Archive for Musings
These last two games against the Orioles didn’t go according to plan, and while I think intra-division games are going to be extra important this season, the two losses aren’t the end of the world this early in the season. Yes, every game counts, but there are still 153 games left to make up ground. If you’re going to drop two of three to an AL East rival, this is the time to do it. Here are some thoughts before the Red Sox come to town for another division matchup.
1. There’s been a lot of talk about infield shifts so far this season, and not just from the YES booth either. I’ve heard it on other broadcasts as well. I understand that people don’t like them because they’ve drastically hurt some players (Mark Teixeira, for example) and are taking a bite out of offense around the game in general, but shifts are here to stay. Think about what it was like when pitchers starting throwing curveballs and sliders. Breaking balls were once a new fad that especially hurt some players and lowered offense around the game. That’s life. The strong survive. If you can avoid the shift with some kind of regularity, you will be in high demand. Few things are as annoying as a player beating a ball into the shift, but once upon a time the same was true of players swinging over a slider in the dirt. Baseball is changing and this is just something players and teams will have to adjust to.
2. The Teixeira injury really exposes how inflexible the 40-man roster is right now. The Yankees have too many good but not great prospects — Nik Turley, Jose Campos, Bryan Mitchell, and Ramon Flores jump to mind — occupying 40-man spots even though they are in no real position to help the big league team this year. The Yankees can’t designate those guys for assignment because they’ll lose them on waivers for nothing, meaning they’re essentially working with a 36-man roster. That’s how you end up recalling a third catcher when your starting first baseman gets hurt. In a perfect world, the Yankees would package three or four of those good but not great 40-man prospects for one player, a young infielder or something, clearing the logjam and addressing a need in one fell swoop. Too bad it’s not that easy. Teams usually aren’t looking to take on some other team’s clutter.
3. Carlos Beltran has started to snap out of his early-season slump, and of all the guys who struggled early in the year, he surprised me the most. That’s not necessarily because he is the best hitter of the bunch, but because he’s the most complete hitter on the team (average, power, discipline, etc.) and never has the platoon disadvantage as a switch-hitter. Those guys, like Bernie Williams and Chipper Jones, usually don’t struggle very long. Of course, Beltran will be 37 in two weeks and there’s always a chance he’s starting to slip as a hitter, but I didn’t believe he had fell off the cliff that hard, that soon after one bad week. Dude is a force when right. I didn’t expect Beltran to struggle out of the gate and I certainly didn’t expect it to last very long.
4. I get that he’s hitting well right now and Teixeira is injured (and Brett Gardner is on the roster), but I’m not a fan of Jacoby Ellsbury batting third. He’s hit with two outs and the bases empty four times in the last two games, including both first innings. Ellsbury doesn’t have much power and it’s really hard to create runs in those situations because it takes at least two hits to do it — one to get him on base, one to drive him in. (To be fair, they did score a run after he singled in the first inning of Tuesday’s game.) I like Ellsbury much better as a leadoff hitter, especially because he steals so much and gives the guys behind him so much of an opportunity to drive him in. I mean, batting third is fine, it’s not like he’s batting fifth or something. I just think the lineup is at its absolute best when he’s setting the table, not being counted on as a run producer.
5. It has only been a week, but things seem to be going well so far in the farm system. The pitchers have barely gotten any work in, but 3B Eric Jagielo and RF Aaron Judge are hitting and so have OF Mason Williams and C Gary Sanchez. You can make a pretty strong case that those are the four most important prospects in the system. Others like C Peter O’Brien are off to nice starts as well. The only top prospect who has not hit so far is C John Ryan Murphy. One week doesn’t mean much of anything, but I am glad to see some of these guys start the new season on the right foot. If, say, Williams came out of gate struggling, it would have been hard not to think “here we go again.” The good starts are nice, now they have to keep them going into the dog days of summer.
6. Now that he has two starts under his belt, what do you think about Masahiro Tanaka? I’m pretty excited even though he’s shown a penchant for the longball. He’s getting a ton of strikeouts and swings and misses, which I kinda expected to happen. He also doesn’t seem to get rattled by anything. Kei Igawa used to practically curl up in the fetal position after giving up a base hit. That is reportedly one of things that made Tanaka so appealing to the Yankees, his toughness and competitiveness. It’s not often you can see that stuff on the field, but the guy is coming into a new culture in a brutal division in a new league. I don’t think anyone could blame him if he looked like a deer in the headlights early on, but we haven’t see that. I really think Tanaka’s going to be ace-like once he really settles in acclimates himself. Everything is there for him to be that type of pitcher.
