This is link reading all the way through, but I’ll post some highlights here on the blog.
Earlier this week, Ken Rosenthal interviewed new commissioner Rob Manfred. The topics ranged from defensive shifts to international free agents to Alex Rodriguez’s return to pace of play to the Mets’ payroll. It’s a pretty wide-reaching conversation, and one that hits on some of the biggest issues in the game today. I really think the whole thing is worth reading.
Three points of interest:
On his relationship with Alex Rodriguez
“It’s not uncommon for players to want to see me about something if they have an issue. I think of the conversations (earlier this month) with Alex as part of that ongoing activity and I’ve made it a practice not to get into the substance of those conversations. I don’t think Alex would, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to. … I come from a part of the business where you have back-and-forth exchanges that can become heated. People talk about the relationship that I had with Michael (Weiner). Michael and I had some pretty good goes over time. So when you come out of that environment you learn to put harsh words to one side and go forward with the relationship that you’re still going to have. That’s how I think about this issue. I think that when you have penalties that are like the penalties we have now negotiated, and the player does something wrong and serves out his penalty, the other side of that coin is baseball has to be willing to accept the player back and give him a chance to finish his career. I don’t think I’m doing anything more than that.”
On his previous comment about possibly eliminating defensive shifts
“Let me go back and put the comment I made in context. I was asked about long term, radical thoughts and what I said was that I was I prepared to have a conversation about shifts. Look, we have a lot of conversations in this building about a lot of things, so I don’t think it would be a good idea to read too much into that comment. Having said that, we watch what goes on in the game very, very carefully. On the field, what the trends are, we’re always doing that. There was a lot of talk about the lack of offense, particularly late last year and coming into the offseason. We’re watching those trends. But one of the reasons we don’t act too quickly is you never know when people are going to adjust. Maybe a lot of hitters went home this winter and they figured out how to go the other way against the shift and it will self-correct and we’re not going to need to make a change. We look at these things, we think it’s smart to pay attention, we think it’s important to think about possible solutions even if it turns out that we don’t have a problem.”
On the desire to shorten games and improve the pace of play
“I think there is substance and symbolism to this issue. On the substance, there’s no doubt that our games have crept longer, and I think that it is important on the substance to shorten them because it’s more consonant with the way that people live. Everybody’s pressed for time, and I think that to the extent we could save 10 minutes, 15 minutes on the average game, that would be a huge change in terms of the length of the game. Symbolically, because there’s so much talk about it and it is reflective of the way people live and of our society, I think it’s important to say to our fans, yes, we hear you and we’re taking steps to do something about this. … I think pace of game is one of those issues where you’re going to see us work on it over a period of years. If we could cut seven to 10 minutes off that would be a huge, a huge improvement I think this year.”
Associated Press photo
This morning’s Pinch Hitter post shouldn’t be asking for too much, but it might be the least likely scenario in this whole Alex Rodriguez mess.
A sincere and believable apology? True and total forgiveness? Any sort of happy ending for Rodriguez, the Yankees, and the game of baseball? It’s a nice wish, and perhaps a worthwhile prayer, but aren’t we past that already?
If you’re looking for sincerity and hope, I would point to the words Dennis wrote: “I speak of something very real. This ‘real’ needs to play out. A-Rod can step up to the plate and do something great. He can be very sorry.”
There’s sincere hope there, but I wonder if it’s misplaced. Rodriguez is probably sorry, and I’m sure he’s filled with regret. I bet it even goes beyond the surface level, that he’s not simply sorry he got caught. Surely Rodriguez can look back on his teenaged talent, recognize his potential to be truly great, and realize that his own lies and shortcuts have ruined his legacy. Blame Sports Illustrated or Bud Selig or baseball culture all you want — Rodriguez’s fall from grace started with his own decisions.
And I honestly think baseball wants to forgive. Andy Pettitte’s steroid admission is barely a footnote in his career. Jason Giambi is beloved and even respected in the game. Mark McGwire is a hitting coach. Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Melky Cabrera have each landed lucrative contracts after PED suspensions.
But is there any hope of Rodriguez following that path? At this point, he’s drifted so far off course so many times, I’m not sure he could find the path. Instead of sincerity and forgiveness, perhaps this is a more realistic hope for these next three years of A-Rod.
1. An open discussion
Of course Rodriguez needs to apologize. Of course he needs to promise he’ll never do it again. Those statements are a a given, even if they’re ultimately meaningless and easy to ignore after all the times we’ve heard it before. What’s more important is that Rodriguez really talks about what happened. Perhaps there are legal reasons he can’t give all the details, but he can’t hide behind the law completely. Whatever questions he doesn’t answer in that inevitable spring training press conference will only be asked again and again throughout the season. Make this whole thing a little less scandalous by making it all a part of the public record.
