With the New York Yankees exactly one week away from their Grapefruit League opener in Clearwater, FL, against the Philadelphia Phillies, there is a relaxed and upbeat mood filtering throughout their spring training complex in Tampa, FL.
There are 67 players in camp and yet most every role on the 25-man roster has been resolved, barring injury, of course.
There is one starting pitching spot up for grabs between 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia. Hughes is coming off an injury-plagued 2011 season in which he was 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA. Garcia, meanwhile, rescued what looked to be a thin rotation by going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA.
If the Yankees’ management and coaching staff had their druthers, Hughes would be 100% healthy and pitching like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. If Hughes did that he would make the rotation even stronger because not many teams could boast having a No. 5 starter who won 18 games.
If Garcia loses the battle for that final starting spot, he would be shifted to the bullpen as a long relief man and spot starter. Garcia also is good insurance should any of the starters come down with an injury. Depth in the rotation will be a key in 2012.
There will be a battle this spring for a job as a second left-hander in the bullpen to pair with Boone Logan.
The two main candidates are 30-year-old veteran Clay Rapada, who was signed this week when former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima failed his physical and was released, and 23-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees received from the Kansas City Royals after the Royals selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Red Sox.
Rapada was 2-0 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 games with the Baltimore Orioles last season. However, he held left-handed batters to a .104 batting average.
Cabral was 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA with Class A Salem and 2-4 with a 3.52 ERA with Double-A Portland. More impressive was the fact that he struck out 70 batters in 55 innings.
The Yankees also invited Juan Cedeno and Michael O’Connor to camp as non-roster players. Cedeno, 28, was 3-1 with 6.49 ERA with Rio Grande Valley in the North American Baseball League in 2011. O’Connor, 31, was 0-1 with a 2.70 ERA in nine games with the Mets last season and 5-5 with a 5.22 ERA with the Mets’ Triple-A team in Buffalo.
If none of the four left-handers are impressive enough to remain on the roster, manager Joe Girardi said he would just select another right-hander and keep Logan as the only left-hander in the bullpen.
The backup catcher role behind starter Russell Martin is also an open competition between veteran Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine.
Cervelli, 25, hit .266 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 43 games with the Yankees last season. However, Cervelli began the 2011 season on the disabled list with a broken bone in his left foot and his season was ended in early September when he suffered a concussion in a collision at home plate with the Orioles’ Nick Markakis.
Cervelli has been cleared to resume baseball activities but he will have to prove he can stay healthy to remain the backup catcher.
Romine, 23, is already a very polished defensive catcher but he has to prove he can hit at the major-league level. Romine hit .286 with six home runs and 47 RBIs in 85 games for Double-A Trenton. He hit .15o in 20 at-bats with the Yankees when he was called up to replace Cervelli as the backup catcher last September.
The prevailing wisdom in camp is that the job is Cervelli’s to lose. The Yankee brain trust would prefer that Romine get an additional year of seasoning at the Triple-A level and he would still be available if Martin or Cervelli had to be placed on the disabled list.
Theoretically, there also is a competition for one backup infield spot. The holdover, Eduardo Nunez, would seem to have a huge edge in retaining it. Nunez, 24, hit .265 with five home runs, 30 RBis and 22 stolen bases. Nunez particularly shined when he replaced shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez when they were on the disabled list.
However, Nunez plays the field like he is Edward Scissorhands. His 21 errors in 122 1/3 innings in the field is horrific. Nunez will have to show marked improvement this spring.
Former backup Ramiro Pena, 26, lost his job to Nunez last spring and is back to try to reclaim it. He is pretty much the polar opposite of Nunez. Pena is an exceptional player in the field but his offense is severely lacking. Pena hit .100 in 40 at-bats with the Yankees last season.
The Yankees also invited 31-year-old utility infielder and outfielder Bill Hall to camp as a non-roster invitee. Hall hit a combined .211 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in separate stints with Houston and San Francisco last season. Hall is valuable in that he can play all spots on the diamond except first base and catcher.
But Hall and Pena are both longshots to make the roster. Pena likely will be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could be called up in case of an injury to an infielder.
