Archive for Bench
The season is still relatively young, but we already have a pretty good idea of how the different pieces of the roster fit together. Eduardo Nunez and Andruw Jones are part of an unorthodox DH platoon, Clay Rapada is the low-leverage lefty reliever, and Chris Stewart is the rarely seen backup catcher. David Phelps has settled in as the long man and could eventually earn more responsibility. Everyone on the roster seems to have their set role except for one man: Eric Chavez.
Through eleven games, we’ve seen Chavez a total of five times. He pinch-hit for Nunez when the Yankees were down six runs with one out in the ninth inning of the second game of the season, singling off Josh Lueke for his lone hit of the campaign. He’s pinch-made outs on three other occasions with the Yankees down multiple runs in the late innings, and in one other appearance he replaced Nunez for defensive purposes after the Yankees took the lead in extra innings in Baltimore. Other than that, he’s been nothing more than a spectator.
Before his foot injury last season, Chavez was used primarily to rest Alex Rodriguez at third base and occasionally sub-in for Mark Teixeira at first. He was getting roughly two starts a week, but now it’s Nunez getting the playing time whenever A-Rod needs a day. When Teixeira came down with flu-like symptoms prior to last night’s game, it was Nick Swisher at first, not Chavez. That probably had something to do with the left-handed Francisco Liriano being on the mound, but Joe Girardi said before the game that he wanted to rest Swisher because he anticipates using his heavily in the coming weeks. Once Tex got sick, Girardi scrapped the Swisher plan rather than start Chavez against the southpaw.
Given the Yankees’ insistence on getting Nunez playing time, Chavez is a square peg and the roster is a round hole. There’s no obvious role for him other than the occasional pinch-hitting appearance or defensive replacement late in blowouts, whenever Girardi has a chance to rest both A-Rod and Derek Jeter for a few innings. Then again, that’s usually what the 25th man on the roster does anyway. Chavez is overqualified for the job despite his injury-proneness, but I suppose that’s the perk of having veteran players want to be on your team. Once the schedule opens up a bit and off days become a little more spread out, chances are we’ll start to see a little more of Chavez. Right now he’s just a seldom used spare part.
In the mid-00s the Yankees frequently fielded inflexible teams. Led by expensive veterans, they typically had set players in each of the nine lineup spots, with little room for platooning or pinch-hitting. That made it tough to sign bench players, leaving the Yankees without much depth. Those times have clearly changed.
With some veterans needing extra days off, and with platoon-able players at some positions, the Yankees of late have taken advantage of those bench spots. They’ve filled them with guys who can hit, and guys who can run. That comes in handy not only when handling the eight players in the field, but also the DH spot. Best of all, the Yankees still have some room to maneuver with the final bench spot.
Raul Ibanez will likely get most of his playing time as the DH against right-handed pitching. Since the Yankees faced a righty starter roughly twice as often as they did a lefty starter, this could constitute a significant number of plate appearances. In fact, against righties the Yankees are pretty well set one through nine. When a lefty comes in, they still have Jones to pinch hit.
Andruw Jones will play a hybrid role. He signed with the Yankees for less money than other teams offered, so it stands to reason that he expects more playing time. Chances are he’ll start every game against left-handed pitching, whether in the DH spot or in left field, giving Brett Gardner or Curtis Granderson a day off.
Eduardo Nunez‘s role will involve subbing for all three infielders when they need time off. The Yankees have talked about using Nunez more often, though, perhaps spelling Alex Rodriguez on some days, while A-Rod DHs. That could come against left-handed pitchers, perhaps on days that Jones subs for Gardner in left field. That would certainly help fill the remaining DH at-bats against left-handed pitching.
With these three shuffling playing time, the Yankees will have filled a lot of at-bats — and innings in the field. After counting Francisco Cervelli as the backup catcher, the Yankees still have one bench spot left. That could go to either:
Eric Chavez, with whom the Yankees have been speaking, could return to his role from last year. That would involve him spelling A-Rod at third from time to time, and perhaps taking reps at first when Mark Teixeira takes a rare day off. Chances are the Yankees would want to use Chavez primarily against right-handed pitching, in order to maximize his value at the plate. Those reps at third would come best when A-Rod needs a full day off, rather than a half day (since Ibanez figures to be DHing against RHP).
