The Yankees first spring workout is 10 days away, so this seems like a good time to start a countdown looking at the major issues the Yankees have to figure out in spring training. I’ve picked 10 items and tried to put them in some sort of order from least important to most important.
We’ll start with a decision that seems pretty straight forward.
Who should be the Yankees backup catcher on Opening Day?
Brian McCann is locked in as the starter, and Francisco Cervelli is out of the mix following his trade to Pittsburgh. That leaves the Yankees with only two logical candidates: either John Ryan Murphy or Austin Romine. Based on last season, Murphy seems to be the heavy favorite. He’s the one who played the role while Cervelli was hurt last season, and he’s the one who got a call-up when rosters expanded on September 1 (Romine didn’t get a September call-up until later in the month when Cervelli had migraine issues).
That said, it wasn’t so long ago that Romine was clearly considered a better catching prospect than Murphy. Romine is also out of options, while Murphy is not. This seems to be a fairly easy choice — which is why it ranks 10th on my list of spring decisions — but it might not be a slam dunk. A quick look at the two candidates:
Early in his career, Murphy spent some time at third base while he battled some doubts about his ability to stay behind the plate. In recent years, those doubts have subsided, and the Yankees seem to like him defensively. Although last year’s Triple-A stats don’t really show it, Murphy’s bat has always been his calling card. He spent two months in the big leagues last season, and midway through that stint he was hitting .400/.419/.533 in part-time duty.
Unlike Murphy, Romine came into pro ball with a pretty good defensive reputation, and from the end of the 2008 season to the start of the 2012 season, he consistently ranked among the organization’s top 10 prospects. He was an emergency call-up in late 2011 and finally got his first extended big league opportunity in 2013 when he was up for most of the season and hit .271/.343/.407 after the All-Star break. His bat went through extreme highs and lows in Triple-A last season.
While the Yankees do have other catchers coming to camp — including Gary Sanchez, who’s on the 40-man, and Eddy Rodriguez, who has some big league time — the backup catcher decision really does seem to come down to these two. There’s no veteran, Bobby Wilson-type on the spring roster this time. As long as McCann stays healthy, the roster seems to have room for either Murphy or Romine, but not both.
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
On the 40-man: Austin Romine • 01.18.15
Still taking a look at every individual player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next examine a young catcher who’s spot on the roster may be lost in the Yankees overall depth at the position.
Age on Opening Day: 26
Acquired: Second-round pick in the 2007 draft
Added to the 40-man: As a late September call-up in 2011
In the past: In 2006, the Yankees signed a young international catcher named Jesus Montero. In 2007, they used two of their top six draft picks on catchers (Romine and sixth-rounder Chase Weems). Two years later, they again used a second-round pick on a catcher (John Ryan Murphy) and again signed an international catcher (Gary Sanchez). It was a massive influx of catching talent in a relatively small amount of time, and Romine was a legitimate standout ranking among Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankees prospects in four straight years (twice Baseball America ranked him among the Top 100 prospects in all of baseball). His first extended big league opportunity came in 2013, and when he struggled at the plate, Romine seemed to be instantly overshadowed.
Role in 2015: Although Romine got into 60 big league games the year before — and actually hit pretty well from mid-July to the end of August of 2013 — it was Murphy who got the call-up last season when the Yankees needed a new backup catcher. And when last September rolled around, it was Murphy who got an immediate September call-up while Romine waited for yet another injury to basically force the Yankees to add him to the roster. Romine will come into spring training with at least some chance of making the Yankees roster, but with Murphy clearly ahead of him in the current pecking order, Romine could easily be crowded out of the picture. And since he’s out of options, he could be pushed all the way out of the organization.
Best case scenario: Because he didn’t hit much in Triple-A last season, and because Murphy has clearly surpassed him in terms of prospect buzz, it’s easy to forget that Romine was once considered a pretty good prospect. His defensive skills have generally gotten good reviews, and there was once a belief that he’d eventually provide a pretty solid bat with some power. While the backup catching role seems to Murphy’s to lose, the Yankees best hope is that Romine makes it a tough decision and reminds them that he once seemed to have the brighter future.
Worst case scenario: There’s really not a spot for Romine right now. Murphy seems heading toward the backup job in New York, Sanchez is clearly ticketed for Triple-A, and that leaves Romine appearing to be on the outside looking in. Even if he clears waivers and gets assigned to Triple-A, how often is he going to play behind a guy like Sanchez who clearly deserves and needs most of the playing time behind the plate? The worst-case scenario, it seems, it Romine being completely lost in the shuffle and losing — both for his sake and the Yankees’ sake — any chance to reestablish himself.
