Saturday, February 21, 2015

Joe Girardi: Despite uncertainties Yankees “have a chance to be really good”

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi held his Spring Training opening press conference Friday and the theme was uncertainty with a measure of confidence. The issues that surround the club are numerous; what’s the physical health of the team, can the middle of the lineup produce, how will the new faces mesh with the old, who will close games, what’s the batting order, can Alex Rodriguez be useful and on and on. Despite all those questions, Girardi believes things can come together and the Yankees can erase two seasons of missing the playoffs.

Girardi, who has guided his teams through a slew of injuries the last two seasons, might be up for his biggest test as a manager of the Yankees. He’ll have to navigate through the spring with plenty of ambiguity across the diamond, likely right through the end of the session, before he’s got a firm grip of what’s ahead for this team.

Girardi led with the rotation, feeling that “ironing it out” ranks at the top of importance early on in camp. In part that has to do with the health of CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, but also with a new face in Nathan Eovaldi and having Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers come to camp as starters. If either of those guys supplant Chris Capuano it would necessitate more questions about the bullpen structure.

Girardi will then need to determine how he deploys Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. He stressed that he has confidence in either to close out games saying “both are more than capable,” but it sounded like he was more interested in having set roles in the bullpen. He also iterated that a decision on who is best suited for closing might not be made until the early part of the regular season depending on what he sees late in spring.

Girardi mentioned that the middle of the order was “key” to the success of the club on offense. Getting healthy and bounce back campaigns from Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran are imperative. He believes that Brian McCann can be much better after having a full season to get acclimated to a new pitching staff and the American League.

While Girardi was smart to say he did not know what to expect from Rodriguez from an offensive production standpoint, he did suggest that he’ll give the 39-year-old designated hitter plenty of at-bats this spring, including the possibility of sending him to minor league camp when an option.

Girardi was cautiously optimistic when expressing what he expects from the club in the win/loss column.

“You come into Spring Training every year with a goal [to win], and to be the best that you can be, as a club," Girardi said. “There are a lot things that we do need to iron out. Probably more than I can remember.”

Being without Derek Jeter will be something different for Girardi, but he has the utmost confidence in the fact that the club is filled with a bunch of veterans who can come together and lead the rest of the group. He doesn’t believe one person needs to take over as the team leader. Leadership can form within factions of the offense, the bullpen, the starters, infielders, outfielders etc.

The line of questioning appropriately went back to health and the IFs pertaining to performance quite often and Girardi said that should the two come together on a positive note the club will be more than competitive in the American League East. The Yankees are not the only club with question marks; it’s how the team handles them that makes the difference in winning.

“The one thing that you realize over a 162-game schedule is there [are] a lot of things that have to go right for you to be the winner at the end,” Girardi said. “You look to see how you measure up, but the only way to know how you truly measure up is to do it on the field.”

Girardi’s confidence in his players and himself for that matter is unwavering. Throughout the discussion he found the positive (of course he has to) but there is no sugar-coating from Girardi. He understands it’s going to be a tough haul, and that the club needs almost all the dominoes to fall the right way to reach the playoffs.

From the outset of the press conference, the theme of uncertainty was met with the belief there can be success. It is Spring Training after all. Everyone feels good about their outlook and Girardi was no different.

“We have a chance to be really good,” Girardi said.

Here are links to the YES Network’s recordings of the conference. Part 1, 2 and 3.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer and sports media strategist. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly Closer Report column. 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.