Bill Hall, whom the Yankees signed to a minor league deal, is a bit more flexible than Chavez, since he can play the outfield in addition to third base. He’s probably not playable at shortstop or second base at this point, but he does at least have experience there. He’s right-handed, so he could more cleanly spell A-Rod, even when A-Rod is taking a half day off to DH.
The crazy thing is that the Yankees could conceivably take both Chavez and Hall, if they were so inclined. We always work on the assumption that they will carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players, but the pitching staff really only needs 11 pitchers — especially if Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia is there to absorb innings as a multi-inning reliever. They probably won’t do this, though; they could use that final roster spot on Clay Rapada or Cesar Cabral, giving them a second lefty in the pen. There is also the issue of finding enough at-bats for a fifth bench player. Chances are, they’ll be able to find bullpen innings a bit more easily.
Still, the Yankees clearly have options this spring. The baseball ops department has done a good job of identifying the team’s strengths and augmenting them. The Yankees now have flexibility on the roster. They can give guys rest without missing too much. That’s in stark contrast to the teams of the mid-00s, which featured veterans and superstars in the lineup, but nary a substitute on the bench. They Yankees might not have a superstar at every position, but they’re pretty well set up to hand out at-bats to capable hitters.
Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. That was the focus of the offseason, and it still is today given the continued A.J. Burnett trade talks. We haven’t paid too much attention to the other end of the battery though, mostly because the Yankees have some upper level catching depth and an above average big league backstop ready to handle the bulk of the workload in Russell Martin. The Jesus Montero trade took away some of that depth, but Austin Romine is still around as if Frankie Cervelli, the forgotten backstop.
Cervelli, who turns 26 next month, isn’t a terrible backup catcher even though we all seem to collectively loathe him. He’s got 560 big league plate appearances to his credit (roughly a full season), and he’s consistently put the ball in play with solid walk (7.9%) and strikeout (15.1%) rates. His .272 batting average and .316 BABIP are reasonable for a player with his batted ball profile, meaning few fly balls but lots of grounders and line drives. Of course the lack of fly balls means Frankie has next to no power (.082 ISO), but he did go on a rampage before getting hurt last September — three homers in five games across ten days, including at least one more ball knocked down by rain and wind in that ridiculous 11:30pm ET start against the Orioles. Offensively, a .272/.338/.354 line is pretty good compared to most backup catchers. With any luck, that power surge is something more than a fluke, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Despite a strong reputation, Frankie hasn’t been anything special on defense. He’s thrown out just 23 of 116 attempted basestealers in his career (19.8%), though it’s worth noting that runners are 26-for-29 against him when Burnett and his notoriously slow delivery is on the mound. Remove A.J. from the equation, and Cervelli’s been a more palatable 20-for-87 (23.0%) when it comes to throwing out runners. There aren’t any great (or even good) metrics for catcher defense, but I think we can all agree that Frankie isn’t the best receiver back there just from watching him over the last three seasons. He’s not the defensive-first backstop I’m sure Joe Girardi would like to have, but the total package is a viable big league backup catcher.
Cervelli has had some injury problems in the recent past, some fluky (Elliot Johnson breaking his wrist, a foul ball breaking his foot) and some not so fluky (four reported concussions in the last seven seasons). The last concussion came in September, when Nick Markakis bowled him over on a play at the plate. The Yankees take concussions very seriously (as they should), so the injury ended Frankie’s season and forced Romine to the big leagues. With Montero in Seattle, the Yankees need Cervelli to stay on the field this season to make sure Romine gets the couple hundred Triple-A at-bats he needs developmentally. Health is a skill but only to a certain extent, so there’s not much more anyone can do besides cross their fingers and hope he stays on the field.
Anecdotally, Martin seemed to play (or at least hit) better when getting regular rest last season, which is another factor to consider. A healthy and productive Cervelli allows the club to take it easy on their starting catcher during the hot summer months, theoretically keeping him fresher for a potential playoff drive. With all due respect to Gus Molina, Frankie is the guy you want filling in on Martin’s off days so that Romine can keep doing his thing in Triple-A. The backup catcher won’t sink the season no matter who it is, but having a healthy and reasonably productive Cervelli will have a positive impact on Romine, Martin, and the team’s overall chances.
As far as Spring Training position battles go, the Yanks have few, and those they have aren’t very compelling. The pitching staff has the non-problem of having three hurlers — A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes — for one rotation spot, and barring an injury, the starting lineup is set in stone. It will be, then, business in Tampa as the Yanks will use March to fine-tune the team for the regular season.
