2014 Season Review: Brendan Ryan and the Random Infielders

Remember last season, when the Yankees had a revolving door at shortstop just about all summer? They had seven players start at least five games at short at year ago. This summer it was only four players, and two of them made fewer than nine starts. The Yankees still cycled through a healthy collection of random backup infielders in 2014, though thankfully it was not as substantial a group as 2013. Let’s recap their seasons.

Zero on the scoreboard? Shocking. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Zero on the scoreboard? Shocking. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Brendan Ryan

Giving Ryan a two-year contract with a player option for a third year definitely flew under the radar as a LOLWTF move last offseason. I mean, I get it, the Yankees had to protect themselves in case Derek Jeter‘s ankle and legs couldn’t hold up, but still. One year in, that’s a weird contract even though it only pays him peanuts. You don’t see players like this get multi-year contracts all that often.

Ryan, 32, actually started this past season on the disabled list after hurting his back in Spring Training — he suffered a pinched nerve in his upper back during drills, then re-aggravated it sitting on the bus during a long Grapefruit League road trip — and he didn’t join the team until early-May. He was a seldom used backup infielder, appearing in only 49 games and starting only 33. Ryan hit a weak .167/.211/.202 (12 wRC+) with no homers, four walks, and 30 strikeouts in 124 plate appearances. He had two (2) multi-hit games.

The Yankees did get their money’s worth out of Ryan defensively by playing him at all four infield spots. Yes, that includes first base. The image of Ryan playing first while Jeter plays short will forever be my lasting memory of the 2014 Yankees. Everything was just so backwards. Ryan is still a quality gloveman but he is clearly no longer elite defensively. That’s sort of the problem. He can’t hit — he’s never hit and never will — and if he’s not going to dominant defensively, then he’s not really worth a roster spot. Of course, if the 2015 season started today, Ryan would be the starting shortstop.

Zelous Wheeler

Because of Jeter’s lost 2013 season, Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension, and Robinson Cano‘s free agency defection, the Yankees hoarded some infielders on minor league contracts last winter. The 27-year-old Wheeler was one of those players, and he put himself on the map with a strong Spring Training and an excellent (132 wRC+) first few weeks with Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up in early-July when Yangervis Solarte played his way down to the minors, and in his very first MLB game, Wheeler did this:

Not a bad way to start your big league career, no? Wheeler swatted another solo homer a week later and didn’t do much else offensively the rest of the season, finishing the year with a .193/.230/.298 (43 wRC+) batting line in 62 plate appearances. He went back down to Triple-A at one point and was recalled in August.

Wheeler is actually still on the 40-man roster, though now that I think about it, it isn’t all that surprising. First off the Yankees have some open 40-man spots, so it’s not like they need to get rid of someone, but also the infield is one giant question mark. They don’t have a second baseman, a third baseman, or a shortstop right now. Wheeler could always go to the minors and I guess he’s worth keeping around as depth for the time being.

Dean Anna

Man, what a season this was. Guys named Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte actually made the Opening Day roster. The Yankees acquired Anna from the Padres in the offseason — they sent reliever Ben Paulus to San Diego, and he had a 4.65 ERA (4.49 FIP) while repeated High-A this summer — and he beat out Eduardo Nunez for the spare infielder’s job in Spring Training. Both he and Solarte did, fair and square.

Anna, 27, played very sparingly in April, though he did record his first career hit in his first career game, a single off Jeremy Jeffress. Anna took Clay Buchholz deep for his first career homerun a week later, though that wasn’t the highlight of his time in pinstripes. One day after sparing the bullpen and throwing a scoreless inning in a blowout loss (video), Anna drew a bases loaded walk in the 12th inning to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead over the Rays:

I wish there was video of the entire at-bat somewhere. It was great. Anna saw eight pitches, fouled off a few tough sliders, and took some others for balls. You can even see Mark Teixeira say it in the video, “that’s a great at-bat.” Ken Singleton said the same thing.

The Yankees sent Anna to Triple-A when Michael Pineda was suspended for the pine tar incident — the suspension forced them to play with a 24-man roster, so they sent down Anna and called up a pitcher to replace Pineda — and he spent the rest of his time in the organization there before being designated for assignment in early-July to clear a 40-man spot for Wheeler. The Pirates claimed Anna off waivers and he spent the rest of the season with their Triple-A club. Anna hit .136/.200/.318 (38 wRC+) in 25 plate appearances with the Yankees.

Jose Pirela

Unlike everyone else in this post, Pirela is actually homegrown. The 24-year-old spent most of the last three years tearing the cover off the ball in Double-A, and he opened this past season with Triple-A Scranton. Pirela hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with ten homers and 15 stolen bases in 130 games with the RailRiders but did not get called up on September 1st. He wasn’t on the 40-man roster but would have been eligible for minor league free agency¬† after the season (again), and the team opted against adding him to the roster.

