Masahiro Tanaka named Opening Day starter, rotation order announced

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Masahiro Tanaka was officially named the Opening Day starter by Joe Girardi this morning, according to the many reporters in Tampa. He will be followed in order by Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and the fifth starter to open the season. Girardi declined to name the fifth starter but all signs point to it being Adam Warren.

Sabathia has started the last six Opening Days for the Yankees. The team’s last Opening Day starter before him was Chien-Ming Wang in 2008. Yeah, it’s been a while. It was clear Sabathia would not get the Opening Day nod when it was announced he is scheduled to start tomorrow’s game. The schedule doesn’t line up. Sabathia has played in 14 MLB seasons and has started Opening Day in eleven of them. That’s kinda nuts.

As for Tanaka, he is not only the team’s best pitcher, but starting Opening Day allows him to get an extra day of rest prior to his second and third starts of the season thanks to scheduled off-days on April 7th and 16th. The Yankees have said they would like to get him extra rest whenever possible, especially early in the season thanks to the whole elbow issue. The club won’t need to use a sixth starter to make that happen for at least a few weeks.

Believe it or not, Tanaka only started one Opening Day with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, so this will be his second career Opening Day start and first in pinstripes. Hideo Nomo (2000 Tigers, 2003-04 Dodgers), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2008 Red Sox), and Hiroki Kuroda (2009 Dodgers) are the only other Japanese pitchers to start Opening Day in MLB history. Yu Darvish was slated to start Opening Day for the Rangers this year before blowing out his elbow.

The Yankees open the regular season at home against the Blue Jays on April 6th. Toronto has not yet announced their rotation but apparently Drew Hutchison is lined up for Opening Day. I’m guessing R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle will follow in some order. The Yankees play three games against the Jays then three games against the Red Sox at home before going out on a ten-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Detroit to start 2015.

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Knee holds up as Sabathia allows two runs in two innings in spring debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time since last May, CC Sabathia pitched in an actual game Tuesday night, making his Grapefruit League debut against the Blue Jays at home in Tampa. He allowed two runs on four hits in two innings of work, striking out two. Twenty-two of his 31 pitches were strikes (71%).

Sabathia retired the side in order in the first (two grounders and a strikeout) before running into some trouble in the second. More importantly, scouts clocked his fastball at 90-92 mph in the first inning and 89-92 mph in the second inning, according to Mark Feinsand. That’s in line with the 90.6 mph he averaged last year and it’s only March 17th.

“I felt pretty good,” said Sabathia during a YES Network interview after his outing. “I was just telling the guys I was really nervous in the bullpen. Just wanted to get out there and be healthy. Felt good throwing the ball — made a couple bad pitches but I still wanted to get out there and get the game feel and get after it, and I did that.”

I thought Sabathia looked pretty good considering it was his first outing a) in ten months, and b) after knee surgery. His location was okay with most misses way off the plate, so hopefully he irons that out as camp progresses. It would have been nice to see him go six up, six down, but whatever. Sabathia didn’t come out with Jamie Moyer velocity and his mechanics seemed fine. That’s good enough for me in mid-March.

Recalibrating Expectations for CC Sabathia [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After four truly excellent seasons (3.22 ERA and 3.28 FIP) from 2009-12, we’ve officially entered the “oh please just let it be over already” phase of CC Sabathia‘s stint in pinstripes. (That makes me sad.) The big man was bad in 2013 (4.78 ERA and 4.10 FIP) and both bad (5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP) and hurt in 2014. He’s now working his way back from surgery to treat a degenerative knee condition that will require regular maintenance, specifically having fluid drained.

As the old saying goes, the Yankees took the elite years from Sabathia up front and have to live with the ugly years on the back-end of his contract. His days as a front of the rotation arm are almost certainly over and the team is now looking to salvage whatever they can from their erstwhile ace, who is signed through 2016 with a vesting option for 2017 based on the health of his shoulder. Sabathia is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut this evening. Now let’s see what the team needs from him this summer.

Yankees Need: Innings. Lots Of Innings.

Sabathia was once the game’s preeminent workhorse, averaging a mind-blowing 213.1 innings per season from 2001-13. I mean, take a second to wrap your head around that number. It’s staggering. And even during his bad starts with the Yankees from 2009-12, Sabathia was still pretty good. Four runs in six innings was a bad Sabathia start. There were no “seven runs in two innings” kind of clunkers those four seasons.

