Monday, March 25, 2013

Yankees Opening Day Roster: 25 Men Once More Unto the Breach

"How the hell did I get here?"

With Opening Day a mere week away (let's hope it warms up by then), the Yankees 25-man roster next Monday will undoubtedly contain some surprises, some temporary players, and should elicit plenty of head shaking and maybe some hand wringing by fans who already think the Yankees are down and out for all of 2013.

Some spots are obvious, while others are based on numbers, my hunches, and throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.

There's a good chance the worrywarts are right; after all the opening day roster will not include Derek Jeter (resistance is futile), Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Clay Rapada, and Phil Hughes. All are or will be on the disabled list to start the season. The only one (relatively) assured of a quick return is Hughes, who is being penciled in to return on April 7.

The biggest surprise on the roster, of course, will be Vernon Wells once a deal is finalized. The Yankees and Angels are still working out the details,  but a failed physical would be the only thing to nix a deal at this point. Wells has a no-trade clause, but will waive it for the opportunity to play. Brian Cashman is banking on Wells' Spring Training performance (1.112 OPS, 4 HR, 11 RBI in 36 At-Bats) carrying over to the regular season. Wells took to Twitter last night to tell everyone how stoked he is about it.



Joining Wells in the outfield will be starters Brett Gardner in center field and Ichiro Suzuki in right field. That leaves room for two more outfielders. The front runners at this point should be lefty Brennan Boesch and righty Ben Francisco.

Melky Mesa would be better served by playing every day in the minor leagues, while veteran Juan Rivera should be released (a .316 exhibition average, but no home runs and a .404 slugging pct.) even though he has been seeing time at first base as well.

Robinson Cano will be the only regular infielder from last year's team to be in the opening day lineup. You can't blame Cashman if he takes preventative measures and covers his second baseman in bubble wrap. Cano, a free agent after the coming season, turned down a "significant" contract extension in Spring Training, but the Yankees need him for the long term. He's the Yankees best player with the bat and glove.

Cano will have company in the infield with Kevin Youkilis, but will the former Red Sox primarily play to the left or right of Cano?  Youkilis was signed to supplant Rodriguez at third base, but when Teixeira went down  the Yankees needed to add another corner infielder.

The team has given Cuban born expatriate Ronnier Mustelier a good long look at third base. Mustelier has been an outfielder in the Yankees farm system, but played the hot corner in his native land. The Yankees like his bat and Mustelier gave them some more food for thought on Sunday when he hit a walk-off home run.

With Jeter on the DL, Eduardo Nunez will get the bulk of the playing time at shortstop, but Nunez has to play steady defense to keep it that way. Jayson Nix will return as the utility player and could get some increased playing time if Mustelier and/or Rivera don't make the squad. The feeling here is that Mustelier makes the team, which means that Youkilis will see more time at first base than third base.

The catching situation, or better yet the lack thereof, has been a no-brainer all Spring Training. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart will be the team's two catchers...barring a last minute move like the one that occurred last year when Stewart came in at the last moment and Cervelli was sent to the minors.

Travis Hafner will be the left-handed hitting DH and will split time with any number of players.

That leaves the pitching staff, which has not been able to escape the injury bug either. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte are back as the first three starters in the rotation. Hughes will occupy the fourth spot when he returns from the DL. The fifth spot will be the winner of the Spring Training battle between Ivan Nova and David Phelps, though left-hander  Vidal Nuno has to be considered a dark horse for the spot.

Both Phelps and Nova had pitched well until recently, but Nova has been knocked around in his last two starts and Phelps got raked over the coals in his last appearance. Phelps' success in the pen last year could have an influence on Joe Girardi's decision on who ends up where, but the Yankees' manager has not publicly given any idea of who will earn the final spot in the rotation.

The bullpen will have Mariano Rivera back as closer, his repaired ACL holding up well so far. The bigger concern at the moment are the headaches he has been having. The preliminary diagnosis is migrains, but Rivera is undergoing tests (i.e. MRI) as a precaution.

David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and his cheesy mustache, and Boone Logan will all be back, though there is an outside chance Logan could start the season on the disabled list if his inflamed left elbow acts up prior to opening day. With Rapada on the DL, the Yankees should keep Nuno as the second lefty in the bullpen.

That leaves 3-4 spots in the pen depending on whether Girardi wants to go with a 12 or 13 man staff to start the season. I'm going to go with the assumption, right or wrong, that either Nova and Phelps make the team, but not both.  The "loser" in the competition should pitch every fifth day for Scranton rather than throw out of the pen.

That leaves three spots on the 25-man roster to be occupied by relievers. One goes to David Aardsma, who looks good as he continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Jim Miller (inexplicably waived by the A's in the Fall and claimed by the Yankees) has had some control trouble, but overall has pitched well. The one disadvantage  facing Miller is not being on the 40-man roster.

Shawn Kelley has the advantage of being on the 40-man as well as having the ability to strike out more than one batter per inning. Though his Spring numbers don't look good at first blanch, Kelley was one of the best acquisitions this off-season (for  outfielder Abe Almonte) and should make the team.

The Yankees' 40-man roster is currently completely full  so some changes will have to be made to fit Wells and Miller, should the latter make the team. Mark Teixeira will wind up on the 60-day DL to open one spot and another will likely come from a player being designated for assignment. Based on his Spring Training performance (16 ER in 17.2 IP)  and his average numbers at Scranton the last two years I would say Adam Warren is the likely candidate. (Perhaps he'll be dealt for Wells.)

So the 25-man roster on April 1 would like this (Hopefully I just counted that all correctly and didn't leave an obvious player out.):

Outfield (5)

Ichiro
Gardner
Wells
Boesch
Francisco

Infield (5)

Cano
Youkilis
Nunez
Nix
Mustelier

Catcher (2)

Cervelli
Stewart

DH (1)

Hafner

Pitcher (12)

Sabathia
Kuroda
Pettitte
Nova/Phelps
Rivera
Logan
Robertson
Chamberlain
Nuno
Aardsma
Kelley
Miller


There's no guess as to how long the aforementioned players will be with the big squad as Hughes, Jeter, Granderson, Rapada and hopefully, Teixeira return. Just please return, SOON!


UPDATE - 3/26 8 A.M. - Chad Jennings of the LoHud Journal pointed out some important factors to the make up of the roster. Juan Rivera must either be released today or receive a $100K retention bonus.

Rivera has earned the clause due to service time in the Major Leagues. None of the other veterans brought in on minor league deals have the same contingency in place. WFAN's Sweeny Murti told Mike Francesa yesterday that he felt Rivera would make the team because of the lack of first basemen on the team.  The Yankees may not want to risk playing Nix, Mustelier or someone else regularly at third base with Youkiliks sliding over to first base, but Rivera has nothing left in his bat and should be let go.


Getting back to Jennings, he also reported that Mark Teixeira will NOT be on the 60-day DL as I had speculated yesterday. Teixeira's DL date could not be back tracked so he would have to definitely miss all of April and May, though that seems likely anyway.


Cesar Cabral, recovering from a fractured elbow he suffered last Spring Training, is the fore-runner to be placed on the 60-day DL. Manny Banuelos will miss the entire 2013 season, but will not be placed on the 60-day DL so that his Major League service time does not begin.

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