Thoughts On The Opening Day Roster

[caption id="attachment_80796" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Opening Day Sure looks nice without all the rain and snow, huh?[/caption] It's here.  At long last, it's finally here.  It's been exactly 180 days since the Yankees were shut out by Dallas Keuchel to end their 2015 season.  Now today they'll get a chance to right that wrong as they take the field to kick off their 2016 season against Keuchel and the Houston Astros again.  Well, weather permitting they'll do that.  Weather not permitting, I'll have wasted some valuable PTO at work and I'll have to burn more to watch Opening Day Part Deux tomorrow.

But for now we're sticking with positive vibes only and assuming that they will get the game in today.  The Yankees put the finishing touches on their Opening Day roster over the weekend, and to me it's both very similar and very different to last year's roster and the rosters of the past few seasons.  There's still the aging core that's going to make or break the team and there are still tons of questions in the rotation, but there is a continuation of last year's commitments to youth and the implication that the playing time balance will be more evenly distributed amongst the regulars and key bench players this season in an attempt to keep everybody (especially that aging core) healthy and productive.  In no particular order of importance, here are some more of my thoughts on the 25-man crew that will take the field today to start the 2016 season.

- Did CC Sabathia deserve the 5th starter spot on merit?  Certainly not.  But his paycheck and veteran status were never going to be ignored, and there is the argument to be made that the team should at least give him a few starts to get it together after his strong finish to 2015.  It's not like Ivan Nova was pitching better than CC then and his 6-shutout innings in his final ST start wasn't enough to erase his previous inconsistency, nor should it be.  Joe adjusted his strategy with CC last year and utilized him as a 5-6 inning pitcher.  There's no reason to think he won't do that again this season and it'll be on Sabathia to prove he can be effective enough in that role to keep his job.  If he bombs, get him out of there.

- The challenge for Joe is going to be figuring out how best to use Nova out of the 'pen.  On paper he should be effective in a shorter role, using his hard sinker and big curveball to generate swings and misses and lots of ground balls.  But that's the same formula he's never been able to master as a starter, so who really knows?  I'd like to see Nova get a shot as the Bryan Mitchell/Adam Warren multi-inning middle reliever and I think that's how Joe will try to use him early to keep him as stretched out as possible.  You never know when another injury could strike and Nova is the clear cut #6 starter behind CC.  But if those injuries don't come, Nova is going to have to prove he can be trusted with some important relief innings at some point.  If he doesn't, he could fade into Bolivian.

- I absolutely love the decision to start Aaron Hicks today against the lefty.  Love it.  It's a smart, simple, logical baseball decision completely removed from things like salary, experience, tenure with the team, etc.  It's the exact opposite of the CC rotation decision and it suggests that Joe and the rest of his staff has learned from last season.  It's not just about giving the really old guys like A-Rod and Beltran extra rest.  It's about giving all the older veteran players rest and playing to the more favorable matchups as a way to facilitate that rest.  Aaron Hicks mashes lefties, Brett Garder and Jacoby Ellsbury really don't.  Hicks is 100% healthy, Gardner and Ellsbury have dealt with slight injuries all spring.  Go with the guy who's the better matchup and give those valuable veterans an extra day off early.

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Profiling the (Probable) Opening Day Bullpen

With just under seventy-hours separating us from Opening Day, the Yankees bullpen is mostly settled. Andrew Miller will be the closer (assuming he can pitch through his injury). Dellin Betances will be the fireman (assuming that Miller is able to pitch; if not, he'll be the closer). Chasen Shreve, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, and (probably) Kirby Yates will be the bridge from the starters to Deldrew Millances one-two punch. And Ivan Nova will (probably) be the long man. There are still several issues to be sorted out, it seems, but CC Sabathia, Nova, and Yates are the only pitchers remaining in camp that do not have a set role with the team at this juncture. The smart money is on Sabathia being named to the rotation, so the rest is simply an educated guess.

Earlier today, Twitter user @detectorsarcasm asked that we offer a bullpen breakdown - and we aim to please. However, given the above, I felt that we needed at least a bit of exposition before getting underway. With that out of the way, let's dive right in.

Andrew Miller

Miller was light's out in his first season with the Yankees, posting a 2.04 ERA (2.16 FIP) while striking out 40.7% of the batters he faced, converting 36 of 38 save opportunities along the way. Surprisingly (insofar as fastball/slider LHP are concerned), he was far more effective against RHH, limiting them to a .130/.227/.217 slash line - though, to be fair, lefties only hit .227/.277/.326. Miller is a two pitch reliever, working with a fastball that sits around 94 mph and an 84-ish mph slider. As per PITCHf/x, batters hit only .092/.172/.123 against his slider last year ... so it's probably a reasonable that his dominant breaking ball represents 54.1% (!) of his offerings.

