2014 Season Review: Chris Young and the Extra Outfielders

Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

As is the case every season, the Yankees cycled through several extra players in the outfield in 2014 to help cover for injuries and soak up spare innings in September. There weren’t as many random outfielders as their were random infielders, but there were more than I realized. Here’s the group.

Chris Young

After he was released by the Mets at midseason, the Yankees grabbed Young off the scrap heap, stashed him in Triple-A for a week, then called him up when rosters expanded in September. The idea was to add some depth because Carlos Beltran‘s elbow kept barking, and also potentially add some right-handed pop to a lineup almost devoid of it. I closed the post about the signing with this:

Maybe he’ll hit a random big homer or something.

In his sixth game as a Yankee, Young did this:

Random big homer! That was actually the second homerun in a stretch of three homers in three games for Young, who put his struggles with the Mets behind him and gave the Yankees a very nice month of September. He hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homeruns and a stolen base in 78 plate appearances. Young was playing left field on an everyday basis by the end of the month due to injuries elsewhere in the outfield. The Yankees hit the scrap heap lottery.

Young credited since-fired hitting coach Kevin Long with helping him break some bad habits — “I’ve been able to find some things here that can carry me for years to come,” he said to Dan Barbarisi in September — so there’s at least some chance the improvement was real and not just a small sample fluke. The Yankees obvious think it’s real — they re-signed Young to a one-year contract earlier this month to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder next year. Brian Cashman said the club’s analytical department pushed to bring Young back.

For the final month of the 2014 season, Young gave the Yankees a nice shot in the arm. He hit some clutch homers — he hit an extra-innings go ahead homer against the Orioles the day after the walk-off shot (video), but the bullpen blew the lead — and played some nice defense as well. It wasn’t enough to get New York into the postseason, but Young as a positive contributor during his brief time in pinstripes.

Zoilo Almonte

Almonte was the team’s classic up-and-down outfielder this summer. He spent most of the year with Triple-A Scranton, where he hit .261/.311/.437 (103 wRC+) with 18 homeruns in 105 games. The Yankees called Zoilo up three different times through the season to help fill in for injuries, though he still only managed to appear in 13 games. He went 5-for-36 (.139) with one very long solo homer (video).

Rather than come back up when rosters expanded in September, the Yankees designated Almonte for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Young. Zoilo cleared waivers and became a minor league free agent after the season. He’s since hooked on with the Braves on a Major League contract. Despite all his power production in the minors (74 homers since 2010), Almonte was never going to get much of a chance with the Yankees. He had a 39 wRC+ with the big league team in 149 plate appearances the last two years.

Antoan Richardson

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Man, talk about random. The Yankees signed Richardson as a minor league free agent last winter and he put up a nice .271/.380/.364 (114 wRC+) batting line with three homers and 26 steals in 27 attempts with Triple-A Scranton before being a surprise September call-up. The Yankees called him up to serve as their designated pinch-runner and, sure enough, he went 5-for-5 in steal attempts. He did get picked off first once and was also doubled off first when he put his head down and kept running on a fly ball, perhaps forgetting the number of outs. Richardson did have one nice series in Baltimore by going 4-for-10. His time in pinstripes ended with five hits in 16 at-bats (.313) and those five steals. The team dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season and he’s since become a free agent.

Fun Fact: Richardson scored the run on Derek Jeter‘s walk-off single in his final home game at Yankee Stadium. Jose Pirela led the inning off with a single and Richardson came on to pinch-run. Brett Gardner bunted him up to second and Jeter took care of the rest.

Eury Perez

September acquisitions are rare, but the Yankees claimed Perez off waivers from the Nationals on September 22nd, after Washington designated him for assignment to clear 40-man roster space for a waiver claim of their own (Pedro Florimon from the Twins). Perez hit .311/.372/.406 (119 wRC+) with one homer and 20 steals in 23 attempts for the Nats’ Triple-A affiliate before spending the final few days of the season in New York. He played sparingly, going 2-for-10 with three strikeouts at the plate. Perez saw time in right and center field and remains on the 40-man. Seems like he’ll fill the Almonte role of up-and-down outfielder in 2015.

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Cashman Speaks: Robertson, Kuroda, Headley, Young, Injuries, Coaches

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The GM Meetings started in Phoenix yesterday and among the items on this year’s agenda are reviews of the new home plate collision rule and the pace of game rule changes being tested in the Arizona Fall League. The league will also conduct their annual umpire evaluations. There’s a lot of official business that goes on at the GM Meetings and they aren’t as hot stove-y as the Winter Meetings in December.

