A few quick notes from this Sunday afternoon:
1. The Yankees have announced their first three spring training starters. Adam Warren will start on Tuesday, followed by Nathan Eovaldi on Wednesday and Esmil Rogers on Thursday. Chase Whitley said he’s piggybacking one of those days — pitching a couple innings of relief — and I would expect the same for Bryan Mitchell.
2. An intrasquad game is set for tomorrow, and Joe Girardi said he expects the big league regulars to play. No pitcher, though. Several guys will throw live batting practice, but the intrasquad game will be against a pitching machine.
3. No definitive word on whether Alex Rodriguez will play in Tuesday’s spring opener. Girardi said he’ll check with Rodriguez tomorrow, see how he’s feeling, and then make a decision. I wonder if Rodriguez might play each of the first two games at designated hitter just so he can get at-bats. It’s a very short road trip to Clearwater on Tuesday, then a home game on Wednesday.
4. Girardi watched Michael Pineda’s live batting practice this morning and said it was very impressive. Girardi singled out Pineda’s command, his movement, and his offspeed pitches. Also: “Threw a ton of strikes,” Girardi said.
Associated Press photo
In his first spring training with the Yankees, Michael Pineda arrived out of shape and blew out his shoulder. In his second spring, he was a rehab pitcher who never got into a game. In his third spring, he had to compete for a spot in the rotation.
Now in his fourth spring training with the Yankees, Pineda took the field this morning as a healthy, active, locked-into-the-rotation starting pitcher. He threw one round of live batting practice and walked back into the clubhouse sweating and smiling.
“It’s a little different (this year),” he said. “Your head and everything is a little different because when you’re hear when you’re on rehab, you know you’re not making the team. Now, you’re a little more comfortable with your friends. About work, it’s the same because you have to work.”
Pineda threw roughly 20 pitches of live batting practice, facing hitters for the first time this spring.
“I feel like everything (with the shoulder) is in the past right now,” he said. “I feel great. I’m feeling good, feeling strong, and I’m happy with that. … Everything is good. My fastball is coming out, and my off(speed) pitches have good movement. I feel good.”
Of course, Pineda felt good last spring as well, but his shoulder went out again soon after the pine tar incident in Boston. He missed three months, returned in August and pitched to a 1.91 ERA in the final two months of the season. In those final nine starts, Pineda allowed more than two earned runs only once — and that one time came when he pitched into the eighth inning of a 5-4 Yankees win.
“I want to win,” Pineda said. “I’m working hard to be healthy all season, try to be ready every five days to put my team in a good position to win the game. That’s what I’m looking for: to help my team win.”
• As has become the routine this spring, the Yankees pitchers did the bulk of their work this morning. That’s when all the bullpens and live batting practice sessions happened. Fielding practice will be later today, but the Yankees have already seen a busy morning on the mound.
• Speaking of the pitchers, this note was added at the bottom of today’s workout schedule: Pitchers bunt in Cage #4 after mound work.
• Remember last spring when J.R. Murphy became John Ryan Murphy. Well, this year Jose Campos has become Vicente Campos. Working his way back from Tommy John, the name Vicente Campos is above his locker, and that’s the name from the Yankees press release announcing Campos had a non-roster invitation to camp. Campos said he’s not sure why he was called Jose those early years in pro ball, but he prefers Vicente.
• And speaking of Campos, he’s been throwing bullpens and said his elbow feels strong roughly a year removed from Tommy John surgery. He sounds optimistic, but obviously his prospect status has taken a hit. Amazing that the two pitchers acquired in the Jesus Montero trade each went through significant injury problems. Hard to keep pitchers healthy.
• In live batting practice, three pitchers actually threw two simulated innings: Chase Whitley, Esmil Rogers and Bryan Mitchell. Obviously all three are getting stretched out as starters who could fall into bullpen roles only if they’re not needed in the rotation.
• Handful of pitchers scheduled for early work again tomorrow, including CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka.
