Archive for Marcus Thames
Leftfielder/designated lefty masher Marcus Thames left today’s game with a hamstring issue, and although the MRI came back clean, he’s been placed on the disabled list with a strain. Chad Huffman has been recalled from Triple-A Scranton to take his place.
Huffman was claimed off waivers from the Padres in April, and he’s pretty similar to Thames. Righty hitter, mashes lefties (.903 OPS vs. LHP in the minors, .830 vs. RHP) and is limited defensively to leftfield and first base. Considering that Thames is hitting just .176-.314-.250 since May 2nd with awful defense, chances are Huffman can step right in and the Yankees won’t miss a beat, if not improve.
Curtis Granderson is leaving tonight to join Triple-A Scranton for a rehab assignment, according to Joe Girardi. He’s expected to play five out of six days while DH’ing some, and could be back in the Yankees’ lineup by the end of next week. Best news of the day.
Granderson was out on the field earlier running the bases, and he also fielded a variety of batted balls in the outfield – grounders, fly balls, liners off the wall, you name it. Girardi indicated that because he was moving around so well, it was time to get him in rehab games.
Here’s some other tidbits from the pregame press conference…
- Marcus Thames‘ ankle is still bothering him, but he’s going to take batting practice and see how it goes. At best, he’ll be available to pinch hit.
- Girardi didn’t seem concerned about Frankie Cervelli‘s heavy workload of late, and said there’s “no thought” about sitting him. He did say he’s going to watch him physically every day to see how he holds up. Tonight will be Cervelli’s fifth start in the last five days and seventh in the last eight, but he’s 24-years-old, lots of life in those legs.
- “You start to feel it at game time,” said the Yanks’ manager when asked about the excitement of the Subway Series. “It’s the energy involved … players aren’t going to walk around and brag, but the fans might.”
- As far as seeing Mets’ starter Hisanori Takahashi for the first time, Girardi basically said the only thing you can do is watch video. “It’s obviously more difficult. If you’re righthanded, you have to know you’re getting fastball-changeup.” The 35-year-old lefty has a 3.51 xFIP this season, though tonight will be his first start.
- Girardi’s not concerned about Javy Vazquez‘s layoff at all. He basically had the “he’s been around a while, he knows what to do” attitude. Javy’s last start was nine days ago, but he did come out of the bullpen to strikeout Kevin Youkilis on four pitches Monday night.
Back with the game thread a little later on.
Update (11:18pm): Joe Girardi said during the postgame that x-rays were negative and that Thames was not expected to be placed on the disabled list, which I guess is good news. I just hate seeing that dead 25-man roster spot.
9:33pm: Sprained left ankle. Time to call up another reliever.
9:27pm: Marcus Thames left tonight’s game after literally stepping on his own bat running out a single in the 6th inning. Not sure if it’s an ankle or a knee or what, but it was obvious from the replay that stepping on the bat did the trick. He was lifted from the game after trying to walk it off, and was replaced by Ramiro Pena. We’ll update this post as more info becomes available.
Everything King Midas touched turned to gold, and tonight, the Yanks’ King Midas had his golden touch early on. Even without his best stuff, CC Sabathia held the Red Sox to just one run — a solo home run by Kevin Youkilis &mdash and the Yanks were cruising with a 5-1 lead. But then, after 112 pitches, King Midas exited stage left, and everything he had touched turned to dust. Once that perfect storm of bad plays, bad calls and bad pitching settled, the Yankees were on the wrong side of a 7-6 game. Tonight, there would be no pie.
Goat Number One: Joba Chamberlain
Tasked with retiring the top three hitters in the Red Sox’s lineup, Joba Chamberlain utterly and spectacularly failed at his job. Although a dubious throwing error by Alex Rodriguez opened the flood gates, Joba couldn’t get through the 8th unscathed for the second straight appearance. With a 5-1 lead, he allowed a single, a double and another single following the error before recording an out.
With a runner on second, David Ortiz hit a booming fly ball that, three years ago, would have been a home run, and only Ortiz’s classes at the Hanley Ramirez School of Hustle resulted in an out at second base. While Joba had his second out, the damage was done. The Red Sox had tied the game, and the Yanks — who hadn’t taken advantage of a bases loaded, one out situation in the sixth — needed to pick themselves up from the letdown of another bad bullpen appearance.