The starting lineup is set and Girardi will likely set the batting order as follows:
- Derek Jeter SS
- Curtis Granderson CF
- Robinson Cano 2B
- Alex Rodriguez 3B
- Mark Teixeira 1B
- Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones DH
- Nick Swisher RF
- Russell Martin C
- Brett Gardner LF
The starting rotation is mostly set and reads as follows:
- CC Sabathia
- Ivan Nova
- Michael Pineda
- Hiroki Kuroda
- Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia
One oddity for the Yankees is that if Nunez and Cervelli make the team the Yankees would have the same bench as last season with the following:
- Francisco Cervelli
- Eduardo Nunez
- Eric Chavez
- Raul Ibanez or Andruw Jones
The bullpen will consist of the following:
- Mariano Rivera (closer)
- David Robertson (setup)
- Rafael Soriano (setup)
- Boone Logan (lefty)
- Cesar Cabral or Clay Rapada (second lefty)
- Corey Wade (middle innings)
- Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes (long relief and spot starts)
You can sum up this roster by saying the starting rotation has been improved from the 2011 rotation and the starting lineup with the addition of Ibanez replacing the retired Jorge Posada looks formidable if they can remain healthy. The bullpen, the strength of the 2011 club, looks to just as string in 2012 and the bench is pretty deep and talented.
This team led the American League with the 97 wins in 2011 despite the fact the team suffered through key injuries to Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano. They also won despite having a patchwork rotation filled by free-agent right-handers Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
I would not dare predict a 28th world championship because the Los Angeles Angels with Albert Pujols and the Detroit Tigers with Prince Fielder could lie in wait in the playoffs. But this easily is the class of the American League East and I do not think there is any doubt about it.
The division is the Yankees to lose.
With A.J. Burnett just a physical and a commissioner’s approval away from a trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the New York Yankees already have agreements to sign Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez.
The Yankees attempted to acquire Pirates outfielder/first baseman Garrett Jones, Indians DH/first baseman Travis Hafner and Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu in separate deals for Burnett. However, the Pirate and Indian deals were rejected and Burnett exercised his limited no-trade clause to scuttle the Angel proposal.
So the Yankees accepted two minor leaguers and $13 million from the Pirates for Burnett and they plan to use the money they are saving on the two years and $33 million left on Bunrett’s contract to sign Ibanez and Chavez.
Ibanez, 39, hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011. Ibanez is expected to share the DH duties with outfielder Andruw Jones.
Chavez, 34, hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs with the Yankees last season. Chavez is expected to return to his role from last season as a backup at first and third base.
If Heyman’s report is correct the Yankees have chosen to sign Ibanez instead of former Yankee outfielder Johnny Damon, who said he would a “perfect fit” for the Yankees’ left-handed DH role.
But Yankees general manager Brian Cashman basically told him to peddle his talents elsewhere. Why?
I think I can answer that question by going back to spring training in 2007. The Yankees had come off a crushing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. In that series, Gary Sheffield was benched and Alex Rodriguez was dropped to the No. 8 spot by then-manager Joe Torre. In the offseason, right-handed starter Cory Lidle died when the small plane he was piloting crashed into a building in New York.
Damon left the Yankees for a period of time during the exhibition season in 2007 to go to his home in Orlando, FL, to contemplate retirement. After a few days, Damon returned to the team and he went on to have a subpar season in which he was hobbled by leg injuries. He hit .270 with only 12 home runs and 63 RBIs.
In Torre’s book “The Yankee Years” he said that teammates thought Damon’s play in 2007 showed “a lack of commitment.” Torre even quoted one player as saying “Let’s get rid of him. The guys can’t stand him.”
So when Damon’s contract expired after the 2009 season, they basically allowed Damon to walk as a free agent and they never made an effort to re-sign him. As cover, Cashman cited financial constraints as the reason Damon was not retained. But it seems clear now that the Yankees had no desire to bring Damon back because of the clubhouse turmoil he created.
Those old wounds have obviously not healed in 2012 and thus Damon was never seriously considered by Cashman.
