Thoughts following two weeks of Grapefruit League play

This ball wasn't caught (GIF). (Presswire)
This ball was not caught (GIF). (Presswire)

The Yankees had their first off-day of the Grapefruit League schedule yesterday and return to action later tonight, when CC Sabathia makes his spring debut. That’s sort of a big deal. It’s been a long time since the big man pitched in any sort of game situation. Anyway, here are some thoughts on this Tuesday morning.

1. Needless to say, Sabathia’s outing is pretty important, just like Masahiro Tanaka‘s spring debut was important last week. The results don’t really matter, but does he make it through the outing in one piece? Does his stuff and/or command look further compromised following the injury? Sabathia is 34 years old with nearly 3,000 career innings on arm. I’m not expecting any velocity to come back with a healthy knee. I just want to see him do a better job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate. Hopefully with a more stable landing leg and improved balance from the additional weight — that sounds weird but it’s something Sabathia has mentioned as a positive — Sabathia can hit the corners and drive the ball down around the knees consistently. If he does that, I think he’ll be effective. Maybe not an ace, but someone the Yankees can run out there every fifth day and have a reasonable chance to win.

2. A few weeks ago I noted Chasen Shreve was the extra guy in the bullpen early in Spring Training, not someone scheduled to pitch specific days, which may have meant he was on the outside of the Opening Day roster looking in. Shreve has since joined the ranks of the “scheduled pitchers” and the Yankees have actually made a point of testing him against right-handed batters. In his last outing, Shreve was sent out to face switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval (pop-up) and righty hitters Mike Napoli (strikeout), Xander Bogaerts (walk), Ryan Hanigan (fly out), Mookie Betts (ground out), and Dustin Pedroia (ground out). That’s about as good a test as you can find for a lefty reliever in mid-March. Shreve has had success against both righties and lefties in the minors but his exposure to MLB hitters is very limited. Seems like the Yankees specifically sent him out there against the Red Sox to see how he handled all those right-handed batters. He did well and that doesn’t mean he’s a lock for the roster now, but it didn’t hurt his chances either.

3. At this point it’s clear Andrew Bailey won’t be a part of the Opening Day roster. He has yet to get into a game — he did throw a simulated game this weekend — and there probably isn’t enough time in Spring Training for him to show he’s ready to face big league hitters. That makes sense. The Yankees have plenty of bullpen options, so they can afford to send Bailey to Triple-A for a few weeks to gauge his actual effectiveness. They don’t have to continue to evaluate him in games that count. If Bailey gets on a regular reliever’s schedule — pitching in back-to-back games, entering in the middle of an inning, that sort of thing — and handles it well, then the Yankees can call him up. There’s no need for him to be on the Opening Day roster at this point. There are too many other quality relievers in the organization to fiddle around with Bailey, trying to see if he can help any. Let him do that in the minors.

Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)
Ref Robsnyder. (Presswire)

4. Another thing that is clear: Rob Refsnyder was never seriously considered for the second base job. He’s seen basically no time in the field with Didi GregoriusStephen Drew‘s been playing with Gregorius so the two could get comfortable with each other as the double play combination — and he hasn’t gotten a whole lot of premium playing time. He’s the guy coming off the bench with the subs and playing later in games. That’s not how teams treat players they want to see win a job, or at least compete for a job. And you know what? I am 100% cool with this. Refsnyder needs more time in Triple-A to work on his defense — this is painfully obvious from watching him play the last two weeks, right? Routine plays have been not so routine with him this spring — and I’m pretty sure I’ve written that before. He just doesn’t look natural at second base, and that’s not surprising. Refsnyder was an outfielder as recently as 2012, remember. He’ll go to Triple-A and hopefully work on his defense. That’s partially why Drew was brought in — to give Refsnyder more time to work on what is a glaring but potentially correctable flaw.