What the future holds: Could be that Romine’s future is elsewhere, but the Yankees have recognized that all winter, and they’ve still kept him on the roster. Why? Maybe because Murphy could be hurt in spring training. Maybe because Romine’s still just 26 and not at all a lost cause. Maybe because they’re not ready to give up on him just yet. Right now, the roster is stacked against him and Romine might be better off in another organization. Spring training may very well determine whether he has any sort of future in New York.
Associated Press photo
We’ve known for months that the Yankees would lose their longest-tenured, homegrown player this offseason. But as it’s turned out, Derek Jeter’s not not the organization’s only familiar face who’s moved on this winter. The Yankees lost some of their other longest-tenured, homegrown players when Zoilo Almonte reached free agency, Francisco Cervelli was traded to Pittsburgh, and Dave Robertson signed a contract with the White Sox.
It’s now kind of amazing now to look at which players stand as the longest-tenured Yankees who have never played for another organization. Based on the year they were acquired (without nitpicking about the precise date) here are the 10 longest-tenured, homegrown Yankees who remain in the system.
1. Ivan Nova
Signed: international free agent, 2004
Debut: May 13, 2010
The Yankees nearly lost Nova before they had a chance to really see what he could do. Back in 2008, Nova was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, and the Padres picked him. Coming off a solid but uninspiring year in High-A, Nova got a little bit of a look in spring training, didn’t make the San Diego roster, and returned to the Yankees. The next year, he was added to the 40-man roster, and now he stands — with the next two players on this list — as one of the top three homegrown big leaguers in the organization. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, but would otherwise have a rotation spot waiting for him in spring training.
2. Brett Gardner
Signed: amateur draft, 2005
Debut: June 30, 2008
One of the most talked-about drafts of the past several decades, the 2005 draft was mostly a bust for the Yankees. They thoroughly missed the boat on first-rounder C.J. Henry, and second-rounder J.B. Cox was too injured to ever reach his future-closer ceiling, but their third-round pick was one of their most successful of the decade. Gardner has outplayed his detractors to become a legitimate everyday outfielder, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a long-term deal through the 2018 season. By the way, despite being mostly a bust for the Yankees, that 2005 draft also yielded Austin Jackson, another of the Yankees best draft picks of the past decade.
3. Dellin Betances
Signed: amateur draft, 2006
Debut: September 22, 2011
That 2006 draft class was a great one for the Yankees. Ten picks made it to the majors and seven are still legitimate big leaguers in some capacity, but the only one who’s still with the Yankees is Betances. Slow to develop with a lot of bumps along the way, Betances could very well replace one of his draft-mates as the Yankees closer this season. The other members of that Yankees draft class to reach the big leagues: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Zach McAllister, Colin Curtis, George Kontos, Mark Melancon, Daniel McCutchen, Dave Robertson and Kevin Russo.
4. Jose Pirela
Signed: international free agent, 2006
Debut: September 22, 2014
Signed out of Venezuela, Pirela built some prospect status as a teenager in the lower levels of the minor league system. As he climbed into the upper levels, though, he was moved away from shortstop, his offensive production faded and Pirela more or less fell off the prospect map. He hit his way back on the map with a couple of strong years in Double-A, a potent year in Triple-A, and finally a September call-up. Now with a spot on the 40-man roster, Pirela has a legitimate chance to win a big league bench job. And he’s still just 25 years old.
5. Austin Romine
Signed: amateur draft, 2007
Debut: September 11, 2011
Immediately after that successful class of 2006, the Yankees had a real letdown with the draft of 2007. Andrew Brackman was the first rounder, and the only others to actually reach New York were Brandon Laird and Romine. There’s a solid chance that, by the end of spring training, the Yankees won’t have anyone from that class left in the organization. Remarkably, shortstop Carmen Angelini — largely seen as a bust — is actually one of the more successful members of that class.
6. Jose Ramirez
Signed: international free agent, 2007
Debut: June 4, 2014
On the 40-man roster, with 10 innings of big league experience and his 25th birthday coming up in January, Ramirez is a longtime prospect who’s put himself in position to begin playing a legitimate role in the big leagues. Of course, that’s largely a matter of staying healthy, which has been an issue throughout his career. Once seen as a high-potential rotation prospect, Ramirez is now an interesting bullpen option. From a year when the Yankees didn’t add much lasting talent into the organization, Ramirez stands out as a possible exception. He could play at least some role in the immediate and long-term future.
7. Ali Castillo
Signed: international free agent, 2007
Doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man roster, and doesn’t have much chance of actually playing a role in New York, but Castillo remains one of the longest-tenured players in the organization. Signed out of Venezuela in late 2007, he’s been essentially an organizational utility man. He’s putting up nice numbers in winter ball this offseason, and he spent the regular season as the starting shortstop in Double-A Trenton. He signed a new minor league deal this fall. Could play a role in Triple-A this season, if only because the Yankees lack middle infield alternatives.
