I really thought today was Ivan Nova’s first full bullpen since Tommy John surgery. I was wrong, but it turns out that wasn’t entirely my fault.
“This is my third,” Nova said, laughing. “The first one, I remember I was so excited I forgot to say it was on the full mound so everyone was making fun of me because I said it was on a half mound. That day, I confused a lot of things, even in my house.”
So, now that Nova’s excited has calmed down a little bit, this is what we know. Today was his third post-surgery bullpen. He threw 25 pitches, all fastballs. Nova said he’s supposed to that four times before he adds changeups to the mix. After a few fastball-changeup bullpens, he’ll add breaking balls.
“One good thing, you know you’re not going to be ready in April,” Nova said. “So you prepare yourself to be ready whenever they tell me. I don’t have to be thinking right now that I’ve got to be ready in April, so that’s kind of fortunate. I’m just taking it day by day, and I know that — I believe — a month before they think I’m going to be ready to go to the big leagues, they’re going to tell me. So that’s the time when I’m going to really prepare for that day.”
Nova said he hasn’t looked through the Yankees upcoming schedule trying to figure out when exactly he might return. He’s staying focused on the take at hand — he gets a rehab schedule one week at a time — and he’s just taking each step as it comes. So far, though, he seems to feel as good as could be expected.
“It’s a tough surgery,” Nova said. “We have to take it step by step and hopefully everything can go the way it’s gone so far, and we will be over there (in New York) soon.”
• Another workout at the minor league complex for Alex Rodriguez, and this time he’s actually spending time with third baseman Chase Headley. The Associated Press filed several pictures of those two working together, including one that shows them side-by-side fielding ground balls from their knees at third base.
• Chris Capuano was the first of four pitchers to throw live batting practice this morning. He said he recognizes that his spot in the rotation is far from a lock. “I think they’ve shown that the best five guys are going to start,” he said. “That’s a great feeling to be able to come in and try to earn that spot and be one of those best five coming out of spring.”
• Speaking of the five best guys: I joked with Adam Warren today that — after his name was thrown into the closer mix yesterday — I’m going to start mentioning him as a possibility for every role: closer, setup, fifth starter, long man … and even second base. It was a joke, but it turns out Warren played second base all though high school. So let’s add Warren to the mix with Stephen Drew, Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela.
• Random clubhouse conversation this morning: New reliever Chris Martin said he’s gotten used to his back story — about going from stocking shelves to pitching in the big leagues — getting some attention every time he lands with a new team. He’s used to that and the inevitable Coldplay references (he shares a name with Coldplay’s lead singer). So does Chris Martin the pitcher like Chris Martin the singer? “Some of his songs,” Martin said.
• Young reliever Nick Goody hurt his ankle in a car wreck the last time he was invited to big league camp. Then he had Tommy John surgery. Now Goody sounds incredibly optimistic. He will be two years removed from surgery in April, and he said he feels great. Said having surgery gave him a new appreciation for the game. Oh, and he said he’s not driving much this spring. Playing it safe this time!
• Brian McCann will catch Nathan Eovaldi for the first time this afternoon.
• Carlos Beltran is once again scheduled for a full day of drills and batting practice. He’s allowed to workout here because he’s technically a rehabbing player. If not for the offseason surgery, he’d be at the minor league complex with the other position players.
• Today’s early work (this stuff already happened)
Bullpen sessions: Ivan Nova, Tyler Webb and Jose Campos
Live batting practice: Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell
Andrew Bailey (Eddy Rodriguez catching)
Dellin Betances (Gary Sanchez catching)
Scott Baker (Juan Graterol catching)
Nathan Eovaldi (Brian McCann catching)
Michael Pineda (John Ryan Murphy catching)
Danny Burawa (Kyle Higashioka catching)
CC Sabathia (Austin Romine catching)
Adam Warren (Francisco Arcia catching)
Jared Burton (Trent Garrison catching)
• Batting practice:
John Ryan Murphy
Associated Press photos
The Yankees just got started this morning. Chris Capuano just got on the mound for live batting practice. The clubhouse still hasn’t opened to media, but I’m guessing Capuano is one of several who willb e facing hitters today. Tyler Webb, Jose Campos, David Carpenter, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell were also scheduled to report early today.
