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New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred discusses his vision for the game and his relationship with Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod meets with Rob Manfred

January, 24, 2015
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NEW YORK -- In an effort to find some closure after the confrontational Biogenesis case that led to his season-long drug suspension, Alex Rodriguez met with new commissioner Rob Manfred this week, sources confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com.

Rodriguez initiated the get-together between the two even though, with his suspension complete, he is considered in good standing in the eyes of MLB. There were no lawyers on hand, and it was said to be a positive discussion.

A source told ESPNNewYork.com that the meeting lasted 10 minutes and Rodriguez apologized, while promising to behave in the future.

The New York Post first reported the meeting took place.

The Yankees have no plans to make owner Hal Steinbrenner, president Randy Levine or general manager Brian Cashman available for any similar Rodriguez make-up sessions, a source said. An official with knowledge of the team's thinking said that Rodriguez will not receive any special treatment during spring training and will be dealt with like any other member of the 40-man roster.

The Yankees owe Rodriguez $61 million over the next three years. During the offseason, Cashman has repeatedly said the team does not know what type of player they will have the three-time MVP. With that in mind, the club signed Chase Headley for four years and $52 million to play Rodriguez's position, third base.

Rodriguez's poor relationship with MLB during the Biogenesis investigation included suing MLB and outgoing commissioner Bud Selig. He also dubbed Selig "the man from Milwaukee" and questioned the commissioner's integrity in not appearing during the Biogenesis appeal hearings.


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Free-agent outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is close to an agreement on a one-year contract with the Miami Marlins, a baseball source confirmed to ESPN.com Friday.

Although the two sides are still working through some final details before the deal becomes official, Suzuki is expected to earn a base salary of about $2 million in 2015.

The Marlins, who have one of baseball's most talented young outfields with Giancarlo Stanton in right field, Marcell Ozuna in center and Christian Yelich in left, plan to use Suzuki as their first outfielder off the bench.

Suzuki, 41, has 2,844 career hits over 14 seasons with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. He made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove Award in each of his first 10 seasons in Seattle. With 4,122 professional hits between Japan and the U.S., Suzuki is 134 hits short of Pete Rose's record of 4,256.

Suzuki hit .284 with 15 stolen bases in 143 games with the Yankees last season. 


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John Sterling, hundreds evacuated

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
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[+] EnlargeAvalon
Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesYankees broadcaster John Sterling fears he lost all of his possessions in a massive fire that tore through his apartment complex Wednesday.

EDGEWATER, N.J. -- New York Yankees radio announcer John Sterling was among hundreds of residents evacuated Wednesday night after a fire swept through an apartment complex across the Hudson River from New York City.

A local state of emergency was declared after the massive blaze engulfed The Avalon at Edgewater, a four-story apartment building.

"I don't know what to expect," Sterling told the New York Daily News after finding a hotel room. "Now, I have nowhere to go. And I need a toothbrush.'' 

The blaze broke out around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and raged late into the night.

Residents were able to get out safely, and there were no reports of injuries. Authorities cordoned off some streets around the burning building, but no major traffic problems were reported.

Sterling wasn't optimistic about his possessions.

"I would expect there would be nothing left," he told the Daily News. "I'm not a memorabilia person, so that doesn't bother me. Even my kids' pictures; I'll get other pictures.

"You can say, well there's that picture of you and [Bill] Clinton and you and [George] Bush and [Rudy] Giuliani, but that's not a big thing to me. I would like to have my clothes and my passport and my bags. But what are you going to do?"


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A-Rod gets tips from Barry Bonds

January, 21, 2015
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Alex Rodriguez met with Barry Bonds multiple times to get hitting tips as he prepares for his return to the major leagues, spokesman Ron Berkowitz confirmed Wednesday.

The meetings with Bonds was presented by Berkowitz as part of a number of consultations with former standout hitters in an effort for Rodriguez to be fully ready for his return to the New York Yankees after missing last season because of his steroid suspension.

Berkowitz said Rodriguez also worked with former Seattle Mariners teammate Edgar Martinez in Miami last week.

The meetings with Bonds seem like an odd choice because of the steroids link between the two. The San Francisco Chronicle earlier reported the story and that the meetings took place at the Future Prospects facility in San Rafael, California.

Shortly after New Year's, A-Rod posted a picture to his Instagram account that is said to be from the facility. Bonds was neither pictured nor mentioned in the description.

