The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Headley and A-Rod: “It’s business as usual”02.24.15

Alex Rodriguez, Chase Headley

Peering over an outfield wall some 350 feet away, it’s hard to pick up on the details of a conversation between two people meeting for the first time. A camera lens, though, can zoom in and create an image that seems to tell the story.

Today, an Associated Press photo of Alex Rodriguez’s first workout with new teammate Chase Headley was begging for a snappy back-page headline. With his arms out and a quizzical look on his face, Headley seemed to be saying: What are you doing over here? We already have a third baseman.

“I promise you I didn’t say that,” Headley said, laughing. “I don’t know what I said, but I promise you I didn’t say that.”

With Rodriguez and Headley each early arrivals in Tampa, today was their first opportunity to work side-by-side. They ran, they hit, and they fielded ground balls at third base; the position Rodriguez used to play every day in Bronx, and the one Headley will now play every day.

Alex Rodriguez“For me to be here, I feel like (playing third base) is what made sense,” Headley said. “We established that early on (in offseason contact negotiations). There’s a lot of things that can happen over the course of a season. Obviously the more bodies that you have that can fill positions (is) great, but if I thought I was coming here to be a first baseman or a left fielder or whatever, I wouldn’t have came back. That wouldn’t have made sense for me or the Yankees.”

Really, Headley said working out with Rodriguez was a lot like working with any other new teammate. Obviously it’s a unique situation that has its own quirks, but Headley said there was nothing awkward about today’s workout. He and Rodriguez spoke on the phone earlier this winter — it was Rodriguez who initiated that conversation — and today was a pretty typical first meeting.

“As a player, you experience different things in your career,” Headley said. “And I’ve been around long enough that there’s been different sets of circumstances that I’ve dealt with, and this just another one. As far as a teammate, I expect him to be great. I’ve heard great things from other guys, and every interaction that I’ve had with him has been positive. Hopefully here in a few days everything will calm down and we’ll start talking about baseball, but you know, obviously you expect to answer the questions about him. But from my point of view, it’s business as usual.”

Joe Girardi reiterated that he expects Rodriguez to primary play designated hitter. Bu the said Rodriguez will also get some time at third base, and Girardi wants him to take some ground balls at first base just in case he’s needed to back up over there.

“To me, the most important thing is getting him at-bats,” Girardi said. “If you’re (having him play third base regularly), I don’t know if you can get him enough at-bats in spring training for him to feel comfortable. I’m going to take it week-by-week, see where he’s at physically and how he’s responding, make sure he’s getting enough at-bats.”

As for Headley, he’s signed to a four-year contract and seems perfectly secure in his role on this roster. There are a lot of new guys for him to get to know this year. Rodriguez is just one of them.

“Really, he’s another teammate,” Headley said. “And (I’ll do) anything I can do to help him, and I’m sure he feels the same way. That’s what’s important. We’re going to try to win a lot of games.”

Associated Press photos

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On the 40-man: Chase Headley02.20.15

Joe Girardi, Chase Headley

The Yankees first spring workout is tomorrow, and we’ve made it to the end of our one-by-one look at each player on the Yankees 40-man roster. We’ll finish the series with the team’s largest offseason investment.

HeadleyCHASE HEADLEY

Age on Opening Day: 30
Acquired: Traded from San Diego last season, re-signed in December
Added to the 40-man: New contract became official December 15

In the past: A top prospect at the end of his minor league career, and primarily a left fielder when he broke into the big leagues — back when the Padres thought Kevin Kouzmanoff was their future at third — Headley eventually took over San Diego’s hot corner and had a breakout season in 2012 when he lead the league in RBI and finished fifth in MVP voting. He’s been more of a solid on-base guy than a true slugger the past two seasons, but his defense is strong and the Yankees were impressed by his half-season debut last year.

Role in 2015: Unable to depend on Alex Rodriguez to play third base, the Yankees gave Headley a four-year deal that basically locks him into the lineup as their regular third baseman. He’s a switch hitter who could fit almost anywhere in the lineup (basically anywhere from second to eighth) and the Yankees will rely on him to improve their infield defense while providing solid run production.

Best case scenario: Pie in the sky? A return to that one outrageous season in 2012, when Headley was a legitimate slugger and a Gold Glove winner. More realistically, assuming 2012 remains an outlier — he’s never before or since slugged anywhere near his .498 slugging percentage that season — Headley’s most reasonable offensive expectation probably centers on a high on-base percentage with occasional power (something like his .262/.371/.398 slash line with the Yankees last season; except maybe with a little more pop). If he’s a high-end defender who lengthens the lineup but doesn’t necessarily have to hit third, fourth or fifth, he should be a good fit on a good team.

Worst case scenario: If Headley’s hitting third or fourth this season, it might be a sign that the other veterans are struggling again, and the Yankees are trying to recapture some of Headley’s 2012 magic. That’s not an ideal situation. Leaning too heavily on Headley’s bat, only to have him yet again fail to meet those 2012 expectations, would spell trouble for the lineup. And a return of his past back issues could spell trouble for the infield, which would turn to, who, A-Rod to play third base?

What the future holds: Signed to a four-year deal, Headley has a future with the Yankees. While the organization has some legitimate minor league talent at third base, there are questions about Eric Jagielo’s ability to stay at the position and about Dante Bichette Jr’s ability to hit with consistency. Young Miguel Andujar is promising, but still a teenager. Until forced out of the position, Headley will be the Yankees’ third baseman for the near future. He’ll be 34 when his contract expires, so the Yankees are hoping to avoid a late-30s collapse.

Associated Press photo

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Monday notes: Burton, A-Rod, Headley, Tanaka, Maier02.16.15

The Yankees announced today that they have signed right-handed reliever Jared Burton to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league spring training. Burton, 33, spent most of the past eight years in the big leagues. His past two seasons were with the Twins, and he had a cumulative 1.28 WHIP those two years. His strikeouts went down quite a bit last year. Looks like just another bit of bullpen depth.

