Via Donnie Collins, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman said right-handed reliever Tim Norton is currently “throwing bullpens and feeling fine” following a shoulder injury that ended his season in June. The 28-year-old was brilliant — 46 K and 8 BB in 30 IP — and on the verge of a call-up before suffering his latest shoulder ailment. It was his injury that prompted the Yankees to pick up Cory Wade off the scrap heap. Hopefully Norton stays on the field and continues to make noise this year, but his career-long injury issues leave me pessimistic.
Here’s the latest from not-so-sunny Tampa…
- Chad Jennings has your bullpen and hitting groups, as always. Nothing but minor leaguers and non-roster guys in the bullpen today, and the trio of David Adams, Andruw Jones, and Justin Maxwell continue to be the only non-catchers to hit.
- David Phelps, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, Chase Whitley, and Dan Burawa all threw live batting practice today. Cesar Cabral and Graham Stoneburner are scheduled to do the same tomorrow.
- Russell Martin said Michael Pineda was “babying” his changeup in the bullpen the other day, but it looked good when he really let it go. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild showed the righty a new grip earlier in the week. [Jack Curry]
- Austin Romine has a sore back and will probably be held out of workouts tomorrow. He missed some time with what was termed “inflammation in his discs” last summer, but this sounds precautionary more than anything. [Bryan Hoch]
- “I wouldn’t say,” replied Brian Cashman when asked if Gary Sanchez reported to camp 12 lbs. overweight. Twelve pounds seems oddly specific. [George King]
- Eric Chavez was at the team’s complex today, and confirmed that he still has to take his physical before his deal becomes official. He had other offers this offseason, but it was pretty much Yankees or retirement for him. “This was the spot, if I was going to come back, where I wanted to be,” he said. [David Waldstein, Dan Barbarisi & Erik Boland]
- David Aardsma was apparently at the complex today after signing yesterday. He’s wearing #34. How dare they disrespect A.J. Burnett like that! [Mark Feinsand]
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks are playing the Heat tonight, which is all you’ve got as far as local sports. Talk about whatever you like though, just don’t be an ass.
The Yankees have spent a good portion of the last several offseasons trying to find a competent left-handed reliever, getting next to no return on the millions of dollars spent on proven commodities like Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano. Aside from the ownership-driven Rafael Soriano signing, disaster contracts like those have resulted in the Yankees scaling back their spending on non-Mariano Rivera relievers in recent years.
“I used to sign (Paul) Quantrill, (Steve) Karsay, Gabe White, all these veteran relievers,” said Brian Cashman earlier this week. “Now, our bullpen, for the most part, is homegrown or low-risk guys like Cory Wade who we popped off the waiver wire. The bullpen has become a cheap thing for me.”
The pipeline of relievers in the minors — George Kontos, Chase Whitley, Mark Montgomery, Branden Pinder, etc. — is flush with talent, but most of those guys are a year or two away from the big leagues. Thankfully, the big league bullpen is well-stocked save for one final spot that is up for grabs in camp. Given the Yankee’ (and really all of baseball’s) obsession with left-handed relievers, there’s been a bit of an assumption that the final spot could go to a second southpaw like Mike O’Connor, Clay Rapada, or Rule 5 Draft pick Cesar Cabral. That’s not necessarily the case, however.
“I think you could use [a second lefty],” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “You look at our guys in the late innings, you’re probably going to go to them, and you’re not going to worry about the second left-hander, so I don’t think it’s a necessity. But if you get a left-hander that can maybe give you a little distance or that you’re not afraid to use against right-handers, I think it could be valuable.”
Girardi doesn’t exactly come off as sounding desperate for a second lefty to combat the David Ortizes and Carlos Penas of the AL East. There’s definite value in having a competent second lefty, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to have a quality reliever in that spot, regardless of handedness. As Girardi implied, the Yankees are blessed with several righties who are more than capable against lefties, specifically David Robertson.
I am curious to see Cabral this spring, only because he’s not a retread like O’Connor or Rapada and theoretically has some kind of upside at age 23. He’s a fastball-changeup guy, which is the kind of stuff typically used against batters of the opposite hand and not necessarily in left-on-left matchup situations. Cabral was a starter in the minors as recently as last season, so perhaps he can be that second left-hander as a multi-inning type. I don’t want him on the roster just because of the arm he throws with, however. Take the best reliever, figure out the rest later.
Right now, every team is a contender. Even the Houston Astros, losers of 106 games and with nary an off-season upgrade, could make waves this year. It would take about a dozen things breaking their way, and at least half of them would be of the greatest improbability. But even then, chances are we’ve seen crazier things happen in baseball.
