Spring Training Game Thread: Escape from Tampa

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Finally. After six weeks of Spring Training and a month of meaningless yet necessary Grapefruit League games, the Yankees get to leave Tampa later today. They still have one last Grapefruit League game to play first, however. Only nine innings to freedom!

Today’s reason to watch: CC Sabathia is starting and these days he’s a must watch not because he’s a dominant ace, but because we’re looking for signs of improvement. Sabathia’s had a rough spring and I’m not too concerned about the stats. His velocity has been better but his location has been bad. He needs to iron that out. Like, right now. His next start will be Game Three of the regular season.

The poor Nationals had to make the two-hour bus trip across Florida for this afternoon’s game. They have to bus all the way back to Viera after the game, then fly up to Washington for tomorrow’s exhibition game against the Yankees at Nationals Park. Crummy travel day for them. Such is life. Here is the Nats’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. DH Brian McCann
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Garrett Jones
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. CF Chris Young
  8. 2B Gregorio Petit
  9. C John Ryan Murphy
    LHP CC Sabathia

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Jonathan Galvez, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Ramon Flores, and DH Stephen Drew will be the second string off the bench. C Eddy Rodriguez and IF Dan Fiorito are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP Andrew Bailey, RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Cesar Vargas, and RHP Nick Goody are all listed as available while LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Chris Martin, RHP Danny Burawa, and RHP Jose Ramirez are listed as the extra arms.

The last day in Tampa is a nice one. Clear sky and temperatures in the mid-80s with only a little bit of humidity. The weather this spring was pretty great. This afternoon’s game will begin just after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES and MLB.tv. Apparently this is the MLB.tv Free Game of the Day too, so you don’t need a subscription to watch. The game won’t be blacked out in the Yankees’ home market on MLB.tv. Enjoy the last game from George M. Steinbrenner Field of 2015.

Mailbag: Refsnyder, Harper, Lineup, Farm System, Aiken

Eleven questions and ten answers for you in this week’s mailbag. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us anything at any time. Also, the more succinct your question, the better. I find myself steering clear of the wordy ones for whatever reason.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

Frank asks: Rob Refsynder’s bat looks legit, so, in your opinion, how long do the Yanks give him at 2b before he is moved back to the OF?

I’d say at least two more years of regular playing time, more if he makes some real improvement and is moving in the right direction. Refsnyder would lose a lot of his appeal if he has to move to a corner outfield spot. His bat is just ordinary there, not above-average like it would be at second base. He’s just another guy in right or left field. Refsnyder has only been a second baseman for two years, remember. I don’t think the Yankees should pull the plug after only two or three years.

Eric asks: What do you think of all these articles from NY writers about the Mets taking back New York? Not sure what that really means except the casual fan will favor one team or the other given how well they are doing — is it a mindless exercise by tabloid sportswriters?

Yeah, mostly. The media seems more obsessed with it than the players and we’ve been hearing this is the year the Mets take over New York for a few years now. Remember when the Mets swept the Yankees in the Subway Series two years ago and that was supposed to be some kind of statement? Yeah, no. The Mets might have a better record than the Yankees this season, but what does it matter? Aare more people going to walk around New York with Mets hats or something? I really doubt that. If the media (and Mets fans) want to focus on “taking New York” from the Yankees, whatever. Let them. It means nothing.

M. Greene asks: Do you think that a combination of Ramon Flores/Chris Young/Carlos Beltran is stronger than Beltran/AROD in RF and at DH?

Yeah probably, but not substantially so. The Flores/Young duo will be a million times better defensively in right field than Beltran, but I’m not sure they could match Alex Rodriguez offensively right now, as skeptical I am of Alex’s bat at this point of his career. (Yeah, he’s looked good in camp, but let’s see what happens during the regular season.) Young is a guy who can get exposed pretty quickly at the plate if he plays too much, and while Flores has looked impressive in camp, it’s still just Spring Training. I’m not going to pencil him for league average production just yet.

Daniel asks: Thinking ahead a few years, what do you think about the chances the Yankees make necessary preparations to sign Bryce Harper? Bryce has made it clear the Yankees are his favorite non-Nats team, and there will certainly be a need in a couple years for a plays of his caliber and position. It may be another obstacle between the Yankees and 189 but what do we care.