Ivan Nova was also on the early report list, though it’s hard to imagine that’s a sign that he’s ready to face hitters. A simple bullpen would be a pretty significant step forward for him.
Meanwhile, across the street, Alex Rodriguez has apparently reported for another workout at the minor league complex.
Cell phone photo
Tomorrow is the Yankees’ first spring workout, so tonight we’ll finish our countdown of the most pressing spring training issues by looking at one that could single-handedly determine the success or failure of this season.
Do the Yankees actually have a good starting rotation, or even a viable starting rotation?
Some of this is out of the Yankees’ hands at this point. All they can do is hold their breath and hope Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow doesn’t snap, Michael Pineda’s shoulder doesn’t blow out, and CC Sabathia’s fastball isn’t smacked all over the yard. They can only follow protocol with Ivan Nova’s rehab, work on Nathan Eovaldi’s offspeed pitches, and evaluate their options for the fifth starter spot. For the most part, their major rotation decisions were made weeks ago. Maybe even months ago. In some cases, years ago.
But at some point, the Yankees will have to decide whether they have enough.
Is this a rotation capable of getting the Yankees into the postseason. Should they consider a trade for a guy like Cole Hamels? Have they left themselves too short-handed to make a serious run?
This winter, the Yankees chose to role the rotation dice. They acknowledged in the fall that their rotation was a concern, but they didn’t want to make a Sabathia-like commitment to Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, and they didn’t like the going rate for high-risk secondary options like Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. They chose to sacrifice one starting pitcher to acquire a shortstop, which made their one trade for another starting pitcher more of a replacement than an upgrade.
• Is there any indication Tanaka’s favoring his elbow; has this rehab protocol really worked?
• Does Pineda seem to have his usual arm strength; is this spring 2012 all over again?
• What kind of pitcher is Sabathia at this point; has he successfully transitioned to a new stage in his career?
• Did the Yankees find a young gem in Eovaldi; can he do anything more than light up a radar gun?
• How much does Chris Capuano have left; did the Yankees get his last drop of effectiveness last season?
• Are Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers legitimate options; have the Yankees overly neglected their immediate depth?
• Can Bryan Mitchell or Chase Whitley spot start if necessary; how far away is Luis Severino?
Whatever the answers to those questions, there’s only so much the Yankees can do at this point. Their most important rotation decisions came when they passed on Scherzer and Lester, when they made a pair of rotation-based trades (three trades counting the Manny Banuelos deal), and when they selected Capuano and a handful of minor league free agents to build their back-of-the-rotation depth.
In some ways, their key 2015 rotation decisions came when they traded for Pineda, extended Sabathia, and elected to forgo surgery on Tanaka.
But as pitchers and catchers settle into Steinbrenner Field, it’s still hard to look at this Yankees team and see a more all-or-nothing situation than the state of the rotation. This spring, the Yankees will have to figure out whether this rotation is good enough to make the Yankees contenders or thin enough to keep them out of the playoffs.
And as with any spring training decision, the evaluation will be subject to change once the season gets started.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees first spring workout is now six days away. We’ll continue our countdown of key spring training decisions by looking at the very back end of the Yankees rotation. Clearly the bulk of the rotation’s success or failure will hinge on the health and production of the top four starters, but the Yankees do have to consider one rotation decision this spring.
I’ve written several times that I don’t think of Capuano as a bad choice for the role. He’s actually been a better pitcher than he sometimes gets credit for being, and he was perfectly solid during his 12-start stint with the Yankees last season. If he can give the Yankees another 12-starts like he gave them last year, Capuano could hold down the fort until Ivan Nova is healthy (assuming he’s back by early June).
That said, Capuano doesn’t have to round out the rotation.
Beyond a few young guys who offer intriguing upside, the Yankees have also told relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers to arrive ready to work as starters in spring training, and assistant general manager Billy Eppler has said it’s not out of the question that either Warren or Rogers could pitch his way into the rotation even if everyone else is healthy.
“I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see,” Eppler said. “I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
As always, there’s a chance the Yankees will need to fill more than one rotation spot — an injury could change things, and an injury is certainly not out of the question — but for now, the decision heading into camp is whether Capuano is definitely the best choice for the No. 5 spot. These will be the options as camp opens:
The favorite – Chris Capuano
When the Yankees re-signed Capuano, Brian Cashman made it clear that he would come to camp expected to fill a rotation spot. This is clearly the direction the Yankees are leaning. Capuano had a 4.25 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP — pretty close to his career numbers — in 12 starts for the Yankees last season. Nothing flashy, but never allowed more than four runs in a start last season (granted, one of those starts didn’t last beyond the first inning).
The relievers – Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers
As long as everyone is healthy, Warren and Rogers seem heading toward a return to the Yankees bullpen (either one could be a long man if he stays stretched out). That said, Rogers put up good numbers in winter ball, and Warren was a pretty good rotation prospect throughout the minor leagues. If he could maintain last season’s bullpen success as a big league starter, he could be another good young option for the rotation.
The veterans – Scott Baker, Kyle Davies
It’s been a while since either Baker or Davies was a viable big league starter, but Baker in particular was a pretty solid starter before his elbow injury a few years ago. Each of these two looks like little more than just-in-case depth — just in case several other plans fall through — but it’s worth considering the possibility that one of them comes into camp strong and looks surprisingly good as a short-term alternative.
The young guys – Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula
These three have spots on the 40-man roster, so they could easily slide onto the big league roster in one role or another. For now, all three seem to most naturally fit as rotation depth in Triple-A, but Whitley was a significant rotation boost through his first few starts last season, and Mitchell pitched well in a couple of big league opportunities in September. De Paula’s never pitched in the majors, but the Yankees obviously see potential in the lefty.
The kid – Luis Severino
Probably the most exciting possibility, but also probably the least likely. Severino is the top pitching prospect in the organization and one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. He was given an invitation to big league camp, and the Yankees have acknowledged some chance that he could reach the big leagues this year. That said, he turns 21 on Friday and has just six career starts above A-ball. Huge upside, but might not be there just yet.
Associated Press photos
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
I don’t want to stun anyone with such a personal revelation, but I’m going to make a lot less than $5 million this year. A whole lot less. In my line of work, that sort of money isn’t even a part of the conversation. It’s not like I go to my bosses each year, ask for $5 million, then negotiate down from there.
In Major League Baseball, though, $5 million isn’t absurd. It’s not nothing, but it’s not overwhelming. In the right circumstances, a team can guarantee $5 million and then walk away. It’s happened before.
So what does Stephen Drew’s one-year, $5-million deal mean to the Yankees this season? Does that level of financial commitment mean he’s locked into an everyday job no matter what? Is he even guaranteed a roster spot through the end of the season?
It’s not only Drew who comes with those sort of questions. Garrett Jones and Chris Capuano are also owed $5 million this season. Chris Young is on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Brendan Ryan is owed $2 million this year with a $1 million player option for next year, so the Yankees could look at him as a one-year, $3-million investment.
As we consider roles and playing time heading into the 2015 season — or, to be more honest, as we think about ways Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela or some other young guy could still make the big league roster — it’s worth remembering that Drew, Jones, Capuano, Young and Ryan are not such heavy investments that the Yankees have to stick with them under any circumstances. These guys are a long way from making Rodriguez, Teixiera or Beltran money.
They are, to at least some extent, financially disposable.
