Friday, March 20, 2015

Are the Yankees wasting roster spots?

There is some debate about when to bring younger players into the mix all over Major League Baseball, and it is no different for the New York Yankees. Often, this question pertains to the status of a “can’t miss” rookie like the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant who is simply being held back to push his arbitration/free agency eligibility out another year. But other times a club’s thought process inhibits the upward movement of fringe prospects like the Yankees’ Jose Pirela or Bryan Mitchell (there are more to share later).

Pirela is a late-bloomer and Mitchell might still be finding his way to consistency, but it can be argued that the Yankees are failing to allow them (and others) the shot right now, because they’d prefer a potentially “safer’ bet in veterans. What’s troubling about this view is that the vets they are handing spots to are not exactly top of the line players. They’re each below replacement-level players at their best, so why waste roster spots on them?

Pirela is essentially blocked by Brendan Ryan, an above-average fielder who lives at the Mendoza line with the bat. Ryan is more or less an automatic out, but the Yankees are valuing defense with their groundball leaning pitching staff. This is understandable for the starters, but isn’t it more effective for the Yankees to have a potentially potent bat like Pirela’s available off the bench?

Ryan is no longer needed as a defensive replacement late in games. The constructed infield will likely be one of the best defenses in the game. And Ryan is certainly not going to pinch hit for anyone. It’s laughable to think that because starting shortstop Didi Gregorius has trouble against left-handed hitters, Ryan might be called upon to pinch hit late in a tight game or completely replace Gregorius against tough lefties.

Ryan isn’t making a ton of money ($2 million), so this is not merely about saving a few bucks; it’s about getting meaningful value from young players with little more to prove. Pirela ranks here. He possesses a major league ready bat and while he’s not dazzling in the field, he can play virtually everywhere except catcher in a pinch.

It might be going too far to say that the Yankees should not have signed Stephen Drew, because the mindset is understandable here so long as the club makes their move away from him if necessary. The Yanks cannot make the same mistake they did last season with Brian Roberts and let Drew languish, especially after the latter’s own 2014 debacle.

Drew holding down second base is fine, and if he’s producing somewhere near his 2013 numbers with the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees did well for $5 million. Further, if Gregorius is simply not coming along against southpaw pitching, then Drew can slide over to shortstop on given days and Pirela could handle second base. The Yankees will never know if Pirela is a player who can stay afloat against major league pitchers for an extended period if they do not provide the opportunity.

Remember Yangervis Solarte last season? Pretty much no one saw that coming and the Yankees parlayed his incredible Spring Training and subsequent strong first six weeks or so of the regular season into a piece of the deal which brought Chase Headley to the Bronx. That’s potentially where Pirela’s value ends up being; as a part of a package for a player needed to make a playoff push. Unless the Yankees allow Pirela some time on the major league roster, they’ll be unable to showcase his abilities and demonstrate he won’t be overmatched.

The Yankees have a similar situation with the pitching staff. There is certainly something to be said about having depth in the organization when it comes to pitching. We see it almost daily that a pitcher has elbow or shoulder problems necessitating a depth-chart move.

The Yankees signed Chris Capuano in the offseason to a one-year, $5 million deal to be the fifth starter, or at least be available to be the fifth starter (Ivan Nova is due back in late May). Capuano was serviceable over the last couple of months of the 2014 season, but the club could derive the same value from one of their youngsters.

The Yankees also inked Esmil Rogers to a one-year deal worth just $1.48 million. Again, the argument is not coming from a financial standpoint alone, but money saved is either that alone or cash which could be used elsewhere. Again, Rogers is jamming a roster spot that could easily go to a handful of relievers.


Well, the Yankees could have still brought Adam Warren into camp to work as a starter. He’s been good thus far in the spring and has a proven track record as a starter in the minors (3.11 ERA in 497 innings). Or the Yankees could have further bolstered the bullpen by having Warren work setup innings along with David Carpenter and Justin Wilson, leading to the eighth and ninth innings with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

If pushing Warren to the bullpen was the direction, there is Mitchell who for two springs has been involved in a competition for the final starter role. The Yankees also have Chase Whitley who provided significant assistance to the club early last season as a starter. Now, Mitchell is somewhat touted (#14 on’s Yankees’ prospect list), so he’d have an advantage of winning the role, but Whitley could easily handle swingman duties and be available for spot starts along the way.

Digging deeper, the Yankees have a handful of relief arms that could help withstand moving Warren, Mitchell and Whitley into the rotation if a complete disintegration of the regular starting staff came to fruition. There are lefties Chasen Shreve, Tyler Webb and Jacob Lindgren along with righties like Danny Burawa and Nick Rumbelow. Shreve and Burawa are on the 40-man already.

Capuano is 36 years old and was getting hammered in Boston before they released him. It is reasonable to expect if he comes back from the quad injury, which will force a disabled list stint to start the season, he could fall into the same mold. Why waste the spot on him when there are more than a few players who could step up?

Finally, you’ll notice Rob Refsnyder and Luis Severino have been excluded from this discussion. While there is excitement about these players, they do require a bit more seasoning; Severino more so than Refsnyder. By allowing them to mature in the minors, whether it is for half the 2015 season or for its entirety, the Yankees can utilize the fringe guys like Pirela and Mitchell to see what they’ve got. Maybe a similar stay in New York as Solarte's propels Pirela and Mitchell up the shopping list other teams presented to the Yankees during trade talks?

Even more to the point, the Yankees do not stand to suffer with Pirela, Mitchell, Shreve, Burawa or any of the players mentioned on the 25-man roster than they would with Ryan, Capuano or Rogers. They can only gain from it. They save some money, again which could be reinvested; they could potentially find their next answer for a particular role or they prominently display a young talent who could be useful to retain another player.

Any of those options is better than settling for performance bordering on replacement level or worse, and that’s exactly what the Yankees are doing by holding onto three players who have bounced around the league or will do so for the remainder of their careers.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.