Harper. (Presswire)
Harper. (Presswire)

There should be no “necessary preparations” to sign someone like Harper, who will hit free agency at age 26 following the 2018 season. These are the Yankees. They have the money to sign absolutely anyone. If Harper develops as expected, he’s going to be a superstar and a guy the Yankees should go all out to sign. He might even be the first $400M player in history. (That seems unlikely in only four years, but who knows.) I totally understand wanting to avoid long-term contracts for players over 30, but Harper will be 26. He’s the kind of guy the Yankees can and should go absolutely bonkers to sign. There’s no such thing as bad $/WAR with players of that caliber, whose value to the franchise transcends what they do on the field.

Vinny asks: Joe Girardi will defer to the veterans, but if Chase Headley‘s hot spring continues into the season and Beltran/Mark Teixeira struggles, do you see Joe putting Headley into the 3rd spot in the lineup?

Vinny asks: If A-Rod somehow manages to be the best hitter on the team as the season moves along, do you think Girardi would move him up in the batting order?

Might as well lump Vinny’s questions together. Yes, I definitely see Girardi moving Headley or A-Rod or whoever up in the lineup if they’re producing and the regular middle of the order guys are not. He moved Robinson Cano up and Teixeira down when the time came. He moved Brett Gardner up when he forced the issue. I don’t think he’d hesitate to move A-Rod or Headley up either. The Derek Jeter situation last year was a special case. If a player needs to be moved down in the lineup and there is someone deserving to replace him, Girardi has shown he will make the move.

Dan asks: Do you think that Montreal will ever get a MLB club again? Why or why not?

Yes but not anytime soon. Montreal showed very recently it is not a baseball town, and no, attendance for two dinky little exhibition games each March is not evidence the city will support an MLB franchise year round. The Expos stunk in their final season (2004) but were in the race for much of the summer in 2002 and 2003, yet they averaged less than 13,000 fans per game. Maybe down the line Montreal would make sense. In a decade or three. Right now though, I have no reason to think the city will support a team. They had their chance and didn’t.

Paul asks: With a fair amount of development of the Int’l signings, could the Yankees minor leagues break the top 10 next year?

Absolutely. You can say that about most teams — “if their young low level guys develop, they’ll be a top system” — but I think the Yankees have more growth potential than most other clubs because of last summer’s international spending spree. They don’t figure to graduate any of their top prospects to MLB this season either, guys like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, so the system won’t take a hit that way. (They might graduate guys like Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren, who won’t drastically change the farm system ranking.) With some strong pro debuts from last year’s international class as well as continued development from guys like Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, Domingo Acevedo, and Ian Clarkin, the system could take a very big step forward this year.

Miller. (Presswire)
Miller. (Presswire)

Dan asks: Is there any significant downside to having 3 or 4 lefty relievers in a bullpen if those guys are the best that you have?

Nope. The best pitchers are the best pitchers, regardless of what arm they throw with. It looks like the Yankees will have three left-handers in their Opening Day bullpen but at least two of them (Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson) can face both righties and lefties without an issue. Chasen Shreve might be able to do that as well. Now, if you have three lefty specialists in your bullpen, that’s a problem. Not much flexibility there. Though I guess if three of your seven best relievers are lefty specialists, you’ve got much bigger roster issues.

Gus asks: Do you think that if Hal Steinbrenner could get a do-over, he’d have signed Yoan Moncada as to make his narrative appeal more authentic?

I think Steinbrenner and the Yankees would do it over because they realize losing out on such a talented player over such a relatively small amount of money was a really terrible decision. The spin on this has been incredible — everyone in the organization seems to be blaming someone else for missing out on Moncada — and I think it kind of dawned on them that they really screwed up and missed an opportunity. I honestly don’t think Hal cares about sounding authentic (when does he?) or getting ripped in the media. I think he cares about having talented young players and realizes having Moncada would give the team a better chance of achieving his precious goal of getting under the luxury tax threshold in two years.

