If it hadn’t become obvious already, Joe Girardi left no doubt this morning.
“We signed (Stephen Drew) to be out second baseman,” Girardi said. “We didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
Once again, the Yankees are putting Drew and Didi Gregorius together in the middle of the infield. Neither has played an inning in the field without the other this spring. Brendan Ryan has yet to go through full drills, yet the Yankees seem to have no interest in giving either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder a chance to become familiar with Gregorius as a double-play partner.
“Our plan is for it to be Stephen,” Girardi said.
That’s the plan despite two curious factors: 1. Drew’s only previous experience at second base came when he was thrust into the position late last year, and 2. He’s coming off a horrible season in which he was one of the game’s worst offensive performers.
“We feel that he’ll get back to the form he was at (in 2013),” Girardi said. “… We think these guys (Drew and Gregorius) are more than capable of carrying the load offensively.”
In 2013, Drew had a .777 OPS as the Red Sox starting shortstop. Last season, only five teams got an OPS that high out of the second base position (only the Mariners and Astros got an OPS over .800 at second base). If he does return to form, Drew could be a high-end hitter for a player at that position. If he doesn’t, he could be a fool-me-twice mistake blocking the advancement of a younger alternative.
For now, though, the Yankees seem confident Drew is more of a potential bargain than a potential bust, and they trust that spring training — with all of those starts alongside Gregorius — will give him enough time to truly learn the defensive side of second base.
“He got enough reps last year, we felt pretty comfortable,” Girardi said. “… I think he’s too accomplished a player (to not adjust to the position).”
• The Yankees are giving Chase Whitley a spring training start today. As the top starters are beginning to fill the spring rotation, it seems this could be Whitley’s only true start in the Grapefruit League. The fact he’s getting a turn is an indication the Yankees haven’t forgotten about how well he pitched when he first got to the big leagues last season. The Yankees see him as a starter or a long reliever going forward. “I think you could put Chase anywhere,” Girardi said.
• One thing to consider as guys like Whitley pitch in games, the Yankees are still considering the idea of a sixth starter from time to time. That could be a long man who steps into the rotation occasionally, or it could be a Triple-A starter who’s called up when necessary. Girardi said the Yankees are considering each option, though as it gets later in the season, it would be harder to ask a big league reliever to make a start. Early in the year, that would be a consideration.
• Worth noting: Girardi said Whitley came into camp having learned a new curveball that he’s using occasionally early in the count. His go-to strikeout pitch is a changeup, and last year he greatly improved a cutter/slider, but the curveball gives him a fourth option just to mix it up a little more.
• Ivan Nova threw another bullpen this morning and he continues to feel “better every day.” He will begin throwing breaking balls in the bullpen next week, but he said he’s already spun a few off flat ground. Said it felt good.
• Esmil Rogers will only pitch an inning or two out of the bullpen today. He’s scheduled to start on Saturday.
• As expected, Luis Severino is not in camp today. He was held out because of strep throat. Should return tomorrow.
• Garrett Jones was scratched from today’s road trip because of illness. The Yankees think he simply has food poisoning, but it could be some flu-like situation. He was in the clubhouse this morning, just didn’t look great.
• Nick Noonan isn’t making today’s trip because of a stiff neck.
• Plan is still for Brendan Ryan to do some light baseball drills tomorrow. He has yet to do much this spring because of a back injury.
• Today’s second string: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Jake Cave, CF Mason Williams, RF Slade Heathcott
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Goody (with Nick Rumbelow, James Pazos and Danny Burawa making the trip just in case)
Associated Press photos
When the Yankees signed Stephen Drew, his most obvious fit was at second base. While the Yankees said Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder would still get a chance to make the roster, Drew instantly became the clear favorite at the position. Now that the Yankees have prioritized Drew’s playing time with Didi Gregorius, it’s becoming clear just how thoroughly he has an early hold on the second base job.
Drew’s not just a favorite for the position. It’s clearly his job to lose.
So can there still be room for either Pirela or Refsnyder on the roster? Plans can certainly change, but right now the Yankees seem set on carrying a backup catcher (obviously) along with both Chris Young and Garrett Jones. That leaves one spot, and according to the plan, it belongs to Brendan Ryan.
