Open Thread: 2/27 Camp Notes

"Are you sure this is a real photography studio? What did you say your name was again?" (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In case you missed it earlier, Joe Girardi announced his rotation for the first few Spring Training games. Here’s the latest from Tampa on photo day…

  • In a stunning turn of events, Chad Jennings has today’s pitching and hitting groups. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia all threw live batting practice, as did Cory Wade and some minor leaguers. Everyone except Austin Romine and Robinson Cano hit (more on Robbie in a few bullet points).
  • George Kontos will resume throwing on Friday after an oblique problem sidelined him last week. If that goes well, he’ll follow up with a bullpen session. [Jennings]
  • Andy Pettitte is in camp as a guest instructor and will be in Tampa for a few days. He’s offered to throw batting practice but said he hasn’t been tempted to come out of retirement. [Bryan Hoch, Jack Curry & Erik Boland]
  • Sad news: Cano’s grandmother passed away yesterday, so he’s back to the Dominican Republic for a few days. Condolences to him and his family. [Hoch]

Here is your open thread for the night. The Rangers are playing the Devils, but that’s it for local sports. Talk about whatever your heart desires here. Enjoy.

A.J. opens college fund for McCutchen’s daughter in exchange for #34

No, this has nothing to do with a Yankees, but it’s a cool story and does involve two familiar names. According to Bill Brink, A.J. Burnett will open a college savings plan for Dan McCutchen’s unborn daughter in exchange for his jersey number, #34. “When a veteran comes in and takes a number, some of the guys usually get something,” said McCutchen, who went from the Yankees to Pittsburgh in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade back in 2008. “I know he has kids. He asked me what I wanted, I brought that up.”

Usually you hear stories about watches or fancy dinners or whatever, but bravo to McCutchen and Burnett for thinking outside the box. Obligatory Snark: I’m glad to see some of the money the Yankees are paying Burnett is going to a good cause.

Girardi announces early Spring Training rotation

All eyes will be on Pineda next Monday.

Real live baseball games will be played later this week, prompting Joe Girardi to announce his early Spring Training rotation this afternoon. Courtesy of Bryan Hoch (all game start at 1:05pm ET)…

With all due respect to everyone else, the big news is Pineda’s first start, which will be televised live one week from today. The Phillies train 15-20 minutes from Tampa in Clearwater, so it’s not like the Yankees are sending him on a big long road trip. There will be plenty of time for that later in March. Hooray baseball? Hooray baseball.

[Photo via Hoch]

It’s official: Eric Chavez is back

Update (4:58pm ET): Via the AP, Chavez can earn another $3.05M in incentives. He’ll get $50k for 75 PA, $100k each for 100 and 150 PA, $200k each for 200 and 250 PA, $300k each for 300 and 350 PA, $400k each for 400 and 450 PA, and $500k each for 500 and 550 PA.

3:30pm ET: The Yankees have officially re-signed Eric Chavez to a one-year deal, the team announced. Reports from last week indicate that the contract is worth $900k plus incentives. Chavez, 34, obviously passed his physical for the deal to become official, but it was more than routine given his injury history. He’ll back up both corner infield spots, serve as the primary left-handed pinch-hitter, and fill the designated in-season DL slot.

In a corresponding move, the Yankees placed David Aardsma on the 60-day DL. They currently have 39 players on the 40-man roster with Joba Chamberlain remaining a 60-day DL candidate. Pedro Feliciano was 60-day DL’ed to make room for Raul Ibanez last week.

2012 Season Preview: Fighting Father Time

With Spring Training fully underway, it’s time to begin our season preview. We’re going to change things up a bit this year, focusing on various aspects of the team rather than individual players. You’ll see most players in multiple posts, but the concepts will all be different.

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

“The Yankees are old.”

“Age will catch up to them.”

“Too many old and declining players at key positions.”

Those three statements and countless variations have been as much a part of Yankees Spring Training as batting practice and PFP and the Florida sun over the last half-decade or so. We’ve been waiting for the age problem to manifest itself in the standings for years now, but if you ask some media types and non-Yankees fans, this will surely be the year it happens. Maybe it will, who knows.

