The New York Yankees have signed Juan Rivera to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. If the name sounds familiar to Yankees fans it is because Rivera was traded with Nick Johnson and Randy Choate to the Montreal Expos in exchange for Javier Vazquez prior to the 2004 season.
Rivera, 34, was once a top prospect in the Yankees system and looked like he was going to be a replacement for Paul O’Neill in right field. However, after Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells left to free agency, Brian Cashman needed to refill his rotation. That made Rivera expendable and the Yankees acquired Gary Sheffield to play right field and to replace Raul Mondesi who was acquired after Rivera struggled and Hideki Matsui emerged in left field.
Rivera spent one season with Montreal before becoming a member of the Los Angeles Angels where he enjoyed his best season in 2006. He hit .310/.362/.525 with 23 home runs and 85 RBIs and struck out only 59 times in 124 games.
Rivera spent last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, playing mostly first base. He hit .244/.286/.375 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games. He hit .260 last season against left-handed pitchers, but only .232 against righties. Rivera will compete with Matt Diaz, Dan Johnson, Melky Mesa, Ronnie Mustelier and Russ Canzler for at-bats as the fourth outfielder/DH/back-up first baseman and right-handed platoon bat against lefty pitching.
For his career, Rivera owns a .286/.333/.489 line against lefties which is slightly better than his career numbers of .274/.323/.443. Rivera, at this point is a platoon bat who can fake it in the corner outfield spots and at first base. He won’t strikeout much and has an excellent contact rate which sits near 85 percent since 2010. He will walk from time to time, but Rivera will live and die by where the ball lands.
If Rivera does not make the team it is unlikely the veteran will accept an assignment with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre which means he will have to make an impression with the Yankees this spring.