A few quick notes from this Sunday afternoon:
1. The Yankees have announced their first three spring training starters. Adam Warren will start on Tuesday, followed by Nathan Eovaldi on Wednesday and Esmil Rogers on Thursday. Chase Whitley said he’s piggybacking one of those days — pitching a couple innings of relief — and I would expect the same for Bryan Mitchell.
2. An intrasquad game is set for tomorrow, and Joe Girardi said he expects the big league regulars to play. No pitcher, though. Several guys will throw live batting practice, but the intrasquad game will be against a pitching machine.
3. No definitive word on whether Alex Rodriguez will play in Tuesday’s spring opener. Girardi said he’ll check with Rodriguez tomorrow, see how he’s feeling, and then make a decision. I wonder if Rodriguez might play each of the first two games at designated hitter just so he can get at-bats. It’s a very short road trip to Clearwater on Tuesday, then a home game on Wednesday.
4. Girardi watched Michael Pineda’s live batting practice this morning and said it was very impressive. Girardi singled out Pineda’s command, his movement, and his offspeed pitches. Also: “Threw a ton of strikes,” Girardi said.
Associated Press photo
What’s happening at Steinbrenner Field today? Well, right now, it’s raining. And it’s supposed to keep raining until around 3 p.m. The chances of an actual Yankees workout seems awfully slim right now.
Pitchers who were scheduled to throw a normal bullpen were able to do so inside — Adam Warren threw his side session then said he’s expecting to start the spring opener on Tuesday — but the pitchers who were scheduled to face hitters were placed in a holding pattern.
Living batting practice was supposed to start at 10:10 a.m., but that didn’t happen, and the pitchers assigned to live BP were basically waiting to find out what they’ll be doing instead. My guess is they’ll just throw bullpens inside, but we haven’t been told.
Basically, it looks like this will be a light day in Yankees camp. Probably some indoor bullpens for the pitchers and some indoor batting practice for the hitters. It’s a light Saturday.
• Warren said he expects to pitch the spring opener. He set that up by throwing a bullpen today. Wonder if the other guys who threw bullpens this morning — including Justin Wilson and Jose Ramirez — might also pitch in the spring opener. Just a theory. The relievers could be on a different schedule.
• Interesting that infielders were pretty clearly divided into big leaguers and Triple-A guys for today’s scheduled fielding drills. Worth noting that Jose Pirela was assigned to the big league group while Rob Refsnyder was kept with the minor league guys.
• In the back of the Yankees clubhouse is a wall of lockers filled with young guys, and right now, that’s the fun wall. Most of the time it’s pretty quiet over there, but everyone once in a while you see something like Mason Williams and Cito Culver pulling off an elaborate, specialized handshake that’s pretty impressive. A lot of the guys on that wall have been playing together for years, so they know one another really well.
• Random clubhouse conversation this morning with infielder Nick Noonan, who seems ticketed for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster as the starting Triple-A shortstop. Although his big league time has come at second base, Noonan said he’s more comfortable at shortstop and seems to prefer that position. The Yankees like him there. I was told when he signed that the Yankees not only believe he can handle the position, but that he can play it really well. Minor league free agent Cole Figueroa — who’s locker is right next to Noonan’s — could also see some shortstop time in Triple-A.
• Live batting practice/simulated games (as scheduled, anyway):
Cole Figueroa, Ramon Flores, Jonathan Galvez hitting
Kyle Davies (to Kyle Higashioka)
Wilking Rodriguez (to Trent Garrison)
Nick Goody (to Francisco Arcia)
Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge, Slade Heathcott hitting
Michael Pineda (to Austin Romine)
Chasen Shreve (to Gary Sanchez
Chris Martin (to John Ryan Murphy)
Jose De Paula (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Diego Moreno (to Juan Graterol)
James Pazos (to Roman Rodriguez)
Nick Rumbelow (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Jose Ramirez (to Gary Sanchez)
Adam Warren (to John Ryan Murphy)
Justin Wilson (to Brian McCann)
Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
• Batting practice groups:
Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brian McCann, Eddy Rodriguez
Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones
Greg Bird, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Kyle Roller
Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Jake Cave, Chris Young
Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Francisco Arcia, Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Associated Press photo
Tomorrow is the Yankees’ first spring workout, so tonight we’ll finish our countdown of the most pressing spring training issues by looking at one that could single-handedly determine the success or failure of this season.
