Archive for Michael Pineda


Right-hander Michael Pineda made his first start and second appearance of Spring Training this afternoon, throwing 2.2 scoreless innings against the Orioles before hitting his pitch count. He struck out five, walked one, and allowed three hits (one bloop, one grounder with eyes, one infield single) while throwing 27 of 48 pitches for strikes. His fastball was anywhere from 88-92 on the YES Network gun and he was almost decapitated by a Delmon Young line drive (GIF). That was kinda close.

Pineda was good but I thought he was obviously rusty. David Cone noted during the broadcast that Pineda’s fastball would cut every so often, meaning his mechanics were a little off. When he missed, he missed down in the dirt rather than up in the zone or over the plate, so that was good. Most importantly, it looked everything was coming free and easy. Pineda wasn’t laboring or overthrowing or anything like that. He was just letting it fly. The rust was obvious and hopefully he shakes that off as camp progresses. Considered he missed nearly two full years following shoulder surgery, Pineda looked strong today.

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In his first Grapefruit League game in nearly two years, Michael Pineda struck out four and allowed a single in two scoreless innings of work against the Tigers on Friday night. The four hitters he struck out were Austin Jackson, Danny Worth, Rajai Davis, and Miguel Cabrera. Three legit big leaguers, including the best hitter on the planet. Not bad. Twenty-one of his 27 pitches were strikes.

According to Joel Sherman, Pineda’s fastball was clocked mostly in the 90-92 mph range with one 93. His slider was 80-82 mph. Not bad velocity following shoulder surgery but obviously not where he was sitting during his All-Star rookie season in 2011. “If I’m the Yankees, I’m pleased. Enough velocity. Sharp with slider and location. Appeared confident and aggressive,” said a scout to Sherman. So far, so good. Pineda’s next start will be Thursday’s game, which will air on YES and MLB.tv.

Categories : Asides, Spring Training
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(Mike Carlson/Getty)

(Mike Carlson/Getty)

As Joe explained last week, the Yankees have several important players coming back from injury this season. They also have several players who, due to their age and/or recent history, are at risk of getting hurt in 2014. Injuries are part of the game and many times they’re completely unpredictable or unavoidable, but there are certainly players who are more likely to get hurt than others. The Yankees haven’t exactly been good at keeping their guys healthy these last few years either. Here are New York’s biggest injury risks for the coming season and their respective backup plans.

Injury Risk: Derek Jeter
Backup Plan: Brendan Ryan
Aside from the dislocated shoulder back in 2003, last season was the only time Derek Jeter spent an extended period of time on the DL in his career. A twice-fractured left ankle and various leg muscle problems limited him to only 17 games, and even though he’s been healthy this spring and working out for weeks, his age (39) and the series of leg problems will make him an injury risk pretty much all year. The Cap’n is very much day-to-day at this point of his career.

The Yankees acquired Ryan last September when Jeter went to the DL for the fourth and final time, then they re-signed him to a two-year contract (with a player option!) over the winter to serve as shortstop insurance. If Jeter does go down with injury this summer, regardless of whether it’s two days or two weeks or two months, Ryan will step right in and play shortstop everyday. He can’t hit a lick but his defense is among the best in the game.

Injury Risk: Brian Roberts
Backup Plan: Ryan, Dean Anna, Eduardo Nunez, etc.
There is no greater injury risk on the roster than Roberts. He has appeared in only 192 of 648 possible regular season games since 2011 due to a variety of injuries, including back spasms (2010), concussions (2010-11), hip labrum surgery (2012), and hamstring surgery (2013). Second base is a dangerous position because of the blind double play pivot and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Roberts hits the DL, kinda like it did with Travis Hafner last summer.

Infield depth is something the Yankees spent most of the offseason accumulating, though none of it really stands out. They don’t have a 2005 Robinson Cano waiting in the wings, for example. Ryan, Anna, Nunez, Yangervis Solarte, and Corban Joseph are the various backup plans at second base, though only Ryan and Nunez have any kind of substantial MLB time. The player who gets the job when Roberts goes down with injury may simply be the guy who’s playing the best at that time.

Injury Risk: Frankie Cervelli
Backup Plan: Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy
Cervelli seems to have a knack for the fluke injury. His wrist was broken by a home plate collision in Spring Training 2008 and he’s also had foul balls break his foot (2011, again in Spring Training) and hand (2013) in recent years. The broken hand last year turned into a stress reaction in his elbow. More seriously, Cervelli has had four concussions in his pro career, including three from December 2009 through September 2011. Romine and Murphy will both be stashed in Triple-A as insurance, and I suspect Romine would get the call as a short-term replacement while Murphy would be the guy if Cervelli misses most of the season again.

Injury Risk: Michael Pineda
Backup Plan: Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Adam Warren
When a player misses two full years due to a major surgery, it’s really hard to count on him staying healthy going forward. Pineda is an unknown and unreliable until he proves otherwise, which might never happen. His surgery was serious stuff and that’s why he hasn’t been handed a rotation spot as of yet. Pineda has to earn it by showing he can be effective post-surgery in camp. Phelps, Warren, and Nuno are all competing for the same fifth starter spot and will be ready to jump into the rotation at a moment’s notice if Pineda makes the team and goes down for any reason.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

(Leon Halip/Getty)

Injury Risk: Jacoby Ellsbury & Brett Gardner
Backup Plan: Ichiro Suzuki, Zoilo Almonte
Over the last three seasons, Ellsbury and Gardner have combined to play in 686 of 972 possible regular season games, or 71%. Go back four seasons and it’s only 66%. Both guys have had injury problems over the years but the major ones can mostly be classified as flukes. Here are Ellsbury’s notable injuries …

  • Fractured Ribs, 2010: Crashed into a teammate chasing a pop-up then suffered a setback after returning too soon.
  • Shoulder Subluxation, 2012: Fielder fell on top of him following a break up slide at second base.
  • Foot Fracture, 2013: Fouled a ball off his foot.

