Yankees hire Hideki Matsui as special advisor to Brian Cashman

(The Times of Trenton)
(The Times of Trenton)

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees announced they have hired former World Series MVP Hideki Matsui as a special advisor to GM Brian Cashman. It was made official with a press conference at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa earlier this morning. Here’s the blurb from the press release on Matsui’s role with the team:

In his first full-time role in the New York Yankees front office, Matsui will work closely with General Manager Brian Cashman and Player Development Vice President Gary Denbo. Matsui will spend the majority of the 2015 season traveling throughout the Yankees’ minor league system and focusing on aspects of hitting with managers, batting coaches and players.

Matsui, who retired in June 2013 after signing a one-day contract with the Yankees, spend last summer traveling to the various minor league affiliates — mostly Double-A Trenton and Short Season Staten Island it seemed — and working with minor leaguers in an unofficial capacity. Sounds like he’ll be doing the same going forward, except now with a title.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the young players and offering whatever I can,” said Matsui to the Associated Press at this morning press conference while also hinting at an interest in coaching full-time down the road. “What I hope to do is help the development of the players and support them anyway I can.”

“Hideki Matsui is capable of anything. We’ll take as much Hideki Matsui as we can (get),”  said Cashman to Pete Caldera and the Associated Press. “We’ve kind of been waiting on him to tap into all he can provide … It could evolve into something bigger down the line.”

I can’t imagine anyone doesn’t like Matsui and/or isn’t thrilled with this news. I have no idea what kind of teacher and instructor he is, but the Yankees wouldn’t have hired him if they weren’t impressed with the work he put in last year. Matsui was awesome. I’m glad he’s back in the organization in some capacity.

The Full Realization of Jacoby Ellsbury [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Baseball’s free agent system is mostly backwards. Instead of paying for players in the primes of their careers, free agency forces teams to generally pay for past performance. While teams remain hopeful that these late-prime players can sustain performance and then decline gracefully, reality rarely complies.

Yet with Jacoby Ellsbury the Yankees paid $153 million not just for past performance, but for the hopes of improvement. All last winter we heard about Ellsbury’s potential to increase his power at Yankee Stadium.

He did exactly that, producing his best power numbers, including a .148 ISO, sixth-most among qualified center fielders, aside from his 2011 season.

Unfortunately, he didn’t live up to expectations in a few other ways. For instance, 2014 was his only full season with a BABIP below .300 (his previous low was .312, and that was in 2008). That meant fewer times on base. Combine that with his frequent appearances in the No. 3 lineup spot and it’s a recipe for somewhat fewer stolen bases than expected.

With a more defined role, and perhaps a twinge more luck, this could be the season that Ellsbury puts it all together.

Yankees Need: Consistency Atop the Lineup

In every scenario other than the one the 2014 Yankees faced, Ellsbury and Brett Gardner would have led off. But out of respect for Derek Jeter, the Yankees willfully made the lineup worse. His combination of .304 OBP and 15 GIDP left little for the middle of the lineup.

It took a Carlos Beltran injury to get both Ellsbury and Gardner into the top three lineup spots. Given the way Beltran was hitting when he got hurt, this was no boon. No matter how you view it, the Yankees harmed the team by batting Jeter second. They needed that consistency atop the order to give the depleted middle of the lineup a chance to drive in some runs.

Ellsbury Can: Provide Consistency Atop the Lineup

By the numbers, Ellsbury might not have been an ideal leadoff man last year. His .328 OBP was the lowest of any full season in his career. But that had more to do with a low BABIP than it did anything else — his walk rate was actually the highest in his career by a tick.

Looking through his full seasons in the leadoff spot, it’s pretty clear that he’s comfortable batting there. Joe Girardi moved him around out of necessity last year. Indeed, even with the Beltran injury he probably wouldn’t have moved out of the leadoff spot if Gardner had opened the season hitting second.

Having two fast guys who can get on base atop the lineup will help the Yankees in many ways that betrayed the 2014 team. I’m confident in Ellsbury’s ability to produce an OBP above .350 if he hits leadoff in 145 games. It’s what he’s done his whole career.

Yankees Need: Elite Outfield Defense

The 2015 Yankees are, by design, a run prevention team. While there’s hope that they’ll get more out of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira than they did in 2014, the offense still figures to be league average, perhaps a tick above, in even the best-case scenario.

