Spring Training Game Thread: Tanaka’s debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Spring Training games don’t mean anything, but boy oh boy is tonight’s Grapefruit League match against the Braves important. Staff ace Masahiro Tanaka is making his spring debut — he’s scheduled to throw two innings — and of course he is trying to pitch with that partially torn ligament in his elbow. We’ve been waiting all winter to see Tanaka back on the mound and testing that elbow.

Multiple doctors — world renowned doctors — have cleared Tanaka to pitch following last summer’s rehab work, so it’s not like the Yankees are sending him out there on a whim. But we’re all nervous. It’s only natural to wonder if Tanaka’s next pitch will be his last before the ligament gives. So far everything has gone well though. Tanaka’s thrown multiple bullpens in camp, faced hitters in live batting practice, and thrown a simulated games. Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of a real game though.

The Braves took the hour ride to Tampa from Disney, and, as you can imagine, not too many big league players made the bus trip down for the Spring Training night game. Here’s their lineup.

Tonight’s reason to watch: Tanaka. Tanaka Tanaka Tanaka. That’s all the reason you need to tune into tonight’s contest.

Here is tonight’s starting lineup, which looks like the potential Opening Day lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. DH Alex Rodriguez
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Jose Pirela, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Jake Cave, RF Tyler Austin, and DH Aaron Judge will be the second string off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C Trent Garrison, C Francisco Arcia, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cito Culver, OF Slade Heathcott, and OF Mason Williams are also available if needed.

Available Pitchers: RHP Scott Baker, RHP David Carpenter, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Kyle Davies, and RHP Wilking Rodriguez are also scheduled to pitch. LHP Jacob Lindgren, LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP Jose Ramirez, and RHP Branden Pinder are the extra arms.

It is pretty cloudy in Tampa and there is a very small chance of rain later tonight. If it does rain, it looks like it will be long after Tanaka’s night is done. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB.tv nationally. There is no MLB.tv blackout in the Yankees’ market. The game will also be replayed on MLB Network at midnight ET. Enjoy the game, folks.

March 12th Camp Notes: Sabathia, Capuano, Rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are playing the Braves later tonight (7pm ET) and Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to make his first start of Spring Training. That is sort of a big deal. Until then, here are the rest of the day’s notes from camp. The regular game thread will be live a little before first pitch:

  • CC Sabathia threw a 29-pitch simulated game and everything went fine. He reportedly sat 87-90 mph. “I’m not hurting. I feel good. That’s the only way I’m judging myself right now,” he said. Joe Girardi said the “movement and life on his fastball, I was like, ‘Wow. It’s good – really good.’ I was really pleased.” No official word yet but it seems Sabathia’s next outing will be in an actual Grapefruit League game. [Erik Boland, Sweeny Murti, Bryan Hoch]
  • Chris Capuano is on crutches after suffering a Grade II quad strain yesterday. He received platelet-rich plasma treatment and Girardi said the lefty will be shut down for at least two weeks. Capuano will need to get built up and stretched out after that, so he’s looking at more than a month on the shelf. [David Waldstein, Marly Rivera]
  • When asked about replacing Capuano, Girardi said it is “very possible” Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, or Chase Whitley will slide into that rotation spot. Well, duh. [Rivera]
  • Michael Pineda, Andrew Bailey, Esmil Rogers, and Chase Whitley all threw bullpen sessions this afternoon. [Ryan Hatch]

At some point soon the Yankees should be making their first round of roster cuts, maybe even after tonight’s game. Minor league camp starts soon (if it hasn’t already) and players need to get down there to start getting more at-bats and innings. I’d guess Gary Sanchez, Domingo German, Jake Cave, and Cito Culver will be among the first sent down.

Phillies have interest in Austin Romine, though Yankees unlikely to get much in return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Phillies are among the teams with interest in catcher Austin Romine. Romine is out of minor league options and can’t be sent to Triple-A without first passing through waivers — chances are he would be claimed, catchers are hard to find — making a trade likely if he doesn’t manage to beat out John Ryan Murphy for the backup catcher’s job.

The Phillies have a clear cut starter in veteran backstop Carlos Ruiz. The backup situation is much more wide open, with 40-man roster players Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph competing against non-roster invitees John Hester, Koyie Hill, and Rene Garcia this spring. A trade won’t happen anytime soon — the Yankees will keep Romine until the very end of camp in case Murphy or Brian McCann gets hurt — but I’m sure the feeling out process has begun.