Do the Yankees actually have a good starting rotation, or even a viable starting rotation?
Some of this is out of the Yankees’ hands at this point. All they can do is hold their breath and hope Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow doesn’t snap, Michael Pineda’s shoulder doesn’t blow out, and CC Sabathia’s fastball isn’t smacked all over the yard. They can only follow protocol with Ivan Nova’s rehab, work on Nathan Eovaldi’s offspeed pitches, and evaluate their options for the fifth starter spot. For the most part, their major rotation decisions were made weeks ago. Maybe even months ago. In some cases, years ago.
But at some point, the Yankees will have to decide whether they have enough.
Is this a rotation capable of getting the Yankees into the postseason. Should they consider a trade for a guy like Cole Hamels? Have they left themselves too short-handed to make a serious run?
This winter, the Yankees chose to role the rotation dice. They acknowledged in the fall that their rotation was a concern, but they didn’t want to make a Sabathia-like commitment to Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, and they didn’t like the going rate for high-risk secondary options like Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. They chose to sacrifice one starting pitcher to acquire a shortstop, which made their one trade for another starting pitcher more of a replacement than an upgrade.
• Is there any indication Tanaka’s favoring his elbow; has this rehab protocol really worked?
• Does Pineda seem to have his usual arm strength; is this spring 2012 all over again?
• What kind of pitcher is Sabathia at this point; has he successfully transitioned to a new stage in his career?
• Did the Yankees find a young gem in Eovaldi; can he do anything more than light up a radar gun?
• How much does Chris Capuano have left; did the Yankees get his last drop of effectiveness last season?
• Are Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers legitimate options; have the Yankees overly neglected their immediate depth?
• Can Bryan Mitchell or Chase Whitley spot start if necessary; how far away is Luis Severino?
Whatever the answers to those questions, there’s only so much the Yankees can do at this point. Their most important rotation decisions came when they passed on Scherzer and Lester, when they made a pair of rotation-based trades (three trades counting the Manny Banuelos deal), and when they selected Capuano and a handful of minor league free agents to build their back-of-the-rotation depth.
In some ways, their key 2015 rotation decisions came when they traded for Pineda, extended Sabathia, and elected to forgo surgery on Tanaka.
But as pitchers and catchers settle into Steinbrenner Field, it’s still hard to look at this Yankees team and see a more all-or-nothing situation than the state of the rotation. This spring, the Yankees will have to figure out whether this rotation is good enough to make the Yankees contenders or thin enough to keep them out of the playoffs.
And as with any spring training decision, the evaluation will be subject to change once the season gets started.
Associated Press photos
Masahiro Tanaka said this afternoon that he feels no pain in his right elbow. He’s been able to go through his usual offseason routine, he threw a normal bullpen yesterday — including splitters — and he’s expected to throw another one on Sunday.
“I feel (the elbow) is healed,” Tanaka said. “I’m confident I can get through the season… because I’m able to throw the ball absolutely fine.”
Tanaka said he made no substantial changes to his offseason routine, and he expects to make no substantial changes now that he’s reported to spring training. He’ll continue to throw all of his pitches and continue to prepare for a full year in the rotation. Joe Girardi basically said the same, that the Yankees will monitor Tanaka, but that they’ll treat him as a guy getting ready for the season.
“I actually feel a little bit better than last year,” Tanaka said. “Just overall body health, feeling better.”
A few other small notes from this first day of pitchers and catchers:
• In his opening press conference, Girardi talked a lot about this spring training having more open competition than usual. Eventually, it became clear that he was referring to playing-time competition more than roster-spot competition. The Yankees have a lot of guys basically locked into roster spots, but they haven’t decide exact roles for them. Have to decide whether Didi Gregorius needs a platoon partner, whether Stephen Drew is playing second base every day, how often Alex Rodriguez will be in the lineup, who’s going to be the closer, whether a few relievers might instead find a spot in the rotation — stuff like that.