2. A financial compromise
A contract is a contract, and the Yankees signed a bad one. They know it, we know it, and even Rodriguez must know it. The fact the Yankees haven’t gotten out of that contract already is proof enough that they’re locked in for the next three years. They might release him, but they’re still going to pay him. Where there might be middle ground is in those home run bonuses. The players’ union should back A-Rod if the Yankees refuse to pay them — it’s in the best interest of the union that contracts pay at the highest level — but the Yankees would have full public support if they were to find a way out of it. What if Rodriguez announces that every home run bonus will go to charity? What if Major League Baseball decides that a marketing clause isn’t part of a standard contract anyway, and these particular bonuses won’t count toward the luxury tax (probably a reach, but maybe not)? If there’s a way to avoid another fight, that’s a positive for everyone involved.
3. A willing No. 8 hitter
Give Rodriguez credit for this much: When Joe Girardi benched him and pinch hit for him back in 2012, Rodriguez handled it the best way possible. He didn’t complain. Didn’t duck questions. Didn’t throw Girardi under the bus or whisper negative comments about Raul Ibanez. If Girardi decides Rodriguez is little more than a platoon designated hitter, Rodriguez needs to do the same this season. He can — and should — make it clear that he’s working to be an everyday third baseman again, but he has to be nothing but supportive if and when he’s less than that. If he’s on the bench on Opening Day and batting eighth in his first start, he has to explain that he’s had a year off and is still working hard to get up to speed. If he’s better than that, great. If not, Rodriguez can’t make it even more of a story that it will be anyway.
4. A model employee (with quiet bosses)
It was in January of 2013 that news of Biogenesis first broke, and in the months that followed, Rodriguez seemed to do whatever he could to make the situation worse. He sued baseball, sued the Yankees’ doctor, claimed mistreatment, gave brutal public comments, and separated himself so significantly that Brian Cashman once admitted he wasn’t comfortable talking to his most highly paid player. It’s remarkable that Rodriguez didn’t burn every bridge in baseball that year, but here he is, still moving forward, so some bridges must still be intact. If he starts burning bridges again in 2015, he’ll truly end up on an island with no way home. But that has to go both ways. If Rodriguez is playing nice, the Yankees and Major League Baseball have to do the same. They don’t have to like one another, but if they’re going to be stuck together with some desire to make this work, they have to at least nod politely and say hello in the hallway.
5. A good enough player
This isn’t really a decision, but it might be crucial to keeping this whole thing from falling apart. Rodriguez needs to be a major-league-caliber player. He doesn’t have to be great. Doesn’t have to hit cleanup. Doesn’t have to play third base. But Rodriguez needs to play some sort of role for at least a couple of years. If not, he’s heading for a new sort of tension. It just seems too much to ask that the Yankees and Rodriguez continue to play nice while the team clearly has no reason to keep him on its roster, and we’ve seen the way Rodriguez reacts when things get desperate. Baseball’s best hope for a peaceful resolution is that Rodriguez plays well enough, provide some productive at-bats, makes no fuss about his role, and finally walks away without another fight or another scandal.
Forgiveness? Sincerity? Maybe not. Rodriguez’s career should have ended with an epic celebration throughout baseball, but at this point, the best hope might be that it ends with a peaceful handshake and a quiet walk into retirement.
Associated Press photos
Pinch hitting: Dennis Cole • 01.29.15
Today’s Pinch Hitter is Dennis Cole, the creative director for Dramatic Christian Ministries and Narrow Gate Theater. He lives in Albuquerque but travels extensively doing one-man and small-cast live theater events. He produces, directs and writes plays, including a December adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” which he called, Ebenezer Scrooge. Dennis was the sports editor for the Woodstock Townsman in Ulster County, N.Y. from 1982 to 1985 and regularly covered the Yankees.
Dennis was one of many who suggested a Pinch Hitter post about Alex Rodriguez. I chose only a few, including this one, which is a plea for forgiveness on one end and a plea for true remorse on the other end. Dennis calls his post: Alex Rodriguez, Please Come Home.
Alex Rodriguez is coming back to major league baseball. In my view there is a kind of pragmatic “let’s all get back to normal as best we can” with regard to Alex’s return. Justice was fulfilled? He paid with the 162 game suspension. He works out with Barry Bonds now.
All is forgiven! Is it?
My issue with Rodriguez is not that “we” should harp upon his crimes, but that he should be forgiven! I mean, really forgiven. The question I propose is, how?
When he was the only one implicated in the 2003 not-to-be-made-known-to-the-public PED testing, I thought that so unjust. He was one of several users, but the only one implicated. His return and ensuing play that season 2009 was admirable and victorious. It was great for Yankee fans like me.
