Girardi confirms Tanaka to start Opening Day; Romine and Cessa make roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

During this afternoon’s game broadcast on YES, Joe Girardi confirmed Masahiro Tanaka will indeed start Opening Day this coming Monday. He’s been lined up to start Opening Day all spring, so this isn’t a surprise. The Yankees dragged out the announcement for whatever reason. It will be Tanaka’s second straight Opening Day start.

The rotation behind Tanaka will be Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Luis Severino in that order, Girardi confirmed. The Yankees will pick between CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Apparently that decision has not yet been made. Either that or the players have not been informed and the team is not ready to make the announcement.

Girardi also said both Luis Cessa and Austin Romine will make the Opening Day roster. The writing has been on the wall for Romine since Gary Sanchez was optioned to minor league camp last week. He’s had the inside track to be Brian McCann‘s backup for a while now. Romine has had a nice camp, and because he is out of options with a prior outright assignment, he could have elected free agent if he did not make the team.

Cessa, 23, came over from the Tigers this past offseason in the Justin Wilson trade. He allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks in ten innings this spring, and all three runs came in one of his five Grapefruit League outings. Cessa struck out ten. He’s a starter by trade and can give the team multiple innings. Interestingly, Girardi said Cessa made the team even before Bryan Mitchell went down with his broken toe.

In other roster news, Johnny Barbato told reporters in Tampa this morning he has been told he will make the team as well. The 23-year-old came over from the Padres in last year’s Shawn Kelley trade. He surrendered one run in 10.1 innings this spring, with 12 strikeouts and one one walk. Neither Barbato nor Cessa has pitched in the big leagues before, so the Yankees will have two true rookies in their Opening Day bullpen.

Earlier this week we learned Ronald Torreyes has indeed made the team as the backup infielder, beating out Pete Kozma. Here’s the roster at the moment:

CATCHERS (2) INFIELDERS (6) OUTFIELDERS (4) STARTERS (5) RELIEVERS (7) MISC. (4)
McCann Ackley Beltran Tanaka Barbato Chapman (sus.)
Romine Castro Ellsbury Pineda Betances Bird (DL)
Gregorius Gardner Eovaldi Cessa Mitchell (DL)
DH (1) Headley Hicks Severino Shreve Williams (DL)
Rodriguez Teixeira CC or Nova CC or Nova
Torreyes Miller?
???

Andrew Miller is a question right now because he suffered a chip fracture yesterday when he took a line drive to the wrist. He intends to pitch through his wrist fracture, though we’ll see what happens later today, after he visits a specialist. It might not be a playable injury. Hopefully it is.

Mitchell’s injury created an open bullpen spot, which is that last ??? in the table under relievers. Kirby Yates and Anthony Swarzak are the only bullpeners still in big league camp and not on the Opening Day roster. Yates has out-pitched Swarzak this spring, so we’ll see if that’s enough to land him on the team. The Yankees could always bring someone back from minor league camp as well.

The Yankees won’t say it, but the rotation is already lined up for the regular season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Opening Day is only ten days away now. Soon the mundane monotony of Spring Training will be replaced by meaningful games that have a real impact on the standings. We can celebrate wins and lament losses. The very best and the very worst thing about baseball is that it’s every day. Soon the every day games will mean something.

Joe Girardi and the Yankees have not yet announced their rotation for the start of the season, which is not a big deal at all, though they do seem to be going to great lengths to keep the rotation order secret. The team claims the fifth starter’s spot is up for grabs and the closest Girardi has come to announcing Masahiro Tanaka will start Opening Day is that we “could surmise” it.

“We’ve kind of thought about (the rotation order), but because we had so many things we were dealing with when we came back this spring, we didn’t have anything set in stone,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. “We’re starting to try to line them up. Obviously you have to figure out who your Opening Day guy is, and then you go from there. We have to iron out the fifth starter situation, too. We don’t have an exact order yet, but we’re happy with where the guys are.”