Success will come and go based on the pitching staff and the defense behind it. Brian Cashman fortified his infield defense, adding Didi Gregorius‘s slick glove at short, an astronomical upgrade over Derek Jeter’s. Bringing back Chase Headley should help the offense, but will certainly help keep balls from reaching the outfield. Stephen Drew, too, should provide quality defense at second.

That leaves the outfield, where the Yankees equally need to prevent hits and runs. We learned that they pursued Jason Heyward, which would have given them, presumably, the best outfield defense in the league. With Carlos Beltran patrolling right, defense in left and, particularly, center become more important.

Ellsbury Can: Play Elite Defense

The eye test suggests Ellsbury played very good, if not elite, defense in center field last year. He’s smooth out there, which might make him look a bit better than he actually performs, but to my eye there were no noticeable deficiencies in his game.

The numbers had him in decline: UZR rated him as just above average while DR had him five runs below average. Both were his worst marks since 2009, and again I saw nothing to indicate that he was any worse. For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA, which does not use stringer-biased data, gave Ellsbury his best marks since 2008.

Once we start to get some of the Statcast data, I think it will bear out that Ellsbury is one of the league’s better defenders.

Yankees Need: Speed on the Bases

If you’re going to have two similarly profiled speedsters in the outfield, you better get some stolen bases out of them. Moreover, when you have a slow lineup like the Yankees, which lost its third and fourth highest stolen base producers from 2014, you need the guys atop the order to swipe some bags. And by some, I mean a ton.

No one in the infield is stealing any bases. Stephen Drew has a career high of 10, and that was in 2010. Chase Headley stole 17 in 2012, but hasn’t stolen that many total since. Gregorius cannot steal bases. I don’t need mention anyone else.

That leaves the base swiping to Gardner and Ellsbury.

Ellsbury Can: Lead the League in Stolen Bases

No, seriously. Ellsbury has thrice led the Al in stolen bases, including 2013. Despite sliding back to third in the order for much of 2014, he still swiped 39 bags, good for fifth-most in the majors.

If he bats leadoff every day, which he should, and improves his OBP from 2014, which he also should, it’s not difficult to imagine Ellsbury vying with Jose Altuve for the AL stolen bases crown.

The advantage of having Ellsbury and Gardner bat first and second is wreaking havoc with speed. Given Ellsbury’s history, I think he’ll hold up his end of the bargain.

Yankees Need: A Little Pop

Are the Yankees relying on Ellsbury to produce power numbers? No, not in the way they’re relying on the three questionable guys — Teixeira, Beltran, McCann — to hit some dingers. But this is a team that finished 10th in the AL in ISO last season. They’ll need pop wherever they can get it.

Ellsbury Can: Sock a Few Dingers

To repeat, part of the reason the Yankees paid Ellsbury is that they could project better power numbers at Yankee Stadium. He came through and produced the second-best ISO of his career, including 16 home runs. That’s more than the previous two seasons combined (though only half of his career year of 32 homers in 2011).

Settled into his spot, I think Ellsbury can hit 20 this year. At the very least I think he’ll hit 15, which is just fine for the Yankees. If they end up relying on Ellsbury to produce power numbers, many other things have gone wrong. In an ideal situation, he has more than enough power to help the team.

Update: Chris Capuano suffers Grade II right quad strain

5:18pm: Capuano has been diagnosed with a Grade II right quad strain, the Yankees announced. They did not give a timetable for his return but it’s safe to say it’ll be a few weeks. Even after he is healthy enough to resume pitching, Capuano has to get stretched out to start.

1:40pm: During an in-game interview with YES, Brian Cashman said Capuano has a right quad strain and will go for an MRI this afternoon to determine the severity.

1:15pm: Projected fifth starter Chris Capuano left this afternoon’s Grapefruit League start with an apparent right leg injury after facing just two batters. He covered first base on a ground ball and appeared to hurt himself when he hit the bag. Here’s the play:

Capuano was removed from the game immediately but that’s not surprising. It’s Spring Training and they won’t risk anything. He was coming out no matter what. The Yankees have not yet said anything about the injury but we’ll pass along any information when it’s announced.

If there is any good news, it’s that Capuano is the most replaceable of the club’s rotation candidates. Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, and Bryan Mitchell are considered the front-runners to step into the rotation should injury strike and I assume they’re first in line to replace Capuano if he has to miss an extended period of time. Off-days in April also mean the team can skip that rotation spot a few times early in the season.

Capuano, 36, had a 4.25 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 12 starts and 65.1 innings with New York last year. The Yankees re-signed him to a one-year deal worth $5M over the winter.

