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The 40-man roster chopping block

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Before the Yankees can call up Clarke Schmidt or bring in a new player via trade, the front office will have to trim the 40-man roster. That could make for a relatively busy week depending on how active the Yankees are before next Monday’s trade deadline. That’s right, the deadline is just seven days from now.

The Yankees’ full 40-man roster has already been called out by the manager in recent days. In discussing Schmidt potentially joining the team’s rotation, Aaron Boone indicated that the team’s roster status complicates matters. Does that mean Schmidt would already be here if there was a 40-man opening? That’s not totally clear. In any case, the Yankees will have to make space for Schmidt or others in the near-term. Here’s a look at who could go:

Injury List Shuffle Candidates

Luis Severino and Tommy Kahnle are on the 60-day injured list and thus off the 40-man roster, but those two could be joined by others.

Luis Avilán just went on the 10-day injured list with shoulder inflammation, but if there’s something more serious going on there, he could be shifted to the 60-day and open a spot. Imaging revealed nothing more than the inflammation, however.

Kyle Higashioka’s is already eligible to return from the 10-day IL, but Boone noted nothing is imminent even though he’s making good progress. Any setback could land Higgy on the 60-day though. If and when Higashioka returns, Erik Kratz will almost certainly be DFA’d and removed from the 40.

If either Avilán or Higashioka hit the 60-day IL, they won’t be seen for the rest of the season. Boone seemed to have Avilán in his circle of trust, but the lefty wouldn’t be a huge absence if lost. Losing Higashioka would hurt more because catching depth is pivotal, even if Higgy isn’t necessarily anything too special.

Barring significant news, no one else on the 10-day IL is a candidate for shuffling off the roster. The Yankees need the likes of DJ LeMahieu, James Paxton, and Giancarlo Stanton (among others) to return this season.

Fringe relief arms

Jonathan Holder seems like a prime DFA candidate. Even though his changeup is somewhat intriguing, he’s maddeningly inconsistent and really hasn’t been effective since 2018. Holder has one minor league option remaining (and it has yet to be used this year). He is also arbitration eligible this offseason. The Yankees may be able to carry forward that option to next year, but Holder will get a raise in arbitration from his $750k salary (albeit nothing drastic), so it wouldn’t shock me to see him non-tendered this winter anyway. The Yankees could just decide to get that decision out of the way sooner.

After Holder comes Ben Heller, who the team really hasn’t given much of an opportunity yet. He’ll have one more minor league option remaining next season, but he could also be arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason depending on how many days he spends in the majors in 2020. Do the Yankees want to pay him an increased (but still not big) salary for a reliever with hardly any big league experience? He could be non-tendered as well, so the Bombers could just get ahead of things here.

We’ve yet to see much of Brooks Kriske in 2020, who just joined the 40-man roster entering this season. I can’t imagine he’d be a straight DFA, but perhaps he could be traded like Joe Harvey last year. Remember, Harvey was a newbie on the 40-man, but the Yankees dealt him mid-season to clear space.

I mentioned Kriske as a small trade candidate, but Holder or Heller could fall in that boat as well. The Phillies desperately need bullpen help even after a few recent moves, so maybe they’d come calling to help relieve the Yankees’ 40-man jam.

Trade chips

There are a number of players that likely won’t factor as contributors in 2020 but currently take up space on the 40-man. Those include: Albert Abreu, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Miguel Yajure, and Estevan Florial. Now, we’ve see Abreu get in a game this year and Yajure on the major league roster, but neither are expected to play big roles. Either of those two along with the others could be included in a bigger trade to land help for the Yankees’ rotation or bullpen.

We should also throw in Nick Nelson and Deivi García here. Nelson has pitched a bit for the Yankees this season, but he’s not untouchable via trade. I threw him into a trade proposal last week (MTPS). As for Deivi: I don’t expect the Yankees to actively shop him. Teams will ask for him, though.