Dellin Betances

Would it be too much of a cop out to call Betances a right-handed version of Miller? Dealin' Dellin's fastball has more velocity, averaging 97 mph last year per PITCHf/x, and he struck out slightly fewer batters (39.5%) - but their pitch usage was virtually identical, and both are big, intimidating presences that flamed out as starters and found great success in the bullpen. And, most importantly, both are among the very best relievers in all of Major League Baseball.

Chasen Shreve

Acquired last off-season (along with David Carpenter - remember him?) in exchange for Manny Banuelos, Shreve was excellent for most of his rookie season. Through the end of August (52.1 IP), he posted a 1.89 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB. His last month, however, looked like this: 6.0 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 5 K, 4 HR, 13.50 ERA, .500 BAA. To say that Shreve struggled down the stretch would be putting it very, very lightly. The 25-year-old lefty is a true three pitch reliever, working with a low-90s fastball, splitter (possibly his best pitch), and a slider. The reasoning behind Shreve's struggles can't easily be explained, as his stuff (at least in terms of velocity) was there throughout the season. The best case scenario is that it was a small sample size and/or fatigue related issue, which doesn't seem unlikely.

Johnny Barbato

Barbato was also acquired last off-season, in exchange for Shawn Kelley. The 23-year-old righty has worked his way through the minors slowly but surely, spending at least half a season at each level since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft. He missed time in 2014 and 2015 due to an elbow injury that did not require surgery, else he may have made it to the show already. Barbato features a mid-90s fastball and a big breaking curveball in the upper 70s (a legitimate swing and miss pitch). His command and control are more good than great, but he tends to keep the ball down which mitigates his occasional bouts of wildness. He fits the Yankees mold of flamethrowing relievers to a T.

Luis Cessa

Cessa and fellow RHP Chad Green came over from the Tigers in this off-season's Justin Wilson deal. The soon to be 24-year-old was signed by the Mets as a shortstop in 2008, but was converted to pitching in 2011 due to his inability to hit a baseball. Cessa has surprisingly solid mechanics and a consistent delivery that belies his relative inexperience, and he has three usable pitches in his low-90s fastball, change-up, and slider. No one pitch stands out as a plus offering, but he commands all three fairly well, and keeps the ball on the ground. Cessa profiles best as a middle reliever or back of the rotation starter, but he has shown incremental improvements over the years, so the best may be yet to come.

Kirby Yates

I first heard of Kirby Yates (which I was certain was a made-up name) in this FanGraphs post, which explores some potential bargain-level relievers. Despite some disconcerting numbers in 56.1 IP at the big league level (including a 5.27 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 2.24 HR/9), Yates has posted excellent strikeout numbers throughout his career on the strength of a low-90s fastball and a couple of big breaking balls. He's a flyball pitcher, which may not play well in Yankees Stadium - but he has big time strikeout potential and has earned a shot at the last spot in the bullpen (particularly with Bryan Mitchell shelved for three months or so).

Ivan Nova

Nova has only 16 relief appearances in his professional career, so coming out of the bullpen will be a fairly new experience for him. He has averaged just under 93 mph on his fastball for his career, so there's a good chance that that plays up significantly in relief, and his curveball is a legitimate strikeout pitch when it's working. Stacey already predicted that he would pull a 2009 Phil Hughes, and he certainly has the stuff to do so. For the time being, though, I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up as a handcuff for Sabathia so that he can remain stretched out in case the Yankees need a spot start.

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Predicting The 2016 Opening Day Roster Part IV

I haven't updated my Opening Day roster prediction since before Spring Training started and a lot has gone down since then.  With less than 2 weeks until Opening Day, I think it's about time for another revision and I think this is going to be the final prediction.  So mark it down, lock it in, here we go.  Barring injuries, here is the official prediction for Joe's 25-man roster on April 4th: Starting Lineup:

1) Jacoby Ellsbury– CF 2) Brett Gardner– LF 3) Alex Rodriguez– DH 4) Mark Teixeira– 1B 5) Carlos Beltran- RF 6) Brian McCann– C 7) Chase Headley– 3B 8) Starlin Castro– 2B 9) Didi Gregorius– SS

Starting Rotation:

1) Masahiro Tanaka 2) Michael Pineda 3) Luis Severino 4) Nathan Eovaldi 5) CC Sabathia

Bench: Austin Romine, Dustin Ackley, Aaron HicksRob Refsnyder

Bullpen: Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve,Bryan Mitchell, Ivan Nova, Kirby Yates, Nick Goody

A few notes:

- I have no clue why I had Beltran over A-Rod in the batting order in the first few editions.  That's obviously not happening.

