Postgame notes: “I was planning on going” • 04.23.15
From his spot at third base, Jacoby Ellsbury wasn’t sure what just happened. He knew something looked wrong about Anibal Sanchez’s throw to the plate, but he couldn’t analyze the particulars. He was concentrating on something else.
“I was planning on going if he had continued to roll through his motion,” Ellsbury said. “I haven’t looked at the replay, but I think they said maybe because he stepped off in the middle of his motion. Something just didn’t look quite right, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure.”
It was a balk, an awkward one at that as Sanchez started his delivery and then seemed to notice Ellsbury farther off third base than usual.
“When you’re in those shifts, sometimes it’s not what a pitcher’s used to seeing, a guy so far down the line,” Joe Girardi said. “You have to prepare for it.”
“You can’t really say, ‘I’m going to go,’ because if you don’t get a big-enough lead (it won’t work),” Ellsbury said. “In the past, I didn’t know until I went that I was going to go. It’s not predetermined. There are a lot of variables. … I was getting ready to go. I initially took off, then he stepped off and I stopped. I was like, ‘Whoa!’”
There was no call initially, but third-base coach Rob Thomson and hitter Chase Headley immediately signaled for some sort of call – “I was like, ‘You can’t do that!’” Headley said — and Girardi said the Yankees were screaming from the bench.
“(Sanchez) started his delivery and then stepped off the rubber to throw home,” umpire Gerry Davis explained. “I took a couple seconds to process what I saw. I wanted to be sure he had started his delivery before I made the call.”
It was a balk that brought in the Yankees’ tying run, a run they needed to finish off a wildly successful week in Tampa Bay and Detroit. And while the balk itself scored that run, it was Ellsbury who set up the situation with his speed and ability to get one base. The Yankees had only three hits today, but Ellsbury was on base three times and turned two of those opportunities into runs. He got into scoring position once with a stolen base and once with a hustle double.
“That’s what he can do,” Girardi said. “He creates and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He’s going to take advantage of the extra base when he can. He did it today, and it paid off a lot.”
• Five days after his seven shutout innings against Tampa Bay, Masahiro Tanaka was terrific again this afternoon. And this time he did it against one of the best lineups in the American League. “I’m really satisfied with the way I was pitching today,” Tanaka said. “To put it in perspective, I’m as satisfied as I was pitching against Tampa.”
• What made Tanaka good today? “Location,” Brian McCann said. “That’s it. I feel like when he’s hitting the mitt, he’s really hard to hit. He had everything going. He had the cutter going, the sinker in, he had the split obviously – I feel like it’s always there. He got a lot of early count outs, which I think is a big deal for him to pitch deep into ballgames.”
• It was really cold today, and last night we saw what cold can do to a pitcher, but Tanaka was sharp. “Actually, I spent my high school years in a really cold area,” Tanaka said. “So as I was pitching I was remembering about those days.
• The Yankees had three hits today. Ellsbury obviously had one of them. Petit, believe it or not, had one of them. And Chris Young, of course, had one of them. Young is hitting .357. He struck out twice, so this clearly wasn’t one of his better games, but he still did what most guys couldn’t.
• Good defensive game by Headley at third, and a nice play by Gregorio Petit to get a force out on a low throw from Headley to second. “When you get late in the game, you know every run’s a premium,” Headley said. “Obviously I was able to stop it and Gregorio made an unbelievable pick. I threw it straight into the ground. I thought we were going to have a chance to turn the double play, and Cespedes really got down the line, so I hurried the throw and he picked us up over there.”
•Why did Dellin Betances go with nothing but breaking balls in that key at-bat in the seventh? “In that situation, first and third with two outs, I’m trying to go with the best pitch I can throw right there,” Betances said. “I rely on my breaking ball to get big outs. I’m going off McCann, whatever he calls.”
• Girardi said there was no thought of leaving Betances in to face the middle of the Tigers’ lineup in the ninth. “I just think we were able to do it last year, but we had to give him two days off, three days off,” Girardi said. “I’d like to have him available as much as possible, and with all the other strong arms we have down there, I feel we can do that.”
