Over the past few seasons we’ve seen a lot of the Yankees’ bench players. A combination of historic IL days and an org-wide focus on rest/load management means there are plenty of PAs that go to guys outside the regular starting nine. Some of those players have sparkled in their backup roles, and some are Tyler Wade.
The Yankees made a depth move yesterday signing Jay Bruce to a minor league deal with incentives should he make the major league roster. With Depth Charts projecting a .762 OPS for Bruce, he fits solidly in the upper-tier of bench players on the club, expected to be exactly as good as Miguel Andújar. Mike Ford, meanwhile, projects for a .776 OPS, the top mark among backup hitters.
The real trick of a backup’s effectiveness is playing time, and what role they’re expected to play on the club. We tend to think of backup players as glove-first, the kind of guy that you put in the outfield or up the middle in the final innings of a close game. If they can then hit at around league-average, you have a pretty useful player. This is how I would want someone like Mike Tauchman to be used — he can play all three outfield positions well, and if he can be at least not-useless at the plate, you can see him working in this kind of role.
However, the Yankees’ penchant for injury and rest may force the bench into more action than we’d all like:
As we said, you don’t expect your bench pieces to be great hitters, but what should be particularly concerning is how bad the backup infielders are. Miguel Andújar is projected for a decent enough offensive season, but his complete lack of any defensive value on the infield eats away at his playability — there’s a reason the Yankees keep trying him in left field.
After that, we’ve seen Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada, and you can see what Depth Charts thinks of their abilities. The Yankees have a really strong starting infield, but should Gleyber Torres or Gio Urshela see any extended IL time, the infield picture begins to look a little shaky. Wade is a good enough defender in a backup role, but Estrada is a net negative by OAA over the past two years.
This analysis doesn’t take into account the possibility of one more move. The Yankees have apparently been in contact with Brett Gardner, who I think would be perfectly fine as a backup outfielder, even if I’m skeptical the Yankees would use him as a true backup. The lack of enticing options on the infield is a little more concerning — a player like Tommy La Stella could’ve been used as a true super utility piece, moving around the infield to give rest and hedge injury, while presenting a much better all-around option than someone like Tyler Wade.
It may be nitpicky to look at the bench, especially the infield half, and want to see a little bit more. No team has 26 All-Stars on their roster. The Yankees’ particular problems with injury and habits of rest, though, make me think they could have added one more backup player, because although 20 games of Tyler Estrada probably won’t hurt the team, 100 games of them might.