Archive for Corban Joseph
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.
The Yankees have placed Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day DL, the team announced. The official diagnosis is a lumbar spine sprain. Yesterday’s MRI showed no structural damage, but Youkilis was due to receive an epidural today. Because he played Saturday, the team can’t backdate the DL stint to the original injury last week. Obviously it was a mistake to have him play that game, in hindsight.
Infielder Corban Joseph has been called up from Triple-A to fill the roster spot. The 24-year-old hit .273/.347/.477 (130 wRC+) with four homers in 98 plate appearances this year, his second at the level. Joseph is a second and third baseman by trade, plus the team has had him work out at first recently. He isn’t particularly good anywhere defensively, plus he’s a left-handed bat who won’t help with the team’s continued problems against southpaws, so I really have no idea how they’re going to use him. I guess we’ll find out.
In case you were wondering, Brian Cashman confirmed David Adams is ineligible to be called up until May 15th. It’s the same rule that applies to Clay Rapada — players who are released and re-sign minor league contracts with the same team have to wait 30 days before going back to the show. Adams would have been a much better fit for the roster than Joseph as a right-handed bat who can legitimately play third base.
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Previewing the bench will not be easy because we still — four days before Opening Day — have basically no idea who will fill these four spots. Sure, either Frankie Cervelli or Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher, but we don’t know which one yet. I’m guessing Joe Girardi has some kind of convoluted personal catcher situation planned; I feel like having two backup catchers on the roster is his managerial dream.
As for the backup outfield and infield spots … who knows right now? There are a lot of candidates for a few spots and the Yankees continue to look outside the organization for help. Given their massive 40-man roster logjam, a multi-player trade shouldn’t be ruled out at this point either.
It’ll be either Stewart or Cervelli and the Yankees have indicated a pretty even playing time split (maybe more like 60/40), I think it’ll only be a matter of time before Frankie grabs the job outright. His throwing has been greatly improved and he’s a far better hitter (but still nothing special), the two things that stand out most about a catcher. If they start the year with a 55/45 or 60/40 split, I think sometime in mid-May it’ll be slanted about 75/25 in favor of Cervelli. The Yankees love Stewart but they love winning more, and playing a guy with a legit chance to post a .200s across the board slash line will only last so long given how much offense they lost elsewhere.
Derek Jeter‘s nagging ankle issues cleared up the backup infield situation quite a bit. Eduardo Nunez will open the season as the starter and that paves the way for Jayson Nix to make the team as his backup. There really isn’t much competition for this spot — veteran Gil Velazquez is the only other guy in camp who could play a passable shortstop at the big league level. Again, we shouldn’t rule out a trade, but Nix seems like a lock for a bench spot right now.
The real question is whether the Yankees want to carry two backup infielders like they have the last two years, Nix and a corner infield guy like Eric Chavez. The only real candidates for that Chavez role are Dan Johnson — who seems to have little chance of making the team at this point — and Ronnie Mustelier. The 28-year-old Cuban defector has had a good spring — mostly against Triple-A caliber pitching according to B-Ref’s OppQual stat — and has seen a bunch of time at third base lately, so he’s at least earning consideration from the team. I guess we shouldn’t rule about a two-headed first base platoon with Juan Rivera and Lyle Overbay, which would soak up that second infielder’s spot.
Assuming Vernon Wells is penciled in as the everyday left fielder, the fourth outfielder’s spot is down to Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, and I guess Mustelier. Depending on whether they take a second backup infielder, it’s possible two of these guys will make the team. Mustelier makes the most sense really, since he could backup both the corner infield and corner outfield spots.
Boesch and Francisco presumably have a leg up on Mesa and Neal given their big league experience, and again, both could make the team. The Yankees were planning to open the season with three left-handed outfielders and a right-handed backup, and Boesch would give them that third lefty. He also has minor league options remaining and could be stashed in Triple-A. I’m not sure if Francisco has an out clause in his contract before the end of Spring Training, so sending him to the minors might not be an option. The Yankees will want to retain as much depth as possible given their rash of injuries.
