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Nine possible spots for Max Scherzer: Star FA without a team, or a rumor — December 29, 2014

Nine possible spots for Max Scherzer: Star FA without a team, or a rumor

By JON HEYMAN

The best player on the MLB free-agent market not only doesn’t have a team yet, he doesn’t even have a rumor.

No team has declared or even admitted serious involvement, but everyone believes star right-hander Max Scherzer — the majors’ leader in wins and strikeouts the past three seasons — will easily surpass the six-year, $144 million deal he turned down last spring.

And most think it won’t be by only a little, either.

But with no one coming forward, at least not publicly, which team will win Scherzer?

Here are the nine best suspects, based on need, finances, history, market and more.

1. Red Sox: They rebuilt a rotation in little more than a day at the Winter Meetings with three quick pickups. But as many have pointed out they still need an ace, whether it be Scherzer, the other top free-agent pitcher James Shields or a trade candidate, such as Cole Hamels. Any of the losers for Jon Lester would seem prime candidates, but Boston is known to be extremely averse to very long deals and bid the lowest of the four Lester finalists (six years, $135M). On the other hand, it is believed they like Scherzer very much, plus they wouldn’t have to surrender a No. 1 draft choice after a rare poor season, and the price of a top trade targets like Hamels may be unpalatable (allegedly, such a trade would have to start with Mookie Betts and/or Blake Swihart, Boston’s top two young prospects). And, just like Lester, he’s impressed in the AL and also in October.

2. Tigers: It’s well known the Tigers were willing to go $144 million for six years, and that would have been on top of the $15.3 million they paid Scherzer last season, so it really would have been a guaranteed $159.3 million for seven. Detroit’s original plan was to keepDavid Price long-term. However, as was mentioned here on Oct. 9, while Price’s transition to Detroit started to get better by the end of the season, he admitted it was difficult for him in Detroit at first. And even in the best of circumstances it isn’t easy to lock up such a top starter within a year of free agency. In Scherzer, they have a pitcher who has won 70 percent of his starts for them. The Tigers also wouldn’t have to surrender a No. 1 pick since Scherzer’s their guy. While president/GM Dave Dombrowski has denied reports they plan to go big for Scherzer and there’s no evidence they have, agent Scott Boras has a long history of big and mostly successful deals with owner Mike Ilitch — from Magglio Ordonez to Ivan Rodriguez to Kenny Rogers to Prince Fielder (though that one got better with the trade forIan Kinsler). Another factor: the Tigers have difficulty drawing free agents from elsewhere, but Scherzer is said to love it in Detroit.

3. Giants: Another Lester finalist, they made pitching their priority after third baseman Pablo Sandoval surprisingly opted for Boston. While they re-signed veteran Jake Peavy, they still have rotation questions. Matt Cain is returning from elbow surgery, Tim Lincecum from a rough second half and ace Madison Bumgarner from a brilliant 270-inning season (counting the postseason). Some within their ranks suggest lefty Lester was a special case, but they obviously have the wherewithal after all their on- and off-field success. And they even have a history of paying big on occasion (Barry Bonds, Barry Zito). Another plus: Scherzer’s wife is from the Bay Area.

4. Dodgers: Once they bid on Lester (it’s believed they were in the $155 million range), any notion they seriously intended to significantly reduce their record $250 million payroll went out the window. There’s a strong in-house belief that, barring injury, Zack Greinke will opt out after the 2015 season, breaking up the arguably the game’s best 1-2 pitching combo. Scherzer was spotted last week at a Lakers game in LA, but it is believed he was there to meet with other owners, not necessarily the Dodgers’ owners. They have a very strong rotation, but there also could be an innings worry here, with talented imports Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson something less than innings eaters. Regardless, they need to do what they can to make sure baseball’s best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, is fresh for the postseason.

5. Blue Jays: They’ve always had a five-year limit on contracts, but that may not hold since club president Paul Beeston appears to be a lame duck with limited say so. They’ve made two bold statements this winter with the deals for Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, and could stamp themselves the AL East favorite by signing Scherzer. For now, they have to rely on young-but-talented arms, arms likely younger than they’d like. Needs at closer and second base remain, though they haven’t seemed to rule out another major move.

6. Cubs: They already reeled in one big fish, landing Lester for $155 million over six years. Could they possibly make it two big ones? With all their youth, they’d still appear to be a year away from contention, and their winter certainly doesn’t depend on it. However, there’s a belief Scherzer could dominate the NL Central, and the Cubs would only have to give up a third-round pick. A rotation of Scherzer, Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel andKyle Hendricks would be formidable, and with their incredible positional prospect stash, they could be a force for years.

