New York Yankees: 5 Players Who Are in Serious Danger of Being Cut or Demoted
With only the first week of 2014 spring training in the books, it's easy to perceive Masahiro Tanaka's two shutout innings and Yangervis Solarte's hot streak as the only takeaways for the New York Yankees.
But don't be fooled by the small sample size.
In just six games, some very noticeable trends have already emerged among those vying for the final backup roles and bullpen spots. If nothing else, these early storylines should help Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman begin the decision-making process.
The biggest one has been the offensive outburst by a few non-roster invitees; for the most part, their performances won't earn them roster spots out of the spring, but their continued spring success could hasten the process of knocking out the other invitees when the first roster cuts transpire.
And more importantly, those with previous big league time can quickly be put on notice if non-roster players are outperforming them.
In just four weeks from now, 66 players will be trimmed down to the 25 who will travel to Houston for Opening Day.
And while the narrative for much of the winter has focused on the wide open competitions, it has glossed over just how few positions are truly up for grabs to begin with.
The Yankees, for all their questions, virtually have every non-pitching position locked up except for backup catcher and one more backup infielder. If they carry 13 position players, there are two open roster spots if you consider these players the favorites:
- Brian McCann, C
- Mark Teixeira, 1B
- Brian Roberts, 2B
- Kelly Johnson, 3B
- Derek Jeter, SS
- Brendan Ryan, SS
- Brett Gardner, LF
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Carlos Beltran, RF
- Alfonso Soriano, OF/DH
- Ichiro Suzuki, OF/DH
Out in the bullpen, where there's incessant doubt and narrative of "unanswered questions," there's still a maximum of just two available jobs if they carry 12 pitchers and you consider these pitchers to be the favorites:
- CC Sabathia, SP
- Hiroki Kuroda, SP
- Masahiro Tanaka, SP
- Ivan Nova, SP
- Michael Pineda, SP/RP
- David Phelps, SP/RP
- Adam Warren, RP
- Shawn Kelley, RP
- Preston Claiborne, RP
- Matt Thornton, RP
- David Robertson, RP
The main point is a disheartening one: For breaking camp on the 25-man roster, one week of baseball doesn't have as much potential to help your chances as much as it does to hurt them.
The following five players are by no means projected or predicted to be cut by Monday morning—or even by week's end. But if the first plans to thin out the roster took place at this moment, these are the early favorites who would be brought up in discussion.
Whether due to lackluster play, being outperformed by positional competitors or a combination of both, the following are the five Yankees most in danger of being cut of demoted after one week of spring training.
Spring Training statistics and play-by-play information courtesy of MLB.com and are current post-Game No. 6 (March 2, 2014, 5 p.m. ET). All other statistics from Baseball-Reference and metrics from FanGraphs unless noted otherwise.
Peter F. Richman is a Featured Columnist for the New York Yankees and a lifelong fan. You can join him for more discussion on Twitter: Follow @Peter_F_Richman
C: Austin Romine
After just one week, Austin Romine is the only one from the 40-man roster whom I see in any danger of being cut or demoted. His performance thus far hasn't been noticeably poor—at least by his standards—and this isn't meant as a prediction that he'll be among the first to go.
But after six games, the 25-year-old has undoubtedly slipped down the catching totem pole and he'll need to have a bounce-back Week 2 in Florida.
The problem is that he's in a three-man competition for the backup role to McCann that will almost certainly send the other two to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. And after posting an unremarkable .207/.255/.296 line (48 wRC+, -0.2 WAR) in 60 games last season, he came into the spring already needing to "bounce back," in a sense.
Having gone 2-for-8 with two strikeouts and no RBI so far, he's only helped to narrow that race down to two.
He hasn't been out-hit by Francisco Cervelli, the favorite to win the backup duty, but his sudden woes only bolster Cervelli's limited resume (2-for-4, 1 RBI, 0 SO).
