2014 Season Preview: Final Bench Spot

Yangervis. (Presswire)
Yangervis. (Presswire)

Barring injury or a trade, 12 of the 13 position player spots are already set. Joe Girardi made it clear Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson will be the starting second and third basemen, respectively, leaving Brendan Ryan on the bench with Frankie Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki. The fourth and final bench spot is up for grabs in Spring Training and the Yankees have indicated it will go to an infielder. More than a few players are competing for the job.

IF Dean Anna
Acquired in a minor November trade with the Padres, Anna had a big year in Triple-A (.331/.410/.482) but was unable to land a 40-man roster spot with San Diego. They flipped him to the Yankees for a Single-A reliever rather than lose him for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. The 27-year-old lefty hitter has a ton of experience on the middle infield and a little at third, making him prime backup infielder fodder.

Anna lacks a standout tool but he’s okay at everything. His plate discipline is his strongest skill but there is more to life than minor league strikeout and walk rates. Last year was the first year in which he hit higher than .280 and he’s never been much of a power guy or base-stealer. His defense is generally regarded as solid even though last Saturday’s play in the hole makes you think he’s the best defender ever. It’s a classic backup infielder’s profile and a strong spring could push Anna onto the Opening Day roster.

1B/OF Russ Canzler
As of right now, Johnson is the backup first baseman according to Girardi even though he only has 18 career innings at the position. The 27-year-old Canzler is the only other true first baseman in camp, though he has a good amount of left field experience as well. The Yankees had him working out at third base earlier in camp in an attempt to increase his versatility. Canzler is a pure right-handed platoon bat, hitting .307/.390/.531 against lefties in Triple-A over the years compared to .267/.346/.442 against righties. He only has 102 career big league plate appearances to his credit. Canzler is a long shot for the bench despite his ability to play first, so he’s likely ticketed for Triple-A.

IF Corban Joseph
CoJo, 25, made his very brief big league debut last season before needing season-ending shoulder surgery. They Yankees dumped him off the 40-man roster over the winter and he went unclaimed on waivers, giving you an idea of how he’s regarded around the league. Joseph had a big 2012 season split between Double-A and Triple-A (.276/.375/.465 with 15 HR) and while he’s versatile in that he can fake first, second, and third bases, he’s a liability everywhere. If he shows he can hit like he did two years ago, Joseph might have value as a bench player. If not, well there’s really nothing he can offer. He seems to be well behind the rest of the pack in the race for the final bench spot.

IF Eduardo Nunez
Boy did Nunez blow a golden opportunity last summer. Rather than cement his place in the future of the team by playing well at shortstop during Derek Jeter‘s various leg injuries, he got hurt himself and showed little improvement at the plate or in the field. Nunez had a strong September as the (almost) everyday third baseman, but one good month wasn’t enough to salvage his season, nor should it be.

Nunie. (Presswire)
Nunie. (Presswire)

Nunez, 26, came to camp as the incumbent backup infielder but that doesn’t guarantee him anything. The Yankees could have very easily handed him the job and been done with it — they really seem to like Nunez, don’t they? — but instead they brought in several players as legitimate competition. It definitely appears as though he fell out of favor with last summer’s continued lack of progress. I don’t think they would bring in so many infielders if they were comfortable with him.

We all know what Nunez can do at this point, right? He is a high contact hitter who can run but doesn’t have much power — he did say he spent most of the winter trying to bulk up and add strength, for what it’s worth — and his defense is a complete wildcard. He’ll make a stunning play one inning and botch a routine one later in the game. Unfortunately the bad plays outweigh the good ones. Nunez is not being handed a bench job and if he doesn’t make a strong case for one in camp, he has a minor league option left and can go to Triple-A.

2B/3B Scott Sizemore
After missing all but two games over the last two years due to back-to-back torn ACLs, the 29-year-old Sizemore signed a minor league contract and got into his first post-surgery Grapefruit League game last night. He had a nice half-season with the Athletics in 2011 (.249/.345/.433 with 11 HR) but given the sample size and the long layoff, I don’t think we can say that’s the real Sizemore. Healthy or not, he’s a tough guy to predict for the upcoming season.

