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Sunday’s Game – Roster Extravaganza Edition!

The Yankees shutout the Indians at home yesterday 2-0 behind a fantastic outing by Randy Johnson with all five of the returned WBC players seeing action, but before we get to the usual game-in-a-box summary, I want to address the flurry of cuts the Yankees made yesterday. Here are the players optioned or reassigned to the minors yesterday:

1B – Eric Duncan, 3B – Marcos Vechionacci, SS – Ramiro Pena, C – David Parrish, OFs – Melky Cabrera and Mitch Jones, SP – Sean Henn, RPs – J. Brent Cox, T.J. Beam, Frank Brooks.

Duncan, Vechionacci, Pena, Cabrera and Cox are potential future stars who impressed Torre and his coaching staff this spring, but need further seasoning in the minors. Cox, who will be 22 in June, is the oldest of that bunch. Jones also impressed at the plate but remains a poor defender with high strikeout rates, who, at age 28, has yet to show that he’s outgrown triple-A. Sean Henn had an awful spring (9.45 ERA, 6 2/3 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 7 BB, 4 K) and will return to triple-A where he’ll slip behind DeSalvo and Rasner on the depth chart. Beam is 25, has never pitched above high-A ball, barely pitched this spring (3 IP) and didn’t do well in that limited exposure (6 H, 3 R, despite a solid 4:1 K/BB). Brooks threw just two uneventful innings this spring and will spend the season as a triple-A roster filler. Parrish sucks and proved it by going 0 for 8 this spring.

In addition to those cuts, Senator Al Lieter officially announced his retirement before coming into yesterday’s game to get one last out (a groundout by Eduardo Perez). With those eleven men out of the picture for the moment, one can break the remaining campers into four groups: those that have made the 25-man roster, extra catchers, those rehabbing from injuries, and those battling for one of the final spots on the 25-man freed up by one of those injuries. Here’s how they break down:

Made the roster (22):

1B – Jason Giambi (L)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Gary Sheffield (R)
CF – Johnny Damon (L)
LF – Hideki Matsui (L)
DH – Bernie Williams (S)

R – Andy Phillips (1B/3B)
R – Miguel Cairo (IF)
R – Kelly Stinnett (C)

L – Randy Johnson
R – Mike Mussina
R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – Shawn Chacon

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Tanyon Sturtze
L – Mike Myers
L – Ron Villone
R – Jaret Wright

Extra catchers (3):

R – Wil Nieves
S – Ben Davis
R – Omir Santos

Injured or rehabbing (4):

R – Carl Pavano (mangina)
R – Octavio Dotel (elbow)
R – Aaron Small (hamstring)
R – Colter Bean (knee)

Batting for a spot (14):

OF – Bubba Crosby (L)
OF – Kevin Reese (L)
OF – Kevin Thompson (R)
IF – Felix Escalona (R)
IF – Russ Johnson (R)
IF – Kevin Howard (IF)

R – Ramiro Mendoza
R – Scott Erickson
L – Matt Smith
R – Scott Proctor
R – Matt Childers
L – Dusty Bergman
R – Mark Corey
R – Jose Veras

Taking the second part first, Bergman, Corey and Veras have pitched just five innings combined and Bergman and Veras have pitched poorly at that. I can only assume they’re still here just to eat innings. Here are the spring lines of the other five:

Mendoza 7 1/3 6 2 2 1 4 8 1-0 2.45
Erickson 10 1/3 9 7 3 2 3 8 0-2 2.61
Smith 3 1/3 2 1 1 1 1 5 0-0 2.70
Proctor 6 2 1 1 1 4 3 0-0 1.50
Childers 3 2/3 2 0 0 0 0 3 0-0 0.00

The 27-year-old Childers has an established track record of minor league mediocrity, but even that would be better than the devastating ineffectiveness of Scott Erickson, who has gotten the longest look of the five above. The same is true of Scott Proctor, who’s now 29. Better than either of those two, however, would be either Matt Smith or Ramiro Mendoza. Mendoza would seem to have the inside track given his history with the Joe Torre Yankees and the extended look he’s gotten this spring. Best of all, he may just be the best choice. Smith is exciting because he’s a homegrown lefty with impressive strikeout rates, but he’s also had control issues, got lit up in the Arizona Fall League last year, and has just a half season of triple-A pitching under his belt. In addition to which, although he’s just emerged on the Yankees’ radar, Smith will be 27 in June.

