It’s official: Yankees name Greg Bird starting first baseman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Greg Bird has officially been named the starting first baseman. Joe Girardi made the announcement this morning, according to Andrew Marchand. Bird is hitting .421/.500/.947 with four home runs and eleven extra-base hits this spring, the most in baseball. He’s been the team’s best hitter all Spring Training.

Bird, 24, missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, so while he was the favorite for the first base job coming into camp, the Yankees had to see how he looked following the lost season. It was fair to wonder whether he’d need time in Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing at the plate. That’s been a non-issue this spring.

Also, the Chris Carter signing gave the Yankees a viable first base alternative, and the team could have sent Bird down for service time reasons. Roughly two months in Triple-A would have “bought back” the year of control the Yankees lost to the injury last season. I totally get why teams manipulate service time, but I believe big league caliber players should be in the big leagues.

Now that the first base question has been answered, the Yankees still have to figure out right field (Aaron Judge vs. Aaron Hicks) as well as two rotation and two bullpen spots. And also shortstop following the Didi Gregorius injury. Those competitions are a bit more wide open at the moment.

Thoughts following the Didi Gregorius injury

(Matt Roberts/Getty)
(Matt Roberts/Getty)

The Yankees were dealt some tough news these last two days, as starting shortstop Didi Gregorius suffered a shoulder strain while away at the World Baseball Classic. He’s going to be shut down from baseball activities for two weeks, and it’s possible he’ll miss all of April. Sucks. The Yankees suddenly have an opening at shortstop. I have some thoughts on the injury and the shortstop situation.

1. All things considered, I’m actually pretty relieved Gregorius will be shut down only two weeks. (He’ll then need some time to get back into game shape, and you know the Yankees will be cautious with him.) I was worried this injury would be something much more serious and keep Gregorius out for months, not weeks. A strain is by definition a tear, though obviously this isn’t something so severe he needs surgery. Worst case scenario was Gregorius having a big enough tear in his rotator cuff that he’d have to go under the knife. Thankfully that’s not the case. A little rest and rehab is expected to knock this out. Huge relief. Huge. Losing Gregorius really sucks because he’s a good player and fun to watch, but at least it isn’t worse. This is the best of a bad situation, I’d say.

2. Without Gregorius, the Yankees are going to be really short on left-handed power to start the season. It’s basically Greg Bird. That’s it. Perhaps Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury will turn back the clock to their double digit home run days, but I’m not counting on it. The Yankees have some righty bats who can take advantage of the short porch, so maybe the lack of lefty pop won’t matter. It will almost certainly create some lineup imbalance though. The only left-handed hitting replacement shortstop candidate is Tyler Wade. Everyone else is a righty. The Yankees are now looking at the possibility of a lineup with three lefties (Bird, Ellsbury, Gardner), one switch-hitter (Chase Headley), and five righties (Gary Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday, replacement shortstop). I’d feel a little better about that if Ellsbury, Gardner, and Headley were better hitters than they are at this point of their careers. Alas.

3. Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty yesterday Wade is now indeed in the mix for the shortstop job, and while playing him everyday would be fun as hell, I don’t think it’s the right move. The Gregorius injury shouldn’t change a prospect’s development plan, whether it’s Wade or Gleyber Torres or whoever. Wade is not magically more MLB ready today than he was three days ago because Didi got hurt. The Yankees and every other team sign dudes like Ruben Tejada and Pete Kozma each offseason specifically so they won’t have to rush prospects whenever someone gets hurt. The Yankees know Wade better than I ever will and if they deem him ready to be the starting big league shortstop, even for only a month while Gregorius is out, then they’ll go with him. And hopefully it’ll work. From where I sit, jumping him over Triple-A completely seems like maybe not the best idea, even if it would be the most fun idea (aside from Torres).

Torreyes. (Presswire)
Torreyes. (Presswire)

4. The Yankees now have ten days or so to figure out the shortstop situation before Opening Day. The easiest solution is sticking Ronald Torreyes at shortstop, relying on Castro as the backup, and carrying Rob Refsnyder on the bench as the backup second baseman. That wouldn’t require any kind of 40-man roster move and I’d argue those are three most prepared, ready to help players. The Yankees could do that for a bit, see how it works, then change plans if necessary. My gut feeling is it will not be one guy who fills in at short while Gregorius is sidelined. They’ll probably cycle through a few players, a la Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa at third base while Alex Rodriguez was injured early in 2009. And Rakin’ Ramiro Pena too. Forgot about him. When the Yankees have gone young the last few years, such as calling up Bird and Luis Severino in 2015, and Sanchez and Judge in 2016, it was done as part of a plan. They weren’t called up in response to someone getting hurt. That’s why I think it’ll be some combination of Torreyes, Tejada, Kozma, and Donovan Solano that handles short. That why you sign those guys in the first place.

