Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees scouted former Yankee Bobby Abreu during his winter ball stint in Venezuela. The didn’t like what they saw and have obviously decided to pass. Remember, they tried to acquire him from the Angels for A.J. Burnett last offseason.
Abreu, who turned 39 on Monday, went 8-for-41 (.195) with three doubles and a triple in eleven winter ball games, drawing nine walks against ten strikeouts. He managed a .242/.350/.342 (97 wRC+) line in 257 plate appearances for the Angels and Dodgers last season, his fourth straight year of declining production. Bobby can still draw a walk like few others (14.4 BB% in 2012), but his power had disappeared (.108 ISO since 2011) and he absolutely can’t hit lefties (79 wRC+ since 2011). He also doesn’t steal many bases anyway and he was a terrible defender when he was playing in the Bronx five years ago. Abreu worked out at first base for some teams this winter, but he’s shown all the symptoms of age-related decline and I don’t want the Yankees to be his employer when he finally crashes. · (13) ·
Sixteen days from now, CC Sabathia will be on the mound for Opening Day. Today he will make his first Spring Training start after a series of simulated games designed to keep AL East rivals from seeing him before the season. Sabathia got his pitch count up to around 40 pitches last time out, so he’ll probably go 60 pitches or so this afternoon. Given his offseason elbow surgery, this game is a pretty important step. Here’s the starting nine…
- CF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- LF Ichiro Suzuki
- DH Travis Hafner
- RF Juan Rivera
- C Frankie Cervelli
- 3B Ronnie Mustelier
- 1B Dan Johnson
- 2B Corban Joseph
And on the mound is the left-hander from Vallejo, CC Sabathia. Here are the day’s second stringers, courtesy of Chad Jennings.
Available Position Players: C Francisco Arcia, 2B Gil Velazquez, SS Addison Maruszak, 3B Jose Pirela, LF Matt Diaz, CF Melky Mesa, RF Thomas Neal, and DH Bobby Wilson will come off the bench. Johnson will play the entire game, apparently.
The game is scheduled to start a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES and MLB.tv (no local blackout). Enjoy.
Skipped the mailbag last week because of the Season Preview series, but we’re back at it this week. Got four questions for you, two about current Yankees and two about players they may or may not look to acquire. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything throughout the week.
Paul asks: In 2011 and 2012 (maybe 2010 too) we saw Mariano Rivera get used more cautiously. Less outings of more than an inning, more rest, etc. Any chance Joe Girardi will just send him out there and give him the Joe Torre/Scott Proctor treatment since this is his last year?
That’s a pretty interesting question, but I would be shocked if Girardi used Rivera for more than three outs semi-regularly. That doesn’t mean I think he should use him for 100+ innings like it’s 1996 either, but I would like to see Mo for two innings in an extra innings game at home, for four or five outs if things are getting hairy in the eighth, stuff like that. I would hope Girardi scraps any workload concerns in the postseason and just goes nuts, squeezing every last bullet out of Rivera’s arm in the weeks before retirement, but they have to get to the playoffs first.
Travis asks: If the Yankees look outside the organization, would Yan Gomes of Cleveland make sense? He can play 3B, 1B and even a little LF.
Gomes, 25, is most notable for being the first Brazilian-born player to play in MLB. He debuted with the Blue Jays last season and hit .204/.264/.367 (69 wRC+) in just 111 plate appearances, then was traded to the Indians with Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers over the winter. He’s very versatile, with a ton of experience at the corner infield spots and behind the plate, plus he dabbled with left field a bit last year.
Baseball America ranked Gomes as the 27th best prospect in Cleveland’s system in their 2013 Prospect Handbook, one spot ahead of current Yankee Thomas Neal. They said Gomes “may not quite profile as a regular, but he could be useful as a backup catcher who can play multiple positions and provide power,” noting that he’s an impatient hitter and his swing gets a little long. He would make sense for several teams as a right-handed bat off the bench, including the Yankees, but I don’t think I would give up much to acquire him. Pretty much the only thing he has on someone like Ronnie Mustelier is the ability to catch, which is big but not the most important thing in the world.
SMC asks: Rafael Furcal is having Tommy John surgery and Pete Kozma isn’t a shortstop. What about Eduardo Nunez for Matt Carpenter? Fits a need for both sides.
