Finalizing the last roster spot

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And then there were 27 — or 26 because one of those 27 is in Vail, Colorado.

As the Yankees return to the Bronx today for their first workout at what will always be new Yankee Stadium to me, the team has pared its active roster down to 24 with two men in camp still fighting it out. It looks a little something like this right now:

Pitchers
Jonathan Albaladejo
Brian Bruney
A.J. Burnett
Joba Chamberlain
Phil Coke
Damaso Marte
Andy Pettitte
Edwar Ramirez
Mariano Rivera
CC Sabathia
Jose Veras
Chien-Ming Wang

Catchers
Jose Molina
Jorge Posada

Infielders
Robinson Cano
Derek Jeter
Cody Ransom
Alex Rodriguez (DL)
Mark Teixeira

Outfielders
Melky Cabrera
Johnny Damon
Brett Gardner
Hideki Matsui (DH)
Xavier Nady
Nick Swisher

By all accounts, that’s a pretty solid team. The pitching presents an overhauled starting five, and the seven others resemble all of the best parts of one of the AL’s best bullpens. Jorge Posada assumes his rightful place behind the dish. Mark Teixeira makes Jason Giambi seem like a dim memory, and the outfield is younger and far superior in the field than the 2008 Opening Day iteration.

The only question — if one could call it a pressing question — is a debate over the backup infielder. In one corner, Ramiro Peña. The 22-year-old has never played above AA, but he has drawn impressive reviews from scouts for his defensive work at short this spring. He even managed to hit to the tune of .295/.348/.361 in 61 Grapefruit League at bats.

Those aren’t terrible numbers, one might say. I am however far more inclined to believe that his Minor League line — an ugly .258/.316/.319 over four seasons — is far more indicative of his hitting ability than some early March action. Peña is an all-field, no-hit short stop, and the Yanks would start his arbitration clock — if he ever makes that far in the Majors — by bringing him up.

In the other corner is Angel Berroa. He had an excellent offensive spring, hitting .373/.383/.610, but since winning the AL Rookie of the Year in 2003, he has been an utter disaster at the plate. Last year, he made Melky look good by turning in a .230/.304/.310 line with the Dodgers in 256 plate appearances. He also can’t field.

In one sense, this is an easy choice: The Yankees, defensively challenged up the middle, should go with Ramiro Peña. In an ideal world, he would spell Derek Jeter at short late in the game. However, who wants to be the one to tell Jeter he’s getting yanked from a close game over his glove?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Exactly.

If the glove is out of the equation, then perhaps, the Yanks should go with Berroa. Maybe his spring hot hitting can carry over, and he could sub for Cody Ransom for a few days. That however would leave the Yanks hopin’ and prayin’ that no one hits the ball to third base.

In the end, the answer is easy: Just pick one, and the team can’t go wrong.

Whoever makes the team will be on the roster for about six weeks until A-Rod returns from his injury. Unless Cody Ransom is utterly terrible, that player will see little to no action with the April schedule. In all likelihood, Ramiro Peña’s career will be that of a journeyman late-innings defensive replacement, and Angel Berroa’s could end after the Yanks cut him. If this is the biggest problem facing the Yanks right now, count me enthusiastic for the season.

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  • pat

    I think a lot of this decision is based on if the Yankees FO thinks Pena has move developing to do with the bat. If they think he’s maxed out I would expect to see him as the UTIL guy. If they think another season in the minors might help him hit better in the future I’d expect to see Berroa, and I would agree with that decision.
    As you said though Mr. Kabak, if this is the most pressing issue the Yankees are facing, then we’re in pretty good shape.

    • pat

      *more developing. Darn it that pisses me off.

    • http://www.bronxbaseballdaily.com Bronx Baseball Daily

      Unless the plan is to demote Cody Ransom when Arod returns I think the Yankees should go with Berroa over Pena. Let Pena stay in the minors and develop some more.

  • brockdc

    I say try to catch lightning in a bottle with Berroa’s bat. If he stinks, you can always flip-flop the two in May or June.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      Berroa won’t be here for flip-flopping. He’s toast once A-Rod comes back.

      • A.D.

        It would be more of just a flip, with Berroa hitting free agency

        • Phrancis

          Berroa can’t be worse than Wilson Betemit. Betimit was unwatchable.

