Archive for Zoilo Almonte
Thanks to all the injuries, the Yankees used a franchise record 56 players this season. Fifteen of those 56 players appeared in no more than ten games, which isn’t much of a surprise. The last spots on the bench and in the bullpen were revolving doors all summer. Most of those miscellaneous players were awful, enough to help push the Yankees out of the postseason picture. Here are the worst players to walk through those revolving doors.
The signs were there, we just didn’t want to see them. The Yankees released the 26-year-old Adams in Spring Training to clear a 40-man roster spot for Vernon Wells (!), but no team took a chance on him and New York re-signed him to a minor league contract a week later. When Kevin Youkilis went down with his inevitable back injury, Adams got a chance to play third base on a regular basis. Things went quite well at first — 13-for-44 (.295) with two homers in his first eleven games — but they crashed in a hurry. Adams fell into a 4-for-51 (.078) slump and wound up back in Triple-A before resurfacing later in the season. Overall, he hit .193/.252/.286 (45 wRC+) in 152 plate appearances, though he did play solid defense at second and third bases. Adams had a pretty great opportunity this summer, but he couldn’t capitalize.
Almonte, 24, got his chance when the Yankees finally got sick of Wells and benched him in mid-June. Zoilo’s big league career started out well — he had three hits (including a homer) in his first start (video), reached base three times the next day, then doubled twice the day after the that — before he cooled off and got hurt. Almonte put up a .236/.274/.302 (55 wRC+) line with the one homer and three steals in 113 plate appearances before an ankle sprain effectively ended his season in mid-July (he did return in late-September, but played sparingly). The fun was short-lived.
You may not agree, but I think Boesch was a pretty significant loss this past season. The 28-year-old managed a .275/.302/.529 (124 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 53 sporadic plate appearances and appeared to be a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, but he was sent to Triple-A Scranton when Curtis Granderson came off the DL (the first time). He lasted a little more than a week in the minors before suffering what proved to be a season-ending shoulder injury. The Yankees released him in mid-July when they needed a 40-man spot. Had Boesch been healthy, there’s a good chance he would have been given the opportunity to play everyday following Granderson’s second injury considering how poorly Ichiro Suzuki hit for a good part of the summer. Boesch is a flawed player but his lefty pop would have been useful. For shame.
Bootcheck, 35, emerged as the ace for Triple-A Scranton this past season (3.69 ERA and 4.20 FIP in 136.2 innings) and he managed to appear in one game with the big league team. On June 14th, he allowed one run on two hits and two walks in 1.1 innings against the Angels. Bootcheck got his chance because Adam Warren threw six innings of relief (in the 18-inning game against the Athletics) earlier on the road trip and wasn’t going to be available for a few days, so the team needed a replacement long reliever. He was designated for assignment at the end of the trip when Warren was again available.
Is it possible to be a poor man’s Brendan Ryan? Do those exist? If they do, I nominate the 27-year-old Brignac. He was with the Yankees from mid-May through mid-June, during which time he showed off a slick glove and hit an unfathomable .114/.133/.136 (-38 wRC+) with 17 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. Brignac played 15 games in pinstripes and he reached base multiple times in only one of them. It was ugly.
For a few weeks, Claiborne looked like the next great homegrown Yankees reliever. He started his big league career with 14 straight walk-less outings and allowed just one run in his first 20 innings in pinstripes. Claiborne, 25, had settled into a seventh inning setup role, but he allowed 13 runs and 38 base-runners in his next 25.2 innings and earned a trip back to Triple-A. When he resurfaced in September, he allowed nine runs and four homers (!!!) in five innings. Fatigue was the oft-cited excuse for his fade, but Claiborne threw only 61.1 innings in 2013 after throwing 82 innings in 2012 and 81 innings in 2011. It’s possible, sure, but I have a hard time buying it. Claiborne finished the season with a 4.11 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 50.1 innings, but outside of those first 14 appearances, he was very untrustworthy.
