The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Spring countdown 3: The right time to go young second base02.18.15

Stephen Drew

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:

DrewStephen Drew
The second-chance veteran
32 years old
Left-handed hitter
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.

PirelaJose Pirela
The resurgent utility man
25 years old
Right-handed hitter
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.

Refsnyder (2)Rob Refsnyder
The on-the-verge prospect
24 years old
Right-handed hitter
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.

RyanBrendan Ryan
The in-the-conversation backup
33 years old
Right-handed hitter
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.

Galvez NoonanFigueroaCole 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

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

On the 40-man: Stephen Drew02.13.15

Stephen Drew

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.

DrewSTEPHEN DREW

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

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Pinch hitting: Tyler Patterson02.13.15

Jacoby Ellsbury

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.”

Chase HeadleyWe all know the nickname of the Yankees that has been around since the 1930s: the Bronx Bombers.

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.

Brian McCannCATCHER
2014: Brian McCann
2015: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy

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.

Mark Teixeira, Jonathan SchoopFIRST BASE
2014: Mark Teixeira, Kelly Johnson
2015: Mark Teixeira, Garrett Jones

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.

Stephen DrewSECOND BASE
2014: Multiple Players
2015: Stephen Drew, Rob Refsnyder

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.

Derek JeterSHORTSTOP
2014: Derek Jeter
2015: Didi Gregorius

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.

Chase HeadleyTHIRD BASE
2014: Multiple Players
2015: Chase Headley

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.

Indians Yankees BaseballLEFT FIELD
2014: Brett Gardner
2015: Brett Gardner

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.

EllsburyCENTER FIELD
2014: Jacoby Ellsbury
2015: Jacoby Ellsbury

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.

Carlos Beltran, Jacoby EllsburyRIGHT FIELD
2014: Multiple Players
2015: Carlos Beltran, Chris Young

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.

CONCLUSION

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

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Spring countdown 9: Putting the lineup in order02.12.15

Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann

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.

Ellsbury (6)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?

Alex Rodriguez, Joe Girardi5. 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

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith Comments Off

Ten factors to determine the success or failure of Cashman’s winter02.09.15

Brian Cashman

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.

Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann1. 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).

Dellin Betances4. 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.

Joe Girardi, Chase Headley7. 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.

Manny Banuelos9. 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

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White Sox, Braves among most active teams on free agent market02.02.15

Brian Cashman

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.

HeadleyAMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

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

ph_502085AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

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

ph_443558AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

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

ph_453286NATIONAL 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)

ph_452657NATIONAL 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

ph_435221NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

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

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Yankees veteran depth doesn’t have to block young progress02.02.15

Jose Pirela

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.

Alfonso SorianoAs 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

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Looking for underappreciated players on the Yankees roster01.30.15

Chris Young

If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written about the Hall of Fame, you might already know this: I love the Hall of Fame, but I don’t get too worked up about Hall of Fame debates. I think they’re interesting, and I think they’re worthwhile — they force us to re-examine some great careers, and that’s meaningful — but I ultimately don’t get too fussed about who’s in and who’s out.

Erik’s post this morning made a pretty incredible case for Mike Mussina as a Hall of Famer, but I’m still not mad that Tom Glavine is in and Mussina is not. I thought of Mussina as a Hall of Famer before, I’m more convinced now, and I find the conversation interesting. I’m just not losing sleep over the end result. I think Glavine deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I think Mussina should join him. And even if he doesn’t, Mussina will still have been a really, really great pitcher.

What Erik’s post got me thinking about most was the idea of an underappreciated baseball player. Perhaps Mussina was one. Maybe Tim Raines was one. I realized a few years ago that Fred McGriff was one. Most underappreciated players, though, far fall short of the Hall of Fame standard and will never be a part of a Hall of Fame debate.

