Pitching remains atop the Yankees’ shopping list for the remainder of the offseason

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Welcome to 2017. Six weeks from today Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for Spring Training, and the long journey that is the new season will begin. Six weeks sounds so close, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s still so far.

A lot can and will happen over the next six weeks, and hey, maybe some of it will even involve the Yankees. Word on the street is they need to clear payroll before making any other moves, though my guess is there’s still enough cash in the coffers for a small signing, should something present itself. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Aside from two signings (Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman) and one trade (Brian McCann), the Yankees have been relatively quiet this winter. They signed Ruben Tejada and re-signed Donovan Solano to serve as infield depth, cleared out some 40-man roster clutter (Nick Goody, James Pazos, etc.), and that’s about it. Nothing too exciting.

And yet, there are still several key items remaining on New York’s offseason agenda, and there are still six weeks to accomplish them. This is typically the bargain hunting time of the offseason. Teams look for lower cost pickups to reinforce their roster after New Years, and the Yankees are no different. Here are their most important remaining pieces of offseason business.

Keep shopping Gardner and Headley

The Yankees have reportedly been shopping both Brett Gardner and Chase Headley this offseason — since the trade deadline, really — to no avail. Brian Cashman insists he’s rejected trade offers for both in recent weeks. I assume those offers were of the “we’ll give you this fringe prospect if you eat a ton of money” variety.

It sure seems like there are few landing spots for Gardner and even fewer for Headley. Aside from shedding salary, there’s no real urgency to unload Headley. It’s not like the Yankees have a young third baseman ready to step into the lineup. (I like Ronald Torreyes as much as anyone, but c’mon.) Keeping Headley is perfectly reasonable.

The outfield is a different story. The Yankees have a ton of young players who could step in to replace Gardner, including Aaron Hicks, Mason Williams, and Clint Frazier. We shouldn’t rule out Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder either. Jacoby Ellsbury is close to unmovable, making Gardner the obvious trade candidate.

Try to dig up a starting pitcher

Last season Yankees starters ranked 15th in baseball in innings (915), 16th in FIP (4.40), and 19th in ERA (4.44) despite getting a damn near Cy Young caliber performance from Masahiro Tanaka and far more from CC Sabathia than anyone expected. And so far this offseason, the Yankees have made no moves to bolster the rotation.

Tanaka, Sabathia, and Michael Pineda are the three veterans who will be expected to lead the starting staff. The list of back-end starter candidates includes, but is not limited to, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Luis Cessa. And you know what? We’re probably going to see all of them in 2017. No team makes it through a season with only five starters these days.

The free agent pitching market is really weak, especially now that Rich Hill and Ivan Nova are off the board, but there are no shortage of one-year contract candidates. There are reclamation projects (Brett Anderson, Tyson Ross), hangers-on (Jorge De La Rosa, Doug Fister), reliever-to-starter conversion candidates (Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill), and more.

Anderson. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)
Anderson. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Keep in mind young pitchers need their workloads monitored, and if the Yankees go into the season counting on the kids to fill two rotation spots as Hal Steinbrenner suggested, they could run into some workload trouble come August and September. Imagine needing to shut two or three starters down in September because they’ve hit their innings limit. Yikes.

There is no such thing as too much rotation depth, and the Yankees would be wise to scoop up a starter at some point, even a cheap one-year contract guy to soak up innings. Ideally the Yankees would trade for a young starter with upside and several years of team control remaining. That seems unlikely, so a low-cost veteran free agent is the next best thing.

Add more bullpen depth

Three bullpen spots are accounted for at the moment. Chapman is the closer with Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard his primary setup men. Adam Warren will also be in the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot in Spring Training. Here are the candidates for the remaining bullpen spots:

Obviously some of those guys are more realistic bullpen candidates than others. German and Ramirez have yet to pitch above High-A. Pinder is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Adams and Montgomery are legitimate starting pitcher prospects who would benefit most from opening next season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation.

Layne, as a 32-year-old veteran who had success with the Yankees in his limited time last year, is by far most likely among those reliever candidates to wind up on the Opening Day roster, I think. Everyone else? Well, do your best in camp and you could win a spot. And even if you don’t win an Opening Day spot, you can put yourself in position for an early call-up. Adding some extra arms, even as non-roster invitees, is a no-brainer.

