Just a few days ago, the Yankees agreed to minor league deals with veteran infielders Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard. Those two will come to camp trying to prove they can still hit, and if they can, they’ll give the Yankees the option of experienced backup at third base. But even if those two make a surprise run at a roster spot, the Yankees will still need a true utility infielder to backup Derek Jeter at shortstop. They have a short list of candidates.
In reality, there are two candidates. Doug Bernier is a fine defensive infielder in camp on a minor league deal, and Kevin Russo’s versatility includes a little bit of experience at the shortstop position, but this seems to be a choice between Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena.
The easy choice
The Yankees know Pena. They know the positives and the negatives. They know the glove and the bat. They know exactly what to expect from him, and they know he won’t flinch at the big league level. There’s comfort there, and if either Chavez or Belliard shows something in camp — giving the Yankees a offensive-minded backup at third — they could more easily stomach the all-glove, no-hit option of Pena backing up at shortstop every other week.
The best bet for an impact utility infielder is Nunez. His defense seemed to take a step forward last year, eliminating some of his inconsistency. He’s also a proven base-stealer, and his bat is good for an up-the-middle infielder. If the Yankees expect their utility man to play a lot — if they don’t carry another option at second or third — Nunez seems to be their best bet for production out of that role. Otherwise, the Yankees might consider sending Nunez back to Triple-A to keep playing everyday. He’s the best in-house option to replace Jeter if Jeter continues to slip.
A separate but related issue
Alex Rodriguez had surgery in 2009 and landed on the disabled list in 2010. The Yankees know they’re going to have to give him a few DH starts — and maybe a full day off now a then — but spring training should give them some idea of just how far Rodriguez’s hip has come in the past two years, and just how often they’ll need to rest him during the season.
Associated Press photos of Nunez and Pena