Examining Chase Headley’s defensive ‘slump’

(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Heading into the season, there was probably no major-league team that had more question marks than the Yankees. Can the starting rotation remain healthy and be effective? Can A-Rod be an everyday player after being out of baseball for a year? How will Didi Gregorius handle the pressure of replacing Derek Jeter? Can the middle-of-the-order bats (Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann) bounce back? Who will be the closer? And the list goes on and on and on …

If there was one thing that Yankees fans did not have to worry about – and a reason to be optimistic about the team’s chances to be a playoff contender – it was the expectation that the Yankees would have one of the league’s best defensive lineups in 2015. One of the key factors in that projection was that they’d get a full season of Chase Headley at third base. No player accumulated more defensive value at the hot corner last year than Headley, who also seemingly passed the eye test as one of the league’s best-fielding third baseman.

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Six weeks into the season, the consensus is that Yankees defense has failed to live up to those lofty preseason expectations. Whether you prefer the traditional stats or the advanced metrics, the Yankees are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball, and their sloppy play has probably cost them at least a few wins already. They rank 24th in both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), 22nd in fielding percentage and 19th in defensive efficiency.

While he’s not the only Yankee underperforming on defense, Headley’s poor stats so far are perhaps the most surprising. His struggles in the field are puzzling given his stellar defensive reputation, and history would suggest that this stretch of poor defense is just a short-term slump rather than a real decline in skill. Although defensive stats can be unreliable in small samples, they are still hard to ignore right now when all of them are in agreement that Headley has performed well below average this season.

The advanced metrics have not been kind to Headley this season. He’s already cost the team five runs with his glove, according to DRS, and UZR has him as the third-worst defensive player at the hot corner. Both of those numbers are also the worst among all Yankees at any position (min. 40 innings played).

Looking at the traditional fielding stats, Headley already has as many errors this season (8) in 39 games as he did all of last year in 127 games at third base, and six of those have been throwing errors – twice as many as he made in 2014.

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It’s not just the errors that have been piling up. Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) tracks every batted ball fielded by a defender, and flags certain ones as “Defensive Misplays” — plays that were not scored an error but where the fielder clearly squandered the opportunity to make an out or allowed a baserunner to advance. Headley has seven Defensive Misplays this season, putting him on pace for nearly 30, which would be more than double his total from last year (13).

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Digging deeper into the numbers, we can see the types of plays that have been the most troublesome for Headley. One of the reasons that Headley was so good at the hot corner was his ability to make a lot more plays down the line than the average player. Balls hit to that location are typically more damaging than others if they get past the defender, because they often scoot into the outfield corners or reach the wall and likely end up as extra-base hits. According to BIS, Headley made 13 more plays to his right than the average third baseman last season. That’s good! This year, he’s been essentially an average fielder on those same balls hit down the third-base line. Uh, not as good.

As we know, defensive stats are not perfect, and there a couple possible explanations for the regression in these numbers. It could be due to a change in positioning (though they do not include any balls in play where the infield is shifted); or Headley could be struggling to make plays because the balls he’s fielded have been hit really hard towards him (the average velocity of ground balls fielded by Yankee third baseman ranks fourth-highest in the majors this season).

So what does all this mean going forward? Given Headley’s excellent defensive reputation, the fact that he’s historically rated above-average in the advanced metrics, and the unreliability of defensive stats over a short time period, we can’t make any definitive statements about his defense right now. It’s hard to believe that his true defensive talent has declined in a sample of fewer than 40 games, so you have to expect that his numbers will eventually normalize over an entire season.

Headley himself said that he’s not worried about his defense. “I’ll get it cleaned up,” he told the media on Sunday. Let’s hope he’s right.

Game 35: Bounce Back

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Last night’s loss was rather disappointing. It’s tough to swallow a loss like that when a) the Yankees had Chris Archer on the ropes in the first inning, b) Nathan Eovaldi pitched so well, and c) the only reliever used was Dellin Betances. When all three of those things happen, it should typically result in a win. Last night, it didn’t. That’s baseball.

