Yankees designate Ramiro Pena for assignment, call up six

Via Peter Botte, the Yankees have designated Ramiro Pena for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster for Chris Dickerson. Unlike the first time he was designated, he will now need to be traded, released, or passed through waivers within ten days. Click here for an explanation of that weirdness.

Along with Dickerson, the Yankees have also officially recalled Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, Cory Wade, Adam Warren, and Justin Thomas as rosters expand today.

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Replacing Mark Teixeira with Chris Dickerson

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Yankees lost more than just a game last night, as Mark Teixeira went down with a Grade I calf strain that will cost him no less than one week. Derek Jeter, as you may remember, suffered a Grade I calf strain last season and missed roughly three weeks. Hopefully the fact that he’s five years younger than the Cap’n will hasten Teixeira’s return to the lineup. Either way, the Yankees will be without their first baseman for an important stretch of games.

With the rosters set to expand on Saturday, don’t count on the Yankees placing Teixeira on the DL. Chances are they’ll play shorthanded for the next three games (Thursday’s an off-day) before calling up some players from the minors to fill various voids. One of those guys should be outfielder Chris Dickerson, who we saw briefly last year but has spent this summer raking for the homeless Triple-A squad. He owns a .321/.421/.523 batting line (169 wRC+) in 316 plate appearances this year, including a gaudy .354/.464/.619 line since the All-Star break.

I’ve written about the potential usefulness of the 30-year-old Dickerson in the past, noting that he can hit righties (career .341 wOBA against big league righties plus a .323/.420/.568 line against them in Triple-A this year), steal bases (17-for-20 in stolen bases attempts in Triple-A this year), and play strong defense in all three outfield spots. Dickerson can’t hit lefties though, so he is yet another platoon player in a lineup already featuring too many platoon players, but at this point the Yankees don’t have any alternatives. Players who can hit both lefties and righties are hard to find this time of year.

With Teixeira out of the lineup, the Yankees would have four players for four spots against righties — Dickerson, Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez. Chavez has to play third and Ichiro an outfield corner; that’s the easy part. Having Dickerson around allows them to keep Ibanez at DH and put Dickerson in the other outfield corner while the switch-hitting Nick Swisher plays first. Against lefties they would have Andruw Jones, Casey McGehee, Jayson Nix, and the recently-acquired Steve Pearce for those same four positions: Jones at DH, McGehee at third, Nix in left, and Pearce at first with Swisher in his usual right field.

It’s pretty easy to see where Dickerson fits in here. Without him, one of those four right-handed platoon bats is going to have to play against righties, and that’s far from ideal. He’ll add some much-needed speed — Ichiro is 4-for-7 in steal attempts as Yankee — and improve the defense overall while not being an automatic out against righties. The sorta tricky part is getting him on the 40-man roster, which is backlogged as it is. I’m planning to write more about the 40-man situation in a day or two, but calling up Dickerson probably costs Ramiro Pena or Justin Thomas their job. That’s life though, these decisions are going to have to be made at some point anyway.

The Yankees catch a little bit of a break because they’re scheduled to face two left-handed starters in the next three games, so they can wait until rosters expand on Saturday to recall Dickerson. They don’t absolutely have to do it right now and set off a chain-reaction of 25-man roster moves. There’s no way they’ll be able to replace Teixeira’s production, but adding Dickerson as a platoon bat is their best in-house solution at the moment. Maybe McGehee or Pearce or one of those other platoon guys gets hots and carries things for a bit, but I wouldn’t count on it. Dickerson is mashing in Triple-A and offers the speed and defense elements as well. He’s their best internal option with Teixeira on the shelf.

Poll: Internally Replacing Brett Gardner

(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

The Yankees played their 60th game of the season last night and they’ve only had Brett Gardner in the starting lineup for eight of them. The elbow injury he suffered sliding for a ball against the Twins has morphed into a series of setbacks that culminated with a visit to Dr. James Andrews yesterday. Gardner will see Dr. Tim Kremcheck for a second opinion on Thursday, at which point the Yankees will presumably announce the latest diagnosis.

