(Would Eduardo Scissorhands make my roster cut? Courtesy of Getty Images)
I commented last week on Cash's statements regarding the current Yankee roster construction, and the declaration that the team would be willing to go to Tampa with "what they've got" right now. By my count, there are still 4 roster spots unaccounted for, almost all of them on the bench, and the group of candidates to fill those spots is uninspiring to say the least. But it's looking more and more likely that this group, and maybe an additional cheap MiL signee or 2, are going to be the players battling it out for the final 4 spots, and that being the case we might as well start separating the real contenders from the pretenders. Spring Training is still a few weeks away, so I'm going on nothing more than past performance and perceived team needs, but here are my early rankings for who I think should get the final 4 roster spots.
1) Eduardo Nunez
The Yankees are back to using him as a utility infielder, and given his collection of tools Nunez has the highest upside of anybody competing for a spot. He's athletic, he can run the bases, he can handle the bat pretty well despite not being a particularly patient hitter, and if he cleans up his defensive errors there's reason to believe he can be a positive WAR player based on his history. He's also still young and can benefit the Yankees both in terms of on-field production and building trade value if there is still interest in moving him. At this moment, Nunez is the UIF in my book.
2) Dan Johnson
There's been a ton of focus on adding right-handed hitting depth, which the Yankees have done by signing Kevin Youkilis and others. But don't forget that there is going to be a DH platoon early and they still need a solid lefty bat to fill that half of the platoon. Johnson has power, patience, and a Major League track record. Even with his declining recent numbers, he's the best left-handed bat in the current non-roster bunch and the best option for a lefty DH/bench bat role.
3) Russ Canzler
Canzler gets the nod because of his history of power and patience in the Minors and his defensive flexibility. He offers the Yankees the chance to use him in the outfield corners, as a righty DH/pinch hitter, and at first base, something that other right-handed guys competing for a spot cannot do.
4) Melky Mesa
If it were up to me, the 2013 edition of the Melk Man would get the final roster spot over the likes of Diaz and Neal. He can play all 3 outfield positions because of his speed, he can be a late-game pinch running option for the same reason, and he's got some real pop in his bat. You know you're going to deal with some Ks from Mesa, but that was also the case with Andruw Jones last year and he stuck around. Mesa's ceiling is higher than that of the other guys competing for the 4th OF spot, and the Yankees owe it to themselves to see if he's got anything.
5) Jayson Nix
Probably a safer option as the util IF than Nunez, but one that comes with a lower ceiling. The fact that Nunez is on the active roster and Nix is not shows where they both currently rank internally, and I think it will take a Herculean ST effort from Nix or an injury to Nunez to get Nix the spot. He's more MiL insurance for Nunez in case he turns into a butcher in the field again.
6) Matt Diaz
Has a better Major League track record than Thomas Neal, but hasn't been relevant in a few years as he's dealt with injuries. The Yankees signed him on the assumption that he was healthy, but until I see it on the field or at the plate, he's at the bottom of my list.
Also In The Running: Neal, Ronnier Mustelier, Corban Joseph, David Adams