5. I have a hard time blaming Didi’s injury on the WBC. Players make thousands and thousands of throws from the start of Spring Training through the end of the season, and this injury could have happened on any one of them. What was so different about this one? The injury happened during an exhibition game. How is the intensity any different than a Grapefruit League game? Joe Girardi said Gregorius hurt himself making a throw from second base on a double play, a throw he’s made countless times before and will make countless times again. Same deal with Mark Teixeira‘s wrist in 2013. What was so different about the swings he took in batting practice with Team USA and the thousands he would have taken with the Yankees? I am in no way convinced Didi’s injury is a result of the WBC. It just so happened Gregorius was away when it happened. Heck, the Yankees are probably a little happy about that since the WBC will pay his salary while he’s on the disabled list (I think). I know it’s cool to hate the WBC and we need to be outraged and assign blame all the time, but sometimes injuries just happen. That’s baseball. An infielder hurting his shoulder making a throw is not something caused by the WBC.

March 21st Camp Notes: Torres, Gregorius, Castro, Betances

The Yankees dropped their Spring Training game to the Red Sox tonight. It was a pretty quiet night for the offense, though Matt Holliday socked a dinger against Chris Sale, and Starlin Castro had two hits as well. One of the two was a double. Dustin “better than Dexter” Fowler forced an error with his speed and stole a base. Not too much else happened for the guys at the plate.

Bryan Mitchell started and got dinked and dunked most of the game. He allowed two runs in 4.1 innings, but did strike out seven and walk none. Mitchell has a 19/3 K/BB in 18.2 total innings this spring. Aroldis Chapman struck out two in his scoreless inning, and Luis Cessa allowed a run in his two innings of work. Probably doesn’t bode well for Cessa that he’s working two innings at a time while guys like Mitchell and Luis Severino are going much longer. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here is the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Update: Following tonight’s game, the Yankees announced they have reassigned Gleyber Torres to minor league camp. Lame. There are 45 players still in big league camp, by my unofficial count.
  • In case you missed it earlier, Didi Gregorius will be shut down for two weeks with a shoulder strain. The Yankees are expecting Gregorius to miss April by time it’s all said and done. They’re going to be cautious with him, of course.
  • Not surprisingly, the Yankees will have Castro play some shortstop in Spring Training. I expected that to happen even with a healthy Didi. No reason not to give him a few games there just to keep him sharp at the position. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Dellin Betances is back in camp. The Dominican Republic was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic on Saturday night. He struck out five in five scoreless innings during the WBC, and looked to be in midseason form in Saturday’s game. [Brendan Kuty]
  • Hoch has the pitching assignments and hitting/fielding groups for the guys who didn’t play in tonight’s game, if you’re interested. CC Sabathia and Adam Warren threw their usual between starts bullpen sessions. That’s about it.
  • Sad news: Jerry Krause passed away today. He was 77. Krause is known mostly for being general manager of Michael Jordan era Bulls, but he also worked as a baseball scout both before and after his time in basketball. George Steinbrenner hired him in 2004.

The Yankees will be on the road to play the Phillies tomorrow afternoon. That’s a regular ol’ 1pm ET start. The game will be on MLB Network and MLB.tv. Masahiro Tanaka is lined up to start.

Spring Training Game Thread: Rotation Competition Continues

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees will again play a Spring Training game under the lights tonight, and this time the Red Sox will be in town. Get ready to renew the Grapefruit League rivalry, y’all. The Red Sox brought Chris Sale to Tampa too. Spoiler alert: he’s good. The Yankees have been a wrecking crew all spring though. It would be kinda cool if they lit up Boston’s shiny new rotation toy.

Anyway, on to more important matters. Rotation candidates Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa will pitch tonight, and gosh, it sure would be cool if someone stepped up and grabbed one of those spots. Joe Girardi insists there are no favorites in that race right now, and while I buy that in general, I do think Luis Severino is one of their preferred options. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here are the players the Yankees will use:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Chris Carter
  6. LF Aaron Hicks
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. SS Ronald Torreyes
  9. 3B Ruben Tejada
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

Available Pitchers: LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Luis Cessa, LHP Jon Niese, and LHP Tommy Layne are all scheduled to pitch tonight. RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Dillon McNamara, RHP Ernesto Frieri, RHP Eric Ruth, RHP Mark Montgomery, and RHP Anyelo Gomez are the extra arms. Frieri is in big league camp. The rest of the extra guys are up from minor league camp for the night.

