Associated Press photos
Although there’s obvious curiosity about Luis Severino and obvious significance in Dellin Betances, the most intriguing part of today’s first Yankees workout has to be CC Sabathia’s first official bullpen. Sabathia said he’s thrown off a mound a few times this winter, but always off a turf mound because of the snow in New York.
“Just making sure that my control is where it needs to be (this season),” Sabathia said. “(Making sure) my two-seamer is good and my changeup is better than it’s been. Just making sure that I can spot up and throw the ball where I need to. I’ve been talking to Andy (Pettitte) a lot about how he would attack guys later in his career, so I think I’ve got a pretty good plan.”
At this point, it seems clear that Sabathia wants his results to speak for themselves. He shrugged off questions about how good he can be now that he’s 34 years old and coming off back-to-back disappointments: one because of diminished results and one because of inning lost to a knee injury that eventually required surgery.
Sabathia said he’s been getting regular PRP injections through the offseason to help deal with the degenerative damage in that knee, and he’ll probably get more around the all-star break. He’s slightly adjusted workouts to protect the knee, but he said it’s not something he thinks about when he’s throwing.
“I feel like playing catch and throwing off the turf mound that I did, I went as hard as I can go,” he said. “So, no (it’s not a concern). I wanted to come down here with a clear mind and just go out and pitch. I feel like I passed every test leading up to coming down here.”
Sabathia is scheduled for 25 pitches today, all fastballs and changeups. It’s a small step toward what he’s hoping will be a big comeback.
“I don’t think as an athlete you should lower your expectations,” Sabathia said. “You just go out and see what I’ve got. I think last year pitching through spring training, I was pretty healthy, and I felt pretty good, and I pitched pretty good (in spring training). So if I can stay right there, I think I’ll be alright.”
• Dellin Betances is throwing a bullpen today, one of the biggest names getting on a mound this morning. Betances said he’s already thrown a few bullpens leading into spring training. He’s scheduled to begin facing hitters at the end of next week. Several other guys — Adam Warren, Tyler Webb, Chase Whitley, probably many others I haven’t talked to — have already faced hitters once or twice in the past few weeks.
• Esmil Rogers was stretched out as a starter in winter ball, and he said that felt natural for him because he’s always worked as a starter in winter ball. Despite having a good portion of his contract guaranteed, Rogers said he’s fully focused on making the team and doesn’t care if it’s as a starter or a reliever. He said he doesn’t feel like he has a job locked up; he knows he has to prove himself to stick around, even with $750,000 guaranteed.
• Nearly three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Scott Baker sounds incredibly optimistic. He said he feels significantly better than he did the past two springs, and that when he hit the two-year mark, there was a big difference in the way his arm felt. He’d been able to pitch for basically a year before that, but it wasn’t until he got a full two years out of surgery that his arm started to feel remotely normal again.
• Carlos Beltran is basically a full participant in today’s workout. I believe that’s because players coming back from surgery are allowed to officially report early. The other position players who are already here — guys like Stephen Drew and Chase Headley — have to do their workouts at the minor league complex. Beltran will go through drills here at Steinbrenner Field.
• Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren and Danny Burawa are each scheduled for early work tomorrow. Not sure what exactly they’ll be doing, the board just indicates that they’ll start ahead of everyone else.
• Still no baby for Chase Whitley. His wife is due any day now and has the cell phone number for a member of the Yankees’ security team. If she goes into labor mid-workout, Whitley will be ready to bolt.
John Ryan Murphy
Dellin Betances (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Chris Capuano (to Austin Romine)
David Carpenter (to Brian McCann)
CC Sabathia (to John Ryan Murphy)
Scott Baker (to Gary Sanchez)
Jared Burton (to Francisco Arcia)
Bryan Mitchell (to Trent Garrison)
Chase Whitley (to Kyle Higashioka)
Diego Moreno (to Murphy)
James Pazos (to Rodriguez)
Nick Rumbelow (to Juan Graterol)
Luis Severino (to Romine)
Nick Goody (to Garrison)
Jacob Lindgren (to Higashioka)
Branden Pinder (to Sanchez)
Tyler Webb (to Arcia
Associated Press photos
This morning’s Pinch Hitter post centered on an issue that seems key to the perception of the Yankees’ offseason: there’s a real sense that there’s nothing to be excited about this season.
