Today’s main event might be the afternoon intrasquad game, but the most important development is surely Masahiro Tanaka’s first live batting practice session.
Tanaka faced hitters earlier this morning and once again showed no signs of struggle or discomfort. He was scheduled to face a handful of minor league hitters, but Brett Gardner and Chris Young also got involved (they seemed to tracking pitches more than trying to actually hit).
Although Tanaka didn’t speak to media immediately after the session, he seemed to go straight to a normal workout, which is surely a good sign that he came through it healthy. Another step forward for a guy who claims to feel nothing unusual in his elbow. Tanaka sounds incredibly optimistic, and he’s passed every test so far.
Long way to go, but so far, so good.
There’s some video of the batting practice session at the top of this post.
• Alex Rodriguez will DH and hit cleanup in today’s intrasquad game, but he will not make tomorrow’s road trip to Clearwater. It seems his spring debut will be Wednesday at home, a game that happens to be televised on YES Network. Looks like Rodriguez and the bulk of the Yankees projected infield will be playing on Wednesday, while the outfielders will make the road trip tomorrow.
• Carlos Beltran is not playing in today’s intrasquad game, and he’s not making tomorrow’s road trip. Beltran, though, said he feels fine and deferred to Joe Girardi regarding the decision about not playing today or tomorrow. Beltran has been going through pretty normal drills, and was clearly on his way to the cage when he said he felt fine this morning. Seems like the Yankees are simply being cautious with him.
• Top pitching prospect Luis Severino is making tomorrow’s road trip and said he’s definitely scheduled to pitch. Severino’s been in Tampa since January 18, so he’s been throwing for a while and is clearly ready for games.
• You know who was pretty psyched to see his name on tomorrow’s travel roster: Slade Heathcott. I was talking to him at his locker before he’d seen the travel squad, and even then he said he was hoping to make the trip because it’s been so long since he played in a game. I’ve written before that Heathcott sounds as confident and optimistic as he’s been in a long time. Last spring, he seemed to be hoping his knee would stay healthy. This spring, he seems to fully expect it.
• Every catcher now has a drop in the Yankees spring “drop contest.” The last catcher without a drop was John Ryan Murphy, but he apparently dropped one yesterday.
• CC Sabathia threw a bullpen today. He was the only true bullpen listed on the schedule. He threw to Brian McCann.
With Cole Figueroa, Slade Heathcott and Aaron Judge hitting
Chris Capuano (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Jose Ramirez (to Trent Garrison)
James Pazos (to Gary Sanchez)
Nick Rumbelow (to Kyle Higashioka)
With Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin and Jonathan Galvez hitting (Gardner and Young joined them)
Masahiro Tanaka (to John Ryan Murphy)
Dellin Betances (to Austin Romine)
Scott Baker (to Francisco Arcia)
Team Gator: Cito Culver (SS), Cole Figueroa (3B), Kyle Roller (1B) and Rob Refsnyder (2B) are scheduled to play off the bench as straight-up replacements for Gregorius, Headley, Teixeira and Drew.
Team Goose: Slade Heathcott (CF), Jake Cave (LF), Aaron Judge (RF), Eddy Rodriguez (C) and Francisco Arcia (1B) are scheduled to play off the bench as straight-up replacements for Ellsbury, Gardner, Young, Romine and Bird.
• Tomorrow’s travel squad:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Kyle Davies, Nick Goody, Jacob Lindgren, Diego Moreno, Branden Pinder, Luis Severino, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren, Tyler Webb
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Infielders: Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Garrett Jones, Nick Noonan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller
Outfielders: Tyler Austin, Jake Cave, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams, Chris Young
• Tomorrow’s early work:
Chris Martin, Ivan Nova, Vicente Campos, Michael Pineda, Jared Burton, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Justin Wilson, Andrew Bailey and David Carpenter are each scheduled to do early pitching work tomorrow morning.
