- Brett Gardner (wrist) was going to stay in last night’s game to hit after pinch-running, if necessary. “I was prepared if my spot came up in the ninth to get a normal at-bat and get up there and swing the bat,” he said. Gardner came through several rounds of batting practice just fine and should return to the lineup today.
- Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) threw 20 pitches in his second live batting practice session yesterday. “I’m getting closer. Feels awesome,” he said. Nova expects to throw batting practice two more times next week before getting back into games. Joe Girardi said they’re shooting for May 1st for Nova’s first minor league rehab start.
- Chris Capuano (quad) threw live batting practice Thursday and will do so again tomorrow. Girardi said Nova and Capuano are “pretty close” with regards to their timetable, but Capuano is “slightly ahead.”
- Jose Pirela (concussion) is going through all drills and hit against Capuano on Thursday. He’ll play in an Extended Spring Training game on Monday. Girardi was noncommittal when asked if Pirela will join the big league team once healthy.
- Brendan Ryan (calf) “might” go to Tampa next week to begin going through baseball workouts. It depends how he feels in the coming days.
The Yankees needed last night’s win in the worst way and they have the right guy on the mound tonight to help turn that singular win into the start of a winning streak. With Masahiro Tanaka not pitching like 2014 Masahiro Tanaka at the moment, Michael Pineda is the staff ace, the one starter with no real performance concerns. It’s all health with him.
Alex Rodriguez is making his first start of the season at third base and I like that Joe Girardi is sending him out there during a Pineda start. Big Mike is not a ground ball pitcher (career 37.4% grounder rate), he’s a pop-up pitcher, so A-Rod‘s lack of range won’t be as much of an issue with him on the mound. I’m sure Buck Showalter will have one of his guys bunt towards third though. Maybe even Alejandro De Aza leading off the game. Here’s the starting lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- LF Brett Gardner
- DH Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- 3B Alex Rodriguez
- RF Chris Young
- C John Ryan Murphy
- SS Didi Gregorius
- 2B Gregorio Petit
RHP Michael Pineda
The Yankees are in Baltimore to start a three-game series with the Orioles. Here is the O’s lineup.
It is on the cool side (mid-60s) and, as always, humid as hell in Baltimore. There is some rain in the forecast but not until later tonight, after midnight or so. It shouldn’t be an issue unless they play another 19 innings or something. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.
Daily Roster Move: RHP Kyle Davies was designated for assignment and RHP Joel De La Cruz was called up, the Yankees announced. De La Cruz threw three innings for Double-A Trenton on Friday and should be good for a few innings of long relief today, if necessary. He’s the guy the Yankees tried to send to the Cubs for Alfonso Soriano rather than Corey Black two years ago.
Injury Update: Jose Pirela (concussion) has been cleared to resume baseball activities and should begin playing in games next week. Brendan Ryan (calf) is making progress and hopes to return to the team in early May. [Ryan Hatch, Dan Barbarisi]
3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.
10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:
DISABLED LIST (4)
Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st
Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.
Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.
As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.
By and large, the Yankees have made it through Spring Training without any major injuries to significant players. Chris Capuano will miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and while it’s never a good thing to lose pitching depth, he is replaceable. Brendan Ryan suffered a Grade II calf strain yesterday and had to be literally carried off the field. He’s not going to be ready in time for Opening Day, which is now only four days away. Not by a long shot.
Losing Ryan in and of itself is not a big deal, but the middle infield injuries are starting to pile up. Didi Gregorius has missed the last few days with a wrist sprain and is scheduled to return to game action this afternoon, so at least he’s on the mend. Jose Pirela has not done anything more than ride a stationary bike after crashing into the outfield wall ten days ago and suffering a concussion. Thankfully everything seems to be going well with Didi’s wrist, but Ryan and Pirela being hurt at the same time means the Yankees need a new backup infielder. Their options are pretty limited with Opening Day right around the corner. Let’s run ‘em down.
A-Rod at Shortstop?
Nope. Moving on …
The Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder Option
The Yankees have insisted Drew is a second baseman, so much so that he’s played zero innings at shortstop during Grapefruit League play. That’ll change today though. Drew is slated to play shortstop during one of the team’s split squad games this afternoon — for what it’s worth, he said he feels he could pick shortstop back up quickly — just so he could be an option in case Didi’s wrist issue lingers.
Following Ryan’s injury yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees could go into the season with Drew as their backup plan at shortstop and carry a second baseman as the backup infielder. That’s about as close as Girardi could come to saying Refsnyder is a candidate for the backup infielder’s job without actually saying it.
