The Yankees survived. Weeks of tension dissolved on Wednesday night, as the Bombers took on the Athletics in the long-awaited Wild Card Game and emerged victorious. There will be no rest for the weary, as the Yankees will turn around and play the Red Sox in Boston on Friday night.
With each playoff round, teams get a chance to reset. The roster the Yankees carried into the Wild Card Game was a unique one, and they will get the chance to revise their team as they enter the divisional round. That raises some important questions regarding how the Yankees will approach the rest of the postseason.
The Yankees started Luis Severino in the Wild Card, and rostered nine other pitchers behind him. They had three catchers, five outfielders, and seven infielders. How much can we expect that breakdown to shift as the ALDS begins?
The most obvious change that will occur is the dropping of Kyle Higashioka, the third catcher. Higashioka was likely only on the Wild Card roster in case of emergency, and to give manager Aaron Boone maximum flexibility when it came to pinch-running and pinch-hitting. It didn’t come to pass, but Higashioka’s presence would have allowed Boone to, say, run for Gary Sanchez in the eighth inning of a one-run game should Sanchez have gotten on base.
That luxury will fall away in the ALDS, as Higashioka will probably be replaced by fourth starter CC Sabathia. The rest of the decisions Boone will have to make, however, appear to be more difficult.
Outside of Higashioka, the position players in most danger of falling off the roster in the ALDS are Tyler Wade and Adeiny Hechavarria. Wade brings defensive versatility to the table, but his primary function was as a potential pinch-runner in the Wild Card. Hechavarria profiles as a late-game defensive replacement, a role he filled with aplomb Wednesday night:
Greg Bird was notably left off the Wild Card roster, as Luke Voit has obviously entrenched himself as the starter at first base. Will Boone opt to drop someone like Wade or Hechavarria in favor of Bird bat’s bat off the bench?
Bird might have more talent than either Wade or Hechavarria, but Bird has had an entirely lost season, and would be relegated to a mere pinch-hitting role. If Bird did make the roster as a lefty bat off the bench, it’s not even clear who he would pinch-hit for against Boston. Would Boone use Bird in place of Andrew McCutchen against a right-handed reliever in Fenway Park? Would Bird pinch-hit for Voit at any point? It’s just not clear there would be much utility to Bird’s bat on the bench when so many good hitters already populate the lineup.
It will be up to Boone and the front office to decide, but it would not be a surprise for the Yankees to opt for Wade and Hechavarria’s speed and defense over whatever bench offense Bird could possibly provide. The odds that Wade steals a base or Hechavarria makes a defensive play do seem higher than the odds Bird runs into one in a couple of pinch-hit at-bats.
Also in question is the shape of the pitching staff. The Yankees carried 10 pitchers for the Wild Card, and that will become at least 11 when Sabathia joins the team. Will they stick with that group of 11? Could someone like Lance Lynn come off the roster? Could they even expand to 12 pitchers?
Of the pitchers that were available for the Wild Card, Lynn is the only one who could eventually come off for the ALDS. Even then, Lynn provides a useful safety blanket in the case of an extra-inning game, and is likely a safer long relief option at this point than Sonny Gray.
There was some buzz that 25-year-old rookie Stephen Tarpley could make the playoff roster, as he would give the Yankees a second left-handed relief option late in games. Tarpley did dominate to the tune of a 1.94 ERA in the minors this year, and showed well in a handful of major league appearances in September, but going with such a green player carries some risk.
Those are the key pressure points as the Yankees shape their roster for Boston. Will Bird make an appearance? Will the Yankees take another reliever in the form of Tarpley? Regardless of what they choose, the Yankees are deciding between useful players for the back end of their roster. They will be locked and loaded for the Red Sox no matter what. Here’s hoping it’s enough.