.5 million last season as he hit .251/.325/.503 with a career-high 28 homers in 141 games.

He played 98 games in center field (where he was worth -2 DRS) and 45 games in left field (where he was worth 7 DRS).

With Aaron Hicks expected to miss a large chunk of the 2020 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, the return of Gardner would give the Yanks some more certainty in the outfield.  

1 year ago  ::  Dec 05, 2019 - 2:13PM #384
Posts: 12,354

Kyle Higashioka’s Elite Pitch Framing Skill May Make Him 2020 Backup

Now that Austin Romine is a free agent, there is suddenly an opening for the Yankees’ backup catcher position. A few recent developments suggest that is a more interesting discussion than it may initially seem–and also that Kyle Higashioka may be well-suited to step into that role.

Remember, the Yankees recently announced that they hired Tanner Swanson to be their new catching coordinator by way of Minnesota. A few days later, Derek took a look at Swanson’s track record of helping catchers, particularly Mitch Garver (subs req’d), improve their framing and explored how that might impact Gary Sánchez in 2020. And for good reason: Swanson told Lindsey Adler of The Athletic (subs req’d) that framing is, in his view, the most valuable aspect of a catcher’s defense:

The philosophy is: how do we create more strikes and how to keep strikes, strikes. I think the implication that has for catchers who do it really well, it makes a real impact in the course of an at-bat, an inning, a game, a season. The elite pitch framers in our game are impacting the game in a huge way, so the question is: how do we do that really well without sacrificing the other skills that are also critical to the catcher position?


This is interesting for several reasons, but not just because of Sánchez. It may offer a hint into the team’s thinking about the backup catcher role next year. Austin Romine is one of the league’s best backups, but there has been almost no connection between him and the Yanks this offseason. That may be because the team has an elite pitch framer waiting in the wings in Kyle Higashioka.

Adler’s article described Higashioka as a framing “fanatic.” Higashioka himself describes his framing skills as likely reason why he still has a job with the Yankees. I think he’s that self assessment is probably right.

Let’s start by looking at his framing data in his brief stints in the Major Leagues. Higashioka made his MLB debut in 2017 and also got playing time in 2018 and 2019. His performance in this area been elite. The lefthand column below is Higashioka’s Strike Rate, which measures the percentage of non-swings umpires called strikes with Higashioka behind the dish. The parentheses is the number of applicable pitches. The righthand column is the league leader’s figures that year, with the same parentheses. Check it out:

Kyle Higashioka:

League Leader:

  • 2017: 54.5% (178)
  • 2018: 54.1% (640)
  • 2019: 55.1% (474)

  • 2017: 54.3% (2,401)
  • 2018: 55.0% (1,728)
  • 2019: 54.1% (2,680)

A few things. First, the sample size is limited with Higashioka, obviously. He just hasn’t had the time at the big league level. However, with that said, he’s been remarkably consistent and it’s stayed at scale. In other words, his rate stayed about the same from 2017-18 despite getting 500 more chances. It actually improved in 2019. Add it all up and he’s converted about 54.5% of non-swings into strikes in 1,292 chances. Baseball-Savant’s calculations say that amounts to 5 runs saved for the Yankees across those three seasons. That is significant in limited time.

As we can see by comparing that figure to the league leader, that’s not just good production, but basically the best in the league. In fact, had he qualified for the leaderboard, Higashioka would have been the best pitch framer in the league in both 2017 and 2019.There is, however, the problem of the sample size. It’s not one that we can just ignore, especially with new metrics like this.

Fortunately for us, Baseball-Prospectus’ catcher framing database includes Triple-A, where Higashioka has a much more robust sample. That data tells a similar story: he has an elite skill here. In 2019, seventy catchers received at least 2,000 non-strike pitches at Triple-A. Here are Higashioka’s rankings among those in key areas:

  • Called Strikes Above Average: +0.021 (1st)
  • Framing Runs: 15.4 (2nd)
  • Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA): 15.2 (2nd)
  • FRAA_Adjusted: 15.1 (2nd)

Other years tell a similar tale. These figures, coupled with his excellent production at the MLB level, are enough to conclude that Higashioka is an elite pitch framer. I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to reach that conclusion given the fairly overwhelming public evidence.

