Thoughts at the start of Grapefruit League play



I swear, coming up with a half-decent title for these “thoughts” posts is tougher than writing up the thoughts themselves most of the time. Anyway, the Yankees open the Grapefruit League portion of their Spring Training schedule later today, so here are some scattered thoughts for the meantime.

1. The Brett Gardner extension is making it much tougher for me to get on board with the Jacoby Ellsbury signing. I wasn’t a fan of the Ellsbury deal the day it was signed and I’ve tried to warm up to in recent weeks, but a similar player getting one-third of the money isn’t helping matters. The Yankees stunk offensively last year because they didn’t have enough power or high on-base guys. Ellsbury doesn’t help correct either problem all that much. Shin-Soo Choo would have in a big way. The Yankees did offer a Choo a huge contract (even after signing Ellsbury) and he turned them down, so at least they tried to sign him, but man an Alfonso Soriano/Carlos Beltran-Gardner-Choo outfield looks so much better than a Gardner-Ellsbury-Soriano/Beltran outfield to me.

2. Know how the Yankees always seem to get burned whenever they play an infield shift? For years they’ve had a knack for shifting infielders to the wrong place at the wrong time. We only had anecdotal evidence and that doesn’t mean all that much, but that is no longer the case. Jeff Zimmerman at the Hardball Times ran some numbers and figured out how successful each team was at shifting last season. When the Yankees had a normal infield alignment, the opposing team’s BABIP was .307. When the Yankees played some kind of shift, the opposing team’s BABIP was .325. So yeah, a batted ball was more likely to go for a hit against New York when they played the shift than when they didn’t. This is only one year of data (326 balls in play), so we can’t read too much into it, but at least now we know the team’s penchant for getting burned while trying to shift was a real thing in 2013. I wonder how much of that is due to a lack of rangy infielders than actual positioning.

3. One player I’m going to be paying extra special attention to these next few weeks is Scott Sizemore. Mostly, I want see how he’s moving around following back-to-back torn left ACLs. I think he has the best of chance of being a league average player — league average players are really valuable! — among the guys competing for the final bench spot (Dean Anna, Eduardo Nunez, etc.) but he has to make the team first, and that means he has to show the knee is healthy enough to move quickly in the field and on the bases. Sizemore had a real nice half-season with the Athletics two years ago (118 wRC+ and 11 HR) and if he can come remotely close to doing that over a full season, it’ll be a enormous boost. Coming back from two lost seasons will be tough though.

Phelps. (Presswire)

Phelps. (Presswire)

4. Joe Girardi confirmed the other day that both David Phelps and Adam Warren will make the team in some capacity, which isn’t all that surprising. It does confirm there are three open bullpen spots at the most though, and that assumes Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno will start the year with Triple-A Scranton rather than in the bullpen. If I had to put money on it today, I would bet on Preston Claiborne, Dellin Betances, and Cesar Cabral getting those last three spots. But still, there are five weeks worth of exhibition games left and lots can change. Part of me is very interested to see what Jose Ramirez and Manny Banuelos can do in short relief stints and I’m sure we’ll see those two (and others) at some point this summer. History says the bullpen on Opening Day and the bullpen in September will look very different.

5. Who is your pick for the annual “random player has a huge Spring Training and people will say he should make the team” storyline? Previous storyliners include Jon Weber (1.032 OPS in 2010) and Jorge Vazquez (1.209 OPS in 2011). Looking at the list of non-roster invitees, I’ll go with Antoan Richardson, the speedy switch-hitting outfielder. He’ll hit like .450 in camp, give or take. So consider this your annual reminder that Spring Training stats mean almost nothing for many reasons. One, the sample size is inherently small. Two, the level of competition varies wildly from day-to-day and even inning-to-inning. Three, players tend to work on stuff in Spring Training, not get results. You’ll see a pitcher throw something like 25 changeups in a two-inning outing just because he’s trying to get a feel for that pitch before the season. It will be tough to ignore stats this spring because of the various competitions (fifth starter, bench, bullpen), but trust me, you don’t get too caught up in the numbers these next few weeks.

