Assuming no trades occur, the Yankees have 11 shoe-ins for the 2014 active roster. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, David Phelps, Eduardo Nunez, Ivan Nova, and Francisco Cervelli (or Chris Stewart). Those contracts add up to about $110 million. There is also a tax in the neighborhood of $5-10 million that has been imposed on all major league teams which counts against the salary cap. This means the Yankees have about $70 million to fill 14 active spots on the roster (or exactly $5 million per player). You have to figure more will be spent on the starters than the bench players.
Of the 11 players who will be a part of the 2014 roster, eight figure to be starters. This means five starting positions (one outfielder, one second baseman, one catcher, and two starting pitchers) will have to be filled, and nine bench/relief spots will have to be filled.
The reason I bring this up is because the Yankees could march into 2014 in a much better position if two or three prospects step up and prove they can be major league average this season. Moreso than in recent years, the Yankees have many young players in Triple-A that could fill that type of role for the team. In fact, there are approximately 13 players who could be cheap replacements next season, and that does not include Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, or Cesar Cabral. Even if these players occupy a bench or relief role, their cheap contracts will occupy a spot and bring up the average amount per player the Yankees can afford to spend.
For example, if Cesar Cabral were to occupy a place in the bullpen, that means the Yankees could afford to spend about $9.5 million on one of the starters. This list includes only players in Triple-A or above. There are several players starting in Double-A who could also affect the 2014 plans, but they are not mentioned here.
1. Austin Romine, C: This right handed hitting catcher is the most obvious choice. If he is able to seize the starting catcher spot and provide above average offense in addition to his rumored stellar defense, he could save the Yankees a cool $5 million that they can spend somewhere else in 2014. He has some hidden power and the ability to hit for average which has been clouded by recent injuries, but he’s finally completely healthy again.
2. Corban Joseph, 2B: Let’s be real, no one is replacing Robinson Cano. He’s the best second baseman in the league. The Yankees may even resign him. If for some reason they don’t, Corban Joseph could be a guy who fills in and provides average production at second base for a much cheaper cost than Cano. In this case, you’re sacrificing both offense and defense by downgrading from Cano, but that could really be said of any second baseman in the world.
3. David Adams, 2B/3B: Proved that he can play second or third this season in Triple-A. He could platoon with Joseph at second, back up a A-Rod at third, or be a utility type player off the bench who complements Eduardo Nunez’s ability to only play shortstop. He has an excellent hit tool with decent power for a second baseman, and can definitely handle himself in the field. Could be a great 2014 bench option.
4. Zoilo Almonte, OF: This switch hitter would be restricted to one of the corners, but that’s okay because Gardner is a plus center fielder. His bat has come a long way over the years, and he now has solid power. He is learning to be more patient, and could easily fill the spot of a fourth or fifth outfielder next season, possibly more.
5. Adam Warren, SP, RHP: Unfortunately in a rotation that already includes David Phelps and Ivan Nova, there is little space on the team for another 4th or 5th starter unless Nova or Phelps turns out to be more this season. If that is the case, however, then Warren could be an excellent option for 5th starter or long reliever. Either way he saves the team about $5 million bucks.
6. Brett Marshall, SP, RHP: If not Warren, then Marshall is a pitcher with a very similar ceiling. Perhaps at this point Marshall is the more likely of the two to become a starting pitcher. Everything that goes for Warren goes for Marshall too.
7. Melky Mesa, OF: Mesa is a solid right handed hitting outfielder who shows a bit more patience than Almonte, but is also older. He also has more power at this stage in his career. He’s another one who could fill a fourth or fifth outfielder spot and save the team some money, or he could be more than that if he takes a step forward.
8. Ronnier Mustelier/Adonis Garcia, OF/3B: I lump these two together because they are essentially the same type of player at this point. Both are on the older side at 28 (both signed late in their careers and have ascended rapidly), both are right handed hitters and can play anywhere on the corners, and both display solid power, patience, and the ability to hit for average. Given their age, there’s a chance that both Quadruple-A type players, but there’s also a chance they could be real contributors who take up a spot and save the Yankees $5 million in 2014.
9. Chase Whitley, RHP: He’s a reliever, and he’s got good enough stuff that the Yankees are considering him an option for 2013. He’s not yet a late inning type, but could earn his way there with a good performance as a professional.
10. Preston Claiborne, RHP: Another reliever with a lower ceiling than Mark Montgomery or Nick Goody, but a chance to fill a hole in the Yankees bullpen rotation. He could be a very solid 6th or 7th inning option going into 2014.
Honorable mention: Kelvin Perez (RP), Vidal Nuno (LHP – LOOGY or starter), Cesar Cabral (LOOGY), Michael Pineda (RHP), Abraham Almonte (OF), J.R. Murphy (C), Shaeffer Hall (LHP), Francisco Rondon (LOOGY), Mark Montgomery (RP).
Even if these players are only able to fill the bench/relief spots that will be available for 2014, that leaves the team with a lot more financial flexibility for the five starting spots. In fact, if the entire bench were to be filled by prospects, that would leave $13.5 million per starting spot next season, and that’s assuming no trades occur that would increase the team’s financial flexibility. That’s not bad at all.