Archive for Ronnie Mustelier

(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) has  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.

Categories : Offense
Comments (138)
The play that re-injured Youkilis' back. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees have dealt with more than their fair share of injuries already this year, but Kevin Youkilis‘ recent back trouble takes an especially big bite out of the team’s roster. After all, he was originally signed as the replacement for another injured player, Alex Rodriguez. New York placed Youkilis on the DL yesterday, meaning they will be without their replacement third baseman for at least the next two weeks.

Because of the timing of the injury, the Yankees were left without a suitable roster fill-in. Corban Joseph got the call, but Brian Cashman made it clear they view him as a right-side infielder and emergency option at the hot corner only. Since Robinson Cano never takes a day off, it’s unclear how exactly the left-handed hitting Joseph helps the team right now. He’s one notch above a dead spot on the roster at the moment, a square peg forced into a round bench hole.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would have called up David Adams instead of Joseph. The 25-year-old would have given the team a legitimate option at third base and because he’s a right-handed hitter, he also would’ve helped with their struggles against southpaws. Theoretically, anyway. Unfortunately Adams can not be called up to the show until May 15th because he signed a minor league deal with the club after they released him last month. For whatever reason, those guys are forced to wait 30 days before returning to the show. Clay Rapada is in the same boat. The injury-prone Adams is perfectly healthy, but the rulebook keeps him in Triple-A.

Adams wasn’t the only right-handed option though, the Yankees also could have gone with 28-year-old Ronnie Mustelier instead of Joseph. He plays third base and left field, meaning he would have added some usable versatility and been an option to replace Ben Francisco once Youkilis did return. Mustelier is out with an injury though, specifically some kind of bruise suffered right at the very end of Spring Training. He was scheduled to play in his first minor league rehab game with High-A Tampa last night, but Mother Nature got in the way and the game was rained out.

There is never a good time for an injury, especially one to a player as important as Youkilis. The timing of this injury was particularly bad because the team’s best internal replacements are non-options. Adams is still two weeks away from being big league eligible and Mustelier still has an entire rehab assignment ahead of him before being ready for meaningful games. By the time Adams or Mustelier become legitimate options for the big league team, Youkilis will hopefully be ready to come off the DL. Given the way things have gone for the team health-wise this year, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised the latest injury comes at a time when the team’s best replacements aren’t even truly available.

Categories : Injuries
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Mar
27

2013 Season Preview: The Bench

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Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.

The lesser of two catching evils. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The lesser of two catching evils. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Previewing the bench will not be easy because we still — four days before Opening Day — have basically no idea who will fill these four spots. Sure, either Frankie Cervelli or Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher, but we don’t know which one yet. I’m guessing Joe Girardi has some kind of convoluted personal catcher situation planned; I feel like having two backup catchers on the roster is his managerial dream.

As for the backup outfield and infield spots … who knows right now? There are a lot of candidates for a few spots and the Yankees continue to look outside the organization for help. Given their massive 40-man roster logjam, a multi-player trade shouldn’t be ruled out at this point either.

Catcher
It’ll be either Stewart or Cervelli and the Yankees have indicated a pretty even playing time split (maybe more like 60/40), I think it’ll only be a matter of time before Frankie grabs the job outright. His throwing has been greatly improved and he’s a far better hitter (but still nothing special), the two things that stand out most about a catcher. If they start the year with a 55/45 or 60/40 split, I think sometime in mid-May it’ll be slanted about 75/25 in favor of Cervelli. The Yankees love Stewart but they love winning more, and playing a guy with a legit chance to post a .200s across the board slash line will only last so long given how much offense they lost elsewhere.

Ronnie has had a bit of an issue with walls in camp. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Ronnie has had a bit of an issue with walls in camp. (AP/Kathy Willens)

Backup Infielder
Derek Jeter‘s nagging ankle issues cleared up the backup infield situation quite a bit. Eduardo Nunez will open the season as the starter and that paves the way for Jayson Nix to make the team as his backup. There really isn’t much competition for this spot — veteran Gil Velazquez is the only other guy in camp who could play a passable shortstop at the big league level. Again, we shouldn’t rule out a trade, but Nix seems like a lock for a bench spot right now.

The real question is whether the Yankees want to carry two backup infielders like they have the last two years, Nix and a corner infield guy like Eric Chavez. The only real candidates for that Chavez role are Dan Johnson — who seems to have little chance of making the team at this point — and Ronnie Mustelier. The 28-year-old Cuban defector has had a good spring — mostly against Triple-A caliber pitching according to B-Ref’s OppQual stat — and has seen a bunch of time at third base lately, so he’s at least earning consideration from the team. I guess we shouldn’t rule about a two-headed first base platoon with Juan Rivera and Lyle Overbay, which would soak up that second infielder’s spot.