Categories : Musings


  1. Kramerica Industries says:

    Regarding #5, let that be a reverse reminder as well that there will be some veteran schmuck who has a dismal spring training, makes the team anyway, and then rewards the Yankees with a hugely successful season.



    After all, this has become an every-two-years trend!

  2. Eddardo Nuney says:

    1. I love the Elsbury signing and I think the Gardner extension is just so they can trade him away for an infielder at the deadline. There’s always somebody looking for speed and OF defense.

    2. They just didn’t have good infielders last year. Teix was out. Robbie was good, left side was a mess all year. Shifting makes sense if it’s not overdone and I don’t think Joe overdoes it.

    3. Don’t count on it.

    4. I’d give the #5 starting job to Phelpsy. He’s earned it and deserves a chance to show what he can do. Warren is good in the long man role.

    5. Eduardo Nuney.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

      3. You shut your dirty whore mouth, blasphemer.

    • CS Yankee says:

      1) Mike needs to drop the Choo. Yes, Ells was an overpay big-time but a reaction to Cano saying No (on 7 yrs). Ells, IMO, is much better than a Choo who couldn’t fake CF.

      2) A one year anything with fielding is suspect…Rays do this well, might take the NYY a few to utilize it better.

      3) Could be the new lightning in the bottle, let’s hope so.

      4) Preston and Cesar are doubtful for the whole season to me…I can see ManBan or Ramirez being the better solution come August.

      5) I say Dean Anna will be lights out or Slade…neither will head north or play in the bigs in 2014.

      • nycsportzfan says:

        I think Ellsbury is a better player then Choo as well. They both have had up and downs but Ellsbury is capable of bigger seasons if stays healthy, in my opinion.

      • nycsportzfan says:

        Did Mike all ready forget Ells/Victorino worked out pretty well for the redsox? Now it’ll be Ells/Gardy. Sox had one guy hit 30hr on the nose and then a guy with 23. Its not like they had this crazy power hitting team. They had a bunch of guys who could hit, and because of the solid contact, they’d get the ball out sometimes.

  3. pepes pizza says:

    Mike I disagree with point one and could not agree more with number 2. I think Ellsbury is good for a 360 obp if he’s healthy and you will have strong OF defense. I also am a big believer that they could catch lightning in a bottle with Sizemore. if he can come back from injuries and play like he did with the A’s he could be another Brosius type under the radar move that pays off big. I also think Dean Anna “could” be a league average hitter.

  4. Neil says:

    I still wish we had signed Cano over Ellsbury. Especially with the Gardner extension.

  5. Jorge Steinbrenner says:

    I’ve reached my own personal allotment of Gardner/Ellsbury talk for 2014. I’ll have to return to this topic next year.

    I am, however, glad that Team Sizemore has gained its highest profile member yet. Scott Sizemore will be league average, and that is when using the Justice League of America as benchmark.

    The shift stats are pretty fascinating. I couldn’t see myself as the type of manager who employed the shift much if that were my line of work.

    My gut is that Nuno is on the outside looking in, and that Joe would LOVE to have the scenario in which both Phelps and Warren are pitching out of the pen while Pineda starts. Hell, so would I.

    Zealous Wheeler will win the Jon Weber/Scott Pose award. Book it.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

      Team Sizemore. And I couldn’t agree more on the Ellsbury discussion.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        I got my text message from AT&T saying that any further Ellsbury/Gardner talk on my part will result in a surcharge.

        I paid a steep price who talking about who won the Montero/Pineda trade. Who won that trade anyway?

    • The Great Gonzo says:

      Zealous is the only reason I came to play today. #TEAMZEALOUS

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        Zealous Wheeler waits until Scott Sizemore isn’t looking and just rubs himself on him slightly in hope that it’s enough.

        • Mr. Roth says:

          The only way to capture the true essence of Sizemore is to drink his tears, which is impossible since Sizemore has never cried.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

            I have to disagree and state that you do not know Scott as well as I do.

