Sorting out the last bench spot

Fan Confidence Poll: February 7th, 2011
What's sustainable and what's not from Curtis Granderson
I can has bench job? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

You know we’re getting down to the final few days of the offseason when we’re continually talking about the last spot on the bench. The Yankees have a few in-house options for that spot alongside Andruw Jones, Frankie Cervelli, and Eduamiro Penunez, so let’s sort them out…

Justin Maxwell
What He Offers: speed, power, walks, defense
What He Lacks: contact skills, durability

Probably the most physically gifted of the team’s fifth bench options, Maxwell’s relatively short big league career (260 PA) features a .178 ISO and 14.8% walks, exceptionally good numbers. For comparison’s sake, Jason Heyward had a .179 ISO with a 14.6% walk rate in his stellar rookie season last year. I could be a function of small sample size, though it’s worth noting that in exactly 900 PA at the Double and Triple-A levels, Maxwell owns a .222 ISO and an 11.6% walk rate. The underlying skills are there, which Baseball America noted when they named him Washington’s eighth best prospect before last season. He’s also a high-percentage basestealer (78.9% success rate in the minors) with a pair of 35 SB seasons under his belt in the high minors.

Guys with power, speed, the ability to draw walks and defend well in center are a rare breed, but what’s holding Maxwell back are some big time holes in his swing. He’s struck out in 37.9% of his big league at-bats, 26.6% in Double and Triple-A. He’s very similar to Andruw Jones in that you’ll get a low batting average, but he’ll still get on base at an okay clip and occasionally run into a few pitches. There’s also the injury bug. Maxwell is on his way back from Tommy John surgery right now (on his non-throwing elbow), but he’s also battled wrist and toe issues in the past.

Greg Golson
What He Offers: speed, defense, a tiny amount of power
What He Lacks: ability to draw walks, make consistent contact

Golson did a fine job as a late-inning defensive replacement and occasional pinch-runner last year, but he’s been around long enough that we know what he brings to the table offensively, and it’s just not much. In nearly 1,600 PA at Double and Triple-A, he owns a very good .161 ISO (though most of that is tied up in Double-A) but subpar walk (5.7%) and strikeout (34.1%) rates. Thankfully he can defend very well in three outfield spots and be a highly effective basestealer (78.9% success rate with no fewer than 20 SB in four of the last five years).

Limited by his lack of offensive ability, featuring not even one standout tool at the plate (power or getting on base or being able to make a ton of contact), means Golson’s speed and defense have to be that spectacular for him to hold down a roster spot.

Colin Curtis
What He Offers: a little of this, a little of that
What He Lacks: a standout tool

Lil' CC did a good. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The forgotten man, Curtis has one thing on both Maxwell and Golson: he’s a left-handed hitter, and the Yankees have zero of those on their bench right now. He’s a classic ‘tweener, doing just enough to get by but lacking a standout tool that can carry him. His offensive performance at Double and Triple-A is fine but nothing special (.118 ISO, 8.5% walks, 17.7% strikeouts) in a little more than 1,400 PA, and he’s never been much of a basestealer (just 25-for-42 in his career). Curtis can man the outfielder corners capably and play center in an emergency, but he’s not good enough to play their regularly.

* * *

Of course, the wildcards in all of this are are Kevin Russo, Eric Chavez, and Ronnie Belliard. Russo isn’t not great offensively (.093 ISO, 8.7% walks, 17.0% strikeouts in over 950 PA at the upper levels of the minors) or on the bases (55-for-77 in SB attempts in his career, 71.4%), but he does something none of those three guys above can do: play the infield. The Yankees have groomed him as a utility player basically his entire career, so he has experience playing the three non-first base infield spots as well as all three outfield spots (mostly left though). Since that last man on the bench doesn’t figure to see too many plate appearances, maybe they’ll decide to go with the versatile guy just to have at least two players on the bench capable of playing the infield (Russo and Penunez) and two capable of playing the outfield (Russo and Jones).

As for Chavez and Belliard … they’re the veterans on minor league deals. I have little faith in Chavez staying healthy or being productive through Spring Training, though it’s worth noting that his lefty bat would make sense for the bench. Belliard is probably the front-runner for a job given his versatility and occasionally productive bat, though he’s not going to swing the balance of power in the AL East.

If I’m picking out of those six, I’d probably go with Belliard for the time being. Maxwell is clearly the best player of the bunch, and that’s why he should spend the summer playing regularly and batting near the top of Triple-A Scranton’s order. He’s been banged up pretty bad in three of the last four years, so catching up on some at-bats wouldn’t be the end of the world. I think the chances of the Yankees carrying both Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena to start the year went down considerably once Belliard and Chavez came aboard, but I’m not sure how much that helps. Granted, it’s the 25th guy on the roster, but a little optimization never hurt.