Rodriguez, who will turn 40 in July, is said to be in tremendous shape, a common refrain for all players prior to spring training.

He will arrive at the Yankees facility in Tampa as a marginalized player as the club signed Chase Headley to a four-year, $52 million deal to be the team's third baseman.

General manager Brian Cashman has repeatedly said he doesn't know what the Yankees will have in Rodriguez this season. At this moment, the team seems to view Rodriguez as mostly an option at designated hitter.


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Yankees heading back to WPIX

January, 20, 2015
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The Yankees are returning to WPIX Ch. 11 as their over-the-air TV outlet starting this year, a source confirmed.

The news was first reported by Sports Business Daily.

The Mets, whose games are already on PIX, will not be affected in the short term. A source said there is a pretty good chance that PIX will try to keep the Mets long term as well.

The majority of Yankees games will still be on YES. According to SBD, WPIX would broadcast 21 games for $11-$13 million per year, which averages out to about $500,000-$600,000 per game.

A YES spokesman declined comment.

Besides turning to Ch. 11 instead of Ch. 9, there won't be much difference for fans because the games will be produced by YES and feature the same announcers of Michael Kay & Co.

The Mets declined to comment. Their contract with WPIX runs through 2017.

Odds not in the Yankees' favor

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann & Stephen StrasburgGetty ImagesThe 2015 World Series favorite has some pitching depth to deal. Are the Bombers in?
Let's go over a couple of notes as we inch closer to the reporting date for pitchers and catchers.

Odd couple: According to Bovada, the Yankees and the San Diego Padres have the same chance of winning the World Series in 2015. Both are 25-to-1. The only team in the AL East the Yankees have a better shot than, according to the betting site, are the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays are 66-1. Meanwhile the Red Sox (12-1), Blue Jays (18-1) and Orioles (20-1) are bigger favorites than the Bronx Bombers. Here are the full listings.

Odds to win the 2015 World Series
Washington Nationals (6/1)
Los Angeles Dodgers (8/1)
Boston Red Sox (12/1)
Chicago Cubs (12/1)
Los Angeles Angels (12/1)
St. Louis Cardinals (12/1)
Detroit Tigers (14/1)
Seattle Mariners (16/1)
San Francisco Giants (18/1)
Toronto Blue Jays (18/1)
Baltimore Orioles (20/1)
Chicago White Sox (20/1)
Kansas City Royals (25/1)
New York Yankees (25/1)
San Diego Padres (25/1)
Cleveland Indians (28/1)
Atlanta Braves (33/1)
Miami Marlins (33/1)
New York Mets (33/1)
Pittsburgh Pirates (33/1)
Oakland Athletics (40/1)
Texas Rangers (40/1)
Cincinnati Reds (50/1)
Milwaukee Brewers (50/1)
Houston Astros (66/1)
Tampa Bay Rays (66/1)
Arizona Diamondbacks (100/1)
Colorado Rockies (100/1)
Minnesota Twins (100/1)
Philadelphia Phillies (100/1)

National treasures: With the signing of Max Scherzer, speculation has already started about Washington trading Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg or Doug Fister. How about to the Yankees?

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Should the Yankees try to swing a deal for one of the Nationals' spare starters?

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Well, I'm pretty positive Brian Cashman and Billy Eppler will check in, if they haven't already. However, I would be surprised it the Yankees dealt for any of them, though they could use a starter.

At the moment, Hal Steinbrenner seems disinclined to add another $150 million-plus starter. If he were going to do that, why wouldn't he have gone harder for Scherzer? Even if you think Zimmermann, Strasburg or Fister are better or on par with Scherzer, the Yankees could have signed Scherzer for just a first-round pick instead of the boatload of prospects it would likely take to get one of the other three. Zimmerman and Fister are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season and Strasburg shortly after, so the Yankees would hand all the leverage to the pitchers in negotiations, meaning the contract would be a very large one if the Yanks could sign them before free agency.

If the Yankees wanted to gut their system (I mean the top four or five guys), the Nationals may be interested, depending what their internal reports say about the Yankees' top farmhands. With creativity, a deal can always be done -- but not necessarily a good deal.

If the Nationals are going to trade either of their aces or Fister, there will likely be a suitor who has players closer to contributing. The Nats are the World Series favorites, after all.