• Speaking of guys who could play various roles, Adam Warren has already faced hitters two times. He’s thrown live batting practice twice, which makes me think — just guessing — that he’s a strong bet to start the spring opener.
• Alex Rodriguez is expected to report with the rest of the Yankees position players on Wednesday. Girardi said he doesn’t expect Rodriguez to be here any earlier. He does expect, however, that Rodriguez might play a little more than he usually does in spring training, though most of that playing time will come as a designated hitter just to get him at-bats. Might spend some time getting loads of ABs at the minor league complex as well.
• Girardi said he’s been very encouraged by Ivan Nova’s progress from Tommy John surgery, and Nova said this morning that he feels good. He sounds incredibly optimistic. Yankees are also optimistic about CC Sabathia, but Girardi acknowledged he needs to see Sabathia in a game setting to have a strong sense of what to expect.
• Jose Ramirez said last year’s lat issue has cleared up. He’s healthy and already throwing bullpens.
• The left wall of the Yankees spring clubhouse could pretty easily be described as the “big league pitching staff” wall. It’s where the veterans and most big league roster favorites are always assigned (Adam Warren moved from the middle lockers to that wall last year). This year’s group along that wall: CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Adam Warren, Andrew Miller, Chris Capuano, Nathan Eovaldi, David Carpenter, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers, Scott Baker and Masahiro Tanaka. Andrew Bailey is in a locker right next to that group along the front wall.
• Chase Whitley’s wife is due to give birth to the couple’s first child any day now. Thought it might happen last night, but so far, they’re still waiting.
• Several position players were early arrivals, mostly just setting up lockers and getting situated. I saw Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew and Garrett Jones.
• Two random observations about the new relievers from the Braves: David Carpenter looks basically identical to Brian Gordon, and Chasen Shreve has a swooping hairstyle to rival David Huff’s.
• Another random observation: Among the first things I saw when the Yankees clubhouse opened to media was Tony Pena talking with Gary Sanchez. I wonder if we might see that a lot this spring. Feels like an important year for Sanchez now that he’s ready for Triple-A and needs to make strides toward the big leagues.
• Just as a heads up, the two pictures in this post are from earlier in the week. There was really very little actual baseball action at Steinbrenner Field today. A few guys might have played catch and maybe some position players hit, but this wasn’t a real workout day.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees’ first spring workout is four days away. We’ll continue counting down the team’s key spring training decisions by looking at the end of games. While the Yankees have considerable depth in their bullpen, they’ve left themselves without an experienced closer. There are standout relievers, but the Yankees still have to answer this question:
Who replaces Dave Robertson in the ninth inning?
Although there’s something to be said for a closer-by-committee situation, or perhaps a mix-and-match closer depending on matchups, manager Joe Girardi has indicated that he’d like to have defined roles when the season starts.
“I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said during the Winter Meetings. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that.”
That second sentence is worth remembering. Bullpen usage could evolve during the season. The Yankees saw that last year with the emergence of Dellin Betances, who went from basically the last guy in the pen, to a trusted strikeout pitcher in key spots, to one of the best setup relievers in baseball. Now he stands out as an obvious option to takeover as closer in just his second big league season.
While the role could evolve, the Yankees will want to make some sort ninth-inning of decision out of camp. Someone is going to get the first crack at the closer role.
“I would not assume that anybody could do that (job),” Brian Cashman said at the end of last season. “It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to.”
Someone’s going to get a chance to do it. The question is who, and in what capacity. Here are five directions the Yankees could go.
1. Just give Betances the job
It’s the most obvious solution, and it might be the most likely. Betances was one of the very best relievers in baseball last season, so good that he generated comparisons to Mariano Rivera’s 1996 season (which was Rivera’s final step toward becoming a closer). Betances generates a ton of strikeouts, he’s able to pitch back-to-back days, he’s been thrown into tough late-inning situations, and he can get more than three outs when necessary. Why over-think it? Just give Betances the job.