… and here are Gardner’s:

  • Fractured Thumb, 2009: Slid into second base on a stolen base attempt.
  • Wrist Debridement, 2010: Hit by a pitch, needed offseason surgery after playing hurt in second half.
  • Inflamed Elbow, 2012: Made a sliding catch and suffered three setbacks (!) before having season-ending surgery.
  • Oblique Strain, 2013: Swung a bat. Nothing more.

There has been other day-to-day stuff over the years but those are the big injuries. Gardner’s oblique strain last September is the only one that isn’t a fluke to me, though I think it’s also important to understand both guys have a playing style that puts them at greater risk of injury. When you steal a ton of bases, you risk hurting your fingers and having an infielder fall on top of you. When you run around the outfield making sliding and diving catches, you can jam something pretty easily.

Is it fair to consider Ellsbury and Gardner injury risks for 2014? Maybe not, but they have been hurt a bunch in recent years and I felt they were worth discussing. If Ellsbury were to get hurt, Gardner would slide right into center field. If Gardner got hurt, Alfonso Soriano would probably take over as the everyday left fielder, as he would if Gardner moved to center. Ichiro would see more playing time — I think Soriano and Carlos Beltran would still get regular turns at DH even if Ellsbury or Gardner gets hurt — and Zoilo is the early favorite to be the first guy called up from Triple-A. If both Gardner and Ellsbury got hurt at the same time … well that’s a mess I don’t want to think about. A trade for a center fielder would seem likely.

Injury Risk: Mark Teixeira
Backup Plan: ???
A tendon sheath problem in Teixeira’s right wrist that eventually required surgery limited him to only 15 games last year and still has him on the mend in camp. He’s been brought back slowly — he faced live pitching in batting practice for the first time just today — and is slated to get into a game later this week, but wrists are very tricky. Even if the doctors say they’re healed, they tend to sap power for another few weeks and months. David Ortiz (2008-09) and Jose Bautista (2012-13) have had similar tendon sheath problems and they didn’t regain their previous form until well after returning to the lineup.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

(Leon Halip/Getty)

Given the nature of the injury, it might be more accurate to say Teixeira is a risk for reduced production than he is a risk for injury. He hasn’t exactly been Mr. Durable the last few years though, most notably missing more than a month with a calf strain in late 2012 and blowing out his hamstring during the 2010 postseason (forgot about that, huh?). That doesn’t include the infamous cough/vocal cord damage that hampered him two years ago. The Yankees don’t have an obvious backup first baseman — Kelly Johnson and his 18 career innings at the position is currently the backup at first — so a trade would be in order if Teixeira goes down. It’s either digging up another Lyle Overbay or playing Russ Canzler everyday.

* * *

I think it goes without saying that pitchers are inherently risky. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka have been very durable throughout their career (Kuroda less so, but he’s been healthy with the Yankees) but it would surprise no one if they got hurt this year. Same with all the relievers. Pitchers get hurt. It’s what they do.

Carlos Beltran’s knees were a big problem from 2009-10, but he has played at least 140 games in each of the last three seasons. Brian McCann had shoulder problems in 2012 that required offseason surgery, which kept him out for the first month of 2013, but he has been healthy and productive since. Scott Sizemore has played a total of two games the last two seasons because of back-to-back torn left ACLs, but he is far from a lock to make the roster, nevermind play regularly. Same goes for Nunez, who missed a bunch of time with a ribcage problem last year. Just about every player has been hurt somewhere along the line.

The Yankees are well-equipped to deal with an injured outfielder, catcher, or back-of-the-rotation starter. The infield is were it gets dicey and unfortunately that is where we find the most at risk players (Jeter, Roberts, Teixeira). The backup plans on the infield are interesting of nothing else, but they’re all wildcards. I don’t think we can reasonably estimate what any of them would do if pressed into regular duty. The Yankees have a lot of important players at risk of injury this year and their ability to stay on the field will play a huge role in whether they return to the postseason.

Categories : Injuries
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Does Phelps want the job? Yes. (Presswire)

Does Phelps want the job? (Presswire)

For what feels like the umpteenth straight year, the Yankees will hold a Spring Training competition to fill their final rotation spot. These competitions have been rigged in recent years — Joba Chamberlain in 2009, Phil Hughes in 2010, Ivan Nova in 2013 — but things feel legitimately wide open this spring. There are four guys vying for that fifth starter’s spot and I honestly would not be surprised if any one of the four walked away with the job. Here are the candidates.

Vidal Nuno
Nuno, 26, jumped from independent ball to the big leagues in less than two years, pitching well (2.25 ERA and 4.50 FIP) in 20 innings spread across three starts and two relief appearances for New York early last season. A groin injury ended his season in early-June but Nuno did heal up in time to pitch in the Arizona Fall League after the season. He started the team’s first exhibition game of the spring against Florida State earlier this week, but that doesn’t mean anything as far as his standing in the competition.

Unlike the other three fifth starter candidates, Nuno is a left-hander, though I don’t think that gives him any kind of leg up. Sure, it would be nice to have another southpaw in the rotation given Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, but the team has to focus on taking the best arm north at the end of camp regardless of handedness. Nuno has gotten results everywhere he’s pitched but his lack of a big league put away pitch is a negative — he threw 314 pitches with the Yankees last summer and batters swung and missed only 20 times, a well-below-average 6.4%. It’s not a big sample but it backs up the scouting report.

Whether he wins or loses the fifth starter job, we’re going to see Nuno in the big leagues at some point in 2014. I’m certain of that. Sixth and seventh starters will be needed — last time the Yankees went a full season with fewer than seven pitchers making at least two starts was 2003, and the last time before that was 1971 — and even if they aren’t, he could always wind up in a bullpen role. Second lefty, middle reliever, long man, you name it. Nuno doesn’t have a big ceiling but he will get another chance to help the team this year.

