The Milestone Watch [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With another Yankee season underway, let’s take a look at some statistical milestones that a few of our boys in pinstripes can reach this summer.

Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod, of course, is on the verge of becoming the fourth player in major-league history with 700 homers. His pursuit of the home run record is well-documented, as he is 28 homers shy of passing Babe Ruth for third place all-time.

He is at 342 homers with the Yankees, just 16 shy of tying Yogi Berra for fifth-most in franchise history. He has a good chance to move into the top-10 of a couple more lists in the Yankee record books, too. With 14 runs scored, he’ll pass Don Mattingly for 10th place there, and with 35 more RBI, he’ll also jump ahead of Mattingly and into 10th place on that leaderboard.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran is approaching a few nice round numbers this season. With eight more home runs, he’ll be the fourth switch hitter to reach the 400-homer milestone. Beltran can join an even more exclusive club, too, when he hits No. 400. He’d be just the fifth player in MLB history with at least 400 homers and 300 stolen bases in a career, joining A-Rod, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.

If he stays healthy, he should also reach two more benchmarks: 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI. He is at 2,454 hits and 1,443 RBI entering Tuesday’s season opener. The only switch hitters in baseball with 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI are Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is also nearing membership in the 400-homer club, and is just six away as he begins his 14th major-league season. The only other switch hitter to hit 400 homers that early into his career was Mickey Mantle. Eight other first baseman totaled 400 homers in their first 14 career seasons: Carlos Delgado, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire.

Starlin Castro
The 26-year-old enters 2016 needing nine hits to reach the 1,000-hit mark. His gap-to-gap power and ability to hit for average is underrated and rare for a player at his age and position. He would be just the seventh middle infielder to compile 1,000 hits, 175 doubles, 30 triples and 60 homers through his age-26 season. The others: Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Arky Vaughan, Travis Jackson and Rogers Hornsby.

CC Sabathia
If Sabathia can hold onto his rotation spot, he can enjoy a few round-number milestones. First, he is just 11 1/3 innings pitched shy of 3,000 for his career. Only 10 other left-handers have gotten to that mark in their age-35 season or younger, as CC is about to do. And of that group of 10, only Steve Carlton and Mickey Lolich also had at least 2,500 strikeouts on their resume like Sabathia.

He’s also moving up the Yankee pitching lists. With two more starts, he’ll be the 17th guy to start 200 games for the Yankees, and he needs three wins to become the 17th pitcher with 100 wins for the franchise.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

An Album for Alex Rodriguez

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Alex Rodriguez will retire following the 2017 season. Or maybe he won’t. We’ll see, I guess. Regardless, we’ve long since passed the time when A-Rod‘s past days in pinstripes severely outweigh his future days in pinstripes. Two full seasons is a long time to start waxing about most players’ careers, but few players in baseball have been as meaningful to the game–positively and negatively–as Alex has during his time in the Majors. His tenure with the team has been at times tantalizing, tumultuous, tedious…it’s safe to say we’ll likely never have an experience with a player quite like we have with A-Rod.

To kick off my part in his two-year “retirement” tour, as Mike put it in his post, I’m going to turn to an assignment I’ve given out to multiple classes. In the assignment, the students had to make an album for our curriculum, selecting songs that they felt spoke to the characters and/or themes of the texts we’d been studying. For the purposes of this assignment, the “text” is Alex Rodriguez’s Yankee career.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

1. Okay, I Believe You, but My Tommy Gun Don’t–Brand New: “I am heaven sent/Don’t you dare forget/I am all you’ve ever wanted/What all the other boys all promise…”

Ignoring any sort of nuance to the words or song, let’s take them at face value for a moment. I remember exactly where I was during the press conference that introduce A-Rod to the Yankees–I was getting a haircut–and while I didn’t think of this song at the time, looking back, it makes perfect sense. When the Yankees acquired A-Rod, he was the best player on earth, hands down, bar none. He was heaven sent. He was all anyone would ever want or could ever want out of a baseball player. And, likely, deep down, Alex knew that and comported himself as such. Was he cocky at times, even arrogant? Sure he was. But when you’re a player like that, you’ve earned it.

