Ryan Pope designated for assignment among flurry of moves

Via Mike Ashmore and Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have cleared space on the 40-man roster for Jesus Montero and Scott Proctor by designating Ryan Pope for assignment and placing Justin Maxwell on the 60-day DL. Think about that, Pope got DFA’d for Jesus.

In other news, Chad Jennings and Joel Sherman report that both Lance Pendleton and Raul Valdes have been called up in addition to Brandon Laird, Chris Dickerson, Montero, and Proctor, so the Yankees have plenty of pitching available tonight. Jack Curry says Hector Noesi and Aaron Laffey are next line for a call-up, but they have to wait for the ten-day period to expire before coming back to the bigs. Montero, by the way, is in the lineup tonight. He’s batting seventh as the DH, and has already caught a bullpen session.

Welcoming back Scott Proctor

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Did anyone honestly think that Scott Proctor had any chance to pitch for the Yankees this year? Before the season no one would have given it a thought. Even after the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal last month I’m not sure anyone expected him to actually make the major league roster. And yet this morning we got the news that he would, indeed, don the pinstripes and make his return to the Yankees. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Proctor, and even longer since he’s been consistently effective. So what makes this time around any different?

For many of us the return of Proctor isn’t about pitching, per se. It’s about an emotional attachment to a guy who pitched so well that he fell victim to the Joe Torre bullpen death trap. (After all, the Death by Bullpen category was created because of Torre.) That tends to happen when a guy makes his debut as a Yankee and has quality stuff. It took Proctor a while to harness his fastball, but by 2006 he had turned into a reliable reliever at a time when the Yankees searched desperately for one. He was a savior of sorts, providing pain-free innings when the rest of the bullpen, especially Kyle Farnsworth, made games a bit more difficult.

It was hard to ask more of the guy than he provided in 2006. He led the league in appearances that year with 83, tossing 102.1 innings. All of them were in relief. No reliever has tossed 100 innings since. They key to his success was his walk rate, just 2.9 per nine, which was down a half point from the previous season. He also kept his hit rate down, thanks to a .258 BABIP. In even the previous season that didn’t seem possible, thanks to his straight as an arrow fastball. But it appeared that in 2006 he added a little movement, and that helped him succeed.

Of course, that many innings and that many appearances takes a toll on the arm. Proctor didn’t show the signs in 2006, though one teammate, Ron Villone, did. Even in 2007 Proctor produced quality results, a 3.81 ERA in 54.1 innings as a Yankee. But he clearly wasn’t the same pitcher as he was in 2006. While he managed to keep his hit rate at a normal level, he started to walk tons of batters — 4.8 per nine to be specific, or nearly two per nine more than the previous season. By July’s end the Yankees had apparently seen enough. They traded him to LA for Wilson Betemit, thereby acquiring the quality reserve infielder they had long sought.

In 2008 Proctor missed more than two months with elbow troubles, and in 2009 he underwent Tommy John surgery. He barely pitched in the majors in 2010, spending most of it with the Braves’ AAA affiliate. This year he re-signed with the Braves and earned a call-up after impressing in AAA. Yet his stint in the majors went terribly. He walked more than he struck out, and he allowed five homers in just 29.1 innings. His release from the Braves came with no surprise. The only surprise, really, was that the Yanks considered him at all.

Maybe the Yankees felt they owed him something. After all, towards the end of Torre’s tenure Brian Cashman spoke out about how his manager handled relievers. He reiterated those criticisms earlier this year. There’s also the issue of Proctor’s alcoholism, which apparently was part of the reason the Yankees traded him in 2007. In the linked article, a characteristically excellent one from Tyler Kepner, Proctor mentions that he wanted to show Cashman how he changed. Now he’ll get his chance.

While the emotional angle plays up well, it can’t be the only reason the Yankees are giving Proctor another chance. This is a business, after all, and recalling Proctor means they’ll have to sacrifice someone on their 40-man roster. That bears real costs, so they have to think that he can actually help the club. While he did experience poor results this year he did have some oomph on his fastball, averaging 93.7 mph. He hasn’t hit those speeds since 2008. He was also seemingly burned by his breaking stuff. Perhaps, then, the Yankees see something they think they can correct. They’d better, if they want this decision to work out.

Chances are that Proctor is a non-factor down the stretch and that he’s off the roster either before season’s end, or early in the off-season. But his mere presence on the roster evokes feelings of the days when he was a real force in the Yankees’ bullpen. He was, for a stretch in 2006, the only reliable piece of the bridge to Mariano. He won’t be in that role this year. He won’t sniff high-leverage situations. But there’s something reassuringly nostalgic about having him back on the roster. May he pitch well and prosper again in pinstripes.

Where does Posada stand?

