New York Yankees: Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts bails out Yanks vs. Twins

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
MINNEAPOLIS -- The New York Yankees needed a historic performance from Brian Roberts to skate by the Minnesota Twins on Friday.

The Yankees (43-42) entered this four-game series in Minnesota batting .223 overall and .141 with runners in scoring position, and while they’ve turned things around at Target Field, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a mirage or actual change.

New York has hit 6-for-14 for 12 RBIs with runners in scoring position, yet has won the back-to-back games against the punchless Twins by an average of two runs. The Yankees own the Twins at Target Field, now 13-3 since the park opened in 2010, but needed a stellar defensive play by first baseman Mark Teixeira, more solid innings from relievers and four extra-base hits by Roberts to seal the deal on Friday.

[+] EnlargeBrian Roberts
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesBrian Roberts' four extra-base hits were pivotal in the Yankees' Fourth of July win.
Roberts’ four extra-base outing is the first for a Yankee since Alex Rodriguez did so in 2005 and only the fourth such performance in the past 40 years for New York.

“I really think guys are starting to swing the bat a lot better,” Roberts said. “When you look at the way some of us have had our struggles and done what we had so far: McCann started swinging the bat well; Beltran started swinging the bat well. Hitting is contagious.”

The Yankees suffered without McCann in the lineup, who has hit 3-for-8 in his past two games, but had to survive off unlikely performances once again. On Thursday, it was major league rookie Zelous Wheeler with two hits and a home run. On Friday, the Yankees relied on Francisco Cervelli (hitting .192 before Friday) and Roberts (.248) to account for seven of the team’s 10 hits, as Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Teixeira hit 3-for-19 (.158). Beltran and Brendan Ryan each had sac flies.

New York had averaged just three runs per game in the past 11 contests before beginning their 11-game road trip heading into the All-Star break.

They’re averaging 6.5 runs in these two wins in Minnesota.

“We’ve said all along: These guys are good hitters, and eventually it’s going to turn,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Last few days, we’ve swung the bat really, really well.”

Has it really turned?

We’ve seen a slight uptick in offensive production, but it must be taken with a grain of salt, as Minnesota as a team has a 4.37 ERA on the season, which is bad enough for 28th out of 30 teams. The Twins have plenty of issues on the mound, just like the Yankees, which can lead to misleading games.

For New York, Chase Whitley (3-2) lasted just three innings and now has a 14.81 ERA across his past three starts. David Huff (2-0) pitched three scoreless innings in relief of Whitley and picked up the win for the Yankees.

Huff hasn’t pitched more than 3 2/3 innings this season but said he could start if asked.

“I think I am. I don’t know how deep and how long I could possibly go,” Huff said. “Haven’t done it this year yet. We’ll have to see.”

As excited as Girardi was to see the Yankees put some runs on the board, it was defense and relievers who saved the game from going into extra innings.

Teixeira’s RBI double in the first inning help set up the Yankees’ 3-0 lead to start the game, but his low, reaching catch at first base robbed Eduardo Escobar of a RBI single in the eighth with the tying run at third.

“That’s a huge play, or we’re in a tie ballgame,” Girardi said.

David Robertson notched his 20th save on the season with three strikeouts in the bottom of the ninth.

Though it’s a relief for New York to claim back-to-back wins after a five-game losing streak, the manner in which they’ve done so should make you wonder if it’s sustainable.

Roberts gets rewarded for hitting it hard

July, 4, 2014
Jul 4
Brian Roberts may have been due for a day like this.
Though Roberts entered Friday's game with the Minnesota Twins hitting only .237, he also entered as the Yankees leader in hard-hit rate this season.

What's hard-hit rate?

It's a stat kept by video-tracking services that provide data to major-league teams. They rate every batted ball as hard-hit, medium-hit, or soft-hit based on video review. Those tracking look for favorable velocity off the bat and for contact on the sweet spot of the bat. Hard-hit rate is simply hard-hit balls divided by total at-bats (plus sacrifice flies). The average non-pitcher's hard-hit rate is usually between 16 and 17 percent by season's end. Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira entered Friday ranked second on the Yankees at 18 percent. Victor Martinez leads the majors with a 27 percent rate.

Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long has previously noted that he's a fan of that type of stat, which may explain why Roberts is still in the lineup despite the presence of .340-hitting prospect Rob Refsnyder in Triple-A.

Roberts, who entered the day with a hard-hit rate of 19 percent, hit five balls on the button in Friday's win, netting three doubles and a triple, along with a line-drive out. He's the first Yankees player with three doubles and a triple in the same game since Red Rolfe did so against the Tigers on Aug. 11, 1936 (a game in which Lou Gehrig homered) and the first Yankees player with four extra-base hits in a game since Alex Rodriguez on April 18, 2005.

Though Roberts is hitting the ball hard, he hasn't had as many days in which he reaped the rewards as you might expect.

