Monday, March 31, 2014

Lots Of Sound Logic In Joe's Opening Day Roster Decisions

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

As the Yankees were coming down the home stretch of Spring Training last week, I thought I had Joe's final roster selections all figured out.  I thought he was going to go with the experience/performance combo and take Matt Daley for the final bullpen spot, which also would have allowed Vidal Nuno to stay stretched out as a starter in Triple-A and be ready to come up and spot start in case of an emergency.  When it came to the final bench spot, I thought Eduardo Nunez's tenure as a Yankee and familiarity with their system would give him the advantage over Yangervis Solarte and Joe would give him the nod based on loyalty.

In another shining example of why Joe and Cash have the jobs they have and I'm a cube monkey who blogs in his spare time, I was wrong on both accounts.  Joe didn't go on experience and he didn't go on loyalty.  He thought about what his team was going to need the most in the first few weeks of the season and made the 2 most logical choices to meet those needs.

AB4AR 2014 Season Preview: The Predictions

When I said the 3 weeks of season preview posts were over yesterday, I wasn't being 100% honest.  There's still the matter of making my 2014 predictions, an annual rite of passage I've passed with flying colors each of the last 2 seasons.  If you've already read the staff predictions post over at IIATMS/TYA, then you already know what my picks are.  Only thing that's changing here are the additions of the full AL East predictions and expanded postseason predictions.

Without further ado, here they are...

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/30/14

Spring Training is technically over, but there were a few noteworthy things happening yesterday as the majority of the team made its way to Houston for Tuesday night.

- Michael Pineda stayed behind to get 1 more start in at the Tampa complex.  He pitched in a MiL game and went 6 innings, giving up 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks with 8 strikeouts.

- If you missed it before, here's what Tuesday's starting lineup will look like: 1) Ellsbury- CF, 2) Jeter- SS, 3) Beltran- RF, 4) McCann- C, 5) Teix- 1B, 6) Soriano- DH, 7) Gardner- LF, 8) Roberts- 2B, 9) Johnson- 3B

- A roster spot still needs to be opened in order to add Yangervis Solarte to the 40-man.  No word yet on the move, but I'd guess Nik Turley goes to the 60-day DL.

- Donnie Collins took an educated stab at predicting the Opening Day roster for the SWB RailRiders.  Definitely not the starting rotation they envisioned having.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

AB4AR 2014 Season Preview Recap

Well that's it, ladies and gentlemen.  3 weeks have come and gone and with them we've previewed the upcoming 2014 season in every which way imaginable.  The last week of preview posts was this past week, a detailed position-by-position breakdown of the Opening Day roster and its strengths and weaknesses.  The rotation and outfield look like the no questions asked strengths of the team while the infield and bench look like the obvious weaknesses, but check out each individual roster group post and judge for yourself.

- The Infield

- The Outfield

- The Rotation

- The Bullpen

- The Bench

The regular season starts on Tuesday, so use these next 2 days to catch up on whatever you've missed.  The "2014 Knowns and Unknowns" series can be found here, and the "Season Storylines" posts here.  Check back tomorrow afternoon for my 2014 predictions.

The Minor League Team To Watch In 2014 Has Been Found

The Yankees have put the finishing touches on their Opening Day 25-man roster over the past few days, but they aren't the only team setting rosters with a couple of days remaining before the start of the season.  The roster pictures for each MiL affiliate are starting to come into focus and, courtesy of Josh Norris, it looks like Low-A Charleston is going to be the team to follow:

In Aaron Judge, Abi Avelino, Miguel Andujar, Luis Torrens, and Luis Severino, the RiverDogs will open the season with 5 of the top 26 from the AB4AR Top 30 on their roster.  Davis, Lail, and Wade are also on the radar as guys with serious prospect potential, and once the season gets going there's a good chance we see Gosuke Katoh, Ian Clarkin, Jordan Cote, and maybe even Ty Hensley in Charleston at some point.

It's a lot of young, still tough to project talent, but all in all that's easily the most exciting group of prospects to watch this year.  The next wave, if you will.  It wouldn't shock me at all if half of next year's top 10 prospects came from this team.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/29/14

- No final game for the Yankees yesterday.  They got rained out and so while some of the team left to fly to Houston, another group will stay behind to get some last-minute pitching work in.

- In a bit of a surprise, Joe announced Yangervis Solarte as the winner of the final bench spot.  He had an excellent ST and had an opt-out clause in his contract whereas Eduardo Nunez still had a MiL option remaining.  Let's see how that hot spring carries over to the regular season.

- Ivan Nova, David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton all threw sim games in place of their scheduled game appearances.  Michael Pineda will throw one today.

- Masahiro Tanaka was selected as the winner of this year's James P. Dawson award for the best rookie in camp.  No surprise there.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Afternoon Food For Thought: ST Starter Results

CC Sabathia- 5 G, 21.0 IP, 13 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 16 K
Hiroki Kuroda- 4 G, 11.1 IP, 15 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 12 K
Ivan Nova- 5 G, 19.2 IP, 21 H, 8 ER, 2 BB, 21 K
Masahiro Tanaka- 5 G, 21.0 IP, 15 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 26 K
Michael Pineda- 4 G, 15.0 IP, 14 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 16 K

Total- 88.0 IP, 78.0 IP, 24 ER, 10 BB, 91 K

We all know by now that Spring Training stats don't mean anything.  That said, it's hard to look at what the Yankee rotation has done this spring and not be impressed.  They've been great.  All of them.  The only really shaky-looking numbers are Kuroda's and all 6 of his ER came in 1 bad start.  He's been money every other time and very sharp in MiL outings.

