Brian Cashman on starting Greg Bird in Triple-A: “That’s the optimal”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

I wouldn’t call it a problem, but one of the biggest questions heading into the 2016 season is how Greg Bird fits the roster. The Yankees have Mark Teixeira at first base, Alex Rodriguez at DH, and another DH candidate in Carlos Beltran. Bird is a first baseman (and DH) only, and his lack of versatility doesn’t fit the bench.

“That’s the optimal,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff and Bryan Hoch when asked about Bird starting next season in Triple-A. “Not for Bird, but optimally period, that would be the best. Currently, Tex is the better player … If Alex went down, we could swing Carlos over from right field to DH … Currently (Bird is) blocked by some pretty significant players. It creates a great dynamic.”

That is basically CashmanSpeak for “we just have to wait for Teixeira or A-Rod to get hurt.” He can’t come out and say it, but I’m sure that’s what the Yankees are thinking. Stash Bird in Triple-A for a few weeks, let him work mostly on his defense, then call him up when the need inevitably rises. Teixeira and Rodriguez aren’t all that durable these days, after all.

Bird, 23, hit .291/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 46 games with the Yankees this past season after taking over at first base following Teixeira injury. He really struggled against lefties in September and was passable at first base, but not an asset. Bird is very clearly the heir apparent to Teixeira, whose eight-year contract expires next winter.

Like I said, this isn’t a problem. Have too many good players is a good thing. Stashing Bird in Triple-A is a short-term measure, that’s all. It’s temporary. We’ll see him again at some point next year. It’s inevitable.

Finding a way to create flexibility will be key to offseason for the Yankees


The 2015-16 offseason is now underway, but things really won’t get going until Saturday, when free agents can start signing with new teams. Even then the first few days and weeks of free agency can be slow. Like the regular season, the offseason is a marathon, not a sprint.

Once the offseason really gets moving, the Yankees will look for ways to improve despite limited maneuverability, both in terms of the roster and payroll. The payroll could always increase — these are the Yankees after all, they might has well have a money printing room in the basement of Yankee Stadium — but Hal Steinbrenner has been hesitant to give the thumbs up. That’s another topic for another time, I guess.

Roster flexibility is a different matter. Roster spots are finite. You’ve got your 25-man active roster and 15 reserve players on the 40-man roster. That’s it. For the Yankees, eleven of those 25-man roster spots are already accounted for thanks to guaranteed contracts. Add in arbitration-eligible players and it’s 18 spots. Then add in the no-brainer pre-arbitration guys and it’s 21 spots. Here’s the roster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Brian McCann Mark Teixeira Brett Gardner CC Sabathia Andrew Miller
Dustin Ackley Jacoby Ellsbury Masahiro Tanaka Dellin Betances
DH Didi Gregorius Carlos Beltran Michael Pineda Justin Wilson
Alex Rodriguez Chase Headley Nathan Eovaldi Adam Warren
Luis Severino Ivan Nova
John Ryan Murphy ? ?
Brendan Ryan ?

Four open spots: two pitchers and two position players. With Warren and Nova in the bullpen — at least for this exercise — the Yankees have rotation depth in case someone gets hurt or unexpectedly falls apart. So those last two pitching spots don’t really come with defined roles. The closer is set, the setup guys are in place, the long men are there. They need two middle relievers, basically. The more dominant the better.

The position player spots are where it gets interesting because the Yankees need a backup outfielder and they need to find a way to better rest their veteran players. That will be easier said than done given the lack of versatility. Here are some possible ways to improve things.

Give Alex A Glove

The Yankees were very hesitant to play A-Rod in the field this year — he didn’t play the field at all after May 23rd and didn’t play a full inning in the field after May 5th — and I get it. He’s over 40, he’s got two surgically repaired hips, he’s not very mobile anymore. All good and valid reasons to keep him at DH.