NOT OKIE DOKEY
Left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima failed a physical with the Yankees and he will not report to spring training with the club.
Okajima, 36, signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees in December with an invitation to make the team if he could bounce back after two subpar seasons with the Red Sox.
But WFAN reported this weekend that Okajima was released from his contract and he would not participate in any workouts with the Yankees in Tampa, FL.
Okajima fell out of favor with the Red Sox after seven appearances in 2011 in which he was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings. He spent the rest of the season as Triple-A Pawtucket before being released by the Red Sox despite a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances spanning 51 innings.
The Yankees saw Okajima as a potential lefty specialist for the bullpen to tandem with fellow left-hander Boone Logan, who has been miscast in the role for the past two seasons.
Okajima signed with the Red Sox in 2007 out of Japan. He was 17-8 with six saves and a 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances, holding left-handed hitters to a .218 batting average.
With Okajima out of the picture, the Yankees’ search for a second left-hander will come down to a battle between 23-year-old Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral, who was selected by the Kansas City Royals from the Red Sox and sent to the Yankees for financial considerations in December, and Clay Rapada, who was signed to a minor-league deal this weekend.
Rapada, 30, was released by the Baltimore Orioles this week. Rapada was 2-0 with a 6.06 ERA in 32 appearances for the Orioles last season. He is 5-0 with a 5.13 ERA in 78 major-league appearances with the Orioles, Rangers, Tigers and Cubs.
He has held left-handers to a .153 batting average in his career, including an .090 mark the past two seasons.
Cabral was a combined 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 55 innings with a Class-A Salem and Double-A Portland. If Cabral does not make the major-league roster he will have to be offered back to the Red Sox for $25,000.
PINEDA THE PINATA
Newly acquired right-hander Michael Pineda reported to the Yankees camp 10 pounds overweight and drew the ire of the team’s coaches and front office.
Pineda is listed at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. The former Mariner showed up weighing 270 pounds and even Pineda admitted that he needed to lose 10 pounds during spring training.
Pineda, 23, was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA for a offensively weak Mariner team in 2011, his rookie season. He was packaged along with 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos in a trade with the Yankees for catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi.
Pineda is being counted upon to join a revamped – and hopefully improved – rotation that already includes ace left-hander CC Sabathia and second-year right-hander Ivan Nova. The Yankees also signed former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.
With the trade of Burnett, right-hander Phil Hughes and right-hander Freddy Garcia will battle for the team’s No. 5 spot in spring training.
Pineda said he felt good after a bullpen session on Friday and that pitching coach Larry Rothschild is already working on a new grip for his change-up. Pineda largely threw just a fastball and slider in his rookie season.
The New York Yankees announced Wednesday the signing of 13 players to minor-league contracts and have issued invitations to 27 players to spring training.
Besides utility man Bill Hall, who was signed to a minor-league deal on Tuesday, the biggest name on the list was left-handed power hitter Russell Branyan, who was signed on Wednesday. Branyan could figure as a cheap solution to the designated hitter spot should the Yankees fail to reach agreement with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui or Raul Ibanez.
Branyan, 36, played in 68 games last season with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Angels and hit .197 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. Branyan is capable of playing first base, third base and as a corner outfielder but has primarily been a DH or pinch-hitter. In his 14-year career, Branyan has 194 home runs, 467 RBIs and a .232 batting average.
Branyan also has the distinction of hitting two of the longest home runs in the short history of the new Yankee Stadium.
Among the other prominent veterans invited to spring training are former Red Sox right-hander Manny Delcarmen, former Red Sox left-hander Hideki Okajima and former Blue Jays outfielder Dewayne Wise.
Delcarmen, 29, was a combined 3-4 with a 4.99 ERA in 57 appearances with the Red Sox and Colorado Rockies. He will compete for a spot in a stacked and talented Yankee bullpen.
Meanwhile, the 36-year-old Okajima will have to compete with fellow Red Sox left-hander Cesar Cabral, 23, to join Boone Logan in the bullpen as a second left-hander. Okajima was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in just seven appearances with the Red Sox last season before he was sent to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, where he spent the rest of the season before being released.
