Update: Mesa, Cedeno, Velazquez, Ibarra, and Venditte will play in WBC

5:57pm: Infielder Walt Ibarra (Mexico) and switch-pitcher Pat Venditte (Italy) will also play in the tournament according to Wally Matthews. Guess this means Venditte’s right shoulder is healthy following labrum surgery.

5:30pm: Via Dan Barbarisi: Outfielder Melky Mesa, left-hander Juan Cedeno, and infielder Gil Velazquez will all participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Velazquez will play for Team Mexico while the other two will suit up for Team Dominican Republic.

The 33-year-old Velazquez and 29-year-old Cedeno are expected to serve as depth pieces with Triple-A Scranton this summer. Mesa, 26, has an outside chance of making the big league team as the right-handed hitting outfield bench bat with a strong spring, though this might be a once in a lifetime thing for him. The Dominican Republic’s outfield has been decimated by declined invites (Melky Cabrera and Carlos Gomez, specifically), so Mesa might be their everyday center fielder. I don’t blame him for going, and there’s a good chance we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this summer anyway. He should be the first outfielder recalled when injury strikes.

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Yankees re-sign four to minor league contracts

Via Matt Eddy: The Yankees have re-signed LHP Juan Cedeno, LHP Francisco Rondon, OF Abe Almonte, and OF/DH Cody Johnson to minor league contracts. All four players became six-year minor league free agents at the end of the season.

Cedeno (29-year-old lefty reliever) and Almonte (speedy 23-year-old outfielder) could actually help the big league team as soon as 2013. Both players will be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft this December unless added to 40-man roster by the November 20th deadline — I doubt they will be, otherwise the Yankees would have done it to avoid letting them hit free agency — but the risk that they stick with a club next year is worth the reward of not clogging up the 40-man with more fringy prospect types. Both guys are nice depth pieces to have in the high minors.

Opportunity in the bullpen

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

We say the same thing every year, that the bullpen at the start of the season will not be the same as the bullpen at the end of the season. Players pitch their way on/off the club, trades happen, injuries occur, all sorts of stuff changes the bullpen dynamic during the course of 162 games. The one constant over the years has been Mariano Rivera, but unfortunately his torn right ACL means his name will be one of those we see in April but not October.

Thankfully, the Yankees are in capable hands with David Robertson and Rafael Soriano in the late innings. Whoever takes Rivera’s roster spot won’t take his role as closer, they’ll instead work middle relief while Cory Wade, Soriano, and Robertson each move up a notch on the totem pole, so to speak. Side-arming righty Cody Eppley currently occupies Mo’s spot on the roster, but he’s far from the team’s only option. As we’ve seen over the last few seasons, the Yankees will cycle through internal options before finding the right mix or going out and making a trade.

Eppley and D.J. Mitchell have already come up from the minors to aid the relief corps this year, but now let’s run down the list of players we could also see in the coming weeks….

Splitter grip. (Debby Wong/US PRESSWIRE)

RHP Kevin Whelan
The last remaining piece of the Gary Sheffield trade, Whelan made his big league debut last season and walked five in 1.2 IP. The 28-year-old was substantially better in Triple-A (3.24 FIP in 52.1 IP) and has continued that success this year. Whelan can miss bats with a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s splitter, but he’s really struggled with his control aside from last season. Middle relief is a good place to stash a guy who can run into trouble with walks.

RHP Chase Whitley
The Yankees bumped Whitley up to Triple-A after a brief return to Double-A to start the season, and he’s pitched extremely well to start the season: 2.43 FIP in 15.2 IP. Using three pitches in relief — 89-91 mph fastball, low-80s slider, changeup — Whitley isn’t a huge strikeout guy and will rely on his defense more than most Yankees relievers. I ranked him as the club’s 30th best prospect before the season because of his likelihood of contributing to the big league team, not necessarily his upside.

LHP Juan Cedeno
The darkhorse, Cedeno signed out of an independent league this offseason and impressed both in Spring Training and while with Triple-A (1.62 FIP in 12.2 IP). The 28-year-old southpaw profiles as more of a specialist than a full-inning reliever, throwing a low-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. Once ranked as the ninth best prospect in the Red Sox’s system (2003), Cedeno has spent time in Korea and missed all of 2010 with some kind of injury. The Yankees already have two left-handed relievers and a third doesn’t make much sense, but Cedeno should be on the big league radar.

RHP Jason Bulger & RHP Adam Miller
Two of the more veteran options on the Triple-A staff, neither Bulger nor Miller figure to get serious consideration for a bullpen job anytime soon. Bulger hasn’t pitched well (5.25 FIP in 13.2 IP) either this year or at all since 2009, and Miller has only appeared in three games after starting the season on the DL. Miller is a former top prospect and could pitch his way onto the radar last this summer, but I can’t imagine either of these guys will get a look anytime soon.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

RHP Adam Warren & RHP D.J. Mitchell
Unlike the other five guys in this post, Warren and Mitchell are legitimate long relief candidates. We’ve already seen Mitchell in that role and he’s likely to come back up if another multi-inning guy is needed, especially since Warren hasn’t pitched all that well this year (5.46 FIP in 25.2 IP). I do think both guys — and we should lump David Phelps into this group as well — could be effective in short, one-inning bursts, which could be more plausible since Freddy Garcia is currently the long reliever and Andy Pettitte is due back at some point soon. With three guys like that, odds are one of them will prove useful in a middle relief role right away.

* * *

Mitchell is the only player in this post currently on the 40-man roster, though the Yankees still have a number of 60-day DL candidates: Cesar Cabral, Brad Meyers, Austin Romine, and of course, Mo. The 40-man thing isn’t really a problem. Whelan, Whitley, Warren, and Mitchell give the team a couple of decent short-term relief options, plus there’s always the waiver wire and trade market. The important thing is that the Yankees already have these guys in-house and don’t have to scramble to fill out their pitching staff like they did in the mid-aughts.

Betances optioned to Triple-A among trio of roster cuts

Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have optioned Dellin Betances to Triple-A and reassigned both Mike O’Connor and Juan Cedeno to minor league camp. This is the third round of roster cuts (round one, round two) and effectively reduces to second lefty reliever race to just Cesar Cabral and Clay Rapada. Rapada has been the front-runner all camp, but I’m starting to think Cabral will get the nod. He’s quietly been very effective and is several years younger than Rapada, so there’s at least a chance at upside going forward.

Yankees sign lefty Juan Cedeno

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed left-hander Juan Cedeno to a minor league contract. The 28-year-old pitched for the Rio Grande Valley White Wings of the independent North American Baseball League this past season, striking out 65 and walking just ten in 43 relief innings. According to the club’s sabermetric pitching stats page, he also had a Power Fitness Ration of 1.744. I don’t know either.

Before heading to the indy leagues, Cedeno spent a bunch of time in the Red Sox’s and Royals’ farm systems. He also did a year in Korea. Cedeno had some major control problems earlier in his career (78 BB in 90.1 IP in 2006), but he did a nice job of limiting the free pass in 2011. It’s a shot in the dark signing that carries zero risk, sometimes these lefty relievers come out of nowhere to contribute decent innings at the big league level. Throw the kid in Double-A and see what happens.