Thoughts following Monday’s off-day

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Yesterday was the second of three consecutive Monday off-days for the Yankees, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The West Coast road trip was a nightmare and everyone needed a day away from baseball, fans included. At least I did, I don’t know about you. Here are some random thoughts:

1. It seems likely that Mark Teixeira will be placed on the DL today — Brian Cashman strongly hinted at it yesterday — but I have no idea what the corresponding roster move will be. Zoilo Almonte is only player in Triple-A who is both a) on the 40-man roster, and b) healthy. He’s been good this year but not great, and replacing an infielder with an outfielder doesn’t make a ton of sense given the current roster. I wonder if they’ll use Teixeira’s injury to recall Adam Warren before his ten-day waiting period is up, then designate Chris Bootcheck for assignment in favor of Josh Bell or Dan Johnson. Both have some big league experience and can play the corner infield spots (play as in stand there and hope the ball doesn’t get hit to them), which might be enough to land them on the roster. It’s a really bad time for Ronnie Mustelier, Corban Joseph, and Brennan Boesch to be on the Triple-A DL.

2. Unless he looks completely overwhelming over the next few weeks, I’m pretty sure the Yankees will send Michael Pineda to Triple-A once his rehab assignment is up on July 8th. That could obviously change if the big league rotation goes in the dump via injury or ineffectiveness. Sending him down for two or three weeks to “buy back” the year of team control they lost last year due to the injury makes too much sense not to happen. Remember, Pineda is an big time fly ball pitcher (36.3% grounders in 2011) and there were questions about how he’d fit in Yankee Stadium even before the injury. As bad as Phil Hughes has been at times — he’s really got a Good Phil/Bad Phil thing going on this year, he’s either dynamite or a disaster — I don’t think the two-pitch, fly ball guy coming off major shoulder surgery is a lock to pitch any better down the stretch.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3. Now that I’ve had some time to sit back and digest everything, I really like what the Yankees did with their three first round draft picks two weeks ago. That’s assuming Fresno State OF Aaron Judge is willing to let the team make him a millionaire at some point soon. Eric Jagielo is, by far, the most polished potential impact hitter the team has added to the farm system in years. This isn’t a project hitter with a big loop in his swing or someone who can’t recognize breaking balls, all he lacks is overall experience. Judge offers that big upside while Ian Clarkin gives them a much-needed top left-handed pitching prospect. I am big on high school pitchers and tend to overrate them, but lefties who sit in the low-90s with an out pitch curveball usually don’t make to the 33rd pick of the draft. The Yankees added a nice mix of polish and upside with those three picks, and that’s exactly what they needed. I’m looking forward to seeing all three start their careers in the coming weeks.

4. The Yankees need more out of Robinson Cano than they’ve been getting. Based on Twitter, the comments, and my email, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Not by a long shot. Cano is hitting a very good .278/.350/.511 (129 wRC+) this year, but that’s down from .311/.370/.539 (142 wRC+) from 2010-2012. That’s the guy they need, the undisputed best second baseman in the world. I’m also rather concerned about his sudden inability to hit left-handed pitchers: .218/.283/.366 (71 wRC+) this year, .239/.309/.377 (78 wRC+) last year, .314/.354/.525 (134 wRC+) in 2011, and .300/.343/.475 (116 wRC+) from 2005-2011. I fully expect the Yankees to re-sign him to some massive contract at some point in the next five or six months, but that platoon split is terrifying. Impatient contact-oriented hitters like Cano tend to suddenly fall off a cliff as it is, so just imagine adding a big platoon split to that. I’ll worry about that when the time comes. For now I’m just going to be greedy and hope Robbie gets back to his 2010-2012 self and soon.

SI Yanks open season with win over Brooklyn

In case you missed it late last night, RHP Rafael DePaula has been promoted to High-A Tampa. Here are some other notes and roster moves:

  • Triple-A Scranton: CF Melky Mesa (shoulder), UTIL Ronnie Mustelier (groin), and RHP Sam Demel (unknown) have all been placed on the DL, reports Mike Ashmore. 1B/DH Randy Ruiz was signed out of the Mexican League to give the club another warm body.
  • Double-A Trenton: LHP Matt Tracy (hip) was placed on the DL and RHP Corey Black sent back down to High-A Tampa according to Ashmore. Black’s recent promotion was just a paper move, apparently.
  • High-A Tampa: RHP Shane Greene and RHP Sean Black were both promoted to Double-A Trenton according to Josh Norris. Greene has been awesome.
  • Low-A Charleston: LHP Dietrich Enns has been promoted to High-A Tampa based on his Twitter feed. He’s been outrageously good and the promotion is long overdue.
  • Miscellaneous (via Matt Eddy): RHP Cory Arbiso has been re-signed. He spent parts of five years in the system as an organizational arm before being released at the end of Spring Training … RHP Dan Mahoney and 1B Luke Murton were released. He led the system with 25 homers last year but he didn’t hit a lick this year (22 wRC+ at Triple-A).

