With Spring Training one week away — pitchers and catchers report in one week, anyway — position battles will soon begin and the final roster spots will be sorted out. For the most part the Yankees’ 25-man roster is set — barring injury, of course — with the last bullpen spot and maybe the last bench spot up for grabs. That’s about it.
One position the Yankees have to figure out these next few weeks is the closer’s role. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are the two favorites for obvious reasons but the team has no real shortage of candidates. I’m sure Adam Warren or David Carpenter could close no problem if needed. Finding a closer in Spring Training isn’t really the issue. Joe Girardi and his staff just need to actually pick someone to do it.
For what’s it’s worth, both Miller and Betances have said the right things when asked about the closer’s job this offseason. “I’ve never been a closer so it’s not like I’m building a resume. I’m not worried about that kind of thing,” said Miller on the MLB Trade Rumors podcast earlier this week. “I think we’ve all seen the value of relievers getting outs in those sixth, seventh and eighth innings now … I just want to be part of a good team and I think that flexibility opens more windows and more doors for me.”
Betances, meanwhile, recently told Mike Vorkunov he hasn’t really thought about being the closer and is just going to focus on getting outs. “At times I think the middle innings – the seventh, eighth inning – sometimes you come in to a tough situation, bases loaded, two guys on, when the game is on the line. Even if you pitch one inning, sometimes you face the two-three-four hitters, sometimes that’s harder at times,” he said. “I think the ninth inning you put pressure on yourself that’s where you tend to fail a little bit. But I’ve learned a lot from Mo and from what David Robertson did last year. It’s to take it one day at a time and to have a short memory.”
Miller and Betances are right, sometimes the seventh and eighth innings are tougher than the ninth, and that’s why Dellin was so valuable last year. He didn’t just dominate, he was able to dominate for two innings at a time if necessary. Betances got all the big outs in the middle innings. As long as Joe Girardi is able to balance winning games with keeping his righty relief ace rested and fresh — he threw 90 innings with a 1.28 average leverage index last year, which is a friggin’ ton of stressful innings — it would be awesome to see him in that role again.
“I think guys like to know their roles, so I think if we can iron it out, I think it would be a good thing to do,” said Girardi to Bryan Hoch recently. “But I think you can also create an atmosphere where you say, ‘You know what, guys? I’ll prepare you every day in a sense of what I think is going to happen, and here are your matchups, the guys that I’m probably going to bring you in against.'”
That’s a pretty interesting answer from Girardi, who seems to suggest he’s open to trying some sort of co-closer situation, presumably with Miller facing the tough lefties and Betances facing the tough righties in whatever inning that may be. I floated the idea of a co-closer setup last month when discussing the ninth inning and noted Girardi likes to have defined roles. He’s shown that since he was hired back in 2008. Perhaps now he’s softened on that stance.
The only team to even try a co-closer setup in the last decade or so was the 2009 Braves, who had lefty Mike Gonzalez and righty Rafael Soriano. With Miller and Betances, the Yankees clearly have the righty personnel to try something similar. I love the idea, it’s outside the box and puts everyone in the best position to succeed, but something like this isn’t as easy to put into practice as it may seem. Hopefully the Yankees and Girardi can pull it off.
Big mailbag this week. Thirteen questions in all. You can send us a question any time using the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does.
Kevin asks: If Hector Olivera is really ready to step in as an everyday second baseman, isn’t there some value in signing him even if they deal him away at the deadline or next winter? He isn’t exactly young but if he has 3-4 years left of starter production, the Yankees could get a useful piece or a good prospect or two for him if he shows good numbers for a season.
Olivera held his final open showcase earlier this week and is now expected to hold some private workouts as he waits for MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control to declare him a free agent. Ben Badler says that could happen any day now. Here’s more from Badler’s must read report on the open workout:
Yet, on talent alone, Olivera was a better player than (Rusney) Castillo and (Yasmany) Tomas when they were in Cuba. Olivera is 29 while Castillo is 27 and Tomas 24, so that works against him, but Olivera is the same age as most major league free agents. But if I had my choice of one of those three players, assuming the team doctors give him a thumbs up, I would take Olivera over Castillo or Tomas. From talking with several scouts about it, I’m not alone in that opinion, either.
