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  • Writer's pictureAndy Singer

SSTN Mailbag: Early Impressions, Leading Off, And Woodruff!

Happy Spring Training! While there are still plenty of high-end free agents strangely available as players report to camp, the off-season is officially over. Though I am a creature of habit, I did not get to partake in my usual traditions to celebrate the reporting of pitchers and catchers, as I had to travel for work unexpectedly. To make up for it, I took a quiet few moments before I wrote the opening monologue for today's SSTN Mailbag to go through my ritual listening. I'm marginally embarrassed to admit that a funny thing happened as I listened to "Centerfield" by John Fogerty and "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" By Bernie Williams: a tear came to my eye.

It came completely out of nowhere. As much as we talk and write about Yankees' baseball around here, the off-season makes baseball feel all too far away, and it hit me like a ton of bricks this morning: I was just so overwhelmingly happy to have real baseball back. I love this game, and if I'm being completely honest, I miss playing terribly, so the Yankees are how I get to feel some of those familiar feelings. Last season was such a slog by the end that I don't think I fully got my baseball fix, so this felt like a really hard, cold winter. Hope springs eternal, both in life and baseball.

As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about some of my (very) early impressions from camp, the ideal lead-off hitter, and evaluate the idea of signing an injured Brandon Woodruff! Let's get at it:

Nate asks: By the time the Mailbag posts, we'll have some news about players. Do you have any interesting early impressions or takes about the team?

Well, we've only really seen players for a couple of days, but I'll give a quick hit:

  • I'm really sad that my trepidation regarding Scott Effross' availability to begin the year was correct. Matt Blake was very muted as to Effross' progress back in December, and now we know why. I still think the Yankees have a lot of arm talent around, but Effross could have been a very key piece in this bullpen. I have real concerns about his ability to contribute this year.

  • Jasson Dominguez appears to be recovering well and his body composition looks good. All I care about is that he remains healthy and progresses through his recovery methodically. Dominguez is important for the long haul.

  • The Yankees seem really confident in DJ LeMahieu. Aaron Boone seemed to indicate that the struggles LeMahieu had at the plate in 2022 and through the first half of last season were directly related to his toe injury; the numbers he put up in the second half indicate he can still be a premium bat. If DJ can stay healthy, I think DJLM has one more really good offensive season left in the tank. Maybe not 2019/2020 good, but plenty of contact and on-base potential.

  • Oswaldo Cabrera gives a great interview. I've long been the high-man on Oswaldo, and I really still believe he can have MLB success despite last season's horrific struggles. I hope he gets the chance to prove he belongs.

  • Carlos Rodon showed up to camp like a man on a mission, and word was that he was sitting in the mid-high 90s in live ABs. I think we're going to see the guy the Yanks thought they were getting last year.

  • Luis Gil is healthy again and flying under the radar. The whispers are that he has a greatly improved change-up. I'll believe it when I see it, but I still believe he'll play a larger than expected role on this year's roster.

  • Austin Wells is getting a lot of good time with the Yankees' starters with Trevino sidelined. That camp work will be critical to allowing him to catch more than once or twice per week this year.

  • Other than Effross and Trevino, the Yankees are fairly healthy right now. I hope it lasts.

Fuster asks: Who's up first?

with Soto second and Judge third, who is the best option to bat lead-off?

is there someone available in trade and at reasonable cost who might better serve than anyone currently on the roster?

I don't think that anyone is available via trade right now (meaning prior to the trade deadline) that would move the needle at the lead-off spot on a championship roster.

Right now, I think DJ LeMahieu will get most of the at-bats out of the lead-off spot, and that makes a lot of sense. DJ makes gobs of contact (a lot of hit hard contact, when he's right) and gets on-base, which you need in front of two of the best hitters in baseball. Frankly, I think the need for speed on the basepaths is overblown out of the lead-off spot when the guy will be batting in front of Soto and Judge, so LeMahieu really fits perfectly. Think about it: even if someone like Volpe is greatly improved, would the Yankees really let him run free and possibly make an out in front of the boppers? I think not.

The other obvious option is Alex Verdugo, at least against RHP. He traditionally runs significant platoon splits, and he hits for a ton of contact against RHP, producing excellent batting averages while getting on-base at an acceptable clip for that spot in the lineup. He also traditionally excels batting lead-off, though the sample size is a bit small. That being said, I'm not sure I want two lefties in a row at the top of the order, so if Verdugo leads off, I'd bat Judge #2 and Soto in the 3-hole.

