The Obligatory Juan Rivera Post

Yanks fall to Indians in Jeter's return
Dealing with Jeter at the top of the lineup
(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since Juan Rivera made his big league debut with the Yankees, when he earned a September call-up in 2001. Baseball America considered him one of the game’s top 100 best prospects before the 2002 and 2003 seasons, and Rivera hit a respectable .262/.302/.427 with eight homers and one golf cart-related injury in 280 plate appearances for the Yankees before being traded to the Expos as part of the Javy Vazquez package.

Rivera bounced from the Expos to the Angels to the Blue Jays in the eight years since the trade, hitting .278/.329/.445 (105 OPS+) during that time. The Blue Jays designated the now 33-year-old for assignment over the weekend, so let’s look to see if he could potentially fill a need for the Yankees…

The Pros

  • Rivera’s value comes almost entirely from his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He tagged southpaws for a .327/.400/.509 batting line in just 65 plate appearances for Toronto this year, but from 2008-2010 he hit .282/.334/.515 in over 400 plate appearances against lefties.
  • Rivera has some serious contact skills, swinging and missing just 7.4% of the time in his career with a 12.9% strikeout rate. Even his 2011 marks of 8.4% and 16.6%, respectively, are better than league average despite been career worsts (min. 200 PA). He’s walked more than he’s struck out against lefties this year (eight to six), and from 2008-2010 it’s 30 walks to 34 strikeouts. Anything remotely close to 1:1 is spectacular.
  • All of the advanced metrics (UZR, DRS, Total Zone) consider his defense to be about average (but no better) in the outfield corners. That’s a win when you consider what his role would be. He’s also dabbled at first base throughout the years.

The Cons

  • Rivera should be considered nothing more than a platoon player. He’s hit just .219/.276/.318 against righties this year (210 PA) and .246/304/.403 last year (293 PA). Last season’s performance isn’t terrible, but he’s clearly at his best when facing pitchers of the opposite hand.
  • He’s not a patient hitter, walking in just 6.7% of his career plate appearances and seeing only 3.51 pitches per plate appearances. It’s worth noting that his 8.0% walk rate this year is a career best.
  • Rivera does not project as a Type-A or B free agent at the moment, and he’s far enough from the cutoff that he probably can’t play his way into compensation pick territory in the second half.

With a $5.25M salary this season, it’s pretty safe to say that Rivera will clear waivers. The Blue Jays figure to find a decent number of teams interested in acquiring him via trade if they’re willing to get some of that money, though in recent years we’ve seen GM Alex Anthopoulos be pretty hesitant to trade within the division. Perhaps that wouldn’t be such a big issue for a spare part like Rivera.

Andruw Jones is hitting .234/.310/.453 in 71 plate appearances against lefties this year, and his numbers over the last few seasons (.219/.352/.428 vs. LHP from 2008-2010) suggest that Rivera is the better platoon option at the plate. Andruw’s not the defender he once was, but he’s probably still better than Rivera, even if it’s just marginally. His $2M salary is not going away, but I think there are legitimate reasons to eat the rest of that salary and bring Rivera aboard if he winds up in the open market. I wouldn’t give up anything of value to acquire him in a trade, nor would I absorb that salary on waivers, but as a free agent for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum? Then go for it. I’ll be surprised if he makes it that far though.

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Yanks fall to Indians in Jeter's return
Dealing with Jeter at the top of the lineup
  • nsalem

    yes if this doesn’t preclude us from upgrading again at this position before the deadline, if someone better than Rivera becomes available.

  • zs190

    Meh, eating Andruw’s contract for a very negligible improvement as a platoon OF, doesn’t really seem like the kind of move that Yankees make.

  • MannyGeee

    sure, if he falls that far then go for it.

  • jsbrendog

    is the upgrade really that much better than jones to eat his contract?

    • jsbrendog

      wow. word fail. that should read is the upgrade really that much better that it makes it worth eating jones contract?

