Archive for Ben Francisco
June 4th: Francisco has cleared waivers and been released. So that’s one loose end tied up.
May 26th: The Yankees have designated Ben Francisco for assignment to clear room on the 25-man active roster for the recently claimed David Huff, the team announced. Thy are now carrying a 13-man pitching staff and have an open 40-man roster spot.
Francisco, 31, hit a weak .114/.220/.182 (12 wRC+) in 50 plate appearances for New York this year. He never did emerge as a reliable right-handed complement to their lefty-heavy outfield, so his days have been numbered for a while. In fact, Francisco hadn’t even appeared in a game in nine days now. My guess is Huff (or at least the 13-man staff) will stick around only until the next position player is ready to activated off the DL, which could be Mark Teixeira as soon as next weekend.
The Yankees were hit hard by injuries and setbacks in Spring Training, forcing them to mine the scrap heap for stopgap solutions in the weeks and days leading up to Opening Day. One position that needed to be addressed since the end of last season was a right-handed hitting complement for their three-lefty outfield. Andruw Jones played his way out of New York in the second half and finding a replacement was near the top of the offseason agenda.
Brian Cashman & Co. flirted with pretty much all available options during the winter, including free agent Scott Hairston and trade target Vernon Wells. The team eventually acquired Wells from the Angels, but not until the very end of camp, when injuries left the team without a left fielder and the lineup devoid of power. It wasn’t until the very end of the offseason that the Yankees imported Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz on minor league contracts to compete for Andruw’s role.
Neither guy made the cut as New York instead opted to take Ben Francisco north after he was released by the Indians. Since youngsters like Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, and Zoilo Almonte had little chance of making the veteran-loving Yankees, Francisco’s relative youth and defensive competence won him the job over Rivera and Diaz.
So far this year, the 31-year-old Francisco has hit just .114/.220/.182 (12 wRC+) overall, including a measly 3-for-34 (16 wRC+) against left-handers. Three-for-34! A southpaw-heavy schedule allowed the Yankees to start Francisco in eight of 12 games at one point last month, and he responded with three singles in 25 at-bats. Worst of all, he batted either second or fifth in seven of those eight games.
“He’s struggled,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand two weeks ago. “He’s had some good at-bats, and he’s struggled somewhat. You don’t want a guy to feel like every at-bat is the end of the world. Just go out and play and take care of what you can take care of, and that’s really all you can do. Go out and have good at-bats … Just go out and have good at-bats.”
Are 40 plate appearances against lefties and 50 plate appearances against all pitchers a big, meaningful sample? No, but players on the right-handed half of a platoon aren’t privy to big samples. They get 200, maybe 250 plate appearances in a given season. There’s no guarantee Francisco will get enough playing time to see his .125 BABIP (.080 vs. LHP) return to his career .287 (.267 vs. LHP) average. Girardi is loyal to his players and has given Francisco every opportunity to bust out of this slump so far, but he has shown zero signs of snapping out of it.
“Just in terms of your fan comments section, just say I’m holding onto him to piss everybody off,” said Brian Cashman to reporters over the weekend before going on to acknowledge the team always looks for upgrades and will pounce if a better right-handed hitting outfielder becomes available. Cashman is a great quote and he has an 80 troll tool, but he’s no idiot. He knows Francisco and the lack of a quality right-handed bat — the Yankees are hitting .228/.299/.359 (75 wRC+) against lefties this year — is a major issue right now.
None of the team’s righty bats in Triple-A are distinguishing themselves right now — Mesa is striking out in over 40% of his plate appearances while Neal and Zoilo own .739 and .623 OPSes against lefties, respectively — so any solution will likely have to come from outside the organization. The trade market should start to heat up with June on the horizon, but Francisco’s time has come. We’ve seen enough to know a replacement is needed regardless of who is on the DL and when they’re scheduled to be activated.
The Yankees have outrighted right-hander Sam Demel to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. Both Ben Francisco and Jayson Nix were added to the 40-man roster in the wake of this move and the earlier David Aardsma move. Demel was claimed off waivers from the Astros earlier this week, but it’s no surprise he was cut so soon.
In other news, right-hander Dan Otero has been claimed off waivers by the Athletics. He had been designated for assignment to clear a spot for Demel. The Yankees grabbed Otero off waivers from the Giants earlier this week.
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Previewing the bench will not be easy because we still — four days before Opening Day — have basically no idea who will fill these four spots. Sure, either Frankie Cervelli or Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher, but we don’t know which one yet. I’m guessing Joe Girardi has some kind of convoluted personal catcher situation planned; I feel like having two backup catchers on the roster is his managerial dream.
