Poll: The Designated Pinch-Runner in September

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Five days from now teams will be able to expand their rosters and carry up to 40 active players. I can’t remember a team ever carrying the maximum 40 players, but they can do so if they choose. The Yankees are planning to be aggressive with their September call-ups and get them on the roster right away. No waiting around for the Triple-A postseason to end or anything like that.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will use one September call-up spot for a designated pinch-runner. Most teams do these days. Last year the pinch-runner was Antoan Richardson — Richardson is the answer to the “who scored the winning run on Derek Jeter‘s walk-off single in his final home game?” trivia question — and a few years ago it was Greg Golson. Freddy Guzman was the pinch-runner late in 2009. He was on the postseason roster, you know. He pinch-ran twice in October, both times in the ALCS. So that’s World Series Champion Freddy Guzman to you.

The Yankees have gone the designated pinch-runner route so many times in recent years that it’s safe to assume they’ll do so again this year. Who will that player be next month? That’s a tough question to answer. There is no super obvious candidate. (No, they’re not going to stick Jorge Mateo on the 40-man roster and start his options clock several years early just to pinch-run a few times in September.) Let’s run down the possibilities.

Internal Options

The most obvious — and, frankly, only — pinch-runner candidate on the 40-man roster is Slade Heathcott. Heathcott still runs very well even after multiple knee surgeries, we saw it earlier this year, plus he’s ultra-aggressive. If the Yankees use Slade to pinch-run and want him to steal a base, he’ll go first or second pitch. That’s just his style. Heathcott left Friday’s Triple-A game, didn’t play for a few days, but has since returned to the lineup, so I assume he’s healthy now.

Other 40-man pinch-runner options include … uh … well … Jose Pirela? Maybe Cole Figueroa? The Yankees don’t have any other good candidates on the 40-man roster, not with Mason Williams out for the season following shoulder surgery. I suppose Ben Gamel or Taylor Dugas could be pinch-runner options, though neither has the blazing speed you expect from a pinch-running specialist. This guy needs to fly. Instincts are not enough. Heathcott’s certainly the best option among 40-man roster players, assuming he’s healthy.

Minor Trade

The Yankees acquired Guzman in an ultra-minor trade in August 2009 to be their pinch-runner specialist late in the season and in the postseason. The Red Sox acquired Quintin Berry in August 2013 to be their pinch-runner down the stretch. A few days ago the Mets traded for Eric Young Jr. to be their September pinch-runner. Teams trade for pinch-runners late in the season all the time.

Picking out a pinch-runner trade target is tough because it’s not about stats — who cares if the guy isn’t hitting or is riding the bench in Triple-A? Can you run? If you can, you’re a candidate for the job. Looking around Triple-A, someone like Chase d’Arnaud (26 steals in 106 Triple-A games with the Phillies) or Shawn O’Malley (37 steals in 88 games at multiple levels for the Mariners) could work. They have speed. A small trade is always possible. Good luck finding a target though. Only the scouting report matters for these players, and every team has different reports. Stats are irrelevant.

Noel's back. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

The Dark Horse

The Yankees may have already acquired their September pinch-runner: Rico Noel. They brought him in back in July and he’s been bouncing back and forth between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton these last few weeks, stealing ten bases in 29 games. Here’s a mini-scouting report from J.J. Cooper, who wrote up the 26-year-old Noel as a possible Rule 5 Draft pick this past offseason:

Rico Noel, of, Padres: Noel has plenty of Triple-A time, can play center field, gets on base and has outstanding speed. But he has bottom-of-the-scale power and a fringe-average hit tool at best.

That scouting report is fairly recent. The fact Noel has 20 total steals in 25 attempts this season — he was with the Padres before hooking on with the Yankees — suggests the “outstanding speed” part is still at least somewhat true these days, nine months since Cooper’s report. The “bottom-of-the-scale power and fringe-average hit tool at best?” Who cares. No one’s asking him to hit.

Noel is currently riding the bench in Triple-A and, aside from two spot starts, he has been used exclusively as a pinch-runner this month. Not just for slow guys either, he pinch-ran for Heathcott on two occasions. Noel had been an everyday player prior to this season. Are the Yankees using August to get him accustomed to sitting around on the bench then pinch-running at a moment’s notice? Maybe! We shouldn’t rule Noel out as a candidate.

Do Nothing

The do nothing option always exists. The Yankees don’t need a pinch-runner next month. It’s just a thing they’d like to have available late in close games. If the Yankees don’t have anyone in the minors they trust to run in key spots, or if they can’t swing a trade in the next few days, they could just move forward with no designated pinch-runner and keep using Chris Young in the role like they have been all season. I don’t think that will happen, but it is always possible. We shouldn’t rule it out.

* * *

For what it’s worth, I expect the Yankees to add a pinch-runner next month, and Heathcott is probably the favorite simply because he is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot after designating Chris Capuano for assignment yesterday, so adding Noel wouldn’t be a headache, but I think that spot is earmarked for someone else. Andrew Bailey, most likely. Heathcott is perfectly qualified as long as he’s healthy. Should he get hurt at some point, the Yankees might be stuck scrambling for a pinch-runner down the stretch. Anyway, time for the poll.

Who should be the designated pinch-runner in September?

