Roster Starting to Take Shape
With less than two weeks until Opening Day, the Yankees have a little bit more clarity on who will be playing where when the season begins. Injuries to Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have opened up more spots and competition than there has been in a Yankees camp in a long time. Obviously, there is still time for things to change due to injuries or play on the field, but it looks like some favorites have emerged for the open positional spots on the Yankees.
Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart will be the two catchers on the roster ahead of Austin Romine. Cervelli probably has an edge to start over Stewart, due to his much improved defensive play in the spring, and because he probably has a slightly better bat. I have been a skeptic of Cervelli, but if he can keep up this improved defensive play, letting go of Russell Martin might not be the awful decision that I and many others thought it was. However, given regular AB’s, I still think Cervelli will hit closer to .220 rather than his .271 career average.
Brennan Boesch was a solid low risk pickup by the Yankees and he is the favorite to start in one of the corner outfield spots. I think Boesch will be in right field and the stronger defender Ichiro will be in left field.
Boesch is another lefty, but he actually hits lefties better in his career (.286/.348/.420/.767) than righties (.250/.305/.412/.717), so he has no real platoon split. He is only 27 years old, so he is still in the prime in his career. Boesch has averaged 14 home runs per season in his three seasons at spacious Comerica Park, so at Yankee Stadium he might be able to hit 20 home runs this season.
Boesch had an awful 2012 season by hitting only 12 home runs and having a slash line of .240/.286/.373/.659. However, Boesch had surgery in the 2011 offseason to repair a torn ligament in his thumb. This may have had a negative effect on his season, as hand and wrist injuries are tough to deal with for a hitter. If Boesch can repeat his 2011 season of 16 home runs and a slash line of .283/.341/.458/.799 the Yankees would be thrilled.
Matt Diaz has been released, and Zolio Almonte and Slade Heathcott have been sent to the minor league camp, so that leaves Boesch, Ben Francisco, Melky Mesa and Thomas Neal in the competition for the outfield spots. You can probably rule out Neal, although he has had a nice spring. With Boesch starting in right, that leaves Francisco and Mesa to battle it out for right-handed outfield/DH role. The Yankees always seem to lean toward the veteran in these situations and Francisco (.345/.441/.586/1.027) has greatly outperformed Mesa (.186/.239/.395/.634) at the plate this spring. By keeping Francisco on the major league team and sending Mesa down the Yankees can afford to keep both players, since Francisco does not have any options remaining and Mesa does. This is good for depth purposes.
In the infield it appears as though Juan Rivera and Kevin Youkilis will be starting at the corners at this point. Dan Johnson has been egregious this spring (.069/.270.069/.339) and Ronnie Mustelier’s injury might have cost him a chance to start at third base if the Yankees wanted to move Youkilis to first. Rivera has hit for a decent average this spring (.286), but he has hit for no power. It is unknown at this point whether Jayson Nix or Eduardo Nunez will be the utility infielder or maybe both make the roster.
The corner infield is the place that the Yankees really should look to upgrade before the season begins. The Yankees can get by with Boesch and Francisco replacing Granderson for a month, but Rivera starting at first base is really not acceptable. This is why the Texiera injury hurts so much. Losing a guy who you can pencil in for 35 home runs, over 100 RBI and gold glove defense and replacing him with Rivera is really going to hurt your team.
The Yankees should look for an upgrade at first or at third and move Youkilis over to first because it sounds like the Teixeira injury might be a long term thing, so you cannot worry about having a surplus once he gets back because you have no idea when that will be at this point. These are certainly some different and unusual players who will be in the Yankees starting lineup on Opening Day, but this is what we have to live with at this point.