Mailbag: Ryan Vogelsong


Ethan asks: Would Ryan Vogelsong make any sense for the Yankees? Essentially Chris Capuano #2, but probably can be counted on for a few more innings. I wouldn’t be surprised if either of them crashed and burned out of the gate, so why not double up?

My first reaction was nah, Vogelsong’s probably not worth the trouble, likely because his stinky postseason performance was still fresh in my memory. His combined NLCS and World Series line was 6.2 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. Eek. The Giants’ non-Madison Bumgarner starters were really awful in October.

Anyway, upon further inspection, the 37-year-old Vogelsong appears to still be a perfectly cromulent back-end innings guy at this point of his career. He’s thrown at least 175 innings in three of the last four seasons, with a broken finger suffered on a hit-by-pitch (stupid no-DH-having NL) being the only reason he was limited to 103.2 innings in 2013. Innings are good. Teams need innings.

Here is what Vogelsong has done since resurfacing with the Giants back in 2011 after spending three seasons finding himself in Nippon Pro Baseball in Japan (via Baseball Reference)

33 SFG 2.71 30 28 179.2 164 62 54 15 61 139 5 129 3.67 1.252 0.8 3.1 7.0 2.28
2012 34 SFG 3.37 31 31 189.2 171 76 71 17 62 158 8 105 3.70 1.228 0.8 2.9 7.5 2.55
2013 35 SFG 5.73 19 19 103.2 124 73 66 15 38 67 6 60 4.91 1.563 1.3 3.3 5.8 1.76
2014 36 SFG 4.00 32 32 184.2 178 86 82 18 58 151 9 87 3.85 1.278 0.9 2.8 7.4 2.60

Vogelsong was really awful in 2013 even before the finger injury, but he bounced back well this past season. That said, while his 4.00 ERA in 2014 looks nice on the surface, in this offense-starved era and in that huge ballpark, it’s only an 87 ERA+, so comfortably below-average.

It is worth noting Vogelsong’s underlying performance this past season was right in line with his very successful 2011-12 seasons. The strikeout, walk, and home run rates are nearly identical, ditto his small-ish platoon split, though his ground ball rate had steadily declined from 45.6% in 2011 to 38.4% in 2014. Vogelsong’s 72.3% strand rate in 2014 was well below his 78.1% mark from 2011-12, hence the inflated ERA.

Beyond the stats, Vogelsong’s stuff has held up well these last four seasons. His velocity rebounded after a small drop last season — between the velocity and performance dip, it sure seems like he was nursing some kind of unreported injury in 2013, no? — which you can see here (via Brooks Baseball):

Ryan Vogelsong velocity

The swing-and-miss rates on his pitches have also remained steady across the board with the exception of his changeup, which got a whiff more 12% of the time from 2011-12 but only 7.2% in 2014. Although Vogelsong has thrown his changeup a healthy ~14% of the time with San Francisco, it is only his fifth most used pitch behind his four-seamer (~30%), sinker (~20%), cutter (~20%), and curveball (~18%). Losing a few swings and misses on your fifth pitch isn’t the end of the world. At least I don’t think it is.

Because of his age, it’s more likely Vogelong will get worse next season rather than maintain his established level of performance another year. That’s why he won’t cost much to sign. He worked on a one-year deal worth only $5M last year, so Capuano money. As Ethan said in the question, that’s basically who Vogelsong is, Capuano v2.0, though probably a better bet to throw 150+ innings. One year and $5M is the going rate for a projected ~1 WAR starter these days.

Beyond the obvious (age, declining ground ball rate, etc.), my concern with Vogelsong is that the Giants aren’t pursuing him at all. They know him better than anyone and they need an innings guy as much as the Yankees, if not more, yet John Shea recently reported the two sides haven’t had any contract talks. What do the Giants know that we don’t? There has to be a reason they’re staying away given their need for pitching. That makes me a little nervous.