The true test starts in a few days, but the Yankee rotation has passed the ST mid-term with almost straight A's.  CC looks healthy, sharp, and much more comfortable than he did last year.  Nova's more calm and confident.  Tanaka and Pineda have each looked overwhelming at times.  Based on what they've done this spring, this is the most excited I've ever been about a Yankee rotation heading into the start of the season.  Ever.

Teix Still Not Sold On His Wrist Strength

(Courtesy of the AP)

It's been a slow and steady process for Mark Teixeira as he's worked his way back into playing shape from last year's wrist injury.  From basic strengthening exercises to dry swings to batting cage work to full BP to playing in actual ST games, one would hardly call this a "normal" Spring Training for Teix and all along he's said the most important thing is making sure his wrist feels good all the time, no matter how he's swinging.  According to what he told Kevin Kernan of The Post on Thursday, he's still not 100% confident that the wrist is completely healed:

“I’m not trusting that the wrist is healthy.

I’m just trying to protect it.  Taking your ‘A’ swing, taking that swing that is 100 percent and I need to trust that I can do that and not feel pain. I need to finish my swing instead of protecting my wrist. Last year, to protect my wrist, I didn’t finish my swing."

Teix is batting a meager .086/.289/.114 in 35 PA this spring, with 10 BB and 11 K.  His only XBH is a double he hit as a right-handed batter a few weeks ago, so obviously the numbers fit somebody who's admittedly not swinging normally and holding back.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/28/14

The Yanks checked another game off the ST schedule last night with a 3-0 win over the Marlins.  Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka combined for the 6-hit shutout.

- Kuroda was great in his 3 innings (3 H, 4 K), but the story was Tanaka.  He followed up with a 6-inning relief appearance in which he allowed only 3 hits of his own, didn't walk a batter, and struck out 10.  Shutdown city, population Ma-kun.

- The big news of the day was roster announcements.  Joe announced Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno as the winners of the final 2 bullpen spots before the game and Dean Anna as part of the bench after.

- Only 1 spot remains open and it's down to Eduardo Nunez and Yangervis Solarte.  Deadline to set rosters is 3 PM tomorrow.

- Jacoby Ellsbury went 2-5 and played center field in another MiL game.  He said he feels fine and Joe said he'll play in Sunday's Major League game as a final tuneup.

- Top prospects Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, Jose Campos, and Greg Bird will all be held back in ExST before starting their respective MiL seasons.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 3/28/14

I'll be attending Brewers Opening Day on Monday and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't equally as excited for that as I am for the Yankees the next day.  I've never been to a season opener for any team in any sport before, unless you count UConn football and I don't.  As a diehard sports fan, it's an experience I'm very much looking forward to taking in and for once I'll be the one trying to herd everybody into the stadium to see the Star Spangled Banner and first pitch.  Lots open up at 10 AM officially and somewhere between 8:30 and 9 unofficially, so it's going to be quite the day of drinking and merriment.  Needless to say, Monday won't be a very active day for the blog, but I'll make sure to get a few things scheduled before cracking the first beer.  Now onto the links!

- On Monday, Chad Jennings of LoHud dished a whole crapload of Minor League updates, on everything from injuries to team assignments.

- Vizzini of NoMaas discussed the efficiency with which the Yankees spend their money, and correctly pointed out that their organizational expectations provide a different context for spending efficiency/inefficiency than most other teams.

- Mike Axisa of RAB put a bow on his 2014 season preview series with a personal preview of Derek Jeter's final season.

- On Tuesday, Michael Eder of IIATMS/TYA identified a pair of potential trade partners for Ichiro if the Yanks are really trying to move him.

- On Wednesday, Jason Evans of Yanks Go Yard kicked around the idea of bringing a 2nd lefty in the bullpen and weighed the remaining options.

- On Thursday, Chris Mitchell of Pinstripe Pundits examined how much of a hit the Yankees will take defensively without Brendan Ryan available at shortstop to open the season.

- Scott Davis of Pinstripe Alley mused on Alfonso Soriano and the added versatility he'll bring to the lineup this year.

- SG of RLYW compiled his 2014 projections into an all-encompassing look at what to expect from the team this season.  He's got the Yanks at about a mid-80s win team, so take that however you want.

- On Friday, Alphonso of It Is High... creatively vented his frustration with the Yankees for sending Zoilo down to the Minors again.

Going old school with some Queen for this week's Friday Jam.  Gonna be a helluva time on Monday.  Such a good time.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

AB4AR 2014 Season Preview: The Bench

(Not you again!  Courtesy of US Presswire)

So here we are at the final post of the 2014 AB4AR Season Preview Series.  The major storylines have been covered, the knowns and unknowns have been laid out, and all but one roster group has been broken down in anticipation of that magical day next Tuesday.  All in all, I feel pretty good about this team and I feel like I've done a pretty good job promoting those good feelings.  I think the new outfield is going to be super productive, I believe the rotation will end up being one of the 5 best in baseball, and I have no reason not to expect the bullpen to get figured out one way or another because it always does.  I can even muster up a little hope for the infield to be passable.

Here's the thing though.  I have zero faith in the Yankees having a productive bench this season.  None.  I know it's a popular trend to look at guys who have performed well in ST and start imagining them as regular season super subs.  The reality is that none of those guys are really that good.  If the Zelous Wheelers and Yangervis Solartes of the world were really that good, they would already be on a 40-man roster somewhere.  They very well could end up being just as productive as the more familiar faces that are going to open the season on the bench, but that's really not saying much when you look at that projected bench objectively.  The bench is a weakness again and it's something that will have to be addressed at some point if the Yankees are going to be real contenders for the title.

