Like so many of the other injury fill-ins and replacements, Cameron Maybin has done more than anyone could have expected. The purpose of acquiring him was to bridge the gap while Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton were on the mend. After that, the expectation was that he’d be off to baseball purgatory: designation for assignment. Instead, Maybin has survived the returns of Hicks and Stanton. For good reason: in 128 plate appearances, the veteran outfielder owns a 135 wRC+ while providing defensive versatility.
Maybin’s play made it easier to demote outfielders Clint Frazier and Mike Tauchman, though those two also had options to spare. Given Maybin’s major league tenure, he can’t simply be stashed in Scranton. Now, with Judge’s return looming by the end of this week, could Maybin be the hard luck odd man out? Other teams would certainly be happy to have him, if so.
As it stands, the Yankees are carrying a three man bench: Austin Romine, Gio Urshela, and Brett Gardner. That means they’ve chosen to run with an eight man bullpen, which is partly because they are using an opener instead of a true starting pitcher every fifth day. To keep Maybin around, they’ll have to drop a twelve pitchers.
The way I see it, there are two routes the Yankees can go in order to slim its pitching staff. One is to finally cut ties with Luis Cessa. The other is to option Jonathan Holder or Nestor Cortes and make frequent use of the Scranton shuttle when the bullpen is worn out.
Letting Cessa Go
There’s a pretty easy case to move on from Cessa. First and foremost, his performance has been bad. Since his rookie season in 2016, his ERA has progressively gotten worse: 4.35, 4.75, 5.24, and 6.10 this year. And, aside from what appears to be an anomalous 2018 FIP (3.74), every other campaign has featured a ghastly FIP of 5.52 or worse. Simply put, Cessa is not a good pitcher. Look, every team needs a guy to eat garbage innings, but Cessa struggles to even do that. In his last outing, he relieved CC Sabathia while already down 6-1. His job was to eat innings since the Yankees were using an opener the next day. Instead, Cessa allowed four runs in one inning. The Yankees really needed him to eat a couple of frames and he failed to do so, as seems very common for him.
Performance aside, the Yankees have in-house replacements for Cessa’s role. Cortes and David Hale fit the long-relief profiles just fine, making Cessa a bit redundant. Plus, Cortes and Hale have actually pitched admirably.
The Scranton Shuttle Option
Of course, there’s an alternative to letting Cessa go should the organization’s inexplicable infatuation with him continue. If necessary, the Yankees can option Cortes and Jonathan Holder to Triple-A to make room for Maybin. Holder’s been pretty bad himself and could merit the demotion anyway, though his track record is far better than Cessa’s. Meanwhile, Cortes could get the “bulk” of innings after Chad Green opens tonight, which could result in Cortes getting shipped out.
Assuming the Yankees go the cut Cessa or option Holder/Cortes route, it’s not like the Yankees wouldn’t be able to replenish their bullpen frequently. Aside from Cortes and Holder, here are some names on the 40-man roster that can be retrieved from the minors as needed:
- Joe Harvey
- Stephen Tarpley
- Chance Adams
- Ben Heller (when healthy, he’s now facing hitters)
That’s a handful of pitchers who could be a de facto eighth reliever when the Yankees have a tired bullpen. With that many up-and-down guys available, the 10-day option rule shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate either.
Of course, making room for Maybin still leaves us with a pretty big question: what’s his role going to be? He and Gardner would be the fourth and fifth outfielders. It’s not like the Yankees are going to want to sit Judge, Stanton, or Hicks too often. And now with Edwin Encarnación around, using one of the big three outfielders as the designated hitter isn’t an option. The choice would basically be: should Gardner or Maybin play when one of the regulars needs a breather? Either way, one of the two would rarely play. Fifth outfielders just aren’t very common nowadays, especially in the American League.
Even if keeping Maybin around would leave him with a very minimal role, there is some sense to stashing him on the bench. Depth is always good, and it’s not like Judge, Stanton, or Hicks are bastions of health anyway. Sure, Frazier and Tauchman are still around in the minors, and I’d rather play Clint regularly over Maybin should that need arise, but more depth is still better in this case. Plus, by maximizing the Scranton shuttle, the Yankees can sort of carry 13 pitchers anyway. At this point, Maybin’s earned his keep and it would be a mistake to let him go now. Tables could turn later in the year, but the Yankees have don’t need an extra pitcher at all times.
I think this would be a much easier call for the Yankees if they actually had five healthy starters (fix that, please). Now that they’re using an opener pretty regularly, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re hesitant to drop a pitcher to keep Maybin around. On the other hand, the way hitting coach Marcus Thames talked about Maybin could be taken as a sign that he’ll remain after Judge’s return.
Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, letting Maybin go wouldn’t be detrimental. They have outfield depth to spare and one would imagine that all three of Hicks, Judge, and Stanton won’t be on the injured list at the same time again this year. Even so, why lose Maybin when there are reasonable alternatives to clear space for Judge’s imminent return? Not only has Maybin earned a spot, but the Yankees should be able to get by with twelve pitchers.