Archive for Bench
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.
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.
The new playoff system is both fun and weird. It’s fun because so many races went down to the wire but weird because the Yankees, who finished with the best overall record in the AL, still don’t know who they’re going to play in the first round. They do know it’ll be either the Orioles or Rangers, but that doesn’t help all that much. The opponent will surely impact New York’s ALDS roster decisions to some degree, but for the most part we can piece things together right now.
The Yankees have carried 11 pitchers and 14 position players on their postseason rosters these last few years, opting to shorten the pitching staff by one so they could carry a designated pinch-runner or something like that. I see no reason to think they’ll do something different this year. I mean yeah, they could probably get away with ten pitchers in the ALDS given the off-day between Games Two and Three, but I doubt they’ll go that far. Anyway, a dozen of those 14 position player spot are all but accounted for already:
C Russell Martin
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
SS Derek Jeter
3B Alex Rodriguez
OF Ichiro Suzuki
OF Curtis Granderson
OF Nick Swisher
DH Raul Ibanez
C Chris Stewart
IF Eric Chavez
IF Eduardo Nunez
Nunez will make the roster as the backup infielder because of Jayson Nix‘s hip injury, and there’s a decent chance he’ll start some games at DH against left-handed pitchers. Chavez will serve as the primary left-handed bat off the bench, meaning one of the two vacant spots is likely to go to a right-handed hitter. The only two options for that role are Andruw Jones and Casey McGehee, neither of whom sounds all that appealing. Jones has been dreadful in the second half, to the point where Joe Girardi started benching him the last week or two in favor of Nunez. The team never really showed much faith in McGehee after acquiring him at the deadline, though he’s almost certainly a better offensive option than the shell of Andruw.
The other spot figures go to a speedster, and I have to think Brett Gardner is the favorite for that job over Chris Dickerson, especially now that he’s been cleared by the doctors and has no restrictions with his surgically repaired elbow. Carrying Gardner as the speedy fourth outfielder might mean that McGehee, an infielder, will get the nod over another outfielder in Jones. Then again, the Yankees could lean towards the playoff-tested veteran and take Andruw for that other open spot instead. They’ve seen what he can do in the postseason first hand, and as I said yesterday, I do think there’s some value in veteran experience.
Now that the Yankees are healthy, or at least as healthy as they’re going to get, the starting lineup is pretty much set. Girardi is unlikely to pinch-hit for any of those guys other than maybe Ibanez against a really tough lefty, so any substitutions figured to come in pinch-running spots or late-inning defensive replacements. Or injury, that’s always an unfortunate possibility as well. I’m about 99% certain that Gardner will occupy one of the final two bench spots while Jones-McGehee is more along the lines of 50-50. Either way, that guy would be the proverbial 25th man on the roster and thus unlikely to see meaningful playing time in a best-of-five series.
It was just a footnote in last night’s win over the Rangers, but Eric Chavez hit another homer as he fills in for the injured Alex Rodriguez. The no-doubt blast — it cleared the home bullpen and landed in the right field bleachers — was his 13th homer of the season, raising his season line to .293/.350/.540 in 220 plate appearances. That looks an awful lot like the .275/.350/.496 batting line he put up during his glory days with the Athletics from 1998-2005.
“It’s hard to argue with what he’s done,” said Joe Girardi about his temporary third baseman after last night’s game. “He has been great for us. He’s in the middle of one rally, adds an add-on run later on to make it 6-2, and those runs are important because you can give (David Robertson), (Rafael Soriano) and some of your guys a day off. You might say ‘You won by six runs,’ but any time you can do that, it’s important when you’re in a stretch of 20 days in a row.”
The Yankees plucked Chavez off the scrap heap last season and he did a decent job for them off the bench, hitting .263/.320/.356 in 175 plate appearances while missing a bunch of time with a foot injury. It was his most playing time in five years due to all those back and shoulder and neck problems, and his value stemmed primarily from his knack for the big hit — Chavez put up a .416/.468/.537 line with runners in scoring position and had a number of big, late-inning knocks. He was a solid role player, that’s pretty much it, but this year he’d become so much more.
