2014 Season Preview: The Bench

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Outside of last season’s injury wrecked nightmare, the Yankees have done a good job of fielding quality benches in recent years. Guys like Marcus Thames, Andruw Jones, and Eric Chavez provided some offensive pop while others like Jayson Nix were more about versatility. It’s tough for the Yankees to sign quality bench players as free agents — who wants to sit on the bench behind the guys making huge money? — but they’ve had some pretty good backups the last four or five seasons. Let’s run down the 2014 bench.

C Francisco Cervelli
Based on Spring Training, Brian McCann is going to be a great backup for Cervelli this year. Frankie has hit the snot out of the ball these last few weeks, going 14-for-25 with three homers in camp. He’s picked up right where he left off last April before getting hurt, which is good to see. Between this offensive spike — he won’t hit this well all year, but you know what I mean — and his strong defense (particularly his throwing arm), Cervelli would be one of the two or three best backup catchers in baseball, if not the best.

Unsurprisingly, a number of clubs have been scouting Frankie these last few weeks. Quality catching is hard to find and the Yankees have some upper level depth, so it makes sense teams are honing in on him. It would surprise me if Cervelli was traded before Opening Day but I don’t think it’s completely off the table. That’s the only way he wouldn’t make the team. Any idea of a backup catcher competition with John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine was silly to start with, but if it was a real thing, Cervelli has won. Competition’s over. I think we’ll see him quite a bit against left-handers this season too. It’s not a bad way to give McCann his necessary days off.

IF Eduardo Nunez
I am convinced that Nunez will not only make the Opening Day roster at this point, but he’ll also wind up playing quite a bit, likely in a third base platoon with Kelly Johnson. The writing is on the wall. Scott Sizemore has not played much this spring and is currently dealing with a quad problem, so he hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do this spring. Dean Anna has been solid but unspectacular in camp and Yangervis Solarte feels like a long shot for the roster even though he’s been crushing the ball these last few weeks.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Nunez, 26, now seems to have everything going his way after the Yankees spent most of the winter looking for players to compete against him. He’s hit well this spring (8-for-29 with a homer) and he’s played all three non-first base infield positions, plus he’s already on the 40-man roster. We can’t discount that the club really seems to like him and is willing to give him chance after chance either. The competition for the final bench spot is still technically ongoing, but barring injury, I think the job is Nunez’s to lose. (Keep in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll keep it all season.)

IF Brendan Ryan
Early in the offseason, when Derek Jeter was still a major question mark and guys like Anna and Sizemore had not yet been acquired, the Yankees gave Ryan a two-year contract (with a player option!) to serve as their backup infielder. I can’t help but wonder if they wish they had a do-over right about now. The 31-year-old Ryan is essentially the 13th position player, whose only real job will be giving Derek Jeter and maybe Brian Roberts the occasional day off. He sure as heck won’t be a pinch-hitter and there will be better pinch-running candidates on the bench.

Ryan’s contract is cheap ($6M across three years max) but more well-rounded players like Anna, Sizemore, or even Zoilo Almonte might make more sense for this bench spot. It’ll be interesting to see how Ryan is used this year because right now his role is way more specific thank the typical bench player’s. As good as his defense is, Ryan is a very limited player.

OF Ichiro Suzuki
The Yankees shopped Ichiro all offseason and they continue to showcase him in Spring Training — you don’t think it was an accident he started in center while Brett Gardner played left yesterday, did you? — but no one is biting and it appears he will be on the roster come the start of the regular season. Going from an everyday player, something Ichiro has been since he was 20-year-old, to a bench player is a tough transition to make, but he can be an obvious asset as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement. I suspect we’ll see Ichiro more than we think this season thanks to injuries and days off and whatever.

* * *

If the Yankees do find a taker for Ichiro at some point in the next two weeks, Almonte is the obvious candidate to step right into the extra outfielder’s role. He can do the pinch-runner/defensive replacement thing, but all provide a little offense from both sides of the plate as a switch-hitter. Cervelli and Ryan are locked into their spots right now and I think Nunez has a firm hold on a bench job as well.