His apology in 2009, however, was not sincere. His implication in Biogenesis showed he was still a PED user. Unfortunately, what happened after Biogenesis was worse than his use of PED’s. A-Rod, as is publicly known, initiated law suits, lied over and again by claiming his innocence, and he insinuated others’ wrongdoings in his attempt to lie his way out of trouble. He did not seem to care who it hurt, either, certainly not his team or baseball.
As in the Shakespearian tragedy “Macbeth,” we saw in A-Rod an artistic/athletic fall of majesty, a moral fall that shatters common complacency that a fall from good character does not matter anymore. Shakespeare’s tragedies always show a moral fall of character.
There is something of the boy in this boy’s game of baseball. I speak of something greater than an ideal. I speak of something very real. This “real” needs to play out. A-Rod can step up to the plate and do something great. He can be very sorry.
If A-Rod’s moral crime is not dealt with directly — i.e. he gives a public relations apology — then A-Rod will get a public relations forgiveness. There will be an unspoken cover-up by teammates, media, the public in general, all insinuating that lies do not matter. There will be a new cover-up, to cover up the lack of guilt and remorse by A- Rod.
The chance for real remorse will have come and gone, and A-Rod’s most important at bat will be a no show. The non-spoken will be the elephant in the room. Cynicism will have its way reminding us that the boy’s game is business… bad business too. It’s not good for the team to be compromised, not good for baseball, and not good for Alex Rodriguez.
Forgiveness has a standard that says there is a right way and a wrong way. If there is no right and wrong, why forgive or be forgiven? Forgiveness brings a perfect finish to an imperfect person and people. Right now, pre-season spring training, is A-Rod’s time and place for his biggest game.
In the “Lord of the Rings,” Mount Doom is the place of victory. I would love to see A-Rod’s moment of shame become his greatest win, a forever humility. I want for all to truly forgive, but for this to happen, he needs to be truly sorrowful. Real forgiveness is unconditional. What we normally give in forgiveness is conditional and partial at best. Victory for A-Rod depends on his sincere sorrow. If not one person forgave him, his victory would remain. The sign of his victory would be his heart’s desire. The joy of playing a boys game will return to him.
My prayer is this…
Take us home Alex. Be victorious by admitting “I was wrong and am so sorry.” That’s the way to win. The only way to win. If you win this one, you will see your greatest victory ever. To be truly free is better than the Hall of Fame.
Baseball is all about coming home. The team that does this most always wins. Come home, Alex. It would be your greatest home run. I for one am rooting for you. Do it for the team and for the game of life. You have lots of teammates here.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees picked Didi Gregorius to be their shortstop. They chose Chase Headley to play third base. Chris Capuano was signed to be the stopgap fifth starter, David Carpenter was added to pitch some key innings of relief, and Garrett Jones was added to back up at three key spots. We know these things because the Yankees roster seems more or less set at this point.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some position battles to watch for in spring training.
This morning’s Pinch Hitter post was all about the final out, which led to a post about who should be the Yankees closer. But choosing which reliever should handle the ninth inning isn’t the only roster decision the Yankees have to make this spring. Here are a few roster competitions to keep in mind:
1. Who starts at second base?
Right now it looks like Stephen Drew, but that doesn’t seem set in stone. Far from it, actually. A one-year deal worth $5 million doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player’s spot in the starting lineup. There a ways to get creative with the roster, and if either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder is too good to ignore, the Yankees might have to make some adjustments. Second base has a favorite heading into camp, but it doesn’t have a sure thing.
2. Is Alex Rodriguez really the designated hitter?
No one knows what to expect from this guy, which means this question goes two ways. Is it possible he could play so well that he’s more of a third baseman who gets quite a bit of time at DH? Also, is it possible that he’s so bad he can’t be trusted with regular at-bats in any role? At the very least, with Garrett Jones offering a left-handed alternative, a DH platoon seems possible. There seems to be at least some chance Rodriguez can’t stick on the roster, much less play every day.
3. What’s the shortstop situation?
Clearly the Yankees want Didi Gregorius to be their regular shortstop. Ideally, he’ll hit well enough to play against both lefties and righties, but at the very least he should be the starter against right-handed pitching. That said, the Yankees do have Drew in camp. If Gregorius falls flat on his face, could Drew take the job? It’s not remotely ideal, but there are two veteran shortstops who will provide alternatives at the position.
1. Who starts on Opening Day?
It’s not really a roster battle, so maybe this is a weak argument. But it’s certainly going to be a discussion at some point. Whether you like him on the mound or not, CC Sabathia is definitely a leader in the clubhouse, and his role as leader of the pitching staff might win him another turn on Opening Day. Masahiro Tanaka, though, is the clear ace. Frankly, the answer to this question might have more to do with health than anything else.
