Phil Hughes and a reminder about depth

Curtis Granderson taking fly balls in left field today
Update: Mesa, Cedeno, Velazquez, Ibarra, and Venditte will play in WBC
"Dammit Phil, couldn't even wait until the games started?" (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
“Dammit Phil, couldn’t even wait until the games started?” (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees are still two days away from playing their first exhibition game of the spring, but they’ve already suffered their first pitching injury of the year. Phil Hughes managed to suffer a bulging disk in his mid-upper back during a routine fielding drill earlier this week, an injury that will keep him on anti-inflammatory medication and off the field for at least five days. The always conservative Brian Cashman was thinking more like two weeks.

“The doctor clearly isn’t aggressively treating it and that’s a good sign,” said the GM to Chad Jennings. “But there’s no guarantees until we get through the two-week process, and we see where he’s at and he’s back on the mound and stuff like that … I could stand here and say, ‘Yeah, we’re excited thankfully it’s a low-level situation and blah blah blah,’ but I think we need to really get through this stuff and see that it responds that way. So it’s a question mark until we can all forget about that it ever happened.”

Since it is still only February, the Yankees are sure to play it safe with their number four starter. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi told Mark Feinsand that he doesn’t expect the injury to impact Hughes’ status for the start of the season, saying “he’s a little bit ahead of where he’d normally be … If you’re going to get a break, I’d rather it be early in Spring Training because I think you can make up a little bit of time now more than later, but we’ll see.”

Although I’m hopeful the back injury isn’t anything serious, it is a harsh reminder of the importance of depth. Baseball isn’t a 25-man game anymore, teams need those useful pieces in Triple-A to cover for injury and ineffectiveness, especially in the ultra-competitive AL East. The Yankees have a number of older players who are either coming off injury (CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, eventually Alex Rodriguez) or are just injury prone (Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis), so that depth will be extra important for them. Hughes is no stranger to the DL himself, and seeing the 26-year-old starter get hurt before games even begin is discouraging.

“I don’t think you really know how good your depth is until you get tested,” said Girardi to Jennings. “And then, once you go through what we went through last year, we found out it was pretty good. But until you go through it, and you have to run guys out there every day — a lot more than they’re supposed to — you don’t really know how good it is … There’s less experience there.”

Girardi said it perfectly, teams don’t find out how good their depth is until they have to use it. Cases in which a club has an established big leaguer stashed (and healthy!) in Triple-A are rare — think the Nationals and John Lannan last year — so most depth pieces are prospects or guys on prove-yourself minor league contracts. Guys like Jayson Nix and Dewayne Wise last summer, for example. Prospects and fringy big leaguers tend to be hit-or-miss, they either exceed expectations or have their clubs scrambling for a replacement. It’s a mystery until they’re called upon.

Despite having Adam Warren and Brett Marshall slated for the Scranton rotation, the Yankees are still looking for a veteran starter to stash in Triple-A. Because these depth pieces tend to be a mystery, the best thing to do is stockpile options and hope for the best. Pitchers with big arms and position players who do at least one and preferably two things — hit for power, play defense, run, etc. — well are the standard fodder. For the Yankees, that means guys like Warren, Marshall, Shawn Kelley, Cody Eppley, Corban Joseph, Dan Johnson, Melky Mesa, maybe Ronnie Mustelier, and maybe David Adams if he stays healthy. No sure things but the potential to be helpful. Again, a mystery until called upon.

I feel like I preach the value of depth several times every year, but that’s only because I think it’s so important. Cashman & Co. appear to have realized this in recent years and have done a much better job of stockpiling miscellaneous pieces — it’s been a long time since they had to scramble for a replacement a la Shawn Chacon, Tim Redding, and Raul Mondesi. That depth will be extra important in 2013 given the big league roster construction and the expected tougher-than-usual AL East. When so many clubs are bunched close together, the team that gets the most production from their spare parts will have the best chance of coming out ahead.

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Curtis Granderson taking fly balls in left field today
Update: Mesa, Cedeno, Velazquez, Ibarra, and Venditte will play in WBC
  • Blake

    Lets say Lohse would do a 1 year 10-13 million dollar deal…..would you give the draft pick to sign him?

    I have reservations on how he would fair in the AL east but he’d upgrade the rotation most likely even if everyone does stay healthy and would be great insurance if they didnt……

    would hate to give the pick but it would be a late first rounder which is somewhat of a crapshoot and they have 3 of them

    All that said….boras could pull a multi year rabbit out of the hat and make it a non issue

    • Now Batting

      On a one year deal its a no-brainer. He had a great year last year. That means neither Nova or Phelps would get ML starts. That could be either a good or bad thing.

    • MannyGeee

      I would give Loshe a 1/10 contract in a COCAINE HEARTBEAT. Considering the negligible loss in draft position (they are gaining 2 this year anyway, right?) and the value he could provide, I think its a no-brainer. Also, I think Boras’ leverage is mitigated by the draft pick compensation.

      And if that means Nova or Phelps start in AAA, then so be it. I would be more than OK with that.

    • Person, Place or Thing

      No. The way you need to play the draft game now is to waste a moderately high draft pick on a college senior, and use the surplus bucks to buy a highly-ranked high school senior out of a college committment which slipped him to the fifth round. With extra picks, the Yankees have a chance of picking up a mid-first round talent, if they are smart.

  • pablos bolony samwich

    Lets say Lohse would do a 1 year 10-13 million dollar deal…..would you give the draft pick to sign him?