Knocking on the Door
In addition to the guys mentioned above — Velazquez, Johnson, Mesa, Neal, etc. — the Yankees will have a handful of other bench options waiting in Triple-A Scranton. That is what the level is there for, after all. Austin Romine is the clear third catcher but would probably need an injury to earn a shot in the big leagues. He’s missed a lot of time these last two years with back problems and needs to play everyday.
Corban Joseph gives the team depth at second and third bases, though they had more before releasing David Adams yesterday. Zoilo Almonte is another warm body for the outfield mix, but he has never played above Double-A and will need some Triple-A time before coming to the show. He’s pretty much at the bottom of the outfield depth chart at the moment. Pretty much anyone who doesn’t win a bench spot will open the year in Triple-A as a backup plan. That’s who’s knocking on the door.
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My opinion changes by the day/hour, but if the season started today I believe the Yankees would go with a four-man bench of Stewvelli, Nix, Mustelier, and Boesch with Francisco & Co. heading to Triple-A for the time being. The club could play finagle Phil Hughes‘ expected DL stint into a fifth bench player — Francisco would be the guy for that one, I assume — for the first few games of the season, but I don’t see that happening.
That four-man bench pretty much stinks. There is no speed to pinch-run — that would have been Nunez’s job before he forced into playing short everyday — and basically no versatility outside of Nix. Carrying Mesa over Boesch would address the speed issue while Mustelier is the only one who could offer real versatility. Barring an unexpected trade(s) these next few days, the bench figures to be a work in progress pretty much all season.
Skipped the mailbag last week because of the Season Preview series, but we’re back at it this week. Got four questions for you, two about current Yankees and two about players they may or may not look to acquire. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything throughout the week.
Paul asks: In 2011 and 2012 (maybe 2010 too) we saw Mariano Rivera get used more cautiously. Less outings of more than an inning, more rest, etc. Any chance Joe Girardi will just send him out there and give him the Joe Torre/Scott Proctor treatment since this is his last year?
That’s a pretty interesting question, but I would be shocked if Girardi used Rivera for more than three outs semi-regularly. That doesn’t mean I think he should use him for 100+ innings like it’s 1996 either, but I would like to see Mo for two innings in an extra innings game at home, for four or five outs if things are getting hairy in the eighth, stuff like that. I would hope Girardi scraps any workload concerns in the postseason and just goes nuts, squeezing every last bullet out of Rivera’s arm in the weeks before retirement, but they have to get to the playoffs first.
Travis asks: If the Yankees look outside the organization, would Yan Gomes of Cleveland make sense? He can play 3B, 1B and even a little LF.
Gomes, 25, is most notable for being the first Brazilian-born player to play in MLB. He debuted with the Blue Jays last season and hit .204/.264/.367 (69 wRC+) in just 111 plate appearances, then was traded to the Indians with Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers over the winter. He’s very versatile, with a ton of experience at the corner infield spots and behind the plate, plus he dabbled with left field a bit last year.
Baseball America ranked Gomes as the 27th best prospect in Cleveland’s system in their 2013 Prospect Handbook, one spot ahead of current Yankee Thomas Neal. They said Gomes “may not quite profile as a regular, but he could be useful as a backup catcher who can play multiple positions and provide power,” noting that he’s an impatient hitter and his swing gets a little long. He would make sense for several teams as a right-handed bat off the bench, including the Yankees, but I don’t think I would give up much to acquire him. Pretty much the only thing he has on someone like Ronnie Mustelier is the ability to catch, which is big but not the most important thing in the world.
SMC asks: Rafael Furcal is having Tommy John surgery and Pete Kozma isn’t a shortstop. What about Eduardo Nunez for Matt Carpenter? Fits a need for both sides.
Heh, Nunez is no shortstop either, not unless he manages to get his throwing under control. I don’t expect that to happen, he’s been working on it for years. Going way back in the minors too, I’m not talking about two or three years. The Cardinals have a perfectly capable shortstop in Ryan Jackson who they seem unwilling to use. He’s a great defender but he can’t hit, which is better than no-hit/no-glove Kozma. I don’t think Nunez would be all that interesting to them.
