Game 38: Let’s Split Two

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

The Yankees and Indians are playing a traditional single-admission doubleheader today, which means Game Two will start not long after Game One ended. The starting pitchers get enough time to warm up, that’s basically it. New York was shutout by Justin Masterson in the first game, and I guess the good news is they are 3-0 following shutout losses so far this season. They need a win this afternoon to leave Cleveland with a split. Here’s the lineup that will face right-hander Trevor Bauer, who is making the spot start as the Tribe’s 26th man for doubleheader…

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Jayson Nix
  3. DH Robinson Cano
  4. LF Vernon Wells
  5. 1B Lyle Overbay
  6. RF Ben Francisco
  7. 2B Corban Joseph
  8. SS Alberto Gonzalez
  9. C Austin Romine

And on the mound is the former Washington Wild Thing, left-hander Vidal Nuno. This will be his first career big league start, first game action in two weeks, and first start in three weeks.

This game is scheduled to start … soon. It was tentatively set for 3:35pm ET, but it’ll start before that. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Update: The Yankees have indeed recalled right-hander Brett Marshall between games. Brennan Boesch was optioned to Triple-A to clear a roster spot. Hard not to think that means Curtis Granderson will be activated off the DL tomorrow.

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2013 Season Preview: The Bench

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.

The lesser of two catching evils. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The lesser of two catching evils. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

Catcher
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.

Ronnie has had a bit of an issue with walls in camp. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Ronnie has had a bit of an issue with walls in camp. (AP/Kathy Willens)

Backup Infielder
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.

Backup Outfielder
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.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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.

Position player questions starting to be answered

Boesch seems like a safe bet for the Opening Day roster. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Boesch seems like a safe bet for the Opening Day roster. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

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.

Francisco. (Presswire)
Francisco. (Presswire)

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.

Yankees sign Brennan Boesch

(David Maxwell/Getty)
(David Maxwell/Getty)

7:14pm: The Yankees have officially announced the signing, so it’s a done deal. Boesch will be in camp tomorrow. Michael Pineda was moved to the 60-day DL to free up a spot on the 40-man roster.

4:58pm: Another day, another outfielder. The Yankees have agreed to sign Brennan Boesch to a Major League contract worth $1.5M with $600k in plate appearance-based incentives, according to Jon Heyman. The club will need to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate the Scott Boras client, who was released by the Tigers earlier this week. That’s not an issue though, both Michael Pineda and Cesar Cabral are 60-day DL candidates. Boesch was dealing with an oblique issue earlier in camp and probably has to pass a physical before the contract is official.

The 27-year-old Boesch hit .240/.286/.372 (77 wRC+) with 12 homers in 503 plate appearances for Detroit last season. One year earlier he managed a .283/.341/.458 (117 wRC+) with 16 homers in 472 plate appearances before tearing a ligament in his thumb and needing surgery. The Yankees are presumably hoping the further he gets away from surgery, the more his production will increase because Boesch doesn’t steal, is a total hacker, and is a terrible defender. He has a slight reverse split (110 wRC+ vs. 92) despite having a much higher strikeout rate (23.3 K% vs. 17.9) and a lower ISO (.134 vs. .162) against lefties, though it could be a sample size issue since we’re talking about 374 plate appearances against southpaws over three years.

The one thing Boesch will give the Yankees is flexibility. He has at least one minor league option remaining and can be assigned to Triple-A Scranton without a problem whenever Curtis Granderson‘s forearm is healthy. Because he only has three years of service time, the Yankees will also control him as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016 as well. Always nice to have that extra layer of control and know the player is more than a rental if he actually proves to be useful.

I don’t think the Yankees signed Boesch to a big league contract only to send him down before Opening Day, so he’s a safe bet to make the roster as Granderson’s replacement. Either full-time or as part of a platoon, I’m sure he’ll be in there regularly. Hopefully the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium helps boost Boesch’s power output while his defense doesn’t completely negate any value he provides. Decent depth pickup but nothing special. One (or maybe two) dimensional player who fills a need created by injury.

Sherman: Yankees will look into Brennan Boesch & David Cooper

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees will look into signing Brennan Boesch and David Cooper, who were released by the Tigers and Blue Jays this morning, respectively.

Boesch, 27, hit .283/.341/.458 (117 wRC+) with 16 homers in 472 plate appearances in 2011, but last year he managed just a .240/.286/.372 (77 wRC+) line in 503 plate appearances. He’s a total hacker — swung at 39.7% of pitches outside of the strike zone since 2010, the eighth worst in baseball — which is not the type of player the Yankees usually target. Boesch is also a brutal defensive player in the outfield corners. Still, the Yankees need to replace Curtis Granderson for a few weeks and the left-handed Boesch has power, plus he has at least one minor league option remaining. Of course the Yankees should look into signing him.

Cooper’s claim to fame is being a former first round pick (17th overall in 2008). The 26-year-old has hit .270/.310/.441 (103 wRC+) with six homers in 226 big league plate appearances over the last two years while battling various ailments, including a back injury that has kept him out of camp and is so serious it could end his career. He’s likely to rehab in 2013 and eye a return in 2014. Like Boesch he is a left-handed hitter, a poor defender, and has an option remaining. Given the back injury, there’s not much to see here. The Yankees need first base help right now, not next year.