First and foremost, you can be assured there are no spoilers to Avengers Endgame in this column. Of course, if you haven’t seen the Marvel movies over the past 12 years, you may not know what the “Infinity Stones” are, or who Thanos is. The evil purple giant (played by Josh Brolin) adorned a gauntlet with the six Infinity Stones, in the previous Avengers movie (Infinity Wars) and by snapping his fingers, he wiped out half of all living creatures in the Universe. Enough about him, though. This is about the Yankees and the Avengers.
Let’s play a game of what-if. In this case, Yankees manager Aaron Boone snaps his infinity stone-batting gloved finger and all the injured Yankees get healthy at once. Well, not Jacoby Ellsbury, but everyone else. Actually, Luke Voit might have to be the one to actually snap his fingers, because he is the strongest
Avenger Yankee. Okay, back to our story.
So, with everyone healthy, there’s suddenly a glut of productive ball players. Who stays? Who goes? Maybe Dr. Strange can help, or at least GM Brian Cashman, holder of the contract stone.
The following is what a completely healthy list of players looks like and is the basis for the 25-man roster:
Reading from the right side of the infield to left: 1B: Voit, Greg Bird 2B: Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu SS: Didi Gregorius, Troy Tulowitzki 3B: Miguel Andujar, Gio Urshela UT infielder: Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada.
The outfield, from corner to corner: LF: Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman, Wade CF: Aaron Hicks, Gardner RF: Aaron Judge, Frazier, Wade UT outfielder: Cameron Maybin.
Starting Pitching: Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga. (We won’t count Jordan Montgomery in here since even a magic snap of the fingers can’t heal up Tommy John surgery that quickly).
Closer: Aroldis Chapman. Setup: Dellin Betances, Adam Ottovino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton. Middle: Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Stephen Tarpley. Long man: Luis Cessa, Loaisiga. Mop up: Anyone, at any given time.
Behind the Plate
Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine. Status quo.
The Reality Stone
From the get-go, it was very clear that the Yankees couldn’t count on Ellsbury and Tulowitzki to remain healthy in 2019. Ellsbury has been basically shut down all season and, unfortunately for Tulo, he injured his calf after a healthy Spring Training and start to the season. Things may be worse for the former All-Star after he was pulled for a pinch-runner in Wednesday’s rehab game. He had grimaced while running the bases.
Tauchman gives the Yankees some depth but after Wednesday’s loss to the Diamondbacks he had a .185/.293/.385 split. That’s utility infield numbers, not the stats of a corner outfielder, which is where he has mainly played. Tauchman hit better than .320 and averaged 18 home runs in each of the last two seasons in the minor leagues but he played in hitter-friendly Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s expendable.
Ford enters the homestand just 4-24 (.167) on the season. Like Tauchman, Ford can be counted on to draw a walk (as evidenced by his .394 on-base percentage (OBP)), but there’s no room for him on the roster. He’ll be demoted to Scranton when the time comes.
The Power Stone
Even with the monumental losses of Stanton and Judge, as of Thursday morning, the Yankees were still third in the American League in home runs per game (1.57), and well ahead of the league average (1.30). Imagine if the Yankees home run-hitting duo were back in the lineup?
When the pair and Frazier return, the outfielders on the roster should be: Stanton, Judge, Gardner, Hicks, and Frazier. The timing of Frazier’s ankle injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for the team or for him personally. His .324 batting average (BA) and .632 slugging percentage (SLG) are what his current and former team (Indians) have been waiting for. Upon his return, at the very least, he needs to platoon with the streaky Gardner and get a share of DH at-bats.
Maybin is the wild card in all of this. He doesn’t hit enough in the long-term but his speed and defense are an asset to the ball club. With Hicks’ bat and glove back, there just isn’t enough room for Maybin.
The big question is whether or not the Yankees are willing to keep five outfielders on the roster, rather than four and a guy who can play both the infield and outfield.
Power is also needed back in the bullpen from Betances. His fastball and nasty breaking stuff are definitely missing from a pen that has struggled of late.
The Time Stone
The player that both plays the infield and outfield is Wade. He’s got above-average speed and has been a proven defender no matter where the Yankees have placed him this season: 11 games at 2B, one game at SS, two games at 3B, six games in LF and one game in RF. The problem with Wade is that he hasn’t proven he can hit Major League pitching on a regular basis.
In 56 plate appearances this season, Wade’s slash line is .208/.309/.208. His slugging percentage isn’t a typo…Wade has no extra-base hits this year. While his BA and OBP are better than his career marks of .174 and .245, his SLG is below his previous two seasons. Wade has not been able to take advantage of his, albeit somewhat limited, time to show what he’s got.
There’s no room for him on a roster that contains Torres, LeMahieu, and Gregorius. The Yankees need to give him the chance to play in another organization.
As for Estrada, this is just not his time, but he has opened some eyes in the short time he’s been up with the big club. He’ll play every day for Scranton once his roster spot in the Bronx is needed.
The Soul Stone
The injury to Severino is arguably the biggest blow the Yankees have taken this season. Losing the ace of your pitching staff for an undetermined period throws everything else into chaos. This is especially true with a pitcher that puts so much heart and soul into his performance.
So far, guys have picked up the slack, especially German, but the long-range effect of Severino being out of action remains to be seen. The Yankees may eventually have to look into a trade (Madison Bumgarner), add an unsigned free agent (Dallas Keuchel), or take a chance on a released veteran (Ervin Santana). None of them are particularly good options at the moment.
The Space Stone
The recent injury to LeMahieu is disconcerting. He dodged a bullet in suffering only inflammation after he fouled a ball off of his right knee in San Francisco last Friday. DJLM is confident he can return to the lineup this evening when the Yankees begin a six-game homestand with the Twins and Mariners.
To date, LeMahieu has appeared in 31 games at 2B and 3B combined and made one stop at 1B. Boone needs to keep the latter as an option for now, and when and if Bird returns in the middle of the summer.
Space also needs to be left on the roster for Urshela once Andujar returns, which could occur tonight according to reports. No one expects Urshela to continue to hit at the .339/.400/.500 clip he’s currently on, but the 27-year old has displayed an outstanding glove at third base. With Andujar’s shaky defense an everyday subject, the Yankees would be wise to keep Urshela around. And, of course, Andujar is expected to hit around .290 with a .500 SLG. He’s out of minor league options and the Yankees would definitely lose him if he were made available on waivers.
The Mind Stone
Has anyone noticed that the Mind Stone looks like a baked potato? Never mind.
Once the Yankees are back, or nearly back to full strength, Boone and Cashman need to decide who plays, who stays (on the bench), and how to best utilize the bullpen.
At the moment, Boone has taken a lot of heat from the fans. Some of it is deserved and some of it isn’t. It still comes down to players doing their jobs well.
Boone’s use of Holder in high leverage situations has to stop. He also needs to recognize sooner when a pitcher is teetering/is on the brink. Like others before him, Boone has a habit of leaving a pitcher in one batter too many.
Cashman needs to figure out his options for the impact of injured players, their return, and the farm system vs. the possible impact of the trade and free agent markets. For instance, Keuchel isn’t any better than what the Yankees system has to offer. And, of course, Hal Steinbrenner will weigh in on the hit to the tax threshold and if it will hamstring Cashman’s ability to tweak the roster.
The Yankees’ endgame? Snap back to reality and start beating teams with winning records. Minnesota, Seattle, and Tampa Bay immediately come to mind.