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Yankees preview: Can young bats and 1 ace carry team into playoffs? — March 31, 2017

Yankees preview: Can young bats and 1 ace carry team into playoffs?

By George A. King III


Gary Sanchez, Masahiro Tanaka and Greg Bird

To say the Yankees are in a total rebuilding situation is false.

They tapped into the Steinbrenner family vault for a combined $102.5 million to land free agents Aroldis Chapman, Matt Holliday and Chris Carter after not participating in a postseason series for the fourth consecutive year.

Yet, how Chapman, Holliday and Carter perform won’t decide whether the Yankees finish out of the money for a fifth straight season and possibly force Hal Steinbrenner to make changes in the front office and on the field, where general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi are in the final year of their respective contracts.

No, the deciding factor will be how a suspect rotation pitches and how Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Aaron Judge perform. Sanchez had a scintillating two months, but what will his bat look like catching a full season in the big leagues? Some believe Bird’s ceiling is very high and his left-handed swing is suited for Yankee Stadium. Still, he missed all of 2016 due to shoulder surgery. Judge, who won the right-field job in spring training over Aaron Hicks, remains a question as to whether he can consistently make contact at the plate.

Yankees essentials

Most important hitter

In terms of the position he plays and where he will hit in the order, Gary Sanchez fits the description. Nevertheless, the Yankees are paying Jacoby Ellsbury $21.1 million this year, the fourth of a seven-year deal worth $153 million.

So far, the Yankees haven’t gotten their money’s worth from the 33-year-old center fielder, who repeats in this category from a year ago.

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Jacoby EllsburyCharles Wenzelberg

A career .286 hitter with a .342 on-base percentage, Ellsbury has hit .264 with a .326 on-base percentage in three very pedestrian years in pinstripes. Late in spring training, Ellsbury was moved second to fifth in the order.

Ellsbury attempted just 28 steals last year and was successful 20 times. He was more active on the bases in spring training, but it remains to be seen if Ellsbury’s legs can still be a big part of his game.

Most important pitcher

Considering the question marks behind him in the rotation, Masahiro Tanaka is the choice for the second straight season.

The minor tear of the right ulnar collateral ligament in Tanaka’s elbow has been there since 2014, and though it could blow out, there is less attention paid to it than the questions that follow Tanaka in the rotation.

CC Sabathia is 36 and coming off knee surgery. Michael Pineda’s nickname is “Big Mike,’’ but “Big Tease’’ is more apt due his inconsistency and his inability to turn high-end stuff into success — as his 6-12 record and 4.82 ERA a year ago proved.

After Tanaka, Sabathia and Pineda, the Yankees held a five-man competition for the final two spots in the rotation, with Luis Severino copping the fourth spot. The fifth starter isn’t needed until April 16.

When you point to the Yankees’ Achilles heel, it’s the rotation.

Will have a bigger year than expected

The questions surrounding Greg Bird are legitimate. How will his surgically repaired right shoulder hold up across a six-month season? How will missing an entire year affect the 24-year-old left-handed-hitting first baseman from a competition standpoint?

If those questions are answered with positives, there is no reason Bird won’t have a solid season and blossom into an everyday player capable of hitting 25-30 homers and driving in 80-plus runs after a very strong spring training.

There were no signs in spring training his repaired shoulder affected Bird’s swing or throwing.

Most likely to disappoint

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Michael PinedaAP

You watch Michael Pineda push the speed guns into the mid-90s with a fastball that has natural cut to it and see hitters flail at a filthy slider and wonder how he could go 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA in 32 starts a year ago, when he struck out 207 in 175 ²/₃ innings.

Yet, inconsistency has been Pineda’s calling card since he arrived from Seattle.

This is the 28-year-old right-hander’s final season before becoming a free agent, so a strong year would not only benefit the Yankees — who desperately need it from him — but Pineda’s chances of landing a lucrative long-term deal. Another awful season would not only doom the Yankees but hurt Pineda’s earning power.

Key call-up

When Didi Gregorius went down late in spring training with a right shoulder injury that could keep him out until May, Gleyber Torres was a popular name that surfaced as his potential replacement.