Thankfully, the Yankees have a chance to move on and get back in the win column tonight. They haven’t lost consecutive games in almost exactly a month now, since April 14-15 against the Orioles in Camden Yards. Last night’s loss notwithstanding, the Yankees are kicking some major butt right now, and good teams shake off a loss and don’t let it spiral into a three or four-game losing streak. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Stephen Drewlet’s get weird
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Adam Warren

Another night of rain is in the forecast for St. Petersburg. Good series to play indoors so far. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy the game, folks.

Injury Updates: Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) will throw his next bullpen session on Friday. He had no issues today after throwing yesterday … Chase Headley is “pretty beat up” according to Joe Girardi, hence the day off.

With McCann and Beltran starting to come around, it’s time for Chase Headley to join the party

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees have won 18 of their last 24 games, and during that stretch they’ve done just about everything well. The bullpen has been excellent, the team defense has been very good, the non-Michael Pineda rotation has been good enough, and the offense is much improved from the last two years. The Yankees are the fourth highest scoring team in baseball with an average of 4.85 runs per game. That’s up almost a full run per game from 2013-14 (3.96 R/G).

For most of April the Yankees relied heavily on Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner to generate offense. They still do, but for that first month, those two had to get on base if the club wanted to have any chance to score. Ellsbury and Gardner got on and someone drive them in. If that didn’t happen, the Yankees didn’t score very much. Those two carried the offense.

Lately, the Yankees have been getting some more contributions from the lower part of the lineup. Carlos Beltran, who looked as close to done as it gets for several weeks, is now 12-for-37 (.324) with two homers this month and is showing some real signs of life. Hopefully it’s not just a mirage. Brian McCann has rediscovered his power stroke as well, clubbing three homers in his last 13 games after hitting one in his first 14 games. Getting those two going was really important.

The very bottom of the lineup is a different matter. There’s not much the Yankees can or should do about Didi Gregorius. They have to give him an extended trial at shortstop because he could, maybe, possibly, be a long-term solution at the position. That means living with the growing pains now. Didi’s hitting a powerless .254 with a .333 OBP in his last 18 games, which is fine for a number nine hitter in my book. Jose Pirela figures to steal some at-bats from number eight hitter Stephen Drew, which should help the lineup as well.

That leaves third baseman Chase Headley, typically the seventh place hitter between McCann/Beltran and Drew/Gregorius. Headley is hitting .233/.285/.383 (83 wRC+) in 130 plate appearances this season, with the second highest strikeout rate (22.3%) and the second lowest walk rate (6.2%) among the team’s regulars. He does have a knack for big hits (169 wRC+ in high-leverage spots!), but, overall, the Yankees were counting on more from Headley.

No one came into the season expecting Headley to repeat his stellar 2012 season (145 wRC+), but it was fair to expect a repeat of his 2013-14 campaigns (109 wRC+), especially since he hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) during his short time in pinstripes last year. Instead, he has the third lowest average exit velocity (84.69 mph) on the team even after last night’s homer. Given that, it doesn’t seem his .273 BABIP with approach his .310 mark from 2013-14 mark anything soon.

The good news is Headley’s plate discipline hasn’t changed despite the drop in walk rate. A change in approach would be a big red flag. He isn’t swinging at any more pitches out of the zone (25.0% after 27.0% from 2013-14) and isn’t making less contact (80.8% after 76.9% from 2013-14). The contact and approach are there. The quality of the contact isn’t for some reason. For what it’s worth, Headley has been a second half hitter since becoming a full-time player in 2009.

First Half Second Half
2009 .232/.308/.366 (88 wRC+) .293/.377/.421 (122 wRC+)
2010 .269/.319/.367 (92 wRC+) .257/.337/.387 (105 wRC+)
2011 .299/.391/.401 (127 wRC+) .247/.306/.390 (98 wRC+)*
2012 .267/.368/.413 (124 wRC+) .308/.386/.592 (170 wRC+)
2013 .229/.330/.359 (100 wRC+) .280/.371/.458 (135 wRC+)
2014 .226/.296/.350 (88 wRC+) .265/.367/.402 (121 wRC+)

* Missed six weeks after breaking a finger sliding into a base.

