For all the talk about their shaky infield, the Yankees figure to boast one of the strongest outfield units in baseball this season. They have two legitimate starting caliber center fielders in Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as two veteran, middle of the order corner outfield bats in Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran. Fitting all four guys into one lineup will take some creativity on Joe Girardi‘s part but nothing crazy.
Girardi confirmed earlier this week that Ellsbury will be his everyday center fielder because duh. They didn’t give the guy $153M not to play center field. Since the Ellsbury and Beltran signings, I think the general assumption has been that Gardner will move back to left field everyday while Soriano and Beltran split time between right and DH. Obviously you want Gardner in the field for his defense, and considering their ages, giving Soriano and Beltran regular turns at DH makes sense.
It’s a wonderful plan in theory, but it is a little more complicated than that. Soriano has never played right field in his entire professional career and neither he nor Beltran have spent much time at DH. In fact, they’ve combined to start only 36 games at DH since 2005. Aside from Soriano’s return to New York in the second half last year, both guys spent the entirety of that 2005-13 period in the National League, so when they were in the lineup, they played the field.
“I don’t know,’’ said Soriano to George King earlier this week when asked about his spot in the lineup. “They said something about DH and left field. I want to be in the lineup, it doesn’t matter where … If I am the DH I will have to make adjustments. When the team is playing defense I will have to find a way to keep my body warm and ready.’’
Being the DH is tough, especially for a veteran player used to playing the field everyday. Baseball players are creatures of habit, and when the routine they’ve spent years crafting has to change, it can be a tough adjustment to make. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it is something to consider. For all we know, both guys could make that adjustment immediately and make this a non-issue.
The right field thing is a little different, particularly for Soriano. Like I said, he’s never played right field before, so if the Yankees do plan to use him and Beltran in what amounts to a right field/DH platoon, he’ll have to learn the position in Spring Training after spending most of his career in left. Again, it’s not impossible, but it is an adjustment that will have to be made by a veteran player with a routine already in place.
It’s possible that Soriano will not have to make that adjustment, however. The Yankees could instead keep him in left field, where he’s comfortable, and put Gardner in right field. Gardner has never played right field in his career either, but his athleticism and relative youth should make the transition easier for him than it would be for Soriano. His speed would also allow him to simply outrun his mistakes. Gardner has a better arm than Soriano and that should be considered as well — runners are going to go first-to-third on singles all day, everyday against Soriano.
“I played [left field] for a couple of years a few years ago. I feel comfortable over there,” said Brett Gardner to Chad Jennings the other day when asked about moving out of center. “I told Joe I can play right too if he needs me to. I’ll do whatever I’m needed to do to help the team win. Wherever I’m playing out there, wherever I’m hitting in the lineup, whatever he needs me to do, I’ll be ready.”
Gardner has already broached the idea of playing right field, so I assume he is on board with the idea. Aside from learning the position, the issue here is that right field in Yankee Stadium is tiny and it would be a waste to stick such a good defender there. There’s more real estate to cover in left and that’s where you want the rangier outfielder. That’s not a deal-breaker but it is something to keep in mind.
If the Yankees want to keep Soriano comfortable and play him in left, the best solution might be a rotation based on whether the team is home or away. At home, Gardner could play left with Beltran in right. On the road, Soriano could play left while Gardner is in right. That way Gardner’s range is used in Yankee Stadium’s spacious left field and Soriano gets to play his usual position.
That arrangement does sound great in theory, but it is a little more complicated than it seems. How will Gardner handle shifting back and forth between positions? Most guys like to have one set position and know where they’re playing everyday. Long homestands and road trips will also throw a wrench into things, especially if the team wants make sure Soriano and Beltran get regular turns at DH to stay fresh.
The Yankees are all but guaranteed to have an excellent outfield defense because of Gardner and Ellsbury, but it will be interesting to see how they handle the right field/DH rotation with Soriano and Beltran. Someone is going to wind up playing out of position most days, it’s just a question of who.
Got six questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything throughout the week.
Bill asks: Does Craig Kimbrel’s new extension with the Braves give us a better idea at what it would take to lock up David Robertson to an extension?
No, I don’t think so. This is an apples to oranges comparison. The Braves signed Kimbrel to a four-year, $42M deal earlier this week and it is the largest contract ever given to a pitcher in his first year of arbitration eligibility, starter or reliever. Even if they went to an arbitration hearing and Kimbrel had lost, he still would have made more in his first year of arbitration ($6.55M) than Robertson will earn in his final year this season ($5.215M). These two are at very different places in their careers.
