The Yankees and productive September call-ups

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

Like April, September is a fun month if you want to dream. Guys get off to hot starts in April and we hope it’s a sign he’s breaking out when no, usually it’s not. Just a small sample size thing. September is fun in a different way because prospects are involved and everyone loves prospects. Their potential is limitless and every single one will be the next great Yankee. At least that’s what we hope. Very rarely are we actually right though. It’s the nature of the beast.

Shane Spencer, who whacked eight homers in 14 September games in 1998, remains the patron saint of September call-ups. Very, very rarely does someone come up when rosters expand and actually have an impact like that. Few get the opportunity, really. They have to produce right away to get a long enough look to make a difference. Spencer was a one of a kind, just like the entire 1998 team.

The Yankees have had a few notable call-ups in recent years, notable in terms of production and not necessarily their name. Guys who performed well in their limited opportunity. Let’s take a look at how they helped the club.

2011: Jesus Montero
Despite getting subpar DH production all season, the Yankees waited until September to call up their top prospect. Montero, then just 21, hit .328/.406/.590 (167 wRC+) with four homers in 69 plate appearances that month, giving the lineup a shot in the arm. He actually made the postseason roster that year and singled in his only two October trips to the plate. Those 71 total plate appearances are all Montero has contributed to the Yankees to date given the amazingly unproductive trade with the Mariners the following offseason.

2010: Greg Golson
Golson was actually up with the Yankees for a few games earlier in the 2010 season, but he got the majority of his playing time as a pinch-runner/defensive specialist in September. He only received 18 plate appearances that month, but Golson will always be remembered for his game-ending throw to cut Carl Crawford down at third base in an important series against the Rays. The Yankees actually carried Golson on their playoff roster and regularly used him as a late-inning defensive replacement. He didn’t make an impact with his bat, he did it with his glove and (especially) his arm.

(Getty)
(Getty)

2008: Phil Coke
Prior to the 2008 season, Coke was nothing more than a fringe prospect who was in danger of being released should a roster spot be needed. He pitched well with Double-A Trenton that summer (3.01 FIP) and forced the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster in September. Coke very quickly emerged as a bullpen force for Joe Girardi, pitching to a 0.61 ERA (1.63 FIP) in 14.2 innings while holding same-side hitters to a .227 wOBA. He didn’t make the playoff roster because there was no playoff roster to make in 2008, but Coke came to Spring Training the next year with a bullpen spot that was his to lose.

* * *

The Yankees have had some veteran players come up late in the season and make an impact — 2006 Brian Bruney and even 2008 Cody Ransom come to mind — but they weren’t September call-ups. They were brought up a few weeks earlier to patch holes created by injuries. As far as actual call-ups go, those three guys above are the only ones who made any sort of difference in the last decade or so. Montero was the golden child and the plan was to give him regular playing time right out of the chute, but Golson and especially Coke had to earn it. When they performed well, they earned a longer look.

I think New York has one call-up with a chance to play his way into something of a regular role both this month and potentially next year: Cesar Cabral. He made an impressive big league debut yesterday, most notably striking out both lefties he faced on six total pitches in a scoreless innings. It’ll be rather easy for Girardi to find spots to use Cabral in the coming weeks. Dellin Betances has too many quality right-handed relievers ahead of him — at best, he’s behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne on the righty setup depth chart — to think he’ll get a real shot this month. David Adams got a look earlier this year and Brett Marshall probably won’t pitch much, plus J.R. Murphy figures to play third fiddle to Austin Romine and Chris Stewart as long as the Yankees are in the race.

September call-ups are more about adding bodies to soak up innings and at-bats in blowouts or in case of injury. Few players are actually called up and given an opportunity to legitimately help the club. The Monteros are few and far between. As long as the Yankees remain in the hunt for a playoff spot — they come into today three games back of the Rays for the second wildcard spot in the loss column with a 11.0% chance to make the postseason according to Baseball Prospectus — expect them to ride their regular players as long as possible. As usual, the call-ups are just along for the ride.

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So long, Greg Golson

Via Joel Sherman and Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have released Greg Golson to make room on the 40-man roster this morning’s two Rule 5 Draft pickups. They had one open 40-man spot, so only one move was needed.

For all his physical ability, Golson has never been able to put it all together. He has eight hits and one walk in 42 career big league plate appearances, and is a career .261/.318/.380 hitter in 1,383 Triple-A plate appearances. Golson can play some serious defense though, and I’m sure Carl Crawford is still having nightmares after this throw. There’s a non-zero chance that he clears waivers and returns to the Yankees.

