Reviewing Yankee Stadium’s new features

More food, more fun? (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
More food, more fun?
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

On Tuesday, the Yankees gave media members, including yours truly, a tour of the new features of Yankee Stadium and a tasting of the new menu items coming to the ballpark starting on Monday. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it.

Above the Bullpens

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
View from Toyota Terrace area in right field (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

The biggest thing to happen to the stadium this offseason was easily the ripping out of the bleacher seats closest to the centerfield batter’s eye. Many of the seats were obstructed view and the organization decided to go for more areas to socialize and walk around rather than need these seats, which were among the cheapest at the park.

What replaced it are multiple rows of standing room with table tops for food, bags, scorecards, etc in the Toyota Terrace (right field) and Frank’s RedHot Terrace (left field). It reminds me a lot of the area down the right field line at Progressive Field in Cleveland if you’ve ever visited that park. The first of these rows gets a really nice view of the bullpen, just like the old bleacher seats did, which makes it a prime spot to get to, whether you want to watch the Yankees’ guys warmup or to heckle the opposing relievers, if that’s something in which you’d like to partake.

If you’re further back in the terraces, you’ll still deal with some obstructed view of the rest of the outfield, but this also won’t be your ticketed seat, so you’re not necessarily tied down to a poor view as some would be in the past.

Perhaps the best feature of this new area is outlets. Beautiful, wonderful electricity! I’m sure the Yankees got plenty of complaints about the lack of places to charge your phone and they delivered with an area where you can both watch the live game and plug in, whether via a normal outlet or USB. I imagine there may be a day where there’s some sort of plug near all seats at ballparks, but that’s probably way off in the future. This is a pretty cool step though.

The batter’s eye area itself, now called the Masterpass Batter’s Eye Deck, has been expanded with more open space, charging stations and food. The view over the drink railings in centerfield is very pretty. There’s also plenty of new food in the terraces with new structures that include a bar and open space next to the new standing room sections.

New Food!

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
New Lobel’s (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

I can’t say I’m a professional food critic, but I did have the opportunity to try a lot of the new food. There are signature foods to each new area, both the Masterpass deck and each terrace. The Frank’s RedHot Terrace in left field features the Yankee Dingers (which the chef joked were called that because they’re a real home run) and a sandwich with, you guessed it, Frank’s RedHot sauce. The Dingers are solid mini-burgers. Yay mini-burgers. The Toyota Terrace has four non-traditional kinds of baos. The vegetarian one, the cauliflower buffalo one, was a nice small treat.

The batter’s eye deck features new items, including a really tasty hand-pulled mozzarella sandwich. One of the better things I tried Tuesday.

Then, in section 134, there’s new Lobel’s food. I didn’t try their new burger/sandwich, which both appeared delicious, but I did go for their steak and potato fries. Those, seen above, look incredibly fattening but are really really good. Don’t know if the latter offsets the former, but hey, ballpark food!

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
Mighty Quinn’s (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

The highlight of the new food was probably the addition of Mighty Quinn’s and Bareburger in section 132 (left field). The BBQ Mighty Quinn’s is serving up is legit and I can’t recommend the brisket sandwich enough. Bareburger has both a solid sandwich called El Matador (it features bison!) and a quality turkey burger. There are also new Jersey Mike’s and Ben & Jerry’s spots located in assorted sections throughout the park.

As always, the price for each new food item will be key. Each of the new food items, even the ones I didn’t try, look appetizing, but the price — which we’ll find out on Monday — will decide whether they are worthwhile fanfare. The tour emphasized that all of the food will be available to anyone going to the park and so it will depend not on your ticket but on your wallet whether you can go for the new treats.

Kid’s Clubhouse

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

Whether it’s with the Legends Seats restricting the ability of young fans to get autographs/interact with players or just the general vibe at times from the stadium, there was a feeling that the stadium isn’t kid/family friendly enough. That may still be true, but the team has taken a step towards fixing that with the creation of the Sunrun Kid’s Clubhouse (yes, there’s a corporate name on all of these new areas).

The space, which is on the first-base side of the 300 level, is 2,800 square feet or so of space for young children. A spot to throw wiffle balls at a player. A mock field. Essentially, a baseball-themed playground for young kids. There’s also a mother’s nursing station there, too.

It’s a good step for the park. There’s plenty of times where the Yankees seem to take themselves too seriously, but this area was most reminiscent of similar constructs at minor league parks. You’re not going to sustain a fanbase without young fans and there has to be a way to keep them entertained at the park. Not everyone is a crazy baseball fanatic from age three onwards.

