Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
The Yankees have been getting above-average production from the shortstop position for nearly two decades now thanks to Derek Jeter, who continued to prove doubters/me wrong by hitting .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) with a league-leading 216 hits at age 38 last summer. His postseason ended prematurely due to a fractured left ankle — after playing on a bone bruise pretty much all September — that required offseason surgery, and he’s yet to play this spring as he rehabs. The shortstop position is a question mark for New York and it’s not just because of Jeter’s injury.
It will be Jeter, hell or high water. Despite his lack of Grapefruit League action to date, he hasn’t suffered any kind of setback and is expected to be ready in time for Opening Day. The Yankees will, however, use the Cap’n as their DH against left-handed pitchers quite a bit (i.e. all the time) in April to give him the occasional break and day off his feet. They did something similar last year and will do it again this year, but it’s a bit more of a necessity now.
Offensively, the projections hate Jeter because he’s a 38-year-old shortstop coming off a major injury, but he’s been legitimately driven the ball since working with former hitting coach Gary Denbo during his midseason DL stint in 2010. He’s managed a .321/.369/.434 overall batting line in over 1,000 plate appearances since then — including a respectable .298/.351/.377 against righties, who handled him very well from 2010 through the start of the DL stint — which is no small sample. Those hits weren’t ground balls with eyes or bloops in front of poor defensive outfielders, it’s been vintage Jeter slashing the ball to right and occasionally over the fence.
The defense is what really concerns me. The Cap’n has pretty much always been a below-average defender and he hasn’t gotten any better with age, but now we’re adding the ankle injury on top of it. If he loses any more mobility, forget it. He’d be completely unplayable at shortstop even though the Yankees would never consider moving him down the defensive spectrum. Jeter’s arm is fine and his glovework — he handles whatever he can get to — is strong, but his limited range could be even worse in 2013. With a ground ball heavy rotation (outside of Phil Hughes), it could be a major problem. For now the Yankees will count on Jeter to again ignite the offense from atop the lineup and live with his flaws, which is what they’ve been doing for several years now.
It’s obvious the Yankees want it to be Eduardo Nunez. They’re giving him every opportunity to show he can handle the position, starting last year with his demotion and continuing this spring with his 36 defensive innings, two shy of team leader Melky Mesa. They’ve worked with him on shortening his arm action and all sorts of stuff, but nothing has taken. Still, they’re apparently intrigued by the 25-year-old’s offensive potential, which stems almost exclusively from his contact ability and speed. If they get their way, it will be Nunez soaking up all those shortstop innings while Jeter spends the day at DH against left-handed starters.
Jayson Nix is the only alternative here and is more of an emergency option at shortstop that someone you’d want to run out there several days in a row if need be. Neither he nor Nunez inspires much confidence, really.
Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do not have a shortstop prospect in Triple-A at all. There’s an outside chance Nunez will get sent down to start the season, but I wouldn’t count on it. The Scranton club will rely on the likes of 33-year-old Gil Velazquez and 26-year-olds Addison Maruszak and Reegie Corona at the infield’s most important position. Velazquez and Corona are no-hit/all-glove types while Maruszak doesn’t really do much of anything well. The team’s only real in-house shortstop options are Jeter, Nunez, and Nix. They’d sooner make a trade than run Velazquez, Corona, or Maruszak out there semi-regularly.
The Top Prospect
The Yankees don’t have a standout shortstop prospect but they do have a very interesting one in 19-year-old Austin Aune, the team’s 14th best prospect overall. Last summer’s second rounder received a $1M bonus and hit .273/.358/.410 (130 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in 163 plate appearances for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, though his inexperience was evident in his 27.6% strikeout rate. Aune was a top quarterback recruit who passed on a commitment to TCU to sign with New York, so the Yankees are hoping that focusing on baseball full-time will allow him to reach his considerable ceiling. Aune has big power potential from the left side to go along with his strong throwing arm and athleticism, but there is a lot of work to be done. He’ll likely begin the season in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island at midseason, so he’s far from being a big league factor.
