2014 Season Review: Chris Young and the Extra Outfielders

Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

As is the case every season, the Yankees cycled through several extra players in the outfield in 2014 to help cover for injuries and soak up spare innings in September. There weren’t as many random outfielders as their were random infielders, but there were more than I realized. Here’s the group.

Chris Young

After he was released by the Mets at midseason, the Yankees grabbed Young off the scrap heap, stashed him in Triple-A for a week, then called him up when rosters expanded in September. The idea was to add some depth because Carlos Beltran‘s elbow kept barking, and also potentially add some right-handed pop to a lineup almost devoid of it. I closed the post about the signing with this:

Maybe he’ll hit a random big homer or something.

In his sixth game as a Yankee, Young did this:

Random big homer! That was actually the second homerun in a stretch of three homers in three games for Young, who put his struggles with the Mets behind him and gave the Yankees a very nice month of September. He hit .282/.354/.521 (146 wRC+) with three homeruns and a stolen base in 78 plate appearances. Young was playing left field on an everyday basis by the end of the month due to injuries elsewhere in the outfield. The Yankees hit the scrap heap lottery.

Young credited since-fired hitting coach Kevin Long with helping him break some bad habits — “I’ve been able to find some things here that can carry me for years to come,” he said to Dan Barbarisi in September — so there’s at least some chance the improvement was real and not just a small sample fluke. The Yankees obvious think it’s real — they re-signed Young to a one-year contract earlier this month to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder next year. Brian Cashman said the club’s analytical department pushed to bring Young back.

For the final month of the 2014 season, Young gave the Yankees a nice shot in the arm. He hit some clutch homers — he hit an extra-innings go ahead homer against the Orioles the day after the walk-off shot (video), but the bullpen blew the lead — and played some nice defense as well. It wasn’t enough to get New York into the postseason, but Young as a positive contributor during his brief time in pinstripes.

Zoilo Almonte

Almonte was the team’s classic up-and-down outfielder this summer. He spent most of the year with Triple-A Scranton, where he hit .261/.311/.437 (103 wRC+) with 18 homeruns in 105 games. The Yankees called Zoilo up three different times through the season to help fill in for injuries, though he still only managed to appear in 13 games. He went 5-for-36 (.139) with one very long solo homer (video).

Rather than come back up when rosters expanded in September, the Yankees designated Almonte for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Young. Zoilo cleared waivers and became a minor league free agent after the season. He’s since hooked on with the Braves on a Major League contract. Despite all his power production in the minors (74 homers since 2010), Almonte was never going to get much of a chance with the Yankees. He had a 39 wRC+ with the big league team in 149 plate appearances the last two years.

Antoan Richardson

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Man, talk about random. The Yankees signed Richardson as a minor league free agent last winter and he put up a nice .271/.380/.364 (114 wRC+) batting line with three homers and 26 steals in 27 attempts with Triple-A Scranton before being a surprise September call-up. The Yankees called him up to serve as their designated pinch-runner and, sure enough, he went 5-for-5 in steal attempts. He did get picked off first once and was also doubled off first when he put his head down and kept running on a fly ball, perhaps forgetting the number of outs. Richardson did have one nice series in Baltimore by going 4-for-10. His time in pinstripes ended with five hits in 16 at-bats (.313) and those five steals. The team dropped him from the 40-man roster after the season and he’s since become a free agent.

Fun Fact: Richardson scored the run on Derek Jeter‘s walk-off single in his final home game at Yankee Stadium. Jose Pirela led the inning off with a single and Richardson came on to pinch-run. Brett Gardner bunted him up to second and Jeter took care of the rest.

Eury Perez

September acquisitions are rare, but the Yankees claimed Perez off waivers from the Nationals on September 22nd, after Washington designated him for assignment to clear 40-man roster space for a waiver claim of their own (Pedro Florimon from the Twins). Perez hit .311/.372/.406 (119 wRC+) with one homer and 20 steals in 23 attempts for the Nats’ Triple-A affiliate before spending the final few days of the season in New York. He played sparingly, going 2-for-10 with three strikeouts at the plate. Perez saw time in right and center field and remains on the 40-man. Seems like he’ll fill the Almonte role of up-and-down outfielder in 2015.

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Yankees outright Zoilo Almonte to Triple-A Scranton

The Yankees have outrighted outfielder Zoilo Almonte to Triple-A Scranton, according to the official league transactions. That means he went unclaimed on waivers. Almonte can not refuse the assignment since this is his first outright, but I believe he is due to become a minor league free agent in a few weeks anyway. I would expect him to sign elsewhere since it’s pretty obvious he won’t get much of an opportunity in New York.