7. Cardinals: The hometown team hasn’t made a bold move for Scherzer, a product of suburban St. Louis and the University of Missouri. However, GM John Mozeliak met with Boras at the GM meetings and there are a few rotation questions: ace Adam Wainwright is coming off elbow cleanup, Michael Wacha was sidelined much of 2014 because of a shoulder concern and Shelby Miller was traded to the Braves. St. Louis hasn’t been one to step out in free agency (Matt Holliday is their record deal: $120 million) but they certainly have the ability to do so. Consider brilliant owner Bill DeWitt bought the team, a cash cow, for only $150 million, then sold the adjacent parking garages for $90 million, making the effective sale price a paltry $60 million. So he has the money. But does he have the inclination?

8. Angels: They won more regular-season games (98) than anyone last season, but aceGarrett Richards isn’t going to be ready to start the season. While their rotation depth is improved with youngsters Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, it still isn’t overwhelming. They’ve given no indication they’re about to go for a third surprise free-agent splurge in four years (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton were the first two), but if they did, they’d be a World Series favorite. They’ve also said they intend to stay below the luxury-tax threshold, though they still may have a bit of room.

9. Yankees: Hal Steinbrenner has been weighing Scherzer for weeks, but in recent days indications are Steinbrenner still isn’t ready to dive in, and they’ve said as much. Many rotation question questions carry over from last season, and it appears that for now at least, talented youngster Nate Eovaldi is the answer to McCarthy’s departure. Their starting group could be very good, but there’s a lot of uncertainty, from Mashiro Tanaka’s elbow to CC Sabathia‘s knee to Ivan Nova‘s elbow to Michael Pineda‘s ability to continue to perform. The issue is this: With a 50 percent tax for them, a $28 million salary for Scherzer would cost them $42 million, steep even by Yankees standards.

The field: The Rangers have a dynamic offense, a reasonable, $130 million payroll, rotation questions and insurance money from Matt Harrison‘s continuing back woes. The Nats have strong ties to Boras and could make sense if they dealt ace Jordan Zimmermann, but that ultimately looks like a long shot. The Orioles could solidify their already excellent team and save their offseason, but that would really be a shocker.

The $200M Max Scherzer chess match and its stealth spenders — December 25, 2014

The $200M Max Scherzer chess match and its stealth spenders

By Ken Davidoff

boras-and-max

Scott Boras, not only the king of free agency but the king of analogies, too — remember his riffs on which supermarket aisle we could find the Mets in? — has a new one for us. An analogy, not a free agent.

“Sometimes, owning a major league team is like hunting,” Boras said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “You go out in the wild, and all of a sudden, the opportunity for the kill is there.

“I go to reach for my weapon, and I realize, ‘Uh-oh. How many bullets did I bring?’ The answer is if I’ve got one shot on this, I’ll stay where I’m at. If I want to have a real opportunity to win, I’d better put the extra bullets in the gun. Or, you can buy the ultimate weapon.”

That would be Max Scherzer, the top free agent of this offseason by any reasonable standard. And the only known barrier to a rather boring baseball January, once we get beyond the annual Hall of Fame results and subsequent angry debates.

It doesn’t surprise us that Scherzer appears nowhere close to signing a new contract with anyone, a deal that is expected to top Jon Lester’s six-year, $155 million agreement with the Cubs. Boras often acts deliberately and methodically in finding deals for his top-shelf clients. What stands out this winter is how bare the free-agent cupboard looks beyond Scherzer.

On Nov. 4, The Post ran my Top 30 Free Agents chart. Of those 30, only seven remain without employers: Scherzer, James Shields, Hiroki Kuroda, Colby Rasmus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Nori Aoki and Stephen Drew.

Shields’ free agency has been remarkably quiet; the Red Sox and Giants are among the reasonable bets to land the workhorse. Kuroda, who turns 40 in February, hasn’t yet informed the Yankees whether he intends to pitch another year. The rest of the group figures to quietly find homes.

There’s nothing quiet about Scherzer, the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner whose status has evoked cloudiness unusual even by Boras’ high standards.

Many clubs, among them the Yankees, Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers, have been vocal about their disinclination to enter the Scherzer sweepstakes. The Angels are sending signals they’re good to go with their current starting rotation. The Tigers and Nationals, two favorite destinations for Boras clients in the past, also say they aren’t going there.

The small-market Cardinals never have gone so high on one player; they gave Boras client Matt Holliday a seven-year, $120 million contract in January 2010 for their franchise record. The Cubs have the payroll flexibility to acquire Scherzer, even after getting Lester, yet they, too, have publicly stated they won’t be shopping in the Scherzer aisle.

The Blue Jays, who have upgraded considerably this winter by adding Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin and Michael Saunders, didn’t even want to spend heavily on a reliever, so Scherzer seems out of their price range, too.

Which leaves us with … well, someone, somewhere has got to give. Scherzer is too good not to land on his feet, and Boras has too much experience in this neck of the woods.

