The Opening Day roster is beginning to take even more concrete shape, as the Yankees made a series of cuts Thursday morning that reduced their 25-man roster competition to a mere handful of players left for reserve roles on the bench and in the bullpen. Here's LoHud's Chad Jennings with more:
Seven pitchers have been sent to minor league camp. Preston Claiborne was optioned to Triple-A. Chris Leroux, David Herndon, Jim Miller, Yoshinori Tateyama, Danny Burawa and Fred Lewis were each reassigned.
Three position players have been sent to minor league camp. Outfielder Zoilo Almonte was optioned to Triple-A. Infielders Scott Sizemore and Russ Canzler were reassigned.
Jennings noted that everyone in the pitcher's group pitched quite well this spring and both Leroux and Lewis impressed manager Joe Girardi, who said "Both opened up some eyes here. Both had a pretty good camp. Competition has been pretty fierce here." Given this praise, it would not be a surprise to see Leroux, Lewis, and maybe some of those other relievers back up in New York at some point during the season, though all but Claiborne face the 40-man roster hurdle.
Girardi seemed pretty disappointed with Claiborne in the post-game yesterday after the latter's absolutely disastrous performance against the Blue Jays: zero outs and six runs. Girardi remarked, "With what he did last year, we thought that he would have a really good chance of being in our bullpen. He just never really got on a roll in spring training. As we told him, we know he's capable of pitching much better than he did. It's his job just to go get ready." The Yankees will almost certainly be searching for some kind of significant improvement in his performance before they recall him from Scranton. His spring slump extended to the end of last year, too, when he looked awful down the stretch. It was the smart move to give him more time in the minors rather than trudging him out there and hoping for the best. His initial success last year was a surprise, anyway.
Claiborne's dismissal from spring training leaves Dellin Betances, Vidal Nuno, Cesar Cabral, Shane Greene, and Matt Daley as the five options for the two bullpen spots. Greene seems like a longshot since he's a starter who has yet to pitch above Double-A, but the other four seem to have legitimate chances. Betances has been dynamite this spring and was terrific out of the Triple-A bullpen last year. Girardi has always seemed to like having second lefties, and both Cabral and Nuno could serve in that role, though Nuno would likely give Girardi more innings than Cabral, who is more of a LOOGY. Daley has significant MLB experience, as he was a key bullpen piece on the Rockies' run to the playoffs in 2009, and he pitched to a superb 2.54 ERA last year in Scranton before tossing six innings of scoreless ball in September for the Yankees. Donnie Collins of the Scranton Times-Tribune believes it's all but certain that Betances will make it since he seems to have taken Claiborne's spot. The final bullpen spot is a complete toss-up though. Since the Yankees would have to make a 40-man roster move to add Daley (which is my preference since I find him more useful than Cabral) and they probably want Nuno to stay a starter, my money is on Cabral. We won't know for sure until a few more days though.
The news about the position players was not a shock. The Yankees seemed to be treating Sizemore carefully after he missed the last two years with tears of the same ACL, and he only had 19 at-bats this spring. He'll likely get a starting job in Scranton and try to prove that he's worthy of re-joining the big-league roster by the end of April, when he has an opt-out in his contract. Zoilo and Canzler were also not stunning cuts since while impressive, the Yankees were never going to take Zoilo over Ichiro due to the latter's contract unless they traded the veteran. Canzler might have had a shot at a backup first base job, but he looked as bad as Dan Johnson did last spring. He'll be first base depth in Scranton. Hopefully Mark Teixeira stays healthy and the Yankees don't need Canzler.
That leaves Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, Yangervis Solarte, and Zelous Wheeler as the last men remaining for the two infield bench spots with Brendan Ryan beginning the season on the DL. Both Nunez and Anna are the favorites since, again, they both occupy 40-man roster spots and the Yankees are normally reluctant to DFA players. While it would be nice to never see Nunez again and instead see the more exciting Solarte, I've already resigned myself to his presence. So it goes. I'm just glad the Yankees made the right decision on Claiborne, who clearly needed more seasoning.