I know I just did a thoughts post yesterday, but there’s a bunch of stuff going on after Opening Day and none of it is worth a full post. This is the worst time of the season because we know the samples are still way too small to mean anything, but what else are we supposed to talk about? Baseball, man. It can be cruel.
1. I’m really curious to know what adjustment CC Sabathia made after the second inning last night. There had to be something, he looked like a completely different pitcher in his last four innings than he did his first two. Joe Girardi told Dan Barbarisi his pitches were cutting early and Sabathia told Bryan Hoch he was too amped up, but that doesn’t help us any. If there was a tangible adjustment made, that’s good. You want to be able to point to something specific for the improvement, something real. Everything gets magnified on Opening Day, that’s just the way it is, and Sabathia was far from impressive on Tuesday. I am looking forward to seeing his next outing though. Something changed after that second inning.
2. The offense was mostly a no show on Opening Day, but I thought Mark Teixeira looked really good. He hit a ball to the warning track in his first at-bat, ripped a line drive to right that sliced just foul in his second time up, then slapped a single the other way later in the game. He also drew a walk and saw 18 total pitches in four trips to the plate. Teixeira said he is still a little apprehensive about his surgically repaired wrist at the end of camp, which is a concern for obvious reasons, but he didn’t show it last night. He swung hard, made some solid contact, and he’s seeing the bell wall. Does that mean he’ll be fine going forward? Who knows. This one game, those four at-bats, were encouraging.
3. I’m fully on board with batting Brett Gardner seventh after being on the fence about it at first. Yeah, he would serve as the second leadoff man by batting ninth, but I think batting him seventh does a better job of helping the middle of the order. Gardner’s whole thing is not making outs, and by batting him closer to the middle of the lineup, he’ll get more of an opportunity to extend rallies and cap them off. The middle of the order is the key to everything; Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson aren’t going to generate much offense no matter where they slot into the lineup. Batting Gardner two spots higher to get that one extra good hitter behind Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano gives them more of a chance to turn rallies into runs. Instead of being a leadoff guy, he’ll be expected to drive in some runs. Plus he might get an extra at-bat once in a while.
4. I am wrong all the time, about everything, yet I’m still surprised at how wrong I’ve been about this last bench spot stuff. Literally every step of the way. I thought they’d take Scott Sizemore, then when it was clear he was out of the running, I thought they’d take Eduardo Nunez. When they didn’t take Nunez, I thought they’d keep him in Triple-A as insurance. Instead, he was designated for assignment yesterday to make room on the roster for Yangervis Solarte. Wrong, every step of the way. Even by my terrible standards, that’s amazing. The Yankees don’t have much shortstop depth now — Addison Maruszak figures to be the starter in Triple-A with Nunez gone — especially with Brendan Ryan out for a few weeks, so they’ll probably have to keep an eye on the waiver wire for an extra body.
5. Dellin Betances is going to be my favorite sidebar this season. He was great in relief last year, very good in Spring Training, and just electric last night. Betances has been in the farm system for an eternity and he’s had a ton of ups and downs, and we’ve watched them just about every step of the way. It’s great to finally see him find some sustained success and a niche in the bullpen. His stuff is obviously excellent, and now that he’s throwing strikes regularly, Betances can be a late-inning force. There is plenty of opportunity in the bullpen with a clear path to higher leverage seventh and eighth inning work, so this is a good time for everything to be clicking. Very much looking forward to seeing more.
6. As a team, the Yankees saw 138 pitches in last night’s game. That isn’t a huge number, but out of their 150 nine-inning games last year, they saw 138+ pitches only 72 times. Less than half the time. The 2014 offense had a bad day on Opening Day and yet they still saw pitches at a higher rate than last year’s squad. Roberts did the heavy lifting with 20 pitches in his four trips to the plate while Gardner, Teixeira, and Soriano saw 18 apiece. That was by far the worst part of the 2013 offense. They made a ton of outs and they were mostly quick outs, two or three pitch at-bats. This group isn’t like the 2004-12 lineups or anything, but they make the pitcher work for whatever he gets. It’s refreshing.
Finally, Opening Day has arrived. The Yankees (and Astros) are the last team in baseball to play their first game this year, but at this point, waiting another day or two is no big deal. I kinda enjoyed getting the league-wide Opening Day excitement out of the way yesterday so I can focus exclusively on the Yankees today. Anyway, here are some thoughts before Game One.