John Ryan Murphy—who no longer goes by "J.R."—ended what was an uneventful start to the spring when he blasted a three-run homer on Sunday, bringing his RBI total to four—the most among Yankee catchers so far. He's now 2-for-6 with one strikeout.
In fact, there are four other catchers in camp—prospects Gary Sanchez and Peter O'Brien, and Jose Gil and Francisco Arcia—and the first two are there largely for experience, while the others are there as extra bodies to catch the 30-some-odd pitchers.
O'Brien and Gil are both 0-for-3; though Sanchez has a homer in five at-bats, and even Arcia has a triple and no strikeouts in four at-bats.
Barring an absolute tear this upcoming week, Romine won't be able to suddenly emerge as a favorite.
But if he doesn't largely turn it around—or even worse, if he slumps—in the next series of games, he'll only be in greater danger of being dropped from the backup battle.
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2B: Corban Joseph
If new acquisition Brian Roberts is healthy, he'll be the Opening Day second baseman for the Yankees. With Jeter and Teixeira, Kelly Johnson at third, and despite his defense-only benefit, Brendan Ryan as the shortstop backup, there's essentially one backup infield role left.
If you're Corban Joseph, that's not good news before you even board your flight to Tampa.
And unfortunately for the 25-year-old second baseman, he arrived to camp as a non-roster invitee, has had an abysmal start to the spring and, in the process, has been outplayed by 40-man competitor Dean Anna (3-for-8, 1 RBI, 1 SB) and completely outshone by fellow non-roster invitee Yangervis Solarte (6-for-7, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 4 R, 0 SO).
Joseph, who doubled and struck out in six MLB at-bats in 2013, is currently 1-for-8 with two strikeouts and has been caught stealing.
Sunday was just not his day, either, as he struck out and made a fielding error before watching Anna pick up an RBI and Nunez go yard.
Again, he didn't come in with a realistic shot—he hit just .239/.329/.383 (101 wRC+) in Scranton last year—and he could foreseeably stick around for one more week of game action.
But with just one spot up for grabs, don't be surprised if he's already on the back fields of the Steinbrenner Field complex by Friday.
2nd Base Leaderboard
3B/1B: Russ Canzler
As just noted, there's likely one backup infield spot left to be filled if you consider Brendan Ryan a lock and Johnson and Roberts as starters.
On Sunday, a day when the rest of the team exploded offensively, Russ Canzler went 0-for-3, left five on base and left two in scoring position.
He also struck out twice; the first time was on three straight called strikes, and the second time was on three straight swinging strikes. He may not be one of the first out, but he's certainly one of the most in danger after the first week.
If healthy, utility man Scott Sizemore, who hasn't played yet this spring, appears to be the front-runner for that spot based on experience and defense, and Eduardo Nunez (1-for-6, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SO) would be next in line.
After that, it's much more vague. There's a guy like Dean Anna who possesses a minor league resume that could merit major league playing time (.331/.410/.482, 140 wRC+ in 2013 Triple-A).
Then there's Canzler and Zelous Wheeler, who are the two non-roster third basemen currently in Tampa. Canzler seemed attractive coming in since he's the only player with real experience playing at first (492 minor league games), and thus could be seen as an option to back up Teixeira.
But both have been unexceptional so far, going 1-for-7 apiece. And after only one week, Wheeler may even look more capable with his double and one strikeout, while Canzler has struck out in four of his seven plate appearances.
He and Anna both have spent their entire careers in the minors, but Canzler may seem more deserving of staying down there given his output so far and the logjam for the sole role in the Bronx.
He'll be 28 in April and boasts really nice numbers in three Triple-A seasons between Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh's farm systems: He's a career .277/.358/.466 hitter (128 wRC+), and slashed a .307/.390/.531 against lefties. In 102 MLB plate appearances he's batting .271/.304/.396 (.700 OPS, 91wRC+).
If anything, he and Anna could be a great contingency plan in Triple-A for an unhealthy infield in the Bronx in 2014.
