2014 Season Preview: The Bench

Second lefty seems unlikely despite Thornton's rough spring
Tanaka ranks second among Baseball America's top rookies for 2014
(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Outside of last season’s injury wrecked nightmare, the Yankees have done a good job of fielding quality benches in recent years. Guys like Marcus Thames, Andruw Jones, and Eric Chavez provided some offensive pop while others like Jayson Nix were more about versatility. It’s tough for the Yankees to sign quality bench players as free agents — who wants to sit on the bench behind the guys making huge money? — but they’ve had some pretty good backups the last four or five seasons. Let’s run down the 2014 bench.

C Francisco Cervelli
Based on Spring Training, Brian McCann is going to be a great backup for Cervelli this year. Frankie has hit the snot out of the ball these last few weeks, going 14-for-25 with three homers in camp. He’s picked up right where he left off last April before getting hurt, which is good to see. Between this offensive spike — he won’t hit this well all year, but you know what I mean — and his strong defense (particularly his throwing arm), Cervelli would be one of the two or three best backup catchers in baseball, if not the best.

Unsurprisingly, a number of clubs have been scouting Frankie these last few weeks. Quality catching is hard to find and the Yankees have some upper level depth, so it makes sense teams are honing in on him. It would surprise me if Cervelli was traded before Opening Day but I don’t think it’s completely off the table. That’s the only way he wouldn’t make the team. Any idea of a backup catcher competition with John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine was silly to start with, but if it was a real thing, Cervelli has won. Competition’s over. I think we’ll see him quite a bit against left-handers this season too. It’s not a bad way to give McCann his necessary days off.

IF Eduardo Nunez
I am convinced that Nunez will not only make the Opening Day roster at this point, but he’ll also wind up playing quite a bit, likely in a third base platoon with Kelly Johnson. The writing is on the wall. Scott Sizemore has not played much this spring and is currently dealing with a quad problem, so he hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do this spring. Dean Anna has been solid but unspectacular in camp and Yangervis Solarte feels like a long shot for the roster even though he’s been crushing the ball these last few weeks.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Nunez, 26, now seems to have everything going his way after the Yankees spent most of the winter looking for players to compete against him. He’s hit well this spring (8-for-29 with a homer) and he’s played all three non-first base infield positions, plus he’s already on the 40-man roster. We can’t discount that the club really seems to like him and is willing to give him chance after chance either. The competition for the final bench spot is still technically ongoing, but barring injury, I think the job is Nunez’s to lose. (Keep in mind that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll keep it all season.)

IF Brendan Ryan
Early in the offseason, when Derek Jeter was still a major question mark and guys like Anna and Sizemore had not yet been acquired, the Yankees gave Ryan a two-year contract (with a player option!) to serve as their backup infielder. I can’t help but wonder if they wish they had a do-over right about now. The 31-year-old Ryan is essentially the 13th position player, whose only real job will be giving Derek Jeter and maybe Brian Roberts the occasional day off. He sure as heck won’t be a pinch-hitter and there will be better pinch-running candidates on the bench.

Ryan’s contract is cheap ($6M across three years max) but more well-rounded players like Anna, Sizemore, or even Zoilo Almonte might make more sense for this bench spot. It’ll be interesting to see how Ryan is used this year because right now his role is way more specific thank the typical bench player’s. As good as his defense is, Ryan is a very limited player.

OF Ichiro Suzuki
The Yankees shopped Ichiro all offseason and they continue to showcase him in Spring Training — you don’t think it was an accident he started in center while Brett Gardner played left yesterday, did you? — but no one is biting and it appears he will be on the roster come the start of the regular season. Going from an everyday player, something Ichiro has been since he was 20-year-old, to a bench player is a tough transition to make, but he can be an obvious asset as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement. I suspect we’ll see Ichiro more than we think this season thanks to injuries and days off and whatever.

* * *

If the Yankees do find a taker for Ichiro at some point in the next two weeks, Almonte is the obvious candidate to step right into the extra outfielder’s role. He can do the pinch-runner/defensive replacement thing, but all provide a little offense from both sides of the plate as a switch-hitter. Cervelli and Ryan are locked into their spots right now and I think Nunez has a firm hold on a bench job as well.

This isn’t the most usable group of reserve players in the world — Cervelli is the big bat off the bench right now — but the Yankees are going to live and die with their starters anyway. They don’t have many, if any platoon situations, so the lineup isn’t going to change much day to day. At least in theory. Jeter and Roberts will need days off their feet while both Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran go back and forth between right field and DH, but that’s it. This bench is there for emergencies, not regular use.

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Second lefty seems unlikely despite Thornton's rough spring
Tanaka ranks second among Baseball America's top rookies for 2014
  • TWTR

    If only Nunez’s glove was as sticky as his ability to maintain a place on the roster.

