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Game 9: Odor debuts as Yankees look to salvage series

Odor.

After two ugly losses to the Rays, the Yankees will try to avoid this sweep this afternoon at the Trop. It also marks the debut of the team’s newest acquisition, second baseman Rougned Odor.

Aaron Boone has penciled in the second baseman sixth in today’s lineup. DJ LeMahieu slides over to first, and the struggling Jay Bruce sits. Here are the rest of today’s starters:

New York Yankees (3-5)

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 1B
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Aaron Hicks, CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
  5. Gleyber Torres, SS
  6. Rougned Odor, 2B
  7. Gary Sánchez, C
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Brett Gardner, LF

LHP Jordan Montgomery

Tampa Bay Rays (4-4)

  1. Yandy Díaz, 1B
  2. Randy Arozarena, RF
  3. Austin Meadows, DH
  4. Manuel Margot, CF
  5. Mike Brosseau, 2B
  6. Brandon Lowe, LF
  7. Willy Adames, SS
  8. Mike Zunino, C
  9. Kevin Padlo, 3B

RHP Brent Honeywell Jr.

News & Notes

  • The Yankees recalled Albert Abreu, who was on the taxi squad for this series. He replaces Domingo Germán on the roster.
  • This is Honeywell’s major league debut. The one time top prospect has been besieged with injuries and hasn’t pitched in a regular season game since September 2017 in Triple-A. Good for him. From the sounds of it, he’s serving as today’s opener for Michael Wacha.
  • Clarke Schmidt still hasn’t begun throwing after an initial 3-4 week rest prognosis back at the start of spring training. He’s now seeking a second opinion on his common extensor strain. (Bryan Hoch)
  • The Yankees traded infielder Thairo Estrada to the Giants in exchange for cash considerations. Estrada was designated for assignment earlier this week.

It’s a gloomy Sunday afternoon here in New York, which makes for a perfect day to plop on the couch and watch some baseball. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10pm on YES and WFAN. Have a good day everyone.

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Game 5: Cole goes again

“Did you see what I did this thing yesterday?” (@Yankees)

Oh right, there’s a game tonight. It’s been a couple of hours since the Yankees officially acquired Rougned Odor, which understandably has dominated the news cycle. But now, it’s about time to shift our focus back to tonight’s affair against Baltimore. Tonight, we’re in for a treat: Gerrit Cole takes the mound. Thanks to last Friday’s day off, Cole starts for the second time in the team’s first five games. You love to see it.

Before we get to the lineups, the Yankees made a couple of corresponding roster moves following the Odor trade. The team designated infielder Thairo Estrada for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Michael King was optioned to the Alternate site as well, which leaves an open spot on the 26-man roster. Odor needs some time to clear COVID-19 protocols, so the Yankees may play with 25 players for a day or two unless someone else comes up.

Now, the lineups:

Baltimore Orioles (3-1)

  1. Cedric Mullins, CF
  2. Trey Mancini, 1B
  3. Anthony Santander, RF
  4. Ryan Mountcastle, LF
  5. Rio Ruiz, 2B
  6. Maikel Franco, 3B
  7. Freddy Galvis, SS
  8. Pedro Severino, C
  9. Chance Cisco, DH

RHP Dean Kremer

New York Yankees (2-2)

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Brett Gardner, CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
  5. Gleyber Torres, SS
  6. Clint Frazier, LF
  7. Jay Bruce, 1B
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Kyle Higashioka, C

RHP Gerrit Cole

News & Notes

  • It’s just a day off for Aaron Hicks. He will be back in the lineup tomorrow.
  • Don’t make too much of Higgy catching Cole tonight. Gary Sánchez has started all five games behind the plate thus far, so a day off was coming sooner or later.

It’s another beautiful night for a ballgame. WFAN and YES have the broadcasts with first pitch set for 6:35pm eastern. Enjoy the game.

The Magnificent Middle Infield [2021 Season Preview]

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The Keystone King

Yankees fans everywhere exhaled a collective sigh of relief on the morning of January 15. On that day, which will hopefully not live in infamy, represented the end of a too-long tango between the team’s front office and DJ LeMahieu, when the 32-year-old re-signed for 6-years and $90 million. The idea of an offense without LeMahieu – who led the team in batting average, on-base percentage, wRC+, and WAR over the last two years – was the baseball equivalent of existential dread, so the news of his return may well have been the best possible news for Yankees fans this off-season.

