Stephen Drew made all the plays he was supposed to make today, but he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It was kind of a take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of day for a guy who’s suddenly having to prove himself on both offense and defense.
“These guys brought me over here to fill that role (at second base),” Drew said. “And playing in the league for as long as I have and understanding the game, it’s definitely big. And it’s still early. With these at-bats, it’s huge for me, whereas last year I was going into a season where guys were four months (ahead). It’s not an easy task. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time, it’s something that really I don’t think anybody has done quite like that. Knowing that, and knowing that feeling, it’s definitely a big key to be here in spring (training) right now.”
Yes, Drew knows there’s a big league job waiting for him. But it would be hard for anyone to not notice the way Jose Pirela is hitting so far this spring, and Rob Refsnyder gets more attention in the clubhouse than some of the veterans. Drew is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, and now he’s trying to learn a new position. Will he really break camp as the Opening Day second baseman? Probably. The Yankees have basically committed to that much, the question is whether he can play well enough to keep the job going forward.
“I mean, if (anyone) was to struggle, we’d probably make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s the nature of our game, but we didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
How does Drew go about learning second base and getting his numbers back on track with the rest of his career? Well, it starts right here, with games like today. If he stays healthy, this will be Drew’s first full spring training since 2011. He played no spring training games in 2012 because of a broken ankle, he missed most of the 2013 spring with a concussion, and he didn’t sign last year until May. He was in the big leagues roughly two weeks later.
“I was in good shape (last spring),” Drew said. “And like I keep telling you guys, the biggest thing is you haven’t seen live pitching, Major League pitching, along with that (time off). Last year was definitely a challenge. Really, you’ve got to slow the game down. I was rushing the game, trying to speed it up, trying to play catch up. To be here now is definitely a big moment for me.”
Drew has just 11 at-bats this spring, but he also has just one hit. He made an error on his first opportunity of the exhibition schedule. Anyone who follows this game knows not to make much of early spring training results, but it’s hard not to analyze everything Drew’s doing given his situation. For those who hated the signing in the first place, every 0-for-3 and every defensive mistake seems like proof that Drew’s contract was a mistake.
The Yankees, though, see a good defensive player, who’s athletic and experienced enough to learn a new position, and who’s 2013 — when he had a .777 OPS — is far more indicative of the kind of hitter he’s been through most of his career. They see a potential bargain where others see a sure bust.
“We expect him to be a productive hitter, to get back to the form that he was at before last year,” Girardi said. “I think he got behind, and I think it was difficult for him to catch up when you miss spring training. When you slowly progress into playing and then you have a rushed spring training in a sense. He wasn’t there very long. Maybe he had 15, 16 at-bats or whatever he had. It’s just hard to catch up. I think you get behind, and then you start off slow and you try to make things up. It just makes things worse a lot of time. We feel that he’ll get back to the form that he was at.”
• Despite going three scoreless innings, Chase Whitley wasn’t all happy with his start today. He walked three guys, got into jams in the first and second innings, and threw only 24 of 46 pitches for strikes. Good work to get out of trouble with a lot of ground balls, but Whitley said he’s clearly still in early spring mode. “Overall pleased with the result,” he said. “But the process has to get a little bit better.”
• Girardi seemed to like the fact Whitley had to handle some adversity and make big pitches. “He got some big ground balls when he needed them,” Girardi said. “He got in some long counts and got some baserunners, but he did a good job with runners in scoring position. You want to see that.”
• The Yankees lost 3-1 with all of the Orioles runs coming against Branden Pinder and Chasen Shreve, two 40-man guys who seem to be fighting for that open spot in the bullpen. Pinder was knocked around early in the fifth inning — four straight hits, two runs — but also got some big outs to limit the damage. Shreve gave up a solo home run to a switch hitter.
• Both Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• A sure sign that it’s absurdly early: Chase Headley came into this game hitting .100 for the spring. He went 3-for-3 and in one day raised his average to .308. He had hits from each side of the plate. “It’s tough to figure out what you’re trying to do early,” Headley said. “You really want to see pitches, track the ball good out of the pitchers’ hands. I didn’t feel very good doing that, wasn’t seeing them like I wanted to, so I figured today I’d be a little bit more aggressive, try to take it a little more like regular-season at-bats. I think that put my rhythm and timing in better spots. It was good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but you want to get hits.”
• Yet another start for Didi Gregorius against a left-handed starting pitcher. Girardi seems happy about that, but he said it’s strictly coincidence. The lineups are generally set before the Yankees know who they’re facing in spring training. “I want to see him (against lefties),” Girardi said. “Obviously a lot of times you can get pegged early on in your career; I’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. We have a lot of confidence in Didi and we want him to get at-bats.”
• Aaron Judge made a nice diving catch in right field today. Headley almost made a terrific diving stop on a Machado double. He dived toward the foul line, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t catch it,” Headley said. Would have been a sick catch.
• Big-time injury in the American League East as Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is likely to miss all year with a torn ACL. “I feel like it’s becoming the NFL; there’s one big injury every day,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating when you lose your players, guys that you count on. No one is going to feel sorry for you and you have to just move on, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
• Speaking of AL East injuries, the Yankees saw Manny Machado back in the Orioles lineup today. He went 3-for-3, and Girardi said the situation reminded him of a Yankees prospect. “Two knee surgeries, and having to fight back; it’s frustrating as a player,” Girardi said. “For him, he’s really young, but you know your time is limited. And that’s the last place you want to spend it is rehabbing on the DL. I look at a young kid that we have. He’s not as accomplished as Manny, but what Slade (Heathcott) has gone through, the knee surgeries. It’s frustrating. It delays your progress as a player.”
