Girardi Talks: Robertson, Bullpen, A-Rod, Rotation, Didi, Offseason, More

San Diego natives Ian Clarkin and Gosuke Katoh stopped by the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. (Photo via Ian Clarkin)
San Diego natives Ian Clarkin and Gosuke Katoh stopped by the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. (Photo via @iClarkin)

Yesterday afternoon Joe Girardi held his annual “state of the Yankees” press conference at the Winter Meetings. It was a fairly standard Yankees press conference, meaning lots of words were said but there wasn’t a whole lot of substance behind them. The organization has mastered the art of saying a lot and nothing at all at the same time, if you know what I mean. Here’s a recap of the important stuff from Girardi’s press conference with some thoughts as well.

David Robertson and the Bullpen

  • On losing Robertson: “Obviously we’re going to miss David … I’m happy for him because I feel like relievers usually get one shot at the long-term contract, and he got that shot and he took full advantage of it. And we’re going to miss him. He was a great young man to manage and had a lot of confidence in him. I wish him the best of luck, except against us.”
  • On the bullpen with Robertson: “Well, we feel that our bullpen is going to be very strong again. With the additions of (Andrew) Miller and (Justin) Wilson and the development of (Adam) Warren and (Shawn) Kelley, we feel like we have a number of great arms … I feel like we’ll have a very good bullpen.”
  • On naming a new closer: “We’ll talk about it as Spring Training goes on to see what is the best situation. I think you have to figure out who is in your bullpen. And the one thing is that we feel that — you look at four of the guys down there, (Dellin) Betances, Miller, Warren, Shawn Kelley, they all have significant amount of time in the back end and have been set up — so you could do probably a lot of different things. It could be dependent on how many days in a row a guy has worked. But like I said, we don’t need to figure that out (now). But I like the arms that we have down there.”
  • On bullpen roles in general: “I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used, but sometimes it takes time to develop that. When we started out this season Betances was pitching the fifth and sixth inning. In the end he was pitching sometimes the sixth, seventh inning. So that takes time to get ironed out.”

The Yankees have a great opportunity to use a co-closer system, with Betances and Miller sharing eighth and ninth inning duty based on matchups. The Braves did this with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez a few years ago — Soriano (27 saves) faced the tough righties whenever they were due up and Gonzalez (ten saves) faced the tough lefties whenever they were due up. The Yankees could do similar but I think there’s no chance they will. Girardi likes having set roles — seventh inning guy, eighth inning guy, closer, etc. — and so do the players. Someone will replace Robertson as the closer and everyone will fall into place behind him. I just have no idea who the new closer will be.

All A-Rod, All The Time

  • On communication with Alex Rodriguez: “We text, we email, we talk on the phone. We do different things, see videos. It’s been good. I know he’s working extremely hard and that’s going to be a hot button in Spring Training. And we’ve just got to go through Spring Training and see where he’s at. He hasn’t played a lot in two years … We have to see where he’s at.”
  • On first base: “Well, I talked to him about first base and I said ‘We’ll talk about it in Spring Training’ because let’s see the makeup of our club. If we have another first baseman, if I want to give (Mark Teixeira) a day off, then we can put the other one in there. If we don’t, we could possibly move you over there. I’ll see if he’s comfortable and go from there.”
  • On distractions: “You know, I think our guys will handle it well. I’m not so sure over the last three years, when he hasn’t garnered a lot of attention when he’s been in the clubhouse — think about when he came back to Chicago, in San Diego, when he came back — so it’s something we have to pay attention to, but I think our guys are up for it and have the experience and know how to handle it and we’ll handle it.”

Girardi also mentioned he saw some video of A-Rod hitting and working out and other stuff and said he looked good. I fully expect Spring Training to be a total circus because of Alex and I think he will spend some time at first base, at least in camp. It’s really hard to expect him to be productive though. How you do you think Chipper Jones would perform in 2015 if he returned to the game after a two-year retirement? That’s basically what A-Rod will be doing, but with two surgically repaired hips.

