The Opening Day job is just the start of the hot-seat scrutiny for these Yankees and Mets

As Opening Day nears, the biggest roster questions have been answered.

The shortstop of the Yankees’ present and future is Anthony Volpe.

The Mets are keeping their futures in the minor leagues and have shed Darin Ruf.

We know who has earned jobs in February and March. Soon we will learn how tenuous those jobs can be for players desperately clutching onto roster spots in April and May.

The Yankees and Mets are leaving sunny camps in Tampa and Port St. Lucie, respectively, but a handful of players will bring especially hot seats wherever they go.

Among Yankees and Mets, who will feel the most pressure to perform as soon as the regular season begins this week?

Josh Donaldson: At 37, he is on a quest to prove he still has more in the tank. If he doesn’t, Yankees fans who no longer have Joey Gallo around as a piñata will find the next outlet for their frustration.

New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson swinging a bat waiting to hit in the batting cage during practice at Steinbrenner Field, the New York Yankees Spring Training complex in Tampa, Florida
Josh Donaldson has tried to retool his swing after striking out in 27.1 percent of his plate appearances last season.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Here are Donaldson’s OPS numbers the past four seasons — see if you notice a trend:

2019: .900
2020: .842
2021: .827
2022: .682

Last year, he played excellent defense at third base, but his bat never got going. It is possible the 2015 MVP simply does not have the bat speed any longer, but the early returns for what Donaldson hopes will be a bounce-back season have shown some hope.

Donaldson has demonstrated solid punch in the Grapefruit League, with four home runs in 15 games. Donaldson retooled his swing in the offseason, and appears to have a less dramatic leg lift, perhaps a concession that he needs to get his bat off his shoulders sooner.

And he will need to hit soon. If he is batting .200 without much power in mid-May, the Yankees could make DJ LeMahieu their everyday third baseman.

Aaron Hicks: Another possible heir to the dreaded Gallo throne. Hicks’ ninth season in The Bronx will be a pivotal one. The longest-tenured Yankee has been a mess at the plate (and occasionally in the field) the past two seasons: He has played a combined 162 games, hit .211 and knocked 12 home runs. His power and his on-base proclivities have abandoned him.

New York Yankees third baseman Oswaldo Cabrera (95) steals third base during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Oswaldo Cabrera will start the season as the Yankees’ primary utility man, but could find himself with a regular outfield role should Aaron Hicks falter.

At 33, the outfielder will try to show that after his 2021 season was ruined by a wrist injury, 2022 was an aberration. Hicks, feeling healthy, is the likely Opening Day left fielder, and should see time in center, too, with Harrison Bader out for at least a few weeks to open the season.

If Hicks does not hit, the boos would arrive quickly. His competition will include fan favorite Oswaldo Cabrera and a fourth outfielder — the winner of a late roster battle among Estevan Florial, Willie Calhoun and Rafael Ortega.

Gleyber Torres: The second baseman is 26, a two-time All-Star and coming off a solid season in which he drilled 24 home runs and posted a .761 OPS. He is probably the fourth-best hitter on a very good hitting team.

New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres #25, catching a ball on 2nd base during fielding practice at Steinbrenner Field the New York Yankees Spring Training complex in Tampa, Florida.
With an infield deep in players and prospects, the Yankees might find Gleyber Torres is more useful in a trade than on the field.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

But Torres has grown into a solid major leaguer rather than a superstar, and the Yankees’ infield depth could prompt some difficult decisions. If Donaldson hits, where would LeMahieu’s at-bats come? If Oswald Peraza tears up Triple-A pitching, would the Yankees find a spot for the 22-year-old at the big-league level?

The Yankees have plenty of infielders, and Torres would have a trade market if the Yankees decide to cash him in.

Eduardo Escobar: The Mets’ version of Torres. Escobar is a fine major leaguer — even with his struggles last season, his 106 OPS+ indicates he was 6 percent better than the average hitter — but the options behind him offer more upside.

New York Mets' Brett Baty (22) strikes out during the seventh inning of a spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Friday, March 3, 2023, in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
After hitting .325 this spring, Mets third-base prospect Brett Baty may not be in Triple-A for long.

Brett Baty, who is the future at third base in Queens, hit .325 this spring before getting sent to minor league camp. Mark Vientos will try to show at Triple-A Syracuse that he can be a major league defender somewhere — whether at an infield corner or in left field — after a loud Grapefruit League season in which he hit everything hard.

Escobar, who was nearly replaced by Carlos Correa, will hear the footsteps if he doesn’t hit immediately. He struggled the first few months of last season before a torrid September buoyed his numbers. In the Grapefruit League, the 34-year-old is hitting .118.

Tommy Pham: Ruf was designated for assignment, which made Pham a contender for plenty of DH at-bats against opposing lefties and a contender to absorb the boos that would have been directed at Ruf.

New York Mets Tommy Pham fields a ball at Spring Training, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Port St. Lucie, FL.
Tommy Pham appears to be in line for DH at-bats against lefty pitchers, as well as being deployed by Buck Showalter as a fourth outfielder.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

Like Ruf, Pham is on the older side (35) and arrived in Queens with a history of hitting southpaws well (a .784 OPS against lefties last season). And like Ruf, Pham has had a poor spring, batting just 7-for-45 (.156) with a double as the only extra-base hit.

Unlike Ruf, Pham can play a decent corner-outfield spot and thus is a bit more valuable. But if he does not swing well quickly, the shouts would get louder that Vientos can handle left field and, more notably, can manhandle lefty pitching.