Fill out the Triple-A roster

As a huge baseball nerd, I’m always excited to see the list of non-roster invitees each year. The Yankees tend to announce their non-roster players very late in the offseason — we know they’ve signed four players to minor league deals so far (Tejada, Solano, Jason Gurka, Kellin Deglan) — so the suspense builds all winter. It was a total surprise when the Yankees brought Eric Chavez to camp a few years ago, for example.

Anyway, the Yankees still need to bring in some more non-roster players, the guys who will take any spare at-bats or innings during Grapefruit League play, and inevitably be sent to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins. More infield depth (even after Tejada and Solano), a veteran catcher to back up Kyle Higashioka, a journeyman innings guy, and miscellaneous arms are the most likely additions based on the team’s recent approach to Triple-A roster building.

Potential trade partners for Brett Gardner dwindling due to hot stove activity

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees right now are very much open to trading pricey veterans for prospects. They sold big time at the deadline and continued selling in the offseason by sending Brian McCann to the Astros for two Single-A pitching prospects. The Yankees have reportedly dangled Brett Gardner and Chase Headley in trade talks this winter, and I’m sure they’d love to move Jacoby Ellsbury too, but, you know.

Two teams that stood out as obvious suitors for Gardner addressed their outfield needs last week. The Nationals traded for Adam Eaton and the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler. Both clubs needed a defensively competent center fielder — Gardner plays left for the Yankees in deference to Ellsbury, but he could still handle center full-time, no problem — and a top of the order on-base guy. The Nats and Cards went in another direction.

Gardner is a good player, not a great one, and the two years and $23M left on his contract is not unreasonable. And besides, the Yankees have shown a willingness to eat money to facilitate trades. They did it with Carlos Beltran at the deadline and McCann a few weeks ago. Salary shouldn’t be a problem. The problem is finding a team that actually needs Gardner, a defense first outfielder with on-base skills. Here are the remaining potential trade partners I came up with.

Baltimore Orioles

Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Current Outfield: Adam Jones in center and Hyun-Soo Kim in left, with Joey Rickard and Rule 5 Draft picks Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez candidates for right. They also have the option of moving Chris Davis to right field and playing prospect Trey Mancini at first.

Why Would They Want Gardner? He’s a heck of a lot better than Rickard and the Rule 5 Draft kids — Santander has never played above High-A — and he’d give the O’s a legitimate leadoff hitter, something they really lack. Jones was their leadoff hitter most of this past season. Yeah. Also, the Orioles have an opening at DH, remember. They could put Gardner in left, Kim at DH (where he fits best), and stick with the kids in right.

So Are They A Fit? Yes with the caveat that they’re an AL East rival, and intradivision trades are rare. I don’t think that closes the door completely, it just makes it unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch he’d have no problem trading with the Orioles.

“If I can trade with the Red Sox and the Mets, I can trade with the Orioles. I can trade with anybody. If it’s in our best interest, whether it’s short- or long-term, it doesn’t matter what the other teams get. Does it make sense for us? If it happens to be them, I don’t really care.”

What do the O’s have to offer the Yankees for Gardner? Geez, beats me. Their farm system isn’t in great shape (here’s their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and I doubt they’d be willing to give up pieces from their big league roster. I’m sure the Yankees could find some combination of minor leaguers to make it work though.

Cleveland Indians

Current Outfield: Tyler Naquin in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. Brandon Guyer and Abe Almonte are expected to hold down left field until Michael Brantley returns from shoulder surgery.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Not too many reasons at this point. The Indians seem focused on adding a big middle of the order bat to share first base and DH with Carlos Santana, and I suppose if those plans go awry, they could circle back and import Gardner to be part of a rotating DH system. He’d give them a more traditional leadoff hitter too. They used Santana at leadoff most of last season, which was somewhat a waste of his power because he batted with fewer men on base.

So Are They A Fit? Nah, I don’t think so. Naquin had a nightmare postseason but a very good regular season, good enough to finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and earn a starting spot in 2017. They’ll ride it out with Almonte and Guyer until Brantley returns, which could be as soon as April.

