Joe Girardi confirmed to reporters this afternoon that Phil Hughes will indeed begin the season on the DL. They are planning to have David Phelps start on April 6th — the first time they will need a fifth starter — with Hughes rejoining the rotation five days later. Hughes made a minor league start today and Girardi said everything went fine, so he’ll make two more minor league appearances before rejoining the rotation. No real surprise here, back injuries are tricky and there is no reason to rush him right now.
The Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever Sam Demel off waivers from the Astros, the team announced. Fellow righty Dan Otero was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot. Otero was claimed off waivers just yesterday.
Demel, 27, owns a 4.95 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 63.2 career big league innings, all with the Diamondbacks over the last three seasons. He got absolutely hammered in camp — ten hits, eleven runs, four homers, three walks, and one strikeout in 2.1 innings — but the Yankees are clearly hoping he can miss bats like he has in Triple-A going forward (24.6% in 138 IP). Demel is a low-to-mid-90s fastball/slider guy with an option left, so again, just another depth arm.
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.
* * *
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.
I’m a sucker for projections (which aren’t predictions!) mostly because they’re fun to look at and argue about in the typically slow winter months. They don’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things. Dan Szymbroski posted his ZiPS system’s projected AL final standings over at ESPN yesterday (Insider req’d), and he has the Blue Jays finishing with the best record in the league at 94-68. That’s one game better than the Angels.
ZiPS projects the Yankees to finish 83-79 this summer thanks to all of their injuries, good enough for a fourth place finish in the division. Only the Orioles are projected to be worse. “The Yankees exemplify why settling for ‘good enough’ in the offseason is dangerous,” wrote Szymborksi. “If the Bombers hadn’t played it safe — not picking up a true impact OF/DH and going with a Triple-A catcher as Plan A — the rash of injuries wouldn’t have hurt the lineup as hard as it has.”
The system gives New York a 29.7% chance of making the postseason and a 26.7% chance of finishing in last. I guess it’s good they’re more likely to play baseball in October than finish last, but I don’t find that very comforting. For what it’s worth, ZiPS had the Yankees as a 95-win team last season and that’s exactly how many games they won. I very much hope this year’s projection is wrong. Here are the individual player projections in case you missed them a few weeks ago.
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 and Astros played to a tie on Tuesday night. CC Sabathia allowed four runs in five innings, his final tune-up start before Opening Day. Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, and Vidal Nuno all following with scoreless innings.
Brett Gardner and Travis Hafner did all the heavy lifting on offense, combining for three singles, a double, a triple, and a walk in eight plate appearances. Hafner was hitting the ball especially hard — Dan Barbarisi says he recently abandoned some changes he was trying to make to his swing — so maybe he’s having a little 2012 Raul Ibanez-esque spring to life at the end of camp. Kevin Youkilis also doubled while Eduardo Nunez stole a base. Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay went a combined 0-for-4 in their Yankees debuts. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- The Yankees had until noon on Tuesday to either release Juan Rivera, add him to the 40-man roster, or pay him $100k and keep him on a minor league contract. They haven’t made any sort of announcement and he worked out with the club before the game, so I’m guessing they paid him the $100k and he remains with the team as a non-40-man guy. Rivera is now competing with Overbay to fill in for Mark Teixeira at first base.
- X-rays show that Curtis Granderson’s fractured forearm is healing well, and he is scheduled for another checkup this week. He ran and stretched with the team today but is still a ways off from resuming baseball activities. Granderson will stay behind in Tampa once the season begins. [Meredith Marakovits]
- Mark Teixeira is scheduled to have his injured right wrist examined on Monday. If everything checks out okay, he’ll shed the brace he’s been wearing and begin strengthening exercises. There’s still a while to go before he returns, however. [Marakovits]
- Derek Jeter said it is “disappointing” he won’t be ready in time for Opening Day and acknowledged he may have pushed himself too hard during his rehab. Sound familiar? The Cap’n is unsure of his schedule going forward, he’s just receiving treatment right now. [Bryan Hoch, David Lennon & Marakovits]
- Phil Hughes is scheduled to pitch in a minor league game tomorrow. He is stretching out after missing a few weeks with a bulging disk in his back, but the Yankees are keeping him out of Grapefruit League games so they can back-date his DL stint if he won’t be ready in time for the start of the season. That seems likely. [Chad Jennings]
- Clay Rapada threw off a flat ground using his regular pitching delivery, which is apparently different than just playing catch. He is working his way back from shoulder bursitis and will start the season on the DL, Brian Cashman already confirmed. [Jennings]
- Cesar Cabral threw live batting practice today and faced hitters for the first time since fracturing his elbow last spring. He had been on the same rehab schedule as Michael Pineda, who will face hitters in two weeks, but is now ahead because he doesn’t need to get stretched out as a reliever. [Jennings]
- Dellin Betances hurt his ankle — at first it looked like he was hit by a comebacker, but apparently he just rolled it — in a minor league game this afternoon and limped off the field. No word on the extent of his injury or how much time he’ll miss, but he was on track to start Opening Day for Triple-A Scranton. [Donnie Collins]
- Apparently Alabama head football coach Nick Saban was at the complex today to give a little pep talk to both the major and minor leaguers. So yeah.
The Yankees will be in Sarasota to play the Orioles tomorrow night. David Phelps gets the start while projected big leaguers Robinson Cano, Jayson Nix, Brennan Boesch, Gardner, and Nunez join him on the trip. That game will be broadcast on MLB Network and MLB.tv (no local blackouts) but not YES.
This is quite annoying. According to Ken Rosenthal, Russell Martin informed the Yankees he was willing to sign a one-year contract worth $9-10M this past offseason. A one-year deal, of course, would have worked well with the team’s plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 and not left them with the Chris Stewart/Frankie Cervelli tandem for 2013. The Yankees balked and Martin instead took a two-year pact from the Pirates. I love the Yankees, but I hate the way they do pretty much everything these days.