Until last year, I think you could argue that Brett Gardner was an underappreciated baseball player. He had to walk on to his college team. He spent much of his minor league career labeled as a fourth outfielder. He had a hard time winning everyday playing time in the big leagues. The past two years, though, Gardner’s emerged as a legitimate everyday left fielder. Maybe he’s not a conventional left fielder — not so much power, more speed and defense — but he’s been a good one, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a contract extension and regular at-bats.

So who from this year’s Yankees might be underappreciated at the moment? Here are a few possibilities:

Stephen Drew1. Stephen Drew
Last year’s numbers were awful, and because of that, Drew’s easy to dismiss as an absurd investment, even on a relatively small one-year, $5-million contract. But only a year ago, plenty of Yankees fans wanted Drew on the roster. He has a career OPS of .747, and until last season he’d never finished remotely close .536. His strong 2013 with Boston was pretty close to a typical season for him. Now, Drew’s had a regular offseason and should have a normal spring training, which is surely a good sign for him. He missed much of the 2011 spring training because of an abdominal issue. He missed the start of 2012 because of an ankle injury. He missed most of the 2013 spring training with a concussion. He got a late start last year because of his contract situation. Drew’s been a pretty good middle infielder through most of his career, and could be a solid buy-low opportunity for the Yankees.

2. Mark Teixeira
Granted, he’s being paid like an MVP, and there’s little hope that he’ll actually hit like an MVP. In terms of contract status, Teixeira is far from underappreciated. But at some point, public opinion might have swung too far toward the negative. A severe wrist injury forced Teixeira to miss nearly all of 2013 and forced him into an unusual winter heading into 2014. If that’s the reason his bat declined in the second half of last season — because he wasn’t in his usual shape — then Teixeira might not be the lost cause he’s often made out to be. Through the first three months of last season, before fatigue might have set in, Teixeira slugged .474, which is a really good slugging percentage these days. He doesn’t have the all-around production that the Yankees expected in 2008, but if he can maintain his power numbers this year, he could still be a viable run producer.

3. Adam Warren
He’s only seven months older than Dellin Betances. His fastball has gotten sneaky fast out of the bullpen, averaging 95 mph last season. His 2014 WHIP, FIP and strikeout rate were each better than Hiroki Kuroda’s or Brandon McCarthy’s (after McCarthy came to New York). And while it’s not really fair to compare a reliever to a starter, all of Warren’s numbers except his strikeout rate were better than Shawn Kelley’s last season. He’s not a flashy guy — and he had an unmistakably bad month — but Warren had a really nice year. And while he was never a huge prospect, he was always a good one. The guy can pitch, and given his background as a starter, he’s probably worth considering as solid rotation insurance in spring training. If we thought of David Phelps that way, why not Warren?

4. Nathan Eovaldi
Just an observation, but there seems to have been a lot of regret about losing Shane Greene without much excited about the addition of Eovaldi. Last season, Eovaldi had a lower FIP, a lower WHIP, and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Greene. Eovaldi is also younger than Greene by more than a year. And if this is a comparison of upside, it’s worth noting that Eovaldi was considered a Top 100 prospect, which is far higher than Greene ever ranked on lists like that. Greene took a giant step forward the past two years, and that made him an organizational success story, but there’s certainly a chance — maybe even a good chance — that Eovaldi will be better than Greene this season. For a 25-year-old fourth starter, Eovaldi could be a better addition than he gets credit for being.

5. Chris Young
As an everyday player, no thank you. Young used to bring a fairly reliable .750 OPS with about 20 homers and 20 steals while playing center field. That’s not superstar quality, but he was a 5 WAR player twice (Jacoby Ellsbury was only 3 WAR last year, according to Baseball Reference). These days, though, Young’s numbers have slipped, and advanced metrics show he’s not nearly the center fielder he used to be. He’s more of a fourth outfielder at this point … and that’s exactly what the Yankees are asking him to be. His splits against lefties were unusually low last season — even in his disappointing 2013 season, he hit lefties much better than last year — and as long as those drift back toward the norm, he should be a nice fit as a right-handed bench player. If someone gets hurt, those splits should help him fit nicely in a replacement platoon. Teams can’t get much for $2.5 million, but Young might actually be a better fit than he gets credit for being.