“Max Scherzer can take a club that is an 82-to-86-win team and make it a division-winning club,” Boras said. “That’s the impact that his talents have on the 2015 season and beyond.”

Scherzer’s Wins Above Replacement the previous three years total 16.9, by the count of Baseball-Reference.com, or 16.5, as per FanGraphs. That’s more than five wins per season. So at the least, he could vault those 82-to-86-win teams into the playoff race and then give them an October ace.

The best guesses here are the Tigers, since Detroit owner Mike Ilitch has a history of adding to his payroll to fill needs and David Price is a year away from free agency, and the Cardinals, as Scherzer was born in St. Louis and pitched for the University of Missouri. Also, since I picked the Cubs to sign both Lester and Scherzer at the start of this process, I’ll include them, too.

One official from an AL club on Tuesday speculated the possibility of the Nationals trading Jordan Zimmermann, a year away from free agency himself, and signing Scherzer. Another official from a second AL team pegged the Angels as the team to give in and sign Scherzer.

The mystery, the hunt, lingers as we hit the holidays. For our purposes, let the Scherzer Sweepstakes last all the way until pitchers and catchers report. There’s little doubt how this will end. The suspense lies in the “where” and the “when.”

WFAN’s Mike Francesa dominates in ratings over ESPN’s Michael Kay, Mike Lupica — December 23, 2014

WFAN’s Mike Francesa dominates in ratings over ESPN’s Michael Kay, Mike Lupica

fat mike

Mike Francesa continues to dominate radio ratings for WFAN.

By Charles Curtis

“New Yawk’s Numbah One” continued his dominance this year.

WFAN’s Mike Francesa backed up a rant he delivered in November in response to a rip job from ESPN’s Michael Kay, posting terrific ratings.

Here’s the report from Newsday’s Neil Best:

“Francesa finished first in his 1 to 6:30 p.m. slot with a 7.2 share, well ahead of ESPN’s 3.8 during that time period. Between 1 and 3 p.m. Francesa averaged a 7.5, tripling the 2.5 for ESPN New York, which since late September has had Mike Lupica in that time slot.Michael Kay fared far better than that on ESPN from 3 to 6:30 p.m., when he is head-to- head against Francesa. Francesa ranked first in the market at 7.1 during that period and Kay ranked seventh at 4.6.”

Also worth noting: The midday show featuring Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts was first in New York from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Best asked Francesa if there was anything new to say about his relationship with CBS Radio (whom the host said threatened a lawsuit in September). “No comment. Merry Christmas to all!” the host replied.

Big gap still exists in Mets’ Tulowitzki talks — and Yankees check in on SS — December 22, 2014

Big gap still exists in Mets’ Tulowitzki talks — and Yankees check in on SS

By JON HEYMAN

tulo

Troy Tulowitzki may prefer the Yankees, but the Mets have more to offer in trade.

The Mets maintain interest in Rockies star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, but it’s clear there’s a major gap to bridge in negotiations between the teams, with differences in ideas of player compensation and financial considerations, as well.

Meantime, a couple other teams — including the rival Yankees — are said to have checked in recently on Tulowitzki in the wake of the report here late last week that talks between the Mets and Rockies were ongoing.

The Mets could still be the best hope for Tulo trade considering a natural match between those two teams in terms of player compensation, but several major hurdles remain even beyond the existing gap in negotiations. While new Rockies GM Jeff Bridich has been clear from the start of winter they’re listening on their two big positional stars — Tulo and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez — it remains unclear how committed the Rockies-owning Monfort brothers are to trading the beloved Tulo and how willing Tulowitzki is to consider teams beyond his preferred Yankees, Dodgers, Giants, Angels, Cardinals and one or two others.

One person familiar with the talks suggested Colorado may not agree to a deal unless it feels the return is to too good to turn down. The sides have been discussing packages centered around top Mets pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard, but some have suggested that at least at some point the Rockies were also requesting Zack Wheeler be included in the package, though talks are fluid, so that may not be the case now. Just about every young Mets pitcher and player has been mentioned at some point, including right-handerDillon Gee and shortstops Ruben Tejada and presumably Wilmer Flores, though those players are drawing limited interest and would be considered as perhaps third and/or fourth pieces in a potential deal.

The return on Tulowitzki, 30, would depend on how much money the Rockies might be willing to kick in, though to this point there is no word how amenable they are to paying down the $118 million remaining on his deal over the next six years. The Mets also would need to review Tulowitzki’s medical records; he is said to be recovering nicely after hip surgery that ended his brilliant 2014 campaign (1.035 OPS in 91 games) and the hope is that he’d be ready for Opening Day.