Yes, Torres is 20 and never played above Single-A, but the stud prospect stood out in exhibition games and seemingly has a solid head on his shoulders. Yet, general manager Brian Cashman never considered Torres and sent him to the minors March 21.

Torres will start the season at Double-A Trenton and could force the Yankees to elevate him to the majors at some point this season.

Biggest managerial decision

How will Joe Girardi handle the late-inning bullpen that had Andrew Miller working with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman a year ago?

Tyler Clippard isn’t Andrew Miller and neither is Tommy Layne. Adam Warren’s value is as a reliever who can provide distance.

Girardi shied away from using Chapman for more than three outs last year, but asked Betances to do that a dozen times. Will he ask more of Chapman and less of Betances? Or will the bigger issue be how does the manager fill the middle innings that a suspect rotation will leave vacant?

Don’t be surprised if …

Gary Sanchez doesn’t repeat his superhero power show he put on last August and September when he hit 20 homers in 52 games.

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Gary SanchezAP

Sanchez is the No. 1 catcher, and working 120 or so games behind the plate is mentally and physically taxing.

If Sanchez hits 25 homers, drives in 80 runs and bats .275, he is an All-Star. Yet, for the uneducated, that will signify a dip from a year ago.

Sure to make fans grumble

Alex Rodriguez is gone and so is Mark Teixeira, targets of the fans’ anger seemingly since each arrived in The Bronx.

Now it’s Ellsbury who will hear the catcalls if he doesn’t perform better than he has in the first three years of that seven-year deal worth $153 million.

And he won’t be alone. Expect Pineda to be booed off the mound after another of his hard-to-look-at outings that never seem to compensate for the games when he looks like a world-beater.

Will make the playoffs if …

Not happening.

It would take the Red Sox suffering so many injuries they finish up the track. The Blue Jays are better than the Yankees and the Orioles might have the pitching shorts like the Yankees, but could get by them in the AL East standings.

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Luis SeverinoCharles Wenzelberg

Will miss the playoffs if …

Think about what the rotation was when the Yankees won the 2009 World Series: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

Now look at this year’s model beyond Masahiro Tanaka: Sabathia isn’t what he was then. Pineda isn’t close to Burnett. Severino won’t be Pettitte, and the fifth hurler won’t be near Hughes and Chamberlain of that season.

The 2017 Yankees headstone will read “Starting Pitching.’’

Playing the field

First base: Yankees hedged that Greg Bird might struggle against left-handed pitchers and signed Chris Carter to a one-year deal for $3.5 million. Carter might get a chance to hack against lefties, but Bird, after missing a year due to shoulder surgery, is too good to be used in a full-time platoon.

Second base: The free-swinging Starlin Castro hit a career-high 21 homers and had 78 RBIs in his first season with the Yankees, who will take a repeat of that as long as he avoids the long dry stretches at the plate.

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Didi Gregorius injured his shoulder while playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.AP

Shortstop: Didi Gregorius suffered a right shoulder injury playing second base for the Netherlands in the WBC and isn’t expected back until the beginning of May. And it could be later depending on the rehab program. The Yankees didn’t go outside for a replacement because they believed there was enough coverage in the organization and what was available was too expensive. Ronald Torreyes will handle the bulk of the playing time with Pete Kozma to back him up.

Third base: Chase Headley cut his errors from 23 in 2015 to 10 last year. And after a brutal April, when he batted .150 (9-for-60) without a homer, two RBIs and a .418 OPS, the switch hitter finished at .253 with 14 homers and 51 RBIs. Those numbers were roughly what Headley did in 2015. Has two more years and $26 million remaining on a four-year deal worth $52 million.

Left field: Brett Gardner, the longest tenured Yankee, admits the lineup — and especially him — needs to be better than it was a year ago. He replaced Jacoby Ellsbury in the leadoff spot with Ellsbury moving to second in July. Gardner, who batted .261 (a career .264 hitter) with a .351 on-base average, will bat first again. It would help if he attempted more than 20 stolen bases.