          • Chris

            Berroa in 2008: .230/.304/.310 (62 OPS+)
            Betemit in 2008: .265/.289/.429 (86 OPS+)

            Apparently he can be worse than Betemit.

          • steve (different one)

            yes, he can.

            at least Betemit could come off the bench and hit one out.

            Betemit had 27 XBH’s and 49 RBI’s in only 273 ABs with the Yanks.

            that’s what, 60 XBH’s and 108 RBIs per 600 AB’s?

            what more do you want from a bench player?

            i think the best part about the Swisher trade is that i no longer have to listen to people needlessly bitch about Wilson Betemit.

            people complain ALL the time about Cashman’s bench building, but when he brings in a legitimately useful bench player, everyone hates him. i don’t get it.

            • steve (different one)

              and yes, i know RBI’s aren’t a good measure of anything, just trying to make a point.

            • Phrancis

              By unwatchable, I meant his defense. I agree he can hit well for a bench player. But can he be a late defensive replacement.

              • steve (different one)

                yes, his defense wasn’t great.

                but that’s the tradeoff. if he could pick it at SS, his bat would be good enough to be a starter somewhere.

                every bench player, by definition, has some sort of fatal flaw.

                if you are saying that you just want Cashman to build the bench to play defense and not hit, then ok, that’s a different argument. but then you wind up with Miguel Cairo. and then everyone complains that Cashman has “ignored” the bench by having Miguel Cairo.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

              people complain ALL the time about Cashman’s bench building, but when he brings in a legitimately useful bench player, everyone hates him. i don’t get it.

              I could be wrong, but I believe Clay Bellinger and Luis Sojo both have career OPS+’s of 201 and have career UZR’s of +1,348 runs (at all 9 positions on the diamond, even catcher and pitcher).

              Both Bellinger and Sojo could have been surefire Hall-of-Famers at any position they chose, but Stick Michael asked them to be utility infielders for us because he knew it was the second most important role on the team (besides the 8th inning specialist, of course).

              Cashman fails to see that; he keeps wasting everyone’s time trying to get good players at the 9 starting spots and woefully ignores the utility infielders. That’s why he’s teh sux0r.

              • andrew

                How dare you forget Enrique Wilson, he singlehandedly led the Yankees to 26 World Championships.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Ironically, I think you’re wrong on both counts. Betemit wasn’t “unwatchable”, he was just fine and perfectly serviceable as a backup utility infielder.

            And yes, Berroa can be worse than Betemit.

            But, all that notwithstanding, yeah, I’m 100% okay with giving Berroa a month and change on the ML roster as the 25th man/temporary emergency UTI.

            • Dave

              In some circles, UTI stands for “urinary tract infection”…let’s all hope that neither Berroa nor UTIs affect the NYY season!

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                That’s part of the reason I like using the term. I’m juvenile like that.

                You don’t think the double entendre in “B-Jobber” was unintentional, do you?

                • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

                  My dad’s a B-Jobber but I haven’t called him that to his face for that very reason.

                • Dave

                  I got the B-Jobber, but never saw anyone use the UTI double-entendre, mad props to you. I bow in awe.

  • steve (different one)

    If this is the biggest problem facing the Yanks right now, count me enthusiastic for the season.

    exactly.

    also, for a team that is always struggling to find room on their 40 man, why on earth would you add Pena a full year before you have to?

    finally, Cashman has said he is looking outside the organization and you guys said you heard from sources that he was looking into Keppinger before he was traded to Houston. the 25th man might be someone we don’t even know of yet.

  • steve (different one)

    i have to say, the Ramiro Pena hype this spring is one of the craziest developments in recent memory.

    a few hits in ST and people are talking about him replacing Jeter.

    • A.D.

      It is a little ridiculous, maybe if the guy had at least played in AAA

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      It just demonstrates how easy it is to fall in love with the unknown. Especially when the alternative is something known and not liked.

      • steve (different one)

        and just in case this needed to be said (it probably didn’t), let me add that it is NOT contradictory to think the Pena hype is insane while supporting Phil Hughes last winter.

        Hughes was the #1 prospect in baseball and had shown plenty of dominance in the minor leagues.

        Pena is an all-field no-hit SS, and i would guess that almost every single team in baseball has a similar player somewhere in their system.

        • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

          Pena is an all-field no-hit SS, and i would guess that almost every single team in baseball has a similar player somewhere in their system.

          Nope. Pena is the only one. Ever.

          • ColoYank

            It’s intriguing to me that Berroa and Pena are opposites. The one thing we know about the veteran Berroa is that he can’t field. Pena is a rookie about whom the only thing we know for certain is that he CAN field.

            The Yanks’ hesitancy has to do with not wanting either on the go-north 25-man.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        The most shocking thing was what I read in that Gammons article last night. How Pena can suddenly rise to the level of Austin Jackson is beyond me. I understand that he’s done well and everyone’s fallen in love with him but are these reporters incapable of going to BR’s minors page and checking out his career numbers? I have a problem with people making outlandish statements but making outlandish statements without doing even a hint of research is even worse.

        That seems to be the problem with today’s mainstream baseball writing. There is an incredible treasure chest (excuse the poor metaphor, I just woke up and I’ve been writing all night) of knowledge out there, yet barely any of these writers want to take the time to actually dig it up.

        • steve (different one)

          i guess in a world where Tazawa is a better signing than Sabathia, Ramiro Pena can = Austin Jackson.

          and in this world, Rand McNally, they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people!!

          • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

            And in this world gone mad, we won’t spank the monkey! The monkey will spank US!

        • andrew

          I posted that in the open thread last night and there were a few comments on it as well. I found it funny as well.

  • A.D.

    I think we see Berroa make it for some of the same reasons we saw Alby make it. They can take Berroa, and have a nice throw-away player on the 40 man, if Berroa stinks it up (or they need a new 40 man spot) they can always DFA him and bring up Pena. However if Pena makes the team, than that’s it, he’s stuck on the 40 man.

    • steve (different one)

      exactly.

      unless the Yankees start trading people from the 40 man, adding Pena seems a little foolish.

      think about it, Melancon will DEFINITELY need a roster spot sometime this summer. at the minimum, you need to leave his spot open.

      it’s possible Cashman starts trading guys like Hacker, and if he does that, maybe i’ll change my position. but right now, i think you have to go with Berroa or pick up someone else you can cut (Lamb? Ensberg? McPherson?) when A-Rod comes back. or pick up a long-term utility guy and plan to cut Ransom.

      • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

        What do you think Hacker’s trade value is, though? It can’t be all that high. He’s 25 and he’s pitched exactly one game above AA. He’s got great numbers, but he’s getting “up there” in age.

        • steve (different one)

          very low. he would be a throw in on a bigger deal.

        • A.D.

          His value isn’t much, probably either included in a larger trade or traded for a PTBNL to get the 40 man spot.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            Hacker for Miguel Cabrera, straight up.

            • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

              They’d have to throw in Porcello for that deal.

    • Dave M

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Also, why start the clock on a guy who hasn’t even played in AAA yet.

  • JeffG

    My guess is that this decision is taking so long because Cash is still trying to move Melky for a piece that will make Ransome the extra part instead of the regualr third baseman.

    I think it makes total sense to swap Melky out for a usefull bench player… because as it is now I really don’t see the use in carrying Melky. No need for 5/6 outfielders (Matsui DH or not).

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Agreed.

      Turning Melky into some younger player who isn’t out of options clears a much needed spot off the 25 and 40 man rosters that allows us to sign a Grudz or a McPherson. With Gardner’s emergence and AJax on the horizon, having Melky on the roster but being forced to keep him on the major league roster is superfluous.

      • steve (different one)

        the only thing i can see about Melky is that there is a non-zero chance of Gardner hitting something like .250/.310/.330.

        i am NOT saying this will definitely happen, or that Gardner isn’t good, or can’t be successful…

        i am saying this is a real possibility, and you MIGHT want Melky around just in case.

        • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

          That’s true but you could just plug Swisher or Damon into center. I know Swisher didn’t like playing there but he’s only very slightly worse than Melky via UZR and he’d provide a much better bat and the same goes for Damon–slightly worse defense, but a better bat. I’d rather have them two back up CF than Melky.

