How highly do the Yankees value their first-round selection in next year's Draft? Would losing the pick keep them from pursuing one of the free agents with compensation attached?
-- Ken L., Paramus, N.J.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has spoken highly of the Yankees' first selection in their most recent Draft, right-hander James Kaprielian, and the club believes he could be playing a part on the big league roster as soon as this coming year. Kaprielian was the 16th overall selection in the Draft and almost immediately joined Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez among the organization's most prized pieces, with MLBPipeline.com ranking him as the No. 3 prospect in the Yankees' system.
"I don't think we would have got him if we were picking 56th," Steinbrenner said. "It's important not to be giving away those Draft picks. It doesn't mean if the situation requires, we've got to do what we've got to do to win. That's always the goal. But I was very excited about the Draft in June. I was very excited about the No. 1 pick."
In 2016, the Yankees hold the 22nd overall selection. General manager Brian Cashman recently said that they will value the pick, but the Yanks also recognize the type of talent that will go in the top 10 picks is much greater than the talent level they'll see after No. 20. As such, Cashman said that he'd be OK with losing the pick "under the right circumstance."
"I always like to keep it. It makes Draft day more enjoyable when you have an opportunity to pick in the first round," Cashman said. "But again, the back of the first round and the front of the first round -- you're having access at radically different ceiling-type players."
In short -- if we toss finances out the window and the pick was all that stood between the Yankees and, say, Zack Greinke, that's pretty easy to call. But for the likes of Wei-Yin Chen or Jeff Samardzija, it's going to be a factor.
Why wouldn't the Yankees be in on free agent Ben Zobrist?
-- Coey S., Niagara Falls, N.Y.
No matter how many times Cashman and other Yankees executives indicate that this is not setting up as one of those free-spending offseasons, we always must keep our guards up. The Yanks have surprise moves in their playbook, though their big investments typically follow the pattern of seeing major dollars come off the books (2016-17 and 2017-18 could be busy).
The switch-hitting Zobrist would fill a need at second base, where the Yankees are looking to upgrade over the offensive-minded tandem of Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder. He's also turning 35 in May and could garner a four-year deal at a time when the Yankees are actively trying to get younger and dig out from long-term commitments to aging players.
No one has completely ruled anything out, but there's a crowded market said to be in pursuit of Zobrist. This seems like a situation where the Yankees will lurk on the periphery and let other teams make the noise.
When Masahiro Tanaka pitched his first season with the Yankees, his velocity was in the mid-to-high 90s, and now it reaches the low 90s. Will his velocity ever get back to where it was?
-- Jim L., Auburn, N.H.
There are a few aspects to this, but the one big piece to think about is that Tanaka is a different pitcher than he was in April 2014 -- and not just because of the UCL tear. Tanaka volunteered this spring that he was going to throw more two-seam fastballs and ease up on the four-seamers, sacrificing velocity in favor of movement. Why? Well, he never said it outright, but his four-seamers were getting crushed on a regular basis.
Tanaka still touched 96 mph on occasion this past year, and the average velocity on his four-seamer was actually a smidge higher than 2014 -- 92.74 mph in '14, 92.76 mph in '15, according to Brooks Baseball. The difference, according to that PitchFX data, is that Tanaka used both his four-seamer (18.64 percent) and two-seamer (13.62 percent) less frequently this year. Instead, he used his splitter 27.41 percent of the time, threw 22.23 percent sliders, 10.75 percent cutters and 7.30 percent curveballs.
Perhaps that was to accommodate the bone spur he secretly guarded in his elbow, the one that manager Joe Girardi said Tanaka never complained about but required surgery, or a preventative measure because of the UCL tear. Another thought: Opponents batted over .300 off Tanaka's fastballs in both 2014 and 2015. In '15, his slider (.140), cutter (.146), curve (.214) and splitter (.198) were simply far more reliable weapons.
Why are the Yankees so set on putting Mark Teixeira at first? Yes, he's a great infielder, but his bat remains tepid unless he's hitting 30 homers. Should they put Bird at first and trade Teixeira?
-- Richard P., Los Angeles
I believe you're underestimating the value that Teixeira provided this past year: 31 homers is nothing to sneeze at, especially since he provided them in 111 games. There was a good stretch of time where people were talking about Teixeira not only as a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, but he was on the periphery of the MVP conversation as well.
Bird had a great run after being promoted, but the Yankees still greatly missed Teixeira's switch-hitting presence. It's part of the reason why they were so vulnerable against left-handed pitching. Staying healthy and losing hits to the shift have been two of Teixeira's biggest issues, but there's a reason why the Yankees are saying there isn't room for Bird on the Opening Day roster if Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are both healthy.
Teixeira's contract expires after 2016, so there will be a changing of the guard in the very near future -- perhaps if Teixeira lands back on the disabled list next year, when Bird could step back in. Teixeira recently shot down a report that suggested he had told the Yankees it was OK to shop him; as far as he's concerned, it looks like he is staying put.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.