Throughout the offseason, the New York Yankees have worked to build on a roster that missed the playoffs for just the second time since Joe Girardi took over the team in 2008. They may have lost star second baseman Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, but have brought big ticket additions Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and most recently, Masahiro Tanaka to New York.
With Tanaka in the fold, the Yankees are likely done spending, making this as good a time as any to take the first crack at predicting the roster that will be on the field when the team opens their season in Houston.
McCann is the obvious starter, but where it gets interesting is the battle for the backup’s role. Francisco Cervelli is the veteran of the group, but is coming off a season mired by injury and a performance-enhancing drug suspension. Austin Romine got a good deal of experience after making his debut last season, and while he could handle the role defensively, did not particularly hit well enough to prove he can handle the role. With a strong spring, J.R. Murphy could emerge as the favorite after making his debut as a September call-up last season.
The first five names on this list are locks to make the team, if they’re healthy. Jeter and Teixeira are back after injuries cost them a majority of last season. New additions Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts should work their way into the starting lineup, and the Yanks gave Brendan Ryan a multi-year deal to serve as Jeter’s defensive caddy. Eduardo Nunez leads a list that includes Scott Sizemore, Russ Canzler, Dean Anna, and Ronnier Mustelier for the final roster spot. For now, Nunez is in the lead due to incumbency, but if his defense did not improve over the winter, it’s safe to say that Nunez does not make the roster. One interesting player from this group is Mustelier, who had a down year with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2013, but can play third base, the corner outfield spots, and has past experience at second base. To top that off, had it not been for an injury late in spring training, Mustelier may have broken camp with the big club.
This position is virtually set for the Yankees. Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran will serve as the starters from left to right, while Soriano will handle the designated hitter duties on a regular basis. Ichiro Suzuki should serve as the team’s reserve outfielder, though he could be unseated by strong showing in spring training by Zoilo Almonte.
The newly-acquired Tanaka likely will lead the Yankees in most pitching categories in 2014, the first start of the season will likely go to Sabathia, the proven veteran who has served as the team’s ace for years. Kuroda and Nova could flip-flop in order depending on Joe Girardi’s preference. Michael Pineda will battle with David Phelps for the final rotation spot. Phelps is a gamer, Pineda is more talented. For now, the edge goes to Pineda.
After being the strongest part of the Yankees roster last year, the bullpen could be a source of inconsistency during the 2014 season. David Robertson will be tasked with following in Mariano Rivera’s footsteps, and Shawn Kelley will likely be tasked with handling the eighth inning. Matt Thornton replaces Boone Logan as the team’s top lefty reliever. Dellin Betances either needs to make the team or be designated for assignment. Despite his struggles in limited work last season, his dominance as a reliever in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre leaves room for optimism. The last few spots will be a battle. In addition to Cabral, Warren, and Phelps, the Yankees will likely consider Matt Daley, Vidal Nuno, Preston Claiborne and Robert Coello for bullpen slots. Keep an eye on top relief prospects Mark Montgomery and Chase Whitley as well.