The countdown to the Feb. 20 official report date for pitchers and catchers is on, and this is as good as time as any to hit the reset button and look ahead. Over the last several weeks, the Yankees have been busy assembling a roster that promises to be younger and more versatile than last year’s 84-win club.
Beginning with the relatively minor Nov. 12 deal with the Pirates, which swapped left-hander Justin Wilson for catcher Francisco Cervelli, general manager Brian Cashman has triggered six trades and pulled two major free agents off the board in Andrew Miller (four years, $36 million) and Chase Headley (four years, $52 million). It seems like just yesterday that Cashman was standing on the curb of a San Diego hotel, explaining why the Yanks were leaving the Winter Meetings empty-handed.
This week, they’ve also moved close to an agreement with infielder Stephen Drew; that deal is done, pending a physical, and will be worth $5 million plus incentives for the 2015 season.
Drew slots as the Yanks’ starting second baseman, forming a combination up the middle with Didi Gregorius. So much for that spring battle between youngsters Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela, though it would serve them both well to come into Spring Training and play well. Depth could be important at both infield positions.
A lot can happen between now and April 6, something the Yankees know all too well, particularly in the starting rotation. Barring something wild like a push to bring in Max Scherzer, here is an early guess at how the Yankees’ 25-man roster could look on Opening Day:
No real surprises here, assuming they can all get through the spring without health issues. They’ll have to hold their breath on every Tanaka splitter for a while. Adam Warren is set to come into Spring Training as a starter and could also be considered here. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild floated the idea of a six-man rotation last year and it will be interesting to see if the Yanks kick that around, but for now, these are five solid choices they can go forward with. It’s important to note that Ivan Nova is expected to return from Tommy John surgery in May or June.
Bullpen (7): Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve.
The Yanks believe their closer is already on this roster, so Joe Girardi can have some fun in the spring deciding between Betances and Miller. They could even go with co-closers based upon situations if they wanted, but my best guess right now is that Betances will close and Miller sticks in the setup role. Carpenter slides into Shawn Kelley’s old role and would handle the 6th or 7th innings. Rogers is a solid swingman option, while Wilson and Shreve would give the Yanks extra lefties in the pen.
Spring Training is a great time to evaluate bullpen arms, and the Yanks will have plenty of other names to look at. Shreve’s spot is probably the least secure of anyone on that list, and so a brief list of options who could fit here if they don’t begin the year in the Minors include (in no particular order) — Chase Whitley, Dan Burawa, Branden Pinder, Bryan Mitchell, Jose Ramirez, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow and Gonzalez Germen. Andrew Bailey was also re-signed to a Minor League deal and is trying to regain his old form.
Catchers (2): Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy.
Murphy will have to hold off Austin Romine for the backup role; Romine is out of Minor League options and the Yanks would lose him if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, but Murphy has seemed to leapfrog Romine in the organization’s view over the last year or so. Top prospect Gary Sanchez is slated to begin the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could make his big league debut this year.
The starting infield seems set, with Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Headley going around the horn. In particular, the Yanks expect that Teixeira will be stronger and more productive as he is further removed from surgery. Drew should fit at second base but gives the Yanks an option at shortstop if Gregorius flounders.
Ryan would be the 25th man on the roster. He provides a backup pretty much everywhere, assuming the Yanks keep him and intend to have Refsnyder and Pirela start the year in Triple-A (their 40-man roster is full and Drew hasn’t yet been added).
Jones would be Teixeira’s backup at first base, has played some right field and could serve as the DH against right-handed pitching. They love the idea of showcasing his big left-handed power in Yankee Stadium. It’s anyone’s guess what the Yankees will have in A-Rod; they’re going in thinking that any production would be a bonus. At the absolute minimum, you’d hope that Rodriguez can be an effective DH against left-handed pitching (the Yanks think his ’13 struggles vs. lefties were a small-sample size aberration), but it’s not impossible to envision Rodriguez being moderately productive as a full-time DH and even playing a little third base.
The outfield is pretty locked in from left to right, assuming that Beltran’s elbow is healed and he can be more like the player he was in 2013 with the Cardinals. If he’s unable to play right field regularly, it will create major headaches with the DH spot. Young is capable of playing all three outfield spots and, as Ichiro Suzuki discovered over the last two seasons, there can be plenty of at-bats to be found in a role like that — even if it doesn’t appear that way early in the spring.
