Now The Real Utility Bench Competition Begins

Dean Anna

The move to designate Eduardo Nunez for assignment was a long time coming.  After spending a few years earlier in his career as the media-anointed heir to Derek Jeter's starting shortstop spot, Nunez came to be seen for what he truly was over the last few seasons: a below-average hitter with a swing-happy approach and an almost unfathomably bad defensive player at any position.  The Yankees gave him plenty of chances to show signs of improvement and he didn't show them, so even though there does exist the slight possibility of him sticking with the organization, it's far more likely that we've seen the last of Eduardo Scissorhands in a Yankee uniform.

With the book closed on Nunez's time in pinstripes, the Yanks will turn to a pair of lifetime MiLers to see if they can do what Nunez couldn't and adequately fill the utility bench role.  The Spring Training competition was just the knockout round.  Nunez was eliminated, Scott Sizemore was eliminated, and now it's down to Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte to see who is the better man for the job.  With Brendan Ryan looking like he's going to be out until at least early May, they've got the next month and change to show that their ST performances were no fluke.

For now, Anna will serve primarily as Jeter's backup at short, but we all know that job is going to be Ryan's when he's healthy.  It's what the Yankees signed him for and no matter how good Anna is at shortstop and how much better he is than Nunez, he still won't be as good with the glove as Ryan.  Neither will Solarte for that matter.  The real competition will be to see who can play the rest of the infield better and who can slot into an outfield corner in a pinch.  With both players seeing time at every position except catcher in the Minors and both being completely unknown commodities as Major Leaguers, they're starting on pretty even ground.

Anna has spent the bulk of his time at second base and shortstop in his 6 MiL seasons, and he has fewer than 100 career games in the outfield.  Solarte has been at second and third mostly in his 8 seasons, with only 30 games at short but more time in the outfield.  The limited amount of defensive data on them paints Solarte as the better defensive player, but not decidedly so.  Both he and Anna are guys whose defensive value is tied more to their flexibility than their skill.  Considering Brian Roberts' status as the most glaring injury risk on the starting infield, it may come down to who plays a better second base.

How each player manages to do at the plate will also be a huge factor in determining who holds onto his roster spot.  Solarte has the clear leg up there based on his strong ST performance (1.061 OPS in 42 AB), but the true test will be how well he's able to maintain that pace when he's facing Major League pitching every time he steps to the plate.  Without digging too deeply into those 42 spring ABs to confirm, I suspect there's a certain amount of fat and happiness to his spring stats that came as a result of facing lower-level pitching later in ST games.  Putting the spring numbers aside and comparing MiL histories, Anna looks like the better hitter.  He's got a .286/.386/.428 slash line in 554 career games while Solarte owns a .286/.336/.397 line in 672 games.

Cash brought these guys, and Sizemore and Zelous Wheeler, to camp this year because he was tired of getting nothing from Nunez and wanted to see if he could turn up somebody better.  He and the rest of the FO decision makers must feel like they've found something in Anna and Solarte, otherwise they wouldn't have made the move to DFA Nunez.  In Anna, they have a lefty swinger with a long history of getting on base who can play a good second base and a passable shortstop.  In Solarte, they have a switch hitter with a little more power potential who can probably play a few more positions a little bit better than Anna.  They've each got the next 4-6 weeks to show they're the better fit for what the Yankees need.

(Photo courtesy of the AP)