Recent roster cuts could be fits for Yankees

Casper Wells, two teams ago. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Casper Wells, two teams ago. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Yankees just rattled off four straight wins over the division rival Blue Jays and have now gone 14-5 since the ugly 1-4 start. The middle relief has settled down, the rotation overcame some early woes, and the lineup has really started to click even if they still stink against left-handers (71 wRC+). It took a few weeks (as usual), but things are starting to come together.

Of course, there is always room for improvement, especially for a team as injury-riddled as New York. They’ve already used the DL a league-leading nine times this season, and that could grow to ten depending on the results of today’s MRI on Kevin Youkilis’ stiff back. Three players lost their jobs with other teams over the weekend, and all three could represent upgrades on the fringes of the Yankees’ roster.

Casper Wells
Wells, 28, was designated for assignment by the Athletics yesterday, the third time a team has cut ties with him in the last month. That’s a pretty good indication front offices don’t consider him to be as productive as WAR or other freely available metrics say. He was claimed off waivers and traded for $100k this month, so the price is obviously low.

The Yankees aren’t looking for an offensive savior, they just need to find a better right-handed platoon bat than Ben Francisco (-7 wRC+ overall and -16 wRC+ against lefties). Wells has decent numbers against southpaws during his career (129 wRC+), but 317 plate appearances spread across three years aren’t definitive proof of anything. The various defense stats say he’s serviceable at worst in all three spots. Francisco hasn’t just looked bad, he’s looked horrible without even a hint of snapping out of it. Wells is freely available and it would be tough for him to give the team less than what they’re currently getting from Francisco*.

* That said, Wells has had five plate appearances in the last month because he’s been in transactions limbo, so rust is a very real concern.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Chris Nelson
The Rockies called up top third base prospect Nolan Arenado this weekend, and the 27-year-old Nelson was the roster casualty. Colorado designated him for assignment and it’s very likely another team will pick him up despite his poor performance this month (51 wRC+) because he’s versatile, one year removed from a 105 wRC+, and not too far removed from being a top prospect.

I wrote about Nelson as a potential target last month, so I’ll just refer you back to that to keep things simple. Nelson can provide depth at the three non-first base infield positions, which is something pretty much every team needs. The Yankees will be without Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez until at least the All-Star break and there’s a chance Youkilis will wind up on the DL following today’s MRI, so adding an infielder seems rather prudent. Even if David Adams or Corban Joseph are the team’s preferred call-up options, there is still an opening to stash Nelson in Triple-A. That would require signing him to a minor league contract following his release, which seems unlikely. I’m guessing he doesn’t go through waivers unclaimed.

Humberto Quintero
Quintero, 33, was cut loose by the Phillies over the weekend when Carlos Ruiz was eligible to return following his 25-game amphetamine-related suspension. The veteran journeyman barely played with Philadelphia (21 plate appearances), but he’s managed over 1,300 plate appearances (55 wRC+) in parts of 11 big league seasons. He’s always had a strong throwing arm (83-for-257 career, 32.3% caught stealing rate) and the rest of his defensive game is well-regarded, but who really knows these days.

The Yankees will be without Frankie Cervelli for at least six weeks thanks to his broken hand, and it could be even longer considering how hand/wrist/finger injuries tend to linger. They’re unlikely to find anyone better than Chris Stewart and Austin Romine right now, but Quintero is someone they could stick in Triple-A for further catching depth. Remember, Romine has a series of back injuries in his recent past, so it wouldn’t take much for the team to have to dip into it’s backstop depth again in the coming weeks. Quintero is likely to clear waivers and take a minor league contract, which fits what the team needs at the moment.

Out of options market offers Yankees little help

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

The Yankees have lost more than their fair share of players to injury this spring, most notably losing Mark Teixeira (wrist) and Curtis Granderson (forearm) for the first month of the season. Lesser injuries to Clay Rapada (shoulder) and Boone Logan (elbow) threaten the Opening Day bullpen. The Bombers have the depth to replace the two left-handed relievers if need be, but replacing the first baseman and center fielder will be impossible.