“He’s a guy that we assume will be our backup shortstop,” Girardi said.
If the Yankees aren’t going to use Drew as their backup shortstop, then it seems the roster has little room for either Pirela or Refsnyder. Pirela is being treated as a guy right on the verge of a roster spot — his at-bats seem to be falling immediately behind the guys who are locked into spots — but for him to make the team, someone might have to get hurt or fall completely flat at the plate.
Girardi said he’s absolutely curious about the idea of using Pirela in a bench role, but there’s clearly not a spot currently waiting for him.
“We’re going to move him around because that flexibility is nice to have,” Girardi said. “In the limited time that he was up last year, he did a really good time for us. And you could put him in the outfield as well. I don’t know how much we’ll put him in the outfield in spring, but I’m comfortable putting him out there anywhere. You never know how things are going to shake out in camp.”
• This winter, the Yankees lost their go-to swing man when they traded David Phelps to Miami. Now it seems Esmil Rogers could fill that role as a long man, spot starter, or possibly even a late-inning reliever if he gets on a roll. “We feel he can do a lot of different things,” Girardi said. “He gives us a lot of flexibility, which is good we like having that on our pitching staff, because you never know when something’s going to pop up.”
• If the Yankees have so much faith in Rogers, why is it he’s never really stuck as a dependable big league pitcher in the past? “We think he’s got good stuff,” Giradri said. “It’s learning how to use it and become more consistent. He’s got velocity. He’s got a breaking ball. He’s got a changeup. He has the ability to pitch. You know he was a position player who turned into a pitcher, and sometimes those guys come a little later. He’s still learning. He has to learn on the job, and that’s not so easy.”
• Chase Whitley is scheduled for two innings out of the bullpen today. He’s also being stretched out this spring and could play a similar swing-man role as a guy who could start or pitch in long relief.
• With a split squad tomorrow, the Yankees are taking only three pitchers from big league camp to Clearwater. The rest of the road pitching staff will be guys from the minor league complex, including former top relief prospect Mark Montgomery and 2014 standout Jaron Long.
• Up from minor league camp for the day, low-level shortstop Tyler Wade is actually scheduled to get into today’s game.
• Three guys coming back from injury — Andrew Bailey, Ivan Nova and Vicente Campos — are each scheduled for early work tomorrow. For Nova, it will be his second bullpen incorporating both fastballs and changeups.
• Carlos Beltran remains on track to make his spring debut tomorrow. Sounds optimistic and happy with the way his workouts have gone so far. Says he knew from his first swing in December that his elbow was significantly better than last season.
• Four home games next week, including two on back-to-back days. Girardi said he wouldn’t rule out the idea of Alex Rodriguez playing all four of those home games.
• Players going through normal drills in Tampa: Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Slade Heathcott, Nick Noonan, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. All nine are listed for regular batting practice.
• Adam Warren and Luis Severino are throwing typical between-outings bullpen sessions.
Group 1 against Kyle Higashioka and Nick Noonan
Michael Pineda (to Gary Sanchez0
Dellin Betances (to Francisco Arcia)
Group 2 against Sanchez and Arcia
Jared Burton (to Kyle Higashioka)
CC Sabathia (to Higashioka)
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Cole Figueroa, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Jake Cave, RF Tyler Austin
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chase Whitley, Nick Rumbelow, Cesar Vargas, Fred Lewis (with Jacob Lindgren, Zach Nuding, Diego Moreno and Taylor Garrison also making the trip just in case)
• Tomorrow’s travel group for the split-squad in Clearwater:
Pitchers: Nick Goody, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos
Catchers: Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Infielders: Greg Bird, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Outfielders: Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams
Minor league pitchers: Jaron Long, Matt Tracy, Mark Montgomery, Taylor Garrison, Caleb Cotham
Minor league position players: C Alvaro Noriega, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Michael O’Neill, OF Taylor Dugas
Associated Press photos
The Yankees might not have an experienced closer on their roster, but they do have one in camp.
