Thirty-six days from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in Tampa. The Yankees still have a number of issues to address before then, though in many cases the solution won’t be determined until just before Opening Day. Take the fifth starter’s spot for example. We already know Ivan Nova and David Phelps will compete for the job in camp, but we won’t know the answer until right before season. The same will be true at a number of other spots, but in those cases the Yankees don’t even have all the possible solutions in place. Here’s a recap of the items left on New York’s agenda before pitchers and catchers show up for work.
1. Find a DH
Raul Ibanez is a Mariner and Lance Berkman is a Ranger. Travis Hafner is still available, as are Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, and Luke Scott. The Yankees are in a weird spot because they need (not want) to use their DH spot to rest some of their older players. A true DH-only guy like Hafner or Thome is fine, but finding someone who could actually step in to play a position would be ideal. We all laughed at the idea of Ibanez playing the outfield around this time last year, but that ability turned out to be pretty important when Brett Gardner hurt his elbow. The Yankees didn’t sign Ibanez until mid-February last year, but given the offensive hits they’re going to take in right field and behind the plate, they’re going to have to jump on a real bat fairly soon.
2. Find a trade partner for Chris Dickerson
Dickerson was designated for assignment a few days ago, meaning the Yankees have about a week to trade, release, or waive him. Since he’s already cleared waivers and been outrighted to the minors once before (last spring), he can elect free agency if he clears waivers again. I assume he would take advantage of that to look for more opportunity elsewhere, so keeping him around is probably a pipe dream. Dickerson has value but the Yankees have little leverage since the DFA is forcing their hand. Enough teams need outfield help that they should be able to get something in return, even if it’s a low-level fringe prospect. Remember, the Yankees dumped the recently DFA’d Chase Wright on the Brewers for Eric Fryer in early-2009, then turned around and used Fryer to land Eric Hinske at the deadline. They need to get something in return for Dickerson.
3. Keep looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder
The last two weeks have brought Matt Diaz (minor league deal) and Russ Canzler (waiver claim) to the organization to compete with the Melky Mesas and Ronnie Musteliers of the world in camp. Since signing Scott Hairston to a multi-year contract is unlikely — I won’t lose any sleep over that one, Hairston’s gotten really overrated really quickly — the Yankees should bring in as many right-handed bats as possible to compete for that platoon bat role. The more options, the merrier. One of them might actually have a unexpectedly productive season and prove worthwhile.
4. Add a bench bat
The backup catcher and right-handed hitting outfielder will occupy two of the four bench spots, and the third will go to a backup infielder. Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and even Gil Velazquez are in the running for that job. The last bench spot is flexible in theory, meaning the Yankees could go with another infielder or another outfielder. Someone who could do both would be pretty neat, but those guys aren’t easy to find. The one thing this player has to be able to do is hit. There should be a lot of pinch-hitting next season, especially for the catchers, and the Yankees will need someone who can come off the bench and be dangerous. It’s tough to be productive as a pinch-hitter — MLB pinch-hitters hit .224/.304/.344 last season — but finding someone who can do it will be important. The Yankees almost need to act like an NL team and prioritize a pinch-hitter.
5. Keep tabs on Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera & CC Sabathia
Jeter (ankle), Rivera (knee), and Sabathia (elbow) are all coming off surgery, and although all three are reportedly progressing well with their rehabs and are on track for Opening Day, the Yankees must still keep a close eye on them and act swiftly if a setback occurs. This should probably be number one on this little list, but it’s not exactly something they could cross off. It’s a continuous item that needs constant monitoring. These are three guys they couldn’t replace with a minor league signing, it would require immediate action.