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Roster Thoughts After Jay Bruce

Yesterday, the Yankees reportedly inked veteran Jay Bruce to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Let’s talk abou the roster implications.

Before getting into that, I’ll say I like the move. Jay Bruce has been a personal favorite for a long time. I remember seeing him in 2008 when the Reds visited Yankee Stadium for an interleague series having heard all the hype about him. His career has been solid and it’s hard not to like this as a minor league deal, even if his fielding days are long gone. Onto the thoughts…

Bruce vs. Gardner vs. Tauchman vs. Allen vs. Ford

An early thought on Yankee minds when the news broke of the Bruce signing was “How does this affect Brett Gardner?” Given that this is a minor league deal and Gardner is likely to get a major league deal, my first thought was that it wouldn’t affect Gardner too much.

Gardner still has an advantage over Bruce in that he can actually play the outfield. And even though Greg Allen or Mike Tauchman are still around, they’re downgrades compared to Gardner. They may have steps on him in the outfield at this point, but Gardner is no slouch and can actually hit.

Bruce also doesn’t seem like a threat to Gardner or the outfielders currently on the roster. No one in their right minds would have Jay Bruce in 2021 as a backup outfielder expected to actually play out there in non-emergency situations. The one whose spot he’s likely to take is Mike Ford’s. Bruce has had some time at first base and is much more accomplished than Ford; his story in making the ML roster last Opening Day was great, but the results aren’t there and the upside is limited. Bruce is the better option.

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this does mean Gardner is gone. If you want to squeeze him and Bruce onto the roster–which I’m fine with–that would mean getting rid of both Tauchman and Allen, who are both option-less. The Yankees seem to love Tacuhman and valued Allen enough that they traded an actual player for him. Given those apparent realities, they might not be so willing to make room for a veteran like Gardner, who’ll push their luxury tax line to its absolute limit. It’s possible that the gap between Tauchman/Allen and Gardner isn’t that wide when it comes to a back up role. Of course, I think I’d rather Gardner step in in case of an injury than either Tauchman or Allen. But with the Yankees penchant for cost control, this may be the end of the line for Gardner.

If it is (and the Yankees make no other moves), the bench will likely be Kyle Higashioka, Tyler Wade, Jay Bruce, and Tauchman/Allen. Gardner instead of the last two probably makes the bench a touch better, but is that gonna happen? It’s looking increasingly less likely.

Maybe a reliever instead?

According to this by Ken Rosenthal, it appears the Yankees are looking to reunite with lefty Justin Wilson. When keeping the luxury tax stuff in mind, it’s presumable that signing a reliever would definitely seal the deal on Gardner’s exit. With the Yankees still looking to the fill the Tommy Kahnle sized hole in their bullpen, this move might make more sense and have more impact than bringing back Gardner.

40-Man Concerns

After the Darren O’Day signing, the Yankees have a full roster. Signing Wilson would require a 40-man move right away. Presumably they’d shed another pitcher and I assume it’d be Albert Abreu. He’s out of options and has done little to prove himself. His arm is strong, though, so maybe there’s a trade out there.

Even though I’ve already penciled in Bruce to a bench spot, his deal means the Yankees can wait till the end of Spring Training to make the necessary 40 man move, if they do, indeed, add him.

This move may create some difficult questions for the Yankees, but it’s worth it. Bruce fills the role of left-handed masher off the bench (even in a down year, he had a 109 wRC+ against RHP and a .321 ISO) as well a backup first baseman and emergency outfielder. This is a low-risk signing that could reap big returns.

Achieving lineup balance doesn’t mean making a painful trade

Trade me? Really?

It’s no secret that the Yankees’ lineup is dominated by right-handed hitters. Great righties, without a doubt. But at the same time, Kevin Cash’s Rays had no problem matching up against the Bombers’ bats in the ALDS. The offense still had some good performances in the series and is far from the only issue facing the Yankees’ roster, but it’s clear that it could use some balance. Aside from switch-hitting Aaron Hicks, the Yankees really lacked a threat from the left side this season. It’s something that should be addressed this winter. Randy and I discussed it on the podcast, too.