Triple-A Scranton Game One (10-1 loss to Rochester in seven innings) makeup of the April 10th rainout

  • C J.R. Murphy: 0-3
  • LF Zoilo Almonte: 2-3 — 15 hits in his last 33 at-bats (.455)
  • 1B Dan Johnson: 2-3, 1 R — ten hits in his last 28 at-bats (.357) with three doubles and two homers
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 2.1 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 8 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 4/0 GB/FB — only 34 of 83 pitches were strikes (41%) … I can’t ever remember an eight-walk outing in all the years I’d been DotFing
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 1/1 GB/FB — 18 of 30 pitches were strikes
  • RHP R.J. Baker: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 14 of 30 pitches were strikes (47%) … he’s the backup catcher, by the way

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Most off-days stink, but I think I will enjoy this one just as much as the players. The Yankees have been brutal for a few weeks now, but especially the last week in particular. Even yesterday’s win was exhausting. This is a good night to relax and forget all about baseball for a few hours.

Here is your open thread for the night. The Mets are playing the Braves (Gee vs. Hudson), the Cubs and Cardinals will be on ESPN (Wood vs. Miller), plus Game Three of the Stanley Cup Finals will be on as well. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.

Injury Updates: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Pineda

During a conference call this afternoon, Brian Cashman provided a bunch of updates on the various injured Yankees. Here’s a recap:

  • Derek Jeter (ankle) took his hacks in batting practice and also off a tee and soft toss. The Cap’n fielded ground balls with a little side-to-side movement for the first time (ever! zing!) as part of his rehab as well.
  • Alex Rodriguez (hip) will face live pitchers on Tuesday for the first time as part of his rehab. Going from simulated games to minor league rehab games to the big leagues is probably a four-week process for a guy who didn’t have a Spring Training, so yeah, All-Star break if everything goes well.
  • Mark Teixeira (wrist) will not be available for at least seven days, and Cashman said he is “leaning personally” towards placing him on the DL. Let’s hope they do that, playing short-handed and potentially bringing him back too soon would suck.
  • Michael Pineda (shoulder) will make his next minor league rehab start with High-A Tampa on Thursday. He’s scheduled to throw 80 pitches. Cashman said Pineda has been sitting 92 and touching 94-95 during his rehab so far.
  • Curtis Granderson (hand) will have the pin removed on Thursday. No word on how long it will be before he can resume baseball activities, but getting the pin taken out is a start.
  • Frankie Cervelli (hand) is still a week or so away from swinging a bat. He has been playing catch and working on receiving drills behind the plate.
  • Eduardo Nunez (ribcage) took some ground balls and did some light hitting off a tee and soft toss. It’s possible he could return before the All-Star break, but Cashman didn’t seem confident.

Positive early returns from Betances in the ‘pen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It has been seven years (seven years!) since the Yankees bought local right-hander Dellin Betances away from Vanderbilt with a $1M signing bonus as their eighth round pick. He was a consensus first round talent who fell due to signability concerns, and the Bombers took advantage under the old system. It was a great get at the time.

Unfortunately, the now 25-year-old Betances has made very little improvement in those seven years. The 6-foot-8, 260-pounder still struggles to repeat his delivery because he isn’t a great athlete, and the result has been just awful strike-throwing ability. In almost 600 career minor league innings, he owns a 4.9 BB/9 and 12.4 BB%. Last season it was 6.8 BB/9 and 15.7 BB%, which is why he was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason.

During the first month of this season, there was still no improvement. Betances walked 16 batters in 24 innings across his first six starts (6.0 BB/9 and 15.0 BB), which prompted the team to move him to the bullpen full-time. Brian Cashman admitted the move had as much to do with Betances’ lack of minor league options — he used his final option this year, meaning he will not be able to go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers starting in 2014 — as it did his poor performance.

“This is the problem with the development clock,” said the GM. “If he had two or three more options, we would keep working with him as a starter. But with him being out of options after this year, it is becoming more obvious that if he is going to help us, it is going to be out of the ‘pen … Every reliever is a failed starter. Mariano Rivera is a failed starter. He is going to the Hall of Fame, but he is a failed starter. We will see what we have here.”