LeMahieu’s excellence in pinstripes cannot be overstated, either. He’s 12th in the majors in fWAR since the beginning of 2019, sandwiched between Ronald Acuña Jr. and JT Realtmuto. His 146 wRC+ is 10th, just behind reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. And his .336 batting average, passé as it may be, is the best in the business. LeMahieu has been nothing short of elite in pinstripes, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

Speaking of, let’s check-in on the projection systems:

SystemPAHRAVG/OBP/SLG (+)WAR
PECOTA64419.295/.360/.450 (122 DRC+)4.6
ZiPS59818.306/.357/.463 (117 wRC+)4.2
Steamer68321.294/.353/.453 (114 wRC+)3.8

All three projection systems are essentially splitting the difference between LeMahieu’s last season in Colorado (87 wRC+) and his first season in the Bronx (135 wRC+), and I’m not all that surprised. After all, he’s 32 and has more than four times as many plate appearances in Colorado. And, given that 2020 was heavily abbreviated, his back-to-back career years involve just 871 PA. I would be at least a bit disappointed in any of those lines – though, all three would be rock solid.

That said: I’m betting the over.

The Infield Corners: Voit, Urshela, and Thoughts and Prayers [2021 Season Preview]

Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

The Top-Flight First Baseman

On August 2, 2018, Luke Voit made his pinstriped debut. It was a relatively dull introduction to Yankees fans, as he went 0-for-4 in a 15-7 loss to the Red Sox. And, to be frank, it wasn’t all that shocking either; after all, Voit was a no-name 27-year-old first baseman that many assumed was the secondary piece in the deal that sent Gio Gallegos to the Cardinals for international bonus money.

As it turns out, that was the low point of Voit’s tenure.

Voit has hit .279/.372/.543 as a member of the Yankees, which is good for a 144 wRC+. That wRC+ ranks third among first basemen, behind 2019 MVP Cody Bellinger (who has played more outfield in this span) and 2020 MVP Freddie Freeman. That’s pretty good company, folks. And, if you want to go even deeper, his 144 wRC+ ranks 12th among all hitters.

Mailbag: Game 3 starter, voids from 2019, James McCann in free agency, and short-season evaluations

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Another week, another mailbag to open. Four questions to address today. As always, send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We answer our favorites each week. Let’s get to it.

Kenny asks: James Paxton being shut down again is disappointing. If the playoffs started tomorrow, is it absurd to have Deivi García be the third starter after Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka? This would be in lieu of a resurgent JA Happ and a struggling Jordan Montgomery.

To be precise, Paxton won’t throw again for a couple of days after feeling some soreness Wednesday. I wouldn’t say he’s shut down, though things certainly aren’t looking good for him. It’s probably not worth counting on him to contribute much, if at all, the rest of the way.

Now to the question. I’m not so sure the Yankees would go with a traditional starting pitcher in a hypothetical Game 3 in the first round. Remember, it’s a best-of-three series to open up the postseason. There’s a distinct possibility that the Yankees (or any other team) go the opener/bullpen game route instead. Of course, a lot of that depends on how much the ‘pen is used in the first two games of the series. Or, even better, the Yankees would just win those first two games and call it a series.

If the bullpen game isn’t an option, I’d strongly favor Deivi at this point. So no, it’s not absurd to think he’s deserving of it over Happ or Monty. It sure sounds like Aaron Boone believes García can do it too:

“I know he wouldn’t flinch at the opportunity…I’m totally confident, forget the pitching part of it, that he can handle any situation you throw him in. Hard to predict where we’ll be three weeks from now and just what exactly we’ll look like. But he’s certainly putting his name in those conversations because of his performance.”

Happ certainly has pitched better lately (2.59 ERA in last four starts), but I do not love the idea of putting the season in his hands. I’m still scarred from his 2018 ALDS performance, I guess. But it’s not just that. We’ve seen far more bad than good since last year with Happ, and even with a good run of late, who’s to say that he doesn’t have another dud?

Montgomery has pitched himself out of the conversation thanks to his last two outings. He still has time to turn the ship around, but there’s no way he’d get the ball if the season ended today. So, it pretty much comes down to Deivi or Happ in the traditional starter route.

All this isn’t to say that García wouldn’t have a bad game. He’s not invincible, of course. But at the same time, I’d rather lose with a more talented pitcher on the mound. Not a 37 year-old who’s mostly struggled over the last two seasons.

Andrew asks: Not having Encarnación, Maybin, and Didi really hurt the depth of this lineup. Would it be safe to say Didi would be the player that would currently help this lineup that’s been decimated by injuries?

