Tagged: Eric Chavez

My Spring Coverage Of Yankees Will Be Top-Notch

I started this blog in 2009 and I have vowed to my loyal readers that I would provide an unvarnished and journalistic approach to covering the New York Yankees. I feel I have fulfilled that promise and more over the years.

With the opening of spring exhibition games beginning for the Yankees on Feb. 23 against the Atlanta Braves at Lake Buena Vista, FL, through the spring finale against the Washington Nationals in Washington, D.C. on March 29, I will be personally attending 18 games to provide reporting and analysis.

In addition, I will have access to one national television broadcast through ESPN and 13 additional games through radio broadcasts to ensure you will be getting complete and authoritative coverage of the Yankees this spring.

I will provide game coverage but I also will look at how the team is shaping up as a whole. I will look at the starting rotation, the bullpen battles, how the starting lineup is shaping up and how the young Yankees and spring invitees are doing in seeking roster spots.

If there is an injury that could affect the Yankees in 2013 you will know about it fast and accurately.

Last spring, I lamented through my game reports about how poorly the Yankees were hitting with men in scoring position. As we later learned, it became a significant issue for the team in the first half of the season and it was their ultimate undoing in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.

I will try to provide the same analysis that I have through the past three spring training schedules. It will be done as if I was the Yankees’ correspondent for yankees.com. I was passed over for that post some years ago despite the fact I have been a journalist for more than 20 years and have worked for a number prestigious newspapers and wrote my own syndicated sports column.

But their loss is your gain because I always tell the truth about the Yankees and I do not hold punches in order avoid angering players, coaches and club executives as yankees.com reporters do. I am free to speak my mind and tell you that Alex Rodriguez and his bloated contract is an albatross around the necks of the Yankees and will be through the 2017 season.

I also have already told you my belief that Phil Hughes would be more suited and more effective of he pitched out the bullpen rather than basically a two-pitch starter.

Earlier this winter, I wrote how the Yankees are missing so much of their power from the 2012 club (Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones) that manager Joe Girardi would be wise to use a more unconventional slash and dash approach using his better base-runners like Brett Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter.

Call it the “Bronx Bunters.”

That would mean more bunting, hit and runs and base stealing instead of waiting for the home run. We will see if the Yankees implement that strategy this spring.

Join me for my reports direct from Tampa, FL, and I promise you will be ready and primed for my regular season game reports when the Yankees open their 2013 schedule at Yankee Stadium on April 1 when they will play host to the Boston Red Sox.

Thank you for those who have been my loyal readers and thank you to the new readers I have picked up along the way. I intend to give you the best information I can. Your feedback is always appreciated and encouraged.

Go Yankees in 2013!

 

 

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Yanks Sign DH Hafner, Invite 43 Others To Camp

With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.

Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.

Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.

Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.

In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.

Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.

Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.

Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.

Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.

Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.

Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.

Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.

He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.

With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.

The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.

The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.

The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.

Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.

However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.

Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.

Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.

Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:

CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.

INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.

OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.

PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.

 

Hughes In Rotation But Really Belongs In Bullpen

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 4

PHIL HUGHES (16-13, 4.19 ERA)

If you were casting a James Bond movie would you select Owen Wilson for the role? If you were casting a new dramatic Broadway play would you cast Zach Rogan?

Of course, the answer would be no to both. Yet the Yankees still insist on miscasting Phil Hughes as a starting pitcher.

They can point to his two full seasons as a starter in which he is a collective 34-21 with a 4.20 ERA. Considering the fact Hughes came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system as a highly touted starter, why shouldn’t he be a starter?

The reason he shouldn’t is not because of what Hughes has accomplished. It has more to do what he has failed to accomplish that limits his ceiling as a quality starter.

Hughes, 26, is basically a two-pitch starter: Fastball and curve. Efforts to add a cutter and a change-up have been met with mixed results. There is no doubt that with good run support he can remain a successful starter. But think back to a time when Hughes had his best success with the Yankees.

That was in 2009 when Hughes was brought up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a fill-in starter and then, out of necessity, was shifted to the bullpen. Hughes’ two-pitch assortment was perfect for the bullpen and his fastball got some added zip during his short stints. Gradually manager Joe Girardi shifted him into the setup role in front of Mariano Rivera.

Hughes was simply sensational. His ERA, his WHIP and his strikeout rate were all better than Rivera’s in 2009 and Hughes became a major reason why the Yankees won their 27th world championship that season.

