"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice


A year ago, the Yankees entered camp with a new manager and coaching staff, but a roster that barely differed from one they took into the 2007 playoffs. Having spent this past October at home while several of their most expensive player contracts expired (including those of Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, and Carl Pavano), the Yankees enter spring training 2009 with a new look. Just 19 of the 25 spots on the Opening Day roster appear set, and of those 19, four are filled by players acquired this offseason, while two others are filled by players acquired at last year’s trading deadline. The 19 men who will fill those spots are:

1B – Mark Teixeira (S)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Xavier Nady (R)
LF – Johnny Damon (L)
DH – Hideki Matsui (L)


S – Nick Swisher (OF/1B)
S – Melky Cabrera (OF)
R – Jose Molina (C)


L – CC Sabathia
R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – A.J. Burnett
L – Andy Pettitte
R – Joba Chamberlain


R – Mariano Rivera
R – Brian Bruney
L – Damaso Marte

Even among these 19, there are battles to be waged. Xavier Nady, who was acquired along with Damaso Marte in a trade with the Pirates at last year’s deadline, enters camp as the intended successor to Bobby Abreu in right field, but Nick Swisher, acquired from the White Sox in a mid-November trade, is the superior player and seems likely to open the season as no worse than the strong-side of a right-field platoon with Nady provided he can prove in camp that his poor 2008 campaign was a fluke.

Similarly, Melky Cabrera is only among the 19 above because he’s out of options. I didn’t list him as the starting center fielder because Cabrera will spend spring training engaged trying to reclaim the middle pasture from Brett Gardner. It’s not entirely out of the question for Gardner to win that battle in a landslide and for the Yankees to spend the final weeks of spring training weighing the risks of trading or outrighting their former Center Fielder of the Future.

Thus it’s with Gardner that I begin my sixth annual look at the Yankees campers. The Yankees will fill the six vacant spots on their Opening Day roster from among the 45 players below, most likely by selecting a pair of position players (a utility infielder and either Gardner or a third catcher) and four relievers.

Position players on the 40-man roster (4):

CF – Brett Gardner (L)

Organizationally, the Yankees are hoping the 24-year-old Melky Cabrera can win his job back and get back on the path toward developing into a solid major league center fielder (though one could argue that he never set more than one foot on that path to begin with). Down in the dugout, however, Brett Gardner appears to be the favorite to win the center field job this spring. Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long both spoke highly of Gardner last year. Girardi showed his confidence in Gardner by letting him run free on the bases, resulting in 13 steals in 14 tries in just 42 games. Long saw potential in Gardner’s plate approach and worked with the rookie to involve his legs more in his swing in an effort to make him more than a speedy slap hitter.

For his part, Gardner hit a characteristic .296/.414/.422 and stole 37 bases at an 80 percent clip in Triple-A, showed great range and a strong arm in the field, and despite his initial struggles at the plate in the majors, seemed to focus better in big spots, hitting .343/.351/.457 with runners in scoring position and delivering a pair of walk-off hits. Though he didn’t hit a lick while subbing in left for an injured Johnny Damon in his first big-league stint in June and July, Gardner showed improvement after returning in mid-August, hitting .294/.333/.412 in 73 PA the rest of the way (which was better than Cabrera’s career line of .268/.329/.374) including a robust .357/.386/.476 over his last 13 starts in September. Unless the Yankees go out and sign the still-available Jim Edmonds, this may be the 25-year-old Gardner’s best shot to establish himself in the major leagues. If he wins the job, he should be an instant fan favorite (imagine Bubba Crosby with actual talent) and could be just the second Yankee to lead the AL in stolen bases since they traded Rickey Henderson.

IF – Cody Ransom (R)

Ransom and Dan Giese were the only veteran minor league free agents invited to spring training as non-roster players by the Yankees last year who managed to break onto the 25-man roster during the season and survive the winter to return to camp as members of the 40-man. A year ago, I called Ransom a dark horse in the Yankees’ utility picture based on his ability to play all four infield positions and a little outfield and hit for power. Well, that horse outlasted Morgan Ensberg and Alberto Gonzalez among others and performed well enough after his mid-August promotion to enable the Yankees to part with Wilson Betemit in the Nick Swisher trade without fear of weakening the roster.

Ransom belted 22 homers in 481 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton last year, his third-consecutive Triple-A season with 20 or more homers, then went deep in his first two at-bats as a Yankee. Take those first two taters out of Ransom’s line, and he still hit .268/.375/.488 in 49 PA for the Yankees. At 33, Ransom’s no kid, but he plays solid defense all around the diamond, is a power threat, and will take his share of walks. He’ll also strike out quite a bit, but his career .251/.348/.432 line in the major leagues represents an upgrade on the defensively inferior Betemit (career .260/.325/.437), who was a switch-hitter in name only, and a huge improvement over a potential third tour of duty for Miguel Cairo (still a free agent and a career .266/.315/.357 hitter), no matter how much better Cairo might be at bunting and stealing. It seemed obvious to me as early as September of last year, that the Yankees saw Ransom as their utility infielder for 2009. You can pencil him onto the Opening Day roster.

1B – Juan Miranda (L)

Last year, in his second professional season and Triple-A debut, Miranda emerged as a solid on-base threat with doubles power, something he quickly confirmed in his cup-of-coffee major league debut in September. Of course, with Mark Teixeira around, that won’t get him much more than another tour of Scranton. Given that Miranda will officially be 26 in late April (and quite possibly older than that unofficially), this Cuban defector is unlikely to ever stick in the majors with this organization. The Yankees’ best hope is for him to thrive in his peak-age seasons so that he can be used as a trade chip.

C – Francisco Cervelli (S)

Elliot Johnson, the Rays infielder who broke Cervelli’s arm in a collision at home plate last spring training, really threw a wrench into the works. Had Cervelli spent 2008 at Double-A as planned, he’d be a third-catcher candidate for Opening Day with the potential to push Jose Molina out the door by the All-Star break. Instead, Cervelli spent last year healing and will have to prove himself at Double-A this year, while the Yankees’ playoff hopes ride on the surgically repaired shoulder of Jorge Posada lest they get a repeat of Molina’s dreadful 2008 season. Cervelli played just 21 games for Trenton last year, but hit .315/.432/.384 in them. That high on-base and poor power is typical of Cervelli, a strong defender who turns 23 in early March and could yet emerge as a major league starter. The Yankees hope Cervelli, the leader in their parade of low-minors catching prospects, will advance quickly, but they’d be wise not to rush him out of desperation. He looked completely overmatched in his five major league plate appearances last September.

Pitchers on the 40-man roster (17):

Last year, the Yankees finally figured out that they could assemble a strong bullpen on the cheap with the talent they had on hand in the minor leagues. They also learned that said relievers were fungible and could be swap out for fresh blood from Scranton according to performance. That sort of mixing and matching throughout the season kept everyone fresh and effective and gave the Yankees one of the best bullpens in baseball. I credit Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland (who coached in Scranton in 2007) for that achievement and expect they will continue to approach the bullpen that way this year. Thus every reliever who still has options left is listed here rather than above.

