The Yankees won’t really have a Brett Gardner-type situation this spring. Twelve months ago, when Doug wrote his initial defense of Gardner as a everyday player, it was at a time when left field was pretty wide open. Gardner was the favorite, but he was coming off a shaky first full season in the big leagues, and guys like Randy Winn and Marcus Thames were looming as competiiton.
Today, the Yankees everyday lineup is more or less set in stone. Gardner did more than enough to keep his everyday status, Russell Martin was signed specifically to be the everyday catcher and Jorge Posada will transition to a regular designated hitter role. There are a couple of bench job up for grabs — and the rotation has obvious questions — but if everyone stays healthy, this spring will not become a Gardner-type proving ground.
Instead, these are the guys who are similar to Gardner — big league experience, arguable favorites for a job, but not guaranteed anything — who might have to earn a spot.
Cervelli has pushed himself this winter. He’s been training with Robinson Cano in the Dominican Republic, working to improve himself at the plate for what he knows is going to be a fight to stay relevant in the Yankees organization. Right now he’s the favorite for a bench job, if only because the Yankees would prefer not to limit the at-bats of either Austin Romine or Jesus Montero. But those two are charging toward the big leagues, and Cervelli could be passed in the not-so-distant future. In fact, Brian Cashman has said Cervelli will have to earn a job this spring. He’ll be the favorite, but he won’t be an automatic.
Right now, the Yankees know three bench spots will go to Andruw Jones, a backup catcher and a utility infielder. The fourth bench job is wide open, and I guess you’d have to say Golson counts as the incumbent. He made a solid impression last year — and his speed and defense certainly play at the big league level — but he’ll have to show something with the bat. Guys like Colin Curtis, Jordan Parraz, Kevin Russo and Brandon Laird will also be pushing for a spot. Same for whoever misses out on the utility job if the Yankees choose to carry two reserve infielders rather than two reserve outfielders.
Fifth starter/long reliever
One way or another, Mitre will have competition this spring. He seems to be a favorite — just like Gardner was last spring — but he’ll have to earn either the last spot in the rotation or the last spot in the bullpen. Right now, he seems to be a more reliable option than Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior, Romulo Sanchez or any of the Rule 5 picks, but of the pitching staff favorites, he’s most on the bubble. He’ll become much more-so on the bubble if the Yankees add another rotation candidate or catch lighting in a bottle with Bartolo Colon.
Right now, the Yankees have little choice but to give Nova a spot in the rotation. Best-case scenario, though, the Yankees will find a proven starter — if he’s currently hanging out in the Texas, all the better — who will push Nova into a proving ground. He’ll almost certainly go into spring training as a favorite, but he’ll have to show something, including an ability to keep getting outs more than one time through a lineup. Given the Yankees minor league pitching depth, Nova might have to keep performing during the season to keep a job.
Ramiro Pena is limited, but the Yankees take comfort in knowing he can handle every infield position defensively and provide some speed off the bench. Nunez is a far more dynamic hitter, but he’ll have to earn some trust. Based on last season, when he hit .280 in the big leagues after a strong Triple-A season, my guess is that the Yankees would prefer to carry Nunez and give him semi-regular starts on the left side of the infield. But if he slips, the Yankees will go right back to the comfort of Pena.