Branden Pinder (to Roman Rodriguez)
Jacob Lindgren (to Juan Graterol)
David Carpenter (to Austin Romine)
Luis Severino (to Brian McCann)
Domingo German (to Roman Rodriguez)
• Live batting practice:
Facing Jonathan Galvez and Mason Williams
Wilking Rodriguez (to Kyle Higashioka)
Esmil Rogers (to Francisco Arcia)
Bryan Mitchell (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Facing Cito Culver and Nick Noonan
Chase Whitley (to John Ryan Murphy)
Danny Burawa (to Austin Romine)
Michael Pineda (to Austin Romine)
Facing Greg Bird, Jose Pirela and Tyler Austin
Tyler Webb (to Trent Garrison)
Jose De Paula (to Trent Garrison)
Chasen Shreve (to Gary Sanchez)
Jared Burdon (to Gary Sanchez)
Facing Jake Cave and Rob Refsnyder
Andrew Miller (to Brian McCann)
Kyle Davis (to Kyle Higashioka)
Chris Martin (to Kyle Higashioka)
Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
• Batting practice groups:
Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brian McCann, Eddy Rodriguez
Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones
Greg Bird, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Kyle Roller
Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Jake Cave, Chris Young
Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Francisco Arcia, Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Associated Press photos
The Yankees might not have an experienced closer on their roster, but they do have one in camp.
Andrew Bailey is back with the Yankees on a minor league contract. He threw a bullpen this afternoon, and said he no longer thinks of himself as a rehab pitcher just trying to get healthy. He sees himself as a legitimate reliever trying to make the big league roster.
“One hundred percent,” Bailey said. “I came in and spent the offseason training, working as I would if I played last year. The doctor gave me 18, 24 months (to be healthy after surgery), and we’re in that 18th, 19th month. Everyone around here, training staff, coaches and strength and conditioning have all kind of (treated it as if) I’m a normal guy with some needs. Hopefully we get rid of those needs. Everything feels great. I’m with the team and doing everything as I would normally, and if I need a little extra work here or there, that’s fine too. I’m here to compete and earn a spot.”
Bailey has thrown five bullpens since he reported to Tampa after the Super Bowl. In between bullpens, he takes a few more days off than other guys, but the Yankees believe that’s a temporary precaution. Bailey expects to start throwing live batting practice around the time the exhibition schedule begins, which he believes will give him enough time to pitch the innings necessarily to break camp.
“I thought today he looked pretty good, actually,” Joe Girardi said. “I talked to Gil Patterson about it. Compared to where he was last year to where he is (now), there’s significant improvement. I don’t know exactly what we’ll see as far as games, and his bullpens are a little more spread out than maybe some of the other relievers, but that’s on purpose right now, and our hope is that we can catch him up and keep him healthy.”
Bailey’s still just 30 years old. He made two all-star teams as a closer in Oakland, and he could be an option for that wide-open spot in the Yankees bullpen (maybe not as closer, and maybe not by Opening Day, but certainly at some point he could play a significant role). Hard to know what exactly to expect from a guy who hasn’t pitched anything beyond a simulated game in more than a year, but Bailey was awfully good in the past, and he said he feels that way again.
“To feel as good as I do and locate as well as I have been, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Bailey said. “I feel fresh and ready to go, and excited for the next step.”
• Bailey is one of the few players who aren’t expected to be ready to play in games the first week of camp. Bailey is just slightly behind the others, but Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia to each be ready for games when the spring schedule starts.
• Over at the minor league complex, Rodriguez was asked about the leadership void in the Yankees clubhouse. “First, no one can replace The Captain,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I know I’m going to miss him tremendously. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. If guys want to ask questions, I love talking baseball, and you guys know that better than anyone. I love the game, and I love to talk it. Whoever needs my help, I’m available.” Clearly Rodriguez isn’t going to be a leader in the way Derek Jeter is a leader, but he really does talk hitting with other players a lot.
