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The challenge of getting returning Yankees back in game shape

It’s going to be tough to balance playing time for the returning stars and the excellent replacements

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

We’ve spent so much of this season talking about how the Yankees are going to cover for all the injuries they’ve suffered. It’s safe to say we’ve all been thrilled with the way a previous bunch of nobodies has played while covering for guys like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar.

The depth signing, DJ LeMahieu, has been the team’s best player all season, and the scrap heap pickups like Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin and Mike Tauchman have posted wRC+ marks of 150, 142, and 145 respectively, while simultaneously improving the team’s defense.

The trick for the Yankees down the stretch won’t be the performance of the fill-ins; it will be balancing the time back for the guys coming off the IL. On the pitching side, this should be fairly easy – Dellin Betances and Luis Severino will be working out of the bullpen for their returns, assuming their rehab continues as normal.

Betances will just take innings from some of the weaker arms in the relief corps, facing more batters while guys like Stephen Tarpley and Chance Adams face fewer. This provides yet another elite arm in the bullpen, while also giving something of a fallback if it takes Betances some time to get back to his normal self.

Severino is a more interesting case. He’s such a dynamic arm with a proven ability to start; he threw the tenth-most innings out of all starters between 2017 and 2018. To me, it would be a waste of talent to have him be a one-inning specialist at the end of the season, and both he and the Yankees would be better served with Sevy working six to nine outs in order to really bring him up to speed. It would be easy to see him piggybacking with Domingo German, each working three innings, in order to limit German’s innings in August and September.

You could also pair Severino with CC Sabathia when they both return, if the Yankees want to present perhaps the most ludicrous contrast between pitching styles possible. Just imagine a hitter trying to face Severino’s 99 mph fastball in your first plate appearance, then Sabathia’s cutter from the left side in the second. I’m not sure Sabathia will get many looks in the postseason, but a pairing with Severino would be awful fun in the dog days of August.

On the position player side, the questions become more complicated. Giancarlo Stanton’s rehab seems to be progressing as normal, and he’s too important a bat to not have in the Yankee lineup as often as possible. It’s also critical that he gets up to game speed before October – he’s eligible for return on August 25, meaning the month of September can effectively behave as spring training for the former MVP.

The trouble is, of course, who gets dropped? If you want Stanton in the outfield, it means Tauchman or Maybin receive fewer plate appearances and defensive innings, and it’s hard to justify taking that away from either guy when they are playing at such a high level. If Stanton DH’s, that complicates the returns of Edwin Encarnacion and Luke Voit, as well as potentially threatening playing time for DJ LeMahieu, which just can’t happen.

The easy solution to this is just to assume that someone gets hurt – that’s certainly been the way 2019 has progressed so far. We can hope that everyone finishes the season healthy, but that’s just not been the case this year. Otherwise, the Yankees are going to have some tough decisions to make regarding playing time, and while “too many good players” is the best problem to have for a team, finding adequate tune-up time will be a chief focus down the stretch.