“I didn’t do anything,” Cashman said. “We threw a lot of ideas a lot of different ways, but we’ve got a long way between now and Opening Day. We’ll keep our conversations that still are ongoing alive, and just wait and see.”
The Yanks tried to join the frenzy at a wild Winter Meetings, but their experience will be remembered more for who they lost. It was a week in which the Yankees watched David Robertson take a four-year, $46 million deal from the White Sox, then learned that Brandon McCarthy had scored a four-year, $48 million pact from the Dodgers.
In both cases, the Yankees declined to extend a proposal, other than the qualifying offer that Robertson turned down last month. In Robertson’s case, they decided that they’d rather have the package of Andrew Miller on a four-year, $36 million deal and a compensatory Draft pick, giving them a few extra dollars to spend. As for McCarthy, Cashman said that he “figured the market would take him at a level that we couldn’t play on.”
Thus, the Yankees’ needs are exactly what they were five days ago. Here’s a handy recap of how we covered the team’s business at the Winter Meetings:
Day 1: Miller joined the beat reporters on a conference call and said that he feels capable of handling the closer’s role, though that opportunity did not come up in his talks with the Yankees and he plans to accept any role that manager Joe Girardi hands to him. Now tracking the Yanks’ Hot Stove moves as an interested observer, Miller said he feels that New York’s bullpen already looks formidable on paper.
“I think I can get three outs at any point in the game, wherever that may be,” Miller said. “Whatever it is, it’s fine with me. I want to win. I want to shake hands and high-five at the end of the game more than anything. If I have to get two outs in the sixth, there’s value in that.”
Cashman and the Yankees contingent arrived just before noon and sequestered in their suite for conversations with teams and agents. Sometime during the day, Cashman met with agent Scott Leventhal and told him that the Yankees would not bid on Robertson. Word of Robertson’s agreement with the White Sox then moved through the hotel lobby around midnight.
“We feel that our bullpen is going to be very strong again,” Girardi said. “We feel like we have a number of great arms. I’m not really worried about that because of the arms we have down there, and I feel like we’ll have a very good bullpen.”
With Miller and Dellin Betances potentially in line to jump into the closer’s role, Girardi also mentioned Justin Thomas, Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley as options to help out in a closer-by-committee situation. The Yanks would prefer to have a set closer by Opening Day. Cashman revealed that he publicly kept the Yankees in Robertson’s mix following the Miller signing to help him maximize his free agent value.
During the week, Cashman confirmed that he spoke to several teams about trades that hit dead ends. Among them — the A’s for Jeff Samardzija, the Dodgers for Dee Gordon, the Tigers for Rick Porcello and the D-backs for Wade Miley. In Porcello’s case, Cashman says that he obviously didn’t have a player like Yoenis Cespedes to offer; in Gordon’s case, the Dodgers were already moving forward in talks with the Marlins.
“I just said, if you see any fits, let me know,” Cashman said.
Prior to last week’s Didi Gregorius trade, the Yanks had also talked to the Phillies about Jimmy Rollins. One minor note from this day – earlier reports that the Yankees hired Marcus Thames as an assistant hitting coach are said to be false, according to Cashman. In fact, Thames was never interviewed. The search to replace Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher is taking a back seat to pursuing trades and free agents.
Day 3: Following the news of Jon Lester choosing the Cubs over the Red Sox, Scott Boras took his annual place as the center of attention at the Winter Meetings (hey, I’m in this photo!) and attempted to dangle Max Scherzer in front of the Yankees’ eyes.
“I can’t predict what the Yankees are going to do,” Boras said, “but I can tell you that a guy like Max fits into their starting rotation to develop a World Series-caliber set that is similar to what they’ve had in the past when they won.”
Cashman replied: “Good, that means he likes the four we’ve got!” Yankees people still state that they do not plan on issuing another nine-figure pitching contract; industry people are saying they aren’t so sure about that.
By this point, the Yanks had checked in with free agent closers Sergio Romo and Jason Grilli. There was also an Alex Rodriguez update – A-Rod was seen in Miami by strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Krause, who issued a positive report. Rodriguez is heavier than his listed playing weight of 225 pounds, but Cashman said there has been progress.
On the third base front, the Yankees continued to talk to Chase Headley. The switch-hitter is reported to have a four-year, $65 million offer in hand from an undisclosed team, and if that is true, the Yankees are unlikely to match it. Cashman said the Yanks are ready to roll with Martin Prado at third base if it comes to that, giving Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela a crack at the second base job. They could also go after the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera or Jed Lowrie. Boras mentioned that Stephen Drew is willing to sign as a second baseman.
