Here’s an interesting lineup note: Tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre infield has Ronnier Mustelier at third, Corban Joseph at second and David Adams at first.
We’ve already seen the Yankees send Joseph to first base a few times this season. Now Adams is getting a turn, and as far as I can tell, it’s his first time ever playing the position.
As for what to read into that…
Given the current first base situation in New York, where Lyle Overbay has no real backup, it makes sense to have two pretty solid utility-types learn the position. But it’s also worth noting, that while Joseph and Adams are pretty good offensive infielders, neither one stands out as a first-base type bat. Learning first base in order to play it in a pinch makes sense, but it’s hard to imagine either one being truly converted to the position.
Another thing to consider is that it makes sense to use first base almost like a second DH. The Yankees want to give Adams some time at second base, and when that happens, they can keep Joseph in the lineup by playing him at first. They also want to give Mustelier some time at third, and when that happens, they can move Adams to first. First base could be little more than a way for these guys to get at-bats.
More playing time, with a little extra defensive flexibility? Why not?
• This morning, Zoilo Almonte was named International League Player of the Week. He had a hit in all eight RailRiders games, batting .355 with two home runs and a league-best seven RBI. His season slash line is pretty terrific — .293/.393/.455 — but the problem with Almonte, from the Yankees perspective, is that he’s a switch hitter who’s much better from the left side. He’s hitting .299/.400/.494 against righties, but .273/.370/.318 against lefties. He has 10 extra-base hits this season, only one of them against a left-hander. The Yankees would have far more use for Almonte from the right side.
• Chien-Ming Wang is making another Triple-A start tonight. Wang’s numbers are terrific — 0.95 ERA through three starts — but Brian Cashman said last week that the Yankees want Wang to be more effective with his offspeed stuff. He still has the sinker, but it doesn’t have the same velocity that he had when he was a 19-game winner. The Yankees believe he’ll need to use his secondary stuff to have success with the current fastball.
• If this Eduardo Nunez rib cage injury is a real issue that requires a DL stint, who would the Yankees bring up? Gil Velazquez is a steady veteran, but he’s hitting .197 with no extra-base hits in Triple-A. Addison Maruszak is less proven defensively, but he has a .390 Triple-A on-base percentage and can play basically any position except pitcher. The bigger issue might be this: There’s not another shortstop on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees had to make a call-up, it might make more sense to recall Joseph and simply consider Chris Nelson the emergency shortstop for a couple of weeks.
• This really has little impact on the big league roster, but it seems like a real issue for the Triple-A team: Cody Johnson, Dan Johnson and Luke Murton have combined for three home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dan Johnson has always raked at that level, and both Murton and Cody Johnson have — at the very least — shown legitimate power in Double-A. I have to imagine that the Yankees expected their Triple-A roster to get a power boost from at least one of those three.
• Down in Double-A, Slade Heathcott is hitting just .198/.276/.291, Tyler Austin is slugging just .394 — granted, his on-base percentage is also .394 — and Ramon Flores recently hit a cold spell that’s dropped his batting average from .333 to .263 in a span of two weeks. So who’s the prospect standout in Trenton? It has to be catcher J.R. Murphy who’s hitting .309/.408/.543 with more walks than strikeouts.
• It’s worth noting that Rob Segedin was also putting up terrific Double-A numbers — .338/.390/.606 with 10 doubles — before landing on the disabled list with a hip injury. The down side: He’d also made nine errors at third base, the most errors of anyone in the system.
• After making a huge impression in spring training, Jose Ramirez was kept back in extended spring for a few weeks before finally making his regular season debut with four scoreless innings on April 26. He then pitched five innings with one hit and one unearned run on Wednesday. He’s scheduled to make his third appearance tomorrow. So far, he has 12 strikeouts and two walks through nine innings.
• Francisco Rondon as a starter this season: 7.16 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and 17 walks through 27.2 innings. Wonder how long this experiment will continue if the numbers don’t improve drastically.