Tulowitzki and his current team have remained in touch throughout the winter, and while he didn’t request a no-trade clause upon signing his franchise record $157 million deal, the Monfort brothers are so close to him they’d prefer his approval before pulling the trigger on any deal. While the Mets have been an obvious targeted team of Colorado from the start because of their impressive stash of young pitchers (including also Rafael Montero. Steven Matz, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia, among others), Tulowitzki, who is still said to love Denver and the Rockies organization, at least initially didn’t have the Mets in his very upper tier of preferred destinations.

Tulowitzki, who attended a Yankees game and sat in a box seat to watch his idol Derek Jeter play in his final season last summer, is said to love the idea of going to the Bronx, though the Yankees’ need to replace Jeter was lessened with their trade for defensive whizDidi Gregorius, who is expected to at least platoon at short for the Yankees. The Yankees re-checked late last week on Tulo’s availability, and while there is significant question whether they could even match up with the Rockies, their trade for the hard-throwing Nate Eovaldi could possibly give them a slightly better chance.

The Yankees have a top young pitcher Luis Severino, but he’s only 20 and didn’t reach Double-A until late last season. The Yankees’ best young pitcher is probable closer Dellin Betances, though they’d presumably be very reluctant to break up perhaps the team’s biggest strength.

The other team from New York remains the best match for the Rockies. Even with Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and potential ace Matt Harvey presumably going nowhere, the Mets have the players and prospects to entice the Rockies, depending on how willing they are to trade their best player.

A bunch of thoughts on a bunch of moving pieces — December 19, 2014

A bunch of thoughts on a bunch of moving pieces

By Chad Jennings

Eovaldi2

Well, quite a bit has happened since I got on this airplane. Here are some quick thoughts about all of the Yankees pieces that have moved around in the past two hours or so:

Eovaldi11NATHAN EOVALDI

Two things that immediately jump to mind about the key piece coming to the Yankees in the Marlins trade:

1. He’s young. In that way, this reminds me very much of the Didi Gregorius acquisition. Yes, Eovaldi has plenty of warts – he gave up the most hits in the National League last season, he’s never had huge strikeout numbers despite his velocity – but he was born in 1990 and has 79 big league starts already. This guy is younger than Branden Pinder, who has some legitimate promise and was just added to the 40-man roster last month. Eovaldi is 24. Masahiro Tanaka just turned 26. Michael Pineda turns 26 in January. Ivan Nova will be 28 all next season. Suddenly CC Sabathia and placeholder Chris Capuano are the only members of the Yankees rotation who are in their 30s. And that’s to say nothing of Manny Banuelos, Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley and — eventually — Luis Severino. Just like at shortstop, the term “upside” actually applies to this Yankees rotation for 2015 and beyond.

2. He pitched 199.2 innings last season. That’s two-thirds of an inning more than Hiroki Kuroda pitched last season, and Kuroda led the Yankees in innings pitched by quite a bit. The Yankees have some obvious questions about rotation durability, but Eovaldi gave a bunch of innings and 33 starts last season. It’s true that a young arm could blow out under the weight of a heavy workload, but that’s an unavoidable hazard. The Yankees need someone who can provide some durability in the rotation, and Eovaldi has done it before.

JonesGARRETT JONES

Jones plays three positions: First base, right field and designated hitter. Those happen to be three positions where the Yankees face real uncertainty about durability and production.

This addition seems to be a safeguard for Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Alex Rodriguez, but it comes at the cost of roster versatility. Barring another move, the addition of Jones basically fills the Yankees bench John Ryan Murphy, Chris Young, Brendan Ryan and Jones. There’s no longer space for a Jose Pirela-type utility man (Pirela might win the second base job, but that’s not the same as having a guy that versatile on the bench).

So does this mean Ryan to backs up both shortstop and second base, Rodriguez backs up at third base, Jones backs up at first base, and a Jones/Young platoon backs up in the outfield corners?

GermanDOMINGO GERMAN

Here’s what the numbers show: The prospect coming to the Yankees is a 22-year-old kid who spent 2014 in Low-A with a 2.48 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, 8.2 strikeouts per nine, and 1.8 walks per nine.

Here’s what Baseball America says: Just a few days ago, German was named the Marlins sixth-best prospect, and here’s what the magazine wrote about him in connection to today’s trade: “Pitchability isn’t German’s strength right now, but throwing strikes is. He has an easy delivery he repeats well to go with a loose, live arm that produces above-average life on a heavy sinking fastball that sits in the 91-96 mph range and touches 97. He’ll need to develop his secondary stuff to be a future rotation option in Miami.”

Here’s what an opposing team’s scout had to say: “Chance to be a back-end starter or potential bullpen piece. (In rookie ball in 2013), the fastball was 91-94 but needed strike control and polish. Excellent feel for the changeup (83-87) and wider break (on the) curveball (78-81) that needed to tighten. Interesting arm to acquire.”

PradoMARTIN PRADO

When the Yankees traded Shane Greene to get Gregorius, Billy Eppler called it robbing Peter to pay Paul. In that way, the Yankees today robbed Paul to pay back Peter. Instead of giving up a young starter to help the infield, the Yankees today gave up an infielder to add a young starter.

