By Chad Jennings
Enough with holiday happiness. On to the greater issues at hand.
There’s so much attention understandably focused on the Yankees need for a shortstop, but that’s hardly the only position of weakness on the current roster. Based on the guys currently in place, here’s an attempt to rank the positions in terms of immediate need. It’s hard to compare a pitching staff against an individual position, but I’d go with something other than shortstop at the top of the list.
1. ROTATION — Even if everyone is healthy, the Yankees still have a rotation opening coming out of spring training. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia and Shane Greene can fill four spots, but there’s still an opening while the Yankees wait for Ivan Nova to fully recover from Tommy John surgery. David Phelps, Bryan Mitchell and Manny Banuelos are really nice bits of rotation depth — with Luis Severino waiting in the wings — but given the overwhelming health concerns of the top three starters, it’s hard to overlook the clear need for a starting pitcher. Doesn’t have to be an ace, but the Yankees need someone.
2. SHORTSTOP — How many teams are fully satisfied with their starting shortstop? Almost every shortstop in the game either doesn’t hit enough, doesn’t field enough, doesn’t stay healthy enough, or isn’t nearly young enough. It’s a position of imperfection, and right now the Yankees have an imperfect solution in all-glove, no-bat Brendan Ryan. It’s a position of definite need and certainly a position that could be upgraded, but it’s not like there’s absolutely nothing in place. One caveat: At the very least, the Yankees absolutely need a backup shortstop. After Ryan, the position depth completely disappears.
3. SECOND BASE — I honestly think you could make the case — though not a particularly strong one — that the Yankees current roster has greater need at second base than at shortstop. What they have at shortstop is a guy who’s proven he can defend the position, but has not proven he can hit. What they have at second base are two guys who have never been considered especially strong defensive players, and who haven’t proven they can hit in the big leagues. The fact Martin Prado is floating out there as an alternative eases the desperation, as does the fact both Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder have shown legitimate promise.
4. BULLPEN — Relievers are too unpredictable to think of them individually. They must be a collective, and depth is essential. Each one might have a role to play — some roles more important than others — but it can’t be a one-man show. That means, as great as Dellin Betances was last season, the Yankees need more. Shawn Kelley and Adam Warren have been good, and Justin Wilson is a nice addition, but the bullpen is still an arm short. If it’s not Dave Robertson who fills the void, it has to be someone.
5. THIRD BASE — Without making another change to the Yankees roster, you’d have to assume one of the young guys handles second base and Martin Prado starts at third. That’s why I put third base fifth (even though we all know the two positions are really intertwined). Based on what’s in place, third base has a logical everyday starter in Prado, a wild-card who could be productive in Alex Rodriguez, and a handful of prospects in Eric Jagielo, Dante Bichette Jr. and Miguel Andujar. If the Yankees add a third baseman, it’s really in an effort to upgrade second base by moving Prado.
6. RIGHT FIELD — The short-term concern here is all to do with Carlos Beltran’s health and production (which are two pretty important factors for any player). The Yankees committed to Beltran last year, and they have little choice but to stick with him next year. He’s coming off a bad season, though, and it’s hard to look at Chris Young’s entire 2014 campaign and think he’s a lock to provide everyday production should Beltran stumble. Tyler Austin could be an in-house replacement at some point, but he’s basically had a half-year of production in the past two seasons.
7. FIRST BASE — If Mark Teixeira hits like he did in the first three months of this season — with that .474 slugging percentage that’s not too bad by today’s standard — then the Yankees should have at least a power threat at first base. If he continues to slide like he did in the second half, then the Yankees might be in trouble. Providing an immediate alternative is Kyle Roller, who hit pretty well in Triple-A last season and should be in the same role next season (provided he’s not taken in the Rule 5 draft). There’s also Greg Bird who’s slated for Double-A and could hit his way into the big league mix by September.
8. LEFT FIELD — Although he was long considered a fourth outfielder, Brett Gardner just made Buster Olney’s list of the Top 10 left fielders in baseball. Behind him, the Yankees also have Young looking for another opportunity to hit his way into regular at-bats. Beyond that, there’s Ramon Flores, who’s having a great winter and looked pretty good in Triple-A before hurting his ankle this season. There’s also Pirela, the second baseman who has considerable experience in left. It’s a position of relative strength, just not overwhelming strength.
9. CATCHER — Even after a disappointing season, Brian McCann still counts as a pretty good everyday option behind the plate. he has a good reputation with his pitchers, and he showed his power late in the year by hitting eight home runs in the month of September. Beyond McCann, the Yankees have a legitimate young player in John Ryan Murphy, plus a potential backup in Austin Romine, plus a high-potential prospect in Gary Sanchez. McCann’s first season left a lot to be desired, but it certainly didn’t leave the Yankees in the market for a catcher.
10. CENTER FIELD — Not only is Jacoby Ellsbury still one of the better center fielders in the game, but the Yankees also have both Gardner and Young capable of playing the position should Ellsbury go down with one of his fluke injuries. Ellsbury’s a long-term answer locked into a long-term contract, and just in case, the Yankees have Eury Perez still on the 40-man while they hold out hope that either Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams — or both, why not? — will eventually live up to the raw potential they showed just a few years ago.