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Wilkin Castillo, 2B Pete Kozma, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Thairo Estrada, LF Ji-Man Choi, CF Dustin Fowler, RF Clint Frazier, and DH Donovan Solano will come off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C Radley Haddad, OF Billy McKinney, and UTIL Tyler Wade are the extra players. Thairo and Haddad came over from minor league camp.

It is cool and clear in Tampa tonight. Nice night for a ballgame. There is no YES Network broadcast tonight. If you’re in the Red Sox’s home market, you can watch on NESN+. If not, MLB.tv is your only option. There is no MLB Network simulcast. Tonight’s game will start at 6:35pm ET. Enjoy the game.

Didi Gregorius will miss Opening Day with shoulder strain

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees received good news and bad news about Didi Gregorius and his injured shoulder today. The good news: Gregorius does not have a serious injury. It’s a shoulder strain and he will be shut down from baseball activities for two weeks. The bad news: Didi will miss Opening Day. Bummer. Bryan Hoch has the news.

Joe Girardi acknowledged Gregorius may miss all of April because they’re going to be cautious with him, obviously. They won’t try to rush him back or anything like that. It’s better to miss a few games now than many games later. Gregorius will be shut down for two weeks, then he’ll have to get back into game shape before playing.

Gregorius hurt himself making a throw while playing second base in a World Baseball Classic tune-up game in Arizona over the weekend, Girardi told Michael Silverman. The Netherlands clinched a spot in the semifinals last week, and they had a long layoff before last night’s game because they had to travel from Tokyo, so they played an exhibition game to stay sharp.

The Yankees have a not terrible collection of replacement shortstop options. My guess is they’ll ride out Didi’s injury with Ronald Torreyes and either Ruben Tejada or Donovan Solano. I suppose they could continue the youth movement and go with Tyler Wade though. We’ll see. Either way, Gregorius will be out a while, but at least it’s not something more serious.

Ranking the Yankees’ shortstop options in the wake of Didi Gregorius’ shoulder injury

Torreyes. (Presswire)
Torreyes. (Presswire)

Later today, the Yankees hope to get good news about starting shortstop Didi Gregorius, who left the World Baseball Classic and returned to Tampa yesterday with a “hematoma of the subcapsular muscle.” This a shoulder injury. Otherwise I have no idea what that means. I googled it and only made myself more confused. We should get some clarification soon.

“The doctor was really encouraged by his strength and felt good about it, but we thought we’re going to cover ourselves,” said Joe Girardi to Randy Miller. “It’s obviously not what you want to hear, but hopefully it’s something short. But again, we have not seen him. The evaluation from the doctor was his strength was really good. But we’ve got to see him.”

The bottom line is Gregorius now has some kind of shoulder injury, and unless it’s a really minor injury — the fact he’s already had a preliminary MRI and is going for more tests suggests he’s going to miss at least a few days with this — it’s hard to think he’ll be ready for the start of the regular season. Opening Day is only 12 days away now, you know. Practically right around the corner.

Compared to most teams, the Yankees do have a pretty decent collection of shortstop options. Not too many clubs can replace their starting shortstop with another starting caliber shortstop, you know? The Yankees have a nice mix of shortstop prospects and veterans with big league shortstop experience, some as an everyday player. It could be worse.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to attempt to lay out what I think is the shortstop pecking order. This isn’t necessarily how I’d rank these players. It’s how I think the Yankees rank them internally. Depth charts change as the season progresses, so this is nothing more than a snapshot in time. Let’s get to it.

1. Ronald Torreyes

Why is he ranked here? Torreyes managed to spend the entire 2016 season in the big leagues as the utility infielder, and when you do that, there’s a pretty good chance you’re at the front of the line to replace an injured infielder. The Yankees know he can handle shortstop defensively and know his contact skills allow him to go on some insane BABIP fueled hot streaks. Simply put, among the reserve infielder options, Torreyes had the best 2016 season, and that tends to be a factor in decisions like this.

Why could he be ranked lower? I’m of the belief that Torreyes would get exposed pretty quickly as an everyday player, and the Yankees could feel the same way. Given his complete lack of power and general lack of walks, playing Torreyes everyday could very easily result in a slash line that starts with .2s across the board. The man they call Toe has a nice utility infielder’s skill set given his defensive versatility and ability to get the bat on the ball. I’m not sure that’s enough to hold down an everyday shortstop job though, even for a few weeks.