Down ballot candidates

Most of the Yankees’ position players are anchored to the 40-man. Only the catching situation and Florial appear to be potential opening opportunities. Otherwise, things look pretty set. Clint Frazier, oft-rumored in trades in the past, appears safe once again because of the team’s injury situation. Further, I don’t see the team selling low on Miguel Andújar. But there is one other rostered position player that’s trending downward: Mike Ford.

I don’t think it’s any secret that we have been Ford fans on this here blog, but I also wouldn’t rule him out in this roster crunch. He’s off to a slow start (.175/.227/.375, 58 wRC+) in 44 plate appearances. There’s no defensive versatility either. There are still a number of guys to cut before him, but he’s starting to play his way into the conversation.

Back to pitchers: what about JA Happ? Cutting him has probably crossed everyone’s mind. It’s almost certainly not going to happen, however. The Yankees seem to have a lot of (blind?) faith in Happ. Perhaps more importantly, pitchers are dropping like flies this year and it would probably behoove the team to keep him around as depth. He’d still get his 2020 salary on or off the team, anyway (aside: his vesting option would be voided upon release, for what it’s worth).

Spring Training Competition: Back of the Bullpen

As Bobby noted in his 26-man roster projection yesterday, expect the Yankees to carry eight relievers to start the regular season. Six of those eight spots are pretty well set barring injury, leaving two openings up for grabs. Here’s how things shake out:

  1. Aroldis Chapman
  2. Zack Britton
  3. Chad Green
  4. Adam Ottavino
  5. Tommy Kahnle
  6. Luis Cessa
  7. ???
  8. ???

Bobby predicted that Jonathans Holder and Loáisiga will travel north come opening day. Let’s take a look at those two’s candidacies along with the rest in competition.

The favorites

Not only is Loáisiga in the mix here, but he’s also an option for the fifth starter role. The 25 year-old’s stuff will play regardless of role, though his durability and control seem to make relief more sensible. One more thing that may be construed as telling for Loáisiga’s status was that Aaron Boone called him on in relief in the 10th inning of Game 2 of the 2019 ALCS with the score tied. Basically, all Boone had left was Cessa, Loáisiga, and JA Happ. That Loáisiga was above Cessa in the pecking order in that situation could be an indicator of his status, especially with Cessa all but a lock in this year’s bullpen.

Next is Holder, who had a rough 2019. Ineffectiveness eventually resulted in a demotion to Triple-A, and later, he ended the year on the injured list because of shoulder inflammation. It was a big step back from his prior two years during which the 26 year-old righty pitched 105 1/3 innings and posted a 3.42 ERA and 3.25 FIP.

After a down season ended with injury, it seemed like Holder was on the 40-man chopping block. Instead, the Yankees kept the first-time arbitration eligible reliever and settled for $750,000. Considering that vote of confidence and past success in the big leagues, Holder figures to be a very strong candidate for one of the last two spots. One thing that could go against him is that he still has a minor league option remaining, though so do a number of others discussed in this post.

Non-roster invitees who could fit as a longman

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It’s pretty clear that the front office is a fan of David Hale, who’s back again this year as a non-roster invitee. He’s been with the organization since 2018 and was quite effective in the big leagues last year. In 20 games and 37 2/3 innings, Hale recorded a 3.11 ERA and 3.32 FIP. Unfortunately, he went on the injured list with a lumbar spine strain at the end of July and didn’t return.

Bettis came aboard over the weekend. Before joining the Yankees, Bettis mostly worked as a starter for the Rockies (except 2019). He hasn’t been very good since 2015 or 2016. That said, his 60.8 percent ground ball rate last season is intriguing. Bettis also might be someone who would thrive by throwing more curveballs. Last year, he threw his yakker just 12 percent of the time in spite of an exception whiff rate (40.1 percent) and high spin (2,539 RPM).