Detroit Tigers

Current Outfield: Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez on the corners, with Anthony Gose and JaCoby Jones in the mix for center. Tyler Collins could get a crack at the job too, though he’s best in a corner.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Gardner is much better than the group of players vying for Detroit’s center field job at the moment. Of course, the Tigers traded away Cameron Maybin earlier this winter, and they seem to be scaling back on payroll a bit. Salary dumping Maybin only to turn around and acquire Gardner would be a bit weird, don’t you think?

Of course, plans change, and the Tigers are looking at a more winnable AL Central right now. The Twins stink, the White Sox are selling, and the Royals might have to sell at the deadline since basically their entire core will hit free agency next winter. The Tigers won 86 games in 2016 despite going 4-14 (4-14!) against the Indians. What are the odds of that happening again? Small. Gardner would improve their chances in a much more winnable division.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe! I think the Yankees would have to eat money to make a trade happen, which I doubt would be a deal-breaker. If the Yankees ate money to trade Beltran and McCann, I’m sure they’d do the same for Gardner.

Oakland Athletics

Jake Smolinski was the A's everyday center fielder in the second half. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Jake Smolinski was the A’s everyday center fielder in the second half. For reals. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Current Outfield: Some combination of Khris Davis, Matt Joyce, Brett Eibner, and Jake Smolinski. Did you know Khris Davis hit 42 home runs in 2016? True story.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The A’s are in the market for a center fielder this offseason, it’s been reported everywhere, and they’ve most recently been connected to Jarrod Dyson of the Royals. Gardner is a very similar player (lefty hitting leadoff type with speed and defense) who happens to be much more expensive. But again, if the Yankees are willing to eat money, his contract may not be an obstacle.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe. The Athletics are a weird team that seems to be stuck between going for it and rebuilding. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they traded for an outfielder making $23M over the next two years despite losing at least 93 games the last two seasons. They’re weird like that.

San Francisco Giants

Current Outfield: Denard Span in center and Hunter Pence in right, with Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker slated to platoon in left. Gorkys Hernandez has a leg up on a bench job.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Left field is wide open. Williamson and Parker did an okay job as platoon partners while Pence was on the disabled list this summer — they hit a combined .230/.338/.402 with eleven homers in 278 plate appearances in 2016, but also struck out 28.5% of the time — though neither is a long-term building block. Williamson is the young one at 26. Parker turns 28 in three weeks.

Gardner would, at a minimum, give the Giants an above-average defender for that spacious left field at AT&T Park. In also guessing he’d outproduce a Williamson/Parker platoon at the plate over a full 162-game season. The Mark Melancon signing pushed San Francisco over the luxury tax threshold and they don’t want to go much higher, so Gardner’s contract could be an issue. Then again, the Giants are built to win right now, while Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, and left field is a sore spot.

So Are They A Fit? Yes, definitely. The Giants have enough prospects to cobble together a trade package (here is their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and the Yankees could eat money to make things work on San Francisco’s end with regards to the luxury tax. The Giants are a fit. A great fit. No doubt.

Seattle Mariners

Current Outfield: Leonys Martin in the middle with some combination of Seth Smith, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger, and possibly even Danny Valencia in the corners.

Why Would They Want Gardner? As an alternative to that hodgepodge of platoon veterans and mid-range prospects slated for the corners. The Mariners are trying to win right now. I mean, they should be. Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz aren’t going to be this productive forever, so anything Seattle can do to improve their short-term chances qualifies as a good move in my book. Gardner represents an upgrade.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in theory, no in reality. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said his team is too left-handed at the moment, which Gardner would only exacerbate. Also, they seem committed to playing those kids in the outfield. So while there is a fit on paper here, I don’t see it happening.

Texas Rangers

Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)
Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Current Outfield: Carlos Gomez in center, Shin-Soo Choo in right, and Nomar Mazara in left. Delino DeShields Jr. and Ryan Rua are the depth options.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The Rangers have no first baseman or designated hitter at the moment. Adding Gardner would allow them to slide Mazara over to right field, his natural position, and put Choo at DH full-time, which is where he belongs at this point. Texas has money and prospects to trade, plus an obvious opening for Gardner in the lineup and on the field.