R – Jose Veras

After making the 2007 playoff roster, Veras opened 2008 in Triple-A, but after dominating the International League for a month, he returned to the big club to finally shed his rookie status at age 27. Combining his mid-90s fastball and sharp slider with new-found control (2.94 K/BB through August 24), he excelled in the secondary set-up roll until late August, after which his old wildness returned and he walked 12 men in his last 11 innings. In a way, Veras is now where Brian Bruney was a year ago. The problem is that, at 28, Veras is a year and a half older than Bruney and doesn’t have the obvious potential to improve his conditioning and focus on the game, which is how Bruney begat his injury-interrupted breakout season last year. Veras is not a particularly unique talent; the Yankees should get what they can out of him but not hesitate to discard him if it seems they already have.

R – Edwar Ramirez

After allowing six home runs in 21 innings (2.6 HR/9) as a rookie in 2007, Ramirez allowed just seven in 55 1/3 frames last year. The resulting 1.14 HR/9 was still not ideal, but it proved that Ramirez could survive in the majors. That improvement was partially the result of Mariano Rivera convincing Ramirez to rely more on his fastball and be more selective about when he threw his devastating changeup.

Like Veras, Edwar began 2008 in the minors, but after nine scoreless innings in which he struck out 13 and allowed just four baserunners, he got the call, after which he tossed another 14 2/3 scorless frames before giving up his first run of the year on May 31 (on a home run, naturally). Of course, what goes up must come down, and all that strong pitching up front masked the fact that the last four months of Ramirez’s season weren’t quite so pretty. In addition to his 5.31 ERA, Ramirez allowed 38 percent of his inherited runners to score in the season’s final months, and his HR/9 swelled to 1.55 during that span. Early in the season, Girardi seemed to like the idea of Ramirez as an unconventional LOOGY, but Ramirez’s final splits were decidedly conventional, with lefties posting an OPS 65 points higher against him than righties did. Ramirez will be 28 at the end of March and is in his final option year. It’s put up or shut up time for both him and Veras.

R – Jonathan Albaladejo

Acquired from the Nationals for Tyler Clippard following the 2007 season, Albaladejo followed his impressive major league debut from that year by making the Yankees’ Opening Day roster last spring. Initially used in long relief, he pitched well around a brief mid-April demotion, save for one ugly outing against the Tigers, but in mid-May he landed on the DL with a sprained ligament in his pitching elbow. A month later it was revealed that he had a stress fracture in that elbow. After sitting out the rest of the season, he flat out dominated back home in the Puerto Rican Winter League (0.41 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 9.0 K/BB, 14 SV), showing the same great control and ground-ball tendencies that distinguished him prior to his lost season. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and several strong secondary offerings, the 26-year-old Albaladejo will enter camp at full strength with an excellent chance to make the Opening Day roster yet again.

L – Phil Coke

A late-round pick out of a Stockton, California Community College in 2002, Coke was one of a group of undistinguished 25-year-old starters enjoying a solid season in pitching-friendly Trenton last year, but when the organization promoted him to Scranton and moved him to the bullpen, he became a revelation. Adding several ticks to his fastball and smartly employing his starters repertoire, Coke put up dominant peripherals as a Triple-A reliever, then took his act to the majors as a September call-up. In his first ten major league appearances, Coke held the opposition scoreless over 11 2/3 innings. Two outings latter, his debut concluded with a 0.61 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, and 7.0 K/BB. The only blight on his record was a reverse split, with lefties responsible for most of the miniscule production against him. The Yankees will prepare Coke to return to starting in spring training, in part because it’s easier to move a starter into the pen than the other way around. Don’t be surprised if he winds up as second lefty in the major league pen on Opening Day.

R – David Robertson

A 17th-round pick out of the University of Alabama in 2006, Robertson wasn’t even in camp last year, but made his major league debut before the end of June. After nine dominant outings at Double-A, he moved up to Triple-A. He had to conquer some wildness at Scranton, but did, earning the call in late June. Robertson posted a 1.46 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and 10.22 K/9 over his first 11 outings in the Show, but things soured after that, as his wildness returned. Opposing hitters hit .364/.431/.545 off Robertson in his next ten outings, prompting his return to the minors at the end of August. Four late-September outings back in the bigs went better. Robertson has great stuff (mid-90s heat with movement, hard slider, nasty curve), but he’ll need to keep his walks under control to get another look. He’ll be 24 in early April, and though he seems unlikely to break camp with the team, he could be among the first line of bullpen reinforcements.

R – Dan Giese

A late-round draft pick in 1999, Giese retired briefly in 2005, only to return to baseball rededicated and post a 2.55 ERA in the high minors over the last three seasons. After making his major league debut with the Giants in 2007, he landed in Yankee camp last spring. Exclusively a reliever to that point in his career, he was moved into the rotation in Scranton with impressive results and made his Yankee debut in June as Joba Chamberlain’s shadow during Chamberlain’s transition to the rotation. Giese (whose last name rhymes with “nice”) later pitched well in two of three spot starts and out of the pen in July and August, but landed on the DL with shoulder inflammation in mid-August and struggled after returning in September. Now 31, Giese is in a tough spot this spring as he’s stuck behind Alfredo Aceves on the long-relief depth chart of a team that’s far less likely to need long relievers than it was a year ago.

R – Steven Jackson

The last remaining player from the deal that sent Randy Johnson back to Arizona after the 2006 season, Jackson is a big righty who utilized an improved split-finger fastball to have a break out season in relief for Triple-A Scranton last year. After the All-Star break, he posted a 0.87 ERA while striking out 26 in 20 2/3 innings against just eight walks and no homers. On the season, he struck out 91 in 79 2/3 innings while allowing just four homers. Jackson, who will be 27 in March, was added to the 40-man in November, which gives him a clear path to a roster spot should he turn in a strong performance in camp.

R – Humberto Sanchez

The hard-throwing Sanchez was acquired in the Gary Sheffield trade after the 2006 season with the understanding that he might require Tommy John surgery, which he did in April 2007. After sitting out 2007 and having a second surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow, he spent most of last season building his strength back up before embarking on a late-season rehab assignment which concluded with two late-September appearances in the majors (one good, one less good). Though he was a starter before the surgery, he always seemed ticketed for the bullpen and did indeed pitch in relief in the Arizona Fall League. The bad news is that he got lit up in the desert to such a degree (12.00 ERA, 2.67 WHIP, 4:11 K/BB) that it caused concern even given the hitting-friendly environment and the fact that he was still working his way back from surgery. Raised in the Bronx, the Dominican-born Sanchez is a local boy worth rooting for, but he’ll be 26 in late May and has a lot to prove at Triple-A this year.

R – Anthony Claggett

Another product of the Sheffield trade, the 24-year-old Claggett had a solid season for Double-A Trenton last year, posting a 2.15 ERA with 55 Ks and just one home run allowed in 58 2/3 innings. The problem was that he walked 4.6 men per nine innings. He’ll have to get those walks down and prove he can do it in Triple-A before he becomes a serious contender for the major league pen.

