On the composition of the bench

With Xavier Nady out for the rest of the season, the Yankees’ roster picture has become clearer. Whereas before they were awaiting the return of a player who would add depth, now they know that player is not coming. The Yankees have a number of options moving forward, both for the immediate future and in preparation for the July 31st trade deadline.

Starting in the present, PeteAbe reports that Jose Molina will return in about a week. The Yankees could do one of three things:

  1. Carry three catchers and option Ramiro Pena to Scranton
  2. Option Cervelli to Scranton
  3. DFA Jose Molina

Let’s rule out the third option, since it’s not at all likely. If they release Molina and Posada gets hurt, they’d be stuck with Cervelli and Cash instead of Cervelli and Molina. The latter is preferable. Cervelli isn’t that much better than Molina, anyway — if he’s better at all, which at this point I’m not about to declare.

Carrying three catchers would mean Jorge Posada is the de facto DH. Pete says that Jorge isn’t “going to be the DH because the Yankees aren’t releasing or trading Hideki Matsui.” Yet this scenario would allow them to start one of Cervelli and Molina, use Matsui as a pinch hitter, and then substitute the other, with Posada still available as an emergency. It’s certainly not the most efficient use of roster space. This option is also unlikely, unless the Yankees are more concerned about Jorge’s health than they let on.

This leaves optioning Cervelli to Scranton. By all appearances, this is what will happen. He’ll get regular reps at AAA in preparation of taking over for Molina in 2010. Meanwhile, he serves as an insurance policy in case either Molina or Posada go down again. Yes, it’s nice to have him around, and I can see why everyone is high on him, but let’s not let his personality overshadow his ability. Right now, there’s no harm in having him in AAA.

Pete also brings up another notion: option both Cervelli and Pena, and opt to bring up a better bat off the bench. Once Molina returns, the bench will be him, Cody Ransom, Gardner/Cabrera, and Ramiro Pena. There’s not exactly a bopper in there. True, Pena can serve as a late-inning pinch-runner, especially if Gardner starts. Pete suggests recalling Shelley Duncan or John Rodriguez. I’m not so sure.

Over whom in the starting lineup would Shelley Duncan be an upgrade? In other words, for whom would he pinch-hit? Maybe Gardner or Carbera, but even that’s debatable. The league seemingly figured out Shelley after 32 plate appearances — he started his career .321/.406/.857 in 32 PA and finished the season with a .217/.280/.370 run in 51 PA, plus his .175/.262/.281 in 65 PA last year. In theory it would be nice to have Shelley Duncan on the bench — if Shelley Duncan would actually represent an upgrade. Maybe he can provide a short-term burst of production, but he’s not someone who should be on the roster August 31.

As it stands, the Yankees might just be better off keeping both Cody Ransom and Ramiro Pena on the bench. Pena can play multiple positions and has some wheels. Ransom also plays many positions. They have four outfielders, and Matsui in an emergency situation. Since they don’t have someone on the farm who can provide an upgrade in a pinch-hitting situation, it’s tough to call on such a move. Again, since the team has some flexibility with Pena they could give it a shot, but they shouldn’t expect much from either Shelley or J-Rod.

This leads to the longer-term lookout, i.e., the rest of the season. Could the Yanks pull a trade for an outfield bat? Someone who could, perhaps, provide a platoon partner for Matsui against tough lefties and buy some days or half-days off for the other outfielders? Perhaps. Steve Lombardi wants a more consistent alternative to Nick Swisher. Says he:

Don’t get me wrong. I know that Swisher works counts and gets walks. And, when he’s hot, Swisher can hit the ball out of the park. But, when he’s cold, he’s beyond ice cold. And, at times, Swisher takes some curious routes on fly balls. Basically, when he’s bad, the Swish Hawk is “T-Long Like.”

While I’m an unabashed Swisher fan, I’m not going to stick my fingers in my ears and ignore his shortcomings. He does have some pretty bad cold streaks, and it would be nice to have someone to give him some time off during them. What’s that worth, though? Can the Yankees get the import (because the answer is not in the system currently) at a reasonable enough price? Can they get him enough playing time to justify the price? Those questions will be clearer as the Xs mount in July and we get closer to the 31st.

For right now, the Yanks can afford to stand pat. There is no pressing need to make a roster move. If the Yankees want to give it a whirl with Shelley or J-Rod, they can do so with minimal risk. If they want to keep things how they are and have two multi-position players, one who can run, on the bench, they can do that. It just goes to show that when you have a solid starting nine, a bench becomes far less important.

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Hughes, Shelley return to Scranton

Per Tyler Kepner, both Phil Hughes and Shelley Duncan will make their triumphant return to Triple-A Scranton this week follow short rehab stints in the lower minors. Hughes will slot into the rotation sometime this weeked, likely taking the spot currently occupied by Billy Traber. Shelley should return to the lineup in the next day or so. You may remember that he separated his shoulder making a diving catch in the outfield a few weeks back. (h/t to loyal reader Gurpreet for the email)

Yanks exile Shelley to AAA

Shelley Duncan, the once and former wunderkind, has been sent back to AAA. Alberto Gonzalez has been recalled to provide more flexibility off the bench over the next few weeks. As the Yanks are planning on holding on to both Chad Moeller and Jose Molina until they get to Pittsburgh, the timing on this move seems to suggest that Duncan will come up again when a third catcher goes down. Brett Gardner is, of coures, the wild card there.

And as an administrative note, if you’ve been trying to e-mail the three of us over the last two days, try again now. We were having some problems with our e-mail server that have since been fixed.

MLB issues ridiculous suspensions

Via a press release:

Shelley Duncan of the Yankees has been suspended for three games and fined an undisclosed amount for his violent and reckless actions, which incited the bench-clearing incident. Unless appealed, Duncan’s suspension is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 31st, when the Yankees host the Toronto Blue Jays in their first game of the 2008 Championship Season.

Jonny Gomes of the Rays has been suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount for his violent actions, which escalated the bench-clearing incident. Unless appealed, the suspension of Gomes is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 31st, when the Rays play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore in their first game of the 2008 Championship Season.

Melky Cabrera of the Yankees has been suspended for three games and fined an undisclosed amount for his violent and aggressive actions during the incident. Unless appealed, Cabrera’s suspension is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 31st.

So Jonny Gomes gets two games for sprinting in from right field and escalating the incident while Duncan and Melky get three. That seems wrong to me.

In related news, Shelley Duncan says he will continue his aggressive play even while the Yankee veterans have asked him to tone it down. This could become an issue over the course of the season, and it will test Joe Girardi‘s abilities to keep his players in line.

Speculation is that the Yanks will go with an outfield of Matsui in left and Damon in center with Giambi DHing on Opening Day. I have a feeling the Yanks may figure out a way to work Brett Gardner into that lineup instead, but we’ll see. Melky, have you ever heard of Wally Pipp? Careful out there with those punches.

Idle musings of an idle mind on Shelley

So after watching this clip, I’m struck by something Shelley Duncan did. To me, it appears as though he was gunning for second base out of the box with the intent to slide in hard. My question then to the rhetorical you then is this: Was Shelley aiming to start something from the crack of the bat? And does it matter? MLB’s discipline guru Bob Watson might think it does.