So Are They A Fit? Yes. Whether the Rangers are willing to make a trade is another matter. They may prefer to hang on to their prospects and address those first base and DH openings through free agency. There are still plenty of those players available.

Toronto Blue Jays

Current Outfield: lol

Why Would They Want Gardner? Kevin Pillar is still the center fielder. That much is clear. But after losing out on Fowler, the Blue Jays have Melvin Upton, Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, and Dalton Pompey penciled in as their corner outfielders. That might be the worst outfield unit in baseball. Gardner would give them a legitimate left fielder and leadoff hitter, allowing them to slide Devon Travis lower in the order, in a run producing spot. That would be a big help considering they effectively replaced Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista with Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. I’m sure that’ll work out fine.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in the same way the Orioles are a fit. The Blue Jays could use Gardner, for sure, but to get him, they’d have to swing a rare intradivision trade. It’s not impossible. Just really tough to do. There’s a reason you don’t see them often. Everyone’s afraid of losing a trade to a division rival.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Thursday

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The 2016 Winter Meetings wrap-up today from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Late last night the Yankees swooped in and agreed to re-sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract worth $86M, which is easily the largest reliever contract in history. Now the team can move on to other business, like adding rotation and middle relief help.

“I’ve got a lot of different things going on,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “Listen, they’ve got a time frame in free agency. They’re going through their process. In the meantime, I’m doing a whole bunch of other stuff at the same time. I’ve had several conversations with various agents today and a lot of club activity at the same time.”

On Wednesday we learned the Yankees have cast a wide net for bullpen help and have checked in on White Sox closer David Robertson and free agent Sergio Romo. Also, they want Ruben Tejada and Nick Rumbelow on minor league deals. We’ll once again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. I can’t promise a ton of updates. The final day of the Winter Meetings is traditionally the slowest. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: When asked about recent rumors involving Brett Gardner and the Orioles, Cashman said he wouldn’t have a problem making a trade within the AL East. “If I can trade with the Red Sox and Mets, I can trade with the Orioles,” he said. Interestingly, Cashman said he tried to trade Ivan Nova to the O’s at the deadline. [Pete Caldera, Hoch]
  • 10:29am: Cashman doesn’t expect to pursue any more position players this offseason. The focus is pitching. “It’s unlikely for us to make any changes on the position player side unless we trade Gardy,” said the GM, who added he’s rejected offers for Chase Headley. [Caldera]
  • 11:23am: Not surprisingly, Cashman said the Yankees are basically out of spending money this offseason after signing Chapman. Good thing the free agent class stinks, huh? [Andrew Marchand]
  • 12:24pm: Once again, Cashman reiterated he’s not optimistic about improving the rotation this offseason. “I don’t anticipate adding any starting pitching. I’d love to if I could but I doubt it’s realistic,” said the GM. [Marchand, Erik Boland]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

There is one full day remaining in the 2016 Winter Meetings and so far the Yankees have done, well, not a whole lot. Things can come together pretty quickly though. Last year at this time we were all lamenting the lack of activity, then bam, the Starlin Castro and Justin Wilson trades went down.

“The free-agent stuff, you just have to stay close to it, because that can move fast,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “The trade stuff, there have just been certain teams that keep pursuing specific guys, so that’s been hot. There have been a couple different dynamics that have developed. Whether they lead anywhere or not, we’ll see.”

