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Game 117: Another nail-biting win

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Clearly, the Yankees haven’t heard Bobby’s plea to win a laugher. The Yankees may have won 5-3 this afternoon, but it wasn’t easy. The offense stranded 14 runners, Aaron Boone made some questionable decisions, and the bullpen nearly collapsed once again. Exhale.

The win moves the Yankees to 65-52 this season and pushes them closer to a postseason spot as a couple of clubs they’re chasing lost today. Minnesota walked off the Rays, so the Yankees are now five games out of the loss column in the division. Boston won, but Oakland fell to Texas, bringing the Yanks to within two games in the loss column of the top Wild Card spot. Now, let’s get to today’s takeaways.

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Game 108: Did you just say Gallo?

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Those midseason trades are making Brian Cashman look pretty brilliant these days. The new-look, can’t-miss Yankees struck again this evening, this time against a team that actually means something to them in the standings as they beat the Seattle Mariners 5-3 in the Bronx. Joey Gallo had his first True Yankee moment, the Bombers now lead the Mariners by two games in the race for the wild card, and everyone went home happy.  To the takeaways:

Game 53: Yankees Swept and Embarrassed by Detroit

The Tigers came into this series with the worst run differential in the AL and handily swept the Yankees. This about sums it up:

We sincerely hope you had better things to do on this rainy Memorial Day Weekend Sunday than watch this debacle of a game in which the Bombers lost 6-2. To the takeaways:

The Yankees Will Be Okay

Usually we start these with how the starting pitcher did, but today warrants something different because it’s too easy to slip into the malaise and start thinking the season is over. It is not. After tomorrow, the season will be exactly 1/3 done, and despite how awful they have looked at times, the Yankees are on a 90 win pace.

Getting swept by any team sucks, and getting swept by the worst team in the league is even worse. It happens. Just last week, the Yankees were on a 6 game winning streak and swept the first-place White Sox. One bad week does not doom a season. There’s a reason they play 162 of these. Around these parts we’re constantly preaching patience and staying calm because the Yankees are good. In fact, they are still the best team in the AL. They didn’t look it this weekend, but they are and they will.

Starting tomorrow, the Yankees have 4 games against the Rays and Red Sox who lead the division. It’s time to hit the reset button, forget about this weekend and start playing like the team we know they are.

Mike King struggles in 5th starter audition

With Corey Kluber out for the next two months, the Yankees need another starter. Deivi García struggled in his audition yesterday, and King could not capitalize today. His final line was 2.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 2 K. It took him 61 pitches just to get through those 2.1 innings. His pitch plot on the day left much to be desired:

Everything is all over the place and there’s way too many sinkers left right over the middle. Put differently, here’s a heatmap for his signature sinker on the afternoon:

You don’t need to be Matt Blake to know that’s not where you want to throw your sinker. You want that pitch to be at or below the zone to generate ground balls. Poor sinker location led to the following two-out double in the first:

The pitch location was predictably awful:

In a two strike count with two outs and RISP you absolutely cannot throw a sinker there. Especially not to a team that ranks bottom five in AVG, OBP, OPS, Runs, and HR. Thanks to some awful defending by Clint on the play, Miguel Cabrera was able to score from first on the play.

The offense is a joke right now

Five runs total in a series against the Tigers is unacceptable. Tarik Skubal came into this game with a 5.23 ERA and a 5.94 FIP to match. And the peripherals back it up:

Despite all that blue, the Yankees couldn’t get anything going against Skubal in his 6 scoreless innings.

There’s a lot of hittable pitches in there and the Yankees only managed 3 hits. They also struck out 8 times and Skubal had a 33% whiff rate on the day.

There are two things plaguing the Yankees offense right now: ground balls and bad luck. They have a 46% GB rate as a team which is the 6th highest in baseball. That’s how despite hitting the ball hard, they have nothing to show for it. In the first, after DJ and Stanton got on, Judge rifled a 108 mph grounder…for a double play. All that exit velocity means nothing when it’s pounded into the ground right at people.

Luck is also playing a factor here.

Numbers that bad are a combination of bad luck and guys pressing to try and do too much. Regression will even that out.

The April defense rears its ugly head

Believe it or not, that message was sent before the 3rd error they committed in the 3rd inning. At one point, the team had more errors than hits which is a reflection of both the offense and the defense. Here’s one of the errors:

Better get it out of their system today and play much sharper against the Rays starting tomorrow.