The Rotation

  • On depth: “There’s some concerns, I think just because of guys coming off injuries. We feel good about them. We feel good about them coming back … But as we’ve seen, you need more than five starters, usually. You have to have some players that have the ability to do both. So we’re going to have to see what our rotation is, where everyone is at.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka: “We’re counting on him to make his 32 starts. That’s something we’ll have to look at as the season progresses. We have a little bit more experience with him being on a five-man rotation now than we had before. He seemed to do pretty well. He did get hurt. But a lot of times when you talk about guys that have that situation it’s not necessarily one incident — it’s over time. But he came back well. His velocity was there, his split was there. So it’s just something I think you have to pay attention to.”
  • On other injury concerns: “In the back of your mind there’s some question marks. (Ivan) Nova will not be ready for Opening Day. We’ll have to wait a little bit, for sure. He’s had a great rehab … (CC Sabathia‘s) rehab has went well …. Michael Pineda has not thrown 200 innings in a while.”

I’m sure the Yankees are hoping Tanaka will make 32 starts next year but are planning for a scenario in which he makes, well, none. Nova not being ready in time for Opening Day is no surprise — he had surgery in late-April 2014 and at the very earliest would be ready in late-April 2015, but the more likely scenario is May or June. Who in the world knows what Sabathia can do. Not really much more to add here. The Yankees need some rotation depth.

The New Shortstop

  • On Didi Gregorius in general: “I think he’s a good young player that has a chance to blossom in New York. A very good defender. Had success with the bat last year with right-handers and is still young and has the ability to grow into a very good player.”
  • On Gregorius having to replace Derek Jeter: “I think the most important thing for Didi — and I’ll stress it — and I’ll have all the coaches stress it and the people around him, you just need to be yourself. You don’t need to try to be Derek. I think Robertson did a really good job of filling in for a superstar, a legend, a Yankee legend and was just himself. And we need to pay attention to that and make sure that Didi, hey, go out and play, just do what you do.”
  • On Jeter being gone: “I think the reality for me started to hit a little bit the last games in Boston. That that was going to be kind of it … We’re starting anew now. It’s kind of a new era for the Yankees without Derek at shortstop. He’s been there a very, very long time and played at a very high level. But I’ll say it again, Didi, just be yourself.”

Gregorius replacing Jeter is going to be a thing all season, isn’t it? May the baseball gods help the poor kid if he gets off to a slow start in April. Every slump at the plate and error in the field will be scrutinized. That’s just how it will be. I’ve already seen articles saying Gregorius has what it takes to succeed in New York (link) and articles saying he won’t be able to handle the bright lights (link), so no one has any idea what the hell they’re talking about. We just have to wait and see.

Girardi’s right when he says Gregorius just has to be himself, and at the same time the Yankees can’t baby him either. Treat him like any other 24-year-old you’re trying to develop into your shortstop of the future. Play him everyday — sitting him against a tough lefty like Chris Sale or David Price is fine, but a straight platoon with Brendan Ryan would be so, so dumb — and give the kid an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. It’s curious to see how the team balances Gregorius’ development with winning because, frankly, they’ve sucked at developing players lately.

The Offseason

  • On the team’s biggest needs: “You know, when I look at our club, I think you have to think about the depth of the rotation … You need depth in your rotation. You have to. I don’t know how many starters we used last year, but I know we lost four. So we used a lot and that’s something that’s a concern.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda: “We’re not sure what he’s going to do. That’s a decision he has to make and it’s about the time a player either has in his heart, I want to come back, or It’s time for me to retire. So it’s a decision that he has to make.”
  • On Francisco Cervelli: “We’re going to miss him. He was a good player for us …. He’s a player that was loved in the clubhouse. We loved his energy and the way he played the game. The way he went about his business. I’m happy that he gets an opportunity to play every day. I’ve said all along, I believe he’s an everyday catcher, and he’ll help someone.”