Gerry asks: With Brady Aiken undergoing TJS, would this put him in play for the Yanks at either 16 or 30 in the upcoming draft (should he decide to declare)? This is definitely the type of talent the Yankees often don’t get a chance to pick up (albeit with the risk involved).

Yes, Aiken should be in the play for the Yankees. They have the draft pool space ($7.885M) to pay him a substantial overslot bonus — Aiken reportedly turned down a last minute $5M offer from the Astros last year, but would he take the same amount from the Yankees, would won’t treat him like garbage? — though they’d have to go cheap elsewhere in the draft. That’s fine though. They could do what the Royals did in 2013, when they took Hunter Dozier eighth overall and the injured Sean Manaea 34th overall. Dozier signed below-slot to give them money for Manaea, though by taking him first and Manaea second, they would have lost much less draft pool space had Manaea decided not to sign. Maybe the Yankees take someone they know they can sign cheap with the 16th pick then roll the dice on Aiken (or Duke RHP Mike Matuella, another top draft prospect who recently had Tommy John surgery) with the 30th pick.

Open Thread: April 2nd Camp Notes

The Yankees played a pair of games this afternoon and half the team beat the Pirates 6-2 at home. Michael Pineda allowed one run on six hits in 5.1 innings, striking out six and walking zero. Dellin Betances still looked out of whack — he walked two in a scoreless inning. Andrew Miller got two outs with one pitch while Austin Romine, Garrett Jones, Chris Young, Rob Refsnyder, and Stephen Drew all had a pair of hits. Alex Rodriguez had a good day at first base, making a pair of nice scoops on throws in the dirt. Here are the video highlights and box score for that game.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Yankees lost 3-2 to the Tigers on the road. Bryan Mitchell was charged with all three runs in five innings. He struck out six. Kyle Davies followed him with three perfect innings. No, really. The Yankees only had five hits as a team, including two each by Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy. Eddy Rodriguez had the other hit. Not much else to see in this one. Here’s the box score and video highlights for that game, and here’s the rest from Spring Training:

  • In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees announced another round of roster cuts that all but confirm Chasen Shreve, Chris Martin, and Gregorio Petit will be on the Opening Day roster. The team hasn’t made anything official though. There are still 32 players in big league camp.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) will throw a 45-pitch bullpen session tomorrow and could begin facing hitters next week. He’ll remain in Tampa to rehab after the team leaves for the regular season. Carlos Beltran was scratched from today’s home game with flu-like symptoms and won’t play tomorrow. Brendan Ryan (calf) will go to New York with the team and return to Tampa when he’s ready to resume working out. [Bryan Hoch, Marly Rivera, Brendan Kuty]
  • Joe Girardi said the staff will discuss the closer situation tomorrow. They might not pick a backup catcher until Saturday. “It’s a decision we probably won’t make until Saturday night,” he said. I take that as they need more time to work out a trade for Romine. [Dan Barbarisi, Rivera]
  • Apparently the Yankees have hired a second bullpen coach. I thought it was a second bullpen catcher at first, but no, it’s a second bullpen coach. Anyway, the new coach is Kyle Arnsberg, son of ex-Yankee Brad Arnsberg. Kyle is only 24! [George King]
  • Petit has reported to the team following last night’s trade and it turns out his dad is a big Yankees fan. This must be a cool experience for them. Slade Heathcott will start the season with Triple-A Scranton following his strong spring. [Chad Jennings]
  • And finally, the Yankees announced Joe Torre will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the season opener Monday afternoon. Neat.

Here is your open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s home game against the Pirates will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, and MLB Network will show both Red Sox-Twins and Athletics-Giants live tonight. The (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are both playing as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Latest roster cuts clarify Opening Day bullpen and bench pictures

(Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

The Yankees announced their latest round of roster cuts earlier today, optioning Chase Whitley to Triple-A Scranton and reassigning non-roster invitees Rob Refsnyder, Nick Noonan, and Eddy Rodriguez to minor league camp. By my count there are still 32 players in big league camp, four of whom are injured (Brendan Ryan, Chris Capuano, Ivan Nova, Vicente Campos).