On Tuesday we learned the Yankees made contract offers to both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, which is interesting. I’m kinda curious to see what happens if they both accept at the same time. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so check back often. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: Chapman apparently has a $92M offer in hand. Goodness. That is offer is not from the Yankees, though they’re pursuing him aggressively and are “determined” to get a deal done. [Bob Nightengale, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees did talk to the White Sox about Chris Sale before he was traded to the Red Sox, but they weren’t going to go all out to get him. “As long as we stick to the plan, we’ll be better off in the long run,” said Cashman. [David Lennon]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees have spoken to the ChiSox about David Robertson. I assume he’s a backup plan should Chapman and Jansen fall through. The White Sox are rebuilding, and obviously the Yankees know Robertson and are comfortable with him. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 9:30am: Brett Gardner is “seen as a possible fit” for the Orioles, though they’d want the Yankees to eat some money. This sounds like speculation more than anything. I have a hard time thinking Gardner will be traded to a division rival, but who knows. [Heyman]
  • 9:40am: The Yankees are interested in signing infielder Ruben Tejada to a minor league contract. They’ll need to sign at least one stopgap infielder for Triple-A this offseason, possibly two. Also, the Yankees are trying to re-sign Nick Rumbelow as well. [George King]
  • 10:07am: It sounds as though adding a closer is the team’s top priority, so much so that the Yankees will put all their other business on hold until that’s resolved. They need to see exactly how much money will be left over, I assume. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:00am: Cashman reiterated he doesn’t expect to land a starter at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t anticipate it. It’s a tough market and the price tags are extremely high. We could play on a lot of things because we have a lot of prospects people desire and we desire them, too. I would say it’s less likely for us to acquire a starter,” said the GM. [King]
  • 11:23am: The Rockies have agreed to sign Ian Desmond. This is notable because Colorado is forfeiting the 11th overall pick, which means the Yankees move up from 17th to 16th. Here’s the full draft order. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 12:20pm: Along with the Yankees, both the Marlins and Dodgers are in on Chapman and waiting to hear his decision. Chapman is New York’s top target. [Heyman]
  • 12:42pm: I don’t think this will matter, but the Yankees are one of the eight teams included in Jay Bruce’s limited no-trade clause. He could block a trade across town. [James Wagner]
  • 4:57pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to show interest in free agent righty Sergio Romo. If the Yankees miss out on Chapman and Jansen, Romo could be a setup option behind Dellin Betances. [John Shea]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2016-winter-meetingsThe four busiest days of the offseason begin today. Well, three busiest days. Usually everyone heads home following the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. Anyway, the 2016 Winter Meetings begin today at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The Yankees are expected to get down to business today after taking some time to review the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“I said, ‘Listen, give me at least 24, 48 more hours to see what sort of information we can get from baseball,'” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff last week. “So hopefully we’ll be able to hit the ground running Monday at the latest, but it’s in our best interest to know what we’re dealing with, first and foremost … Speeding up the process and going with the youth movement is going to play an even more important part now, more than ever with what appears to be some of the restrictions in the marketplace that are occurring here.”

The Yankees picked up Matt Holliday to be their DH last night, but they’re still in the market for “pitching, pitching, pitching.” All types. Starters and relievers, so much so that they’re said to be in on the all the top free agent closers. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often for updates. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 10:30am: Cashman confirmed teams have asked about Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gleyber Torres, and Justus Sheffield this offseason, among others. The GM added he is “open-minded to listen on anything.”. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have not yet made a formal offer to Rich Hill, who is said to be closing in a deal with the Dodgers. New York has been connected to Hill all offseason because he is, by far, the best available free agent starter. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:30am: Chase Headley and Brett Gardner both remain available, though “interest is relatively mild” at the moment. [Heyman]
  • 11:47am: The Yankees are among the teams looking for a lefty reliever. I assume this means a matchup guy for the middle innings, not simply Aroldis Chapman. [Heyman]
  • 12:41pm: One of the three top closers is off the board: Mark Melancon has agreed to sign with the Giants. No word on the contract terms yet. I’ll guess … four years and $60M. (Update: It’s four years and $62M.) [Buster Olney]
  • 1:16pm: Rich Hill is off the board. The Dodgers have re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $48M, the team announced. The Yankees had been in contact with him.
  • 1:36pm: The Yankees are one of several teams in “ongoing” talks with Luis Valbuena. He’s looking for multiple years and right now the team thinks his asking price is too high. [Joel Sherman]
  • 1:50pm: Chapman wants a six-year deal and says he deserves $100M+. “The only thing I have expressed is that I would like a six-year contract … There are rumors out there that I requested $100M and that’s not true at all. I believe he who deserves something, does not need to demand it,” he said. [Marly Rivera]
  • 2:45pm: The Yankees have checked in with the Twins about second baseman Brian Dozier. Interesting. He’s better and cheaper than Starlin Castro. Whether the Yankees are willing to give up pretty good prospects to get it done is another matter. [Heyman]
  • 4:07pm: Cashman shot down the Dozier rumor. “I haven’t had any dialogue with the Twins about Dozier. That’s a false report,” he said. So much for that. [MLB Network Radio]
  • 4:21pm: Cashman acknowledged the Yankees are after Chapman, but won’t go all out to sign him. “It’s going to be costly. We’re prepared to a degree to compete for that,” he said. [Casey Stern]
  • 5:15pm: The Yankees are still talking to Kenley Jansen in addition to Chapman. There are also some bullpen trade opportunities, according to Cashman. [Hoch]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Premature Lineup Questions

