The Yankees keep saying CC Sabathia is not a lock for the rotation, but I don’t believe them

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon, in his second start of the spring, CC Sabathia was roughed up for three runs (two earned) on five hits, a walk, and a hit batsman in only 1.2 innings of work. His defense didn’t help matters — Sabathia himself made an error on a would-be inning-ending tapper back to the mound, then the inning snowballed — but there was still a lot of loud contact and two-strike foul balls.

It’s only Spring Training, so the actual results don’t hurt the team in any way. It was still discouraging to see Sabathia have the same problems — long at-bats, loud contact, inability to handle righties — that have plagued him the last two or three years. “I’m 35 years old. I’ve thrown a lot. We’re here trying to win, so it is what it is,” he said to Mark Feinsand after the game. “I’m just going out and getting work, getting ready. We’ll see what happens.”

Following the game Joe Girardi was inevitably asked whether Sabathia has a rotation spot locked up, and Girardi gave the same answer he gave all winter: “We’re going to take what we feel is the five best. Bottom line,” he said. If nothing else, that gives off the impression Sabathia is not guaranteed a rotation spot. Spring competition is a good thing, even among veterans. I just don’t buy it at all. Not for a second. For a few reasons.

Sabathia wasn’t one of their five best starters last year

It was pretty clear Sabathia was not one of the Yankees’ five best starters last season, yet when the time came to make room for Ivan Nova, it was Adam Warren who went to the bullpen. Warren is gone, meaning there’s even less competition for the fifth starter’s spot. It’s Sabathia vs. Nova, and Sabathia was better last season. Better ERA (4.73 to 5.07), better FIP (4.68 to 4.87), better strikeout rate (18.9% to 15.3%), better walk rate (6.9% to 8.0%).

There’s always a chance Nova’s performance will improve as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery. That’s the hope, anyway. At the same time, the Yankees and everyone else have expressed confidence in Sabathia’s new knee brace, especially since he pitched so well late last season. Point is, the Yankees showed last season they’re willing to stick with Sabathia. Actions speak louder than words, and when they needed to open a rotation spot last year, they sent a more effective pitcher to the bullpen and kept running Sabathia out there every fifth day.

Sabathia might actually be one of their five best starters this year

Here’s a not so fun twist: Sabathia just might be one of the five best starters in the organization right now. ZiPS prefers Nova to Sabathia (0.9 to 0.2 WAR), but both Steamer (1.6 to 0.8 WAR) and PECOTA (0.9 to 0.5 WARP) prefer Sabathia. And again, Sabathia out-pitched Nova last year, and Warren is no longer around as proven depth. Bryan Mitchell is likely next in line for a rotation spot. You don’t have to try real hard to envision a scenario in which Sabathia out-pitches both Nova and Mitchell in 2016.

$25M

That’s how much the Yankees owe Sabathia this season. That’s not reliever money. It’s ace starter money, and while Sabathia is no longer an ace, not too many owners would be happen marginalizing a player with that kind of salary. I’m sure the money was part of the reason Sabathia remained in the rotation last year. The Yankees want to get their money’s worth.

If nothing else, the money is a tiebreaker. When the final rotation spot comes down to one guy making $25M and another guy making $4.1M (Nova), and you’re not confident in either being even league average, the dude making $25M is going to get the job. Sabathia is a sunk cost. The Yankees owe him that money no matter what, but chances are they’re going to want to try to salvage the investment as much as possible.

The Yankees don’t base major decisions on Spring Training

I can’t remember the last time the Yankees based a major decision on Spring Training. They’ll use it to sort out bench spots or the final few bullpen spots, that sort of thing, but a major decision like a rotation spot? Nope. They tend to go into Spring Training with everything planned out and adjust only if necessary due to injury or a trade, something like that.

That’s smart. Spring Training is a terrible time to make decisions. We see it each and every year. A player comes in, wins a roster spot with a strong showing in March, then reverts back to his previous self in the regular season. The reverse is true as well. A player struggles in camp then rights the ship in the regular season. There are way too many variables in Spring Training — sample size, the caliber of competition, players working on things, etc. — to take performance seriously.

