- The Yankees will likely try to slip underneath the luxury-tax threshold in one of the next two seasons, Rosenthal says, noting that the threshold will likely increase to $200MM-plus in the next CBA. Doing so would reset their penalty rate in time for them to splurge on the 2018-2019 free agent class, which includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado and other big names. After next season, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia will no longer draw a salary, potentially allowing the Yankees to get beneath the threshold for 2018.
- With such little certainty in their rotation heading into the 2017 season, the Yankees need to focus on starting pitching this winter, opines ESPN’s Buster Olney (Insider subscription required). Olney surmises that the Yankees have the financial firepower to add via free agency and should target left-hander Rich Hill as a high-upside addition to the staff. While Hill doesn’t come with much in the way of certainty himself, adding him would allow the team to enter the season with a high-upside mix of rotation arms and conserve its prospect depth and make a midseason pitching acquisition at a time when a greater number of targets will be available.
FanRag’s Jon Heyman kicks off his weekly notes column by recapping seven moves that turned the Cubs from cellar-dwellers into contenders, recalling the trades that netted the team Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell as well as the Rule 5 selection of Hector Rondon. Here are some highlights from his roundup of notes on all 30 big league clubs…
- Brian Snitker, Terry Pendleton and Bo Porter are the Braves’ primary internal candidates to fill the managerial vacancy, while Heyman lists some potential outside candidates as Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, former Padres manager Bud Black, former Twins manager Rob Gardenhire and Royals bench coach/former Mariners skipper Don Wakamatsu.
- The Astros will seek rotation help this offseason even if Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers get back up to full strength from their respective shoulder and elbow issues. With Doug Fister hitting the open market and the Astros receiving lackluster production from Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers, that’s not exactly a surprise.
- Both Tim Lincecum and Jered Weaver are determined to return in 2017, according to Heyman. He writes that Lincecum feels that he focused so much on strengthening his surgically repaired hip that he neglected to strengthen his arm enough, though a return to prominence for Lincecum always seemed like a fairly noted long shot after four down seasons and a significant surgical procedure.
- The Yankees will make a run at re-signing Aroldis Chapman as a free agent this winter, Heyman writes, at least in part due to Dellin Betances’ recent struggles. While Betances’ slump has been magnified by the fact that it’s taken place in late September, he was excellent for the bulk of the time following the Yankees’ deadline sale, pitching to a 0.57 ERA in his first 15 2/3 innings following the deadline and allowing only one run in August. If the motivation to re-sign Chapman is simply to once again create an extraordinarily deep back of the bullpen, that certainly makes sense, but pursuing him in light of three poor September outings from Betances seems rather reactionary when looking at Betances’ body of work as a whole.
- Second-half bullpen struggles have the Giants kicking themselves for not making a stronger push for Mark Melancon, Heyman reports. The Giants felt their offer was comparable to that of the Nationals, but Pittsburgh ultimately traded Melancon to D.C. in exchange for left-hander Felipe Rivero and minor league lefty Taylor Hearn. While the Giants made a run at Andrew Miller, as well, the Yankees asked for Joe Panik in exchange, which the Giants understandably found to be too steep an ask. GM Bobby Evans lamented not adding another established reliever to Heyman, and it seems likely that they’ll be in the mix for the top bullpen options this winter (Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Melancon).
- Extension talks between the Rangers and Rougned Odor were put on hold earlier this season, as the two sides couldn’t get on the same page. Odor’s camp was seeking a deal larger than Gregory Polanco’s five-year, $35MM pact with the Pirates, and while the Rangers wanted two club options tacked onto their top offer, Odor’s reps were only willing to concede one option year. That, of course, doesn’t rule out a deal being reached further down the line, but Odor’s 31-homer season as a 22-year-old second baseman figures to give his side plenty of leverage in talks, even if that power comes with an OBP that’s barely scraping the .300 mark.
Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka has been diagnosed with a slight flexor mass strain in his right forearm and won’t throw for the next five days, manager Joe Girardi told reporters, including Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News (Twitter link). Tanaka’s injury obviously means that he’ll miss at least one start, though pitching coach Larry Rothschild emphasized that there’s nothing wrong with the right-hander’s ulnar collateral ligament (via ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand). Tanaka suffered a minor tear of the UCL during his rookie season but never underwent Tommy John surgery and has seemingly recovered (or at the very least has pitched through it without issue).
The loss of Tanaka, even for one start, is a difficult pill for the Yankees to swallow as their dwindling Wild Card hopes now look a bit more bleak. New York currently sits two and a half games back in the AL Wild Card race, but they’re trailing both Wild Card holders (Baltimore and Toronto) as well as the Tigers, Astros and Mariners in that race. Tanaka himself feels that the injury won’t be season-ending, telling reporters that he believes he’ll be able to “come back strong” before year’s end (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch).
If, however, Tanaka isn’t able to return to the hill, it’ll only add another layer of uncertainty to the Yankees’ rotation picture heading into an offseason where starting pitching will almost certainly be a focus for general manager Brian Cashman and his staff. The Yankees can currently only pencil in Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia to next year’s rotation, and while that trio somewhat incredibly has combined to make 89 starts so far this season, there are notable injury concerns with each of the group, making it difficult to assume they’ll be able to replicate that feat in 2017. Beyond those veterans, the Yankees have inexperienced (and, in some cases, inconsistent) arms like Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa as rotation options, but that group of seven doesn’t figure to be enough depth to survive a season, let alone to contend for an AL East title.
The Pirates have acquired lefty Phil Coke from the Yankees for cash considerations, the teams announced. Pittsburgh will need to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate the acquisition.
Coke, 34, made three major league appearances earlier in the year for New York, but has spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A. Though he has pitched almost exclusively as a reliever for most of his big league career, Coke made 11 starts during his time at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
On the year, Coke threw to a 2.96 ERA over 70 frames at the highest level of the minors. He compiled 7.8 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9, with 68 hits and just three home runs recorded against him.
It’s a bit unclear what Pittsburgh plans to do with Coke, though he will indeed be headed for the major league roster. He could conceivably take a start or two in an effort at a Rich Hill-like metamorphosis, or may just log some frames from the pen. The Pirates are technically still alive in the Wild Card race, but only barely. Coke will again be a free agent at season’s end.
The only locks for the Yankees’ 2017 rotation right now are Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes that GM Brian Cashman won’t take a reactionary approach to plugging holes in his rotation. As Sherman points out, though, the quartet of Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell has yet to prove that there’s a definitive starter among them, and any could end up in the ’pen. The Yankees will add at least one arm this winter, he continues, though given the paucity of quality starters on the free agent market, a trade from the team’s suddenly top-ranked farm system might be the most rational expectation. Sherman lists speculative candidates ranging from Ervin Santana to Chris Sale, though the top-tier names like Sale are included more as a means of demonstrating the depth of New York’s farm than as a genuine indication of likelihood. Sherman rightly points out that with free agency looking so sparse, the asking prices in trades will be staggering — especially for the likes of Sale, Jose Quintana, Chris Archer and other top-tier arms.
With his career winding down, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira took some time to sit down with Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and reflect on his 14 seasons in the Majors. In an excellent Q&A, Teixeira discusses with Rosenthal the feeling of being traded on two different occasions, including an amusing story of a ruined cell phone on a fishing trip with former teammate David Dellucci that prevented him from learning about his trade to the Braves as quickly as he otherwise might have. The switch-hitting slugger candidly discussed his lone trip through free agency, stating that he “didn’t enjoy it at all” and also explaining how he very nearly signed with the division-rival Red Sox that winter before agreeing to terms with the Yankees. He also discusses the differences of being in a pennant race as an expected contributor and as a veteran role player. I’d highly recommend checking out Rosenthal’s piece, as it pulls back the curtain a bit on free agency and trades and also contains a number of interesting anecdotes from Teixeira.
