When the Yankees entered spring training this year, the talk of the town was the amount of money the Yankees had spent on free agents in the off-season. Close to $500 million dollars was committed to new players, most notably $153 million to centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and $175 million to Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees and their big spending on superstar free agents were back.
While the Yankees gained new strengths in the outfield and behind the dish, they saw the departure of last year’s best player in second baseman Robinson Cano. Second base is not an easy position to find a star and the Yankees took a lot of heat for letting Cano walk for a 10-year $240 million contract. As if the Yankees infield wasn’t shaky enough, Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. With his suspension, the Yankees now had major holes to fill at second and third base. GM Brian Cashman was put to work quickly at shoring up the holes with little resources. He then turned around to sign a very injury-prone second baseman Brian Roberts and infielder Kelly Johnson, who could virtually play anywhere they needed him. Both players are in New York on 1-year deals with Roberts making $2 million and Johnson making $3 million.
To round out the infield, the Yankees selected two minor league journeymen who to this day have exceeded all expectations: Yangervis Solarte and Dean Anna. Solarte, 26, had never played a major league inning and came into spring training as an extreme long shot to make the squad. From the first day, Solarte impressed; he finished spring training with an average of .429 to lead the team. Anna, who the Yankees acquired from the San Diego Padres early in the off-season, was another minor league lifer at 27 with hopes of being able make the big league roster. In 2013, he hit .331 to win the Pacific Coast League batting title, yet couldn’t get a call up to the show. In spring training, Anna came in with a purpose and hit .262, but what really stood out was his ability to play multiple positions, and play them well. Anna played second base, shortstop, and third base while only committing two errors. The two young men with big dreams had made their case, and now it was up to Cashman and Assistant GM Billy Eppler to reward them. The slick-fielding Anna became a necessity after backup shortstop Brendan Ryan went down with a back injury and was an easy choice to make the squad. Solarte was up against long time Yankees’ prospect Eduardo Nunez, who at one time was looked at as Derek Jeter‘s replacement. It came down to the final day and final roster move but Solarte’s hard work paid off; he made the squad and Nunez was designated for assignment.
While Anna has done a nice job spelling Jeter in his final season, Solarte has thrived and become a mainstay in the Yankees’ lineup at third base. Coming into today’s game in Boston, Solarte is hitting .303 after a hot start where he became the first player to hit six doubles in his first seven career games. Not bad for a duo making only $1.15 million COMBINED if they remain on the roster the entire season. When given an opportunity, make the most of it. Right now, Solarte and Anna most certainly are.