Yankees are “probably not” going to have interest in Ramon Hernandez

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are “probably not” going to have interest in catcher Ramon Hernandez, who was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week and released yesterday. Because he’s been designated and released, Los Angeles is on the hook for his $3.2M salary and whatever team signs him will only be responsible for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

Hernandez, 37, hit .208/.291/.438 (104 wRC+) in only 55 plate appearances for the Dodgers. He hit .217/.247/.353 (45 wRC+) in 196 plate appearances for the Rockies last season while battling pretty severe hand and hamstring injuries. Hernandez, who has first base experience, has graded out as a slightly-below-average defensive catcher in recent years. Austin Romine has been terrible (-17 wRC+), so the Yankees have a chance to upgrade their backup catcher position at a very low cost here. Considering their emphasis on catcher defense and knowledge of the pitching staff, I guess it’s no surprise they aren’t expected to show interest in the freely available Hernandez.

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Yankees need to continue shaking up the roster

(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
Boesch. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Fresh off three offensively inept losses to the Athletics last week, the Yankees called up outfielder Thomas Neal from Triple-A and inserted him right into their lineup during the first two games of the Angels series. The move wasn’t just a response to the 18-inning marathon game either — Neal told Chad Jennings he received the call at 2:15pm ET on Thursday, more than an hour before the marathon game started. The team made the move as a direct response to their struggling offense.

It was just one very small move, and the Yankees shouldn’t stop there. Despite yesterday’s six-run outburst, this is still a club that struggles to put more than four runs on the board on any given night, and lately scoring more than two runs has been a chore. With so many high-profile injuries and scrap heap replacements, the Bombers actually have some roster flexibility and can replace players without having to worry about salaries or contract statuses or egos.

In no particular order, here are four moves the Yankees can make to potentially improve the position player side of their roster. None of these moves are going to transform the offense into a juggernaut, not even close, but even slight upgrades are worth making at this point.

Bring back Brennan Boesch
Boesch, 28, hit .283/.341/.458 (117 wRC+) with 16 homers as recently as 2011. He had surgery to repair the UCL in his right thumb (so the thumb on his front/power hand) following that season, and the lingering effects contributed to his .240/.286/.372 (77 wRC+) line in 2012. The Yankees picked him during Spring Training and outside of a one-week stint with Triple-A Scranton last month, Boesch has not played regularly or been able to get into a groove this season. He managed a .275/.302/.529 (123 wRC+) line during his sporadic appearances with the big league team, and now’s the time to see what he can contribute with regular at-bats. The club’s corner outfielders have been just awful overall this year.

Now, there’s a small problem: Boesch is currently on the Triple-A DL with a shoulder injury. Ken Davidoff said it was a minor issue in multiple articles last week and indicated he could return relatively soon, however. As soon as Boesch is healthy and ready to be activated, the Yankees should call him up and stick him in the lineup everyday. Against righties, against lefties, at home, on the road, whatever. Let him sink or swim. There’s a non-zero chance he can contribute to the team both this year and in the future — Boesch is under control as an arbitration-eligible player through at least 2015 — and this is the time to see what he has.

Swap David Adams for Ronnie Mustelier
It feels like an eternity since the 26-year-old Adams burst onto the scene and went 10-for-31 (.323) with two doubles and two homers in his first eight big league games. Since then, he’s gone 6-for-44 (.136) with one double to drag his season batting line down to .213/.234/.333 (49 wRC+). He also has yet to draw a walk in 77 plate appearances. Adams has gone from everyday third baseman to seldom-used platoon infielder.

(Presswire)
Mustelier. (Presswire)

Mustelier, on the other hand, has put up an unimpressive .280/.319/.408 (96 wRC+) line in 166 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton this year, at least unimpressive compared to the .314/.371/.488 (~140 wRC+) line he managed between Double-A and Triple-A last summer. The 28-year-old Cuban defector has picked it up of late following a slow start, hitting .324/.359/.468 over the last month. He plays third, he plays left, he plays right, he’s hit ever since signing two years ago. The defense is not great (or even good), but if not now, then when?

