The 2018 New York Yankees regular season is officially over, which means it’s time for the playoffs to begin. The Yankees host the AL Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday night, and Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone have yet to determine their final postseason roster. The Yankees get to prepare a one-game roster for the one-game playoff; should they advance, they will get to make another roster for the ALDS.
Given that this is just a roster for one game, the Yankees can have fewer starting pitchers on the roster and more relievers and bench players. Here’s my stab at what Boone’s roster will look like for the big game on Wednesday.
This part is relatively straightforward. At this point, we know who makes up the Yankees’ starting lineup, the big question is just how the bats will be ordered. On Friday night against the Red Sox, we saw the Yankees’ likely playoff lineup:
This configuration makes sense. Andrew McCutchen has supplanted Brett Gardner as the left fielder and leadoff hitter, Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks make up a nice bridge to the middle-of-the-order power in Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit and Didi Gregorius, and the 7-8-9 of Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres is probably the best lower third of a lineup in all of baseball. This is the most fearsome that the Yankees’ lineup has looked all year, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
The Yankees will only start one pitcher in the Wild Card Game, but that pitcher is still to be determined. The Yankees have many options: they can go with the ever-steady J.A. Happ on regular rest, clutch Masahiro Tanaka on six-days rest, or staff ace Luis Severino on eight-days rest. CC Sabathia is a tested veteran, but is probably best saved for a potential ALDS.
No matter who the starter is, the Yankees will employ a quick leash and warm the bullpen at the first signs of trouble. I do think that the Yankees put three starting pitchers on the Wild Card Game roster, being Happ, Tanaka and Severino. The two who don’t start will be rested and could contribute out of the bullpen in case of emergency. Meanwhile, Sabathia will benefit from the extra rest and gear up for a big ALDS start.
The Yankees’ bullpen is one of their strong suits. While some teams only have a few true relief aces, the Yankees have six relievers who are certain to make the postseason roster. Aroldis Chapman has been gearing up since his return from the disabled list, and may be Boone’s postseason closer. Dellin Betances and Zach Britton are dynamic setup men, while David Robertson, Jonathan Holder and Chad Green function as firemen or middle relief choices. Expect to see many of these six relievers on Wednesday night.
As currently constructed, the Yankees have nine players in their starting lineup, one starting pitcher, six relievers, and two starters who can work out of the bullpen if needed. That leaves seven spots up for grabs, which will likely go to five bench players and two more relief pitchers. You can never have too many pitchers in a one-game playoff. Matchups are king and the starter is not likely to go more than five innings, so the bullpen will be relied upon heavily.
In that respect, Lance Lynn and Stephen Tarpley get the nod for me. Lynn has shown that he can contribute in long relief, which may be necessary if the starter bombs or if the game goes into extra innings. Tarpley has been favored as a lefty specialist by Boone, and he could be used in a high-leverage matchup against powerful lefty slugger Matt Olson if needed. I’d rather have too many pitchers than not enough on a postseason roster, and Lynn and Tarpley have earned their spots.
As for the bench, some spots are locks. Austin Romine will be the backup catcher, Gardner the backup outfielder, Adeiny Hechavarria the backup infielder, and Neil Walker the utility man. That leaves one spot left, and the Yankees could go in a couple of different directions. If Boone wants a pinch-runner specialist with defensive versatility, then Tyler Wade’s his guy. If he wants some lefty pop off the bench, then Greg Bird could get the call. If he wants to play it safe, Ronald Torreyes or Kyle Higashioka offer depth at crucial positions.
For just this one game, I’d add Greg Bird to the postseason roster. If the Yankees are down late and need a shot into the short porch, Bird does provide more power than anyone else on that bench. At the same time, he’s barely hit .200 this season and has looked lost for weeks at a time. I wouldn’t include Bird for a full series roster, but I think he gets the last roster spot for the Wild Card Game as a potential pinch-hitter. This spot could get cut heading into the ALDS anyway, to make room for Sabathia.
Who’s left behind?
According to my 25-man Wild Card Game roster, some notable veterans will be left to watch the game from the televisions in the clubhouse. Sonny Gray and Tommy Kahnle were a big part of last year’s postseason roster, but have regressed too much this year to be on the roster when the Yankees need consistency the most. At this point, Gray and Kahnle cannot be trusted under the bright lights of October.
Wade, Torreyes and Higashioka also didn’t make my postseason roster, but I’d expect to see them get the call in case of injury as the postseason winds on. Meanwhile, young pitchers like Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, Jonathan Loaisiga are just too green for me to include on the final roster. Veterans A.J. Cole and Luis Cessa don’t make the cut, either.
Much gets made of who makes the postseason roster and who doesn’t, but in all likelihood, we’ll only see around 15 of these players in the game anyway. In the end, the Yankees are taking the best 25 players that they have, and that doesn’t include Gray, Kahnle or Sheffield. The final spots get some fan attention, but the Yankees will only win the Wild Card Game if their starters and big names come through.