Author: Bobby Page 2 of 83

Thoughts as the Yankees Host Their First 2021 Workout

Friends, a new season is upon us. The offseason is over and the Yankees are hosting a true workout today. It is pretty exciting. The last year has been pretty damn miserable for everyone, so I am really hoping to see a full, safe baseball season. I know I could use it, and I bet you can too.

With much more to come in the next few days, here are some preliminary thoughts as the Yankees break camp and get the 2021 season underway.

1. Expectations, Expectations, Expectations: The beauty of Spring Training is that it is a time for optimism. Squint hard enough and fans of nearly any team, with my apologies to Orioles and Pirates fans, can see a path forward. The good news about rooting for the 2021 Yankees is that absolutely no squinting is necessary: they are comfortably the best team in the American League. It’s not just me saying that. The major projection systems agree:

  • PECOTA: 98-64, 81.5% chance of winning the AL East
  • FanGraphs: 96-66, 71.4% chance of winning the AL East

In both cases, that’s the highest in the American League – PECOTA has Houston winning 93 games and FanGraphs also has Houston second with 88 wins –and second only behind the reigning champion Dodgers in the league overall. FanGraphs also calculates World Series odds. The Yanks rank second (18%) behind the Dodgers there, too. It’s good company and it passes the sniff test. The Yankees are definitely that good.

All of this is to say that I am cannot wait for the season to start. One obvious reason is because of how good they are: this is a complete roster and the team had a very strong offseason, Ottavino salary dump aside. Another reason is that last season was extremely frustrating for many reasons, one of them being that it was really short – over a full 162 games, I think things would have straightened out. Alas, it was not to be.

But the past is the past. It is a new season, and all indications are that it is going to be a good one. Hopefully, it will be the best one since 2009. As Aaron Boone said in his introductory press conference yesterday afternoon, “talk is cheap at this point.” Can’t say it any better than that.

Yankees, Jay Bruce Agree to MiLB Deal

Ken Rosenthal reports that the Yankees and left-handed outfielder Jay Bruce, who is somehow just 33-years-old, are in agreement on a MiLB deal:

Bruce, most recently a Phillie, will offer the Yankees some left-handed depth in the system, though I doubt he’ll get much playing time as a regular even if he makes the big league squad. After all, he’s played in just 224 games since the start of the 2018 campaign, logging a .217/.282/.448 (95 OPS+) over about 800 plate appearances. The Yankees have many better options and it’s doubtful he logs much time in the OF, barring another year of injury catastrophes.

That said, I can see a role for Bruce. One potential interesting nugget: even last year, when he struggled, Bruce hit right-handed pitchers well. It was just a small sample (fewer than 100 AB) but he was markedly better against RHP than LHP – a trend that is mostly consistent throughout his career. He also hit fastballs decently hard overall in 2020.

The point of this quick analysis is to say it’s not hard to see him as a roster upgrade over Mike Ford. He plays some 1B and DH and might be a pinch-hitting option off the bench against a FB-heavy RHP in certain situations. It is unlikely that Bruce ever returns to his 2010-13 peak, when he logged a 120 OPS+ in ~2500 PA, but he could end up being a serviceable backend roster upgrade. And, if not, no harm, no foul.

Report: Masahiro Tanaka, Rakuten Eagles in Advanced Talks

It appears we may be nearing the end of an era: Masahiro Tanaka is reportedly advancing talks to return to his original team, the Rakuten Eagles in Japan. So says Jim Allen, who translated a Japanese language report last night:

There are no other reported details at this time. I believe it, though. The Jameson Taillon trade all but ended any hope that the righty, who first joined the team in 2014, would return to the Bronx. If the Taillon trade didn’t convince you, then the Ottavino salary dump certainly should have. It essentially confirms that the Yankees do not want to exceed the $210 million luxury tax threshold, and there is virtually no way to fit Tanaka in that framework.