Backup Outfielder
Assuming Vernon Wells is penciled in as the everyday left fielder, the fourth outfielder’s spot is down to Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, and I guess Mustelier. Depending on whether they take a second backup infielder, it’s possible two of these guys will make the team. Mustelier makes the most sense really, since he could backup both the corner infield and corner outfield spots.

Boesch and Francisco presumably have a leg up on Mesa and Neal given their big league experience, and again, both could make the team. The Yankees were planning to open the season with three left-handed outfielders and a right-handed backup, and Boesch would give them that third lefty. He also has minor league options remaining and could be stashed in Triple-A. I’m not sure if Francisco has an out clause in his contract before the end of Spring Training, so sending him to the minors might not be an option. The Yankees will want to retain as much depth as possible given their rash of injuries.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Knocking on the Door
In addition to the guys mentioned above — Velazquez, Johnson, Mesa, Neal, etc. — the Yankees will have a handful of other bench options waiting in Triple-A Scranton. That is what the level is there for, after all. Austin Romine is the clear third catcher but would probably need an injury to earn a shot in the big leagues. He’s missed a lot of time these last two years with back problems and needs to play everyday.

Corban Joseph gives the team depth at second and third bases, though they had more before releasing David Adams yesterday. Zoilo Almonte is another warm body for the outfield mix, but he has never played above Double-A and will need some Triple-A time before coming to the show. He’s pretty much at the bottom of the outfield depth chart at the moment. Pretty much anyone who doesn’t win a bench spot will open the year in Triple-A as a backup plan. That’s who’s knocking on the door.

* * *

My opinion changes by the day/hour, but if the season started today I believe the Yankees would go with a four-man bench of Stewvelli, Nix, Mustelier, and Boesch with Francisco & Co. heading to Triple-A for the time being. The club could play finagle Phil Hughes‘ expected DL stint into a fifth bench player — Francisco would be the guy for that one, I assume — for the first few games of the season, but I don’t see that happening.

That four-man bench pretty much stinks. There is no speed to pinch-run — that would have been Nunez’s job before he forced into playing short everyday — and basically no versatility outside of Nix. Carrying Mesa over Boesch would address the speed issue while Mustelier is the only one who could offer real versatility. Barring an unexpected trade(s) these next few days, the bench figures to be a work in progress pretty much all season.

Categories : Bench
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(Charles Wenzelberg)

(Charles Wenzelberg)

Barring some kind of unexpected trade, the Yankees are not going to be able to replace Mark Teixeira‘s production while he is out with his wrist injury. Say what you want about his declining performance — you’re kidding yourself if you think he’ll be easy to replace because of his typically slow starts — he was far better than anyone reasonably available as an alternative. The Yankees will simply have to weather the storm and hope they don’t fall too far out of the AL East race while their first baseman (and center fielder) are on the shelf in April.

Given the in-house options, it seems like the best way to replace Teixeira is with a three-headed platoon. Kevin Youkilis is the common player here thanks to his ability to play either corner infield spot. Against righties, the Yankees could run with Youkilis at third and Dan Johnson at first. Against lefties, they could go with Youkilis at first and say, Ronnie Mustelier at third. Here are the numbers (from 2011-2012) for a real quick comparison:

  • Johnson vs. RHP: .291/.409/.549 in 678 PA
  • Youkilis vs. RHP: .227/.332/.395 in 719 PA
  • Mustelier vs. LHP: .305/.357/.506 in 183 PA
  • Youkilis vs. LHP: .294/.407/.528 in 307 PA

Johnson’s and Mustelier’s stats come from Minor League Central because they simply haven’t played much (or, in Ronnie’s case, at all) in the big leagues. That’s going to be a problem pretty much no matter who the Yankees choose to replace Teixeira — they won’t have much of a big league track record. Obviously Youkilis is a concern against right-handers, but we knew that at the time of his signing. Maybe his work with Kevin Long will improve that production, but I’m not counting on it.

Like it or not, Johnson’s and Mustelier’s performances will take a step back from those numbers with regular playing time in the show. If they could manage league average performances against pitchers of the opposite hand while Teixeira is on the shelf, I’d be thrilled. The Yankees would be getting approximately a league average performance from the two corners against righties and much better than that against lefties (thanks to Youkili)s. This is just offensively, remember. There’s no way to replace Tex’s defense.

Now that I think about it, it would probably be easier just to keep Youkilis at third the whole time and stick the defensively challenged Mustelier at first, but the Yankees like to make things unnecessarily complicated and this way they wouldn’t have to worry about teaching him a new position. If they want to keep Youkilis at third, they could use Juan Rivera at first against lefties. He has seen more time at first in camp lately and actually played more games there (54) than in the outfield last year (46). Jayson Nix is another right-handed option, but he’s a third baseman and more of a last resort than anything. Nice fill-in player but not someone worthy of a regular lineup spot, even against lefties.

