Brendan Ryan’s Upcoming Return
Feb 27, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Brendan Ryan (17) works out prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Brendan Ryan is starting his rehab assignment at High-A Tampa after suffering from nerve damage in his back. He has played 4 games and received 17 plate appearances and should be ready to return within the next week or two. The Yankees won’t need to open up a 40-man spot and the active roster will have an open spot once Michael Pineda goes to the DL after his suspension is complete. However, the roster won’t be without complications and Joe Girardi will have to shuffle players around to maximize their abilities and give them the best opportunity to succeed.
Girardi has a lot of moving pieces with the current roster and the puzzle gets even more dynamic when Brendan Ryan returns. Girardi has already said that his job isn’t to put on a season-long retirement ceremony for Derek Jeter. If he truly sticks to his words, then Brendan Ryan has to play shortstop or else he’s just not that valuable. And he has to play almost every day. This conclusion purposely neglects the 2-year, $5 million contract that he signed in the off-season as that is a sunk cost and should not factor into present decisions. The decision should be based solely on the fact that Brendan Ryan at shortstop over Derek Jeter is around a 40-run swing on defense over the course of a season. Ryan is one of the 5 best defensive shortstops in the game today, but he can only accrue that value if he plays almost everyday.
If the Yankees aren’t going to use Ryan as an almost everyday shortstop, then they need to trade him (Tigers? Mets?) because while he could still be somewhat valuable coming in to play defense in high -leverage situations (read 9th inning and the Yankees have the lead), the opportunity cost of his roster spot is fairly high given its current construction. When the Yankees had above average and all-star level players at each position. a guy like Ryan would be solid for the bench. The 2014 team would be better suited with a corner-infield power bat (Eric Chavez type) if Ryan is made into a bench player. This, of course, assumes that the Yankees will follow the herd mentality and carry only 4 bench players. I have no reason to believe that they will deviate from that.
Jeter really needs days at DH when Ryan comes back. Otherwise, Ryan is going to waste, the Yankees are giving away runs in the field, and Jeter is likely getting worn out quicker as a 4o-year-old frequently playing shortstop. The solution isn’t without problems though. Using Jeter at DH and Ryan at shortstop relegates Soriano to the bench. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem as there are enough at-bats to go around for everyone considering the age of the roster and the necessity of periodic days off. The biggest problem though is that if you start the game with Ryan at short and Jeter at DH then you have to finish that way too, unless Girardi is willing to punt the DH spot in the later innings to pinch hit for Ryan while moving Jeter to short. Solarte, Johnson, and Roberts shouldn’t really play the position. Ryan could come up to bat in a high -leverage situation late in the game and Girardi will have his hands tied because his only other shortstop is currently at DH. Despite these concerns, this formula helps Jeter stay healthy and be productive for a full season, optimally utilizes Ryan, and gives the Yankees the best chance to win games.