• Most eye-opening offensive stats in the Yankees organization? Has to be Rob Refsnyder. An NCAA standout at Arizona, Refsnyder is moving from the outfield back to second base — where he played in high school and, I believe, early in college — and his 11 errors show that there’s a bit of a learning curve. But the bat… my goodness. Refsnyder has already been promoted from Low-A to High-A, and between the two stops he’s hitting a combined .374/.486/.504 with more walks than strikeouts and 12 stolen bases without being caught. His numbers have actually been better since the promotion. He’s played 16 High-A games, and he’s had multiple hits in eight of them. Crazy.
• Yonkers native Dan Fiorito — signed last year out of Manhattanville after impressing the Yankees during a workout for non-drafted players — was sent to Tampa on April 22 to help out at shortstop. He’s basically become the everyday guy hitting .400/.478/.425 through 40 at-bats. He’s not a name on the prospect radar, but because of where he’s from I know him a little and was actually paying attention to him every time I was at the minor league complex this spring. He really, really stood out as a guy who seemed willing and able to lead. Heard him talking to teammates a lot between innings. A lot of “Let’s go, we can do this” kind of stuff. It stood out considering it was coming from a guy who’d never been in spring training and didn’t have the draft pedigree of most of the guys around him. Not saying he’s a future Jeter, just something that caught my attention.
• Back-to-back two-hit games by Gary Sanchez and his slash line is back up to .269/.355/.472 with five home runs, most of anyone in the system.
• Big strikeout numbers from Tampa starters Corey Black (36 in 30.2 innings), Mikey O’Brien (34 in 26.2 innings) and Shane Greene (33 in 36.1 innings) but the Tampa starter with the lowest ERA and lost opponents batting average is Bryan Mitchell with a 3.06 ERA and .235 opponents average. His down side has been the 18 walks. Lowest WHIP in that Tampa rotation belongs to the other starter, Scottie Allen, at 1.19. Pretty decent young arms in that group.
• We head all the way down to Charleston to find the organizational leader in walks. Low-A first baseman Greg Bird has 25 walks, good for a .425 on-base percentage. He slugged .494 in limited at-bats last season, but that power hasn’t shown up so far this season (only a .364 slugging percentage with one homer) but obviously the approach is encouraging for a 20-year-old.
• Less encouraging are the numbers for Low-A third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., who’s still trying to recapture his standout 2011 results. Sent to Charleston for a second season, Bichette is hitting just .186/.246/.265 with two homers, seven walks and 33 strikeouts. Speaking of repeating Low-A, shortstop Cito Culver has always been a glove-first player, but his .212/.305/.354 slash line is basically the same as last season except with a more power (Culver hit two homers last year, he’s already hit three this year).
• Want more good news in the Charleston lineup? Catcher Peter O’Brien has seven hits in his past three games and is hitting .313/.348/.563 for the year. He played in 21 games and has more than one hit in nine of them. He’s thrown out just over 25 percent of base stealers, which ranks him near the bottom of the South Atlantic League.
• Welcome to the U.S., Rafael De Paula. I was beginning to think he was more myth than man, but he’s finally pitching in the states and has an unreal 46 strikeouts through 27.1 innings with Charleston. Opponents are hitting .188 against him. That’s called living up to the hype, but Gabe Encinas is not sitting quietly in the shadows. Drafted in 2010, Encinas hasn’t put up particularly impressive numbers until this season. Through six starts he has a 0.84 ERA while holding opponents to a .175 average. His 28 strikeouts aren’t as impressive as De Paula’s massive number of Ks, but Encinas’ 1.05 WHIP is lower than De Paula’s 1.21.
Adams photo from my great friends at the Scranton Times-Tribune; headshots of Almonte, Murphy, Refsnyder and Bird
Ivan Nova has a power arm and he’s only 26, but at some point the Yankees’ patience is going to have to run out if he doesn’t start showing some consistency again and if a viable alternative emerges. By the way, Chien-Ming Wang is 1-1 with a 0.75 ERA after two starts at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“I’m not looking to make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “Our organization isn’t looking to make a change. We want to get guys going.”
