Archive for Musings
The Yankees have had three off-days so far this year and each one has a) followed a win, and b) come when the bullpen really needed a rest. That second part isn’t much of a coincidence — Joe Girardi knows he can use his key relievers a bit more heavily with the scheduled off-day coming up. Anyway, the Yankees kick off a three-game series against the Mariners tonight, and here are some scattered thoughts leading up to the opener.
1. Obviously the big story of the week is Robinson Cano‘s return to the Bronx. It’s going to be weird seeing him in another uniform even though I’ve watched more than a few Mariners games already. I guess I mean it’ll be weird to see him in another uniform in Yankee Stadium. I really hope he gets a big standing ovation prior to his first at-bat — step out of the box, tip his cap, the whole nine — but after that, he’s just another non-Yankee. Cano was the club’s best player the last four years and a pretty big part of the team before that, so some level of respect and appreciation is in order. He is arguably the best second baseman in franchise history, after all. I’ll be pretty bummed out if Robbie gets booed tonight. Show some love, people.
2. Anyway, since we’re talking about middle infielders, Brendan Ryan is due back relatively soon. Probably within a week to ten days. I’m curious to see how he will be used because Derek Jeter has not DHed this year. At all. Literally zero games at the position. No one really cared if Dean Anna sat on the bench for four or five days at a time because it was Dean Anna. He was just happy to be in the big leagues. Ryan is making a decent salary ($2M) and has shown he can be an asset with his glove, but how often will he play? Will Jeter start to see more time at DH? And, if he does, what does that mean for the outfield rotation? I think the Yankees should just keep doing what they’ve been doing these first few weeks, and if Ryan is unhappy with sitting on the bench so much, then work out a trade I guess. I’m sure some team out there will take a good glove shortstop (Tigers? Mets?) off their hands.
3. I feel like there has been more small sample run differential analysis* so far this year. It means nothing in April. It doesn’t mean much more at the All-Star break. The Yankees have a -8 run differential despite being five games over .500 because they’ve been involved in an inordinate number of blowouts. Just within the last two weeks they’ve lost games by the score of 11-5, 16-1, and 13-1. Their two blowout wins during those two weeks were 10-2 and 14-5, so that right there works out to a -16 run differential in just those five games. Those are anomaly games and it just so happens a few were bunched together. I believe the team’s record is a far better indication of how they’ve played than their run differential right now. The Yankees have not played like a sub-.500 team at all.
* I don’t even think you can call looking at run differential and pointing out it doesn’t line up with the win-loss record as analysis.
4. Speaking of those blowouts, the bullpen has allowed 42 runs (34 earned) in 75.2 innings so far this year. Eighteen of those 42 runs (14 of 34 earned) were allowed in 7.2 innings by guys who simply don’t figure to be on the roster very much this year: Bruce Billings, Matt Daley, Cesar Cabral, Shane Greene, and, of course, reliever Dean Anna. That is 42% of the bullpen’s runs allowed in 10% of the innings by guys who are unlikely to be much of a factor this summer. Obviously those runs happened and we can’t strike them from the record, though I thought it was interesting to see just much damage the extra arms have done already. The team’s core relievers (David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances) have been outstanding. Like a combined 1.50 ERA (~2.27 FIP) with a 30.1% strikeout rate in 48 innings outstanding.
5. Robertson has handled the ninth inning pretty well, hasn’t he? Kelley before him too for that matter. I understand that replacing Mariano Rivera is a daunting task, but so far the Yankees have handled it well. Robertson has had to wiggle out of some jams already but that’s how the other half has lived all these years. We’ve enjoyed countless stress-free 1-2-3 innings from Rivera over the years while other teams were biting their nails because their closer issued a leadoff walk or a one-out double in a one-run game. Not every club has a Craig Kimbrel or a Kenley Jansen. Kelley did an excellent job filling in while Robertson was on the DL, but Robertson is clearly the guy going forward. He proved everything he needed to prove as a setup man these last few seasons and now it’s his time to shine. So far, he’s done just that.