Relieving isn’t completely foreign to Betances, who did it in the Arizona Fall League last year. That led me to believe he would open this season in the bullpen, but the team decided to give him that one last chance as a starter. He’s been doing the relief thing for a little more than five weeks now — he did spend eight days with the big league team as an extra arm, but he didn’t pitch and I don’t even remember him warming up — and the early results are positive:

Date IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD
2013-05-10 2.1 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 32 17 7 3 2 1 1
2013-05-14 2.0 2 1 1 0 1 0 0 32 18 6 1 4 3 2
2013-05-25 2.1 5 3 3 3 2 1 0 51 26 9 5 1 8 2
2013-05-29 2.1 2 1 1 0 3 0 0 37 26 5 10 4 2 0
2013-06-01 1.0 0 0 0 1 2 0 0 23 14 5 4 0 1 0
2013-06-04 3.0 1 0 0 0 4 0 0 43 27 7 6 2 4 0
2013-06-07 1.2 3 2 2 1 1 0 0 32 17 6 0 4 1 0
2013-06-11 (2) 2.0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 28 16 5 1 2 2 0
2013-06-14 2.0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 29 21 8 6 1 2 0
2013-06-16 0.1 0 1 1 2 0 0 1 17 7 1 2 0 1 0
Total 19.0 13 8 8 8 22 1 0 324 58% 18% 12% 20 25 5
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/17/2013.

Yesterday’s outing — his first on less than two days of rest — was pretty rough, which uglifies the overall pitching line a bit. Otherwise Betances has thrown an acceptable amount of strikes (58% compared to 55% last year) and gotten plenty of swings and misses (12%). He had walked only six batters before yesterday, including just two during one 12-inning stretch, which is substantially better than his career norm. Of course, we’re talking about 19.0 innings. Given his history, it’s impossible to trust that walk rate at this point.

According to Donnie Collins, Betances was sitting 93-95 mph with his fastball while topping out at 98 in his last outing over the weekend. That is a tick better that his velocity as a starter but not a huge spike. Besides, raw stuff was never the question here. Betances always threw hard and missed bats. The problem was staying around the plate, like basic strike-throwing. I’m not even talking about being pinpoint and dotting the corners, just getting around the general area of the zone was an issue.

I do wonder about the mental aspect of going from starter to reliever as well. Perhaps Betances has a hard time focusing and pacing himself as a starter — Tim Lincecum said that was the case for him a few weeks ago — and the bullpen makes life easier. He can focus on his two best pitches and adopt a simple grip it and rip it mentality without worrying about being efficient or having to turn a lineup over multiple times. I have no idea if this is the case, I’m just spit-balling here. There is a mental aspect to this that has to be considered though.

Relievers can survive with below-average command, especially when they can pump mid-to-high-90s heat with a swing-and-miss breaking ball. They aren’t ideal late-inning guys, but the middle innings need love too. Betances has another two and a half months to get acclimated to the bullpen and show the Yankees — and the other 29 teams, for that matter — he is worth keeping on the 40-man roster over the winter and carrying as a sixth or seventh reliever at the outset of 2014. The odds are against it working, but Betances has shown some improvement as a reliever. He’s gone from no-shot to long-shot.

Yankees need to continue shaking up the roster

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Boesch. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Fresh off three offensively inept losses to the Athletics last week, the Yankees called up outfielder Thomas Neal from Triple-A and inserted him right into their lineup during the first two games of the Angels series. The move wasn’t just a response to the 18-inning marathon game either — Neal told Chad Jennings he received the call at 2:15pm ET on Thursday, more than an hour before the marathon game started. The team made the move as a direct response to their struggling offense.

It was just one very small move, and the Yankees shouldn’t stop there. Despite yesterday’s six-run outburst, this is still a club that struggles to put more than four runs on the board on any given night, and lately scoring more than two runs has been a chore. With so many high-profile injuries and scrap heap replacements, the Bombers actually have some roster flexibility and can replace players without having to worry about salaries or contract statuses or egos.

In no particular order, here are four moves the Yankees can make to potentially improve the position player side of their roster. None of these moves are going to transform the offense into a juggernaut, not even close, but even slight upgrades are worth making at this point.

Bring back Brennan Boesch
Boesch, 28, hit .283/.341/.458 (117 wRC+) with 16 homers as recently as 2011. He had surgery to repair the UCL in his right thumb (so the thumb on his front/power hand) following that season, and the lingering effects contributed to his .240/.286/.372 (77 wRC+) line in 2012. The Yankees picked him during Spring Training and outside of a one-week stint with Triple-A Scranton last month, Boesch has not played regularly or been able to get into a groove this season. He managed a .275/.302/.529 (123 wRC+) line during his sporadic appearances with the big league team, and now’s the time to see what he can contribute with regular at-bats. The club’s corner outfielders have been just awful overall this year.

Now, there’s a small problem: Boesch is currently on the Triple-A DL with a shoulder injury. Ken Davidoff said it was a minor issue in multiple articles last week and indicated he could return relatively soon, however. As soon as Boesch is healthy and ready to be activated, the Yankees should call him up and stick him in the lineup everyday. Against righties, against lefties, at home, on the road, whatever. Let him sink or swim. There’s a non-zero chance he can contribute to the team both this year and in the future — Boesch is under control as an arbitration-eligible player through at least 2015 — and this is the time to see what he has.

