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A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Archive for the ‘Misc’

Baseball mourns the death of Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras10.27.14

Oscar Taveras

Has nothing to do with last night’s World Series game, and has nothing to do with the Yankees, but I wanted to start this day by mentioning yesterday’s tragic news that Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras has died in a car accident. He was extremely talented — considered one of the top young players in the game — and that’s why we know his name, but ultimately a 22-year-old kid is dead, and his 18-year-old girlfriend is reportedly dead as well. That’s the sadness here. Just awful news with or without the baseball component. Here’s the Associated Press story by Dionisio Soldevila.

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, a 22-year-old slugger who was regarded as one of the majors’ top prospects, died Sunday in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic.

Taveras was driving a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro at the time of the crash on a highway between the beaches of Sosua and Cabarete in Puerto Plata, about 215 miles north of the capital of Santo Domingo, said Col. Diego Pesqueira of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.

“He wasn’t carrying documents at the time of the accident, but his body was identified by family members,” Pesqueira said.

National police spokesman Jacobo Mateo Moquete said he was told by the mayor of Sosua that Taveras lost control of his vehicle and went off the road. Edilia Arvelo, 18, who was in the car with Taveras, also died in the accident, said Pesqueira.

Taveras made his major league debut this year. He hit .239 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 80 games for the NL Central champions.

“I simply can’t believe it,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said in a release. “I first met Oscar when he was 16 years old and will forever remember him as a wonderful young man who was a gifted athlete with an infectious love for life who lived every day to the fullest.”

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the organization was “stunned and deeply saddened” by Taveras’ death.

“Oscar was an amazing talent with a bright future who was taken from us well before his time,” DeWitt said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends tonight.”

Taveras was a teenager when he signed with St. Louis as an international free agent in 2008. Before this season, Taveras was ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America, and had a.321 average over six minor league seasons.

He homered against the Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit in his major league debut on May 31. He also had a big solo drive in the seventh inning of Game 2 in the NL Championship Series against San Francisco.

“All of us throughout Major League Baseball are in mourning this evening,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a release.

“Oscar, a young member of the baseball family, was full of promise and at the dawn of a wonderful career in our game, evident in his game-tying home run against the Giants exactly two weeks ago.”

It looked as if Taveras was headed to the majors in 2013, but he had surgery for a high right ankle sprain last August for an injury that did not respond to treatment. He then got off to a nice start at Triple-A Memphis this season, earning a promotion by batting .325 with seven homers in 49 games.

“Oscar had a very promising future, on and off the field, and this news is heartbreaking on many levels,” Tony Clark, the leader of the players’ association, said in a statement. “It’s never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and to lose one so young is devastating news.”

Several of Taveras’ Cardinals teammates took to Twitter to express their condolences.

“Last 30 minutes I’ve been sick to my stomach. Keep thinking about Oscar’s big smile in the dugout whenever we made a big play/got a big hit,” All-Star reliever Pat Neshek posted.

Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong tweeted: “RIP you will be missed buddy.”

Associated Press photo

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Week in review: Long moves across town10.26.14

Ichiro Suzuki, Joe Girardi

Kevin Long found a new job before the Yankees found a new hitting coach.

On Thursday, the Mets announced that they had hired Long, moving the longtime Yankees hitting guru across town to be reunited with Curtis Granderson.

“I’m excited to get the opportunity to work with a team that I think is on the rise,” Long said in a released statement.

Meanwhile, the Yankees continue to sort through candidates to take Long’s spot on their own coaching staff. One possibility, Chili Davis, accepted a job with the Red Sox. Another, Dave Magadan, was taken off the list of possibilities. Among the names regularly mentioned lately — James Rowson, Dante Bichette, maybe Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton — there doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite.

Yankees Spring Baseball• No surprise that this was another relatively quiet week for the Yankees. It’s usually that way during the World Series (unless a player does something crazy like opting out of a contract). Perhaps the most immediately relevant bit of news this week was the announcement of the Yankees upcoming spring training schedule. Pitchers and catchers report February 20.