If you’re a believer in uniform numbers being an indicator of a player’s roster chances, then Sizemore is sitting pretty after being issued Robinson Cano‘s old #24. Everyone else in this post other than Nunez has a number north of 70. Maybe that’s a sign the team considers Sizemore the favorite for the job as long as he’s healthy. Who knows. Either way, he has a lot to prove after missing two full years. I believe Sizemore has a best chance of being a league average player (that’s very valuable!) out of everyone in this post but making the team is not a given.

UTIL Yangervis Solarte
I didn’t expect to include the 26-year-old Solarte in this post initially, but he’s hit the snot out of the ball early in camp (.778/.800/1.444) and is very versatile, spending a bunch of time at the three non-first base infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots in his career. That would be nice to have off the bench. The switch-hitting Solarte has hit .282/.332/.404 in 1,145 Triple-A plate appearances the last two years, which is pretty underwhelming considering how hitter friendly the Pacific Coast League is.

The Yankees have shown a willingness to give roster spots to big Spring Training performers in recent years (2009 Ramiro Pena and 2012 David Phelps, most notably), so it’s not completely out of the question that Solarte could sneak onto the Opening Day roster if he keeps raking. A versatile switch-hitter would be nice to have. Then again, nothing in his track record suggests he’s some kind of hidden gem or in the middle of an early spring breakout.

* * *

Others like Zelous Wheeler and Jose Pirela have utility man profiles and are technically competing for that bench job in camp, but they are clear long shots to me. Solarte really belongs in that group as well, hot spring start notwithstanding. Because of the questionable starting infield arrangement and various injury risks, whoever gets that final bench spot may wind up playing a larger role than expected. Despite being the 24th or 25th spot on the roster, this bench spot offers quite a bit of opportunity.

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What Went Wrong: The Spare Parts

Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees used a franchise record 56 players this season. Fifteen of those 56 players appeared in no more than ten games, which isn’t much of a surprise. The last spots on the bench and in the bullpen were revolving doors all summer. Most of those miscellaneous players were awful, enough to help push the Yankees out of the postseason picture. Here are the worst players to walk through those revolving doors.

Adams. (Presswire)
Adams. (Presswire)

David Adams
The signs were there, we just didn’t want to see them. The Yankees released the 26-year-old Adams in Spring Training to clear a 40-man roster spot for Vernon Wells (!), but no team took a chance on him and New York re-signed him to a minor league contract a week later. When Kevin Youkilis went down with his inevitable back injury, Adams got a chance to play third base on a regular basis. Things went quite well at first — 13-for-44 (.295) with two homers in his first eleven games — but they crashed in a hurry. Adams fell into a 4-for-51 (.078) slump and wound up back in Triple-A before resurfacing later in the season. Overall, he hit .193/.252/.286 (45 wRC+) in 152 plate appearances, though he did play solid defense at second and third bases. Adams had a pretty great opportunity this summer, but he couldn’t capitalize.

Zoilo Almonte
Almonte, 24, got his chance when the Yankees finally got sick of Wells and benched him in mid-June. Zoilo’s big league career started out well — he had three hits (including a homer) in his first start (video), reached base three times the next day, then doubled twice the day after the that — before he cooled off and got hurt. Almonte put up a .236/.274/.302 (55 wRC+) line with the one homer and three steals in 113 plate appearances before an ankle sprain effectively ended his season in mid-July (he did return in late-September, but played sparingly). The fun was short-lived.

Boesch. (Presswire)
Boesch. (Presswire)

Brennan Boesch
You may not agree, but I think Boesch was a pretty significant loss this past season. The 28-year-old managed a .275/.302/.529 (124 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 53 sporadic plate appearances and appeared to be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, but he was sent to Triple-A Scranton when Curtis Granderson came off the DL (the first time). He lasted a little more than a week in the minors before suffering what proved to be a season-ending shoulder injury. The Yankees released him in mid-July when they needed a 40-man spot. Had Boesch been healthy, there’s a good chance he would have been given the opportunity to play everyday following Granderson’s second injury considering how poorly Ichiro Suzuki hit for a good part of the summer. Boesch is a flawed player but his lefty pop would have been useful. For shame.

Chris Bootcheck
Bootcheck, 35, emerged as the ace for Triple-A Scranton this past season (3.69 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 136.2 innings) and he managed to appear in one game with the big league team. On June 14th, he allowed one run on two hits and two walks in 1.1 innings against the Angels. Bootcheck got his chance because Adam Warren threw six innings of relief (in the 18-inning game against the Athletics) earlier on the road trip and wasn’t going to be available for a few days, so the team needed a replacement long reliever. He was designated for assignment at the end of the trip when Warren was again available.

