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.

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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.

Yankees to recall Ramiro Pena

Via Joel Sherman, infielder Ramiro Pena is en route to Seattle to take Alex Rodriguez‘s roster spot. A-Rod was placed on the DL after a pitch broke a bone in his left hand last night. The Yankees wanted some versatility, particularly someone who could play the outfield in a pinch, hence Pena with Eduardo Nunez still on the mend from his thumb injury. Sherman says Nunez is a candidate to rejoin the team soon, however.

The A-Rod Injury & Third Base

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

At this point of the season, with a seven-game lead and 65 left to play, the Yankees are just looking to maintain their cushion and stay healthy. The latter is sometimes out of their hands though, and last night they lost Alex Rodriguez for an unknown length of time when a pitch broke the fifth metacarpal in his left hand. It’s a non-displaced fracture and although that’s better than a displaced fracture, but it will still require a DL stint. Most estimates put his timetable in the 6-8 week range but we won’t know fore sure until he gets back to New York and sees the doctors on Thursday.

One way or the other, the Yankees just lost their starting third baseman and an important middle of the order bat for a not insignificant period of time. A-Rod is no longer the historically great hitter he once was, but his .356 wOBA and 121 wRC+ will be very tough to replace. The Yankees also have zero right-handed power in their lineup now — it’s basically Andruw Jones on the days he starts and that’s it. Switch-hitters Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher do soften the blow, thankfully. The team has not yet announced the corresponding roster move, but they have some options to plug the third base hole.

Eric Chavez
The Yankees have gotten some fantastic production out of Chavez this year (108 wRC+) and he remains a standout defender at the hot corner, but they would risk injury by running him out there on a full-time basis. It’s not a matter of if he would get hurt, just a question of when. Joe Girardi has done a fine of job of limiting his playing time in a way that both helped the team and kept Chavez off the DL. Doing that with Alex on the shelf will be much more difficult.

Jayson Nix
Nix has been fine as the utility infielder but he is a right-handed bat who does almost all of his damage against left-handers (99 wRC+). He and Chavez make sense as a platoon tandem in the short-term but the Yankees run the risk of exposing Chavez to injury and exposing Nix to opposing pitchers by using it permanently.

Eduardo Nunez & Ramiro Pena
Nunez is still working his way back from a thumb injury in the minors, so he’s probably not an option just yet. The Yankees love him and almost certainly would have used him as A-Rod’s replacement had a) he been healthy, and b) his defense not been so bad in April and May that he had to be sent to Triple-A. We’re all familiar with Pena, the switch-hitting slap hitter with a .249/.302/.316 batting line in Triple-A this season. He can play all over the infield and is excellent with the glove, but he can’t hit. You don’t want him out there on a full-time basis at all. Both Nunez and Pena are on the 40-man roster.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Brandon Laird & Corban Joseph
It’s been two years since Laird broke out with an MVP-winning season in Double-A, but Triple-A has been a much more difficult challenge. He’s hit .253/.294/.406 in just over 1,000 plate appearances at the level but has been hot of late, hitting .313/.367/.613 in July. Laird is a right-handed hacker with some power and he can actually play the position well, so he seems like a potential call-up candidate. CoJo has been mashing at Triple-A since making his debut a few weeks ago — .281/.379/.503 with nearly as many walks (31) as strikeouts (34) in 220 plate appearances — and has 43 games of third base experience to his credit (for his career, not this year), so he has to be considered as well. As a left-handed bat, he would get most of the playing time in a platoon. His ability to play second base would be nice as well. These two are both on the 40-man roster.

Outside Help
Go figure, Ryan Roberts was both designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks and traded to the Rays just a few hours before A-Rod got hurt. He would have been a solid temporary replacement had the timing been right. The Yankees could still explore the third base market with the trade deadline a little less than a week away, but I have to think they’ll wait for an official timetable from the doctors before diving into anything. Chase Headley is the big name now that Hanley Ramirez is off the market, but I have a hard time thinking they’ll do something of that magnitude. Headley wouldn’t just impact 2012, he’d impact 2013 and 2014 as well. A free agent-to-be like Marco Scutaro, Stephen Drew, Ty Wigginton, or Placido Polanco may make more sense.

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Regardless of who the Yankees call-up to fill A-Rod’s spot — I expect it to be Nunez, but that’s nothing more than a guess — we’re probably going to see quite a bit of Chavez (and a little bit of Nix) at third for the next week or so. Chavez is an obvious fill-in but Girardi and the Yankees have to be very careful with him, they must ensure that he’s well-rested unless they want to lose two third baseman to the DL. I don’t have much faith in Laird or really any of the minor league guys at the moment, so swinging a trade before the deadline would be preferable. Either way, the Yankees will not be able to replace Alex and everything he provides, even this aging and declining version.

Yankees had been talking to Braves about Ramiro Pena

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees and Braves were talking about a trade involving Ramiro Pena before Atlanta acquired Paul Janish from the Reds yesterday. The Braves were looking for a stopgap shortstop after losing both Andrelton Simmons and Jack Wilson to finger injuries last week.

Pena, 27 next week, is hitting just .241/.294/.301 in 275 plate appearances for Triple-A Empire State this season. It’s his final option year, meaning he’ll have to clear waivers to go back to Triple-A next season. Ramiro has negligible trade value and the Yankees actually do need him at the moment since he’s their only non-Derek Jeter shortstop at the upper levels, at least until Eduardo Nunez comes off the DL. Unless they were getting an actual prospect in return — the Braves sent 27-year-old up-and-down arm Todd Redmond to Cincy for Janish — the Bombers are probably better off keeping Pena for depth.