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Thursday's Game - Nieves Say Nieves Edition
2006-03-30 20:41
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

According to the New York Times and MLB.com, the twenty-fifth man on the Yankees opening day roster will be . . . Wil Nieves!

You know, Joe Torre has been hinting for a while that Nieves might make the roster, in part because he's out of options, but the idea was so absurd I didn't give it much credence. Then again, ever since the Kevins were optioned down to Columbus, the Yankees have been without a preferable option. A twelfth pitcher is unnecessary, particularly in April, when the schedule is littered with off-days. The thing the Yankees need most on their bench is a big bat, but there are none of those left on the bubble in camp. Second to that, they could use a reserve outfielder who can hit, but those options departed with Reese and Thompson. Popular waiver wire targets Carlos Pena and Erubiel Durazo are both first basemen (though even that's a stretch for Durazo), and both were so bad this spring that the Yankees would be better off having either find his stroke in Columbus than having him warm the bench in the Bronx.

So, Wil Nieves. Whatever. I'd say they're going to have to get rid of him when the inevitable roster crunch arrives, but no such crunch is on the horizon. Scott Proctor will likely get bounced to the minors when Aaron Small comes off the DL and I'm not about to hold my breath for Carl Pavano's return. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Octavio Dotel activated before Pavano, whose endless injuries are creeping closer and closer to his mangina. Dotel could force Nieves off the roster, though by then Jaret Wright could be ready to hit the DL himself. I suppose the upside of having Nieves on the roster is that he could wrestle the back-up catcher job from Kelly Stinnett, making the Yankees' catching corps seven and a half years younger, but not necessarily any better.

At any rate, here are your 2006 New York Yankees:

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

Bench:

R – Andy Phillips (IF)
R – Miguel Cairo (IF)
L – Bubba Crosby (OF)
R – Kelly Stinnett (C)
R - Wil Nieves (C)

Rotation:

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

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Tanyon Sturtze
L – Mike Myers
L – Ron Villone
R - Scott Proctor

DL: R – Carl Pavano, R – Octavio Dotel, R – Aaron Small

Now that the roster is set, my spring training game wraps are kind of meaningless, but since the Yankees wrapped up their Grapefruit League schedule yesterday afternoon, I might as well wrap it up.

While their equipment managers packed the trucks, the Yankees fell to the home-town Devil Rays 6-4.

Lineup:

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

Subs: Andy Phillips 1B, Miguel Cairo 1B-2B, Felix Escalona SS, Russ Johnson 3B, Wil Nieves C, Kevin Reese RF, Bubba Crosby CF, Luis A. Garcia LF, Damian Rolls PR

Pitchers: Mike Mussina, Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Myers, Ron Villone, Ramiro Mendoza, Matt Smith

Big Hits: Gary Sheffield's first dinger of the spring (1 for 3), a double by Jorge Posada (1 for 2, walk) who was behind the plate for the first time since breaking his nose. Miguel Cairo was 2 for 2 with a walk as a sub. Johnny Damon (1 for 4) stole two bases including home on a double steal with Derek Jeter taking second behind him.

Who Pitched Well?: Ron Villone threw a perfect seventh. Ramiro Mendoza pitched around a single in the eighth. Tanyon Sturtze struck out two and stranded a pair of singles in the fifth, which considering his performance this spring is outstanding.

Who Didn't?: Having been beaten out for the final bullpen spot by Scott Proctor, Matt Smith might have been better off being optioned down yesterday as he blew the game in the ninth allowing three runs on four hits, all of which scored with two outs.

Ouchies: Under the watchful eyes of Joe Torre and Ron Guidry, Jaret Wright and Carl Pavano both threw in a minor league game against the double-A Phillies. Wright picked up right where he left off, using his Mike Mussina-taught curve to post this line: 4 1/3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K, throwing 64 percent of 69 pitches for strikes. Pavano, bruised bum and all, threw 12 pitches in a single inning of work. Octavio Dotel threw another batting practice session. Mariano Rivera threw 50 pitches in the bullpen, not because of an injury, but because he's been working too efficiently in his game appearances.

Finally, if you haven't gotten enough of my yammering this month, you can check out my contributions to the season previews at Baseball Analysts and The Hardball Times. The former is a reunion of last year's two-on-two roundtable of hosts Bryan Smith and Rich Lederer, myself, and The House That Dewey Built's Patrick "Sully" Sullivan. The latter is my contribution to The Hardball Times' team-by-team "Five Question" series. Also, Bob Timmerman will be posting our Baseball Toaster predictions over on The Griddle this morning, so be sure to swing by and check that out as well.

Comments
2006-03-31 04:59:29
1.   Rob Gee
The clear upside to having Wil on the bench is you can DH Jorge and then not worry about losing the DH later in the game if you pinch hit for Stinnett.

I'd be all for this all season long if it means Jorge doesn't have to catch twice a week - once as DH and once on the bench. The latter allows for a PH'ing role for Jorge and without having to put him in for defense afterwards. About 100 games behind the plate seems about right for Jorge. But since he's a better hitter than anyone on that bench, it makes alot of sense if he DH's for about 30 games.