In fact, Sabathia started 129 games from 2009-12, and only four times did he fail to complete five full innings of work. One of those four was the result of a lengthy rain delay at Fenway Park. Sabathia went at least six innings in 116 (!) of those 129 games as well. Heck, even though he was so very ineffective in 2013, he still averaged 6.2 innings per start. He completed five innings in seven of his eight starts last year and six innings in five of the eight.

When he’s taken the ball, Sabathia has routinely pitched deep into the game. That’s not really the issue. The issue is being able to stay healthy enough to start every fifth day from April through September. I think the Yankees would happily live with Sabathia averaging 5.9 innings per start (the AL average in 2014) if it means getting 32 starts out of him. Taking the ball deep into the game would be nice, but the team has the bullpen to compensate if he can’t. Not missing a start is more important.

Sabathia Can: Maybe Throw Innings?

The good news is Sabathia’s arm is healthy. The bad news is we are flying blind with his now three-time surgically repaired right knee. (Two meniscus procedures and the clean out last year.) Sabathia has not pitched since last May and we have no idea how that knee is going to hold up, not within an individual game and definitely not over the course of a full season. This is uncharted territory.

Sabathia has been wearing a brace during his throwing sessions this spring for extra support — from what I understand it is more of a sleeve than some sort of clunky brace — and he will continue to wear it during the season. Basically from now through the end of his career. The knee issue is degenerative and will need regular maintenance. Sabathia’s a total gamer. He’s shown he will pitch through injury over the years. I have no reason to doubt his effort. The knee simply might not be up for 32 starts, however.

Yankees Need: Respectability

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They know Sabathia’s best years are behind him and aren’t counting on him to be the staff ace anymore. They signed Masahiro Tanaka to be the ace last offseason and saw glimpses of Michael Pineda being that type of pitcher last year. (Obviously those two have physical issues of their own, but I digress.) The Yankees would love Sabathia to turn back into an ace but aren’t expecting it at all.

Instead, the Yankees simply need Sabathia to be respectable this year. How about league average? That’s a modest goal. Can Sabathia be league average this year despite playing in a hitter friendly park? I think the Yankees would consider 180 innings of league average pitching — the league average AL starter had a 3.92 ERA and 3.85 FIP last season, for what it’s worth (I miss offense) — a win given the state of Sabathia’s knee. Expectations are pretty low but the need to get some production from the lefty does exist.

Sabathia Can: Maybe Be Respectable?

In terms of plain ol’ run prevention, Sabathia stunk the last two years. He allowed 4.87 earned runs per nine innings pitched in 257 innings from 2013-14 and that’s bad. Very bad. One hundred and thirty six pitchers threw at least 200 innings the last two seasons and only eight have a higher ERA than Sabathia. Bad. Very, very bad.

If you want to squint your eyes and see some positives, they do exist. Even while pitching on that bad knee early last season, Sabathia did post very good strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), and ground ball (48.3%) rates. If you strike out a lot of guys, limit walks, and get hitters to beat the ball into the ground, you should fare pretty well, especially now that the Yankees have such a strong infield defense. Hopefully Sabathia can do that stuff again this summer.

On the downside, Sabathia was incredibly homer prone (1.96 HR/9 and 23.3 HR/FB%) last year. That’s almost unsustainably bad, even in tiny Yankee Stadium. Then again, Hit Tracker classified eight of the ten homers Sabathia allowed last season as either “plenty” or “no-doubt,” meaning they were not cheapies, so who knows. Maybe Sabathia’s true talent level at this point of his career is nearly two homers per nine innings with a quarter of his fly balls leaving the yard? I’m not sure anyone is really that bad though. Home runs are hard to hit.

It has now been two full seasons since Sabathia was last even an average big league starter. The prospect of a healthy knee gives us hope he will rebound and be, well, respectable this coming season, but we haven’t even seen him pitch in a Grapefruit League game yet. We have no idea how his location looks, no idea if he slider is moving the way it’s supposed to move, no idea if his changeup is changin’ up. The combination of age, wear-and-tear, and the knee injury make it damn near impossible to project Sabathia’s performance this year. This is a total wait and see situation.

Yankees Need: Leadership

With Derek Jeter retired and Alex Rodriguez persona non grata, Sabathia is the elder statesman in the clubhouse. He’s been with the team longer than Carlos Beltran and has accomplished more in his career than Mark Teixeira. Sabathia is one of those “instant respect” guys as a former Cy Young winner and World Series champ, not to mention his oh so obvious willingness to leave it all out on the field. Players notice that. The Yankees will count on Sabathia to lead the clubhouse this summer and be a mentor to a surprisingly young pitching staff.

