Year Three of the McCann Era [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this week the crew at FanGraphs started their annual Positional Power Rankings series. In a nutshell, they rank all 30 teams by position using a combination of projection systems. Love or hate projections, the posts are always super informative, and it’s the best place to look over each team’s depth chart at a position in one convenient place.

The Yankees ranked third at the catcher position in the Positional Power Rankings. The Buster Posey led Giants were predictably in the top spot, then the Dodgers and the projection friendly Yasmani Grandal were No. 2. The Yankees were No. 3 because of Brian McCann, and I thought Jeff Sullivan’s write-up was interesting:

I think there’s this vague sense that McCann has been a disappointment in New York, so maybe seeing the Yankees so high in the rankings is an important reminder. McCann, predictably, gets his batting average absolutely slaughtered by his ground balls, because there’s no way he’s going to run out a grounder he pulls into the shift, but he still draws walks and he still mashes a baseball every now and again. Throw in defensive ability that hasn’t completely deteriorated, and McCann looks like a plus. However frustrating it is to watch a guy hit into the shift over and over, one shouldn’t overlook everything McCann is still able to do for his team. He’s not toast.

That seems pretty accurate, no? McCann has been very productive in pinstripes and I still kinda get the sense folks feel he could be doing more. After all, he hit .256/.336/.461 (122 wRC+) in his final season with the Braves. In his two years with the Yankees, he’s been a .232/.303/.421 (99 wRC+) hitter despite moving from spacious Turner Field to homer happy Yankee Stadium.

McCann turned 32 last month and he’s approaching the age when most catchers begin to turn to pumpkins. He’s been freakishly durable throughout his career — McCann has started 100+ games behind the plate in eight of the last nine years — so he’s been able to avoid the injuries usually associated with the position. At the same time, that’s an awful lot of wear and tear. McCann’s been a big league starter since he was 21 years old. He’s caught nearly 11,000 innings in the show.

By now we all know what McCann is about offensively. He takes aim for the short porch and tries to pull the ball to right field, even when he’s on the road. His strikeout rate (16.2% from 2014-15) is sneaky good, he’ll take his walks, he’s prone to lazy fly balls, and yeah, he pulls grounders into the shift. McCann’s been doing that for a while. He’s hit .232 with a .236 BABIP the last two years. He hit .242 with a .249 BABIP the previous two years. This is who he is. A low average, high power hitter.

McCann, somewhat surprisingly, has turned into a lefty masher with the Yankees. He hit .292/.324/.526 (138 wRC+) against southpaws in 2014 and .241/.331/.422 (108 wRC+) in 2015. That’s new. Lefties ate McCann up his last few years in Atlanta. Do it once and I’m inclined to say it’s a one year blip. Do it two years in a row and there’s something to it. McCann’s no longer a guy who can be automatically neutralized by a lefty specialist.

At this point I kinda feel I know what to expect from McCann at the plate. He’s going to hit around .230, walk enough to put his OBP a bit north of .300, and slug 20-something homers. That sound right? The potential for age-related (and catcher-related) decline can not be ignored at this point. Otherwise I’m pretty sure we know what to expect from McCann offensively. The questions have more to do with the other aspects of the game.

So, About That Pitch-Framing

Anecdotally, McCann seemed to struggle blocking balls in the dirt last season, at least moreso than he did in 2014, but the numbers don’t bear that out. In fact, Baseball Prospectus’ new catching metrics say McCann was baseball’s best at blocking balls last year at +0.6 runs saved. How about that? I never would have guessed.

One part of McCann’s defensive game that did decline, at least according to the numbers, was his pitch-framing. He’s long been considered one of the best framers in the game and the numbers backed it up throughout his career. Last year though, his pitch-framing took a big step back according to both StatCorner and Baseball Prospectus:

StatCorner, 2013: +9.9 runs
StatCorner, 2014
: +11.4
StatCorner, 2015: -2.5

Baseball Prospectus, 2013: +10.2
Baseball Prospectus, 2014
: +9.7
Baseball Prospectus, 2015: -3.9

That’s a pretty big drop, huh? I don’t full buy into the pitch-framing numbers — it’s obviously a valuable skill, though I’m not convinced we’re measuring it accurately yet — the same way I don’t fully buy into any defensive numbers. I like to use defensive stats directionally, and the numbers say McCann went from being a far-above-average framer to below-average last summer.