The average player gets a hit on 70 percent of his hard-hit balls. Roberts entered Friday with only a 60 percent success rate (down from his 70 percent success rate last season). If Roberts had matched his hard-hit batting average from 2013, he would have entered Friday hitting 20 points higher than he was (.257 instead of .237). He got a chunk of that 20-point differential back on Friday, raising his season batting average to its current .248.

"We've said all along that his numbers were not really indicative of how he's swinging the bat," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi after the game. "We think he's hitting the ball pretty hard. He just didn't hit them at people [today]."

Notes: Brian Roberts X-rays negative

May, 24, 2014
May 24
CHICAGO -- New York Yankees second baseman Brian Roberts said X-rays on his bruised right knee were negative. He plans on being available for Saturday's game after fouling a pitch directly off his kneecap.

"Everything is fine," Roberts said following the Yankees' 6-5 loss to the White Sox.

After fouling the ball off the knee in the fourth inning, Roberts remained in the game until being taken out for defense in the ninth.

"I just said, 'I don't want to be a detriment,' " Roberts said of what he told manager Joe Girardi. "If you think someone can move around better, then feel free. I told him I could finish."

Jeter on Aparicio: Derek Jeter tied Luis Aparicio for second place on the all-time games played list at shortstop.

"Aparicio, everyone knows how great he is," Jeter said of the shortstop who played the majority of his career with the White Sox. "I guess it is ironic that we are here. It is hard to believe when you think about the history of the game. There is only one guy who has played more games. It is something I'm proud of. I take pride in doing my job and being available to play every day. You have your name in the company with someone like him, it is pretty special."

Johnson will play first again: Even after his struggles on defense at first, Girardi said he will play Kelly Johnson there again.

"He is a guy who can handle that position, I believe," Girardi said. "Tonight, he had a tough night. They weren't the easiest plays in the world. One was scoop, the other one was a low throw into the runner a little bit. He can handle it."
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- By this time tomorrow, the Yankees should be announcing the reinstatement to their roster of Mark Charles Teixeira, their $23-million-a-year first baseman who is expected to be ready to return after a 15-day stay on the disabled list with a hamstring strain.

That means there will be one infielder too many on the Yankees roster, and someone will have to go.

Rest assured, it will not be Yangervis Solarte.

[+] EnlargeYangervis Solarte
AP Photo/Steve NesiusYangervis Solarte won't be leaving the Yankees lineup anytime soon.
The 26-year-old rookie, whose formidable skill set somehow eluded the detection of the Minnesota Twins organization for six minor league seasons and the Texas Rangers for two more, is among the leading hitters not only on the Yankees roster, but in the American League. He started Friday night's game leading the AL in batting (.373), on-base percentage (.448), slugging percentage (.569), doubles (seven) and hits (19).

So he's not going anywhere soon. The slipper might yet fall off in this Cinderella story, but he's already done too much for the Yankees to be in any hurry to pull the plug on him.

However, when Teixeira comes back, he's going right back to first base. That means Kelly Johnson is going back to third. Derek Jeter is a fixture (no jokes, please) at shortstop. And Brian Roberts was signed to play second base -- most days anyway.

So where does Solarte fit in, and who sits to make room for him?

"I’ll worry about that when we get there," manager Joe Girardi said. "The kid has played great, there’s no doubt about it. If you’re playing well -- and you’re playing extremely well -- you’re going to continue to play someplace."

Girardi agreed that it was unusual that a player who appears as poised and accomplished as Solarte has in his first 17 big league games could have been overlooked by not one, but two major league organizations over a period of eight years.

But he refused to take the bait that somehow what Solarte has shown the Yankees is an illusion and that eventually, and inevitably, he will return to being the player that never impressed either the Twins or the Rangers enough to take a chance on him. The Rangers, in fact, allowed him to leave as a minor league free agent, and the Yankees scooped him up.

"Some guys are late bloomers," Girardi said. "It’s a short sample, I understand that, but it seems like the kid has an idea of what he’s doing. Sometimes, you wonder how a guy doesn’t get an opportunity."

So far, he has shown an ability to play two infield positions -- second and third -- and Girardi said he would even consider using him at shortstop "in a pinch." So badly did the Yankees want to find a role for him this spring that they even tried him in left field. An added plus is that he's a switch-hitter who has shown equal ability from each side of the plate.

"There are those days you think, 'Is there a day he’s not going get a hit?' and he finds a way to get a hit," Girardi said. "He’s just been really consistent with what he’s done. No matter where we’ve played him, third or second, he’s done a good job for us. He has not been fazed by his surroundings at all. You think about some of the people that he’s probably looked up to over the years watching them play. He’s sitting next to them now performing at an extremely high level."

So there's no question he will continue to play. He will even play tonight, I would bet, even though he fouled a ball off his left shin in the seventh inning last night and was dragging a huge bag of ice on his lower leg in the clubhouse afterward.