That said, when you have all 30 GMs plus a bunch of agents in one place, talks do happen and the ground work for a lot of deals is laid. In fact, the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York five years ago was first broached at the GM Meetings. Brian Cashman arrived in Phoenix yesterday and spoke to reporters about a bunch of topics, some of them actually interesting. Here’s a recap, courtesy of Wally Matthews, Ken Davidoff, Mark, Feinsand, Barry Bloom, and Brendan Kuty.

  • On possibly re-signing David Robertson: “I would have no clue what his market value’s going to be. Certainly they would have an idea. They turned down the qualifying offer based on a lot of parameters, I’m sure, some of which have been discussions they’ve already had in the window that they’ve had the chance to have discussions. So it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell … We have not had any level of conversation about expectations of a multi-year deal. For whatever reason, they never presented anything to us, nor did we to them.”
  • On Robertson, the pitcher: “The one thing we do have a feel for is how good of a player he is, how good of a person he is, how great of a competitor he is. In the New York environment, he’s not afraid. He checks every box off. He came in behind Mariano Rivera. (It was a) seamless transition. That’s certainly no easy task. All those things obviously went into our level of comfort, despite being a reliever, of offering (the qualifying offer). Great deal of respect and obviously we’ll engage him now in the marketplace.”
  • On next year’s closer: “Right now, we don’t have to name a closer for 2015 yet. Let’s wait and see how the negotiations take with David before I start trying to worry about who that is going to have to be. We’ll have somebody closing games out in 2015. We hope whoever it is is the best candidate possible. We have some people you can give that opportunity to if we’re forced to internally, but let’s wait and see where the conversations take with David first and go from there.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda‘s future: “I’ve talked to his agent. Kuroda’s process is he takes the early portion of the winter to relax and get his mind clear, and then at some point, kicks in about making a decision about playing — playing in the states, playing in Japan. I think he’s probably still going through that mental cleansing process. But I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play. Let him make a decision first and foremost. We’ll see what kind of money we have and all those things. But I think anybody looking for a starter should have an interest in Hiroki Kuroda.”
  • On possibly re-signing Chase Headley: “We’ve had a brief conversation. Chase is on our radar, but I think he’ll be on a lot of radars just like Robertson, just like (Brandon) McCarthy. These guys have all put themselves in a position to have successful conversations this winter. We’ll be a part of the process, whether we’re the ones they re-up with or not, I can’t predict. We’re certainly looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”
  • On re-signing Chris Young: “(Analysts) Steve Martone and Mike Fishman pushed for me to sign Chris. They felt, from an analytical standpoint, his year wasn’t as bad as it played out, that there was a potential bounce-back situation with it. We signed him up on what we think is a fair-market value, fourth-outfielder type contract. We wanted a right-handed bat with power, which doesn’t exist much in the game anymore, it seems like. He fit that category. Our coaches are comfortable with him, he played well in the small sample that we had him in September, so he certainly earned the right to come back, and I’m glad that we both were able to find common ground.”
  • On Stephen Drew and the shortstop market: “I don’t think this past season reflects what (Drew’s) true ability is. Stephen is someone that we’ll have a conversation with. Scott Boras has been in touch, we’ll stay in touch and see where it takes us … I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited. It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”
  • On the outfield: “I think right now, we’re kind of settled in the outfield unless something surprising happens in the case of a trade, which I wouldn’t anticipate. So I think we’re currently pretty well set with our outfield. Obviously we have a desire to get younger as a team.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s health: “Tanaka’s a question mark. Typically, the problems occur in the throwing program, when they get back on the mound in the rehab process. If you can get through that, and the rehab games, he should be okay. Obviously, he got through two Major League starts. So that gives us hope. But there’s no guarantee.”
  • On Carlos Beltran‘s elbow: “I have no concern about Beltran’s health, (though) we probably should have had him have the surgery early on. Unfortunately, the health issue came up and we chose the route that let him fight through it and have him fight through it. In hindsight, we probably should have let him have the surgery early on. But he’s a tough guy.”
  • On CC Sabathia: “Sabathia’s supposed to be fine. He had a knee cleanup. It’s just really, can he ever regain pitching at the front end of the rotation versus what we saw in the last year and a half? But he’ll be healthy.”
  • On the coaching staff: Cashman said they are still in the process of interviewing candidates for both the hitting coach and first base coach jobs. They have not made anyone an offer for either position yet. It’s been one month and one day since Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher were fired.

Update: Yankees re-sign Chris Young to one-year deal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Sunday, 10:51am: The Yankees have officially announced the deal. There are now 35 players on the 40-man roster.

Saturday, 7:44pm: It’s a one-year deal worth $2.5M with incentives that could push the total value to $6.325M, according to Buster Olney and Bob Nightengale. There’s no option for 2016 or anything like that. Perfectly reasonable contract for the role.