Yankees reach one-year deal with Pineda

January, 16, 2015
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NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees reached agreement on a one-year deal with Michael Pineda, avoiding arbitration. According to a source with knowledge of the deal, Pineda will be paid $2.1 million for the 2015 season.

Pineda was arguably the most effective Yankees starter for the first month of the 2014 season, going 2-2 with a 1.83 ERA in his first four starts before being suspended for 10 games for using pine tar in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 23.

While on suspension, Pineda suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 87 games. He returned Aug. 13. His overall record for 2014 was 5-5, with a 1.89 ERA.
Yankee StadiumNate Shron/Getty ImagesSo how have the Yankees weathered the winter so far?
NEW YORK -- In the post-Jeter era, the Yankees are in a yet-to-be defined transition stage in their history. Are they retooling? Rebuilding? Or just plain regressing?

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Are you satisfied with the Yankees' offseason moves so far?

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    43%
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    57%

Discuss (Total votes: 12,328)

They haven't made the playoffs in two years and, if they are going to return to the postseason, it very well could be on the backs of newcomers like Andrew Miller, Nathan Eovaldi and Sir Didi Gregorius.

No one knows what will happen in 2015, with 13 new faces and Alex Rodriguez showing up in Tampa next month, but we asked scouts and executives to give us their take on the Yankees' offseason so far.

For the most part, they like what they've seen.

“I think this is a step in the right direction," one scout said. "Are they at the top of the perch? No, but they are going in the right direction.”

So let's delve a little deeper into the bigger moves of an offseason that has featured mostly small ball.

Didi Gregorius, SS

Scouts' take: Sir Didi is Sir Defense. Everyone raves about his glove. Listening to scouts, it is apparent Gregorius is going to be slick in the field. The question is: Can he hit enough? And can he handle the Bronx?

“I’ve heard people say that Omar Vizquel and Maury Wills couldn’t hit, then they did," one veteran scout said. "So I don’t think he is necessarily just a glove guy. Can he take the pressure to perform in New York? If he can, I think he could do well.”

Gregorius is still developing, which is something fans are unaccustomed to witnessing at short in the Bronx. One aspect to watch is Gregorius' work ethic, because, according to one West Coast source, it hasn't been Jeter-esque.

Nathan Eovaldi, RHP

Scouts' take: Eovaldi is a test case for pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Scouts love Eovaldi's 24-year-old arm, which allows him to bring the octane to the high 90s. The problem is he doesn't throw enough strikes and doesn't have enough (any?) secondary pitches. He sounds a lot like a young Phil Hughes. Hughes had success when he added a secondary pitch, but never could add a third as a Yankee.

One scout said of Eovaldi, “What a great arm. I’ve always liked him. If they can work some magic, get him to throw strikes and a breaking ball, they will have something with him.”

A second scout countered, “I don’t love him. He needs to add another trick to his repertoire. He needs that second pitch to get through lineups a few times as a starter.”

At the end of the day, it will likely come down to Rothschild, and one insider was encouraged. "Eovaldi and Rothschild are a match made in heaven. Larry is a master of psychology with big-arm guys. He gets them to believe in their secondary pitches."

Andrew Miller, LHP

Scouts' take: As one scout said, if Miller and Dellin Betances pitch like they did in 2014, the Yankees will have the best back of the bullpen of any team in baseball. Miller was amazing last season, posting a 2.02 ERA and striking 15.3 batters per nine innings.

Miller has supposedly matured in recent years, even if he has remained a bit quirky.

“He’s a good guy, but he is a lefty -- which I mean in a good way,” one scout said.

Miller is a failed starter, like Betances. Both guys could never find the consistency to pitch six or seven innings.

Miller now has a four-year, $36 million contract to live up to. If his head stays right, Miller (6-foot-7) could combine with Betances (6-8) to be the Yankees' biggest weapons, in more ways than one.

Justin Wilson, LHP

Scouts' take: Scouts really like the 27-year-old Wilson, feeling he can be a high-end setup guy. One did wonder why his ERA doubled from 2.08 in '13 to 4.20 in '14 and wondered if the Pirates maybe know something the Yankees don't.

Still, Francisco Cervelli -- as popular as he seemed to be -- was an extra piece for this Yankees team. Wilson could be a major part of a successful Yankees season.

"He could be a younger version of Matt Thornton," a scout said. "Good, power arm.”

Thornton was an All-Star in 2009.

Chase Headley, 3B

Scouts' take: Nearly every scout contacted began his review of Headley by saying he is not a star, but he is a good player.