Ellsbury. (Presswire)
Ellsbury. (Presswire)

Considering it’s not even mid-December yet, the questions that follow are way too premature. To make up for that, I’ll try to avoid things that aren’t likely to stay the same. For example, I highly doubt the Yankees are going to go into the season with, say, Tyler Austin as the number one DH candidate just because they missed out on Carlos Beltran.

Let’s start at the top with two questions:

Will Jacoby Ellsbury keep batting second?

In early July, Joe Girardi made a bit of a lineup switch and had Ellsbury bat second behind Brett Gardner. Taco didn’t sparkle in the two hole, hitting just .244 with a .310 OBP. His walk rate was near 9%, which is encouraging, but it was mostly a forgettable performance. Might it make sense for them to flip places again, especially given Gardner’s shyness with regards to running lately? Granted, Ellsbury isn’t exactly bold on the basepaths anymore, either.

Will Aaron Hicks be platooned more aggressively this season? 

Towards the end of the year, Aaron Hicks woke up and showed flashes of why the Yankees traded for him last offseason. Given that the Yankees have two lefty hitting outfielders in Ellsbury and Gardner, and Hicks is a switch hitter, capable of playing both positions those guys do, how often will he start in one of their places when a lefty is on the mound? Of course, if one of those two is traded, that question is answered a lot more easily.

(AP)
(AP)

What happens if (when) Gary Sanchez struggles? 

Gary Sanchez was a monster in 2016 and we all hope he can be successful again in 2017; he gave us all the reasons he possibly could to believe. But that performance is hard to live up to and he’s going to take some sort of a step back over a full season. If Sanchez struggles behind the plate but maintains his solid hitting, you can always move him to DH. What, though, if the unlikely happens and Sanchez pulls the hitting version of 2008 Phil Hughes/Ian Kennedy? The answer for him is easy: send him back down and let him get right. For the Yankees, though, unless they sign a veteran back up, is less appealing, as it means giving the every day job to Austin Romine.

Who’s going to carry this lineup? 

Perhaps that question is unfair; it’s unlikely that one person on a team will carry a lineup. The right question might be, who’s going to lead this lineup? With Sanchez, the return of Greg Bird, and (hopefully) improvement from Aaron Judge, there’s the potential for big contributions from the young players. Will Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro continue their mild improvements at the plate? Will Ellsbury and Gardner bounce back? Which Chase Headley is going to show up? Depending on the answers to these questions, the Yankees could either be a reasonably solid offense, or they could be a disaster. Likely, they’re somewhere in the middle, but there don’t seem to be any sure things in the lineup.

Dellin Betances isn’t the only Yankee who could play in the 2017 WBC

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

In a few weeks baseball players all around the league will leave their teams in Spring Training to participate in the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic. Pool play begins March 6th in South Korea, and the tournament will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full 2017 WBC schedule.

The 16 countries do not have to finalize their WBC rosters until January, though we already know Dellin Betances will pitch for the Dominican Republic. He committed to them recently. Betances was on Team USA’s preliminary roster but instead choose to honor his family by pitching for the Dominican Republic squad. So far he’s the only Yankees player to commit to the WBC.

The Yankees are not as star-laden as they once were — a few years ago a case could have been made their entire starting infield belonged in the WBC — so they don’t figure to send a ton of players to the WBC next spring. Chances are Betances won’t be the only Yankee to participatein the event, however. In fact, farmhand Dante Bichette Jr. already played for Brazil in the qualifying round in September. Who knew? (Brazil did not advance.)

