Update: Gary Sanchez headed to disabled list with biceps strain

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

8:00pm: Sanchez will be placed on the 10-day disabled list, according to Jack Curry. Sweeny Murti says Higashioka is coming up from Scranton. Following today’s game Joe Girardi said the Yankees will be cautious with Sanchez because the injury is to his throwing arm.

6:02pm: The Yankees say Sanchez has a right biceps strain. Phew. I was worried it his shoulder. They’re not out of the woods yet, but a biceps strain is far more preferable to a shoulder (or elbow) issue. Here’s video of the injury:

5:40pm: Gary Sanchez left this afternoon’s game with some sort of right arm injury. He took a swing in the fifth inning, then immediately grimaced and doubled over. No idea what it could be, though he was clearly favoring his right arm. Sanchez left the game without really lobbying in to stay.

Needless to say, losing Sanchez for any length of time would be pretty devastating. He is one of the Yankees’ best hitters despite his relatively slow start to the season, and he’s also their starting catcher. That’s kind of a big deal. Kyle Higashioka is the No. 3 catcher in Triple-A right now. Hopefully Sanchez’s injury is nothing serious and he isn’t needed.

The Yankees have not yet released any sort of update on Sanchez, so stay tuned.

Saturday Links: Tanaka, Extensions, Jeter, Torreyes

Can he DH? (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Can he play a little outfield? (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees and Orioles continue their three-game series with the middle game later this afternoon. Until then, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Yankees shoot down Tanaka opt-out report

The Yankees have shot down a report that said they would not pursue Masahiro Tanaka should he exercise his opt-out clause after the season. “It ain’t on my radar screen right now — an entire season to play. Secondly, anyone that knows me knows that I don’t get emotional or personal about business. Any decision then will be made on a solid analysis of all the relevant data, per usual,” said Hal Steinbrenner to George King. Brian Cashman and Randy Levine rejected the report too.

The original report sounded like the Yankees trying to negotiate through the media and it didn’t really pass the sniff test. Why make a free agent decision in April? If Tanaka opts out, it will be because he stayed healthy and had a very good 2017 season, in which case he’d be in high demand. Why close the door on that guy in April? There’s also this: If the Yankees truly do not intend to pursue Tanaka after he opts out, they should trade him as soon as possible. Can’t let him go for nothing but a dinky draft pick.

Yankees not yet thinking about extensions for young players

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not yet considering long-term contract extensions for young players like Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez. “It’s a bit premature,” said Cashman. One of the reasons? The luxury tax. Signing any pre-arbitration player to an extension now means their luxury tax number would be equal to the average annual value of the contract. Sanchez and Bird will both make six figures in 2018, which will help the Yankees immensely with the luxury tax situation. They’re desperately trying to get under the threshold.

“It can be an issue. I am not saying we have confronted the issue with Hal, but that would be a hurdle to get past. I am not saying it is unsurpassable, but that is my best guess,” said Cashman. Interestingly enough, Cashman also seemed to indicate the Yankees are more open to discussing an extension with Didi Gregorius. Gregorius can be a free agent after the 2019 season. Bird has to wait until after 2021 and Sanchez (and Aaron Judge) until after 2022. I wrote about this early this week. Signing these guys now could save millions down the road, but it would also make it more difficult to get under the luxury tax threshold next year.

Jeter involved in bidding for Marlins

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Since retiring, Derek Jeter has become a husband and he will soon become a father. Now he wants to own a baseball team. According to Charlie Gasparino, Brian Schwartz, and Tim Healey, Jeter is involved with a group led by longtime investment banker Gregory Fleming that is bidding for the Miami Marlins. Two other ownership groups are in the running too. MLB has to be kept in the loop during the process and the league is aware of Jeter’s involvement.

“There are many groups who are interested. We field offers often. The difference now is those offers are being looked at very seriously,” said Marlins president David Samson. Owner Jeffrey Loria reportedly had a handshake agreement in place to sell the team for $1.6 billion a few weeks ago, but that fell apart. Jeter has made it no secret he would one day like to own a team, and getting involved as the face of an ownership a la Magic Johnson and the Dodgers would seem to make the most sense.