Center field: Jacoby Ellsbury hasn’t honored the contract the Yankees gave him when Robinson Cano split for the Mariners following the 2013 season. Ellsbury is coming off a season in which he batted .263 (one point lower than his average as a Yankee). Dropped to fifth in the lineup, Ellsbury will need to drive in runs

Right field: When camp commenced, this was Aaron Judge’s job to lose because Hal Steinbrenner anointed the 6-foot-7, 282-pound masher the right fielder during the winter. However, Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi said it was a competition that included Aaron Hicks and the decision went to Judge late in camp.

Catcher: Gary Sanchez was Johnny Bench for the final two months of last season and the expectations are through the clouds. However, keep in mind he has played in just 55 major league games and has 203 at-bats. Nobody knows what type of player he will become based on those limited numbers, and usually a hitter doesn’t show what he is until he has gotten 1,500 big league at-bats.

Designated hitter: If the Yankees had released Alex Rodriguez a month earlier, they may have snuck into the wild card because Rodriguez killed the Yankees’ lineup. Now, Matt Holliday will replace Rodriguez in the middle of the lineup and he would have to fail miserably to be worse than Rodriguez, who batted .200 with nine homers. Because Holliday isn’t expected to play the field much, if at all, he will get most of the DH at-bats and should thrive.

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Dellin BetancesCharles Wenzelberg

Rotation: By now it’s clear what the Yankees’ biggest problem is. Masahiro Tanaka is an ace, and after that there are major question marks. CC Sabathia figured out how to pitch effectively without an overpowering fastball last year, and his surgically cleaned out right knee wasn’t a problem in spring training. Michael Pineda is what he is: inconsistent. Luis Severino earned the No. 4 spot, and the fifth spot is still up for grabs.

Bullpen: From the middle of May until late July, the Yankees’ late-game trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman was easily the best in baseball. Betances and Chapman are still in pinstripes, but Miller is in Cleveland. Tyler Clippard moves into a seventh-inning role. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve are the lefties. Adam Warren will work multiple innings and Jonathan Holder is a middle-inning option.

Bench: With Judge starting in right, Hicks will be on the bench in a role he didn’t handle well a year ago. Hicks was better at the plate after Carlos Beltran was dealt in July because he got regular playing time in right. Torreyes, when he moves back to the bench, is a better-than-average backup infielder who can play second, short and third. Austin Romine is a solid backup catcher.

Prediction: 81-81. Before Didi Gregorius went down, this looked like an 84-win team. Now, with Gregorius out at least until the end of April — and possibly longer — the Yankees will be a .500 club and sellers for the second straight year at the trade deadline.

Yankees shrug off CC Sabathia’s ugly final spring outing —

Yankees shrug off CC Sabathia’s ugly final spring outing

By George A. King III


CC Sabathia

CLEARWATER, Fla. — CC Sabathia’s final outing before starting the second game of the regular season was a rough one.

Pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Buffalo at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa on Thursday, Sabathia was victimized by poor defense and allowed eight runs (three earned), nine hits, two of which were homers, in four innings.

Sabathia threw 63 pitches, fanned three, walked one and hit a batter.

Sabathia told the Associated Press he felt good physically and was ready for his first start of the season and laughed when asked about the game.

“There were a lot of misplays behind him. It’s kind of hard to determine what it was like,’’ said manager Joe Girardi, who didn’t see his No. 2 starter throw. “I’m not worried about it.’’

According to Girardi, veteran players get a clean slate going into the regular season, even if their spring training numbers raise questions.

“It’s hard to predict with veterans what’s going to happen, what a good spring leads to or what a poor spring leads to,’’ Girardi said when asked about Brett Gardner and Chris Carter. “They get the benefit of the doubt because they have a track record.’’

Gardner, who didn’t make the trip to Clearwater, is batting .211 (12-for-57) in 23 games.

Carter, who went 1-for-4 and drove in a run in a 14-1 Yankees win, is hitting .127 (7-for-55) in 21 games.

Most alarming is that Carter has whiffed 26 times after leading the NL in strikeouts with 206 last season. His 41 homers also led the NL.

Adam Warren, who was in the hunt for a rotation spot until the final days of spring training, worked a clean sixth inning and fanned two.

