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.

Chris Dickerson’s Possible Role

The search for a DH is essentially in wait-and-see mode at the moment, meaning the Yankees are waiting to see who drops their prices before getting serious about a move. I still think it’ll be Johnny Damon, but you’re welcome to disagree. If it’s not Damon (or anyone else) and the Yankees wind up going into Spring Training or even the regular season without a set DH, then Chris Dickerson‘s chances of making the roster are pretty good. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

Dickerson, 30 in April, is actually Eric Dickerson’s cousin for all you NFL fans out there. He fell short of qualifying as a Super Two by a matter of days this offseason, and that might have saved his 40-man roster spot. Had he qualified as a Super Two and been arbitration-eligible, there’s a chance the Yankees would have non-tendered him rather than increase his salary by 200% or so. Anyway, he’s still on the team and is actually a useful player, albeit a limited one.

First, let’s talk about what Dickerson does well, starting with his athleticism and everything that comes with it. He has a reputation of being a strong defender in all three outfield spots, though he doesn’t have enough big league time for the advanced metrics to tell us anything meaningful. You’ll have to take my word for it.. Dickerson also has some speed and has been a highly efficient base-runner at the upper levels, swiping 24 bags in 30 tries in the majors (80%) and 75 bags in 92 tries at Triple-A over the years (81.6%). Defense and base-running are classic fourth outfielder traits, though Dickerson can hit a little, especially against right-handers.

More than 80% of his career plate appearances in the show have come against righties (490 of 582), and he’s tagged them for a .270/.355/.415 batting line, which works out to a .341 wOBA. Most of his power is into the gaps (21 doubles and seven triples) rather than over the fence (nine homers), and his 11.2% walk rate is very good. In 846 Triple-A plate appearances against righties, he’s hit .286/.387/.443 with 13.9% walks. That’s over 1,300 plate appearances at the two highest levels of baseball with better than average production against pitchers of the opposite hand. Against left-handers though, it’s a different story.

Dickerson hasn’t hit southpaws at all in the bigs (.292 wOBA in 92 plate appearances), and his 247 Triple-A plate appearances against lefties have resulted in a .246/.345/.339 batting line. The OBP looks solid enough, but it’s also inflated a bit by eight hit-by-pitches, six or which came more than three years ago. He’s a platoon player, and that’s fine since he’s on the dominant side of the platoon (unlike Justin Maxwell). Dickerson does strike out quite a bit, even against righties (26.3% in the bigs, 27.2% in Triple-A), though that can be partially explained by his walk rate. When you work deep counts, you’re going to strike out, it’s inevitable. That said, a whiff rate that high is a knock against him.

Aside from striking out a bit too much and not being able to hit lefties, Dickerson’s biggest drawback doesn’t even have anything to do with him as a player. He’s out of minor league options, meaning he can’t be sent back to Triple-A without first clearing waivers. Given his defense, base-running, and ability to not embarrass himself against righties, he’s also most certain to be claimed. An NL club (the Mets!) will gobble him right up for a bench spot. Being out of options alone shouldn’t be a reason to give him a spot on the 25-man roster, but it could serve as a tiebreaker if not one stands out from the crowd.

The Yankees do have two position player roster spots to fill at the moment: a DH and one on the bench (Eric Chavez‘s spot). If they end up carrying Dickerson on the roster to open the season, I assume he would take the DH spot and the Yankees would bring in another backup infielder/utility type (like Bill Hall). That doesn’t mean he has to DH though, and frankly it would be a waste of his defense. They could use him in right field against righties and let Nick Swisher DH those days, or they could let Swisher play first to give Mark Teixeira a day at DH. Point is, he’d give them more flexibility than a traditional DH-type like Damon, Raul Ibanez, or whoever else is out there to be had.

Dickerson has what amounts to one full big league season under his belt, though his 582 plate appearances are spread across four years. He did spend all of 2009 with the Reds as a platoon bat/fourth outfielder before an ankle injury effectively ended his season in late-August, but otherwise it’s been a bunch of up-and-down stuff. He could be a Quad-A hitter than will get exposed with regular at-bats, but his defense and speed figure to keep him valuable in some capacity, even if it’s not in New York. The Yankees have to figure out what they’re going to do with Dickerson one way or the other, and it’s not out of this world insane to think he might end up on the roster come Opening Day.