Cruz, 29, was the team’s fifth different starting shortstop in their first 84 games, but he actually wound up playing more games at third (13) than short (five). An all-glove, no-hit type like Ryan and Brignac, Cruz hit .182/.224/.200 (13 wRC+) in 59 plate appearances while playing excellent defense after being picked up off the scrap heap. He was the best non-Ryan infield defender the team employed this past season, I thought. Cruz’s season came to an end in late-July thanks to a knee sprain, and the Yankees eventually designated him for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Reynolds.
Remember Eppley? He was actually on the Opening Day roster, believe it or not. His terrible Spring Training (12 runs in eight innings) carried over to the regular season, where he allowed four runs in 1.2 innings before being sent to Triple-A Scranton when Phil Hughes was ready to come off the DL in early-April. Eppley, 28, continued to stink in Triple-A (18 runs in 19 innings) and was eventually released to clear a 40-man spot for Claiborne. He was a nice middle relief find for the Bombers last season, but things went so wrong this year that he was pitching in an independent league by August.
The Yankees took a “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks” approach to filling their right-handed outfield bat spot, eventually settling on the 32-year-old Francisco. He was released by the Indians in Spring Training and managed to beat out guys like Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera. Francisco lasted 48 team games, hitting .114/.220/.182 (13 wRC+) in 50 plate appearances overall while going 3-for-34 (.088) against southpaws. On the bright side, he did hit the team’s shortest homerun of the season. I guess that’s something. The Yankees designated Francisco for assignment on May 26th, when they claimed David Huff off waivers from the Tribe.
Gonzalez, 30, had two stints with the Yankees this season. He appeared in three games in mid-May and ten more from late-June through mid-July. The Former Attorney General went 6-for-34 (.176) in his limited time, but he did go 2-for-4 with a double and three runs driven in during a game against the Twins on July 2nd (video). Gonzalez also offered a nice glove, though not as nice as Brignac’s or Ryan’s.
Yes, Ishikawa was a Yankee this season. They nabbed the 30-year-old off waivers in early-July, watched him go 0-for-2 with two strikeouts on seven total pitches in his only game in pinstripes, then designated him for assignment to clear a roster spot for Derek Jeter, all in the span of six days. When’s the Yankeeography?
Joseph, 25, had two stints with the big league team in 2013, going 1-for-6 with a double, a walk, and a strikeout while starting both ends of a doubleheader against the Indians in mid-May. His season ended later that month, when he needed surgery to repair his shoulder. The Yankees removed Joseph from the 40-man roster last week, though he remains in the organization.
Part of that left side of the infield circus, the 30-year-old Lillibridge spent a little more than three forgettable weeks in pinstripes in late-July and early-August. He went 6-for-37 (.171) with eight strikeouts while playing okay defense in eleven games with the team, though unlike many other guys in this post, he did have the proverbial One Big Moment. On July 23rd against the Rangers, after Eduardo Nunez tripled in the tying run against Joe Nathan in the ninth inning, Lillibridge singled in Nunez for the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run (video). He drove in a run with a fielder’s choice earlier in the game. Lillibridge was designated for assignment when Alex Rodriguez came off the DL.
This was a really bad year for Marshall, who had a poor season with Triple-A Scranton (5.13 ERA and 4.62 FIP in 138.2 innings) and didn’t stand out in his three-appearance cameo with the big league team. The 23-year-old allowed six runs and 21 base-runners in a dozen garbage time innings, walking as many batters as he struck out (seven). He did manage to save the bullpen by holding the Red Sox to one run in 4.1 innings during a blowout loss in one of those appearances, however. Marshall also got to pitch in front of his family near his hometown in Houston during the final game of the season (video), so that was neat.
Miller, 31, struck out 92 batters in 63.1 innings down in Triple-A this past season (3.55 ERA and 3.22 FIP), but he got hammered in his only big league game, allowing three runs to the Red Sox in a four-out appearance on September 7th. The Yankees were desperate for bullpen help at that point and he was a warm body. Apparently the team saw something they liked though, because they re-signed Miller to a minor league deal recently.