1. There’s still no word on how the Yankees will squeeze Yangervis Solarte onto the 40-man roster and I honestly have no idea what the move will be. There’s nothing obvious. I would be surprised if they cut ties with Eduardo Nunez considering, well, their infield stinks and getting rid of infield depth isn’t a good idea right now. Teams like the Tigers, Rangers, and Mets all need middle infield help at the moment and he’d get claimed off waivers in a heartbeat. Maybe Nik Turley and his mysterious arm injury will go to the 60-day DL, but the long delay in announcing the move leads me to believe a trade might be in the works. Something small. Preston Claiborne for a decent prospect. Something like that. One way or another, we’ll find out today.
2. Solarte will be one of five rookies on the team’s Opening Day roster, joining Masahiro Tanaka, Dean Anna, Vidal Nuno, and Dellin Betances. I have no idea when the last time that happened was. I can’t imagine it was recent. The 2009 Yankees had four rookies on the Opening Day roster (Brett Gardner, Ramiro Pena, Phil Coke, Jon Albaladejo) and that’s as far back as I looked. Not sure if there’s an easier way to do it besides manually, which is hardly easy. Tanaka is obviously very important and both Nuno and Betances have a chance to pitch their way into the club’s long-term bullpen picture. Anna and Solarte … they’re bench players until proven otherwise in my book. Add in Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and some other relievers and the Yankees seem to have more youth on the season-opening roster than at any other point in the last, I dunno, 10-15 years.
3. Aside from Tanaka, Solarte, and Anna, who will be the first player to make his MLB debut with the Yankees this year? Eight guys made their big league debut with New York last season (Nuno, Claiborne, Corban Joseph, David Adams, Zoilo Almonte, John Ryan Murphy, Brett Marshall, Cesar Cabral), though 2013 was an aberration because of all the injuries. I’m guessing the first guy to get called up and make his debut will be lefty Fred Lewis. Almost seems too obvious, no? A reliever is the safe pick because there’s so much turnover in the bullpen, and with Matt Thornton looking kinda crappy in camp, a lefty could be called on in a hurry. Lewis seemed to jump Cabral on the depth chart, though 40-man issues may complicate things.
4. So now that the regular season has started, how long until Stephen Drew signs? It’s after Opening Day, meaning he can not receive a qualifying offer next winter if he signs a one-year deal. (He’d have to sign after the draft to not cost a pick.) As I said before, there are a ton of teams out there that need middle infield help, and I can’t imagine he’ll hang around unsigned much longer. Some team will get desperate and jump on him, and that team will be better for it. Will that team be the Yankees? I think it’s possible but unlikely. I’m guessing the team wants to see how Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts perform on an everyday basis before bringing in someone else. Plus there isn’t any time to learn a new position. Still makes sense though.
5. Remember when the Yankees always seemed to get off to slow starts? Well, they didn’t seem to get off to slow starts, they absolutely did. They went 58-64 in March and April from 2004-08, a .475 winning percentage. Thankfully that isn’t the case anymore. In the last five years they’ve gone 71-45 in March and April, a .612 winning percentage. The scheduling gods did the Yankees a solid this season by sending them to Houston for the first series, giving them a chance to bank some wins early in 2014. We can even expand that to include the second series against the Blue Jays. Six straight games against last place teams from a year ago, meaning the Yankees will have a chance to play their first home game one week from today with four or five wins already in the bank. The AL East is going to be tight this year and the Bombers are in position to get off to a nice start.
Exactly one week from today, the Yankees will open the 2014 regular season against the Astros in Houston. Between that series and the second series against the Blue Jays in Toronto, the scheduling gods did the Yankees a favor. They’ll have the opportunity to beat up on the Astros and the back of Toronto’s rotation before coming home for some games against division rivals. A fast start to the season sure would be nice. Here are some thoughts as Spring Training winds down.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) is scheduled to play in a minor league game today and if that goes well, he could return to regular Grapefruit League action as soon as tomorrow. Hopefully everything goes well, but if he does have to start the season on the DL, what happens to the lineup? Brett Gardner plays center and bats leadoff while Alfonso Soriano moves to left field. That part is obvious. What about DH though? I think the Yankees would just rotate Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez into the lineup for the time being, but with Ellsbury out, the best lineup probably has both Brian McCann and Frankie Cervelli in it. They could carry a third catcher like Austin Romine and get Cervelli’s bat in the lineup everyday. I can’t believe I just said that, but hey, he’s tearing the cover off the ball this spring. I doubt this will happen because carrying a third catcher makes the roster even more inflexible, but if Ellsbury is sidelined, the best solution may be getting both McCann and Cervelli into the lineup at the same time.
