Three Yankees spring battles that may not beWill these three slots be filled by fallout from three other battles?
Fans know that over the next six-plus weeks, the big battle in camp is the five (or more) man competition for the final two rotation spots, and two other smaller competitions will take place for what general manager Brian Cashman has called "wide open" spots at first base and right field.
There will be others, of course, that fly a little lower under the radar, and we want to shed light on three other decisions that may end up being made from the fallout of the above three competitions as opposed to their own battles.
THE "LITTLE THREE" IN THE BULLPEN
The back end is set with Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman, and it's likely that one of the pitchers who doesn't win a rotation spot will make the team as a nominal long man - but what about the other three spots?
The southpaw side is likely the only true "winner takes all" competition. Tommy Layne appears to be atop the lefty specialist depth chart, but Richard Bleier and Chasen Shreve have pinstriped cred and non-roster invitees like Joe Mantiply and Jason Gurka are looking to grab a spot.
On the other side, though, there are a only a handful of righty relievers in camp - Johnny Barbato, Gio Gallegos, and Ben Heller are all on the 40-man roster, with J.P. Feyereisen and rehabbing Nick Rumbelow among non-roster invitees - but all of the candidates for the final rotation spots are right-handed as well.
And so, the question is this: how will that rotation battle affect the bullpen? Cashman has hinted that Luis Severino will be a starter in Triple-A if he doesn't win a major-league rotation job, but whether he wins a job or not, you still have Adam Warren (who has been dominant in short relief throughout his career), Bryan Mitchell (who made the team as a reliever last spring before his injuring his foot in the final days of camp), Luis Cessa (who ostensibly took Mitchell's spot on the 2016 Opening Day roster), and Chad Green (who made four of his 12 appearances in relief).
Girardi will profess that he'll take the best 12 pitchers north, and as there's also no absolute need to end anyone down - based on 2016 innings, the Yankees could fill the rotations of their top three affiliates without using anyone in the major-league battle - it's feasible that all five could end up on the roster.
Ronald Torreyes beat out a handful of non-roster invitees for the utility job last spring and spent the entirety of 2016 as the Yankees' backup infielder, putting together a solid if unspectacular season; Torreyes played second, third, shortstop, and even a little right field, and two strong spurts at the plate - he hit .381 in April and .438 in August - helped him finish with a .256 average in 156 at-bats.
Despite all that, though, one could also surmise that some of Torreyes' staying power was rooted in the fact that the Yankees' only other infielder on the 40-man roster was Rob Refsnyder, who played five positions in the Majors but only 42 total innings at second or third, and injuries elsewhere made it tough to justify having a back-up utility man on the 40-man roster but not the 25.
This year, it's much the same, with a couple different names; International League hits leader Donovan Solano is back (albeit headed to the World Baseball Classic for a spell) as is Pete Kozma, and the Yankees have Ruben Tejada in camp on a minor-league deal (ostensibly replacing Jonathan Diaz from last year) and Tyler Wade, who should be ticketed for Triple-A, as a non-roster invitee. The competition is a little stiffer for "Toe" this season…but will it matter?
There are four infielders on the 40-man roster who can play shortstop: Torreyes, starter Didi Gregorius, starting second baseman Starlin Castro, and top prospect Jorge Mateo, who spent all of last season at Class-A Advanced Tampa. If the Yankees have to make tough decisions elsewhere and can't afford to open a 40-man spot for a utility man other than Torreyes, he could end up with the job by default.
THE 25TH MAN
No matter how any battles shake out, the Yankees will take 13 position players north, with seven of those names - Headley, Gregorius, Castro, Gardner, Ellsbury, Holliday, and Sanchez - set in stone barring injuries and Aaron Hicks, Austin Romine, and recent addition Chris Carter penciled in thicker than anyone else.
The utility infielder will make 11, so theoretically, the first baseman and right fielder, make 13, right? Yes and no, because while there's little chance someone could play their way onto the roster, there is a chance someone (most likely Greg Bird or Aaron Judge) could play their way off of it, opening a spot for the 25th man - but that said, would the 25th man then, in theory, simply be a replacement?
Carter provides a first base alternative if Bird doesn't fly north, but what happens beyond that? Does Tyler Austin come north, giving the Yankees three right-handed DH/first base options? Is it Rob Refsnyder, who could fill in as a fifth outfielder (or sixth behind Matt Holliday) and right side infield option? Or does someone with a little more versatility sneak onto the team?
If it's Judge who fails to make the team, Hicks becomes the starting right fielder, but then what? Is Mason Williams, the next man up on the 40-man, automatically a lock? Is it Refsnyder or even Austin, because they both hit right-handed? Does Holliday become the fourth outfielder and open a spot for virtually anyone? And, what happens if both Bird and judge start in Triple-A?
A lot of questions, but in summation, it's almost seemingly this simple: if Judge and Bird win their jobs, the team is full, but if one or both don't, the Yankees have a lot of decisions to make.