Reid Brignac
Is it possible to be a poor man’s Brendan Ryan? Do those exist? If they do, I nominate the 27-year-old Brignac. He was with the Yankees from mid-May through mid-June, during which time he showed off a slick glove and hit an unfathomable .114/.133/.136 (-38 wRC+) with 17 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. Brignac played 15 games in pinstripes and he reached base multiple times in only one of them. It was ugly.

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Claiborne. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Preston Claiborne
For a few weeks, Claiborne looked like the next great homegrown Yankees reliever. He started his big league career with 14 straight walk-less outings and allowed just one run in his first 20 innings in pinstripes. Claiborne, 25, had settled into a seventh inning setup role, but he allowed 13 runs and 38 base-runners in his next 25.2 innings and earned a trip back to Triple-A. When he resurfaced in September, he allowed nine runs and four homers (!!!) in five innings. Fatigue was the oft-cited excuse for his fade, but Claiborne threw only 61.1 innings in 2013 after throwing 82 innings in 2012 and 81 innings in 2011. It’s possible, sure, but I have a hard time buying it. Claiborne finished the season with a 4.11 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 50.1 innings, but outside of those first 14 appearances, he was very untrustworthy.

Luis Cruz
Cruz, 29, was the team’s fifth different starting shortstop in their first 84 games, but he actually wound up playing more games at third (13) than short (five). An all-glove, no-hit type like Ryan and Brignac, Cruz hit .182/.224/.200 (13 wRC+) in 59 plate appearances while playing excellent defense after being picked up off the scrap heap. He was the best non-Ryan infield defender the team employed this past season, I thought. Cruz’s season came to an end in late-July thanks to a knee sprain, and the Yankees eventually designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Reynolds.

Cody Eppley
Remember Eppley? He was actually on the Opening Day roster, believe it or not. His terrible Spring Training (12 runs in eight innings) carried over to the regular season, where he allowed four runs in 1.2 innings before being sent to Triple-A Scranton when Phil Hughes was ready to come off the DL in early-April. Eppley, 28, continued to stink in Triple-A (18 runs in 19 innings) and was eventually released to clear a 40-man spot for Claiborne. He was a nice middle relief find for the Bombers last season, but things went so wrong this year that he was pitching in an independent league by August.

(Presswire)
Francisco. (Presswire)

Ben Francisco
The Yankees took a “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” approach to filling their right-handed outfield bat spot, eventually settling on the 32-year-old Francisco. He was released by the Indians in Spring Training and managed to beat out guys like Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera. Francisco lasted 48 team games, hitting .114/.220/.182 (13 wRC+) in 50 plate appearances overall while going 3-for-34 (.088) against southpaws. On the bright side, he did hit the team’s shortest homerun of the season. I guess that’s something. The Yankees designated Francisco for assignment on May 26th, when they claimed David Huff off waivers from the Tribe.

Alberto Gonzalez
Gonzalez, 30, had two stints with the Yankees this season. He appeared in three games in mid-May and ten more from late-June through mid-July. The Former Attorney General went 6-for-34 (.176) in his limited time, but he did go 2-for-4 with a double and three runs driven in during a game against the Twins on July 2nd (video). Gonzalez also offered a nice glove, though not as nice as Brignac’s or Ryan’s.

Travis Ishikawa
Yes, Ishikawa was a Yankee this season. They nabbed the 30-year-old off waivers in early-July, watched him go 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on seven total pitches in his only game in pinstripes, then designated him for assignment to clear a roster spot for Derek Jeter, all in the span of six days. When’s the Yankeeography?

Corban Joseph
Joseph, 25, had two stints with the big league team in 2013, going 1-for-6 with a double, a walk, and a strikeout while starting both ends of a doubleheader against the Indians in mid-May. His season ended later that month, when he needed surgery to repair his shoulder. The Yankees removed Joseph from the 40-man roster last week, though he remains in the organization.