Today’s roster cuts clarify if not finalize the Opening Day bullpen and bench pictures. Whitley was one of four candidates left for the final two bullpen spots along with Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve, and Chris Martin. Bailey told Mark Feinsand today he will stay behind when the team heads north tomorrow and continue working his way back from shoulder surgery with High-A Tampa when the minor league season begins. That leaves Shreve and Martin for the last two bullpen spots.

Ryan’s calf injury opened up the backup infielder’s spot, and while Joe Girardi hinted at Refsnyder being a candidate for the job, his reassignment to minor league camp today confirms he won’t make the team. Same with Noonan. Fellow reserve infielder candidate Cole Figueroa was sent to minor league camp last week, leaving the recently acquired Gregorio Petit as the front-runner for the backup infielder’s job. That makes sense, he can play defense all around the infield (unlike Refsnyder) and is right-handed hitter (unlike Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Noonan, and Figueroa).

I’m very surprised Whitley was sent down. He’s pitched very well in camp. I guess the Yankees feel Whitley is more valuable as the sixth starter in Triple-A than as the second long man in MLB. The backup infielder situation is whatever. As I said this morning, sitting on bench does Refsnyder no good, and picking between Petit, Noonan, and Figueroa is a toss-up. There’s no right or wrong answer. There’s just an answer, and it appears the answer is Petit.

Adam Warren has officially been named the fifth starter, and with Shreve, Martin, and Petit now looking like safe bets for the Opening Day roster, the only position battle left in camp is for the backup catcher’s job. All signs from the last 12 months point to John Ryan Murphy being the guy, but Austin Romine is out of minor league options and Brian Cashman admitted that will play a role in the decision. We’ll see.

A New Era of Widespread AL East Mediocrity [2015 Season Preview]

For the first time since 2006 and only the fourth time since the wildcard system was implemented in 1995, just one AL East team qualified for the postseason last year. The AL East’s reign as baseball’s dominant division is over. The Orioles won the division by 12 games last season but there is no clear cut favorite heading into 2015. It’s just a jumbled mess of mediocrity. There’s a very real chance the division will be without a 90+ win team for the first time since the 2000 Yankees took the AL East with 87 wins. Here’s an overview of the Yankees’ division rivals heading into the new season.

"Hmmm. Who will win this terrible division?" (Presswire)
“Hmmm. Who will win this mediocre division?” (Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Biggest Strength: I say roster depth in general. They have five average or better starters — well, that’s with Kevin Gausman in the rotation and Ubaldo Jimenez in the bullpen — and a quality set of relievers to go with some power bats and a versatile bench. The defense is also very good, especially on the infield. And Buck Showalter is a difference-making manager. His strategic on-field moves are arguably the best in the game. On any given day, Baltimore can win with their pitching or their offense. They’re well-rounded.

Biggest Weakness: The lack of on-base guys — losing Nick Markakis will only exacerbate that — and injury issues. The O’s led baseball with 211 homers last year (the Rockies were a distant second with 186) but were only eighth with 705 runs because their team .311 OBP ranked 17th out of the 30 clubs. The O’s could easily lead MLB in homers again even without Nelson Cruz and that’s great. Homers are awesome! But they’re better when guys are on base.

As for the injury issues, both J.J. Hardy (shoulder) and Matt Wieters (Tommy John surgery) will open the season on the DL. Manny Machado is coming off right knee surgery and has already had surgery on both knees before his 23rd birthday. Will that hamper his mobility at third base? Machado’s an elite defender with a good but not great bat. Any decline in his defense will take a big bite out of his overall value. The starting catcher and left side of the infield carry health concerns.

The O’s In One Sentence: They lost some key players to free agency this past offseason, but there’s no way I’m going to write them off as a contender.

Hanley's back. (Presswire)
Hanley’s back. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Biggest Strength: The offense. Hanley Ramirez is going to be a big help, even if he only plays 120 games. And even though Pablo Sandoval has gotten overrated — I’m guessing there are many fans who’ve only seen him play in the World Series and think that’s who he is all the time — Red Sox third basemen have hit .226/.280/.351 (85 OPS+) the last two years. He’ll be a big upgrade at the hot corner.