Also, here are three Yankees items coming from The Associated Press today: two straight from the minor league complex in Tampa, and one random story from New York.

Alex RodriguezA-ROD REACHES OUT TO HEADLEY

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Chase Headley says Alex Rodriguez has “reached out and introduced himself.”

Headley was signed to a $52 million, four-year contract by the Yankees, who plan to start him at third base and shift Rodriguez to designated hitter.

Returning from a season-long suspension for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract, the 39-year-old Rodriguez hopes to win back his old job at third base. Headley said A-Rod contacted him shortly after he reached the agreement in mid-December.

“We didn’t talk about that,” Headley said Monday after working out at the Yankees’ minor league complex. “It was just more of an introduction. I think we both care about winning. That’s the most important thing and that’s what we talked about. That (other) stuff will sort itself out. I’m not going to concern myself with that. I’m going to come out and try to do the best I can to do my job, and however that shakes out it will shake out.”

Headley was acquired from the San Diego Padres last July, then became a free agent before signing with the Yankees.

Rodriguez met with top Yankees officials last Tuesday and apologized to the team as he prepares to report to spring training ahead of the first full-squad workout on Feb. 26.

Masahiro TanakaTANAKA SET TO START FLORIDA WORKOUTS

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is set to start workouts ahead of spring training.

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tanaka was scheduled to arrive in Florida on Monday night from Japan. Tanaka missed 2½ months last year while rehabilitating a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He returned for two late-September starts.

“So far everything is good,” Rothschild said Monday at the Yankees’ minor league complex. “That doesn’t mean it will be going forward, but we’re going to do everything we can. We’ll put schedules together and things like that to try to keep him healthy.”

Signing to a $155 million, seven-year contract, Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts. The Yankees say he has been throwing as part of his normal conditioning program in Japan.

Jeffrey Maier, Tony TarascoGLOVE MAIER USED TO CATCH 1996 HOMER UP FOR AUCTION

NEW YORK (AP) — The glove Jeffrey Maier used to catch Derek Jeter’s tying home run against Baltimore in the eighth inning of the 1996 AL Championship Series opener at the original Yankee Stadium will be auctioned.

Heritage Auction said Monday the glove will be put up for bids on Feb. 21 in New York. It did not identify the current owner, who it said had purchased the glove from Maier.

Then 12, Maier reached in front of the right-field wall and prevented Tony Tarasco from catching Jeter’s drive on Oct. 9, 1996. Umpire Rich Garcia declined to call fan interference and Bernie Williams hit an 11th-inning home run that gave the Yankees a 5-4 victory. Baltimore’s protest was denied by baseball’s ruling executive council and AL President Gene Budig.

New York went on to defeat the Orioles in five games and win the first of what would be four World Series titles in five years.

Associated Press photos

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Pinch hitting: Tyler Patterson02.13.15

Jacoby Ellsbury

Quick and to the point, today’s Pinch Hitter sent a one-line bio: “Tyler is a life-long Yankee fan and an attorney in Washington, D.C.” That’s Tyler Patterson in an incredibly small nutshell. Perhaps he kept the bio so short because he was saving so many words for his actual post.

As for his post, he calls it: “The 2015 Yankees and Elite Team Defense.”

Chase HeadleyWe all know the nickname of the Yankees that has been around since the 1930s: the Bronx Bombers.

Inspired by Ruth, Gehrig, and many, many others, the Yankees at their best are an offensive juggernaut. Not to mitigate the team’s past pitching accomplishments (indeed, some old-time Yankee pitchers are criminally underrated) but success for the Yankees has been predominantly associated with the organization’s offensive prowess over the years. Such is the case for the teams that the organization has fielded since 1995, the first year I, like many other millennials, began watching the team.

I challenge anyone to name me a Yankee club since the 1995 season that has been known for its defense (in a positive manner). I know I can’t do it. Not that the Yankees haven’t fielded stout defensive teams since 1995, but the point is that defense is just not what the Yankees are ever known for. And when you look past player reputations and at the numbers, it is not difficult to understand why.

For example, recently retired Yankees legend Derek Jeter is easily one of the greatest shortstops in MLB history and one of the greatest Yankees of all time. However, none of that was due to his defense. For his career, Jeter had a TZ of -129, a DRS of -159 and a UZR/150 of -7.1. If you do not know what any of these stats are, that’s fine. As you might guess, all those negatives indicate Jeter was not a strong fielder. This jives with the traditional eye-test as well, the jump-throws and Gold Glove awards aside.

The same can be said about many other Yankees since 1995 (Williams, Posada, Giambi, O’Neill, Soriano, Sheffield). None of these players was an especially good fielder, and the list goes on. Very few Yankees since 1995 were great (or in most cases, even average) fielders. In fact, from 1995 through the 2014 season, the Yankees ranked dead last in all of baseball with a Def rating of -440.8 (Def, as calculated by FanGraphs, is a combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average [fielding runs] and positional value relative to other positions [positional adjustment]). The next worst club, the Cubs, had a Def of -308.5.

Since 1995, the Yankees cumulatively have been far and away the worst defensive squad in all of baseball.

That being said, the Yankees have showed marked improvement in team defense in the past several seasons. For example, the Yankees’ Def in 2013 was 21.4 and in 2014, 10.8.

This trend should continue in 2015, a season in which the Yankees might easily field their best defensive team since 1995.

The Yankees have made a conscious effort to get younger and cheaper wherever they can, and in baseball’s current suppressed run environment, the Yankees have realized that it is easier to upgrade the roster defensively rather than offensively. That is not to say there is not offensive upside to some of the Yankees’ offseason acquisitions, but improved team defense has certainly been on the mind of the front office, especially during the last two offseasons.

Let us run through the 2014 squad position by position and compare it to the projected team for the upcoming season. It is clear that the 2015 squad projects to be fantastic defensively, perhaps the best defensive team since 1995.