This might not be the result of a decline in McCann’s skills, however. Jeff Sullivan seemed to find evidence umpires are rebelling against framing, so to speak. Several top framers like McCann, Jonathan Lucroy, Hank Conger, and Rene Rivera all saw their framing numbers dip big time from 2014 to 2015. Umpires are aware of pitch-framing, and it’s almost as if they made sure catchers with reputations for being good framers didn’t get those extra strikes last year.

Pitch-framing can be difficult to observe — the entire point is to be as quiet and discrete as possible, you don’t want the umpire to see the glove move too much — and I didn’t notice any sort of decline in McCann’s receiving ability. What do I know though. The number say his framing was not as good as it was in the past. Is it a one year blip? Are the umpires sticking it to catchers around the league? Did McCann actually decline? We’ll inch closer to an answer in 2016.

Is It Time To Lighten His Workload?

Like I said earlier, McCann is 32 years old and he’s caught a ton of innings in his career. Here are the innings caught leaderboards over the last few seasons:

2011-15
1. Yadier Molina — 5,508
2. Miguel Montero — 5,343
3. Russell Martin — 5,075.1
4. Kurt Suzuki — 5,008
5. Brian McCann — 4,815.1

2006-15
1. Yadier Molina — 10,723.1
2. Russell Martin — 10,574.2
3. Brian McCann — 10,302.1
4. A.J. Pierzynski — 10,229
5. Kurt Suzuki — 8,993.2

John Ryan Murphy played about as well as you could reasonably expect a backup catcher to play last season, and McCann still caught 72% of the team’s innings. His 1,042.1 innings were sixth most in MLB. That’s a function of wanting McCann in the lineup as much as possible because of the offense he provides.

McCann has three years at $17M per season left on his contract, and at some point the Yankees have to begin scaling back his workload to prevent him from completely cratering at the plate. Not every catcher stays productive into their mid-to-late-30s like Jorge Posada. Very few do, in fact.

“You try to keep it around somewhere between 100 and 120 games. 120 is pushing it a little bit. You know, he wants to play every day, and sometimes I’ve got to tell him, ‘You’re going to take a day here,'” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings when asked about McCann’s workload. “But I think you see how he’s doing … I know his bat is important to us and I have to keep him healthy.”

The Yankees will have a new backup catcher this summer regardless of who wins the job this spring, and I’m not sure Girardi will be as comfortable with his new backup as he was with Murphy. It can take a while for a young player to earn trust, especially at a position as important as catcher. Does that mean McCann will continue to carry a heavy workload?

This might not be the year to scale back McCann’s workload behind the plate. He could end up catching those 120-ish games again as the Yankees break in Gary Sanchez, who is their next long-term catcher even if he doesn’t win the backup job this spring. Girardi has talked about resting all of his veteran players more often this year and I assume that includes McCann. That he plays such an important position makes it difficult.

McCann is vitally important to the Yankees, which creates a Catch-22. Girardi wants to play McCann as much as possible because the Yankees are better when he’s in the lineup. He also must be cognizant of his age and the wear and tear of catching — Joe’s an ex-catcher, he knows what’s up — and give McCann regular rest to keep him fresh all summer. It’s a difficult balancing act.

Yankees hoping Aaron Judge takes to his new leg kick as quickly as Ben Gamel took to his

Gamel. (Photo via @SWBRailRiders)
Gamel. (Photo via @SWBRailRiders)

After spending four seasons as an interesting but under-tooled prospect, outfielder Ben Gamel broke out in a big way last year, hitting .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) in 129 Triple-A games. It was his first try at the Triple-A level. Gamel led the farm system in hits (150), triples (14), and extra-base hits (52). That earned him a spot on the 40-man roster after the season.

Gamel, 24 in May, did all of that after hitting .261/.308/.340 (80 wRC+) in 131 Double-A games in 2014. The Yankees selected him in the tenth round of the 2010 draft and his innate hitting ability kept him on the prospect radar — Keith Law called Gamel a sleeper prospect way back in 2012 — but at some point the production had to come, and it finally did last year.