5. Eighteen months ago, the Rangers had an enviable quartet of starting pitchers in Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison. Not a single one of them will be on the Opening Day roster this year. Darvish and Perez will be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Holland has been slowed in camp by a shoulder issue, and Harrison is trying to work his way back from a career-threatening back injury. In fact, the entire Rangers organization is a cautionary tale of just how quickly things can go south. Two or three years ago they looked poised to become a perennial powerhouse and World Series contender. Now they’re coming off a 95-loss season with a ton of awful contracts and core players dealing with major injuries. The Yankees haven’t been great by any stretch of the imagination these last two years, but geez, I’d much rather be the Yankees going forward than the Rangers. Who would have said that a year or two ago? At least New York’s disaster contracts are expiring relatively soon.

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees had an off-day today and it was a complete off-day. There were no official workouts scheduled at the complex in Tampa or anything like that. That doesn’t mean a few players didn’t show up to get work in, of course. Anyway, there’s no news to pass along from the off-day, so consider this the day’s camp notes. No news is good news, right?

Here is your open thread for the evening. MLB Network will replay the Athletics and Dodgers later tonight and the Nets are playing as well. That’s about it. Talk about whatever here.

Capuano injury, plan for Tanaka could change way Yanks build early-season bullpen

Whitley on the Opening Day roster might not be far-fetched. (Presswire)
Whitley on the Opening Day roster might not be so far-fetched. (Presswire)

Last week the Yankees lost projected fifth starter Chris Capuano for several weeks with a Grade II right quad strain. Capuano is the team’s most replaceable starter but that doesn’t mean the loss is insignificant. Someone else has to fill that rotation spot now and chances are it will be someone who was slated to open the year in the bullpen, either Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers, most likely. The loss will be felt somewhere.

The Yankees have also been discussing using a six-man rotation early in the season — not necessarily a strict six-man rotation, but rather strategically using a sixth starter on occasion to give the other guys rest. That makes sense considering Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all have some kind of health concern. In fact, the team is planning to use Tanaka specifically every sixth day early in the season, according to Kevin Kernan.

The Yankees have a plan to keep Masahiro Tanaka as healthy as possible, and that means giving him an extra day of rest now and during the season so he pitches every sixth day.

“It’s something we’d like to do,’’ one Yankees official told The Post on Friday of keeping the rotation on a six-day spin.

Tanaka worked on a six-day schedule in Japan until signing with the Yankees last winter, and given his elbow situation, the extra day could be beneficial both short and long-term. April off-days and a strategic sixth starter will help the Yankees accomplish their goal of starting Tanaka every sixth day, though Capuano’s injury complicates things a little bit because it changes the bullpen construction.

Assuming Warren or Rogers replaces Capuano in the rotation — I think it’ll be Warren personally, but there are still three weeks of Spring Training to go — five of the seven bullpen spots are set:

  1. Dellin Betances
  2. Andrew Miller
  3. David Carpenter
  4. Justin Wilson
  5. Warren or Rogers
  6. ?
  7. ?

There are no shortage of candidates for those last two spots. Finding bodies won’t be difficult. The Yankees have the luxury of filling those spots any way they want because of all the available options. And with Capuano hurt and the Yankees wanting to start Tanaka every sixth day, the most practical way to fill both spots may be with long men. At least temporarily.

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

The thinking is one of those two long men — it would really be three long men in the bullpen when you include the Warren/Rogers spot — could step in as the sixth starter as needed to spell Tanaka (and the other starters) every so often. That would leave at least one more long man for other days, in case Warren/Rogers or any of the other starters go short. This isn’t rocket science, the more relievers in the bullpen who can throw multiple innings, the better.

Planning to carry multiple long men is one thing, but actually having multiple viable long men is another. The Yankees started last season with three relievers who could have been considered long relievers (Warren, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno), but that was a bit of an outlier. You don’t see many teams break camp with three guys like that. (I thought the Yankees would sent at least one to Triple-A to stay stretched out as the sixth starter, but nope.)