Shocker!! Forbes Ranks Yankees The #1 Most Valuable MLB Franchise

Forbes released its list of MLB franchise values yesterday, and in a major upset the Yankees came in at number 1 with a cool $2.5 billion value.  This is up from last year's $2.3 billion value and marks the 17th straight year that the Yanks have been the most valuable MLB team.  The Dodgers came in second at $2 bil even, and according to the full article the Yankees rank ahead of the Dallas Cowboys by $200 mil as the most valuable franchise in all of pro sports.

Considering that ticket sales, attendance, and TV ratings were all down last season as a result of the watered down on-field product, it's impressive that the Yankees were able to increase their value.  Just goes to show how big an international brand they are and how much they stand to make this year with the addition of Tanaka and a potential return to the postseason.  They may not have enough money to spend on Stephen Drew (they do), but the Yankees are still clearly doing just fine when it comes to the dollars and cents side of baseball.  Now somebody hit the music!

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/27/14

The Yankees were victorious in the 2014 Spring Training road finale yesterday, beating the Pirates 4-2 behind 4 shutout innings from CC Sabathia and 3-hit days from Ichiro, Eduardo, and Zoilo.

- Sabathia was just going through the motions and threw 44 pitches in his 4 3-hit innings, but it sounds like he looked sharp.  Next time we see him will be in the top of the bottom of the 1st on opening day.

- All 3 5th starter competition "losers" (David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno) worked out of the bullpen after CC.  They combined for 2.2 IP, 5 H, and 2 ER (Phelps) and are slated to pitch again on Saturday.

- No game yesterday for Jacoby Ellsbury, but he did go through a full workout.  He'll play in another MiL game today, maybe another on Saturday, and is still on track to be ready for Opening Day.

- Big day of morning roster cuts, with Preston Claiborne, David Herndon, Fred Lewis, Zoilo Almonte, Russ Canzler, and Scott Sizmore all getting reassigned to MiL camp.  Only a few real roster competitors left.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

AB4AR 2014 Season Preview: The Bullpen

(Not Mo.  But potentially just as good.  Courtesy of Getty Images)

For the better part of the last 2 decades, any talk about the Yankee bullpen began and ended with Mariano Rivera.  No matter the combined skill and depth of the other 6 relievers in front of him, having Mo there for the 9th inning was the great equalizer, the 1-man advantage that no other team could compete with.  2013 was the final season of Mo's reign of terror over the rest of the American League and the Yankees embark on the start of a new bullpen era this season with Mo's successor assuming the 9th inning throne.

Mo was not the only major loss from last year's bullpen.  Recent mainstays like Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain have also moved on, and the Yankees enter this season far less settled in their relief role definition and hierarchy than they've been in quite some time.  The potential is there for this group to be every bit as effective and occasionally dominant as the last group was.  It's a matter of seeing who steps up, who falters, and how everything eventually shakes out.

Opening Day Roster Prediction

There are 5 days left until Opening Day, fewer ST games than that.  There's not much left to guess about at this point, so it's as good a time as any to make my official Opening Day 25-man roster prediction.  Without further ado, here's what I'm expecting to see:

Starting Lineup: Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Brian Roberts, Derek Jeter, Kelly Johnson, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano

Starting Rotation: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda

Bullpen: David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Matt Daley

Bench: Francisco Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, Ichiro Suzuki

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/26/14

In what was Derek Jeter's final ST road game ever, the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays 10-6 thanks to some truly horrid bullpen work by Preston Claiborne.  Gave up 6 runs, recorded 0 outs.  He probably cost himself a chance at a roster spot with that.

- Jacoby Ellsbury played in another MiL game and went 5 innings in center field to go along with a 1-4, 1 BB day at the dish.  He's scheduled for another one today and the team is saying he'll be ready for Opening Day.

- After John Ryan Murphy got reassigned on Tuesday, it was Austin Romine's turn yesterday.  By default, that makes Francisco Cervelli the (well-earned) Major League backup.

- Confirmed that Brendan Ryan will open the season on the DL.  Reported that Alfonso Soriano has been dealing with some shoulder tightness; nothing that serious.

- David Phelps and Adam Warren are scheduled to pitch out of the 'pen in today's game.  Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda threw bullpens yesterday.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

AB4AR 2014 Season Preview: The Rotation

(Don't call it a comeback... Courtesy of the AP)

When Joe announced that Michael Pineda would be the 5th starter to open the season, he answered the final question about how the starting rotation would look in 2014.  CC, Hirok, Nova, and Tanaka had already been lined up to start the first 4 games of the regular season.  Now we know who comes after that.

What we don't know is how this rotation is going to perform, but there is plenty of reason to be optimistic and even excited about the possibilities.  The potential is there for the Yanks to have 5 legitimate top tier starters in their rotation, 5 pitchers who can come out on any given day and completely shut the opposing team down.  It's been a long time since we've been able to say that about a Yankee rotation and even though a lot needs to go right for that possibility to be realized, that still puts the team in a much more advantageous position than it's been in years.  After the jump, the player-by-player breakdown of this year's starting 5.