Torreyes is keeping No. 74

I thought this was a fun little story. Ronald Torreyes gave up his No. 17 to Matt Holliday this year — Holliday wore No. 5 with the Rockies and Athletics, and No. 7 with the Cardinals, and those numbers weren’t going to happen with the Yankees — and, in exchange, Holliday bought him a new suit, according to Dan Martin. Torreyes then picked No. 74 because that’s the number the Yankees gave him when he joined the organization last year.

“Last year, 74 was the number they gave me when I arrived for Spring Training. This year, I used it again and had good results with it (in the spring), so I decided to keep it,” said Torreyes to Martin. That’s pretty neat. Better than the time the Yankees ripped No. 29 away from Francisco Cervelli and gave it to Rafael Soriano. I enjoy seeing young guys in the lineup with uncommon numbers like 74 and 99. Gives them a little personalty.

Opening Week Overreaction: The Struggles of Sanchez and Bird

(John Raoux/AP)
(John Raoux/AP)

To say that Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird had a disappointing opening series would be a fairly strong understatement. The duo combined to bat .077/.143/.115 against the Rays this week, and by fWAR’s reckoning they’ve already cost the Yankees -0.4 wins. It’s a less than ideal start to the season, to say the least – particularly for two players that are being counted on to be cornerstones of the team’s offense this year. And it feels more surprising than might normally be the case, given Sanchez’s utter dominance in August and September last year, and Bird’s Spring Training performance (lest we forget that he was arguably the best hitter in baseball in March).

As was the case when I wrote about Masahiro Tanaka earlier this week, I offer a brief disclaimer: this is a minuscule sample size. It’s three games against a good pitching staff in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors. There’s no reason to worry at this juncture. However, it is worth taking a look to see if there are any trends that may explain this mini-slump.

Gary Sanchez

Sanchez does not have an extra-base hit yet. That isn’t shocking in and of itself – most every hitter in Major League Baseball will have several such stretches throughout the season. Sanchez went six straight games without an extra-base hit in September; it just didn’t stand out as much because he was hitting .374/.441/.798 when that streak started, and could do no wrong. It’s much easier to shine a light on such a stretch when it opens the season, and leaves a hitter slashing .071/.071/.071.

What could be causing this, aside from luck, random variation, and every small sample size caveat you can think of?

It’s interesting to note that Sanchez has yet to go to the opposite field. He was a pull-heavy hitter in 2016, with just 15.1% of his batted balls going the other way – but he’s pulling nearly two-thirds of balls in play to left this year (an increase of 9.5 percentage points), and going up the middle more. The shift-savvy Rays are undoubtedly aware of his preexisting tendency to pull the ball, and played him as such in the opening series … and it seems as though Sanchez played right into their hands.

Sanchez is also swinging at more pitches (from 44.9% last year to 54.2% this year), and making more contact (from 71.1% to 75.0%). That seems indicative of bad luck for Sanchez, as more balls in play oftentimes means more hits – especially when the ball is hit hard. And, as per FanGraphs, he’s hitting the ball harder than last year, and significantly so as his soft contact rate has dropped by 9.4 percentage points to a ridiculously low 9.1%. Despite this, his BABIP sits at .091.

The extra swinging may be indicative of Sanchez pressing (as is the fact that he hasn’t taken a walk yet), but it isn’t a sign of impatience. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside of the strikezone (32.8% in 2016 against 24.1% this year), and he’s seeing a robust 4.5 pitches per plate appearance. That 4.5 P/PA mark would have placed him third in all of baseball last year, and puts him 30th among 199 qualified hitters at this point.

It is difficult to really dig into Sanchez’s numbers and find something disconcerting, with the possible exception of his ignorance as to the opposite field. And, even then, he thrived in 2016 by hammering the ball to the pull side.

