The Yankees have a host of players with a spotlight shining on them to produce make it or break its numbers. Will this be a bane or a boon?
Like all teams, the Yankees wish for a Spring Training camp in which there is severe competition among several players seeking a spot on the 26-man roster.
Except for the bullpen, Yankees manager Aaron Boon said last week he envisions one or two bullpen openings on his ballclub, plus one spot as an off-the-bench player, the Yankees Opening Day Roster is all but set (barring injuries).
Envisioning the need for only four starters the first week of the season, the reality is only one bullpen spot is open, with Jonathan Loaisiga’s being the one in jeopardy.
Albert Abreu, Nick Nelson, Adam Warren, Brooks Kriske, and a collection of non-roster invitees will also be under the Yankee’s microscope before the team heads North with a complete roster.
Yankees: The Fourth Bench Player Up For Grabs
Ditto for position players as the Yankees plan to carry four bench players leaves room for only one addition with Brett Gardner as the fourth outfielder, Tyler Wade as Boone’s “pet” and jack of all trades, and Kyle Higashioka as the backup catcher for Gary Sanchez.
A general manager’s dream follows in the competition for the one remaining spot. Mike Ford, Miguel Andujar, a newcomer (and a much-needed lefty bat), Jay Bruce, Estevan Florial, (a proverbial “up and comer” and Mike Tauchman all figure prominently to separate themselves from the others before Brian Cashman and Boone says, “Let’s go with this guy.”
But The Drama And Mystery Are So Much More…
But the competition for these rare and limited openings on a Yankees team that is widely expected to romp through the regular season is only a backdrop to the drama and mystery that is due to unfold in 2021.
The drama increases when you move beyond filling out limited spots on the Yankees current active roster to the position players in the Yankees lineup, where you find several players with a whole lot to prove to solidify themselves in future team plans.
In this regard, the poster boy is Aaron Judge, who has not had a 500 at-bat season since 2017 when he finished second in the American League MVP voting.
A master of the art when it comes to fan devotion and love, from the Yankees perspective, they are looking at yearly salaries that continue to automatically increase as Judge works his way through the arbitration process before becoming a free agent following the 2022 season.
Once a lock for a multi-year extension, the ball falls in the court of Judge to show the Yankees he can be a full-time contributor to the team, capable of playing a minimum of 140 games with Judge-like numbers.
In practical terms that teams live on, there may come a time when Superman is relegated to human status as the “mild-mannered” right fielder of the New York Yankees. One hopes not, but 2021 looms heavily in reaching that fate.
A similar fate awaits Yankees designated centerfielder Aaron Hicks, who was the recipient of a seven-year $70 million deal along with Luis Severino two years ago.
A favorite of Brian Cashman, who finagled a deal to “steal” him from the Twins, Hicks figures to bat in the upper part of the lineup where his on-base (walk) abilities shine in advance of the Bombers coming up behind him.
Again, it all depends on Hicks remaining healthy enough to avoid Aaron Boone having to use a capable but still aging Brett Gardner almost full time in centerfield, as was the case in 2019 when Hicks all but disappeared.
In the same vein, but not worth talking about, Giancarlo Stanton carries the weight of the Yankees’ team payroll with no consequence simply because it makes him untradeable.
Still, Stanton continues risking Yankees fans’ wrath and will feel the pressure accordingly at Yankee Stadium, as well as in the New York media, if he fails to deliver again this season.
Yankees Infield Waiting On Verdicts
Moving to the infield, once the glamor-boy, Gleyber Torres is now viewed by the Yankees as a prospect still trying to find himself following a less than glowing 2020 season.
Hurt the most by rare public criticism from Brian Cashman regarding his conditioning following Spring Training 2 last year, Torres appeared to sleep-walk through the regular season before finally awakening during the Yankees postseason.
With next year’s free-agent shortstop bonanza featuring (potentially) Trevor Story, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager on the way, Gleyber Torres has to know he is not the Yankees shortstop by default – and the pressure is on to show the Yankees the “maturity” they heralded is real – and not built by reputation.
By having the most AL home runs last year, Luke Voit is protected, but foot injuries, if they persist, will not help him in retaining a position that is all about footwork.
Power-hitting first basemen are a dime a dozen position in this league, and while not in danger of losing his position, Voit must continue with the power numbers – or else.
Additionally, can there be a player who is not under more scrutiny than Gary Sanchez as 2021 unfolds?
Blasted in the New York media and here on multiple occasions, Sanchez, much like Aaron Judge, is reaching the end of the line before reaching free-agency – when he no longer will be protected under the blanket of Yankees security and hand-holding.
Fittingly, two home runs blasted by Sanchez were treated as the second coming of God by the Yankees this Spring – but we’ll have to see.
The plight of Miguel Andujar is also in the window of mystery. Once the runner-up to Shohei Ohtani in the Rookie of the Year voting, Andujar not only has lost his third-base job to Gio Urshela but finds himself with a likely tick to Triple-A Scranton to begin the season.
Despite numerous reports from the Yankees camp that Andujar is handling things okay, the tumbledown has to affect Andujar’s psyche. As such, the Yankees will continue to “monitor” Andujar and may be forced to trade him if things go south.
Yankees In Driver’s Seat As Players Fight To Wear The Pinstripes
While most pundits and oddsmakers pick the Yankees to play the Dodgers in the 2021 World Series, bets are placed solely on what is seen on paper.
Teams either gel, or they don’t. Even mediocre teams like last year’s Tampa Bay Rays can find the recipe that leads to surprise and overwhelming success in the absence of a top-of-the-chart payroll.
For the Yankees, they gain no ground if Aaron Judge duplicates his MVP season, with Luke Voit doubling down on last year’s performance with 40 some home runs and 100 ribbies – if – the remainder of the Yankees lineup (DJ LeMahieu excepted) falls short, not only expectations but what is needed to put the team over the top.
Yankees: Will We Know This Team In 2022?
In sum, the Yankees are a team in transition in which Baby Bombers is no longer an appropriate tag.
Yankees fans, no doubt are in full support of all the players highlighted above as being “on the bubble” this year. Me, too.
But make no mistake. The business of baseball supersedes everything, and no one who makes this Yankees team is guaranteed anything until the final standings for the regular season and the postseason are concluded.
Buy yourself a high-caliber microscope and don’t count anyone (necessarily) in or out – because let’s face it – how long can the Yankees embarrassingly continue the streak of failing to achieve Number 28 – without all hell breaking loose?