Back in 2010, veteran outfielder Randy Winn was on a one-year, $2-million deal when the Yankees released him before the end of May. In 2011, Jorge Posada was still making $13.1 million when he became essentially a part-time, bottom-of-the-order player by the end of the season. In 2012, Freddy Garcia was making $4 million when the Yankees pulled him from the rotation after a bad month of April. In 2013, the Yankees signed Mark Reynolds late in the year only after the Indians released him despite a one-year, $6-million contract.
The 2014 Yankees were loaded with similar examples.
Ichiro Suzuki was making $6.5 million, yet the Yankees intentionally added enough outfielders to push him into what was supposed to be an extremely limited bench role last season. Alfonso Soriano was getting $5 million from the Yankees and was released in early July. Brian Roberts was making $2 million and got released at the trade deadline. Kelly Johnson was on a $3-million deal, and the Yankees essentially benched him in favor of a minor league free agent.
No team happily moves away from a player making upward of $5 million. It’s surely enough money to get the benefit of the doubt for a month or so. But it happens from time to time, and the Yankees might have to be prepared to do it again if they’re truly committed to giving young players a real chance in the big leagues.
Depth is a good thing, and the Yankees needed some depth given their age and health concerns. They got deeper with those deals for guys like Drew, Young and Capuano.
Depth, though, can’t and shouldn’t stand in the way of young progress. It doesn’t have to stand in the way this season.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees picked Didi Gregorius to be their shortstop. They chose Chase Headley to play third base. Chris Capuano was signed to be the stopgap fifth starter, David Carpenter was added to pitch some key innings of relief, and Garrett Jones was added to back up at three key spots. We know these things because the Yankees roster seems more or less set at this point.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some position battles to watch for in spring training.
This morning’s Pinch Hitter post was all about the final out, which led to a post about who should be the Yankees closer. But choosing which reliever should handle the ninth inning isn’t the only roster decision the Yankees have to make this spring. Here are a few roster competitions to keep in mind:
1. Who starts at second base?
Right now it looks like Stephen Drew, but that doesn’t seem set in stone. Far from it, actually. A one-year deal worth $5 million doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player’s spot in the starting lineup. There a ways to get creative with the roster, and if either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder is too good to ignore, the Yankees might have to make some adjustments. Second base has a favorite heading into camp, but it doesn’t have a sure thing.
2. Is Alex Rodriguez really the designated hitter?
No one knows what to expect from this guy, which means this question goes two ways. Is it possible he could play so well that he’s more of a third baseman who gets quite a bit of time at DH? Also, is it possible that he’s so bad he can’t be trusted with regular at-bats in any role? At the very least, with Garrett Jones offering a left-handed alternative, a DH platoon seems possible. There seems to be at least some chance Rodriguez can’t stick on the roster, much less play every day.
3. What’s the shortstop situation?
Clearly the Yankees want Didi Gregorius to be their regular shortstop. Ideally, he’ll hit well enough to play against both lefties and righties, but at the very least he should be the starter against right-handed pitching. That said, the Yankees do have Drew in camp. If Gregorius falls flat on his face, could Drew take the job? It’s not remotely ideal, but there are two veteran shortstops who will provide alternatives at the position.
1. Who starts on Opening Day?
It’s not really a roster battle, so maybe this is a weak argument. But it’s certainly going to be a discussion at some point. Whether you like him on the mound or not, CC Sabathia is definitely a leader in the clubhouse, and his role as leader of the pitching staff might win him another turn on Opening Day. Masahiro Tanaka, though, is the clear ace. Frankly, the answer to this question might have more to do with health than anything else.
2. Is Chris Capuano really the No. 5 starter?
Brian Cashman has made it clear that Capuano was signed to be a starting pitcher. He’s coming to camp with a rotation spot. But logic seems to dictate that someone could force the Yankees to change their plans. What if Adam Warren works as a starter in spring training and looks fantastic? Same for Bryan Mitchell or Esmil Rogers. What about Luis Severino? Is it possible the Yankees top pitching prospect — or anyone else — could force the Yankees to change their minds at the back of the rotation?