Not only do saves pay very well, but Kimbrel is just flat out better than Robertson. Don’t get me wrong, Robertson is awesome, but Kimbrel is in his own little world right now. He’s clearly the best reliever in baseball at the moment. I looked at a potential extension for Robertson months ago and wound up at three years and $21M, which is basically high-end setup man money. Robertson will be a free agent after the season and if he has a typical Robertson year but with say, 35+ saves, then something like three years and $35M (Rafael Soriano money) or four years and $46M (Francisco Cordero money) might more appropriate. I guess that is Kimbrel money, we just got there in a roundabout away.
Anonymous: Let’s say the Yankees sign Stephen Drew and he indeed opts out after the first year. Is there any way they can get a supplemental pick from whoever signs him? Is it guaranteed, a property of the specific contract they agree upon, or impossible?
Yep, they can get definitely get a pick. If they were to sign Drew to a multi-year deal with an opt-out after the first year, they can make him the qualifying offer if he uses the opt out. They’d then get a pick if he declined. It’s exactly what happened with Soriano — when he opted out a year ago, the team made the qualifying offer and received a draft pick when he declined. Because they would only surrender a second rounder to sign him, the Yankees could conceivably “trade” their 2014 second rounder for a 2015 supplemental first rounder by signing Drew.
Dan asks: If I told the Yankees they could get 200 combined games out of Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts, do you think they’d sign up for that? If they’d even think hard about it, they should be calling up Boras right now to sign Drew.
Against my better judgement, I think I would say no to 200 combined games from those two. I think it’s possible they’ll combine for 240-250 games or so — 100 from Roberts, 140-150 from Jeter — but that’s basically the best case scenario. The Yankees haven’t exactly done a good job of keeping people healthy over the alst few years. The thing is that, even if he plays 100+ games, will Roberts even be any good? He’s 36 and has hit .246/.310/.359 (82 OPS+) when healthy over the last four years (192 games).
AJ asks: With the one infield spot open, would their be any thought of keeping three catchers on the roster? Someone will have to backup firstst base and Frankie Cervelli has proven versatile in the past backing up second base. John Ryan Murphy has played third and Brian McCann could backup Mark Teixeira at first.
Well, Cervelli hasn’t really proven himself to be versatile. He’s played five innings at third base and three innings at second base in his career, plus he spent one game in left field in the minors nine years ago. Those are emergency assignments, nothing more. Murphy has only played 14 total games at third base in his career as well, so it’s not like he has a ton of experience at the hot corner either. Both guys are catchers, that’s all. Given their roster, that last bench spot absolutely has to go to a real infielder. Carrying a third catcher rarely makes sense and it certainly doesn’t for this squad.
Jacob asks: Do you think the Yankees will re-sign Brett Gardner and should they?
I think the Jacoby Ellsbury signing pushed Gardner right out the door. I’m not sure how many no power, defense first outfielders one team can carry on expensive free agent contracts. It’s fine now while Gardner is playing for relative peanuts, but he’s looking at $10M+ per year as a free agent. Would they really commit $30M+ annually for the next three or four (or five) years for these two guys? Should they even want to do that? I don’t think so. One such player is enough. Besides, I’m guessing Gardner wants to play center field and bat leadoff, two things that won’t happen with the Yankees now.
Anonymous asks: Better FA pickup in your opinion, Jimmy Key or David Wells (first time)?
Without looking, I’m thinking Wells.
The Yankees gave Key a four-year, $17M deal during the 1992-93 offseason and he pitched to a 3.68 ERA (13.5 bWAR) in 604.1 innings during the life of the contract. He was also limited to five starts during the 1995 season due to a torn rotator cuff. Key was a big part of the 1996 team though, including beating Greg Maddux in the deciding Game Six of the World Series.
Wells, on the other hand, signed a three-year deal worth $13.5M during the 1996-97 offseason, replacing Key. He pitched to a 3.85 ERA (9.1 bWAR) in 432.1 innings across the first two years of the contract and finished third in the 1998 AL Cy Young voting. Wells helped the team to the 1998 World Series title and was then the center piece of the Roger Clemens trade after the season.
On a rate basis, Key and Wells (first stint) were very similar with the Yankees. Key missed almost an entire season to injury and Wells was traded away mid-contract, plus both guys were key parts of a World Series winner. Without going ridiculously in depth (this is only a mailbag, after all), I’d say Wells was the better pickup because he was more durable and then flipped for arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the time. Not sure there’s a wrong answer here, both were very good in pinstripes.
For the first time this year, the entire Yankees team worked out on Thursday. Position players reported yesterday so the first full squad workout was held today, meaning the first Grapefruit League game is less than one week away. Hooray for that. Here’s a recap of the day in Tampa.
