Mailbag: Hughes, Bullpen, A-Rod, Pena

Four questions in this draft-free mailbag. If you’re interested in the draft though, check out today’s open thread. Otherwise, think up some questions for next week’s mailbag and send them to use with the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Kenny asks: What are your thoughts on re-signing Phil Hughes next year to close? Granted, he’d have to want to close and it would take a few other things like Michael Pineda coming back strong, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and David Phelps continuing to progress, but he could dominate there.

Barring injury or a complete performance collapse, there’s no chance Hughes will re-sign with the Yankees as a closer. Zero. None. Not unless they pay him like a starter. Some team(s) will offer him a nice contract and a rotation spot, and that’s where he’ll go. He has no reason to come back as a reliever.

I do think Hughes would be awesome in the bullpen though, and in fact we already know he would be. We’ve seen him do it in 2009 and remember, he was dynamite out of the bullpen late in 2011 and during the postseason. If for some unexpected reason the Yankees don’t need a starter next year, sure, bring him back a reliever. He wouldn’t be open to it, however. The money is in the rotation.

Nick asks: Why not have an eleven-man pitching staff? They have several guys in the pen who can throw multiple innings, and a long man in Adam Warren so I think they can handle it. The 12th guy on the staff seems to go weeks between games (at least for the last few years). The extra bench player could allow them to do more of a platoon with several of their veterans, who are old and have platoon splits.

The easy answer is that a seven-man bullpen is commonplace these days and teams always hesitate to go against the grain. It’s been a while since the Yankees used a six-man bullpen and I don’t see them going back anytime soon. Having the extra arm is always nice, really.

That said, I do think teams could get away with it as long as they have three or four relievers capable of throwing two innings at a time. It also means having no lefty specialist. The Yankees have more platoons than they know what to do with — seriously, pretty much the only positions they aren’t platooning in some way this year are catcher, first base, second base, and center field — so having that extra position player would be nice.

Considering how important the pitching staff is for this team, carrying the extra pitcher (Joba Chamberlain? Shawn Kelley? Preston Claiborne?) over the extra position player (Brennan Boesch?) isn’t the end of the world. I do think a six-man bullpen is more doable that most realize, however.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Biggie asks: If an Alex Rodriguez suspension comes is he suspended without pay? If so, does his entire salary count against the salary cap or is it adjusted? We are almost 60 games in and suspensions sound two weeks away. Add an appeal and this can possibly carry over into next year. What would that mean to the 2014 $189 budget if anything. Thanks!

Well, the suspensions are nowhere close to two weeks away. The appeals alone will probably take months, especially if they do indeed go after 20 or so players. If A-Rod gets suspended, it won’t happen anytime soon.  This labor war party is just getting started.

Anyway, yes the salary Alex forfeits during a suspension would not count against the luxury tax. Ken Davidoff was nice enough to spell it all out today, so I strong suggest reading that. We’re talking upwards of $15M in savings if he does get the 100-game ban MLB is seeking, so it’s a big chunk of change. That can fill a lot of roster holes.

Ariel asks: With our replacement shortstops playing abysmally, do you think the Yankees regret giving up on Ramiro Pena? Do you think he would be playing as well as he has with the Yanks?

You can file this under questions I never thought would be asked. New York has gotten a .216/.286/.289 (67 OPS+) from their shortstops this year while Rakin’ Ramiro has hit .318/.372/.506 (143 wRC+) in 95 plate appearances as utility infielder with the Braves. What the hell is that about?

Now, obviously Pena won’t maintain that pace. It’ll be a minor miracle if he does. A 50.0% ground ball rate and 16.7% HR/FB rate in that ballpark just don’t make sense considering the type of hitter he is, plus the .353 BABIP is a bit above what you’d expect even if he was a true-talent .320 BABIP guy. Pena could always pick it defensively, so that wasn’t the issue.

Considering who the Yankees have used at short and what they’ve gotten out of the position this year, I definitely think they want him back. Of course this kind of production was completely unforeseen, and I don’t think he’ll maintain this at all. He might hit better than he did in the Bronx, but Pena didn’t suddenly become Troy Tulowitzki.

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Season Review: Miscellaneous Position Players

As we wrap up our seemingly never-ending review of the 2012 season, it’s time to look back on the last handful of position players. These are the guys who spend some time on the big league roster this year but not much, ultimately contributing little in the grand scheme of things.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Dewayne Wise
He was sparingly used during his three months on the roster, but the 34-year-old Wise hit .262/.286/.492 (106 wRC+) in 63 plate appearances for the Yankees. He also retired both batters he faced while pitching in a blowout loss. The team originally recalled him to fill Brett Gardner‘s roster spot before cutting him loose following the Ichiro Suzuki trade. Wise went 9-for-18 with a double, a triple, and three homers during an eight-game stretch in late-June/early-July, but his greatest contribution to the club — besides the bunt that turned the season around — was his non-catch against Indians in late-June.

