As we get closer and closer to Opening Day, the Yankees still have several question marks surrounding their roster. Be it questions about health, performance, or ability to fill the role, there remains some uncertainty around the team, even with the re-signing of players such as Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. That said, the season will start, one way or another, and it looks as though, for the most part, the roster has been set, so let’s take a look at who is most likely to head north with the team in early April:
Ultimately, I think Stewart will make the roster. As we can all recall, he was CC’s not-personal, personal catcher for most of the year, much to the chagrin of Russell Martin. He isn’t the best offensive or defensive catcher, but one can do much worse than Stewart for a backup. And it is worth pointing out that, with a position that has lost 21 homers when Martin signed with the Pirates, Stewart’s .241/.292/.319 line won’t make him the starter. Shockingly enough, that role might be going to the one guy who didn’t even see big-league action in 2012- Cervelli.
Cervelli has the experience, albeit as a backup, with the Yankees. His career. 271 batting average might make him more palatable than Stewart to be a mainstay in the lineup, even with his suspect defense and a defensive-focused manager. I have a hard time believing that Romine, who might have a ceiling of an improved Stewart (fairly low offensively, defensive-minded), will make the club. He missed almost all of 2012 with a back injury, and simply hasn’t gotten the reps. Despite a very brief stint in the majors in 2011 with the rosters expanding Romine isn’t ready to be an everyday catcher. At best, he may just be a depth player or a stop-gap until prized prospect Gary Sanchez is ready to make the Bronx his home.
It sort of goes without saying that the first three pitchers are this list are locks, though health will remain a concern given the age of Kuroda and Pettitte, but with the lack of innings on his arm due to a long DL stint, Pettitte should be relatively fresh. It will be worth it to watch that balky left elbow of CC, given the cleanup that $150 million dollar arm went through in the off-season. Meanwhile, health and consistency are key for Hughes, who has already been named the fourth starter for the team even as the Yankees were cleaning out their lockers from the 2012 season. He will need to cut down on the homers, and start the season with the same success 3.50-ish ERA that he enjoyed from June through most of August.
Ultimately, I think the Yankees go with Nova (though, personally, I would prefer Phelps). Nova’s 2012 season was confounding, and yet, despite that, he continued to find ways to win. After averaging 14 wins in his first two seasons as a starter, and a strong-first half (3.92 ERA, 10-3), Nova seems to have a slightly higher upside. That said, for as fantastic as he was in 2011 and the first half of 2012, he was that dreadful in the second-half (2-5, 7.05 ERA). Phelps’ sample size as a starter is pretty small, with only 11 starts, but going 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA.
When it’s all said and done, I think the Yankees go with Nova only insofar as Phelps had great success in short and long relief roles in 2012, while that is a role Nova is unfamiliar with. It wouldn’t necessarily make sense to send Nova to AAA, as he is a starter, not a reliever, and there isn’t another viable long-man option at the moment. The game of numbers and practicality would go against Phelps here, and Nova will end up as No. 5.
Ichiro and Gardner will need to use their speed to get on base, and make things happen when they do get on base, to generate runs. Between OF regulars Raul Ibanez, Nick Swisher, and Andruw Jones, the Yankees have lost 57 homers. While it can be suggested that the Yankees may be too reliant on the home run, the fact remains that, even if they weren’t 57 home runs (not including the RBI associated with them) will be hard to replace. The speedy corner outfielders need to play a little small ball and get active on the basepaths in order to make up for that loss. Further, Ichiro’s production will be watched closely, as his age might make it impossible for him to continue the .300+ BA that he had upon joining the Yanks in 2012.
Granderson, meanwhile, will look to get back on track: his second half was an abomination, despite his second straight 40+ homer season, as he hit .212./.278/.480 after the All Star Break. Consistency outside the home run, and cutting down on the strikeouts will be necessary for Granderson given the lost offensive power for the Yankees. He will need to get on base outside of hitting home runs, and keep the line moving to compensate for the loss in runs.
Diaz will make the team (unless a spare, RH outfielder suddenly shakes loose), as he was able to do some damage against lefties in the lefty-heavy lineup. He has hit .324/.364/.498 across his 10-year career. The big knock on Diaz is that he plays the outfield like Andruw Jones, but, if they can keep the bat in the lineup as a DH, particularly against lefties, it will help restore some pop to the lineup.
So, Yankees fans, this very well may be your catchers, starting rotation and outfield for 2013. What do you think? Any changes? Out of any of these guys, who is your choice to make the Opening Day roster in 2013?
**Check back later this week where we project which players will make the rest of the infield and who will comprise the bullpen!**