The offseason is far from finished, but Spring Training is now one month away, and there is a more than zero percent chance that the New York Yankees have completed their major offseason transactions. The team you start the season with is never the team you end the season with, but it is about time we project the opening day lineup if the season were to hypothetically start tomorrow. With Didi Gregorius out and Manny Machado and Bryce Harper seemingly out of the picture, who would be on that Opening Day 25-man crew?
This is a long blog, so I'm putting the list up top here, and you can read the explanations below:
- Luis Severino
- James Paxton
- Masahiro Tanaka
- JA Happ
- CC Sabathia
Put them in basically whatever order you want, but these are the five guys that we should expect to be in that initial starting rotation for the Yanks. It’s important to note that it is highly likely that at least one of these guys gets hurt and misses a big portion of the season. It seems like every year, every team will lose at least one of their starters. It has become inevitable.
We also know that Jordan Montgomery will complete his rehab from Tommy John Surgery and be eligible to return sometime midseason. Will his return date be in June or will it not be until September? It’s impossible for us as fans to know right now, but sometime in June he will hit the one-year mark from his surgery date, and this procedure typically takes players as young as Monty a little over a year because the teams don’t want to rush young talent back from major procedures like this one. The Yankees are no different.
The Yankees also still have Sonny Gray on the roster. More on him and the rest of the starting depth soon.
I don’t have to explain to you why Gary is the starting catcher on opening day, barring an injury. He’s good and will have a very long leash to prove it in 2019.
First Base- Luke Voit
The first base position has been in flux for several years now for the Yanks. Luke Voit hit like an MVP during his stint in the Bronx last season. He deserves to start the year as the starting guy over there to prove that that was real. His leash won’t be huge, though, with Greg Bird lurking (hopefully, healthily) in the wings (sorry for the bird pun) and the addition of DJ LeMahieu, who we’ve heard will play some amount of first base this year.
Second Base- DJ LeMahieu
I didn’t do a write-up on my thoughts on the DJ LeMahieu signing because I’m still not at all certain how I feel about it, but if the season started tomorrow, I would slot him in at second base, primarily. We know he’s been a gold glover at second and we know that he’s been reported to be viewed as the Ben Zobrist type for the Yanks, meaning they’ll move him around quite a bit.
A lot of people a skeptical of his ability to move around because he’s only been asked to play second base in Colorado for several years now, but he has a reasonable degree of Major League experience at third base, first base, and shortstop. People claim it isn’t enough, but with Nolan Arenado at third, a combination of Troy Tulowitzki and Trevor Story at short, and a different guy each year more-or-less claiming first, the Rockies have not needed to ask him to do much shifting around.
I am expecting him to do a lot of what Neil Walker did last year and play a decent amount at other positions. He’ll slot in at 2B more often than anywhere else, but I’d be confident in letting him move around. I’m sure he can play competently at first or third. He’s the early favorite to be the Miguel Andujar defensive replacement late in games at third. I think he could play shortstop, but with Gleyber Torres and Tulowitzki on the roster, we won’t see LeMahieu there. With his reputation for good defense and speed, I think there’s also some possibility that DJ plays a little bit of left field if the Yanks find themselves in a pinch. We haven’t heard anything about that possibility, but Neil Walker had never played Right Field before last year, and we saw a lot of that.
Shortstop- Gleyber Torres
Similar to LeMahieu, I expect Gleyber to do quite a bit of moving around between short and second. With Didi out and LeMahieu in the fold, I prefer to pencil Gleyber in at short and have LeMahieu in the lineup over Tulowitzki.
Third Base- Miguel Andujar
We’ve heard a lot of talk about Andujar’s defense this offseason, especially over the course of many conversations about potentially signing infielder Manny Machado. A Machado signing seems increasingly unlikely now (but he hasn’t signed anywhere yet!) so I think the game plan is to let Andujar stick it out at third for all of 2019.
If he’s still literally the worst defensive third baseman in baseball, then perhaps we will see the Yankees try him out at first base (which I don’t really like) or left field (which I think is more possible than a lot of people want to admit). Don’t think it needs to happen in 2019, though, unless they either: swoop in and sign Machado or Didi returns to the lineup and the Yanks find that they absolutely need to keep LeMahieu and/or Tulowitzki in the lineup every day. Andujar is penciled in right now to be the primary third baseman, with perhaps a couple of games as the DH every week to let Giancarlo Stanton play the outfield and let Aaron Judge or Brett Gardner rest, but more on that in literally one moment.
I don’t think this will stick all year, but if opening day were tomorrow, Brett Gardner would be the guy in left field. I love Gardy with all of my heart. I’m approaching a sick infatuation with him if I’m being honest. With that having been said, he proved last year that he isn’t an everyday outfielder anymore. Because of Gardner, I think there’s a strong chance of seeing a fair amount of Andujar at DH and Stanton in left to keep the best bats in the lineup.