The Deep Sleeper
Cito Culver and Claudio Custodio are New York’s most well-known lower-level shortstop prospects, but neither hit much last season or projects to be a real impact player. The Yankees’ most intriguing shortstop prospect way down in the minors is 18-year-old Abi Avelino, who signed for $300k back in 2011. He’s a standout defender with a good arm, good instincts, and good body control, and his offensive game is built around an easy right-handed swing that produces an awful lot contact. Avelino obviously has a long, long way to go before he becomes a factor in the Major Leagues, but he has all the tools to breakout and establish himself as one of the team’s best prospects. The Yankees are expected to bring him stateside with one of their two rookie level GCL affiliates this summer.
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The Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira injuries mean Jeter’s return from his ankle surgery is extremely important to the team’s early season success. He needs to get on the field, stay on the field, and get on-base so Robinson Cano has someone to drive in. The Yankees will ease him back into the shortstop position with those DH days, but the Cap’n's bat is the most important thing. There is no real immediate help at the position coming up behind Jeter just in case, that is unless Nunez suddenly figures out how to make routine throws. I’m not counting on it.
The blows just keep on coming. Yesterday afternoon the Yankees learned Mark Teixeira had strained his wrist while taking batting practice with Team USA in Arizona the day before, an injury that will sideline him for 8-10 weeks. That comes a little more than a week after Curtis Granderson‘s forearm was broken by a J.A. Happ pitch and about two weeks after Phil Hughes was sidelined by back trouble. Things have gotten so bad that Brian Cashman will spend eight weeks on crutches after breaking his leg skydiving for charity. The Yankees haven’t been bit by the injury bug, this is an infestation.
Those injuries, specifically the long-term-ish losses of Granderson and Teixeira, make Robinson Cano the most important position player in baseball. No other team that fancies itself a contender will rely as heavily on one player as the Yankees will rely on Cano early this season. He’s the clear focal point of the offense — the team’s best hitter for both average and power — and the hitter New York will need to plate every runner on-base and start rallies when the bases are empty. Guys like Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner will need to step up their game as complementary players, but neither is capable of providing the kind of impact the Yankees will need from Robbie.
The Yankees put themselves in this position, at least to a certain extent. Granderson’s injury was a fluke and Teixeira’s slightly less so, but the club did willfully downgrade in right field and behind home plate this offseason. They knew Derek Jeter was coming off ankle surgery and knew Alex Rodriguez needed hip surgery in early-December, yet their solution(s) was the injury-prone Youkilis and … Dan Johnson? They didn’t bring in any other legitimate depth players for the left side of the infield, possibly because they had a little too much faith in the injury-prone David Adams and error-prone Eduardo Nunez. Now the club is stuck scrambling for a first/third baseman and Jeter has yet to appear in a Spring Training game because of his rehab.
When the season begins in 25 days, there’s a decent chance the around-the-horn infield will be Youkilis, Nunez, Cano, and Johnson. On Opening Day. Think about that. Two-thirds of the outfield will feature slap-hitting speedsters, one of whom hasn’t reached base in more than 31% of his plate appearances since 2010. Things are pretty bad right now. The Yankees can’t afford to have Cano start the season slowly — remember that 90 wRC+ last April? — or worse, consistently bat with the bases empty. They need to protect him by getting runners on-base in front of him, not by sticking a big bat behind him. Trust me, there’s no one in the organization they could bat behind Robbie that will make the other team pitch to him in a big spot. They need to stack their on-base guys in front of him and let him do damage. It’s imperative he does, at least until some of the supporting cast gets healthy.
I honestly can’t remember the last time the Yankees looked this … weak? vulnerable? underwhelming? all of the above? … heading into the season. You’d have to go back to the early-1990s, which I don’t remember all too well. The club does have a strong rotation and bullpen, which is good because they’re really going to need it, but Cano is going to have to carry them on the position player side. They need him more right now than they’ve ever needed him before because there were always those strong supporting players in the lineup to pickup any slack. Now? Nothing. It’s Cano and hope some other guys exceed expectations around him.