8. David Phelps
Signed: amateur draft, 2008
Debut: April 8, 2012
In the first 10 rounds of the 2008 draft, the Yankees selected five guys who have reached the big leagues. Their top pick was Gerrit Cole (who wouldn’t sign and wound up with the Pirates years later), then they went on to draft David Adams, Corban Joseph, Brett Marshall and D.J. Mitchell. Those four played minor roles in New York, and it’s now 14th rounder Phelps who stands out as the key piece of that draft class. That draft class, by the way, is the one that just reached free agent status this offseason, so Phelps really has emerged as the last man standing (though catcher Kyle Higashioka has re-signed on a minor league deal).
9. Manny Banuelos
Signed: international free agent, 2008
Two years ago, it seemed Banuelos was knocking on the door to the big leagues and on the verge of taking a lasting spot in the Yankees rotation. Then he had Tommy John surgery and his steady climb was thrown off track. Now Baneulos is back to the doorstep of the big leagues, but taking that next step will be a matter of pitching effectively one year after an inconsistent season in Double-A and Triple-A. Banuelos still has an option remaining, so he doesn’t have to make the big league roster out of spring training. It remains to be seen whether he’ll live up to his lofty potential and become a rotation mainstay for years to come.
10. Ramon Flores
Signed: international free agent, 2008
There are a few other players from the international class of 2008 who are still hanging around, but Flores and Banuelos stand out as the ones with easily the most reasonable chance of actually playing a role in New York at some point (the others are not on the 40-man and not making much impact in system). Back in 2008, Flores got the 10th-highest bonus during the international signing period (he was a much bigger name than Baneulos at the time). If it seems lousy that the Yankees have so little impact from that international class, check out the other names who got top-20 international bonuses that year. Those young international guys always come with a high level of risk.
Associated Press photo
Just a few late afternoon notes on this first day of the offseason:
• A source said this morning that the Yankees have been granted a fourth option year for outfielder Eury Perez, the 24-year-old claimed off waivers from the Nationals at the end of September. Perez has speed and pretty good minor league numbers, and he could be a right-handed fourth outfielder candidate next season. The fact the Yankees can send him to the minors, though, makes it a little easier to keep him on the 40-man roster.
• Along those same lines, I was told that “it does not appear” that Austin Romine will qualify for a fourth option year. That means he’ll be out of options next season. He’ll either have to make the big league team or face the uncertainty of waivers (assuming the Yankees don’t make a move with him this winter).
• Here’s an interesting idea: George King reports a belief that the Yankees are interested in talking to Raul Ibanez about becoming their hitting coach. It’s an interesting idea mostly because Ibanez really does carry himself like he’s a coach already. He communicates well, and the Royals basically treated him as a coach through the playoffs. Ibanez has no coaching experience, and there’s no telling whether he’d even want the job, but it’s an interesting possibility.
• While the Yankees will surely be in the market for some third base help this offseason, they could face some competition from their rivals in Boston. Jon Heyman reports that the Red Sox are interested in both Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley as alternatives to Will Middlebrooks. This surely comes as little surprise, but it further supports the idea that signing Headley is going to require basically a full-time job and a significant contract. He’s not likely to rejoin the Yankees strictly as a backup or alternative to Alex Rodriguez. Most likely, bringing Headley back basically means giving him the third base job.
• The Baseball Hall of Fame announced the 10-person ballot being considered on the Golden Era ballot this winter. The group will be reviewed and voted upon at the Winter Meetings on December 8. Here are the candidates: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.
Associated Press photo
Last winter, the Yankees picked their everyday catcher. They signed Brian McCann, locked him into a long-term deal and basically cemented his spot in the regular lineup. It’s McCann’s job, and there was nothing about his slow start last season that put him at risk of losing that job, just like there was nothing about his strong month of September that helped him keep the job.
McCann’s the Yankees catcher. Going to be that way for the next several years.
This winter, the Yankees have to pick their backup. At the very least they need to trim the field from three to two. Carrying Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine was an overabundance during the season, and it’s pretty wasteful this winter.
Gary Sanchez is going to need Triple-A at-bats next season, and there’s little sense in making both Murphy and Romine sit around. Pretty sure Romine’s out of options anyway, so sending him to Triple-A might not even be an option.
“I think they get frustrated up and down in Triple-A,” Mark Newman said. “At some point you’ve got to either put them up there or trade them because they’ll die (if you leave them in the minors). You’ll destroy their value and then you won’t get anything for them.”