Golson, Noesi, Pena and Kontos heading to New York

The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees finished up their season with a win today, and Donnie Collins reports that the quartet of Greg Golson, Hector Noesi, Ramiro Pena and George Kontos are heading to New York to join the big league team. We’ve seen Golson, Pena and Noesi before, but Kontos will be the new face. The righty reliever struck out 91 and unintentionally walked just 25 in 89.1 IP this year, his first full season in the bullpen following Tommy John surgery. Kontos would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, and the Yankees will have to make room for him on the 40-man roster.

Yankees calling up Golson to replace A-Rod

Via George King, the Yankees will call up and activate Greg Golson prior to tonight’s game against the Blue Jays. He’s taking Alex Rodriguez‘s spot on the roster. Golson missed some time with a hamstring injury this year and he’s hit well with Triple-A Scranton (.348 wOBA), but he has a massive reverse split (.582 OPS vs. LHP, .838 vs. RHP, SSS warning). He can defend and run and throw the snot out of the ball, for sure, but otherwise I’m not exactly sure what he was brought here to do.

Update (2:44pm): For what it’s worth, Kevin Goldstein just wrote this: “Funny, just talked to a scout last week who saw Greg Golson and noted real progress in hitting skill, upgraded him to solid 4th OF type.”

Who has minor league options left (and how many)?

Minor league options are one of baseball’s weird little quirks. Every player gets three, and they’re used whenever a guy on the 40-man roster is sent to the minors. Once you burn all three, the player has to pass through waivers to go back to the minors. Oh, and sometimes a player can qualify for a fourth option depending on some special circumstances. Yeah, it’s weird like that.

A player can only use one option a year, regardless of how many times they go up and down. That’s why you’ll see them referred to as “option years.” If a player is in the minors for more than 20 total days in a single year, it counts as an option. Anything less and it does not. To learn more about this stuff, I recommend Keith Law’s classic Death, Taxes and Major League Waivers post at Baseball Analysts. I’ll let him bore you with the details.

Obviously, options are important because they can dictate who can and who can’t be sent back to the minors. That information isn’t publicly available, at least as far as I know, so I figured I’d compile it myself. We don’t need to look at everyone on the 40-man roster simply because a bunch of guys aren’t ever going back to the minors, like CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez. A few others are on the bubble, so let’s recap them and a could of notable young regulars…

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Andrew Brackman
Although 2011 will be his fourth full season since signing his Major League contract out of the draft, Brackman still has two minor league options remaining. He signed right on the August 15th deadline in 2007 but did not spent the required 20 days in the minors because the (minor league) season ended. The Yankees then carried Brackman on the 60-day disabled list all year in 2008 (Tommy John surgery), so he collected a year of service time instead of using a minor league option. His first option was used in 2009 and his second in 2010. Brackman will qualify for a fourth option because he will have used his three original options within his first five pro seasons. That’s one of those weird rules/ So yeah, the Yankees can send him down to the minors in each of the next two seasons without consequence.

Joba Chamberlain
Joba has all three options left. He was added to the 40-man for the first time in August 2007, when he was called up to the big leagues, and he hasn’t gone back to the minors since.

Colin Curtis
The Yankees added Curtis to the 40-man for the first time this past July, when he was summoned to the big leagues because the team was dealing with injuries and needed an extra position player during the NL park stretch of their interleague scheduled. Lil’ CC hung around a while but was eventually sent back down. He remained in Triple-A for more than a month later in the year, using his first option. He has two left.

Robert Fish
Added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason as a Rule 5 Draft pick, Fish has all three options left. Doesn’t matter though, he’ll be offered back to the Angels before the end of Spring Training.

Brett Gardner
After starting the 2008 season in Triple-A, the Yankees called Gardner up and added him to the 40-man roster for the first time that June 30th. He was with the team for about a month, ultimately sent down on July 26th because they had to make room on the active roster for the just acquired Xavier Nady. Gardner stayed in the minors until August 15th, so he was there for exactly 20 days. That’s not an accident, it prevented an option from being used. Gardner hasn’t been back to the minors since (not counting a very brief rehab stint in 2009), so he has all three options remaining.

Steve Garrison
Claimed off waivers from the Padres last year, Garrison was added to the 40-man (by San Diego) for the first time last (2009-2010) offseason. He used an option in his injury-riddled 2010 season, so he’s got two left.

"You might be using that last option this year, Greg." (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Greg Golson
Golson’s been around the block, having first been added to the 40-man roster by the Phillies after 2008. He spent basically all of 2009 and 2010 in the minors (save for the occasional cup-of-coffee, nothing major), using up his first two options. Golson has one left, which will inevitably be used this season.