Greg Bird

Despite his impressive 2015 debut, monster Spring Training, and undeniable hype, Bird was always entering 2017 as something of an unknown. He missed all of 2016 with an injury that has a spotty track record for recovery, and we seem to forget that he had played a total of 80 games above Double-A (34 at Triple-A and 46 in the majors) prior to this year. The projection systems were all over the place as a result, with ZiPS forecasting a middling .234/.307/449 line, PECOTA sitting in the middle at .244/.328/.457, and Steamer tossing out an optimistic .264/.346/.489. He was great at Triple-A and with the Yankees, but it was a long time ago over a small-ish sample size.

There are a few red flags in the even smaller sample size that is 2017, though. As per PITCHf/x, Bird has a horrendous 40.0% contact percentage, and is whiffing on 22.2% of his swings. Both marks would have been the worst in baseball last year, and both are in the bottom-ten this year (his contact percentage is dead last). His strikeout rate has dropped by 1.2 percentage points when compared to 2015, even as strikeout rates have risen by over two percentage points; he’s also swinging at fewer pitches overall, and seeing plenty of pitches (4.5 P/PA). It isn’t all bad on this front.

That being said, unlike Sanchez, Bird does not seem to be making good contact. His hard- and medium-hit rates have dropped precipitously, and he’s making soft contact on 37.5% of the balls he puts in play. That helps to explain his .083 BABIP, as does the fact that (per FanGraphs) he’s yet to hit a line drive. This could be a classification, of course, but the eye test confirms that he hasn’t quite driven the ball yet. Oddly enough, all of his batted balls have gone to center or left thus far, making him the anti-Sanchez in that regard.

The lack of pulled balls could be encouraging in and of itself, as the shift was something of a problem for Bird in 2015. Would mentioning small sample sizes here be beating a dead horse?


This was supposed to read as an overreaction, which is generally pessimistic. However, it is difficult to parse these numbers and not see how influenced they are by the simple fact that the duo has combined for 28 plate appearances in three games. It’s still the first week of the season, they’re both just 24-years-old, and they’re both supremely talented hitters with some measure of success in the show (however brief it may have been). And some of the underlying numbers serve as a testament to bad luck more so than anything else.

Even so, it would be lovely if their bats could wake up with gusto this weekend.

Yankeemetrics: Play Ball! (April 2-5)

It's not what you want (Source: Getty)
It’s not what you want (Source: Getty)

Baseball is a Marathon, not a Sprint
The ‘good’ news after the Yankees Opening Day debacle is that there was only one way to go after such a depressing game – up – since you probably could not have scripted a much more disastrous start to the 2017 season.

The bad news after the Yankees Opening Day debacle was that I had to write the first sentence of this post … and the next sentence: for the first time in team history, they’ve dropped six straight Opening Day contests.

Despite the unsightly outcome, there were some notable positive nuggets to report as the team took the field on Sunday afternoon:

  • For the first time in more than eight decades – since 1932, to be exact – the Yankees had four players under the age of 25 in the Opening Day lineup (Ronald Torreyes, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge). The quartet back in the ’30s included a couple Hall-of-Famers: Lefty Gomez, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti and Ben Chapman.
  • The 24-year-old Bird was the franchise’s youngest Opening Day first baseman since Don Mattingly in 1986.
  • Sanchez joined Derek Jeter (1998-99) as the only under-25 Yankees to hit second on Opening Day over the last 40 seasons.
  • Judge (who turns 25 at the end of the month) was the youngest Opening Day corner outfielder for the Yankees since a 23-year-old Hensley Meulens in 1991.

Things quickly spiraled out of control after the first pitch, however, as Masahiro Tanaka delivered one of the worst Opening Day performances by any pitcher in franchise history.

Tanaka became the only Yankee ever to allow at least seven earned runs and get fewer than 10 outs on Opening Day. And his 2? innings tied Ron Guidry (1983) and Mel Stottlemyre (1973) for the fewest by a Yankee Opening Day starter in the last 100 years.