The Yankees have a history of saying a spot is up for grabs when it really isn’t, and this feels exactly like that. Girardi saying they’re “going to take what we feel is the five best” is as much about motivating Nova as it is letting Sabathia know they need him to pitch better. In the end, everything the Yankees have done the last few years points to Sabathia getting a rotation spot over Nova. The only way I see CC not being in the rotation this summer is injury.

Tipping pitches a possible but unlikely reason for Chasen Shreve’s struggles at the end of 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Chasen Shreve was very good last season. And then he was very bad. For the first four and a half months of the season he was truly outstanding, giving Joe Girardi a very good fourth option in the bullpen. Then it all fell apart in the middle of the August. Shreve allowed ten runs on 21 hits (five homers!) and 14 walks in his final 12.2 innings of 2015. Yuck.

There is no shortage of theories why Shreve struggled so much late in the season. He was fatigued. The league caught up to him. It was all bad luck. Everyone has a theory and no one knows if they’re actually right. Lately the idea Shreve was tipping his pitches has gotten some press — Joel Sherman wrote about it (twice) and Ryan Hatch asked Larry Rothschild about it — and that’s as good a theory as any.

Shreve is a three-pitch pitcher but his fastball and splitter are his main weapons. He does throw a slider too, just not very often. It’s a surprise pitch, basically. Not a real weapon. Shreve uses his fastball to set up his splitter and vice versa. Pretty simple formula. Here are some numbers:

Chasen Shreve FB SPL

What really stands out is how often Shreve threw his splitter in the zone in August and September (and October). The splitter is designed to finish out of the zone. The pitcher releases it, the batter reads fastball in the zone, starts his swing, then the pitch falls off the table. When thrown properly, the split might be the most devastating pitch in the sport.

For whatever reason Shreve threw a lot of splitters in the zone at the end of the season, and that’s not where the pitch is supposed to be. That suggests a mechanical issue, or maybe fatigue, but tipping pitches? I’m not sure it jibes with that. When a pitcher tips his pitches, he tells the hitter what is coming, not where it’s coming. And even if he did tell them where it was coming, it requires a lot of skill to actually throw it there. Command is hard.

For the sake of thoroughness, here are two GIFs of Shreve from October, in the second to last game of the season. The pitch on the right is a fastball and the pitch on a left is a splitter. If you can spot some sort of difference in his set position or delivery that may be tipping the pitch to the hitter, you’re better at this than I am.

Chasen Shreve FB SPLT

Shreve missed his spot with both pitches though not necessarily in a bad way; he got the fastball a little too far inside and the splitter finished down in the dirt. He didn’t miss out over the plate. Of course, this is a sample of two pitches. Shreve did a lot of missing over the plate down the stretch.

Rothschild told Hatch he believes Shreve simply wore down last season, though that could be pitching coach speak for “I’m not telling you anything.” It’s certainly possible he was tipping his pitches. You can never rule it out, but it often feels like crying wolf. Every time a pitcher struggles unexpectedly, oh well he must be tipping his pitches. We hear it constantly.

Fatigue does seem like the most logical explanation. I don’t think Shreve got lucky for four and a half months then it all caught up to him. He didn’t get bad overnight. Shreve likely wore down, which threw his mechanics out of whack and resulted in poor location, hence all the extra splitters in the zone. He couldn’t get the same finish on the pitch. Fatigue would be the cleanest explanation. An offseason of rest and he’s as good as new.

The real Chasen Shreve is probably somewhere between the awesome pitcher he was from April through mid-August and the bad pitcher he was from mid-August through the end of the season. It’s up to Shreve and Rothschild to figure out what happened. For now, Shreve’s performance most of last season earned him some rope, and I think he’s got a leg up on one of those open bullpen spots.

