Matsui, whose nickname was Godzilla while playing, will work closely with General Manager Brian Cashman and Player Development Vice President Gary Denbo. He will spend most of this upcoming season traveling through the Yankees’ minor league system and focusing on aspects of hitting with managers, players and batting coaches.
In Matsui’s seven seasons with the Yankees, he had a solid .292 average with 140 homers, 597 RBIs and a .370 on-base percentage in 916 games as a DH and outfielder. He was an All-Star in his first two seasons with the Yankees after coming over from Japan, and in his second season he had a .298 average with 31 homers, 108 RBIs, 34 doubles and a .390 on-base percentage in 162 games.
Matsui played in the World Series with the Yankees in 2003 when they lost to the Florida Marlins in six games. In 2009, he was MVP of the World Series when the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies in six games. In that World Series, he had an outstanding .615 average (8 for 13) with one double, three homers and eight RBIs. He was known as a clutch hitter who played the game the right way.
Based on what his role will be this season, he could be a hitting coach in the future. Some of the knowledge that he will be able to teach the minor league players will be how to be selective at the plate, how to take what the pitcher gives you by hitting the ball the other way, how to advance runners with less than two outs and how to deal with the media the right way since he had experience answering lots of questions from reporters in Japan and this country.
This role makes sense for Matsui (even though he might need a translator at times) because the young up-and-coming players will be able to relate to him and he will have advice to offer the players and hitting coaches.
It was also announced on Tuesday that Stephen Drew will be the Opening Day second baseman. This was not all that surprising because the Yankees signed the veteran to a one-year, $5 million contract in the offseason, but the Yankees could have waited until later in spring training to see if Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder continue to hit the way they have so far.
The Yankees are thinking that Drew, who missed spring training from 2012-2014 due to injury the first two years and not having a contract last season, will have a productive start to the season as a result of being healthy and playing in all of spring training.
He was not able to recover from his late start to the season as he had a .162 average with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with the Red Sox and Yankees last season. If he can hit the way he did in 2013 or better, when he helped the Red Sox win the World Series, then he will be worth having in the lineup. In the 2013 season, he had a .253 average with 13 homers, 29 doubles, eight triples, 67 RBIs and had a .333 on-base percentage. That was his third highest on-base percentage of his nine-year career.
Drew is still learning second base after playing shortstop his whole career before being traded to the Yankees in the middle of the 2014 season, but this spring training should allow him to further get used to the different nuances of playing second. He made four errors in his 34 games played at second with the Yankees last season, which isn’t that bad since he was learning the position on the fly.
The Yankees plan on having a short leash with Drew if he still can’t hit when the regular season starts. This means that Refsnyder and Pirela will still compete to see who will deserve to be Drew’s back-up and replace him if he can’t produce offensively.
Refsnyder projects to be the better player in the long run based on the overall offensive skills that he displayed last season, but Pirela has the edge right now because he is older, hit .333 in seven September games in 2014 and offers more versatility defensively as he can play second, short and left field. In five games played through March 10, Pirela has a .455 average (5 for 11) with three RBIs. That is a small sample size, but he proved to be able to hit for a high average when he had a .305 average in 581 at-bats with Triple-A Scranton last season.
“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela said. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”
On Tuesday, it was announced that the Yankees had re-signed infielder Stephen Drew to a one-year, $5 million contract. The 31-year-old is entering his 10th season and played his first six seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and then played for the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox. He will likely be the starting second baseman to begin the 2015 season with Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela being the back-up.
In 46 games with the Yankees last season after being traded from the Red Sox for Kelly Johnson, Drew hit only .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs. Before being traded to the Yankees he played in 39 games for the Red Sox, and his season totals in his 85 total games came to seven homers, 26 RBIs, 14 doubles, a .237 OBP and a very low .162 average.
However, he did not have a spring training or play in the first two months of the season because a team would have had to give up a first-round pick if they had signed up earlier as a result of his qualifying offer, so he could produce stats similar to his career averages. He has a .256 average in nine seasons, which is significantly higher than what he produced last season.