Brian McCannCATCHER
2014: Brian McCann
2015: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy

McCann is the Yankees’ catcher for the foreseeable future after the team signed him to a five-year deal following the 2013 season. He saw the bulk of the work behind the plate in 2014 and did not disappoint, at least defensively. McCann is a world-class defender and one of the best defensive backstops in baseball. His Def of 11.5 in 2014 was exactly what the Yankees signed up for, as was his pitch-framing performance (11.4 Runs Above Average, good for 11th in MLB. This represents a “down” year for McCann, who is consistently top 10 in MLB every season in this category). Long story short, McCann is an elite defensive backstop, and he projects to continue to be so, as his 2015 projected Def of 8.8 illustrates.

Backing up McCann will presumably be Murphy, who anyone will tell you is an above average defender behind the plate. The Yankees have been emphasizing catcher defense for some time now, and with Murphy (and McCann for that matter) the Yankees continue the trend. It is not actually settled who will be the Yankee backup catcher, as Austin Romine will also be “competing” for the role in spring training, but my money is on Murphy with Romine being dealt or placed on waivers. Murphy is clearly the better player, both defensively and offensively.

Mark Teixeira, Jonathan SchoopFIRST BASE
2014: Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson
2015: Mark Teixeira, Garrett Jones

Obviously, Teixeira will be the Yankees’ first baseman in 2015, at least until the obligatory injury. Unlike last year, the Yankees have a back-up first baseman on their roster in Jones, although his defensive abilities leave a lot to be desired. First base, like catcher, is a position where I do not put too much stock in advanced statistics because, at least in my experience, the stats do not measure up to the eye test. Teixeira is a perfect example of this. Teixeira has had a pretty consistent negative Def rating throughout his career, and last season was no different, as his -3.6 shows. His UZR/150, however, was 7.1 last season and has been consistently positive in his career. That jives more with my perception of Teixeira and my experience watching him pretty regularly since 2009, but it is also obvious confirmation bias.

Either way, I’m not the only one who will tell you Tex is at least an average defender at first, and probably slightly above average. I expect no different in 2015, so long as he can stay on the field (a BIG if in his age-35 season). If injured, the aforementioned Jones figures to man first base. He is projected for a -9.1 Def, which is not very good, and unlike Teixeira, the eye-test does not save Jones; he has never been thought of as a strong defender, and the stats back that up. Let’s hope Teixeira remains healthy. Or, if not, that Greg Bird is mauling in Trenton and gets a call. Unlikely, but I can dream.

Stephen DrewSECOND BASE
2014: Multiple Players
2015: Stephen Drew, Rob Refsnyder

Offensively, second base was a mess for the Yankees last season until they dealt for Martin Prado, who was fantastic in his 37 games for the Yankees (his true value was as trade bait, allowing the Yankees to obtain Jones and Nathan Eovaldi). Defensively, however, the myriad of players the Yankees played at second combined for a -1.9 Def, which is not awful but not great either. A carryover from last season, Drew, was signed to a no-risk, one-year, $5-million deal to hold second base down until Refsnyder is ready to permanently take over (or until the Yankees gain another year of team control by manipulating Refsnyder’s service time).

Drew’s calling card in his career has been his defense at short, which has always been excellent. There is no reason to think that, save for a minor adjustment period, he will not be able to excel at the less-demanding second base position. A legitimate reason why the Yankees may not, as of this moment, be comfortable opening the 2015 season with Refsnyder as their everyday second basemen is his defense. A converted outfielder, Refsnyder has taken to second base well, but there is certainly room for improvement. The scouting reports peg Refsnyder as an average defensive second baseman at best, but combined with Drew’s projected performance, as well as Brendan Ryan’s skill as the infield backup, the team’s second base defense should be at least as good as it was last year, and probably much better. Backing up either of these players will be Ryan, a world-class defensive infielder.

Derek JeterSHORTSTOP
2014: Derek Jeter
2015: Didi Gregorius

We have already discussed Jeter’s defensive shortcomings, and last season was no different as he compiled a -4.0 Def, a -12.5 UZR/150, and a -12 DRS. By any measure Jeter was a very, very bad fielder last season. His replacement this season will be Gregorius, who projects to compile a 4.3 Def, a huge improvement over 2014 Jeter.

Gregorius has a reputation as being a strong defender with excellent range and a cannon for an arm, and let’s hope we see that in 2015. Under team control for the next several seasons, the position is Gregorius’s to lose (at least until Jorge Mateo is ready to take over) and the Yankees will give him every opportunity to be their everyday shortstop for the foreseeable future. Having Chase Headley manning third base will also make his job much easier, allowing Gregorius to shade up the middle more so than he normally would.

Chase HeadleyTHIRD BASE
2014: Multiple Players
2015: Chase Headley

The Yankees opened 2014 with Kelly Johnson as their starting third baseman, and the position was a mess until Headley was acquired before the trade deadline. Signed to a four-year deal this offseason (at a below market rate), Headley is the Yankees’ third basemen moving forward. From a defensive standpoint, the Yankees are set. In only 58 games with the team last year, Headley compiled a 12.4 Def and has been an absolute defensive stud throughout his career.

Combined with Gregorius, the defense on the left side of the infield will be among the best in baseball. Like second base, third base was not as bad defensively as I thought it was in 2014 (thanks mainly to Headley), but with Headley in pinstripes for an entire season, third-base defense will be an absolute strength for the 2015 squad. Headley is among the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball, and it will be fun watching him man the hot corner for the Yankees in 2015 and beyond.

Indians Yankees BaseballLEFT FIELD
2014: Brett Gardner
2015: Brett Gardner

Gardner was signed to a team-friendly four-year deal that begins this season, and barring a trade (which I do not think is out of the question) he will be the Yankees’ left fielder in 2015 and for the foreseeable future. Gardner is a superb defender in any outfield position, and left field is no different. It is important for the Yankees to man left field with a strong defender given the stadium’s dimensions, and Gardner handles it about as well as a player can. Because of this, he has more value to the Yankees than most other (if not all) teams.

