Open Thread: March 6th Camp Notes

Half the Yankees — less really, only four regulars made the trip — played a split squad game against the Phillies this afternoon and they walked away with a 4-1 win. Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, and Nick Noonan all had run-scoring doubles. Stephen Drew went 1-for-2, Chase Headley went 0-for-2 with a walk, and Mark Teixeira went 1-for-2. Slade Heathcott went 1-for-1 with two walks. It’s early but he’s having a nice camp so far.

Bryan Mitchell started and struck out two in two scoreless innings. He looked pretty sharp. Jaron Long and Nick Goody both threw scoreless innings and both Matt Tracy and Branden Pinder threw two scoreless innings each. The relief prospect formerly known as Mark Montgomery allowed the only run on a long homer by Xavier Paul. Here’s the box score and here are the video highlights. The Yankees play their other split squad game against the Pirates at 7pm ET. Here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

Here’s the daily open thread. There is no video broadcast of tonight’s home split squad game against the Pirates. You can listen to Pittsburgh’s radio broadcast on the MLB At-Bat app though. This afternoon’s game against the Phillies will re-air on MLB Network at 9pm ET, if you’re interested. Otherwise you’ve got the Devils, Nets, and college basketball tonight. Have at it.

Eddy: Yankees sign Mat Gamel to minor league contract

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

According to Mat Eddy, the Yankees have signed first baseman and former top Brewers prospect Mat Gamel to what we can safely assume is a minor league contract. No idea if he’ll come to Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Mat is the older brother of Yankees farmhand Ben Gamel, an outfielder who spent last season with Double-A Trenton.

Gamel, 29, has not played at all since 2012 due to a series of knee injuries, specifically torn right ACLs. He tore it the first time in May 2012 running into a wall chasing a pop-up, re-tore it during a Spring Training workout in 2013, then injured the knee again working out at home prior to the 2014 season. Gamel has been rehabbing and working his way back since then.

When he last played in 2012, Gamel went 17-for-69 (.246) with one homer in 21 games for Milwaukee. He’s a career .229/.305/.367 (78 wRC+) hitter in 269 big league plate appearances and a .301/.374/.512 (~120 wRC+) hitter in over 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances. Baseball America ranked Gamel as the 34th best prospect in baseball prior to 2009, but gosh, that was a long time ago.

Kyle Roller, Greg Bird, and Mike Ford are set to be the starting first basemen at Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, and High-A Tampa, respectively, so it’s unclear where Gamel fits in at the moment. He might still be rehabbing for all we know. Gamel could be a DH candidate at Triple-A or Double-A, but there’s no reason to think he’s some sort of big league option.

Didi Gregorius and the Need for Defense and Development [2015 Season Preview]

Get off El Duque's lawn. (Presswire)
Get off El Duque’s lawn. (Presswire)

I don’t know if it was their top priority this winter, but finding a new starting shortstop was a very important item on the Yankees’ offseason shopping list. Derek Jeter retired and with no shortstop prospects on the cusp of MLB, that meant they had to go outside the organization. Free agency had some okay solutions and the trade market is always a bit of a mystery, so eh.

After reportedly making several trade offers for multiple shortstops earlier in the winter, the Yankees found their new shortstop in early-December, sending Shane Greene to the Tigers in a three-way trade that brought Didi Gregorius to New York. The Yankees had been trying to acquire Didi since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings, so it wasn’t a total surprise when they acquired him.

“They turned me down 10,000 ways over and I had to go through a third team,” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings last week. “I went through a number of different teams who when I was dealing with them who told me, ‘I tried to get him, too.’ I tried to get him at the deadline. I obviously tried to get him over the winter. A number of failed attempts. And then other teams were conveying back to me their failed attempts.”

The Yankees also re-signed Stephen Drew to play second base this winter, and while he is a natural shortstop, he is not considered any sort of threat to Gregorius. The Yankees didn’t trade Shane Greene to get Gregorius only to pull the plug after his first slump. Didi will get a long look this year and have a chance to solidify himself as the club’s shortstop of the future. Let’s look at what the Yankees need from him and what he can realistically provide.

Yankees Need: Above-Average Defense

Let’s not kid ourselves here. Gregorius is a glove first player and the Yankees acquired him first and foremost because of his work in the field. Jeter was a tremendous player, but he stunk defensively, especially later in his career, and the Yankees clearly prioritized improving their infield defense over the winter. This is a pretty simple and straight forward request: Gregorius has to make all the plays he’s supposed to make plus some a Yankees’ shortstop hasn’t made in a long time.

