Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 2/28/14

I got nothing today.  I'm just looking forward to hanging out on the couch in my sweatpants all day tomorrow watching college basketball and the Blackhawks-Penguins outdoor game.  Now onto the links!

- On Monday, Mike Axisa of RAB previewed the Yankees' power guys and laid some groundwork for their expected power outputs this season.

- On Tuesday, Andrew Mearns of Pinstripe Alley looked for comparisons to gauge how much bang for their buck the Yankees should expect to get from the Brett Gardner extension.

- Michael Montrone of Yanks Go Yard dished his 10 bold predictions for the 2014 Yankee season.

- Chad Jennings of LoHud got Joe and Brian McCann's takes on MLB's new collision rules.  Love anything that serves to keep McCann from getting more dinged up.

- El duque of It Is High... wondered if Tuesday's ST opener lineup could have beaten one of last year's regular season lineups.  That could actually be a really fun game to play this spring.

- On Wednesday, Chris Mitchell of Pinstripe Pundits searched for accurate comps to J.R. Murphy.

- On Thursday, Greg Corcoran of Bronx Baseball Daily unveiled his top 50 Yankee prospects list for 2014.

- Vizzini of NoMaas liked the idea of pursuing a Rickie Weeks trade if Milwaukee is interested.

- Michael Eder of IIATMS/TYA examined the Diamondbacks' young infield players to see if they match up as potential trade partners.

Going with a little Nirvana for this Friday's jam.  I listened to "In Utero" beginning to end the other night and I had forgotten how great that album was.  "Nevermind" gets all the glory because it's what made them big and ushered grunge into the mainstream, but IU is the better album and anybody who knows grunge and music in general would tell you that.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

2014 Spring Training Roster Battles: Bullpen

(Courtesy of Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)

As discussed in last week's roster evaluation post, the bullpen has experienced greater turnover from last season to this than it has in a long time.  Mo is gone, Joba is gone, Boone Logan (and Loone Bogan) are gone, and the Opening Day bullpen in 2014 will look very different than it did at any point in 2013.

The final major roster battle this spring is for those open bullpen spots.  The number of available spots could be anywhere from 3 to 1 depending on what happens with the 5th starter competition and the health of the pitchers involved in that, and there are a number of players vying for those spots.  The top competitors are an interesting group to say the least, from veterans to rookies, righties and lefties.  Adding further intrigue to the competition is the presence of the recently-signed Andrew Bailey.  He's not expected to be ready until late summer at the earliest, but he said upon arrival in camp that he "100%" expects to pitch this season.  Until that happens, here are the leading contenders for the season-opening spots.

How Well Will Joe Manage The New Replay Challenge System?

(Courtesy of Bob Osentoski/US Presswire)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

On the second of his 2 groundouts in yesterday's game, Derek Jeter ran hard down the first base line and turned a relatively routine play into a very close play at first base.  To those who saw it, the image of Jeter running hard and without any noticeable hitch in his stride was the highlight of Spring Training thus far and the only storyline that mattered after the game.  But another part of that play that didn't get talked about much may prove to be a more important talking point long-term.

Speaking to reporters post-game, Joe said that when he watched the play at first base and saw how close the play was, he immediately thought about how he would have handled challenging the call under MLB's new instant replay rules.  He couldn't actually do it in the game because yesterday's game was not using the new replay system, but the addition of these replay rules gives managers another wrinkle to consider in their in-game strategy and Joe is going through the mental motions, just like his players are on the field, to prepare himself for the situation when the games start to count.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/27/14

(Courtesy of the AP)

The Yanks lost 8-2 in their second Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at Steinbrenner Field yesterday.  The big blow was the 5 runs allowed by Robert Coello, but the story was Derek Jeter's 2014 ST debut.

- Jeter went 0-2 at the plate, grounding out twice and playing 5 innings in the field.  He ran hard down the first base line on both grounders without issue, so at first glance the leg strength is better than it was this time last year.  Joe said he'll play again on Saturday.

- David Phelps had a solid start, giving up 1 run on a solo HR in 2 innings with 4 K and no walks.  His fastball command was good and he pounded the strike zone.

- In the morning workout, the only pitcher throwing BP was David Herndon.  Vidal Nuno and Matt Thornton threw bullpens.

- Still no word back from the doctors on Tyler Austin's wrist.  Jose Ramirez went for MRIs on his back and oblique but the results aren't back yet.  Francisco Rondon is going to be shut down for multiple weeks with a shoulder problem.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

2014 Spring Training Roster Battles: Backup Catcher

(Courtesy of USA Today Sports)

Yesterday I broke down what I believe to be the most open and even roster competition in camp this year, the battle for the utility infielder bench role.  From that, we move today to the roster battle I believe to be the least open and even and more of a token competition than anything, the competition for backup catcher.

