Archive for Eduardo Nunez
3:24pm: Nunez is day-to-day with a bruised right biceps, the Yankees announced. X-rays were negative. Considering how much pain he was in, that’s not bad at all. Exhale.
2:25pm: Eduardo Nunez left this afternoon’s game after being hit by a pitch in what looked like the right arm/chest. It hit him right by the armpit, it seemed. Nunez was in a lot of pain and had to be helped off the field. Stay tuned for any updates.
We’ve known for months that Derek Jeter might not recover from his fractured left ankle surgery in time for Opening Day, but that all but came a reality this weekend when Brian Cashman acknowledged the Cap’n is very likely to open the season on the DL. The 38-year-old Jeter received a cortisone shot in the ankle last week and experienced soreness after getting just four at-bats in a minor league game a few days ago. He has to play a full nine innings at shortstop before being activated according to GM, so the target return date of April 6th seems optimistic.
“I know Derek extremely well,” said Cashman to Chad Jennings. “I’ve been with him a long, long time, and I can read his face. And his face today tells me the reality of this circumstance is starting to sink in; that this disabled list situation might be necessary … We have to get him to be able to play shortstop. DHing for us isn’t going to get him where we need to be.”
In Jeter’s place, the Yankees will use their beloved Eduardo Nunez as the everyday shortstop — “Nuney will play shortstop,” said manager Joe Girardi flatly — which is something they’ve had to do before. The 25-year-old hit .339/.381/.525 with two homers, four steals, four walks, and four strikeouts in 17 games and 65 plate appearances as the regular shortstop while Jeter was on the DL with a calf problem in the middle of 2011, a performance that was awesome at the time and in no way indicative of how he’ll play going forward.
For Nunez, this is pretty much the chance of a lifetime. Yes, Jeter will be coming back to claim shortstop at some point, but the Yankees have already made it clear they will use their captain at DH regularly just to get him off his feet following the surgery, especially against lefties. Nunez was expected to get those shortstop reps whenever Jeter served as the DH, but now he has a chance for regular and uninterrupted playing time. We overlook this stuff as outsiders, but players value the comfort of knowing when and where they’re going to play. Being a bench player is hard.
The Yankees have played Nunez nowhere but shortstop this spring — he’s gone 15-for-53 (.283) with no homers, five steals, six walks, six strikeouts, and three errors in Grapefruit League play — because they hope playing one set position will help improve his awful defense. They said it when they sent him down last year and they said it again when camp opened. The Yankees have worked to shorten Nunez’s arm action in an effort to make the routine throws a little more routine, but who knows how that will take. It’s a wait and see thing.
“We’ve been pleased with the way (Nunez has) went about his business,” said Girardi, never one to throw his players under the bus. “He’s worked very hard on his defense. He’s swung the bat well. He’s run the bases well. He provides a speed option that we really didn’t have last year, a whole lot. You get him and (Brett Gardner) in the lineup, and it could create some problems.”
Offensively, it could create some problems in a lot of ways. For one, Nunez ain’t Jeter and he won’t come close to the .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) batting line the Cap’n put up last year without a lot of luck. Heck, Nunez’s best year in the minors was his .322/.349/.433 (116 wRC+) showing with Double-A Trenton back in 2009. Even hobbled and coming off ankle surgery, going from Jeter to Nunez is a downgrade. No doubt about it.
What Nunez gives the Yankees is speed. Speed and the ability to put the ball in play. Nunez steals bases with a better-than-average success rate — 38-for-46 (82.6%) in the show and 59-for-74 (79.7%) since resurrecting his career in 2009 in the minors — and both his strikeout (10.4%) and contact rate (88.2%) have been far better than average in his relatively short big league career. If sure he’ll do a lot of first-to-thirding and stuff like that as well, which frankly the Yankees will need given their lack of power. Maybe he hits a few dingers, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Like it or not, Nunez is going to play shortstop for the Yankees come Opening Day. The smart money is on him spending a lot of time there during the regular season as well, basically since Jeter is unlikely to make it through the season without more nagging soreness and inflammation. This is it right here, this is Nunez’s big chance not only to show he can move beyond his defensive issues and prove he belongs in the big leagues, but that he can be a part of the Yankees going forward. Someone’s going to have to replace Jeter one day and this is Eduardo’s chance to get a head-start over everyone else.
The Yankees showed up to camp last spring with the bench mostly set, but this year was a different story. None of the four bench spots were accounted for when position players reported last month — there were favorites for jobs, but nothing was close to set in stone — and right now the only guarantee is that either Chris Stewart or Frankie Cervelli will be the backup catcher while the other starts. The backup infielder, backup outfielder, and remaining bench spot are still undecided.