AT&T Sports Lounge/Budweiser Party Decks

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

I’ll group these together because they’re both new areas featuring a bar and tables/seats near the normal concession area. The AT&T sports lounge in section 134 has plenty of large screen TVs that will be tuned to Yankees and non-Yankees games going on. It’s right next to all the new food selections, so it could be an area to sit and each.

Meanwhile, the Budweiser Party Decks are on the first base and third base sides of the 300 level. Some of the carts on the 300 level create these two stand-alone bars. Once again, more gathering areas. That definitely seems like it was a mandate from up above to create and this version of the stadium certainly has more than when originally constructed.

The new seating/standing room areas were certainly well designed and I expect them to be sought-after places to meet in the park. Whether someone buys the new Pinstripe Pass or has a regular seated ticket, they should be nice, particularly if you’re towards the front of the terrace area. The kid’s clubhouse and the assorted charging stations show that the team is at least making an effort to listen to fans, so it will be interesting to see the reception to those new amenities. If you get to the park this season, make sure to try these out and form your own opinions.

(Here are all my photos from yesterday’s trip to Yankee Stadium.)

Why Chris Carter should be the Yankees starting shortstop

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

The headline drew you in, didn’t it?

The Yankees were almost faced with a situation where someone, either Chris Carter, Austin Romine or Aaron Hicks, was going to have to play second base if they tied it up on Sunday. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it.

But it could actually be quite logical to start Chris Carter, a guy who is basically confined to first base, at shortstop… and bat him lead off.

No, I’m not crazy. This is an old Earl Weaver trick that can only be used on the road and only with a sufficient roster. Here’s how it works:

1. Carter isn’t actually going to play the field: Basically, you would have Carter lead off the top of the first inning in the lineup card as the shortstop. He’d take his turn at the plate. If you’re having a really good day, he might even get two plate appearances. And then you put Ronald Torreyes or Pete Kozma in as the shortstop for the bottom of the first. The lineup will then be the same as it is normally, just with the nine hitter as the leadoff guy and everyone moved down a spot.

With this scenario, you guarantee that you’ll get a better hitter an at-bat. You probably don’t want to do it with Didi Gregorius because he can actually hit. However, with him out, why not give an AB to Carter (or Aaron Hicks, who works just fine here too) over Torreyes? You can still pinch hit for them later with whoever is left on your bench in case you have a situation like Sunday’s ninth inning.

2. This can cause some clubhouse turmoil: When Weaver would do this back in the mid-1970s, it led to Royle Stillman, a left-handed hitting outfielder, as the team’s shortstop (as well as others). Personally, I love the concept of a lefty shortstop, even if it’s in name only. And Stillman was 3 for 6 in the role. However, Weaver also acknowledged in his book, “Weaver on Strategy,” that his sure-handed shortstop Mark Belanger was annoyed by the move. Sure, it makes perfect baseball sense, but it also is forcing a hitter like Belanger to see that he is an inferior hitter in his manager’s mind. That can really toy with a guy’s mind and may not be worth it from that standpoint.

3. The Yankees would have to re-tool their bench: This move eliminates your best pinch hitter (or one of them) and you lose one of your 13 position players off the bat. Therefore, it really only works if you have more position players on the roster. Weaver only pulled this trick in September with expanded rosters.

But the Yankees actually have an opportunity for that now. They have eight relievers for the time being, until a fifth starter is needed on April 16. That means they can easily afford to send someone down and call up another hitter. This would give the team more flexibility in general, but also enough room to use this ‘Carter at SS’ move.

Heck, it doesn’t even have to be Carter. On the 40-man, you could call up someone like Mason Williams, Rob Refsnyder or Kyle Higashioka and let them be the team’s shortstop in name only. That way, you save Carter for a late-game situation that may never come but could be a more valuable use of his power bat. Carter has never led off a game, as you may have guessed, so you don’t know if he’s even comfortable doing so.

(Getty Images)
A leadoff dinger would be fun. (Getty Images)

4. Lineup considerations: The other thing to consider is that with Matt Holliday at DH, Carter is your only backup first baseman unless you’re willing to have your pitcher hit or use your backup catcher (Romine). Therefore, you’d have to call up a backup first baseman (Refsnyder) or a backup catcher (Higashioka). You could also better do this move with Holliday getting a day off while you play all four of your outfielders with one as your DH. This way, Holliday is your emergency 1B or corner outfielder. Maybe you have Williams up as insurance for the outfield. Either way, this would probably be the optimal idea to pull this off.