Heh, Nunez is no shortstop either, not unless he manages to get his throwing under control. I don’t expect that to happen, he’s been working on it for years. Going way back in the minors too, I’m not talking about two or three years. The Cardinals have a perfectly capable shortstop in Ryan Jackson who they seem unwilling to use. He’s a great defender but he can’t hit, which is better than no-hit/no-glove Kozma. I don’t think Nunez would be all that interesting to them.
That said, I love Carpenter. The 27-year-old is a career .283/.359/.447 (120 wRC+) hitter with six homers in limited big league time (359 plate appearances), but he’s hit at every step of the minors and consistently walked as much (if not more) than he’s struck out. Carpenter can handle the four corner positions and St. Louis has been working him out second base this spring, and apparently he’s done well enough that they’re leaning towards playing him there full-time to open the season. I’d love to see the Yankees acquire him and playing him fairly regularly at whatever position, but I don’t think the Cardinals will make him available. Certainly not for Nunez anyway.
Tom asks: I feel like I’ve seen Corban Joseph play third a few times so far this spring, and he’s looked okay at third to my untrained eye. We’ve all heard the knock on him is his defense, but I was wondering how big a knock that is? Is he a guy that could fake third for a while and not have it be disastrous, or do you think the truth will get ugly if/when we see him more at 3B?
Joseph’s problem isn’t so much fielding the ball, he just doesn’t have the arm — strength or accuracy — to consistently make the throw over to first. That’s been very evident this spring, as he short-hopped balls across the diamond or muscled up so much they landed in the stands. This isn’t Nunez having the tools and being unable to use them to make the play, this is not having the tools at all. I like Joseph and think he can be a productive enough hitter to at least come off a big league bench, but I just don’t know where he would play. Do you just accept the risk at third and hope the bat makes up for it? Maybe, but it’s very risky.
Phil Hughes faced hitters this morning for the first time since dealing with a bulging disk in his upper back earlier in camp. He threw 26 pitches and everything went fine, so he’s now expected to throw a simulated game on Monday. I suppose Hughes could make his Grapefruit League debut after that, but it seems unlikely he’ll be ready in time for the start of the season. No reason to rush it and risk a setback. · (13) ·
The Yankees will open 2013 with their fifth different primary DH in the last five seasons, and that is completely by design. Hideki Matsui‘s knees relegated him to almost exclusive DH duty in 2008 and 2009, creating roster and lineup inflexibility. The team dealt with a similar issue in 2010 with Jorge Posada.
Otherwise, New York has tried to use that DH spot as a revolving door, which is a trend spreading throughout the league. Rather than have one set everyday DH, they’ve picked up a low-cost left-handed hitter to platoon with their older players at the position. Brett Gardner‘s injury forced Raul Ibanez — who was signed to be that low-cost left-handed half of the DH platoon — in the outfield more than expected last season, which is why ten different players started games at DH last year. Only one (Alex Rodriguez) started more than 25 games there.
This summer’s low-cost left-handed DH is long-time Cleveland Indian Travis Hafner, who signed a one-year contract with a $2M base salary in early-February. The 35-year-old hit .228/.346/.438 (118 wRC+) with 12 homers in 263 plate appearances last season, including .241/.361/.437 (123 wRC+) against righties. Over the last three seasons, Pronk has hit .267/.363/.447 (124 wRC+) overall and .278/.385/.470 (136 wRC+) against right-handers, which is exactly what the Yankees want him to do in 2013. It’s a very simple job, just hit right-handers and take advantage of the short porch.
The Yankees have already admitted their plan to use Derek Jeter as their full-time DH against left-handers, at least early in the season. The move has more to do with getting him off his feet following late-October ankle surgery than his ability to mash southpaws — .364/.399/.542 (157 wRC+) in 2012 and .344/.403/.515 (150 wRC+) since 2010 — which is completely understandable. Jeter, 38, could use the regular rest following surgery even if serving as the DH is only a half-day off, so to speak. That will presumably force Eduardo Nunez into the field as shortstop on a fairly regular basis.