When Nova steps on the mound tonight against the Blue Jays, he will bring along a 6.14 ERA and a 1-1 record constructed over three starts. He was 2-5 with a 7.05 ERA over 11 post-All-Star-break starts last year after going 10-3 with a 3.92 ERA in 18 pre-break starts and 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011. Girardi isn’t questioning now if Nova will ever be the same.
“I believe in my heart that he has the ability to do that, to get back to that,” Girardi said. “So I’m not at that point. I don’t really have a date that I would be at that point, because I believe in our guys and I believe in him. I’ve seen him do it. I’ve seen him be dominant at times. We just have to find the formula to get him back there.”
Girardi emphasized that Wang was signed during spring training for depth. The 33-year-old righty has been through some major injuries since his great years for the Yankees. He gave up three runs, only one of them earned, and four hits over 6 2/3 in a loss to Columbus Thursday after allowing no runs and six hits over 5 1/3 in a win over Syracuse in his first start last Saturday.
“I’d probably take it seriously when I hear reports that are glowing reports that he’s throwing the ball really well,” Girardi said. “I don’t think you can make too much out of two starts. I think you have to see how a guy responds start after start after start, going every fifth day. But we’ve all seen him pitch at a very high level. If he can get back to close to that, he becomes a viable option for us.”
Kevin Youkilis is still not a viable option to be in the starting lineup. This will be his sixth straight game sitting at the start because of lower back tightness.
“He’s better,” Girardi said. “He’s still not quite there. We’ll shoot for tomorrow.”
It’s getting to the point where the Yankees could think about the DL if the progress stalls.
“It’s been a week now,” Girardi said. “So I think you look and see where he’s at tomorrow and then you make a decision what you’re going to do and when you think you’re going to get him back.
“They don’t think it’s an issue where he needs a test. Keep our fingers crossed for tomorrow.”
Here’s the latest from the Associated Press about the second game of Major League Baseball’s exhibition tour of Taiwan. Curtis Granderson had the big home run in the first game. Robinson Cano had the big hit in the second game.
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Robinson Cano doubled in a run in the seventh inning to help an MLB All-Star team beat Taiwan’s national team 5-3 Thursday in the second game of a five-game series.
The New York Yankees’ second baseman also singled and scored in the sixth inning in the game in Taichung.
“They got a great team,” Cano said. “They played a pretty good game.”
The Taiwanese went ahead 3-2 in the fifth, scoring twice on three hits and a walk. The MLB squad tied it in the sixth and added two more runs in the seventh.
Relievers Rich Thompson of the Los Angeles Angels, Ramon Ramirez of the San Francisco Giants and Bill Bray of the Cincinnati Reds kept the Taiwanese scoreless from the sixth inning on.
In the series opener Tuesday, the MLB team won 7-0 in a game halted in the sixth inning because of rain. The teams play in Taichung on Friday before closing the series with two weekend games in Kaohsiung.
• Chien-Ming Wang is heading back to the Nationals. The Washington Post reports that Wang got a one-year deal worth $4 million to return to the Nats’ rotation.
• Don’t count on the Yankees keeping scouting director Damon Oppenheimer just yet. The Orioles still haven’t picked a GM, and the Baltimore Sun reports that Oppenheimer is among those who could still interview for the job. We learned earlier that Yankees pro scouting director Billy Eppler was apparently the runner-up for the Angels GM job.
• Yankees prospects Mason Williams and Dante Bichette Jr. were named the Topps Player of the Year in the New York-Penn League and Gulf Coast League.
• Former Yankees outfielder Juan Rivera was one of the first significant free agents to sign with a new team, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Dodgers.
• Outfielder Jordan Parraz, who had a terrific season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, has signed a minor league deal with the Braves. It includes separate language if he makes the big league club.
• After his one-year stint in the Yankees front office, it took Kevin Towers just one year to land an extension as the GM in Arizona.
Associated Press photo
We keep hearing — and I keep writing — that this winter’s free agent market offered very little in terms of rotation options. But just how true is that statement?