Healthy Ivan Nova could help the Yankees as a depth arm in his contract year

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By any objective measure, the last two seasons have been a disaster for Ivan Nova. He was limited to 21 starts and 114.2 innings from 2014-15, his age 27-28 seasons, because of Tommy John surgery, and during those 114.2 innings he had a 5.65 ERA (5.24 FIP). Obviously the surgery and performance are related to some degree. Nova wasn’t healthy in 2014 and he was shaking off the rust in 2015.

Nova, now 29, reported to Spring Training last week as the sixth starter on the depth chart. Brian Cashman all but confirmed whoever doesn’t win a rotation job in camp will be the long man to start the season, and right now Nova is that guy. Being the sixth starter stinks, but it’s not all bad. Inevitably the Yankees are going to need a sixth starter. Last season 25 of the 30 teams had six starters make at least ten starts.

Regardless of role, the 2016 season is huge for Nova on a personal level because it’s his contract year, and I’m sure he wants that Ian Kennedy money next winter. Baseball pays very well, but, relatively speaking, Nova has not yet cashed in big. He received an $80,000 bonus as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic, made next to nothing in minors, and will earn a total of $8.2M or so during his six years of team control.

“He’s getting ready for his free-agent walk year. If there’s going to be a time for him to put his best foot forward, if he’s on a salary drive, this would be the year for it. Hopefully we’ll benefit from it,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty earlier this month. Money is a great motivator and baseball players are human. Of course they put forth their very best effort in their contract years. There’s no reason to think Nova will be any different.

Nova does not have a rotation spot at the moment, though I figure that opportunity will come in time. What he does have going for him is health, at least to the extent any pitcher can have health in their favor. Nova will open the season roughly 23 months out from Tommy John surgery, and typically it takes pitchers a few months to get all the way back from elbow reconstruction. Everyone is different of course, but many need a little time to get back to normal.

“We felt that we would see a different guy this year. I was impressed with his bullpen today. I saw an arm that was very quick, probably better than any point we saw last year. I think the time off really helped him and you will see a different guy,” said Joe Girardi to George King yesterday. The other day Nova himself told Chad Jennings his arm feels “lighter” this spring than it did last season.

Even before the Tommy John surgery, Nova was unpredictable and his career had a lot of ups and downs. He had a 3.70 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 165.1 innings in 2011. Then he had a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 170.1 innings in 2012. And then he had a 3.10 ERA (3.47 FIP) in 139.1 innings in 2013. It was impossible to know which Nova would show up start to start, nevermind year to year. Like lots of other young pitchers, Nova’s performance was volatile.

The Yankees spent much of the offseason exploring trades for Nova despite their questionable rotation depth, and I don’t blame them. It’s hard to count on him to be reliable and it’s possible the team will lose him to free agency for nothing next offseason. That said, I do think keeping Nova was a smart move. No one blew the Yankees away with an offer and Ivan figures to be more valuable to the team as a depth arm than any middling prospect he’d return in a deal.

Given his history, it’s easy to be skeptical of Nova’s ability to help the Yankees in 2016. I’d be lying if I said I was confident he’ll be a valuable member of the staff. I do know the Yankees are almost certainly going to need him to step in to make some starts at some point, and that alone makes him pretty important. That he’s further removed from Tommy John surgery and presumably motivated by his upcoming free agency at least gives us some reason to think Nova will be able to perform much better this season than he did last.

Keeping the slider down can help Severino get to the next level in 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees currently have six starters for five rotation spots, yet of the five, only Luis Severino did not miss time with an injury last season. The 22-year-old came up in August and made eleven mostly excellent starts, and now he’s slated to be a full-time member of the rotation in 2016. That’s exciting. The Yankees haven’t had a young MLB pitcher this promising in almost a decade.

Severino is still just a kid of course, and inevitably there will be growing pains at some point. That’s just the way it is. Hitters will adjust to him and he’ll have to adjust back, and then they’ll do it all over again, hopefully for years and years and years. Severino had a 2.89 ERA (137 ERA+) in his 62.1 innings last year, but his 1.3 HR/9 and 4.37 FIP show there is room for improvement.

