Luis Severino and Aaron Judge surely spark some optimism for the future, but if you were looking for immediate impact in the present, the big names from today’s Yankees spring opener were Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.
“I think we can do some damage as long as we both stay healthy and do our jobs,” Gardner said. “Get on base and take some attention from the hitter and (put it) on us from the pitcher and the catcher; get over into scoring position and give those guys in the middle of the lineup some RBI opportunities.”
That’s the idea, and the Yankees might actually be able to put it into action this season. When Ellsbury signed last winter, there was some immediate thought about the impact he and Gardner might have together as speed-oriented hitters and defenders. They played well side-by-side in the outfield, but they rarely hit together in the lineup. It seems inevitable that they’ll do that this year.
They didn’t do much today — a combined 0-for-6 — but last season, Gardner and Ellsbury ranked first and second in OPS among Yankees everyday players. They combined for 60 steals and each hit more home runs than any Yankee other than Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann. They are, perhaps, the most reliable pieces of this season’s projected lineup.
“If I play a full season this year and hit six (home runs), or if I hit 20, it really doesn’t matter to me,” Gardner said. “I still have to get on base. I don’t have to drive myself in. I just have to get on base and put myself into scoring position and those guys in the middle will drive me in if they’re healthy. … Get on base a little more (than last year), run a little more, and just use my speed to my advantage. Just taking things pitch by pitch, try and keep things simple. I kind of felt like I fell off a little bit towards the end of the season, the last month of last year. Right now I feel great. Just stay strong, try to stay healthy all season.”
For Ellsbury, hitting ahead of Gardner means he should have plenty of chances to run. Gardner’s a patient hitter, and Ellsbury can be an aggressive runner.
“I tend to go early in the count just to give a hitter a better opportunity before he’s down in the count or whatnot,” Ellsbury said. “But yeah, if I don’t go early, it just gives me opportunities to take a base. Brett does a good job with the bat and controlling the bat. Maybe he just advances me from second to third with no outs, something like that. … If I feel I can go, I’m going to take off unless they give me the red light and want the guy to hit if they’re so focused on the hitter seeing a pitch. I feel if I get my jump, I’m going to make it more often than not.”
• Pretty solid first outing for Adam Warren, who allowed just one hit — a weak single — through two scoreless innings. “I wanted to get ahead of hitters,” Warren said. “Didn’t really do that great today, but also wanted to establish fastball in to a lot of guys, which I did well today. Just have to keep working and improving. Getting ahead of guys for me is a the name of the game, so I want to do that a little bit better, but overall felt good.”
• Warren said he feels like he’s competing for a rotation spot and not simply serving as rotation insurance in case someone gets hurt. “Who knows where I’ll end up,” he said. “But right now my mind is being a starter and see where that leads.”
• Joe Girardi’s impression of Warren’s start: “A lot of quality strikes today. Good counts.”
• Every prospect reliever seemed to really thrive today except Jacob Lindgren. I was doing interviews in the Yankees clubhouse while Lindgren was pitching, so I actually missed most of his outing. He went two-thirds of an inning, gave up two hits and allowed two runs, which were unearned because of a Rob Refsnyder throwing error. Branden Pinder wound up finishing off that inning with a strikeout.
• Refsnyder wasn’t the only young second baseman with a throwing error. Jose Pirela also threw a ball away trying to make a tough turn on a double play.
• Aaron Judge on seeing his game-tying home run go over the fence. “I thought he robbed it, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to turn around or keep going. So I just kept going, and no one stopped me.”
• Luis Severino said he believes he could be pitching in New York at some point this season, but he quickly shot down the idea that he’s trying to make a big impression this spring to make that happen. “No,” he said, flatly. “The same I do last year, I’ve got do this year the same.”
• Some of the pace of play rules were used today. The field had two red clocks counting down two minutes and 25 seconds for a pitcher to get ready at the start of an inning. I honestly didn’t even notice it at first. “It was a little strange,” Warren said. “I didn’t think about it the first inning. I went out there for the second inning, I noticed it at like a minute, 50 (seconds) when I first got out there. I’m like, ‘Crap, that’s not long at all.’ Then all of a sudden I look back after my last pitch, it’s at 50 seconds still, so it only took me a minute. After you’ve already gone out there, and you’re already a little bit loose, it didn’t affect me. I think you just have to get used to knowing the time’s ticking down to kind of know how long it takes you.”
• Garrett Jones singled in his first at-bat with the Yankees. Chris Young also had a single today. Of the guys really fighting for a roster spot, Pirela was the only other one who had a hit. Both Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy went 0-for-2. Jake Cave, Slade Heathcott, Greg Bird, Kyle Roller, Mason Williams, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, and of course Judge all had at least one hit today.
• Girardi said everyone came through today’s game healthy. No new injuries to report.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “You want to learn as much as you can about these (young) guys because we haven’t seen them a lot. See what their abilities are, what some of their strengths are. I think we’ve said all along, there’s some really good position players that are coming. They’re getting closer and closer, and at some point – you hope that you don’t have injuries, but at some point you know that it usually happens and these kids get a call-up and a chance to do something.”
Associated Press photos
This became a surprisingly busy morning with two bits of late-breaking news:
1. Yoan Moncada has signed with the Red Sox.
2. Alex Rodriguez is reporting to Yankees camp earlier than expected.
Brian Cashman would not confirm Rodriguez’s arrival, suggesting he was either holding back information or that he really has not communicated with his highest-paid player.
“I’ve had two people in the media tell me they think he’s coming today to the minor league camp,” Cashman said. “We’re trying to confirm if that’s the case. Not aware of that. Trying to figure that out if that’s the case.”
However, Cashman did have something to say about the Yankees’ pursuit of Moncada, the 19-year-old Cuban phenom who worked out extensive in front of Yankees scouts and decision makers. He reportedly went to the Red Sox for a $31.5 million signing bonus (total of $63 million with taxes for the Yankees). According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees offered $25 million and were willing to go as high as $27 million (total of $54 million). So, essentially, Moncada signed for $13 million more than the Yankees initial offer.
