Francisco Cervelli has Grade II hamstring strain; Shane Greene to Triple-A

The MRI on Frankie Cervelli‘s hamstring revealed a Grade II strain, the Yankees announced. He will be placed on the DL. CC Sabathia suffered a Grade II hamstring strain last September and he had to wait eight weeks before he could resume baseball workouts, so Cervelli probably isn’t coming back anytime soon.

The Yankees also announced that right-hander Shane Greene has been sent to Triple-A Scranton, so two players will be called up before tomorrow’s game. Obviously one will be a catcher. With Derek Jeter (quad) and Brian Roberts (back) banged up, it’s a safe bet the other player will be an infielder. And, just in case you were wondering, the Yankees say the x-rays on Brian McCann‘s hand were negative after he took that deflected pitch off the barehand last night.

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Frankie Cervelli leaves game with apparent hamstring injury

Frankie Cervelli left tonight’s game with an apparent hamstring injury after running out a potential double play ball. He fell to the ground after hitting the bag and replays showed him grabbing at his hamstring (I think it was the right, but don’t me to that). Eventually he limped off the field while the call at first was reviewed. Derek Jeter (quad) and Brian Robertson (back) are both banged up, so Yankees are starting to drop like flies. Stay tuned for updates.

Rangers checked in on Cervelli; Yankees not interested in Frandsen

Will Cervelli be packing his bags before Opening Day (Presswire)
Will Cervelli be packing his bags before Opening Day? (Presswire)

As Spring Training winds down, expect there to be a small run of transactions as teams finalize their rosters. Out of options players will be dealt, veterans on minor league contracts will be released so they find a big league job elsewhere, all sorts of stuff. Two years ago the Yankees pounced on this late-spring market to get Chris Stewart from the Giants, for example.

The Rangers have suffered a ton of injuries in recent weeks, losing guys like Jurickson Profar and Derek Holland long-term. Others like Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, and Elvis Andrus are banged up and expected to miss Opening Day. Starting catcher Geovany Soto will miss 10-12 weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus early this week, meaning Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia will be their catching tandem at the start of the season.

According to Buster Olney, the Rangers called around to check in with clubs with extra catchers, including the Yankees and Frankie Cervelli. They are far from the first team to show interest in him this spring. With the bullpen more or less sorted out — we don’t know the exact names yet, but there are plenty of candidates to choose from — the Yankees figure to seek an infielder in any trade involving Cervelli, especially with Brendan Ryan‘s back acting up. Therein lies the problem:

Rangers Infield Depth Chart

Those are the infielders on Texas’ 40-man roster. The non-roster guys are pretty bad, as non-roster guys tend to be. Andrus, Profar, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, and Mitch Moreland are not worth talking about for obvious reasons. It would be nice to have a true backup first baseman, but Moreland doesn’t make much sense for the Yankees, especially not with a $2.65M salary. He doesn’t fit the roster well.

That leaves journeymen Andy Parrino and Adam Rosales, as well as actual prospect (!) Luis Sardinas. Both Parrino and Rosales are cut from the no hit, good glove cloth, but with Andrus and Profar hurt, the Rangers need both of them. Sardinas, 20, hit .288/.342/.348 between High-A (96 games in 2013) and Double-A (29 games) last year and is slated to return to Double-A this year. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Sardinas as the team’s seventh best prospect a few weeks ago and said he has the contact and defensive chops to play short everyday, as long as he improves his plate discipline and gets stronger.

Given the infield situation, it makes sense for the Yankees to look at acquiring a young infielder. I can’t imagine the Rangers (or any team) would give up a prospect of Sardinas’ caliber for an out of options catcher — Stewart-for-George Kontos is a nice estimation of Cervelli’s trade value, no? — though I suppose they may be desperate in the wake of Soto’s injury. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Sardinas would not improve the 2014 Yankees though, and probably not the 2015 team either. As Olney says, there isn’t much of a fit here even though Texas needs a backstop. They don’t have the infield depth to give up because of their own injuries. It seems like Cervelli’s value to the team is greater than anything the they could get in a trade.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In other news, Joel Sherman says the Yankees are not interested in infielder Kevin Frandsen, who recently elected free agency after being outrighted by the Phillies. He forfeited $900k in salary by doing that. Might end up regretting that one. I wrote about the 31-year-old Frandsen as a trade target last summer, mostly because he can fake the three non-shortstop infield positions and hit southpaws (career 108 wRC+). Is he better than Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte? Eh, maybe. Is it worth a 40-man roster spot to find out? I don’t think so.

The Ryan injury made the need for another infielder a little greater, but the Yankees brought in Solarte and specifically Anna for this very situation. Cervelli to Texas for an actual infield prospect would be great but it just seems so very unlikely. At the same time, another veteran journeyman like Frandsen might not be worth the trouble. The Yankees stocked up on similar players this winter and while there’s never any harm in adding another body, there’s no desperate need for a player of that caliber. Despite their recent history of late spring moves, I would be surprised if the Bombers make a trade or some kind of notable infield addition in the next six days.

