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
RHP Esmil Rogers
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
With the Yankees’ first spring workout three days away, we’ll continue counting down the team’s key spring training decisions by looking at the situation at second base. The Yankees signed a veteran free agent who’s able to handle the position right away. The decision is whether that’s the best way to go for Opening Day. The choice comes down to this:
Is one of the young guys ready to play second base?
The Yankees are fully aware of just how bad Stephen Drew was last season. He had the worst offensive season of his career, and saved the very worst of it for his two-month stint with the Yankees. Even so, the Yankees gave him a fresh one-year, $5-million contract because it could be a prime buy-low opportunity. He’s been a good defender in his career, and as recently as 2013 he was a pretty good hitter.
Drew gives the Yankees a veteran option at the position.
Even with Drew under contract, though, the Yankees have to take a serious look at Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, a pair of 20-somethings who played well in Triple-A last season and could be ready for the big leagues immediately. The Yankees have gone out of their way to say the Drew signing doesn’t rule out the possibility of a prospect making the team and playing second base on Opening Day.
These are the second base possibilities the Yankees have to consider:
The second-chance veteran
32 years old
Last year: .162/.237/.299 in Boston and New York
Career: A long-time shortstop in Arizona, Drew was a good defensive player with good offensive power for a middle infielder. Last season he signed late, missed all of spring training, and had a season far worse than any he’s ever had in the past.
Why give him the job? Because he’s been a good fielder at shortstop and looked pretty good at second last season (maybe still working on the double plays, though). Also, his .777 OPS in 2013 is far more representative of his career than last year’s numbers.
If he doesn’t get the job? It’s not second-base-or-bust for Drew. If he’s not the everyday second baseman, Drew could still play a platoon role with regular at-bats against right-handers, or he could slide into a utility role, perhaps replacing another defense-first veteran, Brendan Ryan.
The resurgent utility man
25 years old
Last year: .305/.351/.441 in Triple-A (.333/.360/.542 in seven big league games)
Career: A teenager when he signed with the Yankees back in 2006, his prospect status basically faded away a few years ago, but he moved off of shortstop, started bouncing around to different positions, and put himself back on the map with good Double-A and Triple-A numbers, leading to a September call-up last season.
Why give him the job? Because he’s been around for a while, but might just now be figuring out the kind of player he can be. He’s still young, but this could be a good window to figure out what he can do. At the very least, he could take Ryan’s spot on the bench and former a second-base platoon with Drew.
If he doesn’t get the job? Pirela’s versatility leaves him with a few options if he’s not the Yankees’ regular second baseman. He could go back to Triple-A, or he could find a role on the big league bench as a guy who can help out at second, third and the outfield corners.
The on-the-verge prospect
24 years old
Last year: .318/.387/.497 between Double-A and Triple-A
Career: A fifth-round pick in 2012, Refsnyder came into the organization as a college outfielder, but he was quickly converted to second base. He’s played the position for two years and has a half-season of Triple-A experience.
Why give him the job? Because, quite frankly, he might be the best second baseman in the organization. His defense is improving — though it’s clearly a work in progress — and he’s always been touted as a good hitter who gets on base and sprays line drives. He’s a legitimate prospect who might not need anymore minor league seasoning.
If he doesn’t get the job? Back to Triple-A to keep learning the position. If the Yankees want a right-handed second baseman on the bench, Pirela might be the better fit because he’s more versatile. With Refsnyder still learning the position, it makes sense to have him playing second base everyday either in New York or in the minors.
The in-the-conversation backup
33 years old
Last year: .167/.211/.202 in extremely limited playing time
Career: Originally a utility type with the Cardinals, Ryan became known as one of the best — if not the very best — defensive shortstops in baseball. His offense, though, has declined to point of non-existence and the Yankees have used him as a backup.
Why give him the job? To be clear, no one is suggesting Ryan will become the everyday second baseman. He’s in the conversation only because he’s a right-handed hitter who could provide a platoon alternative at both second and shortstop this season. Basically, if Drew can’t hit lefties and neither Pirela nor Refsnyder makes the team, Ryan could be a part of the second-base puzzle for a while.
If he doesn’t get the job? For now, Ryan’s greatest attribute is the fact he’s a proven defender at shortstop. Although he doesn’t hit much, the fact he hits right-handed gives him some offensive value as a platoon partner for Drew and Didi Gregorius (each of whom has struggled against lefties). If Ryan can’t play at least occasionally at second base and shortstop, there won’t be much use keeping him on the roster at all.
