Thoughts two weeks before the start of the 2015 season

Ouch. (Presswire)
Ouch. (Presswire)

Opening Day is two weeks away now … well, one week and six days, but who’s counting besides everyone? I am completely over Spring Training and ready for the regular season to start now. The novelty of Grapefruit League play is gone. Let’s get this show on the road already. Anyway, I have some thoughts to share.

1. My guess right now is Masahiro Tanaka starts Opening Day, not CC Sabathia. Both are lined up to start the first game of the season — Sabathia if he stays on a normal five-day schedule, Tanaka if he stays on a six-day schedule as the Yankees hope to do as long as possible — though I think it’ll be Tanaka not because he’s the better pitcher, but because it will make it easier to give him that extra day of rest between starts. Opening Day is April 6th and the Yankees are off April 7th and April 15th. Tanaka will be able to make his first three starts with an extra day of rest without the team needing to use a sixth starter. That’s not insignificant with Chris Capuano hurt and the rotation stretched thin. The Opening Day starter doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but, in this situation, it would better allow the Yankees to give Tanaka extra rest without complicating the roster situation. That does mean something. Maybe I’ll feel differently tomorrow or next week, but right now I expect Tanaka to get the ball for the first game of the regular season.

2. The Rockies somewhat surprisingly released right-hander Jhoulys Chacin over the weekend, opting to pay him 45 days termination pay ($1.36M) rather than his full $5.5M salary. Chacin, 27, had a strong year in 2013, posting a 3.47 ERA (3.47 FIP!) in 197.1 innings while somehow allowing only eleven homers despite playing his home games in Coors Field. He has been getting smacked around in Spring Training though, and last year he was awful (5.40 ERA and 4.82 FIP in 63.1 innings) whenever he wasn’t sidelined by shoulder trouble. Chacin has also lost roughly three miles an hour off his fastball since that 2013 season (via Brooks Baseball):

Jhoulys Chacin velocitySalt River Fields in Arizona is outfitted with PitchFX, and it had Chacin at 88.3 mph earlier this month. That’s really bad. He averaged 91.4 mph in 2013 and 89.2 mph around the injuries in 2014. Chacin clearly isn’t the guy he was two years ago. At least not right now. It’s only a matter of time until some team signs him hoping he can get back to that 2013 form though, or even his 2010-12 form (3.64 ERA and 4.15 FIP). The Yankees could use pitching depth in general and especially after Capuano got hurt. Chacin’s worth a minor league contract just to see if he can be better outside Coors Field — he told Eno Sarris the thin air doesn’t allow his curveball to break as much as it normally does, and he feels the curve is his best pitch — but I don’t think he’s someone you could sign to an MLB contract and promise a spot on the pitching staff, let alone in the rotation. I think Adam Warren is a better starting pitcher right now than this compromised version of Chacin. Minor league contract? Great. I wouldn’t sweat it if he heads elsewhere though. I’m certain the Rockies tried to trade him before releasing him but were unable to find a taker. That says a lot about how teams feel about Chacin right now.

3. I’m not sure what the best solution is for MLB’s service time manipulation problem — I like Mike Petriello’s suggestion of making 100 days count as a full year of service time rather than 172 days, but even that is imperfect — but it’s something that needs to be addressed when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2016 season. Obviously Kris Bryant is the hot topic right now and as annoying as it is to hear the argument day after day, it was going to take something like this to spur change. The game’s best prospect is crushing the ball in Spring Training after dominating Double-A and Triple-A last year, and he plays for a team that just announced they were contenders by signing Jon Lester and Joe Maddon. Bryant is clearly one of the 25 best players in the organization yet the Cubs would be stupid not to send him down for two weeks to delay his free agency and grab another year of his prime at a below-market salary. I can’t imagine the other players in the clubhouse would be thrilled with management fielding a lesser club (even for two weeks) in 2015 because they have an eye on 2021 though, when they’ll likely be long gone and no longer with the team. I expect the MLBPA to file a grievance if Bryant is sent down even though he’s a non-40-man roster player, and while those usually take weeks to play out (Bryant will probably be called up before the actually hearing), he could be retroactively credited with service time if MLBPA wins. That’s happened before with grievances involving injuries (player gets hurt, gets sent down, then is placed on the DL sort of thing) but not healthy assignments to the minors. Either way, I’m sure MLBPA will be adamant about fixing the service time issue come the next round of CBA negotiations.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

