Tag: Thairo Estrada Page 1 of 2

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.

Game 22: So long Boston, we’ll miss you

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It’s too bad the Yankees don’t face the lowly Red Sox again until September. The Yankees completed a four game sweep against Boston at Yankee Stadium to improve to 16-6, 2.5 games ahead of the Rays in the division. Meanwhile, the Red Sox depart at 6-17 and their season all but over. The final in this one: 6-3.

Rain halts Jordan Montgomery’s best start of the season. A one hour and 23 minute rain delay cost Monty a chance to get a win in this one. The delay came with two outs in the fourth, which turned out to be the end of Montgomery’s evening. In sum, the lefty threw 3 2/3 innings, struck out four, and allowed just one run (that he probably shouldn’t have, more on that below). Montgomery had just about everything working. He was throwing hard, missing bats, locating his pitches, and generating a lot of weak contact.

It sure looks like the lefty’s velocity uptick is here to stay. Montgomery averaged 92.9 MPH on his fastball and topped out at 94.1 on the evening. His sinker sat 92.7 and touched 93.8. That’s not overpowering in today’s sense, but it’s very good for Monty. Considering how well he spotted his pitches today, that velo really did him wonders.

Save for a couple sinkers down the middle (both taken for strikes), Monty lived on the edges this evening. That’ll do.

Monty also had good feel for his curve and changeup in this one, which worked well off his fastball/sinker. He got nine whiffs on 27 swings, and when the Red Sox did make contact, it wasn’t well struck. Boston’s average exit velocity was a paltry 77.8 MPH on the evening.

That’s a lot of blue. Soft contact has become Montgomery’s forte this year, by the way. Entering tonight:

  • Exit Velocity: 96th percentile
  • Hard Hit %: 68th percentile
  • Barrel %: 74th percentile

That’s great stuff. Even with a little more hump on his fastball this season, Montgomery isn’t going to be a strikeout pitcher. He’ll need to limit hard contact to maintain success, and so far, so good. I just wish we got to see him go a little deeper in this one.

Nerdy stuff aside, Montgomery really got into a groove after the Torres error in the first. He recorded eleven straight outs thereafter up until back-to-back-to-back singles with two outs in the fourth. Then mother nature came calling.

Bats and B-List relievers keep A-listers fresh for Tampa Bay series. Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, and Zack Britton didn’t have to warm up for this one. That’s big going into an important series against the Rays tomorrow, who were off today and will have a fresh bullpen themselves. Aroldis Chapman wrapped this one up, but he was expected to get into this game regardless of the score. It’s his first game back from the COVID-19 injured list, after all.

The offense took care of business pretty early. Part of it was a self inflicted wound by Boston starter Martín Pérez, though. With two outs in the second, he pegged ninth hitter Tyler Wade. You just can’t let Wade reach base like that and the top of the order made him pay. Hicks ripped a double to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. Then came Luke Voit:

That wasn’t his only longball of the day. The first baseman also did this in the fifth:

Those were Voit’s sixth and seventh homers of the year. Thairo Estrada delivered one of his own between those two Voit dingers, by the way.

Aaron Hicks added one for good measure.

Enough about the homer parade, how about the bullpen work of Luis Avilán and Michael King? Avilán came into this one with two on and two out in the fourth as play resumed after the rain delay. He worked out of trouble and then pitched a clean fifth inning. Avilán has been sneaky good thus far: he’s got a 2.25 ERA in eight innings.

King came in after Avilán. It was his first appearance since August 8th, but King didn’t show any rust. He threw three innings, allowed just one run, and struck out two. That one run probably shouldn’t have happened, by the way. Miguel Andújar couldn’t track down what turned into a ground rule RBI double by Alex Verdugo in the sixth. Anyway, King was given the win for this one, his first of his career. Congrats to him.

Again, this was a clutch performance from Avilán, King, and the offense. Aaron Boone should be able to use Green, Ottavino, and Britton often in this upcoming series.

We have to talk about Gleyber Torres’s defense. Although things have started to come around offensively, Gleyber’s defense has been another story this season. In short, it hasn’t been very good. Tonight, Torres made two throwing errors. He now has six on the season, second to Boston’s Rafael Devers who has 8. Gleyber also couldn’t haul in a Christian Vázquez bloop single in the fourth inning that arguably should have been caught.

Tonight’s game started with his first error. Kevin Pillar hit a routine grounder to short, but Torres couldn’t convert it into an out. His throw to first pulled Luke Voit off the bag toward home plate. Per Statcast, that grounder had an expected batting average of .050. Pillar is a good runner, so perhaps that put some pressure on Gleyber to make a good throw. In any case, it’s a play Torres has to make. The good news is that Montgomery worked around that error to pitch a scoreless first, including a 6-4-3 double play turned by Torres and Tyler Wade.

