Yankees

Not So Fast

Before Sunday’s game the Yankees sent Refsnyder down to AAA, meaning I was wrong the other day when I said he had sewn up the last bench spot.

What happened? Well I suspect that getting hit in the face by two balls in two days at third this weekend changed the Yankees mind about his ability to cover third. They will send him to AAA and probably use him at third extensively.

But for now the Yankees will have to come up with a new answer for backup third baseman. Pete Kozma is a pure glove guy. Ronald Torreyes is an unproven minor leaguer. That’s it for what remains in camp. Perhaps the answer will come from another team’s cuts, which have started in earnest. We won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

Things Are Getting Clear-ish

When the Yankees opened camp, I asked five questions that spring games would provide answers for. We are close to knowing all of them.

#1- Was the fifth starter, or the potential for six starters. Both Nova and Sabathia have been bad, so I would scratch the six-man idea, and while it seems like a race to the bottom for the last spot, Sabathia and his enormous contract would seem to be the logical choice for the job- for now.

#2- Was about the backup catcher and now that Gary Sanchez has been optioned to AAA, the job is Austin Romine’s

#3- Was about the bullpen. At this point it seems Shreve, Mitchell and Nova have spots for sure alongside Betances and Miller. Pinder is probably there, and that leaves the spot open due to Chapman’s suspension. Barbato seems like a strong possibility after mopping up Nova’s outing today.

#4- Was about the last bench spot. I think Refsnyder is going to get it. He has handled third by all accounts and his bat has never been a question.

That leaves the lineup, and I think we are close to an answer there. Ellsbury and Gardner up top, Didi and Castro 8-9, with Headley at 7. I would guess Beltran or Teixeira in the 3 spot, with the other one in the 5 spot. Alex or McCann in the 4 spot, with the other in the 6. However that shakes out you would go L

L

S

R/L

S

R/L

S

L

R

That’s a pretty good balance, apart from the top, but the Yankees are enamored like most teams with the idea of “table setters” up top.

April 4th is getting really close!

Wishful Thinking

Alex Rodriguez announced today that he will retire after he finishes his current contract which means he is going to play two more seasons. I’m trying to stop laughing.

I will be the first to admit that Alex surprised me and surpassed all of my most optimistic expectations last season. I didn’t think he would come close to hitting 25 homers, let alone 33. I also didn’t think he would behave and not cause problems. It was truly a miraculous season.

So it won’t come as a surprise that I don’t think he is going to repeat it. I disagree with the people who say he is finished and point to his second half numbers in 2015 (.216/.324/.448) but I do think those numbers are more indicative of what will happen in 2016 than his first half of .278/.382/.515. His seven homers in September lead me to believe he can still be somewhat of a force, but I suspect time will continue to wither him as it does to all of us.

But no matter what he does in 2016, there is still 2017 and the fact that he will be 42 when his contract ends. Considering all that has happened with him off the field, and that he is only a DH on it, does he really think he will be in demand when that season ends? And, considering how the Yankees have turned to a youth movement and don’t want a full-time DH, I can’t see them offering him a contract in 2018 no matter what he does between now and then. This is clearly Alex’s attempt to bow out with some dignity. That’s his right, but considering his prior behavior, it is not something he is necessarily entitled to.

Very Cool

The Yankees did something pretty neat today that you can read about here.

Five Questions For Spring

We now have actual baseball games to follow and box scores to pursue, so what are the questions the Yankees are trying to answer this spring? To me the following five are the obvious ones.

1- Who is the 5th starter or are there 6? The Yankees could do a couple of different things here. Assuming that the quartet of Tanaka, Pineda, Eovaldi, and Severino, emerge healthy from spring, the 5th starter spot would seem to come down to Sabathia vs. Nova. But, with all the injury concerns in the rotation would the Yankees consider going with all of them in the rotation? I think they absolutely would, so I think this is the biggest question.

2- Who is the backup catcher? Gary Sanchez is an intriguing prospect and his bat can probably help right now. But making him the backup catcher comes with two drawbacks. First, he won’t have regular playing time. Second, the Yankees will lose Austin Romine, hurting their organizational depth.

3- What does the bullpen look like after the Big 3? We know how the back end of the bullpen will play out, but what about the front? There are plenty of names in the mix- Shreve, Mitchell, Pazos, Pinder, Rumblelow, Lindgren, to name a few, but who fits where? With Miller and eventually Chapman on the roster, how many additional lefties will the Yankees take north?

