Previewing the Yanks’ few Spring Training position battles

Sixth starter or setup man? (Presswire)
Sixth starter or setup man? (Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training this Friday, though several Yankees players are already in Tampa preparing for the season according to reporters on site. It’s the guys you’d expect to show up to camp early — rehabbing players (Ivan Nova), players new to the organization (Nathan Eovaldi), and players trying to win a job in camp.

The Yankees don’t have many open roster spots, at least not on paper, but that doesn’t mean jobs aren’t up for grabs in Spring Training. Sometimes the job on the line is being the first guy called up when the inevitable injury strikes. Just look at Preston Claiborne two years ago. He didn’t win a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he put himself on the call-up map with a strong showing in camp. So, with Spring Training set to start later this week, let’s preview New York’s position battles.

Sixth Starter
Candidates: Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell

Every team needs a sixth and seventh and occasionally even eighth starter during the season, and the Yankees are more likely to need spare starters than most teams because of the injury risk in the rotation. Warren and Rogers were both told to come to Spring Training ready to work as starting pitchers and Mitchell has been a starter his entire minor league career. You don’t have to try real hard to envision a scenario in which one of these guys is in the rotation come Opening Day.

Warren did very nice work as a short reliever last year but came up through the minors as a starter. Rogers has both started and relieved in the past, and he worked as a swingman last year. Mitchell is a rookie with just a big league cup of coffee under his belt. Warren and Rogers are all but certain to open the season on the 25-man roster in some capacity and I’m sure the Yankees want both to be relievers. That means everyone in the rotation is healthy. Mitchell would go back to Triple-A to bide his time in that scenario.

If someone does get hurt in Spring Training and the Yankees do need a replacement starter, I think it would come down to who has the best camp. Not necessarily statistically, but who shows the Yankees they have the best chance of turning over a lineup three times. My guess is Warren would get the first chance to start if necessary, but I’m not all that confident in that pick. I am confident these guys are ahead of scrap heap signings Scott Baker and Kyle Davies on the rotation depth chart, however.

Seventh Reliever
Candidates: Lots

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

In a perfect world, Warren and Rogers would be in the Opening Day bullpen alongside Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson. (Rogers would presumably be the long man in that scenario.) The seventh bullpen spot is wide open and the Yankees have no shortage of candidates on the 40-man roster: Danny Burawa, Jose DePaula, Chris Martin, Branden Pinder, Jose Ramirez, Chasen Shreve, and Chase Whitley. We should probably include Mitchell in there as well. Non-40-man roster candidates include Jacob Lindgren and Andrew Bailey.

At least one of those extra guys is going to make the roster as the seventh reliever. If Warren and/or Rogers are needed in the rotation, several of the extra arms will make the Opening Day roster to fill out the bullpen. And since there are so many viable seventh reliever candidates, I think it will come down to Spring Training performance. I don’t think handedness will matter one bit. And remember, just because someone wins a job in Spring Training, it doesn’t mean they keep it forever. If, say, Martin wins the last bullpen spot but has a 6.00 ERA two weeks into the season, the Yankees will swap him out for someone else. The seventh bullpen spot is always a revolving door.

Backup Catcher
Candidates: Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy

Technically, this is a competition since nothing is final, but it’s widely believed Murphy will be the backup catcher come Opening Day. Everything points in that direction. Romine wasn’t all that impressive during his extended stint as Chris Stewart‘s backup in 2013, and when the team needed a long-term fill-in for Frankie Cervelli last summer, Murphy got the call ahead of Romine. And, when they needed a third catcher after rosters expanded it September, it was again Murphy over Romine. That doesn’t mean Romine has nothing to play for in camp, of course.

“I want it. I want to go out there and prove to them that I want it. That’s why I’m here early and I just want to hit the ground running and go after it and bust my ass to make the team,” said Romine to Mark Feinsand last week. “(There are) a little more doors opening up with Cervelli gone now. Whatever happens, happens. I’m going to show them I want this.”

Romine is out of options, meaning he can’t go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers. That could happen but the Yankees have to proceed as if it won’t. That’s why they signed Eddy Rodriguez to a minor league deal. Even if he can’t beat out Murphy for the backup job, Romine is auditioning himself for other teams this spring, teams that could claim him off waivers before the start of the season or look to acquire him in a minor trade. This is the definition of a healthy competition, even if the job is basically Murphy’s to lose.