The difference between Chavez this year and last year is the power production, which I’m sure is even surprising Chavez and the Yankees at this point. His .247 ISO is the second highest of his career, and his 20.3 HR/FB% is a career-best since the data started being recorded in 2002. Although the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium are surely helping him out, Hit Tracker classified eight of his 13 dingers as either “Plenty” or “No-Doubters.” Those are balls that landed at least 50 feet beyond the wall. Three of the 13 were opposite field jobs out to left, and all three came on the road (one at CitiField, two at Comerica Park). So yeah, not all of these homers are squeaking over the short porch.
I wish I could find the link now, but I remember seeing an interview with then-pro scouting director and current assistant GM Billy Eppler last summer where he mentioned that when the Yankees look for part-time players, they target players who used to be stars because they know what it takes to perform at a high-level on a daily basis. For some reason that quote stuck with me. Chavez doesn’t have the resume of Andruw Jones or Ichiro Suzuki, but he was very much a star-caliber player back in the day. He hit for average, hit for power, got on-base, and played a world class third base for a half-decade on a contending team. This guy knows what he’s doing, and he’s paying huge dividends for the Bombers this summer.
Girardi has done a pretty good job of keeping Chavez rested, but it can’t be easy to sit him on the bench for a day or two when he’s hitting like this. He’s the oldest 34-year-old in the league given his injury history, so maintaining that delicate balance between keeping him productive and keeping him healthy will be one of the skipper’s biggest challenges going forward. Chavez has turned himself into one of the more indispensable players on the team with his performance, stepping up in a huge way when A-Rod went down. I also think he’s one of the easiest-to-root-for players the Yankees have had in quite some time, and not just because he’s mashing at the plate.
Day one without Alex Rodriguez went well, as the Yankees mounted their league-leading 31st come-from-behind win to take the series from the Mariners. Starting third baseman Eric Chavez went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a pair of walks (one intentional) while presumed platoon partner Jayson Nix came off the bench to hit the go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning. The seven-game West Coast trip went about as poorly as possible, but at least they picked up that nice little win before coming.
As I said, Chavez and Nix are expected to platoon at the hot corner either until the Yankees either make a trade or get A-Rod back from the DL. Obviously Chavez’s penchant for getting hurt is a concern, especially with the increased workload. As the left-handed hitter in the platoon, he’ll see the majority of the playing time at third. Here’s a quick look at the projected opposing starting pitchers for the next two series…
- Friday vs. Red Sox: RHP Aaron Cook
- Saturday vs. Red Sox: LHP Jon Lester
- Sunday vs. Red Sox: LHP Felix Doubront
- Monday vs. Orioles: RHP Miguel Gonzalez
- Tuesday vs. Orioles: RHP Chris Tillman
- Wednesday vs. Orioles: LHP Zach Britton
Now obviously these things are subject to change, especially with the trade deadline looming, but the next six games project to feature three right-handed and three-left-handed opposing starters. Chavez won’t have to start more than two consecutive games — next Monday and Tuesday — for at least a week. The Mariners come to town after the series with Baltimore and if they trade southpaw Jason Vargas as rumored, they’ll likely have five right-handed starters in their rotation. After that the Yankees are off to Detroit for four games and they have five right-handers in their rotation since Drew Smyly is on the DL. That’s when things will get tricky with the platoon and resting Chavez.
The trade deadline is 4pm ET on Tuesday, so the Yankees have plenty of time to swing a (major or minor) deal for a third baseman. I get the sense that Eduardo Nunez will eventually be back to replace Ramiro Pena, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, and will get a chance to man the position regularly. The Yankees didn’t call him up yesterday just because of the travel and the timing — by not going to Seattle he’ll be able to play in two Triple-A games (yesterday and today) instead of zero big league games. Even if they leave Nunez down for a few more days, the schedule works in their favor through this weekend and early next week as far as not overtaxing Chavez.
