With fingers firmly crossed that health and safety issues don’t get in the way of spring training rebooting next Wednesday, MLB will attempt to open a spring training that vanished March 12 due to the coronavirus, an effort that still offers plenty of hurdles to overcome before a regular season can begin.
Tuesday the union informed MLB the players will report for spring training on July 1 ahead of a 60-game season.
For the Yankees, that means Spring Training 2 will be held at Yankee Stadium and run roughly for three weeks, with games that count beginning in late July. The Yankees were last seen in West Palm Beach, Fla., on March 12, and baseball has been a ghost for roughly three months.
As for the actually playing of baseball, the Yankees were favored to win the AL East for a second straight season when COVID-19 changed the world. And that was with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and James Paxton not expected to be ready for Opening Day. Hicks said last week, before George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa was closed, that he would be ready to play. The feeling around the team is Stanton and Paxton will be, too. The Yankees haven’t provided a medical update on Judge’s top right rib condition.
Here are five Yankees storylines ahead of the relaunch of spring training:
1. Had the season began on March 26, the starting outfield would have likely been Mike Tauchman in right, Brett Gardner in center and Clint Frazier in left. Now, if Judge is healthy, he will be in right, Hicks in center and Gardner or Stanton in left. Tauchman remains a valuable left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield spots.
Paxton wasn’t going to be ready for Opening Day due to February back surgery, but the lengthy delay should allow him to start with the rest of the team.
2. Aaron Boone has been a big-league manager for two seasons and is in new waters with a much shorter schedule to navigate. How Boone will use his starting pitchers at the outset since they won’t have a full six weeks of spring training is a big question.
Boone is in better shape than most big-league managers because of the depth and talent of his bullpen, which can cover for a group of solid starters none of whom will be asked to provide five innings at the beginning.
In Chad Green and Luis Cessa he has right-handers who can work multiple innings.
Of course the strength of the pen is Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle and Green.
3. All eyes will be on Gerrit Cole’s first Yankees experience, but he can only pitch every fifth day. What Jordan Montgomery, J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka and Paxton, who can be a free agent following the season, do will be as equally important to the Yankees in a short season. Montgomery has pitched four big league innings since May 1, 2018, following Tommy John surgery.
4. The Yankees didn’t retain shortstop Didi Gregorius, who signed with the Phillies as a free agent, because they believe Gleyber Torres can shift from second to short. Torres isn’t the fielder Gregorius is and doesn’t have ideal range for a shortstop but if he makes the routine plays the Yankees will have a premium bat at a premier position.
5. The AL East will be a two-team race between the Yankees and Rays. However, in a short season it is not out of the question a lesser team could swipe a title.
So with every game carrying extra weight, Boone will likely act earlier with pitching decisions and be quicker to sit slumping hitters.
And pay attention to when trades can start to be made or when a trade deadline is set, since GM Brian Cashman will have to move quickly to make a deal if things don’t go well at the beginning.
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