Spring Training Game Thread: Rivalry, Kinda

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s that time of the year again. Time for the Yankees and Red Sox to renew their rivalry. Except this afternoon’s Spring Training game will feature a lot of minor league players and guys who otherwise won’t play any kind of role in the regular season. So yeah, this is Yankees-Red Sox. But only kinda.

The Sawx are up from Fort Myers and, as expected, they didn’t bring many regulars. Here’s their lineup for the afternoon. No Hanley Ramirez, no Pablo Sandoval, no David Ortiz, no Dustin Pedroia. We’ll see plenty of those guys during the regular season, don’t worry. Enjoy an afternoon of Brock Holt and Christian Vazquez.

Today’s reason to watch: A-Rod is making his second start at third base. He wasn’t tested much the first time he played the hot corner — he did make one real nice play — so we’re still waiting to see how playable he is in the field. It would be nice if he could be a legitimate backup third baseman this year. Also, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are scheduled to pitch, and Greg Bird is coming off the bench. Bird is 5-for-10 with three doubles, a homer, and one strikeout this spring. That’ll do.

Here is this afternoon’s starting lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 3B Alex Rodriguez
  6. 1B Garrett Jones
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Cito Culver
    LHP Chris Capuano

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Slade Heathcott, CF Mason Williams, RF Chris Young, and DH Tyler Austin are the day’s second string off the bench. C Trent Garrison, C Francisco Arcia, C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Kyle Roller, IF Nick Noonan, OF Aaron Judge, OF Jake Cave, and OF Ramon Flores are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Bryan Mitchell, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Jared Burton, LHP Tyler Webb, and RHP Nick Rumbelow are all listed as scheduled to pitch. RHP Chris Martin and RHP Diego Moreno are the extra arms.

It’s pretty hot in Tampa, with temperatures expected to be in the upper-80s/low-90s this afternoon. There are a few clouds in the sky but no rain in the forecast. This afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin a bit after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. The game will be blacked out on MLB Network — but not MLB.tv! — in the New York area, however. I’m honestly surprised ESPN isn’t in town for this game. It’s Yanks-Sox and A-Rod is playing. Anyway, enjoy the game folks.

Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and an alternate offseason universe

(Presswire)
Heyward and Simmons in pinstripes? The Yankees tried. (Presswire)

We get a fair amount of tips here at RAB. Well, we get a lot of emails that claim to be tips. Let’s put it that way. The vast majority of them turn out to be false — which is why we never post them, even the totally believable ones — but every so often one of ‘em is true. When that happens my feeling is more “hey, neat” than “damn we should have posted that!”

A few weeks back we were tipped off that the Yankees had been discussing a massive trade with the Braves that would have brought Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons to New York. (I’m pretty sure we got the tip after Heyward was traded to the Cardinals.) Apparently this was one of those rare true tips. Andy Martino reported on the trade talks earlier this week:

According to two major league sources, the Yankees and Atlanta Braves were talking more than we knew over the winter, in addition to swapping Manny Banuelos and David Carpenter. The Yanks were interested in what would have been a blockbuster acquisition of outfielder Jason Heyward and shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

On Monday, Cashman would not confirm his offseason interest — it is rare for a GM to publicly discuss players belonging to other teams — but here is what we were able to gather elsewhere: Before the Yanks acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius, they asked Atlanta about Heyward and Simmons. It is not clear what the Braves would have wanted in return, and it is possible that talks never progressed to the concrete offer phase.

Heyward was traded to St. Louis on November 17th, so it was very early in the offseason. It was basically the first huge move of the winter. The Yankees were talking to the Braves about the potential Heyward/Simmons deal very early in the offseason, long before they traded for Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, signed Andrew Miller, re-signed Chase Headley, the whole nine.

On the surface this rumor makes total sense. The Yankees prioritized defense this winter and Heyward and Simmons are the best defensive right fielder and best defensive shortstop in baseball, respectively. They also focused on getting younger, and both Heyward and Simmons are only 25. Heyward also fits their model offensive profile — left-handed and patient will pull power. Simmons isn’t much of a hitter but they wanted his glove.

The Braves made it very clear they were seeking young high-end pitching early this offseason — Heyward (and Jordan Walden) was traded for Shelby Miller and a pitching prospect — and I’m guessing that’s where things fell apart. The Yankees don’t have enough young pitching to trade unless they were willing to part with Michael Pineda, and even his trade value is hurt by his injury problems. Shane Greene? Luis Severino? Bryan Mitchell? Manny Banuelos (who was traded to the Braves in January)? None of those guys have Shelby’s pedigree.