Associated Press photo
I only saw CC Sabathia in the clubhouse very briefly this morning and didn’t get a chance to ask him about today’s bullpen. Here’s a short Associated Press update on his status:
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — CC Sabathia threw 41 pitches during his third bullpen session at spring training.
The 34-year-old left-hander was hobbled by a degenerative cartilage problem in his right knee last season and didn’t pitch after May 10. He had surgery in July.
“No problems,” Sabathia said Friday. “Still working on things. My cutter, my changeup.”
Sabathia said he will have another bullpen session before likely advancing to batting practice.
“Try and take it slow,” Sabathia said. “Not rush it or overdo it in February.”
Sabathia plans on wearing a knee brace this season and will receive injections and have fluid drained as needed.
The six-time All-Star and 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner made only eight starts last year and finished 3-4 with a career-worst 5.28 ERA. He is 208-119 with a 3.63 ERA in 14 seasons.
Ivan Nova, coming back from right elbow ligament-replacement surgery in April, threw 26 fastballs and appears on track to rejoin the major league team by June.
Associated Press photo
The video above is a little bit of footage from Alex Rodriguez’s introduction to first base. It came during pitchers’ fielding practice this afternoon, and as you might guess, the drills were really designed for pitchers, not for a novice first baseman. Rodriguez basically just covered the bag a few times and scooped some slow grounders. You’ll be able to tell from the video above that this was not a thrown-into-the-fire situation. Rodriguez really didn’t do much.
And when the workout was over, as Rodriguez stood in the clubhouse talking about his determination to learn the position, he realized he’d actually lost his brand new first baseman’s mitt.
Perhaps the transition will be harder than anyone realized.
“As we go through these drills, I think it’s important that he go over there and tries to get a better understanding of what the position entails, and the spots he’s supposed to be at,” Joe Girardi said. “… It’s one of the few places that you hold the runner on, in a sense, and then you have to sprint and change the way you’re shaped for a ground ball, so your setup is different. All your responsibilities on cuts and relays. It’s just different. And you’re looking, in a sense, the opposite way.”
Of course, it’s worth wondering if this “learning first base” situation is more smoke than fire, getting a lot of attention strictly because it’s A-Rod and not because it actually matters to the Yankees. If Mark Teixeira is healthy, he’ll surely play first base almost every day. And Teixeira is weakest from the left side, so when he gets a day off, might make more sense to let experienced left-handed hitter Garrett Jones play the position, not inexperienced right-handed hitter Rodriguez.
Girardi, though, dismissed the idea that this is an insignificant experiment.
“I think we’ve seen over the last two years, there’s a lot of times you don’t think someone would ever play a position, and then things change,” Girardi said. “I think you definitely think about playing him on days when you’re giving Mark a day off. Maybe Garrett’s playing right field, maybe your DH is moving around a little bit, maybe you’re DHing Carlos (Beltran) a day. There’s a lot of things you can do.”
Ultimately, Rodriguez’s ability to play first base will be more valuable if he’s hitting well enough that an extra position keeps him in the lineup more often. Even Girardi has acknowledged that hitting is, by far, the most important aspect of his return to the team. So is there some chance that learning a new position is adding an unnecessary wrinkle to this already uncertain process?
“I do whatever they tell me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just happy to get some playing time. … It’s too quick to tell (how it’s going). I’m anxious to learn, though.”
• The Yankees have their first injury of the spring. Brendan Ryan is expected to miss about five days of baseball activity because of a mild strain in the middle of his back. He hurt himself lifting weights before reporting to Tampa. Specifically, he was hurt doing biceps curls. “It’s an eyewash exercise anyway,” Ryan said. “… I don’t know what I’m doing in (the weight room) in the first place, you know? What am I going to go from hitting two homers to four?”
• CC Sabathia threw a bullpen today and has been wearing a protective brace on his surgically repaired right knee. “The fact that he’s wearing a brace or not wearing a brace doesn’t concern me anymore,” Girardi said. “If they feel that he’ll stay healthier wearing the brace, then I would tell him, wear the brace.”