As we’ve learned through the years, winning the AL East and eventually a World Series takes an awful lot more than the nine regular position players, five starting pitchers, and a closer. Clubs need not just a strong bullpen and bench, but they also need quality backup backup players in Triple-A. The full 40-man roster is important.
The Yankees have gotten some excellent production from their projected reserve players this season, but they also assumed more prominent roles due to injuries — specifically Brett Gardner‘s. Dewayne Wise filled in admirably for a while but was replaced on the roster by Ichiro Suzuki yesterday. He’s not the Ichiro of old but he does add some sorely needed speed and outfield defense, and perhaps more importantly he relegates those reserve players back into their projected roles.
Gardner’s injury forced Ibanez into left field far more often than we or the Yankees would have liked, but now he gets to return to the platoon DH role he was brought in to fill. Ichiro is going to play left field against right-handed pitchers while Ibanez’s bat stays in the lineup and his glove stays in the clubhouse. Hopefully the extra rest can revive Raul’s bat a bit, because he has tailed off noticeably since that monster start in April…
We’re still going to see Ibanez play the field once in a while since Joe Girardi figures to rest Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher more often down the stretch, especially if the Yankees maintain their big division lead. Once a week isn’t the end of the world but not having to run him out to left day after day is a huge boon.
Andruw’s role actually won’t change very much at all. He was and remains the right-handed hitting half of the left field/DH platoon, so whether he subs in for Ichiro in left or Ibanez at DH depends on the day and whoever else is resting. Jones already has just 22 fewer plate appearances against righties this year thanlast, so expect that pace to change a bit. He’ll probably get fewer total plate appearances moving forward that he otherwise would have, but that’s not necessarily a bat thing as long he still takes his hacks against southpaws, either as a starter or off the bench.
In terms of playing time, Chavez probably lost the most with the Ichiro pickup. He had been getting regular DH and third base plate appearances — just six fewer plate appearances than last season with two months to go — but now will give Alex Rodriguez a day or two off a week and little more. There will be occasional spot starts at DH and Chavez could spell Mark Teixeira at first base once in a while, plus he’ll be the primary left-handed pinch-hitter off the bench. Given his fragile body, less playing time for Chavez is probably a good thing in terms of keeping him healthy down the stretch and potentially into the postseason.
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I’m hopeful that with Ibanez spending more time at DH, Girardi will be a more open to pinch-hitting for him against tough lefties in the later innings. As the left fielder, a pinch-hitting appearance generally required three players — Ibanez the starter, Jones the pinch-hitter, and Wise the defensive replacement. Now they can replace Ibanez with Jones, leave Ichiro in the outfield, and still have Chavez on the bench in case Andruw winds up facing a right-hander later in the game. Whether or not he’s actually open to doing that remains to be seen, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
Ichiro isn’t Gardner but he’s a reasonable approximation, at least in the field and on the bases. The Yankees should use him in a similar way, which means hitting near the bottom of the lineup while sitting against tough lefties. Returning Ibanez, Chavez, and to a lesser extent Jones to their intended roles is a fringe benefit that may have huge dividends if Raul stays fresh and Chavez stays healthy.
The Yankees played their 60th game of the season last night and they’ve only had Brett Gardner in the starting lineup for eight of them. The elbow injury he suffered sliding for a ball against the Twins has morphed into a series of setbacks that culminated with a visit to Dr. James Andrews yesterday. Gardner will see Dr. Tim Kremcheck for a second opinion on Thursday, at which point the Yankees will presumably announce the latest diagnosis.
Barring some fortunate and frankly unexpected good news, Gardner is going to miss several more weeks. A few days ago Joe Girardi indicated that he doesn’t expect his left fielder back until after the All-Star break, which is still more than a month away. Raul Ibanez has been better than expected and softened the blow of losing Gardner a bit, but the Yankees can’t really rely on him as the everyday left fielder for an extended period of time. He’s already started 33 games in the field and at 40 years old, there has to be some concern about him wearing down later in the season.
