The first of 33 scheduled exhibition games is slated for March 3 against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater. The Yankees' first spring game at home will take place the following day, also against the Phillies.
The spring schedule includes five night games at The Boss, and the crosstown rival Mets will visit the Yankees in Tampa on March 25. The Yankees will trek down to Port St. Lucie to play the Mets on March 22.
Season tickets for Yankees spring training home games are on sale beginning Monday, Oct. 20, and can be purchased here or here. Individual game tickets go on sale Friday, January 9, 2015 at the Steinbrenner Field box office, online or through Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000.
On Sunday, he turned it up a notch and was nearly knocked over by Tony Romo as he entered the field for the Cowboys game against the Giants in Dallas.
That would've been something considering the last known time he was at the Cowboys' stadium he was being fed popcorn, which caused a stir.
What does his latest tour mean? Well, who knows, exactly. However, A-Rod -- with his PED suspension officially ending at the conclusion of the World Series -- has always been a football fan. He played quarterback in high school and once told me he thought he could have been a backup quarterback in the NFL, which I think was his attempt at being modest.
Maybe, he wants to be a two-sport star -- or, perhaps more likely, he is ready to assume center stage again.
Today's Candidate: Jon Lester
Age: 31 in January
2014 numbers: $13 million salary, 16-11, 2.46, 219.2 IP, 1.10 WHIP
PROS: He is a top lefty starter at Yankee Stadium, which is always the right combination. He is championship-tested, even if he didn't come through for the A's in the wild-card game this year. He would fit in quite nicely smack between Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. If healthy, it would be an unbelievable 1-2-3 punch with Shane Greene, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia, plus possibly Brandon McCarthy et al, making up a pretty solid rear of the rotation.
Lester is coming off arguably his best season in the majors, which has included many good ones. He basically throws 200 innings every season. All in all, he is an experienced top-of-the-rotation starter. There is a lot to like.
The Yankees have been down this path before. These large contracts that extend into a player's mid-30s are often bad toward the middle and end. Between Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, expectations will likely be dulled for the aging Yankees going into 2015. To continue this cycle has a definite downside because Lester may not age well in pinstripes.
THE VERDICT: Go for it. The Yankees should be in on Lester. They don't have to go crazy, maybe putting a five-year limit on their offer. If someone wants to be beat that, so be it.
Here is the thing, though, about the payroll. Hal Steinbrenner has said teams win the World Series paying less than the Yankees do. But if you want to make the playoffs every year, like the Yankees were doing before the past two blips, you can't really cut back.
You don't sign Lester to win a World Series, you sign him for a chance to win a World Series. You add Lester so your starting pitching is as deep as possible; if the offense can improve a bit, you can get into the tourney.
Starting Wednesday, two wild-card teams will begin play in the World Series. They deserve all the credit in the world, but there is no grand design to be mimicked. The Royals hadn't made the postseason since 1985, so, if you want to do it like them, Yankees fans can wait until 2041 after their own 29-year playoff drought.
The Giants are becoming championship regulars, and while they deserve praise, they have been very fortunate. They have been a 70-or-so-win team five out of the past 10 years. This season, they used the expanded playoffs to sneak in as the second wild card and then had none other than Travis Ishikawa hit the pennant-clinching homer.
The goal of the offseason is to try to give yourself the best chance. The Yankees have to be in on Lester, because he may be the free agent who can most help them return to the playoffs. They need to be in on him, even if they put limits on what they're willing to give.
"It was just kind of my time," Roberts told the Baltimore Sun. "There were numerous reasons that I felt like I couldn't play at a level that I was accustomed to and wanted to play at if I continued to play. I always said that I wasn't going to be the guy that tried to hang on as long as I could."
Roberts signed with the New York Yankees in 2014, but was released in August after hitting .237 in 91 games. He told the Sun that several teams had expressed interest in signing him, but he decided against a deal.
He ends his career with a .276 average, 97 home runs and 542 RBIs.
Baltimore's supplemental first-round pick in 1999 was among the players listed in the 2007 Mitchell report, with Roberts later saying he tried steroids only once, in 2003.
A two-time All-Star, Roberts said he did not speak with the Orioles about an extension after the 2013 season.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mark Teixeira. Of course, you'd probably give him right back.
A player as perceptive and business-savvy as Teixeira -- who will collect $45 million in paychecks from the Yankees over the next two seasons -- would probably be among the first to admit that over the past couple of seasons, he has not even come close to giving his club its money's worth.