This looks like ... not the right way to hit. (Presswire)
This looks like … not the right way to hit. (Presswire)

That all changed when Martin Prado‘s season unexpectedly ended due to an emergency appendectomy in mid-September. The Yankees did indeed call up Pirela after that, though he sat on the bench for about a week before finally getting into a game. He tripled off Wei-Yin Chen in his first career plate appearance — it was a bomb off the wall in left-center, I thought it was gone off the bat — and sliced a single to right next time up. Pirela went 2-for-3 with the triple in his first career game and was a mainstay in the lineup after that, starting six of the team’s final seven games and coming off the bench in the seventh.

All told, Pirela went 8-for-24 (.333) with a double and two triples (149 wRC+) during his brief time in pinstripes at the end of the year. He started three games at DH and the final three games of the seasons at second base, after the Yankees had been eliminated. Pirela is one of those guys who has done nothing but put up great numbers in the minors even though the scouting reports aren’t glowing. The Yankees were able to re-sign him when he became a minor league free agent last winter, but after his strong season in Triple-A, another team might have offered more opportunity this offseason. Adding him to the 40-man will keep him in the organization, and, right now, Pirela has the inside track for a big league job in 2015, either at second base or on the bench.

Scott Sizemore

Sizemore was part of that group of infielders the Yankees brought in as minor league free agents last winter. The 29-year-old spent most of the season with Triple-A Scranton but did get called up to New York a few times, going 5-for-16 (.313) with three doubles and eight strikeouts (107 wRC+). He also drove in four runs in his limited time, which is kinda neat. Sizemore had a 108 wRC+ in Triple-A, was released at the end of July, then re-signed a few days later. He spent a bunch of time on the disabled list with an unknown injury as well as on the restricted list with some kind of off-the-field problem. In a season of mostly forgettable random infielders, Sizemore was the most forgettable.

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Yankees re-sign Andrew Bailey, 13 others become minor league free agents

No photos in Bailey in a Yankees uniform anywhere. (Presswire)
No photos in Bailey in a Yankees uniform anywhere. (Presswire)

Via Chad Jennings: The Yankees have re-signed right-hander Andrew Bailey to a new minor league contract after declining his option earlier this week. He missed all of 2014 following shoulder capsule surgery and had several setbacks during his rehab. The option was believed to be worth $2M or so. No word if the new contract includes an option for 2016. If he ever gets healthy, Bailey figures to get a chance to help the bullpen next summer.

Thirteen other players became minor league free agents, according to Matt Eddy. The most notable are SwP Pat Venditte, LHP Jeremy Bleich, LHP Nik Turley, 3B Scott Sizemore, SS Carmen Angelini, and OF Zoilo Almonte. As you may have already seen, Kiley McDaniel wrote the Yankees have frustrated other clubs by spending big (relatively) on minor league free agents these last few years — that’s how they landed Yangervis Solarte — and I expect that to continue this offseason.

DotF: Torrens homers in Staten Island’s win

Some notes:

  • C John Ryan Murphy was placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL, according to Donnie Collins. Collins notes Murphy left last night’s game an inning after taking a foul pitch to the face mask, though it’s unclear if that’s why he was put on the DL. With Murphy out and Brian McCann landing on the 7-day concussion disabled list, the Yankees are suddenly a bit thin behind the plate.
  • RHP Luis Severino was placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with an oblique strain, the team announced. He’s been out for roughly two weeks now and they needed a roster spot. VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman called it a “very slight” strain but I wouldn’t be surprised if Severino is done for the year. Trenton’s season ends in three weeks and Newman always downplays injuries.
  • LHP Caleb Smith has been promoted from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton, according to Nicholas Flammia. I assume he’s replacing Severino. Smith started for Tampa yesterday, faced one batter, gave up a hit, and was pulled. That was weird, but I guess the promotion kinda explains hit.
  • The Yankees have re-signed IF Scott Sizemore to a minor league contract, says Bryan Hoch. They released him last month. He’s been out with some kind of injury for a few weeks now and has been placed on Scranton’s DL.
  • C Luis Torrens, 1B Connor Spencer, IF Ty McFarland, and DH Isaias Tejeda have all been selected for the Short Season NY-Penn League All-Star Game. The game is in Brooklyn next Tuesday (Aug. 19th), if you’re interested in attending.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 win over Columbus)