• Another strong save by Andrew Miller, who sent down the heart of the order, starting with a strikeout against Miguel Cabrera. And Cabrera didn’t look good in that at-bat either. “I hate to say overmatched,” Headley said. “But you don’t see him take a lot of bad swings and swing at bad pitches. He’s the best for a reason. That just shows what Andrew’s capable of.”
• Is this the best bullpen Girardi’s ever had? “We have as much power as I’ve ever had in this bullpen,” Girardi said. “And it has a chance to be really special. I’m trying to think of the bullpens that I’ve been a part of. As a player I was with some pretty good ones here, and as a manager, but we have as much power as we’ve ever had.”
• Final word goes to Girardi answering the question, were the Yankees as bad as they looked the first week? “I didn’t think so,” Girardi said. “Did we play bad? Yeah. I mean, we played very poorly, and I said that I think this team is much better than what we played. And (the team) came out on this road trip and showed that we can play baseball, and we can win different types of games. We won one-run games. We had a couple of big offensive explosions on certain days. So we won a lot of different types of games. But we weren’t too good the first week.”
Associated Press photos
We all know Adam Warren’s background, and so it’s easy to understand why he’s in the mix to be the Yankees’ fifth starter. Warren came up through the organization, made his big league debut as a spot starter, and he moved into the bullpen only because that’s where a door first opened. The Yankees never really stopped seeing him as a potential starter down the road.
Esmil Rogers, though, is less familiar, and his place in this competition is a bit more mysterious. Rogers made 20 starts with the Blue Jays back in 2013, but most of his big league time has been as a reliever, including his two months with the Yankees last season. It’s hard to see a career 5.54 ERA and think he’s really the best option to start games at Yankee Stadium next month.
“Well, he’s got a good arm,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s got four pitches that he can go to, so he’s got a couple of different breaking balls and a changeup, so it allows him to get right handers and left handers out. Larry (Rothschild)’s tried to make subtle changes to come of his mechanics to give him more consistency. It’s there, it just comes down to consistently making pitches. This was a position player who made a change, so sometimes those guys bloom a little later.”
Since he became a pitcher, Rogers has worked as a starter throughout the minor leagues, and he’s been a starter in the Dominican Winter League, where he helped pitch his team into the championship round this offseason. Does raw talent and experience out of the big leagues make him a great rotation option? Probably not, which is why he’s having to earn it this spring.
And on the first day that Girardi said he was really evaluating results, Rogers was knocked around for the first time this spring. He allowed three runs on five hits and a walk through 3.1 innings. He struck out three and said he was specifically working on his curveball, which didn’t do him many favors. Girardi labeled the outing as “OK” and pointed out that Rogers at least limited the damage in individual innings.
“I know I (allowed) a couple of base hits; I got a homer,” Rogers said. “I just try to pound the zone. That’s one of the keys I got in this spring training. Today I came in a couple of times behind in the count, and I’ve got to pay for that.”
Tomorrow, Warren gets his turn to make an impression. In a few days, it will be Bryan Mitchell again. Chase Whitley and Scott Baker are also vaguely in the mix. Is Rogers really going to be the guy who wins this job?
“If they’re going to give me that spot, it’s not because I need it,” Rogers said. “It’s because I (earned) it.”
• The Yankees had just four hits today, but all four came from big leaguers, including Chase Headley’s second home run of the spring. Stephen Drew also had an RBI double and Didi Gregorius had another hit, pushing his average up to .280. Carlos Beltran, another guy who’s struggled so far this spring, had the other Yankees hit. “It’s timing,” Girardi said. “Getting at-bats under your belt. I think you’re seeing our regular guys hit the ball harder more consistently now; better at-bats. One thing you kind of worry about is if they peak too early, they get a little bit bored, so you want them to continue to strive to get to where they need to be Opening Day.”
• Alex Rodriguez went hitless, but he did have one sharp line drive that was caught. “His at-bats have been pretty decent,” Girardi said. “But when we start getting down to the last 10 days or so is really when you start to pay attention and you want to see guys get to where they need to be.”
• Plan is for Rodriguez to DH again tomorrow.
• Brendan Ryan is still on schedule to make tomorrow’s road trip to Lakeland. He’s scheduled to start at shortstop in his first game of the spring.
