Happy Friday, everyone. Today’s the day we learn if Aaron Judge is actually hurt or not. In a few hours, we’ll find out if he’s in the lineup for today’s 3pm game against the Rays. I’m sure the reactions will be measured either way.
But before that, it’s time for a mailbag. Four good questions today. As always, please send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org. We answer our favorites every Friday. Let’s get to it.
Good morning. We’re just a week out from opening day, and I don’t know about you, but I’m dealing with some major spring training fatigue at this point. The games are a bit of a slog now and my lone concern is player health. Wake me up in a week, please.
In case you missed it, Bobby penned his thoughts yesterday. His last section, about the players he’s most excited to watch this year, definitely helped me snap out of my March malaise a bit. Just need to have some patience over this last week. Anyway, let’s move forward and break down the latest and greatest in the Yankees’ world:
Happy Wednesday, friends. We are rapidly approaching Opening Day, but there are still Spring Training games before then. Here is the broadcast schedule through the rest of the Grapefruit League to hold us over for the rest of the week.
Here’s hoping that the Yanks can stay healthy in that time, too. Anyway, on to today’s thoughts.
1. Opening Day Next Week: Opening Day is one week from tomorrow, which is wild. It really snuck up on me this year. Still, I am excited for the season – and you should be, too. The games are really going to matter right away. The Yankees are the hands-on favorite to win the American League East, and they’ll have a chance to emphatically make that case nearly right away: 19 of the team’s first 25 games (76%) are inter-divisional matchups.
Now, those aren’t exactly spread out evenly, either. Here is how it breaks down:
Baltimore Orioles: 7 games (3 at home)
Tampa Bay Rays:6 games (3 at home)
Toronto Blue Jays: 6 games (3 at home)
Notably missing is the Red Sox, so the Yanks are getting a big chunk of their non-Boston divisional rival games out of the way early. That is significant. Tampa got worse since we last saw them, but I won’t count them out. (Baseball Prospectus tags them for 86 wins; FanGraphs says 84.) Toronto, on the other hand, got better, but is dealing with a Yankee-like deluge of injuries right now. (BP has them at 84 wins; FanGraphs 88.) Both will be looking to challenge the Goliath Yankees and will have a chance to make their mark early on.
While it is a long season – and it feels nice to be able to say that again after last year’s weirdness – this still feels important. As Matt noted, there are four off-days, not counting an inevitable rainout. The good news for the Yankees is that this means they can turn to team ace Gerrit Cole more often than not.
The bottom line is that these early games are going to matter. The Yankees, barring a major surprise, will be the best team in the American League East, if not the entire league. It would be awfully nice for the team to get out to a hot start and put some distance between themselves and their closest competition right way. The schedule means they’ll have a great opportunity to do so. Let’s hope they don’t miss it.
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?
A lot can happen between now and April, but the Yankees are facing a dilemma with a player who was once a key contributor: Mike Tauchman. The 30 year-old outfielder, who broke out in the second half of 2019 but struggled in 2020, is on the 26-man roster bubble and has no minor league options remaining. Tauchman is in a race with non-roster invitees Derek Dietrich and Jay Bruce for the last bench spot.
Tauchman will either make the Yankees out of camp or be out of the organization entirely. In all likelihood, that means a trade. Even after a brutal 2020 campaign, there’s no chance that the Tauchman would clear waivers. Should the Yankees favor Bruce, Dietrich, or someone else entirely, the team won’t have a problem finding a trade match. He’s a very good defender at any outfield spot and depending on who you ask, the bat is still full of potential.