This isn’t the most usable group of reserve players in the world — Cervelli is the big bat off the bench right now — but the Yankees are going to live and die with their starters anyway. They don’t have many, if any platoon situations, so the lineup isn’t going to change much day to day. At least in theory. Jeter and Roberts will need days off their feet while both Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran go back and forth between right field and DH, but that’s it. This bench is there for emergencies, not regular use.

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Jennings: Several teams scouting Francisco Cervelli

Via Chad Jennings: Several clubs are specifically scouting Frankie Cervelli this spring as they look for catching help. We’ve heard that the Brewers and White Sox are scouting the team’s spare backstops, and the Diamondbacks are said to be looking for an MLB ready catcher as well.

Cervelli, 28, is out of options and can not go to the minors without first passing through waivers. He’s slated to start the season as Brian McCann‘s backup. Jennings hears that Cervelli’s value isn’t all that high, and that a trade would likely involve another team’s out of options player. Spare part for spare part, basically. Here are the Brewers, White Sox, and D’Backs out of options guys, if you’re interested. None of the players who figure to actually be available are all that appealing.

2014 Season Preview: Injury Risks

(Mike Carlson/Getty)
(Mike Carlson/Getty)

As Joe explained last week, the Yankees have several important players coming back from injury this season. They also have several players who, due to their age and/or recent history, are at risk of getting hurt in 2014. Injuries are part of the game and many times they’re completely unpredictable or unavoidable, but there are certainly players who are more likely to get hurt than others. The Yankees haven’t exactly been good at keeping their guys healthy these last few years either. Here are New York’s biggest injury risks for the coming season and their respective backup plans.

Injury Risk: Derek Jeter
Backup Plan: Brendan Ryan
Aside from the dislocated shoulder back in 2003, last season was the only time Derek Jeter spent an extended period of time on the DL in his career. A twice-fractured left ankle and various leg muscle problems limited him to only 17 games, and even though he’s been healthy this spring and working out for weeks, his age (39) and the series of leg problems will make him an injury risk pretty much all year. The Cap’n is very much day-to-day at this point of his career.

The Yankees acquired Ryan last September when Jeter went to the DL for the fourth and final time, then they re-signed him to a two-year contract (with a player option!) over the winter to serve as shortstop insurance. If Jeter does go down with injury this summer, regardless of whether it’s two days or two weeks or two months, Ryan will step right in and play shortstop everyday. He can’t hit a lick but his defense is among the best in the game.

Injury Risk: Brian Roberts
Backup Plan: Ryan, Dean Anna, Eduardo Nunez, etc.
There is no greater injury risk on the roster than Roberts. He has appeared in only 192 of 648 possible regular season games since 2011 due to a variety of injuries, including back spasms (2010), concussions (2010-11), hip labrum surgery (2012), and hamstring surgery (2013). Second base is a dangerous position because of the blind double play pivot and it feels like it’s only a matter of time before Roberts hits the DL, kinda like it did with Travis Hafner last summer.

Infield depth is something the Yankees spent most of the offseason accumulating, though none of it really stands out. They don’t have a 2005 Robinson Cano waiting in the wings, for example. Ryan, Anna, Nunez, Yangervis Solarte, and Corban Joseph are the various backup plans at second base, though only Ryan and Nunez have any kind of substantial MLB time. The player who gets the job when Roberts goes down with injury may simply be the guy who’s playing the best at that time.

Injury Risk: Frankie Cervelli
Backup Plan: Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy
Cervelli seems to have a knack for the fluke injury. His wrist was broken by a home plate collision in Spring Training 2008 and he’s also had foul balls break his foot (2011, again in Spring Training) and hand (2013) in recent years. The broken hand last year turned into a stress reaction in his elbow. More seriously, Cervelli has had four concussions in his pro career, including three from December 2009 through September 2011. Romine and Murphy will both be stashed in Triple-A as insurance, and I suspect Romine would get the call as a short-term replacement while Murphy would be the guy if Cervelli misses most of the season again.

Injury Risk: Michael Pineda
Backup Plan: Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, Adam Warren
When a player misses two full years due to a major surgery, it’s really hard to count on him staying healthy going forward. Pineda is an unknown and unreliable until he proves otherwise, which might never happen. His surgery was serious stuff and that’s why he hasn’t been handed a rotation spot as of yet. Pineda has to earn it by showing he can be effective post-surgery in camp. Phelps, Warren, and Nuno are all competing for the same fifth starter spot and will be ready to jump into the rotation at a moment’s notice if Pineda makes the team and goes down for any reason.

