Saturday Links: Hicks, Revenue Sharing, Garagiola

Hicks. (Presswire)
Hicks. (Presswire)

The Yankees begin their final week of exhibition games a little later this afternoon. Only seven days of Grapefruit League play to go. Hooray for that. Here are some links to help you pass the time until today’s game thread comes along.

Hicks among Law’s top breakout candidates

Earlier this week, Keith Law (subs. req’d) posted his annual list of the top breakout candidates for the upcoming season. These are post-hype players. Guys who were once highly touted prospects, have been in a show for a little while now, and are ready to break out and live up to their potential. Aaron Hicks is among then. Here’s a snippet of Law’s write-up:

Hicks, like Schoop, came up before his bat was ready — his glove was ready, but his bat had developed gradually over the previous three years — and in hindsight it appears skipping Triple-A was the wrong move for him. He was a different hitter in 2015, becoming much less passive, taking fewer strikes and looking more for pitches to drive when he was ahead in the count. Now he’s moving to a better park for power and will have a full-time job from day one.

Hicks will not have a “full-time job from day one” — Law said he was joking about the injury and age concerns in the outfield — but he’s going to play a lot. The Yankees have made it pretty clear. It’s possible Hicks will end up starting something like four out of every five games as the regulars rest. He made some adjustments last year and it appears Hicks might indeed be on the verge of a breakout. I’m excited to see what happens this summer.

Levine takes shots at Mets over revenue sharing

According to Ken Rosenthal, Yankees team president Randy Levine took some shots at the Mets over the revenue sharing system. “What is very burdensome to us — and is unfair — is the amount of money we have to pay in revenue sharing compared, for example, to teams in our market that pay ten times less than us,” said Levine. “Hopefully that is something that will get looked at in the next labor agreement.”

The Yankees pay more money into revenue sharing than any other team — Levine said they paid roughly $90M in revenue sharing last year — because they generate more revenue than every other team. There’s no mystery here. Commissioner Rob Manfred told Rosenthal the Yankees have been very supportive of the revenue sharing system, though they are looking forward to seeing proposed changes for the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement.

I doubt Levine and the Yankees will gripe too much about the Mets or any other team — I’m sure the Yankees do plenty of fancy accounting and don’t want MLB digging too deep — but obviously they think it’s unfair they’re paying so much more than a team in the same market. We’ll see how the revenue sharing system is tweaked with the next CBA, if at all.

Joe Garagiola passes away at 90

Sad news to pass along: former Yankees announcer Joe Garagiola passed away earlier this week. He was 90. Garagiola grew up with Yogi Berra in St. Louis and the two were lifelong friends — the Cardinals signed Garagiola, not Berra, out of a tryout camp in 1943 — and he played for four teams from 1946-54. After his playing career ended, Garagiola got into broadcasting, and he called Yankees games on WPIX from 1965-67. He spent most of his career on NBC’s lead broadcasting team. Our condolences go out to Garagiola’s family and friends.

Open Thread: March 25th Camp Notes

The Yankees lost 11-10 to the Orioles this afternoon, and if it were a regular season game, it would have been a Very Bad Loss. Nick Rumbelow gave up a homer in the ninth to blow the save, the Yanks took a 10-8 lead in the top of the tenth, then the Orioles scored three runs in the bottom half to walk-off with the win. Rob Refsnyder committed two errors at third base in that tenth inning. Tough fake loss.

Anyway, Ivan Nova started and got roughed up, allowing six runs (five earned) on five hits and three walks in 4.2 innings. He struck out five. Nova allowed three homers, and to be fair, the wind was blowing out this afternoon. “I put myself in a really bad position. I didn’t help myself today,” he said to Pete Caldera after the game when asked about the fifth starter’s competition.

