Saturday Links: Hicks, Revenue Sharing, Garagiola

Hicks. (Presswire)
Hicks. (Presswire)

The Yankees begin their final week of exhibition games a little later this afternoon. Only seven days of Grapefruit League play to go. Hooray for that. Here are some links to help you pass the time until today’s game thread comes along.

Hicks among Law’s top breakout candidates

Earlier this week, Keith Law (subs. req’d) posted his annual list of the top breakout candidates for the upcoming season. These are post-hype players. Guys who were once highly touted prospects, have been in a show for a little while now, and are ready to break out and live up to their potential. Aaron Hicks is among then. Here’s a snippet of Law’s write-up:

Hicks, like Schoop, came up before his bat was ready — his glove was ready, but his bat had developed gradually over the previous three years — and in hindsight it appears skipping Triple-A was the wrong move for him. He was a different hitter in 2015, becoming much less passive, taking fewer strikes and looking more for pitches to drive when he was ahead in the count. Now he’s moving to a better park for power and will have a full-time job from day one.

Hicks will not have a “full-time job from day one” — Law said he was joking about the injury and age concerns in the outfield — but he’s going to play a lot. The Yankees have made it pretty clear. It’s possible Hicks will end up starting something like four out of every five games as the regulars rest. He made some adjustments last year and it appears Hicks might indeed be on the verge of a breakout. I’m excited to see what happens this summer.

Levine takes shots at Mets over revenue sharing

According to Ken Rosenthal, Yankees team president Randy Levine took some shots at the Mets over the revenue sharing system. “What is very burdensome to us — and is unfair — is the amount of money we have to pay in revenue sharing compared, for example, to teams in our market that pay ten times less than us,” said Levine. “Hopefully that is something that will get looked at in the next labor agreement.”

The Yankees pay more money into revenue sharing than any other team — Levine said they paid roughly $90M in revenue sharing last year — because they generate more revenue than every other team. There’s no mystery here. Commissioner Rob Manfred told Rosenthal the Yankees have been very supportive of the revenue sharing system, though they are looking forward to seeing proposed changes for the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement.

I doubt Levine and the Yankees will gripe too much about the Mets or any other team — I’m sure the Yankees do plenty of fancy accounting and don’t want MLB digging too deep — but obviously they think it’s unfair they’re paying so much more than a team in the same market. We’ll see how the revenue sharing system is tweaked with the next CBA, if at all.

Joe Garagiola passes away at 90

Sad news to pass along: former Yankees announcer Joe Garagiola passed away earlier this week. He was 90. Garagiola grew up with Yogi Berra in St. Louis and the two were lifelong friends — the Cardinals signed Garagiola, not Berra, out of a tryout camp in 1943 — and he played for four teams from 1946-54. After his playing career ended, Garagiola got into broadcasting, and he called Yankees games on WPIX from 1965-67. He spent most of his career on NBC’s lead broadcasting team. Our condolences go out to Garagiola’s family and friends.

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.

Weathering the Storm

Jacoby Ellsbury HBP

Looking back on my sports day yesterday, I’m realizing it was fraught with disaster-potential. In the afternoon, Jacoby Ellsbury left the game after being plunked in the right wrist. Later last night, my UConn Huskies bowed out of the NCAA Tournament, bested and humbled by the superior Kansas Jayhawks. Given the Ellsbury, HBP, the Huskies’ loss could’ve been the cherry on top of a very crappy sundae; instead, since that Ellsbury’s x-rays were negative, the basketball game was the sundae itself. Regardless of food metaphors, the HBP got me thinking about the Yankees and the lineup depth they’ll likely have to tap into at some point during the season if/when someone or multiple someones go down with a long-term injury.