I write this post acknowledging that the concept I’m suggesting will probably not be put into place. Beyond the simple thinning of your roster, it would cause a stir in the media. Girardi would be skewered if Carter made an out or Torreyes was forced to bat in a big situation late in the game. That’s the risk of this concept and you have to be someone that doesn’t care about how it will be received in order to actually put it in motion. I don’t blame Girardi if he doesn’t even consider this because really, what other current manager would even think about doing this? Maybe Joe Maddon or Buck Showalter? Buck, being in Baltimore, would be fitting to try it out.

But I will keep on dreaming of a world where some road PA announcer has to belt out, “Leading off, the shortstop, Chris Carter.”

The pitfalls of recent rookies in the Yankees rotation

Hughes (Getty Images)
Hughes (Getty Images)

You don’t have to look far into the past to the last time the Yankees put a young starter in its opening day rotation. That is, of course, because Luis Severino – all of 22 years old at the time – made the Yankees’ rotation in 2016. It didn’t … well, it didn’t go all that great for him. He was in Triple A by mid-May and bounced between the minors, the major league rotation and the bullpen, where he was quite effective.

But you have to travel a little bit further back before then to the last time a true rookie made the Yankees’ rotation out of spring training. Ivan Nova did so in 2011 and Ian Kennedy did so in 2008. Because this has happened so few times in the last decade, I thought it might make sense to look back at these past examples for a glimpse into what the Yankees’ immediate future might look like.

After all, Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green are on the cusp of pulling off that feat this year. A fellow young starter in Severino claimed the other spot in the rotation. Therefore, in the Kennedy example, I’ll group in Phil Hughes, who had eclipsed the rookie limits in ’07 but was even younger in April of ’08 than Severino on opening day last season.

Let the look back begin.

2008

(Getty Images)
Kennedy (Getty Images)

’08 seems like the perfect reference point to the present day. The Yankees had two rotation spots open behind Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang and they were Hughes and Kennedy’s spots to take, which they proceeded to do.

The Yankees’ current wave of optimism about its prospects comes primarily from its hitting, but at that time, it was because of the pitching. It’s really hard to emphasize just how excited fans (and the team) were about its pitching prospects. The team has three former first-round picks (add in Joba Chamberlain) that had shown glimpses of promise and seemed destined to be the team’s star starters/relievers.

Kennedy wasn’t a top of the rotation talent necessarily and Hughes was coming off a season with a hamstring injury, so there was some concern. However, Kennedy has impressed and Hughes had just won a playoff game. Of course these guys were going to hit the ground running. There was no way both would fall flat in their big opportunity.

Or, I guess there was. Hughes had six starts, no wins, and a 9.00 ERA in April. He didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in four of those starts. After his last start went on the disabled list with a cracked rib and wouldn’t appear in the majors again until September.

Kennedy’s start to the season went just as poorly. In nine appearances (eight starts) through the end of May, he went 0-3 with a 7.41 ERA. He only completed five innings a total of four times. In his first start, he gave up six runs and got just seven outs.

Perhaps the most disappointing moment happened when he resurfaced in the majors in August. He came up from the minors to replace an injured Chamberlain (Save the Big 3!) and gave up five runs in two innings to the Angels. He told reporters after the game he wasn’t too upset with the way he pitched, which angered many in his own clubhouse. It made some question, rightly or wrongly, whether he had the best mindset to make it through a major league season.

2011

(Getty Images)
Nova in the 2011 ALDS (Getty Images)

The failures of Kennedy and Hughes are a pretty sharp contrast to what happened for Ivan Nova. Nova was in no way the prospect that the duo were, to the point where he was claimed in the Rule 5 Draft by the Padres in 2008. He pitched in 10 games (42 innings) in 2010 and was fine. A 4.50 ERA, a low strikeout rate, but strong groundball numbers.

And at age 24 in ’11, he made the rotation. The Yankees had lost a few starters from the year prior and Nova was solid enough in the spring to earn the spot.

From there, he ran with it. He had some bad starts here and there, but for the most part would always complete five innings. He had a 5.82 ERA after April, but it went down every single month after that, culminating in a 3.70 ERA over 165 1/3 innings.

He really hit his stride over the last four months. He won his last 12 decisions, made it through five innings in each of his last 17 starts and made it through at least six in 13 of them. He didn’t allow more than four earned runs in an appearance after Apr. 15.

What are the takeaways from that? First off, it’s really important for Montgomery or Green to avoid a slow start. Getting off to even one solid appearance to begin the season will go a long way to finding one’s rhythm. They have a buffer of not needing to start until Apr. 16 in the majors, but Severino will need to go beginning with the Yankees’ second series against a solid Baltimore lineup. Staying healthy will also help because who knows if Hughes could have turned things around if he’d only stayed healthy. Heck, that’s probably a common refrain for his early Yankees’ tenure.