Neither Murphy nor Romine hit a ton in the minors this season, but you have to wonder how much of that was due to frustration, uncertainty and maybe even a little boredom. Murphy certainly held his own when he was in the big leagues, and Romine did the same late in his big league stint during the 2013 season.
They’ve done enough to at least compete head-to-head for a big league job in spring training.
That said, Cervelli is looking more and more like a pretty nice player. At the very least I’d consider him a high-end reserve, and he just might be a lower-end regular. He’s hit pretty well and pitchers seem to like throwing to him. He’s done nothing to lose his job. In fact, it’s largely to his credit that Murphy and Romine were stuck in the minors most of the season. Cervelli played well when he was healthy, and he earned the gig.
So what to do this winter? If there’s a team out there that values Cervelli as a potential starter, and is willing to treat him as such on the trade market, that seems like the obvious way to go. Trading Cervelli lets the Yankees get younger and cheaper. That said, Cervelli is still not overly expensive or particularly old, and if there’s significant value in trading Murphy or Romine, that would make sense as well.
Associated Press photos
Pregame notes: “I think the fatigue is done” • 09.06.14
After a 34-pitch bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka declared his arm soreness to be a thing of the past.
“I feel that it’s way stronger than it was, so way better,” Tanaka said. “I think the fatigue is done.”
For many obvious reasons, that’s reassuring news for the Yankees who absolutely want to get Tanaka into a game this season to make sure his injection-and-rehab protocol has solved his torn ligament issue. The Yankees have made it clear that — even if they’re eliminated from the playoffs — they plan to get Tanaka into a game this season.
And they’re so confident that they have enough time to make that happen, that Joe Girardi largely dismissed the idea of creating games for Tanaka to pitch in October.
“I guess that would be possible,” Girardi said. “But our belief is that he’ll be in games with us. … You have to get him in games to resolve the situation. That’s the bottom line because you can’t wait until next spring to resolve it. So it needs to resolve, and we’ll do everything we can to get him in games before we leave.”
Tanaka sounds similarly confident. After having his throwing program temporarily shut down last weekend because of arm fatigue, he seems back on track. Girardi said the team will meet with the training staff to decide whether the next step is live batting practice or another simulated game.
“Not worried (about how the arm will feel tomorrow),” Tanaka said. “One, because it was a bullpen today, and two, that I really do feel that I’m getting stronger, so I’m really not worried about it.”
• As reported last night by Sweeny Murti, the Yankees have recalled catcher Austin Romine to give them some additional depth. They need it because Francisco Cervelli is dealing with migraines and won’t be available today. “From the neurologist standpoint, it wasn’t concussion related,” Girardi said. “I’m a migraine sufferer. They’re no fun. Sometimes they come in clusters where you’ll get them a couple days in a row and that’s even worse most of the time I can take my medicine and I’m ok. There’s been a couple times where I’ve had to go to the hospital to get rid of them but hopefully it’s just something he’s going through it and he’ll get through it.”
• Martin Prado is in the lineup, and all indications are that he’ll play today. But the lineup was set before batting practice. “If I have to change it, I’ll change it,” Girardi said. So far, that doesn’t seem necessary.
• Royals starter Danny Duffy has been very good this year, and he’s been especially good against lefties who are hitting just .129/.205/.155 against him. Jacoby Ellsbury is the only lefty in the Yankees lineup today.
• The Yankees have announced that tomorrow’s first pitch has been pushed back to 1:35 p.m. to allow time for the Derek Jeter pregame ceremony. Jeter’s family, several former teammates, and other unannounced “special guests” will take part. “I don’t know anything,” Jeter said. “I haven’t been told. I don’t even know what time I have to be here tomorrow. I don’t know a thing. I don’t know if that’s by design, but no one’s told me anything. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to something that I assume would be pretty special.”
• Have to assume Dave Winfield will be here, right? That’s Jeter’s childhood idol. Another popular guess in the press box has been Michael Jordan and maybe other great non-baseball athletes to show Jeter’s overall impact and appeal.
• Does having a ceremony like this affect Jeter’s approach in the middle of such a desperate push toward the playoffs? “It doesn’t because my mindset is one day at a time,” Jeter said. “I’m thinking about today. I’m not thinking about tomorrow.”
Associated Press photos
Last night, Chase Headley stood in front of his locker and talked about confidence and momentum. Tonight he stood in that exact same spot and talked about the fact that one hard-hit ground ball was enough to beat this team that he believes in so completely.
“You never are resigned to the fact that that’s going to cost you,” Headley said. “But obviously it did. It’s a tough way to lose a game.”
That one ground ball was a third-inning scorcher that took a late hop just past his glove. He said he played it pretty well, but he didn’t anticipate the kick and so the ball got by him. When the Royals followed with a single, they had all the offense they needed.