We have no idea what Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo can do across a full MLB season yet, but expectations are high, especially for Betts. (They’re so insanely high at this point that there’s basically no way he can meet them.) Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are still annoyingly productive, and there’s at least some hope Dustin Pedroia can halt his decline now that his thumb’s healthy. The Red Sox are going to mash, especially at home.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. My goodness. Forget the “they don’t have an ace” stuff. Do they even have two league average starters? Rick Porcello was quite good last year, with a 116 ERA+ in 204.2 innings, but Clay Buchholz had a 72 ERA+ in 170.1 innings. Justin Masterson has an 83 ERA+ in his last 528 innings (!) and those three miles an hour he lost off his fastball last year haven’t come back this spring. Wade Miley had an 86 ERA+ in 201.1 innings last year and Joe Kelly had a 91 ERA+ in 96.1 innings. Also, this group has combined for an 18.0% strikeout rate the last three years, so they miss a below average number of bats. Who’s going out there to stop a losing streak?

The Sawx In One Sentence: If the Red Sox are going to contend, they’ll have to contend like the mid-2000s Yankees and outhit their own pitching staff.

No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)
No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Biggest Strength: I … I … I don’t know. I guess the revamped outfield defense with Kevin Kiermaier in center and Desmond Jennings in left? Otherwise the Rays don’t seem to be particularly good at anything. Evan Longoria is a really good player, Chris Archer is a quality starter, and the Jake McGee/Brad Boxberger bullpen duo is as good as it gets, at least once McGee comes back from offseason elbow surgery. That’s about it. Unlike the Orioles, who don’t have an obvious strength but are solid all around, the Rays don’t have an obvious strength and have questions all around.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. Remember when the Rays used to add a new immediate impact rookie starter to their rotation year after year? That doesn’t happen anymore. They needed 24 starts from Roberto Hernandez in 2013 and 15 starts from Erik Bedard in 2014. Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery), Alex Cobb (forearm), and Drew Smyly (shoulder) are all hurt, so Tampa Bay had to scramble to trade for the extremely homer prone Erasmo Ramirez a few days ago and will start Nate Karns in the second game of the season. He had a 5.08 ERA in a full season at Triple-A last year. This rotation won’t be Devil Rays caliber bad, but it is in no way a strength.

The Rays In One Sentence: Ex-manager Joe Maddon and ex-GM Andrew Friedman jumped ship and not a moment too soon.

Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of 'em is Toronto's best hitter. (Presswire)
Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of ’em is Toronto’s best hitter. (Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Biggest Strength: Middle of the lineup. The 3-4-5 combination of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson is straight up terrifying. They rank 10th, 11th, and 20th in OPS+ the last two years (min. 800 PA) and 7th, 2nd, and 18th in homers, respectively. Those three are going to generate a ton of runs, especially when Jose Reyes is healthy and leading off. Bautista and Encarnacion were scary enough these last few years. Adding Donaldson to the mix is unfair.

Biggest Weakness: Top heavy roster and extreme reliance on youth. Toronto is going to have two rookies in the rotation (Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez), two rookies in the lineup (Dalton Pompey and Devon Travis), and two rookies in the bullpen (Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro). For a team looking to contend, they’re putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of young players with no real backup plans. Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle have to produce as expected for this club to have a chance. They don’t have the pieces to cover for a disappointing season from one of the veterans.

The Jays In One Sentence: Once again the Blue Jays made some big splashes in the offseason but stopped short of adding all the pieces they need, especially pitching.

Spring Training Dual Game Thread: Big Mike and the Split Squads

BIG MIKE IS HERE

The Yankees finally get to leave Florida tomorrow — they will make a quick one-game stop in Washington to play the Nationals on Saturday before arriving in New York — but they have to play three games before fleeing Tampa, including two this afternoon. Half the team is home in Tampa to play the Pirates and the other half is 45 minutes up the road in Lakeland to play the Tigers. There will be video broadcasts of both games too, so hooray for two Yankees games at the same time!