“Things can happen quick,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”
Refsnyder’s bat would be a welcome addition to the bench, but, as we’ve seen this spring, his defense is far from MLB ready. I don’t think the Yankees want to go through the hassle of adding Refsnyder to the 40-man roster* only to have him sit on the bench four out of every five games either. That doesn’t help his development or the team. And no, like it or not Refsnyder wouldn’t take over as the starting second baseman. They’ve made that very clear.
So yes, using Drew as the backup shortstop and carrying Refsnyder as the backup second baseman is an option, but not an ideal one. The 40-man issue is not insignificant — once Refsnyder is added he won’t come off, so flexibility would be hurt — and the Yankees would need to feel confident in Alex Rodriguez as Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. At this point of his career, I don’t see what good being a part-time player does for Refsnyder.
Other Internal Candidates
Beyond Refsnyder, the Yankees’ other internal backup infield options are Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, and the recently acquired Gregorio Petit, the first three of whom were signed to minor league contracts for this exact reason. To be depth in case guys like Ryan and Pirela got hurt. Galvez hasn’t played the middle infield since the 2013 season, so he’s not a good reserve infielder candidate. The Yankees need someone who can play at least second base on the bench.
Figueroa is a contact machine, his bat-to-ball skills are top notch (10.0 BB% and 6.8 K% in nearly 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances), but he has zero power and isn’t much of a defender. Noonan can’t hit but he can defend, all around the infield too. Same with Petit. Figueroa and Noon are left-handed hitters, which isn’t ideal, but there’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. When it comes to this bench spot, I think the club would be better off with Noonan’s or Petit’s glove than Figueroa’s ability to put the ball in play.
Figueroa, Noonan, and Petit would have to be added to the 40-man roster, though, unlike Refsnyder, they don’t have to stay there. They could be designated for assignment whenever Pirela or Ryan gets healthy. These guys aren’t part of the long-term plan and wouldn’t hurt flexibility. There’s a big picture element to all of this the Yankees can’t ignore.
The Out of Options Market
We’ve reached the point of spring where players who are out of minor league options are starting to get traded (Sandy Leon) or placed on waivers (Cesar Puello). It figures to happen with Austin Romine soon too. There are very few out of options infielders for the Yankees to consider as temporary bench players. In fact, of all the infielders on MLBTR’s out of options list, only one is not expected to make his team’s Opening Day roster: Pedro Florimon.
The Pirates are expected to waive Florimon soon, and while he’s a quality defender at short, he has basically no experience at second (nine games in the minors) or third (eleven games in the minors) bases and absolutely can not hit. He’s Ryan without the versatility, basically. The Rays just released Alexi Casilla to avoid paying him the $100,000 retention bonus as an Article XX(B) free agent, so perhaps he’s an option. Casilla’s a more versatile, less defense-y version of Florimon.
Point is, there aren’t many readily available infield options for the Yankees to consider during Ryan’s absence, hence the Petit trade. The Yankees didn’t get someone better because no one better is available. There’s a real dearth of quality infielders in baseball these days. Even replacement level guys are hard to find right now. The Yankees could pick up Florimon and/or Casilla for depth, just to have the extra body around, but they aren’t any sort of upgrade over what they have in house right now.
* * *
As fun as it would be to see Refsnyder on the Opening Day roster, I don’t see the point in carrying him as a bench player. He needs to play to improve his defense. Taking extra ground balls before games won’t help much either. Refsnyder needs game reps. Since Pirela seems to be on the mend, the Yankees can focus on a short-term replacement. I’d prefer Petit or Noonan but if they want Figueroa or Florimon or Casilla, fine, whatever. Either way, this player won’t see much playing time. Or shouldn’t, anyway. The Yankees only need a band-aid right now. Nothing more.
8:41pm: The MRI revealed a Grade II calf strain, the Yankees announced. They did not say anything about a timetable, but a Grade II strain usually takes several weeks to heal.
3:32pm: It’s a right calf strain for Ryan, the Yankees announced. He is heading for an MRI to determine the severity of the injury.
3:03pm: Another infielder has gone down with injury. Brendan Ryan suffered an apparent right calf injury while ranging behind the second base bag from shortstop to field a chopper this afternoon. There was no awkward step or anything like that. Ryan just came up holding his calf and eventually walked off the field very gingerly with assistance from the training staff. He had to be carried down the dugout steps.
The Yankees are also currently without infielders Didi Gregorius and Jose Pirela. Gregorius is nursing a wrist sprain after landing awkwardly diving for a ball and is day-to-day. Pirela suffered a concussion when he crashed into the outfield wall and there’s no timetable for his return. Joe Girardi has said Stephen Drew won’t play shortstop, so if either Gregorius or Ryan is not healthy come Opening Day, I guess Nick Noonan next in line.
