Open Thread: March 9th Camp Notes

Monday’s 4-3 win over the Rays was the type of game that makes you think the Yankees will win 100 games this year. The big league pitchers all dominated and what looked like the Opening Day lineup strung together some extended rallies and did damage early. Alex Rodriguez (single) and Didi Gregorius (ground out) drove in the first two runs, then Slade Heathcott (single) and Greg Bird (double) drove in the last two. Brian McCann doubled, Jacoby Ellsbury singled, A-Rod singled twice, and both Carlos Beltran and Stephen Drew drew walks.

Michael Pineda looked pretty damn sharp in his two scoreless innings of work, striking out two. Just like last year, basically. One scout had his fastball at 95 mph according to Erik Boland, if you’re wondering. Nathan Eovaldi followed with five strikeouts in three scoreless innings, then David Carpenter and Justin Wilson allowed one base-runner and struck out one batter each in their scoreless innings of work. Diego Moreno allowed all three Tampa runs thanks in part to a Rob Refsnyder error. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Spring Training:

  • Masahiro Tanaka headlined the group of pitchers who threw bullpen sessions. He came through just fine and is preparing for his spring debut on Thursday. Chris Capuano and Domingo German also threw bullpen sessions. I wonder if we’ll see German in a game before the end of camp. [Chad Jennings]
  • Top pitching prospect Luis Severino went to the hospital this morning with flu-like symptoms and a very sore throat. He was diagnosed with strep throat and will presumably miss a few days. His arm is fine. [Marly Rivera]
  • Pineda and Esmil Rogers will start the split squad games on Saturday. As a reminder, the rotation through the end of the week is Chase Whitley (Tuesday), Capuano (Wednesday), Tanaka (Thursday), and Adam Warren (Friday). [Jennings]
  • Nothing new on Brendan Ryan. He’s still working his way back from a mid-back sprain is on track to resume light workouts later this week. Infielder Nick Noonan has a minor neck issue and was scratched from tomorrow’s game. [Jennings]
  • And finally, in case you’re wondering how old pal Hiroki Kuroda is doing in Japan, he threw 4.1 perfect innings in his first exhibition game for the Carp over the weekend. Here’s video. Give ’em hell, #HIROK.

Here is the nightly open thread. This afternoon’s game against the Rays will be replayed on both YES (7pm ET) and MLB Network (12am ET) tonight. The Islanders and Knicks are also playing, and there’s one college basketball game on as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Reggie Jackson is selling the old Yankee Stadium letters

(AP)
Yes, those letters. (AP)

So, have you ever wanted to own the giant letters that spelled out “Yankee Stadium” on the facade of the old ballpark? Well now you can! Reggie Jackson, who purchased the letters after the old Stadium was torn down, is selling them through Sotheby’s and hopes to raise $300,000 to $600,000, according to David Li.

When I first came across this story this morning, I thought some old historic handwritten letters found in the bowels of the old Yankee Stadium were up for sale. But no, these are literally the giant letters that spelled out “Yankee Stadium.” Here’s more from Li:

“I see this auction as an opportunity for a new generation to own and enjoy this icon of the Yankees and of New York City,” Jackson said in a statement released by Sotheby’s.

“There were a few items I wanted to purchase before the old Yankee Stadium was torn down, including my old locker and a section of the black bleachers off of center field. But I kept thinking about the stadium lettering, and if there was any way for me to own it. I ended up making an offer, and was thrilled when it was accepted – it’s been a privilege to own such a recognizable piece of baseball history.”

The 13 letters each stand ten feet high and are constructed out of an aluminum casing and blue plexiglass. I have no idea how wide or deep the letters are, but chances are they weigh a few hundred pounds each. The letters were added to the facade following the 1976 renovation and remained there until the place was torn down after 2008.

Owning a piece of the old Yankee Stadium like this would be really awesome. Practical? Hell no. But awesome? Hell yes. If I was a) rich, and b) had some place to display these giant letters, I’d be all about it. But I’m not, so forget it.

Speed, Defense, and the Possibly Not Fluky Power of Brett Gardner [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first three or four months of the 2014 season, Brett Gardner was the Yankees’ best position player. He signed a four-year, $52M extension in Spring Training and rewarded the team by hitting .284/.363/.467 (133 wRC+) with 15 homers in his first 462 plate appearances of the season. Gardner was a middle of the order hitter batting leadoff.