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

Up the middle, the Yankees are actually in fairly good shape. Should Didi Gregorius go down, the (somewhat) newly acquired Starlin Castro can move over from his new home at second base to his old one at shortstop. While this leaves a hole at second base–one that could otherwise be created by a Castro injury–the Yankees have an assortment of options: Dustin Ackley, Rob Refsnyder, and even Ronald Torreyes, if he’s still around. None of those options are ideal, mind you, for various reasons. Ackely probably ‘is what he is,’ as they say, at this point of his career, but he’s a lefty hitter in Yankee Stadium, now for a full season. That always has the potential for fireworks. Refsnyder may not be defensively graceful, but there’s upside in his bat. Even Torreyes–who only has a handful of ML plate appearances–has some potential to tap into; he’s a career .298 hitter in the minors and has a strikeout rate under 7%. The impact on the batting lineup would be fairly minimal in this case. Both Castro and Gregorius figure to be bottom-of-the-order hitters anyway, and their potential replacements would be as well. Those replacements also have hitting profiles that are similar to those of Starlin and Didi, further mitigating any wrinkles.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Moving inward, the Yankees have Gary Sanchez in waiting should Brian McCann go down. It feels like we’ve been waiting on Sanchez to take over at catcher forever, and this is the year that we could get it. Granted, it’ll be bittersweet should it happen at McCann’s expense. McCann is still a middle-of-the-order hitter, and an injury here would upset things. Chase Headley would likely move up into the sixth spot with Sanchez slotting in behind him. Sanchez, though, as big power potential and if things broke right, he could find himself in a more meaningful spot.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

In the outfield, Aaron Hicks provides upside and insurance at all three spots and Brett Gardner is a more-than-capable center field option should Jacoby Ellsbury go down. Additionally, the Yankees have Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Ben Gamel on the 40-man roster to fill in on the bench. Dustin Ackley can also play the corners if necessary. This is where potential lineup disturbances will have the most impact. All three regular outfielders–Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran–bat at the top of the order. Even with some upside left–and success against lefties–Hicks likely isn’t a top-of-the-order bat, and neither are the other potential fill ins. If an outfielder sustains an injury, I’m guessing Starlin Castro shoots up to hit in the two hole.

Rob Refsnyder
(Getty)

The corner infield spots present a big challenge for the Yankees in terms of depth. Greg Bird‘s injury leaves them without a true backup option at first base and aside from Chase Headley, the Yankees don’t really have anyone strong at third, having abandoned the Castro At the Corner experiment already. Refsnyder has been taking reps there, which is probably his best shot to make the team out of Spring Training. This is much less ideal than Ref filling in at second, where he’s already shaky defensively despite some experience there.

Should Teixeira be injured for a long period of time, I’d imagine we’ll see Chase Headley march across the diamond to play first, unless the Yankees opt to keep Chris Parmalee around and bring him up. That might actually be the better option. While Refsnyder has more upside and moving Headley would get Ref on the field, Parmalee has shown some degree of Major League success and using him allows for keeping Headley where he’s comfortable and most effective.

An injury to Alex Rodriguez would likely mean a rotation of players–Tex, McCann, and Beltran–into the DH spot with fill-ins at their vacated positions–Hicks in the outfield; McCann at first, perhaps; Sanchez and/or Austin Romine at catcher.

An old team like the Yankees needs to have depth. Despite not doing any shopping on the Major League free agent market, the Yankees do seem to have a fair amount of depth at most positions. No one wants injuries to happen, but they most certainly will. There might be some dropoffs, but it appears the Yankees have set themselves up to not fall off of a cliff when their mainstays get hurt.

Building the Most Sensible Lineup for the 2016 Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, the Yankees used something that looked awfully close to their projected Opening Day starting lineup. The only regular not in the lineup was Brian McCann, who is still nursing a sore knee after being hit by a foul tip over the weekend. It’s nothing serious. He’ll be back in a day or two. No reason to push it in mid-March.

As a quick reminder, here is the starting lineup the Yankees ran out there against the Blue Jays last night:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Gary Sanchez

I’m guessing a healthy McCann slots in at No. 6 behind A-Rod, bumping the other guys down a spot. That’s pretty close to the lineup the Yankees used for most of last season — the most common Yankees’ lineup last year was used only nine times, so yeah — which makes sense because almost none of the personnel has changed. Castro replaced Stephen Drew. That’s the only difference.

Obsessing over the lineup on a day-to-day basis is not really my thing anymore, though I do think it would be instructive to look over the projected batting order and try to figure out who fits best in each spot. The Yankees have a pretty straightforward lineup. We don’t have to rack our brains too much.

The Leadoff Man

This is the easiest, most predictable spot in the lineup. Ellsbury is going to hit leadoff. Against righties, against lefties, whatever. The Yankees are paying Ellsbury an awful lot of money to set the table and he was one of the most productive leadoff men in the game as recently as last May. The only time Ellsbury won’t hit leadoff this coming season is when he gets a day off. Right? Right. Next.