2. Go with the guy who’s getting closer money
When the Yankees decided to let Robertson walk away, they did so knowing they could sign a free agent with similarly dominant numbers. Andrew Miller has never been a closer, but he has a longer big league track record than Betances. He’s also older and last year pitched well for the Orioles in the thick of a pennant race. Betances is relatively inexperienced, and why mess with such a good thing? Leave Betances in his multi-inning setup role and let Miller take the place of the guy he essentially replaced on the roster.
3. Build the bridge first
Clearly baseball is beginning to put increased value on middle-inning setup men. That’s why a guy like Miller got so much money, and why a guy like Wade Davis has gotten so much attention. There’s incredible value is being able to bridge that cap between a starting pitcher and a closer. The Yankees could let Miller and Betances focus on those in-the-middle outs, while trusting that someone like David Carpenter or Adam Warren — or former closer Andrew Bailey, if he’s healthy — can take care of the final inning. Why save the best relievers for an inning that might not matter as much?
4. Don’t pick one
Of course someone is going to pitch the ninth inning of a close game, but why should it be the same person each time? The Yankees could push away from the tradition of the past few decades and simply use their relievers based on in-the-moment need instead of assigned roles. If the 3-4-5 hitters are due up in the eighth, and the 6-7-8 hitters in the ninth, why save the better reliever for the bottom of the order? Just use relievers as they fit in the moment, making pitching changes based on matchups and situations — runners on base, score of the game, place in the order — rather than preassigned roles. Betances might close one night, Miller might close the next night, and Warren might be the guy the next night.
5. Bring in an expert
The only experienced closer coming to Yankees camp is Bailey, who didn’t pitch at all last season and hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2011. Hard to know what to expect from him. Even a good spring might not give real confidence in his ability to slide back into the ninth inning. The free agent market, though, still has a pair of experienced closers available. Both Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are still out there, available to the highest bidder, and the Yankees could make a push for one of them. Even if they only hold the closer job out of spring training before someone replaces them, Rodriguez or Soriano would surely add depth and options for the late innings.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees first spring workout is now six days away. We’ll continue our countdown of key spring training decisions by looking at the very back end of the Yankees rotation. Clearly the bulk of the rotation’s success or failure will hinge on the health and production of the top four starters, but the Yankees do have to consider one rotation decision this spring.
I’ve written several times that I don’t think of Capuano as a bad choice for the role. He’s actually been a better pitcher than he sometimes gets credit for being, and he was perfectly solid during his 12-start stint with the Yankees last season. If he can give the Yankees another 12-starts like he gave them last year, Capuano could hold down the fort until Ivan Nova is healthy (assuming he’s back by early June).
That said, Capuano doesn’t have to round out the rotation.
Beyond a few young guys who offer intriguing upside, the Yankees have also told relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers to arrive ready to work as starters in spring training, and assistant general manager Billy Eppler has said it’s not out of the question that either Warren or Rogers could pitch his way into the rotation even if everyone else is healthy.
“I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see,” Eppler said. “I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
As always, there’s a chance the Yankees will need to fill more than one rotation spot — an injury could change things, and an injury is certainly not out of the question — but for now, the decision heading into camp is whether Capuano is definitely the best choice for the No. 5 spot. These will be the options as camp opens:
The favorite – Chris Capuano
When the Yankees re-signed Capuano, Brian Cashman made it clear that he would come to camp expected to fill a rotation spot. This is clearly the direction the Yankees are leaning. Capuano had a 4.25 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP — pretty close to his career numbers — in 12 starts for the Yankees last season. Nothing flashy, but never allowed more than four runs in a start last season (granted, one of those starts didn’t last beyond the first inning).
The relievers – Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers
As long as everyone is healthy, Warren and Rogers seem heading toward a return to the Yankees bullpen (either one could be a long man if he stays stretched out). That said, Rogers put up good numbers in winter ball, and Warren was a pretty good rotation prospect throughout the minor leagues. If he could maintain last season’s bullpen success as a big league starter, he could be another good young option for the rotation.
The veterans – Scott Baker, Kyle Davies
It’s been a while since either Baker or Davies was a viable big league starter, but Baker in particular was a pretty solid starter before his elbow injury a few years ago. Each of these two looks like little more than just-in-case depth — just in case several other plans fall through — but it’s worth considering the possibility that one of them comes into camp strong and looks surprisingly good as a short-term alternative.