Gary Sanchez was in the middle of a nine-run first inning with a two-run homer. It was Sanchez’s fifth of the spring, two back of team leader Greg Bird.

Many predict the Phillies to finish last in the NL East, and Thursday’s performance reinforced that thinking. No. 2 starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up six runs and four hits before being pulled with two outs in the first.

Rashad Crawford came to the Yankees with Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren and Billy McKinney, the fourth player in the Aroldis Chapman deal last season. Advertised as being very raw and athletic, the left-handed hitting outfielder floated between minor league camp and the big leagues. Thursday he crushed a homer to right.

The Yankees are in Atlanta on Friday to face the Braves in their new ballpark. Michael Pineda will make his final spring training start. Bartolo Colon is scheduled for the Braves.

Hal Steinbrenner: Yankees ready to contend, could add at deadline — March 30, 2017

Hal Steinbrenner: Yankees ready to contend, could add at deadline


Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner.

By Joe Giglio

It sounds like Hal Steinbrenner is ready for a big season in the Bronx.

The Yankees owner joined WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Thursday afternoon to talk about the 2017 team. Unlike his former first baseman, Steinbrenner believes this team–not the 2018 or 2019 group–can contend for big things.

“I think we’re ready to contend,” the Yankees owner said on Thursday. “Now, things have to go somewhat right, obviously as with any team. The players who did well last year have to do well again. The young players who haven’t proven themselves need to. And we’ve got to stay healthy.”

Steinbrenner made it clear he thinks this group is better than the outfit that went 84-78 last season.

“I think we’re younger. In addition to that, I think we’ve picked up guys like Holliday that are great leaders, great mentors and very good players,” Steinbrenner said. “And I really think it’s going to be a good year.”

So, if the Yankees are close to postseason contention, will the team deal from a high-end group of prospects to get a missing piece, like, say White Sox ace Jose Quintana?

“If my family feels that we’re close and Cash feels that we’re close and we need a piece, we’ve never been afraid to go out and get it, and that’s not going to change,” Steinbrenner said.

The Yankees open up the 2017 season on Sunday in Tampa Bay against the Rays.

You can listen to the entire Steinbrenner interview with Francesa here.

Yankees reveal final roster decisions: What they mean —

Yankees reveal final roster decisions: What they mean


New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge bats against the Boston Red Sox in a spring training baseball game, Tuesday, March 21, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.

By Brendan Kuty

TAMPA — Yankees manager Joe Girardi had a long morning. The door to his office was mostly shut, except for when players and coaches shuffled in and out. When reporters walked in to speak with him, he leaned back in his seat to rest.

“So,” Girardi said, “should I just tell you everything I know?”

The question as rhetorical.

The Yankees have chosenAaron Judge as their starting right fielder over Aaron Hicks, Girardi said. Hicks will be the fourth outfielder.

“That was a very tough call,” Girardi said, “a very good competition. In the end, we thought Judge won the competition.”

He added that righty Jonathan Holder, righty Bryan Mitchell and lefty Chasen Shreven will join the bullpen, Girardi said, giving the Yankees an eight-man relief unit along with closer Aroldis Chapman, set-up man Dellin Betances, righty Tyler Clippard, lefty specialist Tommy Layne and long reliever Adam Warren.

Luis Severino will be the team’s fourth starter, behind Opening Day starter Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, Girardi said. The team won’t name a fifth starter until April 16th, and Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery are options, the manager said.

Girardi was asked how he judged the Yankees’ five-man battle for the final two rotation spots.

“We didn’t think there was one guy who stood way above,” Girardi said. “I thought (Severino) did a good job. I thought Severino’s numbers were among the best. So he will be our fourth starter. So, in saying that, he needs to grab this and run with it. That’s the big thing. And the thing is, I don’t want guys looking over their shoulder every start they go out. … But this is a performance-based business, so you have to perform. And I believe (Severino) has the ability to perform. There’s things that he has to do and pitching down in the zone is one of them.”

Pete Kozma will be added to the 40- and 25-man rosters as the team’s backup infielder with Ronald Torreyes starting at shortstop in place of the injured Didi Gregorius, who’s expected to miss the first month of the season with a strained right shoulder.

