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Yankees mailbag: Six-man rotation, Ronald Torreyes, trading for Christian Yelich

The answers to your Yankees mailbag have arrived

Ask Pinstripe Alley

Earlier this week, I asked readers to submit their questions for a Yankees mailbag. We received 18 questions (18 questions!), making it one of the most substantial turnouts in recent Pinstripe Alley history. While I can’t get to all of the questions this morning, another editor may take them up soon.

y4nkees asks: Do you see the Yankees going with a six-man rotation if Domingo German keeps his success up? It would be foolish to put him in the bullpen, and he should be kept to replace CC Sabathia next year.

German’s emergence as a bona fide starter makes for one of the best storylines of the early season. Through 31.2 innings, German owns a 2.56 ERA with a 2.77 FIP. His peripherals look fine, too, with a walk rate (2.56) and home run rate (0.57 HR/9) falling well below his career norms. German always possessed an electric arsenal. Now it appears he has matured as a pitcher, limiting free passes and hard-hit balls.

He probably won’t continue to perform at ace levels, but he should settle in as a strong mid-rotation arm. Even as a number three starter, the Yankees would be thrilled to keep him on the staff. In fact, it may not even prove that difficult to do so.

First, given the nature of his lat strain, Luis Severino doesn’t project to return any time soon. The right-hander moved to the 60-day injured list to make room for Cameron Maybin. Severino likely won’t serve as a realistic option for the Yankees until mid-summer.

Additionally, the rest of the rotation doesn’t exactly scream durable. Masahiro Tanaka checks in as the only starter to average over 175 innings from 2016-2018. J.A. Happ proves a close second, but CC Sabathia appears to require a breather every summer. James Paxton, meanwhile, set a career high in innings pitched in 2018 with 160.1.

Will the Yankees go with a straight six-man rotation to keep German in the mix? Maybe! There will most likely exist ample opportunities to get him starts without having to do so, though.

Bill asks: I’ve been mightily confused for some time about the Yankees and their infield depth. What I don’t get is why did the Yankees let Ronald Torreyes go?

There’s no question that injuries have tested the Yankees’ infield depth. Four infielders currently sit on the injured list: Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki, and Greg Bird. Would Torreyes have actually helped though?

The three main replacement utility players — Gio Urshela, Tyler Wade, and Thairo Estrada — have combined to produce a 100 wRC+, exactly league average. Torreyes owns a career 82 wRC+, so the 2019 fill-ins have been +18% better than the old friend. His run with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate isn’t going so well, either. He’s hitting .134/.180/.280 (8 wRC+) over 89 plate appearances.

I had a lot of fun watching Torreyes; his 2016 and 2017 seasons were a joy. I’ll always remember the excitement he brought to the dugout.

His skill set, however, isn’t difficult to duplicate. Factor in the arbitration pay schedule, and the Yankees saw fit to move on from Torreyes. While fans may miss him, it’s hard to argue with their decision from an on-field perspective.

TommyJohn asks: Is the Gio Urshela/Gleyber Torres/DJ LeMahieu infield defense good enough to keep Troy Tulowitzki on the bench and Miguel Andujar at DH for a while, when they both get back?

Sometimes mailbag questions answer themselves. Tulowitzki left a rehab game with High-A Tampa after feeling tightness in his left calf, the same one that sent him to the injured list. His return no longer seems imminent. Andujar, however, could make it back into the lineup this weekend. Should he serve as the designated hitter when he gets back, though? Probably.

The Yankees have three high-quality defensive infielders in Urshela, Torres, and LeMahieu. The advanced defensive metrics are dinging Urshela right now, but that has a lot to do with small sample noise. It makes some more sense to consider the average of their last three seasons to get a better reading.

Urshela (third base): 10.6 UZR/150, 0 DRS,
LeMahieu (second base): 4.6 UZR/150, 10 DRS
Torres (shortstop): -21.5 UZR/150, 0 DRS

Torres will play shortstop by default for now. Urshela has a superior glove to Andujar at third, and LeMahieu may be one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball. This likely represents the best defensive configuration the Yankees can field.

I woudn’t worry too much about Andujar losing development time at the hot corner. Urshela’s offense will eventually regress to the mean, and at that point Andujar will get regular reps at third base. These things have a tendency to sort themselves out.

*Only one year sample available

Steve asks: If the New York Yankees could go back in time and acquire Christian Yelich, what would the prospect package have looked like to make it slightly better than what the Marlins received from Milwaukee?

Before engaging in this hypothetical, I want to stress the importance of historical contingency. Even after the Giancarlo Stanton trade, the Marlins said they wouldn’t trade Yelich. The Yankees never realistically had a chance to engage the Marlins in Yelich discussions. Fans and the press would have excoriated Brian Cashman, and rightly so, for punting on the opportunity to acquire Stanton for pennies on the dollar because Yelich may or may not become available.

Having said that, let’s split from reality for a second. What if Michael Hill sent one final text to Cashman, asking if the Yankees could beat the Brewers’ offer. Would they be able to do it? First, it makes sense to look at who Milwaukee moved for Yelich:

Lewis Brinson - Number 10 prospect at 2017 midseason (Baseball Prospectus)
Monte Harrison - Team’s number 14 prospect (MLB Pipeline)
Isan Diaz - Unranked second base prospect ticketed for Double-A
Jordan Yamamoto - Unranked pitching prospect ticketed for High-A

The Brewers headlined the package with an athletic outfielder who placed in the top 10 of the 2017 midseason rankings. That sounds a whole lot like 2017 Clint Frazier, doesn’t it? The Baseball Prospectus team noted that “Frazier would be in the Brinson/Acuna area somewhere.” The Yankees could have beaten the offer by anteing up Gleyber Torres, but the front office showed no inclination in that whatsoever. They at least shopped Frazier for Gerrit Cole.

To beat the Brewers they would need sweeten the deal in the remaining places. The final two spots are relatively easy to fill. The Yankees had, and still have, pitching to spare in the lower levels of the minors. They could swap out Yamamoto with one of their young arms. Pick any pitcher. How about Roansy Contreras? He finished 2017 by pitching in the Gulf Coast League. The Double-A middle infielder? Kyle Holder sounds good for that.

The difficult part, then, is to beat the Brewers on the second piece. The Yankees would likely have shut down talks if Andujar had to join Frazier. Estevan Florial always appeared off limits, too. Maybe Thairo Estrada? FanGraphs ranked him as the team’s number 11 prospect heading in to the 2018 season.


Would that have been enough to pry Yelich loose? I’m not even sure about that. It’s a good thing the Yankees actually got Stanton.