A late-season abdominal injury hampered Brett down the stretch — he hit .185/.232/.306 (46 wRC+) with two homers in his final 174 plate appearances — yet he finished the season with a still solid .256/.327/.422 (110 wRC+) batting line to go along with his typically strong left field defense. The abdominal injury was bad enough that Gardner had surgery after the season.

Coming into the 2015 season, Gardner is clearly a core player for the Yankees, and not just because he’s homegrown. He’s arguably their best all-around position player — no worse than their third best position player behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley — and will occupy a prominent lineup spot for the third straight season, likely leadoff or the two-hole. That comes with a lot of responsibility.

Yankees Need: The Table Set

Regardless of whether he bats first or second, Gardner is going to be tasked with setting the tone for the offense. The Yankees don’t have as much power as they once did, so now their offense is built on stringing together rallies, running the bases well, and old school run manufacturing. That starts at the top of the lineup with Gardner (and Ellsbury). Get on, distract the pitcher, raise some hell on the bases, and wait for someone else to drive you in. That’s Brett’s offensive job in a nutshell.

Gardner Can: Get On Base, Maybe Steal More Bases

Not counting his injury shortened 2012 season, Gardner has posted .345, .344, and .327 OBPs in his last three full seasons. And, as I mentioned before, he was sitting on a .363 OBP in early-August last year before the abdominal injury more or less rendered him useless. That’s Gardner’s game right there. He doesn’t hit for a high average — he’s consistently been in the .255-.275 or so range as a big leaguer — but Brett has always posted an above-average walk rate (8.8% last year, 10.0% career) and been an on-base guy.

The on-base stuff isn’t much of a question going into the new season. Gardner’s not old and he’s been getting on base at a similar clip his entire career, so there’s not much of a concern things will change this year. He’s fairly predictable in that regard. Stealing bases is another matter. Gardner stole 47 and 49 bases in 2010 and 2011, his first two full seasons, and then only 24 and 21 bases in 2013 and 2014, his last two full seasons. Furthermore, his stolen base attempt rate (steal attempts per opportunity) has dropped from 23.3% to 25.8% to 14.3% to 10.4% in his last four full seasons.

For whatever reason, Gardner simply isn’t stealing as many bases as he once did. Part of that is age — a 29-30-year-old player probably won’t attempt as many steals (or be as successful) as the same player during his age 26-27 seasons — and I’m sure part of it is injury. Gardner attempted 19 steals in the first half and only seven in the second half last season due to the abdominal injury. There are multiple factors in play here, at least one of which (last year’s injury) is in the rear-view mirror. Gardner’s job is to get on base first and foremost, and while the days of 45+ steals are probably over, I’m hopeful he can get back over 30 steals in 2015 with good health.

Yankees Need: More Of That Power, Please

After hitting a career-high eight homers in 2013, Gardner more than doubled that total with 17 long balls last year. It wasn’t just a Yankee Stadium thing either — he hit eight homers at home and nine on the road. Nine of the 17 were classified as “plenty” or “no doubt” by Hit Tracker too, meaning they cleared the wall by at least ten feet. Were there some cheapies? Of course. That comes with the ballpark. Brett hit more than a few bombs though. It wasn’t all luck. I don’t think anyone is expecting Gardner to hit 17 homers again in 2015, but double-digits? Yeah I think the Yanks are counting on that.

Gardner Can: Pull The Ball, Ambush Fastballs

Since the start of the 2013 season, eleven of Gardner’s 25 homers have come on the first or second pitch of the at-bat. Eight of those eleven (and 18 of the 25 overall) have come on fastballs. It’s become clear these last two years that Brett will pick his spots to sit on a fastball early in the count and straight up ambush. He’s not a power hitter by trade, so pitchers usually try to get ahead with fastballs, and Gardner has reacted by sitting heater and trying to go yard on occasion. Not all the time, just sometimes.