With familiar icons having faded into retirement, the Yankees are now a collection of relatively new guys, many of them disappointing veterans whose best years are behind them. Even those players who could bring some excitement also bring cause for concern either because of an injury, because of lagging numbers, or because of one very prominent suspension.
As Derek pointed out this morning, the Yankees don’t have a standout source of constant excitement. There’s no Enter Sandman playing in the ninth inning, no Bob Sheppard announcing No. 2, and no telling what to expect from Alex Rodriguez. Out of that desperation, Derek wrote this morning that he sees hope for Rodriguez to create some kind of stir; to at least grab the crowd’s attention four or five times every game.
I’m wondering if there might be other reasons — in some cases, more likely reasons — to cheer this season.
Here’s my list of 10 things that could grab fans’ attention and give reason to cheer at Yankee Stadium this season. As always, these are based on positive scenarios, because how often does a worst-case scenario capture our imagination?
This is probably the most obvious and most important element in making any stadium feel “electric.” Fans like a winner, even if it’s a winner that doesn’t have some roster ties to past championships. Want Yankee Stadium to feel exciting again? Put a winner on the field. Teams that miss the playoffs two years in a row tend to draw less-than-enthusiastic crowds. Want Yankee Stadium to be a place opposing players fear? Put those opposing players against a good team.
2. Masahiro Tanaka
More than A-Rod, I think it’s Tanaka who has the best chance to single-handedly bring some excitement to Yankee Stadium this season. Sure, he pitches only once every five days, might pitch only once in a given home stand, and might not pitch at all if his elbow blows out — but if Tanaka is healthy and as good as he was last year, he could be electric and bring some true excitement. This isn’t a past-his-prime veteran. This is an ace in his mid-20s with a bright present and a bright future (assuming things go the right way).
3. Young guys up the middle
If the common knock against the Yankees is that they’re too old with a roster past its collective prime, Didi Gregorius and Rob Refsnyder could change that with a pair of 20-somethings playing in the middle of the infield. Gregorius isn’t homegrown, but he never really established himself elsewhere, so any upside belongs to the Yankees. Refsnyder isn’t a finished product, but he could hit his way into the lineup, and he could stick around for the next decade. These two could make a case for helping the Yankees in the short-term, while giving fans some long-term hope for the future.
4. Resurgent veterans
If CC Sabathia is good again, I think he’s worth watching every time he’s on the mound. He’s an emotional player. He’s a clubhouse leader. He’s a guy who’s fallen down the past two seasons, and seeing him pick himself up would surely make him a fan favorite (even if he’s nothing more than a No. 2 or 3 starter at this point). Carlos Beltran could also be a rallying point, and a strong Mark Teixeira could give the Yankees a true home run threat, the kind of guy who could change a game with one swing.
5. Second-half arrivals
I suppose it depends on the circumstances in which they arrive, but there’s a lot to be said for a wave of young players showing up it the second half to make a difference. Maybe Refsnyder takes the second base job. Maybe Jacob Lindgren joins the bullpen. Maybe Slade Heathcott gets healthy, gets back on track, and gets a chance. Maybe it’s not out of the question that Aaron Judge and/or Luis Severino could be in the Bronx before September. A mid-season youth movement should catch the attention of the fan base.
6. Speed on the bases
I’ve said it several times: I love the way speed plays in the game of baseball. I love watching someone track down a fly ball in the outfield. I love watching an infielder charge a slow roller while a hitter sprints down the first-base line. I love watching a guy steal second base or try to leg out a triple. The Yankees have speed in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, and those could can generate excitement without hitting home runs.
7. Dellin Betances
Asking that he become the next Mariano Rivera is probably asking too much, but give this guy the closer role and pick a good song to serenade his trip to the mound, and Betances could be a show worth watching in the ninth inning. Homegrown prospect, raised in New York City, throwing 99 mph fastballs and striking out a ton of guys? How is that not worth watching? How is that not going to grab the attention of Yankee Stadium?
