The flexibility of the Yankees 25-man roster

Everything appears settled. The Yankees have made their cuts, giving us a clear view of the Opening Day 25-man roster. Here’s how it will shake out.

Update: Luis Ayala has made the roster, which clears up the final spot.

C: Russell Martin
1B: Mark Teixeira
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Alex Rodriguez
SS: Derek Jeter
LF: Brett Gardner
CF: Curtis Granderson
RF: Nick Swisher
DH: Jorge Posada

IF: Eduardo Nunez
IF: Eric Chavez
OF: Andruw Jones
C: Gustavo Molina

LHP CC Sabathia
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Ivan Nova
RHP Freddy Garcia

RHP Mariano Rivera
RHP Rafael Soriano
RHP Joba Chamberlain
RHP David Robertson
RHP Bartolo Colon
LHP Boone Logan
RHP Luis Ayala

Disabled List
C Francisco Cervelli
LHP Pedro Feliciano

As with all Opening Day rosters, the Yankees has its share of strengths and weaknesses. As the season progresses they will try to shed the weaknesses and add players who shore up those aspects. It’s a process that can take three, four, even five months to complete. Oftentimes the weaknesses are left exposed, since there is no reasonable fit.

The ability to make these types of moves depends on flexibility, which came come from two areas: players with minor league options, and players whose release won’t affect the team’s long-term standing. Earlier this month Mike looked at Yankees who have remaining options. Now let’s combine that list with players whom the Yankees can send packing without batting an eyelash.

Freddy Garcia: If the off-season had played out differently, we probably would never have written the name Freddy Garcia in these spaces. His name only appeared after the Yankees lost out on Cliff Lee. But with two open spots in the rotation, utilizing a slightly below average veteran who pitched 150 innings last season is hardly a bad move. If Garcia tanks, the Yankees can DFA him and move onto the next candidate. I’d expect this to happen at some point during the season.

Bartolo Colon: He has the same deal as Garcia, though fewer people expected Colon to make the team out of spring training. He impressed fans and Yankees’ brass alike, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep him around if he’s ineffective. A few bad outings could write his ticket out of town.

Ivan Nova: If the Yankees wanted to keep all of their options in tact they could have optioned Nova to the minors to start the season. But he’s clearly the fourth best pitcher in camp, and so they’ll give him the spot in the rotation that he earned. He still provides no guarantees, though, and since he has two remaining options the Yankees can send him down at any time.

Phil Hughes: It’s possible, in that he has a remaining option (or two). The Yanks are in trouble if it comes to this.

Joba Chamberlain: This is akin to Hughes, in that I don’t see it happening. By all accounts Joba has impressed this spring, showing high-90s velocity. If he falters they can option him, but given his peripherals from last year and the generally positive report this spring I don’t expect it to become an issue.

David Robertson: He, too, is in the Hughes/Chamberlain mold. If the Yankees need a spot and Robertson is performing poorly they do have the option to send him to AAA. The odds of that appear long.

Boone Logan: Yes, he’s lefty and therefore will have a longer leash than most. But if he pitches in the same way he did the first half of 2010, how long will it take for the Yankees to cut bait? They do have Feliciano as a lefty in the pen, and they have a few guys in AAA who, although righties, can take a pen spot.

Luis Ayala: He makes the team because Pedro Feliciano is on the DL. Given the bullpen composition, I don’t expect him to last past mid-April.

Francisco Cervelli: This would have been more of an issue had Jesus Montero broken camp with the team. But now that he’s headed to AAA, Cervelli is pretty much guaranteed the backup catcher job when he returns from his injury. If the Yankees did want to recall Montero during the season, Cervelli could be optioned to AAA.

Eduardo Nunez: It was something of a surprise to see Nunez make the team. The Yankees have touted him as a prospect. Wouldn’t a true prospect be better served with regular at-bats? There’s something to be said for major league experience, but Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano are hardly guys who take days off. Unless either of them sees more time than expected at DH, I can’t see how Nunez gets more than 150 AB this season. If the Yankees do want to get him regular playing time, it is an option.

