Archive for Bench
Thanks to the magic of interleague play, the Yankees will play their next three games under National League rules. They open a three-game set with the Rockies in Coors Field later tonight, which means pitchers hitting and bunts and double switches and all sorts of other stuff we never see in the so-called Junior Circuit. It gets passed off as “strategy,” but whatever. Most of the moves are no-brainers that require no real thought.
Anyway, because the Yankees will be in an NL park, they’re going to use their non-starting players more than usual these next three games. Someone like Brennan Boesch will go from rarely-used backup outfielder to important lefty pinch-hitter. Vidal Nuno, the last man in the bullpen, could become a matchup lefty or middle innings guy depending on how the ballpark treats the team’s pitchers. Unfortunately, some nagging injuries might leave the Yankees in a bit of a roster bind.
For starters, Eduardo Nunez is day-to-day with what the team called left ribcage irritation. I think that means an oblique problem, and we all know how tricky those can me. Joe Girardi has already acknowledged his starting shortstop is unlikely to be healthy enough in time for the series opener tonight, so the Yankees will be a position player short. That means they don’t have a backup for Jayson Nix and Chris Nelson, will be are short a pinch-hitter, don’t have an obvious pinch-runner … losing a position player in an NL park hurts.
Secondly, David Robertson is still a question mark for tonight due to his left hamstring trouble. He played catch in New York over the weekend and will give it another try this afternoon, and if that goes well he’ll throw a little in the bullpen. If the bullpen goes well, he’ll be available in the game. If not, Girardi will again be short his best non-Mariano Rivera reliever and only have six pitchers in the bullpen. That might not be such a big deal tonight coming off the off-day, but it will be a problem if Robertson still isn’t available come Wednesday or Thursday.
On top of that, Travis Hafner is close to a dead roster spot. He can’t play the field at all, so for these next three games he’ll be a strategic left-handed pinch-hitter and nothing more. That’s an awesome bat to have on the bench for big situations, but it leaves the Yankees short another position player. With Nunez banged up and Hafner unplayable in the field, the Yankees could be heading to Colorado with a three-man bench of Boesch, Ben Francisco, and Austin Romine. It’s a short-term thing, but it still stinks.
Hopefully Nunez’s ribcage and Robertson’s hamstring will feel better tonight and the Yankees can move forward will a full roster. They’re missing a ton of players as it is, but at least players on the DL can be replaced. These guys who are day-to-day with nagging injuries can’t be replaced, so the team has to play shorthanded until they’re ready to go. That’s not a big deal in AL parks thanks to the DH, but in the NL, where pinch-hitters and the like are imperative, it’s a big disadvantage. The Yankees have a bit of a roster mess heading into this series against the Rockies.
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Previewing the bench will not be easy because we still — four days before Opening Day — have basically no idea who will fill these four spots. Sure, either Frankie Cervelli or Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher, but we don’t know which one yet. I’m guessing Joe Girardi has some kind of convoluted personal catcher situation planned; I feel like having two backup catchers on the roster is his managerial dream.
As for the backup outfield and infield spots … who knows right now? There are a lot of candidates for a few spots and the Yankees continue to look outside the organization for help. Given their massive 40-man roster logjam, a multi-player trade shouldn’t be ruled out at this point either.
It’ll be either Stewart or Cervelli and the Yankees have indicated a pretty even playing time split (maybe more like 60/40), I think it’ll only be a matter of time before Frankie grabs the job outright. His throwing has been greatly improved and he’s a far better hitter (but still nothing special), the two things that stand out most about a catcher. If they start the year with a 55/45 or 60/40 split, I think sometime in mid-May it’ll be slanted about 75/25 in favor of Cervelli. The Yankees love Stewart but they love winning more, and playing a guy with a legit chance to post a .200s across the board slash line will only last so long given how much offense they lost elsewhere.
Derek Jeter‘s nagging ankle issues cleared up the backup infield situation quite a bit. Eduardo Nunez will open the season as the starter and that paves the way for Jayson Nix to make the team as his backup. There really isn’t much competition for this spot — veteran Gil Velazquez is the only other guy in camp who could play a passable shortstop at the big league level. Again, we shouldn’t rule out a trade, but Nix seems like a lock for a bench spot right now.
The real question is whether the Yankees want to carry two backup infielders like they have the last two years, Nix and a corner infield guy like Eric Chavez. The only real candidates for that Chavez role are Dan Johnson — who seems to have little chance of making the team at this point — and Ronnie Mustelier. The 28-year-old Cuban defector has had a good spring — mostly against Triple-A caliber pitching according to B-Ref’s OppQual stat — and has seen a bunch of time at third base lately, so he’s at least earning consideration from the team. I guess we shouldn’t rule about a two-headed first base platoon with Juan Rivera and Lyle Overbay, which would soak up that second infielder’s spot.