As for the backup outfield and infield spots … who knows right now? There are a lot of candidates for a few spots and the Yankees continue to look outside the organization for help. Given their massive 40-man roster logjam, a multi-player trade shouldn’t be ruled out at this point either.
It’ll be either Stewart or Cervelli and the Yankees have indicated a pretty even playing time split (maybe more like 60/40), I think it’ll only be a matter of time before Frankie grabs the job outright. His throwing has been greatly improved and he’s a far better hitter (but still nothing special), the two things that stand out most about a catcher. If they start the year with a 55/45 or 60/40 split, I think sometime in mid-May it’ll be slanted about 75/25 in favor of Cervelli. The Yankees love Stewart but they love winning more, and playing a guy with a legit chance to post a .200s across the board slash line will only last so long given how much offense they lost elsewhere.
Derek Jeter‘s nagging ankle issues cleared up the backup infield situation quite a bit. Eduardo Nunez will open the season as the starter and that paves the way for Jayson Nix to make the team as his backup. There really isn’t much competition for this spot — veteran Gil Velazquez is the only other guy in camp who could play a passable shortstop at the big league level. Again, we shouldn’t rule out a trade, but Nix seems like a lock for a bench spot right now.
The real question is whether the Yankees want to carry two backup infielders like they have the last two years, Nix and a corner infield guy like Eric Chavez. The only real candidates for that Chavez role are Dan Johnson — who seems to have little chance of making the team at this point — and Ronnie Mustelier. The 28-year-old Cuban defector has had a good spring — mostly against Triple-A caliber pitching according to B-Ref’s OppQual stat — and has seen a bunch of time at third base lately, so he’s at least earning consideration from the team. I guess we shouldn’t rule about a two-headed first base platoon with Juan Rivera and Lyle Overbay, which would soak up that second infielder’s spot.
Assuming Vernon Wells is penciled in as the everyday left fielder, the fourth outfielder’s spot is down to Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, and I guess Mustelier. Depending on whether they take a second backup infielder, it’s possible two of these guys will make the team. Mustelier makes the most sense really, since he could backup both the corner infield and corner outfield spots.
Boesch and Francisco presumably have a leg up on Mesa and Neal given their big league experience, and again, both could make the team. The Yankees were planning to open the season with three left-handed outfielders and a right-handed backup, and Boesch would give them that third lefty. He also has minor league options remaining and could be stashed in Triple-A. I’m not sure if Francisco has an out clause in his contract before the end of Spring Training, so sending him to the minors might not be an option. The Yankees will want to retain as much depth as possible given their rash of injuries.
Knocking on the Door
In addition to the guys mentioned above — Velazquez, Johnson, Mesa, Neal, etc. — the Yankees will have a handful of other bench options waiting in Triple-A Scranton. That is what the level is there for, after all. Austin Romine is the clear third catcher but would probably need an injury to earn a shot in the big leagues. He’s missed a lot of time these last two years with back problems and needs to play everyday.
Corban Joseph gives the team depth at second and third bases, though they had more before releasing David Adams yesterday. Zoilo Almonte is another warm body for the outfield mix, but he has never played above Double-A and will need some Triple-A time before coming to the show. He’s pretty much at the bottom of the outfield depth chart at the moment. Pretty much anyone who doesn’t win a bench spot will open the year in Triple-A as a backup plan. That’s who’s knocking on the door.
* * *
My opinion changes by the day/hour, but if the season started today I believe the Yankees would go with a four-man bench of Stewvelli, Nix, Mustelier, and Boesch with Francisco & Co. heading to Triple-A for the time being. The club could play finagle Phil Hughes‘ expected DL stint into a fifth bench player — Francisco would be the guy for that one, I assume — for the first few games of the season, but I don’t see that happening.
That four-man bench pretty much stinks. There is no speed to pinch-run — that would have been Nunez’s job before he forced into playing short everyday — and basically no versatility outside of Nix. Carrying Mesa over Boesch would address the speed issue while Mustelier is the only one who could offer real versatility. Barring an unexpected trade(s) these next few days, the bench figures to be a work in progress pretty much all season.
The Yankees showed up to camp last spring with the bench mostly set, but this year was a different story. None of the four bench spots were accounted for when position players reported last month — there were favorites for jobs, but nothing was close to set in stone — and right now the only guarantee is that either Chris Stewart or Frankie Cervelli will be the backup catcher while the other starts. The backup infielder, backup outfielder, and remaining bench spot are still undecided.