Along with poor fastball command, Tanaka’s splitter wasn’t fooling the Rays. Though he did get a respectable five whiffs and had good location on the 15 splits he threw, burying the pitch at the bottom of the zone …
masahiro-tanaka-2

… the Rays did damage on the five splitters they put in play, crushing two singles, a deep sac fly and a homer off the pitch.

While Tanaka got clobbered on the mound, there were a couple encouraging results from the bats on Sunday.

Sanchez might have gone 0-for-5 but his first-inning groundout was a rocket, with an exit velocity of 115.7 mph. It was the second-hardest hit ball recorded by Statcast (since 2015) for any Yankee, behind only an A-Rod homer on May 1, 2015 measured at 116.5 mph off the bat.

Starlin Castro did something that Robinson Cano never achieved in pinstripes – a three-hit Opening Day performance (the most recent Yankee second baseman to do it was Tony Womack in 2005) – while Chase Headley joined A-Rod (2006) and Wade Boggs (1994) as the only Yankee third baseman in the last 90 seasons to have three hits on Opening Day.

Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)
Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)

Second time’s a charm
The Yankees bounced back from their Game 1 disaster with an impressive blanking of the Rays on Tuesday. The 5-0 win was just the second time in the last quarter-century that the Yanks pitched a shutout in either their first or second game (also 2002), and was the team’s largest shutout win this early into the season since they beat the Twins 8-0 in the 1988 opener. Last year’s first shutout didn’t come until May 4.

The offense was ignited by a most unlikely source, when the (listed) 5-foot-8 Ronald Torreyes – who had one homer in 161 at-bats in his first two seasons in the majors – drilled a two-run shot to left center field to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. He’s got a long ways to go to catch the franchise leader in homers by a player that short – of course, it’s Yogi Berra (5-foot-7) with 358 career bombs.

CC Sabathia put together one of his best season-opening performances, scattering three hits and two walks across five shutout innings. The only other time he didn’t allow a run in his first start was back in 2004 against the Twins.

It had been 15 years since a Yankee starter threw five-or-more scoreless innings in either the team’s first or second game: In 2003, both Roger Clemens (6 innings) and Andy Pettitte (7 innings) held the Blue Jays without a run in the first two games of the season.

Sabathia also notched a significant milestone with his 224th career win, tying Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter for 66th on MLB’s all-time wins list.

Little Mike, No Offense
Thanks to another frustrating outing by Michael Pineda and a lackluster effort by the offense, the Yankees lost 4-1 in the rubber game of this three-game set. This is the fifth time in the last six years the team has dropped its opening series of the season.

(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

Michael Pineda didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, producing an all-too-familiar statline. The good: six strikeouts, no walks; The bad: eight hits, four runs. Sometimes you can predict baseball.

Three of the four runs he surrendered came with two outs, continuing yet another perplexing trend from 2016 — his inability to finish off innings. Last year Pineda allowed the most two-out hits (80) and second-most two-out runs (52) in the majors … and seems to be on track to repeat that performance in 2017.

Not only did Pineda extend his personal winless streak to a career-worst 11 starts dating back to early August of last year, he’s gone eight starts in a row without a win against Tampa Bay, the longest such streak by any Yankee. Among all pitchers, only Jeff Suppan (10 straight from 1999-03) and Sidney Ponson (9 straight from 2000-02) have recorded longer winless streaks versus the Rays.

The lone offensive highlight came from the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, who took Alex Cobb deep in the second inning to knot the score at 1-1. It was his 33rd homer since coming to the Bronx in 2014, but just the second one that’s tied up a game.

There are many pros and only a few cons to signing Sanchez to a long-term contract

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

February and March make up extension season in baseball. Most pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players hammer out their contracts for the upcoming season this time of year, and inevitably some strike long-term deals with their teams. In recent weeks Tim Anderson, Rougned Odor, Jose Ramirez (the hitter, not the pitcher), Kevin Kiermaier, and Carlos Martinez all signed extensions. The team gets cost certainty and the player gets rich. Everyone wins.