Andrew Bailey is back with the Yankees on a minor league contract. He threw a bullpen this afternoon, and said he no longer thinks of himself as a rehab pitcher just trying to get healthy. He sees himself as a legitimate reliever trying to make the big league roster.
“One hundred percent,” Bailey said. “I came in and spent the offseason training, working as I would if I played last year. The doctor gave me 18, 24 months (to be healthy after surgery), and we’re in that 18th, 19th month. Everyone around here, training staff, coaches and strength and conditioning have all kind of (treated it as if) I’m a normal guy with some needs. Hopefully we get rid of those needs. Everything feels great. I’m with the team and doing everything as I would normally, and if I need a little extra work here or there, that’s fine too. I’m here to compete and earn a spot.”
Bailey has thrown five bullpens since he reported to Tampa after the Super Bowl. In between bullpens, he takes a few more days off than other guys, but the Yankees believe that’s a temporary precaution. Bailey expects to start throwing live batting practice around the time the exhibition schedule begins, which he believes will give him enough time to pitch the innings necessarily to break camp.
“I thought today he looked pretty good, actually,” Joe Girardi said. “I talked to Gil Patterson about it. Compared to where he was last year to where he is (now), there’s significant improvement. I don’t know exactly what we’ll see as far as games, and his bullpens are a little more spread out than maybe some of the other relievers, but that’s on purpose right now, and our hope is that we can catch him up and keep him healthy.”
Bailey’s still just 30 years old. He made two all-star teams as a closer in Oakland, and he could be an option for that wide-open spot in the Yankees bullpen (maybe not as closer, and maybe not by Opening Day, but certainly at some point he could play a significant role). Hard to know what exactly to expect from a guy who hasn’t pitched anything beyond a simulated game in more than a year, but Bailey was awfully good in the past, and he said he feels that way again.
“To feel as good as I do and locate as well as I have been, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Bailey said. “I feel fresh and ready to go, and excited for the next step.”
• Bailey is one of the few players who aren’t expected to be ready to play in games the first week of camp. Bailey is just slightly behind the others, but Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia to each be ready for games when the spring schedule starts.
• Over at the minor league complex, Rodriguez was asked about the leadership void in the Yankees clubhouse. “First, no one can replace The Captain,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I know I’m going to miss him tremendously. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. If guys want to ask questions, I love talking baseball, and you guys know that better than anyone. I love the game, and I love to talk it. Whoever needs my help, I’m available.” Clearly Rodriguez isn’t going to be a leader in the way Derek Jeter is a leader, but he really does talk hitting with other players a lot.
• Speaking of which, Didi Gregorius said he got some hitting tips from Rodriguez at the minor league complex this afternoon. Said it was good to meet him. “He’s a good teammate,” Gregorius said. “He introduced himself to everybody when he walked in (at the complex). New player, you don’t know everybody yet, so everybody comes to introduce (themselves) or you go to them.”
• Several other position players began to move stuff into their lockers this afternoon, including outfield prospects Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin, who have three lockers in a row right next to one another on a back wall. Jose Pirela also arrived today. Rodriguez, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Garrett Jones all worked out at the minor league complex.
• Heathcott had yet another knee surgery last season and spent six months recovering at the Andrews Institute. He said he feels a significant difference between now and last spring. “Excellent,” he said. “I’m ready to play in a game right now.” I’ve been talking to Heathcott for many springs at this point, this is the most confident I’ve heard him in years. Finally sounds like he truly believes he’s healthy.
• So far, no significant injuries to report in Yankees camp, though minor league catcher Juan Graterol is still coming back from a broken arm and hasn’t been taking batting practice with the other guys. He’s been catching bullpens, though.
• Speaking of bullpens, there were a lot of them today. I caught most of Michael Pineda’s, and he looked sharp. “I thought his bullpen was excellent,” Girardi said. “I think he ended up throwing 35 pitches. I thought everything was working for him. Arm strength was really good, so that was good.” Remembering that spring of 2012, the arm strength seems to be a key issue.