Getting Kuroda back would add some stability to the rotation but the Yankees can’t wait around forever for him to make his decision either. The pitching dominoes are starting to fall and the club has to act soon to get the help they need. If Kuroda decides to play later, great. They can figure it out then. The Yankees don’t want to be left standing at the game of pitching musical chairs because they spent weeks on end waiting for Kuroda.

Miscellany

  • On losing two homegrown stars in two offseasons: “It’s the nature of the revenue sharing and what TV contracts have allowed other clubs to do. I think the game has changed (from what) it was 20 years ago.”
  • On incorporating young players: “We need our system to be productive and for our young players to come up and help us out because, as I’ve said, the game has changed. And more clubs are able to bid on players than probably ever before. So the price goes up and sometimes you lose those players. I feel pretty good about our young kids that are coming. And it’s not just (Rob) Refsnyder or (Jose) Pirela, there’s more that you could talk about and that excites me.”
  • On the coaching staff: “We’ve had some interviews and things have kind of got interrupted with the GM Meetings and organizational meetings and changes in our organization and then coming down here … We’ll probably pick up again when this is all said and done, and we’ll iron out our coaching staff.”
  • On Martin Prado: “I don’t think you have an ideal (position). Would you like to leave him at one spot?  Yeah. But his versatility allows us to rest people at times. We might ask him to do that depending on the makeup of our club.”

Imagine if the Yankees don’t re-sign Chase Headley and go into next season with a double play combination of Gregorius and either Pirela or Refsnyder. How much patience will they have for those growing pains on the middle infield? I’m guessing not much but more than most fans. And, as I’ve said before, I think I’m more curious to see how long the team can go without a hitting coach and first base coach than I am to see who they actually hire. Today’s the two month anniversary of them firing Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher, you know.

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Cashman says Yankees will “test the waters” with A-Rod at first base

Alex Rodriguez
(AP/Kathy Willens)

At the GM Meetings last week, Brian Cashman told Ken Davidoff the Yankees plan to “test the waters” with Alex Rodriguez at first base. Cashman mentioned the team spoke to A-Rod about possibly playing first a few weeks ago, and now it seems like something they will try in Spring Training.

“We’re going to get him exposed to [first base]. It doesn’t mean he’ll be a viable option. But we just want to test the waters on it,” said the GM. “I think there was an area of vulnerability for us last year that was really predicated because of the outfield alignment that we had. We had more outfielders than necessary because the guaranteed commitments that we had kicked in, so I couldn’t get a backup first baseman situation. But hopefully we can alleviate that this year.”

A-Rod has never played anywhere other than shortstop and third base in his career, and at this point, with two surgically repaired hips at age 39, there’s little reason to think he has the mobility to play the left side of the infield. Cashman and the Yankees insist they are not counting on Alex to play the field until he proved he can do it, which makes total sense. They re-signed Brendan Ryan to protect against Derek Jeter at short last offseason and I’m sure they’ll bring in a real third baseman this offseason.

Pure backup first basemen don’t really exist these days. It doesn’t make sense to waste one of four bench spots on a guy who can only play first. He has to be able to fill in at third base (like Eric Chavez) or in left field or something. The Yankees are stuck with A-Rod though, and if he’s not going to be able to play third regularly, maybe he can help at first. He’s a very smart and instinctual player. He might pick it up in no time. There’s no reason not to try Alex at first base at this point.

Report: A-Rod admitted PED use to DEA

According to Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald, Alex Rodriguez admitted to purchasing and using performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis in a January meeting with federal agents and prosecutors in exchange for immunity. He told them he paid Anthony Bosch approximately $12,000 per month for the drugs. A-Rod publicly maintained he did not use PEDs even after the meeting, though we all knew that was a lie. Weaver’s article is Alex’s confession. Really great piece of reporting. Anyway, it’s November 5th and I already have A-Rod fatigue. Sigh.