The common line about backup catchers is that they only need to be positives behind the plate. Swanson’s comments about the importance of pitch framing as a defensive skill is therefore very insightful in hunt the backup catcher–and it’s very good news for Higashioka. His unmistakable talent in this area, coupled with his low salary, strongly suggest that Kyle Higashioka will spend much more time in the Bronx come 2020.

1 year ago  ::  Dec 05, 2019 - 2:20PM #385
Posts: 12,354

Yankees: Why Tommy Kahnle should be Dellin Betances’ replacement

The New York Yankees’ “Bullpen of Doom” is seen by most as one of the most dominant bullpens in the game today. With all the electrifying arms that the Yankees utilize, like Ottavino — who throws a slider that swoops across the plate like a David Beckham free-kick outside the eighteen — Zack Britton, who throws a 95 MPH sinker and only a few years ago was one of the most dominant bullpen arms in all of baseball, and of course both flamethrowers — Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances.

Mix that in with Chad Green, who has one of the liveliest fastballs in all of the league, and has seen a steady improvement in his average fastball velocity, across the last four seasons. Yet, one of the names that seems to get continuously lost is Tommy Kahnle. Yankee fans are not the only eyes that have looked beyond his skill-set; the entire league has overlooked his talents.

As the 2019-2020 Free Agency market has begun to churn its gears and with Winter Meetings just around the corner, the Relief Pitcher market is starting to grow thinner and thinner by the day. With players like Will Smith, Drew Pomeranz, and even Carl Edwards Jr. getting signed over the last couple of weeks. Dellin Betances still sits on the market, which leads me to believe that perhaps the Yankees aren’t as positive about his injury-riddled past two seasons and that he may not be coming back to New York. With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one bites on Betances. Cashman and co would like to bring him back on a one or two year deal for a discount price. A question that is on the minds of all Yankees fans, and covered in a previous article by John Zarnowski, is: Who could fill the role that Betances held? 

There have been rumors and chatter of the Yankees possibly pursuing Josh Hader, however seeing as to how the Brewers have torn apart their team over the last month, I imagine they would want a king’s ransom and then some. I think the best option lies within the organization, and it’s Tommy Kahnle. 

Kahnle’s time with the New York Yankees up to this season

Acquired as an add-on in the deal that brought Houdini, David Robertson, back to New York in the summer of 2017 in exchange for — at the time — prized prospect, Blake Rutherford, Kahnle never really saw himself in conversations as one of the better arms out of the pen in the AL, let alone the entire league, so there were question marks around his name. However, there was some argument that in the 2017 season, Kahnle was as good as, if not better than Robertson. 

Tommy ended the 2017 season between the White Sox & Yankees with a K/BB ratio of 96/17 across 62.2 IP. That’s nearly a 6/1 ratio, coming off a season where his K/BB ratio in 2016 was 25/20 across a much smaller sample size in 26.1 IP. Robertson posted a 98/23 K/BB ratio that year, good for roughly a 4/1 ratio. Their 2017 seasons as a whole, across the board, were some of the most comparably dominant seasons that a reliever saw that year. While there were definite worries and question marks with Kahnle, nobody saw his horrendous 2018 season coming. 

In 2018, the Yankees had one more year of Robertson before he hit FA, so he was a lock in the pen, and the general belief around the Yankees clubhouse was that Tommy Kahnle, a cheap and team controlled MLB ready reliever, was going to be featured a lot that season. However, injuries and overall lack of confidence, oomph, and control, all played into what ended up being a horrid season for Kahnle. He saw his previous career year completely disregarded after only pitching 23.1 IP across the entire year, and having to spend a fair majority of the season in the minors as well. Everything that could’ve gone wrong for him did go wrong. Being demoted in May, and only accumulating 9.1 IP across the entire first half of the season led many to believe that Kahnle was just one-and-done, and indeed wasn’t this elite arm that everyone had begun to believe.

