With camp about a week underway, it is now time to predict the 26-man roster. Yep, the 26-man roster: remember, there are new rules for the 2020 season. One of them is the roster expansion. Teams will now carry 26 players instead of 25, but there are limits. This being the Age of the Bullpen, the new rule stipulates that teams can carry a maximum of 13 pitchers at a time. (Except for double-headers, when a team can carry 14 pitchers as the 27th man.) Read all about the new rules from the source itself if you want to get the specifics.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the fun part: predicting the Yankees’ Opening Day Roster. Given the way the Yankees have operated in the last few years with relievers, I think it’s a fairly safe assumption to assume they carry 8 this season. That’s one assumption. The other is that there will be no further injuries – *laughs nervously* – just because there’s no way to predict those. Obviously stuff happens.
Anyway, here’s how I think things stand right now:
That’s thirteen position players, five starters, and eight relievers. That seems about right to me. Honestly, this was a pretty easy exercise. The roster pretty much writes itself.
There’s a mini-competition for the backup catcher but I’m sure that Higashioka is going to win that one. Very sure, in fact. Given the injury to Aaron Hicks, I’m also pretty confident that Mike Tauchman is going to be the fourth outfielder (he’s got the skills for that role anyway). Tyler Wade equally feels like a lock to me for the utility man — he’s fast and can play everywhere — but Thairo Estrada might also factor in there, to be fair. I just think Wade is the one to get the job out of camp.
That leaves just one real competition, at least in my mind: the final spot between Mike Ford and Clint Frazier. Ford, who I am now convinced is the real deal, got the nod from me for two reasons: 1) he had a very strong showing at the end of 2019 and 2) he is a left-handed bat. The Yankees need those. I want to see more of Frazier — I mean, it’s kind of now or never, isn’t it? — but I’m not sure he deserves the job over Ford at this point. Especially if the Yankees want to try Andújar in the outfield, too. I just don’t see them carrying five outfielders right now, but maybe I’m way off base.
In terms of pitchers, there’s a real competition for the fifth starter. Since Derek covered it last week, in fact, the Yankees signed Chad Bettis — who had some nice peripherals in 2019 and induces plenty of grounders. That adds a completely new dynamic to the competition. That said, Montgomery is still the guy for me. He was the best rookie pitcher in baseball in 2017 and I think he’s going to win the job pretty handily.
The top six jobs in the bullpen write themselves as well: nobody in their right mind will challenge those six unless something really catastrophic happens. That leaves just two open bullpen positions. There are a number of potential candidates, but if I were a betting man, I’d say Holder and Loáisiga have it. Holder, you might remember, was pretty good in 2018 before injuries and the dingerball screwed with 2019. He should get another shot — I think he will right now — but Bettis, along with David Hale, are also options here. Intrigue!
As for Loáisiga, I have been in love with his stuff forever. How can you not be?
That will play perfectly in the bullpen — give me that combination of velocity and hammer curve, please — and will probably even play up a bit. If I’m the Yankees, I give Loáisiga a chance to let it fly all season as a reliever. (That they did so in the postseason is a sign they’re willing to do this.) As the last guy out of the pen, just choose the stuff. The Yankees have a dominant pen already. Why not see if there’s another dominant arm waiting in the wings?
That’s where I think things stand for now. Next week at this time, we’ll be talking about actual games that can substantiate some of this. It’s the best time of the year and it’s only going to keep getting better.