You can throw out 2013, when Teixeira missed all but 15 games after suffering a torn wrist tendon sheath that required season-ending surgery. And you can probably excuse some, but not all, of 2014 because it was probably too much to expect a 34-year-old player to fully bounce back from that kind of surgery in less than a year.
What you can't throw out, however, is the nagging belief that for some reason, Teixeira no longer has the burning desire to be the kind of iron man presence he was in his first nine seasons, in which he averaged 153 games, or the ability to be the kind of hitter he was when he was not only hitting 30 home runs and knocking in 100 runs a season, but regularly batting between .280 and .308, his career high in 2008.
In 2014, Teixeira appeared in 123 games, a significant number. But there were too many nagging injuries, and a couple too many unsettling absences -- one for "tired legs" early in the season, another for lightheadedness -- for a player who likes to say, "I play through anything."
Uh, not anymore.
It's possible that at his age -- Teixeira will turn 35 on April 11 -- injuries that he once would have played through now force him to take a day or two off.
But it's also possible that at his salary level and level of achievement -- he's been a world champion, an All-Star and a five-time Gold Glove winner -- the same hunger is no longer there.
I am reminded of a great quote from the former middleweight champion Marvin Hagler, who once described the rigors of training for a title fight as follows: "It's tough to get out of bed to do roadwork when you've been sleeping in silk pajamas." Hagler lost his next fight, to Sugar Ray Leonard, and never got up to do roadwork again.
Where he has not shown much flair, or desire, is in overcoming the effect of the proliferation of shifts that have become the rage in major league baseball, especially against hitters like him. Anyone who can read a spray chart can see that from both sides of the plate, and especially from the left side, Teixeira is as predictable as the clock at the U.S. Naval Observatory.
As a result, although his home run and RBI totals have tailed off gradually, his batting average, on-base percentage and BABIP -- a measure of how many of his balls in play become outs -- have taken a steady, precipitous drop.
And much to the Yankees' dismay, Teixeira has not seemed all that inclined to remedy it.
Just last week, at the news conference to announce his contract extension, GM Brian Cashman acknowledged the adverse effect the shift was having on some of his hitters. "The analytics have proven that certain guys obviously have tendencies that opposing defenses can take advantage of," Cashman said.
Without mentioning any names, Cashman was obviously talking about Brian McCann and Teixeira, the heart of his 2014 batting order that saw too many line drives and hard grounders turned into outs by an infielder stationed in short right field.
Before the 2013 season, Teixeira did mention something about occasionally laying down a bunt or two, to beat the shift and keep opposing defenses honest. But more often, he has shrugged off suggestions that he try to go the other way, saying things like, "I'm in there to drive in runs" and "You don't want to turn me into a slap hitter."
So instead, what he has turned into is a guy who will give you the occasional home run interspersed with a heck of a lot of outs hit into the shift.
Perhaps a new hitting coach will be better able to reach Teixeira regarding his approach than the departed Kevin Long did. But the fact is, the change must come from Teixeira himself.
A baseball insider I spoke with this week said Teixeira's "outside interests" -- he is financially involved in real estate holdings, a chain of juice bars, and is working to create what he called a "marriage of baseball and social media" -- had become a point of concern, with some wondering how badly he still wanted to be a baseball player.
Another said that while Teixeira's health was a factor -- he also missed time with a hamstring injury and recurring soreness in his wrist -- he also needed a change in approach at the plate. "He needs to go back to being the Mark Teixeira who used the whole field," the source said.
In truth, Teixeira's decline began just about as soon as he signed his Yankees deal before the 2009 season. By 2010, his BA had dropped to .256, then to .248, .251, and this year's .216, which was worse than all but two full-time MLB first basemen. His RBI total fell from a career-high 122 in 2009, to 108, 111, 84, and this year's 62, his lowest for a full season.
In just about every other offensive category, Teixeira was in the bottom half of 23 full-time MLB first basemen: 14th in home runs, 19th in RBIs, 19th in on-base percentage, 17th in slugging percentage. As a result, the heart of the Yankees' order, spots three, four and five, generally filled by Teixeira, the underperforming McCann, the oft-injured Carlos Beltran and the misplaced Jacoby Ellsbury, ranked well below the average for the other 14 American League teams.