Chris Dickerson
Had the 30-year-old Dickerson not been on the minor league DL early in the season, chances are he would have been recalled to take Gardner’s spot instead of Wise. He instead had to wait until rosters expanded in September, and he went 4-for-14 (.286) with two homers and three steals in his limited playing time. Most of his action came as a defensive replacement in the late innings. I like Dickerson more than most and think he can be a useful left-handed platoon outfielder who also provides speed and defense, but it’s obvious the Yankees aren’t interested in giving him an opportunity. For shame.

(Elsa/Getty)

Melky Mesa
Mesa, 25, was the team’s only true rookie position player this year. He came up when rosters expanded in September and only appeared in three games — one as a pinch-runner and two as a late-innings replacement in blowouts. Mesa did pick up his first career hit and RBI in his first big league plate appearance, singling on a ground ball back up the middle. His most notable play was a base-running blunder, when he missed the bag while rounding third base on an Alex Rodriguez single in extra-innings against the Athletics. Mesa would have scored the game-winning run, but alas. Rookie mistake.

Darnell McDonald
The Yankees got a little cute prior to the All-Star break, claimed the right-handed hitting McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox before heading up to Fenway for a four-game set. The Sox were set to throw three left-handed starters in the four games, so the 34-year-old figured to see some playing time against his former team. McDonald instead received just four plate appearances, made outs in all of them, and collided with Curtis Granderson in center field. A run scored on the play. Embedded Red Sox? Embedded Red Sox.

Ramiro Pena
Rakin’ Ramiro was on the roster for less than a week this season. The Yankees called him up after Alex Rodriguez had his hand broken by Felix Hernandez in late-July, but he was sent back down following the Casey McGehee trade a few days later. In between, the 27-year-old infielder singled once in four plate appearances and got into two other games as a pinch-runner. Pena became a minor league free agent after the season, ending his seven-year stint with the organization.

Ramiro Pena headlines crop of minor league free agents

Baseball America published their annual list of the offseason’s minor league free agents today, a collection of 549 total players. Here are the players the Yankees are losing to the open market…

RHP: Jason Bulger (AAA), Kelvin Castro (R), Manny Delcarmen (AAA), Grant Duff (AA), John Maine (AAA), Ronny Marte (HiA), Jon Meloan (AAA), Tim Norton (AAA), Ramon Ortiz (AAA), Kevin Whelan (AAA)
LHP: Lee Hyde (AA), Mike O’Connor (AAA), Josh Romanski (AA)
C: Jose Gil (AAA), Gustavo Molina (AAA), Craig Tatum (AAA)
3B: Kevin Russo (AAA)
SS: Doug Bernier (AAA), Walter Ibarra (AA), Ramiro Pena (AAA)
OF: Edwin Beard (SS), Cole Garner (AAA)

Pena, who has spent parts of the last four seasons in New York, headlines the crop of mostly older, veteran players. Losing the three Triple-A catchers is part of the reason why the Yankees claimed Eli Whiteside yesterday. Someone needs to sit on the bench and be the backup in Scranton. Whelan and Russo had very brief stints with the Yankees a few years ago, and Garner made some noise early in Spring Training this year. Duff and Norton have already transitioned to coaching within the organization.

The Yankees already re-signed four would-be minor league free agents to new minor league contracts a few weeks ago, most notably lefty Juan Cedeno and outfielder Abe Almonte. Andrew Brackman (Reds) is the most notable former Yankees farmhand cut lose by another team.

Ramiro Pena clears waivers, outrighted to Triple-A

Via Donnie Collins, infielder Ramiro Pena has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A. The Yankees designated him for assignment this past Saturday to clear room on the 40-man roster for Chris Dickerson. Pena, 27, remains in the organization but is no longer on the 40-man roster, so I suppose we could see him again down the line somewhere.

Yankees designate Ramiro Pena for assignment, call up six

Via Peter Botte, the Yankees have designated Ramiro Pena for assignment to clear room on the 40-man roster for Chris Dickerson. Unlike the first time he was designated, he will now need to be traded, released, or passed through waivers within ten days. Click here for an explanation of that weirdness.

Along with Dickerson, the Yankees have also officially recalled Frankie Cervelli, Eduardo Nunez, Cory Wade, Adam Warren, and Justin Thomas as rosters expand today.

Mailbag: Pena, Heathcott, Bleich, September

Got four questions for you this week, and they all relate to prospects. Well, minor leaguers. Let’s put it that way. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime, including mailbag questions.

(Abelimages/Getty Images)

Nick asks: Ramiro Pena. DFA or not DFA?

Yes, Ramiro Pena was designated for assignment last week. However, he remains on the 40-man roster. It’s weird, but this situation comes up once or twice a year around the league. Because he had made his Major League debut more than three calendar years ago, Pena had to clear optional waivers to go to the minors. Those are revocable, so players always clear.