A-Rod reinstated, ten Yankees become free agents

Now that the World Series is over, Alex Rodriguez has officially been reinstated off the restricted list by MLB and the Yankees. He was originally suspended 211 games for his ties to Biogenesis, but it was reduced to 162 games during an appeal. A-Rod would not have been eligible to play in the postseason had the Yankees qualified. He now counts against the team’s 40-man roster.

In other news, a total of 121 players became free agents at 9am ET this morning. Here’s the full list. Ten of those 121 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Young. No surprises there at all. Martin Prado, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Slade Heathcott all have to be activated off the 60-day DL if they haven’t been already. So, after all of that, the Yankees have 35 players on their 40-man roster.

Cashman confims Yankees have talked to A-Rod about playing first base

Via Erik Boland: Brian Cashman confirmed last week that the Yankees — specifically Joe Girardi — have talked to Alex Rodriguez about playing some first base next season. “Joe Girardi conveyed to me he talked to him, briefly, about him getting some work at first base,” said Cashman. “Joe had a conversation recently about that. How extensive that conversation was, I don’t know, but he conveyed it to me.”

A-Rod has never played first base in his career and, as we saw this summer, you can’t just stick anyone at the position and expect them to be adequate. It’s easy to get exposed at first. The Yankees will need a true backup first baseman next year since Mark Teixeira gets hurt all the time, and Alex is as good an internal candidate as anyone. He’s by far the most instinctual player I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t be surprise me at all if A-Rod picked up first base quickly.

2014 Season Review: Alex

The 2014 season is over and it’s time to look back at the year that was. Our old What Went Right/Wrong format has gotten stale, so it’s time for a new review format. We’ll review individual players, performances, tendencies, all sorts of stuff in the coming days and weeks.

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

Although the Yankees failed to make the postseason for the second straight year, the 2014 season was mighty peaceful, wasn’t it? The hottest topic in Spring Training was whether Yangervis Solarte would make the Opening Day roster, and the summer was focused first on Masahiro Tanaka‘s dominance and later Derek Jeter‘s farewell. It was pure baseball all the time. It was pleasant and refreshing.

That was all possible because Alex Rodriguez was serving a 162-game suspension for his ties to Biogenesis. His initial 211-game suspension was handed down last August, he appealed the ruling and played in 44 second half games, then spent most of the offseason in front of an arbitrator in a court room. The ban was eventually reduced to the entire 2014 season and postseason by the appeal, which saved the Yankees almost $24M against the luxury tax. That helped them sign Tanaka.

As we’ve learned over the last ten years or so, A-Rod is a human lightning rod, creating and drawing all sorts of attention. A little of it is good — I’m certain the Yankees and MLB love the additional ticket sales and ratings — but most of it is bad or controversial. To his credit, Alex stayed out of the limelight during his suspension. I expected him to make some headlines at some point but he didn’t. He was photographed at a few college football and baseball games, plus he recorded an Ice Bucket Challenge video …

… but that’s it. The MSM was so starved for A-Rod driven controversy that they made a big deal out of him spending a few days in New York last week because he didn’t meet with the Yankees, as if a guy can’t just spend a few days in a New York to attend a charity event in the offseason. It was a nice, quiet, A-Rod free summer.

Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and Hal Steinbrenner all made it clear in recent weeks Rodriguez will be back with the team next year — “When he’s healthy, he’s an asset. We need those kind of assets. We need the hitting,” said the owner — and that makes sense. I initially thought they would release him after the suspension but I’m an idiot. Of course they won’t release him. They could still recoup a significant chunk of the $63M they owe him through 2017 if he gets suspended or hurt (via insurance) again. The odds of one of those two things happening is pretty high, especially the getting hurt part given the last few years.