8. A rotation of 20-somethings
If Tanaka’s elbow holds up, and Michael Pineda’s shoulder doesn’t blow out, and Ivan Nova comes back from Tommy John, and Nathan Eovaldi improves his strikeout numbers — that’s four starting pitchers, each in his 20s, filling almost all of the Yankees’ rotation. Yes, the Yankees’ rotation is a giant question mark right now, but if it gets/stays healthy, it could be an exciting group to watch for now and for the future.
9. Alex Rodriguez
Let’s face it, Derek was onto something this morning. Rodriguez could be worth all of the attention he’s going to get. If he’s terrible, he’s going to be just another part of the problem; just another guy who fans don’t want to see at the plate or in the field. If Rodriguez stinks, he’ll be a microcosm of all that’s drained the life out of Yankee Stadium (too rich, too old, too unproductive, too unappealing). But if he hits, people will take notice, and people will react one way or another. If Rodriguez is doing anything positive on the field, Yankee Stadium will not be quiet about it.
10. Some sense of a plan
Maybe this is too broad, but I do think that some life will return to Yankee Stadium if there’s some sense of a clear direction. Back in 2013, the lineup was a complete mess and it was clear that the roster was full of short-term placeholders. Last year, injuries again took away key pieces, and it was hard to tell whether the Yankees were still focused on spending or development. This year, some clarity — something to let us know which direction this team is heading — might renew confidence and let fans focus on the bigger picture instead of booing every disappointment along the way.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees’ first spring workout is four days away. We’ll continue counting down the team’s key spring training decisions by looking at the end of games. While the Yankees have considerable depth in their bullpen, they’ve left themselves without an experienced closer. There are standout relievers, but the Yankees still have to answer this question:
Who replaces Dave Robertson in the ninth inning?
Although there’s something to be said for a closer-by-committee situation, or perhaps a mix-and-match closer depending on matchups, manager Joe Girardi has indicated that he’d like to have defined roles when the season starts.
“I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said during the Winter Meetings. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that.”
That second sentence is worth remembering. Bullpen usage could evolve during the season. The Yankees saw that last year with the emergence of Dellin Betances, who went from basically the last guy in the pen, to a trusted strikeout pitcher in key spots, to one of the best setup relievers in baseball. Now he stands out as an obvious option to takeover as closer in just his second big league season.
While the role could evolve, the Yankees will want to make some sort ninth-inning of decision out of camp. Someone is going to get the first crack at the closer role.
“I would not assume that anybody could do that (job),” Brian Cashman said at the end of last season. “It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to.”
Someone’s going to get a chance to do it. The question is who, and in what capacity. Here are five directions the Yankees could go.
1. Just give Betances the job
It’s the most obvious solution, and it might be the most likely. Betances was one of the very best relievers in baseball last season, so good that he generated comparisons to Mariano Rivera’s 1996 season (which was Rivera’s final step toward becoming a closer). Betances generates a ton of strikeouts, he’s able to pitch back-to-back days, he’s been thrown into tough late-inning situations, and he can get more than three outs when necessary. Why over-think it? Just give Betances the job.
2. Go with the guy who’s getting closer money
When the Yankees decided to let Robertson walk away, they did so knowing they could sign a free agent with similarly dominant numbers. Andrew Miller has never been a closer, but he has a longer big league track record than Betances. He’s also older and last year pitched well for the Orioles in the thick of a pennant race. Betances is relatively inexperienced, and why mess with such a good thing? Leave Betances in his multi-inning setup role and let Miller take the place of the guy he essentially replaced on the roster.
3. Build the bridge first
Clearly baseball is beginning to put increased value on middle-inning setup men. That’s why a guy like Miller got so much money, and why a guy like Wade Davis has gotten so much attention. There’s incredible value is being able to bridge that cap between a starting pitcher and a closer. The Yankees could let Miller and Betances focus on those in-the-middle outs, while trusting that someone like David Carpenter or Adam Warren — or former closer Andrew Bailey, if he’s healthy — can take care of the final inning. Why save the best relievers for an inning that might not matter as much?
