Tomorrow is the Yankees’ first spring workout, so tonight we’ll finish our countdown of the most pressing spring training issues by looking at one that could single-handedly determine the success or failure of this season.
Do the Yankees actually have a good starting rotation, or even a viable starting rotation?
Some of this is out of the Yankees’ hands at this point. All they can do is hold their breath and hope Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow doesn’t snap, Michael Pineda’s shoulder doesn’t blow out, and CC Sabathia’s fastball isn’t smacked all over the yard. They can only follow protocol with Ivan Nova’s rehab, work on Nathan Eovaldi’s offspeed pitches, and evaluate their options for the fifth starter spot. For the most part, their major rotation decisions were made weeks ago. Maybe even months ago. In some cases, years ago.
But at some point, the Yankees will have to decide whether they have enough.
Is this a rotation capable of getting the Yankees into the postseason. Should they consider a trade for a guy like Cole Hamels? Have they left themselves too short-handed to make a serious run?
This winter, the Yankees chose to role the rotation dice. They acknowledged in the fall that their rotation was a concern, but they didn’t want to make a Sabathia-like commitment to Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, and they didn’t like the going rate for high-risk secondary options like Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. They chose to sacrifice one starting pitcher to acquire a shortstop, which made their one trade for another starting pitcher more of a replacement than an upgrade.
• Is there any indication Tanaka’s favoring his elbow; has this rehab protocol really worked?
• Does Pineda seem to have his usual arm strength; is this spring 2012 all over again?
• What kind of pitcher is Sabathia at this point; has he successfully transitioned to a new stage in his career?
• Did the Yankees find a young gem in Eovaldi; can he do anything more than light up a radar gun?
• How much does Chris Capuano have left; did the Yankees get his last drop of effectiveness last season?
• Are Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers legitimate options; have the Yankees overly neglected their immediate depth?
• Can Bryan Mitchell or Chase Whitley spot start if necessary; how far away is Luis Severino?
Whatever the answers to those questions, there’s only so much the Yankees can do at this point. Their most important rotation decisions came when they passed on Scherzer and Lester, when they made a pair of rotation-based trades (three trades counting the Manny Banuelos deal), and when they selected Capuano and a handful of minor league free agents to build their back-of-the-rotation depth.
In some ways, their key 2015 rotation decisions came when they traded for Pineda, extended Sabathia, and elected to forgo surgery on Tanaka.
But as pitchers and catchers settle into Steinbrenner Field, it’s still hard to look at this Yankees team and see a more all-or-nothing situation than the state of the rotation. This spring, the Yankees will have to figure out whether this rotation is good enough to make the Yankees contenders or thin enough to keep them out of the playoffs.
And as with any spring training decision, the evaluation will be subject to change once the season gets started.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees first spring workout is now six days away. We’ll continue our countdown of key spring training decisions by looking at the very back end of the Yankees rotation. Clearly the bulk of the rotation’s success or failure will hinge on the health and production of the top four starters, but the Yankees do have to consider one rotation decision this spring.
I’ve written several times that I don’t think of Capuano as a bad choice for the role. He’s actually been a better pitcher than he sometimes gets credit for being, and he was perfectly solid during his 12-start stint with the Yankees last season. If he can give the Yankees another 12-starts like he gave them last year, Capuano could hold down the fort until Ivan Nova is healthy (assuming he’s back by early June).
That said, Capuano doesn’t have to round out the rotation.
Beyond a few young guys who offer intriguing upside, the Yankees have also told relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers to arrive ready to work as starters in spring training, and assistant general manager Billy Eppler has said it’s not out of the question that either Warren or Rogers could pitch his way into the rotation even if everyone else is healthy.
“I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see,” Eppler said. “I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
As always, there’s a chance the Yankees will need to fill more than one rotation spot — an injury could change things, and an injury is certainly not out of the question — but for now, the decision heading into camp is whether Capuano is definitely the best choice for the No. 5 spot. These will be the options as camp opens:
The favorite – Chris Capuano
When the Yankees re-signed Capuano, Brian Cashman made it clear that he would come to camp expected to fill a rotation spot. This is clearly the direction the Yankees are leaning. Capuano had a 4.25 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP — pretty close to his career numbers — in 12 starts for the Yankees last season. Nothing flashy, but never allowed more than four runs in a start last season (granted, one of those starts didn’t last beyond the first inning).