Here are the club’s long man candidates still in big league camp (listed alphabetically), assuming Warren and Rogers will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity no matter what:

  • Scott Baker: Veteran guy who threw 80.2 generally ineffective innings (5.47 ERA and 4.78 FIP) for the Rangers last year. He’s thrown four innings across a pair of appearances this spring.
  • Kyle Davies: Threw 154.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year and hasn’t pitched in MLB since 2011. He’s thrown four innings in three appearances during Grapefruit League play.
  • Jose DePaula: DePaula has dealt with numerous injuries in recent years and was limited to 51.1 innings in Triple-A last year. He’s made just one appearance this spring, throwing two innings.
  • Bryan Mitchell: Eleven innings in MLB last year and another 103 in the minors. He threw 145.1 minor league innings back in 2013. Mitchell has thrown four innings in two appearances this spring.
  • Chase Whitley: Made the conversion from bullpen to rotation last year and threw a career high 107 innings, including 75.2 in MLB. He’s thrown seven innings this spring, appearing in three games.

We can group these five guys into three different … well, groups. The Yankees have nothing invested in Baker and Davies long-term. They’re older pitchers trying to hang on and the team will not hesitate to run them into the ground, then designate them for assignment. It sounds rough but that’s baseball. Baker and Davies aren’t stupid, they know where they are at this stage of their careers.

Mitchell is an actual prospect and the Yankees do have reason to protect him with an eye towards the future. Mitchell will turn 24 next month and he’s also the least MLB ready of the bunch despite making his debut last season. He could use some more Triple-A time for fine-tuning. DePaula and Whitley are somewhere in the middle. Not really potential pieces of the long-term puzzle like Mitchell but probably not guys the Yankees would abuse a la Baker and Davies either.

The Yankees don’t have to decide on those final bullpen spots for a few weeks and by then they should have a better idea of Capuano’s timetable. If he’s expected back relatively soon, within the first week or two of the regular season, they could opt to take a short reliever who can be optioned down when Capuano’s healthy to make life easy. If he’ll miss a few weeks and not return until closer May, carrying two long relievers like, say, Baker and Whitley early on could make sense if the Yankees intend to stick to their strategic sixth starter plan.

Masahiro Tanaka And The Scenario No One Bothered To Consider [2015 Season Preview]


For the second straight year, Masahiro Tanaka came to Spring Training as an unknown. The circumstances this year are very different though. Last year Tanaka was a newcomer to the Yankees and MLB in general, having been signed as a kinda sorta free agent in the offseason. The Yankees obviously believed in him, hence their $175M commitment, but no one knew what he could do for certain.

This year though, Tanaka came to camp as an unknown because of last season’s elbow injury. He missed almost the entire second half with a partially torn elbow ligament that did not require surgery because the tear was so small. Tanaka showed in the first half he was worth every penny of the team’s investment, he was that dominant, though the elbow injury has cast a cloud over his status this year, at least so far.

Things have gone well for Tanaka in Spring Training to this point. He’s had no issues in workouts — bullpens, live batting practice, simulated games, etc. — and his Grapefruit League debut last week was dominant. He looked like the healthy version of Tanaka we saw early last year. Yet the elbow injury lingers in the back of everyone’s mind — Tanaka says he’s not thinking about it but how could he not? — and it’s uncomfortable. That doesn’t lessen his importance to the team, of course.

Yankees Need: Tanaka To Be An Exception

This goes without saying: the Yankees need Tanaka to stay healthy this season. He is arguably the single most important player on the roster — if he’s not the team’s most important player, then he’s on the very short list of candidates — and not just in terms of contending in 2015, but for the future of the franchise overall. Tanaka is the Yankees’ version of Giancarlo Stanton or Mike Trout or Buster Posey. A significant injury to him changes everything.

Tanaka rehabbed his elbow injury last year and while that only slightly delays the inevitable in most cases, it can be enough to keep him healthy for several years. Adam Wainwright and Ervin Santana are two players who pitched multiple years with partially torn elbow ligaments. Current Yankees non-roster player Scott Baker did as well. He recently told Chad Jennings he hurt his elbow ligament in college but didn’t need surgery until his seventh year in the big leagues.