There is one huge reason why Hughes has not pitched out of the bullpen since and it has nothing to do with Hughes. It has to do with the failure of Joba Chamberlain to make it as a starting pitcher. Once the Yankees determined that Chamberlain was not suited to start they were not about to do the same with Hughes.

The Yankees did not want to suffer the indignity of having both of their prized homegrown youngsters in the bullpen. Besides, the bullpen has been crowded with hard throwers behind Rivera and Chamberlain like Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.

So Hughes became a starter in 2010 and he had so much initial success (he sported an 11-2 record at the All-Star break and he made the American League All-Star team) that those minor-league scout comparisons to Roger Clemens did not seem so farfetched anymore.

But after the break, the league caught up to him and he was a very pedestrian 7-6 the rest of the way.

High hopes for him in 2011 were very quickly dashed when he showed up to spring training with a noticeable drop in velocity. After getting blasted early and often in April, the Yankees placed him on the disabled list with weakness in his right shoulder. Though Hughes did return late that season, his 5-5 record and 5.79 ERA cast a lot of doubt on his future.

But Hughes worked his way back last season and he did pitch well enough to tie with Hiroki Kuroda for the team lead in victories with 16. Hughes also matched his season ERA of 4.19 in 2010. So not all the numbers were bad or disastrous.

There are still some numbers Hughes with which he can’t be pleased.

Hughes was vulnerable to the longball as the 35 home runs he surrendered in 191 1/3 innings pitched indicate. That was a home run given up every 5 1/2 innings.

Consistency has also been a problem. Hughes started the season 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA before he rebounded to go 8-2 with a 3.34 from May 6 through July 1. From July 1 on, Hughes was pretty mediocre, going 7-7 with a 4.08 ERA the rest of the way.

Pitch count has also been problem for Hughes. In 14 of his 32 starts Hughes failed to pitch at least six innings. That was mostly due to elevated pitch counts coming from batters repeatedly fouling off pitch after pitch. Hughes basically succumbed in a lot of games due to just the attrition of pitches.

Another pitch in his arsenal would help Hughes with this problem but it appears that it is unlikely Hughes will be able to develop a major-league quality third pitch at this stage of his career.

So the Yankees are committed to Hughes as a starter but they are gong to have to accept his limitations. Absent another weapon what you currently see with Hughes is pretty much what you are going to get.

Though the top three pitchers on the staff (Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte) might be able to adapt to getting a bit less in run support, Hughes might be severely harmed by the loss in power the Yankees suffered when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones signed with other teams in the offseason.

But with Chamberlain still in the bullpen, along with Robertson and Rivera, the fact that the Yankees top young pitchers such as Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are a long way away from being able to step into the starting rotation, Hughes will be forced to remain a starter this season.

How he fares may come down to his ability to adjust and adapt. At age 26 there is still time for him to improve. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild could be very valuable in putting the final pieces to the Hughes puzzle in place.

However, there is faction of Yankee fans who want Hughes to be traded for some young prospects. That would not seem to make much sense given the plight of Pineda, Banuelos and Betances and the fact that Ivan Nova has his own issues to deal with this spring.

It just seems to be a fact that Hughes is locked in as the team’s No. 4 starter and the Yankees can take comfort in the fact that they could do worse than have a pitcher who has won 34 games in his first two full-time seasons as a starter.

Hughes is pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of the Yankees’ staff. He gets little respect for what he has done and he has taken far too much of the blame for what he has failed to accomplish.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander from southern California signed a one-year contract worth $7.15 million last week to avoid arbitration so Hughes can now concentrate on the task of getting ready for the 2013 season.

The Yankees are just hoping that the unusual amount of patience they have accorded a young pitcher in their system like Hughes is rewarded with a huge breakout season. But realistically, the Yankees should be happy if Hughes is healthy for a full season and ends 2013 above .500 in winning percentage.

Those are pretty achievable goals.

Perhaps someday Hughes might get a chance to replace Rivera as the team’s closer. But for now he will just have to continue to play the role he has been given – no matter how miscast he seems to be.

NEXT: IVAN NOVA

 

Pettitte Hopes Last Season Includes Another Ring

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 3

ANDY PETTITTE (5-4, 2.87 ERA)

When the announcement was made last March that Andy Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees to pitch, the euphoria was palpable.

