It was at Tropicana Field last Sept. 28 that the Yankees played a part in one of the most memorable closing games in baseball history, with Evan Longoria blasting a walk-off home run facing Scott Proctor in the 12th inning to lift the Rays to a Wild Card-clinching 8-7 victory, just minutes after the Orioles shattered the Red Sox’s playoff hopes with a victory at Camden Yards.
It’s impossible not to look out at the artificial turf here and think of that amazing night — Dan Johnson’s homer, Mark Teixeira’s grand slam earlier in the evening, and the Yankees’ carousel of 11 pitchers who showed differing levels of effectiveness. The Yankees wouldn’t have guessed their season was heading for an early end that night, as they finished a campaign with 97 wins and the American League East title, but they’re ready to try to avenge those losses now.
“I’m very anxious,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think you look forward to this day from the day we get to Spring Training. I’ve actually been looking forward to it since last year. We had a good Spring Training. I was happy with it. We got everything done we needed to. Now it’s time to play for real.”
Opening Day starts should be old hat by now for CC Sabathia, who will be making his ninth career Opening Day start and his fourth in a Yankees uniform, but the left-handed ace said he still feels the same raw emotions leading into the appearance.
“I still get butterflies before pretty much every game, but especially Opening Day,” Sabathia said. “It’s a brand new season and you want to start the season off right. It’s an honor to be able to go out there and take the ball.”
The Yankees were sporting t-shirts in the clubhouse before Friday’s game with the inspirational message “Mind, Heart, Guts” on the back, with the front reading, “Yankees 1°.” The shirts were the brainchild of director of mental conditioning Chad Bohling, unifying the team even without their game uniforms on. It’s not the type of clubhouse Sabathia necessarily envisioned in 2008, when GM Brian Cashman told him the team was broken and needed his presence.
“The perception is that it’s not a close clubhouse, that it’s not a place where guys want to go,” Sabathia said. “You hear that as a player. That’s something I was really concerned about, and coming from Cleveland, where I had grown up with all these guys, and being so close to those guys in Milwaukee over a two-month span, it was really something that was important to me, making sure the clubhouse was good.”
Players like Sabathia, along with newcomers like Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira, seem to have blended seamlessly with an old guard that features Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and — soon — Andy Pettitte. No wonder Cashman ranks Sabathia’s deal among the best he has ever presented to a starting pitcher, right alongside Mike Mussina’s contract.
“I know what our clubhouse is, and I know how much fun we have,” Sabathia said, “and what it means to us to be able to root for each other, and pull for each other and have fun. I don’t really worry about it anymore.”
Johnny Damon told the New York Post that he and the Yankees won’t be reuniting, calling the situation “unfortunate.” Damon had hoped to be the left-handed DH bat that the Yankees are looking for, but general manager Brian Cashman told Damon that wasn’t going to happen.
“He called and I told him the truth,” Cashman told the newspaper. “He’s not the No. 1 option if and when I turn to DH options.”
The Yankees are in a holding pattern until A.J. Burnett passes his physical with the Pirates on Sunday, but are expected to chase veteran Raul Ibanez as a DH instead. They’re also interested in bringing back Eric Chavez as a corner infielder.
- Bryan Hoch
The Yankees and Pirates have discussed a possible A.J. Burnett trade, with the Yankees willing to pick up a portion of the $33 million they owe the right-hander over the next two seasons.
That figure has been said to be in the $8 million range. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported in a blog post that New York and Pittsburgh are still separated by a few million dollars.
Burnett could be an extraneous piece for the Yankees, who currently have seven pitchers to fit into five rotation slots. He would head to Spring Training competing with Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia for New York’s fifth starter job. Heyman notes that the Yankees asked for slugger Garrett Jones, but were rejected.
The New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweeted that the 10 clubs on Burnett’s limited no-trade list are all on the West Coast. Burnett signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Yankees before the 2009 season and is 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in his three seasons wearing pinstripes.
- Bryan Hoch
The Yankees have engaged in discussions with free agent Bill Hall about a possible utility role, the New York Daily News reported.
Citing a person with knowledge of the situation, the newspaper reported that Hall is considering “a couple of teams.” The Yankees would likely only offer Hall a Minor League contract with a chance to make the club in Spring Training.
