Two Sunday decisions settled three roster spots for the Yankees.
With Derek Jeter opening on the disabled list, the Yankees will put Eduardo Nunez in the lineup, and they’ll have little choice but to keep Jayson Nix as a utility man on the bench (something I’d guess they were going to do anyway).
Trading for Vernon Wells was clearly done to fill a big league spot, so Wells is clearly on the roster. That puts 10 position players in place.
C Francisco Cervelli, C Chris Stewart, 2B Robinson Cano, SS Eduardo Nunez, 3B/1B Kevin Youkilis, UT Jayson Nix, OF Brett Gardner, OF Ichiro Suzuki, OF Vernon Wells, DH Travis Hafner
And that leaves three position jobs up for grabs, with eight options left in camp.
OF Brennan Boesch
A left-handed outfielder is the last thing the Yankees needed when camp opened — otherwise Chris Dickerson would still be here — but Boesch became a worthwhile target after Curtis Granderson broke his arm. Obviously Boesch has had some big league success, and he could be a go-to outfielder against right-handers. Then again, he can be optioned to Triple-A.
OF Ben Francisco
Thought he was looking more and more like a lock before the Wells trade. Now Francisco’s spot on the team could depend entirely on how the Yankees want to build their roster. Francisco is having a nice spring, and he has plenty of big league experience, but he might be redundant when it’s all said and done.
1B Dan Johnson
A left-handed corner infielder could be a nice fit – could mix with Rivera or Mustelier to form a platoon situation — but Johnson is 2-for-32 with four errors this spring. The Yankees know he has some power, but his spring performance couldn’t have won over any believers.
OF Melky Mesa
For speed and defense, Mesa is the best of the fringe outfielders still in the mix. However, his strong offensive start has faded to the point that he’s hitting just .189/.246/.358. Mesa is probably the best non-Gardner center fielder in camp, but I’m not sure the Yankees will value that defensive ability ahead of other players’ offensive contributions.
3B/OF Ronnier Mustelier
Is this the wild card? Mustelier could free the Yankees to do a lot of things. He can play third base and the outfield corners, which means he brings some legitimate flexibility, and everyone I’ve talked to about him keeps saying the same thing: “He can hit.” Musty is batting .324/.378/.588 this spring, including yesterday’s walkoff homer. He’s done his part. Question is, do the Yankees trust his glove.
OF Thomas Neal
It’s going a little bit unnoticed, but Neal is having a pretty solid spring with a .275/.341/.425 slash line and three stolen bases. My guess is that Neal will be crowded out by the other right-handed hitting outfielders in camp.
1B/OF Juan Rivera
An early favorite to win a roster spot, Rivera’s slash line is down to .316/.328/.404 because he hasn’t hit for much power lately. He’s actually been pretty good at first base, and he’s clearly getting hits, but I’m not sure he’s still an overwhelming roster favorite. Because of his contract status, the Yankees have to tell him either today or tomorrow whether he’s made the team, so a Rivera decision is coming pretty soon.
INF Gil Velazquez
Hard to imagine the Yankees carrying both Velazquez and Nix. If Nix gets hurt in the next week, then Velazquez could sneak onto the roster as a replacement utility infielder. If not, though, Velazquez will likely head down to Triple-A, possibly to get regular time at shortstop.
Three questions to answer while the Yankees make their final roster decisions. And it goes without saying that — for the sake of this exercise — I’m assuming the Yankees won’t make another move before Opening Day, which is hardly a given.
Who is going to DH against lefties?
Unless Nix is going to always start against left-handed pitchers, two of these final three roster spots will have to be in the lineup against lefties. You can assume Wells will be in the outfield against lefties, but that still leaves an infield job — which could go to Nix — and a wide-open DH platoon.
Does it make sense to carry both Mustelier and Rivera?
Very hard to imagine a scenario in which neither one makes the team. There’s only room in the infield for one at a time, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for both on the roster. For example, Rivera could play first and Mustelier DH against lefties. That said, if both Mustelier and Rivera are on the roster, would it really make sense to carry another right-handed outfielder? Wouldn’t that role be pretty well covered?
Is a left-handed bat a priority?
Of the eight candidates, five are right-handed hitters who can play the outfield (and the Yankees already have one of those in Wells, and two of those if you count Nix). There is one left-handed outfielder and one left-handed infielder among the candidates, and the Yankees could make room for a platoon out of either one.
Mustelier — Rivera — Boesch
In this scenario, Boesch would likely platoon with Wells in an outfield corner while Rivera would play first base and Mustelier would DH against lefties. The question is, what to do against right-handers? Are the Yankees going to feel comfortable giving Mustelier or Rivera an everyday job until Mark Teixeira comes back?
Rivera — Johnson — Boesch
Two lefties means two platoon situations: Rivera/Johnson at first base and Boesch/Wells in the outfield. If you’re not sold on Johnson as a legitimate option, substitute the name Lyle Overbay, who’s in camp with the Red Sox and could become a free agent tomorrow. This combination, with two left-handed hitters, would leave a hole at DH against lefties. In that case, Yankees could either use a left-handed hitter against lefties, or they could rotate the DH against lefties and use Nix to plug the various holes.
Mustelier — Rivera — Francisco
Same as the first combination, except with a right-handed outfielder (feel free to substitute Mesa or Neal for Francisco). The problem here is that it’s almost right-handed overkill. Against lefties, Rivera goes to first, Mustelier goes to DH, and Francisco — what – starts ahead of Ichiro or Gardner? It’s either that, or that roster spot is strictly a reserve with no real role (in which case it might as well go to Mesa, not Francisco, to provide some late-inning speed). There would be no left-handed option to fill in for either Granderson or Teixeira.
Associated Press photos