Assuming Vernon Wells is penciled in as the everyday left fielder, the fourth outfielder’s spot is down to Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, and I guess Mustelier. Depending on whether they take a second backup infielder, it’s possible two of these guys will make the team. Mustelier makes the most sense really, since he could backup both the corner infield and corner outfield spots.
Boesch and Francisco presumably have a leg up on Mesa and Neal given their big league experience, and again, both could make the team. The Yankees were planning to open the season with three left-handed outfielders and a right-handed backup, and Boesch would give them that third lefty. He also has minor league options remaining and could be stashed in Triple-A. I’m not sure if Francisco has an out clause in his contract before the end of Spring Training, so sending him to the minors might not be an option. The Yankees will want to retain as much depth as possible given their rash of injuries.
Knocking on the Door
In addition to the guys mentioned above — Velazquez, Johnson, Mesa, Neal, etc. — the Yankees will have a handful of other bench options waiting in Triple-A Scranton. That is what the level is there for, after all. Austin Romine is the clear third catcher but would probably need an injury to earn a shot in the big leagues. He’s missed a lot of time these last two years with back problems and needs to play everyday.
Corban Joseph gives the team depth at second and third bases, though they had more before releasing David Adams yesterday. Zoilo Almonte is another warm body for the outfield mix, but he has never played above Double-A and will need some Triple-A time before coming to the show. He’s pretty much at the bottom of the outfield depth chart at the moment. Pretty much anyone who doesn’t win a bench spot will open the year in Triple-A as a backup plan. That’s who’s knocking on the door.
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My opinion changes by the day/hour, but if the season started today I believe the Yankees would go with a four-man bench of Stewvelli, Nix, Mustelier, and Boesch with Francisco & Co. heading to Triple-A for the time being. The club could play finagle Phil Hughes‘ expected DL stint into a fifth bench player — Francisco would be the guy for that one, I assume — for the first few games of the season, but I don’t see that happening.
That four-man bench pretty much stinks. There is no speed to pinch-run — that would have been Nunez’s job before he forced into playing short everyday — and basically no versatility outside of Nix. Carrying Mesa over Boesch would address the speed issue while Mustelier is the only one who could offer real versatility. Barring an unexpected trade(s) these next few days, the bench figures to be a work in progress pretty much all season.
The Yankees acquired Vernon Wells from the Angels yesterday — begrudgingly, I’m sure — a move that helped clear up some of the roster questions heading into the regular season. The right-handed Wells and left-handed Brennan Boesch will presumably share left field/fourth outfielder responsibilities with either Juan Rivera or the recently signed Lyle Overbay temporarily replacing Mark Teixeira at first base. A trade for a new first baseman shouldn’t be ruled out, but I don’t expect it. With Eduardo Nunez taking over for the injured Derek Jeter at short, Jayson Nix figures to make the team as the utility infielder.
Even though Wells, Boesch, Nunez, Nix, and either Rivera or Overbay are all expected to make the team now, the Yankees still have one bench spot and potentially two bullpen spots to figure out. Here’s the projected roster as of today, in case you don’t believe me:
|C Chris Stewart/Frankie Cervelli||C Stewvelli||CC Sabathia||Mariano Rivera|
|1B Rivera or Overbay||IF Nix||Hiroki Kuroda||David Robertson|
|2B Robinson Cano||OF Wells/Boesch||Andy Pettitte||Joba Chamberlain|
|SS Nunez||?||Ivan Nova||Boone Logan|
|3B Kevin Youkilis||David Phelps||David Aardsma|
|CF Brett Gardner||?|
|RF Ichiro Suzuki|
|DH Travis Hafner|
One of those bullpen ?s could disappear if Phil Hughes is able to avoid the DL to start the season, but that looks increasingly unlikely. He isn’t expected to miss much time anyway. Clay Rapada, on the other hand, will indeed start the season on the DL, ditto Jeter, Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Curtis Granderson.
Shawn Kelley, Cody Eppley, and the recently claimed Dan Otero are candidates for one of those vacant bullpen spots, and I assume Kelley is the front-runner because the other two have been Awful with a capital-A in camp. Left-hander Vidal Nuno is a consideration for the other open bullpen spot — “Still talking about it,” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings the other day. “Obviously Nuno has opened everybody’s eyes and taken a run at it, still trying to force his way on. We’ll go with one lefty, or we’ll go with two.” — and he’s been used in traditional LOOGY spots (lefty batter, middle of an inning, etc.) the last few times out.