Look for Gardner to continue his defensive excellence, giving the Yankees another above-average defended position. He also serves as a backup to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, further adding to Gardner’s value.

EllsburyCENTER FIELD
2014: Jacoby Ellsbury
2015: Jacoby Ellsbury

In the second year of a seven-year deal he signed prior to the 2014 season, Ellsbury will once again man center field. There is not much to say here, as Ellsbury has always been a very strong defensive center fielder, and 2015 projects to be no different.

This gives the Yankees yet another position fielded by an above-average defender.

Carlos Beltran, Jacoby EllsburyRIGHT FIELD
2014: Multiple Players
2015: Carlos Beltran, Chris Young

Right field is the only position on the diamond I believe the Yankees will field below-average defenders in 2015. Last season, Beltran projected to be the everyday right fielder. Long gone are the years when Beltran was an elite defender in center field. Since 2009, Beltran has been a below-average fielder wherever he has played, mainly in right, and 2015 projects to be no different. Beltran suffered a myriad of injuries in 2014, and the Yankees were forced to play multiple players in right as a result. I expect the Yankees to DH Beltran quite a bit this season due to his age and the fact that he can still hit plenty when healthy. That will leave Young to get plenty of reps in right in 2015, especially against lefties as he is a career 116 wRC+ hitter against them.

Projection wise, Beltran sits at a -11.8 Def for 2015, while Young sits at a -2.2 Def. It is important to note that there is not a lot of room in right field in Yankee stadium, so bad defense in right for the Yankees is far less detrimental than it would be to, say, the Athletics or Padres. This is also a reason why I tend to shy away from advanced defensive statistics for Yankees’ right fielders, but I digress. The stats back up the eye tests for both Beltran and Young.

CONCLUSION

I am not going to analyze Ryan or Young any more than I already have because the backup infielder and fourth outfielder positions are very fluid on every team in baseball and it would not be a shock if Ryan and/or Young end the 2015 season off the active roster. That being said, the Yankees project to field an exceptional defensive squad in 2015 and, save for right field, will have at least an average fielder at every position.

In an era where run scoring is down significantly due mainly to an ever-expanding strike zone, it is far easier to upgrade pitching and defense. The Yankees have done a very, very good job upgrading team defense the past two offseasons, and it should be fun to watch.

Associated Press photos

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Biggest problem with this Yankees offseason: Their previous offseasons02.12.15

Brian McCann

The biggest problem with this Yankees offseason?

It wasn’t passing on Max Scherzer or not trading for Troy Tulowitzki. It was making the decision in 2007 to re-sign Alex Rodriguez. It was pushing payroll in 2008 to sign Mark Teixeira. It was giving CC Sabathia an extension in 2011, and it was deciding last winter that Carlos Beltran was a safe-enough bet to deserve three years and $45 million.

The problem with the 2015 Yankees isn’t that they’ve gone cheap or stopped adding players, it’s that they’re already committed to players who have declined faster and more drastically than expected.

The Yankees didn’t go into this offseason oblivious to their offensive shortcomings. In fact, they were so aware of them that they fired hitting coach Kevin Long.

Carlos BeltranBut where were the Yankees going to find the necessary upgrades this winter?

The outfield corners are usually good places to find power, but the Yankees have Beltran for two more years, and they just signed Brett Gardner to one of their more favorable contracts. Designated hitter could have been an obvious chance to upgrade, but the Yankees’ get-out-of-jail-free card on A-Rod expired. First base is typically a power position, but Teixeira’s signed for two more years with a full no-trade clause and no indication that he’s willing waive it.

So what did the Yankees have left?

The wide open spots for an offensive upgrade were second base (where there were no impact hitters available), shortstop (where the Yankees could have rolled the dice with Hanley Ramirez’s defense or given up the entire farm system for Tulowitzki), and third base (where the Yankees re-signed Chase Headley, choosing defense and on-base percentage over pure thump).

That left a middle of the order that looks a little too familiar. It looks too much like the middle of last year’s Opening Day lineup, with the biggest difference being Rodriguez at DH instead of released-by-mid-July Alfonso Soriano.

Fact is, power is getting harder to find these days. As disappointing as Teixeira’s been lately, his first three months last season were actually pretty powerful by today’s standards. If he’d maintained his .474 slugging percentage the second three months, Teixeira would have finished 12th in slugging in the American League. Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were actually top 30 in slugging last season, and McCann’s brutal Yankees debut still placed in him the top 20 in home runs.

Are there ways to find more power this season? There might be, but they all seem to involve Beltran staying healthy, Teixeira staying strong, and McCann building on his powerful September. Role players like Chris Young and Garrett Jones might add some pop here and there – and Rodriguez could be surprisingly productive – but the middle of the Yankees lineup is going to hinge on the guys who are coming back, not the guys who were added this winter.

This morning, Bill recommended a buy-low trade for Josh Hamilton. I’m sure others could have made a similar case for Ryan Howard or Prince Fielder or B.J. Upton (pretty much anyone who found a place among Jonah Keri’s 10 worst baseball contracts). I would argue that even contract-for-contract, none of those trade possibilities represent a real upgrade over the pieces the Yankees already have in place.

Yes, the Yankees lineup is a giant question mark heading into this season. But that uncertainty has less to do with the players they didn’t add this offseason, and more to do with the players they did add in the past.

Associated Press photos

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Ten factors to determine the success or failure of Cashman’s winter02.09.15

Brian Cashman

When I put out the call for Pinch Hitters, I honestly didn’t expect to get one in defense of Brian Cashman. That said, I kind of like when these posts go against the typical public opinion, and this winter, a pro-Cashman blog post certainly qualifies.

Now that James Shields has landed in San Diego, we know the Yankees are not going to make a free agent signing any bigger than Chase Headley. They’re going to roll the dice in the rotation, lean heavily on the bullpen, and hope for bounce-back seasons from several veteran hitters.