I think that’s pretty safe to say. The combination of Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer have hit .177/.266/.248 in 128 plate appearances this season. Didi, meanwhile, has hit .273/.333/.469 in 160 opportunities for the Phillies. That’s a massive difference! The Yankees middle infield depth is putrid and its something we’ve discussed on this here blog since the offseason. So of course, Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu missed time with injuries which forced inferior players to get opportunities.

While Maybin and EE would be nice to have right now, they aren’t missed as much as Gregorius. As bad as Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford have been this year, I wouldn’t say it was totally unreasonable for the Yankees to believe they were good depth for this season. They performed well last year when called upon. Would I have preferred some extra insurance in those spots? Yes, but it’s not as egregious as doing nothing to shore up the middle infield after letting Didi go. Also, consider this: if the Yankees brought back Maybin (or brought in someone else as outfield depth), there’s a chance Clint Frazier is still toiling away at the Alternate Site.

We’ve never seen Wade or Thairo exhibit any success at the big league level. To count on either of them as insurance up the middle was a big mistake. And again, that’s not in hindsight. Wade came into 2020 with a lifetime .197/.268/.298 (53 wRC+) in 241 big league trips to the plate. Estrada carried a .250/.294/.438 (91 wRC+) line last season in 69 opportunities. Even if the Yankees liked those two more than most, to not grab some sort of big league insurance was foolish. If you’re not willing to spend $14 million to bring back Gregorius, OK, but at least do something. How about Cesar Hernandez? José Iglesias?

Richard asks: Do you think the Yankees might have an interest in signing James McCann as insurance this offseason with how Gary Sánchez has struggled the past two years? If so, what would a hypothetical contract look like?

I do think the Yankees will strongly consider adding another catcher this winter. I wrote about this my thoughts piece a few days ago. McCann will probably come at a price above the team’s comfort level, though. I think he gets something along the lines of the Travis d’Arnaud contract. Atlanta signed him for two years and $16 million last offseason.

d’Arnaud got that deal thanks to a strong finish with the Rays last season. He started off slowly with the Mets, got DFA’d, was with the Dodgers for literally one plate appearance, and then was shipped to the Rays. In Tampa Bay, d’Arnaud hit .263/.323/.459 (107 wRC+) with solid defense. That brought him into free agency as a 30 year-old, the same age McCann is for his impending trip to the open market.

McCann’s bat has been really good since last year, but it wasn’t until this year that his defense (particularly framing) vastly improved. That’s quite possibly the result of having elite defensive backstop Yasmani Grandal as a teammate now. Anyway, McCann posted a 109 wRC+ in 476 plate appearances last year and has a 163 mark in 79 this season, so the bat seems pretty good. Pair that with improved glovework and you’re probably looking at the d’Arnaud deal. I don’t think the Yankees will spend that on a catcher to play three times a week. McCann probably wants a full-time gig anyway.

As an alternative, I wonder if the Yankees can pry Tyler Flowers away from Atlanta. He’s been terrific for them since 2016, albeit never really playing much more than 50 percent of the time. Flowers has put up at least 2 WAR annually, mainly from the glove, but the bat isn’t a total zero. He’s got a 118 wRC+ this year in 54 plate appearances, though he’s probably closer to the 88 and 95 marks he put up in the last two seasons. And at 34, he’s probably looking at something similar to the $4 million he signed for this season. The Yankees should be in on something like that.

Eric asks: If you were the front office trying to figure out how to improve the team over the offseason, what are the metrics (or other indicators of performance) that you would take seriously despite the weird season?

You know what: I’m not so sure this short season changes the way teams evaluate players as much as we might think. In this day and age, teams are looking at health, Trackman/Hawkeye/Statcast/Rapsodo data, and scouting evaluations to support decision-making. I don’t think 60 games vs. 162 games changes that.

For example, the Yankees have seen James Paxton without his best velocity all season and he’s now dealing with a flexor strain. That’s got to be a huge red flag for his impending free agency. I presume that’ll be enough for the team to walk away from him this winter.

Then there’s someone like Sánchez, whose .121/.230/.327 line has so many people wanting him out of the organization. And yet, the elite underlying exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard hit percentage numbers still exist. Is that enough for the Yankees to try to get him right for 2021? Probably.

Ultimately, everything boils down to talent level. Now that teams have metrics that are intended to be a proxy for talent, that’s what they’re gonna keep on using.

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