The Extra Outfielders [2016 Season Review]

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

As our season review series winds down, it’s time to get into the spare part players. The guys who came up from the minors or were picked up off the scrap heap to plug roster holds for a few days or weeks. Every team needs players like this to get through the 162-game season. These days it takes 40-50 players to win. Maybe more. Not 25.

For all intents and purposes the Yankees had five regular outfielders this past season. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were the mainstays. Carlos Beltran was the right fielder until being traded away, which is when Aaron Judge took over. Aaron Hicks was the fourth outfielder all season. The Yankees also used three fill-in outfielders too: Ben Gamel, Mason Williams, and Eric Young Jr. All three had big league time in 2016.

The Blocked Outfielder

The 2015 season was a breakout year for Gamel, who went from fringe prospect to big league consideration by hitting .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 Triple-A games. That earned the 24-year-old a spot on the 40-man roster and a long look during Spring Training this year. He wasn’t going to win an Opening Day roster spot unless someone else got hurt, but the Yankees had their eyes on him.

Gamel started the 2016 season relatively slowly with the RailRiders, hitting .286/.346/.363 (104 wRC+) in his first 23 games. The Yankees called him up for the first time on May 5th. Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) was on the disabled list and Gardner (elbow) was day-to-day after being hit by a pitch, so the bench was shorthanded. Gamel appeared in three games (two starts) and picked up his first career hit in his first career at-bat.

Gamel went 1-for-8 (.125) with a walk and a strikeout in those three games before being sent down once Gardner’s elbow starting feeling better. The Yankees called Gamel up one other team this season: on August 1st, after trading away Beltran. Gamel was on the roster for three days until Gary Sanchez was called up. He laid down a sac bunt in his only plate appearance during those three days.

With Triple-A Scranton, Gamel hit .308/.365/.420 (126 wRC) with 26 doubles, five triples, six homers, and 19 stolen bases in 116 games. That earned him the International League MVP award. A tremendous honor, no doubt, but there was one small problem: the Yankees still didn’t have a spot for Gamel on their big league roster, both short and long-term. Even with Beltran gone. The team is very deep in outfielders and something had to give.

That something was Gamel. On August 31st, a few hours before the deadline to acquire players and have them be postseason eligible, the Yankees sent Gamel to the Mariners for righties Juan DePaula and Jio Orozco, a pair of 19-year-old rookie ball pitching prospects. Orozco is the more highly regarded prospect of the two. At least we got a chance to see Gamel’s long flowing locks before the trade:

Ben Gamel hair

The Yankees traded Gamel because, unlike Tyler Austin a year ago, he wouldn’t have slipped through waivers unclaimed. They needed the 40-man roster space and outfield was a position of depth, so they moved Gamel when his value was at its absolute highest. The guy had just won IL MVP. How much higher could you sell?

Following the trade Gamel was a semi-regular for Seattle in September. He hit .200/.289/.325 (72 wRC+) in 47 plate appearances while striking out 31.9% of the time. I’m not really sure what the Mariners have planned for him going forward — he has two minor league options remaining and there’s a very real chance he’ll spend a third straight season in Triple-A in 2017 — but they offer him a clearer path to big league playing time than the Yankees.

The Injured Outfielder

Williams. (Presswire)
Williams. (Presswire)

Last season was a breakout year for Gamel. It was maybe the most important year of Williams’ career. Following years of poor play and insubordination, the proverbial light bulb went on, and Williams began to take his career more seriously. He tore up Double-A and Triple-A, and earned his first MLB call-up in May. His first taste of the show lasted eight games before a shoulder injury ended his season.

Williams, now 25, tore up his shoulder diving back into first base on a pickoff throw and needed season-ending surgery. His rehab carried over into 2016 and it wasn’t until early July that he played in his first official minor league rehab game. Williams took the usual rookie ball to High-A to Triple-A rehab route, and in 47 total minor league games this summer, he hit .309/.327/.399 (106 wRC+) with ten doubles, two triples, and a homer.

When rosters expanded on September 1st, the Yankees did not call Williams up. Their plan was to leave him with the RailRiders through the Triple-A postseason so he could play everyday and make up for all the time he lost to injury. Plans changed when Judge tweaked his oblique and had to be shut down for the season. The Yankees needed another outfielder, so Williams got the call.

Mason appeared in only 12 games with the Yankees and five of them were as either a late-inning defensive replacement or at the end of a blowout. In his seven starts, Williams went 8-for-25 (.320) with three multi-hit games. His biggest moment came on September 25th, when he tied the game in the ninth inning with a single against Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna.

All told, Williams put up a .296/.321/.333 (77 wRC+) batting line with a 41.4% strikeout rate in a mere 29 plate appearances after being called up. He also played some mean outfield defense. Those numbers don’t really help us in any way. They don’t tell us anything about Williams going forward. The most important thing is that the shoulder is healthy.

Depending how the offseason shakes out, Williams could come to Spring Training next year with a legitimate chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Heck, if the Yankees trade Gardner, Williams might have a chance to win a starting outfield job. He does have a minor league option remaining for next season, which means at worst, he’ll go back to Triple-A Scranton and be the first outfielder called up when the inevitable injury strikes.

The Designated Pinch-Runner

The only photo of Young with the Yankees. (Presswire)
The only photo of Young with the Yankees. (Presswire)

Not long after trading Gamel to the Mariners, the Yankees picked up Young in a cash trade with the Brewers. The veteran speedster was going to be the team’s designated pinch-runner in September, the job Rico Noel held last year and Freddy Guzman held in September 2009. All Young had to do was run. That’s it.