2. Is Chris Capuano really the No. 5 starter?
Brian Cashman has made it clear that Capuano was signed to be a starting pitcher. He’s coming to camp with a rotation spot. But logic seems to dictate that someone could force the Yankees to change their plans. What if Adam Warren works as a starter in spring training and looks fantastic? Same for Bryan Mitchell or Esmil Rogers. What about Luis Severino? Is it possible the Yankees top pitching prospect — or anyone else — could force the Yankees to change their minds at the back of the rotation?
3. What’s the sixth starter situation?
This could have an impact on another roster spot. Let’s say a guy like Chase Whitley pitches extremely well in spring training and could make the team as a long reliever, but he also looks like their best bet to make a spot start should someone get hurt early in the season. Would the Yankee carry Whitley in the bullpen or send him to Triple-A to stay stretch out? Same question for a guy like Mitchell or Jose De Paula.
1. Who’s the backup catcher?
Perhaps the second most obvious position battle in camp. The Yankees traded away Francisco Cervelli specifically to open a big league job for one of their young catching prospects. Logic says that John Ryan Murphy is the heavy favorite after he won the backup role last year while Cervelli was hurt, but Austin Romine has big league experience, some prospect potential of his own, and he’s out of options. Can he beat the odds and win the job?
2. Is Brendan Ryan really the backup infielder?
The Yankees signed Ryan to give themselves some much-needed shortstop depth for the immediate future. He backed up Derek Jeter last year, and right now he’s positioned to back up Gregorius. But with Drew also in the mix, the Yankees could cut ties with Ryan, carry Gregorius and Drew as their shortstops, and make room for either Pirela or Refsnyder or anyone else who plays too well to leave behind. Ryan seems to be going into spring training with a roster spot, but does that have to mean he’ll leave with one?
3. What’s the outfield situation?
We know the five names: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Chris Young and Garrett Jones. Those seem to be the big league outfielders — a group that bring flexibility and balance and leaves a couple of decent pinch hitters on the bench. But given all of the outfield depth in the upper levels of the minor league system, is it possible for someone else to sneak into the picture? Ramon Flores, maybe? Tyler Austin? Injury could obviously open a door, but that’s always the case. The question is whether a Triple-A outfielder could play his way to New York without an injury.
1. Who’s the seventh reliever?
I wrote that backup catcher is the second most obvious position battle. That’s because this is the most obvious. If the Yankees stick with their projected rotation, that will leave six obvious favorites for the bullpen, meaning there’s one spot that’s completely up for grabs. And it really does seem to be a wide open competition. Maybe a lefty like Chasen Shreve, a long man like Chase Whitley, a hard-thrower like Chris Martin, a prospect like Jacob Lindgren, or a total wild card like Andrew Bailey. This is the one roster spot that’s completely up the air (unless the Yankees sign a veteran closer between now and Opening Day).
2. Is Esmil Rogers really guaranteed a spot?
He has some guaranteed money tied to his new contract, but does that mean the Yankees have to stick with a guy who’s never really had sustained success in the big leagues? Clearly the Yankees think Rogers can help them — either as a spot starter or a long reliever or in short stints — but there are so many bullpen options coming to camp, it’s Rogers whose spot seems most uncertain. He’s penciled in for now. By mid March, he might not be.
3. What’s the closer situation?
This was addressed earlier today, but it’s too obvious to leave off of this list. For the first time in a long, long time, the Yankees are heading into spring training without a clear closer (even last year, Dave Robertson was the obvious choice even before he took the job). Could the Yankees choice of a closer — if it’s not Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller — impact the way they build the rest of their bullpen? Could they make a late decision to add an experienced closer to the mix?
Associated Press photos
Didn’t really expect to run a Mariano Rivera post as part of this year’s Pinch Hitters series, but I actually thought Mark’s post this morning carried some weight this winter.
Mark wrote about Rivera’s longevity, and as the Yankees look ahead to the 2015 season, longevity just might be their biggest issue. Their major investments this offseason were four-year deals with Andrew Miller and Chase Headley, but their most significant investments remain the multi-year contracts signed during past offseasons.
The longevity of Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia — their ability to remain productive, or become productive again, late in their careers — will be key to the Yankees season.
Andy Pettitte found a way to do it. Derek Jeter did it until the very end. Rivera, as Mark noted, did it consistently from start to finish.
A post about Mariano Rivera might not have seemed like a strong fit for this offseason, but a post about longevity and late-career consistency absolutely fits with the Yankees current roster.