Barring another move for someone like Asdrubal Cabrera, the Prado trade leaves second base wide open for either Pirela or Rob Refsnyder, and the Yankees really do seem willing to let those two battle for the job. Doesn’t mean that will happen — if a guy like Cabrera can be acquired on a good deal, I”m not sure they would/should pass up the opportunity — but the Yankees are clearly opening the possibility that seemed to close when they acquired Chase Headley.

Prado was a nice fit for this team — he can play a lot of positions, and that’s nice for a team with so many questions in the lineup — but he wasn’t especially cheap, and trading him let the Yankees get younger in both the rotation and infield. I like Prado a lot, but I think there’s a chance Refsnyder can be just as good offensively while Pirela can be just as versatile (though probably not as good) defensively.

PhelpsDAVID PHELPS

Let me start by saying Phelps was one of my favorite guys on the Yankees roster. Not that he was a go-to source for anything — he’d always laugh at me when I’d try to get real information out of him — but we’re both from Missouri and found that common ground a long time ago before he ever reached the big leagues. When I grew a bit of a beard last spring and kept it through the season, Phelps gave me a hard time about it at every opportunity. I tried to return the favor by giving him a hard time about choosing Notre Dame over the University of Missouri. On a personal level, I liked having Phelps around, and I truly believed — and still believe — that he made some real strides just before that minor elbow injury last season.

That said, I’m not sure the Yankees were ever sure what to do with Phelps. They knew he could start, but it seemed they never really wanted to trust him with that job unless forced to do so. They knew his stuff might play up in short bullpen stints, but Adam Warren and Dellin Betances had jumped ahead of him in that pecking order. He was a useful piece for many jobs, but he never really had a specific job.

In that way, I can understand sacrificing him for a guy who’s nearly four years younger with nearly 200 more big league innings. I hope Phelps gets a chance to establish himself in Miami. I hope his young family is happy down in Florida. I hope he has a long career. I’m just not sure that long career was ever meant to happen with the Yankees.

ClaiborneGermenGONZALEZ GERMEN/PRESTON CLAIBORNE

I know almost nothing about Germen, and what I do know about him can be found on his page at Baseball Reference: He strikes out quite a few guys, puts a decent number of guys on base, and just turned 27 years old in September.

Don’t really need to know much about him to make this evaluation: The Yankees believe Germen is better than Claiborne.

Although he had a really, really good first month or so in the big leagues, Claiborne was never an overpowering bullpen arm and he was never a guy predicted to have a significant role in New York. I honestly thought he might be designated for assignment out of spring training this year, and I still think there’s a chance he’ll clear waivers and stick with the Yankees as Triple-A depth.

Purchasing Germen and designating Claiborne is clearly all about the Yankees trying to get incrementally better. I don’t think Claiborne was meant to play a significant role going forward, and I’m not sure Germen will either.

Ichiro is a consideration for Orioles, who still need an outfielder —

Ichiro is a consideration for Orioles, who still need an outfielder

By JON HEYMAN

Ichiro_121814

Could Ichiro continue his career with the Baltimore Orioles?

Ichiro Suzki, the Japanese outfield sensation who’s 41, is receiving some consideration from the Orioles.

Ichiro, who is hoping to play to reach the coveted 3,000 hits in Major League Baseball, is 156 hits short and looking for a job, and the Orioles seek another outfielder.

Baltimore has lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis via free agency and is also considering free agents Nori Aoki and Colby Rasmus, as well as their own Delmon Young.

Ichiro was said to have drawn a bit of interest at the Winter Meetings, but Baltimore becomes the first team connected to him. He hit .284 last year for the Yankees.

Another Yankees official shutting door on Max Scherzer? —

Another Yankees official shutting door on Max Scherzer?

yankees-randy-levine-brian-cashman-17b796d2d3c4b7f1

Yankees president Randy Levine, right, shown with GM Brian Cashman during spring training in 2007

By Brendan Kuty

The vision of Max Scherzer in pinstripes seems to be fading by the day.

Yankees president Randy Levine became the latest team official to appear to close the door on the signing of the 30-year-old right-hander who is widely considered the best starting pitcher remaining on the free agent market.

That’s approximately what Scherzer, the 2013 Cy Young award winner, and his agent, Scott Boras, are seeking, according to reports.

Scherzer reportedly wants a deal worth more than $200 million. And while the Yankees and Scherzer would appear to be the perfect match — Boras has even said he’d envision the Yankees with a World Series-caliber rotation if he joined it — the club has repeatedly dismissed the idea of adding another big-money free agent after it spent more than $400 million last offseason on Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Beltran.

Early Monday morning, general manager Brian Cashman said Yankees fans shouldn’t expect Scherzer pitching in The Bronx next season.

