There are still several weeks before the Yankees break their Tampa, Fla., camp and head home to take on the Red Sox on April 1. There’s plenty of time left for the club to make that big offseason move that many have been sure is coming since the 2012 season ended in feeble fashion back in October.
If the Bombers go forth with what they have—as GM Brian Cashman has all but insisted they will—they’ll have some tough decisions to make on who will fill out their 25-man roster.
Catcher, designated hitter and just about all the bench roles are anything but solid. The top of the rotation is packed with age, and the bullpen features several pitchers returning from serious injuries.
Here’s a look at who fans can expect to see being introduced on Opening Day:
Austin Romine, Chris Stewart
The Yankees are entering 2013 weaker behind the plate than they’ve been since Bob Geren and Rick Cerone donned the tools of ignorance during their 95-loss 1990 campaign.
Though 24-year-old Austin Romine missed most of the 2012 season, he’s still a pseudo-prospect and he’d be hard-pressed not to beat out a cast of career backups for the majority of this year’s starts.
While Chris Stewart’s OPS was a pitcher-like .611 in 141 at-bats in 2012, he managed to stay on New York's roster all season thanks to apparent high marks on manager Joe Girardi’s grittiness scale. Expect him to get more playing time this year, nudging Francisco Cervelli and Bobby Wilson for the second catcher spot.
Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Eduardo Nunez, David Adams, Dan Johnson
Alex Rodriguez is out until at least July, leaving Kevin Youkilis as the Yankees’ undisputed everyday third baseman. Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira should each play 150 or more games in the field if healthy, and Derek Jeter will resume the shortstop duties he’s held for the past 17 seasons if his surgically repaired ankle cooperates.
Given his wobbly defensive skills, carrying Eduardo Nunez as the only reserve infielder would be too risky, especially since he’ll be asked to man short at least once or twice a week while Jeter rests in the DH spot.
Though he hasn’t played above the Double-A level, David Adams has handled second and third and has solid minor league numbers (.295/.378/.448) that make him a better option than veteran Jayson Nix. He can give Youkilis or Cano an occasional DH day.
Dan Johnson is best remembered for his game-tying home run against the Yankees on the final day of the 2011 season, which helped put Tampa Bay in the playoffs and helped keep Boston out. He may be replaced by one of several veteran bats still on the market—Travis Hafner and Jim Thome say hello—but for now, he’s the club’s only real option as a lefty-swinging bench hitter. Johnson can spell Teixeira at first and has played third before in emergencies.
Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki, Matt Diaz
Lefties Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki are the everyday starters thanks to Cashman's failure to add an impact right-handed outfield bat.
Gardner and Ichiro in the corners represent an extreme lack of power that’s unfamiliar in the Bronx. They’ve combined for just 21 home runs over the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, Granderson will look to channel his MVP-like 2011 after a disappointing 2012, where he crumbled down the stretch, limping to a .212/.278/.480 second-half batting line.
The starting trio gives the Yankees some flexibility, as all three can play center field. That will allow the team to carry Matt Diaz, who’s touched up lefty pitchers for a .324/.364/.498 career line. While his defensive skills are non-existent, Diaz will see time as part of a DH platoon with Johnson when one of the regulars isn’t filling that hole on a semi-off-day.
If the Yankees add a more accomplished DH, they may replace the remainder of Diaz or Johnson with one of their more versatile minor league outfielders, a pool of Thomas Neal, Ronnier Mustelier and Zoilo Almonte. Otherwise, the Yankees will likely stay true to their preference for veterans, and that trio will begin the year at Triple-A.
CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova
There isn’t much doubt about who will make up the front end of the Yankees starting rotation. Sabathia, Kuroda and Pettitte are stalwarts who the Yankees hope can remain healthy all year. In his final year under team control, the club needs Phil Hughes to finally put everything together and deliver the sub-4.00 ERA, 3.0 WAR-type season he’s capable of.
The only competition is for the fifth spot, between Ivan Nova and David Phelps.
Phelps looked stronger in 2012 (3.77 ERA, 1.26 WHIP as a starter), than Nova (5.02/1.47), as the once-promising Dominican righty struggled, especially in the second half. Still, Nova’s perceived higher upside, and Phelps’ experience and success coming out of the pen will probably push the former onto the starting staff regardless of who accomplishes more in spring training.
The Yankees may toss a veteran reclamation project into the mix before the end of spring, but with the rotation currently the deepest aspect of the team, they’d be wiser to allocate their remaining resources elsewhere.
Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Aardsma, Clay Rapada, David Phelps
After missing the final five months of the 2012 season, Mariano Rivera will resume his closing duties, and for the third straight year, David Robertson will man the eighth, where he’s posted prolific numbers since the second half of 2010.
Boone Logan and Clay Rapada will get plenty of opportunities to conquer American League lefty batters, given Girardi’s love affair with platoon matchups, while Joba Chamberlain will look to avoid trampolines and put together his first complete and successful season out of the bullpen.
Of the two Davids, Aardsma hopes to complete his comeback from surgeries that have kept him mostly out of the big leagues since the end of 2010. The former Seattle closer is still just 31, and he managed a 2.90 ERA and a 9.6 K-per-nine rate during his two seasons in the Mariner ninth.
Phelps will be the long man and the first to claim a rotation spot if needed. He was lights out in 42 relief innings last year, with a 2.76 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.