3. What’s the sixth starter situation?
This could have an impact on another roster spot. Let’s say a guy like Chase Whitley pitches extremely well in spring training and could make the team as a long reliever, but he also looks like their best bet to make a spot start should someone get hurt early in the season. Would the Yankee carry Whitley in the bullpen or send him to Triple-A to stay stretch out? Same question for a guy like Mitchell or Jose De Paula.
1. Who’s the backup catcher?
Perhaps the second most obvious position battle in camp. The Yankees traded away Francisco Cervelli specifically to open a big league job for one of their young catching prospects. Logic says that John Ryan Murphy is the heavy favorite after he won the backup role last year while Cervelli was hurt, but Austin Romine has big league experience, some prospect potential of his own, and he’s out of options. Can he beat the odds and win the job?
2. Is Brendan Ryan really the backup infielder?
The Yankees signed Ryan to give themselves some much-needed shortstop depth for the immediate future. He backed up Derek Jeter last year, and right now he’s positioned to back up Gregorius. But with Drew also in the mix, the Yankees could cut ties with Ryan, carry Gregorius and Drew as their shortstops, and make room for either Pirela or Refsnyder or anyone else who plays too well to leave behind. Ryan seems to be going into spring training with a roster spot, but does that have to mean he’ll leave with one?
3. What’s the outfield situation?
We know the five names: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Chris Young and Garrett Jones. Those seem to be the big league outfielders — a group that bring flexibility and balance and leaves a couple of decent pinch hitters on the bench. But given all of the outfield depth in the upper levels of the minor league system, is it possible for someone else to sneak into the picture? Ramon Flores, maybe? Tyler Austin? Injury could obviously open a door, but that’s always the case. The question is whether a Triple-A outfielder could play his way to New York without an injury.
1. Who’s the seventh reliever?
I wrote that backup catcher is the second most obvious position battle. That’s because this is the most obvious. If the Yankees stick with their projected rotation, that will leave six obvious favorites for the bullpen, meaning there’s one spot that’s completely up for grabs. And it really does seem to be a wide open competition. Maybe a lefty like Chasen Shreve, a long man like Chase Whitley, a hard-thrower like Chris Martin, a prospect like Jacob Lindgren, or a total wild card like Andrew Bailey. This is the one roster spot that’s completely up the air (unless the Yankees sign a veteran closer between now and Opening Day).
2. Is Esmil Rogers really guaranteed a spot?
He has some guaranteed money tied to his new contract, but does that mean the Yankees have to stick with a guy who’s never really had sustained success in the big leagues? Clearly the Yankees think Rogers can help them — either as a spot starter or a long reliever or in short stints — but there are so many bullpen options coming to camp, it’s Rogers whose spot seems most uncertain. He’s penciled in for now. By mid March, he might not be.
3. What’s the closer situation?
This was addressed earlier today, but it’s too obvious to leave off of this list. For the first time in a long, long time, the Yankees are heading into spring training without a clear closer (even last year, Dave Robertson was the obvious choice even before he took the job). Could the Yankees choice of a closer — if it’s not Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller — impact the way they build the rest of their bullpen? Could they make a late decision to add an experienced closer to the mix?
Associated Press photos
In defense of Chris Capuano • 01.19.15
He’s the standard tweet, comment or email that consistently makes me roll my eyes: The Yankees make a relatively minor signing — a bench player or other depth move — and the reaction is something sarcastic about the Yankees really being contenders now. The implication is that any move that doesn’t involve a superstar or a massive difference maker, isn’t worth making at all, as if the choice were between signing Chris Young or Mike Trout, and the Yankees somehow preferred Young.
Some players are simply expected to play a role, not alter the franchise. Chris Capuano is one of those guys.
