With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.
Chase Headley, 30 (.243, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs, 135 games)
Like most Yankee fans Alex Rodriguez just assumed that after his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs that he would resume his spot as the team’s starting third baseman.
He (and we all) assumed wrong.
The Yankees, who acquired Headley from the San Diego Padres on July 22 last year in exchange for infielder Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitching prospect Rafael De Paula, liked what they saw after the veteran hit .262 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 58 games after the deal.
So much so that the Yankees signed Headley to a new four-year, $50 million deal on Dec. 15.
They also have been giving A-Rod hints that they do not exactly want him real badly. They have made it clear they have no intention of paying him a series $6 million marketing bonuses due Rodriguez as he moves up the all-time home run ladder.
After installing Headley as the starting third baseman they made it known that Rodriguez may be tried out at first base as a potential backup to Mark Teixiera. On top of that they have indicated that newly acquired first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones will be the team’s primary designated hitter this season.
What’s next? Handing A-Rod a rake and telling him he will be part of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew.
There is no doubt that the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player deserves the treatment he is getting because of the lies he has told about his drug use and the way he trashed the organization throughout his effort to have his suspension overturned.
But how it impacts Headley remains to be seen.
Headley is two seasons removed from a career year in which he hit .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs for the Padres in cavernous Petco Park. On top of that he was awarded a Gold Glove that season and he won the Silver Slugger Award at third base.
Since then Headley has fallen victim to a recurring back injury that necessitated a cortisone injection last July. Headley faltered to hit .250 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs for the Padres in 2013 and he was hitting only .229 in July when the Yankees made the deal.
The Yankees were forced into making the deal because Rodriguez’s season-long suspension left them without an experienced third baseman on the roster.
The Yankees intended to start Kelly Johnson at the position despite the fact he had little experience there. But manager Joe Girardi quickly turned to the 27-year-old rookie Solarte after a hot spring and quick start with the bat in April.
But Solarte’s bat quickly cooled and the Yankees ended up using a series of players such as Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, Martin Prado and Zelous Wheeler until Headley was obtained.
Headley, a switch-hitter, does possess the ability to hit for power. He does have double-digit homers in five of the past six seasons. However, other than the 31 homers he hit in 2012 his next highest total was the 13 he has hit the past two seasons.
So is he a 30-homer guy or 13-homer guy? The Yankees would settle for 20 or so.
The RBI totals should not really be as much of an issue because Headley is expected to hit either sixth or seventh in the batting order. But they could use some production for the lower half of the order this season because their offense is not as powerful as Yankee teams have been in the past.
It is Headley’s defense the Yankees are extremely pleased about. Though Rodriguez played the position after having won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers he never really was considered more than a bit above average defensively at the position.
Headley is a considerable step up, particularly if his back issues are truly under control. He committed only eight errors at the position last season and the Yankees were very happy to see him there late last season after they watched a parade of players try to play the position earlier.
A late-season injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to even shift Headley to first base to fill in for six starts. Headley had only played the position in two previous games but the Yankees were desperate because of the many injuries that ravaged their roster in 2014.
Headley will concentrate on playing third base and likely will not be using a first baseman’s mitt anytime in the foreseeable future.
As for A-Rod, he reported to spring training two days early on Monday and said he was looking forward to winning a roster spot with the team. What that spot will be remains to be seen because Girardi has no idea what Rodriguez has left in the tank.
After all, Rodriguez has only played in only 44 games over the past two seasons due to injuries and the suspension. He did play in 122 games in 2012 but underachieved by hitting .272 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs.
But A-Rod, to his credit, was optimistic on Monday.
“Right now, I’m just focused on making this team,” Rodriguez told reporters. “Obviously it was a rough year, but I’m very excited that’s behind me and I have a chance to hopefully make this team.”
Whether Rodriguez makes the team or not the Yankees are still on the hook to paying him more than $60 million for the next three seasons. So their options if he should falter in spring training are limited.
Cutting him loose is not an option really. A trade is possible but is there any team that would want a fading star who will get booed anywhere he goes? If there was a team that would want Rodriguez (such as the Marlins in his hometown of Miami) it would mean that the Yankees would still have to pay a major portion of his contract.