A Quick Word On The Shift

(Just one more thing for Johnson to learn at third.  Courtesy of Getty Images)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Yesterday, Pete Caldera wrote an interesting little article about the Yankees' plans to employ infield shifts more this year as part of their in-game defensive strategy.  They're one of the teams that hasn't been as quick to jump on the shift bandwagon as a team like the Rays, and with a very old and very range-limited starting infield this season it makes sense to try to cover some of those infield range holes with a shift in situations that call for it.

On Michael Pineda's Workload Limit

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

That Michael Pineda was formally announced as the winner of the ST 5th starter competition yesterday was hardly a surprise.  He was clearly the best man for the job based on what he showed in his first 4 ST appearances (2 ER, 16 K/1 BB in 15.0 IP).  What was a little bit of a surprise was Joe's declaration that Pineda would not have an innings limit this season.  The Yankees have been so, so careful bringing Pineda back from his shoulder injury.  As a young pitcher with only 1 full season of innings under his belt, it stood to reason that they would continue that strategy and put some kind of cap on his workload this year.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/25/14

With the rest of the spring rotation set, the Yanks used 9 non-rotation guys to work 9 innings against the Phillies last night.  They combined to allow 6 runs in a 6-0 loss.

- The big news of the day was Joe officially announcing Michael Pineda as the 5th starter.  Hard to say Pineda didn't earn the job.  Noteworthy was Joe's statement that Pineda would not have an innings limit.  Doubt that's 100% true.

- Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the field as the DH in a MiL game and did so without any problems.  He went 1-6 with 2 BB and is scheduled to play another MiL game today.

- Tyler Austin also played in a game yesterday, his first of the spring.  Looks like he'll get a few in before the start of the season and he could be ready for the start of the Double-A season.

- John Ryan Murphy was reassigned to MiL camp, so expect the Cervelli backup announcement soon.

- When asked about Brendan Ryan's status, Joe said he'd be "really surprised" if Ryan was on the Opening Day roster.

- The day's bullpens: Carsten, Hirok, Ma-kun, and Cesar Cabral.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

AB4AR 2014 Season Preview: The Outfield

(Courtesy of the AP)

The Yankee outfield never came close to reaching its full potential last season due mainly to the injuries suffered by Curtis Granderson.  That being the case, even a healthy Granderson wouldn't have been enough to make the outfield truly a strength.  The projected starting outfield had become very rigid in its individual skill sets.  C-Grand hit for power and got on base but didn't hit for average and had no defensive value.  Gardner got on base and was a plus-plus defender but hit for very little power.  Ichiro was a plus defender with good speed but didn't get on base or hit for enough average or power to make the most out of it.

2 of those 3 starters from last year will no longer be a part of the starting picture in 2014.  As part of the offseason makeover, the Yankees added more well-rounded players to center and right field and shifted the newly-extended Gardner back to left field, where he's had the most success in the past.  There are still some things that need to be ironed out with respect to this new outfield alignment, but collectively they should be much better and much more balanced in their overall offensive and defensive makeup than they were last season.

Late Spring Training Winners And Losers

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Somebody cue the music because we've reached the final countdown.  We're now only a week away from Opening Day.  This time next week we won't be talking about who's going to make the bullpen or win the 5th starter competition or what the batting order should look like because all of that stuff will be decided.  That means the guys in camp still competing for roster spots or clearer roster definitions don't have much time left to prove their worth.  A little less than 3 weeks ago, I singled out some of the early winners and losers in Spring Training.  In the time since, the winner/loser landscape has almost completely changed, as it's wont to do when the sample sizes become a bit larger and roster cuts start being made.  With a handful of ST games remaining, here is the updated list for who's sitting pretty and who's not.

Would You Trade Ichiro?

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

There hasn't been much trade talk involving the Yankees in the last week after a flurry of it earlier in the month.  The latest back injury for Brendan Ryan should have stirred up more talk involving the D'backs, White Sox, and the deep crop of young Yankee catchers, but instead it was Ichiro Suzuki who made trade rumor headlines yesterday when Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees were again trying to move Ichiro and were willing to eat some salary to get a "good" prospect in return.

This isn't the first time we've heard Ichiro's name in trade talks.  The Yankees have been trying to dump him for a while now that they've revamped their starting outfield (which will be previewed later today).  The problem with moving Ichiro is that he's basically valueless as a trade commodity.  He's super old, his skill set and production have declined dramatically, and he's owed way more money than any team would willingly take on for the level of production they'd get.  Good on the Yankees for attempting to ease that cost concern, but that's most likely not going to be enough to entice teams to give up even a mid-level prospect unless the Yanks are eating more than most of that $6.5 mil.

If the Yanks are willing to do that, the next thing they need to do is decide what their definition of a "good" prospect is and see if there's really any interest out there.  They were able to get something decent for Chris Stewart, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that they could do it again.  But if they're willing to pay Ichiro millions to not play for them, maybe they should be willing to pay him a few more to stay on as their 5th outfielder.  It ain't like the 4 ahead of him on the depth chart are pillars of health.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/24/14

No game and no scheduled workouts for the Yankees yesterday, but that didn't mean some guys weren't getting their work in.

- Ivan Nova started a MiL game and dominated the way you expect a pitcher of his caliber would against low level competition.  8 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K, 91 pitches.  He's ready.

- And it looks like he's going to get the 3rd starter over Masahiro Tanaka.  Joe has tagged CC, Hirok, and Nova to start on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to line them up for next week.  Tanaka goes 4th.

- Jacoby Ellsbury returns today, albeit in a DH role in a MiL game.  If he comes through without issue, he could play in a Grapefruit League game tomorrow.