Associated Press photos

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Looking ahead to the Yankees spring roster battles01.28.15

The Yankees picked Didi Gregorius to be their shortstop. They chose Chase Headley to play third base. Chris Capuano was signed to be the stopgap fifth starter, David Carpenter was added to pitch some key innings of relief, and Garrett Jones was added to back up at three key spots. We know these things because the Yankees roster seems more or less set at this point.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some position battles to watch for in spring training.

This morning’s Pinch Hitter post was all about the final out, which led to a post about who should be the Yankees closer. But choosing which reliever should handle the ninth inning isn’t the only roster decision the Yankees have to make this spring. Here are a few roster competitions to keep in mind:

Alex RodriguezThe lineup

1. Who starts at second base?
Right now it looks like Stephen Drew, but that doesn’t seem set in stone. Far from it, actually. A one-year deal worth $5 million doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player’s spot in the starting lineup. There a ways to get creative with the roster, and if either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder is too good to ignore, the Yankees might have to make some adjustments. Second base has a favorite heading into camp, but it doesn’t have a sure thing.

2. Is Alex Rodriguez really the designated hitter?
No one knows what to expect from this guy, which means this question goes two ways. Is it possible he could play so well that he’s more of a third baseman who gets quite a bit of time at DH? Also, is it possible that he’s so bad he can’t be trusted with regular at-bats in any role? At the very least, with Garrett Jones offering a left-handed alternative, a DH platoon seems possible. There seems to be at least some chance Rodriguez can’t stick on the roster, much less play every day.

3. What’s the shortstop situation?
Clearly the Yankees want Didi Gregorius to be their regular shortstop. Ideally, he’ll hit well enough to play against both lefties and righties, but at the very least he should be the starter against right-handed pitching. That said, the Yankees do have Drew in camp. If Gregorius falls flat on his face, could Drew take the job? It’s not remotely ideal, but there are two veteran shortstops who will provide alternatives at the position.

Yankees Blue Jays BaseballThe rotation

1. Who starts on Opening Day?
It’s not really a roster battle, so maybe this is a weak argument. But it’s certainly going to be a discussion at some point. Whether you like him on the mound or not, CC Sabathia is definitely a leader in the clubhouse, and his role as leader of the pitching staff might win him another turn on Opening Day. Masahiro Tanaka, though, is the clear ace. Frankly, the answer to this question might have more to do with health than anything else.

2. Is Chris Capuano really the No. 5 starter?
Brian Cashman has made it clear that Capuano was signed to be a starting pitcher. He’s coming to camp with a rotation spot. But logic seems to dictate that someone could force the Yankees to change their plans. What if Adam Warren works as a starter in spring training and looks fantastic? Same for Bryan Mitchell or Esmil Rogers. What about Luis Severino? Is it possible the Yankees top pitching prospect — or anyone else — could force the Yankees to change their minds at the back of the rotation?

3. What’s the sixth starter situation?
This could have an impact on another roster spot. Let’s say a guy like Chase Whitley pitches extremely well in spring training and could make the team as a long reliever, but he also looks like their best bet to make a spot start should someone get hurt early in the season. Would the Yankee carry Whitley in the bullpen or send him to Triple-A to stay stretch out? Same question for a guy like Mitchell or Jose De Paula.

John Ryan MurphyThe bench

1. Who’s the backup catcher?
Perhaps the second most obvious position battle in camp. The Yankees traded away Francisco Cervelli specifically to open a big league job for one of their young catching prospects. Logic says that John Ryan Murphy is the heavy favorite after he won the backup role last year while Cervelli was hurt, but Austin Romine has big league experience, some prospect potential of his own, and he’s out of options. Can he beat the odds and win the job?