According to ESPN, the Yankees currently have the third oldest 40-man roster in the big leagues with an average age of 28.6 years. The Phillies (29.2) and Diamondbacks (28.7) are the only clubs ahead of them, and the next closest AL team is the Red Sox at 27.7. The Yankees have the oldest man on a 40-man roster protecting leads in the ninth inning, the oldest everyday shortstop, and the third oldest third baseman. Here’s a look at the team’s most veteran of veterans, with the listed ages being as of Opening Day, April 6th.

Derek Jeter, 37
The Cap’n is about to begin his 17th full season as the Yankees shortstop, which blows my mind because it still feels like his rookie year just happened. Jeter finished last season like a madman after missing close to a month with a calf injury, hitting .331/.384/.447 in 314 plate appearances after coming off the DL on Independence Day. It was the Jeter of old rather than old Jeter, the guy that hit .267/.336/.357 overall and .246/.309/.311 against righties in his previous 1,032 plate appearances dating back to the start of 2010. He cited a mechanical fix realized during his rehab as the cause, which helped him get the ball airborne rather than be an extreme ground ball hitter…

Green is grounders, blue is fly balls, red is line drives. (via FanGraphs)

Jeter may have been able to fight off Father Time in the second half last year, but doing so again in 2012 will be a tough assignment. This will be his age 38 season, and only seven shortstops in baseball history have posting an OPS+ of at least 90 during a full season at that age (or older). Omar Vizquel (93 OPS+ in 2006) is the only player to do it in the last 40 years and one of only two players to do it in the last 60 years. Cal Ripken Jr. and Barry Larkin — two fellow Hall of Fame shortstops — were done as above average, everyday players by age 37. The Cap’n turned back the clock last season, but with two more guaranteed years and a player option left on his contract, the Yankees are hoping the mechanical fix wasn’t just a mirage.

Alex Rodriguez, 36
The last four years have been quite literally painful for A-Rod. He’s spent significant time on the DL with hip, calf, and knee problems during those four years, not to mention non-DL injuries like a sprained thumb and tendinitis in his surgically repaired hip. Alex hasn’t played in 140 games since winning the MVP in 2007, and he failed to crack the 100-game plateau last season for the first time as a full-time player in his career. He says he plans to play more than 99 games in 2012 (of course he does), but his body may different ideas.

Staying on the field is one thing, but staying productive is another. A-Rod has gone from being a perennial .400+ wOBA guy to just a .360-.365 wOBA player over the last two seasons with a noticeable decline in his power production, bottoming out at a .185 ISO in 2011, his lowest as a full-time big leaguer. The recent history of third baseman in their age 36 season is way better than it is for 38-year-old shortstops, but that really doesn’t mean much. No matter how great of shape he’s been in, A-Rod’s body has betrayed him over the last four years and it will be a surprise if he makes it through 2012 without injury.

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

Raul Ibanez, 39
Brought in only because he was willing to take less money than Johnny Damon and various other DH-types, Ibanez is the classic hanging-on veteran giving it a go at DH in an effort to extend his career. His production has declined steadily in recent years, bottoming out at a .306 wOBA last year, his lowest as a full-time big leaguer. The Yankees are only going to use him against right-handers though (.267/.337/.448 vs. RHP last two years), which should boost his performance given his inability to hit southpaws (.244/.277/.391 vs. LHP last two years). Most 40-year-old DHs provide a negligible return simply because their skills have eroded to the point where not playing the field has little benefit.

Hiroki Kuroda, 37
The Yankees finally got their man this offseason, signing Kuroda to a one-year pact after trying to trade for him at each of the last two deadlines. Not only is the right-hander going to have to adjust to a smaller ballpark and tougher lineups than what he faced during the last four years with the Dodgers, he’s also going to have to combat a 37-year-old body with nearly 2,400 career innings on his arm. Kuroda’s ground ball rate declined in a big way last year (43.2% after 50.8% from 2008-2010), which is due in part to him throwing fewer sinkers than ever. With old battery-mate Russell Martin behind the plate, the Yankees are hoping those strong ground ball rates return because his walk rate has held constant while the strikeout rate has improved during his four years in the States, not declined.