He was the Red Sox shortstop when they won the World Series in 2013, and he hit .253 with 13 homers, 67 RBIs, six steals, 29 doubles, a .333 OBP and a .443 SLG percentage to go with his reliable defense at short (.984 Fielding% + only eight errors). His best season came in 2008 when he was 25 and in his third campaign with the Diamondbacks. He had career-highs of 152 games, a .291 average, 21 homers, 44 doubles and 91 runs scored. The Yankees would take anything between the season he produced in 2013 and 2008.
Refsnyder likely would have had the edge over Pirela if the Yankees did not re-sign Drew since he has more upside and is already better offensively, but since Drew is back Refsnyder will be able to compete with Pirela in spring training to either be the back-up second baseman or the starting second baseman with Triple-A Scranton. Pirela is a 25-year-old utility infielder without much upside while being able to contribute something on offense and defense. Two more months playing with the RailRiders could be beneficial for Refsnyder since the 77 games he played there last season and the only ones he has played above Double-A.
Refsnyder was a right fielder during his stellar tenure at the University of Arizona, and he will only be entering his third season playing second base. He greatly improved defensively last season as he committed 12 errors across two levels and only three of those came at the more challenging Triple-A, but in his first season playing second in 2013, he had 25 errors combined in two levels of A ball. He could use some more fine tuning at Triple-A to improve his defense.
The Yankees can’t really lose from this deal because if Refsnyder is flawless on defense in spring training and continues to hit like he did last season at Double-A and Triple-A (.318 with 14 homers) and if Drew doesn’t hit at all, Refsnyder could start the season at second and the Yankees could eat Drew’s contract. However, a scenario with a higher probability is that Drew shows some of his previous form on offense and his usual solid defense, which would lead him to start at second and Refsnyder to try to improve with the big club or in Scranton.
One other possible benefit of having Drew as the second baseman to start the season is that he will be able to be a veteran presence for the young Did Gregorius at shortstop. Gregorius, who was acquired earlier in the offseason in a trade with the Diamondbacks, has never spent a full season in the major leagues. Drew was a starting shortstop for eight seasons and played 122 games or more in five of those seasons, which proves that he could help Gregorius improve offensively and to a lesser extent defensively because Gregorius is already an elite defender.
Chase Headley, who was acquired at the trade deadline last season, was re-signed by the Yankees to a four-year, $52 million contract. He is a 30-year-old third baseman who hit .243/.328/.372 last season in 135 games with the San Diego Padres and Yankees, but in 58 games with the Yankees after being traded, he hit a much better .262/.371/.398 with six homers, 17 RBIs and eight doubles.
He played in 77 games with the Padres and 55 with the Yankees and had almost the same amount of homers (7 and 6) and doubles (12 and 8) in 22 fewer games. His average while playing for the Yankees was also much better than when he played in the National League with the Padres. The Yankees had to resign Headley because he proved that he was able to improve his stats while playing under the bright lights and he makes and his return entails that the defense in the infield will be elite at first base, shortstop, third and catcher.
He was productive with the Yankees and liked being in New York City. He makes their defense much better than it would have been without him. Headley also admitted that he took a discount to stay with the Yankees, which proves that he appreciates that the Yankees traded for him last July and desperately wants to play in the playoffs. Stats that prove how important bringing back Headley is for the Yankees are that as a Yankee, he was 7th in OPS, 11 in slugging, 7th in times on base and 5th in OBP among all third baseman. He is an elite defender and is an abover average hitter for a third baseman.
His signing also ensures that Alex Rodriguez will have little value to the Yankees in 2015. If A-Rod is healthy and somewhat productive, he should get at-bats at DH and will possibly be a back-up first baseman. Headley, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs in 2012 when he finished fifth in MVP voting and won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award, has not come close to having a season like that since, but his chances at repeating his success from 2012 are improved this upcoming season based on how he played after the All-Star break and the increased protection that he has in the Yankees lineup.