Anyway, as fun as this potential blockbuster is, I don’t want to focus too much on the rumor itself. Instead I want to discuss how the offseason would have changed had the Yankees managed to swing a deal for Heyward and Simmons. It’s hard to do that without knowing who would have gone to the Braves in the trade, so we’re going to have to make assumptions. Our tipster said the deal was built around prospects, so I’m going to say the package included:

  • Greene: Atlanta wanted MLB ready pitching based on the Miller (and later Mike Foltynewicz) pickup and the Yankees traded Greene for Gregorius, so I assume they were willing to trade him for Simmons too.
  • Severino: Again, the Braves wanted young high-end pitching, and Severino is not only New York’s top pitching prospect, he’s one of the best in the game. You don’t get Heyward and Simmons without trading someone like this.
  • Banuelos: He was eventually traded to the Braves, so clearly they had interest and clearly the Yankees were open to moving him. And, again, Atlanta wanted pitching.
  • Multiple Prospects: I’m going to say the rest of the trade package was filled out by prospects who aren’t expected to help the Yankees at the MLB level this year. Guys like Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Eric Jagielo, Luis Torrens, so on. I’m not saying all those guys would go in the deal. I’m just assuming the rest of the package included prospects like them who wouldn’t change the 2015 roster outlook.

That sound good? If it doesn’t, too bad. It’s my blog and we’re going to roll with this. Had the trade gone down as presented above, the Yankees would have been sitting on this projected 25-man roster in early-November:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Brian McCann 1B Mark Teixeira LF Brett Gardner Masahiro Tanaka Dellin Betances
2B ? CF Jacoby Ellsbury Michael Pineda Adam Warren
DH SS Simmons RF Heyward CC Sabathia Shawn Kelley
Carlos Beltran 3B Martin Prado David Phelps Justin Wilson
? Esmil Rogers
BENCH DISABLED LIST David Huff
C John Ryan Murphy OF Chris Young Ivan Nova Preston Claiborne
IF Brendan Ryan DH A-Rod

The Yankees made a couple moves this winter that I think they would have made even with the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster. Re-signing Young, for example. He re-signed two weeks before Heyward was traded to the Cardinals and I think the Yankees would have done that anyway, especially since they would have had an all-left-handed hitting outfield with Heyward. Francisco Cervelli was traded for Wilson five days before the Heyward trade, and again, I think that’s a deal that happens anyway. That move was about bolstering the bullpen and clearing a spot for Murphy more than anything.

Heyward and Simmons are relatively cheap but they do cost real money — Heyward will earn $7.8M in 2015 and Simmons will earn $3M as part of the extension that will pay him $56M through 2020. That’s $10.8M between the two of them and that’s not nothing. That’s more than the Yankees will pay Andrew Miller ($9M) and a little less than they’ll pay Headley ($13M) in 2015. Perhaps Hal Steinbrenner would okay an increased payroll because Heyward and Simmons are so young, but I have no reason to assume that. The money has to be balanced out somewhere.

Since the bullpen was such a focal point, my hunch is the Heyward/Simmons money means no Headley, not no Miller. No Headley means Prado plays third base — Alex Rodriguez playing third ain’t happening — and Prado playing third base means no Eovaldi for the rotation and no Domingo German to replenish the minor league prospect pipeline. Prado was traded to the Marlins but the Yankees didn’t dump his $11M salary — the money in the trade was structured so that it was a wash. That’s why the Yankees are sending Miami $3M this year and $3M next. It’s not like trading Prado clears money for Headley and boom, they still have Headley and Eovaldi. Had the Yankees swung the Prado trade even after Heyward/Simmons, they’d have Eovaldi, no third baseman, and basically the same payroll situation.

Without the Prado/Eovaldi trade, the Yankees would still have Phelps, who essentially takes Eovaldi’s rotation spot. The club would still need a fifth starter and re-signing Chris Capuano strikes me as a move the Yankees would still make even after the Heyward/Simmons deal. Maybe it’s not Capuano himself, but someone like him on a one-year, $5M-ish contract. Aaron Harang or Kyle Kendrick. Whoever. A veteran fifth starter type on a one-year contract to fill out the rotation. Perhaps they would have made a more aggressive play for Brett Anderson — or Justin Masterson, though he has Red Sox roots — but topping the $10M he got from the Dodgers seems really unlikely. I’m not sure any other team would have offered him that. The Yankees still would have needed a veteran back-end guy like Capuano.