Nova excelled in part because he avoided bad innings, keeping teams from knocking him out quickly. If a young starter can complete five innings, it goes a long way. Whether it’s Severino or Montgomery or whomever, it won’t necessarily be all about their strikeout rate or how many people they walk. Nova struck out few and walked a ton in his first month in ’08. Those things are still important, but we also need to wait for a definitive sample size.

Therefore, it’s important to put process over results for a little while, preach some patience for these young starters. Not many pitchers have a clean beginning to their first big opportunity and it will likely take a while before these guys can establish themselves in the majors, if they even truly do.

Brian Cashman and the 2017 trade deadline [2017 Season Preview]

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Welcome to another contract year for Brian Cashman.

Don’t worry: Cashman has enough job security that he isn’t about to trade the farm for some short-sighted fix that harms the Yankees’ future. He’s acquitted himself quite well over the last two decades and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the job right now. It doesn’t hurt that he has a healthy relationship with the Steinbrenner family and Hal in particular.

But this season won’t be without some drama for the 49-year-old general manager. There are two scenarios: the good and the bad, both coming with certain pitfalls and questions with which to deal come the trade deadline. Let’s dive in.

If the Yankees are winning…

This situation doesn’t pose problems so much as it forces choices. If the Yankees are middling at the deadline (near .500 like last year), then the Yankees may make a few minor moves, but they wouldn’t be about to trade away a boatload of prospects, particularly for a short-term asset. However, if the Yankees are able to get off to a positive start and build momentum towards the All-Star break, Cashman will be in a strong position to be a buyer.

It’s been a minute since the Yankees were really significant buyers at the break, but it’s been even longer since the team has had such a strong prospect core. The last time the Yankees’ farm system was booming like the present came before Cashman was in charge. Ideally, you want to see this group of prospects come to the majors and be the foundation for future success. But many prospects fail and sometimes you’re better off trading them before they’re exposed to the majors.

Mike brought up the upcoming 40-man roster crunch and that incentivizes a significant buying effort if the team’s major league success calls for it. What better way to solve the 40-man roster crunch than trade players on the 40-man or who need to be added after the season for 1-2 marquee players?

Identifying and prying those players in the right deal will be tough, but man, wouldn’t trading some prospects for Jose Quintana be a pretty sweet boost for the pennant race? Quintana may be an Astro by then, but that won’t limit the Yankees from being players in the trade market. The team could stand to upgrade multiple rotation spots mid-season, maybe even add a reliever. Plus there are always injuries that come up and force a creative solution to an unforeseen problem. No one thought the Yankees would have needed Bobby Abreu at the start of 2006, but Gary Sheffield was hurt and Cashman pounced at adding the high-OBP right fielder with multiple years of control. The Yankees could have a position of weakness pop up that we don’t expect.

The team has to balance the option to buy at the deadline with the plan to get under the luxury tax after next season in preparation for the robust free agent winter of 2018-19. The luxury tax for the 2018 season will be $197 million, but there is also a 50 percent tax for repeat offenders, which the Yankees certainly are until they can get under. Cashman utilized what was left in ownership’s budget for this season on Chris Carter‘s deal, so anything adding money would receive extra scrutiny from ownership. This will need special consideration if there is significant money added to the payroll beyond this season.

If the Yankees are losing…

This is what selling did to Cashman last time. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
This is what selling did to Cashman last time. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

This is where there are going to be some potential problems. If the Yankees are under .500 and hovering near the cellar of the AL East in July, the most obvious solution would be to sell. Give up on expiring assets that you don’t want to potentially retain and add to an already substantial farm system. It worked pretty darn well last season.

However, it’s not that simple. The team is not giving up on this season easily and refusing to call it’s current situation a rebuild: It’s a transition and one in which the team wants to be competitive. It’s understandable, too: The team wants to win games to keep fans in the seats.

So convincing ownership to sell for a second consecutive season is tough. On top of that, Cashman made two pretty remarkable deals for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but unless the team wants to trade Dellin Betances, it’s harder to see any one player getting that large a return. Matt Holliday could fetch a minor piece or two. Michael Pineda could be dealt for a return similar to Ivan Nova. Brett Gardner could be attractive. Masahiro Tanaka is where it gets interesting, but his buy-out and elbow create complications.