- Tyler Austin, who's been hitting and taking defensive reps for a while now, could also get back into a few late spring games this week.  That could mean less missed regular season time than first anticipated.

Monday, March 24, 2014

AB4AR 2014 Season Preview: The Infield

(Watch the wrist, guy.  Kinda got a lot riding on it this year.  Courtesy of Getty Images)

Early in Spring Training, we heard that Larry Rothschild was stressing the importance of pitching down in the strike zone to his pitching staff this year.  A few years ago that would have been an ideal strategy for the Yankees to maximize their defensive value.  They had a Gold Glove first baseman, a pretty good second baseman, a decent-to-slightly above average third baseman, and a shortstop who, for all his range limitations at a position most requiring good range, was good at making plays on the balls he could get to.

It's no longer that infield heyday, and the Yankees enter the 2014 season much less secure in their infield makeup than they were a few years ago.  Half of those former players will not be a part of this year's team.  The half that remains is not nearly what it was as recently as 2012.  For the first time in a long time, the Yanks enter a season not knowing what to expect from their starting infield defensively or offensively.  There are more questions than answers right now, and it could be a few months before the answers to those questions materialize.  To kick off the final week of the 2014 AB4AR Season Preview Series, let's look at the 2014 starting infield.

Late Spring Training Injury Roundup

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

With 8 days until Opening Day, the Yankees enter their final week of ST game action with a few more potential roster holes to plug than they were hoping for.  It's not competition that's causing the uncertainty.  The starting lineup and rotation are mostly set, as is the bench, and the bullpen is starting to take shape.  A few late spring injuries have popped up and for now the Yankee training and coaching staffs are addressing them in a very slow and cautious manner.  None of the injuries appear to be too serious and none involve important ligaments or joints, continuing the refreshing string of good luck that Mike E. pointed out last Thursday, but there are a few that are serious enough to possibly affect the look of the Opening Day rosters.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/23/14

(Courtesy of the AP)

The latest ST winning steak is over.  Long live the latest ST winning streak.  The Yankees fell 3-1 to the Blue Jays yesterday afternoon.

- The game was Michael Pineda's worst start to date, and it wasn't even that bad.  6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.  Threw 80 pitches, 57 for strikes, hit 1 batter, and touched low 90s on the fastball.  I'll take that from my 5th starter every damn day.

- The plan for Jacoby Ellsbury is to get him back into games in a MiL game on Tuesday.  He'll get a chance to test his sore calf without the possibility of throwing off back dating a potential DL stint.

- Ellsbury took morning BP and did fine.  CC Sabathia and David Robertson threw bullpens.

- With a scheduled off day today, Ivan Nova will make a MiL start to stay on schedule.

- Via Donnie Collins, Manny Banuelos threw 3 innings in a MiL scrimmage and touched 95 on the gun.  Kid's still got plenty of stuff.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

2014 Season Preview: Knowns And Unknowns Recap

Another week of season preview posts has come and gone, and this time it was the knowns and unknowns facing each roster group as they prepare for the start of the regular season.  As the week went by, some of those unknowns started to be answered, but with just 9 days remaining until Opening Day there are still some questions that need to be figured out.  Here's the roundup of all 5 knowns/unknowns posts from this past week:

- The Infield

- The Outfield

- The Rotation

- The Bullpen

- The Bench

With the end of this week, we'll move into the final week of the 2014 AB4AR Season Preview Series tomorrow with the actual "Season Preview" posts.  Same format as this week, each day will be devoted to one roster group, and then we'll put a bow on all of it with the 2014 Season Predictions post on 3/31.  Check back tomorrow for the 2014 infield season preview.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/22/14

- The ST winning streak went up to 7 as the Yanks edged out the Twins 5-4 yesterday.  It was Masahiro Tanaka's first time traveling on the road this spring, and his first time facing a full Major League lineup, and he struggled a bit.  3 ER on 5 hits in 5.2 IP, with a walk, a hit batter, and 6 strikeouts.  His command wasn't as sharp as it's been, but he battled and got through the day.  I'll take it.

- Hiroki Kuroda made his scheduled start in a MiL game and he went 6 innings, gave up 2 runs, and threw 84 pitches.  He declared himself ready to go for the season after the outing.

- After fouling 2 balls off his left foot in the previous game, Derek Jeter felt no pain and had no problems taking BP.  He won't miss any time.  No updates on Jacoby Ellsbury or Brendan Ryan.

- Joe announced CC Sabathia as his Opening Day starter and hinted that the rest of the rotation order would be announced on Tuesday.  Gotta think Pineda is the favorite for the 5th spot.

- The rest of his competition - Phelps, Nuno, and Warren, all threw morning bullpens.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ryan's Back Injury Complicates The Infield Situation

The Yankees have their first official injury problem of 2014 after yesterday's MRI on Brendan Ryan revealed a pinched nerve in his upper back.  This comes after he had already been out of action for over a week with a sore lower back/oblique, and the early reports make it sound like he's not going to be ready for Opening Day.  He's taking pills to help the pain and could get a cortisone injection next week, but there's no timetable for his return to baseball activities let alone games.

For such a small part of the infield puzzle, Ryan and his back issues could cause major problems in the infield if they don't heal properly and dog him throughout the season.  None of the other utility infielder types are in the same realm as him when it comes to defense, especially not Eduardo Nunez, and that's the biggest thing the Yankees need at short with Derek Jeter starting.  Dean Anna hasn't looked great defensively, Scott Sizemore hasn't been able to play much and couldn't handle shortstop if he was, and ST superstar Yangervis Solarte is a completely unknown commodity as a Major Leaguer.

