NY Yankees: A Position-by-Position Breakdown of the Yankees at Spring Training
For starters, lineup stalwart Robinson Cano has packed his bags for Seattle. His spot in the lineup will be difficult to replace, but general manager Brian Cashman brought in several bats to help pick up the slack.
Alex Rodriguez also won't have an impact on the Yankees in 2014 following his season-long suspension. In his stead, a couple of mid-level players will be competing for serious playing time.
The biggest battle in camp is for the No. 5 starter's job. Michael Pineda and David Phelps will be battling it out, though Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren will have outsiders' chances at winning the role.
If nothing else, the battles in camp make the Yankees worth watching as they gear up for the 2014 campaign. Here's how the roster breaks down.
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Starter: Brian McCann
Unlike last season, there's no competition behind the dish in Yankees' camp.
Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli were in competition for the job last February. Cervelli's PED suspension eliminated him from the running, and then it really became a toss-up as the season went on. Manager Joe Girardi never had a clear-cut favorite.
The production of Stewart and Romine was, simply put, terrible. While good defensively, the two combined for just five home runs. Brian McCann can hit five home runs a month.
Brian Cashman got his man this offseason, signing McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a $15 million option for a sixth season. Overpay or not, the Yankees did what they had to do to pick up the best catcher available on the market.
Cervelli and Romine will compete for the back-up role. I fully expect Cervelli to be given the job given his previous success in the role. He's also a fan-favorite.
In the end, McCann will prove to be a good investment. It will be hard to argue with 20-plus homers and 70-plus RBI from a position that barely posted a quarter of that last year.
Starter: Mark Teixeira
Again, there's no competition here.
Mark Teixeira, if 100 percent healthy, will be manning first base out of camp. Of course, the whole "health" thing is still a little up in the air.
Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com reports that he won't be playing in Grapefruit League games until March, and also that there's a plan in place to get him 50 or so at-bats before the team breaks camp at the end of March.
Fifty at-bats is probably all Teixeira needs to see if his wrist will hold up. It'll be check swings that really test his health, and I'm sure team doctors and team management will make sure he can pass all physical tests before being inserted into the lineup.
Given the uncertainty surrounding him, it's strange that the Yankees didn't go out and get a viable reserve this offseason. Last season, that came in the person of Lyle Overbay. Brian Cashman may again wait until the final week of spring games to buy low on somebody cut from another camp, but I'm sure he's hoping that Teixeira's wrist won't become an issue.
The Yankees are counting on Teixeira big-time in 2014.
Starter: Brian Roberts
It was assumed that there would be competition at second base following Robinson Cano's departure. Initially, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and prospect Dean Anna were supposed to compete for time. This was before Alex Rodriguez's suspension was finalized.
Now, Johnson will shift over to third and Roberts will be tasked with handling second.
Joe Girardi told Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com of his intentions regarding using Roberts: "That is the plan, for him to be our second baseman. I know he hasn't played a full season in the last few years—he's obviously a guy who has some age on him, too—but my plan is to run him out there every day."
Of course, Roberts has played just 192 games over the past four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. From 2003-2009, though, he was arguably a top-five second baseman in the league. Roberts was a doubles machine, posting at least 42 doubles in five of those seven seasons.
Girardi would be happy to get 100 games from Roberts in 2014. If that happens, then his one-year deal has to be considered a success. Should his season end early, look for the Yankees to either make a trade or use Anna.
Anna was acquired from the San Diego Padres during the offseason after he led the Pacific Coast League with a .331 average in 2013. Anna has developed power and a propensity to drive in runs, though at 27, questions have begun to arise as to whether or not he'll develop into a major leaguer.
This could end up being his season to prove it.
Likely Starter: Kelly Johnson, 80%
All signs points to Kelly Johnson manning the hot corner, but there has yet to be an official announcement from the team regarding his role. He was brought in on a one-year deal to compete for at-bats at second base, so a guarantee for regular at-bats was really never given.
If nothing else, Johnson will provide a decent bat at the bottom of the lineup.
He was a staple of consistency in 2012 and 2013, hitting 16 home runs both years. He also posted RBI totals of 55 and 52, respectively. Even his lines were similar. In 2012, he hit .225/.313/.365. In 2013, he hit .235/.305/.410.
Johnson won't provide much in the way of average or on-base percentage, but his good power will only get better as a left-handed bat in Yankee Stadium.
