Spring Training Game Thread: Ivan’s Last Chance?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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 MLB.tv 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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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 MLB.tv 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.

Forbes: Yankees most valuable team in baseball at $3.4 billion

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

On Wednesday, Forbes released their annual MLB franchise valuations, and for the 19th season in a row, the Yankees are the most valuable franchise in the sport. They’re worth at least $3.4 billion. The Dodgers are a very distant second at $2.5 billion. That’s some gap, huh? The Red Sox are third at $2.3 billion. The Giants and Cubs are the only other clubs over $2 billion.

That $3.4 billion covers only the Yankees and the ballpark. Yankee Global Enterprises, which includes the YES Network and Legends Hospitality, is worth much more. Here’s more from Forbes:

The New York Yankees, worth at least $3.4 billion, have held MLB’s top spot since our first estimation of team values in 1998. That $3.4 billion represents just the enterprise value of the team and its stadium economics. But in reality, a big reason why someone would be willing to pay seven times revenue for the Yankees instead of, say, the MLB average of five times revenue, is the ability to extend the team’s brand, acumen and relationships beyond baseball into ventures such as Legends Hospitality, the YES Network, Major League Soccer and college football (full disclosure: I am co-host of Forbes SportsMoney on the YES Network).

Ancillary businesses are what separate the big boys (teams worth over $2 billion) from their less valuable rivals because MLB’s 30 teams equally share 27% of the league’s overall revenue, versus 65% for the NFL. This is why big market teams with business models that reach beyond the diamond dominate the top of our rankings.

The Yankees generated $516M in revenue last season even after paying out revenue sharing, and again, that’s only the Yankees and the ballpark. Whatever they made from YES and everything else is on top of that. (Non-baseball revenue is not subject to revenue sharing.) The team’s operating income was $13M in 2015.

MLB as a whole is insanely healthy financially. The average team is worth $1.3 billion, an increase of 7% from a year ago, and player costs (salaries, benefits, etc.) totaled $4.4 billion in 2015. The average franchise value has increased 146% over the last five years, which blows my mind. Much of that has to do with all the new massive television deals being handed out. Owning a baseball team is pretty great work if you can it.

The Yankees’ franchise value is up from $3.2 billion last year. They were valued at $2.5 billion in 2014, $2.3 billion in 2013, $1.85 billion in 2012, $1.7 billion in 2011, and $1.6 billion in 2010. The huge jump in franchise value from 2014 to 2015 was thanks in part to baseball’s new national television deals, as well as the sale of 80% of YES to News Corp.

The Rays, not the Yankees, appear to be Derek Jeter’s best opportunity to join an ownership group

Derek and Rob go to Cuba. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Derek and Rob go to Cuba. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Earlier this week, Derek Jeter was part of MLB’s contingent in Cuba for the Rays’ exhibition game against the Cuban National Team. Tampa Bay won the game 4-1, though the trip was about much more than that. MLB wanted to make some inroads in Cuba and help grow the youth baseball landscape, and the trip also served a diplomatic purpose as President Obama, who was also on the trip, seeks to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Among the other ex-Yankees to join Jeter in Havana were MLB executive Joe Torre and MLBPA executives Tony Clark and Dave Winfield. During yesterday’s game, Jeter sat down with the ESPN booth for a lengthy interview, and during that interview he reiterated his desire to get back into baseball as an owner.

“I needed to be away from the game for a year,” said Jeter (video link). “I didn’t watch too many games at all — obviously I have a lot of friends that are still playing, so I follow them, I communicate with them, I talk with them — but in terms of sitting down and following the game, I haven’t done it. But I’m going to start doing it again because I’ve always been very vocal about my next goal and desire is to be a part of an ownership, so I have to start paying attention.”

The Cap’n joked he doesn’t have the money to be considered for an ownership group — “Do you know much these teams cost?” he said — and added he is very early in the process of getting his foot in the ownership door. “The first step is sitting next to (commissioner Rob Manfred). I’m trying to get on his good side and hopefully get that opportunity,” added Jeter.