Now, that said, a one-year contract worth $5M is nothing. It’s a move the Yankees could easily back out of if Vogelsong stinks or a better option comes along. The team is going to need innings from somewhere, and Vogelsong is as likely to provide them as any non-Max Scherzer/James Shields free agent at this point. I don’t think he’s any kind of rotation savior or anything, but he could help at a low cost. I will define my interest as: tepid.

Bullpen depth could lead to Adam Warren working as a starter in 2015


Even after losing David Robertson to free agency and trading away Shawn Kelley (and losing Preston Claiborne on waivers), the Yankees have a ton of upper level bullpen depth at the moment. Andrew Miller replaced Robertson, the just acquired David Carpenter replaces Kelley, and the team also added lefty Justin Wilson in the Francisco Cervelli trade. The Yankees seem to have more relievers than bullpen spots at the moment. Look:

That’s 16 17 pitchers for 14 bullpen spots — seven in MLB and seven in Triple-A — and I still feel like I’m forgetting someone. (Update: Forgot Wilson!) Obviously it isn’t that simple — DePaula, Mitchell, and Whitley could all wind up in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, we have no idea if Pinder and Burawa can get MLBers out consistently, etc. — but the point stands. On paper, the Yankees have a ton of bullpen depth right now.

What the Yankees don’t have is a lot of rotation depth. The rotation right now is Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Capuano in whatever order, but both Tanaka (elbow) and Sabathia (knee) have major injury concerns. No pitcher is a lock to make it through Spring Training healthy, though it is especially true for those two. Pineda isn’t exactly known for his durability either.

Because of the rotation concerns, the Yankees told Warren to come to Spring Training as a starter and prepared to compete for a rotation spot. (They told David Phelps the same before he was traded away.) In fact, I bet they told Rogers the same thing. He’s been a starter before, including last season in Triple-A with the Blue Jays (and one spot start with the Yankees), so there’s no reason not to stretch him out. It doesn’t hurt anyone and gives the team options in camp.

Warren did a nice job as a swingman in 2013 and really seemed to find himself in short relief last year, when his velocity ticked up and he missed more bats than ever. He was a starter his entire career before the 2013 season though, and I’m sure that if you asked him, he’d like to be a starter once again. That’s where the money is at, after all. I’m certain he sees the injury questions in the rotation as a big opportunity this coming year.

Warren has made three career big league starts (6.97 ERA and 6.83 FIP) but the numbers are skewed heavily by his disastrous six-run, 2.1- inning MLB debut back in 2012. He made two spot starts in 2013 and both went fine — two runs in three innings while on a strict pitch count in the first, five shutout innings in the second — plus he also made several strong multi-inning relief outings, including five of at least four innings (four runs in 23.1 innings in those five outings).

That really doesn’t tell us a whole lot about what Warren can do as a starter in 2015 though. Those long relief appearances have selection bias — the reason he was in there 4+ innings is because he was getting outs, they wouldn’t have left him in that long if he was getting hammered — and 2013 Adam Warren isn’t the same as 2015 Adam Warren. He has more experience now and is presumably more comfortable in the league. That matters.

Even as a short reliever last year, Warren threw three pitches (four-seamer, slider, changeup) regularly while also throwing some curveballs and cutters, according to Brooks Baseball. He definitely has enough pitches to start, the question is whether his stuff is good enough to turn over a lineup multiple times. The answer could easily be yes, especially now in this no offense era, and that after his success last season he is more willing to attack hitters and better understands how to maximize his arsenal. Like I said, experience matters.

I like Warren most as a short reliever and I can’t say I’m confident he can turn over a lineup multiple times, but there is no harm in seeing what he does as a starter in Spring Training. Remember, this doesn’t have to be a permanent thing either. The team may only need him to start until Ivan Nova returns at midseason, perhaps as early as May. Warren was an important part of the relief crew last year but the Yankees do now have enough bullpen depth to replace him. Moving him into the rotation is much more viable now than it was a year ago.

Mailbag: Myers, Sabathia, Refsnyder, Ryan, Lindgren

Got eleven questions for you in the mailbag this week. Send us questions through the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar at any time. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does. We’re working on that.

