The Yankees have just 10 games remaining until they start the postseason, presumably hosting ALDS Game 1 on Oct. 4. That means they have 10 more days to get information on their players and a little over two weeks for injuries to heal. That’s also two weeks for more injuries to pop up, as with Dellin Betances on Tuesday night.
Last week, I went over the potential postseason roster, breaking everything down by locks, locks if healthy, likely and bubble players. This time around, I’m going to go by position and hitting on the key questions at each spot (Note: Despite Aaron Hicks starting a throwing program, I’ve left him off here for now.)
Let’s dive in:
Catchers (2): *Gary Sánchez, Austin Romine (Kyle Higashioka if Sanchez can’t go)
Sánchez has gone from lock to lock if healthy thanks to another groin strain. Still confusing why he tried to steal a base, but what’s done is done.
His previous groin strain kept him out from July 23 to Aug. 10, an 18-day span. If we make the assumption that this injury will take 18 days (not a great assumption, but it’s what we have), that goes from Sept. 12 to Sept. 30. That would preclude him playing more regular season games. However, in that previous IL-stint, he played two rehab games on Aug. 7-8, so he may come back just in time.
I’m going to say something some may consider controversial: If Sánchez is out, though it would be a big blow, the Yankees are in capable hands with Austin Romine. He can’t control the running game, but he’s adequate everywhere else and is now on his second straight season of above-average hitting for a backstop. You want Sánchez back there — He’s a real difference-maker — but Romine is one of the better MLB backups, even if some of his best numbers come against the Orioles.
Infielders (6-7): Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius, Gio Urshela, *Edwin Encarnación (Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, Mike Ford on bubble)
As of today, the Yankees have five spots for their five healthy infielders in Voit, LeMahieu, Torres, Gregorius and Urshela. The best defensive arrangement includes Gregorius and Urshela on the left-side of the infield and Voit/LeMahieu at first base. Maybe DJLM over Torres at second with Gleyber at DH? You can’t go wrong there.
But Encarnación has expressed optimism he’ll be able to overcome his oblique injury to make it back for the end of the regular season. That creates a log jam.
Many people would like to say it’s easy and you put Encarnación at DH, shift everyone over and leave Gregorius out of the lineup. However, Gregorius has good numbers against many of the pitchers they’ll face in October, is arguably the team’s best defender and is, dare I say, clutch. That doesn’t mean he won’t be the one to sit, but I think it’ll be more rotating and matchup-based than simply banishing Didi to the bench.
Ford and Estrada only make the roster if Encarnación is a no-go. Wade is just about a lock if Edwin or Stanton can’t go, and he’s a capable pinch runner. There simply may not be room if the Yankees go with 13 pitchers and a crowded infield, but his speed adds a new element to the roster.
Outfielders (4): *Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Cameron Maybin
If all goes well with Stanton’s return, the starting outfield on Oct. 4 will be Stanton-Gardner-Judge from left-to-right. That was the Opening Day outfield!
Maybin serves as an OK backup at all three positions and also is the team’s pinch runner if Wade is left off the roster. He’s just 9-for-14 on steals this year. However, I’d trust him more in the outfield than Wade, and he’s a much better hitter this year, so his spot is firm.
If Stanton is unable to return to the outfield, Maybin would start and either Wade or Clint Frazier could claim the fourth outfielder role despite neither having enough experience in center.
“Starting” Pitchers (6): James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, *Luis Severino, Domingo Germán, *CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ
The Yankees’ six starting pitchers are all heading for the postseason roster, though their roles are fluid, as Tom Verducci reported Monday. James Paxton will definitely get full length starts and the rest of the pitchers might be used to piggyback off each other and combine to get through the rest of the postseason.
That might mean a mandate to pull pitchers after 18 batters. The Yankees might also just be aggressive with their bullpen, though losing Betances makes the team slightly less able to go full tilt. Having Severino back is huge.
Of those six starters, Sabathia is the least likely to actually start a game. CC and Happ each have strong numbers against lefties, and they can also work a team for a turn through the order.
Relievers (6-7): Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green (Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, others on bubble)
The Yankees have a clear top five relievers. Their roles have been familiar in the regular season; Kahnle-Ottavino-Britton-Chapman from the sixth inning on, and Chad Green as the multi-inning fireman, or bridge to those relievers. Green has been their best reliever in the second half and can open or come in for a starter at the first sign of trouble and get the team through 2-3 innings.
Betances was the wild card. He could have floated through different roles, but now he’s gone for the season. The team doesn’t have another elite reliever lying around. Losing him means the team is one arm shorter, and that increases the burden on everyone. Will Ottavino or Kahnle have to handle two innings one game? Will someone have to go three straight nights? We’ll see.
The Yankees can get length from their playoff bullpen by using the depth of their six starters. If they want another long reliever, Cessa is a fine option. Loaisiga is a higher-ceiling option, though his control issues could be scary in high leverage. I’m a fan of Cory Gearrin, though he might be lower in the pecking order. Jordan Montgomery, Stephen Tarpley and others have slim chances.
For the bubble spots on the roster, it comes down to the sixth relief spot and then either a seventh reliever, a utility player like Wade or even Higashioka as the third catcher if the team wants to hedge against a Sanchez injury without losing him for multiple rounds. My hunch right now is Loaisiga gets the 24th spot and it comes down to Cessa or Wade for the last one.