Moving on to the Vázquez single, which cut the Yankees lead to 3-1 at the time. Let’s take a look:

Torres seemed to have a quick first step, but then slowed down and took a circuitous route to the landing spot. He got his glove on it but couldn’t haul it in. Look, I’m not saying that this is an easy play, but it’s one he probably should have made. If you didn’t notice his odd route to the ball on video, you can get a better sense of it from Statcast below:

Statcast also has that batted ball at an expected batting average of .580, but that may be somewhat misleading. Namely, Statcast only considers launch angle and exit velocity. In other words, it treats that blooper’s hit probability the same as if it was hit down the right field line.

Torres wasn’t done there though. He made another throwing error in the top of the top of the fifth inning. This time, it was a grounder off of José Peraza’s bat. Peraza is very fast — 87th percentile in sprint speed — but this was yet another routine grounder that should have been an out.

In fairness to Gleyber, he is just 23 and this is his first (sort of) full season at shortstop at the big league level. I’m a little more willing to give him a pass on the blooper, but he needs to be more consistent on routine plays.

Leftovers

  • This was the Yankees’ fourth rain delay of the season. It clocked in at one hour and 23 minutes.
  • Interesting game for Miguel Andújar, who’s back with the team with DJ LeMahieu on the injured list. He *just* missed a grand slam in his first at-bat: he hit a 381 foot flyout to end the first inning. Later, he scorched a line drive right at Peraza. Nice to see some good swings from Miggy. Now, for the not so good. I touched on this earlier, but he took an awkward route on a very catchable fly ball hit by Verdugo to left field in the sixth. But instead of hauling it in, it landed for a ground rule double. Andújar is very new to left field, so we’ll cut him some slack here. Mike Tauchman came in as a defensive replacement later.
  • To add to Gleyber’s rough night in the field, he also got picked off first base in the seventh inning by Sox catcher Christian Vázquez. At least it didn’t take the defense and baserunning to the plate. He reached base via walk twice tonight.
  • Aroldis Chapman looked good in the ninth despite allowing a run. His fastball reached 100 MPH four times.

Up next: the Rays for three games in the Bronx. Should be a good one. See you tomorrow.

Bring in Brock

With Spring Training almost officially here, there’s little left for the Yankees to do. The James Paxton injury throws a wrench into their plans and that’s worth discussing. Luckily, both Bobby and Derek have that angle pretty well covered, exploring both internal and external options. Instead, let’s think about the Yankees’ utility infield situation. Randy discussed this earlier and I did, too, back in December. Like Randy suggested on the 5th and I suggested back in December, the Yankees should sign Brock Holt to be their utility man.

Brock Holt would definitely bring a sense of comfort and reliability to the Yankees’ utility role. There probably isn’t any upside left in him, but what he is as a player fits the needs of the position.

He can play all over the field and the various defensive metrics seem to like him well enough. While he won’t hit for much power, he’s got a decent average and has a solid walk rate in his career. His strikeout rate (around 20%) is a touch high for a guy with low power (.103 carer ISO), but the positional flexibility and the walks can help make up for that.

The predictability he offers is preferable to the upside of Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada, even if Holt will cost more than what those two make combined. Both those young players have shown flashes of skill and success, but it hasn’t been sustained.

Last year, we saw how important depth is to a winning roster. Holt adds depth and insurance. If they don’t sign him–or any other infielder/utility player–they’re left very thin should someone in the infield get hurt. If they sign Holt and he gets hurt, they can still fall back on Wade or Estrada.

The Yankees, with or without another utility player, are going to be a very good team and win lots of ballgames. However, they still need a small piece or two in order to guarantee that even more. Given his skillset and fit for the team, Brock Holt ought to be the one.

Thoughts A Week Before Pitchers And Catchers Report to Camp

It is pretty wild to think that spring training will begin next week. The offseason has flown by. Admittedly, 95% of my sports focus was on the San Francisco 49ers and their incredibly fun season. Luckily, baseball went into hibernation after the winter meetings so my football craziness didn’t prevent me from missing anything significant. I guess MLB was waiting for my 49ers to choke a Super Bowl title away to kick back into full gear. I appreciate the much needed distraction. Here are some thoughts as I slowly recover from one of the worst sports moments of my life.