As a general rule, I’m of the opinion that the Yankees needed to restrict spending this offseason to avoid some familiar pitfalls, so I mostly agree with Daniel’s morning post: I basically think Cashman did a fine job under the circumstances. There are plenty of questions in the rotation and the lineup, and the farm system seems a year away from making a major contribution, but the Yankees did manage to get younger without adding any huge-risk contracts.

I think it was a reasonable approach to the offseason, but it clearly comes with considerable risk. Whether it works in the short-term will depend on several touch-to-predict factors.

Here are 10 issues that may determine whether we look back at Cashman’s offseason as a real success or a total failure.

Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann1. Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow
Of all the health questions in the Yankees’ rotation, none is as significant as Tanaka’s torn elbow ligament. When the injury came to light last season, some of the top medical experts in the world recommended the Yankees postpone surgery and try to rehab the injury. The Yankees listened, followed that advice, and Tanaka returned to make a couple of late-season starts. The elbow, though, still looms as a ticking time bomb. Whether it was his decision or not — his evaluation or not — Cashman will most certainly take the heat if Tanaka’s elbow blows out between now and the postseason. If it holds up, the Yankees have their ace. If it doesn’t, Cashman will have missed out on the opportunity to acquire a ready replacement in Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.

2. Brian McCann’s bat
Last winter, there seemed to be near universal agreement that McCann was a natural fit for the Yankees. There were certainly those who wanted the team to stay away, but the Yankees have a long tradition of impact catchers, and McCann’s left-handed power and pitch-framing reputation made him an obvious target. Cashman gave him a five-year deal, despite the presence of John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Now the Yankees are committed, and McCann stands out as the one middle-of-the-order slugger who can’t blame injuries of last year’s diminished production. His bat remains a key piece of this lineup, both in the short term and the long term. If he doesn’t produce for a second straight season, McCann’s contract is going to look like an overwhelming problem going forward.

3. Stephen Drew’s return
A one-year, $5-million deal isn’t a make-or-break contract for the Yankees. In this case, though, it seems like an all-or-nothing decision for Cashman. If Drew struggles to another sub-.200 batting average, Cashman is going to look foolish for giving a second opportunity to a player who performed so poorly a year ago (especially when there were younger second basemen in place). If Drew bounces back to his 2013 level of production — providing a great glove and decent power for a middle infielder — Cashman will appear savvy, taking advantage of a buy-low opportunity (especially for a player who provides insurance at not only second base but also at shortstop).

Dellin Betances4. The ninth inning
Whoever takes the job, the Yankees need someone to effectively close the door in the ninth inning. It stands out as an especially sensitive issue because of the decision to let Dave Robertson sign with the White Sox for marginally more money than the Yankees gave Andrew Miller. Cashman has said the decision was based, at least partially, on the draft pick compensation tied to Robertson. A draft pick, though, is no sure thing, and right now the Yankees don’t have a single reliever with significant ninth-inning experience. Robertson was a known quantity. If Miller or Dellin Betances or whoever else can’t handle the closer role, Cashman will have neglected a job that the Yankees — after two decades of Mariano Rivera — should appreciate as much as anyone.

5. The fifth starter
Top-of-the-rotation concerns aside, one of the Yankees most pressing rotation issues is the apparent lack of depth. If healthy, the Yankees seem to have a perfectly good top four, but right now their fifth starter is Chris Capuano, with relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers looking like the most immediate sixth starter candidates. Pitching prices got out of control this winter — four years for Brandon McCarthy, eight figures for Brett Anderson — but the Yankees certainly went into the offseason recognizing their need for rotation help. They acquired Nathan Eovaldi, but also gave up Shane Greene. Essentially, Cashman chose to roll the dice on the health of his in-place starters, the return of Ivan Nova, and the short-term ability of Capuano. A big contract would have been a big risk, but the alternative isn’t exactly risk-free.

6. Everything about Didi Gregorius
This was the choice at shortstop. With Derek Jeter retired, the Yankees were left with a glaring hole at a position once claimed by an icon. Cashman chose to make a trade for a 24-year-old kid who’s never proven he can be an everyday player in the big leagues. If Gregorius is a great defensive player (and others are able to provide some offense), the decision might look like a solid one. If Gregorius can actually hit beyond his Arizona numbers, the decision could look like a great one. But if Gregorius falls flat, the Yankees will have given up a young starting pitcher — one who might have solved some of those familiar rotation issues — for a guy who does nothing to solve an issue the Yankees had to see coming for several years.

Joe Girardi, Chase Headley7. Everything about third base
There was little Cashman could do this offseason about Alex Rodriguez. Unless ownership decided to simply cut ties, Cashman was stuck with a roster that included a 39-year-old coming off a year-long suspension after a series of injuries and several seasons of declining numbers. All Cashman could do was try to work around the Rodriguez issue. He did so by making his most expensive commitment of the winter: a four-year, $52-million deal with Chase Headley, a player with a history of back problems and only one season with more than 13 home runs. It was a fairly risky deal, but if Headley plays well — and doesn’t cause a stir with A-Rod — it will look like a reasonable reaction to a difficult situation. If Headley gets hurt or doesn’t produce, it will stir questions about the decision to give such a contract while trading away a guy like Martin Prado.

8. Three names: Judge, Bird, Severino
Rob Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren might be the first chance to make the big league roster, but the perceived value of the Yankees farm system could hinge heavily on the continued development of Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Luis Severino. Those are the high-end, upper-level talents — or at least, those are the perceived high-end, upper-level talents — and those three are natural in-house solutions for the bad contracts that currently belong to Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. Younger guys like Jorge Mateo and Luis Torrens might help eventually, but Cashman needs a minor league victory sooner than that. Get Judge, Bird and Severino to Triple-A this year — perhaps even to New York before the end of the year — and the Yankees will at least have a farm system that seems ready to provide immediate impact.

