Back in front of the media for the first press conference since the 2019 season ended, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was an open book Wednesday morning. As the Yankees started to arrive at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, for pitchers' and catchers' report date, Spring Training is underway with Thursday's first workout.
The Yankees get back on the diamond after an eventful offseason, one that saw New York sign ace right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole to a historic $324 million deal for nine years, while the Houston Astros' electronic sign-stealing scandal lingers. Boone addressed both Cole and the Astros at multiple points during the start-of-spring availability.
Elsewhere in the session, Boone brought the media up to speed on an abundance of team-related questions that loomed from the offseason. Along those lines, below are six takeaways from Boone's presser delving into the statuses of several key players.
On Gary Sanchez...
The bat has never been the issue for Gary Sanchez, who enters his fifth full MLB season after another promising year cut slightly short due to injuries as he logged 106 games, with questions about defense behind the plate annually resurfacing.
But after earning a second All-Star selection, fueled by his .232/.316/.525 slash line and 77 runs batted in, with a single-season career-high 34 home runs, the 27-year-old Sanchez is trending up as he returns to action.
"I think there's still a lot of meat on that bone," Boone said. "And he's improved, I feel like, a lot over the last couple of years. And we feel like (catching coordinator) Tanner (Swanson) coming in and the work they've already begun -- we feel like there's more there to be had. And him being open to it and continuing to work hard at that craft, I'm confident that we'll see those results as the season unfolds."
On Jordan Montgomery...
After missing almost all of 2019 while recovering from Tommy John Surgery in June 2018, Jordan Montgomery returned late last fall, making one start over two regular-season appearances Sept. 15 and 24. With experience as a member of the starting rotation during his rookie season in 2017, when he went 9-7 with a 3.88 earned-run average and 144 strikeouts against 51 walks over 29 starts spanning 155.1 innings pitched, is the No. 5 spot the 27-year-old lefty's to lose?
"We'll see," Boone said. "Monty's in a good place. Hes worked really hard this winter. I think him coming back at the end of last season was important to him, to gain a little bit of momentum and his mindset heading into the winter. He's had a good offseason. He's ready to go. He's proven himself. We know he's certainly capable of it.
"But we also are very excited about a lot of our young pitchers that, a lot of people already know their names, but they're going to start knowing their names. A lot of guys that we added to our 40-man (roster) that we've been excited about now for several years, a lot of the high-end pitching prospects that you've been hearing about at the lower levels -- they're in camp with us now, you're starting to see them and it wouldn't be far-fetched to, at some point, see one or more of those guys impact our rotation, our bullpen, whatever it may be.
"But I guess my point is we feel like we've got a lot of good options and we're a ways away from making that decision. Monty is certainly much, obviously, in that mix because of his track record and because of where we believe he is health wise. But we also want Monty to not feel like he's got to go out and win the Cy Young Award in his first outing in February. This is a process. And we're trying to get individuals ready for what is a very long season. And when the time comes at the end of spring, we'll hopefully make a good decision."
On Domingo German...
Suspended since Sept. 19, when he was placed on administrative leave under the joint MLB-MLBPA Domestic Violence Policy at the end of the 2019 season and extended Sept. 25 into the postseason, right-handed pitcher Domingo German's discipline from the league officially came Jan. 2 with his 81-game suspension. The suspension, retroactive to Sept. 19, sidelines German for the first 61 games of the season and keeps him away from Spring Training. Boone shared the latest on 27-year-old German, who last pitched Sept. 18 and went 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 27 games (24 starts) over 143.0 innings last year.
"He's in the Dominican," Boone said. "I was, actually -- as some of you know, I went over there a few weeks ago, with some of our staff members and got to see a lot of our guys. Domingo was actually one of our guys that came out to the complex, so I got to see him for the first time since all this has gone down and talked to him. So the plan is for him not to be here during Spring Training, as of right now. I guess that could possibly change. But as of right now, we're not planning on him being here with the fact that the earliest he can be back with us is in June. So we feel like the work he's able to get in over there -- he's been going to our complex now a few times a week, where I think the last three or four weeks, feel like he can get the work he needs to get in there and that's kind of where we're in on it right now."