• Nothing new on Jacoby Ellsbury. “I don’t think we need to rush him,” Girardi said. “I’m not concerned about him being ready for Opening Day now. If we got to the off day (on March 30) and the day after, and he couldn’t play, I’d be concerned.”
• Who had the best night of all the Yankees? Might have been Tyler Webb, who’s already been reassigned to minor league camp, but today he delivered 1.2 perfect innings with two strikeouts. “We like him,” Girardi said. “He’s a guy who was on our radar last year. He’s a young kid, we understand hasn’t had a ton of experience, but we have a number of left handers who we believe will pitch in the big leagues, who may not necessarily be there when we leave here, but they can help us. He’s one of them.”
• One of those left handers is surely Chasen Shreve, the new lefty acquired from Atlanta. Shreve has looked sharp all spring, but he was knocked around a little bit tonight, allowing three runs — two earned — on three hits through an inning.
• Shreve got little help from Jose Pirela, who dropped a ball while playing center field for the first time this spring. He hasn’t played center very often in his career, and the drop came on a ball Pirela had to try to catch on the run going back toward the wall in right center. Not an easy play, but certainly a play you expect a center fielder to make. Bounced off his glove.
• Right-handed pitcher Moises Cedeno has received a 72-game suspension after testing positive for Clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. He was on the Yankees’ Dominican Summer League roster.
• We’ll give the final word to Rogers: “All of my career I’m a starter, so I feel comfortable for a start. I just want to be here to be part of the team. It doesn’t matter what I’m going to be, if I’m going to be in the bullpen or a starter. If I have to fight for that spot, I’m going to.”
Associated Press photos
Stephen Drew made all the plays he was supposed to make today, but he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It was kind of a take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of day for a guy who’s suddenly having to prove himself on both offense and defense.
“These guys brought me over here to fill that role (at second base),” Drew said. “And playing in the league for as long as I have and understanding the game, it’s definitely big. And it’s still early. With these at-bats, it’s huge for me, whereas last year I was going into a season where guys were four months (ahead). It’s not an easy task. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time, it’s something that really I don’t think anybody has done quite like that. Knowing that, and knowing that feeling, it’s definitely a big key to be here in spring (training) right now.”
Yes, Drew knows there’s a big league job waiting for him. But it would be hard for anyone to not notice the way Jose Pirela is hitting so far this spring, and Rob Refsnyder gets more attention in the clubhouse than some of the veterans. Drew is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, and now he’s trying to learn a new position. Will he really break camp as the Opening Day second baseman? Probably. The Yankees have basically committed to that much, the question is whether he can play well enough to keep the job going forward.
“I mean, if (anyone) was to struggle, we’d probably make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s the nature of our game, but we didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
How does Drew go about learning second base and getting his numbers back on track with the rest of his career? Well, it starts right here, with games like today. If he stays healthy, this will be Drew’s first full spring training since 2011. He played no spring training games in 2012 because of a broken ankle, he missed most of the 2013 spring with a concussion, and he didn’t sign last year until May. He was in the big leagues roughly two weeks later.
“I was in good shape (last spring),” Drew said. “And like I keep telling you guys, the biggest thing is you haven’t seen live pitching, Major League pitching, along with that (time off). Last year was definitely a challenge. Really, you’ve got to slow the game down. I was rushing the game, trying to speed it up, trying to play catch up. To be here now is definitely a big moment for me.”
Drew has just 11 at-bats this spring, but he also has just one hit. He made an error on his first opportunity of the exhibition schedule. Anyone who follows this game knows not to make much of early spring training results, but it’s hard not to analyze everything Drew’s doing given his situation. For those who hated the signing in the first place, every 0-for-3 and every defensive mistake seems like proof that Drew’s contract was a mistake.
The Yankees, though, see a good defensive player, who’s athletic and experienced enough to learn a new position, and who’s 2013 — when he had a .777 OPS — is far more indicative of the kind of hitter he’s been through most of his career. They see a potential bargain where others see a sure bust.