One unearned run, that’s the game-by-game margin for error with an offense that tends to disappear on occasion. As for the season’s margin for error — the one that determines whether the Yankees actually make a run toward the playoffs — that seems just as narrow.
“They’re all damaging at this point because it just makes it that much tougher,” manager Joe Girardi said. “… It’s just frustrating because you lose by one run. Whether its 2-1 or 3-2, it’s frustrating. We just really never got anything going.”
There’s little debate that James Shields is an extremely good pitcher. The Yankees were able to get to him two weeks ago in Kansas City, but the guy has a 3.23 ERA for a reason. He’s awfully good, and it was clear pretty early that Shields had his good stuff tonight. In another season, in a different situation, it would be a good night to tip a cap and move on.
But the Yankees don’t have that luxury at this point. Shields was great. The Yankees needed to be better, and they weren’t.
• Definitely Michael Pineda’s best start since coming off the disabled list, and probably his best start of the year. He pitched through the seventh inning for the first time, and that one unearned run was the only damage he allowed. He’s the second Yankees starter in the past 10 years to take a loss despite not allowing an earned run. The other was all-time good guy Dan Giese who did it in 2008.
• Pineda struck out four and walked none. He has 19 strikeouts and only one walk in his past six starts.
• Pineda has allowed two earned runs or less in each of his nine starts with the Yankees. Mike Axisa pointed out on Twitter that Pineda has a 1.80 ERA, but the Yankees at 3-6 in his starts. Brutal. Just brutal.
• Three of the seven times the Yankees have been shutout this season, it’s happened in games started by Pineda. But at least he’s used to it. He has just 18 runs of support in his past 13 major league starts dating back to August 27, 2011.
• What was working for Pineda? “Tonight, my changeup was working pretty good,” he said. “And my fastball too. Everything was working good. And I have control and good command of the ball tonight.” That’s a pretty good combination for him.
• Our friend Sweeny Murti is reporting that Francisco Cervelli is dealing with some severe headache issues. To give the Yankees an extra catcher, Austin Romine is expected to join the team.
• Headley on his costly error: “Hard-hit groundball. Got down. It kicked up over my glove. I watched it a few times. Technique-wise there’s probably not a whole lot I could have done different. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch it. It’s a play that I’d like to make, but it just didn’t happen.”
• Less than two weeks ago, the Yankees had six runs and 10 hits against James Shields. “He pitched way different than the Shields that we faced in Kansas City,” Carlos Beltran said. “Today he was using a lot of cutters and the changeup away so basically he keep us off balanced all game long and we couldn’t do anything until the ninth.”
• Speaking of the ninth, Antoan Richardson got a chance for redemption after being doubled up last night. This time he stole the base he needed — looked to me like he would have been safe even if the ball hadn’t gotten past the catcher — but the Yankees left him stranded.
• Beltran struck out against Wade Davis to end the game. “He tried to throw me some good pitches on the corner on the edges,” Beltran said. “And (he) threw me a 94 (MPH) cutter inside and he stayed away after that with a good fastball. … I guess today is the first time I faced that guy so I was basically looking for a good pitch to hit, and at the end of the day he was able to win the battle.”
• Davis struck out the two batters he faced tonight. He extended his lead-leading scoreless innings streak to 28.2 innings. He hasn’t allowed a run since June 25. This was his first save of the season.
• Dellin Betances pitched a perfect eighth inning and now has 124 strikeouts in 82 innings, passing Goose Gossage for the second-most strikeouts by a Yankees reliever in a single season. Mariano Rivera still has the record — for now — with 130 in 1996.
• Final word to Girardi: “(James) just didn’t make any mistakes. There were no balls in the middle of the plate. It seemd like he used all his stuff effectively, whether it was his fastball early in the count, his cutter, his curveball or his changeup, they were all effective tonight. A jam shot here, just missed a ball there, he was really on.”
Associated Press photos
Joe Girardi made a change at the top of the order today, just not the change so many have been suggesting. Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the leadoff spot, Brett Gardner is batting third for the first time, and Derek Jeter is still right in between them as the No. 2 hitter.
“For the first four months of the year, he was probably one of our most consistent hitters,” Girardi said. “One of the three most consistent hitters in our club. I consider us kind of to be in playoff mode right now, for us, because we obviously need to win games. Throughout his career, he’s been clutch in the playoffs, and we’re leaving him there. He’s a hot topic always just because of who he is, but there’s other issues that we have in our club that we have to get better at as well.”
Is there pressure to keep Jeter in that spot for his final month?