4- Who gets the last spot on the bench? We know the bench is going to include Hicks, Ackley, and a backup catcher, but what do the Yankees do with the last spot? If Refsnyder can cover third, does he make it? Maybe a super-utility type instead or would the Yankees put such a value on Sanchez’s bat that they carry a third catcher?

5- What’s the lineup? I would guess something along these lines-

Ellsbury

Gardner

Beltran

Rodriguez

Teixeira

McCann

Headley

Didi

Castro

That keeps you from stacking too many lefties in a row and balances things, but Girardi may not want to put Castro below Didi and that could create the same lefty-overload problem we saw last year.

And we only have one month to find out all of these answers because the Yankees open the 2016 on April 4th. Can you believe it?

 

Thirty Games

Chapman has been suspended by MLB for the first 30 games of the regular season. He will not appeal. Chapman issued the following statement:

“Today, I accepted a 30 game suspension from Major League Baseball resulting from my actions on October 30, 2015. I want to be clear, I did not in any way harm my girlfriend that evening. However, I should have exercised better judgment with respect to my actions, and for that I am sorry. The decision to accept a suspension, as opposed to appealing one, was made after careful consideration. I made this decision in an effort to minimize the distractions that an appeal would cause the Yankees, my new teammates and most importantly, my family. I have learned from this matter, and I look forward to being part of the Yankees’ quest for a 28th World Series title. Out of respect for my teammates and my family, I will have no further comment.”

The statement leaves me wondering if he gets it. Does he understand that even if he didn’t harm his girlfriend in any way firing a gun eight times in anger is not ok? I guess we have to take the fact that he is sorry and that he is not appealing as a good sign, but ugh.

In baseball terms this means Chapman is out until 5/9 against the Royals. He will miss the first two series against the Red Sox, and not have to pitch in Fenway until August. The Yankees will almost certainly go with Betances for the 8th and Miller for the 9th in his absence, but the 7th inning is currently a mystery. Expect that to be a big focus of spring training as the Yankees will look to find this year’s Justin Wilson.

What Took Them So Long?

The Yankees announced today that Rob Refsnyder will work out at third base this spring. I can’t understand why he hasn’t been working out there and all over the diamond for weeks now.

Here’s what we know about Refsnyder. He has a good bat, one that projects to be decent in the big leagues. He also doesn’t appear to be an everyday second baseman. I say that because the statistics when he played there briefly last year weren’t great, and because there is no way the Yankees go and trade for Castro if they thought Refsnyder could play second on a regular basis. So why didn’t the Yankees tell him to spend the winter trying out some other positions?

It makes no sense. Castro is going to be in pinstripes for the next four years at minimum. By that time Refsnyder will be out of options and on another team. Furthermore, the Yankees have Ackley on the roster to backup second if needed. Sure, Castro or Ackley could get hurt, but the Yankees have stashed a couple of glove guys in the minors to prepare for that. So keeping Refsnyder as a second baseman only keeps him in the minors in 2016 which doesn’t make a ton of sense when you look at the Yankees bench.

We know two guys who will make the bench, Hicks and Ackley. There will be a backup catcher, and assuming that the Yankees carry 12 pitchers, always a good bet, one other player. If Refsnyder can play some third, he becomes a favorite for this spot. For one thing, he is a righty bat, something the Yankees could use. For another, he came to the Yankees as an outfielder so it is reasonable to expect that he could fill in there in a pinch.

Think about that bench. You have a backup catcher TBD. You have Hicks covering all the outfield spots with Ackley backing him up in the corners and at second and first. You have Refsnyder covering third and second, and the outfield in a pinch. You have decent pinch-hitting options, and the flexibility to use them because of the multiple ways you can cover things defensively. That makes a ton of sense for the 2016 Yankees. I just wonder why it took them so long to think of it.

Good Idea/Bad Execution

The Yankees are taking a lot of heat for getting rid of print-at-home tickets this season. Part of that is because of the terrible optics of the deal- more on that in a minute. Part of it is because of the absurd defense they have used for the idea- more on that too. But overall, this is a good idea. In fact, I would say the idea hasn’t gone far enough. They should get rid of all physical tickets.

Physical tickets were a necessary evil for years, but they are obsolete in the 21st century with the advent of the cell phone. Between smart phones and basic cell phones, the technology exists to get rid of paper tickets entirely. Just like airlines have, stadiums can provide apps with barcodes for people to get into games. And if someone doesn’t have a smart phone, how about a text message with a unique string of characters to allow entry at some sort of kiosk? With a little thought and planning, teams could easily get rid of physical tickets.