From 2009-12, the Yankees did a good job of having a functional bench, giving Joe Girardi options to pinch-hit or rest players without the lineup taking a huge hit. That hasn’t been the case the last two years due mostly to injuries — many projected bench guys were pushed into everyday roles. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
The importance of the bench in today’s game is obvious, especially for the Yankees, who have an older roster and plenty of players who need regular time off. Three of the four bench spots were filled with new players this winter, and every member of last season’s Opening Day bench has since been jettisoned. It’s an entirely new crop of players. Let’s look at the reserves and where these guys fit in the big picture.
Catcher: John Ryan Murphy
Alternative: Austin Romine
Long-time backup Francisco Cervelli was traded away this winter for two (maybe three) reasons. One, the Yankees wanted to clear a spot for Murphy, who was impressive filling in during Cervelli’s hamstring injury last year. Two, they wanted to bolster their bullpen with Justin Wilson. (Three, they wanted to save a little cash.) The job is not Murphy’s just yet — he is competing with Romine in camp — but all signs point to him being the guy.
Murphy, 23, put up a .284/.318/.370 (93 wRC+) batting line in 32 big league games last year but his defense is his calling card. Anything he can do with the bat — he’s a year removed from a 117 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, for what it’s worth — is a bonus. Murphy has ranked as a top shelf pitch-framer in his brief big league career and he’s considered a strong receiver who handles pitches in the dirt well.
The Yankees value catcher defense greatly. They wouldn’t clear the spot for Murphy if they didn’t believe he could excel defensively. Brian McCann is the clear cut number one catcher and will be asked to carry the majority of the workload behind the plate this year, so Murphy’s job is to get the pitching staff through the game whenever McCann needs a day off. That’s it. If he hits, wonderful. But that is secondary as far as the Yankees are concerned.
Infielder: Brendan Ryan
Alternative: Jose Pirela
Once again, the 32-year-old Ryan is dealing with a back injury in Spring Training. He started light workouts earlier this week but there’s no firm timetable for him to return to game action. That is opening the door for Pirela, just like last year’s back injury opened the door for Dean Anna. If Ryan has another setback — he’s already had one this spring — it’s hard to see how he’ll ready for Opening Day.
If healthy though, the backup infielder’s job is Ryan’s. The team owes him $2M this year and he’s still an above-average fielder at the hard to fill shortstop position. He can’t hit a lick — .167/.211/.202 (12 wRC+) in 124 plate appearances last year and that’s pretty much what you should expect going forward — but the Yankees are now a run prevention team and he fits the mold. Ryan is a guy who plays when someone else gets hurt or needs a day off, that’s it. He’s not a pinch-hitting option or even a pinch-running option.
Pirela is pretty much the exact opposite of Ryan. He can hit — or at least we think he can hit — but his glovework is very shaky. The 25-year-old hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton last season and is off to an 8-for-15 (.533) start to Grapefruit League play, and that’s his calling card. Pirela’s a hitter. He’s not much of a defender but he can play just about every position other than pitcher or catcher. If Ryan can’t start the season on time, Pirela is the odds on favorite to start the year as the backup infielder.
Outfielder: Chris Young
Alternative: Pirela? Ramon Flores?
New York’s very first move of the offseason was re-signing Young to a one-year deal worth $2.5M. They grabbed him off the scrap heap last summer and he had a nice month of September in pinstripes (146 wRC+ with three homers), which earned him a new contract. Overall, the 31-year-old young hit .222/.299/.385 (95 wRC+) with the Mets and Yankees in 2014.
Young’s days as an everyday player are pretty much over. He’s a right-handed platoon bat because of his power, not his ability to hit for average, that’s what the Yankees need with two left-handed starting outfielders and a third who is a switch-hitter whose weak side is the right side. Young’s defense remains above-average — he can play all three outfield spots in a pinch — and he can even steal a base off the bench. He figures to be used most often as Carlos Beltran‘s defensive replacement in right field, though I’m sure he’ll get plenty of starts against southpaws as well.
The Yankees don’t have an obvious alternative to Young. Pirela is probably the best option and Flores is the most MLB ready of their upper level outfield prospects. Pirela is right-handed and Flores is left-handed, and that’s not insignificant given the makeup of the roster. Others like Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin need more minor league time before realistically being considered MLB options. If Young gets hurt, Pirela’s probably the guy. Assuming he isn’t filling in for Ryan, of course.
Utility: Garrett Jones
Alternative: Pirela? Austin?
The Yankees have been after Jones for years — they first tried to acquire him from the Pirates in the A.J. Burnett trade — and they finally landed him in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade this offseason. He gives them a backup plan at three positions where they have players who have battled injuries in recent years: first base (Mark Teixeira), right field (Beltran), and DH (Alex Rodriguez).