Yet, the club will have to make some decisions, and it may come down to those who are out of options. As I see it now, the Yanks have 23 guys with their tickets punched to the 25-man roster. It goes a little something like this:
This array of players leaves us with few noticeable holes. With Jones set to DH against southpaws, they could use another bat who can handle right-handers and serve as a weapon off the bench. They also could carry another infielder, as they did for much of last year. The in-house options include Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird while Eric Chavez remains a free agent. We’ve heard Bill Hall’s name bandied about, but he hasn’t yet received his non-roster invitation to Spring Training yet.
For the empty outfield/DH spot, the Yanks could still look to the free agent market for help. Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez and Hideki Matsui have all been linked, one way or another, to the Yanks this winter. It’s possible one of them could take spot No. 24 or 25. The Yanks though will let those players’ prices drop before making any sort of move. If one happens, it will be on our terms, and not yours, the Yanks’ brain trust has telegraphed.
The in-house options are Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell, and they’ll either break camp with the Yanks or on some other team. The two of them — along with Boone Logan, the only lefty on the 40-man with Major League experience — are out of options. The Yanks will have to take Dickerson and Maxwell with them north if they want to keep them or else the two players will have to clear waivers to remain in the Yanks’ system.
Throughout the winter, Mike has examined these two players in depth. He looked at Dickerson’s possible role earlier this month and Maxwell’s potential in December. Of the two of them, Dickerson seems to hit right-handers far better than Maxwell has, and that’s a need the Yanks have right now. The club may also be able to flip Maxwell for something reasonably useful as he’s a few years younger than Dickerson.
Complicating the roster dance are Brad Meyers, a right-hander, and Cesar Cabral, a lefty. The Yanks grabbed these two guys during the Rule 5 draft. Meyers would have to go back to the Nationals if the Yanks opt to exclude him from the 25-man, and Cabral could pick free agency as he’s a two-time Rule 5er. Cabral also would give the Yanks more bullpen options and pitched exceptionally well in Winter Ball this year. As Logan is out of options, he won’t bump Boone, but a solid spring could make the Yanks think twice about a second southpaw in the pen.
So for the Yankees, the big battles are all but over. We have to pick a fifth starter from a group of three guys who are all flawed for various reasons, and the last two guys on the team have to earn that trip to the Bronx. The guys without options have the inside track, but even then, they’re expendable AAAA types. With two weeks until pitchers and catchers, that’s not a bad problem to have.
In the mid 2000s the Yankees had a penchant for building weak benches. Players such as Matt Lawton, Bubba Crosby, Mark Bellhorn, Miguel Cairo, Craig Wilson, Nick Green, and Wil Nieves routinely sat near Joe Torre during those years. It wasn’t exactly a fatal flaw; the Yankees did manage to make the playoffs basically every year in that span, and it’s not as though the bench makes a huge difference in the postseason when a team has nine clearly superior starters. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Yankees actually managed to assemble some talent to back up their starters.
While the 2009 bench, highlighted by Erik Hinske and Jerry Hairston, was built through mid-season trades, the 2011 bench, perhaps the Yankees’ strongest in a decade, came fresh out of the box on Opening Day. In a way the Yankees got lucky there. The circumstances happened to line up. They needed a right-handed fourth outfielder, since two of their three starters were lefties and the other was a switch-hitter. A left-handed infielder came in handy, too, because most of his work came spelling the right-handed Alex Rodriguez and the switch-hitting Mark Teixeira. It was mere chance that a solid-hitting right-handed outfielder, Andruw Jones, and a reclamation project infielder, Eric Chavez, happen to be not only available, but willing to take on a reduced role.
For the most part, the bench moves worked out. After struggling in the first half, Jones came back with a huge second half performance. Chavez did miss considerable time with a foot injury — worse, because it overlapped with Alex Rodriguez’s knee surgery — but he still managed to hit .263/.320/.356 when healthy. Considering the playing time available and the playing time they actually got, Jones and Chavez were two of the better bench players in the entire league last year.