Olivera turns 30 in April and he hasn’t played much recently because a blood clot forced him to miss the 2012-13 season Cuba before defecting. He’s played only 73 games since 2011. Olivera’s numbers in Cuba were very good and he consensus seems to be that he’s an immediate MLB contributor at second base (or third base, which he’s played in the past). Assuming he is cleared to sign relatively soon, he’ll be a big leaguer in 2015.
The Yankees need a long-term second baseman and do have a candidate in Rob Refsnyder, but there’s no such thing as too many good players. Olivera would make Brendan Ryan or Stephen Drew expendable and be a viable backup to Chase Headley at third. Badler says Olivera wants Castillo money (six years, $72M), if not in total value than at least in average annual value ($12M). The Yankees would have to guarantee him regular playing time — why would he sign with New York to be a part-timer when other teams will surely offer a regular lineup spot? — and pay luxury tax on the contract, which isn’t insignificant. Olivera does make some sense for the Yankees since he can play second, but, at best, he should be the second priority behind Yoan Moncada.
A.J. asks: Would Moncada really get this much money if all draft prospects were free agents? Right now, Moncada’s price is a function of high demand and low supply but if every draft prospect was a FA, then the supply would be much higher.
I think he would. We’re not talking about some run of the mill prospect here, he’s an elite young player and a potential franchise cornerstone. Those players are in very low supply and very high demand. If every draft prospect was a free agent, guys like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg would still command top dollars. Teams would go all out to get those players. It’s the mid and bottom tier guys that would be hurt the most. Someone like Ian Clarkin, for example. There are multiple Ian Clarkins in every draft. There’s only one Moncada though. One Harper, one Strasburg, the very top of the line so clearly better than everyone else guys. The supply for those types of players is one. There’s one available. I think they’d still get massive bonuses. (In fact, I bet Harper and Strasburg would have gotten more than Moncada because teams had more scouting history.)
Jim asks: What are the chances Refsnyder is no better than a guy like David Adams? Adams didn’t have quite the same gaudy minor league stats that Refsnyder had last year, but it was hoped he could hold down a big league job and was pretty terrible. Are the scouts and the Yankees higher on Refsnyder than they were on Adams?
Pre-ankle injury Adams was a pretty damn good prospect, but I do think Refsnyder now is better than Adams then. Refsnyder’s a much better pure hitter with a better chance to hit for power long-term, and although he’s a really poor defensive second baseman, Adams was just okay in the field himself. Adams suffered a catastrophic ankle injury in a freak accident sliding into a base in 2010 and that was it. He never had the same mobility or athleticism after that. This is an imperfect measure, but Refnsyder has consistently been ranked as one of New York’s top 12 prospects these last few weeks. Adams topped out as the team’s 22nd best prospect in 2009 and 2010 according to Baseball America, and they put their rankings together by talking to scouts. There’s always a chance Refsnyder will stink in MLB like Adams, that’s just baseball, but he’s a better prospect right now than Adams ever was.
Allen asks: How important is the 2015 draft going to be for the Yankees moving forward? The team made that huge international free agency push but also has one of the highest pools available to them to pursue some top prospects?
Let’s start with the obvious: the draft is always important. I do think it is more important in some years than others, like when a team has multiple first round picks (like the Yankees this year) or an awful farm system in need of talent. The Yankees will be shut out of the top international players the next two years because of the penalties stemming from last summer’s spending spree, so the draft will be their only avenue to add high-end impact talent.
The team has nearly $8M to spend on the draft this year and they can turn that into multiple top prospects even though talent tends to come off the board more linearly now. There’s always one or two guys who slip through the cracks. The Yankees won’t have any extra draft picks the next few years — they don’t have anyone coming off the roster worthy of a qualifying offer anytime soon — so between that and the international free agency penalties, this is their last chance to add multiple top prospects at once. I’m not going to call it a critical draft year for the Yankees, but it is important. They won’t have access to much top talent after the draft through 2017.
Tom asks: Would you rather have the 26, 32, and 33 picks in the draft or 16 and 30?