And that would be a good thing because it would eliminate the easiest way for people to defraud potential buyers- scalping fake tickets. With the printing capabilities out there today, people can easily create very authentic looking fake tickets at home and scalp them outside a stadium easily. Here’s an example from 2015 in Indianapolis. Eliminating this kind of fraud is a worthy idea.

But the Yankees have done a terrible job of making the case for it. For one thing, the crackdown on paper tickets appears to be an attempt to stop reselling of tickets on Stub Hub. The Yankees have opened their own ticket exchange and they don’t want Stub Hub taking away from that action. They can pretend otherwise, but that is the real reason they don’t want print-at-home tickets.

And they should stop with their bizarre defense that this has something to do with the free market. A free market is one without regulation, yet getting rid of print-at-home tickets is obviously a regulation. Furthermore, baseball is rife with violations of the free market. The Yankees Ticket Exchange sets a minimum price floor for tickets where a free market would allow supply and demand to determine prices. MLB allows teams to have geographic monopolies where a free market would never allow that. I could go on and on, the point is there is nothing close a free market in baseball.

So get rid of the paper tickets, but work with all secondary markets to figure out how. That’s a win-win for everyone.

 

The Chapman Conundrum

The Yankees have brought someone with serious character questions into their clubhouse. That’s a responsibility they cannot evade.

The Yankees should be honest. Chapman isn’t in camp with them without his electric fastball and dominant numbers. If he wasn’t a great pitcher, the Yankees would never have bothered with him considering the allegations he faces. That hardly makes the Yankees unique. Sports figures are given way too many chances because of their natural abilities. Organizations make these moral compromises all the time. It would be nice if they were more honest about them.

As for Chapman, he clearly doesn’t seem to get it. He maintains that he did nothing wrong, yet he does not contest the police report which states that he used a gun to fire eight shots from his garage. And while seven of those shots didn’t leave the garage, one of the shots landed in an empty lot near his property- meaning it could have killed someone who was simply standing outside of his house.

I in no way condone violence against women, but the sad truth of this case is we will never know what really happened that night in regards to the allegations that Chapman choked a female. The police couldn’t sort out the conflicting stories, and the DA refused to charge Chapman because they didn’t feel there was enough evidence. (I am dismayed that you can apparently fire a gun eight times recklessly in Florida and not commit a crime.) That doesn’t mean Chapman is innocent of the choking charge, but it also means he will not be found guilty by a court of law. Our justice system is based on the presumption of innocence and we have to accept that in regards to the choking allegations.

But that still doesn’t excuse the gun play and this is where I would like to see the Commissioner and the Yankees take a stand. Chapman should be kept away from guns in my opinion. He should be ordered to seek some counseling (acceptable under the CBA) and he should get some sort of suspension. It should also be made clear to him that any additional incidents will not be tolerated. MLB gets the first crack at this, but the Yankees should be ready to act if MLB doesn’t. They took responsibility for Chapman the minute they traded for him.

 

It Won’t Be Long

Ever since I was a kid, the end of the Super Bowl meant only one thing to me- baseball season was almost here. Back then, the gap was much greater, a month or so, but now it is only a few short weeks thanks to the NFL moving the Super Bowl into February. In fact, pitchers and catchers report next Friday, only 11 days from now.

And while there are still some very good free agents still available, I am going to declare the Yankee offseason over. Which means we can look at this chart, and realize that the Yankees are the only team in baseball that hasn’t signed a free agent this offseason.

I’m completely on board with that, and I think the Yankees had a great offseason mostly. They got a better version of Chris Young, at a much cheaper price. They got a second baseman who is young and a three-time All-Star, and they traded for one of the best closers in baseball. But I wish they had done one other thing- signed some of their starters to extensions.

Luis Severino is the only starter who is guaranteed to be under contract beyond 2017. Nova is a free agent after this season. Sabathia will be either after this one or 2017, depending on if his option vests. Pineda and Eovaldi are under contract through 2017. Tanaka has an opt-out after 2017. I would have liked to have seen the Yankees target either Eovaldi or Pineda for an extension this offseason. Both have faults, but both have the stuff to make a ton of money as free agents.

But ultimately that is a minor quibble about a solid offseason. The Yankees are getting younger and spending smarter. That will pay huge dividends down the road.