It’s tough to mete out actual bench players. We can look at plate appearances, but there are so many variables that we can’t control for. Some bench players turn into starters when the player they back up gets hurt. Some players begin the season as a starter only to lose the job. There are also mid-season call-ups who are actually starters, but end up with a number of plate appearances similar to a bench player. And, of course, some bench players do get hurt, and others are so bad that they’re replaced — in which case neither of a team’s backups might fit into a plate appearance range. This is a long way of saying that it’s tough to place Chavez and Jones among their peers.
Keeping the above caveats in mind, Chavez fared very well compared to other infielders who got between 100 and 250 plate appearances in 2011. His .320 OBP in 175 PA ranked seventh in that group, all but a couple of the players ahead of him were injured starters (Casey Blake) or late call-ups (Brett Lawrie, Jason Kipnis, Dee Gordon). Using the same parameters for outfielders, Jones fares even better. His OBP ranked third among that group, and his SLG ranked second (by 25 points to a guy whose BA was 80 points higher). You can sort it out any way you want, but when you look at non-starters and compare them to Jones and Chavez, they come out looking great.
This is actually a remarkable feat for the Yankees, especially considering these players came from the free agent market. After all, who wants to sit on the bench while Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano play every day? Perhaps Jones made sense, because he could play platoon caddy to Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. But before that the Yankees have had pretty solidly set outfields, which hurt the market for free agent backups. Remember, before the 2009 season both Hinske and Hairston signed elsewhere. It took a trade to get them in pinstripes, and even then it lasted just half a season.
The Yankees failure to sign Hiroyuki Nakajima now re-opens the door for Chavez, and the Yankees would do well to bring him back. He’s not ideal in many ways, particularly his penchant to land on the DL every year, but seeking out bench players is essentially choosing which ones have the most manageable flaws. If Chavez can avoid hurting his foot while running the bases, he could be one of the more productive infield options, both offensively and defensively. It’s hard to see any options on the free agent market, or any worth their price in a trade, who has the potential to add as much as Chavez.
(And that’s most certainly a commentary on the quality of bench players and not on Chavez himself.)
If the two sides don’t work out a deal, it won’t threaten the season. The Yankees will simply roll with Eduardo Nunez as their all-purpose infielder and perhaps carry another lefty, say Chris Dickerson, on the bench. But given their current options and needs, Chavez seems a nice fit. He’s not going to hit like a starter, but of course, few if any bench players do. He can, however, provide production superior to his direct peers. That’s really what matters in this situation. While there’s plenty of risk involved, he is once again a nice fit for the Yankees.
Word first surfaced last month that the Yankees are interested in bringing back Andruw Jones. With the bench and the rotation the only pressing items on Brian Cashman‘s Winter Meetings to-do list, the Jones issue figured to resurface. As if on cue, Jon Heyman this morning mentioned the Yankees’ interest in Jones. This hopefully portends a deal in Dallas.
Jones fits the Yankees needs well. With Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in the outfield, a right-handed fourth outfielder makes the most sense. That is, if Joe Girardi is going to spell either one of them, he can do so against left-handed pitching and gain the platoon advantage at the same time. This works even better for Jones, who mashes lefties — in the last two seasons he has produced a .401 wOBA against left-handed pitching.
A look at other free agents yields few players at Jones’s level who would accept a part-time role. Mark DeRosa has been injured for almost all of the last two years, Ryan Ludwick has a reverse platoon split, Reed Johnson has trouble staying on the field, and Josh Willingham is likely seeking far more playing time. Those are only four examples, but they basically describe every other free agent on the market. Jones is the perfect fit: a bench player who can play passable defense while hitting left-handed pitching.
The only wrench in the plan could come from Jones’s desire for more playing time. There’s a chance that a lesser team could offer him the promise of more time in the outfield. Even the Red Sox could potentially offer him a decent amount of playing time, since their current outfield is all left-handed. Even if he enjoyed his time in New York, he could still yearn for the days when he roamed center field every day. While that would certainly be a corner spot in 2012, there’s a chance that some team could believe him valuable in a role that would get him 300-400 at-bats. With the Yankees it’s uncertain that he’d get even 250.
With an off-season that has moved slowly, a Jones signing would be a welcome sight. He’s not a key cog to the 2012 team, but he does fill a role that the Yankees need. There appears to be some level of mutual interest, so perhaps there’s hope of getting a deal done this week. With lefty-mashing fourth outfielder crossed off the list, the Yankees will have little left to accomplish this off-season.