The rotation is not like the lineup. You can’t just move pieces into different spots on different days. Pitchers are on schedules and they have their throw days, they need a certain amount of rest, all that stuff. Especially this late in Spring Training. It’s a little too late in the game to be shifting pitchers around and disrupting schedules, you know? This is how the rotation is lined up at the moment:

Tuesday, March 22nd: Luis Severino (Nathan Eovaldi in a minor league game)
Wednesday, March 23rd: Tanaka
Thursday, March 24th: CC Sabathia
Friday, March 25th: Ivan Nova
Saturday, March 26th: Michael Pineda
Sunday, March 27th: Severino or Eovaldi (guessing Eovaldi starts to give Severino an extra day of rest)
Monday, March 28th: Severino or Eovaldi
Tuesday, March 29th: Tanaka and Sabathia in split squad games
Wednesday, March 30th: Nova
Thursday, March 31st: Pineda and a spot starter (Bryan Mitchell?) in split squad games
Friday, April 1st: Severino or Eovaldi (would have to be whoever starts the 27th)
Saturday, April 2nd: Severino or Eovaldi
Sunday, April 3rd: off-day

That lines Tanaka up to start Opening Day, April 4th, with an extra day of rest, which the Yankees prefer. April 5th is the typical post-Opening Day off-day, then Pineda is lined up perfectly to start the second game of the season on April 6th. He’s currently two days behind Tanaka on the spring schedule. Severino and Eovaldi are then lined up for the third and fourth game of the season — I’m guessing the veteran Eovaldi starts before the kid Severino — then Sabathia or Nova are in line for the fifth game. Make sense?

Will the Yankees actually start Sabathia in the fifth game of the season? It’s possible, sure. They would also have the option to start him earlier, perhaps in the third game of the season, given the way the schedule is laid out. Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia started the first three games of last season in that order. I guess Sabathia’s place — assuming he gets the rotation job, of course — could depend on the matchups. Would the Yankees rather have him face the Astros at home in the first series of the season, or the Tigers in Detroit in the second series?

My educated guess right now is the Yankees will start the season with Tanaka on Opening Day, followed by Pineda, Eovaldi, Sabathia, and Severino in that order. Should Nova actually beat out Sabathia for a rotation spot, as unlikely as that may be, I think he would be the fifth starter and Severino the fourth. I still have a hard time believing that will happen, but who knows. Maybe the Yankees will stash Sabathia on the DL to give him an extra long Spring Training.

In the grand scheme of things, the rotation order on Opening Day doesn’t mean a whole lot. The rotation at the end of the season and heading into the postseason is far more important. The Opening Day start is more ceremonial than anything. The Yankees are keeping their rotation a bit of a secret right now, which is fine. Given the way the pitching schedule is laid out right now though, it’s easy to see how things line up. Now the Yankees just have to make it official.

Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

Tinkering for Tanaka?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

While it hasn’t been hard in the last few years to claim the title of ‘best Yankee starting pitcher,’ it’s one that undoubtedly goes to right hander Masahiro Tanaka. At times, there have been pitchers who’ve performed better than he has, but on balance, it’s difficult to compete with him. Whenever he’s on the mound, there’s a feeling that something special can and will happen; I think it’s safe to say that all of us want him to pitch as much as possible. Unfortunately for Tanaka, the Yankees,  and us the fans, he’s been unable to make at least 25 starts in both of his seasons in the US and has never reached even 160 innings pitched. To boot, he’s coming off surgery this offseason, so his health is a question going into the 2016 regular season (just like everyone else not named “Luis Severino,” who comes with his own concerns).

As of now, Tanaka is lined up to start Opening Day vs. the Astros, which is unsurprising. The honor is mostly ceremonial, but throwing your best pitcher on Opening Day is also a nice way to get off on your best foot early on in the season. That goes doubly when the team you’re playing first–the Astros–is a fellow potential Wild Card contender for later on in the season. The frequent breaks in the April schedule also offer an interesting temptation to the Yankees as it regards to Tanaka. With regular rest for each start, the Yankees can swing a way to have him make six starts in April, all against possible playoff teams.