Reason to watch today’s home game: Big Mike! He’ll be on the mound making his final spring tune-up start. Dellin Betances is also scheduled to pitch and he’s still working through whatever’s been hampering him in camp. Stephen Drew is playing shortstop for the first time this spring — he told reporters yesterday he hasn’t even taken grounders at short, though Brendan Ryan‘s calf injury means the Yankees need Drew to be an option there. Also, Alex Rodriguez is starting at first base for the second time this spring. And finally, old buddy A.J. Burnett will be on the bump for the Pirates. It’s already been three years since he was traded away. Time flies.

Here is the starting lineup for the home game against the Buccos:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 1B Alex Rodriguez
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Austin Romine
  5. RF Garrett Jones
  6. LF Chris Young
  7. SS Stephen Drew
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. 3B Eric Jagielo
    RHP Michael Pineda

Available Position Players: 1B Greg Bird, 2B Tyler Wade, SS Cito Culver, LF Ben Gamel, CF Jake Cave, and RF Aaron Judge will be the second string off the bench. Romine is also scheduled to move from DH to catcher. C Jesus Aparicio, C Radley Haddad, IF Dan Fiorito, and UTIL Jose Rosario are the extra bodies.

Available Pitchers: RHP David Carpenter, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Dellin Betances, and RHP Jose Ramirez are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Branden Pinder, LHP Chasen Shreve, and LHP Fred Lewis are the extra arms.

Reason to watch today’s road game: Didi Gregorius returns to the lineup after missing a few days with a minor wrist sprain. He landed on it awkwardly last week and was able to go through a full workout yesterday with no issues. Some rarely seen minor leaguers are scheduled to come off the bench as well. That’s pretty much it for this game. Here is the starting lineup:

  1. SS Didi Gregorius
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C John Ryan Murphy
  5. RF Ramon Flores
  6. CF Slade Heathcott
  7. LF Taylor Dugas
  8. DH Kyle Roller
  9. 2B Nick Noonan
    RH Bryan Mitchell

Available Position Players: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Jonathan Galvez, 2B Ali Castillo, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Dante Bichette Jr., LF Dustin Fowler, CF Mason Williams, and RF Mark Payton will come off the bench to replace the starters. C Kyle Higashioka, UTIL Collin Slaybaugh, and IF Vince Conde are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Kyle Davies, RHP Danny Burawa, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Diego Moreno, and LHP Tyler Webb will following Mitchell out of the bullpen. RHP Kyle Haynes is the lonely extra arm.

The weather for both games will be the same: a little cloudy will temperatures in the low-80s and a bunch of humidity. Both games will start at 1:05pm ET and you can watch the home game against the Pirates on YES and the road game against the Tigers on ESPN. Both games will be on MLB.tv as well. There won’t be any blackouts in the various home markets for ESPN or MLB.tv. Enjoy the games.

Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela injuries don’t leave Yankees many backup infielder options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By and large, the Yankees have made it through Spring Training without any major injuries to significant players. Chris Capuano will miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and while it’s never a good thing to lose pitching depth, he is replaceable. Brendan Ryan suffered a Grade II calf strain yesterday and had to be literally carried off the field. He’s not going to be ready in time for Opening Day, which is now only four days away. Not by a long shot.

Losing Ryan in and of itself is not a big deal, but the middle infield injuries are starting to pile up. Didi Gregorius has missed the last few days with a wrist sprain and is scheduled to return to game action this afternoon, so at least he’s on the mend. Jose Pirela has not done anything more than ride a stationary bike after crashing into the outfield wall ten days ago and suffering a concussion. Thankfully everything seems to be going well with Didi’s wrist, but Ryan and Pirela being hurt at the same time means the Yankees need a new backup infielder. Their options are pretty limited with Opening Day right around the corner. Let’s run ’em down.

A-Rod at Shortstop?

A-Rod mustache

Nope. Moving on …

The Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder Option

The Yankees have insisted Drew is a second baseman, so much so that he’s played zero innings at shortstop during Grapefruit League play. That’ll change today though. Drew is slated to play shortstop during one of the team’s split squad games this afternoon — for what it’s worth, he said he feels he could pick shortstop back up quickly — just so he could be an option in case Didi’s wrist issue lingers.