Furthermore, Gardner has also learned how to pull the ball in recent years, allowing him to better take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch and maximize his power in general. Hitters generally hit the ball with the most authority when they pull it. Here are Gardner’s percentage of batted balls pulled to right field in the air over the years:

2008: 15.6% (141 PA)
2009: 19.4% (284 PA)
2010: 20.7% (569 PA)
2011: 17.9% (588 PA)
2012: 10.0% (37 PA)
2013: 22.0% (609 PA)
2014: 30.2% (636 PA)

He’s pulled more balls in the air these last two seasons — especially last season, when only eleven qualified hitters pulled the ball in the air more often than Gardner — and that’s led to the uptick in power. Former hitting coach Kevin Long helped Robinson Cano become a superstar by teaching him how to pull the ball with authority and it appears he may have done the same with Gardner. Remember, Gardner wasn’t hitting nothing but cheapies. Most of last year’s homers cleared the wall with plenty of room to spare.

Between his tendency to ambush fastballs early in the count and his newfound ability to pull the ball in the air, there’s reason to think Gardner’s power display last season is for real. Maybe he won’t hit 17 homers again, I’m willing to bet that was his career power year, but maybe he won’t be limited to single-digit homers going forward. That’s assuming new hitting coach Jeff Pentland doesn’t make any drastic changes.

Yankees Need: Dominate In Left Field

The Yankees have morphed into a run prevention team and that starts in the outfield with Gardner (and Ellsbury). Left field in Yankee Stadium is not small like right field, there’s a lot of ground to cover out there, so Gardner’s speed and range is not insignificant. His defense allows Ellsbury to shade towards right to cover for the range-challenged Carlos Beltran, so having Gardner in left also helps improve the defense in right-center. The Yankees are going to have to keep opposing hits and runs to a minimum next year to contend, and Gardner is a huge piece of that puzzle.

Gardner Can: Play Strong Defense

Anecdotally, Gardner played very good defense in left field lat year but wasn’t quite as outstanding as he was in left field from 2010-11. The various defensive stats agree too. Here are the numbers:

DRS UZR Total Zone
2010 +26 +25.8 +26
2011 +23 +26.1 +23
2012 (only 15 games)
+1 +0.5 -1
2013 Played CF
2014 +3 +2.3 +1

So yeah, in his first full season as a left fielder since 2011, Gardner’s defense last summer did not appear to be as good as it once was. That doesn’t mean it was bad. He just went from arguably the best defensive left fielder in the game to slightly above-average. Gardner is clearly still an asset in the field, but his days as an otherworldly defender may be over.

Yankees Need: Stay Healthy!

This is pretty straight forward. Because he is one of their better players, the Yankees need Gardner to stay healthy and on the field. The Chris Young/Garrett Jones platoon would be a capable fill-in left fielder but a downgrade on both sides of the ball, as would minor league options like Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin. Gardner’s important! The Yankees need him on the field as much as possible.

Gardner Can: Stay Healthy, Knock On Wood

Aside from last year’s abdominal injury (as far as we know) and the oblique strain he suffered last in September 2013, Gardner’s major injures have been flukes. He broke his thumb sliding into second base in 2009, needed a wrist debridement after being hit by a pitch in 2010 (he played through it in the second half and had surgery after the season), then suffered a bone bruise in his elbow making a sliding catch in 2012. Hopefully Brett avoids anything unfortunate like that and can stay on the field in 2015. The Yankees need him.

Spring Training Game Thread: Big Mike’s debut

BIG MIKE IS HERE

So far this spring all eyes have been on Alex Rodriguez, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia for obvious reasons. A-Rod is A-Rod, and the other two are coming off pretty serious injuries. Michael Pineda, this afternoon’s starter, also missed a bunch of time last season due to injury, and he is as important to the 2015 Yankees as any other player on the roster.

Big Mike is making his Grapefruit League debut this afternoon against the Rays, who are making the 90-minute trip up from Port Charlotte. He’s probably only going to throw two innings and 30 pitches or so, but that’s fine. It’s only his first outing. The Rays brought a fairly representative lineup (see it here) and are sending fifth starter candidate Nate Karns to the mound. Karns throws hard, but he had a 5.08 ERA (4.03 FIP) in 145.1 Triple-A innings last year. The young pitching well is starting to dry up in Tampa.

Today’s reason to watch: Big Mike! He was the team’s best pitcher on a rate basis last year. Also, Nathan Eovaldi is scheduled to follow Pineda this afternoon. He’ll probably throw three innings. (This doesn’t mean the Yankees are looking at Eovaldi as a reliever. That’s just how the schedule shook out.) We’ll also get our first look at new relievers David Carpenter and Justin Wilson, who will follow Pineda and Eovaldi. Wilson will be making his spring debut.

