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Examining the New York Yankees' Most Intriguing Position Battles

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Examining the New York Yankees' Most Intriguing Position Battles
Al Bello/Getty Images

By February 18 the Yankees usually have their roster more or less set. There may be a position battle for a bench spot or two, but generally it's known who will get the lion's share of at bats and innings pitched come Opening Day.

But 2013 is different. There are legitimate position battles to be waged in spring training on both the offensive and pitching sides.

Here's a look at the three most intriguing battles of the spring, at catcher, right-handed outfielder/designated hitter and fifth starter.

 

Catcher

For the first time since Joe Girardi was the backstop, the Yankees will use a defense-first catcher on Opening Day regardless of who wins this position battle.

Barring injury or a new acquisition, the three options are Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and Chris Stewart.

Cervelli is a fan favorite and pitchers like throwing to him, but he hit just .246 in Triple-A last year and is surrounded by questions related to his alleged PED use.

Romine has been a highly regarded prospect since the Yankees took him in the second round of the 2007 draft and their confidence in him was one of the reasons they felt comfortable trading Jesus Montero to Seattle a year ago. But there are legitimate concerns about his bat being ready for the major leagues, and he missed most of 2012 with a back injury.

At 30, Stewart is the oldest of the Yankees' options but he's never played more than 67 games in one season and has a career .217 batting average.

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Regardless of who wins the starting catcher role, Yankees fans are going to have to get used to the worst offensive production from the team's backstop in over 15 years.

 

Right-Handed Designated Hitter

Last year, Andruw Jones platooned at DH as a righty with Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez splitting time as the lefties.

This year, Travis Hafner will be the left-handed DH but the right-handed job will be up for grabs. Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez are likely to see some time in that spot of the lineup, but Brian Cashman also signed Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera to compete for roster spots.

Diaz played in 51 games for the Braves last season, hitting .222 with two home runs in 108 at bats. But he has a .770 career OPS and may still have some pop in his bat given a chance of scene.

Rivera returns to the Bronx to fight for a spot on the team that signed him as an amateur and traded him to Montreal in the first Javier Vazquez trade in 2003. He spent 2012 with the Dodgers, hitting .244 with nine home runs in 312 at bats.

If either wins a roster spot, he likely won't get a ton of at bats for the Yankees. But neither did Raul Ibanez in 2012, and it's hard to argue Ibanez wasn't vital to the team's success, so Diaz or Rivera could still play an important role.

 

Fifth Starter

This job is Ivan Nova's to lose. but it's no slam dunk that he'll be in the rotation if he continues his 2012 struggles in spring training.

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Nova lost his job in late-August last year and ended the season with a 5.02 ERA, giving up 194 hits (including 28 home runs) in just 170.1 innings despite a 12-8 record.

If Nova does struggle, Joe Girardi could entrust the fifth starter spot to David Phelps, who proved reliable both as a starter and reliever in 2012.

In 33 games with 11 starts, Phelps threw 99.2 innings with a 3.34 ERA and struck out 96 allowing just 81 hits.

This job is not an open competition like the catcher and right-handed DH spots seem to be, but a poor spring from Nova and/or a great spring from Phelps could make things interesting.

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