Gregorius Can: Play Above-Average Defense, I Think

There’s a disconnect between the scouting reports and stats when it comes to Didi’s fielding ability. He came to the Yankees will a reputation for being a strong gloveman, but it could just be the infield version of Nichols Law, meaning he’s so bad at the plate his defensive reputation got inflated. Here are some scouting report tidbits from Baseball America (subs. req’d) over the years.

  • 2011: “He has a 65 arm on the 20-to-80 scouting scale that allows him to make any throw, often without needing to set his feet. His above-average speed and quick feet give him good range as well, though his hands are still somewhat erratic. Many of his errors come from a lack of focus and a tendency to rush plays.”
  • 2012: “Gregorius is a quality athlete whose best attribute is his arm, which rates a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale thanks to its strength and accuracy. He’s a plus defender with good range and a quick first step. His hands are his biggest drawback defensively and contributed to his 21 errors in 80 games in 2011.”
  • 2013: “He has smooth actions, plus range and a sniper rifle of an arm. His arm rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, allowing him to make plays from deep in the hole that other shortstops can’t.”

The scouting reports say Gregorius has defensive tools, yet UZR (-3.6), DRS (0), Total Zone (-7), and FRAA (-4.0) all say he’s been average or (mostly) worse in his 1,521.1 career innings at short. Inside Edge data shows Gregorius has been above-average at making difficult plays and below-average at making routine ones, which lends some credence to that whole “many of his errors come from a lack of focus and a tendency to rush plays” nugget from Baseball America’s 2011 scouting report.

When it comes to a player who has just about one year worth of MLB time at a position, I’m going to trust the scouting reports over the stats every time. Defensive stats are a wonderful tool but they are still very much a work in progress, and one year is not a big enough sample to say anything definitive. Gregorius might really be below-average! We’re going to find out this year. Until then, I’m sticking with the scouting reports that say he’s a strong defender.

Yankees Need: To See Some Improvement Against Lefties

In 724 career plate appearances, the 25-year-old Gregorius is a .243/.313/.366 (84 wRC+) hitter overall, including .262/.332/.411 (102 wRC+) against righties and .184/.257/.233 (33 wRC+) against lefties. If he performs like that against right-handed pitchers going forward, I think the Yankees would be thrilled. (His career spray charts against righties suggest Didi will benefit from Yankee Stadium.) They would be even more thrilled if Gregorius makes some strides against southpaws and shows he can be an everyday player long-term, not just the heavy side of a platoon as a left-handed hitter. Some sort of progress against lefties is a must in 2015.

Gregorius Can: Try To Improve Against Lefties

Didi has only 180 career plate appearances against southpaws at the MLB level and that’s not much, but those same scouting reports that praise his defense also note he’s struggled against left-handed pitchers throughout his career — “Being a lefthanded hitting shortstop is another positive in Gregorius’ favor, though he has struggled against lefties throughout his career,” said the 2012 write-up — so this isn’t a new trend.

The Yankees have already mentioned platooning Gregorius with Brendan Ryan, but that’s just silly. (Ryan has a 56 wRC+ against lefties the last three years!) If the club wants to shelter Gregorius and sit him against the toughest of lefties, the David Prices and Chris Sales of the world, then fine. But it shouldn’t be an outright platoon. The only way Gregorius is going to improve against lefties is by facing them. If he rides the pine against good but not great southpaws like Mark Buehrle, Wei-Yin Chen, and Wade Miley, then what the hell is the point?

Yankees Need: Some Excitement

The Yankees are a pretty boring team, wouldn’t you say? Masahiro Tanaka starts, Michael Pineda starts, and Dellin Betances appearances were by far the most exciting part of last year’s team. By far. Every once in a while Frankie Cervelli would pump his fist or do something goofy, but that was it. We couldn’t even laugh at Eduardo Nunez‘s helmet falling off every damn time he ran to first because he had been sent packing. So Didi, the Yankees and everyone else beg you to please inject some life in this group.

Gregorius Can: Play With Energy

Gregorius has a reputation of being a high-energy player though I’m not sure how true that really is because I haven’t seen him play all that much. Hopefully it is true. Everyone can play with energy though, especially a 25-year-old shortstop, so hopefully Gregorius is the kind of exciting, fun to watch player the Yankees have sorely lacked in recent years. If the Yankees are going to miss the postseason again, I would at least like them to be watchable.