- It looks like it's going to be Austin Romine's backup job based on the last few weeks.  He's playing better than Gary Sanchez, he's getting more work, and he's hitting higher in the batting order.  Again, this ultimately isn't a big deal.  Sanchez will get his turn and there's nothing wrong with using a little more Triple-A time to get him swinging a hot bat again and bump back his free agency.  And if Romine surprises us in the first month and plays well, well that'd be just fine.

- If you would have told me the last time I did this that Rob Refsnyder was going to make the roster as the backup third baseman, I would have laughed in your face.  But who else could it be at this point?  Nobody left in camp to compete with him has hit worth a lick and Refs' added positional flexibility and better stick make him even more valuable to Joe as a bench piece.

- Those first 5 bullpen spots are rock solid in my opinion, and I think Mitchell could already be starting to carve out a role as the #2 righty reliever behind Betances.  After that, though, it's still wide open.  When the dust settles, I think we're going to see Yates and Goody and in there.  Goody has pitched a lot and he's been the most consistent of last year's shuttle group.  He also hasn't walked a batter in 7 appearances.  Yates has been sneaky great so far in ST (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K in 4 apps.) and he has 50+ innings of big league experience.  That'll carry some weight with Joe when it comes time to make a decision, so go ahead and call Yates this year's Chris Martin, the guy nobody expected to get a spot when camp opened but ended up sneaking on in the end.

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Quick Hit: Updated 2016 Opening Day Roster Heading Into Spring Training

The first edition of this offseason space filler series was in October, the second came in mid-December, so it's about time to check in on what the Yankees' projected Opening Day roster looks like heading into the start of Spring Training.  Not much has changed on the position player front.  The majority of those jobs have been claimed for a while now.  But the last big trade definitely shook up the bullpen a bit, and in a good way. Starting Lineup:

1) Jacoby Ellsbury– CF 2) Brett Gardner– LF 3) Carlos Beltran– RF 4) Mark Teixeira– 1B 5) Alex Rodriguez– DH 6) Brian McCann– C 7) Chase Headley– 3B 8) Starlin Castro– 2B 9) Didi Gregorius– SS

Starting Rotation:

1) Masahiro Tanaka 2) Michael Pineda 3) Luis Severino 4) Nathan Eovaldi 5) CC Sabathia

Bench: Gary Sanchez, Dustin Ackley, Aaron HicksRonald Torreyes

Bullpen: Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Bryan Mitchell, Ivan Nova, Nick Goody (or another from the Triple-A relief corps)

The only difference between December and now is the addition of Torreyes for Greg Bird.  My Bird choice there was always a stretch, but at the time there wasn't a good utility option on the 40-man roster and that has changed with Torreyes.  Adding Chapman to the bullpen slid everybody down a notch, bumping Jacob Lindgren from the projected 7-man 'pen.  Somehow I don't see Joe carrying 4 left-handed relievers on Opening Day, even if all 4 of them are capable of getting right-handed hitters out.

There aren't too many roster spots up for grabs heading into camp, at least that's what it seems like when everybody is healthy.  We'll see how the spring progresses, which fringe guys perform well and get themselves some more consideration, and how the rotation arms look as they prepare for another long haul.  I think that will be the ultimate determining factor for the last few roster spots.

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Can The Yankees Just Sign Juan Uribe Already?

It's been about a month since I mapped out the projected Opening Day roster, and not much has changed since then despite the recent acquisition of Aroldis Chapman.  He simply slots into the top third of the bullpen, bumping everybody beneath him down a spot and bumping Jacob Lindgren back to Triple-A to open the season, which probably wouldn't be a bad thing for him coming off elbow surgery and a lot of missed time. At this point the roster is basically set with the exception of the final bench spot.  Looking at the makeup and positional depth, there is a need for a backup at third base.  The talk right now is that Starlin Castro could be a possibility if he's willing to play the position and the Yankees are willing to use him there.  But Castro hasn't played the hot corner since his early MiL days and only recently converted to playing second base regularly.  Somehow I don't think the Yankees envisioned trading for him to turn him into a super utility infielder, but the point remains that there needs to be a reliable backup behind Chase Headley and filling that need would be the best use of that final bench spot.

There isn't much to write home about in the farm system now that Eric Jagielo has been traded.  Dante Bichette Jr. and Rob Segedin will likely open the season in Triple-A but they've both been non-prospects for a few years now.  Pete Kozma can't hit at all and has only played 14 games at third in his MLB career.  Looking outside the organization and scanning through the MLBTR free agent tracker, there is one name that stands out to me in bright, bold letters.  Juan Uribe.  Juan Uribe would be the perfect player to add to fill that last bench role.  Almost too perfect.