Less than two weeks before Opening Day, those three bench questions are joined by two injury-related questions in the starting lineup. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will be out until May, possibly longer in the case of the latter, meaning the Yankees must also sort through their assorted scraps for an outfielder and a first baseman. Thanks to some recent roster moves, these five position player questions are starting to be answered.
“There is no guarantee for anything … We will continue to evaluate these guys as we move forward,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings and Dan Martin after Matt Diaz was released over the weekend. “Maybe one piece is gone, but it’s still going to play out probably for the next two weeks … We just thought the other guys were ahead of him and to be fair to him to have a chance to [play] somewhere else.”
In addition to Diaz being released, youngsters like Slade Heathcott and Zoilo Almonte were sent to minor league camp and effective removed from the outfield competition. Juan Rivera has played an awful lot of first base lately in the wake of Teixeira’s injury — he’s played the outfield just once in the last eight Grapefruit League games — and seems to have been dropped from the outfield race. That leaves Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch, Melky Mesa, and Thomas Neal in the competition.
With all due respect to Neal, who has quietly had a nice camp, the other three guys stand out as prohibitive favorites. I think the Yankees consider the 27-year-old Boesch is the no-doubt replacement for Granderson — I think he would play right with Ichiro Suzuki shifting to left, putting the weaker defender in the smaller field — just because he’s left-handed and has played everyday the last three years. That said, Boesch signed a split contract and Buster Olney confirmed he has two (!) minor league options left, so he could be sent to Triple-A in a heartbeat. The fact that he’s the only left-handed hitter left in the competition leads me to believe he has a leg up on a big league roster spot come Opening Day.
That leaves Francisco and Mesa to battle it out for the right-handed outfield/DH role, and the Yankees always seem to lean towards the veteran when it comes to these part-time/reserve roles. Going with Francisco and sending Mesa to Triple-A allows the team to keep both players and frankly they could use the depth. Neither guy is like to hit much and while Melky2.0 is the better defender, Francisco is solid in the corner spots. Keeping him with Mesa in Triple-A is preferable to having Mesa in the show with no backup in the minors just in terms of having as many warm bodies as possible. Both guys will be needing over the course of the 162-game season.
Since the Yankees don’t need a fifth starter until their seventh game of the season and can backdate a DL stint ten days into Spring Training, they could have Phil Hughes start the season on the DL due to his back problem and carry an extra position player. Hughes would still be eligible to come off the DL in time for that seventh game, but the club would buy itself just a tiny bit more time to evaluate their position player options. It’s the difference between carrying both Rivera and Dan Johnson at the start of the season rather than just one or two. The Yankees only figure to see one left-handed starter in those first six games (Jon Lester on Opening Day), so having Johnson around would be helpful.
We still have no idea who the Yankees will carry north as the utility infielder, but Jayson Nix might have a leg up on Eduardo Nunez because of his versatility and defensive reliability. Going into the season with Boesch, Francisco, Rivera, and Johnson leaves the team just one spot for a utility man even if they open with Hughes on the DL. We know they’re just dying to use Nunez at short when Derek Jeter plays DH against lefties, but he hasn’t played any other position in camp. If they’re going to use him as the utility infielder, they’ll need to get him a few reps at second and third just to prepare him for the season.
With Diaz released and some others assigned to minor league camp, it looks more and more likely the Yankees will have both Boesch and Francisco on their Opening Day roster. Rivera and Johnson are the obvious first base fill-ins, but the club would need to manipulate Hughes’ injury — if they backdate his DL stint ten days, he can’t pitch in a Grapefruit League game during that time and will have to get his work in on the minor league side — to buy a temporary extra roster spot. The competition for the outfield, first base, and bench spots is still relatively wide open, but the picture is much clearer right now than it was just one week ago.
Add another body to the right-handed hitting outfield bat competition. The Yankees have signed Ben Francisco to a minor league contract, Brian Cashman confirmed to reporters in Tampa. The Indians released him earlier this morning despite an 8-for-20 showing in camp that included six doubles, five walks, and four strikeouts.
Francisco, 31, actually scored the first run in New Yankee Stadium history with the Indians back in 2009. He hit .240/.285/.385 (82 wRC+) with four homers in 207 plate appearances for the Blue Jays, Astros, and Rays last season, and over the last three years he’s shown basically no platoon split: .247/.315/.408 (97 wRC+) against lefties and .252/.324/.380 (94 wRC+) against righties. Francisco is average at best in the outfield, though he has experience in all three spots. He’s not much of a stolen base threat anymore either.