The most important thing right now is that Ryan takes the time he needs to get healthy, and with any luck he won't miss too much game time once the regular season starts.  The longer he stays out though, the more pressure it puts on that next tier of guys, the more pressure it puts on Jeter, and the more pressure it puts on Joe to manage Jeter's workload.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/21/14

- It's 6 wins in a row for the Yanks, as they blanked the Pirates 4-0 last night behind a stellar outing from CC Sabathia.  The big fella went 7 innings, gave up 4 hits and 1 walk, and struck out 7.  Fastball was still living upper 80s but Sabathia reportedly hit 90-91 a few times.  Looks like he's starting to find his form.

- Jacoby Ellsbury continued to do baseball activities without any pain in his calf yesterday morning.  Joe has not said if he'll play this weekend or not.

- The diagnosis is in on Brendan Ryan's upper back issue and it's a pinched nerve.  MRI revealed it and it looks very likely that Ryan will start the season on the DL.  More good news if you're an Eduardo Nunez fan, bad if you're a fan of good defense.

- To keep him on track for his regular season opener, Ivan Nova will pitch in a MiL game on Monday.

- Shane Green and Greg Bird were announced as the winners of the Kevin Lawn 2013 MiL Hitter and Pitcher of the Year awards.  Congrats to them.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 3/21/14

To hell with mentally checking out, I didn't even bother checking in today.  Still trying to get all my hearing back after the Lo-Pan show in Milwaukee last night and took the whole day off today for a March Madness/day drinking marathon.  If you're stuck at work, you have my condolences.  #ThoughtsandPrayers.  Not really though.  Now onto the links!

- On Monday, Jesse Schindler of Pinstripe Alley broke down the backup depth at second base, a position that's probably going to need a lot of backup help this season.

- On Tuesday, Mike Axisa of RAB previewed the defensive areas of weakness for 2014.  There's the ones you knew about and 1 or 2 you might not have thought about.

- Michael Eder of IIATMS/TYA made another case for why Stephen Drew could end up a Yankee before the start of the season.

- On Wednesday, el duque of It Is High..., in a rare display of optimism, spoke highly of the Yankees' current abundance of quality starting pitching depth.  Hard to disagree with the guy.

- William Juliano of The Captain's Blog proposed a very interesting idea for the bullpen strategy should the Yankees elect to take all 4 of the 5th starter competitors with them on the Opening Day roster.

- Vizzini of NoMaas offered up his win total prediction for 2014 and rationale for the number.

- Billy Brost of Yanks Go Yard mused on the decision Joe faces with Jeter's spot in the batting order.

- On Thursday, Daniel Burch of The Greedy Pinstripes looked at what statistical milestones could have been in reach for A-Rod were he allowed to play this season.

- Chad Jennings of LoHud got Mick Kelleher's thoughts on each of his projected starting infielders.

This week's jam is a little taste of live Lo-Pan from a show they did last July.  Absolutely killer set last night and really cool dudes to talk to afterwards.  If you like good hard rock and roll and beards, definitely check these guys out.

2014 Season Preview: What We Know And What We Don't Know (The Bench)

(Courtesy of the AP)

I know I've said this multiple times already, but I still can't get over how little the Yankees did to address their bench this offseason.  I know they had visions of Kelly Johnson being their super sub and Robbie Cano going to Seattle threw a wrench into that, but it still doesn't sit right with me that they'd spend all the money they did to upgrade the rest of the roster and then not go the extra step of bringing in some higher quality bench depth to back up their older/injury riskier players.  That's not to say there isn't a chance that the bench will surprise us this season and provide solid production, but it's not something I'm banking on.  Before they even get to that point, the Yankees have a lot of questions to answer regarding the makeup and playing time distribution of their 4 bench spots.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/20/14

It was only 2 days ago the Yanks played mostly their A-team against the Boston B-squad.  The roles were reversed last night at The George but the results stayed the same as the Bombers won 3-2.

- David Phelps put up a solid showing as he tries to keep up with Michael Pineda in the 5th starter race.  He went 6 innings and gave up 2 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 3.  Francisco Cervelli smacked his 4th HR of the spring.

- Little injury scare earlier in the morning when Jacoby Ellsbury was scratched from BP.  Turned out the team wanted him to take a precautionary MRI and it came back negative, so he's still on to return in a few days.

- Bigger injury scare before the game when Brendan Ryan was scratched with "upper back spasms".  Team said it's not related to his lower back problems.  Yeah sure.

- Joe indicated that a decision could be made on the 5th starter this weekend.  Have to think it's going to be Pineda.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

2014 Season Preview: What We Know And What We Don't Know (The Bullpen)

(Courtesy of US Presswire)

With a few exceptions here and there, the bullpen has been the stronger part of the Yankee pitching staff for the last few seasons.  That'll happen when the greatest closer in the history of baseball is holding down the fort for the 9th inning.  But it's more than that.  The Yankees, for all their faults in building up the rest of their roster, have been very good at putting together their bullpens through multiple sources.  They've generated some good homegrown relievers, they've signed or traded for guys who have provided above-average pitching production in late-game innings, and they've been masters of finding undervalued assets and getting decent production from them before cutting bait and moving on.  A lot has changed from the last few seasons heading into this one, however, and those changes could have a major impact on the look and overall performance of the bullpen in 2014.