Still, guys like Baker and Wainwright and Santana are the exception, not the rule. Others like Chad Billingsley, Drew Hutchison, Matt Harvey, Francisco Liriano, Bronson Arroyo, Cory Luebke, and Pat Neshek are recent of examples of pitchers who tried to rehab their damaged ligament only to need surgery a handful of innings later. If Tanaka’s elbow stays intact this year, he will be the exception given the nature of his injury, and that’s what the Yankees need.

Tanaka Can: Say He Followed Doctor’s Orders

It’s important to understand the Yankees and Tanaka are not being reckless. They’re simply following doctor’s orders. When Tanaka suffered his injury last year, he was examined personally by three doctors — Yankees team doctor Chris Ahmad, Mets team doctor David Altchek, and Dodgers team doctor Neal ElAttrache — and his test results were also sent to Dr. James Andrews for review. All four recommended rehab.

Then, before Tanaka returned to the mound late last year, he was again examined and given the okay to pitch. Tanaka also said he underwent an MRI after the season and everything came back clean. He went through the rehab protocol as recommended and the doctors all cleared him to return to action, so that’s what he did. The Yankees and Tanaka did exactly what the experts recommended and that’s what they should have done. Sending him for Tommy John surgery against recommendations would have been the reckless act.

“There’s just no way to say surgery should be your first option,” said Baker to Jennings. “I think the reason people can say that is because of the success of the surgery. As far as sports injuries, aside from the ACL, it’s probably the most successful (surgery) as far as guys getting back to their previous level. So I think that allows (the argument), but does it justify it? No.”

J.J. Cooper recently looked at the success rate of recent Tommy John surgery and found it is actually on the decline. At the Sloan Sports Conference a few weeks ago, Dr. Glenn Fleisig presented research showing only 67% of MLB pitchers who have the procedure make it back for 10+ games. The risk is high — in recent years Luebke, Daniel Hudson, Joel Hanrahan, Jeremy Hefner, and Jonny Venters all needed a second Tommy John surgery before they even finished rehabbing from the first (in Venters’ case, he needed a third while rehabbing from his second) — so Tommy John surgery is something you don’t have until you absolutely need it.

The doctors said Tanaka did not need his elbow rebuilt last summer. They recommended rehab, he rehabbed, and they cleared him to pitch when the rehab was complete. If the elbow gives out at some point this year and he needs Tommy John surgery, then so be it. As long as Tanaka and the Yankees did what the various doctors recommended, they did the right thing.

Yankees Need: An Ace


The Yankees didn’t sink $175M into Tanaka to be a mid-rotation starter. They’re counting on him to be an ace — for years to come too, Tanaka is only 26 remember — and last year he showed he can be that ace. With CC Sabathia fading, Nathan Eovaldi still in the process of figuring things out, and Michael Pineda having not thrown a full season in three years now, Tanaka has to be a front of the rotation stabilizing force for New York. The guy that when the players show up to the park on the days he is scheduled to pitch, they know it’s win day. The guy who stops losing streaks and extends winning streaks. Simply put, the Yankees need Tanaka to be one of the best pitchers in the game.

Tanaka Can: Be An Ace

Based on what we saw in the first half last year, Tanaka absolutely can be that front of the rotation pitcher and the ace the Yankees need. He was a top ten pitcher in the game at the time of his injury, racking up strikeouts (9.39 K/9 and 26.6 K%), limiting walks (1.32 HR/9 and 3.6 BB%), and generally keeping the ball on the ground (45.9%). Because of his splitter, Tanaka was actually more effective against lefties (.280 wOBA) than righties (.302 wOBA) too.

The only flaw in Tanaka’s game is his tendency to give up the home run (0.99 HR/9 and 14.0 HR/FB%), though even that wasn’t all that bad considering his home ballpark (AL average was 0.89 HR/9 and 9.4 HR/FB% in 2014). Twelve of the 15 homers he allowed last year were solo shots because he was so good at limiting base-runners overall. Also, eleven of the 15 homers came off fastballs, which is actually his least effective pitch. Tanaka’s offspeed pitches are so good he can still dominate without an overwhelming fastball.

