Manipulating Phil Hughes’ Roster Spot

Dealing with Jeter at the top of the lineup
Alex Rodriguez's problem with lefties
(Photo Credit: Flickr user alexabboud via Creative Commons license)

After nearly three months on the disabled list, Phil Hughes will officially rejoin the rotation tomorrow night. Ivan Nova has already been sent to the minors to free up a rotation spot, and someone else will be sent down tomorrow to clear a roster spot when Hughes is officially activated. Pants Lendleton is a safe guess. The Yankees will have a chance to manipulate that roster spot even further after Hughes makes the start, and it involves sending him to the minors.

The idea is simple enough. Phil starts Wednesday, then on Thursday he gets sent down. That would allow the Yankees to call up an extra bullpen arm (or position player, if that’s what they feel they need) for the four games against Tampa leading into the All-Star break. If Mariano Rivera‘s sore triceps lingers, that extra arm could come in handy. Although it’s certainly not a must-win series, four games against the Rays are pretty important since they’re lingering in the standings, just five games back of the Yankees in the loss column.

Hughes is only scheduled to make the one Wednesday start before the break, so the rotation won’t be short-handed if he goes down. Players have to stay in the minors for ten days after being demoted, so he won’t be eligible to come up until next Sunday. That’s not a problem because the break will give the other four guys in the rotation plenty of rest. No one misses a start, no one has to pitch on short rest, nothing. In a worst case scenario where someone gets hurt, Hughes could be recalled because of the injury rule. There’s also Brian Gordon and Ivan Nova for that situation.

As for Hughes himself, sending him down gives him a chance to make a regular start during the downtime instead of sitting for eight or nine days because of the break. Joe Girardi said over the weekend that the rest might not be a bad thing since he’s rehabbed so hard, but I’m not so sure I buy that. He’s just 25 and missed a bunch of time, I’m sure he’s feeling pretty fresh compared to everyone else. Even if he makes a short start in Double-A*, say three innings or 60 pitches just to stay sharp, it’ll help keep the rust off. Hughes has two minor league options left by my count, but one would not be burned in this situation because he won’t remain in the minors for the 20 days needed to use an option.

* The Triple-A All-Star break is the same days as the MLB one, so there would be no game for Hughes to start for Scranton next week. He’d have to go to Trenton for it to work.

It sounds great on paper, but there are some sticking points. For one, who are they going to call up to fill that extra roster spot? Kevin Whelan and Ryan Pope are on the disabled list, and neither Gordon or Nova is clear of the ten day rule. The only pitchers on the 40-man roster that are in the minors and eligible to come up are Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Steve Garrison. Definite noes on the first two, though Garrison could be useful as a second left-hander out of the pen. Lefties Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, and Casey Kotchman hit in premium lineup spots for Tampa and all have pronounced platoon splits. It makes some sense.

The Yankees would also have the option of adding someone to the 40-man roster, but that will require some serious player movement. They need to clear a 40-man spot to take Hughes off the 60-man DL in the first place, then would have to make another move to add a reliever the next day. I suppose (the injured) Jeff Marquez and Kanekoa Texiera could be designated for assignment, or they could call-up Justin Maxwell and stick him on the 60-day DL since he’s done for the year with a torn labrum. There are moves to be made, though none are obvious. Randy Flores, George Kontos, even Adam Warren could be candidates to come up for the four games against Tampa.

Here’s an example of how the rotation could shake out immediately before and after the break, which works out pretty nicely. I’m not sure if the Yankees would go for this little maneuver though, it might be a little cute for them. It makes sense however, strengthening the roster a bit for an important series (or at least as important as a July series can be) against a division rival is something a team should always consider.

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Dealing with Jeter at the top of the lineup
Alex Rodriguez's problem with lefties
  • http://www.conservationvalue.com jon g

    Aj pitched better yesterday, but do we prefer him and his proven fickless and untrustability to nova? After each bad Aj start, my friends and I say we’d trade AJ for a plate of Rocky Mtn Oysters!

    • http://www.conservationvalue.com jon g

      FickleNEss…

    • first time lawng time

      AJ isn’t untrustworthy. I think we can now rely on him to keep his team in the game.

      I’m pretty sure he’s only given up 5+ runs twice.

      Once to Boston (but every SP sucks vs Boston this year so whatever)
      Once to TB. Also, he pitched very well until his last inning and people were questioning whether Girardi had left him in too long.

      I don’t think AJ has gotten enough credit this year.

      • CP

        This.

        AJ has given up 5+ runs 3 times. CC has given up 5+ runs 3 times.

        AJ has pitched at least 5 innings in every start. CC has pitched at least 5 innings in every start (CC has 1 start less than 6 while AJ has 6).

        CC is obviously better than AJ, but AJ hasn’t had the disastrous starts that he’s know for.

        • CMP

          Comparing AJ and CCs performance this year is utterly ridiculous.

