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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Sherman: Yankees sign Dean Anna, Vidal Nuno for 2014

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have signed infielder Dean Anna and left-hander Vidal Nuno to one-year contracts for 2014. While in MLB, Anna will earn the $500,000 league minimum while Nuno will earn $504,500. Both guys still have all six years of team control remaining and can not become free agents until after the 2019 season at the earliest. I’m sure we’ll see both Anna and Nuno with the big league team at some point this summer, maybe even on the Opening Day roster.

Holiday Mailbag: Dean Anna

(San Diego Union-Tribune)
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jag asks: Is Dean Anna any good? I know he’s been a career minor leaguer, but his stats seem to be solid. Why didn’t the Padres hold onto him?

The Yankees acquired Anna from the Padres for Single-A reliever RHP Ben Paullus last month. San Diego had no room for Anna on their 40-man roster, so rather than potentially lose him for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft, they flipped him for a low level minor leaguer. The Yankees needed the infield depth, so here we are. The obligatory stats:

Year Age Tm Lev PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS HBP
2008 21 2 Teams A–Rk 181 30 35 3 0 5 24 11 1 21 31 .232 .341 .351 .692 5
2009 22 2 Teams A–A 239 31 56 15 1 5 31 7 6 30 41 .280 .380 .440 .820 4
2010 23 Fort Wayne A 272 42 61 14 2 6 32 5 1 39 40 .271 .381 .431 .813 3
2011 24 2 Teams AA-A+ 423 70 96 28 3 5 41 5 0 60 41 .277 .391 .419 .810 8
2012 25 San Antonio AA 510 75 115 16 3 10 47 6 4 66 76 .271 .377 .393 .770 11
2013 26 Tucson AAA 583 90 165 38 5 9 73 3 7 61 65 .331 .410 .482 .892 11
6 Seasons 2208 338 528 114 14 40 248 37 19 277 294 .286 .386 .428 .815 42
AA (2 seasons) AA 756 120 165 34 4 12 70 9 4 107 95 .265 .380 .390 .770 14
AAA (1 season) AAA 583 90 165 38 5 9 73 3 7 61 65 .331 .410 .482 .892 11
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/28/2013.

Anna, who turned 27 a few days after the trade, was the Padres’ 28th round pick in the 2008 draft out of Ball State, which isn’t exactly a baseball powerhouse. He hit .319/.464/.628 with 17 doubles, 11 homers, 46 walks, and 17 strikeouts in 52 games as a junior but was only ranked as the 14th best prospect in Indiana prior to the draft by Baseball America (subs. req’d). Anna was never a highly regarded prospect and he’s had to earn his way up to Triple-A and onto the 40-man roster. Here’s a recent (as in right after the trade) scouting report from Baseball America (no subs. req’d):

Anna, drafted out of Ball State, is coming off his best pro season, winning the Pacific Coast League batting title while playing for Triple-A Tucson. He hit .331/.410/.482 and walked (61) almost as much as he struck out (65), a career-long trend. Anna lacks physicality and pop at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds and fits the utility profile as a lefthanded hitter. He’s played second base, shortstop and third base as well as the outfield corners, with a fringe-average arm and solid infield actions. He’s a reliable defender who made just 23 errors the last two seasons. He’s a below-average runner, the biggest hole in his utility profile. Anna has earned high marks in his career as a grinder and good teammate. He spent two weeks playing for Estrellas in the Dominican League but returned home after going 8-for-34 (.235) with four walks in nine games.

So what the Yankees have is an undersized 27-year-old middle infielder who has little power, doesn’t steal a ton of bases, isn’t a standout defender, and, until this past season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, hasn’t hit for a high average in pro ball. That’s … not much of a prospect at all. That’s a spare part. An up-and-down bench player. The 25th man on the roster. Sure, the K/BB ratio(s) is sexy but there is more to life than walks and strikeouts.

Now, that said, Anna is certaintly a useful piece to have lying around, especially for a team with a thin big league infield like the Yankees. He’s something like the 38th or 39th man on the 40-man roster and will open the year with Triple-A Scranton awaiting the call when someone inevitably gets hurt or plays themselves off the team. The various projection systems are quite bullish about Anna — Oliver (2.0 WAR), ZiPS (1.6 WAR), Steamer (0.4 WAR) — but that is always the case with high-walk, low-strikeout players. You could make a case that playing him at second over the old and so very injury prone Brian Roberts make sense.