Inserting another good left-handed hitter is easier said than done, of course. From top to bottom, the Yankees’ lineup is built with some of the best righties in the sport. Trading Luke Voit for the sake of lineup balance is not a good idea. He’s been an elite hitter ever since the Yankees acquired him from St. Louis. Really, the Yankees are backed into a corner in terms of starters. The only open position this offseason is second base (or shortstop, if you want to move Gleyber Torres over), but at the same time, this team needs to bring free agent DJ LeMahieu back. I suppose catcher too if you really want to dump Gary Sánchez, but get back to me when you find a good left-handed catcher available. So, the Yankees will have to attack this balance issue differently.

Game 48: Here comes the cavalry (sort of)

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Good news! Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela, and Jonathan Loaisiga are healthy players once again. We expected the latter two to return today, but Stanton’s return is a little earlier than expected. Of course, no good news can come to the Yankees this year without something awry mixed in. As you’ll see in the forthcoming lineups, Gleyber Torres is nowhere to be found. He was off Sunday (though he pinch hit) and the team was off yesterday. What gives? His quad again, apparently. Though Aaron Boone did say he’d play if this was a playoff game. Take solace in that, I suppose, but forgive me for being doubtful about the Yankees and injuries.

The Yankees optioned Mike Ford and Miguel Andújar to make room for today’s moves. Clarke Schmidt was the other demotion from a day ago. Miggy was somewhat surprising at first considering that Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada are redundant with a healthy Gleyber, though it now makes more sense why the Yankees kept the additional middle infielder.

Roster shuffle aside, let’s get to today’s game, the first of a pretty big series. The Yankees trail the Jays by a half game in the standings for second place in the division, so winning this series would put the Bombers ahead of Toronto in the standings. The Yanks hand the ball to wunderkind Deivi García, who pitched a gem against Toronto last week. Here is the lineup behind him and the lineup he’ll face:

Toronto Blue Jays (26-20)

  1. Cavan Biggio, 3B
  2. Bo Bichette, SS
  3. Travis Shaw, 1B
  4. Randal Grichuk, CF
  5. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., DH
  6. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
  7. Joe Panik, 2B
  8. Alejandro Kirk, C
  9. Derek Fisher, RF

RHP Taijuan Walker

New York Yankees (26-21)

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Luke Voit, 1B
  3. Aaron Hicks, CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
  5. Gio Urshela, 3B
  6. Clint Frazier, RF
  7. Brett Gardner, LF
  8. Gary Sánchez, C
  9. Tyler Wade, SS

RHP Deivi García

News & Notes

It’s a crisp evening here in New York, a real taste of Fall is in the air, so it’s a nice night for baseball. This one is on YES, WFAN, and WADO and the first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EDT. Enjoy the ballgame.

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).

Game 14: Ford steers Yankees’ offense back on track

The Bronx Bombers returned after a one game absence yesterday. No shutout this time around as the Yankees topped the Rays 8-4 in the first of two this afternoon. Mike Ford’s two-run blast got things going again and the rest of the offense followed. The Rays did make Gerrit Cole work hard, but the bullpen held things down after Cole’s early exit. Let’s break it down.

An inauspicious start

It looked like the Yankees were going to be in for a challenge with Tyler Glasnow on the mound for the Rays. And after Glasnow’s easy 1-2-3 eight pitch first inning, all I could think was: here we go again.

The Yankees didn’t score in the second inning, but perhaps it was a harbinger of things to come. In fairness, it was an incredibly frustrating inning, but it did show that Glasnow was vulnerable today. Let’s walk through it. Giancarlo Stanton and the slumping Gleyber Torres hit back-to-back singles to begin the frame. Glasnow rebounded and blew away Mike Tauchman for the first out, but subsequently walked Gio Urshela to load the bases.

So with the bases full and one out, Gary Sánchez stepped to the plate. As has been well documented, Gary is off to a horrific start. He’s been swinging through in-zone fastballs left and right, but in this at-bat, Glasnow got Gary to chase. Sánchez worked a 3-2 count, but chased a fastball way above the zone to bail out the Rays’ righty.

It’s one thing to slump while missing hittable pitches. It’s another to get oneself out by chasing bad ones. That’s what Gary did here. Frustrating, to say the least.

Brett Gardner followed with a strikeout of his own to end the inning. Chances against Glasnow are few and far between, and the Yankees blew this one. It was not a good feeling. Fortunately, that negativity was premature.