While many have given Andruw Jones his proper due for a terrific 2011 season off the bench, a closer review of his numbers made me wonder just how good his year was in a historical context. Granted, the bar for past Yankee bench players’ performances is a low one, but a look at every player who has played for the Yankees since 2002 shows that Jones — with a .371 wOBA and 1.4 fWAR — was probably the best non-full-time player on a Yankee roster of the past decade.
Jones of course was brought in to fill the Marcus Thames lefty-masher role, and rather thoroughly obliterated expectations. Unlike Thames, he unfortunately didn’t also have a surprisingly strong campaign against same-side pitchers (only a .316 wOBA vs. righties), but he of course torched lefties (.400 wOBA) while — again, unlike Thames — actually contributing on defense.
Indications are that Brian Cashman is interested in a return engagement with Jones, and while on the surface that seems like a strong move for the 2012 bench, it’s also probably a bit of a reach to expect that Jones has another .371 wOBA year in his bat going into his age 35 season.
Given the team’s relative struggles against northpaws this past season, it may might make some sense for the Yankees to buck orthodoxy and look into signing a right-handed hitting reserve who can actually hit right-handed pitching. I realize that no team in MLB is likely to actually specifically target a bench player with a reverse platoon split given everyone’s obsessions with matchups, but I don’t see why we have to limit ourselves to right-handers who can only hit lefties. The Yankees already destroy left-handed pitching as it is.
Reviewing the list of potentially available righties who fared well against RHP in 2011 yields two interesting names: Reed Johnson (.359 wOBA vs. RHP in 157 PAs), and Nolan Reimold (.360 wOBA vs. RHP in 207 PAs). Personal favorite Josh Willingham also fits the bill, though it seems incredibly unlikely that he won’t get a starting gig somewhere.
If it seems like the Yanks have been looking at Johnson forever, it’s because they pretty much have — back in the 2009-2010 offseason, there was a fair amount of speculation about the Yankees possibly looking at Johnson as the right-handed component of a left field platoon. Remember, this was before Brett Gardner established himself as a capable everyday player. Johnson wound up signing a one-year, $800,000 contract ($250k in incentives) with the Dodgers and had a terrible year, putting up a .287 wOBA over 215 PAs. He was abysmal against righties (.235 wOBA) and serviceable against lefties (.342). Johnson then signed a one-year, $900,000 minor-league contract with the Cubs last offseason, and wound up turning in a .354 wOBA in 266 PAs, with the aforementioned .359 wOBA vs. righties and .347 against lefties.
However, a deeper look into the numbers shows that the .359 wOBA was quite fluky, as Johnson’s a career .312 wOBA hitter against righties in over 2,000 PAs. Signing Johnson in the hope that he’ll be an asset against RHP is likely wishful thinking unless he all of a sudden figured out how to hit righties at age 35. That said, if the Yankees don’t bring Jones back, Johnson could probably fill the designated lefty-masher role, as he is the owner of a career .363 wOBA against LHP.
The 27-year-old Reimold’s a bit more of an interesting case. He burst onto the scene in 2009, and raked to a .365 wOBA over 411 MLB PAs after beginning the year utterly annihilating AAA (.530 wOBA in 130 PAs). Reimold took a huge step backwards in his sophomore season, breaking camp with the team but slumping horribly out of the gate, and bottomed out at .205/.302/.337 on May 11 before being demoted to AAA. Reimold hit OK after his demotion, though didn’t exactly light the world on fire (.341 wOBA in 401 PAs) and was recalled in September more due to rosters expanding than really deserving it. Reimold finished the year even worse than he began it, posting a woeful .212/.229/.303 line over the season’s final month.
Reimold began the 2011 season back in AAA, and didn’t really do anything to distinguish himself (.332 wOBA) but got called up anyway in mid-May and stuck in the bigs for the remainder of the season, ultimately posting a .341 wOBA across 305 PAs (including finishing the year out strongly with a .426 September wOBA). As previously noted, that full-season wOBA consisted of a .360 mark against same-sided pitchers (though strangely only a .295 mark against lefties), and Reimold has been a slightly reverse-platoon hitter throughout his brief MLB career, with a .345 mark against righties compared to .332 against lefties.
Now, I’m not saying Reimold is the answer to the team’s bench prayers — nor would he be particularly easy to acquire, given how loath Peter Angelos is to trade with the Yankees — but given that he’s spent the last two seasons still trying to reacquire his 2009 mojo, perhaps a change of venue would be beneficial. As to what Reimold would cost, I have no idea, but value-wise he’s probably not worth more than perhaps a B-level pitching prospect.