Cole Figueroa/Nick Noonan/Jonathan Galvez
The minor league free agents
27, 25, and 24 years old
Left, left, and right-handed hitters
Last year: All three were Triple-A regulars with only Figueroa getting any big league time
Career: Noonan is a former first-round pick and the current favorite to play shortstop in Triple-A this season, but he’s been mostly a second baseman in his career, including a few big league games in 2013. Figueroa is the oldest of the bunch, and he’s shown a real knack for getting on base while playing basically anywhere. Galvez is the youngest of the bunch, has no big league experience, but he put up good Triple-A numbers last year.
Why give one of them the job? There’s no good reason to unless something goes wrong between now and Opening Day. That said, last spring the Yankees wound up finding big league playing time for Yangervis Solarte, Dean Anna and Zelous Wheeler, so it no longer makes sense to completely dismiss these sort of minor league free agents.
If they don’t get the job? Most likely, all three are heading to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where Noonan is already the favorite to play shortstop every day, and either Figueroa or Galvez could see a lot of time at third base (which is relatively wide open unless Rob Segedin takes it). Because the upper levels are thin in the infield — especially up the middle — the Yankees needed additional infield depth, and they got it with these three.
Associated Press photo
On the 40-man: Jose Pirela • 02.16.15
Just a few days before the start of spring training, we’ll continue our look at each player on the Yankees 40-man roster by profiling a young utility man whose role for this season is still up in the air.
Age on Opening Day: 25
Acquired: Signed out of Venezuela in 2006
Added to the 40-man: For a late September call-up last season
In the past: Primarily a shortstop through the low minors, Pirela was a decent prospect but not a great one, and he nearly fell off the radar after a lackluster Double-A debut in 2011. In 2012, Pirela moved away from shortstop and improved his Double-A numbers. In 2013, he had another strong year in Trenton and mashed in winter ball. Last year, he thrived in Triple-A, so much so that the Yankees gave him a September call-up and began mentioning him as a big league second-base candidate for 2015.
Role in 2015: Although he’s been in the Yankees’ system for nearly a decade, Pirela is only a year-and-a-half older than Rob Refsnyder. Both Pirela and Refsnyder are coming to camp with some chance to win the second base job — they’ll have to outplay Stephen Drew — but second base isn’t Pirela’s only chance to break camp in New York. He could also make a case for a utility role. If not, it’s back to Triple-A, where Pirela could have plenty of opportunities for a call-up.
Best case scenario: Pirela will play this entire season at 25 years old. He’s young enough to suggest he’s finally coming into his own after more than eight years of pro ball. If that’s the case, Pirela could be a perfect fit for the big league bench as a super utility man who plays regularly while seeing time at second base, third base and the outfield corners. He could even play shortstop in a pinch. Second base is surely his goal at this point, but he might better fit the Yankees as a guy who can move around the field.
Worst case scenario: Just a few years ago, Pirela was pretty far from the prospect radar, and he was nowhere near the big league radar. The past three years have changed that, and three years is a pretty substantial sample size. Problem is, the vast majority of those three years were in Double-A, and Pirela has just a cup of coffee in the big leagues. The worst-case scenario is that his recent success simply doesn’t translate in New York and the Yankees’ upper-level infield depth is even thinner than they thought.
What the future holds: While the Yankees have a young second baseman, first baseman, catcher and a bunch of outfielders getting close to the big leagues, their system doesn’t have anyone else quite like Pirela. Even if he can’t make it as an everyday guy, he could still scratch out a long-term role as a utility man who can hit and play all over the field. He still has three options and three years before arbitration. He can stick around for a long time and play multiple roles without costing much in terms of payroll.
Associated Press photo
Five days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll keep counting down the key decisions to make in spring training. We’ve already looked at picking a backup catcher, setting a lineup, figuring out Triple-A depth, rounding out the bullpen and choosing a fifth starter. Today we’ll look at a decision that’s a combination of individual evaluation and full roster analysis.
What’s the best way to setup the Yankees bench?
The bench is all about role players. It’s about having backups at every position, about having some speed and defense in the late innings, and about using match-up hitters when necessary. It’s not about simply choosing which young catcher should play once a week; it’s about truly maximizing every spot on a 25-man roster.
Assuming a pretty standard roster construction — 12 pitchers, 13 position players — the Yankees have four bench spots to work with. Here are the projected reserves, their projected roles, and a few alternative ways of approaching each spot.
