Lack of production from up-the-middle positions holding the Yankees back


Back in the day, the late-1990s dynasty was built on excellent production from the up-the-middle positions. The Yankees were getting high-end production from Jorge Posada at catcher, Derek Jeter at short, and Bernie Williams in center. Chuck Knoblauch never did put up huge numbers with the Yankees like he did with the Twins, but he still had a .377 OBP as the starting second baseman from 1998-99.

Those four positions are the hardest to fill in baseball, historically. Third base is tough too, but not as tough. Quality first basemen and corner outfielders are plentiful. Catchers, middle infielders, and center fielders are not, which is why teams are more willing to sacrifice offense for defense at those positions. It’s really hard to find someone who can hit there, so at least get someone who will catch the ball.

Right now, the Yankees have too many defense-first — in some cases, defense-only — players at the four up-the-middle positions. Jacoby Ellsbury in center field is the team’s only up-the-middle player who has been solidly above-average on both sides of the ball so far this season. Brian McCann, Stephen Drew, and Didi Gregorius are providing defense but very little offense, especially the last two.

C McCann  .228/.279/.382 (78 wRC+) .235/.302/.363 (83 wRC+)
2B Drew  .188/.271/.350 (70 wRC+)  .262/.321/.391 (96 wRC+)
SS Gregorius  .204/.269/.241 (42 wRC+)  .248/.304/.361 (83 wRC+)
CF Ellsbury .324/.412/.372 (126 wRC+) .257/.319/.391 (96 wRC+)

Those are some really low bars and yet the Yankees are falling short at three of the four positions. Ellsbury’s been awesome at the plate, McCann’s hovering close to average for a catcher thanks to his power, and both Drew and Gregorius have been well-below-average. Those two haven’t hit at all. Like, not even a little. There’s not much of a reason to expect either guy to hit much going forward either, but at least Gregorius has youth on his side.

There’s no good way to measure defense this early in the season. You have to take any stats with a huge grain of salt because the sample is too small. Based on the eye test, all four players have been above-average defenders in my opinion, even considering McCann’s passed ball/wild pitch issues. Didi’s looked much more comfortable at short in recent weeks yet his early season brain farts are still hurting his reputation. He’s been really good in the field of late.

Overall though, the Yankees aren’t getting enough production from these four positions. It’s really just three positions because Ellsbury’s been great. It’s a bit unfair to lump him in here. The other three guys has been far from great though. McCann’s been okay but hardly what the Yankees thought they were getting. Drew and Gregorius have been miserable at the plate, bad enough that their defense probably doesn’t make up for it.

The Yankees have limited options to replace these guys, and the one guy they didn’t want to replace (Ellsbury) just landed on the DL. McCann’s contract ensures he will remain the starting catcher, and besides, finding a better catcher would be damn near impossible anyway. Quality catchers almost never hit the trade or free agent markets. Drew, on the other hand, is totally replaceable and the Yankees do have some internal second base candidates, namely Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder.

The best internal candidate to replace Gregorius is, well, Drew. Besides, given Didi’s age and ability, he’s someone the Yankees should stick with this year and ride out every growing pain. Give him a chance to play everyday and see what happens. The first 40 games of 2015 aren’t going to write the story of his time in pinstripes. The Yankees just got done playing a Royals team littered with players who struggled early in their careers before figuring it out, after all. Sometimes it takes time.

The Yankees have gotten great production from first base, left field, and DH this season, which has helped cover for the underwhelming non-Ellsbury up-the-middle numbers. Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley are kinda sorta starting to hit too, which will help even more, though the Ellsbury injury hurts. One step forward, one step back. It wasn’t long ago that the Yankees were getting top of the line production from the up-the-middle positions. Now they’re barely getting average production and it’s one of the reason they haven’t been able to get out in front of a wide open AL East.

Stephen Drew quickly emerges as backup third baseman as Yankees look for ways to keep A-Rod in the lineup


Even prior to last season’s suspension, staying on the field has been a bit of a problem for Alex Rodriguez later in his career. He played 664 of 972 possible games from 2008-13 — he hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2007 — due to a variety of injuries, ranging from the very minor (pulled calf in 2010) to the very major (hip surgery in 2009 and 2013).