The Two-Hole

An lot of studies over the years have shown the No. 2 spot is the most important spot in the lineup. The No. 2 hitter gets the second most at-bats on the team and is responsible for both driving in runs (when the leadoff man reaches base) and setting the table (for the middle of the order). Ideally your best all-around hitter hits second. Who is the Yankees’ best all-around hitter? Beltran? I dunno.

An argument can be made Gardner is the team’s best hitter, at least when he’s healthy. He did hit .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) in the first half last season, after all. Gardner batted second most of last year and he fits that spot well because he can mash the occasional dinger and he’s one of the club’s best on-base guys. Prior to Ellsbury’s injury last year, he and Gardner were dominant from the 1-2 spots. They were on base a combined seven times a game it seemed.

Joe Girardi has discussed using Castro as his No. 2 hitter against lefties, which makes sense from a “he hits right-handed and Girardi likes to sit Gardner against lefties for some reason” point of the view. The problem? Castro hit .281/.304/.339 (76 wRC+) against lefties last year and .265/.309/.366 (86 wRC+) against lefties the last three years. Against lefties Gardner hit .276/.361/.400 (112 wRC+) in 2015 and .262/.337/.395 (104 wRC+) from 2013-15.

There also this: Castro is a big time double play candidate. He’s downright Jeterian with the double plays. Starlin had a 54.1% ground ball rate last year, 12th highest among the 141 qualified hitters, and throughout his career he’s banged into a twin killing in 16% of his opportunities. The league average hovers around 11% each year. Yes, Ellsbury steals bases, but he’s not going to steal every time he reaches base. Castro’s double play ability will short circuit a lot of rallies.

The way I see it, Starlin should show he’s an asset against lefties before giving him a primo lineup spot. Don’t give him the benefit of the doubt just because he’s a righty. When Gardner does inevitably sit against southpaw, Aaron Hicks would be a better No. 2 hitter option than Castro. Hicks hit .307/.375/.495 (139 wRC+) against lefties in 2015 and .272/.360/.447 (125 wRC+) against them the last three years. The Gardner/Hicks platoon is the best No. 2 option.

The 3-4-5(-6) Hitters

We know who is going to hit in the 3-4-5-6 spots: Beltran, Teixeira, A-Rod, and McCann. The only real question is how those four players should be ordered. I have two opinions:

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

1. Teixeira should hit cleanup. He is is not only the Yankees’ best power hitter, he’s also one of their best on-base guys, which serves the team well whenever he leads off the second inning after the top of the lineup goes down in order in the first. Fourth is a good spot for him. You don’t want Teixeira batting any lower because it means fewer at-bats, and you also don’t want to hit him much higher because you want as many men on base as possible when he hits. Plus he’s a switch-hitter. He’s the perfect cleanup hitter.

2. McCann should hit sixth. At this point of his career, McCann is basically a grip it and rip it hitter. That’s not a bad thing, but all the fly balls — his 36.1% ground ball rate was 18th lowest among the 141 qualified hitters in 2015 — are not conducive to a high batting average. McCann has hit .236 with a .309 OBP and a .241 BABIP in over 2,000 plate appearances the last four years. Yes, he has a lot of power, but out of the four guys projected to hit in the middle of the lineup, McCann is the worst at not making outs. He’s great at capping off rallies with a dinger. He’s not so great at extending rallies.

That leaves Beltran and A-Rod for the No. 3 and 5 spots. If Rod hits like he did from April through July, you want him hitting third. If Beltran hits like he did from mid-May through the end of the season, you want him hitting third. Rodriguez did hit more homers than Beltran (33 to 19) and was better overall last season (129 to 119 wRC+), so maybe bat him in the three-hole. I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer here, though I do think Alex gives you a better chance at quick first inning offense with the long ball. So I guess that means my 3-4-5-6 hitters go Rodriguez-Teixeira-Beltran-McCann.

The Bottom Third

I know Castro is the new hotness and everyone is excited about him, but the reality is he barely out-hit Stephen Drew last season (80 to 76 wRC+). That level of production is not so fluky either; Castro had a 74 wRC+ back in 2013. He did sandwich a 117 wRC+ between those two awful seasons in 2014, and surely the Yankees hope that’s the Starlin they’ll get going forward. Until then, I think he has to hit near the bottom of the lineup.