Jeter first acknowledging owning a team is “the next goal” back in June 2014, when he was still playing. I’ve always sorta assumed that when the time did come, the Steinbrenners would allow Jeter to purchase a chunk of the Yankees, but it’s not really that simple. First and foremost, the Steinbrenners say they aren’t selling the team, and it seems unlikely Derek would have much control with the Yankees. Does Jeter seem like the type to settle for being a figurehead owner? Nah. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) has more:

After it was announced that Jeter would be part of Major League Baseball’s entourage to Cuba, there was a fair amount of buzz within the industry that this might be the latest indication that Jeter will eventually but inevitably join the Tampa Bay Rays’ ownership group.

Two MLB sources say they have not heard anything substantive about a Jeter-Rays link, so for now this appears to be a rumor without substance. But the speculation makes sense in some ways: Jeter lives in Tampa, and he would be a perfect agent for change whenever the Rays reach a turning point in their ballpark situation, in the way that Magic Johnson was the right guy to be part of the Dodgers’ new ownership group in L.A. Jeter carries star power and credibility, of course, which will only grow once he is inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s easy to envision Jeter having power as a lobbyist for a team looking for a new ballpark situation.

The Rays recently received clearance from the City of St. Petersburg to begin looking for ballpark sites in the Tampa area, and they’re currently reviewing sites. This is step one in what figures to be a very long process in getting the Rays a new ballpark. They’ve got to find a site, get approval from all relevant parties, figure out the financing, then design and build the ballpark. That ain’t happening overnight.

The Rays represent the best opportunity for Jeter to get in on the ground floor of something big. It doesn’t seem MLB will be expanding anytime soon, at least not before the Rays get a new ballpark, so this is the best chance to buy into a team and immediately have some impact. Jeter lives in the Tampa area and he could be part of the ballpark process. He could play a major role right away.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg is a New Yorker — he grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Westchester — so he’s seen Jeter’s star power up close. Sternberg has talked about potentially selling parts or all of the team if they don’t get a new ballpark soon, and letting Jeter in could help the stadium cause. Jeter would certainly add some name recognition to the franchise. Heck, he’d be their popular player as an owner.

It would be weird to see Jeter as part of the ownership group of another club, especially an AL East rival, but it’s not something that is impossible. Not even close. The Yankees and Jeter don’t owe each other anything. He has every right to look for ownership opportunities around the league and the Steinbrenners have every right to run their organization as they see fit. They don’t have to sell him anything.

For now, it seems like we’re a long way away from Jeter buying into a team. Manfred and the owners have to approve any ownership candidate, though I doubt Jeter will have trouble there. It’s just a question of finding the money and finding the right opportunity. Right now, the Rays appear to present more of an opportunity than the Yankees.

Ackley & Hicks: The New & Important Bench Players [2016 Season Preview]

Smackley. (Presswire)
Smackley. (Presswire)

Since the end of last season, Joe Girardi and the Yankees have said they need to give their regulars more rest going forward so they remain productive all season. Last year’s second half offensive collapse was not something anyone wants to go through again. More rest is the key — or at least the Yankees think it’s the key — which means the bench will be vital in 2016.

The Yankees currently have two open bench spots: the backup catcher and the backup third baseman. The other two spots will be occupied by fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks and utility man Dustin Ackley. Both are former tippy top prospects — prior to the 2010 season, Ackley ranked 11th and Hicks ranked 19th on Baseball America’s top 100 list — who fell out of favor with their former teams, so the Yankees scooped them up while their stock was down. Where do they fit this season? Let’s preview.

The Super Utility Guy

I am irrationally excited about Ackley heading into the season. I know I shouldn’t be, but dammit, I have that bug. Ackley tweaked some things at the plate after coming over last year and he’s hitting rockets all over the field this spring. (Ackley struck out for the first time yesterday, in his 32nd plate appearance.) The raw hitting ability is there, we saw it late last season, and Ackley being good now would be wonderful for Mariners trolling purposes.

In all seriousness, the Yankees acquired Ackley because at worst, he was an upgrade over Garrett Jones, and at best, he’s an everyday player with first round talent. His arm prevents him from playing the left side of the infield, but Ackley will back up at first and second bases, and also serve as the fifth outfielder. He’s also a left-handed hitter with the propensity to pull the ball in the air. I mean, look:

2013: 32.2% pull / 27.0% fly balls
2014: 37.4% pull / 36.6% fly balls
2015: 43.5% pull / 40.3% fly balls

That is exactly the kind of batted ball profile and trend that will play in Yankee Stadium. Like I said, I’m irrationally excited to see what Ackley can do this season. The problem: when is he going to play? He plays positions that are pretty well occupied.

