Yankees Bludgeon Price and the Red Sox: Weekend Takeaways

The Yankees and Red Sox wrapped up their final matchup before the All-Star break, with New York bludgeoning Boston en route to an 11-1 victory on Sunday night. Paced by six home runs, the Yankees put an exclamation point on a series in which they outscored Boston 19-2 in two victories bookending an 11-0 loss.

A particularly odd three games, all were decided in blowout fashion but left us with plenty of nuggets that reveal both clubs have their strengths and some glaring weaknesses. Nevertheless, as the calendar flips to July with teams sitting atop the American League standings, it’s clear the rivals will be neck and neck until they meet six times in the regular season’s final 13 games.

Of course, in the end, it’s about wins and losses. Thus, the Yankees should feel very good about what they accomplished this weekend, by taking two out of three from the Red Sox in the Bronx. As the team part ways until a four-game series in Fenway one month from today, let’s take a quick glance at some key takeaways.

Ace High: On Saturday night, the Yankees went down quietly to Boston ace Chris Sale, who one-hit the Yankees over seven innings with 11 strikeouts. On Sunday, the Yanks’ sent their ace, Luis Severino, to the mound and responded in style. Severino tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings, fanning six and surrendering only two hits.

Following a shaky no-decision in Fenway April 10 (5 ER, 8 hits in 5 IP), Severino has rebounded by allowing just two runs over his last 12 2/3 innings, with 17 strikeouts and three walks against the Red Sox. Severino’s June performance (4-0, 1.60 ERA, 40 K, 5 BB) has put him in the driver’s seat for the AL Cy Young. His 13 wins, 1.98 ERA, and 215 ERA+ all lead the Junior Circuit.

It’s clear both clubs have their bonafide ace, but question marks certainly exist beyond their respective #1 guy. CC Sabathia came up huge on Friday night with seven innings of one-run ball, and posted a sparkling 1.93 ERA in five June starts, but age and injury concern still linger. Masahiro Tanaka, coming off an almost comical, simultaneous injury to both hamstrings, feels like a roll of the dice against the Sox stacked lineup (10 ER in 10 1/3 IP vs. BOS this year). The combination of Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga are young and unproven, and then there is the questionable case of Sonny Gray (more on him later).

Meanwhile, David Price, and his **24.92 ERA and .480 opponents’ batting average** against the Yankees this season, can expect to be fileted like a North Atlantic cod on the Boston airwaves this week. Behind him, is a lefty-heavy rotation that will ultimately have to find a way to keep a right-handed heavy Yankees lineup that has feasted on left-handed pitching this year (MLB-best .825 OPS vs. LHP).

Hicks Stick: Aaron Boone, almost without comment, slid Brett Gardner down to the 9-hole last week and designated Aaron Hicks as the Yanks’ new leadoff man. The centerfielder sure has made his manager look smart. Hicks slugged three home runs on Sunday night, cementing himself atop the order. Hicks is now hitting .288 with nine home runs and 15 RBI in the top spot. After hitting .230 through May, Hicks hit .279 in June has is clearly on a roll.

Hicks hit 15 home runs in 88 games in 2017, and is already one short of last year’s totals through 24 fewer games this year. Not only has the 28-year-old outfielder made his manager look good, but he’s made GM Brian Cashman appear downright prophetic. Cashman swapped journeyman catcher John Ryan Murphy for Hicks, who Cashman claimed had untapped potential at the time of the deal with the Twins. Two-plus seasons later, Hicks has developed into one the best all-around centerfielders in baseball.  

Meanwhile, Gardner has taken his drop in the order with stoic professionalism. Gardner, who turns 35 in August and is in the final guaranteed year of his contract (club option for 2019), is not the table-setter he once was. But his speed, tenacious plate approach, and still plus-defense makes him the veteran heart of this young team.

Torres Tested: Boone has finally moved Gleyber Torres out of the bottom third of the order, and Sunday night slotted the 21-year-old AL Rookie of the Year-favorite in the five-hole. He responded by belting an opposite field 3-run home run off Price, and put the Red Sox on the mat for good.

Torres has maintained an unflappable presence throughout his ballyhooed rookie campaign, quietly executing at such a high level no matter his spot in the order. List after list places Torres’ combination of production and youth on par with Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Last night’s 3-run shot exemplified the calmness under the bright lights that scream future franchise player. Judge has the highlight reel home runs and the endorsements, but Torres – to me – is truly the centerpiece player the Yankees will play around for years to come.

Son-set: If acquiring a starting pitcher at the trade deadline is priority number one for Cashman, perhaps priority 1A is deciding what on Earth to do with Sonny Gray. For the second time this season, Gray was roughed up by the Red Sox, against who Gray has yielded 12 ER in 5 1/3 IP (that’s a 20.25 ERA). Gray, the owner of a ghastly 5.44 ERA and 1.51 WHIP this season, would be the odd man out in any postseason rotation at this point. How much longer can the Yankees stick with him?

Gray has been atrocious in the Bronx (8.25 ERA in eight home starts this year), but plenty serviceable on the road (3.28 ERA in eight starts). But more than home and away, Gray has a clear and present problem getting two times through an order. Opponents are hitting .336 off the right-hander when they see him a second time, while Gray has made it beyond the fifth inning just twice in his last seven starts.

Trade him? Bench him? Stick with him? Gray was acquired to be the stable number-two presence behind Severino. Right now, injuries to other starters appear to be the only thing keeping him in the rotation.

Bottom Line: The Yankees’ Jekyll and Hyde series with the Red Sox concluded a Jekyll and Hyde month, which is an odd thing to say given their 18-9 record in in June. A deeper look reveals the Yankees hit an offensive lull. They hit just .232 as a team (23rd in MLB) and scored 107 runs (21st in MLB) last month. However, they were anchored by MLB-bests 2.62 team ERA and 1.05 team ERA in June. The true mettle of a championship-caliber team is all 25 guys picking each other up.

The Yankees, at 54-27, enter the first Monday in July with an MLB-best .667 win percentage. Yet, there is no time to rest on success. The Yankees welcome the NL-leading Braves, owners have a top-2 offense in the National League to the Bronx, before ending the season’s first-half with an 11-game road trip through Toronto, Baltimore, and the first-place Indians.

Rosario v. Torres Should Not Be A Debate

Back in 1996, the City of New York had two rookie shortstops which excited their respective fanbases – Rey Ordonez and Derek Jeter.   Because narratives and comparisons tend to be lazy, both shortstops were compared to one another even though they were both completely different kinds of players.

At the time, it was long suspected Jeter was the better overall player with Ordonez being an immensely gifted defensive shortstop.  When overlooking their careers, the only thing that makes you scratch your head is just how in the world Jeter retired with more Gold Gloves than Ordonez.

Well, it is over 20 years later, and once again everyone is starting to compare Amed Rosario and Gleyber Torres.

We’re hearing the comparisons, again, because these comparisons tend to be lazy and over-focused on city and position instead of types of players.  They’re also being done to push a larger narrative on how Rosario is bordering on being a bust for a Sandy Alderson farm system which hasn’t produced the players many believed would be produced.  Conversely, it is being promoted to show the genius of Brian Cashman and how he is a much better talent evaluator and General Manager.

These players prove none of that.

With respect to Rosario, he was signed by the Mets organization six years ago out of the Dominican Republic.  He was the result of a recruiting process and the then largest international bonus ever handed out by the Mets.  The team developed him from the age of 16 until today.

Conversely, Torres was signed a year later by the Chicago Cubs organization.  Like with Rosario, the Cubs stepped up by giving a large bonus and developing the player.  It just so happened, the Yankees were able to take advantage of the Cubs desperately needing a closer at the trade deadline at the same time the franchise was trying to break a 108 year World Series drought.

It was a great trade by Cashman, who used all of his leverage to get a great prospect.  It should be noted Sandy Alderson once did the same thing to a Blue Jays organization desperate to build a winner when he received both Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for R.A. Dickey.

The Mets saw the fruits of their efforts with Rosario reaching the majors last year at the age of 21.  Unfortunately, he struggled out of the gate, and so far in his career, he has been a -0.2 WAR player.

That was not the case with Torres, who burst on the scene this year hitting .319/.376/.593 over the first 33 games of his career.

Because things are the way they are, it is expected Torres, the Yankee, will be a superstar like Jeter, and Rosario, the Met, will be a disappointment like Ordonez.

This is complete and utter nonsense.

For starters, Rosario is starting to figure things out.  Over the last week, he’s hitting .333/.385/.583.  He’s making a difference in games with his bat, his speed, and as we saw with that incredible double play, his glove.  He’s still a raw and immensely talents player.  He is one that is not in a potent lineup and for development purposes is doing it from the last spot in the order.

Like Rosario, Torres is also batting ninth, but that is in large part due to an absolutely stacked Yankees lineup with hitters like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez.  Being in a loaded lineup like this is very helpful to a young hitter.  It should also be mentioned Torres is benefiting from an unsustainably high .365 BABIP, which does indicate he’s due for some regression.

However, Torres possibly regressing is not the point.  The point is Rosario and Torres have taken different roads to the majors in different organizations.  They are very differently talented players.  If they played for the Phillies and Blue Jays, they wouldn’t be compared at all.

Instead, because they are both in New York, they are being compared and larger, unnecessary, and unfair narratives are being drawn about both players.