Mailbag: Rollins, Perkins, Kahnle, Nuno, 80 Tools

Huge mailbag this week. Nine questions and nearly 2,000 words. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Terry asks: With Jimmy Rollins seeming fallen out of favor with Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies, do you think it would make sense to see if the Yankees to put together some sort of trade package together with Ichiro Suzuki being the centerpiece? Do you think he would be open to playing 2B? He’d have to be an upgrade over Brian Roberts and would allow him to become a role player. They could be held relatively healthy by splitting 2B and now there is a SS back up that can hit.

Rollins and Sandberg had a bit of a falling out earlier this spring — Sandberg benched him for four straight Spring Training games to send a message, believe it or not — and there has been some talk that the team may try to trade him. Rollins told Todd Zolecki the rumors don’t bother him though; he has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any trade. Maybe he’d be willing to accept a trade to join the veteran-laden Yankees, who knows. He wouldn’t be the first long-term someotherteam to do it (Ichiro and Lance Berkman).

There are four problems with the 35-year-old Rollins. One, he just isn’t that good of a hitter anymore, putting up a .252/.318/.348 (84 wRC+) line last season. Two, he has 0.1 career innings at second base (in 2002) and would have to learn the position on the fly. Three, he’s owed $11M this year and his $11M option for 2015 vests with only 434 plate appearances this season. Four, he’s kind of a jerk with a tendency to run his mouth (remember this?). The Yankees seem to actively avoid those players. Would he be an upgrade over Roberts? Probably. Is he worth the headache? Probably not.

Dan asks: What does the Glen Perkins extension mean for David Robertson? Also, why would the Twins sign him to that? They already had him for this season, next season, and a team option for 2016. Now they not only raised his salaries for the next three years, they guaranteed the team option and one additional year for $6.5m each.

That Perkins contract (four years, $22.175M with a club option) is a freakin’ steal. He’s a local guy from just outside the Twin Cities, so it definitely seems like he took a hometown discount. Perkins is an elite reliever and probably the second best lefty bullpener in the game behind Aroldis Chapman. Even if he slips and he becomes just a lefty specialist down the line, his highest annual salary during the life of this deal is $6.5M in both 2017 and 2018. That’s just about Boone Logan money.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Because he took such a big discount, Perkins’ extension doesn’t mean anything for Robertson. Robertson will make more this season ($5.125M) as a third year arbitration-eligible setup man than Perkins will as an All-Star closer both this year ($4.025M) and next ($4.65M). Perkins would have been a free agent this past offseason had he not signed his previous extension, and I’m guessing he would have gotten three or four years at $10-12M annually on the open market, even at age 31. Basically double his extension. The Twins did it because it was simply too good to pass up.

Chris asks: When will we know if the Yankees are going to get Tommy Kahnle back via the Rule 5 Draft process? I am hopeful that we will get him back, as he would seem to be a strong asset to have.

There is no set date for Rule 5 Draft players, they can be returned at any point between now (really the first day of Spring Training) and the final game of the regular season. I wrote our Rockies season preview at CBS (shameless plug) and their bullpen is pretty stacked. There’s no room for Kahnle unless someone else gets hurt or traded. He’s thrown 6.1 good innings this spring but nothing that leads you to believe he’s forcing his way into the team’s plans. If Kahnle doesn’t make the Rockies, he’ll have to clear waivers before being offered back to the Yankees. I’m not sure he’ll ever be anything more than an up-and-down arm without a big improvement in his command.

Mickey asks: Assuming things play out with Michael Pineda in the fifth spot and Vidal Nuno stretched out in AAA as the sixth starter, how many times could he be called up without passing through waivers this season and who would/could be sent down to accommodate such a move?

As many times as the team wants. Minor league options really refer to option years. Players get three of them (sometimes four for weird reasons), meaning they go back and forth between MLB and the minors in three different seasons without having to pass through waivers. The Yankees burned one of Nuno’s options last season but can still send him (or any of the other fifth starter candidates for that matter, they have at least one option left) up and down as much as they want in 2014. I suspect that last open bullpen spot will be a revolving door this year. It always is.

Bill asks: Is Francisco Cervelli more valuable to the team being their backup catcher to start the season, or as trade-bait for an upgrade elsewhere?

I think he’s more valuable to the Yankees. A week or two ago when we heard teams are scouting him, we also heard the likely return would be another out of options player. Nothing great. They won’t be able to flip him for Derek Jeter‘s long-term replacement at shortstop or anything. Cervelli has hit this spring and he hit last year before getting hurt. With his trade value down, I think you take him into the season and see what happens. His trade value couldn’t drop much further, but if the bat is legit, it could go up quite a bit. Unless someone blows the team away with an offer (Chris Owings? Please? Maybe?), I’d hang onto Frankie.

(NY Times)
(NY Times)

Stephen asks: I noticed in your latest post on Jorge Mateo you mentioned he is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scale (that dude must be fast!). Is this common? Are there any (recent or not) Yankee prospects that rank 80 out of 80 on any tools? Was Randy Johnson’s slider an 80? Pedro Martinez’s change up? Etc?