6:19pm: The Yankees have made the first of what figures to be many moves this offseason by securing a fourth outfielder. They have a contract agreement in place to bring Chris Young back, according to Sweeny Murti. The deal is pending a physical. Earlier on Saturday we heard the two sides had mutual interest in a reunion. No word on the contract terms just yet, but it’s safe to assume it’s a one-year deal.

Young, 31, hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homers in 23 games with the Yankees in September. They grabbed him off the scrap heap after the Mets released him at midseason. He hit .205/.283/.346 (81 wRC+) with eleven homers in 111 games with the Amazin’s. Young is an extreme fly ball hitter (28.6% ground ball rate from 2013-14) and that doesn’t lend itself to high batting averages, but he does have some pop (.171 ISO from 2013-14), will work a walk (9.2 BB%), and won’t strike out an exorbitant amount (22.0 K%).

Although he just started playing the corner outfield spots last season, Young has rated as an average or better defender the last few years. He can play center field on everyday basis if necessary but will likely see most of his time in right field next year, replacing Carlos Beltran in the late innings. Young has some power, can steal some bases, and plays good defense, so does a little bit of everything. He’s a flawed player, no doubt about it, but that’s why he’s going to be a fourth outfielder and not a starter.

Because both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are left-handed hitters, a right-handed hitting fourth outfielder makes sense. Beltran has also been much better against lefties these last few years as well. Young credited departed hitting coach Kevin Long for his big September — “I’ve been able to find some things here that can carry me for years to come,” he said to Dan Barbarisi at the end of the season — so there’s at least some hope the improvement was real and not small sample size noise.

Signing a fourth outfielder isn’t the most exciting “first move of the offseason” in the world, but it was a move that had to be made at some point. The Yankees are more or less done with the outfield now and can focus on their infield, particularly shortstop. Martin Prado‘s flexibility allows them to pursue either a second or third baseman. Pitching is also on the offseason agenda as well. That goes without saying every offseason.

Heyman: Yankees, Chris Young have mutual interest in reunion

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

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees and free agent outfielder Chris Young have mutual interest in a reunion. The team views him as a fourth outfielder. Both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are left-handed, plus Carlos Beltran has been way better from the left side of the plate these last few years, so a right-handed hitting fourth outfielder makes perfect sense.

Young, 31, hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homers in 23 September games with the Yankees. He hit .205/.283/.346 (81 wRC+) with eleven homers in 111 games with the Mets before being released at midseason. Young is still an above-average defender in all three outfield spots and he’ll even steal the occasional base. Some pop, some speed, good defense checks all the necessary boxes for a fourth outfielder in my book.

Young credited departed hitting coach Kevin Long for his late-season turn around — “I’ve been able to find some things here that can carry me for years to come,” Young said to Dan Barbarisi in September — so there’s at least a chance his big September is the result of tangible improvement and not just dumb luck. A one-year deal in the $2M to $3M range, maybe with incentives based on plate appearances, makes the most sense for New York.

A-Rod reinstated, ten Yankees become free agents

Now that the World Series is over, Alex Rodriguez has officially been reinstated off the restricted list by MLB and the Yankees. He was originally suspended 211 games for his ties to Biogenesis, but it was reduced to 162 games during an appeal. A-Rod would not have been eligible to play in the postseason had the Yankees qualified. He now counts against the team’s 40-man roster.

In other news, a total of 121 players became free agents at 9am ET this morning. Here’s the full list. Ten of those 121 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Young. No surprises there at all. Martin Prado, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Slade Heathcott all have to be activated off the 60-day DL if they haven’t been already. So, after all of that, the Yankees have 35 players on their 40-man roster.

Chris Young says he is “completely open” to returning to Yankees

Via Anthony McCarron: Outfielder Chris Young said he is “completely open” to re-signing with the Yankees this offseason. “I’m really happy that I did get this opportunity to come here, in this environment, in as big of a year as it’s been for the Yankees. To be surrounded by (Derek Jeter‘s farewell), I’ve been able to create memories that’ll last a lifetime. Every little bit helps, for sure. I’m really grateful for that,” he said. “This is a great organization. I’ve had a great time while I was here and I’m completely open to everything.”

Young, 31, hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homers in only 79 plate appearances with the Yankees in September. He hit an awful .205/.283/.346 (81 wRC+) with eight homers in 287 plate appearances for the Mets earlier this season before being released. The Yankees will need a fourth outfielder to replace Ichiro Suzuki and, given Brett Gardner‘s and Jacoby Ellsbury‘s left-handedness as well as Carlos Beltran‘s platoon split, it would make sense to bring in a righty bat. Young is a fit for the 2015 Yankees in a fourth outfielder role at fourth outfielder dollars, say one year and $2-3M or so.

