Mailbag: Chavez, Nunez, Martin, Hall of Famers

Curious about how viable Jorge Posada is as a backup first baseman? Or Eduardo Nunez usurping Ramiro Pena as the utility infielder or CC Sabathia‘s Hall of Fame chances? Then you’ve come to the right place, the RAB Mailbag. If you want to send in a question, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Bart asks: I know the Yankees are wanting Chavez to spell Tex at 1st base but if he is having trouble playing that position is there any chance they let Jorge be the backup 1st baseman? Then have Chavez to play 3rd when Arod needs to DH or sit. I’m assuming Chavez could also sub in RF if it were a desperate late game need.

I’m not sure about Eric Chavez playing the outfield, he might be too fragile to be running around there, but Posada can definitely serve as the backup first baseman. We’ve already heard that he’ll see some time there during the spring, and he does have 28 games played (15 starts) at the position in his career, so it’s not completely foreign to him. My only concern is that Jorge’s defense would be so bad, Jason Giambi-esque considering how poorly he moves around, that it’s basically no difference between he and the worst Chavez case defensively at first.

Either way, both guys can play first base if needed, though it won’t be pretty. Nick Swisher is always an option there as well.

Patrick asks: Eduardo Nunez: What are his chances of replacing Ramiro Pena as the Yankees utility player? It seems that he is really having a great spring and with Pena’s offensive deficiencies it may be time to swap them out. What have you been hearing?

I’m no insider, so I haven’t been hearing anything, but it certainly seems like Nunez has passed Pena on the utility infielder depth chart. He played some outfield the other day, and he’s also received more plate appearances than any other player in camp so far (Pena isn’t far behind, to be fair). Nunez can do a little of everything – hit, defend, run – whereas Pena can only do one thing really well, and that’s play defense. I’m no Nunez fan, but certainly offers more than Pena and would fit but better off the bench.

The only question is: how serious are the Yankees when they say Nunez is a future starting shortstop? If he really is, then end him to Triple-A to play everyday. I’ll live with Pena coming off the bench once in a while just so Nunez can get regular at-bats to work on his approach and what not.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rich asks: What do you think will happen if Russell Martin returns to form and has an all-star season? Do you think it’s more likely he gets traded by the deadline, or the Yankees move Montero for pitching and hold on to Martin until Romine, Sanchez or whoever is ready?

If Martin returns to his 2007 form, I’ll do the happy dance. What the team does really depends on the other guys. Is Montero clearly ready and capable of taking over behind the plate at the big league level? If so, then I’d trade Martin for (hopefully) a starting pitcher. If not, then I’d hang on Martin and reap the benefits. It would be a great, great problem if the Yankees ended up having too many quality catchers (in their 20’s).

Mark asks: I was wondering, before the season begins, it may be fun to have an article about current Yankees and their Hall of Fame chances. Obviously Jeter and ARod are the front runners. But what about Jorge? Or CC? What do they (and the rest of the team) have to do from here on to be considered for the Hall?

The three surefire, no doubt it, first ballot Hall of Famers on the team are Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera, clearly. Those three will waltz into the HoF. The borderline guys are Posada and CC Sabathia in my eyes. Both Mark Teixeira and Robbie Cano a) have a long, long ways to go, and b) need to take their game to another level before we can begin this discussion.

Posada’s candidacy depends on your criteria. He’s better than Jim Rice, so by that standard he gets in. If you’re a small Hall person, then he doesn’t make the cut. My heart says that Jorge belongs in Cooperstown because he was essentially the best catcher in baseball for a period of eight to ten years, bridging Mike Piazza and Joe Mauer, but my head says he doesn’t. Great player that is seemingly under-rated by Yankees fans, but a notch below HoF level. No shame in that at all.

As for CC, he obviously has a whole lot of playing time ahead of him. He’s 30 years old with 157 career wins to his credit, so he has a very real shot at 300. For comparison’s sake, Roger Clemens had 172 wins at age 30, Greg Maddux had 165, and Randy Johnson had a whopping 68. Sabathia’s right there with those guys, and if he hangs around long enough to get that 300th win, he’ll head to Cooperstown on the first ballot. Do I think he’s a HoFer? Not right now, of course not. But he’s already halfway there, and most guys don’t make it that far.

An early glimpse at a rotation race

Once upon a time, Yogi Berra once said of left field in Yankee Stadium that “it gets late early out there.” He was talking about the sun conditions in the outfield, but it stuck. Thirteen games into the Grapefruit League, though, it’s still early. Yet, with Opening Day looming at the end of the month, the Yanks have some rotation decisions to make.

As we well know, the Yanks are trying the kitchen sink approach to the rotation. Left high and dry when Andy Pettitte called it a career and Cliff Lee left for the museums and subways of Philadelphia, the Bombers reeled int Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to go with Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova. The idea, as many have noted, is to somehow produce enough starts from the four of them to make the offense and bullpen do its thing. If a top-flight starter hits the market in late June or early July, so much the better.

As the early days of Spring Training melt away, it’s easy to ignore results. When Justin Maxwell and Melky Mesa are playing out half of the Yanks’ games, the final scores matter little, and the process is what informs the club. Still, as the innings start to mount, we can check in on the four starters fighting for two spots.

Leading the innings charge so far is Grapefruit Opening Day starter Bartolo Colon. The Yankees seem willing to give him as many chances as possible to fail, and while he’s pitched “the worst” of the bunch, his stuff and approach have been sound. In nine innings, he’s allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk. He is, in fact, the only one of the bunch to give up a walk, but he has responded with 12 strike outs. More importantly, he hasn’t been afraid to attack the zone. The fastball velocity isn’t where it once was, but for now, he’s been confident going after hitters.