If (when) he starts on Opening Day, he would be lined up to pitch again on Sunday the 10th against the Tigers if the Yankees opted to cycle through their rotation fully before returning to Tanaka. Continuing on that schedule would give him five starts in the month: 4/4; 4/10; 4/15 (Mariners); 4/21 (A’s); 4/26 (Rangers). There’s also a way the Yankees could get him six starts in the month by taking advantage of the off days and not using their back-end starters. Pitching Tanaka with exactly four days of rest, regardless of the rotation, would allow him to start on 4/4 (Astros); 4/9 (Tigers); 4/14 (Blue Jays); 4/19 (A’s); 4/24 (Rays); and 4/29 (Red Sox).

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The effect here is two-fold: it gives Tanaka–the best pitcher–the most possible starts and it allows the Yankees to skip players they might want to skip, whether it’s CC Sabathia for purposes of easing him back into the rotation and keeping his knee healthy, or wanting to tinker with Luis Severino’s innings, as not to wear him out early in the year. The Yankees may say Severino has no restrictions, but as Mike noted in his season preview for Severino, there’s no reason to believe them.

Coincidentally, there’s also a performance trend regarding Tanaka and regular rest. The sample size is relatively small–87.1 innings–but Tanaka has his best split ERA–2.89–when pitching on just four days’ rest. He does his absolute best work on six+ days of rest, but that’s not feasible given the relative weakness of the Yankee rotation, even if they add a sixth starter.

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

This plan isn’t without its obstacles. Tanaka’s coming off of surgery and though everything seems to be going alright on that front, it may not be wise to push him right out of the gate. There are also concerns as they relate to the bullpen. Skipping starters in favor of Tanaka could put some extra strain on the bullpen, the middle of which is yet to be sorted out. This would be less of a concern were Aroldis Chapman around, but his more-than-well-deserved suspension pushes Dellin Betances back an inning and thins out the pre-eighth inning options for Joe Girardi. Employing the Scranton Shuttle could help alleviate the fatigue issue, but it doesn’t necessarily sort out the quality issue.

I’m conflicted on the alternate plans I presented earlier, but my senses want me to want the Yankees to give in to temptation and forgo others in favor of Tanaka getting the most starts. The Yankees faded in the back half of last year and given the age of their roster, it’s not hard to see that happening again. Getting off to the strongest start possible is of the utmost importance and pitching Tanaka six times–with three against division opponents–in April rather than five–with none against division opponents–helps accomplish that.

Masahiro Tanaka and the Quest for 200 Innings [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

We’ve learned quite a bit about Masahiro Tanaka over the last two seasons. First and foremost, he’s as good as any pitcher in the league when he’s at his best. Tanaka has the ability to dominate any lineup. Remember his complete game win over the powerhouse Blue Jays in August? Of course you do:

We’ve also learned that even when Tanaka is not at his best, he’s still pretty good. He’s made 44 starts for the Yankees the last two seasons and he’s allowed more than three earned runs only nine times. He’s allowed more than two earned runs only 20 times. That’s two or fewer earned runs in 24 of 44 starts. Pretty good. Tanaka very rarely has a disaster start. In fact, he’s failed to complete five innings only twice in two years. He went four innings on Opening Day last year, and he had that 1.2 inning disaster in Fenway Park to close out the 2014 season.

These last two years have also shown us Tanaka’s health is a question. He was a workhorse in Japan, but he’s currently pitching with a partially torn elbow ligament and he had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow over the winter. A forearm issue sidelined him for a month last year. Tanaka was limited to 136.1 innings in 2014 and 154 innings in 2015 due to the arm injuries. That’s the scary part; they’re all arm injuries. And yet, Tanaka says he’s ready to throw 200 innings this summer.

“I think I was able to clear some stuff out of (my elbow). I feel that it’s better this year compared to last year,” said Tanaka when he reported to Spring Training. The “stuff” he is referring to is the bone spur, which he insisted did not bother him during his starts. “As far as my conditioning goes, I’m at a pretty good place. I feel that for myself, I’m right where I want to be at this point.”

