Almonte is likely to anchor the RailRiders' lineup. (Presswire)

Almonte is likely to anchor the RailRiders’ lineup. (Presswire)

Every offseason I put together a post looking at the projected Triple-A Scranton roster even though it’s almost completely unpredictable. So much can and will change between now and the start of the season that it’s impossible to pin down more than a few spots. At the same time, the Triple-A club is just an extension of the MLB club, so I think it’s important to look at. We’ll see a lot of these guys in the show next summer.

From the looks of it, the Yankees are planning to hold three competitions in Spring Training: one for the fifth starter’s spot, one for the extra infielder, and one for the bullpen in general. That last one will be a bunch of smaller competitions, really. Injuries could open up even more spots, as we learned last year. For now, here’s an early breakdown of who figures to head to Northeast Pennsylvania at the end of camp:

Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Russ Canzler Zoilo Almonte LHP Manny Banuelos RHP Jim Miller
Corban Joseph Slade Heathcott RHP Bruce Billings RHP Mark Montgomery
Zelous  Wheeler Antoan Richardson LHP Nik Turley RHP Y. Tateyama
ST Comp. Loser 1 ST Comp. Loser 1 RHP Chase Whitley
ST Comp. Loser 2 ST Comp. Loser 2 ST Comp. Loser 1
Utility Guys
ST Comp. Loser 2
Catchers Ronnie Mustelier ST Comp. Loser 3
J.R. Murphy Jose Pirela
Austin Romine Yangervis Solarte

Barring injury, Frankie Cervelli will back up Brian McCann this summer, leaving Murphy and Romine for Triple-A. Murphy should get playing time priority but they’ll both get plenty of at-bats, including some at DH. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murphy sees some time at third base, as he has in the past. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the team carried a third catcher (Jose Gil?) if the plan is to regularly DH those guys on the days they aren’t catching. If so, Solarte or Wheeler could wind up with Double-A Trenton or released.

The infield is pretty straight forward. Canzler, Joseph, Pirela, and Wheeler will get an opportunity to win that last bench job with the big league team but they are at a disadvantage for various reasons. Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, and Dean Anna seem to have the best chance of winning that spot. The other guys will be there for show. The two losers of that competition (ST Comp. Loser 1 & 2) will wind up with the RailRiders. If I had to bet, I’d bet on Nunez and Anna landing in Triple-A with Sizemore in the big leagues. That’s just a guess though.

The outfield is mostly set. I do believe both Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores will return to Trenton to at least start the year. Midseason promotions are always possible, but Austin has to stay healthy and Flores has to hit before moving up becomes a realistic possibility. The biggest outfield wildcard is Almonte, who is the odds on favorite to take over as the MLB team’s extra outfielder should Ichiro Suzuki get traded. If not, he’ll play everyday in Triple-A and await the inevitable call-up due to injury. Mustelier, Solarte, and Pirela are utility men with experience all over the field, so that position player crop features quite a bit of versatility.

Billings was picked up last week to be the team’s veteran innings guy. Every minor league team needs one. That non-prospect you can run out there for 110 pitches every five days just to save the bullpen and lighten the load on the actual prospects. Turley pitched well enough last year to move up from Double-A and Banuelos is finally healthy after missing close to two full years. It’s possible he may start the season down in Tampa with the warm weather, however. The organization could ease him back into things that way, and no, I do not think he has a realistic chance of winning the fifth starter competition. He missed too much time and wasn’t a finished product before blowing out his elbow anyway.

(Tod Shapiro/Flat Iron Hot! News)

Pineda. (Flat Iron Hot! News)

That fifth starter competition will feature David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and Michael Pineda. Maybe David Huff as well, though I think he’s more likely to be removed from the 40-man roster in the coming weeks than anything. I think Phelps and Warren have to be considered the favorites in that competition and I expect both to be on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. One as a starter and one as a long reliever. That would leave Nuno and Pineda for Triple-A, though Pineda could start the year in Tampa like Banuelos. After two missed years, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring him along slowly.

Miller, Montgomery, Whitley, and Yoshinori Tateyama are Triple-A holdovers without much of an opportunity to win a big league bullpen job. Getting passed over in the Rule 5 Draft tells us not a single team thinks Whitley can help at the MLB level right now. Montgomery needs to rebound from his injury-plagued year before getting a chance to become a big league factor. I suspect we’ll see him at some point in 2014, probably in the second half. He just hit a little developmental speed bump, that’s all. The slider is still nasty.