Barring some fortunate and frankly unexpected good news, Gardner is going to miss several more weeks. A few days ago Joe Girardi indicated that he doesn’t expect his left fielder back until after the All-Star break, which is still more than a month away. Raul Ibanez has been better than expected and softened the blow of losing Gardner a bit, but the Yankees can’t really rely on him as the everyday left fielder for an extended period of time. He’s already started 33 games in the field and at 40 years old, there has to be some concern about him wearing down later in the season.

Unless the Yankees get good news on Thursday, they have to at least consider bolstering their roster with Gardner on the shelf. With all due respect to Dewayne Wise, he’s nothing more than a defensive replacement/spot starter in the big leagues. The Yankees can do better without having to go outside the organization, they have some potential solutions sitting in Triple-A.

Chris Dickerson
I’ve written about Dickerson before, noting that he offers the ability to hit right-handed pitching (career .341 wOBA against northpaws) in addition to strong defense and base running skills. I don’t know if he’s a better defensive player than Wise but the difference isn’t worth arguing about. Dickerson can handle all three outfield spots with aplomb as well as contribute offensively with his bat and legs. The Yankees don’t have to play him every day in a straight platoon, but they could run him out there three times a week against righties while keeping Ibanez in the DH role. Cutting Wise in favor of Dickerson — who is out of minor league options and would have be waived whenever Gardner is healthy — is an upgrade in almost every single way.

Russell Branyan
Joe and I talked about this option on yesterday’s podcast. The idea would be to dump Wise, keep playing Ibanez in left, and use Branyan as the regular DH against right-handers. He’s come back very well from his back injury — six homers in 13 minor league games already — but it’s tough to consider him anything more than a first baseman/DH option. Branyan’s days of even faking third base and the corner outfield are a thing of the past. Adding a huge left-handed power bat lineup is obviously desirable, but it would leave the Yankees without a true backup center fielder and further limit roster flexibility.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning Jack Cust here, who is also raking in Triple-A but has yet to play a single game in the field. It’s been DH or the bench. At least Branyan has played first base pretty much every game.

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

Ronnie Mustelier
The most interesting 27-year-old in the minor league system, Mustelier has been hitting non-stop since signing last summer and he’s now doing it at the Triple-A level. Joe Girardi raved about his bat speed recently and said his name has come up as a call-up candidate at various points this year … but that’s pretty much all we know about the guy. He’s small — listed at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs. — and right-handed with phenomenal numbers, but we don’t know anything about his defensive skills or speed or anything else. Box scores only tell you so much. Mustelier has spent a ton of time in left field and also has experience in the infield, so his versatility as a plus. He’s not an ideal platoon candidate given his right-handedness, but he could also hit enough that it doesn’t even matter.

Eduardo Nunez
This one probably won’t happen for a number of reasons. For one, Nunez is currently on the minor league DL with a thumb issue. For another, the Yankees sent him to Triple-A to focus on one position after bouncing him all around the field over the last year or so. Calling Nunez back up to do anything — utility infielder, platoon left fielder, etc. — would go against that plan. That doesn’t mean it’s not an option, just that it seems unlikely. That said, we can’t rule anything out. Whenever Nunez gets healthy — probably soon since he was taking grounders just last week — he figures to at least be on the call-up radar.

Miscellaneous
As always, the top minor league affiliate is chock full of random call-up options. Brandon Laird is on the 40-man roster and can play all four corner spots, but he can’t hit — .251/.289/.393 in 870 total plate appearances in Triple-A. Corban Joseph has zero outfield experience so he’s of no use in this situation despite being on the 40-man. Colin Curtis is a solid enough defensive player and can play all three outfield spots, but he’s never been much with the stick. Kevin Russo can play all over the field and make some contact, but otherwise isn’t any kind of upgrade. Neither he nor Curtis is on the 40-man roster as well. Not much to see here.