Potential Starter: Eduardo Nunez, 20%
Yes, Yankees fans. Eduardo Nunez is still a thing.
Even after a flurry of middle-infield acquisitions—Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, Brian Roberts, Dean Anna and Johnson—Nunez appears to have a shot at serious playing time in 2014. For some reason, the leash on him keeps getting longer and longer.
At this point, we know defense is not Nunez's forte. Catching the ball really isn't the issue, but throwing the ball is an adventure every time he unleashes a sidearm toss from short.
Moving him over to third probably won't help much. His reaction times will diminish significantly, and giving him a different angle to throw from on the diamond will be something he'll have to adjust to.
Even still, the other options aren't really any better. Ryan is a shortstop by trade (and a great one, at that), and Sizemore doesn't have the offensive upside.
Starter: Derek Jeter
No surprise here.
In Derek Jeter's final season, he'll go out at the position where he began his career back in 1995 (1996 was technically his rookie season).
The Yankees are really counting on Jeter to regain his form from 2012. There are questions regarding his health, no matter what Jeter might tell you himself. Via Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News:
You guys keep asking me about it (his ankle) every time, so it’s kind of hard not to think about it. I feel good now, so last year doesn’t matter.
Last year, I felt like I was rehabbing. This year, I’m just here to play.
Like his lifelong friend and longtime teammate, Mariano Rivera, expect Jeter to do his best to go out on top. The farewell tour will certainly be unforgettable—just like Mo's—but I'm sure Jeter is much more focused on getting back to the form that earned him a seventh-place finish in the 2012 American League MVP voting.
Should any health concerns arise, Brendan Ryan would be the man at short. The fans got to see him in the second half of 2013, and they were dazzled by his nifty glove moves and propensity to make plays up the middle. At this point in their respective careers, Ryan is the far better defender than Jeter.
Ryan will also man short when Jeter takes his semi-regular half-rest days as the designated hitter.
Starter: Brett Gardner
Brett Gardner is now a rich, happy man, and the Yankees will be committed to him in left field as a result of the four-year, $52 million extension the two sides agreed upon. Jack Curry of the YES Network broke the news via Twitter:
Gardner on verge of signing 4-year, $52 million deal w/ Yankees. Includes 5th year club option for $12.5M or $2M buyout. Deal starts in 2015— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) February 23, 2014
The status of Gardner this offseason was all over the place prior to the extension.
At the onset of the winter, Gardner was the Yankees' starting center fielder. Nobody expected the team to go out and grab Jacoby Ellsbury, and that move ultimately shifted Gardner to left—for the time being.
There were then reports of potentially trading the speedy outfielder for starting pitching, but nothing materialized. At the time, there was uncertainty regarding the pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka because of discrepancies over the posting system.
Now, he's the team's left fielder for at least the next five years (2014 plus the guaranteed four years of his extension).
Starter: Jacoby Ellsbury
The Yankees love taking World Series-winning center fielders away from their arch rivals, the Boston Red Sox. First, it was Johnny Damon. This offseason, it was Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury was handed a seven-year contract worth $153 million, and the jury is out as to whether or not that will end up being an overpay by Brian Cashman. In all likelihood, it will be.
Cashman paid for the Ellsbury of 2011—you know, the one that mashed 32 home runs, drove in 105 and posted a line of .321/.376/.552. He also stole 39 bases.
Since then, he has shown much less power and run-production capabilities. His speed has been on display, and that will create for an interesting top of the lineup.
It's really a toss-up between Gardner and Ellsbury as to who is the better center fielder defensively, but you don't pay a guy that has played center field $153 million to slide over to left.
Should he stay healthy, Ellsbury will be the everyday center fielder for a long time.
Starter: Carlos Beltran
Yankees fans are probably wishing that Brian Cashman signed Carlos Beltran prior to both 2005 and 2012, but they should be happy nonetheless. He might break down a bit by the final year of the three-year pact he signed this offseason, but he will definitely provide a strong presence in the middle of the lineup in 2014 and 2015.
He rejuvenated a career that appeared to be heading south when he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 2012 season. His totals in St. Louis were very strong for a player on the wrong side of 30.
He hit .282/.343/.493 with 56 home runs, 181 RBI and 15 steals over 296 games in a Cardinals uniform.
That breaks down to 28 homers and about 90 RBI per season. Joe Girardi would be pleased with those numbers in 2014, especially considering the fact that he'll be turning 37 in late April.
