Triple-A stadium situation pushed Bill Hall away from Yankees

Via Ken Rosenthal, utility man Bill Hall asked for his release after Spring Training because he did not want to spend the year on a season-long road trip with Triple-A Empire State. “My wife and I decided that I couldn’t live in a hotel all year,” he said. “My daughter just turned one and I couldn’t do that to her … I don’t have any problem playing in Triple A. I just want to play.”

This is the first time we’ve heard of a player leaving the organization because of the Triple-A stadium situation, but you can’t blame him. I can’t imagine anyone would want to play a season without a home base, nevermind a big league veteran who’s already banked millions in his career like Hall. I’m sure there are plenty of other players who had considered signing minor league pacts with the Yankees this winter only to decline after hearing about the stadium situation in Triple-A.

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Yankees roster flexibility going forward

In the mid-00s the Yankees frequently fielded inflexible teams. Led by expensive veterans, they typically had set players in each of the nine lineup spots, with little room for platooning or pinch-hitting. That made it tough to sign bench players, leaving the Yankees without much depth. Those times have clearly changed.

With some veterans needing extra days off, and with platoon-able players at some positions, the Yankees of late have taken advantage of those bench spots. They’ve filled them with guys who can hit, and guys who can run. That comes in handy not only when handling the eight players in the field, but also the DH spot. Best of all, the Yankees still have some room to maneuver with the final bench spot.

Raul Ibanez will likely get most of his playing time as the DH against right-handed pitching. Since the Yankees faced a righty starter roughly twice as often as they did a lefty starter, this could constitute a significant number of plate appearances. In fact, against righties the Yankees are pretty well set one through nine. When a lefty comes in, they still have Jones to pinch hit.

Andruw Jones will play a hybrid role. He signed with the Yankees for less money than other teams offered, so it stands to reason that he expects more playing time. Chances are he’ll start every game against left-handed pitching, whether in the DH spot or in left field, giving Brett Gardner or Curtis Granderson a day off.

Eduardo Nunez‘s role will involve subbing for all three infielders when they need time off. The Yankees have talked about using Nunez more often, though, perhaps spelling Alex Rodriguez on some days, while A-Rod DHs. That could come against left-handed pitchers, perhaps on days that Jones subs for Gardner in left field. That would certainly help fill the remaining DH at-bats against left-handed pitching.

With these three shuffling playing time, the Yankees will have filled a lot of at-bats — and innings in the field. After counting Francisco Cervelli as the backup catcher, the Yankees still have one bench spot left. That could go to either:

Eric Chavez, with whom the Yankees have been speaking, could return to his role from last year. That would involve him spelling A-Rod at third from time to time, and perhaps taking reps at first when Mark Teixeira takes a rare day off. Chances are the Yankees would want to use Chavez primarily against right-handed pitching, in order to maximize his value at the plate. Those reps at third would come best when A-Rod needs a full day off, rather than a half day (since Ibanez figures to be DHing against RHP).

Bill Hall, whom the Yankees signed to a minor league deal, is a bit more flexible than Chavez, since he can play the outfield in addition to third base. He’s probably not playable at shortstop or second base at this point, but he does at least have experience there. He’s right-handed, so he could more cleanly spell A-Rod, even when A-Rod is taking a half day off to DH.

The crazy thing is that the Yankees could conceivably take both Chavez and Hall, if they were so inclined. We always work on the assumption that they will carry 12 pitchers and 13 position players, but the pitching staff really only needs 11 pitchers — especially if Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia is there to absorb innings as a multi-inning reliever. They probably won’t do this, though; they could use that final roster spot on Clay Rapada or Cesar Cabral, giving them a second lefty in the pen. There is also the issue of finding enough at-bats for a fifth bench player. Chances are, they’ll be able to find bullpen innings a bit more easily.

Still, the Yankees clearly have options this spring. The baseball ops department has done a good job of identifying the team’s strengths and augmenting them. The Yankees now have flexibility on the roster. They can give guys rest without missing too much. That’s in stark contrast to the teams of the mid-00s, which featured veterans and superstars in the lineup, but nary a substitute on the bench. They Yankees might not have a superstar at every position, but they’re pretty well set up to hand out at-bats to capable hitters.