Romine, 26, reported to camp in great shape and said he intended to make the backup catcher decision difficult for the Yankees even though Murphy is considered the favorite. Romine is off to a 1-for-8 (.125) start to Grapefruit League play, and while that’s a really small sample, he needs to hit this spring to win the job. Hitting .275 in March won’t force the issue. Romine needs to mash if he wants a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Trades involving out of options players on the margins of the roster are not at all glamorous. The return is usually very small, something along the lines of a player to be named later or cash. The Yankees sent George Kontos, an up-and-down reliever, to the Giants for Chris Stewart when he was out of options at the end of Spring Training 2012. Jose Lobaton netted the Rays the interesting Nate Karns last winter, but Lobaton was coming off a 103 wRC+ in 2013. He had way more trade value that Romine does right now.

An out of options player for an out of options player trade is always possible but those are rare. It’s not often the needs and excess players of two teams match up that well. The Phillies have six out of options players in camp according to Todd Zolecki:

In Phillies camp there are six players without options: right-handers Jerome Williams, Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont; left-hander Andy Oliver; and infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez.

De Fratus is actually good (2.39 ERA and 3.11 FIP in 52.2 innings in 2014) so he’s not available. Galvis is penciled in as Philadelphia’s starting shortstop in the wake of the Jimmy Rollins trade and Williams signed a $2.5M deal this winter to bolster the pitching staff. Those two aren’t available either. Hernandez and Oliver don’t really move the needle for the Yankees given their internal options. That leaves Aumont.

Aumont, 26, was part of the Cliff Lee trade way back when, and he’s struggled in multiple cups of coffee the last three years (6.13 ERA and 4.44 FIP in 39.2 relief innings). His Triple-A numbers the last three years — 4.07 ERA (3.99 FIP) with way too many walks (17.9%) in 135 relief innings — aren’t all that good either. Aumont hits the trifecta for the Yankees though, and that’s important:

  1. Miss bats? Yes. Aumont has a 11.07 K/9 (26.7 K%) in Triple-A the last three years and 8.85 K/9 (20.0 K%) in his MLB time.
  2. Throw Hard? Yes. Aumont has averaged 95 mph with his fastball and topped out at nearly 99 mph at the MLB level according to PitchFX.
  3. Physically Huge? Also yes. Aumont is listed at 6-foot-7 and 240 lbs. The Yankees love big pitchers.

The last bullpen spot is currently up for grabs — it’s still way too early in camp to say if someone has taken over as the front-runner — and it could be two spots if Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers replaces the injured Chris Capuano in the rotation. The Yankees have no shortage of candidates for the bullpen job(s), but, if they’re going to lose Romine anyway, flipping him for Aumont and trying him for a few weeks might make more sense than accepting cash or some Grade-C prospect in Single-A.

Now, would the Phillies trade Aumont for Romine? Who knows. Aumont is in the running for a bullpen spot with Philadelphia, which means he would have to pitch pretty poorly in camp to not make the roster. And if he pitches poorly in camp, why would the Yankees want him? Then again, if Romine plays poorly in camp and doesn’t make the Yankees, why would the Phillies want him? The out of options player market is a weird one.

Sifting through depth charts, the Diamondbacks and Padres stand out as clubs that could use catching help along with the Phillies, meaning they’re potential trade candidates for Romine. There’s still three and a half weeks of Spring Training left, which means there’s three and a half weeks left for catchers to get hurt. (San Diego just lost backup catcher Tim Federowicz to a torn MCL.) Lots of time for the market to change.

Maybe things will break right for the Yankees and Romine will clear waivers and go to Triple-A before Opening Day. That would be pretty great, but the Yankees can’t count on it. History suggests trading Romine away rather than rolling the dice on waivers won’t bring much of a return, and, frankly, considering how the last few years have gone for him, there’s no reason to think he has much trade value anyway. Phillies or otherwise, Romine’s stint in the organization will likely come to an end in about three weeks, and the Yankees don’t figure to be left with much to show for it.

The Needed Production of the Unwanted Alex Rodriguez [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After a one-year hiatus, the most uncomfortable marriage in baseball returns in 2015. Alex Rodriguez‘s one-year suspension is over and he has rejoined the Yankees, not too long after suing the team, suing the team doctor, suing MLB, and suing the MLBPA. He sued everyone last year. But then all the lawsuits were dropped, he served his suspension, and now he’s back in pinstripes.