Sabathia Can: Be A Leader

Sabathia doesn’t need to be healthy to be a leader. He just needs to be around. Chad Jennings shared this story the other day and I think it’s important:

Tanaka is the best pitcher on this team, but it’s hard to be in the Yankees clubhouse and not see CC Sabathia as the clear ace. Pitchers still look to him for advice. They look to him for leadership. And the big man provides. I have no clue whether he can be a great big league pitcher again. I don’t even know if he can be a solid No. 3. But I don’t think his role in the clubhouse has changed from what it was three years ago. Even veteran guys will gather around near his locker to talk to him about anything and everything.

The Yankees have a very young pitching staff, especially now that Chris Capuano is hurt. (The second oldest pitcher on the projected Opening Day roster is Andrew Miller, who turns 30 in late-May.) Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi are pups and even Tanaka is still relatively young, having turned 26 in November. When these guys need guidance, they’re going to turn to Sabathia. Considering how popular he’s been in the clubhouse since the day he arrived in New York, we know CC will be there to help.

CC Sabathia scheduled for simulated game on Thursday, setting up Opening Day options for Joe Girardi

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this morning, CC Sabathia told reporters he is scheduled to throw a 30-pitch simulated game on Thursday, which will be his first action in any kind of game situation since last May. He threw live batting practice over the weekend and reiterated that he feels great following knee surgery. Now he just needs to get stretched out and develop feel for his pitches before the start of the regular season.

Sabathia is pitching in a simulated game instead of the day’s actual Grapefruit League game for two reasons. One, the Yankees can better control the simulated game. They can end innings if they start to go too long, stuff like that. Two, Masahiro Tanaka is already scheduled to pitch and make his Spring Training debut that day, and I doubt the Yankees want to have either guy come out of the bullpen for their first spring appearance.

Clearly the most important thing is Sabathia and Tanaka getting their work in, and the Yankees have a plan to do that. More interestingly though, Thursday’s outings line up both guys to start Opening Day, assuming they stay on a normal five-day schedule the rest of spring. By having them both lined up to start Opening Day, Joe Girardi can make the call later in camp based on who’s healthy, who’s throwing the best, stuff like that. It gives him some options.

The Opening Day start doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it is a neat little honor. Sabathia would be the first Yankees pitcher ever to start seven straight Opening Days — Mel Stottlemyre, Ron Guidry, and Whitey Ford all started seven Opening Days in pinstripes but not consecutively — and it would be his 12th Opening Day start overall, which would be the seventh most in history. That’s pretty neat. Tanaka, obviously, would be making his first Opening Day start for the Yankees.

Hopefully Girardi gets to actually make this decision and Tanaka’s elbow or Sabathia’s knee doesn’t make it for him. I know a lot of people consider the Opening Day starter a big deal and all that, but it really isn’t. It’s just one of 162 games. If Girardi goes with Sabathia because he’s the “been there, done that” veteran, fine. If he goes with Tanaka because he’s the best pitcher on the team (arguably!), that’s cool too. Both being healthy is by far the most important thing here.

Girardi’s Press Conference Notes: A-Rod, Rotation, Spring Competitions

Spring Training is officially underway. Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today and the first actual workout is scheduled for tomorrow. Plenty of players have already been down at the complex working out for days if not weeks.

Joe Girardi held his annual start of Spring Training press conference this morning, and, as you can imagine, there were a ton of Alex Rodriguez question. But thankfully, there were some actual baseball questions too. It was a nice change of pace. “Name tags are an option,” joked Girardi because of all the new players in camp.

Video of the press conference is above. Here’s an abridged version and some thoughts.

On A-Rod

  • On the apology letter: “A person’s approach is the way they feel most comfortable doing it, whether that’s how you or me or anyone else would have done it … I think he apologized to the game. Steroids have hurt this game. It has changed the way we look at a lot of things … (The apology) was Alex’s choice and it was the way he was comfortable doing it and we’ll deal with it.”
  • On balancing workload and preparation: “I think you’re talking about him possibly DHing on a lot of days in Spring Training. That’s not quite as taxing as playing everyday in the field. He’s going to need to get his a-bats.”
  • On possibly playing first base: “That will be a conversation I have when he gets here. I want to see his face (and his reaction). He said he’s willing to do whatever he can to help us.”
  • On expectations: “I haven’t really put any numbers on it. I said this earlier: I think it’s fair to give him a fair number of at-bats before you start to judge where he might be at just because he’s played 44 games in two years and did not play last year, and I think it’s going to take him a good part of Spring Training just to get his timing down.”
  • On being a distraction: “One of the things I learned in 1996 when I came here is this is a different place. It’s different when you put on a New York Yankees uniform. You are with one of the most recognizable companies in the world. That’s part of the gig here … For the new players that are here, they’re going to get it right away … If you’re with the New York Yankees you need to learn how to deal with situations like that.”