Ouch. (Winslow Townson/Getty)
Ouch. (Winslow Townson/Getty)

Chris asks: Will the Padres seemingly all in, do you think some sort of Wil Myers for Brett Gardner deal makes any sort of sense? Looks like the Padres could use a genuine CF.

I don’t think the Padres would go for that. They’ve made it clear they’re seeking power bats and are willing to live with shaky defense to get it. In theory Gardner would make a lot of sense for San Diego’s roster because they lack both a true leadoff hitter and a true center fielder, but I don’t think they’d flip Myers to get him. The Yankees would have to sweeten the pot quite a bit. Some of the shine is off Myers now but he’s still a just turned 24-year-old with a career 105 wRC+ and 19 homers in 175 big league games with five years of team control remaining. That’s really valuable.

Neil asks: Did the Yankees re-sign Slade Heathcott?

Heathcott hasn’t signed anywhere yet. This might be a wait-and-see situation. He had season-ending knee surgery in June and is probably still rehabbing. The Yankees probably want to see him at 100% before committing and Heathcott probably wants to be at 100% to see what offers come along. A team just might decide he’s worth a 40-man roster spot if he’s fully healthy and looks good in workouts later this offseason.

Joe asks: Would the Yankees have received a compensatory draft pick had they offered Kuroda a qualifying offer and rejected it to pitch in Japan?

Nope. The player has to sign a Major League contract with one of the other 29 MLB clubs in order to receive the compensation draft pick. Also, if the player signs a minor league deal and is called up before the draft, his old team gets the draft pick. Basically, to get the pick, he player has to be in MLB with one of the other 29 teams at some point before the next year’s draft. Japan or Korea or Taiwan or wherever else doesn’t count.

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

P.J. asks: Would designating CC Sabathia for assignment at the end of the 2015 season mean the Yankees are NOT obligated to pay his vesting year option when they release him?

I don’t know the answer to this, but I’m guessing they’d still be on the hook for the option. The option vests if Sabathia isn’t on the DL with a shoulder injury at the end of 2016, doesn’t spend more than 45 days on the DL with the shoulder injury in 2016, and doesn’t make more than six relief appearances due to a shoulder injury in 2016. Technically none of those things would happen if they release him, right? So wouldn’t the option vest? It’s a substantial amount of money ($25M) and I’m guessing Sabathia and the MLBPA would dig and fight that one.

Sid asks: Do you any scenario in which A-Rod and/or Mark Teixeira and/or CC are traded, what kind of return would they fetch? Assuming the Yanks are eating the majority of the salaries?

Nope. I think Teixeira has the most trade value of those guys and it’s pretty close to zero. Even if the Yankees eat all the money. Yes, I know Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder and a bunch of other guys were traded with a ton of money left on their contracts, but they were much younger and more productive than Teixeira, A-Rod, and Sabathia. The Yankees are stuck with those three, but at least now we are starting to see the light at the end of their contract tunnels.

Mark asks: Do you think the Yanks have glossed over Rob Refsnyder‘s lousy defense at 2B in all but making him the starter next year? Not sure about you, but I’m worried the fickle NY media and win-now fan base will turn on him quickly if he makes a few bad errors early on.

No, I think they’re very aware of Refsnyder’s defensive issues and are either willing to live with them or believe he is improving rapidly. That and they believe he has the makeup to handle any scrutiny. Besides, if Refsnyder comes up and struggles next year, either at the plate and/or in the field, he’s unlikely to be the center of attention. People are going to be focused on Didi Gregorius replacing Derek Jeter, on Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow, on Carlos Beltran‘s rebound, and, of course, on A-Rod. Refsnyder might just fly under the radar.

P.J. asks: Does Jose Pirela have minor league options left in case the Yankees go with Refsnyder for the last roster spot?

Pirela was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in September — remember the Yankees called him up only after Martin Prado‘s appendectomy abruptly ended his season — so he has all three minor league options remaining. They can send him to the minors no questions asked next year. That said, Pirela is already 25. If the Yankees have to consider optioning him down in a few years during his age 28 season, he’s probably not worth his roster spot anyway.


