The Spare Part Position Players [2016 Season Review]

Butler. (Presswire)
Butler. (Presswire)

Over the last two years the Yankees have been pretty good about dipping into their farm system whenever a position player need arose. Last year Slade Heathcott and Greg Bird got opportunities, most notably. This year Ben Gamel and Rob Refsnyder were the go-to options before the trade deadline sell off. Whenever possible, the Yankees went young.

It wasn’t always possible, however. Inevitably, the Yankees ran into a few instances in which they didn’t have a young player available to plug a roster hole. That led them to call up a journeyman veteran or pick up someone off the scrap heap. The Yankees did this a few times this past season, and you know what? It worked out pretty darn well in some instances.

Billy Butler

On August 13th, the Yankees released Alex Rodriguez because they had no room on their roster for a right-handed platoon DH. On September 14th, the Yankees signed Billy Butler because they needed a right-handed platoon DH. Baseball, man. I like to think the front office conversation went like this:

Hal: “Brian, get me a butler.”
Cashman: “Done.”
Hal: “Wait no I meant …”

In all seriousness, the Yankees signed Butler because they used Austin Romine at DH against Clayton Kershaw earlier that day. They had no one else to fill that role. The Yankees were trying hard to stay in the wildcard race and Butler was freely available — the Athletics released him a few days earlier — so they picked him up for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

Butler’s first few days in pinstripes were rather productive. He went 1-for-3 and drove in two runs in his first game. The next day he smacked a two-run pinch-hit home run. Four days later he ripped a pair of doubles. Butler went 8-for-18 (.444) with two doubles and a homer in his first week as a Yankee. Pretty nice for a cost nothing pickup.

For whatever reason Joe Girardi decided to start Butler at first base a few times and that was a predictable disaster. He made two egregious misplays — Butler missed a pickoff throw and booted a grounder — that led directly to runs. Yuck. The man has no business owning a glove.

The Yankees fell out of the rate in late September and Butler’s playing time diminished. Tyler Austin and Refsnyder got those at-bats instead. Butler went 10-for-29 (.345) with those two doubles and one homer in 12 games with New York. He became a free agent after the season — I’ve seen some confusion about this, the fact his A’s contract ran through 2017 means nothing to the Yankees, they’re not on the hook for that — and there’s basically no reason for the Yankees to bring him back.

Chris Parmelee

The Yankees were dealt a pretty significant blow in February, when Bird injured his shoulder working out and needed surgery. His season was over before it even had a chance to begin. The team signed Parmelee to effectively replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, but that’s it. He was only going to help the big league team in an emergency.

That emergency came in early June. Mark Teixeira landed the disabled list with a knee problem, so the Yankees were down their top two first baseman. Third string first baseman Dustin Ackley was hurt too. First base duties fell to Parmelee and Refsnyder. On June 8th, in his first start as a Yankee, Parmelee went 3-for-5 with a double and two home runs in the team’s comeback win over the Angels.

The next day Parmelee drove in another run, but because the Yankees can’t have nice things, he hurt his hamstring stretching for a throw at first base a few innings later. He had to be helped off the field. Parmelee was placed on the disabled list, where he remained the next two months. It was one of those years.

Once healthy, the Yankees sent Parmelee back to Triple-A, where he remained the rest of the season. Overall, he went 4-for-8 with a double and two homers with the Yankees while putting up a .248/.335/.449 (124 wRC+) batting line with eleven homers in 64 games with the RailRiders. Parmelee hit a three-run home run in the Triple-A Championship Game to help Scranton to a win.

After the season Parmelee became a minor league free agent. I suppose the Yankees could bring him back to be their Triple-A first baseman again next year, but guys like this tend to be one and done. Parmelee will look for more playing time elsewhere and the Yankees will find someone else to play first for Scranton.

Ike Davis

At one point in June the Yankees were down to their fifth string first baseman. Teixeira (knee), Bird (shoulder), Ackley (shoulder), and Parmelee (hamstring) were all hurt. The job was Refsnyder’s. After Parmelee’s injury, the Yankees scooped up Davis just to provide some veteran depth at first. Ike had opted out of his minor league deal with the Rangers a few days earlier.