  • SS Jose Pirela: 0-3, 1 BB
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • LF Zoilo Almonte: 0-4
  • DH Kyle Roller: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — 23rd homer of the year leads the system now that Peter O’Brien has been traded away
  • LHP Nik Turley: 5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 9/1 GB/FB — 51 of 85 pitches were strikes (60%) … 35/31 K/BB in 45 innings after missing the start of the year with an unknown arm injury
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/3 GB/FB — only 12 of 26 pitches were strikes (46%) … 68/16 K/BB in 47.1 innings
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten pitches, six strikes … 86/19 K/BB in 60.1 innings

[Read more…]

Yankees claim Esmil Rogers off waivers from Blue Jays

The Yankees have claimed right-hander Esmil Rogers off waivers from the Blue Jays, the team announced. Brian Cashman says he will join the big league team and be available out of the bullpen for tomorrow’s series opener against the Red Sox. Scott Sizemore was released to clear a 40-man spot. No other roster move have been announced yet.

Rogers, 28, has a 6.97 ERA (5.41 FIP) in 20.2 innings for Toronto this season while going back and forth between Triple-A and MLB a few times. He owns a 5.59 ERA (4.45 FIP) in 396 career innings with the Jays, Indians, and Rockies, which is broken down into a 5.59 ERA (4.77 FIP) in 220.2 innings as a starter and a 5.60 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 175.1 innings as a reliever. The 29-year-old Sizemore made two brief cameos with the Yankees but was on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list at the time of his release.

Yankees have internal options if they want to shakeup the offense

The Yankees are averaging only 3.48 runs per game over the last calendar month. They’ve been held to two runs or less ten times in 27 games during that stretch. Even if Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann start hitting as expected, the Yankees would still be running out a lineup that includes Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki/Alfonso Soriano, and Kelly Johnson/Yangervis Solarte on a regular basis. That’s way too many soft spots. The Bombers need to add some thump to the lineup before the trade deadline even if McCann and Beltran show up to the park and start raking tomorrow.

The Yankees are locked into players at catcher, first base, shortstop, left field, center field, and designated hitter either by contract status or iconic status. There is nothing they can do at those positions other than hope for more production, so, the only spots they can make real changes are second base, third base, and right field. The trade market has yet to develop but the Yankees do actually have some internal options if they want to shake things up. They aren’t future stars or the sexiest names, but they might be upgrades. Here are those internal options with their 2014 PECOTA projections because why not? No one knows what to expect from them at the MLB level and this gives us a point of reference.

Pirela in winter ball. (v)
Pirela in winter ball. (zonadeportiva.net)

UTIL Jose Pirela (PECOTA: .254/.307/.394)
The 24-year-old Pirela has been in the farm system so long that he became a six-year minor league free agent this past winter. The Yankees re-signed him and he is now hitting .320/.361/.466 (130 wRC+) with seven homers and ten steals in 304 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton, his first extended stint at the level after spending most of 2011-13 with Double-A Trenton. He hit .281/.355/.430 (~120 wRC+) with Trenton while repeating the level from 2012-13.

Pirela is a classic stats over scouting report guy. He didn’t hit much in the lower minors but broke out during the 2012 season (123 wRC+). It seemed fishy at the time because he was repeating the level, but he has continued to hit this summer at Triple-A, where he has only five games of prior experience. Pirela has always had an interesting enough bat but he is a poor defender. Eduardo Nunez bad. Well, maybe not that bad, but bad. He moved off shortstop for good in 2012 and has spent most of his time at second base and left field since.

After starting the season as the RailRiders’ everyday second baseman, Pirela has spent just about this entire month in left field while mixing in the occasional start at first base, a position he had never played before this year. (The move off second was prompted by Rob Refsnyder‘s arrival.) Unless the Yankees are going to stick Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury in right field — Gardner played one game there earlier this season and it was ugly — Pirela only fits at second base. Either that or move him to right for the first time in his life.

2B Rob Refsnyder (PECOTA: .235/.319/.344)
I’ve written about Refsnyder on more than one occasion this season, so I’m going to keep this short. The 23-year-old has hit .292/.404/.458 (145 wRC+) in his first 14 Triple-A games after tearing the cover off the ball at Double-A and really his entire pro career before that. Refsnyder might not be the team’s best hope for a long-term Robinson Cano replacement (Gosuke Katoh and Angelo Gumbs are among those in the system with higher ceilings), but he is the closest to the show and will get the first crack at the job. His defense is the issue; Refsnyder still needs to improve at second after playing the outfield in college.

UTIL Zelous Wheeler (PECOTA: .245/.316/.390)
The Yankees signed the 27-year-old Wheeler as a minor league free agent over the winter, mostly because they had a need at third base and he has a ton of experience there. Plus it didn’t hurt that he put up decent numbers at the Double-A and Triple-A levels the last few seasons (~106 wRC+). Bring him to Spring Training then see what happens in Triple-A type of deal.

