The Yankees always conduct some kind of position battle during spring training. Typically, they put their favorite prospect up against middling veterans or other in-house options in the hopes that they can rise up to the challenge and claim the role they are competing for. Usually the competition is over a rotation spot, but position players are not immune from having to run the gauntlet through their competition.
This year, however, things seem to be different for whatever reason. The Yankees have been embracing a youth movement for a few years now, and it is in 2017 that we might be seeing the team change how they handle their young players. In years past, the Yankees would have brought a veteran pitcher in on a cheap deal to compete for a rotation spot, they would have hung onto their veteran catcher, and they would have a proven commodity in right field, but they haven’t done that.
If you’ve heard Gary Sanchez talk about his role on the team this spring, it’s clear he knows he has the job won and doesn’t have all that much to prove. The Yankees typically don’t like giving their young players anything, but Sanchez was handed the starting catching job this year. In fact, they even went out of their way to ensure that he was by trading away Brian McCann over the winter. When was the last time the Yankees even traded a veteran in order to free up space for a younger player? This never happens in this organization, even though it was clear that Sanchez deserved the job.
They haven’t been as forthcoming when it comes to the team’s future starting right fielder. Aaron Judge will clearly win the job at this point, however, there really was never a formal competition set up. Were Mason Williams and Aaron Hicks ever really in consideration for a starting job over Judge? It didn’t seem like they had much of a backup plan if he looked bad this spring, so you could take this as an example of them trusting their unproven player for once.
The Yankees are having their yearly competition for a spot in the starting rotation, but for the first time in awhile, all the contenders are unproven, in-house options. This isn’t Phil Hughes trying to beat out Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia; the Yankees are giving Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell a real chance to work things out amongst themselves.
They also seem to be ok handing Tommy Layne the job of left-handed specialist in the bullpen this year. A competition was expected, but after lefties Joe Mantiply and Evan Rutckyj were reassigned to minor league camp this week, the team isn’t leaving too many alternatives. It’s not that the decision is a surprise, it’s just that it would normally have taken a little longer. Layne isn’t even with the team at the moment and it is basically down to him and Jason Gurka, who is at the disadvantage of not being on the 40-man roster.
The only traditional battle this year was one that didn’t even take place. It was expected that Greg Bird and Tyler Austin would have to fight over a roster spot, however, a broken foot eliminated Austin before things got started. The Yankees did add veteran Chris Carter, but it’s not quite clear how they intend to use him throughout the year. He may be less competition to Bird and more compliment to a few different positions. It was also the right call to make, considering they got him at such a high discount and they needed insurance in case Bird wasn’t healthy.
The different approach the Yankees have taken this year is nice to see, but don’t look at it as the sign of a new game plan. The lack of veterans and competitions in camp is directly related to the team’s unwillingness to spend money on even incremental upgrades. While leaning on Sanchez and Judge will probably be the right call, scoffing at cheap deals for veterans, like Jerry Blevins and Jason Hammel, two players with higher floors than their internal options, could end up hurting them in the end.