Assuming one of those three 40-man relievers gets one of open bullpen spots, the Yankees will still need to open at least three (!) 40-man spots before the Opening Day: one for Rivera or Overbay, one for Nix, and one for whoever gets that fourth bench spot (Ben Francisco? Ronnie Mustelier?). Nuno could potentially make it four 40-man spots, but I suppose they could take Eppley or Otero or Kelley or even Adam Warren as a short-term bullpen arm until Hughes comes back. Opening up three and potentially four spots will be very, very difficult.
The Yankees released a perfectly good (but not great) prospect in David Adams yesterday to make room for Wells. Cesar Cabral, Michael Pineda, and A-Rod are already on the 60-day DL, and as Jennings notes the team can’t back-date 60-day DL stints. That means Granderson can’t be placed on the 60-day because he’s expected to return in early-May. Teixeira isn’t due back until late-May/early-June, but the Yankees will want to have the option of bringing him back as soon as possible and are unlikely to 60-day DL him at this point. Since Manny Banuelos was already optioned to Triple-A, they won’t call him back up and 60-day DL him. They’re choosing between burning one of Manny’s three option years or one of his three pre-arbitration years, and obviously the former is preferable.
The 40-man roster is cluttered with a lot of Adams-esque good but not great prospects, and those guys never stand out as obvious DFA candidates. The most obvious DFA targets are Eppley and/or Otero, but sacrificing MLB-ready (and optionable!) pitching depth might not be the best idea. One could go, but two would be pushing it. That could put someone like Corban Joseph, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, or even Dellin Betances on the chopping block. I’m sure the Yankees will scour the trade market before simply cutting any of those guys loose, but as we saw yesterday, sometimes push comes to shove. Hell, maybe they could package two of ‘em together for one big leaguer (utility infielder? lefty reliever?) and kill two birds with one stone.
Outside of cutting Eppley or Otero (likely Otero), I honestly have no idea how the Yankees will handle this need for 40-man spots. Maybe they’ll take the easy way out and send Nuno to Triple-A, filling out the bullpen with 40-man arms. Melky Mesa could fill that final bench spot and he’s already on the 40-man. Maybe Joseph or Almonte sneak onto the roster for a few days — even though they’ve already been optioned down — just to ease the 40-man headache. Either way, the Yankees are still going to need to open up two spots (Nix and Rivera/Overbay) and that won’t be easy. The roster is an absolute mess right now.
The Yankees showed up to camp last spring with the bench mostly set, but this year was a different story. None of the four bench spots were accounted for when position players reported last month — there were favorites for jobs, but nothing was close to set in stone — and right now the only guarantee is that either Chris Stewart or Frankie Cervelli will be the backup catcher while the other starts. The backup infielder, backup outfielder, and remaining bench spot are still undecided.
Less than two weeks before Opening Day, those three bench questions are joined by two injury-related questions in the starting lineup. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will be out until May, possibly longer in the case of the latter, meaning the Yankees must also sort through their assorted scraps for an outfielder and a first baseman. Thanks to some recent roster moves, these five position player questions are starting to be answered.
“There is no guarantee for anything … We will continue to evaluate these guys as we move forward,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings and Dan Martin after Matt Diaz was released over the weekend. “Maybe one piece is gone, but it’s still going to play out probably for the next two weeks … We just thought the other guys were ahead of him and to be fair to him to have a chance to [play] somewhere else.”
In addition to Diaz being released, youngsters like Slade Heathcott and Zoilo Almonte were sent to minor league camp and effective removed from the outfield competition. Juan Rivera has played an awful lot of first base lately in the wake of Teixeira’s injury — he’s played the outfield just once in the last eight Grapefruit League games — and seems to have been dropped from the outfield race. That leaves Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch, Melky Mesa, and Thomas Neal in the competition.
With all due respect to Neal, who has quietly had a nice camp, the other three guys stand out as prohibitive favorites. I think the Yankees consider the 27-year-old Boesch is the no-doubt replacement for Granderson — I think he would play right with Ichiro Suzuki shifting to left, putting the weaker defender in the smaller field — just because he’s left-handed and has played everyday the last three years. That said, Boesch signed a split contract and Buster Olney confirmed he has two (!) minor league options left, so he could be sent to Triple-A in a heartbeat. The fact that he’s the only left-handed hitter left in the competition leads me to believe he has a leg up on a big league roster spot come Opening Day.