The relievers – Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers
As long as everyone is healthy, Warren and Rogers seem heading toward a return to the Yankees bullpen (either one could be a long man if he stays stretched out). That said, Rogers put up good numbers in winter ball, and Warren was a pretty good rotation prospect throughout the minor leagues. If he could maintain last season’s bullpen success as a big league starter, he could be another good young option for the rotation.
The veterans – Scott Baker, Kyle Davies
It’s been a while since either Baker or Davies was a viable big league starter, but Baker in particular was a pretty solid starter before his elbow injury a few years ago. Each of these two looks like little more than just-in-case depth — just in case several other plans fall through — but it’s worth considering the possibility that one of them comes into camp strong and looks surprisingly good as a short-term alternative.
The young guys – Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula
These three have spots on the 40-man roster, so they could easily slide onto the big league roster in one role or another. For now, all three seem to most naturally fit as rotation depth in Triple-A, but Whitley was a significant rotation boost through his first few starts last season, and Mitchell pitched well in a couple of big league opportunities in September. De Paula’s never pitched in the majors, but the Yankees obviously see potential in the lefty.
The kid – Luis Severino
Probably the most exciting possibility, but also probably the least likely. Severino is the top pitching prospect in the organization and one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. He was given an invitation to big league camp, and the Yankees have acknowledged some chance that he could reach the big leagues this year. That said, he turns 21 on Friday and has just six career starts above A-ball. Huge upside, but might not be there just yet.
Associated Press photos
With the Yankees first workout now seven days away, we’ll continue counting down some of the key spring training decisions by looking at the most wide open spot on the roster. The Yankees have a two-way competition for the backup catcher, they could be convinced to change their plans at second base, but there’s only one roster spot that has a slew of candidates and no obvious favorites heading into camp.
Who’s going to fill the final spot in the bullpen?
Granted, that one open spot could be two or three open spots by the time Opening Day rolls around. But that’s always the case. What’s unusual about this particular bullpen spot is there’s really no telling which direction the Yankees might go.
To be clear, these are the 11 spots on the pitching staff that have clear favorites:
Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Capuano
Bullpen: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers
Of course “favorites” aren’t guarantees, but based on what we know today, those 11 feel like safe bets. The 12th spot, on the other hand, is thoroughly up in the air. The Yankees could go several directions with that final spot in the bullpen, and nearly every direction comes with its own set of options.
A hard-throwing right-hander
Based on pure numbers, this might be the most likely decision. Protecting Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder from the Rule 5 draft added two hard-throwing, right-handed prospects to the 40-man roster. Acquiring Chris Martin from the Rockies added yet another. As long as Jose Ramirez is fully healthy, he’ll be another possibility (having made his big league debut last season). Nick Rumbelow isn’t on the 40-man, but he was invited to big league camp and finished last season in Triple-A. Minor league free agent Wilking Rodriguez seems like a long shot, but he did pitch in the big leagues with the Royals last season. It’s worth remembering that one of these guys could fill, essentially, the role Betances had at the beginning of last season. Joe Girardi often talks about taking the 12 best pitchers, and it’s worth wondering if one of these guys could really take advantage of the opportunity.
A third left-hander
With Miller and Wilson, the Yankees seem to have two left-handed relievers with big league spots waiting for them. Miller is certainly going to make the team, and Wilson seems like a near lock, if not an absolute lock. But is there room for a third lefty? Neither Miller nor Wilson is purely a left-on-left specialist, the Yankees could ease a young pitcher into the big leagues by starting him in a situational role. Maybe that’s the way top draft pick Jacob Lindgren gets his feet wet. Or it could be the way the Yankees get their first up-close look at Chasen Shreve, who broke into the big leagues with Atlanta last season. Tyler Webb didn’t have standout splits last season, but he did put up good numbers in Triple-A. James Pazos would seem like the long shot of this group, but he was dominant against Double-A lefties last year.
A former big league closer
Only one guy in all of Yankees camp fits this description, and it’s not any of the guys listed as favorites for the big league bullpen. After missing all of last year while recovering from shoulder surgery, former Oakland closer Andrew Bailey signed a new minor league deal with the Yankees this offseason. He’s said to be healthy and expected to be pitching off a mound this spring. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bailey, but that’s part of what makes him so intriguing. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2009, an all-star in 2010, and as recently as 2013 he had huge strikeout numbers with the Red Sox. Hard to know what he can do at this point, but there could be high-end potential if he’s close to his pre-surgery form.