Cashman also reaches out to Hiroki Kuroda’s agent, Steve Hilliard, who tells the Yankees that Kuroda has not reached any decisions about 2015. Kuroda is said to be once again entertaining thoughts of retirement, though Cashman has said that he expects Kuroda to pitch next season.
News of McCarthy’s deal with the Dodgers breaks late in the evening. Cashman soon confirms that the Yankees didn’t make him an offer. I file a fun story about Eric Chavez’s new front office/coaching gig.
The Yanks’ only pickup of the meetings? The reported Minor League signing of infielder Nick Noonan, a move that has not been announced by the club.
Day 4: The quiet Winter Meetings conclude with the Yankees idle in the Rule 5 Draft, opting to keep their three vacant 40-man roster spots clear for future trades and free agent signings. They also do not lose any players. Rumors briefly connect the Yanks to free agent Ervin Santana, who signed a four-year deal with the Twins.
The Yanks’ adjoining suites on the 29th floor are vacated; the room service bill is likely substantial. In wrapping up the meetings, assistant GM Billy Eppler said that the Yankees’ attitude has been one of patience rather than frustration.
“You always want to walk out of here with something to show for it, but when you make headway in certain arenas, it makes you feel like you’ve been able to drill down on some things that hopefully will present themselves in the coming days,” Eppler said.
That moves the Hot Stove spotlight prominently onto Max Scherzer, a pitcher whom Yankees executives are said to prefer over Lester and fellow free agent James Shields.
The price tag will be steep for Scherzer, who turned down a seven-year, $160 million proposal from the Tigers last year, according to agent Scott Boras. Speaking on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, Boras said that he believes Scherzer would make a lot of sense in the Bronx.
“I think the Yankees have always been — again, that model of having 50 wins and 600 innings [in the rotation] to win has worked very well for them,” Boras said. “You can go back and find when [Roger] Clemens was the No. 1 or [Mike] Mussina was the No. 1, or [Andy] Pettitte. They won a lot of world championships with that formula.
“The idea of them having No. 1 pitchers certainly would add protection to where their current pitchers are, take innings off of them, give them a little bit of an umbrella where you have someone to lead and be the No. 1. I can’t predict what the Yankees are going to do, but I can tell you that a guy like Max fits into their starting rotation to develop a World Series-caliber set that is similar to what they’ve had in the past when they’ve won.”
That’s a case Boras surely will make directly to the Yankees, assuming it has not already been delivered.
Asked specifically this week if he planned to get involved in a chase for a pitcher of Scherzer’s caliber, general manager Brian Cashman kept his words to a minimum, replying, “It’s not in my best interests to say.” Cashman is scheduled to speak with reporters later tonight.
- Boras also noted that Stephen Drew has received interest from clubs about playing second base, and that he is open to that idea. The Yankees have spoken about having prospects Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela compete to serve as the Opening Day second baseman in the event that Martin Prado is manning third base.
Asked for his opinion of last week’s Didi Gregorius trade, Boras said:
“It’s not a traditional Yankee placement where they would maybe go out and get a veteran player to replace Derek Jeter. But certainly going out and doing what they’re doing in the bullpen, and other pursuits that could go on this offseason would lead you to be believe that of course they’re trying to compete.”
Things have started to move with more urgency here at the Winter Meetings, with the Jon Lester logjam finally clearing last night. As you know, Lester selected the Cubs and their six-year, $155 million offer over a chance to return to the Red Sox.
The Yankees were never seriously in on Lester, despite speculation that they could make a last-minute pounce (a la Mark Teixeira ’09), but pitching remains at the top of Brian Cashman’s wish list. Yankees people have been said to prefer Max Scherzer over Lester anyway, though it remains to be seen if Hal Steinbrenner can stomach another nine-figure pitching contract after issuing a couple to CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka already.
Brandon McCarthy’s market seemed to pick up a baseline this week when Francisco Liriano inked a three-year, $39 million extension with the Pirates, and if the Yankees could bring McCarthy back for those kinds of numbers, the sense is that they’d jump on that. McCarthy has expressed interest in returning.