All of this is to say another sell-it-all summer is unlikely. The team has enough expiring contracts (CC Sabathia, A-Rod, Holliday and possibly Tanaka) to get the payroll underneath the tax next season, but that would also involve relying even further on the young core or bringing in cheap replacements in free agency.

It’s pretty obvious that one hopes for the first scenario. It’s a lot cleaner and likely portends for future success as well, something Cashman has built towards with a tear down in 2016. It’s unlikely we see a repeat of that but ninja Cashman could come out and surprise. The Yankees’ front office often strikes when least expected. Expectations may be slightly less for the Yankees this season, but the job ahead is the same: Look for potential trades, scout for next season’s free agency and prepare for June’s draft.

Joe Girardi and the coaching staff [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

New year, same coaching staff. For the first time in a little while, the Yankees didn’t tinker with the staff surrounding Joe Girardi and will go into their second straight season with the same coaches.

That means Larry Rothschild is still the pitching coach, Alan Cockrell and Marcus Thames handle the hitters, Mike Harkey is the bullpen coach, Tony Pena and Joe Espada man the bases and Rob Thomson returns as the bench coach.

This doesn’t mean the job will be easy for these guys just because they remain in their roles. Each of them may have their most challenging job yet with the Yankees promoting their youth throughout the roster.

Joe Girardi

Girardi is entering his 10th season as the Yankees manager. Only two managers — Mike Scioscia with the Angels and Bruce Bochy of the Giants — have been in their current jobs longer than Girardi, who was hired in October of 2007. Stability hasn’t always been a trademark for Yankees’ coaches, but this is the second straight manager to last at least a decade. Not bad.

This is a contract year for Girardi: his four-year deal ends after the season. As in past years, the team isn’t going to extend him early, which will lead to plenty of speculation that the Yankees will move on at manager. That seems unlikely: the Steinbrenners appear to be happy with Girardi’s performance thus far and that’s for good reason. Girardi has been solid as manager. Still, that storyline will play out this season, especially if the team gets out of the gates slow.

In his 10th season, Girardi has perhaps his toughest days ahead of him. In the past, he’s been surrounded by veteran players who know the “Yankee way” and can indoctrinate the few young players moving onto the roster. But now Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are all gone in one fell swoop. The Baby Bomber movement has taken over with plenty of rookies, or at least inexperienced, players taking key spots on the roster. Girardi’s main job is making sure that all gels in the clubhouse.

He has some veteran help with Matt Holliday‘s addition or the continued presence of guys like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and co., but it’s still a challenge. For Girardi (and I guess Thomson), making sure inexperience doesn’t topple this team will be paramount to success. The one positive of having a younger roster is a lot less rest needed all around. Starlin Castro, for example, has played 151 games or more in five of the last six seasons. Fewer achy vets like A-Rod and Tex means more days with the team’s optimal lineup, whatever that may be.

Another change to the job will be instant replay. MLB has mandated that teams are quicker in requesting replays this season, so there will be less of the manager holding up play while the team’s replay people check it out. The Yankees’ guy, Brett Weber,  will have a tougher job this year (NY Times profiled him last year) and the team may need Girardi to go with his gut on challenges. The Yankees were the second-best team at getting calls overturned percentage-wise last year (Royals), but they also requested the fewest challenges (just 28). Maybe Girardi takes more chances with it and risks being quite as efficient in 2017.

Finally, Girardi’s job comes down to the bullpen. He once again has a strong back-end with Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. I expect Chapman will have the 9th, Betances usually just the 8th and Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren would then be dispensed for the middle innings along with maybe Ernesto Frieri? Don’t forget Tommy Layne as a LOOGY! Girardi loves to get the platoon advantage.

And that’s not a knock on Girardi. His bullpen management is his best trait and is likely why the Yankees consistently outperform their Pythagorean record. He both has strong relievers to utilize and then actually utilizes them well. I don’t expect anything different in 2017.

Hitting, hitting and more hitting

Cockrell and Thames return, but many of their disciples do not. The two have been handed some interesting projects this season. They won’t have to worry too much about the veterans like Matt Holliday. Instead, they’ll have to work with 6-foot-7 rookie Aaron Judge to keep his strikeouts down or with Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez to make sure their rookie performances aren’t just mirages.

It’s tough to ever pinpoint exactly where a hitting coach makes his mark — best example for the Yanks in recent memory is Kevin Long working to correct Curtis Granderson‘s swing in the summer of 2010 — but any breakouts this year could come from Cockrell and Thames’ tutelage. Let’s hope they can make plenty happen.

