Time for the Yankees’ first west coast swing of the season. The Yankees are in Seattle for a three-game series against the upstart Mariners. It’s an important series, too. The Yankees are chasing (!?) Seattle in the Wild Card hunt.
With a couple of 10:05pm starts forthcoming, I’m sure a bunch of you won’t watch, for better or worse. Possibly for the better! Especially given how the Yanks have played this season. But as usual, we’ll have all the coverage of this series over the next few days. So with that said, let’s get to know the 2021 Mariners.
The Yankees completed their three-game sweep of the Mariners with a 7-3 victory in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon. Gary Sanchez, Mike Ford, Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu all went deep while James Paxton overcame a brief loss of control to get the win (Box Score).
With the Astros and Dodgers set to play, the Yankees are tied in the loss column with both teams and have the most wins in baseball. Their magic number to win the division is 18.
To the takeaways!
1. Yankees’ power too much for Sheffield
Justus Sheffield looked about as sharp as he ever has on a Major League mound, but that wasn’t enough against the Yankees. The southpaw had low-to-mid 90s velocity with a sharp slider, striking out LeMahieu and Judge to start his outing.
Two batters later, Sheffield trailed. After a Gleyber Torres single, Sheffield left a slider up and in for Sanchez, who made him pay with a majestic blast that just stayed fair.
From there, Sheffield refocused and settled down for three innings. Between Sanchez’s homer and the top of the fifth inning, he allowed just an infield single and struck out four Yankees.
With the game tied at two in the fifth, Ford struck on a 1-2 count, hitting his seventh home run off lefties in his brief MLB season. It’s Truck Month and the Yankees are getting quite the deal.
A double to Tyler Wade and RBI single from LeMahieu finished off Sheffield’s day. Reliever Matt Wisler poured some gasoline on the fire by leaving a ball up to Judge on the next AB, and Judge homered for the fifth time in six games.
In all, he went 4.1 IP with six hits, no walks, five strikeouts and two homers. Against a team other than the Yankees, his stuff today could have gotten him close to a quality start.
2. Bizarro Paxton gets it done
As we’ve detailed for a few months, Paxton has had a first-inning problem this season, yet he proceeds to settle in and excel afterward. He had an ERA above 11 in first innings before his dominant performance in Los Angeles.
Well, today was not the normal 2019 Paxton. The southpaw cruised through three hitless innings, allowed two runs in a walk-filled fourth inning and finished strong in the fifth inning to get a win.
That completes an impressive August for the former Mariner. He went 6-0 with just 24 hits in 35.1 innings while striking out 39. After the concerns over his performance that lingered into July, he best resembled Seattle Paxton this month.
Paxton’s line, though, was bizarre: In five innings, he gave up just one hit, a two-run homer to Kyle Seager in the fourth, walked a season-high five batters and struck out just four. He threw 45 strikes to 41 balls and all five free passes came within a seven-batter span in the 3rd and 4th innings.
Paxton went more fastball-heavy in this game, throwing his four-seamer 63 percent of the time. He got just eight swings and misses, five on the fastball and three on the curve.
One gets the sense that Paxton had to battle through this one, particularly as his command escaped him in the middle of his start. The Yankees pulled him early with a rested bullpen and day off tomorrow. After consistently going deep in other starts, he got a deserved early shower.
The Yankees have Luke Voit coming back Friday with September call-ups Sunday, so they would be able to survive any absence. However, we’re a little over a month away from the postseason. We’re at a point where an injury could prevent a player from the postseason. Hopefully, similar to Gregorius, it’s just a day-to-day thing.
Meanwhile, Gregorius went 0-for-1 with a walk in his return while Cameron Maybin went 0-for-4 and had a pair of sliding grabs in left field as he started. This team just can’t get to full strength.
4. Ho-hum, good bullpen again
Chad Green walked one in two scoreless innings. Adam Ottavino worked around a leadoff walk by getting a double play. Cory Gearrin allowed a pair of hits and the lone run as he put Monday’s funny business behind him.
In 10 innings during this three-game series, the Yankees’ bullpen gave up just two runs, a solo homer off Nestor Cortes Jr. on Monday accounting for the other one. Gearrin was the only pitcher to throw twice (Kahnle warmed up today), so the group will be extra rested coming home.