In fact, the best lineup might have Gregorius batting eighth and Castro batting ninth to break up the string of lefties in the wrap-around 9-1-2 portion of the lineup. We saw more than a few teams bring in a lefty reliever and leave him in for a full inning against that part of the lineup last year. Said reliever was staying in even longer when Drew was in the lineup and McCann was hitting fourth. Teams could get two innings out of their left-on-left reliever no problem.

Headley was the best hitter of the three last season and projects to be the best hitter of the three this season (per ZiPS), so seventh is where he belongs. Personally, I’d like to see Didi hitting eighth and Castro hitting ninth for “break up the lefties” purposes, but I have a hard time thinking the Yankees will bat their big offseason pickup ninth. Not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. We’re nitpicking.

So after all of that, I think the most sensible Yankees’ lineup looks something like this:

  1. Ellsbury
  2. Gardner vs. RHP and Hicks vs. LHP
  3. Rod
  4. Teixeira
  5. Beltran
  6. McCann
  7. Headley
  8. Gregorius
  9. Castro

Like I said, Castro’s probably going to hit eighth with Gregorius ninth. That’s the only real difference between my preferred lineup and what is likely to happen. Beltran and A-Rod might flip spots depending who is swinging better at the time. Not batting Starlin second against lefties is the only thing I feel strongly about. That’s a mistake in my opinion. Let him force the issue before bumping him up.

Recent research has shown that, generally speaking, the difference between the most optimal batting order and the worst batting order is a win or two across a full season. Wins are important! But we’re not talking about a difference of ten wins here. The Yankees have a pretty easy to put together lineup, and as long as Girardi doesn’t do something silly like bat A-Rod eighth or Castro leadoff (which he won’t), the Yankees will have a solid offense on the field.

Kuty: Yankees working on adjusting Aaron Hicks’ swing

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

According to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, new assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames has been working with OF Aaron Hicks on “correcting his bat path.”  Hicks has been in the minor league complex for around a month, lifting and working on hitting with Thames.

Hicks, whom the Yankees acquired in the offseason for John Ryan Murphy, was touted as one of the top ML prospects (topping at #19 in 2010 BA list) before being called up to the Minnesota Twins in 2013. Since then, he’s shown flashes of athletic brilliance but has not hit to his potential. The good news is he’s steadily improved hitting in ML: his 97 wRC+ in 390 PA in 2015 is career high (62, 83 wRC+ in previous two seasons) and many believe his tools will take him even further (for instance, check out this Carlos Gomez comparison from FanGraphs). I wouldn’t count on Hicks actually becoming as good as Gomez, but hitting improvements will do wonders for him as a player.

Kuty’s article mentioned that most of the work focused on Hicks’ left-side swing. That’s a plausible idea. His career LHP/RHP splits are quite stark in difference. He’s hit to a nice .808 OPS versus lefties with his righty swing, but only .596 OPS versus righties. Switch hitting is not easy – you have to work on two different swings at once. It is hard to maintain consistency and polish on one swing alone. There have been guys like Shane Victorino, a former switch-hitter who ditched one side and focused on another, but there are undeniable benefits if you can succeed with two swings.

What are they focusing on? Consistent bat path.”Being able to stay long through the zone and line drives, hitting line drives all over the place and constant hand positioning, being able to constantly get that slot long and through the zone,” Hicks said. Those are some phrasings that one may hear at local batting cage but they still ring true in the bigs.

Let’s also talk about Marcus Thames. There’s not a lot of history with his work as a hitting coach but from what I can tell, he seems to be very well-respected and liked. To have a rapid climb from being a High-A hitting coach (2013) to ML assistant coach means that he’s doing something right. In terms of hitting philosophy, it sounds like he’s far from being a cookie-cutter:

“I don’t have one philosophy,” he said. “I don’t want to sit here and make up something because it depends on the hitter. And it depends on the guy on the mound. I really don’t have one and it just depends on the guys. One major thing that I do, I want my guys to be aggressive in the strike zone. Other than that, philosophy-wise, it just depends on the hitter.

There’s definitely not one foolproof way to make every hitters succeed. If there were, imagine the terror pitchers would endure on plate appearance-basis. There were guys like Walt Hriniak, who was a hitting coach for Red Sox and White Sox in the 80’s and 90’s, who saw success (HOF’er Frank Thomas being the main disciple) teaching hitters pretty much the one way, but I personally think every hitter is different. I assume we will hear more about Thames’ reign as a ML assistant hitting coach throughout the season.