And here you thought Derek Jeter was the problem!
That missing middle of the order was the reason the Yankees' offense was so feeble this season, and Teixeira was a big part of that.
Like Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira is going to be here, collecting big paychecks and being expected to put up commensurate numbers.
But whether it's in his approach to hitting, his attitude toward playing, or simply the condition of his body, something, and maybe several things, are going to have to change for the Yankees to get what they are paying for.
For nine seasons, you could have set your watch by the numbers on the back of Teixeira's baseball card.
Now, how can anyone be sure of exactly what he is capable of giving them?
QUESTION: Do you expect Teixeira to have a better 2015 season? Or do you think his days as a big-time player are over?
With his shoulder improving as that year went on, the Yankees were convinced McCann's lefty-swinging bat and his renown for handling pitchers would compensate for being worse than league average at throwing out runners.
As it ended up, McCann caught base stealers at a 37 percent clip in 2014, which was the best in baseball. The league average was 27 percent.
McCann also guided a starting staff that was missing four-fifths of its original rotation for much of the season. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a stickler for catchers as a former backstop himself, lauded McCann for how he handled pitchers, crediting McCann for some of the success of the replacements.
Now, don't be mistaken, this is not a defense of McCann's year, which was largely a disappointment. McCann was part of a combination of free-agent hitters asked to replace Robinson Cano's bat -- and he didn't do nearly enough at the plate to make that happen.
Heading into spring training next season, you will hear how McCann will be more comfortable and, with Derek Jeter retired, how McCann might be more of a leader. Those both might be true, but despite McCann's stellar defense, no one will listen to him unless he hits.
In 140 games in 2014, he hit 23 homers, which was just one fewer than his career high. His 75 RBIs were middling for his career. His batting average (.232) was the second lowest of his career and 40 points worse than his career average. His .692 OPS was his worst ever, and, out of the nine catchers who qualified for the batting crown in 2014, it was lower than all but one of them.
His wins above replacement value was tied for 19th among all catchers -- knotted with none other than the Chicago Cubs' Wellington Castillo.
In all, as disappointing of a year as McCann had, it could have been worse if the Yankees' fears about his throwing had been prescient in the first season of a five-year, $85 million deal that can vest to six years and $100 million.
The Yankees were dead-on in their assessment that marrying McCann and the right-field porch would end in home run bliss. McCann hit 19 of his 23 homers in the Bronx. At home, his OPS was .784, which is respectable and in the neighborhood of his .808 career OPS, but still off his .832 career home OPS.
On the road, though, McCann had major issues. His OPS was .591. 5-9-1! Five-nine-one!
Brendan Ryan's career OPS is .610. In 2014, Ichiro Suzuki's OPS was .664, while Jeter's was .617.
That is in the first year of a five-year deal. Those contracts are designed to be good at the beginning and leave you praying they're not an albatross at the end.
So there is concern if McCann's bat is on the way down. If you combine his past three seasons, his overall OPS is just .723, a decline from his .800-plus number overall.
If possible, McCann must overcome the shift. This is easier said than done when pitchers are throwing the ball 90 miles per hour or faster.
But McCann took the Yankees' money a year ago. With it came huge expectations and, if the Yankees are going to be playing this time next year, McCann must be among those who've lead them back.
Be that as it may, it’s never too early to start spending Hal’s money, and we all know there’s plenty of it to spend.
But who to spend it on?
In truth, the Yankees have more areas of need than they have available roster spots, being locked into at least a half-dozen big-money contracts for players penciled in to key positions.
Hence, we have identified four potential areas of need: shortstop, one outfield spot, one starting pitcher (only because three elite arms will be available) and one DH/backup player. I’m assuming that since the pickings are slim at second base -- unless you want Kelly Johnson back -- the Yankees will plug Martin Prado, who has played more than 250 games there and is signed through 2016, into the slot until something better comes along.
I’m not going to bother giving you all the possible options, just the ones that seem likely to draw some interest from the Yankees this winter. Then, it’s your turn to weigh in on which ones you think are worth gambling some Steinbrenner cash on.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $16 million
2014 stats: .283-13-71, .369 OBP, .817 OPS, 3.5 WAR
Cons: glove, range, injuries. Likely to get qualifying offer, likely to reject it, probably won’t be cheap.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 29
2014 salary: $10 million
2014 stats: .241-14-61, .307 OBP, .694 OPS, 1.8 WAR
Con: Never became the player he was expected to become.