2. Is Brendan Ryan really the backup infielder?
The Yankees signed Ryan to give themselves some much-needed shortstop depth for the immediate future. He backed up Derek Jeter last year, and right now he’s positioned to back up Gregorius. But with Drew also in the mix, the Yankees could cut ties with Ryan, carry Gregorius and Drew as their shortstops, and make room for either Pirela or Refsnyder or anyone else who plays too well to leave behind. Ryan seems to be going into spring training with a roster spot, but does that have to mean he’ll leave with one?

3. What’s the outfield situation?
We know the five names: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Chris Young and Garrett Jones. Those seem to be the big league outfielders — a group that bring flexibility and balance and leaves a couple of decent pinch hitters on the bench. But given all of the outfield depth in the upper levels of the minor league system, is it possible for someone else to sneak into the picture? Ramon Flores, maybe? Tyler Austin? Injury could obviously open a door, but that’s always the case. The question is whether a Triple-A outfielder could play his way to New York without an injury.

Esmil RogersThe bullpen

1. Who’s the seventh reliever?
I wrote that backup catcher is the second most obvious position battle. That’s because this is the most obvious. If the Yankees stick with their projected rotation, that will leave six obvious favorites for the bullpen, meaning there’s one spot that’s completely up for grabs. And it really does seem to be a wide open competition. Maybe a lefty like Chasen Shreve, a long man like Chase Whitley, a hard-thrower like Chris Martin, a prospect like Jacob Lindgren, or a total wild card like Andrew Bailey. This is the one roster spot that’s completely up the air (unless the Yankees sign a veteran closer between now and Opening Day).

2. Is Esmil Rogers really guaranteed a spot?
He has some guaranteed money tied to his new contract, but does that mean the Yankees have to stick with a guy who’s never really had sustained success in the big leagues? Clearly the Yankees think Rogers can help them — either as a spot starter or a long reliever or in short stints — but there are so many bullpen options coming to camp, it’s Rogers whose spot seems most uncertain. He’s penciled in for now. By mid March, he might not be.

3. What’s the closer situation?
This was addressed earlier today, but it’s too obvious to leave off of this list. For the first time in a long, long time, the Yankees are heading into spring training without a clear closer (even last year, Dave Robertson was the obvious choice even before he took the job). Could the Yankees choice of a closer — if it’s not Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller — impact the way they build the rest of their bullpen? Could they make a late decision to add an experienced closer to the mix?

Associated Press photos

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Key stats for key players could make an offensive difference this season01.22.15

Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann

Whatever the batting order, it’s the hitters themselves that will determine whether the Yankees lineup is any good this season. Joe Girardi could put them in the perfect 1 through 9, but if key players don’t perform up to their abilities, the offense simply won’t work. Hitters don’t have to be at their absolute peak to become valuable assets again, but key hitters reverting back toward key career stats would be a good strong step in the right direction.

If these specific players could bounce back in these specific ways, it would make a big difference.

TeixeiraMARK TEIXEIRA – Slugging percentage
Last season: .398
Career: .516
Teixeira has acknowledged that he’s probably not going to be a .300 hitter at this stage of his career. The shift has taken away a lot of his hits, and he’s just not a .300/.400/.500 guy anymore. But in 2012 — his last healthy season before last year — Teixeira slugged .475. That would have been the 12th-heighest slugging percentage in the American League last season. And it’s not that Teixeira absolutely can’t do that any more (he was slugging .474 at the end of June before a brutal second half). Power is at a premium these days, and Teixeira doesn’t have to be a great overall hitter to be a productive run producer.