            Scott Sizemore is NEVER afraid to cry. Scott Sizemore lets out a healthy cry every morning before he goes out and dominates.

            He’s also always prepared. He brought a bag of screw-on extra ACLs to Spring Training in order to not miss a beat.

    • Fred says:

      Why do the yankees have such a shoddy infield?
      Moreover, why are we, as yankee fans, nitpicking over which injured has-been will make the roster only to platoon in a starting role position with another has-been?

      Look at teams like Texas, Detroit, these are the elite teams.
      Teams that have qualified starters at every position and have no questions about the abilities of their position players.

      Ownership is playing us. We’ve been so traumatized by 2013 that were being blinded. We’re lulled into thinking its ok to have backups, injured has-beens be our starting roster. Were the Yankees!!! We should start acting like it.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        Let’s just completely erase context from it all, point at positions, and say “what’s going on here?!?! why don’t we have a superstar here!??!”

        You know why. Some of it was self-inflicted. Some wasn’t.

        • Fred says:

          Yes it was self-inflicted, thats fine. But when you then pass on infante for 4/$30M, ellis, hell Mark Reynolds, now Drew, I mean something has to give. We want to go deep into October, half our infield or more may be on the DL by that time. Now the rumors about Ricky Weeks? The pile’s not only getting larger but more stinkier.

          • Mr. Roth says:

            Not signing Mark Reynolds is nothing to cry about.

          • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

            …you had me until you brought up the actual potential infielders that were available.

            And by calling the pile stinky you’re insulting Scott Sizemore, so a pox on you, sir.

            • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

              Awesomeness has a certain aroma to it sometimes.

              Scott Sizemore is like a fine aged gouda.

            • Fred says:

              Instead of playing “which hobbled infielder should we use”

              How about this, when Brian Roberts goes down in may, Dean Anna can play every tuesday and thursday, and the golden boy, the perennial all-star -Scott Sizemore – can play monday wednesday and fridays. Now lets go beat those Red Sox and Rays!!

          • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

            I said some of it was self-inflicted. Injuries weren’t. Losing Alex wasn’t. The level of difficulty involved in replacing the entire core isn’t.

            When I refer to self-inflicted, I certainly mean farm system issues.

            Half your infield may be on the DL, but the names you give aren’t further guarantees of much and, other than Reynolds, would have affected both the team’s flexibility to better address the issue later or cost the team a draft pick it doesn’t really need to lose for a guy with injury concerns and who’d be playing out of position.

            You should be concerned about the infield. I can’t fault you for that. No one in this organization, though, is saying the infield is going to be a perfect product this season. How is that them playing the fanbase?

      • BFDeal says:

        My grandfather had a donkey named Fred.

  6. Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

    Scott Sizemore.

  7. Benny Blanco says:

    I don’t get the infatuation with Choo.

  8. JoeyA says:

    You statement re: BP & Jose Ramirez/Banuelos. Are you saying you’d carry Banuelos as a lefty reliever from ST?

    IMO, regardless of how he looks, he should be kept as a SP long-term. Should his ability to be a SP be questioned at this point?

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      I think he’s saying that, if he’s one of the 11-12 best pitchers, he should go north (or northeast) regardless of spot and can always be stretched out later.

      I disagree with him. I’d like for him to get as many regular innings as possible recovering from injury and really establish himself as a second-half reinforcement for the rotation.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      I’d rather send Banuelos to AAA to start, but I wouldn’t be completely against carrying him as a reliever as long as there’s a plan in place to get him back to the rotation.

      After nearly two lost years, I think the regular work in AAA (where results don’t matter) would be the best move.

      • CS Yankee says:

        To me it depends on his IP limit…if they say 125 or more, he should go AAA…if they say 75, he should be considered to be MRP (if he can locate) in the bigs this year.

  9. gbyanks says:

    Gotta agree with you mike on choo. I feel hes starting to become one of the more underrated players in the game. hits for average, plays good defense, steals. and GETS ON BASE like a monster. I get that people look at his splits but he still had a decent obp vs LHP last year and in his career they were only truly bad 1 year in 2012. and even if he cant hit LHP would people sign up for a guy that can hit 317/457/554. in 500 at bats a year. Forget about the fact that in yankee stadium he would of become a 25+ hr hitter.