2. Joe Girardi is expected to announced the fifth starter today and I would be surprised if it isn’t Michael Pineda. Both he and David Phelps have pitched well in camp, but this decision should be about more than that. Even after the shoulder surgery, I think Pineda’s potential to have a real impact has been obvious this spring, especially as his fastball velocity has crept up. His slider is just vicious and he has better control too. I don’t intend for this to come off as a knock, but Phelps has developed a largely undeserved reputation for being a strike-thrower in his short big league career. His walk rate (3.53 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%) these last two years has been worse than the AL average (3.04 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%), so his stellar minor league walk rates have not carried over to MLB just yet. Pineda has better pure stuff and better control at this point, and I also think there’s a sense of “okay, it’s time to get something out of this trade” at play. If the Yankees feel they haven’t seen enough out of Pineda to stick him in the rotation right now, I’m not sure what more they want to see.
3. My current “gut feel” bullpen projection is the same as the last one: David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, Phelps, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and Matt Daley. I think the only other serious candidates for that last spot right now are Vidal Nuno, Chris Leroux, and Fred Lewis. I think they’d open a 40-man roster spot for Daley — they obviously like him after rehabbing him from a shoulder injury he suffered with another team for nearly two years, re-signing him twice along the way — but not Leroux or Lewis just yet. They probably want to see both carry their spring success over into the regular season first. Nuno seems more likely to open the year as the sixth starter in Triple-A than as the second lefty/third swingman in the bullpen. Daley fits best for the time being. As for you gets the 40-man roster axe … Ramon Flores? I have no idea unless there’s an Ichiro Suzuki trade. No obvious candidate.
4. My current “gut feel” bench projection: Cervelli, Nunez, Ichiro, and Dean Anna. The first three are obvious, but I think Anna gets the nod over Yangervis Solarte simply because he’s already on the 40-man. There’s no sense in cutting a player to carry a utility guy who is going to wind up in the Triple-A when Brendan Ryan returns, which could be within the first week or two of the season. Backs are tricky and Ryan could miss much longer, but right now all signs point to it being a short-term thing. Whoever gets that last bench spot will be a temporary solution, not a long-term fixture on the roster. No need to juggle the 40-man for that. Anna was acquired for this exact role, to be the up-and-down 25th man. Let Solarte show his hot spring is something more than just a hot spring in Triple-A before carrying him on the big league roster.
5. In case you missed it last night, Chad Jennings reported that right-hander and 2012 first rounder Ty Hensley will not start the season on time due to a hernia. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said he is expected to resume throwing in 3-4 weeks but, given Newman’s track record with the stuff, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s longer. Between the time off and going through what amounts to Spring Training, there’s a chance Hensley will not get into a regular season minor league game until June. He barely pitched after signing in 2012 (12 innings) and then missed all of 2013 due to hip(s) surgery, so add in this new hernia issue and Hensley is going to end up going close to two full years between regularly pitching in competitive games as part of a rotation. That’s an awful lot of lost development time. Hensley once said he wanted to be in the big leagues by his 21st birthday, but instead he might not even have 100 career innings under his belt when he turns the big 2-1 in late-July. Yuck. At least they aren’t arm injuries, I guess.
I know it’s only Spring Training, but man oh man has Michael Pineda looked good. He looks healthy, his delivery is free and easy, his slider is still vicious, and his fastball gone from topping out at 92 mph in his first outing to topping out at 94 mph in his third. It has only been three games and a total of nine innings, but it’s hard not to be encouraged and excited by what Pineda’s done these last few weeks. He looks as good as we could have possibly hoped.
And yet, despite Pineda’s strong showing, he isn’t the big pitching story of the spring. Masahiro Tanaka has come over from the Rakuten Golden Eagles and after only a few weeks of camp, it feels like he’s been here for years. The transition has appeared to be seamless — I’m sure it’s been difficult for him, how could it not? — and his outings have matched the scouting reports. He throws strikes, has a wipeout splitter, and an underrated slider. When he’s gotten in jams, he’s cranked it up a notch, something we heard he’ll do long before he signed on the dotted line. As with Pineda, Tanaka has looked as good as we could have possibly hoped.
Flying under the radar this spring has been Ivan Nova, at least to some extent. Following yesterday’s outing he now has 21 strikeouts and two walks in 19.2 Grapefruit League innings, and I think the most impressive thing was the way he made adjustments mid-start and rebounded from a terrible first inning against the Astros a week or two ago. It was the kind of bad inning that used to spiral out of control, but instead Nova righted the ship and put together a good start. He’s been healthy and he’s been throwing the ball well. It’s been a strong spring for Ivan.