We can wring our hands over the pen’s utter inability to get outs. Yankee relievers have allowed 12 earned runs and 15 runs overall in the team’s last three games. All but four of those have been charged to Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain.
We can wring our hands over Joba. He threw first-pitch strikes to just two of the seven hitters he faced tonight and couldn’t find the zone tonight. When he entered the game, the team’s win expectancy stood at 95.9 percent; when he left, that figure had dwindled down to 61.4. With that performance tonight, Joba is your official Goat of the Game.
Goat Number Two: Marcus Thames
As a commenter with the amusing handle Jerkface said, “It was the best of Thames, it was the worst of Thames.” One night after delivering the Yanks their first walk-off win of the season, Marcus Thames showed us why he’s just a bench player filling in only in case of emergency.
With one out in the 9th and Darnell McDonald on first, Marcu Scutaro lofted a lazy fly ball into the no-man’s land behind second base in right field. Out raced Robinson Cano, in raced Marcus Thames. The right fielder called for the ball, glanced at Cano for position….and pulled a Luis Castillo. Thames twisted his glove around, and the ball bounced off of him. It was an epic error.
After the game, Thames talked to reporters with tears in his eyes. He said that he lost the ball for a second as he checked Cano’s flight and couldn’t recover in time to catch it. Had he done so, the Red Sox would have had a man on first with two outs instead of first and second with one out.
Goat Number Three: The Men in Blue
I hate to blame the umpires. I really do. After all, the Yankees’ players are the ones who have to do their jobs. Brett Gardner has to do more than bounce to second base with a drawn-in infield and bases loaded with one out in the sixth. Joba Chamberlain has to do anything better. Marcus Thames has to catch the ball. Mariano Rivera has to make his pitches. But tonight, the umpires did nothing to help either team.
For the Yankees, two plays loom large. The first was the ground ball off the bat of Scutaro in the 8th. A-Rod had to rush the throw, and it sailed low to Mark Teixeira. The Yanks’ first baseman stretched, appeared to keep his spikes on the bag, caught it and fell. Scutaro was called safe, and no one really put up a fight. The reply seemed to show an out, but we could forgive the umps for this one. The crew had missed a call at second base when Francisco Cervelli threw behind the runner to nab J.D. Drew, but those things happen.
The truly inexcusable call though came in the 9th on a two-strike pitch to Darnell McDonald. Replays showed how the ball cut the plate at the knees and how McDonald swung, but both the first base and home plate umpires refused to call strikes. Just look at the positioning of that thing on the Pitch F/x graph. Had McDonald been rung up, the Yanks would have had two outs on the Red Sox with no one on base.
Still, we can scapegoat the umps until the cows come home, but the Yanks have to get the job done. They didn’t.
Where to begin? Where to begin? How about Randy Winn‘s positioning on Jeremy Hermida’s double over his head? Was the bench expected a shallow pop-up? Did Rob Thompson position him improperly? What happened to no-doubles defense? And can someone please stop telling Joba to throw 3-2 sliders? David Ortiz can’t get around on a 95-mph fastball, and Joba has to hang a breaking ball to him instead.
Let’s also question the Yanks’ ability to put a roster together right now. The team has a 13-man bullpen, and apparently, a one-man bench. If neither Jorge Posada nor Nick Swisher were available to pinch hit in the 9th, only Ramiro Pena was a viable bench player. Meanwhile, with the team’s decision to send down Greg Golson for Mark Melancon earlier in the day, they had eight relievers in the pen. Tonight was the night they needed Golson the most, and he was on a plane back to Scranton. How infuriating.
Do I consider Francisco Cervelli’s bunt attempt an annoyance? Some do, but I’m not sure I’m in the camp. In a very small sample, Cervelli has been a clutch contact hitter with runners on base. Behind him were Marcus Thames, a fastball hitter with strike out tendencies, Juan Miranda just up from AAA and Randy Winn. The Yanks opted to play for just one run and asked Cervelli to bunt. As The Honorable Congressman Mondesi noted, the successful bunt increased their one-run probability from 0.634 to 0.670 but dropped the win expectancy from 46.5 percent to 42.8. If anything, that’s a minor annoyance.
Finally, I have an irrational dislike of Randy Winn made worse by the fact that I just knew he would strike out to end the game. He made a terrible play in the top of the 9th and went 0 for 4 with three strike outs. He’s hitting .196/.293/.294 on the season, and I have to believe that, when Swisher and Granderson are both healthy, Winn’s days with the Yanks will be numbered. That was one off-season experiment that hasn’t quite worked out the way it was planned.