Here is the starting lineup for this afternoon’s game, which has a very Opening Day feel to it:

  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 Michael Pineda

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Ramon Flores, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Tyler Austin, and DH Jake Cave are the day’s second string. C Francisco Arcia, C Gary Sanchez, C Eddy Rodriguez, UTIL Jose Pirela, UTIL Jonathan Galvez, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Aaron Judge, and OF Mason Williams are also available off the bench.

Available Pitchers: RHP Nathan Eovaldi, RHP David Carpenter, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Chris Martin, and RHP Diego Moreno are all scheduled to pitch after Pineda. RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Danny Burawa, and RHP Nick Goody are the extra arms.

Another nice day for baseball in Tampa, with just a few clouds and temperatures in the mid-80s. Today’s game is scheduled to begin at 1:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch live on YES locally and MLB.tv nationally. There is no MLB.tv blackout in the New York market. MLB Network will show the game on a tape delay later tonight. Enjoy the game, folks.

Yankees have “come the closest” to landing Cole Hamels according to obvious Phillies’ smokescreen

Hole Camels. (Presswire)
Hole Camels. (Presswire)

The regular season begins four weeks from today, which means we have potentially four more weeks of Cole Hamels trade rumors until he gets the ball for the Phillies on Opening Day. Back in January we heard the Yankees had inquired but were not seriously pursuing Philadelphia’s lefty ace, who does not have New York on his 21-team no-trade list.

Over the weekend, Nick Cafardo reported the Yankees have “come the closest” to landing Hamels among all of the clubs trying to get him. Here’s the full blurb from Cafardo just so there’s nothing lost in translation:

According to one Phillies source, the Yankees have come the closest to landing Hamels, offering a package of prospects that at least has given the Phillies a baseline for future talks.

Yesterday afternoon, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. followed Cafardo’s report by telling Jake Kaplan one team has “stepped up and has shown more particular interest” in Hamels in recent days. Cafardo says his info came from the Phillies and Kaplan spoke to Amaro directly, so there’s no confusion here. This is all coming from the Phillies.

It’s pretty obvious Philadelphia is negotiating through the media now and are trying to put the pressure on … someone. The Red Sox have been linked to Hamels the most in recent weeks and months, reportedly balking at an asking price that includes catcher prospect Blake Swihart, so hey, pulling Boston’s archrival into the mix is a smart move by the Phillies. This is an obvious smokescreen.

I think the Phillies are trying to drive up the price in general, not specifically for the Red Sox. They don’t really care where they trade Hamels — they shouldn’t anyway, the trade is too important to the future of the franchise to handicap things by refusing to trade with certain teams — they want the best possible return. If that’s from the Red Sox, great. If it’s from the Yankees or Rangers or Padres, fine. Whatever. The Phillies simply want the best package of players.

For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman reported yesterday the Yankees have never been particularly close to acquiring Hamels, though he did add some names to the trade rumor mix. From Heyman:

While Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that they’ve never received a “definite request,” and another person familiar with the talks suggested “it was a feel out … nothing solid,” it is known the Phillies like Yankees righthanded pitching prospect Luis Severino and power prospect Aaron Judge … It is believed the Phillies might be interested in a package along the lines of Severino, Judge and perhaps infielder Rob Refsnyder for Hamels.

The Yankees could use a pitcher like Hamels because every team could use a pitcher like Hamels. He’s excellent. Legitimately a top ten pitcher in baseball. Plus he’s signed to a favorable contract — Hamels is owed $94M through 2018 with a vesting option for 2019, which is about two-thirds of what he would get as a free agent. Now that Cliff Lee’s elbow is acting up again, there’s no realistically available alternative to Hamels if you want a top starter.

The injury concerns in New York’s rotation mean they would benefit more from acquiring Hamels than some other teams. They shied away from spending this winter in years more than dollars — they didn’t want to hand out any massive six or seven-year contracts. I think they would be willing to pay the right player $20M+ annually for the right number of years, which may or may not mean Hamels. But would they take on the money and trade top prospects too? They Yankees have been hesitant to do that in the recent past.