Again, the likelihood of the Yankees and Orioles actually consummating a deal is slim to none, but if new Oriole GM Dan Duquette was willing to talk and the price was right, the Yanks could do worse than considering Reimold (10.3% career BB%) for a seat on the bench.
When the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to a ten-year contract following the 2007 season, one of the points often raised in his favor was his durability. Alex had played in at least 146 games and batted at least 638 times in every season but one from 1996 through 2007. Sure, ten years was much too long and the deal was likely to look ugly before its conclusion, but at least Alex could be counted on to play every day. However, starting with a quad strain that caused him to play in just 138 contests in 2008, our preconceived notions about Alex’s health began to fall apart and their lack of logic was exposed.
When it comes to players on the wrong side of 30, injury problems can often crop up suddenly and linger for years, and Alex has proven to be no exception. In the four seasons since signing that contract in 2008, Alex has played in 138, 124, 137, and 99 games respectively, and has spent much of his “healthy” time battling various nagging ailments. It is fair to expect Alex to miss 25+ games per season moving forward, as he is not getting any younger and has a chronic issue with his hip that crops up every so often.
Being that Alex has become injury prone but remains an important part of the Yankees offense, it would behoove Joe Girardi to treat him very gingerly in 2012. He should be given frequent days off, and should occasionally be used as the DH to keep his bat in the lineup while allowing him to avoid the rigors of playing defense. This plan requires the Yankees to have a caddy on hand for Alex, someone who can be counted on to provide 50 games or so of adequate performance with the stick and to avoid total embarrassment with the leather. There are a number of players who loosely fit this description, so let’s take a quick look at them, RAB style:
Pros: He is a strong defensive third baseman, and he showed flashes of his old self at the plate in 2011. If clutch ability is your thing, he came through in some big spots for the Yankees last season.
Cons: Eric finished with a 79 wRC+, as his hot start was overshadowed by a very weak finish to the season with the lumber. Chavez cannot be counted upon to stay healthy, so you end up needing a caddy for your caddy. When Eduardo Nunez is that player and is throwing the ball all over the yard, you have a problem.
Pros: Betemit can hit, with a 107 wRC+ for his career, and he does it as a switch hitter.
Cons: Switch-hitting is not quite as valuable as it first seems when his 79 wRC+ as a RHB is considered. Furthermore, while he can technically stand with a glove at all of the infield spots, he is not good at any of them, and third base may be his worst position.
Pros: Wigginton is a league average hitter who can provide solid power off the bench. He has experience at every defensive position except CF and C.
Cons: Hitting for power is about all he can do with the bat, and he is poor defensively no matter the position. Also, he’s not a free agent, so the Yankees would have to swing a trade with the Rockies to get him.
Pros: DeRosa, when healthy, is a league average hitter who can actually do a decent job in the infield and the outfield.
Cons: DeRosa has been hurt for most of the last two seasons, and when he did make it onto the field in 2011, it seemed that his power had abandoned him at a gas station somewhere between St. Louis and San Francisco.
Pros: Blake is one of the more consistent hitters on this list, with a 105 wRC+ for his career and no season under 95 wRC+ since 2004. He is a solid defensive 3rd baseman, and has had success in right field as well.
Cons: The usually durable Blake battled a number of injuries in 2011, and was limited to 63 games played. He will turn 39 during the 2012 season.
Pros: Carroll gets on base, with a very solid .356 OBP for his career. He is a good infielder and can fake the outfield as well.
Cons: Carroll has little power, which probably makes him more of a utility infielder and a redundancy with Eduardo Nunez on board.
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Pros: Hairston is wildly inconsistent with the bat, but when he is on, he makes a good backup infielder who can field a number of positions.
Cons: Much like Carroll, Jerry is more of a utility infielder type. The Yankees believe they already have their Hairston in Eduardo Nunez. They need to find the 2012 version of 2009 Eric Hinske, and Hairston just does not fit the mold.
Pros: When healthy, he is a switch hitter who can hit both righties and lefties, with a particular aptitude for hitting right-handed pitching.
Cons: He has not been healthy since 2007, and is weak defensively at every infield position. Much like Chavez was coming into 2011, Guillen is a total wild card and is not someone who can be relied upon to stay on the field.