Wheeler. (AP)
Wheeler. (AP)

Wheeler has put up an impressive .308/.365/.469 (134 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 59 games with Triple-A Scranton while playing all over the field — he’s played at least ten games each at third base, shortstop, and right field. He’s also spent time at second base throughout the years. Wheeler was never a top prospect — he failed to crack Baseball America’s top 30 lists in some pretty bad Brewers’ systems a few years ago, for what it’s worth — but he’s versatile and he’s hitting well at the highest level of the minors. That could be enough to get him a call-up given the current state of the roster.

OF Zoilo Almonte (PECOTA: .252/.300/.419)
Almonte, 25, has had two cups of coffee with the Yankees since last year and they haven’t been particularly impressive (50 wRC+), but he continues to hit at Triple-A, putting up a .268/.314/.455 (111 wRC+) line with ten homers in 223 plate appearances this year. Zoilo absolutely can not hit lefties (.394 OPS vs. LHP at Triple-A this year) despite being a switch-hitter, so his only value comes as the left-handed half of a right field platoon. The Yankees already have Ichiro doing on okay job in that role, but Ichiro hits lefties better than righties and Almonte could give them more power from the position.

IF Scott Sizemore (PECOTA: .245/.330/.392)
Like Almonte, the 29-year-old Sizemore has been up and down a few times this year, going 5-for-16 (.313) in pinstripes while hitting .265/.327/.387 (99 wRC+) with three homers in 226 Triple-A plate appearances. He has had to shake off the rust after missing nearly two full years with a pair of knee surgeries. Sizemore has destroyed minor league lefties in a limited sample this year (.880 OPS), which matches up with his career 122 wRC+ against MLB southpaws before the knee problems. He could serve as a right-handed platoon option at either second or third.

* * *

I don’t think the Yankees will cut ties with Roberts. He’s hit well enough over the last week or so and they seem to appreciate his long at-bats and veteran presence*. I don’t believe Soriano is safe though, and Solarte could always be optioned to Triple-A to clear another roster spot. It’s not like he’s done much with the bat over the last month anyway. Johnson has received some more playing time of late but could still go. Ichiro? Forget it. He’s on the roster until he decides to retire.

If the Yankees do decide to cut bait with Soriano, I think Pirela or Wheeler would be the best bests to replace him, preferably Pirela because he’s younger and might actually have a future with the team. Refsnyder needs more time to work on his defense and doesn’t offer the same kind of versatility. If they kick an infielder to the curb as well, I’d go with Pirela/Wheeler or Sizemore. That’s just my opinion. I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer here other than calling up Refsnyder and playing him twice a week. None of these guys are going to save the offense, but they could be an upgrade over what the team is running out there right now. The tricky part is figuring out which one will help the most.

* I resisted the “veteran presents” joke, but only this time!

Yankees activate Carlos Beltran, designate Scott Sizemore for assignment

11:40am: Dan Barbarisi says Sizemore is on optional assignment waivers like Matt Daley earlier this year and Ramiro Pena a few years ago. He wasn’t actually dropped from the 40-man roster, it’s just a procedural thing due to his service time.

11:15am: As expected, the Yankees have activated Carlos Beltran off the 15-day disabled list. Scott Sizemore was designated for assignment to clear room on the roster. I wonder why they didn’t just send him to Triple-A Scranton. The team now has two open 40-man roster spots.

Beltran, 37, missed a little less than a month due to a bone spur in his right elbow. Joe Girardi said the plan is to use him exclusively at DH because they don’t want to risk re-aggravating the injury by having him throw. Beltran said he feels fine now and will continue to receive treatment all season. He hit .234/.286/.430 (90 wRC+) with five homers in 140 plate appearances before getting hurt.

Yankees call up Scott Sizemore, claim Wade LeBlanc

The Yankees have called up infielder Scott Sizemore from Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. Zoilo Almonte was sent down in a corresponding move. Sizemore, 29, has hit .265/.333/.361 (96 wRC+) with the RailRiders this year. The Yankees will face four lefty starters in the next seven games and six lefties in the next dozen games. I’m guessing that’s why the righty hitting Sizemore is up.

In other news, the Yankees also claimed left-hander Wade LeBlanc off waivers from the Angels. That’s French for David Huff. Michael Pineda was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot. He’s already been on the disabled list for a month and just suffered a setback, so yeah. The 29-year-old LeBlanc made a spot start for the Halos the other day (four runs in 6.1 innings) and has a 3.69 ERA (4.46 FIP) in 53.2 Triple-A innings this year. His best attribute is that he’s not Alfredo Aceves. I’m guessing Aceves will get the axe when LeBlanc joins the team in a day or two.