• Gary Sanchez hit a pretty long home run for the Yankees only run of the day. … Pirela went 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s hitting .462 (Refsnyder went hitless but is hitting .455). … Aside from Pirela, Sanchez and Headley, the only Yankees hit belonged to Mark Teixeira.
• For today’s final word, here’s Girardi’s response to a joking question about whether he’s ready for the big game against Boston tomorrow. “Huh? Oh yeah. I was thinking, big Boston game, what’s he talking about? Do you guys (in the media) have a game or something?” Rivalry games just don’t carry the same weight down here in spring training.
Associated Press photos
If it hadn’t become obvious already, Joe Girardi left no doubt this morning.
“We signed (Stephen Drew) to be out second baseman,” Girardi said. “We didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
Once again, the Yankees are putting Drew and Didi Gregorius together in the middle of the infield. Neither has played an inning in the field without the other this spring. Brendan Ryan has yet to go through full drills, yet the Yankees seem to have no interest in giving either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder a chance to become familiar with Gregorius as a double-play partner.
“Our plan is for it to be Stephen,” Girardi said.
That’s the plan despite two curious factors: 1. Drew’s only previous experience at second base came when he was thrust into the position late last year, and 2. He’s coming off a horrible season in which he was one of the game’s worst offensive performers.
“We feel that he’ll get back to the form he was at (in 2013),” Girardi said. “… We think these guys (Drew and Gregorius) are more than capable of carrying the load offensively.”
In 2013, Drew had a .777 OPS as the Red Sox starting shortstop. Last season, only five teams got an OPS that high out of the second base position (only the Mariners and Astros got an OPS over .800 at second base). If he does return to form, Drew could be a high-end hitter for a player at that position. If he doesn’t, he could be a fool-me-twice mistake blocking the advancement of a younger alternative.
For now, though, the Yankees seem confident Drew is more of a potential bargain than a potential bust, and they trust that spring training — with all of those starts alongside Gregorius — will give him enough time to truly learn the defensive side of second base.
“He got enough reps last year, we felt pretty comfortable,” Girardi said. “… I think he’s too accomplished a player (to not adjust to the position).”
• The Yankees are giving Chase Whitley a spring training start today. As the top starters are beginning to fill the spring rotation, it seems this could be Whitley’s only true start in the Grapefruit League. The fact he’s getting a turn is an indication the Yankees haven’t forgotten about how well he pitched when he first got to the big leagues last season. The Yankees see him as a starter or a long reliever going forward. “I think you could put Chase anywhere,” Girardi said.
• One thing to consider as guys like Whitley pitch in games, the Yankees are still considering the idea of a sixth starter from time to time. That could be a long man who steps into the rotation occasionally, or it could be a Triple-A starter who’s called up when necessary. Girardi said the Yankees are considering each option, though as it gets later in the season, it would be harder to ask a big league reliever to make a start. Early in the year, that would be a consideration.
• Worth noting: Girardi said Whitley came into camp having learned a new curveball that he’s using occasionally early in the count. His go-to strikeout pitch is a changeup, and last year he greatly improved a cutter/slider, but the curveball gives him a fourth option just to mix it up a little more.
• Ivan Nova threw another bullpen this morning and he continues to feel “better every day.” He will begin throwing breaking balls in the bullpen next week, but he said he’s already spun a few off flat ground. Said it felt good.
• Esmil Rogers will only pitch an inning or two out of the bullpen today. He’s scheduled to start on Saturday.
• As expected, Luis Severino is not in camp today. He was held out because of strep throat. Should return tomorrow.
• Garrett Jones was scratched from today’s road trip because of illness. The Yankees think he simply has food poisoning, but it could be some flu-like situation. He was in the clubhouse this morning, just didn’t look great.
• Nick Noonan isn’t making today’s trip because of a stiff neck.
• Plan is still for Brendan Ryan to do some light baseball drills tomorrow. He has yet to do much this spring because of a back injury.
• Today’s second string: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Jake Cave, CF Mason Williams, RF Slade Heathcott
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Goody (with Nick Rumbelow, James Pazos and Danny Burawa making the trip just in case)
Associated Press photos
When the first batter of the game hit a ground ball to second base, the former shortstop charged it, scooped it, and botched it. It was an error on Stephen Drew’s first play of the spring, which was not the best way to win over a fan base that’s already skeptical at best. For a while, Drew’s name was actually trending on Twitter, and not in a good way.
“For me, I’ve got to trust my talent,” Drew said. “I know it’s there, it’s just more or less, now at second, just learning that. I want to get the best I can at that, and then taking everything in at second that I can (learn). Then hitting, I know it’s there, now I just have to get in that rhythm. I haven’t had a normal spring training in three years. So if I can get in a routine finally, I think it will pay off.”
After hitting just .162/.237/.299 last season, Drew accepted a one-year deal and a position change because, he said, he liked the organization and saw this as an opportunity to win. He basically dismissed the idea of getting some reps at shortstop this spring, saying he needs to focus on learning second base. Clearly, the way he sees it, that’s his position now.
“That route (on the first-inning error), you just need to come around a little more,” Drew said. “Then I can square up to the ball, set the feet and then throw. It’s definitely the angles over there still are going to be the ones that I’m going to work through the whole spring training to get really used to that before the season starts.”