The Yankees' upper-level catching depth has come a long way from where it stood at the end of last season.  Gone is THE Chris Stewart, replaced by Brian McCann, and returned is the man who would have made a better starting option than Stewart last year had he stayed healthy.  In his absence, a pair of prospects got chances to showcase their talents as Major League backup options and all 3 enter camp this year with a chance to nail down that job again.  After the jump, the competitors for the backup catcher spot.

Report: Yanks Monitoring Rickie Weeks (And Others)

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

Just because the Yankees are "done" signing Major League-level players doesn't mean they're not still in the market for some more infield help.  In a story for The Post on Tuesday, George King mentioned a few names that the Yankees are following this spring, most notably Rickie Weeks of the Brewers and Gordon Beckham of the White Sox, and the possibility of using their catching depth as part of a trade package to obtain one, the other, or another infielder.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/26/14

From ST debut on Tuesday to Grapefruit League debut yesterday, the Yanks were in action against the Pirates and eventually lost 6-5.

- Ivan Nova started the game and only got through 1.1 innings on 37 pitches, giving up 2 ER on 2 hits and 2 BB.  Both Nova and Brian McCann were on the same page in their evaluations, Nova saying he felt good and McCann saying he looked good, so I wouldn't worry too much about the results.

- Yesterday's standout player was Yangervis Solarte, the last-minute replacement for Eduardo Nunez at shortstop.  He went 2-3 with a 2-run HR and made a great play to bail out Nova in the 1st inning.

- Derek Jeter ran the bases at the complex again and is scheduled to play 4-5 innings at shortstop in his ST debut today.  David Phelps will take the hill to start.

- Morning pitching sessions: Manny Banuelos and Michael Pineda (BP); Adam Warren, Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka (bullpens).

- Injury updates: Tyler Austin had his wrist examined by a doctor, Nik Turley is still resting his arm, Matt Daley was scratched from a bullpen with a sore calf, Francisco Rondon was feeling arm soreness after pitching on Tuesday, and Jose Ramirez was scratched from his scheduled appearance in yesterday's game after his back locked up warming up.  He'll be re-evaluated today.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Spring Training Roster Battles: Utility Infielder

(Knee me up, Scotty!  Nailed it.  Courtesy of the AP)

Truth be told, I'm scared to death about the projected starting infield this year.  75% of it consists of mid-30s and older guys who have struggled with injuries over the last 1-4 years, and 2 of those players played a combined 32 games in 2013.  The one healthy starter is stepping into a full-time role at a position he's only played 18 games at in his career, so yeah, things aren't exactly on solid ground with respect to anticipated infield production.

That being the case, the Yankees are going to need a solid infield bench behind this group and the utility infield role will be the most important role of the bunch.  Shortstop is already locked down with Brendan Ryan.  What the Yankees really need is a guy who can be a reliable backup to Brian Roberts at second and Kelly Johnson at third, and maybe have the ability to throw a first baseman's glove on in a pinch.  Out of all the candidates for the job, there are 3 who stand out as the real competitors.  I expect they'll all get a long look at each and every infield position at some point this spring to determine who is the best option.

Yanks Still Mining For Injured/Rehabbing Roster Gold

(Pass.  Courtesy of Howard Simmons/NY Daily News)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

In the never-ending quest to add more pitching depth, the Yankees were among several teams on hand to watch Johan Santana throw in Florida yesterday.  He's attempting to work his way back from a second shoulder capsule surgery in less than 3 years and the Yanks have been linked to him for months.  According to George King, Santana was sitting 77-78 MPH with his velocity and he maxed out at 81.  That is a far cry from the upper-80s he was throwing the last time he was on a Major League mound, and while King did say his changeup looked "impressive", I question whether Major League hitters would feel the same when it's coming at them at basically the same speed as his fastball.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/25/14

(Courtesy of the AP)

- The Yanks won their ST opener 8-3 against Jameis Winston and Florida State yesterday.  Highlights included 2 scoreless innings with 3 K from Vidal Nuno, a 2-2 day for John Ryan Murphy with 2 doubles, and a 2-2 day with a homer from Ramon Flores.

- Ivan Nova starts today's game, which will feature Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran in the starting lineup.  3 Yankee debuts in 1 game.  Nice.

- The rest of the team got a full morning workout in before the game.  Shawn Kelley and David Robertson threw BP and Alfonso Soriano took some hacks.  He should be back to full, regular activity today.