“Oh, he could get better. The consistency of his pitches. The command of his fastball. And all of that will happen has he smooths out his delivery, which it seems like he has quite a bit,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Brendan Kuty. Severino flew through the minors — he made 65 starts and threw 320.2 innings in the minors, which is nothing — so of course he’s going to have to work on consistency and things like that.

Severino came to the big leagues billed as a three-pitch pitcher and we saw exactly that last year. He’s got a lively fastball, a promising slider, and a changeup that fell off the table when he threw it properly. Looking over the PitchFX data, there are plenty of positives to take from last season (MLB averages in parentheses).

% Thrown Avg. Velo. Whiff% GB%
Fastball 51.4% 95.8 (92.4) 8.2% (6.9%) 45.3% (37.9%)
Slider 34.1% 89.6 (84.2) 8.9% (15.2%) 58.1% (43.9%)
Changeup 14.6% 88.6 (83.3) 19.3% (14.9%) 63.2% (47.8%)

Almost all of that looks good. Severino throws all three pitches regularly and they all have well-above-average velocity, and they all get a lot of ground balls too. The fastball and changeup generated swings and misses at an above-average rate as well. The slider? Not so much.

The swing-and-miss rate on Severino’s slider was a real eyesore last season. It was far below the league average, which seems impossible after watching him live, but the numbers don’t lie. “His third pitch is a mid-80s slider thrown with power, which still takes a back seat to his fastball and changeup but projects as solid average when he’s finished developing,” said Baseball America (subs. req’d) in their scouting report prior to 2015.

The slider — specifically the ability to get whiffs with the slider — is something Severino could really improve going forward. Don’t take that as a knock. Severino was pretty awesome last season. Imagine how much more awesome he can be if he can start generating some more empty swings with his slider. He knows it’s something that can be improved too.

“My breaking stuff (can improve). Pounding the zone, throwing strikes. Getting down in the zone, throwing my breaking ball down in the zone,” said Severino to Kuty when asked about how he can get better going forward. Getting the ball down is always a good idea, and Severino ostensibly did a good job of that considering his overall ground ball rate (50.9%), but take a look at his slider pitch locations specifically (click for a larger view):

Luis Severino slider locations

That’s an awful lot of sliders up and in the zone. Ideally Severino would bury the slider down and away to righties and down and in to lefties. Last summer David Laurila culled some quotes about backup sliders, which are surprisingly effectively because they’re hard to pick up and they don’t move the way the hitter expects …

Adam Warren backup slider

… but Severino wasn’t throwing backup sliders. He was simply missing his spot, especially when you consider how many sliders were up and away to lefties. (It took me way too long to find an example of an effective backup slider. Nothing from Severino, nothing from Michael Pineda, nothing from Masahiro Tanaka, so down the line I went until I got to the now departed Adam Warren.)

Give the effectiveness of his fastball and changeup, the slider figures to be a focal point for Severino going forward, both in Spring Training and continuing into the season. The pitch has pretty good action, we saw it last year, but right now Severino elevates it a little too often, which causes problems. Once he is able to consistently locate his slider down, he’ll get more swings and misses, and it could also improve the effectiveness of his fastball. Nathan Eovaldi’s fastball played up once he emphasized the splitter. Same could happen with Severino and an improved slidepiece.

The Yankees are going to need Severino to pitch effectively this season in order to contend, even though he just turned 22 and will have to endure the usual growing pains associated with young pitchers. His workload will be monitored, stuff like that. Severino’s stuff is very good as it is, but there is an obvious way he can improve the effectiveness of his slider, and that’s by keeping it down in the zone. If he can begin to do that consistently, he’ll inch closer to his ceiling as a frontline starter.

Eovaldi plans to work on his curveball in Spring Training, but it may not be worth the effort

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2015 season was something of a developmental year for Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees acquired him from the Marlins expecting him to hold down a regular rotation spot, and he did that, but they also wanted pitching coach Larry Rothschild to tinker with some things in hope of getting Eovaldi to the next level. His natural gifts are obvious. The results did not match though.

