“San Diego, drink it in. It always goes down smooth.” – Ron Burgundy
Hello from the Manchester Grand Hyatt in beautiful San Diego, where the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings are officially underway. The Yankees’ executive contingent is due to arrive sometime after lunch, as general manager Brian Cashman spent his Sunday evening serving as one of Santa’s elves in his annual 22-story rappel down the side of the Landmark Building in Stamford, Conn.
As we’ve detailed in our previews for the Meetings, the Yankees come here with several needs to fill. In recent days, they’ve addressed the back end of their bullpen by signing left-hander Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36 million contract, and found a possible replacement for Derek Jeter by acquiring shortstop Didi Gregorius from the D-backs in a three-team deal that shipped right-hander Shane Greene to the Tigers.
That follows earlier winter activity that included signing Chris Young to serve as the fourth outfielder and picking up reliever Justin Wilson from the Pirates in exchange for catcher Francisco Cervelli.
Still on the agenda: at least one starting pitcher (the Yanks have stayed in touch with Brandon McCarthy, Hiroki Kuroda and Chris Capuano, while steering clear thus far of the fray for the bigger targets like Jon Lester and Max Scherzer), help for the left side of the infield (Chase Headley remains on the radar, even though it appears he may require a four-year commitment) and an answer for the closer role. For that final slot, David Robertson doesn’t seem to be budging off his four-year, $50 million-plus demands, not that there’s any reason for him to do so. The White Sox and Astros are said to be in the mix for Robertson.
Here’s a rundown of what’s doing here in the hotel from the Yankees’ perspective. We’ll update this blog post as the day goes along.
— Miller joined the Yankees beat reporters on a conference call this morning and explained some of his thinking in accepting the Yanks’ offer, leaving a larger offer from the Astros (confirmed by MLB.com to be four years and $40 million) on the table.
“I think New York had a few things to sell that nobody could compete with,” he said. “One of the things for my family that’s huge is being in Tampa for Spring Training. That’s two months that I get to spend at home that I wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s one less move for my wife and my child to make. That’s certainly makes life easier. I don’t know that that’s the kind of thing that I can put a financial value on. We discussed it quite a bit. That was certainly something that we enjoyed.
“With the Yankees, I knew that no matter what there is an expectation to win and there’s going to be the wherewithal to win every single season. That’s what I want to be part of.”
– Could the Yankees be back in the lead for Headley’s services? Perhaps, according to ESPN, which reports that the Yanks are now willing to offer a fourth year to the infielder. That comes with a catch, in that it must be “at the right price.” There have been rumors that Headley is sitting on a four-year, $65 million offer, but some have questioned the existence of that offer. It is not believed to have come from the Yankees, Giants or Marlins.
– A few names bouncing around behind the scenes: the Yankees checked in with the Braves about Craig Kimbrel and the Marlins about Steve Cishek, then asked the Royals if they were thinking about dealing closer Greg Holland or setup man Wade Davis, according to the New York Post.
Yankees reliever Shawn Kelley joined me for a phone interview this week, participating in a Thanksgiving feature that will appear on yankees.com over the holiday. During our conversation, we touched upon the situation with free agent closer David Robertson, who recently turned down a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Yankees and is reportedly seeking a four-year pact.
“We’ve talked once in a while; I’ll shoot him a text, or we have a little bullpen group message feed that we keep in touch with,” Kelley said. “Not a lot about baseball, but I’ve texted him personally to see what his thoughts are. Honestly, I think he’s just kind of letting it all play out at this point. Since he turned the qualifying offer down, he might as well hear what the teams have to say and see what the best situation is personally for him.”
Kelley, who just completed his second season with the Yankees, believes that Robertson has strong feelings about the idea of staying in pinstripes.
“I know he loves New York, I know he’s close with Mariano (Rivera) and wants to kind of follow in Mariano’s footsteps,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a big part of him that probably wants to stay in New York, but he’s got to do what’s best and see what’s out there. That’s where he’s at in his career right now. I’ll support anything he does. We’re close friends, we always will be and I want what’s best for him and his family.”
As the top closer available on the open market, Robertson and his representatives made a calculated gamble in declining the Yanks’ qualifying offer. One report suggested that Robertson is seeking “Jonathan Papelbon money,” approaching the $50 million pact that Papelbon signed with the Phillies, and Kelley said he couldn’t resist ribbing Robertson about what he’d turned down.
“I even texted him, just joking around, and said, ‘Man, did you ever think you’d be turning down $15.3 million?'” Kelley said. “But if you look into the circumstances, there are obviously a lot of reasons why it probably makes more sense. But if you just think about being a little kid and someone said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you $15 million to play one year,’ I think it would’ve been hard to turn down.”