Almonte, 25, hit .261/.311/.436 (103 wRC+) with 18 homers in 105 Triple-A games this season. He’s had several unsuccessful (39 wRC+) big league cameos over the last two seasons. Almonte is a switch-hitter in name only — he absolutely can not hit left-handers — but he has some pop against righties and can play good defense in the two corners. I thought he could be a useful platoon/fourth outfielder, but the fact that every other team could have had him for free off waivers but passed is telling.

Yankees call up Chris Young, seven others as rosters expand

Preston's back. (Nick Laham/Getty)
Preston’s back. (Nick Laham/Getty)

The calendar has flipped to September, which means it’s time for rosters to expand The Yankees announced they have called up eight players from Triple-A Scranton this afternoon: RHP Chaz Roe, RHP Chase Whitley, RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Preston Claiborne, LHP Rich Hill, C John Ryan Murphy, OF Chris Young, and OF Antoan Richardson. They’re all available for tonight’s game. Young took Alex Rodriguez‘s locker, if you’re interested in that sort of stuff.

Whitley, Mitchell, Claiborne, and Murphy are already on the 40-man roster. To make room for Roe, Hill, Young, and Richardson, the Yankees released Matt Daley, designated Zoilo Almonte for assignment, and transferred both Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) and Slade Heathcott (knee) to the 60-day DL. Tanaka has been on the disabled list since July 10th, so he is eligible to be activated next Monday. Heathcott technically had to be called up from Double-A Trenton before he could be placed the 60-day DL.

The Yankees acquired Roe from the Marlins over the weekend and signed Young to a minor league deal last week. It had become obvious Almonte was never going to get a chance in New York, so he has been swapped out for the speedy Richardson, who stole 26 bases in 27 attempts with Triple-A Scranton. Whitley, Mitchell, Claiborne, Murphy, and Hill were all up with the Yankees at some other point this season. Austin Romine is the notable September call-up snub since he’s already on the 40-man roster.

As always, the September call-ups won’t play all that much these next few weeks. They’re there to eat innings in blowouts and give the regulars some rest. Young will probably see time against left-handed starters and Richardson will be the pinch-runner specialist. Given the state of the bullpen, maybe Claiborne or Mitchell will pitch their way into the Circle of Trust™ these next few weeks. Crazier things have happened. Either way, there are some extra warm bodies on the roster now.

Yankees send Zoilo Almonte and Zelous Wheeler to Triple-A

As expected, the Yankees have sent outfielder Zoilo Almonte and utility man Zelous Wheeler to Triple-A Scranton. The moves clear room on the active roster for Stephen Drew and Martin Prado. The Yankees still need to clear a spot for righty Esmil Rogers, who is joining the bullpen. Chase Whitley is a candidate to be sent down, where he would be able to stay stretched out as the de facto sixth starter. We’ll find out soon enough.

Update: Disregard, I’m an idiot. Brian Roberts being designated for assignment clears the roster spot for Rogers, so the Yankees are carrying eight relievers at the moment.

Game 105: You Again

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

In recent years, playing the Rangers seven times in a ten-day span would have really, really sucked. They were varying degrees of dangerous from 2010-13, and playing them that many times in that short a period would have meant a worn out bullpen and a few losses.

Things are different now. The Rangers are terrible, like worst team in baseball terrible, so seeing them on the schedule seven times in a ten-day span was a welcome sight. That doesn’t guarantee wins, of course. Any team can beat any team on any given night, but I’m sure glad the Yankees are playing the 2014 Rangers and not the 2010-13 Rangers so many times in these ten days. Here is the Rangers lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. 1B Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. C Frankie Cervelli
  7. 2B Brian Roberts
  8. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  9. LF Zoilo Almonte
    RHP David Phelps

It is oppressively hot in the Dallas area and there are some thunderstorms in the forecast for later tonight. Nothing heavy like last week. There would be a delay, if anything. Not a postponement or shortened game. First pitch is scheduled for 8pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Prior to tonight’s game, the Yankees called up Zoilo Almonte and designated Jeff Francis for assignment, the team announced. They are back down to a normal seven-man bullpen and a four-man bench.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (lat) feels fine and he will take regular batting practice on the field today. If that goes well, he will return to the lineup tomorrow …  Jacoby Ellsbury is fine. Just a routine day off. He’ll be back in the lineup tomorrow.

2014 Midseason Grades: The Outfielders

Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple and straightforward grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. These grades are totally subjective. We’ve already covered the catchers and infielders, so now let’s move on to the outfielders.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Brett Gardner — Grade A

Through the first 94 games of the 2014 season, Gardner has been the Yankees’ best position player. The team got out ahead of his impending free agency by signing him to a four-year extension worth $52M in Spring Training, a deal that looked sensible at the time and looks like a bargain now given his production and the lack of quality outfielders in the upcoming free agent classes.

Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Gardner leads the team in one-base percentage (.353) and total bases (146), ranks second in batting average (.279), slugging percentage (.424), stolen bases (15), OPS+ (116), and wRC+ (116), and first in both bWAR (2.9) and fWAR (2.7). He’s already set a career-high with nine homers. Gardner actually started the season in a funk, going 15-for-62 (.242) in the team’s first 18 games, but he’s hit .286/.366/.447 (126 wRC+) in the 76 games since. That’ll do just fine.

Gardner’s defense continues to be excellent as well. He slid back into left field seamlessly and has performed up to his usually defensive standards, which are rather high. Inside Edge data rates his glovework very well. The Yankees tried shuffling things around and actually started Gardner in right field during a game at Fenway Park in April, but that was a disaster. It looked like he had never played the outfield before. Left field is where he remains and whenever the need has arisen for whatever reason, he’s slid over and filled in at center without missing a beat.

The only negatives in Gardner’s game are his career-high 21.7% strikeout rate and career-low 11.6% stolen base attempt rate. The strikeout issue seems to have to do with him being a little more aggressive in certain counts and swinging for a fences, hence the homers. The stolen base this is weird — he ran in 14.3% of his opportunities last year and in 25.0% of his opportunities from 2010-12. Gardner is still on pace for 26 steals (in 33 attempts), but it appears his days of 45+ stolen bases are over. That’s a shame. Either way, he’s having an unreal season.

Jacoby Ellsbury – Grade B

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

As the story goes, it became clear to the Yankees they were going to lose Robinson Cano on a Friday, so they acted quickly to sign Ellsbury before a bidding way broke out. The two sides were in agreement the following Tuesday, and the Friday after that, Cano hooked on with the Mariners. The Yankees replaced Cano with the second best free agent in Ellsbury even though he wasn’t a great fit for the roster — they already had a perfectly capable speedy leadoff hitter and strong defensive center fielder in Gardner.

Ellsbury has been very good through his first season in pinstripes, hitting .282/.346/.400 (105 wRC+) with six homers and 24 steals in 29 chances. That’s right in line with the .289/.341/.407 (103 wRC+) batting line he put up from 2012-13 following his outlier 2011 campaign. Ellsbury’s power has not ticked up despite the move into lefty friendly Yankee Stadium and that makes total sense — almost all of his hits are line drives to left and center field. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not conducive to taking advantage of the short porch.

As expected, Ellsbury has had an impact both on the bases and in the field. He’s on pace for 41 steals with an 82.8% success rate, which would make him the team’s first 40-steal guy since Gardner in 2011. The defensive stats hate Ellsbury this year and I don’t get it — it’s a Gardner thing, it happened with Curtis Granderson too, he must be stealing outs and hurting the center fielder’s defensive numbers — but based on the eye test he’s been phenomenal in center. Better than Gardner last season and Gardner was awesome.

Because of injuries and underperformance and all that, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have had to improvise with their lineup. That means Ellsbury has been miscast as a three-hole hitter for most of the year while Gardner bats leadoff. They really don’t have an alternative at this point. Ellsbury lacks the traditional three-hole hitter skills in that he can’t create a run with one swing, but that’s not his fault. He’s a leadoff hitter the team is asking to hit third. Either way, Ellsbury was pretty awesome in the first half.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Carlos Beltran — Grade F

Worst case scenario? Possibly. The Yankees signed the 37-year-old Beltran (for three years!) to be the middle of the order hitter they lost in Cano, but so far all they’ve gotten is a broken down former star who has struggled to both be productive and stay on the field. This is the position player version of Randy Johnson — the right player, only nine years too late.

Beltran has hit .216/.271/.401 (78 wRC+) with nine homers in 228 plate appearances this year while missing time with elbow, knee, and concussion problems. He has a bone spur in his elbow that cost him a month and will require offseason surgery. It has relegated him to full-time DH duty because he can’t throw. (He tried a throwing program but had to shut it down due to discomfort.) The concussion was a fluke injury that occurred when he lined a ball off the cage and back into his face during batting practice. It’s that kinda year.

It’s easy to forget Beltran actually mashed at the start of the season. He was hitting .298/.339/.614 (151 wRC+) with four homers through the team’s first 16 games, then he flipped over the short wall in Tropicana Field while trying to catch a foul pop-up, and has hit .189/.249/.331 (56 wRC+) in 193 plate appearances since. I don’t know it it’s just a coincidence or if he hurt himself flipping over the wall, but he hasn’t hit for nearly 200 plate appearances now. Clutch hits? Beltran hit that walk-off homer against Zach Britton but otherwise has a .156/.216/.297 (25 wRC+) batting line with men in scoring position and a .130/.241/.391 (55 wRC+) batting line in high-leverage situations.