The Big Picture
Anyway, despite tonight’s maddening game and the team’s bullpen struggles, the Yanks are 25-14 with a +71 run differential. They’re three games behind a very hot Tampa team that has enjoyed a very easy schedule early on. Later tonight, A.J. Burnett and Wade Davis square off in a battle of AL East powerhouses, and the Red Sox head home to face Minnesota right where they were when they came to New York: in fourth place and at .500. I hated this game, but I’m loving the season so far.
Just look at that up-and-down 9th inning. This is what a heartbreaking loss looks like on paper.
That title comes courtesy of Matt from Fack Youk, whom I met with before the game. Along with Mike and Ben, Moshe from The Yankee U joined us as well. It was a nice little pre-game get together. I can only imagine if we had sat together all game.
This isn’t going to be a traditional recap. I had the thing written in my head in the bottom of the eighth. I’m going to include most of that — just because they won doesn’t mean there it was a blunder-free game. Still, we’ll lead with the most important stuff.
That straight fastball isn’t what it used to be
Jonathan Papelbon did work in a few splitters during the ninth, but for the most part stuck with his fastball. It has some zip, hitting 94 to 96, but it doesn’t move all that much. When he spots it, he can be effective Thankfully, tonight he didn’t quite have everything.
The book on A-Rod is to pitch him inside so he can’t get his arms extended. That’s where he generates his power, so keeping pitches under his hands can neutralize him to an extent. He’ll adjust, as all great hitters do, but he might not do as much damage. Papelbon went inside with his first fastball to him, but also left it waist high. As soon as the ball took off the entire Stadium went nuts. This was no false alarm. We knew the game was tied before the ball landed in the visitor’s bullpen.
Papelbon actually went back to the splitter against Cano, twice actually, getting him to swing and miss on the second one. Cano was looking for a fastball in his wheelhouse and just didn’t get it. Once Papelbon got that first inside fastball across for a strike he didn’t come back in for the rest of the at-bat. He did go back inside to Cervelli, figuring, I guess, that Frankie couldn’t hit the inside heat. The second one, though, was a bit too inside.
Then came Thames, who was sitting dead red and got one belt high inside. There it went, game over, Yanks come back off Papelbon to win a game they should have had in the bag much earlier.
Which brings us to…
Bad pitchers, bad management
After their efforts over the weekend, both David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain were not available last night. With Sergio Mitre also not available, that limited Girardi’s options. Further limiting Girardi’s options was Phil Hughes, who couldn’t pitch past the fifth inning. Hughes, however, is a topic for another post. The bullpen, however, is a topic ripe for immediate discussion.
Again, Hughes didn’t make this easy. He did, however, leave with a lead, and the Yanks tacked one on in the bottom of the fifth to give them two. Problem is, without Robertson ready for the sixth and Joba for a later inning, there was no real easy call there. He could have gone to Park, but then would have had to put together two more relievers to cover the next two frames before going to Mo in the ninth.
Girardi’s choice, unfortunately, was Boone Logan. The image to the right describes exactly how I, and many others, feel about Logan’s presence on the team. He’s a lefty who has gotten crushed by same-handed hitters this year. He does not throw strikes. In fact, it was his inability to throw strikes that cost the Yankees a run last night. He threw Victor Martinez, who has crushed lefties this year, three straight pitches out of the zone. After coming back with a gimme 3-0 strike, he delivered one middle-in, and Martinez was all over it. It looked like he was guessing all the way, and it paid off.
Logan did take care of the rest of the inning. Only Logan, though, could allow David Ortiz to hit a grounder to the one spot where the infielders weren’t standing. A double play took care of that, and then he finally took care of the lefty Jeremy Hermida. In any case, the Yanks could probably use a reliever tomorrow, and there should be no hesitation to call Melancon’s number and tell Logan to go have fun in Scranton. There’s just no place for him in a contender’s bullpen.
Chan Ho Park, fresh off the DL, then came out for the seventh, which seemed like the logical move. He probably would have come out for the seventh even if Joba had been available. Again, that worked out well. He killed a leadoff single with a sweet double play. My seats gave me a great vantage point of Jeter leading Cano with the throw, allowing him to flip to first while getting out of Darnell McDonald‘s way. All’s good, right?