Pro: Young enough that he still might.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 32
2014 salary: $10.1 million (prorated from $14 million qualifying offer)
2014 stats: .162-7-26, .237 OBP, .536 OPS, -1.1 WAR
Pros: Was starting SS for a World Series champion and has got to be better than he looked last season. Also, should come relatively cheap.
Con: Scott Boras
Age on Opening Day 2015: 30
2014 salary: $5.2 million
2014 stats: .249-6-50, .321 OBP, .676 OPS, 1.9 WAR
Pro: Switch-hitter. No chance of qualifying offer. Could be a bargain.
Con: Won’t make anyone forget Derek Jeter.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 30
2014 salary: $8 million
2014 stats: .301-16-73, .351 OBP, .809 OPS, 2.6 WAR
Pro: Aside from the obvious, has been here before and probably can handle New York.
Con: Sure to get the qualifying offer and will cost a draft pick and some heavy dough, probably three to four years at $13 million-plus. Also, hate to see another PED cheat get rewarded for it.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 34
2014 salary: $8 million
2014 stats: .271-40-108, .333 OBP, .859 OPS, 3.9 WAR
Pro: Bust-out season could be first of a few.
Con: Or it could be his career season and the beginning of a decline into full-time DH-ville. Also, another guy riding the Biogenesis express to riches.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $7.25 million
2014 stats: .222-11-38, .299 OBP, .684 OPS, 0.4 WAR
Pro: Performed well in his brief time with the Yankees at the end of last season.
Con: Performed horribly with the Mets for the rest of the season.
The only choice:
Age on Opening Day 2015: 36
2014 salary: $12 million
2014 stats: .335-32-103, .409 OBP, .974 OPS, 4.4 WAR
Pro: The best all-around hitter in baseball last year, can also back up the oft-injured Mark Teixeira at first. Would certainly wake up the Yankees' offense.
Con: Age, but stayed healthy enough to play 151 games last season.
THIRD BASEMAN (Just for fun)
Age on Opening Day 2015: 28
2014 salary: $8.2 million
2014 stats: .279-16-73, .324 OBP, .739 OPS, 3.0 WAR
Con: The Yankees already have a 3B they’re paying $21 million for 2015.
Pro: Another reason for you to be mad at A-Rod.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $13 million
2014 stats: 16-11, 2.46, 219.2 IP, 1.10 WHIP
Pro: Tough left-hander in Yankee Stadium? That's what you want.
Con: Will cost a fortune in money and years, and we’ve seen how long-term contracts work out with pitchers.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 30
2014 salary: $15.5 million
2014 stats: 18-5, 3.15, 220.1 IP, 1.18 WHIP
Pro: Steady improvement over the past three seasons.
Con: Bring cash, and plenty of it.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 33
2014 salary: $13.5 million
2014 stats: 14-8, 3.21, 227 IP, 1.18 WHIP
Pro: Will come cheaper than the other two.
Con: Also the oldest of the Big 3.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 36
2014 salary: $2.2 million
2014 stats: 3-4, 4.35, 97.1IP, 1.39 WHIP
Pro: Steady if unspectacular, pitched better than his numbers with the Yankees due to lack of run support.
Con: A stopgap at best. Also, not young.
Age on Opening Day 2015: 31
2014 salary: $9 million
2014 stats: 10-15, 4.05, 200 IP, 1.28 WHIP
Pro: Pitched much better with the Yankees than he had with the Diamondbacks.
Con: Jury still out on whether he was actually a better pitcher, or just a luckier pitcher in the Bronx. Still a fly-ball pitcher in Yankee Stadium.
Rangers hitting coach Dave Magadan has held preliminary discussions with the New York Mets and New York Yankees, according to the New York Post.
“We're just taking it slow," Magadan told NJ Advance Media. "I don't think either one of them is in a huge hurry to make any choices."
The Yankees fired hitting coach Kevin Long last week and the Mets let their hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, go last May. Lamar Johnson, who replaced Hudgens, will not be retained.
The Rangers, who are down to three finalists for the vacant managerial position, would like to fill that spot by the end of October.
Magadan has ties to the New York teams. He began his big league career with the Mets in 1986 and left after the 1992 season in free agency. He's spent the past two seasons as the Rangers' hitting coach. Last season, the Rangers finished tied for ninth with a .256 batting average, but there were several down years for multiple players such as Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo and Alex Rios.