David Phelps
A few days ago, Joe Girardi confirmed Phelps will make the team in some capacity. If he doesn’t win the fifth starter spot he’ll go to the bullpen and perhaps be a one-inning setup reliever rather than a long man. The 27-year-old has done a little of everything in his relatively short MLB career, making 23 starts and 32 relief appearances these last two seasons. As you’d expect, he’s been better in relief:

Innings ERA FIP K% BB% HR/FB GB% Opp. wOBA
as SP 123.0 4.39 4.15 20.4% 9.0% 10.7% 42.7% 0.323
as RP 63.1 3.55 3.95 25.6% 9.8% 12.9% 42.7% 0.298

Phelps did not pitch well as a starter last season (4.93 ERA in 65.2 innings) but he also missed more than two months with a forearm strain and subsequent setback, an injury that may have impacted his performance. His strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates all held steady from 2012-13, though his homer rate did drop from 1.26 HR/9 (13.6% HR/FB) two years ago to 0.83 HR/9 (8.9% HR/FB) last year, so there was some improvement in his game despite the inflated ERA.

Because he’s bounced back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, Phelps is still something of an unknown heading into 2014. He’s never been a starter for more than two months with the Yankees and we don’t know how well he’ll hold up starting every fifth day over a full season. Obviously he’s done it in the minors, but doing it in the big leagues is a little different. Phelps not only has the most MLB experience of the fifth starter candidates, I also think he is most likely to pitch well in whatever role he’s given. Will he be an ace or a shutdown reliever? No, probably not. But there’s value in being solid and reliable.

Michael Pineda
If you gave the Yankees — everyone from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff — a truth serum, I’m guessing they would all say they’re hoping Pineda grabs that last rotation spot and runs away with it in camp. The team has spent the last two years waiting patiently as the 25-year-old right-hander rehabbed from shoulder surgery and it finally looks like they will get some return from a trade that hasn’t worked out for either side thus far.

Of course, missing two years following major shoulder surgery makes Pineda a total unknown coming into this season. Sure, he did throw 40.2 innings across three minor league levels last summer, but those were rehab innings and they don’t really tell us anything useful. Early reports say Pineda has looked strong during bullpens and live batting practice session in camp but it’s bullpens and live batting practice. Take that information to heart at your own risk.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

I think it’s important to remember that before the injury, Pineda was not a finished product. He didn’t have much of a changeup and he was very fly ball prone, which made him a questionable fit for Yankee Stadium. I highly doubt he developed a third pitch and became a ground ball guy during his rehab, but stranger things have happened. Pineda was a bit of a project at the time of the trade but now he’s a project coming off a major arm injury.

A healthy Michael Pineda can be a very good pitcher but the Yankees have not yet seen a healthy Michael Pineda in their uniform. If he impresses and wins a rotation spot in camp, great. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the team went in another direction either, going with someone who isn’t as much of a wildcard while Pineda gets back into the groove of starting every five days in Triple-A, where results don’t matter. Either way, barring another injury or setback, I suspect we’ll finally see him pitch for the Yankees at some point this summer.

Adam Warren
Of the four fifth starter candidates, Warren was the only one to make it through last season healthy. He really seemed to carve out a niche in long relief, pitching to a 3.39 ERA (4.32 FIP) in 77 total innings. Girardi used Warren as a one-inning setup man for a bit in September while David Robertson and Shawn Kelley were banged up, and he also made an impressive spot start (five scoreless innings on two days’ rest) in Game 161. Whenever the bell rang, he answered the call.

Warren, 26, was a starter his entire career up until last season. He threw all five of his pitches (four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, curveball, changeup) at least 11% of the time in 2013, so he won’t have to put extra work in this spring to regain feel for one of those offerings. Left-handed batters destroyed Warren last year (.387 wOBA and 5.13 FIP) and if that continues, his days as a starter won’t last long. It’s a big negative.

I think Warren is very similar to Phelps in that we don’t really know what he can do starting every five days in the big leagues, but the general sense is that he will help the team in some capacity. In fact, Girardi already confirmed he will be on the Opening Day roster, either as a starter or reliever. Warren might not be an impact starter but I’ve always liked him and thought he could be a very good short reliever. He’s going to play a role this year, that much is certain, it’s just unclear what role that ultimately will be.

* * *

The Yankees have all but confirmed Manny Banuelos will open the season in the minors, which makes sense after missing close to two full years with elbow problems. The 22-year-old still had to iron out some command issues before the injury and I assume that is still the case. Easing him back into things in an environment where wins and losses don’t matter seems best for his long-term development.

There are no other realistic fifth starter candidates other than the four guys above. The smart money is on all four pitching (if not starting) for the Yankees at some point this season, though they aren’t created equal. Pineda has the largest upside but he is also the biggest unknown because of his injury. Nuno seems to have the lowest upside of the bunch but he’s also the only lefty. Phelps and Warren are safe bets to be solid in some role yet we really don’t know what they can as full-time starters.

Remember, Spring Training competitions don’t end on Opening Day. Whoever wins the fifth starter’s spot in camp will have to pitch well in the regular season to keep the job. The Yankees have enough rotation depth that they can quickly pull the plug and try another pitcher if the guy who wins the final rotation spot doesn’t work out right away.

Categories : Pitching
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(Presswire)

(Presswire)

There is nothing quite like the first few days of Spring Training, before position players even show up to camp. Pitchers aren’t doing much more than throwing in the bullpen or facing hitters during live batting practice, yet they all seem to look great and are poised for a big season. Just the other day Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told John Lott that Brandon Morrow “looks like a good, strong, starting, durable pitcher.” If that’s not a sign of early Spring Training optimism, nothing is.

The Yankees, of course, are no different. John Ryan Murphy (weird) told Andrew Marchand that Masahiro Tanaka was “very impressive” during his second bullpen session yesterday and that’s great. It doesn’t really mean anything though. Hitters will tell us how impressive Tanaka is once he gets into an actual game in a few weeks. But still, this is the time of year when everyone gets excited about everything and so far the team’s new high-priced right-hander looks as good as advertised.