Of course, we run into another problem: like Boesch, Mustelier is hurt at the moment. He is currently sidelined — not on the DL, just day-to-day — with what amounts to a minor grain strain. I don’t know what the timetable is for his return, but I assume it will be relatively soon since they’ve yet to put him on the 7-day minor league DL. By swapping the two, Adams can go back to Triple-A to get regular playing time and rebuild his confidence while Mustelier gets the opportunity to play third everyday.

Drop Reid Brignac for Alberto Gonzalez
Brignac, 27, is the best defensive shortstop in the entire Yankees organization. He is also hitting .182/.217/.261 (18 wRC+) in 94 plate appearances overall this year, including a .100/.122/.125 mark since joining New York. Big league pitchers are hitting .138/.165/.186 (-9 wRC+) this year, for comparison. There is a minimum standard of acceptable offense and Brignac does not meet it, even at the low standards of shortstop.

The Yankees actually dumped the 30-year-old Gonzalez for Brignac last month, opting for better defense and the left-handed bat. Gonzalez has gone 8-for-35 (67 wRC+) in limited big league time this year, and at Triple-A Scranton he currently owns a .269/.355/.312 (85 wRC+) line. Neither of these guys can hit, but Gonzalez can’t hit slightly less. He’s no slouch with the glove either, in fact he’s probably the second best defensive shortstop in the organization. There isn’t much sense in keeping Brignac around for platoon reasons when he can’t hit at all. Gonzalez could provide a slight upgrade overall, and even if he doesn’t, no big deal. The Yankees really wouldn’t be any worse off.

Shoppach. (Presswire)
Shoppach. (Presswire)

Swap Austin Romine for … someone
Three (three!) competent big league backup catchers were designated for assignment last week, meaning they are freely available to the other 29 teams. One of those catchers (John Baker) has since been claimed by the Dodgers, but the other two (Ramon Hernandez and Kelly Shoppach) are still out there for the taking. Hernandez has hit .208/.291/.438 (103 wRC+) in 55 plate appearances for the Rockies and Dodgers this season while Shoppach put up a .196/.293/.346 (82 wRC+) line in 125 plate appearances for the Mariners.

Romine, 24, has been an absolute disaster even by backup catcher standards, going 7-for-53 (-24 wRC+) with two doubles. Both the 37-year-old Hernandez and 33-year-old Shoppach represent upgrades, allowing Romine to get the regular playing time he desperately needs in Triple-A. Shoppach is particularly appealing because he a) hasĀ  hit .239/.333/.428 (112 wRC+) against left-handers since 2010, and b) is familiar with CC Sabathia from their years together with the Indians. As we saw with Romine, the Yankees are obviously concerned about the pitcher-catcher relationship. Shoppach and Sabathia already have a bit of a rapport, which should ease the transition. The backup catcher is pretty much the 25th man on the roster, but an upgrade is an upgrade.

* * *

Obviously these moves aren’t as simple as swapping one guy out for another. Each requires a 40-man roster move and that can get complicated, especially when making multiple moves at the same time. The 40-man is full right now, but guys like Chris Bootcheck, Melky Mesa, Neal, and Brignac are easily cuttable. Remember though, the team is expecting five (!) players to return from 60-day DL at some point this summer barring setbacks. Clogging up the roster with someone like Mustelier might not be ideal. Then again, neither is struggling to score four runs a night.

More from the scrap heap: Tyler Greene, Lyle Overbay, Ramon Hernandez

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Brian Cashman and Co. have been spending a good deal of time at the local junk yard, searching for scraps that can perhaps fit into their Frankenstein of a 2013 roster. At this point, given the many weaknesses, any available player represents a potential upgrade; even Vernon Wells could prove better than fellow scrap heap additions Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch.

Today a few teams lumped a few more players onto the scrap heap. Looked at from the perspective of the defending AL East champs they normally wouldn’t merit consideration. But with these Yankees, anyone is in play.