Turns out the Yankees didn’t need Young all that much. The 31-year-old appeared in six games with the Yankees, and two of those appearances came in the late innings of blowouts, when Joe Girardi wanted to get the regulars off their feet. Young pinch-ran four times, and on two of those four occasions the next batter hit a home run, so he didn’t even have to run.

In those six games Young stole one base, scored two runs, and went 0-for-1 at the plate. He also played five innings in the outfield. That’s it. Some years the September pinch-runner has more impact than others. This was not one of those years. The Yankees outrighted Young off the 40-man roster after the season and he elected free agency. So it goes.

Solano and Young elect free agency as Yankees continue 40-man roster purge

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Both outfielder Eric Young Jr. and infielder Donovan Solano have elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster, the Yankees announced in recent days. I didn’t realize Young was still under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2017. No surprise they cut him loose though. He was never a long-term piece.

Young, 31, was acquired from the Brewers in a cash deal on August 31st to serve as the designated September pinch-runner. He appeared in six games with the Yankees, pinch-ran four times, and stole one base. On two occasions Young pinch-ran and the next hitter immediately hit a homer. He also played some outfield late in two blowouts.

The 28-year-old Solano went 5-for-22 (.227) with a home run in nine late-season games with the Yankees. He was only called up after Starlin Castro went down with a hamstring injury. Solano hit .319/.349/.436 with seven homers and an International League leading 163 hits with Triple-A Scranton this past season. Nice little minor league pickup, I’d say.

The Yankees have now dropped five players from the 40-man roster since the end of the regular season: Young, Solano, Anthony Swarzak, Blake Parker, and Kirby Yates. Parker and Yates were both claimed off waivers by the Angels. Swarzak elected free agency. J.R. Graham was also outrighted in late-September, so the Yankees have six open 40-man spots.

One of those spots went to Greg Bird; he was activated off the 60-day DL yesterday, the Yankees announced. That had to happen so he could play in the Arizona Fall League, which opens its season today. So the Yankees now have five open 40-man spots with six players on the 60-day DL: Dustin Ackley, Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Conor Mullee, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow. They have to be activated the day after the end of the World Series.

Mark Teixeira and Billy Butler will become free agents after the postseason, giving the Yankees seven open spots. They’ll go to the six 60-day DL guys and Kyle Higashioka, who Brian Cashman confirmed will be added to the 40-man roster to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. The Yankees will then have to open 40-man spots for Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects in November, most notably Jorge Mateo, Miguel Andujar, and Domingo Acevedo. Dietrich Enns and Tyler Webb will be Rule 5 Draft eligible as well.

Looking over the roster, other potential 40-man roster casualties include Mullee, James Pazos, Johnny Barbato, and Richard Bleier. Not getting a September call-up was probably bad news for Barbato. I also expect the Yankees to release Eovaldi and Ackley sooner rather than later given their injuries. No sense in waiting until the December 2nd non-tender deadline given the 40-man situation.

Yanks add Severino, five others as first round of call-ups

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees added six players to the active roster today as their first round of September call-ups, the team announced. The six players: Luis Severino, Nick Goody, Rob Refsnyder, Kirby Yates, Eric Young Jr., and Jonathan Holder. It’s safe to assume all six will be with the team and available for tonight’s series opener against the Orioles.

Severino, Goody, Refsnyder, and Yates were expected to come up. They’ve all gone up-and-down a few times this season and those guys are typically among the first ones called up when rosters expand. Severino is going to pitch in relief and chances are he’ll assume a prominent late-inning role right away. He was in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, so he’s good for three or four innings at a time, if necessary.

Holder is the most interesting call-up. Earlier this week it was reported the Yankees would not call anyone up before they are Rule 5 Draft eligible, which Holder is not. They have a massive 40-man roster crunch coming after the season, and adding Holder before it was necessary would further clog things up. Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman he decide to call Holder up because he gives the team the best chance to win.

“I changed my mind,” said the GM. “I wrestled back and forth with it, but the bottom line is we are 2.5 out with a month to go and (Holder) is better than some guys we have already promoted. He’s earned the right to be here. It was a roster issue that he wasn’t coming. But this will get his feet wet. He will get some exposure and we will find out what he is capable of.”

Young was acquired earlier this week to serve as the designated pinch-runner. The only time we’ll see Young play the field or hit is in the late innings of blowouts. Both Young and Holder had to be added to the 40-man roster. One takes Ben Gamel‘s spot, and to clear the other, Nick Rumbelow was recalled from Triple-A and placed on the 60-day DL. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Not sure why they didn’t just transfer Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL. Whatevs.

Right now the only healthy players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues are Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, J.R. Graham, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, and Mason Williams. Mitchell, Pazos, and Williams all missed significant time with injury this season, so they’ll remain in Triple-A and continue to get regular playing time. I’m sure most of these guys will be called up later this month.

Yankees acquire Eric Young Jr. from Brewers for cash

EYJ several teams ago. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
EYJ several teams ago. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

The Yankees have acquired outfielder Eric Young Jr. from the Brewers for cash, the team announced. There’s your September pinch-runner specialist. Young is not on the 40-man roster and will report to Triple-A until rosters expand tomorrow.

The 31-year-old Young is a career .247/.314/.328 (74 wRC+) hitter with 114 steals in 149 attempts (77%) in nearly 1,700 big league plate appearances. This year he owns a .263/.338/.339 (83 wRC+) batting line and 23 steals in 116 games with Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate.

None of the offense matters. Young was acquired to run and nothing else. Not hit, not field, nothing. Just run. He is this year’s version of Rico Noel, except we won’t have to pull for him to get his first career MLB hit. Young figures to be called up as soon as rosters expand.