Girardi also said the Yankees could opt to send A-Rod to minor league camp some days so he could get more work in. Minor league camp is pretty informal, he could leadoff every inning and get way more at-bats then he could in regular Grapefruit League games. Long story short, Girardi has no idea what to expect from Alex on the field and they need to see him in camp before finalizing any plans.

These press conferences are usually a little light and upbeat, especially early in Spring Training, but Girardi seemed pretty serious when asked about A-Rod being a distraction. His answer about players needing to be able to deal with it while playing for the Yankees was firm. He didn’t beat around the bush. Girardi knows it’s going to be a distraction and he expects his players to deal with it like professionals.

On Priorities In Camp

  • The rotation: “I think getting the rotation ironed out, seeing how all these guys fit and how it affects the bullpen guys who will begin Spring Training as a starting pitcher, who can possibly push their way into the rotation.”
  • The lineup: “Figuring out our batting order I think is something important. There’s some people we don’t know exactly where they’re at.” (Meaning A-Rod, physically.)
  • Picking a closer and possibly using co-closers: “I think you could do that. Would you like to iron it out? Sure. I think you have to see how people react in those situations. A number of guys I think are capable of closing, but I think (both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller) are more than capable.”
  • Competition in general: “I think there’s probably a little more open competition (than most years). I’ll try to reiterate to our players on a constant basis you’re not going to impress me the first day of camp, not going to impress me first week of camp.”

Girardi mentioned most of the competition in camp will be for specific roles and not necessarily roster spots. Aside from the last bullpen spot, the roster is mostly set right now. They have just to figure out who goes where in terms of the batting order and bullpen, specifically.

These are the sort of things that can’t be ironed out until the very end of camp too. Early on, players need to get their timing back and get back into the swing of playing. They’re not — or shouldn’t be, anyway — trying to put up big numbers the first few weeks of camp. After a few weeks of games the coaching staff will be better able to slot people into roles. Right now, they have to focus on getting ready. Late-March is when Girardi has to put together the roster puzzle.

On The Rotation

  • On CC Sabathia: “Until you really get him into the rigors of pitching every fifth day, and possibly going three or four turns on regular rest, you’re not really sure how that knee is going to fare. We feel good about it and we feel good about where he’s at.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka: “I think you can say the same thing about Tanaka. What he’s went through is not really uncommon. There have been a lot of pitchers who have pitched a substantial amount of time (with the same injury) before something had to happen.”
  • On keeping tabs on Tanaka in the offseason: “They would communicate through (head trainer) Stevie Donohue. I would keep in contact with Stevie and see how Masahiro was doing. Its difficult because he’s not pitching in games in the offseason. A lot of us feel great in the offseason. It’s the second week in camp we start to feel sore.”
  • On Nathan Eovaldi: “We expect him to be one of our starters and be extremely productive and mature as a pitcher and develop as a pitcher. (He’s a guy) who can be a workhorse for you and give you valuable innings. We expect him to be a big part of our rotation.”
  • On a potential six-man rotation: “It’s something that we will talk about. As far as having a six-man rotation all the time, no. But if you get into long situations where you play 18 games in a row, could we inject a (sixth starter) to give the guys extra rest. Absolutely.”

Girardi also mentioned they are pleased with Ivan Nova‘s progress during his rehab from Tommy John surgery and there are no restrictions for Tanaka’s spring work. He’ll prepare like any other season. He didn’t say if the same is true for Sabathia because no one asked.

It was pretty clear from his tone that Girardi knows there is a lot of injury risk in the rotation and guys might not make it through camp in one piece. He also seems to know it’s pretty much out of his hands. The team followed doctor’s orders with Tanaka and Sabathia and if they say they’re healthy, they have to proceed accordingly. I like the idea of mixing in the occasional sixth starter earlier in the season much better than a straight up six-man rotation too.