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Fan Confidence Poll: February 7th, 2011
What's sustainable and what's not from Curtis Granderson
  • Mister Delaware

    In a perfect world, Chavez is healthy and wins the job and Maxwell, Golson and Nunez can all get regular PAs in SWB. But I’m with you, I’d bet on Belliard.

  • http://twitter.com/Carlosological Carlosologist

    Maxwell can be a good bench piece and potential trade bait if he works with Long during ST to correct those holes in his swing.

    Justin Maxwell for fifth OF!

    • Ted Nelson

      I would think the way to both work on the holes in his swing and potentially increase his trade trade value is to get him at bats in AAA.

  • YANKS1FAN

    How can you talk about Belliard, Golson, Curtis, Russo as last spot when you have Jorge Vazquez for a corner inf spot, spelling at DH and having monster power, will hit for avg, and is an RBI machine. He always comes up with the big hit. He has plenty of experience..Carib Series, WBC, Mex Lg superstar. He is to Mex what Matsui is to Japan. He is playing in the Caribbean WS right now. Two games ago he hit a two out three run homer in the ninth to win the game against the DR. In the WBC in 09, his first WBC ab was a 475ft Grand Slam. In the Mex Pac this winter he hit, including playoffs, .360avg/.412obp/.667slg/1.089ops. He has hit on every level, and will hit in the ML’s. He will hit .290+, 30hr, 100rbi in a full ML season. He would start on 3/4 of the ML teams, no question. You dont know what the Yankees have in Chato Vazquez. He can really help in the Bronx!!!!!

    • Chip

      Wow, is this 2009? Are we still talking about Shelley Duncan? O wait, nevermind

  • Brooklyn Ed

    hmm, Yanks should probably look into acquiring Young? He could actually gain everyday ABs at the season progress playing all 4 infield spots, and is better than the Eduardo Pena test..

    Joe Inglett is a decent option, has decent defense all over the field besides catch, healthy, and his career .340 OBP isn’t a joke.

    ((sorry if this considered OT))

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      hmm, Yanks should probably look into acquiring Young?

      No way, not with that contract. Even if Texas eats half it’s no good. He’s not happy with being a DH/super-sub in Texas, I doubt he’d take kindly to a bench role in NY.

      • Mister Delaware

        But Buster says Young is a professional and a great leader. If you ignore the public whining about moving for Andrus. And the trade request a few days ago. Amazing how some narratives can persist despite pesky facts.

    • Accent Shallow

      Young makes sense, but only if Texas eats the entire contract.

      Which of course they won’t do.

  • RL

    For personal reasons, I’m pulling for Russo. I realize it’s a long shot, but I’d love to see the kid on the big team again. If not, perhaps he can provide some value as part of a trade package and get a shot at staying in the bigs for another team. Flexibility in a bench player is valuable.

  • vin

    If Torre were managing, I’d guarantee Belliard would make the team.

    Maxwell, Golson, Russo, Belliard and Chavez all have their merits. I agree with the notion that the young guys who still have potential should play every day in SWB.

    Since Eduamiro can play 2B, SS and 3B, and Swisher can back up 1B, the 25th man doesn’t have to be an IFer.

    Should be interesting, if not mostly irrelevant, to see who wins the job.

    • Accent Shallow

      Since Eduamiro can play 2B, SS and 3B, and Swisher can back up 1B, the 25th man doesn’t have to be an IFer.

      Wouldn’t you like to have more than one guy on the roster for 2B/SS/3B, though?

      • vin

        I originally thought that, but it hasn’t been a problem the last few years. The odds of 2 of Alex, Jeter, Cano getting injured in the same game is pretty slim. Also, none of those guys are getting pinch hit or pinch run for (except in rare circumstances).

        If Granderson struggles against lefties, I can see him getting pinch hit for by Jones. Then if you need to run for Swisher in the same game then you have options.

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for

    I think we’re continually talking about the final spot on the bench because the vastly more important topic – the questions surrounding starting rotation – is the massive elephant in the room and has been beaten to death (pobre elefante).

    I find myself unable to focus on the more mundane roster aspects discussed in posts like this simply because I feel so…unsettled about the pitching. I realize that that would come back to bite me in the ass if I were the GM, so I appreciate you guys – and presumably Cashman – making this a focus!

    Would you please just tell me that it’ll all be okay?

    • Ted Nelson

      Are you saying the rotation is the focus or the 25th man? Everyone is talking about nothing but the starting rotation. It’s clearly the focus in the media and it’s also presumably Cashman’s focus. That doesn’t mean the entire organization can just forget about the rest of the roster.