That production came after Gamel and hitting coach Marcus Thames did some tinkering, reports Chad Jennings. Thames was Gamel’s hitting coach with Double-A Trenton in 2014 and Triple-A Scranton in 2015, and they changed some things during the 2014-15 offseason. From Jennings:

What changed last year? Gamel said it’s pretty easy to pinpoint. He and hitting coach Marcus Thames decided to add a leg kick, which made it easier to get his hands in the right spot.

“Last offseason, Marcus and I decided we were going to try this,” Gamel said. “That’s what I worked on all last offseason, and I came into spring training last year and was like, it feels good. He liked where I was at and just rolled with it, more than anything. Getting my timing, getting my game reps with it, things like that. It worked out.”

Leg kicks are obviously very common, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Some players have big leg kicks (Matt Holliday jumps to mind), some have small leg kicks (Albert Pujols), and some are in between. Every player is different and every leg kick is different, but at the end of the day, all leg kicks are timing mechanisms.

Minor league video below the Triple-A level can be tough to find, so here’s the best clip I can find of Gamel at Double-A in 2014, before the leg kick (video link):

Ben Gamel 2014 leg kick

Not great, but the clip does the job. Gamel has no leg kick there at all. It’s almost more of a toe tap than a leg kick. His stride is basically non-existent. Some hitters can hit like that. (Pujols did in his prime.) Gamel managed to get to Double-A with no leg kick, but that level gave him trouble, and no MLB club felt he was worth a Rule 5 Draft pick selection in December 2014.

According to Gamel, he and Thames added the leg kick during the 2014-15 offseason, so he was using it in Spring Training last season. The video confirms that. Here he is in Spring Training a year ago (video link):

Ben Gamel 2015 leg kick

That’s an ugly swing and a miss against a left-handed breaking ball (hey, it happens), but the point is the leg kick is there. Gamel went from no leg kick in 2014 to a pretty generic looking leg kick in 2015. He still has that leg kick too. I’m not making another GIF, but here’s video of Gamel and his leg kick this spring. After the season he had in 2015, why wouldn’t Gamel stick with it? He had a ton of success and the leg kick provides a tangible reason for his breakout.

Gamel is about to enter year two with his leg kick. Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ top prospect, is about to enter year one with his. We noticed he added a leg kick in the very first Grapefruit League game this spring, and Judge says it’s designed to “help with my timing.” Hitting coach Alan Cockrell and minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson were behind that adjustment, not Thames. Judge and Thames only spent a half-season together in Triple-A last year. Gamel and Thames were together for two straight years.

In Judge’s case, he’s working to improve one very specific flaw in his game, and that’s combating soft stuff away. Triple-A pitchers picked him apart by getting him to reach last year. Gamel has had success in the past — he hit .306/.342/.394 (104 wRC+) as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2012 — but he had a hard time finding his way from 2013-14. He needed more of an overhaul. What he was doing wasn’t working at all. Judge has had success everywhere but Triple-A and only needs to fine tune.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Gamel took to the new leg kick instantly last year — he went 18-for-43 (.409) with six walks and five strikeouts in his first 12 games in 2015 — and that’s pretty much the best case scenario. He added the leg kick and it instantly clicked. Not all adjustments happen that way. It’s not uncommon for players to struggle initially as they implement new mechanics, either at the plate, in the field, or on the mound. The Yankees hope Judge can avoid those initial issues.

Judge and Gamel are both Triple-A outfielders, though they have different long-term outlooks. Judge is the top prospect, the guy the Yankees hope will anchor their lineup for years to come. Gamel is more of a role player. It would be awesome if he became more than that, the Yankees would happily take it, but they’d also be pretty thrilled if he became a the left-handed half of a platoon. That’s a great outcome for a tenth round pick.

Baseball is a game of never-ending adjustments. Last year Gamel had to make some sort of adjustment to avoid becoming an afterthought and having his career stall out. This year Judge is looking to correct a flaw in his game so he can be the best player he can be at the next level. Both players wound up incorporating leg kicks, and with any luck, Judge will have the same instant success with his new leg kick as Gamel did a year ago.

Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Notes

The Yankees and the Mets are playing tonight, and the pitching matchup is pretty great: Luis Severino vs. Steven Matz. That’s as good as it gets, even in Spring Training. The problem? We can’t watch. There’s no YES broadcast, no SNY broadcast, no MLB Network, no MLB.tv, nothing. That’s a bummer. Here is the Gameday link, so you can follow that way. Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

This is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is showing the Dodgers and Royals later tonight, plus the Nets are playing as well. Talk about those games, tonight’s un-watchable Yankees-Mets game, or anything else right here.

Yankees rank 17th in MiLB.com’s farm system rankings

(Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Over at MiLB.com, the esteemed Sam Dykstra posted his farm system rankings earlier this week, and he has the Dodgers sitting in the top spot. Easy to understand why when they have the best position player prospect (SS Corey Seager) and arguably the best pitching prospect (LHP Julio Urias) in the game. The Braves and Twins round out the top three and the Angels predictably rank 30th.

The Yankees rank 17th in the MiLB.com rankings after Baseball America and Keith Law ranked them 17th and 13th, respectively. That is as middle of the pack as it gets. Here is Dykstra’s blurb:

Jorge Mateo, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez make up a core of promising position player prospects that any of the organizations above would love. All three have the potential to be regular Major League contributors and possess the individual tools (Mateo with speed, Judge with power, Sanchez with his arm) to become stars. What the Yankees lack is pitching. New York believes it took a potential leader in James Kaprielian out of UCLA with their pick at 16th overall last season, but there isn’t much more pitching in the system beyond Domingo Acevedo, who could rocket up the rankings if he can expand his repertoire beyond a 100-mph heater.

In recent weeks Dykstra also ranked each farm system in terms of position player talent and pitching talent. The Yankees were 12th in the position player rankings and only 25th in the pitching rankings. They definitely have a position player heavy system. Have for about two years now. They might rank 29th in arms if not for RHP James Kaprielian. Dykstra also gave the Yanks a B- for their under-21 talent.

Both 1B Greg Bird and RHP Luis Severino lost their prospect eligibility last season due to the time they spent in the big leagues, so while they are not technically prospects, they are obviously very important young players. The farm system takes a big hit because Severino threw 12.1 innings over the rookie limit, so don’t get too caught up in the rankings. Overall farm system rankings are much more hit or miss than individual player rankings.

This season the Yankees figure to graduate C Gary Sanchez, 2B Rob Refsnyder, and RHP Bryan Mitchell to the big leagues. Those are their No. 2, 6, and 7 prospects according to my rankings. One or two of the shuttle relievers might graduate too. Both Kaprielian and OF Aaron Judge could definitely make their MLB debuts this season, but I would be surprised if either racked up substantial big league time.

Cashman: Yanks continue to look for “potential castoffs” to fill-out roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With Opening Day less than two weeks away and the final few roster spots still unsettled, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees continue to look for “potential castoffs” from other teams to fill out their roster. They offered Ruben Tejada a minor league deal last week after he was released by the Mets, for example.

“A lot of meetings with the staff, a lot of discussions of ways to go,” said the GM to Meredith Marakovits (video link). “Engaging other clubs about potential castoffs or available players on their end to make sure you measure them against what you already have in camp. (We have) a lot of extra meetings about that 25th spot, moreso than people could ever imagine. You always spend so much time discussing who’s the final piece to a puzzle that’s never finished.”

Right now the Yankees have four open roster spots: the backup catcher, a backup third baseman, and two relievers. Rob Refsnyder seems to have a leg up on that final bench spot, but who knows. Four years ago it seemed Frankie Cervelli had the backup catcher’s job locked down, then bam, he was in Triple-A and Chris Stewart was a Yankee. Things can come together quickly.

I didn’t see many appealing targets on the out of options market, though there are definitely a lot of veteran players around the league on minor league contracts that include an opt-out at the end of Spring Training. That would be an interesting list to see. Here are all the players on minor league deals. I wonder if someone like Grant Green, A.J Griffin, or former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang has an end-of-camp opt-out date.