When Tanaka is healthy, he’s pretty good. Last year he had a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in those 154 innings — if WHIP is your thing, his 0.99 WHIP was the lowest in the AL among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings — and while that’s not ace-like, it’s pretty good for a dude with a partially torn UCL and a bone spur in his elbow. That said, there are some clear questions and concerns with Tanaka going forward.

How’s The Elbow?

From what I understand, ligaments do not heal themselves. The tear just doesn’t get worse. Tanaka has already pitched a season with his partially torn UCL and at this point he is one of the exceptions. Most players who attempt to rehab a partial tear never complete the rehab before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Tanaka is closer to Adam Wainwright and Ervin Santana, both of whom pitched several years with partial tears (Santana is still pitching with his), than guys like Matt Harvey and Drew Hutchison, who had to go under the knife before completing the rehab.

The ligament is going to hang over Tanaka’s every start going forward, and at some point his elbow may blow out. Maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe ten years down the line. No one knows when it’ll happen (that’s not going to stop a whole bunch of people from saying “I told you so!”). Last spring I was on edge with every pitch. That fear has faded, thankfully. Tanaka threw 154 innings with the partial tear last year. The rehab worked.

Beyond the ligament, the bone spur surgery is significant. The Yankees took it slow with Tanaka early this spring for obvious reasons, and so far everything is going well. During his first Grapefruit League start over the weekend, Tanaka was breaking off embarrasplitters like this:

If there are any lingering effects from the elbow surgery, we’ve yet to see them or hear about them. The Yankees went to great lengths to give Tanaka extra rest last season — he made 19 of his 24 starts with at least one extra day of rest — and I have no doubt that will be the case this year. He’s lined up to start Opening Day right now and yes, there is an extra day of rest between each spring start built into his schedule. Thanks to all the April off-days, Tanaka will be able to make his first four regular season starts with extra rest as well.

Tanaka’s elbow is healthy. The doctors have all cleared him and he’s completed all his rehab work. The partial UCL tear lingers uncomfortably in the back of everyone’s mind, and the bone spur surgery sucks in the sense that all surgeries suck, but there’s really nothing the Yankees can do other than give him extra rest and monitor him closely. That’s it. Pitchers get hurt. That’s what they do. Tanaka has managed to avoid catastrophic injury the last two years and hopefully that continues to be the case going forward. What else can you do?

Can He Keep The Ball In The Park?

When on the field last season, Tanaka posted very good strikeout (22.8%), walk (4.4%), and ground ball (47.0%) rates. He was equally effective against righties (.280 wOBA, 21.3 K%, 4.1 BB%) and lefties (.296 wOBA, 24.6 K%, 4.8 BB%) as well. Tanaka’s really good! I know a lot of people don’t want to believe it for some reason, but he is. I promise.

The only significant flaw in Tanaka’s game is his propensity to give up home runs. He allowed 25 dingers last season — 17 at Yankee Stadium and eight on the road — including a six-start stretch at midseason during which he gave up eleven homers in only 38.1 innings. Yikes. Tanaka also allowed two solo dingers to the Astros in the wildcard game. His 1.46 HR/9 was ninth highest among the 89 pitchers to throw at least 150 innings in 2015. His 16.9 HR/FB% was fourth highest.

The homers are a problem. There is no denying it. The vast majority last season came on mistake pitches thigh high and right out over the plate. It’s not like he was making good pitches and getting burned anyway:

Masahiro Tanaka

Hit Tracker classified 17 of the 25 home runs as either “Plenty” or “No Doubt,” meaning they cleared the wall with plenty of room to spare. Tanaka fell victim to some Yankee Stadium cheapies like everyone else, but the majority of the dingers he allowed last year were true bombs. He made mistakes and he paid. This is the big leagues, yo.

No one pitch accounted for most of the home runs. Tanaka allowed eight homers on four-seam fastballs, six of sinkers, four on splitters, four on sliders, two on curveballs, and one on a cutter, and that kinda sorta mirrors his pitch usage. Tanaka’s a big boy. He knows he gave up an alarming number of home runs last season and he knows the problem is simply too many mistake pitches.