The Yankees have two young second base alternatives in Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, but the early spring indications suggest Drew would have to fall flat for either alternative to take the job. Joe Girardi has said he wants to keep Drew and Didi Gregorius playing together, a clear indication that he sees those two as his double play combination. If Drew’s not going to play much — if any — shortstop this spring, that would seem to rule out putting him into a utility role to back up Gregorius at short, which is surely good news for Brendan Ryan sticking with the team, making it harder to find a spot for Pirela or Refsnyder even on the bench.
A broken ankle, a concussion, and a contract issue have kept Drew from having a normal spring the past three years. Now he sees this spring as an opportunity to truly prepare, to learn a new position, and to prove he can be the same hitter who had such a productive 2013 season in Boston. He clearly sees himself, not as a utility man or as shortstop insurance, but as the Yankees regular second baseman. All he has to do is simply learn to play the position.
“It’s still that ticking process in my mind, especially in spring training,” Drew said. “(There are) little things I’m running through to get more comfortable. I know I did it last year just on a whim, but to be able to not be thinking during a game. Just be able to do it like I do at short, where everything comes natural.”
• Pretty good first start for Nathan Eovaldi, who showed the velocity we’ve heard so much about — his fastball got into the upper 90s at times — and had some success with the developing split finger he’s been working on. Eovaldi allowed one run on two hits through two innings, and his one strike out came on a splitter. “I think I threw four or five splits today,” Eovaldi said. “Mixed in some first-pitch curveballs; tried to go up on (Ryan) Howard. Everything is good. I moved the ball inside, outside.”
• Elevating his fastball against Howard was another checklist item for Eovaldi, who said earlier this spring that he wanted to work on pitching up in the zone more often. His attempt today was too high, but Eovaldi said he sees the high fastball as a weapon to change eye levels and set up low strikes.
• A scout in attendance on Eovaldi: “Looks like he’s ahead of last year’s pace. Looks a little smoother in his delivery. I think that Rothschild could really help him. … Definitely can get better from this point on.”
• Strong Yankees debut by Andrew Miller, who had a runner at third base but left him stranded thanks to a pair of strikeouts and a ground ball. “I’m really happy with the way I was throwing the ball,” Miller said. “I’m not too concerned with things right now. It could have been absolutely horrendous and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just, going out there and getting it going. I’m happy with it in general. I felt my breaking ball was really good, so it’s always nice to come back and realize it’s still there after the offseason.”
• Girardi on Miller: “It was nice. We saw him throw some breaking balls behind in the count. He can’t be a comfortable at-bat for a lot of guys, that’s the bottom line. So it was nice to see.”
• After another problem-free bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka said he feels ready to pitch in a game. “Gradually am able to build up so far,” he said. “Whenever they want me to go, I think I’m ready.” Tanaka said he’s talked to Larry Rothschild about when he will make his spring debut, but Tanaka didn’t want to divulge the date. Girardi said Tanaka will pitch a simulated game before getting in a real game.
• Does getting into a game feel more significant this spring because of the elbow situation? “I’m really not looking at that as something significant,” Tanaka said. If that’s true, he might be the only one.
• Brendan Ryan sounds encouraged about the progress of his back injury, but the Yankees still had him take today off because he complained of soreness after yesterday’s workout. “We’ll go day-by-day again,” Girardi said.
• Alex Rodriguez on when he could play the field: “Whenever Joe wants. I had some good work in the back field with Jody (Reed) today, both at third and at first. That felt pretty good.” Girardi said he’ll put Rodriguez in the field whenever Rodriguez says he’s ready, but it’s also easier to get him more at-bats when he’s a DH.
• Really nice play by Cito Culver late in the game. Had to go in the hole and made a really strong throw to first base. “Quite a play,” Girardi said. “That’s when you wish you could run in and watch the replay or it was on the (video) board, you know?”
• By the numbers: Culver had one of the five Yankees hits. Rodriguez, Francisco Arcia, Mason Williams and Cole Figueroa had the others. Williams and Arcia doubled. … Gary Sanchez had the Yankees only RBI on a sac fly. … Scoreless inning apiece for Tyler Webb, Danny Burawa and Wilking Rodriguez. … The three Phillies runs came off Eovaldi, James Pazos and Kyle Davies, who pitched two innings.
• We’ll give the final word to Didi Gregorius, on playing his first game with the Yankees. “It was amazing. The fans are here to support our team, so it was really good. It was a real great feeling for me to wear the pinstripes and go out there for the first time. … I think (the fans) have their eyes on everybody, because it’s a team. It’s not one player. I’m not pitching. I’m not doing all those positions. They’ve got their eyes on everybody that’s on the team.”
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: Stephen Drew • 02.13.15
Continuing to look at each player on the Yankees 40-man roster, up next is a long-time shortstop who moved to second base late last season and has now re-signed with the Yankees presumably to be the regular second baseman until a younger alternative proves ready to take the job.
Age on Opening Day: 32
Acquired: Trade deadline acquisition last year, re-signed this winter
Added to the 40-man: New contract finalized January 16
In the past: A first-round pick from a baseball family — two brothers also played in the big leagues — Drew got to the majors at age 23, and his mid-20s were full of seasons of double-digit home runs from the shortstop position. His best years were in Arizona, but Drew had a strong 2013 that led to a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, which ultimately led to him missing all of last year’s spring training. By the time he got on the field, Drew was a mess. He finished last season with easily the worst numbers of his career.