The Yankees will be dramatically improved defensively as well as to a lesser extent on offense at the second base, shortstop and third base positions in 2015. Martin Prado is now slated to be the everyday second baseman, and he should be much better than Brian Roberts, who was the primary second baseman last season. Didi Gregorius isn’t better than Derek Jeter in his prime, but he has much more range than Jeter had the past few seasons and even had a better OPS than Jeter did last season. Yangervis Solarte and Kelly Johnson played third before Headley’s arrival, and they don’t combine to be nearly the player that Headley is. The infield defense will prevent more runs from scoring than last season, which will be important based on the pitching staff that the team will have.
Another benefit to Headley and the Yankees agreeing on a deal is that Rob Refsnyder will be able to get some more seasoning at AAA-Scranton to improve his defense at second base and then can get called up in June. Refsnyder is an elite second base prospect who hit .297 with 24 homers and 142 RBIs in three minor league seasons, but he really started to make everyone pay attention to him last season when he .318 with 14 homers, 63 RBIs and nine steals while playing 60 games at AA Trenton and 77 games a AAA Scranton. Refsnyder has to improve his defense, and he did last season as he nine errors for Trenton but only three while playing for Scranton.
He played outfield in college, and that versatility will make him valuable at either second or outfield since it is likely that Carlos Beltran will miss some time next season because of injury. The Yankees envision Refsnyder as their second baseman of the future, and with Headley’s return and Prado’s move to second, he will not feel the pressure in spring training of starting the season at second.
Headley can definitely be productive until his contract ends when he is 34. His ability to make the routine and Gold Glove caliber play at third shouldn’t decline and his overall stats could even improve if he doesn’t get injured again. “I enjoyed my time last year in pinstripes probably more than I have ever enjoyed playing the game,” Headley said on Yankees Hot Stove. “I am going to be a great teammate to all of my teammates. Obviously when you lose Derek Jeter there is no replacing him. I think we have a chance to be a really good defensive club and that is getting more and more important in today’s game.”
Headley thinks that coming to New York and having dangerous hitters around him made him a better hitter. He said that a major reason that he signed with the Yankees is that he wants to win and the Yankees offer him a better chance to do so than the Padres ever did. He proved to have a flair for the dramatic as he hit a walk-off hit in extra innings in his very first game as a Yankee. He will try to give fans many more moments like that during the years to come.
The next move that the Yankees need to make is adding a dominant starter. They reportedly don’t want to give Max Scherzer the contract that he wants, but that could change.
Rob Refsnyder, the 23-year-old (he will be 24 in March) second baseman and right fielder who played in Double-A and Triple-A last season, should be the starting second baseman for the Yankees during the 2015 season.
He offers versatility since he played right field at the University of Arizona, but the Yankees drafted him to be a second baseman, and that is where he has played the majority of his games in the minors. In three seasons playing at Charleston, Tampa, Trenton and Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Refsnyder played 230 games at second, so he has enough experience at the position. After making 25 errors in his first season, he greatly improved defensively in 2014.
In 137 games combined between two levels in 2014, Refsnyder had a .318 average, 14 homers, 63 RBIs, nine steals and 82 runs scored. At AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he played in 77 games and had an impressive .300 average, eight homers, 33 RBIs, 41 walks and 19 doubles. In 64 games playing second base with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre he only had three errors, which helped lead to a .988 fielding percentage.
He can obviously handle pitching at AAA and deserves a chance to prove what he can do in the Bronx. Last season, the Yankees went primarily with veterans Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew at second base. That strategy didn’t work since they had one of the worse offensive years from the second base position out of any team last season.
If Refsnyder plays second, the primary position that the Yankees would have to upgrade would be shortstop. As a result of Derek Jeter’s retirement, the Yankees need to sign a relatively young player who can make the routing and web gem worthy play in the field and hit for some power. Hanley Ramirez is the best available option since he will turn 31 on December 23, and hit .283, drove in 71 runs and stole 14 bases last season.
The Yankees can’t bring back Drew next season based on how he performed last season. Drew had a 10.1M salary in 2013, and hit only .162 with 7 HRs and 26 RBIs.
