TAMPA, Fla. — Last spring brought the daily dose of drama only Alex Rodriguez can provide, and the spring before that a guy named Jeter announced via Facebook he’d be retiring at season’s end.
And a year before that, in 2013, there was Mariano Rivera’s spring announcement he’d be hanging it up at the end of the year.
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Yes, there was some early noise regarding new closer Aroldis Chapman but by and large, Yankees’ camp this season was a word not often associated with the Bombers.
“I’ve always liked quiet,” Brian Cashman said with a smile one day this spring as his team took batting practice at Steinbrenner Field.
The long-time general manager knows to enjoy quiet while he can because it rarely stays that way with his club.
And while spring training didn’t create much in the way of buzz, a quiet — there’s that word again — confidence emanated from the Bombers all spring that they can create plenty of noise in 2016.
“I thought last year was the start of something good,” A-Rod said earlier in camp.
Last year the Yankees went 87-75 in capturing one of the AL’s wild-card spots, losing at home to the Astros in the one-and-done playoff.
The club overachieved in some respects, but that wasn’t on Joe Girardi’s mind this spring.
“I appreciate how hard our guys played all year, how they never gave up last year, but you know, we didn’t get to where we wanted,” Girardi said. “Our goal is to win the World Series. That’s why we come to Spring Training.”
Cashman, much to the irritation of plenty of Yankees fans, went about improving the roster in a different manner from previous years. Implementing the organizational mandate — put in place by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner — to not dramatically add to the payroll with the goal being eventually getting under the luxury tax threshold, all new players arrived via trade.
Heading that list, at least when it comes to star power, was Chapman, obtained from the Reds. The closer, who routinely throws in excess of 100 mph, will miss the first 30 games of the regular season after being suspended by MLB because of an alleged domestic abuse incident from last October.
Adding Chapman to bullpen stalwarts Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances should give the Yankees an outstanding bullpen, though last year’s was pretty good, too.
The rotation looks solid, and maybe even spectacular, led by Masahiro Tanaka and followed by Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia. But questions accompany each one.
Tanaka has yet to make it through a full season without a DL stint and is coming off surgery last October to remove a bone spur in his elbow. Pineda’s career high in innings remains the 171 he threw in 2011. Eovaldi was healthy all season after right elbow inflammation cost him the last 3½ weeks of the 2015 regular season. And though Sabathia finished strong, his right knee remains a question, as does his ability to get by with a high-80’s fastball that often arrives too flat. And Severino, at 22, has all of 11 career starts under him.
Still . . .
“I think their rotation is better than people think,” one opposing team executive said. “You look at Eovaldi, Pineda and Severino, those are three hard-throwers and Tanaka can pitch his butt off. Their starting pitching is underrated.”
Cashman, who tried all offseason to acquire another starter, has called the questions about the rotation “fair.”
“If they do (stay healthy), there’s a lot to be excited about,” Cashman added.
Cashman has tried to get the roster younger and more athletic for several years and he continued that this offseason by bringing in 26-year-old Starlin Castro to play second, which pairs him with 26-year-old shortstop Didi Gregorius, and 27-year-old Aaron Hicks as the reserve outfielder. Twenty-two-year-old first baseman Greg Bird was lost for the season to shoulder surgery and the Yankees are still going to need productive seasons out of veterans, who have been injury-prone in recent seasons, like Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran.
But youth does dot the roster in ways it hasn’t before.
“We have tremendous leadership, but the exciting part for me is the young guys, too,” said veteran third baseman Chase Headley, who lockered this spring near top outfield prospect Aaron Judge, expected at some point to get a chance this season. “We’re starting to get a little bit more athletic, and we have some really young exciting talent. You’ve got these guys knocking on the door, and it’s just exciting to have that mix. We’re not relying on just keeping our older guys healthy, we have a little bit of margin for error. If somebody does go down, we have young guys are that are fully capable of stepping in and helping us.”