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Yankees mailbag: Whiffing on Dallas Keuchel, Clint Frazier and Cameron Maybin’s future

This answers to this week’s mailbag are in!

Ask Pinstripe Alley

Hey, everyone, happy Friday! We have four questions this week, but they have somewhat lengthy answers. If I didn’t get to yours, don’t feel bad. Keep submitting and I’ll try to get around to them next week.

Drn20 asks: Are the Yankees frugal or dumb for not getting Dallas Keuchel?

It’s too early to determine if the Yankees made a wise decision to pass on Keuchel. He has yet to pitch for the Braves, and only then will we have an idea of how he looks in 2019. Maybe he goes all Roy Oswalt circa 2012 because of the long layoff. Then the Yankees were prudent to pass. Or he could be a groundball machine and stabilize Atlanta’s rotation while the Yankees run out an endless chain of bullpen games. In that case the team made a grievous mistake and will pay for it in prospects at the trade deadline.

We’ll need more information to see if it worked out for the best. It is clear, however, that the Yankees passed on the left-hander for financial reasons. In Brian Cashman’s words:

We were interested. We made an offer that we were comfortable with and that was it. Atlanta made a higher one. It wasn’t like a back-and-forth. We had two that we ultimately made and we stopped and we waited to hear if it was a yes or a no. We were very transparent about where we’re at. There’s a financial limitation until we go into the next luxury tax level and that was obviously conveyed and that pushes next year’s No. 1 (top draft choice) pick back. There’s a number of different penalties associated with that. So we’re trying to stay under the second luxury tax penalty that crushes next year’s pick. All that stuff was communicated. Our highest offer was at the rate of the qualifying offer and Atlanta apparently went higher.

This marks the latest installment in a lengthy series of the Yankees passing on starting pitchers out of fear of the luxury tax. Front office apologists will go on about how the team has specific prices for players and won’t exceed them, and that’s fine. Just don’t expect any substantial upgrades beyond players in the Adam Ottavino or DJ LeMahieu financial comfort zone.

jjpf asks: Can you come up with a scenario that would allow both Clint Frazier and Cameron Maybin to remain on the 25-man roster after Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return?

I’ve been kicking around this question for weeks, so I’m glad you asked. I originally thought it would be easy enough because I didn’t expect Judge to return so soon. Aaron Boone confirmed last night that the right fielder would begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A Scranton this weekend. I thought that between the trade deadline and a late-summer return from Judge, the team could hide Maybin until rosters expand. I’m not sure that’s an option anymore.

If the Yankees wanted to keep both on the 25-man roster after Judge and Stanton come back, they likely have to trim the bullpen. Right now the Yankees carry nine relievers, and while it sounds simple enough to drop one, the team employs a bullpen game every fifth day. Having both Luis Cessa and David Hale looks redundant, but the team needs innings. When Domingo German or another starter returns, then that extra bullpen arm will get designated. So that roster spot won’t go towards a fifth outfielder.

With everyone healthy, the Yankees’ best defensive outfield features Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Judge. Giancarlo Stanton would likely take over as the designated hitter. That leaves Maybin and Frazier in a competition for the fourth outfielder role, and I’d say Maybin has the edge. He has more experience as a part-time player, and he can’t be optioned. That’s important for the Yankees. Meanwhile, Frazier should play every day. In that case, he will head to Triple-A Scranton, or possibly a new organization all together.

The Yankees have tough decisions ahead, and who knows, maybe they’ll sort themselves out. In this case, though, it helps to remember that whatever move they make, the team will be getting better.

Kyle Ren asks: What is the realistic chance, on a scale of 1 to 10—with 10 being the highest, that we see either Luis Severino or Dellin Betances this season?

Earlier this week we learned that Betances suffered another setback, this time a lat strain. That certainly is concerning, especially this far into the season. He’s a reliever though, and shouldn’t take that long to get up to speed once healthy. I think there is a solid chance—let’s say five on your scale—that he makes a few appearances, most likely in August and September.

I’m more optimistic about Severino. He’s been throwing from approximately 60 feet for a while now and hasn’t reported any pain. If all goes well, he could make it back after the All-Star break. For a confidence ranking on seeing him this season, I’ll go with an eight.

Doug asks: Why don’t the Yankees just scrap trying to trade for a number five starter and go with the opener strategy that the Rays use so well? Hasn’t it worked well for them when they’ve employed it? Does anyone really want to see a good prospect(s) traded for Madison Bumgarner, or pay the price it would take to get Marcus Stroman? If they feel a need to make a trade, I’d rather they trade for a stud reliever and then use the bullpen even more.

The Yankees have used an opener four times this season, and they’ve won all four. The lineup put up some crooked numbers in those games, though, so it makes sense to look strictly at the pitching.

2019 Bullpen Games: 37 IP, 16 R, 3.89 ERA (4.19 FIP)

Those are serviceable numbers in a vacuum, but one must remember the Yankees’ strategy. They want to shorten games with the Bullpen of Doom. In order for those ace relievers to be effective, however, they can’t be thrust into a quasi-starting role. In reality, the relief staff will need reinforcements as well. Ken Davidoff wrote about this at length in the New York Post recently.

The opener has worked, but it’s done so mainly out of necessity. It’s in the team’s best interest to go out and get a starter and a bullpen arm.