The Yankees were going to fill their 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft deadline one way or the other — either with one of their minor league relievers or someone like Anna. They opted for Anna, who was easily available and filled a very obvious need (they had not yet signed Kelly Johnson at the time of the trade). Since only one (Tommy Kahnle) of their many relievers was taken in the Rule 5 Draft, it’s tough to argue with the decision. Anna is an interesting enough player but the odds of him contributing in a meaningful way at the MLB level are small. In fact, if he’s starting for the team at some point next year, it likely means something went very wrong.

Mailbag: Franklin, Soriano, Anna, Lineups, Rule 5

Only five questions this week, and some of the answers are kinda short. We must have received about a dozen different variations of the first two questions. Great minds think alike, I hear. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything.

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Many people asked: What about Nick Franklin?

Now that Robinson Cano is locked in at second base for the next decade, the Mariners don’t have an obvious spot for the 22-year-old Franklin. He hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homeruns and six stolen bases in 412 plate appearances this past season, his first taste of the show. Franklin is a switch-hitter who has always struggled against lefties, so much so that there’s been talk of making him hit exclusively left-handed. He’s the anti-Derek Jeter on defense — good amount of range but makes a lot of errors because he boots grounders and makes bad throws — and the total package is more solid regular than future All-Star.

Franklin has understandably been getting talked up as a trade chip since the Cano signing and the hype has surpassed reality, kinda like Mike Olt a year or so ago. He’s good but not truly great. The Yankees can use a young second baseman now and Franklin would certainly fit, though I don’t think the Mariners are ready to move him. They could always send him back to Triple-A and have him work at other positions or wait for a better offer. There’s no need to rush into a decision. I’m more intrigued by Dustin Ackley to be honest, because at least there’s All-Star caliber talent hiding in their somewhere. I’d rather see New York buy super low on him and hand him over to Kevin Long than pay market rate for Franklin. Franklin fits a need, no doubt, but I feel like there’s a disconnect between what he actually is and how he’s being valued.

Many people asked: What about moving Alfonso Soriano to second base?

This ain’t happening. Soriano hasn’t played second base at all since 2009 or regularly since 2005, and, in case you forgot, he was pretty terrible there. We saw it firsthand from 2001-2003. He wasn’t Eduardo Nunez bad, but he misplayed a lot of balls on the infield during his time there. Soriano is going to be 38 next month and he’s played 3.2 innings at second base over the last eight years. This isn’t even something the Yankees can seriously consider.

Andrew asks: Will Dean Anna be competing for a MLB roster spot in Spring Training or was he added purely for depth in the minors? I have not heard any discussion about him being a potential 2B option for the Yanks.

Can’t it be both, compete for a job in camp and be added for depth? The Yankees have an open position player spot right now — could be two if they cut one of Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki — and that figures to go to whatever infielder they acquire in the coming weeks. If they don’t add an infielder, Anna probably has to beat out Nunez for a roster spot. For some reason the incumbent always seems to have up in these competitions. I’m intrigued by Anna’s on-base skills and like him as an up-and-down depth player, but if he makes the team out of camp as even a semi-regular at second, something probably went wrong somewhere.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Andy asks: Can you make up what a potential Yankees line-up would look like now? Against both lefties and righties.

Given the roster as it sits today, meaning no obvious second/third baseman, here are the lineups I would run out there:

                  vs. RHP                   vs. LHP
1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury 1.   CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2.   LF Brett Gardner 2.   SS Derek Jeter
3.   RF Carlos Beltran 3.   1B Mark Teixeira
4.   C Brian McCann 4.   DH Alfonso Soriano
5.   DH Alfonso Soriano 5.   RF Carlos Beltran
6.   1B Mark Teixeira 6.   C Frankie Cervelli
7.   3B Kelly Johnson 7.   3B Kelly Johnson
8.   SS Derek Jeter 8.   2B Brendan Ryan
9.   2B Brendan Ryan 9.   LF Brett Gardner

You and I both know Jeter will bat second against righties and lefties as long as he’s healthy. That’s just the way it is. I would bat him lower in the order against righties until he shows he can hit them, however. The Cap’n had a 99 wRC+ against same-side pitchers even during his big bounceback 2012 season, so I’m skeptical about what he can do at his age and following what amounts to a lost season.

Ellsbury and Gardner had almost identical batting averages (.246 vs. 247) and on-base percentages (.317 vs. .323) against lefties last season, but Gardner hit for much more power (.071 vs. .180 ISO). That doesn’t really jibe with the rest of his career though. Ellsbury and Gardner have identical career 96 wRC+ against southpaws, so the tiebreaker goes to the guy who will steal 40+ bases no questions asked (who also happens to have a $153M contract). Batting Gardner ninth instead of eighth against lefties allows him to serve as a second leadoff man, so to speak.