Last season’s big project was the split-finger fastball. Eovaldi came over from Miami with a huge fastball — he threw the six fastest pitches in baseball among non-Aroldis Chapman pitchers in 2015 — and iffy secondary stuff, so the Yankees wanted to give him a swing-and-miss pitch. Rothschild had Eovaldi begin the season with a forkball just so he could get accustomed to the grip before shortening him up to a traditional splitter grip.

Once he switched to the splitter, the results improved greatly. The date of the switch is fairly obvious when looking at Eovaldi’s velocity. In the middle of June the splitter/forkball (splorkball?) went from averaging 85.5 mph to 89.8 mph. The pitch added roughly 4 mph from one start to the next.

Nathan Eovaldi splitter velocityWith the forkball grip Eovaldi had a 4.95 ERA (3.95 FIP) with a 15.8% strikeout rate and a 49.0% ground ball rate in 76.1 innings. With the splitter grip he had a 3.46 ERA (2.90 FIP) with a 20.2% strikeout rate and a 55.8% ground ball rate in 78 innings. The splitter changed everything. Eovaldi was comfortable throwing the pitch — he threw the forkball 10.9% of the time and the splitter 29.7% of the time — and his results improved considerably.

Having a full season of splitter grip Nathan Eovaldi in 2016 is pretty exciting. The development is not going to stop there through. Last week Eovaldi told Chad Jennings he intends to focus on his curveball this spring in an effort to add another reliable secondary pitch.

“Towards the end of the season last year I really developed pretty good control of my split,” he said. “This offseason it’s been great. I’m going to be using that more, of course. The fastball, too. Then, working on the curveball a little bit more, as well.”

The splitter was a new pitch for Eovaldi. The curveball is not. He threw one as an amateur, he threw one in the minors, and he’s thrown out throughout his big league career. Over the last four seasons Eovaldi has thrown the curve anywhere between 8.8% of the time to 9.4% of the time per PitchFX. He got one (1) strikeout on a curveball last season and it wasn’t even that good of a pitch:

Nathan Eovaldi curveball

Chris Davis was looking for something else and Eovaldi froze him with a not great bender up in the zone. It’s loopy and just sorta rolls in there. Hooray for the element of surprise.

Anyway, the curveball was clearly Eovaldi’s fourth best pitch last season behind his fastball, splitter, and slider. It was his third best pitch until the split-finger knocked it down a peg on the depth chart. Given the results over the years, de-emphasizing the curveball is a smart move:

Velo Whiff% GB% Opp. AVG Opp. ISO
2012 75.3 4.8% 36.7% .278 .222
2013 78.3 6.6% 68.2% .310 .138
2014 76.8 10.9% 53.3% .246 .098
2015 76.2 6.8% 50.0% .286 .107
MLB AVG 77.8 11.1% 48.7% .208 .116

Eovaldi’s curveball has not been an effective pitch at all. He’s been able to get some ground balls with it, but the lack of swings and misses is a problem, as evidenced by the opponent’s batting average against the pitch. The curveball used to be Eovaldi’s third best pitch. Now it’s his fourth. That’s where it belongs.

Spring Training is the best time to toy with pitches and Eovaldi’s smart to work on his curveball this spring. I do wonder whether the pitch is worth the effort, however. This is a pitch he’s been throwing his entire career — we’re talking hundreds of innings here — and Eovaldi has not yet been able to refine it to the point of reliability. Perhaps Rothschild can help. I guess we’ll find out this spring.

The addition of the splitter was huge for Eovaldi last year because it gave him the swing-and-miss offering he desperately needed. It also knocked his slider down a peg, which is good, because his slider isn’t great either. The split gave Eovaldi a legitimate put-away pitch. Here is what Eovaldi was worked with once he switched from the forkball grip to the splitter grip. League averages are in parentheses.

