The status of baseball’s 2020 season is still very much up in the air. If we ever get games, one thing we can almost guarantee is the presence of expanded rosters. With the minor-league season effectively scrapped, and the risk of injury heightened by players playing more games in less time, carrying expanded rosters is a fair concession that both the owners and players should support.
Rosters were already going to be expanded to 26 (from 25) this year. The limit on September call-ups, however, was trimmed from 40 to 28. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the expanded MLB rosters for the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season could reach those levels. For this conversation, let’s assume an extra pitcher and position player.
So, how could the Yankees fill these sample vacancies? With Giancarlo Stanton and James Paxton ready to go on Opening Day, that gives the Yankees 24 spots of their roster filled, as seen below:
Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks still probably wouldn’t be ready to go for Opening Day. On the standard 26-man roster, that leaves an opening in the bullpen and an opening in the outfield to be filled. If we’re ambitious and say the rosters expand to 30 when baseball resumes, now there’s six spots for the Yankees to fill.
Let’s say those spots are filled by three pitchers and three position players. Now, let’s meet the candidates, sorted by likelihood to make the big show.
Pencil Them In:
As mentioned earlier, the Yankees already had two vacancies to fill on their base 26-man roster, and these guys probably would have been the last three to be in consideration. If the 2020 season happens, I’d bet on Mike Ford, Thairo Estrada and Jonathan Holder to be on the big-league roster from the get-go.
Ford gives the Yankees a lefty bat with power and patience off the bench, while Estrada can cover any infield position. Although he has played minimally in the outfield before, he shouldn’t have to this year, with Tyler Wade and Miguel Andujar both proving capable this spring of manning the outfield.
Holder was a valuable part of the Yankees’ bullpen just two years ago, and had a good spring this year. He has a minor league option left, but the Yankees would probably trust him more than a few of their other Triple-A arms. Holder likely had that last spot in the bullpen secured before the season was postponed.
That still leaves anywhere from one to three spots to fill, depending on how much the rosters actually expand. Rosell Herrera could definitely be an option for the Yankees in 2020 due to his strong spring training (.400/.444/.600 triple-slash) and positional versatility (he is comfortable in both the infield and the outfield). He’s not on the 40-man roster, but someone could be moved for him.
The Yankees would definitely need another pitcher, so how about Mike King? He’s already on the 40-man roster and looks poised for a breakout. He pitched the fourth-most innings of any Yankee this spring and performed well. He was optioned to Triple-A in March, but his versatility as a swingman could come in handy in the shortened season.
Ben Heller is another arm who has generated some buzz, but might benefit from some time in the minors (if possible). He has pitched less than 25 major and minor league innings since his Tommy John surgery in 2017, and only appeared in one spring-training game this year due to a back injury. The Yankees like him, but he’s not a sure thing.
The Yankees don’t have any left-handed middle relievers to deploy out of their bullpen – their only two southpaws are their top two relievers and are usually used in the eighth and ninth innings. Thus, non-roster invitees Tyler Lyons and Luis Avilan might have a chance at the big league roster. Each had a good spring, and although Avilan has better career numbers, Lyons has been with the Yankees longer and struck out four of the five batters he faced in the 2019 playoffs. However, neither player is on the 40-man roster, so someone would have to be let go to make room for them.
Clarke Schmidt was the Yankees’ spring-training success story this year, but he’s probably a bit too green for the bigs. He has only pitched three games above Single-A, and isn’t on the 40-man roster yet. He was excellent this spring and his time will come, but it’s too early for Schmidt right now.
An Outside Chance:
Deivi Garcia and Estevan Florial are two of the Yankees’ top prospects and both are on the 40-man roster, but neither would be likely to help the Yankees from the start of the 2020 season. Garcia had been re-assigned to minor league camp after struggling in spring training, and Florial has yet to make it above Single-A. They need to prove more before reaching the Bronx.
Veteran non-roster invitees Erik Kratz, Josh Thole, Dan Otero, David Hale, Zack Granite and Thomas Milone had varying degrees of success this spring, but none were good enough to justify releasing someone else for.