After a year in retirement, Pettitte was determined to pitch again. The story was supposed to go that Pettitte would pitch great, he would lead the team to the playoffs and help them win their 28th world championship. However, that script landed in the dustbin after Pettitte ended up getting injured along the way.

On June 27, Pettitte was struck in the right ankle with a ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians. It was only his ninth start of the season and the injury would shelve him until mid-September. The Yankees did make the playoffs and Pettitte helped them make it to the American League Championship Series.

However, the Yankees’ offense decided to sleep in and missed the series.

Immediately, Pettitte’s return in 2013 was in doubt. But, fortunately for the Yankees, Pettitte decided he still had some unfinished business and he was signed to a one-year, $12 million contract at age 40.

The numbers Pettitte produced when he was healthy last season certainly backed up his decision. His ERA was excellent at 2.87 and six of his 12 starts were quality starts. The biggest surprise was jump in Pettitte’s strikeout rate.

Last season, Pettitte struck out 69 batters in 75 1/3 innings. At that rate, Pettitte would have topped 200 Ks for the first time in his long and storied career. It is not that Pettitte had gained velocity or came up with a new pitch. It is just that he was pitching smarter and he was able to keep batters off balance.

Heading into the 2013 season, there are a lot of things that are breaking to Pettitte’s favor. For one, Pettitte will enter spring camp from the first day and be ready to pitch when the season begins instead of his May 13 debut last season.

In addition, Pettitte already knows he can get major-league hitters out, which is something he did not know last season after sitting out the 2011 season.

Pettitte is also a valuable commodity as a veteran left-handed starter in an American League with a lot of powerful left-handed hitters.

One thing about Pettitte that sets him apart from any other pitcher is his fierce competitiveness. It is – and has been throughout his career – a blessing. But it also can be a curse.

Last season, Pettitte was feeling frisky during his rehab and pushed his workouts past what the doctors had prescribed. He ended up paying for it by extending his rehab a few weeks. Sometimes Pettitte also can be own worst enemy.

The key to Pettitte’s 2013 season looks to be maintaining his health and stamina throughout the long grind of a season. Pettitte pitched into the sixth inning or better in each of his first eight starts before he was injured. But he finished six innings only once in his final three starts.

With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda ahead of him in the rotation, Pettitte will form what will be a pretty formidable top tier of starters. Those three combined to go 36-21 with a 3.27 ERA. With a much tougher American League and stiffer competition in the A.L. East, this is threesome manager Joe Girardi can count on to meet the challenge.

They will have to because the Yankees’ offense did take a major hit this winter with the departures of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.

With Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez on the roster the Yankees might be looking to reintroduce more of a running game in 2013 with a lot of bunting, hit and runs and taking chances on the bases instead of waiting on the home run.

It could mean that the Yankees will have to settle for fewer runs and that puts a lot more pressure on the starting pitchers to keep the other team from putting the game out of reach. But Pettitte seems to up to that challenge.

If he can limit his pitch counts and make it deep into games, the Yankees stand a good chance of winning more than their fair share of them.

Pettitte enters the 2013 season with a career record of 245 wins and 142 losses (.633 winning percentage) and career ERA of 3.86. He has 208 career wins as a Yankees, which is third behind Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).

To Pettitte, those numbers are nice but they are not numbers he cares too much about. If the Hall of Fame should come calling he would be honored. But he does not expect it and need it to validate his career.

But his postseason numbers of 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA are something of which he is very proud. No pitcher in the modern postseason era has started (44) and won as many games as Pettitte. Last season he was 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in his two starts. Victory eluded him because the Yankees did not score very many runs in the postseason.

But Pettitte understands that if the Yankees do make the playoffs and he does his job the way he expects to do it the Yankees have an excellent shot of winning most of the time.

This likely will be his last season and the Yankees would love to make sure the three members of what was the “Core Four,” Petitte, Jeter and Mariano Rivera have a chance to play for a world championship.

Nothing would be sweeter for the Yankees and nothing would be sweeter for Pettitte than having that chance one last time.

NEXT: PHIL HUGHES

 

Kuroda Looking To Build Upon His 2012 Success

The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.

PART 2

HIROKI KURODA (16-11, 3.32 ERA)

When the Yankees decided to sign right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract there were a lot of naysayers voicing a litany of concerns about the 37-year-old right-hander.

After all, in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kuroda was 41-46 and only posted one season above .500 in victories – an injury-plagued 2009 season when he was 8-7 in just 20 starts. Though he posted excellent ERAs in those four saesons (3.73, 3.376, 3.39 and 3.07) the conventional wisdom was coming over from the National League to the designated hitter in the American League would see his ERA explode.