When asked Solarte if he was OK to play, he laughed. "I'm fine, fine," he said.

He's come too far to allow something as minor as a bruised shin to keep him out of the lineup.

He'll be in there, all right. The question is where, and in place of whom?

Question: When Tex returns, who should Yangervis Solarte replace in the Yankees infield, Kelly Johnson or Brian Roberts?

Tonight: The Yankees need length out of Ivan Nova (2-1, 5.94 ERA) after the bullpen meltdown in Friday's 11-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Nova faces right-hander Chris Archer (1-1, 4.50) in Game 3 of this four-game series. First pitch is at 7:10 p.m.

Cashman: Roberts out with bad back

April, 13, 2014
Apr 13
NEW YORK -- The oft-injured Brian Roberts is hurt again. Yankees GM Brian Cashman confirmed that Roberts is out with a back injury on Sunday.

Roberts had an MRI that the team said was negative. He will be reevaluated over the next few days.

Roberts, 36, has hit .129 in 11 of the Yankees' first 13 games. The Yankees signed Roberts to be their starting second baseman for the low-risk price of $2 million, hoping he could stay healthy.

Roberts hasn't played in at least half a season without getting hurt since 2009, when he played in 157 games. In 2013, with the Orioles, he appeared in 77 games, his most since '09.

Roberts was an AL All-Star in 2005 and 2007.

If Roberts is out for an extended period, the Yankees have Yangervis Solarte, Dean Anna and Kelly Johnson, who can all play second. However, they are needed at first, third and at times short.

The Yankees have no infielders at Triple-A on the 40-man roster. This means if they wanted to call up an infielder, they would have to remove a player -- and possibly lose them -- from the 40-man roster.

The New York Post first reported Roberts' back injury.

2014 Projections: Yankees starting lineup

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran & Jacoby EllsburyGetty Images/USA TODAY SportsBrian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury are among the new faces in the Yankees' lineup.
If you watched the New York Yankees in 2013, you saw a lot of at-bats by guys in pinstripes who didn't seem to have much of a chance to do damage.

After Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner, the Yankees with the most at-bats were, in order, Ichiro Suzuki, Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, Eduardo Nunez, Chris Stewart, Jayson Nix and Travis Hafner.

It is no wonder the Yankees were in the bottom half of baseball (16th) in runs scored. All the names above -- besides Gardner -- are either gone or insignificant. So the 2014 Yankees figure to score more.

How much more? Well, ESPN New York has its individual projections and Insider Dan Szymborski's fancy ZiPS machine has some, too. Spoiler alert: Man is a little more optimistic than machine.

We have assigned each Yankees position player to one of three categories, compared to the team's performance at the position last year: On the Way Up, On the Way Down or Push.


Mark Teixeira, First Baseman
2013: 15 games, .151, 3 HR, 12 RBIs, .557 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 134 games, .253, 26 HR, 84 RBIs, .826 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 82 games, .248, 17 HR, 45 RBIs, .804 OPS

ON THE WAY UP: Overbay had his moments early with the Yankees, but from first base in 2013, the Yankees received a .229 batting average and a .690 OPS. So if Teixeira can stay reasonably healthy, he should be better than that.

ZiPS projects that Teixeira will make it through about half the games.

Tex turns 34 in April, so he is not ancient, and I think he can stay on the field and be productive. If Teixeira has trouble with his surgically repaired wrist, the Yankees could be doomed because the backup first baseman is starting third baseman Kelly Johnson, which would start a musical chairs effect that may guarantee the Yankees don’t make the playoffs.


Brian Roberts, Second Baseman
2013: 77 games, .249, 8 HR, 39 RBIs, .704 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 74 games, .253, 7 HR, 34 RBIs, .682 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 53 games, .246, 4 HR, 25 RBIs, .668 OPS

ON THE WAY DOWN: When Cano returns to Yankee Stadium at the end of April, he is probably going to be booed. He shouldn’t be. The guy played nearly every game the past five years and produced. Even if Roberts stays healthy, he is no Cano. Says who? Says everyone, including Roberts. Roberts also basically said the Yankees simply want him to stay on the field. That might be enough.

The team replaced Cano’s offense by signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. But head-to-head, on both sides of the ball, this is a major downgrade.


Derek Jeter, Shortstop
2013: 17 games, .190, 1 HR, 7 RBIs, .542 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 132 games, .273, 9 HR, 44 RBIs, .731 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 69 games, .259, 5 HR, 39 RBIs, .679 OPS

ON THE WAY UP: Turning 40 in his final major league season, it is not that Jeter will be as great as ever, but rather if he reaches the level we project, he will further illuminate how the Yankees failed to replace him last year. Including Jeter’s 17 games, Yankees shortstops hit .228 in 2013 with a sub-.600 OPS.