So Rodriguez remains the giant albatross that hangs around the necks of general manager Brian Cashman and the team’s managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. They can’t execute the moves they would like to improve the team because of this giant pain in the butt in Rodriguez.
Should the Yankees decide to rid themselves of Rodriguez they would have to find themselves a backup to Headley.
Ryan, 32, can play the position in a pinch but his bat would be a big liability. (He is career .234 hitter with absolutely no power.)
Among the non-roster invitees is 24-year-old Dominican Jonathan Galvez, who hit .280 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A El Paso last season. But he has no major-league experience.
Super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, batted .305 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. But he is primarily a middle infielder with only one minor-league game at the position in 2013.
Wheeler has been released and there is no player at the Triple-A level who is near a major-league quality option.
There is a long-range option for the position but he is nowhere near ready for the majors.
He is 22-year-old lefty-swinging Eric Jagielo, who the Yankees selected 26th in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
The Yankees feel he has a tailor-made lefty power swing for Yankee Stadium and he already has put up 13 homers in 2013 and 16 last season. Jagielo also drove in 53 runs while batting .259 at Class-A Tampa in 2014.
Jagielo will not be Gold Glove winner at third but he is improving and he has excellent arm strength for the position. The Yankees do not think he will be ready until 2016. But they are hopeful he will continue to develop.
He is currently ranked as the Yankees third best prospect.
Their 18th-ranked prospect is Miguel Andujar, 19, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2011.
Andujar struggled early in the 2014 season but quickly rebounded to hit .319 in the second half of the season with Class-A Charleston (SC). The right-handed power threat has a very quick bat and he is projected to be able to hit 20 or more homers a season.
Andujar still needs to work on his plate discipline and that will help him raise his average. He also is obviously trying too hard in the field because he has committed 51 errors in 196 pro games at third base.
To say he is a work in progress is putting it mildly. But the Yankees will be patient with the youngster.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: ADEQUATE
The fact the Yankees had the courage to diss A-Rod by signing Headley to a long-term deal and handing him position is a good thing. The Yankees simply do not know if Rodriguez can play at a high level anymore and Headley is a decent fallback position.
The big hope has to be that Headley is able to shake off his back woes enough to hit 20 homers and drive in a decent amount of runs at the lower end of the batting order. Healey is a career .265 hitter and the Yankees would settle for that in 2015.
Headley also promises to be a big help defensively if he is healthy. The former Gold Glove winner has good quickness and agility at the hot corner and he is capable of making some spectacular plays. His defense will benefit the pitchers and the Yankees will need to limit the runs they give up this season.
Whether Rodriguez is able to make the team as Headley’s backup is an open question.
Over the years Rodriguez has been booed in every stadium he is played in except Yankee Stadium. That will change this season because even Yankee fans have tired of his lies and his selfish attitude.
The guess here is that Rodriguez will make the roster only because the Yankees do not have another third baseman to replace Headley should he go down at any point for any length of time. But the only at-bats A-Rod likely will get this will be as a right-handed designated hitter in a platoon with Jones.
As a right-handed DH in 2011, Andruw Jones received 190 at-bats in 77 games, hitting .247 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs. The Yankees would be happy with that from A-Rod and hope that he is not a distraction in the clubhouse or that he does not embarrass the team in the tabloids.
The Yankees options if they rid themselves of Rodriguez are limited. They likely would have to bring in a backup from outside the organization because Ryan and Pirela are ill-suited for the position.
However, the future looks bright if Jagielo or Andujar develop. Jagielo, a former Notre Dame star, looks like one of the most promising third base prospects the Yankees have had in years.
With Headley signed for four seasons they can for afford to be patient with them both.
YANKEES 3, PADRES 0
It would have been easy for the Yankees to have given up on 26-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova after a disastrous 2012 season and when he started 2013 with a 1-1 record and a 6.48 ERA after four April starts. But their patience with the 6-foot-4 Dominican is being rewarded now.
Nova (5-4) hurled seven shutout innings while striking out eight and Curtis Granderson blasted a two-run homer in the seventh inning on Saturday as New York blanked San Diego in front of a sellout crowd of 44,184 at Petco Park.