Designated Hitter- Giancarlo Stanton
This isn’t where I wanted to talk about it because I’m clearly working my way around the diamond, but Giancarlo is going to be the DH more than anybody else this season. He’s a pretty solid defender, though, and I think we see him play both corner outfield spots a lot more this year than he did last year, because of the aforementioned Andujar defensive woes and Gardner’s decline. Moving on!
Center Field- Aaron Hicks
Hicks has earned it. He was the second-best center fielder in the American League last year and he’s improved each year since coming to the Yankees. He’s the guy as long as he’s healthy.
Right Field- Aaron Judge
The Yankees roll with a three-man bench, eight-man bullpen these days. I expect that to remain the same in 2019. One of those spots is for the backup catcher, and the other two are for utility guys.
- Austin Romine
- Troy Tulowitzki
Romine is the backup catcher because last year he was probably the best backup catcher in baseball.
Troy Tulowitzki will almost certainly be a shortstop exclusively when he plays, so he’s technically not a utility guy, but with Gleyber and LeMaheu’s respective versatilities, they’ll move around for him.
The last spot is a big question mark. I’d bet against that spot going to Greg Bird because the Yankees don’t really have room for two guys (Bird and Voit) who only really play first base. Voit has technically faked it in right field for one inning, but they really only play first.
It’ll probably go to someone who can play the outfield since the only four outfielders on the roster, as presently constituted, are expected to be in the lineup most days. That could be Clint Frazier or Jacoby Ellsbury but both of them have to prove that they are healthy before I trust them enough to be on the MLB roster on Opening Day.
That kind of leaves Tyler Wade and Tim Locastro as the other options. The odds-on favorite for opening day has to be Wade, who plays every position over Locastro who is a big question mark and is probably the most likely guy to get hit with a DFA when the LeMahieu signing is officially official.
UPDATE: The Yankees announced that Locastro was, in fact, designated for assignment upon announicng LeMahieu's signing.
- Aroldis Chapman
- Dellin Betances
- Zach Britton
- Chad Green
- Jonathan Holder
- Tommy Kahnle
- (Long Reliever- Open)
The top five guys are guaranteed to have those bullpen spots if they are healthy. I believe that the sixth spot will go to Tommy Kahnle because he is now out of minor league options and should get the chance to prove that he is the guy that Brian Cashman acquired in 2017 at the onset of the season.
This leaves two spots open for the pen. One will likely be a traditional reliever and at least one will be a long reliever.
The traditional reliever may end up being Adam Ottavino, who is still a free agent. I’d like for the Yankees to sign him, but he’s not on the roster right now, so there’s no reason to assume he will be. The most likely guy to have that spot on opening day is Stephen Tarpley. It’ll likely be a revolving-door anyway, but Tarpley was good last year and the only two lefties in the bullpen are Chapman and Britton and neither is the “lefty reliever” that people think of when we’re talking about lefty relievers. Both of those guys are late-inning guys and will pitch in the seventh inning or later just about every time we see them this year. Tarpley as the middle-innings lefty seems like a good option and the one I’d roll with if tomorrow were opening day.
Because Sonny Gray is still technically on the roster, he is the guy who would be slotted in as the long reliever right now. He’s likely not going to be around, so it is worthwhile to take stock in the other options for the bullpen. Here are some guys that could slide into either of those bullpen slots:
- Luis Cessa (yuck)
- Jonathan Loaisiga (Lasagna)
- Domingo German
- Chance Adams
- Prospects like Domingo Acevedo
The prospects like Acevedo would be unlikely for opening day, but the others are legitimate options, regardless of how well any of us like or dislike them. I have no interest in seeing Cessa start a game ever again, but if they want to try him as a one (or *gulp* two) inning reliever out of the bullpen, max, then it’s a worthwhile experiment. I believe Cessa is out of minor league options, so it’s time to make a final decision on him. Because he has no more options, he’s honestly pretty likely to be with the big club on opening day.
Brian Cashman confirmed that Domingo German has an extra option year, which is very good for the Yankees because it does not mean they absolutely have to trade at least one of German or Cessa. I don’t think German’s career as a starting pitcher is dead, but I think he could be genuinely filthy out of the bullpen in 2019 if the Yankees decide to go that direction.
Johnny Lasagna is similar to German. He could definitely still be a starter- and a good one- but he could be really nice out of the bullpen, without the concerns with how much he will be able to pitch with his injury history.
Chance Adams remains an option, but I would not put him on the opening day roster, either, if I had to decide today.
The roster still has many question marks, for sure, but this seems to be where we stand with the roster right now.