The 2019 New York Yankees have been one of the most remarkable teams in franchise history. While their 83-43 record looks pedestrian compared to teams of the past, their mounting injuries have been amazing.
They’re nearly all out of historical comparables: They tied the 2016 Dodgers with 28 different players on the IL, which is the record. That’s 70 percent of a 40-man roster and it features an All-Star team.
While this year’s team may be an outlier, these Yankees could also bring ill tidings for the future. While there have been plenty of minor injuries, there have been about just as many serious ones, and many to the team’s core players.
So does that mean the Yankees have an injury-prone core? The notion is scary, so let’s break it down, starting with defining who is actually a part of the core:
The Yankees’ Current Core
For my definition of the Yankees’ core, I’d say it’s the players you can see or would expect will be on the team five years down the road.
There are the obvious Baby Bombers, namely Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres and Luis Severino. One of them might not be here, but the point still stands.
Then there are the two prime-aged players who will be under contract in that 2024/2025 range: Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks. Stanton’s contract runs through 2027 (with a team option for 2028) while Hicks’ pact is up after 2025 before a team option of his own.
Beyond those six players, it’s tough to definitively say anyone is part of the core. Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar are certainly talented enough, though either could be traded this offseason. Domingo German needs more than one full season of production. Didi Gregorius is a free agent this fall/winter.
Minor League players like Deivi Garcia or Estevan Florial can’t be counted upon in this run despite their talent. On the other end of the spectrum, mainstays such as Masahiro Tanaka might not have the staying power. There isn’t one reliever that stands out as a long-term core member like Mariano Rivera used to.
The Injury Histories
Of the six players definitively in the Yankees’ core, all but Torres have spent time on the IL this season. Though Torres missed the end of 2017 with Tommy John surgery and had a hip issue in 2018, he doesn’t have an injury with staying power. At 22, he’s the player I’d bet the saving on if I had to pick just one.
Let’s take a look at the recent injuries for each of the other five players:
Gary Sanchez: Missed 21 games with biceps strain in 2017, Two IL stints for a right groin strain in 2018, Offseason shoulder surgery, April 2019 calf strain, July 2019 groin strain
Aaron Judge: Grade 2 right oblique strain ended his 2016 season in Sept., Left shoulder surgery after 2017 season, Right wrist fracture in 2018, Grade 2 left oblique strain in 2019
Luis Severino: Right triceps inflammation in 2016, Right rotator cuff/Grade 2 lat strain in 2019
Giancarlo Stanton: Grade 2 hamstring strain in 2013, Facial fracture from HBP in 2014, Hamate bone fracture in 2015, Grade 2 hamstring strain in 2016, Left biceps strain/Shoulder injury/Calf strain/PCL strain in 2019
Aaron Hicks: Bursitits in shoulder in April 2016, Hamstring injury in Sept. 2016, Left and right oblique strains in 2017, Strained right intercostal muscle in 2018, Lower back strain in 2019, Right elbow flexor strain in 2019
What It All Means
Of the injuries above, there were two that happened twice: Right groin strains for Sanchez and hamstring strains for Stanton. However, you can see plenty of trends. Lower body issues for Stanton, core and back problems for Hicks. For Sanchez, he’s also dealing with the realities of being a catcher.
Judge and Severino are somewhat different in that they don’t have as extensive an injury history, though there’s a high level of concern for both. Severino is a pitcher, and pitchers break down. Though his current rehab has been encouraging, he has still missed almost a full year of his prime with a shoulder injury. That has derailed many a pitcher.
Meanwhile, it hasn’t been any one thing with Judge, yet he has had injuries affect him in each of his four Major League seasons. As with Stanton, he’s a large player and has a body type rarely seen in baseball. Does that automatically make him a magnet for injuries? No. Still, with the demands of right field and a normal MLB season, he hasn’t held up consistently, even if the injuries aren’t related.
As for players who didn’t quite make it into my core designation, Frazier has a history of concussions, Andujar is recovering from a shoulder surgery and German had Tommy John surgery.
The positive for the Yankees is that they have tremendous depth. That’s carried them this season and can continue to do so in future regular seasons, reducing the burden on the top stars in the organization. Even when certain players leave for bigger contracts or become ineffective, Brian Cashman has proven his ability to find hidden gems. There’s also the Minor League system to replenish the roster.
Other teams also have injury histories, particularly certain teams building around pitching. That’s not exclusive to the Yankees. However, even with that caveat, there’s concern about how long the Yankees can keep open this window with this group of players.
Right now, they have a long runway to work with, yet that could close early if injuries overtake the team. The Next Man Up can hold for only so long.