Both Hale and Bettis can provide length in relief should they need it. We know Bettis has spent a good deal of his career in the rotation, meaning that he’s used to being stretched out. Meanwhile, Hale has also started quite a bit. Hale has made 18 starts for Scranton since 2018.

I suppose Cessa is the true long man on the roster at the moment, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be two especially in April when managers tend to be more careful with starters.

Prospects on the 40-man in the running

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If ZiPS had its say, Ben Heller (projected 108 ERA+) and Brooks Kriske (101 ERA+) would be in the Yankees’ bullpen coming opening day. Nonetheless, the odds of either righties making it don’t seem great, though I wouldn’t say that they’re longshots either.

Heller, who missed all of 2018 because of Tommy John Surgery, finally made it back toward the end of last season. He was dominant in 11 Triple-A innings (0.82 ERA) and 7 1/3 major league frames (1.23 ERA). This is really the first time the 28 year-old has been in position to get an extended major league look. He’s not all that different from Holder, who I noted as a favorite, but Heller may need a little more game action in Triple-A.

Kriske, 26, is new to the 40-man roster. He was downright fantastic in 60 2/3 minor league innings last season (split between High-A and Double-A). The righty struck out 80 batters while posting a 2.08 ERA and 2.69 FIP. Never say never, but Kriske will probably get a look at Triple-A hitters before getting to the majors.

Unlikely Non-roster invitees

The new three batter minimum rule is going to make it tough on Luis Avilán and Tyler Lyons. Both are pretty classic lefty specialists whose values have been hurt by MLB’s rule change. I just can’t imagine the Yankees going north with either of them.

Dan Otero, Tony Zych, and Domingo Acevedo are also in camp as NRIs, but with slim odds of wearing pinstripes. Otero’s been pretty bad in each of the last two seasons in Cleveland. He doesn’t miss bats and gives up a ton of homers. Zych hasn’t pitched since 2017 and has been hurt quite a lot in his career. Finally, the Yankees surprisingly invited Acevedo to camp. Once one of the Yankees’ better prospects, Acevedo has fallen from grace as stuff has diminished. The Yankees actually pulled a release-and-sign with him last summer to make room on the 40-man roster. Hard to picture him with the Yankees unless he regains his stuff.


As I noted in the favorites and as Bobby predicted, Holder and Loáisiga are the early frontrunners. That said, there are a number of permutations these last two spots can take, unexpected injuries aside.

Heller and/or Kriske could be deemed as better middle relief options than Holder. The Yankees are pretty set from the sixth inning on in relief, so it really could just come down to who has the best spring training here.

I also could see Hale winning a spot over Loáisiga. And not necessarily because Loáisiga isn’t deserving, but rather, because the Yankees may want to give him another shot as a starter and thereby keep him stretched out in Scranton. Plus, Hale was pretty good last season and has obviously had fans in the organization for a few years.

Regardless of the outcome, we’ll probably see quite a bit of shuffling with these last two spots as long as the bullpen is at full strength. Being on the opening day roster is neat and all, but it’s more ceremonial than anything. In all likelihood, it’ll be another season of the ol’ Scranton Shuttle getting its run.

An assortment of relievers [2019 Season Review]

Tarpley. (Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the Yankees’ core tenets is a strong bullpen, as evidenced once again in 2019. But a strong bullpen isn’t just about the relief aces like Zack Britton or Chad Green (among others). Other pitchers play important roles too, even in blowouts and games that aren’t on the line. Today, I take a brief look at an array of pitchers who spent time on the Yankees’ major league roster this season. Most of these pitchers didn’t have much success on the mound, and many won’t be back in 2020, but they still played some role on this year’s club.

Jonathan Holder

After a strong 2018, the Yankees expected Holder to be an important piece of the bullpen. Not in terms of high leverage, but rather, holding the fort down in the middle innings. Unfortunately, he fell far short of his 3.14 ERA and 3.04 FIP in 66 innings a year ago.

