Yankees Second Half Preview

The All-Star Break is over and the New York Yankees returned to action Friday night with some Subway Series action in the Bronx. Manager Aaron Boone somewhat surprisingly gave rookie Domingo German the nod for the first start out of the break rather than ace and All Star Luis Severino, which hints at Boone’s long-term planning for a second-half push with the goal of overtaking the Boston Red Sox, winning the American League East, and completely avoiding the Wild Card Game.

With 62 wins before the break, the Yankees put together a first half that ranks among the best in franchise history; unfortunately, it was only good enough for a spot in second place behind the red-hot Red Sox. Let’s take a look at the 2018 Yankees as they stand and what needs to happen in the second half in order to win the division.

Settle Down, For Starters

The Yankees starting pitching really isn’t that bad. While another starter would certainly help considering the struggles of Sonny Gray and inconsistencies of Domingo German, a healthy front three of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia is more than enough to anchor the Yankees for a push to the division. The Yankees starters’ ERA was 4.00 in the first half, good enough for sixth best in the AL — and that was with Tanaka injured for a month.

We don’t need to talk about Severino and how good he is. What many seem to forget is just how good Tanaka can be. Would JA Happ start a playoff game over Tanaka or Sabathia? Would Michael Fulmer and his 4.50 ERA give the Yankees final blow in the division race? The 2017 Yankees acquired two arms near the Trade Deadline last year — Gray and Jaime Garcia. Gray was the big acquisition, but he ended up making just two playoff appearances. Garcia wasn’t great in the regular season and made just one trip to the mound in relief in October as Severino, Tanaka and Sabathia led the Yankees to Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. That trio did it last year and that trio can lead the Yankees and their improved offense to a World Series championship this year.

Don’t get me wrong, adding an arm like Madison Bumgarner or Jacob deGrom would make a huge difference. Either of those pitchers would give the Yankees a second ace and make them the clear favorite to win the World Series. Unfortunately, grabbing a difference-maker like that seems unlikely.

After German’s dud against the Mets to start the second half, he was optioned to the Minors. Luis Cessa was recalled and probably will make the next start, but I think the Yankees and Yankees fans have seen enough of Cessa to know what he’s capable of, and it’s not much. At this point, given the fact that German has shown that he’s no longer an option, an arm like Happ or Cole Hamels — depending on what you’d have to give up — would certainly help so that the Yankees aren’t in a hole before the game starts every fifth day.

Even without a trade, the Yankees might have an answer …

Bring Us Justus

… Barring the blockbuster deal for Bumgarner or deGrom, no trade should include top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield. The Yankees may have the key to the division right under their noses in Triple-A. The 22-year-old left-hander, ranked in the top 50 of Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects at the start of the year, has done nothing but succeed in the minors this season.

Sheffield began the year with Double-A Trenton, and after posting a 2.25 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 28 innings he was called up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Since arriving at Triple-A, Sheffield struck out 56 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his first 57 innings. It’s pretty clear that the next logical step is a spot on the rubber at Yankee Stadium, but the organization is doing everything in its power to make sure Sheffield’s call to the bigs isn’t rushed and becomes an extended stay.

Boone was recently quoted as saying he needs to see “continued development” from Sheffield before he’s an option, but added that he’s “very close”. That could mean we’re as close as one dud by Cessa before seeing the 22-year-old in the Bronx, and there’s no reason to think he can’t be the stabilizing force this rotation needs.

Return Of ‘The Kraken’

Much has been made about Gary Sanchez’s defense behind the plate, but we’re not going to go into that because it’s one of the biggest overreactions among Yankees fans on Twitter. Yes, Sanchez lets up more passed balls than you’d like, but even just the threat of his cannon of an arm more than makes up for it, and most of the starters (the struggling Gray excluded) like throwing to him. It wouldn’t be as talked about anyway if he was hitting.

Yes, Sanchez is hitting under .200 and we’re well into July, but it’s fair to say injuries have hampered his start. A fully healthy Sanchez locked into the middle of the lineup is a difference-maker that most teams wish they had. Somehow a bad 50-60 games at the plate is enough for some to forget a historic first 175 games over the past two seasons in which he hit 53 homers with a .284/.354/.568 slash line. This isn’t a guy who was hitting .250 with some pop and is now struggling. Sanchez has proven to be a hitter who gets on base and hits for average, and he’s one hot streak away from single-handedly winning games for the Yankees. Some fans need to take a breather and realize what they have before screaming about trading a 25-year-old (TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD) catcher who is making peanuts this year ($620K) with three years of team control left.

Beat The East

While the Yankees have a winning record against the Red Sox, they have struggled against the Baltimore Orioles (5-5) and Tampa Bay Rays (5-4). With the Red Sox seemingly never losing a game, every loss for the Yankees is a frustrating one even when they’re 30 games over .500. Winning the majority of the 10 games remaining against Boston is a must for the division, but that still won’t matter without winning the majority of the remaining 25 games against the rest of the AL East.

The Yankees are currently on pace for an unfortunate meeting with the Seattle Mariners in a one-game Wild Card playoff, but if they can improve vs. the lesser teams in the division, get a boost from someone like Sheffield, and get Sanchez back to form, the East is still well within reach … if the Red Sox maybe mix in a few losses here and there.