% Thrown Velo. Whiff% GB% Opp. AVG Opp. ISO
FB 44.0% 98.2 (92.4) 7.3% (6.9%) 44.1% (37.9%) .262 (.271) .094 (.180)
SPL 28.7% 89.7 (84.3) 16.8% (14.9%) 69.9% (47.8%) .211 (.223) .023 (.132)
SL 19.6% 85.4 (84.2) 11.7% (15.2%) 50.9% (43.9%) .278 (.223) .058 (.136)
CB 7.8% 76.9 (77.8) 4.5% (11.1%) 40.0% (48.7%) .273 (.208) .000 (.116)

The splitter gave Eovaldi a bonafide above-average pitch. It got whiffs and grounders, and he threw it a lot. Perfect. His fastball was also a tick above average as well. Both his slider and curveball were below-average though, with the slider showing some more promise thanks to the ground ball ability.

Eovaldi’s curveball wasn’t good at anything. Didn’t get grounders, didn’t get whiffs, nothing. He didn’t throw it much at all and for good reason. It’s not a good pitch. I wonder if Eovaldi is best off scrapping his curveball entirely — or using it even less, maybe as nothing more than a surprise pitch he throws once or twice a game early in the count when hitters sit fastball — and focusing his efforts on his slider this spring.

The way I see, Eovaldi will primarily be a fastball/splitter pitcher going forward. Those are his top two weapons for pretty obvious reasons. He needs a third pitch, definitely, and his slider is ahead of his curveball. It is right now and has been his entire career. Remember, we’re talking about a third pitch here. It doesn’t need to be great, just something hitters respect. The slider is much closer to that right now than the curve.

There’s nothing wrong with playing around with different pitches in Spring Training. It’s the perfect time to do it. And who knows, maybe Rothschild will tweak Eovaldi’s curveball grip and the pitch turns into a hammer. It’s unlikely but stranger things have happened. Unless the curve does take a step forward these next few weeks, it’s not a pitch worth emphasizing in the regular season. Stick with the fastball, splitter, and some sliders. The curve is trouble.

Spring Notes: Tanaka, Sabathia, A-Rod, Castro, Nova, Davis

Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)
Those shirts! (The Asahi Shimbun/Getty)

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training in just six days. Many — or most, it seems — are already in Tampa though, so some early camp notes are starting to trickle in. This is good. I am ready for baseball. Here’s a roundup of recent news and notes from Tampa.

Tanaka begins throwing, may be behind other starters in camp

Masahiro Tanaka has gotten back on a mound after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in October. According to Ronald Blum, Tanaka threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium last week in front of pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Bryan Hoch says Tanaka played catch in Tampa today. Afterwards he said he needs to “get innings in (to) see how I feel” before knowing whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Dan Martin Tanaka’s “throwing program was right on target,” though Brian Cashman was a bit more conservative. “He will enter Spring Training maybe a little behind for precautionary reasons. He may be behind going off the bullpen from the beginning, but he is healthy. There are no issues, there are no hiccups,” said the GM to George King.

CC Sabathia was behind the other starters in Spring Training 2013 after having surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow early during the 2012 offseason. He was ready to start the season on time; the club limited his bullpen work early in camp, and had him make his first few spring starts in controlled minor league games rather than regular Grapefruit League games. Tanaka could do the same this spring. We’ll see.

“When you pitch a good game, you’re the hero,” said Tanaka, who worked out with his former Rakuten Golden Eagles teammates in Japan this offseason, to Brad Lefton. “When you have a bad game, everyone says, ‘Something’s wrong with the elbow.’ There’s no way to handle it other than to just accept that’s the way it’s going to be. If you want to stop such talk, then you just have to go out and keep winning ballgames.”

Sabathia and his knee are feeling great

You can file this in the classic early Spring Training everything is awesome category: CC Sabathia’s knee feels great and he’s doing very well following his stint in an alcohol treatment center, he told Laura Albanese and Mark Feinsand. “I feel great and I’ve been working hard for the last three months and I’m ready to go,” said Sabathia. “I’m excited … This is the best I’ve felt in three years.”