The Yankees and Joe Girardi have limited A-Rod to mostly DH duty this season — he’s started 27 games at DH, two at third base, and one at first — knowing his 40th birthday is two months away and those two hip surgeries are not far in the rear-view mirror. And yet, Rodriguez is still dealing with a minor hamstring issue, suffered when he legged out that triple over the weekend. His bat is too valuable and they have to do what they can to keep him healthy.

So, in an effort to keep A-Rod in the lineup, he is no longer being considered Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. Stephen Drew spent some time working out at the hot corner in recent days and was thrown into the fire last night, getting the start at the hot corner. Girardi confirmed this is all because they’re looking to scale back Rodriguez’s time in the field. “We’re just thinking of keeping him at DH mostly,” said the skipper to Mark Feinsand.

Drew had never played third base as a pro before last night but didn’t seem too concerned about manning the hot corner — “I’ll be fine. You’ve got to do it sometime, right?” he said to Feinsand — after all, he had never played second base until the Yankees ran him out there last summer. He spent a few days taking ground balls at third and wasn’t really tested last night. Had one kinda sorta tough play. That was it.

Didi Gregorius played ten innings at third base last year, his only time at the hot corner in his career, but I understand why the Yankees didn’t try him at third. He’s settled in nicely at shortstop after a rocky start and he could possibly be a long-term solution there. Drew’s the guy you move around, the guy on a one-year contract trying to hang on. Jose Pirela, the other third base candidate on the roster, has played only 14 career minor league games at third.

There’s nothing wrong with having Drew or anyone else take ground balls at third base before games — guys work out at other positions all the time — though it was a surprise to see him start a game at the position so soon. The real issue is A-Rod’s lack of flexibility. He’s hitting very well, so the Yankees want him in the lineup every day, but the only real way to do that is by keeping him at DH. That means fewer DH days for the defensively challenged and also old Carlos Beltran, for Brian McCann, for everyone.

Only a handful of teams have full-time DHs these days. It’s basically just the Yankees, Red Sox (David Ortiz), Tigers (Victor Martinez), Athletics (Billy Butler), and Royals (Kendrys Morales). Everyone else uses a rotating DH and MLB seems to be moving in that direction. The Yankees did it the last three or four years in fact. They can’t do it now because of A-Rod, and now his apparently inability to play third even part-time gives Girardi even less maneuverability.

That said, if eliminating Rodriguez’s time in the field is the best way to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis, then that’s what they have to do. A-Rod has very quickly re-established himself as a core piece of the offense. If using Drew at third base is the best way to keep Alex healthy and in the lineup, so be it.

Estimating the length of Stephen Drew’s leash

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Following a 2-for-4 effort in last night’s win over the Blue Jays, shortstop turned second baseman Stephen Drew is now hitting .167/.247/.359 (65 wRC+) on the season. He was hitless in his previous 17 at-bats heading into last night’s game and is in a 7-for-45 (.156) rut in his last 14 games overall. Drew has had his moments, most notably the grand slam in Baltimore, but so far he isn’t doing much better than the .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) line he put up a year ago.

Despite the lack of production, Brian Cashman recently gave Drew a vote of confidence and declared his job safe. “I think Drew’s been fine. Right now, I’m not looking at anyone being an alternative at second base to Drew,” said the GM to Andrew Marchand last week. That’s not surprising. Cashman has always been the type to preach patience, and even if he was unhappy with Drew’s play, he wouldn’t tell the media. That’s just how the Yankees roll nowadays.

That said, if Drew doesn’t start hitting reasonably soon, Cashman and the Yankees will become impatient and look for alternatives. His defense has been very good, no doubt about it, but one team can only have so many dead spots in the lineup. And unlike Didi Gregorius and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees have no long-term stake in Drew. He’s on a one-year contract and figures to be gone after the season. So how long will his leash be? Let’s look at some recent precedents set by the Yankees.

The Tony Womack Leash

Gosh, the Womack signing was so bad. He hit .270/.314/.360 (72 wRC+) with 0.6 fWAR in nearly 1,000 games and 4,300 plate appearances as an everyday player from 1997-2003, had a career year thanks to some St. Louis Cardinals devil magic in 2004 (94 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR), and turned it into a two-year contract worth $4M with the Yankees. Gross.