• Speaking of which, Didi Gregorius said he got some hitting tips from Rodriguez at the minor league complex this afternoon. Said it was good to meet him. “He’s a good teammate,” Gregorius said. “He introduced himself to everybody when he walked in (at the complex). New player, you don’t know everybody yet, so everybody comes to introduce (themselves) or you go to them.”
• Several other position players began to move stuff into their lockers this afternoon, including outfield prospects Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin, who have three lockers in a row right next to one another on a back wall. Jose Pirela also arrived today. Rodriguez, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Garrett Jones all worked out at the minor league complex.
• Heathcott had yet another knee surgery last season and spent six months recovering at the Andrews Institute. He said he feels a significant difference between now and last spring. “Excellent,” he said. “I’m ready to play in a game right now.” I’ve been talking to Heathcott for many springs at this point, this is the most confident I’ve heard him in years. Finally sounds like he truly believes he’s healthy.
• So far, no significant injuries to report in Yankees camp, though minor league catcher Juan Graterol is still coming back from a broken arm and hasn’t been taking batting practice with the other guys. He’s been catching bullpens, though.
• Speaking of bullpens, there were a lot of them today. I caught most of Michael Pineda’s, and he looked sharp. “I thought his bullpen was excellent,” Girardi said. “I think he ended up throwing 35 pitches. I thought everything was working for him. Arm strength was really good, so that was good.” Remembering that spring of 2012, the arm strength seems to be a key issue.
• Another bullpen that seemed to catch the manager’s eye: “You know, I thought (CC Sabathia’s) bullpen was good today,” Girardi said. “I was pleased, I mean really pleased, with what I saw. Physically, I know the recovery is important, and going out there inning after innings, sitting down and getting back up (will be a different challenge), but I saw a lot of good signs today.”
• Girardi has not yet talked to Rodriguez face-to-face about playing first base, but he said he expects that conversation at some point. “I anticipate that, yeah,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him about taking some grounders over there just to be prepared, if I need to give a guy a day off or whoever we chose to do it, but yeah, I’m going to talk to him about it and see how comfortable it is.”
• With Rodriguez set to work at first base, and Headley having some experience there, Girardi left open the decision about who will backup Mark Teixeira. There seems to be one obvious standout candidate, though, and Girardi mentioned him by name. “I think it’s too early to decide who our backup first baseman is,” Giradri said. “Garrett Jones has played over there. That’s something that we’ll work on in spring training.”
• Interesting tidbit from Brendan Kuty: Former Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen has been working with third-base prospect Eric Jagielo at the minor league complex. That was at the suggestion of Gary Denbo.
• Final word goes to Girardi, about the way he’ll handle Rodriguez now that position players are set to report in the morning. “The idea for me as a manager is to get the most out of a player,” Girardi said. “I have to do whatever it takes; that’s my job. Will I be any different? I don’t know if the situations will be the same, in a sense. In 2013, he hadn’t served his suspension, a lot of things were still in question and it was different. Now it’s different. He’s served his suspension, a lot of questions have been answered, and now my job is to get to the most out of him again. I’ll do what it takes.”
Associated Press photos
Tomorrow is the Yankees’ first spring workout, so tonight we’ll finish our countdown of the most pressing spring training issues by looking at one that could single-handedly determine the success or failure of this season.
Do the Yankees actually have a good starting rotation, or even a viable starting rotation?
Some of this is out of the Yankees’ hands at this point. All they can do is hold their breath and hope Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow doesn’t snap, Michael Pineda’s shoulder doesn’t blow out, and CC Sabathia’s fastball isn’t smacked all over the yard. They can only follow protocol with Ivan Nova’s rehab, work on Nathan Eovaldi’s offspeed pitches, and evaluate their options for the fifth starter spot. For the most part, their major rotation decisions were made weeks ago. Maybe even months ago. In some cases, years ago.
But at some point, the Yankees will have to decide whether they have enough.
Is this a rotation capable of getting the Yankees into the postseason. Should they consider a trade for a guy like Cole Hamels? Have they left themselves too short-handed to make a serious run?