Ryan. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Ryan. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Last Bench Player
Candidates: Brendan Ryan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder

This is basically a “can either Pirela or Refsnyder convince the Yankees they’re better off paying Ryan his $2M salary to not play for them?” competition. I’m guessing no — Ryan’s ability to play shortstop is a hard to find skill with real value — but you know how it goes. Stranger things have happened. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman insists Refsnyder will get a chance to win a job in camp.

“I can’t tell you he’s not Major League ready just yet,” said Cashman in a radio interview earlier month, according to Brendan Kuty. “The bottom line is, he’ll go into camp, and he’ll compete, and he’ll have a chance to potentially earn a spot on the roster … We’re all going to see that develop in Spring Training.”

The Yankees could opt for Pirela’s versatility or Refsnyder’s bat over Ryan’s defense, especially since Stephen Drew can cover Didi Gregorius at shortstop. There is a legitimate baseball reason to keep Ryan though. We can’t forget that. Depth at shortstop is necessary. Either way, we’re talking about the 25th man on the roster. This isn’t a decision that will make or break the season.

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Eppler confirms Esmil Rogers is coming to Spring Training as a starter

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

This isn’t surprising: assistant GM Billy Eppler has confirmed right-hander Esmil Rogers will report to Spring Training stretched out and prepared to work as a starting pitcher. “I don’t know, I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you,” said Eppler to Chad Jennings.

Rogers, 29, worked as a starter in winter ball this offseason, allowing six runs in 11.2 innings (4.63 ERA) while striking out 18 and walking four. He has a 5.50 ERA (4.72 FIP) in 225.2 career innings as a starter at the MLB level, though most of that damage came when he was stuck pitching for the Rockies in Coors Field from 2019-12 (6.24 ERA and 4.87 FIP in 114 innings). Still, his track record as a big league starter isn’t very good.

Rogers did make one fine spot start for the Yankees last season (one run in five innings) and there’s really no reason not to bring him to camp as a starter. New York has a lot of injury risk in their rotation and it’s better to have Rogers stretched out and ready to go just in case. He can always slide back into the bullpen if need be. At best, I think Esmil is the team’s seventh starter behind the regular five and Adam Warren.

Eppler also reiterated Warren is coming to camp as a starter as well. David Phelps was scheduled to come to camp as a starter before he was traded to the Marlins in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi swap. Minor league righty Bryan Mitchell is another rotation candidate and the Yankees recently signed veteran righties Scott Baker and Kyle Davies to add some extra rotation depth.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 32-40

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

Outside of some minor tinkering here and there, it appears the Yankees are done with their major offseason moves and are basically set heading into Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in a little less than five weeks now. Barring a surprise big move, there’s not much left on the agenda other than adding pitching depth. Someone like Johan Santana, maybe.

Anyway, with Spring Training on the horizon, we’re going to rank and analyze the roles of everyone on the 40-man roster these next two weeks. The rankings are based on the player’s importance to the 2015 Yankees as well as their importance to the team long-term, and we’ve lumped the players into ten easy to post tiers. Needless to say, these rankings are completely subjective (and more difficult than you think) and you’re going to disagree with them at some point. Something like this has no right answer.

The series starts today with the bottom of the list, Nos. 32-40. Tier ten. These are the spare part players. Up-and-down bullpen arms, bench players on one-year contracts, guys like that. The fringe players who will inevitably see time with the big league team this year but aren’t expected to play a major role, either in 2015 or down the line. Let’s get to it.

No. 40: Chris Martin

2015 Role: Up-and-down arm. The Yankees acquired Martin from the Rockies for cash last week because they felt he was a minor upgrade over Gonzalez Germen, who they felt was a minor upgrade over Preston Claiborne earlier this offseason. Martin will get a look in Spring Training and, if he impresses, he’ll put himself in position for a call-up later this year.

Long-Term Role: Really doesn’t have one. Martin is a big dude — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 215 lbs. — with a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s curve, and a history of missing bats in Triple-A (9.6 K/9 and 24.9 K% in 77 innings), so he could always have instant success and carve out a place in middle relief. If that happens, Martin could stick around all year and be part of the bullpen mix in 2016, but that’s the best case scenario.

