Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have officially optioned RHP David Phelps, RHP D.J. Mitchell, 1B/3B/LF Brandon Laird, and RHP George Kontos to Triple-A. All four can still appear in Spring Training games — Phelps will start Thursday’s game against the Red Sox — but they’ve been sent down to start the season. It’s just a procedural move, but it does make the final bullpen spot picture a little clearer. Here’s the first round of roster cuts from last week in case you missed them.
Marakovits previously worked as an anchor for SNY and covered the Yankees for 1050 ESPN Radio in 2010. She’s also been a sideline reporter for the Philadelphia 76ers, covered the Phillies as a beat writer for 950 ESPN Radio, and contributed to WFAN in the past. You can follow her on Twitter at @M_Marakovits.
Platoons in baseball can be tricky machines. In theory they’re great. They allow batters to emphasize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. But in practice they don’t quite add up perfectly. There are all sorts of issues that go along with platoons, not least of which is the sheer number of roster spots available. As such, teams have to pick their platoon guys with care. The 2012 Yankees seem to have one prominent platoon pair, with a couple of other low-level ones to consider on occasion.
Heading into the 2010 season, the Yankees needed a righty outfield bat. They had just traded for Curtis Granderson, who had struggled against left-handed pitching for most of his career. They were also going to try Brett Gardner, another lefty, in left field. Having a right-handed outfielder to spell one of them seemed not only like a good idea, but a pretty necessary insurance plan. And so, despite Marcus Thames‘ subpar spring training, he made the team.
Deciding that they’d gotten the best of Thames, the Yankees sought another lefty masher for their 2011 lineup. Andruw Jones appeared to be a perfect fit. After slipping in 2007 and turning in a disastrous 2008, Jones had recovered to be a serviceable part-time player, excelling particularly against left-handed pitchers. His continued production against left-handed pitching earned him a return trip for 2012.
Jones has expressed a desire for a more regular role, facing both lefties and righties. He might get that opportunity, given the concerns with our next entrant on the platoon bats list. But chances are he’ll be at his most effective against left-handed pitchers. Since 2009 Jones has produced a 129 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, which ranks 55th among all major leaguers with at least 200 PA (against LHP).
Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero, their DH situation became a big clearer. Jones could take reps at DH against left-handed pitching, leaving Brett Gardner to a full-time role in left. But that still left open the strong side of the DH platoon. By that point in the off-season there weren’t many viable options remaining, and so the Yankees picked the player whom they thought gave them the best combination of the skills they valued. That turned out to be Ibanez.
Like Thames two years ago, Ibanez has started slowly in the spring. Given his guaranteed contract and lack of competition, however, he’ll likely break camp with the team and commence his role as the platoon DH. Yet it’s difficult to expect big things from him. Since 2009 Ibanez has produced a 112 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, which ranks 65th out of 147 qualified hitters. That does include a poor 2012 as well as a torrid 2009. The Yanks will do best to avoid all confrontations between Ibanez and lefties.
While Ibanez and Jones represent the bulk of the Yankees’ platoon opportunities, they do have a few other players who carry platoon splits. They likely won’t get platooned, at least not frequently, but their rest days would preferably come when facing same-handed pitchers. (Though that should be the rule of thumb regardless, right?)
Last year Gardner saw fewer at-bats against left-handed pitching. This is partly because Jones hit them so well. But there were also signs that he was struggling against them. He didn’t hit for average (.233) and had absolutely no power (.039 ISO). While he did walk and strike out against lefties less frequently than he did against righties, the overall result was pretty negative (75 wRC+).
With the DH spot open against left-handed pitching, Gardner could see more opportunities this year. He did hit lefties fairly well in 2010, a .373 OBP and a 102 wRC+. He’ll get days off against lefties for sure, but it does appear that he’ll get a few more chances to prove his mettle against them in 2012.
Jeter did bounce back in the second half of last year, but his total season numbers against righties still disappointed. In fact, it was his torrid production against lefties, a 160 wRC+ in 168 PA, that contributed greatly to his overall success. Against rigthies, whom he faced 439 times, he hit just .277/.329/.338. Still, that was an improvement on his 2010 season, in which he hit .246/.315/.317 in 500 PA against RHP. The last time he hit righties effectively was 2009: .311/.381/.435. Given his age it’s difficult to expect more out of him than he hit last year. If he can keep up that pace he’ll be OK. But it’s easy to see how his production against righties will hurt his overall numbers in the final years of his contract.
Larry covered A-Rod’s continued woes against left-handed pitching earlier in the off-season. He did a pretty comprehensive job, so there’s no need to rehash it here. A-Rod‘s poor production against lefties makes Eric Chavez an unideal understudy, since he’ll face mostly right-handed pitchers. But perhaps the new, more balanced A-Rod will buck the trend and once again mash left-handed pitching.
There could also be room here to mention both Nick Swisher‘s and Mark Teixeira‘s struggles against righties, but that’s not really a platoon issue. That is, they’re not going to sit against right-handed pitching, since they’re their own platoon partners. But those issues do exist. Just to be clear.
The Yankees have a top-heavy roster in terms of payroll, but no longer in terms of talent. A few years ago the club was loaded with high-priced superstars that carried the majority of load with little depth, forcing the team to scratch and claw for bench help, bullpen fodder, and depth pieces. The Yankees still rely on those high-priced superstars to lead the way, but now they have depth in all forms — quality veterans and kids in Triple-A. The payroll hasn’t changed all that much in recent years, but the roster construction certainly has.