Wise, 33, is best known for his spectacular ninth-inning catch to preserve Mark Buerhle’s perfect game for the White Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009. Last season, Wise hit .202 with two home runs, seven RBIs and six stolen bases in 69 games with the Blue Jays and the Florida Marlins. Wise is considered an excellent fielder with good speed and he has the ability to play all three outfield spots.
Among the group of players also invited to spring training is the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect, left-handed starter Manny Banuelos. Banuelos, 20, will join the team’s No. 2 prospect, right-handed starter Dellin Betances, who already was on the 40-man roster. Naeither pitcher is expected to make the major-league club out of spring training but they could be factors later in the season.
In addition, the Yankees have also invited two star catcher prospects: Gary Sanchez, 19, and J.R. Murphy, 20. Sanchez, ranked as the team’s No. 3 prospect, and Murphy, is ranked No. 13, both require seasoning at the minor-league level but are considered excellent future catching prospects.
The other players who received invitations include:
Left-handed pitchers: Juan Cedeno, Mike O’Connor.
Right-handed pitchers: Daniel Burawa, Matt Daley, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Warren, Kevin Whelan, Chase Whitley.
Catchers: Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, Gustavo Molina.
Infielders: Doug Bernier, Jayson Nix, Jorge Vazquez.
Outfielders: Colin Curtis, Cole Garner, Brett Marshall.
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to the Yankees’ spring training complex in a few weeks, it might be a good time to look at the five things that would be good signs the Yankees are on their way to their 28th world championship. They are:
NO. 5 – CC Sabathia reports to camp minus about 30 pounds he was carrying at the end of last season.
Sabathia struggled with a knee injury at the tail end of the 2010 season. He ended up having surgery to repair the damage and actually dropped about 30 pounds before he reported to spring training last year. The result was Sabathia got off to one of the better starts of his career. At the All-Star break he was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA and he had won 10 of his last 11 starts. Can you figure out what happened next? He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. The reason was he had gained weight during the course of the season and it really showed in his postseason appearances against the Tigers. He was 0-0 with a 6.23 ERA with a WHIP of 2.08 in 8 2/3 innings over three games. Sabathia chose not to opt out of his contract in order to sign a lucrative extension that will keep in pinstripes until the year 2017. The Yankees got in return from Sabathia a pledge that he will take the excess weight off this winter and keep it off during the course of the season. In a few weeks we will see if Sabathia has succeeded in his pledge.
No. 4 – The Yankees find a second left-handed reliever to help Boone Logan.
Logan, 27, is a good enough pitcher. He was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 2010 and 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA in 2011. But he is terribly miscast as a “lefty specialist.” Left-handed hitters batted .260 off him last season while right-handers fared a bit better at .262. That is because Logan is nothing like Damoso Marte or Pedro Feliciano. The Yankees traded with Kansas City for Rule 5 draftee Cesar Cabral from the Red Sox and signed former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to compete this spring for a chance to earn a spot in the bullpen. Cabral, 23, was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 36 appearances with Salem in the Carolina League and Portland in Eastern League. He notched 70 strikeouts and walked 21 batters in 55 innings. Okajima, 36, was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket after posting a 1-0 record and a 4.32 ERA in seven appearances with Red Sox. He was 8-1 with a 2.29 ERA in 34 appearances with the Pawsox. With Feliciano recovering from left shoulder surgery and not expected to pitch in 2012, the Yankees have no other left-handers on their 40-man roster. So either Cabral or Okajima take the bull by the horns and win a job or the Yankees will either have to deal for another lefty or be forced to use starter Manny Banuelos in the role at some point during the season. That is something they do not want to do unless they are forced into it.
No. 3 – A.J. Burnett is not on the roster when the season starts.