Tanaka is not the only pitcher in camp who is something of an unknown. Not even close, really. In fact, I consider Michael Pineda an even bigger unknown after missing two years due to major shoulder surgery. At least Tanaka spent the last few seasons pitching against a reasonably high level of competition. Pineda has thrown two bullpen sessions since Spring Training opened last Friday — including 35 pitches on Monday — and he has looked great, because of course.

“I thought the ball was coming out easier [than last spring],” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings on Monday. “I know he’s had time to clean up a couple things too, mechanically, in this two-year span. He just looked like it came out free and easy to me. Didn’t look like he put a ton of effort into it, or that he was overthrowing it. … To me, it looked different than what I saw a couple years ago when he got hurt and was pitching in games. I’m anxious to see him obviously get in some games in the next 12 days or so.”

Pineda is the perfect example of how this time of year lends itself to getting excited about a player, no matter what hurdles they have to clear. He hasn’t thrown a Major League pitch in two years and he wasn’t exactly a finished product before he got hurt either. Remember how he needed to develop a changeup and was fly ball prone? Those issues didn’t disappear as he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. Pineda says he’s the same guy he was before the injury — “I’m feeling so strong. I’m feeling good power … I’m throwing the same. Mechanics the same. Everything is the same. All pitches are the same. I’m the same Michael Pineda,” he said to Jennings — which means there is still development to be done before he lives up to his potential.

And yet, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Pineda in 2014. He is finally healthy, first and foremost. He turned only 25 just last month. During that 2011 season with the Mariners, he became the only rookie pitcher in baseball history with a 9.0+ K/9 and sub-3.0 BB/9. That’s really impressive. Michael Pineda finally being healthy and in position to help the Yankees this year is exciting even if so many questions remain.

There will be plenty of time to worry and fret about Pineda and every other part of the Yankees over the next few months. Trust me, it’ll happen. Pineda will have back-to-back crappy starts at some point and we’ll all wonder if he’s breaking down again. The Yankees will lose like four games in a row and we’ll all worry things will never turn around. That’s just the nature of the beast. This time of year is different though. This is the time of year when everything is a reason to be excited, including Pineda’s early bullpen work.

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(Photo via @YankeesPR)

(Photo via @YankeesPR)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and a few hours later Joe Girardi showed up to camp. His flight from New York was delayed because of all the snow. My goodness there is so much snow. Anyway, here is a not at all complete recap of Girardi’s annual start-of-Spring Training press conference, culled together from the Twitter accounts of reporters in attendance.

On Derek Jeter

  • Girardi had “no inkling” Jeter was planning to retire after the season until the announcement was made. “We are going to miss him,” he said. “You want a guy like that to play forever.”
  • Jeter’s playing time both in the field and at DH against left-handers is going to be based on how he feels on a daily basis. They won’t put a firm plan in place at this point.
  • As for batting Jeter second, Girardi said “we’ll have to see,” but indicated he would like to split up the left-handed hitters. I wonder if that means Brett Gardner will bat leadoff and Jacoby Ellsbury will bat third. Or maybe Ellsbury at leadoff with Brian McCann batting third. We’ll see.

On the new players

  • “It is the biggest transition I’ve been through … I think its important I get to know these guys,” said the skipper.
  • Girardi believes Masahiro Tanaka loves the spotlight and will handle the move to MLB well.
  • Kelly Johnson is the backup first baseman for the time being. They have not discussed playing McCann at first.

On the fifth starter competition

  • Girardi plans to tell David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and everyone else to make sure they take it easy early in camp and gradually build themselves up. They don’t want anyone getting hurt by doing too much too soon.
  • “Anything is possible,” said Girardi when asked if they would be willing to use Pineda out of the bullpen. “When we traded for him, we expected him to be in our rotation,” he added. “We envision him as a starter.”
Categories : Spring Training
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(Presswire)

(Presswire)

When pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Friday, the Yankees will have more than a few jobs up for grabs. The last bench spot is up in the air, ditto about four bullpen spots. The fifth starter’s spot is wide open as well, since the team opted to go internal rather than add a low-cost veteran like … I dunno. Paul Maholm or Jason Hammel, I guess. David Phelps is among those who will compete for that last rotation spot these next few weeks.

“It’s good to have somebody pushing you,” said Phelps to Anthony McCarron last week. “We’re not going to root against each other, because if we all do well, our team does better … I would obviously love to be a starter. I think I’m capable. I just have to go out and show what I’m capable of. If it’s not that, I don’t have a problem pitching out of the bullpen. But at the same time, I do want to start. It’s what I’ve done my whole career up until the last couple years.”

Adam Warren, who was solid as the team’s swingman last summer, will also be in that fifth starter’s competition. So will Vidal Nuno, who has the least big league experience of the candidates but is also left-handed, and lefty starters are always nice to have given Yankee Stadium’s short right field. Barring some suprise late additions, Michael Pineda will be the fourth and only other starter competing for a spot in camp, nearly two full years after having surgery to repair a torn labrum.

“I don’t know what we are going to get from him, but we have hope,” said Brian Cashman to Kevin Kernan last week, talking about Pineda. “This just has to play itself out. He has to perform April through September, and it has to be in New York and not in Trenton. The reports are good now, but he has to continue to progress and do it in a Major League setting. We certainly would love to get him back.”