Does that mean Headley is guaranteed to start hitting later in the season? Of course not. It’s a career long trend though and that’s something we have to acknowledge. Slow starts — slow first halves, really — are nothing new for Headley. Even with last night’s homer, what Headley is doing so far this year is right in line with what he’s done early in every other year as an everyday player.

“It’s fun to just be another guy in the lineup. I feel like guys aren’t game planing against just me. There’s other guys in the lineup they have to worry about,” said Headley to Ryan Hatch recently, referring to no longer having to be The Man offensively, like he did with the Padres all those years. “If you’re going to do that, there are other guys who can get you. There’s consequences with that.”

Headley’s defense has been excellent so far this year, every bit as advertised, but his offense has undoubtedly been a disappointment to date. Hopefully the big game last night is a sign he is breaking out of it. His lack of offense hasn’t really hurt the Yankees yet, and both McCann and Beltran are starting to pick up some of the slack, but the Yankees need Headley to get back to his career norms so the offense can fire on all cylinders.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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:

CATCHERS (2)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

INFIELDERS (7)
Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

STARTERS (5)
Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

RELIEVERS (7)
Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

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.

Chase Headley and the Simple Goal of Being Dependable [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees went into the offseason with two third basemen and left with a completely different one. Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension ended and yeah, technically he’s still a third baseman, plus they had Martin Prado in tow as well. The team clearly (and rightfully) has little faith in A-Rod‘s ability to actually play the hot corner because he’s pushing 40, has two surgically repaired hips, and hasn’t played a whole lot the last two years.

So the Yankees proceeded as if Rodriguez was not a third base candidate this winter, though eventually they traded Prado to the Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi. Before they did that though, the club re-signed Chase Headley to a four-year contract worth $52M. Trading Prado probably wasn’t going to happen without Headley back in the fold first. New York wanted Headley back so much they caved into his four-year demand as well.

After coming over from the Padres last year, the 30-year-old Headley hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 58 games and seemed to be in the middle of everything. He also played standout defense at the hot corner and that’s his true calling card, not his bat. Overall, Headley put up a .243/.328/.372 (103 wRC+) batting line between San Diego and New York in 2014. What purpose does he serve in 2015? Let’s look.

Yankees Need: Dependable Offense

Thanks to Yangervis Solarte in the first half and Headley in the second half, the Yankees got a .254/.329/.404 (107 wRC+) batting line out their third basemen last year, which is pretty solid. It’s nothing that will carry a lineup, but that’s workable. My guess is the Yankees would be happy with similar overall production from Headley this year.

But, most importantly, the Yankees need Headley to be dependable near the middle of the lineup because all their big name middle of the order guys come with questions. Carlos Beltran is old and coming off elbow surgery. Mark Teixeira has been trending downward for years. Brian McCann was dreadful during his first year in New York. A-Rod? Good grief. The Yankees need Headley to be a mainstay and someone they can count on to produce from Opening Day through Game 162, no questions asked.

Headley Can: Offer Reasons To Expect More Than 2014

Let’s get this out of the way: 2012 Headley, the guy who put up a .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) batting line with 31 homers, is not coming back. It would be awesome if he did, but that very likely was Headley’s career year, and that’s okay. His 2013 season — .250/.347/.400 (114 wRC+) with 13 homers — was pretty good between a great 2012 and an average 2014.

Headley is still relatively young, certainly not at an age when you’d expect his bat to decline precipitously, and he’s moving into a much more favorable home ballpark. Going from Petco Park to Yankee Stadium should, if nothing else, boost his power numbers. They moved the Petco walls in recently but there’s nothing they can do about the marine layer that knocks the ball down at night. That’s the real problem.

