Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Deconstructing Roster Construction

As I did last week when I ripped into Joe Torre, I'm going to start off positive. I like Brian Cashman. I think he's the right GM for this franchise. I think he does a good job with his resources, has revitalized the farm system, handles the media well, and has maintained both a level head and his dignity through eleven plus years in one of the most demanding jobs in sports. I think he has a vision for the future of this franchise and has a plan for how to execute it.

I also like Joe Girardi. Sort of. When it was clear that Torre was gone, Girardi was the guy I wanted to get the job. Despite his hokey "aw-shucks" routine, penchant for dishonesty with the media, a sometimes prickly relationship with his players, and his making of head-scratching moves on a nightly basis, I still think he's the right guy for the job. No sense changing horses mid-race - he still needs time to accomplish what he's here to do.

That said, I'm reaching the point of exasperation with how these two are constructing both the 25 and 40 man rosters and how Girardi is utilizing the former. These things are easy to miss when they're winning, but tough not to ignore when they're losing.

So without further ado, here's a look at some of the fat taking up precious roster spots. For an detailed explanation on how the 25 and 40 man rosters work, check here.

Honorable Mention: 40 Man Roster Division
Andrew Brackman and Juan Miranda

I'm not suggesting that neither Andrew Brackman nor Juan Miranda isn't valuable or isn't good. The problem however is that both these individuals were given Major League contracts when they first signed, meaning that they immediately had to be added to the 40 man roster.

Andrew Brackman is currently pitching in Low A-ball after missing all of last year following Tommy John surgery. I can't see him reaching the Bronx until September 2010 at the earliest, and likely later than that. Which isn't to say that he can't be good, because he certainly can. But right now he's taking up a precious 40 man spot. Had Brackman not been signed to a Major League deal, he wouldn't need to be added to the 40 man until after the 2010 season. Thank you, Scott Boras.

Had it not been for his Major League contract, Juan Miranda would not need to be added to the 40 man roster until after this season. The guy can hit, posting .275/.366/.468 over his minor league career. He cannot field however, being a first baseman exclusively and not a very adept one at that. Since the Yankees are set at that position for the next eight years or so, Miranda is stuck. He can't play the outfield, hasn't been tried there even, and the Yankees already have two guys who are exclusively DHs at this point. Miranda has value; why he isn't being actively shopped for a more usable player doesn't make sense to me.

The 40 man roster allows you a reservoir of 15 reserves for replacements and injuries. These two men represent greater than 13% of that. So right off the bat, the Yankees are in a hole. Add to that the five guys currently on the 15 day DL and the Yankees have exactly 8 of their 15 reserves that they could reasonably use right now.

Active Roster Division
Listed in Order of Ascending Value to the Roster
1) Brett Tomko
Brett Tomko has no business being on a Major League roster. None. Yet here is, representing 4% of a team that's supposed to be contending for the World Series.

He's terrible. He's 36. He's been in the majors for 13 years. He's turned in 9 different stints with 7 different organizations. He's been released three times in the last twenty-one months, each time by a team far, far out of contention. He's turned in an ERA better than league average only twice in 12 seasons, and not once since 2004, despite playing the majority of his career in pitcher's parks. What in the world makes the Yankees think he's a more compelling option than any number of younger pitchers they have in AAA? Because he can fool minor league hitters that he has a dozen years of Big League experience on?

Not only is he awful, he has no defined role. The former starter apparently can't be used as a long man because he's been a short stint reliever this year. Yet he couldn't be trusted to pitch the ninth in a laugher against Baltimore last week, or hold an 11 run lead for an inning against Texas Monday. What the hell do you call the guy who's lower than the mop-up man? Meanwhile the Yankees cut loose Eric Hacker to add Tomko to the roster. Great work guys.

2) Angel Berroa
Angel Berroa is quite possibly worse than Brett Tomko. The only reason Tomko is worse on this list is that the organization has any number of better options to do what Tomko does. They don't have those players who can do what Berroa does. Or what Berroa is supposed to do, at least.

