The majority expectation was that the Yankees would win the AL East and the Red Sox would be one of the wild-card teams in the American League. Some still believe there is a path for the Red Sox to win the division since their starting pitching has been excellent.
The Yankees have received an offensive boost from youngsters Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. General manager Brian Cashman has said, “We’re not trading Gleyber Torres.”
Even Greg Bird is back from his latest injury, though he has yet to be a factor on offense. Along with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks, that’s a pretty tough lineup to beat.
The Yankees may also have the best pitcher in the league in Luis Severino, who entered his start Thursday leading the majors with an average fastball velocity of 97.7 miles per hour. Their bullpen has been among the best, holding opponents to an MLB-low .199 batting average. Setup man Dellin Betances has put together 12 straight scoreless appearances, allowing just one hit and striking out 22 in 12 innings. The bullpen’s success was expected.
The Yankees have been terrific in other areas, such as their 23-9 record against teams .500 or better, the best in baseball.
Will the Yankees struggle at some point and go into a hitting or pitching slump? Perhaps. But another area in which they might have the advantage over the Red Sox is in their ability to improve their team.
“I don’t think about whatever they have or don’t have,” Cashman said about the Red Sox’ ability to swing a key deal. “We feel we have a lot of players we’re excited about. Some will make it up here and some will be used as trade chips. Just because we’re viewed as having more than they do in certain areas, Dave Dombrowski is an expert trader. He’s made a number of deals that have put the Red Sox where they are.
“They’re a very good team and you never know how the race is going to go. It’s unique not to have separation from the field. Obviously some of the best teams in the game reside in this division.”
Cashman has Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams, two quality pitching prospects, to dangle in a deal.
“We have a number of different players who can help us,” Cashman said. “We’ll see, ownership will make the final call. If we don’t think it’s fair and can’t find the right matches, we’ll walk away as we did last offseason.”
Dombrowski used prospects to land Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel. But there isn’t much in the Red Sox farm system, so unless he’s willing to trade major league players, he’ll have to get creative in working a deadline deal.
Dombrowski could definitely use lefthander Drew Pomeranz, if he’s healthy, as trade bait, with Steven Wright doing a great job as the fifth starter. He could also use Blake Swihart as trade bait, perhaps to acquire a reliever.
Cashman always looks to the present and future when making trades. In the offseason he walked away from a deal with the Pirates for Gerrit Cole because he felt Pittsburgh was asking for too much. He could find a way to obtain Rays lefty Blake Snell instead of Chris Archer, though he would certainly take Archer, who is currently on the disabled list. Cashman will likely be in the market for Blue Jays lefty J.A. Happ. He would be more than willing to settle for the Rangers’ Cole Hamels, though he would prefer not to give up a top prospect or two for a 34-year-old pitcher.
Cashman is well aware that Masahiro Tanaka, currently on the DL, isn’t the most consistent starter. Ditto Sonny Gray. CC Sabathia is a gamer, but he’s 37 and his stuff doesn’t always produce.
There have been reports that Cashman could even add another reliever, as if the Yankees bullpen isn’t strong enough. They have been linked to Brad Hand and Zach Britton, two lefties the Red Sox would love to have. The Yankees have the prospects to make it happen. The Red Sox would have to really reach to acquire either lefty, and if you’re the Padres or Orioles, you’d rather make a deal with a team that has an abundant number of prospects.
Both teams are also somewhat restrained by the luxury tax. Cashman reiterated, “We’ll stay under the luxury tax.” Yet, they do have wiggle room to add a major player.
The Red Sox reset their luxury-tax threshold last season and now have the highest payroll in baseball at $234 million. They’re about $5 million-$7 million from reaching the next tax level, so they might need a team trading them a reliever to pay some of the cost.
Red Sox-Yankees is going to be front and center the rest of the season. Any time they play it’ll be a major event. And there’ll be scoreboard watching every day.
Only one reason Castillo’s not up
Rusney Castillo is playing well enough in Triple A Pawtucket to warrant a call-up. Dave Dombrowski said he and his staff have discussed Castillo several times, but while Dombrowski won’t specify the reason Castillo is still in the minors, we all know it’s about money.
Castillo is making $11.77 million this season, so a prorated portion of that would be tacked on to the Red Sox’ payroll if he were to be called up, and that would put the team at risk of triggering the next level of luxury tax.
Castillo, working on a seven-year, $72.5 million contract, is the highest-paid minor leaguer in history. Because he’s not on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, his salary doesn’t count against the luxury-tax threshold. But if he’s added to the 40-man, it would.
Castillo is signed through 2020. He’ll earn another $11.77 million in 2019, but can also opt out of his contract after next season. He’s scheduled to make more than $14 million in 2020.
And while Castillo has been labeled a “bust” for a long time, the 30-year-old center fielder has certainly excelled at Pawtucket. The speedy righthanded hitter entered Friday hitting .320 with four homers, 36 RBIs, and an OPS of .792. With Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting under .200, you would think Castillo would have a role in Boston playing center against lefthanded pitchers, against whom he’s batting .327 this season.