In addition to the infielders already mentioned, the Yankees invited their 27-year-old 2008 draft pick Addison Maruszak. Of 94 games for Scranton, he played 75 in the infield (41 at short, 19 at third, 13 at second, 2 at first) and hit .254/.329/.371 with 21 doubles and 32 RBI.
So far this spring, he's 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
In other words, not much to grab your attention in the infield—let alone to pique your interest—past Yangervis' ridiculous 6-for-7 start, Anna's solid 3-for-8 showing and Nunez's bomb from Sunday.
If one of these non-roster guys has to go first, there's a good chance Canzler is the odd man out. His first base experience doesn't appear to be a big enough pull if he can't turn his offense around in the second week.
3rd Base/1st Base Leaderboard
RHP: Robert Coello
Robert Coello's horrid third of an inning doesn't automatically mean he'll be included in the first roster cuts this spring. But, after one week, to say he's not among those most in danger of being dropped is too generous.
There are about about two dozen relievers vying for two spots. To continue the theme first touched upon, it would have been nearly impossible to cement a role this quickly; but given the depth of competition, it's far too easy to take yourself out of the running with even the smallest of slip-ups.
And Coello allowed five earned on five hits while recording just one out.
The Yankees hosted the Pirates on Thursday; David Phelps started and gave up a run in two innings, Chris Leroux followed with one hit over two more frames, Jim Miller took the ball into the sixth on one run and Yoshinori Tateyama allowed no hits and got the Yanks through the seventh.
Out came Coello in the eighth, the reliever with a hefty 12.1 K/9 in 29 big league innings; he walked the first batter on four pitches, gave up a single then fell behind 2-1 on a Double-A batter before giving up a three-run homer.
He allowed a single to the fourth batter, a double to the fifth and finally struck out the sixth hitter looking on three straight.
The seventh batter was then hit by a pitch, and Coello promptly gave up a two-run single to the eight batter before he was yanked.
The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal in January in what seemed like a move primarily geared to amass arms in a thin bullpen. But he's 29, has spent seven seasons in the minors and dealt with shoulder issues that saw him accumulate just 19.2 minor league innings and only 17 big league innings for the Angels last year.
He has a nasty pitch that appears some combination of a forkball and knuckleball—and his catcher definitely couldn't decide, or catch it, last year (video here).
We'll have to check Elias Sports Bureau on the historical context for this one, but Coello's ERA after that third of an innings is 135.
You'd like to see the 6'5", 250-pounder get a second shot since ruining your chances in a third of an inning has to rival not even being invited to camp in the first place. But you'd find trouble blaming the Yanks for cutting his time short.
RHP: Brian Gordon
If Coello had the worst start to the spring of any Yankee pitcher, Brian Gordon easily had the second worst.
When they visited the Tigers on Friday, Gordon pitched the seventh inning and gave up four runs on six hits. He recorded two of his outs via a strikeout and a groundout, but he was fortunate that a third out came on an outfield assist at the plate—at the end of a play he set in motion by giving up one his five singles.
Here's how his day went: Single, single, single, strikeout, single, single, double, groundout.
And here's the story for the pitcher who epitomizes the journeyman: He was drafted by Arizona in the seventh round in 1997 and played outfield until 2005 when he was converted to a pitcher.
He bounced around the systems of the Angels, Astros, Rangers, Phillies and Yankees until 2011, then spent a year-and-a-half in Korea, came back and picked up 23 saves for Oakland's Triple-A affiliate in 2013 and was signed to a minor league deal by the Yankees this past December.
Gordon will turn 36 this summer, he holds a career 3.31 in the minors (only 8.0 K/9), pitched four MLB innings in 2008 for Texas and made two starts for the Yankees in 2011 (10.1 IP, 12 H, 6 ER, 3 HR, 4 K).
With such few bullpen spots realistically there for the taking, and with even less room for error in about five-and-a-half weeks of spring training, Gordon has swiftly become one of the most in danger of being cut after just one lousy inning.
Bullpen Leaderboard (by K total)