The Yankees have held some rigged Spring Training competitions in the past (fifth starter in 2010, catcher in 2013) but I honestly don’t think anyone has a leg up in this year’s rotation race. Phelps has the most big league experience of the bunch but he’s only been in the league two seasons. Pineda was an All-Star in 2011 but he hasn’t thrown an MLB pitch in two years now. Nuno is a finesse lefty without a big league out pitch and Warren really seemed to find a niche in the bullpen last summer. Any of those four guys could walk away with the job and I wouldn’t be surprised. For what it’s worth, ZiPS doesn’t see much of a difference between these guys anyway:

Projected K/BB Projected ERA Projected FIP
Nuno 2.76 5.20 5.24
Phelps 2.41 4.54 4.56
Pineda 2.48 4.65 4.65
Warren 1.98 4.64 4.74

Projections don’t really mean much of anything, though I do think the ZiPS numbers do a good job of showing just how tight this race is. There is no obvious favorite for the fifth starter spot given what he know right now and that makes it kinda fun in my opinion. Rigged competitions ruin the surprise.

Now, that said, would it be better for the Yankees if Pineda shows up to camp and looks like the guy he was with the Mariners before the trade? Absolutely. With all due respect to the other three rotation candidates, Pineda has (by far) the highest ceiling of the bunch and a strong rebound from shoulder surgery would be an amazingly positive development for both the 2014 Yankees as well as the 2015-17 teams. He is the only pitcher in history to post a 9+ K/9 with a sub-3 BB/9 in his rookie season, so his ability to control the strike zone while missing bats is especially rare.

The other three fifth starter candidates all have the ability to help at the big league level — they all have already, to some degree — but I think we can all agree none of those guys offers the impact potential of Pineda. That potential may have disappeared with the shoulder surgery, we won’t know what he can do until he gets out there, but Spring Training should give us a decent idea of what he is capable of nearly two years removed from the procedure. There is no clear favorite for that last rotation spot, but the no doubt best case scenario is Pineda showing up to camp and looking like the guy he was before the shoulder surgery.

Categories : Pitching
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Got 12 questions for you this week, but some of the answers are really short. Like two sentences short. I also trimmed some questions a bit. A few were pretty long. Send us anything via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar at any time.

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Paul asks: Does Masahiro Tanaka have a legit shot at Rookie of the Year this year? I’m still bitter about Hideki Matsui getting robbed.

Hey, you can make a case Matsui wasn’t robbed. He hit .287/.353/.435 (109 wRC+) with 16 homers as a bad fielding left fielder while Angel Berroa hit .287/.338/.451 (101 wRC+) with 17 homers as an average fielding shortstop. If you want to take fWAR/bWAR at face value (fine for something like this), Berroa edges Godzilla out (Berroa: 2.7/2.5, Matsui: 0.2/2.2).

Anyway, yes Tanaka has a legitimate shot at RoY this season. The last three RoY starting pitchers (Jose Fernandez, Jeremy Hellickson, Justin Verlander) averaged a 14-8 record with a 2.94 ERA (~143 ERA+) and 4.7 bWAR in 180-ish innings, if you want a performance benchmark. That’s doable but a sub-3.00 ERA in the AL East and at Yankee Stadium will probably take some luck. Tanaka is going to have some stiff competition in Xander Bogaerts and Jose Abreu (my early RoY pick), plus the voting has been skewed heavily in favor of position players these last ten years (13 position players, four closers, three starters).

Craig asks: How about John Mayberry Jr.? He could double as the fourth/fifth outfielder and first base back-up. If they are looking for a lefty we could eat Ichiro Suzuki‘s contract or send Brett Gardner and get some bullpen help.

Mayberry, 30, had that huge season in 2011, hitting .306/.358/.595 (157 wRC+) against lefties with a 132 wRC+ overall. He hasn’t hit much since then, just .259/.309/.481 (111 wRC+) against lefties and an 86 wRC+ overall. There was talk the Phillies might non-tender him earlier this winter, but they kept him for $1.59M instead. Mayberry can play first and the two outfield corners, but he’s a net negative on defense. His only redeeming quality is his power against lefties. There’s no way I’d trade Gardner for him — the Phillies have been looking for bullpen help all winter, so I doubt they’d kick in a reliever, and I’d need a great reliever to even out a Gardner-for-Mayberry swap — but a straight up Ichiro-for-Mayberry deal would make some sense given the current roster. You’d wind up the same replacement level-ish extra outfielder, just instead of doing it with defense, he’d do it with power.

Billy asks: What are your thoughts on Brendan Ryan coming in for Derek Jeter defensively in save situations? Obviously it should be done but does Joe Girardi actually do it?

Should this happen? Yes, absolutely. Will it? I don’t think there’s any chance unless Jeter shows he is completely immobile following the leg injuries. If that happens, the team will have a bigger problem to worry about other than simply replacing Jeter for defense in the late innings. If he’s not used a defensive replacement, I’m not sure how the team will use Ryan this year aside from giving Jeter and Brian Roberts the occasional day off.

Can't find a Betemit. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Can’t find a Betemit. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Roy asks: Should the Yankees take a look at Wilson Betemit as insurance for Mark Teixeira? Can Betemit stabilize the infield better than Scott Sizemore, Russ Canzler or Eduardo Nunez?

Did you know Betemit is still only 32 years old? He just turned 32 in November too. I figured he would 35 or 36 by now. Anyway, he missed almost the entire 2013 season due to a knee injury, and he only has 81 games and 515.1 innings worth of experience at first base in his career. Betemit has played a ton of third but the defensive stats crush him there, and he’s a switch-hitter who should be a platoon bat because he punishes righties (127 wRC+ since 2011) but can’t touch lefties (36 wRC+). As a bench bat who backs up first and plays third base in an emergency, the 24th or 25th man on the roster, yeah it might work. It would be worth bringing Betemit to camp as a non-roster player, but I’m not sure he’s clearly better than Sizemore, Nunez, Canzler, or whoever else at this point.

UPDATE: Betemit agreed to a minor league contract with the Rays this morning, according to Jon Heyman. So scratch that idea.

Eric asks: Can and should the Yankees employ a six-man rotation this year or at least for part of it? You can lighten the load on Hiroki Kuroda and CC Sabathia, help Tanaka transition from pitching every seven days in Japan, and give the young arms a better look other than just Spring Training.