Chris asks: Brendan Ryan doesn’t have a place on the roster anymore as he hits lefties even worse than Didi. Would the Yankees be better served flipping his cheap contract for a PTBNL or release him, and use Pirela as the utility infielder? The projections have Pirela and Didi both being far more valuable than replacement level Ryan.

Like it or not, the Yankees do need Ryan because he is capable of playing shortstop on an everyday basis at the MLB level. He can’t hit a lick, but he can play the position, which Jose Pirela and others like Nick Noonan and Jonathan Galvez can not. I agree that Pirela would be more valuable than Ryan in a vacuum, but Pirela can’t play short regularly, and the Yankees need someone who can do that if Gregorius gets hurt or stinks. Maybe they could slip Ryan throughout outright waivers and stash him in Triple-A — if he refuses the assignment, he’d forfeit the rest of his contract, and I doubt he walks away from a guaranteed $3M — but I doubt they risk it. Ryan’s the 25th man on the roster and he does serve a purpose.

Daniel asks: Wouldn’t it be best if the Yankees held off on the QO FA’s this year, did the best they could this season with what they have, and then load up next offseason? I am salivating at the thought of adding Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Upton, Johnny Cueto, and Ian Desmond.

Aside from the ownership-mandated Rafael Soriano signing, the team’s M.O. seems to be loading up on qualified free agents in one offseason to lessen the draft pick blow. So, rather than giving up their first rounder each year to add one qualified free agent, they sacrifice their first, second, and third draft picks in one offseason. Next offseason looks to be as good a free agent class as any to employ that strategy — I think the Yankees are going to go hard after Doug Fister next year, he’s excellent but figures to a smaller contract than Cueto and Zimmermann, plus they drafted him once upon a time (sixth round in 2005), so he presumably has some supporters in the organization — though it’s worth noting there is very little money coming off the books after the 2015 season. Chris Capuano and Chris Young. (Update: Garrett Jones too. Forgot about him.) That’s it. The Yankees won’t be able to go on a big spending spree without pushing payroll into the $250M+ range, which they might be willing to do since Teixeira and Beltran come off the books after 2016.

Grayson asks: What’s Jacob Lindgren‘s future with the Yanks look like now that New York has signed LH Andrew Miller and traded for LH Justin Wilson? I thought Lindgren would be a lock for a lefty bullpen role. He rose fast through the system and the Yanks would have max years of team control, how do you see it playing out?

This is a question that only gets asked about left-handed pitchers. If Miller and Wilson and Lindgren (and the just acquired Chasen Shreve) were all right-handed, no one would worry about how they all fit on the roster. Miller is no lefty specialist, he can get both righties and lefties out and will be expected to do that next season. He just happens to throw lefty. Lindgren projects to be the same type of pitcher. If these guys are among the seven best bullpen arms in the organization, they’ll be in MLB. Their handedness isn’t much of a concern. They aren’t normal lefties. I expect Lindgren to start the year with Triple-A Scranton and get called up at some point during the summer. The Yankees didn’t draft a pure reliever with their top pick last year to not fast track him to MLB. The plan hasn’t changed.

Joe asks: Assuming this is A-Rod’s last contract, do any rules prohibit the Yankees from extending him for more years with same money owed to ease the luxury tax penalty? For example, if A-Rod is owed $100M over four years then could the Yankees sign him for $100M for ten years or would the MLBPA go bananas?

MLB frowns upon blatant luxury tax circumvention and this would qualify. There’s no other reason for the Yankees to extend Alex Rodriguez‘s contract. (MLB could simply not approve the contract if they think the team is trying to beat the luxury tax.) Also, the union doesn’t like players restructuring their contracts without getting something in return, like a raise or a no-trade clause or something like that. Maybe the MLBPA wouldn’t care in this case since, you know, A-Rod sued them, but they probably wouldn’t want to set a precedent. The Yankees are already well over the luxury tax threshold. I’m guessing they’d rather suck it up and pay the extra luxury tax these next three years than be stuck with Alex for any longer than that.