That said, I love Carpenter. The 27-year-old is a career .283/.359/.447 (120 wRC+) hitter with six homers in limited big league time (359 plate appearances), but he’s hit at every step of the minors and consistently walked as much (if not more) than he’s struck out. Carpenter can handle the four corner positions and St. Louis has been working him out second base this spring, and apparently he’s done well enough that they’re leaning towards playing him there full-time to open the season. I’d love to see the Yankees acquire him and playing him fairly regularly at whatever position, but I don’t think the Cardinals will make him available. Certainly not for Nunez anyway.
Tom asks: I feel like I’ve seen Corban Joseph play third a few times so far this spring, and he’s looked okay at third to my untrained eye. We’ve all heard the knock on him is his defense, but I was wondering how big a knock that is? Is he a guy that could fake third for a while and not have it be disastrous, or do you think the truth will get ugly if/when we see him more at 3B?
Joseph’s problem isn’t so much fielding the ball, he just doesn’t have the arm — strength or accuracy — to consistently make the throw over to first. That’s been very evident this spring, as he short-hopped balls across the diamond or muscled up so much they landed in the stands. This isn’t Nunez having the tools and being unable to use them to make the play, this is not having the tools at all. I like Joseph and think he can be a productive enough hitter to at least come off a big league bench, but I just don’t know where he would play. Do you just accept the risk at third and hope the bat makes up for it? Maybe, but it’s very risky.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
For the first time since 2003, the Yankees figure to have someone other than Alex Rodriguez play the majority of their games at third base this season. A-Rod is recovering from a(nother) hip surgery and will be out until midseason, leaving the team without one of its most potent right-handed hitters following an offseason that saw a few too many power bats depart via free agency.
It was supposed to be A-Rod, but the surgery will keep him on the sidelines until the All-Star break if not longer. The Yankees replaced him by signed Kevin Youkilis to a one-year deal worth $12M, and suddenly he’s become a very important part of the offense now that Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will open the year on the DL.
Youkilis, who turns 34 one week from today, put up a .235/.336/.409 (102 wRC+) batting line in 509 plate appearances for the Red Sox and White Sox last summer. He did go deep 19 times and drew his usually high amount of walks (10.0%), but his game has been on a steady decline for years now. Just look at his graphs page on FanGraphs, everything is heading in the wrong direction. Youkilis is hitting more and more ground balls with each passing year, which is a classic symptom of an older player losing bat speed. To his credit, he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long in the offseason to shorten his stride and compensate.
Despite that decline, Youkilis is still a useful player. He absolutely annihilates left-handers, tagging them for a .275/.386/.492 (135 wRC+) line last year and a .323/.436/.598 (174 wRC+) line over the last three seasons. No hitter in baseball has been more productive (by wRC+) against southpaws since 2010. His defense at the hot corner is below-average but not a disaster, plus he can slide over to first base without a problem. Youkilis is injury prone, having visited the DL in each of the last three seasons (thumb, back, hernia). The Yankees need him to stay on the field in 2013, especially early in the season.
Of course, Youkilis is only the third baseman because A-Rod will miss the first half of the season. He’s visited the DL every year since signing his $275M scarlet letter prior to the 2008 season, but this injury is the most serious: a torn left hip labrum, a bone impingement, and a cyst. The doctors say he will make a full recovery but the Alex of old is long gone. His .272/.353/.430 (114 wRC+) performance in 2012 was solidly above-average but far below his career norms. Like Youkilis, almost everything on A-Rod’s graphs page is going in the wrong direction.
For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have to proceed under the assumption that Rodriguez will not be back this season. They can’t count on him for anything, let alone to ride in on a white horse to save the offense in the second half. It’s unclear how the new hip procedure will impact his swing — he was unable to use his lower half as much following the right hip surgery in 2009, and that injury was less severe — or his defense or his mobility. Anything the club gets out of Alex in 2013 is total gravy. Youkilis will be counted on as the starter until his contract expires as far as I’m concerned.
With the Yankees continuing to groom Eduardo Nunez as a shortstop and Dan Johnson both failing his Spring Training hot corner audition and being needed at first base in the wake of Teixeira’s injury, the backup third baseman is Jayson Nix. The 30-year-old is a versatile little player who does almost all of his offensive damage against lefties (97 wRC+ in 2012 and 94 career) and has surprising pop (career .157 ISO). Unless the Yankees swing an unexpected trade before the season begins, Nix will be Youkilis’ primary backup at the hot corner and he could play pretty much full-time against southpaws if Johnson takes over at first.
Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do have some third base depth in Triple-A Scranton. David Adams and Corban Joseph are both second basemen by trade, but the 25-year-old Adams shifted over to third late last year while the 24-year-old Joseph has played the position quite a bit in the spring. Outside of one being a right-handed hitter (Adams) and the other being a lefty (Joseph), the two players are very similar. They are both willing to take a walk and can hit for doubles power, though their glovework leaves something to be desired. Joseph in general has trouble making the long throw across the diamond. He’s expected to open the year at second base in Triple-A while Adams mans third, but both will surely get reps at each position to stay fresh.
It’s worth mentioning 28-year-old Ronnie Mustelier here, who played third base in yesterday’s Grapefruit League game — Joe Girardi said that was planned before Teixeira’s injury — and has played 26 games at the position in the minors since signing two years ago. The Yankees have moved him down the defensive spectrum from second to third to left in the last 20 months or so, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll give him a longer look at third in the coming weeks. Mustelier can hit a fastball and put the ball in play, but the defense is a question. I don’t think he’s a legitimate third base candidate at the big league level but we shouldn’t rule it out.
The Top Prospect
There’s a pretty strong case to be made that the team’s best third base prospect is an outfielder. Tyler Austin — who ranked third on my preseason top 30 prospects list — moved off the hot corner last year in deference to 2011 first rounder Dante Bichette Jr., and he mashed (.322/.400/.559 and ~163 wRC+) his way up to Double-A Trenton while settling into right field. The Yankees have considered moving him back to third base, but as far as we know that won’t happen. It’s not like the club has a long-term right fielder in place, so no big deal. He’ll open the year back with Trenton and we shouldn’t rule him out as a big league factor for 2013, but it’s unlikely. Boy can he hit though.
Outside of Austin and multi-position infielders Adams and Joseph, the Yankees’ top true third base prospect is Bichette. I ranked him 27th on my preseason top 30 for a few reasons, most notably because he fell back into some bad swing habits and had a miserable season with Low-A Charleston (.248/.322/.331 and 85 wRC+). Bichette was named the MVP of the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees after signing in 2011 because he made some adjustments at the plate, but he has to get back to being that guy if he wants to avoid becoming a non-prospect less than three years after being drafted. The Yankees will return him to the River Dogs this year and he’s a long way from being a big league factor.
The Deep Sleeper
New York spent $750k to sign 18-year-old Miguel Andujar out of the Dominican Republic back in 2011, then he hit .232/.288/.299 (80 wRC+) in 191 plate appearances for the rookie level GCL club in his pro debut last summer. Disappointing performance aside, Andujar is the team’s best lower level third base prospect because he’s a solid all-around player with no carrying tool but no real weakness. He has good pop and hitting ability from the right side to go along with strong defense at the position. If he grows into some more power or suddenly becomes a much more adept defender, Andujar will raise his profile quite a bit. He’ll open the year back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June, though he doesn’t have a ton of breakout potential.
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The Yankees have a decent amount of third base depth at the upper levels, but they lack a true impact player at the position. I suppose Youkilis could surprise and revert to his 2008-2010 ways, but he’s a deal pull right-handed hitter who will no longer have the advantage of the Green Monster. Despite its general hitter friendliness, Yankee Stadium is not kind to pull-happy righties. Nix, Adams, Joseph and even Mustelier are decent alternatives and emergency options, but the front office should keep their eyes peeled for corner infield help while Teixeira is out, even if it means acquiring a new starting third baseman with Youkilis sliding over to first.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
Second base is one of the four premium up-the-middle positions, but it is the fourth-most important of those positions. It doesn’t require the athleticism of shortstop or center field or the pure toughness of catcher, nor does it require the arm strength — second baseman have the most time to make the routine play of any infielder. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a rough position because of the blind double play pivot, but it sorta is the black sheep of the up-the-middle spots. That said, second base is the highlight of the Yankees’ organization for a number of reasons.
Robinson Cano isn’t just the best player on the Yankees, he’s the best second baseman in baseball and one of the very best players in the game period. The 30-year-old has hit .311/.370/.539 (142 wRC+) over the last three seasons and put up career-highs in doubles (48), homers (33), extra-base hits (82), ISO (.238), SLG (.550), walks (61), walk rate (8.8%), wOBA (.394), wRC+ (150), fWAR (7.8), and bWAR (8.2) last summer. It was his third consecutive MVP-caliber season and there’s really no reason to expect his performance to suddenly fall off a cliff in 2013. He might not be as amazingly awesome again, but there’s no obvious reason why he would be anything less that excellent.
In the field, Cano is dynamite gloveman in the eyes of DRS (+17 career), Total Zone (+43) and FRAA (+45.1), but not so much UZR (-30.2). Robbie doesn’t have the greatest range going to his left, but c’mon. That UZR stands out like a sore thumb because it doesn’t jibe with the eye test. He might not be as good as Total Zone and FRAA say, but Cano is clearly above-average defensively in my opinion. His range to his right is very good and his arm is a rocket, and when you add in the fact that he plays pretty much every single game year after year, you’ve got a two-way threat who is among the most dependable players in the world.
Cano’s performance in 2013 will be very important and not just to the Yankees given all the offense they lost over the winter. Robbie will be a free agent after the season and is in line for a mammoth nine-figure contract, and in fact Brian Cashman confirmed the club has already extended a “significant offer.” Scott Boras won’t go down that easily though, so expect contract talks to linger pretty much all season long. It will be the cloud hanging over the team all summer, kinda like CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause two years ago. The off-field issue doesn’t diminish Cano’s on-field awesomeness or importance, however.
The bench is still a few weeks away from being finalized, but the two obvious candidates are Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix. The 25-year-old Nunez is a defensive nightmare who has been working out at shortstop exclusively since last May, though Cashman did say he would return to a utility role if he makes the team. The speed and contact ability are certainly useful tools, useful tools that are negated (and then some) by the unusable defense.
Nix, 30, was solid in a limited role last year, mainly by hitting lefties (97 wRC+) and playing all over the field. He’s a second baseman by trade and a much better defender than Nunez, but no better than average overall. I don’t think it would be a surprise if either guy made the team as a reserve infielder, and heck, there’s even a scenario in which both make the team. Either way, the step down from Cano to either Nix or Nunez is enormous. Maybe the biggest drop-off from one player to their replacement in all of baseball.
Knocking on the Door
The Yankees are blessed with very good second base depth, including at the Triple-A level. Both 25-year-old David Adams and 24-year-old Corban Joseph are slated to begin the season with Triple-A Scranton and they’re cut from a similar cloth: bat-first players who are below-average defenders at second. Adams, a right-handed hitter, used to be a solid defender at the position but has lost a few steps following the massive ankle injury he suffered in 2010. Joseph, a left-handed hitter, has always been a below-average defender. Both guys can hit and are willing to walk though, making them very good depth pieces (and trade bait). Adams is dealing with a back injury and could miss the start of the season, which I guess makes Joseph first in line for a call-up.
The Top Prospect
One of New York’s best and most exciting prospects is second baseman Angelo Gumbs, who placed ninth on my preseason top 30 list. Still just 20 years old (with an October birthday!), the right-handed hitter signed for $750k as the team’s second round pick in 2010 and hit .268/.317/.428 (102 wRC+) with seven homers and 26 steals (in 29 attempts) in 278 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season. His season ended prematurely due to a partially torn elbow ligament, but he’s 100% healthy and even managed to squeeze in a few winter ball games. Gumbs stands out of his electric bat speed — best in the organization and among the best in minor league baseball — and athleticism, so he’s a premium breakout candidate for 2013 if healthy given his age. The Yankees will bump him up to High-A Tampa this year, so he won’t be a big league factor this summer unless he’s traded for an actual big leaguer.
The Deep Sleeper
Gumbs, Adams, and Joseph are exceptions — there just aren’t many true second base prospects throughout baseball. There aren’t as rare as true first base prospects, but most second base prospects are failed shortstops (like Cano). The Yankees don’t have a deep second base sleeper prospect, but they do have 2012 sixth rounder Rob Refsnyder. The 21-year-old followed up his College World Series Most Outstanding Player performance by hitting .247/.324/.370 (95 wRC+) with four homers and 11 steals (in 12 chances) in 182 plate appearances for Charleston last year. Although he played the outfield in his pro debut, the Yankees announced him as a second baseman at the draft and are expected to move him back there going forward. Refsnyder played the position in high school and would raise his long-term profile quite a bit if he shows he can handle second adequately. He’s not as good a prospect as the other three guys but he’s definitely interesting, hence his inclusion in my not top 30 prospects post.
