By Chad Jennings
Let’s try this again, and maybe this time the Yankees won’t acquire a reliever just a couple of minutes after I post it…
We’re still waiting for the Stephen Drew signing to become official, and while we wait, I’ve seen and heard plenty of second guessing about Brendan Ryan’s role going forward. He’s a bad offensive player, he plays the same positions that Drew can play (assuming Drew can handle third base if necessary), and right now he seems to be standing in the way of either Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela.
So why keep Ryan on the roster at this point?
Here are three reasons.
3. Value. Ryan is making $2 million this year, and he has a $1 million player option for 2016. That’s not a lot of money, but it’s money the Yankees would have to pay if they were to release him. They could try to trade him – and maybe that’s worthwhile if there’s a market for him – but I can’t imagine Ryan would bring much in return, especially after a season in which he barely played. Ryan’s not breaking the bank while he’s on the roster, and he’s not going to bring much back if he’s taken off it. To me, a guy like Eury Perez is a stronger DFA candidate, especially now that Slade Heathcott is re-signed.
2. Balance. Even though he might fit the depth chart as the backup shortstop, Ryan’s really third-string at the position. Didi Gregorius is the starter, but surely Drew would step in as the everyday guy should Gregorius go down (or struggle significantly). That said, both Gregorius and Drew are left-handed hitters. As a righty, Ryan would actually have some natural opportunities to play against left-handed starters. He certainly doesn’t have much offensive value, but Ryans has a career .630 OPS against lefties (.637 in 2012, the last year he basically got everyday at-bats). Gregorius has a career .490 OPS against lefties (.424 last season), and Drew has a career .663 OPS against them (.371 last season and .585 the year before that). There’s not much offensive value to Ryan, but against left-handers, he could actually have a role.
1. Depth. This is really the standout reason to keep Ryan on the roster. Right now it seems that the Yankees infield is overcrowded up the middle, but it’s really not. Refsnyder’s never played shortstop, Pirela was moved off the position because he’s not good at it (last year the Yankees preferred Zelous Wheeler at shortstop in Triple-A), and next in line would be Nick Noonan (a minor league free agent who mostly played second base in the Giants system). Willingly take Ryan out of the mix, and suddenly shortstop is two-players deep, leaving the Yankees vulnerable to a spring training injury. It’s worth remembering that basically a month ago, Ryan was the only viable shortstop on the roster.
An important caveat to all of this is the fact that it’s subject to change.
• If Noonan looks alright at shortstop during spring training, maybe the Yankees would feel a little better about their immediate depth (at least feel that they have an extra Dean Anna type who could be a backup shortstop if necessary).
• If Gregorius or Drew looks particularly good in spring training, maybe the Yankees would feel that the platoon idea — initially floated when Gregorius was acquired – isn’t necessary after all. Certainly they’d like Gregorius to be an everyday guy, and maybe he can be with Drew filling in occasionally just to give him a breather.
• If Pirela or Refsnyder simply won’t stop hitting (either in spring training or in April), then the Yankees might have to make room on the roster, and that might mean cutting ties with Ryan. It would be hard to argue with such a move at that point simply because the Yankees have to build the best team possible, and Ryan would have served his insurance role through the offseason and through the spring.
For right now, though, Ryan gives the Yankees depth that they legitimately need. He should go into spring training as insurance behind Gregorius and Drew. If he does make the roster, he could play a role as a part-time player getting platoon at-bats. If/when Pirela or Refsnyder is ready – even if that’s as early as Opening Day – Ryan’s contract isn’t large enough to stand in the way of a young player’s progress. Ryan might not have a role when the season starts, but that’s no reason to take him out of the mix right now.