With an eye toward the Hot Stove, Kelley also likely echoed the reaction of many American League East pitchers after hearing the Red Sox had signed both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.
“I’m thinking their lineup is getting a little tougher; it already did when they got (Yoenis) Cespedes and now Hanley and Pablo,” he said. “That’s going to be a dangerous lineup. I always hope that those free agents sign with National League teams so I don’t really have to face them. That’s part of it and teams are positioning themselves to put together 25 guys that are going to take them to the World Series. It’s not getting any easier in our division.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi was among those on hand this morning at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees and the USO took over the Great Hall to help produce more than 5,000 gift packs that will be delivered to active servicemen and servicewomen in remote areas of Afghanistan this holiday season.
Girardi spent about 15 minutes speaking with the media, his first public comments since the end-of-season press conference following the final game of the year. Alex Rodriguez’s preparation and return to the active roster dominated much of the conversation, but there were also other notable topics discussed.
Here’s a rundown, kicking off with the non-Alex talk:
On David Robertson turning down the Yankees’ qualifying offer: “David was great for us. You know that you face those situations every time that people have the opportunity to become free agents. He’s been a tremendous pitcher, he has helped us be very successful here and helped us be a World Series club as well. He was great.”
On the hope to bring back Robertson on longer term deal: “Yeah, I think anytime you’re negotiating and things like this happen, your hope is that the players are always going to come back.”
On Chase Headley: “He really shored up our defense on that side, played a great third base, grinded out at-bats. Had some big hits for us and showed an extreme amount of toughness and was great in the clubhouse.”
On Dellin Betances as an option at closer: “Well, obviously, he did a very good job last year. It’s somewhat of a different mentality, but there were days that he had to close the game out in the fifth inning, sixth inning, seventh inning. It’s a step. I think he’s capable of handling it. We have not named a closer, I can’t tell you who we’re going to sign and what we’re going to do, but obviously with what he did last year, you have a lot of belief in him.”
On Brandon McCarthy: “He pitched really well. We’ve seen him pitch like that before against us. He struggled in Arizona for whatever reason, but he pitched really well for us. … He showed he had the ability to pitch in NY and I think that’s important, too.”
On the Yankees’ most pressing needs for 2015: “I think there’s some question marks in our starting rotation, No. 1. There’s some questions in our bullpen and there’s some question marks on what our infield is going to be. Those are the big things we need to address. I think our outfield is fairly set, and there’s some health questions that we have. We expect Carlos (Beltran) to be 100 percent, we expect CC (Sabathia) to be 100 percent, we expect (Masahiro) Tanaka to be 100 percent, but you have to prepare in case something goes on, that you have depth.”
On naming Kevin Long’s replacement as hitting coach: ”There’s no exact timetable. Obviously you’d like to round out your staff, but I’ve managed teams where we didn’t round out our staff until Christmas.”
On his reaction to Long’s dismissal: “He worked very hard for us, and him and I had a very good relationship and talked about a lot of different things concerning the game. Obviously when you don’t win, a lot of times there’s going to be changes. Sometimes it’s in my spot. Sometimes it a coach’s spot. Sometimes it’s in the front office. Sometimes it’s players. It’s part of the business. He had a very good run here and was productive for us.”
On other health updates: “(Martin) Prado is doing well. Gardy (Brett Gardner) is doing well. CC’s been doing well. Carlos has been doing well. All these guys. (Ivan) Nova’s been doing well; very pleased with where he’s at. So, we’re happy, but we’re a long ways away and they’re not on the field yet.”
On Tanaka: ”Everything’s OK. But he really hasn’t done much, so it’s hard to say.”
On Sabathia: ”He’s been throwing. Everything’s been up and up on him, and he comes in here — I don’t know — three times a week? Three or four times a week? Something like that. Everything’s good. We like where he’s at, but we’re a long ways from April 1 or whenever we open.”
And now, without further delay, let’s hit the A-Rod content…
On having spoken to A-Rod: “Yeah, I’ve talked to him. Stayed in touch. He’s working out, trying to prepare himself to be an everyday player next year. Obviously he’s played 40 games in the last two years, I think. We’re going to have to see where he’s at in Spring Training, but he’s working and he’s trying to get prepared.”
On A-Rod’s position: “We’re preparing him to play third base, but like I said, I think you have to see. Obviously we believe there’s going to be some DH days in there. You’ve got to see where he’s at. I mean, he is going to be 40, he hasn’t played a whole lot in the last couple of years. But our hope is that he comes back and is a very productive player for us.”
On how many games A-Rod can play: “It’s like with Jeet. I think you have to see how they’re doing physically every day and how they’re responding when they’re playing five, six, seven days in a row and if they can do that. It’s really too early to really predict that.”