When Chan Ho came out for the eighth, I thought little of it. He’s a guy who can go multiple innings. Problem was, he hadn’t pitched multiple innings since April 13, which was the last time he appeared in a game before hitting the DL. He had a short rehab stint, in which he pitched a single inning. Girardi obviously wanted to go as far as he could with the relievers he had, but Park just wasn’t up to the task. A single and back-to-back homers later, and he had coughed up the lead and put the Sox in a good position to win. It was the second day in a row that the Yanks had blown a game in the eighth inning.
Damaso Marte might have been up to the task. He came in essentially with a blank slate, bases empty and none out, and put down the Sox 1-2-3. I’m not sure why Girardi didn’t call Marte’s number, especially with Drew leading off. I guess he’s still thinking of him as a LOOGY. In a game like last night’s though, I think he has to think a bit more deeply about it.
When Javy Vazquez entered in the ninth, it was clear that Girardi was just trying to get into the ninth with the two-run deficit. I’m sure he didn’t want to use Vazquez, that he was a option of last resort. He would have been a better option in the eighth, though, than Park. But, again, he was probably a break glass in case of emergency reliever. His four pitches will not affect his status as Friday’s starter.
A win’s a win, and last night’s was pretty sweet.
WPA Graph and boxscore
They say it’s going to rain, but if it holds up we have CC vs. Beckett tomorrow night.
Three games at Fenway, three blowouts. The Yanks, thankfully, found themselves on the winning end of two, leaving the Red Sox another game back. It doesn’t matter much at this point in the season, but it’s encouraging to be ahead early. The 24-6 advantage in the series’ first two games certainly made the 9-3 loss easier to handle.
Biggest Blunder: Thames can’t track it down
Marcus Thames is a DH, and he reminds us of that nearly every time he plays left field. Last the Red Sox hit plenty of balls his way, including one that got them started. With J.D. Drew standing on second and two outs in the second, Jeremy Hermida took a 2-1 fastball the other way. Marcus Thames couldn’t handle it, and it dropped in for a two-base error. Burnett got out of it by throwing three straight curveballs to Darnell McDonals, and it didn’t seem like much to worry about at the time.
This didn’t feel like the tuning point of the game, though. It was just one run, and Burnett did get the next hitter. Maybe it was the biggest statistical swing, but the biggest emotional swing clearly came an inning later. First with the Ortiz ground-rule double, then with the Beltre double. It hurts to give up anything to David Ortiz these days, especially when it really gets the Sox going.
Biggest Hit: A-Rod ties Frank Robinson
The only blemishes on Jon Lester’s performance came in the fourth, when his team already had a 6-0 lead. Nick Swisher led off the inning with a home run, and then two batters later Alex Rodriguez hit his third of the season. Lester was pretty sharp the rest of the way, allowing just two hits, walking a guy, and hitting another. The Yanks put up a fight at times, but they were short lived.
A-Rod’s home run was, as you surely heard on the broadcast or the highlights, was his 586th, tying him with Frank Robinson on the all-time list. That was just his third of the season, giving him one every 43 PA. That pace should start to pick up. He has a few more to hit before he reaches No. 6, Sammy Sosa, at 609. If he picks up the pace a bit he could accomplish that this year.
Umpiring bad, but no excuse
Arguing with an umpire over balls and strikes is a fool’s errand, but I don’t blame Joe Girardi for registering his complaints with Tim McClelland. His strike zone extended as low as the shins at times, and that pitch to Thames was clearly outside. I’m sure that Girardi didn’t get tossed over one bad call, though. I’m sure he was miffed at how McClelland’s zone affected his starter.
A poor strike zone, though, doesn’t excuse a performance like Burnett’s. The Red Sox seemed to have a plan, hitting almost everything to the left side. Of the 26 batters Burnett faced, 19 put balls in play, and nine hit safely. Another was the Thames error. The three walks didn’t help either. All three of those batters came around to score.
As well as Burnett has pitched this year, a start like this was inevitable. If you choose to read the outlets that publish them, you’ll likely see an article or two about Burnett’s poor performances at Fenway Park. It’s poor timing, for sure. The Yanks had a chance at a sweep and set back the Red Sox even further. But as long as he reverts to his dominant form next start it won’t matter much in the long run.
Two out runs. Six of the Red Sox nine runs came across with two outs on the board. Yes, two-out runs will happen. They’re part of the game. That doesn’t make them any less annoying.