• Because of that knee issue, the Yankees are moving slowly with Sabathia. “We’re taking it slow with him, knowing that we don’t really think that he’s behind and he’s got plenty of time,” Girardi said. “We’re not rushing it because of his knee, and we want to take it step by step.”
• Along those lines, Girardi said he will wait until tomorrow to announce the starting pitchers for those early exhibition games. Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes reported that Adam Warren is “probably” going to start Tuesday’s opener.
• Before Tuesday’s spring opener, the Yankees are scheduled for an intrasquad game on Sunday. Girardi said he expects Monday to be a fairly light day leading into the Grapefruit League games.
• For whatever it’s worth, I was told today that Teixeira and Carlos Beltran have made a strong impression from the way they reported to camp. Apparently their early workouts have been impressive, and both are in great shape. Three other names singled out as having reported to camp in especially good shape: Austin Romine, Mason Williams and Cito Culver.
• Also heard a lot of good things about Luis Severino’s sim game today. “Young kid with a great arm,” Giradi said. “Good slider, good changeup. It’s something to get excited about.”
• And Nathan Eovaldi’s two-inning simulated game: “Really good stuff,” Girardi said. “Powerful arm. I think he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. He has pretty good command. He threw some good splits today. Athletic. So I think he’ll do a good job in those parts of the game where you have to be an athlete. I liked what I’ve seen and we like where he’s at right now.”
• One personal observation: When Aaron Judge takes batting practice, he doesn’t hit the towering fly balls you might expect from a power hitter his size. It’s all line drives — hard line drives — up the middle and toward the gaps. He didn’t hit very many out today. One that did go out probably never got higher than the top of the scoreboard. Just a line drive that he clobbered. You know who from Judge’s group might have hit the most homers? Ramon Flores.
• Hideki Matsui was the batting practice pitcher for the group of Williams, Romine, Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy.
• Noticed today that Cole Figueroa (who was at second yesterday) got some time at shortstop during defensive drills. Jonathan Galvez (who was at third) got some time at second, and Nick Noonan (who was at short) got some time at third. A lot of utility types who seem destined for Triple-A but could follow the Solarte/Wheeler path to New York.
• A source of annoyance this afternoon: writing a blog post that would have been posted hours ago, if only I’d hit the “public” button instead of the “save draft” button. I guess it’s spring training for everyone.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Rodriguez learning first base: “I think he’s trying to learn. I think he was paying attention and trying to learn. He’s never taken balls over there, he’s never seen what a bunt defense looks like from over there, and that’s going to take some time.”
Associated Press photos
The Yankees might not have an experienced closer on their roster, but they do have one in camp.
Andrew Bailey is back with the Yankees on a minor league contract. He threw a bullpen this afternoon, and said he no longer thinks of himself as a rehab pitcher just trying to get healthy. He sees himself as a legitimate reliever trying to make the big league roster.
“One hundred percent,” Bailey said. “I came in and spent the offseason training, working as I would if I played last year. The doctor gave me 18, 24 months (to be healthy after surgery), and we’re in that 18th, 19th month. Everyone around here, training staff, coaches and strength and conditioning have all kind of (treated it as if) I’m a normal guy with some needs. Hopefully we get rid of those needs. Everything feels great. I’m with the team and doing everything as I would normally, and if I need a little extra work here or there, that’s fine too. I’m here to compete and earn a spot.”
Bailey has thrown five bullpens since he reported to Tampa after the Super Bowl. In between bullpens, he takes a few more days off than other guys, but the Yankees believe that’s a temporary precaution. Bailey expects to start throwing live batting practice around the time the exhibition schedule begins, which he believes will give him enough time to pitch the innings necessarily to break camp.
“I thought today he looked pretty good, actually,” Joe Girardi said. “I talked to Gil Patterson about it. Compared to where he was last year to where he is (now), there’s significant improvement. I don’t know exactly what we’ll see as far as games, and his bullpens are a little more spread out than maybe some of the other relievers, but that’s on purpose right now, and our hope is that we can catch him up and keep him healthy.”