The Yankees had some interest in Francisco back in January, before he hooked on with Cleveland, and he’ll now compete with veterans Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera for roster spot. In the wake of Curtis Granderson‘s forearm injury, I have to think at least one of those guys will make the team. Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, Thomas Neal, and Ronnie Mustelier are also candidates. Considering the injuries and lost offense, there’s no harm whatsoever in adding players on minor league pacts to compete for spots. The more the merrier.
Via Mark Hale: The Yankees are one of five teams to express interest in free agent outfielder Ben Francisco. Agent John Boggs said he and his client are looking for the “best opportunity … and who will offer the most at-bats.”
Francisco, 31, is a right-handed hitting outfielder, a market the Yankees continue to comb even after signing Matt Diaz to a minor league contract and claiming Russ Canzler. I wrote about Francisco earlier this afternoon, so I’m going to take the easy way out and refer you back to that for info about his skills and stats and all that. With four other teams interested, getting him on a minor league contract might not be possible.
With each day that ticks off the calendar, the less likely it is the Yankees will spend real money to upgrade the roster. That could change in an instant of course, but the currently available options aren’t all that appealing or worth big bucks. There are no legitimate starting catchers available, few quality DHs, and outside of Scott Hairston and his demands for a multi-year deal, no right-handed hitting outfielders of note.
The Yankees have been stocking up on miscellaneous right-handed outfield bats in recent weeks, or at least as much as signing Matt Diaz to a minor league deal and claiming Russ Canzler off waivers can be considered “stocking up,” anyway. Melky Mesa is the team’s best in-house option for the role, so I expect them to continue digging around for low-risk players to compete with these three in camp. Here are five such players who could presumably be had on minor league contracts.
Fun Fact: Duncan actually started three games as the cleanup hitter for the Yankees back in 2008. That was the year after the big five homers-in-seven games binge put him on the map. The 33-year-old moved on to the Indians a few seasons ago and has hit .238/.316/.421 (102 wRC+) against left-handers over the last three years (92 wRC+ in 2012). As always, Duncan will draw walks (9.5% walk rate since 2010), strike out (24.8%), play poor defense in the outfield corners and at first base, and smash forearms. More than anyone else in this post though, Shelley can hit the ball out of any park when he does run into one. That just doesn’t happen often enough.
Francisco, 31, has been typecast as a right-handed platoon bat over the years despite a negligible split — .247/.315/.408 (97 wRC+) against lefties and .252/.324/.380 (94 wRC+) against righties since the start of 2010. Having no platoon split is generally a good thing, but it doesn’t help when the player is a below-average hitter overall. Like everyone else in this post, Francisco won’t steal any bases or offer much help on the bases. He fits best in left field but can play right in a pinch and center in an emergency, so that’s nice. Still, if you’re looking for a platoon bat, it would be nice if he could, you know, actually hit well against pitchers of the opposite hand.
Once upon a time, the Cubs made Montanez the third overall pick in the entire draft (2000). He has just 323 career plate appearances in the show since then, during which time he’s posted a 50 wRC+ overall with a .204/.234/.279 (31 wRC+) line against left-handers in a meaninglessly small sample. Over the last two seasons in Triple-A, the 31-year-old had tagged southpaws for a .345/.429/.525 batting line with a 8.1% strikeout rate compared to a 12.3% walk rate. More walks than strikeouts is always fun. Montanez has a ton of experience in all three outfield spots and actually played the middle infield once upon a time (drafted as a shortstop), but that ship has sailed.
Another former Yankee, the 34-year-old Rivera had the worst season of his career in 2012 (81 wRC+ overall) while battling hamstring issues. He still managed a decent .260/.312/.433 (107 wRC+) line against southpaws, and over the last three seasons it’s a .270/.329/.434 (109 wRC) line. Rivera’s strength remains his ability to get the bat on the ball (12.9 K% and 84.2% contact rate since 2010) and be somewhat willing to work a walk (7.1 BB%), though he’s butcher defensively both in left field and at first base. There’s more big league experience here than with the other four guys in this post combined, but I’m not sure how much that helps Rivera’s case at this point of his career.
Rottino, 32, received 97 of his 110 career big league plate appearances with the Mets and Indians this past season. He owns a miniscule 43 wRC+ in the show, but that tells us nothing given the sample size. Rottino has tagged Triple-A southpaws for a .333/.383/.502 batting line over the last two seasons though, which includes an 11.4% strikeout rate and a 7.5% walk rate. He has a ton of experience at the four corner positions as well as first base and behind the plate, though he’s just an emergency option at catcher. Still a nice skill to have. No one in this post offers as much position flexibility or as little big league experience as Rottino.