R – Phil Hughes

Hughes has had so many ups and downs over the last two seasons it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 22 and, with Joba Chamberlain established in the majors, once again the Yankees’ best pitching prospect. Though Hughes struggled early last year, it seems clear that the primary barrier between him and major league success is his ability to stay healthy. A torn hamstring interrupted his rookie season in 2007 in the middle of a no-hitter. Last year it was a stress fracture in one of his ribs that shelved him after just six starts. The circumstances surrounding Hughes broken rib were clouded by Joe Girardi’s obfuscation and Hughes’ own confusion as to when exactly he had broken the bone. That allows us to make some excuses for his poor April performance, which saw him turn in a quality start in his first game, which the Yankees won 3-2 after he had left, and saw a scoreless outing ended early due to rain. After rehab and some solid work in Scranton, he returned in late September having replaced his ineffective slider with a sharp cut fastball and looked sharp in two starts, particularly in an eight-inning duel with A.J. Burnett in Toronto, another game the Yankees won only after his departure. It’s an oft-cited fact that neither Hughes nor Ian Kennedy won a game for the Yankees last year, but half of Hughes’ eight starts resulted in no-decisions, three of which the Yankees won. That’s small potatoes, but it’s something for Hughes to build on.

That said, I’m glad Hughes will be starting the season back in Scranton. He’s young enough that the extra development time won’t hurt him, and he’s only made 11 Triple-A starts in his career. With all of the bouncing around he’s done the last two years due to the team’s desperation and his own fragility, it would do him well to get his legs under him at Triple-A. That said, the Yankees really should find a way to make room for him by mid-year should he begin to dominate down there. It may take an injury for that to happen, but even if it doesn’t, Hughes should properly succeed Andy Pettitte in the rotation next year.

R – Alfredo Aceves

A Mexican League find who made his State-side pro debut last year at age 25, Aceves lacks dominating stuff, but has a tremendous ability to mix his large repertoire, hit his spots, and stay one step ahead of the batter, as he proved in three of his four starts for the big club last September. The Yankees sixth starter until Hughes gets his groove back, Aceves is also a long-man candidate for the major league pen, and could prove to be a very valuable utility pitcher as injuries force the Yankees to shuffle their roster.

R – Ian Kennedy

While Phil Hughes’ poor 2008 season can be partially blamed on injury and ended with redemption, Kennedy’s 2008 was an unmitigated disaster. Torched in his first start and turned into a reliever by the threat of rain in his second, Kennedy finally turned in a quality start his third time out, but sent his manager into a rage by walking five men in 2 2/3 innings in his fourth outing. He pitched better in his fifth start, but still walked four in five innings, and after another poor outing on May 1, he was demoted having walked 20 men in 23 2/3 innings and posted an 8.37 ERA. After dominating in Triple-A he was brought back mid-month, but after a bad start that featured just one walk and a good one that featured four, he pulled an oblique in his third and landed on the DL. The Yankees were in no rush to bring him back, but when they finally did in August, Kennedy was again torched, giving up five runs on nine hits in two innings, after which he told the media that he “felt like I made some good pitches and competed, which is all that really matters.” Not in a pennant race, Ike. He was demoted two days later and was not brought back when rosters expanded in September.

Beyond the walks, what galled Girardi and thrilled opposing hitters about Kennedy last year was that he refused to work in his curveball, making him a two-pitch pitcher with a low-90s fastball that he wasn’t locating and a changeup that had been his out-pitch but was rendered irrelevant given his inability to set it up. Kennedy mixed in a cutter in his August start, but still stayed away from the curve, allowing the Angels to sit on the heater. The good news is that the 24-year-old Kennedy supposedly found a new way to throw his curve in while working with Scranton pitching coach Rafael Chaves in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and dominated the league as a result (1.56 ERA, 0.89 WHIP). If he can carry that success back to the International League this year, he could restore his prospect status and give the Yankees a crowded rotation picture for 2010.

R – Eric Hacker

A late-round draft pick in 2002, Hacker missed the 2004 season due to Tommy John surgery, and the 2006 season due to shoulder surgery. As a result, his progress through the Yankee system has been slow; last year marked the first season in which he wasn’t returning from an injury since 2003. After nine strong starts for High-A Tampa, he excelled in his Double-A debut, posting a 2.76 ERA over 17 starts, though there’s some reason to believe that was largely a product of the offense-suppressing environment in Trenton. Hacker will be 26 in March, and I’m not entirely sure why he was given a roster spot over fellow 26-year-old righty Jason Jones or 25-year-old lefty Zack Kroenke, both of whom also had strong 2008 seasons on the banks of the Delaware and have since become Rule 5 picks, particularly given Hacker’s injury history.

R – Christian Garcia

The Yankees’ third-round pick in 2004, Garcia is another righty starter who has had trouble staying healthy. Garcia managed to make just ten starts in 2006, missed all of 2007 due to Tommy John surgery, and made just 13 more starts this past season. He also suffered a knee injury that required surgery while he was on the shelf due to the TJ surgery in 2007. He spent most of his time last year in Tampa, where he pitched very well in ten starts (2.90 ERA, 60 Ks in 49 2/3 innings, just two homers allowed and a 3.53 K/BB). He’s still just 23 years old, so there’s still hope that he can recover his prospect status at Double-A this year. Proof of that hope was the fact that the Yankees added him to the 40-man in November.

L – Wilkin De La Rosa

A 24-year-old converted outfielder, Dominican beanpole De La Rosa dominated the Sally League in relief in his first full season as a pitcher last year, then moved up to High-A Tampa as a starter and posted a 1.10 ERA in three starts. Altogether, he struck out 125 men in 106 2/3 innings and allowed just two home runs. Garcia probably has the highest ceiling of the six pitchers added to the 40-man in November, but because of Garcia’s injury history, De La Rosa is the one that interests me the most.

L – Michael Dunn

Another left-handed converted outfielder, Dunn wasn’t as impressive at High-A Tampa in his second year as a starter last year as he had been in the Sally League in 2007, but he’s just 23 and has struck out 291 men in 302 innings in his professional career. He could have a future as lefty reliever as soon as this spring.

R – Andrew Brackman

The Yankees’ top pick in 2007, the 6-foot-10 Brackman slipped to the Yankees’ 30th pick because of concerns about his elbow. Indeed, he had Tommy John surgery that August before ever throwing a professional pitch, but the Yankees expected that when they drafted him, which tells you what they thought of his talent. After spending last year getting back up to strength, Brackman made his pro debut in the final season of Hawaiian Winter Baseball, where he got his fastball up to 97 miles per hour, and enters camp ready to assert his status as one of the game’s top pitching prospects.