When the Yankees acquired Headley last year, Brian Cashman said the team’s internal metrics measured an uptick in his “hit velo,” and we’re just going to have to take Cashman’s at his word. There’s no publicly available “hit velo” data aside from the stuff at Hit Tracker, which shows Headley’s six homers with the Yankees averaged 105.3 mph off the bat after his seven with the Padres averaged 105.6 mph. That’s only homers though, not all hits. Either way, the team has something telling them Headley is hitting the ball with more authority now.

Headley has always drawn a fair amount of walks and while he is a switch-hitter, he is very shiftable as a left-handed hitter (2012-14 spray charts). That’s taken a bite out of his batting average in recent years and you can be sure teams won’t stop shifting against him. But, between the walks and more favorable ballpark (don’t discount the mental “thank goodness I’m out of Petco!” factor), there’s reason to believe Headley can improve on last year’s 103 wRC+ and get him back to something close to his 114 wRC+ from two years ago.

Yankees Need: Sturdy Defense At Third Base

This offseason the Yankees set out to improve their infield defense. It was clearly a priority. Headley came over at midseason last year and was a breath of fresh air compared what the team had been running out there in recent years, the hobbled A-Rods and Solartes and Youkilises of the world. If the Yankees are going to contend this year, strong infield defense is a necessity, not a luxury.

Headley Can: Play Sturdy Defense In His Sleep

Defense is Headley’s specialty. He’s a gloveman before a hitter, and we saw that firsthand in the second half year season. I do think it’s important to note the defensive stats — all of ’em, UZR, DRS, Total Zone, the whole nine — all love Headley, but last year they loved him more than ever. They had him saving something like 20+ runs in the field after having him in the 5-10 runs saved range from 2011-13. Defense is like offense, players can have a career year in the field. Headley’s a very good fielder. He’s probably not going to be as outrageously good as he was last year again though.

Yankees Need: Headley To Stay Healthy

Moreso than any other position, the Yankees don’t have a viable backup plan at third base should Headley miss an extended period of time. It’s hard to think A-Rod will be able to play the hot corner regularly, and the other options are Brendan Ryan, Jose Pirela, Cole Figueroa, and Jonathan Galvez. That’s … not very promising. Maybe A-Rod will show he can play the field regularly and exceed expectations. But unless that happens, Headley will be extremely difficult to replace if he gets hurt.

Headley Can: Stay Healthy, Hopefully

Headley’s injury history isn’t all that gruesome. He’s been on the DL three times in his career: once because he broke his pinkie sliding into a base (missed 44 days), another time because he broke the tip of his thumb sliding into a base (26 days), and another time with a calf strain (15 days). Unless Headley is a such a chronically bad slider that his fingers are always in jeopardy, there’s nothing recurring there to worry about.

Headley’s back, on the other hand, is another matter. He’s had on and off back trouble over the years but has never missed more than a handful of games at a time. In fact, he has missed 18 days total in his career due to back trouble, including four last summer. Of course, Headley did need an epidural last year — Cashman noted the “hit velo” spike came after the injection — and that’s worrisome. But, to date, the back has been nothing more than a minor nuisance. Hopefully it stays that way going forward. Aside from that, Headley has no lingering physical issues to worry about.

Yankees Need: Some Leadership

I don’t want to harp on this too much but it is worth noting. The Yankees not only waved goodbye to Derek Jeter this offseason, they replaced him with the very young Didi Gregorius. There’s a leadership void in the clubhouse and on the left side of the infield. Headley, as a relatively big free agent signing, will be counted on to fill some of that void.

Headley Can: Provide Some Leadership, Maybe, Possibly

Headley looks like a leader type, right? That’s good enough for me. By all accounts he fit in well in the clubhouse after the trade last season and I’m sure he’ll be able to help Gregorius with positioning and stuff. That seems leadership-y.