Judge went 3-for-5 with two doubles and the homer. The homer was 106.5 mph while the doubles were 109.7 and 105.6 mph off the bat.
Tyler Wade produced a run by himself. Doubled after Ford’s homer by going the other way and hustling into second and then stole third. His steal drew the infield in and LeMahieu easily hit a grounder past.
Sanchez’s homer was 112 mph, the hardest-hit ball for the Yankees all day. He also had a bloop single. Ford drew a walk, and that’s it for the Yankees’ offense after what’s mentioned above.
Almost forgot! The Mariners tried to steal two bases off Sanchez and he nailed both runners for outs. Don’t Run on Gary!!!!
The Yankees have a day off Thursday and start a homestand Friday against the Athletics. CC Sabathia (5-8, 4.99 ERA) will oppose Brett Anderson (10-9, 4.08) on Gleyber Torres bobblehead day. It will be a 7:05 p.m. start on YES and MLB Network.
After watching Paxton-Ryu and German-Kershaw last weekend, it’s hard to expect a better pitching matchup for a little while. However, in terms of pure intrigue, today’s Yankees-Mariners game may top it.
Why? Well, the teams will send a pair of southpaws to the mound in Justus Sheffield and James Paxton, who were traded for each other this offseason. Fans love to talk about ‘winning a trade,’ but they rarely get the opportunity to see a duo make an otherwise innocuous start in this kind of circumstance.
There are plenty of reasons for that. A team may not want to trade a top pitching prospect to get a Major League starter because they want to just develop their own prospect. Sometimes that prospect never makes the Show. Other cases, the timing doesn’t line up, or the MLB pitcher wasn’t dealt for a pitcher at all.
But timing, fate, whatever you want to call it, lined up perfectly and made this a start worth circling despite the lack of postseason implications. The game won’t decide the winner and loser of the trade, but it provides a snapshot of two pitchers both on a collision course and veering paths.
The Paxton-Sheffield trade made perfect sense in November. The Yankees got Paxton, a starter they could plug right into the rotation with potential ace upside. They couldn’t wait for Sheffield to blossom and might have wanted to capitalize on his prospect hype.
The Mariners got three prospects with eyes on the future. Sheffield still has the chance to be in the M’s rotation on their next good team — whenever that is — and Erik Swanson is already in the Majors. Dom Thompson-Williams is still a ways off in Double-A. For a Minor League system as barren as Seattle’s a year ago, these three players represent a fresh start.
The headlining pieces, however, haven’t panned out … yet. Paxton has a 4.43 ERA in 120 innings of league-average pitching, putting together ugly first innings and fine results after that. We’ve gotten glimpses of that ace, a tantalizing few outings that provide hope for October and beyond.
And Sheffield is still in the infant stages of his MLB career. This is just his third start with Seattle. He was blasted in the off-its-rocker Pacific Coast League that adopted the MLB ball but dominated the Double-A Texas League. He’s barely 23 and is under team control for a while. Even on his third organization, there’s plenty of time for Sheffield to fulfill lofty expectations.
Regardless of the results today, both teams can still ‘win’ this trade as they are on separate competitive cycles. The Yankees may see Paxton put them over the top in 2019 or 2020. The M’s could have a solid rotation piece (or two with Swanson) for the future, and perhaps one piece of their offensive puzzle. Or both teams could walk away unhappy. Neither team’s future hinges upon these players, yet November’s trade displayed both team’s timelines for contention.
The Yankees and Mariners made sense as trade partners in the offseason. That logic holds true still. Even with so-so returns for the trade thus far, there’s a lot of time left and a fun, though insignificant, game upcoming.
You’ve tried the best, now try the rest! The Yankees go from MLB-leading Los Angeles to Seattle, where they have won a playoff game more recently than the Mariners.
Their Story Thus Far
At 56-75, the Mariners have the seventh-worst record in baseball and are 19.5 games out of a playoff spot. After an 11-1 start to the season, they’ve tailed off completely and have sold most of their useful pieces by this year’s deadline. Their pitching staff has the second-worst fWAR in baseball and their bullpen is worse than at the start of the season thanks to those trades.
Here are the players they sold off this season: Edwin Encarnacion, Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elias, Mike Leake, Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. They still have OFs Domingo Santana and Mitch Haniger, as well as 3B Kyle Seager and a few other intriguing pieces.