Via George King: The Yankees will look at acquiring both first and third basemen in the wake of Mark Teixeira’s wrist injury. Kevin Youkilis can play either position and gives the team some flexibility. “This ain’t good,” said Brian Cashman of the injury. “We will look at our best option. We have time to evaluate all our options …. Third base is very difficult. First is always an easier position to fill.”
Teixeira, 32, will miss 8-10 weeks with a wrist strain suffered during batting practice with Team USA yesterday. That timetable puts his return somewhere in the mid-to-late May range, but wrist injuries do tend the linger and the Yankees have to consider the possibility he may come back as a less productive player, especially in the power department. Finding something more than a temporary stopgap would be a pretty wise idea, especially since Youkilis isn’t exactly Mr. Durability either. That won’t be easy though. · (97) ·
The Yankees got thumped by Robinson Cano and the rest of the Dominican Republic team this afternoon, just before we all learned Mark Teixeira will miss 8-10 weeks with a wrist strain. They were getting no-hit until Zoilo Almonte hit a two-run homer with two outs in the seventh — Yankees farmhands Vidal Nuno (four innings) and Juan Cedeno (one inning) contributed to that — and finished the day with as many hits as errors (two, both miscues by interim first baseman Dan Johnson). Fun stuff. The good news is Hiroki Kuroda was very sharp, allowing two hits and no walks in three shutout innings. He was hitting the corners with his fastball and getting whiffs on his splitter. That was good to see. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- Mariano Rivera did not pitch today and will instead make his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday. The Yankees are on the road the next two days and Mo doesn’t travel. In other Rivera news, he has left the team to attend to a personal matter in New York. He’ll return in time for Saturday’s outing. [Chad Jennings & Erik Boland]
- Derek Jeter is happy with how his ankle has responded to increasingly intense workouts, but he needs to run the bases at full speed before appearing in a game. He won’t put a date on when that may happen. [Andy McCullough]
- David Robertson, who had trouble getting loose last night, has been cleared by a doctor and hopes to pitch in tomorrow’s game. The Yankees also seem to give guys that one extra day, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Robertson doesn’t return until the next home game on Saturday. [George King]
- Curtis Granderson (fractured forearm) was cleared to begin working out today. He can ride a stationary bike and lift with his legs, but he can’t do anything with his right arm (duh) or anything that puts him at risk of falling (also duh). [McCullough]
- Slade Heathcott (thumb) started hitting yesterday and feels fine. He said he plans to get back into a game on Saturday. [Chad Jennings]
- The Yankees are on the road to play the Cardinals in Jupiter tomorrow afternoon, but that game will not be on television at all. No YES, no MLB.tv, no nothing. Adam Warren gets the start.
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are both playing tonight, plus MLB Network will air a game a little later on as well. Talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.
Mark Teixeira will be sidelined for at least eight to ten weeks with a strained right wrist, the Yanks announced this afternoon. The first baseman will rest for four weeks before beginning rehab activities with a return expected by mid-May. For the power-starved Yankees, this development is a big blow to the team’s lineup.
With this injury, the Yankees’ 2013 Opening Day lineup will have at most three players who also appeared in the lineup on Opening Day last year, and such luminaries as Dan Johnson and Travis Hafner will be expected to pick up the offensive load. The Yanks’ April calendar isn’t an easy one, and pitching will now become that much more important. Hopefully, Tex won’t miss much more than the expected timeframe, but wrist injuries tend to both linger and sap hitters of their power. · (186) ·
As I said in the second base preview this morning, Robinson Cano‘s impending free agency is the cloud that’s going to hang over the Yankees until he signs a new contract, one way or the other. Brian Cashman admitted the team has already made a “significant offer” in an effort to retain their second baseman, but Cano didn’t hire Scott Boras to take the first offer. The two sides will undoubtedly continue to talk right down to the very end.
The Yankees have already broken their policy of not signing a player (or coach or executive) to a new contract until their current one expires once for Cano and they’re obviously willing to do it again. The primary advantage to breaking the policy is avoiding a bidding war, which could escalate quickly thanks to the suddenly free-spending Dodgers. You can be sure Magic Johnson & Co. will make a serious push to sign Robbie after the season if he hits free agency, and that is the kind of bidding war no team wants caught up in.