Let's take a look at 11 who could make a direct impact on the Yankees in 2015, be a big part of their future, or be traded to fill holes.
1. Luis Severino, RHP: Severino may be the best prospect in the Yankees' system. Last winter, we told you he could be the next big name to emerge from the farm.
Severino lived up to the hype this season. He went 6-5 with a 2.45 ERA in 24 starts in Double-A and Class A. He struck out 127 and walked just 27 in 113S innings.
Severino won't start 2015 in the majors, but by late summer he might be an option. If all goes well, he could be a big part of the 2016 plans. Of course, he also could become the biggest piece in any blockbuster trade orchestrated by general manager Brian Cashman.
Judge, the 32nd pick in the 2013 draft, is 6-foot-7, 230 pounds. A right-handed hitter and thrower, he plays the outfield and can be a DH.
It would be very surprising if he made it all the way to the majors in 2015, but he is a player teams will want in a big deal. I tend to doubt the Yankees will give him up, as he could be the right fielder -- if he develops properly -- by 2016 or 2017.
3. Rob Refsnyder, 2B: Refsnyder, 23, has already been mentioned as possibly the starting second baseman if he can beat out Martin Prado or if Prado is needed at another spot. Refsnyder hit .318 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs in 137 games in Double-A and Triple-A in 2014.
The question on Refsnyder -- who was an outfielder on Arizona's 2012 NCAA championship team -- is if he can make the transition to the infield. If he doesn't win the second-base job, he has a chance to make the club as a utility player.
To read more on Refsnyder, click here for my story from early this year, or here for Mark Simon's take.
4. Manny Banuelos, LHP: Banuelos may not be as hyped as he once was, but when spring training opens he will be just 23. Just as Dellin Betances did, Banuelos still has a chance to turn his potential into major league success.
The lefty, coming off Tommy John surgery, had a 4.15 ERA in three levels of the minors, but in his final 15 innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he had a 3.60 ERA, striking out 13 and walking 10. While nothing spectacular, he may be going in the right direction. He will compete for a job (most likely in the pen) in spring training, but could be at Triple-A waiting for a call-up as a starter.
5. Gary Sanchez, C: Just 21, Sanchez was young for Double-A and did OK. If he is going to be an elite player one day, he will need to hit better than .270 with a .743 OPS because there are questions about his defense behind the plate. If Cashman were to unload one of his top prospects, Sanchez might be the one to go. He has a lot of catchers in front of him and some developing to do, so it would seem he is still a long away from being a Yankee.
6: Bryan Mitchell, RHP: Mitchell, 23, pitched 11 innings for the big club at the end of the season and gave up only three earned runs. He has a pretty good chance to make an impact in 2015 as either an extra starter or in the pen.
7: Jacob Lindgren, LHP: The Yankees used their first pick in the 2014 draft on Lindgren, a lefty reliever. There was some thought he might be called up this year, but now he has an excellent chance to break camp with the big club as the main lefty in the pen. He is just 21.
8: Jose Pirela, 2B: Pirela, 24, can hit, which allows him to compete for a roster spot and maybe even the starting second-base position this spring. The question is whether he can defend well enough. Like Refsnyder, he owns an infield and an outfield glove, which could earn him a trip north to begin the season.
9: Ian Clarkin, LHP: The 19-year-old lefty, another first-rounder in 2013, had a strong season in Class A, striking out a batter an inning. He won't be a factor on the major league level in 2014, but his development will be one to watch.
10: Eric Jagielo, 3B: Jagielo, the 26th pick in 2013, had a very respectable .811 OPS in Class A and Rookie ball in 2014. He is a 22-year-old third baseman. He also is highly unlikely to make an impact on the big league club in 2015.
11: Jose Ramirez, RHP: Ramirez, 24, was a guy the Yankees were very high on going into spring training in 2014. Injuries derailed him, but he is a righty who might be able to make some leaps and help in the Bronx pen in 2015.
Here are a few notes delving inside the key matchups we expect to see.
Royals star watch: Eric Hosmer vs. Wei-Yin Chen
Eric Hosmer is hitting .435 this postseason, with two home runs and seven RBIs, but his strong play actually goes back to before October. He’s hitting .335 since the beginning of July after a rough start to the season.