“This ain’t good,” said Brian Cashman to Mark Feinsand following Teixeira’s injury. “We’ll just wait and see. What we have in our camp is what we’ll continue to evaluate, and we have at our disposal potential casualties from other camps … It’s not the time of year to try to make any moves. Usually movement takes place after the draft unless people are trying to cut garbage.”

At this time of year, that “garbage” is typically players who are out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers. A handful of these guys are traded in late-March every season as clubs finalize their roster and try to turn spare parts into something useful. Chris Stewart is a perfect example — he was out of options last year, so when the Giants didn’t have room for him on the roster, they made a small trade with the Yankees. Happens every single year.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, this spring’s crop of out of options players is rather unappealing. Lots and lots of fringy relievers, it seems. There isn’t much potential help in that garbage pile for Cashman, not even decent depth players for first and the outfield, nevermind a legitimate starting caliber position player. Here are three out of options guys who might help New York if they become available before the start of the season.

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

Daric Barton, Athletics
Barton, 27, was a sabermetric darling a few years ago, when he hit .273/.393/.405 (126 wRC+) with more walks (110) than strikeouts (102) in 686 plate appearances for the 2010 Athletics. He’s been hurt and ineffective since, putting up a .209/.329/.275 (75 wRC+) in 416 plate appearances from 2011-2012 while battling injuries to both shoulders — he had labrum surgery on the left shoulder in September 2011.

Oakland is set to go with the left-handed hitting Brandon Moss at first base — with various platoon partners — making the left-handed hitting Barton expendable. The Yankees have a similar hitter in Dan Johnson already in camp, except he will actually hit for some power in addition to drawing a ton of walks. Barton is a better defender at first, but he hasn’t been healthy and he hasn’t hit. I’m not sure he’s much of an upgrade over what New York already has in-house.

Casper Wells, Mariners
I think the 28-year-old Wells has gotten pretty overrated in recent weeks. The right-handed hitter owns a .264/.349/.489 (132 wRC+) line with a 10.2% walk rate against lefties in his career, but that has come in 313 plate appearances spread across three years. Those three small samples — career-high in plate appearances against a lefty is 151 last season — smashed together doesn’t really paint an accurate picture of what he can provide.

That said, Wells is better than most of what the Yankees have in camp. He is a (much) better defensive player than the established veterans like Juan Rivera, Ben Francisco, and Matt Diaz, and he has more of a big league track record than the youngsters like Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte. Since the Yankees will need a right-handed hitting outfielder even after Granderson returns, picking Wells up would be more than a one-month stopgap. The Mariners are overloaded with corner outfield and DH types, so he could become available. He’s useful, I just think he’s gotten a little overrated lately.

(Rich Pilling/Getty)
(Rich Pilling/Getty)

Chris Nelson, Rockies
Nelson, 27, hit .301/.352/.458 in 377 plate appearances last summer and .284/.327/.427 in 593 career plate appearances overall. Pretty solid right? Well, he’s a Rockie and when you adjust that stuff for Coors Field, you get a 105 and 90 wRC+, respectively. Not too hot all of a sudden.

Anyway, Nelson has a little bit of pop from the right side and can play the three non-first base infield positions in a pinch. He’s not a great defender but he is better than Eduardo Nunez, plus he offers a little more with the bat than Jayson Nix. The Yankees have talked about using Kevin Youkilis at first base and finding a new third baseman while Teixeira is out, though I wouldn’t recommend playing Nelson everyday. He could fit as a bench player though, representing a tiny little upgrade over what New York already has in-house. Given where they sit on the win curve and what they’ve lost due to injury, grabbing every little upgrade possible is a wise idea.

Mailbag: Manny Ramirez & Casper Wells

Got just two questions for you this week, but they’re both good ones with long-ish answers. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Bill asks: Should the Yankees have any interest in bringing Manny Ramirez to training camp and see if he has anything left? Could provide a nice righty bat.