The 2013 season was an overwhelming success for the 22-year-old Murphy, but not because of his big league performance. He hit .269/.347/.426 (117 wRC+) across two minor league level before joining the Yankees in September, when they added him to the 40-man roster because he was going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season anyway. Murphy went 4-for-26 (.154) in 16 games during his late season cameo and looked fine defensively.
Neal, 26, was the organization’s #Free[RandomGuy] this past season. You know what I mean, right? The random Quad-A player sitting in the minors who would be so much better than whoever they have at the big league level if they’d only give him a chance! Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, Neal put up a .325/.391/.411 (130 wRC+) in 297 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton before going 2-for-11 (.133) with really bad defense during a four-game cameo in pinstripes in mid-June. He was designated for assignment when Granderson came off the DL (the second time) and was subsequently claimed off waivers by the Cubs.
Nelson was something of a pioneer this past season. He was the first of many players the Yankees acquired in an effort to solidify the left side of the infield, coming over from the Rockies in a minor trade in early-May. Nelson, 28, played ten games in pinstripes, all at third base, and went 8-for-36 (.222) with eleven strikeouts at the plate. He actually went 0-for-10 in his first three games and 8-for-26 (.308) in his last seven. The team designated Nelson for assignment when they called up Adams, and he was then claimed off waivers by the Angels. Naturally, Nelson returned to the Bronx with the Halos in mid-August and hit two homers (including a grand slam) in one game against the Yankees. Go figure.
I wish I had kept track of home many times Zagurski warmed up but did not appear in the game in September. The guy was up every game it seemed. Zagurski, 30, spent most of the year bouncing between organizations before getting the call as an extra lefty late in the season. In his only appearance with the team, he faced three batters and allowed two runs. That appearance made him the franchise-record 56th player used by the Yankees in 2013. Let us never talk of this season again.
The Yankees are on their last legs. Baseball Prospectus gives them a 2.4% chance to make the postseason following last night’s shutout loss and even that feels high. The non-Andy Pettitte starters are struggling, the bullpen is a disaster, and the offense has dried up since Brett Gardner got hurt. Obviously Gardner’s absence is not the only reason the team is struggling to score runs, but taking a .273/.344/.416 (107 wRC+) hitter out of the lineup sure does hurt. No doubt about it.
Because of the injuries to Gardner and Derek Jeter — as well as Alex Rodriguez‘s barking calf and hamstring — there is only so much Joe Girardi can do to shake up his lineup going forward. Brendan Ryan (!) has already replaced Eduardo Nunez at short and Mark Reynolds has taken over at the hot corner full-time despite his defensive deficiencies. There are still two more moves that can be made though, and it has more to do with getting unproductive bats out of the lineup than having slam dunk upgrades waiting in the wings.
Since Gardner got hurt, replacement Ichiro Suzuki has gone 2-for-15 while hitting exactly four balls out of the infield on the fly. He came off the bench to get all the at-bats that would have gone to Gardner had he not gotten hurt. Chris Stewart, meanwhile, has gone 3-for-38 (!) in the team’s last 24 games. To make matters worse, both guys have started to slip defensively either due to fatigue or old age or whatever. Ichiro‘s been misplaying balls in right field while Stewart is a passed ball machine. They’re killing the team.
Girardi doesn’t have a ton of alternatives at his disposal despite September call-ups, but he could pull the plug on the veterans and run the kids out there. Zoilo Almonte recently returned from his ankle injury and J.R. Murphy was called up to serve as the third catcher a few weeks ago. Austin Romine would be another option behind the plate had he not been concussed last week. Almonte and Murphy aren’t exactly the next Mike Trout and Buster Posey, but the offensive bar in right field and behind the plate has been set so low that it’s worth giving the kids the try.