Womack hit the emptiest .280 you’ll ever see during his first month in pinstripes (.280/.330/.329, 80 wRC+) and was erratic at second base, so in early-May the Yankees called up Robinson Cano and temporarily stuck Womack in left field, a position he’d never played before. By June, Womack was a part-time player on the bench. It certainly helped that Cano came up and hit right away, of course.

Womack’s leash was very short — he got one month as a second baseman and about a month and a half as an outfielder before being banished to the bench. We’re already one month into the season and Cashman’s comment sure make it seem like Drew is not in imminent danger of losing his starting job, but perhaps he ends up a part-timer like Womack come mid-June if he doesn’t right the ship.

The Brian Roberts Leash

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

This one is much more recent. The Yankees signed Roberts a year ago to replace Cano, giving him a one-year deal worth $2M despite a recent history of injuries and poor performance. He hit .246/.310/.356 (81 wRC+) and played in only 192 of 648 possible games from 2010-13. Replacing Cano is an impossible task, and the Yankees were hoping Roberts could stay healthy and be a pest at the bottom of the lineup. Nothing more.

Roberts did manage to stay healthy but he never did hit, putting up a .237/.300/.360 (84 wRC+) batting line in 348 plate appearances before being designated for assignment at the trade deadline, coincidentally when the Yankees acquired Drew. The Roberts leash is the trade deadline — hang on to Drew for the next few weeks, ride it out, then if necessary make an upgrade at the end of the July and drop him. So four months, basically. That’s the length of this leash.

The Raul Ibanez Leash

Man, Ibanez was awesome as a Yankees. Except for all those months he wasn’t. Before he started smashing all those clutch homers in September and October, Ibanez hit only .235/.303/.437 (95 wRC+) in 357 plate appearances as a corner outfielder/DH. And remember, Raul’s defense was really bad too. Really, really bad. He was a below-average hitter and a well-below-average defender. Not much to like there, at least not until he started hitting those homers.

The Yankees signed Ibanez to a one-year, $1.1M contract and they stuck with him all season. Raul’s a great guy and easy to like, but finding an upgrade at the DH spot wasn’t going to be all that tough, yet the Yankees stuck it out and were rewarded late in the season. So the Ibanez leash is the full season. The Yankees could stick with Drew, ride out the ups and downs throughout the summer, and hope it all works out in the end.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Miguel Cairo/Jayson Nix Leash

This is the worst kind of leash. This is the “he just won’t go away!” leash. Cairo played with the Yankees in 2004, 2006, and 2007 while Nix was around from 2012-13. Every time it seemed like these guys were about to be replaced or let go as a free agent, they managed to stick around. The Yankees kept bringing them back and we kept wondering why.

So imagine the Yankees not only ride out the season with an unproductive Drew, but bring him back next season in some capacity. And then maybe bring him back the season after that too. Don’t laugh. It could happen. The Yankees tried to sign Drew before both the 2013 and 2014 seasons before finally getting their hands on him. They like something about him and could continue to like that something after the season. The Cairo/Nix leash spans multiple years.

* * *

My hunch is Drew is closer to the Ibanez leash than the Womack leash. He might not necessarily remain the starting second baseman all season if he doesn’t pick up, but I do think Drew will be on the roster all year. And why not keep him around as a bench player if it comes to that? His middle infield defense is valuable and he’d be a better backup option than Brendan Ryan or Gregorio Petit.

The Yankees don’t have a 2005 Cano waiting but they do have Jose Pirela, who is expected to be added to the roster later today. Joe Girardi indicated Pirela will play against lefties, and he does well in that role, he may see more time against righties down the road. Rob Refsnyder is starting to heat up a bit and he’s looming in Triple-A, so the Yankees do have some other second base options to consider. Given how close the AL East race both is right now and figures to be throughout the summer, the Yankees shouldn’t stick with an unproductive Drew if a better option presents itself.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves


3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela injuries don’t leave Yankees many backup infielder options


By and large, the Yankees have made it through Spring Training without any major injuries to significant players. Chris Capuano will miss a few weeks with a quad strain, and while it’s never a good thing to lose pitching depth, he is replaceable. Brendan Ryan suffered a Grade II calf strain yesterday and had to be literally carried off the field. He’s not going to be ready in time for Opening Day, which is now only four days away. Not by a long shot.