Keep Talking To Me, Ivan

(Courtesy of Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY Sports)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Coming off back-to-back shaky outings in which he was touched up for 17 hits in 9.0 innings pitched, Ivan Nova got back on track yesterday with a brilliant start against the Atlanta Braves.  He worked 6.1 scoreless, effortless innings, giving up only 2 hits, striking out 5, and not walking a batter for the 4th straight outing.  It was a start right out of Nova's 2013 2nd half catalog.  Fastballs located down in the zone, a lot more GB outs than balls in the air, and a big swing-and-miss curveball.  Brian McCann, who said he wanted to play in yesterday's game specifically for the purpose of catching Nova again, was gushing after the game, and any uneasiness people may have been feeling after watching Nova's previous 2 starts was quelled.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/19/14

The Yanks weren't televised yesterday, so nobody got to see the masterful performance by Ivan Nova in their 7-0 thumping of the Braves.  Shame.

- But yeah, Nova.  He went 6.1 innings, gave up no runs, no walks, 2 hits, and struck out 5.  I'll have more on him later.  Carlos Beltran was the offensive star, going 3-4 with 2 RBI.

- Brendan Ryan went through a full workout yesterday with no limitations and should play in today's game.  Jacoby Ellsbury still hasn't started running on his sore calf, so his timetable remains up in the air.

- Joe confirmed that Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren are officially out of the 5th starter competition when he announced that Nuno would back up David Phelps out of the 'pen today and Warren would do the same for CC tomorrow.

- The experiment with Alfonso Soriano at first base is over.  He'll no longer take grounders there and Kelly Johnson is the backup for Teix right now.

- Warren and Hiroki Kuroda threw bullpens to Cervelli.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Season Preview: What We Know And What We Don't Know (The Rotation)

(Courtesy of the AP)

When Brian Cashman took the plunge and signed CC Sabathia during the 2008-2009 offseason, it was the start of the Yankees' new commitment to building a solid starting rotation.  The main factor that kept them out of the World Series after 2003 was their lack of top notch-quality starting pitching and their lack of rotation depth.  Sabathia has given them more than what they hoped for and then some since signing, but one thing that's always lagged behind is the quality of depth behind him in the rotation.  Former top prospects like Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain didn't pan out, nor did CC's fellow big FA signing from that offseason.  The lack of back end depth became such an issue that Andy Pettitte had to be brought back and then brought back out of retirement to fortify the rotation.

He's not around this year, nor are Hughes and Chamberlain, but for the first time in a while it appears as though the Yankees have finally solved that depth problem for the short and long-term futures.  There are still a few things that need to be ironed out, but the lay of the rotation land this year is much brighter than it's been in a while.

So The Yankees Basically Won The Pineda-Montero Trade Yesterday, Right?

(Fist bump city.  Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

The title of this post was a topic that came up on our daily email thread yesterday, mostly jokingly if I interpreted the email correctly.  The now infamous Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade of 2012 has been an easy source of comedy in the baseball world with how poorly the deal has turned out for both sides thus far, but the more I thought about it last night, the more I think the joke is actually true.  Even if he wakes up today, has his right arm fall completely off of his body, and never throws another pitch for the Yankees again, Pineda's start yesterday guaranteed a W for the Yankees on that deal.

Mark Teixeira, Bee Expert

(Courtesy of SB Nation)

By now, I'm sure everybody knows about the little 7-minute bee delay that interrupted yesterday's game.  What you might not know is that, had the umpires had the wherewithal to ask him, Mark Teixeira would have had the whole situation under control:

“What I thought was if you could just do a line of honey out to the parking lot, the bees would maybe follow it and leave us alone.”

Well duh.  Why didn't anybody think of that??  No need to spray a bunch of insecticides into the air, potentially putting the fans and players at risk and senselessly murdering a few hundred bees who were just trying to do their thing.  Just do a line of honey out to the parking lot and maybe the bees would have followed it.  Teix even volunteered the Yankees' honey.

Real multi-threat that Mark Teixeira.  Gold Glove-caliber first baseman, most boring person ever on Twitter, Broadway actor, painfully white, and amateur apiologist.  Now if only he could translate that bee knowledge to the batter's box and add a little sting to his swing.  That'd be something.

P.S.- Do you see what I did there with the "sting" joke?  That's highbrow stuff.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/18/14

I don't care when it happens, beating the Red Sox is always great.  The Yankees took them down 8-1 yesterday, which made the fact that I forgot I was supposed to live blog the game even more painful.

- The star of the day was Michael Pineda, who made his second ST start and looked damn good doing it.  Pineda threw 4.1 shutout innings, gave up 4 hits and no walks, and struck out 5.  He threw 60 pitches, 45 for strikes, and all 5 of his Ks came on swinging sliders.  He was sitting low 90s with his fastball and touched 94.

- Jacoby Ellsbury continued to progress, going through a full day of workouts.  Joe said he won't play today or tomorrow, and that he won't put Ellsbury back in the lineup until a day or 2 after Ellsbury tells him he's good.

- Brendan Ryan also did a full day's work with no problems and the plan is for him to play again on Thursday.

- David Phelps, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka all threw bullpens in the morning.