  10. Rob S. says:

    Of all of the Yankees areas of need, the outfield is not one of them. Choo edges Ellsbury on home runs,RBIs and .OBP but Ellsbury leads Choo in hits, stolen bases, total bases and runs scored. Neither has a huge lead in any category to represent a huge upgrade one way or the other. Either way the Yankees are set up well in the outfield and the top of the order for the next several years.
    As far as power goes, here are the 162 game average home runs for 2014 Yankees. Tex-37, Soriano-34, Beltran-28, McCann-26, Johnson-19. Even Ellsbury averages 15 bombs per 162 games which may go up in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have planty of power sources if they stay healthy but they are also better set up to score runs without hitting them out of the park.

    • Hawkeye says:

      For those who spend too much time worried about power: Seattle 2nd in HR, 22nd in scoring—St Louis 27th in HR, 3rd in runs. Power is nice, but so is turning a walk into a double, taking extra bases, hitting a 3 run double, beating a double play relay, running down a ball in the gap. I think it was Ben Franklin who said a run saved is a run earned– well maybe it wasn’t Ben.

  11. Mike HC says:

    Man that shift stat is kind of embarrassing. And I don’t think it has anything to do with the ranginess of our infielders because the comparison was against that same group of infielders, just aligned normally.

    And gotta agree that with Gardner locked up now, the Ellsbury signing makes less sense. Power is hard to come by at SS, 2B, and even 3B too these days. And while we used to take ridiculously good offensive production for granted at those positions with ARod, Jeter and Cano, it might not be as easy in the future.

  12. Bryan says:

    I would rather have Ellsbury than Choo any day. It sucks it took so much money to sign him but whatever. What use is the money if we aren’t willing to flaunt it and show off how much we can outspend the lesser teams?

  13. Dan F says:

    While interesting, that shift stat doesn’t mean anything. It’s likely that the hitters against whom the Yanks used a shift are better hitters so it’s likely that they would have a higher BABIP than hitters against whom they didn’t shift. A better comparison would be looking at the same players against the shift and against regular alignment.

  14. Dan says:

    Mike’s Mind Grapes for the Grapefruit League

  15. Vern Sneaker says:

    I don’t agree with Mike that the Choo outfield is “so much better” than the Ellsbury outfield. To me, the two outfields are a close call. Overall (new injury issues aside, which are always an unknown), I think the main worrisome issues going into ST are whether Tex and Jeter will have good years and what we will get out of the pitching staff. If those issues come up positive I think we’ll win an awful lot of games (90+).

    • OldYankFan says:

      Exactly! The are both around 4 bWar players, although Jacoby is better when he plays a full year. Choo is a better hitter, Ells is better with the glove and on the bases.

      Since we already have a D guy in Gritner, maybe Choo would be a better fit for us, but value-wise, Choo and Ells are a toss up. And which one will age better?

      I personally like having great Defense in the OF. In games where Ichiro plays, we have OUTSTANDING OF Defense, and a lot of fun on the bases.

      Again, I think our season will be determined by how much we can count on Beltran, Tex and Sori… and to a lesser extent, Jeter.

  16. LK says:

    I don’t really think the Gardner extension changes my feelings about the Ellsbury deal at all. They have similar skillsets, but as long as they both have spots in the lineup I don’t see an issue there. Good players are good players.

    I also don’t fully get the Choo fascination. At this point he’s a below average baserunner, below average defender, and has only decent power. Yes, he gets on base, but his OBP and BB% were both career highs by far last year, and that’s not happening again. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good player, but 7 years is a long time for a guy like that. I’d rather have Ellsbury.

    All that said, I’m not a big fan of the contract; it still baffles me how the Yankees could only have a $22M difference in their offers to Ellsbury and Cano.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

      “Good players are good players.”


      Below average defender understates how bad Choo is. He should basically be a DH.