Losing Ryan in and of itself is not a big deal, but the middle infield injuries are starting to pile up. Didi Gregorius has missed the last few days with a wrist sprain and is scheduled to return to game action this afternoon, so at least he’s on the mend. Jose Pirela has not done anything more than ride a stationary bike after crashing into the outfield wall ten days ago and suffering a concussion. Thankfully everything seems to be going well with Didi’s wrist, but Ryan and Pirela being hurt at the same time means the Yankees need a new backup infielder. Their options are pretty limited with Opening Day right around the corner. Let’s run ’em down.

A-Rod at Shortstop?

A-Rod mustache

Nope. Moving on …

The Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder Option

The Yankees have insisted Drew is a second baseman, so much so that he’s played zero innings at shortstop during Grapefruit League play. That’ll change today though. Drew is slated to play shortstop during one of the team’s split squad games this afternoon — for what it’s worth, he said he feels he could pick shortstop back up quickly — just so he could be an option in case Didi’s wrist issue lingers.

Following Ryan’s injury yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters the Yankees could go into the season with Drew as their backup plan at shortstop and carry a second baseman as the backup infielder. That’s about as close as Girardi could come to saying Refsnyder is a candidate for the backup infielder’s job without actually saying it.

“Things can happen quick,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”


Refsnyder’s bat would be a welcome addition to the bench, but, as we’ve seen this spring, his defense is far from MLB ready. I don’t think the Yankees want to go through the hassle of adding Refsnyder to the 40-man roster* only to have him sit on the bench four out of every five games either. That doesn’t help his development or the team. And no, like it or not Refsnyder wouldn’t take over as the starting second baseman. They’ve made that very clear.

So yes, using Drew as the backup shortstop and carrying Refsnyder as the backup second baseman is an option, but not an ideal one. The 40-man issue is not insignificant — once Refsnyder is added he won’t come off, so flexibility would be hurt — and the Yankees would need to feel confident in Alex Rodriguez as Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. At this point of his career, I don’t see what good being a part-time player does for Refsnyder.

* The 40-man roster is indeed full. The official site shows 39 players but is missing Tyler Austin for whatever reason. Ivan Nova is a 60-day DL candidate, so that’s one easy-to-open spot.

Other Internal Candidates

Beyond Refsnyder, the Yankees’ other internal backup infield options are Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, and the recently acquired Gregorio Petit, the first three of whom were signed to minor league contracts for this exact reason. To be depth in case guys like Ryan and Pirela got hurt. Galvez hasn’t played the middle infield since the 2013 season, so he’s not a good reserve infielder candidate. The Yankees need someone who can play at least second base on the bench.

Figueroa is a contact machine, his bat-to-ball skills are top notch (10.0 BB% and 6.8 K% in nearly 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances), but he has zero power and isn’t much of a defender. Noonan can’t hit but he can defend, all around the infield too. Same with Petit. Figueroa and Noon are left-handed hitters, which isn’t ideal, but there’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. When it comes to this bench spot, I think the club would be better off with Noonan’s or Petit’s glove than Figueroa’s ability to put the ball in play.

Figueroa, Noonan, and Petit would have to be added to the 40-man roster, though, unlike Refsnyder, they don’t have to stay there. They could be designated for assignment whenever Pirela or Ryan gets healthy. These guys aren’t part of the long-term plan and wouldn’t hurt flexibility. There’s a big picture element to all of this the Yankees can’t ignore.

Florimon. (Presswire)
Florimon. (Presswire)

The Out of Options Market

We’ve reached the point of spring where players who are out of minor league options are starting to get traded (Sandy Leon) or placed on waivers (Cesar Puello). It figures to happen with Austin Romine soon too. There are very few out of options infielders for the Yankees to consider as temporary bench players. In fact, of all the infielders on MLBTR’s out of options list, only one is not expected to make his team’s Opening Day roster: Pedro Florimon.

The Pirates are expected to waive Florimon soon, and while he’s a quality defender at short, he has basically no experience at second (nine games in the minors) or third (eleven games in the minors) bases and absolutely can not hit. He’s Ryan without the versatility, basically. The Rays just released Alexi Casilla to avoid paying him the $100,000 retention bonus as an Article XX(B) free agent, so perhaps he’s an option. Casilla’s a more versatile, less defense-y version of Florimon.