That leaves Francisco and Mesa to battle it out for the right-handed outfield/DH role, and the Yankees always seem to lean towards the veteran when it comes to these part-time/reserve roles. Going with Francisco and sending Mesa to Triple-A allows the team to keep both players and frankly they could use the depth. Neither guy is like to hit much and while Melky2.0 is the better defender, Francisco is solid in the corner spots. Keeping him with Mesa in Triple-A is preferable to having Mesa in the show with no backup in the minors just in terms of having as many warm bodies as possible. Both guys will be needing over the course of the 162-game season.
Since the Yankees don’t need a fifth starter until their seventh game of the season and can backdate a DL stint ten days into Spring Training, they could have Phil Hughes start the season on the DL due to his back problem and carry an extra position player. Hughes would still be eligible to come off the DL in time for that seventh game, but the club would buy itself just a tiny bit more time to evaluate their position player options. It’s the difference between carrying both Rivera and Dan Johnson at the start of the season rather than just one or two. The Yankees only figure to see one left-handed starter in those first six games (Jon Lester on Opening Day), so having Johnson around would be helpful.
We still have no idea who the Yankees will carry north as the utility infielder, but Jayson Nix might have a leg up on Eduardo Nunez because of his versatility and defensive reliability. Going into the season with Boesch, Francisco, Rivera, and Johnson leaves the team just one spot for a utility man even if they open with Hughes on the DL. We know they’re just dying to use Nunez at short when Derek Jeter plays DH against lefties, but he hasn’t played any other position in camp. If they’re going to use him as the utility infielder, they’ll need to get him a few reps at second and third just to prepare him for the season.
With Diaz released and some others assigned to minor league camp, it looks more and more likely the Yankees will have both Boesch and Francisco on their Opening Day roster. Rivera and Johnson are the obvious first base fill-ins, but the club would need to manipulate Hughes’ injury — if they backdate his DL stint ten days, he can’t pitch in a Grapefruit League game during that time and will have to get his work in on the minor league side — to buy a temporary extra roster spot. The competition for the outfield, first base, and bench spots is still relatively wide open, but the picture is much clearer right now than it was just one week ago.
The Yankees downgraded their offense this offseason, most notably by allowing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin to sign elsewhere as free agents. The drop-off from those two guys to their 2013 replacements is in the neighborhood of two wins apiece, and that’s being generous to 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. It’s a lot of power and patience to replace, but the biggest offensive loss of the winter might not have even been an everyday player. Valuable part-timer Eric Chavez signed elsewhere as well.
All told, the 35-year-old Chavez produced a .281/.348/.496 (126 wRC+) line with 16 homers in 313 plate appearances for New York last summer. He played 64 games (50 starts) at third base thanks in part to Alex Rodriguez‘s hand injury, but he also managed 19 games at DH and another ten at first. Chavez made it easy to forget that he hit .263/.320/.356 (80 wRC+) with two homers in 175 plate appearances a year ago, when he was tolerable at best and easily replaceable at worst. To say his production was unexpected last year would be an understatement.
Chavez signed a one-year contract with the Diamondbacks during the Winter Meetings, taking a $3M guarantee to move closer to his Phoenix home. The Yankees had interest in retaining him, especially once news of A-Rod‘s hip injury broke, but ultimately the two sides did not have any substantive talks according to Ken Davidoff. Kevin Youkilis was signed to take over third base on a full-time basis, but the Bombers never did get around to finding a Chavez replacement. The closest they’ve come is Dan Johnson, a third baseman in theory who took a minor league deal.
Now here’s the thing: the Yankees were never getting Chavez back, at least not the Chavez they had last year. Even if they had outbid the D’Backs and re-signed him, there’s no way they should have expected him to hit like he did last summer. Furthermore, they shouldn’t have expected him to stay that healthy again either. Chavez had a stint on the 7-day concussion DL last year and sat out a few games for various aches and pains, but that was it. He was available far more often than not, and given his lengthy medical history, it would have been quite foolish to expect him to do it again. Repeating that kind of production and durability is certainly possible, just unlikely.
The post title is a overly dramatic, but losing Chavez is a pretty big loss for the Yankees. I had no problem with letting him walk under the right circumstances at the outset of the offseason, mostly because I figured it was better to get rid of him a year too soon rather than a year too late. Those right conditions did not include a major hip injury for A-Rod and not bringing in a viable alternative, however. Given the replacement level catching tandem, Joe Girardi is going to need a legitimate threat off the bench to pinch hit in late games. Chavez, the 2011 version, would have been perfect. The Yankees had the right player in the right role, just in the wrong year.
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.