The second base situation is somewhat interesting because the Yankees would be in the same spot as they were in real life after Prado was traded for Eovaldi, meaning they wouldn’t have had a true big league second baseman, just some prospects in Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. (Assuming they weren’t traded for Heyward/Simmons!) Because the Yankees went out and re-signed Stephen Drew on the cheap even with Refsnyder and Pirela around, I think they would have done it again with Heyward/Simmons. It’s a boring answer but I honestly think that’s what happens. They’ve been after Drew for a few years now.

Huff was non-tendered and Claiborne was lost on waivers, but those are minor moves. (Remember, Claiborne was cut to make room for Gonzalez Germen, who was then cut for Chris Martin.) The Yankees were looking to upgrade those spots anyway, and ultimately they did with David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. And that’s where it gets complicated, because those two came over from the Braves for Banuelos in January. Would they have been part of the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster? Maybe! I don’t think we can assume that though. The hypothetical Heyward/Simmons trade happened in early-November and the actual Banuelos trade happened in early-January. Lots can change in two months.

Instead, I think the Yankees would have looked to bolster their bullpen with smaller moves. Waivers claims and the like. Maybe they would have found a way to keep Claiborne and Germen and Martin, for example. (Who knows what the 40-man roster would have looked like after Heyward/Simmons.) And, also, no Carpenter likely means either Kelley isn’t traded or the Yankees find a similarly priced pitcher in free agency, say John Axford or Burke Badenhop or (gasp!) Joba Chamberlain. Miller and Wilson were the big reliever moves this winter. I think no Carpenter/Shreve means more scrap-heaping, not another trade for bonafide big leaguers.

The bench is pretty straight forward thanks to Young, Murphy, and Ryan. The A-Rod/Beltran dynamic at DH looks problematic but would probably take care of itself via injury — neither Beltran nor A-Rod is especially durable at this point of their careers — before long. Until then, there would probably be a DH rotation, a rotation that includes guys like McCann, Teixeira, and Prado too. The Yankees and Joe Girardi have made it clear they prefer a DH rotation to have one set DH. Basically all non-Red Sox AL teams are like they now.

Alright, so after all those hypothetical moves, the 25-man roster coming into Spring Training would look something like this in the wake of the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
McCann 1B Teixeira LF Gardner Tanaka Betances
2B Drew CF Ellsbury Pineda Miller
DH SS Simmons RF Heyward Sabathia Warren
A-Rod/Beltran 3B Prado Phelps Kelley
Capuano Wilson
BENCH DISABLED LIST Rogers
C Murphy OF Young Nova Claiborne, Etc.
IF Ryan A-Rod/Beltran

Now for the twist ending: I’d rather have the current Yankees than the Heyward/Simmons Yankees, especially since the Heyward/Simmons Yankees would have a gutted farm system. Heyward is a terrific player, but he’s going to be a free agent after the season. The Yankees would only be acquiring one year of him. Any extension will cost free agent dollars too, otherwise there’s no reason for him to sign it. Simmons is better than Gregorius, but yeah, give me Headley and Eovaldi over Prado and Phelps all day, every day.

The farm system angle is very important. The Yankees wouldn’t just be trading Severino, they’d be trading several other prospects as well. Good ones too. Maybe Judge, maybe Bird, maybe Jacob Lindgren. Maybe all three. Guys like Heyward and Simmons don’t come cheap. The Yankees would be better in right field (for a year) and better at shortstop with potentially weaker options at third base (Headley vs. Prado), in the rotation (Eovaldi vs. Phelps), in the bullpen (Carpenter/Shreve vs. Claiborne, etc.), and have fewer top prospects to trade to fill other needs.

I assume that because the Yankees were looking to trade for Heyward, they were also willing to extend him at a handsome price. They could still have him at that handsome price after the season in real life though. That’s the thing. Again, he fits what they look for these days — young, great defense, lefty power and patience — and he’ll be a free agent in a few months. Maybe the Cardinals extend him first. That’s possible. More possible than Heyward saying “I’m so damn close to free agency, I owe it to myself to wait until after the season to see what the market has to offer me at age 26?” Nah.

The Heyward/Simmons trade sure would have qualified as a blockbuster — it would have been the biggest Yankees trade since what, A-Rod? — and man it would have been fun to analyze and dissect from every angle. I’m just not convinced the trade and a potential chain of events afterward would have automatically resulted in a better Yankees team going forward.