What’s On Second, I Don’t Know is On Third

It almost seems impossible, but pitchers and catchers will be reporting in a mere 10 days. With over 130 free agents still on the market—and some of them actually pretty good—there are many teams that have specific needs.

Brian Cashman and the Yankees could use another pitcher, but if they began the season with their current rotation, it is good enough to compete. But, with the trades of Chase Headley and Starlin Castro, and with Todd Frazier still on the free agent market, the Yankees do have two potential holes to fill.

The pressure to man those two spots is eased by the fact that the remaining seven spots in the Yankees order projects to lead the league in home runs, get on base at an above-average rate, and play above average defense.

The lineup is that good.

Second base and third base do have some intriguing options. The Yankees currently have two potential long-term answers in their system. The question is whether or not those two are answers at the start of the 2018 season. And, because of the state of free agency, the Yankees could sign a one year deal with a number of players who not only could contribute at an above average clip in 2018, but not block the plans of the organization.

The Kids

The pull for “the next” great player is always great. Rookies are fascinating. We haven’t seen their flaws yet so they offer nothing but possibilities. Right now, everyone wants to see if Gleyber Torres is the next star. The number one prospect in the Yankees’ system, Torres is highly regarded around the league. But, there are a couple of red flags that come with Torres at the start of Spring Training.

Torres played in just 55 games last season before having Tommy John Surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. While TJ surgery recovery is far shorter and much different for position players than it is for pitchers, Torres still must regain strength in that shoulder. He most likely will need time to regain his swing path and power.

Developmentally, Torres may benefit from some more time at Triple-A as he has played all of 23 games at that level and just 55 games above High-A ball. Entering just his age 21 season, Torres has struck out 320 times in his 374 career minor league games. Yes, much of his minor league track record is compiled as a teenager, but allowing him to grow in the Minor Leagues, even for just half of this season, would be best for his career. Plate discipline and some solid work at one specific position, at least for a portion of 2018, in the Minor Leagues would be a great benefit to the young star.

Miguel Andujar actually did make it the Major Leagues last season, having the one big game and winding up with 4 hits (2 doubles) in 7 at bats in his five-game stint in the majors. The knock against Andujar has always been his defense, but the soon to be 23-year old has steadily progressed through the Minor League system since being signed at 16 as an International Free Agent. But, like Torres, Andujar has limited experience in the upper levels of the minotrs, playing just 58 games at Triple-A. Many projection systems have Andujar hitting .260/.310/.425 in 2018 at the Major League level. While that won’t hurt the Yankees lineup, given Andujar’s defensive deficiencies, he could benefit from more time in the Minor Leagues to both improve his defense and grow into his power.

It is completely possible that either or both win a starting job with a stellar spring training. Both are talented, but still unpolished players with high ceilings. Gleyber Torres projects to be a star, while Andujar could be an above average regular. But, handing Torres the second base job and Andujar the third base job seems unlikely and unwise. Either or both will have to win a job; Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone won’t just hand them jobs. Remember, Aaron Judge was almost sent down at the end of Spring Training last year because the battle with Aaron Hicks was so close. The Yankees won’t rush either one.

No Real In-House Options

Ronald Torreyes became one of the central figures of the 2017 Yankees with television cameras often juxtaposing the diminutive infielder with Aaron Judge. The utility infielder appeared in 108 games and posted a solid .292/.314/.375 line with 15 doubles, 1 triple, and 3 home runs. Defensively, Torreyes was average, posting a 0 DRS at second base and slightly below average marks at third and short. Entering his age 25 season, there isn’t much of a ceiling for the utility infielder. Torreyes’ best asset is his versatility. At best, he could be used as a placeholder for Gleyber Torres, but to expect him to hold down a job for an entire season, especially without an elite skill, is unrealistic. Ronald Torreyes as the 25th man on the team is fine, but even that isn’t guaranteed for 2018.

The Yankees did agree to a Minor League deal with Danny Espinosa, who will be entering his age 31 season, his ninth in the Major Leagues. Espinosa was once a top prospect for the Washington Nationals, but has never lived up to that billing. After a somewhat promising start to his career, hitting .242/.319/.408 during his first two seasons, Espinosa’s offensive output has been hampered due to his lack of plate discipline. With a penchant for the strikeout, Espinosa has played for three teams in the past two season and has compiled a line of just .197/.286/.340 with 283 strikeouts in 250 games. Although declining, Espinosa is still an above average defender. The switch-hitter isn’t a regular and will have to earn a spot as a utility man. He seems destined to battle Torreyes for the utility role, at best. He does offer a few skills that Torreyes does not. Espinosa is a better defender at the three infield positions, he is a switch hitter, and does offer some promise of power and speed. Again, that doesn’t make him a viable option to be a starter.