The other advantage of signing Cano before he hits free agency — and specifically this month before the season starts — has to do with their plan to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold by next season. The Collective Bargaining Agreement is a bore to read and a nightmare to interpret, but Joel Sherman explains contract extensions are added to whatever is left on the the player’s existing contract to create a new total for luxury tax calculation purposes. Rather than giving Cano a new contract after the season with whatever average annual value, signing him right now would include his 2013 salary — a paltry $15M compared to what he will earn in the future — and one more year to the extension, dragging down the annual average value (and luxury tax hit).
Just as an example, let’s say the Yankees sign Cano to Mark Teixeira‘s contract, meaning eight years and $180M. I’m just using that as an example, I’m not advocating it. If they give him that deal after the season, it’s a straight average annual value calculation: $180M divided by eight years equals a $22.5M luxury tax hit. Now, if they were to give him that deal this month before the season begins, the average annual value of the contract would be $195M (new contract plus his 2013 salary) divided by nine years (new contract plus 2013), or $21.7M annually. The difference isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but $800k is room for that one extra bench player or middle reliever under the luxury tax threshold.
That is just one example and obviously the numbers would change depending on the contract. Things would have been much better had the Yankees managed to sign Cano before last season — his luxury tax hit with that new eight-year, $180M deal would have been $20.9M had he signed it prior to 2012 — but Boras would have never let that happen. He wouldn’t have had much leverage in talks and that’s the name of the game here, creating leverage to get the biggest contract possible. Would have been a nice way to save some room under the luxury tax threshold for 2014 and beyond, but alas.
I don’t expect the Yankees to sign Cano to a new contract this month but I don’t think there is zero chance of it happening. It would surprise me though, you can count the number of big-name Boras clients to skip free agency in favor of an extension on one hand (Carlos Gonzalez, Jered Weaver, and … ?). The club would save a tiny bit of space under the luxury tax threshold by signing Robbie this month, not to mention any money they would save by avoiding a bidding war with the Dodgers. There are several reasons for New York to try to hammer out a deal in the coming weeks, but I don’t expect Boras to make things easy.
We’re a few weeks into Spring Training now and the monotony has begun to set in. The meaningless games aren’t as enjoyable as they were when camp opened and most of the top prospects have already been reassigned to minor league camp, so there isn’t too much to get excited about. Happens every year around this time.
Today will be a little different though. The Yankees are playing the Dominican Republic team in a World Baseball Classic exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field this afternoon, a Dominican Republic team that is managed by Yankees bench coach Tony Pena and anchored by Yankees cornerstone Robinson Cano. Pena’s team destroyed — I’m talking eight runs on 12 hits in 2.2 innings — Cole Hamels in Phillies’ camp yesterday, so I’m sure the club feels good about themselves right now. The game does count for anything but it will be fun to see Robbie out there on the other team, I’m sure the players are looking forward to it. Here’s the starting lineup…
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 2B Jayson Nix
- DH Travis Hafner
- 3B Kevin Youkilis
- RF Juan Rivera
- C Frankie Cervelli
- LF Matt Diaz
- CF Melky Mesa
- 1B Luke Murton
Available Position Players: C Bobby Wilson, 2B Jose Pirela, SS Addison Maruszak, 3B Dan Johnson, LF Thomas Neal, and RF Zoilo Almonte are all scheduled to come off the bench. Murton, Mesa, and Hafner will apparently play all nine innings.
Here is the Dominican Republic lineup if you’re interested. Starting for them this afternoon is … wait for it … lefty Vidal Nuno. How about that? Jennings says some Yankees relievers may come out of the bullpen for the Dominican Republic as well. These World Baseball Classic exhibitions aren’t the most formal thing in the world, I guess.
This afternoon’s game is scheduled to start a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. There are no local blackouts. Enjoy.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
Second base is one of the four premium up-the-middle positions, but it is the fourth-most important of those positions. It doesn’t require the athleticism of shortstop or center field or the pure toughness of catcher, nor does it require the arm strength — second baseman have the most time to make the routine play of any infielder. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a rough position because of the blind double play pivot, but it sorta is the black sheep of the up-the-middle spots. That said, second base is the highlight of the Yankees’ organization for a number of reasons.