“We made our final and best (offer) yesterday,” Cashman said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with the ability. I would doubt there’s any disagreement on the scouting assessment of the player. It just comes down to how much money you were willing to commit. We put our best foot forward yesterday, it was a significant offer, but it fell short of where he’s rumored to have signed.”
Clearly the Yankees baseball operations department like Moncada, but so did every other baseball operations department in the game. This was never a matter of talent evaluation. It was always going to come down to which team was willing to pay the most money for a teenager with limited experience, considerable risk and extreme upside.
Last summer, the Yankees took on a strategy of extreme spending on the international market and had already blown way past their international allotment. So why not go all out and give Moncada whatever it took?
“If we were going to go all out, there would have been more,” Cashman said. “We went to where we were comfortable going, and it was an uncomfortable number to put forth. But it still fell short. We’re proud of the players that we did sign and the work we’ve done on the international side, but we’re continuing to look at what’s available out there, and we were involved in the Moncada efforts until the very end. Yesterday they said they were going to make a decision and wanted your best offer. We presented that. It just didn’t work.”
• I’m still over at Steinbrenner Field, but apparently there’s a massive group of media camped out across the street waiting for Rodriguez’s arrival at the minor league complex. Joe Girardi said earlier this spring that he expected Rodriguez to report on Wednesday with the rest of the position players. Mark Feinsand is reporting that Rodriguez was planning to begin a workout at the complex around 11 a.m. but will instead get his physical today.
• Andrew Bailey had an early report time this morning. Yesterday, the early report guys threw live batting practice. Today, Bailey started early because he’s not facing hitters. Every other guy throwing today will throw live batting practice. Total of eight pitchers facing hitters this afternoon.
• As for Bailey, he had pitching coach Larry Rothschild standing at the plate as a mock hitter for his bullpen session. Rothschild and Joe Girardi called balls and strikes for the session. This was Miller’s first bullpen since camp opened, but he was throwing pens leading into camp (happened to throw his previous bullpen the Friday before the first workout). “Long ways to go,” Miller said, “but I’ll take it for where I am on February 23. All in all, nothing really to write about, but I’m sure you guys will find a way.”
• By the way, Miller said once again that he really doesn’t care what his role is. He’s happy to be the closer. Happy to be anything else.
• As expected, Carlos Beltran is back in camp after taking the day off on Sunday.
• Random clubhouse conversation of the morning: After pitching out of the stretch almost all of last year, Adam Warren is working as a starter again, and so he’s back to working out of the windup. Said it’s taking a while to get his timing back, but he feels more comfortable having a windup as a starter. I mentioned that he had such success out of the stretch last year, why go back? Warren said he realizes it makes no real sense, but it’s just more comfortable for him to have a windup as a starter, and feeling comfortable and confident is a big part of having success. So he’s going back to the windup as long as he’s a rotation candidate.
• A lot of pitchers scheduled for early work tomorrow, including Ivan Nova. Others listed for early report times tomorrow: Tyler Webb, Jose Campos, Chris Capuano, David Carpenter, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell.
• The first two workouts, Brian McCann was assigned to catch new relievers who are definitely going to be in the big league bullpen. Seems fairly significant that today he’s been assigned to catch Jacob Lindgren.
• Plenty of live batting practice today. Beltran is not going to hit against the live pitching (he’ll just take normal batting practice today). Instead, the pitchers will basically face a collection of catchers.
12:25: Luis Severino (with John Ryan Murphy catching)
12:35: Jacob Lindgren (with Brian McCann catching)
12:45: Nick Rumbelow (with Austin Romine catching)
12:55: Diego Morena (with Eddy Rodriguez catching)
12:25: Jose Ramirez (with Gary Sanchez catching)
12:35: Branden Pinder (with Francisco Arcia catching)
12:45: Nick Goody (with Kyle Higashioka catching)
12:55: Jamez Pazos (with Trent Garrison catching)
John Ryan Murphy
Associated Press photos
Late in this morning’s live batting practice session, pitching coach Larry Rothschild gave specific instruction to catcher Gary Sanchez. Up in the zone. That was the target. New starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi was on the mound, and this session was about a clear checklist of goals.
“We worked on some different things, (including) elevating certain pitches,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Larry does a great job of giving them a plan of what each guy is supposed to work on that day whether it’s pitching inside or bouncing a breaking ball on top of home plate. That’s good, because it’s not just going out there throwing pitches. You have a plan, and I think that’s important for pitchers.”
While some guys are trying to build up arm strength right now, the Yankees have little reason to worry about Eovaldi’s ability to generate velocity. He can throw a four-seam fastball with the best of them, but his low strikeout numbers show plenty of room for improvement. So, among other things, Eovaldi was working this morning on getting his fastball up in the zone. He was also working with a slightly tweaked grip on his split-finger, a pitch he just started using last season, and one he’s planning to use a little more often this year.
Even though he’s no longer a prospect — not with three-plus years in the big leagues; not with a rotation job locked up — Eovaldi is barely a week removed from his 25th birthday, so he’s still a work in progress.
“You’re not talking about a guy that’s 30,” Girardi said. “He’s learning on the job and developing as time goes on. I think it’s just part of his game. I think learning how to pitch with his fastball, moving it around more, is still something he’s capable of doing that will help him. I don’t necessarily think one pitch is going to change everything, but obviously (the split) can help.”
Eovaldi talked this morning about recognizing his past limitations. He knows he needs to improve his offspeed stuff. He knows the split could be a key pitch. He wants to improve his strikeout numbers, without necessarily over-extending his pitch count. He needs to be more consistent, and he thinks his workload and health were the most significant positives from last season.
The fact he’s already facing hitters seems to be a pretty clear indication that the Yankees have already put in a lot of time working with him.