Less than two weeks before Opening Day, those three bench questions are joined by two injury-related questions in the starting lineup. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will be out until May, possibly longer in the case of the latter, meaning the Yankees must also sort through their assorted scraps for an outfielder and a first baseman. Thanks to some recent roster moves, these five position player questions are starting to be answered.
“There is no guarantee for anything … We will continue to evaluate these guys as we move forward,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings and Dan Martin after Matt Diaz was released over the weekend. “Maybe one piece is gone, but it’s still going to play out probably for the next two weeks … We just thought the other guys were ahead of him and to be fair to him to have a chance to [play] somewhere else.”
In addition to Diaz being released, youngsters like Slade Heathcott and Zoilo Almonte were sent to minor league camp and effective removed from the outfield competition. Juan Rivera has played an awful lot of first base lately in the wake of Teixeira’s injury — he’s played the outfield just once in the last eight Grapefruit League games — and seems to have been dropped from the outfield race. That leaves Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch, Melky Mesa, and Thomas Neal in the competition.
With all due respect to Neal, who has quietly had a nice camp, the other three guys stand out as prohibitive favorites. I think the Yankees consider the 27-year-old Boesch is the no-doubt replacement for Granderson — I think he would play right with Ichiro Suzuki shifting to left, putting the weaker defender in the smaller field — just because he’s left-handed and has played everyday the last three years. That said, Boesch signed a split contract and Buster Olney confirmed he has two (!) minor league options left, so he could be sent to Triple-A in a heartbeat. The fact that he’s the only left-handed hitter left in the competition leads me to believe he has a leg up on a big league roster spot come Opening Day.
That leaves Francisco and Mesa to battle it out for the right-handed outfield/DH role, and the Yankees always seem to lean towards the veteran when it comes to these part-time/reserve roles. Going with Francisco and sending Mesa to Triple-A allows the team to keep both players and frankly they could use the depth. Neither guy is like to hit much and while Melky2.0 is the better defender, Francisco is solid in the corner spots. Keeping him with Mesa in Triple-A is preferable to having Mesa in the show with no backup in the minors just in terms of having as many warm bodies as possible. Both guys will be needing over the course of the 162-game season.
Since the Yankees don’t need a fifth starter until their seventh game of the season and can backdate a DL stint ten days into Spring Training, they could have Phil Hughes start the season on the DL due to his back problem and carry an extra position player. Hughes would still be eligible to come off the DL in time for that seventh game, but the club would buy itself just a tiny bit more time to evaluate their position player options. It’s the difference between carrying both Rivera and Dan Johnson at the start of the season rather than just one or two. The Yankees only figure to see one left-handed starter in those first six games (Jon Lester on Opening Day), so having Johnson around would be helpful.
We still have no idea who the Yankees will carry north as the utility infielder, but Jayson Nix might have a leg up on Eduardo Nunez because of his versatility and defensive reliability. Going into the season with Boesch, Francisco, Rivera, and Johnson leaves the team just one spot for a utility man even if they open with Hughes on the DL. We know they’re just dying to use Nunez at short when Derek Jeter plays DH against lefties, but he hasn’t played any other position in camp. If they’re going to use him as the utility infielder, they’ll need to get him a few reps at second and third just to prepare him for the season.
With Diaz released and some others assigned to minor league camp, it looks more and more likely the Yankees will have both Boesch and Francisco on their Opening Day roster. Rivera and Johnson are the obvious first base fill-ins, but the club would need to manipulate Hughes’ injury — if they backdate his DL stint ten days, he can’t pitch in a Grapefruit League game during that time and will have to get his work in on the minor league side — to buy a temporary extra roster spot. The competition for the outfield, first base, and bench spots is still relatively wide open, but the picture is much clearer right now than it was just one week ago.
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.
The Yankees have been getting above-average production from the shortstop position for nearly two decades now thanks to Derek Jeter, who continued to prove doubters/me wrong by hitting .316/.362/.429 (117 wRC+) with a league-leading 216 hits at age 38 last summer. His postseason ended prematurely due to a fractured left ankle — after playing on a bone bruise pretty much all September — that required offseason surgery, and he’s yet to play this spring as he rehabs. The shortstop position is a question mark for New York and it’s not just because of Jeter’s injury.
