The other half of the DH platoon

2013 Yankees ZiPS Projections
Jeter expects to resume running in a few weeks
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Late last week the Yankees addressed the left-handed half of what will presumably be a DH platoon, signing Travis Hafner to a one-year contract worth $2M. Pronk’s power and on-base ability will be an upgrade over Raul Ibanez‘s offensive contributions last year as long as he stays on the field. That part is far from a given thanks to his extensive injury history.

Last season the Yankees employed — or attempted to employ before injuries an other factors interfered — an unorthodox DH platoon that consisted of playing Eduardo Nunez in the field against left-handers while either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez served as the DH. I expect them to try a similar arrangement in 2013, but obviously the pieces will change. A-Rod is going to miss at least half the season due to his hip surgery, leaving Jeter and Kevin Youkilis as the infielders most of need of regular rest.

In addition to being 38-years-old, Jeter is coming off a major ankle injury that required surgery. He recently resumed baseball activities and right now it appears as though he’ll be ready in time for Opening Day. Even if he is healthy and ready to go when the season begins, I still expect Joe Girardi to give him regular turns at DH just to ease him back into things following the ankle fracture. Girardi is always conservative when it comes to injuries and it makes complete sense to take it easy on the Cap’n in April. Youkilis is no stranger to the DL and he will need his fair share of DH days, but hopefully not as many as Jeter early in the season.

(Abelimages/Getty)
(Abelimages/Getty)

The question about who replaces Jeter or Youkilis in the field on those DH days is unanswered. Despite the club’s insistence that he is most valuable at shortstop (duh), Brian Cashman recently said they would convert Nunez back into a utility infielder if he makes the team out of Spring Training. The other option is Jayson Nix, who did an admirable job off the bench last summer as the primary utility infielder following Eduardo’s defense-related demotion. David Adams and Corban Joseph could receive consideration for the job, but their inability to play shortstop works against them.

Jason Bartlett is pretty much the only notable infielder left on the free agent market who can legitimately play shortstop, so it sure looks like it will be Nix or Nunez subbing in against lefties while Jeter or Youkilis spends the day at DH. Nix, 30, is steady but unspectacular in the field and below-average but adequate at the plate. The 25-year-old Nunez offers much more exciting tools in his speed, contact ability, and arm strength, but he’s a big liability in the field. He has little trouble getting to balls and offers more range than Nix, but obviously he has major issues finishing the play. If the Yankees want reliability, they’ll take Nix. If they want some upside, they’ll take Nunez. There’s not much point in arguing strongly either way right now.

Assuming the Yankees carry a right-handed hitting outfielder on the bench to platoon with their various left-handed hitting outfielders, they have three bench spots left to fill. One will go to the backup catcher, so it’s really two spots. Given the weak catching tandem, I would really like to see the team carry a good left-handed bat on the bench so Girardi could pinch-hit liberally in the late-innings. Dan Johnson, who can play the corner infield spots in a pinch, could make sense for that role. It’s a job that Eric Chavez would have filled perfectly, but alas. Given how unlikely the team’s catchers (whoever they end up being) are to hit, I think having that dangerous lefty pinch-hitter is more of a necessity than a luxury.

If the Yankees do carry such a player, they’re left with one bench spot for a utility infielder. That guy will have to be able to play shortstop and play it fairly regularly, I’m thinking two or three times a week until Jeter settles in following the surgery. Not only that, but he has to be able to run for inevitable pinch-running situations. I think Nunez is a better bet to do that than Nix, but his defense stinks. At the same time, the more at-bats Nix receives, the more his production is likely to go down. He’s the type of guy who gets exposed with too much playing time. There is a scenario in which the Yankees could carry both on their bench at the start of the season, but they would be short-changing themselves elsewhere.

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2013 Yankees ZiPS Projections
Jeter expects to resume running in a few weeks
  • son fo stu

    Bring back Giambi!

  • jjyank

    If it comes down to Nunez vs. Nix, I’d give Nunez another shot. We all know what his defense looked like last year, but I’m not sure if Nix can handle it on a semi-regular basis either. He did fine every once in a blue moon (appeared in 17 games at SS last year) but I dunno if he can do it semi-regularly. He did not play SS at all in 2011 and only once in 2010.