- As usual, Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, and Dellin Betances were among those to face hitters in live batting practice while Michael Pineda threw in the bullpen. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira took batting practice and participated in infield drills as scheduled.
- Jeter lost some weight this winter in an effort to reduce the stress on his legs. Joe Girardi said he looked far better during today’s workout than he did at any time last year. ”To me it looked like he never got hurt,” said the skipper. [Dan Barbarisi, Joel Sherman]
- We have our first injury of Spring Training: Alfonso Soriano has the flu and missed today’s workout. That counts as an injury, right? [Sherman]
- Both Hideki Matsui and Willie Randolph arrived in camp to serve as guest instructors. [Mark Feinsand]
Here is your nightly open thread. Neither the Knicks or Nets are playing, so you’re left with the Olympics and whatever college basketball you can find. Talk about anything here, enjoy.
Back during the late-90s dynasty, the Yankees always seemed to have a deep bench laden with former stars who accepted reduced roles. Guys like Wade Boggs, Tim Raines, and Darryl Strawberry all excelled as part-timers during the dynasty years, mostly as platoon players. They accepted their role and adjusted to the reduced playing time, helping the team as high-end role players.
In Ichiro Suzuki, the 2014 Yankees will also feature a former star in a part-time role. The club has added three outfielders to Brett Gardner in the last seven months (Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury), pushing the 40-year-old Ichiro into what amounts to a glorified fifth outfielder role. If the season started today, he would be a pinch-runner and come off the bench as a defensive replacement in right field. That’s it.
Needless to say, being a part-timer will be a new experience for Ichiro. This dude is a global superstar who has been an everyday player since 1994, and when it’s all said and done, he’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame in two countries. His skills have slipped with age though, and last year he hit only .262/.297/.342 (75 OPS+) in 555 plate appearances. The Yankees had to replace him as their everyday right fielder if they wanted to contend. Ichiro now has to adjust to a new role.
“This is a place where the greatest players gather and play, so I’m really excited to play with those guys,” said Ichiro to Chad Jennings yesterday. “Obviously with the additions, I’m going to have to find a place for myself, but I worked hard this offseason. I worked on a lot of things, and throughout Spring Training, hopefully those things will come together and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
I actually think that, given his skillset, Ichiro would be excellent in his current role. His defense did fall off a bit last year but it was still solidly above-average, plus he remains a stolen base threat and a smart base-runner. I think experience is something that can very valuable in role players; you know Ichiro will make the smart base-running play and be in good position defensively. Speed and defense are the things he can still offer his team. He just can’t hit anymore.
The question isn’t so much if Suzuki still has the skills to be a pinch-runner or defensive replacement (I believe he does), but whether he can adjust to that role. Going from an everyday player to a part-timer is tough. Veteran plays tend to be set with their routines and finding a new one is difficult. Staying sharp when you aren’t on the field everyday is not something guys can do with a snap of the fingers. Being a productive bench player is something of an art.
The Yankees shopped Ichiro in trades this offseason but weren’t able to find a taker, so at this point it seems likely he will open the season with the team. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect him to be as productive as Raines was back in the day, but I think Ichiro could be one of the best backup outfielders in baseball this year, as long as he figures out how to/is willing to adjust to decreased playing time. He can definitely be an asset to the Yankees off the bench if he does make that adjustment.
Via George King: Alfonso Soriano is considering retiring following the 2014 season. He is only 12 steals away from becoming the fifth player in history with 400+ doubles, 400+ homers, and 300+ steals. “It depends on how I feel,” he said. “If I am healthy I will play [in 2015]. If not, I will let it go. It depends how I feel.”
Soriano, who turned 39 last month, has been one of the most durable players in baseball these last few years, missing only 18 games due to injury since 2010. He is up there in age though, and that alone brings injury concerns. Soriano will spend the year splitting time between the outfield and DH and it is way too early to know if the Yankees are even considering re-signing him after the season, when the mammoth contract he originally signed with the Cubs finally expires. · (25) ·
When position players reported to Spring Training yesterday, the competition for the final bench spot officially got underway. We all know Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter will start if healthy, and earlier this week the Yankees and Joe Girardi declared Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson the starters at second and third base, respectively. The competition is for the backup infield spot alongside Brendan Ryan.
Needless to say, an infield built around Roberts and Johnson doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Yankees are said to be done signing Major League free agents, but even if they were open to signing another player, there aren’t many available who fit what they need. Stephen Drew is pretty much the only option at this point and they don’t have interest in him. They did earlier this winter, however. From Joel Sherman:
Early in the offseason, the Yankees – with so many holes to fill – used a strategy of making many offers at one time, letting agents know that with each signing, they would re-assess and pull some bids. The Yankees actually made Drew an offer at that time, believed to be for two or three years, when the shortstop was still looking to do considerably better – four or five years.