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The Yankees have more quality depth at second base than at any other position, and it starts right at the top with Cano. He’s the team’s best and most important player heading into the 2013 season, after which he will sign a gigantic contract to either remain in pinstripes or leave the only organization he’s ever known. Adams and Joseph give New York legitimate alternatives in Triple-A if needed, and Gumbs boasts breakout potential despite already being one of the team’s better prospects. Second base is a major bright spot for the organization from top to bottom.
Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees expect to have Mark Teixeira back in the lineup and playing first base against the Red Sox tomorrow. He and his strained left calf have come through recent workouts fine and he’ll go through another round down in Instructional League today. The Yankees need their first baseman back badly, so this is certainly welcome news.
In other news, Brian Cashman said the team is not planning to recall either Corban Joseph or David Adams in the wake of Jayson Nix‘s strained hip flexor. Eduardo Nunez is the only backup middle infielder on the roster at the moment, and Joe Girardi clearly doesn’t trust him defensively in close games. Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano should play every inning of every game the rest of the way, but I’m surprised they’re not bringing up another infielder just in case.
With back-to-back picks in the 2008 draft, the Yankees selected a pair of second basemen who have since developed into two of their better infield prospects. University of Virginia Cavalier David Adams signed for $333k as the team’s third round pick that year while Tennessee high school shortstop Corban Joseph signed for $207k as the fourth rounder. Joseph moved to the other side of second base immediately and has never played even one inning at shortstop since turning pro.
The two players have more in common than just their position. They’ve both dealt with recent injuries — Adams the ankle, Joseph with a shoulder problem earlier this summer — and are hitting this year. The 25-year-old Adams owns a .313/.389/.433 batting line (134 wRC+) in 340 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton while the 23-year-old Joseph is at .275/.375/.469 (135 wRC+) with nearly as many walks (61) as strikeouts (62) in 435 plate appearances between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. Adams does it from the right side of the plate, CoJo the left.
Both Adams and Joseph are quality middle infield prospects for the Yankees, but there’s an obvious problem here: Robinson Cano is in the big leagues, and no one is taking his job anytime soon. The Yankees figure to re-sign him to what will essentially be a lifetime contract after next season, further blocking their top two upper-level middle infield prospects. They’ve had Adams work out at third base recently, something he will continue to do in the Arizona Fall League in a few weeks. As Kevin Goldstein noted yesterday, Joseph has neither the quickness or arm strength to handle the left side of the infield, so maybe the corner outfield is an option for him. I have no reason to think it is at the moment.
The Yankees have a logjam at second base and it’s a very good problem to have. It’s a difficult position to fill and the club is always going to need trade bait — heck, they already agreed to trade Adams two years ago only to have his medicals throw a wrench in things. Joseph has shown increased power this year and that’s good news for a left-hander, but his lack of versatility is a negative. The biggest knock against Adams is the fact that he hasn’t played a full, healthy season in three years now. He’s on a strict four days on, one day off routine with Trenton just to stay healthy, and one of those four days on comes at DH. His teammates even started a good-natured Twitter account (@DayOffDave) to rag on him about his playing schedule.
I don’t believe the Yankees will let Cano walk, but they do have two potential in-house replacements just in case talks blow up or something. More than likely, one of Adams or Joseph will get traded and the other will get a chance to hang around as a spare infielder. It’s almost like a poor man’s version of the Brian Roberts-Jerry Hairston Jr. debate in Baltimore a decade ago. There are no shortage of clubs out there looking for a quality young second baseman, and it’s up to the Yankees to decide whether Adams or Joseph is the one worth keeping long-term if it comes down to picking between the two.