1. Challenging the Global View of The Betts Trade: We all had a pretty strong inkling this was going down, but it is still pretty mind blowing that it actually happened. Mookie is easily a top-five player in the league. There are clearly no baseball reasons for a premiere franchise like the Boston Red Sox to trade their franchise player. This was a financial decision made by one of the most profitable franchises in the league.

Boston’s offseason plan was crystal clear following two personnel moves. The Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski this winter because team brass believed he overspent for a title. That reasoning is absurd, illogical and insulting. While all of these descriptions are true, Red Sox ownership decided it was time to move on. They turned to former Rays executive Chaim Bloom to steer the franchise towards financial austerity and prudence. Generally speaking, a team isn’t hiring a former Rays employee to go on a shopping spree. His directive was to get under the luxury tax. With the Betts/Price deal, Bloom was able to accomplish this in only a couple of months on the job.

There is no denying this trade was essentially a salary dump of one of the game’s best players, but don’t count me in the group that will proclaim this is bad for the game. This IS the game in 2020. The industry has been operating in this manner for years now. Outside of the Miami Marlins, with an ownership group that should’ve never been awarded the team, every major league franchise can afford big time contracts. The Rockies can afford Arenado. Cleveland can afford Lindor. The Red Sox can afford Betts. They just refuse to do it, because they can refuse to do it.

This is the current economic structure of the game. Unfortunately, the CBA gives teams the power to conduct business in this manner. I am a staunch player supporter. Until the public knows all of the owners’ financial information like we know the players’ contract details, the owners will always have some cover in their selfish decision making. Do I like this reality? No. Do I have to look at player movement decisions through this lens? Yes. The MLBPA has to do whatever it can to improve these labor situations for its members.

Even from an on-field perspective, it is hard to believe this is bad for the game. Mookie Betts landed with another behemoth. The Dodgers are every bit as valuable a franchise as Boston. Los Angeles has been the class of the National League for years. Many people have spent the last few offseasons trashing the Dodgers for not being aggressive. They’re finally aggressive and the dialogue focuses on Boston’s loss. The state of the game can’t be that dire when an elite team acquires an elite talent and plans to do everything they can to extend said player. It’s bad for the franchise who foolishly gave up on that great player.

If we include all of the participants in the transactions, we get an even clearer picture of how the game didn’t suffer from the Betts deal. The Minnesota Twins are a better team with Maeda. The Angels are a better team with Joc Pederson. It feels like a leap to lament the state of the game when three of the four participants in the deals improved their rosters.

We should also consider the player’s own agency when it comes to these deals. These trades are almost always viewed through the team’s perspective and rarely the player’s perspective. It is quite possible that Mookie Betts didn’t want to be a Red Sox long term. Or at the very least, he was going to be a career Red Sox only on his terms.

If we are to believe the reporting on Mookie’s future, he clearly wants to enter the market and help his fellow union members. Many of us clamor for the players to be more proactive with their careers. Mookie is doing just that. He fulfilled his six-year responsibility and he was solely going to serve his own interests moving forward. That would be the right attitude to have. This trade is clearly driven by financial reasons on the team’s behalf, but it is a possibility the player was making it clear he was prepared to move on.

At the end of the day, we are still going to watch the games. When March 26th rolls around, we’re all going to forget our laments of the business side of things and obsesses over every pitch, hit and managerial decision. Yes, there are clear issues in the industry that need to be resolved. The on field product remains strong. Ultimately, that is what will keep us going.

2. Thriving In The Details: The Yankees are the best team on paper. This still feels accurate even with Betts moving on to LA. The Yankees rotation projects to be elite. Their bullpen remains imposing. The projected lineup is devastating. While all of this is true, there is still room for roster improvement. I have long held onto the belief that championship teams win titles in the details. Yes, great teams need elite level players, good health, leadership, and fortune. They also maximize their roster spots with the best players available for the roles that need to be filled.

In particular, the primary back up middle infield role is one area that could use an upgrade. The Yankees are pretty shallow in that department. In letting Didi go to Philadelphia, the team chipped away at depth in a crucial area of the field. The decision also limits DJ Lemahieu’s versatility. This is fine if there was a proven and capable major leaguer to back up both second and short. They simply do not have that on the current roster and this seemingly works against the team’s approach to roster building.

The obvious in house candidates are Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. There is nothing that I’ve seen from Tyler Wade’s offensive profile that suggests he could be an average player if Gleyber or DJLM goes down for an extended period of time. Baseball Savant rates him similarly to players like Garrett Hampson, Adam Engel and Phillip Ervin. FanGraphs projects him to slash .224/.289/.322. He did improve his plate discipline in 2019, but it’s not clear what he can contribute offensively. The glove is good. The speed is great, but even then the Yankees are a team reliant upon power and good baserunning isn’t predicated upon raw speed.

