When the Yankees began the season with a 5-9 record, I feared the worst. I figured the first season of the current window of opportunity would be wasted by injuries and with Mike Tauchman batting fifth, Gio Urshela as the everyday third baseman, Austin Romine and Kyle Highashioka behind the plate and Tyler Wade playing all over the field, it made sense to assume that. The Yankees were putting another regular starting position player on the injured list seemingly every other day and the Rays couldn’t lose.
Somehow the Replacement Yankees didn’t just keep the season afloat in terms of the postseason picture and division race for the first two months of the season, they put the team at the top of the division, winning 10 of 11 series since that horrendous start. Urshela became an actual asset; Tauchman and Wade were sent back down; Thairo Estrada emerged as a real potential piece for the future; Romine went back to being a mediocre backup; Cameron Maybin proved he can still play and the starting rotation and elite relievers did the rest.
I will never forget the 2019 Replacement Yankees, I just don’t want to have to watch them all season. Thankfully, I won’t. Didi Gregorius is close to returning, Aaron Judge is about to begin swinging and Giancarlo Stanton is scheduled to begin baseball activities again at the end of this week (barring yet another setback for yet another different injury). On the pitching side, the Yankees are getting James Paxton back on Wednesday, Dellin Betances has been throwing and Luis Severino has been pain free for two to three weeks and is set to start throwing on flat ground soon. Unfortunately, Miguel Andujar won’t play again this season, and therefore the 2019 Yankees won’t play a single game with their expected lineup for the season.
As the Yankees get healthy, some tough decisions will have to be made about who gets sent down, who gets designated for assignment and then who plays once the dust settles from all the roster moves. Let’s figure out what the Yankees’ 25-man roster will look like in the coming weeks.
Didi Gregorius Returns, Thairo Estrada Gets Sent Down
It’s hard not to envision a middle infield for the next nearly decade with Estrada and Gleyber Torres. That would mean the end of Gregorius as a Yankee, but that’s not that unreasonable, considering Gregorius is coming off a major surgery, will be a free agent at the end of the season, will be 30 on Opening Day next season and LeMahieu is signed through next season and could serve as an insurance policy or bridge. However, the Yankees love Gregorius, he’s an elite shortstop both offensively and defensively and he’s a left-handed bat. There’s a chance Estrada could eventually mean the end of Gregorius’s Yankees tenure, but for now it’s the other way around.
Estrada did nothing wrong to deserve this demotion. Despite appearing in only 22 games over 38 days, all Estrada did was hit and hit and hit some more. He’s played left field for the first time ever out of necessity, as well as second and short, while serving as a pinch hitter and pinch runner. He’s batting .304/.347/.565 and it seems unfair someone with a .912 OPS in the majors is headed back to long bus rides in the minors. There’s been little playing time for Estrada as is as he’s had only three more plate appearances in 22 games with the Yankees than he did in 10 games in Triple-A, so he’ll go down, play every day and be the first infielder back up should another injury present itself.
Giancarlo Stanton Returns, Cameron Maybin Gets Designated for Assignment
I don’t know if Stanton will return before Judge, but I’m going to assume it since his current injury is less severe and he’s less removed from baseball activities. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if Judge beats Stanton back.
I wouldn’t do this move, it just seems like the most likely. When Stanton returns, the Yankees will have Stanton (or Judge if he’s back before Stanton), Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner and Maybin on the roster, and it’s hard to think they will keep five outfielders on the 25-man roster, even if all five are better roster options than bat-only Kendrys Morales, whose bat isn’t exactly enough to warrant a major league roster spot.
Maybin, like Estrada has done nothing to deserve being removed from the roster. He has come up with big hits, unbelievable catches and has been a breath of fresh air on the bases. I have said both in jest and serious at times that I would keep Maybin even over Brett Gardner though that would never happen. Maybin has proven to the rest of baseball he can still play, and if’s not as a Yankee, I have to think one of the other 29 teams will make a play for him. Once Maybin is off the Yankees’ 25-man, the Yankees will lose him.
Aaron Judge Returns, Kendrys Morales Gets Designed for Assignment
I would get rid of Morales before Maybin, but that’s not going to happen. Between the crowded outfield once Stanton (or Judge) returns, Morales being a left-handed bat and an experienced veteran, whose clubhouse presence throughout his whole career has been raved about, he’s going to hold on to his roster spot for as long as it’s possible.
We’ll always have that mammoth blast from Morales, which nearly reached the upper deck in Yankee Stadium, something that has been accomplish only a few times. It’s going to take a miracle or a complete turnaround for Morales to remain on the Yankees and avoid losing his second major league roster spot this season after the A’s previously designated him for assignment before trading him to the Yankees. The Yankees have enough players to serve as the designated hitter that there’s just no way they will keep Morales on the 25-man hitting the way he has. One day we will all look back and think “Remember when Kendrys Morales was on the Yankees?” the same way we do for Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, who were all Yankees in the same season. Wow was that 2013 season miserable.
Sometime between now and the All-Star break, the Yankees could be at full strength or at as full strength as possible now since Andujar is out for the season, and then they will have a whole new problem about who plays and who bats where in the lineup. If there aren’t any injuries between now and then (knock on all the wood), the Yankees’ 25-man roster would look like this:
If the Yankees could go 35-19 overall and 30-10 in their last 40 to achieve first place in the best division in baseball with the replacement roster they have had to use for the first two months of the season, what will they do with that 25-man roster? I look forward to finding out.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!