The Yankees have a lot of up-and-coming young talent, so it stands to reason they’ll start thinking about long-term extensions soon. Much of that talent is in the minors though. Aaron Judge has fewer than 100 big league plate appearances and Greg Bird just missed an entire season with shoulder surgery. Luis Severino was pretty bad as a starter last season. You can understand why the Yankees may wait to approach those guys about extensions.

Then there’s Gary Sanchez, who was so incredibly awesome late last year he finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting despite playing only one-third of the season. The timing of Sanchez’s call-ups these last two years mean he has only 86 days of service time. That’s it. Not only do the Yankees still have Sanchez for six more seasons, but he won’t he even qualify as a Super Two. He’ll make something close to the league minimum from 2017-19 before going through arbitration from 2020-22.

Unlike Judge, Sanchez has shown he can thrive against big league pitching. And unlike Bird, Sanchez plays a premium position. There are many reasons the Yankees should look to extend their young cornerstone backstop and his position is one of them. Quality catchers are hard to find. When you get one who can hit and throw like Sanchez, you lock him up. The history of the Yankees is littered with ultra-productive catchers (Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada) and Sanchez looks to be next in line. That’s exciting.

Working out a long-term extension isn’t easy, of course. For starters, Sanchez has to be willing to sign away his maximum earning potential for the guaranteed payday. He received a $3M signing bonus as an amateur and may not be desperate for a huge contract right now. Also, Sanchez seems pretty committed to his #brand, so his goal may to be make as much money as possible. I couldn’t blame him one bit. There’s a few other factors to consider too.

1. There is very little precedent for an extension this early. Like I said, Sanchez has only 86 days of service time, and in the world of baseball 172 days equals a full year. Very few long-term deals are struck this early in a player’s career, though it should be noted the White Sox just extended Anderson with 115 days of service time. Here’s the list of players who signed long-term before reaching one year of service time over the last decade:

  • Tim Anderson, White Sox: Six years, $25M with two options in March 2017.
  • Jon Singleton, Astros: Five years, $10M with three options in June 2014.
  • Chris Archer, Rays: Six years, $20M with two options in April 2014.
  • Salvador Perez, Royals: Five years, $7M with three options in February 2012.
  • Matt Moore, Rays: Five years, $14M with three options in December 2011.
  • Evan Longoria, Rays: Six years, $17.5M with three options in April 2008.

That’s it. Six players over the last ten years, three of whom played for the Rays, a team that aggressively locks up its young talent because that’s the only way they can remain competitive. I’m certain the Yankees would give Sanchez the Perez extension right now, but yeah, no way that’s happening. Perez was a small amateur bonus guy ($65,000) who very much wanted the guaranteed millions, so he jumped at the contract. (Perez and the Royals tore that contract up and renegotiated a new $52.5M deal last year.)

The Anderson contract does set something of a benchmark for the Yankees and Sanchez, though I’m sure Sanchez’s agent would say “my guy is a lot better than that guy” and demand more. I know I would. The thing to keep in mind is the Yankees have Sanchez for the next six years at below-market salaries no matter what. They also have the ability to non-tender him and walk away should he stop hitting or suffer a catastrophic injury. So unless a long-term deal buys out some free agent years — meaning cover at least seven years — at a reasonable price, there’s little reason for the Yankees to agree to a contract extension.

2. Sanchez’s leverage may never be greater than it is right now. Sanchez could spend 15 years in the big leagues and make a bunch of All-Star teams, and it’s still very possible he will never have another two-month stretch like the one he had last season. Signing Sanchez right now could mean locking him up when his value is at its absolute peak, when everyone thinks he might be a Miguel Cabrera caliber hitter and an Ivan Rodriguez caliber defender.

For the Yankees, the smart move could be waiting until next offseason, when they have a chance to see how Sanchez performs over the course of a full season. Chances are he won’t match last year’s pace. At that point everyone will have a chance to get their head out of the clouds and evaluate this situation a little more rationally and with some more information. And you know what? If Sanchez is willing to sign a team friendly contract tomorrow, the Yankees could still pounce. For now it sure feels like Gary is holding all the cards.