A pure long man
With plans to have Warren and Rogers work as starters in spring training — just in case they’re needed in the rotation — the Yankees projected bullpen already has two guys who could serve as long relievers. They also have both Betances and Miller who aren’t necessarily restricted to one inning at a time. But there could still be room for a long reliever/sixth starter. Perhaps Chase Whitley, who worked as a reliever most of his career before getting to the big leagues as a starter last season. Or maybe Bryan Mitchell, who’s become one of the Yankees top upper-level rotation prospects, but could find an immediate role in the bullpen. Long relief could also open a big league door for new lefty Jose De Paula. If the Yankees prefer a veteran, both Scott Baker and Kyle Davies are coming to camp, each with multiple years of big league rotation experience.
Associated Press photo of Whitley
Eight days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll continue looking at some of the key issue the Yankees have to figure out in spring training. We’ve already discussed the backup catcher competition and the batting order possibilities, today we’ll look at a fairly hard to define bit of decision making.
Who’s first in line to fill the inevitable roster needs during the season?
While much of spring training is spent sorting out the Opening Day roster — assigning roles and weeding out the lesser candidates — the Yankees have to pay especially close attention this spring to the guys who won’t break camp with the team. That’s an impossible to ignore aspect of a team that has serious health concerns in the rotation and serious production concerns in the lineup. It’s also a good bit of reality for an organization that finally has a wave of young players getting close to the majors.
Basically, the Yankees have to figure out who can help right away, because chances are, they’re going to need some help at some point.
And in the case of this group of next-in-line possibilities, there are few cut-and-dry decisions. The Yankees have a lot of upper-level outfielders, but there’s not one who definitely fits the current roster better than anyone else. Is Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder the best choice for an infield opening? Is Gary Sanchez ready if the Yankees need another catcher? What about that long list of relievers; who stands out in that pack?
Spring training gives the entire organization — especially the big league coaching staff — a chance to really evaluation the options, and there’s a good chance one of these mid-season call-ups will end up playing a much bigger role than some of the guys who make the Opening Day roster. Last year, the Yankees had to make moves to fill holes. The hope is they can plug holes from within this time.
A few possibilities they’ll have to consider:
1. What if the Yankees need an outfielder?
Right now, it seems Chris Young and Garrett Jones are fourth and fifth on the outfield depth chart, but the Yankees have four other outfielders on the 40-man (counting Jose Pirela) and another three outfielders coming to camp on non-roster invitations. That’s a big group to consider, and who gets the call might depend on need and production. When the time comes for a call-up, is there room for another left-handed bat, and if so, who stands out among Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams? If an offensive-minded right-handed hitter fits best, does Tyler Austin seem ready? How close is Aaron Judge? Has Pirela picked up where he left off last season?
2. What if the Yankees need an infielder?
Obviously this question could depend on specific positions, but the Yankees have enough flexibility with Jones, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan that they could move pieces around and simply call-up the best infielder available. That means, even if they don’t make the team, Pirela and Refsnyder will be competing for big league attention. And after seeing Yangervis Solarte last season, it’s hard to dismiss a guy like Nick Noonan (how good is he at short?) or Jonathan Galvez (can he hit enough to be a big league utility man?).
3. What if the Yankees need an offensive boost?
Given what we saw last year, it’s not out of the question that the Yankees might need a bat at some point. Maybe Alex Rodriguez stinks at designated hitter, or Carlos Beltran hasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery, or Mark Teixeira’s still battling nagging injuries. If the Yankees have to go looking for offense, Kyle Roller should be worth serious consideration. Maybe Austin is still rolling after last year’s strong second half. Maybe Judge or Greg Bird deserve consideration straight from Double-A.
4. What if the Yankees need a catcher?
If the Yankees pick Austin Romine as their backup and option John Ryan Murphy to Triple-A, then this question is easy to answer. If, however, the Yankees keep Murphy and lost Romine on waivers, it could get complicated. Sanchez is on the 40-man and should be playing everyday in Triple-A, but he also carries significant questions about his defense and maturity. Is he ready for a big league job (even a part-time one) at this point, or should the Yankees keep an eye on guys like Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia as just-in-case alternatives.