    Let’s say Jeter DHs twice a week. That means Nix would eclipse his 17 game total in roughly the first two months. Nunez can at least play the position regularly or semi-regularly without getting too exposed. I’ll take my chances on the throwing errors for now.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      +1. Since the util IF will see a fairly significant number of ABs, at least in the beginning of the season, I’d take my chances with Nunez’s D as well. Maybe he gets a bit better this year.

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

      I’m with you on this one. Potential bonuses with his bat and speed outweigh the potential E6’s that may occur, at least in my mind. I’d give Nunez the job unless he really stinks it up in ST.

    • LK

      I’m on board for Nunez as well. I think the team needs to take a few chances with upside this year. This is not the roster to play things really safe.

      • trr

        agreeing, although it’s time for Nunez to step up

  • Minor Leaguer

    What about Pirela because he can play everywhere except catcher and CF or Mustelier who literally plays anywhere but SS being one of his less strong positions.

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

      Don’t you know? Mustelier won’t ever contribute in the majors because he’s 28 and therefore all his numbers are meaningless.

      In all seriousness though, he’s no infielder. I guess he could fake (poorly) 2nd or 3rd but he’s never played a game of SS in his Yankee Minor League career. They’ll probably give him a look at a backup OF role though.

    • Havok9120

      This is the first I’ve heard of RM being capable of even dreaming of faking SS. I haven’t heard many compliments about his corner defense either, but SS? No.

      • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

        Yeah, I’m a fan of Mustelier but I’ve never heard anyone suggest he could play SS.

        I predict he’ll have a better ST than both Rivera and Diaz, but Rivera will make the big club as the backup OF. I always liked Rivera since watching him play AA in Norwich. Hope he’s still got something left in the tank.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’m sure Mustelier gets a longer look this Spring Training, but I’d wager it’s probably as part of the OF mix and not UTL if the reports as to defense are correct.

  • gageagainstthemachine

    If someone can just teach Nunez how to “slow down the game” a little, he would actually be pretty good (in my armchair managerial opinion). I think he just moves too fast for his own good. Jeter isn’t the fastest in the field. But he has the mechanics and executes cleanly. What he doesn’t have in speed or range, he makes up in proper positioning and accuracy. Again, in my purely amateur assessment. Either “slow the game down” or get that kid to recite information from women’s lingerie catalogs….hey, it worked in Major League 2!

    • OldYanksFan

      Good point. Nunie’s errors are usually on routine throws. His problem isn’t lack of ability, but lack of focus. I’ve noticed when the throws from over the top, he’s a lot more accurate. But when he drops dropping down and throwing sidearm, he balls sail in all directions.

      If he can master the easy throws, he could turn into an ‘average’ fielding SS.

  • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

    The logical assumption for Righty DH is some combination of Jeter, Youkilis, Nunez and whoever wins the 4th outfielder role which I assume will be a right handed hitter with A-fraud taking over the role sometime in mid July.

  • neaks

    Why does the PH have to be a lefty? In PH situations, wouldn’t the opponent sub in a same-sided RP anyway? So really, the PH should just be someone who can hit same-sided pitching better than the catchers.

    • jjyank

      Well having someone that doesn’t have a platoon split and hits better than the catchers usually gets a starting job somewhere. Most, if not all, bench players are flawed.

      • Magilla Gorilla Mama Called me Roy tho

        Also, Youkilis is developing a terrible platoon split. He could be pinch hit for by a good lefty off the bench. So Dan Johnson pinch hits and then plays the ninth at 3B.

        Always thought that the best 3B on the team is probably Mark Teixeira, but he is not worth the money.

    • LK

      Well, many teams only have one LHP in their bullpen, and most managers would be saving him for Cano/Granderson/Hafner/Gardner/Ichiro and not whoever this pinch hitter ends up being. I think you’d end up with the favorable platoon situation often enough that the lefty would give you an advantage, and that’s before even taking the YS3 factor into account.

  • Havok9120

    If it’s one or the other, I prefer Nunez over Nix unless that means losing Nix completely (opt out or whatever else). I wouldn’t be devastated if they carried both for most of April with the Captain and Youk being who they are.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    If I were running things, shudder the thought, I’d re-evaluate Nunez and see if there’s actual strides made in his ability to finish off routine plays. If not, I’d stick with Nix and look at reinforcements that can be stashed in AAA (maybe even Jason Bartlett *gulp*) in case Nix can’t keep the level of play going a second season.

    I like my UTLs to not cost me games on the field. I compare it to when I was a floating bank teller, but I kept on having shortages. It made me about the shittiest fill-in you’d ever want.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Also, yes, I do miss Eric Chavez. Greatly.