No. 39: Chase Whitley

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Another up-and-down arm, except Whitley at least has the ability to contribute as an emergency rotation option if necessary. He’s not strictly a bullpen arm like Martin. The Yankees more or less know what they have in Whitley and he’ll head to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins, biding his time until reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Long-Term Role: A spare arm until he runs out of minor league options or an upgrade comes along, whichever comes first. Whitley did not use an option last season — he was only sent down for ten days in late-August and it takes 20 days to burn an option — so he has all three remaining, meaning he can go up and down in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If he shows the ability to contribute as a spot starter, Whitley will stick around.

No. 38: Jose DePaula

2015 Role: Again, up-and-down arm. DePaula is a legitimate starter, not a pure reliever like Martin or a career reliever recently converted into a starter like Whitley, and he gets bonus points for being left-handed. The Yankees like DePaula enough that they gave him a big league contract as a minor league free agent this offseason even though he’s yet to reach MLB.

Long-Term Role: DePaula only has one minor league option remaining, which means his time in the organization might not extend beyond the 2015 season. A trip to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to start the year, and if DePaula gets called up at some point, he’ll have to impress enough to stick around next year, even if it’s as nothing more than a long man. In a nutshell, DePaula has replaced Vidal Nuno on the 40-man roster. Similar pitchers, same sort of role.

No. 37: Austin Romine

2015 Role: Considering he is out of minor league options and can not go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers, there’s a good chance Romine will no longer be with the organization come Opening Day. Catchers are hard to find, so the Yankees figure to keep Romine through Spring Training in case Brian McCann or John Ryan Murphy gets hurt. His 2015 role is emergency extra catcher.

Long-Term Role: Nothing more than being the emergency catcher at this point. Romine’s career stalled out the last few seasons and being out of options means decision time has come. If the Yankees don’t need him to start the season as an injury replacement, Romine will probably be traded — in a small trade for a small return — to a catcher-needy team rather than go on waivers. It would be a surprise if he clears waivers and is able to go to Triple-A to back up Gary Sanchez.

No. 36: Chris Young

2015 Role: Fourth outfielder who will see most of his time against left-handed pitchers. Young might also replace Carlos Beltran for defense in the late innings of close games. He had a strong September cameo in pinstripes and returned to the team on a one-year, $2.5M contract with nearly $4M in incentives.

Long-Term Role: Young’s days as an everyday player are over, and since he’s on a one-year contract, the Yankees have no real ties to him. They can cut him loose if he doesn’t produce during the season or walk away if a better option comes along next offseason. And, of course, they’ll always have the option of re-signing Young if he excels in his part-time role this summer.

No. 35: Brendan Ryan

2015 Role: It appears Ryan will again be on the bench as New York’s extra infielder this coming season, though I suppose there’s a chance he could get pushed out by someone like Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder in Spring Training. There’s definite value in Ryan’s ability to play above-average defense at shortstop and that will keep him in the organization and on the roster, in my opinion.

Long-Term Role: Ryan is entering the second year of his two-year contract, though the deal includes a $2M club option and a $1M player option for 2016. (If the Yankees decline the club option, Ryan can still exercise the player option.) The Yankees don’t have any upper level shortstop prospects capable of replacing Ryan next year, so right now it looks like he has a decent chance to stick around as a bench player beyond the 2015 season.

No. 34: Stephen Drew

2015 Role: Everyday second baseman or close to it — Drew could sit against tough lefties or be pushed into a straight platoon role if, say, Refsnyder forces the issue in camp. I do expect him to at least start the season as the regular second baseman though. Drew will hit in the bottom third of the lineup and hopefully produce like he did in 2013, not 2014. His left-handed swing fits well in Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Drew doesn’t have a long-term spot with the team. He’s on a one-year contract worth $5M with some incentives, but Refsnyder is coming and the Yankees seem to be making a concerted effort to get younger. Bringing Drew back was about adding depth, not blocking Refsnyder. It’s always possible the Yankees will bring Drew back after the season if he plays well, but it’s hard to think he’ll be penciled in as a regular again. He’s a stopgap, plain and simple.

Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)
Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)

No. 33: Garrett Jones

2015 Role: Oft-used bench player who will provide backup at first base, right field, and DH, three positions where the Yankees have major injury risks in Mark Teixeira, Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez. I think the health concerns of those three guys give Jones a clear path to 400 or so plate appearances in 2015, which might be just enough to expose his weaknesses. That said, his left-handed power is a great fit for Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Jones, who came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade a few weeks ago, will earn $5M in 2015 before becoming a free agent. Given his lefty pop and ability to positions where the Yankees need depth, the team could look to bring Jones back in 2016 if he contributes as hoped this summer. He fits the roster very well.

No. 32: Esmil Rogers

2015 Role: Swingman. Rogers has worked as both a starter and reliever in his career — including last season, when he made eight starts and 38 relief appearances between Triple-A/MLB and Yankees/Blue Jays — and he steps right into David Phelps‘ old role. He actual made three starts in winter ball this offseason and will presumably come to camp stretched out just so the team has options to cover for the risky rotation.

Long-Term Role: The Yankees somewhat surprisingly kept Rogers this offseason. He was a prime non-tender candidate, but they instead cut his salary the maximum allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and kept him around as depth. Rogers will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well and could definitely return to the team, especially if he fills that swingman role as well as Phelps did.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 26-31. A collection of prospects who could help in limited roles in 2015.

Report: Yankees avoid arbitration with Esmil Rogers

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

7:50pm: Jon Heyman reports the one-year deal is worth $1.48M with only $750k guaranteed. So they reduced Esmil’s salary as much as allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and only half of it is guaranteed. I’m still surprised they didn’t non-tender him though.

7:20pm: The Yankees have agreed to a contract with right-hander Esmil Rogers to avoid arbitration, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith. Terms of the deal are unknown at this point. This is surprising. Rogers was a pretty obvious non-tender candidate, though apparently the Yankees felt like he was worth keeping around.

Rogers earned $1.85M this past season and was projected to earn $1.9M through arbitration in 2015 by MLBTR. I’m guessing he agreed to a lower salary, otherwise the team would have non-tendered him. By rule, a player can not sign for less than 80% of his previous year’s salary, so the contract with Rogers won’t be for less than $1.48M.

It’s worth noting these one-year contracts for pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players are not guaranteed. The Yankees could release Rogers any time before mid-March and only have to pay him 30 days termination pay. If they release him after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years back.

Rogers, 29, had a 5.72 ERA (4.73 FIP) in 45.2 innings split between the Yankees and Blue Jays in 2014. That includes a 4.68 ERA (4.17 FIP) with an 8.28 K/9 (21.7 K%) in 25 innings with New York after being claimed off waivers on trade deadline day. Rogers does have a nice fastball/slider combo, so I guess he’ll remain in the mix as a depth arm.

2014 Season Review: Whitley & The Long Men

The Yankees opened the season with three players capable of serving as a long reliever. Adam Warren held the job just last year, David Phelps did it the year before that, and Vidal Nuno has always been more of a multi-inning guy than a lefty specialist. Warren quickly settled into a short relief role and both Phelps and Nuno were in the rotation due to injuries before long, so the Yankees went from having three potential long men to zero by time May rolled around. They cycled threw some collection of arms this summer. Time to review the long relievers.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Chase Whitley

Last winter, every other team in baseball passed over Whitley in the Rule 5 Draft. By mid-May, the career reliever was starting games for the Yankees because their rotation was so devastated by injuries. The team moved Whitley into the rotation full-time this year after a nice run of Triple-A spot starts late last year, and he earned the call-up by pitching to a 2.39 ERA (1.72 FIP) in 26.1 innings across six starts.

Whitley held the Mets to two hits and two walks in 4.2 innings in his MLB debut, and six days later he limited the Cubs to just one run in 4.1 innings. Joe Girardi understandably had a very quick hook, pulling the right-hander after 74 and 71 pitches, respectively. It wasn’t until his third start that he topped 90 pitches (he threw 91, to be exact). He allowed three runs five innings against the Cardinals.

Next time out, Ace Whitely was born. Whitely struck out six Twins and allowed just one run in five innings on June 1st, then he held the Royals and Mariners to two runs in seven innings and 7.2 innings in his next two starts, respectively. A five-inning, two-run outing against the Blue Jays followed that. After his first seven MLB starts, Whitely had a 2.56 ERA (2.74 FIP) in 38.2 innings. It was exactly what the Yankees needed given their rotation situation.