When I asked this morning whether the Yankees needed to acquire more pitching depth — clearly any additional depth couldn’t hurt — one of the responses I got was: Just someone better than Capuano for the (No.) 5.
In my mind, Capuano might not be the least of the Yankees problems, but he’s certainly near the bottom. He was actually pretty good last season, giving the Yankees 12 starts with a 4.25 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 3.85 FIP. Could he repeat those numbers this season? Sure he could. In fact, those numbers are almost perfectly in line with his career performance (his strikeout rate, walk rate and home run rate were also basically the same as his career numbers).
Capuano’s not elite, but the Yankees aren’t treating him as if he’s elite. In an ideal world, he’s a two-month placeholder for Ivan Nova. In a less-than-ideal world, he’s cheap rotation depth should someone else get hurt. He’s potentially helpful, ultimately disposable, and any significant upgrade would likely cost a lot more money or a significant prospect. Is that really a worthwhile commitment to possibly upgrade the No. 5 starter?
To me, Capuano falls in line with the other short-term investments meant to fill a hole, not necessarily tip the scales. A one-year deal with Stephen Drew adds short-term infield depth and doesn’t have to block any sort of long-term solution. Brendan Ryan is shortstop insurance, giving the Yankees at guy who has at least proven himself to be a good defender as a position where defense is crucial. Chris Martin is a hard-throwing reliever who might provide some cheap bullpen depth, and there’s little indication that the Yankees are counting on him for key outs.
Capuano’s an experienced bit of rotation depth. That’s it. If he gives the Yankees 12 starts like the ones he provided last season, he will have done his job. Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Michael Pineda’s shoulder, CC Sabathia’s effectiveness, Nathan Eovaldi’s transition and Nova’s recovery should be far greater concerns in the rotation. The fact Capuano is getting $5 million to plug that hole in the fifth spot might not be flashy or ideal, but it’s hardly the worst thing about this roster.
Associated Press photo
Has anything changed for the Yankees in the wake of Max Scherzer’s new deal with the Nationals?
Since the fall, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner created the public perception of fiscal restraint. With a bunch of big contracts (and big mistakes) already filling the payroll, the Yankees never positioned themselves as a favorite for Scherzer. Any thought to the contrary was based on past examples of the Yankees spending unexpected money for Scherzer-type players, but there was never any evidence that they were going to get involved this time.
In that way, nothing has changed. The Yankees weren’t supposed to get Scherzer, and they didn’t.
But with Scherzer off the market, the winter’s most popular “what if” scenario is off the board, leaving the Yankees with a rotation that is what it is.
Top five starters
These five have been in place since late December when the Yankees completed the trade for Eovaldi. Three of these players are in their mid-20s, and one exception is on a one-year, stop-gap contract. Even so, there’s such injury concern at the top that this rotation seems unreliable at best.
Major League depth
According to plan, Warren and Rogers should be relievers this season, but each has been a starter in the past — Rogers worked as a starter this winter — and so they could provide immediate rotation depth in spring training. Nova is expected back from Tommy John surgery around June or so.
Minor league depth
Jose De Paula
Whitley made 12 big league starts last season, but unless he wins a spot as a long man in the big league bullpen, he seems likely to land in the Triple-A rotation with Mitchell and De Paula (each of whom is currently on the 40-man). Severino is not on the 40-man and has just 25 innings above A ball, but he’s talented enough to potentially pitch his way into the mix. Can’t completely rule out guys like Matt Tracy and Zach Nuding, who could round out the Triple-A rotation, or a guy like Jaron Long, who’s likely heading for Double-A but made a huge impression last season.
Question is: Is this enough? The top five looks perfectly good, but that’s only if its healthy. There are plenty of alternatives in the mix, but each one seems to come with significant uncertainty (about upside, about health, about ability to consistently start at the big league level). So if the Yankees want to upgrade their rotation — either adding talent up top or adding depth at the bottom — what are their options?