No team — extra-especially the Yankees — likes to hand the keys to a playoff race over to a bunch of prospects late in September, but the alternative is two very unproductive veterans. Ichiro and Stewart have stunk all year, this is not anything new, but their recent slumps have been much more pronounced and ill-timed. Almonte had some success during his brief cup of coffee earlier this year and at the very least put together some quality at-bats while Murphy … well he had a real nice year split between Double-A and Triple-A. What more can you say about him? Not much. Change for the sake of change is usually foolhardy, but I think Ichiro and Stewart have forced the issue. Enough is enough.
These last eleven games will tell us nothing about whether Almonte and/or Murphy can help the team next year. Nothing at all. There just isn’t enough time. What they can do is potentially help the team right now. Again, the bar in right field and behind the plate has been set so very low that it won’t take much for them to be upgrades. Could they be downgrades? Oh sure, it’s very possible. But the Yankees aren’t going to postseason if Ichiro and Stewart continue to play everyday. Replacing them with Almonte and Murphy could possibly improve their already slim chances. It’s worth a shot.
The Red Sox really worked over the Yankees pitching staff this weekend, so the Joe Girardi‘s team comes into tonight’s series opener against the Orioles with a bullpen short of healthy and reliable arms. Mariano Rivera probably won’t be available after throwing 35 pitches and two innings yesterday, and both David Robertson (shoulder) and Boone Logan (biceps, elbow) definitely won’t be available. If there was ever a time for a) CC Sabathia to step up and eat some innings, and b) the offense to score a boatload or runs, this is it. Here’s the lineup that will face right-hander Chris Tillman:
- CF Brett Gardner
- 3B Alex Rodriguez
- 2B Robinson Cano
- LF Alfonso Soriano
- DH Curtis Granderson
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- C Austin Romine
And on the mound is the left-hander Sabathia. He has completed seven full innings of work just once in his last five starts and twice in his last ten starts. One of those two was last time out, so hopefully he repeats that effort. The Yankees need Sabathia to soak up some serious innings tonight.
It’s cloudy in Baltimore but there is no threat of rain tonight. It is hot and humid though, typical B’more weather. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.
Roster Update: Zoilo Almonte (ankle) is with the team and has been activated off the DL. He played in two rehab games with Double-A Trenton last week.
Injury Updates: Robertson (shoulder) will play catch today. If that goes well, he’ll throw a light side session tomorrow. He hopes to be available for tomorrow’s game, but the Yankees made Shawn Kelley wait one extra day this weekend and I assume Robertson will have to do the same … Derek Jeter (ankle) won’t do any baseball activity today and it seems unlikely he will play tomorrow … Travis Hafner (shoulder) is with the team and could be activated any day now.
Via Mike Ashmore: Zoilo Almonte has joined Double-A Trenton for a minor league rehab assignment. The Thunder is in the first round of the Eastern League playoffs and are the Yankees’ only minor league affiliate still playing. They lead the best-of-five series one game to none, so they have at least three games remaining in their season.
Almonte, 24, hit .261/.305/.341 (75 wRC+) with one homer and three steals in 95 plate appearances for New York earlier this summer. He has been out with a sprained ankle since mid-July. The Yankees have five veteran outfielders on their current roster and figure to stick with them down the stretch, but having another bat on the bench in September is never a bad thing, particularly a switch-hitter. Almonte hit .297/.369/.421 (124 wRC+) with six homers in 293 Triple-A plate appearances before being called up and will give Trenton’s lineup a nice short-term boost in the postseason.
- Robinson Cano (hand) received treatment yesterday but will not know if he can play in tomorrow’s series opener against the Orioles until he takes batting practice. “The swelling has decreased,” said Cano. “I’ll swing in the cage and see how it feels, try to get ready for batting practice. I would say during batting practice, I would know.”
- David Phelps (forearm) has been working his way back from two different strains. “I think it’s pretty soon he’ll pick up a ball,” said Joe Girardi. There’s almost no chance Phelps will return this season if he hasn’t even started playing catch yet.
