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:
Alex Rodriguez (DL)
Hideki Matsui (DH)
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?
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.