It will be Jeter, hell or high water. Despite his lack of Grapefruit League action to date, he hasn’t suffered any kind of setback and is expected to be ready in time for Opening Day. The Yankees will, however, use the Cap’n as their DH against left-handed pitchers quite a bit (i.e. all the time) in April to give him the occasional break and day off his feet. They did something similar last year and will do it again this year, but it’s a bit more of a necessity now.
Offensively, the projections hate Jeter because he’s a 38-year-old shortstop coming off a major injury, but he’s been legitimately driven the ball since working with former hitting coach Gary Denbo during his midseason DL stint in 2010. He’s managed a .321/.369/.434 overall batting line in over 1,000 plate appearances since then — including a respectable .298/.351/.377 against righties, who handled him very well from 2010 through the start of the DL stint — which is no small sample. Those hits weren’t ground balls with eyes or bloops in front of poor defensive outfielders, it’s been vintage Jeter slashing the ball to right and occasionally over the fence.
The defense is what really concerns me. The Cap’n has pretty much always been a below-average defender and he hasn’t gotten any better with age, but now we’re adding the ankle injury on top of it. If he loses any more mobility, forget it. He’d be completely unplayable at shortstop even though the Yankees would never consider moving him down the defensive spectrum. Jeter’s arm is fine and his glovework — he handles whatever he can get to — is strong, but his limited range could be even worse in 2013. With a ground ball heavy rotation (outside of Phil Hughes), it could be a major problem. For now the Yankees will count on Jeter to again ignite the offense from atop the lineup and live with his flaws, which is what they’ve been doing for several years now.
It’s obvious the Yankees want it to be Eduardo Nunez. They’re giving him every opportunity to show he can handle the position, starting last year with his demotion and continuing this spring with his 36 defensive innings, two shy of team leader Melky Mesa. They’ve worked with him on shortening his arm action and all sorts of stuff, but nothing has taken. Still, they’re apparently intrigued by the 25-year-old’s offensive potential, which stems almost exclusively from his contact ability and speed. If they get their way, it will be Nunez soaking up all those shortstop innings while Jeter spends the day at DH against left-handed starters.
Jayson Nix is the only alternative here and is more of an emergency option at shortstop that someone you’d want to run out there several days in a row if need be. Neither he nor Nunez inspires much confidence, really.
Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do not have a shortstop prospect in Triple-A at all. There’s an outside chance Nunez will get sent down to start the season, but I wouldn’t count on it. The Scranton club will rely on the likes of 33-year-old Gil Velazquez and 26-year-olds Addison Maruszak and Reegie Corona at the infield’s most important position. Velazquez and Corona are no-hit/all-glove types while Maruszak doesn’t really do much of anything well. The team’s only real in-house shortstop options are Jeter, Nunez, and Nix. They’d sooner make a trade than run Velazquez, Corona, or Maruszak out there semi-regularly.
The Top Prospect
The Yankees don’t have a standout shortstop prospect but they do have a very interesting one in 19-year-old Austin Aune, the team’s 14th best prospect overall. Last summer’s second rounder received a $1M bonus and hit .273/.358/.410 (130 wRC+) with one homer and five steals in 163 plate appearances for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate, though his inexperience was evident in his 27.6% strikeout rate. Aune was a top quarterback recruit who passed on a commitment to TCU to sign with New York, so the Yankees are hoping that focusing on baseball full-time will allow him to reach his considerable ceiling. Aune has big power potential from the left side to go along with his strong throwing arm and athleticism, but there is a lot of work to be done. He’ll likely begin the season in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island at midseason, so he’s far from being a big league factor.
The Deep Sleeper
Cito Culver and Claudio Custodio are New York’s most well-known lower-level shortstop prospects, but neither hit much last season or projects to be a real impact player. The Yankees’ most intriguing shortstop prospect way down in the minors is 18-year-old Abi Avelino, who signed for $300k back in 2011. He’s a standout defender with a good arm, good instincts, and good body control, and his offensive game is built around an easy right-handed swing that produces an awful lot contact. Avelino obviously has a long, long way to go before he becomes a factor in the Major Leagues, but he has all the tools to breakout and establish himself as one of the team’s best prospects. The Yankees are expected to bring him stateside with one of their two rookie level GCL affiliates this summer.
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The Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira injuries mean Jeter’s return from his ankle surgery is extremely important to the team’s early season success. He needs to get on the field, stay on the field, and get on-base so Robinson Cano has someone to drive in. The Yankees will ease him back into the shortstop position with those DH days, but the Cap’n's bat is the most important thing. There is no real immediate help at the position coming up behind Jeter just in case, that is unless Nunez suddenly figures out how to make routine throws. I’m not counting on it.