Mendoza, meanwhile, could be a great boon to the team if he’s fully healthy. Remember, when Mendoza was first with the Yankees, his problem was always durability. Brought up as a starter in 1996, he was converted to a swing man in 1997 and continually lobbied to return to the rotation despite the fact that he pitched better out of the pen and would always come down with a sore arm after making a few starts. From 1997 to 1999, Mendoza pitched 387 2/3 innings making 35 starts and coming out of the pen 98 times. Here are his aggregate splits from those three seasons:

As starter: 215 1/3 IP, 246 H, 23 HR, 4.81 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 13-9, 4.47 ERA
As reliever: 172 IP, 183 H, 14 HR, 5.39 K/9, 1.82 BB/9, 14-8, 6 SV, 3.24 ERA

In those three seasons, he posted a combined line of 3.92 ERA, 5.06 K/9, 1.97 BB/9. He then spent three more season in New York primarily in relief in which he posted a 3.77 ERA with a 5.62 K/9 and a 2.06 BB/9. However, those 387 2/3 innings and 133 appearances in three years, as has so often been the case under Joe Torre, took a lot out of Mendoza’s arm, limiting him to 14 games in 2000. When he became eligible for free agency after the 2002 season, the Yankees, who had insight into the health of Mendoza’s right wing, let him sign with the rival Red Sox, whose fans soon labeled him the embedded Yankee as arm troubled lead to a 6.75 ERA in 2003. His effectiveness returned in 2005, but his health did not, limiting him to just 27 appearances, all but one in the second half of the season. He then underwent rotator cuff surgery and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees in order to rehab with his old team in the hope of making a difference down the stretch. His rehab took a bit longer than expected but, now working a second minor league deal, it’s not out of the question to see the 33-year-old Mendoza return to something resembling his old form, particularly given his strong showing on his rehab stint last year and in camp this spring.

Switching over to the offense, Bubba Crosby likely won’t lose his roster spot to the series of minor injuries he’s had this spring (finger, hamstring), but the Kevins (Thompson and Reese) have certainly provided Joe Torre with reason to think twice. Having entered camp with superior better minor league track records than Crosby, Reese and Thompson have hit .316/.395/.350 and .436/.476/.590 respectively while Crosby has hit just .190/.227/.381.

Meanwhile, the Yankees decision to leave Carl Pavano behind in Tampa and on the DL during the first 15 days of April, when the schedule only requires four starters, has opened up a spot for an extra infielder which could be Escalona, who has hit .273/.351/.455 this spring and can play all four infield positions. It’s encouraging to see Kevin Howard still around, though he has yet to play above double-A and is hitting just .200/.227/.450 this spring. The Yankees should be thinking of Howard as the back-up infielder for 2007 and his continued presence in camp suggests they just might be. Russ Johnson, meanwhile, got off to a slow start due to a balky back, but has come on strong of late and despite his .190 batting average, his .333 OBP and .429 SLG hold up particularly well against Escalona’s numbers, particularly when one considers the fact that Escalona is hitting 83 points higher than Johnson, but leads him by no more than 26 points in either OBP or SLG. Meanwhile, the performances of both players reveal the foolishness of the Miguel Cairo signing (Cairo’s hitting .250/.302/.375 in nearly twice as many at-bats as Johnson). Johnson’s an old hand, but he’s exactly the sort of player the Yankees could use on the bench, a true utility man who can play all over the infield as well as the outfield corners, takes his walks and shows occasional power.

Here’s hoping that with the WBCers back in camp guys like Johnson, Escalona and the Kevins continue to get enough playing time to convince Torre and his new, more outspoken coaching staff that there is a better way to assemble a roster than to look by looking at player contracts.

As for that game . . .


Johnny Damon DH
Derek Jeter SS
Jason Giambi 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Gary Sheffield RF
Hideki Matsui LF
Bernie Williams CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Kelly Stinnett C

Subs: Andy Phillips 1B, Felix Escalona 2B, Ramiro Pena SS, Marcos Vechionacci 3B, Omir Santos C, Mitch Jones RF, Kevin Reese CF, Kevin Thompson LF, Eric Duncan DH

Big Hits: Jeter (1 for 3) doubled, Cano went 2 for 3. Gary Sheffield went 1 for 3, his single counting as a big hit because it was just his second of the spring in 24 at-bats.

Who Pitched Well: Everybody. Even Al Leiter, who got his only, and final, batter for the last out of his career. Sturtze pitched a perfect eighth. Farnsworth allowed one hit in the seventh, walking none. Myers allowed a hit while finishing Leiter’s inning. Randy Johnson, meanwhile, was fierce. Just four hits and no walks in six innings while striking out nine. Fierce.

Oopsies: Throwing errors by Jeter and the departing Pena.

Ouchies: Carl Pavano threw 35 pitches on the field with a batter standing in the box but not taking swings. Johnny Damon went 1 for 2 as the Yankee DH. That he played at all is proof that the Yankees aren’t that concerned about his shoulder. Meanwhile, in the comments to my previous post, reader unpopster shared a Rotoworld report that Jaret Wright tweaked his back fielding bunts before yesterday’s game. No official word on that yet, nor any information as to the severity of the injury, though it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Wright’s injury opened yet another roster spot, forcing the Yankees to go with eleven rather than twelve pitchers with DeSalvo as the next in line should Pavano not return in time to fill the fifth-starter spot.

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--Earl Weaver