Poll: The Most Important Addition of the Offseason

Miller appears to be 95% arms and legs. (Presswire)
Miller appears to be 95% arms and legs. (Presswire)

Spring Training has begun and the offseason is over. The Yankees made a lot of transactions this winter — I count eleven trades and free agent signings involving actual MLB players — and accomplished their goals of getting younger and more flexible. It was a different winter in the sense that there were no massive free agent contracts handed out.

Some offseason pickups are more important to the Yankees than others, obviously. More important not just for the success of the 2015 Yankees, but for the 2016 and beyond Yankees as well. Which offseason addition was most important both short and long-term? That’s what we’re here to decide. With all due respect to one-year guys like Stephen Drew and Garrett Jones, and fringe roster guys like Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin, here are the team’s six biggest offseason pickups.

RHP David Carpenter

Acquired from the Braves in the Manny Banuelos trade, the 29-year-old Carpenter is going to step right into some sort of setup role this year. Shawn Kelley’s old role, basically, which is fitting because they are similar fastball-slider pitchers. It’s hard to consider any non-elite reliever like Carpenter a long-term piece — he’s been traded four times and claimed off waivers once already in his career — but he is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2017. If he performs well, he’ll stick around in the bullpen for a few years.

RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi, who just turned 25 ten days ago, was New York’s big rotation addition this winter. He had a shaky year with the Marlins in 2014 (4.37 ERA in 199.2 innings) but there are signs of growth, specifically his continually improving walk rate (2011-14: 13.7 BB%, 8.9 BB%, 8.9 BB%, 5.0 BB%) and FIP (2011-14: 4.35, 4.13, 3.59, 3.37). The Yankees acquired Eovaldi because of what they believe he will become, not what he has been, and his raw tools — specifically one of the hardest fastballs in the game — suggest major upside. Upside, of course, means he’s not there quite yet. Like Carpenter, Eovaldi is under control through the 2017 season as an arbitration-eligible player and the team envisions him fronting the rotation by time he qualifies for free agency.

SS Didi Gregorius

(Ralph Freso/Getty)
(Ralph Freso/Getty)

Needless to say, a starting shortstop is a pretty big deal. The Yankees had to find a new starting shortstop this winter for the first time in two decades and Gregorius, who turned 25 last Wednesday, gets the first crack at being Derek Jeter‘s long-term replacement. He’s basically the polar opposite of Jeter as an above-average defender and below-average hitter. It’ll be a shock to the system for many Yankees fans initially. Gregorius came over in the Shane Greene three-team trade and he’s under team control for five more years, including the last four as a Super Two arbitration-eligible player. He’s never going to be a guy who hits in the middle (or even at the top) of the order, but shortstop is a damn important position.

3B Chase Headley

The Yankees acquired the 30-year-old Headley at the trade deadline last year and saw firsthand how well he fit both in the clubhouse and on the field. A switch-hitter with patience and some pop to go with excellent defense at the hot corner is the kind of player every team could use. The Yankees re-signed Headley this offseason to a four-year contract worth $52M to take over as their starting third baseman, A-Rod or no A-Rod. He probably won’t be asked to hit in the middle of the order at the outset of 2015, but honestly, I could see him hitting second or third before long if the guys expected to hit in the middle of the order repeat their 2014 efforts.

LHP Andrew Miller

Although he’s a lefty, Miller replaced David Robertson on the roster. They’re both top notch late-inning relievers. Handedness doesn’t matter. The Yankees gave Miller a four-year, $36M deal over the winter and it remains to be seen if he’ll be the team’s closer or setup man this season. Either way, the team expects him to be a force in eighth and/or ninth inning. This isn’t your garden variety lefty reliever. Miller, 29, will be counted on to be a late-inning force during the life of his new contract.

LHP Justin Wilson

Like Miller, Wilson is no typical lefty reliever. He has power stuff — averaged 96.3 mph with his fastball last year — and is able to face both lefties and righties. Walks have been an issue for the 27-year-old Wilson in his two years and one month as a big leaguer (career 10.6 BB%) but he has missed plenty of bats (career 22.0 K%) and gets plenty of ground balls (50.9 GB%). He’s basically a left-handed complement to Carpenter. Wilson has four years of team control remaining. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season.

