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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

(Presswire)
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.

Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela injuries don’t leave Yankees many backup infielder options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By and large, the Yankees have made it through Spring Training without any major injuries to significant players. Chris Capuano will miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and while it’s never a good thing to lose pitching depth, he is replaceable. Brendan Ryan suffered a Grade II calf strain yesterday and had to be literally carried off the field. He’s not going to be ready in time for Opening Day, which is now only four days away. Not by a long shot.

Losing Ryan in and of itself is not a big deal, but the middle infield injuries are starting to pile up. Didi Gregorius has missed the last few days with a wrist sprain and is scheduled to return to game action this afternoon, so at least he’s on the mend. Jose Pirela has not done anything more than ride a stationary bike after crashing into the outfield wall ten days ago and suffering a concussion. Thankfully everything seems to be going well with Didi’s wrist, but Ryan and Pirela being hurt at the same time means the Yankees need a new backup infielder. Their options are pretty limited with Opening Day right around the corner. Let’s run ’em down.

A-Rod at Shortstop?

A-Rod mustache

Nope. Moving on …

The Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder Option

The Yankees have insisted Drew is a second baseman, so much so that he’s played zero innings at shortstop during Grapefruit League play. That’ll change today though. Drew is slated to play shortstop during one of the team’s split squad games this afternoon — for what it’s worth, he said he feels he could pick shortstop back up quickly — just so he could be an option in case Didi’s wrist issue lingers.

Following Ryan’s injury yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees could go into the season with Drew as their backup plan at shortstop and carry a second baseman as the backup infielder. That’s about as close as Girardi could come to saying Refsnyder is a candidate for the backup infielder’s job without actually saying it.

“Things can happen quick,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Refsnyder’s bat would be a welcome addition to the bench, but, as we’ve seen this spring, his defense is far from MLB ready. I don’t think the Yankees want to go through the hassle of adding Refsnyder to the 40-man roster* only to have him sit on the bench four out of every five games either. That doesn’t help his development or the team. And no, like it or not Refsnyder wouldn’t take over as the starting second baseman. They’ve made that very clear.

So yes, using Drew as the backup shortstop and carrying Refsnyder as the backup second baseman is an option, but not an ideal one. The 40-man issue is not insignificant — once Refsnyder is added he won’t come off, so flexibility would be hurt — and the Yankees would need to feel confident in Alex Rodriguez as Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. At this point of his career, I don’t see what good being a part-time player does for Refsnyder.

* The 40-man roster is indeed full. The official site shows 39 players but is missing Tyler Austin for whatever reason. Ivan Nova is a 60-day DL candidate, so that’s one easy-to-open spot.

Other Internal Candidates

Beyond Refsnyder, the Yankees’ other internal backup infield options are Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, and the recently acquired Gregorio Petit, the first three of whom were signed to minor league contracts for this exact reason. To be depth in case guys like Ryan and Pirela got hurt. Galvez hasn’t played the middle infield since the 2013 season, so he’s not a good reserve infielder candidate. The Yankees need someone who can play at least second base on the bench.

Figueroa is a contact machine, his bat-to-ball skills are top notch (10.0 BB% and 6.8 K% in nearly 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances), but he has zero power and isn’t much of a defender. Noonan can’t hit but he can defend, all around the infield too. Same with Petit. Figueroa and Noon are left-handed hitters, which isn’t ideal, but there’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. When it comes to this bench spot, I think the club would be better off with Noonan’s or Petit’s glove than Figueroa’s ability to put the ball in play.

Figueroa, Noonan, and Petit would have to be added to the 40-man roster, though, unlike Refsnyder, they don’t have to stay there. They could be designated for assignment whenever Pirela or Ryan gets healthy. These guys aren’t part of the long-term plan and wouldn’t hurt flexibility. There’s a big picture element to all of this the Yankees can’t ignore.