It’s unclear how the team will fit Kozma onto the rosters. The Yankees may open a spot by putting Tyler Austin (fractured foot) on the 60-day disabled list.

MLB preview 2017: Can Yankees steal division from fragile Red Sox? | AL East predictions —

MLB preview 2017: Can Yankees steal division from fragile Red Sox? | AL East predictions


By Joe Giglio

Dietrich Enns hopes his long road reaches the MLB finish line in 2017 —

Dietrich Enns hopes his long road reaches the MLB finish line in 2017

By Lou DiPietro

Dietrich Enns

Dietrich Enns will start 2017 in the Triple-A rotation.

TAMPA – Dietrich Enns’ path to the Yankees’ 40-man roster is not one that many would have expected.

The lefty was a 19th-round pick in 2012 after his junior season at Central Michigan University, and was used almost exclusively in relief until an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery sidelined him in the early part of 2014.

When Enns finally returned in late-2015, it was as a starter, and something seemed to click; although, as he says, he’s “not going to throw 100 but will mix (pitches) up to get ahead,” the lefty was able to slow the game down and harness all of his pitches – fastball, slider, curve, and change.

“That’s just something that I’ve tried to have since I was younger, just the ability to take it slow,” Enns said. “I try to really just focus on one thing at a time: throw strikes and get ahead of the hitters.”

He threw a lot of strikes and started throwing up a lot of zeroes, too, posting a 0.76 ERA in 10 late-season games in Tampa. The dawn of 2016 earned him a promotion to Trenton, where a 0.00 ERA in April helped Enns earn Eastern League Pitcher of the Month honors, and when all was said and done, he was a Triple-A National Champion with a combined line of 14-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 135 innings between Trenton and Scranton.

A lot of hard work paying off, even if it meant a lot of hardship and lonely nights over five seasons.

“Being in the Minors isn’t as flashy as the big leagues – you’re not on TV, and there’s the bus trips and stuff – but it’s still baseball, and you’re trying to do your best to get through the season and have success,” he said. “The travel is tough, and being away from your family and friends is tough, so when they get the chance to come to see you, it’s always a special feeling.”

And now, here is Enns with double that feeling, proud to be one step away from the Majors and prouder still to be doing it with the New York Yankees.

“There’s just so much history with the Yankees. Growing up I watched them win the World Series a few times,” he said, “and that tradition of winning and success is just something I want to be a part of.”

Enns is one of several homegrown prospects that will be at Triple-A to start the season, but he’s even more excited for the chance to possibly come up and contribute to the major-league club alongside guys he has been alongside his entire career.

“You know, to come up through the system with the guys, and see the success guys like Gary (Sanchez) and (Aaron) Judge and Tyler (Austin) had in the Majors last year, it’s great,” Enns said. “It’s really exciting to see them do well, and you feel like you can be a part of that culture, too.”

And that kind of clubhouse chemistry, Enns notes, is one reason why he thinks the Yankees’ youth movement can take off sooner rather than later.

“You’re with guys every day in the Minors, too, and over the course of a few years, you build that bond,” he said. “You become close, and everyone’s behind each other, rooting for each other on all levels. It’s really great to be a part of.”

Enns will likely remain a starter this season, although he’s not ruling out the possibility of getting some bullpen work, too. Late last season, he transitioned into the RailRiders’ relief corps because of innings concerns, and he knows that like so many before him found out, a bullpen role could be the first one he finds himself in as a major-leaguer.

“I’ve done both, all the way back to college when I was a starter and a reliever, so I like doing both,” he said. “Each role has its pros and cons, and their own little quirks. If I had to choose, I’d probably choose starting, I’m happy doing both. Whatever gets me to the Majors, I’m ready to do it.”

All Enns has to do to be successful, no matter his role, is maintain the right mindset.

“As a starter you’re on a five-day routine, with every day mapped out; you know when your sides will be, when your lifts will be, and what your arm-care programs will be,” he said. “As a reliever, though, it all depends on whether or not you get in the game that day, so you have to base your routine off the past instead of the future. It’s a lot different, you just have to set your mind right.”