6. I was at Saturday’s game with Ben and he noticed that the Yankees have already cleared a space for another retired number in Monument Park. You can kinda see it in this photo, all the way on the right of the retired numbers. Now, obviously Jeter’s number will be retired during his massive retirement ceremony at the end of the season a la Rivera last year, right? Right. The Yankees have also talked about retiring Joe Torre’s number in the near future, perhaps as soon as this season. I think it was Hal Steinbrenner (or maybe Brian Cashman) who mentioned over the winter that more number retirements are on the horizon as well, which could mean Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams. Maybe Paul O’Neill too, since apparently no one else is worthy of his number. So I guess my question is who is that open spot in Monument Park being saved for? Jeter at the end of the season? Torre at midseason? Someone else entirely? Suspense!
There was no update on Ivan Nova yesterday after he had his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament re-evaluated in New York during the off-day. It’s tough not to assume the worst and it has nothing to do with the lack of an update. Partially torn UCLs almost always result in Tommy John surgery at some point, usually right away. Nova hasn’t been great this year but it is still a pretty big blow to the Yankees because he can pitch very well for extended periods of time. Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts.
1. Back before Spring Training I said Nova needed to show the Yankees who he really is this season, meaning is he someone who can be a core piece going forward or just another back-end arm? He won’t get the opportunity to show the team anything now, and, given the timing of the injury, he only has one more full season of pitching (2016) left before qualifying for free agency. We still don’t know what Nova is now, after nearly three full years in the rotation, and chances are half the 2015 season and all of 2016 won’t provide much clarity. In addition to weakening the rotation this year, the injury won’t help the Yankees determine whether Nova is worth a decent financial commitment and a rotation spot long-term. This really throws a wrench into things.
2. With Vidal Nuno in the rotation (at least temporarily) and Bryan Mitchell being shipped back to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot for David Robertson, it sure seems like Preston Claiborne will be sticking around for a while. He really struggled down the stretch last year and was terrible in Spring Training, plus his outing on Sunday was pretty shaky despite two scoreless innings. Robertson’s return means Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren will move down a notch into eighth and seventh inning roles, respectively, and both Dellin Betances and David Phelps are more deserving of middle relief work than Claiborne right now. Claiborne feels like the default long reliever by default even though he can only go two (maaaybe three) innings at a time. It’s a weird bullpen situation and not really ideal. I’d prefer to see someone like Shane Greene or Al Aceves up as the true long man.
3. If the Yankees aren’t going to swap Claiborne out for a real long man, then a second left-hander might be better use of the roster spot. They have series coming up against the Red Sox, Mariners, and Rays, three teams loaded with lefty bats. Nova got hurt at a bad time — this is when it would have been really nice to have Nuno available as an extra southpaw in the bullpen. With Cesar Cabral gone, the only upper-level lefty reliever in the organization is Fred Lewis, and he hasn’t been all that good with Triple-A Scranton these first few weeks. He’d need a 40-man roster spot as well. So yeah, while it would be nice to have a second southpaw available these next two weeks or so, the Yankees won’t have one without making a series of roster moves.
4. That series against the Mariners starts one week from today and will be Robinson Cano‘s first time back in the Bronx since leaving as a free agent. I’m interested to see the fan reaction — I assume he’ll get booed, but I hope he gets cheered in at least his first at-bat because he was the team’s best player for four years and he helped them win a World Series. I also think it’s kinda silly to boo him for taking more money when the Yankees have been buying other teams’ best players for decades — but I’m more interested to see how the Yankees pitch to him and set up defensively. They should know Robbie better than anyone. They should know the best places to pitch him and where he tends to hit the ball when he puts it in play. Here is his spray chart:
Cano slashes line drives to all fields, but when he hits the ball on the ground, he tends to pull it to the right side of the infield. When he hits a fly ball, it usually to go the other way to left and left-center field (right to Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury). We also know Robbie will bunt to the beat the shift (remember this?), so how do they defend him? I haven’t the slightest idea. I’m very interested to see how the Yankees go after him now that he’s wearing the wrong uniform.
5. So who hits a homer first, Ellsbury or Mark Teixeira? Teixeira seems like the easy call because of their reputations, but I’m not so sure. He is coming back from the wrist injury and has a ton of rust to shake off, plus I can’t ignore how David Ortiz and Jose Bautista saw their power numbers take a hit in the first few months following their tendon sheath injuries. Ellsbury is healthy and he’s swinging the bat very well so far, so there is nothing to overcome other than his own power-hitting limitations. He could golf one out tonight and I wouldn’t be surprised. But Teixeira? I’m not expecting much right away.
Interesting quote from CC Sabathia tonight: “I think the chemistry on this team is really good as opposed to the past couple of years.” Hm.
— Daniel Barbarisi (@DanBarbarisi) April 18, 2014
When I read that quote, my first thought was that Sabathia was talking about Alex Rodriguez. How could you not think that? Were Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera the bad eggs? Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain? Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher? If the Yankees had a chemistry issue in recent years it isn’t unreasonable to think A-Rod was the root cause given all his off-the-field nonsense. The man is a living, breathing distraction and it is no doubt tiresome.
For what it’s worth, Sabathia clarified his comments to Wally Matthews yesterday — “It just seems like the team is having more fun this year than last year. We added a lot of good guys, Mac, Jacoby, Carlos. It’s just a good group of guys this year” — and it seems like he was referring to all the roster turnover they dealt with last season. I imagine it’s tough to develop chemistry when you have a new shortstop every week and a revolving door of faces in the clubhouse. Would Sabathia really take a veiled shot at A-Rod like that?
Anyway, I bring this up because the Yankees have placed a renewed emphasis on character and good clubhouse guys in recent years. They’ve admitted as much. It started back during the 2008-09 offseason, then they brought in Sabathia and Swisher, among others, and it has trickled down into their scouting and development staff. Strong makeup is definitely something the team emphasizes and they should. Every teams wants players who are good people and hard workers. I imagine it’s a tough thing to scout but it’s not impossible.
The value of good team chemistry is unknown. It is absolutely a good thing, there’s no denying that, but how much does it actually help a team win? I don’t think we’ll ever be able to put a number on it despite some, uh, weak attempts. Chemistry is a chicken or the egg question, really. Does winning comes from good chemistry or does good chemistry come from winning? I think the answer is both. You need a strong group of guys as a foundation and when the wins start to pile up, the chemistry improves. At least that’s my opinion as a layman. Talent is extremely important as well, obviously. Chemistry only goes so far.
Baseball is all about commitment. The 162-game season is a real grind and these guys practically live with each other from February through October. If they don’t get along well, the team is almost doomed from the start. There are exceptions to rule, sure, but by and large teammates have to get along well for a club to be successful. When you have new faces in the clubhouse every week like the Yankees did last season, that chemistry is tough to build. The team added some great players and high-character guys this winter, and in addition to on-field production, one of the most important things they added was stability.
After starting the season with 13 games in 13 days, the Yankees enjoyed their first scheduled off-day yesterday. That it came on the heels of that crazy win over the Red Sox only made it sweeter. The team will call up at least two players before tonight’s series opener against the Cubs, one of whom will be a catcher to replace Frankie Cervelli. Here are some random thoughts about coming roster moves and more.
1. The Yankees have no shortage of catchers, so replacing Cervelli is a matter of preference. Austin Romine would be the easy move, but Dan Barbarisi says John Ryan Murphy will instead get the call to sit on the bench behind Brian McCann. I like the move for two reasons, one more important than the other. For starters, the team could always use him at third base in an emergency, so he adds flexibility. That’s the less important reason. Secondly, I also think there is a lot of learning that can be done just by being in the big leagues, especially as a catcher. Playing everyday in Triple-A would allow him to get at-bats, sure, but Murphy would not be exposed to big league game plans and scouting meetings and all that. Since Cervelli suffered a Grade II strain and is going to be out for quite a while, Murphy will get an extended opportunity to learn from the big league coaching staff and a veteran mentor in McCann. This might be the start of a Jorge Posada/Joe Girardi-esque apprenticeship.
2. The infield is a much different situation. Both Derek Jeter (quad) and Brian Roberts (back) are day-to-day, so adding another infielder makes sense. Carlos Beltran at first base was fun for one night, but I don’t want them to make it a habit. Every infielder on the 40-man roster is either in the big leagues, hurt (Mark Teixeira and Brendan Ryan), or suspended (Alex Rodriguez). There is no obvious call-up candidate. Scott Sizemore has MLB experience and he’s off to a nice start with Triple-A Scranton (165 wRC+), plus they’re going to have to make a decision about him soon anyway because his May 1st opt-out is looming. I think he has a minor league option remaining (don’t hold me to that), meaning the Yankees can send him back to Triple-A later in the summer. With Zelous Wheeler hurt, the only other Triple-A infield options are Corban Joseph, Jose Pirela, Russ Canzler, and Carmen Angelini. Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch they are leaning towards Canzler, for what it’s worth. Either way, I assume this player is only keeping the spot warm for Teixeira, who can be activated off the DL this weekend. (That doesn’t mean he definitely will, of course.)
3. As for squeezing Sizemore or any other infielder onto the 40-man roster, I think we are firmly in “Ryan to the 60-day DL” territory. His DL stint was retroactive to March 22nd, so he’s already closing in on a full month on the shelf. The last update we have on him came Friday, when Joe Girardi told Brian Heyman that Ryan had started light baseball activities. That’s all. Light baseball activities. Given how tricky backs can be, I’m sure the Yankees will be extra careful during his rehab. And remember, Ryan missed almost all of Spring Training, so he’ll need more than the usual two or three minor league rehab games to get ready. Missing another four or five weeks doesn’t seem unreasonable. So yeah, I think Ryan will be transferred to the 60-day DL whenever another 40-man spot is needed, which will be this afternoon. I suppose Cervelli is a 60-day DL candidate as well, but I think Ryan is first in line.
4. I was talking to Ben about this yesterday: did you realize that Robinson Cano has hit six homeruns in his last 81 games? Arbitrary endpoints and all that, but it is exactly half a season. It’s not like Cano has not hit during that time (.332/.388/.472), but his power has been more towards the gaps for doubles (25) than over the fence for the last half-season. Clearly the lineup late last season has something to do with that. Robbie got nothing to hit down the stretch last year, even after the Alfonso Soriano trade. Teams simply were not going to let him beat them once the playoff races heated up. I love Cano and I wish there was a way he could have stayed with the Yankees on a reasonable contract, but man, that kind of extended power outage is a bit scary for a player who just signed a huge deal. Now watch him go hit six homers this week.
5. Once Teixeira returns, whenever that is, I don’t see how the Yankees can keep Yangervis Solarte out of the lineup. No, he’s not going to hit .357/.413/.500 (160 wRC+) all year, but he is better than Roberts. That seems pretty clear after 13 games. Kelly Johnson has quietly been excellent (also 160 wRC+) and we all know Jeter and Teixeira aren’t coming out of the lineup, so that leaves second base as the only spot to play Solarte. This is one of those simple and straightforward moves that might not happen right away because the Yankees have some money invested in Roberts and may decide give him more rope. Randy Winn stuck around until late-May before the team replaced him, remember. Hopefully they’re more willing to making quick decisions about this stuff these days. The AL East race is going to be way too tight to wait for a low-ceiling veteran like Roberts to find it. Solarte’s earned the playing time already.
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.