Handling the pitching

(Getty Images)
Rothschild and Tanaka (Getty Images)

This season will be Rothschild’s seventh with the Yankees. Wow, feels like it’s been fewer but then you remember him working with big Bart in 2011 and others in the early 2010s. For the most part, Rothschild doesn’t have a new pitcher to work with this season. There are three veterans returning to the rotation, most of the bullpen was there at some point last season and even the guys fighting for the last rotation spot have big league experience (except Jordan Montgomery).

Rothschild will be judged on his ability to coax some solid seasons out of those back-end starters. Whether it’s Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino or Chad Green and Montgomery, there’s a lot of work ahead for the Yankees’ pitching guru. Rothschild has been known to get pitchers to increase strikeout totals, but getting a guy like Severino or Mitchell to improve their command will be much tougher. It isn’t even necessarily on Rothschild if they fail. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes with young pitchers.

And the rest

What can you really say about the rest of the staff? If you have a hard time accessing the performances of the hitting and pitching coaches, it’s even tougher with the bench or bullpen coach. Harkey begins the second season of his second stint with the Yankees. Seems like he never left for the desert, eh?

Meanwhile, Thomson has been with the Yankees since Girardi came aboard and has been the bench coach in two stints sandwiched around his time as the third-base coach. The bench coach seems like both another person for the manager to bounce ideas off of and another voice to work with the 25 personalities populating the Yankees’ clubhouse. Either way, Thomson has been solid enough in his role to stick around for 10 years.

Tony Pena has been here even longer. This will be his 12th season as a Yankees coach, now the first base coach after fulfilling other roles under Girardi and Joe Torre. Pena seemed to do a solid job as the Dominican Republic’s manager during the WBC and one has to wonder if he’ll be in consideration for another managerial gig (previously with the Royals) in the near future. Pena has a new full-time guy in Sanchez to work with behind the plate, which surely has him excited.

And then there’s Espada. He’s been perfectly fine as the third base coach. Like anyone in that position, he gets a ton of notice when he makes a bad send but otherwise has been left alone. He served a similar role for Puerto Rico at the WBC. If anything has changed for him, it’s that there are fewer base-clogging veterans like McCann or Teixeira and maybe a little more speed in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. Not much, but some. May be to Espada’s advantage in sending runners.

Going beyond the top relievers [2017 Season Preview]

(Gett Images)
Layne. (Getty Images)

Over the last few days, we’ve covered the four key cogs in the Yankees’ bullpen machine: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard. If healthy, each will take up the main roles in Joe Girardi‘s ‘pen and be called upon for the most important innings this season.

But the bullpen features far more than four guys. There will be at least seven on opening day. The Yankees had 20 different relievers pitch in at least one game last season. They had 26 the year before (24 if you take out position players).

So let’s take a look at the rest of the bullpen. Chances are, far more than the guys listed below will log time in relief, but these are the ones that jump out with a chance right now.

The veteran pick-up

Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frieri. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Last week, the Yankees added Ernesto Frieri on a minor league deal. Frieri didn’t pitch at all in 2016 after an awful spring with the Phillies, but he played for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. While there, he tossed two shutout innings against the Dominican Republic, even striking out Nelson Cruz.

Frieri, just 31 years old, was a pretty solid reliever from 2010-13, highlighted by a 2.32 ERA and 23 saves with the Padres and Angels in 2012. However, he was barely usable in 2014-15 with the Angels, Pirates and Rays with his ERA ballooning as high as 7.34 in 2014. At his best, he utilizes his mid-90s fastball to get hitters out, mixing in a slider and the occasional change or curve.

He’s a real wild card for the Yankees’ pen. There’s a solid chance he’ll make the team (seven batters into spring, he has six strikeouts and one HR allowed) but what he does from there is anyone’s guess. His velocity seems to have returned after falling a bit in 2014-15 and could be the secret to an improved Frieri.

The lefties

Girardi loves his southpaws, so one has to figure there will be at least one on the roster at all times, if not two. That’s not including Chapman, who won’t be used as a matchup lefty and is the definitive closer.

First up is Tommy Layne. Layne, 32, is a classic LOOGY, much better against lefties than righties. He tosses a lot variations of fastballs alongside a slider and curveball to produce some strikeouts. He was perfectly fine in 29 games for the Yankees in 2016 and it’s not outlandish to expect him to have another mid-3.00 ERA with a few too many walks and struggles against righties. Again, classic LOOGY.

Behind him lie a few different options, namely Chasen Shreve and Jon Niese. Niese, 30, has started most of his career and has succeeded at primarily keeping the ball on the ground. He’d provide a solid option as both another lefty and as a long man, two roles Girardi has said he sees Niese filling. He is coming back from a knee injury that he struggled with last season, so a healthy Niese would be an interesting piece.