“He is not a carry-your-team guy, but he is a good complement," said one scout, speaking for the industry's view of Headley.

Baseball people liked the Headley signing for the Yankees. While it is en vogue to downgrade makeup as an attribute, the scouts are still gung ho about it. They think Headley has the right temperament to be a winning ballplayer, though he hasn't been on many winning ballclubs.

Interestingly, one scout wondered how well Headley's defense will hold up. None other than Brian Cashman also noted Headley was only an average defender on Headley's first day as a Yankee. So that is something to watch.

Stephen Drew, SS

Scouts' take: There are some strong opinions on Drew. The negative ones say he is a dispassionate player whose skills are diminished. Others, though, are willing to give him the "no spring training, no production" excuse.

“I have to believe he is going to be closer to what he was than he what he showed in '14," an NL executive said.

The executive pointed out that the Yankees have adroitly added insurance for Sir Didi without people really focusing on that aspect. Drew, though, must hit if he is going to play at second over Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. If he does not, the Yankees will simply cut him.

Still, most scouts thought signing Drew for $5 million plus incentives was a smart, no-lose move for the 2015 Yankees.
NEW YORK -- Jeff Pentland, Head No. 1 of the Yankees' newly established two-headed hitting coach position, has yet to meet or talk in any depth to any of his prospective pupils. He really doesn't have a stated "hitting philosophy" a la Charlie Lau or Walt Hriniak or even Kevin Long, his predecessor when it was a one-man job. He doesn't even seem to really know his partner, Alan Cockrell, all that well yet.

[+] EnlargeJeff Pentland
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsPentland has been a hitting coach for five major league clubs, most recently with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011.
But Pentland knows this: He's got a big job ahead of him trying to coax more production out of a lineup that massively underperformed in 2014.

"I work off the individual. I don't have a general philosophy," Pentland said on a conference call with Yankees beat reporters Thursday morning. "Obviously, I think I have the knowledge or I wouldn’t be here. I feel comfortable around them and I want them to feel they can come to me at any time and we can work out any issue we need to. It’s my job to earn their trust and be there for them and develop them as they need."

The 15-minute call was short on specifics, although Pentland was asked how he would deal with Alex Rodriguez (of course), Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and the new shortstop, Didi Gregorius. He was also asked if he would take measures to increase the Yankees' production against the shift, which especially has seemed to hurt Teixeira when he was hitting from the left side.

Rodriguez
Rodriguez
On A-Rod: "I’ve seen Alex for a long time. I saw him in his first professional games and in the instructional league. He’s been a tremendous talent over the years. I’m looking forward to being around him and being with him. Him and I have talked over the years, just hi and hello kind of conversations, but I have a great deal of respect for his career and what he’s done, so, you know, I have a great deal of respect for him. I hope he has a successful season and I’ll be there for him."

Teixeira
Teixeira
On Tex: "Mark Teixeira was certainly a plus player in Texas, and he has been with the Yankees. If we can keep him injury-free and he needs any adjustments, we'll be there for him. I've talked to him briefly when he was with the Rangers, kind of like a hello, how are you kind of deal. I'm looking forward to spending time with him and being around him. I have an open mind. Whatever happened in the past means nothing to me. We'll start anew, and from what I understand, he's had some wrist injuries. Injury is part of this game. Hopefully we can keep him healthy."

Beltran
Beltran
On Beltran: "I had Carlos when he was a little younger (as the hitting coach in Kansas City in 2003), but him and I had a great rapport and I’m sure that will continue. He was a tremendous athlete. Obviously he’s not 25 anymore, but there’s plenty left in him, and his experience and his knowledge of hitting, he’s been in New York before, we just got to keep him healthy."

And on the shift: "Yeah, we'll talk about it. The player has to buy in, number one. The shift becomes almost a mental block sometimes. It's not only the Yankees, it's a lot of teams that are going through that situation. You can't completely change players, but we certainly could talk about it and work on it and make them understand. Sometimes you've got to think more in the middle of the diamond rather than focus on so much pull. But obviously that's something between me and the player."

Pentland had high praise for Gregorius: “I saw Didi a lot when I was with the Dodgers. I was there when they brought him up, and he started out very well, but just like most young hitters, they figure him out eventually. He’s an incredibly athletic player, he’s got a huge future, and I’m very excited that he’s a Yankee. I always thought there’s a lot [of ability] in there. We’ve got to get it out, and we’ve got to work it, but the problem with younger players, you’ve got to be a little bit more patient. I think this guy has a big upside.”