The quiet, controversy-free season is over and now the attention will shift back to Alex as soon as Spring Training begins. It’ll start before then, really. I’m sure the first few days of camp will be total chaos and there’s really no avoiding that. No one has any idea what he can contribute on the field — A-Rod is said to be in great shape, but he’s 39 and has played 44 games these last years, so it’s almost like he’s coming out of retirement after a two-year hiatus — but the Yankees are stuck with him. They signed him to that contract. They made their bed and still have another three years to lie in it. I have zero sympathy for the team.

I enjoyed watching A-Rod so much for the first five or six years of his time in pinstripes. He was a tremendously productive player and goofy enough to make you laugh a few times a year. And that’s why I felt sad when I realized how much more peaceful this past season was without Alex. He’s such a distraction — he’s a distraction even when he isn’t doing anything wrong at this point, just his presence is a distraction — that it took away from my enjoyment of the game, and I didn’t realize it until he was gone this summer.

Mailbag: Jeter, A-Rod, Sabathia, Pirela, Ex-Yanks

Got six questions for you this week, the first week of the offseason. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime, mailbag comments or otherwise.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Terri asks: What do you think the chances are for Derek Jeter to go into the Hall of Fame as a unanimous choice?

Very small, but better than they would be in 2015 because there will be some turnover in the voting body before Jeter is eligible for induction in five years. Greg Maddux, whose Hall of Fame case was unimpeachable, did not appear on 20 (!) of the 575 ballots this year. Jeter may get a higher percentage of the vote — Tom Seaver still holds the record after appearing on 98.8% of the ballots — than Maddux because he won more titles and was simply more popular, but I’ll continue to bet against a player getting in unanimously until it actually happens. Too many older voters still send in blank ballots in an attempt to make some kind of statement. It’s silly, but that’s life. Don’t worry, Jeter will still get in on the first ballot.

Dan asks: Would it hurt the Yankees brand if Alex Rodriguez, given what we know about his connections with PEDs, broke Babe Ruth’s home run record? Also, is it financially responsible to allow A-Rod to reach the $6 million bonuses from the incentive clauses in his contract that was signed under the pretenses of marketing these achievements from a then “clean” athlete?

On the contrary, I think it will help the team’s #brand. They’re going to make a ton of money if Alex Rodriguez manages to get close to Babe Ruth’s Barry Bonds’ homerun record. People are still going to pay oodles of money to see history and boo the everloving crap out of him. Yeah, the bonuses were signed under the pretense that A-Rod was clean, but CC Sabathia‘s contract was signed under the pretense he would be a 200+ inning workhorse. It didn’t work out, that’s the risk you take when entering into a contract with a player. If the Yankees try to get out of those bonuses, A-Rod and the union will file a grievance and probably win given the contract language. They’re not going to let the team weasel out of that money. It’s a precedent the MLBPA won’t allow to be set.

Daniel asks: Given the new regime entering the MLB offices, how important is it for the Yankees’ financial freedom that this year’s playoff picture includes lower budget teams like Royals, Pirates, and Athletics? Obviously spending money doesn’t win you championships per se but more often than not it puts you in contention and the Wild Card has proven that’s all you need. Will these lower budget teams getting a chance have an impact on the CBA? Will it prevent MLB from considering a salary cap?

A salary cap won’t happen because the union won’t allow it to happen. The luxury tax system is a compromise. Baseball is way too strong financially right now to start putting limits on payroll. The owners would love one, sure, but the MLBPA will fight this tooth and nail. I think they would strike before accepting a salary cap and no one wants a work stoppage. The game is too healthy. Maybe seeing those smaller payroll teams get into the postseason both this year and the last few years (Rays!) will help keep the salary cap conversation at bay, but I don’t think it will have a big impact. The biggest argument against a salary cap is the league’s revenue.