There are two concerns with a Hafner-led DH platoon. One, he doesn’t play a position at all. He hasn’t played first base regularly since 2005 or at all since 2007, so unlike Ibanez last year, he won’t be able to fill-in anywhere in case of injury. That’s already a problem in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s wrist injury. Second, Hafner himself is an injury risk. He had right shoulder surgery in October 2008 and has been on the DL six times in the four years since, including two times in both 2011 and 2012. Ailments have ranged from shoulder soreness to an oblique strain to knee surgery to a bulging disk in his back. Hafner is a very important part of the lineup early in the season with Teixeira and Curtis Granderson hurt, but he’s unlikely to make it through the entire season unscathed himself.
No team carries a backup DH. The position doesn’t exist. If and when Hafner gets hurt, the Yankees will do what they did last year. They’ll rotate players in and out of the position to rest them, with a bench player like Nunez or the right-handed hitting outfielder to be named later seeing more playing time in the field. Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson, A-Rod, Kevin Youkilis, Robinson Cano … all of them would see time at DH should anything happen to Hafner.
Knocking on the Door
Again, no team stashes a backup DH in the minors. The obvious answer for the Yankees here would be first baseman Dan Johnson, who looks poised to open the season as Teixeira’s temporary replacement. Outfielders Thomas Neal and Zoilo Almonte, first baseman Luke Murton, and infielders Corban Joseph and David Adams could all be called up if Hafner goes down and see playing time in some capacity. DH depth isn’t clearly defined like it is for other positions, it won’t be one set guy to come off the bench or up from Triple-A if the DH spot becomes suddenly vacant.
The Top Prospect
I didn’t rank a single DH prospect in my preseason top 30 list because DH prospects don’t exist. The closest we’ve seen to one is Jesus Montero, who is being given every opportunity to catch in the big leagues. It’s the ultimate last resort position. I guess Ronnie Mustelier could be considered the team’s top DH prospect given his good bat and poor defense, but he won’t be moving there anytime soon. Below-average defense is better than zero defense in some instances, especially since most hitters see their offensive production decline when serving as the DH. It’s not an easy thing to do, sitting around between at-bats.
The Deep Sleeper
The Yankees don’t have a true DH prospect at all, nevermind in the lower minors. If someone is stuck playing DH semi-regularly in a short season league, they ain’t no prospect. I’ll take Yeicok Calderon, who I mentioned yesterday in the right field write-up. He can hit a little but stinks defensively, so maybe he winds up a DH down the line. Otherwise, nothing to see here.
* * *
The Yankees will rely on Hafner and Jeter at DH this year, especially early in the season. Others like Youkilis and Cano will see some time at the position as well, just to get a day away from the field, and guys like Almonte and Mustelier provide some depth in Triple-A. Hafner is very important to the Yankees though, especially while Teixeira and Granderson are out. It’s not at all a stretch to call him their second best offensive player at the moment.
Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees have not reached out to free agent Aubrey Huff in the wake of Mark Teixeira’s wrist injury. McCullough’s source simply said “no” when asked if the team inquired.
Huff, 36, hit .192/.326/.282 (76 wRC+) in only 95 plate appearances for the Giants last season while battling anxiety disorder and a nagging knee strain. He originally hurt the knee jumping over the dugout railing celebrating a walk-off win. Huff didn’t hit while healthy in 2011 — .246/.306/.370 (87 wRC+) in 579 plate appearances — so it wasn’t a one-year slump. That 2010 season with the Giants (144 wRC+) sure looks like a last hurrah. · (10) ·
The old adage says a run saved on defense is as good as a run created on offense, and a number of teams have put that theory to the test in recent years. The 2010 Mariners are the perfect example of a club that went all-in on pitching and defense, and they absolutely stunk because there is a slight problem with that theory: creating a run on offense happens far more often than saving a run on defense. Just consider the opportunities, a hitter is guaranteed at least three plate appearances in every game while not being guaranteed anything as far as balls hit to their defensive position.
The absolute best defenders in baseball save about 20-25 runs over an average defender at the position in a given year according to the various metrics. That’s Brett Gardner territory, he’s a legitimate +20 defender in left field. Two players were +20 defenders by UZR last year while DRS says there were eight. On the other hand, 48 players created at least 20 runs offensively (by wRAA) with a handful of others within a few swings. So yes, a run saved is as good as a run created on offense, but creating runs on offense happens much more frequently.