"No, not worried about the distraction part of it," Boone added. "But just the -- I think, as an organization right now, we've decided that it's best for him to be there right now where we feel like he can get the work he needs to get in there and then hopefully put him in a position where the time comes to ramp it up and hopefully join us at some point."
On Miguel Andujar...
As the Yankees return Gio Urshela at third base, what is in store for Miguel Andujar? Boone broke down the plan for Andujar, who turns 25 on March 2, with multiple positions on the docket for the now-healthy 24-year-old. Andujar slashed .297/.328/.527 with 27 home runs and 92 RBI over 149 games at third base and as a designated hitter in 2018.
"First of all, his openness to do it is one of the things that we liked," Boone said of Andujar, who logged 12 games in 2019 before undergoing season-ending labrum surgery last May. "When we first broached the subject with him, he was excited about it and even told us that he had started to do some things on his own. Feel like he has the athletic ability to do it, to be able to move around and hopefully add to his versatility. But with the quality and depth of our roster, it could be something that it's important not only for him, but for us to have those moving parts. So part of this is out of need because we have a lot of really good players who are capable. I know Miggy's going to work his tail off at it and hopefully it's something that can add to his value because there's no denying, obviously, what a special bat he is."
On James Paxton...
The Yankees revealed unexpected news Feb. 5 when left-handed pitcher James Paxton, who went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA and won 10 straight starts in 2019, underwent back surgery to remove a peridiscal cyst. Initially expected to be out for three or four months, Boone updated Paxton's progress.
"The early returns are good," Boone said of the 31-year-old Paxton, who started 29 games and fired 150.2 frames while striking out 186 and walking 55. "He's getting around here pretty good right now. ... Six days out right now and I think early returns are it went really well, he's moving how it should. So at this point, obviously, we got a ways to go. But at this point, the timeline should be a good one for him.
"I feel like he's at least a few more weeks. It's a three- or four-week (layoff) until he starts throwing. But feel like he's probably on that timeline."
Boone also delved into why Paxton's procedure came right before Spring Training as opposed to the end of the fall. Boone said that Paxton felt discomfort Sept. 27 against the Texas Rangers, but pitched through what was initially a nagging pain more than anything else.
"I think it goes back to his last regular-season start in Texas where he kind of felt like," Boone said. "And it was, at the time, something that we felt like -- and he felt like, initially wanted to stay in the game -- he could power through. But obviously, at that point in the season and with the playoffs next week, we were not messing around. So we got him out of there. He was, obviously, able to pitch and pitch well in the postseason. And then, as the winter went on, it was something that was bugging him a little bit but not to the point where -- certainly, we didn't think surgery, but it was something that he was dealing with. He could do his exercises and workouts, and he was throwing.
"So just getting more and more tests done and specialists getting involved, it eventually graduated to the point that he got the last ejection three or five weeks ago and there was some confidence that that would be something that would probably do the trick. And he saw some quality improvements from that. He was throwing again. But there was still that lingering issue that he was having. At that point, he, us -- everyone -- decided, 'OK, let's go ahead and get this knocked out.' I feel like removing that cyst is something that's going to cost him a little bit of time, but something that hopefully puts and end to it and it's not something that he has to grind through all year."
On Gleyber Torres...
Without Didi Gregorius, who in the offseason signed with the Philadelphia Phillies on a one-year deal worth $14 million, the Yankees are turning to Gleyber Torres as the everyday shortstop. Boone's eyes lit up when asked about the 23-year-old middle infielder's looming position switch, back to a spot where Torres came up in.
"I think he'll respond well," Boone said of Torres, now a two-time All-Star selection from 2018-19, who slashed .278/.337/.535 with single-season career-high 38 home runs and 90 RBI in 144 games. "He's had a decent start to his big-league career. He's kind of handled everything that's been thrown his way and then some. He's really excited to, in a way, go home to his natural position that he's always played. ... The thing that continues to get me excited -- and 23 is a young man, obviously, but -- just his intelligence and his continued improvements from Day 1 that he got to the big leagues to now, just the maturity that he's developed in his game with his routine, within the way that he prepares, the seriousness with which he takes his offseason preparation. So I think the only thing he has left now to do is to go show that he's capable of being an everyday shortstop for an entire season. We know that he can handle it, but now it's just going and doing the routine the whole time and confident that he can take that next stop."