• Big picture, the most important Yankees news of the week had to be Mark Feinsand’s report that Gary Denbo will takeover as the head of the baseball operations department, essentially replacing Mark Newman, who’s retiring this offseason. Further change on the minor league side: Pat Roessler is reportedly out as director of players development. That’s big-time change down in Tampa. Time will tell whether it yields big-time results.

• MLB Trade Rumors released its annual salary projections for the arbitration-eligible Yankees. MLBTR has an awfully accurate system in place. Their most significant suggested raise goes to Michael Pineda, who’s expected to earn roughly $2.1 million in his first year of eligibility. Got healthy just in time, huh?

• In an interview with ESPN Radio, CC Sabathia said that he feels fully healthy and believes he has a chance to be a potent big league starter again next season. He also made what seemed to be a vague sales pitch to free agent starter Jon Lester, saying Lester would be his pick to start a must-win playoff game.

• Of course this was the week the World Series got started. And our old friend Jayson Nix was added to the Royals active roster. Good for him. Nice role player for a few years with the Yankees.

• Looking for something of interest to the Yankees in this World Series? Maybe keep Giants second baseman Joe Panik in mind. Several scouts I spoke with this week said his offensive profile pretty closely matches that of Yankees prospect Rob Refsnyder.

• Down in the Arizona Fall League, first base prospect Greg Bird has been on quite a roll and was named the AFL Player of the Weeks. He’s hit for average and for power since getting down there.

• Gold Glove finalists were announced, with no Yankees making the cut.

• One other thing that has no direct connection to the Yankees: Longtime Rays manager Joe Maddon opted out of his contract and will look for a managerial job elsewhere. Quite a rough offseason for the Rays, who previously lost their general manager. That’s a pretty big shakeup in the American League East.

Associated Press photos

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Drastic roster turnover since last Yankees pennant10.25.14

Five years is a pretty long time, so you’d expect quite a bit of roster turnover since the Yankees last American League pennant back in 2009. The Yankees used 13 players in that ALCS clincher five years ago. It’s a group that has very little resemblance to the group the Yankees are likely to roll out on Opening Day of 2015.

This is what the  Yankees looked like on the day they last won a pennant:

Yankees Jeter BaseballDerek Jeter SS – This was back when Jeter was still in the conversation for an MVP award. The Jeter of 2009 looked nothing like the Jeter of 2014, and the Yankees will have neither in 2015.

Johnny Damon LF – A former Red Sox center fielder playing in the Yankees outfield and hitting at the top of the Yankees batting order. I guess there some resemblances after all.

Mark Teixeira 1B – In 2009, Teixeira hit .292/.383/.565. Other than the name, there’s really not much connection between this first baseman and the current Yankees first baseman.

Alex Rodriguez 3B – Just how good was Rodriguez in his prime? He had a .933 OPS in 2009, and we can now look back at that season as one of the early stages of his significant decline. Production has gone down and down ever since.

Jorge Posada C – Two years later he would be dumped to the bottom of the order, but this was still vintage Posada. In the five seasons since, the Yankees have had four different players lead the team in games played behind the plate.

Hideki Matsui DH – Back when the Yankees were still vaguely young enough and healthy enough to carry a full-time designated hitter without sacrificing much-needed flexibility.

Robinson Cano 2B – Batting seventh in the playoffs. Amazing. This was the year Cano truly emerged. He was one his way to being one of the game’s elite hitters.

Nick Swisher RF – Batting eighth in the playoffs. Also amazing. Swisher hit 29 homers in 2009. He had a .371 on-base percentage. The Yankees hit seven players ahead of him. Most-often used No. 8 hitter in 2014: Brian Roberts.

Melky Cabrera CF (Brett Gardner played center after entering as a pinch runner) — It’s been a weird road for Cabrera since he left the Yankees, but Gardner’s emergence has been one of the system’s few offensive success stories.

Andy Pettitte SP – Proof that having older players isn’t necessarily a problem. The key is to find older players who are still productive and affordable. For whatever it’s worth, CC Sabathia was declared the MVP of this series.

