Even though the Super Bowl has come and gone, it’s not quite baseball season yet. Sure, pitchers and catchers report to camp next week, but that’s more symbolic than anything else.
Spring training is often very exciting at the beginning, but once we’re a week or two into March, everyone’s pretty eager for the regular season to begin. That said, this year could be a more interesting camp than usual for the Yankees. And that’s not merely because we get our first look at Gerrit Cole in pinstripes. Rather, in particular, there are a handful of jobs seemingly up for grabs:
- Backup catcher
- Utility infielder
- Bench/Designated hitter
- Two or three bullpen roles
- Fifth starter (maybe)
That’s a lot! In the past, the opening day roster has been fairly predictable barring injuries. This year, 26-man rosters, 13 pitcher maximum, and a number of departing free agents have opened things up.
With Austin Romine off to Detroit, Kyle Higashioka has the inside track on the backup catcher job. That said, the Yankees have brought in plenty of veteran insurance to gun for Higashioka’s job. Chris Iannetta, Erik Kratz, and Josh Thole will be in camp and theoretically be able to leapfrog Higgy.
Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada will compete for the utility infielder role, though I’m sure the Yankees will bring in some veteran non-roster invitees to battle those two infielders. The Yankees have long liked Wade and Estrada and both showed flashes of their promises in 2019, so perhaps it will truly be down to those two. Though I suppose both could make the roster — the 13 pitcher maximum is going to force the Yankees to carry four bench players. One backup catcher, one backup infielder, one backup outfielder (Mike Tauchman), and someone else. How that unfolds depends on the designated hitter role.
So, about the DH. Will Miguel Andújar be able to shake the rust off to reclaim a major league job? Is Mike Ford for real? What about Clint Frazier? If you figure that the Yankees play Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, and Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield, one of Andújar, Ford, or Frazier can DH and another can be the aforementioned fourth bench player. Perhaps a Ford/Andújar DH platoon is in the works.
On the pitching side, there are a few openings. Perhaps one fewer than we expected now that Brian Cashman said JA Happ will be the fifth starter. So much for that offseason salary dump we had expected. In any event, should a trade actually come to fruition, one would assume Jordan Montgomery and Mike King, among others, battling for the fifth rotation spot.
The bullpen is where things get more interesting. With good health, we know Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle will travel north with the team. I guess we should count Luis Cessa too. Anyway, that leaves at least two openings to complete the 13-man pitching staff. Jonathan Holder, Jonathan Loaisiga, Ben Heller, Brooks Kriske should be in the mix here.
It’s pretty clear that the Yankees’ front office and coaching staff will have plenty decisions to make over the next couple of months. We’ll dig deeper into each positional competition in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the countdown to spring training keeps on ticking.