Brent Lillibridge
Part of that left side of the infield circus, the 30-year-old Lillibridge spent a little more than three forgettable weeks in pinstripes in late-July and early-August. He went 6-for-37 (.171) with eight strikeouts while playing okay defense in eleven games with the team, though unlike many other guys in this post, he did have the proverbial One Big Moment. On July 23rd against the Rangers, after Eduardo Nunez tripled in the tying run against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, Lillibridge singled in Nunez for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run (video). He drove in a run with a fielder’s choice earlier in the game. Lillibridge was designated for assignment when Alex Rodriguez came off the DL.

Brett Marshall
This was a really bad year for Marshall, who had a poor season with Triple-A Scranton (5.13 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 138.2 innings) and didn’t stand out in his three-appearance cameo with the big league team. The 23-year-old allowed six runs and 21 base-runners in a dozen garbage time innings, walking as many batters as he struck out (seven). He did manage to save the bullpen by holding the Red Sox to one run in 4.1 innings during a blowout loss in one of those appearances, however. Marshall also got to pitch in front of his family near his hometown in Houston during the final game of the season (video), so that was neat.

Jim Miller
Miller, 31, struck out 92 batters in 63.1 innings down in Triple-A this past season (3.55 ERA and 3.22 FIP), but he got hammered in his only big league game, allowing three runs to the Red Sox in a four-out appearance on September 7th. The Yankees were desperate for bullpen help at that point and he was a warm body. Apparently the team saw something they liked though, because they re-signed Miller to a minor league deal recently.

J.R. Murphy
The 2013 season was an overwhelming success for the 22-year-old Murphy, but not because of his big league performance. He hit .269/.347/.426 (117 wRC+) across two minor league level before joining the Yankees in September, when they added him to the 40-man roster because he was going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season anyway. Murphy went 4-for-26 (.154) in 16 games during his late season cameo and looked fine defensively.

Neal. (Presswire)
Neal. (Presswire)

Thomas Neal
Neal, 26, was the organization’s #Free[RandomGuy] this past season. You know what I mean, right? The random Quad-A player sitting in the minors who would be so much better than whoever they have at the big league level if they’d only give him a chance! Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, Neal put up a .325/.391/.411 (130 wRC+) in 297 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton before going 2-for-11 (.133) with really bad defense during a four-game cameo in pinstripes in mid-June. He was designated for assignment when Granderson came off the DL (the second time) and was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Cubs.

Chris Nelson
Nelson was something of a pioneer this past season. He was the first of many players the Yankees acquired in an effort to solidify the left side of the infield, coming over from the Rockies in a minor trade in early-May. Nelson, 28, played ten games in pinstripes, all at third base, and went 8-for-36 (.222) with eleven strikeouts at the plate. He actually went 0-for-10 in his first three games and 8-for-26 (.308) in his last seven. The team designated Nelson for assignment when they called up Adams, and he was then claimed off waivers by the Angels. Naturally, Nelson returned to the Bronx with the Halos in mid-August and hit two homers (including a grand slam) in one game against the Yankees. Go figure.

Mike Zagurski
I wish I had kept track of home many times Zagurski warmed up but did not appear in the game in September. The guy was up every game it seemed. Zagurski, 30, spent most of the year bouncing between organizations before getting the call as an extra lefty late in the season. In his only appearance with the team, he faced three batters and allowed two runs. That appearance made him the franchise-record 56th player used by the Yankees in 2013. Let us never talk of this season again.

Yankees acquire utility man Dean Anna from Padres; add six to 40-man roster

Anna. (Arizona Daily Star)
Anna. (Arizona Daily Star)

The Yankees have announced a series of roster moves. First, they have acquired IF Dean Anna from the Padres for Single-A reliever RHP Ben Paullus. Second, IF Corban Joseph has been outrighted off the 40-man roster. Third, they have added Anna, C Gary Sanchez, OF Slade Heathcott, RHP Jose Campos, RHP Bryan Mitchell, and RHP Shane Greene to the 40-man roster. Midnight tonight was the deadline to set the roster for next month’s Rule 5 Draft and all six players were eligible. There is still one open spot on the 40-man roster.

Anna, 26, hit .331/.410/.482 (140 wRC+) with nine homers and three stolen bases in 582 plate appearances for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate this past season. He’s a left-handed batter with little power (.138 ISO in 1,339 plate appearances between Double and Triple-A) but a good idea of the strike zone (12.5% walks) and good bat control (11.9% strikeouts). Anna has a ton of experience at the two middle infield positions while also dabbling at third and in the outfield corners. I’m guessing the Padres didn’t have a 40-man roster spot for him and wanted to turn him into something rather than lose him for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. Nifty little pickup for the Yankees, nice extra guy to have.