Davis appeared in only eight games with the Yankees — four starts and four appearances in relief of Refsnyder — and he went 3-for-14 (.214) with one walk, five strikeouts, and no extra base hits in those eight games. He did actually drive in a run though. In his very first at-bat in pinstripes, no less.

Not the most picturesque swing, but it got the job done there. The Yankees dropped Davis from the roster when Teixeira returned from the disabled list. Ike went to Triple-A, hit .217/.318/.391 (103 wRC+) with five homers in 26 games for the RailRiders, then was released. He was the epitome of short-term help. The Yankees needed a first baseman for a few days in June and Davis filled the role.

Donovan Solano

Infield depth was a big concern coming into Spring Training, so much so that the Yankees signed three veterans to minor league deals: Solano, Pete Kozma, and Jonathan Diaz. All three spent the entire minor league regular season with Triple-A Scranton. Solano was the RailRiders’ best hitter from start to finish, putting up a .319/.349/.436 (124 wRC+) batting line with an International League leading 163 hits.

The Yankees didn’t plan to call the 28-year-old Solano up, but when Starlin Castro felt a tug in his hamstring running out a double in mid-September, their hand had been forced. Solano appeared in nine games with the Yankees, including six starts, and he went 5-for-22 (.227) at the plate. One of the five was a home run.

Solano was in the right place at the right time. He had the best season among the veteran Triple-A infielders and it just so happened Castro hurt his hamstring late in the season. That got Solano back to the big leagues, albeit briefly. The Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster soon after the end of the regular season and he elected free agency. Next year another random Triple-A infielder will hit another random September home run.

Game 146: Start of the Road Trip

Hold me. (Presswire)
Hold me. (Presswire)

Would it be a stretch to call this a season-defining road trip? I don’t think so. The Yankees are going to come out of this eleven-game road trip either firmly in the race with a chance to go to the postseason, or so far out of it we’ll all know the season’s basically over. This is make or break time, folks.

The Yankees are in Boston for the first of four with the Red Sox tonight, so we’re in for a bunch of nice low-intensity ballgames that are in no way stressful and definitely won’t last more than two-and-a-half hours. No way will these four games feature 16 hours of gut-wrenching baseball. No siree. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. DH Billy Butler
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Rob Refsnyder
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s a cool and clear night in Boston. Definitely gonna have a postseason baseball feel to it. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: The Yankees officially announced the Butler signing earlier today. He’s in the starting lineup, so duh. Nathan Eovaldi was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a roster spot.

Injury Update: Aaron Judge (oblique) has a Grade II strain and is officially done for the year. Those take a while to heal. He’s expected to be good to go for Spring Training though. The Yankees placed Judge on the 15-day DL for whatever reason.

News: The Yankees announced earlier today they will hold a pregame ceremony honoring David Ortiz prior to their game on Thursday, September 29th. That will be Ortiz’s final game in the Bronx. Go forth with faux outrage.

Heyman: Yankees agree to sign Billy Butler

(Don Feria/Getty)
(Don Feria/Getty)

Looks like the Yankees have a new DH option. The team has agreed to sign the recently released Billy Butler, reports Jon Heyman. The Athletics cut Butler loose earlier this week and are responsible for his $10M salary. New York will only owe him the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. I’m guessing Butler will be with the team tomorrow.

The Yankees signed Butler for one reason: to DH against left-handed pitchers. The Aaron Judge injury took away a righty bat, and Austin Romine had to DH against Clayton Kershaw this afternoon, so yeah. There’s room on the roster for Butler. Being able to slide Judge or Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL means no one has to lose their roster spot either. It’s an easy add.

Not coincidentally, the Yankees are scheduled to face three left-handed pitchers against the Red Sox this weekend (Eduardo Rodriguez, David Price, Drew Pomeranz), so Butler’s going to be in the lineup an awful lot right away. The Yankees are tentatively scheduled to face seven southpaws on this upcoming seven-game road trip as well: Rodriguez, Price, Pomeranz, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ.