Refsnyder, who was born in South Korea and was adopted by a couple in Southern California when he was three months old, should be able to handle playing second next season because he is not young for a prospect as he will turn 24 on March 26. He has experience playing in big games since he was named the College World Series Most Valuable Player after his University of Arizona team won the College World Series in 2012.
Martin Prado, who was acquired last season before the trade deadline for catching prospect Peter O’Brien and a player to be named later, played well last season in two months with the Yankees. In 37 games, Prado hit .316 with seven homers and 16 RBIs. He played in 17 games at second base and 12 games combined in the outfield. He only made one error in those 29 games. Prado would make sense as the back-up second baseman and starting right fielder with Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Brett Gardner in right.
Another reason that it would make sense for Refsnyder to be the second baseman is that the Yankees need to have more youth in the lineup because they mainly have players 30 or older. Refsnyder will not likely be injury prone, which is a plus, because Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley and Alex Rodriguez are all injury related question marks in the infield. A-Rod is officially back on the active roster after his 162-game suspension, and Headley is a player that Brian Cashman should resign.
There were some rumors about the Yankees trading Francisco Cervelli for bullpen or infield help as a result of his hot start in spring training, but the Yankees should wait until July if they are going to trade him.
There was some speculation about a week before the Yankees played two games in Panama, and then there was also some speculation after he was brought to travel for the games in Panama at the last minute instead of Brian McCann, but as of March 14, the Yankees don’t have any imminent trades for him. It doesn’t seem like he will be able to currently get the Yankees enough right now to significantly improve, so they should wait a few months on a trade.
He has started spring training with stats better than he could have expected coming in. He obviously deserves the back-up position behind McCann. Cervelli has played in 10 games so far and has a .480 average, eight runs scored, three homers and has driven in six runs. These stats definitely prove that he is locked in so far, but the only true indication of if he is substantially improved as a hitter is if he has success in the regular season.
If he has between a .300 and a .310 average as the back-up in the middle of July, the Yankees should be able to get another quality arm in the bullpen or a third baseman that could replace Kelly Johnson if he struggles. If he is hitting in .300 or higher in July then he would have proved to another team that he could help them in their playoff push down the stretch.
Another reason that it is important to keep Cervelli is that he would be able to capably replace McCann in case of an injury. McCann was an All Star in seven of his past eight seasons, and he has hit 20 or more homers in seven of his eight season as the starting catcher for the Atlanta Braves. However, he played in 121 and 102 games in 2012 and 2013, respectively. The Yankees definitely hope he can rebound with at least 135 games played this season.
McCann will be able to DH with the Yankees, so that could give the back-up catcher, Cervelli, extra at-bats. Cervelli has also proven that he has a positive relationship with the pitchers and that the pitchers like throwing to him. It can’t hurt to keep a back-up catcher around who four out of the five starting pitchers have experience with.
One of the pitchers that Cervelli and McCann have been catching is Dellin Betances, and he has continued to prove that he deserves to start the season in the Bronx. He has one minor league option remaining, but has proven that he shouldn’t be sent down to AAA Scranton based on only allowing one run and three hits during his 9.0 innings pitched (six games) of spring training. He allowed his first run in Sunday’s win over the Atlanta Braves.
Betances, with his excellent 96 MPH fastball and knuckle curveball combo, should start the season in the seventh inning to lead up to Shawn Kelley and David Robertson. He seems ready to continue his previous success from last season pitching in relief with Scranton and so far this season in spring training.
Curtis Granderson, who suffered a fractured right forearm as he was hit by a pitch the first game of spring training, will be called up from the team’s AAA affiliate, the Scranton RailRiders, today. He is one of 10 players currently on the disabled list.
It appears that Ben Francisco is going to be the player who will be designated for assignment once Granderson officially gets called up. Francisco deserves to be the outfielder to lose a spot on the team as he was only hitting .128 with one homer in 39 at bats. He was brought in after Granderson’s injury in spring training, but Francisco has not produced offensively as the Yankees had hoped.
Actually, Vidal Nuno, who pitched five shutout innings in the second game of the doubleheader yesterday, will be sent back down to the minors. Granderson’s return will improve the outfield depth and also mean that Travis Hafner will not have to play everyday at Designated Hitter.