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

Injury Risk: Jacoby Ellsbury & Brett Gardner
Backup Plan: Ichiro Suzuki, Zoilo Almonte
Over the last three seasons, Ellsbury and Gardner have combined to play in 686 of 972 possible regular season games, or 71%. Go back four seasons and it’s only 66%. Both guys have had injury problems over the years but the major ones can mostly be classified as flukes. Here are Ellsbury’s notable injuries …

  • Fractured Ribs, 2010: Crashed into a teammate chasing a pop-up then suffered a setback after returning too soon.
  • Shoulder Subluxation, 2012: Fielder fell on top of him following a break up slide at second base.
  • Foot Fracture, 2013: Fouled a ball off his foot.

… and here are Gardner’s:

  • Fractured Thumb, 2009: Slid into second base on a stolen base attempt.
  • Wrist Debridement, 2010: Hit by a pitch, needed offseason surgery after playing hurt in second half.
  • Inflamed Elbow, 2012: Made a sliding catch and suffered three setbacks (!) before having season-ending surgery.
  • Oblique Strain, 2013: Swung a bat. Nothing more.

There has been other day-to-day stuff over the years but those are the big injuries. Gardner’s oblique strain last September is the only one that isn’t a fluke to me, though I think it’s also important to understand both guys have a playing style that puts them at greater risk of injury. When you steal a ton of bases, you risk hurting your fingers and having an infielder fall on top of you. When you run around the outfield making sliding and diving catches, you can jam something pretty easily.

Is it fair to consider Ellsbury and Gardner injury risks for 2014? Maybe not, but they have been hurt a bunch in recent years and I felt they were worth discussing. If Ellsbury were to get hurt, Gardner would slide right into center field. If Gardner got hurt, Alfonso Soriano would probably take over as the everyday left fielder, as he would if Gardner moved to center. Ichiro would see more playing time — I think Soriano and Carlos Beltran would still get regular turns at DH even if Ellsbury or Gardner gets hurt — and Zoilo is the early favorite to be the first guy called up from Triple-A. If both Gardner and Ellsbury got hurt at the same time … well that’s a mess I don’t want to think about. A trade for a center fielder would seem likely.

Injury Risk: Mark Teixeira
Backup Plan: ???
A tendon sheath problem in Teixeira’s right wrist that eventually required surgery limited him to only 15 games last year and still has him on the mend in camp. He’s been brought back slowly — he faced live pitching in batting practice for the first time just today — and is slated to get into a game later this week, but wrists are very tricky. Even if the doctors say they’re healed, they tend to sap power for another few weeks and months. David Ortiz (2008-09) and Jose Bautista (2012-13) have had similar tendon sheath problems and they didn’t regain their previous form until well after returning to the lineup.

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

Given the nature of the injury, it might be more accurate to say Teixeira is a risk for reduced production than he is a risk for injury. He hasn’t exactly been Mr. Durable the last few years though, most notably missing more than a month with a calf strain in late 2012 and blowing out his hamstring during the 2010 postseason (forgot about that, huh?). That doesn’t include the infamous cough/vocal cord damage that hampered him two years ago. The Yankees don’t have an obvious backup first baseman — Kelly Johnson and his 18 career innings at the position is currently the backup at first — so a trade would be in order if Teixeira goes down. It’s either digging up another Lyle Overbay or playing Russ Canzler everyday.

* * *

I think it goes without saying that pitchers are inherently risky. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Masahiro Tanaka have been very durable throughout their career (Kuroda less so, but he’s been healthy with the Yankees) but it would surprise no one if they got hurt this year. Same with all the relievers. Pitchers get hurt. It’s what they do.

Carlos Beltran’s knees were a big problem from 2009-10, but he has played at least 140 games in each of the last three seasons. Brian McCann had shoulder problems in 2012 that required offseason surgery, which kept him out for the first month of 2013, but he has been healthy and productive since. Scott Sizemore has played a total of two games the last two seasons because of back-to-back torn left ACLs, but he is far from a lock to make the roster, nevermind play regularly. Same goes for Nunez, who missed a bunch of time with a ribcage problem last year. Just about every player has been hurt somewhere along the line.