Chris Denorfia whacked a three-run home run — like I said, the wind was blowing out — and Brett Gardner had two hits. One was a beautiful bunt single, the other was a triple off the wall. Didi Gregorius doubled off the wall. Dustin Ackley and Chase Headley each had a base hit as well. Here is the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury (wrist) took full batting practice today. “I felt very good today. I felt confident in my swing. I was able to drive the ball to all gaps. (Thursday) was just nice and easy batting practice to see how I felt and today I was taking my normal swing. I walked away today feeling very pleased how it went. It was a nice progression,” he said. Ellsbury is going to track pitches tomorrow and hopefully play Sunday. [George King, Jared Diamond]
  • On his second error in that tenth inning, Refsnyder took a hard hit ground ball to the face. It took a weird hop and jumped up on him. He was bloodied and left the game with a cut up near his eye. That’s the only damage. Just the cut. The third base experiment will continue, according to Joe Girardi. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Michael Pineda threw five scoreless innings in a minor league game. Austin Romine caught him. No surprise there. Romine is on track to be the backup catcher and he needs to learn the pitching staff. Andrew Miller, Luis Severino, and Luis Cessa threw bullpens. [Erik Boland, Chad Jennings]
  • For what it’s worth, CC Sabathia went back to using an old two-seam changeup grip last night. He had a 6/1 GB/FB in that start after having a 14/10 GB/FB in his first three Grapefruit League starts. Eh, we’ll see. I’m not sold on a new changeup grip solving Sabathia’s problems. [Brendan Kuty]
  • Shane Hennigan has the day’s minor league lineups. Cito Culver batted tenth for Triple-A Scranton. I’m not joking. Rain screwed up the minor league travel plans this afternoon, so the Yankees had their players stay in Tampa and play a bunch of intrasquad games. [Hennigan]
  • Prior to last night’s game, Severino and Gary Sanchez were named the 2015 Kevin Lawn Award winners as the Yankees’ minor league pitcher and player of the year, respectively. It was Severino’s second straight Kevin Lawn Award. Congrats to the two of them.
  • Among the players making tomorrow’s road trip are Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Aaron Hicks, Carlos Beltran, and Bryan Mitchell. I assume Mitchell is starting. Pineda had been lined up to start that game. That will be one of those only games. No YES or MLB Network. [Mark Feinsand]
  • Some non-Yankees news: Collin McHugh will start the second game of the season for the Astros (behind Dallas Keuchel), and Evan Gattis (hernia) is expected to start the year on the DL. The Yankees open the season at home with three games against the ‘Stros. [Evan Drellich]

This is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. MLB Network is showing the Angels and Athletics live right now, then they’ll have games on tape delay all throughout the night. The Devils and Islanders are both playing, and you’ve got the four March Madness games too. Have at it.

Spring Competitions: The Backup Catcher & Final Bench Spot [2016 Season Preview]

Romine. (Presswire)
Romine. (Presswire)

Coming into the spring, half of the bench was set. We knew Dustin Ackley and Aaron Hicks would occupy two of the four spots and nothing’s changed. The last two spots were up for grabs. One will go to the backup catcher, and because the plan to play Starlin Castro at third base didn’t work out, the other has to go to a backup third baseman. The Yankees don’t have much of a choice with those last two spots, positionally. Let’s preview those last two bench players, whoever they may be.

The Backup Catcher (For Now)

The Yankees have had some pretty good backup catchers in recent years. At the very least, they were strong defenders. The Yankees place a lot of emphasis on catcher defense. Some of those backups even hit too, like Frankie Cervelli a few years back and John Ryan Murphy last year. Murphy was traded for Hicks over the winter, leaving the backup spot to a spring competition.

The two main competitors: actual prospect Gary Sanchez and former prospect Austin Romine. The Yankees brought in veteran journeyman Carlos Corporan for depth, but Joe Girardi quickly ruled him out of the race, surprisingly. Others like Eddy Rodriguez and Sebastian Valle didn’t get much of a look in camp at all. It was either Sanchez or Romine. Anyone else would be a surprise.