Back to Aaron Hicks – he certainly has some pop in his bat. In 2015, Hicks hit for a .142 ISO, which is right around league average. You can expect that figure to go up slightly in the Yankee Stadium. A more exciting number would be 20 HR’s and 20 steals. He hit 11 home runs in 390 PA’s. If he were to get full season’s worth of plate appearances, hypothetically he could get it near 20. I’m not necessarily calling it but it’s plausible and fun to think about. If what he works on with Thames pays off on the field, I think Yankees may have themselves a player that the Twins envisioned years ago. Don’t get too excited yet – if it happens, it’ll be a process.

Joe Girardi’s Spring Press Conference: Chapman, Tanaka, Castro, Gardner, Ellsbury, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa for Spring Training today, meaning the first steps of the marathon that is the 2016 season have been taken. Joe Girardi met with reporters for his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning, and of course he was asked about all aspects of the team.

“Pretty much (quiet). I think it was evidence in the amount of time it took someone to ask a question this morning,” said Girardi when asked about this being a normal camp because they’re no huge stories. “We haven’t had the big story and that’s nice … It is a pretty regular Spring Training. I hope that doesn’t make it a boring Spring Training, but it is regular.”

Normal spring or not, Aroldis Chapman dominated this morning’s press conference, with questions about his pending suspension, the domestic dispute incident, and his role as closer. You can watch Girardi’s press conference right here (it’s chopped up into smaller clips.) Here’s a recap of the important stuff with some thoughts thrown in.

All Things Aroldis

  • On an appropriate punishment: “I think that’s up to the commissioner to decide. That’s not my job. Obviously I wasn’t in the room when they put the (domestic violence) policy together. I have not reviewed the cases … I know it’s very serious and we have to take it very serious. To me, it’s very important when there’s an issue, it’s taken care of.”
  • On behavioral concerns: “Obviously you look at behavioral patterns to see if guys are maturing … We’ve all probably done things in our lives we wish we could do a little differently. I want to get to know him before I really form an opinion about his character. It’s unfortunate sometimes players get labeled before you a chance to know him.”
  • On conduct: “I think there’s an expectation of conduct and how you’re supposed to handle things. The court of law is different than the court of MLB or the MLBPA (or) the public’s opinion. I think we have a responsibility as athletes with the way we present ourselves on and off the field, and I’m okay with that.”
  • On Chapman’s decision to appeal any suspension: “I think it tells you he wants to question the suspension … Does it tell me maybe he (doesn’t think he did) something wrong? I don’t think it says that.”
  • On getting to know Chapman: “I think it’s really hard to form a really good opinion by talking on the phone. There’s some language issues there … He’s very thankful to be here … But until I really get around him it’s really hard to form an opinion.
  • On making Chapman the closer: “He’s been a closer most of his career. It’s (a role) he’s probably most comfortable with. Andrew Miller did a tremendous job … Andrew has been a reliever most of his career — setup guy, seventh inning guy, lefty specialist — I thought it would be (easier for him) to adjust to it better than Chapman.”
  • On the trade itself: “His name was brought up, then it kinda died, then it happened really fast. I had some information about it (but) I was not given much information.”

Girardi danced around any questions regarding Chapman’s domestic dispute incident, which was to be expected. Technically MLB’s investigation is still ongoing and he wasn’t going to say anything remotely controversial. Girardi deflected everything with “that’s up to MLB” and “I have to get to know him,” basically.

I hope commissioner Rob Manfred announces the suspension soon, however long it may be, so Chapman can file his appeal and go through the process. The longer this goes on, the more of a distraction it will be. Let’s rip the band-aid off, so to speak. The sooner we can begin focusing on nothing but baseball, the better. During the press conference you could tell Girardi felt the same way.