Manny, 40, is tearing the cover off the ball in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .306/.405/.532 with four homers, nine walks, and a dozen strikeouts in 17 postseason games after putting up a .293/.360/.434 line in 25 regular season games. One hundred and eighty five total plate appearances is nothing though, so I wouldn’t read much into that performance at all. Ramirez’s agent recently confirmed to Jon Morosi that his client hopes to return to MLB next season and is using winter ball as what amounts to a showcase, and so far, so good.

Prior to the winter ball playoffs, Manny had not been an above-average hitter since splitting the 2010 season between the Dodgers and White Sox (140 wRC+ in 320 plate appearances). His bat speed and power had been slipping for a while when he signed with the Rays prior to 2011, though he continued to hit for average and draw walks. The stint in Tampa lasted five games due to his second PED suspension, which he satisfied after signing a minor league contract with the Athletics last winter. Manny hit .302/.348/.349 with no homers, five walks, and 17 strikeouts in 17 Triple-A games with Oakland before requesting his release in June and sitting out of the rest of the year.

I have no idea what Ramirez is capable of doing at the plate these days. No one does. He looked close to done during his brief (88 plate appearances) stint with the ChiSox in 2010, when he managed just a .261/.420/.319 (115 wRC+) line. The on-base rate is fantastic, but the lack of power from a guy in his late-30s is a red flag. That said, it’s a small sample and he hit .311/.405/.510 (150 wRC+) in 232 plate appearances with the Dodgers before going to Chicago, so maybe it was just a small sample issue. Remember, that was also two full seasons ago now as well. Hard to take anything from those performances.

Given their emphasis on makeup and all that, I can’t see the Yankees signing Manny at this point. Even on a no-risk, minor league contract. Just can’t see it. That said, I’d love it. Love it. Put that all-important veteran clubhouse to work and see if those guys can keep him grounded and in check. Give him an invite to camp and see what he can do against left-handers, against right-handers, as a DH, as an outfielder, at first base, whatever. There’s nothing to lose other than I guess PR, but the club isn’t doing so hot in that department these days anyway. The Yankees are boring as hell and Manny would certainly make Spring Training much more interesting. I’d love to see it.

(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Mark asks: With the Mariners apparently going with some mix of Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Mike Morse, Franklin Gutierrez, and Michael Saunders — should Casper Wells be available? He’d be a good, cheap fit.

Seattle did nothing to unclog their logjam by replacing John Jaso with Morse, and in fact they made it worse since they would have been able to stick Jaso behind the plate. Justin Smoak is terrible, so Kendrys Morales figures to get most of the action at first base. Jesus Montero has a clear opening to catch at least most of the time, meaning Bay and Ibanez will likely platoon at DH while Morse, Gutierrez, and Saunders man the outfield.

Wells, 28, is a right-handed hitting outfielder who does almost all of his damage against southpaws. He’s a .246/.317/.435 (109 wRC+) overall hitter in 656 career big league plate appearances, but that’s broken down into 132 wRC+ against lefties and an 88 wRC+ against righties. He will strike out some (26.2 K% vs. LHP), but otherwise he draws walks (10.2 BB%) and hits for power (.225 ISO) against lefties. The batting average won’t be anything special (.264 career vs. LHP), but power and patience go a long way. Add in the fact that his defense has been rated as above-average in the corners and average in center, and you’ve got a useful platoon outfielder.

Wells is out of minor league options, meaning he would have to clear waivers to go down to Triple-A next season. That won’t happen, he would almost certainly get claimed. Saunders broke out last season (108 wRC+ overall) and suddenly started hitting lefties (116 wRC+), so he doesn’t necessarily need a platoon partner now. Gutierrez is far from a guarantee to stay healthy (or hit) though, so having an extra non-Bay and non-Ibanez outfielder around seems like a wise idea. If the Mariners do make Wells available, a) it would probably be at the end of Spring Training after they ensure everyone makes it through camp in one piece, and b) the Yankees should definitely have interest. He’d be a great fit.