At this point of the season, with a seven-game lead and 65 left to play, the Yankees are just looking to maintain their cushion and stay healthy. The latter is sometimes out of their hands though, and last night they lost Alex Rodriguez for an unknown length of time when a pitch broke the fifth metacarpal in his left hand. It’s a non-displaced fracture and although that’s better than a displaced fracture, but it will still require a DL stint. Most estimates put his timetable in the 6-8 week range but we won’t know fore sure until he gets back to New York and sees the doctors on Thursday.
One way or the other, the Yankees just lost their starting third baseman and an important middle of the order bat for a not insignificant period of time. A-Rod is no longer the historically great hitter he once was, but his .356 wOBA and 121 wRC+ will be very tough to replace. The Yankees also have zero right-handed power in their lineup now — it’s basically Andruw Jones on the days he starts and that’s it. Switch-hitters Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher do soften the blow, thankfully. The team has not yet announced the corresponding roster move, but they have some options to plug the third base hole.
The Yankees have gotten some fantastic production out of Chavez this year (108 wRC+) and he remains a standout defender at the hot corner, but they would risk injury by running him out there on a full-time basis. It’s not a matter of if he would get hurt, just a question of when. Joe Girardi has done a fine of job of limiting his playing time in a way that both helped the team and kept Chavez off the DL. Doing that with Alex on the shelf will be much more difficult.
Nix has been fine as the utility infielder but he is a right-handed bat who does almost all of his damage against left-handers (99 wRC+). He and Chavez make sense as a platoon tandem in the short-term but the Yankees run the risk of exposing Chavez to injury and exposing Nix to opposing pitchers by using it permanently.
Eduardo Nunez & Ramiro Pena
Nunez is still working his way back from a thumb injury in the minors, so he’s probably not an option just yet. The Yankees love him and almost certainly would have used him as A-Rod’s replacement had a) he been healthy, and b) his defense not been so bad in April and May that he had to be sent to Triple-A. We’re all familiar with Pena, the switch-hitting slap hitter with a .249/.302/.316 batting line in Triple-A this season. He can play all over the infield and is excellent with the glove, but he can’t hit. You don’t want him out there on a full-time basis at all. Both Nunez and Pena are on the 40-man roster.
Brandon Laird & Corban Joseph
It’s been two years since Laird broke out with an MVP-winning season in Double-A, but Triple-A has been a much more difficult challenge. He’s hit .253/.294/.406 in just over 1,000 plate appearances at the level but has been hot of late, hitting .313/.367/.613 in July. Laird is a right-handed hacker with some power and he can actually play the position well, so he seems like a potential call-up candidate. CoJo has been mashing at Triple-A since making his debut a few weeks ago — .281/.379/.503 with nearly as many walks (31) as strikeouts (34) in 220 plate appearances — and has 43 games of third base experience to his credit (for his career, not this year), so he has to be considered as well. As a left-handed bat, he would get most of the playing time in a platoon. His ability to play second base would be nice as well. These two are both on the 40-man roster.
Go figure, Ryan Roberts was both designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks and traded to the Rays just a few hours before A-Rod got hurt. He would have been a solid temporary replacement had the timing been right. The Yankees could still explore the third base market with the trade deadline a little less than a week away, but I have to think they’ll wait for an official timetable from the doctors before diving into anything. Chase Headley is the big name now that Hanley Ramirez is off the market, but I have a hard time thinking they’ll do something of that magnitude. Headley wouldn’t just impact 2012, he’d impact 2013 and 2014 as well. A free agent-to-be like Marco Scutaro, Stephen Drew, Ty Wigginton, or Placido Polanco may make more sense.
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Regardless of who the Yankees call-up to fill A-Rod’s spot — I expect it to be Nunez, but that’s nothing more than a guess — we’re probably going to see quite a bit of Chavez (and a little bit of Nix) at third for the next week or so. Chavez is an obvious fill-in but Girardi and the Yankees have to be very careful with him, they must ensure that he’s well-rested unless they want to lose two third baseman to the DL. I don’t have much faith in Laird or really any of the minor league guys at the moment, so swinging a trade before the deadline would be preferable. Either way, the Yankees will not be able to replace Alex and everything he provides, even this aging and declining version.
I’ve got five questions for you this week and I was able to keep the answers to four of them reasonably short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up mailbag questions or anything else.
Daniel asks: Is Josh Willingham a possible trade target at the trade deadline? He’s having a good year, signed to a reasonable mid-term deal, and the Twins are awful. Any idea what sort of return he would command?