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have acquired players like Stewart, Vernon Wells, Gregorio Petit, and Lyle Overbay in the week leading up to Opening Day. (They also traded away Eduardo Nunez.) All of those guys except Stewart were brought in to help cover for an injury. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that this season. The Yankees have some depth but don’t want to have to use it.

Chase Headley’s Chances For A Rebound, Offensively & Defensively [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Here’s a weird, random fact: the Yankees have had four different Opening Day third basemen in the last four years. It was Alex Rodriguez in 2012, Jayson Nix in 2013, Kelly Johnson in 2014, and Chase Headley in 2015. This year Headley will become the first player to start consecutive Opening Days at the hot corner for New York since A-Rod started three straight from 2010-12.

The Yankees re-signed Headley last offseason because Rodriguez can’t play third base anymore. The Yankees didn’t even wait to find out if he could in Spring Trianing. He was coming off his suspension last winter and had another hip surgery in his recent past, plus he was pushing 40, so the Yankees needed someone else at third. They brought back Headley because he had been one of the better third baseman in the game over the previous few years. From 2012-14:

  1. Miguel Cabrera — 19.0 fWAR
  2. Adrian Beltre — 17.2
  3. Josh Donaldson — 15.6
  4. David Wright — 15.3
  5. Chase Headley — 15.3

If you prefer bWAR, it’s the same five names, only with Miggy and Beltre flipped. If you want to limit it to 2013-14 only to remove Headley’s career 2012 season, he’s still top ten among all third basemen. Headley played rather well after coming over at the 2014 trade deadline and he seemed to fit exactly what the Yankees needed, namely a switch-hitting bat and good defense.

Last season Headley fell short on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively. He hit .259/.324/.369 (91 wRC+) with eleven homers overall, making it his worst offensive season as a full-time player. Headley also committed a career-high 23 errors — his previous career high was 13 — and seemed to develop the yips, which turned routine throws into adventures. Needless to say, the Yankees are hoping for a big bounce back from their third baseman in 2016.

Can He Throw?

Headley’s ten fielding errors were a career high last season, but the throws were far more worrisome. It wasn’t just the errors, it was the number of poor throws overall, many of which Mark Teixeira saved at first base with his scooping ability. The throws weren’t just off-line either. Headley looked very tentative:

Chase Headley error

That is a third baseman lacking confidence. This all came out of nowhere too. Headley has been one of the best defensive third basemen in the game throughout his career and he was fantastic in the field with the Yankees after the trade two years. You’re lying if you say you saw this coming.

“More than anything, it’s just footwork. Footwork related stuff,” said Headley to Jack Curry (video link) recently when asked about his defensive work with third base/infield coach Joe Espada this spring. “Trying to keep my feet going … Just trying to clean that up a little bit and that’ll help some of the throwing issues I have last year.”

Headley hasn’t had any defensive miscues this spring, though we are talking about only 21 total chances in 55 innings, which is not enough to say whether he’s back on track in the field. Especially since not all of those 55 innings have been broadcast somewhere for us to see. I guess no errors in 21 chances is better than a few errors, but it doesn’t help us much going forward.

Looking at Headley’s career, last season was the outlier. He’s been a very good defender throughout his career and he suddenly forgot how to throw in 2015. The goal this season isn’t to take a bad defender and make him good. The goal is to take a previously good defender and get him back on track after a down season. Defense is like everything else in baseball. Players have slumps and bad years.

There is definitely a mental side to this — Headley admitted to losing confidence in the field last year — and that can be tough to overcome. And if Headley can’t get over his throwing issues, that’s a big problem because the Yankees don’t have a true third base alternative. (Sorry, I don’t think 36 spring innings mean Rob Refsnyder‘s ready to play the position regularly at the MLB level.) Like it or not, the Yankees need Headley.

If the throwing issues persistent, it won’t be the result of a lack of effort. Headley has been putting in extra work since last summer to sort this out, and Curry said Headley and Espada are out on a back field working on his defense pretty much every day this spring. I have no idea if he can get his throwing in order. There’s no way to put a number on this. All you can do is hope 2015 was truly an aberration and Headley will go back to being the player he was prior to 2015.

Is He Going to Hit?

