Contemplating a five player bench for the Yankees

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The Yankees need to make decisions on non-roster invitees like Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich this week. Those two will be able to opt out of their contracts this week. But in order for the Yankees to keep one of those two, Mike Tauchman must go according to conventional wisdom. But what if the Yankees carried five bench players, rather than the norm of four in this era?

Most teams run with a 13/13 position player/pitcher split nowadays. That means eight relievers and four bench roles. Having all those relievers is key in April, and perhaps even more so this season. Managers tend to be hesitant with their starters in the early going in order to protect arms. And coming off a shortened season, even more care than usual could be taken. That said, I think there’s a way to make carrying just 12 pitchers work to start the season.

As Matt noted yesterday, the Yankees have ample opportunities to limit its fifth starter usage in the first month. By my count, the Yankees need a fifth starter only three times through April 24th. That provides an opportunity to re-shuffle the roster every time the team requires a fifth starter. The likes of Domingo Germán, Deivi García, and Michael King could be optioned up-and-down before and after games they’re needed. No need to worry about the 10-day option rule, either. A different pitcher could be recalled for the next time a fifth starter is needed. And while they’re down at the Alternate Site, the Yanks could carry an eighth reliever as starters one-through-four take their turns. All this means is that the Yankees conceivably could carry eight relievers for much of April even with a five-man bench.

So now that we know it could work logistically for the pitching staff, does it actually make sense to execute?

Bruce rounding third on a home run trot this spring. (via Bryan Hoch)

The big benefit: carrying an extra position player lets the Yankees kick the can down the road on Tauchman. This allows the team to retain depth for a little bit longer. It’s better to have Bruce/Dietrich and Tauchman rather than just one of those three, right? Especially because the Yankees have a bunch of optionable pitchers at their disposal in order to make this work. I’d argue that it’s smart roster management.

On the other hand, a fifth bench player doesn’t have a lot of utility. Particularly on this very talented Yankees team. How much would Tauchman actually play? Brett Gardner’s the better defensive replacement option and Bruce/Dietrich offer better offense. So unless Aaron Boone sits multiple outfielders on any given day, Tauchman will ride the pine for much of April. Is that really the best use of a roster spot? Perhaps not. He’d really just be stashed with the big league team until the Yankees’ hand gets forced later in the month.

Now, even if Tauchman’s not very useful, stashing him allows more time for this situation to resolve itself. Perhaps Bruce/Dietrich look shot against better pitchers than they’ve seen in camp. Maybe someone gets hurt. Or maybe another team comes calling on Tauchman with a better trade offer than what the Yanks may be getting now.

Still, there are other risks to consider. April showers can throw a big dent into pitching plans, thereby making a fifth starter necessary sooner or more often than anticipated. We also need to keep in mind that Aroldis Chapman will be suspended for the first two games of the season, which shortens the bullpen in the first place. I do think the Yankees can still work around these concerns considering how many optionable major league caliber pitchers are on the 40-man. Nonetheless, it might be a nuisance. All this for the sake of stashing a seldom-used fifth bench player? I’d understand anyone’s skepticism about doing this.

I don’t expect the Yankees to actually go through with five bench players to start the season. Again, I think it’s something that could work, but I understand that it’s not practical. And I’m just not convinced it’s worth jumping through hoops just to stave off cutting Tauchman loose.

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10 Comments

  1. Keep Tauchman – he’s cheap, good with the glove and had 128 wRC+ in 2019, the last time he was healthy. Keep Deitrich – he’s somewhat cheap, can back up 1B/2B/3B, has a great batters eye and has a slightly-above-average hitter the last few years. Ditch Bruce – he’s expensive and hasn’t been a good hitter in 3 years. Send Wade down, but bring him back up if Gleyber gets hurt.

    • Wire Fan

      To me this would be the more realistic scenario if they went without Wade. Not sure Dietrich can play 3rd anymore but they could always swap DJL to 3rd and plug Dietrich in at 2nd.

      In trying to figure out how to get Bruce on to the roster… People seem to have forgotten to ask -why do we want Bruce on the roster again?

      • dasit

        problem: a lineup stacked with dominant right-handed hitters
        solution: a random crappy left-handed hitter

  2. Wire Fan

    Have people looked at Bruce stats the last 3 years? Because when I look at them I see a below average hitter.

    2018 wRC+ 88
    2019 wRC+ 98
    2020 wRC+ 83

    Is he even a better bat than Gardner or Tauchman at this point (yet alone the fielding and baserunning deltas)? How exactly is he a good bench bat… He hasn’t really hit since 2017

    Carrying 3 lefty bench OFs seems silly, especially with no backup IFs. And I don’t see what actual value Bruce brings unless we rewind to 2017 Jay Bruce. In the years since he has racked up a whopping 0.5 fWAR

    I don’t get the Tauchman hate. Or the Bruce love.

    • MikeD

      I know this isn’t specifically about Bruce vs Gardner beyond the odd group of Yankee fans who think the Yankees should not have brought Gardner back and instead play Gardner.

      2020 — Gardner 108 OPS+; Bruce, 88
      2019 — Gardner 116 OPS+, Bruce 101
      2018 — Gardner 89 OPS+, Bruce 90
      Total — Gardner 103 OPS+, Bruce 95 OPS+

      WAR — Gardner 8 rWAR; Bruce -0.3 (Three season total).

      Yes, Bruce has put up a *negative* WAR, negative player value over the last three seasons. Gardner outhits Bruce and is a plus defender who can also cover CF. Bruce is negative defender no matter where he plays. The gap is even bigger over the last two seasons.

      And for fun:
      2021 Spring Training — Gardner, .273/.370/.455/.825
      2021 Spring Training — Bruce, .231/.286/.500/.786

      I’m all for Bruce replacing Ford’s bat, and it made sense to bring Bruce in when the Yankees were still negotiating with Gardner, but I’m not sure I see an easy fit here unless they trade Tauchman. If they’re trading Tauchman, makes more sense to keep Dietrich.

  3. MikeD

    My first thought when I saw Urshela was playing SS last week was that the Yankees were either planning to kick the can down the road a bit, or they’re just putting up a slight smoke screen as Cashman negotiates with teams on a deal for Tauchman. He has value, but it’s not a super high value, so Cashman won’t want to do anything that will reduce his value further by weakening his negotiating leverage, so he can pretend the Yankees may plan to keep Tauchman. Of course, the other teams will suspect that, but they can’t be sure of the Yankees intent. They clearly have sent out signals that they like Tauchman, so teams won’t be sure if this is a bluff.

    They can send Wade down, but they’d leave themselves tremendously exposed. So if Geyber gets injured or needs rest, they can slide Urshela to SS for a game until Wade returns the next day, and then move DJ to 3B, but they then have no one to fill in a 2B. A MLB baseball team can’t operate like that. As horrifying as this will be to Randy. Wade is critical! Or someone like him. I can see them pulling this off if Dietrich got the Tauchman spot. He can cover 1B, 2B and 3B. He might even be able to do an emergency fill-in role at SS. He’d allow them to send Wade to AAA where he’s a phone call away. Yet, the Yankees have not been giving any indication that Deitrich is in play here. I simply can’t see a scenario that has both Bruce and Tauchman on the roster.

    One other thought. Can the Yankees trade Bruce and/or Dietrich? Obviously, any acquiring team would do so with the intent to immediately add them to their 40-man roster. Maybe the Yankees have decided to keep Tauchman and are working on an entirely different type of deal?

    • Wire Fan

      Not sure about minor league contracts. But on big league deals there is a window where you can’t trade players signed in the off-season without their approval. I think it is somewhere around 45-60 days into the season.

  4. dasit

    my prediction:
    tauchman is cut or traded
    judge & hicks get hurt
    bruce takes over right field and makes bobby abreu look like roberto clemente

    • MikeD

      The annoying thing about this is we can see that happen, meanwhile they have a perfectly good RFer in Stanton, who they refuse to play out there, which I remain convinced is contributing to his continuing muscle pulls. Keep the big man stretched out by having him play the field at times.

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