The season starts in two weeks and two days, and right now I have absolutely no idea what the Yankees will do until Teixeira returns to the lineup. I’m guessing they don’t have a firm plan in place either, but are probably leaning one way or the other. That kinda scares me. First base is one of the most important (arguably the most important) position in terms of expected offensive production, and right now the Yankees are holding auditions for an injury fill-in(s). It seems like an easy spot to fill, but no obvious solution stands out right now.

Categories : Polls
Comments (36)

Via Chad Jennings: The Yankees are indeed giving Ronnie Mustelier a look at third base in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s wrist injury. “We’re going to look at him,” said Joe Girardi, in case you didn’t believe me.

Mustelier, 28, is 6-for 16 (.375) with a triple, a homer, two walks, and four strikeouts in camp so far. B-Ref’s OppoQual stat indicates he’s faced mostly Triple-A caliber pitching so far this spring, which isn’t a surprise since most of his work has come off the bench. Because Kevin Youkilis can play either corner infield spot, the Yankees are free to seek a first or third baseman as they look to replace Teixeira’s production. There’s no harm in giving Mustelier a look, but his bat is going to have to carry him because the defense is lacking.

Categories : Asides, Spring Training
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Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.

(Star-Ledger)

(Star-Ledger)

For the first time since 2003, the Yankees figure to have someone other than Alex Rodriguez play the majority of their games at third base this season. A-Rod is recovering from a(nother) hip surgery and will be out until midseason, leaving the team without one of its most potent right-handed hitters following an offseason that saw a few too many power bats depart via free agency.

The Starter(s)
It was supposed to be A-Rod, but the surgery will keep him on the sidelines until the All-Star break if not longer. The Yankees replaced him by signed Kevin Youkilis to a one-year deal worth $12M, and suddenly he’s become a very important part of the offense now that Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will open the year on the DL.

Youkilis, who turns 34 one week from today, put up a .235/.336/.409 (102 wRC+) batting line in 509 plate appearances for the Red Sox and White Sox last summer. He did go deep 19 times and drew his usually high amount of walks (10.0%), but his game has been on a steady decline for years now. Just look at his graphs page on FanGraphs, everything is heading in the wrong direction. Youkilis is hitting more and more ground balls with each passing year, which is a classic symptom of an older player losing bat speed. To his credit, he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long in the offseason to shorten his stride and compensate.

Despite that decline, Youkilis is still a useful player. He absolutely annihilates left-handers, tagging them for a .275/.386/.492 (135 wRC+) line last year and a .323/.436/.598 (174 wRC+) line over the last three seasons. No hitter in baseball has been more productive (by wRC+) against southpaws since 2010. His defense at the hot corner is below-average but not a disaster, plus he can slide over to first base without a problem. Youkilis is injury prone, having visited the DL in each of the last three seasons (thumb, back, hernia). The Yankees need him to stay on the field in 2013, especially early in the season.

(Getty)

(Getty)

Of course, Youkilis is only the third baseman because A-Rod will miss the first half of the season. He’s visited the DL every year since signing his $275M scarlet letter prior to the 2008 season, but this injury is the most serious: a torn left hip labrum, a bone impingement, and a cyst. The doctors say he will make a full recovery but the Alex of old is long gone. His .272/.353/.430 (114 wRC+) performance in 2012 was solidly above-average but far below his career norms. Like Youkilis, almost everything on A-Rod’s graphs page is going in the wrong direction.

For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have to proceed under the assumption that Rodriguez will not be back this season. They can’t count on him for anything, let alone to ride in on a white horse to save the offense in the second half. It’s unclear how the new hip procedure will impact his swing — he was unable to use his lower half as much following the right hip surgery in 2009, and that injury was less severe — or his defense or his mobility. Anything the club gets out of Alex in 2013 is total gravy. Youkilis will be counted on as the starter until his contract expires as far as I’m concerned.

The Backup
With the Yankees continuing to groom Eduardo Nunez as a shortstop and Dan Johnson both failing his Spring Training hot corner audition and being needed at first base in the wake of Teixeira’s injury, the backup third baseman is Jayson Nix. The 30-year-old is a versatile little player who does almost all of his offensive damage against lefties (97 wRC+ in 2012 and 94 career) and has surprising pop (career .157 ISO). Unless the Yankees swing an unexpected trade before the season begins, Nix will be Youkilis’ primary backup at the hot corner and he could play pretty much full-time against southpaws if Johnson takes over at first.

It hasn't been pretty for CoJo at the hot corner in camp. (Presswire)

It hasn’t been pretty for CoJo at the hot corner in camp. (Presswire)

Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do have some third base depth in Triple-A Scranton. David Adams and Corban Joseph are both second basemen by trade, but the 25-year-old Adams shifted over to third late last year while the 24-year-old Joseph has played the position quite a bit in the spring. Outside of one being a right-handed hitter (Adams) and the other being a lefty (Joseph), the two players are very similar. They are both willing to take a walk and can hit for doubles power, though their glovework leaves something to be desired. Joseph in general has trouble making the long throw across the diamond. He’s expected to open the year at second base in Triple-A while Adams mans third, but both will surely get reps at each position to stay fresh.

It’s worth mentioning 28-year-old Ronnie Mustelier here, who played third base in yesterday’s Grapefruit League game — Joe Girardi said that was planned before Teixeira’s injury — and has played 26 games at the position in the minors since signing two years ago. The Yankees have moved him down the defensive spectrum from second to third to left in the last 20 months or so, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll give him a longer look at third in the coming weeks. Mustelier can hit a fastball and put the ball in play, but the defense is a question. I don’t think he’s a legitimate third base candidate at the big league level but we shouldn’t rule it out.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

The Top Prospect
There’s a pretty strong case to be made that the team’s best third base prospect is an outfielder. Tyler Austin — who ranked third on my preseason top 30 prospects list — moved off the hot corner last year in deference to 2011 first rounder Dante Bichette Jr., and he mashed (.322/.400/.559 and ~163 wRC+) his way up to Double-A Trenton while settling into right field. The Yankees have considered moving him back to third base, but as far as we know that won’t happen. It’s not like the club has a long-term right fielder in place, so no big deal. He’ll open the year back with Trenton and we shouldn’t rule him out as a big league factor for 2013, but it’s unlikely. Boy can he hit though.

Outside of Austin and multi-position infielders Adams and Joseph, the Yankees’ top true third base prospect is Bichette. I ranked him 27th on my preseason top 30 for a few reasons, most notably because he fell back into some bad swing habits and had a miserable season with Low-A Charleston (.248/.322/.331 and 85 wRC+). Bichette was named the MVP of the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees after signing in 2011 because he made some adjustments at the plate, but he has to get back to being that guy if he wants to avoid becoming a non-prospect less than three years after being drafted. The Yankees will return him to the River Dogs this year and he’s a long way from being a big league factor.

The Deep Sleeper
New York spent $750k to sign 18-year-old Miguel Andujar out of the Dominican Republic back in 2011, then he hit .232/.288/.299 (80 wRC+) in 191 plate appearances for the rookie level GCL club in his pro debut last summer. Disappointing performance aside, Andujar is the team’s best lower level third base prospect because he’s a solid all-around player with no carrying tool but no real weakness. He has good pop and hitting ability from the right side to go along with strong defense at the position. If he grows into some more power or suddenly becomes a much more adept defender, Andujar will raise his profile quite a bit. He’ll open the year back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June, though he doesn’t have a ton of breakout potential.

* * *

The Yankees have a decent amount of third base depth at the upper levels, but they lack a true impact player at the position. I suppose Youkilis could surprise and revert to his 2008-2010 ways, but he’s a deal pull right-handed hitter who will no longer have the advantage of the Green Monster. Despite its general hitter friendliness, Yankee Stadium is not kind to pull-happy righties. Nix, Adams, Joseph and even Mustelier are decent alternatives and emergency options, but the front office should keep their eyes peeled for corner infield help while Teixeira is out, even if it means acquiring a new starting third baseman with Youkilis sliding over to first.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops

Categories : Players
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(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The dust has settled a little bit following the news of Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm on Sunday. The Yankees will be without their 40-homer center left fielder for the next ten weeks, meaning he will miss the first month of the season. It’s a big loss, no doubt about it, but they are lucky it happened so early in Spring Training. Things would have been a lot worse had he gotten hurt on March 24th instead of February 24th.

As expected, the Yankees insist they will plug their new outfield hole from within. The Johnny Damon talk has already fizzled out while the Alfonso Soriano talk never really got going. The only unsigned free agent outfielder who is both healthy and actually capable of playing the outfield everyday is Scott Podsednik. Thanks, but no thanks. The Yankees will stick with their internal options and see if (hope?) a better alternative pops up next month as camp winds down and roster spots are finalized. Here is a quick look at those internal options, listed alphabetically.

Zoilo Almonte
Almonte, 23, is a switch-hitter who managed a power-heavy 120 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton last year. He hit a career-high 21 homers and also stole 15 bases, though his miniscule walk rate (5.6%) and strikeout concerns (22.7%) seem to make skipping over Triple-A a risky proposition. Zoilo’s pop is legit, but the rest of the package is lacking.

Matt Diaz
Diaz was in the running for the right-handed outfield platoon bat role before Granderson’s injury, so it seems natural that he would be among the favorites for the job now. The soon-to-be 35-year-old hasn’t hit in three years (80 wRC+), due to in part to various injuries — getting stabbed in the hand by a palm tree and dealing with the subsequent infections chief among them. Diaz is on a minor league contract and was a total shot in the dark by the front office, who hopes he can recapture his 2006-2009 form (117 wRC+).