However, the Mariners should be mired in a rebuild for a couple more seasons. They still have to build out most of a pitching staff around LHP Marco Gonzales, who the Yankees miss this series, and their best player, Haniger, is recovering from an awful injury.
Haniger has been out since June with a ruptured testicle and his rehab assignment was halted by back stiffness. Meanwhile, Santana just went on the IL with elbow-inflammation. 3B/1B Ryon Healy and RHPs Arodys Vizcaino and Chasen Bradford are done for the season.
Also on the 10-day IL: RHPs Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla, Brandon Brennen and Connor Sadzeck with OF Braden Bishop also on the shelf.
Player Spotlight: J.P. Crawford
Right now, the Mariners’ best and hottest hitter is Seager, who is batting .252/.327.500 in just 75 games after missing the start of the season. The veteran third baseman is 31. While he’s under contract through at least 2021, it’s hard to know if he’ll be on the next good Mariners team.
On the current roster, Crawford might be as good a bet as any to play on the next Mariners postseason entry. The shortstop came over from the Phillies in this offseason’s Jean Segura trade after he struggled at the plate over 72 games from 2017-18 in Philadelphia.
He’s still developing at 24, hence why he got ample time in Triple-A Tacoma to start the year. His statcast numbers (85.1 avg. exit velo, 27.5% hard hit rate) are below average, but he’s shown promise with both his bat and glove. He gets the platoon advantage as a lefty-hitting shortstop and he has a strong eye at the plate, walking in 11 percent of plate appearances.
Even if his bat doesn’t become a consistent force to meet his prospect status, he still has an MLB-ready glove that has helped him produce value already. He’s one of the better shortstops to watch field right now.
Mallex Smith, RF (.232/.301/.348, 78 wRC+)
J.P. Crawfrod, SS (.254/.337/.420, 105 wRC+)
Austin Nola, 1B (.299/.361/.514, 134 wRC+)
Kyle Seager, 3B (.252/.327/.500, 120 wRC+)
Omar Narvaez, C (.286/.358/.471, 124 wRC+)
Daniel Vogelbach, DH (.218/.347/.474, 121 wRC+)
Tim Lopes, LF (.288/.387/.404, 120 wRC+ in 18 games)
Jake Fraley, CF (.133/.188/.200, 5 wRC+ in four games)
Dee Gordon, 2B (.280/.306/.373, 82 wRC+)
With a lefty on the mound, Lopes may shift to the leadoff spot and Vogelbach may be on the bench. On said bench, the Mariners have catcher Tom Murphy (140 wRC+), utliity man Dylan Moore (87 wRC+) and journeyman outfielder Keon Broxton (41 wRC+).
Milone is a journeyman lefty who is on his sixth team and his fifth in the last four years. The 32-year-old is striking out more batters than ever before (8.1 per nine) and has a 4.84 ERA in 83.2 innings. Both the ERA and innings are his best since 2015.
Milone is successful through two routes: Limiting hard contact and avoiding walks. His walk rate is in the 94th percentile in baseball. However, he gives up a fair number of barrels and allows two homers per nine, which is part of why the M’s won’t let him face the top of the order in the first inning.
The southpaw averages just 87.1 mph on his fastball and complements it with a low-spin changeup, mid-70s curve and a slider. The changeup has been his best offering this year as he goes to it a third of the time.
Going into a sure-to-be-hyped matchup of two Japanese starters, the 28-year-old Kikuchi has had a disappointing debut season in the States, marred by a sky-high home run rate. However, the southpaw is coming off his best game of the year in which he two-hit the Blue Jays for a 96-pitch Maddux. That Jays lineup is no slouch, as you saw against the Yankees.
In 26 starts in his first MLB season, Kikuchi has a 5.19 ERA (5.71 FIP) with 103 strikeouts and 43 walks in 135.1 IP. He’s allowed 31 homers, or 2.06 per nine, high even for this power-heavy era.
The left-hander attacks primarily with his 92-mph fastball and mid-80s slider, also working in a mid-70s curve and mid-80s changeup. He was able to stymie a very different Yankees lineup in May and hold them to one run in 7.2 IP. That should give Kikuchi confidence going into his matchup with the Yanks and Tanaka.
