The Yankees haven’t had one of the team’s top sluggers since Game 1 of the ALCS. It’s hard enough to score against Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole as it is, but to lose Giancarlo Stanton, one of the game’s most prolific power hitters, only has made it tougher. Yes, the team hit fine without him for much of the year, but that in no way means they’re better off without him. As I wrote previously, Stanton looked poised for a breakout after the ALDS and delivered in Game 1 of the ALCS with two hits and a homer.
Since Game 1, the Yankees have effectively fielded 24 players because of Stanton’s quad strain. Sure, Aaron Boone said Stanton was available to pinch hit prior to Games 2 and 3, but that never came to fruition. And now, with an offense that’s scored three runs in two games sans Stanton, a jump start would be nice. Of course, a healthy Stanton would be the best option to help. But if his quad isn’t healthy enough to play the outfield, he may only be useful as a designated hitter. That would displace Edwin Encarnación, who although has struggled mightily, is not easy to bench.
And therein lies one problem with deactivating Stanton. Any position player who replaces him on the roster doesn’t offer much utility unless the club is willing to sit Encarnación. Luke Voit or Mike Ford would have to usurp EE to get playing time, unless the team is willing to bench Gio Urshela and slide DJ LeMahieu to the hot corner. Alternatively, there’s Tyler Wade, but he’s not going to crack the starting nine either. And apparently, Mike Tauchman is healthy, though I wouldn’t DH him nor play him over Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, or Cameron Maybin.
Of course, the Yankees could choose to replace Stanton with another pitcher. As Steven wrote this morning, the bullpen has put in a ton of work so an extra arm may be nice to have. And, now that they’re going to play four games in four days, the bullpen may need extra help. If so, Cory Gearrin seems like the most likely option. I know that’s not a sexy choice, but he could steal some outs against right handers, particularly with the way Adam Ottavino has faltered this month. I can’t say I love the idea of Gearrin pitching in the playoffs, but the current 13 man pitching staff has been worked hard.
Aside from the current series, replacing Stanton also means that he would be ineligible to return for the World Series. Obviously, the Yankees have to win the series in front of them first. Perhaps they were willing to be cautious with Stanton initially because the series was in their favor before Games 2 and 3. The 1-0 lead and 1-1 tie with home field advantage permitted some patience. But now, there’s more urgency. Perhaps that means they replace Stanton before Game 4. Or, on the other hand, Stanton tries to play through the pain.
Speaking of pain, we don’t know the severity of Stanton’s injury. The team won’t disclose the grade of the strain, but apparently it’s bad enough that it would merit a trip to the injured list if it were the regular season. There’s obviously a different threshold for an IL trip in October as compared to the regular season given the importance of each game.
Maybe we’ll see Stanton in the lineup tomorrow. Well, I sure hope so. The offense has sputtered since Game 1, with a handful of guys not producing. Basically, everyone other than LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres has turned into a pumpkin. So getting Stanton back would be huge, obviously. But, if he can’t play in Game 4, it may not make sense to wait much longer. The Yankees need to win three of four to stave off Houston, and at some point very soon, the team may need to try something different offensively or give the bullpen some extra cushion.
Update, 10/17: Found out today that Stanton can only be replaced by another position player. So forget about the Yankees getting another pitcher. With that in mind, I think the Yankees will wait this out as long as they can. Any position player who takes over for Stanton may not play, anyway.