Right behind him has been Freddy Garcia. The presumptive fourth starter has made two outings and has thrown 5 innings with a bunch of zeroes. He struck out three and gave up two hits with nothing else. There’s not much left to say about Garcia. He made 28 reasonably fine starts last year and has come out competing this spring. As “intangibles” as that sounds, he ought to make the rotation.

The other two guys — Nova and Mitre — have looked good as well. Both have thrown five innings spanning two games while giving up nary a run. Nova has K’d two while Mitre has four strike outs. As much as you can judge a bunch of pitchers through five innings, everyone has impressed.

Now, the Yankees don’t expect these guys to continue this top-flight pitching. After all, the Yanks are looking for a fourth and fifth starter and not a pair of aces. But based on what we’ve seen so far, I have no reason to believe the team’s plans have changed.

Although Colon has seemingly expressed a willingness to pitch in long relief, he and Garcia are the presumptive starters. They both have veteran experience and both can elect free agency if not chosen for the Yanks’ roster out of Spring Training. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi can’t burn their pitching depth before April, and the folks after Nova and Mitre on the depth charts aren’t quite ready for regular Major League action. Early on, the script is playing out as written.

Yanks ink 20-year-old Dominican hurler

Earlier this evening, Dionisio Soldevila had reported via Twitter that the Yanks had signed a 20-year-old pitcher named Juan Carlos Paniagua for $1.1 million. I couldn’t find much about Paniagua , but Ben Badler had more in a report at Baseball America.

Paniagua had once been suspended by Major League Baseball for age fraud and Badler had some kind words about his stuff. Paniagua is “6-foot-1, 170 pounds with excellent arm speed and a power fastball that sits around 93-95 mph and touches 98. Some scouts said Paniagua has shown feel for a curveball and a changeup that could become above-average offerings in the future, though other scouts weren’t quite as sold on his secondary pitches.” We’ll find out soon enough what the Yanks’ plans are for this young arm.

Open Thread: March 10th camp notes

It was not a particularly exciting day for the Yanks down in Clearwater as they faced the Phillies. With Yogi giving everyone a pre-game scare, the Yanks’ bats were held in check by Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Coming off of a rocky outing, CC Sabathia threw five shut-out innings, giving up just three hits, and Halladay matched him with six zeroes.

The Yanks’ bullpen however couldn’t keep the game close. Robert Fish — one of the Rule 5 guys not long for the Yanks — gave up three runs in an inning, and unfortunately, Mark Prior was victimized as well. He threw just 0.2 innings and allowed three runs, but one earned, on a hit and two walks. Justin Maxwell dropped a well-hit ball for a two-run error with two outs in that frame. Prior did record another pair of strike outs though and made it unscathed through another appearance.

Now, some notes:

  • Jorge Posada played first in this game and turned a nifty double play on a line drive. The Yanks are determined to keep him from behind the plate.
  • Meanwhile, Jesus Montero went 0 for 3 as the DH and is now hitting .158 on the spring. Two of those ABs were against Roy Halladay though. I wouldn’t get too worried at all.
  • Colin Curtis will be out for a month as he rehabs a dislocated shoulder. (Feinsand).
  • The Yanks play two tomorrow. Ivan Nova goes against the Blue Jays in Dunedin while Phil Hughes draws the Braves in Tampa.

Anyway, open thread. Go nuts.

Yankees GM resigns

Oh, no not Brian Cashman. My bad. I’m talking about Triple-A Scranton GM Jeremy Ruby, who resigned to take over as the athletic director of the Abington Heights School District. His responsibilities will also include “working on ways to help the district raise funds to address an ever-widening gap between the district’s income and expenses.” Ruby had been with the Scranton franchise since 1999, when it was it a Phillies affiliate.

A minor league GM is a manager in the more traditional sense. He/she won’t sign or trade for players, but they make sure everything is running smoothly. Minor league clubs are businesses and are there to make money, and someone has to oversee that operation.

Yogi ‘in good spirits’ after clubhouse tumble

A little bit of scary news out of Clearwater this morning: Guest instructor and storied Hall of Famer Yogi Berra took a fall inside the Yankee clubhouse earlier today prior to the team’s game against the Phillies. According to reports, the former catcher “caught one of his sneakers on the carpe…and fell on his backside.” He did bang his head, and the Yankees say paramedics attending to him on the spot. “He is alert and in good spirits,” a team spokesman said.

For Yogi, this is the second such fall in recent months. He missed Old Timers Day in July after stumbling at his Montclair, New Jersey, home. Hopefully, he’ll have a speedy recovery this week. “He’s in good spirits, he’s smiling,” Yankee GM Brian Cashman said. “He didn’t want to go. We’re going to make sure it’s going to be fine.”

Consensus Top 50 Prospects List

I missed this at the end of last month, but Project Prospect compiled a consensus top 50 prospects list by averaging out the top 100 lists published by Baseball America, Keith Law, Kevin Goldstein, and Frankie Piliere, plus their own. Jesus Montero comes in at number three (average score of 3.4) behind Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, in that order. Manny Banuelos places 22nd with an average score of 25.4, and Gary Sanchez checks in at number43 thanks to a 46.8 average score. Dellin Betances and/or Andrew Brackman didn’t make the cut.

Those rankings sound about right to me, I’m glad someone finally went ahead and put something like this together.