As the Yankees were coming down the home stretch of Spring Training last week, I thought I had Joe's final roster selections all figured out. I thought he was going to go with the experience/performance combo and take Matt Daley for the final bullpen spot, which also would have allowed Vidal Nuno to stay stretched out as a starter in Triple-A and be ready to come up and spot start in case of an emergency. When it came to the final bench spot, I thought Eduardo Nunez's tenure as a Yankee and familiarity with their system would give him the advantage over Yangervis Solarte and Joe would give him the nod based on loyalty.
In another shining example of why Joe and Cash have the jobs they have and I'm a cube monkey who blogs in his spare time, I was wrong on both accounts. Joe didn't go on experience and he didn't go on loyalty. He thought about what his team was going to need the most in the first few weeks of the season and made the 2 most logical choices to meet those needs.
It's no secret that the Yankees have been trying to ease Masahiro Tanaka into the typical workload routine of an MLB starting pitcher. They've given him plenty of extra rest in ST and will continue to do so leading up to his first start. While Joe said there would be no innings limitation on Michael Pineda, anybody with half a clue knows that his workload is going to be closely monitored early in the season. By taking Nuno as an additional long relief arm, Girardi gives himself 3 options to pair with Tanaka and Pineda early to help manage their workloads. Using Nuno, Adam Warren, and/or David Phelps primarily with Tanaka and Pineda allows Joe to save the rest of his bullpen and more easily manage their early workload as well. He's addressing his need to manage starters' innings by bringing more pitchers who can pitch more innings. It's so simple yet so brilliant.
By bringing Solarte in place of Nunez, Joe is giving himself a better version of Nunez who can do more things than Nunez and probably do more of them better than Nunez. Injury situations of Brendan Ryan and Scott Sizemore aside, Nunez really didn't do much to earn himself a roster spot this spring. He only hit .265/.280/.388 in 49 AB and he made multiple fielding errors. Solarte hit better than Nunez, played the infield better than Nunez, and because of his MiL experience he'd be a better option than Nunez playing corner outfield if the situation called for it. The Yankee bench needs defensive flexibility and some right-handed pop. Solarte brings more of each than Nunez and had an opt-out clause in his MiL invite. Nunez has 1 more MiL option remaining. Logical decision.
Which is not to say that Nuno and Solarte didn't earn their spots. Nuno pitched well in spring camp (3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K in 8 IP) and has limited sample size experiences of success in multiple roles as an MLB pitcher. Solarte was arguably the offensive MVP of ST with a .429/.489/.571 slash line, a team-leading 18 hits (2 HR), 9 R, 9 RBI, and 5 BB in 42 AB. But Joe wouldn't make his decision based on something as meaningless as ST stats. He has a plan for how he wants to handle his club early in the year and he made the most logical choices to execute that plan successfully. If the ST production turns out to be a predictor of things to come, even better. If it doesn't, it won't be difficult to make changes. Things are a little complicated to start the season, so kudos to Joe for dealing with them in the most logical way possible.
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