Chris Young and the 2015 fourth outfielder spot

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Even though the list of September call-ups looked like a bunch of guys signed by the Long Island Ducks, the Yankees have gotten some real nice production from their extra players since rosters expanded two weeks ago. Antoan Richardson had a good weekend in Baltimore, Bryan Mitchell was solid in his first MLB start, and even Rich Hill has been very good since coming back, striking out six of nine batters faced. Chad Jennings ran down the September call-up situation yesterday.

The most productive extra player this month is ex-Mets outfielder Chris Young, who has gone 10-for-27 (.370) with four doubles and three homeruns in pinstripes. He hit a walk-off homer against the Rays last Thursday (after breaking up Alex Cobb’s no-hitter with a double in the eighth inning) and hit a go-ahead homer in the tenth inning against the Orioles in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader, though the bullpen couldn’t protect the lead. Young has also played very good defense despite being relatively new to left and right fields. He’s done all that for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum. Not bad at all.

The Yankees already have a full starting outfield heading into next season — I am in the camp that wants to see Carlos Beltran become a most of the time DH, but I’m not convinced that will actually happen just yet — but they will need to bring in a fourth outfielder. Ichiro Suzuki is due to become a free agent and I don’t think the Yankees will re-sign him, and while Martin Prado can play the outfield in a pinch, they’re still going to need one dedicated player to back up all three outfield spots. That’s just someone a team needs to have on the roster.

Since both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are lefties and Beltran is a switch-hitter with much better numbers against righties (118 wRC+ vs. RHP and 54 wRC+ vs. LHP), next year’s fourth outfielder should be a right-handed hitter just to balance things out. Another righty bat has been a need since Opening Day, really. It goes without saying good speed, good defense, and the ability to play all three outfield spots would be preferred as well. Bench players are bench players for a reason though, and that’s because they aren’t good enough to start. Usually they can only do a few of those things and are lacking somewhere.

The Yankees don’t have a right-handed hitting fourth outfielder option in the organization — Ramon Flores is on the 40-man roster but is a left-handed hitter, and Tyler Austin will be added to the 40-man this winter but is unlikely to skip over Triple-A — so they’ll have to go outside the organization for this player. Chris Denorfia, Jonny Gomes, and Scott Hairston are all due to become free agents this offseason and they’ve filled this role to a T just about their entire careers. All have their pluses and minuses.

Young is a different story though. He was an everyday center fielder with the Diamondbacks from 2006-12 before moving into a platoon role with the Athletics last year. The Mets played him nearly everyday before releasing him, so, for most of his career, Young has been an everyday player, not a bench guy. He does check all the right boxes though: right-handed hitter, good power, good speed, and good defense in all three outfield spots. Young is a low average hitter (.234 career, 22.6 K%), so that’s his flaw. Otherwise he looks like someone who could be a fourth outfielder option next year.

Now, there are two sides to every free agent signing. There is no doubt Young is hoping his strong September with the Yankees will make teams forget what he did in Flushing and land him a starting outfield spot somewhere. He’s going to have to settle for a one-year contract no matter what, so he’ll look for the best opportunity and the most playing time this winter. Is being a fourth outfielder in the Bronx the best situation for Young? Maybe it is. It all depends on the offers that come his way in the offseason. For what it’s worth, Young told Buster Olney (subs. req’d) that he’s “having a blast (with the Yankees). I don’t know if I’ve ever had more fun. Hopefully it’s a new start of better things to come.”

The Yankees already have close to $170M tied up in only ten players next year (not counting arbitration cases) and Hal Steinbrenner has held the line with payroll in recent years, somewhere around the $200M mark. That might change after missing the postseason for a second straight year, and don’t necessarily mean an increase either. Paying Young starter money — the Mets gave him one year and $7.25M — to be a fourth outfielder probably isn’t an option and shouldn’t be anyway. The Yankees gave Andruw Jones one year and $2M a few years ago and that’s good money for a fourth outfielder. That’s probably the max the team can offer Young to stay around.

Finding a right-handed complement for their left-handed heavy outfield will be on the shopping list this winter, and the Yankees are getting a firsthand look at what Young offers right now. I don’t necessarily mean on the field either — I doubt a month of playing time will drastically change their opinion of him — they’ll also get to see his work ethic, how he interacts with teammates in the clubhouse, stuff like that. The stuff that you usually can’t find out until after signing a player. Young does make sense for the fourth outfielder spot next year and not just because of his strong last week or so. Whether that position is appealing to him is another matter entirely.