We all know about Shreve. He was dominant for a couple months in 2015 with his low-90s fastball and changeup before becoming a liability late in ’15 and shuffling between the bullpen and the minors in 2016. The 26-year-old southpaw isn’t a LOOGY with the changeup as an out-pitch, but hitters appeared to figure out his off-speed offerings over the last couple seasons.

Two pitchers who reached Triple A last season are also in the mix for roles this summer, if not earlier. Jordan Montgomery and Dietrich Enns each played roles in Scranton’s success last fall and looked solid in Double A Trenton before that. Enns was added to the 40-man roster this winter. Lefties hit Enns slightly better than righties last season and the soft-tossing southpaw may not be best suited for a role as a LOOGY.

Montgomery — who is potentially in play for a spot in the rotation on opening day, let alone a relief spot — isn’t on the 40-man roster yet. Similar to Enns, Montgomery had a reverse split last year, although neither lefties or righties hit him well. He throws from a high arm slot and has a solid change-up and would be a solid long reliever if he isn’t a starter.

Righties with a taste

Heller (Getty Images)
Heller. (Getty Images)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder got chances last September to help the Yankees bullpen and neither particularly impressed. Heller, a 25 year old who came over in the Andrew Miller trade, throws in the upper 90s with his fastball and mixes in an effective slider. Despite his 6.43 ERA in seven big league innings, he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on because he has the stuff to be effective. He’s posted strong strikeout numbers everywhere in the minors, solid enough to mask occasional issues with walks. I’d expect him to be one of the first relievers called up this spring, if not someone on the roster opening day after a lights-out spring (one run, 8 ks in 9 2/3 innings with 6 BB).

Like Heller, Holder couldn’t seem to have his strikeout numbers translate in his short big league stint (8 1/3 innings). He also uncharacteristically struggled with control. Still, his fantastic strikeout rates (101 Ks in 65 1/3 innings last year over three levels) are the reason he was added to the 40-man roster early at 23 years old. He’s likely behind Heller but still a solid option this spring/summer.

Long man

The Yankees’ have a series of young pitchers competing for the final rotation spots right now and only two will walk away with said spots. Therefore, the rest will be relegated to Triple A or to spots in the bullpen. Frieri’s addition to the team makes it less likely the team brings two of those losing out north — or actually south 20 miles from Steinbrenner Field to Tropicana Field — for opening day.

Still, there is likely one spot, if not two, for those who lose out. Let’s say Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell get the rotation spots. It’s easy to see Luis Cessa take the long-man role while Chad Green and Montgomery go to Triple A. The latter two would still be likely to see time in the majors and could be see it quickly considering the bullpen shuttle of recent years.

40-man roster and beyond

Barbato (Getty Images)
Barbato. (Getty Images)

There is a gaggle of relievers that got opportunities to show off their stuff this spring with the Yankees, way too many to go through in detail. Johnny Barbato and Gio Gallegos are both on the 40-man and closest to the majors.

Further down the 40-man, Yefrey Ramirez and Domingo German both have strikeout worthy stuff, but they’re starters at the moment and haven’t pitched above Single A. Ronald Herrera, acquired for Jose Pirela a couple years ago, has all of five innings above Double A.

Off the 40-man roster, it’s worth paying attention to a few names. Nick Rumbelow, outrighted off the 40, is coming off Tommy John surgery and once showed promise for a middle relief role. Joe Mantiply — a southpaw who was claimed off waivers, DFA’d and then re-signed to a minor league deal this winter — has solid strikeout rates in the minors but hasn’t thrown much above Double A. Finally, J.P Feyereisen was acquired in the Miller deal with Heller and co. and was solid as a fireman for Double A Trenton in the MiLB playoffs last year. Could be something down the road and I wouldn’t be shocked if he is seen in the majors for a stint this summer.

Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s opportunity?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Didi Gregorius‘ injury is unfortunate in every way, even if he may only miss a month of the season. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement and, much more importantly, a key cog of their future has to deal with an injury that can set him back after he made strides last season and hoped to bring into this season. Furthermore, Gregorius’ best tool is perhaps his arm strength and that could be affected by this injury.

As with every injury in sports, there is now an opportunity for someone else. As Mike detailed the other day and some reporters have indicated, the likeliest scenario is Starlin Castro, despite his prior experience at short, to stay at second while Ronald Torreyes and possibly Ruben Tejada or Pete Kozma take the load at short. This is a fine option, albeit with the lesser offensive (and likely defensive) production at shortstop. It’d be tough to imagine Tyler Wade or Gleyber Torres are quite ready for the job either (again, check out Mike’s piece on this).