I feel like the six-man rotation idea comes up every offseason around this time. The obvious question is this: do the Yankees even have six starters worthy of a rotation spot? Do they even have four at this point? No one really knows what to expect out of Sabathia, Tanaka, and Ivan Nova in 2014. Taking starts away from your top guys for someone like Vidal Nuno isn’t a luxury a team like the Yankees can afford. They’re going to have to fight for a playoff spot, remember. Kuroda’s and Tanaka’s (and Michael Pineda‘s) workloads are going to have to be monitored, no doubt about it, but I don’t think a straight six-man rotation is the answer. It sounds so good on the paper, but successfully pulling it off is so difficult.

Michael asks: I’m trying to find out what Tanaka’s nickname “Ma-kun” translates to English as, but i’m not having any luck. Do you know what it means?

According to Jim Baumbach, “Ma” is simply short for Masahiro while “kun” is a familiar way to address an equal. Wikipedia says it is an old high school nickname that stuck.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Jason asks: If I remember correctly, prior to being injured, there was an advantage to keeping Pineda in Triple-A until at least mid-May to push back his arbitration clock. Does that benefit still exist if the Yankees did that this year?

Pineda was the on the DL until the team activated him and sent him to Triple-A in early-July last year. He was down long enough to both delay his free agency and arbitration clock one year. Pineda will be a Super Two now (four years of arbitration rather than three), but they get to keep him for another season (through 2017) and that’s the important thing. They’ve already received the benefit and would have to keep him in the minors pretty much all season to push things back another year. If Pineda goes yet another year without pitching in the big leagues, it would be close to time to write him off completely.

Adam asks: When a player gets a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, what compensation does he receive?

Non-roster players don’t get paid anything during Spring Training. They get meal money and some kind of housing arrangement/allowance. That’s all. Guys on minor league contracts get paid a salary during the regular season only.

Dylan asks: Can you give an explanation for why pre-arbitration players don’t get exactly league minimum (i.e. J.R. Murphy‘s extra $2,700 on top of $500,000)? Thanks!

Most teams have a sliding salary scale based on service time for pre-arbitration players. Murphy was in the big leagues for a month, hence the extra $2,700. Teams can simply renew a pre-arb player’s contract for any salary as long as it is at least 80% of the previous year’s salary, but that’s a good way to get your players to hate you. A sliding scale based on service time (with adjustments for awards, All-Star Games, etc.) makes it nice and easy.

Anonymous asks: Would you guess Shawn Kelley is Opening Day setup man on this current Yankee roster?

Yeah, that’s the safe bet, but I wouldn’t count on him holding the job all summer. We’ve been spoiled these last few years by David Robertson. Here’s a quick recap of the team’s primary eighth inning guys from 2007-11, the five years before Robertson emerged.

Opening Day Setup Man End of Season Setup Man
2011 Rafael Soriano David Robertson
2010 Joba Chamberlain Kerry Wood
2009 Brian Bruney Phil Hughes
2008 Joba Chamberlain Joba Chamberlain
2007 Kyle Farnsworth Joba Chamberlain

Remember, Joba moved into the rotation at midseason in 2008. He only wound up in the bullpen late in the season after hurting his shoulder. Farnsworth took over as the primary setup man when Joba gave the starting thing a shot. Point is: don’t sweat who holds what bullpen role on Opening Day. They’ll all change. They almost always do.

Mike asks: Assuming it was allowed, how would you look at a Robinson CanoJacoby Ellsbury trade before the season starts? Would Ellsbury fit better with Seattle and would Cano fit better with NY than the way things stand now? Would either NY or Seattle have to throw in a player or pay part of a contract?

I completely understand why the Yankees didn’t match the Mariners’ offer to Cano, but there’s no doubt Robbie makes more sense for the current roster than Ellsbury. The team could go with an Alfonso Soriano-Gardner-Carlos Beltran outfield with Cano at second and a low-cost DH (or an expensive one like Kendrys Morales). The Mariners are going to let Dustin Ackley sink or swim in center this year while Nick Franklin slides into a utility role thanks to Cano, so they need the outfielder and not the infielder. Cano makes more sense for the Yankees, Ellsbury makes more sense for Seattle. I assume the Yankees would have to add another player to facilitate a trade (despite the salary difference) because Cano is the considerably better player.

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Meeeeemories (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Meeeeemories (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Michael Pineda heads into spring training with a grand opportunity. After nearly two years of rehab following shoulder surgery, he again competes for a rotation spot. Perhaps no other player in camp means so much to the future of the organization.

If Pineda wins the spot, showing some semblance of the stuff that powered his 2011 rookie season, the Yankees will be better off not only in 2014, but maybe through 2017. Because they optioned Pineda to AAA last year, he remains under team control for four more full seasons.

When was the last time the Yankees had three pitchers age-27 or younger in the rotation?* Along with Pineda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka help round out one of the youngest Opening Day rotations in recent memory. Barring trade or injury, all three could be in that Opening Day rotation through 2016, and two of them are set through 2017.

Well, Chien-Ming Wang was 28 in 2008 when the Yankees broke camp with a rotation including him, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Darrell Rasner (27), and Joba Chamberlain did pitch at some point in the rotation that year. Also, in 2009 CC Sabathia was 28, while both Chamberlain and Hughes took turns in the rotation. It has only been a rarity in the most recent years.

There’s just one hitch in the scenario.

You can’t count on Michael Pineda at this point.

Every Yankees fan in the world should be rooting for him to succeed, for him to pitch his way onto the team and redeem himself after a two-year absence. But you know what they say about wishing in one hand. The Yankees need a decent contingency plan in case Pineda is not up to the task from the get go.

David Phelps and Adam Warren will also compete for the fifth starter spot, but they both might be better served in bullpen roles. Not only would they shore up a current area of weakness, but they’d perhaps be more valuables themselves as relievers than as starters. Both have pitched well out of the bullpen in the recent past.

