Brendan Ryan to begin minor league rehab assignment on Sunday

Forgotten infielder Brendan Ryan will begin an official minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on Sunday, according to Dan Barbarisi. Joe Girardi said they want him to get about 50 at-bats after missing almost all of Spring Training, so he’ll be on the rehab assignment for more than just a few days.

Ryan, 32, had a lower back problem and later an upper back problem in camp, forcing him to start the season on the DL. Given the timing of everything, it seems like he could be activated right when Michael Pineda‘s ten-game suspension ends the Monday after next and they go back to a 25-man roster. Pineda returns to the active roster, the extra reliever goes down, and Ryan essentially replaces Dean Anna as the backup middle infielder. Activating him earlier would require some more roster moves.

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Injury Updates: Tex, Robertson, Ryan, Ramirez

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees are starting to get healthy. Or, really, several of their players have started working their way back after being shut down for various lengths of time. No one has actually come off the DL yet. Here are some updates on the walking wounded, courtesy of George King, Erik Boland, and Jorge Castillo.

  • Mark Teixeira (hamstring) went 0-for-1 with two walks during an Extended Spring Training game yesterday and 1-for-5 with a strikeout today. He played the field both games and had to run hard on several occasions. “I will be fully ready to play Sunday and disappointed if I don’t.,” said Teixeira, who is eligible to activated off the DL on Sunday.
  • David Robertson (groin) threw a 25-pitch bullpen session yesterday and is scheduled to throw in an inning in Extended Spring Training tomorrow. “Get Sunday and Monday off and be ready to go Tuesday,’’ said Robertson. He’s eligible to be activated off the DL on Tuesday.
  • Brendan Ryan (back) got several at-bats in a simulated game this morning, his first game action since getting hurt. Because he missed just about all of Spring Training, Ryan’s rehab will be much longer than a handful of minor league games. He’s still a few weeks from returning.
  • Jose Ramirez (oblique) was one of the pitchers to face Teixeira this morning. He missed all of Spring Training but is throwing now, so that’s good. No word on when he’ll rejoin one of the minor league affiliates.

MRI shows pinched nerve in Brendan Ryan’s back

Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon that an MRI revealed a pinched nerve in Brendan Ryan‘s back. He will receive a cortisone shot and is likely to start the season on the DL. Ryan was dealing with an oblique injury earlier in camp, but this new back issue popped up last night. At this point it seems like a very safe bet that Eduardo Nunez and either Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte will be on the Opening Day roster.

2014 Season Preview: Defensive Wizards

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The more deeply you examine the 2013 New York Yankees, the more unbelievable their win total seems. On the whole they did nothing well. The putrid offense, which ranked 28th in wRC+, was on display daily. Pitching? They ranked 18th in the league in ERA.

You’d think that if they couldn’t put together a decent offense that they’d compensate with a solid defense. You’d be wrong. They ranked 24th in team defensive efficiency. The guys who couldn’t hit apparently also couldn’t field well.

The 2014 Yankees figure to perform a bit better on defense. They not only brought in an upgrade in Jacoby Ellsbury, but they get back Mark Teixeira. There are a couple of other subtle upgrades, too, that could add up to at least an average defense.

Derek Jeter and Brendan Ryan

Derek Jeter as a defensive upgrade? Surely I’m just pulling your chain. Sadly, I’m not. Jeter did improve his defense for a few years starting in 2008, but by 2012 it had again declined. How can we expect he’ll provide any value in 2014, at age 40?

Defensive statistics have enough shortcomings that they’re hardly worth bringing into serious discussions. In fact, once the new fielding system becomes public, I think we’ll look back at UZR and laugh. Yet it’s troubling when not just UZR, but essentially every publicly available defensive metric says that Eduardo Nunez absolutely killed the Yankees at SS.

DRS: -28
UZR: -20.6 (-40.7/150!)
TZ: -17
FRAA: -11.4*

* This includes all defense, while the others are at SS only

Given Nunez’s deficiencies, Jeter could actually be an upgrade. Furthering the upgrade is a full year of Brendan Ryan on the bench. He’ll provide value as a late-inning defensive replacement and as an occasional starter when Jeter needs a day off. His high level of play could even offset Jeter’s to an extent, even in a fraction of the time.

There is little doubt that the 2014 Yankees will provide better defense at short than the 2013 Yankees. It’s no wonder the Yankees moved quickly to get Ryan into the fold.

Mark Teixeira

To be fair, the Yankees did find an adequate defensive first baseman in Lyle Overbay. He came nowhere near Teixeira’s offensive production, even if you erase his late-season slump. But on defense he held his own.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At the same time, Mark Teixeira is on another level. If we could precisely quantify everything a first baseman does on defense, I have to imagine Teixeira would consistently rank among the league’s top five. He might not be the quickest or most athletic guy on the diamond, but his instincts and reflexes at first more than compensate.

Just because first base is all the way at the end of the defensive spectrum does not mean it lacks importance. Sure, plenty of big lumbering power hitters can stand at first base, but few play the position well. As Ron Washington so aptly put it, “It’s incredibly hard.”

Teixeira handles it with agility and grace. It’s easy to forget the days of Jason Giambi playing first.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner

In the last few years Ellsbury has improved his game in center field. A few years ago the Red Sox signed Mike Cameron and moved Ellsbury to left. Perhaps that was the kick in the ass he needed. Whatever the case, he tracks balls well and has plenty of speed, making him a high quality center fielder.

The Yankees had a very good center fielder last year in Brett Gardner. Speed takes center stage in Gardner’s game. He doesn’t always get the best read, nor does he always take the best route. But he makes a lot of plays, because he can compensate with his legs. This year he’ll play center a bit, but not on a day-to-day basis. This helps the Yankees outfield tremendously.