Leftovers

  • Nasty Nestor Cortes Jr. made his triumphant return to the big leagues for his first Yankee appearance since 2019. He sucked up 3.2 much needed innings and will likely be sent back to Scranton later today.
  • Even when they scored, the Yankees made another out on the bases in the 8th inning. That’s 26 outs on the bases for the season.
  • DJ LeMahieu and Gary Sánchez both had multi-hit games. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come for both of them.
  • They somehow got the tying run to the plate in the 9th inning, so let’s see if the O’Neill theory pans out for tomorrow.

Wash the bad taste out of your mouths from this series, and hopefully look forward to better things tomorrow. It’ll be Jameson Taillon against Rich Hill back in the Bronx.

News & Notes: Cashman on YES, Hicks, Cortes returns

The Winter Meetings have come and gone with a thud. Sure, a few deals went down, but nothing earth-shattering. I suppose this was to be expected. Rather than a steady flow of rumors and moves, it was just like every other week this offseason.

Brian Cashman sheds some light on the Yankees’ offseason

The Yankees stood pat this week, but we do have some team-related news to relay, mostly thanks to Brian Cashman’s interview on YES yesterday. NJ.com’s Randy Miller transcribed a number of relevant quotes which I’ll break down here as well.

  • Cashman expressed the team’s intent to bring back free agent DJ LeMahieu. No shocker here.
  • After discussing LeMahieu, Meredith Marakovits asked if Masahiro Tanaka fits into the picture if the team re-signs LeMahieu. Cashman was very coy here, basically saying he couldn’t answer the question about what fits into the team’s budget. I’ve seen folks read that response as if Tanaka is a goner. I understand that sentiment, especially given his openness about wanting to bring back DJLM. However, it’s not like he was directly asked about wanting to bring back Tanaka. I wonder if he used the question being targeted toward the financial aspect to avoid talking about Tanaka at all. Perhaps that means a reunion with Tanaka isn’t out of the cards, though maybe I’m just overthinking it.
  • The GM had plenty of good things to say about Gary Sánchez, though he couched his statement by saying that they’re not giving him a pass. Cashman cited how hard he hit the ball this season when he made contact, which was obviously an issue for him (36 percent strikeout rate). It should come as no surprise that the team tendered him a contract last week based on Cashman’s steadfast belief in the backstop.
  • It sure sounds like Domingo Germán has been welcomed back based on the way Cashman spoke about the rotation. Hal Steinbrenner had previously said the team would need “proof that he [Germán] turned his life around”.
  • Cashman would like to add to the rotation this offseason, but he also stated that “you could certainly daydream” that the pitching staff might actually have everything that it already needs. Look, I love some of the young arms that this team has, but let’s add some depth please.

Aaron Hicks says his elbow still isn’t 100 percent

In addition to Cashman, the Yankees’ center fielder was also on YES last night. I believe Hicks mentioned this during the regular season, but I found it notable that he said yesterday that his elbow still doesn’t feel 100 percent after Tommy John surgery. Perhaps it won’t be, which stinks.

As Hicks noted in the interview, he felt like it took him until the end of the year to really feel more like himself. His numbers bore this out too. Offensively, that may be as a result of changing his swing so he doesn’t hyperextend his elbow. I’m pretty sure this is the first we’ve heard of Hicks having to adjust his swing mechanics since the surgery.

Nestor Cortes is back in the organization

Per his own Instagram account, Nestor Cortes has re-signed with the Yankees after spending 2020 with the Mariners. The Yanks dealt him to Seattle last offseason, and sheesh, did Cortes struggle. He had a 15.26 ERA in 7 2/3 innings with the Mariners. Elbow issues appear to be the blame here as an elbow impingement shut his season down mid-August. The lefty is now pitching in the Dominican Republic, so he’s presumably healthy.

The Yankees haven’t announced the move yet, but it’s safe to assume that this is a minor league deal. I’m sure we’ll see Cortes receive an invite to spring training, too. Odds are he’s just minor league depth during 2021, though he could serve as a mop-up man if absolutely needed in the big leagues.

Thoughts after the Yankees’ 40-man roster shakeup

A blast from the past.

The Yankees make the 40-man roster protection deadline an event last night by adding over a half-dozen players and jettisoning some big names to make room for them. ICYMI, here’s the summary of their moves:

Added: Deivi García, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Estevan Florial, Nick Nelson, Miguel Yajure, Brooks Kriske
DFA’d: Nestor Cortes Jr., Greg Bird
Released: Jacoby Ellsbury

Here are my thoughts on the whole sequence of moves, starting with who the Yankees added:

1. The Easy Adds: As Derek so eloquently detailed Tuesday, the Yankees had four players perceived as locks to add by Wednesday’s deadline: García, Gil, Medina and Florial.