1. Chris Young
Role: Right-handed fourth outfielder
Similar option: Tyler Austin
Alternative approach: Right-handed utility man
Clearly the Yankees re-signed Young to be on the Opening Day roster. He brings right-handed balance to the outfield, and a bounce-back season would make him a real bargain. Ramon Flores would standout as a homegrown alternative, but he’s a lefty, which limits his value in an outfield that already has two lefties in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner (and could have another in Garrett Jones). If being a right-handed hitter is a key aspect of this role, the alternative way of approaching it might involve thinking beyond the outfield. Both Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder have outfield experience, meaning they could bring Young’s right-handed balance, but also provide some infield utility. Young has decent speed and potential for impact at-bats against lefties, which will probably be tough to pass up.
2. Garrett Jones
Role: Left-handed outfield and first base depth
Similar option: Ramon Flores
Alternative approach: Prioritize either the bat or the glove
A secondary piece of the Nathan Eovaldi trade, Jones has left-handed power that makes him a solid match-up hitter against certain right-handed pitchers. He also brings value because of his ability to backup a first base, right field and designated hitter, three spots where the Yankees have significant age, health and production concerns. Flores also hits left-handed and has some first base experience, but he doesn’t bring nearly the same amount of power. Austin could be a right-handed version of the same thing. To use this roster spot differently would be to prioritize one or the other: either the bat or the glove. Either give the spot to a true utility guy (someone like Pirela who adds more defensive flexibility than Jones) or give the spot to a pure hitter (someone like Kyle Roller, who barely plays a passable version of first base, but just might bring more offensive upside). Either of those alternatives seems unlikely. Jones has just enough flexibility and just enough platoon power to actually fit the roster pretty well.
3. Brendan Ryan
Role: Backup shortstop/infielder
Similar option: Nick Noonan
Alternative approach: Let Stephen Drew back up at shortstop
If Drew is strictly a second baseman, then Ryan stands out as the only experienced option as a backup shortstop. Minor league free agent Noonan is probably next in line — seems likely to play shortstop in Triple-A — largely because guys like Refsnyder and Pirela aren’t really shortstops (Pirela’s done it in the past, but not well enough to stick at the position). Thing is, the Yankees don’t have to think of Drew strictly as a second baseman. Even if Drew is playing second base regularly, he also serve as the No. 2 option at short (kind of like Brett Gardner plays left field, but is still the No. 2 option in center). By treating Drew as the backup shortstop, the Yankees could open Ryan’s roster spot for someone who’s a lesser defender but a better hitter. In that case, either Refsnyder or Pirela could be a strong fit. It’s worth noting that losing Ryan would cut into the Yankees shortstop depth should either Drew or Didi Gregorius get hurt. Basically, the Yankees would be an injury away from having either Noonan or Cito Culver on the big league roster.
4. John Ryan Murphy
Role: Backup catcher
Similar option: Austin Romine
Alternate approach: Catcher as designated hitter
Every team needs a backup catcher, so there’s really no way to approach this roster spot with any sort of radical change. One way or another, the Yankees need two catchers. The only way to look at it differently would be to use the backup catcher as a regular designated hitter. If, for example, Alex Rodriguez looks lost at the plate and Murphy looks like one of the best right-handed bats in spring training, perhaps the Yankees could regularly put both Murphy and Brian McCann in the lineup. It would essentially open a spot on the bench for Rodriguez or someone else, while also opening the possibility of losing the DH if the starting catcher can’t finish a game. Seems unlikely as an everyday approach. More likely, the Yankees will simply choose a backup catcher and use him as such.
Associated Press photo
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
I don’t have any hard statistics on this, but lefty specialists must be among the most common, highly specific role players on major league rosters. Not every team has one, but it’s not at all unusual to see at least one left-on-left guy in any given bullpen. It’s kind of a tiny role to play, but most teams find someone to do it. It’s kind of like carrying a pinch runner, or a powerful pinch hitter, or a pure defensive replacement on the bench: there’s an obvious benefit, it’s just a matter of finding room on the roster. In the case of lefty specialists, most teams seem to prioritize finding the room.
I point that out only because that’s one highly specific role the Yankees don’t necessarily have filled at this point. They have plenty of left-handed relievers, but not one who’s specifically assigned to those left-on-left situations (guys like Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson will surely face plenty of right-handers as well).
Do the Yankees have anyone to fill some of the other typical, highly specific roles next season?
The Yankees should get some difference-making speed out of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, but those two are going to be lineup regulars, not pick-your-moment pinch runners. If the Yankees need some late-inning speed, their best bet is probably Chris Young. He’s had only 26 stolen bases the past three years combined, but he’s a better source of speed than John Ryan Murphy, Brendan Ryan or Garrett Jones. If Jose Pirela finds a spot on the roster, he can run a little bit, but he’s not an extreme base stealer.