Manny Banuelos9. One other name: Manny Banuelos
Prospect success goes both ways for Cashman. If he’s going to get credit for the success of those he’s kept, he has to take the blame for those he’s traded away. Even without a single inning in the big leagues, Banuelos was pretty close to a household name as far as prospects go (at least among Yankees fans). He was kind of like Jesus Montero in that way. Fans were waiting for him and expecting big things, and Cashman traded him away. If Banuelos gets back on track with Atlanta and lives up to his potential, Cashman will have given up a young, much-anticipated young starter for a couple of relief pitchers. Even if David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve are great, that trade will look ugly if Banuelos is racking up wins in Atlanta.

10. Yoan Moncada’s free agency
This is a strange fit on this list for two reasons: 1. it will have absolutely no impact on the 2015 Yankees, and 2. it will probably have very little to do with Cashman himself. That said, if ownership is willing to pay a massive price to sign the market’s most coveted international free agent, Moncada could very well stand out as the Yankees most impressive signing of the offseason. It will show a willingness to spend big bucks, it will give the farm system a huge talent — and a big name — and every evaluation of the Yankees’ winter will have to include the fact that, while they passed on a guy like Scherzer, they went all in for Moncada. It will make very clear that Cashman came into this offseason with a plan to get younger and build for something long-term.

Associated Press photos

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White Sox, Braves among most active teams on free agent market02.02.15

Brian Cashman

Just starting the first week of February, the free agent market has grown predictably thin. James Shields is still out there, as are a couple of experienced closers, but the market is really down the bare bones.

Here’s an attempt to list the significant free agent signings each team has made this offseason. In some cases, the term “significant” is stretched to the limit (I’ve included a handful of minor league deals with recognizable names, most of whom will never play anything close to a significant role). Obviously free agency isn’t the only way to build a team — the Padres, for example, used trades to completely restructure their outfield — but this does give some idea of which teams were most active on the open market this winter.

You’ll notice the Yankees have quite a few names attached, but almost all are re-signings, and there’s a chance that only two will play a particularly big role in 2015.

HeadleyAMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays – Russell Martin, Andy Dirks, Daric Barton, Ronald Belisario, Ramon Santiago

Orioles – J.P. Arencibia, Delmon Young, J.J. Hardy (re-signed before he hit the market)

Rays – Asdrubal Cabrera, Ernesto Frieri, Ronald Belisario

Red Sox – Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara (re-signed before he hit the market)

Yankees – Andrew Miller, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Andrew Bailey

ph_502085AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Indians – Gavin Floyd

Royals – Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Kris Melden, Ryan Madson

Tigers – Victor Martinez, Tom Gorzelanny

Twins – Ervin Santana, Torii Hunter, Tim Stauffer

White Sox – Dave Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke, Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Geovany Soto, Jesse Crain

ph_443558AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Angels – no standout free agent additions

Astros – Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek

Athletics – Billy Butler

Mariners – Nelson Cruz, Endy Chavez

Rangers – Kyuji Pujikawa, Adam Rosales, Colby Lewis, Kyle Blanks

ph_453286NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves – Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli, A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Dian Toscano, Jonny Gomes, Kelly Johnson, Zoilo Almonte

Marlins – Mike Morse, Ichiro Suzuki

Mets – Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry

Nationals – Max Scherzer, Casey Janssen, Dan Uggla

Phillies – Aaron Harang, Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Billingsley, Grady Sizemore, Jerome Williams (Sizemore and Williams were extended before they hit the market)

ph_452657NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Brewers – Neal Cotts, Dontrelle Willis, Aramis Ramirez (options picked up on both ends)

Cardinals – Mark Reynolds, Matt Belisle, Dean Anna

Cubs – Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Chris Denorfia, Jason Motte, David Ross

Pirates – Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Jung-ho Kang, Corey Hart

Reds – Jason Marquis, Brennan Boesch, Paul Maholm

ph_435221NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

Diamondbacks – Yasmany Tomas, Gerald Laird

Dodgers – Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Erik Bedard, David Huff

Giants – Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo, Nori Aoki, Ryan Vogelsong

Padres – Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Clint Barmes, Ramiro Pena, Wil Nieves

Rockies – Daniel Descalso, Nick Hundley, John Axford

Associated Press photo

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Girardi has tough questions to answer with this lineup01.22.15

In today’s Pinch Hitter post, Bennett focused on the Yankees batting order. Lineup construction is always a source of fascination, and it’s still an evolving art form as we continue to learn more and more about the game. In the past decade or so, managers have changed the way they build lineups, and although most analysis finds that lineup optimization has limited impact, it does have some impact, which makes it important.

So how should the Yankees stack their batting order this season? Like everything else about this unpredictable season, it really depends on many factors.

Jacoby Ellsbury ; Brett GardnerIs Jacoby Ellsbury definitely the leadoff hitter?
Last year Ellsbury hit third, which always seemed odd considering he came to the Yankees as one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball. In theory, a healthy lineup should free Ellsbury to move back to the very top of the order this season, but that shouldn’t be a given. With Brett Gardner, the Yankees have another obvious leadoff candidate who had nearly the exactly same on-base percentage and a slightly higher OPS than Ellsbury last season. The Yankees could keep Gardner in the leadoff spot and use Ellsbury one of two ways: Either in a return to the No. 3 spot, or as the No. 2 hitter. While baseball used to lean toward batting its best hitters third, there’s been a recent move toward prioritizing the No. 2 spot. That might be where Ellsbury fits best.

Is Alex Rodriguez a good hitter? Is he even an everyday player?
This morning, Bennett proposed batting Rodriguez eighth — that’s happened before, hasn’t it? — and it makes a lot of sense. It’s been a while since A-Rod was a great, middle-of-the-order slugger, and his return from suspension isn’t exactly generating a lot of optimism. But what if he does hit? Could he be a legitimate No. 4 or 5 hitter? Is that too much to even dream about? There’s also an opposite scenario to consider. What if Rodriguez is so bad that he can’t get regular at-bats, especially against right-handed starters? If Garrett Jones is the everyday DH against righties, that raises a new batting order problem. Specifically…

Brian McCannHow should Joe Girardi split up his left-handed hitters?
Right now, the Yankees seem to be banking on only one right-handed regular, and that’s A-Rod. Otherwise, Ellsbury, Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew and Brian McCann are each lefties; Headley, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira are switch hitters. It seems entirely possible, if not likely, that Ellsbury and Gardner will hit back-to-back at the top of the order — they each handle left-handed pitchers pretty well — but Drew and Gregorius have significant splits, so it’s worth keeping them separated. And the lineup becomes even more left-leaning if Jones is starting at DH. A middle-of-the-order that has Beltran, McCann, Teixeira and Headley bunched together — which isn’t an absurd idea on the surface — could leave five straight lefties (Jones, Gregorius, Drew, Ellsbury and Gardner).