The Yankees are well-equipped to deal with an injured outfielder, catcher, or back-of-the-rotation starter. The infield is were it gets dicey and unfortunately that is where we find the most at risk players (Jeter, Roberts, Teixeira). The backup plans on the infield are interesting of nothing else, but they’re all wildcards. I don’t think we can reasonably estimate what any of them would do if pressed into regular duty. The Yankees have a lot of important players at risk of injury this year and their ability to stay on the field will play a huge role in whether they return to the postseason.

2014 Season Preview: Returning from Injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Does anyone honestly want to hear a recap of the 2013 Yankees injury situation? From the revelation that Alex Rodriguez would miss at least half the season, to Brett Gardner‘s strained oblique in September, injuries buried the team.

What hurt the 2013 team could make the 2014 team stronger. Two key players who missed almost all of the 2013 season appear to be healthy in 2014.

Mark Teixeira

How much did losing Teixeira hurt the Yankees in 2013? His relatively weak 2012 campaign might obscure his overall impact. Particularly in terms of power output, losing Teixeira hurt badly.

The Yankees went from an AL-leading .188 ISO in 2012 to a third-lowest .133 in 2013. A good portion of that loss came from free agent departures. Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, and Russell Martin were the Nos. 4 through 8 power producers on the team.

Not only was Teixeira the No. 3 power source on the 2012 team, but he ranked No. 23 (out of 143) in all of MLB. In a season when the Yankees needed their power guys more than ever, they lost almost all of them to injury.

Getting a healthy Teixeira in 2014 could provide the lineup with the power boost that it needs. (Particularly at first base, where they had the worst OPS in the AL in 2014.) Yet the question remains: what will Teixeira look list after serious wrist surgery?

The closest comparison is Jose Bautista, who did experience a power dip in 2013, after suffering a similar injury in 2012. Yet there are two mitigating factors here:

1) Bautista underwent his surgery almost two months later in the season than Teixeira, so Teixeira could be further along in the healing process.

2) Bautista did still produce quality power numbers in 2013, producing the eighth-highest ISO in the majors. That’s a drop-off from his No. 1 mark in 2011, but by no means a cliff dive.

There is no way Teixeira can be worse than Lyle Overbay and the 2013 cast of first-base misfits, so his return will be welcome regardless of actual outcome. At the same time, his return to form as a middle of the order bat will go a long way in powering the 2014 Yankees lineup.

Derek Jeter

Ladies and gentlemen, it feels so good to be back — only it didn’t. Each time Jeter returned last season he struggled physically. It honestly came as no surprise, at least in hindsight.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Baseball players rely on their lower halves. A novice observer might see the upper body central in every baseball movement; the ball and bat sit in our hands, after all. But everything that sets great players apart comes in the lower half. Swinging, throwing, and defensive range all rely on strong hips and legs.

Coming into 2014, Derek Jeter’s lower half was probably the weakest of his career. The ankle injury that ended his 2012 season prevented him from strengthening his hips and legs during the off-season. Sure, physical therapy got him to a certain base of strength, but that base is hardly enough to power a pro baseball player.

Jeter, unused to such physical limitations, pushed himself too hard and reinjured his ankle. Again, that meant rest and no opportunity to strengthen his lower half. Why did he injure his squad, then his calf, and then his ankle again in 2013? Because his legs were weaker than ever.

A full off-season to build strength should benefit Jeter. It’s tough to expect much of him this year, his final season, one during which he will turn 40 years old. At the same time, he is Derek Jeter. With physical strength behind him, perhaps he could come close to the .316/.362/.429 line he produced in his last fully healthy season.

As with Teixeira, it’s difficult to see Jeter not improving on last year’s shortstop production, which ranked 14th out of 15 AL teams.

Brian Roberts

Seeing as he’s the best second baseman in the league, the Yankees had no chance of replacing Robinson Cano‘s production this off-season. What they did, instead, was reinforce other areas of weakness in hopes that they can spread Cano’s production among many positions.

The man tasked with actually replacing Cano has not been known for his reliability in recent years. After three straight years of more than 700 PA, Brian Roberts has managed just 809 in the last four seasons combined. Worse, his combined numbers during that span are worse than any single season he’s produced since 2003.

