Monday, March 30, 2015

One week to go; Yankees have unanswered questions

In one week the New York Yankees officially begin their 2015 regular season slate of 162 games at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. As Spring Training winds down and the club begins to pack up to head north, the Yankees still have a handful of unanswered questions. Some of these are simply official announcements that need to be made; others have been handled with flat out vagueness to date.

Is Adam Warren the fifth starter or what?


It’s an uncertainty as to what the holdup is here. Warren has established himself as the best option and whether good or bad for the Yankees, it hasn’t been much of a competition. So, why not just say it?

Esmil Rogers is simply not to be trusted and the only other player who I suspect was given a true look was Scott Baker, who was released Sunday after getting knocked around Saturday. Bryan Mitchell was in the proverbial competition, but I believe a lot had to go wrong with the rotation for Mitchell to break camp.

Warren will get the official nod at some point soon.

Is CC Sabathia ready?


He says he is getting there. The results say otherwise, but I will side with the player here, one who has hardly ever put up a good line in spring. He did last season, and got rocked once the real games began.

Sabathia is healthy, feels stronger and has shown a slight uptick in velocity. He’s getting a feel for the ancillary pitches and once he gets everything working right there, the disparity between his fastball and offspeed pitches could make him a viable middle of the rotation arm.

Sabathia logging 200-plus innings is a big key with the uncertainty surrounding Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda from a health perspective.

Is Jacoby Ellsbury going to play Opening Day?


By all accounts, Ellsbury is feeling good and is expected to be on the field in time to get a few games under his belt before Opening Day. The issue with strained oblique muscles is that they tend to linger and sometimes flair up quite easily if not fully healed in the first place.

Ellsbury is very important to the success of the club, especially with the current offensives struggles of Brett Gardner. Ellsbury has only had 27 plate appearances this spring, so even if he gets a few games in this week, he could be a bit rusty in the first week or so of the regular season.

Is Gardner going to get going?


I discussed this some last week and Gardner has not turned the corner yet. After a pathetic finish to the 2014 season, which really dragged down what was shaping up to be one of his best seasons, Gardner looks as lost at the plate as ever.

Gardner is taking some walks, but he’s also struck out 15 times in 57 plate appearances. This has to change so the Yankees can maximize run-scoring opportunities.

Will this offense score some runs?


The early part of the spring most all the regular players except for Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez were having a difficult time at the plate. Neither of them is really expected to carry the offense, but production from both could be a bonus or might be needed to offset continued deficiencies in the middle of the order.

Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran (in whatever order you’d like) must put together bounceback seasons for the Bombers to be the Bombers again. Without at least two of these players having better than average seasons, it is going to be a tough time for the Yankees’ offense. The spring has done little to suggest they are certainties for the numbers they are being paid to supply.

No one is expecting much from Stephen Drew or Didi Gregorius with the bats, but each has the chance to prove analysts wrong. Simply delivering OPS in the low .700s with their defense would be a plus. While it sounds simple, neither player came close to a .700 OPS in 2014.

The regulars will get a bulk of any plate appearances this week so it would be nice to see a majority of them put together solid at-bats going forward.

Who is the backup catcher?


John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine continue to "battle it out" for the right to back up McCann; except it has not been much of a battle. Neither has hit the ball all that well this spring, and it seemed like Romine needed to considerably outplay Murphy to win the spot. He has not done that yet.

The hitch is that Romine is out of options, so the Yankees either have to carry him, trade him or designate him for assignment. There have been some rumblings of teams checking in on Romine, so there is a bit of interest, but of course the return would not be anything spectacular.

Unless Murphy is hurt before the team leaves for New York, I'd expect him to be on the 25-man roster, and Romine to be playing elsewhere. The club will wait until the last minute here.

Who rounds out the bullpen?


Manager Joe Girardi will utilize the rest of this week to make the final calls for the bullpen. In my estimation, Rogers, Chase Whitley and Chasen Shreve are the favorites to accompany Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson in the Yankees’ bullpen.

Andrew Bailey remains an intriguing option, but he might not have logged enough innings for Girardi to feel comfortable with him breaking camp. If someone falters, or gets hurt, I would not be surprised if Bailey is the first one called up, assuming he is healthy.

For a more in-depth look into this question, check out this piece from last week.

Who is the closer, or is there two?


Girardi has yet to name a closer, and chances are that there is no definitive answer to this question when the Yankees arrive in the Bronx. Betances has been quite hittable, while Miller seems to be a bit more comfortable at this point.

I believe the Yanks wanted to anoint Betances the closer, but with his uneven spring, feel that it’s something that can wait until they know for certain he is finding his groove. Having Miller as an option, or even going to Carpenter for a bit if needed, are options for Girardi.

In the end, Betances probably locks down the most games for the Yankees this season, but it would not be a problem if the skipper decides to use him with Miller interchangeably depending on the circumstances.

It’s the final week of Spring Training, and many if not all of these questions should be answered to some extent before Tanaka takes the hill Monday, April 6.

Yankees logo courtesy of SportsLogos.net.

I was recently on The Weekend Watchdogs radio show discussing the Yankees. We talked about much of what has transpired this spring and what to look for in the upcoming season. My spot begins at the 1:04:50 mark.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



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