The Yankees have made it as clear as possible without saying it publicly: They have no confidence that the enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander will recapture the magic of his 2008 season in Toronto when he was 18-10 with 4.07 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 221 1/3 innings. He has gotten worse in his three years with the Yankees, ending up 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA in 2011. He also has lost velocity on his heater and that is a sign he is in a steep decline. The problem is the Yankees are on the hook for two more years and $33 million on his contract. But the Yankees acquired 23-year-old Michael Pineda and signed 36-year-old free agent Hiroki Kuroda to pitch behind Sabathia and the Yankees are saying that Ivan Nova will retain a spot in the rotation he earned with a 16-4 rookie season. That leaves 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes, 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia and Burnett to compete for the No. 5 spot. Barring an injury, the Yankees likely will only keep one of the two starters that fail to win a spot for the bullpen. So the odds for Burnett are not good. The Yankees have made it known they have dangled Burnett in a trade. They are offering to pay about $8 million of his contract but, so far, they have had no serious takers. But as the season nears and teams assess their starting staffs, it could be possible that Burnett could be dealt, much like Sergio Mitre was in 2011. That would be a good thing because Burnett has just about tested every last bit of patience out of manager Joe Girarddi and pitching coach Larry Rothscild. Yankee fans are getting sick of trying to guess whether they will see “Good A.J.” or “Bad A.J.” from start to start. They are seeing the bad version more often these days. It also does not really matter what the Yankees get in return. The Yankees would settle for young prospects – a power-hitting young outfielder and a young pitcher would be just fine. Let’s hope general manager Brian Cashman gets it done before the season starts.
No. 2 – The Yankees either acquire or sign a legitimate and experienced DH.
With the trade of Jesus Montero to the Mariners and the retirement of Jorge Posada, the Yankees currently do not have a major-league designated hitter. For the moment they are touting 29-year-old minor-league corner infielder Jorge Vazquez as a potential starter there. Vazquez, a veteran of the Mexican League, did hit .262 with 32 home runs and drove in 93 runs in 118 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. But the Yankees might be looking for a more experienced DH from among free agents such as Raul Ibanez, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Pedro Guerrero. Of that mix, Damon appears to be the best fit. He spent four seasons with the Yankees and has shown he can take advantage of the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium. In 2011 with the Rays, Damon hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games. Damon would be of use as a DH, part-time outfielder (despite his weak arm) and solid veteran pinch-hitter or pinch-runner off the bench. The others are limited in the field and have declined significantly at the plate. Granted, Girardi does like to rotate his veterans at the DH spot to give them rest. But the Yankees need another bat to replace Montero and they can’t wait too long to fill it.
NO. 1 – Alex Rodriguez shows up in Tampa healthy and displaying prodigious power throughout spring training.
Let’s face it, love him or hate him, Rodriguez is the key to the Yankees’ offense in 2012. Since 2007 when he played in 158 games, Rodriguez has been sidelined for significant periods of time by a hip injury, shoulder problems, a knee injury, a calf injury and a sprained finger. In 2011, he was limited to 99 games and he hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. He entered the American League Division Series with Detroit at less than 100 percent and it showed. He was 2-for-18 (.111) with six strikeouts in the series. For the Yankees to have any chance of getting back to the World Series, Rodriguez must remain healthy throughout 2012, particularly during the playoffs. Although Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano pretty much carried the team throughout the 2011 season, it is Rodriguez who strikes the most fear in pitchers when he is “locked in” and pounding out home runs. Borrowing a line from Reggie Jackson, A-Rod is the straw that stirs the drink in the Yankees’ lineup. They need him more than any other player and Rodriguez must also prove he is not in a precipitous decline at age 36. The Yankees are paying him through the 2017 season and they can’t afford to be paying $32 million to a player who hits 16 home runs and drive in 62 runs.
With the clock finally having run out on the Yankees in their effort to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima it is now becoming obvious the the team will enter the 2012 season with virtually their entire roster from 2011 back.
The Yankees seemed shocked when their $2.5 million bid for Nakajima was the winning bid and they dealt with the 29-year-old Seibu Lions star as if he were just going to be paid as a backup infielder, which is, of course, what he was going to be.
But Nakajima was not happy with that offer and the 5 p.m. deadline came and went without a contract. As a result, the Yankees keep their $2.5 million posting and Nakajima returns to play out his contract with Seibu in Japan.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are now free to make an offer to bring back backup first and third baseman Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season. Chavez, who has been hampered by injuries for the past five seasons, missed just over two months of the 2011 season due to a fractured bone in his left foot.
