The Yankees last spring game is March 29. They’ll take the day off on the 30th, do a workout in Houston on the 31, and the season opens on April 1. Basically, the Yankees have two weeks to make their final roster decisions. Here are few of my own expectations and observations on this rainy day in Florida.
Nothing’s changed, really. Joe Girardi hasn’t exactly tipped his hand about the exact batting order, but it’s clear that came into camp penciled in as a the No. 2 hitter, Ellsbury is the natural choice for the leadoff spot, and Girardi has said that Teixeira’s spring starts as the No. 3 hitter are mostly about getting him at-bats. He’ll likely hit lower than that. Even if the exactly 1 through 9 order isn’t exactly right, the names seem hard to argue. The Yankees have made it clear that Roberts will be the regular second baseman and Johnson will be the vRHP side of a platoon at third base. At the very least, that’s the way the Yankees are planning to open the season. Things could certainly change depending on production, but for now, my expectation for the Opening Day lineup has not really changed since camp opened.
Again, nothing in camp has led me to change my mind about who I expect to open the season on the bench. However, I will say that Cervelli’s strong spring — I don’t think it’s crazy for a team to think he could be a solid regular behind the plate — might have boosted his stock enough that the Yankees will get an trade offer worth accepting. I don’t think the Yankees will or should give him away, but there must be a right price that makes too much sense. The idea of trading Ichiro seems far less likely. I just can’t imagine a team willing to pay a significant amount of his salary or give up a legitimately productive player. Because of his speed and defense, Ichiro really isn’t a bad fit as a fifth outfielder.
As for the two infield spots, given the defensive concerns in the infield, carrying Ryan makes good sense to me (and I think he’s basically a lock). The Nunez spot is the one that’s more up for grabs, but I still think Nunez is the favorite. Dean Anna hits left-handed (so he doesn’t really fit the right-handed platoon need), Yangervis Solarte has no big league experience (and his minor league numbers suggest this spring is a bit of a mirage), and Scott Sizemore has hardly played the past two years (so getting his feet under him in Triple-A seems to make sense). Sizemore has an opt-out on May 1, so maybe Nunez gets one month as a kind of final chance to show he fits into the Yankees plans. He’s played pretty well down here.
I’m not ready to hand Pineda the fifth starter job just yet, mostly because I still think there are some factors that lean in David Phelps’ favor — and Phelps has pitched well — but hearing the Yankees talk about Pineda, it just seems like the job is his for the taking. His post-surgery fastball doesn’t hum in the upper 90s, but it’s not topping out in the upper 80s either. His slider has looked pretty good down here, and his changeup seems to have actually improved during the past two years. Pineda’s workload will have to be limited at some point, but it seems unlikely that the Yankees will put him into some sort of Joba Rules program. If the Yankees decide he’s the best rotation option out of camp, I think he’ll get the job.
That said, Phelps has been pretty steady. He’s thrown strikes and pitched well, and the Yankees seem to think of him as a guy who can do almost anything, whether that’s starting, pitching in long relief or perhaps evolving into a late-inning setup option. Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno are still competing for jobs, but they don’t have another start listed on the schedule. It really seems to be a two-man race at this point.
If it is, in fact, Pineda who wins the fifth starter competition, then I think the top five relievers listed here are absolute locks. Girardi has basically said as much. We know Robertson, Kelley and Thornton are heading north with the team, and both Phelps and Warren seem to have one roster spots, it’s just a matter of figuring out which role they’re going to play. The guy who’s really taken advantage of an opportunity here is Betances, who’s pitched extremely well this spring. That, combined with last year’s success and the fact he’s already on the 40-man, seem to make Betances a strong bullpen contender.
If Betances is in place, then there’s only one spot left. Could go to Preston Claiborne, could go to Cesar Cabral, and — if the Yankees can find a way to get one of them on the 40-man — it could go to Chris Leroux, Matt Daley, Yoshinori Tateyama or Jim Miller, all of whom have pitched very well down here. The Yankees wanted some guys to compete for bullpen openings, and that’s certainly happened. Options are emerging, for sure. So why Nuno? Well, I certainly don’t think he’s a lock for the job. I’m not even sure you could call him — or anyone for that matter — a true favorite. I just think Nuno has pitched well enough, and he’s versatile enough, that he might make some sense (being familiar and on the 40-man doesn’t hurt). He would give the Yankees a second lefty and a third multi-inning reliever, freeing both Phelps and Warren to be tested in short-relief situations. That said, I would not be remotely stunned if someone else won the job. Still a lot of ways that last roster spot could go.
Associated Press photos