The Yankees 2017 Spring Training is the longest in recent memory. Largely due to the World Baseball Classic schedule and the new bargaining agreement that calls for the season to start later, by the time Opening Day rolls around on April 2, the team will have been in camp for almost seven weeks. That’s way too long.
The Yankees, by the time Opening Day arrives, will have played more than 80 exhibition games, including split-squad contests. That’s one-half of a full season to accomplish what could be realized in half that time, and here are just a few reasons why the Yankees should be in the vanguard to make some changes in 2018.
Conditioning Is No Longer A Factor
Players of the past used Spring Training to get in shape for the season. Often, they arrived in their respective camps having left offseason jobs like driving a beer truck to augment their income, and they needed the time to work back into baseball shape.
The modern day ballplayer trains year-round. Many players wisely choose to build fully stocked workout rooms in their homes with some of those big bucks they earn. Top-flight agents provide facilities for players they represent. And teams like the Yankees have facilities like the one in Tampa that is open year-round and players are welcome all day and every day.
Rosters Are Pre-Set
Much is being made, for instance, of the competition for jobs in the Yankees camp this spring. But in reality, with the exception of two or three slots, the roster is set. The starting eight, barring injury, is written in stone. And despite all the hoopla over the winter, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chase Headley will get nearly all of the at-bats manning their positions. And Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge crack the lineup as the only “new” regulars, while Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Jorge Mateo, Billy McKinney, etc. all begin the season in the minors. And that’s that.
The Incessant Travel
The Yankees presence in Florida means constant travel by bus to play away exhibition games. Joe Girardi is faced with the task of deciding who goes on the trip and who stays behind to get their work in for the day in Tampa.
His problem is compounded by the fact that he must put at least three or four “regulars” on the bus, or be faced with the wrath of the opposing team, and possibly even the suits at MLB, for not putting a competitive team on the field that day (read ticket sales).
Teams try to accommodate the problem by scheduling games with teams in nearby cities, which in turn raises another issue when the Yankees end up playing the Phillies, who train in nearby Clearwater, or the Tigers in Sarasota, gazillion times each spring.
The Boredom Factor
Spring Training is as tedious as it is long. How many fly balls do you need to shag in the outfield to be “ready” for the season? And of all those fly balls that Aaron Judge will field this spring in Tampa, how many will prepare him for the fly balls that will be hit to him in ballparks he has never played in during the regular season. The answer, none.
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If you ask any of the regulars, with the exception of Greg Bird who needs time to get back in stride following an injury last season, they’re ready to go now. And you’ll hear talk of this guy or that guy working on “little things,” but who’s kidding who here. Besides, that’s why they schedule batting practice during the season.
Boredom brings about bad habits. Just like seeing the lure of that bag of potato chips on a day that is spent on the couch watching TV does. These players are athletes who lives are built around the element of competition that results in winners and losers. In essence, all Spring Training does is produce a bunch of ties.
Pitchers And The “Stretching Out” Theory
With the exception of someone like James Kaprielian, who is being nursed back from an injury suffered last season, pitchers, much like position players, have been engaged in a throwing program throughout the winter. They’re not just sitting around the house, shopping, and picking the kids up after school.
But because of this year’s Spring Training length, we’re seeing pitchers limited to 25 or 30 pitches in their initial appearance (less for relievers), and then progressively being allowed to throw ten more, then ten more, and so on. But, with the luxury of time, why wouldn’t Joe Girardi take it slow.
Except, once again, Michael Pineda and probably even C C Sabathia can roll out of bed on any given day and throw 100 pitches without breaking a sweat. Same with Chance Adams, Chad Green, and Justus Sheffield. These are conditioned athletes who, like the pitchers competing in the WBC, can be clocking 95 and above on the gun and tossing six innings right now if they were not chained and quartered.
Oh, Those Injuries
Every time one of the Yankees players steps on a playing field, there is the potential for injury. And it follows that the more a player is on the field, the greater the chance for injury is present.
If there is one thing you can count on over the next four weeks of Spring Training, it’s that at least one of the starting eight Yankees will go down with an injury that removes from the lineup on Opening Day.
Maybe we could ask Tyler Austin how he feels right about now after taking a ball off his foot in the first couple of days in the cage. Or better yet, ask the Boston Red Sox ace, David Price, how he feels today after going down from an injury that did not come about in May when he was trying to stop a four-game Red Sox losing streak.
The Yankees Need To Pave The Way In 2018
Somewhere in the bargaining agreement, there is probably a clause that says a player must abide by his team’s “orders” to report for Spring Training on such and such dates. Tradition begs that the reporting date is in the middle of February. But, there is nothing preventing the Yankees from moving that date to March 1, or even later, for all players. If they wish, they could cherry pick players with a mandate to report sooner, but officially the date camp open is March 1.
But for the most part, there is no need for Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, etc. to be in camp sooner, unless they want to be. And in that case, the Yankees would surely welcome them. It’s bewildering.
So, sit back and enjoy the next 28 days or so, cross your fingers none of the Yankees go down with an injury, pity the players on two and a half hour bus rides to play a game that means nothing, wait for Aroldis Chapman to unleash a 105 mhp fastball, watch Gleyber Torres compete for a job he can’t have, no matter what he does, and wait, and wait.
It’s better than not having baseball at all, but Spring Training has become a caricature of what baseball is all about these days.