In the words of the late Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again.” You’ve read all the comparisons between 2013 and the current Yankees season — and for good reason. The Yankees went into 2013 expecting big contributions from Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Kevin Youkilis, and instead received them from Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix, Vernon Wells, and a turnstile of middle infielders and designated hitters. In 2019, big things were expected from Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Hicks, but the team has instead had to turn to Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman, and Gio Urshela. The comparison does fit like a glove.
None of us are particularly happy about the fact that we can make this comparison, but the team’s injury woes do allow us to get a look at the health of the organization as a whole. By comparing how the “replacement players” were acquired this year as opposed to 2013, we can see whether or not the organization is in the same spot it was in in 2013, as it often seems, or if the ability and youth of the current crop of stars allows us to look at the current team with rose-tinted glasses.
Back in 2013, the Yankees employed 20 players as “replacements” (for the purposes of this exercise, we are going to focus on position players), including Alfonso Soriano. Of these players, only two were acquired via the draft — David Adams and Corban Joseph — and three via the international amateur market — Eduardo Nunez, Zoilo Almonte, and Melky Mesa. Additionally, four were acquired during spring training — Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Brennan Boesch, and Ben Francisco. The majority of the rest, eleven in total, were acquired through the trade market, the waiver wire, or free agency after being released by another team; only one, Jayson Nix, had been on the team prior, having signed a minor league deal in November 2011 and appearing on the roster in 2012.
Obviously, since the season is only about a month old, the sample size that we have is much smaller, consisting only of Clint Frazier, Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade, Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela, and Kyle Higashioka. Even so, however, we can draw some conclusions from this small bunch. Estrada, Wade, and Higashioka all were drafted by the team, while Frazier was acquired as a high-profile prospect. All of them have been among the first guys called up to replace injured players; in 2013, the Yankees tried to avoid playing their prospects, instead preferring to draw on a revolving door of other teams’ castoffs.
Additionally, Urshela was acquired via trade last August and received a non-roster invite to spring training this year. At the time of his acquisition, the team was not particularly lacking in infield depth; the Yankees, instead, targeted him, knowing that his elite defense would allow him to serve as adequate third base depth, and that if his bat were to come around, he would become a reliable infielder. The only replacement player acquired as an “emergency response” this season has been Mike Tauchman — and even then, the Yankees did not need to go after him, as they could have used Clint Frazier or Tyler Wade as the fourth outfielder to start the season; it is very possible that Tauchman is a player that the organization had been targeting who just happened to fit a need (think of this as the Luke Voit mold of trade acquisition).
Obviously, we are still too early in the season for the team to start utilizing a revolving door of castoffs to replace injured players, and hopefully the starters will return soon enough that the team would never need to go to that. However, the fact that most of the depth that this team has tapped into has come from those already within the organization demonstrates that the Yankees are, top to bottom, deeper than they were six years ago, in large part due to the development of prospects, and the targeted acquisition of low-profile position players that Brian Cashman has become famous for. Ultimately, while nobody should be particularly excited that the team’s regulars have all hit the injured list, the replacements have shown us that the Yankees organization seems to be built on a much stronger foundation than it had been in the past.