2. Ruben Tejada

Tejada. (Presswire)
Tejada. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? Prior to last season, Tejada spent most of the previous five seasons as the starting shortstop with the Mets. From 2011-15 he hit .261/.333/.328 (88 wRC+) overall, including .261/.338/.350 (94 wRC+) in 2015, which works out to +1.4 bWAR and +1.8 fWAR per 162 games. Not great! But the league average shortstop hit .262/.319/.407 (92 wRC+) last season, so Tejada isn’t that far below the positional standard. He’s long been a solid defender, so, in that sense, Tejada might be the best bet for competence on both sides of the ball.

Why could he be ranked lower? There’s a reason the Yankees were able to scoop Tejada up on a minor league contract over the winter. He was pretty terrible in 2016. Tejada played 36 games with the Giants and hit .167/.247/.242 (34 wRC+) in 78 plate appearances, though his .303/.337/.414 (101 wRC+) batting line in 43 Triple-A games with the Giants and Cardinals is easier to swallow. It should be noted Tejada missed time with a quad strain last year, and he was also coming back from having his leg broken by Chase Utley’s vicious takeout slide in the 2015 NLDS. Either way, healthy or not, Tejada was pretty bad in 2016.

3. Donovan Solano

Why is he ranked here? Familiarity more than anything. Solano has plenty of big league time — he played 361 games with the Marlins as a reserve player from 2012-15 — and he spent just about the entire 2016 season with Triple-A Scranton, where he hit .319/.349/.436 (124 wRC+) and led the league in hits. The Yankees called Solano up late in the season when Starlin Castro‘s hamstring acted up, and they liked what they saw from him enough to sign him to a new minor league deal over the winter. Solano is an okay defender who had a nice year in Triple-A and seems to have some fans in the organization.

Why could he be ranked lower? Unlike Tejada, Solano has not been a full-time shortstop in several years. Not since he was in Single-A ball back in 2009. He has played the position before, though most of his experience is at second base. Even last season Solano was primarily a third baseman with the RailRiders. Solano has big league time and he performed well in Triple-A last summer. Still, his ability to handle shortstop on a full-time basis, even for a few weeks, is in question.

4. Tyler Wade

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? The first actual prospect on our list. Wade played shortstop everyday with Double-A Trenton last summer and hit .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) overall. He’s now having a strong Grapefruit League season (.394/.430/.484) while playing multiple positions as the Yankees try to turn him into a super utility player. It’s not often the Yankees skip prospects over Triple-A, but they have done it before, and they sure seem committed to this youth movement. Wade has open some eyes this spring — the Yankees knew he was good, though I’ve seen more than a few fans say he’s growing on them — and we know he can play shortstop. The Yankees may decide to continue trekking forward with the youth movement and go with Wade.

Why could he be ranked lower? A few reasons. One, zero Triple-A games. That’s kind of a big one. The Double-A to MLB jump isn’t an easy one. Two, he’s not on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees might not want to add him yet. Adding Wade ties up a 40-man spot for good. Tejada and Solano are guys they could easily add to the 40-man then designate for assignment when a spot is needed. Can’t do that with Wade. And three, the Yankees do want to turn him into a super utility guy, and perhaps they’d prefer to continue that process in Triple-A. That last one doesn’t seem like a good reason to me, but who knows why teams do what they do.

5. Starlin Castro

Why is he ranked here? No one in this post has as much experience as a big league shortstop as Castro. He played the position everyday all those years with the Cubs before sliding over to second base in the second half of the 2015 season. Because he’s played the position before and will without a doubt be part of the Opening Day roster, I don’t think we can completely rule out the Yankees sliding him over to shortstop, even for a short period of time. I don’t think that’ll happen, which is why he’s ranked so low in our half-baked attempted as a shortstop depth chart, though I’d never say never. (Not surprisingly, Castro told George King he’s willing to play short while Didi is out.)

Why could he be ranked lower? The Yankees have given us no reason to believe they consider Castro a shortstop option. He played only three games at the position last year — when Gregorius sat, it was Torreyes at short — and he hasn’t played the position at all in Spring Training. Not one inning. I assume that will change at some point given the Gregorius injury, just to keep Castro acquainted with the position in case he’s needed there. Starlin seems to be a shortstop option the same way Matt Holliday is a left field option. Yeah, he can do it if needed, but they’d prefer not to. Also, moving Castro to shortstop doesn’t solve the problem. It just shifts the opening from short to second.