Cashman said Scherzer is on a “higher level than we’d like to play in right now,” referring to the starter’s cost in general rather than any specific price tag.

With Headley, the Yankees positional depth chart could be set — December 18, 2014

With Headley, the Yankees positional depth chart could be set

By Chad Jennings

Chris Young

Hard to fully evaluate the Yankees pitching staff right now, because it’s clearly incomplete. Even with Chris Capuano adding some back-end depth, the Yankees still have an uncertain rotation, no clear closer and at least three pitchers coming to camp unsure whether they’ll be starters or relievers. These next two months need to provide further pitching clarity one way or another (hard to believe the Yankees would acknowledge in October that they need rotation help, then have their most significant rotation move be trading away a starter).

The Yankees position players, on the other hand, could be set.

Chances are we’re going to see an addition or two — there’s a bench spot up for grabs that a veteran might want to compete for as a non-roster invitee — but now that Chase Headley is on board, the current roster has enough to build a major league lineup, fill a major league bench, and provide minor league depth in Triple-A.

In an effort to find the remain holes, here’s a basic look at the current depth chart. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to peg Jose Pirela as the fourth big league bench player alongside John Ryan Murphy, Chris Young and Brendan Ryan.

McCann  CATCHER
New York starter: Brian McCann
New York backup: John Ryan Murphy
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Gary Sanchez
Worth consideration: Austin Romine

Oddly enough, the Yankees started this offseason with too much catching depth, but they traded Francisco Cervelli to open the door for either Murphy or Romine. Because Romine is out of options, he’s no sure thing to stay in the organization if the doesn’t make the big league cut. If Romines clears waivers, he would be a nice bit of additional Triple-A depth. If he doesn’t — or just in case he doesn’t — the Yankees might want to add a veteran (a Bobby Wilson type) to provide some experienced insurance in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Sanchez is one of the top prospects in the system, but the Yankees might not want him playing a backup role just yet (and it’s still possible he’ll stumble in his first taste of Triple-A).

TeixeiraFIRST BASE
New York starter: Mark Teixeira
New York backup: Alex Rodriguez
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Kyle Roller
Worth consideration: Greg Bird

Three immediate possibilities should Teixeira get hurt: Rodriguez takes over at first base, Chase Headley shifts to first base, or Roller is called up to play first base (could also include Tyler Austin in that discussion). Not having a true backup first baseman hurt the Yankees last season, but it remains difficult to carry a second true first baseman on a roster that has essentially a full-time designated hitter taking up a spot. First base depth is going to have to come elsewhere, and while some guys might have to play out of position a time or two, Roller’s terrific Triple-A debut was enough to put him on the map as a legitimate call-up candidate for 2015. Also worth wondering whether Bird can hit his way into consideration before the end of the year.

PradoSECOND BASE
New York starter: Martin Prado
New York backup: Jose Pirela
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Rob Refsnyder
Worth consideration: Cole Figueroa

With Pirela and Refsnyder, the Yankees have legitimately intriguing depth at a position that’s usually pretty thin. Pirela’s flexibility makes him a nice big league bench player who could backup at several positions while bringing considerable experience at second. Refsnyder’s upside makes him a nice option to plug into the lineup if an everyday job presents itself. I listed Figueroa as a “worth consideration” stand in for the three minor league veteran infielders the Yankees have signed this winter. If the Yankees have to dig beyond their top three second basemen to find yet another utility type, they have some options in place with Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez and Nick Noonan (all of whom can play multiple positions and have a lot of second base experience).

HeadleyTHIRD BASE
New York starter: Chase Headley
New York backup: Alex Rodriguez
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Jonathan Galvez
Worth consideration: Martin Prado

It will be interesting to see how the Yankees configure their third base depth this season. Headley is obviously in place to be the everyday guy well beyond 2015, but on days he needs a rest, what happens? Does Rodriguez play third? Does Pirela? Does Prado? Are the Yankees going to give Prado some third base time in spring training just in case a guy like Refsnyder forces his way into the mix? Because of Prado’s versatility, the Yankees probably don’t have to focus on third base in Triple-A, but it will be interesting to see whether Rob Segedin can do enough to earn everyday at-bats ahead of some of the veterans the Yankees have signed this winter. Probably at least a year away from Eric Jagielo or Dante Bichette Jr. joining the big league discussion.

GregoriusSHORTSTOP
New York starter: Didi Gregorius
New York backup: Brendan Ryan
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Nick Noonan
Worth consideration: Ali Castillo

Clearly the Yankees want Gregorius to emerge as a legitimate everyday shortstop. Even if he’s never a great offensive player, there’s some hope that he’ll hit enough to play against both lefties and righties, providing excellent defense and a better-than-nothing bat near the bottom of the order. If he can’t do that, the Yankees have Ryan in place as a platoon partner and another slick fielder. Beyond that, though, the system is still thin. Recently signed Noonan has primarily played second base in the minors, but he might be the best shortstop option for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Beyond Noonan, it’s Castillo (who’s been a kind of organizational utility guy) and then possibly Cito Culver (who’s hit so little that no team even took a flyer on him in the Rule 5 draft). Even with Gregorius, the organizational shortstop depth isn’t much. To be fair, though, that’s probably true for most teams.