New Year’s Open Thread

Happy New Year’s, everyone. It’s hard to believe 2014 is over already but I’m glad it is, and not just for Yankees-related reasons. As for baseball, Spring Training is starting to inch closer, I can now refer to the 2014 season as “last season,” and a new, slightly younger Yankees club is on the horizon. That’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to 2015 for more than a few reasons.

Wednesday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils are all playing, plus there’s college football and basketball on as well. Talk about all of that and more right here. Have a safe and happy New Year.

Thursday: Going to use this as the open thread one more time. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are playing, but there is some college football and basketball going on. Have at it.

Yankees trade Manny Banuelos to Braves for David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve

Last time for this photo. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Using this photo for the last time. Sad day. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

7:37pm: It’s a done deal, both teams have officially announced the trade. Banuelos for Carpenter and Shreve, as reported. So long, Manny.

5:38pm: After spending parts of seven seasons in the farm system, Manny Banuelos will not make his MLB debut with the Yankees. New York has traded the southpaw to the Braves for righty reliever David Carpenter and lefty reliever Chasen Shreve, according to Jack Curry. The 40-man roster is now full. Neither team has announced the trade yet.

The 23-year-old Banuelos was once the organization’s top prospect, but he missed most of 2012 and all of 2013 with elbow injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He had a 4.11 ERA (4.66 FIP) in 76.2 innings at three minor league levels in 2014 as he worked his way back from elbow construction. Banuelos’ stock has definitely fallen the last few years, enough that the Yankees — who know more about him than anyone — would rather have two relievers.

Carpenter, 29, had a 3.54 ERA (2.94 FIP) with excellent strikeout (9.89 K/9 and 25.9 K%) and walk (2.36 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%) rates in 61 innings this past season. His ground ball rate (37.6%) isn’t anything special and hasn’t been his entire career. Carpenter was better in 2013 (1.78 ERA) despite nearly identical peripherals (2.83 FIP). He’s a classic mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy.

As Joel Sherman notes, Carpenter received a strong recommendation from Brian McCann, who was his catcher with the Braves in 2013. Hopefully Carpenter flat out dominates with New York and makes a name for himself, because right now his most memorable moment as a big leaguer ain’t so memorable for the Braves:

(Note: I embedded the video only because I love Juan Uribe. One of my favorite players in MLB. I’m not trying to dump on Carpenter.)

The 24-year-old Shreve was drafted in 2010 and has been a pure reliever throughout his career. He reached MLB for the first time in 2014, allowing one run (0.73 ERA) with 15 strikeouts and three walks (1.43 FIP) in 12.1 innings. Shreve was effective against both lefties (.714 OPS and 2.61 FIP) and righties (.680 OPS and 2.98 FIP) in the minors the last four years, so he might not necessarily be a specialist. He’s a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy.

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Carpenter is out of minor league options, so he’ll stick with the big league team and presumably step into Shawn Kelley’s old setup role. MLBTR projects him to earn $1.1M through arbitration in 2015. Shreve has two options remaining and will join Justin Wilson and Jacob Lindgren as lefty bullpen options behind Andrew Miller. Carpenter and Shreve have three and six years of team control left, respectively. Banuelos has one option year and six years of team control remaining.

In a nutshell, the Yankees prefer Carpenter and Shreve to Kelley and Banuelos, with Johnny Barbato serving as a wildcard. At this point only Carpenter, Miller, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren are locks for the 2015 bullpen, though I think both Wilson and Esmil Rogers have a leg up o a bullpen job as well. Shreve, Lindgren, Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, Danny Burawa, Gonzalez Germen, Jose DePaula, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley are other candidates. That’s a lot of arms.

In the grand scheme of things, the Yankees added a setup reliever and replaced one potential up-and-down lefty with another. I’m bummed Banuelos is gone but that’s the way it goes. Pitching prospects will break your heart. Obviously the Yankees felt they were better off using Banuelos as a chip to improve the bullpen now rather than holding onto him and hoping for a rebound next year before he has to stick in MLB for good in 2016. Bottom line, the Yankees clearly believe Banuelos is no longer the guy he was from 2008-12, before the injuries.