Robinson Cano isn’t just the best player on the Yankees, he’s the best second baseman in baseball and one of the very best players in the game period. The 30-year-old has hit .311/.370/.539 (142 wRC+) over the last three seasons and put up career-highs in doubles (48), homers (33), extra-base hits (82), ISO (.238), SLG (.550), walks (61), walk rate (8.8%), wOBA (.394), wRC+ (150), fWAR (7.8), and bWAR (8.2) last summer. It was his third consecutive MVP-caliber season and there’s really no reason to expect his performance to suddenly fall off a cliff in 2013. He might not be as amazingly awesome again, but there’s no obvious reason why he would be anything less that excellent.
In the field, Cano is dynamite gloveman in the eyes of DRS (+17 career), Total Zone (+43) and FRAA (+45.1), but not so much UZR (-30.2). Robbie doesn’t have the greatest range going to his left, but c’mon. That UZR stands out like a sore thumb because it doesn’t jibe with the eye test. He might not be as good as Total Zone and FRAA say, but Cano is clearly above-average defensively in my opinion. His range to his right is very good and his arm is a rocket, and when you add in the fact that he plays pretty much every single game year after year, you’ve got a two-way threat who is among the most dependable players in the world.
Cano’s performance in 2013 will be very important and not just to the Yankees given all the offense they lost over the winter. Robbie will be a free agent after the season and is in line for a mammoth nine-figure contract, and in fact Brian Cashman confirmed the club has already extended a “significant offer.” Scott Boras won’t go down that easily though, so expect contract talks to linger pretty much all season long. It will be the cloud hanging over the team all summer, kinda like CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause two years ago. The off-field issue doesn’t diminish Cano’s on-field awesomeness or importance, however.
The bench is still a few weeks away from being finalized, but the two obvious candidates are Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix. The 25-year-old Nunez is a defensive nightmare who has been working out at shortstop exclusively since last May, though Cashman did say he would return to a utility role if he makes the team. The speed and contact ability are certainly useful tools, useful tools that are negated (and then some) by the unusable defense.
Nix, 30, was solid in a limited role last year, mainly by hitting lefties (97 wRC+) and playing all over the field. He’s a second baseman by trade and a much better defender than Nunez, but no better than average overall. I don’t think it would be a surprise if either guy made the team as a reserve infielder, and heck, there’s even a scenario in which both make the team. Either way, the step down from Cano to either Nix or Nunez is enormous. Maybe the biggest drop-off from one player to their replacement in all of baseball.
Knocking on the Door
The Yankees are blessed with very good second base depth, including at the Triple-A level. Both 25-year-old David Adams and 24-year-old Corban Joseph are slated to begin the season with Triple-A Scranton and they’re cut from a similar cloth: bat-first players who are below-average defenders at second. Adams, a right-handed hitter, used to be a solid defender at the position but has lost a few steps following the massive ankle injury he suffered in 2010. Joseph, a left-handed hitter, has always been a below-average defender. Both guys can hit and are willing to walk though, making them very good depth pieces (and trade bait). Adams is dealing with a back injury and could miss the start of the season, which I guess makes Joseph first in line for a call-up.
The Top Prospect
One of New York’s best and most exciting prospects is second baseman Angelo Gumbs, who placed ninth on my preseason top 30 list. Still just 20 years old (with an October birthday!), the right-handed hitter signed for $750k as the team’s second round pick in 2010 and hit .268/.317/.428 (102 wRC+) with seven homers and 26 steals (in 29 attempts) in 278 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season. His season ended prematurely due to a partially torn elbow ligament, but he’s 100% healthy and even managed to squeeze in a few winter ball games. Gumbs stands out of his electric bat speed — best in the organization and among the best in minor league baseball — and athleticism, so he’s a premium breakout candidate for 2013 if healthy given his age. The Yankees will bump him up to High-A Tampa this year, so he won’t be a big league factor this summer unless he’s traded for an actual big leaguer.