Dickerson falls short of Super Two cutoff

MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes reported on Thursday that this year’s Super Two cutoff is two years and 146 days of service time. By my unofficial count, Chris Dickerson will fall short of that cutoff by just seven days. He came into the season with two years and 48 days of service time according to Cot’s, and I have him on the active roster for 91 days in 2011. That brings him up to two years and 139 days of service time, or one week short.

Had Dickerson qualified as a Super Two, he would have been arbitration-eligible this offseason and another three times before free agency. Instead, he will earn close to league minimum in 2012 before three years of arbitration. In a way, it might have saved his job. Had Dickerson qualified as a Super Two, there’s a chance the Yankees would have non-tendered him rather than pay him a low-seven figures salary. That’s unlikely though, Dickerson’s a useful player since he can hit righties (.341 wOBA) and play pretty good defense at all three outfield spots. He’ll just do that while earning slightly less money in 2012.

ALDS Notes: Posada, Valdes, A-Rod, Dickerson

The Yankees workout at Yankee Stadium was rained out this afternoon, or rather the workouts on the field were cut short. I’m sure they got their work  in under the stands indoors. They have not yet released their ALDS roster, but bits and pieces have trickled out this afternoon. Let’s recap…

  • Joe Girardi said that Jorge Posada, who has had a total of 38 plate appearances over the last 31 days, will be the DH against the Tigers right-handed starters. That’s all four of them. Posada has hit a respectable .269/.348/.466 against righties this year, but I really have a hard time seeing him catching up to the heat Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will bring. (Mark Hale)
  • Despite rumors that he could earn a postseason job, Raul Valdes will not be on the  roster. There’s really no need for a second lefty because Detroit’s only significant lefty bat is Alex Avila, who has more than held his own against southpaws this season. Valdes will go to Tampa to stay sharp for a potential ALCS role. (David Waldstein)
  • Alex Rodriguez missed last night’s game because of some soreness in his surgically repaired knee, but Girardi said that his third baseman is healthy enough to play tomorrow and remain at third base throughout the postseason. (Chad Jennings)
  • Chris Dickerson will be on the playoff roster, presumably in that fifth outfielder/defensive specialist/pinch-runner role. (Jennings)
  • In case you missed it amidst the craziness last night, Girardi announced that Freddy Garcia will start Game Three behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. Sabathia will start a potential Game Four on three days rest, Nova a potential Game Five on normal rest. A.J. Burnett will work out of the  bullpen.

And finally, MLB announced umpire assignments for the four LDS matchups. Gerry Davis will be the crew chief for the Yankees-Tigers  series, and will be joined by Tony Randazzo, Eric Cooper, Dan Iassogna, Ted Barrett, and Bill Welke.

Yankees calling up Montero, three others today

Today’s the day, the day that teams can expand their rosters and the day Jesus Montero finally joins the big league team. Mark Feinsand reported late last night that three others will be getting the call: Brandon Laird, Chris Dickerson, and … wait for it … Scott Proctor! I’m dead serious. The Yankees must have promised him a call-up when they signed last month, and remember, he spoke about wanting to rejoin the team two summers ago, when we learned about his alcoholism.

Proctor made a handful of appearances with Triple-A Scranton, but he was below replacement level in 29.1 IP with the Braves earlier this year (6.44 ERA, 6.04 FIP, 5.80 xFIP). Despite all his arm problems, Proctor still has a pretty decent fastball. I’m pretty surprised they’re only calling up one pitcher though, I figured a Lance Pendleton or Aaron Laffey or Raul Valdes would also join the team just to soak up any garbage innings. They’ll certainly add a few more players once the minor league season ends on Monday, like Pendleton, Hector Noesi, Greg Golson, and Ramiro Pena. Probably a few others as well.

Laird and Dickerson will just fill out the bench, allowing the Yankees to rest the regulars in blowouts and what not. Dickerson figures to serve as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner. The Yankees will need to free up two 40-man roster spots to accommodate Montero and Proctor, and I’m guessing Justin Maxwell will be one of the moves. He’s done for the season with a shoulder injury and will be out-of-options next year, they can just outright him no problem. Steve Garrison and Kevin Whelan could also be roster spot casualties.