Non-Roster Hitters (16):

IF – Angel Berroa (S)

“In the land of the blind, the one-eye man is king.” — Desiderius Erasmus

In the case of the 2007 Royals, Tony Peña Jr., whose only discernable baseball skill is his outstanding defense at shortstop, was the one-eyed man and Berroa was the blind. Despite winning the AL Rookie of the Year in 2003 (an award I though he deserved), Berroa has devolved into the rare zero-tool player. He can’t run, he can’t hit, and he can’t field. The 2008 versions of Melky Cabrera and Jose Molina had more to offer than Berroa. Angel caught on with the Dodgers last year due to a small-sample power surge as a 30-year-old in Triple-A and L.A.’s rash of infield injuries, then proceeded to hit .230/.304/.310 for Joe Torre’s club in an inexcusable 256 plate appearances. The Yankees would be best advised to not repeat their former manager’s mistakes and cut Berroa loose rather than letting him lurk in Scranton.

UT – Justin Leone (R)

The Yankees fell so hard for Cody Ransom last year that they brought in another player just like him this spring in Justin Leone. Leone has played everywhere but catcher (he even pitched last year) and offers similar power and superior patience to Ransom with similarly low averages and lots of strikeouts from the right-side of the plate. Soon to be 32, Leone’s a year younger than Ransom and has made 116 big-league plate appearances, all but one of which came with the Mariners in 2004, to Ransom’s 214. Leone has the foot speed Ransom lacks, but his abilities on the bases are inconsistent. Ransom, on the other hand, is the better fielder, which one can deduce in part from the fact that, though he’s ostensibly a third baseman, Leone has spent more time in the outfield than the infield over the last three years. There’s the rub. The Yankees need a good-fielding backup infielder who won’t kill them with the bat (Ransom), not an extra bat who won’t kill them in the field (Leone).

2B – Kevin Russo (R)

A late-round pick in 2006 out of Baylor, the 24-year-old Russo is a future utility man at best. He’ll hit for a respectable average, draw a few walks, and steal a few bags, but he won’t any of those at an elite level, and he won’t hit for much power. Though he split his time between second and third last year and also saw some work in the outfield, he’s never played shortstop as a pro, which limits his potential even as a utility infielder. Still, he’ll be an upgrade over Bernie Castro at Scranton this year.

IF – Doug Bernier (R)

An undrafted free agent out of Oral Roberts University, Bernier spent his twenties working his way up the Rockies’ system and around the diamond. Primarily a shortstop, he’s played everywhere but catcher and pitcher and made his major league debut as a second baseman last June just before his 28th birthday (he was returned to Triple-A after two games). A weak and inconsistent hitter, Bernier’s only discernable offensive skill is a solid batting eye. He’s organizational fodder and a threat only to Ramiro Peña.

SS – Ramiro Peña (S)

Peña is a good-field/no-hit shortstop from Mexico who struggles to stay healthy. He finally surpassed 100 games for the first time last year in his fourth pro season, but hit just .266/.330/.357 for Double-A Trenton. He should start at Scranton in place of Berroa this year by default, and because, despite the fact that he’s just 23, there’s no point to waiting around for him to improve his hitting. He’s as good a one-eyed man as any other.

SS – Eduardo Nuñez (R)

A lesser version of Peña, the Dominican Nuñez is a year younger, a level below, doesn’t switch-hit, isn’t as strong a fielder, and is an even weaker hitter. For good measure, he had an awful year on the bases last year (14 for 24), while Peña tends to stay put. Nuñez is proof that Peña really is in the land of the blind.

OF – John Rodriguez (L)

Originally signed by the Yankees as an undrafted free agent out of Brandeis High School way back in 1996, New York native Rodriguez spent eight years working his way up the Yankees’ organizational ladder and broke out with a .300/.379/.557 campaign for Triple-A Columbus in 2004. The Yankees wrote that off as a fluke and didn’t resign him that winter. Instead, Rodriguez landed with the Cardinals, with whom he won a World Series in 2005 and hit .298/.378/.434 off the bench over two seasons. Rodriguez spent the last two seasons back in Triple-A, but he just keeps on hitting. Now 31, he could be a useful lefty bat off the bench if the Yankees’ outfield is thinned by injuries or a trade.

OF/1B – Shelly Duncan (R)

A late-season power sensation and fan favorite in 2007, Duncan was an early roster casualty last year when Derek Jeter got hurt, but not badly enough to land on the DL, forcing the Yankees to sacrifice Duncan for shortstop Alberto Gonzalez. After raking for Scranton, he got his spot back in late April, but failed to hit, and was demoted again in early June, after which he continued to scuffle before separating his shoulder on a diving play in the outfield. He returned to action with Scranton late in the year, but lost his spot on the 40-man in the off-season and is back in camp at age 29 as a non-roster player looking up at Mark Teixeira and an overcrowded outfield. Fortunately, we can be sure that Shelley enjoyed his major league career while it lasted.

OF – Todd Linden (S)

The Yankees seem to have developed a thing for former Giants minor leaguers, be it Ransom, Giese, Leone, or Todd Linden. The 28-year-old Linden is something of a Quadruple-A corner outfielder, a .289/.382/.489 hitter in the minors, who has hit .231/.303/.335 in 559 major league plate appearances over five seasons, most recently with the Marlins in 2007.

CF – Austin Jackson (R)

The Yankees’ top non-pitching prospect, Jackson is believed to be the next Yankee center fielder, making the battle between Gardner and Cabrera one in which the spoils will soon . . . well, spoil. The problem is that Jackson’s follow-up to his breakout 2007 season didn’t seem particularly impressive. Fortunately, that can be explained away by the offense-dampening effects of playing on the banks of the Delaware River for Double-A Trenton and by the back injury which slowed him in August and similarly plagued his poor showing in the Arizona Fall League (though in between he was the MVP of the Eastern League Playoffs). Toss out his adjustment period in April and you get a middle-three months in which Jackson hit .290/.363/.464 and made the Eastern League All-Star team. That’s still not overwhelming, but it does find the power that otherwise appeared to have gone missing.

It’s important to remember that Jackson is still fairly raw, particularly as upper-minors prospects go. A former basketball player who just turned 22 earlier this month, he’s a terrific athlete, but currently projects as more of a speed-and-defense center fielder with 20/20 potential than as a future superstar (that is, more Torii Hunter-light than full-blown Carlos Beltran). He’ll star the year as Scranton’s center fielder and could either make another leap forward having escaped Trenton, thus landing in New York before the year’s out, or he could discover that he needs a few years of fine tuning at Triple-A before he’s ready for the Show.

OF – Colin Curtis (L)

A college product who hasn’t hit above short-season ball, Curtis, the Yankees’ 2006 fourth-round pick out of Arizona State, is looking like a bust. Last year, he hit .255/.329/.368 for Trenton, doing his part to help the Thunder’s much-heralded outfield of Curtis, Jackson, and Jose Tabata thoroughly disappoint. A year ago, I wrote of Curtis that, “at age 23, he’s not actually young for his level and has never hit for power in college or the minors.” Well, the only thing that last year changed is that he’s now 24.

C – Kevin Cash (R)

Kevin Cash is only three years younger than Chad Moller and a whole lot worse at the plate. He has a great arm, but that simply makes him a younger, less-productive version of Jose Molina. At 31, he’s a career .184/.248/.285 hitter in 557 major league plate appearances. His career OPS+ is 38. He’s among the worst of a worthless breed. The Yankees should be publicly apologetic for not being able to do better.