Wednesday (4:10 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Mariners) vs. Justus Sheffield
This pitching matchup seems preordained. Neither Sheffield nor Paxton were on the 25-man roster when the two teams met in May, and Sheffield was called up Friday to take his first start since April. In that start, he alllowed seven hits and three walks over four innings, though he held the Jays to just three runs.
In four months between MLB appearances, Sheffield was in the Minor Leagues. He had an ERA above 6.00 in the Pacific Coast League, so the M’s had him pitch for Double-A Arkansas in the more forgiving Texas League. The former Yankee southpaw carved up Double-A, consistently posting high strikeout totals and working deep into games.
Now he’s back in the Majors, facing his former team. I’m going to write more about this matchup before the game Wednesday, but needless to say, this is exciting. Sheffield couldn’t quite make it in the Bronx, and now he gets to show the Pinstripers that they dealt him too early.
Here’s who they have:
RHPs: Anthony Bass, Matt Magill, Reggie McClain, Erik Swanson, Sam Tuivailala, Matt Wisler LHPs: Taylor Guilbeau, Wade LeBlanc
As mentioned in the top grafs, they’ve traded just about all of their relievers, including Gearrin to the Yankees. That leaves Magill as the closer, where he is four for five in save chances. McClain, Swanson and Guilbeau are rookies (Swanson was part of the Paxton deal) while LeBlanc is a recently demoted starter capable of going long.
Wisler is a former Braves starter who has taken to relief and opening for the M’s while Bass and Tuivailala may be late-inning options after the veterans have shown promising stats in their Seattle stints.
Sheffield and Swanson were part of the package for Paxton, as was OF prospect Dom Thompson-Williams. Thompson-Williams hit OK as Sheffield’s teammate in Arkansas this year.
LeBlanc was a Yankee for all of one game in 2014 and joined them in Spring Training in 2018. Vizcaino was part of the 2010 Yankees-Braves deal that sent Javy Vazquez to the Bronx and Melky Cabrera to Atlanta.
On the 40-man roster, Shed Long was a Yankee for all of a brief few minutes or so, acquired in the Sonny Gray deal this offseason before going to Seattle for MiLBer Josh Stowers.
Bullpen coach Jim Brower closed his nine-year MLB career with three appearances on the 2007 Yankees.
With less than a month to go until the trade deadline, it’s worth looking back at what the Yankees have given up in recent trades. Through that lens, we can get a better idea of what it might take to get upgrades this season, or how the Yankees have done in trades.
So here are the players given up in the last 12 months with an eye on how the Yankees have dealt with their absence.
2019 line: 3.94 ERA/3.62 FIP in 82 1/3 innings with 91 K/32 BB for Cincinnati
Gray has well outpaced his performance from 2018 with the Yankees, but that was to be expected. Something was broken with Gray in New York, whether it be his relationship with the coaching staff or his ability to handle the weight of playing in New York. In almost all cases, the “He can’t handle New York” storyline is BS, yet it seemed to ring true here.
As for the return for the Yankees, they got the No. 38 pick, which turned into LHP T.J. Sikkema, as well as prospect Josh Stowers. Stowers has had solid results in Charleston. This is going to be unlike any Yankee trades in the next month.
Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams
Sheffield was the headliner in the trade to get James Paxton, and the southpaw hasn’t paid off initially for Seattle. His control issues have reared their ugly head (6.7 per 9 innings in Triple-A) to the point where he was demoted to Double-A. He’s still just 23. However, he’s been moved down prospect lists and the shine is off his prospect status.
Interestingly, Swanson has seen much more time in the Majors than Sheffield. The right-hander has an 8.04 ERA in Seatte over seven appearances (six starts) with more modest numbers in Tacoma.
Thompson-Williams, 24, is batting .245/.321/.435 with Double-A Arkansas and has been hot of late. Overall, Seattle probably could have done better for Paxton.
Abiatal Avelino and Juan De Paula
Avelino and De Paula were dealt on Aug. 31 last year for Andrew McCutchen. The Yankees aren’t likely to pursue offensive help this deadline, nor is the August waiver deadline an option anymore. Still, for a fine veteran player on an expiring deal, Avelino and De Paula made sense as players the Yankees could give up, particularly with Avelino needed to be added to the 40-man roster.