That said, I think the Yankees should have him work out at first base a little more often next year. (Forget third base, that’s not happening at this point.) Not regularly, but maybe once every ten games? That frees up the DH spot for someone else and adds more flexibility. It’s not much, but it’s something. Alex is crazy good at this baseball thing. Give him time at first in Spring Training and he’ll pick it up.

Joe Girardi has already talked about finding a way to keep his veteran players fresh next year, and that includes A-Rod, who faded in the second half. He played 151 games this season and started 138. Maybe the magic number next year is 120 starts. Is there any chance it could be 105 at DH and 15 at first? That’s not too much to ask.

Put JRM Back On The Infield, Sometimes


The infield is not unfamiliar territory for Murphy. He played third base in high school before converting to catcher full-time after being drafted, and he played 14 games at third in the minors as well. The Yankees had him work out at first base late this year and Murphy routinely takes ground balls at third base before games, though most players work out at other positions in batting practice.

Murphy’s long-term value is greatest at catcher. Put him at another position full-time and he’s just another guy. The Yankees don’t need him to play another position full-time, however. They could just use him for spot start duty at either first or third base. Position changes are usually far-fetched, especially when they involve catchers, but the Yankees did have Murphy spend time getting familiar with first base this season, so it’s at least crossed their mind. He’s athletic enough and it’s a way to get him some more at-bats.

Put Refsnyder Back In The Outfield, Sometimes

To me, this is less realistic than putting Murphy at first or third base. Murphy’s a good defensive catcher. Refsnyder is a bad defensive second baseman who needs more reps there. Any time he spends in the outfield — as you know, Refsnyder was an outfielder in college before the Yankees moved him to second base — is time he could be spending at second base, where he needs work and is ultimately most valuable. Is putting Refsnyder in the outfield an option? Yeah. Of course. It’s an idea to kick around. I’m not sure having Refsnyder spend time in the outfield is best for his development at second base though.

Get A True Utility Man

The “go outside the organization” option. The Yankees could bring a true utility player type. They could go high-end (Ben Zobrist), mid-range (Martin Prado), or low-end (Mike Aviles). All three of those guys can play both the infield and outfield. And unlike Ackley, they can play the left side of the infield. (Ackley’s arm has been terrible since he had Tommy John surgery in college. Shortstop or third base ain’t happenin’.)

Zobrist or Prado would not necessarily be a bench player, they’d almost be like the tenth position player, capable of playing in a different spot depending on who needs rest. Aviles is not someone you want to give much playing time, so he’d be a Ryan replacement more than anything. Neither can hit and Ryan is the better defender, but he can’t play all three outfield spots like Aviles. You’d being trading some defensive competence for versatility, a trade that may or may not be worth making.

More than anything, the Yankees need to figure out a way to get their players more rest, whether that’s full days off or half-days as the DH. This past season they had no real backup third baseman and the DH spot was unavailable because of A-Rod. With limited roster flexibility, both in terms of players under contract and available roster spots, the Yankees will have to get creative.

Stephen Drew quickly emerges as backup third baseman as Yankees look for ways to keep A-Rod in the lineup


Even prior to last season’s suspension, staying on the field has been a bit of a problem for Alex Rodriguez later in his career. He played 664 of 972 possible games from 2008-13 — he hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2007 — due to a variety of injuries, ranging from the very minor (pulled calf in 2010) to the very major (hip surgery in 2009 and 2013).

The Yankees and Joe Girardi have limited A-Rod to mostly DH duty this season — he’s started 27 games at DH, two at third base, and one at first — knowing his 40th birthday is two months away and those two hip surgeries are not far in the rear-view mirror. And yet, Rodriguez is still dealing with a minor hamstring issue, suffered when he legged out that triple over the weekend. His bat is too valuable and they have to do what they can to keep him healthy.

So, in an effort to keep A-Rod in the lineup, he is no longer being considered Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. Stephen Drew spent some time working out at the hot corner in recent days and was thrown into the fire last night, getting the start at the hot corner. Girardi confirmed this is all because they’re looking to scale back Rodriguez’s time in the field. “We’re just thinking of keeping him at DH mostly,” said the skipper to Mark Feinsand.