This winter, the Yankees chose to role the rotation dice. They acknowledged in the fall that their rotation was a concern, but they didn’t want to make a Sabathia-like commitment to Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, and they didn’t like the going rate for high-risk secondary options like Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. They chose to sacrifice one starting pitcher to acquire a shortstop, which made their one trade for another starting pitcher more of a replacement than an upgrade.
• Is there any indication Tanaka’s favoring his elbow; has this rehab protocol really worked?
• Does Pineda seem to have his usual arm strength; is this spring 2012 all over again?
• What kind of pitcher is Sabathia at this point; has he successfully transitioned to a new stage in his career?
• Did the Yankees find a young gem in Eovaldi; can he do anything more than light up a radar gun?
• How much does Chris Capuano have left; did the Yankees get his last drop of effectiveness last season?
• Are Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers legitimate options; have the Yankees overly neglected their immediate depth?
• Can Bryan Mitchell or Chase Whitley spot start if necessary; how far away is Luis Severino?
Whatever the answers to those questions, there’s only so much the Yankees can do at this point. Their most important rotation decisions came when they passed on Scherzer and Lester, when they made a pair of rotation-based trades (three trades counting the Manny Banuelos deal), and when they selected Capuano and a handful of minor league free agents to build their back-of-the-rotation depth.
In some ways, their key 2015 rotation decisions came when they traded for Pineda, extended Sabathia, and elected to forgo surgery on Tanaka.
But as pitchers and catchers settle into Steinbrenner Field, it’s still hard to look at this Yankees team and see a more all-or-nothing situation than the state of the rotation. This spring, the Yankees will have to figure out whether this rotation is good enough to make the Yankees contenders or thin enough to keep them out of the playoffs.
And as with any spring training decision, the evaluation will be subject to change once the season gets started.
Associated Press photos
A few mid-day notes on this Friday afternoon:
• Bob Klapisch wrote about the difficult position of Joe Girardi, who’s once again stuck in the middle of the Yankees’ tension with Alex Rodriguez. I tend to think Girardi’s been terrific at handling that middle ground in the past. The part of Klapisch’s column that stands out, though, is this: “This isn’t the first time Girardi has been caught in the crossfire. Sources say he was in favor of dropping Derek Jeter in the batting order last year, but was overruled by ownership. Girardi understood how explosive the issue was, especially because, according to those same sources, Jeter made it known he wanted to remain in the No. 2 spot.”
• Speaking of Jeter, The Associated Press reports that the retired Yankees shortstop missed his induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame because of “serious plane issues.” That’s according to Hall of Fame officials. An inductee must be present to be inducted, so Jeter will now enter the Michigan Hall with the 2016 class. The Free Press says he has already committed to attending next year’s ceremony.
• New Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi is already in Tampa working with Larry Rothschild. Considering Eovaldi already throws extremely hard but has relatively modest strikeout numbers, it’s little surprise he says offspeed pitches have been his primary focus with Rothschild. “I controlled my walks (last season),” Eovaldi told Dan Martin, “but my ERA was a lot higher than I’d like it to have been. And I gave up too many hits.” Michael Pineda is also already in Tampa, focused on staying healthy (and staying away from the pine tar).
• Although he’s apparently not yet in Tampa, Brian McCann spoke to Ken Davidoff about trying to beat the shift that so thoroughly crushed his batting average last season. McCann said he went into this offseason recognizing “it’s time for me to make that adjustment.” One interesting idea McCann mentioned: He suggested to the Yankees that Brett Gardner shift from left field to right field any time there’s a left-handed pull hitter at the plate.
• As you probably already know, Yoan Moncada is expected to pick a team within a week or so. His agent has said Moncada would like to sign by February 23. At this point, it seems all of baseball agrees on his talent, it’s only a question of which team will be willing to commit an incredible amount of money on such a young, relatively inexperienced player. The Yankees, of course, are heavily in that mix. For now the Yankees seem less involved in another Cuban infielder, Hector Olivera, who’s older and would presumably open this season in the big leagues as either a second baseman or third baseman. The Yankees have not regularly popped up as an Olivera favorite like they have with Moncada.
