Brian Cashman loves creating competition in camp. It’s been one of the staples of his tenure and a mentality that most prominently came to life in the spring of 2017 when he persistently maintained that the right field spot was an open competition.
That *throat clear* battle was eventually won by Aaron Judge who went on to belt 52 home runs that year…
We’ve seen it play out more recently through Clint Frazier’s journey to finally breaking the everyday lineup or, perhaps most ruthlessly, when Cashman signed Mike Tauchman days before camp broke in 2019 to bump Tyler Wade off the opening day roster (Wade hit .308 that spring with seven doubles and four stolen bases in 20 games).
This year’s envelope pushers include Jay Bruce, Robinson Chirinos and Derek Dietrich – but who has an actual chance of breaking camp with the big-league team?
Assuming the Yankees carry 13 pitchers, it leaves 13 opening day roster spots for position players. Ten of those are locked up by Luke Voit, D.J. LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Gary Sanchez, Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner. And you can throw in Kyle Higashioka to make it 11 – he rewarded the Yankees’ faith in him when the team let Austin Romine walk and showed that he’s a major league player on both side of the ball. But maybe more importantly, he’s out of minor league options.
So you’re essentially looking at – DEPENDING ON INJURIES – two spots up for grabs between Bruce, Chirinos, Dietrich, Wade and Tauchman. And if you dig in further, there’s really only one.
Chirinos is the easiest cut – he was brought in as insurance and there’s no real scenario where he impresses to the point that the Yankees carry three catchers or lose Higashioka to waivers. A backup infield slot comes down to Dietrich vs. Wade – but despite Dietrich’s power and ability to play a few different positions, Wade gives you greater versatility defensively to go along with speed and has just one option remaining. Do the Yankees burn it by starting his season in the minors? It’s doubtful.
So the only real position battle comes down to Bruce vs. Tauchman.
Both give you lefty outfielders with pop – Bruce much more so with a bat that is widely regarded (often ad nauseam) as, “tailor-made for Yankee Stadium.” You probably wouldn’t see him in the outfield more than once or twice in a week which essentially means he’s left-handed Stanton insurance in a righty-dominated lineup. Tauchman gives you better defense and the ability to play all three outfield spots – an important trait considering the fragility of the Yankees three starters – but so does Gardner. And the Yankees didn’t sign Gardner to cut him before April.
Tauchman has no minor league options so a decision to go with Bruce likely means the end of his time in pinstripes. That’s certainly not what the Yankees want but ultimately, I think the team likes having a bigger lefty bat on the bench that they can slot in the DH spot if (when) Stanton heads to the DL.
Following the Gardner reunion, it’s tough to see a path where Tauchman makes the club.