(Just FYI: My alternate title was “In Which Didi Stands For Di-fense and Di-velopment.”)

Spring Training Game Thread: Split Squad

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first of three times this spring, the Yankees are playing a pair of split squad games today. Half the team will face the Phillies in Clearwater this afternoon and the other half will face the Pirates at home in Tampa later tonight. Only the afternoon game will be broadcast, however. That’s better than nothing in my book.

Because they’re playing two split squad games today, the Yankees called up several players from minor league camp for this afternoon’s trip. They sent a skeleton crew of big leaguers — the minimum four required for a Spring Training road game — with a whole bunch of prospects and organizational player types. As you can imagine, most of the veteran big league players stayed in Tampa and will play the home game tonight.

Today’s reason to watch: Prospects! The Yankees’ three best position player prospects (according to me!) are in the starting lineup this afternoon and their most recent true first round pick is up from minor league camp and scheduled to come off the bench. Oh, and Bryan Mitchell is making his spring debut. He’s kind of important this year as the team’s default sixth or seventh (or eighth) starter.

Here is the starting lineup for the first of today’s two games:

  1. SS Didi Gregorius
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. 2B Stephen Drew
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Greg Bird
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. LF Ramon Flores
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. CF Slade Heathcott
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

Available Pitchers: RHP Nick Goody, RHP Jaron Long, LHP Matt Tracy, and RHP Mark Montgomery are all scheduled to pitch. LHP James Pazos, RHP Caleb Cotham, and RHP Branden Pinder are the extra arms.

Available Position Players: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Michael O’Neill, CF Mason Williams, RF Taylor Dugas, and DH Trent Garrison will all come off the bench. C Alvaro Noreiga is also on the trip and available if needed.

It’s cloudy with temperatures in the low-70s in Clearwater this afternoon, but there’s no rain in the forecast and that’s what matters. If you’re in the Philadelphia market, you can watch this afternoon’s game on television on CSN. If you’re not, you’re stuck watching online on MLB.tv. There is no live YES or MLB Network feed this afternoon. Sucks, but hooray MLB.tv. Enjoy the game everyone.

Mailbag: Bailey, Teixeira, Tanaka, Guerrero, Opening Day

Ten questions in this week’s mailbag, which means it’s a small mailbag these days. Send us any questions through the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. And yes, we know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but it absolutely does. I promise. We’re working on that.

Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)
Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)

Marc asks: If healthy, do you see the Yankees making Andrew Bailey the closer, allowing Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller to mix-and-match the 7th and 8th?

I think it’s possible but very unlikely. Bailey will not only have to show he’s healthy, he’ll also have to show he’s effective, and that’s not always a guarantee following shoulder capsule surgery. I don’t think that’s something he can prove in a handful of Spring Training innings either. If Bailey does take over as the closer at some point, it’ll probably be a few weeks into the regular season. And the problem with that is Betances or Miller might have a firm hold on the job by then. Teams tend to not take guys out of the closer’s role if they’re dominating.

Ralph asks: If Mark Teixeira has a bounce back year, and stays healthy thru the balance of his contract, and Greg Bird takes the reins at first, could Teixeira be an “Ortiz-Like” option at DH for the Yankees, playing occasional 1st and being a mentor for Bird?

This is another “possible but unlikely” for me. Teixeira’s contract is up in two years and so is Carlos Beltran‘s, but Alex Rodriguez will still have a year left on his contract and Brian McCann will need to see more time at DH by then. Maybe Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury too. The DH logjam isn’t going to clear up anytime soon, so bringing Teixeira back in what amounts to the Garrett Jones role might not make sense. McCann might be the part-time first baseman/part-time DH/mentor by then. I just get the feeling that as soon as Teixeira’s contract is up, the Yankees are going to move on.

Chris asks: Suppose Masahiro Tanaka manages to go to his opt-out season effectively. Knowing what we do about his elbow, does he opt out?

I think he would. Tanaka will only be 28 when he opts out (he turns 29 that offseason), and if he stays healthy between now and then, he’ll be pretty damn good. A 28-year-old ace, even one with a questionable elbow, will be able to command (way) more than the three years and $66M he’d be passed up. Besides, if he stays healthy these next few years, the concerns about Tanaka’s elbow won’t be as great as they are right now. It’ll be in the back of everyone’s mind but the concern will naturally subside some if he goes the next three years without a problem.