It’s not yet official, but all signs point to Romine getting that backup catcher job to start the regular season. The Yankees optioned Sanchez to Triple-A last night, which effectively takes him out of the running. If he was still being considered for the job, the Yankees would keep Sanchez in big league camp so he could continue working with the big league pitchers. Instead, they sent him to minor league camp for at-bats and regular reps.

Sanchez and Romine are very different players. Sanchez hit 25 home runs in 500 total plate appearances a year ago. Romine hit 25 home runs from 2011-15. Sanchez is an outstanding thrower and an adequate receiver. Romine is an adequate thrower and a very good receiver. They’re pretty close to polar opposites, really. Sanchez was miserable during Grapefruit League play (1-for-21!) though, and Girardi said he felt he was pressing in an effort to make the team.

Sending Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks is totally justifiable given his still rough around the edges defense. The service time aspect can’t be ignored either. Thirty-five days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year. That’s potentially huge. If he turns into the type of player his tools suggest he can become, gaining control of his age 29 season in 2022 would be enormous. It’s a no-brainer, really. How do you not send him down to delay free agency?

The Yankees have gone young at almost every opportunity over the last 18 months, and replacing Murphy with Sanchez seems like the logical move. Remember, Romine was pretty close to out of the organization last year. The team designated him for assignment at the end of Spring Training, he slipped through waivers, and they stashed him in Triple-A. He was added to the 40-man roster and called back up in September only because Sanchez was dealing with a hamstring issue and the Yankees wanted a third catcher when rosters expanded.

So, for now, Romine is in line to be the backup catcher. The key words there are “for now.” There is zero doubt Sanchez is in the club’s long-term catching picture. Ideally, he would spend some time as Brian McCann‘s understudy before taking over the starting job. That apprenticeship is still likely to begin this year, I think. Once his free agency is delayed and once the Yankees are comfortable with his defense, Sanchez will be in the show. Romine is a placeholder more than anything.

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

Open Tryouts At Third Base

Eight different players have played third base for the Yankees during Grapefruit League play this spring. Eight! It would have been nine had the team not pulled the plug on the Castro experiment. One of the eight is the starter (Chase Headley) and another is a prospect (Miguel Andujar) who was up from minor league camp for a day to help out during a set of split squad games. The other six: Jonathan Diaz, Pete Kozma, Rob Refsnyder, Deibinson Romero, Donovan Solano, and Ronald Torreyes.

Diaz, Romero, and Solano have all already been assigned to minor league camp, taking them out of the running for the final bench spot. The remaining three candidates hit the bench guy stereotype trifecta:

  • Kozma: Veteran utility man who’s played for some pretty good teams in the past.
  • Refsnyder: Prospect with no clear path to playing time, so he’s trying to improve his versatility.
  • Torreyes: Third tier prospect with just enough tools to potentially force the issue.

Kozma is a known quantity at this point. He’s not going to hit, but he can play some pretty good defense at the three non-first base infield positions. Refsnyder has handled himself quite well at third base this spring despite being thrown into the fire. Give him some props. Learning a new position and trying to make the team at the same time isn’t easy. Torreyes? Well, I learned his name is pronounced “to-reyes” and not “torre-eyes” like I had been saying in my head. That about sums up his spring.

I get the feeling Refsnyder has the inside track for the final bench spot right now, though cases could be made for Kozma and Torreyes. Remember, this is a part-time gig. The Yankees could want Refsnyder playing everyday in Triple-A — and working on his third base defense — rather than sitting on the bench and playing maybe twice a week in the big leagues. Two months (55 days to be exact) in the minors delays his free agency a year. Like Sanchez, is it worth keeping Refsnyder up to play only a handful of times in those two months when he could instead play everyday in Triple-A and push his free agency back? That’s a question worth asking.