It’s well-known how electrifying Deivi can be, and he nearly earned a spot on the roster last September. With the 40-man spot secured, he could get strong consideration for the Opening Day roster in 2020, though it’s more likely he gets further reps in Triple-A after he struggled with the MLB ball and tired down the stretch in 2019.

Meanwhile, Gil, Medina and Florial are further away from the Majors. Gil and Medina raised their profiles with strikeout-laden 2019 seasons for Single-A Charleston, followed by brief stints with Single-A Tampa. Gil, funny enough, was acquired via trade in March 2018 when the Yankees needed to clear room on the 40-man roster. Medina doesn’t turn 21 until May while Gil will be 22 in June.

Florial had his second consecutive down year, both hampered by wrist/hand injuries in Spring Training. That’s part of why he didn’t make Baseball America’s top 10 Yankee prospects. His chances of reaching the Majors in 2020 are slim (as they are for Gil and Medina), but the outfielder would have easy to keep on a 26-man roster for a rebuilding team. Now, he has to find a way to cut down on strikeouts and tap into his potential before it’s too late.

2. The borderline additions: Yajure and Nelson were mentioned by most outlets as bubble players with some favoring Yajure as a “must add.” Kriske, though, came as a surprise even if his name was mentioned.

All three are right-handed pitchers who spent time in Double-A last season, but that’s where the similarities end. Yajure specializes in control, issuing just 30 walks in 138 2/3 innings across High-A and Double-A last season. Though just 21, he has missed development time with Tommy John surgery that knocked out his 2017 season, but he’s fully recovered and has hit 97 on the gun.

However, unlike the four locks, Yajure didn’t make either Baseball America or Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10s. He should start in Trenton after making two starts there in 2019 and could rise from there.

Nelson, meanwhile, reached Triple-A briefly after excelling in the Eastern League. High strikeout rate, high walk rate, the 2016 fourth-rounder has potential to make the Majors in 2020, though that would most likely come in relief as he’s behind García and Michael King for now.

Kriske was the lone full-time reliever of the bunch. Another pitcher who has gone under the knife for TJ, he’s the oldest player added at 25 and is a former sixth-round pick as a senior sign from USC. He could be the latest homegrown college reliever to find his way up the Yankees pipeline. The Bombers wouldn’t have added him to the 40-man as a 25-year-old reliever if he weren’t MLB ready in the near future.

The right-hander added a splitter after joining Trenton, and it appears to have worked wonders for him. Look at his funky motion (and the swings and misses).

3. Yankees not nearly done: So the Yankees are now at 40 men exactly with their 40-man roster. That leaves them no room for Domingo Germán when he’s eventually reinstated from the Commissioner’s exempt list, nor for retaining free agents like Brett Gardner, Dellin Betances, Cameron Maybin or Austin Romine. Or, if this is your cup of tea, Gerrit Cole.

The Yankees had to add the seven players above by Wednesday or else they would have been ripe for the Rule 5 draft in a couple of weeks. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t be used as trade bait between now and the start of 2020. In fact, the Bombers might have added one or two players to maintain leverage in ongoing trade talks.

As mentioned above, the Yankees acquired Gil in March 2018. They did so after adding Jake Cave to the 40-man roster the previous fall, only to need room for Brandon Drury in Spring Training. A similar fate could befall Nelson, Kriske or one of the other recent additions, or one of the higher-end prospects (Deivi, Gil, Medina Florial) could be packaged in a larger deal.

I thought the Yankees were going to swing a trade, hence why they went up until the 8 p.m. deadline. They could have been working on one and just didn’t find one that made sense. The Rays, meanwhile, dealt Jose De Leon and Christopher Sanchez to alleviate their own logjam, though they also DFA’d Matt Duffy.

4. Current 40-man roster composition: The Yankees are far from done and they’ll need to excise players currently on their 40-man to make any further MLB moves. But as they stand right now, they have 24 pitchers and just 16 hitters on the roster, with Germán still in the organization as a de facto 41st man while awaiting suspension. While that split remains lopsided, it’s because the Yankees like their pitching prospects. They had enough good ones that other teams would have snapped up, and now they’ll have to sort them out.

Chances are, not all 24 pitchers will make it through the next three months until pitchers and catchers report. Here’s how I see the current chopping block, in order:

  1. Stephen Tarpley
  2. Jonathan Holder
  3. Chance Adams
  4. Brooks Kriske
  5. Albert Abreu

Holder and Tarpley are each fine up-and-down arms, but they haven’t proven themselves more than OK middle relievers in a team full of pitchers. Holder is arb eligible for the first time and is projected to make $800K in 2020, but he also had a 6.31 ERA over 41 1/3 innings last year. Even with a strong 2018, he might struggle to make it through, as could Tarpley. Both had injuries that hampered their 2019 seasons.