2. One-Eighty by Summer–Taking Back Sunday “Go on, just say it/You need me like a bad habit…”

Are there any words that could more aptly sum up the media’s obsession with Rodriguez over the last 12 years? No matter what he did, no matter what he said, it was all taken in by a hungry media, digested, and spit back out as a hot take of some sort. This has cooled since season, but there has always been an undercurrent of tension with Rodriguez and the media, and for certain outlets, he’s a habit they just can’t break.

3. The Mountain Range In My Living Room–The Early November “It’s never been harder to fall/There’s nothing to grab and that’s/All I want to hold on to/Just another sweep and it’ll be fine/But this carpet’s got hills/And I can’t see this helping at all.”

Alex has had troubles in his times with the Yankees, and there’s no denying that. Sometimes, he’s wanted them swept under the rug, and we have too, thinking some things were non-stories or not important. But the fact remains that he’s brought a lot of things upon himself through both words and actions. He’s most definitely been held accountable for them and he’s most definitely changed, but we can’t ignore his issues, be the hills in the carpet or mountain ranges.

He's not a businessman he's a business, man. (Cindy Ord/Getty)
He’s not a businessman he’s a business, man. (Cindy Ord/Getty)

4. Sympathy for the Martyr–Straylight Run “A laundry list of problems doesn’t make you interesting/Never getting help doesn’t make you brave/Not listening to reason doesn’t mean that you have faith/You’re just cutting off your nose to spite your face…”

After Alex danced around steroid suspicions and admissions in the offseason between 2008 and 2009, we were all glad to be rid of that distraction, especially when he dominated the 2009 playoffs like he did. Things came up again in 2013 and 2014 and most of us still defended Rodriguez from our fan’s perspective. It’s hard, though, to ignore the feeling that at that point, continuing to do PEDs was probably the dumbest thing Rodriguez could’ve done and his reaction to his mistakes wasn’t exactly professional. All of that led to his 2014 suspension, and certainly a change of heart.

5. I Don’t Like Who I Was Then–The Wonder Years “I put my past self in the ground/I’ve been dancing on his grave/I’m not the person that I was then/I’m sending him away/I was bitter/I was careless…”

This song is Alex’s 2015 (and so far 2016) in a nutshell. He recognized who he was and changed it after his 2014 suspension. Yes, he’s still goofy and awkward now, but he’s embraced it. He had a season no on expected. He endeared himself to fans and media alike. He went onto Fox’s World Series coverage, something that seemed beyond inconceivable in 2014. The person that Alex was before 2015 is long gone.

6. My Hero–The Foo Fighters “There goes my hero/He’s ordinary…”

Alex Rodriguez is not a hero. He’s also not a villain. He is, by all accounts, ordinary. He has an extraordinary talent and is an extraordinary baseball player, but as a human being, he is as ordinary as you are and I am. He has strengths, weaknesses, flaws, and charms. He is a real person, and over the course of his time in the Bronx, we have seen the full picture of him as a person more than we have just about any other player. I’m thankful for his time in pinstripes and will remember it fondly.

A-Rod planning to retire following the 2017 season

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This is not surprising but it’s still a bummer. Alex Rodriguez told Andrew Marchand today he is planning to retire following the 2017 season, once his current contract expires. “I won’t play after next year. I’ve really enjoyed my time. For me, it is time for me to go home and be dad,” he said. Is he the first player to announce his retirement two years in advance? Probably. That’s so A-Rod.

I have long assumed A-Rod’s playing career would end following the 2017 season one way or the other. Either he was going to retire and walk away, or teams would straight up collude him out of the game Barry Bonds style. He’s still persona non grata around the league, though the Yankees seem to be softening up a bit. Not that they have much of a choice.

Rodriguez has first ballot Hall of Fame credentials, though there is almost no chance he’ll be inducted into Cooperstown. He admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs with the Rangers from 2001-03 and he was suspended the entire 2014 season due to his ties to Biogenesis. Bonds and Roger Clemens were never suspended and they haven’t come close receiving enough votes for the Hall of Fame. Hard to think Alex will get in.