Kozma could be buried on the bench for weeks at a time a la Brendan Ryan and no one would care. Torreyes does not have Refsnyder’s offensive upside but he’s a contact machine with some speed and solid defensive chops. He truly may be a better bench option than Refsnyder because he does more things well. Refsnyder’s all bat. Torreyes is more well-rounded and his development isn’t a huge priority. If he sits on the bench and plays once every ten days, so be it.

The Yankees say they want to rest their regulars more often this season, but Girardi also acknowledged Didi Gregorius and Castro don’t need as much rest as everyone else because they’re so young. Whoever gets this last bench spot will be responsible for backing up Headley, first and foremost. Didi and Starlin don’t need as many days on the bench. I think Refsnyder will get the job. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees go with the “safer” bet in Kozma or the more well-rounded option in Torreyes.

Spring Training Game Thread: Ivan’s Last Chance?


Last night, CC Sabathia had his best start of the spring (two runs in five innings) as he supposedly competes for the fifth starter’s spot. His primary competition, Ivan Nova, gets the ball this afternoon. For Nova to win the job, he’s going to have to show he is clearly the best option. Anything close to a tie is going to go to the veteran making huge money. Ivan has to dominate today to stay in the hunt. It might be his last chance to make a case for the rotation.

The Yankees made the 60-mile trip down to Sarasota to play the Orioles this afternoon. Not many regulars on the trip following the night game last night, as you could imagine. Pretty soon the regular season will begin and we’ll see the starters every day. Can’t wait for meaningful baseball. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. 3B Chase Headley
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. C Carlos Corporan
  7. DH Chris Parmelee
  8. RF Chris Denorfia
  9. CF Cesar Puello
    RHP Ivan Nova

Available Pitchers: RHP Johnny Barbato, RHP Nick Goody, LHP James Pazos, and RHP Nick Rumbelow are all scheduled to pitch. LHP Matt Tracy, RHP Eric Ruth, and LHP Caleb Smith are up from minor league camp and made the trip as well.

Available Position Players: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Deibinson Romero, 2B Ronald Torreyes, SS Pete Kozma, 3B Rob Refsnyder, LF Ben Gamel, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Jake Skole will be the second string off the bench. C Radley Haddad, C Kyle Higashioka, and IF Dan Fiorito, also made the trip.

It is cloudy and humid in Sarasota, and there is a chance of some rain throughout the afternoon, though nothing too heavy. They shouldn’t have much trouble getting the game in. This afternoon’s game will begin just after 1pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and everywhere. (And MASN if you’re in the O’s home market.) It’s the only YES road game of the spring. Enjoy the game, folks.

Mailbag: Trade Targets, Strasburg, Ohlendorf, Rodriguez

Got ten questions in the mailbag this week, and some of the answers are longer than usual. As always, make sure you use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us questions.

Lee. (Presswire)
Lee. (Presswire)

Matt asks (short version): Who might the Yankees target for their next “guy with lots of talent, but hasn’t put it together yet” trade? I happen to be a big fan of Mike Foltynewicz, whom I don’t even see on the Braves Depth Chart at the moment.

Foltynewicz is a good one and he definitely fits the Yankees’ mold as a hard-thrower (averaged 95.1 mph in 2015) with a history of missing bats. His walk rates are probably a bit too high though. The Yankees tend to seek out low walk guys like Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda. Foltynewicz had surgery in September to remove blood clots from his arm and the Braves are bringing him back slowly this spring.