Lyle Overbay: The Red Sox signed Mike Napoli to play first base, but with the issues they discovered during his physical they sought a MLB-caliber backup plan. That turned out to be Lyle Overbay, whom they signed to a minor league deal in late January. Had he made the Red Sox it would have been his fifth team in the last four years. Today they cut him loose, so he’ll be seeking a different home for that fifth team.

With David Ortiz starting the year on the DL, it seemed that Overbay had a chance to make the Sox roster. Apparently they think they can get more out of Mike Carp and perhaps some of their younger players. For his part, Overbay hit well in parts of two seasons with Arizona, but has generally struggled since 2009. He could provide a temporary solution at first base, perhaps platooning with Juan Rivera. Given the Yankees’ vulnerability against left-handed pitching, though, it seems more likely they’ll stick with the right-handed bat.

Tyler Greene: If the Astros cut a player, he’s not likely to be of much use to any other team. Ask 30 baseball pundits who will have the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft and all 30 will guess Houston. Why would the Yankees have any use for a player the Astros couldn’t even use? Because at shortstop the pickings are slim.

If Derek Jeter opens the season on the DL, Eduardo Nunez becomes the starting SS with Jayson Nix backing him up. If Nunez’s throwing problems persist and he’s no longer a viable option at SS, Nix isn’t a guy you can really play there every day. That leaves Reegie Corona as the next option on the depth chart. Greene, a 2005 first-round pick, hasn’t hit a lick: .224/.292/.356 in 689 MLB PA. In the minors his only real successes came in the Pacific Coast League, where Bubba Crosby once hit .361/.410/.635. Yet he’s still a likely upgrade over Corona, and gives the Yankees a decent defensive option if Jeter remains immobile and Nunez falters.

Ramon Hernandez: He’s not on the scrap heap yet, but it certainly appears he’s headed there. Troy Renck of the Denver Post says that that Hernandez will either be traded or released at some point. He’ll earn $3.2 million this year, and given his abysmal 2012 season, combined with his advanced age, either the Rockies will eat almost all of that in a trade or else be forced to release him.

The Yankees seem committed to Francisco Cervelli to start the season. The disdain for Cervelli is a bit over the top in my opinion, seeing as he does own a career .271/.339/.353 line in about a full season’s worth of PA. Still, that’s spread out pretty far so the Yankees could use a backup plan. Austin Romine will likely need some more time, and Chris Stewart is hardly an option to start. Hernandez was worse last year, but he also suffered from a hand injury. At 37, though, he’s quite a risk. The Yanks might rather go with who they have in camp already than an unknown outsider.

In normal years, we might have laughed off these players. Who needs these old, underperforming players? But with injuries and general lack of depth this year, everyone becomes an option. At this point it would be something of a surprise if the Yankees didn’t sign one of these three players.

Heyman: Yankees have not called about Ramon Hernandez

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees have not inquired about the availability of Rockies catcher Ramon Hernandez. Several teams are interested and Colorado is reportedly open to trading a catcher for pitching help.

Hernandez, 36, hit just .217/.247/.353 (45 wRC+) in 196 plate appearances last season while battling hand and hamstring strains. The hamstring required surgery in September. Hernandez is owed $3.2M this year and will become a free agent next winter, so he should be very cheap to acquire. That said, we all know the Yankees are inexplicably happy with the Chris Stewart-Frankie Cervelli catching tandem and won’t seek out an upgrade.

Scouting The Trade Market: Ramon Hernandez

As I wrote this morning, the Yankees have gotten next to nothing out of their Russell Martin-Chris Stewart catching tandem this year, meaning it’s only logical to explore potential trade options for help behind the dish. Unfortunately the crop of catchers around the game consists of elite backstops (Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, etc.) or absolute garbage (Kurt Suzuki, Miguel Olivo, etc.). There seems to be no middle ground, though one name caught my eye when MLBTR published a list of potentially available catchers earlier this week: Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies.