Role in 2015: The Yankees gave Drew a one-year, $5 million deal to add some depth and experience up the middle. With Didi Gregorius in place, Drew’s best fit seems to be at second base, but if Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela wins that job, Drew could slide into a bench role to backup at second, short and possibly third base. For now, Drew looks like the second baseman, but that could change depending on his production and the production of the young guys around him.
Best case scenario: Last season, Drew hit .162/.237/.299 and saved his worst production for after his trade to the Yankees. That said, you only have to go back one season to see Drew put up a .253/.333/.443 slash line back in 2013. Given how good he looked at second base last season, it seems reasonable to hope Drew bounces back to his 2013 offensive form, plays strong defense, and is basically able to provide value at whatever infield position the Yankees need him to play. Drew’s been good enough in the past that he could be worth at-bats even if a guy like Refsnyder is playing regularly.
Worst case scenario: Pretty obvious, isn’t it? While it’s easy to dismiss last season as a fluke brought on by his lack of a spring training, it’s worth wondering if it was more than that. Drew’s 2012 was pretty bad as well, and perhaps 2013 was the fluke for this stage of his career. If Drew simply can’t hit at all, then the Yankees will have been burned twice by a player who’s clearly no longer an everyday guy.
What the future holds: Ideally, Drew has no future with the Yankees. His one-year deal should be little more than veteran insurance, a guy who can play second base if neither Refsnyder or Pirela is ready, and a guy who can handle shortstop if Gregorius falls flat. But long term, the Yankees hope to have no use for Drew beyond this season. He’s meant to be a stopgap, not a solution.
Associated Press photo
Pinch hitting: Tyler Patterson • 02.13.15
Quick and to the point, today’s Pinch Hitter sent a one-line bio: “Tyler is a life-long Yankee fan and an attorney in Washington, D.C.” That’s Tyler Patterson in an incredibly small nutshell. Perhaps he kept the bio so short because he was saving so many words for his actual post.
As for his post, he calls it: “The 2015 Yankees and Elite Team Defense.”
Inspired by Ruth, Gehrig, and many, many others, the Yankees at their best are an offensive juggernaut. Not to mitigate the team’s past pitching accomplishments (indeed, some old-time Yankee pitchers are criminally underrated) but success for the Yankees has been predominantly associated with the organization’s offensive prowess over the years. Such is the case for the teams that the organization has fielded since 1995, the first year I, like many other millennials, began watching the team.
I challenge anyone to name me a Yankee club since the 1995 season that has been known for its defense (in a positive manner). I know I can’t do it. Not that the Yankees haven’t fielded stout defensive teams since 1995, but the point is that defense is just not what the Yankees are ever known for. And when you look past player reputations and at the numbers, it is not difficult to understand why.
For example, recently retired Yankees legend Derek Jeter is easily one of the greatest shortstops in MLB history and one of the greatest Yankees of all time. However, none of that was due to his defense. For his career, Jeter had a TZ of -129, a DRS of -159 and a UZR/150 of -7.1. If you do not know what any of these stats are, that’s fine. As you might guess, all those negatives indicate Jeter was not a strong fielder. This jives with the traditional eye-test as well, the jump-throws and Gold Glove awards aside.
The same can be said about many other Yankees since 1995 (Williams, Posada, Giambi, O’Neill, Soriano, Sheffield). None of these players was an especially good fielder, and the list goes on. Very few Yankees since 1995 were great (or in most cases, even average) fielders. In fact, from 1995 through the 2014 season, the Yankees ranked dead last in all of baseball with a Def rating of -440.8 (Def, as calculated by FanGraphs, is a combination of two important factors of defensive performance: value relative to positional average [fielding runs] and positional value relative to other positions [positional adjustment]). The next worst club, the Cubs, had a Def of -308.5.
Since 1995, the Yankees cumulatively have been far and away the worst defensive squad in all of baseball.
That being said, the Yankees have showed marked improvement in team defense in the past several seasons. For example, the Yankees’ Def in 2013 was 21.4 and in 2014, 10.8.
This trend should continue in 2015, a season in which the Yankees might easily field their best defensive team since 1995.
The Yankees have made a conscious effort to get younger and cheaper wherever they can, and in baseball’s current suppressed run environment, the Yankees have realized that it is easier to upgrade the roster defensively rather than offensively. That is not to say there is not offensive upside to some of the Yankees’ offseason acquisitions, but improved team defense has certainly been on the mind of the front office, especially during the last two offseasons.
Let us run through the 2014 squad position by position and compare it to the projected team for the upcoming season. It is clear that the 2015 squad projects to be fantastic defensively, perhaps the best defensive team since 1995.
McCann is the Yankees’ catcher for the foreseeable future after the team signed him to a five-year deal following the 2013 season. He saw the bulk of the work behind the plate in 2014 and did not disappoint, at least defensively. McCann is a world-class defender and one of the best defensive backstops in baseball. His Def of 11.5 in 2014 was exactly what the Yankees signed up for, as was his pitch-framing performance (11.4 Runs Above Average, good for 11th in MLB. This represents a “down” year for McCann, who is consistently top 10 in MLB every season in this category). Long story short, McCann is an elite defensive backstop, and he projects to continue to be so, as his 2015 projected Def of 8.8 illustrates.
Backing up McCann will presumably be Murphy, who anyone will tell you is an above average defender behind the plate. The Yankees have been emphasizing catcher defense for some time now, and with Murphy (and McCann for that matter) the Yankees continue the trend. It is not actually settled who will be the Yankee backup catcher, as Austin Romine will also be “competing” for the role in spring training, but my money is on Murphy with Romine being dealt or placed on waivers. Murphy is clearly the better player, both defensively and offensively.