    I have reservations on how he would fair in the AL east but he’d upgrade the rotation most likely even if everyone does stay healthy and would be great insurance if they didnt……

    would hate to give the pick but it would be a late first rounder which is somewhat of a crapshoot and they have 3 of them

    All that said….boras could pull a multi year teabag out of the hat and make it a non issue

    • jjyank

      If that happens, I will be thoroughly impressed and amused.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I laughed. Mightily.

    • Jim Is Bored

      It’s much less entertaining when you don’t reply correctly.

      I vote tomorrow you’re pablos roastbeaf samwich.

  • JohnC

    you forgot about Aaron Small and Darrell Rasner. (I intentinally left out Sir Sidney Ponson.)

    • Ed

      Small & Rasner were planned AAA depth. Chacon and Redding were guys we abruptly traded for because we didn’t have anyone to start the next day.

      • Jim Is Bored

        Sign me up if we can get what we got from Chacon that year.

  • El Messias

    The silver lining on Phil Hughes’ injury is that he might be cheaper come free agency because of the injury risk. The Yankees have to say a couple dollars here and there if 189 is still in place.

  • Scott

    I agree totally about depth BUT dislike stashing a vet starter at AAA. The sort of shitty old vet who would agree to that won’t project to be better than Phelps or even Warren — and I’d rather give Warren a shot, because even if his most likely outcome is 5.00 ERA, (a) that’s as good as yuo can expect from Shitty Old Vet, and (b) if he exceeds expectations even a little, he can be a big part of the next several years, unlike Shitty Old Vet.

    • jjyank

      The problem with this rationale is that the only real depth piece you named is Warren. It’s conceivable that Nova and Phelps are with the big league team in some capacity, so who’s next in line? Depth doesn’t just mean the 6th starter, it means 7, 8, 9th starters as well. More options and more depth is a good thing. Signing a veteran on a minor league deal doesn’t mean he jumps Warren on the depth chart necessarily. Unless this veteran is hindering the developmental process of a legit prospect (which, if I recall, signing one wouldn’t do that), there’s no reason not to give the team as many options as possible. Maybe the veteran can outperform Warren, we don’t know that.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      That’s just plain not understanding how you construct a minor league roster. If you had 25 guys at every level who projected above “org guy,” you should be in the HOF, not commenting on here.

      They’re not “shitty old vets.” They are valuable pieces that, when needed, potentially save you a lot of grief. Sometimes, they help get you one step closer to the playoffs.

      Imagine not having Aaron Small when you needed him.

  • trr

    Good article and loved the bit at the end, it is spot on!

  • new guy

    Is the game televised on Saturday? Or only sunday?

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Chad a similar great piece like this earlier today. We may bitch about the comment section on LoHud, but Chad is the balls, plain and simple.

    Without this sort of depth, some of the lower-ceiling-closer-to-the-bigs kids are going to get their chance. Be careful what you wish for.

    • Jim Is Bored

      He should be paying you for the advertising!

      • Mike HC

        Quite true. Due to Tilapia talking up LoHud I have actually popped over there and discovered he is right. The content is pretty damn good, the comments I don’t like I think mostly because of the format.

        • Mike HC

          Also don’t like that you don’t have to stay on topic. The commenters are mostly excellent here, but the nesting(?) format and the rules about staying on topic are all big pluses in my opinion.

  • Govin

    I was just saying on another thread that depth was going to be very important this year. Since there are a lot of old Yankees on this team. Glad to see Mike agrees with me.

  • http://riveravenueblues Mississippi Doc

    Maybe we could trade Dave Winfield for Mike Whitt or Doug Drabek for Rick Rhoden. If those moves don’t work, we could just sign Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano or Jason Wright. Better yet, bring back Javy Vasquez and Kevin Brown. Or even resign Roger Clemens for a third time. How about Esteban Loaiza? Cashman has been a fine GM, but we as a team have made enough foolish pitcher acquisitions to make the Mets look good. If the Cardinals don’t want Lohse, there is a reason. Keep the draft picks. If we are so desperate, sign Lowe. There is no down side. If he no longer has anything, then let him go.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. None of this has anything to do with the moves that could/should be made in 2013.

      The mere mention of the name “Esteban Loaiza” gives me hives.

      • http://riveravenueblues Mississippi Doc

        Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it. Go Google where that came from. Spend the Lohse money on Cano or something valuable that we need. Whatever you might say, Cashman has been very good at finding scrap heap older pitchers like Small, Chacon, Colon, Garcia, Lowe, Leiber who provide good enough pitching for a short period time. His last big non Ace pitching free agent was AJ Burnett. Keep the draft picks and play with what we have. Save every penny we have and, if you want a free agent, make David Price an offer he cannot refuse. That is a franchise player who could take over for CC.

        • Scott

          Agree with not signing Lohse, but signing Lohse would in no way be like Drabek-for-Rhoden, or even Winfield-for-Witt. even viewing last year as an aberration, Lohse is a league-average SP, and giving up a year of salary plus a draft pick isn’t at all like giving up a young MLB-ready Doug Drabek.

  • http://riveravenueblues Mississippi Doc

    That said, at least we never traded away Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi (and didn’t pick Kenny O’Brien over Dan Marino).

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Everybody’s got em. Everybody.

    • JohnC

      No, but we did trade Fred McGriff for Dale Murray and Willie McGee for Bob Sykes and of course, Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps