Position player questions starting to be answered

Open Thread: 3/18 Camp Notes
Spring Training Game Thread: On the road
Boesch seems like a safe bet for the Opening Day roster. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Boesch seems like a safe bet for the Opening Day roster. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees showed up to camp last spring with the bench mostly set, but this year was a different story. None of the four bench spots were accounted for when position players reported last month — there were favorites for jobs, but nothing was close to set in stone — and right now the only guarantee is that either Chris Stewart or Frankie Cervelli will be the backup catcher while the other starts. The backup infielder, backup outfielder, and remaining bench spot are still undecided.

Less than two weeks before Opening Day, those three bench questions are joined by two injury-related questions in the starting lineup. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will be out until May, possibly longer in the case of the latter, meaning the Yankees must also sort through their assorted scraps for an outfielder and a first baseman. Thanks to some recent roster moves, these five position player questions are starting to be answered.

“There is no guarantee for anything … We will continue to evaluate these guys as we move forward,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings and Dan Martin after Matt Diaz was released over the weekend. “Maybe one piece is gone, but it’s still going to play out probably for the next two weeks … We just thought the other guys were ahead of him and to be fair to him to have a chance to [play] somewhere else.”

In addition to Diaz being released, youngsters like Slade Heathcott and Zoilo Almonte were sent to minor league camp and effective removed from the outfield competition. Juan Rivera has played an awful lot of first base lately in the wake of Teixeira’s injury — he’s played the outfield just once in the last eight Grapefruit League games — and seems to have been dropped from the outfield race. That leaves Ben Francisco, Brennan Boesch, Melky Mesa, and Thomas Neal in the competition.

With all due respect to Neal, who has quietly had a nice camp, the other three guys stand out as prohibitive favorites. I think the Yankees consider the 27-year-old Boesch is the no-doubt replacement for  Granderson — I think he would play right with Ichiro Suzuki shifting to left, putting the weaker defender in the smaller field — just because he’s left-handed and has played everyday the last three years. That said, Boesch signed a split contract and Buster Olney confirmed he has two (!) minor league options left, so he could be sent to Triple-A in a heartbeat. The fact that he’s the only left-handed hitter left in the competition leads me to believe he has a leg up on a big league roster spot come Opening Day.

Francisco. (Presswire)
Francisco. (Presswire)

That leaves Francisco and Mesa to battle it out for the right-handed outfield/DH role, and the Yankees always seem to lean towards the veteran when it comes to these part-time/reserve roles. Going with Francisco and sending Mesa to Triple-A allows the team to keep both players and frankly they could use the depth. Neither guy is like to hit much and while Melky2.0 is the better defender, Francisco is solid in the corner spots. Keeping him with Mesa in Triple-A is preferable to having Mesa in the show with no backup in the minors just in terms of having as many warm bodies as possible. Both guys will be needing over the course of the 162-game season.

Since the Yankees don’t need a fifth starter until their seventh game of the season and can backdate a DL stint ten days into Spring Training, they could have Phil Hughes start the season on the DL due to his back problem and carry an extra position player. Hughes would still be eligible to come off the DL in time for that seventh game, but the club would buy itself just a tiny bit more time to evaluate their position player options. It’s the difference between carrying both Rivera and Dan Johnson at the start of the season rather than just one or two. The Yankees only figure to see one left-handed starter in those first six games (Jon Lester on Opening Day), so having Johnson around would be helpful.

We still have no idea who the Yankees will carry north as the utility infielder, but Jayson Nix might have a leg up on Eduardo Nunez because of his versatility and defensive reliability. Going into the season with Boesch, Francisco, Rivera, and Johnson leaves the team just one spot for a utility man even if they open with Hughes on the DL. We know they’re just dying to use Nunez at short when Derek Jeter plays DH against lefties, but he hasn’t played any other position in camp. If they’re going to use him as the utility infielder, they’ll need to get him a few reps at second and third just to prepare him for the season.