5. What if the Yankees need a spot starter?
When the rotation began to fall apart last season, the Yankees first turned to a pair of relievers in David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. This year, though, Phelps and Nuno are gone. If there’s a need early in the season, perhaps Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers could play the Phelps/Nuno role, sliding out of the bullpen and into the rotation. If not, who’s the best alternative among Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula, Kyle Davis and Scott Baker? Whitley got an early call-up last year. Mitchell pitched well late in the season. Shane Greene made a strong first impression in big league camp last spring, and we all know where that led.
6. What if the Yankees need a reliever?
Inevitable, isn’t it? Bullpens always evolve in the course of a season, and the Yankees are loaded with upper-level relievers who seem fully capable of filling in at any point this season. If all goes as planned, the Yankees will have just one bullpen opening out of spring training, but they’ll have no fewer than 10 guys looking to fill it (Bailey, Whitley, Mitchell, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, Rumbelow, Shreve, Lindgren, Webb). There won’t be room for everyone in New York, so the Yankees will have to make some judgments about who ranks 13th and 14th on a 12-man pitching staff.
7. What if the Yankees need to make a trade?
Kind of the opposite of every other question on this list: the Yankees not only have to figure out who can help them in the short term, they also have to decide which players are most expendable in the long term. If Sanchez looks less and less like a catcher, maybe he looks more and more like trade bait. If Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave all seem to be making strides toward playing a role in New York, maybe it’s best to whittle down a group of similar players. If that bullpen depth is legitimate, maybe it’s easy to include an arm as a way to push a trade package over the top.
Associated Press photos
I don’t have any hard statistics on this, but lefty specialists must be among the most common, highly specific role players on major league rosters. Not every team has one, but it’s not at all unusual to see at least one left-on-left guy in any given bullpen. It’s kind of a tiny role to play, but most teams find someone to do it. It’s kind of like carrying a pinch runner, or a powerful pinch hitter, or a pure defensive replacement on the bench: there’s an obvious benefit, it’s just a matter of finding room on the roster. In the case of lefty specialists, most teams seem to prioritize finding the room.
I point that out only because that’s one highly specific role the Yankees don’t necessarily have filled at this point. They have plenty of left-handed relievers, but not one who’s specifically assigned to those left-on-left situations (guys like Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson will surely face plenty of right-handers as well).
Do the Yankees have anyone to fill some of the other typical, highly specific roles next season?
The Yankees should get some difference-making speed out of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, but those two are going to be lineup regulars, not pick-your-moment pinch runners. If the Yankees need some late-inning speed, their best bet is probably Chris Young. He’s had only 26 stolen bases the past three years combined, but he’s a better source of speed than John Ryan Murphy, Brendan Ryan or Garrett Jones. If Jose Pirela finds a spot on the roster, he can run a little bit, but he’s not an extreme base stealer.
Power pinch hitter
Every team has some pinch hit options on the bench, but there seems to be specific value in a guy who can come off the bench and provide some pop in a key situation. Sometimes it depends on the matchup — a right-handed or left-handed pitcher on the mound — and the Yankees could have two potential power bats on the bench in Young (against lefties) and Jones (against righties). Jones especially stands out as a pick-your-moment weapon if he’s able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field. In a big RBI situation, he could be a better bet than Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew or Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees most obvious defensive replacement is Ryan, but he’s also a defensive replacement for an infield that should be pretty good defensively even without him. Is Ryan a definite upgrade over Gregorius, Ryan, Chase Headley or Mark Teixeira? Really, Ryan’s more of defensive insurance, a guy who can provide a solid glove in case an infielder gets hurt. The real defensive replacement might be Young, who should be a right-field sub for Carlos Beltran in the late innings.
Not sure this really counts as a highly specific role these days. It’s pretty common for teams to have a player or two who only jumps into the starting lineup for specific matchups. The Yankees might have two of them in Young and Jones — one to play against lefties, one against righties — but that really depends on whether guys like Beltran and Rodriguez are productive (best-case scenario involves those two having no need for platoon protection). Instead, the Yankees best platoon situation might be in the middle of the infield, with either a platoon of Gregorius and Ryan at shortstop, or a platoon of Drew and Pirela at second (I would say Rob Refsnyder in that platoon, but surely if he’s on the team, it’s to play against more than just left-handed starters).
Not exactly a role anyone wants to play, but the fact is, basically every bullpen needs someone who’s capable of eating multiple innings when a game has turned lopsided one way or the other. That role is basically the way David Phelps broke into the big leagues in 2012. Adam Warren had that job early in 2013. Last year, the Yankees cycled through a several mopup guys who didn’t follow the Phelps/Warren path to something better. This year? Maybe Esmil Rogers could eat innings, or maybe there’s a spot for a guy like Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell to start the season as a mopup man with hopes of becoming something more substantial.