The young guys – Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula
These three have spots on the 40-man roster, so they could easily slide onto the big league roster in one role or another. For now, all three seem to most naturally fit as rotation depth in Triple-A, but Whitley was a significant rotation boost through his first few starts last season, and Mitchell pitched well in a couple of big league opportunities in September. De Paula’s never pitched in the majors, but the Yankees obviously see potential in the lefty.
The kid – Luis Severino
Probably the most exciting possibility, but also probably the least likely. Severino is the top pitching prospect in the organization and one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. He was given an invitation to big league camp, and the Yankees have acknowledged some chance that he could reach the big leagues this year. That said, he turns 21 on Friday and has just six career starts above A-ball. Huge upside, but might not be there just yet.
Associated Press photos
Just got off the phone with assistant general manager Billy Eppler, who answered a few questions about the non-roster guys invited to Yankees camp this spring.
Eppler confirmed that both Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers have been told to prepare as starting pitchers. They will essentially show up in Tampa as sixth-starter options — guys who could fill a rotation spot if someone else gets hurt — but Eppler didn’t rule out the idea of either Warren or Rogers pitching well enough to win a rotation job even if everyone else is healthy.
“I don’t know,” Eppler said. “I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
Rogers pitched well as a starter in winter ball this offseason, and Warren was a legitimate rotation prospect throughout his minor league career (he made his big league debut as a starter back in 2012). For now, the Yankees seem to be looking at a five-man rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano, while they wait for Ivan Nova to come back from Tommy John.
The Yankees expect reliever Andrew Bailey to be an active pitcher in camp. After missing basically all of last season while recovering from a shoulder injury, Bailey should be back on the mound this spring, presumably with a real chance to win a spot in the Yankees bullpen.
“He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” Eppler said.
Slade Heathcott is also expected to report to camp fully healthy. He had surgery yet again last season and played in just nine Double-A games, but the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.
“His progressions are moving forward really positively,” Eppler said. “The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration.”
New reliever Johnny Barbato — acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade — is also healthy. Barbato didn’t get an invitation to big league camp, but Eppler said that’s not because of the elbow injury that kept him off the mound the second half of last season. Eppler said Barbato actually finished 2014 healthy and pitched in the Padres’ instructional league this offseason before the Yankees acquired him. They’re considering him a healthy and available pitcher, one that will continue to work as a reliever.
“He was cleared and good to go,” Eppler said.
MINOR LEAGUE ASSIGNMENTS
While he wouldn’t give an exact date, Eppler said that veteran pitcher Scott Baker does have an opt-out in his contract (pretty common for a veteran guy on a minor league deal). He’ll come to camp to provide rotation depth, but that could be a short-term thing. If he goes to Triple-A at all — and that might be a big, if — Baker might not be there very long before looking for an opportunity elsewhere.
As for Heathcott and Mason Williams — two prospects whose assignment, Double-A or Triple-A, seems pretty far up in the air — Eppler said their assignments will, in fact, be determined in spring training. This spring could be pretty important for each of those two.
“Any young player wants to make an impression,” Eppler said. “… But you want them to do so in a very cautious manner. (Joe Girardi) tells them, no one is making the team in the first week of spring training.”
Along those same lines, Eppler said the Yankees entered the offseason with strong interest in minor league infielders Noonan, Jonathan Galvez and Cole Figueroa — Galvez, in particular, was signed very quickly — and the team sees all three as potential Yangervis Solarte-types who could really capitalize on a fresh opportunity. Galvez is 24, Noonan is 25, and Figueroa is 27.
And for whatever it’s worth, Eppler said not to dismiss Cito Culver, the former first-round pick who’s hit just .233/.316/.321 in the minor leagues but still got an invitation to big league camp.
“When people look at Cito or whoever, when you look at a player, you’re throwing his offensive numbers in your face,” Eppler said. “We do feel that Cito Culver is a very high, high-end defender. Very high-end defender.”