And, as it happened, the Yankees spent more than they anticipated on players such as Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka and, at some point, rescinded the offer for Drew. And once Tanaka was signed and the $189 million dream was crushed, Hal Steinbrenner put a clamp on going any further. That means they are not bending for Drew, a decision they believe is made a tad easier because they were worried about the condition of his ankles and hips anyway.
The Yankees basically put a bunch of offers out there and said first come, first serve. The first player to say yes got the contract. Maybe that’s how they wound up with Jacoby Ellsbury instead of Shin-Soo Choo, who they offered seven years and $140M. Same thing with Matt Thornton over Javier Lopez, who they also had interest in. I’m not sure if they could have used the same strategy with Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann though. Whatever.
Anyway, Sherman goes on to say Scott Boras’ current asking price for Drew is a two-year contract with an opt-out after the first year. So it’s basically a one-year contract unless he has a really bad year, in which case you’re stuck with him for 2015 as well. The Yankees have already forfeited three top draft picks, so signing Drew would only cost money and a second round pick, which might turn into a supplemental first rounder if he opts out and rejects a qualifying offer next winter.
The Yankees do not want to pay that money and surrender the pick for Drew right now, but in all likelihood they’re going to have to pay for infield help at some point this year. If they don’t give up money and a pick for Drew now, they’ll have to surrender prospects (and probably take on salary) to trade for someone at midseason. Roberts is a huge health risk and the chances of Johnson getting exposed as an everyday player are high enough that an in-season trade feels like an inevitability. Heck, they might have to make a trade even if they sign Drew.
“There are areas of concerns and we’re going to keep plugging away, but we’ve got to see how big of a concern they are,” said Hal Steinbrenner to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “They’re not problems yet because we haven’t even started playing. They’re areas of concern; I get it. Every team has them and every team works through them. We’re going to do the same thing. We got pretty good at it last year, I thought.”
Of course, the problem with standing pat and waiting for a midseason trade is that the Yankees will play a ton of games with a weak infield. Signing Drew or making a trade now improves the team on Opening Day, not on July 31st or whenever. Considering how tight the race for a postseason spot figures to be, the longer New York waits to get infield help, the tougher their road to October will be. The Yankees don’t want to pay for infield help now and that’s fine, as long as they understand they’ll have to pay for it later if they want to have the best possible chance to contend.
Baseball America published their list of the top 100 prospects in baseball tonight (no subs. req’d), a list that was predictably topped by Twins OF Byron Buxton. He’s been on top of every top prospect list this spring. Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts and Cardinals OF Oscar Taveras round out the top three.
The Yankees landed two players on the top 100: RHP Masahiro Tanaka at #4 and C Gary Sanchez at #35. It’s silly that Tanaka is considered a prospect considering all his time in Japan, but Baseball America has always stuck with the Rookie of the Year rules and that makes him eligible for their list. Whatever. Sanchez, the team’s real top prospect, ranks second among catchers, behind only Padres C Austin Hedges. OF Mason Williams, OF Tyler Austin, and OF Slade Heathcott all dropped off last year’s top 100. · (34) ·
Position players reported to Spring Training today, but the day was all about Derek Jeter. He discussed his plan to retire following the season during a press conference this morning. You can watch the video right here if you haven’t seen it yet. Jeter said exactly what he wrote in his initial statement: things that used to come easy are a little more difficult, and he’s looking forward to starting the next chapter of his life. Here’s the rest from Tampa.
- As always, Chad Jennings has the day’s mound assignments. David Robertson, Matt Thornton, and David Phelps threw bullpen sessions while Manny Banuelos and Shawn Kelley were among those to face hitters in live batting practice. Adam Warren had been on the same schedule as Phelps, but he didn’t throw today and will instead throw live batting practice tomorrow. Seems like they are being lined up for some early Grapefruit League starts.
- From what I can tell, all the position players reported today with no issue. No visa holdups or anything like that. The first full squad workout is tomorrow but Eduardo Nunez was already out taking ground balls at third base. [Bryan Hoch]
- And, just in case you were wondering, Joe Girardi confirmed everyone has made it through Spring Training healthy so far. It has only been a week, but still. Health is good. [Jennings]
This is your open thread for the evening. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing, plus the Olympics are still on as well. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.
As expected, Derek Jeter discussed his decision to retire following the 2014 season during a press conference in Tampa this morning. He said he wanted to make the announcement months ago, but people advised him to wait just to make sure he didn’t have any second thoughts. Also, the announcement was made on Facebook because Jeter wanted to draw attention to his Turn 2 Foundation. Here’s the video: