The Yankees have one of the best problems a team can ever have; The Bombers have more than 25 players who are worthy of the postseason roster.
With three-and-a-half weeks to go, we have a good sense of how the roster will shake out, but the Bombers have enough injuries that the picture is muddied. Furthermore, there are still bullpen spots up for grabs and bench spots to sort out. Heck, even the starting lineup is tough to project when assuming health.
So, with those caveats in mind, here’s a breakdown of the potential postseason roster. I’ve broken players into the following four tiers: Locks, Locks if healthy, Likely and On The Bubble. (Of course, every lock is truly a lock if healthy, but these are previously injured players.)
James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Domingo German
Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino
Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine
Didi Gregorius, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit, Gio Urshela, Edwin Encarnacion
Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge
These 18 players are sure things, without a doubt on the roster provided they’re healthy. This is, more or less, the core of postseason roster, particularly on the pitching side.
You can guarantee all but Romine on this list will get into a postseason game. Urshela is set to come back this weekend and would at least see the field as a defensive replacement, if not start, depending on the matchup.
If there is anyone who could miss the roster from my personal locks list, it’s Voit or Encarnacion. The team could decide not to carry two 1B/DHs, though they’re both such forces offensively that the team would be hard-pressed not to fit both. That’s even with Giancarlo Stanton healthy.
Locks (If Healthy) (5)
Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, CC Sabathia
Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks
Severino, Betances, Stanton and Hicks should be obvious. They’re each star-level talents who hold a key place if they’re ready to go. Stanton and Hicks, if right, could fit right in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup with no qualms. Severino would start or be an ace reliever, while Betances could step into the fireman role, if ready. It’s just that the ‘if’ of it all is a major caveat.
The Sabathia mention here comes with the belief that if he were fully healthy — in a sense of having his knee pain consistently back to an 8 for a few weeks — he would either be the team’s fourth starter or a long reliever. I’m wary of his ability to get back to form, and perhaps he should be in a “Likely (If Healthy)” category. Considering this is his last year and what he means to the franchise, I’m rooting hard for him to return, but I have serious doubts.
Happ is just about a lock if Sabathia isn’t on the roster. The team will need a long man and backup starter on the roster, a guy who can wear a loss if need be. The team could go with 1-2 of Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa in his place, or be satisfied with Severino and Sabathia if they’re healthy.
What none of those players have is the ability to throw 100 pitches out of the pen right now. Happ can do that without question, which gives him unique value on this team. He’s definitely not a lock with his 5.34 ERA and struggles against Houston and Minnesota. Here was Happ’s response when asked about the postseason rotation after his six scoreless innings against Oakland.
“I haven’t thought about that,” Happ said. “I came here to be part of the postseason and be a big part of it, so that’s my plan. That’s how I feel about that.”
We’ll see if he’s a part of the Yankees’ plan.
On the Bubble
Nestor Cortes Jr., Luis Cessa, Cory Gearrin, Jonathan Loaisiga, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Holder, Stephen Tarpley
Mike Ford, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, Cameron Maybin, Mike Tauchman, Terrance Gore
On the pitching side, there is at least one bullpen spot up for grabs even if Severino and Betances are on the roster. It’ll likely be someone who can throw 2-3 innings or more in a pinch. If the team wants another short reliever, Gearrin and Loaisiga could vault ahead of Cessa/Cortes. Montgomery is nearing his return to the Majors, but he isn’t necessarily ready for playoff baseball. Holder and Tarpley are long shots with their struggles and injuries.
Cessa is the most likely of these bubble pitchers. He’s pitched to an ERA under four and has been the bulk guy in a bunch of recent opener games. However, he’s still pitching in mostly low leverage spots, so I’m not sold that he definitely beats out enough of Happ, Montgomery, Loaisiga and the like.
(Deivi Garcia has struggled enough in Triple-A, so I don’t see him as a viable October option over the aforementioned pitchers.)
With the hitters, there is at least one bench spot left after the locks and locks if healthy. With the versatility of Torres and LeMahieu, the team doesn’t need a normal backup infielder and can use Encarnacion or Voit as a bench bat. Those veterans probably squeeze Ford out of consideration.
The outfield is crowded with Gardner, Judge, Stanton and Hicks and then one more spot up for grabs. Maybin has hit well before his recent injury and can pinch run. Tauchman is a superior fielder and of similar speed, and possesses a similar bat, but he’s in the midst of a slump. Seriously, check out the precipitous decline he’s had in the last month or so.
Gore is mostly just a pinch runner and defensive replacement and doesn’t have a 40-man spot, so he’s unlikely at this point. Wade or Estrada could get in if the Yankees go for someone who can play both infield and outfield, or if the team wants a 14th position player. Wade especially fits here with his defensive prowess and pinch-running ability.
To me, it seems to come down to the following five players: Tauchman, Maybin, Cessa, Loaisiga and Montgomery. They have the advantages here, but there might not even be spots for all of them. I struggle to pick between them for the 1-3 spots remaining, and Montgomery’s rehab is a looming question mark.