* * *

Of course, the Yankees always have the option of doing nothing and sticking with their current setup. Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix could continue to take turns in left field while Wise gets nothing more than the occasional spot start. That’s  fine for two weeks or whatever, but I’d rather not see them roll with it for an extended period of time. It’s already been long enough as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, stuff is like this begging for a poll, so…

How should the Yankees replace Brett Gardner internally?
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Dickerson clears waivers, outrighted to Triple-A

Now here’s a surprise. Chris Dickerson has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, the Yankees announced. He will remain in big league Spring Training but is no longer on the 40-man roster. Dickerson, 29, is out of minor league options and had to first clear waivers before being sent down. I figured he was a lock to be claimed given his classic fourth outfielder skill set, meaning a lefty that can hit righties, play all three outfield spots well, and run a little. I’m glad he’s sticking around.

Pondering the three without options

As far as Spring Training position battles go, the Yanks have few, and those they have aren’t very compelling. The pitching staff has the non-problem of having three hurlers — A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes — for one rotation spot, and barring an injury, the starting lineup is set in stone. It will be, then, business in Tampa as the Yanks will use March to fine-tune the team for the regular season.

Yet, the club will have to make some decisions, and it may come down to those who are out of options. As I see it now, the Yanks have 23 guys with their tickets punched to the 25-man roster. It goes a little something like this:

Pitchers (12)
Burnett
Garcia
Hughes
Kuroda
Logan
Nova
Pineda
Rivera
Robertson
Sabathia
Soriano
Wade

Catchers (2)
Martin
Cervelli

Infielders (5)
Cano
Jeter
Nunez
Rodriguez
Teixeira

Outfielders (4)
Gardner
Granderson
Jones
Swisher

This array of players leaves us with few noticeable holes. With Jones set to DH against southpaws, they could use another bat who can handle right-handers and serve as a weapon off the bench. They also could carry another infielder, as they did for much of last year. The in-house options include Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird while Eric Chavez remains a free agent. We’ve heard Bill Hall’s name bandied about, but he hasn’t yet received his non-roster invitation to Spring Training yet.

For the empty outfield/DH spot, the Yanks could still look to the free agent market for help. Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez and Hideki Matsui have all been linked, one way or another, to the Yanks this winter. It’s possible one of them could take spot No. 24 or 25. The Yanks though will let those players’ prices drop before making any sort of move. If one happens, it will be on our terms, and not yours, the Yanks’ brain trust has telegraphed.

The in-house options are Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell, and they’ll either break camp with the Yanks or on some other team. The two of them — along with Boone Logan, the only lefty on the 40-man with Major League experience — are out of options. The Yanks will have to take Dickerson and Maxwell with them north if they want to keep them or else the two players will have to clear waivers to remain in the Yanks’ system.

Throughout the winter, Mike has examined these two players in depth. He looked at Dickerson’s possible role earlier this month and Maxwell’s potential in December. Of the two of them, Dickerson seems to hit right-handers far better than Maxwell has, and that’s a need the Yanks have right now. The club may also be able to flip Maxwell for something reasonably useful as he’s a few years younger than Dickerson.

Complicating the roster dance are Brad Meyers, a right-hander, and Cesar Cabral, a lefty. The Yanks grabbed these two guys during the Rule 5 draft. Meyers would have to go back to the Nationals if the Yanks opt to exclude him from the 25-man, and Cabral could pick free agency as he’s a two-time Rule 5er. Cabral also would give the Yanks more bullpen options and pitched exceptionally well in Winter Ball this year. As Logan is out of options, he won’t bump Boone, but a solid spring could make the Yanks think twice about a second southpaw in the pen.

So for the Yankees, the big battles are all but over. We have to pick a fifth starter from a group of three guys who are all flawed for various reasons, and the last two guys on the team have to earn that trip to the Bronx. The guys without options have the inside track, but even then, they’re expendable AAAA types. With two weeks until pitchers and catchers, that’s not a bad problem to have.