Unless the Yankees get good news on Thursday, they have to at least consider bolstering their roster with Gardner on the shelf. With all due respect to Dewayne Wise, he’s nothing more than a defensive replacement/spot starter in the big leagues. The Yankees can do better without having to go outside the organization, they have some potential solutions sitting in Triple-A.
I’ve written about Dickerson before, noting that he offers the ability to hit right-handed pitching (career .341 wOBA against northpaws) in addition to strong defense and base running skills. I don’t know if he’s a better defensive player than Wise but the difference isn’t worth arguing about. Dickerson can handle all three outfield spots with aplomb as well as contribute offensively with his bat and legs. The Yankees don’t have to play him every day in a straight platoon, but they could run him out there three times a week against righties while keeping Ibanez in the DH role. Cutting Wise in favor of Dickerson — who is out of minor league options and would have be waived whenever Gardner is healthy — is an upgrade in almost every single way.
Joe and I talked about this option on yesterday’s podcast. The idea would be to dump Wise, keep playing Ibanez in left, and use Branyan as the regular DH against right-handers. He’s come back very well from his back injury — six homers in 13 minor league games already — but it’s tough to consider him anything more than a first baseman/DH option. Branyan’s days of even faking third base and the corner outfield are a thing of the past. Adding a huge left-handed power bat lineup is obviously desirable, but it would leave the Yankees without a true backup center fielder and further limit roster flexibility.
I suppose it’s also worth mentioning Jack Cust here, who is also raking in Triple-A but has yet to play a single game in the field. It’s been DH or the bench. At least Branyan has played first base pretty much every game.
The most interesting 27-year-old in the minor league system, Mustelier has been hitting non-stop since signing last summer and he’s now doing it at the Triple-A level. Joe Girardi raved about his bat speed recently and said his name has come up as a call-up candidate at various points this year … but that’s pretty much all we know about the guy. He’s small — listed at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs. — and right-handed with phenomenal numbers, but we don’t know anything about his defensive skills or speed or anything else. Box scores only tell you so much. Mustelier has spent a ton of time in left field and also has experience in the infield, so his versatility as a plus. He’s not an ideal platoon candidate given his right-handedness, but he could also hit enough that it doesn’t even matter.
This one probably won’t happen for a number of reasons. For one, Nunez is currently on the minor league DL with a thumb issue. For another, the Yankees sent him to Triple-A to focus on one position after bouncing him all around the field over the last year or so. Calling Nunez back up to do anything — utility infielder, platoon left fielder, etc. — would go against that plan. That doesn’t mean it’s not an option, just that it seems unlikely. That said, we can’t rule anything out. Whenever Nunez gets healthy — probably soon since he was taking grounders just last week — he figures to at least be on the call-up radar.
As always, the top minor league affiliate is chock full of random call-up options. Brandon Laird is on the 40-man roster and can play all four corner spots, but he can’t hit — .251/.289/.393 in 870 total plate appearances in Triple-A. Corban Joseph has zero outfield experience so he’s of no use in this situation despite being on the 40-man. Colin Curtis is a solid enough defensive player and can play all three outfield spots, but he’s never been much with the stick. Kevin Russo can play all over the field and make some contact, but otherwise isn’t any kind of upgrade. Neither he nor Curtis is on the 40-man roster as well. Not much to see here.
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Of course, the Yankees always have the option of doing nothing and sticking with their current setup. Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix could continue to take turns in left field while Wise gets nothing more than the occasional spot start. That’s fine for two weeks or whatever, but I’d rather not see them roll with it for an extended period of time. It’s already been long enough as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, stuff is like this begging for a poll, so…
I can’t imagine many Yankees fans look back fondly on the Cody Ransom era. He was a late-season call-up in 2008, hit two homers and two doubles in his first four at-bats in pinstripes, then failed spectacularly in 2009 after getting a chance to replace the injured Alex Rodriguez on an everyday basis. Overall, Ransom posted a 97 wRC+ in 137 plate appearances for New York despite being declared a better fit for the team than A-Rod. It was a crazy time.
