Too much of anything can never be good, or so they say. And for the Yankees in 2018, having too many talented players, especially in their outfield, may turn out to be the biggest problem facing the team this season.
All hell would break loose this season for the Yankees if they played in the National League instead of a league with the options provided by the designated hitter. Keeping the peace between all those options is going to be an onus for Aaron Boone to bear and figure out once the season gets underway.
For now, everyone is secure behind the annual Spring Training mantra “no one’s job is safe” pledge we hear from everyone in Yankees management from Hal Steinbrenner on down the line. A player assumes if he shines a light on himself during the preseason games, the Yankees will make room for him, and all will be well. Except that in this case, one plus one doesn’t make two, and when March 28 rolls around when the Yankees make their final cuts before heading to Toronto to open the season, there are bound to be some disappointed, and possibly even disgruntled, players.
Right off the bat, reality says specific jobs among position players are, in fact, safe. Barring injury, there is no way Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez will not be in the Yankees starting lineup on March 29. Throw out the DH as a “position” because Boone will use the DH as a revolving door, providing rest and occasionally some strategy when facing certain pitchers.
This leaves only three positions up for grabs. Three positions divided by Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Jacoby Ellsbury, Tyler Wade, Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Austin, and Clint Frazier (nine major league ready players), equals a bonafide mess for the Yankees to deal with.
We’ve already heard from Frazier, as well as Hicks on the subject of where they believe they fit in with the Yankees, and in neither case is it on the bench as a reserve or even worse, at Triple-A until someone goes down with an injury.
November seems like a year ago, and that, of course, was before Cashman pulled off the trade of the century landing Stanton. Boone’s biggest problem will emerge on days when both Judge and Stanton play in outfield positions (presumably left and right field).
This will put either Hicks or Ellsbury in center and Gardner on the bench. How many times this combination is used is mainly dependent on how well Gary Sanchez (except for days of scheduled rest) handles his defensive assignment this season. Should Sanchez falter as he did last season, the more Boone will be forced to use him in the DH spot, since there is no way Boone will remove his bat from the lineup.
The problem is exasperated whenever Gardner, the Yankees prototypical leadoff hitter is forced out of the lineup. A makeshift leadoff guy like Hicks or Ellsbury is not the same as Gardner, who had some of the most incredible (read long) at-bats of the season last year. Remember this one…
You’ve probably noticed the absence of any mention of Clint Frazier in these olio mixes of a Yankees lineup. And despite his pleadings, that’s probably about where Frazier sits on the outside looking in. Frazier came to the Yankees in a trade, and he will leave in a trade. But not now. He’s ticketed for Scranton until Brian Cashman sees what he has with the starting rotation. Come July, if necessary, Frazier is the blue-chip in another Sonny Gray like deal to put the Yankees over the top. Sometimes in baseball, it happens that way.
Less is more. We’ve heard about that cliche, too. But except for Frazier who has options, there is no way to ease the quagmire in the outfield, making it possible for everyone to get 450-500 at-bats this season. The widely heralded communication skills of Aaron Boone will be tested when it comes to keeping the peace in his clubhouse.
The same situation is brewing in the infield where someone like the veteran infielder, Danny Espinosa, could come out of nowhere stealing a job. But these are younger players Boone is dealing with in Torres and Andujar, and it’s not quite the same as telling Aaron Hicks to take a seat. At least not yet.
All of which seems to suggest that in 2018 there will be no such thing as a set Yankees lineup. This can be a beautiful thing as it means everyone will be contributing. Or, it can turn sour at any given moment if one or two players decide to mouth off on Twitter after a week of seeking only five at-bats. We can be assured the Yankees season will hinge on which way it goes.