Badler: Yanks among teams connected to Cuban infielder Hector Olivera

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty)
(Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

As the baseball world waits for Yoan Moncada to become eligible to sign — Jesse Sanchez says Moncada has yet to receive clearance from the Office of Foreign Assets Control but will start private workouts soon — another free agent Cuban infielder has emerged, Hector Olivera. And, according to Ben Badler (no subs. req’d), the Yankees are one of three teams most connected to Olivera, along with the Padres and Athletics.

Olivera, who will turn 30 in April, is “right up there with Yasiel Puig as one of the most fascinating players to ever leave the island, a mixture of premium talent, performance, health issues, a lack of recent looks and age,” according to Badler. Badler also says Olivera is a better MLB prospect than Yasmany Tomas despite being nearly five years older. Here’s a scouting report:

At around 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Olivera is a physical righthanded hitter with a loose, quick swing and a good hitting approach. He showed good power for a middle infielder, and given that several Cuban players have transformed their bodies and increased their power since leaving the island, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Olivera did the same. His size, athleticism and plus speed (at least at his peak) made him one of the most well-rounded players in Cuba.

Olivera, who is a second baseman by trade but can also play third, flat out raked in Cuba, hitting .335/~.426/.567 with an average of with 23 doubles, 15 homeruns, 49 walks, and 25 strikeouts per season from 2008-12. (They play 90-game seasons in Cuba). That’s better than what Tomas hit in Cuba, not as good as what Jose Abreu hit in Cuba, and on par with what Puig and Yoenis Cespedes hit in Cuba.

Now, here’s the catch: scouts haven’t seen Olivera play all that much recently. A blood disorder — Badler says it was reported as “thrombosis in his left biceps” — caused him to miss the entire 2012-13 season, and Olivera hasn’t played in any international tournaments either. He has not yet held a showcase for scouts but is expected to do so eventually.

Olivera is not close to being able to sign yet — he has yet to establish residency, and then must be unblocked by the OFAC and declared a free agent by MLB. It seems unlikely all of that will happen before Opening Day. It’s unclear how much it will cost to sign him, though it figures to be less than the six-year, $68.5M deal the Diamondbacks gave Tomas because Olivera is older and hasn’t played much recently.

Badler notes Yankees international scouting director Donny Rowland has been around forever, so he’s seen Olivera play in his prime, but that’s not necessarily the Olivera they’d be signing at this point. They’re getting the guy who turns 30 in a few months and hasn’t faced high-caliber competition in a while. His eventual showcases will be important.

The Yankees are still considered a favorite to sign Moncada according to Badler, and Moncada is the much more desirable target as the 19-year-old potential star. That said, if they lose out on Moncada for whatever reason — he has to be cleared by the OFAC before June 15th, otherwise the Yankees can’t offer him more than $300,000 because of this summer’s international spending spree, and $300,000 won’t get it done — Olivera could be an alternative.

Yankees going with youth in all the right places in 2015

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

The Yankees needed to get younger this offseason. Or, rather, they needed to get better, and the easiest way to do that was to get younger. The club had been stuck relying on old past-prime players and needed to change direction. Old players can still be really useful in moderation. But a roster full of ‘em? Not the way to go.

After the end of the 2014 season, several key Yankees’ folks said the team intended to get younger in 2015. Joe Girardi said “at times we ran out four guys, five guys over 35 years old. I don’t think that will happen next year,” at his end-of-season press conference. Hal Steinbrenner said young players are “going to play a big part” for the team going forward during a radio interview in early-October. They talked the talk, for sure.

Teams say that sort of stuff every offseason — we want to get younger, more athletic, more well-rounded, etc. — and usually it’s just lip service. The intention is there but they never really follow through. That hasn’t been the case for the Yankees this winter. Girardi and Steinbrenner said they expected the club to get younger this winter and they have. Derek Jeter was replaced with Didi Gregorius*, Martin Prado with Jose Pirela/Rob Refsnyder, Hiroki Kuroda with Nathan Eovaldi, and Francisco Cervelli with John Ryan Murphy. They also have plenty of young relievers ready to replace Shawn Kelley and David Huff.