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on March 28, 2023.
New York Post

Read more:

⚾ SHERMAN: The Yankees desperately need Anthony Volpe’s ‘swag’ … Volpe put ‘stranglehold’ on shortstop battle … Scout who tracked Volpe will get chance to revel in debut

🏈 Giants don’t have long-term deal for Saquon Barkley on table anymore

🏈 Jets’ Odell Beckham Jr. interest is real … Giants co-owner hasn’t closed door on Odell reunion

🏀 Rick Pitino makes in-home visits to top transfers in push to reshape St. John’s roster

📱 Join the Inside St. John’s text-message conversation to keep up with all the behind-the-scenes buzz around Rick Pitino’s Red Storm and to get your Johnnies questions answered by reporter Zach Braziller.

Knicks start turning down the Heat

A big week for the Knicks started Quickley.

Immanuel Quickley scored a career-high 40 points (on just 17 shots) in a 137-115 win over the Rockets on Monday night at the Garden, ending the Knicks’ three-game skid.

Julius Randle added 26 points, RJ Barrett finished with 19 and Mitchell Robinson contributed a few ferocious blocks to stop the Rockets, who were blown away in the second half and look fully ready for their shot at Victor Wembanyama.

Immanuel Quickley celebrates a 3-pointer as the Knicks beat the Rockets.
Immanuel Quickley had tongues wagging with a 40-point outburst in the Knicks’ no-fuss win over the Rockets.
Getty Images

The fifth-place Knicks (43-33) moved 2 ½ games up on the idle Nets and Heat, and the Heat (after playing Tuesday night in Toronto) invade the Garden on Wednesday.

If the Knicks beat Miami, they not would only gain further separation, but would take the season series, which would be the first tiebreaker in the case of a tie.

And while it’s too soon for the Knicks to look ahead to Friday, it’s never too soon for us: Tom Thibodeau’s team will head to Cleveland to face off against the current No. 4 seed, with Donovan Mitchell & Co. likely awaiting the Knicks in the first round.

The Knicks cleared the first hurdle in what will be an important week.

It’s Caitlin Clark against the champs

The best player in the sport against the best team in the sport.

Friday night box office at the Final Four.

West Des Moines’ Caitlin Clark led Iowa to its first national semifinal in nearly 30 years with a logo-3-draining, dime-dropping, crowd-hyping 41-point triple-double Sunday night — the first NCAA Tournament triple-double of 30 or more, women’s or men’s — that would be called bravura if it weren’t nearly routine for college basketball’s marquee attraction.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts against the Louisville Cardinals in the second half at Climate Pledge Arena.
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark left little doubt she is the biggest star on the college basketball stage with a 41-point triple-double to get the Hawkeyes into the Final Four.

And standing in her way now is juggernaut South Carolina, the undefeated (36-0) defending national champions who won their 42nd game in a row by dispatching Maryland, 86-75, in the Elite Eight on Monday night.

(What, you didn’t think we were talking about San Diego State or something ridiculous like that?)

South Carolina’s size, rebounding and defense tend to grind opponents to dust, and Dawn Staley has a roster so deep, her second five probably would have made the Sweet 16.

The Gamecocks have Aliyah Boston, last season’s player of year who’s ready to go No. 1 in next month’s WNBA draft. And they have Brea Beal, an All-America-caliber defender who likely will draw the Clark assignment.

But Clark is unguardable right now. She’s bending the dimensions of the game with her shooting and playmaking. She’s drawing new viewers with her hype, and living up to every bit of it.

And Friday night — at 9 p.m. (more like 9:30) on ESPN — she’ll try to pull off her more impressive feat yet by dethroning the champs.

Jonathan Lehman

Checking the Darin Ruf trade receipts

New York Mets first baseman Darin Ruf fields a ball at Spring Training, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, in Port St. Lucie, FL.
Acquired last year in hopes he lift the Mets’ offense, Darin Ruf was released by the team Monday after hitting .152 in 28 games.
Corey Sipkin for the NY Post

As the Mets admitted defeat in their deadline trade for Ruf, let’s check up on the players the Mets sent the Giants:

J.D. Davis: In 49 games with the Giants, Davis morphed back into the slugger he once was. Davis finally got consistent playing time and drilled eight home runs en route to posting an .857 OPS.

To begin this season, though, Davis will face the same problem he could not overcome with the Mets: staying ready while not in the lineup every game. The Giants are expected to start David Villar at third, LaMonte Wade Jr. at first and Joc Pederson at DH. But they expect Davis to see plenty of time against lefties and while spelling the regulars.

Thomas Szapucki: The young lefty pitched well with the Giants last season, allowing three runs in 13 ⅔ innings (1.98 ERA) out of the bullpen, but he recorded just one out in spring training. Szapucki felt arm discomfort that is being called left arm neuropathy. He is expected to see a doctor this week in St. Louis, and could need surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

J.D. Davis #7 of the San Francisco Giants hits a double that scored a run in the fourth inningagainst the Atlanta Braves at Oracle Park on September 14, 2022 in San Francisco, California.
J.D. Davis has been a revitalized hitter in the Giants lineup, but appears slated to largely play as part of a platoon.
Getty Images

LHP Nick Zwack: The lefty starter was rising through the Mets’ system — needing just four outings in Low-A St. Lucie before a promotion to High-A Brooklyn — when he was dealt. The Giants kept Zwack as a starter in High-A, and he pitched to a 3.99 ERA in 29 ⅓ innings in San Francisco’s system. In all, he struck out 132 hitters in 105 ⅔ innings last season.

RHP Carson Seymour: Like Zwack, Seymour made quick work of St. Lucie and was beginning to master High-A competition when he packed his bags. The 6-foot-6 righty with high-90s heat thrived in the Giants’ system, where he struck out 43 batters in 29 ⅓ innings, including a 6 ⅓ -inning, two-hit, 13-strikeout gem in late August. At 24, he is still a few steps from the majors, but the Giants will let him grow.

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