      • LK says:

        He was horribly miscast as a CF last year, but I think he’ll be playable in a corner, at least for the beginning of the contract. He’ll be a DH sooner rather than later probably, though.

  17. Tim D. says:

    The team will be a lot of fun to watch this year but I still would have signed Infante to play 2B. No one can replace Cano but he would have been miles better than Roberts, who’s a walking porcelain doll. Our IF is in bad shape.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      I’m not convinced that’s at all true, especially at the insane cost Infante carried relative to his OmarInfanteness.

      • LK says:

        A few years ago, 4/30 would’ve been an insane cost. Now, it’s basically paying him to be a little better than a 1-WAR player, and he’s exceeded 2 WAR 4 years in a row (something no current Yankee infielder can claim). I don’t think it’s any kind of bargain, but that’s just what players cost now, even the Omar Infantes.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

          I agree with that.

          I also am perfectly fine with rolling the dice on the riskier guy and maintaining flexibility moving forward than entering a long-term relationship with Infante.

          • LK says:

            I can certainly see the value in doing that. I wasn’t a very big Infante supporter before he signed, either, and I didn’t think he’d get 4 years at that point.

  18. willie w says:

    I still can’t figure out why they so grossly overpaid for Ells, the contract they gave him was really stupid

    • billie b says:

      sos your face

    • OldYankFan says:

      Because at the time, they believed they would lose Cano and Choo had already turned them down. They needed to get he best player on the market, and I think they jumped a bit and ended up overpaying.

      Frankly, I think Ells is worth around $18m/yr, so we overpaid.
      But it’s only money, and that is still the Yankees strength.

  19. Kosmo says:

    random player- Pirela

  20. Dirk Diggler says:

    Where to begin, where to begin…

    1.) Ellsbury was a terrific signing. He was the best outfielder in baseball last season (per WAR) NOT named Trout, McCutchen, or Gomez. And by the way, Trout and McCutchen aren’t only the two best outfielders in the game — but they are the two best all around players in the game. So yeah, Ellsbury is elite(and better than Choo)

    Signing Gardner guarantees the Yankees to have:

    a) THE best defensive outfield in the game for the next half decade and

    b) Two of the finest baserunners/base stealers in the sport who also sport VERY GOOD OBP skills for the next half decade.

    And Mike, CHOO? Choo is already stinky defensively and horrible vs lefties. I know, I know, Ellsbury compares similarly against LHP. However, the difference is that Ellsbury brings value many other facets of the game as he doesn’t put all of his eggs into one basket (the bat), and is younger with more upside (see 2011).

    The other points I pretty much agree/ are apathetic with. And Nunez doesn’t belong anywhere near a major league roster, it frosts my six when I see him even considered as a major league option. That job should be going to Sizemore or Anna and I for one won’t be sad to see Nunie DFAd this season.

    • mahkk says:

      +1 to everything he said.

    • CS Yankee says:

      Agreed with all except the lack of love for Nunie…he is the classic 25th man, good on bases, a bit of power, gives the vets someone to pick on when he loses his helmet.

      He just seems to correct one part of his game at the expense of another. Hope the (not) kid corrects and we trade him on the upside to the A’s, along with Slade, Mitchell and Cervelli for Donaldson.

      • Dirk Diggler says:

        Don’t eff with me like that man…

        We can dream though can’t we?

        Anywho, we’re trapped with Arod for the following three seasons.

        And…he can’t move to DH without sticking a pretty awful defensive player in Beltran in the field.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      …is younger with more upside (see 2011).

      They’re both 30. They are what they are at this point. Choo’s upside is 2013, not something that happened three years ago.

      • Dirk Diggler says:

        That’s not true, Mike.

        Choo turned 31 last July and Ellsbury turned 30 last September. Yeah, they are about 13 months apart and it may be petty to dispute this but at least be correct when correcting me.

        They are a year apart, and have the same length of their contracts. And Choo is already stinky defensively and can’t hit southpaws worth a lick when the majority of his value comes from hitting the baseball.