Twenty third basemen qualified for the batting title last season, and among those 20, Headley ranked 15th in AVG (.259), 12th in OBP (.324), 19th in SLG (.369), 18th in ISO (.110), and 19th in wRC+ (91). He was among the worst offensive regulars at the position a year ago. The lack of power was a big part of it too. Here is his ISO over the years (Headley became a regular in 2009):


Source: FanGraphsChase Headley

No one in their right mind expected Headley to repeat his career 2012 season after re-signing with the Yankees. But something close to his 2013-14 performance (108 wRC+) was reasonable. Earlier in his career Headley’s lack of power could be blamed on Petco Park, at least in theory. From 2009-11, those pre-peak years, he had a .101 ISO at home and a .133 ISO on the road, so the split wasn’t huge.

Headley now calls Yankee Stadium his home park, and Yankee Stadium is a great place to hit for power, especially if you’re left-handed. Headley hit six of his eleven homers in the Bronx last season, and five of the six came as a left-handed hitter. Overall though, he was actually a better hitter on the road (98 wRC+) than at home (84 wRC+), which is pretty weird. Maybe that’s a reason to expect a rebound offensively. It’s tough for a hitter to be average-ish on the road and bad at home in Yankee Stadium two years in a row.

The power is what it is, especially since Headley has never been a great power hitter and he’s now over 30. More interesting to me are his strikeout and walk rates. Last season he had his lowest walk rate (7.9%) since becoming a regular, but also his second lowest strikeout rate (21.0%). (His previous low was 20.6% in 2010.) The PitchFX data shows Headley is not chasing more pitches or anything like that. He’s just making more contact nowadays.

Chase Headley plate discipline

Headley’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%) was actually a career low last season, so no, the career-low walk rate was not the result of chasing more pitches. His contact rate, both overall (Contact%) and on pitches in the zone (Z-Contact%) were the highest they’ve been in years, so he was putting the ball in play more often. When you put the ball in play, you don’t walk or strike out as much.

The problem was the quality of Headley’s contact wasn’t great last summer. His 27.8% hard contact rate exactly matched the league average in 2015, but it was down from the 35.6% hard contact rate he posted from 2012-14. The real problem: Headley’s soft contact rate was 17.4%, which is still better than the league average (18.6%), but was way up from is 12.6% soft contact rate from 2012-14. (He had a 35.3% hard contact rate and a 12.2% soft contact rate from 2013-14, if you want to remove his career year.)

As with his throwing and defense, 2015 was an outlier for Headley offensively compared to his recent seasons. Maybe it was an adjustment year? A year ago at this time we were all talking about Brian McCann possibly rebounding after his adjustment period. Yeah, Headley spent some time with the Yankees in 2014, but not that much time. Who knows. You can’t rule anything out when trying to figure out how a player will perform going forward.

* * *

My guess is Headley rebounds with the glove but not so much with the bat this year. Perhaps he can get back to being a league average-ish hitter. I’m not sure will happen without the power though. I can’t say I’m supremely confident, but I do feel pretty good about Headley bouncing back on defense. He’s worked hard at it, he looks okay in camp, and his track record is pretty long. Like I said, this is a good defender who had a bad year, not a true talent bad defender. I think the glovework will be there, and the Yankees are going to need it to be there, because they don’t have any great alternatives.

Thoughts 13 days prior to Opening Day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Opening Day is two weeks from yesterday, and we’re at the point of Spring Training where everyone wants it to be over. Even the players. Most of the top prospects are in the minor league camp and the veterans are going through the motions. These are the dog days of March. Just gotta grind it out and wait for the season to begin. Here are some assorted thoughts.

1. Even though the tests came back clean, the Jacoby Ellsbury injury worries me because he has a history of getting hurt and staying hurt. His injuries tend to linger and they have pretty much his entire career. I can’t imagine that will change now that he’s over 30. There are 13 days between now and Opening Day, and the Yankees have outfield depth, so they’re in good shape there, but to get back to the postseason this year, they’re going to need Ellsbury on his A-game from the leadoff spot. Wrist injuries can be pretty serious even without a break. All the inflammation can make it tough to hold a bat properly, and if you can’t hold a bat properly, you’re not going to hit. Hopefully this blows over quickly and Ellsbury gets back on the field by the end of the week. I just worry we’re going to be talking about this hit-by-pitch in three months and how Ellsbury still doesn’t look right.