4. Jose Pirela suffered a concussion yet avoided a more serious injury when he crashed into the outfield wall and slammed his head on the warning track Sunday. We don’t know how long he will be out, though in all likelihood the injury eliminates any chance of Pirela making the Opening Day roster. That sucks for him the most, but remember, he was probably going to be the first one called up whenever an extra body was needed, infielder or outfielder. With Pirela out of action for the time being the Yankees lose some position player depth. Assuming Pirela is down for a few weeks, who gets called up if an extra infielder is needed? There are no minor league infielders on the 40-man roster. The Yankees would have to clear a 40-man spot (Ivan Nova to the 60-day DL is the easiest and most obvious move) for whoever they call up.  There is an open 40-man roster spot (I miscounted) so it would be easy to add Rob Refsnyder, Nick Noonan, Jonathan Galvez, whoever. There are enough spare outfielders on the 40-man roster — Ramon Flores probably moves to the front of the outfield call-up line now — so that’s not as big of a problem. The infield is pretty thin though. Pirela probably wasn’t going to make the Opening Day roster anyway, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t an important depth player.

5. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend Chris Smith’s profile of Matt Harvey. I see Harvey as the perfect “next New York sports hero” following Derek Jeter‘s retirement — sorry, no one on the Yankees has that appeal — even though Harvey is basically the opposite of Jeter. Jeter was a boring quote who managed to keep his very public life private. He made it work. Harvey talks a lot, spars with his team, and has made it no secret he likes to soak up everything New York has to offer. That’s not a bad thing! Personality is good. I think the Mets need to a better job of marketing Harvey and making him that New York sports hero. It’s there for the taking. For whatever reason baseball as a whole has this old school “act like you’ve been there before” attitude that is so dull. Guys like Harvey, Yasiel Puig, and Bryce Harper have personality and it’s fun. Baseball wants to appeal to younger fans? Then start marketing these guys. (And get others like Bryant in MLB on the Opening Day roster!) The clean cut types aren’t interesting enough to draw non-baseball fans to the sport.

Open Thread: March 23rd Camp Notes

The Yankees lost to the Nationals by the score of 7-6 this afternoon. Chris Young had a whale of a game, going 2-for-3 with two long home runs (off righties Doug Fister and Casey Janssen), a hit by pitch, and a nice running catch in the left-center field gap. Brian McCann hit a two-run homer and both John Ryan Murphy and Rob Refsnyder had a pair of hits.

Bryan Mitchell got the start and was wild, walking three and striking out two in 3.1 innings. He allowed four hits and was charged with two runs. Chase Shreve had his fourth straight rough outing, allowing two inherited runners to score and being charged with one run of his own in one-third of an inning. Shreve has allowed seven runs and eight base-runners in his last 2.1 innings (four appearances), which ain’t good. He probably pitched his way out of an Opening Day bullpen spot. Jacob Lindgren didn’t strike anyone out in his perfect inning. He got three ground balls instead. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Spring Training:

  • It was pouring in Tampa, so all the minor league games were cancelled and Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran had to hit inside in the batting cage rather than get actual at-bats. David Carpenter threw the day’s only bullpen session. Nathan Eovaldi is scheduled to pitch in a minor league game tomorrow while Esmil Rogers starts the Grapefruit League game. [Chad Jennings, Brendan Kuty]
  • Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique) is improving but there is no firm timetable for him to resume baseball activities. Jose Pirela (concussion) still doesn’t feel well and went through more tests today after crashing into the wall yesterday. Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) could begin facing hitters in live batting practice next week. [George King, Marly Rivera, Kuty]
  • Joe Girardi said both the backup catcher and fifth starter competitions are still wide open. He did say he would like to name his fifth starter by the end of the week “in an ideal world” so everyone else can shift to bullpen mode, however. [Kuty, Rivera]
  • Last, but certainly not least, our own Jay Gordon is participating in Walk MS to help raise money for research to fight multiple sclerosis and programs to benefit those dealing with MS. You can make a donation right here. Thanks in advance.

Here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network will show the Reds and Rangers live later tonight, plus the Knicks, Nets, and Devils are playing as well. There’s no college basketball though. March Madness is on hiatus until Thursday. Talk about whatever you like here.

2015 Draft: Brady Aiken leaves start with injury, Yankees among teams in attendance

Last Thursday, left-hander and 2014 first overall pick Brady Aiken left his start for IMG Academy with an unconfirmed injury. The Astros did not sign Aiken as the top pick last year due to concerns about his elbow. Aiken opted to attend IMG for a post-graduate year so he could enter the 2015 draft rather than go to college and wait until the 2017 draft.