Jones, 33, hit .246/.309/.411 (99 wRC+) with 15 homers last year, though Miami used him as their everyday first baseman, and he’s not an everyday player. He’s a left-handed platoon hitter, one who’s hit .260/.314/.475 (116 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers over the last three years with this spray chart:
As with Young, there is no obvious alternative to Jones, so I guess Pirela is the guy by default. Austin can also play first base, right field, and DH, but he has yet to play above Double-A, so he needs to spend some time in Triple-A before helping the big league Yankees. Jones will likely see the most playing time of the projected four bench players and that makes him the most difficult to replace.
Last spring Brendan Ryan went down with a combo neck/back injury early in Spring Training, and the injury lingered into the regular season. The injury allowed Dean Anna to make the Opening Day roster — Yangervis Solarte straight up beat out Eduardo Nunez for his roster spot, remember, Anna was the one who benefited from Ryan’s injury — and he remained with the Yankees until Ryan returned in mid-May.
Ryan is once again dealing with a back problem this spring, this time a mid-back sprain he suffered lifting weights about ten days ago. He was initially expected to miss five days and get into games late last week. That hasn’t happened. Ryan felt some renewed soreness last week and had to be shut down. He’s not expected to resume light baseball workouts until later this week, possibly tomorrow if he progresses well.
“Now it feels kind of like Groundhog spring,” said Ryan to Chad Jennings over the weekend. Ryan also mentioned fielding drills are not a problem right now, it’s swinging a bat that is giving him issues. “The timing of this whole thing is horrible … I don’t want to get into the middle of March having not progressed very much … If I get three weeks in, I’ll feel good about that.”
There is still plenty of Spring Training left — Opening Day is four weeks from yesterday — and Ryan could always go over to minor league camp to get nine or ten at-bats a day to speed up his preparation for the season, but at some point soon he’s going to have to make real progress and get over this back injury. It keeps lingering and lingering. It has to stop lingering before he can do anything.
Much like last year, Ryan’s injury is slowly opening the door for a younger player to crack the Opening Day roster. Last year it was Anna, this year it’s utility man Jose Pirela, who is ahead of Rob Refsnyder on the depth chart because he’s more versatile and ahead of Cole Figueroa, Nick Noonan, and Jonathan Galvez because he’s already on the 40-man roster. It hasn’t hurt that Pirela has gone 5-for-11 (.455) with a double and a triple early in Grapefruit League play either. Fringe roster candidates have to hit in camp to make the team.
The 25-year-old Pirela was up late last season and went 8-for-24 (.333) with a double and two triples in his MLB cameo after hitting .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with ten homers, 21 doubles, eleven triples, and 15 steals (in 22 attempts) in 130 games for Triple-A Scranton. He’s versatile too, having played every position other than pitcher, catcher, and third base for the RailRiders last summer. Pirela’s an adequate at best defender — he’s already made one error this spring and also misplayed a ground ball into an infield single — but that’ll work for a role player.
“We’re going to move (Pirela) around because that flexibility is nice to have,” said Joe Girardi to Jennings. “In the limited time that he was up last year, he did a really good job for us. And you could put him in the outfield as well. I don’t know how much we’ll put him in the outfield in spring, but I’m comfortable putting him out there anywhere. You never know how things are going to shake out in camp.”
The Yankees added Pirela to the 40-man roster last September — he joined the team after Martin Prado went down with his appendectomy — an indication they were planning to do so after the season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. (Pirela became a minor league free agent after 2013 but re-signed with New York.) He’s never been a top prospect, he’s a guy who’s had to hit his way onto the map, and he’s going to have to keep hitting to stay there. Players like this — think Andy Phillips — get an opportunity, but not necessarily a long one. They have to capitalize in a hurry, like Solarte last year.
“Whether someone is hurt or not, that isn’t something that I consider,” said Pirela to Jennings. “No one wants a teammate to ever be hurt, especially starting the season. I have to focus on myself, competing with myself … I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity. They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”
Ryan’s not a great (or even good) player but his ability to play shortstop has real value. Pirela hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2011 because he’s just not good enough defensively. He’s someone the Yankees could use at short for a few innings in an emergency. That’s really it. Ryan is someone they could run out there at short for a week if necessary. The presence of Stephen Drew means the Yankees don’t necessarily need the 25th man on the roster to be able to play short though. If Didi Gregorius were to get hurt, Drew could slide over to short and Pirela could play second.
The Yankees owe Ryan a decent amount of money ($2M isn’t nothing) and cutting a legitimate shortstop loose in favor of a potential utility guy just because he’s younger and homegrown doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so Pirela’s chances of making the Opening Day roster are tied directly to Ryan’s back injury. If Ryan stays hurt, Pirela’s chances of making the team will continue to go up. But if Ryan gets back on the field by, say, this weekend, he should be ready in time for the season. Like it or not, Ryan has the inside track for a bench job, but the back injury means the door has started to crack open for Pirela.