The New York Yankees had few question marks, beyond health, coming into the season. The club's decision-making revolved around the last spots and some roles within the roster -- who would be the fifth starter, the utility infielder, the backup catcher and which relievers would round out the bullpen? Did they make the right decisions as we approach the quarter pole of the season?
Questions around CC Sabathia's physical and mental health were at the forefront of the spring and the uncertainty gave Ivan Nova a puncher's chance of breaking camp in the rotation. Despite performing slightly better than Sabathia in spring training, Nova was relegated to the bullpen. There was little chance that the Yankees were going to ask Sabathia to work out of the bullpen.
Sabathia, like much of the staff, got off to a slow start, but then began to turn things around in his last couple of starts before hitting the disabled list with a groin strain. Sabathia's marks are not exactly excellent, but they are much better than what he has offered the last two seasons - 3.81 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 21 K and 13 BB in 28 1/3 IP.
Nova had some difficulties as the long reliever, but pitched well in his two starts - two earned runs in 10 1/3 combined innings pitched. Nova's overall ERA stands at 3.70 and his WHIP is a respectable 1.19.
While Sabathia is due back Friday, his return has zero impact on Nova. Luis Severino's trip to the DL gives Nova plenty of time to cement himself in the rotation. Severino's struggles along with the Yankees' desire to protect their young hurler should mean Nova sticks in the rotation for the near future.
The decision with Sabathia and Nova was appropriate in my view. Sabathia was not going to benefit the Yankees out of the bullpen, whereas Nova could. Further, Nova's age allowed for some movement from bullpen to rotation and he showed little trouble doing it.
The fans wanted Rob Refsnyder and they ended up with little known and well-traveled Ronald Torreyes.
The Yankees simply wanted their utility infielder to be able to play shortstop, and that is one position you will never see Refsnyder. The Yankees have given Refsnyder time at third base and the outfield at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, one season after working primarily at second base. The club is doing its best to make Refsnyder as versatile as possible.
In the meantime, Torreyes won some fans over quickly, making some spot starts early on in the season and performing quite well. His efforts along with Chase Headley's offensive struggles, got Torreyes more starts, and immediately it was evident why Torreyes will have trouble securing a full-time role here or anywhere else.
The Yankees called Refsnyder up Tuesday to give the club an extra right-handed bat while Alex Rodriguez completes his stay on the disabled list. The Yankees will have to decide if Refsnyder goes back to triple-A when Rodriguez returns Thursday, or if the Torreyes era is over.
Refsnyder provides a much better bat with moderate defense, and if the Yankees need to give shortstop Didi Gregorius a day off, Starlin Castro would get the call. Of course, if Gregorius gets hurt, the club would need to decide if Refsnyder could handle daily reps at second base and if they even want to shift Castro to short for extended time.
The decision at the beginning of the season was the right call in my opinion. However, now that Castro seems quite at ease at second base, I believe he can spell Gregorius on occasion without causing harm to his development at the keystone. Therefore, it seems to me the Yankees could use Refsnyder's bat more than Torreyes' glove. The unknown variable will be Refsnyder's ability to play sparingly and remain productive. The Yankees will never know if Refsnyder can handle a bench spot for an extended period if they do not try it.
Gary Sanchez, the Yankees No. 3 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, was the odds-on favorite to win the role of backing up starting catcher Brian McCann. Unfortunately, a 1-for-21 spring told the Yankees brass that he could use some more seasoning before getting a lengthy major league run.
It helped that Sanchez's toughest competitor, Austin Romine, was having a fine spring and was out of options. Romine put together a .289/.308/.474 slash line during spring training and has not let up in the regular season - .278/.316/.389. If Romine, considered a defense-first backstop, can continue to play to these numbers, it will be hard for Sanchez to take over.
In fact, Sanchez is trying to make things difficult for the Yankees. Sanchez has been hitting well at Scranton producing a .819 OPS and word is he has continued to improve behind the plate. Sanchez received a one-day cameo appearance with the Yankees last week, but seeing him for an extensive stretch might have to wait until there is an injury to McCann or Romine.
So long as Romine remains steady, I am fine with that. I would much rather see Sanchez play daily and continue to grow. Sanchez's time will come.
With Aroldis Chapman set to serve a 30-game suspension for violating the league's domestic violence policy, the Yankees were in need of three relievers to round out the bullpen. Some of the candidates had some time with the Yankees last season and others joined the team in the offseason.
The Yankees ended up selecting Johnny Barbato who excelled at Triple-A Scranton last season, Luis Cessa (acquired from Tigers) and Kirby Yates (minor league free agent signing). Only Yates has stuck with the club the entire season as the Yankees unsurprisingly have employed a shuttle of fresh relievers throughout the season.
Barbato got off to a rousing start and then began to falter earning him a demotion. Cessa departed New York more for the need to stretch a pitcher out than anything he did poorly, and he returned Tuesday along with Refsnyder.
Yates has pitched to a 1.76 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings. Thus far, he has been a revelation and has quietly been receiving more impact innings of late.
The Yankees will continue to use the up and down bullpen methodology and it is understandable because they fail to get lengthy outings from their starters, thus forcing an abundance of innings on the relievers. However, it is not ideal to be using two or even three relievers in this fashion in my opinion.
The relievers need some consistency and the whereabouts of where they are pitching does play into the mental aspect of the game. The Yankees have already had Cessa and James Pazos up twice, and used 13 relievers in all this season. That number will surely climb, but if it did so one at a time, based on performance, I believe the Yankees would benefit from it in the long term. Of course, it is up to the pitchers to give the Yankees a reason to keep them with the big league club, just as Yates has done.
Altogether, the Yankees' Opening Day roster decisions were solid ones. A majority of the players discussed here who made the club, or earned a particular role, have performed adequately. What is more encouraging is the players who just missed out have played well enough to earn call-ups and might force the Yankees' hand to stick long-term in the future.