Power pinch hitter
Every team has some pinch hit options on the bench, but there seems to be specific value in a guy who can come off the bench and provide some pop in a key situation. Sometimes it depends on the matchup — a right-handed or left-handed pitcher on the mound — and the Yankees could have two potential power bats on the bench in Young (against lefties) and Jones (against righties). Jones especially stands out as a pick-your-moment weapon if he’s able to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field. In a big RBI situation, he could be a better bet than Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew or Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees most obvious defensive replacement is Ryan, but he’s also a defensive replacement for an infield that should be pretty good defensively even without him. Is Ryan a definite upgrade over Gregorius, Ryan, Chase Headley or Mark Teixeira? Really, Ryan’s more of defensive insurance, a guy who can provide a solid glove in case an infielder gets hurt. The real defensive replacement might be Young, who should be a right-field sub for Carlos Beltran in the late innings.
Not sure this really counts as a highly specific role these days. It’s pretty common for teams to have a player or two who only jumps into the starting lineup for specific matchups. The Yankees might have two of them in Young and Jones — one to play against lefties, one against righties — but that really depends on whether guys like Beltran and Rodriguez are productive (best-case scenario involves those two having no need for platoon protection). Instead, the Yankees best platoon situation might be in the middle of the infield, with either a platoon of Gregorius and Ryan at shortstop, or a platoon of Drew and Pirela at second (I would say Rob Refsnyder in that platoon, but surely if he’s on the team, it’s to play against more than just left-handed starters).
Not exactly a role anyone wants to play, but the fact is, basically every bullpen needs someone who’s capable of eating multiple innings when a game has turned lopsided one way or the other. That role is basically the way David Phelps broke into the big leagues in 2012. Adam Warren had that job early in 2013. Last year, the Yankees cycled through a several mopup guys who didn’t follow the Phelps/Warren path to something better. This year? Maybe Esmil Rogers could eat innings, or maybe there’s a spot for a guy like Chase Whitley or Bryan Mitchell to start the season as a mopup man with hopes of becoming something more substantial.
Aside from the roles that aren’t really for “role players” — ace, first baseman, closer, leadoff hitter, etc. — every player who’s in a specific role is probably hoping for something better and more significant. That’s certainly true for this one. A team’s sixth starter is usually either a long man in the bullpen (a mopup man) or starter in Triple-A. Right now, the Yankees next-in-line starter is pretty hard to define. We know the projected top five, but the sixth starter could be a safe bet for the bullpen (Warren or Rogers) or a safer bet for Triple-A (Whitley, Mitchell, Scott Baker). The sixth starter will have to define himself in spring training, and that role will surely shift through the course of the season. Ideally, the sixth starter the Yankees use this season will be Ivan Nova.
Associated Press photos
I don’t want to stun anyone with such a personal revelation, but I’m going to make a lot less than $5 million this year. A whole lot less. In my line of work, that sort of money isn’t even a part of the conversation. It’s not like I go to my bosses each year, ask for $5 million, then negotiate down from there.
In Major League Baseball, though, $5 million isn’t absurd. It’s not nothing, but it’s not overwhelming. In the right circumstances, a team can guarantee $5 million and then walk away. It’s happened before.
So what does Stephen Drew’s one-year, $5-million deal mean to the Yankees this season? Does that level of financial commitment mean he’s locked into an everyday job no matter what? Is he even guaranteed a roster spot through the end of the season?
It’s not only Drew who comes with those sort of questions. Garrett Jones and Chris Capuano are also owed $5 million this season. Chris Young is on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Brendan Ryan is owed $2 million this year with a $1 million player option for next year, so the Yankees could look at him as a one-year, $3-million investment.
As we consider roles and playing time heading into the 2015 season — or, to be more honest, as we think about ways Rob Refsnyder, Jose Pirela or some other young guy could still make the big league roster — it’s worth remembering that Drew, Jones, Capuano, Young and Ryan are not such heavy investments that the Yankees have to stick with them under any circumstances. These guys are a long way from making Rodriguez, Teixiera or Beltran money.
They are, to at least some extent, financially disposable.
Back in 2010, veteran outfielder Randy Winn was on a one-year, $2-million deal when the Yankees released him before the end of May. In 2011, Jorge Posada was still making $13.1 million when he became essentially a part-time, bottom-of-the-order player by the end of the season. In 2012, Freddy Garcia was making $4 million when the Yankees pulled him from the rotation after a bad month of April. In 2013, the Yankees signed Mark Reynolds late in the year only after the Indians released him despite a one-year, $6-million contract.
The 2014 Yankees were loaded with similar examples.