4. Don’t pick one
Of course someone is going to pitch the ninth inning of a close game, but why should it be the same person each time? The Yankees could push away from the tradition of the past few decades and simply use their relievers based on in-the-moment need instead of assigned roles. If the 3-4-5 hitters are due up in the eighth, and the 6-7-8 hitters in the ninth, why save the better reliever for the bottom of the order? Just use relievers as they fit in the moment, making pitching changes based on matchups and situations — runners on base, score of the game, place in the order — rather than preassigned roles. Betances might close one night, Miller might close the next night, and Warren might be the guy the next night.
5. Bring in an expert
The only experienced closer coming to Yankees camp is Bailey, who didn’t pitch at all last season and hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2011. Hard to know what to expect from him. Even a good spring might not give real confidence in his ability to slide back into the ninth inning. The free agent market, though, still has a pair of experienced closers available. Both Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are still out there, available to the highest bidder, and the Yankees could make a push for one of them. Even if they only hold the closer job out of spring training before someone replaces them, Rodriguez or Soriano would surely add depth and options for the late innings.
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
Last night, Dellin Betances was among those honored at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner in Manhattan.
“When you hear the name Munson, you’re talking about one of the Yankee greats,” Betances told MLB.com. “To be able to be in this position, getting this award, I’m truly blessed and thankful for a lot of things and a lot of the work that I’ve put in.”
Of course, given the Yankees opening in the ninth inning, any conversation with Betances will inevitably turn to the vacant closer role. Will it be Betances? Will it be Andrew Miller? Will it be someone still on the free agent market? Could a guy like David Carpenter slip into that job?
“I haven’t put too much mind into it. There’s people that have mentioned it,” Betances said. “For me, I’m just going to try to do the same thing, whether it’s the seventh, eighth or ninth. I’m just going to try to take the same approach I did last year and not try to make too big a deal about who gets that job.”
I still like the idea of putting a veteran one-inning guy in that role — at least to start the season — because it would lengthen the bullpen, and the Yankees could always switch to Betances or Miller if things go south. I think it would be interesting to see the team try a sort of mix-and-match strategy, having Betances close games only if he isn’t needed before the ninth inning (basically, use him in a key spot whenever it comes up; if that’s not until the ninth, great), but I don’t think that’s particularly likely. Joe Girardi has said he’d like to have defined roles, and perhaps that level of expectation has more of an impact than I realize.
The MLB.com video above is Betances speaking at last night’s event.
Pinch hitting: Jackson Ward • 02.02.15
Today’s Pinch Hitter is Jackson Ward, a high school senior from Wilton, Conn. Jackson plays three roles on his varsity baseball team: pitcher, middle infielder and captain. He also writes for the local paper and is considering a journalism degree once he figures out where to go to college (with his credentials, I’m thinking The Players’ Tribune might hire him). Jackson wrote that he’s been following the Yankees all his life – “used to fall asleep at night listening to John Sterling,” he said – but it was only in the past couple of years that he started really getting into the nuts and bolts of the organization.
For his post, a young baseball player wrote about the good and the bad of young baseball players – and the lasting value of the old veterans.
A year ago, they invested nearly half a billion dollars in new contracts. Before that, they signed guys like Mark Teixiera, CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez to multi-year, multi-million-dollar deals.
This winter they’ve stuck to smaller free agents and the trade market.
One of the reasons for this change is the front office’s stated goal of making the team younger. While it is not fair to say the Yankees are a “young” team – they’re still tied to those massive contracts of the past — it is undeniable that the Yankees have looked to add younger players while passing on long-term commitments to older players. They’ve achieved their goal of getting younger, however, this could go against the Yankees long-standing “win-now” policy.
So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of having more youth on the roster?
The argument for youth is pretty simple. Younger players have more energy, should be less injury-prone, and provide long-term solutions without an immediate danger of decline. The downside is just as simple. Most young players are unproven, and aside from the Mike Trouts of the world, most young players cannot be consistently relied on to perform. They simply have not proven that they can get the job done.