Hall, 32, batted a combined .211 last season with the Astros and Giants. The Yankees currently have Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena in line as bench candidates who can play multiple infield positions and some outfield.
- Bryan Hoch
In a conference call with reporters discussing the Michael Pineda trade, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he’d be more inclined to trade from his pitching depth to acquire a designated hitter than to sign one on the open free agent market.
When the Yankees officially announce the signing of right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, they’ll have seven starters vying for five spots. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia are also in that mix.
“Maybe I use our excess pitching to find a bat,” Cashman said. “That’s a possibility. … We stretched the payroll to get (Kuroda) done, so I’m not sure what we have financially. I think we’ll look at the trade market first and foremost and see where that takes us.”
Among the DH options out there, the Yankees have reportedly heard from Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez, but are not thought to consider any of them an urgent priority.
- Bryan Hoch
The Yankees have heard from the representatives for free agents Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez about their opening at designated hitter, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff reports.
Guerrero and Ibanez could join a crowd of candidates vying for the Yankees’ attention in the wake of last week’s Jesus Montero trade to the Mariners. New York is known to have reached out to the representatives for Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Carlos Pena, but it is believed that the Yankees have only between $1 and $2 million to spend on a DH.
Internally, the Yankees are touting a tandem of Andruw Jones and Minor League slugger Jorge Vazquez to tackle DH duties, while also using the spot to help rest players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Davidoff’s report also noted that Jack Cust’s representatives talked to the Yankees, but Cust agreed to a contract with the Astros on Tuesday.
- Bryan Hoch
The Yankees are balking at a high asking price for the Cubs’ Matt Garza and have instead turned their attention to free agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported Tuesday.
Noting that the Yankees and Jackson “aren’t in any way close to a deal,” Heyman suggests that New York and agent Scott Boras could eventually find middle ground. Boras has been reported to be looking for a four or five year pact for Jackson worth approximately $15 million per season.
That could prove too high for the Yankees, who have been preaching fiscal responsibility this winter and would not get involved with free agents C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle, despite their stated need for a starting pitcher to slot behind CC Sabathia in the rotation.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted on Tuesday that the Yankees like Jackson, but not enough to give him a big multi-year contract. They’d be more inclined to offer Hiroki Kuroda a one-year contract, but even that is too costly for their budget at the time.
- Bryan Hoch
The Yankees may have some company in trying to secure Andruw Jones for their bench. The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that the Red Sox are believed to have joined New York in pursuit of the 34-year-old outfielder.
Jones provided right-handed power for the Yankees last year, slugging 13 homers in limited playing time, with most of his 48 starts coming against left-handed hurlers. The Daily News noted that while J.D. Drew’s contract has expired in Boston, neither Ryan Kalish nor Josh Reddick have a great track record against left-handed pitching.
- Bryan Hoch
The Yankees would like Andruw Jones back as a reserve outfielder who can mash left-handed pitching, and agent Scott Boras says his client is aware of Brian Cashman’s interest.
“I know they liked him,” Boras said. “Cash told me that he thought he filled the role that he had very well. He was very well respected in the clubhouse, so I’m sure they want him back.”
Jones hit 13 homers in 190 at-bats, and while the part-time role wasn’t his first choice, Boras said Jones knows that playing every day is unlikely.
“I think he wanted to play more than what he played in New York,” Boras said. “Certainly, hitting 13 home runs in a couple hundred at bats, he’s probably deserving. He understands he’s not going to be a full time player.”
- Bryan Hoch
The Yankees have won the rights to negotiate with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday.
Nakajima, 29, was posted by the Seibu Lions and is a lifetime .302 hitter in Japan, having debuted in 2002. The Yankees will have 30 days to sign Nakajima to a Major League or Minor League contract.
They are believed have interest in the right-handed hitting Nakajima as a possible backup to shortstop Derek Jeter, as well as seeing some time at third base and second base. Most of Nakajima’s professional experience has come at shortstop.
New York used Eduardo Nunez in a similar role this year, and though the Yankees have been reluctant to consider dealing Nunez, general manager Brian Cashman said Nunez has drawn trade interest from clubs.
- Bryan Hoch