The group of guys expected to compete for a bullpen gig in camp is really long. I count eight pitchers in the running: Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Robert Coello, Matt Daley, Brian Gordon, David Herndon, and Jose Ramirez. We can include Huff in this mix as well, but again, I don’t think he is long for the roster. Realistically, there are three bullpen spots open in Triple-A and three open in MLB behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, and Phelps/Warren. I’d love to see the Yankees sign two starters and push both Phelps and Warren down the depth chart another notch, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Eight pitchers for six spots means two guys are going to be left hanging, but that’s not worth worrying about now. Ramirez could step into the Triple-A rotation if Banuelos and/or Pineda start the year in Tampa and chances are someone will get hurt at some point. There are too many guys listed here to think they’ll all make it through Spring Training healthy. Spots will open in the coming weeks, guaranteed. Others like Danny Burawa (42 walks in 66 Double-A innings in 2013) and Pat Venditte (coming off shoulder surgery) figure to return to Trenton to open the year.

Unlike that fifth starter competition, I’m not sure we can handicap the bullpen competition right now. Betances, Cabral, Claiborne, and Daley may seem like they have a leg up, but Coello was pretty awesome before getting hurt last year and Ramirez could show up in Tampa and blow everyone away. Maybe Claiborne is at the front of the line after logging a decent amount of big league innings last summer, but otherwise I don’t think there’s much of a pecking order in the bullpen. Whoever impresses the most in camp will probably get the job, but either way, I’m willing to bet we’ll see a whole bunch of these guys in 2014.

As I said before, this is just a snapshot of the Triple-A Scranton roster. We learned last year just how much things can change during camp. For now it seems like a good chunk of the RailRiders roster is set aside from those competitions, which are vast and numerous. The Triple-A team is basically a taxi squad for the big league club and that will be especially true for the 2014 Yankees. Those competitions are not limited to Spring Training, remember. Those spots will be revolving doors all summer.

Categories : Minors
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  • Martin: Jeter to begin baseball activities on Monday
    By

    Via Dan Martin: Derek Jeter is expected to begin baseball activities at the Yankees’ minor league complex on Monday as he works his way back from numerous leg injuries. “I’ve been working hard. I started working out in the beginning of November. I’m anxious to get back out there,” said the Cap’n, who added he is “still focused on this year” and not looking ahead to 2015 and beyond.

    Jeter, 39, was limited to only 17 games last season due to those leg injuries, including the fractured ankle he suffered in the 2012 ALCS. He did not start baseball activities until early-March following offseason surgery on the ankle, so he is well ahead of last year’s schedule. Given his age and all the missed time, the Yankees will probably take it easy on Jeter in camp, at least early on. He is probably their second best infielder right now, and they need to take care of him and not push it too hard too soon.
    · (23) ·

Pretty sure we've used all the Tanaka images in the Getty archives (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Pretty sure we’ve used all the Tanaka images in the Getty archives (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

“I believe we need another starter.”

Yankees fans know this, but it still felt good to hear it from ownership. Had the Yankees planned to pick from scrapheap options, Hal Steinbrenner might have said something else. I think our young guys are up to the task, he might have said. Instead he came right out and acknowledged the need for another starter.

By “another starter,” Steinbrenner does not necessarily refer to Tanaka. He could refer to Paul Maholm, Joe Saunders, or even Johan Santana: low-cost guys who could provide the team a few alternatives to in-house candidates.

But after hearing such a proclamation from the owner himself, are fans really going to accept one of those retreads? Chances are fans wouldn’t accept one of those retreads even absent Steinbrenner’s statement. We’ll be even less accepting given his overt praise of Tanaka. “This is a great, young pitcher. I’m sure he’ll come here and do great things with someone.”

So do whatever it takes to sign him.

It is absolutely clear to everyone, from the casual fan who tuned out after the Beltran signing to ownership itself, that the current crop of starters won’t get the Yankees through the 2014 season. Supplementing that crew with a few back-end, at best, pitchers and minor league signings will not change the scenario much. They need Tanaka, Jimenez, Garza, or (shudders) Santana.

Perhaps Steinbrenner is just trying to keep expectations low with his “we’ll see what happens.” It certainly seems as though at least one Yankees official is trying to tamp expectations: “Just because he had great success over there doesn’t mean he’s going to be lights out here. We’ll find out soon enough, but it’s not like he’s a sure-fire thing. I’d like to think so, but I’m not convinced.”