As for the major Yankees events of the past week…
• The big news of the week was the signing of Max Scherzer to a seven-year, $210-million deal with the Nationals. The agreement officially ends any speculation that the Yankees might get into the Scherzer sweepstakes. It’s also a massive contract that will actually be paid out over the course of 14 years instead of seven. Scherzer’s signing leaves James Shields as the only real standout left on the free agent market.
• Bringing back the kind of eye-rolling attention he’s mostly avoided during the past year, it was reported this week that Alex Rodriguez has worked out with Barry Bonds this offseason. Rodriguez has also reportedly worked with Edgar Martinez as he tries to regain his form after a year-long suspension. Rodriguez is hardly the first big league hitter to get tips from Bonds, but obviously it generates some attention when two of the game’s most notorious PED users are working together.
• The Yankees have held a private workout for Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, who could get the largest signing bonus ever given to an international amateur. The 19-year-old infielder will likely become on of baseball’s top 25 prospects upon signing, but he still has to be cleared by the government to become truly available. The Yankees are believed to be one of the favorites to get him.
• Reliever Gonzalez Germen was designated for assignment after the Yankees acquired Chris Martin. This week, the Yankees sold his rights to Texas, which promptly designated him for assignment after acquiring a new catcher. Quite a winter for Gonzalez, who entered this offseason as a member of the Mets.
• YES Network officially announced that it’s reached an agreement to switch over-the-air broadcasts from MY9 to WPIX, which is Channel 11. PIX11 will televise approximately 20 games this season, and its broadcast schedule will be announced at a later date.
• Speaking of broadcasts, Yankees radio play-by-play man John Sterling’s apartment building was hit by a massive fire on Wednesday night. Sterling was not hurt and was just returning home as the fire began to engulf the building.
Associated Press photos
In today’s Pinch Hitter post, Bennett focused on the Yankees batting order. Lineup construction is always a source of fascination, and it’s still an evolving art form as we continue to learn more and more about the game. In the past decade or so, managers have changed the way they build lineups, and although most analysis finds that lineup optimization has limited impact, it does have some impact, which makes it important.
So how should the Yankees stack their batting order this season? Like everything else about this unpredictable season, it really depends on many factors.
Is Jacoby Ellsbury definitely the leadoff hitter?
Last year Ellsbury hit third, which always seemed odd considering he came to the Yankees as one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball. In theory, a healthy lineup should free Ellsbury to move back to the very top of the order this season, but that shouldn’t be a given. With Brett Gardner, the Yankees have another obvious leadoff candidate who had nearly the exactly same on-base percentage and a slightly higher OPS than Ellsbury last season. The Yankees could keep Gardner in the leadoff spot and use Ellsbury one of two ways: Either in a return to the No. 3 spot, or as the No. 2 hitter. While baseball used to lean toward batting its best hitters third, there’s been a recent move toward prioritizing the No. 2 spot. That might be where Ellsbury fits best.
Is Alex Rodriguez a good hitter? Is he even an everyday player?
This morning, Bennett proposed batting Rodriguez eighth — that’s happened before, hasn’t it? — and it makes a lot of sense. It’s been a while since A-Rod was a great, middle-of-the-order slugger, and his return from suspension isn’t exactly generating a lot of optimism. But what if he does hit? Could he be a legitimate No. 4 or 5 hitter? Is that too much to even dream about? There’s also an opposite scenario to consider. What if Rodriguez is so bad that he can’t get regular at-bats, especially against right-handed starters? If Garrett Jones is the everyday DH against righties, that raises a new batting order problem. Specifically…
How should Joe Girardi split up his left-handed hitters?
Right now, the Yankees seem to be banking on only one right-handed regular, and that’s A-Rod. Otherwise, Ellsbury, Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Brian McCann are each lefties; Headley, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira are switch hitters. It seems entirely possible, if not likely, that Ellsbury and Gardner will hit back-to-back at the top of the order — they each handle left-handed pitchers pretty well — but Drew and Gregorius have significant splits, so it’s worth keeping them separated. And the lineup becomes even more left-leaning if Jones is starting at DH. A middle-of-the-order that has Beltran, McCann, Teixeira and Headley bunched together — which isn’t an absurd idea on the surface — could leave five straight lefties (Jones, Gregorius, Drew, Ellsbury and Gardner).
Will the lineup look significantly different against lefties?
Basically, how many platoon situations are the Yankees planning to have this season? Is Chris Young going to play against most lefties to give one of the regular outfielders a day off? Is Brendan Ryan going to platoon with Gregorius at shortstop or with Drew at second base? Can Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela make the team out of camp and play regularly (or at least play regularly against lefties)? Is there anything to the idea of giving John Ryan Murphy regular reps against lefties so that McCann can either DH or take some days off? We know the American League East doesn’t have many left-handed starters these days, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t run into their share during the course of the season. How drastically will the lineup change on those days?