    • jjyank

      Somewhere, Erica weeps.

    • LK

      As much as Chavez would help in theory, I’m fine with letting him go. I don’t think he’ll hit like that again, and I’d rather not bank of him having another healthy season as messed up as his back is.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I would have rode him into the ground and, by “into the ground,” I mean we had to carry his limp body off the field. A healthy Eric Chavez is a beautiful thing.

        • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

          I’d be shocked if he was able to repeat last year and I think Youkilis is a far far safer bet to have a productive season while not spending all of it on the DL.

          IMO,Re signing Chavez is akin to expecting lightening to strike the same place twice.

          • Havok9120

            Agreed on that last sentence. I would not have made a huge deal of Chavez having this responsibility, but I’m an upside guy and I think there’s more upside in Youk.

            • Manny’s BanWagon (formerly Andy Pettitte’s Fibula)

              Plus there’s the added benefit that every time Youkilis does a good thing as a Yankee, somewhere a Red Sox fan will feel pain.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Youk starts. Chavez is in the back-up role. Could have had them both?

              Chavez is still the one thing that smarts the most about this off-season to me.

        • Magilla Gorilla Mama Called me Roy tho

          amen

  • Chiggie

    This team is a mess! I am not excited one bit to see in action. I feel like it’s the 1980’s all over again. Just higher priced.

  • WhittakerWalt

    If someone could explain to me why so many Yankee fans prefer Eduardo Nunez to Alex Rodriguez, I’m all ears.

    • Havok9120

      Wait….what are we talking about here?

  • Jersey Joe

    I’m rooting for Nix to be UT INF, really liked him last year.

    And Dan Johnson seems like a great lefty DH just because of that one home run in ’11, but I’d like to see more competition for this spot. See if they can grab Mike Carp for this spot – he can play OF, which Dan Johnson can’t, not to mention a better 1B. His numbers should increase at YS3.

    As far as righty OF goes, I’d really like to see what Thomas Neal has to offer in spring training, but in all reality I expect Diaz wins the job over Juan Rivera.

  • Jersey Joe

    And by the way, what the hell ever happened to Rob Mackowiak? He just fell off the map like 5 years ago. God would he be perfect for this team.

    • Havok9120

      That’s quite the name drop. I half expected Fangraphs to laugh at me when I typed that name in.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Yeah, that was quite the random name pulled out of a hat. I think I remember exactly one Sportscenter highlight when he was a……Pirate?

  • Jarrod

    I’d prefer to see Nunez personally. The potential upside of Nunez (he OWNS Verlander remember?) would be much more exciting to watch than run-of-the-mill Nix.

    Whether or not that would be better for the team I will leave to the NYY brainstrust

    • Havok9120

      For me it’d come down to whether Nix can opt out. He’s already cleared waivers and made it off the 40 man, so it shouldn’t be a problem either way, but we need him for depth, at least until we see if any of the kids step up.

  • Dan

    I dont know why the yankees havent talked about carlos lee. He should be fairly cheap with spring training right around the corner.

  • 189,189,189,

    anyone that is cheap…at 1500 a seat…… you really can not afford to get anyone good..189,189,189,189,189,189,189,189,189,189,189,189,….hey, boys just sell the club to someone who cares

  • Magilla Gorilla Mama Called me Roy tho

    If not Nix, then who is the backup to Cano?

  • Magilla Gorilla

    Doesn’t this article assume an eleven man pitching staff.

    I got
    cervelli/stewart/romine 1
    cervelli/stewart/romine 2
    teixeira 3 1b
    dan johnson 4 1B, 3B??
    cano 5 2B
    nix 6 SS, 3B
    jeter 7 SS
    nunez 8 SS, 3B, OF
    youkilis 9, 3B, RHDH
    hafner 10 3B
    gardner 11 OF
    granderson 12 0F
    suzuki 13 0F
    rivera/diaz/mesa/mustelier/mesa/neal 14 OF

    You need johnson as a pinch hitter to hit for nix or the catchers.
    You need Nix to back up Cano. Nunex can’t play 2B
    You need Nunez as spare infielder when Youk is DH and Nix starting 3B
    You need a fourth outfielder period.

    You need the fourth outfielder to pinch run for Hafner and maybe for Youkilis and Stewart.

    i think that the Yankees need to go with an 11 man pitching staff and a 14 man position player roster.