At around 3:00 pm today, James Shields of the pesky Tampa Bay Rays will deliver the first pitch of the season to New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, and let me tell you, I couldn’t be more excited to face a guy who threw eleven complete games last year.
But before I get into the nitty gritty that is inspecting the 2012 Yankees Opening Day roster, let me begin by just quickly introducing myself. My name is Christopher Barca, college junior at St. John’s University, Yankees enthusiast, and your new Friday columnist. I’m looking forward to expressing my normally opinions about our beloved Bombers to people who actually care for once, and I can’t wait to spend the roller coaster ride that is a Yankees season with all of you. Lets get back to the nature at hand, though.
Who thought that the backup catcher was a position that was in flux this spring? Apparently it was, as the Yankees shipped minor league arm, and a Barca personal favorite, George Kontos to the Giants for reserve catcher Chris Stewart. Personally, I don’t understand the deal one bit. Cervelli, while not exactly being a gold glover behind the plate, has done everything you can ask of a backup catcher. He works well with the pitching staff, can provide the occasional hit or two, and is a great clubhouse guy. I don’t see how Stewart is an improvement over Cervelli at all. If this was a move to purely acquire catching depth because of Austin Romine’s lingering back issues, there wasn’t anyone on the waiver wire better than Stewart? The Yankees would rather trade a useful arm like Kontos instead of maybe giving Ivan Rodriguez another go-around? Hopefully Cervelli doesn’t get too upset about being demoted to Triple A, because he should be right back up with the big club in no time. I can’t see Stewart sticking around in the Bronx past May.
Every season, I compare spring training position battles to those of my 7th grade Pop Warner football team. The coach may say that most, if not all positions are up for grabs, but everyone knows the coach’s son and all of his friends have guaranteed roster spots. If there are four or five spots available on the Yankees Opening Day roster come March, that’s a lot, and this spring was no different. The normal competition for the utility infielder was nonexistent, as Eduardo Nunez tore it up in Tampa and Eric Chavez managed not to get hurt, which sent long shot Bill Hall to the waiver wire. Fine by me, I was never a Hall fan, despite Brian Cashman’s apparent infatuation for the former Brewer. His standout 2006 campaign in which he blasted 35 home runs and hit .290 (the only time he’s ever hit over .270) aside, his notable free swinging ways and his constant struggle to post an on base percentage over .315 make him a nominal candidate at best to spell aging stars like Jeter and Rodriguez. Yes, his ability to play all three outfield positions as well as every infield position minus first base would have been a nice weapon off the bench, but he isn’t exactly a superstar with the glove. Give me an improving Nunez and a slick fielding Chavez over Hall any day.
Is there any manager who loves matchups more than Joe Girardi? If there is, I don’t watch enough baseball. We all know Girardi has an unbridled love affair with the lefty-lefty matchup, and after the Yankees brought in Cesar Cabral and Clay Rapada to camp; it was obvious that Boone Logan would not be the only southpaw in the bullpen to begin the season. With Cabral suffering a fracture of the tip of his elbow towards the end of spring training, the second lefty spot belongs to Rapada, who even impressed me this spring, and I normally don’t have a spot in my heart for soft throwing sidearmers. Good for Rapada, hopefully he can continue his spring success into April. Even though Logan pitched better than the eye test indicated last season, a little internal competition for the title of top lefty can’t possibly be a bad thing. Maybe this will motivate Logan to actually get a lefty out once in a while.
Forget winning the James P. Dawson Award for being the top rookie in camp, the Best Feel Good Story Award this spring goes to David Phelps, and rightly so. After dominating every level of the minor leagues from Staten Island to Scranton-Wilkes Barre, David Phelps will be the last man in the Yankees bullpen come Opening Day, and I couldn’t be happier for him. I’ve been a huge advocate of his for a few years now, and his time has finally come. Phelps compiled a 2.61 career ERA throughout his four years in the minors, going 38-15 over that time span. His strikeout numbers won’t jump out at you, but the man doesn’t walk anyone (career 2.0 BB/9), nor does he give up the home run (career 0.6 HR/9). He should be a very solid addition to the Yankees bullpen, and there really wasn’t a better choice out there. Letting D.J. Mitchell and Adam Warren develop a bit more in the minors is fine with me, and if Phelps falters, then I’m ok with either Mitchell or Warren getting their crack at the big time. Oh, and Phelps just became a father earlier this spring too, life can’t be much better for him right now. I would not be shocked in the least if he impresses us all and has a solid rookie season.
Lastly, Grandpa Raul Ibanez unsurprisingly made the Opening Day roster, leaving Justin Maxwell out in the cold. Out of minor league options, the Yankees were forced to designate him for assignment. He’ll probably get picked up on waivers by a team looking for a fourth outfielder, and I honestly hope he does. He’s got a little bit of pop in his bat and he can run, and he projects to be a 10 home run, 20 stolen base type player in the majors, so he’ll be a decent addition for just about anyone. There just wasn’t any room on the roster for him. I wish him well, and after a solid spring, he’ll more than likely find a home somewhere else.
Aside from the Stewart-Cervelli trade, there aren’t too many big surprises to be had. The 2012 New York Yankees Opening Day roster looks as solid as last year, and will only get better once Michael Pineda and Andy Pettitte join the team in April and May respectively. Barring injuries or any other unforeseen circumstance, Friday could be the first of 100 or more wins for the Yankees this season. Today, it all begins once again. I’m counting down the seconds until first pitch, who’s with me?