“He looked good,” Girardi said. “He threw a batting practice session, worked on some things, worked on some different ideas with his split. I was very encouraged by it. Arm strength is good. It’s still very early in camp, but it was positive.”
• Today was Masahiro Tanaka’s second bullpen since he arrived in Tampa. He threw 35 pitches and said his elbow felt “absolutely good.” He felt like he was throwing harder, and he added more breaking balls into the mix. Up next is at least one more bullpen — maybe more — before he faces live hitters.
• Girardi on Tanaka’s bullpen: “I thought he was good. He threw 35 pitches, threw everything and had no issues. That was encouraging.”
• This morning’s live batting practice was the first time Girardi had ever seen Eovaldi pitch in person.
• Apparently Carlos Beltran has been able to work quite a bit recently, so he was given today off. “He’ll be back tomorrow,” Girardi said. “He’s worked pretty hard the last few days.”
• The only non-catching position player I saw in the clubhouse today was Didi Gregorius, who was around for the second day in a row getting his locker situated. “I’m anxious to see him in games and to get him going just to learn more and more about him,” Girardi said. “It’s one thing to see him on tape, but you want to see him in person. That’s always important for me because I think you get a much better feel for how a guy is doing.”
• Smaller group of bullpens today than yesterday, but among those who got on the mound were two new lefties, Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson. “We’ve got a couple of lefties we can go to, when you start thinking about it,” Girardi said. “There’s some quality left handers here. I think it really gives you options as a manager. And I like that.”
• Among those lefties getting a look will be last year’s top draft pick, Jacob Lindgren. “I’m curious to see him,” Girardi said. “Because a lot of times you don’t see those guys a whole lot. There’s a bunch of young players that, you know, strike your curiosity here.”
• For the first time, I’ll take today’s final word, offering a huge congratulations to Chase Whitley on the birth of his son, Clete Coleman. It’s the first child for Whitley and his wife, who’s with him down here in Tampa and gave birth earlier today. You might remember the spring of 2012 when David Phelps’ wife had their first child, and Phelps soon made his first Opening Day roster as a long man. Wonder if the same could happen for Whitley, especially given the Yankees consideration of a sixth starter from time to time (maybe Whitley as a long man who can get a start here and there).
Associated Press photo
Here’s some video from today’s first Yankees workout at Steinbrenner Field. It’s hard to get great video of the bullpen sessions, but this early in camp, I just tried to get some basic footage of everyone who pitched (at least one pitch from each guy).
I didn’t think there was one clear takeaway from today’s workout. None of the pitchers were necessarily dialing it all the way up. I will say that once Jacob Lindgren started letting loose a little bit, I thought he looked really good. Someone in the organization told me that just a few days ago, at the minor league complex, Lindgren made some really good hitters look really bad. Breaking ball looks good already, I was told.
Looked good to me, but heck, I can’t hit any of this stuff anyway.
It’s also worth noting that CC Sabathia has put on a lot of the weight that he lost the past two offseasons. Said he always felt off balance without the extra weight. Still not as big as he used to be, but not as small as he was the past two springs.
With the Yankees first workout now seven days away, we’ll continue counting down some of the key spring training decisions by looking at the most wide open spot on the roster. The Yankees have a two-way competition for the backup catcher, they could be convinced to change their plans at second base, but there’s only one roster spot that has a slew of candidates and no obvious favorites heading into camp.
Who’s going to fill the final spot in the bullpen?
Granted, that one open spot could be two or three open spots by the time Opening Day rolls around. But that’s always the case. What’s unusual about this particular bullpen spot is there’s really no telling which direction the Yankees might go.
To be clear, these are the 11 spots on the pitching staff that have clear favorites:
Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Capuano
Bullpen: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers
Of course “favorites” aren’t guarantees, but based on what we know today, those 11 feel like safe bets. The 12th spot, on the other hand, is thoroughly up in the air. The Yankees could go several directions with that final spot in the bullpen, and nearly every direction comes with its own set of options.
A hard-throwing right-hander
Based on pure numbers, this might be the most likely decision. Protecting Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder from the Rule 5 draft added two hard-throwing, right-handed prospects to the 40-man roster. Acquiring Chris Martin from the Rockies added yet another. As long as Jose Ramirez is fully healthy, he’ll be another possibility (having made his big league debut last season). Nick Rumbelow isn’t on the 40-man, but he was invited to big league camp and finished last season in Triple-A. Minor league free agent Wilking Rodriguez seems like a long shot, but he did pitch in the big leagues with the Royals last season. It’s worth remembering that one of these guys could fill, essentially, the role Betances had at the beginning of last season. Joe Girardi often talks about taking the 12 best pitchers, and it’s worth wondering if one of these guys could really take advantage of the opportunity.
A third left-hander
With Miller and Wilson, the Yankees seem to have two left-handed relievers with big league spots waiting for them. Miller is certainly going to make the team, and Wilson seems like a near lock, if not an absolute lock. But is there room for a third lefty? Neither Miller nor Wilson is purely a left-on-left specialist, the Yankees could ease a young pitcher into the big leagues by starting him in a situational role. Maybe that’s the way top draft pick Jacob Lindgren gets his feet wet. Or it could be the way the Yankees get their first up-close look at Chasen Shreve, who broke into the big leagues with Atlanta last season. Tyler Webb didn’t have standout splits last season, but he did put up good numbers in Triple-A. James Pazos would seem like the long shot of this group, but he was dominant against Double-A lefties last year.
A former big league closer
Only one guy in all of Yankees camp fits this description, and it’s not any of the guys listed as favorites for the big league bullpen. After missing all of last year while recovering from shoulder surgery, former Oakland closer Andrew Bailey signed a new minor league deal with the Yankees this offseason. He’s said to be healthy and expected to be pitching off a mound this spring. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bailey, but that’s part of what makes him so intriguing. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2009, an all-star in 2010, and as recently as 2013 he had huge strikeout numbers with the Red Sox. Hard to know what he can do at this point, but there could be high-end potential if he’s close to his pre-surgery form.