- Joe announced that CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka would all be making their ST debuts in Saturday's game.  Sabathia will start, Hirok and Tanaka will come out of the 'pen, all will start innings to simulate a real game situation.  Eventually this will work into their regular ST rotation when the extra rest days kick in.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Getting Stoked For Tanaka's Spring Training Outings

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Later today, the Yankees will take the field for their Spring Training opener against Florida State.  Vidal Nuno will get the ball to start and he'll be followed up by Ivan Nova, David Phelps, and Adam Warren over the next 3 games. The competition for the 5th starter spot will be the leading storyline for the early ST games, and that's to be expected with that group of pitchers being further along than their veteran counterparts and with the other 4 rotation spots setting in stone.

While he hasn't has his name penciled into a date for his ST debut yet, Masahiro Tanaka took another step towards that debut when he threw his second batting practice session yesterday morning.  As he did after the first session on Friday, Tanaka drew praise from the coaches who watched him and the batters who faced him.  His splitter is already creating a lot of buzz in camp for its sharp movement and how difficult it is to identify coming out of his hand, and each time he throws, more excitement builds for his first outing.  Tanaka added to that excitement after the session when he declared himself ready to pitch in games, a declaration that Joe didn't bite on.  One thing that hasn't been talked about a whole lot yet is Joe's plan for Tanaka this spring, and as the pieces of that plan start to formulate I find myself caught between the desire for Joe to be smart, rational, and strategic and the desire to see him unleash Tanaka and make a statement to the rest of the AL.

2014 Spring Training Roster Battles: 5th Starter

(The favorite?  Courtesy of the AP)

By the time this post goes up, the Yankees will be in the middle of their first Spring Training game of 2014.  The start of ST games brings with it the end to the early, relatively stress-free spring camp activities.  No more light jogs around the outfield, half-speed double play turns, and nice-and-easy BP sessions in the cage.  From here on out, guys are being judged on what they do and how they do it and results count.  Well, they count as far as the players who are competing for roster spots are concerned.

ST is never short on roster battles and this year is no exception.  The Yankees have more than a few spots up for grabs and plenty of players battling to earn one of those spots.  Over the next week or so, I'll break down the key roster battles in camp and the players involved, offering up my loose predictions for who I expect to win.  In following Yankee ST tradition, we start with the competition for the 5th rotation spot.

Spring Training Opener Starting Lineup

1) Brett Gardner- CF
2) Francisco Cervelli- C
3) Kelly Johnson- 3B
4) Russ Canzler- 1B
5) Zoilo Almonte- LF
6) Brendan Ryan- SS
7) Adonis Garcia- RF
8) Yangervis Solarte- 2B
9) John Ryan Murphy- DH

SP) Vidal Nuno

Available to play off the bench: Gary Sanchez, Jose Gil, Corban Joseph, Dean Anna, Jose Pirela, Antoan Richardson, Mason Williams, Ramon Flores, Peter O'Brien, Francisco Arcia, Austin Romine, Zealous Wheeler

Available to pitch out of the bullpen: Brian Gordon, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, Francisco Rondon, Chase Whitley, Fred Lewis, Dan Burawa

There you have it.  A mix of mostly lower-level guys and fringe roster competitors.  Let's play ball!

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/24/14

It was a light workout day yesterday before the Yankees' first ST game of 2014.  They had their players' union meeting and did their annual team bonding outing (pool tournament), and there was a little pitching.

- The highlight of that pitching was Masahiro Tanaka throwing batting practice and continuing to get rave reviews on his splitter.  Did you know it's what was in Marcellus Wallace's briefcase in "Pulp Fiction"?

- CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda also threw morning BP, David Phelps threw a sim game, and Adam Warren, Preston Claiborne, Manny Banuelos, and Mark Montgomery all got early sessions in.

- As for today's lineup, we still don't know what it's going to be but Joe did say that Brett Gardner, Francisco Cervelli, and Kelly Johnson would be the only regulars to play.  And we already knew that Vidal Nuno was getting the start.

- Andrew Bailey showed up to camp and did some stretching and long toss.  He told the media he was "100%" expecting to pitch this season.

- He didn't do much, but Alfonso Soriano was back on the field and in action this morning.  Looks like he's over his flu.

It's Game Day!