Because of that defensive ability at such an important defensive position, Eppler said the Yankees still believe Culver could become a consideration should the Yankees have a need at shortstop in the big leagues. In the past, I’ve compared Culver to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, also a first-round defensive standout who didn’t hit much in the minors but has seen quite a bit of big league time on pretty good teams.
Some of the more notable names left off the Yankees’ list of spring invites were, as expected, simply the victims of a numbers crunch. Taylor Dugas and Adonis Garcia each played well in Triple-A last season, but the Yankees have 10 other outfielders coming to camp, and Eppler pointed out that infielders Garrett Jones and Jose Pirela will also get some outfield time. As it is, that’s 12 outfielders for three spots.
A similar glut of third basemen kept Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. from getting invitations, and Eppler confirmed that reliever Mark Montgomery is healthy, he was simply kept out of big league camp by the recent influx of bullpen talent.
“There’s a limited number of at-bats and innings to hand out in spring training,” Eppler said. “You don’t want to water it down.”
Associated Press photo
On the 40-man: Adam Warren • 02.04.15
Continuing our look at each player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next examine a rotation prospect who last year found a role in the bullpen. Could he be a starter again, or was last year a permanent change?
Age on Opening Day: 27
Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick in 2009
Added to the 40-man: Added for a spot start June 29, 2012
In the past: Always a good young prospect, but never one that generated a ton of attention. Warren was a fairly high-round draft pick, he put up good numbers in the minor leagues, and he made his big league debut as a spot starter three years ago, but he’s still made just three major league starts. Last year he finally pitched his way into a significant role, finishing with a 2.97 ERA and 1.11 WHIP as a late-inning reliever.
Role in 2015: It’s pretty clear that Warren has a big league job sewn up, but it’s still a little difficult to know what exactly that role will be. In the past three years he’s been a setup man, a long man, and a starter. He could fill any one of those roles this season depending on the Yankees’ needs. Presumably they plan to have him back in the bullpen after last year’s success, but given the health concerns in the rotation, he might have to be stretched out as a starter again.
Best case scenario: Long term, the best-case scenario might be that Warren gets another shot in the rotation and thrives. But for that to happen, someone would have to get hurt, which surely isn’t a best-case scenario. Instead, the ideal situation might be for Warren to get a few multi-inning chances, improve his already good strikeout rate a little bit, and prove last year’s success wasn’t a fluke. In the best-case scenario Warren is, at the very least, a potent setup man fully capable of pitching two innings at a time.
Worst case scenario: Remember that stretch in the middle of last season when Warren fell apart for a while? He’d been awfully good for a long time, but suddenly he couldn’t pitch with any consistency. He got back on track and finished strong, but a true pessimist would see that bad stretch as an indication that Warren might not be able to maintain a high level of effectiveness. If he can’t be a setup man, and he’s not a starter, Warren’s basically just a mopup guy.
What the future holds: Warren is under team control through 2018, so the Yankees have some time to figure out what his ultimate role should be. That said, this is Warren’s last season before he hits arbitration, so he’s about to start making some real money (by big league standards). Is he a trade chip like David Phelps, or will he be worth the long-term investment that so few homegrown pitchers have received lately?
Associated Press photo
If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about the Hall of Fame, you might already know this: I love the Hall of Fame, but I don’t get too worked up about Hall of Fame debates. I think they’re interesting, and I think they’re worthwhile — they force us to re-examine some great careers, and that’s meaningful — but I ultimately don’t get too fussed about who’s in and who’s out.
Erik’s post this morning made a pretty incredible case for Mike Mussina as a Hall of Famer, but I’m still not mad that Tom Glavine is in and Mussina is not. I thought of Mussina as a Hall of Famer before, I’m more convinced now, and I find the conversation interesting. I’m just not losing sleep over the end result. I think Glavine deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think Mussina should join him. And even if he doesn’t, Mussina will still have been a really, really great pitcher.
What Erik’s post got me thinking about most was the idea of an underappreciated baseball player. Perhaps Mussina was one. Maybe Tim Raines was one. I realized a few years ago that Fred McGriff was one. Most underappreciated players, though, far fall short of the Hall of Fame standard and will never be a part of a Hall of Fame debate.