And so, while Didi Gregorious, Nathan Eovaldi, Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela or even Luis Severino may have worlds of talent and outstanding minor league numbers, there is no guarantee that any of these players will perform at the big league level. Relying on them poses a risk. Just remember Yangervis Solarte, who looked like a saving grace last year until he stopped hitting after the month of April. While it would be nice to imagine another Core Four coming to the Bronx, can Gregorious, Eovaldi, John Ryan Murphy and Dellin Betances really be relied on as the future of the franchise? Certainly none of these players has done anything to prove otherwise, but they haven’t done anything to confirm it either. They’re question marks, with all their highs and lows coming in relatively small samples. Only time will tell what kind of impact they can have on the big league club.
While youth is unproven, older players bring experience and leadership essential to any club. One of the nice things about the Yankees roster is that it is filled with veteran players who have proven to be tremendous clubhouse presences. Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and even Rodriguez have shown a willingness to help younger players adjust to big league life. The Yankees will have a plethora of young players who will need guidance, but they will also have an abundance of senior leaders, players who have been through entire 162-game seasons and postseasons. These players stepping up, not only on the field but also in the locker room, will be essential to the success of the team this year.
Something interesting to watch in the coming weeks will be the eventual bidding war for Cuban superstar Yoan Moncada. The Yankees have refused to pay heavily for older talent this winter (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Hanley Ramirez, Brandon McCarthy, etc.). Will they be willing to open the checkbooks for a younger talent? An unproven talent? A guy who might have All-Star potential but might also need time in the minor leagues?
It once again brings up the old vs. young, talent vs. experience, argument. We are still talking about the New York Yankees here, and while George Steinbrenner may no longer be in charge, the Yankees are still one of the most valuable franchises in sports. So, if the Yankees aren’t willing to spend big on older players, will they spend eight or nine figures on a 19-year old with worlds of potential?
The answer to this question may be an indication of the Yankees’ plan for the future.
Regardless, the Yankees still have to field a team and attempt to win in 2015. The Yankees could have the right mix of veteran and younger talent in the right places. Veteran infielders compliment the younger ones. A veteran backstop can help a young pitching staff and a younger backup. Beltran has long been an advocate for player’s rights and reached out to young Latin players in his first spring training with the Yankees.
Without a doubt, there are countless questions for the Yankees coming into the season, but solid veteran leadership just may be the answer to most of them.
Associated Press photos
Given a restructured bullpen full of late-inning experience but light on ninth-inning experience, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked last month whether it’s important that the bullpen have defined roles heading into 2015. In other words, is it important to pick out a closer, or could the Yankees simply mix and match at the end of games.
“I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said at the Winter Meetings. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that. When we started out (last) season, Betances was pitching the fifth and sixth inning. In the end he was pitching sometimes the sixth, seventh (or eighth) inning. So that takes time to get ironed out. Especially when you think about it, we know we have at least three new pieces in there. And could you have more? Possibly.”
• Three new pieces locked into bullpen roles: Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson
• Three returning to bullpen jobs: Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers
• Three young arms on the radar: Jacob Lindgren, Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve
• Three free agents still available: Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez and Burke Badenhop
This morning, Jeff wrote about the importance of the final out. He wrote about the oh-so-close nature of one-run game in the bottom of the ninth when that 27th out makes all the difference. The Yankees have been awfully good at getting that final out. They had Mariano Rivera for basically two decades. When he was hurt, Soriano stepped in. When Rivera retired, Dave Robertson emerged. Now, the ninth inning is a mystery. Even more of a mystery than it was last spring when the only question was whether Robertson could step into the closer role.
This spring, the question isn’t only whether a new guy can handle that role, but who might get the first crack at it.
1. The obvious choice
In his rookie year, Betances pitched so well that he generated Rivera comparisons. In almost every way — except total innings and October success — Betances was actually better in 2014 than Rivera was in 1996. Of course, we all know that Rivera transitioned in 1997 from setup man to closer, so it makes obvious sense to do the same with Betances. Brian Cashman has said before that no one knows how a pitcher will perform under that pressure until they’re put in that situation — is it possible Betances would try to over-do it and lose his mechanics? — but if Betances hasn’t earned an opportunity, who has?