Jeter, who didn’t really have a step to lose in the field, may not have much range at short, but he figures to field the balls he gets to. Overall, Jeter’s return on many levels should be a plus, provided he is reasonably healthy, which ZiPS -- yikes, 69 games! -- apparently doesn’t think will happen.


Kelly Johnson, Third Baseman
2013: 118 games, .235, 16 HR, 52 RBIs, .715 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 131 games, .256, 25 HR, 71 RBIs, .741 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 129 games, .232, 18 HR, 56 RBIs, .721 OPS

PUSH: Yes, the Yankees’ third basemen were abysmal in 2013. A .633 OPS, and that is including A-Rod's seven homers in 44 games. A-Rod didn’t look half-bad, but really, with his 39th birthday approaching and with his variety of serious injuries, even if he weren’t suspended, what would he produce?

Johnson is untested at third, with just 16 games accounting for all his major league action at the position, so he may not field well. Still, with the short porch in right, his lefty swing seems well-suited for the Bronx. At least, that’s what the Yankees think.


Brian McCann, Catcher
2013: 102 games, .256, 20 HR, 57 RBIs, .797 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 122 games, .262, 27 HR, 77 RBIs, .815 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 118 games, .258, 22 HR, 50 RBIs, .791 OPS

ON THE WAY UP: The Yankees made McCann one of their prime winter targets because they knew he would change an extreme negative into a positive. Yankees catchers had a .587 OPS in 2013. That includes Francisco Cervelli's .877 OPS in his 17 games.

So McCann is going to be a major upgrade on offense if he is healthy. His left-handed bat should be able to take advantage of the right-field porch. Behind the plate, McCann is also renowned for framing pitches, though he doesn’t have a great arm. Needless to say, at $85 million guaranteed, McCann better be an upgrade.


Carlos Beltran, Right Fielder
2013: 145 games, .296, 24 HR, 84 RBIs, .830 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 136 games, .286, 29 HR, 81 RBIs, .821 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 133 games, .267, 26 HR, 67 RBIs, .806 OPS

ON THE WAY UP: Beltran turns 37 in April, but he is showing no signs of slowing down. When you are around him, you immediately notice what a pro he is. If he is healthy, I see him having a good year and even ZiPS -- especially in comparison to what it thought of the Yankees’ infield -- believes he will have a pretty good season.


Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Fielder
2013: 134 games, .298, 9 HR, 54 RBIs, 52 SB, .781 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 121 games, .290, 19 HR, 65 RBIs, 41 SB, .783 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 119 games, .286, 14 HR, 73 RBIs, 32 SB, .779 OPS

ON THE WAY UP: Ellsbury could be a difference-maker for the Yankees. When you watch him on an every-day basis, you can fully appreciate his game. The problem? He is not always out there every day. If he is healthy -- are you sick of that qualifier yet? -- he will be a dynamic leadoff man and a plus outfielder.


Brett Gardner, Left Fielder
2013: 145 games, .273, 8 HR, 52 RBIs, 24 SB, .759 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 135 games, .267, 7 HR, 57 RBIs, 26 SB, .762 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 118 games, .259, 6 HR, 64 RBIs, 23 SB, .727 OPS

PUSH: Brett Gardner is probably going to be the same Brett Gardner, which is a plus player. Teamed with Ellsbury and Beltran, the Yankees will have one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. Gardner’s speed variable isn’t fully explained by numbers. Still, the Yankees should stay even when you compare 2013 Gardner to 2014 Gardner.


Alfonso Soriano, Designated Hitter
2013: 151 games, .255, 34 HR, 101 RBIs, .791 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 136 games, .242, 23 HR, 68 RBIs, .725 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 138 games, .247, 32 HR, 75 RBIs, .781

ON THE WAY DOWN: Soriano was amazing during his run with the Yankees last year. He hit 17 homers in 243 at-bats. For the Cubs, Soriano also had 17 homers, but it took 383 at-bats. The Yankees got Soriano at the right time and he produced. However, he may not keep it up.

First, Soriano may not be too pleased to serve as more of a DH than an outfielder. Soriano likes to play the field -- and Joe Girardi will work him in some -- but, barring an injury, there really is no good reason to have Soriano pick up a glove when Ellsbury, Gardner and Beltran are clearly better fielders. So Soriano will have to adjust to being the DH on a more full-time basis.


Ichiro Suzuki, Backup Outfielder
2013: 150 games, .262, 7 HR, 35 RBIs, .639 OPS
ESPN New York Projection: 71 games, .253, 2 HR, 19 RBIs, .625 OPS
ZiPS Projection: 142 games, .273, 8 HR, 43 RBIs, .673 OPS

ON THE WAY DOWN: Ichiro is going to receive significant playing time only if there are injuries. Despite his legend and his future Hall of Famer status, Ichiro is not a very valuable player anymore because he is a singles hitter who doesn’t hit enough singles. His on-base percentage last year was only .297, so there is a better chance he’ll be traded or cut than he will receive a significant amount of playing time.