Ortiz’s ground rule double. I know I mentioned it before. It was that annoying.
A-Rod and Swish moving up on the all-time HR list. (Swisher now has 140, tied with Joe Crede, Pinky Higgins, Terry Pendleton, and Adam LaRoche for 464th all-time).
Romulo Sanchez enforcing. He took his job seriously, retiring 11 of the 13 Red Sox he faced, striking out three. Even if the Yanks send him back tomorrow in exchange for a fresh reliever, he’ll get another shot this year.
WPA Graph & Box Score
This one’s not so bad if you ignore everything from 3 on.
The Yanks fly to Detroit to meet up with some old friends for the next four days. The Sergio Mitre Experience plays the warm-up set tomorrow night against Dontrelle Willis.
It’s tough to find controversy when a team goes 4-2 in its first two series, defeating both of its toughest division rivals. It becomes even tougher when the team scores 36 runs in those six games and has won convincingly in the two latest contests. Still, there is one issue that seems to have some Yanks fans wondering. It’s a minor issue, but an issue nonetheless. It appears, at least for the time being, that Joe Girardi will platoon Brett Gardner and Marcus Thames.
When we heard about the possibility earlier this month I didn’t think much of it. Why, I wondered, would the Yankees sacrifice so much on defense just to get Thames’s bat into the lineup? Yet when they faced their first lefty of the season, Jon Lester on Tuesday evening, Thames’s name was on the lineup card. It appeared again on Friday night when David Price took the mound for the Rays. The decision came back to bite them that evening, as Thames couldn’t run down a Jason Bartlett liner to center, which allowed two more Rays to score in an abhorrent fourth inning.
So will the Yankees continue to employ this platoon?
For now, I imagine the team wants to see if they can get anything out of Thames. The only way to do that, so they think, is to play up Thames’s skills. Well, we can really make that singular, since Thames has one skill, power, and he flashes it most proficiently against left-handed pitching. If Thames, then, is going to be of any use to this team, he’s going to have to hit against lefties. Hence the early season trial. I suspect, however, that it won’t last too long.
I don’t love the math in Greg Fertel’s analysis. It uses MLE stats, which don’t necessarily correlate to major league numbers, and it uses defensive projections. While these are better methods than pulling numbers out of thin air, they also leave plenty of room for error. Those issues aside, I think Greg has a good overall point, and one that I tried to make in Friday’s recap. Thames would have to hit a ton off lefties in order to justify his playing time.
Gardner saves runs with his glove, many more than Thames. He will also produce a non-zero average against lefties. Thames will allow many more balls to drop, balls which Gardner would catch. At the plate he might produce better, but in order to determine his value we have to look at his production over Gardner’s, and then look at his production under Gardner’s in the field. Without running through projection numbers, I’m fairly certain that the runs Gardner saves will be worth more than the runs Thames creates, even if Thames actually starts hitting lefties.
Still, Thames figures to get a few more shots against lefties. It’s tough to just on just a few plate appearances, especially early in the year. I understand where the Yankees are coming from in wanting to see if Thames can provide value to the team. The ultimate answer, I believe, will involve Thames being reduced to a pinch-hitting role — and an eventual ouster from the team once they can find a more productive player for his roster spot.
Let’s cut right to chase here: Marcus Thames has been absolutely dreadful in Spring Training so far. He’s reached base in just four of his 33 plate appearances, and all three of his hits are singles. Thirteen of those plate appearances, or nearly 40%, have ended with strike three. That’s not what the Yankees expected when they offered him a chance to win a job on their bench back in February. We talk about how insignificant Spring Training stats are all the time, and generally they are, but there are some instances in which they do have some meaning. One of those instances is when you have a guy like Thames trying to win a job.
Unfortunately the Yankees have already jettisoned Thames’ primary competition from camp, shipping Jamie Hoffmann back to Dodgers. Hoffmann’s spring performance wasn’t anything to write home about either (3-for-23, three walks, one strikeout), but unlike Thames he’s able to contribute something beyond offense. Baseball America rated him as the best defensive outfielder in the organization before he was returned, and he’s capable of double digit steals. Thames is a proven commodity on both defense and on the bases, posting a -12.2 UZR/150 in over 1,760 innings in leftfield, and he’s stolen a grand total of three bases in over 500 big league games. If he’s not hitting, he has no value. It’s that simple.