It is hard to project Estrada because he only had 69 PAs last season. He did have some nice moments filling in from time to time, but is there anything that we saw to suggest he could produce on a consistent basis? He doesn’t have eye popping minor league numbers either. If I had to choose between Estrada or Wade, I would lean towards Thairo because there is some more power in the bat. I wouldn’t feel great about either guy.

The Yankees spent $324 million dollars for Gerrit Cole. This is as clear a sign the team is going all in this season to win a championship. When you make a considerable investment like the Cole contract there shouldn’t be any what-ifs on the roster. Each player on the 26th man should be a competent major leaguer. Brock Holt would be a solid addition to the club. You know that he will make consistent baseball plays, will get on base and provide solid defense. You’re looking for reliable play from the back up position, not a learning curve. Holt can provide that better than Wade or Estrada.

3. No One Year Deals?: It is a little surprising that the Yankees haven’t played in the one year deal market. They signed a few minor league deals, but no short term major league contracts. Both Didi and Dellin signed for one year with the Phillies and Mets respectively. One can assume the money was a little too rich for the Yankees especially considering what they spent for Cole, but there were smart short term deals they could’ve pursued. Eric Thames, Jose Iglesias, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Castro all signed for one year at relatively low money. All of them would have been solid additions to the roster.

It appears the Yankees are content with their in house options and will look to add before the trade deadline once they get a better feel for the team. It is always better to acquire talent with just money, but that isn’t totally how the Yankees operate.

One Player Short? Plugging a Potential Hole

As of now, the Yankees have a full 40-man roster and, hence, a full 26-man active roster. If we take the term literally, the Yankees don’t technically ‘need’ any other players this offseason and they could roll forward with what they have. We could reasonably argue that they they could stand to pick up another reliever and someone who could play shortstop, but that they let both Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius leave in free agency shows that they’re probably pretty comfortable with their current roster situation. For a moment, though, let’s focus on the infield situation and see if there’s not an edge to be gained.

Before we address the bench situation, let’s take a broad view of the Yankees’ infield. Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu are the starting shortstop and second baseman respectively; that is indisputable. Luke Voit and Mike Ford are the first base/DH combo. When we reach third base, things might get a little murkier. Gio Urshela availed himself quite well last year, but Miguel Andujar did the same in 2018. If the latter is fully healthy, does he get the job? I’m going on the assumption that the Yankees will stall this decision for as long as possible by starting Miggy on the DL and having him do a rehab assignment. This would make Urshela the starting 3B to start the year. The bench infielders would then be Thairo Estrada and Tyler Wade. That is….they are….fine? I guess?

We don’t have to squint too hard to see the ‘need’ for an upgrade, right? If you could call it one, Wade has the advantage over Estrada in that he can reliably play shortstop and can probably do so quite well. Neither one is likely to hit all that much, so that gives Wade a little edge. The question for any potential acquisition, then, becomes ‘are you better than Thairo Estrada?’

For most of the available infielders, the answer to that question is ‘yes.’ But then we might ask another question–is the upgrade worth it? Normally, I think I’d say no. Estrada is going to be the 26th man on the roster and if all goes well, he’s not going to be playing all that much. His impact would be minimal and given the relatively high cost of a free agent compared to his league minimum salary, there’s not much upside to that upgrade. However, the Yankees experienced last year what it means to need depth. That is a lesson they can’t forget and need to prepare for once more. What if Andujar can’t come back on a reasonable schedule? What if Urshela was a flash in the pan? What if one of Torres or DJLM actually gets hurt? These things are all possible if not probable.

Of the options left, the Yankees need to consider ones who can play multiple positions and won’t embarrass themselves at the plate. The three I think are most reasonably well-suited for this are Brock Holt, Jordy Mercer, and Jose Iglesias (probably can’t hit all that well, but the glove is too good to deny). Will any of them want a bench role with the Yankees? I have no idea. But having a player of that caliber, rather than the Estrada/Wade level, allows the Yankees to more effectively rotate and rest players.

While it seems very George Steinbrenner to sign a more expensive veteran to do a job a younger, homegrown player could do, I’m okay with it in this context. Estrada and Wade, as deep as their Yankee roots may now be, are not the types of players that you make exceptions and room for–at least until they prove that’s the case, which neither’s really done yet. Talent wins ball games and the Yankees have an infield situation where they might need to plug in talent at a moment’s notice.

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