McCannBRIAN MCCANN – OPS vs. RHP
Last season: .633
Career: .831
McCann actually hit pretty well against lefties last season. Even exceeded his career numbers against them. What he did not do is hit against right-handers. He’d typically crushed them, but last season McCann slugged less than .400 with a sub-.300 on-base percentage against right-handers. Blame it on the shift. Blame it on the transition. Blame it on a bad year fully of lofty expectations. For whatever reason, McCann simply didn’t hit right-handers. Now that the American League East has lost several left-handed starters — including standouts Jon Lester and David Price — McCann should be able to feast on a bunch of righties in the division. Improve his splits, and McCann should significantly improve his production.

BeltranCARLOS BELTRAN – RBI
Last season: 49
Career: 103
Because of the elbow injury, it’s hard to know what to make of Beltran’s capabilities at this point. Was last year’s diminished slash line the product of age or injury? As recently as 2013, Beltran was still an .830 OPS guy. In his career he’s typically hit for a good average, hit for good power, and played a role in the middle of the order. That’s why he’s averaged more than 100 RBI per 162 games. Clearly RBI is not really an individual statistic. It depends heavily on playing time, and it depends on the rest of the lineup, and that’s why it’s such a key stat for Beltran. However he does it — through raw power or clutch hits or simply an abundance of opportunities — another 100 RBI season from Beltran would indicate that he’s stayed healthy and stayed in a lineup that’s generating plenty of run-scoring chances. As a guy the Yankees will surely count on in the middle of the order, a lot of Beltran RBI would be a good sign for the entire Yankees team.

EllsburyJACOBY ELLSBURY – Stolen bases
Last season: 39
Career: 53
This is just a guess, but if Ellsbury is back at the top of the order (focusing on getting on base and creating havoc) rather than hitting in the middle (focusing on driving in runs and being a typical No. 3 hitter), I bet he’ll steal more bases this season. I might be completely wrong — and certainly a 39-steal season isn’t bad by any measure, it was the second-most in the American League — but a higher number of stolen bases would seem to indicate a better job getting on base and a willingness to run. In each of Ellsbury’s two highest-steal seasons, he’s had a .355 on-base percentage, which is 27 points higher than his on-base percentage last season. Stolen bases are hardly an absolute proof of Ellsbury’s productivity — he also had 39 steals in 2011, which was easily his overall best season — but a lot of steals in 2015 could be a sign of several things for the Yankees: It would suggest Ellsbury’s getting on base a lot, and that someone else hitting well enough in the middle of the order that Ellsbury gets to stay in his more-natural No. 1 or 2 spot.

DrewSTEPHEN DREW – Batting average on balls in play
Last season: .194
Career: .299
At times, BABIP is considered a measure of luck. If a typically good hitters has abnormally bad numbers, then a low batting average on balls in play could be an indication that he’s a few inches away from typical production. In the case of Drew, last year’s abnormally low BABIP could also be explained by his abnormally low line drive percentage. His home runs per fly ball were also down, as were his infield hits. His strikeout rate was significantly higher than usual. All of that could be an indication that Drew wasn’t simply unlucky last season, he simply wasn’t as prepared, making weaker contact when he made contact at all. Surely the Yankees aren’t banking on Drew being a dominant offensive player, but they’re obviously banking on him being better than last season’s .162/.237/.299. Better and more consistent contact should help.

YoungCHRIS YOUNG – OPS vs. LHP
Last season: .561
Career: .817
Similar to the McCann situation, but from the opposite side of the plate and in a much smaller role. Even with that strong month of September, Young’s splits last season were not at all what’s come to be expected. He was alright against right handers, but he was brutal against lefties. Given all of the left-handed hitters in the Yankees regular lineup — and the presence of Garrett Jones as left-handed outfield option off the bench — Young’s role this season seems to be entirely in a platoon situation, bringing some right-handed balance to a team that leans to the left. Whether he’s in the lineup against lefties or coming off the bench to pinch hit for Drew or Didi Gregorius, Young could have a real impact if he’s able to make the most of his limited playing time against left-handers.

Associated Press photos

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