But the Yankees can use Chavez, 34, and his left-handed bat as a backup to Alex Rodriguez at third base, to Mark Teixeira at first base and as possible designated hitter or a power bat off the bench.
If Chavez does re-sign with the Yankees he will join outfielder Andrew Jones, infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli as the same members of the Yankees’ 2011 bench. However, Cervelli would have to win the backup catching job he has held for the past two seasons from rookie Austin Romine in spring training.
The only change in the Yankees’ 13 position players appears to be rookie Jesus Montero, who figures to be the primary DH and third catcher, replacing longtime veteran Jorge Posada.
The Yankees also re-signed Freddy Garcia to a contract this winter, which means the Yankees rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Garcia figures to return in 2012. Of course, the Yankees are in pursuit of one additional starting pitcher that would allow the team to perhaps unload Burnett and the two years and $33 million owed on his contract.
The Yankees have avoided getting into a bidding war for free-agent pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle and they only made a token bid for Japanese star Yu Darvish. They also have balked at trades for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzalez, Jair Jurrgens and Matt Garza because teams have asked for top prospects such as Montero, pitchers Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances and outfielder Mason Williams in return.
The Yankees have had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for right-hander Edwin Jackson, who was 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 32 games (31 starts) for the world-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. However, the Yankees are not likely to pay the $15 million to $17 million per season over four years that Boras is seeking for the 28-year-old right-hander.
The Yankees are looking to bring Jackson’s price down some or they may take a pass on him as well. General manager Brian Cashman said he would like to avoid making a long-term commitment to a pitcher like he did with Burnett, a pitcher who may end up being a mistake in the long run.
The Yankees also might have interest in free-agent left-hander Hiroki Kuroda.
The bullpen, with Rafael Soriano opting to stay with the Yankees, also will return pretty much the same nucleus from last season. Soriano and David Robertson will set up the legend of all closers in Mariano Rivera in 2012. Left-hander Boone Logan and right-hander Corey Wade also are back.
Joba Chamberlain is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and he hopes to be ready when spring training begins. However, the Yankees intend to bring the 26-year-old right-hander along slowly and he may not see action until July.
So that means the Yankees will be looking for two pitchers for the bullpen. One likely will be a left-hander to replace Logan as the lefty specialist. The Yankees signed for former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor-league contract. He will compete this spring with Cesar Cabral, who the Royals sent to the Yankees for cash considerations after they selected him from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft in December.
The other spot could go to Hector Noesi, who filled that role for portions of last season. But the Yankees have said they consider him a starter and they do not want to use him a long man in 2012 if they can help it.
But, here again, the stand-pat nature of the Yankees may be reaffirmed. The Yankees also have said they would not mind having 38-year-old right-hander Bartolo Colon back as a long man out of the bullpen. Colon was 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA but actually pitched much better than the his record indicated.
Colon was actually 8-6 with a 3.31 on Aug. 11 before going 0-4 with four no-decisions and an ERA of 4.93 down the stretch. He was not even placed on the team’s postseason roster for the American League Division Series. The Yankees believe Colon is better suited as a long man and spot starter and they would offer him a contract to return to the team only in that role because they no longer think he can make 33 starts at his age.
Should the Yankees re-sign Colon that means the only change in the pen could be Okajima or Cabral as a second left-hander replacing right-hander Luis Ayala, who was allowed to become a free agent after going 2-2 with a 2.09 ERA last season.
I can’t recall a season in which the Yankees had less turnover on their roster. It is very odd, indeed, for a team that has prided itself in having the winning tradition, the facilities and the cash to get just about any player they could want in the George Steinbrenner era.
However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner are at the helm of the ship now and they seem to have a tighter lid on the cash flow. Cashman has been forced to do more with less since the Yankees made their huge splash in 2009 with the free-agent signings of Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira, which led to their 27th world championship that October.
Of course, the team did win 97 games in 2o11 and had the best record in the American League. They did it without significant contributions from Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Hughes and off years from players like Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.