Until last year, I think you could argue that Brett Gardner was an underappreciated baseball player. He had to walk on to his college team. He spent much of his minor league career labeled as a fourth outfielder. He had a hard time winning everyday playing time in the big leagues. The past two years, though, Gardner’s emerged as a legitimate everyday left fielder. Maybe he’s not a conventional left fielder — not so much power, more speed and defense — but he’s been a good one, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a contract extension and regular at-bats.
So who from this year’s Yankees might be underappreciated at the moment? Here are a few possibilities:
1. Stephen Drew
Last year’s numbers were awful, and because of that, Drew’s easy to dismiss as an absurd investment, even on a relatively small one-year, $5-million contract. But only a year ago, plenty of Yankees fans wanted Drew on the roster. He has a career OPS of .747, and until last season he’d never finished remotely close .536. His strong 2013 with Boston was pretty close to a typical season for him. Now, Drew’s had a regular offseason and should have a normal spring training, which is surely a good sign for him. He missed much of the 2011 spring training because of an abdominal issue. He missed the start of 2012 because of an ankle injury. He missed most of the 2013 spring training with a concussion. He got a late start last year because of his contract situation. Drew’s been a pretty good middle infielder through most of his career, and could be a solid buy-low opportunity for the Yankees.
2. Mark Teixeira
Granted, he’s being paid like an MVP, and there’s little hope that he’ll actually hit like an MVP. In terms of contract status, Teixeira is far from underappreciated. But at some point, public opinion might have swung too far toward the negative. A severe wrist injury forced Teixeira to miss nearly all of 2013 and forced him into an unusual winter heading into 2014. If that’s the reason his bat declined in the second half of last season — because he wasn’t in his usual shape — then Teixeira might not be the lost cause he’s often made out to be. Through the first three months of last season, before fatigue might have set in, Teixeira slugged .474, which is a really good slugging percentage these days. He doesn’t have the all-around production that the Yankees expected in 2008, but if he can maintain his power numbers this year, he could still be a viable run producer.
3. Adam Warren
He’s only seven months older than Dellin Betances. His fastball has gotten sneaky fast out of the bullpen, averaging 95 mph last season. His 2014 WHIP, FIP and strikeout rate were each better than Hiroki Kuroda’s or Brandon McCarthy’s (after McCarthy came to New York). And while it’s not really fair to compare a reliever to a starter, all of Warren’s numbers except his strikeout rate were better than Shawn Kelley’s last season. He’s not a flashy guy — and he had an unmistakably bad month — but Warren had a really nice year. And while he was never a huge prospect, he was always a good one. The guy can pitch, and given his background as a starter, he’s probably worth considering as solid rotation insurance in spring training. If we thought of David Phelps that way, why not Warren?
4. Nathan Eovaldi
Just an observation, but there seems to have been a lot of regret about losing Shane Greene without much excited about the addition of Eovaldi. Last season, Eovaldi had a lower FIP, a lower WHIP, and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Greene. Eovaldi is also younger than Greene by more than a year. And if this is a comparison of upside, it’s worth noting that Eovaldi was considered a Top 100 prospect, which is far higher than Greene ever ranked on lists like that. Greene took a giant step forward the past two years, and that made him an organizational success story, but there’s certainly a chance — maybe even a good chance — that Eovaldi will be better than Greene this season. For a 25-year-old fourth starter, Eovaldi could be a better addition than he gets credit for being.
5. Chris Young
As an everyday player, no thank you. Young used to bring a fairly reliable .750 OPS with about 20 homers and 20 steals while playing center field. That’s not superstar quality, but he was a 5 WAR player twice (Jacoby Ellsbury was only 3 WAR last year, according to Baseball Reference). These days, though, Young’s numbers have slipped, and advanced metrics show he’s not nearly the center fielder he used to be. He’s more of a fourth outfielder at this point … and that’s exactly what the Yankees are asking him to be. His splits against lefties were unusually low last season — even in his disappointing 2013 season, he hit lefties much better than last year — and as long as those drift back toward the norm, he should be a nice fit as a right-handed bench player. If someone gets hurt, those splits should help him fit nicely in a replacement platoon. Teams can’t get much for $2.5 million, but Young might actually be a better fit than he gets credit for being.