Yankees infielder Starlin Castro suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain while running the bases Saturday and could miss the rest of the season, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch notes. Grade 1 strains are the least severe type of strain, but could require a two-week recovery time. The Yankees are likely to use Ronald Torreyes and Donovan Solano at second base in Castro’s absence. The Yankees promoted Solano today after a .319/.349/.436 season for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The loss of Castro is a tough one for the Yankees, who are currently 3 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card race. Castro has batted .273/.304/.439 in 593 plate appearances in his first season in pinstripes, but he’s been hot down the stretch, hitting .313/.333/.571 in August and .310/.328/.483 in September.
The 26-year-old Castro will, of course, remain under team control for the foreseeable future, with the Yanks paying him a total of $30MM over the next three years, plus either a $16MM 2020 option or a $1MM buyout, as per the terms of the pre-arbitration extension he signed with the Cubs in 2012.
The Marlins and agent Scott Boras appear unlikely to negotiate an extension for ace Jose Fernandez early in the offseason, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, who reports the team could shop the right-hander as a result. Several of the majors’ high-payroll clubs, including the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs, would have interest in acquiring and extending Fernandez, per Cafardo. The 24-year-old is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2018 campaign and has thrown a career-high 174 1/3 innings this season. Along the way, Fernandez has posted dazzling numbers – 2.99 ERA, 12.44 K/9, 2.84 BB/9 – which has been the norm since he debuted in 2013.
SEPT. 15: The Yankees have announced the signing of Butler to a Major League deal. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
SEPT. 14: The Yankees have reached an agreement to sign recently released Athletics designated hitter/first baseman Billy Butler, reports Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports (via Twitter). Heyman further specifies that Butler has signed a Major League contract with New York.
Specifics surrounding the deal aren’t known, but Butler can be had for nothing more than the pro-rated portion of the league minimum through season’s end following his release by Oakland. That means it’ll cost the Yanks about $50K to add Butler into the mix, presumably for the remainder of the 2016 campaign only.
Butler, 30, signed a three-year, $30MM contract with the A’s prior to the 2015 season – a move that paid very little in the way of dividends for Oakland. The longtime Royals DH struggled in both seasons he spent wearing green and gold, hitting a collective .258/.325/.394. While that production graded out as roughly average when factoring in the Athletics’ cavernous home park (99 OPS+), a league-average bat at the DH slot (and occasionally at first base) isn’t a positive outcome on a $10MM annual investment.
As Mike Axisa of River Avenue Blues points out (Twitter link), however, the Yankees started light-hitting backstop Austin Romine at designated hitter tonight against a left-handed pitcher. Butler could give the Yankees a solid, low-cost option against southpaws for the remainder of the season, and they’ll be facing no shortage of left-handed opponents; Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that the Yanks are slated to face lefties in seven of their next 11 games (Twitter link).
That said, it should be noted that a large reason for the decline in performance from “Country Breakfast” is the fact that his numbers against lefties have plummeted in the past two seasons. Butler crushed lefties at a .314/.393/.519 clip from 2007-14 despite playing his home games at the pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium, but he’s managed only a woeful .226/.329/.358 line against lefties since signing in Oakland.
Few would’ve thought that the Yankees would be in this position at the non-waiver trade deadline when they parted ways with Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran in order to acquire prospects, but New York currently sits just two games back from an American League Wild Card spot. However, they just lost a right-handed option earlier today with the news that Aaron Judge has been placed on the disabled list due to an oblique strain, thinning out the club’s right-handed options at the plate. Of course, if the Yankees are able to close the two-game gap that currently faces them, Butler would be ineligible to join the postseason roster, having been added to the organization after the Aug. 31 postseason eligibility deadline.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.