A pure long man
With plans to have Warren and Rogers work as starters in spring training — just in case they’re needed in the rotation — the Yankees projected bullpen already has two guys who could serve as long relievers. They also have both Betances and Miller who aren’t necessarily restricted to one inning at a time. But there could still be room for a long reliever/sixth starter. Perhaps Chase Whitley, who worked as a reliever most of his career before getting to the big leagues as a starter last season. Or maybe Bryan Mitchell, who’s become one of the Yankees top upper-level rotation prospects, but could find an immediate role in the bullpen. Long relief could also open a big league door for new lefty Jose De Paula. If the Yankees prefer a veteran, both Scott Baker and Kyle Davies are coming to camp, each with multiple years of big league rotation experience.
Associated Press photo of Whitley
Eight days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll continue looking at some of the key issue the Yankees have to figure out in spring training. We’ve already discussed the backup catcher competition and the batting order possibilities, today we’ll look at a fairly hard to define bit of decision making.
Who’s first in line to fill the inevitable roster needs during the season?
While much of spring training is spent sorting out the Opening Day roster — assigning roles and weeding out the lesser candidates — the Yankees have to pay especially close attention this spring to the guys who won’t break camp with the team. That’s an impossible to ignore aspect of a team that has serious health concerns in the rotation and serious production concerns in the lineup. It’s also a good bit of reality for an organization that finally has a wave of young players getting close to the majors.
Basically, the Yankees have to figure out who can help right away, because chances are, they’re going to need some help at some point.
And in the case of this group of next-in-line possibilities, there are few cut-and-dry decisions. The Yankees have a lot of upper-level outfielders, but there’s not one who definitely fits the current roster better than anyone else. Is Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder the best choice for an infield opening? Is Gary Sanchez ready if the Yankees need another catcher? What about that long list of relievers; who stands out in that pack?
Spring training gives the entire organization — especially the big league coaching staff — a chance to really evaluation the options, and there’s a good chance one of these mid-season call-ups will end up playing a much bigger role than some of the guys who make the Opening Day roster. Last year, the Yankees had to make moves to fill holes. The hope is they can plug holes from within this time.
A few possibilities they’ll have to consider:
1. What if the Yankees need an outfielder?
Right now, it seems Chris Young and Garrett Jones are fourth and fifth on the outfield depth chart, but the Yankees have four other outfielders on the 40-man (counting Jose Pirela) and another three outfielders coming to camp on non-roster invitations. That’s a big group to consider, and who gets the call might depend on need and production. When the time comes for a call-up, is there room for another left-handed bat, and if so, who stands out among Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams? If an offensive-minded right-handed hitter fits best, does Tyler Austin seem ready? How close is Aaron Judge? Has Pirela picked up where he left off last season?
2. What if the Yankees need an infielder?
Obviously this question could depend on specific positions, but the Yankees have enough flexibility with Jones, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan that they could move pieces around and simply call-up the best infielder available. That means, even if they don’t make the team, Pirela and Refsnyder will be competing for big league attention. And after seeing Yangervis Solarte last season, it’s hard to dismiss a guy like Nick Noonan (how good is he at short?) or Jonathan Galvez (can he hit enough to be a big league utility man?).
3. What if the Yankees need an offensive boost?
Given what we saw last year, it’s not out of the question that the Yankees might need a bat at some point. Maybe Alex Rodriguez stinks at designated hitter, or Carlos Beltran hasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery, or Mark Teixeira’s still battling nagging injuries. If the Yankees have to go looking for offense, Kyle Roller should be worth serious consideration. Maybe Austin is still rolling after last year’s strong second half. Maybe Judge or Greg Bird deserve consideration straight from Double-A.
4. What if the Yankees need a catcher?
If the Yankees pick Austin Romine as their backup and option John Ryan Murphy to Triple-A, then this question is easy to answer. If, however, the Yankees keep Murphy and lost Romine on waivers, it could get complicated. Sanchez is on the 40-man and should be playing everyday in Triple-A, but he also carries significant questions about his defense and maturity. Is he ready for a big league job (even a part-time one) at this point, or should the Yankees keep an eye on guys like Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia as just-in-case alternatives.
5. What if the Yankees need a spot starter?
When the rotation began to fall apart last season, the Yankees first turned to a pair of relievers in David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. This year, though, Phelps and Nuno are gone. If there’s a need early in the season, perhaps Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers could play the Phelps/Nuno role, sliding out of the bullpen and into the rotation. If not, who’s the best alternative among Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula, Kyle Davis and Scott Baker? Whitley got an early call-up last year. Mitchell pitched well late in the season. Shane Greene made a strong first impression in big league camp last spring, and we all know where that led.
6. What if the Yankees need a reliever?
Inevitable, isn’t it? Bullpens always evolve in the course of a season, and the Yankees are loaded with upper-level relievers who seem fully capable of filling in at any point this season. If all goes as planned, the Yankees will have just one bullpen opening out of spring training, but they’ll have no fewer than 10 guys looking to fill it (Bailey, Whitley, Mitchell, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, Rumbelow, Shreve, Lindgren, Webb). There won’t be room for everyone in New York, so the Yankees will have to make some judgments about who ranks 13th and 14th on a 12-man pitching staff.
7. What if the Yankees need to make a trade?
Kind of the opposite of every other question on this list: the Yankees not only have to figure out who can help them in the short term, they also have to decide which players are most expendable in the long term. If Sanchez looks less and less like a catcher, maybe he looks more and more like trade bait. If Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave all seem to be making strides toward playing a role in New York, maybe it’s best to whittle down a group of similar players. If that bullpen depth is legitimate, maybe it’s easy to include an arm as a way to push a trade package over the top.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have invited 26 non-roster players to spring training. Here’s an attempt to rank them in terms of significance these next two months. It’s totally pointless, but it’s also a random Thursday in early February. What else is there to write about today?