The Yankees have been targeting these “out of favor” players over the last two offseasons and it’s worked out pretty well so far. Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius worked out great. This year we’ll see how Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro work out. As always, it’s tough to predict who will be available next offseason, but here are some possible targets for similar trades:

  • 1B/OF Wil Myers, Padres: He had an impressive debut in 2013 (129 wRC+) but he’s struggled to stay healthy since, with ongoing wrist problems the main culprit. He did have a 116 wRC+ in 60 games last year. The Padres are playing Myers at first base, though you could always stick him back in the outfield. Either way, he’s a bat first player.
  • C Mike Zunino, Mariners: Zunino has maybe the worst plate discipline in baseball (.252 OBP in over 1,000 plate appearances!) but he has huge power (video) and is a premium defender. He was drafted by the previous regime and new GM Jerry Dipoto acquired two catchers this winter (Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger), so Zunino’s buried on the depth chart.
  • RHP Alex Meyer, Twins: The Yankees love big hard-throwers and Meyer is listed at 6-foot-9 and 220 lbs., and PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 95.6 mph in his MLB debut last year. His control stinks though, and it’s looking more and more likely he’ll be a reliever long-term. The Twins already sent him to Triple-A this spring, so he’s still has not nailed down an MLB job at age 26. Meyer has some similarities to Dellin Betances, though he doesn’t have Dellin’s breaking ball.
  • RHP Zach Lee, Dodgers: Lee’s stuff did not take the step forward many expected after he stopped playing football a few years ago. He throws a lot of strikes with a mostly 89-92 mph fastball, and he has a few different offspeed pitches. Lee’s a fantastic athlete — he was a four-star quarterback recruit out of high school — and I’m a fan of betting on athletes. The Dodgers have buried him way down on the depth chart too. If he’s in their plans, they have a funny way of showing it.

These guys have name value as former top prospects. They’ve all struggled to find success for whatever reason(s) and they all have some kind of carrying tool. Myers has offensive potential, Zunino has power and defense, Meyer has a big fastball, and Lee has a deep arsenal and control. This is a question worth revisiting in the future as things change around the league.

(Jarred Cosart and Tony Cingrani also crossed my mind as possible trade targets. )

Asher asks: If Refsnyder continues to learn a passable third base, would trading Headley become an option?

Sure, though I think we’re a long way from the Yankees even considering that. Remember, the Yankees would not play Rob Refsnyder over Stephen Drew last season, even though a) Drew was awful for long stretched, b) Drew was a veteran signed a one-year deal, and C) it was a position Refsnyder was familiar with. Is it possible Refsnyder shows the Yankees enough defensive competence and offensive production to convince them he can be a regular at this base? Of course. I just can’t possibly imagine how that would happen this year, especially as a part-time player. Based on everything that’s happened the last year or so, it seems pretty clear fans have a much higher opinion of Refsnyder than the Yankees.

Travis asks: If CC Sabathia were to be released at any point before next season (highly unlikely as it may be) what would happen with his vesting option? Would he just get the $25M he would be owed, then could sign for the league minimum with another team?

I believe he would get the $25M in 2017 for a few reasons. One, if it was that easy to get out of a vesting option, teams would be releasing players much more often. (And the MLBPA would freak.) Two, none of the conditions that would void the option would have been met. Sabathia wouldn’t spend time on the DL with a shoulder problem and he wouldn’t pitch in relief for the Yankees. If any of that happened, the option wouldn’t vest in the first place. Once he’s released, another team could sign Sabathia for the pro-rated portion league minimum, just like any other released player.

Will asks (short version): With all the talk of money coming off the books in the next two years, the implication is that this will trigger a spending spree as has happened in past years when money became available. Do you expect to see such a spree or do you think the team will stick with their recent development philosophy, essentially reserving their money to retain their developed talent long term?

I’m not convinced the Yankees are planning a big spending spree once all the money comes off the books. The team wants to get under the luxury tax threshold, that much is clear, and I don’t think they’ll spend big again until they accomplish that goal. Also, teams have to stay under the threshold two consecutive years to max out the revenue sharing rebates, so getting under might not be a one year thing. (The rebates could always change with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement.)

There’s also this to consider: the upcoming free agent classes are pretty weak. The free agent class we just saw was the best one in years and will be the best one we see until the 2018-19 offseason, the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado/Jose Fernandez offseason. The Yankees could intend to spend again in a year or two, but there simply might be any free agents worth a significant investment. I think the plan is to build a new core from within and supplement through free agency. That’s how the late-1990s dynasty was built and that’s what successful teams like the Giants and Cardinals have done lately.