I also think there’s a mental component to being an ace, and Tanaka certainly showed it last year. He never seems to get rattled on the mound and is always in attack mode. He’s an elite competitor. That’s a big reason why the Yankees loved him so much and felt he was worth the $175M risk. If his elbow holds up, Tanaka is going to be a pretty damn good pitcher. He showed all of his pitches in his brief outing last week and everything looked crisp. Granted, it was 19 total pitches and we need to see more, but right now, I’m comfortable saying Tanaka can be ace-like this summer if the elbow cooperates.

* * *

We — and by we I mean basically everyone, Yankees fans and Yankees haters alike — spent all winter worrying about Tanaka’s elbow and more or less assuming it would blow out at some point this year. We never bothered to consider the alternative scenario. The one where Tanaka is the exception and his elbow does hold up. He’s a difference-maker when healthy, hands down the best pitcher in the AL East and one of the best in all of baseball. It’s far from a given Tanaka will stay healthy, we know that, but it’s not impossible either. He’s passed every test so far in camp, which is way more than many expected.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 16th, 2015

Record Last Week: 5-3 (26 RS, 25 RA)
Grapefruit League Record: 9-5-1 (51 RS, 44 RA)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Blue Jays (Tues. on YES, MLBN,, @ Braves (Weds. on, vs. Phillies (Thurs. on YES,, @ Tigers (Fri.). vs. Astros (Sat.), @ Mets (Sun. on YES, SNY,

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?

Open Thread: March 15th Camp Notes


The Yankees beat the Phillies by the score of 3-2 this afternoon. Nathan Eovaldi started and was very good, allowing just two singles in four scoreless innings. He struck out three and faced the minimum thanks to a double play and a caught stealing. Erik Boland says 38 of Eovaldi’s 45 pitches were strikes (84%) and scouts had him sitting 96-98 mph. That’ll do. Chase Whitley threw two scoreless innings, David Carpenter allowed two runs in an inning, and Justin Wilson threw a scoreless inning.

On offense, Chase Headley again led the way with a solo homer. He’s having a great spring. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner both went 1-for-3 while Garrett Jones and Stephen Drew both went 0-for-3. Ellsbury’s hit was a triple. Brian McCann went 0-for-2, Mark Teixeira went 0-for-2 with a walk, and Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-1 with a walk. Here’s the box score — there are no video highlights because the game wasn’t broadcast anywhere — and here’s the rest from Tampa:

  • The Yankees announced their first round of roster cuts today: C Trent Garrison, RHP Nick Goody, C Juan Graterol, LHP James Pazos, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Luis Severino, and LHP Tyler Webb were all reassigned to minor league camp before today’s game and OF Jake Cave, SS Cito Culver, and OF Aaron Judge were reassigned after the game. There are still 58 players in big league camp by my unofficial count.
  • Masahiro Tanaka, Adam Warren, and Bryan Mitchell all threw bullpen sessions this morning. Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is expected to take some regular batting practice this week and he hopes to start playing in actual games soon. [Ryan Hatch]
  • And finally, tomorrow is the Yankees’ first off-day of the Grapefruit League season. Joe Girardi said some players might be at the complex to play catch, but otherwise there are no workouts scheduled. [Hatch]

Here is your open thread for the evening. MLB Network is showing the Angels and White Sox live right now if you’re really jonesin’ for some baseball. The (hockey) Rangers are playing right now and the Knicks are playing later tonight. Talk about anything right here.

Sunday Links: Captain’s Camp, Baker, Burton, Posada, NYCFC

The Captain's Campers. (Tyler Wade on Twitter)
The Captain’s Campers. (Tyler Wade on Twitter)

The Yankees are playing the Phillies this afternoon but there is no video broadcast of the game. Hard to believe not being able to watch a Spring Training game is the exception these days, not the rule. It wasn’t all that long ago when watching a spring game was a pipe dream. Anyway, I have some miscellaneous links and notes to pass along.