C – P.J. Pilittere (R)

Pilittere’s repeat of Double-A last year looked almost exactly like his first try in 2007. His career line at the level is .270/.317/.343. That’s nearly all batting average. Now, 27 he’s unlikely to ever reach the dizzying heights of Kevin Cash.

C – Kyle Anson (S)

Anson could be the next Pilittere. Trying desperately to stay ahead of Austin Romine and Jesus Montero, Anson hit a punchless .241 with High-A Tampa last year at age 25 and now finds his path to playing time at Double-A blocked by Cervelli. The fact that he’s drawn 123 walks against just 114 strikeouts as a pro is all that recommends him at this point, and he seems unlikely to maintain that ratio in the upper minors, if he ever even gets there.

C – Austin Romine (R)

The better defensive backstop of the Yankees duel Sally League catching prospects, Romine turned in a solid season with the bat last year, hitting .300/.344/.437 in his full-season debut at age 19. Conventional wisdom has Montero moving to first base and Romine becoming the Yankees’ catcher of the future. He has a long way to go, but Romine did nothing to disrupt that projection last year and will join Montero in High-A Tampa this year.

C – Jesus Montero (R)

Austin Jackson may be the Yankees’ top non-pitching prospect, but Jesus Montero is the organization’s top hitting prospect. As an 18-year-old in full-season ball last year, he hit .326/.376/.491 with 17 dingers. He has monstrous power and should be a middle-of-the-order hitter soon after his big-league arrival, the timing of which will likely be determined more by his defense than his bat as the former will likely develop more slowly than the latter. The Yankees remain committed to Montero as a catcher, as well they should be given that he could give them a Posada-like advantage over the competition by providing that sort of production from the catching position. The catch (as it were) is that Montero’s big (6-foot-4, 225) and not as smooth behind the plate as Romine. Still, he showed a decent arm last year, throwing out 25 percent of opposing baserunners (though that’s below average for the low minors), and will still be a top prospect if he’s forced to move to first base.

Non-Roster Pitchers (7):

R – Mark Melancon

Like Brackman, Melancon fell to the Yankees in the draft (2006, 9th Round) because of concerns about his elbow and had Tommy John surgery later that year (after just 6 2/3 pro innings). Back in action last year, the former University of Arizona relief ace burned through the system, dominating at High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, but stopping there due to concerns about his workload. Melancon was so efficient that he pitched 95 innings in his 44 games last year posting a combined 2.36 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 4.04 K/BB. Always a top prospect, the soon-to-be-24-year-old has already proven himself at Triple-A and could very quickly find himself pitching high-leverage innings in the major leagues.

R – J.B. Cox

A second-round pick in 2005, Cox was Huston Street’s successor as the Longhorns’ closer at Texas and the Yankees answer to Boston’s pick of Craig Hansen in the first round. Expected to move quickly, he dominated Double-A at age 22 in his second pro season, but 2007 proved to be a disaster as he started the season by breaking his hand in a bar fight, then underwent elbow surgery and wound up missing the entire year. Working his way back last year, he spent most of his time in Triple-A, but didn’t impress, posting a 4.75 ERA and walking more than he struck out. More of a finesse sidearmer and groundballer than a dominant power reliever, he could work his way into the Yankees bullpen picture if he’s able to improve his K/BB rate in Scranton, but he’ll be 25 in may and is no longer one of the organization’s top relief prospects.

R – Kanekoa Texeira

Acquired in the Nick Swisher deal as a non-roster replacement for Rule 5 eligible Jhonny Nuñez (who had been acquired from the Nationals for Alberto Gonzalez at the trading deadline and was included in the Swisher trade), The Other Texeira (note the missing “i”) represents an upgrade over the pitcher he’s replacing. A slim Hawaiian sidearmer with a put-away slider, Texeira dominated the Appalachian Rookie League after being drafted in the late rounds in 2006, acquitted himself well as the Sox’s Sally League closer in 2007, and graduated from closing in the Carolina League last summer to turn in 15 strong outings for Double-A Birmingham. Texeira strikes out more than a man an inning, but with fewer walks than Nuñez, virtually no homers (three in 144 1/3 professional innings), and low hit rates. The 23-year-old could start the season at Triple-A and throw his hat into the rotation for the major league pen by mid-season.

R – George Kontos

A fifth-round pick in 2006 out of Joe Girardi’s alma mater, Northwestern, Kontos is a righty starter possessed of a mid-90s heater and put-away slider and correspondingly solid strikeout rates, but also a worrisome fly-ball rate and corresponding predilection for gopheritis. He’s just 23, and made improvements on his curve and changeup with Trenton pitching coach Scott Aldred last year, but there are a lot of talented arms between him and the major league rotation. He’ll need Phil Coke to move to the bullpen and Igawa to move there to break into the Triple-A rotation.

R – Jason Johnson

A diabetic best known as the only major league pitcher ever to wear an insulin pump on his belt (which is visible from the center field camera), Johnson is otherwise unexceptional. A 35-year-old righty starter who has pitched in the majors for eight different teams and in Japan for a ninth in 2007, he doesn’t do anything well. His major league career is based largely on his brief stint as a league-average innings eater for the Orioles and Tigers earlier in the decade. He’s considerably less than that now and has no business being invited to camp for a team with so much good young pitching already in house. Another Dodgers castoff, he like Berroa, is best left as a Joe Torre mistake not to be repeated.

L – Kei Igawa

I supposed if you pay a guy $4 million a year, you have to invite him to camp. That’s the only reason Igawa is here. Yes, he pitched reasonably well for Scranton against last year, but he was brutal in his one shot with the big club and was dropped from the 40-man roster. In two years, he’s gone from Japanese League star to expensive non-roster Quad-A albatross who is owed $12 million over the next three years (through 2011). Unless he makes a miraculous reemergence as a LOOGY, the 29-year-old Igawa’s Yankee career is over. If he pitches more than once in an actual spring training game this year, I’ll be stunned.

R – Sergio Mitre (DL)

The Yankees just love them some TJ rehabbers, don’t they? Perhaps it all stems back to the way Jon Lieber paid off in 2004 after the Yankees paid him to rehab from Tommy John surgery in 2003. Melancon and Brackman could well pay off as players drafted with the understanding that they’d likely require TJ surgery. Then again, the future is far cloudier with Humberto Sanchez, and the Yankees botched the contract for Octavio Dotel in 2006, forgetting to include the option for the year in which he’d actually be good. Last year, the Yankees brought Eric Milton and Victor Zambrano in to rehab in the minors for reasons that I still don’t fully understand. Now, the Yankees have signed Sergio Mitre, the former Marlins starter who had Tommy John surgery last July, to a minor league deal with a club option for next year. A former Cubs prospect who went to the Marlins in the Juan Pierre deal, Mitre was never a high-ceiling starter, but rather a moderately successful sinkerballer, who had yet to put it all together in the majors prior to his surgery. He’ll be 29 next February and hardly seems worth even the minimal commitment, particularly given that after signing he was handed a 50-day suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.

