Thoughts And Afterthoughts A Month Away From Pitchers And Catchers

Technically it's less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting, but I'm rounding up.  Creative license.  The important thing is that the light at the end of the football tunnel is getting pretty bright and that means baseball isn't far off.  We'll have to slog through that week-and-change dead zone after the Super Bowl and that's always a bummer, but it won't be long after that when it will officially be baseball season again.  With that in mind, here are some quick thoughts on a variety of Yankee topics I've had rattling around in my head over the last few weeks: - I'm already looking forward to this season more than I have the last few and I'm taking that as a sign that I'm pleased with what the team did this offseason.  I definitely would have preferred they get more involved in the free agent pitching market, at least the shallow end of it, but the moves to add extra Triple-A depth were fine, they retained all their top MLB-ready or near MLB-ready prospects, and they got better at multiple other spots on their 25-man roster.  I'll take that.

- I'm also more optimistic about the rotation this year than I have been the last few years.  I understand the risk in the elbows of guys like Tanaka and Eovaldi, but neither guy had a tear of anything and it sounds like they're both going to be 100% ready to go next month.  The team has already shown a willingness to manage workloads and I think we'll see them do that again this year.  They've added a big late game bullpen piece to help manage those starter workloads and my expectation is that both these guys will come through this year healthy.  I also think Michael Pineda will be better than he was in 2015 and I have no reason to think that Luis Severino isn't going to be at least a solid #3-#4 starter based on what I saw last season.  That top 4 is young and exciting, and all of them have the potential to be electric shutdown pitchers when they're on.  We haven't been able to say that about a Yankee rotation in a while.

- I saw Cash's comments about managing Brett Gardner's injuries better this season when he was on the YES hot stove show and I couldn't help but laugh at the comparison to Derek Jeter.  No disrespect to Gardner, because he's one of my favorite current players, but to say he's a lot like Jeter simply because he doesn't talk about injuries is ridiculous.  Jeter not talking about his injuries was fine because for the most part he would go out and continue to perform well even when he was hurt.  Gardner gets hurt and plays like crap.  It's night and day.  I get that he's earned a lot of respect in the organization as a homegrown All Star, but if Gardner gets banged up this year, sit him.  It's that simple.

- Has Aroldis Chapman picked a number yet?  What's going on there?

- If you didn't read Scott's piece on Brian McCann's decline yesterday, you definitely should.  There's no doubt that Big Mac is on his way down the mid-30s production chute, and with the catching mileage on his body that shouldn't come as a surprise.  But I was surprised at how negatively some people took the analysis in the comments.  We're still talking about a guy who's hit 49 home runs in the last 2 years.  He's probably going to hit at least 20 again this year and his defense as a whole is still above average.  He's going to start getting phased out this year and then he's only around for another 2.  He'll be fine for those years as a part-time catcher/matchup DH with lefty pull power.  Everybody relax.

- Speaking of matchups, I think we're going to see the lineup versus LHP be a revolving door of matchups and rest days for guys like McCann, Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran.  We already know that Joe is planning on playing Aaron Hicks 4-5 times a week, so that means some regular rest for all the outfielders.  I could see Joe working Gary Sanchez in as the starting catcher against lefties to ease his transition into facing MLB pitching and give McCann regular rest, and I think he won't hesitate to sit somebody like Teix or Headley against a lefty if they need a day.  We're going to see all kinds of different lineups if that's how Joe works out and I think that would be a perfectly fine strategy for managing this mix of older and younger players.

- I still can't figure out what they're going to do with that final bench spot.  I really thought Ronald Torreyes was going to be the guy.  Do they use it for Refsnyder?  Should they?  I just really hope it's not Pete Kozma.  He stinks and it would feel like Brendan Ryan never left.  That's no fun.

- I think it's safe to assume we're going to see Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell in the bullpen to start the season.  I think we're also going to see both of them work as starters and get stretched out in ST like they would if they were in the rotation, just to be prepared for injuries to the projected 5.  If that happens, the spring battle to watch might be the one between Nova and Mitchell for the 6th starter role.  That starter becomes a regular if and when somebody else goes down and Joe's probably going to use a 6th starter when he can to get some extra rest.  It's not just about being the swingman for Nova and Mitchell this year.  It's about being the #1 swingman.

- Here's an early bold prediction for you.  Number of Yankee All Stars in 2016: 6.  Chapman, Betances, Miller, McCann, Didi Gregorius, and Starlin Castro.