- Michael Pineda (shoulder) has been throwing side sessions in Tampa. Yesterday we heard he had started throwing off flat ground, but that report was ten days old. My bad. Good to know he’s actually gotten back on a mound. At this point, it seems unlikely Pineda will join the team in September, which means he won’t qualify as a Super Two.
- Zoilo Almonte (ankle) has started hitting off a tee and soft toss. There’s a chance he’ll be able to take regular batting practice by the end of the week. Almonte’s rehab was delayed because he had his wisdom teeth removed. This season, man.
- Travis Hafner (shoulder) has also started hitting off a tee and soft toss. Like Almonte, he could start taking regular ol’ batting practice before the end of the week. Remember when he hit .318/.438/.667 (196 wRC+) in April? Good times.
The Yankees announced a series of (expected) roster moves today, so let’s round ‘em all up:
- Zoilo Almonte has been placed on the 15-day DL. He suffered a left ankle sprain when he hit the base running out a ground ball last night. X-rays came back negative, though there is no timetable for his return.
- Alberto Gonzalez has been designated for assignment. He went 3-for-25 (.120) after replacing Reid Brignac in late-June. The recently recalled Brent Lillibridge is the backup infielder for the time being.
- Melky Mesa has been called up. He hit .249/.277/.424 (86 wRC+) with a 36.7% strikeout rate in 256 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton. Mesa recently came off the DL after missing a month with a shoulder problem. He was up with the team last September.
- Thomas Neal as been called up as well. He was hitting .312/.387/.402 (122 wRC+) in 266 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton. Neal was up with the team earlier this year, as you surely remember. Joe Girardi confirmed he will serve as the primary DH against left-handers.
10:37pm: Almonte is headed to the DL, Joe Girardi confirmed after the game. Donnie Collins says both Melky Mesa and Thomas Neal are leaving Triple-A Scranton and will meet the team in Boston. Not sure why both guys are going though.
9:15pm: Almonte has a left ankle sprain, the team announced. X-rays were negative. No idea if this is a DL thing, but the Yankees are running out of warm bodies if it is.
8:56pm: Zoilo Almonte left tonight’s game in the fifth inning with an apparent leg injury. He was seen limping after running out a double play ground ball in the second, though he remained in the game for another few innings before leaving. With Brett Gardner ejected, the Yankees have Alberto Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge in the outfield corners.
3:24pm: Both Warren and Almonte have indeed been called up. Teixeira has been placed on the DL and Bootcheck has been designated for assignment.
2:16pm: Via Sweeny Murti: The Yankees will indeed place Mark Teixeira on the 15-day DL with wrist inflammation today. They will use the injury to bring long-reliever Adam Warren back from Triple-A before the ten-day waiting period expires. Murti also hears outfielder Zoilo Almonte could be called up as well, though the team has yet to announce anything. Removing Chris Bootcheck from the roster would be the obvious corresponding move there.
Got six questions this week, so I tried to keep the answers reasonably short. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the way to go to send us questions, comments, links, complaints, whatever.
Brad asks: With the Dodgers recent injury bug to their rotation and the news of Derek Jeter being out until late July at the earliest, would it make sense to swap Ivan Nova to LA for perhaps Mark Ellis and a reliever?
Yes and no. The Dodgers started the year with eight legitimate starters for five spots, but they’ve since traded Aaron Harang and lost Zack Greinke (collarbone), Chris Capuano (calf), and Chad Billingsley (Tommy John surgery) to injury. Behind Clayton Kershaw they have Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ted Lilly, and rookie Stephen Fife. I’m sure they’re in the market for a fill-in starter.