Ford jump-starts Yankees offense

The third inning went much better for the Yankees’ offense. The Bombers ended a thirteen inning scoreless streak just three batters into the frame. DJ LeMahieu lined out, but Aaron Judge singled to set up Mike Ford for this.

Truck month is back, folks. We haven’t seen too much of Ford yet this season, and he hadn’t done much in his minimal opportunities, but this was a big knock. Ford obliterated that pipeshot 2-0 fastball 107 MPH and 437 feet away. That rally-killing dinger made it 2-0 Yankees.

After Ford, Stanton and Torres drew back-to-back walks. Tauchman then struck out, setting up the potential for Glasnow to work out of another jam. Not on Gio’s watch!

My goodness is Urshela a monster. He delivered in all four of his plate appearances today. Urshela singled, walked, and had a sacrifice fly. That sac fly made the score 8-4 in the seventh. He’s up to .341/.429/.659 (201 wRC+) on the season.

The other Yankees runs scored on dingers from the Yankees’ two very large sluggers, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. First, Stanton’s solo blast that made it 5-1:

Then Judge’s which made things 7-3:

That was Judge’s league-leading eighth home run, by the way.

The Rays wore down Cole

This was a really weird one for Gerrit Cole. On one hand, I thought he had his best command and stuff of the season. On the other hand, the Rays really made him work and knocked him out with two outs in the fifth.

First, the good. Cole struck out 10 batters this afternoon and induced his highest whiff rate of the season. Entering this start, Cole had at 25.4 percent whiff rate in 22 1/3 innings. That was comfortably below either of his two seasons in Houston, particularly last year when he posted a 37.2 percent rate. Today, Tampa Bay hitters swung-and-missed on 23 of 52 attempts (44.2 percent). So the stuff was clearly there today.

I thought Cole’s location was solid too. As per the above, the vast majority of his fastballs up and to his arm side, which is where he normally likes to be. I mentioned after a previous Cole outing that he was hooking some of his fastballs to the glove side. That wasn’t really the case today. Gerrit also did a good job burying his slider down and out of the zone today too, save for a few strays. It’s no wonder the Rays whiffed on 8 of 11 swings against the pitch.

Now, for the downside. Cole was very inefficient and ran out of steam by the fifth. His pitch count by inning: 19, 18, 21, 22, and 27. Tampa Bay did foul off 19 of his 107 pitches, with 15 of those being fastballs. In particular, Yoshi Tsutsugo’s fourth inning leadoff walk on the 12th pitch of the at-bat.

Of those six foul balls, five were on Cole’s heater. That really broke up any potential for Gerrit to get into a rhythm in this one. 80 pitches through four frames all but insured that Cole wouldn’t go past five. Turns out, he couldn’t even finish the fifth inning.

Even though Cole had a high pitch count, there didn’t seem to be much concern about him getting through the fifth unscathed. The Yankees had a 4-0 lead and Tampa Bay really hadn’t threatened. Cole began the frame by striking out Kevin Kiermaier. Mike Zunino followed with a double, but Cole got to two outs by fanning Yandy Díaz. That’s when the righty finally ran out of gas. First, Ji-Man Choi cut the lead to 5-1 with a double.

Matt Blake came out for a mound visit with Cole at 104 pitches, but clearly the goal was to have Gerrit finish the frame. Was it so Cole could get the win and reach 20-0 in his last 20 decisions? Who knows. It did seem like he had an upcoming favorable matchup against José Martínez, who’s known to be a lefty masher. Cole had struck him out twice already, too. Instead, this happened:

That was it for Cole’s day. Chad Green worked out of it for him. The final line: 4 2/3 innings, 6 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, and 10 strikeouts.

Leftovers

  • Chad Green and Adam Ottavino combined to wrap this one up. Green didn’t look particularly sharp, but did keep things mostly in check to earn his second win of the year. Green didn’t allow any hits, but two walks and a wild pitch led to a Kiermaier RBI groundout in the sixth. Ottavino threw a scoreless ninth (and made a nice defensive play to boot).
  • Gleyber Torres had a better day. He was aboard in two of four plate appearances: one single and one walk. Hopefully he’s turning things around.
  • Game two will begin relatively shortly. No announcement on who starts yet, but we’ll have that in the upcoming game thread.

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