Hosmer is 7-for-17 with two home runs in his career against Chen.
Chen might want to rethink his strategy against Hosmer, whom he has traditionally pitched away at a high rate.
Of his 59 pitches to Hosmer, 42 were on the outer half of the plate or off the outside corner.
But that plays to Hosmer's strengths in the playoffs.
Hosmer is 6-for-8 in plate appearances ending with an outer-half pitch this postseason, including a triple against the Oakland Athletics and a home run against the Los Angeles Angels.
The problem for Chen in making any sort of adjustment? Both of Hosmer’s home runs against him came on inside pitches.
Orioles star watch: Adam Jones vs. Jeremy Guthrie
There are seven Orioles hitters with at least 10 at-bats against Jeremy Guthrie. All seven are hitting .250 or below in these at-bats. Adam Jones has significantly struggled.
Jones is 1-for-12 against Guthrie, though with only two strikeouts. Jones’ problem is that he hasn’t been able to square Guthrie up. He has hit two fly balls and eight grounders.
It will be interesting to see if the Royals adjust their defense at all for Jones. All eight of those ground balls were hit well to the left of the second base bag.
Guthrie will want to be careful when locating his fastball, which averages just below 92 mph, to Jones.
The Orioles had a .546 slugging percentage against fastballs at 92 mph or slower in the regular season, 45 points higher than the second-highest rate in the league. Jones helped that effort with eight home runs against those pitches.
Difference-maker: Royals bullpen
The Royals' bullpen has been everything it was billed to be, particularly the combination of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
Davis has been terrific the past two games, with five strikeouts in three scoreless innings.
Davis has amped up his fastball, hitting at least 97 mph with 32 of his 59 fastballs this postseason. During the regular season, 30 percent of his fastballs were 97 mph or faster.
The 2-0 lead
The Royals are the seventh team to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven ALCS by winning the first two games on the road. Each of the previous six teams advanced to the World Series.
Only three teams have overcome a 2-0 deficit in any best-of-seven LCS: the Royals over the Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals over the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1985, and the Boston Red Sox over the New York Yankees in 2004.
The winning streak
The Royals have won six straight games to start the postseason. Another win would tie the 1976 Cincinnati Reds and the 2007 Colorado Rockies for the longest winning streak to start a postseason in major league history.
It was just a casual conversation with David Cone. On the walk up a Fenway Park ramp during the final weekend of the season, Cone was asked about Masahiro Tanaka and his future.
The previous night, Tanaka had looked tentative, but healthy, in his second and final outing since rehabbing the small ligament tear in his right elbow. The name Cone kept coming back to was Adam Wainwright.
a partial tear in his elbow in 2004. He went on to pitch at a high level until 2011, at age 29, when he finally had Tommy John surgery. Cone was using Wainwright to show what was possible for Tanaka.
That is what hangs over the Yankees' franchise. The small tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of Tanaka's right elbow was diagnosed by four specialists, who all agreed Tanaka could avoid surgery for the time being. But no matter how many degrees and awards these doctors have won, they can't predict what will happen. It seems more a matter of when than if Tanaka will be put down for a year because of surgery.
Still, it is impossible to know when Tanaka's elbow will give or if he can be dominant again going forward. It is the Yankees' mystery, which is as fascinating and scary as it is uncertain.
In 2014, Tanaka exploded onto the scene. Think Fernandomania in 1981 or Dr. K in 1984. But maybe better.
Before hurting his elbow, Tanaka, who was 25 during his rookie season, began the year 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA, 113 strikeouts and 16 walks in 99 2/3 innings over 14 starts. In 1981, Fernando Valenzuela, 20, was 9-4 with a 2.45 ERA, 103 strikeouts and 35 walks in 110 innings over his initial 14 starts. In 1984, Dwight Gooden, 19, was 9-5 with a 2.45 ERA, 107 strikeouts and 36 walks in 91 2/3 innings over his first 14 starts.
Admittedly, Tanaka was older than both Valenzuela and Gooden, but he also came with a $175 million price tag and seemingly half of Japan's sports reporters. During the spring, his bullpen sessions were events.
Tanaka almost single-handedly kept the Yankees in contention before he got hurt. The Yankees were 12-2 in his first 14 starts and 24-31 with everyone else.