Roberts, just another guy with Yanks

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
TAMPA, FLA. -- Diana Roberts is used to being recognized. As Brian Roberts' wife in Baltimore, everyone knew her husband was a two-time All-Star and, when healthy, one of the most important players on the Orioles.

Earlier this week, she was entering George M. Steinbrenner Field when a security guard stopped her.

"Diana, right?" the guard said.

She said, "Yeah."

The guard responded, "I don't know your last name."

Later, she said told Brian, "That was so odd for me. Usually, they are like, 'you are Brian's wife.'"

That is now the life of Brian Roberts, unsung Yankee. Once the face of the Orioles' franchise, he is now just another face in the crowd.

He is trying to follow in the Yankees' recent tradition of extending the careers of former stars.

"It is just different to be the guy in the back that no one knows about or cares about," said Roberts, who faced his old club on Tuesday night at Steinbrenner Field. "I think that does help guys at times when you are trying to get back on your feet."

The Yankees are hoping the injury-cursed Roberts, 36, will follow the model of Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez, not Travis Hafner or Vernon Wells. They have liked Roberts' game for a long time.

During the first week of free agency and months before Robinson Cano fled to Seattle, assistant general manager Billy Eppler contacted Roberts' agent.

"Just to say, 'Hey, look, we always appreciated the way he has played, but we have to let some situations sort of vet themselves over here first,'" Eppler said prior to Tuesday's game. "We should stay in touch through the process. If you are going to come off the board or you are going to make a decision soon, let us know. If we are going to close on something else or we are out, I will give you the heads-up."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter didn't really see much of Roberts because he only averaged 48 games per season since Showalter became the manager in 2010.

"He's got a little more thump than people think," Showalter said.

Eppler said they think the switch-hitting Roberts' lefty swing could play well with the right porch. When Roberts has been healthy, he has racked up doubles (an AL-best 56 in 2009) and has hit for some power (16 in 2009).

"We really like the way he plays the game," Eppler said.

Roberts lockers near Derek Jeter and knows he doesn't have to be the go-to guy anymore for the media and fans.

"I think they just want me to be on the field with a uniform on and the rest is just icing on the cake," Roberts said.

That's the plan.

"I don't know about 150 games, but I think if he performs the way that he is capable of we would like to play him as much as we can," Joe Girardi said.

Brian Roberts: I'm no Robinson Cano

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
TAMPA, Fla. -- Derek Jeter whispered seven little words into Brian Roberts' ear that Roberts never forgot and made him believe in himself.

[+] EnlargeBrian Roberts, Derek Jeter
AP Photo/Gail BurtonBrian Roberts and Derek Jeter, before they were teammates.
It was 2004, Roberts recalls. He was 26. Jeter was 30, already a star. Roberts made it to second base, and the always chatty (on the field, anyway) Jeter saddled up next to him.

"You can hit .300 in this league," Roberts remembers the Yankees' captain telling him.

It made an impact on Roberts. The year before, he had hit .270. In 2004, he finished at .273. In 2005, he batted .314, was an All-Star and hit more doubles than anyone else in baseball.

Roberts might have hit .300 anyway, but he thinks Jeter boosted his confidence.

“To hear it from someone like that, it just kind of opens your eyes," said Roberts, who was Jeter's World Baseball Classic teammate in 2009. "I don’t think it’s just me. I think he does it to everybody. But for some reason when he tells it to you, you think you’re the most important person in the world. He’s just kind of got that personality, and he’s so good with people.”

Ten years later, Roberts has a chance to be Jeter's double-play partner as Jeter closes out his career, replacing Robinson Cano.

Well, not exactly replacing Cano.

"Robbie is such a special player. I'm not going to go in and be Robbie," said Roberts, now 36. "Nobody will be. Our goal is to put nine guys on the field to win a game. My goal is to try and help us do that. I'm sure there are going to be people who are going to want to look out there and say, 'He is not Robbie.' I'm not going to be Robbie, and I'm not going to try to be. I'm going to be Brian Roberts, and hopefully that is good enough."

The real question is, can Roberts stay healthy? He played 77 games in 2013, and that was his most in four years. Roberts has had several injuries, but the toughest were the concussions -- the effects of which have now ceased for nearly two years, he said.

In 2013, Roberts started off well in the Orioles' first two games of the season, going 4-for-8 at the plate, before popping his hamstring tendon in game No. 3 trying to steal a base.

"That was really frustrating for me," Roberts said. "I thought I was in a place where I thought I was going to bounce back and be myself again."

Roberts has watched a farewell tour of a legendary shortstop before. In 2001, when Roberts was a rookie with the Orioles, Cal Ripken Jr. said goodbye.

"I remember him hitting a home run in the eighth [inning] or something in Atlanta, and he got a curtain call," Roberts said. "When does that ever happen? I could see the same thing here happening [with Jeter]. There’s such a select few guys that have meant what they’ve meant to the game, and it’s going to be an incredible experience to play with him this year."