The Rotation

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow: “We will watch him closely to see where he’s at … We’ll make sure that we put him in a situation where he’s ready to go pitch before he gets into a game. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.”
  • On the fifth starter spot: “I think you have to let things work their way out in Spring Training. I know (CC Sabathia‘s) name has been brought up in that conversation, as well as Ivan Nova. Sometimes things have just a way of working out. The competition just goes way. A lot of times, unfortunately, that comes down to health … The big thing is that we have five healthy starters when we leave Spring Training. That’s my goal. We’ll take the five best starters.”
  • On managing workloads: “I thought putting an extra starter in there helped them … I think just watching them physically and watching their innings (is important). You have to be sensitive to your bullpen that it doesn’t get overworked. I think we were able to manage that because (the young relievers) were able to come up and be interchangeable.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s workload: “I think he’s a guy that can handle 200 innings.”

There were surprisingly few questions about the rotation. I guess that’s what happens when you have five pretty clearly established starters plus a sixth starter who’s been around the block. I don’t buy Sabathia being involved in any kind of fifth starter competition though. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be in the rotation. We all know that. As for Severino throwing 200 innings … we’ll see. I’d bet against it.

The Position Players

  • On Brett Gardner playing hurt: “He actually got hit (in the wrist) in April. This was something he dealt with all year long, and if you remember his July, it was an MVP type of month. Sometimes it’s hard to predict. Was it fatigue? Was it the wrist? Did he just get in a bad way? … Everyone plays beat up, that’s the bottom line. That’s what happens in our game … You hope players are honest enough with you that when it becomes too much, they come to you. He never felt it was too much and we didn’t either.”
  • On expecting veterans to produce again: “I think you can expect it. You have to manage them physically and their workload in a sense to make sure they’re strong at the end of the season. And that’s something when you’re fighting for that spot to get into the playoffs, it gets harder to manage that workload … I think the versatility of our club should help that.”
  • On mending fences with Jacoby Ellsbury: “I have talked to him over the winter … I had a tough decision. Brett Gardner has been pretty successful here too. Maybe he wasn’t as big a free agent signee as Jacoby Ellsbury, but Brett Gardner has been extremely productive in his career. That was a hard decision. I was going to disappoint someone immensely. I did what I thought was best for the team.”
  • On Starlin Castro at third base: “It’s something that I need to talk to him about to see where he is. I have not talked to him. I want to talk to him face-to-face about the possibility of what do we do if we need to give (Chase Headley) a day off. That’s something that will be important when we get to Spring Training to talk about.”
  • On A-Rod: “He is our DH and we expect him to be productive … He’ll be ready.”

I though the Ellsbury question was pretty funny. Girardi was asked about saying he had to mend the fences with Ellsbury but quickly pointed out he never said that. He was asked whether he had to mend the fences at the end of last year, that’s it. He never thought much of it. Girardi spoke to Ellsbury this offseason and this seems like a whole bunch of nothing.

Girardi again made it clear the Yankees want to rest their veteran players as much as possible this season, and he indicated the Castro and Aaron Hicks pickups will allow them to do that. (He also said Castro and Didi Gregorius are young and don’t need as much rest.) He didn’t name names and didn’t explain how he intends to rest these guys, but I think we all have a pretty good idea. We’ll find out soon enough.

Miscellany

  • On goals for 2016: “Our goal is to win the World Series. Bottom line. I appreciate how hard our guys played all year, how they never gave up last year, but you know what? We didn’t get to where we wanted. We lost in the first round of the playoffs … Our goal is to win the World Series. That’s why we come to Spring Training.”
  • On getting over 2015: “It’s never easy … I really don’t get over it until baseball ends. Completely ends. There’s an emptiness inside that you should be there. You try to avoid that one-game playoff and be a division winner. Our first goal is win the division this year.”
  • On biggest spring concerns: “There’s some competition here. When you look at some spots in our bullpen, I think we have to iron that out. And I always have concerns about players trying to do too much. I will let them know you’re not going to impress me in your sides, you’re not going to impress me in the first week of games.”
  • On some new additions: “We added Castro, who gives us an everyday second baseman that has been productive in his career. (This) is a young man that has almost 1,000 hits and is only 25 years old … We added a switch-hitter as an outfielder, which gives us more of an opportunity to rest maybe our two left-handers out there against left-handers more often, in a sense. I think we’re deeper.”
  • On young players contributing again: “You might be a non-roster player, you might be in Double-A when you get sent down, but you may have a chance to contribute … That wasn’t an easy job for the relievers — I was honest with them, I told them what was going to happen — but be the guy what when we make another move, is throwing well … Anything can happen. If you’re in uniform, anything can happen, so give everything you’ve got.”
  • Are the Yankees better than last year? “I think so. I think on paper we are better. Paper doesn’t really mean anything until you go out and compete … I think there’s more depth. I think our younger players in the minor league system have gotten a taste (and are eager to contribute).”

