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Ask Pinstripe Alley 9/16/18: First base options, Larry Rothschild’s role, Gary Sanchez’s lineup spot

The answers to your Yankees questions are in.

Ask Pinstripe Alley

Last week, I asked for your Yankees mailbag questions. We received just under a dozen submissions, and I’m going to answer a few this morning. If I didn’t get around to yours, no worries! Another editor may get to it later in the week.

#UsetheOpener!!! asks: Which scenario is more likely regarding the starting first baseman next year: Voit continues to start, Bird is given another chance, or Andujar is moved to first due to the potential signing of Manny Machado?

This is a tough ranking to put together. I thought about it for a while, and came up with this:

  1. Luke Voit continues to start
  2. Greg Bird gets another chance
  3. Yankees sign Manny Machado, Miguel Andujar moves to first base

Scenarios one and two are incredibly close together, and I spent most of my time vacillating between their order. The Yankees love Bird, and I think they want him to win the job out of spring training. On the other hand, with each passing game, Voit looks more and more like the real deal. Following Saturday night’s game, he owns a .289/.378/.557 batting line with eight home runs. Will he maintain a 154 wRC+ going forward? Doubtful, but he might actually be a more viable bat than Bird.

The Machado to third and Andujar to first scenario seems like a longshot in my eyes. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibilities that the Yankees will sign Machado. In fact, I very much expect them to be in the sweepstakes. I just don’t envision Andujar taking to first, not with other options in the organization. It has become almost blasphemous around these parts, but if the Bombers land Machado, they should probably shop Andujar for a starting pitcher.

Jack Cross asks: Why is Larry Rothschild the pitching coach of this team? What has he ever done that qualifies him to be pitching coach?

Rothschild, 64, joined the Yankees as pitching coach ahead of the 2011 season. He previously served as the inaugural manager of the Tampa Bay Rays and as the Chicago Cubs’ pitching coach. He also made a handful of appearances for the Detroit Tigers as a pitcher in 1981 and 1982.

Since arriving in New York, the team’s pitching staff has managed a 3.87 ERA with a 3.88 FIP. For context, that ranks ninth and seventh in baseball, respectively. The 8.6 K/9 rate places them second only to the Dodgers over that span. These numbers, however, combine the rotation with the bullpen.

I think most are concerned with starting pitching when it comes to their frustrations with Rothschild. In that respect, the Yankees have a 4.08 ERA (4.03 FIP). Those marks fall closer to the middle of the pack. Those elite bullpens boost the cumulative stats. Still, though, that’s not terrible.

Obviously some of the criticism stems from high profile instances of a pitcher underperforming, or achieving success after seeking outside consultation. Think CC Sabathia learning from Andy Pettitte, or Luis Severino working with Pedro Martinez. Those moves raise some eyebrows, but I don’t think they’re enough to run Rothschild out of town.

He has drawn the ire of many fans, but the team has done a mostly fine job in the pitching department under Rothschild’s watch. I thought that the Yankees would explore a different coach when they brought Aaron Boone aboard, but they kept him around. I expect more of the same moving forward.

Angelo asks: People can always question the different lineups used by Aaron Boone but it amazes me by what logic does Boone keep penciling in Sanchez as the 4th or 5th hitter in the batting order? Sanchez doesn’t deserve to be batting any higher than 7th.

I’m going to approach this question based on when Gary Sanchez returned from the disabled list on September 1st. He has appeared in 12 games since then. Here’s the breakdown of his position in the batting order upon activation:

4th - 3
5th - 4
6th - 4
7th - 1

Despite his miserable batting average, Boone had no problem inserting Sanchez into the heart of the order. Why? Because he’s a legitimate power threat. He has 16 home runs on the year, and that’s with a season-long slump and two trips to the disabled list. Put runners on and then let Sanchez rip it. He still has game-changing power.

Larry asks: Who decides if Jacoby Ellsbury is unable to perform baseball activities, ending his career, and would the insurance on him cover his salary? Would this count against the salary cap if it is determined he physically can not play any longer?

For this question, I’m going to turn the mic over to Josh Diemert, Pinstripe Alley’s resident financial expert.

So, there’s not a ton of precedent for these kinds of decisions. Most of the time a player will stick it out until their contract is up or the team offers a buyout of some sort. Medical decisions are of course made by medical staff, but the problem teams encounter is that if a player is no longer in your organization, they’re no longer insured. If the Yankees were to buy Ellsbury out and void the outstanding contract, the cost would be completely out of pocket. Insurance would not cover any part of a buyout.

The player then must stay on the 40-man roster or 60-day disabled list until a settlement between the team and insurer can be reached. That’s why David Wright is still on the Mets’ 40-man, and when Prince Fielder left baseball in 2016, he stayed on the Rangers’ roster until October of 2017.

We can’t speculate on what’s medically wrong with Ellsbury, but if it were severe enough that the Yankees wanted to take a Fielder/Wright approach, he’d have to stay on the roster to some extent while a settlement with the insurer was reached. Ellsbury’s contract is guaranteed through 2020, with a club option for 2021 that includes a $5 million buyout. I don’t think that the Yankees would keep Ellsbury on the DL for two years and change, so it seems more likely that if the Yankees were to wash their hands of Ellsbury’s contract, they’d have to structure a buyout to void the outstanding contract and cover those costs out of pocket.