Nova held the Padres to just four hits and a walk while he strung together a stretch of retiring 15 straight Padre batters to win his first game since July 10.
The Yankee offense, meanwhile, struggled initially against right-hander Tyson Ross (2-5).
Ross held the Yankees hitless through the first 4 1/3 innings before Lyle Overbay stroked a one-out opposite-field single in the fifth.
The Yankees did not score until Alfonso Soriano opened the seventh inning with a bloop single to shallow center. Granderson followed with his second home run of the season, a long, high drive that reached the bleachers in right-center, to give Nova and the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Ross gave up the two runs on only three hits and three walks in six-plus innings while he fanned a season-high nine batters, mostly recorded with a devastating slider.
The Yankees managed to tack on a run in the ninth off right-hander Dale Thayer after Granderson opened the inning with a single, stole second and he scored on a two-out single by Jayson Nix.
The Yankees’ bullpen came through with two shutout innings to close out the victory for Nova.
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera came in to hurl a perfect ninth for his 35th save in 37 chances this season. It also was his first save that he has ever recorded at Petco Park in what will be his final season.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 57-52 and they remain in fourth place in the American League East, 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Padres fell to 51-60.
- Nova finally got some run support, although it did come late in the game. Nova pitched well but had lost his past two starts because the Yankees did not score him any runs. Since coming off the disabled list on June 23, Nova is 4-3 with a 2.15 ERA in nine games, six of them starts. It looks as if Nova has regained his 2011 form when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
- Granderson looked absolutely overmatched in the fifth inning when he struck out swinging on a slider from Ross that ended up in the dirt. But he bounced back in the seventh by driving a high fastball into the seats in right-center with Soriano aboard. Granderson, 32, had been 0-for-6 since be activated form the disabled list before going 2-for-2 with a stolen base, two RBIs and two runs scored in his final two at-bats.
- While Rivera deservedly is getting all the accolades in his final season, Robertson’s brilliance in the eighth inning is being overlooked. The 28-year-old right-hander’s scoreless eighth gives him a string of 16 2/3 scoreless innings covering 17 appearances dating back to June 19. He has lowered his season ERA from 2.93 to 1.79 during that span.
With Nova pitching brilliantly, the bullpen doing its usual great job and Granderson providing the team with much needed power there is not much to complain about. This is the way it was supposed to be before all the injuries decimated this team.
Shortstop Derek Jeter did not play in Saturday’s game and will not play until Monday at the earliest due to a right calf and leg injury. Manager Joe Girardi did not know if the injury was related to the Grade 1 quadriceps injury that landed Jeter on the disabled list on July 12. He will continue to receive treatment for the injury and the Yankees are hoping he can avoid going back on the disabled list for a third time this season. Jeter is hitting .211 in five games with the Yankees. Eduardo Nunez replaced Jeter in the lineup on Saturday and was 0-for-3 with a walk. . . . Right-hander David Phelps has a sore right elbow and was scratched from a rehab start scheduled for Double-A Trenton on Sunday. Phelps was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 5 with a right forearm strain. Phelps is 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA in 18 games (12 starts) this season with the Yankees. . . . Girardi told reporters on Saturday that if Alex Rodriguez is available to play with the Yankees on Monday he will be penciled into the lineup against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Rodriguez walked in all four of his plate appearances and scored a run for Trenton on Saturday as part of his rehab assignment from left quad strain. However, it is possible that Rodriguez could draw a suspension from Major League Baseball before he is able to take the field on Monday.
The Yankees will have a chance to win the rubber game of the three-game series with the Padres on Sunday.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (4-9, 4.58 ERA) will start for New York. Hughes gave up five runs on nine hits in four innings in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 28. Hughes has never faced the Padres in his major-league career.
Hughes will be opposed by former Yankee right-hander Ian Kennedy (3-8, 5.23), who will be making his debut with the Padres. Kennedy was obtained in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks before Wednesday’s trade deadline. Kennedy allowed three runs on six hits in six innings in a loss to the Rays on July 30. He has not faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.