The only reason A-Rod is back with the Yankees is money. He’s owed over $60M the next three years and the Yankees are determined to see if they can get something more than nothing out of that investment. Well, that and they might be able to recoup some of the money through insurance (if A-Rod gets hurt) or another performance-enhancing drug suspension. The team is reportedly confident they can get out of the five $6M home run milestone bonuses, but that’s another matter. The $60M+ isn’t going away that easily.

The Yankees made it clear this offseason they are not counting on Rodriguez at all. They re-signed Chase Headley to be the everyday third baseman and they traded for Garrett Jones to be the regular DH if necessary. They’ve pulled no punches. It’s been made clear that if A-Rod is going to play a major role in 2015, he has to earn it, and to his credit Alex seems to have embraced that reality. He’s trying to win a job this spring.

Yankees Need: Hit Please, Even Just A Little

Here’s a scary thought: A-Rod is the team’s best right-handed hitter right now. It’s either him or Chris Young. The only other righty hitters on the projected Opening Day roster are John Ryan Murphy and Brendan Ryan, and no one has high offensive expectations for those two. A-Rod is important to New York’s righty/lefty lineup balance. And besides, if he doesn’t hit, he’s useless. His defense wasn’t all that good before his most recent hip surgery and long layoff. So please, Alex, be more than a zero at the plate. That’s what the Yankees need from him.

ARod Shrugs Shoulders

 

 

Simply put, no one has any idea what A-Rod can do at the plate this year. He wasn’t bad the last time he played — .244/.348/.423 (113 wRC+) with seven homers in 44 games in the second half of 2013 — but that was more than a year ago now, before last season’s suspension. Can Alex do that again in 2015, at age 39 and after not facing live pitching in a more than a year? That’s what we’re going to find out relatively soon.

I am certain the Yankees would take a repeat of Rodriguez’s 2013 performance in 2015. That almost feels like a best case scenario at this point. A-Rod comes into today 5-for-11 with a double, a homer, two walks, and two strikeouts in Grapefruit League play, but that doesn’t tell us much. Even he knows that. “0-for-9, 4-for-9 … It doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve played for a long time. It’s better than 0-for-9, I guess,” he said to Chad Jennings earlier this week. From watching him in camp, the only thing I can say is A-Rod still seems to know the strike zone. He’s taking balls and swinging at strikes. That’s pretty much all we know about Alex offensively at the moment.

Yankees Need: Play The Field More Than Never

Headley is going to be the regular third baseman but the Yankees don’t have an obvious backup. Ryan can do it if necessary, but that’s not an ideal situation. If all goes according to plan A-Rod will be the primary DH and only a part-time third baseman, someone who can fill in when Headley needs a day off. The Yankees have also been working Rodriguez out at first base in Spring Training in hopes of making him a backup option there as well. The team isn’t counting on Alex to play the field regularly at all. They just want to be able to do it on occasion to make his roster spot more functional.

ARod Shrugs Shoulders

 

 

Even before the suspension, A-Rod was no longer much of a defender at the hot corner. He was serviceable, making the plays he was supposed to make and occasionally a little more, but that was it. Two hip surgeries and one knee surgery sapped much of his mobility, as did Father Time.

But now, we again have no idea what Alex can provide defensively. He is further away from his various lower body surgeries but is also a year older, and who knows how the year of baseball inactivity will take its toll. A-Rod said it himself the other day, it’s not going to be an Ozzie Smith year, he’s going to make whatever plays he can and that doesn’t figure to be anything beyond the routine.

For what it’s worth, I do think A-Rod would handle first base fine because he’s such a smart and instinctual player. Once he gets a few innings under his belt I think he’ll look like a natural, not like Kelly Johnson or Brian McCann did at first base last year. Either way, hopefully Alex will hold up physically well enough to play the field — either first or third base, anything he can do to help — one or two days a week. Even that little bit will help.

Yankees Need: Ratings & Attendance Boost

Thanks to Derek Jeter‘s farewell tour, YES Network ratings increased 24% last year and attendance at Yankee Stadium increased roughly 4% from 2013-14. That’s all well and good, but ratings reportedly dropped roughly 30% and attendance dropped nearly 9% from 2012-13, so, even with the rebound, 2014 ratings and attendance were below 2012 levels. That’s not good for the #brand. The Yankees will never publicly admit it, but they’re hoping A-Rod’s return leads to a few more eyeballs watching the team in 2015.