The wheels came crashing off the bus in Whitley’s eighth start, which was also the first time he faced a team for the second time. The Blue Jays clobbered him for eight runs on eleven hits and three walks in only 3.1 innings of work. The Red Sox punished Whitely for five runs in four innings next time out, then the Twins got to him for four runs in three innings. After allowing eleven runs in his first seven starts, he allowed 17 runs in his next three starts.

The Yankees pulled Whitley from the rotation after that — the Brandon McCarthy trade and Shane Greene call-up made that possible — and he settled into a long relief role. Whitely threw 26.2 innings in his final 14 appearances after being yanked from the rotation while also spending some time back in Triple-A. He had a 5.40 ERA (4.44 FIP) in those 14 outings. Here is a quick breakdown of Whitley’s season split into two parts:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% Opp. OPS
First 7 Starts 38.2 2.56 2.74 16.6% 2.6% 43.8% 2.1% .615
After That 37.0 8.03 5.59 19.7% 8.1% 46.8% 25.0% 1.030
Total 75.2 5.23 4.14 18.2% 5.5% 45.6% 12.0% .831

Even when Whitley was at his best during those first seven starts, I think we were all waiting for the other shoe to drop. His stuff was good but not great — he’d break off a few nice sliders or nasty changeup every once in a while, but every pitcher does that — and it just seemed like it was only a matter of time before the league got a book on him and made adjustments. It happened fairly quickly and Whitley became unusable in non-mop-up situations. Those first seven starts though, they were excellent and a big help to the team at the time.

Alfredo Aceves

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

When the Yankees took all three of Phelps, Warren, and Nuno north out of Spring Training, they grabbed Aceves off the scrap heap to replace the depth in Triple-A. Someone needed to soak up all those extra innings and teams routinely sign veterans they can abuse so the actual prospects don’t get overworked. Fans (myself included) were pretty happy Aceves was back simply because of what he did in 2009. He built up a lot good will that season.

Aceves started the year in Triple-A and made three starts with the RailRiders before being called up to the Yankees in early-May. He made his triumphant return to the pinstripes on May 4th, when CC Sabathia got knocked around by the Rays and failed to complete the fourth inning. Aceves picked him up with 5.1 scoreless innings of relief, striking out five and allowing only three hits. It was vintage Aceves, the kind of stuff we saw back in 2009. Suddenly it looked like the Yankees had someone who could fill that revolving door in the back of the bullpen.

That didn’t happen though. Aceves was legitimately terrible after that first appearance. He pitched in nine more games with the Yankees and allowed runs in seven of them. In 14 total innings he managed to put 24 men on base, allow 14 runs, and serve up six (!) homers. After giving up two homers in his June 2nd appearance, Aceves, who is eccentric at best and downright crazy at worst, threw inside at several Mariners players, so much so that pitching coach Larry Rothschild had to go out to the mound to tell him to stop.

Aceves’ second stint in pinstripes ended after that appearance. The team designated him for assignment, he returned to Triple-A to make a handful of relief appearances, then was suspended 50 games for a failed drug test. Not performance-enhancing drugs, a drug of abuse. Reportedly cocaine. The Yankees released him after the suspension was over. Aceves had a 6.52 ERA (6.29 FIP) in 19.1 innings across ten games with the team. Let us never speak of this again.

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

Esmil Rogers

The Blue Jays have made some shockingly bad trades involving catchers the last few years. First they shipped Mike Napoli to the Rangers for Frank Francisco (Frank Francisco!), then they sent Yan Gomes to the Indians for Rogers. Gomes has broken out and is now one of the better catchers in the game. Rogers wore out his welcome in Toronto in less than two years (5.06 ERA and 4.81 FIP in 158.1 innings), but the Yankees were intrigued enough to claim him off waivers at the end of July.

Because he had been working as a starter in Triple-A before the Blue Jays cut him loose, Rogers was nice and stretched out, which allowed Girardi to use him for three innings in his first appearance with the team. He held the Red Sox hitless in the three innings in his Yankees debut. Five days later, Rogers made a spot start filling in for the injured Phelps, and allowed just one run in five innings against the Indians. His first three appearances — there was a one-inning relief outing sandwiched between the three-inning debut and spot start — were enough to earn him some more responsibility.

After the spot start, Girardi used Rogers as a sixth and seventh inning type reliever, occasionally in the eighth inning as well if the rest of the bullpen was taxed. He made 15 appearances after the spot start and two were disasters — three runs and one out on September 16th, four runs and one out on September 28th — uglifying his stat line. Rogers had a 4.68 ERA (4.17 FIP) in 25 total innings with New York, but I thought he generally pitched better than that. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t truly awful either. Most of the time, anyway.

Billings. (Presswire)
Dolla dolla Billings, y’all. (Presswire)

Bruce Billings

Billings was another one of those veteran arms for Triple-A — there were a lot of them this year, the Yankees didn’t have many actually pitching prospects in Scranton — though he did get called up to make one appearance with the big league team. He soaked up four innings against the Angels on April 25th, allowed four runs on four hits and a walk. Two of the four hits left the yard. Billings did strike out seven of 17 batters faced though. That’s cool. He was called up again at midseason before the team dropped him from the 40-man roster. Billings elected free agency and signed with the Dodgers, then spent the rest of the season in their Triple-A bullpen. Those for the four innings, Bruce.

Chris Leroux

Leroux was a starter with Triple-A Scranton at the start of the season, though he was unable to give the Yankees any length in his two appearances with New York. He allowed two unearned runs in one inning in his first game on April 29th, then he got clobbered for five runs in an one inning on May 2nd. That was in the 14th inning of this game, which you might remember because the Yankees made a spirited comeback to tie the game in the eighth and then again in the ninth to force extrainnings. Leroux was dropped from the roster soon thereafter and spent the rest of the summer either hurt or pitching for the RailRiders. What a summer of long men.

MLBTR’s Projected Arbitration Salaries for 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At this time last season, the Yankees were still talking about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season. It was definitely doable, but it would have been very difficult, especially since the team wanted to contend at the same time. Eventually the Yankees abandoned their luxury tax plan and they didn’t even get back to the postseason anyway, so double yikes.

Because Alex Rodriguez‘s salary is coming back on the books and the team handed out four free agent contracts worth $15M+ last offseason, the Yankees won’t be able to get under the luxury tax in 2015 and probably not in 2016 either. It might be possible in 2017, after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and the luxury tax threshold is presumably raised.

Anyway, that’s a really long way of saying salaries for New York’s arbitration-eligible players are less important this offseason then they were at this time last year. When I looked at the club’s 2015 payroll situation three weeks ago, I guesstimated a $12M figure for their arbitration-eligible players. Turns out I was pretty close. Matt Swartz posted arbitration salary projections using his insanely accurate model — he’s been within 5% the last few years — earlier this week, and he has the Yankees’ players at $12.9M total. Not a bad job by me. Here are the projections:

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Pineda (~$1.5M raise), Huff (~$200K raise), and Phelps (~$800k raise) are all arbitration-eligible for the first time. Pineda is getting a nice bump in salary despite missing all that time to injury because a) he was pretty awesome when healthy this past year, and b) he was an All-Star back in 2011, and that pays. Phelps qualified as a Super Two by about a month’s worth of service time, so he’ll be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. He and Pineda aren’t going anywhere. Same goes for Nova (no raise after lost season). They’ll be tendered contracts for next year.

Rogers, on the other hand, is an oh so obvious non-tender candidate at that salary. He earned $1.85M this past season, which is why his projected 2015 salary is so high. His raise isn’t expected to be that significant. Rogers had his moments in pinstripes (like this one) and his fastball/slider combination is just good enough to keep you interested, but not at $1.9M. The Yankees could always non-tender him and re-sign him at a lower salary, maybe even a minor league contract.

I don’t have any problem with Kelley at $2.5M next season — these days you basically have to throw 30 innings and not run over the closer with a bullpen cart to be worth $2.5M — even though he can be annoyingly inconsistent. At his best, he’s a true eighth inning guy who misses an awful lot of bats. At his worst, Kelley allows like four runs and gets one out. Which makes him no worse than most other relievers, really. His projected salary isn’t nearly high enough to scare me away.

The same goes for Cervelli even though I have no reason to believe he can stay healthy over the course of a full season. Quality catching is hard to find and the Yankees shouldn’t give it away for nothing just because they have John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine (and soon Gary Sanchez) sitting in Triple-A. Even if they don’t want to keep Cervelli at that price, I think another team would give them an interesting enough low-level lottery ticket prospect in a trade. Then again, what do I know.

As for Huff, he actually pitched pretty well this past season by long man standards, posting a 1.85 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 39 innings. That’s usable. Huff’s projected salary is barely above the league minimum, so the decision whether to tender him a contract will come down to other factors like project performance and roster concerns. If the Yankees need a 40-man roster spot this winter — they’ll need one as soon as the World Series is over because A-Rod‘s suspension ends — Huff could be the odd man out.

It’s worth mentioning these contracts are not guaranteed. Teams can release arbitration-eligible players who sign one-year deals before mid-March and only owe then 30 days termination pay. If they release them after mid-March but before Opening Day, it’s 45 days termination pay. The Yankees dumped Chad Gaudin this way a few years ago. They could keep Huff, see how the offseason plays out, then cut bait if a need for a roster spot arises. I’d put my money on Huff being non-tendered.

The Yankees have an uninteresting crop of arbitration-eligible players this winter. There are no real tough decisions here. It’s an easy call to non-tender Rogers and an easy enough call to keep everyone other than Huff. Huff is the only borderline guy and there’s almost no wrong decision there. If they non-tender him, fine. If they keep him, whatever. The arbitration-eligible players won’t make or break anything this offseason. The Yankees have an easy arbitration class this winter, which is good because they need to focus on lots of other stuff.

Stretched out or not, time for the Yankees to bring back Pineda

Trolley Frogs! (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Trolley Frogs! (Scranton Times-Tribune)

At some point in the next day or two, the Yankees will officially announce whether Esmil Rogers or Michael Pineda will start Wednesday’s series finale against the Orioles. Rogers pitched very well in a spot start on Friday, giving the team five innings of one-run ball on a limited pitch count, but it’s obvious he’s just keeping the spot warm for Pineda, who made his second minor league rehab start that same night. He threw 72 pitches in that rehab game.

“We haven’t made a decision. A lot depends on what happens the next few days,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin when asked about Pineda possibly rejoining the rotation this week. “Ideally you’d like to get him to 90 pitches … We’ll talk to the people who saw him and decide what’s next. You have to make sure the player is ready.”

Naturally, Pineda feels ready to come off the disabled list because just about every player thinks they’re healthy and ready to return to the team after a rehab outing or two. “Everything is there. The velocity is there. I’m feeling good. I’m happy with that,” he said to Brian Heyman the other day. Pineda has allowed one run on nine hits and one walk in 7.2 rehab innings, striking out eleven, so statistically the rehab assignment has gone well.

Girardi indicated the decision to bring Pineda back could depend as much on the shape of the bullpen as it does how he feels. The Yankees aren’t getting much length out of their starters in general and Rogers could be used in long relief as soon as Tuesday, according to the skipper. “The bullpen has been used a lot. Sometimes plans change,” said Girardi to Martin. If Rogers is needed to bail out Shane Greene tomorrow, Pineda would start Wednesday by default.

At this point though, I think it’s time for the Yankees to bring Pineda back regardless of his pitch count in his most recent rehab start. If the team doesn’t feel he is where he needs to be with his pitches, that his fastball command isn’t all the way back or he doesn’t have feel for his slider yet, that’s different. Pineda can’t be effective without fastball command or feel of his slider. If he needs another rehab start to get that stuff back, so be it. Then he’ll have to make another start with Triple-A Scranton.

But, if we’re talking only about a matter of pitch count, being stretched out to throw 85 pitches vs. 100 pitches, then I don’t think there’s much to consider here. In that case the Yankees should absolutely bring Pineda back this week, upgrade their rotation, and simply keep an eye on his pitch count until he is fully stretched out. Rogers did very well in his spot start but nothing in his track record suggests we should expect more of the same going forward. Pineda limited to 85 pitches or whatever is still better than maybe any other pitcher on the staff at this point. It’s not like he threw 45 pitches last time out. He’s stretched out enough to give the team the same five innings as Rogers.

The Yankees head into this series with the Orioles six games back in the AL East, though they are only 2.5 games back of the second wildcard spot. The division isn’t completely off the table at this point but it sure does seem like a long shot. The wildcard is still very much up for grabs though, there’s just a ton of competition. The Blue Jays, Royals, and Mariners are all right there with the Yankees, so every little upgrade is huge. Brian Cashman‘s been talking about incremental upgrades these last few weeks, and, well, Pineda is an upgrade over Rogers, even if he’s only out there for 85 pitches on Wednesday.