Update: Yankees release Matt Antonelli

July 5th: Antonelli has been released, the team announced. With David Adams and Corban Joseph entrenched at second base at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, respectively, there was just no spot for him.

July 1st: The Yankees have designated Matt Antonelli for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster for the recently acquired Chad Qualls. The 27-year-old infielder had been claimed off waivers from the Orioles back in May and hit .200/.286/.320 in a dozen games for Triple-A Empire State. Antonelli has been on the DL for more than a month, so you won’t even notice he’s gone.

Full Circle: Mets claim Chris Schwinden

The Mets have claimed right-hander Chris Schwinden off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. The Bombers claimed him from the Indians last week then designated him for assignment when they claimed Darnell McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox yesterday. Schwinden has gone full circle in the last month, going from the Mets to the Blue Jays, the Blue Jays to the Indians, the Indians to the Yankees, and the Yankees back to the Mets, all on waiver claims. Hopefully he can catch his breath a bit now.

Thursday Night Open Thread

(Photo via NY Times)

The Yankees are off today, so this is a good time to pass along this NY Times story about Edwin Tavarez and Bryan Jimenez, a pair of Bronx high school students who also work as bat boys for the Yankees. When the team announced plans to build the New Stadium, they reached out to the community and its schools to fill future bat boy positions. Before you had to know a guy who knew a guy, stuff like that. It’s a fun and interesting read, plus the link includes a video that basically takes you through their day-to-day tasks. Make sure you check it out. (h/t BTF)

Once you’ve done that, use this as your open thread. The Mets are playing the Phillies tonight with a primo pitching matchup, R.A. Dickey vs. Cole Hamels. The Giants and Nationals (Cain vs. Detwiler) will be on MLB Network as well. You folks know what to do by now, so have at it.

2012 Draft: Yankees “close” to signing sixth rounder Rob Refsnyder

Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Josh Norris that the Yankees are “close” to signing sixth rounder 2B/OF Rob Refsnyder, though the deal is not done yet. Refsnyder was named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player two weeks ago after leading his Arizona Wildcats to the national championship. Based on his Twitter feed, he’s in Tampa at the moment.

In other news, Oppenheimer said the Yankees are still “trying” to hammer out a deal with first rounder Ty Hensley. When asked if the two sides were close, he said he “thinks so.” The deadline to sign draft picks is next Friday, July 13th. You can see all of New York’s picks at Baseball America and keep track of the financial situation at our Draft Pool page.

Yankees send David Phelps to Double-A Trenton

Via Josh Norris and Mike Ashmore, the Yankees have sent right-hander David Phelps down to Double-A Trenton. The move clears a 25-man roster spot for Darnell McDonald, meaning New York will have an 11-man pitching staff and a five-man bench during the four games in Boston. Phelps will start for the Thunder on Monday, his regular turn. Expected and smart move, plus it keeps him away from the traveling Triple-A circus.

Phelps tuning up for the second half

Plenty could change between now and month’s end. Despite their stated lack of intention, the Yankees could make a play for Cole Hamels. They could look into Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster. But if their behavior at the past few deadlines is any indication, they’ll probably make minor moves at most. That means riding out internal options. David Phelps, then, could play a significant role in the second half.

Sent down in order to stretch back out as a starter, Phelps got recalled a bit prematurely. He was scheduled to throw 50 pitches in a minor league game last Friday, but the Yankees decided they’d rather have him as a caddy for Adam Warren. That proved a prescient move, as the Yankees leaned on Phelps for 3.1 innings. He wasn’t exactly great, allowing two runs, but he did strike out five. It was pretty clear that he was going to take the ball again in five days.

Again on a pitch limit, Phelps tossed 4.1 quality innings against the Rays yesterday, allowing just two hits to go with three walks and eight strikeouts. Chances are he would have pitched considerably deeper if not for the pitch count — hew was at 81 pitches through those 4.1 innings. Next time out, chances are Phelps will be ready to go the distance. As Mike mentioned earlier Phelps will likely get sent down before tomorrow’s game. The All-Star break gives the Yanks a chance to rework the rotation, and also gives Phelps to get a start in the minors. He can likely go 100 pitches, which will take off the reins when he returns to the majors — probably July 17th vs. the Blue Jays, so he can make a start any day from the 9th through the 12th.

If Phelps has any one thing to improve on as he enters the second half in the rotation, it’s his pitch efficiency. He’s been top notch in terms of results, a 3.05 ERA in his 41.1 innings. He’s also been serviceable by peripheral-based stats: 4.38 FIP, 3.90 xFIP, 3.54 SIERA. The problem is that he’s getting himself pulled from games prematurely. In his three starts he’s pitched just 13 innings. Part of that has been based on usage limits, but in some ways it has been based on his own performance. He’s used nearly 20 pitches per inning and 4.4 pitches per batter as a starter. That’s just not going to work if Phelps is going to remain in the rotation.

