The Yankees know Andruw Jones will be their fourth outfielder. They know their utility infielder will be one of two candidates. They know their backup catcher will be either Francisco Cervelli or one of the young guys. The spot that seems wide open is the fourth man on the bench, a spot that could go to either an infielder or an outfielder, a power bat or a pinch runner, a defensive replacement or a potential pinch hitter.
The Yankees could go almost any direction with this spot. If they want additional outfield depth, Greg Golson and Justin Maxwell are both speedy, right-handed hitters who could be defensive replacements or pinch runners, and Colin Curtis could be a left-handed balance to Jones. In the infield, the Yankees could choose to carry both Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena, or they could carry one of those two as a backup shortstop, with either Eric Chavez or Ron Belliard — or Brandon Laird or Kevin Russo or Jorge Vazquez — available to fill in at the corners.
The easy choice
That’s what the Yankees are hoping for: An easy choice. If anyone steps up in spring training and puts himself clearly above the other candidates, the Yankees choice will be simple. It seems that in an ideal world, Chavez will prove he’s healthy and can still hit for power. He would be a left-handed hitter on a predominantly right-handed bench, and if he can step in as the guy to give Alex Rodriguez an occasional day off at third base, that might be the best use of the fourth bench spot. Any other choice — either a fifth outfielder or a light-hitting second utility man — would have no clear role other than late-inning defense and base-running.
If Chavez is finished, the Yankees could focus on late-inning defense and base-running. Carrying both Pena and Nunez would let the team use either one as a pinch runner without losing defensive flexibility. The same would be true for either Golson or Maxwell, each of whom has enough speed to steal a bag and could slide into right field for the last inning or two.
Normally, the fact Curtis is a left-handed hitter would be a negative in an already left-leaning outfield, but of the favorites for a bench job, Jones, Cervelli and Nunez are all right-handed, and switch-hitter Pena isn’t much of an offensive threat from either side of the plate. If Chavez doesn’t emerge as a legitimate option from the left side, Curtis could bring some left-right balance to the bench.
The Yankees could also prioritize flexibility, opening a spot for either Russo or Brandon Laird as a player capable of filling in at the infield and outfield corners.
A separate but related issue
Eleven players had at least 150 at-bats for the Yankees last season (a group that included Pena and the since-departed Marcus Thames). Of the group that had fewer than 150 ABs, no one had more home runs or RBI than Juan Miranda. Defensive versatility is crucial on the bench, but the Yankees might be on the lookout for a hitter who can bounce back and forth from Scranton and occasionally give the Yankees productive big league at-bats, regardless of defensive ability.
Associated Press photos of Curtis and Chavez