There is a certain necessity in keeping expectations low. Many teams remain interested in Tanaka, so the Yankees are anything but guaranteed to sign him. They’d clearly like to, and if forced to interpret Steinbrenner’s remarks I’d say that they’ll go pretty far in their efforts to obtain his services. But if a team like the Cubs blows them out of the water, they need to cover themselves. And so we get Steinbrenner hedging a bit, and we get anonymous officials trying to lower the bar.

Don’t let this game of expectations confuse the reality, though. The Yankees absolutely need Tanaka. If they don’t land him, they’re almost forced to try for one of the remaining trio. Anything else would, put a serious damper on an otherwise solid off-season, as a rival official said.

“If you don’t get Tanaka, it kind of nullifies some of what you’ve added to the offense.”

Categories : Rants
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(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

For the first time since his record 162-game suspension was handed down, Alex Rodriguez spoke publicly on Wednesday. He spoke with the media in Spanish at the opening of his Alex Rodriguez Energy Fitness Center in Mexico City and sounded like someone who is starting to accept the reality of his situation. Here’s are the quotes, courtesy of Josh Egerman:

“I think that the year 2014 could be a big favor that [Major League Baseball has] done for me because I’ve been playing for 20 years without a timeout,” he said. “I think 2014 is a good year to rest mentally and physically and prepare for the future and begin a new chapter in my life.”

“I have three years left on my contract starting in 2015 and I hope to play very well and finish my career in New York,” he said

“[To] tell the truth, it’s a very sad situation and we hope to get this out of every newspaper and start concentrating on all the good things that MLB is doing and the great things that young ballplayers are doing and move forward,” he said.

A-Rod did not mention performance-enhancing drugs at all, but he did say he has received support “not just from my Yankees teammates, but also players from other teams, retired players, Hall of Fame players and lots of good people, owners of other teams.”

Does this mean A-Rod and his legal team will drop their various lawsuits? I don’t know. I can’t imagine it helps his case that he came out and said he’s looking forward to taking a year off. I also wonder if he simply got some bad advice from his lawyers. Maybe he wasn’t fully behind pushing the case to federal court but took the word of the people he hired. Either way, it sounds like Alex is starting to understand how unlikely getting the suspension overturned is.

Update: Through his spokesman, A-Rod said he will continue to fight the suspension in federal court. “This process has been taxing both mentally and physically throughout the past eight months,” said Ron Berkowitz said in a statement. “Alex will abide by the rulings of the federal judge — whatever he decides — and get ready for 2015 should the judge rule against him. He will continue to move forward with his complaint which will help all players against this unfair system.”

Categories : STEROIDS!
Comments (37)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

It has been four pretty chaotic days since Alex Rodriguez‘s record 162-game suspension was announced. Alex is suing pretty much everyone and doing his best to burn every last bridge. It’s exhausting to follow, really.

Aside from a generic statement issued following the announcement of the suspension, the Yankees have not publicly discussed the matter. At least not until Wednesday. At the quarterly owners’ meetings in Arizona, Hal Steinbrenner commented on A-Rod and his status with the team following the suspension. As you might expect, he didn’t say anything too juicy. From Ken Davidoff:

“He’s a great player,” Steinbrenner said in the Yankees’ managing general partner’s first public comments since independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced Rodriguez’s suspension from 211 games to 162 games. “I have not thought about 2015, nor am I going to right now. My focus has to be right now. But when he’s on and when he’s healthy, he’s obviously an asset. We’ll see what happens.”

“Those of you that know me, I’m pretty objective in my thinking. This is business. I’m just focusing on the team, a player. Is the player an asset to the club or not? That’s about as far as I look. I don’t get personal … When Alex Rodriguez is healthy and himself, I think most objective baseball people would say he could be an asset to a club.”

Hal didn’t exactly say they would welcome A-Rod back following the suspension but he didn’t completely take it off the table either. I don’t expect them to bring Rodriguez back in 2015 — I do think they’ll release him at some point, but what do I know — but there’s no reason for Steinbrenner to come out and announce their plans now. Especially not with lawsuits pending and all that. There’s nothing to gain.

One thing Hal did acknowledge was talking to MLB about a way to keep A-Rod away from the team during the Spring Training, or at least the intent to the talk to MLB. “We haven’t even talked about it,” he said. “Cross that bridge when we come to it kind of thing. We’re going to reach out to [Major League Baseball], get their advice obviously, but haven’t even addressed it.”