Florimon. (Presswire)
Florimon. (Presswire)

The Out of Options Market

We’ve reached the point of spring where players who are out of minor league options are starting to get traded (Sandy Leon) or placed on waivers (Cesar Puello). It figures to happen with Austin Romine soon too. There are very few out of options infielders for the Yankees to consider as temporary bench players. In fact, of all the infielders on MLBTR’s out of options list, only one is not expected to make his team’s Opening Day roster: Pedro Florimon.

The Pirates are expected to waive Florimon soon, and while he’s a quality defender at short, he has basically no experience at second (nine games in the minors) or third (eleven games in the minors) bases and absolutely can not hit. He’s Ryan without the versatility, basically. The Rays just released Alexi Casilla to avoid paying him the $100,000 retention bonus as an Article XX(B) free agent, so perhaps he’s an option. Casilla’s a more versatile, less defense-y version of Florimon.

Point is, there aren’t many readily available infield options for the Yankees to consider during Ryan’s absence, hence the Petit trade. The Yankees didn’t get someone better because no one better is available. There’s a real dearth of quality infielders in baseball these days. Even replacement level guys are hard to find right now. The Yankees could pick up Florimon and/or Casilla for depth, just to have the extra body around, but they aren’t any sort of upgrade over what they have in house right now.

* * *

As fun as it would be to see Refsnyder on the Opening Day roster, I don’t see the point in carrying him as a bench player. He needs to play to improve his defense. Taking extra ground balls before games won’t help much either. Refsnyder needs game reps. Since Pirela seems to be on the mend, the Yankees can focus on a short-term replacement. I’d prefer Petit or Noonan but if they want Figueroa or Florimon or Casilla, fine, whatever. Either way, this player won’t see much playing time. Or shouldn’t, anyway. The Yankees only need a band-aid right now. Nothing more.

The Defense First, Power Second Bench [2015 Season Preview]

Murphy and the skipper. (Presswire)
Murphy and the skipper. (Presswire)

From 2009-12, the Yankees did a good job of having a functional bench, giving Joe Girardi options to pinch-hit or rest players without the lineup taking a huge hit. That hasn’t been the case the last two years due mostly to injuries — many projected bench guys were pushed into everyday roles. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

The importance of the bench in today’s game is obvious, especially for the Yankees, who have an older roster and plenty of players who need regular time off. Three of the four bench spots were filled with new players this winter, and every member of last season’s Opening Day bench has since been jettisoned. It’s an entirely new crop of players. Let’s look at the reserves and where these guys fit in the big picture.

Catcher: John Ryan Murphy

Alternative: Austin Romine

Long-time backup Francisco Cervelli was traded away this winter for two (maybe three) reasons. One, the Yankees wanted to clear a spot for Murphy, who was impressive filling in during Cervelli’s hamstring injury last year. Two, they wanted to bolster their bullpen with Justin Wilson. (Three, they wanted to save a little cash.) The job is not Murphy’s just yet — he is competing with Romine in camp — but all signs point to him being the guy.

Murphy, 23, put up a .284/.318/.370 (93 wRC+) batting line in 32 big league games last year but his defense is his calling card. Anything he can do with the bat — he’s a year removed from a 117 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, for what it’s worth — is a bonus. Murphy has ranked as a top shelf pitch-framer in his brief big league career and he’s considered a strong receiver who handles pitches in the dirt well.

The Yankees value catcher defense greatly. They wouldn’t clear the spot for Murphy if they didn’t believe he could excel defensively. Brian McCann is the clear cut number one catcher and will be asked to carry the majority of the workload behind the plate this year, so Murphy’s job is to get the pitching staff through the game whenever McCann needs a day off. That’s it. If he hits, wonderful. But that is secondary as far as the Yankees are concerned.

Infielder: Brendan Ryan

Alternative: Jose Pirela

Pirela. (Presswire)
Pirela. (Presswire)

Once again, the 32-year-old Ryan is dealing with a back injury in Spring Training. He started light workouts earlier this week but there’s no firm timetable for him to return to game action. That is opening the door for Pirela, just like last year’s back injury opened the door for Dean Anna. If Ryan has another setback — he’s already had one this spring — it’s hard to see how he’ll ready for Opening Day.

If healthy though, the backup infielder’s job is Ryan’s. The team owes him $2M this year and he’s still an above-average fielder at the hard to fill shortstop position. He can’t hit a lick — .167/.211/.202 (12 wRC+) in 124 plate appearances last year and that’s pretty much what you should expect going forward — but the Yankees are now a run prevention team and he fits the mold. Ryan is a guy who plays when someone else gets hurt or needs a day off, that’s it. He’s not a pinch-hitting option or even a pinch-running option.

Pirela is pretty much the exact opposite of Ryan. He can hit — or at least we think he can hit — but his glovework is very shaky. The 25-year-old hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton last season and is off to an 8-for-15 (.533) start to Grapefruit League play, and that’s his calling card. Pirela’s a hitter. He’s not much of a defender but he can play just about every position other than pitcher or catcher. If Ryan can’t start the season on time, Pirela is the odds on favorite to start the year as the backup infielder.

Outfielder: Chris Young

Alternative: Pirela? Ramon Flores?

New York’s very first move of the offseason was re-signing Young to a one-year deal worth $2.5M. They grabbed him off the scrap heap last summer and he had a nice month of September in pinstripes (146 wRC+ with three homers), which earned him a new contract. Overall, the 31-year-old young hit .222/.299/.385 (95 wRC+) with the Mets and Yankees in 2014.

Young’s days as an everyday player are pretty much over. He’s a right-handed platoon bat because of his power, not his ability to hit for average, that’s what the Yankees need with two left-handed starting outfielders and a third who is a switch-hitter whose weak side is the right side. Young’s defense remains above-average — he can play all three outfield spots in a pinch — and he can even steal a base off the bench. He figures to be used most often as Carlos Beltran‘s defensive replacement in right field, though I’m sure he’ll get plenty of starts against southpaws as well.

The Yankees don’t have an obvious alternative to Young. Pirela is probably the best option and Flores is the most MLB ready of their upper level outfield prospects. Pirela is right-handed and Flores is left-handed, and that’s not insignificant given the makeup of the roster. Others like Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin need more minor league time before realistically being considered MLB options. If Young gets hurt, Pirela’s probably the guy. Assuming he isn’t filling in for Ryan, of course.

G.I. Jones. (Presswire)
G.I. Jones. (Presswire)

Utility: Garrett Jones

Alternative: Pirela? Austin?

The Yankees have been after Jones for years — they first tried to acquire him from the Pirates in the A.J. Burnett trade — and they finally landed him in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade this offseason. He gives them a backup plan at three positions where they have players who have battled injuries in recent years: first base (Mark Teixeira), right field (Beltran), and DH (Alex Rodriguez).

Jones, 33, hit .246/.309/.411 (99 wRC+) with 15 homers last year, though Miami used him as their everyday first baseman, and he’s not an everyday player. He’s a left-handed platoon hitter, one who’s hit .260/.314/.475 (116 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers over the last three years with this spray chart:


Source: FanGraphs
Yeah, Jones is going to enjoy hitting in Yankee Stadium. And that’s going to be his job. Come off the bench and try to yank something over the wall. Jones has made a nice little career of doing just that and that’s all the Yankees want him to do in 2015. Play some right field, play some first base, see a few starts at DH, mash some taters. Very straight forward.

As with Young, there is no obvious alternative to Jones, so I guess Pirela is the guy by default. Austin can also play first base, right field, and DH, but he has yet to play above Double-A, so he needs to spend some time in Triple-A before helping the big league Yankees. Jones will likely see the most playing time of the projected four bench players and that makes him the most difficult to replace.

Brendan Ryan’s injury is slowly opening the door for Jose Pirela

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last spring Brendan Ryan went down with a combo neck/back injury early in Spring Training, and the injury lingered into the regular season. The injury allowed Dean Anna to make the Opening Day roster — Yangervis Solarte straight up beat out Eduardo Nunez for his roster spot, remember, Anna was the one who benefited from Ryan’s injury — and he remained with the Yankees until Ryan returned in mid-May.

Ryan is once again dealing with a back problem this spring, this time a mid-back sprain he suffered lifting weights about ten days ago. He was initially expected to miss five days and get into games late last week. That hasn’t happened. Ryan felt some renewed soreness last week and had to be shut down. He’s not expected to resume light baseball workouts until later this week, possibly tomorrow if he progresses well.

“Now it feels kind of like Groundhog spring,” said Ryan to Chad Jennings over the weekend. Ryan also mentioned fielding drills are not a problem right now, it’s swinging a bat that is giving him issues. “The timing of this whole thing is horrible … I don’t want to get into the middle of March having not progressed very much … If I get three weeks in, I’ll feel good about that.”

There is still plenty of Spring Training left — Opening Day is four weeks from yesterday — and Ryan could always go over to minor league camp to get nine or ten at-bats a day to speed up his preparation for the season, but at some point soon he’s going to have to make real progress and get over this back injury. It keeps lingering and lingering. It has to stop lingering before he can do anything.

Much like last year, Ryan’s injury is slowly opening the door for a younger player to crack the Opening Day roster. Last year it was Anna, this year it’s utility man Jose Pirela, who is ahead of Rob Refsnyder on the depth chart because he’s more versatile and ahead of Cole Figueroa, Nick Noonan, and Jonathan Galvez because he’s already on the 40-man roster. It hasn’t hurt that Pirela has gone 5-for-11 (.455) with a double and a triple early in Grapefruit League play either. Fringe roster candidates have to hit in camp to make the team.

The 25-year-old Pirela was up late last season and went 8-for-24 (.333) with a double and two triples in his MLB cameo after hitting .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with ten homers, 21 doubles, eleven triples, and 15 steals (in 22 attempts) in 130 games for Triple-A Scranton. He’s versatile too, having played every position other than pitcher, catcher, and third base for the RailRiders last summer. Pirela’s an adequate at best defender — he’s already made one error this spring and also misplayed a ground ball into an infield single — but that’ll work for a role player.

“We’re going to move (Pirela) around because that flexibility is nice to have,” said Joe Girardi to Jennings. “In the limited time that he was up last year, he did a really good job for us. And you could put him in the outfield as well. I don’t know how much we’ll put him in the outfield in spring, but I’m comfortable putting him out there anywhere. You never know how things are going to shake out in camp.”

The Yankees added Pirela to the 40-man roster last September — he joined the team after Martin Prado went down with his appendectomy — an indication they were planning to do so after the season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. (Pirela became a minor league free agent after 2013 but re-signed with New York.) He’s never been a top prospect, he’s a guy who’s had to hit his way onto the map, and he’s going to have to keep hitting to stay there. Players like this — think Andy Phillips — get an opportunity, but not necessarily a long one. They have to capitalize in a hurry, like Solarte last year.

“Whether someone is hurt or not, that isn’t something that I consider,” said Pirela to Jennings. “No one wants a teammate to ever be hurt, especially starting the season. I have to focus on myself, competing with myself … I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity. They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”

Ryan’s not a great (or even good) player but his ability to play shortstop has real value. Pirela hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2011 because he’s just not good enough defensively. He’s someone the Yankees could use at short for a few innings in an emergency. That’s really it. Ryan is someone they could run out there at short for a week if necessary. The presence of Stephen Drew means the Yankees don’t necessarily need the 25th man on the roster to be able to play short though. If Didi Gregorius were to get hurt, Drew could slide over to short and Pirela could play second.

The Yankees owe Ryan a decent amount of money ($2M isn’t nothing) and cutting a legitimate shortstop loose in favor of a potential utility guy just because he’s younger and homegrown doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so Pirela’s chances of making the Opening Day roster are tied directly to Ryan’s back injury. If Ryan stays hurt, Pirela’s chances of making the team will continue to go up. But if Ryan gets back on the field by, say, this weekend, he should be ready in time for the season. Like it or not, Ryan has the inside track for a bench job, but the back injury means the door has started to crack open for Pirela.