      There are only so many options available. Millwood and Bonderman are about the only “proven” starting candidates left in free agency, and both are reportedly looking for major league deals. Cashman can’t trade for someone another team is unwilling to even discuss and shouldn’t trade for someone another team is making ridiculous demands in return for.

      Right now is a time when pretty much every team (besides the Pirates and Royals…) think they are contenders. They could catch some breaks and be this season’s Padres or Rangers. You’re not going to find many teams willing to trade proven quality starting pitchers without asking for a lot in return.

      At the same point, this is also a time where the Yankees will start to evaluate and find out what they’ve got. Can Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova repeat their 2010 success? Is AJ done or will be bounce back? Can Hughes improve on his solid 2010 or is he due to regress? Can CC bounce back from an off-year? Did a year off help Colon rediscover some health/stuff? How far away are the AAA and AA prospects?

      It’s not very likely that any trade is made until we get far enough into the season that certain teams are already falling out of contention, maybe others are looking to cut payroll, and others are looking to sell high on someone off to a hot start or just dump someone off to a poor start. At that point the Yankees will also have a better idea of how their 2011 rotation looks and the stocks of certain prospects may have changed.

      “Would you please just tell me that it’ll all be okay?”

      The Yankees had the #22 rotation in baseball in terms of ERA last season, and they won 95 games. They’ve had the best offense in baseball 4 of the past 5 years.

      Doesn’t mean either their offense or rotation will be that good this season, but they can win in spite of their rotation.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    I’d like to see Golson get more of an opportunity. I beleive he will hit enough to justify the 5th outfielder’s spot. Was really no need to acquire Maxwell.

    • vin

      There’s always a reason to acquire guys like Maxwell. Especially since the cost was only Adam O.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      minor league numbers alone show maxwell >>>>>>>>> golson. you dont become the 8th ranked prospect in any team’s system without having some natural skill

    • Ted Nelson

      It’s not really an either/or thing. The Yankees have both of them.

      It’s also not just about the 5th OF role. Two guys get hurt and your 5th OF can quickly become your 3rd OF. Maxwell also has the potential to develop into a 4th or starting OF if he gets it together.

  • Chip

    I think Maxwell would be the best fit but seeing if he can go down to AAA and mash is probably worth more to the organization than getting maybe .3 more WAR out of the 25th roster spot. If he can come back and continue his dominance of the minors, he could be some great trade bait or an outstanding 4th outfielder for a few years.

  • benkdyank

    I’d rank them,

    Russo-love the versatility, on the Yankees there isn’t many PH’ing opportunities – the bench is there to spell the regulars once in a while or in case of injury – unless if you wanna pinch hit for Gardner/Granderson against a lefty you have Jones.
    Maxwell- if you’re comfortable with having only one reserve IF than he makes the most sense of all outfielders. as much as i love golson, whatever he brings, maxwell brings that plus a whole lot more
    Chavez- put aside his injury concern, the fact that you can spell A-rod and have a solid bat is a plus. but only because to have a lefty bat on the bench isn’t enough, which righty are you gonna Pinch Hit For?
    Belliard – why would you have penunez and Belliard on the same bench? only way he makes sense if he replaces penunez on the bench and you one of the above.

    Golson – unless Maxwell is hurt no reason he should get the job over Maxwell

    • Ted Nelson

      Part of it is going to depend on how they play in spring training… For example, if Chavez is a below average lefty bat you don’t need him on the bench. (As unlikely as it is) If he looks healthy and like he’s rediscovered something he lost a few years ago… maybe it makes sense. Similar situation with Belliard. The veterans also get a bit of a bump for depth reasons. Most or all of the young guys can be sent down and kept within the organization. If one of the vets shows something in spring training and doesn’t make the team they probably opt for free agency and catch on elsewhere. So, if there’s a sign of something with Chavez/Belliard you might keep them around for a longer look. Maybe you have something, and if not you just replace them mid-season with a call-up or acquisition.

  • Yankeefan91 Arod Fan

    Im hoping Belliard and Chavez make the team and are really healthy they both have pop and could give days off to A-Rod,Cano And Tex. If healthy Chavez can really benefit with that short porch in right field.

    • Jonathan

      impossible. We wouldn’t have anyone to backup Jeter.

      • Yankeefan91 Arod Fan

        i wouldn’t mind putting belliard there how many games does jeter miss and if he god forbid jeter gets imjuered we just call a recall someone from the system.

  • Jonathan

    I think we should have signed Jim Edmonds to a minor league deal. The guy raked against RHP last year and played 1B and all 3 OF positions and UZR liked his defense. He’s also left handed, draws walks, hits for power and can defend. All on a minor league deal. I still have no idea why Mike/Ben/Joe wouldn’t at least consider the option in a post. Hell they wrote a post about him last year when he was coming off an entire season of not playing!