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.
February 24th: Cashman misspoke and confirmed to Jack Curry that Cervelli does not have an option remaining. He also indicated the guys who can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers (Cervelli and Stewart) have a leg up in the catching competition. That’s not terribly surprising.
February 9th: Via Chad Jennings: Brian Cashman confirmed that Frankie Cervelli has a minor league option remaining. I was under the assumption that he burned his final option last season, but that wasn’t the case. The Yankees will be able to send Cervelli to Triple-A this year without having to pass him through waivers, which is kinda big considering the wide open catching race. The internal options all stink, but it would be nice to keep everyone around just in case.
Cashman also confirmed that Cody Eppley, Eduardo Nunez, and Ivan Nova have an option left as well. Chris Stewart and Clay Rapada do not, but both are expected to make the team anyway. Both Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz can opt out of their minor league contracts if they don’t make the team out of Spring Training while Dan Johnson’s opt-out date is later in the summer. Unlike the Ivan Nova-David Phelps competition for the fifth starter’s spot, the Yankees will only be able to keep the winner of the Rivera-Diaz competition for the right-handed bench bat role. The loser figures to look for a big league job elsewhere.
Late last week the Yankees addressed the left-handed half of what will presumably be a DH platoon, signing Travis Hafner to a one-year contract worth $2M. Pronk’s power and on-base ability will be an upgrade over Raul Ibanez‘s offensive contributions last year as long as he stays on the field. That part is far from a given thanks to his extensive injury history.
Last season the Yankees employed — or attempted to employ before injuries an other factors interfered — an unorthodox DH platoon that consisted of playing Eduardo Nunez in the field against left-handers while either Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez served as the DH. I expect them to try a similar arrangement in 2013, but obviously the pieces will change. A-Rod is going to miss at least half the season due to his hip surgery, leaving Jeter and Kevin Youkilis as the infielders most of need of regular rest.
In addition to being 38-years-old, Jeter is coming off a major ankle injury that required surgery. He recently resumed baseball activities and right now it appears as though he’ll be ready in time for Opening Day. Even if he is healthy and ready to go when the season begins, I still expect Joe Girardi to give him regular turns at DH just to ease him back into things following the ankle fracture. Girardi is always conservative when it comes to injuries and it makes complete sense to take it easy on the Cap’n in April. Youkilis is no stranger to the DL and he will need his fair share of DH days, but hopefully not as many as Jeter early in the season.
The question about who replaces Jeter or Youkilis in the field on those DH days is unanswered. Despite the club’s insistence that he is most valuable at shortstop (duh), Brian Cashman recently said they would convert Nunez back into a utility infielder if he makes the team out of Spring Training. The other option is Jayson Nix, who did an admirable job off the bench last summer as the primary utility infielder following Eduardo’s defense-related demotion. David Adams and Corban Joseph could receive consideration for the job, but their inability to play shortstop works against them.
Jason Bartlett is pretty much the only notable infielder left on the free agent market who can legitimately play shortstop, so it sure looks like it will be Nix or Nunez subbing in against lefties while Jeter or Youkilis spends the day at DH. Nix, 30, is steady but unspectacular in the field and below-average but adequate at the plate. The 25-year-old Nunez offers much more exciting tools in his speed, contact ability, and arm strength, but he’s a big liability in the field. He has little trouble getting to balls and offers more range than Nix, but obviously he has major issues finishing the play. If the Yankees want reliability, they’ll take Nix. If they want some upside, they’ll take Nunez. There’s not much point in arguing strongly either way right now.
Assuming the Yankees carry a right-handed hitting outfielder on the bench to platoon with their various left-handed hitting outfielders, they have three bench spots left to fill. One will go to the backup catcher, so it’s really two spots. Given the weak catching tandem, I would really like to see the team carry a good left-handed bat on the bench so Girardi could pinch-hit liberally in the late-innings. Dan Johnson, who can play the corner infield spots in a pinch, could make sense for that role. It’s a job that Eric Chavez would have filled perfectly, but alas. Given how unlikely the team’s catchers (whoever they end up being) are to hit, I think having that dangerous lefty pinch-hitter is more of a necessity than a luxury.