Who cares that there's only going to be a handful of regulars in today's lineup and none of the really big names?  This afternoon the Yankees will take the field for their first game of the 2014 Spring Training season and that means baseball is one step closer to really being back!  I want Gardner to go 2-2 with 2 stolen bases, I want Kelly Johnson to play a clean game at third and smack a home run, and I want Vidal Nuno to toss 3 shutout innings.  Let's go Yankees!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brett Gardner Extension Thoughts & Afterthoughts

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

We were told last week that the Yankees were done giving out Major League contracts now that Spring Training had officially started.  That was either a lie or they had a tiny asterisk somewhere when they made the statement because the extension that Brett Gardner signed yesterday was most certainly a Major League one.  After looking like he was being set up for a free agent exit after this season, Gardner and the Yanks agreed to terms on a 4-year/$52 million deal with a team option for a 5th year.  This guarantees that Gardner will remain a Yankee through the remainder of his prime and sets him up to be a Yankee for life.  After the jump, some random thoughts on the deal and what it means for Gardner and the team going forward.

Ellsbury, Gardner, And The Change In Yankee Philosophy

(Courtesy of Mark Feinsand's Instagram)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

When the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, it looked like the writing was on the wall for Brett Gardner.  He was being replaced as the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter heading into his final arb-eligible year.  The Yankees had just committed $153 million to a player with an almost identical skill set as his, there was no way they were going to entertain the idea of re-signing Gardner and carrying 2 speedy, low-power outfielders for the next X number of years.  They'd make Gardner a qualifying offer after the 2014 season, he'd decline, they'd recoup a draft pick, and he'd sign a 4 or 5-year deal somewhere else to be that team's starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.

Almost immediately the rumor mill fired up with potential trade partners for the Yankees to move Gardner.  The prevailing thought was that they could try to move him as part of a package to add starting pitching, a thought that I admittedly shared and was on board with earlier in the offseason.  But the Yankee decision makers, to their credit, stated quite emphatically that they had no intentions of trading Gardner and wanted to keep he and Ellsbury together in the outfield.  That commitment came to a pleasantly surprising conclusion yesterday when the news broke that the Yanks and Gardner had agreed to a 4-year/$52 million contract extension.

Honest Post-Offseason Evaluation Recap

I meant to post this late last night, but between watching the long-delayed finish to the Daytona 500 and Elimination Chamber online (I know, I know, white trash city) it got lost in the shuffle.  I did my roster group-by-roster group team evaluation last week and if you missed any of them, here they are in one convenient post.

- The Infield

- The Outfield

- The Bench

- The Rotation

- The Bullpen

Save for the infield and the bench, I'd say it's a pretty positive evaluation.  But you can be the judge of that for yourselves.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/23/14

Brett Gardner stole most of the headlines yesterday with the announcement of his contract extension, but that didn't stop ST workouts from taking place.

- Michael Pineda faced hitters for the first time in 2014 when he threw live batting practice yesterday morning.  John Ryan Murphy caught him and said he liked the way the ball was coming out of Pineda's hand.

- Other notable BP pitchers included Dellin Betances, Robert Coello, and Jose Ramirez.  No word on how good Betances or Ramirez looked, but we should get an early look at them soon enough.

- The first 4 ST game starters were announced.  Vidal Nuno gets the ball for the opener on Tuesday, Ivan Nova starts on Wednesda, David Phelps Thursday, and Adam Warren Friday.

- Commenting on the Andrew Bailey signing, Joe said he doesn't expect to get anything from him until possibly September.  That's later than the current estimates, but not unrealistic given the nature of shoulder injuries that serious.

- Derek Jeter ran the bases for the first time and did so without issue.  Right now, that's all that matters with everything Jeter-related.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Yankees And Brett Gardner Agree To A 4-Year Extension (UPDATED)

Well here's another deal I didn't see coming.  According to Jack Curry, the Yankees and Brett Gardner are "on the verge" of agreeing to a 4-year/$52 million contract extension.  Curry says the deal includes an option for a 5th year at $12.5 million and a $2 mil buyout.  The extension does not include this season, so it starts in 2015.

** UPDATE 12:53 PM- Multiple beat guys have confirmed Curry's report and Curry says Gardner will speak to reporters in about 10 minutes.  Sounds like this is all but a done deal. **

** UPDATE 1:02 PM- Via Dan Barbarisi, Gardner calls the extension "the biggest decision I had to make in my life."  There you go. **

More after the jump...

Yanks Sign Andrew Bailey To MiL Deal

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

It took long enough, but the Yankees have finally snapped up one of the remaining FA relief pitchers who's coming back from injury.  Via Buster Olney, the Yanks agreed to a deal with right-hander Andrew Bailey yesterday.  It's a minor league deal with incentives that could make it worth $2.5 million and it also includes an option for 2015.

Bailey, 29, is a former Red Sock and Oakland A's closer who has spent the better part of the last 2 seasons battling shoulder and thumb injuries.  He had surgery to repair a torn labrum and shoulder capsule last July, so he likely won't be ready to contribute until mid-summer at the earliest.  While he's only thrown 44.0 inning over the last 2 seasons with Boston, Bailey did go 75-84 in save opportunities with a FIP in the mid-to-high 2.00s and 4.3 fWAR in his first 3 seasons in Oakland.

This signing follows a trend the Yankees started a few years ago with David Aardsma and again last year with David Herndon.  They probably won't get much from Bailey this year in terms of meaningful innings, but if he makes a full recovery he could be a steal for 2015.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/22/14

(ManBan & Petey OB.  Courtesy of the AP)

- David Phelps became the first pitcher to graduate to sim games yesterday.  He threw one in the morning to a handful of MiL hitters.  Looks like he's the early favorite to start next Tuesday's first ST game against FSU.

- The top name throwing BP was Manny Banuelos.  Joe watched him pitch and said he was happy with what he saw.  Other BP pitchers included Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Daley.

- The major injury of the day, and the first of camp, was Tyler Austin's latest wrist setback.  He's hoping to only miss a few days.

- Other injury/health issues include: Alfonso Soriano's lingering flu, Nik Turley's arm tightness, and a small calf issue for Jim Miller.  All 3 were held out of team activities yesterday.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Report: Tyler Austin's Wrist Still Bothering Him

One of the things the Yankees were really hoping for this spring was a healthy one.  That was a 2-part goal, the first involving nobody suffering new injuries as a result of ST workout or game activity and the second being their large group of players coming back from injuries staying healthy and not suffering any setbacks.

It sounds like we've got our first setback in that second group and it didn't take very long for it to creep up.  According to Chad Jennings, outfield prospect Tyler Austin has been feeling some soreness in his right wrist, the same one that bothered him for most of last season.  It started up a few days ago and didn't go away, so Austin told coaches today and was held out of batting practice.  The plan right now is to let Austin rest it for a few days and see how the wrist feels then, but this obviously isn't an encouraging sign for how the wrist is going to hold up over the long haul once the season starts.

I hate to jump to the worst possible conclusion, but seeing as how I wasn't a fan of the idea to send Austin to the AZFL after the injury ended his MiL season early I feel like I can say it.  If this injury turns out to be something that requires surgery, and the Yankee medical staff missed it and thought the rest and rehab plan was the way to go, someone's ass should be fired.

The Legend Of Tanaka's Splitter Grows

Some more fun facts about Masahiro Tanaka's splitter: It actually rotates clockwise and counter-clockwise at the same time, it was Tanaka's best man at his wedding, it was originally supposed to be involved in a program with CM Punk for Wrestlemania before he walked out on the WWE, and in some laboratory tests it's shown the ability to slow the spread of cancer cells.  Yes sir, it's going to be something when he starts throwing it in games...

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/21/14

(Courtesy of the AP)

- The top 4 in the rotation all threw live BP yesterday and once again Masahiro Tanaka was the talk of the town, both by Austin Romine (who couldn't hit his splitter) and Brian McCann (who caught it).

- Joe announced that he won't  hold Tanaka out against AL East opponents once ST games start, and he also said he'd announce the early spring game starters tomorrow.

- Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury both worked on their bunting with Rob Thomson.  Romine made some waves with an impressive BP session.

- Slade Heathcott won't play in any early spring games and he may not be ready at any point in ST as he works his way back from knee surgery.

- Bullpens of the day: David Herndon, Yoshinori Tateyama, Jose Campos.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 2/21/14

Spring Training is underway and I'm happy to have baseball back in my life, but I'm all about the hockey tournament right now.  Took another half-day today from work to watch USA-Canada and by the time this post goes up I'll either be well into drinking to celebrate the victory or ease the sting of the loss.  I'll turn my focus 100% to baseball when the tournament ends on Sunday.  Now onto the links!

- On Monday, SJK of NoMaas used the Craig Kimbrel signing as a reminder that the Yankees are being stupid by not doing the same with D-Rob.

- On Tuesday, Andrew Mearns of Pinstripe Alley discussed the awkward situation D-Rob finds himself in as an "unproven" closer replacing the greatest one who ever lived.

- Chad Jennings profiled Kelly Johnson and the work he's been putting in to prepare himself for the everyday third baseman job he's assumed.

- Roberto E. Alejandro of Respect Jeter's Gangster had the most succinct and spot-on take on the Cano-Long hustle non-story that I read all week.

- On Wednesday, Michael Eder of IIATMS/TYA projected Michael Pineda's 2014 season.

- Greg Corcoran of Bronx Baseball Daily listed the 10 prospects who just missed making the cut for his top 50 for 2014.  Looking forward to seeing that list. That's a lot of prospects to keep track of.

- Daniel Burch of The Greedy Pinstripes continued his solid run of prospect interviews with the latest one featuring Staten Island pitcher David Palladino.