If this is the end of the Yankee-Tanaka marriage, it was a happy one. Tanaka, who signed a long-term deal with the Yanks in January 2014, was a dependable staple in the Yankee rotation for seven-years. Here are some of his rankings among 203 qualified starters since he came to New York:

  • Walk Rate: 4.8%, (10th)
  • Wins: 78 (14th)
  • fWAR: 19.0 (19th)
  • Innings: 1054.1 (22nd)
  • Starts: 173 (27th)

Overall, Tanaka posted a 78-46 record with a 3.74 ERA (3.91 FIP, 87 ERA-) in his Bronx tenure. He was dependable and always held himself accountable – all of which made him an immediate and enduring fan favorite. His incredible postseasons didn’t hurt, either.

Tanaka was also a steady presence with the Yankees. Just 5 players remain from the 2015 Yankees: Brett Gardner, Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Gary Sánchez, and Tanaka. Sánchez played in just two games, and while Warren and Severino were steady forces, Warren left (twice, and he’s back now!) and Severino hasn’t really pitched since 2018. Tanaka, by contrast, was always there. A Yankee through and through.

It will be a sad goodbye, in other words. It’s truly the end of an era. (I still think he’d fit on the 2021 team, but alas.) We will have a much more comprehensive retrospective soon, barring a major surprise. Until then, though, I leave you with a classic Tanaka gem.

(It won’t embed properly, so just click the link. It goes to highlights of Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS, as you likely guessed.)

Report: Yankees, Brett Gardner Discussing Return to Bronx

File this one under the “wrapping things up” portion of the offseason. Now that the Yankees have re-signed DJ LeMahieu, brought on Corey Kluber, and traded for Jameson Taillon, it is time to make a few final tweaks to the roster. As expected, that means rekindling the old flame with Brett Gardner, the team’s longest-tenured player. Jack Curry says that is already underway:

Gardner, who will turn 38 this year, hit .223/.354/.392 (110 wRC+), with a much stronger second half of the season, in 2020. While I quibble with Curry’s claim that Gardner can play “all 3 OF spots”, he is a versatile player who, in my view, belongs on the team.

Like Curry, I think this will work out sooner rather than later. (Especially because it’s Curry, perhaps the best well-sourced Yankee reporter, is the one telling us this.) All that’s left is to see the terms of the deal.

Remember, Brett earned $10 million in 2020 and had a $2.5 million buyout for 2021 after the Yanks declined his 2021 option. I expect, if a reunion does happen, that it’ll be for a much smaller salary than $10 million. Maybe a $5 million base salary so he earns $7.5 million total? No idea, but the Yanks aren’t looking to break the bank. We do know that.

No matter, though. Brett’s earned $85 million in his career, so I’m willing to bet he’ll take a hometown discount to try and win one for the road.

Thoughts after the Yankees Acquire Jameson Taillon

The Yankees finally made their long-awaited trade for a starter today, acquiring former Pirates righty Jameson Taillon for a package of four mid-level prospects. Taillon, a 29-year-old righty, has two seasons left before he reaches free agency and will earn $2.25 million in 2021. There is a lot to say about this trade, but the long and short of it is that I like this move a lot for the Yankees. Let’s get right into it.

1. Taillon’s Injury History: Although I like this move, let’s start with the obvious risk here. Taillon, as you all know, has twice undergone Tommy John surgery, most recently in 2019. Here is his full injury history:

  • 2014: Tommy John surgery
  • 2015: Sports hernia
  • 2017: Testicular cancer
  • 2019-20: Tommy John surgery

This is a significant injury history to be sure. There’s no way around it. As Derek noted back in December, though, it’s the two elbow reconstructions that are most worrying. The list of pitchers who have twice undergone the procedure is pretty short, and the list of those who have been effective after a second is even shorter. Still, Nathan Eovaldi is a prominent example of one such guy. It is certainly possible.

The good news, though is that Taillon is ready to play now. He will report to camp with a healthy arm and look to prove that he is finally healthy. There (hopefully) won’t be any waiting around for him. Hopefully, he’s back with his full velocity and arsenal, though who knows? That is the risk here. The good stuff comes after the jump.

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