We heard Greene and Mitchell would be protected from the 40-man roster a few days ago. Sanchez and Heathcott were no-brainers but Campos was on the bubble as a 21-year-old who has never pitched above Low Class-A. He now has three years before running out of minor league options and having to stick in the big leagues for good. Joseph missed most of this season due to shoulder surgery and is really just a spare part for New York. He can hit a little but he doesn’t really have a position — he doesn’t have the range for second base or the arm for third. Not a surprise he cleared waivers.

The three most notable players the Yankees left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft are RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Chase Whitley. The first two are hard-throwing relievers with questionable control (especially Kahnle) who spent last season with Double-A Trenton while Whitley is more of a command and control guy who spent the year at Triple-A Scranton. The Bombers tried to trade Kahnle for Michael Young and Alfonso Soriano at the trade deadline a few months ago, but no dice. Both he and Kahnle are very likely to be selected — hard-throwing relievers are the backbone of the Rule 5 Draft — and there’s even a chance both will stick in the big leagues next season. Most Rule 5 picks don’t, however.

Yankees call up Matt Daley, place Corban Joseph on 60-day DL

The Yankees have called up right-hander Matt Daley from Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. To make room on the 40-man roster, Corban Joseph was called up and placed on the 60-day DL. His season ended in May due to a shoulder problem. The move was made to add bullpen depth for the rest of the season and tonight’s game in particular.

Daley, 31, missed most of 2011 and all of 2012 following shoulder surgery. The Queens native had a 2.02 ERA and ~1.65 FIP in 53.1 relief innings across three minor league levels while coming back from the injury this year. He spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues with the Rockies, pitching to a 4.71 ERA and 3.86 FIP in 80.1 total innings from 2009-2011. Daley is a soft-tosser in the Cory Wade mold, not a guy who will come in and blow people away. He’s been in the organization for two years now and there’s a chance he could factor into the 2014 bullpen plans.

Kevin Youkilis, Corban Joseph, and bad timing

The play that re-injured Youkilis' back. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries already this year, but Kevin Youkilis‘ recent back trouble takes an especially big bite out of the team’s roster. After all, he was originally signed as the replacement for another injured player, Alex Rodriguez. New York placed Youkilis on the DL yesterday, meaning they will be without their replacement third baseman for at least the next two weeks.

Because of the timing of the injury, the Yankees were left without a suitable roster fill-in. Corban Joseph got the call, but Brian Cashman made it clear they view him as a right-side infielder and emergency option at the hot corner only. Since Robinson Cano never takes a day off, it’s unclear how exactly the left-handed hitting Joseph helps the team right now. He’s one notch above a dead spot on the roster at the moment, a square peg forced into a round bench hole.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would have called up David Adams instead of Joseph. The 25-year-old would have given the team a legitimate option at third base and because he’s a right-handed hitter, he also would’ve helped with their struggles against southpaws. Theoretically, anyway. Unfortunately Adams can not be called up to the show until May 15th because he signed a minor league deal with the club after they released him last month. For whatever reason, those guys are forced to wait 30 days before returning to the show. Clay Rapada is in the same boat. The injury-prone Adams is perfectly healthy, but the rulebook keeps him in Triple-A.

Adams wasn’t the only right-handed option though, the Yankees also could have gone with 28-year-old Ronnie Mustelier instead of Joseph. He plays third base and left field, meaning he would have added some usable versatility and been an option to replace Ben Francisco once Youkilis did return. Mustelier is out with an injury though, specifically some kind of bruise suffered right at the very end of Spring Training. He was scheduled to play in his first minor league rehab game with High-A Tampa last night, but Mother Nature got in the way and the game was rained out.

There is never a good time for an injury, especially one to a player as important as Youkilis. The timing of this injury was particularly bad because the team’s best internal replacements are non-options. Adams is still two weeks away from being big league eligible and Mustelier still has an entire rehab assignment ahead of him before being ready for meaningful games. By the time Adams or Mustelier become legitimate options for the big league team, Youkilis will hopefully be ready to come off the DL. Given the way things have gone for the team health-wise this year, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised the latest injury comes at a time when the team’s best replacements aren’t even truly available.