Pros: Prado is quite easily the best hitter on this list, with a wRC+ of 117 or more in 3 of the last 4 seasons. He is also a very solid defensive third baseman.
Cons: Prado had a rough 2011, dealing with nagging injuries that resulted in a 85 wRC+. More importantly, he is not a free agent, but the Braves have made it known that they would like to shed his salary and have made him available.
Conclusion: Most of these candidates are fairly similar in terms of overall value, and the one player who is likely a cut above (Prado) is not a free agent. The Yankees could stay inside the organization and go with Brandon Laird, which would likely be the cheapest move, but he has yet to hit well above AA and is not great defensively. Brian Cashman might find himself in an Eduardo Nunez-induced coma if Laird flops and Rodriguez subsequently hits the DL.
Among the free agents, Casey Blake seems to be the safest bet to perform adequately offensively and defensively, as he should provide strong defense at third and could contribute close to league-average offense as well. That said, there are certainly sound arguments against signing a 38 year old who spent much of 2011 injured, and a reasonable case could be made for any of the listed players. Brian Cashman has a large group of candidates to sift through, and hopefully he finds one who can allow Joe Girardi to feel comfortable resting A-Rod on a regular basis.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Yankees started the season with a legitimately strong bench. In recent years they’d begun the season with various cast-offs before seeking upgrades throughout the summer, but this year they targeted pieces for the bench in free agency and had a strong reserve corps from the get-go. Part of that had to do with $20M+ worth of Cliff Lee money burning a hole in the team’s pocket, obviously.
Although Frankie Cervelli missed the season’s first month a broken foot suffered in Spring Training, his absence and Gus Molina’s presence wasn’t that big of a deal because all those April off days allowed the team to play Russell Martin almost every single game without running him into the ground Tony LaRussa-Yadier Molina style. Eduardo Nunez made a strong impression in limited action early on and has since done fine work as medium-term fill-ins for Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. The other two pieces on the bench have seen their seasons go in opposite directions.
The Great Eric Chavez … Who Ain’t So Great Anymore
When the season started, Chavez looked like the replacement for Nick Johnson‘s vacant DL spot. He made spot starts at first and third bases in the first two months of the season, hitting .303/.410/.424 with more walks (six) than strikeouts (three) before injuring his foot legging out a triple in Detroit on May 5th. Chavez was only playing once or twice a week and he wasn’t hitting for much power, but he was putting together solid at-bats and contributing to the offense when he did play. His defense, particularly at the hot corner, was stellar. As far as bench players go, the Yankees had hit the lottery.
The foot injury kept Chavez out for more than two full months, and when he did return in late-July, he kept on hitting. He had eleven hits in his first 32 at-bats back, including his first homerun of the season, which prompted the Yankees to bench Jorge Posada and make Chavez the regular DH against righties. That lasted all of three games before Alex Rodriguez returned from the DL and promptly hurt his finger on a diving defensive play (forcing Chavez to play third), but his bat went silent after that. In his last dozen games, a total of 42 plate appearances, the former Athletic has just six hits and three walks (one intentional), leading to a .158/.220/.211 batting line. His season line has fallen to an unimpressive (but still solid) .262/.327/.350 in 113 trips to the plate.
That Bum Andruw Jones … Who’s Pretty Awesome
Andruw did a fine job of introducing himself to Yankees’ fans, clubbing a homerun in his first plate appearance of the season. It was all downhill after that for Jones, who hit just .195/.278/.356 before the All-Star break and .231/.315/.446 against lefties, the very demographic he was brought in to combat. Many fans were wondering why the Yankees didn’t just re-sign Marcus Thames in the offseason (without bothering to look at his performance with the Dodgers, I assume) or promote the righty hitting Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell given Andruw’s struggles as the fourth outfielder.
With a little help from his mother, Jones has completely turned his season around and is hitting .345/.463/.764 overall (.350/.469/.700 against lefties) in the second half. His seven homers since the break are more than guys like Paul Konerko, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, and Jose Bautista even though he’s got about one-third the plate appearances of those four. Jones has gone from a bit piece to an important cog in the offense (especially against southpaws) thanks to his revival.