    Actually, I suspect that if could ever relax, both his fielding mechanics and his footwork would improve.

    • OB/GYN Kenobi

      It’s those pix of Cash and Hal he has stashed away….

    • Chip Rodriguez

      His glove fits about as well as his helmet.

      • TWTR

        But, somehow, he is pretty good at catching his falling helmet…behind his back…

  • MB923

    I’m sure you’ll come out with a Bullpen part shortly Mike, but the Nats just realized Luis Ayala (an unconditional release).

    I think the Yanks should re-sign him. I’m aware he’s not a lefty which they could use, but they could also use another vet in the pen.

  • Chip Rodriguez

    Off topic, but Nova’s pitched five innings of shutout/one hit ball against a pretty solid Braves lineup.

    • I’m One

      Now 6 full innings, 2 hits, 5K, 0BB.

  • Preston

    Does Solarte have an opt out? If not then I’m fine with this. Sizemore just hasn’t played, so it’s hard to hand him the job. Anna and Solarte can go to the minors and Nunez gets a last shot. If his glove is as erratic as it has been in the past then whoever is doing better at AAA gets the call. We’re probably going to need all of these guys before the season is over.

    • Wolfgang’s Fault

      It wouldn’t surprise me if some club in need of infield/shortstop help (Tigers?) came a calling trying to acquire Nunez. If they are offered a deal they can’t refuse w/Nunez, I think Zealous Wheeler looks like a guy w/some pop in his bat and solid enough “D” where you could envision him platooning w/Kelly Johnson at 3B. As for fifth outfielder, obviously Ichiro’s presence here is a problem, but rather than Almonte being the obvious guy for that 5th spot should Ichiro not make the club, I think Yangervis Solarte might just be a better alternative. Having Solarte as the fifth outfielder gives them more flexibility as he’s also an option in the infield should that be required. Solarte’s opened some eyes w/the spring hes had, & imo, he’s earned a spot on this team. His bat & glove have been big league, & it’s just possible this guy is a quality big league ballplayer whose time has come.

      As for Dean Anna, I don’t think he breaks camp w/this team, but I’ve gotta say I’ve loved this guys A/B’s, even when he hasn’t gotten on base. Really makes a pitcher work, and you figure the more he learns the league, the better the results will be. Like his glove and work ethic as well. The roster could more easily reflect the way Mike sees it then I do, but I’ve gotta believe Nunez, Almonte, a pitcher such as Warren, and one of the catchers (Cervelli, Murphy or Romine) could easily bring back a quality piece or two if and when need &/or the right deal comes along. I’ve got a feeling that this Yangervis Solarte guy could actually be the most complete shortstop on the roster presently. Nice surprise!

  • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

    If the Yankees don’t start Cervelli on opening day, they must be scared of hurting McCann’s pride. That’s a terrible way to manage.

    • I’m One

      Mike already indicated above that Cervelli will be the opening day catcher, saying that McCann will be a great backup to him. What more do you need? Girardi going for the win!

      • NCS

        Mike was joking. That obviously won’t happen.

        • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

          My comment was a thinly veiled attack on a fellow commenter from this morning’s thread.

    • jjyank

      Math fail.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        ietc

        And, really, a big thanks to emac2 for contributing to our list of 2015 memes today. Without you, there’d be no us.

        • jjyank

          Indeed. I suppose we owe trolls everywhere a thank you for providing entertainment and uniting us.

  • Dave

    Since Joe’s always afraid to use the backup catcher in this means the best hitter on the bench will always stay there. Who’s the third catcher with this set of players anyway?

    • Freddy Garcia Monument Park Committee President

      I don’t see the evidence that Joe’s afraid to use the backup catcher at all, where do you get this?

      • dkidd

        i think he means afraid to burn the BUC as a pinch-hitter

        • Dave

          That’s exactly what I mean. He’ll leave the best pinch hitter (by far if the next best is Ichiro) on the bench so that if the starter of the day gets injured the backup can take over. Mostly it’ll be Cervelli, sometime McCann. This also means no half days off for McCann. I can’t figure out who the #3 catcher is.

  • Freddy Garcia Monument Park Committee President

    Questions: I like Dean Anna, will he be ready to join the team next season, or could you see him stepping in this season if we get slammed by injuries again? Do you think Ryan will be brought in for Jeter when we have a big lead, or maybe are behind and Jeter’s cold and we need to prevent more runs, or situations like that? Does ANYBODY think, as I do, that Ichiro is not at all done and is still an asset to the team? I mean, Beltran looks like he can get into serious slumps, you could sit him if that happens and have a potentially solid hitter and great defender to run out there.

    I actually feel very good about this team, though I can certainly see the problems. There’s a lot of talent and the team mood seems very good.

    • Preston

      1. Anna is probably better than Nunez, and factoring health he might be better than Roberts, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is the starting 2b by the end of this year.