Willingham is having an insane year with the Twins — 173 wRC+ and eleven homers — after signing a three-year, $27M deal this offseason. Given Minnesota’s terribleness — 22-34 with a -70 run differential — and the fact that his value is at its apex at age 33, it would make sense for them to shop him around before he comes back to Earth. Kinda like what the Pirates did with Xavier Nady in 2008. Because he signed as a free agent this winter, the Twinkies can not trade him without his consent until one week from today. In other words, it’s no big deal.
Anyway, the Yankees don’t really have anywhere to play Willingham this season unless Brett Gardner‘s elbow injury lingers. He’s supposed to play in his first minor league rehab game tonight, so we’ll find out how well he’s recovering soon enough. The Yankees will presumably need a corner outfielder to replace Nick Swisher after the season however, and Willingham is affordable enough. His defense is terrible though and his best position is DH. Still, right-handed power is in short supply.
I usually try to think of comparable players when thinking up trade scenarios, but I can’t come up with anyone like Willingham. Older guy who’s still productive with two full seasons left on his market rate free agent contract? Does Miguel Tejada to the Astros work? Scott Rolen to the Reds? Those two got traded for quantity over quality packages. I’m sure the Yankees could cull something together in that case, but this isn’t a vacuum. Willingham would help any team but he really doesn’t fit New York’s roster.
A different Daniel asks: If Rafael Soriano can put together an above average statistical season, what would you say the odds are that he hits the road after this season?
Zero percent. Soriano is owed $14M next season and there’s no chance he’ll match that on the open market. No one wanted to sign him two offseasons ago coming off the best season of his life and I doubt the sentiment has changed this time around. Heck, Ryan Madson is flat out better than Soriano and there was no market for him last winter. I’m sure every club will have Heath Bell in the back of their mind whenever they think about signing a free agent reliever going forward, and that won’t help his case. Considering that he’s a health risk and is very good but not dominant, I can’t imagine any number of saves will have Soriano thinking about opting out of his current deal.
Jacob asks: Do you think Dellin Betances needs a mechanical change to help with his walks? Maybe more of a sidearm or 3/4 delivery (Randy Johnson-esque) could possibly allow him to harness his abilities?
Dellin needs something to help with the walks and a mechanical change seems like an obvious solution. I’m not pitching coach or anything, so I have no idea if changing his arm slot or something like that will have a positive impact. I’ve always gotten the impression that it’s difficult to throw strikes with anything below a three-quarters slot, especially if there’s anything more an average velocity involved. Johnson was just a freak of nature and an extreme outlier, I wouldn’t use that guy as blueprint for anything.
At some point the Yankees need to do something about Betances, I can’t imagine an 8.1 BB/9 (19.0 BB%) is good for his confidence. I don’t know if it’s a move to the bullpen or a change in mechanics or a stern talking to, but this can’t go on forever.
Andrew asks: Why is nobody giving more attention to Corban Joseph? I know Single-A is the future, but he seems to have real pinstripes potential if he switches to the left side of the infield.
That’s the problem, he can’t switch to the left side of the infield. Joseph’s defense basically meets the minimum standards at second base and isn’t nearly good enough for short. He hasn’t even played one inning at shortstop in the minors and that’s not an accident. If he had a chance to play the position, they would have tried him there at some point. Joseph can handle third but not well, plus he’s unlikely to provide enough to play the position for a meaningful amount of time.
I don’t really know what Joseph is long-term. He makes good contact from the left side and draws some walks, so he has offensive value. Do they pigeon-hole him into a bench role and hope to hide his defense? Do they try him in an outfield corner and hope he can play second base as well as left and maybe right? I don’t really know. Joseph is on the 40-man though, so the Yankees see something they like in him.
J.R. asks: Mike, with all of the pre-draft deals that apparently took place this year, do you expect MLB to try and crack down on these next year?
They can try, but I’m not quite sure what they can do about it. I doubt the teams are getting these agreements in writing, so they’d basically have to look over the shoulder of every area scout to make sure he isn’t taking money with a player before the draft. I’m sure MLB would love to crack down on pre-draft arrangements, but it just might not be possible. Teams will always find a workaround.