As a distant (far, far, far distant) second behind having a legit apprentice C, this strikes me as a decent alternative.

Or maybe hope Springs eternal for the crankiest among us.

Leeeeso goo Yannnkk --eees.

2006-03-31 06:06:43
2.   jedi
"Navarro! Navarro! O, where art thou, Navarro!"
2006-03-31 06:41:20
3.   rbj
I only caught (er, pardon the pun) a couple of Navarro's AAA games, but he really didn't impress me with the bat, it didn't look like he had even warning track power. This was something like 2-3 years ago, when they were showcasing him to trade for Unit in midseason, so he's probably develped some as a hitter. Still, he's always seemed to be a "meh" to me. On the other hand, the catching cupboard seems bare in the Yankees' farm system.
2006-03-31 06:48:19
4.   Count Zero
Good point Rob. Not sure it's worth it, but it makes it sound better than it did when I first read it anyway. :)
2006-03-31 07:08:45
5.   Sliced Bread
Great stuff, Cliff, at Baseball Analysts and Hardball Times - most honest (realistic) and insightful Yankees season previews I've read this week (yes, I've read more than a few).

I share your concerns about our bench and starting pitching (man, Pavano's as delicate as a champagne flute) -- and I share your optimism about the Farnsworth-Dotel combo, and the trio of 25 year old pitchers you mentioned who will all be called up to help the cause.

My not-so-bold predictions: your guy Andy Phillips will become a fan favorite this season with his glove and bat, and Proctor will be with the team all season, stepping into Sturtze's role as a Torre favorite.

My out-on-a-limb predictions: Bernie will be productive in his limited role (300 DH/RF at-bats), and Wright will be a major contributor (either as starter or reliever).

Thanks to you and Alex for a great off-season of info and insights. Let's go Yankees!

2006-03-31 07:23:52
6.   Cliff Corcoran
Rob, the problem with your Jorge at DH scenario is that it forces Stinnett or Nieves into the line-up. You've got the right idea, you've just taken it a step too far.

Obviously, Jorge can't catch 162 games, no catcher can, particularly not a 34-year-old catcher who's shown obvious late-season fatigue catching between 130 and 140 games the last six years. So a back-up will have to catch some 30-40 games regardless and having Jorge DH on those days makes a great deal of sense, but it's been something Torre's never been willing to do. Having a third catcher might change that, and that's where you're right.

Where you go too far is that extra 20-30 games in which you have Jorge out of the line-up altogether, which means either Stinnett or Nieves and (sadly, but very likely) Bernie (or worse, Bubba if it's a day game after night game and Joe decides to give Sheff or Matsui a "half-day off") will be in the line-up. To begin with, you now have Stinnett or Nieves in the line-up for 60 games, which is way too many as either would be the worst hitter in the line-up. Second to that, you erase the advantage of having Jorge DH when he's not playing by still having 30 games in which he doesn't play at all. I'd rather have Jorge's bat in the line-up in those 30 games and deal with his late-season fatigue, then have to deal with an extra 30 games of Stinnett or Nieves in the lineup.

2006-03-31 07:31:13
7.   Jeteupthemiddle
I don't know. I feel like Nieves is on the roster just in case Posada isn't at 100% at the moment. I wouldn't be shocked if he goes back down (waived, released, whatever) in like a week or two.
2006-03-31 07:37:24
8.   Cliff Corcoran
Sliced, I like your Proctor-is-the-new-Sturtze prediction. Torre already appears to have a soft spot for him. The only problem there is that Proctor seems to be more effective in long stints, the opposite of Sturtze, a terrible starter who became more effective in short relief.

I also agree that if Wright can stay healthy (a Kevin Brown-sized if) that he could be valuable out of the Yankee pen, just as he was for the Padres in 2003.

2006-03-31 07:44:05
9.   Cliff Corcoran
Jete, I think Jorge's fine, he caught and doubled in yesterday's game. My only concern was over his eyesight, but he saw an eye doctor and he's getting his hits, so his vision seems to be fine.
2006-03-31 07:51:18
10.   Jeteupthemiddle
yeah, he appears to be fine, but I still think its a precautionary thing. Unless the Yankees decided they will have 3 catchers all season, DH Posada quite a bit, and see if they can keep Posada's option from kicking...although that is a huge stretch with Stinett and Nieves..it doesn't take much to get to 63 games.
2006-03-31 07:58:36
11.   Rob Gee
6 Cliff -

Just because Jorge is on the bench doesn't mean he doesn't play - just saves him the wear and tear on his body that he'd get from the full game. Maybe those days you bring him in during the sixth if the game's close or he doesn't play either way if it's a blow-out?

It is exactly the "end of season syndrome", esp. with how dramatic it is, that I'd like to see some effort by Torre to avoid. He may not be that enlightened, or the pennant race may not give him the option, but it would definitely give us a better bench and better post-season chances. Plus, maybe Jorge has a better August and September too.

Indeed, if we lose 5 more games because he was out for 20, but win 3 more down the stretch because he's more productive than usual, I'd say it was worth it - so long as we make the post-season.

