Veterans who could replace Curtis Granderson
Manager Joe Girardi tends to defer to veterans, but there is no rush to decide who's in left. In fact, a decision may not occur until the 11th hour.
"It could very well take until the end of camp," said Girardi, who joked the Yankees might not name a left fielder by their March 30 exhibition game against Army at West Point. "There are a lot of factors that go into it."
Unlike the catcher's position, where Girardi views fundamentals and defense over offensive firepower, the manager is expecting some pop from whoever emerges as the Opening Day left fielder. Both Rivera and Diaz can opt out of their Minor League contracts if they don't make the team out of Spring Training, and in all likelihood the Yankees will choose one out of the two - if a young player doesn't kick the door down.
"I'm going to try to take the best player," Girardi said. "No matter who he is."
If Girardi goes with experience, he has veteran options from within barring any sudden trade, while other names bandied about are either doubtful or not under consideration.
Diaz received a spring invite based on his .324 career batting average against left-handed pitching. The last time he won a starter's job was in 2008 with the Atlanta Braves, and Granderson's injury dramatically increased his chances of doing the same with the Yankees, even in the short term.
"One of the reasons they bring guys like me into a camp like this is to add depth with the understanding that over the course of a long spring - especially this spring - and a long season, you're going to need depth," Diaz said. "If they choose to give me that job, of course I'd love it. I'd love the opportunity, but there's [Granderson's] 43 home runs [in 2012] we need back soon."
Diaz reported to camp after having unusual offseason surgery to remove shards of a palm leaf stuck in his thumb for more than six years. He batted .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Braves last season. He's used to coming off the bench, having never played more than 95 games in left field in any campaign. He's off to a slow start this spring, but also knows time is on his side and is very happy with his surroundings.
"When you play against the Yankees, you want to think that these guys are pompous because they expect you to know who they are because there aren't names on the back," Diaz said. "But within three days of being at camp I realize why there's no names on the back. It's really not about anyone's name on the back, it's all about the name on the front."
Rivera has come full circle since he was the Yankees' top prospect on Baseball America's list and starting Game 2 of the 2003 World Series. Today, Rivera is 34 and without a guaranteed roster spot for the first time since he was in the Yankees' system. He batted .244 with nine homers and 47 RBIs for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season while in a platoon in left field and first base, but was relegated to a pinch hitter after the Dodgers' acquisitions of Shane Victorino and Adrian Gonzalez.
Rivera's .286 on-base percentage was also his lowest since 2008 (.282). Given another chance with the Yankees, he has his shot at revitalizing his career if he can claim the everyday left field spot and set himself up to be a reliable bat off the bench.
"I don't [feel] any pressure right now," Rivera said. "I know what I can do. I'll try to do my job and make the team."
The Yankees experimented with Nunez in left for three games last season, but it's very unlikely the team would interrupt his development as an infielder. Nunez's defensive woes have prevented him from taking the next step as a Major Leaguer, but if he can cure those issues the Yankees view him as one who can spell Derek Jeter - especially with the captain coming off a broken ankle.
Another former Yankees farmhand, Soriano said he'd consider any potential trade back to the Bronx, but the Yanks are also not likely to pay much or all of the $36 million owed to Soriano the next two seasons with Granderson due back in May.
"I think you've just got to look at the guys you have within," Girardi said. "We're not looking for a long-term solution."
Damon, who starred for the Yankees from 2006-2009, expressed a desire to return to the Bronx during a radio interview, but general manager Brian Cashman made it clear that Damon won't be part of the Yankees' short- or long-term outfield plans.
"I love Johnny Damon, he was an awesome Yankee when we had him. But that was a while ago. It's not something we're going to pursue," Cashman said.
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