“No, not necessarily,” Girardi said. “… If I had eight other guys hitting .300, it probably wouldn’t be difficult (to move him down). When you look up and down at our numbers, we’ve had a number of guys that have had tough years. Years that we wouldn’t have projected. So (if) I move him, who am I going to put there? That’s my question. Who you going to move there that’s been more consistent during the course of the season. We haven’t hit collectively as a team, and to single him out is not fair. … (Rank) 13 out of 15 in runs scored. That’s not all Derek’s fault. That’s collectively we haven’t hit.”
Of course, it’s hard to know how much of Girardi’s persistence with Jeter is because of external pressure — because of who Jeter is and what his final season means — and how much is because of the disappointing hitters around him. The Yankees really haven’t had many consistent alternatives. Martin Prado is hot right now, but his first few weeks with the team were underwhelming. Gardner is coming off a bad month. Mark Teixeira is coming off a terrible month.
“(Jeter) could hit .600 and if the other guys don’t produce around him and through the lineup, then it’s not going to matter what he hits,” Girardi said. “So, as I said, it’s going to have to be a collection of all these guys that can swing the bat extremely well. And if one guy’s not, the other guy picks him up. That’s the bottom line.”
• Masahiro Tanaka has been examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad, who diagnosed him with nothing more than arm fatigue. “Every manual test that they did came out really well,” Girardi said. “They just said he had some arm fatigue. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen sometime this week and hopefully he’s ready to do it.” Tanaka played catch today and apparently had no issues.
• For those confused by the move: Putting Tanaka on the 60-day doesn’t really mean much. Those moves are always retroactive, and he’s missed close to 60 days already. He could still come back this season.
• David Phelps threw a 25-pitch bullpen this afternoon (fastballs and changeups), and he’s scheduled for a 35-pitch bullpen on Friday (all of his pitches). Phelps said he expects to throw a simulated game on Sunday, and that might be the final step toward getting him off the disabled list and into the bullpen. “I know that we’ve been going kind of conservative with it just to make sure everything comes back,” Phelps said. “All of the steps have been good along the way, so it shouldn’t be too long.”
• Of the Yankees eight September call-ups, five are relievers. Two of those — Whitley and Mitchell — are basically long men. “Obviously pitching is always important this time of year,” Girardi said. “It gives you more options, with a doubleheader coming up eventually here.”
• Why John Ryan Murphy but not Austin Romine? “The organization made the decision to go with (Murphy),” Girardi said. “Obviously I don’t get to see either one of them play a lot. So they went with Murphy.”
• Not much of a surprise that Chris Young got a call-up. I have to imagine that was a condition of any contract he was looking to sign after being released. “(He’s) been pretty productive in his career off left-handers,” Girardi said.
• If there’s a surprise among the call-ups, it’s certainly Antoan Richardson. “Speed off the bench,” Girardi said. Richardson played with Atlanta a little bit in 2011. He was 26-for-27 stealing bases with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he also had a .380 on-base percentage. Kind of a custom-made September call-up, just wasn’t sure the Yankees would actually make the move to get him on the 40-man.
• Zoilo Almonte was designated for assignment after leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in home runs and RBI this season. After Almonte struggled in New York last season, Girardi just never seemed to have much faith in his ability to hit big league right-handers the way he did in Triple-A. His splits are so extreme that, despite being a switch hitter, he’s likely a platoon player at best. Last year might have been his opportunity to show something, but he hit .236/.274/.302 (vRHP .250/.296/.342).
• Why Gardner batting third? “He’s probably been as good against right-handers as anyone in our lineup,” Girardi said. “I left Jake in the one hole. My concern in switching the guys when they both were going well was that they’re both going well, why move them. So I put Jake in the one hole when Gardy got hurt and he did extremely well. I’ll leave him there and just put Gardy third.”
• On Ellsbury’s health: “I saw him run on Sunday, which, I was really encouraged,” Girardi said. “He said he felt better yesterday and felt better today and that’s why I have him in center. In saying that, I told him, look, if you feel that it’s an issue out there you’ve got to let me know. If you feel you need to DH a day, you have to let me know.”
Associated Press photos
Looking ahead to September • 08.18.14
This post contains way too many words about possible September call-ups.
Why is this way too many? Because aside from the possibility of a left-handed reliever, there really don’t seem to be any impact September call-ups on the horizon. A few guys will come up to provide pitching and bench depth, but that’s about it. There isn’t a ton of playing time up for grabs, and there aren’t many obvious auditions that could take place. A left-handed reliever might get into some key situations, but that’s about it. If the Yankees fall completely out of contention, I suppose they could give a guy like Bryan Mitchell a start or maybe give Zoilo Almonte a chance to make a fresh impression with some right field starts. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t expect a ton out of the September additions.