There is another option, albeit one that guarantees lesser performance defensively and that is moving Castro to shortstop — he played just three games there last year — and handing the second base job to … Rob Refsnyder. The oft-talked of second baseman has been masquerading as a super utility player for the last year, but perhaps this is the opportunity he needs to prove himself, one way or another.

Joe Girardi talked about how the team sees him as that utility player, working all around the field. “I look at him at second, first, right and left, is how I look at Ref,” Girardi said to the Daily News. “Depending on what we do, that’s why I talked about he can play his way in, and if he’s an extra infielder and outfielder, whatever he is, then you might have to move Castro to play some short. If you give (Chase Headley) a day off and you move Torreyes over, then that would be Ref’s spot at second. Those are the different options we have.”

Is this the chance Refsnyder needs? Well, he’ll need to show some improvements to make it happen.

1. Refsnyder needs to show more at the plate

So far in his MLB career, Refsnyder has had all of 222 plate appearances. For all the talk of him taking over second base during the 2015 season, it would seem like he’d have taken more ABs, but alas, that is not the case. He hit quite well during his 47 PAs in 2015 (131 wRC+) but looked exposed in sporadic stints last season, batting just .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+).

As has been discussed on this website before, he needs to hit for power in order to make at the big league level. He actually had a .512 slugging percentage (.210 ISO) in 2015 and there was reason to believe he has some power potential. With Torreyes, you’re simply not going to get much power, but you’ll get plenty of contact. He hit .258/.305/.374 (81 wRC+) last season in 168 plate appearances and had an 11.9 percent strikeout rate compared to Refsnyder’s 17.1 percent mark.

Refsnyder does walk a bit more than Torreyes, but as detailed below, he’s enough of a negative defensively that he’ll need to more than make up for it at the plate for this experiment to be worth it. While spring stats are relatively meaningless, Refsnyder has struck out in 11 of 39 PAs while Torreyes has just two in 41 PAs. Refsnyder does have a better slash line this spring but neither has impressed with the bat.

2. How would it work defensively?

Losing Gregorius is a blow to the Yankees’ team defense. While defensive metrics were down on Didi last season, it’s likely that Gregorius would have been a defensive plus for the month or so he’ll now miss. Last season, Torreyes only played 99 innings at shortstop, his only time at short in his brief MLB career. He made one error in 11 starts there while UZR had him at -0.7 there (-15.9 UZR/150). Again, short sample size, hard to judge.

So what would happen if instead of Torreyes getting extended time at short, Castro shifted over and Refsnyder moved to second in his place? In Castro’s case, it could actually work out well. Castro has been seen as a definite negative in his 1,524 innings at second over the last two years with a -7.4 UZR. At shortstop, he’s been a minus in his career, albeit less so. He only played 20 innings there last season, but it is his natural position. He wasn’t particularly adept there (negative in DRS each season except 2012).

And then there’s Refsnyder. To be fair, he’s only played 147 MLB innings at second base, but they haven’t been pretty, either in terms of statistics or the eye test. He has a -3 DRS and -2.6 UZR in those innings and has been better, albeit in similarly small samples, at each other position he’s played in the majors. 1B, LF and RF are the ones he has more than an inning played (He actually graded out well in RF during 132 2/3 innings last year, if that’s worth anything). It’s also simply hard to forget how inept he looked at times during his stint at second in 2015. It seemed like a common announcer phrase during that time was “past a diving Refsnyder.”

All of this is to say that defensively, this pairing could be tough to stomach, hence why it’s so necessary that Refsnyder hit if he’s going to be anything more than a Quadruple A player.

3. Easy to change course

Putting Refsnyder in at second would be a perfect chance to see whether he sinks or swims at the big league level. He’d have the chance to know he’s starting every day for certain period and the team would see if he can produce with that comfort level. I have my doubts, but it’s an imperfect solution just like every other replacement for Gregorius.

If he didn’t perform after a few weeks, it’s easy to course correct. First of all, this is only temporary since Gregorius should miss only a month or so. With Torreyes on the roster, it’d also be simple enough to begin giving him the starts if the defensive minuses are too much or Refsnyder simply hack it at the plate.

The questions about Refsnyder can seem pretty glaring, but this would be a chance to answer them in a low cost scenario. It’s not like Torreyes will be much better with the bat. The worst case is that Refsnyder is so unpalatable at second that the team decides to send him back down to AAA quickly. In the best case, the Yankees find a suitable backup with restored promise for when Gregorius returns.