Associated Press photo
On the 40-man: Michael Pineda • 02.09.15
Continuing to look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next turn to one of the organization’s most important trade acquisitions of the past decade. The Yankees had a massive trade chip in Jesus Montero, and they chose to use it to acquire a big right-handed starter who almost immediately wound up on the disabled list.
Age on Opening Day: 26
Acquired: From Seattle in a trade for Montero and Hector Noesi
Added to the 40-man: The deal became official January 23, 2012
In the past: It’s been three full years since the Yankees traded for Pineda. It was a blockbuster at the time, with the Yankees giving up their top prospect for a hard-throwing young starter coming off a strong rookie season in Seattle. For a while, though, the deal looked like a bust for each team. Noesi fizzled, Campos got hurt, Montero didn’t hit, and Pineda spent two years recovering from a right shoulder injury. When he finally returned to the big leagues last season, it was for only 13 starts (but they were 13 very encouraging starts).
Role in 2015: When the Yankees traded for Pineda, they envisioned a long-term fixture in their rotation. And finally, they can image that sort of impact again. After a 1.89 ERA and 0.825 WHIP last season, the Yankees can pencil Pineda into the No. 2 or 3 spot in their rotation (depending on how you label CC Sabathia). Pineda seems to be a strong fit in that role, but that’s only if he can stay healthy. His role for 2015 is not up for debate. The only uncertainty is whether he can get on the mound often enough to fill play his part on a regular basis.
Best case scenario: It’s pretty difficult to imagine Pineda carrying last year’s 1.89 ERA through a full 30-start season. If you want to dream really big, I suppose the absolute best-case scenario is an exact repeat of last year except with far more starts (and if that happens, Pineda will surely win the Cy Young award). More likely, a reasonable best-case scenario probably involves an ERA closer to last year’s FIP (2.71). Whatever the exact stats, an ideal world has Pineda pitching a full season to form a a real one-two punch alongside Masahiro Tanaka.
Worst case scenario: Shoulder injuries are bad. For pitchers, they’re really bad. Pineda managed to come back last season, but that shoulder issue popped up again. The nightmare scenario is that things like that keep happening. A little shoulder soreness here. A strained shoulder muscle there. Maybe even another surgery at some point to clean up some damage. If Pineda’s hurt again and Montero finally puts it together, that would add insult to injury.
What the future holds: At this point, the pine tar incident seems like a non-issue. It was embarrassing, but Pineda handled it, admitted it, and everyone was able to move on. What will determine his future in this organization is his health. Clearly he’s a good big league pitcher when healthy, but he has only two more years before he reaches free agency. By the end of 2017, the Yankees have to decide whether this guy is worth a long-term commitment, or if he was simply a dream that never really came true.
Associated Press photo
Year by year, Yankees longevity stands out • 01.23.15
My first reaction to seeing the graphic in this morning’s Pinch Hitter post was a bit of criticism: where were the names?
It seemed awkward to look at a chart that was created by individual players and showed no individual names, but as I looked at it a little longer, the lack of names became one of my favorite parts.
Whether intentional or not, one thing Steve and Rich really emphasized in their graphic was the value of longevity.
If you’re looking for individual superstars, they’re easy enough to find — just look for the huge patches of blue. Lou Gehrig and Don Mattingly are easy to spot in the first base column. Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada stand out at catcher. Joe Gordon, Willie Randolph and Robinson Cano are obvious at second. It’s not hard to spot Babe Ruth, it’s easy to find Derek Jeter, and the transition from Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle is obvious.
There are some important specks on that chart — one speck is the year Rickey Henderson moved from center field to left field — but the graphic really emphasizes sustained success, either through one long-term player or through one very successful transition. And the Yankees are in a period of obvious transition without a lot of blue in these most recent years.