Will the lineup look significantly different against lefties?
Basically, how many platoon situations are the Yankees planning to have this season? Is Chris Young going to play against most lefties to give one of the regular outfielders a day off? Is Brendan Ryan going to platoon with Gregorius at shortstop or with Drew at second base? Can Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela make the team out of camp and play regularly (or at least play regularly against lefties)? Is there anything to the idea of giving John Ryan Murphy regular reps against lefties so that McCann can either DH or take some days off? We know the American League East doesn’t have many left-handed starters these days, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t run into their share during the course of the season. How drastically will the lineup change on those days?

Chase HeadleyWhat should we make of Chase Headley’s strong second half?
Here’s the central point Bennett was making this morning: Headley has been a terrific hitter in the past, and since the Yankees have to bank on healthy veterans anyway, why not bank on a healthy Headley being a productive run producer? Since the alternatives aren’t all that appealing, Headley could be a middle-of-the-order guy. Problem is, Headley’s been a true power hitter only once in his career. During that standout 2012 season he slugged .498, but he’s otherwise slugged better than .400 only once, and that was in a partial season (even in 2012 he didn’t slug a ton in the first half, just went nuts after the break). Most of his career, Headley’s been more of an on-base guy, and that’s mostly what he was with the Yankees last season despite the lingering impression of those big hits along the way. His career slugging percentage is lower than Derek Jeter’s or Kelly Johnson’s. Can he be productive enough to hit in the middle, or does he have to be considered more like a No. 6-7 hitter?

Can at least one veteran seriously bounce back this season?
This might be the most important question of all. The Yankees might not be banking on much production from Rodriguez, but they’re surely counting on McCann, Beltran and Teixeira. Those are the real sources of power in this lineup, and the Yankees need at least one of them to perform like a stereotypical No. 3 or cleanup hitter. McCann slugged .519 in September (maybe that was a sign of adjustment). Teixeira slugged .474 through the end of June (that’s a good slugging percentage these days, and maybe he can maintain that pace after a normal offseason). Beltran hit .263/.311/.516 in April (maybe his May elbow injury was root of all the disappointment that came next). If one of those three can get productive and stay that way, the Yankees might have to adjust their lineup to give that guy priority at-bats.

Associated Press photos

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Pinch hitting: Bennett Sciacca01.22.15

Joe Girardi, Chase Headley
Let me start this day by saying my thoughts are with John Sterling, whose apartment building was destroyed in a massive fire last night. All the best, John.

As for today’s Pinch Hitter, Bennett Sciacca is a lifelong Yankees fan now studying business and writing at Hofstra University. Bennett wrote that he enjoys studying the game of baseball and would like to have a career in the industry. When he’s not studying, Bennett is an amateur photographer working toward visiting and photographing every Major League Baseball field in the country.

For his post, Bennett looks ahead to the Yankees lineup and makes the case for one particular player – perhaps an unlikely one – hitting third this season.

Chase HeadleyThe departure of Robinson Cano was a hot topic last offseason, a period in which the Yankees took to a massive roster overhaul, spending nearly half a billion dollars on free agents. Yet, it still seems the effect of Cano’s absence on the team has been largely understated.

The 2014 Yankees’ offense struggled mightily by its standards, ranking 20th or lower among all teams in total runs, batting average, and on-base percentage. The No. 3 spot in the order seemed like a lost role as Jacoby Ellsbury was thrust into the unfamiliarity of it for the majority of the season. He turned in the team’s leading batting average at .271, with catcher Brian McCann leading the team with 75 RBIs. Hardly robust numbers. It was the first time since 2004 that the Yankees did not have a .300 hitter, and the first time since 1992 that there was no 100 RBI player on the team.

Yet there is no Cano out there on the market waiting to be plucked up and lead the Yankees’ hitting categories this year. Even if there were, general manager Brian Cashman made a strong statement about his intention to avoid the purchase of a player like that in letting Cano walk in the first place.

This winter’s most immediate improvements have been in the bullpen, with the Yankees expecting the offense to feature many of the same faces as last year, hoping the pricey investments of 2014 begin to pay their dividends. Cashman has made a few relatively small additions, trading for shortstop Didi Gregorius along with the additions of a full season’s worth of Chase Headley and Stephen Drew. Alex Rodriguez’s presence will be a factor one way or another, but the team is not prepared to count on him as an upgrade on either side of the ball, as he will likely share DH time with the newly acquired lefty Garrett Jones.

With Spring Training slowly creeping up, Yankees fans are still wondering how the offensive slack is going to be picked up. Health will be the primary factor, but one may also contend that lineup construction can play a huge role in making up for some of those lost runs and producing an offensive threat. The following lineup presents a strong opportunity to do so.

Ellsbury1. Jacoby Ellsbury
2. Brett Gardner
3. Chase Headley
4. Carlos Beltran
5. Brian McCann
6. Mark Teixeira
7. Didi Gregorius
8. Alex Rodriguez
9. Stephen Drew

Is Chase Headley the No. 3 hitter that is going to bring the punch the Yankees lost when they let go of Cano? He may not be quite the same caliber hitter, but like it or not, the success of the 2015 Yankees is leaning heavily on assumptions of regained health. With that being the case, Headley led the National League in RBIs in 2012 before experiencing back troubles, and that was with a light-hitting Padres team in the pitcher friendly Petco Park. A full, healthy season in Yankee Stadium could be exactly what Headley needs to get back to All-Star form.