Jack asks: CC’s days of going 200+ innings per year are over. The knee can’t take the pounding, especially over the course of a season. On the other hand, if he is only needed for say 100 innings a year he might be able to play out his contract. What do you think of putting him in the bullpen? It’ll be less strain on the arm (and knee) and will allow him to air it out for each of the one or two innings he pitches, so instead of maxing at say 90 mph he can get back to say maybe 93/94?

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

I think it’s worth it to find if Sabathia can still start first. He’ll almost certainly never be an ace again, but maybe he can be what Hiroki Kuroda was this year following knee surgery, even if it’s only for one year. If Sabathia can’t start, either physically or because his performance is terrible, then stick him in the bullpen and see what happens. I don’t think they’re at that point yet. Give him a chance to start following surgery and see where he’s at. We all just might be pleasantly surprised.

Dustin asks: How playable do you think Jose Pirela is at SS? Could the Yanks save a little cash and maybe even slightly upgrade offensively and in terms of defensive flexibility by bringing Pirela off the bench as a super utility guy? That’s assuming they have a rock-solid everyday SS like Hardy.

The Yankees moved Pirela off shortstop permanently following the 2011 season — he’s played only eight games at the position since, all this year with Triple-A Scranton. He’s been a second baseman and left fielder more than anything these last few years, though he’s seen time pretty much everywhere other than pitcher or catcher. Pirela could probably play shortstop the way Yangervis Solarte did earlier this year, a spot start here or there but not everyday. If the Yankees signed J.J. Hardy or whoever and he got hurt, they’d have to play Brendan Ryan at short everyday, not Pirela. He can hit though, and there’s a decent chance he’ll force the team’s hand in Spring Training the way Solarte did this year. His versatility and right-handed bat would be nice to have on the bench.

JPK asks: Using just players that came through the Yankee system, who are no longer Yankees, and were active in MLB this past season, make your best starting lineup…. Mine is Jackson CF, Melky RF, Cano 2B, Soriano DH, Montero 1B, Navarro C, Nunez 3B, R Pena SS, A. Almonte LF… Did I miss anyone?

I’ll do you one better. Here’s an entire roster of former Yankees’ farmhands who played in MLB this season.

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Dioner Navarro 1B Jesus Montero LF Melky Cabrera RH Phil Hughes RH John Axford
2B Robinson Cano CF Austin Jackson RH Ian Kennedy RH J. Chamberlain
DH SS Ramiro Pena RF Jose Tabata RH Zach McAllister RH Tyler Clippard
Alfonso Soriano 3B E. Nunez LH Vidal Nuno LH Mike Dunn
LH Jose Quintana RH D. Farquhar
Bench RH George Kontos
C Eric Fryer IF Dean Anna RH Mark Melancon
UTIL J. Paredes OF Abe Almonte

The roster would look quite a bit better if I could include players the Yankees drafted but did not sign, specifically Gerrit Cole, Doug Fister, Drew Storen, and Chris Davis. The notable omissions are all pitchers: Hector Noesi, Tommy Kahnle, Phil Coke, and Randy Choate. The Yankees have produced a bunch of decent arms recently but not many bats — Fryer and Anna are really stretching the definition of “coming up through the system.” My lineup one through nine would be similar to JPK’s:

  1. Jackson
  2. Melky
  3. Cano
  4. Soriano
  5. Navarro
  6. Montero
  7. Tabata
  8. Nunez
  9. Rakin’ Ramiro

The pitchers are listed alphabetically but my rotation would be Quintana followed in order by Hughes and Kennedy, with Nuno and McAllister in whatever order in the fourth and fifth spots. Pick ‘em out of a hat. Melancon would close with Clippard and Farquhar setting him up. I don’t really have a long man but whatever. Just spit-balling it, that roster would win what, maybe 70-75 games? It would rely (heavily) on the pitching and Cano driving in Jackson and Melky. That’s pretty much it. Maybe some trademark Yankees Magic™ would get them to 81 wins.