The Yankees officially clinched a spot in the playoffs last week, and Pinstripe Alley’s postseason coverage starts today. With less than a week to go until the regular season ends, the Bombers will have some tough roster decisions to make soon. I asked some of my fellow staff members to weigh in on some of the questions regarding position players the Yankees will have to think through.
Should the Yankees carry Cameron Maybin or Tyler Wade as a pinch runner?
Freeni: The Yankees will presumably carry four bench players. Austin Romine/Kyle Higashioka, Gio Urshela (with Edwin Encarnacion as DH), and Mike Ford should be locks. The fourth outfielder should have the ability to play great defensively (no Clint Frazier) and steal bases. Personally I would go with Wade because he has shown he isn’t afraid of running at all.
Jake: If we’re looking purely at pinch-running ability, I think it’s Wade. Both are excellent runners, but Wade sits just above Maybin on Statcast’s sprint speed leaderboard. Wade’s max speed of 28.9 ft/s is tied with Brett Gardner for best on the Yankees. Plus, Maybin’s been caught stealing six times in 15 attempts this year, casting doubt on his ability to swipe a key bag late in a game.
Tyler: I actually think the Yankees can carry both Maybin and Wade, albeit in different roles. Maybin has become the fourth outfielder with the injuries to Aaron Hicks and Mike Tauchman; his spot on the roster should be all but settled.
Wade, on the other hand, wow, has he impressed the last few games. In addition to a monster home run on Friday night, he has run wild on the bases. We’re talking 92nd percentile sprint speed fast. He should without a doubt be the designated pinch runner. Wade hive assemble!
Is it worth the risk to have Edwin Encarnacion on the roster even if he isn’t fully healthy?
Freeni: Since the Yankees can change the roster each round it does give them some flexibility with Encarnacion. If he shows he’s comfortable at the plate and has a little bit of rust I would take the risk. If he continues to show discomfort I would keep him off the roster for the division series. Urshela would take over at third in this case.
Jake: It obviously depends on just how far below 100% Encarnacion is in this hypothetical scenario, but assuming he isn’t in putting himself in danger of making his injury much worse, then yes he’s worth carrying. Encarnacion has a 131 OPS+ this year, and has a 132 OPS+ over the past five years. Even a mildly compromised Encarnacion might be good enough to hit playoff pitching at an above average level.
Tyler: Thankfully it sounds like Encarnacion will be ready for the postseason. Aaron Boone said he expects to have him in the lineup against the Rangers next weekend. Encarnacion brings a game-changing bat to the lineup. He’s hit .249/.325/.531 with 13 home runs (121 wRC+) with the Yankees. Imagine having a prodigious power hitter at the bottom of the order. He’s too good to not include.
Who should start at first base?
Freeni: If Encarnacion is healthy, then Luke Voit is at first and DJ LeMahieu at third. If he is not healthy, I would like to see DJ at first and Urshela at third.
Jake: I’m no defensive evaluator, so I’ll defer to advanced metrics here with a fairly large sample. DRS has Luke Voit as 12 runs below average at first in over 1100 innings. Encarnacion has played about 1400 innings at first since 2016, and DRS puts him at just three runs below average. Again, presuming reasonable health, it looks like Encarnacion should start at the cold corner.
Tyler: The first base situation makes for a tough conversation. A lot of different scenarios could unfold here. For example, if Didi Gregorius plays shortstop then DJ LeMahieu could take over at first base. I think, however, the best move involves Luke Voit.
Voit has struggled since returning from the injured list on August 30 (94 wRC+), but he’s still hitting the ball well.
His bat should get him in the lineup, regardless of defense. If the Yankees want to shore things up on the defensive side later in the game, fine. They should make sure that Voit gets a few at-bats, though.
Did Mike Ford force his way onto the roster?
Freeni: Absolutely, he remains the last left-handed bench option (Wade isn’t a hitting option) and is insurance for two injury-prone players in Voit and Encarnacion. If Voit gets injured, Urshela most likely comes in because DJ can move over to first. If Encarnacion gets injured, Mike Ford is the option because you need Urshela on the bench in case an infielder gets injured. This depends on what inning this injury might occur of course.
Jake: Ford’s been a nice story, but it’s hard to see who he forces off the roster. His utility on the bench would come purely as a pinch-hitter against a right-handed pitcher. The likes of Wade, Maybin, and Urshela can offer far more versatile skillsets, and really, who would Ford be pinch-hitting for in a stacked Yankee lineup?
Tyler: Ford has far exceeded my expectations--they were quite low going into the season--and that’s awesome. He has helped the team win, and for that I’m grateful. Unfortunately, those good feelings don’t justify a roster spot in the postseason. The team’s best players, those with the longest track records of success, should make the team, not the “next men up.” It was a great story, it worked brilliantly in the regular season, but you don’t roll out plans B and C in October when the A-squad is ready.
Does the upside of Clint Frazier’s bat justify a spot over Maybin who has cooled down?
Freeni: Frazier’s bat should be prioritized over Maybin’s no matter how hot he is. This is a complete yes on my part but I wouldn’t like to see either on the playoff roster if Encarnacion is healthy. I have no faith in Frazier’s defense at all.
Jake: I don’t think so. Judging by his play in the outfield in September, I’d still rather have myself playing outfield defense than Frazier. I might rather have my cat play defense, because at least my cat can’t feel complex emotions, and won’t have to feel bummed out when he makes defensive mistakes. Keep Maybin on the roster, and rest easy knowing he’ll catch the ones hit to him if pressed into duty.
Tyler: I think the Yankees showed their cards with Frazier earlier this year, and that stance hasn’t changed. The team appears unimpressed with the 24-year-old. He has only gotten regular playing time since the clinching, and he still represents a liability in the outfield. That upside is tantalizing, but for the fourth outfielder spot in the postseason, give me Maybin.