Swap David Adams for Ronnie Mustelier
It feels like an eternity since the 26-year-old Adams burst onto the scene and went 10-for-31 (.323) with two doubles and two homers in his first eight big league games. Since then, he’s gone 6-for-44 (.136) with one double to drag his season batting line down to .213/.234/.333 (49 wRC+). He also has yet to draw a walk in 77 plate appearances. Adams has gone from everyday third baseman to seldom-used platoon infielder.

(Presswire)
Mustelier. (Presswire)

Mustelier, on the other hand, has put up an unimpressive .280/.319/.408 (96 wRC+) line in 166 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton this year, at least unimpressive compared to the .314/.371/.488 (~140 wRC+) line he managed between Double-A and Triple-A last summer. The 28-year-old Cuban defector has picked it up of late following a slow start, hitting .324/.359/.468 over the last month. He plays third, he plays left, he plays right, he’s hit ever since signing two years ago. The defense is not great (or even good), but if not now, then when?

Of course, we run into another problem: like Boesch, Mustelier is hurt at the moment. He is currently sidelined — not on the DL, just day-to-day — with what amounts to a minor grain strain. I don’t know what the timetable is for his return, but I assume it will be relatively soon since they’ve yet to put him on the 7-day minor league DL. By swapping the two, Adams can go back to Triple-A to get regular playing time and rebuild his confidence while Mustelier gets the opportunity to play third everyday.

Drop Reid Brignac for Alberto Gonzalez
Brignac, 27, is the best defensive shortstop in the entire Yankees organization. He is also hitting .182/.217/.261 (18 wRC+) in 94 plate appearances overall this year, including a .100/.122/.125 mark since joining New York. Big league pitchers are hitting .138/.165/.186 (-9 wRC+) this year, for comparison. There is a minimum standard of acceptable offense and Brignac does not meet it, even at the low standards of shortstop.

The Yankees actually dumped the 30-year-old Gonzalez for Brignac last month, opting for better defense and the left-handed bat. Gonzalez has gone 8-for-35 (67 wRC+) in limited big league time this year, and at Triple-A Scranton he currently owns a .269/.355/.312 (85 wRC+) line. Neither of these guys can hit, but Gonzalez can’t hit slightly less. He’s no slouch with the glove either, in fact he’s probably the second best defensive shortstop in the organization. There isn’t much sense in keeping Brignac around for platoon reasons when he can’t hit at all. Gonzalez could provide a slight upgrade overall, and even if he doesn’t, no big deal. The Yankees really wouldn’t be any worse off.

Shoppach. (Presswire)
Shoppach. (Presswire)

Swap Austin Romine for … someone
Three (three!) competent big league backup catchers were designated for assignment last week, meaning they are freely available to the other 29 teams. One of those catchers (John Baker) has since been claimed by the Dodgers, but the other two (Ramon Hernandez and Kelly Shoppach) are still out there for the taking. Hernandez has hit .208/.291/.438 (103 wRC+) in 55 plate appearances for the Rockies and Dodgers this season while Shoppach put up a .196/.293/.346 (82 wRC+) line in 125 plate appearances for the Mariners.

Romine, 24, has been an absolute disaster even by backup catcher standards, going 7-for-53 (-24 wRC+) with two doubles. Both the 37-year-old Hernandez and 33-year-old Shoppach represent upgrades, allowing Romine to get the regular playing time he desperately needs in Triple-A. Shoppach is particularly appealing because he a) has  hit .239/.333/.428 (112 wRC+) against left-handers since 2010, and b) is familiar with CC Sabathia from their years together with the Indians. As we saw with Romine, the Yankees are obviously concerned about the pitcher-catcher relationship. Shoppach and Sabathia already have a bit of a rapport, which should ease the transition. The backup catcher is pretty much the 25th man on the roster, but an upgrade is an upgrade.

* * *

Obviously these moves aren’t as simple as swapping one guy out for another. Each requires a 40-man roster move and that can get complicated, especially when making multiple moves at the same time. The 40-man is full right now, but guys like Chris Bootcheck, Melky Mesa, Neal, and Brignac are easily cuttable. Remember though, the team is expecting five (!) players to return from 60-day DL at some point this summer barring setbacks. Clogging up the roster with someone like Mustelier might not be ideal. Then again, neither is struggling to score four runs a night.

Fan Confidence Poll: June 17th, 2013

Record Last Week: 1-5 (18 RS, 30 RA)
Season Record: 38-31 (270 RS, 266 RA, 35-34 pythag. record), 3.0 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Dodgers (two games, Tues. and Weds.), vs. Rays (four games, Thurs. to Sun..)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:311}