12 burning Bombers questions

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, and Carlos BeltranAP Photo, Getty ImagesThe Yankees missed the playoffs, then promptly reloaded. So what can fans expect in 2014?
NEW YORK -- Every baseball season begins the same way. Players report for spring training. Reporters start asking questions.

Some of those questions, naturally, cannot be fully answered until the season is over, and sometimes not even by then. But that doesn’t stop us from asking them, or trying to guess at their answers.

In that spirit, as the Yankees' pitchers and catchers prepare to report to training camp on Friday, we begin asking our questions today. And coming off only their second playoff-less season in two decades, this year's Yankees team faces some serious issues.

We’ve come up with a dozen questions the Yankees need to answer if they’re going to have a bounce-back 2014 season.

1. Who's on First? This is an easy one, although since he played in just 15 games last season, you might have forgotten about Mark Teixeira. He is said to be healthy and ready to go following wrist tendon surgery, but what kind of player will he be? Teixeira will turn 34 in April, and by his own admission last season, may well be in the start of a decline. And as a frame of reference, Jose Bautista, who had the same surgery in 2012, had a pretty good 118 games in 2013 -- .259 BA, 28 HRs, 73 RBIs, .856 OPS -- but was nowhere near the force he had been in his MVP-caliber 2011 season.

2. What's on Second? Well, it won't be Robinson Cano, doncha know? Right now, the job belongs to Brian Roberts, the veteran Baltimore Orioles second baseman who was signed to a one-year deal by the Yankees as a free agent this winter. Roberts, a career .278 hitter who has averaged roughly seven HRs a season over 13 years -- his high was 18 in 2005 -- will make no one forget Cano at the plate or in the field, but he is a serviceable player who should fit in well.

3. I Don't Know's on Third? Again, we do know who it won't be: Alex Rodriguez. Right now, barring a last-minute signing or the picking up of a late spring training castoff (a la Lyle Overbay last year), it will either be new signing Kelly Johnson or old pal Eduardo Nunez. With the exception of the circus that seems to follow A-Rod, neither can be seen as an improvement: Johnson's past three seasons pretty much mirror A-Rod's production for power, averaging 17 HRs a season, but his BA over that span is .226 and his OPS barely scrapes .700. Nunie, of course, is Nunie -- always an adventure in the field, rarely an explosion at the plate.

4. A short season for the shortstop? Derek Jeter remains a huge question mark, since beginning with spring training last year he was never able to play two back-to-back games in the field and return healthy. True, he’s had more time to heal this winter and presumably will benefit from a normal offseason workout routine. But he will also turn 40 this June and you have to guess he'll spend a lot of his time as a DH this season.

5. Nervous ninths? You betcha. With Mariano Rivera gone, the ninth inning of a Yankees game will not be the same this year, and probably never again. Even if David Robertson rises to the occasion -- and he certainly has the capability to do so -- there's just no way anyone in the stands, or the Yankees' dugout, for that matter, will ever head into a ninth inning with a one-run lead thinking, “This one’s in the bag." With Mo, that was a nightly occurrence, but with Robertson's penchant for putting runners on base -- and admittedly, usually leaving them there -- there will be a lot of sweaty palms in the ballpark before that last out is made.

6. Crazy eighths? Probably, because the Yankees didn't just lose their closer when Mo retired, they lost their eighth-inning guy as well. And no one in baseball set up his closer better than Robertson, who in moving up leaves a gaping hole behind him. Who in the Yankees' bullpen will step up to fill it? Right now, the guess is Shawn Kelley, who was a revelation last season after recovering from a second Tommy John surgery.

7. From whom will the Yankees get minor contributions? As in, from the minor leagues? Well, in the three-part series Andrew Marchand and I did last week on the Yankees' farm system, maybe no one. GM Brian Cashman is hopeful 22-year-old phenom Manny Banuelos, coming off Tommy John surgery, will show enough in spring training to make the team as perhaps the second lefty out of the bullpen. Cashman also believes 24-year-old right-handed flamethrower Jose Ramirez could make an impact. And there is still hope for Dellin Betances, as there should be for any 25-year-old who can hit 97 on the gun.

But aside from those three pitchers -- and J.R. Murphy, who will be given a shot to win the backup catcher's job behind Brian McCann -- there isn’t much on the farm that is ready to be harvested. Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin and Mason Williams are all several years away.

8. Will the new offense make up for the loss of Cano and A-Rod? Possibly. The Yankees lost their best bat in Cano, but you have to remember they got virtually nothing out of the catcher's spot last year -- .213-8-43, .587 OPS -- and McCann will make a huge difference there. Also, Carlos Beltran should be a major upgrade over Vernon Wells, Jacoby Ellsbury -- if he can stay healthy -- is a more powerful version of Brett Gardner, and the Yankees will have the benefit of a full season of Alfonso Soriano, who figures to get the bulk of the right-handed DH duty. It might be difficult to replace the home runs lost with the departures of Cano and Curtis Granderson, but didn't we say that before last season, too? The 2013 Yankees matched the 2012 Yankees for home runs -- in April, anyway. Overall, last year's club hit 101 fewer homers than its predecessor.

