Brian Cashman said he hasn’t stopped looking for a right-handed outfielder, but the free agent market has run dry, and unless Cashman can find a trade partner — or discover someone useful on the waiver wire — the Yankees will be forced to take some sort of risk. They clearly need someone to balance their all-left-handed group of outfield starters, but there isn’t a can’t-miss choice coming to camp.
When the Yankees signed Ichiro Suzuki to a two-year deal, they locked themselves into a very specific need. With three starting outfielders who hit left-handed, it only makes sense to carry a right-handed reserve. But Cody Ross signed with the Diamondbacks, Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz went to the Cubs, Delmon Young landed with the Phillies, and the rest of the market didn’t offer any real standouts (the rest were either everyday players or guys with significant uncertainty). The Yankees signed two of the uncertain guys to minor league deals — Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera — and temporarily had another option when they claimed Russ Canzler off waivers only to lose him through the same process. Now the Yankees head into camp with Diaz and Rivera set to compete against a series of upper-level minor leaguers.
It’s worth noting that there might be room for two of these guys — one to help in the outfield and one to platoon at designated hitter — so the Yankees don’t have to decide on just one of these options. They can mix and match if necessary. Essentially, these are their choices: 1. Trust a veteran. Diaz and Rivera are the only right-handed outfielders coming to camp with more than 23 Major League at-bats, and younger players occasionally struggle in part-time roles. The past three years, the Yankees have used Marcus Thames and Andruw Jones as platoon outfielders, so there’s precedent for choosing an older, experienced player for the job. 2. See this as an opportunity. The Yankees want to get younger and cheaper, and Melky Mesa, Ronnier Mustelier, Zoilo Almonte and recently signed former Giants and Indians prospect Thomas Neal are opportunities to do just that. There are other young options coming to camp, but those four seem to be the most big-league ready. 3. Focus on flexibility. This doesn’t have to be strictly a job for a corner outfielder who can hit lefties. Mustelier could also help out at third base. Mesa could be a dangerous pinch runner (so could Abe Almonte). Zoilo Almonte is a switch hitter who was especially good against right-handers last year.
I honestly can’t explain my fascination with Mustelier. Maybe it has something to do with the name, but I’ve always been intrigued by him, and I’ve had people in the organization tell me he’s worth watching for exactly this sort of role. He’s 28 years old with very good minor league numbers the past two years, and this might be a prime opportunity for the Yankees to find out whether they can get some value out of him. If the Yankees aren’t interested in him under these circumstances, when would they be interested? That said, all of the minor league options are going to have to show something in spring training to have a real shot. Mesa strikes out a ton, Almonte hasn’t been to Triple-A yet, Neal’s success has come at Double-A and lower, and guys like Adonis Garcia, Tyler Austin and Rob Segedin don’t have the upper-level experience to be considered more than extreme long shots. As much as it might make sense to give a young guy a chance, the safer bet might be Diaz or Rivera. And there’s still a chance that an unexpected option will enter the picture at some point.
Associated Press photo