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As a reminder, this poll is trying to balance short and long-term importance. That isn’t necessarily easy. Veteran players like Headley and Miller figure to have their best years in 2015 and gradually decline during their four year contracts. And, if all goes according to plan, younger guys like Gregorius and Eovaldi will get better each year, so 2015 will hopefully be the worst years of their time in pinstripes. Make sense? Anyway, let’s get to the poll.

Who was NYY's most important pickup of the winter?

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 6-10

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. 11-14, 15-16, 17-19, 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
Miller. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

As we enter the top ten of our 40-man roster rankings, we’ve reached the cornerstone players. The guys who are under contract or team control for multiple years and are expected to be key contributors going forward. Everyday players, no-doubt starting pitchers, late-inning relievers. The core of the roster.

Today we’ll cover Nos. 6-10, which are something of a mixed bag with three position players and two pitchers. But, again, these guys are all going to play major roles for the 2015 Yankees as well as the 2016 and 2017 Yankees, if not longer. Maybe not the stars of the show, but the best of the supporting cast. To the next group of rankings …

No. 10: Andrew Miller

2015 Role: High-leverage reliever. Maybe even closer. It remains to be seen exactly how the late innings will shake out, though there is no doubt Miller will factor into the eighth and/or ninth inning somehow. He’s left-handed but no lefty specialist — Miller is a very high-strikeout pitcher who dominates both righties and lefties. Joe Girardi won’t have to worry about platoon matchups when using his new bullpen toy.

Long-Term Role: The same, high-leverage reliever. The Yankees gave Miller a four-year contract worth $9M annually to replace David Robertson — Robertson got a bigger contract from the White Sox and New York gained a draft pick in the process — which maybe wasn’t the most popular sequence of events, but it was a sound baseball move. At age 29, Miller should have multiple peak years remaining before fading into a LOOGY later in his career. Then again, relievers age differently than everyone else. Either way, Miller was given that contract to be a factor in the late innings.

No. 9: Chase Headley

2015 Role: Starting third baseman. Make no mistake, the Yankees didn’t re-sign Headley to be a part-time player and Headley didn’t come back to the Yankees to be anything less than the starter at the hot corner. There is no third base competition between Headley and Alex Rodriguez. The job is Headley’s. The Yankees have made it abundantly clear.

As the starting third baseman, Headley will be expected to be a two-way threat. His defense is his best tool and he’s well-above-average at third. We all saw it last year. Headley’s offense is more of a question. He hit .243/.328/.372 (103 wRC+) with 13 homers overall last year, down from .250/.347/.400 (114 wRC+) with 13 homers in 2013 and .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) with 31 homers during his career year in 2012. The 2012 version of Headley ain’t coming back, but the 2013 version sure would be nice.

Headley. (Elsa/Getty)
Headley. (Elsa/Getty)

Long-Term Role: The third base job is Headley’s going forward even with 2013 first rounder Eric Jagielo slated to open the season at Double-A. (Jagielo has to work on his glovework before we have to worry about him displacing Headley.) The Yankees gave Headley a nice four-year contract worth $52M that I think we’re going to look back on next offseason and say it’s one hell of a deal. There are no good third basemen set to hit free agency these next few years.

Ideally, Headley would slot in not as a middle of the order guy, but into the sixth or even seventh spot of the lineup. He did hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 58 games for New York after hitting .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homers in 77 games for the Padres last summer, and there’s no doubt moving from spacious Petco Park into tiny Yankee Stadium will help his offense. Headley is right in the prime of his career at age 30, and hopefully the guy we saw in the second half is the guy we’ll see the next four years. Maybe with more power too.