The infielder Avelino has a 78 wRC+ in Triple-A with the Giants while playing shortstop primarily. Though he debuted in the Majors after the trade, he’s yet to stand out enough to get time this year. De Paula is much further away from the Majors and was traded again for Kevin Pillar. With Toronto’s High-A team, the 21-year-old is struggling with control and has a 7.76 ERA over 29 innings.
Cody Carroll, Dillon Tate and Josh Rogers
The Zack (née Zach) Britton trade has worked extremely poorly for the Orioles thus far. Carroll allowed six home runs over 17 MLB innings last summer and has missed all of 2019 with injury. Rogers produced 26 innings of MLB work with an ERA over 8 before succumbing to an elbow injury that likely requires Tommy John surgery.
Meanwhile, Tate, the centerpiece of the deal, has been converted to relief, a step likely forecasted for the young arm. He has a solid 3.81 ERA with a strikeout an inning in Double-A. Like his former Yankee counterparts, he also missed over a month with injury.
Folks, always trade your mid-level pitching prospects. It’s funny that the Orioles got Rogers instead of Nestor Cortes Jr., who they had previously taken in the Rule 5 draft, when both were pitchability lefties who were potential Quad-A guys. Guess Cortes’ brief stint in Baltimomre may have turned them off, but that’s the Yankees’ gain.
The @Yankees tonight announced that they have acquired 1B Luke Voit and international signing bonus pool money from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for LHP Chasen Shreve and RHP Giovanny Gallegos.
Lol. The Yankees gave up two relievers to get an All-Star snubbed first baseman (Luke Voit) and bonus money to sign Osiel Rodriguez, one of the top international prospects. Meanwhile, the Cardinals had to trade to get a new first baseman in the winter and have since DFA’d Shreve, who didn’t produce in the Majors. He’s currently with their Triple-A squad in Memphis.
However, Gallegos has been one of St. Louis’ top relievers, albeit in mostly low leverage work. He has a 2.63 ERA with a 54:7 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 innings for the Cards. Fun fact: He got the game-winning hit for the Cards’ Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League championship series last year. Even though the Yankees wouldn’t give up Voit, Gallegos would fit in the New York bullpen right now.
Billy McKinney and Brandon Drury
In the immediate aftermath of the Happ trade, the return haunted the Yankees as their outfield depth eroded with Aaron Judge’s injury. Still, J.A. Happ gave the Yankees a strong performance down the stretch in 2018 before his poor ALDS Game 1 start.
Drury and McKinney have been worth -0.9 WAR according to Fangraphs this season. They’ve been given the opportunity to play the corners more than they would have in New York, though either could have seen playing time in April/May with the Yankees’ multitude of injuries. Seeing how the Yankees’ depth filled in, it’s tough to say New York missed either of them.
The Yankees dealt Frare for international bonus money. He’s pitched 9 2/3 entirely ineffective innings for the White Sox since coming over last year and he’s regressed at Triple-A, hit hard by balks and the juiced baseball causing a significant rise in home runs.
New York churns out relief prospects, making Frare (and Shreve and Gallegos) expendable. He wasn’t making the 40-man roster for New York.
Tyler Austin and Luis Rijo
Austin and Rijo were dealt to Minnesota for Lance Lynn, the spare parts for a rental pitcher. Austin was made expendable by the acquisition of Voit as well as Neil Walker’s presence. The first baseman experienced a power surge in Minnesota with nine home runs in 35 games but was cut two games in 2019. He’s latched on with the Giants and is hitting .196/.295/.430 through 55 games.
The 20-year-old Rijo has put up fine numbers in High-A for Minnesota, but he’s Rule 5 eligible after this season. With the Yankees’ pitching depth, it’s hard to see where the room would have been for him.
Warren was a casualty of the Yankees’ pursuit of international bonus money. The team could have used him at times down the stretch last season, yet he was unlikely to be re-signed after the season. Like Gallegos, the team could use him right now, though he wasn’t under contract for the 2019 season.
The Yankees gave up little more than depth pieces in the last year. Gray’s resurgence in Cincinnati is unfortunate for the Bombers even though he wasn’t likely to have a similar one in the Bronx. Outside of him, the only players who would make the Yankees’ 25/40 man rosters right now would be non-essential relievers.
It’s also fair to say the Bombers didn’t go big-game hunting in the last 12 months with Paxton as their largest acquisition. Still, the Yankees have the depth to trade for rentals and have developed a few players who could headline a trade for a better player if need be.