What should we make of Chase Headley’s strong second half?
Here’s the central point Bennett was making this morning: Headley has been a terrific hitter in the past, and since the Yankees have to bank on healthy veterans anyway, why not bank on a healthy Headley being a productive run producer? Since the alternatives aren’t all that appealing, Headley could be a middle-of-the-order guy. Problem is, Headley’s been a true power hitter only once in his career. During that standout 2012 season he slugged .498, but he’s otherwise slugged better than .400 only once, and that was in a partial season (even in 2012 he didn’t slug a ton in the first half, just went nuts after the break). Most of his career, Headley’s been more of an on-base guy, and that’s mostly what he was with the Yankees last season despite the lingering impression of those big hits along the way. His career slugging percentage is lower than Derek Jeter’s or Kelly Johnson’s. Can he be productive enough to hit in the middle, or does he have to be considered more like a No. 6-7 hitter?
Can at least one veteran seriously bounce back this season?
This might be the most important question of all. The Yankees might not be banking on much production from Rodriguez, but they’re surely counting on McCann, Beltran and Teixeira. Those are the real sources of power in this lineup, and the Yankees need at least one of them to perform like a stereotypical No. 3 or cleanup hitter. McCann slugged .519 in September (maybe that was a sign of adjustment). Teixeira slugged .474 through the end of June (that’s a good slugging percentage these days, and maybe he can maintain that pace after a normal offseason). Beltran hit .263/.311/.516 in April (maybe his May elbow injury was root of all the disappointment that came next). If one of those three can get productive and stay that way, the Yankees might have to adjust their lineup to give that guy priority at-bats.
Associated Press photos
Thinking a little more about Neils’ post this morning, who on this Yankees roster might stand out in 15-20 years? If we don’t see any iconic Yankees right now, who might be considered a franchise icon when it’s all said and done? Here are a few candidates:
To me, this is the most obvious candidate. Young starting pitcher who showed in the first half of last season that he could be a legitimate ace going forward. Obviously the situation with his elbow ligament is a problem, but even if he’s lost for a year, Tanaka could still have a full career in which to establish himself as a great Yankees pitcher. His best-case scenario certainly could let him reach icon status by the time his career is over.
Raised in Brooklyn. Developed in the Yankees system. Rookie season so good it generated Mariano Rivera comparisons. The Betances foundation could certainly build toward icon status in the future, though it takes a lot for a reliever to reach that level. Rivera got there by being the greatest of all time. Hard to expect Betances to match that level of production, so how good does he have to be to become a Yankees icon several years down the road? And does he have time to get there?
If the Yankees pickup the club option for 2019, Gardner will have been on the Yankees big league roster for 12 seasons. He’s largely exceeded expectations, his gritty-gutty reputation makes him a fan favorite in some circles, and he’s been roughly a 4 WAR player in each of his past three full seasons, with a 7.3 WAR the year before. If he’s never an all-star and never an MVP candidate, can Gardner become a legitimate Yankees icon?
Although he’s been with two organizations before coming to the Yankees, Gregorius never really established himself in either Cincinnati or Arizona. That means, if he does establish himself as an everyday shortstop in New York, he’ll most certainly be remembered as a Yankee. He turns 25 in February, which means he could easily play a full decade in pinstripes if all goes well. Will he be good enough to become a second-tier icon as Derek Jeter’s replacement? If his career takes a step forward, new starter Nathan Eovaldi could be in a similar situation.
Might not even make the big league roster this season, and he certainly might not be good enough to be anywhere near icon status. That said, Refsnyder stands out as a guy who could step into an everyday role as a homegrown player. If he reaches his absolute ceiling and plays second base for the next 10 years, Refsnyder could retire as a Yankees icon. Worth putting Aaron Judge and Luis Severino in this same conversation, but I’ll focus on Refsnyder because he seems closest to actually playing for the Yankees this year.
Played so long and so well in Cleveland that Sabathia can never be iconic in the way Jeter, Mantle or Berra is iconic. But he could be iconic in the way Goose Gossage or Paul O’Neill is iconic. Sabathia is already top 10 in career strikeouts by a Yankees pitcher, and he could — with a bounce-back end of his career — finish top 10 in wins. His Yankees winning percentage is the same as Roger Clemens and better than Ron Guidry.
A-Rod an iconic Yankee? Surely not. I guess I’m including Rodriguez largely because there should be some question of who’s making the determination. Within the Yankees fan base, Rodriguez will never be an icon. But for baseball as a whole, his career will be most directly linked to the Yankees, and he’s certainly going to be an iconic player in one way or another. Twenty years from now, it’s entirely possible that some will look at the 2015 Yankees and immediately see Rodriguez as an iconic Yankees player on the roster.