Obviously, Teixeira will be the Yankees’ first baseman in 2015, at least until the obligatory injury. Unlike last year, the Yankees have a back-up first baseman on their roster in Jones, although his defensive abilities leave a lot to be desired. First base, like catcher, is a position where I do not put too much stock in advanced statistics because, at least in my experience, the stats do not measure up to the eye test. Teixeira is a perfect example of this. Teixeira has had a pretty consistent negative Def rating throughout his career, and last season was no different, as his -3.6 shows. His UZR/150, however, was 7.1 last season and has been consistently positive in his career. That jives more with my perception of Teixeira and my experience watching him pretty regularly since 2009, but it is also obvious confirmation bias.
Either way, I’m not the only one who will tell you Tex is at least an average defender at first, and probably slightly above average. I expect no different in 2015, so long as he can stay on the field (a BIG if in his age-35 season). If injured, the aforementioned Jones figures to man first base. He is projected for a -9.1 Def, which is not very good, and unlike Teixeira, the eye-test does not save Jones; he has never been thought of as a strong defender, and the stats back that up. Let’s hope Teixeira remains healthy. Or, if not, that Greg Bird is mauling in Trenton and gets a call. Unlikely, but I can dream.
Offensively, second base was a mess for the Yankees last season until they dealt for Martin Prado, who was fantastic in his 37 games for the Yankees (his true value was as trade bait, allowing the Yankees to obtain Jones and Nathan Eovaldi). Defensively, however, the myriad of players the Yankees played at second combined for a -1.9 Def, which is not awful but not great either. A carryover from last season, Drew, was signed to a no-risk, one-year, $5-million deal to hold second base down until Refsnyder is ready to permanently take over (or until the Yankees gain another year of team control by manipulating Refsnyder’s service time).
Drew’s calling card in his career has been his defense at short, which has always been excellent. There is no reason to think that, save for a minor adjustment period, he will not be able to excel at the less-demanding second base position. A legitimate reason why the Yankees may not, as of this moment, be comfortable opening the 2015 season with Refsnyder as their everyday second basemen is his defense. A converted outfielder, Refsnyder has taken to second base well, but there is certainly room for improvement. The scouting reports peg Refsnyder as an average defensive second baseman at best, but combined with Drew’s projected performance, as well as Brendan Ryan’s skill as the infield backup, the team’s second base defense should be at least as good as it was last year, and probably much better. Backing up either of these players will be Ryan, a world-class defensive infielder.
We have already discussed Jeter’s defensive shortcomings, and last season was no different as he compiled a -4.0 Def, a -12.5 UZR/150, and a -12 DRS. By any measure Jeter was a very, very bad fielder last season. His replacement this season will be Gregorius, who projects to compile a 4.3 Def, a huge improvement over 2014 Jeter.
Gregorius has a reputation as being a strong defender with excellent range and a cannon for an arm, and let’s hope we see that in 2015. Under team control for the next several seasons, the position is Gregorius’s to lose (at least until Jorge Mateo is ready to take over) and the Yankees will give him every opportunity to be their everyday shortstop for the foreseeable future. Having Chase Headley manning third base will also make his job much easier, allowing Gregorius to shade up the middle more so than he normally would.
The Yankees opened 2014 with Kelly Johnson as their starting third baseman, and the position was a mess until Headley was acquired before the trade deadline. Signed to a four-year deal this offseason (at a below market rate), Headley is the Yankees’ third basemen moving forward. From a defensive standpoint, the Yankees are set. In only 58 games with the team last year, Headley compiled a 12.4 Def and has been an absolute defensive stud throughout his career.
Combined with Gregorius, the defense on the left side of the infield will be among the best in baseball. Like second base, third base was not as bad defensively as I thought it was in 2014 (thanks mainly to Headley), but with Headley in pinstripes for an entire season, third-base defense will be an absolute strength for the 2015 squad. Headley is among the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball, and it will be fun watching him man the hot corner for the Yankees in 2015 and beyond.
Gardner was signed to a team-friendly four-year deal that begins this season, and barring a trade (which I do not think is out of the question) he will be the Yankees’ left fielder in 2015 and for the foreseeable future. Gardner is a superb defender in any outfield position, and left field is no different. It is important for the Yankees to man left field with a strong defender given the stadium’s dimensions, and Gardner handles it about as well as a player can. Because of this, he has more value to the Yankees than most other (if not all) teams.
Look for Gardner to continue his defensive excellence, giving the Yankees another above-average defended position. He also serves as a backup to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, further adding to Gardner’s value.
In the second year of a seven-year deal he signed prior to the 2014 season, Ellsbury will once again man center field. There is not much to say here, as Ellsbury has always been a very strong defensive center fielder, and 2015 projects to be no different.
This gives the Yankees yet another position fielded by an above-average defender.
Right field is the only position on the diamond I believe the Yankees will field below-average defenders in 2015. Last season, Beltran projected to be the everyday right fielder. Long gone are the years when Beltran was an elite defender in center field. Since 2009, Beltran has been a below-average fielder wherever he has played, mainly in right, and 2015 projects to be no different. Beltran suffered a myriad of injuries in 2014, and the Yankees were forced to play multiple players in right as a result. I expect the Yankees to DH Beltran quite a bit this season due to his age and the fact that he can still hit plenty when healthy. That will leave Young to get plenty of reps in right in 2015, especially against lefties as he is a career 116 wRC+ hitter against them.