Point is, there aren’t many readily available infield options for the Yankees to consider during Ryan’s absence, hence the Petit trade. The Yankees didn’t get someone better because no one better is available. There’s a real dearth of quality infielders in baseball these days. Even replacement level guys are hard to find right now. The Yankees could pick up Florimon and/or Casilla for depth, just to have the extra body around, but they aren’t any sort of upgrade over what they have in house right now.

* * *

As fun as it would be to see Refsnyder on the Opening Day roster, I don’t see the point in carrying him as a bench player. He needs to play to improve his defense. Taking extra ground balls before games won’t help much either. Refsnyder needs game reps. Since Pirela seems to be on the mend, the Yankees can focus on a short-term replacement. I’d prefer Petit or Noonan but if they want Figueroa or Florimon or Casilla, fine, whatever. Either way, this player won’t see much playing time. Or shouldn’t, anyway. The Yankees only need a band-aid right now. Nothing more.

The Low Expectations for Stephen Drew [2015 Season Preview]

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

If he was two or three years older, the season Stephen Drew had last year might have been a career-ender. Players in their mid-30s don’t get to come back from that, at least not on a contract that guarantees them $5M. Seasons like that usually result in a minor league contract or a forced retirement.

Luckily for Drew, his 32nd birthday is still two weeks away, and his dreadful 2014 campaign comes with some built-in excuses. He turned down the qualifying offer and remained unemployed until the Red Sox mercy signed him in late-May, so he didn’t have a normal Spring Training at all. His minor league tune-up lasted only seven games as well.

Drew hit an unfathomable .176/.255/.328 (57 wRC+) in 145 plate appearances with the Red Sox, then, instead of getting his act together with some at-bats under his belt, he hit an even worse .150/.219/.271 (32 wRC+) in 155 plate appearances after being traded to the Yankees. The end result was a .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) batting line in exactly 300 plate appearances.

Before the Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius, it appeared Drew was the front-runner for the shortstop job since he would come super cheap and not require a long-term commitment. There were no perfect free agent shortstop solutions available, and if New York couldn’t trade for someone like Gregorius, they would stick with Drew, hope for a rebound, and keep the contract short.

But, even after acquiring Gregorius, the Yankees re-signed Drew because they had traded Martin Prado to get Nathan Eovaldi. Instead of playing short, Drew will play second, where he finished last season. It’s a classic one-year “prove yourself” contract, giving Drew a chance to show he’s better than last year in a favorable home ballpark. Time to look at the demand and supply.

Yankees Need: Catch The Damn Ball

It’s clear the Yankees prioritized improving their infield defense this offseason after last year’s disaster. They did that with Gregorius at short and Chase Headley at third, and they hope Drew can be the solution at second. Historically, guys like Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka are ground ball pitchers while Eovaldi is more or less a league average keep it on the ground pitcher. The Yankees want to support those guys with a strong infield defense, particularly up the middle.

Drew Can: Catch The Damn Ball, I Think

At the time of the trade last year, Drew had no experience at second base whatsoever. He had played shortstop his entire professional career and the Yankees more or less threw him to the wolves. Predictably, Drew struggled at first, especially turning double plays, but I thought he improved as the second half progressed. For what it’s worth, the Inside Edge data on Drew’s second base defense is promising, but we’re talking super small sample sizes.

The Yankees are not oblivious to Drew’s limited experience at second base (274 innings!). They understand he’s still a novice at the position and there will continue to be growing pains this year. But he is a legitimate big league shortstop defensively and they believe his skills and athleticism will translate to the other side of the bag. This is an experience thing, not a “lacking the tools” thing. There are several reasons to believe Drew can be a defensive asset at second.

Yankees Need: Something More Than Last Year Offensively

Including Drew, Yankees’ second basemen hit .227/.278/.357 (75 wRC+) in year one of the post-Robinson Cano era, which was somehow only the eighth worst production at the position in MLB. The bar has been set low. Really low. Really, really low. Just like expectations for Drew. The Yankees need as much offense as they can get but no one is realistically expecting Drew to be an impact hitter. They just need him to be something more than he was last summer.

Drew Can Provide: Maybe More Than Last Year?