A-Rod will turn 41 this July and he is one of the best players in history by any objective measure. He’s third all-time in RBI (2,055), fourth in home runs (687), 12th in bWAR (118.9), and 21st in hits (3,070). Rodriguez is only 27 dingers behind Babe Ruth for third on the all-time list, so he could pass the Great Bambino in the second half of this season. Hitting the 76 homers needed to pass Bonds for the all-time lead is unlikely but not completely impossible, I suppose.

During his eleven years with the Yankees — A-Rod has played more games with the Yankees (1,444) than he did with the Mariners and Rangers combined (1,275) — Alex has won two MVPs (2005 and 2007) and helped the team to the 2009 World Series title. He was a major factor in that 2009 postseason run too.

That homer is a top five moment in new Yankee Stadium history, right? The 2009 World Series, Derek Jeter‘s farewell walk-off and his 3,000th hit, Mariano Rivera‘s farewell … what else is there? Love him or hate him, damn has it been fun to watch A-Rod over the years. He’s a baseball playing machine.

A two-year farewell tour would be the most obnoxiously awesome thing ever, but that’s not going to happen. I’m not even sure A-Rod will get a one-year farewell tour. Either way, Rodriguez is one of the best players in history and he still has plenty of fans even though most seem to hate him. I’m going to miss Alex. Baseball will be way less interesting without him.

Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

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.

Passing Through a Screen Door: On the Duality of Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

On Friday, while my eleventh grade class settled in and waited for the post-lunch bell to signal the resumption of class, one girl–in her finest blue and orange hat–bemoaned the Mets’ loss to the Nationals in their Grapefruit League opener. Wisely–and before I could remind her–she said she knew that Spring Training was only about the players getting through the process in one piece and that she was hopeful for the 2016 Mets, but fearful one of their dynamite starting pitchers would go down for an extended period of time with some colossally devastating injury; her guess was Noah Syndergaard). Her pre-class thoughts summed up the duality of Spring Training deftly: hope and fear.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Looking for tears in the screen door

Luis Severino‘s first inning of work. Jorge Mateo‘s displays of power and speed. Aaron Judge‘s homer. Alex Rodriguez‘s homer.  Whether it’s in the form of current players like Severino and A-Rod showing the same stuff they did last year that made them successful or whether it’s Mateo and Judge giving us those teasing glimpses into the future, we’re reminded of the cliche sense of hope that comes along with Spring Training. Anything can happen. Anything great can happen.

Present or future–however you want to define either term–things always look rosy in March. Maybe it’s the Florida sun glossing over our eyes, too used to the winter clouds and rain; maybe it’s the idea of looking at a blank book, ready to be filled up with 162-plus adventures; maybe it’s that early March intersects with the New Year’s Resolution hangover and the first buzzes of spring cleaning. Regardless of the reason, we can’t help but be hopeful–at least in part–for the April to come and the months thereafter.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Waiting for another disaster

Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow. CC Sabathia‘s knee. Age. These are the other shoe whose drop we’re waiting for after our first hopeful step of spring.  Despite the optimism we may have, we remember that baseball is a game of failure, to a certain extent, and we contemplate the potential pitfalls: injured starters; an aging lineup; a potentially overworked bullpen.

Things are going to go wrong over the course of the baseball season and with so much time between now and Opening Day, we’re left to sit and wonder just how many things will go wrong and just how wrongly they’ll go. Who’ll start slow? Who’ll slump? Who’ll be out for months?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the course of this offseason, I’ve tried to balance the competing realities the Yankees seem to be facing heading into the 2016 season. They are teetering on a dual ledge that can send them plummeting into even more mediocrity or soaring into the playoffs, where anything can happen. It’s easy to look out at the coming season and see the waiting disasters, especially with knowledge of how cruel and random this game can be. But it’s just as easy to look for the tears in the screen door, the signs of hope, the signs that tell us this is going to be a good year. To that feeling, I say, “I was kind of hoping you’d stay.”