Eric Chavez: Again, it was a surprise that he made the roster at all. He probably won’t get a ton of playing time, filling in for A-Rod occasionally and getting a few pinch-hit appearances late in games. I can see the Yankees cutting him if he’s flailing horribly, but if he’s reasonably effective he’s an occasional enough player that they might just keep him.

This gives the Yankees six optionable players. Problem is, half of them are essentially un-optionable. It would take some seriously outlying circumstances for Robertson, Chamberlain, or Hughes to be sent down. So, really, they have three optionable players, and another three whom they can cut without any long-term repercussions. That’s not great flexibility, but it’s enough that they can make moves to improve the team.

Is Andruw Jones really a lefty masher?

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Aside from starting pitching, the Yankees had just a few glaring needs this offseason. The most obvious of the bunch was the need for a right-handed hitting outfielder to give Joe Girardi some flexibility and thump against left-handed starters. Marcus Thames did the job perfectly last season, tagging lefties for a .354 wOBA and even chipping in far more than expected against righties (.382 wOBA). As well as he performed, it was Thames’ best offensive season in five years, an effort he was unlikely to repeat at age 34. Given his defensive shortcomings, it was easy for the Yankees to move on. That led them to Andruw Jones.

Jones, the guy that tormented Yankees fans back in 1996, fit the job description perfectly. He’s a right-handed bat with power and he can play some defense. No, he’s not the all-World defender he was in his prime, but he’s considerably better than Thames and probably closer to average more than anything. Add in his low cost ($2M) and long track record, and there are plenty of reasons to like the move. But is he really all he’s cracked up to be offensively?

The Yankees brought Jones in the hit left-handed pitching and that’s exactly what he did last year, when he tattooed southpaws to the tune of a .402 wOBA. Unfortunately, that’s in an incredibly small sample size, just 102 plate appearances. If you take out his 2008 season, when a knee injury kept him on the disabled list for close to three months, it’s his fewest attempts against lefties since 2002. In 2007 and 2009, when Andruw’s career really started to slip, he put a .336 wOBA in 368 plate appearances against left-handers (it was .289 in 86 PA in 2008). Granted, that’s still respectable, but it’s hardly jaw-dropping.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

If you go back a little further, to Jones’ monster seasons in Atlanta (2004-2006), he had a .373 wOBA against lefties (473 PA), which is obviously outstanding. Unfortunately that was a baseball lifetime ago, when he was still in his mid-to-late 20’s and in the prime of a borderline Hall of Fame career. There’s little reason is expect Jones to repeat that effort going forward, into his mid-30’s. So what we have a bunch of wildly divergent data, each with it’s own red flag. Last year’s performance didn’t come over an extended period of time, but was it really a rebound from the three prior years in the career  toilet? The stuff he did with Atlanta happened too long ago for it to mean anything today. There’s no reliable recent track record here, so that makes it a gamble.

And just to be clear, his awful Spring Training performance (.171.261/.293 in 46 PA before yesterday’s 1-for-3) means little to me. Thames had an awful spring last season and I ended up writing a very similar article about him, rather foolishly when I look back at it. Jones’ track record as a guy capable of giving the Yankees what the need – someone to pounded lefties – isn’t very good in the recent past when you look past last year’s small sample size results. I guess the good news is that the Yankees have alternatives this year, namely in the form of Justin Maxwell. Thames’ primary competition last year was Jamie Hoffmann, who ended up back with the Dodgers before the spring ended. At least Maxwell will be stashed in Triple-A to provide actual insurance.

It’s pretty clear that the Yankees did well by not bringing Thames back, and Jones was one of the best options on the market given their specific needs. That said, he’s no guarantee to give them what they’re looking for, but at least he’ll still be able to provide some value with his defense and occasional homers.