Bailey’s still just 30 years old. He made two all-star teams as a closer in Oakland, and he could be an option for that wide-open spot in the Yankees bullpen (maybe not as closer, and maybe not by Opening Day, but certainly at some point he could play a significant role). Hard to know what exactly to expect from a guy who hasn’t pitched anything beyond a simulated game in more than a year, but Bailey was awfully good in the past, and he said he feels that way again.
“To feel as good as I do and locate as well as I have been, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Bailey said. “I feel fresh and ready to go, and excited for the next step.”
• Bailey is one of the few players who aren’t expected to be ready to play in games the first week of camp. Bailey is just slightly behind the others, but Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia to each be ready for games when the spring schedule starts.
• Over at the minor league complex, Rodriguez was asked about the leadership void in the Yankees clubhouse. “First, no one can replace The Captain,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I know I’m going to miss him tremendously. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. If guys want to ask questions, I love talking baseball, and you guys know that better than anyone. I love the game, and I love to talk it. Whoever needs my help, I’m available.” Clearly Rodriguez isn’t going to be a leader in the way Derek Jeter is a leader, but he really does talk hitting with other players a lot.
• Speaking of which, Didi Gregorius said he got some hitting tips from Rodriguez at the minor league complex this afternoon. Said it was good to meet him. “He’s a good teammate,” Gregorius said. “He introduced himself to everybody when he walked in (at the complex). New player, you don’t know everybody yet, so everybody comes to introduce (themselves) or you go to them.”
• Several other position players began to move stuff into their lockers this afternoon, including outfield prospects Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin, who have three lockers in a row right next to one another on a back wall. Jose Pirela also arrived today. Rodriguez, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Garrett Jones all worked out at the minor league complex.
• Heathcott had yet another knee surgery last season and spent six months recovering at the Andrews Institute. He said he feels a significant difference between now and last spring. “Excellent,” he said. “I’m ready to play in a game right now.” I’ve been talking to Heathcott for many springs at this point, this is the most confident I’ve heard him in years. Finally sounds like he truly believes he’s healthy.
• So far, no significant injuries to report in Yankees camp, though minor league catcher Juan Graterol is still coming back from a broken arm and hasn’t been taking batting practice with the other guys. He’s been catching bullpens, though.
• Speaking of bullpens, there were a lot of them today. I caught most of Michael Pineda’s, and he looked sharp. “I thought his bullpen was excellent,” Girardi said. “I think he ended up throwing 35 pitches. I thought everything was working for him. Arm strength was really good, so that was good.” Remembering that spring of 2012, the arm strength seems to be a key issue.
• Another bullpen that seemed to catch the manager’s eye: “You know, I thought (CC Sabathia’s) bullpen was good today,” Girardi said. “I was pleased, I mean really pleased, with what I saw. Physically, I know the recovery is important, and going out there inning after innings, sitting down and getting back up (will be a different challenge), but I saw a lot of good signs today.”
• Girardi has not yet talked to Rodriguez face-to-face about playing first base, but he said he expects that conversation at some point. “I anticipate that, yeah,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him about taking some grounders over there just to be prepared, if I need to give a guy a day off or whoever we chose to do it, but yeah, I’m going to talk to him about it and see how comfortable it is.”
• With Rodriguez set to work at first base, and Headley having some experience there, Girardi left open the decision about who will backup Mark Teixeira. There seems to be one obvious standout candidate, though, and Girardi mentioned him by name. “I think it’s too early to decide who our backup first baseman is,” Giradri said. “Garrett Jones has played over there. That’s something that we’ll work on in spring training.”
• Interesting tidbit from Brendan Kuty: Former Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen has been working with third-base prospect Eric Jagielo at the minor league complex. That was at the suggestion of Gary Denbo.
