Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 AB4AR Season Preview: The Bench


I was planning on using a picture of a bare cupboard, but I'm making an effort to be a little more positive so I thought the carousel was a better choice.  In the end, even the carousel represents the depressing feeling surrounding this year's Yankee bench just as well as the empty cupboard would have.  There's more than likely going to be a lot of people getting rotated through the open bench positions as the season progresses.  The Yankees have loaded up on cheap, downside-of-their-careers veterans to try to squeeze the last few drops of value out of them before kicking them to the curb and going to somebody else.  Eventually it might get down to the crop of young kids in Triple-A who are knocking on the big league door, and I'm sure they'll enjoy themselves when they get their turn on the carousel.  At the end of the day, though, this group probably isn't going anywhere.

One thing we know is that there won't be a shortage of backup catchers.  The Yankees managed to get themselves two of those for this season, albeit at the expense of their former starting catcher.  Chris Stewart was the early favorite for the starting job when camp opened this year.  His more recent familiarity with the starting rotation and support of the coaching staff and front office who value his defensive skills gave him the leg up.  Francisco Cervelli may have wrestled the bulk of the playing time away from Stewart with a strong spring and as of right now there has been no talk of who the official starter will be.  Both players are going to get reps and both players are going to be minor offensive contributors.  If they call good games, block balls in the dirt, and throw out potential base stealers at a respectable clip, the Yanks will take that.

Moving out from behind the plate to the rest of the infield, the Yankees are equally low on production there as they are at backstop.  Eduardo Nunez, while spending all of his time at shortstop this spring in anticipation of being Jeter's caddy, is still the de facto utility infielder because he's the only one who's currently on the 40-man roster.  Dan Johnson hasn't done much in camp and looks like a sure bet to get the axe this weekend, and new guy on the block Lyle Overbay should be the first base buoy until Teix comes back from his wrist injury.  There are also the Jayson Nixes, Ronnier Musteliers, and Corban Josephs of the world who could get into some game action at some point, but Nunez is going to get the first crack.  I wrote a little piece on him earlier today, and how well he manages to be productive rather than destructive will determine how quickly Joe makes a move for one of these other guys.

In the outfield, the big competition is probably going to come down to Vernon Wells and Brennan Boesch.  They're both recently acquired, both coming off major down seasons, and both major question marks when it comes to expected value.  They'll get plenty of reps to audition early in the season while C-Grand is on the mend, and like their infield counterparts there is a line waiting behind them to step in should their contributions be few and far between.  Juan Rivera is in the mix (NOPE), as is Ben Francisco, who has been a quiet surprise since being scooped off waivers.  Deeper down in Triple-A is where you'll find guys like Melky Mesa and Thomas Neal, and both of them could find themselves on the Major League bench by early summer if this cheap vet experiment doesn't work.

It's difficult to not be pessimistic about whatever four players end up starting the season on the bench and equally difficult to try to get excited about the secondary depth behind them.  The plain truth of it is that the Yankee front office did an incredibly poor job planning for the 2014 payroll cut and left themselves exposed when it came to building a useful bench for this season.  They don't have the money to spend on better players like a Scott Hairston (even though they obviously do) and didn't make much of an effort to cultivate Major League-ready talent in their farm system.  The entire season is going to be a continuous trial-and-error session to try and find the right mix of players who can hold their own, which may not be enough to keep the team competitive if injuries continue to afflict the starting lineup.  The Yanks have had success with this method before, so hopefully they've still got the magic touch.

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