On A-Rod’s mindset: “I think he’s excited to get back on the field. We all know Alex. That’s what he loves to do, he loves to play. He loves to compete. I’m sure he’s excited. It’s getting closer.”
On A-Rod possibly playing first base: “I just brought it up. I said, on a day that we give Tex a day off, maybe it’s something that we’ll think about. He said we can talk about it, obviously. We’ll talk about it more as the season goes on, but I think you have to see. I think what I want to do is give him a little preparation. Depending on what happens over the winter and the makeup of our club, it could be possible that I might ask you to do that.”
On seeing A-Rod in person: “No, not yet. We’ve talked on the phone, we text. We’ve e-mailed. We’ve done a lot of things, and it’s been on a pretty regular basis.”
On A-Rod’s litigation and other legal issues: “I’m not worried about that. My job is worrying about preparing him to play, and making sure that he’s prepared and how he’s doing physically every day.”
On A-Rod’s workouts so far: “It’s weights. Yeah, he’s doing some (baseball) stuff. We don’t need him to do a whole lot. The normal process is you start throwing in January. There’s no reason to start throwing really early. It’s not going to put him any farther ahead. He’s taken some swings. Right now, it’s physically get your body ready to play 162 games.”
On how to handle A-Rod’s spring workload: “I think you have to see how he’s physically doing. There’s ways you can be creative, you can send him to Minor League games to give him eight or nine at-bats a day, maybe DH him a little bit more. Until we get there, until I see how he’s doing physically and how he’s responding, it’s really hard to predict. You just try to prepare him best you can.”
Brett Gardner had a minor surgical procedure in October to address a core muscle injury and expects to be ready for Spring Training, the Yankees outfielder said in a radio interview on Wednesday.
Gardner told MLB Network Radio that he is completing his physical therapy following the surgery, which he hopes will correct an injury that affected Gardner in both July and September of this past season.
The Yankees said that Gardner had the procedure performed on his right rectus abdominis muscle on Oct. 16. The surgery was performed by Dr. William Meyers at the Philadelphia Vincera Institute in Philadelphia.
“I’m just about feeling 90 to 95 percent from that,” Gardner said. “I should be back to 100 percent here in about a week or so and pretty much have my normal offseason from here on out, and get ready for 2015.”
Gardner, 31, batted .256 with a career-high 17 home runs and 58 RBIs in 148 games for New York this past season, serving as the starting left fielder and having inked a four-year, $52 million contract extension that will kick in next year.
He missed a game on July 9 in Cleveland with what was initially feared to be a hernia, and Gardner’s September performance was affected by a recurrence of what was described at the time as a lower abdominal strain.
Gardner logged just 12 hits in his final 72 at-bats of the year (.167), knocking 11 points off his season batting average.
“I think here in the next week or two I’ll be pretty darn close to 100 percent and just be able to go through my normal offseason routine,” Gardner said. “That’s one of the reasons we just went ahead and got it done after the season.
“Obviously without making the playoffs we had a much longer offseason than we would have liked, but it also gave me a little extra time on the front end to get this thing taken care of and not have it be an issue next year. I’m looking forward to having that behind me pretty soon.”
The Yankees are scheduled to play their first Spring Training exhibition of 2015 on March 3 against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla., and will host Philadelphia the next afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla.
New York’s Grapefruit League schedule, officially announced on Monday, will feature a total of 33 exhibition contests with 16 home games. The slate includes matchups with all four American League East rivals and five night games at Steinbrenner Field.
Yankees pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Spring Training on Feb. 20, and will hold their first workout on Feb. 21. Position players are scheduled to report on Feb. 25 and the first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 26.
Meetings with AL East opponents are as follows: Orioles (March 28 at 1:05 p.m.), Rays (March 9 at 1:05 p.m. and April 1 at 1:05 p.m.), Red Sox (March 11 at 1:05 p.m.) and Blue Jays (March 17 at 7:05 p.m.).
Night games at Steinbrenner Field will include: March 6 vs. Pirates, March 12 vs. Braves, March 17 vs. Blue Jays, March 19 vs. Phillies and March 24 vs. Tigers.
The final day of Spring Training is April 3, when the Yankees will host the Nationals at 1:05 p.m. ET. Opening Day for the regular season is April 6 against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.
Season tickets for 2015 Yankees Spring Training home games are on sale at www.steinbrennerfield.com or www.yankees.com. Individual-game spring tickets will go on sale on Friday, January 9 at 10:00 a.m. at the Steinbrenner Field box office, online at http://www.yankees.com or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000.
For ticket information, fans can call (813) 879-2244 or visit www.yankees.com or www.steinbrennerfield.com. This marks the Yankees’ 20th Spring Training at Steinbrenner Field, which was originally named Legends Field and renamed in Steinbrenner’s honor on March 27, 2008.