• Final word goes to Girardi, about the way he’ll handle Rodriguez now that position players are set to report in the morning. “The idea for me as a manager is to get the most out of a player,” Girardi said. “I have to do whatever it takes; that’s my job. Will I be any different? I don’t know if the situations will be the same, in a sense. In 2013, he hadn’t served his suspension, a lot of things were still in question and it was different. Now it’s different. He’s served his suspension, a lot of questions have been answered, and now my job is to get to the most out of him again. I’ll do what it takes.”
Associated Press photos
Associated Press photos
There was nothing jarring about seeing CC Sabathia in the Yankees clubhouse this morning. He didn’t look unusual, and the fact he’d put on weight — while obvious as soon as someone mentioned it — never occurred to me while I talked to him. He just looked … normal.
“I lost a bunch of weight drastically, pretty quick, two years ago,” he said. “Kind of was off balance and didn’t know really how my body was working. So just talking to Dr. Ahmad and to the trainers, I feel like this is a good weight.”
Sabathia said he wants to be between 295 and 305 pounds this season. He said it’s not at all the heaviest he’s ever been, but he’s intentionally put on a lot of the weight he lost the past two offseasons. As you might recall, there was some talk about Sabathia’s weight loss when he struggled through the 2013 season, and there was more talk about it when he reported to camp last spring.
In retrospect, it’s interesting to look back at this quote from an unnamed talent evaluator. It comes from August, 2013, when unusually skinny Sabathia had an unusually large 4.73 ERA. As told to the Boston Globe:
The weight loss has created a balance problem for him. He’s all over the place. He’s learning how to pitch in that body, a body he’s really never had. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him other than that. Sometimes you pitch at a certain weight all your life and then someone has the brilliant idea that you should lose weight because it’s putting stress on your knees, you do it, and then you’re dealing with something else.
Indeed, Sabathia’s past weight issues might have played a role in the degenerative knee problem that caused him to miss most of last season, but slimming down wasn’t enough to avoid surgery, and Sabathia simply wasn’t as good at a diminished weight. Was that the cause of his lackluster 2013 and his slow start before the injury in 2014? Pretty much impossible to say, but it would make sense. Pitching is about repetition, and Sabathia changed the very core of his balance and mechanics.
“I think I was just trying to find a good weight to play at,” he said. “I think last year I came in a little too light. By the end of the year last year, I felt good in where I was at. In the offseason I put on 10 more pounds, and I’ll work that off over the course of the season.”
To me, Sabathia looked unusual last year. This year, he looked like his old self. If he can look that way on the mound as well, I doubt anyone will care too much about how he’s tipping the scales.
“We’re comfortable with where he’s at,” Joe Girardi said. “The big thing for us is to keep him out there; that’s what we have to do on a consistent basis, so he can build off of each start. I have no concerns about that.”
• Girardi acknowledged today that the Yankees will “do things more in this spring training” to teach hitters to beat the defensive shift. That said, it seems the Yankees aren’t looking to force anything. “They’ve spent a long time in their career learning how to hit a certain way,” Girardi said. “And then once people start to defense it different, it’s not easy just to switch. You can work on bunting. You can work on hitting the ball the other way. Those are the two things that you can try. You don’t want to take a guy out of his comfort zone and make him something he’s not and have him lose confidence, but those are things that you will work on in spring training.”
• Among those most affected by the shift is Brian McCann: “I want to hit the ball where it’s pitched,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that I’m going to try to go up there and hit the ball to left field. If it’s away from me, it needs to go to left field. If they come in on me, I need to be able to pull it, but pull correctly. If you pull correctly, you create back spin which is going to help you hit home runs. … If I hit two or three singles in a row to left field, they’re going to continue to play the shift because that’s where my power is. That’s just the way it is and whether that takes a couple of points off my batting average, if I take the approach I have day in and day out for 500 at-bats, at the end of the year things will be there.”