Sabathia, now 35, usually throws year round, but he took a month off from throwing a baseball while in rehab. He’s been throwing off a mound for three weeks now. “I’m definitely in a good place. You’ve never got this thing beat; it’s always there and I’m always going to be a recovering alcoholic, but I’m in a good place,” he said. “This is my 16th year in the big leagues and you can take it for granted. This whole experience has put a new lease on my career and the way I’m viewing it.”

I’d be lying if I said I have even medium high hopes for Sabathia this coming season — I’ve done the “overly optimistic about CC” thing a few times these last three years — but I’m glad he feels great and his alcoholism recovery is going well. That goes beyond baseball and he’ll be fighting it the rest of his life. On the field, if the new knee brace allows Sabathia to give the Yankees, say, 180 league average innings in 2016, that would be an enormous upgrade over what he gave them from 2013-15.

Cashman reiterates A-Rod will be a DH only

As if it was not already clear, Cashman reiterated the Yankees see Alex Rodriguez as a DH and a DH only going forward. “You’ve got to stop asking Alex questions,” said Cashman to Billy Witz. “He’s not playing any position anymore. He’s a DH. He’s a very productive DH. For us to get maximum value out of Alex Rodriguez, he’s going to only DH. If we have to put him in the field somewhere, we’re in trouble.”

I wish the Yankees would at least entertain the idea of giving Alex some time at first base in Spring Training, but obviously that’s not going to happen. Greg Bird is done for the season, leaving Dustin Ackley as the backup first baseman. It would be nice if A-Rod were at least capable of being an emergency fill-in at first base for a few innings. Alas. The DH spot is his and his alone.

Castro will play some third base in Spring Training

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees will have Starlin Castro play some third base in Spring Training this year, Cashman told Ryan Hatch. Castro has not played third since rookie ball years and years ago, and that was only a handful of games. He’s played shortstop most of his career, so he is familiar with being on the left side of the infield. Castro moved to second base last August, and I’m not sure giving him another new position to learn right now is the best idea, but we’ll see.

“It’s too early to tell (if he can handle third), so we’ll take the time in Spring Training,” said Cashman. “If (he) can swing over and play some third for us and spell Chase (Headley), that’s a huge benefit for roster flexibility, but if he can’t, we’re not going to force it … If it’s something he’s not comfortable with we’re certainly not going to force that either. But we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks.”

Nova wants to start, because duh

Ivan Nova, who is currently sixth on the rotation depth chart, told Martin he wants to start this year but will pitch out of the bullpen if necessary. “I’m a starting pitcher. I’m not a reliever, but if that’s what they tell me to do, that’s what I’ve got to do,” he said. “If I feel bad going to the bullpen, what’s that going to change?”

The Yankees sent Nova to the bullpen briefly last September, but he never did make a relief appearance and instead moved back into the rotation when Tanaka pulled his hamstring. I firmly believe Nova is going to end up making something like 20-25 starts this year. One or three of the other starters will get hurt and he’ll be the guy to step in. The sixth starter always works more than expected, it seems.

Nova, now 29, had a 5.07 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 94 innings after coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. He didn’t blame his struggles on the elbow — “Whatever happened last year wasn’t because of the Tommy John. I just didn’t pitch good. If I didn’t feel good, I would have said it,” he said — but I do think it’s fair to expect him to improve as he gets further away from the procedure. That’s common. This is also Ivan’s contract year too. I’m sure he’s extra motivated to pitch well, and the Yankees will happily take it if he does.

Beltran, McCann do not want to play first base

Although both Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann have briefly played first base for the Yankees, neither wants to do it going forward, they told Anthony McCarron and Brendan Kuty. “No, no, no. I would do anything. Except (play first). It’s a different animal,” said Beltran. McCann added “I don’t think they want me over there. I don’t move too good. I don’t think they want that.”