“I’ve seen a guy that’s come into spring training that, it seems like he realizes how good he can be,” Girardi said. “And I think that’s important. I think for all young players, there’s that doubt always a little bit, can I do this on a consistent basis? Can I do it start after start, or game after game if you’re a position player? Do I need to look over my starter? Is there someone always doubting what I can do? I think he’s realized that, you know what, I can be pretty good.”
Joe Girardi said that to Chad Jennings yesterday and was referring to Nova, but he could have easily been talking about Pineda or Tanaka. All three came to camp with something to prove and they’ve answered every question along the way. Just about everything has gone according to plan with these three and that’s pretty great. Usually when you’re talking about three pitchers — I guess this applies to any type of player, really — one will slip up somewhere along the lines. Two out of three is a pretty good success rate in baseball.
But all three guys have done everything they’ve needed to do in Spring Training and it’s really exciting. It’s really exciting for 2014 and for the Yankees going forward, because all three of these guys are young. Nova is the oldest and he just turned 27 in January. Pineda turned 25 that same month and Tanaka turned 25 back in November. The Yankees have an older roster in general and the other two members of the rotation are up there in age — Hiroki Kuroda just turned 39 and CC Sabathia is about 75 in pitching years given all the mileage on his arm — but these three fellas are all right smack in their prime or about the enter the prime of their careers. I’m going to use the word again: exciting.
This is Spring Training and the time of the year for overwhelming and occasionally irrational optimism. I don’t know how any Yankees fan could look at Pineda, Tanaka, and Nova these last few weeks and not start dreaming about a rotation built around their young power arms for the next few years. We know there are going to be bumps in the road, they’re inevitable, but right now everything is going right and that’s something the club needed in Spring Training. The pieces of the next great Yankees rotation are in place. We’ve know that because seen ‘em with our own eyes these last few weeks.
Starting this afternoon, the Yankees will play seven games in the next four days. They play a set of split squad games this afternoon, then this weekend half the team (including most of the regulars) will travel to Panama for a pair of exhibition games. The other half will remain in Tampa and play regularly scheduled Grapefruit League games. I still have no idea if the Panama games will be on television. They have to be, right? I think so. Here are some scattered thoughts on random Thursday.
1. Derek Jeter continues to run well following all the ankle and leg injuries, which is very encouraging. He seems to be on the Mariano Rivera plan right now, meaning he is only playing at home and not traveling, but that will have to change at some point. I guess it will this weekend in Panama. Jeter has played only one set of back-to-back games so far but I have to think he’ll play three straight or four games in five days before the start of the season. Something like that. The Cap’n hasn’t hit all that much in camp (4-for-20) but I’m not too worried about that. Opening Day is still more than two weeks away. Running and moving well is still the most important thing right now and so far everything is going a-okay.
2. Brett Wallace is pretty bad — that’s a prerequisite for being released by the Astros, as Wallace did yesterday — but it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Yankees to scoop him on a minor league contract as Mark Teixeira insurance. Russ Canzler is the only other natural first baseman in big league camp right now and he would get the call should Teixeira go down with injury. The 27-year-old Wallace hit .221/.284/.431 (97 wRC+) with 13 homers and an unsightly 104/18 K/BB in 285 plate appearances last season (93 wRC+ in 1,077 career plate appearances), but he’s a left-handed batter with some pop and there’s the short porch in right field, yadda yadda yadda. Canzler is worth keeping around because he can play the outfield as well, though I consider Wallace a better backup plan at first base. If they can grab him until someone better comes along, I think that’s the way to go.
3. Left-hander Fred Lewis has had himself a nice Spring Training so far. The 27-year-old was the team’s 47th round pick in the 2010 draft and he’s allowed two hits and one walk in 4.1 scoreless innings in Grapefruit League action, striking out four. He also chucked eleven scoreless innings in Arizona Fall League last year. Lewis
is something of a soft tosser and he didn’t handle lefties well last year (.308/.375/.415) or over the last three years (.297/.389/.378), so this is likely a small sample mirage more than anything. It’s also worth noting he went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft in December, so other teams don’t think he can help at the MLB level this year. Still, Lewis has handled himself well in front of the decision makers in camp, and all a guy like this is trying to do is put himself on the map. Preston Claiborne had a strong spring last year and it led to him getting called up during the regular season. Lewis is currently pitching his way into a similar situation.