Following Ryan’s injury yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees could go into the season with Drew as their backup plan at shortstop and carry a second baseman as the backup infielder. That’s about as close as Girardi could come to saying Refsnyder is a candidate for the backup infielder’s job without actually saying it.

“Things can happen quick,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Refsnyder’s bat would be a welcome addition to the bench, but, as we’ve seen this spring, his defense is far from MLB ready. I don’t think the Yankees want to go through the hassle of adding Refsnyder to the 40-man roster* only to have him sit on the bench four out of every five games either. That doesn’t help his development or the team. And no, like it or not Refsnyder wouldn’t take over as the starting second baseman. They’ve made that very clear.

So yes, using Drew as the backup shortstop and carrying Refsnyder as the backup second baseman is an option, but not an ideal one. The 40-man issue is not insignificant — once Refsnyder is added he won’t come off, so flexibility would be hurt — and the Yankees would need to feel confident in Alex Rodriguez as Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. At this point of his career, I don’t see what good being a part-time player does for Refsnyder.

* The 40-man roster is indeed full. The official site shows 39 players but is missing Tyler Austin for whatever reason. Ivan Nova is a 60-day DL candidate, so that’s one easy-to-open spot.

Other Internal Candidates

Beyond Refsnyder, the Yankees’ other internal backup infield options are Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, and the recently acquired Gregorio Petit, the first three of whom were signed to minor league contracts for this exact reason. To be depth in case guys like Ryan and Pirela got hurt. Galvez hasn’t played the middle infield since the 2013 season, so he’s not a good reserve infielder candidate. The Yankees need someone who can play at least second base on the bench.

Figueroa is a contact machine, his bat-to-ball skills are top notch (10.0 BB% and 6.8 K% in nearly 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances), but he has zero power and isn’t much of a defender. Noonan can’t hit but he can defend, all around the infield too. Same with Petit. Figueroa and Noon are left-handed hitters, which isn’t ideal, but there’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. When it comes to this bench spot, I think the club would be better off with Noonan’s or Petit’s glove than Figueroa’s ability to put the ball in play.

Figueroa, Noonan, and Petit would have to be added to the 40-man roster, though, unlike Refsnyder, they don’t have to stay there. They could be designated for assignment whenever Pirela or Ryan gets healthy. These guys aren’t part of the long-term plan and wouldn’t hurt flexibility. There’s a big picture element to all of this the Yankees can’t ignore.

Florimon. (Presswire)
Florimon. (Presswire)

The Out of Options Market

We’ve reached the point of spring where players who are out of minor league options are starting to get traded (Sandy Leon) or placed on waivers (Cesar Puello). It figures to happen with Austin Romine soon too. There are very few out of options infielders for the Yankees to consider as temporary bench players. In fact, of all the infielders on MLBTR’s out of options list, only one is not expected to make his team’s Opening Day roster: Pedro Florimon.

The Pirates are expected to waive Florimon soon, and while he’s a quality defender at short, he has basically no experience at second (nine games in the minors) or third (eleven games in the minors) bases and absolutely can not hit. He’s Ryan without the versatility, basically. The Rays just released Alexi Casilla to avoid paying him the $100,000 retention bonus as an Article XX(B) free agent, so perhaps he’s an option. Casilla’s a more versatile, less defense-y version of Florimon.

Point is, there aren’t many readily available infield options for the Yankees to consider during Ryan’s absence, hence the Petit trade. The Yankees didn’t get someone better because no one better is available. There’s a real dearth of quality infielders in baseball these days. Even replacement level guys are hard to find right now. The Yankees could pick up Florimon and/or Casilla for depth, just to have the extra body around, but they aren’t any sort of upgrade over what they have in house right now.

* * *

As fun as it would be to see Refsnyder on the Opening Day roster, I don’t see the point in carrying him as a bench player. He needs to play to improve his defense. Taking extra ground balls before games won’t help much either. Refsnyder needs game reps. Since Pirela seems to be on the mend, the Yankees can focus on a short-term replacement. I’d prefer Petit or Noonan but if they want Figueroa or Florimon or Casilla, fine, whatever. Either way, this player won’t see much playing time. Or shouldn’t, anyway. The Yankees only need a band-aid right now. Nothing more.