Denbo Creates “Captain’s Camp” For Top Prospects

Here’s a great story from Brendan Kuty. New player development head Gary Denbo created a six-week program this offseason called Captain’s Camp, which is designed to promote “quality character, accountability and respect for the game” in the team’s top prospects. The Yankees invited 15 of their top prospects to the first annual Captain’s Camp in Tampa back in January, and they took part in all sorts of team-building exercises, including visiting a children’s hospital.

“It kind of gave me an idea of what they want. How I should eat in the off-season to get ready for a long season. We got to talk to some big league guys who have done it before. They told us their personal experiences with it. You try to take a little bit from each person,” said Jacob Lindgren. Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, and Scott Rolen were among those who voluntarily came to the camp to meet and speak with the prospects. (Rolen and Denbo know each other from their time with the Blue Jays.) This is really great. Between this and some coaching/development personnel moves, Denbo’s done nice work since replacing Mark Newman in October.

Based on the photo and the article, the 15 prospects include Lindgren, Jake Cave, Ian Clarkin, Greg Bird, Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Gosuke Katoh, Leonardo Molina, Alex Palma, Nick Rumbelow, Luis Torrens, Matt Tracy, and Tyler Wade. So two are still unknown. The other two are Luis Severino and Jorge Mateo.

Baker, Burton Among Article XX(B) Free Agents

According to MLBTR, righties Scott Baker and Jared Burton are among this year’s Article XX(B) free agents as players signed to minor league contracts despite having more than six years of service time. The Yankees must pay Baker and Burton a $100,000 bonus at the end of Spring Training if they aren’t added to the 25-man active roster (or MLB disabled list). This isn’t a surprise, the Yankees knew both players would be Article XX(B) free agents when they signed them.

Burton’s minor league contract includes four opt-out dates throughout the season, which indicates the Yankees are prepared to pay him the $100,000 to send him to the minors. Chris Capuano‘s injury means Baker just might make the Opening Day roster as the long man and seventh reliever. The guy the Yankees can send out there and run into the ground for as many innings as necessary to spare the rest of the bullpen, then designate for assignment when Capuano is healthy a few weeks into the season. We’ll see how that last bullpen spot shakes out as the spring progresses.

Posada Memoir Coming In May

Jorge Posada has a memoir coming out! Keith Kelly says the memoir, which is titled “The Journey Home,” will hit bookstores on May 12. There will be both an English and Spanish version. It is described as a “father-son book” based Posada’s relationship with his father, Jorge Sr., and Joe Torre, who he “always regarded as a second father,” as well as his two children, Jorge and Paulina. It doesn’t sound like this will be sort of juicy behind-the-scenes tell-all story, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be worth reading.

The Yankees Stadium field earlier this week. (NY Daily News)
The Yankees Stadium field earlier this week. (NY Daily News)

Teixeira, Others Not Happy With Soccer Games At Yankee Stadium

As you know, the Yankees will share Yankee Stadium with the expansion New York City Football Club of Major League Soccer this summer. In fact, NYCFC is playing their first game at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. The MLS season runs through October and NYCFC will play a total of 17 games in the Bronx. More than one Yankees player is less than thrilled about the wear and tear on the field.

“It’ll definitely cause an issue, but it’s nothing that we can control, so we can’t worry about it … It’s terrible for a field. Grass, dirt, everything gets messed up,” said Mark Teixeira to Dan Barbarisi. Brendan Ryan told Barbarisi he’s going to change the way he approaches ground balls because of potential bad soccer-related hops. “I’m going to be selling out to go get that ball (and limit the bounces), and I’m going to err on that side much more.”

The Yankees have insisted they have a world class grounds crew and therefore have no concern about the condition of the field since it was first announced NYCFC would call Yankee Stadium home. Team president Randy Levine doubled down after Teixeira’s comments, telling Ken Davidoff the team is “very confident that both playing surfaces, through all of our planning, will be perfectly playable throughout the year.” Well, we’re going to find out one way or the other very soon.