Again taking defensive metrics with a grain of salt (to the point where I won’t quote actual numbers), Gardner produced insane numbers playing left field in 2010 and 2011. Yes, he’s good, but multiple wins good? Here’s the thing with defensive numbers: they compare players at the same position. Since left field is reserved for those lumbering sluggers who don’t have much of an arm, they typically don’t play high-caliber defense. Gardner runs laps around them.

So the Yankees marginally upgrade in center, going from Gardner to Ellsbury. But they upgrade insanely in left field, relative to the league, because Gardner will track down so many more fly balls than his peers.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ichiro

His bat might not have much left in it, but Ichiro can still run down balls in the outfield. This will come in handy at various points during the 2014 season. He’s the obvious defensive replacement on the bench, giving the Yankees a lockdown outfield in later innings. But that’s not his only role.

If everyone stays healthy – and given Ellsbury’s current injury that’s far from a given – Ichiro wouldn’t get many starts. But guys get bumps and bruises. Carlos Beltran could need days off to rest his knees. Ellsbury and Gardner will need days off here and there even if they do stay healthy. In each instance, playing Ichiro in right makes a degree of sense.

In the the case of longer-term injuries I’d like to see them call up Zoilo Almonte to take more reps, since he still has at least a modicum of big league potential. Ichiro is almost certainly gone after this season, and could be gone before that under the right circumstances. But as long as he’s on the roster, he’ll provide a good defensive option in right field when the Yankees need it.

Third Base Notes: Reynolds, Young, Drew

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

The Yankees now know, for certain, that Alex Rodriguez will not be available to them this coming season. Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz officially reduced A-Rod‘s suspension from 211 games to 162 games yesterday, but make no mistake, it was a huge win for MLB. They wanted Alex out of the game for the year and that’s what they got. The Yankees now have an extra $25M or so to spend but they also need a new third baseman.

With the ruling now handed down, the team will likely begin looking for a third base replacement in earnest. Here’s the latest on the hot corner situation courtesy of Anthony McCarron, Andrew Marchand, and Dan Martin:

  • The Yankees continue to mull a reunion with Mark Reynolds, but they are only offering a minor league contract at this time. Such an agreement has been dubbed “unlikely.”
  • Michael Young is also being considered and the two sides have been talking. It is “too early to tell” if anything will come from it, however. The Yankees tried to acquire Young at the trade deadline.
  • The Yankees remain uninterested in Stephen Drew for whatever reason. Brian Cashman said they won’t be signing him last week. Drew has never played a position other than shortstop as a pro.
  • Cashman said the team does not view Brendan Ryan or Eduardo Nunez as third base options, thankfully. Kelly Johnson is an option but his experience at the position is limited (16 games, all last year).

Yankees re-sign Brendan Ryan to two-year deal

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Dec. 2nd: Joel Sherman reports Ryan will earn $2M in both 2014 and 2015. There is a club option worth $2M for 2016, but if that is declined, Ryan will have a player option worth $1M. His luxury tax hit will be $2M for the next two years. Hopefully this is the last update.

Nov. 27th: Ken Rosenthal says it’s a two-year contract worth $5M plus a mutual option for 2016 that could push the total value to $10M. Options are complicated, but I believe Ryan’s luxury tax hit will be $2.5M since the mutual option does not exceed 50% of the potential total value of the deal. The contract is official according to Rosenthal, so the 40-man roster is now full.

Nov. 18th, 3:17pm ET: It’s a one-year pact worth $1-2M or so, according to George King and Buster Olney. Not bad, pretty reasonable. The deal is not yet final, however.

1:00pm ET: The Yankees will have a legitimate shortstop on their roster next season. Jon Heyman reports the team has a deal in place with free agent infielder Brendan Ryan, though terms of the contract are unknown at this point. I can’t imagine it’ll be longer than one year. The two sides were said to have an agreement in place a few weeks ago, but Ryan had an unknown minor surgery after the season and his physical was delayed. The Yankees have not officially announced anything yet.

Ryan, 31, spent the end of 2013 with the Yankees after being acquired from the Mariners on September 10th. He hit .197/.255/.273 (44 wRC+) in 349 plate appearances overall and .220/.258/.305 (51 wRC+) in 62 plate appearances in pinstripes. There is little to like about Ryan’s offensive game. He’s never hit (career 71 wRC+ in over 2,600 plate appearances) and this past season he struck out more than the league average (20.9%), walked less than the league average (6.6%), showed little power (.075 ISO), and didn’t steal bases (4-for-6). With all due respect, he’s a zero at the plate.

Defensively, on the other hand, is where Ryan stands out. He is an elite defensive shortstop regardless of metric — +51 DRS, +26.5 UZR, +19.1 FRAA, and +19 Total Zone since 2011 — with ridiculous range, baby soft hands, and a strong throwing arm. The guy can really go get the ball.

Ryan is one of the best shortstop defenders in baseball and by far the best on the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner recently told Derek Jeter that despite his new contract, the team intends to pursue a capable everyday shortstop following his injury-plagued season. I’m not a fan of players who can’t hit (like, at all) but Ryan is an asset because of his defense and would contribute much more in a full-time role than Eduardo Nunez, whose only redeeming quality is his speed.

It has been a while since Ryan has played a non-shortstop position — last played second base in 2009, last played third in 2008 — but given his defensive ability, I don’t think moving around the infield would be much of a problem. Jeter figures to play shortstop whenever possible because hey, he’s Derek Jeter, but his time at DH is likely to increase this season. Ryan is an upgrade over Nunez and chances are he will be an oft-used bench player in 2014. The Yankees still have a number of roster questions to answer this winter, but backup middle infielder is no longer one of them.