Drew had never played third base as a pro before last night but didn’t seem too concerned about manning the hot corner — “I’ll be fine. You’ve got to do it sometime, right?” he said to Feinsand — after all, he had never played second base until the Yankees ran him out there last summer. He spent a few days taking ground balls at third and wasn’t really tested last night. Had one kinda sorta tough play. That was it.

Didi Gregorius played ten innings at third base last year, his only time at the hot corner in his career, but I understand why the Yankees didn’t try him at third. He’s settled in nicely at shortstop after a rocky start and he could possibly be a long-term solution there. Drew’s the guy you move around, the guy on a one-year contract trying to hang on. Jose Pirela, the other third base candidate on the roster, has played only 14 career minor league games at third.

There’s nothing wrong with having Drew or anyone else take ground balls at third base before games — guys work out at other positions all the time — though it was a surprise to see him start a game at the position so soon. The real issue is A-Rod’s lack of flexibility. He’s hitting very well, so the Yankees want him in the lineup every day, but the only real way to do that is by keeping him at DH. That means fewer DH days for the defensively challenged and also old Carlos Beltran, for Brian McCann, for everyone.

Only a handful of teams have full-time DHs these days. It’s basically just the Yankees, Red Sox (David Ortiz), Tigers (Victor Martinez), Athletics (Billy Butler), and Royals (Kendrys Morales). Everyone else uses a rotating DH and MLB seems to be moving in that direction. The Yankees did it the last three or four years in fact. They can’t do it now because of A-Rod, and now his apparently inability to play third even part-time gives Girardi even less maneuverability.

That said, if eliminating Rodriguez’s time in the field is the best way to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis, then that’s what they have to do. A-Rod has very quickly re-established himself as a core piece of the offense. If using Drew at third base is the best way to keep Alex healthy and in the lineup, so be it.

Hot starts by A-Rod and Chris Young have left little playing time for Garrett Jones

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

The Yankees had been after Garrett Jones for quite a while before landing him this offseason in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade. They first tried to get him in the A.J. Burnett trade a few years ago, at least as far as we know. Given his left-handed pull power and the ability to play first base as well as right field, Jones sure seemed like a good fit for the roster this year. The Yankees needed protection at those two positions as well as DH.

Instead of being that part-time first baseman, part-time right fielder, part-time DH against righties this year, the 33-year-old Jones has been limited to 34 unproductive plate appearances in the team’s first 27 games. He’s started just seven of the 27 games — two in right, two at first, and three at DH. Jones is currently in an 0-for-15 slump and has hit .152/.176/.242 (9 wRC+) with no homers so far this year. His defense hasn’t been anything special but that was always the case.

The lack of playing time is only partly due to the ugly batting line. Both Alex Rodriguez and Chris Young are off to very good starts and are stealing at-bats from Jones, so to speak. No one expected A-Rod to be this productive this soon. We all figured Jones would get a fair amount of DH at-bats coming into the season. And whenever someone in the outfield has needed a day off, Young has stepped in because he’s tearing the cover off the ball, even against righties.

The leaves Jones almost as a man without a role. He’s not seeing much time in the outfield, isn’t seeing much time at DH, and Mark Teixeira‘s combination of good health and lots of dingers has kept Jones from playing first base as well. There’s just no way to squeeze him into the lineup right now, and his lack of production is only going to make it easier for Joe Girardi to avoid using him going forward. Jones is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Jones averaged 527 plate appearances per season from 2010-14 and never came to the plate fewer than 440 times. He’s on pace for 204 plate appearances this year, so his playing time has been more than cut in half, and it’s hard to be a bench player after playing everyday your entire career. This is a chicken or the egg thing — is Jones not producing because he isn’t playing, or is he not playing because he isn’t producing? It’s probably some of both. He’s the position player version of David Carpenter, basically.

I’m not saying Jones should play more. I just don’t think he’s turned into a true talent 9 wRC+ (!) hitter in an offseason and my guess is the lack of regular playing time is at least partially to blame. It’s hard to stay sharp when you play this infrequently. Extra batting practice and time in the cage only does so much. Live pitching is a different animal. A-Rod and Young (and Teixeira) have been too good to take out of the lineup and the Yankees should milk those hot starts for all they’re worth.

Jones is stuck in an unfortunate spot right now, and, aside from an injury, I’m not sure there is any way to get him the playing time he maybe needs to be a productive part-time player. I don’t think the Yankees should replace him, at least not yet, and even if they were going to replace him, who’s a better option? It’s not like the next guy is going to play much. Calling up Slade Heathcott or Ramon Flores to play once a week is a waste. For the time being the Yankees should ride it out with Jones and hope he figures out a way to be a productive yet seldom-used bench player.

Three small, easy moves the Yankees can make to improve the margins of the roster

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Even with last night’s disappointing come-from-ahead loss to the Blue Jays, the Yankees have won 13 of their last 17 games, and they’ve played well in just about all phases of the game. Not truly great but good enough. They’re getting just enough offense and just enough starting pitching to support a strong team defense and a dominant bullpen.

The Yankees are not without their flaws, of course. The bottom of the order is mostly unproductive, like half the roster is at risk of physically breaking down in any given game, and some of the spare part players are providing little help. Garrett Jones failing to make that scoop in the eighth inning last night is a prime example. It was a tough play but one that has to be made.

The trade deadline is still several weeks away and the Yankees are unlikely to make a major roster move anytime soon. By major I mean adding a new everyday player to the lineup or a new starter to the rotation. (Chris Capuano is two weeks away from returning. That’s about as big as it’ll get until July.) The Yankees do have the ability to make some small upgrades to the margins of the roster though, and they don’t even have to go outside the organization to do it. Here are three that jump to mind.

Swap Petit For Pirela

This one is really straight forward. The Yankees were planning to call up Jose Pirela last Wednesday before Masahiro Tanaka got hurt and threw a wrench into things. Tanaka’s injury allowed the team to recall Gregorio Petit one day after sending him down and extend Pirela’s rehab assignment, which was actually a good thing because Pirela himself told Dan Pfeiffer he didn’t feel his swing was all the way back just yet.

Pirela went 0-for-11 with three strikeouts in his first three rehab games before the Tanaka injury and has gone 12-for-22 (.545) with five doubles, one homer, two walks, and no strikeouts in five games since. I suppose that doesn’t necessarily mean he feels his swing is back to where it needs to be, but yeah. It sure seems like Pirela back on track after missing close to a month with the concussion.

For whatever reason Joe Girardi considers Petit a legitimate platoon option — he pinch-hit with two outs in the ninth inning last night! — but he’s not that type of player. Petit’s not much of a hitter at all. He’s been in pro ball since 2003 and has never really hit. No reason expect it to happen now unless he’s made a sacrifice to the BABIP gods. Pirela’s defense is not on par with Petit’s but his offense figures to be so far superior.

Petit surprisingly has an option left and that’s good. He’s worth stashing in Triple-A as middle infield depth since Brendan Ryan can’t even rehab one injury without hurting something else. This is a very simple move. Send down Petit, activate Pirela off the disabled list, and platoon him with Stephen Drew at second. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Swap Shreve Or Martin For Lindgren

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

I am going to die on the Jacob Lindgren hill this summer, aren’t I? New York’s top draft pick last year has struck out 14 of 50 batters faced in Triple-A and 24 of the 30 balls he’s allowed to be put in play have been ground balls. His career numbers are even better — 40.3% strikeouts and 80.6% grounders in 35 innings. Total domination from a quick moving college reliever.

The Yankees have played a lot of close games lately and both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been worked hard. Betances pitched for the sixth time in the last nine games last night and Miller has appeared in five of nine. This is just one of those stretches where they’ve been needed a lot — at some point later this season they’ll go five or six days between appearances, that’s baseball — so anything the Yankees can do to make their lives easier, they should.