On the relief front, the Yankees have talked to the agent for Jason Grilli and could give a serious look to Sergio Romo, who is also reported to have nibbles from the Giants and Tigers. Luke Gregerson – a name the Yankees weren’t really connected to – came off the board early today, with the hurler accepting a three-year deal with the Astros. Houston also inked Pat Neshek.
Even without another move, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances could do the job, in theory. Cashman said yesterday that he doesn’t know if the Yankees have their 2015 closer on board.
“We’re not a finished product,” Cashman said. “We are having a number of conversations with clubs and agents. Our closer might be on this roster, he might not be here right now. I just don’t know yet.”
Chase Headley’s situation also should come into focus now that the Giants have resolution on their Lester chase; the defending World Series champs were runners-up in the hunt for Lester, Pablo Sandoval and Yasmany Tomas, so they could use a first-place finish on something.
The Marlins are said to be interested, but not heavily, in Headley, and we still don’t know where that reported four-year, $65 million offer came from. Joel Sherman of the New York Post offers this perspective on Headley’s market:
For what it’s worth, Cashman declined to identify a No. 1 priority on his list of Yankee to-do items.
“My top priority is to solve whatever I can solve, because we have multiple areas of need,” Cashman said.
This and that:
We’ll have more from San Diego later today on yankees.com.
A significant domino in the Yankees’ offseason plan fell late last night, as David Robertson accepted a four-year, $46 million deal with the White Sox — Mr. “Sweet Home Alabama” opting to make it “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Robertson isn’t the highest-paid closer in history, falling shy of the mark still held by Jonathan Papelbon, but he certainly will be well-paid on the South Side. Turning down the Yanks’ $15.3 million qualifying offer seems like it was the right move for Robertson, a home-grown Yankee who now leaves the club with only four remaining members from the ’09 World Series club.
As news of Robertson’s deal moved through the hotel lobby last night, my thoughts flashed back to the final game of the season at Fenway Park, when I asked Robertson if he’d considered the chance that he just took off a Yankees uniform for the final time. I thought there might have been some sentimentality involved for him during those last few innings in the bullpen, but I was wrong.
“Yeah, I’m not going to discuss that at all,” he replied. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, we’ll just see how things play out.”
So, this is how it played out — the Yankees had expressed some hope of re-signing Robertson early in the free agent period, tossing him verbal bouquets about his performance in taking over Mariano Rivera’s old job, but that optimism had seemed to wane in recent days. General manager Brian Cashman’s public commentary regarding Robertson essentially had reduced to, “We’ll see.”
In New York’s eyes, they obtained some insurance for Robertson’s possible departure by inking Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36 million contract late last week, and Dellin Betances is coming back from a dominant All-Star season. There is also some appeal to the compensation pick that the Yanks now have in the 2015 Draft.
Jack Curry of the YES Network offers this detail:
So Robertson moves on, leaving the Yankees with a question mark at the closer spot. Miller and Betances would be the likeliest in-house fits, unless the Yanks sign a free agent like Jason Grilli or Sergio Romo, or can trigger a trade. As we wrote in last night’s wrap, pitching is the Yanks’ focus here at the Winter Meetings, though Chase Headley is still available and there have been rumblings that he could pick a team by Thursday.
Speaking of picking a team, getting that whole Jon Lester logjam cleared up might move a few other things along, though the Yanks don’t necessarily view it that way. The Yankees still haven’t been definitively connected to the “big three” of Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields, unless we count a few puffs of smoke like this:
Last week, a few of the MLB.com reporters were asked to rate the chances of Lester coming to certain teams on a scale of 1-10, where one was near-impossible and 10 was a mortal lock. I put down ‘4’ for the Yankees, even with the absence of any solid link between them — hey, it was only a few years ago that Cashman slipped out the back door of the Bellagio and slapped $161 million on CC Sabathia’s Vallejo, Calif. doorstep.
The Yanks like to pull off those kinds of stealth moves if they can. The talk has been about waiting for guys like Brandon McCarthy, and that interest does seem sincere. (The Pirates re-signing Francisco Liriano to a three-year, $39 million deal provides a guide for McCarthy’s next contract.) Still… until we see any of the bigger arms holding another team’s hat, I’d prefer to leave the light on for a stunner.
Today should be a busy day at the Winter Meetings — Cashman is expected to meet the media at some point, and Joe Girardi is scheduled to hold his manager availability session at 6:30 p.m. ET. We’ll have more thoughts and updates here and on yankees.com later in the day.