A-Rod Can: Hog All The Attention In The Baseball World

People hate A-Rod. They hate him so much they can’t stop talking about him or reading about him or watching him or going to games to boo him. The media has obsessed over Alex this spring and you know why? Because he drives page views the same way he helps drive television ratings and attendance. People hate him so they tune in to see him fail. No player in baseball garners as much attention — mostly negative attention, but attention nonetheless — as Alex. He’s the king.

Chris Capuano’s injury complicates pitching situation and creates an opportunity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two batters into yesterday afternoon’s game, the Yankees lost left-hander Chris Capuano for what is expected to be several weeks with a Grade II right quad strain. It was a fluke injury — Capuano was covering first base on a ground ball and landed awkwardly on the bag. That’s all. Not exactly an uncommon baseball injury.

The big problem here is Capuano was supposed to be one of the starters who didn’t get hurt. We were all supposed to start the year waiting for Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow to give or CC Sabathia‘s knee to crumble while complaining about Capuano slopballing is way through five or six innings every fifth day. Capuano was supposed to be the guy who stayed healthy.

“We’ll look at everyone, that’s the bottom line. Because we need to fill a spot now,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following yesterday’s game. The Yankees will now dip into their pitching reserves to bolster the rotation early in the season, something we expected to happen pretty much all winter. We just didn’t think they’d be replacing Capuano. Here’s a look at the team’s options at the moment.

Internal Options: Warren, Rogers, Mitchell, Whitley

Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley are all working as starters in camp for this exact reason: to be ready to step into the rotation if needed. Others like Luis Severino, Jose DePaula, and Scott Baker are in camp as non-roster players and yeah, I guess that makes them rotation candidates, but I get the sense they are deep depth options, not guys being seriously considered for the Opening Day rotation.

Warren was mentioned as a rotation candidate every time a starter got hurt last season and for whatever reason I get the sense this spring he’s the guy the Yankees want to use as a starter if necessary, and it is necessary now thanks to Capuano’s quad. Warren’s been successful as a reliever these last two years but he has enough pitches to start, came up through the system as a starter, and it seems like the Yankees believe he can be an effective MLB starter.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At the same time, both Girardi and Brian Cashman recently went out of their way to praise Rogers, who spent a few years floundering as a starter with the Rockies earlier in his career. “(Rogers has) thrown the ball really well. Larry (Rothschild) worked with him long and hard last year during some bullpen sessions about changing a few things … He’s been really good this spring. He’ll be one of the guys we’re really looking at,” said Girardi to Jennings yesterday, for example.

Mitchell probably has the best raw arm of the group but is the most green of the bunch. He could use some more time in Triple-A to iron a few things out, particularly his fastball location. Whitley had a nice little run as a starter last year before the league figured him out, though he has three pitches, and as long as he has three pitches, the Yankees might as well keep working him as a starter.

The Yankees have only played a week’s worth of Grapefruit League games, so none of these guys have had a chance to jump to the front of the pack yet. Besides, Spring Training performance isn’t — or shouldn’t be, anyway — the only factor in this decision. My hunch is this four-man race is really a two-man race between Warren and Rogers. It’s their job to lose, not someone else’s to win.

External Options? Probably Not Happening

When Yu Darvish blew out his elbow a few days ago, Rangers GM Jon Daniels said they will fill his rotation spot internally. When Marcus Stroman tore his ACL earlier this week, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said they will replace him internally. That’s the standard operation procedure time of year. Everyone says they will replace injured players internally because saying “we’re going to make a trade” just isn’t smart business. It makes you look desperate.

Like it or not, the Yankees are not going to trade for Cole Hamels because Capuano got hurt. (Hamels is the kind of move that gets made regardless of the status of guys like Capuano.) They’re probably not going to take on $5.3M in salary and give up a prospect to get Dillon Gee either. The Yankees might scour the scrap heap for an out of options arm — Mariners changeup specialist Erasmo Ramirez is also out of minor league options and another name to keep in mind — these next few weeks, but I don’t expect a move to bring in a no-doubt big leaguer.

Remember, when starters were dropping like flies early last year, the Yankees cycled through their internal options to make sure they did need to go outside the organization for help before actually doing so. I expect the same this year. They might pluck someone off waivers or make a minor trade for depth, but a significant move isn’t happening. At least not right now. Their M.O. in recent years has been to try internal options first.