Jordan asks: Listening to the first spring training game on MLB At-Bat, the Philly announcer said “I’m not so sure the Yankees will finish ahead of the Phillies (in the standings).” What would have to happen to the Yankees for such a season?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The projected standings at FanGraphs have the Yankees at 82 wins and the Phillies at 70 wins this year (the Phillies are projected to have three fewer wins then everyone else, actually), so somehow the Yankees would have to lose a dozen wins off the roster. Both Tanaka and Michael Pineda would have to get hurt and miss the entire season, and I think they’d also have to lose two of Ellsbury, Gardner, and Chase Headley as well. They’d have to lose four of their five best players to injury, basically. Based on ZiPS, losing Tanaka, Pineda, Ellsbury, and Headley for the year would be a loss of 12.5 wins, and we’d have to assume the will Yankees replace them with replacement level (or worse players). I think the Phillies are more likely to win fewer than 70 games than the Yankees are to win more than 82, but either way, I would be pretty surprised if the Phillies finished within even ten games of New York this year.

Ethan asks: Do you think the shift will naturally lose value in 10-15 years, as younger players will have been taught from the ground up the increased value of hitting to all fields?

No, I don’t. The shift — specifically the idea of putting defenders where the hitter is most likely to hit the ball — is here to stay. Hitting to all fields isn’t easy! The shift is similar to the curveball when it was first introduced. Did the curveball eventually lose value because hitters were taught to hit them? No! Because hitting curveballs is hard, just like hitting to all fields is hard. I am certain teams will emphasize hitting to all fields going forward — this really starts at the high school and college level, but MLB clubs have no control over that — but that doesn’t mean an army of all-fields hitters will arrive in MLB in 10-15 years. There’s only so much “gym work” that can be done to improve hitting to all fields. Ultimately it boils down to natural ability.

Jonathan asks: With ST in full swing could you maybe explain just what exactly “live batting practice” is? And how does it differ from “simulated games” pitchers throw?

Live batting practice is, simply put, batting practice. But instead of a pitching machine, a real pitcher pitches to the batter, usually telling him whether a fastball or breaking ball is coming. A simulated game has actual game situations. They keep track of balls and strikes, the number of outs, the runners on base, etc. Sometimes the pitcher will be expected to field his position as well. Live batting practice is just a pitcher pitching to a batter over and over, with no one keeping track of balls and strikes or anything like that. That explain it?

Joe asks: How is the competitive balance order determined? The Yankees got the 4th pick (30th overall) for losing David Robertson but the Rockies got 1st for Michael Cuddyer and Tigers 8th (34th overall) for losing Max Scherzer — is there any rhyme or reason on this? Thanks.

The two competitive balance rounds are selected via lottery for small market teams depending on market size and revenue sharing status. The supplemental first round is the one with compensation picks for free agents and that goes in reverse order of last year’s standings. The Rockies had the worst record among teams to lose a qualified free agent so they received the first pick in the supplemental round for losing Cuddyer. The Orioles had the best record among those teams and thus received the last pick in the supplemental round for Nelson Cruz. Ten teams received a compensation pick this winter and the Yankees had the fourth worst record of those ten, so they got the fourth pick of the round. Here’s the full draft order.

Guerrero. (Presswire)
Guerrero. (Presswire)

Dustin asks: Alex Guerrero refused to go to the minors for the Dodgers. I have zero clue if he is the player the Dodgers thought he would be. If the Dodgers trade him, should the Yankees be interested?

The Dodgers put a clause in Guerrero’s contract allowing him to refuse to go to the minors this year and he’s already made it known he won’t go back to Triple-A. He’s staying in MLB. The 28-year-old had a .329/.364/.613 (148 wRC+) batting line in 65 Triple-A games around having his ear bitten off by Miguel Olivo last summer — he went 1-for-13 with six strikeouts in his brief MLB cameo — but he’s not expected to be anywhere close to that kind of hitter at the big league level. (Los Angeles’ Triple-A affiliate was in Albuquerque last year and that’s one of the best hitting environments in all of baseball.)