All those high-priced stars typically make it difficult for the Yankees to add reserve players via free agency because no one wants to sit on the bench or rot in the bullpen while the big money guys play as much as possible. That’s why they’ve had to swing trades for Wilson Betemit and Enrique Wilson types in the past. That has changed a bit in the last year or two, and we’ve actually seen some quality veteran players take less money and smaller roles to come to New York, perhaps in an effort to win a ring. As a result, the Yankees can now afford to be patient during the offseason and add players on favorable terms.
“We were able to take advantage of the month of January in terms of value in the back end of the free agent market,” said Brian Cashman recently. “Plus, the wishes of certain people to come to camp with the Yankees was a factor. I always remember a ways back when that wasn’t the case — when it was hard to get players to come here — so we can now be patient with the free agent market.”
The Yankees brought in a number of players on below-market contracts this offseason, getting serious value on the margins of the roster. Freddy Garcia returned for one year and $4M, a bargain compared to similar free agent hurlers like Bruce Chen (2/10), Aaron Harang (2/12), Tsuyoshi Wada (2/8.15), and Chris Capuano (2/10). Andruw Jones came back for just $2M while Juan Rivera and Ryan Ludwick got $4.5M and $2.5M, respectively. Bill Hall, Dewayne Wise, and Clay Rapada took minor league pacts from the Yankees even though they probably could have gotten more of an opportunity elsewhere. Andy Pettitte‘s deal could be the bargain signing of the offseason.
Patience is no fun for us fans, especially since we’re so used to loud offseasons and constant rumors. It’s easy to misconstrue patience for cheapness and negligence, but every April there’s a championship-caliber club on the field. There will still be aggressive pursuits of big-name free agents in the future, but the Yankees have put themselves in a position to let second and third tier free agents come to them to fill miscellaneous roster holes later in the offseason. It’s easier said than done of course, especially since those types of free agents tend to be more volatile than the established everyday guys.
“I know it looks good now,” cautioned Cashman, “but I’ve come to learn that whatever makes sense over the winter doesn’t necessarily transfer itself into the regular season.”
The most exciting minor league signing in Yankees history (or at least recent history) has some far-reaching implications, as Andy Pettitte‘s return further crowds and already crowded rotation and trickles down into the Triple-A pitching staff. The Yankees brought Pettitte back simply because they couldn’t say no, as a non-guaranteed $2.5M contract for a pitcher of Andy’s caliber is too good to pass up even if he is closing in on his 40th birthday. There’s no such thing as too much pitching depth, as they say.
Freddy Garcia was already at a disadvantage in camp, having to compete with younger pitchers for too few rotation spots despite doing nothing to lose his job over the offseason. The fifth starter competition is reportedly rigged in Phil Hughes‘ favor, and now Freddy has to look over his shoulder as Pettitte’s eventual return to the rotation draws closer as well. It’s not at all fair, but it does come with the territory. That doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it.
“I don’t really care,” said Garcia when asked about Pettitte’s return over the weekend, throwing his hands up. “That’s their decision. I’m here to pitch and that’s what I want to do … I don’t know [if the signing is good for the team] man. Ask the people. I don’t know. I guess.”
The Yankees can’t trade Garcia without his consent until June 15th because he signed as a Major League free agent this winter, but the veteran right-hander has not requested a trade according to Marc Carig. He still intends to compete for a rotation spot, which is great to hear. Freddy might be disappointed by Pettitte’s return — and he has every right to be — but it doesn’t seems like he’s going to go about his business any differently. He’s already let it be known that he’s willing to work out of the bullpen, what more can the guy do?
For now, the Pettitte signing doesn’t change anything. He won’t be ready in time to start the season, so the Yankees still have six starters for five spots at the moment. I can’t remember the last time the team made it through the month of April without one starter either getting hurt or being a total disappointment, so my money is still on Garcia being in the rotation at some point. How long he remains there is another matter entirely. Freddy’s made a fortune in this game and already has his World Series ring, and when you’ve been around the game as long as he has, you know how quickly situations can change. “You play with the Yankees, nothing surprises you.”
The minor league season actually starts before the Major League season this year, though by just one day. Usually the bush leagues kick off like, two weeks after the big boys. Not sure what’s up with that. Anyway, here are some interesting minor league notes courtesy of Chad Jennings…
- VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed that Dante Bichette Jr. will start this season with Low-A Charleston. He’s skipping right over Short Season Staten Island. Tyler Austin will be there as well, and he’s going to play right field while Bichette gets the hot corner. I prefer that to having them share third and DH or something.
- That Charleston team figures to be stacked, by the way. Bichette, Austin, Mason Williams, Cito Culver, Angelo Gumbs, Jose Campos, Bryan Mitchell, Ben Gamel, Evan DeLuca, and Matt Tracy should all be there. Gary Sanchez could be back for an encore as well.
- “He’s going to be ready close to the start of the season … He came back unbelievably fast,” said Newman of Ravel Santana. The outfielder will head to SI once the season starts in June.
- Remember when Slade Heathcott said his latest shoulder surgery will keep him out until May? He was being optimistic. Newman says he’ll be back in June. Sucks.
- Jeremy Bleich is throwing bullpen sessions following the shoulder procedure that cost him most of 2010 and all of 2011. I have to think we’ll see him in a game at some point, assuming the surgically repaired wing holds up.
The Yankees enjoyed the first of two scheduled Spring Training off-days today, so there’s nothing new to report from camp. The banged up bodies of David Robertson (foot), Robinson Cano (hand), Derek Jeter (calf), Nick Swisher (groin), Russell Martin (groin), and Freddy Garcia (hand) all get some much-needed rest less than three weeks before Opening Day. Andy Pettitte will officially arrive in camp tomorrow, so that’s pretty exciting. Otherwise, today was just a day to take a breather.
Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Rangers, Devils, and Nets are playing tonight, plus MLB Network will be airing a game a little later on. Talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.