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

The refrain can cease. After months and months of yapping about Jesus Montero, the man himself is set to debut with the Yankees. For many it feels like a move long overdue. After a slow start Montero started to turn things around, and by the end of July it appeared that he could help the major league team. Yet the Yankees went through August doing business as usual, opting to wait until rosters expand before they called up their top prospect.

In a way that made sense. Roster construction dictated it. Early in the month the Yankees ran a short bench, opting to carry a sixth starter instead of a fourth bench player. That made sense, because it left the bullpen at full strength. They could have recalled Montero in that spot and worked with a short bullpen, but they also knew that Alex Rodriguez would return at some point in August. At that point they absolutely could not carry Montero, since they’d require all four other bench players. So even if they promoted him after the trade deadline, they would have had to send him back down after a few weeks.

The only way the Yankees could have carried Montero before today was if they chose to removed Jorge Posada from the active roster. While the organization and Posada came to blows in May, things seemed to smooth out from there. Posada started to hit, and the Yankees made it clear, through media channels, that they did not intend to release him. Despite his overall struggles he has managed to stay productive against righties, producing a .354 wOBA against them in 254 PA. That translates to 8.8 runs above average, a respectable figure for that number of plate appearances.

Now that the roster limit has expanded from 25 to 40, the Yanks have plenty of room to maneuver. They’ve wasted no time in calling up Montero, and he could immediately jump into a prominent role. YES Network’s Jack Curry recently reported that Montero will start at DH tonight against Jon Lester. That’s quite a debut assignment, and it portends his role down the stretch and perhaps into the playoffs. In fact, Joel Sherman quotes a Yankees official saying, “By the playoffs, [Montero] will be our best DH option.” That’s quite a bold statement for a player who has yet to face major league pitching.

While Montero’s assignment for tonight comes against a lefty, the unnamed Yankees official makes it sound as though he’ll play against right-handed pitching, too. That would leave Posada without a role. This is nothing new, of course; Posada lost his gig for a week in August while Eric Chavez took over DH duties against right-handed pitching. Posada came back with a fury, driving in six runs, including a grand slam, against the Rays. Since then he’s hit decently, but not to the level where he absolutely must remain in the lineup. Unless the Yankees use Montero behind the plate, Posada could spend most of September on the bench.

Throughout the season the Yankees have shown patience with Jorge Posada. They could have removed him from the lineup when he struggled early in the season. They could have treated him more harshly after his blow-up in May. But they stuck with him, for the most part, and he rewarded them with some quality numbers against right-handed pitching. But his complete lack of flexibility has hurt them at times. With rosters expanding the Yankees gain plenty of flexibility, and they’ll apparently use that to try another option at DH. Jorge will be there in case it doesn’t work out. But for the time being, his name won’t appear frequently on Joe Girardi‘s lineup card.

Backwards Boone Logan

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The last two games have been on extreme opposite ends of the spectrum for Boone Logan. He got two huge, huge strikeouts with the bases loaded to escape a jam on Tuesday night, but then he allowed the game-winning two-run homer on Wednesday. A night of good followed by a night of bad, and it seemed to fit right into the story of Logan’s season: he didn’t get the lefties out when he had too, but he got the righties out. It’s backwards.

In the series opener, Boone allowed a single to the lefty Carl Crawford to load the bases before striking out the switch-hitting Jarrod Saltalamacchia (LOL) and the righty Darnell McDonald. Yesterday he gave up the homer to lefty Jacoby Ellsbury that basically won the game for the Red Sox. Now, Logan did rebound to get both Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz after the homer, but by then the damage was done. Coming into the series, left-handed batters were hitting .235/.300/.425 in 91 plate appearances off the Yankees’ lefty specialist. Effective, but not exactly lock down given the power numbers. On the other hand, righties were hitting just .216/.286/.255 in 56 plate appearances off Logan.

Of course, Boone did have a little bit of a revelation in Cincinnati after Alex Rodriguez pulled him aside and told him to have a plan for each pitch, and since then he’s been much better. After tagging him for a .300/.391/.425 line in his first 25 games (.167/.259/.167 vs. RHB), lefties have hit just .200/.289/.489 off Logan in his last 26 games (.267/.312/.333 vs. RHB). Definitely some big time improvement, though he’s still giving up far too many extra base hits to same-side batters. A lefty specialist allowing a .289 ISO to lefties over half his season workload is … awful.

Obviously, small sample size rules apply here. Logan’s faced just 154 batters this year, which is nothing. That’s the life of a reliever though, these guys are just going from one small sample size appearance to the next, which is why Boone’s reverse split and backwards season isn’t terribly surprising. Anything can happen in a limited sample, but it’s still rather annoying to see. Hopefully he continues to be as effective against lefties as he has since A-Rod‘s pep talk, just without all the untimely extra base hits.

Jesus Montero & Expectations

Montero's run for Scranton's mayor seat is coming to an abrupt end.