I feel Tanaka’s unpredictability — he does throw six different pitches, including five regularly — allows him to get away with more mistake pitches than most, but he’s not going to get away with all of them. For a guy without overwhelming velocity — his average fastball last year (92.0 mph) has faster than the year before (91.1 mph) despite what everyone seems to think — Tanaka can’t live in the middle of the plate. If he can limit the mistakes, he’ll limit the homers. Easier said than done, of course.

* * *

I don’t know about you, but I am very confident in Tanaka’s talent and his ability to be an above-average starter. The homers stink, but he’s so good at everything else that they usually don’t burn him. (Nineteen of the 25 dingers were solo shots.) My only concern is health. If Tanaka stays healthy, he’ll be good. If he doesn’t, the Yankees are in trouble. Getting to 200 innings would be incredible. If Tanaka throws that many innings he’ll get Cy Young votes. But, if he only ends up throwing 180 innings because the Yankees give him extra rest in an effort to keep him healthy, that works too.

Passing Through a Screen Door: On the Duality of Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

On Friday, while my eleventh grade class settled in and waited for the post-lunch bell to signal the resumption of class, one girl–in her finest blue and orange hat–bemoaned the Mets’ loss to the Nationals in their Grapefruit League opener. Wisely–and before I could remind her–she said she knew that Spring Training was only about the players getting through the process in one piece and that she was hopeful for the 2016 Mets, but fearful one of their dynamite starting pitchers would go down for an extended period of time with some colossally devastating injury; her guess was Noah Syndergaard). Her pre-class thoughts summed up the duality of Spring Training deftly: hope and fear.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Looking for tears in the screen door

Luis Severino‘s first inning of work. Jorge Mateo‘s displays of power and speed. Aaron Judge‘s homer. Alex Rodriguez‘s homer.  Whether it’s in the form of current players like Severino and A-Rod showing the same stuff they did last year that made them successful or whether it’s Mateo and Judge giving us those teasing glimpses into the future, we’re reminded of the cliche sense of hope that comes along with Spring Training. Anything can happen. Anything great can happen.

Present or future–however you want to define either term–things always look rosy in March. Maybe it’s the Florida sun glossing over our eyes, too used to the winter clouds and rain; maybe it’s the idea of looking at a blank book, ready to be filled up with 162-plus adventures; maybe it’s that early March intersects with the New Year’s Resolution hangover and the first buzzes of spring cleaning. Regardless of the reason, we can’t help but be hopeful–at least in part–for the April to come and the months thereafter.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Waiting for another disaster

Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow. CC Sabathia‘s knee. Age. These are the other shoe whose drop we’re waiting for after our first hopeful step of spring.  Despite the optimism we may have, we remember that baseball is a game of failure, to a certain extent, and we contemplate the potential pitfalls: injured starters; an aging lineup; a potentially overworked bullpen.

Things are going to go wrong over the course of the baseball season and with so much time between now and Opening Day, we’re left to sit and wonder just how many things will go wrong and just how wrongly they’ll go. Who’ll start slow? Who’ll slump? Who’ll be out for months?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the course of this offseason, I’ve tried to balance the competing realities the Yankees seem to be facing heading into the 2016 season. They are teetering on a dual ledge that can send them plummeting into even more mediocrity or soaring into the playoffs, where anything can happen. It’s easy to look out at the coming season and see the waiting disasters, especially with knowledge of how cruel and random this game can be. But it’s just as easy to look for the tears in the screen door, the signs of hope, the signs that tell us this is going to be a good year. To that feeling, I say, “I was kind of hoping you’d stay.”

Joe Girardi’s Spring Press Conference: Chapman, Tanaka, Castro, Gardner, Ellsbury, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa for Spring Training today, meaning the first steps of the marathon that is the 2016 season have been taken. Joe Girardi met with reporters for his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning, and of course he was asked about all aspects of the team.