1. Spend big – There’s still one high-end starter on the market, and he has a history of success in the American League East. But if the Yankees weren’t interested in Scherzer, what are the chances they’ll become interested in James Shields? He’s already 33, so his next contract is likely to carry him into his late 30s, which seems awfully risky at this point.
2. Take a chance – Beyond Shields, the free agent market really doesn’t have a reliable starter still available. Instead, the Yankees could roll the dice on a small contract — perhaps even a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation — with a veteran starting pitcher who comes with serious warts. Johan Santana recently got some attention, but guys like Chad Billingsley, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Young are also still out there.
3. Sacrifice the farm – The Yankees clearly prefer to keep their top prospects at this point, but they don’t have to. Cole Hamels is clearly available and signed to a contract that seems perfectly reasonable compared to Scherzer, but it would likely take a massive package to get him. The Nationals are reportedly not pushing to trade Jordan Zimmermann, but he might be available. Is it worth giving up some of the future to add a pitcher for the present?
4. Wait and see – Nothing says the Yankees have to make a change right now. Last season, they managed to rebuild a rotation on the fly, and they could try to do the same this year if necessary. They could go into spring training with this group and adjust only if/when one of those top five starters goes down. If that doesn’t happen until May, they might have Nova ready to step in. If it happens in August, Severino might be ready.
Associated Press photos
On the 40-man: Chris Capuano • 01.16.15
Continuing our one-by-one look at everyone on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next move to a left-handed pitcher who seemed to be a short-term fill in last season, but wound up pitching well enough that the Yankees brought him in as a little rotation insurance this season.
Age on Opening Day: 36
Acquired: Originally acquired in July; re-signed in December
Added to the 40-man: Officially added December 16
In the past: An eighth-round pick back in 1999, Capuano has built a solid 10-year career that includes one All-Star selection and more than 220 big league starts. He opened last season as a reliever with the Red Sox, but upon being released, he joined the Rockies as a minor league starter for a few days before the Yankees went after him to plug yet another hole in their wounded 2014 rotation. He provided much-needed stability with a 4.25 ERA through the end of the season.
Role in 2015: Once again short-handed in the rotation, the Yankees have once again turned to Capuano as a cheap fill-in starter. He was signed to a one-year, $5-million deal, and general manager Brian Cashman has never left any doubt that Capuano is penciled into the Opening Day rotation. When he signed, Capuano was basically the fourth starter, but the Yankees have since added Nathan Eovaldi, putting Capuano in the No. 5 starter role for which he seems pretty well suited. Could be nothing more than a placeholder until Ivan Nova returns from the disabled list.
Best case scenario: Less is more. If all goes well, the Yankees will have Nova back from Tommy John surgery within the first two months or so. That leaves Capuano with about 10 starts to hold down the fort. He made 12 starts for the Yankees last year, and if he can perfectly repeat those results, the Yankees should be pretty happy. He doesn’t have to lead the rotation, he just has to be solid for a while. A short burst of stability would be about as good as it can get.
Worst case scenario: Four times in his career, Capuano has made at least 30 starts in a season. In each of those seasons, he’s finished with double-digit wins, and in three of the four he’s had an ERA of 4.03 or better (last time he did that was as recent as 2012, a pretty nice year with the Dodgers). Capuano is probably a little better than he gets credit for being, but even so, another 30-start year from Capuano would mean something didn’t go quite right. He might be able to more than hold his own with a full season’s worth of starts, but the Yankees would rather their other, younger starters be healthy enough to make Capuano unnecessary at some point.
What the future holds: Capuano turns 37 in August, he throws left-handed, and he just might have a few more years in him in this familiar role as a spot starter, long reliever or bullpen lefty. But the Yankees surely will have little room for him beyond this season. Given the overwhelming amount of left-handed bullpen depth they’ve acquired in the past 12 months, and their obvious desire to get younger, this is likely Capuano’s final stint with the Yankees. And it might not even last the whole year.
Associated Press photo