With Hoffmann gone and almost all of the other non-roster invitees shipped out, it leads us to believe that Thames has all but locked up a spot on the 25-man roster. He’s a Proven Veteran™ after all, and over the last three years he’s hit .263-.326-.541 with a studly .370 wOBA against lefthanders. That’s going to his primary job, to come off the bench and pinch hit against the lefty late in the game or occasionally start against one in lieu of Brett Gardner. The track record is certainly there, but Thames isn’t young (turned 33 earlier this month), and over the last four years he’s become increasingly more susceptible to fastballs (0.72 runs above avg against fastballs per 100 thrown in ’06, 0.40 in ’07, -0.07 in ’08, and -0.24 in ’09). If that’s the not the sign of a guy losing some bat speed, then I don’t know what is.
At this point, the only other realistic in-house option is Kevin Russo, who was just shipped to minor league camp. He had himself a very nice camp (8-for-25, three doubles) and offers the ability to play all over the infield and fill in at the outfield corners if need be. Russo will never offer the power Thames has, even with the latter in his decline phase, but he’s got better plate discipline and is more contact oriented. It’s an imperfect solution to an imperfect situation.
Despite his struggles, it’s all up guaranteed that Thames will break camp with the Yankees as their designated lefty masher. He can opt out of his contract if he doesn’t make the team, so there’s no option of stashing in the minors and hoping he finds his stroke. Joe Girardi rolled out the excuse that he hasn’t face many lefties this spring, but they’re supposed to this weekend so we can see how that goes. Scheduled to face southpaws Jon Lester and David Price within the first four games of the season, the Yanks are going to need Thames to start hitting and soon. Otherwise they’re better off taking 0-fers from Brett Gardner while reaping the rewards of his defense as they prowl the waiver wire and trade market for a suitable fill in.
Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel, AP
The days of the 11-man pitching staff seem behind us. Bullpen specialization, combined with managers employing a slightly quicker hook for starters, makes teams more comfortable with seven available bullpen arms rather than six. This becomes a big deal when creating a 25-man roster. In the AL it means a shallow bench. Eight position players plus a DH leaves just four sports for reserve players, one of which must be a backup catcher. Teams must be cautious, then, when choosing their bench players.
Thankfully, the Yankees have the personnel to make the bench work. While both Nick Swisher and Nick Johnson start at other positions, they can fill in for Mark Teixeira at first if needed. They also have a number of players in the system who can play the other three infield positions, making only one of them necessary for the 25-man roster. That leaves one spot for a reserve outfielder and one spot for a pinch hitter. The bench need not necessarily work that way when the team breaks camp, but it should end up that way soon enough.
Last season the Yankees started the year with a heavy bench, even with A-Rod sidelined with his hip injury. The only consequence was a downgrade from Cody Ransom to Ramiro Pena, not a huge one at all even considering Pena’s rookie status. In the outfield they had Melky Cabrera and Nick Swisher, both starters the previous year. It’s tough, actually, to build a better bench than that. It was probably the Yankees’ best in five or more years. Xavier Nady‘s injury thinned it out in April, though, and the team had to react. They later traded for Eric Hinske for pinch hitting purposes. The bench, again, seemed strong.
This season the Yankees’ bench doesn’t appear as strong as 2009, but it still provides the Yankees with what they need. Ramiro Pena or Kevin Russo will serve as the all-purpose utility man, Brett Gardner or Randy Winn will serve as a reserve outfielder and possibly half of a platoon, Francisco Cervelli will back up Jorge Posada, and Marcus Thames will get at-bats late in games mixed with the occasional start against a lefty. That doesn’t seem too bad at all. Perhaps the Yankees will seek a better pinch hitter than Thames come mid-season, but he’s a serviceable option to start the season.
Even though solid, the bench doesn’t come into play a lot, especially the utility infielder. Robinson Cano played 161 games, Derek Jeter played 153, and Alex Rodriguez, a year removed from his surgery, likely won’t take as many days off. This should limit the utility infielder to 100 plate appearances or so through August (there’s no telling what happens in September when rosters expand). If the winner of Pena/Russo doesn’t hit, or has problems in the field, the Yanks can swap them. The actual difference it makes, though, will be marginal. There will be chances in the outfield, as the left field situation doesn’t seem quite settled. Also, since neither Brett Gardner nor Randy Winn carries a heavy bat, a pinch hitter could get late-game opportunities.
