When comparing teams side-by-side and trying to project which rosters have the best chance to make a playoff run, analysts often place the most (or possibly all) emphasis on the starting lineup, because, well, those players will be seeing the most playing time. Often overlooked, though, is a team’s bench, which, over the course of a season, plays a much larger role than expected. While not being as sexy as the best players on the team, depth can be just as important to a club’s success in the long run.
This holds especially true for a club like the Yankees, whose roster is a duct-taped hodgepodge of exciting young talent and proven veterans. A team like this is both susceptible to unexpected performances both good and bad from the youth, and unfortunately frequent injuries from veterans. The number of question marks outnumber the sure things on the Yankees, and to protect against this, New York will need plenty of bench (and Triple-A) depth.
The Yankees’ bench looked awfully mediocre prior to last week’s signing of the NL home run leader Chris Carter, and…that hasn’t changed much despite the addition of a 40-dinger bat. Right now, the team’s bench is likely to be Austin Romine, Chris Carter, Ronald Torreyes, and Aaron Hicks, with fringe players Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder battling for a spot as well.
To evaluate this bench soundly, one must ask what purpose these four non-starters serve. Are we judging each player based on how they’d serve as injury/poor performance insurance, or simply as replacements when a starter needs a breather? If it’s the former, then the Yankees aren’t exactly well positioned to absorb an injury or unexpectedly poor production, something that could prove to be an issue down the road.
The most glaring weakness of that bench is that it’s lacking in starters. If Gary Sanchez were to (god forbid) be injured, Austin Romine would step in and be one of the worst starting catchers in baseball with his 54 career wRC+ and below-average defense. Ronald Torreyes gives the exact value you’d expect from a 140-pound utility player nicknamed “Toe.” While his defense won’t hurt you, Torreyes isn’t going to do much on offense, since his power and speed are both practically nonexistent.
As the high man on Hicks, I’d venture to say that he could possibly serve as a second-division starter, but we’re also talking about a player who struggled at times on defense last season (despite excellent raw talent) and hit his way to a 64 wRC+ with just eight home runs and three stolen bases. Despite the upside present, it’s hard to count on him producing if given the opportunity. Carter is the easiest to see as a starter, as he brings elite power to the table and has played 129 games or more for the past four seasons, but this is also a player who almost ended up playing in Japan because of a lack of offers from big league teams.
Austin and Refsnyder, who may not even make the 25-man roster, could fill in if needed as well, but any team looking to make them starters right now would likely be disappointed. This isn’t to say that the Yankees’ bench needs four first-division starters, but having more than one player who likely wouldn’t become a black hole in the lineup would certainly be nice, and I’m not quite sure the Yankees have that.
Carter could be fine as a starter, sure, but even with my Hicks optimism, any team not named the Padres would probably have to be heavily bribed to put any of the other Yankees’ bench players in their starting lineup. Considering the fact that there’s almost no chance that the Yankees’ Opening Day starting nine remains intact throughout the whole season, the fairly shallow bench could create serious problems.