Yankees Notes: What Jon Berti adds; Opening Day a 'time of tremendous hope’ for Aaron Boone

For Aaron Boone, Opening Day is a “time of tremendous hope, and that’s what we have right now.”

Heading into his seventh season in charge of the Yankees, Boone’s feelings of excitement came across throughout his Zoom news conference with reporters Wednesday, which closed with him signing off in a slightly singsong voice: “Begins tomorrow.”

“I feel like we've done what we've needed to do in the spring to be ready,” he said, adding that a couple of key guys, including Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole and third baseman DJ LeMahieu, would be forced to start the season on the IL. “You never want that, but do feel like, otherwise, we're ready to roll.”

Boone added: "Obviously last year was not it and we expect a lot more than that. Going into every season there's that same excitement, energy, anxious, nervous, whatever it may be. But the expectation has never been different. And that's no different this year coming off a difficult season.

"The one thing I have said throughout the winter is I do feel like there was an extra edge to our preparation, to our players' preparation... there's an edge and a focus and a commitment that is where I think it needs to be."

With LeMahieu’s availability uncertain, the Yankees acquired infielder Jon Berti from the Miami Marlins in a three-team deal to add to the infield depth. And what the 34-year-old can bring to the club was among the topics the skipper touched on the eve of the first game of 162.

What Berti brings to Yanks

Boone said he was “really excited about” the addition to a guy who batted .294 with a .748 OPS and 103 OPS+ in 133 games a year ago.

“Feel like we're getting a really good player,” Boone said. “You know obviously with DJ being down, [Berti] very much figures in the third base mix. And then hopefully once we're whole, serves as a guy that can play all over the infield, even play some outfield.

“Quality hitter, bat to ball, can steal a base. I think going to be a really good addition for us, whether he's playing in an everyday role or when we're more whole in that utility role. But really excited to have him and glad that we're able to pull this off.”

Boone was unsure if Berti would be in the lineup for Thursday’s game. That would depend on his ability to get to Houston.

The manager said that before the trade “infield depth was something I was concerned with.”

“That's why I think it was so important for us to get a guy like Jon Berti who can not only be a starter in this league at a number of positions, but then hopefully once you do get whole – which hopefully happens and at some point here early on – then you have a really an elite you know utility guy that can play a lot of different positions,” Boone said. “Before a few hours ago, I was concerned about our infield depth and kind of our bench and how we're going to maneuver that a little bit and feel like that improved a lot today.”

Until LeMahieu returns, Oswaldo Cabrera will be the backup first baseman to Anthony Rizzo, the skipper said. When asked if he considered putting Aaron Judge at first if he was in a pinch, Boone said, “I don’t plan on that, no, but baseball can be funny sometimes.”

As far as where Berti bats in the order, “it’s possible he could do some leading off, especially against some lefties,” but “probably not initially.”

Gleyber Torres will be hitting first for the Yanks on Opening Day with Juan Soto and Judge batting behind him -- Boone also added that Jose Trevino will be behind the plate over Austin Wells.

LeMahieu timetable uncertain

Boone said he hopes LeMahieu’s time out is a short-term thing but he is uncertain about a timetable.

The third baseman will undergo more testing on Friday, which is the two-week mark from the injury and they are hopeful the swelling has receded.

It had appeared that LeMahieu was ramping up for a return before spring training concluded and could be ready for Opening Day, only to be ruled out. Despite that, Boone did not believe the veteran was “shut down.”

“I would just say as we ramped up, and I know he went out for some ground balls, that for one day it wasn't great,” Boone said. “So.. that pain is still in there, so we wanted to kind of be things that you're able to tolerate. Whether that turns into fielding and hitting in a couple of days, I don’t know. But I know where he went out the other day and tried that it wasn’t good enough.”

After the Berti trade is the roster set: “Yeah, it could be,” Boone said.

“I know there’s still minor things that could happen,” he continued. “I guess you're always kind of looking to fortify and strengthen, but I think there was some urgency in making sure we found somebody in the last couple days to to fill out that infield depth especially with DJ down to start."

Mar 10, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Juan Soto (22) runs out onto the field prior to the game against the Atlanta Braves at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Is Soto ready?

The biggest addition of the offseason had 14 hits in 46 at-bats during the spring (.304 average) with four home runs and 10 RBI, but stayed behind from the trip to Mexico to work on his swing. Boone said he is “ready to roll.”

“Didn't get a ton of results here the last couple weeks, which I often think with a hitter of his caliber isn't such a bad thing from a timing standpoint,” he said. “Every hitter goes through little lulls at different points in the season, the great ones those things are usually a little bit shorter. So hoping he got that a little bit out of the way here these last couple weeks.”

The manager believes the outfielder is in “terrific shape” both mentally and physically.

“I can't wait to watch him go out and tear up the Bronx,” Boone said.

Cole traveling with the team

While the reigning Cy Young winner will begin the season on the sideline, he is traveling with the team and in Houston doing his normal rehab. Boone said he expects the leader to provide some veteran presence during his time out.

“I was in there are pitchers meeting today – our advanced meeting that [pitching coach] Matt Blake has before every series with pitching staff – and as you might expect Gerrit has a voice in that, has a lot of wisdom and experience to share in those kind of meetings,” he said.

“I would expect him to be very similar to how he is on the days he's not pitching, which is completely invested, completely hooked up, paying attention not just all things pitching but paying attention to the game and having thoughts and opinions and usually having some really good insights for his fellow pitchers but all of his teammates and on up to me.

“He's he is invested every day of the week not just when he's when he's going to the mound.”

Jorbit Vivas and Oscar Gonzalez sustain orbital fractures

The Yankees lost two players to orbital fractures on Monday: Gonzalez (right orbital) during the game in Mexico and Vivas (left orbital) pregame in Tampa.

“Vivas is resting comfortably in Tampa he will see the ophthalmologist tomorrow and then see another couple specialists on Friday,” Boone said. “Oscar is out of the hospital in Mexico resting. He's scheduled, I believe, to see the ophthalmologist tomorrow and potentially fly back to Tampa this weekend.”

No timetable for a return was given for either player.