Not only did Holder get sent down to Triple-A twice this year, but to add injury to insult, he finished the season on the injured list. The 26 year-old righty wasn’t horrible to start the year, but he certainly wasn’t anything special. By the end of May, he had a 4.55 ERA but a much better 3.07 FIP. Come June, things took a turn for the worst. He allowed six homers and 15 runs (13 earned) in eight innings before he was sent to Scranton.

The final straw came on June 24th, when Holder faced five batters and did not record an out. The big blow was Freddy Galvis’s grand slam. Holder was optioned after the game, returned for one appearance in July, and didn’t resurface in the Bronx again until August. But not long after, he hit the injured list with shoulder inflammation and missed the remainder of the season. There’s no indication that any portion of his 2020 season is in jeopardy.

Assuming he’s healthy, Holder will be in the mix for one of the last bullpen spots in spring training. He has one more minor league option remaining, so he could be an up-and-down relief arm once again if he can’t re-establish himself.

Stephen Tarpley

If you had me guess how many innings Tarpley threw for the Yankees this season, I would have guessed a dozen or so. Maybe it’s because the season has been over for a few months now, but my guess is far off. In fact, the lefty threw 24 2/3 frames for the Bombers this year. He was ineffective and finished the season with a 6.93 ERA and 5.69 FIP.

Tarpley’s big issue was the long ball. He’s been a ground ball pitcher for some time now, even garnering (unfair) comps to Zack Britton, but that was far from the case in 2019. He had just a 36.2 percent ground ball rate and surrendered six homers (2.2 per nine innings). This came on the heels of a 63.8 percent ground ball rate for Scranton this season.

Tarpley still has two more minor league options, so he still has time to work the kinks out. He’s had plenty of success in Triple-A, but it’s just not translated at the big league level. However, he may also be on the 40-man chopping block as we await the official announcements of Gerrit Cole and Brett Gardner.

Cory Gearrin

The Yankees claimed Gearrin off waivers from the Mariners near the end of August. Unexpectedly, he quickly became one of the team’s most oft-used relievers. The sidearmer appeared in 18 of the Yankees final 32 games of the regular season.

His usage was a little perplexing given his uninspiring results, but upon reflection, it makes sense. Not only did Aaron Boone say that the organization believed Gearrin had upside, but Gearrin also offered some relief (pun intended) for guys who had been worked hard like Adam Ottavino.

Gearrin’s a free agent, but there hasn’t been a peep about him in the rumor mill. Not that anyone would expect there to be. Chances are Gearrin receives a minor league deal for 2020, and your guess is as good as mine regarding with what team he’ll sign with.

Tyler Lyons

The Yankees picked up Lyons on a minor league contract in August after the Pirates released him earlier in the month. The former Cardinal was last an effective big league reliever in 2017 while he was still with St. Louis. Once rosters expanded in September, the Yankees gave the lefty a shot.

Lyons was decent in September and had eight scoreless outings in eleven total appearances. Similar to Gearrin, Lyons gave the Yankees another warm body to provide key relievers a breather. Surprisingly, Lyons earned a spot on the playoff roster and appeared in both the ALDS and ALCS. He retired all five batters he faced, including four strike outs, but the games he pitched were already out of hand.

The others

Longtime farmhand Brady Lail, the Yankees’ 18th-rounder in 2012, made a one game cameo in August before the Yankees’ designate him for assignment. He’s currently a minor league free agent…Jake Barrett appeared in two games for the Yankees before elbow inflammation ended his season. He too is a free agent…Same deal for southpaw Joe Mantiply, who was one-and-done for an August game and is now a free agent…the Yankees nabbed Ryan Dull, part of their run on scrapheap relievers, in mid-August off waivers. Dull last only lasted three games with the Bombers before the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers in September…Joe Harvey was a surprise addition to the 40-man entering 2019 and was decent in 10 innings for the Bombers (4.50 ERA). The Yankees traded him to the Rockies for Alfredo Garcia before the deadline.