Free Agents

The free agent market seems the most logical choice for the Yankees for a number of reasons. First, given the sloth-like pace of free agency and the fact that Spring Training is about to begin, older free agents will be taking one-year deals at much less money than they expected. For the Yankees, this could allow them to upgrade their two remaining positions and still stay under the salary cap.

Second, the Yankees’ needs are at two positions that have multiple options and not as many suitors. And, they just so happen to be a club that offers a free agent a good offensive environment and the chance to compete deep into the season.

The second base market isn’t as deep as the hot corner and it doesn’t really make sense for the Yankees to invest in a Neil Walker when Gleyber Torres will eventually be ready. And, given their depth of utility type players who fill the profile of a second baseman better, signing even a short term piece isn’t the best use of resources.

Third base seems to be the position with the most suitable options. The easiest, and most logical option would be to bring Todd Frazier back on a short-term deal. Frazier is hoping for a multi-year deal and he still might get that, but Frazier returning to the Bronx on a shorter deal makes sense for both parties. Entering his age 32 season and in a decline, Frazier isn’t likely going to see a deal longer than 2-3 years, but could still get a team to perhaps give him three. That would take him off of the Yankees’ radar, but if the market has truly dialed back and remains this way, a one or two year commitment could make him a valuable signing for the Yankees.

Still a quality defender (+10 DRS last season), Frazier has shown improved plate discipline in each of the past three seasons, as well as quality power. Over the past three seasons, Frazier’s walk total has increased from 44 to 64 to last year’s career best, 84. Bringing back Frazier allows the Yankees the flexibility of giving Torres the job at second base while having some consistency at third base. Additionally, Frazier could be a right-handed option at first base, if the need to sit Greg Bird against southpaws arises.

The other big name option on the free agent market is 29 year old Mike Moustakas. The left-handed power hitter seems like a great fit for Yankee Stadium and would provide a good balance to the Yankees’ order, which does lean heavily to the right-hand side. Despite the breakout 2017 season of .272/.314/.521 with 38 home runs, Moustakas hasn’t received the long-term deal he would’ve gotten in previous winters. If his price falls enough to where he would accept a one year deal, the power would play in this lineup. However, Moustakas is a defensive liability, posting a -8 DRS last season. With just two full seasons with a slugging percentage over .470 in his career, teams are correct for not committing long-term, big money. But, if he comes at a short-term bargain, he would also be another quality stopgap option.

Both Frazier and Moustakas are “name” players, but neither are the types to invest long term. In previous winters, they would’ve received large contracts, the type that would’ve been impossible to live up to. But, the market seems to be low enough where they could make sense for the Yankees.

There are other names on the market like Eduardo Nunez, Jhonny Peralta, Brandon Phillips and Yunel Escobar. Out of this group, only Nunez might get more than a one year deal and he isn’t an asset defensively. A reunion with him would provide the Yankees versatility and a different skill set in the lineup, but he is more likely to find more sure playing time elsewhere.  As for the veterans, they would simply be placeholders and unlikely to even reach replacement level. But, they would come cheaply and be expendable once the Torres and/or Andujar are ready.

Ideally and Most Likely

Obviously, the ideal scenario for the Yankees would be for both Torres and Andujar to win the jobs. They would be paying two of their starting players the league minimum salary, making it a big return on investment. Both winning a job and thriving, however, isn’t likely.

The most likely scenario should be the Yankees signing a player as a short-term answer at third base. Todd Frazier is the best overall fit, but a Mike Moustakas or an Eduardo Nunez would fit that profile at the right price. With third base manned by a veteran, the Yankees could either give Torres the job, assuming he performs well in the Spring, or employ the in-house options for the early part of the season and either wait for Torres or make a deal at the deadline if needed.

The Yankees were aggressive on the trade market earlier this winter. And, now their patience could pay off with a value free agent signing.

Gleyber Torres signs with Topps Authentics

The Topps Company has added top, young prospect Gleyber Torres to its Topps Authentics lineup. The New York Yankees top prospect has signed an exclusive deal for autographed memorabilia with Topps Authentics.

Fans can learn more and order pieces by clicking here.

Topps Authentics, the memorabilia arm of The Topps Company, will offer signed baseballs and bats by Torres, who is rated in the top three of all MLB prospects, on Topps.com.

“I’m happy to be part of this big family,” said Torres, who has appeared on Topps’ Bowman line of baseball cards. “I’m happy to be here and everything Topps has done for me.”

Look for Torres’ signed memorabilia on Topps.com.

Topps Authentics is also the exclusive home for signed memorabilia for MLB standouts Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Luis Severino, prospect Mickey Moniak and more.