Joe Girardi stepped to the podium in the press conference room at Yankee Stadium an hour before Northwestern and Pittsburgh kicked off the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in the Bronx. This was not about football Wednesday afternoon even though the manager was ready to cheer on his alma mater Northwestern.
The annual Bowl game has become a proud event for Yankees ownership. Yankee Stadium is energetic for a late December day and alumni of participating schools bring in the revenue.
And for Girardi, who did not meet with media at the Winter Meetings earlier this month in National Harbor Maryland, the game was an opportunity to talk some baseball.
He was relaxed as the countdown for pitchers and catchers gets closer. 46-days when Girardi meets his squad down in Tampa Florida at Steinbrenner Field as the days to spring training get closer.
“Northwestern will always be close to my heart and family,”Girardi said before heading upstairs with his wife and three children. Later, he would on the field with Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner, club President Randy Levine CEO Lon Trost and GM Brian Cashman presenting the winning trophy to a Northwestern team that pulled off a big 31-24 win over Pittsburgh.
So this was not the first meeting of a new season with the media. The official Joe Girardi meeting will come at Steinbrenner Field in mid February and the few who were there asked about the return of closer Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs World Series victory and how a mix of youngsters will play a role when the season begins in April.
Let’s face the facts. This is the end of December and a lot can happen between now and the next few months before predictions are offered as to where the Yankees will stand in 2017.
The Red Sox are better with Chris Sale in their rotation, The Yankees will still have question marks with their rotation and the youngsters, vehicles acquired by GM Brian Cashman in trades, will be tested.
“I look forward to seeing some of the young players that are coming to camp that I haven’t had a chance to see a lot of,” Girardi said. “And as they continue to come through our pipeline I think we’re going to build something really strong here that’s going to last.”
He did say, and without hesitation, that the Yankees will contend. Reasons are obvious because they have Chapman again to close games and there is a clearer picture as to where some of those youngsters will be situated.
Aaron Judge or Aaron Hicks in right field and a healthy Greg Bird will compete with Tyler Austin for the job at first base.
Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green will be in position to compete for a spot in that starting rotation. and Luis Severino is the front runner for one or two of the final spots.
“Do I see him fitting in our staff somewhere? Probably, I do,” said Girardi. “But you have to come to spring training and prove yourself, and we have a lot of kids fighting for spots.”
Yes, it was awkward answering baseball questions an hour prior to kickoff and Girardi admitted that last game with the Cubs and Indians went beyond his bedtime. He will get to see the winning manager Joe Maddon and is aware the Red Sox and defending AL champion Indians will be tough to beat.
And with rumors continuing that the Yankees may swing a trade for Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Girardi said ” My job is to manage the guys that are in the room. And that’s kind of what my focus is, but he’s a great player.”
The player he would want but may never get as the Yankees prepare for that final stretch of the offseason now that the holiday season is nearing an end.
“Obviously Andrew McCutchen is a very, very talented player, ” he said, “so I’m sure there’s 30 clubs that would love to have the services of an Andrew McCutchen.”
For sure the Yankees could pull off this rumored three-team trade with the White Sox and Pirates.
But to do that, there would be consequences of giving up some of the top prospects that Cashman acquired at the trading deadline, and beyond August and into September.
Girardi is excited to see Gary Sanchez again and this time a full season worth of production. That surge of Sanchez home runs came late in the season and maybe a full season of Gary Sanchez would have put the Yankees in the postseason.
Gleyber Torres, MVP of the Arizona Fall League after hitting .403 has the Yankees manager excited.
“I heard everything that you did, and we’ve been very excited about this young kid every since we’ve had him,” Girardi said. And a 19-year old with production has every reason for Girardi to anticipate a busy spring training period.
Chapman is another cause for optimism and Girardi would not fault Maddon for overusing the closer in the World Series.
“It’s difficult for a manager because you’re going to do what you think is right at the time,” he said.
Time will tell how much Chapman will be used. And time will tell if these Yankees right now are considered contenders and a college football Bowl game was awaiting the Yankees manager.
He will have plenty of time to tackle the business. Girardi having optimism of contention in late December is much too early. One thing always certain is a Joe Girardi attitude of contention from April to October.
And that also counts in late December.
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