Pena was designated to be sent to the minors, not necessarily to be removed from the 40-man or kicked out of the organization. It’s weird, but it happens. The Athletics designated Jerry Blevins for assignment in this exact situation multiple times last year, prompting The Todd Van Poppel Rookie Card Retirement Plan to contact the team about what exactly was going on. Check out this post for more info on the procedure. The Yankees will have to do the same thing if they recall Pena and try to send him back down again later this season, and it’s completely harmless.

Andrew asks: Any chance we see Slade Heathcott start to climb the organizational ladder again anytime soon? I know he’s had a tough time staying healthy, but his bat seems to be fine since his return and he’s even back out in the field.

I think he’ll stay with High-A Tampa through the end of the season, which at this point is about three weeks away. He’s only played the field a handful of times since coming back from the second shoulder surgery, and even counting last season he still has fewer than 175 plate appearances at the level. Slade is hitting extremely well this season with surprising power and a lower than usual strikeout rate, but he pretty much just got there. I’m hoping he continues to perform this way through the end of the season and the Yankees bump him up to Double-A Trenton to start next season. In a perfect world both Heathcott and Mason Williams will be playing center field on an everyday basis in 2013.

(The Trentonian/Jackie Schear)

Steve asks: Could Jeremy Bleich sneak his way on to the roster this off-season, especially if he keeps up his solid return as a reliever? He’s Rule 5 Draft eligible, he throws with his left hand, and besides Boone Logan and Clay Rapada, the only other upper-level lefties are Justin Thomas, Juan Cedeno, and Mike O’Connor, none of which are of value. I could totally see an NL team plucking him and getting good use of him.

Nah, I don’t see it happening. Bleich is coming off the shoulder surgery and is going to finish the season with about 50 innings to his credit, likely none above Double-A. I haven’t heard anything about how his stuff looks post-surgery but it wasn’t anything special when he was healthy anyway. Thomas and O’Connor (and Pedro Feliciano) are goners after the season but I think the Yankees are going to add Cedeno to the 40-man to keep him from becoming a minor league free agent. That means they’ll have him, Logan, and Rapada as lefty specialists going into next year, plus other guys like Josh Romanski and (particularly Francisco Rondon coming up behind them.

I’m not quite sold on Bleich’s ability to stick on a 25-man roster next season — unless he’s come back with mind-blowing stuff, which we surely would have heard about by now — so I would leave him unprotected. If some team takes him and he sticks, so be it. Losing a left-handed reliever isn’t the end of the world, especially one that probably isn’t worth a 40-man roster spot on a contending team just yet.

Howie asks: It’s almost September call-up time. I figure we’ll see a bunch of 40-man guys called up (Ryota Igarashi, Thomas, Adam Warren, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez and Francisco Cervelli seem like no-brainers), but would you expect to see a David Adams or Corban Joseph? What about Dellin Betances after his struggles? Any non-40 man roster guys? Chris Dickerson seems like he deserves it. Would a pitcher like Cedeno or Chase Whitley get the call to soak up innings?

The standings atop the Triple-A International League North Division are very tight at the moment, so Empire State is right in the thick of the playoff hunt. Assuming they stay in the race and qualify for the postseason, we’ll only see the bare minimum call-ups on September 1st. That means a third catcher (Cervelli or Austin Romine? I’d go Frankie so Romine can get regular at-bats in Triple-A), another infielder (Nunez seems obvious, though there’s always Ramiro), and at least two more bullpen arms. Igarashi and Thomas seem likely since they’re already on the 40-man, though Warren is probably better off getting the innings as a starter in the Triple-A playoffs.

Once the Triple-A playoff drive is over, almost everyone will come up. Laird, Warren, Romine/Cervelli, maybe CoJo and Melky Mesa, all those folks. I would be very surprised if they called up Adams even though he’s on the 40-man and they have him working out at third. He seems like a candidate to join the team for workouts but not be activated to the roster. I said before that I think they’ll add Cedeno to the 40-man, but that probably won’t happen until after the season. The 40-man roster is clogged up enough as it is at the moment. Dickerson’s probably the only other non-40-man guy worth a call-up, plus he might actually be useful next season. There aren’t any Rule 5 eligible guys worth calling up early either, the pitchers like Brett Marshall, Nik Turley, and Mike O’Brien aren’t the types of kids you call up in September. They can come hang out with the team and watch from the stands instead.

Update: Yankees designate Ramiro Pena for assignment

August 2nd: Apparently the Yankees designated Pena for assignment yesterday, according to the official site. That seems weird, they didn’t need to clear a 40-man roster spot for McGehee and could have easily sent Ramiro to Triple-A. Brian Cashman did confirm the move to Chad Jennings, however.

August 1st: As expected, the Yankees have sent Ramiro Pena back down to Triple-A to make room on the 25-man roster for the recently acquired Casey McGehee. Pena had one single in four plate appearances and two pinch-running appearances during his brief stint with the big league club. McGehee is in this afternoon’s lineup, playing first base and hitting seventh.