Joba Chamberlain RP – Worked as a starter most of that 2009 season. Chamberlain was one of only four Yankees to pitch as many as 100 innings, but he moved into his familiar bullpen role for the playoffs. Had a lot of home-grown relievers help out in the bullpen that season: Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, Dave Robertson.

Mariano Rivera RP –  Of course. Amazing that, of all the players on this list, Rivera’s among the ones the Yankees statistically miss the least these days.

Associated Press photos

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Five years ago: The Yankees last A.L. pennant10.25.14

alcs09

One week ago, the Yankees hit the two-year anniversary of their last playoff appearance.

Today, it’s the five-year anniversary of their last American League pennant.

It was on October 25, 2009 that the Yankees finished off the Angels and advanced to their first World Series since 2003. I vaguely remember it. I’d been on the job for about three weeks, I was spending my nights on a friend’s couch in Harlem, and Brett Gardner let me off the hook during the clubhouse celebration after soaking me a few days earlier at the end of the division series.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Mariano Rivera said. “We’re back.”

Yes, they were. And 10 days later the Yankees would win the World Series. It all seemed like a job well done. That offseason, the Yankees had retooled their roster by making a key trade for Nick Swisher and investing heavily in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. The immediate results were as good as could be expected. In that clinching ALCS game, they’d used three pitchers — Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain and Rivera — each of whom was a success story from within the minor league system. The Yankees starting lineup that day included four home-grown players (another home-grown player came off the bench), two major trade acquisitions, two major free agent signings, and one international superstar who would go on to win the MVP of the championship round. It was a mix of smart player moves and effective player development.

“This is what it’s all about, man,” Pettitte said. “We made a commitment at the beginning of spring training about the team, and putting everybody else’s selfish things aside and just focus on the team, and we knew this would happen.”

Quotes like that always sound good when a team wins, just like multi-year contracts always feel good when they result in a championship.

Five years later, though, Swisher is gone, Burnett has been traded for pennies on the dollar, Teixeira’s numbers have fallen off drastically, and Sabathia’s steady workhorse reputation has given way to an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. It’s now clear that the Yankees player development — while still reaping the benefits of long ago drafts and international signings — was in the midst of a rough patch during that championship season. In particular, a fresh wave of impact position players was not on its way.

Today, there’s not a long-term contract on the Yankees roster — except maybe Brett Gardner’s — that doesn’t look like an eventual bad idea. That’s kind of the way it works, though. Long-term contracts are always risky on the back end, and there’s a hope for significant impact on the front end.

Five years ago, a major offseason investment paid off immediately.

Today, it’s a different story.

Associated Press photo

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Art of baseball: Lineup card as canvas in the World Series10.24.14

The World Series gets back underway tonight in San Francisco. From my friend Ben Walker — regular first baseman for Team New York in the annual media game — here’s a quirky story about lineup cards. In particular, this is about the detail that goes into crafting the lineup card in the Royals dugout. It’s really cool, in a really weird way.

World Series Giants Royals BaseballKANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Take a look around the Kansas City Royals’ dugout and it’s pretty evident: The handwriting is on the wall in this World Series.

The fancy handwriting, that is.

In the midst of smeared pine-tar rags, spit-out sunflower seeds and plenty of dirt, there hangs a piece of pure art — the lineup cards drawn by bench coach Don Wakamatsu.

Using a calligraphy style he has worked to develop for more than a decade, Wakamatsu takes manager Ned Yost’s lineup and writes out the starters for both teams, the reserves and available relievers.

He takes up to a half-hour to fill all the slots. In three colors, too — red for lefties, blue for righties and black for switch-hitters.

They’re so intricate and so attractive that a souvenir shop on the concourse at Kauffman Stadium sells them.

“I don’t see them as beautiful,” Wakamatsu said, humbly, before the Royals beat San Francisco 7-2 on Wednesday night to tie the Series at 1-all. “I see all the flaws, all the mistakes.”

Chances are, he’s the only one who can spot the slip-ups.

Wakamatsu uses ornate, capitalized first letters, with a blend of American calligraphy and Asian font overtones. There’s also some medieval and Gothic characteristics.