The Yankees focused on Cliff Lee and hoped that Andy Pettitte would decide to pitch again, and now that Lee is gone and Pettitte is still uncertain, there are few alternatives available. Should the Yankees have been more aggressive early? Have they missed out on legitimate pieces because of their pursuit of Lee?
Using the handy free agent tracker over at MLBTradeRumors — I prefer that one to the MLB.com version — I’ve listed every starting pitcher who has signed this winter. I’d say the idea of a thin market is absolutely accurate. This list offers very few sure things, and although hindsight is never fair, it’s worth looking back to the month and a half before Lee signed — and those frantic days when Lee was making his decision — to try to find missed opportunities. The Dodgers were the most aggressive team in the beginning of the offseason, re-signing Ted Lilly before he hit the open market and locking up two more starters before the end of November.
Off the board quickly
As you might expect, most of the early moves were re-signings.
This period covers the start of spring training through the Winter Meetings.
Dodgers: 1 year, $12 million
Kuroda will be 36 this season and he’s spent his entire three-year career with the Dodgers. He’s been good for them — losing record but a 3.60 ERA and a good strikeout-to-walk ratio — and it’s hard to say whether he would have been willing to leave, especially with the Dodgers making an early push.
Dodgers: 1 year, $5 million (plus vesting option)
In retrospect, this is the kind of durable starting pitcher who might have helped the back of the Yankees rotation. Nothing flashy, but Garland is consistently good for 200 innings (of course, we said the same about Javier Vazquez). His career NL ERA is 3.74. His career AL ERA is 4.47.
Jorge De La Rosa
Rockies: three years, $32 million
The Rockies had a deal to re-sign De La Rosa in place before the first of December. It was the crew at FoxSports that broke the news, and they noted that De La Rosa wanted to stay in Colorado. They also reported: “The Yankees also have checked in, as they do on most prominent free agents, but their priority is Lee.”
Cardinals: two years, $16.5 million (plus mutual option)
The Cardinals traded for Westbrook last season, then they moved quickly to re-sign him this winter. Westbrook is a bit of an injury risk, he came back from Tommy John surgery last season and pitched well, especially after moving to the National League.
Mariners: one year, $1 million
This market has no shortage of Bedard-type starters. He’s made a total of 30 starts in the past three seasons, none of them coming in 2010. The Mariners are still hoping to get something out of him, and they moved quickly to re-sign him to a non-guaranteed deal.
Marlins: one year, $7 million
No chance the Yankees were going to re-sign him. No chance Vazquez was going to try to come back. Best for everyone to move on, and that’s exactly what they did.
Padres: one year, $4 million (plus mutual option)
Harang is from San Diego. In the past three years, pitching in the NL Central, he’s gone 18-38 with a 4.71 ERA and a steadily increasing WHIP. If I’m the Yankees, I’d rather take my chances with Sergio Mitre, but that’s just me.
Within the Cliff Lee window
From the Winter Meetings through Lee’s signing with Philadelphia.
This seems to be when the Lee talks were at their peak.
Pirates: one year, $500,000 with heavy incentives (plus club option)
Olson’s first big league season showed promise, but since then he’s been pretty bad while pitching for the Nationals and Marlins. Now it’s the Pirates who have signed him. From Florida to Washington to Pittsburgh. That says a lot.
Dodgers: 1 year, $2 million
Early in his career, Padilla had some good years with the Phillies, but he’s since become a back-of-the-rotation starter capable of stringing together a few dominant outings. Injuries last season made him even more of a risk than usual, and the Dodgers might use him in the bullpen instead of the rotation.
Padres: one year, $900,000
The Yankees offered Moseley a Major League deal, but he decided to shopping for a better offer and found on in San Diego, where he could land a spot in the Padres rotation. Moseley was a solid spot starter for the Yankees last season.
Pirates: two years, $8 million
News of the agreement broke on December 8. Hard to know what to expect rom Correia. He’s spent all of his career in the NL West, and his ERA has been a roller coaster the past four years, from 3.45 to 6.05 to 3.91 to 5.40.