- On Thursday, Mike Axisa of RAB pointed out the flaws in the Yankee infield and in their approach to addressing them as they continue to not re-engage Stephen Drew.

- Dan Dechenaux of Yanks Go Yard found the one area where Carlos Beltran will be a big upgrade over Curtis Granderson.

- On Friday, el duque of It Is High... pleaded with Hal to get an early start on his international spending spree and sign 1 of the 2 Cuban players who the Yanks scouted this week.

For this Friday's jam we're going with a little Dio.  Win or lose in hockey today, Dio is always good post-game music.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

Honest Post-Offseason Roster Evaluation: The Bullpen

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

If there's one word that fits as a theme for the 2013-2014 Yankee offseason, it's turnover.  Almost every part of the roster experienced significant turnover from last season.  The infield has 2 new players at second and third base and a different starter at every position compared to Opening Day 2013.  The outfield also features 2 new players in right and center, and the one holdover is changing positions again.  40% of the starting rotation will be new.  The only part of the roster that hasn't turned over much is the bench, and unfortunately for those guys they're going to stand alone in that distinction as we wrap up this week-long review of the current roster state with the bullpen.

We knew the Yankees were going to experience a major change in the 'pen in 2014 the minute Mariano Rivera announced that the 2013 season would be his last.  When recent bullpen staples Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan followed him out the door in free agency, the anticipated change became even greater.  Interestingly enough, the bullpen was the one area where the Yankees didn't aggressively attempt to rebuild through free agency, instead picking and choosing a few under-the-radar names to compete with their cache of young, homegrown arms for the open spots in camp.  Big names or small, young players or older, outside or internal, we're going to see a lot of new faces jogging out from behind the outfield walls this year, and we're also going to see the familiar ones in new roles.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/20/14

(Fielding errors are HILARIOUS!!  Courtesy of the AP)

The first full-squad workout was yesterday and there was lots going on.  Only a few more days before ST games start!

- Michael Pineda was the premiere bullpen session of the day.  He threw to Peter O'Brien, who gave a very positive report on what he saw.  Lot of that going around early in camp...

- Fellow 5th starter competitors Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno threw BP early in the morning.  There were a slew of other pitchers throwing live BP later in the day, most notably Preston Claiborne, Dellin Betances, and Jose Ramirez.

- Infield drills and BP groups were the major assignments of the day for the first workout.  Utility IF candidates worked at multiple positions.

- Derek Jeter told reporters he dropped a few pounds, down to 193 from his customary 199, to ease the strain on his legs.  Can't knock the logic there.

- Alfonso Soriano was out with the flu and could miss another day or 2 before he's ready to go.  Nothing serious, but enough to call him the first health casualty of the year.

- Guest instructors for the day were Willie Randolph and Hideki Matsui.  Lotta Japanese star power on display with Matsui, Ichiro, and Tanaka all together on the same field.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Yanks Put 2 In Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects

For some reason I thought Baseball America had already released its Top 100 Prospects list for 2014, so shame on me for being wrong.  It was actually released this morning, and unlike most of the other major top 100 lists the Yankees were represented by more than 1 player on this one.  The first was Masahiro Tanaka, who BA ranked as the 4th best prospect in baseball, and the second was Gary Sanchez at 35.

Personally I don't consider Tanaka a true "prospect" because of the time he spent playing in the NPB, but that's just me.  If you do consider him one, then it's almost impossible to not rank him in the top 5.  Sanchez at 35 is a pleasant surprise since he was 57th on this list last year and didn't exactly light the world on fire in 2013.  As I've said before, it just speaks to how highly scouts think of his natural talent and potential ceiling.

Honest Post-Offseason Roster Evaluation: The Rotation

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Last year was a strange combination of opposites for the Yankee rotation.  CC Sabathia went from no-doubt ace to one of the worst pitchers on the staff by year's end while Ivan Nova went from almost getting pulled from the rotation in April to the best pitcher on the staff by year's end.  Hiroki Kuroda was excellent again, save for the final month or 2 of the season, while Phil Hughes was pretty much horrible again, save for a month or 2's worth of good starts.  The steadying force in the middle of the rotation was grizzled vet Andy Pettitte, who battled through early back problems to turn in a final few masterful performances in September and join his buddy Mo in going out at the top of his game.  In the end, that wasn't enough to put the rotation over the top and the group as a whole didn't pitch well enough to overcome the team's offensive deficiencies.

