The New York Yankees have missed a major chunk of their expected starting lineup and yet the team is in first place and playing very good baseball. The wounded have been slowly dribbling in and will continue to do so in the weeks ahead. So many of the "fill-in" players have been playing so well that a roster crunch is definitely on its way. So how should the Yankees handle the roster as players return? Let's take a look at how this could (or should) play out.
I should point out ahead of time that these thoughts are contingent on no further injuries and based on expected return times of missing players. Let's first look at the non-pitchers.
Didi Gregorius should be the first one back. Didi is the only one not surprised that he is ready so soon. The caveat here is that the Yankees' infield has been as solid as I have seen it since the 1990s. DJ LeMahieu is so good at second base and he has been hitting so well. You hate to move him. But move him the Yankees will have to do. What is the corresponding roster move?
The easy answer is Thairo Estrada. The kid is ahead of projections and was not supposed to start his career yet. Plus, he is not playing every day to stay sharp. But the 23-year-old has a .380 wOBA and a 140 wRC+ while playing respectable defense. Would he learn just as much at the Major League level and contribute like he has?
My answer is to DFA Kendrys Morales. Morales is a dinosaur who cannot help himself hitting consistently into the shift. He is good for a walk here and there. But otherwise, he offers little value at the plate and no value in the field. And, he clogs up the DH and the base paths. Sending him away makes it easier for LeMahieu to get consistent at bats as either the regular first baseman and a rotate DH with Gleyber Torres, Gregorius (Torres plays short when Didi DHs) and Gio Urshela.
Didi Gregorius becomes your regular shortstop. Gleyber Torres moves to second, which is a shame. Urshela is your fixture at third, Luke Voit is your first baseman / DH and LeMahieu is the rover with Estrada the backup.
The next player back appears to be Troy Tulowitzki. This should be an easy one. Thanks for trying, Tulo. See ya. Any other decision would be stupid. By missing half the season already, he has lived up (or down) to his injury reputation.
Then there is Aaron Judge. I do not know about you, but I sure miss Aaron Judge. This should be an easy decision as well. Cameron Maybin has been good for the Yankees and is a great team guy. But he is the only logical choice. Brett Gardner is part of the furniture. Aaron Hicks is a newly-contracted guy and Clint Frazier is one of your best prospects and is mashing reasonably well in between his strikeouts. The only logic behind keeping Maybin is that he can play all three positions in the outfield. But as long as you have Gardner and Frazier, things are covered.
The last position player back will be Giancarlo Stanton. His long absence this year has been extremely disappointing. Not that the Yankees could not cover his absence, but he makes a ton of money and together with Judge could be hitting moonshots all over the place. Things get really interesting when he returns. What should the roster move be?
The problem is that you cannot trust Stanton in the outfield. I hate a clogged up DH. If he could play LF every day, I would be fine with that with Gardner as the backup and then you have to send Frazier down. But if he is a DH only, then you need Frazier for depth and the move is to send Estrada down. I am okay with four rotating infielders as long as they do not get hurt.
I am not even going to discuss Greg Bird. I am not even going to think about him or Jacoby Ellsbury. In fact, I am fine if I never see them in pinstripes again. And, of course, Miguel Andujar is gone until next season.
Okay, the return of Dellin Betances is long-awaited and hoped for. His roster move will be easy as the Yankees have been carrying a fringe pitcher all season.
As for starters, I do not see any point in bringing in Dallas Keuchel. First, he will be expensive for what, a little more than half the season? If CC Sabathia can hang in there and if Luis Severino comes back in August, the Yankees should be fine. Plus, Jordan Montgomery is somewhere out there in the ether too. The only worry is how many innings you want to put on Domingo German. German could be a bullpen piece in the second half and then a full-time starter next season. I guess I am fine with either signing Keuchel or not signing him.
Personally, I do not think Keuchel is as good as he used to be. His strikeout and ground ball rates have dipped. The only reason, perhaps, to sign him is so that the Rays or Red Sox do not.
I do not think we need to talk about Jonathan Loaisiga or Ben Hiller. Hiller will need to prove himself again in the minors and Loaisiga needs to find some command.
So there it is. The Yankees will have some interesting decisions to make as the wounded come trickling back. How they handle the corresponding roster moves could go a long way toward determining how far they get in the AL East or, if the Yankees get there, the playoffs.