Aside from the roles that aren’t really for “role players” — ace, first baseman, closer, leadoff hitter, etc. — every player who’s in a specific role is probably hoping for something better and more significant. That’s certainly true for this one. A team’s sixth starter is usually either a long man in the bullpen (a mopup man) or starter in Triple-A. Right now, the Yankees next-in-line starter is pretty hard to define. We know the projected top five, but the sixth starter could be a safe bet for the bullpen (Warren or Rogers) or a safer bet for Triple-A (Whitley, Mitchell, Scott Baker). The sixth starter will have to define himself in spring training, and that role will surely shift through the course of the season. Ideally, the sixth starter the Yankees use this season will be Ivan Nova.
Associated Press photos
On the 40-man: Bryan Mitchell • 01.31.15
Next up in our look at each individual piece of the Yankees 40-man roster is a young starting pitcher who made his big league debut a year ago and could be first in line for a call-up should the Yankees need a spot starter this year.
Age on Opening Day: 23 (turns 24 in April)
Acquired: Drafted in the 16th round in 2009
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 draft in 2013
In the past: A pretty highly touted prospect throughout the minor leagues, Mitchell talent always seemed to outshine his results. His numbers were rarely overwhelming — career 4.45 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in the minors — but scouts always loved his stuff (even if they didn’t love his command). Mitchell throws pretty hard, has a good curveball, and showed positive signs in his three big league outings last season. His spot start was OK, and his final outing spanned four strong innings of relief with just one run.
Role in 2015: Could be a legitimate bullpen candidate out of spring training, but more likely Mitchell is heading to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a potential rotation headliner in Triple-A. Mitchell made nine Triple-A appearances last year, and his 3.67 ERA matched the lowest of his career at any stop where he pitched more than three times. There’s still some work to be done, but Mitchell is arguably the system’s top upper-level starter other than Luis Severino.
Best case scenario: The ideal comparison is probably Shane Greene. Back in 2013, Greene put himself firmly on the radar by cutting his walk rate way down. His strikeout and home run rates were basically the same, and his hits per nine actually went up, but simply throwing more strikes took Greene from fringy prospect, to a spot on the 40-man, to having a breakout rookie season in New York. If Mitchell can also get his walks under control, he could follow a similar path, perhaps with an even higher upside.
Worst case scenario: Pretty obvious, really. If Mitchell can’t control the strike zone and bring down his walk totals, he’ll be just another guy with good stuff and no real clue how to use it. Yankees and opposing scouts have always liked his stuff, but if Mitchell can’t use it effectively, he could flame out quickly, before he even gets a chance to prove himself one way or another in the big leagues. In a real doomsday situation, the Yankees rotation falls apart again, Mitchell is forced into action and falls apart.
What the future holds: Like a lot of on-the-verge prospects, Mitchell’s future really depends on his performance. He has two option years remaining, which means the Yankees can send him to Triple-A this year and next year before worrying about passing him through waivers. And he’s still young enough that the organization doesn’t have to rush him. He’ll either make enough progress to stick around, or he won’t.
Associated Press photo
The good news is, the Yankees added some rotation depth yesterday. The bad news is, it wasn’t by acquiring a front-end starter to make everyone feel better about the health concerns at the top of the rotation.
By re-signing Chris Capuano, the Yankees brought in an experienced lefty who pitched well in a fifth starter role last year. The good news is that he’s probably a little better than you’re thinking (his career numbers are nearly identical to the rock-solid results he put up with the Yankees last season), but the bad news is that the Yankees rotation still has an opening and is still crowded with uncertainty heading into next season.
Here’s a look at the Yankees starters in place — and the ones set to compete for a spot — as we move ever closer to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. As you might expect, with each one there’s some good news and some bad news.
Good news: Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidate through his first three months in the big leagues.
Bad news: Slightly torn elbow ligament suggests Tommy John surgery is a real threat as early as spring training.
Good news: Finally joined the Yankees staff with a 1.89 ERA last season.
Bad news: That stellar ERA came in just 13 starts because of another shoulder issue.
Good news: Says he feels strong this winter; more than 200 innings in 2013 and a 3.38 ERA as recently as 2012.
Bad news: Coming back from knee surgery with a not-so-encouraging 4.87 ERA the past two seasons.
