The New York Yankees have officially begun their quest to win a 28th World Series title with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in Tampa Bay, Florida on Thursday. Joe Girardi's squad is looking to rebound from a disappointing season that ended with a shutout loss in the American League Wild-Card Game.
New York enters the 2016 MLB season with a roster that looks similar to the team that won 87 games last year. The Yankees had an uncharacteristically quiet offseason, and they were the only team in all of baseball that didn’t sign even one free agent.
The Yankees did make a few key moves that should have a major impact on the upcoming season. New York acquired closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds, giving them perhaps MLB’s best bullpen. The team also traded pitcher Adam Warren to the Chicago Cubs for second baseman Starlin Castro, while swapping backup catcher John Ryan Murphy for Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Aaron Hicks.
Heading into Spring Training, a few Yankees stand out as players to watch.
Three years after Sabathia was the Yankees’ Opening Day starter, there’s no guarantee that the left-hander will even be in the team’s rotation. Sabathia is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, which concluded with a stint in alcohol rehab. The 35-year-old told Page Six that he’s feeling better than he has in a few years, but that doesn’t mean he’s good enough to be New York’s No.5 starter.
Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino seem to have the first four rotation spots locked down. That leaves Sabathia and Ivan Nova battling to be the No.5 starter this spring.
"It wouldn’t be difficult at all," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN.com this winter, regarding the possibility of having to tell Sabathia that he isn’t in the rotation. "If he doesn’t deserve it, I have no problem with [telling him]."
Sabathia has two years left on his contract, which will pay him $25 million in both 2016 and 2017. He posted a 4.73 ERA in 167.1 innings last season, and he hasn’t had a good year since 2012. But Sabathia provided the Yankees with some hope by pitching well in the final two months of the season, posting a 2.87 ERA in his last nine starts.
The 23-year-old has never played in an MLB game, but there’s a good chance that will change in 2016. Judge is among the Yankees’ top prospects, considered to be the best by some, and he’ll have the opportunity to show what he can do against major-league pitching this spring.
At 6’7, Judge has the look of an MLB star. His 12 home runs and .516 slugging percentage in 63 Double-A games got him promoted to Triple-A last season, but he struggled at the next level. Judge hit just .224 with a .680 OPS in 61 games for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
“There were a couple of adjustments,” Judge said Monday after a pre-spring camp workout. “They started to pitch me a little differently and I wasn’t able to make the adjustment as quick as I wanted to. You’ve just got to learn — live and learn.”
Judge is likely to start the season in Triple-A. Barring injuries, the Yankees are set at all nine spots in the lineup. Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury will start in the outfield. But considering the inability of Ellsbury and Beltran to stay healthy for the whole season, Judge could be called upon sooner rather than later. The youngster has already impressed this year by taking Andy Pettitte deep in batting practice at Yankees camp.
The Yankees’ biggest weakness last year was at second base, where the starters combined to hit just .223 in 2015. It looked like New York might have found a viable option in Refsnyder, who homered in his second MLB game and finished the season with a .302 average. But New York traded for Castro in the offseason, leaving Refsynder without a spot in the starting lineup.
Castro had a down year in 2015, but he’s just 25 years old and has made three of the last five All-Star teams. He’ll be New York’s full-time option at second base, making it more difficult for Refsnyder to earn a spot on the 25-man roster. Refsnyder hasn’t ruled out the possibility of playing another position in order to make the team.
"I’m not sure, I’m up for anything, to be honest," Refsnyder said on Wednesday. "Just a couple of years ago, I was playing right field. I’m up for anything, so we’ll see how it goes."
There are questions concerning Refsynder’s defense, which is why he started just 15 games at second base last season. There’s been speculation that the Yankees could try to get him playing time at third base. Chase Headley will start at third base with three years left on his contract, though he committed 23 errors in 2015.
Sanchez has been ranked among the Yankees’ best prospects for years, signing with the team in 2009 as a 16-year-old. Now, the catcher has a legitimate chance to makes New York’s Opening Day roster.
Brian McCann is in the middle of a lucrative five-year deal, and he’ll be New York’s primary catcher in 2016. But the team traded their backup catcher in the offseason, opening up a spot for Sanchez. Cashman has said the 23-year-old will have to earn his way onto the roster, but he has a chance to be a real contributor to the Yankees in 2016.
“He’s ready,” one opposing team’s talent evaluator told Newsday. “I have no problem with him being a No. 1 catcher [in the majors]. Especially with a guy that’s got that kind of power.”
Sanchez led the Arizona Fall League with seven home runs, while posting a .982 OPS. He hit .295 with a .500 slugging percentage in 35 games at Triple-A in 2015. Sanchez had two MLB at-bats with the Yankees last season.