9. Can CC find his lost V-LO? Who knows? Sabathia will turn 34 this season and barely avoided finishing as a .500 pitcher for the first time in his career. More alarming was his ERA, which skirted 5.00 (4.78) and was the highest of his career. Most alarmingly of all, the big man’s velocity has steadily declined over the years, from a high of 94.1 in his first season as a Yankee, to an average of 91.4 in 2013. Publicly, the Yankees continue to maintain they believe CC will find those lost mphs this season, but plenty of pitchers his age have had to make the adjustment from thrower to pitcher and he may now be one of them. Also, for those of you who believe he was "too thin" last season, he looks to have lost even more weight this winter. If size = velocity, that may turn out to be good news for CC's cardiologist but bad news for the Yankees.

10. Can Hiro go the distance? It's a legitimate question now that Hiroki Kuroda has shown a disturbing tendency to fade down the stretch in both his seasons as a Yankee. In 2012, he went 4-1 in September but posted a 4.71 ERA. That was good compared to last year, when, to borrow Graig Nettles' famous line about Sparky Lyle, he went from Cy Young to Sayonara virtually overnight, going 1-7 with a 5.40 ERA over the final two months. Hiro turned 39 on Monday and if the Yankees hope to go far in October -- or even get there in the first place -- they need him to stay strong to the finish.

11. Will Masahiro Tanaka come as advertised? Depends on what you’re expecting. Cashman might have offered a clue this weekend when he told's Ian O'Connor that he felt the 25-year-old right-hander could develop into "a really solid, consistent number three starter." Later, Cashman said his words had been “misconstrued" and that he meant Tanaka could be a No. 3 "this year." Whatever. At $155 million, Tanaka has got to be better than that, hasn’t he? And all those teams who lined up to bid on him couldn't be wrong, could they?

All we know is, there's always a lot of adjustments to be made when coming from the Nippon Baseball League to MLB. Some make it seamlessly, like Kuroda and Yu Darvish. Others struggle to keep up, like Daisuke Matsuzaka. And some never make the adjustment (dare we mention Kei Igawa?) Sabathia, Kuroda and Ivan Nova form a nice foundation for a starting rotation, but if Tanaka can’t make the adjustment, all the offense in the world is unlikely to help the Yankees.

12. Is Cashman on the hot seat? Highly doubtful. The GM is in the final year of his contract, but he made some gutsy choices this offseason and if the team rebounds the way it might, he should reap much of the credit. Besides, Hal Steinbrenner is not George M. Steinbrenner; he has shown no inclination for scapegoating or knee-jerk firings and I can't see him kicking Cashman to the curb if the team fails to produce. Now, might Cashman decide to walk on his own?

Well, that’s just one more question that we can ask today, but won't be able to answer for another six months. At least.

Roster reset: Roberts in, Reynolds next?

December, 17, 2013

The New York Yankees have agreed on a $2 million, one-year deal with Brian Roberts, adding him to the post-Robinson Cano second-base mix. At this point, the injury-prone Roberts will compete with Dean Anna and Kelly Johnson for the spot, with the position ultimately being manned by a combination of these players or a yet-to-be-added infielder.


What's your reaction to the Yankees' one-year deal with Brian Roberts?


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But the Yankees could re-sign Mark Reynolds next, with the hope of platooning him with Johnson at third. The two would offer Alex Rodriguez suspension/injury protection.

With Reynolds starting against lefties and Johnson against righties, the Yankees would have a power-hitting but defensively deficient combo. Still, it might not be bad.

Here is an issue that will work itself out via trade and/or injuries by the end of spring training. You can only have 25 players on the roster. So let's take a look, going on the assumption the Yankees will have 11 pitchers when they break spring training and head north -- or west, as they begin the season in Houston. For this exercise, we will keep A-Rod suspended. This would be the rest of the projected roster, including Roberts and Reynolds.

12. Brian McCann, C
13. Francisco Cervelli, C
14. Mark Teixeira, 1B
15. Derek Jeter, SS
16. Brendan Ryan, SS/2B
17. Carlos Beltran, OF
18. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF
19. Brett Gardner, OF
20. Alfonso Soriano, OF
21. Ichiro Suzuki, OF
22. Kelly Johnson, 2B/3B/OF
23. Mark Reynolds, 3B/3B
24. Brian Roberts, 2B
25. Dean Anna, 2B/SS/3B

That would leave Vernon Wells off the team. Wells or Ichiro figure to be on the outs if Gardner remains with the club. They actually both could be off the roster because you don't need five outfielders; especially since Johnson can play out there, as well.