With Diaz released and some others assigned to minor league camp, it looks more and more likely the Yankees will have both Boesch and Francisco on their Opening Day roster. Rivera and Johnson are the obvious first base fill-ins, but the club would need to manipulate Hughes’ injury — if they backdate his DL stint ten days, he can’t pitch in a Grapefruit League game during that time and will have to get his work in on the minor league side — to buy a temporary extra roster spot. The competition for the outfield, first base, and bench spots is still relatively wide open, but the picture is much clearer right now than it was just one week ago.

Open Thread: 3/18 Camp Notes
Spring Training Game Thread: On the road
  • zs190

    Maybe it just feels that way but seems like Dan Johnson really hasn’t played much lately. He never hit and played poorly defensively (granted, most of it was at 3B). Just seems like it’s more likely they carry both Nix and Nunez rather than carrying Johnson.

  • CountryClub

    I agree with your take on Melky/Francisco. I think Melky goes to AAA.

    I’m not sure what’s going on with Nunez & Nix. I can’t see both of them making the roster.

  • Eddard

    Nix and Nuney will both be on the roster. Nuney is too dynamic a player to keep off the MLB roster and Nix can play a lot of different positions. Boesch will play RF, Rivera 1B, Youk 3B. We’ve got our ballclub and it’s going to be better than people think.

    • trr

      Nunez + Nix could both be on the roster, and should be on the roster. Mesa will start the year in AAA, but is an obvious call-up candidate. If our pitching can carry us, we’ll be ok the first couple of months

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Nuney is too dynamic a player to keep off the MLB roster

      In 491 PAs over 3 ML seasons, he has a .318 OBP. Too small a sample? In 2,962 MiLB PAs,he has a .314 OBP. Given that 2013 is his age 26 season, and that Bill James’ studies indicate that the average player peaks at age 27, I think we can safely assume that Nunez is what he is.

      So, I’ll say to you what I said to Mike: If you think that is dynamic, well then your definition of dynamic is different than mine.

      That said, I think he will make the team because of Jeter’s ankle.

  • dalelama

    No matter how you slice and dice it this line-up is a mess. Putting lipstick on a pig about sums it up.

  • mt

    Given the Jeter ankle issue, I would be shocked if Nunez did not make the team.

    I think there is a bigger need for a Nunez to possibly start at SS for the questionable Jeter than there is to make sure Nunez gets reps at second base and third base to back up Cano and Youklis. If Nix is only middle infielder on roster and Jeter DHs on a day they start Nix at SS, what happens if Nix gets hurt or pinch hit for during game?

    In your backdated Hughes DL scenario, Yank can also have Nunez as part of permanent bench and carry Nix as the extra rather than Johnson for the first couple of days. I would think that would be a bigger need than a lefty infielder (who has been dreadful in spring training at plate.).

    If a lefty pitcher starts, they will play Francisco/Mesa and then if a right reliever comes in and they want to pinch hit for Stewart/Cervelli or Francisco, Boesch (and maybe Hafner) would be available.

    Also is there still a chance for Mustellie?

    • Ed

      Nix is off the 40 man roster and doesn’t have options. They’re not going to add him to the roster just to release him a week into the season.

  • Mark L.

    So who is going to get the bulk of ABs at 1B against RHP?

    Rivera’s .660 OPS vs. RHP since 2009 isn’t very inspiring.

  • http://- JFish

    They need Nunez on the team, he’ll play at least 40 games at SS this year.

  • Reggie C.

    Anybody else pumped over the Boesch signing?? He’s only a full season removed from posting solid lineup contributing with the Tigers. The man needs to learn to patience at the plate, but he’s not devoid of ML success. Sure, we’d love to have a greater power output from a corner OF, but here’s hoping Boesch surprises us that first month plus.

    • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

      Personally I think he’s going to suck. I’m with you in hoping that he’s a pleasant surprise though!

    • The Tenth Inning Stretch

      I was pumped when I heard about it. I’ve always liked him (albeit because he did great things for my fantasy team a couple years back), and if I remember correctly, his numbers at YS are pretty good. Hopefully he plays well enough to stick around beyond this year and help out with the $189 mil plan.