Daniel asks (short version): After sitting out this offseason on not just big but all free agents, are the Yankees setting up to make the big push to sign Stephen Strasburg? I feel like the only competition they would have would be the Nats and it doesn’t appear they are going to make much of an attempt with Scherzer signed long term and Giolito ready to go.

Strasburg. (Presswire)
Strasburg. (Presswire)

Strasburg is by the best pitcher scheduled to become a free agent next offseason — he’s better than anyone scheduled to hit the market in the following offseason too — and Scott Boras is surely looking to top the Max Scherzer and David Price contracts. Strasburg doesn’t have a Cy Young like those guys, but he is younger, he has fewer miles on his arm, and Boras will happily claim the late-season shutdown a few years ago means he’s a great bet to stay healthy long-term.

This is the kind of contract the Yankees seem to be avoiding right now. Those huge money long-term contracts that now include opt-out clauses, which potentially rob the team of some value. I think a ton of teams will be on Strasburg next year — the Cardinals, Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers, Angels, Rangers, Astros, Cubs, and Giants could all get involved — and even if not, Boras will figure something out. The Yankees should absolutely inquire. It doesn’t cost anything to make the phone call. It just seems like they’re a few years away from another big signing like this.

Chip asks (short version): The Yankees have used ten second basemen the last two years. What were their combined offensive numbers and how did that compare to Cano over the last two years? If you figure that the early years were the most productive of Cano’s contract and the Yankees got reasonably similar production, then maybe letting him walk while they tried to find a full time replacement was the right move after all.

The Yankees have managed to use ten different starting second basemen and eleven different second basemen overall the last two years. Here’s the list, from most innings at second to least:

  1. Stephen Drew — 1,166.1
  2. Brendan Ryan — 259.2
  3. Brian Roberts — 774.2
  4. Jose Pirela — 186.2
  5. Martin Prado — 140.1
  6. Rob Refsnyder — 106
  7. Yangervis Solarte — 105
  8. Gregorio Petit — 93
  9. Dustin Ackley — 63
  10. Dean Anna — 17
  11. Kelly Johnson — 2

All except Anna (two starts) and Johnson (no starts) started at least nine games at second base. Combined, those guys hit .235/.292/.396 (77 wRC+) in just over 1,200 plate appearances from 2014-15. Throw in the defense and the Yankees have gotten -1.1 fWAR from their second basemen the last two years. Only the White Sox (-1.4 fWAR) have gotten worse production at the position. Robinson Cano, meanwhile, has hit .300/.358/.450 (126 wRC+) with +7.3 fWAR with the Mariners.

The Yankees didn’t get anything close to Cano numbers from their second basemen the last few years and that was completely expected. Robbie was — and still is, I think — the best second baseman in baseball, and that by definition makes him irreplaceable. The Yankees were always going to take a huge hit at second after Cano left. They were willing to trade the short-term hit for avoiding the ugly decline years at the end of the contract. I was totally cool with letting him walk on that contract. Seattle made it very easy to say goodbye.

Jackson asks: In the last couple of drafts, pitchers that Yankees took have seen a bump in velocity. Kap went from 92 to 95/97, Adams from about 93 to about 96 and Carter from low 90s to 96/97. Is this normal for a few percent of pitchers of draft age, or do the Yankees see something in the player before the draft, or is it just luck?

James Kaprielian‘s velocity started to jump late in the spring last year when he was still in college. There were reports he was more 92-94 mph in May, a few weeks before the draft, after sitting 89-92 mph most of his time at UCLA. Kaprielian then went from 92-94 mph to 94-95 mph in pro ball, and he’s apparently sustained that this spring.

