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Yankees 40-man issues could determine final roster spots

Posted By Chad Jennings On March 24, 2014 @ 8:44 am In Misc | 179 Comments

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Watching the final round of batting practice yesterday, I decided to get some video of Yangervis Solarte, Scott Sizemore and Zelous Wheeler. They seemed interesting to me because they weren’t particularly familiar before camp opened, but they’ve all played well. Or really, really well. Here are the individual OPS numbers for each of the five infielders vying for two roster spots.

Yangervis Solarte: 1.141
Zelous Wheeler: .995
Scott Sizemore: .681
Dean Anna: .640
Eduardo Nunez: .637

So which two do I expect to actually make break camp with the team? Nunez and Anna, of course, and there are two reasons for that.

1. Can’t make too much of spring stats. Maybe Solarte and Wheeler are going to be perfectly good big league players, but I don’t think 35 spring at-bats makes a very compelling case. Both were minor league free agents for a reason, and if they don’t break camp with the Yankees, they’ll have a chance to continue making their case in the minors. No harm in that. They’ve made a terrific first impression, and that’s all non-roster invitees are looking for in most cases.

2. The 40-man roster is a very real factor, and it is probably the most important reason that I expect Nunez and Anna to break camp with the Yankees. Those two can go to Houston for the season opener without forcing the Yankees to lose someone else. I think that’s especially relevant in the case of the second utility man, who will likely be replaced by Brendan Ryan fairly quickly. No sense having to DFA someone else just to carry a guy for a week or two.

As the Yankees enter their final week of spring training, keep these 40-man roster issues in mind.

Vidal Nuno [2]ROTATION
Candidates on the 40-man: All of them
Candidates not on the 40-man: None of them
No issues here, not out of camp and possibly not at any point this season. The Yankees obviously have CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova on the 40-man. They also have fifth-starter candidates Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno already on the 40-man. Plus, they have healthy Manny Banuelos and spring standout Shane Greene on the 40-man, along with Nik Turley and Bryan Mitchell. That’s a lot of upper-level options that come with no 40-man complications. Chase Whitley, who was in big league camp and is being converted to a starter this season, is not on the 40-man.

BULLPEN
Candidates on the 40-man: Dellin Betances, Preston Claiborne, Cesar Cabral (plus the fifth starter candidates and the three bullpen locks)
Candidates not on the 40-man: Fred Lewis, Chris Leroux, Jim Miller, Matt Daley, David Herndon, Yoshinori Tateyama, Danny Burawa
Even if the Yankees carry each of their fifth starter candidates (three of them in the bullpen) along with the late-inning trio of Dave Robertson, Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton, there would still be room for one more guy. For now, Betances seems to be a heavy favorite because he’s pitched so well this spring. Beyond that, though, the 40-man could become an issue. Leroux and Daley have been two of the absolute best pitchers in camp, and Lewis has been a real eye-opener, but is it worth losing someone else just to carry one of them as the last man in the bullpen? Have they been good enough to absolutely beat out Claiborne, Cabral or Nuno?

CATCHER
Candidates on the 40-man: All of them
Candidates not on the 40-man: None of them
Like the bullpen, this is a non-issue, and should be a non-issue all year. If anything, the Yankees have too many catchers on the 40-man. They have five of them, which is a ton of readily available depth behind the plate. All but Francisco Cervelli have options, which could be a compelling reason to carry Cervelli as the big league backup (though, to be fair, he’s certainly earned the job with the way he’s played this spring).

Yangervis Solarte [3]INFIELD
Candidates on the 40-man: Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna (plus the infield regulars)
Candidates not on the 40-man: Yangervis Solarte, Zelous Wheeler, Scott Sizemore
Already went over this above. Anna was probably not going to be protected with a 40-man spot with the Padres, but the Yankees — recognizing their need to restructure their infield depth after last season’s difficulties — traded for him and immediately put him on the 40-man. That could be his ticket to the big leagues, at least until Ryan gets healthy. It’s worth noting that both Nunez and Anna have options, so they can be sent down to Triple-A if they don’t play well. The leash could be short considering the way the alternatives have played this spring. Sizemore can opt out on May 1, so he might have basically a month-long audition in Triple-A before the Yankees decide whether to make a move with him.

OUTFIELD
Candidates on the 40-man: Ichiro Suzuki, Zoilo Almonte (plus the outfield regulars)
Candidates not on the 40-man: Adonis Garcia
Unless they can find a trade partner, it seems inevitable that the Yankees will break camp with Ichiro as their fifth outfielder, probably used primarily for pinch running and right field defense. Of course, Almonte and Garcia are each among the Yankees top five in OPS this spring (among players with at least 15 at-bats). They’ve each been terrific at the plate, especially Almonte who could be a readily available replacement if one of the outfield regulars gets hurt or if Ichiro plays so poorly in the first month or two that the Yankees decide to cut their losses and make a change. It’s worth noting that both Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores are also on the 40-man and could come up easily if some left-handed speed were necessary.

Associated Press photos

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