The skeptics also pointed out that Kuroda would struggle in the competitive A.L. East.

You won’t hear those arguments anymore. Kuroda silenced his critics with his best season since he left Japan in 2008. He was absolutely brilliant from mid-May through August. Even though his ERA took a big hit in September he finished the season after Sept. 1 with a 4-1 record.

Y0u could even make a case that Kuroda’s season was better than CC Sabathia’s because Kuroda was healthy throughout and he even was more consistent than the Yankees’ left-handed ace.

Kuroda ended up setting carer major-league highs in victories, innings pitched and strikeouts. Kuroda emerged as the team’s No. 2 starter and he earned it by pitching deep into games and baffling hitters with a wide assortment of breaking pitches that offset his 90-mph plus fastball.

After getting blasted early and often in the first month, Kuroda made some adjustments and then never looked back. It was really no surprise when general manager Brian Cashman decided to sign Kuroda for another one-year deal but this time for $15 million.

Kuroda certainly earned the raise.

The veteran from Osaka, Japan made two starts in the playoffs for the Yankees and both were brilliant. However, Kuroda did not get any run support in either start and was 0-1 despite a sparkling 2.81 ERA.

In the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Kuroda gave up just two runs on five hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings but did not earn a decision. Then he gave up three runs on five hits and no walks and struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series but lost because the Yankees did not score him a single run.

There are higher hopes for 2013, which is why Kuroda elected to re-sign with the Yankees.

“I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me,” Kuroda said when he signed. “It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season.”

This season does figure to be a battle for the Yankees because the teams in the A.L. East appear to be stronger while the Yankees lost a lot of offensive firepower when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones left the team as free agents, taking 94 home runs with them.

Kuroda will have to adjust to a less explosive team that might score a lot fewer runs. Of course, that is not unlike Kuroda’s seasons with the Dodgers when he received very poor run support and was a major reason why his season records there were below .500.

Kuroda gradually earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild by limiting his pitch counts so he could last deeper into games. With a bullpen that was missing Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberalain for most of the season, Kuroda’s stamina in games was very much welcome.

Kuroda also won over skeptical Yankee fans, who were absolutely stunned a National League pitcher could have success with the Yankees after the team had suffered through the likes of Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano in previous seasons.

Kuroda will have to adjust this season without his favorite catcher in Martin. Martin, who caught Kuroda in his first three seasons with the Dodgers, elected to take his shin guards and his bat to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But that issue does not seem to be too great because both Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli have caught Kuroda since he became a Yankee.

The only real obstacle may be for Kuroda to stay on the mound long enough to allow the Yankees to get a lead for him in the late innings. With less firepower it also figures the Yankees will be in a lot of close games. That could mean a lot more no decisions for Kuroda.

Though Yankee fans would prefer to see a rotation made up of young hard-throwing starters, Kuroda allows the Yankees to buy time to let their young pitchers such as Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps to develop and also allows Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances to rebound from injuries and ineffectiveness.

That is not a bad tradeoff if Kuroda can duplicate his 2012 season. The Yankees will just be hoping for anything close to what he produced for them last season.

One thing is certain: With Kuroda pundits can no longer say the Yankees’ rotation is Sabathia and four other guys. Kuroda is just that good.

NEXT: ANDY PETTITTE

 

Ichiro’s ‘Act’ In Bronx Held Over For Two Seasons

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

RIGHTFIELD – ICHIRO SUZUKI (28 Rs, 5 HRs, 27 RBIs, .322 BA, 14 SB)

When the Yankees made the trade to bring Ichiro Suzuki to The Bronx it was looked at initially as a temporary fix to the Yankees’ injury to top base-stealing threat Brett Gardner. After all, Suzuki’s contract with the Seattle Mariners expired after the 2012 season and the Yankees were unsure if the 39-year-old All-Star had very much left in the tank.

Suzuki seemed to fall off the proverbial cliff after he hit .315 with six home runs and 43 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 2010. In 2011, the career .322 hitter batted only .272 with five home runs and 47 RBIs and 40 stolen bases.

In addition, Suzuki was hitting .261 with four homers and 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Mariners at the time of the trade.

But Suzuki took to New York quicker than anyone would have expected and he seemed to be rejuvenated being part of a pennant chase for the first time since his early seasons with the Mariners.