Obviously, this isn’t a prospect ranking, and it’s not an attempt to determine ultimate upside or talent. It’s simply an attempt to evaluate which players have a chance to have an impact — whether by making the big league team, affecting minor league assignments, or climbing to the verge of a call-up — based on what they do in big league camp. Basically, for which players does getting an invitation really mean something?
1. Rob Refsnyder 2B
For me, this an easy choice as the Yankees’ most relevant non-roster invitee. Refsnyder brings a perfect combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity. A big spring could push him into the Opening Day lineup, and if he gets there, he could stick around for the next decade. The Yankees have Stephen Drew penciled in at second base. Refsnyder could change their minds.
2. Jacob Lindgren LHP
Maybe Refsnyder is 1A and Lindgren is 1B. Lindgren also has that combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity, though the Yankees’ crowded bullpen could diminish Lindgren’s immediate impact. Even if he makes the team, he would likely open in a smaller role like Dellin Betances did last season. Big time potential, though, even if it doesn’t show right away.
3. Luis Severino RHP
Seemingly very little chance of actually making the big league roster out of spring training, but I’m keeping Severino this high because a big spring — making a big impression on Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild — could accelerate his development, push him to Triple-A to open the season, and put him on the verge of a call-up if/when the Yankees need rotation help. Top pitching prospect in the system. Impossible to overlook.
4. Andrew Bailey RHP
This might be too high considering he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but the Yankees must have seen something positive in his rehab because they brought him back for another look. The Yankees have at least one wide-open spot in their bullpen, and Bailey has been a very good reliever in his career. Still just 30 years old, too. Might be an all-or-nothing situation; either he’s healthy and valuable or he’s a complete non-factor.
5. Kyle Roller 1B
An admittedly aggressive ranking, but here’s my thinking: The Yankees don’t know what they have in Alex Rodriguez at DH, and they can’t feel totally confident about Mark Teixeira at first base. Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A, and this is “don’t forget about me” moment. With Greg Bird on his heels, Roller’s window of opportunity with the Yankees could be very small. This spring, he can make a case that he’s the solution if and when the Yankees need a big bat this season.
6. Nick Rumbelow RHP
Still not Rule 5 eligible, otherwise he’d be a slam dunk for a 40-man roster spot. He’s one of many in a crowded field of relievers, but Rumbelow has impressed and moved quickly — got to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball — so he belongs on the big league radar. If he outpitches a guy like Danny Burawa or Branden Pinder, Rumbelow could take one of their 40-man spots when the Yankees go looking for bullpen help.
7. Scott Baker RHP
The only veteran starter signed to a minor league contract, Baker is coming to a big league camp in which on starter is a lock for the disabled list (Ivan Nova) and three others carry significant health concerns (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia). There might not be a spot for Baker right now, but that could certainly change before Opening Day. Baker is trying to prove he has enough left to fill a spot if one becomes available.
8. Tyler Webb LHP
Drafted just a few rounds after Rumbelow back in 2013. Now, those two are in roughly the same spot in terms of call-up potential. Webb has big strikeout numbers and got to Triple-A last season. I’m putting him behind Rumbelow largely because the Yankees already have two lefties locked into big league jobs, plus they have Lindgren and Chasen Shreve also in the picture. But Webb has a real chance to pitch in New York this year.
9. Slade Heathcott CF
Hard to know what to make of Heathcott, which is why I’m keeping him in the top 10. What does he look like after missing nearly all of yet another season because of yet another injury? In a system loaded with left-handed center fielders, can Heathcott do enough to get back on the radar? His status will be more heavily affected by the regular season, but big league camp is a chance to make a real statement.
10. Aaron Judge RF
He’ll get a ton of attention for obvious reasons, but I’m keeping just this low because I’m not sure he can do anything in big league camp to change the fact he’s heading to Double-A to open the season. A big spring might speed up his development a little bit and slightly increase the chances of maybe getting to the big leagues this season, but this is really just a first impression. His regular season will determine who quickly he moves.
11. Greg Bird 1B
Very similar to Judge, except that Bird might have an even greater obstacle standing in his way with both Teixeira’s contract and Roller’s Triple-A success standing between him and New York. Bird is going to be fascinating to watch this spring, but no matter what he does, he’s almost certainly headed to Double-A with only a slim chance of getting to the big leagues this season.
12. Nick Goody RHP
Injuries have slowed his progress significantly, but Goody has a good arm, and spring training might be a chance to make a statement and get himself back on the radar. He’s clearly jumped ahead of Mark Montgomery in the organizational pecking order, so he shouldn’t be taken lightly. Big league camp could be a “remember me” moment.
13. Nick Noonan SS/2B
I really think there’s some chance Noonan is too low on this list. Still just 25 years old. Former first-round draft pick. Has big league experience. Hits left-handed. Able to play all over the infield. The Yankees apparently like his defense at shortstop. Given the lack of infield depth in the Yankees’ system, a guy like Noonan could make a strong impression and get on the radar. The fact the Yankees like him at short seems significant. Maybe a Dean Anna-type.
14. James Pazos LHP
A lot of walks but not very many hits in Double-A last season. Has a non-zero chance of pitching in New York this season, but of the six left-handed relievers coming to camp, Pazos is probably sixth on the depth chart. His spring could be more about making sure he doesn’t get completely overshadowed.
15. Jonathan Galvez 3B
Just turned 24 years old. Coming off a pretty good season in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League. And the Yankees signed him early this offseason, which would seem to be a sign of serious interest (they also signed Zelous Wheeler really early last offseason). Can’t say that he has a great chance of making the roster at some point, but Galvez seems awfully similar to both Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte (or even Jose Pirela). Could be absolutely nothing, or he could be a surprising something.