But, I like minor league baseball and I think September call-ups are interesting, so here are a few thoughts and possibilities broken into four pretty typical September call-up categories.
Pretty standard September addition. The Yankees have been playing with an eight-man pitching staff for quite a while now, but even so, they’re still likely to add a few guys just to give them depth down the stretch.
Best bet: RHP Bryan Mitchell
He’s been up and down a few times, and he’s been pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation. He’s pretty much custom-made for providing innings, and there’s a real benefit to giving him some more big league experience. Seems like a strong candidate to be a rotation candidate at some point next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A.
Keep in mind: RHP David Phelps
Worth remembering that Phelps is currently on the disabled list but due to be reevaluated today. Phelps was pitching pretty well before that mess of a start in Boston, and he could certainly move right back into the rotation once he’s healthy again. That could essentially push Chris Capuano into a bullpen role as another long man.
Uncertainty: RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Matt Daley
Both are on the 40-man roster, but both are also on the Triple-A disabled list. If they’re healthy, it would be easy to call up both Claiborne and Daley to be extra middle-inning or extra-inning arms. Claiborne seems pretty close to coming off the disabled list. Another injured Triple-A reliever, Jose Ramirez, won’t be healthy in time to come up next month.
Worth mentioning: RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa
Montgomery and Burawa have been demoted to Double-A, which probably isn’t a good sign for them getting a call-up to the big leagues. Worth mentioning, though, because all four have been pretty good at times this season, and all four should be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If any of these pitchers are going to be protected in the offseason, might make sense to go ahead and add them to the roster now. My guess would be that Pinder is at the top of this particular pecking order right now. Veteran RHP Jim Miller could also be part of this discussion if the Yankees want a short-term roster addition just to provide some innings.
Probably not: RHP Nick Rumbelow
He’s moved quickly through the system and has been alright since getting to Triple-A, but he’s not Rule 5 eligible yet and there’s probably no reason to have him filling a 40-man spot all winter just so he can get a mopup inning or two in September.
The Yankees might very well bring up a new lefty before September 1, but given the fact they’re not carrying a true left-on-left specialist, it seems like a solid bet that they’ll eventually give some young lefty a call-up. Might even try more than one.
Best bet: LHP Manny Banuelos
Can’t say for certain that Banuelos is the “best bet” to come up as a left-on-left reliever, but he’s the only option who’s currently on the 40-man roster. He’s also pitched pretty well lately, which is surely easing some of the concerns about his early season inconsistency. Whether a career starter — and a young one at that — would be a viable situational lefty, I have no idea. But having a spot on the 40-man makes him an easy call-up if the Yankees want to either get his feet wet or see what he can do in a fairly important role.
Keep in mind: LHP Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees first-round draft pick back in June was a college reliever who throws pretty hard from the left side, and the Yankees have already pushed him all the way to Double-A. Pitching in Trenton isn’t exactly knocking on the door, but Lindgren has a big arm and a bunch of strikeouts and it’s not unheard of for a team to push a college reliever all the way to the big leagues in his first pro season.
Uncertainty: LHP Chris Capuano
He won’t be a September call-up, but Capuano factors into this discussion because of David Phelps. If Phelps is ready to return to the rotation fairly quickly, he could takeover for Capuano, who could move into a left-on-left role out of the bullpen. A possibility if the Yankees aren’t sure any of the young guys can handle the job.
Worth mentioning: LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, LHP Francisco Rondon, SHP Pat Venditte
My guess is that all of these except Webb should be considered real long shots. I mention Pazos because he has good numbers in Double-A and the Yankees seem to like his arm; Rondon because he was once on the 40-man and has had the Yankees attention at various points; and Venditte because he’s been a pretty solid reliever for years now and has generally been pretty good with that side-arm delivery against lefties. Webb, though, is the left-handed relief prospect who’s most on the radar. Doesn’t have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft yet, but the Yankees have been pretty aggressive with him and he’s probably their most advanced left-handed relief prospect.
Probably not: LHP Nik Turley
There are actually a ton of lefties on the Triple-A pitching staff right now, including Turley, Matt Tracy and Jeremy Bleich, all of whom would be capable of giving multiple innings and — in theory — matching up against a left-handed hitter. My thinking, though, is: If the Yankees are going to try a long-time starter in this role in September, why not just try Banuelos? That’s easier than putting some of the other non-traditional relievers onto the roster. Know who else is a probably not? Cesar Cabral. The guy was actually in the big leagues at one point this year, but he’s fallen completely off the radar. Double-A lefties are knocking him around.
Happens basically every September that teams give themselves an extra catcher for the final month of the season. The question with the Yankees isn’t whether they’ll call up a third catcher, it’s whether they’ll call up a fourth catcher.