Yankees sign Bill Hall to minor league deal

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Yankees have signed utility man Bill Hall according to utility man Bill Hall. We first heard rumblings that the two sides were talking last week. Erik Boland confirmed that it’s a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Ken Rosenthal says Hall will get a $600k base salary if he makes the team with another $50k each for 100, 150, 200 and 250 plate appearances plus another $100k each for 300, 350, 400, and 450 plate appearances. That’s a total of $600k in incentives. He can opt out of his contract if he’s not on the big league roster by April 4th, two days before the start of the season.

Hall, 32, is supposedly a close friend of CC Sabathia‘s from their time together on the Brewers. He was atrocious for the Astros and Giants last season, like .252 wOBA with a 31.7% strikeout rate in 199 plate appearances atrocious, but Hall did club 18 homers with a .342 wOBA in nearly 400 plate appearances for the Red Sox as recently as 2010. He does have some power (career .188 ISO) and is very versatile, having played over 200 career games at second, third, and short while also seeing considerable time in all three outfield spots. The defensive numbers are mixed, however.

The Yankees have been connected to Hall in each of the last three or four offseason it seems, so Brian Cashman finally got his guy. The signing doesn’t impact the team’s pursuit of a left-handed DH-type. Last night we heard that the Yankees were in serious talks with Raul Ibanez, and that a deal with a DH-type could be wrapped up this week. Don’t be surprised if the Yankees bring in another player or two to compete with Hall for a bench spot either.

Yanks “in serious talks” with UTIL Bill Hall

With their big winter moves in the books, the Yankees will now focus on filling out their roster. That leaves open the possibility of a trade; we know the Yankees prefer to trade for a DH rather than sign a free agent. Mostly, though, they’ll fill the roster by signing low-level free agents to minor league deals. It appears they could be close on the first such deal. This morning Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees are in “serious talks” with Bill Hall, who could fill a utility role for the team.

If the two sides do work out a deal, chances are high that it would be of the minor league variety. The Yankees currently have a full 40-man roster, and Hall isn’t the type of player for whom you sacrifice someone. With a number of 40-man spots opening up soon enough — 60-day DL stints for Joba and Feliciano, plus the potential returning of the two Rule 5 picks — a minor league deal could work out well for both sides. That also takes the pressure off the Yankees to carry Hall. Considering his recent past, he deserves no guarantees.

For two seasons Hall looked like a solid regular. He hit .280/.344/.525, a 119 wRC+, while playing a solid third base (in terms of defensive metrics). In those two years he led the Brewers in hitting numbers and WAR. Unfortunately, that was 2005 and 2006. In 2007 the Brewers moved Hall to the outfield so they could play Ryan Braun at third. Hall was a vocal opponent of the move, and his numbers reflected his attitude: .254/.315/.425. Yet as it turns out the decision to move him was wrongheaded. The Brewers moved Braun to the outfield in 2008 and started using Hall in a utility role. His numbers continued to decline from there.

Since his move from third base five years ago, Hall has produced exactly one above-average season at the plate. That came in 2010 for the Red Sox, where he hit .247/.316/.456 in 382 PA. He also filled many roles for them, playing all three outfield positions, including 48 innings in center field, second base, third base, and shortstop. He parlayed that into a one-year, $3 million deal with the Astros, which included a $4 million mutual option for 2012. But before even the halfway point the Astros had already released him due to his .224/.272/.340 line. The Giants then signed him, but after he hit .158/.220/.221 in 41 PA they, too, gave him the axe. He spent the remainder of the season in AAA.

At age 32, Hall could still have another useful season in him. He did show a decent amount of pop while with the Red Sox in 2010, and he actually hit for more power on the road than at home (so he wasn’t just a product of Fenway). In addition, the Yankees have long been interested in Hall’s services. They explored a trade for him in 2008, though at the time his contract made that a non-starter. Last winter the Yankees tried to sign him as well. Hall has worked with Kevin Long this winter, so presumably Brian Cashman is working with that input.