• Another bullpen that seemed to catch the manager’s eye: “You know, I thought (CC Sabathia’s) bullpen was good today,” Girardi said. “I was pleased, I mean really pleased, with what I saw. Physically, I know the recovery is important, and going out there inning after innings, sitting down and getting back up (will be a different challenge), but I saw a lot of good signs today.”
• Girardi has not yet talked to Rodriguez face-to-face about playing first base, but he said he expects that conversation at some point. “I anticipate that, yeah,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him about taking some grounders over there just to be prepared, if I need to give a guy a day off or whoever we chose to do it, but yeah, I’m going to talk to him about it and see how comfortable it is.”
• With Rodriguez set to work at first base, and Headley having some experience there, Girardi left open the decision about who will backup Mark Teixeira. There seems to be one obvious standout candidate, though, and Girardi mentioned him by name. “I think it’s too early to decide who our backup first baseman is,” Giradri said. “Garrett Jones has played over there. That’s something that we’ll work on in spring training.”
• Interesting tidbit from Brendan Kuty: Former Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen has been working with third-base prospect Eric Jagielo at the minor league complex. That was at the suggestion of Gary Denbo.
• Final word goes to Girardi, about the way he’ll handle Rodriguez now that position players are set to report in the morning. “The idea for me as a manager is to get the most out of a player,” Girardi said. “I have to do whatever it takes; that’s my job. Will I be any different? I don’t know if the situations will be the same, in a sense. In 2013, he hadn’t served his suspension, a lot of things were still in question and it was different. Now it’s different. He’s served his suspension, a lot of questions have been answered, and now my job is to get to the most out of him again. I’ll do what it takes.”
Associated Press photos
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
A quick update on the Yankees’ ace from The Associated Press in Florida:
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Masahiro Tanaka threw for 34 minutes on level ground in his first workout of the year at the New York Yankees’ minor league complex.
Tanaka missed 2½ months last year while rehabilitating a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, managed to avoid surgery and returned for two late-September starts.
After arriving from Japan, he threw at up to about 200 feet. He ended his session by using his delivery to make 16 level ground pitches at 60 feet.
Tanaka didn’t speak with reporters after the workout.
“He looked good,” teammate Ivan Nova said. “I’m sure he worked really hard. The way he handled it, unbelievable.”
Signed 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.
NOTES: Nova might throw off a mound this week for the first time since elbow ligament-replacement surgery and appears on track to rejoin the team by June. He tore a ligament in his right elbow last April 19 during a game against Tampa Bay and had surgery 10 days later.
Associated Press photo
Ivan Nova expects to be on a mound soon • 02.11.15
From The Associated Press in Florida:
The 28-year-old right-hander threw from 120 feet on flat ground Tuesday at the Yankees’ minor league complex and appears on track to rejoin the team by June.
“To be honest, I feel like nothing happened,” Nova said. “I don’t feel any pain. I don’t feel any tightness. Everything is going well so far.”
Nova tore a ligament in his right elbow last April 19 during a game against Tampa Bay and had surgery 10 days later. Recovery time is usually 12-to-15 months.
“Just got to work hard, and it will pay off,” Nova said. “I hope I can be better than I was. That’s the goal.”
Nova is 40-22 in parts of five major league seasons and has a $3.3 million, one-year contract for this year, the same salary he earned in 2014. He is eligible for free agency after the 2016 season.
Nova is looking forward to seeing Alex Rodriguez, who is due to start workouts with position players on Feb. 26. Rodriguez served a one-season suspension for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract.
“He’s our teammate. He’s been a good teammate to me,” Nova said.
Associated Press photo
Short little update from The Associated Press on rehabbing Yankees starter Ivan Nova.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — New York Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova says his surgically repaired right elbow feels great and appears on track to rejoin the team by June.
Nova is throwing on level ground at the Yankees’ minor league complex. He tore a ligament in the elbow last April 19 during a game against Tampa Bay and had surgery 10 days later.
Recovery time is normally 12-to-15 months.
Nova is 40-22 in parts of five major league seasons and has a $3.3 million, one-year contract for this year, the same salary the pitcher earned in 2014. He is eligible for free agency after the 2016 season.
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