Best bet: C John Ryan Murphy
Even thought it was Austin Romine who came up when Brian McCann went on the disabled list, I’m still going to bet that Murphy is the best bet for a September call-up. I’m basing that almost entirely on the fact that Murphy played well during his extended big league call-up earlier this season, and based on the fact that Mark Newman has said Murphy is likely to come off the Triple-A disabled list pretty soon.
Keep in mind: C Austin Romine
These days, Murphy generates much more prospect buzz than Romine. But, down in Triple-A, it’s actually Romine who has better offensive numbers this season. He’s also played a decent amount of first base and could, in theory, fill in for Mark Teixeira in some late innings. Romine hasn’t played much in August, but he hit .342/.385/.466 in July, and it’s not like the big league staff is unfamiliar with him.
Uncertainty: Why not both?
Does it make sense to go ahead and bring both Murphy and Romine to the big leagues in September? Maybe leave one of them behind to play that last Triple-A game, and then just carry four catchers in the final month? In blowouts, one could get behind the plate and the other could rest Teixeira by playing first base.
Worth mentioning: C Francisco Cervelli
There’s only one other catcher call-up candidate worth mentioning, and we’ll get to him in a second. For now, it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees are facing an offseason decision about whether to bring back Cervelli — who’s been awfully good — or to give the backup catcher job fulltime to either Murphy or Romine. If the Yankees are out of it in September, one of these September call-up catchers could step into some serious playing time just to see what they’ve got.
Probably not: C Gary Sanchez
He’s on the 40-man roster, and he’s one of the biggest names in the Yankees minor league system, but it’s hard to predict a Sanchez call-up this year. He’s been alright this season, but he’s also been benched for disciplinary reasons, and it’s hard to imagine much playing time being available for him. Just doesn’t seem that he’s on the verge of getting his feet wet, but I guess you never know. If he’s sorted out his disciplinary issues, maybe he’s rewarded. My guess is that he won’t be.
VERSATILITY ON THE BENCH
There’s no one currently in the system who seems on the verge of a September call-up to play a significant role in the everyday lineup. Position players who come up are most likely going to be complimentary pieces given very occasional playing time.
Best bet: OF Zoilo Almonte
Joe Girardi hasn’t seemed sold on Almonte ever since his so-so performance last season, but he’s still a powerful left-handed hitter — technically switch hitter, but he’s significantly better from the left side — and he’s on the 40-man roster with some big league time already this season. Not sure he’ll actually get at-bats, but he seems like an obvious choice to bring up at least serve as an option for some pop as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon starter.
Keep in mind: UT Zelous Wheeler
In a lot of ways, Wheeler is an ideal September call-up. He’s already on the 40-man, he’s held his own in the big leagues already this season, and he can play almost any position on the field, which means he provides terrific versatility down the stretch. As long as Wheeler stays on the 40-man roster, there’s little reason not to give him a call-up.
Uncertainty: UT Jose Pirela
The one reason not to call up Wheeler would be to call up a somewhat similar but younger player in Pirela. Wheeler is probably the better defensive player, but they’re both versatile right-handed hitters who are putting up good numbers in Triple-A. If the Yankees aren’t planning to keep Wheeler through the offseason — but are interested in keeping Pirela — they could basically swap the two, putting Pirela on the roster in Wheeler’s place and giving Pirela the September call-up. Pirela can play second base and left field, and he could play third base, first base, right field and presumably shortstop in a pinch.
Worth mentioning: OF Ramon Flores, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Taylor Dugas
Of these four, only Flores is on the 40-man, and he’s a nice fit for September. He can run, he can play all three outfield spots, he has some first base experience, and he was playing pretty well in Triple-A before an injury. Indications are that Flores could be off the DL and active by the time September rolls around, but would the Yankees call up a guy who’s hardly played since the start of June. The other three listed are not on the 40-man, and I’m not sure they’d play roles significant enough to find a way to get them on the roster. Dugas in particular has been terrific this year, but he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible, so there’s probably little sense having him take up a 40-man spot all winter. I would suggest OF Antoan Richardson as an interesting possibility as well — speed off the bench, ability to play all three outfield spots — but he’s currently on the temporarily inactive list, and I’m not sure what that’s about or how long he’ll be there. Could temporarily add him without worrying about a DFA this winter.
Probably not: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Arguably the most buzzworthy September call-up possibility. Probably is, Refsnyder is just like a handful of guys on this list in that he’s playing in Triple-A already but won’t be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If he’s only going to come up to sit the bench and maybe get his feet wet, is that really worth taking up an otherwise valuable 40-man spot all winter? If he were coming up to play every day, that would be one thing. But bringing him up to backup Stephen Drew probably isn’t worthwhile.
Associated Press photos