As a result of Suzuki’s renewed bounce in his step and the fact the Yankees allowed rightfielder Nick Swisher to sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians this winter, Suzuki was granted a two-year, $12 million deal to take over for him. General manager Brian Cashman was pleased Suzuki settled for much less than perhaps he was worth to stay with the Yankees.

Suzuki had made it clear that he did want to remain in New York. So it seems both sides are very happy with the deal.

Suzuki will never be able to replace Swisher’s power and production but he is an upgrade in terms of hitting, speed and defense. That is all part of the tradeoff the Yankees had to accept in order to rebuild a team that lost 94 home runs when Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14) signed elsewhere this offseason.

Suzuki will join with Gardner, Eduardo Nunez, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson as part of the group that is expected to be stealing a lot of bases in 2013 because of what the Yankees lost in terms of power. The Yankees will not be able to play station-to-station baseball while waiting for home runs.

Suzuki’s two-year deal signals the Yankees are committed to him and what he can provide at the top of the lineup by getting on base and running the bases.

Last season, Suzuki approved the trade with some conditions laid down by the Yankees. He agreed to hit lower in the batting order, to a platoon that would sit him against left-handers and agree to switch to leftfield. Suzuki accepted the stipulations and never complained about where he hit, where he played and when he was benched.

However, when Suzuki got red hot in September manager Joe Girardi stopped platooning him against lefties, moved him up in the batting order and shifted him to rightfield so Swisher could replace an injured Mark Teixeira at first base.

So expect Suzuki to be playing every day, hitting second and playing rightfield in 2013. Suzuki basically changed the manager’s mind the old-fashioned way: He played so well that Girardi had no choice but to play him and those conditions Suzuki was signed under have been tossed out the window – for good.

Suzuki’s calling card has always been his magical bat. Despite an unusual batting style, Suzuki seems to be able to know when it is best to pull the ball and when to go with a pitch. He confounds pitchers with his ability to spray the ball all over the field.

He may no longer have blazing speed as he did when he won his Most Valuable Player and Rookie of Year awards in 2001, but Suzuki can still leg out infield grounders for hits, take an extra base on napping outfielders and he can even steal a base or two when necessary.

Suzuki stole 29 bases last season between the Mariners and Yankees and he led the Yankees with 14 steals despite playing in only 67 games.

With the short porch in right-field, Suzuki can also surprise a pitcher or two by turning on an inside pitch and putting it into the seats. Suzuki’s career high in home runs is 15 that he hit in 2005 and he only has reached double digits in three seasons. But it is good bet they he could reach double digits in 2013.

He hit five dingers in only 227 at-bats with the Yankees last season.

Where Suzuki really shines is as a defender. From 2001 through 2010 he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves with the Mariners. Granted, he has lost a step, but Suzuki can still flash some leather in the outfield. He also possesses an excellent arm in rightfield. With Granderson and Gardner, Suzuki forms a rare outfield that boasts three centerfielders.

This is an outfield that is also loaded with speed and skilled fielders. It might be the best defensive outfield the Yankees have fielded in some time.

The only potential negative with Suzuki might be if he regresses as a hitter as he did with in the Mariners in 2011. The Yankees are on the hook for two seasons with Suzuki and they would rather he continue he hit the .322 he did with the Yankees last season.

The Yankees were dealt a serious blow to the 2013 plans when Ibanez opted to sign as a free agent with his old Mariners team. The Yankees made it clear that they wanted to keep Ibanez as their left-hand designated hitter and part-time outfielder.

At the moment the plans behind Gardner, Granderson and Suzuki look a little murky.

The Yankees did claim right-hand hitter Russ Canzler off waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Canzler, 26, can play first base, leftfield and DH.

Canzler hit three home runs, drove in 11 runs and hit .269 as a September call-up with the Indians after leading the International League with 36 doubles, 22 home runs and 79 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Columbus.

Canzler provides the Yankees primarily with a right-hand bat who can back up Mark Teixeira at first base. But he did play 47 games with Columbus and 11 games with the Indians in the outfield. His range in the outfield is limited and he would be a significant dropoff from Gardner as a defensive outfielder.

Jayson Nix has been invited to spring training again primarily to compete with Nunez as a backup middle infielder but Nix also can play some outfield.

Nix made nine starts in the outfield last season and acquitted himself well. He committed only one error. Though he is much better as infielder, Nix provides Girardi with a lot of options on where to play him.

Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats last season.

Cashman is looking to bolster the outfield before spring training camp opens next month and he has a few targets that could be on his radar.

His first option is former Met outfielder Scott Hairston, who is currently seeking a lucrative two-year deal on the free-agent market.

Hairston, 32, hit 20 home runs and drove in 57 runs and batted .263 with the Mets last season. His main calling card is his power and his ability to crush left-handed pitching.

Hairston hit .286 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs against lefties last season. Though he has played some second base in the past, Hairston is primarily an outfielder and he only committed one error in 108 games there last season.

The Yankees covet him because he has power, which the Yankees need, and he balances out the starting outfield, which is comprised of all left-hand hitters. The Yankees see Hairston as part-time outfielder, a platoon DH and valuable pinch-hitter off the bench.

The only sticking point is the amount of money he is seeking and the Yankees are not real keen on offering him a two-year deal. They are hoping Hairston will lower his demands.

Another potential target could be 6-foot-5 first baseman-outfielder Michael Morse of the Washington Nationals.

Morse, 30, had a breakout season in 2011 in which he hit .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBIs for the Nationals. But injuries limited him to just 102 games in 2012 in which he batted .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.

The Nationals had him scheduled to move from left-field to first base this off-season when they acquired centerfielder Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins and shifted rookie centerfielder Bryce Harper to leftfield. However, the team decided to re-sign first baseman Adam LaRoche so Morse is currently relegated to the bench.

The Nationals reportedly are looking at trading Morse for a left-handed relief pitcher and some prospects. The Yankees do have a pair of lefties in Boone Logan and Clay Rapada to offer but there is not much depth behind them in the minors. The Yankees could use Morse in the same way they planned to utilize Canzler – at first base, leftfield and DH.

Morse is a right-hand hitter but his power is intriguing.

This is hard to believe but – in the absence of the Yankees making a deal or signing an outfielder – the Yankees will actually be giving long looks to two of their own minor-league outfielders this spring.

Melky Mesa, 25, hit a combined .264 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs and 22 stolen bases between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. However, Mesa hit only .230 at Scranton after hitting .277 at Trenton so he may require an additional season before he is ready.

Mesa’s combination of power and speed would be a big boost to the Yankees and he does fill a need for right-hand hitting outfielder. Mesa is also a natural centerfielder and he can easily play all three outfield spots if needed.

The downside is the Yankees are unsure of he can hit major-league pitching. They hope to get some more definitive answers this spring. Mesa figures to play a lot after only getting 13 at-bats and hitting .231 last spring.

The Yankees also have a very intriguing young outfield prospect in Zoilo Almonte, who is a power-hitting switch-hitter.

Almonte, 23, impressed Girardi last spring when he hit .286 in only 14 at-bats. Almonte then followed that up by hitting .277 with 21 home runs and 70 RBIs in 106 games with Trenton.

Unlike Mesa, Almonte is primarily a corner outfielder and he has just average speed (15 steals in 19 attempts last season). Defensively, he is still a work in progress. His range and fielding are just average but he does have a pretty good arm (10 outfield assists last season).

Almonte does have a slim chance of making the jump from Double A but he will need to have a monster spring training that forces Girardi to keep him on the roster. It is all up to Almonte  to see if can handle the rigors of the major leagues. But it will be tough to ask him make the jump because it rarely happens in the major leagues and it even more rarely happens with the Yankees.

The Yankees seem to not even care about a player unless he is 34 with years of major-league experience. Almonte would be in a locker room of players he watched while he was in grade school. That would be a lot of pressure on him but his power potential makes him a very viable prospect to watch this spring.

The Yankees are actually loaded with some very special outfield prospects further down in their minor-league system.

Mason Williams, 21, is the team’s second-ranked prospect behind catcher Gary Sanchez. He hit .298 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 91 games between Class-A Charleston and Class-A Tampa before a torn labrum ended his season early.

Williams is an excellent left-handed hitter who should develop more power as he gains experience. He also looks as if he will be a very good base-runner and he is above average defensively as a centerfielder. Williams is 6-feet tall and weighs just 150 pounds but he should gain weight and strength and may even draw comparisons to another centerfielder Williams by the name of Bernie.

The Yankees are also excited about No. 3 prospect Tyler Austin, 21.

Austin hit a organization-best .354 combined in 2011 and he followed that up by hitting .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in four minor-league stops last season.