Just how do the projection systems view the Yanks’ four bench players? Mike already covered Winn in his left field preview, so here are the remaining three.
The average projections seem fairly reasonable. Thames, as we know, is all power and not much else. That could make for a good bench player, at least to start the season. If he doesn’t prove effective, the Yankees can go shopping in June. That yielded Eric Hinske last year and could easily net them a similar player this year should the need arise. Pena and Cervelli appear perfectly reasonable for their roles. Cervelli could see more playing time, depending on Jorge’s situation.
Again, the Yankees’ advantage is that they don’t need the bench for very much. Pena will give the infielders a day off, while Winn will spell the outfielders. Thames will come up when the team needs a long fly and Gardner or Winn is due up. Those all seem like very limited roles. Cervelli is the only one who figures to play regularly, though we hope not too regularly. He’s fine as a backup. Hopefully that’s the only role he fills this season.
The feeling around Tampa is that the lineup the Yankees trot out in tonight’s exhibition game will be the one Joe Girardi hands to the umpires on Opening Day. That marks one of the team’s more significant decisions this spring. As we’ve been saying since the outset, if the batting order represents a major decision the team is probably in good shape. After this the Yankees have just a few decisions to make, and only two that will actually affect who stays on the major league roster.
Fifth starter and bullpen
The most discussed position battle this spring has been for the last spot in the rotation. The Yankees insist that all five participants have an equal shot at winning, but that’s what they’re telling the public. Chances are either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes will pitch behind Javy Vazquez, with the others moving to the bullpen. The Yankees know that they’ll need to replace one or both of Vazquez and Andy Pettitte next season, so having at least one of their highly touted youngsters ready to step in would be to their benefit.
Yet the battle doesn’t quite end there. This battle will see four losers, but there remain only three spots in the Yankees’ seven-man bullpen. Mariano Rivera, Damaso Marte, Chan Ho Park, and David Robertson already have spots, so there isn’t enough room for Al Aceves, Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, and one of Joba and Hughes. This means that, one way or another, the Yankees will have to make a roster move. That might be trading Mitre, though there’s no guarantee they can find an acceptable suitor. Otherwise, it means optioning a player.
Of the eight bullpen suitors, only Joba/Hughes, Aceves, and Robertson have options. There’s almost no chance Robertson heads to AAA, so that leaves only two choices. The Yankees could send the either Joba or Hughes to the minors to remain stretched out, but they would also fit well in the bullpen. Sending Aceves down also appears to be a waste. They’ll have to pick one, though, since it remains unlikely that they’d actually DFA one of these players.
Photo credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP
The bench won’t be an issue for the Yankees heading into the season. Francisco Cervelli will back up Jorge Posada, Randy Winn will play the part of fourth outfielder, and Ramiro Pena figures to fill the utility role. That leaves just one spot open, and the Yankees have their battle between two players, Jamie Hoffmann and Marcus Thames. It won’t be an easy decision for the Yanks, either way.
This battle isn’t a matter of picking a winner and sending the loser to AAA. Either Thames or Hoffmann will end up elsewhere if he does not make the team. The Yankees must offer Hoffmann, a Rule 5 pick, back to the Dodgers if he does not make the 25-man roster. Perhaps at that point the two teams can work out a trade — maybe even a Mitre-for-Hoffmann swap — that would allow the Yankees to retain Hoffmann and place him in AAA. Chances are, the Dodgers would not refuse the Yankees’ offer of return.
When Thames signed with the Yankees he knew there was a chance he wouldn’t make the team out of spring training. In fact, with Hoffmann on board it would have made sense for the team to start the season with him in the majors and send Thames to AAA, where he could get at-bats while waiting for an opportunity. Seeing this in his future, Thames negotiated an opt-out clause in his contract that allows him to become a free agent if he does not make the 25-man roster. He could, of course, still end up playing for Scranton if no other teams shows interest. Those chances, however, don’t appear strong.
Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP
Watch them tumble
The Yankees will likely keep a number of pitchers on staff through the end of spring training. The regulars won’t be completely stretched out, and there’s always a need to fill garbage innings when a pitcher gets hammered. But, while we might see guys like Jon Albaladejo and Romulo Sanchez still pitching in big league camp during the last week of March, there’s little to no chance they make the big league team. The Yanks have plenty of depth, to the point where they might have to option a good pitcher and release quality bench fodder. Thankfully, this is nothing but good news.