Open Thread: March 10th Camp Notes

A skeleton crew of Yankees lost to the Orioles this afternoon by the score of 3-1. Gary Sanchez‘s ninth inning dinger accounted for their only run. Chase Headley was the star offensively, going 3-for-3 with a booming double off the right field wall. Didi Gregorius, Chris Young, John Ryan Murphy, Stephen Drew, and Aaron Judge all went 0-for-3 and Mark Teixeira went 1-for-2 with a walk. That about sums up the offense.

Chase Whitley threw three scoreless innings but they weren’t pretty — he allowed two hits, walked three, and struck out one. The defense bailed him out a bit. Esmil Rogers struck out two in one inning of work and looked pretty sharp. He’s scheduled to start Saturday’s game, hence the short outing. Branden Pinder allowed two runs on four hits in his inning and Chasen Shreve allowed a solo homer in his otherwise uneventful inning. Jacob Lindgren struck out two in a dominant inning of work. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa:

  • Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Vicente Campos, Adam Warren, and Wilking Rodriguez threw bullpens this morning. Sabathia is scheduled for a simulated game Thursday. Here’s more on that. Nova will begin throwing breaking balls next week as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. [Chad Jennings]
  • Andrew Bailey threw 40 pitches today — 20 in the bullpen and 20 in live batting practice — and is scheduled to throw a 25-pitch simulated game this weekend. The next step after that should be a real Grapefruit League game. [Lou DiPietro]
  • Garrett Jones was scratched from today’s trip to play the O’s with either the flu or food poisoning. Something unpleasant. Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is scheduled to resume light baseball activities tomorrow. Nick Noonan (stiff neck) hopes to resume working out tomorrow. [Bryan Hoch, Brendan Kuty]
  • In case you’re still holding out hope Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela will be the starting second basemen, Joe Girardi left no doubt today that Stephen Drew is the guy. “Our plan is it for it to be Stephen. We signed him to be our second baseman,” said the skipper. [Andrew Marchand]
  • Some news from elsewhere in the AL East: Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman suffered a torn ACL in a fielding drill and will miss the season, the team announced. Stroman had a 3.65 ERA (2.84 FIP) in in 130.2 innings last year and a few projection systems had him as the AL East’s best starter in 2015. Big blow for Toronto.

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game against the Orioles will be replayed on MLB Network but not until 9am ET tomorrow morning. All five local hockey and basketball teams are in action — the Rangers and Islanders are meeting for the final time (in the regular season) at Nassau Coliseum and it’s a pretty important game too — and there’s one college hoops game on the schedule as well. Talk about whatever right here.

CC Sabathia scheduled for simulated game on Thursday, setting up Opening Day options for Joe Girardi

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this morning, CC Sabathia told reporters he is scheduled to throw a 30-pitch simulated game on Thursday, which will be his first action in any kind of game situation since last May. He threw live batting practice over the weekend and reiterated that he feels great following knee surgery. Now he just needs to get stretched out and develop feel for his pitches before the start of the regular season.

Sabathia is pitching in a simulated game instead of the day’s actual Grapefruit League game for two reasons. One, the Yankees can better control the simulated game. They can end innings if they start to go too long, stuff like that. Two, Masahiro Tanaka is already scheduled to pitch and make his Spring Training debut that day, and I doubt the Yankees want to have either guy come out of the bullpen for their first spring appearance.

Clearly the most important thing is Sabathia and Tanaka getting their work in, and the Yankees have a plan to do that. More interestingly though, Thursday’s outings line up both guys to start Opening Day, assuming they stay on a normal five-day schedule the rest of spring. By having them both lined up to start Opening Day, Joe Girardi can make the call later in camp based on who’s healthy, who’s throwing the best, stuff like that. It gives him some options.

The Opening Day start doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it is a neat little honor. Sabathia would be the first Yankees pitcher ever to start seven straight Opening Days — Mel Stottlemyre, Ron Guidry, and Whitey Ford all started seven Opening Days in pinstripes but not consecutively — and it would be his 12th Opening Day start overall, which would be the seventh most in history. That’s pretty neat. Tanaka, obviously, would be making his first Opening Day start for the Yankees.

Hopefully Girardi gets to actually make this decision and Tanaka’s elbow or Sabathia’s knee doesn’t make it for him. I know a lot of people consider the Opening Day starter a big deal and all that, but it really isn’t. It’s just one of 162 games. If Girardi goes with Sabathia because he’s the “been there, done that” veteran, fine. If he goes with Tanaka because he’s the best pitcher on the team (arguably!), that’s cool too. Both being healthy is by far the most important thing here.