No. 8 Brett Gardner

2015 Role: Everyday left fielder and table-setter for the rest of the lineup. Derek Jeter‘s retirement means Girardi is free to use Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury — two leadoff hitters by trade — in the one-two spots of the lineup, in whatever order that may be. Gardner’s role is simple: catch everything in left and get on base for the middle of the order. If he hits 17 homers again like he did last year, great! But I don’t think that’ll happen.

Long-Term Role: Same thing, everyday left fielder and someone who hits high in the order. The Yankees finally got with the times and put an end to that silly “no extensions” rule last spring by signing Gardner to a four-year, $52M contract. That extension starts this year — the four-year contract was tacked on top of his existing one-year deal for 2014 — which means Gardner is locked up through his age 34 season. The Yankees have always spoken highly of him and they put their money where their mouth is last year.

Eovaldi. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty)
Eovaldi. (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty)

No. 7: Nathan Eovaldi

2015 Role: Innings eater. Eovaldi, who turns 25 next month, will have a full-time rotation spot this coming season, though sticking a number on him (No. 2 starter, No. 3 starter, etc.) is pointless. He’s going to get the ball every fifth day and be counting on for innings, like the 199.2 he threw for the Marlins last year.

There’s more to the story though. In addition to eating innings, the Yankees will work with Eovaldi to get better results out of his high-end stuff. It’s a development year as well. No soon-to-be 25-year-old pitcher is a finished product. The Yankees acquired Eovaldi with the idea of getting good innings out of him now and great innings out of him later.

Long-Term Role: Frontline starter, or close to it. That might be a little too much to ask. I’m sure the Yankees would be thrilled if Eovaldi developed in a consistent above-average innings eater, a guy good for 200+ innings and, say, a 3.50-ish ERA. They paid a good price to get him in a five-player trade with the Marlins – second baseman Martin Prado and the generally reliable David Phelps — and control Eovaldi’s rights through 2017. The plan is to get good innings this year and dominant innings by 2017. Eovaldi’s development is critical to the future of New York’s rotation.

No. 6: Brian McCann

2015 Role: Starting catcher and middle of the order power source. McCann’s first year in pinstripes was a mostly disappointing mixed bag. His defense was very good — he threw out 37.2% of attempted base-stealers and again ranked as one of the game’s elite pitch-framers — as expected, and while he provided power at the plate (team-high 23 homers), his overall .232/.286/.406 (92 wRC+) line was less than hoped.

This coming season, the soon-to-be 31-year-old McCann will again handle everyday duties behind the plate. The Yankees are also hoping for a rebound at the plate, that his poor 2014 season was simply the result of moving to a new league and having to learn an entirely new pitching staff. With any luck, McCann will be more comfortable this time around and get back to being the guy he was with the Braves, who put up a 119-123 wRC+ four times in five years before coming to New York. He’s expected to drive in runs and lots of ’em.

McCann. (Elsa/Getty)
McCann. (Elsa/Getty)

Long-Term Role: There are four years left on McCann’s contract and the reality is that there aren’t many everyday catchers at age 34+, which McCann will be in the last year of his contract. Since 2000, only 41 catchers age 34 or over have managed 400+ plate appearances in a season, and most of them were flat out awful. Here’s the list.

At some point the Yankees will have to scale back on McCann’s workload behind the plate, and it could start this year. That doesn’t mean he won’t be in the lineup — McCann could always DH, and, as we saw last year, the team is open to sticking him at first for a day — just that they have to protect him from the wear and tear of catching. They knew that going into the contract.

So, McCann’s long-term role is starting catcher and mentor to John Ryan Murphy, the obvious in-house candidate to take over as the No. 1 catcher down the road (unless Gary Sanchez shows marked improvement behind the plate this year). The perfect world scenario would be a Girardi/Jorge Posada-esque apprenticeship, where McCann’s time behind the plate gradually decreases and Murphy increases these next four years. No matter how many games he catches, McCann’s power is an important competent for the team’s offense.

Coming Wednesday: Nos. 3-5. Three young players, all with less than two full years of MLB experience, expected to be part of the core of the next great Yankees team.