NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — For the first time in the four decades of baseball’s modern economic era, the New York Yankees enter spring training without having signed a single free agent to a major league contract.
“That’s a reflection of obviously our current commitments, which are substantial,” general manager Brian Cashman said before spring training’s start this week. “We’re really aggressive when we have a lot of money coming off. I think our history is we’re not aggressive (when) we don’t have money coming off.”
The Yankees started 57-42 in the first year following captain Derek Jeter’s retirement and led the AL East by seven games on July 29. Then they went 30-33 and finished six games back, falling into a wild-card playoff game against Houston they lost 3-0.
“I believe as we enter 2016 we have a stronger roster than we finished in 2015,” Cashman said.
New York’s batting average dropped from .274 in June and July to .236 for the remainder of the season. From Sept. 1 on, Alex Rodriguez hit .224, Jacoby Ellsbury .207, Brett Gardner .198 and Brian McCann .174.
“Maybe, do you try to do something different next year in these situations? It’s something that I’ll think long and hard about over the winter,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Here’s some things to look for when the Yankees open camp this week in Tampa, Florida:
Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm), CC Sabathia (knee, alcohol rehab), Michael Pineda (forearm), Ivan Nova (recovery from Tommy John surgery) and Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) all missed time. Rookie Luis Severino is the only rotation candidate without health questions.
“Our starting rotation’s health is really the key to the kingdom for us,” Cashman said.
The trade of Adam Warren to the Chicago Cubs in the deal to acquire Castro weakened the Yankees’ starting pitching depth. Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Brady Lail, Chad Green and Tyler Cloyd could see callups in the event starters get hurt.
In his return from a season-long suspension for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract, Rodriguez was hitting .281 through games of Aug. 6 with 24 homers and 63 RBIs. He batted .186 with nine homers and 23 RBIs during the rest of the season.
Cashman says Rodriguez, a former shortstop and third baseman, will remain a designated hitter.
“Got to stop asking Alex questions. He’s not playing any position, anymore,” Cashman said. “He’s a DH. He’s a very productive DH, and for us to get maximum value of Alex Rodriguez, he’s going to only DH. And if we have to put him in the field somewhere, we’re in trouble.”
Cashman said the organization’s relationship with Rodriguez is stronger now than it was a year ago.
“The way Alex went about his business and performance went a long way to full acceptance and bringing him back into the fold here,” he told ESPN’s Buster Olney. “Those were trying times last spring.
“I remember he showed up last spring training before the other position players and without a head’s-up for us in the front office and staff. From an organizational standpoint, we needed security to handle all the media swarming the facility. It was a kerfuffle. It was frustrating, but I’m glad it all settled down. We’re all in alignment now and on the same page.”
Mark Teixeira broke his shin on Aug. 17, and the switch-hitter’s absence was a factor in the slump. Rookie Greg Bird, who hit .261 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs in 157 at-bats as his replacement, is sidelined for this season following shoulder surgery.
Now 35, Teixeira hit .255 with 31 homers and 79 RBIs, his strongest season since 2011.
Acquired from payroll-paring Cincinnati, Chapman has been designated as the Yankees’ closer, with Andrew Miller moving to a setup roll alongside Dellin Betances. Chapman is being investigated by Major League Baseball and could be disciplined under the sport’s new domestic violence policy, even though he has not been charged criminally. His eligibility for free agency would be pushed back until after the 2017 season if he is suspended without pay by MLB for more than 45 days.
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