Butler, 30, hit .276/.331/.403 (100 wRC+) with four homers in 242 plate appearances with the A’s before being released, including .262/.316/.369 (84 wRC+) against lefties. He’s a career .299/.381/.491 (133 wRC+) hitter against southpaws and surely that’s the Butler the Yankees are hoping they get these next few weeks. Hopefully Butler can be a chunkier version of 2014 Chris Young and unexpectedly rake.

Because he’s signing after August 31st, Butler is not eligible for the postseason roster should the Yankees actually qualify for the postseason. There are no loopholes, no 60-day DL tricks, nothing. He’s not eligible, period. That’s fine though. The Yankees are just trying to get to the playoffs right now. They’ll be happy if they have to figure out the postseason roster without Butler.

Mailbag: Phillips, Logan, Wilson, Butler

Five questions this week, including some long-ish ones. By know you should know how to contact us, but if not, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go. Send us mailbag questions or anything else that way.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Many asked: What about Brandon Phillips?

Lots of questions about Phillips this week after it was reported the Reds are looking to move him and get out from under his contract. Apparently he’s run his mouth — he called his recent contract extension a “slap in the face” in light of Joey Votto’s extension — a few too many times and has worn out his welcome.

Anyway, the 32-year-old Phillips hit .261/.310/.396 (91 wRC+) with 18 homers and five stolen bases this summer, his worst offensive season in five years. His defense at second base remains very good, among the best in baseball, but the bat is starting to slow down just a bit. Here is a rather troubling graph:


Source: FanGraphsBrandon Phillips

That is what amounts to a seven-year decline in ISO. Yeah, he did rebound a whole two points from 2010 to 2011, but that’s negligible in my opinion. Two points of ISO is one extra base every 500 at-bats, so yeah, negligible. Phillips has hit 18 homers in four straight years — I mean exactly 18 homers, kinda weird — but his doubles and triples are coming down. So are his stolen bases — this was the first full season in his career he didn’t swipe at least 14 bags — so maybe the power drop isn’t so much as a “not hitting the ball hard” thing as it is a “not fast enough to take that extra base on balls hit into the gap anymore” thing.

Either way, Phillips is 32 years old and he has another $50M coming to him over the next four years. That’s a lot of money for a player with very clear signs of decline. If Robinson Cano were to leave as a free agent — pretty much the only scenario in which I would even entertain the idea of acquiring Phillips — I’d still scour the trade market for a short-term stopgap than take on that contract. Phillips is more name than production right now and the Yankees have too much of that as it is.

Wilbur asks: What kind of contract would it take to keep Boone Logan in pinstripes? He’s made it clear he wants to re-sign with the Yankees and he’ll be coming off surgery to remove bone spurs, which’ll drive the price down (but also raises the question of do the Yankees even want him?).

Logan had surgery a few weeks ago and is expected to start throwing in January and be ready in time for the Spring Training. It sounds like a minor procedure but there’s really no such thing. There’s risk anytime you cut into pitcher’s elbow. CC Sabathia had a similar surgery last winter and after the awful season he just had, it’s fair to wonder if the elbow cleanup had something to do with it.

As for Logan, the market for top left-handed relievers if pretty well established. On the low-end you’ve got Sean Burnett (two years, $8M), on the high-end you’ve got Scott Downs (three years, $15M), and in the middle you have Damaso Marte (two years, $12M). Logan is several years younger than Marte and Downs were when they got their contracts and roughly the same age as Burnett when he got his. Burnett had much greater injury concerns though, much much greater. In this free agent-friendly market, I think Logan should be able to pull down Marte’s contract without much of a problem and maybe even land Downs’. Do the Yankees want him back? I don’t know. Lefty specialist seems like an easy spot to save money with payroll coming down though.

PitchFX clocked that at 95.7 mph, by the way.

Patrick asks: The only reliever I have any interest in is Brian Wilson. How many years and millions do you think he’ll get?

