Friday, March 30, 2012

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Bench*)

(Frankie breaks out his best chicken dance.  Courtesy of The AP)

* I'm including Russell Martin in this group simply because I'm an idiot and didn't remember to include him in the infield post on Monday.  I'm also lumping Ibanez into the bench group as a platoon player, even though he will be the starting DH.

What We Know- Russell Martin is Playing for a Contract

Russell resurrected his career last season in his first year in pinstripes.  He played in 125 games, hit 18 HR, posted a .325 wOBA, made the All Star Game, and played all-around solid defense behind the plate.  That being said, he did only hit .237 and didn't contribute much in the Yankees' ALDS loss to Detroit, so the Yankees weren't quite convinced that he was back and only gave him a 1-year deal this year.  At 29, Martin is right smack in the middle of his prime years and will be one of the top catchers available on the free agent market after this season.  He got in great shape again in the offseason to prepare himself for a big year, and if he has one chances are he'll be brought back by the Yankees on a 3-4-year deal.  If they decide they don't want to bring him back, or can't afford to, some other team will definitely be in the market for his services.

What We Don't Know- Whether That Will Impact Cervelli's Playing Time

Martin knows he needs to be on the field to showcase his skills and earn himself that new contract, so he's going to be pushing to play as much as possible.  Playing the catcher position, it's a sure thing that he's going to get banged up at some point, and chances are he will try to play through the pain.  What Joe will need to decide is how often he wants to let Martin do that as the season progresses and the bumps and bruises start to pile up.  Francisco Cervelli is once again lined up to be Martin's backup behind the plate and we know what he is at this point.  He can hit a little bit here and there and he won't embarrass himself defensively, but when Martin is healthy and at his best there isn't anything that Cervelli can do better than him.  130-135 games for Martin would be good, with Cervelli catching the rest.

More after the jump

What We Know- The DH Platoon Veterans Are In Place

The Yankees had their hearts set on signing Raul Ibanez to be their DH this offseason, so much that they didn't push for Garrett Jones in the trade with Pittsburgh or sign Johnny Damon, who was open in his desire to return to New York.  The plan appears to be to pair Ibanez with the returning Andruw Jones to create a 2-man DH platoon to approximate whatever production they could have gotten from The Jesus.  On paper it's not a bad idea.  While Ibanez has slipped a bit offensively over the past 2 seasons, he can still hit right-handed pitching pretty well and has picked his offensive game up this week after a very slow start in camp.  And Jones was a perfect replacement to Marcus Thames last year in the lefty masher role and there's nothing that suggests he won't be able to do that again this year.  At their age, the most value these guys bring is with their bats, and the Yankees are hoping to reap the benefits.

What We Don't Know- How Much Time in the Outfield They Will Get

The most puzzling part of the Ibanez signing was Cash stating that he believed Ibanez could help the Yankees as an outfielder as well and that was a major factor in deciding to sign him over other potential lefty DH candidates.  Most people who had the displeasure of watching Ibanez navigate the outfield in Philly might disagree with Cash's assessment.  To their credit, the Yankees have used Ibanez as an outfielder a couple times in Spring Training, but giving him regular time in a corner spot over above-average defensive outfielder Swisher and elite-level defensive outfielder Gardner would be a mistake.  Jones still has some defensive value, and worked out harder this offseason to get himself in better shape so he could play the outfield more, but the same argument can be made that Swish and Gardner are better than him.  Rotating these 2 through the outfield too much could put them at risk of injury, which would negatively impact the offensive value they bring to the table.

What We Know- The Yankees See Something in Eric Chavez

For the life of me I can't figure out what it is, but the Yankees decided they wanted to take another ride on the Eric Chavez Injury Risk Train in 2012.  The biggest advantage he has over other backup infield candidate like Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird is that he's a left-handed hitter.  And in fairness to Chavez, he did hit pretty well early in the year last year and can still play some good defense at third base.  But his bat has slowed down tremendously and there is almost no power left in it.  He gives the Yankees a backup to both corner infield spots and fits the profile of the type of hitter they like to have in their lineup, but his ceiling and his floor aren't very far apart from each other at this stage in his career.

What We Don't Know- How They Plan to Use Eduardo Nunez

Nunez got his first real shot to be an everyday player last season when he subbed for both A-Rod and Jeter during their DL stints.  He's got a lot of tools that make him a useful player (can hit a little bit, has some power, great speed on the bases, good defensive range) but hasn't come close to putting them all together yet.  There was some interest in him earlier in the offseason, primarily from the Atlanta Braves, but as they have done in the past the Yankees declined to even discuss moving Nunez.  They have stated that the envision a bigger role for Nunez in 2012, and his usage in Spring Training certainly supports that possibility.  Despite missing some time with a bruised hand, Nunez has played at second base, third base, shortstop, and right field this spring, and could become a supersub this season to spell the older Yankee starters.  Of course, another injury to the left side of the infield would change those plans, and Nunez can hold down those spots if needed, but it will be interesting to see how much he gets moved around this season.

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