This is why we undertake the unexciting task of examining long shot starters. Given the need in the bullpen, in addition to the need for a fifth starter, the Yankees can’t be content just with the pitchers they have now. They need a couple more guys to add a little depth — and fill out the AAA rotation.

Finally we get to the title character, A.J. Burnett. Yesterday we learned that he will not retire, and that he will not necessarily re-sign with the Pirates. He’s looking to test the market. Since he’d almost certainly sign a one-year contract, he could fit perfectly into the No. 5 spot.

Before anyone gets anxious, let’s acknowledge that this will never happen.

Unless Burnett feels he has something to prove, it’s almost impossible to see him entertaining an offer from NY (even if they were interested). He’s heard the boos. He had to sit around as the Yankees desperately shopped him around before the 2012 season. He apparently didn’t like that the Yankees always tried to tinker with his delivery. He’d almost certainly be better served elsewhere.

This story really isn’t about Burnett anyway. It’s about depth. Having three or four guys (counting Vidal Nuno) competing for the fifth starter spot sounds nice. They’re all relatively young guys, which makes it sound even nicer. But this team has needs in many spots right now. Once the season starts, they’ll have more needs. How long will it be before someone in the rotation misses a start or two? The sixth starter will be called on soon enough.

That doesn’t even cover the bullpen, which is basically David Robertson and Shawn Kelley right now. If Warren and Phelps are swingmen, who takes their places when they move to the rotation? What happens if one of them gets hurt? What if they get shelled early in the season?

The answer doesn’t have to be Burnett. He just happens to make for the best headline. Given the unlikelihood of a reunion, it probably won’t be him. But it could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who might take a three-year, $39 million contract. That’s risk-heavy, probably risk-heavier than Burnett on a one-year deal. More likely it will be someone a bit cheaper, as outlined in the minor league pitcher post.

The Yankees did the heavy lifting when they added Tanaka to their top four starters. Now it’s time to add a little depth. It’s not the most exciting part of the off-season. It might be even frustrating, since it sometimes involves thinking about a reunion with A.J. Burnett. But if the Yankees want to return to the playoffs in 2014, it’s a necessary and ultimately important phase of the off-season.

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Huge mailbag this week. Twelve questions and not a single one about Alex Rodriguez, thankfully. I tried to keep the answers short since there are so many of ‘em. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you want to send us anything.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)

(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Jeff asks: What happened to Brian Roberts besides his problems with concussions and post-concussion sickness? I distinctly remember him being one of the best offensive second basemen in the mid-2000s. Is there even a minuscule chance he repeats anything close to it?

Roberts was awesome from 2005-09, hitting .294/.369/.451 (116 wRC+) while averaging 68 extra-base hits, 39 steals and 4.9 fWAR per 162 games. He missed more than three months with an abdominal strain in 2010 then suffered his first concussion later that year after whacking his helmet with his bat out of frustration. True story. He suffered his second concussion in May 2011 after hitting his head sliding into first base, and he dealt with post-concussion symptoms for several months after that. Roberts had surgery to repair his hip labrum in July 2012 and then missed three months last year after tearing his hamstring. That’s a lot of serious injuries, especially the two concussions. Roberts was decent after returning from the hammy in late June (93 wRC+ in the second half) and that’s probably the best we could reasonably expect out of him at age 36 and with all those recent injuries.

Manny asks: Suk-Min Yoon is planning on signing somewhere soon. Is Boras putting the cart before the Masahiro Tanaka-horse going to screw him here, or are they different markets for a guy like Yoon? Also, should the Yankees take note? From the little we’ve heard, he can start, he can close, he’s useful and sounds like he could project something similar to a non-criminal Ace Aceves.

Everything you need to know about Yoon is in this post. The Yankees have had interest in the 27-year-old and he’s a true free agent — there are no posting process hoops to jump through. Yoon is no Tanaka and he might not even be another Wei-Yin Chen — even Boras admitted he is “not an overpowering arm” — and the consensus is that he’s more of a swingman/reliever than a big league starter. In fact, shoulder problems limited him to the bullpen for most of last year. Yoon will have no impact on the Tanaka sweepstakes whatsoever. I don’t really have a grasp on what it would take to sign him and I’m not sure if he’s an upgrade over in-house options like David Phelps and Adam Warren. The Yankees need relievers though, and if he’s affordable, he might be an outside the box option to shore up the bullpen.

Ethan asks: The Giants would never do it because they don’t have any other options at third, but would you do Brett Gardner for Pablo Sandoval in a vacuum?

Yes, I would. In fact, I wrote about Sandoval as a possible trade target earlier this offseason. He’s a switch-hitter with power and surprisingly good defense, but weight and conditioning issues have hampered him his entire career. Both guys are due to become free agents next winter and given the team’s needs, a Gardner for Sandoval trade would make a lot of sense for the Yankees. It would be risky — the one they call Kung Fu Panda has shed 42 points this winter (photo!) — but I think the potential reward is mighty big. It just doesn’t make sense for San Francisco. Their outfield is full and they need Sandoval at the hot corner.

Dylan asks: Could we please have an update on Michael Pineda? I don’t see too much about him recently in the news.

(Ron Antonelli/New York Daily News)

(Ron Antonelli/New York Daily News)

There is no real update on Pineda. At his annual end-of-season press conference, Brian Cashman said they shut him down late last year because he needed to rest after pitching and rehabbing for 15 months straight. “He is on a throwing program and healthy,” said the GM to George King last month. “He is coming to Spring Training to win a spot in the rotation. He is a viable option.” That’s the update, I guess. No news is good news.

Mike asks: Given this story from MLB Trade Rumors: “Minor League Free Agents Finding Major League Deals” which highlights Jose Quintana, David Adams and others, could not “hating their own minor leaguers” be a new market inefficiency that the Yankees could exploit?