I’ve always been open to trading Nova, but Ellis wouldn’t work because he can’t play any position other than second base. Jerry Hairston Jr. would be a better fit, maybe even Luis Cruz if you think he’s better than his -52 wRC+ suggests. Los Angeles has a ton of relievers, good ones too, so there would be a fit there. I don’t like the idea of trading Nova for a utility man and a reliever though, even if it would fill two fringe roster needs. I’d rather use him as the second or third piece in a package for an impact player and instead trade prospects for infield and bullpen help.
Isaac asks: Would the Yanks ever consider extending Brett Gardner before he hits free agency? If so, what kind of deal makes sense? Does Carlos Gomez’s extension with the Brewers work as a baseline?
I think there’s a small possibility they would, but Gardner strikes me as a year-to-year guy because of his injury history. The thing that worries me most is that he’s going to be 30 this summer, and he’s the type of player who will lose his value very quickly once his speed starts to slip. I don’t really want to be on the hook for that decline.
The framework of Gomez’s deal actually works very well. His new four-year pact covers his final arbitration year and three free agent years for $28.3M total, and his $4.3M salary in 2013 should be similar to Gardner’s salary next season. An $8M average value for the following three years is reasonable. Gomez is several years younger with more power (and more raw tools in general), but he hasn’t had the same kind of success as Gardner. The Brewers bought potential. Eight million bucks a year for Brett’s age 31-33 seasons seems fine, I just worry about a quick descent into uselessness if the speed slips.
Tarik asks: Do you think Al Aceves‘ release was motivated by behavioral issues that just weren’t made public, or did Brian Cashman just not think he’d recover well from his injury? (Had to shorten the question, sorry Tarik.)
After seeing how things have played out the last 2+ years, I definitely think Aceves’ nutcase ways played a role in the team’s decision to release him. The back and collarbone problems likely contributed as well, but someone with the Yankees screwed up there. He healed just fine in time for Opening Day after the club’s doctors said he would miss the first few weeks.
I’m guessing the Yankees did a better job of keeping any behavioral incidents under wraps than the Red Sox have, or maybe the veteran clubhouse just did a better job of keeping him in line. Hell, maybe Aceves was on his best behavior with New York because he was a rookie back then. We don’t really know. It’s easier to understand why they released him nowadays, but I still can’t help but wonder if they could have found a trade partner.
I think that’s possible but unlikely. The Yankees love athletes first and foremost, and Flores is a bat first player. A bat first player who has yet to show much power at that. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams both provide a ton of value in the field, more than they do at the plate really, while Tyler Austin is simply a better hitter. I like Flores a lot — I didn’t rank him fifth on my preseason top 30 prospects list out of boredom — but he’s clearly behind the other guys for me. He’s underrated, but I would hope the team doesn’t value him more than their other outfield prospects.
Mark asks: Are you in favor of bringing up Zoilo Almonte? If we’re going to get zero production from Ben Francisco as an extra outfielder – why not bring someone up who can at least provide defensive and base running value. Shame that Thomas Neal got hurt.
Not particularly, no. Almonte’s off to a really great start this year (125 wRC+) and he’s drawing a ton of walks (20.5%), but the book on him is that his left-handed swing is ahead of his right-handed swing. That’s typical and it’s just a repetition thing because there are way more righty pitchers than lefties. His splits since the start of 2010 — .267/.324/.433 against lefties, .282/.349/.487 against righties — bear that out.
The Yankees should absolutely be looking for a Francisco replacement, though. Neal was probably the best internal candidate, but he just went down with a hamstring injury. Melky Mesa is back to his super high strikeout ways, so he’s not really a big league candidate at the moment. I guess that makes Zoilo the top option by default, especially since Ronnie Mustelier is still sidelined. Mustelier would immediately become the top choice once healthy.
Celebrate! I don’t think the Yankees would dump Chris Stewart in favor of Romine, but I expect them to promote both Sanchez and Murphy at midseason. Romine and Murphy would just have to share catching and DH duties — Murphy can also squeeze in a few games at third base — at the Triple-A level for a few weeks. It’s not ideal but hardly the end of the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.