Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela injuries don’t leave Yankees many backup infielder options

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By and large, the Yankees have made it through Spring Training without any major injuries to significant players. Chris Capuano will miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and while it’s never a good thing to lose pitching depth, he is replaceable. Brendan Ryan suffered a Grade II calf strain yesterday and had to be literally carried off the field. He’s not going to be ready in time for Opening Day, which is now only four days away. Not by a long shot.

Losing Ryan in and of itself is not a big deal, but the middle infield injuries are starting to pile up. Didi Gregorius has missed the last few days with a wrist sprain and is scheduled to return to game action this afternoon, so at least he’s on the mend. Jose Pirela has not done anything more than ride a stationary bike after crashing into the outfield wall ten days ago and suffering a concussion. Thankfully everything seems to be going well with Didi’s wrist, but Ryan and Pirela being hurt at the same time means the Yankees need a new backup infielder. Their options are pretty limited with Opening Day right around the corner. Let’s run ‘em down.

A-Rod at Shortstop?

A-Rod mustache

Nope. Moving on …

The Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder Option

The Yankees have insisted Drew is a second baseman, so much so that he’s played zero innings at shortstop during Grapefruit League play. That’ll change today though. Drew is slated to play shortstop during one of the team’s split squad games this afternoon — for what it’s worth, he said he feels he could pick shortstop back up quickly — just so he could be an option in case Didi’s wrist issue lingers.

Following Ryan’s injury yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees could go into the season with Drew as their backup plan at shortstop and carry a second baseman as the backup infielder. That’s about as close as Girardi could come to saying Refsnyder is a candidate for the backup infielder’s job without actually saying it.

“Things can happen quick,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Refsnyder’s bat would be a welcome addition to the bench, but, as we’ve seen this spring, his defense is far from MLB ready. I don’t think the Yankees want to go through the hassle of adding Refsnyder to the 40-man roster* only to have him sit on the bench four out of every five games either. That doesn’t help his development or the team. And no, like it or not Refsnyder wouldn’t take over as the starting second baseman. They’ve made that very clear.

So yes, using Drew as the backup shortstop and carrying Refsnyder as the backup second baseman is an option, but not an ideal one. The 40-man issue is not insignificant — once Refsnyder is added he won’t come off, so flexibility would be hurt — and the Yankees would need to feel confident in Alex Rodriguez as Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. At this point of his career, I don’t see what good being a part-time player does for Refsnyder.

* The 40-man roster is indeed full. The official site shows 39 players but is missing Tyler Austin for whatever reason. Ivan Nova is a 60-day DL candidate, so that’s one easy-to-open spot.

Other Internal Candidates

Beyond Refsnyder, the Yankees’ other internal backup infield options are Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, and the recently acquired Gregorio Petit, the first three of whom were signed to minor league contracts for this exact reason. To be depth in case guys like Ryan and Pirela got hurt. Galvez hasn’t played the middle infield since the 2013 season, so he’s not a good reserve infielder candidate. The Yankees need someone who can play at least second base on the bench.

Figueroa is a contact machine, his bat-to-ball skills are top notch (10.0 BB% and 6.8 K% in nearly 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances), but he has zero power and isn’t much of a defender. Noonan can’t hit but he can defend, all around the infield too. Same with Petit. Figueroa and Noon are left-handed hitters, which isn’t ideal, but there’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. When it comes to this bench spot, I think the club would be better off with Noonan’s or Petit’s glove than Figueroa’s ability to put the ball in play.

Figueroa, Noonan, and Petit would have to be added to the 40-man roster, though, unlike Refsnyder, they don’t have to stay there. They could be designated for assignment whenever Pirela or Ryan gets healthy. These guys aren’t part of the long-term plan and wouldn’t hurt flexibility. There’s a big picture element to all of this the Yankees can’t ignore.

Florimon. (Presswire)
Florimon. (Presswire)

The Out of Options Market

We’ve reached the point of spring where players who are out of minor league options are starting to get traded (Sandy Leon) or placed on waivers (Cesar Puello). It figures to happen with Austin Romine soon too. There are very few out of options infielders for the Yankees to consider as temporary bench players. In fact, of all the infielders on MLBTR’s out of options list, only one is not expected to make his team’s Opening Day roster: Pedro Florimon.