          AJ has pitched to an ERA of 4.12 with an FIP of 4.46 and has been worth 1.0 WAR,

          CC has pitched to an ERA of 3.05 with an FIP of 2.67 and has been worth 3.9 WAR.

          AJ has been better compared to last year when he was absolutely horrendous but that doesn’t change the fact the he’s been completely average and mediocre this year no matter how many times FTLT defends him.

          • first time lawng time

            His starts have been winnable. That’s what matters.

            • CMP

              “Winnable” has no meaning. A starter can give up 10 runs in a game that you win. You’re setting the bar pretty low if your goal is to only have your starter avoid pitching so poorly that you have no chance to win.

              For the 2nd year in a row, he’s not even going to earn half of his $16.5 million salary.

              • first time lawng time

                Who cares about his salary? All he needs to do is keep his team in the game. That’s what any pitcher needs to do.

                All that matters is if the Yankees can win.

                • CMP

                  To say that you have no clue is an insult to the all the clueless people in the world.

            • Jon G

              Winnable until he inevitably gives up a few runs in the 5th, 6th or 7th. Watching him get through a game is too often like watching a someone take shots of whiskey as they walk across a balance beam.

              He is not even close to a $16.5 million pitcher. He was when he pitched against the Yankees as a Blue Jay – where that pitcher has gone I’d love to know…

    • Jobu The Voodoo Troll

      What is the alternative? Keep Nova in the rotation, cut AJ, and then pay AJ anyway? AJ has not be great but at this point there is no reason to just cut him to keep Nova in the rotation.

    • whozat

      It’s AJ’s fickleness vs Nova’s near-total inability to miss bats. They’re both performing at a league-average level. Nova will ABSOLUTELY start in the majors again this season. I’d rather keep AJ and have Nova as the 6th starter than pay him 18MM or whatever to pitch for someone else and get the same performance out of Nova in the rotation.

      • first time lawng time

        Isn’t pitching improving all around this year? (and last year). If that’s the case, then I can imagin league averag is necessarily a bad thing.

        • whozat

          Is pitching improving, or is offense getting weaker as teams start to pay attention to defense again? I’m not sure, are you?

          Either way, it’s neither a good nor a bad thing…it’s average. Results do not exist in a vacuum; average is always average, and prevents you from looking at a 4.10 ERA in isolation and thinking “hey, that’s pretty good” when really, that’s what the average pitcher in the AL is doing this year.

          And, no, league-average pitching in the back of the rotation is absolutely not a problem. Paying 18MM for league average pitching is less than awesome, but the Yankees can afford it — as long as they have some better pitchers to stack in front of their league-average guys.

          • first time lawng time

            Yeah, meant to say “isn’t necessarily a bad thing”

        • JobaWockeeZ

          He’s not being paid 16 or something million to be league average.

          • CP

            Yes he is.

            Unfortunately, that’s about the going rate for a league average (with potential to be better) starting pitcher on the free agent market now.

            • Rainbow Connection

              I think that means we’re all assholes for supporting a sport that pays $16 million for ‘average’.

              • http://none Favrest

                He said it himself. “I’m a .500 pitcher”

          • first time lawng time

            Well, I don’t care what he’s being paid. A long as he keeps his team in the game, rats what matters.

            I care more about his performance than his paycheck.

          • Rick

            The money’s a sunk cost. Cash paid through the nose for a guy coming off a career year entering his age 32 season – did you want A.J. to say “Brian, actually I feel more like I’m an $8 million dollar a year pitcher; is that cool with you?”

            Sure, the guy’s making more than he’d make on the open market as a free agent now. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s still making that $16.5 mil a season from here till the end of 2013.

            League average still means he’s better than half the guys out there (I know that’s not exactly true so nobody needs to explain means and medians, but it’s close enough). Since he can’t go down, and his bouts of wildness and wild pitches make him a pretty lousy bullpen option to me, I don’t see what the option is.

            Basically he’s Barry Zito. Not optimal use of resources, but not the end of the world.

    • Urban

      AJ is fine once it’s understood and accepted what AJ is and what AJ isn’t. Looking at his career and ERA+, he has consistently been a solid pitcher. He’s just not the #1 or #2 that people hoped for, but has rarely materialized. Take him for what he is. A mid-rotation starter, trending down toward a #4 as he ages, who is overpaid based on salary vs. performance, yet is still a solid MLB pitcher. He still has value, especially to a team like the Yankees.

    • http://none Favrest

      What would you trade him for?
      What type of player?

      • Rick

        The Yanks would probably have to eat close to half the money just to give him away. I’d rather pay him the $16 million and hope to get one more season of good AJ out of the next 2.5 years (and the other 1.5 roughly league average) than pay $8 million for him to pitch somewhere else.