* * *

Given the above and the early positive reports about Jorge Posada’s throwing, my best guess right now is that Gardner will win the center field job. Melky will stick as a reserve outfielder because he’s out of options. Swisher will play almost daily by platooning with Nady in right and subbing for Damon in left (with Damon often DHing in place of Matsui). Ransom will be the utility infielder, and the last four men in the bullpen will be Veras, Ramirez, Albaladejo, and Coke, with Melancon and either Robertson or Jackson likely to force out Veras and Ramirez by the end of May (provided Albaladejo stays healthy, of course).

Share: Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email %PRINT_TEXT


1 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 13, 2009 2:06 pm

Hooray - spring is truly here! My favorite post of the spring. Another wonderful job, Cliff.

About the Yanks' fetish for TJ, IIRC, a few years ago (around when Brandon Claussen had his 15 seconds of Yankee fame), Will Carroll said the Yanks had some kind of rehab process for TJ in Tampa that got guys on the field a little faster than usual (10 months vs 12) and with slightly better command than expected. (I tried to find the article but the BP site won't load up for me.) I wonder if that might be the reason they keep taking chances on TJ cases, trying to use the expertise they have in Tampa to exploit the situation to their advantage. You never know what you might find . . .

I think watching the bullpen shuffling, and the AA and AAA rotations and pen, is going to be fun this year.

2 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 13, 2009 2:32 pm

thankyouthankyouthank you Cliff!

3 MichiganYankee   ~  Feb 13, 2009 2:46 pm

I second the sentiments expressed above. I've been checking the Banter every half-hour today in the hope of getting this kind of start to my weekend.

4 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 13, 2009 3:12 pm

Early pool. Who hits more homeruns next year? Manny Ramirez or the Yankees outfield?

5 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 13, 2009 3:44 pm

Manny needs a team first, but I'd rather focus on Manny's production vs. that of Mark Teixeira. I'll put my money on Tex if Manny gets a multi-year deal.

6 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 13, 2009 3:45 pm

Good stuff on the TJs, Shaun. Could be they're just bringing these guys in to practice on so that they'll do a better job if/when one of their top prospects needs the surgery. If so, I applaud them for it.

7 rbj   ~  Feb 13, 2009 3:51 pm

Sweet. Thanks Cliff. Lots of meat here. Too much to digest in one sitting.

And now I know what to call myself, a zero-tool player.

8 PJ   ~  Feb 13, 2009 4:35 pm

Thanks Cliff!

There are eight million stories in the New York Yankees... cold, hard, Yankees!

Our unabridged cultural dictionary defines a "zero-tool player" simply as a tool...


9 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 13, 2009 4:42 pm

[6] Thanks Cliff. Since BP.com is now running OK for me, here is one small bit on Claussen's at the time quick return, and here is more. Apparently this was the work of Mark Littlefield, who is the Yanks' head minor league trainer and works out of Tampa.

There was also a BP Radio piece on Claussen, but I'm pretty sure that's no longer on the web.

[4] Since Damon has managed to do pretty well in the HR department since coming to the Yanks, and I think Swisher will rebound, I'll take the Yanks' OF. I reserve the right to change my mind if something strange happens and Manny signs with Texas or Colorado.

10 RagingTartabull   ~  Feb 13, 2009 4:43 pm

ah the best day of the year! until the first exhibition game, which then becomes the best day of the year until opening day.

11 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:08 pm

Cliff and another tour. de. force.

12 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:08 pm

[9] If the Yankees don't trade Nady or Swisher for futue considerations, I think the quartet of Matsui, Damon, Swisher and Nady could be pretty good. Obviously, I expect both Tex and Arod to mash, so the real question marks are up the middle:

Catcher - Will Posada be able to play 120 games?
2B - Which is the real Cano?
SS - Is Jeter in decline, or was he hampered by nagging injuries last year?
CF - Can Melky and/or Gardner provide any kind of offense to supplement their defense?

The good thing about those questions is the Yankees are building off worst case scenarios at almost every position. I think it is very realistic to expect at least an incremental offensive improvement at each spot, with big upside also possible.

I really like this Yankee team and can't wait for the Spring Training games to start. With Arod and Jeter away from camp at the WBC, I think Girardi should be able to enjoy a nice (relatively) quiet camp, which hopefully bodes well for the season.

13 Yankee Mama   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:14 pm

[12] Girardi said that he hopes that Posada will be good for 100-110 games. Which is where I hope that his teammates choose to up the offense on the days he's resting, cause Molina can't hit his way out of a paper bag.

Thanks Cliff! It was like manna from the gods.

14 williamnyy23   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:17 pm

[13] Molina is a decent (ok fine, only somewhat below average) hitter against lefties. If Molina is really going to play 50 games, I hope Girardi tries to have him face lefties as much as possible.

15 zack   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:19 pm

Its amazing how many bullpen arms the Yankees have. I mean, really amazing. And many of them are worthy of at least being back of the pen guys. With teams paying money to guys like farnsworth and lots of other awful retreads, I really do hope the Yanks start to trade some of them away for useful positional players. I am sure Veras and Edwar could at least get them back a decent utility type guy, no?

I fully expect Mo, Melancon, Alby, Bruney, Marte, Robertson, and Acevas to make a cheap and formidable BP, providing a nice combination of power, control, and guile. Throw in Coke, Giese, Cox, and Jackson and I really don't see the need for Veras and Edwar anymore.

16 Yankee Mama   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:22 pm

Molina is pleasurable to watch on defense. It would be interesting to compile stats on how many runs he potentially saves with his high throw out percentage.

On the bases, however, he is one lumbering runner. He'll probably do day games after night games, the usual drill.

17 Just Fair   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:44 pm

A bit chilly Upstate today, but the sun was a shining. And now actual info. that doesn't belong on p. 6.
Thanks, Cliff. Good stuff. For some reason, that note about IPK's rain delayed relief appearance sticks out in my mind. I can't believe that was only his 2nd start. It seems like the other day. : )

18 Jeterian Swing   ~  Feb 13, 2009 5:55 pm

Incredible work. Thank you Cliff.

19 zack   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:00 pm

[16] I can't imagine its really very many runs, especially not enough to even approach making up for his "offense." I mean, even with being so good, he still threw out about 45% of baserunners. Which is great, of course. But compared to Posada's average of around 26%, we are talking about, what, at most 20 more baserunners over a season? Even figuring that 50% of those runners score, which is most likely WAY more than actually happens, we are talking about 10 runs over the course of the season.

My analysis is 100% unscientific and could be totally wrong, but just as I don't really see steals being all that valuable in the end, I don't see Molina's preventing them at a 20 or so percent better clip all that more important.

20 RIYank   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:15 pm


That was great. Okay, now I'm ready for baseball. That stupid pre-game show about steroids kind of put me off, but, LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

21 Yankee Mama   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:17 pm

It's true that the numbers probably don't line up in Molina's favor, but the thing about throwing out a baserunner is 1) it stops a runner from being in scoring position and 2) can change the momentum of a game.