Rich Reacts: Ep. 2

Episode Content:
(00:38) Jets trade
(02:19) Draft talk
(03:15) Yanks send down Andujar
(4:44) Who’s going to stick in the Bronx
(6:17) March Madness

Episode 2 is up! I want to again thank everyone who watched the first video. I received so much feedback it was just awesome to hear from so many people who watched and liked.

We changed some things up for Ep. 2 and I hope you all enjoy it. Eventually I want to have an extended podcast version available where I can bring in some guest and go more in-depth, but for now we’re going to stick to the videos while we get rolling.

Thank you all again so much for the support. I appreciate every click, share and like. You guys are awesome.


Is Heyward a no-brainer for Yankees?

The Yankees have changed the way they operate, there’s no question about that.

Gone are the days when George Steinbrenner would wine and dine the premier free agents himself and open the checkbook at will. His son, Hal, is not operating with deep pockets, and the luxury tax costs have piled up over the years.

Nobody expects the club to spend much this winter, but there’s one big reason why it should, and his name is Jason Heyward.

Let’s start by establishing just how rare it is to find a player like Heyward on the free-agent market.

Heyward has six seasons under his belt with 97 career home runs and 86 steals, but he is still only 26 years old and will be for much of this season. When looking at this winter’s free agents, there are around 20 hitters who are younger than 30 years old, just three are younger than 28 (according to MLBTradeRumors.com), and of those three, none even come close to the pedigree of Heyward.

And it doesn’t get much different in 2017. At the moment, there are just two potential free agents at the end of this coming season that will be younger than 30 — catchers Salvador Perez, who the Royals are already talking potential extension with, and Wilson Ramos.

An established star outfielder who arguably hasn’t even yet reached his prime and had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com) of 6.2 and 6.5 in 2014 and ’15, respectively, is beyond rare on the free-agent market. He has power, he has speed, and he is probably the best defensive right fielder in baseball. According to Fangraphs.com, he led all RFs in UZR (ultimate zone rating, which attempts to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up in the field) at +20.2, coming in second among outfielders only to Kevin Kiermaier, who is widely considered the best in the bigs.

The main reason he’s likely coming relatively cheap, if you can consider the expected 7-year, $200-plus million contract coming his way cheap (hint: in today’s league, it is) is because of his career .268 batting average. But he hit a career-best .293 last season with a .359 OBP, and he has cut down on his strikeout percentage for four straight seasons.

Critics will also cite injuries, a big reason why he disappointed after his rookie season, but he played in 154 games last season, so there is no more concern with him as there is for any athlete.

So what’s the drawback? On the surface, there really isn’t one. Heyward is that rare free agent that teams will absolutely regret passing on. But the Yankees, it’s the money, and the roster space.

The team is desperately trying to get under the luxury tax threshold ($189 million in 2016), and with aged star contracts still on the payroll — Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million) and Carlos Beltran ($15 million) through ’16, Alex Rodriguez ($20 million) and CC Sabathia ($25 million) in ’16 and ’17 — money is still tight.

Infographic via Forbes.com

Looking at the current Yankees outfielders, Jacoby Ellsbury and his monstrous contract are entrenched in center field for quite some time, as is left fielder Brett Gardner, who is coming off an All-Star season despite a terrible second half.

Then you have Beltran. The veteran slugger was one of the Yankees’ best hitters down the stretch last year, but it became painfully clear that he really shouldn’t be in the outfield anymore — especially not for 130-plus games. The problem is that A-Rod is already a full-time DH, and Teixeira clearly can’t last a full season playing in the field either. It’s an unfortunate logjam and one that the Yankees have to deal with in 2016. Basically, with A-Rod likely locked in at DH most of the time, there are two spots for Beltran — right field and the bench.

If the Yankees signed Heyward, I think most people would be OK with Beltran being on the bench. He’ll get his time here and there, and with the obvious likelihood of injury with all these old guys running around, there will likely eventually be space for him — and again, this is just a problem for one year. Beltran and Teixeira (woohoo!) are gone after this season, so you’ll have money and roster space available.

Gardner has been involved in trade rumors as the Yankees look to bolster their starting rotation, and moving him could not only clear up some money (he has a base salary of $13 million) depending on who they get in return, but also free up space in the outfield.

There is also the impending breakout of top prospect Aaron Judge. He is also a right fielder and has true power potential. But he has just over 200 at-bats at the Triple-A level, and he hit just .228 there, so there’s still work to do. And if the Yanks add Heyward, a simple adjustment to left field couldn’t be that difficult for Judge, could it?

If the Yankees can just bite the bullet for one year and deal with the luxury tax expenses and potential logjam, then you have your star right fielder of the present and future in Heyward.

What’s the alternative? If you don’t sign Heyward, you put up with awful right-field defense this season and cross your fingers that Judge realizes his potential by 2017. It’s that or you either continue the awful cycle of signing underwhelming aging free agents,  or hope and pray Bryce Harper hits the market in 2018, and that you have the $300-400 million to throw at him.