The Yankees will now have four outfielders for three spots. Brett Gardner, (.252 and 5 steals) Ichiro Suzuki, (.254, 8 RBI and 5 steals) Vernon Wells (.299, 9 homers and 22 RBI) and Granderson (.232, 43 homers and 106 RBI) are the four outfielders who will be competing.
In five rehab games with the Scranton RailRiders, Granderson hit .400 with one homer and three RBI. This display proves that there is no point using his solid hitting in the minors instead of with the Yankees. During his game with Scranton on Monday, Granderson went 1-3 while playing left field for the RailRiders.
Wells has proven to be a great find by Cashman since the team desperately needed another outfielder coming out of spring training and he has basically been about to revert to the All-Star form he showed with the Blue Jays. He was injured for most of his time with the Angels.
He has been the team’s center fielder the previous three seasons, and has hit more than 40 homers in each of the past two seasons, so he deserves to play nearly everyday in the outfield. An added benefit is that Granderson played the three outfield positions in AAA, which gives Joe Girardi some flexibility. By virtue of his start to the season, Vernon Wells should continue to play everyday in left field.
That leaves Gardner and Ichiro to split time for the remaining outfield spots. Ichiro currently does not have a hit in his last 12 at bats, which should lead to the speedy Gardner getting more of the playing time. The Yankees also need Gardner to wreak havoc on the base paths like he is capable of doing. The outfield trio of Wells, Granderson and Gardner will give the Yankees a solid mix of power, defense and speed.
The only thing that Granderson will have to try and do is to limit his strikeouts since he had 195 last season.
Granderson will officially be back in the lineup tonight batting cleanup and playing left field.
After sweeping the three game weekend series against the Royals in Kansas City, the Yankees will now try to win both games of today’s double header against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland. These are makeup games from a rainouts in April.
The Yankees are currently one game ahead of the Boston Red Sox for first place in the AL East after having won their past five games (they also won the final two games against the Rockies). With both wins of the double dip they could stretch the winning streak to seven.
It is not ideal that they will now have to play a double header because the Yankees have very little quality depth as a result of all of the injuries. However, they have proven to be a resilient team as a result of the replacements playing winning baseball.
The team will utilize the new 26th roster spot for the double header as Corban Joseph, who is making his big league debut, will play first base in the first game, giving Lyle Overbay a needed day off, and second base in the second game, giving Robinson Cano a needed breather. Cano will DH is Game 2. Joseph’s natural position is second and has a .270 average with four homers for AAA.
Joseph’s time with the big club will be short lived as he will have to leave the luxury of the Yankees and go back to AAA after the game.
Alberto Gonzalez, who played 11 games for the Cubs this season, will also be making his Yankees debut as he will be playing shortstop in place of Jayson Nix. Nix was playing instead of Eduardo Nunez (on the DL with a left ribcage tightness) who was playing as a result of Derek Jeter being on the DL.
The Indians are also in first place. They are tied with Tigers with a 20-15 record. Today is an anomaly in Cleveland, in terms of double headers, as one admission will get fans into both games. This will be like the double headers that were regularly scheduled more than 20 years ago.
Vidal Nuno will be making his first major league start in Game 2. in his only appearance of the season, against the Astros, he threw three shutout innings in relief. You never know what you will get out of rookies making their first start, but Nuno had a 1.54 ERA in four starts for AAA Scranton. He also had an outstanding 26 strikeouts to only two walks.
Here is the lineup and pitching matchup for Game 1:
12:05 p.m. YES Network
David Phelps (1-1, 5.02 ERA and allowed two runs in six innings in his last start) vs. RHP. Justin Masterson (3-3, 2.63 ERA). Masterson is Cleveland’s best pitcher.
Brett Gardner CF .259
Ichiro Suzuki LF .263
Robinson Cano 2B .311
Travis Hafner DH .269
Brennan Boesch RF .205
Chris Nelson 3B .172
Corban Joseph 1B .000
Chris Stewart C .254
Alberto Gonzalez SS .000
Game 2 will start about 20 minutes after Game 1 finishes.