Heh. Letting Quintana walk was a massive blunder in hindsight. He could blow out his arm tomorrow and it still would have been a huge mistake. I would be surprised if the Yankees regret letting Adams go, especially since they’ve already replaced him with almost exactly the same player in Scott Sizemore. Those guys are a dime a dozen. Just about every team has given away an Adams or a Tyler Clippard or a Zach McAllister at some point, so the Bombers aren’t all that different in that regard. None of their non-Warren minor leaguers impressed when called upon last year, so maybe they’re right not to trust their own kids right now. The farm system isn’t in great shape, especially when talking about MLB ready talent. Quintana was a huge mistake but I don’t that’s enough of a reason to give absolutely everyone a chance. He’s an extreme outlier.

Billy asks: Ideally how many roster spots on the 40-man should be allocated towards players who will be of absolutely no help for the current season (Gary Sanchez, Jose Campos, etc.)?

I don’t think there is an answer to this. It varies team by team and depends on a number of things, like the strength of their farm system and whether or not they are legitimate contenders. Every club is going to need to use a few spots on extra players, like extra bullpen arms and bench players. Guys you can send up and down without worrying about their long-term development. Is there a point where having a bunch of guys like Campos, who isn’t expected to contribute to MLB at all in 2014, counterproductive? Sure. But that point is different for say, the Dodgers than it is the Astros.

Jeff asks: In the event that the Yankees don’t sign Tanaka, would they be interested in Josh Beckett or Chad Billingsley if they’re healthy and made available by the Dodgers?

I think the answer is no on Beckett but yes on Billingsley. Beckett was showing serious signs of decline — fading fastball and inability to put away lefties, mostly — before getting hurt and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is no joke. It ended Chris Carpenter’s career. Billingsley is still only 29, he’s been rock solid for years (3.79 ERA and 3.42 FIP from 2010-12), and his contract includes an affordable ($14M) club option for 2014. He “only” had Tommy John surgery and is due back sometime around May. Billingsley is someone I think the Yankees should pursue with or without Tanaka. He makes sense for them both this year and next.

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

Dustin asks: Would you trade for Aramis Ramirez if he were available?

I said no back before the trade deadline but at this point, after seeing how the offseason has played out, I think I’d say yes. Ramirez would have to come cheap though, either in a pure salary dump trade (he’s owed $20M in 2014 between his salary and the buyout of his 2015 option) or a deal involving one or two Grade-C prospects with the Brewers eating some salary. Grade-C prospects coming from the 21-30 range of a top 30 list, for example. Aramis is 35 with bad knees but he can still hit (12 HR and 132 wRC+ in 351 plate appearances in 2013) and his right-handed thump would fit the lineup well. It would be risky but even a half-season of Ramirez would be a big upgrade at the hot corner.

Ben asks: What do you think about the Yankees possibly trading for Jonathan Papelbon? Personality aside, I think he’d be a great addition to the bullpen, which is one of the last areas NY can throw money at to improve. What would it take to get him, a couple non- prospects (assuming NYY takes on the whole contract)?

I am anti-Papelbon and it has nothing to do with his personality or anything like that. He comes with a lot of red flags — I highly recommend this post by Jason Collette detailing those red flags — and he’s owed $13M in each of the next two seasons with a vesting option for another $13M in 2017. I have no problem with paying big dollars for elite relievers, but I’m not very confident in Papelbon being elite or even comfortably above-average these next two years. The Yankees definitely need bullpen help, but I’d be careful about getting caught up in the name here. He’s not the Red Sox version of Papelbon anymore. Read the linked Collette post, he breaks it down very well.

T.J. asks: Do you think the Yankees should go after Tommy Hanson? He had his best years in Atlanta with Brian McCann as his catcher. Of course, he could also be Phil Hughes 2.0.

There has been close to zero interest in Hanson this winter and I think that’s very telling. We’re talking about a 27-year-old who was one of the best prospects in baseball and an above-average starter as recently as 2010-11, yet no one wants him. Hanson has had a bunch of injury problems (with his shoulder, specifically) and it shows in the velocity in each of his pitches (via Brooks Baseball):

Tommy Hanson velocity

Don’t get too excited about that uptick in velocity at the end of last year. Hanson made exactly two appearances in July, August, and September, and he was working out of the bullpen by the end of the year. It’s not like he was making a start every five days and showing that velocity. Hanson was not been the same guy since his shoulder started acting up (4.76 ERA and 4.59 FIP from 2012-13) and I’m not sure throwing to his old batterymate McCann can help. I’d give him a minor league contract, sure. But I wouldn’t count on him for anything. You’d have to treat him almost like you’d treat Johan Santana. Anything he gives you is a bonus.

John asks: What would it take for a team (not necessarily the Yankees) to land Jhoulys Chacin?

A lot. Chacin very quietly broke out last season, pitching to a 3.47 ERA (3.47 FIP!) in 197.1 innings while allowing only 11 homers despite pitching half his games in Coors Field. His bowling ball sinker explains that. Chacin turned 26 earlier this month and he’s under team control through 2015. He’s on the cusp of becoming the next dominant sinkerballer, a Tim Hudson or Derek Lowe type. Given the price of pitching, it’ll take a boatload to get him. Two or three very good prospects/young minor leaguers at least. If I were the Rockies and the Yankees offered me Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, and someone like Phelps, I’d say no. Easily. Chacin’s very young and very good.

Joe asks: I watched the 2013 World Baseball Classic, is there any chance that Kenta Maeda a right-hander will be posted?

Maeda, 25, has been the second best pitcher in Japan these last two years behind Tanaka. It’s a big gap though — Ben Badler (no subs. req’d) says scouts view Maeda as a back-end starter while one international scouting director said “he could be a fourth starter at the big league level … he’ll keep you in games.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. It’s unclear if Maeda will be posted this winter but it is more and more unlikely with each week that passes. (The latest a player can be posted under the new system is February 1st.) More than anything, the takeaway from Maeda is that there won’t be another Tanaka or Yu Darvish for at least a few years.

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