The hoopla of the offseason is behind us, and the Yankees are ready to get down to business. For any number of reasons, this is no ordinary Spring Training for the 65 men who will don the pinstripes in Tampa in a few days, surrounded by intrigue and questions that will soon have answers.
Over the past few seasons, the Yankees have been forced to manufacture intrigue and excitement during the endless preseason. Last year, it was the trumped-up battle between Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge for the job in right field that (supposedly) went down to the wire before Judge was declared the winner. Only Jordan Montgomery snuck in there, coming out of nowhere to nail down a spot in the rotation overcoming the ho-hum grind of games that mean nothing. Not so, though, in 2018.
Stories are flying in from everywhere, with the biggest one, of course, The Giancarlo Stanton/Aaron Judge Show, that’ll be coming to a town near you. To accommodate the fanfare, the Yankees have announced they’ll open the gates at George Steinbrenner Field three hours before game time instead of the standard two, allowing fans to see the pair take batting practice. Rumor has it the Yankees have doubled their order of baseballs for the preseason, anticipating a volume of missiles being launched, disappearing into the pockets of fans as souvenirs. Really.
But there’s also some real issues and contests about baseball that make this preseason interesting. There’s the matinee battle between Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, with a supporting cast of Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade, and Danny Espinosa as the longshot to earn either the second or third base jobs. Brian Cashman has repeatedly insisted it’s a wide-open show-and-tell with no predetermined winners or losers. Mmm…we’ll see about that if Torres hits .448 again, winding up as he did last year at Triple-A.
Aaron Boone will also be in the spotlight as he gets to organize and run his first ever Spring Training. For the first time, players and fans will be able to measure how much time his office is vacant versus the time the excellent communicator is mixing with his players on the field. Daily meetings with the media will also be on his schedule, affording another opportunity for a glimpse as to what lies in store once the season gets underway.
Closely scrutinized as well will be Gary Sanchez, defensively, and whether or not he’s moving forward, backward, or standing still as a catcher. One way or another, Sanchez’s bat will be part of Boone’s everyday lineup. The question, though, is how much of the DH at-bats Sanchez will suck up if he can’t do the job as a catcher. The crowded outfield of five for three spots (Judge, Stanton, Hicks, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury) makes it imperative that Sanchez holds his own defensively, affording Boone the opportunity to mix and match in the DH spot.
It’s now clear that Chad Green will arrive in Tampa competing for a spot in the already fully complimented rotation. What’s up with that? – We’ll see. But at least for now, it’s going to happen. For Chance Adams, it’s an opportunity to either crack the rotation or find a spot in the bullpen for himself, where one has to ask (again) – is there an open job in the bullpen? Justus Sheffield could quickly become the Montgomery of 2018 if he consistently shines, but it’s more likely the Yankees feel comfortable starting him out at Triple-A Scranton and having him on standby in case of injuries.
Meanwhile, Brian Cashman can be expected to continue to work the phones trying to trade Ellsbury so money can be freed up to sign a free agent starter or infielder. With the exception of Yu Darvish, who signed a six-year deal with the Cubs (Theo’s gone batty), all the main players who’ve been talked about incessantly are still on the table. As Spring Training moves along, though, Cashman needs to be careful about throwing a monkey wrench into what’s developing on the field and in Boone’s plans for which 25 players go North, by adding a new talent late in the game.
No, this Spring Training promises to be anything but boring, with jobs on the line making each pitch or at-bat for the players involved critical to their future with the Yankees.
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