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February 28, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Depth Chart Woes

by Will Woods

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Welcome one and all to my first Mets-less iteration of the Rumor Roundup! Today we’ve got two injuries that illuminate each team’s lack of depth, one starter that may be on the move, and a heartwarming return to the mound to top it all off. Onward…

Phil Hughes Could Miss the Start of the Season; Damon Rebuffed by Yankees
Phil Hughes was shut down February 18 with a bulging disc, and according to manager Joe Girardi, the righty is still about two weeks away from making his spring debut. Needing at least four starts to be ready for the start of the season, Hughes would have to meet that two-week deadline to make his first start on time.

The talk from Hughes indicates the injury isn’t too serious, but fanning the flames somewhat is the controversy du jour in Yankee camp: per George King, Joba Chamberlain wants to be a starter again, but also says he’d be fine with closing. However, according to manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman, it ain’t gonna happen—Cashman’s fantastic response: “We are also down an outfield bat right now. See if he can play center.” Should Hughes suffer a setback, however, the Yankees may want to consider changing their tune rather than turning to David Phelps (whom they clearly don’t trust) or handing the fourth spot to Ivan Nova (who doesn’t seem to deserve so much trust).

Elsewhere in Yankeeland, I suppose you have to give Johnny Damon credit for being the guy who would’ve been most surprised if the Yankees had wanted to bring him in to replace the injured Curtis Granderson. But that didn’t stop him from submitting his CV; in a follow-up to Dan Rathman’s post on Monday, Cashman called Damon a “great Yankee” but, per Mark Feinsand at the Daily News, flatly denied any interest in signing him in Granderson’s absence.

Cashman went on to say, “It’s the same reason we didn’t bring him in last year. We need somebody who can play the outfield every day.” Then again, the Yankees signed Raul Ibanez last year. That Cashman cited defensive ability in choosing Ibanez over Damon may be telling of what most of us are probably thinking, that Damon just can’t be a big-league regular anymore. Interestingly, though, neither the Daily News story (linked above) nor any other story I found on the subject even mentioned the word “retirement.”

And why should Damon retire? He was 3-for-7 in World Baseball Classic Qualification for Thailand. What more does the guy have to do?

The Dodgers Will Probably Trade a Starter
Assuming the Hyun-Jin Ryu experiment goes according to plan, it looks as though Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano all find themselves on the outside looking in at the Dodgers’ rotation. Of the three, Capuano has significant bullpen experience, but the die may be cast for Harang, who received the dreaded and highly euphemistic “doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who pitches out of the pen” label from manager Don Mattingly, and Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times speculates a trade may be on the horizon.

Mattingly went on to say, “To me he’s more of a guy that paints. He keeps you in the game. He’s just not that guy that’s going in and overpower [sic] you.” Which is such a lovely way of saying you think he’s the worst of your eight starters. Following his manager’s comments, Harang promptly went out and gave up four runs on five hits and a walk in his first inning of work.

Harang would be an interesting trade piece in July, when numerous teams seeking the second wild card might feel a solid-average starter might help them limp over the line. But neither Harang nor any of the other Dodgers starters has minor-league options; this is going to come to a head quickly. Teams like Arizona, St. Louis, Atlanta, or even Texas figure to be in the hunt but could use some back-end rotation depth; could Harang be the answer?

Will Middlebrooks’ Injury Highlights Boston’s Infield Depth Woes
Facing Chris Tillman in the first inning of yesterday’s loss to the Orioles, Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks looked like he might have seriously injured his wrist after an awkward check swing. Although he’ll be re-evaluated later today, Middlebrooks told Gordon Edes that no x-rays were taken and played it off as “just a scare.” Of course it’s scary for Middlebrooks, who fractured that same right wrist in August and needs to show that outperforming his minor-league numbers in 75 big-league games last season was no fluke. But it’s also scary for Red Sox fans who have to be wondering: What the hell would we do if this guy went down again?

The obvious replacement is Pedro Ciriaco, who might be one of the all-time slam dunk regression candidates. (PECOTA pegs him at .265/.280/.364, but if PECOTA knew just how many popups he fisted over the first baseman’s head, it wouldn’t have been so kind.) The Ciriaco problem is much like the Jose Iglesias problem, in that putting him at third base negates his defensive value. Compounding the issue is that Boston’s Opening Day lineup also features Stephen Drew, who has missed a combined 159 games over the last two seasons.

There are plenty of other qualified candidates who’ve filled this role in the past—er, there used to be, anyway. Here is a full list of all other players that filled the left side of the Boston (or Triple-A Pawtucket) infield in 2012: 1) Kevin Youkilis (traded to CHW); 2) Nick Punto (traded to LAD); 3) Danny Valencia (signed with Baltimore); 4) Mike Aviles (traded to Toronto; now with Cleveland); 5) Mauro Gomez (is still here! Is also a natural first baseman); 6) Ivan De Jesus (traded to Pittsburgh); 7) Andy LaRoche (signed with Toronto); 8) Mike Rivera (is still here! Is also 36 years old with no big-league experience); 9) Ryan Dent (who has a career 637 minor-league OPS).

In return for those six departures, Boston brought in only Brock Holt, a natural second baseman who has never played a professional game at third base. I haven’t seen any rumors suggesting another move in the near term, but this seems like a situation to keep an eye on in midsummer. PECOTA has the AL East as a close four-team race, and if the Red Sox find themselves jockeying for position, it might be worth their while to bring in an established name to shore up the situation. If they don’t, and Ciriaco flames out while either Drew or Middlebrooks hits the DL, Boston may have to prepare itself for the Ryan Dent show.

And finally…
You may have missed it, but Brandon McCarthy made his first appearance since being struck in the head in September. He struck out four Cincinnati Reds over two innings; said his wife Amanda, “He was awesome… Did he strike out like a million?” 

Will Woods is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Will's other articles. You can contact Will by clicking here

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