The whole Spring Training thing is fascinating to me. I want to see how they’ll keep him away or how the team will treat him during camp if there’s no way to stop him from showing up in Tampa. Either way, I don’t think it’ll be easy or pretty. None of this has been.

Categories : STEROIDS!
Comments (47)
  • Game times, ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast schedule announced
    By

    Just a quick heads up: MLB has (finally) announced the start times for each game this coming season except for the very first series of the year. The Yankees schedule and start times are right here. At least four of their first eight games are day games. Neat.

    In other news, ESPN announced their Sunday Night Baseball broadcast schedule for the first half. The Yankees will only appear three times — April 13th vs. Red Sox, April 27th vs. Angels, July 13th at Orioles — which is way fewer than usual. I don’t consider that a bad thing. Sunday night games stink; give me day baseball during the weekend. The full Sunday Night schedule is right here.
    · (6) ·

Another day closer to Spring Training. The little countdown in our sidebar is now counting in just days, not months anymore. That’s cool. It’s kinda crazy to think about just how much work the Yankees still have to do between now and then, especially with the pitching staff. Masahiro Tanaka‘s signing deadline is less than nine full days away, but there’s still the bullpen left to address as well. The team could make a flurry of moves these next few weeks or they could do nothing at all. Neither would surprise me at this point.

Here is the open thread for the night. There’s nothing going on this evening — none of the local hockey and basketball clubs are playing — so you’re on your own for entertainment. You folks know how this works by now, right? Good. Go nuts.

Categories : Open Thread
Comments (47)
  • Report: Dodgers, Kershaw agree to seven-year, $215M extension
    By

    According to Ramona Shelburne, the Dodgers and ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw have agreed to a seven-year contract extension worth $215M. The deal includes an opt-out clause after five years, when Kershaw will still only be 30. It is the richest pitching contract in history, $35M more than Justin Verlander’s deal. The extension could take the Dodgers out of the running for Masahiro Tanaka, but who knows at this point. I have a hard time betting against that team opening its wallet. · (179) ·

  • Marcus: Yankees aren’t making any moves until Tanaka signs
    By

    Via Steven Marcus: The Yankees are not planning to make any additions to the big league roster until the Masahiro Tanaka situation plays out. His signing deadline is 5pm ET next Friday, so only nine days away. “We are doing nothing until Tanaka resolves,” said a team official to Marcus.

    From the looks of things, pretty much every team is waiting for Tanaka to sign before moving forward with their offseason, especially on the pitching side of things. Once Tanaka signs, guys like Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana will start to come off the board and things will heat back up. As Joe explained earlier, the Dodgers are preoccupied with Clayton Kershaw’s extension and now is the time for the Yankees to make a major push for Tanaka. Once that is done, bullpen and infield help become the top priority.
    · (51) ·

(Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac)

(Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Just nine days remain in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. Chances are we’ll know the winner even before that, since nine days is the deadline by which he must sign on the dotted line. He could come to an agreement within a week.

Speculation has run rampant, but we’ve had little in the way of actual reports about Tanaka. It seems as though his agent, Casey Close, has done a good job of preventing leaks from MLB teams. A few “reports out of Japan” have circulated, but since the original “reports out of Japan” indicated Tanaka wouldn’t be posted at all, it’s easy enough to dismiss those.

It does seem as though most media outlets agree that the Yankees and the Dodgers hold the best shots of signing Tanaka. Early in the process the Mariners looked like a good bet, and the Diamondbacks continue to linger. But right now, it would be a surprise to see him sign anywhere in between the two coasts.

At this moment the Yankees could be in an advantageous position. Ken Rosenthal reported this morning that the Dodgers attention is now on their own ace, Clayton Kershaw. With arbitration figures due on Friday, the Dodgers are eager to lock up Kershaw, likely to a record deal.

This situation could present the Yankees with an opportunity: make Tanaka an offer in mold of the one they made CC Sabathia in 2008. No, it shouldn’t be six years and $140 million, but it should certainly be a bold and aggressive offer, one Tanaka would have trouble rejecting. It shouldn’t be their best offer, either; as we saw with Sabahtia, there has to be at least a little upward flexibility.

Given that Tanaka has nine days to sign, regardless of an offer, he could simply defer a decision until after the Kershaw situation becomes clearer. But that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from stepping in and making an aggressive move while the opposition focuses elsewhere. Strike now.

Categories : Musings
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