Aiken, 18, left Thursday’s start after only 12 pitches. The home plate umpire told Josh Norris it was an arm problem — “The last pitch was a curveball. I don’t know if that’s related … But that’s all I heard, that he had a little bit of tightness in his arm. That’s what he told his coaching staff,” said the ump — but nothing has been confirmed. In fact, Keith Law hears Aiken may make his next start, indicating the injury is not serious.

Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was among the 75-100 scouts on hand for Aiken’s outing, reports Norris. New York holds the 16th overall pick this year and a healthy Aiken won’t make it that far. Here’s a snippet of’s scouting report on Aiken, who they ranked as the third best prospect in the 2015 draft:

Aiken had no physical problems as a senior at San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High, showing advanced command of a fastball that sat at 92-94 mph and reached 97. He added more power and depth to his curveball and displayed one of the best changeups in the 2014 Draft, featuring deception and tumbling action … Aiken also earned points for his makeup.

Healthy Aiken is, at worst, a top five pick in this year’s relatively thin draft class. Injured Aiken is another matter. His draft slot would depend on the severity of the injury. The Astros agreed to sign him for $6.5M last year but backed out after his physical due to a concern about his ulnar collateral ligament and the possibility of Tommy John surgery in the near future.

There is plenty of precedent for drafting a pitcher with a damaged UCL. The Yankees drafted Andrew Brackman in the first round of the 2007 draft knowing he’d need his elbow rebuild, for example. The Nationals selected Lucas Giolito with the 16th pick in 2012 knowing he’d need Tommy John surgery as well. Giolito was a first overall pick candidate before his elbow started barking, and he has since developed into the game’s top pitching prospect. Jeff Hoffman (ninth overall) and Erick Fedde (18th) were first rounders last year after having Tommy John surgery just weeks before the draft.

The Yankees were scouting Aiken because they scout everyone — even if they know they are unlikely to have a chance to draft him, they still want to they keep track of his development in case he becomes available in a trade or as a free agent down the road — and I think they would jump at the chance to draft him 16th overall, healthy elbow or not. They never get a chance to select the top draft talents and Aiken is right up their alley as big (6-foot-4, 205 lbs.) power lefty with command. The elbow would make him risky, no doubt, but the reward is potentially great.

Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and the Yankees’ Latest Pair of Elite Relievers [2015 Season Preview]

In each of the last four seasons and in five of the last six seasons overall, Joe Girardi had the luxury of having two top shelf relievers in his bullpen. The tandem has changed over the years — it was Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes in 2009, Rivera and David Robertson in 2011, Rafael Soriano and Robertson in 2012, Rivera and Robertson in 2013, and Robertson and Dellin Betances in 2014 — though there were always two high-end relievers for Girardi to turn to in the late innings.

The tandem has again changed heading into 2015. Robertson was allowed to leave as a free agent and the Yankees signed ex-Red Sox southpaw Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36M contract to replace him. New York saved $2.5M per season by replacing Robertson with Miller and gained a supplemental first round draft pick in the process. Losing a stud homegrown Yankees sucks, like really sucks, but it was an understandable set of baseball moves.

Miller joins Betances to again give Girardi a pair of elite relievers, this time one righty and one lefty. Girardi has yet to name a closer with Opening Day two weeks away — he’s hinted at using co-closers but I think that’s unlikely — and my hunch is Betances will get the job heading into the season. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Both Betances and Miller are capable of closing and both will be counted on in the late innings of close games.


Dellin’s Dominance: So Good It’s Close To Impossible To Repeat

I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating for no reason other than because it’s fun: Betances’ career path is eerily similar to Rivera’s. Both were good starting pitching prospects in the minors who shifted to the bullpen during their age 25 season, dominated as multi-inning setup men during their first full MLB season at age 26, then took over the ninth inning in their age 27 season after the Yankees let their veteran closer depart as a free agent. Well, we’re assuming Betances will take over as closer, but you catch my drift. Freakishly similar career paths.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Betances will be the next Rivera and we shouldn’t think about him that way either. It’s not fair to him. He’s not the next Rivera, he’s the first Betances. Dellin was by far the most exciting Yankees development last year, pitching to a 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) with an elite strikeout rate (13.5 K/9 and 39.6 K%) to go along with better than average walk (2.40 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) and ground ball (46.6%) rates in 90 innings. Ninety innings! Betances was the best reliever in baseball in terms of bWAR (3.7) and fWAR (3.2) in 2014.

Dellin set the bar impossibly high last year. So high that I find it hard to believe he could do it again in 2015. Does that mean I expect him to stink? No! I fully expect Betances to dominate and again be one of the top bullpeners in the game in 2015. It just means I don’t think he’ll be that good again. Only 27 relievers in history have had a season with a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-2.00 FIP while throwing at least 50 innings in baseball history. Only six have done it twice. (Rivera was not one of those six!) It’s hard to do what Dellin did once. It’s even harder to repeat it.