Perhaps the addition of the powerful bat of Montero, a second lefty in the bullpen and healthy seasons from A-Rod, Joba and Hughes will be enough to carry the Yankees to another A.L. East title and the playoffs. The concern then turns to how well the starting pitchers stack up heading into the playoffs.
Do not forget that there are a few very good pitchers who will be free agents in 2013 and teams might be looking to unload them before the July 31 trade deadline. One is right-hander Matt Cain of the Giants and another is lefty Cole Hamels of the Phillies. Cashman has the patience and the dearth of young prospects to pull off a deal to bolster the staff at any point this season.
So maybe this lack of turnover is not such a bad thing. The team stays strong without adding much in the way of payroll and remains flexible enough to pull off some deals to make a push in the playoffs.
I see nothing wrong with that. Some of the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
The New York Yankees, much like their fans, would like to forget 2011 and look forward to the promise 2012 brings. With that promise the Yankees have made a couple of moves to improve the team and let’s assess those moves and how they will impact the team.
JONESING FOR A RIGHTY
The Yankees on Friday signed Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $1.4 million in performance incentives, CBSSports.com reported. The 34-year-old outfielder will have to undergo a physical in order for the deal to be made official.
This is very good news for the Yankees because Jones filled a very important role as the team’s only right-handed hitting outfielder. Starters Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner hit left-handed and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter. Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBis in 77 games last season. More importantly, he batted .286 off left-handers.
Jones began the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter but later replaced Jorge Posada as the designated hitter against lefties. Manager Joe Girardi also used Jones to sit Gardner against some left-handers. Jones could be used in that role again in 2012 because Gardner hit only .233 against left-handers in 2011.
If the reports are true, the Yankees also prevented the Boston Red Sox from signing Jones away from the Yankees. Jones is eighth on the active home run list with 420 and he also is among just four major leaguers who have 400 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves along with Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt.
The Yankees also added to their bullpen mix for spring training another left-handed reliever.
On Wednesday, the Yankees agreed on the terms of minor-league contract with former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima.
Okajima, 36, was an integral part of the Red Sox bullpen for his first three seasons in the majors. But he fell out favor with then-manager Terry Francona the past two seasons and spent most of the 2011 season at the team’s Triple-A franchise Pawtucket.
Okajima pitched in only seven games for the Red Sox in 2011 and was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings of work. At Pawtucket, Okajima fashioned a 2.29 ERA in 34 innings over 51 appearances for the PawSox.
In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Okajima was 17-8 with six saves and 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances. During that span he held left-handers to a .218 batting average.
Okajima will have a chance in spring training to claim the team’s bullpen spot as the lefty specialist. He will compete with another former Red Sox left-hander in 22-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees acquired from the Royals for cash considerations after the Royals selected Cabral in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.
For the past two seasons, the Yankees have relied on Boone Logan as their lone left-hander out of the bullpen and Logan, 27, has been miscast in the role of lefty specialist. Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA over 64 games and 41 2/3 innings. Left-handers hit .260 against him last season while right-handers hit .262.
If Okajima or Cabral win a job in the bullpen, Logan will revert to a middle-inning reliever and he has been much more effective in that role.
Okajima’s best pitch is his change-up, which Francona termed the “Okie Doke.” But he is going to have to earn his role with the Yankees because in the 8 1/3 innings he pitched last season, left-handers hit .364 off him and he recorded an ERA of 11.57 against them. So his “Okie Doke” better be more than just OK this spring.
TICK, TICK, TICK
The Yankees have until Jan. 6 to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nikajima, who they won the rights to sign by posting a $2.5 million bid in early December.
Nikajima, 29,is primarily a shortstop but he also can play some second and third base. He hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with the Seibu Lions last season.
If the Yankees fail to sign Nikajima to a contract by Jan. 6, he will remain with Seibu for the 2012 season and the $2.5 million posting fee will be returned to the Yankees. That also would open the door for the Yankees to re-sign free agent infielder Eric Chavez.