Good news: Farm system success story had a 3.10 ERA (and an especially good second half) in his last healthy season.
Bad news: Had Tommy John surgery after just four starts last season; not expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Good news: Solid No. 5 starter with a 4.25 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees last season.
Bad news: Had been released and was pitching in Triple-A when the Yankees got him in July.
Good news: Was on a roll before a upper elbow injury (believed to be minor) pushed him to the DL last season.
Bad news: In three seasons has never quite established himself as a go-to member of the rotation.
Good news: Coming off a terrific, breakout season with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.
Bad news: Truly emerged as a one-inning setup man; has just three major-league starts on his resume.
Good news: Showed flashes of promise late last year including a five-inning, one-run spot start in August.
Bad news: That promise has not consistently translated, leaving Rogers a 5.54 career ERA with four different teams before the age of 30.
Good news: Long-time minor league reliever emerged with a 2.56 ERA through his first seven major league starts last season.
Bad news: Had a 9.00 ERA through his next five starts, falling out of the rotation and back into the bullpen.
Good news: Long touted for talent that exceeded his stats, Mitchell’s results were actually pretty impressive in his brief big league cameo.
Bad news: He’s still a 24 year old with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP through five minor league seasons; never with as many as 150 innings.
Good news: One of the top pitching prospects in the system and one of the best in baseball before Tommy John surgery.
Bad news: Inconsistent with a 4.11 ERA and just 76.2 innings in his return from surgery last season.
JOSE DE PAULA
Good news: Hard-throwing lefty impressed the Yankees enough to land a major-league contract this winter.
Bad news: Has never actually pitched in the major leagues and has just 51.1 innings of so-so Triple-A experience.
Associated Press photos
In trying to break down the state of the Yankees organization, it’s hard to look at pitchers the same way we look at position players. The development is different. The roles are different. The number of jobs available is different. It’s just … different. In trying to look at the state of the Yankees rotation, it seems best to start by looking directly at the current 40-man roster (before free agency) where no less than 12 rotation possibilities are already in place. Given the Yankees injury concerns, they’re going to need some rotation depth heading into next season. They just might be able to find that depth while staying in house.
THE OBVIOUS INJURY CONCERNS
Masahiro Tanaka – His elbow might be a ticking time bomb, but he’s also an ace-caliber pitcher. The Yankees know Tanaka might need Tommy John surgery at any moment, but they’ve done what they can to postpone that procedure, and a couple of healthy starts at the end of the year were enough to build some cautious optimism. Tanaka should be the Yankees No. 1 starter. But that depends largely on a tiny ligament in his elbow.
Michael Pineda – The Yankees finally got to see the guy they acquired years ago, and they liked what they saw. Sure, the pine tar situation was embarrassing, and there was yet another shoulder setback, but when Pineda was on the mound, he was terrific. He’s far removed from surgery, but that doesn’t mean health concerns don’t linger. Would be a strong No. 2, but again, that’s only if he stays healthy.
CC Sabathia – This could be the year his run of Opening Day starts come to an end. That said, if he gets to spring training healthy and reasonably effective, he might still get the nod in the opener if only because he’s still very clearly the leader of the staff (and this is a clubhouse that could be searching to leadership next season). Whether Sabathia will be anything more than a symbolic choice, though, remains to be seen. If he can at least be a reliable back-of-the-rotation arm, that would be helpful. There’s clearly a new ace in town.
Ivan Nova – Almost certainly will not be ready to break camp with the Yankees, but initial word about Nova’s recovery from Tommy John surgery has been nothing but positive. Still a long way to go, but Nova made it through the initial rehab steps with no problem. Tommy John has become a relatively routine procedure these days, but some pitchers say it takes close to two years to truly feel 100 percent. Timing suggests Nova could be back in the New York around early May. But how effective will he be?
THE REPLACEMENT STARTERS
David Phelps – When the Yankees rotation went through a series of injuries last season, Vidal Nuno was technically the first replacement starter, but Phelps wasn’t far behind. He was solid, then he got knocked around one game, then he looked really good for about a month and a half before his upper elbow became a problem. Phelps should be arbitration eligible this season, and he might once again come to camp as a rotation candidate who could easily slip into a bullpen role.
Shane Greene – Phelps’ chances of winning a spot in the rotation surely took a hit when Greene showed up. Having made a strong impression in spring training, and having struggled in his brief big league debut, Greene wound up pitching like a rotation mainstay through the second half of the season. He had a 3.24 ERA before a six-run mess in his final start. Given the Nova injury, Greene could legitimately come to camp as a rotation favorite.