Ichiro Suzuki was making $6.5 million, yet the Yankees intentionally added enough outfielders to push him into what was supposed to be an extremely limited bench role last season. Alfonso Soriano was getting $5 million from the Yankees and was released in early July. Brian Roberts was making $2 million and got released at the trade deadline. Kelly Johnson was on a $3-million deal, and the Yankees essentially benched him in favor of a minor league free agent.
No team happily moves away from a player making upward of $5 million. It’s surely enough money to get the benefit of the doubt for a month or so. But it happens from time to time, and the Yankees might have to be prepared to do it again if they’re truly committed to giving young players a real chance in the big leagues.
Depth is a good thing, and the Yankees needed some depth given their age and health concerns. They got deeper with those deals for guys like Drew, Young and Capuano.
Depth, though, can’t and shouldn’t stand in the way of young progress. It doesn’t have to stand in the way this season.
Associated Press photos
Kind of a pointless exercise — you could probably say that about 80 percent of offseason stories and blog posts — but it occurred to me last week that you could put together a pretty decent organizational all-star team based on the guys who played in winter ball this year. The pitching is thin, and there’s not really a standout behind the plate, but otherwise the Yankees had one pretty solid young player at almost every position.
Just because it’s a Friday, here’s an attempt at a starting lineup of guys who played in winter ball this year. Let’s consider this a kind of recap of the winter standouts.
1. Ramon Flores CF
A lot of corner outfielders in the mix, so Flores shifts from left to center. He hit .347/.435/.505 in Venezuela and could be the first outfielder in line for a big league call-up this season. If he weren’t left-handed, he might have a better shot of making the team out of camp.
2. Jose Pirela 2B
Pulled from the Venezuelan playoffs because of a relatively minor hand injury, Pirela showed once again why he’s a candidate for a utility job with the Yankees. He hit .296/.394/.515 while playing second base, third base, left field and right field.
3. Aaron Judge RF
Probably the top offensive prospect in the Yankees system, Judge capped his professional debut by hitting .278/.377/.467 in the Arizona Fall League. That’s after he hit .308/.419/.486 during the regular season. Seems headed for Double-A. Question is, how quickly can he move up?
4. Greg Bird 1B
Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League, Bird hit .313/.391/.556 and established himself as one of the top first-base prospects in the game. The converted catcher has always had an advanced approach at the plate, but this year the power seemed to really arrive.
5. Tyler Austin LF
Primarily a right fielder — with time at first base and third base — Austin started playing some left field in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps setting up the possibility of a big league bench role this season. His bat is still the key, and Austin hit .304/.392/.449 in Arizona.
6. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B
After a strong regular season, Bichette went to the Arizona Fall League and fell flat with a .260/.317/.274 slash line. That said, 2014 restored some of his prospect status as he seemed to make meaningful adjustments at the plate to hit .264/.345/.397 across two levels. That’s an OPS jump of basically 100 points better than the previous two years.
7. Adonis Garcia DH
His team lost in the Venezuelan championship series, but Gracia was key in simply getting them that far. He hit .313/.369/.468 as a regular in the middle of the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. After playing only the outfield corners in the winter ball regular season, he saw some time back at third base in the playoffs.
8. Ali Castillo SS
Not really considered much of a prospect, but in the Yankees’ thin system, Castillo might be the top upper-level shortstop (even if he’s more of a utility man). He hit .305/.346/.408 while playing all over the field in Venezuela this winter, but he might have to return to Double-A this season.
9. Francisco Arcia C
Despite all the catching depth in the minor league system, the Yankees didn’t have a big name behind the plate this winter. Kyle Higashioka got into just six games in the Arizona Fall League (hit .409/.480/.682 in those limited chances). Arcia was in Venezuela and hit just .184/.228/.218 through 87 at-bats. He hit a little better (.235/.316/.353) in the playoffs.
Starting pitcher: Esmil Rogers
Certainly not a prospect at this point, but Rogers was pretty much the headliner among Yankees pitchers in winter ball. He had 18 strikeouts and just four walks through 11.1 innings in the Dominican Winter League (he worked strictly as a starter), then he got into the playoffs and pitched to a 3.55 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and six walks through five starts.
Left-handed reliever: Jose De Paula
Although he’s really a starter, De Paula’s quickest path the big leagues is probably as a reliever. Signed to a major-league deal this offseason, De Paula made just two appearances in the Dominican Winter League — both starts — with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one run through 10 innings.
Right-handed reliever: Kyle Haynes
The Yankees were position player heavy in their Arizona Fall League assignments. Branden Pinder was on the initial list and would have been the pitching standout, but he was replaced by Haynes, the hard-thrower acquired in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade. He had a 2.31 ERA in Arizona, but an ugly 1.63 WHIP.
Associated Press photo of Pirela