2. The hired gun
Although he’s never been a regular closer, Miller does have a longer track record than Betances. He’s also older and just signed a four-year, $36-million deal that certainly looks like a closer’s contract. The Yankees eased Betances into last year’s late-inning role, and it might make sense to avoid pushing him suddenly into the ninth inning. The Yankees know Betances can thrive as a overpowering, multi-inning setup guy. Maybe they shouldn’t mess with that and instead give Miller the ninth-inning job. He actually had a higher strikeout rate than Betances last season, so he could be just as dominant at the end.
3. The other guys
This would be a bit of unconventional thinking: Having seen the impact of a multi-inning middle reliever, the Yankees could keep both Betances and Miller in essentially setup roles, putting out fires anywhere from the fifth to the eighth inning. To provide that flexibility, the Yankees could hand the ninth inning — a one-inning only role — to either Carpenter, Wilson or Warren. Carpenter got three saves last year with Atlanta, and Warren actually had three saves last year with the Yankees. If you assume the ninth inning doesn’t necessarily have to be filled by a team’s best reliever, it might make sense to let Miller and Betances pitch the most inning, while trusting someone else with the final three outs.
4. The free agents
Here were are on January 28, and three veteran closers are still on the free agent market looking for jobs. How expensive could they be at this point? Clearly the Yankees have a lot of bullpen depth on the way, so a significant investment wouldn’t make a ton of sense, but would it make sense to get either Soriano or Rodriguez on a one-year deal? They could come into camp as the projected closer — adding depth and keeping Betances and Miller flexible in the middle innings — knowing that someone else could easily step in if the new guy either faltered or got hurt. The market might actually have played out in such a way that a one-year closer comes fairly cheap. The bullpen is a strength, but could it be even stronger?
5. The draft pick
While the Yankees have a lot of bullpen depth, most of the upper-level guys profile more as setup guys than future closers (that includes hard-throwers like Martin, Shreve, Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez and Branden Pinder). It’s probably a stretch to think of any of them as a ninth-inning option — especially out of spring training — but the top relief prospect in the system is last year’s top pick, Lindgren. Is it possible for him to show enough this spring that the Yankees throw him into the fire? If not, what would it take to make him a ninth-inning option sooner rather than later?
Associated Press photos
Pinch hitting: Jeff Baxter • 01.28.15
After two days of debating the good and bad of the Yankees front office, let’s move on to something completely different for today’s Pinch Hitter. Jeff Baxter is a middle school special education teacher near Rochester, N.Y. “Being a Yankee fan is in my blood,” he wrote, “but I truly joined the fan base when Aaron Boone sent the Yankees to the World Series in 2003.” Jeff said his bucket list includes a wish to visit all 30 MLB stadiums (personally, I still need Pittsburgh to complete the set).
For his post, Jeff researched every final out from the Yankees 2014 season to find out what it took – for better or for worse – to finally finish off a game last season.
The NBA has the buzzer-beater, which is reliant on a clock. The NFL, NHL — and MLS if we’re going to a Big Five – often involve radically different strategies at the end of regulation (Hail Mary, pull the goalie, etc.) and have specific overtime rules (sudden death, shootouts, penalty kicks).
Baseball has the same rule regardless of whether it is the first out, the 27th out or the 45th out in extra innings, and teams have to get that last out to seal a win. The 27th out accounts for only 3.7 percent of the outs needed to complete a nine-inning game, but that final out can make all the difference.
The question at hand is, how is your favorite team doing when out No. 27 rolls around? If your team is winning, you anticipate it with joy. It may come following minutes of distress and concern, but when the final out is made, you can relax. It’s a win. If your team is losing, you dread No. 27. You hope it never comes until your club ties the game or takes the lead.
Walk-off wins in the bottom of the ninth? They only happen because one team couldn’t get that final 3.7 percent.
On July 29 of last year I watched the Yankees very nearly blow leads of 10-4 and 12-8 against the Rangers. With the Yankees’ lead down to only one run in the bottom of the ninth, Adrian Beltre came up with two outs and the bases loaded. He had to be No. 27 or the game would either end in a walk-off or drift into extra innings. Beltre hit a deep fly ball to left, and I thought it was a game-winning grand slam … until it settled into Brett Gardner’s glove for the final 3.7 percent.