Wilson, 31, joined the Dodgers in August and quickly became their setup man, allowing just one run on twelve hits and six walks in 19.2 innings between the regular season and postseason. He struck out 21 (28.8%) and got 28 ground balls (60.9%). Wilson showed his usual pre-injury stuff — a nasty mid-90s two-seamer and an upper-80s slider — so that was one hell of a late season audition following elbow surgery. He was damn impressive with Los Angeles.

With Wilson, it’s necessary to look beyond the ridiculous beard and (intentionally?) insufferable personality. The Yankees need to add a late-inning arm to replace Mariano Rivera — they’re losing an elite reliever either way, regardless of whether David Robertson takes over as closer or stays in the eighth — and Wilson is close to the perfect candidate. He’s got power stuff and he misses bats, he’s got big game and World Series experience, and he’s an off the charts competitor. This is a guy who pitched through a torn elbow ligament for a while and worked his way back from not one, but two Tommy John surgeries. You don’t do that without being a determined and generally tough dude, both mentally and physically.

It’s tough to figure out what kind of contract Wilson will get this winter given his situation. He’s a not all that old formerly elite closer who has thrown fewer than 20 innings following his second elbow reconstruction. I’d call that unique. The Rangers gave Joakim Soria two years and$8M last winter as he was coming off his second Tommy John surgery, but he was not expected back until midseason. Wilson is obviously ready to go. Joe Nathan got two years and $14.5M one year removed from Tommy John surgery after 2011. If the Yankees could get Wilson for something between those two deals, say two years and $12M, I’d definitely do it. Forget the beard and the Taco Bell commercials, he’s a great fit for New York’s bullpen needs if the medicals check out and they can get him at a reasonable price.

Dan asks: MLBTR is reporting that the Royals might make Billy Butler available. He’s owed $8M in 2014 with a $12.5M club option in 2015. I know the last thing the Yankee need is a 1B/DH but would you consider him to DH and provide backup in case Mark Teixeira re-injures the wrist?

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

First things first: If the Royals are indeed making Butler available, they probably want something big in return. I doubt they’re going to trade their second best hitter for a prospect or two after having the franchise’s best season in 19 years. If they trade him, it’ll be a win now type of move, perhaps for a starting pitcher. The Yankees don’t really match up well with Kansas City. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they do.

I am not all that interested in seeing the team spend even a moderate amount of bucks on the DH spot, and that’s what Butler is. He can fake first base during interleague play and that’s pretty much it. He’s awful defensively and he doesn’t hit for much power either. After hitting 29 homers in 2012, he dropped back down to 15 this year, in line with his 2008-2011 totals. He is a high-average, high-on-base guy and that’s very valuable, but the Yankees wouldn’t be acquiring David Ortiz here.

Spending $8M (and then $12.5M in 2014) for position-less, just-okay-power DH isn’t something they need to do in my opinion. They have so many other holes — more important holes like catcher and the left side of the infield and the rotation — that using a good amount of resources (both into terms of players traded away and then salary) to go after Butler doesn’t make much sense to me. He would make the team better next year, no doubt, but at a high cost that would limit their ability to make moves elsewhere. The Yankees could use a hitter like Butler, but they can’t ignore positional needs.

Kevin asks: If there is a weak draft and the next draft is projected to be loaded, do teams intentionally draft somebody they know they aren’t going to sign to essentially trade the pick in the weaker draft for another pick next year?

No, never. The only team who has something of a history of not signing top picks since the compensation system was put in place is the Blue Jays and that obviously hasn’t gotten them very far. Most scouting directors (and GMs) know they might not be around to make that pick next year if they intentionally do not sign a first rounder. The prospect now is always more valuable than the pick later. Always. Plus it’s impossible to judge the quality of the draft class a year in advance, so very much can change. Every club would rather make the pick now and get the player into their system as soon as possible. Waiting a year delays everything, including the ability to use that player in a trade to improve the big league. It’s a very, very risky strategy. There is always high-end talent available in the first round, you just have to find it.