As a reliever Phelps has been a bit more efficient. He’s used 17 pitches per inning and 3.99 per batter. Those still aren’t great numbers overall, though. Yet if he can get even to that level as a starter, it will be a much-needed improvement for the second half. If Phelps is going to stay in the rotation until Andy Pettitte returns, the Yankees need him to eat at least six innings per start, lest they overtax the bullpen. At 17 pitches per inning he’d be over 100 pitches by the time he finished six. At his current 20 pitches per inning as a starter, he’d be at that threshold after five.

The good news is that this seems to be Phelps’s most significant issue. He has good stuff, and he doesn’t, or at least hasn’t yet, let innings get out of hand. His strikeout rate is well above league average, and his walk rate isn’t quite too high. Those seem like tougher areas on which to improve mid-season. Phelps has this one task in front of him, to put away batters with fewer pitches, and he can get cracking on it in the no-pressure environment of the minors. His success will make the Yankees’ lives much easier as they approach the deadline and home stretch.

Scouting The Trade Market: Ramon Hernandez

As I wrote this morning, the Yankees have gotten next to nothing out of their Russell Martin-Chris Stewart catching tandem this year, meaning it’s only logical to explore potential trade options for help behind the dish. Unfortunately the crop of catchers around the game consists of elite backstops (Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, etc.) or absolute garbage (Kurt Suzuki, Miguel Olivo, etc.). There seems to be no middle ground, though one name caught my eye when MLBTR published a list of potentially available catchers earlier this week: Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies.

Hernandez, 36, is currently on the DL with a left hand strain but he started a minor league rehab assignment last night. He was off to a slow start this season — .216/.260/.398 with four homers (58 wRC+) — but it was only 101 plate appearances and his hand was barking. The Rockies are going nowhere fast (31-50) and Hernandez’s injury has allowed catcher of the future Wilin Rosario to emerge as an everyday option (100 wRC+), so it seems likely that they’ll look to move the veteran backstop for prospect depth. Frankly, they should be selling off anything not nailed down. The Yankees need catching help and Hernandez is a catcher, but it’s not that simple. Let’s see what he has to offer…

The Pros

  • Despite this year’s numbers, Hernandez can still hit a little. He posted a .282/.341/.446 batting line with a dozen homers (111 wRC+) in 328 plate appearances last year for the Reds and has hit .280/.341/.432 (105 wRC+) in nearly 800 plate appearances since Opening Day 2010.
  • Most of that damage has come against same-side pitchers. Hernandez has tagged right-handers to the tune of .279/.338/.450 with 21 homers (109 wRC+) in 538 plate appearances over the last three seasons. He’s held his own against southpaws as well: 95 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances.
  • Beyond the raw production, Hernandez’s best offensive trait is his ability to put the bat on the ball. His career strikeout rate is a miniscule 12.7% and he’s never deviated too far from that number in any season, even as he’s crept up into his mid-30s.
  • Beyond the Box Score rated him as one of the game’s better defensive backstops in both 2010 and 2011. Click through for the full analysis. Hernandez has also been consistently above average at stopping the running game, throwing out a hair more than one-third (33.8% to be exact) of attempted basestealers since the start of 2010. League average is generally in the 27-29% range. As an added bonus, Hernandez has started 30 games (44 appearances total) at first base in recent years. Versatility is always nice.
  • Hernandez spent three years with the Orioles so he’s familiar with the AL East and all that stuff. I don’t put a ton of stock into that but I do think it’s worth mentioning. Knowing the lay of the AL East land is better than coming in blind. Hernandez has always been considered a strong clubhouse guy — that’s one of the primary reasons why Colorado signed him in the first place — and again, always a plus.

The Cons

  • Catchers get hurt, it comes with the territory, but Hernandez has been on the DL five times in the last six years. His injuries include an oblique strain (2007), a groin contusion (2007), knee surgery (2009), knee soreness (2010), and now the hand issue. Hernandez is no longer an everyday backstop and has been unable to top 85 starts behind the plate or 360 plate appearances in a single season since 2008.
  • We can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from his performance this year, but Hernandez’s ground ball and line drive rates have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. The same can be said of his once strong walk rate. This isn’t atypical of older hitters.
  • Mike Fast’s now famous study on pitching framing rated Hernandez as one of the game’s worst at turning borderline pitches into strikes in recent years.
  • Hernandez is no rental. The Rockies signed him to a two-year deal worth $6.5M this offseason, and he’s still owed approximately $1.6M for the rest of this year plus $3.2M next year. Tying up future payroll with a midseason trade is not ideal.

On paper, Hernandez seems like a pretty good fit for the Yankees. He could split catching duties with Martin down the stretch and since he’s under contract at a reasonable price next year, he could serve as a nice veteran caddy for a young kid like Austin Romine. His contract then expires right as the 2014 payroll plan takes effect. Simply put, he’d be a stopgap for next season.

That said, we are talking about a 36-year-old backstop who probably should have turned into a pumpkin two or three years ago. His slow start this year could just be small sample size noise or the sign of impending doom. Catchers do fall off quickly and drastically without warning, so any team that trades for him could be stuck with a dud backstop eating up future payroll. There’s quite a bit of risk here but the cost — both financially and in terms of players in the actual trade — shouldn’t be exorbitant, plus the benefits could be compounded since Martin tends to play better with extra rest. The catcher pickin’s are slim and Hernandez just may represent the best of the bunch.