The Pirates are expected to waive Florimon soon, and while he’s a quality defender at short, he has basically no experience at second (nine games in the minors) or third (eleven games in the minors) bases and absolutely can not hit. He’s Ryan without the versatility, basically. The Rays just released Alexi Casilla to avoid paying him the $100,000 retention bonus as an Article XX(B) free agent, so perhaps he’s an option. Casilla’s a more versatile, less defense-y version of Florimon.

Point is, there aren’t many readily available infield options for the Yankees to consider during Ryan’s absence, hence the Petit trade. The Yankees didn’t get someone better because no one better is available. There’s a real dearth of quality infielders in baseball these days. Even replacement level guys are hard to find right now. The Yankees could pick up Florimon and/or Casilla for depth, just to have the extra body around, but they aren’t any sort of upgrade over what they have in house right now.

* * *

As fun as it would be to see Refsnyder on the Opening Day roster, I don’t see the point in carrying him as a bench player. He needs to play to improve his defense. Taking extra ground balls before games won’t help much either. Refsnyder needs game reps. Since Pirela seems to be on the mend, the Yankees can focus on a short-term replacement. I’d prefer Petit or Noonan but if they want Figueroa or Florimon or Casilla, fine, whatever. Either way, this player won’t see much playing time. Or shouldn’t, anyway. The Yankees only need a band-aid right now. Nothing more.

Update: Brendan Ryan diagnosed with Grade II calf strain

8:41pm: The MRI revealed a Grade II calf strain, the Yankees announced. They did not say anything about a timetable, but a Grade II strain usually takes several weeks to heal.

3:32pm: It’s a right calf strain for Ryan, the Yankees announced. He is heading for an MRI to determine the severity of the injury.

3:03pm: Another infielder has gone down with injury. Brendan Ryan suffered an apparent right calf injury while ranging behind the second base bag from shortstop to field a chopper this afternoon. There was no awkward step or anything like that. Ryan just came up holding his calf and eventually walked off the field very gingerly with assistance from the training staff. He had to be carried down the dugout steps.

Ryan, 33, missed the first few weeks of Spring Training with a mid-back sprain. He doesn’t have any sort of history of leg injuries, so this seems like a freak occurrence, just a pulled muscle while going after the ball. The Yankees haven’t released any information about the injury but we’ll pass it along when they do. Having to get carried off the field suggests Ryan was in a lot of discomfort.

The Yankees are also currently without infielders Didi Gregorius and Jose Pirela. Gregorius is nursing a wrist sprain after landing awkwardly diving for a ball and is day-to-day. Pirela suffered a concussion when he crashed into the outfield wall and there’s no timetable for his return. Joe Girardi has said Stephen Drew won’t play shortstop, so if either Gregorius or Ryan is not healthy come Opening Day, I guess Nick Noonan next in line.

Yankees acquire infielder Gregorio Petit from Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

8:39pm: Done deal, both teams have announced the trade. Petit for a player to be named or cash, as Ortiz reported.

8:38pm: According to Jose de Jesus Ortiz, the Yankees have acquired infielder Gregorio Petit from the Astros. He was with Houston as a non-roster player and was recently reassigned to minor league camp, so he’s not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees are sending a player to be named later or cash to the Astros in the swap.

Petit, 30, hit .278/.300/.423 (102 OPS+) in exactly 100 plate appearances with the Astros last year. It was his first MLB action since 2009. Petit is a right-handed hitter and a career .269/.323/.373 career hitter in over 2,800 (!) Triple-A plate appearances. He has experience all over the infield and is considered a sound defender.

The Yankees lost Brendan Ryan to a calf injury earlier today and are still without Jose Pirela (concussion), so Petit helps replenish their infield depth. I wouldn’t assume he’s automatically the favorite to be the backup infielder during Ryan’s absence, however. He’s just an extra body.

Open Thread: April 1st Camp Notes

The Yankees lost 3-0 to the Rays this afternoon. Chase Whitley started and was really good, allowing one run on four hits in four innings. He struck out six and walked zero. At this point I would be surprised if Whitley wasn’t in the Opening Day bullpen. Esmil Rogers (1.1 innings) and Chasen Shreve (0.2 innings) each allowed an unearned run. Nick Rumbelow faced the minimum six hitters in his two innings of work and struck out three.