Signing, or not signing, Bill Hall will not make a huge difference this off-season. There is almost no chance of this being a major league deal, so it’s just like every other minor league deal. Every team brings a number of these players to camp every year. Having Hall makes sense, because he’s had some success in the recent past. It’s tough to ignore his 2011, but just a year before that he put up numbers befitting a good bench player. That’s all the Yanks can really ask out of a minor league signee.

A second chance at Bill Hall

(Photo Credit: Flickr user lakelandlocal via Creative Commons license)

As the Yankees searched for bench help this past offseason, one of the names we heard them connected to Bill Hall. He was coming off a damn fine season for the Red Sox (18 HR, .342 wOBA) and apparently the brain trust thought he could do the same in pinstripes. Hall eventually took an offer from the Astros, turning down a chance to come off the Yankees’ bench in favor of playing every day. Can’t say I blame him.

Well, the Houston experiment did not go well. Hall hit to the tune of a .269 wOBA with two homers and 55 strikeouts in 158 plate appearances with the Astros before they released him over the weekend. GM Ed Wade called the signing a “failure in judgment,” opting to eat the $2.25M left on Hall’s contract (approximately $2M in remaining salary this year plus the buyout of next year’s option) instead of hoping for a rebound in performance. That means any team can now sign Hall for the pro-rated Major League minimum (peanuts), and the Yankees have a second chance to add him to the team.

I have no problem picking up any player on the cheap, so in that sense I’m on board. The real question is why should we expect Hall to bounce back from his awful start and be worthy of a roster spot? The reality is that last year was an outlier for him, just look at his year-by-year wOBA …

Hall was fantastic back in 2005 and 2006, earning himself a fat four-year, $24M contract from the Brewers, but he’s been damn near replacement level since. Except for that one year with Boston. It wasn’t a Fenway Park thing (.346 wOBA at home, .334 on the road), it wasn’t a BABIP thing (.300 BABIP in 2010, .311 career), and it wasn’t a batted ball profile thing. His HR/FB rate was an unsustainably high 17.0% compared to a much more normal 13.1% for this career, so maybe that was behind the good year. Whatever it was, it’s not exactly something any team should count on happening again.

Late last week Joe wrote about the option of improving the team by upgrading the utility infielder, but Hall can’t replace Eduardo Nunez (assuming the idea is to send him down to Triple-A so he can play regularly) because he hasn’t played shortstop since 2006. Yeah, he stood there for 36 innings last year, but that was the only time he’s played the position in five years. Plus his defense at second is terrible, I’m not sure why it would be better on the other side of the bag. He’s more of an emergency shortstop more than anything, not a guy a team could legitimately use there. Andruw Jones has a) done nothing to lose his job, and b) is better than Hall anyway, so they’re not going to change fourth outfielders. The Yankees could use him in place of Chris Dickerson, but then they have no left-handed bat on the bench. Not a huge problem, more of an inconvenience. I assume that would be his way onto the roster.

Like I said, bringing Hall in for the pro-rated minimum is a perfectly fine move, but I really don’t see enough of an upgrade to consider it a no-brainer, an “oh my goodness they have to go out and get this guy” kind of move. If they sign him, great. If not, well no big deal. Hall’s more name value than substance, has been for more than four years now.

Cashman was ‘this close’ to signing Hall

For some reason or another, Bill Hall has been one of those players constantly linked to the Yanks in recent years. During the Winter Meetings in December 2008, Mike wondered why Hall was being connected to the Yanks, and in November of 2010, we heard some low-level rumblings about a connection between Hall and the Bombers. Ultimately, though, the 31-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Astros for $3 million, and the two sides hold a mutual option for $4 million.

For a guy who’s going to give you 0.5-1 wins above replacement, that’s not an awful deal, and today, we learn it could’ve been the Yanks’ checks Hall might have cashed this year. Jack Curry, via Twitter, relates an exchange from today’s game. Brian Cashman says to Hall, “I almost had you. It was this close.” Hall, says Curry, sheepishly says, “Sorry.”

The Yanks won’t miss Bill Hall’s production or lack thereof, and they should be able to replicate it with the much cheaper cast of characters they have in camp right now. It’s always entertaining though to ponder the deals that weren’t. I wonder how many other close calls the Yanks have had over the years.