  • Ted Nelson

    Jones had a higher wOBA against lefties in 2009 and 2010. Rivera’s wOBA against lefties in 2010 was .321 and in 2008 it was .309.

    Not sure it would be an obvious improvement.

  • Hester Prynne

    We don’t want him. I’ve got the solution- Brett Gardner. Play him more.

    • Cris Pengiuci

      +1. He’s been hitting lefties well. No need to platoon him. Having a solid 4th off the bench as a pinch hitter or to give one of the 3 regulars a rest is fine, but we don’t need to platoon any of them.

      • Ted Nelson

        You don’t have to fully platoon Juan Rivera or Andruw Jones just because he’s a “platoon guy.” It’s just about giving the 4th OF the day off when he might help you the most/hurt you the least.

        • Ted Nelson

          day on really… not day off

          • Cris Pengiuci

            Agreed, but it seems as if Girardi has gone much closer to a platoon with Gardner/Jones as opposed to using him as a 4th OF. Either way, the difference between Jones/Rivera isn’t enough in my mind to justify acquiring Rivera.

  • Jorge

    You figure there will be some sort of upgrade to the bench position currently occupied by Nunez/Pena. If Rivera’s the best attainable option uot there, go for it.

    • whozat

      Um…that’s the only utility infielder they have. They can’t put Juan Rivera in that spot.

      • Jorge

        Both Nunez and Pena are on the roster right now. They don’t need both of them. That’s what I was referring to.

        For the stretch run, I imagine the team will want someone other than Dickerson/Golson in that spot.

        • Ted Nelson

          Hopefully Chavez if he gets healthy

  • the Other Steve S.

    I guess by now he has all the Jeter souvenirs he needs.

    • Jorge

      That was Ruben.

  • Klemy

    Yeah, not really thinking this would be much of an upgrade that it would necessary. I’d rather see them just upgrade the spot at the deadline with a rental. I don’t care for Jones at all, but Rivera doesn’t exactly give me any hope either.

  • ktuck911

    To “the other Steve S.” – you got the wrong Rivera…He didn’t steal any of Jeter’s stuff as souvenirs….

    Back to Juan Rivera… YES.. Big time YES… He’d fill a need on this squad… I think he’s a better fit than Andrew Jones….. He’s much less of a free swinger and he works the count better at the plate… Right now, we’re not doing so bad with our bench players so I don’t think we’ll take advantage of putting him back in pinstripes… But if it happens I’d be happy…and, at the same time, feel bad for whomever we let go…

    • AC

      I agree. I think he’s better fit than Jones. Let long work with him maybe he can straighten him out against rightees. He was a pretty good hitter with ANA. Like him as a better bench option than Jones.

    • James

      “He’s not a patient hitter, walking in just 6.7% of his career plate appearances and seeing only 3.51 pitches per plate appearances. It’s worth noting that his 8.0% walk rate this year is a career best.”

      He doesn’t particularly work the count well. I’ve always had an irrational hate for Juan Rivera, I realize this, but I don’t really think this represents enough of an upgrade for it to be even worth it.

    • the Other Steve S.

      mea culpa

    • Ted Nelson

      Rivera is swinging at 35% of balls outside the zone this season compared to Andruw’s 26%. Overall Rivera is swinging at 50% of pitches, while Jones is at 43%. Rivera is more of a contact hitter, but working the count doesn’t seem to be an advantage over Jones at all.

  • Bob Michaels

    Cashman looked into getting Rivera from the Angels before he was traded to the jays.He`s a good line drive hitter if he can get some playing time.

    • Ted Nelson

      He was 5th on the Jays in PAs… I’m not sure playing time was the issue.

  • Preston

    If we are going to take on cash or trade prospects I’d rather have bull-pen help. Rivera might be worth a couple of runs in the regular season but he’d have almost no role on the post-season roster. He wouldn’t PH or start in place of any of our OF’s and Greg Golson would be a better bench option to PR and be a defensive replacement.