Singles by Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and Ramon Flores were the team’s only hits of the day. Alex Rodriguez, John Ryan Murphy, Brendan Ryan, and Chase Headley drew the four walks. Jacoby Ellsbury went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in his return to game action after missing two weeks with an oblique issue. He seemed to be moving around just fine. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Ryan suffered a right calf strain this afternoon and Joe Girardi said he would “be surprised” if his backup infielder is healthy in time for Opening Day. Stephen Drew will play shortstop in one of tomorrow’s split squad games just so he could be an option there with Ryan and Didi Gregorius (wrist) banged up. [Dan Barbarisi, Bryan Hoch]
  • Speaking of Gregorius, he went through a full round of workouts this afternoon. Ground balls, batting practice, the works. He said he could have played today but the Yankees didn’t want to push it. Gregorius will play shortstop in the other split squad game tomorrow. [Chad Jennings]
  • The rotation for the rest of spring: Michael Pineda and Bryan Mitchell (tomorrow’s split squad games), CC Sabathia (Friday), and Nathan Eovaldi (Saturday). I assume Adam Warren, who was officially named the fifth starter, will throw in a simulated or minor league game Sunday to stay on turn. Everyone’s lined up to make their first start of the season on extra rest. [Jennings]
  • Jose Pirela (concussion) is a “long shot” to be ready for Opening Day. He feels fine and could resume swinging a bat tomorrow, but for now he’s limited to riding a stationary bike. A-Rod will play first base tomorrow. [Brendan Kuty, Marly Rivera, Hoch]
  • The Blue Jays have set their rotation. The Yankees will see Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey, and Daniel Norris in their first series of the season next week. [Gregor Chisholm]

This is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on both YES (11pm ET) and MLB Network (12pm ET). The Knicks and Nets are playing each other as well. Use this thread to talk about whatever you like.

Adam Warren officially named fifth starter, finally

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Joe Girardi officially named Adam Warren the fifth starter this afternoon, according to all the reporters in Tampa. Warren out-pitched the competition in Spring Training and it was especially obvious he had won the job after Esmil Rogers was moved to the bullpen last week.

Warren, 27, has made just three starts in his big league career, one of which was his disastrous six-runs, 2.1-inning MLB debut in 2012. He also started two games on limited pitch counts in 2013. Those three starts don’t really tell us a whole lot about what Warren can do as a starter in 2015, however.

Interestingly enough, Warren’s career path is rather old school. Teams used to break young pitchers in as a relievers before moving them into the rotation all the time back in the day. Warren has gained a lot of experience while in the bullpen the last two years and hopefully it helps him now that he’s in the rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka has already been named the Opening Day starter. He’ll be followed in order by Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and Warren. Chris Capuano will still be out several weeks with his quad injury, and if Warren pitches well in April, Capuano could wind up in the bullpen once healthy.

Same Skipper, Familiar Faces Headline New-Look Coaching Staff [2015 Season Preview]

For the first time in several years, the Yankees made sweeping changes to their coaching staff this past offseason. Joe Girardi returned despite a second straight postseason-less year, but hitting coach Kevin Long did not. The base coaches were also shuffled around. It all adds up to a new-look coaching staff that still features some familiar faces. Let’s look at the coaching staff heading into the new season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi: More Responsibility Than Ever Before

It goes without saying that being a big league manager comes with a ton of responsibility. Managers don’t just bring in relievers or wait for the thumbs up to ask for instant replay. We see a very small part of what managers actually do. Most of their work happens behind the scenes, in the clubhouse or on the field hours before or after first pitch. They have 25 players and 25 egos to manage. More than that when you include support staff.

Girardi is about to enter his eighth season as Yankees manager and over these last seven years we’ve learned a lot about him as an on-field strategist. He’s very good at ensuring his hitters get the platoon advantage — the Yankees had the platoon advantage in 62.9% of their plate appearances the last three years, sixth best in baseball. Girardi is also very meticulous with his bullpen and making sure his relievers are rested.

This season, the Yankees heaped more even more responsibility on Girardi’s shoulders by building what amounts to a pitching and defense team. They built up a ton of bullpen depth and are counting on Girardi not only deploying his relievers in the best way possible, but also ensuring they are rested for the long season. That’s the formula. Scratch out a few runs, then turn it over to Girardi and the bullpen. He won’t have many opportunities to platoon his hitters this season though, with only Chris Young and Garrett Jones on the bench as usable platoon bats.