When something like this happens once or twice, it’s probably just one of those things. It’s happening repeatedly though. Kaprielian added velocity, as did Chance Adams and Will Carter from the 2015 draft. Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Holder were 2014 draftees who added 2-3 mph. Tyler Webb and Cale Coshow added velocity following the 2013 draft. Something’s going on there.

It’s not uncommon for high school players to add velocity because they start out as babies. They come to pro ball all gangly and full of projection, then they fill out and mature. Most college players have already gone through that by time they’re drafted. They tend to come to pro ball as more of a finished product physically. In fact, it’s not uncommon for college starters to lose velocity in pro ball because they go from starting once a week to once every five days.

I can’t explain why the Yankees have seen some of their recent draftees add velocity in pro ball, and for all we know it could just be one giant coincidence. It’s happened so often that I have to think there’s something to this though. The Yankees brought Gil Patterson back following the 2012 season and he has a great reputation for developing arms. Maybe it’s all Patterson? He left to rejoin the A’s in November, so I guess we’ll see what happens with the 2016 draftees.

Rubaiyat asks: Since he missed so much time due to a variety of circumstances, do you think Ty Hensley will be moved to the pen full time? Or is it better to keep him stretched out?

At this point the best place for him is wherever keeps him healthy. Hensley’s thrown 42.1 innings total in three and a half years of pro ball. Steven Matz has shown it’s possible to come back from missing so much time early in your career — Matz was drafted in 2009 and he didn’t actually pitch in his first pro game until June 2012 because of Tommy John surgery and subsequent setbacks — but he’s the exception, not the rule. Not many players make it back from that kind of layoff.

Hensley came into pro ball as a fastball/curveball pitcher who needed to work on his changeup and command, and he hasn’t been able to work on that stuff because he’s missed so much time. I say keep him in the rotation for the time being for sure. He needs to get innings. But long-term, his future may now lie in the bullpen because he’s lost so much development time. The good news is his rehab is going well according to farm system head Gary Denbo, so we should see Hensley on the mound at some point in 2016.

Rob asks: Few bullpen arms have stood out yet. Ross Ohlendorf tripped his opt-out the other day. Is he worth a flyer?

True story: I own a Yankees’ Ross Ohlendorf player shirt. I bought it back in either 2007 or 2008, when I thought he was going to be a bullpen mainstay. It’s a wash or two away from disintegration at this point. I wear it to bed once in a while. A few years back Ohlendorf reworked his mechanics to add deception, and he now has a real old timey delivery that is just a treasure:

Ross Ohlendorf delivery

That’s outstanding. Anyway, I looked at Ohlendorf when he opted out earlier this week, and I’m not sure there’s much there to get excited about. He’s been very homer prone throughout his career (1.86 HR/9 in 2015 and 1.31 HR/9 career) and neither his strikeout nor walk rates have been anything special, even in relief.

There’s no such thing as a bad minor league contract, so bring Ohlendorf in that case. I’m not sure it’s worth pushing one of the shuttle relievers to Triple-A to give him a big league bullpen spot though. Ohlendorf’s not enough of a clear upgrade.

Michael asks: What was your favorite Alex Rodriguez regular season moment?

You know, as great as A-Rod has been, it was tough for me to come up with an answer here. I was at his 500th home run game, so that stands out to me. I’ll never forget that. I also saw A-Rod hit a walk-off grand slam against the Orioles and Chris Ray early in that 2007 season, so that stands out too:

The Yankees had the bases empty with two outs in the ninth in that game before rallying. Good times. I had a 20-game ticket package that year and I swear, I must have seen A-Rod hit 20 home runs in those 20 games. Every time I went to a game he went deep. What an incredible season he had.

Other regular season moments that stand out: the three homer, 10 RBI game against Bartolo Colon and the Angels, the home run on the first pitch he saw following hip surgery in 2009, his 3,000th hit, and the home run off Ryan Dempster after Dempster threw at him in 2013. Missing anything obvious? As far all-time A-Rod moments, it’ll be hard to top the 2009 postseason. He was a monster from start to finish that October.