Astros: one year, $750,000
Last season, the young lefty won one game and had a 6.75 ERA with the Mariners. He was solid the three years before that, but he’s generally been more effective as a reliever than as a starter.
Athletics: one year, $1.5 million (plus incentives)
Harden is coming off another injury plagued season that saw him pitching out of the bullpen in September. He might fall into a bullpen role again this season. When he did pitch last season, he carried a 5.58 ERA in Texas.
After Cliff Lee
Amazing how quiet the market has been since Lee came off the board.
Jeff Francis, Justin Duchscherer, Kevin Millwood and others are still out there.
Nationals: one year, $1 million with heavy incentives
One day after Lee signed with the Phillies, Wang re-signed with the Nationals. You know the Wang story, so I’m not going to rehash it here. There were — and are — several Wang-type starters on the market.
Rangers: one year, $3 million (plus heavy incentives)
Webb has one big league start in the past two seasons. He was once among the best starting pitchers in the game, but reports this fall of a low-80s fastball in instructional league were not encouraging.
Tigers: one year, $3 million
The most recent big league starter to come off the board, Penny is one of those risk-reward starters who have been fairly prevalent in this free agent market. He pitched well but made only nine starts last season.
One Chicago bargain and a handful of links • 12.16.10
Kerry Wood came up through the Cubs minor league system, and he had his best playing days in a Cubs uniform. After two years away, he wanted to be back in that organization. Apparently he wanted to be there very badly.
Today, Wood agreed to a one year deal to rejoin the Cubs bullpen. The cost: One year, $1.5 million.
Mark Feinsand confirmed what was already obvious: The asking price to pitch for the Yankees was much higher. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Wood could have played in Chicago on a one-year, $3.5-million offer from the White Sox.
Apparently more than one pitcher has chosen a team ahead of a contract this winter.
A few more links from today…
• Feinsand reports that the Yankees have had “very, very preliminary” conversations about pursuing Rafael Soriano, but Joel Sherman says those conversations won’t go anywhere. The price is far too high for a setup man.
• Bob Klapisch reported today that the Yankees were working toward a deal with lefty Pedro Feliciano. There has been rumored interest in Feliciano since early in the offseason. The Yankees might also be looking into Brian Fuentes.
• The Yankees have reportedly asked for Freddy Garcia’s medical records.
• Chien-Ming Wang is on his way back to the Nationals. As you might expect, it’s a small guarantee with heavy incentives.
• Sad story about Steven Smith, a 24-year-old Yankees fan who died Monday in a three-car accident. If you didn’t know him personally, you might very well have known him as an active member of the Yankees Twitter community.
Associated Press photo
A few notes and links after a long day • 12.14.10
Around here, it’s hard to see the Cliff Lee signing as anything but a punch to the Yankees gut, but there’s another side to this story. What’s taking place in Philadelphia is impressive, and Jayson Stark did a nice job writing about the Lee signing from the Phillies side.
I appreciate any story that includes this quote: “Holy [colorful adjective] [colorful noun].”
Brian Cashman wasn’t quite as colorful in his Phillies assessment, but he made the key point.
“They have evolved into one of the more premier franchises, and that’s a credit to Dave Montgomery,” Cashman said during this afternoon’s conference call. “It’s an attractive place to play. It’s healthy competition, and it’s good for baseball.”
Not a lot of “mystery teams” end up with the top free agent on the market. The Phillies made it happen. Give credit where it’s due. It’s a heckuva signing.
A few other links:
• Cool post over at MLBTradeRumors about the lessons of the Lee signing.
• Even before Lee signed, Jack Curry was already reporting that the Yankees did not consider Zack Greinke to be a legitimate Plan B. I talked to quite a few Yankees officials today, and one of them suggested it’s more likely the team will mix and match a few different upgrades rather than try to find a Lee replacement.
• The A’s have finalized their Hideki Matsui signing. He’ll get one year and less than $6 million.