Girardi is also going to have to manage the Alex Rodriguez circus. That hasn’t been too crazy in Spring Training, but it will be once the regular season starts, at least at first. Trips to visiting parks will be headaches. Girardi and the Yankees dealt with this when A-Rod returned in 2013 and that went about as well as everyone could have hoped, so hopefully the chaos will be kept to a minimum. Either way, Joe’s got his work cut out for him in 2015, on and off the field.

Larry Rothschild: The Fixer

The Yankees hired Rothschild during the 2010-11 offseason and since then they’ve handed him several project pitchers. He’s been able to fix some (Brandon McCarthy) but not all (A.J. Burnett). This year, Rothschild will be tasked with not only helping Nathan Eovaldi take a step forward in his development, but also implementing a plan to keep Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia healthy. Right now, that plan seems to be extra rest whenever possible early in the season. And, of course, the Yankees will look to acquire McCarthy-esque pitchers at a discount price during the season and hope Rothschild turns them into top shelf producers. The Yankees seem to have had two or three pitchers kinda come out of nowhere to contribute each year under Rothschild. They’ll need him to do it again in 2015.

Jeff Pentland & Alan Cockrell: It Was Him, Not Us

Pentland. (Presswire)
Pentland. (Presswire)

When the Yankees missed the postseason for the second straight year in 2014, someone was going to take the fall. And once Brian Cashman signed his new contract, Long was the obvious scapegoat. He was fired in October and eventually replaced by not just one hitting coach, but two. Pentland is the hitting coach and Cockrell is the assistant hitting coach. It’s a two-man job these days.

Simply put, Pentland and Cockrell will be asked to show Long was the problem with the offense the last two years, not the team’s collection of aging, past-prime hitters. The hitting coach duo has to get Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann to overcome the shift, coax a productive year out of soon-to-be 38-year-old Carlos Beltran, convince Stephen Drew he isn’t a true talent .162 hitter, get Brett Gardner to repeat last year’s power output, and help Didi Gregorius take a step forward. Nice and easy, right? Good luck, fellas.

Gary Tuck: Catching Instructor Extraordinaire

Tuck, the Yankees’ bullpen coach, has long been regarded as an excellent catching instructor. The Yankees value defense behind the plate very much, so while Tuck is the bullpen coach first and foremost, part of his job this year will be developing the glovework of either Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy, whoever wins the backup catcher’s job. The pitchers are Rothschild’s responsibility. Tuck is in charge of the catchers.

Tony Pena & Joe Espada: Base Coaches

In addition to firing Long, the Yankees also fired first base coach Mick Kelleher and shuffled around their coaching staff. Rob Thomson moves from third base coach to bench coach, Pena moves from bench coach to first base coach, and Espada moves from the front office to third base coach. Thomson had a knack for bad sends — I blame some of that on the offense, Thomson had the push the envelope on occasion to score runs — and hopefully Espada is an upgrade there. We really don’t know what to expect from him though. Evaluating base coaches is pretty tough, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They’re important enough that the Yankees remade the staff to get new ones this winter.

Spring Training Game Thread: Ellsbury’s Return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After spending two weeks sidelined by a minor oblique injury, Jacoby Ellsbury returns to Grapefruit League play this afternoon. He played went through the usual rehab progression — dry swings, hit off a tee and soft toss, hit in the batting cage, full batting practice on the field — before playing in a minor league game yesterday, which he came through just fine. Ellsbury has four spring games remaining to get tuned up for the season.

Today’s reason to watch: Ellsbury’s return, first and foremost. Missing two weeks isn’t a huge deal, but it is Spring Training, so he does have some catching up to do. Also, Chase Whitley and Chasen Shreve will make either their last or second to last appearances before the final two bullpen spots are decided. This might be their last chance to make a statement.

The Rays are up from Port Charlotte for this afternoon’s game. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s starting lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. DH Alex Rodriguez
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Brendan Ryan
    RHP Chase Whitley

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Garrett Jones, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Taylor Dugas, CF Jake Cave, and RF Ramon Flores will be the second string off the bench. C Austin Romine and C Eddy Rodriguez are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Esmil Rogers, LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP Andrew Bailey, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Jose Ramirez, and LHP Tyler Webb are all scheduled to pitch. LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Diego Moreno, and LHP Fred Lewis are the extra arms.

It’s a little cloudy in Tampa but there’s no rain in the forecast and the temperature is in the low-80s. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch live on YES and MLB.tv. The game won’t be blacked out on MLB.tv in either team’s home market. Enjoy.