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Looking into the Yankees’ bench

Last week, I wrote about how the Yankees’ bullpen wasn’t as big of a strength in 2020 as we’re accustomed to. The same could be said about the 2020 Yankees’ bench.

The mantra of the 2019 Yankees was “Next Man Up.” No matter how many players were lost due to injury, the next guy taking his spot was going to come in and mash. We saw the emergence of Gio Urshela as the team’s starting third baseman. Mike Tauchman had an .865 OPS in 87 games. Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier stepped up to fill holes in the outfield. Mike Ford hit 12 homers in 50 games. Even Kendrys Morales was good.

2020, however, was a different story. What seemed like a deep Yankee bench was no longer reliable. Let’s take a look.

Middle Infield Struggles

The departure of Didi Gregorius hurt the Yankees’ middle infield depth before 2020 even started. Gleyber Torres became the starting shortstop, backed up by Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada.

Estrada showed promise in 2019 with a .732 OPS in 35 games. He was abysmal in 2020, with his OPS dropping to just .460 in 26 games. Wade has never been a major league-level hitter, as he batted .170 with a .595 OPS in 52 (!) games in 2020.

The Yankees’ infield depth was so poor in 2020, they had to turn to journeyman Jordy Mercer for a few games. He went just 2-11 in pinstripes.

Ford & Andujar Regression

Ford was one of the many bright spots of the 2019 Yankees. I mean, how could you not love this guy?

Unfortunately, Ford took a major step back in 2020. His OPS dropped more than 400 points. He hit just two home runs in 29 games. The Yankees clearly expected more of a contribution of Ford, considering he batted 6th or higher in every game he started. After a productive 2019, Ford was not good in 2020.

Miguel Andujar was another potential contributor off the Yankees’ bench. The 2018 American League Rookie of the Year runner-up played both third base and outfield in 2020. Whether it was rust from missing the majority of 2019, or his time being focused on defense, Andujar was bad at the plate in 2020. He hit just .242 with a .632 OPS in 21 games. Maybe with a normal spring training, Andujar can rebound in 2021.

Outfield

With both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton spending time on the IL again in 2020, there was plenty of opportunity for the Yankees’ outfielders. Frazier made the most of it, posting a .905 OPS in 39 games. He’s likely solidified himself as the starting left fielder for 2021. Brett Gardner had an up-and-down year. I believe he comes back as a bench bat in 2021. A pressing issue in 2020, however, was Tauchman.

After a breakout 2019, Tauchman struggled mightily last season. He hit .242 with a .648 OPS, and most troubling, couldn’t hit pitches down the middle.

I expect the Yankees to re-sign Gardner, but if not, Tauchman will be heavily relied upon in 2021. We’ll need to see something closer to 2019 Tauchman if that’s the case.

The bench headed into 2021

As of right now, this is my best guess for the Yankees’ bench on Opening Day:

C Kyle Higashioka
IF Tyler Wade
OF Brett Gardner
OF Mike Tauchman

Like I said, I see Gardner coming back on a cheap one-year deal. Ford and Andujar are also possibilities, depending on how spring training goes. I would love to see the Yankees upgrade their bench, preferably with some lefty bats. Joc Pederson or Tommy La Stella would be great fits in the Bronx. An upgrade at middle infield to provide some insurance behind Gleyber & DJ would be awesome, too. Freddy Galvis is an option, and he made just $5 million last year. Sadly, I don’t see the Yankees making any of those moves if they intend to stay under the $210 million luxury tax threshold.

What do you think about the Yankees’ bench? Who do you think can have a big 2021, or who should they acquire? Comment or tweet me @ncostanzo24