Enns is on the 40-man roster and can be summoned at a moment’s notice, so if he can keep that mindset and replicate the success he had in 2016, he may find his title change from New York Yankees prospect to simply New York Yankee.

Yankees’ Jordan Montgomery effective again, still in mix for rotation spot — March 29, 2017

Yankees’ Jordan Montgomery effective again, still in mix for rotation spot

By Erik Boland

Jordan Montgomery......

New York Yankees starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery delivers to the Toronto Blue Jays during the third inning of a spring training baseball game Wednesday, March 29, 2017, in Dunedin, Fla.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — In discussing Jordan Montgomery throughout the spring, Joe Girardi multiple times said the rookie lefthander made him “curious.”

The camp curiosity’s steady performance has put him position to grab a spot in the big leagues.

Getting his second start in a week, the 24-year-old allowed one run, six hits and a walk over five innings in the Yankees’ 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. The 6-6 Montgomery, who has a 3.20 ERA in six spring outings (two starts), struck out four.

It wasn’t quite as impressive as his start last Thursday against the Rays in Port Charlotte when he struck out eight in 4 1⁄3 innings, but it was more than enough to keep Girardi, well, curious and Montgomery very much in contention for a rotation spot.

“He’s definitely in the conversation,” Girardi said afterward.

Because the Yankees don’t need a fifth starter until April 16, Montgomery, should the Yankees pick him for that slot, would start the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Before the game Girardi hinted righthander Luis Severino, who gets his final spring start Thursday against the Phillies in Clearwater, had secured the fourth starter job.

Bryan Mitchell, who seemed to have a hammerlock on at least one of the two open rotation spots three weeks into camp, stumbled badly, which helped open the door for Montgomery, a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft out of the University of South Carolina.

“I battled and that’s a good lineup,” Montgomery said, pleased with his slider but not much else Wednesday. “I’ll take one earned run . . . I was just a little rushed. Trying to make too good of pitches instead of just attacking the zone. The fifth inning I sort of settled in.”

Opposing team talent evaluators have been impressed.

“Pretty nasty,” one said. “I saw some funky swings, I’m saw the ball on top of some of these guys, they weren’t reading it out of his hand. His sinker has a lot of late movement on it.”

Said another scout: “The stuff wasn’t as good as last time out but he found a way and made some big pitches. I think he can handle the stage [majors], too. I’d take him over Mitchell.”

Girardi has raved about Montgomery, whose fastball typically sits 92-94 mph and throughout camp kept hitters off-balance mostly with a solid changeup, slider and curveball. In some ways, Girardi was more impressed with Wednesday’s outing than the lefty’s previous one.

“When you don’t have your [best] stuff, sometimes people can’t get outs and he was still able to get outs,” Girardi said. “Obviously, we’ve got a lot to discuss here.”

Montgomery went 14-5 with a 2.13 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, going 5-1, 0.97 in six starts with the latter.

“It’s nothing I can control,” he said possibly making the club. “I’m just trying to get outs and keep working.”

And his spring?

“I feel like I’ve had a pretty good camp,” Montgomery said. “Started off a little shaky, got my feet wet facing big-league guys, and then once I got comfortable, I feel like I’ve excelled a little bit.”

Why Yankees’ Aaron Judge really might lose to Aaron Hicks —

Why Yankees’ Aaron Judge really might lose to Aaron Hicks

By Brendan Kuty

Aaron Hicks making Yankees’ outfield decision difficult — March 27, 2017

Aaron Hicks making Yankees’ outfield decision difficult

By George King III


TAMPA — When Jacoby Ellsbury exited Sunday’s game after three innings, it was easy to believe the Yankees’ center fielder had a physical issue because in the last week of spring training, regulars routinely play at least through six frames.

It turned out Ellsbury only wanted two at-bats before leaving. Yet from the time of Ellsbury’s departure until the reason was given, Aaron Hicks’ value to the Yankees was reaffirmed.

The switch-hitting Hicks, who can play all three outfield positions, has to be better than he was a year ago, when the 27-year-old was horrid across the season’s first four months.