Chavez, 34, played first and third base for the Yankees in 2011 and he hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. The Yankees will not negotiate with Chavez’s agent unless they fail to sign Nikajima.
The Yankees also have Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird on the 40-man roster to compete for a backup infield role this spring. Nunez, 24, is favored to win one of the two spots unless he is used in a trade for a starting pitcher before the season begins.
Alex Rodriguez, taking advice from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, traveled to Germany this month to have an experimental medical procedure performed to help his ailing left shoulder and right knee.
With the Yankees’ approval, Dr. Peter Wehling performed what is termed an Orthokine procedure in Dusseldorf in early December. Bryant claimed the Orthokine procedure on his right knee and left ankle helped him recover movement and relieve pain enough so that he could return to the court with the Lakers.
Rodriguez, 36, took the experimental procedure to the Yankees and team doctor Chris Ahmad and the Yankees checked with the Lakers and with Major League Baseball on Wehling and the legality of the procedure. They then gave Rodriguez the permission to have it done.
The procedure calls for the taking of blood from an arm vein, incubating it and spinning it in centrifuge to isolate protective proteins. The proteins are then injected into the affected areas once or twice a week.
The procedure is said to have anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing and cartilage-protecting effects but not much is known about its long-term implications.
Rodriguez played in a career-low 99 games last season and in some of those games he was playing at less than 100 percent. He hit .276 with only 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.
Rodriguez missed more than a month after undergoing surgery on his right knee in July. In his first game back from the disabled list on Aug. 21, Rodriguez suffered a sprained left thumb, which affected the third baseman’s swing the rest of the season.
He hit only .191 after returning from the injury and he hit just .111 in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.
If this procedure helps Rodriguez, the Yankees might consider seeking out an experimental procedure for command-challenged right-hander A.J. Burnett.
Perhaps a doctor can come up with a procedure to inject power-steering fluid in Burnett’s right elbow to ensure he might actually come closer to hitting the strike zone with his pitches.
General manager Brian Cashman enters January with the “open for business” sign out on improving the starting rotation. This despite the fact that the Yankees have acted like they are the cash-strapped Kansas City Royals over the winter free-agent signing season.
The Yankees, hamstrung to a great degree by the lavish long-term contracts already laid out to CC Sabathia, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Burnett, have been spending pennies while other teams have been waving $100 bills.
Cashman would like to add a starter to the rotation and perhaps unload Burnett. But the costs of free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Japan’s Yu Darvish have been higher than their actual worth, according to Cashman. Meanwhile, trade avenues have been blocked by other teams’ insistence the Yankees cough up the jewels of the Yankees’ farm system in Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams.
Cashman continues to say no to those deals because he does not want to short-circuit the Yankees’ future for a short-term fix.
So the Yankees have struck out on deals for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzlaez, Matt Garza, Jair Jurrgens and Jonathan Niese.
For now, the Yankees seem to be counting on a return to form of Phil Hughes, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign after winning 18 games in 2010. They also do not believe that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova’s 16-win season was a fluke.
The re-signing of 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia, who was a respectable 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA, means the only really Yankee concern is Burnett, who was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season.
The truth is Cashman, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are at their wits’ end trying to figure out what is wrong with Burnett. They seem to agree a change of scenery is in order. But with two years and $33 million still owed to the enigma wrapped inside a conundrum would seem to make dumping him a big problem.
The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract but still have no takers. They might have to offer at least $15 million if they are serious about being rid of him. Of course, the Yankees would seem to be better off adding a starter before making a deal for Burnett because dumping Burnett would likely increase the cost of starter to replace him.
Adding a starting pitcher would be the only major task left for Cashman but he states he is no hurry because the Yankees do have six potential young starters waiting in the wings: Banuelos, Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell. Any of those six could contribute either as starters or relievers to the Yankees in 2012.
But Cashman is aware that adding an established starter to what the Yankees have would be preferable. So he is pursuing that avenue first. If the pursuit stretches to the trade deadline in July the Yankees might find the asking price of some of starters they like may drop. Cashman is exercising and preaching at the same time for patience.
So like good little Yankee fans we are. We will have to trust him and take him at his word.