That close call brought a question to my mind: how often did the Yankees just barely escape with a win like that? On the flip side, how often did the Yankees stage a rally with their 27th out and fall just short of a comeback?
Think of all the times the Yankees have the winning run at the plate when the batter hit a high, majestic fly ball, only for the ball’s trajectory to lead to an outfielder’s glove. How often did that happen last season?
By categorizing the final outs of all 162 games of 2014, I have some semblance of an answer.
Here are the “final out” statistics across the 84 Yankee wins in 2014:
Considering the K/9 rates David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Shawn Kelley put up in 2014 (all over 10) it’s no surprise more final outs came via strikeout than anything else. Add up the rates of Yankee opponents bringing either the tying or winning run to the plate at the time of their final out and in 42.8 percent of the Yankees’ 84 wins — just under three out of every seven games — they could have lost the lead instead of getting the final out. The bases were empty for the final out 38.1% of the time. The final out came with the bases loaded just once: the aforementioned July 28 in Texas.
Now for final outs in the 78 Yankee losses:
Like their opponents, the Yankees’ final out was made most often via strikeout. The team made the final out with no runners on base an alarming 53.6 percent of the time across their 69 non walk-off losses (37 of 69). Combined percentages of games in which the Yankees had the tying or winning run to the plate at the time of the final out equaled 29.5 percent. When you take into account that the Yankees offense ranked 13th out of 15 American League teams in runs scored, it’s not too surprising that their final outs so often went so smoothly for the opposing team. As for the last man standing, Brett Gardner was responsible for the final out 17.4 percent of the time, followed by Brian McCann at 14.5 percent and Yangervis Solarte at 11.6 percent.
The 27th out is the final step to victory in a nine-inning game. It may only account for 3.7 percent of the outs a team needs, but when you consider the need for timeliness when getting that out — before the tying or winning run scores — it serves much greater significance than just symbolism. Appropriately enough for the final two teams standing in 2014, the Royals and Giants, after 162 regular-season games and four rounds of the playoffs, Game 7 of the World Series came down to the 27th out with the tying run at third base and the winning run at the plate.
It was 3.7 percent of the game. It made all the difference.
Associated Press photos
Year by year, Yankees longevity stands out • 01.23.15
My first reaction to seeing the graphic in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post was a bit of criticism: where were the names?
It seemed awkward to look at a chart that was created by individual players and showed no individual names, but as I looked at it a little longer, the lack of names became one of my favorite parts.
Whether intentional or not, one thing Steve and Rich really emphasized in their graphic was the value of longevity.
If you’re looking for individual superstars, they’re easy enough to find — just look for the huge patches of blue. Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly are easy to spot in the first base column. Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada stand out at catcher. Joe Gordon, Willie Randolph and Robinson Cano are obvious at second. It’s not hard to spot Babe Ruth, it’s easy to find Derek Jeter, and the transition from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle is obvious.
There are some important specks on that chart — one speck is the year Rickey Henderson moved from center field to left field — but the graphic really emphasizes sustained success, either through one long-term player or through one very successful transition. And the Yankees are in a period of obvious transition without a lot of blue in these most recent years.
So what positions are close to developing large patches of sustained success?
Center field and left field could be heading that direction. There’s a 2014 dot of blue in left field because Brett Gardner had a nice season, and that season came after a very small gap of red following the mix-and-match left field success of the late 2000s. Jacoby Ellsbury also provided a blue dot last season as a transition from Curtis Granderson to Gardner to Ellsbury in center field. Gardner and Ellsbury are signed long term and could continue that outfield success through the end of this decade.
If a guy like Rob Refsnyder can take hold of the second base position, that could be another strong and relatively quick transition after the standout seasons of Robinson Cano. Maybe Dellin Betances can provide a strong transition in the relief column. Obviously the top two starters have generally provided a lot of blue-dot success over the years, and Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda seem poised to keep that going as long as they stay healthy.
Plugging short term holes is helpful and necessary along the way, but sustained success is what really stands out.
Associated Press photo