4. This is nothing more than a guess, but if the season started right now, I think Michael Pineda would be the fifth starter with Dellin Betances and Matt Daley joining David Phelps and Adam Warren in the bullpen. Again, that’s just a guess. Betances seems to have a bullpen spot locked up right now, and I’m saying Daley over guys like Claiborne and Cesar Cabral for a few reasons. One, the Yankees obviously like him. They didn’t spend the last two years rehabbing him from a shoulder injury he suffered pitching for another team out of the kindness of their hearts. Two, he’s pitched well in camp (3.2 scoreless inning with six strikeouts) and he went from relatively meaningless eighth and ninth inning appearances to being the first guy out of the bullpen and facing projected big leaguers. Three, I think the Yankees realize there might only be so many bullets in the 31-year-old’s arm after shoulder surgery, and they don’t want to waste them in Triple-A. Daley seems like another Cory Wade in that he’s a soft-tosser who might only have 50 good innings in him before the wheels come off. He was with the team last September and as of right now, I think he’ll be there on Opening Day.
5. As for the final bench spot, I think it would go to Eduardo Nunez if the season started today. This is just another guess. Scott Sizemore was eased into things early in camp following his knee injuries and he hasn’t played much while Nunez has already started multiple games at second, short, and third. Sizemore has started two games total. He can opt-out of his minor league contract on May 1st (and August 1st), and I think the team would send him down to Triple-A for a month to let him get back into the swing of things before re-evaluating him at the first opt-out. Sizemore has missed most of the last two seasons and that’s an awful lot of rust to shake off. Things could change between now and Opening Day and they probably will, but that’s my opinion right now. Nunez seems to keep getting chances and my hunch is he will get one more.
The Grapefruit League season is one week old and we’ve learned … well, pretty much nothing so far. Masahiro Tanaka still has a nasty splitter with the MLB ball. I guess that’s something. Otherwise it’s still too early to draw any meaningful conclusions from the handful of games that have been played. Everyone’s healthy and that’s the most important thing. Here are some scattered thoughts.
1. So far, so good for Derek Jeter. He appears to be moving well both in the field and down the line, looking far more mobile than he did at any point last year. It’s very encouraging. The Cap’n has looked awful at the plate — one strikeout, one walk, eight ground balls (three double plays) in ten plate appearances — though that is to be expected after missing just about all of last season. His timing is not even close to being there yet and he’s got a little under four weeks to find it. As far as his ability to move laterally in the field and run down the line are concerned, everything looks good. That’s most important right now following all the leg injuries.
2. It sure seems like Frankie Cervelli is being groomed as Tanaka’s personal catcher. He’s caught most of his bullpen and live batting practice sessions, plus he was behind the plate when he made his Spring Training debut over the weekend. Brian McCann has to learn an entire new staff this spring, so it makes sense to have Cervelli spend so much time with the new guy since he already knows the rest of the staff. Joe Girardi has proven himself to be a fan of personal catchers — I can’t help but think this stems from who he was as a player — and it looks like Tanaka/Cervelli will be a thing this year. They just have to make sure McCann spends enough time with Tanaka this spring so they aren’t total strangers should Cervelli get hurt or something.
3. One little thing that usually means more than nothing in Spring Training: reliever usage. Over the last few springs, the Yankees have shown that the guys who are being more seriously considered for the roster are scheduled to pitch on specific days and get to start an inning clean, at least early in camp. The guys who are further behind in the bullpen race are usually held back in case someone hits their pitch count in the middle of an inning. Based on how they’ve been used over this last week, that’s good news for Dellin Betances and Preston Claiborne, and bad news for Mark Montgomery, Cesar Cabral, and others. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t definitive proof of anything, but the Yankees may be tipping their hand based on what they’ve done in the past and how they’ve used guys so far.
4. Is it just me, or does a March trade feel inevitable this year? The Yankees have actually made a Spring Training trade that directly impacted their Opening Day roster in each of the last three years (Vernon Wells in 2013, Chris Stewart in 2012, Sergio Mitre for Chris Dickerson in 2011), so a deal in the next few weeks would hardly be unprecedented. The needs on the infield and in the bullpen still exist and both Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy are so obviously being showcased given all their playing time (particularly at DH) so far. Murphy for one of the Diamondbacks’ extra shortstops make so much sense, at least from this end of the deal. Arizona simply might not like New York’s catchers all that much. Either way, I can’t shake this feeling that a trade will go down before Opening Day.
