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?
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.