The definitive categorization of post-Yankee beards

Love this, minus the uniform. (MLB Gifs)

Matt’s off this week, so in lieu of his Sunday column, here’s my dissertation on Yankee beards.

Since the early days of George Steinbrenner’s tenure as owner of the Yankees, the Bombers have had a strict facial hair policy. Yes to mustaches, absolutely not to beards or excessively long hair.

Would I love to see the Yankees practice the scraggly art of unkempt or even fine-tuned beards? Sure. But the contrast of non-bearded Bombers gives us a chance to study players changing, one follicle at a time.

If someone is drafted by the Yankees out of high school or signs with the team on July 2 as an international free agency, that player is joining the organization well before their prime as a beard grower. Therefore, for much of their adult life, they’re deprived of the ability to grow out fun, lengthy and sometimes hilariously bad facial hair except in the offseason.

When players leave the Yankees, particularly homegrown talents, each player immediately throws away their razor. OK, maybe not literally, but almost everyone grows a beard shortly after leaving the Bronx. Some pull it off well and some … well, they aren’t quite as gifted.

For a breakdown, here’s an unnecessary categorization of Yankee beards.

The Standard Offseason Beard aka the CC

The most common beard you see from a Yankees player is the offseason beard. Without responsibilities to the team, players can go wild from November to February with hirsute appearances.

There is one undisputed champion in this category; CC Sabathia leads the Yankees in Offseason Beards Above Replacement. As he talked about on R2C2, he’s even mastered the in-season beard after learning at the feet of the master, Andy Pettitte, by finding ways to let some growth come up in-between starts. Since he’s now retired, he was quick to start the process back up.

Let’s check out this offseason work from 2014:

That, my friends, is a master at work. CC tested, LeBron approved.

Sabathia hasn’t always had the best beards, but he’s always courtside at basketball games ready to show off the new look. Salute.

The In-Uniform Offseason Beard aka The Bernie

Bernie Williams takes the cake here. First up, his appearance on Seinfeld:

You know that the Yankees are either in a stetch of off-days or the offseason, as Bernie is rocking the goatee. Considering the show aired in November, it’s likely the latter.

Yet Williams was not done. Six years later, he took part in MLB’s trip to Japan and played against Koji Uehara, among others. Most notably, he sported a devilish goatee again, this time in full Yankee pinstripes. We must bow down to this flagrant display of whiskers.

The Average Post-Yankee Beard aka The Hughes

For most players, this is a right of passage. You play for the Yankees for a while and shave every day. Once you leave the Bronx, you want to see what you can do. Most players don’t abuse this newfound power and put together a fine look.

Example: Phil Hughes

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It’s not perfect, but it’s a strong effort from the baby-faced Hughes to blend into the adult world of Minneapolis. I dare say he pulls it off.

Example II: David Robertson and Melky Cabrera

This … This is the Bad Place! I didn’t want to see David Robertson with a beard, so now you have to as well. He put in the effort, but he was meant to be clean-shaven. (Melky’s beard fits him. Don’t @ me.)

Robertson has since tried to hide all evidence of his bearded days with his glove.

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Example III: Ian Kennedy

Kennedy shows up in a later (and lesser) category, but after years of trying, he’s mastered the post-Yankee beard. We salute you, IPK. Save the Big Three. 10/10

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The Cano

Sometimes, there are visionaries in a field. Someone who knows instantly their true calling and makes strides that others simply cannot. That is Robinson Cano and the mustache-less beard. He brought it out at his introductory press conference. That’s how much confidence he had in it.

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Years later, it was still there. He’s since gone in new and innovative hair directions (Check his Instagram), but he’s a unique player in the post-Yankee beard space. No one else is pulling this off.

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Going Too Hard aka The Joba

All of the energy Joba put into expressive fistpumps early in his career went into hiding his chin and neck with hair later on.