Last night Girardi turned to Chris Martin in the eighth inning and that didn’t work — he got one out and allowed two hits. That’s after nearly allowing a homer to Mookie Betts over the weekend. Furthermore, Chasen Shreve seems to be the quintessential “last guy in the bullpen.” He’s pitched in either mop-up spots or extra innings. These two have done nice work overall this year, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again: you don’t let guys like that block someone like Lindgren.

The Yankees didn’t select Lindgren with their top pick last year because they think he’s a middle reliever. They believe he’s an impact reliever, and there’s no such thing as too many impact relievers. Betances and Miller are unbelievable. Betances, Miller, and Lindgren might be even better. Or it might not! At some point you have to find out, right? Lindgren’s a possible late-inning weapon. Martin and Shreve are the bullpen flavors of the week. Send down one, call up Lindgren, and let’s see what he’s got to offer.


Give Carpenter More Responsibility

This David Carpenter thing is crazy, isn’t it? It certainly appears Girardi does not trust him, possibly because of that big meltdown in Baltimore a few weeks ago. Carpenter threw one pitch in the Red Sox series and that was only because the bullpen was short-handed and Girardi had no choice to use him. Carpenter’s thrown six innings in the last 22 games and 3.2 of those six innings came with the Yankees up by at least six runs.

Games like last night are pretty much the exact situation I had in mind when the Yankees acquired Carpenter. Starter goes seven innings, one of Miller or Betances isn’t available, so Carpenter is the guy to pick up the slack. That’s basically what he did for the Braves the last two years, when he had a 2.63 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 126.2 innings. Isn’t that the kind of pitcher who deserves a longer leash than one meltdown before being banished to the far corner of the bullpen?

Girardi is usually really good with his bullpen usage and decisions, I mean really really good, yet Carpenter has fallen out of favor for whatever reason. I really don’t understand it. With Betances and Miller overworked, this is the time to show a little more faith in the right-hander in high-leverage spots. At least more faith than Martin. Carpenter’s pitched in late-inning situations before and he’s capable of doing it again. He just needs the opportunity. There’s no reason to hide him.

* * *

These aren’t major moves and no, they’re unlikely to have a big impact. They are potential upgrades though, potential upgrades with minimal downside. Swap Petit for Pirela and work Lindgren and Carpenter into the late-inning mix ahead of Martin and Shreve. Nothing crazy here. These are three easy-to-make moves — really two moves and one role change — and three possible upgrades that could help the Yankees sustain this recent hot stretch a little longer.

Chris Young, Garrett Jones give the Yankees the power off the bench they’ve lacked since 2012


From 2013-14, the Yankees hardly qualified as the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees had their worst set of back-to-back offensive seasons since the early-1990s and a shortage of power was a main culprit. The team hit 200+ homers 12 times in 13 years from 2000-12 — including a franchise record 245 homers in 2012 — before falling to 144 homers in 2013 and 147 homers in 2014. The 101-homer drop from 2012-13 is the largest from one year to the next in baseball history.

The lack of power stemmed from a little of everything — injuries, roster construction, age, you name it. Mark Teixeira missed just about the entire 2013 season and Curtis Granderson was limited to only 61 games in 2013, for example. Ichiro Suzuki became a regular, Chris Stewart spent a year as the starting catcher, Robinson Cano left as a free agent, Alfonso Soriano went from great to done in an offseason, Alex Rodriguez was suspended … the decline in a power was the result of many things.

As much as the starting lineup was hurting for power the last two years, the bench provided no help whatsoever. The projected bench heading into last season was Frankie Cervelli, Ichiro, Brendan Ryan, and Eduardo Nunez, who lost the job to Yangervis Solarte in Spring Training. Those four combined to hit nine homers — six by Solarte — in 960 plate appearances in 2014. The 2012 projected bench (Stewart, Jayson Nix, Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch) hit only eleven homers in 746 plate appearances.