It shows the importance of what Tanaka could be if he can regain that top form. That is why whatever the Yankees do this offseason, whomever they bring in, however Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia -- the aging stars -- do, it will likely be on Tanaka and Michael Pineda and perhaps another top free-agent starter to combine with an improved offense to lead this club to the playoffs.
So what should you expect from Tanaka in 2015? No one has the faintest idea, which is intriguing and frightening for the Yankees' future.
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez will arrive at spring training with some new luggage -- a first base mitt.
Rodriguez, who will return next season from a one-year suspension, still is expected to primarily play third base and designated hitter.
Cashman also said he plans on having contingency plans at third in case Rodriguez -- who has had two hip surgeries -- can't stay on the field.
"I don't think it's safe to assume that he can play third base," Cashman said. "With his age and missing a full year, you have to have some perspective. This is a very difficult game. Alex is up for that challenge, but I think it's safer to assume that might not be something that he can handle the whole year."
Rodriguez, 39, has three years and $61 million remaining on his contract. The Yankees are pretty certain he won't be the MVP-type player he once was, but hope he can help their offense, which only scored 633 runs in 2014.
"I know one thing, he's a great presence in the lineup when he's healthy," Cashman said. "And we look forward to good health and obviously production. But to assume anything right now on the front end, I can't do that."
Among the topics Cashman did discuss:
The Return of Alex Rodriguez: "I don’t think it’s safe to assume that he can play third base. With his age and missing a full year, you have to have some perspective. This is a very difficult game. Alex is up for that challenge, but I think it’s safer to assume that might not be something that he can handle the whole year."
Cashman said manager Joe Girardi recently spoke to A-Rod about getting some work at first base as a possible backup for Mark Teixeira, or just to give his 40-year-old legs some rest. "I know one thing, he’s a great presence in the lineup when he’s healthy," Cashman said. "And we look forward to good health and obviously production. But to assume anything right now on the front end, I can’t do that."
On the prospect of Masahiro Tanaka avoding Tommy John surgery: "That's the hope. His rehab finished off successful. I would have felt even better if the season was much longer and we had more sample size (but) I think what we got gives us as much comfort as we’re going to get that this situation is resolved. But I can’t guarantee it. I wish I could."
On the firing of hitting coach Kevin Long: "He's an exceptional hitting coach. I don’t think I could find somebody who works harder or cares more. I think he tried everything in his power. The effort was sufficient but the results weren't. He was our offensive coordinator and everyone knows we struggled offensively. It’s tough because I know Kevin’s good at what he does. But I’m looking for a different voice maybe with a different message and approach to some degree."
On the firing of first-base and infield coach Mick Kelleher: "He's very positive, a terrific infield guy. Mick Kelleher was not responsible for our defensive deficiencies. That was personnel-related. As you change the dynamic of the staff, it has to come at the expense of some personnel. In this case, it’s Mick."
On re-signing closer David Robertson: Being a closer in New York is not easy, clearly. The question going into this year was whether Robertson could graduate from the eighth inning to the ninth inning. He graduated with honors. He mastered that and he is a bona fide closer without question. What happens as we move forward with him and the qualifying offer is yet to be determined, but we thank David and we're proud of what he's done here and how he's handled himself here. The final decision that has to be made here first and foremost is yet to be made."
On the legacy of Derek Jeter: "You’re talking about probably the first-ever player to get in the Hall of Fame (unanimously), I would think -- unless someone’s really going out of their way, he’s going to be the first unanimous ballot Hall of Famer, I would think."
On replacing Jeter at shortstop: "We’re going to start with, what are the candidates that are better than Brendan Ryan (under contract for 2015) and what are the acquisition costs? And work from there."
On his task this offseason: Being in this chair for 17 years, I'd say every winter has got its challenges. I don't feel that this one is any different in terms of challenges. Obviously we know from our fanbase's perspective that we need to do better than we've done for the past two years. I say that for myself as well. I've got to find a way to get our fanbase back to enjoying October sooner than later."
That’s what it’s come down to for Brian Cashman -- three years to clean up a mess that took years to make, a mess he had at least some role in creating, and a mess that is going to take more than a mop and pail to resolve.
Some might look at this as a thankless task, with the general manager impossibly entangled and doomed to fail given how many aging, unproductive and overpaid players the Yankees are still locked into.
For better or worse, the Yankees of the next three years will be Brian Cashman’s Yankees. No one else can take the credit, and no one else should share the blame.
It’s on him now. Let’s see what he can do with it.