Because he’s not hitting and can’t play the field — not that his defense was a positive, he hurts the team less as the DH, to be honest — Beltran has very little value to the Yankees right now. He could start hitting at any moment and it would be a huge help if he did, but the combination of injuries and age are working against him. Beltran’s first three and a half months in pinstripes couldn’t have gone much worse.

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

Alfonso Soriano — Grade F

Man, this sucks. Soriano was one of the most fun to watch players when he on a roll and having a full season of him was supposed to give the Yankees a big offensive shot in the arm. Instead, he put up a .221/.244/.367 (60 wRC+) line with six homers and an unsightly 71/6 K/BB in 238 plate appearances before being dropped from the roster roughly two weeks ago. He wasn’t even hitting lefties anymore (80 wRC+). That’s it. Without warning he went from 34 homers and a 121 wRC+ in 2013 to being done in 2014. Like done done.

Soriano started the year as the full-time DH in deference to Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran in the outfield. He eventually moved to right — he had never played the position before (other than Spring Training) and I thought he did about as well as he could have realistically been expected to perform defensively — once Beltran got hurt, but eventually he lost playing time to Ichiro and was pushed into the light half of a platoon. The Yankees released Soriano earlier this week and he told Marly Rivera he might simply retire rather than continue playing. It was not a pretty end.

Ichiro Suzuki — Grade C

The Yankees relegated Ichiro to fifth outfielder status with their offseason spending spree, and even that was only after they were unable to trade him. And yet, through the traditional first half, he has batted 220 times and appeared in 81 games, the sixth most on the team. He took over as the most of the time right fielder a few weeks ago thanks to both his strong performance and the underwhelming performance of others.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ichiro is hitting .297/.347/.337 (90 wRC+) with six stolen bases on the season, though his bat predictably cooled once pressed into everyday duty. He went 25-for-37 (.373) with a 142 wRC+ as a reserve player during the first 47 team games of the season but has managed only a .259/.308/.289 (63 wRC+) line as a regular in the 47 team games since. Ichiro’s defense has been fine and he’ll still steal the occasional base, but that’s pretty much it. He’s a very good extra outfielder and a pretty terrible regular outfielder at this point of his career.

Zoilo Almonte — incomplete

I get the feeling the Yankees are not going to give Almonte an opportunity to show whether he can be of some use at the MLB level, even as a nothing more than a fourth outfielder. He’s been up and down a few times this year thanks mostly to Beltran’s injuries, getting into ten games and going 4-for-25 (.160) with a homer. Even with Soriano gone, the Yankees have opted to play Ichiro everyday and sub in Zelous Wheeler on occasion. Meh

* * *

Coming into the season, the outfield was expected to be the strength of the team, and it has been. It just hasn’t been as strong as expected due to Beltran’s struggles and Soriano’s brutal ineffectiveness. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best players all season and have lived up to expectations in my opinion. Everyone else in the outfield has kinda stunk. Getting Beltran back and producing at an above-average rate will be imperative in the second half. The Yankees will only be able to acquire so much offense in trades.

Game 94: End of the First Half

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

One more game. One more game until the Yankees can rest and regroup over the All-Star break after being in what felt like survival mode for the last few weeks. Players are getting hurt, the bullpen has been taxed, the offense is moseying along … this has not been the easiest first half for the Yankees. Not at all.

Chase Whitley is making his return to the rotation tonight thanks to Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury, and hopefully his short stint in the bullpen will help him get over whatever was troubling him his last three starts. He was pretty brutal. Joe Girardi is in position to be aggressive with his key relievers with the four-day rest coming up, so Dellin Betances and Adam Warren could both be asked to throw two innings. Two innings for David Robertson might not be off the table. A four-out save seems very likely, if necessary. Here is the Orioles lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. DH Jacoby Ellsbury
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 2B Brian Roberts
  7. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  8. LF Kelly Johnson
  9. 3B Yangervis Solarte
    RHP Chase Whitley

It’s very hot, very humid, and kinda cloudy in Baltimore. There is also rain in the forecast later tonight, which might interfere with the game in some way. We’ll have to see. The game is scheduled to begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: The Yankees have called up right-hander Bryan Mitchell as an extra just in case long man. He was scratched from his scheduled start for Double-A Trenton yesterday and is good for 100 pitches tonight if need be. Zoilo Almonte was sent down in a corresponding move. I assume Mitchell will be sent down and Carlos Beltran will be activated off the 7-day concussion disabled list after the break.

Rotation Update: David Phelps, Brandon McCarthy, and Hiroki Kuroda will start the first three games after the All-Star break, Joe Girardi announced. I would bet on Shane Greene getting the ball in the fourth game.