Who is going to pitch? That remains a question mark, but maybe Masahiro Tanaka, if he is posted.

Roberts & Anna at second?

December, 16, 2013
When some Yankee people look at Brian Roberts, they see Eric Chavez. Roberts is a guy who, if he can stay healthy, could be helpful.

The problem is, he has played in more than 59 games just once since 2009 (he played in 77 games last season). That's not a good health record.

But with second basemen dropping off the board daily (Omar Infante and Mark Ellis the latest two), the Yankees may have to glue together the position in the short term. Roberts, 36, could be part of the equation as a buy-low candidate who may have some dividends.

Meanwhile, the Yankees like Dean Anna. He is the career minor leaguer the Yankees acquired in a little trade earlier this winter. He is a 27-year-old, left-handed hitting second baseman. Anna had an .892 OPS in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League.

Anna's OPS shot up to .929 against righties, so it seems possible the Yankees could sign Roberts at a cheap rate and go into the year with the idea of a platoon. Anna would start against righties with Roberts in the lineup against lefties.

Roberts, who switch hits, has a .716 OPS against lefties and a .782 against righties. So if Anna doesn't work out, then Roberts could play more. The Yankees know, though, that they would have to protect Roberts, just liked they did with Chavez.

The Yankees also have Kelly Johnson, who can swing the bat, but he may not have the glove to put out at second every day. Spot duty? Sure. Part of a platoon? Maybe. But Johnson might be exposed defensively if he was in the lineup every day at second. But he is in the mix, of course.

The Yankees declined a deal for Brandon Phillips. They are hesitant to give up Brett Gardner in a trade, but, as their best chip, Gardner, a free agent at the end of next year, will be the central figure in rumors if he remains a Yankee.

So if Roberts/Anna were to happen and not work out, the Yankees could reconsider moving Gardner for a second baseman.

Tanaka to take center stage?

December, 10, 2013

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If the Yankees are going to make one more big buzz move, it will likely be for Masahiro Tanaka. That is, if Tanaka is posted.

There are MLB officials who think Tanaka's team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, will post him even if they are dissatisfied with the $20 million maximum posting fee, while there are others who think they won't and will instead keep him for one or two more years.

Well, everything could become a little clearer as Rakuten's president Yozo Tachibana is going to arrive here at the Swan & Dolphin Hotel, according to Yahoo Sports.

If Tanaka is posted, the Yankees will be big players for him and, with the $189 million goal looking less and less likely, they may just blow everyone else away.

NEEDS: Yankees GM Brian Cashman is scheduled to meet with the media at some point this afternoon. Since Cashman didn't arrive until mid-afternoon on Monday, he didn't talk. He and his team were holed up in their suite, looking into trades for Brett Gardner, among others.

Still, it is hard to see how the Yankees don't dip back into free agency with holes to fill at second, third and in the pitching staff. Plus, you never know, they might decide they need a seventh outfielder.

THE BINDER: Each manager speaks at the winter meetings. At 4:30 p.m., Joe Girardi will step up to the mic. It will be the first time he has talked since Robinson Cano left.

GRANDY MAN: Curtis Granderson will be introduced as a Met at 12:30 p.m. here.

WHAT DO YOU THINK: The Yankees have been in on Omar Infante, but Brian Roberts hasn't been associated with them.

Roberts, 36, meets the age requirement, but he is not nearly as durable as Cano. His 77 games played in 2013 were the most for him since 2009.

SIMON SAYS: Our colleage Mark Simon chimes in with this nugget:

Frank Lary earned the nickname “Yankee-killer”for his success against the team in the 1950s and 1960s. Lary was 28-13 with a 3.32 ERA in his career against a Yankees dynasty facing the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and other Yankees legends.

In addition to being a great pitcher, Roy Halladay, who retired on Monday, was this generation’s Frank Lary, the premier Yankees killer of the past 20 seasons. He went 18-7 with a 2.98 ERA against the Yankees from 1999 to 2010. That included a stretch from 2003 to 2009 in which he won 13 of 15 decisions, including a one-hit shutout, a two-hit shutout and a three-hit shutout.

With Halladay retired, who now holds the title? We’ve got a few names in mind. The most natural of those is Felix Hernandez, but the Yankees have gotten him a few times. He’s 8-5 with a 2.89 ERA against them, with a pair of two-hit shutouts in Yankee Stadium.

A.J. Burnett (6-3 with a 2.43 ERA) would be another possibility, but he could retire (or end up in the National League with the Pirates again). A good sleeper choice is Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays, who is 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA in seven starts over the past three seasons.

And then there’s Oliver Perez, who doesn’t start any more, but has a dominant history against the Yankees. He’s 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 48 2/3 innings pitched against them, with most of that damage coming as a member of the Mets.



Masahiro Tanaka
13 2.77 141 136
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146