Winter reset: Projecting the Yankees’ Opening Day roster

The countdown to the Feb. 20 official report date for pitchers and catchers is on, and this is as good as time as any to hit the reset button and look ahead. Over the last several weeks, the Yankees have been busy assembling a roster that promises to be younger and more versatile than last year’s 84-win club.

Beginning with the relatively minor Nov. 12 deal with the Pirates, which swapped left-hander Justin Wilson for catcher Francisco Cervelli, general manager Brian Cashman has triggered six trades and pulled two major free agents off the board in Andrew Miller (four years, $36 million) and Chase Headley (four years, $52 million). It seems like just yesterday that Cashman was standing on the curb of a San Diego hotel, explaining why the Yanks were leaving the Winter Meetings empty-handed.

This week, they’ve also moved close to an agreement with infielder Stephen Drew; that deal is done, pending a physical, and will be worth $5 million plus incentives for the 2015 season.

Drew slots as the Yanks’ starting second baseman, forming a combination up the middle with Didi Gregorius. So much for that spring battle between youngsters Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela, though it would serve them both well to come into Spring Training and play well. Depth could be important at both infield positions.

A lot can happen between now and April 6, something the Yankees know all too well, particularly in the starting rotation. Barring something wild like a push to bring in Max Scherzer, here is an early guess at how the Yankees’ 25-man roster could look on Opening Day:

Masahiro TanakaRotation (5): Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Capuano

No real surprises here, assuming they can all get through the spring without health issues. They’ll have to hold their breath on every Tanaka splitter for a while. Adam Warren is set to come into Spring Training as a starter and could also be considered here. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild floated the idea of a six-man rotation last year and it will be interesting to see if the Yanks kick that around, but for now, these are five solid choices they can go forward with. It’s important to note that Ivan Nova is expected to return from Tommy John surgery in May or June.

Bullpen (7): Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers, Chasen Shreve.

The Yanks believe their closer is already on this roster, so Joe Girardi can have some fun in the spring deciding between Betances and Miller. They could even go with co-closers based upon situations if they wanted, but my best guess right now is that Betances will close and Miller sticks in the setup role. Carpenter slides into Shawn Kelley’s old role and would handle the 6th or 7th innings. Rogers is a solid swingman option, while Wilson and Shreve would give the Yanks extra lefties in the pen.

Spring Training is a great time to evaluate bullpen arms, and the Yanks will have plenty of other names to look at. Shreve’s spot is probably the least secure of anyone on that list, and so a brief list of options who could fit here if they don’t begin the year in the Minors include (in no particular order) — Chase Whitley, Dan Burawa, Branden Pinder, Bryan Mitchell, Jose Ramirez, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow and Gonzalez Germen. Andrew Bailey was also re-signed to a Minor League deal and is trying to regain his old form. 

Catchers (2): Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy.

Murphy will have to hold off Austin Romine for the backup role; Romine is out of Minor League options and the Yanks would lose him if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, but Murphy has seemed to leapfrog Romine in the organization’s view over the last year or so. Top prospect Gary Sanchez is slated to begin the year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could make his big league debut this year.

Mark Teixeira, Tony RandazzoInfielders (7): Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Brendan Ryan, Garrett Jones, Alex Rodriguez.

The starting infield seems set, with Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Headley going around the horn. In particular, the Yanks expect that Teixeira will be stronger and more productive as he is further removed from surgery. Drew should fit at second base but gives the Yanks an option at shortstop if Gregorius flounders.

Ryan would be the 25th man on the roster. He provides a backup pretty much everywhere, assuming the Yanks keep him and intend to have Refsnyder and Pirela start the year in Triple-A (their 40-man roster is full and Drew hasn’t yet been added). 

Jones would be Teixeira’s backup at first base, has played some right field and could serve as the DH against right-handed pitching. They love the idea of showcasing his big left-handed power in Yankee Stadium. It’s anyone’s guess what the Yankees will have in A-Rod; they’re going in thinking that any production would be a bonus. At the absolute minimum, you’d hope that Rodriguez can be an effective DH against left-handed pitching (the Yanks think his ’13 struggles vs. lefties were a small-sample size aberration), but it’s not impossible to envision Rodriguez being moderately productive as a full-time DH and even playing a little third base.

Jacoby EllsburyOutfielders (4): Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Chris Young.

The outfield is pretty locked in from left to right, assuming that Beltran’s elbow is healed and he can be more like the player he was in 2013 with the Cardinals. If he’s unable to play right field regularly, it will create major headaches with the DH spot. Young is capable of playing all three outfield spots and, as Ichiro Suzuki discovered over the last two seasons, there can be plenty of at-bats to be found in a role like that — even if it doesn’t appear that way early in the spring.

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