      • jjyank

        Heh, I like him for the same reason. He was a popular pick as a breakout candidate a year ago, so I’m hopeful that he can regain his 2011 form. Plus he offers some flexibility if it’s not working out with the options he has left.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      “Pumped” is a strong term, but I’m pleased the team was able to pick up a younger player (with TWO options left) who has had enough success at the MLB level to show he has the ability to play. It’s a good move in the short and long term.

      That being said, I could as easily see him posting great numbers and making Cash look like a genius as I could see him back in AAA by May after hitting .149 in the interim.

      • MannyGeee

        Hell, I was pumped to hear he had two options left, regardless of how he played. #youthmovement

    • trr

      Pumped??? hardly, but it is definitley a worthwhile move, let’s hope for the best

    • Steve (different one)

      I was semi-pumped when I heard:

      1. He has 2 options
      2. He signed a split contract and
      3. When he heard the yanks had interest, he told Boras to just get it done and don’t mess around with other teams

    • dalelama

      No, he blows.

      • Jim Is Bored

        December 26, 1919

        Dalelama reports:

        “Well this just about proves it, the Yankees will never be a profitable team. Babe Ruth is just putting lipstick on a pig. Overpaid slob who’s never won anything.”

  • Nick

    I’m surprised you did mention Mustellier. Potential at both 3B and the OF. He probably has a better bat than most of the other guys too. The fact that Rivera hasn’t played any OF lately could be telling, or the Yankees might just be confident that they know what they have in him.

    If its me, I’m taking Musty, Nunez, Nix, Rivera and Boesch north

    • Laz

      I think that is the best route. Just because if you need you shift Musty to a corner OF spot, and plot Ichiro in center.

    • ClusterDuck

      “If its me, I’m taking Musty, Nunez, Nix, Rivera and Boesch north”.

      Me too.

      Francisco and Johnson suck and Melky will never hit.

      As far as taking Boesch north, I don’t think he’s very good. That said, does anybody remember Paul O’Neill’s early years with the Reds and then of course what he did for the Yanks. Not saying it’s going to happen with Boesch, but one could hope that it does.

    • Jersey Joe

      Hm. I guess we are going with Cervelli as our only catcher then.

      • Need Pitching & Hitting (but mostly hitting)

        No, that works.
        Boesch starting RF, Rivera starting 1B.
        4 man bench –

        I don’t think they do it though. With Boesch in the OF, they’d want a passable defensive replacement/platoon partner.
        I think if Musty makes the team, it would probably be in place of Nix, allowing them to carry Francisco or Mesa as a backup OF.

  • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

    I think Rivera, Boesch, Nunez, and Nix all head north.

    I hope Melky 2.0 gets the nod over Francisco but I doubt that happens, and I won’t care too much if it doesn’t. Mesa will be with the team at some point this year. I think Boesch will be a notch above useless both with the stick and the glove (I hope he makes me eat those words) but at least he has a couple options left if that’s the case.

    Dan Johnson doesn’t belong anywhere near the major league roster, but I could see the Yanks giving him a nod over Nix, which I hope doesn’t happen. If they’re thinking of replacing Nix with anyone my vote would be for Musty. Not as good defensively and can’t play short, but the bat would most likely be better and at least he could fake 3B, 2B, and maybe some corner OF (I hope) while Nunie attempts to play SS.

    Anyways, I can’t wait for the season to start, got my April 4th, Yanks/Sox tickets, hope Pettitte delivers a birthday gem for me!

    • Laz

      I really don’t think Melky will hit enough, that I would rather just keep him in AAA as depth.

      • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

        You may very well be right, but I’d wager he hits better than Fransisco, and with more power. Not to mention his better defense and speed.

        Either way, it’s just a placeholder until Granderson gets back.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    what about Mustelier? I’d take him over Johnson no questions asked. How many options does Nunez have left btw? 1?

    My bench would look like this right now:

    Nunez OR Nix – I prefer Nix just because he’s a more consistent defender and because he’s more versatile
    Mustelier/Rivera – whoever isn’t in the lineup. Actually they could both be in the lineup against lefties if Jeter is at SS so one of those two can be the DH or have them at 1st and 3rd to give Youkilis a half day off.
    Francisco/Boesch – whoever isn’t in the lineup

  • Neil

    Why not let Nunez get some reps at 1B? I’l put him there over Rivera if he can handle it defensively

    • The Tenth Inning Stretch

      Hardly any throwing!

