Yankees enter spring training sorting starting pitchers
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By RONALD BLUM
NEW YORK (AP) The Yankees enter spring training in an unusual state: transition.
New York's major offseason moves were to sign closer Aroldis Chapman as a free agent after trading him last July and to add right-handed hitters Matt Holliday and Chris Carter.
A Baby Bombers youth movement began last summer when catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman/outfielder Tyler Austin were brought up. More young `uns will be given chances this year: Greg Bird, sidelined with a shoulder injury for all of last season, is Mark Teixeira's likely replacement at first base.
"We could be extremely good, or obviously with some injuries in key areas it could be a difficult situation at the same time," general manager Brian Cashman said. "We have a lot of quality, young, hungry, talented players, and we still have some veterans mixed in here, and I think if we stay healthy and perform up to our capabilities, I think we can start writing a new chapter in Yankeeland."
After failing to recover from a 9-17 start, the Yankees' makeover began when Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran were dealt primarily for prospects, and when Alex Rodriguez was released. New York remained on the periphery of the playoff contention before fading to a fourth-place finish at 84-78, four games back of the second wild card.
Boston, Toronto and Baltimore are projected by most to top the AL East again this year.
"It's understandable that people are going to predict others to be ahead of us," Cashman said.
That's fine with shortstop Didi Gregorius, who at 27 will be among the veterans.
"It's good to play under the radar," he said. "If we're close, they're going to talk more about us because they didn't expect us to be there."
Starting pitching could be the Yankees' downfall. Masahiro Tanaka, 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA despite a partially torn elbow ligament diagnosed in 2014, heads a rotation that includes CC Sabathia (9-12, 3.91 and coming off knee surgery) and Michael Pineda (6-12 and 4.82 - the 68th-highest ERA among 74 qualifying pitchers in the major leagues).
"Hopefully there's a few nice surprises for us because there's some kids that are capable of doing that," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said.
Holliday projects as the only newcomer assured a spot in the batting order. Bird gets a chance to win the first base job over Austin, but Carter could turn the position into a platoon. Carter tied for the NL lead with 41 home runs with Milwaukee last season, but wasn't offered a contract for this year.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Judge is built like Giancarlo Stanton but must put balls in play more after striking out 42 times in 84 at-bats. Austin also struggled at the plate, hitting .241 with seven walks and 36 strikeouts in 83 at-bats.
AND BEHIND THEM
Attention will be focused on the minor league system and the progress of outfielder Clint Frazier (Triple-A Scranton) and shortstop Gleyber Torres (Double-A Trenton). After pitching just 18 innings last season at Class A because a strained elbow flexor, right-hander James Kaprielian will start in the minors but could progress quickly. New York also hopes for advancement by left-hander Justus Sheffield, who split last season between Class A and Double-A.
Left fielder Brett Gardner, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, Sanchez, Holliday, second baseman Starlin Castro, Gregorius, third baseman Chase Headley. Manager Joe Girardi must decide whether to keep the Gardner-Ellsbury combination atop the batting order.
AP freelance writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.
Updated February 10, 2017