Yankees option Gary Sanchez to Triple-A, clearing the way for Austin Romine to be the backup catcher


Earlier tonight, the Yankees optioned catcher Gary Sanchez to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. That clears the way for Austin Romine to open the regular season as the backup catcher. The team hasn’t confirmed the job is Romine’s — there’s still a week and a half in Spring Training and things can change — but right now it’s shaping up that way.

Sanchez, 23, is arguably the best catching prospect in baseball, and he’s coming off a season in which he hit .276/.336/.503 (137 wRC+) with 25 home runs in 119 total minor league games. He’s had a brutal showing in Grapefruit League play (1-for-21), and Joe Girardi recently said he thought Sanchez was pressing.

By sending Sanchez down, he’ll be able to play everyday with Triple-A Scranton and work on his defense. His bat is pretty close to MLB ready. As an added bonus, 35 days in the minors will delay Sanchez’s free agency another year. That’s not insignificant. Five weeks in 2016 equals control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. Could be huge.

Romine, 27, has been decent in camp, going 6-for-22 (.273) with four doubles. He’s a career .201/.244/.278 (41 wRC+) hitter in 183 big league plate appearances, most coming in 2013. Romine’s a defense first catcher who was designated for assignment last spring. Now he’s in line to make the Opening Day roster. What a world.

Keep in mind that just because Romine figures to be the backup catcher at the start of the season, it doesn’t mean he’ll hold the job all year. Sanchez could force the issue with his bat at some point. In fact, I would be surprised if Sanchez didn’t finish the season as the backup catcher. The Yankees are just holding off on giving him the job.

Romine is out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without first passing through waivers. And since he’s already been outrighted off the 40-man roster once before, he’ll be able to elect free agency if he clears waivers. Whenever the time comes to give Sanchez the job, Romine’s stint in the organization will likely come to an end.

Open Thread: March 24th Camp Notes

The Yankees are playing the Rays at home this evening, and unfortunately there is no broadcast. No YES or Sun Sports, so no MLB Network or either. Baseball is taking place and we can’t watch. That’s a shame, even if it is only Spring Training.

CC Sabathia is starting tonight and you know, it would be nice if he had a clean outing, if only for everyone’s sanity. The Yankees say there’s a fifth starter’s competition, and if true, Sabathia had better start getting some outs. We’ll see. Here is the Gameday link. You can follow that way. Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury (wrist) is not in tonight’s lineup as tentatively scheduled. He did take batting practice today and Joe Girardi said he wanted to wait one more day before putting him back into the lineup. Sounds like Ellsbury will play tomorrow. [Mark Feinsand, Bryan Hoch]
  • Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Masahiro Tanaka has to “get back to the basics” because he’s thinking too much about his mechanics. Tanaka was not in camp today because he has family in town, presumably his newborn son. He’s physically fine and will be back tomorrow. [Erik Boland]
  • Mariano Rivera is still hanging around camp as a guest instructor, by the way. And yes, he’s still shagging fly balls. Brendan Kuty has video. How many spring innings do you think Mo would need to be game ready? I say no more than ten.
  • Shane Hennigan posted the day’s minor league lineups. The Yankees have had Aaron Judge work with Reggie Jackson recently. “Getting better,” said Mr. October. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees will play the Orioles tomorrow afternoon and, thankfully, that game will be on TV. It’s a rare YES road game. Only one of the spring. Ivan Nova is the scheduled starter.

This is tonight’s open thread. Both ESPN (Cubs vs. Giants at 7pm ET) and MLB Network (Dodgers vs. Indians at 10pm ET) are showing live games tonight. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are playing, plus the NCAA basketball tournament resumes tonight. Talk about those games, the unwatchable Yankees-Rays game, or anything else right here.