That said, Posada is certainly preferable...by a long shot.

22 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:34 pm

Re: Molina's Arm: I wrote something along these lines in Rod Barajas's player comment in Baseball Prospectus 2009 (now shipping!).

*75 men tried to steal on Molina last year, he threw out 33 of them (44%).
*The league average is typically 25 percent, so he threw out 14.25 more men than the average catcher would have.
*Meanwhile, Molina had a .263 on-base percentage, making 230 outs in 297 plate appearances.
*The average major league catcher had a .324 OBP last year, and thus would have made just less than 201 outs in 297 PA.

So: Molina took 14.25 outs away from the competition with his arm, but made 29 more outs at the plate than an average catcher would have. His arm in no way compensated for his bat.

23 zack   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:46 pm

[22] What he said :) Thanks for the free preview Cliff, that also happened to make my point in a far clearer and statistically backed manner! I am both far too lazy and far too math weak to do have come up with that!

24 Yankee Mama   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:46 pm

Numbers don't lie. Thanks, Cliff.

Can we figure out if or how any of the throw outs affected the outcome of a game? Is there a stat for that?

25 Yankee Mama   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:51 pm

Or how his OBP (or lack thereof) affected the outcome of a game.

26 monkeypants   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:54 pm

[22] What we don't know, of course, is Molina's deterrence factor: did fewer runners even try to advance because his arm is so good.

In any case, there is no way his arm makes up for his bat, even relatively speaking, assuming Posada can hit at all and can actually get the ball to second base.

27 seamus   ~  Feb 13, 2009 6:55 pm

"His arm in no way compensated for his bat."

This isn't true. If he made 14.25 outs more than the average catcher, than that did partially compensate for his poor offense. of course, since he is a backup catcher, he should be compared to backup catchers, not starting catchers to determine his true worth. Also, the outs are not necessarily equal since runners thrown out are runners on base and it isn't clear what % of his outs at the plate were with runners on.

Ultimately it just depends on what the question is. My only point is that the answer is fuzzier than it may appear.

28 zack   ~  Feb 13, 2009 7:08 pm

[27] While the answer may be fuzzy, the ultimate conclusion is decidedly bereft of plush: Jose Molina as a starting catcher is something a major league team cannot, in any way shape or form, survive. Jose Molina as a backup catcher is only acceptable if he is a late inning defensive replacement and plays full games once in awhile, with the rest of the starting offense out there.

With Posada likely to at most catch 110 games, Molina as the BUC is not a comfortable solution.

29 seamus   ~  Feb 13, 2009 7:18 pm

[28] what question are you answering? How does Molina compare to other BUCs? I don't see those numbers.

30 monkeypants   ~  Feb 13, 2009 7:59 pm

[29] Last year Molina played 100 games--he was essentially a starter. Of course, this year he will be expected to catch around 50 games, so counting stats he accumulated last year, including CS should be about halved.

Counting outs is not the only way to look at this. We could, instead, consider run expectancy. Using stats fro 1999-2002), the run expectancy for man on first no outs was .95, for one out .57, and for two outs, .25. Now, if that runner is thrown out, man on first no outs --> none on, one out (.30), so a CS in this context costs the offensive team about .65 runs. For a man on first one out --> none on, two outs (.12), or a loss of about .45 runs on average. Man on first, two outs --> three outs, so run expectancy = 0, or a loss of about .25 runs.

There are other possibilities (attempts to steal with more than one man on base, or attempts to steal third, etc.), but let's just focus on the situation of a man on first. The relative value of the CS decreases as there are more outs, but let's estimate that overall every CS costs the offensive team about half a run.

Ah, but every successful SB increases run expectancy, though only by around .2 runs depending on how many outs.

Now, let's assume that Molina throws out runners at an astounding 50%. That means that ever SB attempted against him nets around .3 runs for the Yankees (costs the offense .3 runs).

What does this all mean? Well, if 75 men attempted to steal against him in 100 games in 2008, we can guestimate that about 38 will try in 50 games this season, which would cost the opposing teams about 15 runs (assuming Molina maintains a very high CS rate), or about a run every three games he plays. Is that good, or a lot? I don't know--it doesn't *seem* like a lot to me.

Moreover, it seems that the best thing opponents could do is simply stop running against Molina. That would seem to eliminate his primary contribution, which is taking away potential runs from opposing offenses.

How does he compare to other BUCs? I have no idea, but I am not sure it is all that important to consider. Far more important is to consider just how much--or how little--impact even the best throwing catcher has in a game.

31 Shaun P.   ~  Feb 13, 2009 8:36 pm

You know, someone did this analysis last year on Molina's arm and the "value" it had - not sure if it was at BP or somewhere else. I forget the numbers, but the conclusion was, it didn't overcome, or even equalize, his horrendous hitting. I'll see if I can find it.

And I think the analysis took into account "deterrence" but IIRC it didn't find much of a deterrent effect. I want to say it was based on the number of stolen base attempts vs. Molina, maybe in comparison to when he just nailed a bunch of guys in a row? But I don't remember.

Cliff, speaking of BP 2009, the author info part of my copy (got it at B&N today, couldn't wait for Amazon) tells me you and the misses are due congratulations - so congratulations! (And was the Toronto chapter the only one you wrote?)

32 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 13, 2009 8:48 pm


I think I'm in love ....

(stat grrl)

33 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 13, 2009 8:58 pm

Fun BUC stat:

Todd Pratt played 14 seasons, and never had fewer than 50 PAs or more than 212 PAs in any season. He never appeared in more than 80 games in any season (including PH and defensive replacements). Most games started in any season: 48. Most innings caught in any season: 454.

34 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 13, 2009 9:05 pm

Shaun: Thanks. I forgot I mentioned that. I suppose I should come forward here so everyone knows whats up. I'll do so shortly.

Meantime here's what I wrote in BP09:

Yankees essay
Twins essay
Braves chapter (all of it)
Blue Jays chapter (all of it)
White Sox comments
Giants comments

I'll put up a post on that too in the coming days . . .

35 Diane Firstman   ~  Feb 13, 2009 9:09 pm


Hey Cliff .... didn't you just break some sort of BP "fourth wall"? The BP honchos are VERY protective of not noting who wrote what.

(But glad you did it anyway) :-)

36 monkeypants   ~  Feb 13, 2009 9:14 pm

[32] I'm flattered...but also married.

; )

37 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:20 pm

The Yankees signed Brett Tomko to a minor league deal. Christ only knows why.

38 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:32 pm

I doubt he knows either.

Diane, I don't think it's a state secret. I'd like to think that, at least here on Banter, that list is something of an additional selling point for the book.

39 Raf   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:37 pm

The Yankees signed Brett Tomko to a minor league deal. Christ only knows why.

Why not? Eric Milton. Shawn Estes & Jeff Weaver got invites to camp, why not Tomko? At minimum, it's a warm body, someone who could get the call due to injuries or overwork on the ML staff. With the injuries the Yankee pitching staff has suffered over the years, I have no problem with Cashman stockpiling pitching.