“We’ve discussed [Castillo] so many times and the situation is what it always has been,” Dombrowski said. “He’s done a good job under the circumstances playing down there. He’s done a good job.”
“We have to wait and see,” said Dombrowski as to whether the Red Sox would promote Castillo this season.
Asked whether he’d been in a situation like this in his many years in baseball, Dombrowski said, “No. This is a very unique situation. He plays hard all the time. I’ve been talking to our Triple A manager and he says he plays hard.”
Apropos of nothing
1. You would think at some point the “Marlins Way” becomes a bit more professional and humane and Derek Jeter’s group starts showing compassion. Right after the recent amateur draft, vice president of player development and scouting Gary Denbo fired a handful of amateur cross-checker scouts who had helped evaluate draftees. This was after scout Marty Scott was told in October that he was fired while in the hospital to remove a cancerous tumor in his colon and having tests for a kidney transplant. This was after the Marlins fired franchise icons Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, and Jeff Conine as special assistants. They also pulled the credentials of a radio host who had been critical of the team. Five employees in the team’s analytical department also quit. First impressions of this Jeter-led organization have not been positive, raising eyebrows around the game and offering a lesson in how not to do things.
2. Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen isn’t afraid of rentals. He did it with J.D. Martinez last season and Martinez responded with 29 homers in 62 games and led Arizona to the playoffs. So it’s not surprising there are reports that Hazen is looking into Manny Machado. He didn’t give up anyone substantial in the Martinez deal — three minor league infielders. Tigers GM Al Avila commented at the time of the trade how tough it was to draw interest in Martinez. That problem won’t exist with Machado, though it will be interesting to see how much a team is willing to give up for a pending free agent.
3. Let me get this straight: The Orioles have reportedly interviewed former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti for a front office job, and they expect current GM Dan Duquette to trade away highly sought-after veterans in Machado, Zach Britton, Adam Jones, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens? Ruben Amaro Jr. was in the same position in Philadelphia, on the verge of being booted out as GM, and he made superb deals for his veteran players, with several young players he got in return still with the Phillies.
4. The Twins never expected such a bad season by Logan Morrison, who is hitting .191 and hasn’t raised his average above .211 this year. A lot of people thought Morrison’s 38-homer season for the Rays last season was an aberration. Morrison’s lack of production and Miguel Sano’s struggles and weight problem are two reasons some believed the Twins might be a player for Hanley Ramirez.
5. It turns out it’s a good thing the Red Sox didn’t re-sign Addison Reed. He’s 1-5 with a 3.67 ERA for the Twins. Not exactly what the Red Sox would have been looking for. Reed signed for two years at $16.7 million.
6. There are a few White Sox staffers who feel Jose Abreu will be moved by the trade deadline. Abreu has been a consistent 30/100 player and this year is shaping up no different. The White Sox have always asked a lot for the righthanded slugger. Teams that have shown past interest include the Cardinals, Dodgers, Astros, and Rockies. He seems to be a perfect fit for the Astros.
7. Britton is being heavily scouted, including by the Red Sox. Teams want to be assured Britton has fully recovered from Achilles’ surgery. It appears he has, but suitors want to see how he responds to back-to-back appearances to see if the outlay of prospects is worth it. Britton is a free agent at the end of the year.
8. Machado is likely on the Phillies’ radar because they have the resources to make a trade and the ability to sign him long term. But it’s unlikely Machado would agree to a deal before testing the market.
9. It’s not often that teams covet a 39-year-old third baseman, but Adrian Beltre is an example. He would have to waive his 10/5 no-trade rights. The Indians, Braves, Red Sox, and Phillies seem to have interest in Beltre’s production and leadership. The Rangers appear ready to move him if he’s willing to go.
10. Righty Zack Wheeler seems the most likely Mets starter to be traded. One AL scout said, “There’s only upside with him. If he can just stay healthy, I think he’s going to keep rising and rising. He’s a good one. People don’t mention him as much because he gets overshadowed by [Jacob] deGrom and [Noah] Syndergaard. But Wheeler would be a solid pickup.”
11. Jacoby Ellsbury is in Tampa and still unable to perform baseball activities. Ellsbury has had four injuries (oblique, back, foot, hip) and two illnesses since the start of spring training. This is Year 5 of the seven-year, $153 million deal he signed with the Yankees after the 2013 season.
12. Yoan Moncada is not making any friends with his error-prone ways for the White Sox. He’s made nine errors, tied for most among MLB second basemen. Manager Rick Renteria has pretty much called him out. Remember all the hype surrounding Moncada? Well, he’s got some issues.
From the Bill Chuck files — “This season, Jed Lowrie has been up 17 times with the score tied from the seventh inning on. Lowrie has gone 8 for 15 (.533) with two walks, two doubles, two homers, and five RBIs.” . . . Also, “Lou Criger played for the Boston entry in the AL from 1901-08 and was famous for being Cy Young’s catcher. He was also infamous for having the lowest batting average in Sox franchise history, hitting .192 in 1903 and .198 in 1905. Jackie Bradley Jr. is hitting .181, well below the Criger line.” . . . Happy birthday, Robbie Ross Jr. (29) and Charlie Mitchell (56).