I mean, Drew can’t possibly be that bad again, right? He hit .253/.333/.443 (109 wRC+) with 13 homers as an everyday player as recently as 2013. It’s not like he’s never been good at the plate. And besides, Drew is a dead pull left-handed hitter who should benefit from Yankee Stadium‘s short right field porch:

Source: FanGraphs
From 2011-13, Drew hit .263/.348/.431 (112 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers and .204/.263/.340 (59 wRC+) against lefties, so he is a platoon player, but the Yankees don’t have a good platoon partner. (Brendan Ryan doesn’t really count.) The Yankees will live with automatic outs against lefties as long as Drew produces against righties. At this point, everyone seems to be in “he can’t possibly be that bad again” mode with Drew’s bat. I mean, he can’t, right?

Yankees Need: A Backup Plan At Shortstop

Make no mistake, the Yankees didn’t give up Shane Greene to get Gregorius only to bench the young shortstop as soon as he falls into his first slump. They’re going to give him a chance to sink or swim. So, in reality, Drew is shortstop insurance in case of injury or if Gregorius is sitting on, say, a 50 wRC+ come the All-Star break. The Yankees won’t — or shouldn’t, anyway — pull the plug on Didi at short if he has a rough April. Drew is a deep level backup plan, not someone who will make Gregorius look over his shoulder.

Drew Can: Be That Backup Plan

You could make a good argument Drew is the best shortstop on the roster right now. But he has no real future with the organization. Gregorius might. So Gregorius will play shortstop everyday and Drew will be that just in case guy. He’s perfectly capable of doing that.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 32-40

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

Outside of some minor tinkering here and there, it appears the Yankees are done with their major offseason moves and are basically set heading into Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in a little less than five weeks now. Barring a surprise big move, there’s not much left on the agenda other than adding pitching depth. Someone like Johan Santana, maybe.

Anyway, with Spring Training on the horizon, we’re going to rank and analyze the roles of everyone on the 40-man roster these next two weeks. The rankings are based on the player’s importance to the 2015 Yankees as well as their importance to the team long-term, and we’ve lumped the players into ten easy to post tiers. Needless to say, these rankings are completely subjective (and more difficult than you think) and you’re going to disagree with them at some point. Something like this has no right answer.

The series starts today with the bottom of the list, Nos. 32-40. Tier ten. These are the spare part players. Up-and-down bullpen arms, bench players on one-year contracts, guys like that. The fringe players who will inevitably see time with the big league team this year but aren’t expected to play a major role, either in 2015 or down the line. Let’s get to it.

No. 40: Chris Martin

2015 Role: Up-and-down arm. The Yankees acquired Martin from the Rockies for cash last week because they felt he was a minor upgrade over Gonzalez Germen, who they felt was a minor upgrade over Preston Claiborne earlier this offseason. Martin will get a look in Spring Training and, if he impresses, he’ll put himself in position for a call-up later this year.

Long-Term Role: Really doesn’t have one. Martin is a big dude — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 215 lbs. — with a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s curve, and a history of missing bats in Triple-A (9.6 K/9 and 24.9 K% in 77 innings), so he could always have instant success and carve out a place in middle relief. If that happens, Martin could stick around all year and be part of the bullpen mix in 2016, but that’s the best case scenario.

No. 39: Chase Whitley

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Another up-and-down arm, except Whitley at least has the ability to contribute as an emergency rotation option if necessary. He’s not strictly a bullpen arm like Martin. The Yankees more or less know what they have in Whitley and he’ll head to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins, biding his time until reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Long-Term Role: A spare arm until he runs out of minor league options or an upgrade comes along, whichever comes first. Whitley did not use an option last season — he was only sent down for ten days in late-August and it takes 20 days to burn an option — so he has all three remaining, meaning he can go up and down in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If he shows the ability to contribute as a spot starter, Whitley will stick around.

No. 38: Jose DePaula

2015 Role: Again, up-and-down arm. DePaula is a legitimate starter, not a pure reliever like Martin or a career reliever recently converted into a starter like Whitley, and he gets bonus points for being left-handed. The Yankees like DePaula enough that they gave him a big league contract as a minor league free agent this offseason even though he’s yet to reach MLB.

Long-Term Role: DePaula only has one minor league option remaining, which means his time in the organization might not extend beyond the 2015 season. A trip to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to start the year, and if DePaula gets called up at some point, he’ll have to impress enough to stick around next year, even if it’s as nothing more than a long man. In a nutshell, DePaula has replaced Vidal Nuno on the 40-man roster. Similar pitchers, same sort of role.