Both Beltran and McCann have played some first base in pinstripes, so they’re clearly not opposed to the idea, but they don’t want to do it regularly. I understand that. The Yankees shouldn’t want Beltran or McCann to do it at all. Ideally Mark Teixeira stays healthy at first base and mashes taters all season with Ackley backing him up. If it gets to the point where Beltran has to play first, something very bad has happened. By the way, Beltran told Hatch he dropped ten pounds this offseason and joked he “might try and steal some bases this year.”

Cashman confirms Yankees have spoken to Davis

In the wake of Bird’s injury, the Yankees have indeed spoken to free agent Ike Davis, Cashman confirmed to Anthony Rieber. “We’ve talked to Ike Davis. That’s all I can tell you, really. We’ve talked to a lot of people,” said the GM. “Again, in terms of the Greg Bird scenario, we clearly have a need for an everyday first baseman at Scranton. So anybody that we feel is of quality and can fit that bill and is interested and willing to play in Scranton, then we’re going to have those conversations with a number of different people. But we have talked to Ike as well.”

Ken Davidoff says Davis is expected to sign a minor league contract — not necessarily with the Yankees — at some point soon. Davis, 28, hit .229/.301/.350 (83 wRC+) with three homers in 74 games for the A’s last season. He is a year removed from a 109 wRC+ season, however. Davis is a dead pull lefty hitter with power, making him a very good third string first base candidate for the Yankees. At this point of the offseason, he’s the best option to replace Bird in Scranton. Steve Simineri explained why the Yankees should side Davis in a guest post recently.

Cashman confirms Yankees unlikely to start the season with a six-man rotation

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

With each passing year, there is more and more talk the Yankees may use a six-man rotation going forward. Maybe not all season, but part of the season. The team went to great lengths to give their starters extra rest whenever possible last summer — Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Nathan Eovaldi made 63 of their 107 starts with extra rest (59%) — and I’m sure that will be the case this coming season too.

At the moment, the Yankees intend to start the 2016 season with a normal five-man rotation, Brian Cashman confirmed to Bryan Hoch. “Right now, it’s more likely that we go the conventional route and have five starters,” said the GM. “And whoever is the loser out of that battle for five spots would potentially be a long man in the ‘pen, waiting in the wings. But who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.”

The April schedule includes a ton of off-days, as usual, so the Yankees will be able to give their starters plenty of extra rest without jumping through too many hoops early in the season. In fact, whoever starts Opening Day will be able to make each of his first four (and five of his first six) starts on extra rest thanks to scheduled off-days. I assume Tanaka will get the ball on Opening Day, but we’ll see.

Here is a real quick and dirty tentative rotation schedule for April. The Yankees must be looking forward to all those early-season off-days this year. Check this out:

April rotation schedule

The Yankees will be able to have their starter on extra rest 16 times (!) in the first 20 games. They won’t have to use a starter on normal rest until April 17th, the 12th game of the year. And doesn’t that April 27th game sure look like the perfect time to use a spot sixth starter? It would give the rest of the rotation two extra days of rest before their next starts thanks to the off-day on the 28th.

That all looks pretty good to me. Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur, so the Yankees will want to take it easy on him early next year. Eovaldi’s season ended early due to an elbow issue as well. Sabathia’s knee flared up again in September and Pineda hasn’t pitched a full season since 2011. Luis Severino figures to be the other starter and he’ll be on some sort of innings limit. The Yankees have good reason to want to give these guys extra rest.

Of course, we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The Yankees have to get through Spring Training with five healthy starters before they can start mapping out rotation schedules and possible dates to use a sixth starter. “I think if you can give guys extra rest, that’s always a benefit,” added Cashman. “But theory and practicality, that’s where the rubber meets the road. We have a long way to get to before that really is a legitimate option or not.”

I’m sure we’ll hear more about the possibility of a six-man rotation in the coming weeks. It’s unavoidable. It’s what people talk about when there’s nothing else to talk about. That talk will only grow louder if the Yankees do manage to trade Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller for a starter in the coming weeks. I don’t think it’ll happen, but you never know. No one expected Alex Rodriguez to become a Yankee on this date in 2004, right? Right.