      • LarryM., Fl.

        Nunez can throw it into the stands after every inning ending out at first without an error charged, beautiful.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Rivera, Boesch, Mesa, Nunez make the team.

    I do very much see the Francisco argument, especially since we’re heard “THE DEPTH IS TOO DAMN THIN!” all winter long.

    I still say the Yanks like the bat too much to not give Nunez another chance to not screw up at SS.

  • gyaris

    The point we are all missing is that the last five guys on the roster all suck.

    • jsbrendog


      that won the world series….last few guys on that bench suck.

      same with the tigers


      avisail garcia?
      danny worth?
      ramon santiago?


      • Robinson Tilapia

        You just made up “Avisail Garcia,” didn’t you?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Sorry about your frontal lobe injury causing you to forget what the bench has looked like in past years.

      • MannyGeee

        Doug Mientkiewicz & Mark Bellhorn take offense.

    • Bavarian Yankee

      So? Whose bench doesn’t suck?

      • Slappy McWaterbug

        I have Giancarlo Stanton and Price Fielder on my bench on The Show. Zack Greinke is my middle reliever. More teams IRL should try to be like me.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Cash is clearly sleeping on the job. He needs to go back out there and see what Marcus Thames and Kelly Stinnett are up to.

        *rolls in grave*

  • jsbrendog

    no mention of ronnie?

  • Darren

    I don’t see them doing messing with Hughes to figure out the last roster spot which is never that important. they will make sure Hughes gets his starts against Major leagues teams and not in the minors. If it was Pettitte, it might be different, but Hughes needs the real work.

  • http:/www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

    See this is why I disagree with you Mike, I don’t think both Jonhson and Francisco are making the club, even if Hughes starts the season on the 7 day. Nunez has only played SS in ST, which would lead me to believe that he won’t be the utility guy,that is saved for Nix. So you have the back up C, Nix, Nunez, (Rivera and Boesch are the starters) and one spot left. I think since Rivera can play the OF (I said can not should) he’s can be also be the backup outfielder with Johnson on the bench. I don’t think Fransico brings a whole lot, and I’d rather see Kelly get a shot in the pen at the beginning of the season.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I can see the extra arm out of the pen thing occurring but, like with Musty, I wouldn’t worry too much about Kelly. He’s going to get a shot at some point during the season.

    • mt

      I am assuming Rivera is the starting 1B (I think they may do that rather than platoon with Johnson or back-up outfield) but let’s assume there is a 1b platoon with Rivera/Johnson. That would be 3 back-up infielders (Nix, Nunez, Johnson) and the only back-up outfielder would also be our 1B against lefty pitchers. I guess Youkilis could always slide over to 1B so Rivera could be in OF and Nix/Johnson could then back up Youkilis.

      That being said, I do think they will take Mesa or Francisco as apure back-up OF especially with Boesch being challenged defensively (of course, assuming Thomas Neal is out of the competition.)

      As some have said, all of these players potentially suck but we will need at least a couple of these players to not completely
      wet the bed in the first few months.

      Mike, I wonder if you could do an article on potential 1B available at deadline- I don’t like the Teixeira odds of avoiding surgery especially when on any random practice or game swing on any random day after he supposedly returns healthy, he could go out again and need surgery. At least if injury was to his legs you could argue that he could slow down or not push running or do DH to avoid running – it’s so hard to think he won’t hurt his wrist again given how many swings these guys take every day. Derosa and Bautista also are instructive cases although the difference is supposed to be that Tex is going to up-front make sure he is healed unlike those two other cases.

      • Steve (different one)

        Morneau. That’s your guy at the deadline.