In short, I agree with Aaron Boone: if DJ LeMahieu looks healthy, he should get the first crack at batting lead-off.

Alan B. asks: With the Yankees signing guys and putting the obvious guys right in the 60 day IL list, can you the Yankees signing free agent RHP Brandon Woodruff to a 2 year contract and putting him directly into the 60 day IL? After all, wouldn't he be a nice safety net for 2025 to have to allow the Yankees to trade an additional pitching prospect, or if those kids need more than 2024?

Frankly, I'm shocked that someone hasn't given Woodruff a contract like this yet, which would allow him to rehab using a team's facilities under the watchful eye of team trainers and doctors. Recency bias allows us to forget about even fairly obvious greatness, but Woodruff was one of the best pitchers in baseball consistently over the past 3-4 seasons. He throws hard with both his 4 and 2-seam fastball, with a great change-up and breaking balls that allow him to pitch to both lefties and righties, and his command in the strike zone was some of the best in the game.

The problem is the injury. Woodruff needed surgery to repair the capsule on his throwing shoulder, one of the scariest injuries a pitcher can suffer. Woodruff is a stuff and command pitcher, and that part of the shoulder is both difficult to repair and crucial to maintaining a pitcher's arm slot. To put it in perspective, this is the same surgery that Mark Prior, Johan Santana, and Rich Harden needed. None were close to the same pitcher again, and it is difficult to find many guys who had moderately successful returns from surgery like this, save for Julio Urias a few years ago.

Woodruff was not a particularly durable guy before this surgery, and I don't expect him to be after. However, he still has enough talent that some team should take a chance on him. The fact that no one has yet tells you how scary this procedure is. I very much wonder if teams will wait until the off-season to give Woodruff a 1-2 year "prove-it" deal.

That said, the argument can be made that taking a chance on a guy with this talent makes sense at the right price. If I'm the Yankees, I'd make sure I stay in the running, and I wouldn't rule out a move like this.


Alan B.
Alan B.
Feb 16

Perfect comment about why DJ is the perfect guy to be the leadoff hitter in front of Judge & Soto.

Was anyone really surprised that one of the rehabbing players wasn't healthy? I wasn't.

Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Feb 18
Replying to

If DJ can sustain a .370 OBP, he can easily be the primary leadoff man for the Yankees througout the season. It's highly unlikely he'll do this however and furthermore, you're not factoring what a putrid base runner he is and how much that hurts the offense from the leadoff position in the lineup.

A complete leadoff man runs the bases well. When he does steal, he does so successfully on most of his attempts. He goes from first to third and from second to home, making winning plays with legs. He also regularly beats out potential double plays. FanGraph's BsR is a great stat to quantify which players are good overall baserunners and which ones are not. A shrewd…


Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Feb 16

I would prefer to give one of the Yankees farmhands a chance (Warren, Beeter, Gil, etc) a chance to be in the rotation (as depth in the event of injury) before taking on a "project" from another team like Woodruff.

Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
Feb 17
Replying to

When the Yankees (and us fans) have to suffer through a season like the 2023 season (I have suffered through much WORSE, like the 1990 Yankees), the way I console myself and the way I still feel good about my Yankees is I follow each of the Yankees minor league teams very closely and that allows me to evaluate the entire organization as a whole. I can get excited about the future pitchers coming up (who may end up getting traded), and when I see a great one or two, I get excited about my Yankees even during a down season. This of course makes it tough if those prospects end up getting traded. While the Yankees were getting li…


Feb 16

Totally agree about who to leadoff … I think DJ/Soto/Judge vs LHP and Verdugo/Judge/Soto vs RHP. This also helps keep Soto happy since he apparently doesn’t like hitting second all that much.

With the Yanks already at 110% luxury tax penalty, I think Woodruff would be a mistake. Even a 2 year $30 million deal would cost them $31.5 million total per year. $63 million for a guy that at best will pitch next season is way too much.

Alan B.
Alan B.
Feb 17
Replying to

OK, then let him go elsewhere if he could get more money elsewhere. But as Andy pointed out about his surgery, is really someone going to give him that type of money?

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