Yankees make roster decisions
Phelps, Nieves among those to win jobs with Bombers
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees' 25-man roster is set to go north, a little younger and less expensive than some anticipated, and with just one exhibition game standing between Legends Field and Yankee Stadium.
Josh Phelps has made the team as a first baseman over challenger Andy Phillips, while Wil Nieves will serve as the club's backup catcher, beating out non-roster invitee Todd Pratt. Finally, Darrell Rasner has been tabbed as the fifth starter, with Brian Bruney and Sean Henn rounding out the bullpen.
A Rule 5 Draft selection from the Orioles, Phelps showed the Yankees more than they expected this spring. He batted .436 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 20 games, and he may even challenge Doug Mientkiewicz for playing time at first base, with manager Joe Torre saying that the Yankees may not necessarily continue plans for their projected platoon.
"I came in with a goal in mind to make this team," Phelps said. "I worked all spring long towards that end. It's a great feeling to be a part of this team."
Torre began informing some players as early as Thursday evening, telling Phillips -- who has played in 142 Major League games with New York over the past two seasons -- of the team's decision to go with Phelps.
"It was tough," Torre said of his conversation with Phillips. "He thanked us. The last thing he said was that he wanted to know if Phelps knew, because he wanted to congratulate him."
The Yankees announced Friday that Phillips cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the International League. Phillips batted just .182 in 22 spring at-bats and missed 10 days of camp attending to his mother after she was seriously injured in an Alabama automobile accident.
"I know Andy wants to be a Major Leaguer, and I'm happy that he's going to get another shot at it with us," general manager Brian Cashman said. "He becomes important inventory for us."
When evaluations were handed down, it was decided that Nieves put together a stronger spring than Pratt, a 40-year-old veteran who was hoping to return for one final season in the Major Leagues.
"[Nieves] is an extremely good catch-and-throw guy, and he calls a great game," Cashman said. "That's what we knew already, but he just maintained that down here. He's got a great attitude."
Pratt was originally listed on the Yankees' travel roster for Friday's game against the Tigers at Lakeland, Fla., but he asked to be scratched from the trip after learning of the team's decision. He returned to the clubhouse and was hugged by Alex Rodriguez before retreating to an off-limits area.
In a telephone interview Friday, Pratt said that he felt he had a good chance of being on the team. Pratt said that he was told by both Torre and Cashman that the Yankees did not want to lose Nieves by removing him from the 40-man roster.
"Was it worth it, for an opportunity to be a Yankee? Definitely," Pratt said. "Everyone treated me good, and I had a good time while I was here. It's just too bad it didn't work out. I think I can still play for somebody and help them out."
On the pitching side, Torre said Bruney showed enough last season that he's "capable of taking on some responsibility," while Rasner will be available to the Yankees in relief until his first scheduled start Sunday against the Orioles.
Still unsettled is the matter of left-hander Ron Villone. Cashman said that Villone will be released so that he may discuss options with other clubs, but that the Yankees would be willing to re-sign him to pitch at Triple-A.
Henn was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in eight spring games, allowing six hits, six walks and six strikeouts in nine innings. He outpitched Villone, who posted a 14.40 ERA in nine appearances.
A converted starter, Henn had shown signs of adapting to his new role in the bullpen and will be asked to continue that progress in the New York bullpen. Torre said that it behooves the Yankees to reward young players like Henn when they do well, a mind-set that Henn said has become much appreciated among his Minor League brethren.
"In the past, it was just do the best you can and hope for the best," Henn said. "But when you have guys like Chien-Ming [Wang] come in and guys like [Robinson] Cano and [Melky] Cabrera, I think it opened a lot of doors for a lot of the younger players. I think it gives hope to the 140 guys who are across the street."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.