Projection wise, Beltran sits at a -11.8 Def for 2015, while Young sits at a -2.2 Def. It is important to note that there is not a lot of room in right field in Yankee stadium, so bad defense in right for the Yankees is far less detrimental than it would be to, say, the Athletics or Padres. This is also a reason why I tend to shy away from advanced defensive statistics for Yankees’ right fielders, but I digress. The stats back up the eye tests for both Beltran and Young.
I am not going to analyze Ryan or Young any more than I already have because the backup infielder and fourth outfielder positions are very fluid on every team in baseball and it would not be a shock if Ryan and/or Young end the 2015 season off the active roster. That being said, the Yankees project to field an exceptional defensive squad in 2015 and, save for right field, will have at least an average fielder at every position.
In an era where run scoring is down significantly due mainly to an ever-expanding strike zone, it is far easier to upgrade pitching and defense. The Yankees have done a very, very good job upgrading team defense the past two offseasons, and it should be fun to watch.
Associated Press photos
With the Yankees first spring workout nine days away, our countdown moves onto the ninth-most pressing decision facing the Yankees in spring training. It’s a common question in every camp throughout baseball.
What’s the best way to stack the batting order to take full advantage of the pieces in the lineup?
It’s a question that might rank higher on this list if not for the limited options available.
Clearly Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner fit best near the top of the order, while Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew — or potentially Rob Refsnyder — seem like bottom-of-the-order guys (at least to start the season). That leaves a bunch of less-than-ideal choices to fill those crucial spots in the middle. Last year, the Yankees opened with Carlos Beltran batting third, Brian McCann fourth, and Mark Teixeira fifth, and it seems entirely possible they’ll have the same Opening Day heart-of-the-order this season.
But is that the best way to do it?
Ellsbury is a fairly flexible hitter, Chase Headley is a bit of a wild card, and no one knows what Alex Rodriguez is capable of doing this season. Those three could fit various spots in the lineup. The abundance of left-handed hitters — perhaps as many as six on any given day — also creates some interesting arrangement challenges.
I’ll offer nine points of lineup consideration, one for each spot in the order.
1. Is Ellsbury the Yankees’ best leadoff hitter?
Clearly the Yankees signed Ellsbury with visions of him hitting leadoff for years to come, but he wound up hitting third much of last season while Gardner had a pretty nice year in the leadoff spot. That’s two years in a row that Gardner’s been pretty good in the leadoff spot. Surely one of those two will hit leadoff on Opening Day. Which should it be?
2. Is there a third top-of-the-order option?
Conventional thinking seems to say that, regardless of which one bats first, Ellsbury and Gardner should be the Yankees’ top two hitters. But should that be a given? Would it make sense to put a switch-hitter like Headley (with his .347 career on-base percentage) in the No. 2 spot, leaving either Ellsbury or Gardner (remarkably, two of the Yankees’ better power hitters last season) in a spot that might get more RBI opportunities? Might also be a way to keep from having three or four lefties in a row. Worth recognizing the recent research suggests this might be the most important spot in any lineup.
3. How does Beltran look this spring?
Little surprise considering he might be a Hall of Famer, but Beltran has far more career at-bats in the No. 3 spot than in any other spot in the order. It’s the spot the Yankees intended him to occupy last season, and he was thriving in that role before the elbow injury that sent him to the disabled list and ultimately limited his second-half production. Does surgery seem to have left Beltran capable of being that kind of hitter again? If so, he might be a natural for this spot again.
4. What do the Yankees expect from Teixeira?
If we’re thinking of these lineup spots in a traditional sense, then cleanup needs to be in the hands of a true power hitter. Even as understanding of batting orders has changed, the No. 4 spot is still found to carry significant weight. The Yankees don’t really have a reliable power hitter at the moment, but Teixeira hit for good power early last season. If the Yankees think he can maintain that production this season, maybe he belongs here. If not, what are the alternatives? Beltran? McCann? Rodriguez?
5. Does Rodriguez have anything left?
Having not seen a single spring at-bat, I’d say Rodriguez could hit anywhere from second to eighth without causing much surprise. It would be stunning to see him in the leadoff spot, and batting him ninth would be jarring just because of who he used to be, but everything else seems fair game. For a team desperate for a run production, is there a chance Rodriguez is still a guy worth key at-bats in the middle of the order?
6. How many platoon situations make sense?
For now, the Yankees have set pretty clear expectations at each starting position, but there are plenty of platoon possibilities. Should Garrett Jones play regularly against righties (and if so, should he hit somewhere in the middle)? How often will Chris Young play against lefties? Is Brendan Ryan also going to play against lefties? What about second base; will a guy like Refsnyder force Stephen Drew to play only against righties?
7. Is Didi Gregorius any kind of hitter?
Production in the bottom third of the order adds real depth to a lineup. Given the concerns about the guys expected to fill those middle-of-the-order spots, the Yankees would love to get some extended production from No. 7 and beyond. Gregorius actually showed a little bit of power in the upper levels of the minor leagues, and he’s slugged .411 against big league righties. Should he be dismissed as a non-factor on offense?
8. How important is splitting the lefties?
Let’s say Jones is at designated hitter on a day Beltran, Teixiera, McCann and Headley are batting third through sixth. That’s not an outlandish suggesting, but it could leave the Yankees with five consecutive lefties in their lineup (Jones, Gregorius, Drew, Ellsbury, Gardner). That could open the door to significant matchup issues at the bottom of the order. The eighth spot could be determined by the Yankees desire to split their lefties in the bottom third.