MLB creates new seven-day disabled list for concussions

Via Mark Feinsand, Major League Baseball announced new protocols for concussions today, including the creation of the seven-day disabled list. It will be implemented on a trial basis this season, and is only available for players dealing with concussions. Anyone on the 7-day DL for more than 14 days will automatically and retroactively be transferred to the 15-day DL. Last month we heard about the team’s concern for Jorge Posada‘s long-term mental health, so it’s good to see MLB make some progress on this front.

Open Thread: Regular Season Reminder

With the final Grapefruit League game in the books and the team on their way back to New York, all we have left to do is countdown the 40 or so hours until the 2011 regular season gets under way. Now’s as good a time as any to remind you about all the different ways you can access our fine blogging establishment, some of which you may find easier than others.

Before we get into that, make sure you review our commenting guidelines. Emotions run high during the season, especially when a team with a $190M+ payroll has a patchwork rotation, but we have to make sure we maintain some sort of civility in the comments. Please review them, even if it’s just a fresher.

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So, you got all that? Good, now use this as your open thread for the night. The Twins and Braves are on MLB Network (live), plus the Nets are on as well. Oh, and CC Sabathia will be on Letterman tonight, so that’s cool. Oops, that’s tomorrow. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Food For Thought: Nick Swisher

It’s been more than two years since I implored the Yankees to look into Nick Swisher as a potential buy-low option, but of course I was talking about adding him as a first baseman since it looked unlikely that Mark Teixeira was coming to New York at the time. Anyways, you all know what happened next; Swish has gone on the enjoy two tremendously productive seasons with the Yankees since then, but just how productive compared to the rest of his career?

Bill Petti of Beyond The Box Score examined Swisher’s year-by-year park adjusted OPS totals (which is what you see above), and showed that the Yankees’ right fielder hasn’t really taken his offensive game to another level over the last two seasons. He just rebounded from his hideous 2008 season with the ChiSox to perform like he had with the Athletics in 2006 and 2007. Go figure.

OPS, even adjusted, isn’t the best metric, but for quick and dirty stuff like this it’s perfectly fine. Swisher has posted a .376 wOBA with 7.4 fWAR over the last two years compared to a .364 wOBA with 7.2 fWAR with Oakland from 2006-2007, so the difference is negligible once you consider just how inexact some of this stuff is. It’s pretty obvious that his 2008 season was nothing more than an unfortunate fluke, but I still blame Ozzie Guillen.

Bean counter or ballplayer?

(From the CUA archives)

You might not recognize the man pictured to the right. Two and a half decades after this snapshot, he hardly looks like the same person. Were he to wear a baseball cap, there wouldn’t be any hair protruding. He also wouldn’t be wearing a uniform, since his current job is more administrative. The only familiar aspect, really, is the same haven’t-slept-in-weeks look. Yes, the man to the right is Brian Cashman, from his ball playing days at Catholic University of America.

At CUA’s campus newspaper, The Tower, Douglas K. Barclay reminisces on Cashman’s time at the university. While he is often chided for not being a baseball guy — he never played professionally at any level — Cashman’s decision to attend Catholic was centered solely on baseball. “The Catholic decision…was pure baseball,” he said.

Really, this post is just an excuse to display an image of Cashman that might catch people off-guard. It’s certainly not how we’re used to seeing him. But make sure you read the entire article. It’s a quick one, and it provides us with a little more insight about the man making the decisions for the Yankees.

Feliciano to be shut down for ten days

Via Wally Matthews, the Yankees are shutting down lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano for ten days in an effort to battle an injury now described as soreness in a muscle behind his left shoulder. He won’t pick up a ball in that time, so it seems like it’ll be at least three weeks before he returns to the big league team. As for his replacement, right now it’s a toss up between Steve Garrison and Luis Ayala, though I imagine the former is the favorite since he’s a fellow lefty and on the 40-man. Let’s hope the ten days does the trick and Feliciano makes it back before the end of the April.