I’d definitely rather than 26/32/33 than 16/30. (The Yankees had 26/32/33 two years ago and have 16/30 this year.) There has been a ton of studies looking at the projected value of draft slots — here’s one by Matthew Murphy — and they’ve all shown there really isn’t a ton of difference between picks 11-40 or so. There’s a substantial drop-off after the top five picks and another big (but not as big) drop-off after the tenth pick. Yes, you have a much better chance of getting the guy you want at 16 than you do with 26, but I’d prefer three picks in that 11-40 range to two. I would totally understand the argument for going 16/30 over 26/32/33, don’t get me wrong, but in that portion of the draft, I’ll go with quantity.
Travis asks: Looking at the farm system, and considering the last couple of drafts, do you think the Yankees will focus on position players or pitchers and will they be college or prep? I’m talking the first two rounds here (3 picks).
Under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees have gone from college heavy (2006-07) to high school heavy (2008-12) to back to college heavy (2013-14) in the draft. They took 39 players last year and 32 were college kids, and it’s not a coincidence either. Here’s what Oppenheimer told Chad Jennings following last summer’s draft:
“It seems like we’re getting some college guys up there a little quicker and through the system a little quicker,” amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer said. “So, if all’s equal right now, we’re kind of looking at it that we might lean toward the college guy.”
Because of that recent shift, I do expect the Yankees to focus on college players again this year. As for position players vs. pitchers, I don’t think the team will focus on one specific area with their top picks. I think they’re going to use those 16th and 30th overall picks (and 57th overall in the second round) to get the best possible players they can.
The farm system is position player heavy right now, so pitching would make sense, but if the Yankees think the best available player is a bat, I think they’ll take a bat. The middle to late rounds are where they seem to start addressing specific needs in the system. This upcoming draft appears to be very pitcher heavy — both high school and college — so the smart money is on the Yankees nabbing a college pitcher or two with their top two picks.
Jeb asks: How would you feel about trading some of the IFA slot money for a competitive balance pick? Is that allowed straight up or would a player have to be involved as well?
It is allowed and I’d be completely in favor of it. The Yankees are still going to have a full-size international bonus pool but won’t be able to give out any bonuses more than $300,000 — based on last year, their pool will be $2.3M or so — so they can definitely spare some in a trade. The eleven competitive balance picks are Nos. 37-42 and 71-75, and that first group will come with considerable slot values, $1.5M or so. The second group will be in the high six figures.
Here’s where it gets tricky: teams can only trade half their international bonus money in a given year, so of that $2.3M, the Yankees can only trade $1.15M. On top of that, they have to find common ground with a trade partner. Would it be a straight straight swap, X draft dollars for X international dollars? I’m guessing no since international free agency is much riskier than the draft. Maybe it’s more like X draft dollars for 1.5*X international dollars? Since they’re limited internationally this year, the Yankees absolutely should see if a club would flip one of those competitive balance picks (likely the 71-75 range) for international money.
Stan asks: Looking forward at the Yankee free agents to be, do you think the Yankees re-sign Ivan Nova long term in 2017 if he bounces back from surgery to have a typical Nova year? I am guessing that Eovaldi and Pineda will be re-signed if they pitch as expected but Nova seems to win games despite not pitching particularly well (statistically) all the time which has to count for something. Also if they do what do you think the years/money would be?
Here’s the problem: what is a typical Nova year? We still don’t know. Here are his three full seasons in MLB:
- 2011: 3.70 ERA (116 ERA+) and 4.00 FIP
- 2012: 5.02 ERA (84 ERA+) and 4.60 FIP
- 2013: 3.10 ERA (129 ERA+) and 3.47 FIP
So which one is the real Nova? In his two good years he started out poorly, got sent to Triple-A, then came up in the second half and dominated. Next year is not going to tell us anything useful because Nova will miss the first half of the season and spend the second half shaking off the usual post-Tommy John surgery rust. So any re-signing decisions are going to be based mostly on his 2017 season and that’s sort of scary.
In parts of five MLB seasons, Nova has been perfectly league average overall: 4.20 ERA (100 ERA+) and 4.19 FIP in 537.2 innings. It’s been a bumpy ride of course, but the end result is average. Average is good! Average players have value. In recent years some average free agent pitchers include Edwin Jackson (four years, $52M), Jason Hammel (two years, $20M), Scott Feldman (three years, $30M), and Jason Vargas (four years, $32M). The average of those four deals is something like three years and $10M per season. Would three years and $30M be appropriate for Nova? I guess that depends on what happens in 2017.