9. Was Drew a surprisingly savvy investment?
If there were a lineup spot lower than ninth, that’s where Drew would have fit best last season. He had an unthinkably bad offensive season, but the Yankees brought him back because he used to be a pretty decent hitter for a middle infielder. If he hits again, should he move up in the order? If so, how high? And if he’s nothing more than a No. 9 hitter at this point, is it better to let Refsnyder or Jose Pirela take those at-bats?
Associated Press photos
When I put out the call for Pinch Hitters, I honestly didn’t expect to get one in defense of Brian Cashman. That said, I kind of like when these posts go against the typical public opinion, and this winter, a pro-Cashman blog post certainly qualifies.
Now that James Shields has landed in San Diego, we know the Yankees are not going to make a free agent signing any bigger than Chase Headley. They’re going to roll the dice in the rotation, lean heavily on the bullpen, and hope for bounce-back seasons from several veteran hitters.
As a general rule, I’m of the opinion that the Yankees needed to restrict spending this offseason to avoid some familiar pitfalls, so I mostly agree with Daniel’s morning post: I basically think Cashman did a fine job under the circumstances. There are plenty of questions in the rotation and the lineup, and the farm system seems a year away from making a major contribution, but the Yankees did manage to get younger without adding any huge-risk contracts.
I think it was a reasonable approach to the offseason, but it clearly comes with considerable risk. Whether it works in the short-term will depend on several touch-to-predict factors.
Here are 10 issues that may determine whether we look back at Cashman’s offseason as a real success or a total failure.
1. Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow
Of all the health questions in the Yankees’ rotation, none is as significant as Tanaka’s torn elbow ligament. When the injury came to light last season, some of the top medical experts in the world recommended the Yankees postpone surgery and try to rehab the injury. The Yankees listened, followed that advice, and Tanaka returned to make a couple of late-season starts. The elbow, though, still looms as a ticking time bomb. Whether it was his decision or not — his evaluation or not — Cashman will most certainly take the heat if Tanaka’s elbow blows out between now and the postseason. If it holds up, the Yankees have their ace. If it doesn’t, Cashman will have missed out on the opportunity to acquire a ready replacement in Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.
2. Brian McCann’s bat
Last winter, there seemed to be near universal agreement that McCann was a natural fit for the Yankees. There were certainly those who wanted the team to stay away, but the Yankees have a long tradition of impact catchers, and McCann’s left-handed power and pitch-framing reputation made him an obvious target. Cashman gave him a five-year deal, despite the presence of John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Now the Yankees are committed, and McCann stands out as the one middle-of-the-order slugger who can’t blame injuries of last year’s diminished production. His bat remains a key piece of this lineup, both in the short term and the long term. If he doesn’t produce for a second straight season, McCann’s contract is going to look like an overwhelming problem going forward.
3. Stephen Drew’s return
A one-year, $5-million deal isn’t a make-or-break contract for the Yankees. In this case, though, it seems like an all-or-nothing decision for Cashman. If Drew struggles to another sub-.200 batting average, Cashman is going to look foolish for giving a second opportunity to a player who performed so poorly a year ago (especially when there were younger second basemen in place). If Drew bounces back to his 2013 level of production — providing a great glove and decent power for a middle infielder — Cashman will appear savvy, taking advantage of a buy-low opportunity (especially for a player who provides insurance at not only second base but also at shortstop).
4. The ninth inning
Whoever takes the job, the Yankees need someone to effectively close the door in the ninth inning. It stands out as an especially sensitive issue because of the decision to let Dave Robertson sign with the White Sox for marginally more money than the Yankees gave Andrew Miller. Cashman has said the decision was based, at least partially, on the draft pick compensation tied to Robertson. A draft pick, though, is no sure thing, and right now the Yankees don’t have a single reliever with significant ninth-inning experience. Robertson was a known quantity. If Miller or Dellin Betances or whoever else can’t handle the closer role, Cashman will have neglected a job that the Yankees — after two decades of Mariano Rivera — should appreciate as much as anyone.
5. The fifth starter
Top-of-the-rotation concerns aside, one of the Yankees most pressing rotation issues is the apparent lack of depth. If healthy, the Yankees seem to have a perfectly good top four, but right now their fifth starter is Chris Capuano, with relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers looking like the most immediate sixth starter candidates. Pitching prices got out of control this winter — four years for Brandon McCarthy, eight figures for Brett Anderson — but the Yankees certainly went into the offseason recognizing their need for rotation help. They acquired Nathan Eovaldi, but also gave up Shane Greene. Essentially, Cashman chose to roll the dice on the health of his in-place starters, the return of Ivan Nova, and the short-term ability of Capuano. A big contract would have been a big risk, but the alternative isn’t exactly risk-free.
6. Everything about Didi Gregorius
This was the choice at shortstop. With Derek Jeter retired, the Yankees were left with a glaring hole at a position once claimed by an icon. Cashman chose to make a trade for a 24-year-old kid who’s never proven he can be an everyday player in the big leagues. If Gregorius is a great defensive player (and others are able to provide some offense), the decision might look like a solid one. If Gregorius can actually hit beyond his Arizona numbers, the decision could look like a great one. But if Gregorius falls flat, the Yankees will have given up a young starting pitcher — one who might have solved some of those familiar rotation issues — for a guy who does nothing to solve an issue the Yankees had to see coming for several years.