With the Yankees, though, the sense of optimism is justified. After winning more games than any other AL team in 2011, they’ve upgraded the team in the off-season. Acquiring both Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda to the rotation is exciting enough. Add to that a few optimistic reports from camp in Tampa, and it’s pure spring ecstasy.
The wave of optimism started before the Yankees officially opened camp. A few players showed up early, Phil Hughes among them. After a disappointing 2011 season, marred by injuries and ineffectiveness, Hughes reportedly dedicated himself to conditioning this winter. Reports surfaced last week that he showed up in much better shape, much to everyone’s relief.
Yesterday Chad Jennings added fuel to the fire when he quoted Joe Girardi on Hughes’s progress. “I think his curveball has been a little bit more crisp. I think there’s more arm speed there. I think the ball’s coming out better.” A healthy and effective Hughes in that last rotation spot would be a boon for the 2012 Yankees.
Another player with high expectations who delivered a disappointing 2012 is Alex Rodriguez. In December we learned that A-Rod underwent an experimental knee procedure — the same one that Kobe Bryant underwent after last season. Bryant, but most accounts, has bounced back considerably this year. He’s playing more minutes and is putting up superstar numbers. That makes it much easier to imagine A-Rod returning to form in a similar manner.
(That A-Rod is dedicated enough to bring his own food to restaurants is another optimistic sign. He knows the tabloids follow him everywhere, and surely knew they’d catch on to this and try to make it seem embarrassing. But all it is, is a guy dedicated to his nutrition so he can play baseball at the most elite level. Rock on, A-Rod.)
Want the mother of all optimistic reports? How about the one Buster Olney filed on Tuesday about Michael Pineda? Even Brian Cashman admitted that if Pineda never develops a changeup and doesn’t become an ace, he’ll have made a mistake trading Jesus Montero for Pineda. So it warms the hear to see the following paragraph:
But after Pineda arrived in the Yankees’ camp, pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked with him to alter the grip on his changeup. Rothschild mentioned to Martin that Pineda’s changeup is a work in progress before the veteran catcher crouched to work with Pineda in a bullpen session Monday, and Martin was taken aback by how good Pineda’s changeup is already. He turned to Rothschild and said, “Larry, what are you guys talking about?”
In other words: Pineda already has made strides with the changeup, a sign of his aptitude.
It’s not just the big names that are making splashes this spring. This morning Joel Sherman, in a column about Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame chances, drops some gems. By his account, Jones seems more determined than ever. He believes that the adjustments he made to his swing last season will help him not only mash lefties, but also handle righties as well — something he did well during his prime years. Apparently, one of the reasons Jones chose to come back to the Yankees, despite more lucrative offers from other teams, was Kevin Long’s influence.
The most telling line in the column, as Sherman writes it: “[Jones] told hitting coach Kevin Long last year to inform Yankees GM Brian Cashman that he was returning in 2012 to take someone’s job.” Can you imagine what the Yankees lineup would look like if Jones were indeed to the point where he could legitimately take at-bats away from Brett Gardner?
These types of stories appear every spring. They help us warm up from the cold of winter — metaphorical cold, of course, given this winter’s behavior. Still, the odds are long that all of these factors fall into place. It’s wonderful to jump back into baseball and imagine the Yankees with an effective Phil Hughes in the rotation, with an ace-like Michael Pineda behind CC Sabathia, with a back-to-form Alex Rodriguez, and with a rejuvenated Andruw Jones. It’s really the only thing that gets us through the last parts of the off-season and through the preseason. The harsh reality might be a bit less exciting, but it’s still nice to bask in these stories now, while they still bring us hope.
Less than a week into Spring Training, most of the focus has been on Mariano Rivera’s retirement teaser, Michael Pineda’s golden arm, and CC Sabathia’s massive but slimmed down body. Position players have yet to officially report, and the battle for the fifth starter’s job has yet to begin in earnest. Thanks to the Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez signings, there aren’t many other questions to be answered right now. And then there’s Ivan Nova.
The team’s number two starter heading into the postseason last year, Nova has gone through the first three days of camp with minimal fanfare. He’s thrown two bullpen sessions and fielded some grounders, but otherwise his rotation-mates have garnered all of the attention. Given his personality, he probably doesn’t mind at all.
“There’s a quiet confidence to him right now, and it’s good to see it,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild earlier this week. “I thought that last year early, we scored some runs for him and I think it helped him get some wins and then he got some confidence from that. Then you saw him pitch the way that he’s capable of.”
Those two bullpen sessions are important because as you remember, Nova finished last season injured. After climbing the minor league ladder with zero arm issues, a strained flexor in his elbow forced him from Game Five of the ALDS after just two innings. As Joba Chamberlain, Ben Sheets, and Stephen Strasburg can attest, strained flexors have a tendency to result in Tommy John surgery. Nova appears to have avoided the same fate.