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The season started with Chavez as the hot bench bat and Jones as the guy no one really wanted to see at the plate, but injury and some help from mom have reversed those roles. Now it’s Jones with the hot bat and Chavez that’s flailing away at everything. Of course, we have to remember that this is all small sample size stuff, it’s just the nature of the job. Because of that, cold streaks can turn hot in very short order, and vice versa. With any luck, Chavez will get back on track before the end of the season and the Yankees can head into a potential playoff series with two legitimate weapons off the bench, one from each side of the plate.
For years, the Yankees employed a utility infielder basically because they had too, but they never really used the poor guy. Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez were in the primes of their careers and very rarely took a day off, so the reserve infielder was just kind of there for emergencies. Cano is still very much in his prime, but Jeter and A-Rod have slowed down as they’ve gotten into their mid-30′s. They’re getting more regular rest (even if it’s just a half-day as DH) and injured more frequently, so the backup infielder has become increasingly important.
Eduardo Nunez has been the primary infield fill-in this season, and he’s been surprisingly productive. Maybe it’s only surprising to me, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with low expectations for the backup infielder. In 214 plate appearances this season, Nunez has hit .273/.325/.407 with 16 steals in 21 attempts, a .330 wOBA that is about five percent better than league average. His strength is simply getting the bat on the ball; his strikeout (9.8%) and contact (89.6%) rates are both substantially better than the league average (18.4% and 80.9%, respectively). After walking in just 5.6% of his minor league plate appearances (5.2% above Single-A), Nunez has upped that to 7.0% this season. His defense at short and third (primarily) has been sketchy (UZR hates him with a passion), but he seems to have improved of late, particularly on throws. Perhaps it was just a matter of getting regular reps.
I think it goes without saying that Nunez has been the Yankees’ best utility infielder in quite some time, but just how much better? Let’s look back at the last few seasons and the guys the Yankees had coming off the bench whenever they needed to replace someone on the diamond…
2009 & 2010
Ramiro Pena: .253/.283/.305 … 3.8% BB … 16.3% K … 11-for-13 in SB attempts
It was pretty surprising when the Yankees took Pena, a career .253/.311/.315 hitter at Double-A, north out of Spring Training in 2009, skipping the defensive specialist right over Triple-A. He performed about as well as could have been expected, flashing some leather and falling just short of his ZiPS projection (.249/.296/.332). Pena did end up back in Triple-A later in the 2009 season, giving way to trade deadline pickup Jerry Hairston Jr., who hit .237/.352/.382 in 93 PA with New York. Pena was the primarily utility infielder for all of 2010 though, with Kevin Russo and Nunez making short cameos.
Wilson Betemit: .265/.289/.429 … 3.0% BB … 28.3% K … 0-for-1 in SB attempts
Before the days of Nick Swisher in right field, Betemit was the guy entrusted with resting the regular infielders. He definitely has some pop in his bat and showed it during his time with New York, clubbing 13 doubles and six homers in 189 PA during 2008 (a .164 ISO). The problem is that he was generally a statue on defense and Grade-A hacker incapable of putting together a tough at-bat, or so it seemed. He was also valueless on the bases. Cody Ransom made a late season cameo and won the heart of Ian O’Connor by hitting a homerun in each of his first two at-bats in pinstripes. He hit .302/.400/.561 in 51 PA late in the season.
Miguel Cairo: .252/.308/.318 … 6.6% BB … 16.7% K … 8-for-9 in SB attempts
Can you believe that Cairo is still playing? It’s crazy, and he’s actually performing quite well (.321 wOBA) for the Reds at age 37. Good for him. Anyway, Cairo was consistently ineffective for New York except for that ridiculous 2004 season when he took over the regular second base job thanks to his .336 wOBA. Cairo’s defense was about average, but the Yankees got tired of his act in 2007 and released him in mid-August. They had acquired Betemit at the trade deadline to assume backup infielder duties, and he hit .226/.278/.417 with four homers in 92 at-bats down the stretch.
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Previous reserve infielders include Cairo and Nick Green (2006), Rey Sanchez and Andy Phillips (2005), and Enrique Wilson (2004). All of them, including the 2007-2010 crop above, were pretty terrible and certainly worse than what the Yankees are running out there now with Nunez. ZiPS projects Eduardo to hit .266/.307/.371 (.305 wOBA) with seven steals in nine attempts the rest of way, which seems reasonable if not a little disappointing. I’m still not 100% sold on Nunez as a future everyday player, but he’s certainly been better than I expected, and it’s come at a good time because the Yankees needed him more than anticipated.