Let's recap. The Yankees wisely chose Ramiro Pena over Angel Berroa to be the utility infielder coming out of spring training. When Cody Ransom went down with a torn quadriceps, Berroa was added to the roster. Not ideal, but I could at least understand why they move was made. Another IFer was needed, even if he had hit .231/.272/.322 (54 OPS+) over his last 772 MLB PA. The Yanks didn't really have any other viable options in the system. Maybe Kevin Russo, but he can't play short. Neither can Berroa - but at least he has played short.

"What's the worst that could happen?" I figured. Berroa was added to the roster on 4/25. A-Rod returned to the roster on 5/8. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope. Both catchers went down necessitating a 40 man move. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope. Brett Tomko was inexplicably added to the roster necessitating a 40 man move. I figured Berroa was gone. Nope.

The company line is that the Yankees want another infielder around until they're sure A-Rod is healthy. A-Rod has not looked 100% in the field nor on the bases. Yet, he has started all 18 games since returning, 16 of them at 3B. He's completed all but 5 of those games, never being removed before the 8th nor before the outcome was all but settled. Are you sure yet?

Meanwhile, the biggest thing of value Berroa has done has been to warm up the pitcher when the catcher makes the last out of an inning. Since May 4th, he has appeared in five games, never earlier than the eight inning. He has zero plate appearances in that time. Zero. In that same time frame Brett Gardner has been used as a pinch hitter four times.

So basically the Yankees are saying that saving A-Rod 5 innings in the field over the past 3+ weeks has been worth sending Brett Gardner up as a pinch hitter rather than Shelley Duncan, John Rodriguez, Todd Linden, or Juan Miranda. The Yankees value their washed-up second back-up infielder more than they did the careers of young pitchers Stephen Jackson or Eric Hacker.

Pete Abe likes to joke about how old Berroa looks. I think the guy may actually be a cockroach, because it appears it'll take a nuclear winter to get him off the roster.

3) Jose Veras
Here's the thing about middle relievers: There's a reason they're middle relievers. They're not good enough to start and they're not good enough to close. With a few exceptions, anyone below the third guy in a pen is essentially a replacement level player. If he's not doing the job, chances are you have someone else behind him in the pen or below him in AAA who can.

Despite a high WHIP (1.41) and high BB/9 (4.5) last year, Veras was pretty effective over 57.2 innings, with a 124 ERA+ and a K/9 of 9.8.

This year he is not effective at all. The WHIP is up (1.45), the BB/9 is way up (6.1), the ERA+ (82) and K/9 (7.0) are significantly down. He's worse in every conceivable way and seems to go 3-0 on the first batter every time he's entered a game.

Yet the Yankees won't get rid of him because he's out of options. They can't send him down without exposing him to waivers and are afraid they'll lose him for nothing. I say "so what?". They got lucky, catching lightning in a bottle with him last year. He's no good this year. Relievers are volatile like that. That's how it works. Meanwhile Mark Melancon, Anthony Claggett, and until yesterday, David Robertson, rot away in Scranton.

As with Berroa and Tomko, Veras is a waste of a 40 man spot that could be better used on someone else who could give them more roster flexibility and at least equal performance.

4) Kevin Cash
Here's the catch-22 about being the Yankees. When you trot out a waste of a uniform like Kevin Cash and his career OPS+ of 36, people say things like "You're the Yankees. How in the world can you spend $200M and still have to resort to Kevin Cash?". And in a way, those people are right.

But at the same time, if you're the Yankees, how do you lure a decent catcher to sit in AAA and be an insurance policy behind Posada and Molina, and maybe even Cervelli, without paying him an arm and a leg, and having everyone bitch about how much money you spend?

With Posada coming off surgery and Molina being a zero offensively, Cashman should have had a better insurance policy lined-up, preferably one who wasn't a worse hitter than Molina. But I can understand at least, why that may not have happened.

This shouldn't matter much longer. Posada could be back by the weekend and Cash should immediately be DFA'd. If they send Cervelli down first I'll flip my lid. Who cares if they lose Cash? Number 1, he's awful. Number 2, what are the chances of needing a fourth catcher again this year? Number 3, they still have Chris Stewart and PJ Pilittere at Scranton if such a situation arises. And Number 4, last year's emergency catcher, Chad Moeller, will likely be DFA'd Friday when Baltimore activates uber-prospect Matt Wieters. I would not be surprised at all to see Moeller sign a minor league deal with the Yanks.

I can't wait to be rid of Cash.

5) Chien-Ming Wang
I almost feel bad putting him on this list. I'm very confident that Wang can return to form. However, as I stated last week and as RAB put far more eloquently, I think the Yankees have botched his return very badly.

He is clearly not right yet. But in order to get right, he's going to have to do it at the Major League level, because there's no way he gets through waivers and there's very little chance of DLing him again after the first one was kind of suspect. But because Joba took a liner and the Yankees apparently hate the other pitchers on their 40 man, they panicked, deviated from a course of action they had planned just the day before, and foolishly rushed Wang back into a role for which he is neither suited nor ready.

What's more is he has to fix his problems working out of the pen despite having relieved just four times in his entire professional career. And much like Tomko, I have no friggin' clue how Girardi intends to use him. Last night Joba was pulled after four innings and Girardi went to Aceves for the second straight day. If you're not going to use Wang when your starter only goes four, when are you going to use him?

Now, Wang has gone four days without pitching. He's a sinker baller. Sinker ballers need work and they even tend to pitch a bit better when slightly fatigued. Wang's sinker is not sinking, which is a big cause of his problems right now. I have no clue how he's going to get straightened out. I fear 2009 may turn out to be a total loss for him.

If you're keeping score at home, that's five of the twenty-five men on the active roster. Twenty percent of the active roster offering little or no value to the club right now. Throw in an injury that will likely sideline Melky for a few days and the Yankees essentially have a 19 man roster. A lot of this can be fixed by players getting healthy, but much of it is of Cashman's and Girardi's own making. I hope that once players start returning, the Tomkos, Berroas, Verases, and Cashes of the world are finally exiled and some players that offer a little more flexibility are added to the roster.


  1. You've confused me with this statement, Matt:

    "These things are easy to miss when they're winning, but tough not to ignore when they're losing."

    Don't you mean to say "tough to ignore" instead of tough NOT to ignore?

  2. I did, thanks. Fixed.

  3. your an idiot. Cash admitted that he embarrassed the Yankees to Kevin Long & Long said since then he's been working hard. He did great tonight behind the plate & offensively.. I don't understand how people are so high on Cervelli. The guy hasn't even played a whole season yet. You can't judge someone on whether they're good or bad after a short amount of time. & as far as Posada goes his days are way behind him. I don't see him making a difference behind the plate. The strong side to him is the bat.

  4. I may be an idiot, but I can tell the difference between contractions like "you're" and possessive pronouns like "your".

    Kevin Cash is a 31 year old catcher who isn't even quadruple-A quality. Offensively he is worth less than nothing. The only reason he's on a Major League roster is because the Yankees lost both their catchers to injury in the same week.

    I'm not saying Cash is a bad guy. I'm not saying he thinks his offensive performance is acceptable. I'm not saying he doesn't try hard. But none of that means he's worthy of a roster spot. Despite what he's done in his last two games he is simply not good. He's not even average. He's amongst the worst offensive players in history. There are pitchers with better batting statistics than him.

    People are "high" on Cervelli because he's young. Because he's not 31. Because he hasn't posted an OBP of under .250 in nearly 600 major league plate appearances. Because he's shown good OBP skills in the minors. But I'm under no illusions about Cervelli's future. He'll be a solid back-up catcher and that's about it. But that's better than Cash.

    Of course you can't judge someone on a small sample size. So stop judging Cash by what he did the last two games, and look at how unbelievably awful he's been for his entire career.

  5. Re: Anonymous (1:30 AM)

    You need to be pretty sharp to put your (note correct usage, Matt) comments on this board. Ad hominem attacks just don't cut it and don't help you make your point.