Beltran's knees aren't what they used to be, so he'll likely be spelled in right field by Alfonso Soriano from time to time. When that happens, Beltran will either DH or get the day off entirely.
Starter: Alfonso Soriano
This may very well be Alfonso Soriano's last season, tweets The New York Post:
That may come as a surprise to some Yankees fans, especially after the ridiculous hot streak he went on last season. In just 58 games after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs midseason, Soriano blasted 17 home runs and drove in 50. He hit .256/.325/.525, a big improvement over the .254/.287/.467 line he had posted in 93 games prior.
Double the games played and keep the offensive pace the same, and you've got yourself 34 homers and 100 RBI in just 116 games. Given the need to rotate several players in at DH—Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira—that number of games played is a safe projection.
The numbers themselves are the biggest question. Soriano has been wildly inconsistent since the 2007 season (his first in Chicago), though he has turned it on in recent years.
Starters (Nos. 1-4): CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova
Entering free agency, the Yankees were left with just CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the starting rotation. Then, the pieces began to fall.
Hiroki Kuroda re-upped on a one-year pact. It may very well end up being his final season in the bigs, but that's not something the Yankees are worried about now.
Much later on, the Yankees won the bidding war on Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. The 25-year-old will be an instant competitor for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and it wouldn't surprise me if he posted a 15-win season.
Nova will look to build off last season's strong performance. He went 9-6 with a 3.10 ERA over 139.1 innings.
The four starters will be counted on for at least 700 innings and an ERA under 4.00 as a group.
No. 5 Starter: Michael Pineda, 50%; David Phelps, 45%; Others, 5%
The No. 5 starter's competition is the most compelling battle that the Yankees can offer this spring.
Joe Girardi will be relying on both Michael Pineda and David Phelps, though only one will be in the rotation when the team breaks camp. I give the edge to Pineda given how electric his arm is, and the fact that the team has had high expectations of him over the past few years will propel him into the rotation.
Phelps, then, will serve as a long reliever and emergency option for Pineda should he falter or skip a start to stay fresh.
"Others" refers to the likes of left-hander Vidal Nuno and right-hander Adam Warren. Warren succeeded in a bullpen role in 2013, so I ultimately foresee him taking up a middle relief role.
Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA over five games (three starts) last season with the Yankees, and that success is what has kept his name in the running up to this point.
In the end, though, Pineda will likely find himself as the No. 5 starter.
Closer: David Robertson, 100%
David Robertson is the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera; at least, that's what owner Hal Steinbrenner told Joel Sherman and Dan Martin of the New York Post:
I have a lot of confidence in Robertson, and so does (manager) Joe (Girardi). Robertson is going to be our closer, and I believe he will do a good job. We have done a lot to improve our team, and we just have to understand that you cannot be perfect everywhere.
Robertson has eight saves over his career, though those all came in spots where he was spelling Rivera. Now, Robertson will be the de facto closer.
Bullpen Locks: Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne, David Phelps, Adam Warren
Replacing Rivera will be hard, but replacing Robertson in the eighth inning will be equally as difficult. It appears as if Shawn Kelley will be given the opportunity to take over that role, though Andrew Bailey could very well assume the role once he's ready to go sometime in September.
Preston Claiborne will resume his role as a middle reliever after a strong rookie campaign in 2013, and Adam Warren, after posting a 3.39 ERA over 77.0 innings last season, will join him in middle relief. Matt Thornton will take over the left-handed reliever's role following Boone Logan's departure to the Colorado Rockies.
David Phelps will become the long man after losing out on the No. 5 starter's battle to Michael Pineda.
Those in Competition: Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Manny Banuelos, Vidal Nuno
Presumably, there will be one spot left in the bullpen if the pieces fall as I predict they will.
Both Vidal Nuno, Manny Banuelos and Cesar Cabral would provide insurance for Thornton as left-handers, but their track record isn't very strong (nor is it long). While they'll be given every opportunity to make the roster, in all likelihood, the final spot will go to Dellin Betances.
Betances has the potential to be a lock-down reliever. He largely failed as a starter and worked as a reliever in the minors at the end of the 2013 season. With a hard fastball and filthy slider, Betances has the two-pitch arsenal to succeed in the bullpen.
Who knows? He might even work his way into the setup man's role with a strong start to the year.