In a season comprised of bad breaks that have truly tested the New York Yankees’ patience, the Bombers received the worst news of all when it was announced late Thursday night that Aaron Judge had suffered a chip fracture in his right wrist as a result of getting hit by an errant Jakob Junis fastball. The big right fielder will be out for at least three weeks.
Judge’s production simply cannot be replaced. He leads the team in most offensive categories and is the heart and soul of the team. He is a top-10 overall player by WAR, and this is the first major injury that Judge has had to deal with as a big league regular.
In the interim, Giancarlo Stanton seems to be the perfect replacement. An equally large and powerful outfielder, Stanton is a natural right fielder and will continue to provide thump in the middle of the Yankees’ order. Someone, however, still has to take Judge’s place on the roster. At the beginning of the season, the Yankees were rich in outfield depth. Their top three preseason replacements, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney, are injured or gone. Thus, the Yankees will have to get creative to fill Judge’s void.
Tyler Wade has been recalled and Shane Robinson is on the roster, but while these players provide speed and defense, they offer no power whatsoever. This is where Judge’s loss will truly be felt. These players will round out the bench, while someone else will have to take Judge’s at-bats as a primary DH.
On the current roster, Neil Walker seems set to fulfill an everyday role as a utility infielder and designated hitter. While Walker has been muddling through the worst season of his career, he is batting over .300 with a .412 OBP over his last 15 games. It’s a small sample size, but Walker is an experienced big leaguer who has put together a better career than you may realize.
He’s always been above-average by wRC+ and WAR, and is a switch hitter who can play a few different positions. He has not been productive this year, but the Yankees will likely bank on Walker reverting to the player he’s been for the last seven years. Tyler Austin is also at Triple-A and could get recalled to add some strength to the bench.
Alternatively, the Yankees could look at some external replacements if the price is right. Among available outfielders, Adam Jones and Curtis Granderson seem like natural fits in pinstripes. They are each in their mid-30s and have some shortcomings, but if the Yankees desire a dependable veteran outfield power source, those are the guys. They’ve also been linked to Mike Moustakas, a corner infielder who just so happens to be in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium right now. These players would essentially replace Walker as a regular and force Wade or Robinson back to Triple-A, which could be feasible.
This injury could have catastrophic effects on the Yankees in the division race. They are playing the Red Sox for four games at Fenway in a week, and not having Judge will cost them. Judge has batted second in every game he’s played this season, and the lineup will have to be shaken up a bit.
Fans have wanted Gleyber Torres to get a shot hitting higher in the order, and now is the time. Torres makes perfect sense as a number two hitter — he gets on base at a good clip, can hit for average and power, and could be the club’s best overall hitter now without Judge. Aaron Hicks would also fit well in the two-hole, should Aaron Boone choose to go that route.
The biggest concern for Judge is if he will be at full strength when he returns. A three-week timeline puts him at mid-August to begin rehabbing, and he will likely return for the September stretch run. But will he be fully healed?
Wrist injuries are notoriously finicky, and a chip fracture could easily become something much worse. What if the injury flares up in October and Judge starts struggling? The Yankees need to be cautious and not rush Judge back so that he doesn’t get re-injured fast, like Gary Sanchez. At the same time, the Yankees need Judge back ASAP if they want to catch the Red Sox. It’s a double-edged sword.
Losing the team’s best player will hurt no matter the time of year. Losing Judge now, however, greatly impacts the Yankees. There are some veteran options available on the trade market, but they are only worth pursuing for a minimal cost. The 2018 Yankees have survived the losses of Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird for two months, Masahiro Tanaka and Gleyber Torres for a month and Jordan Montgomery and Jacoby Ellsbury for essentially the year. Here’s to hoping they can survive without Judge for a little bit, too.