        If it’s spring 2013, and the Yanks need the spot for one of the Killer B’s (who we’re comfortable giving the reins to a full MLB season), then I could see eating some money to ship him off somewhere.

  • NYYROC

    Mike, very clever and well thought out. I’m all for it, especially if it doesn’t burn one of Hughes’ options. I too wondered why PH would be left to sit around for a week and a half after making 1 ML start. He needs to pitch. It will be interesting to see if the NYY do this.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    hopefully Hughes can pitch well AND colon/Garcia can still get it done…AND these bullpen guys can get healthy…

    The Sox could be in trouble. Buchholz is off to see a back specialist and Lackey is terrible. Only Casey Kelly can save them but he’s busy sporting a 5+ era in AA ball.

    • Freddy Garcia’s 86 mph Heat

      Maybe AGon can pitch.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

      ” Only Casey Kelly can save them but he’s busy sporting a 5+ era in AA ball.”

      For the Padres, no less.

    • Rick

      As good as the Yanks are right now, I think they’re only a healthy and effective Rafael Soriano away from being at a whole different level of awesome. The difference between having three reliable innings worth of relief and two is massive.

      Think about it this way: the Yanks have gotten 519 IP out of their starters in 83 starters. Average? a hair under 6.1 IP per start. 6 IP of above average starting + 3 IP of elite relievers + the excellent hitting and very good defense this team has shown tells me that the Red Sox need to be getting better if they want to catch the Yanks.

  • Adam B

    I just want to see Hughes improve on last years finish… Just be somewhere in the middle of his 1st and 2nd half atleast… He is such an important part of this teams future and they are going to need him now and later… especially if CC goes somewhere else after the season.

    • http://myspace.com/bksmalls Smallz

      CC isnt going anywhere. Hes gunna opt out and then the Yankees are gunna give him an even more ridiculous contract, just like A-Rod.

  • http://myspace.com/bksmalls Smallz

    I actually, love this idea. I like the idea of giving Garrison a shot to be a 2nd lefty option in the pen. I dont see any of it happening though. You get an A+ for effort though.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    i was just going to bring that up…that’s amazing…maybe he didn’t really break his wrist and he just wanted some time off.

  • Jorge

    My wife now wonders why I giggle uncontrollably and yell out “Pants!” at the mere mention or sight of Lance Pendleton.

    The plan to give Hughes some extra work over the break is a good one. Also gives the team a chance to see if someone like Garrison can get a lefty or two out, or if he’s more likely to be eventual DFA fodder.

    • whozat

      Pants Lendleton is my favorite baseball nickname. Hands down.

  • http://RAB Leo in Houston

    If Rivera’s arm is still tender but Nunez is ok to go the Yankees may leave Pendleton in the pen and option Pena to make room for Hughes. That seems more likely to me rather than all the machinations you predict.

  • Mike HC

    Whether the Yanks decide to rest him, or give him the extra shortened start in AAA, I will assume it is probably the wrong move based on their history with Joba and Wang, ha.

    In all seriousness, it is obviously not a big deal either way. I do think they made the correct decision in dropping Nova to AAA, and allowing him to be our 6th starter, which we are most probably going to need for plenty of innings in the second half. Tough decision, but the right one.

    • Cris Pengiuci

      Gotta agree with this. Whatever decision the Yankees make with Hughes, even if we all agree with it, it’ll be the wrong move because of the history the Yankees have in developing pitchers.

      /joking’d

      What I don’t understand is keeping Pendalton (best nickname in baseball) and sending Nova down. I’d rather keep Nova on the roster. I understand he’ll have the opportunity to continue his development at AAA, but we’re talking about a 4-5 starter, not a potential 1 or 2. He’s already shown he’s capable of being a ML 4-5 starter. He’s nearly touching his ceiling. I’d have kept him up. Then again, maybe the Yankees have other plans I’m not aware of.

  • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

    Well thought out and creative. I think you got it right though with it being a little too cute for the Yanks.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    i just heard that the Sox are going to get creative with Lackey and send him to get Tommy John Surgery even though he doesn’t need it…it will get him off the MLB roster. I think the same thing with Dice K – he’s just sitting on a beach somewhere counting his millions!

    • Cris Pengiuci

      And while their out, they’ll get Stem Cell treatment, ala Bartolo Colon. :-)

  • Bob Michaels

    The only development I`m interested in is having the Yankees best 5 pitching staff for the stretch drive and the ability to defeat the Red Sox.

    • jsbrendog

      beating the red sox means nothing (NOTHING) unless it is in october in the alcs. I could care less if we went 0-18 against them as long as we make the playoffs.

  • nycsportzfan

    If they want another lefty in the pen so bad, why not call up Randy Flores? I mean, hes the logical choice to me…

  • Slurve

    If the Patriots were a baseball team this is the kind of move they would make.

    I could see hughes getting more work in by pitching in a simulated game or something like that.