He also had to answer the inevitable question, to wit, how does a former minor-league pitcher become a major league hitting coach?

"I was very good at pitching -- I just hated it," he said. "Hitting was a little bit harder for me, but I loved to hit."

Was he any good at it?

“I wasn’t bad," he said. "I’m not going to talk about myself, but I wasn’t bad. Certainly they tried me at catcher, so that tells you, because I had a good arm and I was probably the last left-handed catcher in the game because I could swing the bat a little bit. I just wasn’t big enough to hit 20 and 30 homers, which as an outfielder or first baseman, that was a pretty good priority.”

Pentland even has a witness to attest about his hitting prowess: "You can ask Reggie. Him and I were roommates, so he'd be a good source."

"Reggie," of course, is Reginald Martinez Jackson, Mr. October, and if Jeff Pentland had a few of those on this Yankees roster, his job would look a whole lot easier.

Red Sox, Yankees in similar spot at SS

January, 15, 2015
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Gregorius, BogaertsIcon SportswireWill Didi Gregorius and Xander Bogaerts help usher in a new era of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry?
The Red Sox and Yankees have had dramatically different experiences at shortstop over the past decade-plus, but the age-old rivals enter 2015 in a strikingly similar situation at the position.

Both teams are counting on high-potential youngsters -- 24-year-old Didi Gregorius in New York and 22-year-old Xander Bogaerts in Boston -- to take over what is arguably the most important position on the field.

Before we move forward, however, let’s pause for a look back at where they’ve been.

Red Sox: Nine shortstops since 2004

Since 1996, just two players have spent more than 100 games at shortstop for the Yankees: Derek Jeter (2,659) and Eduardo Nu˝ez (152). Over that same span, the Red Sox have had 11 different shortstops play at least 100 games at the position.
Nine of those players followed the departure of Nomar Garciaparra (956 games) midway through 2004, defying conventional baseball wisdom (stability up the middle) in coinciding with the greatest era in Back Bay baseball since Babe Ruth called Jersey Street home.

In the 10-plus seasons after the Red Sox dealt Garciaparra, Larry Lucchino & Co. displayed mastery in sewing together a patchwork of left-side infielders, including World Series-winning shortstops Orlando Cabrera (a rental), Julio Lugo (a journeyman) and Stephen Drew (a shadow of his former self), all of whom were in the first year of service with the Sox.

Yankees: Jeter’s decline

For a majority of his career, Jeter was a rock for the Bronx Bombers, piling up Hall of Fame-worthy feats while collecting championship jewelry. The past few seasons, his decline was pronounced.

Always a target of sabermetrician ire, even to the statistical layman The Captain was clearly more a liability than an asset in three of the final four seasons of his career. Injuries cost him all but 17 games in 2013 and he managed full-season career lows in most aggregate offensive categories in 2014.

In fact, Yankees shortstops posted their worst slugging percentage, runs total and at-bats per walk rate since 1990, when Alvaro Espinoza primarily played there. Jeter was at that spot for 78 percent of New York’s innings.

Yankees shortstops also were awful with the leather last season, setting a franchise low (dating back to 1903) of 3.2 chances per game. Their 64 double plays turned in 2014 were the fewest for New York since 1916, seven years before the original Yankee Stadium was built and just five years after they became known as the Yankees.

The future: Gregorius and Bogaerts

The franchises have pushed the reset button, coincidentally with players who both hail from the former Netherlands Antilles.

With Pablo Sandoval entrenched at third base, Bogaerts (Aruba) is finally able to slide back to shortstop to provide the consistency Boston has lacked there on a daily basis.

In the Bronx, the newly acquired and less-heralded Gregorius (Curašao) is facing the unenviable task of replacing the legendary No. 2 while playing for his third big league team in four seasons.

Both have great potential, but have very different shoes to fill. In terms of their big league production thus far, they’re starting from strikingly comparable places.

Similar to 1996, when Jeter and Garciaparra both became regulars, it will be fun to see if this new blood can rekindle the game’s most storied rivalry.
Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, Andrew MillerUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesGoodbye Derek Jeter, hello Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius and Andrew Miller.
NEW YORK -- For the better part of the past two decades, most Yankees teams arrived in the Bronx fully formed, made up of either longtime Yankees, established veterans (read: stars) from other clubs, or highly-touted and sought-after rookies and imports from other leagues.

