Injury Updates: Jeter, Colon, Feliciano, Chavez

The latest from the infirmary…

  • Derek Jeter‘s rehab from a calf strain was interrupted by rain and wet grounds both yesterday and today. He did manage to take full batting practice (30 swings), field a few ground balls, and begin a running program once the weather cooperated this morning/afternoon. “Everything‚Äôs good,” said the Cap’n. “Steps in the right direction.”
  • Bartolo Colon threw 60 pitches in a simulated game against minor leaguers (including the injured Slade Heathcott), broken down into four “innings” of 15 pitches. It’s unclear if he’ll make a minor league rehab start to jump right back to the bigs and face the Mets this weekend.
  • Pedro Feliciano made 15 minimum effort throws off a mound, the first time he’s done that.
  • Eric Chavez also took batting practice and played long toss with Jeter.
  • Mark Prior will throw off a mound tomorrow, the second time he’ll do that in the span of four days as he works his way back from the groin strain from hell.

The Yankees also confirmed that Phil Hughes‘ next rehab start will come with Double-A Trenton this Wednesday. After throwing 71 pitches last time out, I suspect he’ll be scheduled for 85-90 pitches. Trenton will be at home against New Hampshire, but it’s a day game (12:05pm ET start). You can get tickets here.

New design added to the RAB Shop

Now that a certain right fielder has re-learned how to hit left-handed, I figured it was time to break out the SwishHawk design for the RAB Shop. We have ten other designs as well, so make sure you check them all out. They look great on shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, clocks, you name it, plus you can customize the color and style of almost anything in the shop.

(h/t to Tyler Wilkinson for the design, as always)

Scouting The Trade Market: Heath Bell

(Photo Credit: Flickr user SD Dirk via Creative Commons license)

Although Rafael Soriano is expected back from his elbow injury reasonably soon (he’s eligible to come off the disabled list shortly after the All-Star break), Joba Chamberlain‘s injury leaves a rather sizable hole in the back of the Yankees’ bullpen. David Robertson has stepped up and performed better than expected, but there’s no such thing as too many quality bullpen arms.

One quality bullpen arm that will almost certainly be available this summer is Heath Bell of the Padres, a team that is eleven games back in the loss column of the top spot in the NL West and ten games back of the wildcard. They’ve won four of their last five games but lost six in a row and nine of ten immediately prior to that. San Diego also sports one of the very worst offenses in baseball (.291 wOBA) and they don’t exactly have the wherewithal (or motivation, given their deficit) to go out at the deadline and add the bat or three they need to contend. Let’s break down the good and the bad…

The Pros

  • With no significant platoon split and a four-plus year track record of excellence (2.59 FIP from 2007-2010), Bell is about as safe as relievers come. He misses bats with a 92-95 mph fastball, low-80’s curveball combination, and has been very consistent when it comes to his walk rate (between 3.10 and 3.60 BB/9 from 2007-2010) and ground ball rate (44% to 48% over those four years) since getting to San Diego.
  • He’s not just a product of spacious Petco Park, for those wondering. Since the start of the 2009 season, Bell has held opponents to a .220/.301/.289 batting line at home and .211/.273/.268 on the road. Of the four homers he’s given up in that time, three have actually come in Petco.
  • Bell is very durable, having never visited the disabled list in his big league career and throwing no fewer than 69.2 IP in any season since getting to San Diego. His fastball velocity is holding up fine as well. I guess 6-foot-3, 260 lb. right-handers are built for innings.
  • He’s done it all for the Padres. Bell started out as a low leverage middle relief guy before working his way into Trevor Hoffman’s top setup man, then he took over for the likely Hall of Famer three years ago. I’m not sure the whole “he needs to get used to not having the adrenaline rush of the ninth inning” argument would hold water here.
  • Bell is just a rental and won’t eat up 2012 payroll. He projects to be a Type-A free agent (rather comfortably) at the moment, so he could bring two draft picks after the season.

The Cons

  • Bell’s strikeouts are down considerably this year. After whiffing 11.06 batters per nine innings last year (10.21 K/9 in 2010), he’s dropped down to just 6.97 K/9 this year. His swing-and-miss rate is still above average at 9.1%, but that is down from double digits in the last few years.
  • He doesn’t have any traditional playoff experience, the closest thing is 2.2 IP in Game 163 against the Rockies back in 2007. Bell did pitch in each of the Padres’ last four games last season (and in six of their final ten), which were essentially playoff games as they tried to hold off the Giants. I don’t put much stock into this stuff, but some October experience is better than none.
  • Bell is not cheap, at least not on the reliever pay scale. His $7.5M salary this year is broken down into $1.25M per month, give or take a few hundred thousand.