Adonis Garcia
Here’s the darkhorse. The 27-year-old Garcia signed for $400k last summer and has impressed with his bat ever since, especially in winter ball (.292/.319/.481 with six homers in 39 games). As Baseball America wrote earlier this month, the right-handed hitter “is a better fit on a corner outfield spot and doesn’t have an impact bat, but he’s shown a knack for hitting and surprising pop for his 5-foot-9 stature.” Garcia is not on the 40-man roster, which could hurt his chances.

Melky Mesa
Mesa, 26, is the best all-around player of the bunch. He can swing-and-miss from the right side with the best of ‘em (career-low 23.5 K% in 2012), but he’s hit at a better than average rate at each rung of the minor league ladder, including a ~125 wRC+ split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Mesa has power and speed — at least 19 homers and 19 steals in three of the last four years — to go along with standout defense and a strong arm. Among players in the organization who could legitimately see big league time this summer, Melky2.0 is probably the second best defender behind Brett Gardner. He got his first taste of the show last September.

Ronnie Mustelier
Everyone loves the right-handed hitting Mustelier, the 28-year-old Cuban defector who has managed a ~144 wRC+ since signing for a measly $50k two years ago. His strikeout rate (13.0%) is strong, his walk rate (6.7%) slightly less so. The concern with Mustelier is his defense, which is poor and has gotten him moved down the defensive spectrum form second base to third to left over the last 20 months or so. He can hit a fastball though.

Thomas Neal
Neal, 25, seems to be the afterthought in all this. The righty swinger managed a 144 wRC+ with 12 homers and 11 stolen bases in Double-A last year, making his big league debut with the Indians in September. He has some Triple-A time under his belt (277 plate appearances) and is solid defensively. Neal is a long shot, but he shouldn’t be written off completely. Like Garcia and Mustelier, he is not on the 40-man roster.

Juan Rivera
Like Diaz, the Yankees inked the 34-year-old Rivera to a minor league deal so he could complete for the right-handed bench bat role. The former Yankee is, by far, the most experienced and accomplished player in this post. He’s hit to the tune of a 92 wRC+ over the last three seasons and despite being a strong defensive player once upon a time, he’s now comfortably below-average. Rivera’s best attribute is his ability to put the ball in play (12.9 K% since 2010).

* * *

Ramon Flores is on the 40-man roster, but I have no reason to think the Yankees will jump him from High-A to MLB just to plug a one-month hole. Same goes with top prospects/non-40-man players Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Tyler Austin. If you want some projections for the players mentioned in this post, SG has you covered. Otherwise, time to vote…

Who should be the regular left fielder while Granderson is on the DL?
Total Votes: 2301 Started: February 27, 2013 Back to Vote Screen
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(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

The bench, particularly a right-handed hitting outfielder, and the DH spot have been the Yankees’ primary areas of focus these last few weeks and that will probably continue until pitchers and catchers report in five weeks. The free agent market still has several DH-type players available and the club does have Matt Diaz, Russ Canzler, and Melky Mesa in-house as candidates for that right-handed outfield bat role. They also have a fourth internal option in Ronnie Mustelier, who Michael Eder at The Yankee Analysts wrote about this week and a number of people have emailed me about these last few months. I figured it was time to chime in.

First things first, we have to understand that we know very little about Mustelier. We do know that he defected from Cuba in late-2009 and signed with the Yankees in June 2011 thanks to Matt Eddy at Baseball America. We also know that he turned 28 this past August, hit .301/.407/.517 in Cuba from 2007-2009, and is a career .324/.378/.497 hitter across four minor league levels because that’s what Baseball-Reference tells us. He doesn’t have a platoon split according to Minor League Central, and his overall strikeout rate (13.0%) is pretty great in 656 minor league plate appearances. We have to remember that he was old for every level, however. Mustelier’s a right-handed hitter who has played second and third bases as well as both outfield corners since signing with New York. The vast majority of his 2012 season was spent in left. If MiLB.com’s bio information is to be trusted, we also know he’s a little portly at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs.

That’s pretty much it. The closest thing we have to an actually scouting report on Mustelier is this collection of quotes from VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman back in early-October (Baseball America subs. req’d)…

“He has a very short stroke and pretty good balance … He strikes out once in every seven at-bats. His walks are below-average but he puts the ball in play … He played third, second, left and right … We are trying to find out where his best defensive position is and what our needs are … He can run and cover ground … He can also play right. He improved defensively over the course of the season.”

Within that same link we learn the Yankees signed Mustelier for just $50k, a pittance compared to most Cuban defectors. You have to take an organization’s quotes on its own players with a big grain of salt because of course they’re going to talk the guy up. Newman’s stuff on Mustelier isn’t outrageous though, it’s not like he called him a plus defender with elite bat speed or something. That would have been a little weird given the modest signing bonus, which indicates little interest from around the league.

Baseball America’s John Manuel offered up his take on Mustelier during the publication’s Top 20 Triple-A International League Prospects chat back in early-October (subs. req’d)…

I see him as a player for a potential Cuban ex-pat team in the WBC. I do not see him as an MLB option. Guys like Mustelier and Barbaro Canizares and Leslie Anderson and other Cuban ex-pats can make a good living in professional baseball outside of the major leagues, but he doesn’t strike me as a player with a position outside of the batter’s box. He does have bat speed and he can hit a good fastball. Maybe that gets him a chance.

So that’s pretty much it. Those last few paragraphs are basically all we know about Mustelier at this point. He’s performed very well since signing but has been old for the level each time. He offers some defensive versatility, but he probably fits best in left field based on how the organization used him. The fact that the Yankees did not stick Mustelier back at third base — they did move David Adams over to third, remember — following Alex Rodriguez‘s hand injury in the second half tells me they don’t think he can handle the position in the big leagues, even on a temporary basis. It’s not like the team had a real prospect at the hot corner in Triple-A at the time, it was basically Brandon Laird and Kevin Russo. Actions always speak louder than words.

(Photo via Syracuse Chiefs)

Now, that said, the Yankees should obviously give Mustelier a long look in Spring Training in a few weeks. He received all of two plate appearances in big league camp last year, one fewer than Austin Krum and half as many as Walt Ibarra. Mustelier just wrapped up a strong winter ball showing — .284/.345/.471 with nine homers and nine steals in 55 games down in Mexico — and finished the 2012 calendar year with a combined .304/.364/.482 batting line in over 700 plate appearances in three different leagues (Double-A, Triple-A, winter ball). When a guy that close to the big leagues hits like that, he deserves a look in camp. I definitely expect the Yankees to invite him to Major League Spring Training, for what it’s worth.

At the same time, a guy like Mustelier should not stop the team from pursuing solutions for those openings on the bench and at DH. It obviously hasn’t given the Matt Diaz and Russ Canzler pickups, but I’m talking about legitimate upgrades like Mike Morse or Scott Hairston. The Yankees should give him a look in camp to see what he can do, maybe he lost some weight and improved defensively during the offseason and made himself a viable option at second and third bases. Who knows. He’s earned the look though. Mustelier is not on the 40-man roster right now and the club won’t have to add him for another few years, so there’s no pressing roster issue that will force their hand. At the moment, Mustelier is an intriguing Plan B or C to keep in the minors. I wouldn’t want him to be Plan A for anything heading into 2013.

Aside: For what it’s worth, SG’s extremely early CAIRO projections have Mustelier as a .268/.321/.420 hitter in the big leagues next season. That’s really good for a bench player but not for a DH, which is where he’s slotted into the lineup in the projections.

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(REUTERS/Mike Segar)

The Yankees played their 60th game of the season last night and they’ve only had Brett Gardner in the starting lineup for eight of them. The elbow injury he suffered sliding for a ball against the Twins has morphed into a series of setbacks that culminated with a visit to Dr. James Andrews yesterday. Gardner will see Dr. Tim Kremcheck for a second opinion on Thursday, at which point the Yankees will presumably announce the latest diagnosis.

Barring some fortunate and frankly unexpected good news, Gardner is going to miss several more weeks. A few days ago Joe Girardi indicated that he doesn’t expect his left fielder back until after the All-Star break, which is still more than a month away. Raul Ibanez has been better than expected and softened the blow of losing Gardner a bit, but the Yankees can’t really rely on him as the everyday left fielder for an extended period of time. He’s already started 33 games in the field and at 40 years old, there has to be some concern about him wearing down later in the season.

Unless the Yankees get good news on Thursday, they have to at least consider bolstering their roster with Gardner on the shelf. With all due respect to Dewayne Wise, he’s nothing more than a defensive replacement/spot starter in the big leagues. The Yankees can do better without having to go outside the organization, they have some potential solutions sitting in Triple-A.

Chris Dickerson
I’ve written about Dickerson before, noting that he offers the ability to hit right-handed pitching (career .341 wOBA against northpaws) in addition to strong defense and base running skills. I don’t know if he’s a better defensive player than Wise but the difference isn’t worth arguing about. Dickerson can handle all three outfield spots with aplomb as well as contribute offensively with his bat and legs. The Yankees don’t have to play him every day in a straight platoon, but they could run him out there three times a week against righties while keeping Ibanez in the DH role. Cutting Wise in favor of Dickerson — who is out of minor league options and would have be waived whenever Gardner is healthy — is an upgrade in almost every single way.

Russell Branyan
Joe and I talked about this option on yesterday’s podcast. The idea would be to dump Wise, keep playing Ibanez in left, and use Branyan as the regular DH against right-handers. He’s come back very well from his back injury — six homers in 13 minor league games already — but it’s tough to consider him anything more than a first baseman/DH option. Branyan’s days of even faking third base and the corner outfield are a thing of the past. Adding a huge left-handed power bat lineup is obviously desirable, but it would leave the Yankees without a true backup center fielder and further limit roster flexibility.

I suppose it’s also worth mentioning Jack Cust here, who is also raking in Triple-A but has yet to play a single game in the field. It’s been DH or the bench. At least Branyan has played first base pretty much every game.

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

Ronnie Mustelier
The most interesting 27-year-old in the minor league system, Mustelier has been hitting non-stop since signing last summer and he’s now doing it at the Triple-A level. Joe Girardi raved about his bat speed recently and said his name has come up as a call-up candidate at various points this year … but that’s pretty much all we know about the guy. He’s small — listed at 5-foot-10 and 210 lbs. — and right-handed with phenomenal numbers, but we don’t know anything about his defensive skills or speed or anything else. Box scores only tell you so much. Mustelier has spent a ton of time in left field and also has experience in the infield, so his versatility as a plus. He’s not an ideal platoon candidate given his right-handedness, but he could also hit enough that it doesn’t even matter.

Eduardo Nunez
This one probably won’t happen for a number of reasons. For one, Nunez is currently on the minor league DL with a thumb issue. For another, the Yankees sent him to Triple-A to focus on one position after bouncing him all around the field over the last year or so. Calling Nunez back up to do anything — utility infielder, platoon left fielder, etc. — would go against that plan. That doesn’t mean it’s not an option, just that it seems unlikely. That said, we can’t rule anything out. Whenever Nunez gets healthy — probably soon since he was taking grounders just last week — he figures to at least be on the call-up radar.

Miscellaneous
As always, the top minor league affiliate is chock full of random call-up options. Brandon Laird is on the 40-man roster and can play all four corner spots, but he can’t hit — .251/.289/.393 in 870 total plate appearances in Triple-A. Corban Joseph has zero outfield experience so he’s of no use in this situation despite being on the 40-man. Colin Curtis is a solid enough defensive player and can play all three outfield spots, but he’s never been much with the stick. Kevin Russo can play all over the field and make some contact, but otherwise isn’t any kind of upgrade. Neither he nor Curtis is on the 40-man roster as well. Not much to see here.

* * *

Of course, the Yankees always have the option of doing nothing and sticking with their current setup. Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Jayson Nix could continue to take turns in left field while Wise gets nothing more than the occasional spot start. That’s  fine for two weeks or whatever, but I’d rather not see them roll with it for an extended period of time. It’s already been long enough as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, stuff is like this begging for a poll, so…

How should the Yankees replace Brett Gardner internally?
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Categories : Bench, Polls
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Kind of a long mailbag this week, with five questions that cover everything from trade candidates to prospects to historical comparisons. Remember to use the Submit a Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Peter asks: Mike, you wrote up Jake Peavy as a trade candidate on MLBTR a few weeks ago. Do you see the Yanks possibly targeting him in July? If so, what’s a fair price?

Here’s the link to that MLBTR post. Peavy, 30, has been one of the very best pitchers in baseball this season, pitching to a 1.89 ERA (2.22 FIP) with 7.57 K/9 (22.6 K%) and 1.20 BB/9 (3.6 BB%) in 52.1 IP across seven starts. He’s been absolutely phenomenal, no doubt about it, but there are still some red flags.

For one, Peavy’s recent injury history is quite scary. He’s been on the DL five times in the last four years, including lengthy stints for an elbow strain (2009), an ankle strain (2009), shoulder surgery (2010), and shoulder inflammation (2011). The shoulder surgery was not a typical labrum or rotator cuff issue, he torn his right lat muscle right off the bone. The injury is  rare and the medical procedure so unique that the recovery timetable was completely unknown. Peavy is showing now that he’s healthy, but the injury stuff has to be in the back of everyone’s mind.

Statistically there’s not much to worry about. He’s always been a fly ball pitcher but now he’s taken it to the extreme, with a 28.7% ground ball rate on the season. That explains his .234 BABIP to a certain extent and even though not every fly ball is hit deep, you have to assume his 2.8% HF/FB rate is going to correct at some point. That’s insanely low. Peavy’s salary — $17M this year with a $22M option for 2012 ($4M buyout) — is quite high as well.. I mentioned Erik Bedard as a trade comp in the MLBTR post, meaning one top-ten prospect (in a farm system, not all of baseball) and another Grade-C secondary piece could work as a trade bounty. The Yankees could have interest, and thankfully we have a few months to see if Peavy holds up physically and can maintain his performance before the deadline.

