Some news regarding the Yanks' Opening Day roster was revealed to the press after the exhibition game in D.C. today:
Nuno and Mesa sent to minor league camp lohud.us/38h4Hq— Lohud Yankees Blog (@LoHudYankees) March 29, 2013
The decisions to keep Francisco and Overbay were not surprising, since they were rumored to have made the team the other day when Juan Rivera was cut, and Nix surviving the cut was no stunner either given his versatility and how much management seems to like him. Melky Mesa showed some power potential, but he also struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances and had a .267 OBP. Outfielder Thomas Neal and first baseman Dan Johnson were also sent to minor league camp. Neal did a fine job in his audition for an outfielder's spot (.289/.373/.444 in 24 games), but it wasn't overwhelming enough for the Yankees to pick him over Francisco, who has MLB experience and hit .314/.397/.647 in the Spring. Johnson was just absolutely awful and unquestionably blew a chance at a starting gig at first base by looking poor in the field while also notching just two hits in 43 plate appearances all Spring. (That's an .061 average. Ew.)
The lefty Vidal Nuno was named the 2013 James P. Dawson Award winner for the best Spring Training performance by a rookie, but despite a 0.61 ERA in 14.2 innings, he ultimately did not have a 40-man roster spot. The team is already crunched for 40-man spots as it is, and they would have had to make a tough cut in order to fit him on. Considering that the spot he would have filled was Clay Rapada's though, he likely would not be on the team for long anyway, so it wasn't worth cutting someone for that. If Nuno is truly as good as he looked this March, he will find his way back. The team was certainly impressed with him, and the fact that he's lefthanded does not hurt either.
Selecting Kelley over Aardsma was a bit of a surprise though, since the team talked up Aardsma's 2013 as far back as a year ago. The Yankees signed him to a two-year contract on February 22, 2012 with the intention of having him rehab all season from Tommy John surgery in order to come back healthy in '13 and potentially offer them what he gave the Seattle Mariners from 2009-10 prior to his injury (143 ERA+, 9.6 K/9 in 121 innings).
Kelley meanwhile was only acquired in February of this year in a trade with the Mariners for Double-A outfielder Abraham Almonte. He's also a TJ surgery survivor from his college days in '03, and he had minor TJ surgery again in 2011 to resecure the graft to the bone. While he has never had a season like Aardsma's '09, he was healthy more recently, as he pitched in 47 games for Seattle last year with a 116 ERA+.
Neither Aardsma or Kelley had distinctive Spring Trainings (3.52 ERA and 5.63 ERA in about eight innings each), but manager Joe Girardi offered an understandable rationale for picking the more recently-acquired reliever:
Shawn Kelley can give Yanks multiple innings, Girardi says. Cashman says he likes Kelley's ability to get strikeouts— Anthony McCarron (@AnthonyMcCarron) March 29, 2013
Girardi speaks the truth. Even when healthy, Aardsma only pitched more than an inning three times in 126 games between 2009-10. That's not going to help the Yankees much, and one-inning relievers are very limiting. Kelley pitched more than an inning 12 times in 47 games last year, so he certainly has the ability to help them more. Either way, this spot was in middle relief, and if the Yanks' starting pitching is good enough, we won't be seeing Kelley much anyway.
So, Aardsma was squeezed out of his spot on the 40-man roster. Kelley's already on there, but the Yankees needed a spot like Aardsma's to add one of those other players who will make the team. So they used that opening and the one created by outrighting the recently-acquired reliever Sam Demel to the minors in order to add Nix and Francisco to the 40-man roster.
These moves are a lot to handle at once so let's outline who is expected on the Opening Day roster now.
C: Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli (2)
DH: Travis Hafner (1, 13 total)
Looks like those last two spots are probably going to Cody Eppley and Adam Warren, who are on the 40-man roster already. No need for more rosterbation. Again, they still need one more move to get Overbay onto the 40.