A few weeks ago, it seemed like there was a real chance for some change in the planned Opening Day roster construction for the Yankees. Brendan Ryan was injured, Stephen Drew wasn't playing all that well (obligatory SSS disclaimer), and both Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder were doing enough in the early going to make legitimate cases for consideration. A few weeks later, that chance has evaporated completely. Ryan has returned to game action, Drew has swung the bat a little better and basically been guaranteed the starting second base job by Joe, and Pirela will be out for an extended period of time after colliding with the outfield wall in yesterday's game and being diagnosed with a concussion. Barring any more unforeseen injuries, the Opening Day bench now looks as if it will be the rather bland group of Ryan, Chris Young, Garrett Jones, and John Ryan Murphy, with Drew at second.
There's nothing wrong with any of that, and that's coming from the guy who's been openly campaigning for Ryan's immediate dismissal from the team and for Drew to be penciled into his backup infielder spot to open up a job for Pirela or Refsnyder for a while. Had he stayed healthy, I think Pirela should have won Ryan's bench spot regardless of whether Ryan was healthy or not because Pirela is a more flexible defensive player with a higher offensive production ceiling, but whatever. The Yankees did a sneaky good job of building up a ton of organizational roster depth this offseason, and there's no harm in holding onto and using that roster depth as they see fit until they have to make a move.
The only thing wrong with the decision to give playing time to Ryan and Drew early in the season will be how long that decision stands if they don't play well. The Yankees have fallen into this trap of trying to fill their roster holes with past-their-prime veterans and staying too committed to those veterans when it becomes clear that they're waaaaay past their prime. This strategy worked a few years ago wtih guys like Eric Chavez and Bartolo Colon. Recently it's been a colossal failure with guys like Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner, and more recently with Brian Roberts and the 2014 edition of Alfonso Soriano.
Last year the Yankees held onto Roberts and Soriano for way too long, continuing to give them at-bats and waste roster spots on them when it was clear that they were done. Eventually they came around and showed them the door, but had they had the sense to do it earlier - to cut the ties on what were already low-dollar short-term investments - who knows how much the team could have benefited. Would it have made the difference between making and missing the postseason? Almost certainly not. But it could have helped the odds.
The front office shot callers would probably tell you that they didn't feel like they had pieces in the system that were ready to step up and contribute at the time last year, and that's an easy excuse for them to make. But they don't have that luxury this year. Not with Pirela turning heads and smacking the crap out of the ball all spring and not with Refsnyder continuing to show his stuff at the plate. Hell, someone like Nick Noonan or Cole Figueroa could probably do the job Ryan will be on the bench to do better than Ryan right now. If it gets to early-mid May and Ryan ain't cutting the mustard, release him and get one of the kids in there. Same with Drew if it gets to mid-late June and he's wallowing around the Mendoza Line. Cheap 1-year deals aren't getting the job done? Cut your losses and get somebody in there who can.
Same deal with Chris Young, even if the list of potential Triple-A replacements for him isn't as deep or as bountiful as the list of guys behind Ryan. He looked real good against watered-down pitching competition in his audition last September, but don't forget that he was absolutely horrible all year leading up to that and don't forget that he's the only player in camp who fanned against the pitching machine this spring. There's a reason the Yankees were able to get him so cheaply last year and re-sign him so cheaply this past offseason. It's because nobody else wanted him.
The same goes for Ryan and Drew. The Yanks acquired Ryan for a PTBNL in 2013. Drew went from a QA last offseason to a brutal performance with the Red Sox before he was traded to New York to a 1-year/$5 mil deal this offseason. Young was a negative WAR player that the Mets completely gave up on. These aren't undervalued assets, at least not in the eyes of the rest of MLB. They're un-valued assets, players that other teams didn't and don't want and didn't want to pay anything to have.
There's nothing wrong with the Yankees trying to get something out of these guys to start the season, but they need to smarten up and learn their lesson from last year if they end up getting nothing or less than nothing. The reserves are there and the time has come for the talk about getting younger and building from within to turn into action. The Ryans, Drews, and Youngs of the world are the easiest ways to make that transition and the team needs to be willing to cut bait on them and make the transition if/when the time comes. If they don't, then it will be one of the surest signs yet that nothing has really changed with this organization.