5. You’ve probably seen it by now, but the other day Robinson Cano made some comments to Jon Heyman about the Mariners’ need for another bat and another pitcher. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, everyone knows Seattle needs more help. It sounded very much like a player who is just starting to realize he is no longer on a big payroll team that will go out and spend money to address its needs. I’m not sure how else to take the “if it was up to me, we’d have (Ervin) Santana, (Nelson) Cruz and Ubaldo (Jimenez)” comment. We all know Cano left for the biggest payday, pure and simple, but man this whole thing is so weird. It seems playing for the Not Yankees has been a shock to his system. I really wish he was still wearing pinstripes, but I can’t begrudge the team for refusing to meet those demands.
I swear, coming up with a half-decent title for these “thoughts” posts is tougher than writing up the thoughts themselves most of the time. Anyway, the Yankees open the Grapefruit League portion of their Spring Training schedule later today, so here are some scattered thoughts for the meantime.
1. The Brett Gardner extension is making it much tougher for me to get on board with the Jacoby Ellsbury signing. I wasn’t a fan of the Ellsbury deal the day it was signed and I’ve tried to warm up to in recent weeks, but a similar player getting one-third of the money isn’t helping matters. The Yankees stunk offensively last year because they didn’t have enough power or high on-base guys. Ellsbury doesn’t help correct either problem all that much. Shin-Soo Choo would have in a big way. The Yankees did offer a Choo a huge contract (even after signing Ellsbury) and he turned them down, so at least they tried to sign him, but man an Alfonso Soriano/Carlos Beltran-Gardner-Choo outfield looks so much better than a Gardner-Ellsbury-Soriano/Beltran outfield to me.
2. Know how the Yankees always seem to get burned whenever they play an infield shift? For years they’ve had a knack for shifting infielders to the wrong place at the wrong time. We only had anecdotal evidence and that doesn’t mean all that much, but that is no longer the case. Jeff Zimmerman at the Hardball Times ran some numbers and figured out how successful each team was at shifting last season. When the Yankees had a normal infield alignment, the opposing team’s BABIP was .307. When the Yankees played some kind of shift, the opposing team’s BABIP was .325. So yeah, a batted ball was more likely to go for a hit against New York when they played the shift than when they didn’t. This is only one year of data (326 balls in play), so we can’t read too much into it, but at least now we know the team’s penchant for getting burned while trying to shift was a real thing in 2013. I wonder how much of that is due to a lack of rangy infielders than actual positioning.
3. One player I’m going to be paying extra special attention to these next few weeks is Scott Sizemore. Mostly, I want see how he’s moving around following back-to-back torn left ACLs. I think he has the best of chance of being a league average player — league average players are really valuable! — among the guys competing for the final bench spot (Dean Anna, Eduardo Nunez, etc.) but he has to make the team first, and that means he has to show the knee is healthy enough to move quickly in the field and on the bases. Sizemore had a real nice half-season with the Athletics two years ago (118 wRC+ and 11 HR) and if he can come remotely close to doing that over a full season, it’ll be a enormous boost. Coming back from two lost seasons will be tough though.
4. Joe Girardi confirmed the other day that both David Phelps and Adam Warren will make the team in some capacity, which isn’t all that surprising. It does confirm there are three open bullpen spots at the most though, and that assumes Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno will start the year with Triple-A Scranton rather than in the bullpen. If I had to put money on it today, I would bet on Preston Claiborne, Dellin Betances, and Cesar Cabral getting those last three spots. But still, there are five weeks worth of exhibition games left and lots can change. Part of me is very interested to see what Jose Ramirez and Manny Banuelos can do in short relief stints and I’m sure we’ll see those two (and others) at some point this summer. History says the bullpen on Opening Day and the bullpen in September will look very different.
5. Who is your pick for the annual “random player has a huge Spring Training and people will say he should make the team” storyline? Previous storyliners include Jon Weber (1.032 OPS in 2010) and Jorge Vazquez (1.209 OPS in 2011). Looking at the list of non-roster invitees, I’ll go with Antoan Richardson, the speedy switch-hitting outfielder. He’ll hit like .450 in camp, give or take. So consider this your annual reminder that Spring Training stats mean almost nothing for many reasons. One, the sample size is inherently small. Two, the level of competition varies wildly from day-to-day and even inning-to-inning. Three, players tend to work on stuff in Spring Training, not get results. You’ll see a pitcher throw something like 25 changeups in a two-inning outing just because he’s trying to get a feel for that pitch before the season. It will be tough to ignore stats this spring because of the various competitions (fifth starter, bench, bullpen), but trust me, you don’t get too caught up in the numbers these next few weeks.