• Actually, McCann says the shift wasn’t the biggest factor in last year’s disappointing numbers. “My bat path last year got out of whack, for whatever reason,” he said. “I had to go back this offseason and kind of study what I was doing wrong. I was able to pinpoint what the problem was and I feel good coming into camp. … The whole reason I went down to no toe tap (last year) was, I lost my bat path. I wasn’t using my hands. Spreading out, I was able to start slapping the ball around a little bit, and I didn’t have much power like that. But then when I stood back up tall, my hands started working again. At the end of the year, I felt like I was able to start driving the baseball like I should be.”
• Speaking of McCann, he caught only one bullpen today, but it was a new guy with whom he’s pretty familiar. McCann caught David Carpenter, his Atlanta teammate in 2013. “I think we were able to let him understand more about how to pitch,” McCann said. “What certain situations bring and just kind of diving into the game a little bit more. He was able to do that and posted a 1.70 or whatever it was. He was our setup guy for Kimbrel. We expect big things this year.”
• McCann said he was sent 10 to 15 video clips of every new Yankees pitcher this offseason, and the “clips” must have been pretty long. McCann said he feels like he saw “pretty much” every 2014 outing of every new reliever.
• Carlos Beltran went through outfield drills with Rob Thomson, and he took batting practice with McCann and the two catchers competing for the big league backup job.
• At least among media, three pitchers clearly generated the most attention during today’s bullpens: The first was Sabathia, the last was Jacob Lindgren, and in the middle was Luis Severino. “It’s a live arm,” Girardi said. “It’s a player that is bigger in (stature) than I thought when I heard some of the comparisons. He’s bigger than I thought. A lot of times you worry about the rigors of players that are extremely thin, but he’s a strong young kid, I believe, with a lot of talent.”
• The Yankees have hired former Angels outfielder Reggie Willits to be their minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator. He’ll be one of several minor league coaches working with the players in big league camp this spring.
• Former Yankees currently listed as guest instructors for this spring: Eric Chavez, Billy Connors, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill and Andy Pettitte.
• Final word on Workout 1 goes to Girardi: “There’s a collection of good young arms here. Obviously there’s guys that you’ve seen, but you look at the younger players that we had a chance to look at today. Those are some pretty good arms. And it’s not just from one side. It’s not just right-handed or left-handed, it’s both. And that’s exciting to us.”
Associated Press photos
Although there’s obvious curiosity about Luis Severino and obvious significance in Dellin Betances, the most intriguing part of today’s first Yankees workout has to be CC Sabathia’s first official bullpen. Sabathia said he’s thrown off a mound a few times this winter, but always off a turf mound because of the snow in New York.
“Just making sure that my control is where it needs to be (this season),” Sabathia said. “(Making sure) my two-seamer is good and my changeup is better than it’s been. Just making sure that I can spot up and throw the ball where I need to. I’ve been talking to Andy (Pettitte) a lot about how he would attack guys later in his career, so I think I’ve got a pretty good plan.”
At this point, it seems clear that Sabathia wants his results to speak for themselves. He shrugged off questions about how good he can be now that he’s 34 years old and coming off back-to-back disappointments: one because of diminished results and one because of inning lost to a knee injury that eventually required surgery.
Sabathia said he’s been getting regular PRP injections through the offseason to help deal with the degenerative damage in that knee, and he’ll probably get more around the all-star break. He’s slightly adjusted workouts to protect the knee, but he said it’s not something he thinks about when he’s throwing.
“I feel like playing catch and throwing off the turf mound that I did, I went as hard as I can go,” he said. “So, no (it’s not a concern). I wanted to come down here with a clear mind and just go out and pitch. I feel like I passed every test leading up to coming down here.”
Sabathia is scheduled for 25 pitches today, all fastballs and changeups. It’s a small step toward what he’s hoping will be a big comeback.
“I don’t think as an athlete you should lower your expectations,” Sabathia said. “You just go out and see what I’ve got. I think last year pitching through spring training, I was pretty healthy, and I felt pretty good, and I pitched pretty good (in spring training). So if I can stay right there, I think I’ll be alright.”