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Look, Joba was great. He’s a World Series champion and was just about as fun a middle reliever as one could watch. That being said, he made a follicle folly. Chamberlain appears to have spent 10 years at sea on a crab-fishing expedition and barely lived to tell the tale. This took the post-Yankee beard past the line.

As promised, here’s Kennedy doing the same in San Diego.

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Once a Yankee, Always a Yankee (The Tino)

Almost everyone grows out the Yankee beard. Not Tino Martinez. Never Tino.

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Perhaps he couldn’t pull it off. Maybe he knew not to mess with his good looks, even while wearing a Cardinals or Devil Rays uniform.

Joe Girardi remained steadfast in his clean-shaven look as well. It’s What You Want.

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Extra: The Pre-Yankee Beard!

There are a few players who went hard on a beard before coming to the Bronx. The most famous, of course, is Johnny Damon. As a member of the ’04 Red Sox, he had long hair on every inch of his head.

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He never really grew it out again after leaving the Yankees, only sporting the occasionally average beard of a normal human.

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However, let’s check on the work of one Jonathan Holder. He was drafted by the Yankees but out of college. While at Mississippi State, Holder, aka Kenny Powers, clearly saw grooming as an optional pursuit meant for everyone else.

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Here’s an even better look. If Holder had gone to another organization, he’d have had a chance to shine as a cult hero for his shaggy hair. In the Bronx, he’s just like everyone else.

Yankees Activate Dellin Betances from Injured List

I know this is old…but it sure is pretty.

Well, the day is finally here. After a long, arduous rehab process, the Yankees have finally activated flame-throwing righty reliever Dellin Betances off the 60-day Injured List. There were a few other notes: the Yankees activated Jordan Montgomery, too, designated Ryan Dull for assignment, and transferred Jonathan Holder to the 60-day IL.

Here is the official news from the team:

Let’s start with the bad news. This officially ends Jonathan Holder’s season, as his shoulder inflammation got the best of him. Too bad, even though he really struggled this year, with a 6.31 ERA (4.45 FIP) in 41 innings pitched. He still struck batters out (25%) and limited walks (6%), but was really done in by the long ball. I like Holder and think he is a useful piece, so this is too bad. See ya in 2020, Jonathan.

Ryan Dull only got 2.1 innings as a Yankee, one of which was yesterday. He gave up 5 runs in those innings. He was a true last man out of the pen type option.

Now, to the good news. Jordan Montgomery (Tommy John) was activated as expected. I said all I can say about him yesterday, so check that out if you missed it. He’s about to pitch as I’m writing this, which is very cool. Welcome back, Jordan.

But the real story here, of course, is the return of Dealin’ Dellin. What a beautiful sight that is. I say so because, well, a healthy and normal Dellin is quite simply one of the most dominant relievers in the entire league. Check out Betances’ statistics among key metrics from 2014-2018, with his rankings among the 273 qualified relievers in parentheses:

  • ERA: 2.22 (8th)
  • FIP: 2.26 (4th)
  • Strikeouts per 9: 14.63 (3rd)
  • Strikeout percentage: 40.3% (4th)
  • Home Runs per 9: 0.60 (29th)
  • Innings Pitched: 373.1 (1st)
  • Average Leverage Index When Entering Game: 1.44 (44th)
  • fWAR: 11.3 (2nd)

That is just so pretty, isn’t it? Who knows what version of Betances we’ll see this year–reports are that his velocity is down, which is normal for a guy like Betances, who always takes a while to get up to full speed–but it is going to be just awesome to see him again. Whatever he contributes will be just gravy, in my opinion.

Either way, great news. Betances is one of the easiest guys on the team to root for, in my opinion, and I hope he has success right away. (He definitely does, too, as it’s a contract year for him. Brutal.) That sure would be nice. Imagine this bullpen plus a weapon like Betances?

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