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Quick Hit: Updated 2016 Opening Day Roster

It's been almost 2 months since I did this exercise and there's been a couple major changes since then, so let's see where the projected 2016 Opening Day roster stands as of this morning, shall we? Starting Lineup:

1) Jacoby Ellsbury- CF 2) Brett Gardner- LF 3) Carlos Beltran- RF 4) Mark Teixeira- 1B 5) Alex Rodriguez- DH 6) Brian McCann- C 7) Chase Headley- 3B 8) Starlin Castro- 2B 9) Didi Gregorius- SS

Starting Rotation:

1) Masahiro Tanaka 2) Michael Pineda 3) Luis Severino 4) Nathan Eovaldi 5) CC Sabathia

Bench: Gary Sanchez, Dustin Ackley, Aaron Hicks, Greg Bird

Bullpen: Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Bryan Mitchell, Ivan Nova, Nick Goody, Jacob Lindgren

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Reviewing The Rule 5 Draft Roster Situation

Tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set the 40-man Major League, Triple-A, and Double-A rosters in preparation for next month's Rule 5 draft.  The Yankees always seem to be under a 40-man roster crunch and never seem to have enough spots for protection-worthy players who are Rule 5 eligible, and this season is no different.  Here's a quick breakdown of where the roster stands, what other moves might be made to clear space, and my thoughts on what players the Yankees will, won't, should, and should not protect. The Roster: Currently stands at 38 players.  21 pitchers, 3 catchers, 6 infielders (not including Ackley), 7 outfielders (including Ackley), and 1 Alex Rodriguez.

The Potential Casualties: Caleb Cotham, Domingo German

Cotham is a 28-year-old MiL lifer who just made his MLB debut in 2015.  He pitched to a 6.52/6.55 ERA/FIP split in 9.2 innings and gave up 14 hits and 4 homers.  He's most likely a Quad-A player at best, and the Yankees have enough to righty relief depth to make up for his loss.

German will be working his way back from TJS this year, and because of that he's a prime candidate to get the "release/re-sign to a MiL deal" treatment that Slade Heathcott and Vicente Campos got last year.  As a 23-year-old who's never pitched above Low-A, German could also be another player the Yankees are willing to lose if it comes to that.

The Protected: Rookie Davis, Jake Cave, Chaz Hebert (only if roster spots are available)

Davis is the most obvious Rule 5 protection candidate to me.  He took a big step forward in 2015 and even though his experience at Double-A was limited, I think there's a team out there that might try to snatch him up and hide him in their bullpen next season.  He and Cave are also top 20 organizational prospects and the I feel like the Yankees have done what they can to keep guys like that around for as long as possible the last few years.

If they open up any more roster spots, they could use one to protect Hebert.  He had a quiet breakout season as a lefty starter at 3 levels and he reached Triple-A before the end of the season.  The Yankees obviously like him in some capacity because they sent him to the AZFL.  He's been holding his own there as a reliever despite some command problems, and at 23 there is still time to see if he can develop as a starter.  The Yankees love their lefties and he's put himself on the map as a potential starter or reliever.

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Current State of the Yankees' Rotation

[caption id="attachment_79339" align="alignnone" width="594"](NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    in action against the at Yankee Stadium on October 1, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 4-1. The Yankees clinched a wildcard playoff position and won their 10,000th regular season game. .[/caption] The awfulness of the New York Yankees offense down the stretch got most of the attention and blame for the downfall of the second half, but the starting pitching played a role as well and the Yankees are in an interesting spot this offseason when it comes to their rotation.

The Yankees finished 18th in starters ERA at 4.25, but eighth with a 3.75 xFIP. The biggest issue was a lack of innings, as the Yankees finished 21st in MLB in starters innings and it felt worse than that. CC Sabathia of all pitchers led the team with 167.1 innings. This really manifested itself down the stretch when the bullpen performance fell off due to too many innings.

The things with the Yankees starting rotation is that it's tantalizing with potential, almost like a tease. We've seen Masahiro Tanaka perform like an ace at times. We've seen flashes from Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi that suggest they can be good second and third starters. The problem is that between injuries and their own inconsistencies it hasn't been shown enough.

Tanaka's peripherals were better than his overall numbers last year and he fell victim to some bad home run luck. Tanaka held opposing batters to a .217 average in 2015 grounders were slightly up, his hard contact given up fell by four percent and his soft contact given up lowered by two percent. The velocity was a non-issue, as he threw harder in 2015 than in 2014, but the effectiveness of his fastball remains a big issue. It's hard to be a top of the line starter without having an effective fastball. He allowed nine homers and a .318 average against his four-seam fastball last season.