Betances has been out of sorts in Spring Training — his first two outings were typical Dellin but he’s allowed one run on two hits in each of his last two times out — but I’m not particularly concerned with that. His fastball has been mostly mid-90s rather than high-90s like we saw at the end of last year, but he was sitting mid-90s at the outset of last season as well (via Brooks Baseball):

Dellin Betances 2014 velocityDellin’s curveball … or slurve … or slider … or whatever the hell we’re calling it these days seems to have been giving him the most trouble. He simply hasn’t had much control over it, so hopefully he irons that out before the season starts in two days. Betances’ history as a prospect with basically zero control in the minors is always going to be in the back of my mind, but two Grapefruit League outings aren’t enough of a cause for concern to me.

Regardless of whether he closes or sets up, Betances will be Girardi’s ace right-handed reliever this year and someone he relies on for huge outs. I don’t think we’ll see him make as many multi-inning appearances this summer simply because throwing 90 innings out of the bullpen year after year isn’t a thing that happens anymore, though Girardi can certainly use Dellin for six outs on occasion. Given the plan to win close games with pitching and defense, Betances is a crucial piece of the 2015 Yankees.


The New Guy: Not Just A Lefty Specialist

Aside from Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller was arguably the best left-handed reliever in baseball last season. He was outstanding, posting a 2.02 ERA (1.51 FIP) in 62.1 innings with a better strikeout rate than Betances (14.87 K/9 and 42.6 K%) and comparable walk (2.45 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) and ground ball (46.9%) rates. It was the best season of Miller’s career but it would be a mistake to call it his only good year. To wit:

2012 40.1 3.35 3.17 30.2% 11.8% 43.2%
2013 30.2 2.64 3.05 35.6% 12.6% 56.1%
2014 62.1 2.02 1.51 42.6% 7.0% 46.9%
2012-14 133.1 2.57 2.37 37.0% 9.9% 47.8%

Miller missed the start of the 2012 season with a hamstring injury and the end of the 2013 season with a ligament issue in his foot. (He didn’t pitch in the postseason that year.) He was healthy all of last year and those aren’t arm injuries, so they aren’t much of a concern going forward.

Anyway, Miller has consistently improved since moving into the bullpen full-time at Bobby Valentine’s behest in 2012. He was a high draft pick who never could get his mechanics right as a starter, but it’s clicked in the bullpen and his mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider combo is lethal. Robertson, by the way, had a 2.59 ERA (2.59 FIP!) in 191.1 innings from 2012-14, so Miller was on par with New York’s ex-relief ace on a rate basis.

Left-handers have a way of getting pigeonholed into small roles in the bullpen, specifically left-on-left matchup guys. Miller is way too good for that though and I’m certain Girardi knows it. Miller is a late-inning reliever who can face righties and lefties just like Betances. He just so happens to throw left-handed. Here are his splits since moving into the bullpen:

vs. LHP 66.0 40.1% 7.6% 40.9% 1.90 .236
vs. RHP 67.1 34.2% 12.0% 54.2% 2.82 .258

It’s no surprise Miller has been better against lefties than righties these last three years — between his stuff and low-ish arm angle, lefty hitters have basically no chance against this guy, he’s the bullpen version of Randy Johnson — though he’s been better than good against batters of the opposite hand. A few too many walks against righties, sure, but lots of strikeouts and lots of grounders too. This isn’t someone Girardi will have the shelter against righties late in a close game. Miller’s someone Girardi should want to use in those spots.

There’s really no wrong answer for the eighth and ninth innings in close games. The only wrong answer is one that doesn’t involve Betances or Miller. Both are capable late-inning relievers and I assume one will close and one will setup. Co-closers is nice in theory but I’m going to have to see that one before believing the Yankees would actually do it. Betances and Miller are the best righty-lefty bullpen combination in the game, and like Rivera/Robertson in the past or Robertson/Betances last year, these two are going to log a lot of important inning in close games. That’s the 2015 recipe.

Spring Training Game Thread: Mitchell’s Last Chance?


By all accounts, the competition for the fifth starter’s spot is a two-man race between Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers. This afternoon’s start against the Nationals might be Bryan Mitchell‘s last chance to make some sort of statement and force his way into the fifth starter conversation. Or maybe his last chance to remain in the conversation for a big league roster spot in general, rotation or bullpen.