• Dellin Betances is throwing a bullpen today, one of the biggest names getting on a mound this morning. Betances said he’s already thrown a few bullpens leading into spring training. He’s scheduled to begin facing hitters at the end of next week. Several other guys — Adam Warren, Tyler Webb, Chase Whitley, probably many others I haven’t talked to — have already faced hitters once or twice in the past few weeks.
• Esmil Rogers was stretched out as a starter in winter ball, and he said that felt natural for him because he’s always worked as a starter in winter ball. Despite having a good portion of his contract guaranteed, Rogers said he’s fully focused on making the team and doesn’t care if it’s as a starter or a reliever. He said he doesn’t feel like he has a job locked up; he knows he has to prove himself to stick around, even with $750,000 guaranteed.
• Nearly three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Scott Baker sounds incredibly optimistic. He said he feels significantly better than he did the past two springs, and that when he hit the two-year mark, there was a big difference in the way his arm felt. He’d been able to pitch for basically a year before that, but it wasn’t until he got a full two years out of surgery that his arm started to feel remotely normal again.
• Carlos Beltran is basically a full participant in today’s workout. I believe that’s because players coming back from surgery are allowed to officially report early. The other position players who are already here — guys like Stephen Drew and Chase Headley — have to do their workouts at the minor league complex. Beltran will go through drills here at Steinbrenner Field.
• Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren and Danny Burawa are each scheduled for early work tomorrow. Not sure what exactly they’ll be doing, the board just indicates that they’ll start ahead of everyone else.
• Still no baby for Chase Whitley. His wife is due any day now and has the cell phone number for a member of the Yankees’ security team. If she goes into labor mid-workout, Whitley will be ready to bolt.
John Ryan Murphy
Dellin Betances (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Chris Capuano (to Austin Romine)
David Carpenter (to Brian McCann)
CC Sabathia (to John Ryan Murphy)
Scott Baker (to Gary Sanchez)
Jared Burton (to Francisco Arcia)
Bryan Mitchell (to Trent Garrison)
Chase Whitley (to Kyle Higashioka)
Diego Moreno (to Murphy)
James Pazos (to Rodriguez)
Nick Rumbelow (to Juan Graterol)
Luis Severino (to Romine)
Nick Goody (to Garrison)
Jacob Lindgren (to Higashioka)
Branden Pinder (to Sanchez)
Tyler Webb (to Arcia
Associated Press photos
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.
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On the 40-man: CC Sabathia • 02.06.15
Continuing to look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next turn to the staff ace … or at least, the guy who used to be the staff ace. If he gets another turn on Opening Day, it could be little more than a ceremonial honor.
Age on Opening Day: 34
Acquired: Signed in 2008; extended in 2011
Added to the 40-man: Original contract became official December 18, 2008
In the past: First-round pick back in 1998, Sabathia made it to the big leagues at 20 years old. He became a mainstay in Cleveland’s rotation, won the Cy Young award in 2007, pitched the Brewers into the playoffs in 2008, came to the Yankees in 2009, won a World Series, and provided four strong seasons before his numbers began to fade quickly. His velocity is down and he’s been through elbow and knee injuries. Last year he made just eight starts, the first time in his career he made fewer than 28 in a season.
Role in 2015: Starting pitcher. We know that much. Sabathia is certainly meant to be back int he rotation this season, but assigning him a spot in the rotation is difficult. He might start Opening Day because, regardless of numbers, I think he’ll still be the leader of the pitching staff (don’t underestimate just how much teammates respect him). But the more important question is whether he pitches like a No. 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Even if he’s not an ace any more, the Yankees desperately need him to be at least a steady presence in the middle of the rotation.
Best case scenario: Sabathia and Andy Pettitte are close friends, and perhaps that’s the late-career comparison that best fits Sabathia’s best-case scenario. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a return to workhorse, ace status, but if Sabathia could pitch like a solid No. 2, the Yankees would certainly sign up for that every day. Maybe not overwhelming, but a steady presence. As recently as 2012, he had a 3.38 ERA. As recently as 2013, he pitched more than 200 innings.