3. An extension would make it more difficult to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018. The Yankees have made it very clear they want to get under the luxury tax threshold soon, and next season is the perfect time. Several huge contracts will be off the books (Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, maybe Masahiro Tanaka too) and the club has some cheap young talent to fill out the roster. Next season will be, by far, their best chance to get under the threshold.

As it stands Sanchez is slated to make six figures during the 2018 season. Somewhere around $600,000, probably a little less. For luxury tax purposes, he’ll be a bargain. Should Sanchez sign an extension though, his luxury tax hit would be equal to the average annual value of the contract. Let’s say he signed Anderson’s deal, six years and $25M guaranteed. That’s a $4.167M average annual value. So, rather than counting at ~$600,000 against the luxury tax next year, Sanchez would count as $4.167M even though his actual salary figures to be less than that.

Now, the extra $3.6M or so may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re trying to get under a hard payroll number, every dollar counts. That’s $3.6M the Yankees wouldn’t be able to use on an extra reliever, or a cheap depth starter. It’s real money that would be no longer available to the Yankees. In the long-term, signing Sanchez to an extension figures to save the Yankees millions. In the short-term, it will hurt their chances to get under the luxury tax.

4. Contract extensions tend to get more expensive the longer you wait. This sorta runs counter to point No. 2. Sanchez’s leverage may be sky high right now given his performance, but history shows the longer you want to extend a player, the more it’ll cost. Go look at that list of players who signed extensions with less than one year of service time again. See how cheap those deals are? Now here are the last five players to sign extensions with 1-2 years of service time:

  • Odubel Herrera, Phillies: Five years, $30.5M with two options in December 2016.
  • Gregory Polanco, Pirates: Five years, $35M with two options in April 2016.
  • Yordano Ventura, Royals: Five years, $23M with two options in April 2015.
  • Juan Lagares, Mets: Four years, $23M with one option in April 2015.
  • Christian Yelich, Marlins: Seven years, $49.75M with one option in March 2015.

Removing that ridiculous Perez contract, the extensions for players with less than one full year of service time averaged 5.6 years and $17.3M with 2.6 options. The average contract for those five players with 1-2 years of service time is 5.2 years and $32.25M with 1.6 options. More money across fewer years with fewer options. The sooner you lock them up, the cheaper they are.

With Sanchez, the Yankees would have to weigh potential long-term savings against making it a little more difficult to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018.

* * *

Based on Anderson’s recent extension with the White Sox, I’m thinking it would take something like six years and $30M just to get Sanchez and his agent to listen. Anderson, a former top 100 prospect himself, had a nice year in 2016, hitting .283/.306/.432 (95 wRC+) with +2.4 fWAR and +2.8 bWAR in 99 games. Sanchez was a one-man wrecking crew though, and that performance combined with his Rookie of the Year finish — Anderson received only two third place votes and finished seventh in the voting — means he could demand more money despite fewer games played.

I see both sides of this argument, signing Sanchez now and waiting. Sign him now and it means you’ve got a cornerstone player locked up long-term and are very likely to save millions down the road, even if it means having a few million bucks less to spend in 2018. At the same time, Sanchez’s leverage is through the roof right now, and waiting a year for things to calm down could lead to a more reasonable contract in the grand scheme of things.

The Yankees aren’t the most aggressive team when it comes to locking up their young talent — to be fair, they haven’t had many young players worth signing long-term in recent years — but it’s something they will definitely have to consider soon. Young big leaguers like Sanchez and Bird, as well as high-end prospects like Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, are players the Yankees want to build around going forward. Signing them to long-term extensions creates cost certainty going forward, and it also figures to give the team more flexibility to sign free agents down the road.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster; Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve make the bullpen

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning, Joe Girardi informally announced the Yankees’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Aaron Judge will be the right fielder and Luis Severino will be the fourth starter, and the decision to option out Rob Refsnyder means Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. Also, Girardi told Bryan Hoch that Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve will be in the bullpen. Got all that?