Power off the bench just wasn’t a thing the Yankees had on the roster the last two seasons after carrying players like Andruw Jones (27 HR in 491 PA from 2011-12), Eric Chavez (18 HR in 488 PA from 2011-12), Marcus Thames (12 HR in 237 PA in 2010), and Eric Hinske (7 HR in 98 PA in 2009) as reserve players in recent years. Go back to the late-1990s and the Yankees always had guys like Darryl Strawberry, Shane Spencer, Jim Leyritz, and Ruben Sierra on the roster. Someone who could come off the bench and be a threat to hit the ball out of the park.

After those two powerless years from 2013-14, the Yankees brought in some bench pop this offseason in Chris Young and Garrett Jones, who have already contributed four homers (all by Young) and ten extra-base hits off the bench through 14 games. Jones has yet to go deep but it’s only a matter of time until that happens as a lefty pull hitter playing his home games in Yankee Stadium. He’s shown throughout his career that he can hit the ball out of park. Young has been excellent since arriving in New York last September and has filled in more than capably when Brett Gardner (wrist) and Carlos Beltran (illness) missed time last week.

Young and Jones have both contributed off the bench in the early going but I don’t think that means they should get more playing time. Both are the type of player who would get exposed with more at-bats at this point of their careers. They have holes in their swings, can swing-and-miss with the best of ’em, and they do their very best work against fastballs. Give them more playing time and we’ll go from liking their contributions off the bench to wanting them out of the lineup in a hurry. They’re not regulars at this point of their careers.

So far in the early going, Young in particular has served the Yankees very well in his role as fourth outfielder. He’s hit and hit for power, something the team hasn’t gotten off the bench in recent years. Jones hasn’t had much of a chance to play yet, though he already has a three-hit game to his credit and has played first base as well as right field. After two years of getting little offense from their reserve players, Young and Jones have given the Yankees some nice early returns and have added an element of power off the bench the team sorely lacked from 2013-14.

Latest roster cuts clarify Opening Day bullpen and bench pictures

Whitley. (Presswire)

The Yankees announced their latest round of roster cuts earlier today, optioning Chase Whitley to Triple-A Scranton and reassigning non-roster invitees Rob Refsnyder, Nick Noonan, and Eddy Rodriguez to minor league camp. By my count there are still 32 players in big league camp, four of whom are injured (Brendan Ryan, Chris Capuano, Ivan Nova, Vicente Campos).

Today’s roster cuts clarify if not finalize the Opening Day bullpen and bench pictures. Whitley was one of four candidates left for the final two bullpen spots along with Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve, and Chris Martin. Bailey told Mark Feinsand today he will stay behind when the team heads north tomorrow and continue working his way back from shoulder surgery with High-A Tampa when the minor league season begins. That leaves Shreve and Martin for the last two bullpen spots.

Ryan’s calf injury opened up the backup infielder’s spot, and while Joe Girardi hinted at Refsnyder being a candidate for the job, his reassignment to minor league camp today confirms he won’t make the team. Same with Noonan. Fellow reserve infielder candidate Cole Figueroa was sent to minor league camp last week, leaving the recently acquired Gregorio Petit as the front-runner for the backup infielder’s job. That makes sense, he can play defense all around the infield (unlike Refsnyder) and is right-handed hitter (unlike Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Noonan, and Figueroa).

I’m very surprised Whitley was sent down. He’s pitched very well in camp. I guess the Yankees feel Whitley is more valuable as the sixth starter in Triple-A than as the second long man in MLB. The backup infielder situation is whatever. As I said this morning, sitting on bench does Refsnyder no good, and picking between Petit, Noonan, and Figueroa is a toss-up. There’s no right or wrong answer. There’s just an answer, and it appears the answer is Petit.

Adam Warren has officially been named the fifth starter, and with Shreve, Martin, and Petit now looking like safe bets for the Opening Day roster, the only position battle left in camp is for the backup catcher’s job. All signs from the last 12 months point to John Ryan Murphy being the guy, but Austin Romine is out of minor league options and Brian Cashman admitted that will play a role in the decision. We’ll see.