My opinion: If the Yankees can get Hamels without giving up Judge, they should jump all over it. That isn’t to say Judge should be untouchable, just that I’m hugging him the most out of the club’s prospects. Ideally, on an ideal situation, something like Severino, Refsnyder, and Gary Sanchez would get it done, but I doubt that happens. Hamels is elite and you’re not going to find any other pitchers of this caliber with that favorable a contract. He helps the Yankees not only in 2015, but 2016-18 as well.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 9th, 2015

Record Last Week: 4-2-1 (25 RS, 19 RA)
Grapefruit League Record: 4-2-1 (25 RS, 19 RA)
Opponents This Week: vs. Rays (Mon. on YES, MLB.tv), @ Orioles (Tues. on MLB.tv), vs. Red Sox (Weds. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), vs. Braves (Thurs. on YES, MLB.tv), @ Red Sox (Fri. on MLBN, MLB.tv), vs. Tigers (Sat. split squad on YES, MLB.tv), @ Blue Jays (Sat. split squad on MLB.tv), vs. Phillies (Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

  • Following last season’s elbow surgery, Masahiro Tanaka altered his mechanics to make sure “his arm is in sync with the rest of his delivery.” He’s scheduled to make his first start of the spring on Thursday after throwing a two-inning simulated game on Saturday.
  • Injury Updates: Luis Torrens (shoulder) will miss the 2015 season due to a torn right labrum. Carlos Beltran (elbow) says he is “pain free.” Brendan Ryan (back) is slowly making progress but is worried he won’t be ready for Opening Day. Rob Refnsyder (elbow) dealt with “normal fatigue” for a few days but has since returned to action.
  • Depending on when you asked, Jimmy Rollins may or may not have been willing to waive his no-trade clause for the Yankees. The Yankees signed Mat Gamel to a minor league deal.
  • Cuban infielder Hector Olivera has been cleared to sign by MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. He may have a damaged UCL though.

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the “Features” tab above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Open Thread: March 8th Camp Notes

Thanks to Cole Figueroa’s go-ahead eighth inning single, the Yankees beat the Nationals by the score of 3-2 this afternoon. Brett Gardner and Jose Pirela drove in the other two runs with infield singles. Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Garrett Jones, and Chris Young all went 0-for-3 while Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann both went 1-for-2. A-Rod blooped a ground rule double to right and McCann singled to left to beat the shift. Pirela had two knocks off the bench.

Adam Warren gave up a solo homer on the very first pitch of the game but otherwise settled down and threw three pretty uneventful innings. Andrew Miller struck out one in a perfect inning and Dellin Betances struck out two after allowing a ground ball double down the line in his spring debut. He threw one inning. Luis Severino struck out three and allowed an unearned run in 1.1 innings of work. Wilking Rodriguez and Jared Burton retired the final six Nats batters to close out the game. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa:

  • CC Sabathia threw a 29-pitch live batting practice session this morning and said he “felt good, no problems. I was able to throw everything.” He’ll throw a two-inning simulated game next before pitching in an actual Grapefruit League game. [Erik Boland, Meredith Marakovits]
  • During an in-game interview with the YES booth, Joe Girardi confirmed Masahiro Tanaka will start Thursday’s game against the Braves. Here’s the rotation for Monday through Friday: Michael Pineda (Nathan Eovaldi in relief), Chase Whitley, Chris Capuano, Tanaka, Warren. [Chad Jennings]
  • A-Rod played the field today but will DH tomorrow with Beltran playing right field. “I wouldn’t expect too much movement (in the field this year),” said Alex. “Ball’s hit to me, catch it and throw to first. It’s not going to be an Ozzie Smith year.” [Marly Rivera, Jennings]
  • Capuano, Bryan Mitchell, Jose Ramirez, Andrew Bailey, and Jacob Lindgren all threw bullpen sessions this morning while the position players went through a usual day of hitting and fielding work. [Jennings]
  • Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is feeling better but is still day-to-day and is only taking baby steps in workouts. He’s concerned about missing the start of the season. [Ryan Hatch]

Here’s the nightly open thread. This afternoon’s game against the Nationals will be replayed on both MLB Network (8pm ET) and YES (9pm ET), if you’re interested. The Nets are playing right now, both the Rangers and Devils are playing later tonight, and there’s one college basketball game on as well. You folks know what to do here, so have at it.