GardnerLEFT FIELD
New York starter: Brett Gardner
New York backup: Chris Young
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Ramon Flores
Worth consideration: Adonis Garcia

The Yankees outfield has been set for quite a while now, basically ever since Young signed early in the offseason to provide a right-handed bat off the bench. Now that Gardner has emerged as a legitimate and experienced everyday player in left field, the biggest question about depth is just how often Young will get in the lineup against left-handed pitching (and it’s worth noting that Pirela could also see some left field time if he’s productive). If the Yankees need further reinforcements, the Triple-A outfield should provide several options, any one of whom could move to the top of the pecking order at any time. Flores seems in line to be the regular left fielder for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but Garcia, Taylor Dugas, Tyler Austin and maybe Slade Heathcott (if he’s re-signed) could also become options.

EllsburyCENTER FIELD
New York starter: Jacoby Ellsbury
New York backup: Chris Young
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Eury Perez
Worth consideration: Mason Williams

Really, the backup center fielder is Gardner, but moving Gardner to center field basically means Young is in left field, so defining the “backup” is mostly a question of how you want to define the role. It’s worth noting, of course, that Young has also played a lot of center field in his career and provides legitimate depth at the position beyond Ellsbury and Gardner. It’s a similar (but less experienced) situation in Triple-A where Perez seems in line to be the starting center fielder, but Flores, Garcia, Dugas and (possibly) Heathcott could also play there. Now that Williams has a 40-man spot, a back-on-the-map season out of him could put him in the call-up mix as well. And Jake Cave could be in that discussion by September.

BeltranRIGHT FIELD
New York starter: Carlos Beltran
New York backup: Chris Young
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre: Tyler Austin
Worth consideration: Aaron Judge

Pretty similar to the left field and center field situations — Young off the bench; Pirela or Prado could be involved; a lot of options to sort through in Triple-A — but the difference in right field is that Austin stands out as a potential impact bat if he stays healthy, builds off last season’s strong second half, and hits like he did during that breakout 2012 season that saw him rank among baseball’s Top 100 Prospects according to both Baseball America and MLB.com. Beyond Austin, there’s Judge, the top position prospect in the system, who could hit enough in Double-A to push for a Triple-A promotion at some point. And once in Triple-A, it would be hard to rule him out as a big league possibility.

 

Must Yankees still add pitching? Breaking down the state of the rotation — December 17, 2014

Must Yankees still add pitching? Breaking down the state of the rotation

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Pitching coach Larry Rothschild and manager Joe Girardi watch New York Yankees injured starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka throw two simulated innings before the Chicago White Sox play the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Bronx, NY 8/23/14

By Brendan Kuty

Do the Yankees still need to sign a starting pitcher? How about two?

After they signed lefty Chris Capuano to a one-year, $5-million deal Tuesday, general manager Brian Cashman told The Journal News’ Chad Jennings that the 36-year-old, who has recent relief experience, will have a spot in their starting rotation.

That puts Capuano alongside Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda as expected Opening Day rotation members.

But do the Yankees need to add more? Let’s discuss.

As it stands, the Yankees have four starting pitchers in a rotation that calls for at least five. (Forget, for now, the Yankees in August discussed possibly of a six-man rotationfor 2015.)

Of those four starting pitchers, who’s the No. 1? It’s likely Sabathia would get the Opening Day start because of the respect he’s garnered throughout the organization, but Tanaka would probably be the so-called ace. Pineda would fall as the No. 2. Then Sabathia would be considered No. 3 with Capuano at No. 4. The fifth guy? Maybe a competition is in order between — deep breath — David Phelps, Adam Warren, Chase Whitely, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula and Esmil Rogers.

So, that’s out of the way. Now, let’s identify the main problems here.

HEALTH? The biggest issue is that it’s unclear whether Tanaka (partially torn UCL), Sabathia (knee) and Pineda (shoulder) will make it out of spring training healthy, let alone last a full season.

All three of them spent significant time on the disabled list in 2014. And while the Yankees maintain that they believe each will have fully recovered by the time pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, Fla., they have to feel at least a little uneasy. In fact, Cashman recently said officials are “keeping our fingers crossed” that Tanaka won’t need Tommy John surgery. He has also said that though Sabathia appears to be “a guy that can pitch in the middle of our rotation … there’s a little bit of a question mark there.” And Pineda hasn’t thrown more than 171 innings since 2011, his rookie year.