        And I can’t believe how you want to just brush away Ellsbury’s 2011 as if it has never happened. Considering 2012 was a season in which Ellsbury battled injuries, Ellsbury has had averaged abouut 7.5 WAR in his last two full seasons. The guy literally had the best season (was the best player in baseball) in 2011. I’m thinking he cracks 6 WAR this season as his OPS gets somewhere in the .810-.820 range thanks to a slight boost in SLG% because of the short porch. but we’ll see, won’t we?

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

          Let me save you the time Dirk. Mike’s mind is set.

          • Dirk Diggler says:

            I don’t want to gang up on Mike, because I love this site and the work he does is fantastic. We simply disagree because we’re both so passionate about our Yankees.

            However, saying Choo is somehow ‘better’ than Ellsbury is pretty silly. To say Choo will age better than Ellsbury, is also silly — considering elite speed guys with OBP skills like Henderson, Raines, Lofton, etc. tend to age better than any other type of player. Fangraphs has great reads on that.

            I ALSO think it’s silly to imply that Ellsbury and Gardner can’t coexist on the same team. They are both elite outfielders who can prevent runs, score runs, run the basepaths, and get on base. It’s set on the premise that baseball teams need power from certain positions, which is a false one. And remember, CFs aren’t ‘supposed’ to have power, so yeah, the argument is overblown for sure. But now I’m beating a dead horse.

            • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

              The horse is lonnnnnnnng dead. It was dead weeks ago.

              Some of us are on your side, Mike isn’t. I think all that’s left to do is play the games.

  21. nycsportzfan says:


  22. mahkk says:

    So we have 2 players with similar skillsets, so what? Who said you can only have 1 player with speed on the team? As someone else said, “good players are good players”. They both have high OBPs, which you said we need, so I don’t really get the problem.

    I’ll just never understand the obsession with home runs. Why does every player we sign always have to have power? I’ll take a tough-minded, scrappy, clutch player over Adam Dunn any day of the week.

    • CS Yankee says:

      Thing is, the Chisox would trade Dunn for a weak-minded, prissy, non-clutch player just to get rid of those dollars tied to that no-glove, fat, no contact anchor that took over Dunn’s body about three years ago.

  23. mrs mattingly says:

    is there a televised game today? The schedule lists tomorrow is the first televised game.

  24. Mandy Stankiewicz says:

    Best Yankees blog, really appreciate the in-depth quality writing. But we got Ells for the longterm. Let’s move on. Gardner’s contract has pretty good trade potential. I wouldn’t assume the Yankees have longterm plans for the 2 D first OF to play side by side. This could be their trade for a quality IF at the trade deadline or in 2015.

  25. nycsportzfan says:

    Joey Bats just clubbed his 1st spring training HR. Roberto Hernandez is dreadful. Why would any team add him to there rotation?

  26. nycsportzfan says:

    Yanks up 2-0 on pirates. I wish I knew who did what? Anyone?

  27. lightSABR says:

    Watch out, Zealous Wheeler! Yangervis Solarte is coming for your Weber/Poser award!

    (Solarte’s 2-for-2 with a two-run homer and a sweet play to end the first.)

  28. Hawkeye says:

    Yangervis Solarte- 2 for 2, 2 RBI, no errors- DFA Jeter (is it too soon?)

  29. nycsportzfan says:

    I tell ya what, the Phillies have terrible pitching. Hernandez and this guy they brought in right after, Aumont or something? Just terrible!

  30. nycsportzfan says:

    Nice bottome of the 3rd for Billings. Induced DP to end it.

  31. nycsportzfan says:

    Betances is in. Bottom 4th

  32. nycsportzfan says:

    Haha! Chase Whitely puts 2 guys on base then gives up the 3run hr to tie it up at 5. That dudes a bum anyways.

    • nycsportzfan says:

      Then he walks dickerson on 4pitches. Its so frustrating having to watch guys like Whitley. Hes one of those pitchers who can’t even fake it for alittle while in the ML’s. Hes just gonna get smacked every single time on this level.

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