Fan Confidence Poll: August 24th, 2015

Record Last Week: 4-3 (34 RS, 30 RA)
Season Record: 68-55 (585 RS, 518 RA, 69-54 pythag. record) 0.5 GB in ALE, 5.5 games up on WC spot
Opponents This Week: vs. Astros (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Braves (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Fan Confidence Poll: August 17th, 2015

Record Last Week: 3-3 (22 RS, 20 RA)
Season Record: 64-52 (551 RS, 488 RA, 65-51 pythag. record) 0.5 games up in ALE
Opponents This Week: vs. Twins (three games, Mon. to Weds.), vs. Indians (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Fan Confidence Poll: August 10th, 2015

Record Last Week: 2-4 (17 RS, 16 RA)
Season Record: 61-49 (529 RS, 468 RA, 62-48 pythag. record) 1.5 games up in ALE
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Indians (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Blue Jays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Fan Confidence Poll: August 3rd, 2015

Record Last Week: 4-3 (62! RS, 36 RA)
Season Record: 59-45 (512 RS, 452 RA, 58-46 pythag. record) 6.0 games up in ALE
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Red Sox (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Blue Jays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Poll: The Second Base Situation

Drew. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Drew. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon, the best available second baseman came off the board when the Athletics shipped Ben Zobrist to the Royals for two pitching prospects. The Yankees reportedly had interest in Zobrist, it just didn’t come together. For shame. Zobrist was a perfect fit for the Yankees and I was really hoping they’d land him before Friday’s trade deadline.

So now the Yankees will move forward and either stick with their current second base situation or acquire … someone. The second base market is really thin now. Martin Prado is the best available option and it’s not clear whether he is even available. The Marlins could simply hold onto him for next year. Brandon Phillips is the other big name out there. Let’s run down the club’s second base options with Zobrist now off the board.

Option No. 1: Stick with Drew

The Yankees have given Stephen Drew plenty of leash so far this season — he picked up plate appearances 300 and 301 last night — and he’s rewarded them with a .187/.261/.377 (73 wRC+) batting line. The 13 homers and 9.0% walk rate are nice, but there is basically no level of defense or power that makes making an out more than 73% of the time is acceptable. A total of 160 hitters are qualified for the batting title right now. Drew’s on-base percentage would be the 92nd best batting average. Yeah, it’s bad.

Now, to be fair, Drew has been better of late. He’s hitting .226/.308/.478 (115 wRC+) in 131 plate appearances since the calendar flipped to June, with a lot of that built on his three two-homer games in June. They count! Drew just hasn’t done a whole lot aside from those games. The bat hasn’t really come around to the point where you’d safely expect him to put up league average numbers going forward, but Drew has never not been reliable in the field, even while making the transition over to second. He’s as sure-handed as they come, and with no second base options likely to put up big offensive numbers, going with the best defender is a viable strategy.

Option No. 2: Go with Refnsyder

For a total of four games, the Yankees gave top second base prospect Rob Refsnyder a shot at the job. He was called up earlier this month, played the last two games before the All-Star break and the first two games after the break, and went 2-for-12 (.167) with a homer. His defense at second was … passable. Rough around the edges is a good way to describe it. Refsnyder didn’t look too natural there. The routine seemed difficult.

Of course, Refsnyder’s calling card is not his defense, it’s his bat. He’s hitting .285/.378/.404 (131 wRC+) in 393 plate appearances at Triple-A this year and .292/.383/.428 (133 wRC+) in 726 plate appearances at the level dating back to last year, so Refsnyder’s put up good numbers at the highest level of the minors. There are reasons to believe he’d be an upgrade over Drew at the plate. As an added bonus, Refsnyder is right-handed and would balance out the lefty heavy bottom of the lineup. The Yankees seem hesitant to give Refsnyder an extended opportunity — that’s not too surprising, they prioritize defense and he doesn’t offer it — but could do so after the trade deadline.

Prado. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Prado. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Option No. 3: Trade for Prado

Like I said, the Marlins aren’t even committed to shopping Prado yet. Joel Sherman heard Miami will now “at least contemplate” trading Prado, which I guess is better than saying he’s off limits. He’s hitting .280/.321/.375 (92 wRC+) with 14 doubles and four homers this season, continuing a gradual decline that has seen him go from a 117 wRC+ in 2012 to 104 in 2013 to 103 in 2014 to 92 in 2015. Prado is versatile, which is nice even though we’re talking about him slotting in as the regular second baseman. Also, it’s worth noting Prado has not played second base regularly since 2010. He’s just filled in a handful of times each year. Check out our Scouting The Market post for more info on the ex-Yankee, who is also under contract next year.

Option No. 4: Trade for Phillips

At this point the rebuilding Reds would probably give Phillips away to rid themselves of the $32M they owe him through 2017. He’s hitting .273/.310/.355 (83 wRC+) so far this year, and, at age 34, his power is all but gone. His ISO has slid from .157 in 2011 to .148 in 2012 to .135 in 2013 to .103 in 2014 to .081 in 2015. That is both not a good trend and perfectly normal for a guy this age. Phillips is on the downside of his career. It’s clear as day. Peak dollars for non-peak production. But, Phillips is very available, and at this point he might be an upgrade over what the Yankees have in-house. Here’s our Scouting The Market post.

* * *

Unless a trade candidate comes out of nowhere — Dee Gordon? he just returned from his dislocated thumb — these are the four main options the Yankees have at second best now that Zobrist is off the board. I’m not sure there’s a right answer. I’m not even sure there’s much of a difference between the three when you considered expected production and acquisition costs, stuff like that. Time for a poll.

What should the Yankees do at second base?

Fan Confidence Poll: July 27th, 2015

Record Last Week: 5-1 (32 RS, 25 RA)
Season Record: 55-42 (450 RS, 416 RA, 52-45 pythag. record) 6.5 games up in ALE
Opponents This Week: @ Rangers (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), @ White Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?