Mitchell has allowed four runs on eighth hits in four innings so far this spring, striking out four and walking one. The 23-year-old could use some more Triple-A time to work on his command, though I doubt he sees it that way. He wants to earn a big league job this spring, or at least make a good enough impression that he’s the first one called up when an extra starter is needed. If someone in Mitchell’s position isn’t thinking like that, then what’s the point of showing up to camp?

Today’s reason to watch: Mitchell, mostly. He needs to have a great outing to push his way into the fifth starter’s race and I’m not even sure that will be enough. An okay outing definitely won’t cut it. There’s also a nice crop of prospect power relievers slated to come out of the bullpen this afternoon. Chasen Shreve is scheduled to pitch again after pitching yesterday, making this his first set of back-to-back games in camp. Also, Bryce Harper’s playing for the Nats. That’ll be fun.

The Yankees are all the way on the other side of Florida to play the Nationals in Viera. Many of the minor leaguers who played in yesterday afternoon’s game stayed in a hotel last night rather than bus all the way to Tampa last night and back to Florida’s east coast again this morning. Here is Washington’s lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s starting nine:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Chris Young
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. 1B Garrett Jones
  5. DH John Ryan Murphy
  6. SS Brendan Ryan
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. 3B Nick Noonan
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Dan Fiorito, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Tyler Austin, CF Ramon Flores, RF Slade Heathcott, and DH Eddy Rodriguez will be the second string off the bench. IF Ali Castillo and C Kyle Higashioka are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Kyle Davies, RHP Jose Ramirez, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Nick Rumbelow, and LHP Chasen Shreve are all scheduled to pitch after Mitchell. RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Kyle Haynes, RHP Cesar Vargas, and LHP Fred Lewis are the extra arms.

It’s pouring in Tampa, so it’s a good thing this game is on the other side of the state. There is a chance of rain in Viera though, meaning the game could be sloppy, delayed, or even cancelled. We’ll just have to wait and see. If they do play, this afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin 1:05pm ET and you can watch live on both MLB Network and Neither will be blacked out in the team’s home market. Also, if you’re in the Nationals’ market, you can watch on MASN. Enjoy the game, y’all.

Padres have interest in Austin Romine, who hasn’t done enough to claim backup catcher spot


Through the first three weeks of Grapefruit League play, Austin Romine has not forced the Yankees to consider using him as the backup catcher when the regular season begins in two weeks. Romine was going to have to have a huge spring for the team to take him north instead of John Ryan Murphy and it simply hasn’t happened.

Romine, 26, comes into today having gone 4-for-21 (.190) with one double this spring, and the Yankees have given him the opportunity to show what he could do. Romine has basically the same number of plate appearances as Murphy this spring (23 to 24) and he’s caught more innings (48 to 44). Only Brian McCann has seen more playing time among catchers.

All that playing time was both an opportunity and a showcase. Romine had a chance to show the Yankees he was a better option to back up McCann than Murphy as well as show other teams he was worth a spot on their roster. We heard the Phillies have interest in Romine ten days ago and now George King reports the Padres have interest as well.

San Diego’s interest in Romine makes sense — the Padres just lost backup catcher Tim Federowicz for the season with a knee injury that turned out to be more severe than expected. Derek Norris is the only healthy catcher on their 40-man roster, and while they do have ex-Yankee Wil Nieves in camp as a non-roster player (yes, Nieves is still playing), they surely want to add another backstop.

As I said when we learned about Philadelphia’s interest two weeks ago, the Yankees are unlikely to get much in return for Romine at this point. Fringe big leaguers who are out of minor league options don’t have much trade value. None of San Diego’s out of options players figure to be realistically available, so any trade sending Romine to San Diego would probably bring a marginal prospect or cash to the Bronx. Such is life.

Opening Day is still two weeks away, so there’s no rush to trade Romine. There’s plenty of time for a catching injury to strike and change the trade market. That includes the Yankees — McCann or Murphy could go down unexpectedly and clear a roster spot for Romine. For now, Romine hasn’t forced the Yankees to seriously consider him for the backup catcher job, making a trade before the start of the season likely.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 23rd, 2015

Record Last Week: 3-3 (31 RS, 26 RA)
Grapefruit League Record: 12-8-1 (82 RS, 70 RA)
Opponents This Week: @ Nationals (Mon. on MLBN,, vs. Tigers (Tues. on YES, MLBN,, vs. Mets (Weds. on YES, MLBN,, @ Rays (Thurs. on, @ Phillies (Fri. on, vs. Orioles (Sat. on YES, MLBN,, @ Astros (Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the “Features” menu in the nav bar above or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?