Associated Press photo
Report: A-Rod works out with Barry Bonds • 01.21.15
I’ll address Neil’s pinch hitter post a little later. For right now, a quick heads up about a report that’s inevitably going to grab some attention today.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Alex Rodriguez has been working out with Barry Bonds this offseason. The hitting sessions have occurred in San Rafael at a facility where both pros and young amateurs work out each offseason.
The story gets our attention for obvious reasons — OMG! Steroids! — but it seems more of a eye-roll scandal than an actual problem. Bonds worked with several Giants hitters last season, and the Chronicle reports specifically names Mike Morse, Brandon Crawford, Pablo Sandoval and Dexter Fowler as players how have worked with Bonds recently. Reminds me of Mark McGwire working with hitters several years ago — including former Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan — before becoming a big league hitting coach in St. Louis and Los Angeles.
Essentially, because of the names attached, the whole thing seems scandalous, but it may be a simple matter of a veteran player seeking out a proven hitter who can provide some assistance. When it comes to Rodriguez, of course, the whole thing is amplified. It’s basically the game’s two most notorious PED cheats working together, and working together at a time when one of them is trying to return from a year-long suspension. It might not be a real problem, but it’s certainly a PR mess. It’s the kind of thing Rodriguez has basically avoided since the suspension was announced.
If there’s a bright spot in the report, it’s this line from writer John Shea: “I’m told A-Rod, coming off his yearlong drug suspension, looked good after a couple of weeks at the facility, but it’s uncertain how much, if at all, he’ll play next season.”
Associated Press photo
Earlier today we looked at a few problems the Yankees would like to have in spring training (too much pitching depth, too many hitters exceeding expectations). But what if the opposite happens? What if the things that could go wrong, do go wrong? This isn’t meant to be a doomsday scenario — it’s not about unpredictable injuries or unlikely declines — but rather a look at realistic problems that could pop up based on past performance and familiar issues. How would the Yankees react if the roster begins to crumble before Opening Day?
What if Alex Rodriguez is absolutely finished?
This morning we considered a resurgent A-Rod, but what if the opposite is true? He’s 39 years old, he’s hardly played the past two years, he didn’t play at all last season, and he’s gone through multiple injuries in recent seasons. How would the Yankees react if Rodriguez is not only incapable of playing third base everyday, but is also no longer able to hit well enough to deserve regular playing time? Would Rodriguez get the benefit of the doubt for a few months, or would Joe Girardi decide he’d seen enough in spring training and open the season with Garrett Jones as the regular designated hitter against righties? Is it possible for Rodriguez to play so poorly that he’s not even worth platoon at-bats against lefties? Surely Rodriguez would have to be epically bad for the Yankees to completely cut ties.
What if Dellin Betances can’t throw strikes?
After last season, it seems like a near ridiculous idea. Betances has been a very good relief pitcher for basically a season and a half now (making a terrific transition in Triple-A, then putting together an All-Star rookie season for the Yankees). But what if some of his old minor league problems resurface in spring training? Maybe the pressure of trying repeat last season gets to him. Maybe the closer role is too much. Whatever the reason, let’s say Betances just isn’t sharp in spring training. The stuff is still great, but he’s inconsistent, and there’s a snowball effect as Betances tries to sort it out. If the Yankees don’t see the same old Betances in spring training, how thoroughly would they have to rearrange their bullpen? Would they chalk it up as an exhibition fluke and keep Betances in a key role, or would he have to prove himself all over again?
What if Didi Gregorius isn’t an everyday shortstop?
Last spring, the Diamondbacks went into spring training giving Gregorius a chance to be their everyday shortstop, and he lost the job to Chris Owings. The Yankees are already well aware that Gregorius has some flaws — he hasn’t hit well against lefties, his offense as a whole remains somewhat questionable — but they’re banking on his defense and his ability to at least hit righties. If Gregorius is a massive disappointment, would the Yankees change plans to give the shortstop job to Stephen Drew (opening second base for either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela), or are they fully committed to Gregorius regardless of spring performance? Basically, how long is the leash on a new guy who might be the Yankees shortstop of the future, or might be in over his head as an everyday player? Girardi hasn’t seen much of Gregorius. How important is his first impression?
What if the rotation really does fall apart?
This probably qualifies as a doomsday scenario, but it’s a scenario rooted in realistic possibility. We all know about Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Michael Pineda’s shoulder and CC Sabathia’s knee. We saw each of those three miss significant time last season. What happens if those three show up in spring training and immediately run into familiar injuries problems. Tanaka’s ligament can’t hold up, Pineda’s shoulder suffers another setback, and Sabathia’s body continues to break down. If the Yankees rotation basically runs into the same health problems as last season, but does it right away, would the Yankees desperately try to find replacement starters (sacrifice the farm for a guy like Cole Hamels) or would they simply roll the dice with guys like Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell, deciding this season isn’t worth trying to save?