Chase Whitley – A career minor league reliever until the very end of 2013, Whitley moved to the Triple-A rotation, improved his breaking ball and got his first big league call-up as a replacement starter. He was a bit streaky — very good at first, pretty good at the end, plenty of rough outings in the middle — but Whitley joins the mix as a swing man who could start or work in long relief. Could also go to Triple-A as rotation insurance.
THE MINOR LEAGUERS
Manny Banuelos – Once considered to be among the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, Banuelos needed Tommy John surgery, which slowed his ascent considerably. He missed all of 2013 and put up inconsistent results this year in Double-A and Triple-A. Banuelos has an awfully good arm, though, and being further removed from surgery surely helps his cause heading into his age-24 season.
Bryan Mitchell – For the longest time, Mitchell’s reputation was far better than his results. The Yankees regularly touted his potential, and that was enough to put him on the 40-man roster last winter despite a 5.12 ERA in High-A the year before. More so-so results followed in Double-A this season, but the Yankees challenged Mitchell with a Triple-A promotion and things seemed to take off. He got 11 innings in the big leagues and looked solid. Probably no more than rotation depth to open the season, but he’s among the most advanced young starters in the system.
Matt Tracy/Nik Turley – These guys aren’t on the current 40-man roster, but they stand out as Rule 5 eligible lefties had at least 60 Triple-A innings with mid-4.00 ERAs this season. Neither one was great next season, and there’s a chance both will be left exposed to the Rule 5 this winter — guys like Zach Nuding, Jairo Heredia and Caleb Cotham are in vaguely similar situations — but they’re potential rotation depth options who could be on the 40-man eventually (or could be added next year if necessary). Turley’s been on the 40-man before, and he in particular was putting up better numbers at the end of the year.
THE SOON-TO-BE FREE AGENTS
Hiroki Kuroda – Of all the Yankees soon-to-be free agents, none has a future quite as uncertain as Kuroda. He turns 40 in February, and despite yet again providing some much-needed stability for the Yankees rotation, there seems to be a solid chance Kuroda will retire this winter. He could also come back, pitch elsewhere, or decide to pitch one last season in Japan. Kuroda left all options open at the end of the year.
Brandon McCarthy — Aside from Dave Robertson, there might not be an outgoing free agent who’s more interesting for the Yankees. McCarthy throws strikes and gets ground balls, he thrived during his three-month stint with the Yankees, and he seems like a strong fit in this unusual market. At the right price, McCarthy could be a strong choice for additional rotation depth (though he comes with injury concerns of his own).
Chris Capuano – Would be easy to dismiss Capuano as a non-factor going forward, and maybe that’s exactly what he’ll be. Two things to consider, though: 1. Capuano really was a pretty good No. 5 starter during his time with the Yankees, and he has experience as a bullpen lefty, which the Yankees don’t really have at the moment. Probably least like to return of anyone on this list, but he did his job during his time with the team.
Associated Press photos
Game 146: Yankees at Orioles • 09.12.14
RHP Bryan Mitchell (0-0, 0.00)
Mitchell has never faced the Orioles
Alejandro De Aza LF
Steve Pearce 1B
Jimmy Paredes 3B
Nelson Cruz RF
Delmon Young DH
David Lough CF
Caleb Joseph C
Ryan Flaherty SS
Jonathan Schoop 2B
RHP Bud Norris (12-8, 3.92)
Norris vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
WEATHER: Beautiful day turning into a beautiful night here in Baltimore.
UMPIRES: HP Clint Fagan, 1B Tim Welke, 2B Ed Hickox, 3B Toby Basner
ANOTHER ROOKIE: Bryan Mitchell is making his first big league start. It’s the 56th time the Yankees have used a rookie starter this season, the highest total in Major League Baseball and the most in franchise history since rookie rules were made in 1958. They are 22-7 in games started by rookies on the road.
UPDATE, 7:35 p.m.: Headley has joined the Yankees here in Baltimore. According to a team spokesman, all tests came back negative and Headley has been cleared to play as long as he responds favorably to physical activity.
UPDATE, 8:06 p.m.: Mitchell got in and out of some trouble in the third inning. He’s through three scoreless on 55 pitches. Might only have one more inning in him. If he gets through five, I think the Yankees would have to be happy with that.