- Big day of roster cuts.  12 MiLers got the axe, including Chase Whitley, Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Mark Montgomery, and Corban Joseph.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

2014 Season Preview: What We Know And What We Don't Know (The Outfield)

(Pretend the dude in the middle is Gardner.  Courtesy of the AP)

While the starting infield looks a lot different than it did at this time last year, I don't think I'd label the changes as a "makeover".  It's an impossible argument to make that this year's projected starting infield is better than last year's and I won't waste my time or yours trying to make it.  Moving to the outfield, however, that makeover label starts to fit a lot better.  This year's projected starting group, which includes 2 of the Yankees' premiere FA signings, looks much better and more well-balanced on paper than last year's.  There's above-average defense, better batting average and all-around on-base skills, fewer strikeouts, and enough pop in the bats to keep opposing pitchers honest.  After the jump, the knowns and unknowns for this remade starting outfield.

Thoughts On The Rotation Two Weeks From Opening Day

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

A little over 2 weeks from right now, the Yankees will be on the road in Houston to open the 2014 regular season.  They'll be facing the immortal Scott Feldman, and barring anything unforeseen they will send CC Sabathia out for his 6th straight Opening Day start to counter.  That's one of the few definites in the starting rotation right now, and with 11 spring games left to sort out the rest, the big picture is starting to come into focus.  Some random thoughts on where the rotation stands 2 weeks from Opening Day.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/17/14

- No game yesterday thanks to the weather.  Hiroki Kuroda was scheduled to pitch, but instead he threw a 5-inning sim game at the complex to get his work in.  Michael Pineda is still slated to get the start today.

- Jacoby Ellsbury took indoor BP.  He told Joe his calf felt better, but Joe was leaning towards giving him today off too.

- Brendan Ryan was back to full workout duty.  More hitting for Tyler Austin.  Both are on track to return to games some time later this week.

- In a bit of off-field news, the Yanks lost their head of Major League scouting when Will Kuntz gave up the job yesterday to take a PR position with MLS.  Via Andrew Marchand, Steve Martone will replace him.

Monday, March 17, 2014

2014 Season Preview: What We Know And What We Don't Know (The Infield)

(That's almost 80 years of middle infielder right there.  Courtesy of the AP)

While March 17th holds a special place in most of our hearts as a day of calling out of work and engaging in drunken merriment, the feelings and associations in most MLB camps today are not as jovial.  The start of this week signals the beginning of the end of Spring Training, the final 2 weeks until the start of the regular season and crunch time for those fighting for a roster spot.  The days of soft toss, base covering drills, and outfield jogs are over.  We're well into the meat of the ST game schedule and now everything matters.  Early cuts have already taken and are continuing to take place as teams whittle their rosters down to the real contenders for the Opening Day 25-man, and with the Opening Day rosters starting to take shape the questions start to shift from "who's going to make it?" to "what are they going to do?"

It is with that shift in mind that we move into Week 2 of the 2014 AB4AR Season Preview with the start of the "What We Know & What We Don't Know" series.  As always, we start with the infield.

Yanks Assign ManBan To MiL Camp, Make The Right Call

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Months back, I wrote a post advocating for Manny Banuelos' inclusion in the Spring Training rotation competition if he was healthy enough to do so.  My thinking was that if he showed no ill effects from the Tommy John Surgery that cost him his 2013 season, he offered more upside as the 5th starter than anybody else the Yankees had in-house.  I didn't expect the Yankees to deviate from their cautious plan with ManBan, but I would have been fully on board with the idea if they did.

As it turns out, there were plenty of ill effects from Banuelos' TJS on display in his 2 Spring Training outings, although none that were physical or arm-related, and ManBan made it easy for the Yankees to cut him from Major League camp yesterday morning and assign him to High-A Tampa camp.  While his fastball velocity was encouraging in the low 90s, his command wasn't there on any of his pitches and Banuelos got knocked around for 7 ER on 4 H and 3 BB in 1.0 total IP over his 2 appearances.  Like most other pitchers who come back from TJS, ManBan has a long way to go to regain the feel for his stuff and the best place to start doing that is in the Minors.

Yankee Farm System Ranked 20th In Terms Of "Impact" By FanGraphs

I almost let this slip through the cracks, but Tony Blengino of FanGraphs went through an exercise last week ranking each MLB team's farm system in terms of impact.  Blengino defined "impact" as the number of players who "project as likely above average major league regulars," so it doesn't come as a shock that the Yankees ranked in the lower tier of this exercise.

The only true "impact" player that Blengino identifed was Gary Sanchez, although he did also tab Tyler Austin as a potential "non-impact MLB regular".  As was the case with most other organizational rankings this past offseason, the Yankees' strong group of lower-level prospects that could turn into "impact" players in the next few years kept them from falling further down the rankings.

Not the most clearly defined or statistically-supported method, but an interesting read nonetheless if you're looking for a different prospect evaluation method.

Spring Training News And Notes: 3/16/14

After 2 losses on Saturday, the Yankees bounced back to win both their split squad games on Sunday.

- Masahiro Tanaka got the start in Tampa and he was very good again.  Went 4.1 innings, gave up a single run on 3 hits and his first 2 ST walks, and struck out 6.  Reports make it sound like he was throwing his offspeed stuff more than his fastball.

- In Panama, CC Sabathia was stellar in his 5 innings of work against the Marlins.  No runs, no hits, no walks, 5 Ks.  The big guy's velocity was still 88-89 tops, but his command was much better and he was hitting his spots.

- Ivan Nova, David Phelps, and Michael Pineda all threw bullpens.

- Tyler Austin took live BP and is on track to get into a game this week.  Brendan Ryan took swings and fielded grounders.  Still no exact timetable for his return to game action.

- Manny Banuelos was the latest roster cut, and he could start lower than Triple-A to spend more time shaking the rust off.  58 players left in camp.