So what positions are close to developing large patches of sustained success?
Center field and left field could be heading that direction. There’s a 2014 dot of blue in left field because Brett Gardner had a nice season, and that season came after a very small gap of red following the mix-and-match left field success of the late 2000s. Jacoby Ellsbury also provided a blue dot last season as a transition from Curtis Granderson to Gardner to Ellsbury in center field. Gardner and Ellsbury are signed long term and could continue that outfield success through the end of this decade.
If a guy like Rob Refsnyder can take hold of the second base position, that could be another strong and relatively quick transition after the standout seasons of Robinson Cano. Maybe Dellin Betances can provide a strong transition in the relief column. Obviously the top two starters have generally provided a lot of blue-dot success over the years, and Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda seem poised to keep that going as long as they stay healthy.
Plugging short term holes is helpful and necessary along the way, but sustained success is what really stands out.
Associated Press photo
Earlier today we looked at a few problems the Yankees would like to have in spring training (too much pitching depth, too many hitters exceeding expectations). But what if the opposite happens? What if the things that could go wrong, do go wrong? This isn’t meant to be a doomsday scenario — it’s not about unpredictable injuries or unlikely declines — but rather a look at realistic problems that could pop up based on past performance and familiar issues. How would the Yankees react if the roster begins to crumble before Opening Day?
What if Alex Rodriguez is absolutely finished?
This morning we considered a resurgent A-Rod, but what if the opposite is true? He’s 39 years old, he’s hardly played the past two years, he didn’t play at all last season, and he’s gone through multiple injuries in recent seasons. How would the Yankees react if Rodriguez is not only incapable of playing third base everyday, but is also no longer able to hit well enough to deserve regular playing time? Would Rodriguez get the benefit of the doubt for a few months, or would Joe Girardi decide he’d seen enough in spring training and open the season with Garrett Jones as the regular designated hitter against righties? Is it possible for Rodriguez to play so poorly that he’s not even worth platoon at-bats against lefties? Surely Rodriguez would have to be epically bad for the Yankees to completely cut ties.
What if Dellin Betances can’t throw strikes?
After last season, it seems like a near ridiculous idea. Betances has been a very good relief pitcher for basically a season and a half now (making a terrific transition in Triple-A, then putting together an All-Star rookie season for the Yankees). But what if some of his old minor league problems resurface in spring training? Maybe the pressure of trying repeat last season gets to him. Maybe the closer role is too much. Whatever the reason, let’s say Betances just isn’t sharp in spring training. The stuff is still great, but he’s inconsistent, and there’s a snowball effect as Betances tries to sort it out. If the Yankees don’t see the same old Betances in spring training, how thoroughly would they have to rearrange their bullpen? Would they chalk it up as an exhibition fluke and keep Betances in a key role, or would he have to prove himself all over again?
What if Didi Gregorius isn’t an everyday shortstop?
Last spring, the Diamondbacks went into spring training giving Gregorius a chance to be their everyday shortstop, and he lost the job to Chris Owings. The Yankees are already well aware that Gregorius has some flaws — he hasn’t hit well against lefties, his offense as a whole remains somewhat questionable — but they’re banking on his defense and his ability to at least hit righties. If Gregorius is a massive disappointment, would the Yankees change plans to give the shortstop job to Stephen Drew (opening second base for either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela), or are they fully committed to Gregorius regardless of spring performance? Basically, how long is the leash on a new guy who might be the Yankees shortstop of the future, or might be in over his head as an everyday player? Girardi hasn’t seen much of Gregorius. How important is his first impression?
What if the rotation really does fall apart?
This probably qualifies as a doomsday scenario, but it’s a scenario rooted in realistic possibility. We all know about Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, Michael Pineda’s shoulder and CC Sabathia’s knee. We saw each of those three miss significant time last season. What happens if those three show up in spring training and immediately run into familiar injuries problems. Tanaka’s ligament can’t hold up, Pineda’s shoulder suffers another setback, and Sabathia’s body continues to break down. If the Yankees rotation basically runs into the same health problems as last season, but does it right away, would the Yankees desperately try to find replacement starters (sacrifice the farm for a guy like Cole Hamels) or would they simply roll the dice with guys like Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell, deciding this season isn’t worth trying to save?