* Jeter was he oldest regular shortstop in the league last year, so the Yankees were going to get younger by default. They got way younger though. They didn’t replace Jeter with, say, soon-to-be 32-year-old Stephen Drew.

The Yankees didn’t just get younger, however. They got younger at key positions — the middle infield, behind the plate, and on the pitching staff. Only two teams since 2009 have had two middle infielders age 25 or younger qualify for the batting title in the same season — the 2011 Cubs (Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney) and the 2011 Nationals (Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa) — and the Yankees could very well do that in 2015 with Gregorius and either Pirela or (most likely) Refsnyder. Going young on both sides of second base is risky, but the Yankees seem willing to do it.

Catcher is a weird position because teams want either a young starter and a veteran backup to mentor him, or a veteran starter and a young backup he can mentor. With Brian McCann entrenched behind the plate, the Yankees have to go the veteran starter/young backup route next season, and John Ryan Murphy will presumably serve as McCann’s backup following the Cervelli trade. Down the road two or three years, perhaps Murphy will take over as the starter with McCann serving as the veteran backup as he ages and sees more time at DH.

(Marc Serota/Getty)
(Marc Serota/Getty)

Heading into next season, the only positions where the Yankees will have legitimately old and clearly past their prime players are first base (Mark Teixeira), right field (Carlos Beltran), and DH (Alex Rodriguez). I guess you could argue McCann belongs in that group as well, though I’m optimistic about his chances of rebounding next year, maybe foolishly. Otherwise the Yankees have prime age starters at catcher, third base, left field, and center field plus the kids at second base and shortstop.

As for the pitching staff, there are five rotation spots to fill, and the Yankees are planning to have 26-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, 26-year-old Michael Pineda, and 25-year-old Eovaldi occupy three of them in 2015. Ivan Nova, who turns 28 in two weeks, will return from elbow reconstruction at midseason to join them. The other rotation spots are slated to go to 34-year-old CC Sabathia and 36-year-old Chris Capuano. The team is locked into Sabathia because of his contract, which is in the back end portion of the “we want the elite years up front and will live with the ugliness on the back end” model, but Capuano is a depth arm on a low-cost one-year contract. In-house replacement starter options include 20-somethings Bryan Mitchell and Jose DePaula.

The Yankees currently have 20 pitchers on the 40-man roster and only four are age 28 or older: Sabathia, Capuano, Andrew Miller, and Esmil Rogers. (Nova’s two weeks from joining them.) Of those four, only Miller is expected to be a significant factor next year. Sabathia’s a wait-and-see guy after knee surgery while Rogers is another low-cost depth pitcher like Capuano. After Miller and Rogers, the oldest pitchers in the projected bullpen are 27-year-olds Adam Warren and Justin Wilson, who were born a week apart. Given Sabathia’s health and Capuano’s disposability, there might actually be a point next summer when the only pitcher on the active roster not in his 20s is Miller, who turns 30 in May. Wouldn’t that be something?

Now, here’s where it gets tricky: getting younger doesn’t automatically mean getting better. It’s quite risky, actually. We have very little idea of what Gregorius can contribute across a full season and even less about what Pirela and Refsnyder can provide. Kuroda had his worst season as a Yankee in 2014, but if Eovaldi were to match his 3.71 ERA (3.60 FIP) in 199 innings next year, I feel like it would be considered a positive. Murphy as the young backup catcher is great … unless he plays like the 2012 version of Austin Romine, the team’s last young backup backstop. Young players and productive young players are two different animals.

Right now, the Yankees are looking for productive young players. They hope Gregorius and Refsnyder and Eovaldi can be those guys. Maybe they can be, maybe they can’t. The only way to find out is to let them play. The Yankees are still going to be an older team in general next year, but the little bit of youth they do have is in the right spots. They are young at important up the middle positions and on the pitching staff. That’s where you want to have young players whose best years are still ahead of them. The Yankees are never going to tear it all down and rebuild. That’s not in their DNA. Instead, they’ve retooled this offseason by acquiring young players at key positions to carry them in 2015 and beyond.