Now, there's the 2015 Yankees.

Gone from last year's roster are no fewer than 20 big league-caliber players, including Derek Jeter. In their place will be 14 (relatively) new faces, 13 of which were acquired through free agency or trades, and one of which, Alex Rodriguez, is a very familiar face that hasn’t been seen on a baseball field in more than a year due to a drug suspension.

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Are you satisfied with the Yankees' offseason moves so far?

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    43%
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    57%

Discuss (Total votes: 12,328)

Ring out the old, ring in the new. Call it rebuilding, retooling or reloading, it will be a very different Yankees team that takes the field in Tampa for the first full-squad spring training workout on Feb. 27, and who knows what the team will look like by the time it gets to Yankee Stadium on April 6.

“This year will be different, that’s for sure," general manager Brian Cashman said this week. “This spring will be more important than most because there’s a lot of new guys and a lot of guys we don’t know all that much about. There’s a lot of players we have to get to know. Clearly last year there was a big focus on our captain, who’s no longer here. This year the focus will be on all the new guys."

The Yankees are loathe to use the term “rebuilding" -- Goliaths, of course, do not rebuild -- but they can’t run from the reality that with Jeter, the last member of the legendary Core Four, in retirement, this team will have no on-field links (other than manager Joe Girardi) to the glory days of 1996-2000, and less than a handful -- CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner and A-Rod -- to the team that won the 2009 World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies.

“For people to say [the Yankees] are rebuilding with the second-highest payroll, it's silly," said a baseball executive who requested anonymity. “I think every team constantly tries to get better and that's what they’re trying to do."

But have the Yankees actually done that?

In addition to Jeter, the 2015 Yankees will be without David Robertson, who statistically was among the top 10 closers in MLB last year; Hiroki Kuroda, arguably the most consistent starter on their staff the past three seasons; Shawn Kelley, a useful middle reliever; David Phelps, whose versatility was valued by the Yankees both as a starter and a reliever; Francisco Cervelli, a spark plug of a backup catcher; Brandon McCarthy, who performed well as a starter after a midseason trade with the Diamondbacks; Ichiro Suzuki, a future Hall of Famer who stepped into a full-time role when Carlos Beltran got hurt; and Shane Greene, who showed promise as a starter after being thrust into emergency duty due to the rash of injuries to the rotation.

[+] EnlargeChase Headley
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesChase Headley will be back at third base, while Alex Rodriguez remains a (very expensive) wild card.
They also parted with Martin Prado, a trade deadline acquisition who had previously been prized by the Yankees for his ability to play several infield positions as well as the outfield.

They have added Nathan Eovaldi, a young right-hander with a big fastball; Andrew Miller, a lefty who has had a phenomenal season-and-a-half as a setup man and closer; Justin Wilson, who is expected to be the main situational lefty out of their bullpen; Didi Gregorius, a young shortstop who is being asked to replace Jeter; and David Carpenter, another live arm for their bullpen, in exchange for young left-hander Manny Banuelos, formerly the jewel of the Yankees' farm system.

In addition, they re-signed Chase Headley to be their everyday third baseman; Chris Young to be their fourth outfielder, replacing Ichiro; and -- as yet to be officially announced -- Stephen Drew, who unless displaced by either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder in spring training, becomes the next second baseman to try to follow Robinson Cano. They also added journeyman INF/OF Garrett Jones and a handful of young arms to their bullpen, which right now looks like the strongest unit on the club.

But a year after the Yankees spent nearly a half-billion dollars on four free agents -- Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Beltran and Brian McCann -- there was no big-ticket free agent under the Yankees' holiday tree this winter. Jon Lester, Victor Martinez, Nelson Cruz, Pablo Sandoval and yes, Robertson, all signed elsewhere this winter. Max Scherzer and James Shields are still out there, but the Yankees insist they have no interest in either.

“I think ever since they renewed [Cashman, who received a new three-year contract], he's had some ideas about building the team, getting younger and more versatile, and I think they've done that," said the baseball executive. "Does it work? Who knows? I think the whole season comes down to two questions: The starting pitching and the hitting."

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Will the Yankees contend in 2015?