“We expect him to be a productive hitter, to get back to the form that he was at before last year,” Girardi said. “I think he got behind, and I think it was difficult for him to catch up when you miss spring training. When you slowly progress into playing and then you have a rushed spring training in a sense. He wasn’t there very long. Maybe he had 15, 16 at-bats or whatever he had. It’s just hard to catch up. I think you get behind, and then you start off slow and you try to make things up. It just makes things worse a lot of time. We feel that he’ll get back to the form that he was at.”
• Despite going three scoreless innings, Chase Whitley wasn’t all happy with his start today. He walked three guys, got into jams in the first and second innings, and threw only 24 of 46 pitches for strikes. Good work to get out of trouble with a lot of ground balls, but Whitley said he’s clearly still in early spring mode. “Overall pleased with the result,” he said. “But the process has to get a little bit better.”
• Girardi seemed to like the fact Whitley had to handle some adversity and make big pitches. “He got some big ground balls when he needed them,” Girardi said. “He got in some long counts and got some baserunners, but he did a good job with runners in scoring position. You want to see that.”
• The Yankees lost 3-1 with all of the Orioles runs coming against Branden Pinder and Chasen Shreve, two 40-man guys who seem to be fighting for that open spot in the bullpen. Pinder was knocked around early in the fifth inning — four straight hits, two runs — but also got some big outs to limit the damage. Shreve gave up a solo home run to a switch hitter.
• Both Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• A sure sign that it’s absurdly early: Chase Headley came into this game hitting .100 for the spring. He went 3-for-3 and in one day raised his average to .308. He had hits from each side of the plate. “It’s tough to figure out what you’re trying to do early,” Headley said. “You really want to see pitches, track the ball good out of the pitchers’ hands. I didn’t feel very good doing that, wasn’t seeing them like I wanted to, so I figured today I’d be a little bit more aggressive, try to take it a little more like regular-season at-bats. I think that put my rhythm and timing in better spots. It was good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but you want to get hits.”
• Yet another start for Didi Gregorius against a left-handed starting pitcher. Girardi seems happy about that, but he said it’s strictly coincidence. The lineups are generally set before the Yankees know who they’re facing in spring training. “I want to see him (against lefties),” Girardi said. “Obviously a lot of times you can get pegged early on in your career; I’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. We have a lot of confidence in Didi and we want him to get at-bats.”
• Aaron Judge made a nice diving catch in right field today. Headley almost made a terrific diving stop on a Machado double. He dived toward the foul line, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t catch it,” Headley said. Would have been a sick catch.
• Big-time injury in the American League East as Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is likely to miss all year with a torn ACL. “I feel like it’s becoming the NFL; there’s one big injury every day,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating when you lose your players, guys that you count on. No one is going to feel sorry for you and you have to just move on, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
• Speaking of AL East injuries, the Yankees saw Manny Machado back in the Orioles lineup today. He went 3-for-3, and Girardi said the situation reminded him of a Yankees prospect. “Two knee surgeries, and having to fight back; it’s frustrating as a player,” Girardi said. “For him, he’s really young, but you know your time is limited. And that’s the last place you want to spend it is rehabbing on the DL. I look at a young kid that we have. He’s not as accomplished as Manny, but what Slade (Heathcott) has gone through, the knee surgeries. It’s frustrating. It delays your progress as a player.”
• Gary Sanchez hit a pretty long home run for the Yankees only run of the day. … Pirela went 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s hitting .462 (Refsnyder went hitless but is hitting .455). … Aside from Pirela, Sanchez and Headley, the only Yankees hit belonged to Mark Teixeira.
• For today’s final word, here’s Girardi’s response to a joking question about whether he’s ready for the big game against Boston tomorrow. “Huh? Oh yeah. I was thinking, big Boston game, what’s he talking about? Do you guys (in the media) have a game or something?” Rivalry games just don’t carry the same weight down here in spring training.
Associated Press photos
Headley and A-Rod: “It’s business as usual” • 02.24.15
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.
“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
On the 40-man: Chase Headley • 02.20.15
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Pinch hitting: Tyler Patterson • 02.13.15
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
But 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
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.
1. 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).
4. 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.
7. 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.
9. 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
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.
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
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
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
NATIONAL 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)
NATIONAL 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
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