Associated Press photos
Given a restructured bullpen full of late-inning experience but light on ninth-inning experience, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked last month whether it’s important that the bullpen have defined roles heading into 2015. In other words, is it important to pick out a closer, or could the Yankees simply mix and match at the end of games.
“I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said at the Winter Meetings. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that. When we started out (last) season, Betances was pitching the fifth and sixth inning. In the end he was pitching sometimes the sixth, seventh (or eighth) inning. So that takes time to get ironed out. Especially when you think about it, we know we have at least three new pieces in there. And could you have more? Possibly.”
• Three new pieces locked into bullpen roles: Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson
• Three returning to bullpen jobs: Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers
• Three young arms on the radar: Jacob Lindgren, Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve
• Three free agents still available: Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez and Burke Badenhop
This morning, Jeff wrote about the importance of the final out. He wrote about the oh-so-close nature of one-run game in the bottom of the ninth when that 27th out makes all the difference. The Yankees have been awfully good at getting that final out. They had Mariano Rivera for basically two decades. When he was hurt, Soriano stepped in. When Rivera retired, Dave Robertson emerged. Now, the ninth inning is a mystery. Even more of a mystery than it was last spring when the only question was whether Robertson could step into the closer role.
This spring, the question isn’t only whether a new guy can handle that role, but who might get the first crack at it.
1. The obvious choice
In his rookie year, Betances pitched so well that he generated Rivera comparisons. In almost every way — except total innings and October success — Betances was actually better in 2014 than Rivera was in 1996. Of course, we all know that Rivera transitioned in 1997 from setup man to closer, so it makes obvious sense to do the same with Betances. Brian Cashman has said before that no one knows how a pitcher will perform under that pressure until they’re put in that situation — is it possible Betances would try to over-do it and lose his mechanics? — but if Betances hasn’t earned an opportunity, who has?
2. The hired gun
Although he’s never been a regular closer, Miller does have a longer track record than Betances. He’s also older and just signed a four-year, $36-million deal that certainly looks like a closer’s contract. The Yankees eased Betances into last year’s late-inning role, and it might make sense to avoid pushing him suddenly into the ninth inning. The Yankees know Betances can thrive as a overpowering, multi-inning setup guy. Maybe they shouldn’t mess with that and instead give Miller the ninth-inning job. He actually had a higher strikeout rate than Betances last season, so he could be just as dominant at the end.
3. The other guys
This would be a bit of unconventional thinking: Having seen the impact of a multi-inning middle reliever, the Yankees could keep both Betances and Miller in essentially setup roles, putting out fires anywhere from the fifth to the eighth inning. To provide that flexibility, the Yankees could hand the ninth inning — a one-inning only role — to either Carpenter, Wilson or Warren. Carpenter got three saves last year with Atlanta, and Warren actually had three saves last year with the Yankees. If you assume the ninth inning doesn’t necessarily have to be filled by a team’s best reliever, it might make sense to let Miller and Betances pitch the most inning, while trusting someone else with the final three outs.
4. The free agents
Here were are on January 28, and three veteran closers are still on the free agent market looking for jobs. How expensive could they be at this point? Clearly the Yankees have a lot of bullpen depth on the way, so a significant investment wouldn’t make a ton of sense, but would it make sense to get either Soriano or Rodriguez on a one-year deal? They could come into camp as the projected closer — adding depth and keeping Betances and Miller flexible in the middle innings — knowing that someone else could easily step in if the new guy either faltered or got hurt. The market might actually have played out in such a way that a one-year closer comes fairly cheap. The bullpen is a strength, but could it be even stronger?
5. The draft pick
While the Yankees have a lot of bullpen depth, most of the upper-level guys profile more as setup guys than future closers (that includes hard-throwers like Martin, Shreve, Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez and Branden Pinder). It’s probably a stretch to think of any of them as a ninth-inning option — especially out of spring training — but the top relief prospect in the system is last year’s top pick, Lindgren. Is it possible for him to show enough this spring that the Yankees throw him into the fire? If not, what would it take to make him a ninth-inning option sooner rather than later?
Associated Press photos