If the Yankees do carry such a player, they’re left with one bench spot for a utility infielder. That guy will have to be able to play shortstop and play it fairly regularly, I’m thinking two or three times a week until Jeter settles in following the surgery. Not only that, but he has to be able to run for inevitable pinch-running situations. I think Nunez is a better bet to do that than Nix, but his defense stinks. At the same time, the more at-bats Nix receives, the more his production is likely to go down. He’s the type of guy who gets exposed with too much playing time. There is a scenario in which the Yankees could carry both on their bench at the start of the season, but they would be short-changing themselves elsewhere.
Via Andrew Marchand: Brian Cashman said Eduardo Nunez would have to be a utility player if he broke camp with the Yankees in a few weeks. The GM reiterated that he sees Nunez as being most valuable at shortstop, but also acknowledged the roster situation may force their hand.
“We have everyday guys at other positions. If he makes our club, it will be at a utility role … It remains to be seen how our team shakes out and how he looks in the spring. At an everyday basis, he is a shortstop,” said Cashman. Nunez, 25, has struggled defensively (to put it lightly) his entire career and the problem seemed to be exacerbated when the Yankees started moving him around as a utility man. He can run and hit a little though, enough to keep getting shots. At this point though, after all these years of working on his defense, it’s tough to see him improving in a meaningful way going forward.
The Yankees have been very active on the free agent market this offseason, though it’s easy to forget since most of the signings were re-signings. Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has signed this winter, and they still have questions to answer at DH, behind the plate (unlikely to be addressed in a meaningful way), and on the bench. There’s a lot of offseason left and a lot of holes to fill.
For a big market team like New York, free agency is the easiest way to add players. There’s always the trade route though, and in fact the club has swung a major trade in four of the last five offseasons. Some (Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson) have worked better than others (Michael Pineda and Javy Vazquez). The Yankees may or may not have a trade of that magnitude left in them this winter, but not every deal has to be a blockbuster to help. Let’s take stock of the team’s current crop of trade chips.
Logan, 28, has emerged as the team’s primary left-handed reliever over the last two years, but in no way should he be off limits this offseason. In fact, Clay Rapada has been much more effective against same-side hitters in recent years, though he’s unusable against righties. Logan can at least fake it against batters of the opposite hand if need be. Since he’s due to become a free agent next winter and is coming off a career-high (and league-leading) 80 appearances, Boone should be made very available this winter. Teams continually prove willing to overpay for quality relief, especially a left-handed relief.
For all his defensive deficiencies, the 25-year-old Nunez has garnered plenty of trade interest (from the Braves and Mariners, specifically) in recent years. Finding decent middle infield help these days is close to impossible, so teams are eager to roll the dice on a cheap young player with speed and contact skills. Frankly, if Nunez had spent the last few years in some other city, a lot of Yankees fans would be looking at him as a buy-low guy whose defense might be fixable with enough reps. Because we’ve seen the hilarious frequency of his errors first hand, he gets written off quickly. C’est la vie.
Ivan Nova & David Phelps
The Yankees brought both Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte back, meaning Nova and Phelps will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot in camp. The loser goes to the bullpen (or Triple-A) to wait his turn as the sixth starter. Both guys could also be trade bait as young, cost-controlled back-end arms, though both also have their warts. Nova got pounded last season and Phelps has just a handful of big league starts to his credit.
Phil Hughes could also be lumped into this group, but he only offers one year of team control and is being counted on as the fourth starter behind the three veterans. He shouldn’t be off-limits, but he might not fetch as much as the team would like given the impending free agency. Hughes is most desirable to contenders, and it’s not often you see a trade made between two contenders.
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez & Tyler Austin
You can’t have a trade chips post without mentioning the top prospects. These four represent the team’s best young minor leaguers in whatever order, though none of them have meaningful experience at the Double-A level. For all intents and purposes, they’re four high-upside guys in Single-A ball. As we’ve seen in the recent R.A. Dickey and James Shields trades, it takes an elite prospect on the cusp of the big leagues to land an impact player. Teams will surely line up to acquire these four, but I don’t think any of them would be enough to bring say, a young and MLB ready impact bat without significant secondary pieces. Twelve months from now, one or all of these guys could be among the best trade chips in the sport.
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Curtis Granderson’s name has popped up as a trade candidate numerous times this offseason, though I maintain that it will be close to impossible to trade him and improve the team at the same time. The Yankees didn’t drop $62M total on five free agents this winter to trade their best power hitter for a young player who might help two or three years from now, potentially wasting a year of CC Sabathia at his best, of Robinson Cano at his best, of David Robertson at his best, of Pettitte and Mariano Rivera before they call it a career. With the 2014 payroll plan looming, making one last “all-in” run in 2013 should be the club’s top priority even if they seem to feel differently.