No. 37: Austin Romine

2015 Role: Considering he is out of minor league options and can not go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers, there’s a good chance Romine will no longer be with the organization come Opening Day. Catchers are hard to find, so the Yankees figure to keep Romine through Spring Training in case Brian McCann or John Ryan Murphy gets hurt. His 2015 role is emergency extra catcher.

Long-Term Role: Nothing more than being the emergency catcher at this point. Romine’s career stalled out the last few seasons and being out of options means decision time has come. If the Yankees don’t need him to start the season as an injury replacement, Romine will probably be traded — in a small trade for a small return — to a catcher-needy team rather than go on waivers. It would be a surprise if he clears waivers and is able to go to Triple-A to back up Gary Sanchez.

No. 36: Chris Young

2015 Role: Fourth outfielder who will see most of his time against left-handed pitchers. Young might also replace Carlos Beltran for defense in the late innings of close games. He had a strong September cameo in pinstripes and returned to the team on a one-year, $2.5M contract with nearly $4M in incentives.

Long-Term Role: Young’s days as an everyday player are over, and since he’s on a one-year contract, the Yankees have no real ties to him. They can cut him loose if he doesn’t produce during the season or walk away if a better option comes along next offseason. And, of course, they’ll always have the option of re-signing Young if he excels in his part-time role this summer.

No. 35: Brendan Ryan

2015 Role: It appears Ryan will again be on the bench as New York’s extra infielder this coming season, though I suppose there’s a chance he could get pushed out by someone like Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder in Spring Training. There’s definite value in Ryan’s ability to play above-average defense at shortstop and that will keep him in the organization and on the roster, in my opinion.

Long-Term Role: Ryan is entering the second year of his two-year contract, though the deal includes a $2M club option and a $1M player option for 2016. (If the Yankees decline the club option, Ryan can still exercise the player option.) The Yankees don’t have any upper level shortstop prospects capable of replacing Ryan next year, so right now it looks like he has a decent chance to stick around as a bench player beyond the 2015 season.

No. 34: Stephen Drew

2015 Role: Everyday second baseman or close to it — Drew could sit against tough lefties or be pushed into a straight platoon role if, say, Refsnyder forces the issue in camp. I do expect him to at least start the season as the regular second baseman though. Drew will hit in the bottom third of the lineup and hopefully produce like he did in 2013, not 2014. His left-handed swing fits well in Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Drew doesn’t have a long-term spot with the team. He’s on a one-year contract worth $5M with some incentives, but Refsnyder is coming and the Yankees seem to be making a concerted effort to get younger. Bringing Drew back was about adding depth, not blocking Refsnyder. It’s always possible the Yankees will bring Drew back after the season if he plays well, but it’s hard to think he’ll be penciled in as a regular again. He’s a stopgap, plain and simple.

Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)
Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)

No. 33: Garrett Jones

2015 Role: Oft-used bench player who will provide backup at first base, right field, and DH, three positions where the Yankees have major injury risks in Mark Teixeira, Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez. I think the health concerns of those three guys give Jones a clear path to 400 or so plate appearances in 2015, which might be just enough to expose his weaknesses. That said, his left-handed power is a great fit for Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Jones, who came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade a few weeks ago, will earn $5M in 2015 before becoming a free agent. Given his lefty pop and ability to positions where the Yankees need depth, the team could look to bring Jones back in 2016 if he contributes as hoped this summer. He fits the roster very well.

No. 32: Esmil Rogers

2015 Role: Swingman. Rogers has worked as both a starter and reliever in his career — including last season, when he made eight starts and 38 relief appearances between Triple-A/MLB and Yankees/Blue Jays — and he steps right into David Phelps‘ old role. He actual made three starts in winter ball this offseason and will presumably come to camp stretched out just so the team has options to cover for the risky rotation.

Long-Term Role: The Yankees somewhat surprisingly kept Rogers this offseason. He was a prime non-tender candidate, but they instead cut his salary the maximum allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and kept him around as depth. Rogers will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well and could definitely return to the team, especially if he fills that swingman role as well as Phelps did.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 26-31. A collection of prospects who could help in limited roles in 2015.