NEW YORK (AP)The Yankees start spring training this week without Brett Gardner for the first time since 2006, and manager Aaron Boone isn’t certain whether New York will try to re-sign the last remaining player from the team’s last World Series title.
The 37-year-old outfielder became a free agent after the Yankees declined a $10 million option, triggering a $2.5 million buyout.
”Obviously, he’s been a great Yankee, but we’ll just see how things unfold here,” Boone said Wednesday at camp in Tampa, Florida, a day ahead of the first workout.
Boone said Clint Frazier is projected as his starting left fielder after making great strides last year in his fourth season with the Yankees. The 26-year-old hit .267 with eight homers and 26 RBIs in 131 at-bats during the pandemic-shortened season, after batting .267 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs over 225 at-bats in 2019.
”Last year I think really proved that he was ready to grab an everyday role on this team, and especially the improvements really he’s made in every aspect of his game,” Boone said. ”Feel like at his age, with his experience now and the success and the confidence that he’s continued to build, has put him in position to go into this camp as an everyday player, and he’s certainly earned that.”
Boone’s third season with the Yankees ended in disappointment, like the first two, with a five-game loss to Tampa Bay in a five-game Division Series after Aroldis Chapman allowed a tiebreaking, eighth-inning homer to Mike Brosseau, whom the closer buzzed with a 101 mph fastball on Sept. 1.
Seeking its first World Series title since 2009, the Yankees remade their starting rotation, allowing Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and JA Happ to go free. Ace Gerrit Cole is projected to be joined in the rotation by Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery, with a competition for the fifth slot among Deivi Garcia, Domingo German, Michael King, Clarke Schmidt and Jhoulys Chacin.
Luis Severino is expected back this summer following Tommy John surgery last Feb. 27
”We’ll see how the next five, six weeks unfold, and then, obviously, how we even start the season may look very different from where we’re at say in May or June,” Boone said.
Complicating preparation will be the expected delay to the start of Triple-A seasons until at least May due to the coronavirus pandemic, making it harder to keep excess starters built up. Boone said the Yankees might use simulated games.
Uncertainty is a rotation constant.
Kluber, a right-hander who turns 35 in April, is a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner but has pitched one inning since he was hit on the right forearm on May 1, 2019, by a comebacker. He tore a muscle in his right shoulder last July 26, ending his season after one inning.
Taillon, a 29-year-old righty, has not pitched since May 1, 2019 and is coming back from Tommy John surgery.
German, a 28-year-old righty, went 18-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 2019 but missed the 2019 playoffs and all of 2020 while serving a suspension under baseball’s domestic violence policy.
”He’s paid a significant price from a career standpoint,” Boone said. ”But hopefully that is behind us. We feel like he is in a good place coming in. And now it’s on him to go out and kind of resurrect his career and go out there and compete for a spot on this team. Certainly nothing’s been promised.
”We are going to be there and try and be as supportive as we can moving forward with him, to not only help him hopefully get the most out of himself on the mound and between the lines, but also in just becoming the best he can be off the field as well. It’s been a long year coming back and feel like he’s done what he’s needed to do to get to this point.”
After two injury-decimated seasons, right fielder Aaron Judge and designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton have tried yoga to maintain fitness.
New York expects a rebound from catcher Gary Sanchez, who struggled at the plate for the third straight year, hit a career-worst .147 and was benched in favor of Kyle Higashioka for four of five Division Series games.
Robinson Chirinos was added as a backup catcher, among many minor league deals announced Wednesday along with agreements for pitching depth with Chacin, Kyle Barraclough, Nick Goody, Adam Warren and Asher Wojciechowski. Others formally added included outfielders Michael Beltre, Socrates Brito and Jay Bruce, catcher Rob Brantly, and infielder Derek Dietrich.
”The fact that we were able to get Robinson this late in the game to add to the catching depth on this team, I think is big … It was more just a really good player kind of falling in our laps late in the game,” Boone said. ”Bringing in a guy like Jay Bruce, Derek Dietrich, these guys are still proven big league ballplayers.”
Boone plans to give former third baseman Miguel Andujar time at third, first and the outfield during spring training. As he prepares for the April 1 opener against Toronto, he is carrying 13 pitchers most days but can foresee going with 12 or 14 some days.
”Talk is always cheap, obviously, at this point,” he said. ”But I really like the winter that we’ve had, with some of the additions we’ve made that I think are going to be impactful, to go along with already the makeup of this team that is of championship caliber.”
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