After a long off-season, exhibition games have finally begun; thus, players and pitchers have started to get their feet wet in actual contests, even if said contests don't actually count. Either way, we're a little over one month away from real, meaningful baseball, so, with that, I will take a crack at what the Yankees' 25-man roster will look like come Opening Day in Houston. Obviously, this is an extremely early guess, but, if anything, this post is meant to create discussion while giving everyone a better look at the roster, so here it goes.
Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton
The title here pretty much speaks for itself. Barring injury, these players are guaranteed to make the Opening Day roster. Some of these players (Brian Roberts) are more prone to injury than others, of course.
The almost guarantees
Ichiro Suzuki, Francisco Cervelli
It is very likely, come April 1st, that these two will be on the Opening Day roster. However, given the excessive depth at outfield and catcher, there is always the off-chance that one, or both, of these two will be traded. If not, Ichiro will be the team's fifth outfielder and Cervelli, who no longer has any minor-league options, is set to be the backup catcher.
The third base platoon
Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, Russ Canzler
Brian Cashman said the team will go with a platoon at third base. Although they're both non-roster invitees, I feel Sizemore has the edge over Canzler for this spot since he's younger, has more upside, and is a better defender at third. Really, it comes down to Nunez and Sizemore.
The fifth starter competition
Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno
Unless something catastrophic happens to this entire quartet of pitchers, one of these said pitchers will be the team's fifth starter. Two others, presumably, while be shifted to the big league bullpen, and the fourth could be sent to Triple-A as a starter.
Fighting for a bullpen spot
Preston Claiborne, Cesar Cabral, Dellin Betances, Jose Ramirez, Mark Montgomery, Chase Whitley, Matt Daley, other non-roster invites
To me, this competition comes down between Claiborne, Cabral, and Betances, two of whom will be in the big leagues with the third sent to Scranton. The others either have more to prove in the minors or are non-roster guys and have little chance to make it to begin with.
Minor league depth
Dean Anna, Zoilo Almonte, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
All four of these players are at least relatively young, offer some upside (some more than others), and are on the 40-man, but are assured to start the year in Triple-A barring injury or a trade of someone else. Although he has gotten some hype since being acquired, there just isn't a spot on the roster open to Anna at the moment given the team's guarantees around the infield. However, Anna could very well get his chance this summer when Roberts and/or Jeter go down due to injury.
The final prediction
Catcher: McCann, Cervelli
First base: Teixeira
Second base: Roberts
Shortstop: Jeter, Ryan
Third base: Johnson, Sizemore
Outfield: Gardner, Ellsbury, Beltran, Soriano, Ichiro
Rotation: Sabathia, Kuroda, Tanaka, Nova, Pineda
Bullpen: Robertson, Kelley, Thornton, Claiborne, Cabral, Phelps, Warren
Some parting thoughts
Taking a look at the full roster, it appears as though the only real question among position players is the platoon job at third, while everyone else is essentially a guarantee. We know Johnson will fill the left-handed portion of that platoon, but it'll most likely come down to Nunez and Sizemore for the second portion.
Despite the narrative suggesting otherwise, the Yankees really have lost patience with Nunez in recent seasons. They first demoted him to the minors in 2012 after he continued to show he can't handle the shortstop position before returning as a September call-up. Then, just last season, they moved him off of short entirely in September in favor of all-glove, no-hit Brendan Ryan. This season also happens to be Nunez's final year of pre-arbitration status, so he could very well be shown the door, like Chris Stewart and Jayson Nix were this past off-season, following 2014. If Sizemore stays healthy, he should be on the roster in favor of Nunez come Opening Day.
The competition for the fifth starter spot appears to be pretty close, but, in reality, Michael Pineda should have the inside track on the job given his upside, even after his 2012 shoulder surgery. If he's healthy and is able to show that he's even reasonably effective, he will be in the team's starting rotation come April. If the Yankees don't think he's ready for the big leagues, he'll either be starting in Scranton or on the disabled list with an injury.
Assuming Pineda gets the fifth starter spot, this moves Phelps and Warren to the bullpen. Girardi recently said that both will make the team in some capacity, so it's not like they'll be sent to Triple-A and stretched out to start if they don't make the big club. It'll either be one of these two in the rotation with the other in the bullpen, or it'll be both of the two in the bullpen.
By having Pineda in the rotation with Phelps and Warren in the bullpen, this gives the two of the Claiborne/Cabral/Betances trio to fight it out for the remaining bullpen slots. As of now, I cautiously have Claiborne and Cabral in with Betances sent to Triple-A; I have a feeling the Yankees will want to go with the more experienced guy in Claiborne and a match-up lefty in Cabral. Honestly, this is the one prediction I hope I'm wrong with, because I want to see what Betances can bring to the table at the big league level. It's time for the Yankees to see what they have with Betances, and he certainly has the upside of a dominant, late-inning reliever, something the Yankees could certainly use.