For Kahnle, his fastball was his best pitch, similar to Green’s, but Kahnle’s could hurl 97-98 MPH consistently in 2017. It was electrifying, and few hitters could hit it, which is why Kahnle threw it 67% of the time, mixing in his changeup only 22% of the time. In 2018 however, when his velocity was down to 94-95 MPH, his fastball wasn’t nearly as valuable or used as much, as seen by the average velocity game log from 2017-2019 (via Fangraphs):

There were times in 2018 where Tommy Kahnle would toss pitches at 93 MPH, dipping down from his 2017 high of 101. Due to that dip, he threw his changeup a considerably more substantial amount, but having relied so heavily on his fastball showed. His Changeup usage % was 41% in 2018, yet it didn’t have the movement or wasn’t nearly as valuable of a pitch due to his loss in velocity and confidence in his fastball. In 2019 however, Tommy regained some of that velocity and saw himself consistently pitching mid-to-high 90’s. Yet, he also threw his changeup far more often. His FB Usage % was down to 44%, and his changeup usage percentage was up to 52%. With that, Tommy saw the strikeouts return, and the walks limited far more than his previous year. He regained confidence and was a solid man out of the pen for the entirety of that year. 

Kahnle’s new approach was seemingly utilized by another player, needing a change as well

It’s as if Kahnle did what everyone’s applauding Drew Pomeranz for figuring out the last month of the year, but did it for that whole season. While Pomeranz’s change is different in the fact that he transitioned from starting role to relief, and immediately saw results, the overall concept is almost the same in its entirety. For Pomeranz, he upped his FB% from 48% when in the rotation, to an astonishing 72.6% when used out of Milwaukee’s pen. However, what made that pitch so lethal is that Pomeranz, who like Kahnle refound his velocity and restructured his approach, is that he also has — and only uses — one secondary pitch, his knuckle curve. Pomeranz’s time as a reliever, across 28.1 IP, was otherworldly for someone thought to have been washed up, as he racked up 50 strikeouts, and only yielded eight walks. That fantastic stretch earned him a four year deal worth $34,000,000 from the Padres.

Pomeranz’s and Kahnle’s styles may seem vastly different, in that Pomeranz uses his fastball far more. Yet, the secondary pitch that complements the primary pitch is almost just as important. Pomeranz realized he needed to throw only two pitches, as did Kahnle. Kahnle’s changeup is one of the most dominant in the league, and being able to throw it wisely and timely mix it in with his fastball, showed signs of becoming a lethal one-two punch. 

He has the tools necessary to be that set-up man to Aroldis

Kahnle was far from perfect in 2019, and he has things that still need to be put together, as suggested by his Road splits (4.94 ERA / 4.08 FIP). With that being said, there was still a massive improvement and signs shown that he has what it takes to be elite. Tommy Kahnle also wasn’t trusted enough last year, despite the fact that Kahnle was increasingly better when called upon in a more direct and defined role, and given the opportunities:

Low Leverage Situations Medium Leverage Situations High Leverage Situations
IP 25.2  26.1 9.1
K/BB  2.92  6.50 7.00
WHIP 1.36 0.87 0.75
xFIP 3.05 2.48 2.25

While it may not be a large sample size, the point is that as Tommy was given more significant tasks and more challenging appearances, he performed better. As with many players, if the team places their trust in them, 

then that player will likely return the favor by performing to expectations, if not exceeding them. That was the case with Kahnle, as the more comfortable he got throughout the year, he was used in more intense situations. While he did yield nearly double the HR/9 in High Leverage Situations (1.98 to 1.05 in LLS), that can be attributed to more than not bad luck, and the small sample size. The tools are there, and Tommy looks set to continue on the positive track he set last year, and bring the heat come 2020, and possibly, if needed, take the place of longtime Yankee, Dellin Betances.