Willie and many others asked: Is it time to start getting a little excited about Ronnie Mustelier?

(Rudy C. Jones/MiLB.com)

I was surprised by how many people asked about Mustelier following his promotion to Triple-A earlier this week. We must have gotten at least ten questions about him, but I guess that’s what happens when a player hits .351/.397/.550 in 295 plate appearances since signing last summer.

Just some real quick background info: Mustelier is 27 years old (28 in August), short (5-foot-10), kinda fat (210 lbs.), a right-handed hitter, and versatile (has played second, third, and the outfield corners). He spent a number of years playing in Cuba before defecting, and as a hitter he makes consistent contact (13.2 K%) but doesn’t walk much (6.4 BB%) or steal bases (12-for-18). The Yankees like Mustelier enough that they sent him to the Arizona Fall League last year, where he hit .344/.354/.516 in 16 games while missing time with injury. Here’s some video.

The most important thing to understand is that Mustelier has been very old for his level since signing. This is an older guy pounding young pitchers and that can skew the results. The Yankees have done a good job getting him to Triple-A quickly so they can evaluate him against the best pitching in the minors, though I wouldn’t expect to see him in the big leagues anytime soon. Baseball America didn’t even have Mustelier on their 80-player Yankees prospect depth chart in the 2012 Prospect Handbook, so there’s a whole lot of unknown here. His versatility is a plus, but we need to see another few hundred minor league at-bats to know if there’s anything worthwhile here.

Arad asks: Had this argument with my brother, who is the better player over their careers using everything, Jeter or Honus Wagner? Thanks Mike!

Wagner is the greatest shortstop in baseball history and it’s not all that close. Obviously it was a much different era, but he hit .325/.392/.462 during his 16-year career despite not officially joining the big leagues until age-27. That’s worth 110.0 bWAR and only one other shortstop is over even 75 career bWAR (Cal Ripken Jr. at 90.9). Jeter is at 69.4 bWAR and counting. No version of WAR is perfect, but the gap between Wagner and everyone else is impossible to ignore.

Jeter is very clearly the best shortstop in Yankees history and is in the conversation for a top five spot all-time with Wagner, Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Arky Vaughan, and Luke Appling. Robin Yount and Alex Rodriguez deserve acknowledgement as well, though they both spent significant portions of their careers at other positions. Wagner’s the best shortstop ever though, very hard to dispute that.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Alex asks: Mike, I read all the pieces you wrote about Mark Teixeira. One thing, which you addressed, slightly still interests me. Since Tex is a switch hitter, it seems like hitting righties from the right side is out of the question. But isn’t everyone a “switch hitter” to a degree? I bet A-Rod could turn around and produce a poor line from the left as well. Has any switch hitter ever became a one-side hitter? Will it hurt to try?

Here are those three posts on Teixeira (part one, two, three, four). I don’t know of any players who successfully dropped switch-hitting this late in their careers. Lots of guys stop switch-hitting in the minors, including Frankie Cervelli and Eduardo Nunez, but that’s very early in their careers. A lot of players mess around with switch-hitting in batting practice and may be able to survive on athleticism in a game situation, but I’d put money against it.

Teixeira’s been switch-hitting his entire life, going all the way back to high school. The guy has never been at the platoon disadvantage at a high level and he’s never seen a breaking ball that breaks away from him. If he were to stop hitting from the left side, he wouldn’t magically replicate his performance against lefties as a righty (.397 wOBA) as a righty against righties. If Teixeira’s offensive problems become so severe that dropping switch-hitting is being seriously discussed, it’s a transition that would have occur during the offseason and in Spring Training. I don’t see any way you could ask him to do that midseason and be productive. You’re setting him up for failure both short and long-term that way.

Jon asks: I literally got physically ill when I heard about Mariano Rivera‘s torn ACL. The question is does Mo fit into the new budget? Do they bring him back next year at $10-15 million if it costs them Cole Hamels?

Well the new budget doesn’t kick in until 2014 unless ownership decides to implement next season. That would suck. I can’t imagine any scenario in which Rivera gets a two-year contract after this season, not at his age and not coming off a major injury. In that sense they could pay him whatever and still sign Hamels knowing that Rivera and his salary will be gone in 2014, when the payroll tightens up. It would be a major surprise if Mo’s next contract somehow extends beyond next season.

I am curious to see how negotiations with Rivera play out this winter. Are the Yankees going to pay him the $15M+ next year just because he’s Mariano Rivera? Or will they try to scale it back a bit, maybe $10-12M given his age and injury? Considering that they offered Andy Pettitte eight figures this past December after he sat at home for a year, I’m willing to bet they’ll have no problem paying Mo something similar to, if not in excess of his current salary.

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