Anyway, I bring this up because the Yankees have lost quite a bit of offense for the early part of the season. Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Curtis Granderson (forearm) will be out until May, and let’s not forget about Alex Rodriguez either. He outhit Kevin Youkilis last year — 114 wRC+ in 529 plate appearances vs. 102 wRC+ in 509 plate appearances — despite playing the final few weeks of the season with one good hip. A-Rod will be out until the All-Star break and is bigger loss than many people want to admit. No Nick Swisher or Eric Chavez will also sap the lineup.
Because they lost so much offensive firepower and don’t have any standout hitters to replace them, the Yankees should focus on doing what they can to save runs early in the season. None of the left field candidates are expected to hit much, but many of them also figure to stink on defense as well. Think Juan Rivera, Matt Diaz, Ronnie Mustelier … those guys. Bad offense and bad defense is a bad combination. Melky Mesa stands out as the best outfield defender in the competition, though like the other guys he will probably be below-average on offense. He is a safe bet to save a few runs with his glove though, and taking that production might be better than trying to squeeze a tiny bit of offense from someone else.
On the infield, there’s nothing the Yankees will be able to do to replace Teixeira’s glove. He has few peers on defense, but first base is also one of the least important defensive positions. They can survive with a below-average gloveman there for a few weeks. The left side of the infield is another story entirely, and the Yankees are guaranteed to have a poor defender at short. Derek Jeter was never good to start with, but now his mobility could be sapped even further by the ankle injury. Eduardo Nunez can’t make routine throws and it seems less and less likely that he’ll actually figure out it. With a ground ball-heavy rotation (outside of Phil Hughes, obviously), that could be a problem.
Ken Rosenthal says the Diamondbacks are looking to trade veteran infielder John McDonald, who can’t hit a lick (58 wRC+ in nearly 2,500 PA) but grades out excellently on defense, particularly at short. He’s cheap ($1.5M this year) and would make a lot of sense for New York’s bench, especially early in the season when Jeter will spend plenty of time at DH. If Nunez or Jayson Nix were safe bets to hit at an above-average rate, it would be a different story. None of these guys is likely to hit much, but at least McDonald would give the team above-average defense for their ground ball staff.
The Yankees were very willing to sacrifice offense for the sake of defense at the catcher position this winter — nevermind that Russell Martin was a strong defender himself, but don’t get me started again — and they should be willing to do it while Granderson and Teixeira on the shelf. It’s not like they’re sorting through a bunch a .350 OBP/.175 ISO hitters here, which should make the decision even easier. I’ve said many times before that I’m an offense over defense guy, but that’s only if the offense is a reasonable guarantee*. Since the Yankees don’t have any solid hitters to stick in the lineup, emphasizing defense might be the best approach for April.
* There are no guarantees, but you know what I mean.
The Yankees beat the Phillies on Wednesday night, extending their Grapefruit League winning streak to four games. They’ve outscored their opponents 16-3 during the four games. Derek Jeter played shortstop for the first time since having left ankle surgery in late-October, but he wasn’t tested at all. Not a single defensive play (that I remember). Oh well, it’s the thought that counts. He went 0-for-2 with a walk at the plate. Ichiro Suzuki singled twice while Kevin Youkilis and new Yankee Ben Francisco both doubled.
Andy Pettitte made his Spring Training debut with three innings of one-run ball, getting his pitch count up to right around 60. Mariano Rivera made his second appearance of the spring and fired off another perfect inning. Shawn Kelley struck out two in a perfect inning and has quietly struck out five against no walks in five innings in camp. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- RHP Adam Warren, OF Zoilo Almonte, and IF Corban Joseph were all sent to minor league camp. That’s notable because Almonte and Joseph had chances to made the big league team, albeit small ones. Ronnie Mustelier is still alive though. The Yankees still have 51 players in camp by my unofficial count. [Mark Feinsand]
- As expected, Phil Hughes will throw live batting practice tomorrow. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild won’t reveal his schedule for the right-hander, but it seems like a simulated game could be next. [Joel Sherman]
- This isn’t really a camp note, so the speak, but I recommend this Dan Barbarisi article on Mariano Rivera and Ivan Nova. It details how Rivera gave Nova a little kick in the behind and told him to work harder if he wants to keep his job.
- The Yankees will be on the road in Dunedin to face the Blue Jays tomorrow, a game that will not be televised at all. The starter still hasn’t been announced, but it’s expected to beWarren or Jose Ramirez.