Pettitte is gone now, as is Hughes, and a new era of Yankee starting pitching could be dawning in 2014.  The Yanks replaced Pettitte with the big prize of this year's free agent class, they're hoping to replace Hughes with the mid-20s former stud who they traded for 2 years ago, and Nova could be on the verge of making the jump to legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter.  After last year's inconsistency, the rotation once again looks to be a strength for the 2014 Yankees.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/19/14

(Courtesy of the AP)

The remaining position players who hadn't showed up yet were scheduled to report to camp yesterday.  First full-team workout will be today.  Here's yesterday's highlights:

- Manny Banuelos threw live BP at the MiL complex.  First time he's pitched to live hitters since some sim games late last season.

- Eduardo Nunez took a bunch of grounders from Mick Kelleher at short and third.

- The big news of the day obviously happened off the field, when Derek Jeter talked to the media about his decision to make the 2014 season his final one.  Had the deets on that earlier.

- Another positive injury update- Tyler Austin told reporters his right wrist is back to 100%.  He's been working mostly in right field but has also taken some grounders at third.

- The day's bullpen sessions: David Robertson, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, Jose Campos, Chris Leroux, and Yoshinori Tateyama.  Guess his visa issues are resolved.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jeter Retirement Presser Wrap-Up

Derek Jeter's press conference to discuss last week's announcement that he will retire after this season was held today.  I did not watch a second of it because I was at the bar watching the USA-Czech Republic hockey game, so if you were unable or otherwise preoccupied from viewing the presser live like me, here's what you missed:

- The first question was the obvious "why now?" one and Jeter answered it with the response you'd expect from a 20-year vet.  He said last season's injury struggles were a factor and made the decision easier, he cited the desire to move onto other things, and said it was just "the right time."

- One thing that didn't influence the decision was his health.  Jeter said he feels great and is "looking forward to playing the entire season" this year.

- If you were curious about how much of last week's announcement Jeter wrote himself, he said he wrote all of it and that there was a lot of other things he wrote down that didn't make it into the final cut.  Good to know that those were his words.

- Jeter said he wanted to make the announcement months ago but that his friends and family told him to wait, think about it, and make sure it was something he really wanted to do before making it official.  He did speak to Jorge Posada about it a few weeks back, but he didn't talk to Mo.

- When asked about playing time this season, Jeter said, "I want to play every day.  This year will be absolutely no different."  He also said he wants to be remembered as a great Yankee because, "the great thing about being a Yankee is you're always a Yankee."

- What moment from his 20-year career stood out the most?  “Every time we win. … If you ask me what stands out the most, it’s winning.”  Typical Jeter.

It's still a little weird to think about him not being around next year, just like it was with Mo last year.  But he came across like his mind was made up.  Here's hoping he stays healthy and we get to see him on the field as much as possible this year.

Honest Post-Offseason Roster Evaluation: The Bench

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Obviously the Yankees had major problems with injuries last season.  That's how you end up with 943 combined plate appearances from Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay and another 639 from Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez.  Part of what made last year's injury plague so detrimental was the failure on the Yankees' part to build a solid bench behind their older starting lineup.  During the glory years of the late 90s dynasty, a powerful, flexible, well-rounded bench was a staple of Yankee rosters.  Over the last 12-15 years, that standard has fallen by the wayside and it came to a head last season when the Yankees were forced to give another 427 PA tothe likes of Thomas Neal, Alberto Gonzalez, Brent Lillibridge, Chris Nelson, Reid Brignac, Ben Francisco, Luis Cruz, and David Adams.

For all the work the front office putting in addressing the rest of the roster this offseason, the bench once again seems to be the neglected child.  It may not ultimately be as bad as what was riding the pine for the majority of last season, but it's nowhere near the levels of some of the great Yankee benches of the recent past.  The strategy in building this season's bench appears to be just letting the lesser holdover players from last year trickle down to fill the open spots as their free agent replacements take the starting roles.  Let's see how it works out for them, Cotton.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/18/14

- Ivan Nova became the latest pitcher to graduate to throwing live batting practice yesterday, tossing an early session to Gary Sanchez.  Cash was there to watch.

- Masahiro Tanaka threw his second bullpen  in the morning, as did CC, Hirok, and David Herndon.  J.R. Murphy caught Tanaka for the first time and called his stuff "really impressive" when the session was over.  Chad Jennings has video.

- Cash declared that it will be business as usual when it comes to Jeter and Teix's playing time this season, saying, "Tex is going to be at first, D.J. is going to be at short, and what we’re going to get is what we’re going to get."  We'll see how real that is when their bodies start to ache.

- Jacoby Ellsbury arrived at camp and said his foot injury from the end of 2013 is fully healed and feeling good.  That's good news.