Phil Hughes
Called up as a 20-year-old in what really was an act of desperation by the Yankees, Hughes was added to the 40-man for the first time in April 2007 and then went back to the minors after blowing out his hamstring. He spent a little more than three weeks in the minors that July but it was a rehab assignment, so it didn’t count as an optional assignment. The Yankees called him back up in August, so they didn’t burn an option that season.

Hughes began the next year with the big league team, but eventually hit the disabled list and then did the rehab thing again. The Yankees kept him in the minors for close to 40 days, however the first 30 were the rehab assignment. He did not eclipse the 20-day limit and did not use a minor league option in 2009. Hughes did use his first option in 2009, when he began the year in Triple-A and was called up in late April. He hasn’t been back to the minors since and has two options remaining.

Boone Logan
Logan’s out-of-options. He was first added to the 40-man by the White Sox in 2006, when they took him north out of camp because he had a great Spring Training despite having a total of 5.1 innings at the Single-A level to his credit. Yep. Boone spent considerable time in the minors in 2006, 2009, and 2010, burning all three options.

Justin Maxwell
Joel Sherman confirmed that Maxwell has one option remaining when he was acquired last month.

Sergio Mitre
The Experience has been out-of-options for a year now.

No need to look over your shoulder David, you aren't going back to the minors anytime soon. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

David Robertson
Called up and added to the 40-man roster for the first time on the same day as Gardner, Robertson went back to the minors on August 28th (in favor of Al Aceves) and then resurfaced 16 days later, preserving an option. He bounced up and down in April and May of 2009, burning an option. Robertson hasn’t been back to the minors since late May of 2009, so he still has two options at his disposal.

Romulo Sanchez
Chad Jennings confirmed with the Yankees this past December that Romulo is out-of-options.

Daniel Turpen
Same exact deal is Fish, so just re-read his comment and change “Fish” to “Turpen” and “Angels” to “Red Sox.”

Frankie Cervelli
Believe it or not, the Yankees added Cervelli to the 40-man roster for the first time after the 2007 season. That’s when he was first eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, before he ever got out of A-ball. Anyway, he spent most of 2008 in the minors, burning one options then spent the first five weeks of 2009 in the minors, burning another option. Frankie hasn’t been back to the minors since, so he still has that one option remaining.

Ramiro Pena
Pena was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in 2009, when he surprisingly broke camp with the big league team as the utility infielder. He went back to the minors for 43 games that summer, burning one option. Ramiro hasn’t been back down since, so he has two left.

* * *

Dellin Betances, Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa, and Ryan Pope were all added to the 40-man roster for the first time this offseason, so all three guys have all three options remaining. Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, Reegie Corona, Eduardo Nunez, and Kevin Russo were each added to the 40-man roster for the first time last offseason, and since they all spent most of 2010 in the minors, they all have two options left.

Standard disclaimer here: I can’t guarantee the accuracy of the above info. MLB has some weird rules, and what is and what is not an optional assignment is one of them. I do feel pretty confident though, the only real question is Gardner. Does exactly 20 days in the minors count as an option, or does it have to be more? Either way, it shouldn’t become an issue. Fish, Turpen, and Romulo are goners and probably soon, before the end of camp. That’ll free up three 40-man roster spots, at least one of which will go to Jesus Montero at some point. Let’s hope he never uses any of his minor league options.

Sorting out the last bench spot

I can has bench job? (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

You know we’re getting down to the final few days of the offseason when we’re continually talking about the last spot on the bench. The Yankees have a few in-house options for that spot alongside Andruw Jones, Frankie Cervelli, and Eduamiro Penunez, so let’s sort them out…

Justin Maxwell
What He Offers: speed, power, walks, defense
What He Lacks: contact skills, durability

Probably the most physically gifted of the team’s fifth bench options, Maxwell’s relatively short big league career (260 PA) features a .178 ISO and 14.8% walks, exceptionally good numbers. For comparison’s sake, Jason Heyward had a .179 ISO with a 14.6% walk rate in his stellar rookie season last year. I could be a function of small sample size, though it’s worth noting that in exactly 900 PA at the Double and Triple-A levels, Maxwell owns a .222 ISO and an 11.6% walk rate. The underlying skills are there, which Baseball America noted when they named him Washington’s eighth best prospect before last season. He’s also a high-percentage basestealer (78.9% success rate in the minors) with a pair of 35 SB seasons under his belt in the high minors.