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Discuss (Total votes: 6,525)

There’s no question about the latter, especially with Tanaka, Sabathia and Ivan Nova coming off major injuries and Michael Pineda having a history of major shoulder surgery, and the Yankees' bats struggling to produce fewer runs (633) than they had in 25 years. As a result, the team managed just 84 wins, its lowest total since 1995.

But Cashman disputes the notion that this year’s offseason represents any sort of philosophy change by an organization that has always operated under the Big Bang Theory of baseball. He said the reason the Yankees built through barter rather than bucks this season was strictly due to circumstances.

“It’s a by-product of not having a lot of money coming off the payroll, and of having Alex Rodriguez's money coming back on," Cashman said. “Last year we had a lot of money coming off, which is why we signed all those guys. This year and next year, that’s not the case. We’re locked into a number of guys, for better or worse."

Cashman also said an improvement in the Yankees' farm system -- which is much maligned and has not produced a significant everyday player since Gardner, who was drafted 10 years ago -- made it easier for them to make trades this winter.

"We haven’t always had a lot of tradable parts," he said. "Because of our system becoming stronger we had the ability to interact more on the trade market. You can't be too creative when you have no ammunition to shoot."

[+] EnlargeCarlos Beltran
Elsa/Getty ImagesWill the Yanks get more than 109 games and a .233 average from Carlos Beltran in 2015?
But he also hinted owner Hal Steinbrenner may not have been keen on committing another $400 million-plus this winter as he did last year. “The dialogue was, this is the amount of money we have to deal with," he said.

After flirting with the idea of keeping the 2014 payroll below $189 million to avoid paying the luxury tax, the Yankees wound up spending $203 million in 2014, without having to pay Rodriguez's $25 million salary. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Yankees are committed to about $197 million for 2015, including $21 million for A-Rod.

That should be enough to keep them second on MLB's list, behind the L.A. Dodgers, who in 2014 usurped the Yankees as the biggest-spending team with a $235 million payroll, the first time the Yankees had relinquished the top spot since 1998.

But still, some say the Yankees are spending too little, not too much.

“It’s like they went to an earthquake class in California," said a baseball agent who has dealt with the Yankees. “When you have earthquakes, you can either rebuild your building or find a table to hide under. The Yankees didn’t rebuild their building this winter. They just bought a coffee table to hide under."

It is in any agent's interest, of course, for the Yankees to spend money, and lots of it. But some scouts who spoke to ESPNNewYork.com on condition of anonymity were divided on how effectively the Yankees went about fortifying their roster this winter.

“I like what they did," said one scout. "They are retooling, not rebuilding. [But] even with all the moves, it will come down to the pitching and if Teixeira can carry his weight. Can McCann stay healthy? And where is Beltran's health?"

“I think this is a starting point," said another. “Brian has wanted to get younger and more athletic for a few years but the system hasn’t allowed him to do that. Are they at the top of the perch? No, but this is a step in the right direction."

“The end of the Jeter Era is a significant thing," said a third, a former GM who believes the Yankees' attempt to build a roster out of veterans and young, often unproven players is the right way to go. "You can’t call up only minor leaguers and you can't go just with veterans. You have to combine the two."

 Hal Steinbrenner, Brian CashmanSeth Wenig/AP PhotoHal Steinbrenner's payroll limitations have forced Brian Cashman to get creative.
The agent, however, believes the Yankees should still be conducting themselves like the Yankees, buying up every top free agent, regardless of cost.

"Cashman is acting like he's the GM of the Oakland A's, and Hal can't keep using that $200 million payroll as a shield," he said. "Because of that, the Yankees are not going to be a playoff team this year, and probably not next year either. There's going to be a lot of empty seats in New York this season."

Yankees attendance was slightly up by about 1,500 fans per game in 2014, but is still down by about 300,000 since 2009. At the prices the Yankees charge for tickets, fans have come to expect a winner. Or, at least, a team that gives the appearance it might develop into one.

Cashman admits he can't guarantee the former but he believes he has accomplished the latter.

“We had a whole number of areas to think through and address," he said. "I think that in the position I'm in, you can never be happy. We're always best to be concerned. But I think we've addressed our needs to the best of our abilities. We were able to retain all or most of our high-end prospects. And I think the major league club has been improved."

And Cashman rejects the notion that a wholesale changeover in team personnel will mean a long period of mediocre, October-less seasons.

"I'm not trying to win a beauty contest here," he said. "I'm trying to win ballgames."

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.271 16 70 71
OTHER LEADERS
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
WM. Tanaka 13
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146