The Schedule

Thanks to the usual slate of early-season off-days, the Yankees only need their fifth starter three times in April. Opening Day is April 6th, so based on the above calendar they will need their fifth starter on April 12th, 21st, and 26th. They won’t need him again until May 5th either. So only three times in the first 26 games of the season. Capuano might be ready to return by then.

Now, that said, the Yankees have already been talking about occasionally using a sixth starter early in the season to give guys like Tanaka, Sabathia, and Michael Pineda extra rest. I’m guessing they aren’t too enthusiastic about the idea of riding their top four starters hard in April and skipping the fifth spot whenever possible. They could do it, sure, but they have to think big picture here. A few more starts by the fifth (and sixth?) starter in April could mean many more Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda starts in August and September.

So yes, the schedule does give the Yankees the flexibility to skip their fifth starter a few times in April. That doesn’t mean it would be a good idea, however. The Yankees have played it very cautiously with Tanaka and Sabathia so far this spring and I don’t expect them to change course just because Capuano got hurt. The fifth starter, whoever it ends up being, is probably going to end up taking a regular rotation turn early in the season.

What About The Bullpen?

If the Yankees do end up using Warren or Rogers to replace Capuano in the rotation, it opens up another spot in the bullpen. They already had one open coming into Spring Training. This is no big deal though. If there’s one thing the Yankees have in spades, it’s relievers. They have about a dozen candidates for those last bullpen spots: Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Andrew Bailey, Danny Burawa, Chris Martin, Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Jose DePaula, Jared Burton, Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb, Wilking Rodriguez … on and on it goes. They’ll find someone to fill the necessary bullpen spots. No worries here.

* * *

Capuano’s injury is unfortunate, though the silver lining is that he is the team’s most replaceable starter. The Yankees also don’t have to replace him today. Spring Training doesn’t end for another three and a half weeks. It’s not like they need to come up with his replacement in time for his start next week or something like that. They can take their time, see how every looks with some more innings under their belt, then make a decision.

The majority of RAB readers believe Warren will get the call to replace Capuano based on yesterday’s poll and I agree. I just feel like he’s the guy. I do expect the Yankees to keep an eye on any pitchers who may become available before Opening Day — they were going to do that anyway, Capuano injury or not — but I would be surprised if they made anything more than a minor move. That just hasn’t been the way they’ve operated in recent years. Capuano’s injury means someone who is already with the Yankees is about to get a big opportunity in the rotation.

Open Thread: March 11th Camp Notes

The Yankees lost 10-6 to the Red Sox this afternoon. Alex Rodriguez‘s first homer of the spring — a solo shot on a 3-1 meatball from Brandon Workman — was the big highlight, though Slade Heathcott clubbed a two-run job of his own. He’s having a nice spring (5-for-8 with a double and the homer.) Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran both went 1-for-3, Brett Gardner went 0-for-2 with a walk, and Brian McCann went 0-for-3.

Bryan Mitchell had a rough afternoon — he allowed four runs on seven hits in two innings, and all the damage came in his first inning of work. Andrew Miller allowed a solo homer (to a lefty batter) and Dellin Betances tossed a perfect frame. Chris Martin surrendered three runs (two earned) in one inning and Tyler Webb allowed two runs in his inning. Jared Burton and Diego Moreno tossed up zeros. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here is the rest from Tampa:

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game against the Red Sox will be replayed on YES later tonight at 10:30pm ET. The Rangers and Nets are also playing, but there’s no college basketball tonight. Talk about anything other than politics and religion here. Have at it.

Poll: Next in Line for Fifth Starter

So Chris Capuano suffered a grade 2 quad strain this afternoon, which means he’ll be out for many weeks — certainly opening the season on the DL. That opens the door for another pitcher to make the staff, whether it’s a starter or a reliever who pushes someone from the pen to the rotation.

Who do you think should be the fifth starter to open the season? The Yankees only need one three times in April, but considering they’ve contemplated a six-man rotation, chances are they’re not going to skip the fifth starter early in the season. This can be a big opportunity for someone to step up and earn a full-time rotation spot. It’s not as though the Yankees are wed to Capuano.

Please note that we purposely left off Luis Severino. We assume he’d have won the poll in a landslide. If he shows evaluators that he’s ready to make the big leap, he might get his chance. But the odds are against it, given that he has just 25 innings above A ball.

Perhaps the better question is, who will win the fifth starter job?

Who will win the fifth starter job?