The now 36-year-old Ransom is back on the market after being designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks earlier this week. He hit four homers and put together a 148 wRC+ in 58 plate appearances for Arizona before getting the axe in favor of the younger Josh Bell. The Yankees are stuck with Jayson Nix as their utility infielder at the moment because Eduardo Nunez had to be sent to Triple-A for defensive incompetence, but Nix isn’t anything to write home about himself. There’s actually some merit to bringing Ransom back for an encore.
Since both guys are classic Quad-A types, we’re talking about a marginal upgrade at the 24th or 25th roster spot. Ransom has performed better in limited big league time (90 vs. 71 wRC+) and the two guys have nearly identical Triple-A track records, though Cody offers a little more power (.183 vs. 164 ISO) and on-base ability (8.8 vs. 7.6 BB%). The biggest difference between the two probably comes on defense, as Ransom is a true shortstop capable of playing the position for weeks at a time if need be. You can’t say the same about Nix, though he has the advantage of being able to play the corner outfield spots.
Anyway, I don’t want to waste too much time talking about a move that would be largely inconsequential. Ransom is not a guy you want in the lineup on an everyday basis but like Nix, he has a skillset suited for a big league bench. It’s just that Ransom’s skillset might be a better fit for the Yankees even though he’s seven years old than Nix and has already had one forgettable stint in pinstripes. Claiming him off waivers and dumping Nix would be a justifiable move but hardly a season-saver. If they pass, well that’s no big deal either.
The Yankees have a bit of an outfield problem at the moment. Brett Gardner has been on the DL for nearly two weeks with a bone bruise and a right elbow strain, and yesterday Nick Swisher joined him in the infirmary with a low-grade left hamstring strain. The early word is that it will keep him on the shelf for “more than a few days” but not long enough to require a DL stint. It’s one of those in-between injuries, one that really throws a wrench into the current roster situation.
At the moment, the starting outfield is Curtis Granderson in center with Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones flanking him in the corners. The fourth outfielder is Eduardo Nunez by default, and he has 18.1 career innings in the outfield. The Yankees are left with a two-man bench for the time being, and one of the two is the backup catcher. Unless they unexpectedly release Freddy Garcia or demote the recently recalled D.J. Mitchell, there’s no obvious candidate on the pitching staff to go to Triple-A in favor of an extra position player.
“We won’t (add an outfielder) before tomorrow,” said Joe Girardi after yesterday’s game. “We’ll see how it goes. Gardy’s eligible to come back on Thursday. We’ll see how that goes. We could try to go through (without a call-up until then). We’ll see what happens and go from there.”
Gardner has swung in the cage in each of the last two days and could take batting practice as soon as today. I don’t know if a minor league rehab stint is necessary after such a short layoff, but basically everything has to go right between now and Thursday for the Yankees to get him back into the outfield after the minimum 15 days. It’s certainly possible, but planning for the best case scenario never seems like a smart thing to do.
If Swisher’s injury truly doesn’t require a DL stint, the best roster solution probably involves placing Garcia on the DL. They’re not going to release him after four starts, and frankly the Yankees should hold onto whatever pitching depth they have at the moment. Girardi did suggest that Freddy could be sent for medical tests following Saturday’s game due to his relative lack of velocity, and that alone would give them a reason to put him on the shelf. The Yankees could keep Garcia in the organization, keep Mitchell’s fresh arm in the bullpen, and keep Swisher off the DL while adding an extra position player to the roster. It’s a win-win (-win-win).
Having both Ibanez and Jones in the outfield at the same time for the next few days will bring back memories of the defensive disaster years when Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon roamed the corner outfield spots in the Bronx. It won’t be pretty, but hopefully it’s only temporary. Even if it is, the Yankees would really be rolling the dice with a two-man bench until Gardner comes off the DL. Brandon Laird makes sense as a temporary reinforcement since he’s already on the 40-man roster, can play both the infield and outfield corners, and can easily be optioned down later in the week. It’s just a matter of being willing to clear a 25-man roster spot.
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.