40 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:37 pm

You think he might be staring at his computer screen appalled?

41 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:44 pm

He's really bad. I'm not sure he even qualifies as a warm body. As we've learned many, many times over the last x number of years, you can, in fact, have too much bad pitching. The Yankees infatuation with Sidney Ponson, for example.

42 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:46 pm

But Raf, they already have too many pitchers to fit in Triple-A. Whose development to you want to stall just to let Tomko and Johnson pitch for Scranton?

Speaking of which, if you want a comment on Tomko, just delete the diabetes stuff from Jason Johnson above. They're the same guy. Pointless signings who simply don't fit in camp or in the organization.

43 monkeypants   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:49 pm

[39], [40], [42] The *only* value Tomko could have is to push Igawa further down the warm body ladder. At least Mattpat can appreciate that!

Otherwise, what's the point? And as Cliff points out, this could potentially gum up the works for younger pitchers in AAA.

44 Raf   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:51 pm

Who's development will be stalled? No one's development was stalled last year and the Yanks signed Ponson, Victor Zambrano, & Eric Milton. Igawa's still there too.

45 monkeypants   ~  Feb 13, 2009 10:56 pm

[44] Did Zambrano and Milton even play last year?
Sooner or later, these guys are going to take MiLB roster spots, potentially away from, well, minor leaguers. Why sign Brett Tomko now when, if disaster strikes, he (or any other interchageable part) can simply be picked up mid season (like Ponson last year)?

46 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 13, 2009 11:04 pm

Exactly, monkeypants. Ponson was only obtained after Kennedy and Hughes went bust last year and Milton didn't pitch and Zambrano made just three rehab starts.

Raf, Eric Hacker and George Kontos should be in Triple-A, but with Hughes, Kennedy, and Aceves likely locks for the Scranton rotation, there's no room if the Yanks stash two crappy veterans there, and that's before we throw in the possibility of Phil Coke and Kei Igawa (a crappy veteran in his own right) taking those last two spots.

47 Raf   ~  Feb 13, 2009 11:10 pm

Zambrano did, Milton didn't.

WRT rosters, MiLB isn't like MLB. Signing a ML veteran has little to no impact on the kids, they will not take time away from the prospects. Last year, for example, 20 pitchers started at least one game for the SWB Yankees. The year prior, 23.

48 Yankee Mama   ~  Feb 13, 2009 11:22 pm

But the question remains, why do the Yankees sign these guys in the first place? To provide a veteran presence in the minor league clubhouse? Otherwise, what's the point, especially with so much youth in development.

49 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 13, 2009 11:33 pm


That would be great if I thought we weren't going to see Igawa because of that. I'm sure he'll show up repeatedly.

50 thelarmis   ~  Feb 13, 2009 11:44 pm

thanks for this terrific post, cliff - very much appreciated! : )

51 Raf   ~  Feb 13, 2009 11:49 pm

But the question remains, why do the Yankees sign these guys in the first place?

Like I said before, why not? It costs them nothing. The kids aren't blocked. The Yankees aren't the only organization to do this.

52 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 14, 2009 12:07 am

Raf, I don't think the comparison to other organizations is appropriate. The Yankees are one of the most pitching-rich organizations in baseball. Most other teams have to flesh out their Triple-A squad with leftovers like Johnson and Tomko. The Yankees don't. And I do think they'll block the kids if they remain during the regular season as per 46 above.

53 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 14, 2009 1:40 am

[52] Trade bait? A bait-and-switch to hold onto the kids while adding utility?

(thelarmis, where've you been!)

54 Mattpat11   ~  Feb 14, 2009 1:51 am

Who would trade anything of value for Tomko or Johnson?

55 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Feb 14, 2009 2:02 am

Tomko hasn't been involved in a trade since 2002 and that was for Luther Hackman and Mike Wodniki, yet he's changed teams five times since then.

Johnson hasn't been involved in a trade since 1999 and that was for Danny Clyburn and Angel Volquez, yet he's changed teams six times since then.

So, yeah. That's not it.

56 monkeypants   ~  Feb 14, 2009 6:45 am

I wouldn't mind if this was a high-risk high-reward deal, where there is a chance that the team might catch lightening in a bottle. Heck, I even used to argue that it was worth keeping Igawa around because of his high K rate ("if he manages to get his head straight, the Yankees would have a good bargain #3 starter, yada yada"). Of course I was wrong about Igawa, but I digress.

But there is no potential for upside with Tomko. He has been a below average pitcher nearly EVERY season of his career.

I can also see stockpiling a few potential "innings eaters." But that's not Tomko either, at least not anymore: he's averaged around 100 INN the last three seasons. Admittedly, he put up some innings before that, but at age 37 it's hard to imagine he'll add to his recent innings total.

Or wait, maybe he's a leftie and can be converted into a LOOGY. Nope--he's a RHP.

Or maybe the Yankees are looking at BP depth. Tomko has split time in the BP the last three seasons. But really, do the Yankees *need* additional BP depth, of all things? RHRP is arguably the organizations deepest resource.

The only--and really, I think, ONLY--potential that Tomko holds out is as a depth for the "swing man" spot. If that is the only thing he offers, why bother signing him at all?

Finally, does Tomko represent some precious commodity that must be obtained now, rather than mid-season? No.

It's easy to say "it costs the team nothing" or "why not sign players like this for depth," but where does that logic stop? Should the Yankees sign everyone like Tomko? At a certain point, if there is no compelling positive reason to sign a player other than "why not," the more prudent course is not to sign him.

57 Raf   ~  Feb 14, 2009 9:21 am

Raf, I don’t think the comparison to other organizations is appropriate.

Why not? I'm pointing out that the Yankees aren't the only organization to sign veterans to MiL contracts, and invite them to ST. If it works out, fine, if it doesn't fine.

Geise, Aceves, & Aaron Small, are a few pitchers off the top of my head that were able to contribute something @ the ML level.

The Yankees are one of the most pitching-rich organizations in baseball. Most other teams have to flesh out their Triple-A squad with leftovers like Johnson and Tomko. The Yankees don’t.

I'm aware the Yanks have a pitching rich organization; they lost a handful last season and during the past offseason, and they still have a considerable number of arms in the system. Too much is being read into this. Every team invites NRI players to ST. They have anything, fine, if not they get cut. It doesn't hurt to look at a player. The cost, at best, is negligible. And contrary to popular belief, they won't block the kids.

The Dodgers are stocked with pitching, it didn't stop them from inviting Jeff Weaver to camp.

At a certain point, if there is no compelling positive reason to sign a player other than “why not,” the more prudent course is not to sign him.

I say "why not" because I don't have scouting reports in front of me. This could have been done as a favor to an agent, this could have been done as a favor to a teammate, maybe a scout was able to convince Cashman of something, maybe Tomko was able to convince Cashman to a tryout, who knows?

Players bounce around all the time. It's not that big a deal...

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver