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River Ave U

The SportsBlog Home of the New York Yankees

With the return of Alex Rodriguez from the DL, the Yankees have a major problem - an age problem.  Despite the front office's efforts the last couple of seasons to focus on acquiring and developing young talent, the fact remains that the 2016 Yankees will live or die on the play of its veterans.  And while A-Rod sat on the disable list, the world learned something very important: Carlos Beltran is a very good Designated Hitter.

The future Hall of Famer opened the season as the Yankees' starting RF; upon Rodriguez's injury, however, Beltran took over as the team's primary DH, and then he began to shine.  In just 15 games as the DH, Beltran hit more than twice as many extra-base hits and drove in more than twice as many runs in just half the number of games, resulting in a .322/.344/.780 line (as opposed to a .236/.268/.377 line in the OF).  Add in the superiority of Ackley's and Hicks's defense over the aging Beltran's, and it's clear that he best serves the team as its DH - and for the greater part of the team's 13-5 run since May 6, he has done just that.

This matter, however, is complicated now by the return of Rodriguez from the DL.  Although Beltran works best as a DH, he is still capable of playing the field - something that Rodriguez is simply unable to do now.  Thus, in order to get both their bats in the lineup, Beltran has to play in RF.  Now, when both are hitting well, this is a perfectly acceptable scenario - Beltran's defense is worth having both bats in the lineup.  Unfortunately for the Yankees, that is not happening at the moment: Rodriguez has begun to look his age; unless both start hitting, this situation is not beneficial for the team.  While the simplest solution would be to bench A-Rod (he has an OPS of only .683), there is no scenario where the team would bench a guy they are spending so much money on.  There is a way, however, to make A-Rod's bat a net plus for the organization: a DH platoon.

Although Rodriguez's season stats are not pretty, he has performed very well against left-handed pitching, against whom he posts a very respectable .242/.324/.606, compared to a measly .140/.213/.279 line against righties.  On the flip side, Beltran's line against righties is .273/.299/.564, while OF Aaron Hicks's is .231/.288/.385.  Logically, with a right-hander on the mound, Carlos Beltran should DH, Aaron Hicks should play RF, and A-Rod should serve as a bat off the bench; against lefties, Rodriguez would DH while Beltran would play in right to keep his bat in the lineup.  It is not exactly a normal setup, but one that, should it work properly, would allow the Yankees to optimize both offensive and defensive production - which should, in theory, help get more leads to the three-headed monster known as the back of the Yankees' bullpen.

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5 Bold Spring Predictions for the Yanks

It's mid-February, and you know what that means?  Yes, technically Valentine's Day, but much more importantly, it's time for Spring Training and the return of the greatest sport in the world, baseball.

At this point, most people think the Yankees have had a rather dull winter, as the team has done little besides trading for Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, and Aroldis Chapman.  Granted, those three trades were relatively major trades and added major pieces to the roster, but besides that, the Yankees have been completely absent from the headlines.  Even so, the spring is never without intrigue, and you can never anticipate what crazy stories that will define the 2016 season.

That said, it's still a lot of fun to try, so without further ado, here's my bold predictions for Spring Training, 2016 Edition:

1. The Yankees OF will not enter the season unscathed, with one member starting on the DL.  OK, so you might be saying, I thought you said these predictions were "bold," and this is pretty much as guaranteed as anything.  Carlos Beltran is going to be 39 by the end of the season and has two bad knees, and both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been plagued by injuries throughout their careers.  So at some point, this is going to happen, almost certainly.  But I still have to put it here, because for number 2...

2. Robert Refsnyder will be this year's Yangervis Solarte.  Everybody loves the story of Yangervis Solarte in 2014, the minor league free agent who hit so well throughout spring training that he forced his way onto the Opening Day roster, into regular playing time, and then finally into becoming a major piece in a trade for Chase Headley; he is currently a fairly regular and productive player for the San Diego Padres.  In limited action last season, he put together a .302/.348/.512 line with 13 hits, including 2 HR, and although his defense was unspectacular, he demonstrated enough potential with his bat to show why he has managed to stick around despite his defensive woes.  Look at him to put it all together this spring and force the Yankees to find a spot to get his bat in the lineup, even if that means putting him back in RF from time to time.

3.  Chase Headley's bat will disappear.  When the Yankees traded for (and then subsequently re-signed) Chase Headley in 2014, they expected to get one of the league's best defenders at the hot corner with a good enough bat to hit .260 with 20 HR.  What they got in 2015 was a mildly-productive (albeit unspectacular) bat (.693 OPS) with defense that gave you heart attacks on a regular basis - although he made all the spectacular plays, throwing the ball to first base became a major challenge for Headley.  He had a career-high 23 errors, with many more saved by first baseman Mark Teixeira.  I predict Headley will be so focused on preventing this from happening again that it will be mid-June before his bat finally starts to come around.

4.  Jorge Mateo will be the team's most consistent hitter.  Yankees SS prospect Jorge Mateo has quickly risen to the top of prospect rankings within the Yankees organization, joining Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird as "the untouchables" when it comes to trade talks, and it's easy to see why.  At just 20 years old, Mateo's game has always been built around his elite speed (he had 82 SB between A and High-A last season), but he really began to put it together at the plate last season, posting a .737 OPS; in fact, his hitting even improved when he made the jump to High-A Tampa late in the season.  Expect him to start there, although with a strong spring, he might find himself in Double-A Trenton before long.

5.  The #5 spot in the rotation isn't decided until the final week.  In truth, there are only two true positions up for grabs on the Yankees roster (pending injuries, of course) - the #5 starter and the final spot in the bullpen.  Of these, the latter is likely to be utilized by the revolving door of AAA relievers we saw last year, affectionately known as the "Scranton shuttle;" although it takes some roster-building gymnastics, it makes use of having a glut of young relievers with options remaining to effectively use a roster larger than 25 men.  The other one, however, comes down to who will be the Yankees' #5 starter, beleaguered vet CC Sabathia or Ivan Nova, with the loser of the competition becoming the swingman/mid-reliever hybrid - the role that Adam Warren has served the last couple of seasons.  And, given CC Sabathia's strong finish on the field last season and with Ivan Nova now in his second season returning from Tommy John surgery, this is bound to be one intense competition.

And so these are my five predictions for Spring Training.  Tell us yours in the comments below!

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Alright.  For Giants fans, that sucked - up by 6 with 1:20 left on the clock and no Dallas timeouts left, and Tony Romo marches down the field to win the game.  It was brutal, it was heartbreaking, and it was totally unexpected.

Completely lost in that last drive was the fact that the Giants weren't supposed to be in the game at all, but instead dominated by the defending NFC East winners.  The team struggled all preseason and was down several key vets - Beatty, JPP, Cruz, and Beason - and was playing rookies at multiple important positions (LT, FS, MLB).  Although the offense took quite some time to get going and the defense had its share of blunders, there were quite a few signs for optimism in this week's game.

1.  The Giants' pass rush needs work.  I mean, you're starting Markus Kuhn you've got some issues, and no matter how you swing it, Cullen Jenkins is not a good enough pass rusher to play DE, so perhaps this should not be too much of a shock, but this went deeper.  Nobody was able to get any pressure, and I'm not quite sure what to say about that.  Jonathan Hankins was an amazing pass-rushing threat last year, and we didn't see him today - perhaps when isolated as the main threat he's easily neutralized, like Victor Cruz can be.  George Selvie and Kerry Wynn couldn't generate any pressure.  Devon Kennard seemed out of place with his hand in the dirt in NASCAR formations.  And where was Damontre Moore?  The third-year DE rarely saw the field, as far as I can tell, and while that may be attributed to the need to defend the Cowboys' strong running game (something he's awful at), he probably should have rotated in more on first- and second-downs and pushing Cullen Jenkins inside.  All in all, this is a big work in progress, and needs help - whether from JPP, a healthy Owa, or a Week 2 free agent acquisition.

2.  This core of this defense is aggression.  One of the main reasons fans got tired of old defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was his insistence on playing "Off and Soft" - playing a read-and-react defense that tries to minimize mistakes and force offenses to throw into coverage; while it worked with the right personnel, it was extraordinarily complex and often resulted in blown coverages and big plays.  So, Steve Spagnuolo's defense looked refreshing, with its variety of blitzes and focus on forcing opposing offenses to make mistakes.  And despite a noticeable lack of a pass rush and a slew of injuries to the safeties, the Giants did just that, forcing three turnovers that directly resulted in 17 points.  Sure, there were growing pains throughout, but If this team can figure out a way to pressure the QB (which could be as simple as not playing the top OL in the league), this defense could be going places.

3.  The last drive wouldn't have been bad if the secondary could tackle in space.  Alright, let's be honest here, the gameplan on that last drive wasn't ideal - a four-man rush with Prevent defense does not work, as we saw in this exact same loss late last season.  But in this case, it might have worked, if the Cowboys RBs were tackled when they caught the ball and not allowed to extend the play, as it were those plays that brought the Cowboys into Giants territory and caused the defense to start reeling.  There was not a single big pass in that drive - it was the runs after the catch that killed the defense, and that should not happen.

4.  Eli didn't look as bad as the stat line says.  20/36 (55.6%), 0 TD, 0 INT, 193 yards.  Not great, but not awful, either.  Still, there were two drops by Preston Parker and a catch by Larry Donnell that was called back by review (one I disagree with, just saying), and at least one apparent miscommunication with Ruben Randle.  Later in the game, alongside Rashad Jennings was able to make a couple of breakout plays, Eli was able to get the offense, if only they had run the ball on the 1.  (Geez, where have we heard that one before?)

5.  There are still 15 games to play.  Yeah, this loss sucks, but there are still 15 more games, including another one against the Cowboys.  Shake this one off and move on to Atlanta.  There's still plenty of football left, and the Giants have shown us this week that perhaps they shouldn't be counted out in Week 1 just yet...

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