The Yankees still need to open a 40-man roster spot for Kozma, though they have a few days to figure that out. The Opening Day roster itself doesn’t have to be finalized with the league until 12pm ET on Sunday, an hour before first pitch. Here’s the unofficial official roster:

CATCHERS (2)
Austin Romine
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (6)
Chris Carter
Starlin Castro
Greg Bird
Chase Headley
Pete Kozma
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Jacoby Ellsbury
Brett Gardner
Aaron Hicks
Aaron Judge

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Matt Holliday

STARTING PITCHERS (4)
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
Dellin Betances
Aroldis Chapman
Tyler Clippard
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Layne
Bryan Mitchell
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren

DISABLED LIST (2)
Tyler Austin (foot)
Didi Gregorius (shoulder)

The Yankees will carry eight relievers for the time being. The team has three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season, allowing them to skip their fifth starter the first two times through the rotation. They’ll do exactly that, then figure out the fifth starter later. They don’t need one until April 16th.

Rotation candidates Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Jordan Montgomery did not make the Opening Day roster, though it’s only a matter of time until we see those guys in the big leagues. The Yankees will need a fifth starter soon enough, and given his performance last year, I don’t think it’s a given Severino sticks in the rotation all season. Montgomery opened some eyes this spring and could be the first starter called up. We’ll see.

The Yankees open the regular season this Sunday, with a 1pm ET game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. They’ll start the season with a six-game road trip through Tampa and Baltimore before coming home. The home opener is Monday, April 10th. They’ll play the Rays again.

Sorting out the 35 players the Yankees still have in big league camp

Bird and Judge. (Presswire)
Bird and Judge. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only six days away, and at this point the Yankees still have nearly a full 40-man roster worth of players in big league camp. They have 35 players in camp and the World Baseball Classic is part of the reason. Some players, like Donovan Solano, have been in camp without actually being in camp these last few weeks. The Yankees and every other team needed the extra bodies while players were away at the WBC.

All throughout this week the Yankees will cut down their roster as they prepare for Opening Day on Sunday. It’s late in camp, so not only will the big league players start playing a full nine innings and back-to-back days, the minor leagues need to do that too. There’s only so much playing time to go around, and at this point of the spring, it’s time for clubs to emphasize their MLB roster players.

Earlier today the Yankees reassigned Solano, Wilkin Castillo, and Ruben Tejada to minor league camp, meaning there are now 35 players remaining in the big league Spring Training. Let’s take stock of those 35 players and figure out where they fit into the Opening Day roster equation. Some will definitely make it, some definitely won’t, and a whole bunch of guys are on the bubble. Let’s get to it.

Definitely Making The Team (19)

Might as well start here since this is our easiest and largest roster group. These are the players we know will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity.

Any doubt about Bird making the Opening Day roster was erased when he was named the starting first baseman last week. It was plenty fair to wonder whether he’d need some time to Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing after missing the entire 2016 season with shoulder surgery, but he’s crushing the ball this spring. No doubts about him now. Everyone else is pretty straightforward, right? Right.

Very Likely To Make The Team (3)

This group includes three players who are not a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but are in prime position to make the club out of Spring Training. The three players: Aaron Judge, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. Judge has had a strong camp to date. I’m not sure what else the Yankees could want to see from him, though I still don’t think the right field job is 100% his right now. Hicks has played well this spring. (Like he does every spring. Career .303/.365/.521 hitter in Spring Training!)

Mitchell and Severino are both competing for a rotation spot, though I think they’re on the roster either way, starter or reliever. Mitchell won a bullpen spot in camp last year and he hasn’t really done anything to not deserve a roster spot since. I still think Severino is the odds on favorite to get one of the open rotation spots. I’m also not convinced he’ll go to Triple-A should he not get a starting spot. The chances of Severino making the Opening Day roster in some capacity sure seem pretty darn high to me. He’s not a lock, but the odds are in his favor.