2006-03-31 08:02:20
12.   Rob Gee
10 Jete -

And for all of this speculation, you're probably right. Wil is likely gone in two weeks. Hopefully he comes up with 3 hits in the 5 AB's he gets.

2006-03-31 08:28:00
13.   sam2175
Yankees increase their risk of losing this season exponentially if they try to avoid Posada's option from kicking in.

Courtesy of http://www.mlb4u.com/0607FA.html :

Possible FA Catchers:

Catcher:

Jorge Posada (Team Option)

Damian Miller (Team + Player option)

Henry Blanco

Doug Mirabelli
Javier Valentin
Vance Wilson
Chris Widger
Paul Bako
Kelly Stinnett
Gregg Zaun
Bengie Molina (Mutual Option)
Mike Piazza (Mutual Option)
Gary Bennett
Todd Greene Ken Huckaby
Einar Diaz
Raul Casanova
John Flaherty (Retired)
Mike DiFelice
Mike Lieberthal (May Retire)
Alberto Castillo
Todd Pratt
Sandy Alomar Jr.
Eddie Perez

Ivan Rodriguez (Poss. Void Option)
Rod Barajas

Javy Lopez

Mike Redmond

Posada will be overpriced, but will still be better than all of those options. Henry Blanco would be great as a back-up, but perhaps should not be given regular playing time.

Just play it out with Posada, and try trading with either the Mariners (for Jeff Clement, blocked by Johjima, will they take Pavano+?) or the Braves (when Saltalamacchia is ready, McCann should be expendable) for a young catcher.

2006-03-31 08:39:22
14.   Rob Gee
13 sam -

I'm not sure where you got the option stuff from (though I know others have discussed it.) But I agree with your assessment and the trade possibilities. Clement would be sweet.

The reason to not play Jorge at C is to get better production from him for the whole year and the post-season. Check out his yearly decline at the end of the season and into the post-season - it's frightening.

2006-03-31 08:43:50
15.   Cliff Corcoran
Rob, your statement in 11 is mind boggling:

"if we lose 5 more games because he was out for 20, but win 3 more down the stretch because he's more productive than usual, I'd say it was worth it"

The Yankees won the division by a tie breaker last year, they've played the Red Sox dead even head-to-head for the last four years. Giving up two wins could easily be the difference between making the postseason and wtching it on TV (your "provided we make the postseason" caveat doesn't suffice, that's like saying "I don't care if Randy Johnson goes 3-21, as long as he wins the Cy Young").

2006-03-31 09:14:27
16.   Rob Gee
15 Cliff -

It's not like you make these decisions and then run the program.

If the race is close (tied to two games) or we're falling behind, obviously Jorge plays everyday. If we're up three games - you bench him one day a week.

Even still I was wrong to suggest simply having Jorge means we'll lose 5 more out of 20 games. If anything, it's probably closer to 2 or 3. And if those games are close, he PH's.

Now the question is: Will Jorge not playing 20-30 games mean greater productivity later. I think so. You may not. But his trends (which I know you know) show more rest is exactly what he needs.

It's not going to happen though.

2006-03-31 09:35:35
17.   Cliff Corcoran
But Rob, you've got the order of things in reverse. Spelling Jorge throughout the season costs you runs/wins now in the hope of getting some of them back due to increased production down the stretch. My argument is that you need to get those wins up front in order to get the lead that would allow you to rest him down the stretch, when Nieves or his Columbus replacement could be added to the roster with the September call-ups.

And a three game lead mid-season is essentially meaningless, you can't start resting guys based on that. Fluctuations in injuries and opponents can effect a swing larger than three games rather easily.

As for your question, I do think that resting Jorge will result in more productivity down the stretch, but a win in April is as good as a win in September and you're better off getting those wins when you can rather than banking on future wins that might not come. Jorge does need a certian amount of rest, but there's a fine line between resting him for the good of the club and resting him to the detriment of the club, and I think your plan in 1 is the latter.

2006-03-31 10:12:10
18.   Rob Gee
17 Cliffy -

You're right. I'd just rather see the team push to rest Jorge if there's a margin for error. That decision will depend on the current standings.

I do have trouble with the "win is a win is a win" argument becauses wins are not gained in a vaccuum. They're relative to what other teams are doing. And if other teams aren't doing well, why worry about every single game?

And we know Torre already manages based on the standings. In April or May he won't pitch Mo for two innings. In September he will. Or he won't go to him in Tampa with a 6-4 lead if we're playing the Sox the next day. The players are already treated differently depending on the schedule. Is that right or wrong - who knows? But in Jorge's case - it matters.

Put it this way, if you commit to 24 games (~1/week) where Jorge is on the bench, at least half will be decided by the sixth inning (i.e., blowouts). Now, you've rested him AND don't need him.

The other 12 may be close, but he can still PH if the situation is right. But how many of those 12 would be decided by two or three Jorge at-bats (of which he'll get one hit or BB)? Maybe 2 or 3?

Now, can a rested Jorge win 2 or 3 games with his bat in September? I think so.

Sorry for not being super clear. It all feels moot any ways - I don't see three C's on this team in May let alone September.

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