Friday, March 26, 2010

The Flexibility Of The 2010 Bench

Good morning Fackers. Late last August, the Yankees rolled into to Fenway park for their final visit to Boston on the season. The Yankees entered the weekend set with a 6.5 game lead in the AL East, so the series was an important one - particularly for the Red Sox. Though the Yankees had lined up Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, and CC Sabathia to start the three games, the rest of the pitching staff was in a state of flux. The plan to limit Joba Chamberlain's innings down the stretch left him, Sergio Mitre, and Chad Gaudin in various states of limited availability.

Given that, Joe Girardi's love of playing the match ups, and the tendency of Yankee-Red Sox games to turn into four and half hour slug fests, the team decided to add an extra pitcher for the series, activating the long-disabled Damaso Marte and sending down Ramiro Pena. The move left the Yankees with a 13 man pitching staff and a three man bench, consisting of Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston Jr, and Jose Molina.

With Brett Gardner's broken thumb keeping him on the DL and Pena on his way to Scranton, Hairston was left as the primary back up at 2B, 3B, SS, and CF. When nagging injuries took Johnny Damon out of the line up for the series' first two games, the bench was truncated even further, leading to some misadventures for Eric Hinkse in front of the Green Monster.

Complicating matters, the first two games were absolute laughers. The Yankees dropped a 20-11 hurting on the Sox in game one, then the Sox returned the favor wth a 14-1 beatdown in game two. With such lopsided contests taking place relatively late in the season, it would have been nice for the team to be able to rest pivotal, older players like 35 year old Derek Jeter, 38 year old Jorge Posada, and 34 year old Alex Rodriguez, who was just months removed from hip surgery. Instead, the truncated bench left the Yankees with very few options. Posada caught every inning of the two games. With only Hairston on the bench, Jeter played all of game one while A-Rod got the late innings off, while game two saw Hairston sub for Jeter and Jose Molina make his only career appearance at third base so that A-Rod could get some rest.

Why do I bring all this up some seven months later? Because Francisco Cervelli played two innings at third base in Wednesday's game. Unlike Molina's stint there last year, this was planned. All Yankee catchers take groundballs at some infield position (Jesus Montero taking grounders at first created a minor stir earlier in Spring Training), and with Cervelli being a converted shortstop, there was little harm in throwing him at the hot corner during the late innings of an exhibition game.

By the time the 2010 season is over, Wednesday's little experiment will likely be long forgotten, but I think it was important. With older, valuable players like Jeter, A-Rod, and Posada amongst the regulars, it would be nice if the Yankees had the luxury of resting them in blowouts. Last August's series in Boston showed some of the pitfalls of an inflexible roster. Whereas that situation was the result of injuries and a bloated pitching staff, the 2010 Yankees are shaping up to be less flexible by design.

Gone are Hairston and Hinkse from last year's bench, both of whom were capable of playing both the infield and outfield. In their place are Randy Winn and presumably Marcus Thames, who are exlcusively outfielders, though Thames has minimal experience at first base. As such, Ramiro Pena is the lone utility infielder on the club, meaning that only one of Jeter or A-Rod could be rested at any one time. This shouldn't be a big deal, unless some injury should befall one of them in the late innings on a laugher. Giving Cervelli some experience at third might serve the team well in the future.

As for Cervelli, there is value in it for him as well. His lack of a potent bat, even by catcher standards, has him universally projected as a career back up. With Jesus Montero and Austin Romine not far off, and Gary Sanchez, JR Murphy, and Kyle Higashioka behind them, increasing Cervelli's versatility will increase his chances of long term survival with the Yankees and will increase his value overall. Getting him some experience at another position was something we touched upon last year when Cervelli was demoted.

There is a further option still in camp who could also increase roster flexibility. It is all but assured that Marcus Thames will win the final outfield spot. But David Winfree is still in camp. Just 24, Winfree has spent the entirety of his seven year minor league career in the Twins system, reaching AAA last season. Like Thames, Winfree is right handed bat with some pop, averaging nearly 15 HR per season over the last five years. Though he's spent the last two years exclusively as an outfielder, Winfree has extensive minor league experience at third base and first base. From a flexibility perspective, Winfree could offer the Yankees more than Thames, but Thames bat and track record will likely earn him the job.

But Winfree is still young, and former scout Frankie Piliere feels he has a future ahead of him. We may yet see him on the Bronx during the 2010 season.

1 comment:

  1. With Cervelli's bad run of concussions, I'd venture to say you're right that his practice stints at third base are important. However, I believe they are aimed as much at providing him in-season breather opportunities as they are at him providing respites for others. I also think he projects to more than a lifelong backup and will certainly see lots of starts in his career as much for his superb pitch-calling and SB-killing gun of an arm as his great rapport with difficult pitchers and clubhouse character. And his hitting is getting better. Winfree is interesting from a trade-bait standpoint, but I doubt he will see the Show this season unless the team bus goes off a bridge.

    Fact is, every spot in the lineup on this year's team boasts a hitter's hitter either starting or platooning, and I think sometimes the tendency to play situational fantasy manager gets to be overwhelming for us students of the game. With our army of arms and battalion of bats and fleet-footed fielding, I'd sure hate to be facing us this year in any situation.

    For more Yankee fun, check out the musical comedy vid “Joe’s Job – The Ballad of Terry Francona”

    It’s must-see entertainment for Yankee and Red Suks fans alike! Go Yankees! 28 in 2010!!!