At the conclusion of the World Series, the off-season seems like it will be so long. We wait for the opening of free agency, then the winter meetings which generally brings a short frenzy with signings and trades. Then we wait through the holidays, and go through a quiet January. Finally, around Valentine’s Day, we are able to get our baseball fix as training camps begin to open.
Then, we blink, and here we are a week away from Opening Day. Cubs fans are probably still trying to recover from the hangovers, but the rest of us are anxious to begin the new year and at this point, everyone is optimistic.
The Yankees’ off-season was relatively quiet. The major move, aside from the return of Aroldis Chapman, was to sign free agent Matt Holliday, now the team’s starting DH. Matt’s days in the field, at age 37, are over but the bat remains effective and so do the leadership abilities. I’ve been very pleased this spring with the impact that Matt has had on the younger players, most notably Aaron Judge. With only a one-year contract, it is possible that this is Matt’s only year in pinstripes. Time will tell, but given what I’ve seen so far, I hope the team is able to find a way to bring him back next year.
Credit: Matt Rourke, AP
I am not sure what can be said about Masahiro Tanaka other than he’s been amazing this spring. Through five starts and 18 2/3 innings, he’s only surrendered six hits while striking out 22 to go with a sparkling 0.00 ERA. I realize that spring stats do not mean a great deal but Tanaka appears to be setting himself up for a career year. Of course that carries good news/bad news as Tanaka can opt out of his contract at the end of the year, but that’s something to worry about after the season. For now, let’s just enjoy what could be a tremendous year for the young right-hander.
Manager Joe Girardi has announced that CC Sabathia, rather than Michael Pineda, will slot in the rotation behind Tanaka. It was something of a surprise given CC was fighting for the fifth spot last spring. Girardi gave the ‘right-left’right’ strategy as his logic for the move, putting the left-handed Sabathia between two righties. He also referenced Sabathia’s numbers last year…3.91 ERA in 30 starts. His record was only 9-12 but wins and losses are deceiving for pitchers as they are dependent upon run support.
I am not sure how Pineda will react to the move back to third in the rotation. If it motivates him to overcome his inconsistency, I am all for it. The starting rotation needs a solid year from Pineda if it is going to be successful.
The fight for the last two spots in the rotation has been interesting. At the start of training camp, I felt the favorites were Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell. Severino started strong and then has struggled with starts recently (although he did throw three hitless innings in relief yesterday). Mitchell has been good but not great. Chad Green has probably pitched the best among the contenders but the dark horse that is emerging is tall left-hander Jordan Montgomery. Luis Cessa, one of the early hopefuls, has already been sent to minor league camp for re-assignment. At 6’6” with an ability to pitch inside, I am very intrigued by Montgomery. He has proven himself at both the AA and AAA levels, and I think the 24-year-old is ready for the major leagues.
Credit: Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports
In the right field competition, I think Aaron Judge has done enough to hold off Aaron Hicks. The stats are fairly comparable. Judge is batting .300 (15-for-50) with 2 HR and 4 RBI. Although he is still among the leaders in strikeouts (with 12), he is striking out less than he did last season in the Bronx. Hicks is batting .279 (12-for-43), also with 2 HR and 4 RBI. Hicks has struck out seven times. Judge has also displayed a terrific arm in right. For me, Judge has done what he needs to this spring and deserves the opportunity to take right field.
Greg Bird has been named the starting first baseman to the surprise of no one. Bird currently carries a .432 BA (19-for-44) with 6 HR and 11 RBI. I don’t think there was any chance that Chris Carter was going to beat out Bird, but Carter has been almost non-existent during training camp. He is currently batting .136 (6-for-44) which is actually up from where it was a few days ago. He only has one home run to go with 22 strikeouts. I think there’s a very strong argument for why Carter should be DFA’d when Tyler Austin returns from his foot injury.
With the final days of training camp winding down, the greatest uncertainty lies with shortstop. Didi Gregorius is out for the next month after suffering the shoulder sprain in the World Baseball Classic, so the question is who will replace Didi at short. The most logical move would be to slide Starlin Castro to short, and use a platoon of Ronald Torreyes and Rob Refsnyder at second. For me, it’s not ideal because Castro is still learning the nuances of second base and it should remain his focus. The only problem is there are no other true shortstops on the 40-man roster. Prospect Tyler Wade is the most advanced shortstop in the system and he’s probably my favorite for the temporary replacement but he’s young (only 22). He’s batting .342 in Grapefruit League action (13-for-38) but doesn’t have much power. Other possibilites are non-roster invitees Pete Kozma and Ruben Tejada. Didi’s bat will certainly be missed while he is away.
With the latest minor league re-assignments, the Yankees have 39 players remaining in camp. This includes the injured players (Tyler Austin and Didi Gregorius). With Opening Day just a week away, there will be more cuts this week as the Yankees pare down to 25 for the trip to St Petersburg to face the Tampa Bay Rays on April 2nd.
This has been a fun spring. The Yankees have the best record in the Grapefruit League (or the Cactus League for that matter). I know that spring stats mean nothing when the regular season starts but winning is always fun. We’ve seen some great stuff from the talented super-prospects in the organization like Gleyber Torres and James Kaprielian. Although they won’t be heading north with the big league club, they’ve given us glimpses of their incredible futures. Gary Sanchez has continued to impress and Greg Bird has shown that last year’s shoulder injury is no longer an issue. I am anxious and ready for the season to start. The Cubs are yesterday’s news.
How will the Yankees “manage” potential change?…
Will Joe Girardi be the Yankees manager this time next year? As the manager enters the final year of his contract, the expectation is that he’ll re-sign with the Yankees in October or November. But anything is possible. The Steinbrenner family might have a change of heart and decide that a change is needed. Girardi has held the job for a long time (this will be his 10th season as Yankees skipper).
Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
I get frustrated with Girardi at times. He’s never been one of my favorite managers. I had greater confidence in Joe Torre’s ability to lead. Among current managers, I hold Don Mattingly and Terry “Tito” Francona in highest regard.
Mattingly was my favorite player so sentimentally that’s probably why he is my favorite manager. In 2008, when the Yankees hired Girardi over Mattingly, I did think it was the right decision given Mattingly’s lack of managerial experience at the time. Mattingly was not able to succeed in Los Angeles for the Dodgers, but I’ve felt he has continually improved each year. Today, I’d easily take Mattingly over Girardi. My only reservation with hiring Mattingly as Yankees manager (assuming the Yankees could pry him from Miami) is preservation of his Yankees legacy. Managers are hired to be fired or so the saying goes. I wouldn’t want my final memory of Mattingly in pinstripes to be him walking away after being fired.
I have admired Francona since he was manager of the Boston Red Sox. I had great respect for the champions he built and of course he was responsible for ending The Curse of the Bambino, along with then general manager Theo Epstein. I doubt that Francona would ever leave the Cleveland Indians (by his own choice). The Yankees could have hired him after he was fired in Boston but they did not express any interest. Francona has history with the Cleveland Indians franchise (pre-dating his time in Boston), and after taking the team to the World Series last year, he is very beloved in the city.
If the Yankees do decide to make a managerial change at the end of the season, I just don’t see any overwhelming candidates who could do a better job. Mattingly would be great, but he is under contract, so it would take a trade to make it happen. I am not enthused by simply elevating one of the coaches (Rob Thomson or Tony Pena).
This situation bears watching over the course of the season. I think the odds are much better that GM Brian Cashman, also in the final year of a contract, re-signs with the Yankees than Girardi. Time will tell.
Let the competition be Judged…
The Yankees have various degrees of competition at certain positions this spring. The most obvious is the two open spots in the pitching rotation behind Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The early leaders, in my opinion, are Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell. But there is still time for Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and perhaps Adam Warren to state their case. I am anxious and excited for Jordan Montgomery and James Kaprielian but it does not appear to be their times yet. Kaprielian has the higher ceiling but he won’t make an appearance at Yankee Stadium, barring injuries, until September at the earliest. Montgomery could show up sooner and might be the first or second option if someone gets hurt.
The competition at first base evaporated somewhat when Tyler Austin broke his foot. Greg Bird clearly holds the advantage over Chris Carter despite the latter’s 41 home runs last season. Unlike Carter, Bird is good defensively (even if he’s not on par with former first baseman Mark Teixeira’s glove) and hits for average. As Bird has shown this spring, he still has his power following last year’s injury.
Right field was also a speculated position of competition. Most assume that Aaron Judge will get the job, but technically, he is in competition with Aaron Hicks. Judge has a much greater upside, but he did strike out 42 out of 84 times late last season. If he is not able to make the necessary adjustments at the big league level, it could open the door for Hicks to take the job. I personally hope it does not happen. I am hopeful that Judge figures it out at this level like he has at every level thus far.
The flaming red hair is left on the barbershop floor…
Kudos to OF Clint Frazier for cutting his bushy red hair this week. While I personally feel that the Yankees current hair policy is outdated, I thought it was a good move by Frazier to cut his hair after a talk with Manager Joe Girardi. Girardi felt that the hair had become a distraction. It was a mature statement by Frazier in saying that he loved playing for the organization more than his hair.
Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Frazier won’t break camp with the Yankees, but he’ll be there soon enough. This is all part of his maturation into a dynamic young future star outfielder for the Pinstripers.
There’s other baseball on TV…
I should probably watch the WBC more but I’ve never been into it. Still, I fully understand the importance of placing Baseball on the World Stage and should reconsider my complacency. I guess I am just get tired of seeing the Dominican Republic or Japan always win the competition.
Regardless, it was fun to see the USA defeat Columbia, 3-2, on a run-scoring single by Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles. Yankees reliever Tyler Clippard picked up the win. The game featured a very strong start by Jose Quintana for Columbia. The rumors continue to swirl about Quintana’s future and the Yankees remain one of the potential destinations. His WBC performance yesterday did nothing to dispel those rumors.
Credit: Logan Bowles, USA TODAY Sports
Have a great weekend, everyone!