6. Pete Kozma

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? Kozma has some time as a big league shortstop — he started at short for the pennant winning 2013 Cardinals — and, if nothing else, he’s a good defensive player. The man can’t hit at all — he’s a career .222/.288/.293 (58 wRC+) hitter in MLB, and last summer he managed a .209/.268/.265 (52 wRC+) line in 130 games with Triple-A Scranton — but he can catch the ball, and that’s not nothing. If the Yankees say “screw it, no one can hit so let’s focus on defense,” Kozma could be the guy.

Why could he be ranked lower? He really can’t hit. I don’t think anyone would expect Torreyes or Tejada or even Wade to come out and knock the ball all around the park, but the book is out on Kozma. He’ll turn 29 shortly after Opening Day and there’s no reason to think his offense is about to take a step forward. It seems the Yankees re-signed Kozma to a minor league deal because a) shortstop depth is never a bad thing, and b) he’s long had a reputation for being a hard worker and great clubhouse dude, and I think they consider him a good example for the kids in Triple-A.

7. Outside Help

Why is this ranked here? Going outside the organization for help can never be ruled out. Depending on the severity of Didi’s injury and how the Yankees feel about their internal options, they could look to make a minor trade or free agent signing to plug the shortstop hole for the time being. There are always a rash of transactions near the end of camp, and the Gregorius injury could push the Yankees to make one.

Why could this be ranked lower? Because, right now, there’s basically no one available. The only available free agent shortstop is Alexei Ramirez, who can no longer hit or defend, and the out of options market doesn’t offer any help either. There aren’t many teams with spare shortstops lying around, and those that do tend to want to hang on to them. Anyone who becomes available figures to be a Tejada/Solano type. Not surprisingly, Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty the Yankees will stick with their internal options at shortstop for now.

8. Gleyber Torres

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? Torres has not played a single game above High Class-A. Not one. Making the jump from High-A to MLB is not unprecedented — the late Jose Fernandez made that jump and had a Cy Young caliber rookie season — but there’s a reason it rarely happens. It’s very, very, very difficult. Also, spoiler alert: Cashman already told Andrew Marchand that Gleyber won’t be on the Opening Day roster. I know folks are thinking about a Tony Fernandez/Derek Jeter situation here, but Jeter had some MLB time and was making the jump from Triple-A in 1996, not High-A.

Why could he be ranked higher? Because he’s the best prospect in the organization and on the very short list of the best prospects in baseball. Oh, and Torres is hitting .464/.484/.964 this spring, and his 51.1 innings at shortstop are by far the most among all players in camp. (Jorge Mateo is second with 35. Obviously Gregorius being away at the WBC has opened up playing time.) Torres looks like he belongs and special talents have a way of forcing an accelerated timetable.

* * *

For now the Yankees will hope the second round of tests today bring good news about Didi’s shoulder. And if not, they’ll change gears and adapt. Nothing else you can do. Torreyes seems to be at the top of the replacement shortstop depth chart given the fact he was on the MLB roster all year last season, though others like Tejada and Solano are viable fill-in utility infielders.

Wade is the wildcard to me. My hunch is his chances of being the fill-in shortstop are better than the above rankings would lead you to believe. I think he’s right there with Tejada and Solano. I really do. (Things drop off a bit after him.) It boils down to how willing the Yankees are to tie up a 40-man roster spot, and how ready they think Wade is for the big leagues. Again, zero Triple-A experience. My guess is that should Gregorius miss time during the regular season, they’ll look to get by with a combination of two of the top four players on this list.

Open Thread: March 20th Camp Notes

All the Yankees do is win. This afternoon’s victory featured two hits, including a double, from Greg Bird. Matt Holliday smacked a home run. Aaron Judge had a single and a walk, then Billy McKinney replaced him in right field and had two singles of his own. Gleyber Torres drove in two with the hustle double in the video above. The Yankees had 15 hits on the afternoon, so just about everyone did something. Also, Austin Romine returned to action for the first time since taking that foul tip to the hand a few days ago.

On the mound, Michael Pineda allowed three runs on a hit and two walks in only 1.2 innings of work. He really labored. Threw a ton of pitches. A ton. That’s why he was taken out in the middle of the inning. He’d thrown so many pitches that half-inning and the Yankees didn’t want to push him any further. Chad Green allowed a hit and a walk in 3.1 scoreless innings. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here’s the rest of the news from Spring Training:

This is the open thread for the evening. MLB Network is showing Puerto Rico vs. the Didi-less Netherlands live at 9pm ET tonight. The winner will play in Wednesday’s WBC Championship Game. The loser goes home. The Knicks are playing and there’s some NIT college basketball games on too. Talk about anything here aside from religion or politics.