Getting a relatively healthy 2014 from Roberts will go a long way for the Yankees. It’s tough to expect him to repeat his last fully healthy season, considering that was four full years ago. He did get better as last season progressed, though, so perhaps a healthy Roberts can still be a productive player.

The bet is a long one, as we all know. If the Yankees win, they get a slightly below average hitter at 2B (which would be above average for the position) for a low cost. If they lose, they have to replace Roberts from within, which means that the best among Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, or Corban Joseph gets the spot. (Or it could be Kelly Johnson with one of the above, or Scott Sizemore at third.)

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Francisco Cervelli

In 2013 Cervelli got his big chance. With Russ Martin gone and no other surefire starting catcher candidate on the roster, he could get some consistent playing time. He responded well early, producing a .877 OPS in 61 PA.

Then he got hit with a foul ball and broke his hand. Before he came back he suffered an elbow problem that kept him on the shelf longer. Then he got suspended for his involvement in Biogensis. Now he’s sitting behind Brian McCann, one of the best-hitting catchers in the league, on the depth chart.

Given his lack of minor league options and his relative experience, Cervelli figures to get the backup job. His return from injury can help prevent the catcher spot from being an offensive black hole when McCann takes days off. He might also make it easier to give McCann days at DH, limiting the wear and tear on the starter.

Most of all, a successful return from injury could raise Cervelli’s trade value. The Yankees will absolutely need help at the trade deadline. A healthy catcher who still has a few years of team control remaining could prove a valuable bargaining chip. With John Ryan Murphy and even Austin Romine ready at AAA, they can certainly afford to part with Cervelli.

What hurt in 2013 can help in 2014. The Yankees will get back a number of players whose absences hurt them immensely. Combined with the new guys, and we could see significant improvement this time around.

Yankees sign Frankie Cervelli to one-year deal, avoid arbitration

The Yankees have signed Frankie Cervelli to a one-year contract to avoid arbitration, the team announced. Jon Heyman says he gets $700k, a bit below the $1M projection from Matt Swartz. The 27-year-old managed a 143 wRC+ in 61 plate appearances last year before suffering a broken hand and a stress reaction in his elbow. Cervelli was also suspended 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis.

The Yankees still have four unsigned arbitration-eligible players (projected salaries in parentheses): David Robertson ($5.5M), Brett Gardner ($4M), Ivan Nova ($2.8M), and Shawn Kelley ($1.5M). The players’ union expects Gardner’s salary to be “considerably higher” than projected. Tomorrow is the deadline for teams and eligible players to file salary figures. All four might sign before then.

Five Yankees officially file for salary arbitration

As expected, the Yankees’ five eligible players all filed for salary arbitration prior to today’s deadline. Those five players, with their projected 2014 salaries courtesy of Matt Swartz, are David Robertson ($5.5M), Brett Gardner ($4M), Ivan Nova ($2.8M), Shawn Kelley ($1.5M), and Frankie Cervelli ($1M). The players’ union expects Gardner’s salary to be “considerably higher” than projected.

Filing for arbitration is just a procedural move. Had these guys not filed today, the Yankees would have been able to pay them whatever they wanted this coming season, as long as it was at least 80% of last year’s salary. The two sides have to exchange figures by Friday, meaning the team says what they want to pay while the player says what he wants. Arbitration hearings will be held next month and the Yankees have not been to one since beating Chien-Ming Wang prior to the 2008 season. The two sides can work out a contract of any size right up to the hearing.

Cashman confirms Yankees will keep Cervelli but pursue other catchers

Via Andy McCullough: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees will indeed tender Frankie Cervelli a contract prior to the December 2nd deadline, but the team will continue seek catching help in the coming weeks. “We have catching but we will explore if we can improve offensively at that position, and see where that will take us. There’s some [players] that interest us. Most don’t,” said the GM.

Cervelli, 27, hit .269/.377/.500 (143 wRC+) with three homers 61 plate appearances this past season before a broken hand, a stress reaction in his elbow, and a 50-game performance-enhancing drug suspension ended his season. He’s projected to earn $1M next season, his first year of arbitration-eligibility, and I thought there was a chance the team would cut ties following the Biogenesis mess. The Yankees have been connected to free agent Brian McCann but that’s really it so far. Other available catchers include Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Carlos Ruiz, and A.J. Pierzynski.