The Yankees could use one more late game reliever and Bell is as good as they come, but I can’t help feel like the cost will greatly outweigh the production. Some similar (and recent) trades that come to mind include Eric Gagne (Rangers to Red Sox), Matt Capps, and Brandon League, though none of them are perfect comparisons. Gagne was the only other rental, plus Bell was straight up better than all three of those guys. Regardless, they all required at least one premium piece going the other way, and I can’t see why the Padres would expect something less for what amounts to the best reliever in the National League over the last four or so seasons.

Ken Davidoff reported yesterday that the Yankees have called the Padres to discuss Bell’s availability, but they haven’t been as aggressive as some other clubs. That sounds like due diligence more than anything. Another bullpen arm would certainly be a welcome addition, especially one of Bell’s caliber, but the Yankees have bigger fish to fry at the trade deadline, namely a starter that can legitimately pass for a number two. Bell’s just a luxury at the moment.

The above-average Jorge Posada

(From Flickr user Malingering via a Creative Commons license.)

Earlier this month Nick Swisher started his surge. Using the West Coast trip as a springboard he brought his numbers back up to league average and then kept on going. Since hopping on the plane to Seattle he’s hit .312/.437/.613 in 119 PA, raising his season line to .245/.366/.412. That’s still not up to the standard he set in 2009 and 2010, but it is right in line with the MLB average right fielder. Swisher has come a long way, and the offense has benefitted from his turnaround.

The next player on the list of Yankees to turn around his season is Jorge Posada. At around the same time that Swisher began his comeback, I complained that Jorge’s lack of production was killing the Yanks. Indeed, they had the worst production in the league at DH, and by no small margin. While they still reside in the bottom half of the AL, they’ve climbed the ranks a bit and now rank 11th in DH production with a .689 OPS. If Posada continues his improvement they should reach the middle of the league in short order.

While Jorge’s numbers look good since the incident against Boston — .325/.400/.494 in 95 PA — the real turnaround started on the same West Coast trip that spurred Swisher’s season. Since the start of the LA series he has gone 22 for 56, which adds up to a .393/.435/.589 line. It has brought his season line up to .234/.327/.411, which amounts to a 99 OPS+. That makes him just about average, but slightly on the below side. But, since I greatly prefer wRC+ to OPS+, since it more fairly values each type of on-field event, we can look to that. He’s at 101 wRC+ (.324 wOBA), or just slightly above league average.

Jorge doesn’t even have very far to go before he reaches league average DH status. The AL average DH hits .263/.343/.412. If he somehow goes 0 for 0 with 5 walks in his next game, he’ll be right there. Even with a more normal batting line, one that includes some outs, he should be about a week away from reaching the AL average DH level. That’s quite remarkable given the way his season started, and how for a few months it didn’t seem to get any better.

When I think of how Jorge has turned it around after an unimaginably slow start, I immediately turn to David Ortiz’s 2009 season. On June 5 he hit a low point, hitting .188/.281/.288 through 221 PA (as many as Jorge has currently). From that point on he hit .266/.360/.557 in 406 PA. It’s easy to see Jorge pull something similar, especially given the way he’s hit lately. Earlier in the season it was more difficult to envision an Ortiz-like turnaround, because almost nothing was going right for Jorge. But that’s entirely the point. When a player is going as poorly as Ortiz in 2009 and Jorge this year, it looks like they have absolutely nothing left. Only a measure of faith from management can keep that player afloat.

While things looked bleak early in the season, the outlook for Jorge Posada’s season has turned around. He’s put up big numbers in June and has regained some faith along the way. If he can continue some semblance of this performance for the rest of the season it will help the Yankees not only in the runs column, but also on the trade deadline to-do list. It’s one potential need crossed off the list. His turnaround also has the benefit of shutting up people like me, who count him out when he’s at his worst.

The 60-Day DL Chopping Block

Bartolo's coming back for his roster spot. Also: strike three, you're out.

At the moment, the Yankees have eight players on the 60-day disabled list, which is the most I can ever remember them having at one time. Two of the 60-day DL guys are definitely done for the season (Joba Chamberlain, Colin Curtis), and one other almost certainly is (Damaso Marte). Given Brian Cashman‘s recent comments about Pedro Feliciano (“we don’t expect him back this year,” paraphrasing), the lefty makes it four players that are likely to stay on the 60-day DL all season. That leaves four players expected to come back during the season that will require a 40-man roster spot opening.