Miscellany

  • On leadership without Derek Jeter: “I think within a clubhouse you can have one person who is considered the leader, but I think there are fractions of that as well (meaning a bullpen leader, a rotation leader, etc.) … I think you’ll have guys step up in different areas. I think there’s enough veteran presence and leadership qualities that guys will just handle it.”
  • On expectations: “I think you come into Spring Training every year with the goal to win and be the best you can be as a club. There are a lot of things we need to iron out. Probably more than I can remember. Some of it because of injury and some of it because of new faces. I think this team has a chance to be really good.”
  • On other teams in the AL East: “Oh I think you obviously pay attention to what other teams are doing. What you realize over a 162-game schedule is there’s a lot of things that have to go right for you to be the winner at the end … Sometimes just everything pretty much goes according to plan.”

Yeah, the Yankees are due for one of those years where everything goes pretty much according to plan.

Injury Updates: Tanaka, Sabathia, Nova, Bailey, Heathcott, Barbato, Hensley

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

Here are some injury updates with pitchers and catchers only ten days away from reporting to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. The updates come courtesy of Brad Lefton, Dan Martin, Chad Jennings, and the Associated Press.

  • Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) adjusted his usual offseason program and has not been throwing with as much intensity as he had in the past. “Right from the beginning of camp last year, all the pitchers were throwing in the bullpen, but they were just easing into it, so there’s really no reason for me to push myself to throw full throttle before I even get there this time,” he said.
  • CC Sabathia (knee) is working out and throwing regularly at Yankee Stadium. “I don’t think we have anything to worry about how his arm works or how his knee works. Not anymore,” said Brian Cashman. Sabathia is expected to be a healthy player come the start of Spring Training.
  • Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) has been throwing on flat ground and recently said his elbow feels great. He should start throwing off a mound very soon if he hasn’t already. Nova is currently on track to rejoin the team in June after having surgery late last April.
  • Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is expected to be a healthy and active pitcher in Spring Training. He missed all of last season following shoulder capsule surgery. “He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler.
  • Slade Heathcott (knee) is also expected to be fully healthy for Spring Training. He had knee surgery last offseason and another one in June. “His progressions are moving forward really positively. The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration,” said Eppler.
  • Johnny Barbato (elbow) is healthy and will start the season on time after missing the second half of 2014 with an elbow strain. “He was cleared and good to go,” said Eppler while noting Barbato healed up in time to pitch in Instructional League for the Padres last fall. The Yankees acquired Barbato in the Shawn Kelley trade.
  • And finally, Ty Hensley (face) has already resumed throwing bullpen sessions after he was viciously attacked during the holidays, according to his Twitter feed. Hensley’s jaw had to be wired shut due to the attack so he’ll likely lose some weight. He might have to rebuild some strength before the Yankees turn him loose this summer.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 11-14

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Every team seems to have one of them, but the Yankees have more than most. The aging, past-prime former star who is making still making star money. The Yankees have done a lot of high-end shopping over the years, paying big bucks across a lot of years to players who were, at one time, cornerstones of the roster.

That isn’t the case anymore. Nos. 11-14 in our 40-man roster rankings series includes four ex-stars on the downside of their careers, who the team is still counting on to some extent in 2015. All those big seven and eight (and ten!) year contracts have come to a head at the same time. To the next batch of players …

No. 14: Alex Rodriguez

2015 Role: DH, at least at first. Maybe even part-time DH. The Yankees have made it clear A-Rod will have to earn his playing time and show he is able to contribute if he wants a regular role. They’ve spent the winter adding backup plans at third base and at DH, so the team doesn’t expect a whole lot. The Yankees are stuck with Alex though, and since they’re paying him all that money, they’re going to see if he has anything left.

Long-Term Role: More of the same, unfortunately. Like it or not, Rodriguez is owed $64M these next three seasons — not to mention his five $6M home run bonuses, the first of which is only six dingers away — and the Yankees aren’t going to eat that money just to make him go away. Not as long as there’s a chance of recouping a big chunk of his salary via insurance (if he gets hurt) or another performance-enhancing drug suspension.

So what’s the best case scenario here? I suppose it’s A-Rod hitting well enough — not like peak A-Rod, but maybe something like .270/.330/.420? — to deserve a regular lineup spot while showing enough mobility to play third base on occasion. That’s about it. The worst case scenario is that he’s cooked and not worth a roster spot, in which case the Yankees will probably stick him on the DL every time he feels the slightest twinge. What a mess.