7. Everything about third base
There was little Cashman could do this offseason about Alex Rodriguez. Unless ownership decided to simply cut ties, Cashman was stuck with a roster that included a 39-year-old coming off a year-long suspension after a series of injuries and several seasons of declining numbers. All Cashman could do was try to work around the Rodriguez issue. He did so by making his most expensive commitment of the winter: a four-year, $52-million deal with Chase Headley, a player with a history of back problems and only one season with more than 13 home runs. It was a fairly risky deal, but if Headley plays well — and doesn’t cause a stir with A-Rod — it will look like a reasonable reaction to a difficult situation. If Headley gets hurt or doesn’t produce, it will stir questions about the decision to give such a contract while trading away a guy like Martin Prado.
8. Three names: Judge, Bird, Severino
Rob Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren might be the first chance to make the big league roster, but the perceived value of the Yankees farm system could hinge heavily on the continued development of Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Luis Severino. Those are the high-end, upper-level talents — or at least, those are the perceived high-end, upper-level talents — and those three are natural in-house solutions for the bad contracts that currently belong to Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. Younger guys like Jorge Mateo and Luis Torrens might help eventually, but Cashman needs a minor league victory sooner than that. Get Judge, Bird and Severino to Triple-A this year — perhaps even to New York before the end of the year — and the Yankees will at least have a farm system that seems ready to provide immediate impact.
9. One other name: Manny Banuelos
Prospect success goes both ways for Cashman. If he’s going to get credit for the success of those he’s kept, he has to take the blame for those he’s traded away. Even without a single inning in the big leagues, Banuelos was pretty close to a household name as far as prospects go (at least among Yankees fans). He was kind of like Jesus Montero in that way. Fans were waiting for him and expecting big things, and Cashman traded him away. If Banuelos gets back on track with Atlanta and lives up to his potential, Cashman will have given up a young, much-anticipated young starter for a couple of relief pitchers. Even if David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve are great, that trade will look ugly if Banuelos is racking up wins in Atlanta.
10. Yoan Moncada’s free agency
This is a strange fit on this list for two reasons: 1. it will have absolutely no impact on the 2015 Yankees, and 2. it will probably have very little to do with Cashman himself. That said, if ownership is willing to pay a massive price to sign the market’s most coveted international free agent, Moncada could very well stand out as the Yankees most impressive signing of the offseason. It will show a willingness to spend big bucks, it will give the farm system a huge talent — and a big name — and every evaluation of the Yankees’ winter will have to include the fact that, while they passed on a guy like Scherzer, they went all in for Moncada. It will make very clear that Cashman came into this offseason with a plan to get younger and build for something long-term.
Associated Press photos
Just starting the first week of February, the free agent market has grown predictably thin. James Shields is still out there, as are a couple of experienced closers, but the market is really down the bare bones.
Here’s an attempt to list the significant free agent signings each team has made this offseason. In some cases, the term “significant” is stretched to the limit (I’ve included a handful of minor league deals with recognizable names, most of whom will never play anything close to a significant role). Obviously free agency isn’t the only way to build a team — the Padres, for example, used trades to completely restructure their outfield — but this does give some idea of which teams were most active on the open market this winter.
You’ll notice the Yankees have quite a few names attached, but almost all are re-signings, and there’s a chance that only two will play a particularly big role in 2015.
Blue Jays – Russell Martin, Andy Dirks, Daric Barton, Ronald Belisario, Ramon Santiago
Orioles – J.P. Arencibia, Delmon Young, J.J. Hardy (re-signed before he hit the market)
Rays – Asdrubal Cabrera, Ernesto Frieri, Ronald Belisario
Red Sox – Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara (re-signed before he hit the market)
Yankees – Andrew Miller, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Andrew Bailey
Indians – Gavin Floyd
Royals – Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Kris Melden, Ryan Madson
Tigers – Victor Martinez, Tom Gorzelanny
Twins – Ervin Santana, Torii Hunter, Tim Stauffer
White Sox – Dave Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke, Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Geovany Soto, Jesse Crain
Angels – no standout free agent additions
Astros – Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek
Athletics – Billy Butler
Mariners – Nelson Cruz, Endy Chavez
Rangers – Kyuji Pujikawa, Adam Rosales, Colby Lewis, Kyle Blanks
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves – Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli, A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Dian Toscano, Jonny Gomes, Kelly Johnson, Zoilo Almonte
Marlins – Mike Morse, Ichiro Suzuki
Mets – Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry
Nationals – Max Scherzer, Casey Janssen, Dan Uggla
Phillies – Aaron Harang, Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Billingsley, Grady Sizemore, Jerome Williams (Sizemore and Williams were extended before they hit the market)
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers – Neal Cotts, Dontrelle Willis, Aramis Ramirez (options picked up on both ends)
Cardinals – Mark Reynolds, Matt Belisle, Dean Anna
Cubs – Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Chris Denorfia, Jason Motte, David Ross
Pirates – Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Jung-ho Kang, Corey Hart
Reds – Jason Marquis, Brennan Boesch, Paul Maholm
Diamondbacks – Yasmany Tomas, Gerald Laird
Dodgers – Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Erik Bedard, David Huff
Giants – Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo, Nori Aoki, Ryan Vogelsong
Padres – Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Clint Barmes, Ramiro Pena, Wil Nieves
Rockies – Daniel Descalso, Nick Hundley, John Axford
Associated Press photo
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