Pineda is definitely the most baffling player on the Yankees. His 2.95 xFIP far outweighs his 4.37 ERA. His 8.74 K/9 ratio compared to his 1.18 BB/9 ratio is terrific, as is his 48.2 percent ground ball rate. Was it just horrible luck for Pineda with his .332 BABIP? It seemed like when things went bad for Pineda they snowballed. That seemed to happen when he didn't have his good slider. Obviously, developing the changeup more would be big to help that. Maybe it's a case of Pineda being around the plate too often since he doesn't walk anybody. Larry Rothschild usually has pitchers overachieving for the Yankees and not underachieving. Pineda underachieved, so it needs to be figured out what exactly happened after his awesome start to the season.

Eovaldi definitely improved greatly over the second half of the season with his splitter, but you want to see it for longer to be completely convinced. Luis Severino made a great impact down the stretch, but outperformed his peripherals a little bit and should the Yankees rely on what will be a 22-year old at the top of the rotation?

The depth is pretty good if both Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchel are considered starting pitchers. If Sabathia is the fifth starter by default again than Warren, Mitchell and Ivan Nova are some talented arms and  form a pretty good 6-7-8 to put in when the inevitable injuries hit.

This all screams for an ace pitcher who you could depend on for over 200 innings. It would make such a huge difference to slide everybody back a spot. You could conceivably have Eovaldi as your fifth starter. How awesome would that be? There are certainly guys like that available from David Price to Zack Greinke to Johnny Cueto. Of course the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees are much more likely to trade or sign a mid rotation innings eater pitcher and try to convince Yankees fans that Tanaka, Pineda and Severino will lead the rotation at the top based off flashes. That's a risk that didn't really work out last year, but since it's the cheaper option it probably won't stop the Yankees from doing it again.

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The Free-est Free Agents

With the new-ish MLB Draft slotting system, teams are oftentimes forced to choose between signing a noteworthy free agent and a few million dollars in pool money. Signing a free agent that received a rejected a qualifying offer requires a team to forfeit their top pick (unless they are picking in the top-ten) - in the Yankees case, that would mean eschewing somewhere between $2 MM and $2.3 MM in the upcoming draft, in addition to the pick itself. To say that that would serve as a detriment to the team's draft would be an understatement, given the team's lingering IFA penalty that already limited the team's activity this year. Luckily for the Yankees, there are at least a dozen players that would fill the team's needs for 2016 without any repercussions (besides the whole decline and injury potential thing, but that's another story entirely) as they cannot receive a qualify offer due to being dealt at mid-season. We'll known on Saturday what players were offered and rejected qualifying offers, as well. Without further ado:

David Price, LHP

Does Price really need an explanation? He's a bona fide ace coming off of what may be his best season, and he has plenty of experience in the playoffs and the AL East. The contract that he demands is obviously the biggest factor here, particularly given what we have seen with CC Sabathia - but at least it's just money.

Actually, let that be a caveat going forward: I am not necessarily endorsing signing these folk. I'm merely pointing out that all of these players could be had for cold hard cash, and cold hard cash alone.

Johnny Cueto, RHP

Cueto is a step behind Price overall, but he has nonetheless been a quality starting pitcher for the last half dozen years or so. The impact that his lackluster performance with the Royals will have (if any) remains to be seen.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF

Cespedes seems like a lock to be overpaid, due to his late Summer brilliance with the Mets, and clutch home runs down the stretch and in the NLDS. He is coming off of a strong all-around season (his best since his rookie year), and can fake it in center field. The Yankees don't have an obvious need for an outfielder, but some are clamoring for the team to deal Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury, so it may come down to a matter of need and/or opportunity.

Ben Zobrist, 2B

If Zobrist wasn't six month shy of his 35th birthday, he may well be the biggest slam dunk of a free agent target in recent Yankees memory. He fills a great need at second, and provides the sort of flexibility that the team is praying to get from Dustin Ackley. And, despite his age, he's coming off of a season that's right in-line with his career norms.

Scott Kazmir, LHP

For the second season in a row, Kazmir was brilliant in the first half (2.49 ERA, 3.23 FIP) and below-average in the second (3.86, 4.90 FIP). Overall, he has been a solid starter since returning from a nearly two-year layoff, which might just be the reason for him slipping as the innings pile up.

Mike Leake, RHP

My description of Leake from late June still stands - he's as average as average can be. The calculus shifts in the off-season, though, as the team would not have to give up any talent in exchange for a starting pitcher that has averaged 31 starts and 194 IP over the last four seasons.