- Don't know why he feels this way, but Brendan Ryan made a little news yesterday for saying he's expecting boos this year on days where he's playing instead of Jeter.  Ummm, Brendan?  Have you ever paid attention to yourself when you're playing shortstop?  Pretty sure nobody in their right mind is going to boo this:

Take it from me.  I'm the guy who basically, and stupidly, called you a piece of shit last week.  I know what I'm talking about.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Position Players Report Date Prepper 2014: The Outfield

Hey, how about that?  I'm actually getting the final ST prep post out before the players show up to camp.  Today is the final day before all position players are expected to report to Yankee camp and it's also the final day of this "Report Date Prepper" series.  Just like the infielders, there are already some outfielders who've arrived in Tampa, most notably new right fielder Carlos Beltran.  Get up to speed on him and the rest of his outfield brethren after the jump.

Honest Post-Offseason Roster Evaluation: The Outfield

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

As it does with the starting infield, the 2014 season marks a transitional period for the Yankee outfield.  Even more than the infield, the outfield transition has been a major one and, unlike the infield, one that actually started last season.  After 3 years of primarily Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher patrolling left, center, and right, the Yankees made the decision last offseason to let Swisher walk and hitched their cart to Ichiro Suzuki.  Ichiro had impressed the front office with his .322/.340/.454 slash line after being acquired in 2012 and he was rewarded with a 2-year/$13 million deal.

The Yanks found out what many of us feared and predicted after the signing, that Ichiro was essentially cooked as an everyday player, and their outfield production suffered as a result.  When C-Grand went down and joined the likes of Jeter and Teix on the DL for the bulk of the season, the situation became even more dire and the attempts to patch up the outfield with Vernon Wells were comical at best.  The Yankees followed the Swish path with Curtis this past offseason, making him a qualifying offer with no follow-up long-term proposal.  This time when he left though, Cash made sure to replace him with a player who could actually play and then added another to replace Ichiro, essentially rebuilding the starting outfield on the fly.

Spring Training News And Notes: 2/17/14

(Don't hurt yourself, B-Rob.  Courtesy of the AP)

- Michael Pineda threw his first bullpen of the spring yesterday and it got nothing but positives words from those who witnessed it.  Joe said Pineda looked noticeably better to him than he did in ST 2012, and Pineda himself said he's back to feeling like he did in 2011.

- A group of Yankee pitchers, including 5th starter competitors David Phelps, Adam Warren. and Vidal Nuno, threw live BP to the Yankee catchers.  Always good to have a head start when you're competing for a job.

- Carlos Beltran was the latest position player to show up.  Apparently he was doing some hitting over at MiL camp.

- Interesting note on Brian Roberts, who said the Yankees reached out to him even before Robinson Cano signed with Seattle.  Guess they really were serious about not going above a certain level for Cano and they started working on contingency plans early.  Still think they could have done better...

- Another day of BP for Teix, who took hacks as a lefty and a righty.  Joe said he thought Teix "looked pretty normal to me from both sides" of the plate.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Position Players Report Date Prepper 2014: The Infield

(Teix in the cage.  Courtesy of Andrew Marchand)

Pitchers and catchers are in camp and working out, and some of their position player teammates are already on site starting their spring work but not the full complement.  Wednesday is the official report date for the rest of the position players who were invited to Spring Training, so in keeping with the theme from last week's "Report Date Prepper" series, let's delve deeper into the 2 remaining roster groups that will be arriving and participating in team workout activities in the next 48ish hours.  We'll start with the infield today.

P.S.- if you missed any of last week's posts, here they are.  Starters, Relievers, Catchers.

Honest Post-Offseason Roster Evaluation: The Infield

(Courtesy of the AP)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Pitchers and catchers reported to Yankee camp on Friday, and they began team workouts over the weekend.  In 2 days, the remainder of the position players not already in camp will report and the first full team workout will be held on Thursday, signaling the official start to Spring Training 2014 and the end of the 2013-2014 offseason.  This offseason was a very busy one for the Yankees, one that featured a ton of signings and the most money spent since the 2008-2009 offseason.  After a flawed attempt to trim payroll in preparation for a luxury tax-avoiding season this year, the front office scrapped the plan and got back to what they do best, spending big to address the greatest areas of need on the roster.

Over the next 5 days, I'm going to look back at the offseason that was and try to give a realistic, objective evaluation of how each part of the roster stacks up.  I'll start with the position player groups (infield, outfield, bench) and then move to the pitching staff.  This isn't an attempt to predict what could, should, or will happen, just a snapshot of the roster as it is right now, for better or worse.  For all the moves the Yankees made and all the upgrades they made to key roster areas, I think we all know they're still far from a perfect team and aren't exactly back to that leading championship contender status they strive for.  To kick off this series, let's take a gander at the starting infield.