UPDATE, 8:20 p.m.: In his return to the lineup, Gardner has been on base twice and stolen a bag. Also made a nice play in center. Must be feeling better if he’s running.
UPDATE, 8:27 p.m.: RBI double for Flaherty has the Orioles in front 1-0 in the fourth. Looked like Gardner might have thrown out Flaherty at second had Drew held onto the ball. It was going to be awfully close at least.
UPDATE, 8:32 p.m.: Two-out RBI triple has pushed the lead to 2-0, but Mitchell is through the fourth without further damage. Guys are starting to stretch in the Yankees bullpen, but there’s no one throwing at the moment. Mitchell is at 76 pitches.
UPDATE, 9:05 p.m.: Five innings of two-run ball from Mitchell, and now a scoreless inning from Outman. The lineup, once again, just hasn’t done enough.
UPDATE, 9:19 p.m.: Here’s David Phelps getting in his first game in more than a month.
UPDATE, 9:33 p.m.: Phelps got a couple of quick outs, but he then walked three in a row before a two-run single to push the Orioles lead to 4-0.
Joe Girardi’s pregame media session was basically just a medical report. It’s September, rosters are expanded, and the Yankees will actually have a pretty limited bench today because of the recent string of injuries.
“We called up eight people, and I’m not so sure we have enough guys to run out there,” Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate we’ve kind of been hit with some injuries, multiple guys, bang, bang, bang. But, as I said, you still put players out there, you still play the game, and you see things that happen like they did last night. Guys have to step up.”
Here are the basic updates:
Pitch to the face
After last night’s hit by pitch, Headley stayed behind in New York so that he can be tested for a concussion.
“The tests came out good last night,” Girardi said. “No fractures. He had to get a couple of stitches. He’ll see the neurologist today and then determine what’s next. Hopefully he can join us fairly quickly.”
Girardi said it’s possible Headley will join the team this weekend in Baltimore, but he might not necessarily play this weekend.
“He’s sore,” Girardi said. “He was pretty sore last night, so I’m not sure what we’ll have.”
Although he hasn’t done much in the past week, Gardner said he’s going to try to run and hit today. If that goes well, Girardi said he’s hoping to have Gardner in the lineup for Game 2.
“I’ll go through some of the things they want me to go through and see how it feels,” Gardner said.
Most of the discomfort comes when Gardner runs, he said. He’s not too worried about swinging, but obviously a lot of his game is based on running.
Elbow bone spur
Still no clarity on whether Beltran will be able to play again this season.
“I think he was going to try to do something today if he can and it felt OK,” Girardi said. “(He’s going to) try to take some swings.”
After last night’s pinch hit home run, Prado is in the starting lineup for the first time since Sunday. But Girardi cautioned that Prado’s not out of the woods yet. Last night wasn’t taken as proof that he’s over it.
“I think we have to watch him,” Girardi said. “There’s some concern still with that hamstring. We’re going to have to watch him.”
Activated off the disabled list this morning, Phelps will be available out of the bullpen for the doubleheader.
“I think 25-30 pitches is safe to say,” Girardi said. “You’d have to see if he threw an inning how he did before you sent him back out there. Give him a chance to build up a little bit. My inkling would be you use him an inning, maybe try to build him up that way, but sometimes you’re not afforded that luxury.”
• Brian Mitchell will start Game 2. The Yankees had him throw a 50-pitch sim game a few days ago to stay sharp for this start. “He’s used to starting, so I don’t think 80 to 90 pitches is out of the realm for him,” Girardi said.
• Girardi said he would prefer not to use any pitchers in both games, but he left open the possibility of using a lefty and possibly Dave Robertson in both ends of the doubleheader. “I’ll have to see,” he said.
• Orioles 1B/3B Chris Davis has been suspended 25 games after testing positive for an amphetamine. Davis released a statement in which he admitted using Adderall, something he apparently had permission to use in the past but not this year. The suspension will keep him out of the lineup through eight playoff games, assuming the Orioles go that far. “It’s disappointing any time a guy is suspended,” Girardi said. “I don’t know the details of it. You hate to see it in our game.”
• The Yankees flew to Baltimore after last night’s game. They got in late and had a late report time for today’s doubleheader. A lot of guys still hadn’t arrived when the clubhouse closed to media at 11:30. I don’t believe either team took batting practice today. Not all that unusual for a doubleheader, and certainly not in the Yankees situation.
Associated Press photo