What if there’s a clear need for firepower?
What’s the biggest source of offense the Yankees added this offseason? Garrett Jones? Chris Young? Chase Headley? A-Rod? Ultimately, the Yankees plugged a lot of holes this winter, but they didn’t necessarily add one big bat meant to make a major difference in the middle of the order. This team struggled offensively last season, and it’s really banking on bounce-back seasons from Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira to significantly boost the run production. How would they react this spring if it looks like those bounce-backs aren’t going to happen? Could a guy like Tyler Austin suddenly get a longer look? Would the Yankees accelerate the development of Aaron Judge or Greg Bird? Would they try to get regular platoon production out of Jones or Young? Would they bat Jacoby Ellsbury third again?
Associated Press photo
We’re all well aware that there’s a lot of uncertainty on this Yankees roster. That’s a bad thing if you’re looking for a dependable roster, but it could be a good thing if a few bounces go the Yankees’ way. A few players getting healthy or outperforming expectation could leave the Yankees with some good problems to have in spring training (a group of positive what-if scenarios). A little later in the day, we’ll look at the opposite (what if some things go wrong).
What if Alex Rodriguez looks really good?
Turns out those declining numbers in recent years had more to do with health than age, and a full year away from the game didn’t leave him rusty, it left him rested. The Yankees are clearly approaching this season with low expectations for Rodriguez, but it’s worth remembering that he’s one of the best all-around baseball players we’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be at his old MVP-level to be a very good everyday player. How much would a strong spring change the plans for A-Rod? Would the Yankees trust him in the cleanup spot on Opening Day (knowing having to eventually move him down in the order would cause a massive stir)? Is there any way he could play the field well enough to be the regular third baseman ahead of Chase Headley? Is a month of exhibition at-bats enough to build true confidence?
What if the new-look bullpen seems even better than last year?
Clearly the Yankees bullpen is being built around Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, but the arrival of David Carpenter and Justin Wilson gives the Yankees two more strikeout pitchers who could play roles in the late innings. Adam Warren also looked good last season. If the top five relievers all look great in spring training, would Joe Girardi be tempted to keep Betances and Miller in flexible, multi-inning roles, while opening the season with one of the smaller names pitching the ninth inning? It doesn’t seem likely right now — surely Betances or Miller will be the closer — but the Yankees know first-hand the value of dominance and depth in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Could a secondary reliever emerge as Girardi’s ninth-inning guy?
What if there’s a new Yangervis Solarte?
Except, this time, the spring training superstar isn’t a guy who came to camp on a minor league deal and a non-roster invitation. What if it’s Jose Pirela who’s simply too good to ignore this spring? Last spring, Solarte hit .429/.489/.571. If Pirela does the same while playing second base, third base, the outfield corners and maybe even a little bit of shortstop — proving he could play there in an absolute pinch — wouldn’t the Yankees have to find a way to carry him? Could he replace Chris Young as the right-handed fourth outfielder? Could he replace Brendan Ryan as the spare middle infielder (and would that depend on the Yankees confidence in Didi Gregorius)? Could he play his way into an everyday job at second base, pushing Stephen Drew into a true backup role?
What if Luis Severino is one of the five best starters in camp?
The Yankees still haven’t announced their non-roster invitees, but their top pitching prospect seems like a safe bet to get at least a brief look in spring training. Severino turns 21 on the day pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, and he made six Double-A starts last season. He’s not exactly knocking on the door to the big leagues, but he’s put himself in a position where he could be on the radar fairly soon. Is a strong spring — I mean, really strong spring — enough to put him on that radar right away? Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day rotation, could Severino pitch well enough in spring training that he’s a lock for Triple-A with an eye on being the first call-up when the Yankees inevitably need pitching help? Basically, how much could an overwhelming spring impression accelerate Severino’s development clock?
What if Austin Romine outplays John Ryan Murphy?
Last season made it clear that Murphy has jumped ahead of Romine on the catching depth chart, but that wasn’t always the case. At one point, Romine ranked as the second-best prospect in the entire system according to Baseball America, and this spring could be his last chance to stick witht he Yankees. If Romine clearly outplays Murphy in big league camp — it’s worth noting that their Triple-A numbers were fairly similar last year — could he win the backup job? It’s a question complicated by the presence of Gary Sanchez, who seems ready to graduate to Triple-A, meaning Murphy could be optioned into a part-time role even in the minors. Does a terrific spring by Romine simply increase the chances he or Murphy gets traded?
Associated Press photos