Baseball America ranked Guerrero as the team’s 21st best prospect coming into the season in their 2015 Baseball Handbook and said “he’s a pull-oriented hitter with holes in his swing” and “lacks the first step quickness for shortstop and has trouble at second base, where he has an average arm but lacks natural infield actions.” There’s also the issue of the three years and $21.5M left on his contract, which is really $32.25M to the Yankees due to the luxury tax. What are they supposed to do with an expensive utility infielder with holes in his swing and shaky defense? That’s an easy pass for me. Stick with guys in house. Even Brendan Ryan.

Brian asks: It doesn’t appear as though the Yankees have had an organizing principle over the last few years. Is there any evidence that the Yankees have had a consistent vision for the team? Or are they working year-to-year?

It sure seems like they’re going year-to-year, doesn’t it? I understand that plans have to be flexible, but the club has gone from trying to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold to spending huge to avoiding long-term deals the last three offseasons. As Joe has said, they went about the luxury tax thing all wrong. They tried to cram four or five years of work into two and it blew up in their faces. The response? Spend like crazy. And when that didn’t work, they scaled back spending. I definitely think the Yankees are going to try to get under the luxury tax again in the near future — Hal Steinbrenner spent so much time talking about it that I can’t imagine he’s given up on the idea entirely — likely when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2016 and the threshold presumably goes up. The plan seems to be “stay competitive while moving towards getting under the luxury tax,” except no one has any idea how to actually do that.

Michael asks: Assuming all the starting pitchers are healthy at the end of ST who is most likely to be the Opening Day starter?

Rumor has it Tanaka will make his Grapefruit League debut next Thursday, and if that’s true, he’d be lined up to start Opening Day assuming he sticks to a normal five-day scheduled for the rest of camp. The Yankees have made it clear they want to ease him into things though, so I’m guessing Tanaka will get a few extra days of rest along the way. Either way, the Opening Day starter is not that big a deal. At least not as big as people make it. If everyone stays healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Girardi gives the ball to CC Sabathia to start the season because he’s the grizzled vet, with Tanaka following in the second game and Pineda in the third. You could make a case any of those three deserve to start Opening Day, really.

Open Thread: March 5th Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees picked up their first win of the spring this afternoon, beating the Pirates 2-1 in an untelevised game. Tyler Austin‘s solo homer broke the 1-1 tie in the eighth. Jacoby Ellsbury and John Ryan Murphy both went hitless in three at-bats while Brett Gardner went 0-for-1 with two walks. Chris Young had one hit (double) and both Garrett Jones and Rob Refsnyder had two hits apiece, including a double.

Esmil Rogers got the start and allowed one hit in two scoreless innings. Chase Whitley followed with two scoreless innings of his own. Righty relief prospect Nick Rumbelow struck out the side in his inning, and otherwise a bunch of call-ups from minor league camp saw action on the mound. Here’s the box score — no highlights because there was no broadcast! — and here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

This is your open thread for the night. MLB Network is showing the Red Sox and Twins tonight (live!), plus the Islanders are playing and there’s some college hoops on as well. Talk about anything other than religion and politics here. Go nuts.

Brian Cashman on next Yankees captain: “Captaincy should be retired with No. 2″

(AP)
(AP)

With Derek Jeter now retired, the Yankees are without a captain for the first time since 2003. And since Robinson Cano bolted for the Mariners last year, there is no obvious captain candidate on the roster either. That’s alright. The Yankees have gone years between captains before and they’ll do it again.

If it was up to Brian Cashman though, there would be no next captain. During a radio interview on Thursday he said he believes the team’s captaincy should be retired alongside Jeter. From Bill Price:

“As far as I’m concerned, and I’m not to decision maker on this, that captaincy should be retired with No. 2,” Cashman said. “I wouldn’t give up another captain’s title to anyone else.”

“Leadership comes in a lot of forms, it would be a hard one to anoint someone captain,” Cashman continued, “regardless of how great they might be.”

That … seems a little excessive. But, then again, the majority of the Jeter lovefest has been over the top, so this fits right in. Jeter was undeniably a tremendous player and leader, but at some point another tremendous player and leader will come along, and he will be deserving of the captaincy. I man, geez. Retire the concept of Yankees’ captaincy?

Anyway, captaincy isn’t up to Cashman, that’s an ownership call. The Yankees went seven and a half years without a captain between Don Mattingly and Jeter — not to mention 37 years between Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson — and it looks like it’ll be several years before another captain emerges. I’m cool with that. Captains should be all-time greats, like Jeter. The captaincy shouldn’t cease to exist because of him though. Sheesh.