Is Jon Snow really dead?…

Spring is coming…

The off-season is officially over as spring training is back in full force.  This week saw the arrival of the full team in Tampa as they begin preparation for the 2016 season.  Soon, the exhibition games will begin and we’ll see the guys experiencing spring for the first time at Steinbrenner Field, such as Dustin Ackley, Starlin Castro, and (hopefully) Aroldis Chapman.

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It was a strange off-season given the Yankees were the only team not to sign a major league free agent.  But GM Brian Cashman did protect the Yankees first pick in the MLB Draft.  I suppose it would have mattered more if it was a higher pick.  The Baltimore Orioles felt that pitcher Yovani Gallardo was worth sacrificing the 14th pick and that pick had much more value than the lower one the Yankees protected.  I still feel the Yankees should have made a free agent move to strengthen the pitching staff or to find a suitable back up for third baseman Chase Headley.

Speaking of Headley, I am not opposed to trying Rob Refsnyder at the position.  I feel that it only increases his value as a role player.  But I don’t like hearing that Starlin Castro will also play there some this spring to possibly back up Headley.  With second base a relatively new position for Castro, I’d prefer for him to continue focusing on the nuances of learning the position rather than trying to learn two new positions.  The only way moving Castro to third makes sense to me is if the plan is for him to eventually start there, with Refsnyder taking over at second.

I am very concerned about Mark Teixeira’s health (that’s every year at this stage of his career).  I am cautiously hopeful that Ackley is the right guy to back him up, but he hasn’t played there regularly since college.  If the Yankees are playing multiple out of position guys on the field this year, it’s a sign of sure trouble.  I thought signing Ike Davis would have made perfect sense for a back up role.  But the Yankees passed (or didn’t try hard enough) and the former Met signed with the Texas Rangers.

I am remain optimistic that Cashman will swing a trade this spring to bring in a reliable corner infield bench player…with experience.  Backing up Teixeira means you will play…alot!

Ackley

Courtesy:  Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke/Newsday.com

If Aaron Judge has a monster spring, I wonder if the Yankees will accelerate the plan for his arrival at the major league level.  But then, what do you do with Carlos Beltran?  The guy showed he can still play, but his time with the Yankees is fading faster than the erosion of his skills due to age.

On the other side of the outfield, the news that Brett Gardner is still not healthy as he recovers from off-season surgery is not a good sign.  Like backing Teixeira, the Yankees’ fourth outfielder (i.e., Aaron Hicks) will be a full-time fixture in the outfield given the health concerns and injury risks with Gardner, Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury.  That makes the younger guys (Judge, Slade Heathcott, and others) so valuable as they will see playing time in the Bronx this year.

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Courtesy:  Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News

The starting rotation is what it is.  Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Nathan Eovaldi, and CC Sabathia.  Ivan Nova is on the outside looking in, waiting for a spot to open.  If Nova could only embrace the long role, he’d be a good replacement for the departed Adam Warren.  But I don’t think he’ll be successful which leads me to hope that he shows something this spring as a starter to increase his value as a trade chip.

But at the moment, the primary concern at the beginning stages of spring training is the bullpen.  Much has been talked about how incredible the back-end of the Yankees bullpen will be.  When the trio of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances threw bullpen sessions together in Tampa recently, it created a stir and excitement.  However, until MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred hands down the domestic abuse penalty for Chapman, no one knows when the three great relievers will be able to pitch together in a meaningful game.  With Chapman missing spring training for a few days already this spring (for reasons apparently unrelated to the impending suspension), it is a mystery where his head is right now.

This makes Andrew Miller perhaps the most valuable man in the bullpen.  The Yankees need him to continue as their closer until Chapman is either cleared or returns.  Miller’s attitude is MVP-caliber.  I’ve never seen such grace when he spoke of only the team winning when talking about being displaced as the closer by Chapman.  That attitude says that he’ll do whatever it takes to win, so there’s no doubt he’ll be ready in the 9th inning when he gets the call from Manager Joe Girardi.

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Courtesy:  Jim Mcisaac/Getty Images

With Chapman out, the Yankees will need to make sure that they have the 7th inning replacement for the traded Justin Wilson.  I am hopeful that either James Pazos or Chasen Shreve will be ready to step to the next level.  That’s perhaps the most critical role in the bullpen that needs to be filled as it might be harder than finding adequate long relief.

Donnie Baseball, South Beach Style…

The Yankees will get to see Don Mattingly three times this spring with an exhibition game in Mid-March, and then they end the exhibition season with two games in Miami.  While I was disappointed to see Mattingly leave the Los Angeles Dodgers, I am anxious to see what he can do as the manager for the Miami Marlins.  There’s certainly talent on the team with Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez.

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Courtesy:  MLB.com

It is almost guaranteed the team will receive much media attention this year with Barry Bonds serving as the hitting coach.  But for Mattingly, the spotlight shouldn’t shine as brightly as it did in Los Angeles.  At least he is back in a situation where he is the choice of current management unlike with the Dodgers where he wasn’t “their” guy.  Mattingly will always be one of my favorite Yankees, and I am hopeful that he’ll succeed in Miami.  I am optimistic that it is a path that will eventually lead him back to the Bronx as a future successor for Joe Girardi.

Go Yankees!

—Scott

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