      2. I think that Ryan might be used as a defensive replacement when we have a big lead, except they won’t call it a defensive replacement. They will say they are resting Jeter to preserve him for the year. When we’re down, there is no way we sub out Jeter’s bat for Ryan’s.

      3. Ichiro is not a solid hitter, hasn’t been for years. If he’s starting everyday it’s a bad thing.

    • ALZ

      Anna is 27 and is ready if he is good enough, he won’t improve much.

      Wouldn’t sit a player like Beltran if he slumps, just give him occasional days off. They are overrated anyways. Before you realize it is a slump you are already halfway into it, and it’s over before you realize it. Slumps have to end sometime, so why would you sit a player like Beltran?

  • Eddardo Nuney

    Cervy’s my guy, Nuney’s my guy. Ryan and Ichiro should be cut. Zolio should take Ichiro’s place and there shouldn’t be any debate about Nuney making the roster over Ryan. Cervy was well on his way to having a good year until he got in the hand by a ball. Nuney just needs a chance after being plagued by injuries last season. All these kids need is a chance.

    • ALZ

      I’d rather not cut depth this early in year for no upgrade. If an outfielder gets hurt bring up Zoilo, rather than have no one when one gets injured. Rather Zoilo plays everyday so he can actually be ready when needed.

  • wallypip

    I assume that they are going to let Sizemore start the season in AAA to ensure that he is healthy and to let him get his timing back. I don’t mind if they give Nunez one more chance during that time period, but they need to have a quick trigger if Sizemore is ready. He has the best bat of the bunch and is a legitimate threat against lefties and can play an uneventful 2B/3B. I realize he might not be the player he was before the injuries, but if he is then he is the best bet to platoon with Johnson and to give Roberts rest.

  • LarryM Fl

    I watched the game yesterday with Cervelli catching. I’m sure many of you saw the position of his throwing hand. In the exact position that it was when he got hurt. Ok he will not hide it behind the glove alla Bill Dickey era but how about behind his leg. An accident waiting to happen IMHO. But if Pena, Girardi and the catching core coaches do not have a problem than I guess that I’m seeing nothing wrong.

    Nunez seems to play about as well as he needs. Ichiro is going nowhere at least for the first half unless some team becomes desperate for help. Ryan is a necessary tool.

    The season starts in less than two weeks so things can happen real soon to change this picture around.

    • Wheels

      All that I can figure is that Cervy believes his injury was enough of a freak occurrence to gamble with the odds and remain with his familiar, exposed-hand position. He must think it gives him an edge.

      • Mr. Roth

        He may have an edge, but does it have a panoramic vista moonroof?

        • Wheels

          Yeah, he bought it used off of Jeter.

  • OldYanksFan

    The only thing standing between Nunez and an MLB career is a lobotomy.
    Seems to me that everything works from the neck down.
    (I call this Melkman-syndrome).

  • KennyH123

    Thank God Girardi pretty much announced today that Kelly Johnson won’t be platooning at 3B. Because you’ve been saying all winter that they’re looking at a platoon at 3B for Johnson, cause well, you know, he bats lefthanded and all. Except that he kills lefthanders. Like .276 vs. .244. Thankfully, the Yankees and Girardi know that, and we won’t be subjected to an idiotic platoon with Nunez or anyone else.
    Seriously, for a supposedly smart geek like yourself, Mike, some of your stuff pisses me off.

    • wallypip

      I’m not a Nunez fan, so I don’t care if Johnson gets to start the season as the everyday 3B. However, if you look at his splits in the second half of his career, Kelly Johnson could definitely use a break from lefties. Sizemore does not appear ready to come back, and no one else deserves to take ABs from Johnson until proven otherwise, but Johnson’s last few years would indicate the the Yankees should be looking for a guy who can hit lefties a little and play 3B.

  • http://riveravenueblues mississippi doc

    Hey, no reason to attack Mike. I don’t always agree with Mike, but I always find his comments thoughtful and provocative; his comments frequently start a conversation. So if you can’t be respectful, then go get pissed off someplace else.

  • Wolfgang’s Fault

    Zealous Wheeler anyone? Think he can hit left-handers, has pop in his bat, can field his position reasonably well, he can hold down the right-hand hitting side of a 3B platoon, & it wouldn’t surprise me if he could hold his own playing a corner outfield spot if the need arose. This dudes been in the minor leagues long enough. Would love to see him get a legitimate shot in the Bronx this summer.

  • Wolfgang’s Fault

    Not that anyone’s asking, but IMO, if some other club comes looking to acquire a leadoff hitting outfielder & they can afford the contract, I’d absolutely deal Gardner in a second if we get the right player(s) back. Of course, I’d be willing to throw in any combination of Nunez, Almonte, Phelps/Warren, Cervelli/Murphy/Romine if that’s what it would take to close such a deal.