Despite the fact that the Yankees are in a tie for first place as of Monday night, they’re still in a decent bit of trouble. Over the last two weeks, they’ve mustered just 90 wRC+ offensively, and an ERA- of 118. Of course that’s a small sample. It’s 114 wRC+ and 89 ERA- on the full season, so it’s not like this is anything but a recent phenomenon.
Part of this is just natural regression — there was no way this team was a true talent .600 winning percentage team — and part of this is due to injuries and wear and tear. Seriously, nearly the entire non-Aaron Judge/Gary Sanchez group has ground to a halt. Here they are over the last two weeks:
There are a few bright spots, obviously: Chase Headley has started rebounding since a dreadful May, and Ronald Torreyes has been an unlikely hero as of late, but the rest of the crop have been absolutely dreadful. This has been compounded by the fact that Chris Carter had to be designated for assignment, Aaron Hicks is out three to four weeks with a ribcage injury, Matt Holliday has been dealing with fatigue, and Starlin Castro left last night’s game with a hamstring injury.
It’s not like the pitching has been much better:
Tyler Clippard has been a total disaster, CC Sabathia is hurt, and there has been a complete inability to find pitchers to manage the middle innings. This is especially noticeable with their starters generally unable to go deep into games.
This leaves the issue of the bench. The Yankees are now stuck with an eight-man bullpen, largely because of the pitching issues described above, and they’re simultaneously stuck with a short bench. The team is essentially operating with a reserve crew where Austin Romine is the backup catcher, Holliday is the backup first baseman plus the designated hitter, and the only other utility players available are Torreyes and Rob Refsnyder. It’s essentially a two-man bench.
I don’t really see how that is sustainable. Greg Bird is on the way, but it’s still kind of unclear how long that actually takes. Other than that, there would have to be some move made from Triple-A to bring up someone like Dustin Fowler or Miguel Andujar, but the Yankees have been reluctant to declare any of them fit to start. I do credit the Yankees for calling up Tyler Wade in place of Castro, but I wouldn’t consider that expanding the bench, but a call-up out of necessity.
There’s still a semblance of logic to the eight-man bullpen, especially when you consider their current pitching inefficiencies. With Sabathia out and the back-end of the rotation currently consisting of Jordan Montgomery and Luis Cessa, I get it. There is no way this can last as position players fall like dominoes, however. At some point, you have to declare a pitcher at the bottom of the pecking order isn’t worth it, and call up someone like Wade.
Or, the Yankees make a trade at the deadline. I think acquiring a pitcher, either a starter which they probably need the most, or a reliever to solidify the middle relief, will alleviate some stress on the eight-man bullpen. It also provides enough stability where the Yankees can afford having a larger bench. Consider the fact that they have just three days off from the All-Star Break to September’s roster expansion.
The Yankees are stuck with the roster size they have for another two months, and they need to make do. Operating with an eight-man bullpen, as well-intended as it may be with the pitching issues, becomes untenable when your necessary, vital position players are fading in the heat of a pennant race. Kill your darlings at the bottom of the bullpen, acquire a starter—just do what you need to do. A short bench may work when you’re caught off-guard for a day or two, but it should not become organizational policy.