We know the names of the Yankees everyday position players. We know their rotation will be assembled from a defined group of candidates. We know the late innings will be in the hands of relievers who have been there and done that. We know they will shuffle a few different designated hitters even if we don’t yet know all of their names.
Some specifics need to be worked out — batting order, choosing a fifth starter, assigning bullpen roles — but that’s more about shuffling pieces than choosing them. With the exception of a DH against right-handers, the key parts are more or less in place.
Heading into the winter’s final weekend, most of the Yankees this-or-that choices center on their last three or four spots on the roster. These are the most insignificant choices for Opening Day, but inevitably these decisions become important at one point or another during the regular season.
Final spot on the bench
Indications are that Eric Chavez could be on his way back. If he is, he would seem to be a front runner to join Eduardo Nunez, Andruw Jones and a backup catcher on the bench. But Bill Hall is also coming to camp on a minor league deal, and his experience and versatility make him a legitimate candidate. Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell also present use-them-or-lose-them possibilities. Dickerson especially has shown an ability to be a useful big league role player, and because he’s out of options, the Yankees would have to pass him through waivers before sending him back to the minors.
I have to think this is Francisco Cervelli’s job to lose. Yes, he’s been erratic and his defense seems to have fallen off a bit, but he’s a known commodity in New York. He’s familiar with the pitching staff, familiar to the coaching staff, and he’s actually been a pretty nice player for a No. 2 catcher. Austin Romine is the most obvious alternative — with Gustavo Molina once again filling that emergency role — but using Romine as a big league backup could severely limit his at-bats, and the Yankees want him to get at-bats. This is finally a chance for Romine to get Triple-A playing time without being blocked by Jesus Montero.
A second lefty
Every year the Yankees seem to consider the possibility of a second left-hander, and every year they seem to decide against it. Before Hideki Okajima failed his physical, he seemed like a reasonable candidate to get some left-on-left opportunities out of the big league bullpen. Without Okajima, the Yankees will have to consider Mike O’Connor (a guy with limited big league experience), Juan Cedeno (a guy with limited minor league experience) and Cesar Cabral (a Rule 5 pick who might be the most intriguing option of the bunch). Manny Banuelos is a left-hander, but it’s impossible to imagine the Yankees putting him on the roster just to be a lefty specialist. The Yankees might instead choose to carry another middle reliever, keeping a spot warm for Joba Chamberlain’s eventual return.
Unless there’s an injury, someone is going to be left out of the rotation competition, and that pitcher would seem to be a natural fit for a long relief role. The Yankees, though, will also have Triple-A starters D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren and David Phelps to consider. George Kontos also had considerable success as a Triple-A long man last year — with some solid big league outings late in the year — and Rule 5 pick Brad Meyers fits the long-relief mold. There will also be some intrigue with former top prospect Adam Miller. Five bullpen spots seem to be claimed by Mariano Rivera, Dave Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan and Cory Wade. The other two present real decisions for the Yankees.
Associated Press photos