The first one is easy, since Reegie Corona (fractured arm) could just be removed from the 40-man roster when his time on the 60-day DL is up. He’s been on the 40-man bubble for over a year now. That leaves Phil Hughes, Rafael Soriano, and Eric Chavez, all of whom will probably be back right around the All-Star break, if not sooner. Something’s got to give and relatively soon, so let’s dig around the 40-man roster and rank some of the spare parts by how likely they are to be cut from the roster. Let’s go with a scale of one through five, with five being very likely to get the axe.

Buddy Carlyle, RHP
Friday’s game was basically a microcosm of the Carlyle experience. He was staked to a seven run lead to start the ninth, and he allowed the first three men he faced to reach base, two on walks. That’s just not going to cut it. Carlyle’s an older guy (33) with unspectacular stuff and extreme fly ball tendencies (35.1% grounders in his career), which doesn’t exactly scream “keeper.” No offense to Buddy, but guys like him literally grow on trees down in Florida, somewhere along I-4 between Tampa and Orlando. DFAbility: Five

Useful in moderation.

Chris Dickerson, OF
Dickerson is in the big leagues only because Chavez got hurt, and he’s been the quintessential defensive replacement/pinch-runner. Over the last 31 days, he has just four plate appearances (one double, three strikeouts) and zero starts, and he doesn’t figure to see much playing time anytime soon with Nick Swisher turning things around. We could lump Greg Golson in with Dickerson, since they essentially serve the same purpose and are both in their final option year. Dickerson is a lefty batter and has some more veteran presents, so maybe that gives him a little bit more of an advantage. Either way, he’s a guy that you can see serving a purpose down the stretch, especially when rosters expand in September. DFAbility: Two

Steve Garrison, LHP
A groin injury robbed Garrison of a month-and-a-half of the season, and he’s just now rejoining the Double-A Trenton rotation. He’s the only significant left-handed pitching prospect the Yankees have at the upper levels (aside from 20-year-old Manny Banuelos), so that alone is likely to save his job. Garrison also has a minor league option remaining for next year, and that works in his favor as well. I think he’s safe. DFAbility: One

Brian Gordon, RHP
Signed because the team needed a little pitching depth, Gordon has been nothing more than serviceable in his two starts and the Yankees even decided to use today’s off day to skip his turn in the rotation. I still think he’s a middle reliever at best, and frankly he falls into the Carlyle category of older fly ball guys with unspectacular stuff growing on trees in Florida. The only thing Gordon has on Carlyle is stamina; he’s stretched out and can throw 100 pitches if need be. That’s slightly more useful as the seventh guy/mop-up man in the bullpen. DFAbility: Three

Gus Molina, C
The Yankees only have three catchers on their 40-man, four if you want to count Jorge Posada as the emergency guy. Teams will usually keep that third catcher on the roster just in case, but the Yankees have Jesus Montero just a phone call away if they need a long-term fill-in. Gus is more of an up-and-down, short term guy. He’s not completely safe, but he’s also not the first guy on the chopping block. DFAbility: Three

"Now pitching for the Yankees, number forty-two, Lance Pandleton, number forty-two."

Lance Pendleton, RHP
As far as I’m concerned, Pants Lendleton and Gordon are interchangeable, at least in terms of expected results. Pendleton is a little younger and has more minor league options remaining, but they’re basically the same guy when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it. DFAbility: Three

Kanekoa Texeira, RHP
Mini-Tex is currently on the disabled list in the minors for an unknown reason, but that doesn’t really stand in the way of being removed from the 40-man roster. He was horrific in his short time with Triple-A Scranton (19 baserunners, 13 runs in 4.1 IP) but that could have been related to the injury for all we know. That said, the emergence of Hector Noesi and the somewhat surprising usefulness of Cory Wade make Texeira expendable. DFAbility: Four

* * *

It’s also worth noting that Justin Maxwell will miss the rest of the season after tearing his labrum robbing a homerun in Triple-A, so I suppose the Yankees could always activate him off the minor league disabled list, promote him to the big leagues, then immediately stick him on the 60-day DL to clear a spot. Maxwell, his agent, and the union will love that because he’ll get to collect a big league salary and service time when he otherwise wouldn’t. I just can’t ever remember a team, nevermind the Yankees, doing that. It’s worth a mention though. Jeff Marquez’s shoulder issue is another wildcard; if the injury is serious enough to require a 60-day DL trip, well there’s another spot. I suppose they could also release him, Amary Sanit-style. Until then, Carlyle and Texeira should be looking over their shoulders.