“Pretty much (quiet). I think it was evidence in the amount of time it took someone to ask a question this morning,” said Girardi when asked about this being a normal camp because they’re no huge stories. “We haven’t had the big story and that’s nice … It is a pretty regular Spring Training. I hope that doesn’t make it a boring Spring Training, but it is regular.”

Normal spring or not, Aroldis Chapman dominated this morning’s press conference, with questions about his pending suspension, the domestic dispute incident, and his role as closer. You can watch Girardi’s press conference right here (it’s chopped up into smaller clips.) Here’s a recap of the important stuff with some thoughts thrown in.

All Things Aroldis

  • On an appropriate punishment: “I think that’s up to the commissioner to decide. That’s not my job. Obviously I wasn’t in the room when they put the (domestic violence) policy together. I have not reviewed the cases … I know it’s very serious and we have to take it very serious. To me, it’s very important when there’s an issue, it’s taken care of.”
  • On behavioral concerns: “Obviously you look at behavioral patterns to see if guys are maturing … We’ve all probably done things in our lives we wish we could do a little differently. I want to get to know him before I really form an opinion about his character. It’s unfortunate sometimes players get labeled before you a chance to know him.”
  • On conduct: “I think there’s an expectation of conduct and how you’re supposed to handle things. The court of law is different than the court of MLB or the MLBPA (or) the public’s opinion. I think we have a responsibility as athletes with the way we present ourselves on and off the field, and I’m okay with that.”
  • On Chapman’s decision to appeal any suspension: “I think it tells you he wants to question the suspension … Does it tell me maybe he (doesn’t think he did) something wrong? I don’t think it says that.”
  • On getting to know Chapman: “I think it’s really hard to form a really good opinion by talking on the phone. There’s some language issues there … He’s very thankful to be here … But until I really get around him it’s really hard to form an opinion.
  • On making Chapman the closer: “He’s been a closer most of his career. It’s (a role) he’s probably most comfortable with. Andrew Miller did a tremendous job … Andrew has been a reliever most of his career — setup guy, seventh inning guy, lefty specialist — I thought it would be (easier for him) to adjust to it better than Chapman.”
  • On the trade itself: “His name was brought up, then it kinda died, then it happened really fast. I had some information about it (but) I was not given much information.”

Girardi danced around any questions regarding Chapman’s domestic dispute incident, which was to be expected. Technically MLB’s investigation is still ongoing and he wasn’t going to say anything remotely controversial. Girardi deflected everything with “that’s up to MLB” and “I have to get to know him,” basically.

I hope commissioner Rob Manfred announces the suspension soon, however long it may be, so Chapman can file his appeal and go through the process. The longer this goes on, the more of a distraction it will be. Let’s rip the band-aid off, so to speak. The sooner we can begin focusing on nothing but baseball, the better. During the press conference you could tell Girardi felt the same way.

The Rotation

  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow: “We will watch him closely to see where he’s at … We’ll make sure that we put him in a situation where he’s ready to go pitch before he gets into a game. If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.”
  • On the fifth starter spot: “I think you have to let things work their way out in Spring Training. I know (CC Sabathia‘s) name has been brought up in that conversation, as well as Ivan Nova. Sometimes things have just a way of working out. The competition just goes way. A lot of times, unfortunately, that comes down to health … The big thing is that we have five healthy starters when we leave Spring Training. That’s my goal. We’ll take the five best starters.”
  • On managing workloads: “I thought putting an extra starter in there helped them … I think just watching them physically and watching their innings (is important). You have to be sensitive to your bullpen that it doesn’t get overworked. I think we were able to manage that because (the young relievers) were able to come up and be interchangeable.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s workload: “I think he’s a guy that can handle 200 innings.”

There were surprisingly few questions about the rotation. I guess that’s what happens when you have five pretty clearly established starters plus a sixth starter who’s been around the block. I don’t buy Sabathia being involved in any kind of fifth starter competition though. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be in the rotation. We all know that. As for Severino throwing 200 innings … we’ll see. I’d bet against it.

