The theme of the bulk of the Yankees' low-dollar offseason signings is that most of the players they've signed are fringe Major Leaguers at best. Adding a little bit of intrigue to that "meh"-worthy group is the difference in contract situations and flexibility with regards to Minor League options. Yesterday Chad Jennings of LoHud shed some light on the situation with comments from Brian Cashman on who does and doesn't have a MiL option or 2 still available, and who does and doesn't have the option of opting out of their deal if they don't make the Yankees' Opening Day roster. While on-field performance in camp is usually the biggest factor in determining who makes it and who doesn't, these opt-out options could play a role as well.
There's a collection of current players who still have options remaining, and it's pretty much the usual suspects. According to Cash, Ivan Nova, Cody Eppley, Eduardo Nunez, and Francisco Cervelli all have 1 option remaining, which could come in handy given each of their shortcomings. Nunez could be sent down if he starts to struggle in the field again, likewise with Nova if his 2013 pitching performance starts to mirror what he did in 2012. Eppley could be called up or sent down as needed, and with his lack of strikeout stuff, that option could come in handy if he starts to lose his value the way Cory Wade did last season. Cervelli's option makes him once again a candidate to start the season in Triple-A if he doesn't perform well in the spring, and could help Austin Romine's case for making the squad if he does.
The new guys brought in this offseason are a different story. Cash confirmed that both Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera can opt out of their MiL deals after Spring Training and look for a big league job elsewhere if they don't get a spot on the Yankee roster. Dan Johnson also has an opt-clause in his deal, but that doesn't kick in until later in the summer, meaning the Yankees can stash him in Triple-A as insurance for Travis Hafner for at least the first few months. Bobby Wilson, Gil Velazquez, and Thomas Neal are all on straight MiL deals with no opt-out option, but all of them are the longest of long shots to make the Opening Day roster anyway.
As far as how these situations could affect the Yankees' decision making, I think Diaz and Rivera now become leading candidates to win roster spots to start the season. The Yankees love to lean on veterans when they can, and this approach with Diaz and Rivera is similar to what they've done in the recent past with players like Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Randy Winn. It makes logical sense to see what, if anything, you can get out of these players before letting them walk, and with a solid contingent of comparable OFers in Triple-A already (Mesa, Mustelier, Neal), the Yankees could easily pull the plug on Diaz if he's got nothing, DFA him, and replace him on the roster with one of their younger internal players.
Personally, I still don't think Diaz is worthy of a roster spot, and if he doesn't perform well enough to earn one in ST my feelings won't change. But from a business/roster management standpoint, it wouldn't be a wrong decision to start with him or Rivera on the roster knowing that they can walk if they don't make it. The Yankees brought these guys in not just to compete for jobs, but also to provide depth, something that's become increasingly important as this team has gotten older. Some of that depth goes away as these opt-out eligible players go away, and that could end up influencing Cash and company's decisions when building the final 25-man roster more than on-field performance.
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