Joe asks: If Zack Greinke decides to opt out this coming offseason, can he get a contract like Max Scherzer’s? If he only wants 6/140, what is Yankees going to do?
I expect Greinke to opt-out after the season and I don’t think he’ll get Scherzer money mostly because he’s nearly two full years older than Scherzer. Scherzer hit the market at 30. Greinke will be 32 next offseason. Scherzer is also the better pitcher right now even though Greinke is really damn good himself. He reminds me so much of Mike Mussina, from his pitching style to his stuff to his delivery to his humorously crabby demeanor. There’s a lot of high-end pitching scheduled to hit the market next winter and Greinke will be the oldest of the bunch, so maybe he’s going to end up getting James Shields’d. Either way, I don’t expect the Yankees to pursue him. I get the sense from the last time he was a free agent that they don’t think he’d fit well in a big market (obviously he’s fared well in Los Angeles, but zomg New York is so much tougher), and besides, they don’t seem to be in a rush to sign guys ready to hit their decline years.
Vinny asks: Any chance the Mets would take Ryan in a deal for one of their pitchers?
I joked about a Ryan for Bartolo Colon trade after the Yankees re-signed Drew but I don’t see why the Mets would do that. They said all winter that they’re comfortable with Wilmer Flores at short and Ruben Tejada backing him up, and if they’re going to blow up that plan, it wouldn’t be for someone like Ryan. I’m sure the Mets would be happy to send Colon and his $11M salary to the Bronx. I just think they’d rather than some Single-A or Double-A prospect than Ryan, who doesn’t really fix their shortstop situation.
Brian asks: What is the difference between minor leagues who are invited to Spring Training and the random minor leaguers who play the 8th inning of Spring Training games? They’re not on the invite list but are able to get into games so what is different about them and the Aaron Judges?
Players invited to big league camp get big league meal money, big league lodging, that sort of stuff. The guys in minor league camp don’t have it nearly as good. Judge and the 26 other non-roster players the Yankees are bringing to camp this year will be treated like players on the 40-man and get all those perks. The random players brought over from minor league camp for a day to make a long road trip or play in a split squad game only get those perks for the day they are called up, from what I understand. No one gets paid for Spring Training — players get paid during the season only — but the perks and accommodations are way different between big league camp and minor league camp.
Gene asks: Will Bird get a chance to play before Teixeira’s contract is up or will he need to wait?
Mark Teixeira‘s contract expires after the 2016 season and I do think Greg Bird will get a chance with the Yankees before then. I’ve written about this before. Teixeira gets hurt a few times each year and that will create an opportunity for Bird, especially if it’s an extended absence. That said, I don’t think Bird will get an opportunity in New York this coming season. He’s played only 27 games above High Class-A and there’s still some development that needs to happen. This season Garrett Jones will backup Teixeira. But 2016? That’s when Bird figures to get a chance.
Ross asks: How much goodwill would it be if A-Rod announced that when he hits his 6th home run this year he will donate the entirety of the $6 million he’ll get to charity? It would make it extremely hard for the Yankees to fight him getting the money and would be a rare A-Rod move that is almost impossible to criticize.
Hah, you underestimate the fans and media (and Yankees). Here is some sample outrage we could see should A-Rod in fact donate the $6M bonus to charity:
- “He’s made $400M in his career, why does he need to wait until he gets this bonus to donate $6M?”
- “How dare he donate tainted bonus money!”
- “Only $6M? Really?”
- “Classic A-Rod trying to distract from a good deed and draw attention to himself.”
- “A-Rod is trying to embarrass the organization by donating it himself rather than letting the team do it.”
Trust me, it’s A-Rod. If he donates the bonus money to charity, people will somehow make it out to be a bad thing. I promise. Just sit back and enjoy the silliness.
This is your open thread for the night. Both the Rangers and Islanders are playing and there’s some college hoops on as well. Talk about those games, Whitley’s offseason work, or anything else right here.