16. Wilking Rodriguez RHP
Pitched two games in the big leagues last year. Signed with the Yankees very briefly, became a free agent, then signed again. He turns 25 in March, and not that long ago he was considered a pretty solid prospect in the Rays’ system. Probably gets buried in the Yankees bullpen depth, but shouldn’t be dismissed. A lot of strikeouts (with a lot of walks) in his minor league career.
17. Cole Figueroa INF
Similar to Noonan and Galvez in that the Yankees lack of upper-level infielders could create an opportunity for Figueroa, who played 23 games for the Rays last season. He plays all over the infield and has shown a real knack for getting on base. He’s another left-handed hitter. Could make a spring impression and eventually get a call-up like Wheeler did last year.
18. Eddy Rodriguez C
Cuban catcher who got a cup of coffee with the Padres back in 2012. He’s basically the token veteran catcher brought in to add some experience. If the Yankees lose Austin Romine on waivers and aren’t satisfied with Gary Sanchez’s progress in Triple-A, then I guess Rodriguez could be in the mix for a call-up if the Yankees need help behind the plate. It’s a long shot, but he does have some experience.
19. Cito Culver SS
Hard to know what to make of this one, but the Yankees have repeatedly said that they haven’t given up on Culver, and they seemed to back up those words by inviting him to big league camp. Strong glove, but he’s shown no offensive ability in the minors. Clearly he’s still on the radar. Does a big spring push him to Double-A with a chance to get to Triple-A at some point? Does he still have a big league future? He plays shortstop in a system that’s thin at the position in the upper levels. That can’t be overlooked.
20. Jake Cave CF
Interesting young prospect, one that has jumped ahead of Heathcott and Mason Williams to become the top center field prospect in the organization. He’s this low on the list not because of his long-term potential, but because of his short-term opportunity. Best-case scenario is probably that he plays well enough to end the season in Triple-A.
21. Jose Campos RHP
This is a definite “remember me” opportunity for a guy once considered to be among the top pitching prospects in the organization. Tommy John surgery derailed his development so much that Campos was released this winter. He ultimately re-signed, and a good big league camp — probably with very limited appearances — would simply be a chance to get his name back on Girardi’s radar.
22. Diego Moreno RHP
Came to the Yankees from Pittsburgh in the A.J. Burnett trade back in 2012. He pitched alright in winter ball this year; has good Double-A numbers but didn’t pitch well in his first taste of Triple-A last year. Probably a non-factor, but again, it’s worth recognizing that he got a big league invitation ahead of a guy like Montgomery. Clearly Moreno is on the radar somewhere.
23. Kyle Higashioka C
Got some big league invitations early in his minor league career, but he’s also dealt with injuries while putting up unimpressive offensive numbers. The Yankees like his glove, and like him as a prospect enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League for a few at-bats this offseason. Not a lot of standout, mid-level catchers in the Yankees system. Higashioka is basically trying to earn regular minor league at-bats again.
24. Trent Garrison C
Little surprise that the end of this list is loaded with catchers. Every team brings catchers to camp who have no real chance of impacting the big league roster. I’m putting Garrison ahead of the next two because he was drafted in 2013 and played in High-A last season. Still fairly young and could become a regular among non-roster invitees the next few years.
25. Francisco Arcia C
Hits left-handed. Played in Triple-A last season. Got some playing time in winter ball. It tend to think of Arcia as an organizational catcher who will basically play wherever the Yankees have an opening (could be A-ball, could be Triple-A). I don’t think of him as a factor, but I did have one scout suggest that a team really desperate for catching could have considered Arcia in the Rule 5 draft, so there’s that.
26. Juan Graterol C
Right down to the birth year, the home country, and the little bit of time at first base, it’s hard to see a ton of difference between Arcia and Graterol. Maybe I’m completely missing something, but Graterol seems like additional organizational filler, except this one’s less familiar than Arcia.
Photo from the Charleston RiverDogs
Pitchers who drop down to pitch from an extreme arm angle aren’t always matchup relievers, but quite often they are. And they can be effective if used in very specific roles, as the Yankees learned a few years ago with Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley. This morning, Ben looked back at a few sidearming Yankees, and that group predictably included a couple of fairly recent left-on-left specialists.
Which is kind of interesting, because the Yankees don’t necessarily have a true left-on-left specialist on this roster. They have lefties — actually could carry three lefties out of spring training — but that doesn’t mean they have a guy like Rapada who’s meant to primarily handle left-handed matchups.
If enough right-handed relievers can retire left-handed hitters, the lack of a true LOOGY doesn’t matter very much. Here are the numbers against lefties for the Yankees five most obvious go-to relief options.
Career vs. LHB: 0.86 WHIP — 12.9 K/9 — 6.4 K/BB — .179/.234/.220
2014 vs. LHB: 0.74 WHIP — 12.9 K/9 — 8.3 K/BB — .161/.205/.200
Career vs. LHB: 1.45 WHIP — 12.2 K/9 — 2.5 K/BB — .241/.341/.359
2014 vs. LHB: 0.77 WHIP — 16.6 K/9 — 9.6 K/BB — .161/.206/.261
Career vs. LHB: 1.44 WHIP — 8.9 K/9 — 2.1 K/BB — .260/.346/.394
2014 vs. LHB: 1.10 WHIP — 9.9 K/9 — 4.0 K/BB — .220/.286/.349
Career vs. LHB: 1.15 WHIP — 7.4 K/9 — 2.7 K/BB — .232/.297/.320
2014 vs. LHB: 1.29 WHIP — 8.1 K/9 — 2.7 K/BB — .253/.314/.367
Career vs. LHB: 1.01 WHIP — 8.3 K/9 — 2.3 K/BB — .243/.320/.421
2014 vs. LHB: 1.34 WHIP — 9.8 K/9 — 2.9 K/BB — .170/.253/.271
Predictably, Miller and Betances have pretty dominant numbers against lefties, but the Yankees aren’t going to use either one as a strict left-on-left specialist. Miller will surely get some key matchups against tough lefties in the very late innings, but he’s going to face tough righties too. Carpenter and Warren each showed quite a bit of improvement against left-handers last season (Warren was actually better against lefties than against righties last season; the extreme opposite was true in 2013).