Unless Joel Sherman is wrong (and his reporting almost never is), the Yankees will call up Jesus Montero today as the rosters expand in the season’s final month. Some poor sap will lose his 40-man roster spot, but that’s part of the business. I wanted to see Montero earlier this season, but whatever. Better late than never. He’ll reportedly get “opportunities to play and specifically hit,” which I guess means spot starts at DH and maybe even behind the plate. I highly doubt he’s going to just sit on the bench to “soak it all in,” he’s ready for the next challenge.

ZiPS pegged Montero for a .276/.334/.503 batting line in the big leagues before the season, which frankly would have been a miracle. Exactly eight players have slugged .500 or better in their age 21 season over the last 50 years, and only 24 players have managed a .330 OBP with a .450 SLG at that age and in that time frame. It’s not often a player that young hitter comes up and has an immediate impact, but that won’t stop us from expecting one from Montero. Therein lies the problem. What’s a reasonable expectation and what isn’t?

Honestly, I have no idea. I expect Jesus to look overmatched at times, to look right at home at others, to hit a ball or five over the fence, to fail to block a curveball in the dirt, to throw a ball into centerfield, to flick his wrists and clank one off the right field wall … all sorts of stuff. That’s the thing about young players, you never have any idea what you’re going to get. Regardless, the magnifying glass will be him, for good or bad. In this age of instant reaction, start-to-start and plate appearance-to-plate appearance changes of opinion, we’re probably going to see a lot of good and bad this month. A lot more bad I’m sure, just because the game is all about failure.

Montero’s status as a top prospect is going to work against him as well, because come on, top prospects are scrutinized most heavily while the underdogs get praised. That’s why everyone loves Ivan Nova and Melky Cabrera and hates Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. It’s natural to root for the underdog, the ones that surprise us, and it’s also natural to come down hardest on those we expect the most from. Montero is no underdog, he’s one of the very best prospects in baseball and will have a target on his back the first time he steps into the batter’s box. Just wait until he takes an 0-for-4 this weekend or fails to get the runner in from third or something. There will definitely be people calling him a bust based on that, I guarantee it.

I can’t help but think of Justin Upton here, not that Montero will be that kind of player. But just look at how the first few years of Upton’s career shook out. He was a huge, huge prospect that got a brief cup of coffee in 2007 and was below replacement level. He managed to keep his head above water (.347 wOBA) in 400+ plate appearances in 2008, then broke out in 2009 (.388 wOBA). Upton took a step back in 2010 (.349 wOBA), got shopped around on the trade market in the offseason, and now he’s an MVP candidate. Lots of ups and lots of downs, which is usually how it goes. It’s not isolated to the Yankees and their stupid player development strategies or whatever people want to blame it on. It’s just normal career progression. Young players rarely reward their teams right away.

Unless we’re talking serious injury, there’s nothing Montero can do this month to change his stock either way. A Shane Spencer month (.421/.476/1.105 with eight homers) might help the team win some games and land him a spot on the playoff roster, but it won’t change his long-term outlook. At the same time, neither will an 0-for-37 with 23 strikeouts and ten double plays. It doesn’t work like that, one month just isn’t enough time to change anything in a meaningful way. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Some fans will write Montero off if he struggles in September and others will start erecting a monument beyond the center field wall if he does well. I expect good things and I’m hopeful that we’ll see them, but Jesus Montero’s career will not be defined by September 2011. That much I’m certain of.

Yankees calling up Montero, three others today

Today’s the day, the day that teams can expand their rosters and the day Jesus Montero finally joins the big league team. Mark Feinsand reported late last night that three others will be getting the call: Brandon Laird, Chris Dickerson, and … wait for it … Scott Proctor! I’m dead serious. The Yankees must have promised him a call-up when they signed last month, and remember, he spoke about wanting to rejoin the team two summers ago, when we learned about his alcoholism.

Proctor made a handful of appearances with Triple-A Scranton, but he was below replacement level in 29.1 IP with the Braves earlier this year (6.44 ERA, 6.04 FIP, 5.80 xFIP). Despite all his arm problems, Proctor still has a pretty decent fastball. I’m pretty surprised they’re only calling up one pitcher though, I figured a Lance Pendleton or Aaron Laffey or Raul Valdes would also join the team just to soak up any garbage innings. They’ll certainly add a few more players once the minor league season ends on Monday, like Pendleton, Hector Noesi, Greg Golson, and Ramiro Pena. Probably a few others as well.

Laird and Dickerson will just fill out the bench, allowing the Yankees to rest the regulars in blowouts and what not. Dickerson figures to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The Yankees will need to free up two 40-man roster spots to accommodate Montero and Proctor, and I’m guessing Justin Maxwell will be one of the moves. He’s done for the season with a shoulder injury and will be out-of-options next year, they can just outright him no problem. Steve Garrison and Kevin Whelan could also be roster spot casualties.