No. 13: Carlos Beltran

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

2015 Role: Middle of the order bat, hopefully. The Yankees want Beltran to produce at the plate first and foremost. His defense in right is suspect at best and disastrous at worst, and I expect the team to mitigate the damage by using Chris Young in right field in the late innings of close games. Most importantly, they need Beltran to hit. For average, for power, the works.

Beltran had a bone spur removed from his elbow this offseason after playing through it for most of 2014. He absolutely mashed at the start of the year, but once the bone spur flared up, Beltran had no impact the plate. Hopefully having a healthy elbow means he will produce like he did before getting hurt going forward. That guy was really good.

Long-Term Role: Beltran is signed for another two seasons at $15M annually — unlike the other players in this post, the Yankees didn’t give him a 7+ year contract, just a three-year contract at age 36 — so he isn’t going anywhere. Joe Girardi is going to have to juggle DH at-bats between A-Rod and Beltran, which might not be all that difficult since both are known to visit the DL from time to time. Again, his role is middle of the order hitter. Both now and next year. If Beltran is unable to produce in that role, he doesn’t have a whole lot to offer to the Yankees.

No. 12: Mark Teixeira

2015 Role: Everyday first baseman and middle of the order power bat. Unlike Beltran, Teixeira is a two-way player who is still an asset in the field. In fact, he might be more valuable in the field than at the plate these days. Teixeira put up a .216/.313/.398 (100 wRC+) batting line with 22 homers last season, though that was split into 17 homers and a 125 wRC+ in the first half and five homers with a 62 wRC+ in the second half. He fell off big time after the All-Star break.

Teixeira missed just about the entire 2013 season following wrist surgery and there’s at least some hope he’ll improve at the plate as he gets further away from the procedure. Wrist injuries are known to sap power for quite some team even after the player is cleared to play. Teixeira said he wasn’t strong enough last year, hence the second half fade, so he started his offseason workouts earlier this winter. That sounds nice but it may not mean anything at his age. His offense has been trending down for years, after all. We know Teixeira can still play a mean first base. But his offense is a major question.

Long-Term Role: More of the same. Teixeira is entering year seven of his eight-year contract and will continue to play first base and bat somewhere close to the middle of the order. Aside from Brian McCann, he is the team’s best power source, so at a minimum the Yankees would like to see some dingers out of Teixeira while they ride out the remainder of his contract. They acquired a nice backup plan in Garrett Jones — better than the “we’ll play anyone at first base” approach they had last year, anyway — and that was necessary given Teixeira’s continually mounting injury problems. He’s no longer an impact player, but the Yankees still need something out of him.

(Scott Halleran/Getty)
(Scott Halleran/Getty)

No. 11: CC Sabathia

2015 Role: Innings eater, if the Yankees are lucky. Sabathia’s days as an ace are almost certainly over, and at this point it’s unclear if he can even be counted on to chew up innings. A degenerative knee condition limited him to only eight starts last season, and eventually Sabathia needed a clean-up procedure, which was a positive only because he didn’t need a much more serious microfracture surgery.

The thing is, even when he was healthy in 2013, Sabathia wasn’t any good, pitching to a 4.78 ERA (4.10 FIP) in 211 innings. The innings are nice, the Yankees want a lot of innings from their erstwhile ace this coming season, but not when he’s allowing runs at that rate. Best case scenario, Sabathia replaces the 2014 version of Hiroki Kuroda, pitching to a league average-ish ERA and taking the ball every fifth date. Anything more would be gravy.

Long-Term Role: There are two years plus a vesting option left on Sabathia’s contract, so he’ll potentially be around through 2017. (The vesting option is based on the health of his shoulder, not his knee.) Three more years of the 2013-14 version of Sabathia would be very bad. The Yankees need him to salvage these next few years by at least staying healthy and eating innings every fifth day, even if he is nothing more than the de facto fifth starter.

If you want a reason why Sabathia might be effective this year, it’s that his strikeout (9.39 K/9 and 23.0 K%), walk (1.96 BB/9 and 4.8 BB%), and ground ball (48.3%) rates were all excellent before he went down with the knee injury last year. If he repeats those rates — they aren’t out of line with his 2011-13 performance — then he’ll have a better chance of keeping runs off the board. Sabathia is no longer an ace, but he is under contract for at least two more years, and the Yankees would like him to be a reliable part of their rotation during that time. Not want, really. Need.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 6-10. Five veteran players, including three position players expected to contribute both at the plate and in the field.