So, as we wait for the commitments to trickle in and the final rosters to be announced, lets look at the Yankees who could wind up joining Betances and participating in the WBC. Keep in mind the WBC is not limited to big league players — some countries can’t field an entire roster of MLB players, hence Bichette playing for Brazil — and the rosters are 28 players deep, not 25, so there are extra spots.

Canada: Evan Rutckyj

Rutckyj, who recently re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent, was the team’s 16th round pick back in 2010. The Braves took a look at him this past spring as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but Rutckyj failed to make the Opening Day roster and instead returned to the Yankees. He struck out 14 in 11.2 innings around a relatively minor elbow procedure during the 2016 regular season.

Only eleven pitchers born in Canada have appeared in the big leagues over the last three years — only seven did so in 2016 — and five of those eleven threw fewer than 20 innings. Three of the other six are now retired (Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Phillippe Aumont). Rutckyj, who grew up across the river from Detroit in Windsor, has had some Double-A success as a reliever and could make a Canada roster that has been heavy on minor league pitchers in previous WBCs.

Colombia: Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal

Colombia clinched their first ever WBC berth by winning their qualifying round back in March. They won a pool that included France, Spain, and Panama. Both Polo and Vidal were on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round and chances are they will be on the actual WBC roster as well. Only six Colombian-born players appeared in MLB in 2016, one of whom was Donovan Solano and none of whom were an outfielder like Polo and Vidal.

Vidal, 20, has spent most of his career with the various short season league teams in New York’s farm system. He went 2-for-8 with a double and played in all three qualifying games in March. Polo, 22, came over from the Pirates in the Ivan Nova trade. He was Colombia’s extra outfielder in the qualifying round. He appeared in two games as a a pinch-runner and defensive replacement and did not get an at-bat. Both Vidal and Polo figure to play in the WBC in March.

Dominican Republic: Gary Sanchez (Starlin Castro?)

WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)
WBC teammates? (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Over the last three seasons, the leader in bWAR among Dominican-born catchers is Welington Castillo. Sanchez is second. For all the great baseball players to come out of the Dominican Republic, the island hasn’t produced much catching talent in recent years. Their catching tandem in the 2013 WBC was Francisco Pena, Tony’s son, and Carlos Santana, who is no longer a catcher.

The Dominican Republic’s current catching pool includes Sanchez, Castillo, Pena, Pedro Severino of the Nationals, and Alberto Rosario of the Cardinals. I have to think they want Sanchez and Castillo there. Then again, Tony might want Francisco on the roster, and I’m sure the Yankees would rather Sanchez spend his first Spring Training as the No. 1 catcher learning the pitching staff.

The Yankees can’t stop Gary from going to the WBC if he’s invited though. They might need Pena to pull some strings, which would be kind of a dick move. I’m sure Sanchez would love to play. Bottom line: Sanchez is arguably the best Dominican catcher in baseball right now and inarguably one of the two best. In what is intended to be a best vs. best tournament, Gary belongs on the Dominican Republic roster.

(For what it’s worth, Victor Baez reports Pena promised Sanchez he would be considered for the WBC team, but acknowledged things may change before the final roster is submitted.)

As for Castro, he has an awful lot of competition on the Dominican Republic middle infield. Robinson Cano is the presumed starter at second with someone like Jose Reyes or Jean Segura at short. Jonathan Villar, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, Jhonny Peralta, and some others are WBC candidates too. Castro’s a possibility for the tournament but probably isn’t part of the club’s Plan A infield.

Japan: Masahiro Tanaka

Interestingly enough, not a single MLB player was on Japan’s roster for the 2013 WBC. Not even Ichiro Suzuki. They filled their entire roster with NPB players. Japan has had big leaguers on their roster in previous WBCs, including Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka, just not in the last one. Will they invite big leaguers this time? I honestly have no idea. We’re going to have to wait and find out.

If Japan does want current MLB players, Tanaka figures to be near the top of their list. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and on the very short list of the best Japanese-born pitchers on the planet. The Yankees can’t stop Tanaka from playing in the 2017 WBC. Brian Cashman confirmed it during his end-of-season press conference. Needless to say, the thought of Tanaka suffering an injury during the WBC is enough to make you squeamish. The Yankees have already been through that once before, with Mark Teixeira and his wrist in the 2013 WBC.