Mat Latos, RHP

Latos represents the point where these guys wouldn't be too likely to get a qualifying offer, though he has value as a bounceback candidate. He was an above-average starter from 2010 through 2014 before the wheels fell off in 2015.

Juan Uribe, IF

If the Yankees want a flexible, RHH complement to Ackley, then they don't have to look much further than Uribe.

Austin Jackson, OF

I am intrigued by Jackson's prospects, given how disappointing he's been since being dealt to the Mariners. Will a team give him a chance to start in center-field? Would he take a one-year pillow contract and try to regain his value? Or will he take on a fourth outfielder role? He could fit as a Chris Young replacement.

Joakim Soria, RHP

Some team will throw money at him to close - far more money than the Yankees could give him to be the 7th inning guy. At the very least, we know that the team has an interest in obtaining another weapon for the back of the bullpen, and he's the best fit on the market.

Chase Utley, 2B

Utley is only here because of who he is; or, rather, was. He hit .212/.286/.343 and struggled to stay on the field. I'm nostalgic enough to see him coming through with one last hurrah, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Marlon Byrd, OF

Byrd makes the cut if only because we know that the Yankees need a lefty-mashing counterpart to their starting outfield, and he fits that bill wonderfully. He had a 121 wRC+ against LHP in 2015, to go along with a career 111 wRC+ mark against southpaws.

Again, there are plenty of negatives to be found with most everyone on this list - including the dollar signs. Even so, it bears discussing as the Yankees could improve their postseason odds markedly without sacrificing draft picks in the process.

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Saving the 2016 Season in Three (Possibly) Easy Steps

The Yankees have not played a game in twenty-four days, and it feels even longer than that - which is unfortunate, because we're still 156 days away from Opening Day (against those dastardly Astros, to boot). The off-season has begun for the Yankees, at least in earnest, and yet we're still a couple of weeks away from the "real" off-season kicking off. As such, we're stuck twiddling our thumbs as we await the beginning of hot stove season. And that gives us plenty of time to tackle rumors and rosterbate with a bit more than a simple glance at the available free agents. In the interim, we decided to discuss moves that could be made to prepare the Yankees for 2016, and hopefully set them up to stay healthy and competitive for the entire season. Or, failing that, preparing them for the future. A few of us chipped in with three ideas apiece, which range from simple and (ostensibly) cheap, to somewhat laughable and/or expensive. Without further ado:

Scott Moss

1) Try to trade Mark Teixeira. Yep, he was terrific for 111 games, which is about the best case for a brittle 36 year-old in 2016. But he’ll be 36, so he’s not likely to post the .900 OPS he logged in 2009 and 2015, but no other years between. We’ve seen enough of Bird to expect better than the 100-120 games of a 100-120 OPS+ that Teixeira is very unlikely to exceed. Not sure what Teixeira would fetch, but in 2015 a lesser player with a similar skill set (Brandon Moss) fetched a top lefty pitching prospect, so it’s worth a try for Cashman to work the phones.

2) Figure out whether J.R. Murphy or Eric Jagielo can play 3B, because Headley is on life support. It’s hard to overstate how troubling Headley’s 2015 was. It was both his worst offensive year ever and his worst defensive 3B year ever, and he’s under contract three more years. There’s no cause for optimism about the age 32-34 years of an average but declining hitter, and a declining fielder, at a rough position, who’s had back problems. He may turn into a backup 3B/1B awfully soon. So the Yankees’ two talented but very flawed 3B options are worth exploring. Jagielo looks like a big-league hitter, but at high-A and AA, his fielding percentages were .887 and .883, with bad range factors; he may have enough bat to make up for mildly subpar defense, but can he improve to “mildly subpar”? Murphy may be the opposite: he’s just an average hitter, but it’s worth exploring whether he could play a solid 3B. Murphy probably was shifted to catcher not because a subpar defensive 3B projected well at a harder position like catcher, but just because anyone who plausibly could play catcher is usually more valuable there. With Gary Sanchez about ready for MLB, Murphy’s higher-value use could be as Headley’s backup or replacement. A defensive catcher with the quality hands, arm, and agility of Murphy might well play a strong 3B, but can he re-learn a position he hasn’t played in years?

