A look at those Yankees most adversely impacted by a shortened spring training and regular season, especially if a missed week turns into a missed month or more:
Whenever the MLB-imposed lockout ends, a spring training of a yet-to-be- determined length will give way to a regular season of a yet-to-be-determined length, with the only certainty likely being a slew of injuries. That was the case with the 60-game COVID-shortened season of 2020, which was preceded by three weeks of spring training.
"That’s a huge concern," new Yankees assistant pitching coach Desi Druschel said last month in Tampa at the club’s minor-league complex. "It’s pretty easy to see what happened in . It’s easy [in general] to see what happens every year in spring training."
Added Sam Briend, the Yankees’ director of pitching: "You never know what causes an injury, right? But from a lot of the research and the things we’ve seen in the past, the riskiest time of the year is always spring training and the first month of the season. It’s something like over 30% of surgery-inducing injuries happen in that window."
Starting pitchers, for whom the six-week spring training schedule exists in order to stretch them out, generally are the most vulnerable. Of particular interest during this spring training — which probably will be in the range of four weeks, though another three-week version can’t be ruled out whenever a new collective bargaining agreement is reached — will be Jameson Taillon and Luis Severino. Both could use as long a spring training as possible; the former will be coming off surgery in October to repair a tendon tear in his right ankle and the latter has only six big-league innings under his belt since his return last September from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in February 2020.
Whether spring training is six weeks, eight weeks, three weeks or one day and whether the regular season is 162 games, 144 games or 60 games, Gary Sanchez makes the list. Hands-down, there is no more polarizing player among the fan base. A sizable number of Yankees fans thought Sanchez’s time in pinstripes might come to an end this offseason, but the franchise tendered the catcher just before the 8 p.m. deadline Nov. 30 to do so. More than a few rival executives and scouts think a change of scenery might resurrect Sanchez, but with even decent everyday catching in short supply in the big leagues, the Yankees ultimately decided — for now — that Sanchez, who doesn’t always get the credit he should for what he does well, is their best alternative.
This season isn’t make-or-break quite yet for Torres’ Yankees career, but it’s close. He burst on the scene in 2018 as a hyped rookie and then lived up to that hype, earning All-Star honors that July and finishing third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. But after earning a second straight All-Star bid in 2019, it’s been a steady decline, culminating with a terrible 2021. Torres not only bottomed out offensively by hitting .259 with nine homers and a .697 OPS in 127 games, but his defensive deficiencies at shortstop caused the Yankees to move him back to second base late in the season. The domino effect of the failed experiment meant general manager Brian Cashman would be in the market for a shortstop for 2022 — a high-priority pursuit that has been stalled since the lockout began Dec. 2 — and the uncertainty of exactly where to play DJ LeMahieu, who can play third and first but whose best position remains second. Though Torres’ work ethic has never been an issue, there was some organizational belief that he perhaps had become too self-satisfied because of his early success.
Remember him? The one-time top organizational pitching prospect hasn’t been the same since Game 2 of the Division Series against the Rays in 2020. when he was chosen as a one-inning opener for J.A. Happ, a move that baffled plenty inside the organization and outside it (and backfired in a 7-5 loss). Garcia had just two big-league starts last season, posting a 6.48 ERA. After the second one, May 29 in Detroit, when the 5-9 righty allowed five runs (four earned) and five hits in 4 1/3 innings in a 6-1 loss, he did not sniff the majors again. That was in large part because he never got things going in the minors, compiling a 3-7 record with a 6.85 ERA. "A complete mess," one rival talent evaluator assigned to the Yankees’ minor-league system said of Garcia last season. Garcia, and those responsible for coaching him, probably could use more than the three or four weeks they’ll be given in spring training to make the necessary fixes. No one, however, disputes the raw talent. It’s important to recognize that he’s still young, turning 23 on May 19.
The centerfielder, who has played in a total of 145 games the last three seasons (54 of 60 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, to be fair) since signing a seven-year, $70 million extension in February 2019, is coming off a 2021 season in which he saw action in only 32 games. His year ended in May when he suffered a tendon sheath tear in his left wrist that required season-ending surgery. Though the switch-hitting 32-year-old will enter spring training apparently fully recovered, the kind of injury Hicks suffered can be tricky. Former first baseman Mark Teixeira, for instance, suffered a similar injury during the World Baseball Classic in 2013 and, though he tried playing through it after rest and rehab, he ended up having season-ending surgery in July of that year. The effects lingered pretty much throughout 2014.
New members of Aaron Boone’s coaching staff
The Yankees' hiring off Hensley Meulens as assistant hitting coach last week — which one club insider called "our best hire this winter" — was mostly contrary to the franchise’s direction in recent years, which has featured the gradual discarding of coaches with big-league playing and/or coaching experience from the minors on up. Third base coach Phil Nevin was the latest victim, jettisoned after last season because he was seen by influential members of the organization as not being all-in enough on the all-in approach the Yankees have taken when it comes to analytics.
With the exception of Meulens, who earned World Series rings as the hitting coach with Bruce Bochy’s Giants in 2010, ’12 and ’14, and former Mets manager Luis Rojas, the new third base and outfield coach who is highly respected in the game, most of the new hires — a group that includes Druschel, hitting coach Dillon Lawson, assistant hitting coach Casey Dykes and first base/infield coach Travis Chapman — don’t have much in the way of major league experience, whether in uniform as a coach or as a player. Though by all accounts the new hires are very smart and bring plenty of other attributes to the table, when it comes to dealing with already established major league hitters and pitchers, the new staffers will have to demonstrate to those players more than a mastery of video and numbers. As one player said in the clubhouse a few years back, "the bottom line with any of them [coaches] with us is can you help me or not?" Spring training is the starting point, and the more time the better.