There wasn’t as much talk about young players contributing this year. There’s been a lot of that the last few years. I guess that after last season — Girardi mentioned Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Rob Refsnyder (among others) by name when asked about who impressed him last season — and an offseason in which the Yankees signed zero big league free agents, it’s common knowledge they’re going to rely on young players again. That’s pretty cool. And kinda scary.

Way Too Early Lineup Musings

2015 Wild Card Game Lineups

Spring Training may still be about a month away and, despite their relative quietness this Hot Stove season, the Yankees may not be done adding to or tinkering with their team. However, it’s never too early to start dreaming on the lineups we’ll see throughout the year, even with the general knowledge that lineup construction doesn’t always have a big effect on the macro level.

Over the last few seasons, the Yankees have a had a good deal of year-to-year lineup turnover due to players leaving the team or leaving the game altogether–or returning to it in Alex Rodriguez‘s case. Before this three year stretch of 2013-2015, we’d usually see the Yankees cycle out a DH or a random position here or there, but things were generally consistent and well-balanced. That hasn’t been the case for the last few years, though we could see a return to that in 2016.

The return of Mark Teixeria will help restore some needed right-handed power to the lineup, and Aaron Hicks will look to replicate what Chris Young did. Hicks also joins two other switch hitters, Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley. Starlin Castro gives the Yankees a dedicated righty hitter in their infield who can hopefully fit into the lineup in a variety of ways.

There is no shortage of ways the Yankees could deploy their hitters against right handed pitchers. Joe Girardi could stack lefty/switch hitters in the first four spots of the lineup and not give the other team a platoon advantage until fifth, or even sixth if he really wanted to:

1. Brett Gardner
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
3. Carlos Beltran
4. Mark Teixeira
5. Brian McCann
6. Alex Rodriguez
7. Chase Headley
8. Didi Gregorius
9. Starlin Castro

You could flip Didi and Castro if you’d like, but I imagine Girardi would want to break up the lefties at the turn of the lineup. Of course, swapping Ellsbury and Gardner is possible as well. Given Gardner’s slight power advantage over Ellsbury, that might make some sense, provided Ellsbury returns to his non-2015 form. The 3-4-5-6 spots are also fairly interchangeable; at their best, any of those players can carry a team offensively and having them anchor the lineup, even at their advanced age, is an okay thing.

Against lefties, there’s an opportunity for Girardi to really shake things up and get pretty frisky. It all hinges on just how much he plans on platooning Gardner/Ellsbury/Hicks. It’s very likely that Aaron Hicks winds up playing in a ton of games–like Chris Young did this year–just as a defensive replacement for Carlos Beltran late in games. But he’s also here to hit lefties, something Ellsbury struggled with in 2015, leading to a benching in the Wild Card game. If we assume Ellsbury sits a fair amount against lefties, we could see something like this:

1. Gardner
2. Hicks
3. Beltran
4. Teixeira
5. Rodriguez
6. McCann
7. Castro
8. Headley
9. Gregorius

If it’s Gardner who ends up sitting against lefties, it’s likely that Ellsbury would still hit at the top of the lineup. After all, he’s got the name and he’s got the big contract. But, in a more “just” world, perhaps this lineup could be trotted out:

1. Castro
2. Hicks
3. Beltran
4. Tex
5. A-Rod
6. McCann
7. Ellsbury
8. Headley
9. Gregorius

Regardless of who sits and who doesn’t, the Yankees will likely feature a more balanced attack against lefties than they did in the second half and the Wild Card game last year. Their inability to hit lefties consistently certainly cost them and the front office seems to have recognized that with the acquisitions of Hicks and Castro. There are a ton of other permutations for each lineup, but I’m choosing to stay positive and assume some health for the Yankees (trust me, I know this could all fall apart very, very quickly).  What lineup combinations do you favor? Which ones did I forget? What are you dying to see, even if you know it’s probably a bit unrealistic? Even if we know they don’t make much of a difference, it’s still fun to play manager and adjust a lineup to our own liking. And at this time of year, when we’re all optimists, it’s easy to dream.