The list of BP arms if Betances doesn’t return could look like this (* = potential RP/SP split role):

  • Jordan Montgomery*
  • Deivi Garcia*
  • Michael King*
  • Jonathan Loiasaga*
  • Ben Heller
  • Chad Green
  • Zack Britton
  • Adam Ottavino
    • Tommy Kahnle
    • Aroldis Chapman

    With the Yankees’ pitchers and catchers set to report to camp on February 11th, all eyes should be on Tommy Kahnle, and what further improvements he may have made on the heels of a resurrection of a season last year. It’ll be interesting to see what approach the Yankees take regarding their bullpen. Will they decide to bring back Betances on a team-friendly deal if he’s still around, look for other options like Blake Treinen on the market, or perhaps use what they have — and the Yankees have a good one in Tommy Kahnle. 

1 year ago  ::  Dec 05, 2019 - 11:06PM #386
Posts: 3,225

Dec 3, 2019 -- 10:48AM, NY23 wrote:

New York Yankees: Mike Ford will have a bigger role next season

Everyone remembers Mike Ford’s pitch hitting walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics last season, but there’s a bigger meaning behind Ford’s role on the New York Yankees. Ford’s swing is underlooked, as he has some serious power coming from the left side.

With Didi Gregorius looking like he won’t return in pinstripes next season, the Yankees are lacking left-handed power. The team currently only has three players swinging it from the left side who are Ford, Tyler Wade, and Mike Tauchman.

Ford appeared in 50 games for the New York Yankees last season where he posted a .259 batting average and slugged 12 home runs knocking in 25 RBIs. He did really well for the position he was thrown in and earned his spot in those games.

It looks like between Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu, first base is pretty much locked up for next season. However, I think Ford will find himself in the designated hitter role a considerable amount. Especially since the Yankees don’t have many left-handers, he is definitely one of the better options as a DH coming off the bench.

Ford had an incredible year down in triple-A with the Railriders. He slugged .303 with a .401 OBP while hitting 23 home runs through 79 games. In 349 plate appearances, Ford only fanned 55 times.

Besides Ford, Clint FrazierMike Tauchman, and Miguel Andujar are all guys that can swing it as well and potentially be in the DH spot. I believe it’s all going to come down who stays healthy and frankly whoever is producing the most at the plate.

Presuming Gregorius is gone, Torres goes to short, and DJLM will be at second. That gives Ford a chance to share first. I'd like to see him get as much time as possible to see what he can do. A Voit/Ford platoon gives that lefty/righty combination.

1 year ago  ::  Dec 06, 2019 - 10:46AM #387
Posts: 12,354 | Jeff Passan: In the latest Yankees news regarding Gerrit Cole, we now know that Brian Cashman has been given ownership-level approval for the top pitcher on the free agent market. The Yankees have let Cole get away twice before but the organization doesn’t plan on letting him slip away once again. With this approval Cole is expected to set the record for the largest starting pitcher contract currently held by David Price and the Boston Red Sox.

New York Post | Post Sports Desk: It has been reported that the Yankees have met with both Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg this week. Now we’ve found out that Andy Pettitte, currently a special advisor to Brian Cashman, went along for the ride as well. With starting pitching a main priority of the New York Yankees and winning one of the main factors influencing Cole’s decision, things could be leaning in the Yankees’ favor. Pettitte joining Cashman, Aaron Boone, and Matt Blake in California only further demonstrates how serious they are about adding a top-tier starting pitcher for the upcoming decade. | Danny Abriano: While the Yankees are paying attention to Cole and StrasburgBrett Gardner is still waiting around as a free agent. Considering Gardner re-signed with the Yankees on Halloween last offseason, it seems the reunion is taking longer than anticipated this time around. The Yankees still remain optimistic Gardner will be playing a role with the team come 2020. With Hicks injured until mid-season, adding the veteran Yankee seems like an easy decision right now. | Scott Soshnick: Yankees cross town rivals the Mets now have a new majority owner in Steve Cohen. He will not take control of the team until 2025 as Fred and Jedd Wilpon will remain in their roles until then. This could be great news for Mets fans who will have the richest owner of any baseball team in 2025.

1 year ago  ::  Dec 06, 2019 - 10:52AM #388
Posts: 12,354

Yankees mailbag: Gerrit Cole, Winter Meetings predictions, Gio Urshela

Wombat21 asks: There has been a lot of advocating for both, but is it more important to bring back departing free agents (Dellin BetancesDidi GregoriusAustin RomineBrett Gardner) or to get the big fish in Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg?

Let the record show that my answer is sign them all. They’re the Yankees; they can make it work. In terms of importance though, I say prioritize Cole or Strasburg. It’s better to sign one seven-WAR star than a collection of players who would add up to that win total.

Yanks4ever asks: The Winter Meetings are historically the most hectic period of the offseason. What major moves do you predict Brian Cashman to do while he’s there?

To quote a certain commenter on this board, go get Cole! Other than that, I can see a J.A. Happ trade going down. I’m hoping that the Winter Meetings are more active this year. Last offseason the Yankees found themselves in a few wild rumors—Noah Syndergaard and a three-team trade—but nothing else. Give me round-the-clock action, please.

Mike asks: Everyone, including Cashman, has seemingly handed Gio Urshela the starting third base job in 2020, stating that Urshela has similar offensive numbers and a better glove than Andujar. While the latter may be true, we seem to be forgetting that Urshela’s “breakout” coincided with a juiced ball, while Andujar put up similar (if not better) offensive numbers without the juiced ball. Isn’t it more likely that Urshela turns back into the pumpkin he was prior to 2019 when the ball is changed again?

Fans will remember the 2019 season for a number of reasons, chief among them the home-run explosion. There were 6,776 dingers in 2019, an all-time high. Compare that to the 5,585 long balls launched in 2018. It seemed like everyone had a 20-homer season, including Gio Urshela. The former light-hitting infielder slugged 21 bombs en route to a 132 wRC+ campaign.

The juiced ball obviously goes a way towards explaining Urshela’s breakout season, but I wouldn’t dismiss his performance out of hand. The 28-year-old made notable changes to his approach, and that shift in process could spell sustained success. I wrote about it a bit last summer.

Consider his Statcast profile:

Gio Urshela’s Statcast Numbers

YearLaunch AngleExit VeloxwOBA
2015 14.4 87 .300
2017 9.1 87 .293
2018 18.2 85.7 .266
2019 13.6 90.5 .353

Urshela scorched the ball in 2019; he ranked in the 60th percentile in terms of hard-hit percentage. In an era where teams invest big money in player development, where they seek to squeeze every last drop of potential out of a player, it’s not unrealistic to think breakouts could be legitimate. J.D. Martinez did it, so did Justin Turner. The MVP Machine has plenty more examples. I’m all on board with Urshela being the real deal.

Vincent asks: How did re-signing Gregorius become questionable? I have been a Yankees fan since Mantle, and Did is one of the best two-way shortstops the team has ever had. He not only immediately filled those big shoes left by Derek Jeter, the Jeter hype, but he showed no signs of the pressure and improved offensively every year prior to injury. So, why isn’t keeping him on the team a priority instead of the question mark the media is making it out to be? Happy Holidays to Yankee Fans .

That’s a great question, Vincent. Matt wrote up Gregorius yesterday in a potential free agent target post, so I won’t belabor the point. My impression, however, has to do with the current landscape of the baseball economy. A few years ago, front offices caught on to the notion that it’s not efficient to pay for past production. Instead, they’re interested in future value, and for Gregorius, given his age, it’s unclear how much of that he can bring. It sucks big time because Sir Didi is the man and should be a Yankee for life.

Jake asks: Who will have the best 2020 at the big-league level: Jordan Montgomery, Mike King, or Deivi Garcia?

Jordan Montgomery wins by default here because he has a track record of success in the big leagues. He demonstrated over a full season and part of 2018 that he can pitch well at the game’s highest level. He doesn’t have frontline potential, but when healthy, he’s a quality arm.

Garcia, meanwhile, offers the most upside. A lot of scouts and prospect rankings love him. That said, he has more question marks around him than Montgomery, and some think his future resides in the bullpen.

David asks: We keep hearing that “the analytics people love Kyle Higashioka.” What exactly are they looking at in terms of metrics? It certainly isn’t translating on the offensive side.

Higashioka, 29, has yet to hit in the majors, but he does have a track record of success in Triple-A. He posted a 129 wRC+ in 70 games for the RailRiders in 2019 after all. When it comes to the analytics, though, Higgy grades out as an adept pitch framer. According to StatCorner, he bought the Yankees 24 extra calls. In a report in The Athletic (subscription required)Higashioka said that framing is “...probably why I’m still around.” He can catch with the best of them.

1 year ago  ::  Dec 06, 2019 - 10:54AM #389
Posts: 12,354

Who will claim the final spot in the Yankees’ bullpen?

The Yankees have a host of young relievers who could step into the role.

The depth of the Yankees’ bullpen has long been one of the unit’s strong suits. As currently constructed, six of the eight spots in the team’s bullpen are all but set: Aroldis Chapman is is the closer, Adam OttavinoZack Britton and Tommy Kahnle are the set-up men, and Chad Green and Luis Cessa are the versatile middle relievers.

That leaves two spots up for grabs in the relief corps. One of them will probably go to an established big leaguer, either by re-signing Dellin Betances or acquiring a replacement such as Blake Treinen. At that point, the Yankees’ bullpen will arguably be the deepest in the league, going seven strong.

That still leaves one open spot, which could go to an up-and-comer in the Yankees’ minor league system. While the Bombers will undoubtedly utilize the Scranton Shuttle for their final spot at times this season, which players might get the first crack at the spot?

At this point, the Yankees probably hope that Jonathan Loaisiga can take the position. After two years as a top prospect in the system, the team hasn’t seen Loaisiga fully put it together. For all of his high strikeout totals, they’ve been undone by an equal amount of long innings due to high walk totals and nibbling around the strike zone.

Loaisiga has done better as a reliever than a starter in his career, in part because it lets him focus on his two primary pitches, the fastball and the curveball. Although Loaisiga’s curveball has been exceptional in his brief big-league trial, his fastball has been lit up to the tune of a lifetime .329 batting average against, and his changeup hasn’t been much better (.285). Loaisiga hasn’t been able to establish three consistent pitches as a starter, but his stuff plays up far better in the bullpen. He could also help provide length for the team as a long reliever if needed.

If Loaisiga still isn’t ready, or the Yankees want to try him as a starter again, Ben Heller could be an interesting option. Heller was somewhat surprisingly recalled when CC Sabathia went on the injured list during the 2019 playoffs, so the Yankees obviously see something in him after hanging onto him through Tommy John surgery.

Heller is intriguing because he strikes out a high volume of batters (over 30% in the majors and minors in 2019) while also not walking too many, he had the second-lowest walk rate of the five Yankees relievers in this piece. At 28 years old and finally fully healthy, Heller might be looking to capitalize on his best chance yet to make an impact in the Yankees’ bullpen.

Jonathan Holder missed most of the 2019 season with a shoulder injury, but has the most big-league experience of any of the candidates. Although Holder struggles with the home-run ball at times and is coming off of injury, the Yankees might want to give him one more chance to bounce back to his 2018 form, when he was a reliable member of the team’s bullpen.