After playing first and third base his first two seasons, the Yankees moved him to right field last season and he played very well there. While Sanchez and Williams get most of the attention, Austin is considered a very good prospect and 2013 could propel him into the Yankees’ plans in 2014 and beyond.

The Yankees also have a pair of young slash-and-dash hitters who have a chance to make the parent team down the road in Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores.

Heathcott, 22, was the team’s first draft pick in 2009 but has been hampered by on- and off-the-field problems. But the left-handed hitter got back on track by hitting a combined .302 with five home runs and 29 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in the Yankees team in the Gulf Coast League and with Tampa in the Florida State League.

Heathcott is an aggressive player with excellent speed. If he can be more selective at the plate and on the bases he could turn out to something very special.

Flores, 20, is a left-handed hitting machine who batted a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs and 24 stolen bases between Tampa and Trenton. He lacks Heathcott’s speed but still stole more bases. He is primarily a leftfielder but can play all three outfield spots and first base.

Fielding will never be his strong suit because his bat is so good. It will carry him the rest of the way to the majors.

The Yankees seem to be deeper in outfield prospects than any other position and that seems to be a good thing considering the team has already lost Swisher and Granderson seems to be headed out the door soon. That would leave Gardner and an aging Suzuki.

So to say the Yankees could stand to have a few of these prospects make an impact in the next few years would be putting it mildly.

There have been rumors the Yankees have talked about possibly trading Williams and Sanchez. But that would seem to be something Cashman would be leery about since he really did get fleeced badly in the Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda deal last winter.

My guess is the Yankees will be very careful which young players they deal but it would seem to make sense that they could trim some of their outfield depth if they need help with their 25-man roster.

Though the Yankees are lucky to be starting three center-fielders with excellent speed in the outfield in 2013, they all hit left-handed and the Yankees will miss Ibanez.

Cashman likely will make some sort of deal to add depth to the outfield and they need someone who can hit right-handed. Canzler and Nix provide some depth but they are not long-term solutions.

Mesa and Almonte provide Girardi with a pair of young options but both are going to have to produce a lot this spring in order to make the leap to the major leagues.

Hopefully, the puzzle pieces can be put together before the start of the 2013 season.

NEXT: CATCHER

 

Yanks’ Hopes Center On Grandy’s Gifts, Failings

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

CENTERFIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (43 HRs, 106 RBIs, .232 BA)

It is hard to find a player who has hit 84 home runs over two seasons like Curtis Granderson and yet has taken more criticism.

Though no one in major-league baseball has hit more home runs in the past two seasons, Granderson enters the 2013 season facing questions about his low batting average, his franchise-record 195 strikeouts, his ability to play centerfield and whether the Yankees should just trade him rather than pay to sign him again in 2014.

Granderson, 31, set himself up for the criticism by having a career year in 2011, when he led the major leagues in runs scored (136), hit 41 home runs and drove in 119 runs and hit a respectable .262. It is hard to top a year a like that but Granderson did give it a good try last year.

While the production was there in 2012, the negatives in Granderson’s game started to emerge last season.

The strikeouts were maddening. The most frustrating part of them was how many came on breaking pitches out of the strike zone and – in some cases – hit the dirt in front of home plate. Just like bananas Granderson’s strikeouts came in huge bunches.

For all the talk of hitting coach Kevin Long improving Granderson’s stroke against left-handed pitching in 2010, Granderson is sorely in need of a refresher course this spring. He hit just .218 against left-handers in 2011 – though he did hit 14 home runs off them.

Granderson also fell off a proverbial cliff at the plate after the All-Star break. He hit just .212 in the second half after hitting .248 in the first half of the season. Granderson also fell victim when he was behind in the count. He hit .286 when he was ahead and a lousy .155 when he was behind.

In the field, Granderson has always been considered a pretty good outfielder. Blessed with great speed, he can get to a lot of balls slower centerfielders can’t. He has never committed more than five errors in his eight seasons in the majors. Last season he committed only three.

Yet there were times that he would lose the flight of the ball and they would drop in for hits. When it happens more than a few times there has to be some concern and the Yankee coaching staff and front office suggested Granderson get his eyes checked this winter because of his propensity to swing at pitches in the dirt and his problems tracking balls in the outfield.

Granderson has had his eyes checked before and he does wear contact lenses, but the Yankees were fearful there might be something more serious at play with Granderson’s sight and depth perception. Hopefully, those issues can be put to rest this spring, when the Yankees will have a chance to evaluate Granderson’s play.