        • Count Zero

          Yeah — cause then you could replace that .250/.310/.330 line with a .249/.301/.341 line. ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    With ARod out, the offense is:

    Lineup:
    SS Jeter (R)
    LF Damon (L)
    1B Tex (S)
    DH Matsui (L)
    C Posada (S)
    RF Nady (R)
    2B Cano (L)
    3B Ransom (R)
    CF Gardner (L)

    Bench:
    RF/LF/1B/DH Swisher (S)
    C Molina (R)
    CF Melky (S)
    2B/3B/SS __________

    When ARod comes back, it’s:

    Lineup:
    SS Jeter (R)
    LF Damon (L)
    1B Tex (S)
    3B Nails Krzyzewski (R)
    DH Matsui (L)
    C Posada (S)
    2B Cano (L)
    RF Nady (R)
    CF Gardner (L)

    Bench:
    RF/LF/1B/DH Swisher (S)
    C Molina (R)
    CF Melky (S)
    2B/3B/SS Ransom (R)

    Given that when ARod returns, whomever fills in that blank (be it Berroa, Pena, or someone from outside like Grudz/McPherson/etc.) probably loses out in a head-to-head job competition for the UTI spot to Ransom (since he’s probably a better combo of bat + defense than all the others), we have to treat that blank as a temporary cannon fodder guy.

    So, yeah, no need to use Pena now when we’d likely just have to DFA him again at some point in the future. Berroa is much better cannon fodder than a young guy still developing.

    (That is, unless, we can unload Melky for something.)

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

      Given that when ARod returns, whomever fills in that blank (be it Berroa, Pena, or someone from outside like Grudz/McPherson/etc.) probably loses out in a head-to-head job competition for the UTI spot to Ransom (since he’s probably a better combo of bat + defense than all the others), we have to treat that blank as a temporary cannon fodder guy.

      If it’s Grudz who comes in, I think he’d win the UTI “battle” over Ransom. He’s a better fielder and has a better track record with the bat.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        Perhaps. Grudz hasn’t really been a UTI before, though, just a second baseman. We’re all just guessing that he would be good with coming off the bench/playing in spurts/playing 3B and SS.

        I have more faith in his bat, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Ransom is actually a better and more flexible defender than he is. (He’s also younger, FWIW.)

        • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

          Your first point is fair enough but Ransom has been an absolute butcher in the field for his career. Just because he can play a few positions doesn’t mean he’s good at ’em, you know what I mean?

          Grudz may have little experience playing those other positions/coming off the bench, but at this point, I think a) he’d be willing to try because I don’t think anyone is knocking on his door, so a starting spot somewhere seems highly unlikely and b) he’s shown he can be a good fielder at a middle IF position. I’d trust him to be a better fielder–and better hitter–at shortstop than Ransom based on that, especially given Ransom’s career -9.4 UZR/150 at short.

          • steve (different one)

            Your first point is fair enough but Ransom has been an absolute butcher in the field for his career.

            is this true? i don’t think we know this.

            the Yankees are specifically keeping him b/c they like his glove.

            i’d defer to more qualitative scouting-based analysis on this, something we don’t have access to, b/c the numbers are going to be absolutely meaningless for someone with as little major league experience as Ransom.

            • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt

              That’s a good point that I hadn’t considered. I hope they’re right. Sadly, I’ve only been able to watch a handful of ST games (only 2 on real TV) and I haven’t had a chance to see much of Ransom myself.

              It’ll be interesting to see how he matches up with the scouts and stats in his time filling in.

    • anonymous

      But Pena can help the team during that time. Do you really think either Pena or Berroa would get an impact hit during a game as the utility? Now ask yourself if you see Berroa bobbling every ball that is hit to him. Pena can pinch run for us and he can be a real defensive replacement in late innings.

      • steve (different one)

        who is Pena going to replace late in games, Jeter?

  • steve (different one)

    RAB getting some love from Neyer….soon there is going to a velvet rope outside this place to keep riffraff like myself away.

    well done again, guys.

  • http://www.mysoace.com/sloanbruno69 Bruno

    I hope they let Pena develop more in AAA so he can hopefully move Jeter to LF in ’10. Then trade IPK & Cervelli for Yadier.

    LF-Jeter
    2B-Cano
    1B-Tex
    3B-A-Rod
    RF-Swish
    DH-Posada
    C-Yadier
    CF-A-Jax
    SS-Pena

    • http://pinstripespa.blogspot.com/ Dan

      I can’t see the Yankees moving Jeter to the outfield. Maybe they can force him to split time between shortstop and DH, but he’ll never move to left field.

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