The rest is pretty straight forward, right? Soriano was awesome last year but McCann is the (much) better hitter against right-handers, which is why I have him batting cleanup against righties. I’d use a straight splatoon at catcher as a way to give McCann regular time off as well. He’s going to need the rest, it comes with the territory, so you might as well rest him against southpaws and get Frankie in there. Jeter and Teixeira still mash left-handers (or at least they did the last time they were healthy), making them a natural fit for the two-three spots against southpaws.

Laying the lineup out like this makes it easy to see how much the team needs a second or third baseman, preferably a righty bat. Those lineups would look so much better if they moved Ryan to the bench, shifted Johnson to second, and had someone like Mark Reynolds to bat seventh or eighth, no?

Jon asks: Explain the minor league Rule 5 Draft. How could you just lose players for $12,000? How many could you protect? Could the Yankees have chosen players from other minor league teams for $12,000 or did their lack of room on the 40-man roster prevent it?

The lack of 40-man space has nothing to do with the ability to make picks in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft. The minor league phase is pretty complicated, so I’ll direct you to this J.J. Cooper explanation. I don’t even fully understand it. All I know is that if you take a player in the minor league phase, he’s yours to keep. Those guys do not have to go through the same roster hoops as the players drafted in the Major League portion. The Rule 5 Draft exists as a way to give players an opportunity with a new organization if they’re buried or overlooked by their current team, and, for the most part, it accomplishes that goal.

Utility infield spot already starting to take shape

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees went through a small army of infielders this past season. They went internal with Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, David Adams, and Corban Joseph before going outside the organization for guys like Alberto Gonzalez, Chris Nelson, Luis Cruz, Brent Lillibridge, and Reid Brignac. Seven different players started a game at shortstop for New York in 2013 while ten (ten!) started a game at third. Eventually Brendan Ryan and Mark Reynolds helped stabilize things.

All four infield spots are a question mark right now for various reasons. Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter are returning from major injury, Robinson Cano is a free agent, and Alex Rodriguez may or may not be suspended. Nunez, Nix, and (to a lesser extent) Adams played fairly regularly last season and failed to impress, at least impress enough to solidify their standing as viable infield options should the need arise in 2014. Adding infield depth will be a priority this offseason and so far it’s the only area the team has addressed.

Since re-signing Derek Jeter to a new one-year contract, the Yankees have reportedly agreed to re-sign Ryan and acquired Dean Anna in a minor trade. Ryan won’t hit at all but his defense is among the best in the game and allows him to be a net positive if playing everyday. He’s not great, mind you, but you can run him out there on a regular basis and get some return. The 26-year-old Anna is a lefty bat with little power but quite a bit of on-base ability, plus he’s capable at the two middle infield positions. With all due respect to Ben Paullus, the Single-A reliever who went to the Padres in the deal, Anna cost basically nothing.

To me, bringing back Ryan and adding Anna for depth is an indication the Yankees have either grown tired of Nunez or will non-tender Jayson Nix prior to next month’s deadline. Maybe both. Nix is projected to earn $1.4M through arbitration next year and although I think he’s perfectly fine as a rarely used backup infielder, that is a bit pricey for what he brings to the table. Maybe he’d be worth keeping at that price in a luxury tax-free world. Nunez has been in the big leagues for parts of four seasons now and he hasn’t hit (86 wRC+) or shown any real improvement defensively. There’s only so much patience you have have with someone who projects to be an okay player but not a star if things go right.

Nunez appears to have a minor league option remaining and can go to Triple-A Scranton next season, so the Yankees won’t have to worry about finding a spot for him. I doubt he would fetch much in a trade anyway. The club has him, Ryan, and Anna to serve as depth behind Jeter at the moment, though the obvious caveat is that the offseason is still very young. Nix could return on a minor league deal (I would like that very much, actually) but you couldn’t blame him if he sought out another team that offers more of an opportunity if he is non-tendered. As a veteran guy who’s been in the show a while, Ryan sits atop the utility infielder depth chart and will open the year on the bench if the Cap’n is healthy enough to play shortstop. Anna and Nunez are behind him.

Regardless of what happens to A-Rod, the Yankees have to bring in a capable third baseman because he’s going to miss time one way or another next season, either through suspension or injury. That still has to be done. Middle infield depth was another priority this winter given the uncertainty surrounding Jeter following his self-proclaimed nightmare season, and early on they’ve addressed that with the Ryan and Anna moves. Nix became expandable and so did Nunez, but there’s no sense in dumping him until absolutely necessary since he’ll earn something close to the minimum and can go to Triple-A. The Yankees have a lot of business to take of this winter, but they’ve already made a series of moves to upgrade the utility infielder spot and add middle infield depth.

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.