There are still a lot of positives in Granderson’s game.

His power is amazing for a player who is built so slight. Not many people believe Granderson really weighs the 195 pounds that which he is listed on the roster. Many believe Granderson’s newfound power is simply a product of the short porch in Yankee Stadium. After all, Granderson did hit 26 of his home runs at home last season.

But a lot of Granderson’s 26 home runs went into the far reaches of the right-field bleachers and into the second deck. In addition, Granderson did hit 30 home runs for the Detroit Tigers in 2009 and Comerica Park is not a friendly place for left-handed power hitters. So I do not buy the premise that Granderson would be unable to hit for power outside Yankee Stadium.

But it is true that the short porch does allow him to hit a few more.

There are all kinds of rumors about Granderson possibly being traded soon. Granderson is earning $15 million in the final year of a six-year, $43 million contract he signed with the Tigers in 2008. He can become a free agent after the season and the Yankees would seem to be willing to listen to offers for him to get something out of the deal before he walks.

But there is a real huge problem with that line of thinking. By trading Granderson before the season would rob the team of its best power hitter at a time the team has lost a lot of home runs to free agents who signed elsewhere such as Nick Swisher (24), Russell Martin (21), Raul Ibanez (19), Eric Chavez (16) and Andruw Jones (14).

In addition, the fifth-most prolific home run hitter in baseball history, Alex Rodriguez, is headed for hip surgery this month that will force him to miss about half the season.

It would seem silly to trade Granderson when so much of the Yankees’ power in 2012 has not been replaced on the roster. That is why I believe Granderson will remain with the team unless the team falls out of serious contention in 2013. There would be no justification for doing otherwise.

But with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner’s edict to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and Robinson Cano headed for free agency after this season, it is pretty much assured Granderson will be playing his final season in pinstripes. The scale-back in payroll pretty much ties general manager’s Brian Cashman’s hands in retaining players who are not signed to long-term deals and the team seems willing to back up a Brink’s truck in order to keep Cano.

The problem with Grandrson is whether his likely final season will be played in centerfield or leftfield.

Though there has been no official word about a switch, rumors have floated that the Yankees might consider using leftfielder Brett Gardner in centerfield this season and shift Granderson to left because of Gardner’s superior defensive ability, which is Gold Glove-worthy in leftfield.

Gardner spent most of the 2012 season dealing a strained right (non-throwing) elbow that eventually required surgery. But he is expected arrive in camp at 100 percent this spring and the Yankees know Gardner is a natural centefielder and they would only need to acclimate Granderson to left.

The Yankees likely will be coy about it by splitting up Granderson and Gardner during spring exhibition games and playing them both in center. But, on occasion, Girardi could shift Granderson to left in order to take a look at rookie Melky Mesa, 25, who came up to the team as a September call-up in 2012.

Then, late in the spring, Girardi could either leave things as they are or make the shift, claiming Granderson is needed to cover Yankee Stadium’s expansive leftfield, which would be true. Either way, it won’t have a huge impact because with Ichiro Suzuki manning rightfield the Yankees actually have one of their best defensive outfields in their history.

One misconception about Granderson is that because of his ability to score runs and his speed he should be a great base-stealer. However, that has never really been the case. Granderson’s major-league high in steals was 26 in 2007. He stole 25 for the Yankees in 2011.

However, Granderson is not a real instinctive base-stealer, much like Bernie Williams. In his career he has only a 78 percent success rate in steals, which is not real good for someone who has Granderson’s speed.

Granderson dropped off to only 10 steals in 13 attempts in 2012. But with the loss of so much power in the lineup and the fact the team will have Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Gardner, Suzuki and Granderson capable of steals in the double digits, the Yankees may be looking for more opportunities to run in 2013.

Granderson is one player who will have to step up his game on the bases this season. So look for it.

Yankee fans would be happy if Granderson showed up this spring with no issues with his eyes, he reduces his strikeouts some, hits lefties better and raises his average closer to his career mark of .262. That way his 40 plus homers and 100-plus RBIs would mean a whole lot more that it did in 2012.

With Granderson needing a productive season to get himself a lucrative new contract with some team in 2014 he is going to be very motivated to improve his all-around game. That is all the Yankees can ask from Granderson. They will very much lean on his power and production in the coming season.

NEXT: RIGHTFIELD