Oh sure, Cashman was the GM for four of the five Yankees championship teams since 1996, but the truth is he didn’t really build those teams. He inherited much of it from a farm system built and overseen by Gene Michael while George Steinbrenner was suspended from Major League Baseball, and originally assembled by Bob Watson, his predecessor as Yankees GM.
But now the Core Four is no more. And Cashman has as close to a clean slate as he’ll ever have to work with.
The problem is, there’s a lot of work to be done, not much time to do it, and precious little wiggle room.
He’s got a returning third baseman (Alex Rodriguez) he quite publicly never wanted in the first place. He’s got a returning first baseman (Mark Teixeira) whose career seems to be in a death spiral. He’s got four starting pitchers coming back from serious injuries. He’s got a relatively inexperienced closer who’s about to become a free agent. He needs a new shortstop, a power bat in his outfield, and he’s still trying to replace Robinson Cano.
And he’s got practically nothing on his farm to plug into any of those roles.
Some would see the job ahead as incredibly daunting. Cashman better see it as inviting, even invigorating. Otherwise he may as well just collect his three years of paychecks and start preparing for his career in satellite radio, where ex-GMs seem to live forever.
Because this is Cashman’s chance to disprove what a lot of people seem to think about him, that he is nothing without The Boss’s checkbook.
This is his chance to prove that yes, he can develop talent, or at least put together a farm system to do it for him. And that he can spend money wisely, not just too well, and that when it comes time to make the tough decisions he can do that, too.
Firing the hitting coach, Kevin Long, and the first-base coach, Mick Kelleher, do not qualify as tough decisions. More like scapegoating. (Then again, last year’s scapegoat was the strength and conditioning coach, so at least he’s slowly moving up the ladder.)
What Cashman needs to do is re-instill a feeling of accountability in a franchise that has become far too complacent.
No one with the Yankees seems to bear any responsibility for failure anymore -- no one of consequence, anyway.
Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann formed a giant hole in the middle of the soft puffy doughnut that was the Yankees' lineup this year. Not one of them even got benched for lack of performance, partially because there was no one better to replace them.
Derek Jeter was almost a nightly liability at shortstop, and yet until the final month of the season he was almost never on the bench and very rarely the DH.
The Yankees went from bad (Brian Roberts) to terrible (Stephen Drew) at second base. And when they finally found a decent stopgap (Martin Prado), his season got cut short by injury and illness.
The starting pitching was surprisingly good, despite losing CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka to injuries for the bulk of the season. And so was the bullpen, but those arms quickly wore down through overuse.
Cashman can’t guarantee that any one of those problems, with the exception of the retiring Jeter, will be solved in 2015.
But you can bet he will be given the resources to figure it out. Because as he said Friday afternoon, “Over the next three years, doing something drastically different is not going to be the case."
This winter I doubt you’ll hear any talk of “budget constraints," or voluntary payroll ceilings, or any whining about subsidizing the rest of the league via the luxury tax.
Because this is the way the game is played now. Not many teams can spend the $200-plus million on payroll the Yankees can, but a lot more of them can hold onto their own players thanks to increased cable TV revenue -- another gift from The Boss -- and as Cashman said, rebuilding “is not part of the program here."
The Yankees aren’t going to mortgage the present in exchange for a rosy future. “We’re not willing to lose a ton of games and give up experienced players for draft picks and live to play another day," Cashman said. Because even though the owner’s first name is Hal, the last name is still Steinbrenner, which is not German for “patience."
“Everything around here is short term," Cashman said. “We’re always in a win-now mode. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. I’ve had enough conversations with the family to know that next year’s goal is to be the last team standing."
Same as last year’s goal.
Cashman now has three years to achieve it -- a three years that coincides perfectly with the remaining years on Joe Girardi’s deal, which probably means that if things don’t change between now and 2017, the two of them will be swept out together, and a new regime with the same goals will be installed.
This is Cashman’s chance to build a Yankees team he can truly call his own. Whether that team is a winner will determine whether the next three years of Brian Cashman’s Yankees career are also his last three years.
So, I thought, why not see if he is interested in the new opening?
"No," O'Neill said via phone Friday night.
O'Neill said he was unaware that Kevin Long had been fired. But it doesn't sound like he will be the one replacing Long. O'Neill said he was happy being an analyst for YES.
So cross one name off the list of possible new hitting coaches.