September, and the expanded rosters that come with it, is just ten days away. The Yankees are a banged up team, piecing together strong performances out of a range of bench and platoon players. This will let up some when Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte return, and Mark Teixeira gets healthy, but the Yankees will still need their 2nd string players to play significant time. In fact, given the season-long involvement of the Yankee bench in regular play, this may be the most important group of September call-ups in recent franchise history.
There’s a couple of complications that will force Brian Cashman to make tough decisions before call-ups. The Triple-A Empire State Yankees and Double-A Trenton Thunder are both currently solidly leading their divisions, and are poised for a strong playoff run. The High-A Tampa Yankees are also leading their division, but by a narrower margin. The Yankees quite frequently run into having to trade-off between their Triple-A playoff run and MLB needs in September. Usually, they will fill voids created by call-ups by sending north someone from Trenton or Tampa. This will be a more difficult choice if everyone is in the playoffs.
Second, the 40-man roster is a total mess. On the 60-day DL are Austin Romine, Andy Petittte and Pedro Feliciano, all of whom will have to be taken off come September. Given that the roster is full, the Yankees will have to start cutting players. Justin Thomas, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird should be fairly easy cut decisions, but there isn’t an obvious candidate for a fourth cut if the Yankees want to add someone to the 40-man. Cory Wade or Dellin Betances could be victims of a crunch.
So, who could we see?
On September 1st
The Yankees will start by answering immediate needs on the team without hamstringing the minor league playoff squads too much. I think we’ll see:
- Francisco Cervelli. He’s been pretty bad at Triple-A, but is a catcher with major league experience. The Yankees will let Austin Romine make up for lost time and play every day as long as possible, and instead let Cervelli ride the bench. He’ll be useful for a month, but is a strong candidate for a non-tender after the season.
- Pedro Feliciano. He lives! The Yankees signed Feliciano to a 2-year, $8 million contract, after he led the majors in appearances for three straight years with the New York Mets, before the 2011 season. He hasn’t pitched a game due to a major should injury. There was a time when Feliciano was one of the premier LOOGYs in the league. He’s probably a better strict LOOGY than Rapada or Logan at this point, and will have an interesting case for a playoff roster spot. He’s been rehabbing in Tampa.
- Melky Mesa. This one may or may not happen immediately. Mesa will fill the Greg Golson pinch running/defensive replacement role this September. He’s great at both, although he can be rather suspect with the bat. The Yankees may leave him in Double-A for the playoffs, but I think we’ll see him early.
- Eduardo Nunez. Despite hitting fairly well in the majors, Nunez’s defensive problems earned him a demotion to Triple-A. He only hit .204/.240/.257 in an injury-shortened 2012 season there, so he hasn’t yet strengthened his case for a major league spot. He will nevertheless be an early call-up, given the Yankee infield situation minus Alex Rodriguez. Don’t expect him to play much over Jayson Nix, though.
- Adam Warren. In an alternate history, Adam Warren would have fulfilled David Phelp’s role this season. He was always (possibly for bad reasons) considered the better prospect of the Phelps/Mitchell/Warren/etc group. He’ll provide some depth in long relief, but personally, I’d like to see the Yankees try him in short stints. He can reach up there with velocity, and his stuff might play very well for 3 outs at a time. What’s there to lose? The Yankees have their long reliever, and two starters on the way back.
- Corban Joseph and David Adams. I’ve written about the duo a lot recently. Joseph has been hitting for power very well since hitting Triple-A, and David Adams has reestablished his hitting rhythm. Both have shots at the 2013 roster, although Joseph is a clear favorite. They provide a good left/right combination off the bench, and could help rest Robinson Cano before the playoffs. Adams has been playing 3rd base as well, which could be useful while Alex Rodriguez is still on the mend. Both could potentially be auditioning for offseason trades as well.
- Austin Romine. It feels like Romine has been around forever (drafted in 2007), but he’s still just 23 years old. Romine missed basically the entire minor league season with a back problem, and has only recently come back to Triple-A. He’s a better baseball player than either Cervelli or Stewart, and would make an effective backup next year. He played a significant role in the 2011 September call-ups, while Russell Martin was injured, and could see some good playing time if the Yankees are comfortable with their division lead.
- Zoilo Almonte. The Yankees have opted not to call up Double-A players before, but I think Zoilo could come up. He’s hit a robust .283/.327/.512 in Double-A, and has been scorching hot lately, hitting .279/.317/.603 in the second half of the season. Being a switch hitter doesn’t hurt either. He won’t see much playing time, but could be used as a pinch hitter / defensive replacement at times if need be.
- Cory Wade. I think that Wade will stay in the minor leagues through the playoffs. He’s been good (2.92 ERA in 24.2 innings) but not great (14/8 K/BB ratio over that span) in the minors since his demotion. There probably isn’t a playoff roster spot for him at this point. I think the Yankees will let him sit and play innings before a call up, if he outright does not get cut.