With Spring Training right around the corner, prospect season is in full swing around baseball, as new team top ten and global top 100 lists are posted just about everyday. (My annual top 30 Yankees prospects list will be going live next Friday, by the way.) The lists ultimately don’t mean anything, they’re just someone’s opinion, but they are fun to discuss and debate. Prospects can be very polarizing.
Prior to both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, I ranked C Gary Sanchez as the Yankees’ top prospect. So did Keith Law. Baseball America had Sanchez third prior to 2013 and first prior to 2014. Sanchez was also a staple on top 100 lists those two years, ranking as the 57th and 35th best prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to 2013 and 2014, respectively. Law him 18th and 68th those two years. Baseball Prospectus had him 47th and 85th, and MLB.com had him 36th and 47th. On and on it goes.
This year though, Sanchez has slid down the rankings. Both Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the third best prospect in the system a few weeks ago while Baseball America had him fifth. That is partly due to other players in the organization (specifically OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino) breaking out, but people have also soured on Sanchez. He had not appeared on any top 100 lists this year. Not Law’s, not Prospectus’, not MLB.com’s, and almost certainly not Baseball America’s when it is released next week.
I’m not going to call Sanchez’s absence on the various top 100 lists crazy — they’re all excellent and well-informed lists, every one of ‘em — but I guess I do find it surprising. Well, I do and I don’t. It isn’t surprising because people are clearly down on him. It is surprising because Sanchez is still a pretty damn good prospect. I mean, look at this snippet from Baseball America’s recent scouting report:
If everything clicks, he’s a frontline catcher with the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually. His throwing arm remains an impressive tool as well, one that ranks between 70-80 on the scouting scale, and he threw out 39 percent of basestealers.
That’s pretty awesome. Sanchez isn’t that guy yet, obviously, if he was he’d be in the big leagues, but that’s the kind of talent he has. “Sanchez will show you flashes of the ability that once made him a top-25 prospect in all of baseball,” wrote Law in his top ten post before getting to the caveat, “but he’ll also take whole pitches or innings off mentally, and catching isn’t a position you can play half-fast.”
That last part is Sanchez’s biggest issue. He’s had some work ethic related mishaps — Sanchez infamously refused to catch a bullpen session with Low-A Charleston a few years ago and was sent back to Extended Spring Training for disciplinary reasons — and his defense hasn’t improved as hoped, and that’s the scouting reason why he’s tumbling down the prospect rankings.
I also think there’s another factor: prospect fatigue. It happens all the time. Sanchez signed with the Yankees as a 16-year-old in 2009, so he’s been in the system for five full seasons now. That’s a lot. People are getting sick of his seeing his name on prospect lists. Following prospects is not about instant gratification but people always love their new toys more than their old ones. Sanchez has been around a long time and people are getting tired of him.
And yet, Sanchez just turned 22 last month. He’s only four months older than LHP Jacob Lindgren, who the Yankees just drafted last summer. Sanchez hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers as a full-time catcher in Double-A last year at age 21, making him 3.7 years younger than the average Eastern League player according to Baseball Reference. Heck, he’s been three years younger than the competition every season of his career.
If the Yankees signed some college catcher out of the draft, sent him right to Double-A, and he did what Sanchez did age 21 last year, we’d all think it was pretty awesome. But instead everyone has been pretty underwhelming by Sanchez. Everyone’s waiting for the big breakout year — a Jesus Montero year, if you will — that still hasn’t come even though Sanchez hasn’t ever actually been bad.
This brings us to another point I want to discuss: 2015 being a make or break year for Sanchez. I mean, no. The idea that a 22-year-old kid is facing a make or break year that will determine if he’s a prospect going forward or someone to forget about is silly. No one with half a brain would write off a 22-year-old with Sanchez’s ability. That said, I do think it is a make or break year for Sanchez with the Yankees’ organization.
The Yankees clearly prioritize catcher defense and have for years — the only bad defensive catcher they’ve had since 2007 is Jorge Posada. They called Montero a future big league catcher as long as possible until finally trading him away because no, they really didn’t think he was a catcher. Peter O’Brien was traded for the very same reason last summer. Sanchez has better defensive tools and a much better chance of sticking behind the plate than either Montero or O’Brien, but he’s still rough at the position and the improvement hasn’t come as quickly as hoped.
If that defensive improvement doesn’t come this year, a year in which Sanchez is slated to head to Triple-A Scranton, then his days with the organization are probably over. The Yankees will cut bait like they did with Montero and O’Brien and cash Sanchez in as a trade chip even though he has a chance to be an impact bat. So it’s not a make or break year for Sanchez’s career overall, but I do think it’s a make or break year for him with the Yankees. That makes sense, right?
Because Sanchez was a huge money international signing ($3M!) and has been one of the top rated prospects in the system for years, people have been watching and waiting for that mammoth season that validates all the time we’ve put into following him. It hasn’t happened and people are getting tired of waiting — I think the same thing happened with Dellin Betances two or three years ago too — but that doesn’t make him any less of a prospect. Sanchez is still really good and has loads of ability. But, unless he improves his defense this year, chances are he’s going to find himself in another organization.
Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada has officially been a free agent for about a week now, and it appears he is relatively close to making a decision. David Hastings, Moncada’s representative, told Jayson Stark and Dylan Hernandez his client hopes to pick a new team by February 23rd, ten days from today.
“I’m hoping, certainly, that by the end of next week, we’ll have a much clearer picture of where he will sign,” said Hastings to Hernandez. “I’m kind of hoping we’re at the final end of the process. I hope I will be able to get Yoan into a team’s Spring Training practice as soon as possible.”
The Yankees were one of several teams to have Moncada in for a private workout, and Hastings confirmed several clubs have requested “look-backs,” or a second private workout. Those “look-backs” are scheduled for next week and it’s unclear which teams asked for the second look. Maybe the Yankees, maybe not. We don’t know.
“If a team is going to put this much money on the table, I can’t imagine they can see the kid one time and say, ‘He’s worth millions of dollars.’ So they might want to come back and take a look at a second little aspect [of his game],” said Hastings to Stark. “I don’t have any more plans [for workouts] after next week. I’m looking at around the 23rd of this month to have all the input we need to make a decision on where he’ll start — and hopefully end — his professional career.
“I’ve had to become his nutritionist, his [medical adviser], his baseball trainer and his legal and financial adviser,” Hastings added. “I’m not an expert in nutrition for a 19-year-old potential superstar. I want a team that has all these professionals and experts to take over and say, ‘OK, this is what we need to do with this kid.’ The sooner the better.”
Hastings said he has one offer in hand but declined to identify the team. Most expect Moncada to wind up with a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, which would smash the record ($8.27M by Yoan Lopez) for a player under the current international spending rules. Moncada’s bonus will be taxed at 100% because whichever team signs him will exceed their international bonus pool, meaning he’s a $60M to $80M investment. All up front too.
By all accounts, the 19-year-old Moncada is a potential superstar. He’s a switch-hitter with power and speed who most expect to wind up at second or third base long-term. Jim Callis put together a fun post comparing Moncada’s tools to those of the game’s top shortstop prospects and, in a nutshell, Moncada is as good as anyone. His worst tool is his fielding skill and Callis rated that as average. Everything else is above-average or better.
At this point everything we’ve seen has said Moncada was a budding star. There hasn’t even been the token “he’s overrated” quote from an anonymous scout that usually pops up when discussing top prospects. Based on that, it’s tough to believe any team will pass on Moncada for talent-related reasons. I get the sense this is going to come down to the owner most willing to stomach a massive up front payout to get the guy his baseball people love.
We’ve spent, well, just about the entire offseason discussing rotation options should Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), or whoever else get hurt during the 2015 season, but the pitching staff is only one piece of the team. The Yankees suffered several position player injuries last summer and didn’t always have an appropriate backup. Remember Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson at first? Zelous Wheeler at third? Martin Prado in right? It wasn’t pretty.
Thanks to their offseason machinations and improved farm system, the Yankees appear to be better prepared to handle the inevitable position player injury(ies) this coming season. And they are inevitable. Someone’s going to pull a hamstring, take a pitch to the hand, something like that. It takes way more than 25 players to win, remember. Teams put the entire 40-man roster to work each season and the Yankees have more position appropriate backup plans in place for 2015. Let’s run them down.