• Austin Kearns is on the Diamondbacks radar, according to Jon Paul Morosi. So is former Yankees outfielder Xavier Nady.
• Jerry Crasnick says the Rangers have discussed signing Chien-Ming Wang.
• The Mariners have signed Royce Ring to a minor league deal. When it rains it pours, huh?
• Former Yankees prospect Dioner Navarro has signed with the Dodgers.
Associated Press photo
Rebuilding the rotation (again) • 12.13.10
It’s pretty well established — and difficult to argue — that the Yankees need Cliff Lee. They have their ace, but the rest of the rotation is either relatively inexperienced (Phil Hughes), unreliable (A.J. Burnett), untested (Ivan Nova) or unnamed (is Sergio Mitre the fifth starter right now?).
Didn’t the Yankees just rebuild their rotation two years ago?
It was at exactly this time in 2008 that the Yankees signed Burnett and CC Sabathia, landing two premier free agents who immediately helped them win a championship. Now the Yankees are in desperate need of pitching help again. What happened to that group of starters?
Good as advertised
Whatever rotation problems popped up in the past two years, they weren’t Sabathia’s fault. Two years into a seven-year deal, Sabathia has 40 wins and a couple of top-four finishes in the Cy Young voting. The No. 1 spot in the rotation is secure.
Burnett had a hit-and-miss reputation when he came to the Yankees, but he also had five-straight seasons with a 4.07 ERA or lower. He made it six straight in his first Yankees season, then he made arguably the most important start of the 2009 postseason. Of course, 2010 was a different story altogether, the idea of a repeat performance makes his spot in the rotation unreliable at best. Burnett has three seasons left on his deal, and he could bounce right back, but last season was cause for significant concern.
The inevitable question
When Pettitte re-signed before the 2009 season, it was with the understanding that he was nearing the end of his career. One year. Two years. Three years. However long the wait, Pettitte’s spot in the rotation was never built to last, so the fact he’s considering retirement certainly comes as no shock. The question of whether Pettitte would come back was inevitable. Of all the current rotation questions, this one was most predictable.
The tough decision
Chamberlain had some good moments in his first full season as a Major League starter, but his 4.75 ERA wasn’t exactly inspiring and last spring he was bumped back to bullpen by the emergence of Phil Hughes. After years of back-and-forth questions, the Yankees finally made a decision on Chamberlain, declaring him a full-time reliever, and they don’t seem likely to stray from that approach. He’s essentially been replaced by Hughes, giving the Yankees one young, homegrown starter instead of two.
Still trying to recover
That 2009 season was supposed to be a return to form for Wang. He was supposed to be healthy, and a healthy Wang was supposed to mean another season of effective sinkers and close to 20 wins. Instead, Wang won one game that year and he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since. In reality, the two-year unraveling of the Yankees recently rebuilt rotation started with Wang. He couldn’t make it through the season, Chamberlain’s future was in the air and no one knew how much longer Pettitte would pitch. The Yankees rotation had been rebuilt heading into 2009 season, and by that winter there were already significant longterm questions.
Associated Press photos
Back to the Magic Kingdom • 12.05.10
As much as I’d love to see Brian Cashman put on an elf costume and climb down a building in Connecticut, I’m instead making my way to Orlando for this week’s Winter Meetings. That means one thing: Cliff Lee.
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are done, and the Yankees focus will shift to the rotation, which is the team’s most glaring need. Of course, the Yankees aren’t the only team interested in Lee. The Rangers are also going to make a push, and the Dallas Morning News took a look at the backup options should Lee sign elsewhere.
They’re basically the same for the Rangers as they are for the Yankees.
1. Trade the farm for someone like Zack Greinke.
2. Hope for a remarkable resurgence from someone like Brandon Webb or Chien-Ming Wang.
3. Try to catch lightning in a bottle with an internal candidate. I’m looking at you Ivan Nova.
Obviously, the preference is Lee. My guess is you’ll hear his name a lot this week.
Associated Press photo