I honestly did not expect it to happen, but over the weekend the Yankees agreed to a long-term contract extension with outfielder Brett Gardner. The four-year deal kicks in next season and can keep him in pinstripes through potentially 2019. The Yankees paid market rate but they kept their homegrown player and avoided a potential free agent bidding war after the season.
After news of the deal leaked, Brian Cashman confirmed to reporters that the team’s no extensions policy was dead. It had been dead for a while, but it wasn’t until now that the club actually managed to sign a player long-term. They tried to ink Russell Martin, Hiroki Kuroda, and Robinson Cano to extensions before they hit the open market within the last two years, but were unsuccessful each time. Only Kuroda re-signed with the team as a free agent.
Hammering out the extension with Gardner was another sign the Yankees have started to change the way they operate these last few months. The extension policy was trashed, changes were made to the player development system, and the international market was embraced. Yes, the team will pass on Aledmys Diaz, but they showed more interest in him than they ever did Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. They also went hard after Masahiro Tanaka and are planning a massive international spending spree this summer.
Those are all signs of progress and it’s just the stuff we know about too. Who knows what else is going on behind the scenes. I think the Yankees have been slow to adapt in recent years and not just with this stuff either — they’ve yet to embrace dynamic ticket pricing and fan caravan events for example, stuff the rest of the league has been doing for years. The front office and ownership have changed their team building philosphies though, and not a moment too soon either. Gardner’s deal is the latest and greatest example.
The Yankees will introduce Masahiro Tanaka at a press conference this afternoon and then pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training on Friday, so the offseason is dangerously close to an end. Here are some thoughts as we wait for the 2014 season to get going.
1. At first, I thought it was pretty weird Alex Rodriguez dropped his various lawsuits and accepted his suspension over the weekend, but it makes more sense now that I think about it. First and foremost, A-Rod wanted to avoid having to testify under oath, which he already did once by storming out of his arbitration hearing. I know he denied everything on Mike Francesa’s show a few weeks ago, but doing it under oath is a different matter entirely. I’m sure Alex hopes to get back into baseball one day — I don’t know how realistic that is at this point, either as player or coach or broadcaster or whatever — and the whole scorched Earth approach isn’t conducive to returning to the game. The move caught me by surprise and it seems like Rodriguez simply came to his senses a few weeks too late.
2. Know how there are usually a ton of off-days in April? That isn’t the case this year. The Yankees play 13 straight games and 19 games in 20 days to start this season — ten of their first 19 games will either be indoors or in a park with a retractable roof (Houston, Toronto, Tampa) — so they’re going to need their fifth starter right out of the chute. The schedule doesn’t allow them to hide whoever wins the job until the end of the month or anything like that. I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, necessarily, because all those off-days they should get in April will be spread out during the other months. It just means that whoever wins the fifth starter’s job has to be ready to go as soon as the regular season begins. There’s no grace period at the end of Spring Training.
3. As of right now, there are three bullpen spots up for grabs in camp, assuming either David Phelps or Adam Warren steps in as the long man. I’m interested to see if the Yankees use one of those spots on a second left-hander (Cesar Cabral?) because while carrying one would be rather useful with guys like David Ortiz and Chris Davis in the division, I think there’s a need to take the best relievers regardless of handedness. If the bullpen was a little stronger — let’s face it, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton are solid but not exactly shutdown relievers — it would be easier to squeeze that second southpaw in there. The Yankees don’t really have enough quality depth right now to get super specialized with bullpen roles.
4. My annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List comes out on Thursday and the thing that stood out to me the most while writing it was all the turnover. Sixteen (!) players from last year’s list did not make this year’s list due to a variety of a reasons. Graduated to MLB, traded, released, poor performance, injury, whatever. More than half the players are new to the list and that’s pretty mind-blowing. They Yankees had three first round picks in last summer’s draft and a bunch of young international guys had strong stateside debuts last year, so that helped fill in the gaps, but it’s still crazy to see that much turnover in one year. It’s not a bad thing either, the team needed some change down on the farm.
5. Speaking of the Top 30, one prospect I am really looking forward to following this summer is third baseman Miguel Andujar. I just didn’t realize how good he actually is. The kid mashed in the Rookie Gulf Coast League last summer (.323/.368/.496 while repeating the level) and he has just about every tool other speed, plus he doesn’t turn 19 until next month. The Yankees will probably hold him back in Extended Spring Training before assigning him to Short Season Staten Island when the season starts in June, but there’s some serious breakout potential there. Andujar, who signed for $775k a few years ago, can do almost everything on the field and it might not be long before he follows Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez as an internationally signed position player who becomes the team’s top prospect.