Worst case scenario: Three more years that are far too similar to last year. That’s the nightmare scenario. Not only similar to last year because of the 5.28 ERA, but also similar to last year because of the injury that simply wouldn’t go away without surgery. If Sabathia can’t pitch often or pitch well, that’s a problem for not only this season but for the next two seasons as well. The worst case scenario is pretty obvious: it’s exactly what we saw a year ago.
What the future holds: Isn’t that the big question. Sabathia has two more years on his contract, plus another option year that’s going to kick in as long as Sabathia doesn’t suffer a shoulder injury in the next two seasons. The Yankees gave Sabathia a contract extension back in October of 2011 — extending him before he could opt out — and that left them tied to Sabathia’s mid-to-late 30s. They need him to pitch well enough to provide at least some production. If he doesn’t, the Yankees are tied to Sabathia anyway.
Associated Press photo
Thinking a little more about Neils’ post this morning, who on this Yankees roster might stand out in 15-20 years? If we don’t see any iconic Yankees right now, who might be considered a franchise icon when it’s all said and done? Here are a few candidates:
To me, this is the most obvious candidate. Young starting pitcher who showed in the first half of last season that he could be a legitimate ace going forward. Obviously the situation with his elbow ligament is a problem, but even if he’s lost for a year, Tanaka could still have a full career in which to establish himself as a great Yankees pitcher. His best-case scenario certainly could let him reach icon status by the time his career is over.
Raised in Brooklyn. Developed in the Yankees system. Rookie season so good it generated Mariano Rivera comparisons. The Betances foundation could certainly build toward icon status in the future, though it takes a lot for a reliever to reach that level. Rivera got there by being the greatest of all time. Hard to expect Betances to match that level of production, so how good does he have to be to become a Yankees icon several years down the road? And does he have time to get there?
If the Yankees pickup the club option for 2019, Gardner will have been on the Yankees big league roster for 12 seasons. He’s largely exceeded expectations, his gritty-gutty reputation makes him a fan favorite in some circles, and he’s been roughly a 4 WAR player in each of his past three full seasons, with a 7.3 WAR the year before. If he’s never an all-star and never an MVP candidate, can Gardner become a legitimate Yankees icon?
Although he’s been with two organizations before coming to the Yankees, Gregorius never really established himself in either Cincinnati or Arizona. That means, if he does establish himself as an everyday shortstop in New York, he’ll most certainly be remembered as a Yankee. He turns 25 in February, which means he could easily play a full decade in pinstripes if all goes well. Will he be good enough to become a second-tier icon as Derek Jeter’s replacement? If his career takes a step forward, new starter Nathan Eovaldi could be in a similar situation.
Might not even make the big league roster this season, and he certainly might not be good enough to be anywhere near icon status. That said, Refsnyder stands out as a guy who could step into an everyday role as a homegrown player. If he reaches his absolute ceiling and plays second base for the next 10 years, Refsnyder could retire as a Yankees icon. Worth putting Aaron Judge and Luis Severino in this same conversation, but I’ll focus on Refsnyder because he seems closest to actually playing for the Yankees this year.
Played so long and so well in Cleveland that Sabathia can never be iconic in the way Jeter, Mantle or Berra is iconic. But he could be iconic in the way Goose Gossage or Paul O’Neill is iconic. Sabathia is already top 10 in career strikeouts by a Yankees pitcher, and he could — with a bounce-back end of his career — finish top 10 in wins. His Yankees winning percentage is the same as Roger Clemens and better than Ron Guidry.
A-Rod an iconic Yankee? Surely not. I guess I’m including Rodriguez largely because there should be some question of who’s making the determination. Within the Yankees fan base, Rodriguez will never be an icon. But for baseball as a whole, his career will be most directly linked to the Yankees, and he’s certainly going to be an iconic player in one way or another. Twenty years from now, it’s entirely possible that some will look at the 2015 Yankees and immediately see Rodriguez as an iconic Yankees player on the roster.
Associated Press photo