There are a bunch of good primers on the 20-80 scouting scale out there, but here’s a good one from Prospect Insider. Long story short: 20 is terrible, 80 is elite, and 50 is average. Sometimes you’ll see half-grades like a 55 or 75 of whatever. 80s are very rare though and are not thrown around all that often.

Baseball America started including 20-80 grades for individual tools in their Prospect Handbook back in 2011, but for each organization’s top prospect only. Here are all the 80s:

  • 2014: Rockies RHP Jonathan Gray’s fastball, Twins OF Byron Buxton’s speed and defense, Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito’s fastball
  • 2013: Reds OF Billy Hamilton’s speed, Twins 3B Miguel Sano’s power, Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole’s fastball
  • 2012: Angels OF Mike Trout’s speed, Giants OF Gary Brown’s speed, Cole’s fastball
  • 2011: Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman’s fastball, Nationals OF Bryce Harper’s power and arm, Trout’s speed

The Yankees drafted both Gray (2011 tenth round) and Cole (2008 first round) but did not sign them, in case you forgot. /sobs

Anyway, that’s it. Fourteen 80 tools in four years worth of top prospects. Five tools per prospect and 30 prospects per year gives us 600 tools total, meaning 2.3% graded out at 80s. Sounds about right. Like I said, 80s are rare and saved for the truly elite. Also, I think it’s interesting that ten of those 14 tools above are speed or fastball, things that can be quantified with a stop watch and radar gun. Saying someone has an 80 hit tool or 80 changeup is much more subjective.

I can’t think of any recent Yankees farmhand with an 80 tool, except for Mateo, I guess. Baseball America had Jesus Montero with both 70 power and 70 hit in 2011, which is pretty close. Brett Gardner is much closer to 65-70 speed than 80. As for big leaguers, I think both Mariano Rivera and Greg Maddux had 80 command, though I am no scout. Barry Bonds had 80 power, Tony Gwynn had an 80 hit tool, Pedro’s changeup was probably an 80, ditto Randy Johnson’s slider. I remember reading a Keith Law post (or maybe it was one of his chats, I forget) saying Justin Verlander had an 80 fastball and 80 curveball during his peak.

I don’t believe there’s an 80 tool on the Yankees right now. Ichiro Suzuki used to be an 80 hitter, no doubt about that. Jacoby Ellsbury is more of a 70 runner than a true 80. Maybe Brian McCann‘s pitch-framing is an 80? He’s excellent at it according to the various metrics, but those are still works in progress.

Frank asks: I see Bryan Mitchell is on the Scranton AAA roster. Seems somewhat surprising, so is he closer to the show than we were led to believe? Is it true that his “new” cutter has possibly propelled him to the top of the pitching prospect class?

I gotten a few questions like this. Don’t read anything into the level a player is assigned when he’s cut from big league camp. That’s only their Spring Training work group. They can be assigned to different levels before the start of the season and most of them well. Mitchell pitched well in camp and he does indeed have a new cutter, but he made only three starts at Double-A Trenton last season. That’s where he’ll head for the start of 2014.

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

Eric asks: Mason Williams for Wilmer Flores?

I think both teams would say no, actually. The Mets need infielders and Flores is their top MLB-ready youngster — they have him working out at short this spring, something he hasn’t done since 2011 — so I’m not sure they would give him up for a Double-A outfielder coming off a bad season, even if said outfielder’s ceiling is high. I think the Yankees would say no because it’s an underwhelming return for a guy who was arguably their top prospect 12 months ago. I’m skeptical of Flores because he spent parts of six seasons trying to get out of Single-A, and it wasn’t until he got to ultra-hitter friendly Triple-A Last Vegas last summer that he re-established himself as a prospect. Trading an outfield prospect for a young infielder makes sense, but I don’t think Flores would be the guy to target.

Jack asks: I don’t understand why Pineda is considered to have more “upside” than David Phelps inasmuch as at this point Phelps’ fastball is probably a couple ticks higher and his control is markedly better. While Pineda supposed has a better breaking pitch does that one factor offset Phelps’ advantages in velocity and control? At best/worst, their upsides are probably similar.

I disagree that Phelps’ fastball is a couple ticks higher — it definitely isn’t based on this spring alone — and that his control is better. What separated Pineda from most young pitchers was his ability to pound the zone and his throw strikes, something he’s done this spring following shoulder surgery. Their minor league walk rates are identical (2.1 vs. 2.2 BB/9) and Pineda has the advantage at the MLB level (2.9 vs. 3.5 BB/9), for what it’s worth. Pineda has more upside because he’s 28 months younger and because his slider is far better than anything Phelps throws. The shoulder injury might have knocked Pineda’s ultimate ceiling down a notch or three, but Phelps pretty much is what he is. That’s not to say he’s bad, just that he might not be anything more than a back-end arm. Just watch the two, the difference in upside is obvious. You can really dream on Pineda.

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.