SUBSTITUES? All right. Once the possible-injury-risk idea has been digested, there’s the question of who would be among the first candidates to replace a hurt hurler. What if Tanaka goes down in April? Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) isn’t due back until sometime in May or June. The Yankees’ top pick, it seems, would be the runner-up in the fifth-starter competition. Out of all those possibilities, not one leaps out — if he did, of course, he’d be the obvious No. 5 starter anyway.

INEXPERIENCE? So that’s an issue. And the third? How comfortable is manager Joe Girardi in trotting out the No. 5 starter competition winner every fifth day?

The Yankees held a battle for that same job last spring before giving it to Pineda, who was simply dominant. But none of this year’s contestants have Pineda’s upside. Phelps filled in admirably for 17 starts — the third most on the team, behind Hiroki Kuroda and Tanaka — but would the Yankees be better served with him in the bullpen, where he’s got more experience? It’s possible.

That brings us to the available external options.

There are too many trade theoretical scenarios out there, and they’re all too complex to detail here. But we do know that, on the free agent market, there’s Max Scherzer and James Shields. But Yankees have repeatedly said they don’t plan to spend big (so, sorry, Scherzer and Shields. Or at least for now.). Kuroda’s out there, too, but he still hasn’t decided whether to retire or pitch in Japan next season. There don’t appear to be any second-tier free agent starting pitchers left outside of Kuroda.

The good news, the bad news, and the Yankees rotation —

The good news, the bad news, and the Yankees rotation

By Chad Jennings

CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova

The good news is, the Yankees added some rotation depth yesterday. The bad news is, it wasn’t by acquiring a front-end starter to make everyone feel better about the health concerns at the top of the rotation.

By re-signing Chris Capuano, the Yankees brought in an experienced lefty who pitched well in a fifth starter role last year. The good news is that he’s probably a little better than you’re thinking (his career numbers are nearly identical to the rock-solid results he put up with the Yankees last season), but the bad news is that the Yankees rotation still has an opening and is still crowded with uncertainty heading into next season.

Here’s a look at the Yankees starters in place — and the ones set to compete for a spot — as we move ever closer to pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training. As you might expect, with each one there’s some good news and some bad news.

Masahiro TanakaMASAHIRO TANAKA
Good news: Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidate through his first three months in the big leagues.
Bad news: Slightly torn elbow ligament suggests Tommy John surgery is a real threat as early as spring training.

MICHAEL PINEDA
Good news: Finally joined the Yankees staff with a 1.89 ERA last season.
Bad news: That stellar ERA came in just 13 starts because of another shoulder issue.

CC SABATHIA
Good news: Says he feels strong this winter; more than 200 innings in 2013 and a 3.38 ERA as recently as 2012.
Bad news: Coming back from knee surgery with a not-so-encouraging 4.87 ERA the past two seasons.

IVAN NOVA
Good news: Farm system success story had a 3.10 ERA (and an especially good second half) in his last healthy season.
Bad news: Had Tommy John surgery after just four starts last season; not expected to be ready for Opening Day.

CHRIS CAPUANO
Good news: Solid No. 5 starter with a 4.25 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees last season.
Bad news: Had been released and was pitching in Triple-A when the Yankees got him in July.

Phelps (3)DAVID PHELPS
Good news: Was on a roll before a upper elbow injury (believed to be minor) pushed him to the DL last season.
Bad news: In three seasons has never quite established himself as a go-to member of the rotation.

ADAM WARREN
Good news: Coming off a terrific, breakout season with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.
Bad news: Truly emerged as a one-inning setup man; has just three major-league starts on his resume.

ESMIL ROGERS
Good news: Showed flashes of promise late last year including a five-inning, one-run spot start in August.
Bad news: That promise has not consistently translated, leaving Rogers a 5.54 career ERA with four different teams before the age of 30.

Yankees Blue Jays BaseballCHASE WHITLEY
Good news: Long-time minor league reliever emerged with a 2.56 ERA through his first seven major league starts last season.
Bad news: Had a 9.00 ERA through his next five starts, falling out of the rotation and back into the bullpen.

BRYAN MITCHELL
Good news: Long touted for talent that exceeded his stats, Mitchell’s results were actually pretty impressive in his brief big league cameo.
Bad news: He’s still a 24 year old with a 4.45 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP through five minor league seasons; never with as many as 150 innings.

MANNY BANUELOS
Good news: One of the top pitching prospects in the system and one of the best in baseball before Tommy John surgery.
Bad news: Inconsistent with a 4.11 ERA and just 76.2 innings in his return from surgery last season.

JOSE DE PAULA
Good news: Hard-throwing lefty impressed the Yankees enough to land a major-league contract this winter.
Bad news: Has never actually pitched in the major leagues and has just 51.1 innings of so-so Triple-A experience.