So, we’re up to 67 players in camp this week. Pitchers and catchers reported a week ago, and everyone showed up on Saturday. Their first full work out as a team then was Sunday, and things are off to a good start.
With one exception. Tyler Austin, who was hoping to make the Opening Day roster, at least a bench player, took a foul ball off his foot during live batting practice and fractured his foot. Currently in a boot and hobbling around camp, Austin will be out for at least 6 weeks. Realistically, Austin was up against primary contenders for 1st base Greg Bird (coming back off his own injury last year) and veteran Chris Carter (who the Yankees signed recently for veteran presence and platooning possibilities). While his start could be slow this year, Austin will probably see major league time, much like he did last year.
One of the recent signings, infielder Chris Carter, while initially viewed as a replacement power-hitting DH (for Rodriguez) platooning there with Matt Holliday (who can also play outfield), Carter can also platoon at 1st base, which is especially crucial now that Austin will be out for a while. Carter began his career with 3 seasons with the Athletics before spending the next 3 with the Astros, and last year, he played 160 games with the Brewers, hitting 41 home runs. To make room for Carter, the Yankees designated reliever Richard Bleier for assignment.
Contract negotiations are never easy. Several Yankees negotiated through their contracts as usual, avoiding arbitration. But Dellin Betances was the lone holdout this year. He (and his agent) held to one number, but the Yankees wanted to pay a bit less than that. As neither side was willing to compromise, a mediator was hired and met with both sides late last week. After each side argued their case, the mediator agreed with the Yankees, and Betances reported to camp. Unfortunately, there were a few harsh words expressed publicly, which promoted Betances to respond publicly. No one needs these distractions, so I hope this is done with now so that everyone can move on with the season.
Joe Girardi had the best outlook on the season, equating it to the mid-90s in style and feel during his first press conference of the season last week. With the recent departure of Teixeira, Rodriguez, McCann, and Beltran, the team overall is very young, with the average age of the 40-man roster currently at 26.65, about 3 years younger than the average 4 years ago. Sometimes, those three years make all the difference. But it’s a long season before we can tell how that shakes out.
Speaking of the “old guys”, Nick Swisher recently announced his retirement from playing professional baseball (in a way only he could) and was invited by the Yankees as a guest instructor to camp. Swisher showed up (complete with his old #33) yesterday to help counsel and coach the young team. Joining him at camp today will be Alex Rodriguez who will fit into this role he’s been sort of doing for the last couple of seasons anyway. Both former teammates will be joining Mark Teixeira in the broadcasting booth (though they’ll be in different booths) as all three now have contracts to work part of the season as color commentators in addition to their regular life roles as being “dad” (a role which all three are very much enjoying giving much more time to).
Spring Training begins Friday. Yes, three days until the crack of the bat, the smell of the dirt and sweat, the noisy vendors hocking beer and peanuts, the chatter dissecting Girardi and Cashman’s every choice, the smiles in anticipation and hope, the slumped shoulders in defeat, the grim line of determination, the hustle, the fervor, and the hope. It’s always about hope, isn’t it? Hope that maybe this year could be The Year. Hope that something that started decades ago as a dream could be that reality, echoed in the cheers of thousands of fans and deep in the hearts of all those who wear (and once wore) the pinstripes.