Injured (2)

Baseball can be cruel. The Yankees lost both Didi Gregorius and Tyler Austin to injury this spring, and while neither suffered a severe long-term injury, they are going to miss the first several weeks of the regular season. Austin fouled a pitch off his foot and broke a bone. He could return to game action in mid-April. Gregorius strained his shoulder making a throw and could be out until May. Yuck. Both Austin and Didi are disabled list bound to begin the regular season.

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Most players in this group will be shuttle pitchers. Chad Green is competing with Severino and Mitchell (and Warren, I guess) for the two open rotation spots, and I feel the Yankees are much more willing to send him to Triple-A rather than stash him in the bullpen. Jordan Montgomery has impressed in camp, so much so that Joe Girardi is talking about him as a possible Opening Day roster option. Can’t say I expected to have him in this group at the outset of Spring Training.

Aside from Green and Montgomery, the other three pitchers in this group are all relievers: Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve. We will inevitably see those guys in the Bronx at some point this season, though I’d say it’s less than 50/50 they’re on the Opening Day roster. Heller probably has the best chance to win a job out of camp. He’s had a fine spring and is, in my opinion, the best bullpen prospect in the organization.

Rob Refsnyder, who has been mentioned as a trade candidate at times this spring, didn’t have much of a chance to make the Opening Day roster at coming into the spring. Then Austin and Gregorius got hurt which, if nothing else, opened the door for Refsnyder a little bit. His inability to play shortstop hurts him, obviously. The Yankees would have to be comfortable using Castro at shortstop.

An unexpected Opening Day roster candidate is Tyler Wade, who has played well this spring and could get a look at shortstop while Gregorius is sidelined. The question is whether the Yankees want to tie up a long-term 40-man roster spot — the veteran non-roster infielders in camp can be dropped off the 40-man roster as soon as Gregorius returns, but Wade will be on the 40-man for good — so Wade can fill-in for a month. I have him in this group for a reason though. I think it’s possible the Yankees go with him at short while Didi is out.

Oh Geez, They Might Actually Make The Team (3)

It happens every year, doesn’t it? Some random player you forgot the Yankees acquired shows up to camp, performs well, and before you know it, he’s on the Opening Day roster. Kirby Yates did it last year. Chris Martin the year before. Cody Eppley a few years before that. You never see it coming with these guys. Here are this year’s candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Ernesto Frieri: The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal two weeks ago, which suggests they were impressed by the way he threw with Colombia during the WBC.
  • J.R. Graham: Graham recently had a three-run disaster outing, but eight of his ten Grapefruit League appearances have been scoreless. Ten strikeouts and two walks in 9.1 innings too.
  • Pete Kozma: Kozma’s chances of making the Opening Day roster improved with the news of the Gregorius injury as well as the Solano and Tejada demotions. He’s a candidate to help fill in either at shortstop or as the utility infielder.

With Gregorius hurt and two open bullpen spots, I’d put the chances of at least one of these five players making the Opening Day roster at: annoyingly high. My money is on Frieri making it. He’s looked pretty darn during the World Baseball Classic and with the Yankees, plus his experience as a Proven Closer™ will work in his favor.

Esmil Rog ... I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)
Esmil Rog … I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)

Long Shot To Make The Team (1)

The Yankees reassigned their very best prospects to minor league camp last week, which took some of the excitement out of the remaining Grapefruit League games. It was that time of the spring though. The kids have to go get ready for their seasons. The at-bats aren’t there any more in the big league camp. The regulars are going to play and play a lot this week.

The final player still in big league camp is catcher Kyle Higashioka. He is No. 3 on the catcher depth chart, which means he is heading to Triple-A Scranton until someone gets hurts or rosters expand in September, whichever comes first. Higashioka’s only chance to make the big league roster out of Spring Training involved and injury to Sanchez or Romine, and, thankfully, the Yankees have stayed healthy behind the plate.