If the Yankees want to go with a high-risk, high-reward option, Stephen Tarpley or Mike King could also be in the running. Tarpley gets an extremely high whiff rate on his slider (41.9%), but also walks way too many batters (5.47 BB/9) and had an absurd 44.9% hard-hit rate in 24.2 innings. King is the real wild card here, after he earned a late-season call-up. Still, it would probably be best for King’s development to stay in the rotation.

While all five of these players will probably see time with the big club this year, I’d bet on Heller or Holder getting the job first. The Yankees have stuck with these guys through injury, and they fit the role of the last guy in the bullpen well. In the meantime, Loaisiga is in no-man’s land; he either has to figure out his third pitch to become a starter, or scrap it to stick as a reliever.

The eighth and final reliever on Opening Day may not seem like a big job, but it could become one as injuries pile up and opportunities arise. The Yankees have a host of candidates for the job, and just one of them stepping forward into Aaron Boone’s bullpen circle of trust could be a massive boost for the group that is already the team’s biggest strength.

1 year ago  ::  Dec 06, 2019 - 10:56AM #390
Posts: 12,354

Would the Yankees pull off a trade for this All-Star first baseman?

Jim Bowden suggests the Yankees should deal for Josh Bell in a move that would send Miguel Andujar to Pittsburgh.

While many have their focus on the free agent market, some have their eyes on trades. Jim Bowden just recently wrote an article in The Athletic that pitched the idea of the Yankees sending Miguel AndujarLuke Voit, and minor league pitcher Roansy Contreras to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for All-Star first baseman Josh Bell. He notes that New York could benefit not only from the talent of Bell, but he would also add a switch-hitting bat into a right-handed heavy lineup.

Josh Bell is coming off the best season of his young career. The 27-year-old hit .277/.367/.569 with 116 RBI. His 135 wRC+ was good for 22nd-best in the league, and fourth among first basemen. A 92.3 exit velocity and .556 xSLG were also among the best in baseball. Along with that, he hit 37 doubles and mashed 37 home runs. His contract is attractive too. He has three more years of control as he’s not a free agent until 2022. Plus, he’s slated to make $5.9 million in his first year of arbitration next year, which is a team-friendly paycheck. Adding Bell to an already powerful lineup could make the Yankees an even more dangerous team.

While his bat was nothing short of stellar for the Pirates in 2019, his glove seems to be a work in progress. He has cost his team eleven runs since entering the league four years ago, including five last season. His career RngR is a -6.0 and owns a -8.8 UZR/150. Luke Voit is known for being a below average defender as well, but Bell is even worse. Would Brian Cashman trade three of his players for a bat that is a bit better than that of Voit’s? I think it would be hard to convince him to pull the trigger on Bowden’s trade proposal.

Luke Voit led all qualified Yankees in on-base percentage with .378. Yes, Voit was on-base more often than DJ LeMahieu. With the season that LeMahieu had, that is extremely impressive. He is often overshadowed by the bigger bats on the team, but he is more than capable of holding it down at first base for New York. I understand why Voit would be in the deal, since the Pirates would need a replacement for Bell. However, the deal is not worth surrendering both Andujar and Contreras for a modest upgrade at first.

Miguel Andujar was the runner-up Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, and owns the Yankees rookie record for most doubles in a season. He may not have much trade value right now, but he still has the potential to be a franchise player. Packaging him for a first baseman is probably not what Cashman is looking to do.

The third player mentioned by Bowden is 20-year-old Roansy Contreras. He is currently a starting pitcher in Low-A Charleston for the RiverDogs. He was signed as one of the top prospects on the international market and is ranked as the Yankees’ 12th-best prospect.

Cashman could be willing to include Contreras in a trade, and if it were just him and Voit for Bell, it may have a better chance of happening. Adding Andujar in there as well seems to make the trade too much of an overpay for the Yankees.

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