In this proposed lineup, the Yankees can take some of the load off Ellsbury’s shoulders, allowing him to shift back into the leadoff spot where he batted all of his All-Star years, and where he really shows off his on-base and speed prowess in pinstripes. Slotting Gardner behind him creates a speedy tandem at the top of the lineup, one that can get into scoring position quickly, creating early opportunities for a team that had a hard time getting runs across the plate in 2014.

The 4, 5, 6, in the order should be some combination of Beltran, McCann, and Teixeira. Each player is a dangerous threat when healthy, yet they are each coming off some of the worst years of their careers in terms of offensive production. If this trio can get it going, stay healthy, and play to the back of their baseball cards, they’ll be a nasty bunch to work through. That should give Headley plenty of pitches to hit and perhaps an opportunity to reprise a role as a 100-plus RBI player, which is exactly what the Yankees need to be able to compete with the strong lineups of the AL East.

The injury troubles and lack of performance in 2014 make it hard to bank on any one guy in the lineup, but judging solely on most recent performance, Headley looked as good as any hitter on the team at the end of the Yankees 2014 season, and he should start the season as their No. 3 hitter.

As for Rodriguez’s return from suspension, the Yankees are keeping their expectations low. Given his salary and past performance, Joe Girardi is going to give A-Rod at-bats one way or another, but one has to figure that he will be penciled in toward the bottom of the lineup until the team is really sure of what kind of production he will be bringing to the table. I put him in the No. 8 spot to effectively split up some of the left-handed hitters.

Yankees fans find themselves at a point in the offseason once again where they might know what their team is capable of when healthy, but fans have been given real doubt as to whether the players will be able to perform. The Yankees won’t be getting the production of Cano back, but they could do well to make up for it and improve upon their 2014 numbers with the consistent production of their veteran players, and some crafty lineup construction.

As of right now, the lineup listed above would make a lot of sense to be featured on Opening Day, but with such volatility on the roster, Girardi will likely have a few contingency plans close at hand. At any rate, look out for Headley to be an important piece of the Yankees’ 2015 offensive puzzle.

Associated Press photos

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The lingering impact of the Yankees second-half additions12.18.14

Chris Capuano

By my count, the Yankees added 10 brand new players to the big league roster — players who had not been in the organization when the season started — between the July 15 All-Star Game and the end of the regular season.

Second-half moves like that happen every year as teams try to plug holes here and there, but the Yankees’ second-half additions stand out because of just how many have either re-signed, stayed on the roster, or otherwise impacted the organization going forward. This list isn’t made entirely of lingering players, but there are lot of them.

Chase HeadleyLHP Rich Hill – Signed to a minor league deal immediately after the all-star break, Hill was allowed to leave via free agency this offseason. Perhaps his lasting impact is the fact he was the guy called up when the Yankees let go of Matt Thornton on waivers. That was a money saving move, and having Hill in Triple-A presumably made it a little easier (there really wasn’t another lefty to bring up before Hill was added to the mix).

3B Chase Headley – Seems safe to assume Headley would have been on the Yankees radar this offseason regardless of his second-half stint in pinstripes, but the Yankees clearly liked what they saw, and Headley has acknowledged that he enjoyed the New York experience more than he expected. Would these two have found common ground without that late-season audition? Maybe not.

LHP Chris Capuano – The Yankees were desperate for a starting pitcher, and Capuano was available. He had been released and was pitching in Triple-A when the Yankees acquired him, and he pitched like a good No. 5 during his 12-start stint as a rotation replacement. As other rotation options came off the table earlier this month, the Yankees eventually found their way back to the guy who pitched better than expected late in the season.

Martin Prado2B Martin Prado – Of all the names on the list, this is the only one clearly intended to be a long-term fix. The Yankees planned to use Prado in the outfield last season, but he wound up playing all over the field, and it was that versatility that made him a strong fit going forward. His ability to play second base has freed the Yankees to re-sign Headley, and Prado’s ability to play the outfield might eventually free them to add Rob Refsnyder.

SS Stephen Drew – Perhaps this was the audition that had the opposite impact of Headley. Finishing off a strange year in which he signed late and missed spring training, Drew came to the Yankees at the trade deadline with the expectation that he could learn and new position and improve his offensive numbers. The first part was no problem — Drew looked good at second — but the offense never got better. It seems telling that Drew’s still on the free agent market.

RHP Esmil Rogers – A waiver claim at the trade deadline, Rogers showed moments of promise mixed with moments that explained why he was so readily available in the first place. As the season was winding down, Rogers didn’t have a defined role and he entered this offseason as a prime non-tender candidate. The Yankees, though, got him to take a pay cut as they prepare to give him one more look as either a long man, a one-inning reliever, or possibly a starter.

Chris YoungOF Chris Young — This move was easy to mock at the time. Young, after all, had been released by the Mets earlier in the season and there seemed little chance that such a castaway would play any sort of role with the Yankees. But he signed a minor league deal, got a September call-up, hit a few home runs, and wound up with a new one-year deal as the team’s fourth outfielder. That late signing might have made all the difference.

LHP Josh Outman – Basically added to the mix because he seemed like a better left-on-left option than Hill, but late in the year it was Hill getting more of the prime matchup situations, and Outman wound up dumped back into free agency. Hard to remember Outman was ever on the roster in the first place.

RHP Chaz Roe – A late acquisition turned September call-up, Roe is a former first-round pick who pitched two innings for the Yankees, walked three guys, allowed three hits, gave up two earned runs and was never heard from again.

OF Eury Perez – End-of-the-season waiver claim who got 10 at-bats before the end of the season. He might have been let go this winter, but Perez was given an extra option and now seems likely to open the season in Triple-A as a bit of right-handed outfield depth. He has some speed to go with a .360 on-base percentage in the minors. Probably not a guy who’s going to play a significant role going forward, but he’s still in the mix at this point.

Associated Press photos

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