You’re not going to find a bigger SKJRM (Serial Killer John Ryan Murphy because his name sounds like a serial killer, for you newbies) fan than me, but even I am a little nervous about the idea of Murphy taking over as the everyday catcher if McCann gets hurt at some point this year. McCann’s a pretty damn important player to the Yankees* and losing him to injury would be a big blow. Romine is out of options and will probably be in a different organization come Opening Day, either via waivers or a minor trade, leaving Rodriguez as the likely third string catcher. He has two MLB games to his credit. In the worst case scenario, I think the Yankees would make a trade for a veteran stopgap backstop rather than call up Gary Sanchez for an extended period of time.
* The starting catcher is an important player for every team, this isn’t unique to New York.
Finally, a real live backup first baseman. Nine players played at least one game at first base for the Yankees last summer, including McCann, Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, and Francisco Cervelli. The team’s approach to backing up Teixeira last year was basically “we’ll put anyone there,” but now they have Jones, a true first baseman with over 400 games of experience at the position in MLB and another 800 or so in the minors. He played 129 games at first for the Marlins just last year. Phew. When Teixeira needs a day off or gets hurt this coming season, the Yankees can stick Jones there and we all won’t have to hope for the best on ground balls to first or slightly off-line throws from other infielders. If both Teixeira and Jones get hurt at some point, I guess McCann would see time at first, or Kyle Roller could get the call from Triple-A if he mashes again.
Starter: Didi Gregorius
Backup Plan: Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan
I’m going to lump the two middle infield spots together because I think if either Drew or Gregorius misses time this year, Refsnyder is going to step into the lineup as the replacement. He’ll take over second if Drew gets hurt, and if Gregorius gets hurt, Drew will slide over to short and Refsnyder will take over at second. Ryan is there for the day-to-day stuff. Gregorius sitting against a tough lefty or Drew needing a day off after starting 15 straight, something like that. If there’s an extended absence though, I believe Refsnyder’s the guy. Ahead of Ryan and ahead of Jose Pirela.
Third base is a potential problem area should injury strike. There is no obvious fill-in candidate until A-Rod shows he can handle the position at least somewhat regularly, say two or three times a week, and that might not ever happen. Ryan’s played a handful of games at the hot corner in his career, Gregorius has ten career innings at third, and Drew has never played there as a pro. Even Pirela just has a handful of games at third in his career.
The Yankees did add some minor league infield depth in Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, and Cole Figueroa, none of whom we want to see in the Bronx playing regularly next year. They’re emergency options, and if A-Rod can’t play third, it might be an emergency the instant Headley gets hurt. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.
This all depends on Alex. If he can play third base some, they’ll have an okay backup plan. If he can’t, the Yankees will probably have to go outside the organization should Headley go down for an extended period of time.
Starter: Jacoby Ellsbury
Backup Plan: Gardner, Young
Starter: Carlos Beltran
Backup Plan: Young and Jones
The outfield is pretty straight forward so I’m going to lump the three positions together. The backup plan should any of the starters go down is a Young/Jones platoon. (Jones has some left field experience but not much, though I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to throw him out there if necessary.) If either Gardner or Beltran gets hurt, the Young/Jones platoon takes over in either left or right. If Ellsbury gets hurt, Gardner takes over in center and the Young/Jones platoon steps into left. Simple, right?
Young has been a center fielder his entire career and is still a quality defender, so he’s the third option there. Pirela logged a decent amount of time in left in the minors and is probably the sixth outfielder — behind the starting three, Young, and Jones — by default. Ramon Flores had a nice run in Triple-A last summer (116 wRC+) before hurting his ankle and is next in line behind Pirela. As of this very moment, I think Flores would get the call over Tyler Austin, who is also on the 40-man roster and slated to open the year with the RailRiders. That could change if Austin straight up mashes.
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Aside from third base and the always vulnerable catcher position, the Yankee have clearly defined backup plans all over the field. Young and Jones have the outfield covered, Refsnyder is backing up the middle infield in case of a long-term absence, and Jones is a true backup first baseman behind Teixeira. The Yankees had to scramble for help whenever a position player got hurt the last few years, particularly on the infield, but they have more protection now. Hopefully they won’t need to use these backup plans, but you know as well as I do that it’s inevitable. The 162-game schedule is cruel like that.