What if there’s a clear need for firepower?
What’s the biggest source of offense the Yankees added this offseason? Garrett Jones? Chris Young? Chase Headley? A-Rod? Ultimately, the Yankees plugged a lot of holes this winter, but they didn’t necessarily add one big bat meant to make a major difference in the middle of the order. This team struggled offensively last season, and it’s really banking on bounce-back seasons from Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira to significantly boost the run production. How would they react this spring if it looks like those bounce-backs aren’t going to happen? Could a guy like Tyler Austin suddenly get a longer look? Would the Yankees accelerate the development of Aaron Judge or Greg Bird? Would they try to get regular platoon production out of Jones or Young? Would they bat Jacoby Ellsbury third again?
Associated Press photo
Has anything changed for the Yankees in the wake of Max Scherzer’s new deal with the Nationals?
Since the fall, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner created the public perception of fiscal restraint. With a bunch of big contracts (and big mistakes) already filling the payroll, the Yankees never positioned themselves as a favorite for Scherzer. Any thought to the contrary was based on past examples of the Yankees spending unexpected money for Scherzer-type players, but there was never any evidence that they were going to get involved this time.
In that way, nothing has changed. The Yankees weren’t supposed to get Scherzer, and they didn’t.
But with Scherzer off the market, the winter’s most popular “what if” scenario is off the board, leaving the Yankees with a rotation that is what it is.
Top five starters
These five have been in place since late December when the Yankees completed the trade for Eovaldi. Three of these players are in their mid-20s, and one exception is on a one-year, stop-gap contract. Even so, there’s such injury concern at the top that this rotation seems unreliable at best.
Major League depth
According to plan, Warren and Rogers should be relievers this season, but each has been a starter in the past — Rogers worked as a starter this winter — and so they could provide immediate rotation depth in spring training. Nova is expected back from Tommy John surgery around June or so.
Minor league depth
Jose De Paula
Whitley made 12 big league starts last season, but unless he wins a spot as a long man in the big league bullpen, he seems likely to land in the Triple-A rotation with Mitchell and De Paula (each of whom is currently on the 40-man). Severino is not on the 40-man and has just 25 innings above A ball, but he’s talented enough to potentially pitch his way into the mix. Can’t completely rule out guys like Matt Tracy and Zach Nuding, who could round out the Triple-A rotation, or a guy like Jaron Long, who’s likely heading for Double-A but made a huge impression last season.
Question is: Is this enough? The top five looks perfectly good, but that’s only if its healthy. There are plenty of alternatives in the mix, but each one seems to come with significant uncertainty (about upside, about health, about ability to consistently start at the big league level). So if the Yankees want to upgrade their rotation — either adding talent up top or adding depth at the bottom — what are their options?
1. Spend big – There’s still one high-end starter on the market, and he has a history of success in the American League East. But if the Yankees weren’t interested in Scherzer, what are the chances they’ll become interested in James Shields? He’s already 33, so his next contract is likely to carry him into his late 30s, which seems awfully risky at this point.
2. Take a chance – Beyond Shields, the free agent market really doesn’t have a reliable starter still available. Instead, the Yankees could roll the dice on a small contract — perhaps even a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation — with a veteran starting pitcher who comes with serious warts. Johan Santana recently got some attention, but guys like Chad Billingsley, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Young are also still out there.
3. Sacrifice the farm – The Yankees clearly prefer to keep their top prospects at this point, but they don’t have to. Cole Hamels is clearly available and signed to a contract that seems perfectly reasonable compared to Scherzer, but it would likely take a massive package to get him. The Nationals are reportedly not pushing to trade Jordan Zimmermann, but he might be available. Is it worth giving up some of the future to add a pitcher for the present?