The Deep Sleeper
Gumbs, Adams, and Joseph are exceptions — there just aren’t many true second base prospects throughout baseball. There aren’t as rare as true first base prospects, but most second base prospects are failed shortstops (like Cano). The Yankees don’t have a deep second base sleeper prospect, but they do have 2012 sixth rounder Rob Refsnyder. The 21-year-old followed up his College World Series Most Outstanding Player performance by hitting .247/.324/.370 (95 wRC+) with four homers and 11 steals (in 12 chances) in 182 plate appearances for Charleston last year. Although he played the outfield in his pro debut, the Yankees announced him as a second baseman at the draft and are expected to move him back there going forward. Refsnyder played the position in high school and would raise his long-term profile quite a bit if he shows he can handle second adequately. He’s not as good a prospect as the other three guys but he’s definitely interesting, hence his inclusion in my not top 30 prospects post.
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The Yankees have more quality depth at second base than at any other position, and it starts right at the top with Cano. He’s the team’s best and most important player heading into the 2013 season, after which he will sign a gigantic contract to either remain in pinstripes or leave the only organization he’s ever known. Adams and Joseph give New York legitimate alternatives in Triple-A if needed, and Gumbs boasts breakout potential despite already being one of the team’s better prospects. Second base is a major bright spot for the organization from top to bottom.
The Yankees lost to the Braves tonight, but really the game is secondary to all the injury problems that are starting to pile up. Brett Gardner led the way with two more hits — he’s hitting .579 this spring — while Ichiro doubled and both Ronnie Mustelier and Corban Joseph singled. Add in some walks by Travis Hafner (two), Eduardo Nunez (two), and Jayson Nix (one), and that’s the offense right there. David Phelps allowed one run in four innings while Joba Chamberlain and Shawn Kelley threw perfect frames. Mark Montgomery allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach base (single, two walks, hit by pitch) and that’s pretty much it. Here is the box score and here is the rest from Tampa…
- In addition to the Mark Teixeira (wrist), David Robertson (trouble loosening up), and Adonis Garcia (wrist) injury concerns, Robinson Cano was hit by a ground ball in foul territory while at third base for Team Dominican Republic this afternoon. He’s fine, but my goodness. [Matt Gelb]
- CC Sabathia threw two innings in a simulated game early in the afternoon (33 total pitches) and everything went fine. He will throw another simulated game on Sunday rather than face the division rival Blue Jays in that day’s Grapefruit League game. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova threw bullpen sessions. [Andy McCullough & Chad Jennings]
- There’s a chance Mariano Rivera will pitch in tomorrow’s game, but that’s not set in stone. If he doesn’t, he wouldn’t pitch until Saturday because the Yankees are on the road both Thursday and Friday. Mo doesn’t do travel. [Sweeny Murti & Jennings]
- Phil Hughes has been given the okay to stretch his flat ground sessions out to 90-feet after everything went well yesterday. He said he could get up on a mound right now and be fine, but the team is being cautious for obvious reasons. [Jennings]
- Manny Banuelos continues to throw off flat ground as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. He started playing catch last month and based on the typical rehab schedule, he’s still a few weeks from throwing off a mound. [George King]
- Top prospect and catcher Gary Sanchez headlines the latest round of the roster cuts. IF David Adams, 1B Greg Bird, SS Cito Culver, 3B/OF Rob Segedin, OF Tyler Austin, C Francisco Arcia, and C Kyle Higashioka were also sent to the minor league fields. The Yankees still have 66 (!) players in big league camp.
The Yankees are playing Cano and the rest of the Dominican Republic team tomorrow afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Hiroki Kuroda gets that start and the game will be available on YES and MLB Network (no local blackout).
11:02pm: Robertson told Sweeny Murti that he just slept on his arm wrong and was a little achy, nothing more. They’ll see how he feels tomorrow.
9:51pm: Via Dan Barbarisi: David Robertson was scratched from tonight’s scheduled appearance because he had trouble getting loose in the bullpen. Brian Cashman says it’s a low-level thing and he isn’t concerned, they were just being cautious. Still. Ugh. Rain, pours, yadda yadda yadda. · (5) ·