“I don’t think it’s any one style,” he said. “I don’t have my own font.”

Wakamatsu has no formal training, and figures his interest rubbed off from his family.

“My grandfather had tremendous handwriting. He was an artist, the way he wrote,” he said. “I think I got the art gene from him.”

Wakamatsu didn’t try his hand at the craft until 2003, when he admired the lineup cards former Texas manager Jerry Narron filled out with a flair.

“I used to do them with a Sharpie, just like most everyone else,” he said.

As Wakamatsu moved around the majors, he perfected his penmanship. He managed the Seattle Mariners for 2009 and most of 2010, then was the bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays from 2011-12 and made manager John Farrell’s lineups look even better.

Coaches often write the cards while managers attend to other matters, and Wakamatsu has been busy this season as the Royals played deep into October.

World Series Giants Royals BaseballWakamatsu said he enjoys the time and effort it takes to do the cards properly, and how getting the details right makes a difference. Sort of what it takes to be a winning player and winning team, he reckons.

“He definitely takes pride in what he does,” Royals catcher Erik Kratz said. “There are other guys who do nice work, and some who just print them out. It’s neat to see.”

Once in a while, things do get messed up.

“Sometimes you’ll be all done, and then the other team will make a lineup switch at the last minute. That’s a nightmare,” Wakamatsu said. “Or you’ll be on the last name and make a mistake. Sometimes, you have to just cross it out.”

“Not all the paper is the same, either. Some of the cards are too thin and the ink bleeds through,” he said.

Occasionally, the other team’s lineup arrives late and Wakamatsu needs to scramble. Plus, there are in-game changes — it’s not an easy trick to alter such artwork by writing on cards posted on the dugout wall.

The 51-year-old Wakamatsu has spent much of his life in dugouts.

Raised in the Bay Area, he was teammates with Barry Bonds at Arizona State. Wakamatsu made it to the majors as a backup catcher and played 18 games, all for the White Sox in 1991.

He has worked for the Angels, Diamondbacks, Yankees and several other teams in various capacities, and is in his first year with the Royals.

At each stop, he’s tried to do things the write way, so to speak.

“I still have trouble with some letters. The capital Y is tough and so are the Zs,” he said. “I’m working on them.”

On his own.

“I’ve never taken a class in calligraphy, but I would love to,” he said. “Consider this an open invitation to anyone who’d like to teach me.”

Associated Press photo

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Notes and links: Hinske reportedly not interested in Yanks job10.24.14

Just a few notes and links on another quiet day for the Yankees. The World Series gets started again tonight.

Dellin Betances• George King reports that the Yankees reached out to Eric Hinske — the former big leaguer and current assistant hitting coach for the Cubs — to “gauge his interest” in replacing Kevin Long, but Hinske elected to stay with the Cubs.

• Earlier this week, Royals closer Greg Holland was announced as the winner of the Mariano Rivera Award, named after the great Yankees closer and given to the top relief pitcher in the American League. Holland has become a real beast, and he had the second-most saves in the A.L. along with a 0.91 WHIP and 13 strikeouts per nine innings. Jon Heyman reports that Yankees rookie setup man Dellin Betances finished second in voting for the award. Betances had a lower WHIP and a higher strikeout rate than Holland, but obviously Betances did it without pitching the ninth inning.

Pretty good quote from Holland about winning the Mariano Rivera Award (Braves closer Craig Kimbrel won the Trevor Hoffman Award in the National League): “This is a very humbling experience,” Holland said. “You kinda get iffy any time your name is put on a plaque with these two guys (Rivera and Hoffman).”

• Also from Heyman, the Blue Jays have reportedly opened negotiations with former Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera. Heyman reports that Toronto is willing to offer at least a three-year deal to bring him back. Cabrera would be one of the better hitters on the market this season, but despite the Yankees need for offense — and the obvious value of having someone other than Carlos Beltran penciled into right field — there’s a solid chance that Cabrera would never be on the Yankees radar regardless of a deal with Toronto. If the Yankees feel they have to save the designated hitter spot for Alex Rodriguez, then they have to leave right field available for Beltran.