Guys with power, speed, the ability to draw walks and defend well in center are a rare breed, but what’s holding Maxwell back are some big time holes in his swing. He’s struck out in 37.9% of his big league at-bats, 26.6% in Double and Triple-A. He’s very similar to Andruw Jones in that you’ll get a low batting average, but he’ll still get on base at an okay clip and occasionally run into a few pitches. There’s also the injury bug. Maxwell is on his way back from Tommy John surgery right now (on his non-throwing elbow), but he’s also battled wrist and toe issues in the past.

Greg Golson
What He Offers: speed, defense, a tiny amount of power
What He Lacks: ability to draw walks, make consistent contact

Golson did a fine job as a late-inning defensive replacement and occasional pinch-runner last year, but he’s been around long enough that we know what he brings to the table offensively, and it’s just not much. In nearly 1,600 PA at Double and Triple-A, he owns a very good .161 ISO (though most of that is tied up in Double-A) but subpar walk (5.7%) and strikeout (34.1%) rates. Thankfully he can defend very well in three outfield spots and be a highly effective basestealer (78.9% success rate with no fewer than 20 SB in four of the last five years).

Limited by his lack of offensive ability, featuring not even one standout tool at the plate (power or getting on base or being able to make a ton of contact), means Golson’s speed and defense have to be that spectacular for him to hold down a roster spot.

Colin Curtis
What He Offers: a little of this, a little of that
What He Lacks: a standout tool

Lil' CC did a good. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The forgotten man, Curtis has one thing on both Maxwell and Golson: he’s a left-handed hitter, and the Yankees have zero of those on their bench right now. He’s a classic ‘tweener, doing just enough to get by but lacking a standout tool that can carry him. His offensive performance at Double and Triple-A is fine but nothing special (.118 ISO, 8.5% walks, 17.7% strikeouts) in a little more than 1,400 PA, and he’s never been much of a basestealer (just 25-for-42 in his career). Curtis can man the outfielder corners capably and play center in an emergency, but he’s not good enough to play their regularly.

* * *

Of course, the wildcards in all of this are are Kevin Russo, Eric Chavez, and Ronnie Belliard. Russo isn’t not great offensively (.093 ISO, 8.7% walks, 17.0% strikeouts in over 950 PA at the upper levels of the minors) or on the bases (55-for-77 in SB attempts in his career, 71.4%), but he does something none of those three guys above can do: play the infield. The Yankees have groomed him as a utility player basically his entire career, so he has experience playing the three non-first base infield spots as well as all three outfield spots (mostly left though). Since that last man on the bench doesn’t figure to see too many plate appearances, maybe they’ll decide to go with the versatile guy just to have at least two players on the bench capable of playing the infield (Russo and Penunez) and two capable of playing the outfield (Russo and Jones).

As for Chavez and Belliard … they’re the veterans on minor league deals. I have little faith in Chavez staying healthy or being productive through Spring Training, though it’s worth noting that his lefty bat would make sense for the bench. Belliard is probably the front-runner for a job given his versatility and occasionally productive bat, though he’s not going to swing the balance of power in the AL East.

If I’m picking out of those six, I’d probably go with Belliard for the time being. Maxwell is clearly the best player of the bunch, and that’s why he should spend the summer playing regularly and batting near the top of Triple-A Scranton’s order. He’s been banged up pretty bad in three of the last four years, so catching up on some at-bats wouldn’t be the end of the world. I think the chances of the Yankees carrying both Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena to start the year went down considerably once Belliard and Chavez came aboard, but I’m not sure how much that helps. Granted, it’s the 25th guy on the roster, but a little optimization never hurt.

Open Thread: Greg Golson

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Earlier today we discussed the two-year anniversary of Andy Pettitte re-signing with the Yankees (well, one of those anniversaries anyway), but today is also the one-year anniversary of the deal that brought Greg Golson to New York. DotF Hall of Famer Mitch Hilligoss headed to Texas in the deal, and he went on to post a .335 wOBA in 275 plate appearances last year. I can’t find anything about an injury, so I’m not sure why he only made it into 69 games. Anyway, Golson spent most of the year with Triple-A Scranton (.325 wOBA), but he came up in September and made regular appearances as a defensive replacement, including the biggest defensive play of the year. He also found his way onto the playoff roster. Golson didn’t and most likely won’t have a big impact during his time with the Yankees, but they turned a replaceable minor league into some depth and a marginal late season upgrade. Hard to complain about the move.

So here’s your open thread for the night. The Devils, Isles, and Nets are all in action, but talk about whatever your heart desires. Go nuts.