Hicks hit .217 in 123 games with a putrid .281 on-base percentage and a .617 OPS last year, but the Yankees are counting on him to bounce back this season, his second in pinstripes after being acquired from the Twins for catcher John Ryan Murphy following the 2015 season. Hicks was the Twins’ first-round pick (14th overall) in 2008.

With less than a week until Opening Day against the Rays in St. Petersburg, it appears Hicks is perched to contribute more than he did a year ago, when he struggled with inconsistent playing time until right fielder Carlos Beltran was dealt to the Rangers at the Aug. 1 deadline.

Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Hicks launched a two-run homer to right from the left side and had an RBI single in a 7-4 Yankees victory over the Rays.

“He has played very well. He has swung the bat well, he’s got some power and had some bunt base hits, stole some bases. Defensively he has played well,’’ Joe Girardi said of Hicks, who is hitting .286 (14-for-49) with three homers and seven RBIs in 21 games. “Both guys [Hicks and Aaron Judge] have had a good spring. These guys are taking it down to the wire.’’

Judge and Hicks opened camp competing for the starting job, and it could go until Saturday, a day before the Yankees open the season. Judge went 2-for-3 Sunday, and is hitting .321 (17-for-53) with two homers and four RBIs. Most importantly, he has whiffed just a dozen times in 53 at-bats after striking out 42 times in 84 big league at-bats last year.

Asked about a platoon in right, Girardi didn’t dismiss it, but hitters built like the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge tend to have long swings that are hurt by irregular work.

Because regular playing time isn’t a problem in spring training because the games don’t count, the question facing the Yankees is this: If Judge is the everyday right fielder — and that’s the way it is looking — where is Hicks’ playing time going to come from?

Girardi used him over Brett Gardner and Ellsbury against right-handers at the beginning of last season, but he didn’t produce and that role vanished.

“It’s something we’ve talked about. We thought he played better playing every day. His [playing] time was pretty sparingly last year early on,’’ Girardi said. “I think he has improved as a player. We like what we’ve seen. We liked what we saw at the end of last year. We’re going to have to iron out this week how we do this.’’

After hitting .187 (39-for-209) with three homers and 15 RBIs in the first four months of the season, Hicks batted .271 with five homers and 16 RBIs in the final two months, though he missed the first 19 days of September with a strained right hamstring. His OPS in August was .769 and .730 in September after being at .432 in June.

In today’s game, when analytics play such a big part in attempting to figure out what a player’s value is, Hicks’ situation doesn’t need a calculator to understand: He has to be better in 2017 than he was in 2016 because he can’t be worse.


Yankees’ Clint Frazier for White Sox’s Jose Quintana? —

Yankees’ Clint Frazier for White Sox’s Jose Quintana?

Clint Frazier

New York Yankees left fielder Clint Frazier (75) looks on during the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Spectrum Field.

By Joe Giglio

The idea of Jose Quintana coming to rescue a suspect Yankees rotation won’t go away.

Here’s the latest example.

In a piece on Frazier’s demotion to the minor leagues, George King of theNew York Post spoke to talent evaluators who suggested Frazier’s best use for the Yankees could be part of a deal to land the White Sox ace.

More than one talent evaluator suggested Frazier’s best value to the Yankees might be part of a deal that would land White Sox lefty Jose Quintana.

The idea that more than one person inside baseball having that idea is, well, certainly worth talking about. Longtime MLB insider and expert Peter Gammons found the idea intriguing in a tweet on Saturday.

Although Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe painted the Yankees as a team unwilling to give up what it takes to land Quintana right now, things could change if general manager Brian Cashman thinks his team is a pitcher away from contention during the season.

Frazier, slated for Triple-A to start the season, was part of the return for Andrew Miller last summer. If the Yankees deal him for Quintana, it could be looked at as dealing Miller for Quintana–a deal most teams would likely make.

Since the start of 2013, Quintana is one of only seven pitchers in baseball to make 120 starts, toss 800 innings and post an ERA+ of 115 or better. The other six: Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Jon Lester, Madison Bumgarner, David Price and Cole Hamels.