For Ackley to get playing time, he’s either going to have to force the issue with his bat, or hope the Yankees are true to their word when it comes to giving the veteran players more rest. Spots could always open via injury, but no one wants that. It seems like the best case scenario for Ackley is one game at first base and one game at second base a week. His only outfield time figures to come in blowouts or in emergencies. Not great, but what can you do?

Bench players can be hit or miss because they don’t play regularly and for the most part they work in small sample sizes. Unpredictable things happen under those circumstances. If nothing else, Ackley offers the illusion of upside — he just turned 28 and he is former top prospect — and is a versatile left-handed bat. If he’s nothing more than the 24th man on the roster, so be it. I think there’s the potential for more.

The New Fourth Outfielder

The Yankees had a great fourth outfielder last season. Chris Young annihilated lefties, held his own against righties, and played rock solid defense. He was awesome. It was also kind of tough to expect similar performance going forward. Last season was Young’s best offensive year overall since 2009 and his best year against lefties ever. The Yankees didn’t want to bet two years and $13M he would do it again. The Red Sox did.

Hicksie. (Presswire)
Hicksie. (Presswire)

Instead, the Yankees acquired Hicks from the Twins in exchange for John Ryan Murphy. Hicks is only 26, he has four years of team control remaining, he’s a switch-hitter, and he’s an outstanding defender with a cannon arm. That is a pretty desirable player, wouldn’t you say? Hicks has yet to gain consistency at the MLB level — Minnesota did him no favors by skipping him right over Triple-A — which is why he was available. The Twins got tired of waiting.

There are indications Hicks is close to breaking out. He added a leg kick last season and improved his selectivity; PitchFX data shows he swung at way more pitches in the zone without substantially increasing the number of swings he took on pitches out of the zone. Hicks is a switch-hitter who has been better from the right side of the plate, and now he’s moving into ballpark that rewards left-handed hitters.

The Yankees are planning to play Hicks and play him often. As you know, the plan is to give the veteran players a little more rest this season, and that includes the starting outfielders. “I think Hicks has a chance to help those guys in spelling them and keeping them healthy and strong,” said Girardi at the Winter Meetings. Because he can switch-hit, Girardi doesn’t have to worry about platoon matchups when playing Hicks. Because he can play all three outfield spots, Girardi also can keep his regulars in their normal positions.

Last season Young batted 356 times and appeared in 140 games — he started 77 games — so the playing time will be there, especially since the plan is to rest the other outfielders a little more often. I could totally see a scenario in which Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury start four out of every five games in the outfield, and Carlos Beltran starts three out of every five games in the outfield. Something like this:

Day One: LF Gardner, CF Ellsbury, RF Beltran (Hicks on bench)
Day Two: LF Gardner, CF Ellsbury, RF Hicks (Beltran on bench)
Day Three: LF Hicks, CF Ellsbury, RF Beltran (Gardner on bench)
Day Four: LF Gardner, CF Hicks, RF Beltran (Ellsbury on bench)
Day Five: LF Gardner, CF Ellsbury, RF Hicks (Beltran at DH)

That make sense? Gardner, Ellsbury, and Hicks would be starting four out of every five games in the outfield, and Beltran would be starting three out of every five games in the outfield plus one more at DH. The Yankees would effectively have four regular outfielders. Hicks would be getting as much playing time as the veterans.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. At some point someone is going to get hot and it’ll be tough for Girardi to take that player out of the lineup. It’s going to happen a bunch of times across a 162-game season. That rotation seems like a great idea until, say, Gardner is on a 15-for-30 hot streak and the Yankees have lost four of five because they’ve scored eight runs total, know what I mean? You know that’s going to happen at some point.

The Yankees want to develop Hicks into an everyday player and that’s not going to happen without at-bats. They want to rest the regulars and they want to play Hicks. This seems like it will be simple enough. Will it work? We’ll see. Hicks needs to build on the strides he made offensively last season and continue to play excellent defense, because even when he doesn’t start, he’s going to come off the bench to replace Beltran in the late innings.