“It’s perfect, 100%” he said after a winter of rest. “I was worried a little bit, but they said ‘you’re going to be fine.’”
Sabathia is the unquestioned and ultra-reliable ace, but both Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda will have answer some questions about transitioning to the AL East. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia have their own thing going on, and Nova has stood by idly. His spot in the rotation is all but guaranteed following a strong second half thanks to an improved slider, and if you ask him, he doesn’t care were he slots in.
“I just want to be in the rotation and I want to win games.” said Nova. “I don’t mind if I’m number one, two, three, four, five.”
This all nothing new to Nova, who’s flown under the radar his entire career. He never got the kind of prospect love that Hughes or Joba or Manny Banuelos or even David Phelps has received, was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft a few years ago, and didn’t get his first crack at the big league rotation until Javy Vazquez and Dustin Moseley had exhausted all opportunities. I hesitate to call it a lack of respect, but Nova sure has had to earn everything he’s gotten in baseball.
I don’t know how the rotation will shake out come Opening Day, but the rotation order is only important at the end of the season, not the beginning. Along with Sabathia, Nova is going to be counted on for stability every fifth day as Pineda and Kuroda get their AL East feet wet and the fifth starter does fifth starter things. Looking ahead even further, the Yankees are going to need him to provide cheap, quality innings if they seriously intend to get under that $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Nova’s flying under the radar at the moment, but make no mistake, he’s a very important part of the rotation and the team.
Now that just about all of the Yankees’ offseason business has been addressed, we can take one final look at the team’s (approximate) payroll for the upcoming season. A lot has happened since we last checked in, most notably the Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez signings. Brett Gardner, Russell Martin, and Boone Logan have since avoided arbitration as well, and yesterday the Yankees added David Aardsma for good measure. Here’s a look at the team’s commitments for the 2012 season…
- Guaranteed Contracts (21 players, $188.4M): Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Derek Jeter ($17M), Mariano Rivera ($15M), Robinson Cano ($14M), Rafael Soriano ($11M), Nick Swisher ($10.25M), Curtis Granderson ($10M), Hiroki Kuroda ($10M), Martin ($7.5M), Freddy Garcia ($4M), Phil Hughes ($3.2M), Gardner ($2.8M), Andruw Jones ($2M), Logan ($1.875M), Joba Chamberlain ($1.675M), David Robertson ($1.6M), Ibanez ($1.1M), Cory Wade ($500k), David Aardsma ($500k)
- Contracts Pending Physicals (one player, $900k): Chavez ($900k)
- Dead Money (three players, $15.75M): A.J. Burnett ($11.5M), Pedro Feliciano ($4M), Damaso Marte ($0.250M)
The money listed is in terms of average annual value, which is what is used to calculate the luxury tax. The players’ actual salaries are slightly different in some cases, but nothing crazy.
All told, that gives us $205.05M for 25 players, three of whom will contribute nothing to the team this season. Joba and Aardsma are going to be out until midseason, so that $205.05M is filling 20 roster spots on Opening Day. The other five spots will go to guys making the league minimum — Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda, Eduardo Nunez, Frankie Cervelli, and a mystery reliever — so that adds another $2.5M to our grand total ($500k each). The projected Opening Day 25-man roster will cost roughly $207.55M.
The remaining 15 players on the 40-man roster will cost less than the league minimum since they’ll earn a different salary in the minors, but let’s conservatively estimate their salaries at $500k each and $7.5M for the group. The brings the approximate cost of the entire 40-man roster to $215.05M. In reality, those last 15 players will end up making something like $4-5M combined, if that. Add in player benefits — which are typically estimated at $10M and count against the luxury tax — brings us to a $225.05M payroll for luxury tax purposes. Last year the team was taxed on a $212.7M payroll, so at least we’re in the ballpark. This year’s luxury tax penalty would be $18.82M or so.
Had the Yankees kept Burnett and instead used him as that last mystery reliever, the luxury tax payroll would have been $229.55M assuming they would have still signed Ibanez, Aardsma, and Chavez. I don’t know if /how much the Yankees have in reserve for a potential trade deadline addition, and chances are they don’t either. That’s probably one of those things Brian Cashman brings to Hal Steinbrenner on a case-by-case basis. The roster is pretty much set right now though, barring injury or something completely unexpected. I don’t anticipate any significant changes to the 25-man roster or payroll through the rest of Spring Training, and this year’s Yankees figure to be the most expensive baseball team in history.
It’s been a week or so since we last visited the RAB fantasy leagues. As I can best tell from emails, all of the leagues I’ve posted are full. Emails also indicate that some people might have submitted leagues that never got posted. If this is the case, send me an email or leave a comment, and I’ll add them to this post. Hopefully we’ll have a few by tomorrow morning.