For what it’s worth, Tanaka has participated in the WBC twice before. He was on Japan’s roster in both 2009 and 2013, throwing 9.1 total innings across one start and seven relief appearances. Maybe that was enough for Tanaka? Maybe he’s had his fill of the WBC — Japan won the 2009, so he has a championship — and would rather focus on the Yankees in Spring Training and putting himself in the best position to use his opt-out the team in the best position to win? Gosh, I hope so.

Mexico: Luis Cessa, Gio Gallegos

Fifteen pitchers born in Mexico have appeared in the big leagues over the last three seasons, and 13 of those 15 did so in 2016. The two exceptions are ex-Yankees: Manny Banuelos and Al Aceves. Banuelos is coming off another injury and Aceves spent the 2016 season in the Mexican League. Mexico figures to try to build their WBC rotation from a group that includes Marco Estrada, Julio Urias, Jorge De La Rosa, Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, and Miguel Gonzalez.

Cessa and Gallegos — fun fact: the Yankees signed Gallegos away from a Mexican League team as part of a package deal with Banuelos and Aceves in 2007 — could be candidates for Mexico’s bullpen. Especially Cessa since he has MLB experience. Gallegos might not get much consideration given the fact he has yet to pitch in the show. Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria, and Oliver Perez are likely to be Mexico’s late-inning relievers, but they’re going to need other pitchers for middle relief, especially early in the tournament when starters have limited pitch counts.

Keep in mind both Cessa and Gallegos figure to come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Cessa will be among those competing for a rotation spot, which is kind of a big deal. Gallegos, who the Yankees added to the 40-man roster earlier this month to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, is trying to reach the show for the first time. As much as I’m sure both guys would love to represent their country in the WBC, they would be better off hanging around Spring Training and focusing on winning a roster spot with the Yankees at this point of their careers.

Netherlands: Didi Gregorius

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

The Dutch team has had to rely heavily on players from Honkbal Hoofdklasse, the highest level of pro ball in the Netherlands, to fill their WBC roster in the past. The same figures to be true this year. Only six Dutch players have played in MLB the last two years: Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, and Kenley Jansen. So, if nothing else, the Netherlands doesn’t have to worry about their infield or closer. They’ll need Honkballers in the outfield and rotation.

It’s entirely possible the Netherlands will look to take all five of those infielders to the WBC because, well, they’re the best players the country has to offer. Profar has played first base and Bogaerts has played third, so the starting infield could very well be those two on the corners with the other three guys splitting time up the middle and at DH. Gregorius was not on the 2013 WBC roster, and with his Yankees roster spot secure, he could jump at the opportunity to play for the Netherlands.

Team USA: Tyler Clippard (Brett Gardner? Jacoby Ellsbury?)

Even with Betances committing to the Dominican Republic, Team USA’s potential bullpen is insane. Zach Britton closing with Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel setting up, Wade Davis as the fireman, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson as the middle relievers … goodness. What are the odds of that happening though? Extremely small. Some of those guys are going to pass on the tournament. Happens every WBC.

The Team USA bullpen in 2013 included Kimbrel and, uh, Luke Gregerson? Tim Collins? Mitchell Boggs? Vinnie Pestano? Yup. Yup yup yup. Team USA’s leader in relief innings in 2013 was Ross Detwiler. So yeah. The odds of a super-bullpen are so very small. Clippard could be among the club’s Plan B or C relievers. Team USA is going to miss out on a ton of the top guys, no doubt, so who’s next in line? Clippard could be one of them.

Along those same lines, I suppose Gardner and/or Ellsbury could receive outfield consideration if enough top guys drop out. We already know Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are passing on the tournament. Team USA would need to receive a lot of “nos” before considering Ellsbury and Gardner for their outfield — they ranked 12th and 20th in bWAR among American-born outfielders in 2016 — but hey, you never know.

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The Yankees are said to have interest in bringing Carlos Beltran back, and I have to think he will suit up for Puerto Rico in the WBC next spring. The next generation of Puerto Rican stars has arrived (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez) but Beltran is still insanely popular in Puerto Rico, and he usually gives the people what they want. Aroldis Chapman, on the other hand, won’t pitch for Cuba regardless of whether he returns to the Yankees. No expatriates on the national team.