Productive 37-year-old starters are not unheard of, and in fact the Yankees have had three pitchers at least that age post a better than average ERA in the last four years (Bartolo Colon, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina).

Mariano Rivera, 42
Number 42 turned 42 back in November, and has already hinted at retirement early in Spring Training. Unlike the other four guys in this post, his performance hasn’t wavered at all in recent years, and in fact you can argue that the last three or four years have been the best of his career. The cutter still cuts and Mo repeats his delivery like a robot, allowing him to the paint the black on both sides of the plate and induce weak contact like no other.

Rivera isn’t just a great player, he’s a historically great player like Jeter and A-Rod, but one that has shown none of the usual side effects of age. He’ll have his one bad week in April and one bad week in August, prompting questions about whether the baseball grim reaper has finally come for the Sandman. This year will be no different, and despite his age, it’s impossible to have anything but the utmost confidence in Mo at all times. He won’t just stave off Father Time for another year, Mariano will strike him out looking while he bails out on an inside cutter.

* * *

The Yankees do have a number of older and declining big name players, but their importance to the team is generally overstated. Jeter and A-Rod are no longer leading the offense, that responsibility belongs to Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira these days, none of whom are older than 31. Ibanez is as replaceable as it gets and the Yankees do have the depth in Triple-A to replace Kuroda, either internally or via trade. Rivera is still unparalleled in the ninth inning, but the club has a stable of quality relievers and the means to weather the storm. Age is a valid concern for a few members of the team, but it will take more than the decline of the five players above to sabotage the season.

The Nick Swisher Situation

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

It’s been more than three years since Brian Cashman pulled off one of his greatest heists, stealing Nick Swisher from the White Sox for a package of Wilson Betemit and nothing else in particular. Swisher had the worst season of his career with the ChiSox in 2008 (91 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR), plus Ozzie Guillen didn’t like him one bit. Cashman bought low and has been rewarded handsomely, getting three years of well above average production (126 wRC+ and 11.0 fWAR) for a well below market rate ($21.05M total).

The Yankees picked up Swisher’s no-brainer $10.25M option for 2012 early in the offseason, ensuring that the marriage would last at least one more year. The 31-year-old outfielder will become a free agent for the first time after this season, and he started preparing for the open market by switching agents last February and showing up to camp with a noticeably stronger upper body this week (“This is the strongest I’ve ever been,” he said). Swisher has no intention of talking to the club about contract extension during Spring Training or regular season, however.

“That’s not my style, man. I don’t force the issue,” he said yesterday. “I just go and play the game and I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. That’s kind of one of those things that I’m really going to keep in that back corner and not really worry about that until I have to.”

Swisher has made no secret of how much he enjoys playing in New York, which is something I’m sure the Yankees will use as leverage if and when they discuss a new contract. The Michael Cuddyer deal (three years, $31.5M) gives us an idea of what it’ll take to sign Swisher beyond 2012, a deal that would be a bit of a bargain given his production. The problem is that the Yankees seem intent on getting below the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, which will require them to shed approximately $40M in payroll over the next 24 months.

Right field is one obvious spot where the team could save money, replacing Swisher and his $10M+ salary with a low-cost player or two-man platoon. It’s much easier said than done given the production they’d be losing, especially since the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement coming up through the farm system. Maybe Zoilo Almonte is that guy, but there are reasons to be skeptical. If Swisher is allowed to move on, the team will likely to get a little creative to replace him. The Yankees have won World Championships with guys like Chad Curtis and Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer in a corner outfield spot, so it can be done.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 27th, 2012

Spring Training Schedule This Week: vs. University of South Florida (Fri.), @ Phillies (Sat. on MLBN), vs. Phillies (Sun. on YES/MLBN)

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