3) Devote maybe two million dollars to soft-tissue-injury management and, I don’t know, pilates? For all we know they’re already secretly doing this tactic Red Sox reportedly have thrown a lot of resources at mastering, but I suspect not – or, at least, they haven’t done it effectively yet. All applause to Cashman for getting a tick younger in the past few years by landing Eovaldi, Gregorious, and Pineda, and for giving shots to Severino, Bird, and about 14 young righty relievers – but they’re still an old, brittle team. Beltran, Ellsbury, Gardner, A-Rod, Headley, Teixeira, and McCann all are valuable when healthy, but they’re all prone to a mix of major injuries, nagging injuries, and late-season fatigue. Maybe the team has been doing its best already on this front – but it hasn’t been working, and the cost of maxing out the investment in cutting-edge staff, equipment, and techniques is chump change compared to these guys’ hundred-million-plus salaries.

Brad Vietrogoski

1) Take The Reins Off Their Starters

I know there were a lot of health concerns in the rotation this season, and I applaud the Yankees for attempting to manage that risk with extra rest and the 6th starter here and there. But they can't expect to seriously contend when they need 8-12 outs from their bullpen every game. They need more length from Tanaka, Pineda, and Eovaldi next year and Joe needs to be willing to lean on them for more outs.

2) Add Another Starter

The injury risk isn't going away anytime soon. Tanaka just had elbow surgery, and Pineda and Eovaldi both spent time on the DL this past season with arm injuries. Luis Severino is legit, but he's going to experience growing pains, and the tandem of Nova and Sabathia is nothing more than a pair of injury risky 5th starters at this point. This team needs more starting pitching and it needs that in the form of something much better than Chris Capuano.

3) Come Up With a Proactive Rest Plan for Their Older Players

Certified old guys A-Rod, Beltran, and Teix will all be back next year, as will semi-older regulars like McCann and Headley. The Yankees need to figure out a way to get all of those players enough regular rest to get them through the full season and keep them productive through the full season. That's going to require a lot of planning and a deeper and more flexible bench, but it would be time and money well spent to get the most out of these aging bats and big money contracts. Using the upper-level MiL talent as part of this plan would be a smart way to bridge to the future.

E.J. Fagan

1) Attempt to trade any or all of Gardner, Teixeira, McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran. The Yankees are an old team, on the decline. Luckily, every contract above is in some way tradeable. They might not get rid of everyone, but should be able to get some kind of return.

2) Play the young guys. Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and possibly Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo are all fine replacements for the above veterans. They may be slight downgrades, but not huge ones, and have considerable upside. This isn't a hard rebuild. In many cases, they have a better Steamer projection than the veterans.

3) If you're going to aim for $189 million, aim for it this year. Otherwise, sign Jason Heyward. Ownership has indicated that they still want the Yankees to get under the threshold. Some have looked at the 2017 season as the likely year, after some big contracts expire. But if the Yankees can trade enough players, they can get it done this year. Then, in 2017, they can assess what they have off the farm, and start building a true powerhouse. But if I'm wrong, sign Jayson Heyward. Unlike the guys you're trading away, he's going to be good for a long time.

Matt Bove

1) Forget About the $189 Million Threshold

The Yankees stopped being the Yankees once they started worrying about the luxury tax. It's no coincidence they stopped winning at the same point they started caring more about the bottom line. This is a much better free agent class this year then next when they have money coming off. They will continue to hide behind their second largest payroll even though they're middle of the pack in percentage of revenue spent in payroll.

2) Trade Brett Gardner

Gardner is a fan favorite, but what good is he if he can't be productive in the second half of seasons? This seems like a trend that Gardner can't last a whole season. I don't see Mark Teixeira or Carlos Beltran waiving their no trade clauses. Gardner should be able to get back something nice.

3) Get Right-Handed Bats

The Yankees should always be more of a lefty team because of their ballpark but the current lineup has gotten out of hand with A-Rod being the only true righty. You have to have more balance than that.They're always going to have major trouble against lefties like they did at the end of the year. This is another reason to trade Gardner unless you want to replace him with Jason Heyward.

Jason Rosenberg

1) Don’t trade Brett Gardner

Let’s get some basic facts out of the way, some of which you’ve heard already: · The team needs to get younger

· The teams needs to be more athletic

· Brett Gardner had another bad second half

Trading Brett Gardner in order to sign Jason Heyward or another OF is not the right decision, even though I seriously love Heyward. Brett Gardner is on a reasonable contract*, provides decent speed (which should be better utilized, see #2), and is generally regarded as a very good OF although he grades out far better in center than left. Trading Gardner to allow a defensively challenged Beltran to play more is a short-sighted mistake and one this team should never make. I’d soon see the Yanks pay half whatever it takes of Beltran’s contract and send him away to get Heyward. Please do not trade Brett Gardner**. * Gardner’s remaining contractual obligations: 2016 $13.5M (age 32) 2017 $12.5M (33) 2018 $11.5M (34) 2019 $12.5M (35), team option for $12.5M or $2M buyout; net $10.5M decision ** Unless we’re getting at least a #2 SP, and even then… Now, if you can somehow find a way to get Teixeira to agree to be traded and find a team willing to spend a few million on him, do it now. I don’t care what we get back.