• MLB Trade Rumors is predicting a two-year, $12-million deal for former Yankees reliever Rafael Soriano. That’s a lot less than the four-year, $52-million prediction for Dave Robertson. Three years ago, Robertson played setup man for Soriano, but age and production have clearly left Robertson as the more desirable of the two this offseason.

• I just thought this was cool: ESPN Stats and Info posted a graphic showing the defensive range of the Royals three late-inning outfielders. Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain basically cover a ton of ground, and now there’s a fancy graphic to prove it. Wonder what the Yankees graphic looked like with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and an aging Ichiro Suzuki this season. Have to think those three were well beyond the league average as well, right?

• Seems inevitable that Joe Maddon will get a new managerial job, the only question is when and where. Joel Sherman reports that the Mets and Dodgers seem committed to their current managers, but the Cubs seem to be the industry favorite to make a change and hire Maddon.

• Has nothing to do with the Yankees, but interesting for baseball in general that John Hart has agreed to run baseball operations for the Atlanta Braves. Apparently the team won’t have a typical general manager, but will have Hart and assistant John Coppolella basically calling the shots.

Associated Press photo

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Alleged Biogenesis supplier pleads not guilty10.24.14

Just a little Biogenesis update from Curt Anderson of The Associated Press:

Anthony BoschMIAMI (AP) — A man described by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a black-market chemist who concocted athletic performance-enhancing drugs in his garage pleaded not guilty Thursday to criminal charges arising from Major League Baseball’s recent drug scandal.

Paulo Berejuk, 50, entered the plea during a federal court hearing on charges of conspiring to distribute testosterone and human growth hormone, both controlled substances.

The DEA says that Berejuk for years was the main supplier for Anthony Bosch, former owner of the now-closed Biogenesis of America clinic on Coral Gables that sold banned substances to MLB players and other athletes, some still in high school. Authorities say Berejuk was paid as much as $20,000 a month for his work.

Berejuk, a permanent legal U.S. resident originally from Brazil, was also ordered jailed without bail until his trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber agreed with prosecutors that Berejuk might flee to Brazil and is a danger to the community because he was dispensing controlled substances without a medical or pharmaceutical license.

And it appears Bosch’s arrest in August may not have stopped Berejuk. DEA Agent Gene Grafenstein said when Berejuk was arrested earlier this week, a powder was found at his home that is used in producing human growth hormone.

“He has still been purchasing items that could possibly be made into substances,” Grafenstein said in court.

The case has resulted in a half-dozen other arrests and suspensions for 14 MLB players, most notably the record season-long suspension for New York Yankees star and three-time American League MVP Alex Rodriguez. Bosch has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with investigators, including providing key information to the DEA about Berejuk’s involvement.

Berejuk was added to a criminal case that also charges Rodriguez’s cousin, Yuri Sucart, and former University of Miami pitching coach Lazaro “Laser” Collazo. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial currently set for Jan. 12.

In attempting to gain his release on bail, Berejuk attorney Robert Barrar noted the high-profile nature of the case and pointed out that Berejuk traveled to Brazil as recently as this summer and returned to the U.S. each time.

“He’s gone out of the country and come back knowing he might be arrested,” Barrar said. “All we’re asking for is some kind of reasonable bond.”

But the judge was unmoved, noting that Berejuk still has family in Brazil where he could seek refuge.

The two drug distribution conspiracy charges against Berejuk carry a combined maximum 15-year prison sentence. No trial date has been set.

Associated Press photo of Bosch

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Turnover in Tampa Bay: Maddon opts out of Rays contract10.24.14

Maddon

Because of their business model, the Rays have always been a team of adjustments. They traded James Shields, let B.J. Upton walk as a free agent, burned through any number of closers, and kept trying new players at new positions until they found ways to make it work.

But after six straight winning seasons in the tough American League East, the Rays couldn’t make it work this year, and now they’re experiencing change like never before.

