Murti Notes: Yankees Should Feel Good About How 1B Battle Has Gone

Sweeny Murti
March 15, 2019 - 2:04 pm
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Ten days left in Tampa. Here are some thoughts.

FIRST-BASE BATTLE

Luke Voit and Greg Bird have done exactly what the Yankees hoped they would when camp began -- make the decision a difficult one. 

If we are to believe that Voit had a "leg up" based on his finish to last season, then he's done nothing to lose his job. And Bird has done something he hasn't been able to in a long time -- play without pain. 

Whatever decision the Yankees make is far from final, and Scranton should have a very capable first baseman to start the season, although general manager Brian Cashman did say Friday that both Voit and Bird could make the Opening Day roster if Aaron Hicks isn't ready yet.

Yankees first basemen Greg Bird (left) and Luke Voit
USA TODAY Images
 

Depth isn't a bad thing. And at this point it's important to find out who these players will turn out to be.  Voit is someone in between Lou Gehrig and Shane Spencer. Bird is someone in between Don Mattingly and Nick Johnson. 

Fans are down on Bird, and it's not unwarranted. But there's a reason the Yankees have held onto him -- they believe he can still be a very good player if the injuries are truly behind him. And remember that the same people who told us that Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks -- and Voit -- were going to be good players are the same people who believe Bird still has something in the tank.

FLORIAL SHOWING FLASHES

Estevan Florial has flashed a lot of tools this spring. It's quite impressive that he is still getting at-bats this late into spring. He's not big-league ready and hasn't even played above A-ball yet. But neither did Melky Cabrera at this point in 2005, the year injuries forced him up the minor league depth chart and into the big leagues for his debut. Florial is still a year or two away from making a more significant impact in the majors, but he has gotten a lot out of this spring already. And his tools are obvious.

FINDING A SEVERINO FILL-IN

Brian Cashman said that Luis Severino is out until at least May, given that his two-week shutdown from shoulder inflammation is preventing him from picking up a ball again until Wednesday. At that point, even with no setbacks, it’s almost like starting spring training over again with bullpen sessions and simulated games. 

Cashman noted that CC Sabathia will likely be back sooner, but nothing more specific than sometime in April.  Until they return, the Yankees continue to try to fill those holes internally rather than sign one of the available free agents still looking for work, such as Dallas Keuchel or Gio Gonzalez. 

Why do the Yankees prefer the internal options? That’s what I asked Cashman Friday. Here was his answer: “We like what we’ve got. We like the guys we have, we like the ceilings we have. It doesn’t mean we’re opposed to outside opportunities if those opportunities match up with our interest level, if their assessments of themselves -- whether it’s player or agent -- match our personal assessments of them.

"There’s a lot of different dynamics to it -- how we value the player, what we think of them versus what they think of themselves, what we think they should be paid, what they think they should be paid, our need and vacancies. So there’s a lot of components to it.”

Luis Cessa, Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga are the candidates. And unless there are setbacks with Severino or Sabathia, it would appear that’s the way it stays.

GO EASY ON GARDY

I've noticed a lot of Brett Gardner hate in my Twitter feed. A couple things to remember about last season, when he followed a familiar pattern of wearing down in August and September. 

Gardner's playing time in the second half went up by necessity, not design. Aaron Judge was out with a broken wrist and Giancarlo Stanton was nursing a hamstring injury. Jacoby Ellsbury was, well, you know. And Shane Robinson played enough as it was. 

MORE: Keidel: Stanton Feels At Home In Yankees' Outfield

Judge's recovery got muddied up, so the Yanks didn't add Andrew McCutchen until the Aug. 31 deadline. A healthier outfield would have given manager Aaron Boone more opportunities to rest Gardner, who battled some knee issues himself down the stretch. 

While a major offensive rebound is hard to predict, it's not unreasonable to think Gardner -- even at 35 -- can produce closer to his career average .735 OPS as opposed to last season's career low .690 OPS. 

Gardner's defense is still elite and will earn him a lot of playing time. Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius are the only other Yankees considered true plus defenders by scouts. 

Something else to note with Gardner is how tough an out he really is.  I got this earlier this month -- unprompted from a former AL All-Star pitcher:

"It's strike one, strike two and then take (ball one), foul ball, take (ball two), foul ball ... before you know it, he's got a seven- or eight-pitch AB on me," the pitcher said.

Sometimes it feels like fans are just disappointed that Gardner didn't become Rickey Henderson, Bernie Williams or Johnny Damon. But don't mistake what he does bring to the table.

I get it, though. Nobody thought Bryce Harper was going to be a Yankee in 2019 more than me. Ask my friends at SNY for video proof. 

HIGH PRAISE

Two things to note if you saw the TV broadcast last Tuesday. John Flaherty was quick to point out how much better Gary Sanchez looked blocking balls behind the plate, and Willie Randolph noted how much he liked shortstop prospect Kyle Holder's glove. 

If Flaherty is talking about a catcher and Randolph is talking about an infielder-- well, let's just say they've got my attention.

ALMOST GO TIME

Forget about NFL free agency and March Madness. Baseball is almost here for real. Opening Day is now less than two weeks away. Happy days are here again.