2) Run, Brett, RUN!

Again, more facts, or facts according to me: · Brett Gardner is fast

· Brett Gardner does not steal many bases

· Brett Gardner should be stealing more bases

Over the last three years, Gardner has averaged just 21.5 SB per year, getting caught roughly one out of every 4 attempts (65; 18). This is not very good. We’ve all seen Gardner looking tentative on the bases, missing opportunities to run or choosing the wrong pitches to run on. Way back in 2010-11, Gardner stole a combined 96 bases. Has he slowed down? Or is just not a good base runner? Can he learn to be a better base stealer? It’s worth bring a guy like Rickey Henderson or someone else in to work with Brett on the nuances of base stealing. If Gardner is getting on base 34+% of the time, popping 15-18 home runs, and stealing 35-45 bases, he will provide the team with a tremendous boost. The first two are more than achievable. The last one is the difference-maker and the biggest question mark.

3) Figure out a way to keep these guys healthy

a. Design and gain buy-in on a scheduled plan for the old guys (Beltran, Teixeira, ARod), the by-product of which is more playing time for the younger guys (Bird, Judge, etc.)

b. Proactively rest/treat/pre-hab the brittle guys (Headley, Ellsbury, Gardner), the by-product of which is more playing time for the younger guys (Heathcott, Judge, etc.)

c. Figure out how to take the governors of Eovaldi, Pineda, Warren, Nova, etc. and just let them go. Treat/pre-hab them so they can make 33 starts. Stop worrying and let them pitch. Babying them clearly isn’t helping so let’s let them build up the strength required to repeatedly throw the ball 200 innings.

d. Furthering the Brett Gardner theme and monitoring his health so this doesn’t happen yet again (career splits, not just last year):


Stacey Gotsulias

1) Wrap Jacoby Ellsbury in bubble wrap so he doesn't suffer some weird injury that will make him unavailable for weeks at a time and make him less productive when he comes back. The Yankees needed him in the second half and he did a tremendous disappearing act which brings us to #2 on my list...

2) Get a sports psychologist to examine Brett Gardner's head so he, and the rest of us, can find out why he can't ever seem to perform in the second half. If the Yankees do that, and Gardner can be productive both before and after the All-Star break, it could help the lineup a lot in 2016.

3) Find a second baseman and stick with him. In other words, sign someone who can actually play second every day. If not, bring up one of the kids to do it and call it a day. The Yankees started more second baseman in 2015 than Bewitched had Darrens, Roseanne had Beckys and Valerie, Valerie's Family and Hogan Family shows had name changes. Enough is enough!

Domenic Lanza

1) If the plan is to break the bank eventually, do it sooner rather than later. This off-season has several high-quality pieces that will not cost a draft pick to sign - David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Ben Zobrist represent massive upgrades in areas of need, and would not do anything to harm the team's movement towards youth. Price and Zobrist may break the bank, but their combined contracts would look less egregious once Teixeira and Beltran come off of the books after 2016. And, if a repeat of the 2008-2009 off-season is in the cards, Jason Heyward could be a legitimate cornerstone for the next great Yankees team.

2) For heaven's sake, build a real bench. As it stands, the bench on most days would probably be John Ryan Murphy, Rob Refsnyder, Brendan Ryan, and a token RHH outfielder to be named. Murphy and [Chris Young? Drew Stubbs? Chris Denorfia? Rajai Davis] make sense; but the idea of having a defensively-challenged second baseman that might be able to pick up some innings in the outfield and an offensive zero with declining defense representing half of the bench is frightening. I do not like the idea of having a platoon at second, particularly when half of the platoon is not a versatile defender. Having Ackley starting and Refsnyder on the bench represents a real competitive disadvantage. It is for this reason that I would endorse signing or trading for a full-time second baseman, as it should improve both the lineup and the bench.

3) Don't hesitate to cash-in on Teixeira and Beltran as trade chips (if at all possible). Both players are free agents to be, and both played well-enough in 2015 to have regained some luster - and that is especially true as one-year rentals. Their injury histories are scary, but if a team would be willing to part with a solid prospect or two, or a moderate upgrade anywhere else on the field, the Yankees have a chance to replace most of both players' production with in-house options. Bird can start at first (and perhaps Murphy or Gary Sanchez can learn the position to platoon, if necessary), and Heathcott, Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave can battle it out to play right (and platoon with the aforementioned token RHH OF). It may not be ideal, but neither is counting on Teixeira and Beltran to remain healthy and productive.

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