For middle-inning matchups, the most obvious left-hander right now is Wilson, but he actually pitched better against right handers last season. He gets quite a few strikeouts, but he’s never really fit the profile of a stereotypical one-batter, matchup lefty. Maybe the Yankees can help him in those left-on-left matchups, but so far he’s been more of a full-inning kind of reliever, not necessarily a situational guy.
Expecting these five in the bullpen, plus a long man — perhaps Esmil Rogers — leaves the Yankees with one open bullpen spot to use any number of ways. They could use that spot to carry one of these additional lefties, all of whom are expected to be in big league camp.
Acquired from the Braves this winter, Shreve took a giant step forward with the Braves last season. With a velocity spike, he made his big league debut and faced 25 lefties (struck out eight of them, gave up six hits). He’s basically been this kind of pitcher for only one year, so it’s kind of hard to say what kind of matchup guy he might become. Kind of a wait-and-see prospect, but an interesting one.
Jose De Paula
Signed to a major-league contract despite having no major-league time, De Paula seems to be a more natural fit as a Triple-A starter rather than a major-league reliever. Triple-A lefties hit .286/.344/.429 against him last season, and Double-A lefties hit .290/.302/.339 against him in 2013, so perhaps matchups don’t play to his strengths.
The Yankees top draft pick last season, Lindgren is generally seen as more of a future setup man, and not so much as a future situational reliever. Could he ease into a late-inning role, though, by first handling some matchups? He was awfully good against lefties in the minor leagues last season. If he looks like one of the seven best relievers in camp, maybe open the season with Lindgren in a relatively small matchup role with hopes that he does what Betances did last season and basically pitches his way into bigger and more varied situations?
A college lefty drafted in 2013, Webb got to Triple-A last season and the Yankees seem to like his big league potential. Triple-A lefties hit him hard last season — .308/.308/.731 but with a lot of strikeouts — though it’s worth acknowledging it was a small sample size. and lefties hit for no real power against him earlier in the season in Double-A.
Another college lefty, this one drafted in 2012. Pazos got to Double-A last season and held lefties to a .163/.222/.163 slash line (he was pretty good against righties as well). He’s another guy who throws pretty hard, and while he’s probably behind Shreve, Lindgren and Webb in the pecking order, he’s certainly worth mentioning and could be worth considering if he pitches well this spring.
Associated Press photos
Yankees youth movement is an ongoing process • 02.02.15
As Jackson wrote this morning, the Yankees made an obvious effort to get younger this winter. They traded away one young starter, but added an even younger one. They went with a 24-year-old to fill their glaring hole at shortstop. They made two long-term commitments, neither was signed beyond his 34th birthday. They made a boatload of trades, but kept nearly all of their high-end prospects.
So just how overwhelming was this youth movement? It wasn’t universal — some positions are still tied to veteran contracts — but if this is a trend and not just a one-winter effort, the Yankees might have set themselves on a path to be younger still within a few years.
In place: Brian McCann, 31 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: The Yankees commitment to McCann created a roadblock behind the plate (which might speak to the uncertainty about whether John Ryan Murphy or Gary Sanchez can be everyday catcher in the big leagues). The Yankees did, however, commit to either Murphy or Austin Romine being their backup, which is a clear attempt to give a young player a chance.
Next in line: Sanchez should be in Triple-A this season. He just turned 22 in December, so he’s still awfully young for his level. If his offensive numbers begin to match his raw talent, and if his receiving skills take a step forward, he could be pushing for a big league job next season and eventually force the Yankees to make a decision of Sanchez vs. McCann. Before then, Murphy should have an extended opportunity to show what he can do in the big leagues. Luis Torrens is very good, but he’s also way too young to be in the big league picture just yet.
In place: Mark Teixeira, 34 years old, signed through 2016
Getting younger: The Yankees really made no effort to get younger at first base this winter. Their hands were essentially tied because of their ongoing commitment to Teixeira, who’s deal still has two more years. For a backup option, the the Yankees traded for Garrett Jones and suggested Alex Rodriguez getting some time at the position, all of which could block a brief window of opportunity for Kyle Roller, who had an .875 OPS in Triple-A last year.
Next in line: Roller is at the top of the minor league depth chart, but he’s not necessarily next in line for the position. The guy best poised to replace Teixeira in two years is Greg Bird. He’s coming off a standout regular season and the MVP award in the Arizona Fall League. Bird seems likely to open in Double-A, which puts him on a pretty good trajectory — as long as he keeps moving forward — to have a real shot at the first base position when Teixeira is gone in 2017.
In place: Stephen Drew, 32 years old, signed through 2015
Getting younger: In their own weird way, the Yankees kind of opened the door to getting younger at second base. The job would have been Martin Prado’s with no questions asked, but the Yankees traded Prado and signed Drew, who comes with a much smaller commitment and much higher chance of being dumped to the bench should Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela play well enough to win the second base job.
Next in line: One other thing about Drew: he’s only signed for one year; Prado had two years left. While the Yankees still believe Refsnyder has the potential to be an everyday second baseman — last year could have only reinforced that idea — his experience at the position is limited, and another turn at Triple-A could finish off his development. Pirela has taken an obvious step forward, but Refsnyder is still the top second base prospect in the system, one of the better second base prospects in baseball, and he could take the job — and keep it — sooner rather than later.
In place: Didi Gregorius, 25 years old, pre-arbitration
Getting younger: The Yankees could have signed Drew early in the offseason, put him at shortstop and been done with it for the time being. Or maybe they could have signed Jed Lowrie, or traded for Jimmy Rollins. Instead, they acquired Gregorius, a 25-year-old on Opening Day who has yet to really establish himself in the big leagues. His glove is strong and his bat is questionable, but he’ll get every opportunity to play shortstop regularly this season and beyond.