Hernandez, 36, is currently on the DL with a left hand strain but he started a minor league rehab assignment last night. He was off to a slow start this season — .216/.260/.398 with four homers (58 wRC+) — but it was only 101 plate appearances and his hand was barking. The Rockies are going nowhere fast (31-50) and Hernandez’s injury has allowed catcher of the future Wilin Rosario to emerge as an everyday option (100 wRC+), so it seems likely that they’ll look to move the veteran backstop for prospect depth. Frankly, they should be selling off anything not nailed down. The Yankees need catching help and Hernandez is a catcher, but it’s not that simple. Let’s see what he has to offer…

The Pros

  • Despite this year’s numbers, Hernandez can still hit a little. He posted a .282/.341/.446 batting line with a dozen homers (111 wRC+) in 328 plate appearances last year for the Reds and has hit .280/.341/.432 (105 wRC+) in nearly 800 plate appearances since Opening Day 2010.
  • Most of that damage has come against same-side pitchers. Hernandez has tagged right-handers to the tune of .279/.338/.450 with 21 homers (109 wRC+) in 538 plate appearances over the last three seasons. He’s held his own against southpaws as well: 95 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances.
  • Beyond the raw production, Hernandez’s best offensive trait is his ability to put the bat on the ball. His career strikeout rate is a miniscule 12.7% and he’s never deviated too far from that number in any season, even as he’s crept up into his mid-30s.
  • Beyond the Box Score rated him as one of the game’s better defensive backstops in both 2010 and 2011. Click through for the full analysis. Hernandez has also been consistently above average at stopping the running game, throwing out a hair more than one-third (33.8% to be exact) of attempted basestealers since the start of 2010. League average is generally in the 27-29% range. As an added bonus, Hernandez has started 30 games (44 appearances total) at first base in recent years. Versatility is always nice.
  • Hernandez spent three years with the Orioles so he’s familiar with the AL East and all that stuff. I don’t put a ton of stock into that but I do think it’s worth mentioning. Knowing the lay of the AL East land is better than coming in blind. Hernandez has always been considered a strong clubhouse guy — that’s one of the primary reasons why Colorado signed him in the first place — and again, always a plus.

The Cons

  • Catchers get hurt, it comes with the territory, but Hernandez has been on the DL five times in the last six years. His injuries include an oblique strain (2007), a groin contusion (2007), knee surgery (2009), knee soreness (2010), and now the hand issue. Hernandez is no longer an everyday backstop and has been unable to top 85 starts behind the plate or 360 plate appearances in a single season since 2008.
  • We can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from his performance this year, but Hernandez’s ground ball and line drive rates have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. The same can be said of his once strong walk rate. This isn’t atypical of older hitters.
  • Mike Fast’s now famous study on pitching framing rated Hernandez as one of the game’s worst at turning borderline pitches into strikes in recent years.
  • Hernandez is no rental. The Rockies signed him to a two-year deal worth $6.5M this offseason, and he’s still owed approximately $1.6M for the rest of this year plus $3.2M next year. Tying up future payroll with a midseason trade is not ideal.

On paper, Hernandez seems like a pretty good fit for the Yankees. He could split catching duties with Martin down the stretch and since he’s under contract at a reasonable price next year, he could serve as a nice veteran caddy for a young kid like Austin Romine. His contract then expires right as the 2014 payroll plan takes effect. Simply put, he’d be a stopgap for next season.

That said, we are talking about a 36-year-old backstop who probably should have turned into a pumpkin two or three years ago. His slow start this year could just be small sample size noise or the sign of impending doom. Catchers do fall off quickly and drastically without warning, so any team that trades for him could be stuck with a dud backstop eating up future payroll. There’s quite a bit of risk here but the cost — both financially and in terms of players in the actual trade — shouldn’t be exorbitant, plus the benefits could be compounded since Martin tends to play better with extra rest. The catcher pickin’s are slim and Hernandez just may represent the best of the bunch.