When Mark Teixeira went down with a hamstring injury just a few games into the 2014 season, that left Kelly Johnson as the team's default first baseman, even though he only had three professional games at first base on his record. The Yankees also decided that backup catcher Francisco Cervelli would be their backup first baseman, and he somehow had even less experience than Johnson--absolutely none at all aside from spring training grounders. The Yankees likely figured that this pairing would hold them over until Teixeira returned toward the end of April from his relatively normal hamstring injury, but Sunday night, the baseball gods had other ideas.
Like Tex, Cervelli was forced from the game with a hamstring injury, though it came on a hustled-out fielder's choice. He departed the game in favor of pinch-runner Ichiro Suzuki, the only healthy position player left on the bench given Brian Roberts' sore back and Derek Jeter's tight quad. That forced Carlos Beltran to first base for the first time in his life. I'm not even aware of him ever even taking grounders at the position in spring training. Although Beltran survived without embarrassment, it was an emergency in-game solution and one not likely considered to be a legitimate backup option for Johnson. With Cervelli reportedly set to go on the DL, the Yankees will need to recall either Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy. However, it seems like they will also need to pick someone to fill Cervelli's role as first base backup.
It's possible that they will just do a one-for-one swap to get Brian McCann a new backup catcher and roll with either Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte as backup first basemen since Joe Girardi mentioned shortly after Teixeira's injury that both could see time at first base. That would allow them to avoid making a 40-man roster move, which they frequently seem reticent to do. Unfortunately for them, that is not exactly a great plan since their regular bench (which is already short given their 13-man pitching staff) would then be Anna, Ichiro, and Romine or Murphy (both young catchers with no experience at first base). Of course the problem with that is Roberts and Jeter are not exactly feeling 100 percent either. Jeter will probably be good to return from his sore quad on Tuesday after three full days off, but while the MRI on Roberts' back came back negative, he is day-to-day and the Yankees will just have to rest him on the bench for a little bit and cross their fingers that he does not end up like Kevin Youkilis "recovering" while riding the bench for a week last April only to end up on the DL anyway.
As previously mentioned, the Yankees are rolling with a 13-man pitching staff right now, and Shane Greene hasn't been needed once since he was recalled for bullpen relief following Vidal Nuno's 67-pitch outing on April 8th. It doesn't make much sense for the Yankees to keep that many pitchers on the roster when their bench is limited enough as is with no first baseman and Roberts possibly needing a few non-DL days of rest. The Yankees should call up a position player to provide infield depth, especially since they might want to take it easy with Roberts and Jeter. The options are not glamorous, but the Yankees should call up either Scott Sizemore or Russ Canzler until Teixeira can return.
Both players were non-roster invitees to spring training and both ended up reporting to Triple-A Scranton. In terms of major league legitimacy, Sizemore has an edge because he has actually had previous success in the bigs. In 2011, he hit .245/.342/.399 with a 109 wRC+ in 110 games for the Tigers and Athletics, posting a 1.6 fWAR season. A torn ACL kept him out for all of 2012 and a re-tear ended his 2013 season when it was just two days old, but the 29-year-old finally seemed healthy again for the Yankees in March. He had a fine .777 OPS in 19 spring training at-bats, and more relevantly, he's off to a hot start with the RailRiders, batting .344/.436/.500 in his first 10 games and 39 plate appearances. Sizemore also has a May 1st opt-out that he can choose to take if he wants, which could play a role in their decision as well. His major disadvantage in this roster spot opening is that he has no experience at first base, so his strength would be more second and third base depth. With Roberts hurting and Solarte far from a lock, second and third base depth would certainly be a plus. Hell, they could try giving him grounders at first base too; would it really be so bad compared to Solarte and Anna, who have a mere combined five games of minor league experience there?
If the Yankees want to go with a more legitimate first baseman, then the 28-year-old Canzler is their guy. Unlike pretty much everyone on 40-man roster aside from Teixeira, Canzler is a regular first baseman. He's played 496 of 841 games in the minors there and eight games out of 29 in the majors as well. He's not going to be an elite fielder like Teixeira there, but his experience will make him seem like Tex compared to the likes of Johnson and anyone else at first. Canzler's bat was not sharp in camp, but he began the 2014 season decently in Scranton by hitting .276/.303/.448 in nine games and 33 plate appearances. However, his bat has already proved itself to be better than Triple-A pitching given his past 2011 International League MVP honors and .277/.357/.465 career triple slash at the level. He's only had 29 games of MLB experience with which to acquit himself, but he hasn't looked awful or anything in that minimal time--a .271/.304/.396, 91 wRC+ batting line. He has also played 143 minor league games at third, so he could be corner infield depth there as well. It wouldn't be the end of days if he sat on the Yankees' bench for a little while until Teixeira recovers.
The bottom line is that the Yankees can't only call up a catcher to replace Cervelli. With a short bench, they need another player too, and both Canzler and Sizemore fit the bill for infield depth. Corban Joseph's not off to a great start, just had shoulder surgery last year, and only has a handful of first base game experience to his name, but he might as well be considered, too. Same goes for Jose Pirela, though like Sizemore, he has not played first. The 40-man roster spot should not be a problem if Brendan Ryan is indeed seriously a question mark for the entire month of May as well. The nasty cervical spine nerve injury is not likely going to have a quick recovery, and he will probably need some extended spring training time to get into shape as well since he barely played in March at all. They can just send him to the 60-day DL to clear up a spot, send down Greene, and activate one of their Triple-A infielders. It's a move just to help the bench, but one that is desperately needed to make the bench have actual backups instead of recovering players.