Adams hasn’t taken as a starter, so it’s probably time to move him to relief full time and see if a healthy version of him can make it as a reliever. Kriske and Abreu, though both in Double-A and near the Majors, each have an injury history and could be expendable.

Luis Cessa, meanwhile, could fit on that list as he’s out of options, and the Yankees have that glut of pitchers on the roster. If J.A. Happ, Jonathan Loaisiga or Germán are moved to long relief in 2020, Cessa’s spot becomes tenuous, as it does if Adams breaks through.

Key date to watch out for: Dec. 2. That’s the non-tender deadline, which could be Holder, Cessa or Tarpley’s last stand.

5. Bird’s likely exit: Though the Yankees could potentially retain Bird after designating him for assignment Wednesday, I wouldn’t count on it. As he has more than three years of service time, he can elect free agency if he clears waivers.

With Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu and Mike Ford all on the roster, the Yankees scarcely have room for a first base-only player like Bird that can barely stay on the field. His one-week stint in the Dominican Winter League was encouraging but not enough to save his roster spot.

If he hits free agency, maybe New York could work a Minor League deal with their erstwhile first baseman. The organization has certainly believed in him enough to keep him through a laundry list of injuries, and they were rewarded briefly in the 2017 postseason.

Ah, well. At this point, Bird is better off seeking greener pastures with an organization that has more of an opening at first. The talent has always been there, so hopefully his body can hold up wherever he ends up in 2020.

6. The end of the Ellsbury Era: It was time for the Yankees to move on from the veteran outfielder, even if it meant eating $26 million in the process. It’s been 25 months since Ellsbury donned Yankee pinstripes and Brian Cashman didn’t seem confident in Ellsbury’s renewed health during the GM’s end-of-year press conference.

“It’s hard to say based on how things have played out,” Cashman said of Ellsbury’s availability after Aaron Hicks’ surgery. “Right now he’s not someone in a position health-wise where I can answer anything in the affirmative.”

Ellsbury had $21 million due his way in 2020, though the New York Post reported that was uninsured. The Yankees had previously been able to insure his contract, so they weren’t on the hook for all of his 2018 and ’19 salaries. (To clarify, Ellsbury got all the money owed to him, but an insurance company partially compensated the Bombers.) He also is due $5 million to buy out his option for 2021.

The seven-year, $153 million contract is a notable blemish on Cashman’s strong history of signing position players in free agency. In the same offseason, Shin-Soo Choo earned a similar seven-year deal from the Rangers and was an All-Star in 2018. He was worth 14.1 WAR to Ellsbury’s 9.5 ove the last six seasons, and he still has another year to go.

Meanwhile, the Ellsbury signing came on the heels of Robinson Cano’s exit to Seattle. The Yankees reportedly offered him $175 million over seven years, but the second baseman signed for less AAV ($24 million) over 10 seasons. After a lackluster 2013 season where the Bombers’ offense cratered, the team might have felt it needed to make a splash on offense when they signed Ellsbury in addition to Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.

Ultimately, the signing did not work out at all, outside of Ellsbury’s single-season, career and postseason catcher’s interference records, all set with the Yankees. OK, I guess I’m the only one who cares about that last part. It was time for the Yankees to close this chapter.

7. Bye to Nasty Nestor: Lastly, the Yankees removed Cortes from the 40-man roster. He doesn’t have as big a name as Ellsbury or Bird, but baseball’s Mr. 305 should be remembered fondly for his contributions to the 2019 Yankees.

The final numbers are ugly. He had a 5.67 ERA/5.57 FIP and a 79 ERA+, allowing 16 home runs over 66 2/3 innings. The soft-tossing left-hander rarely topped 90 mph, but he got by on guile and an advanced pitching acumen.

Cortes was the bulk guy to form an impressive tandem with opener Chad Green from May well into the summer. The duo helped the Yankees stave off rotation armageddon. Green obviously deserves more of the accolades when it comes to the Yankees’ opener success, but Cortes kept it going. As the bulk pitcher, he helped the Yankees get wins over the Rays (x2), Indians, Astros and Twins, among others.

As the Yankees have previously DFA’d him and the Orioles sent him back in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, I’m pretty certain he can elect free agency. Another team could use him in a bulk/opener role. For whatever reason, I feel as if he’d fit the Seattle Mariners well.

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