        I know people like Francessa think the twins would just hand him to the yanks for nothing right now, but that to me just isn’t realistic. Teams don’t punt in march. They might punt in December or punt in July, but not 2 weeks before the season starts when they are still trying to sell tickets. Plus you never know, bad teams have fluked their way to a good few months that builds some excitement for the rest of the season. Or maybe Verlander, Cabrera and fielder all collide on an infield pop up and all go on the DL. The timing just isn’t realistic right now to swing a trade for a player like that.

        Other avail guys might be Morse, Carlos Pena, etc

        • Slappy McWaterbug

          “Or maybe Verlander, Cabrera and fielder all collide on an infield pop up and all go on the DL”

          I think Verlander goes to the morgue, not the DL in that instance.

    • MannyGeee

      Only problem with your theory is that 7 day DLs are saved for concussions, aren’t they? If they are coming north without Hughes, it is because he needs to catch up on his spring by playing some “meaningful” games in Scranton. Or if he regresses and has to take a proper 15 Day DL stint.

      • http:/www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixeira – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

        well I meant that Hughes on the DL would be retroactive so he would only be on the DL for 7 days.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Have to have a back-up shortstop, that’s Nunez (not to mention he can hit). I don’t understand why Youk can’t play first and Musty play third (more offense!)That way Rivera can be the 4th outfielder and back-up 1B. Leaves Nix for infield back-up or starter at 3B if Musty can’t hack it there.

  • http://unclemikesmusings.blogspot.com Uncle Mike

    Trusting Nunez with any place in the field is like giving a drunk a loaded gun.

    • Laz

      But at least you won’t have a boring night.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    From Eddard, above:

    We’ve got our ballclub and it’s going to be better than people think.

    Spot on. May not win 98 games, but it’ll be a great team.

  • Bubba

    Just curious… if Boesch has 2 options, why didn’t the tigers just send him down?

    • MannyGeee

      I think he got expensive via arbitration ($2.3M?) and that scared them away from him.

      • Mike HC

        Beat me to it

    • Mike HC

      They probably didn’t want to pay him his salary, which I think it was mentioned around here to be about 3 million.

    • Laz

      They resigned him for $2.3M. Assume they didn’t want to way the whole thing to have him sit in the minors.

  • mitch

    I’d probably keep Mesa over Francisco. I think Boesch will get pretty regular PT, so Mesa would be more valuable in a defensive replacement/pinch-running role.

    • Peter Lacock

      But Francisoo is used to being a backup OF and it’s better for Mesa to play regularly to continue his development.

      Francisco is also a corner OF and it’s again better for Mesa to play CF but with Gardner in NY that’s less likely.

      Also, the Yanks liked Francisco over the winter but Francisco chose Cleveland. Now that they have him I bet they keep him unless he sucks which he hasn’t.

  • Jersey Joe

    Just pointing it out, Boesch has always done better in the 1st half than in the 2nd half of the season. Not that he’ll replicate Granderson during the early part of the season, but I bet his April/May would be close to Teixeira.

    I really like the Boesch signing. Inexpensive, high reward, and he’s not what the Yankees always seem to be looking for in a player.

    I hope Boesch plays well and can play himself into a starting role in 2014.

  • aRX

    “Since the Yankees don’t need a fifth starter until their seventh game of the season”

    How does that work? They play on the 1st, then an off day, then no more off days for two weeks. So Pitcher X (I guess CC) starts game 1, then the off day, then come game 2-3-4-5-6-7, who’s starting game 6 that wouldn’t be on short rest?

    • Tom

      I think it is worded a bit poorly and Mike A is thinking that both Nova and Phelps could take one turn in the rotation prior to Hughes coming back and one of them going into the pen.

      CC, Hiroki, Andy, Nova (or Phelps), CC, Phelps(or Nova), Hughes

      And then for the next turn in the rotation, either Phelps or Nova goes into the pen. But considering that the starter that heads to the pen would need some recovery time, I’m not so sure it is all that beneficial – at that point they should just bring Hughes back into either Phelps or Nova’s spot in the rotation the 2nd time around.

  • tommy cassella

    regardless of who plays where for the yanks this year it will be. a very long hot summer in the south Bronx. just remember, this team has approximately 180 fewer homers than last year’s team.