2. So how many teams do you think called the White Sox about Chris Sale since last week? Probably 29, right? Sale threw some serious verbal barbs management’s way after the whole Adam LaRoche fiasco — he called vice president Kenny Williams a “bold-faced liar,” among other things — and was clearly unhappy with that whole situation. Teams smell blood in the water and if there is any chance the incident could make Sale available, they wanted their foot in the door. GM Rick Hahn told Dan Hayes they have no interest in moving their ace, which is no surprise whatsoever. Sale is one of the most valuable commodities in the game as a true No. 1 starter who is owed a maximum of $47.15M through 2019. I hope the Yankees placed a call out of due diligence. I don’t think they have the pieces to get Sale — Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, and Gary Sanchez maybe piques Hahn’s interest — but you’ve got to at least make the call. And by the way, the White Sox have every right to ask LaRoche to not bring his kid to the clubhouse every day and LaRoche has every right to retire. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said about that.

3. I admit a sliver of doubt is beginning to enter my mind about CC Sabathia getting the fifth starter’s job over Ivan Nova. I still think it will be Sabathia when it’s all said it done, though right now my confidence is like 98% instead of 100%. Like I said, it’s only a sliver of doubt. The team keeps talking about this being an open competition and Brian Cashman seemed pretty sincere while speaking to Meredith Marakovits over the weekend (skip to the 0:44 mark for the fifth starter talk):

Nova didn’t pitch well in his last start and that’s going to hurt his chances of breaking camp in the rotation. He’s going to have to really outperform Sabathia this spring to win that fifth starter’s spot. Anything close to resembling a tie will go to the veteran making $25M. Nova has to leave zero doubt he is the best man for the job. Either way, I’m sure both of these guys are going to end up making a bunch of starts this season. That’s baseball. The Yankees could go into the season with Sabathia as a starter thinking it’s only a matter of time until Nova moves into the rotation anyway.

4. Chasen Shreve has looked phenomenal this spring. The numbers are outstanding — the only base-runner against him in 6.1 innings came on an error — but beyond that, his stuff looks firm and his body language looks way better than it did last September. Shreve looked pretty down on himself late last year and who could blame him? He got torched for a few weeks there. He seems to be more confident this spring and he’s throwing with conviction. Maybe it’s something as simple as being fresh physically after an offseason of rest. After all, almost everyone who was asked about Shreve’s stumble to finish last year chalked it up to fatigue. Perhaps it really was that simple. Either way, Shreve has looked great this spring and I hope it carries over into the regular season. He can be dominant when right.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

5. Know who we’re going to see a lot this season? Kirby Yates. I just have that feeling, you know? Yates has been pretty good this spring but that’s not it. His stuff is good, he has a history of missing bats, and he has 56.1 innings of big league experience to his credit. I could see Yates being a very prominent part of the bullpen shuttle, if not the No. 1 up-and-down guy. Last season Branden Pinder held that role. Pinder was the guy who stuck around longer than the other shuttle relievers whenever there was a chance to stay with the team longer than 48 hours. I feel like Yates is going to be that reliever this season. We’re going to look up in August and this guy’s going to have 40 innings under his belt, isn’t he?

6. Both Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will be free agents following this season, and the Yankees sure seem to be looking forward to having their big contracts off the books. They’ll have more payroll flexibility and two open roster spots for young players once they’re gone. But you know what? That’s an awful lot of offense walking out the door. You’re talking about the team’s best power hitter and best all-around hitter. That doesn’t mean the Yankees should look to retain Teixeira and/or Beltran — what are the odds they continue to be the club’s best power hitter and best all-around hitter in 2017 and beyond, in their late-30s? — just that the potential offensive hit is something they have to consider. This might be no big deal. Teixeira and/or Beltran could struggle this year and make replacing them easy. If that happens though, the Yankees probably aren’t making the postseason. The more they produce this season, the better it is for the Yankees in 2016 and the tougher it will be to replace them in 2017.