Next in line: Really, no one. Not in the immediate future, anyway. The Yankees have Jorge Mateo and others in the lowest levels of the minor league system, but that group is a long way from the big league radar. Unless Cito Culver’s bat finally takes a sudden leap forward, there’s really no shortstop in the system who’s remotely close to the big leagues. That’s one reason Gregorius seems likely to get multiple chances and a long leash. Aside from stopgaps Drew and Brendan Ryan — and minor league free agent Nick Noonan — there’s really no one else in the picture.
In place: Chase Headley, 30 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: Compared to 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez, Headley does make the Yankees younger at third base. And compared to players signed into their late 30s, Headley will remain relatively young through the end of his contract. While the Yankees have some third base talent in the system, there wasn’t anyone ready to take a shot at the big league job.
Next in line: Pirela and Rob Segedin probably fit in this conversation somewhere, but it’s really the two guys who shared third base time in High-A Tampa last year who are next in line. Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. are each first round picks with some uncertainty about whether they’ll be good enough — offensively and defensively — to eventually play third base regularly in the big leagues. Miguel Andujar is lurking lower in the system, but before he’s truly on the verge, a full year in Double-A should provide some clarity about what to expect from Jagielo and Bichette.
In place: Brett Gardner, 31 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: Instead of opening the door for a homegrown prospect, the Yankees committed to a homegrown big leaguer. Gardner is one of the farm system’s true success stories of the past decade; one of their very few position players to actually become an everyday guy in the majors. Last spring, the Yankees gave him a four-year extension plus a team option. With his speed and defense, he’s been a solid everyday guy his past four healthy seasons.
Next in line: Ramon Flores could be on the verge of a big league role, but he’s typically labeled more of a fourth outfielder than a future starter (granted, so was Gardner, but Flores hasn’t shown Gardner’s speed or defense). The upper levels of the Yankees system have several other left field candidates like that — Pirela, Taylor Dugas, Ben Gamel, a few guys who usually play center field — so it might be a matter of someone exceeding expectations, someone moving positions, or Gardner keeping his job for a while.
In place: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31 years old, signed through 2020
Getting younger: This is one spot where the Yankees seem fully committed. Even if Ellsbury were to get hurt, the center field job would likely transfer to Gardner before it went to one of the young guys in the minor league system. The Yankees have some center fielders close to the big leagues, but they’re all left-handed, and basically their best-case scenario is to eventually become lesser versions of Ellsbury himself.
Next in line: It will be interesting to see how the Yankees react if one of their center field prospects has a huge year in Double-A or Triple-A. If Slade Heathcott is healthy and productive, if Mason Williams starts to hit again, or if Jake Cave takes another leap forward, would the Yankees simply trade away the prospect or try to find a place for him in New York? Leonardo Molina is an interesting young player in the lower levels, but he’s far from the big league roster. First the Yankees have to figure out what they have in Heathcott, Williams and Cave (and what to do with them while Ellsbury’s in place).
In place: Carlos Beltran, 37 years old, signed through 2016
Getting younger: Basically the exact same situation that the Yankees are dealing with at first base. The organization has high-end right field talent entering the upper levels of the minor league system, but the team is also tied to a declining veteran for two more seasons. The Yankees added some short-term right field depth with Jones and Chris Young, which might block a young guy, but there’s also no guarantee a young guy will be ready to play right field this season.
Next in line: After last season’s strong second half, Tyler Austin seems ready for Triple-A, and his bat can’t be dismissed as a right field option. But the clear standout here is Aaron Judge, generally considered the top positive prospect in the system who had a standout professional debut and should open in Double-A. Just like Bird at first base, Judge seems to be on a good trajectory to have a shot at the right field job by the time Beltran is gone in 2017.
Youth in place: Masahiro Tanaka, 26 years old; Michael Pineda, 26 years old; Nathan Eovaldi, 25 years old; Ivan Nova, 28 years old
Age in place: CC Sabathia, 34 years old; Chris Capuano, 36 years old
Getting younger: The youth movement has been a process in the rotation, and it was hard to notice until this winter when the trade for Eovaldi put the Yankees in line to eventually have four 20-somethings in their rotation this season. Signing Tanaka gave the Yankees the young ace they’ve been unable to develop internally, and Eovaldi gave them an experienced big leaguer who’s a month younger than prospect Jose Ramirez. As long as Nova gets healthy, the Yankees will have a pretty young big league rotation by mid-summer.
Next in line: How fast can Luis Severino make it to the big leagues? That’s the question. Are the dominant numbers he put up last season a true sign of his long-term potential, and can he jump on a fast track that leads to New York by late 2015 or early 2016? The Yankees have other upper level starters (Bryan Mitchell is the headliner) and they have intriguing lower-level talent (Ian Clarkin headlines that group), but Severino is the guy who immediately jumps out as the next impact arm for the rotation. He could easily be in Triple-A at some point this season, perhaps on Opening Day.
In place: Andrew Miller, 29; Dellin Betances, 27; David Carpenter, 29; Adam Warren, 27; Justin Wilson, 27
Getting younger: Miller and Dave Robertson are basically the same age, so that swap was a wash in terms of youth in the bullpen. But the Yankees have gotten younger by transitioning from Shawn Kelley to Carpenter, and from Matt Thornton to Wilson. They’ve also found good young relievers in Betances and Warren. This winter, they also acquired several young bullpen arms, and last summer they drafted a high-rising reliever. The bullpen has added some youth without losing its reliable depth.
Next in line: The core of the Yankees bullpen has no one who will be older than 30 at the end of the year, and Miller’s the only one tied to a long-term contract. That’s a pretty young core as it is, but the Yankees have legitimate power arms on the way. Jacob Lindgren and Chasen Shreve stand out from the left side; Nick Rumbelow, Jose Ramirez and Branden Pinder have Triple-A experience from the right side. The bullpen is fairly young as it is, and there’s more young talent on the way.
Photo from the Scranton Times-Tribune
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