4. Wait and see – Nothing says the Yankees have to make a change right now. Last season, they managed to rebuild a rotation on the fly, and they could try to do the same this year if necessary. They could go into spring training with this group and adjust only if/when one of those top five starters goes down. If that doesn’t happen until May, they might have Nova ready to step in. If it happens in August, Severino might be ready.
Associated Press photos
We’ve made it to the middle of January, which means the bulk of our offseason news is probably behind us.
The Yankees have already traded for a shortstop and a new starting pitcher. They’ve signed a third baseman and a new reliever. They’ve restructured their bullpen, reworked their infield, and remodeled their bench. They’ve left every indication that they want to keep their remaining prospects and stay away from any more huge contracts (at least for the rest of this winter).
So if the bulk of the heavy lifting is finished, what are we waiting for in these last five weeks before spring training? Here are a few things:
1. The Stephen Drew announcement
We know this one is coming, but at this point, Drew is still not officially on the roster. How Drew impacts the final roster is a question for another day — one we can speculate about but not really answer until late March — so for now, we’re just waiting for him to officially arrive. And with his arrival, we’ll find out who’s coming off the roster.
2. Final arbitration-eligible settlements
Kind of like the Drew signing, this is largely a formality. The Yankees very, very rarely actually go to arbitration, so there’s no real reason to think the won’t eventually settle on fresh contracts for their three remaining arb-eligible players. We already have a pretty good idea how much money David Carpenter, Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda will make this season, it’s just a matter of getting the contracts finished.
3. Non-roster invitations
A few minor league signings have already been reported, so we know guys like Nick Noonan and Slade Heathcott will be non-roster players in spring training. But it’s always interesting to see the final list of minor league guys who get to spend at least a few weeks with the big leaguers. Surely guys like Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Luis Severino will be there. What about a guy like Cito Culver? Despite the outfield depth, hasn’t Taylor Dugas done enough to get an invitation?
4. Max Scherzer and James Shields closure
They’ll either sign with the Yankees or they won’t, and right now the expectation is that the Yankees will not spend big money in either one. But until both Scherzer and Shields are off the market, the Yankees will be occasionally linked to them. It’s simply too difficult to completely dismiss the possibility of a surprise investment. Doesn’t seem likely, but doesn’t seem impossible.
5. Additional pitching depth
Scherzer and Shields might be out of the Yankees price range, and the desire to keep the system’s top prospects might keep the Yankees from making a trade for a guy like Cole Hamels, but there’s an obvious level of concern with the current rotation. Isn’t it entirely possible the Yankees might eventually add some veteran starter on either a tiny major league deal or a non-roster minor league contract? Could a veteran closer jump into the picture if his price falls far enough? If you’re looking for another addition, pitching depth might be the thing to monitor.
6. Inevitable Alex Rodriguez speculation
Based on his recent Instagram posts, we know Rodriguez has started batting practice and fielding drills. Isn’t it inevitable that we’ll start to hear rumblings about the way he looks in these early baseball drills? Maybe it’ll be some source within the organization, or maybe someone who’s close to A-Rod himself. At some point between now and spring training, though, it seems inevitable that we’ll hear something about Rodriguez, either good or bad.
7. Early arrivals at the minor league complex
Pitchers and catchers officially report on February 20, but some guys always show up early. Usually those early arrivals don’t mean a ton — Brett Gardner is taking early swings! — but given all of the guys coming back from injuries this season, those early arrivals might carry a little more weight this year. If Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia or Carlos Beltran shows up early, there will be some interesting questions and answers.
8. Yoan Moncada developments
Even if the Yankees aren’t willing to spend the money necessary to sign Scherzer or Shields, they could still make a huge investment between now and spring training. If Cuban teenager Moncada becomes a fully available free agent, the Yankees could land one of the top young players on the planet, giving themselves a new high-end prospect with the potential to significantly impact this team within a few years.
Associated Press photos