Ace David Price was traded. General manager Andrew Friedman was lured to Los Angeles. And now comes word that manger Joe Maddon has opted out of his contract and will leave the organization immediately. Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in a statement that the organization tried “diligently and aggressively” to re-sign Maddon before his decision to opt out.

After spending years as the division doormat, the Rays had become a real thorn in the side of the Yankees and every other team in the American League, but the team is in an overwhelming state of transition now. Hard to imagine how the team might adjust from here.

Associated Press photo

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Teixeira brings Foul Territory to ESPN Radio10.24.14

Has nothing to do with anything important — certainly doesn’t help determine what to do about the Yankees first base depth — but when Mark Teixeira was on The Mike & Mike Show this week, he did a little bit of his Foul Territory shtick, and it was once again pretty funny. It’s a weird thing, and maybe the least expected development of the year, but Teixiera’s really good at it. Pretty funny. Here’s the clip. Totally unimportant, but it’s a good time. And let’s face it, it’s a Friday with newspaper headlines about Ebola in New York, so let’s go with something a bit goofy for a while.

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What to do about first base?10.24.14

Mark Teixeira

For the Yankees, there’s no question what to do about choosing an everyday first baseman. Or, if there is a question, it’s not one with many answers. The team made its choice six years ago when it committed to Mark Teixeira. He has full no-trade protection, and there’s too much invested these next two years to simply cut ties.

Barring something unforeseen, Teixeira will be at first base on Opening Day. And he’ll probably be hitting in the middle of the order. And the Yankees will simply have to trust – or, perhaps simply hope – that the power he showed in this season’s first three months will return and maintain through a full season.

Question is, what to do about his backup.

Last year, the Yankees really had no concrete backup plan at first base. They had the vague idea that Kelly Johnson should be able to play first base occasionally, but Johnson didn’t meet expectations in any way, and so the Yankees were left with Brian McCann and Francisco Cervelli getting a combined 16 starts at first base.

Neither had previously played the position, and together they started nearly 10 percent of the time.

Brian McCannSo what to do next year?

1. Let the catchers do it again
Actually, McCann didn’t look too bad at first base last season. Cervelli’s had some scattered infield experience through the years and generally looks surprisingly passable. Both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine have seen some infield time in the minor leagues. The Yankees could simply go into the season thinking of their catchers as their backup first basemen. Would be a solid way to give either Cervelli or Murphy a few more at-bats, which might be a plus considering the offensive potential they’ve shown.

2. Teach someone to play first
We already know the Yankees have talked to Alex Rodriguez about getting a little bit of time at first base next season, presumably in a backup role. I suppose a case could be made for asking Carlos Beltran to do the same (though a similar plan with Alfonso Soriano was quickly discarded last spring). A guy like Jose Pirela, who will be coming to camp with a little bit of first base experience, could be another relatively inexperienced option. In theory, this “make A-Rod do it” plan seems to make sense, but Johnson showed at times that learning first base on the fly isn’t always smooth or easy. This is the plan that didn’t work too well this year.

3. Carry a second first baseman
This would be a pure first baseman. Might even be a guy like Kyle Roller, this year’s Triple-A first baseman who has a pretty bad glove but has shown a pretty good left-handed swing. Although he’s never generated much prospect attention, Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A this season, and he was able to hit both lefties and righties. Any pure backup first baseman would surely have to show enough bat to occasionally start at designated hitter.

4. Make first base a utility-man priority
Problem with carrying another pure first baseman on the bench is that it limits the team’s flexibility. The Yankees have a DH spot and four bench roles, and given the team’s age and injury concerns, flexibility is a real plus. In their search for a Rodriguez alternative at third base, the Yankees could certainly prioritize finding someone who has also played first base (a guy like Casey McGehee has played quite a bit of first; Chase Headley has played a very little bit; Pablo Sandoval used to do it several years ago, Aramis Ramirez has never done it). Another version of this solution would be an outfielder/DH with first base experience. Maybe Michael Cuddyer? Michael Morse? Buy really low on Corey Hart? All of these option come with cost issues. How often would they play, and how much is that worth?

Associated Press photos

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