The Position Players

  • On Brett Gardner playing hurt: “He actually got hit (in the wrist) in April. This was something he dealt with all year long, and if you remember his July, it was an MVP type of month. Sometimes it’s hard to predict. Was it fatigue? Was it the wrist? Did he just get in a bad way? … Everyone plays beat up, that’s the bottom line. That’s what happens in our game … You hope players are honest enough with you that when it becomes too much, they come to you. He never felt it was too much and we didn’t either.”
  • On expecting veterans to produce again: “I think you can expect it. You have to manage them physically and their workload in a sense to make sure they’re strong at the end of the season. And that’s something when you’re fighting for that spot to get into the playoffs, it gets harder to manage that workload … I think the versatility of our club should help that.”
  • On mending fences with Jacoby Ellsbury: “I have talked to him over the winter … I had a tough decision. Brett Gardner has been pretty successful here too. Maybe he wasn’t as big a free agent signee as Jacoby Ellsbury, but Brett Gardner has been extremely productive in his career. That was a hard decision. I was going to disappoint someone immensely. I did what I thought was best for the team.”
  • On Starlin Castro at third base: “It’s something that I need to talk to him about to see where he is. I have not talked to him. I want to talk to him face-to-face about the possibility of what do we do if we need to give (Chase Headley) a day off. That’s something that will be important when we get to Spring Training to talk about.”
  • On A-Rod: “He is our DH and we expect him to be productive … He’ll be ready.”

I though the Ellsbury question was pretty funny. Girardi was asked about saying he had to mend the fences with Ellsbury but quickly pointed out he never said that. He was asked whether he had to mend the fences at the end of last year, that’s it. He never thought much of it. Girardi spoke to Ellsbury this offseason and this seems like a whole bunch of nothing.

Girardi again made it clear the Yankees want to rest their veteran players as much as possible this season, and he indicated the Castro and Aaron Hicks pickups will allow them to do that. (He also said Castro and Didi Gregorius are young and don’t need as much rest.) He didn’t name names and didn’t explain how he intends to rest these guys, but I think we all have a pretty good idea. We’ll find out soon enough.

Miscellany

  • On goals for 2016: “Our goal is to win the World Series. Bottom line. I appreciate how hard our guys played all year, how they never gave up last year, but you know what? We didn’t get to where we wanted. We lost in the first round of the playoffs … Our goal is to win the World Series. That’s why we come to Spring Training.”
  • On getting over 2015: “It’s never easy … I really don’t get over it until baseball ends. Completely ends. There’s an emptiness inside that you should be there. You try to avoid that one-game playoff and be a division winner. Our first goal is win the division this year.”
  • On biggest spring concerns: “There’s some competition here. When you look at some spots in our bullpen, I think we have to iron that out. And I always have concerns about players trying to do too much. I will let them know you’re not going to impress me in your sides, you’re not going to impress me in the first week of games.”
  • On some new additions: “We added Castro, who gives us an everyday second baseman that has been productive in his career. (This) is a young man that has almost 1,000 hits and is only 25 years old … We added a switch-hitter as an outfielder, which gives us more of an opportunity to rest maybe our two left-handers out there against left-handers more often, in a sense. I think we’re deeper.”
  • On young players contributing again: “You might be a non-roster player, you might be in Double-A when you get sent down, but you may have a chance to contribute … That wasn’t an easy job for the relievers — I was honest with them, I told them what was going to happen — but be the guy what when we make another move, is throwing well … Anything can happen. If you’re in uniform, anything can happen, so give everything you’ve got.”
  • Are the Yankees better than last year? “I think so. I think on paper we are better. Paper doesn’t really mean anything until you go out and compete … I think there’s more depth. I think our younger players in the minor league system have gotten a taste (and are eager to contribute).”

There wasn’t as much talk about young players contributing this year. There’s been a lot of that the last few years. I guess that after last season — Girardi mentioned Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Rob Refsnyder (among others) by name when asked about who impressed him last season — and an offseason in which the Yankees signed zero big league free agents, it’s common knowledge they’re going to rely on young players again. That’s pretty cool. And kinda scary.