Place your bets, everybody. This is the final Pinstripe Alley “Making the Team Meter” before Opening Day, and the last few spots on the roster are coming down to the wire. The Yankees have already made some cuts that indicate which way they’re leaning on a few spots in question, but the final 26-man roster is still very much in the air.
There have been a few risers and fallers, and some veterans on non-guaranteed deals have straddled the line between forcing the Yankees’ hand and making things easy. First, the pitchers.
The Yankees thinned their pitching herd this week. First, they officially demoted Kyle Barraclough and Asher Wojciechowski. But in the most significant move, they re-assigned Deivi García to minor league camp.
García didn’t have a bad spring, but given his extreme youth, the Yankees’ patience, and a resurgent performance from Domingo Germán, he won’t be making the big club right out of camp. García will be slated as the Yankees’ unofficial sixth starter, and likely the first one recalled in case of injury or underperformance. This will probably end up being a better way to get him regular work in April rather than languishing in long relief.
This move all but affirms Germán as the fifth and final starter, which also answers a key question about the team’s bullpen and bench structure. With a normal five-man rotation, the Yankees can now construct a traditional eight-man bullpen and four-man bench. Six of the Yankees’ bullpen spots are guarantees, but there are two open spots – one long reliever, and one lefty to replace the injured Zack Britton. Although Justin Wilson is supposedly OK, the Yankees would be wise to keep a lefty reliever around in case his shoulder starts barking again.
Lucas Luetge seems to be the frontrunner for that role. The 34-year-old southpaw finally allowed some runs this week, but has still pitched to a stellar 1.93 ERA this spring and has struck out 16 batters in 9.1 innings. The only reason he’s not green on the meter above is that his status as a non-roster invitee somewhat hurts his chances. It’s not too hard to see a scenario where the Yankees break camp with Michael King and Nick Nelson on the active roster, especially if they instead decide to make room on the 40-man for Jay Bruce or Derek Dietrich. Luetge has done everything possible and then some to make this team, but he’s still not a full guarantee.
The aforementioned King and Nelson seem to be dueling for one spot, and if we’re going by spring performance, then advantage: Nelson. King got lit up in his first and last spring appearances, while Nelson only allowed one run in 8.2 innings. Either would work as the team’s long reliever, but Nelson has been so much better than King in camp that I feel confident moving his status to the “green” tier.
The Yankees only made two cuts to the group of hitters this week, but we were expecting a little more. Neither Sócrates Brito or Ryan LaMarre were ever going to seriously make the team, and neither will Rob Brantly now that Kyle Higashioka is fully healthy. Andrew Velasquez is still around, but Tyler Wade should beat him out based on defensive versatility and his speed. The Yankees’ use of a traditional five-man rotation also helps Wade’s chances to make the team as a bench player.
That leaves one spot left on the Opening Day roster, and though there’s a slight favorite, it’s still unclear. Mike Tauchman is the safe answer – he put up a good performance this spring, is the familiar choice, and his excellent fielding is perhaps the best single tool of anyone in this competition. Of course, it’d be very difficult to cut Bruce given the Yankees’ need for a lefty slugger off the bench. However, Bruce’s performance waned as Tauchman’s soared. At this point, the Yankees’ beat seems to think that Tauchman has the edge and it’d be hard to argue.
Aaron Boone has said that the decision will come down to which player he thinks will help the Yankees more in 2021 rather than spring stats, which is the smart way to handle this. He could easily go either way – Tauchman is redundant with Brett Gardner on the roster, but Bruce may have just been a flash in the pan. The only way this would really be surprising would be if Dietrich somehow factored into the team’s plans, but that doesn’t seem likely at this point unless the team chooses him over Wade.
If I had to choose, I’d bet on the Yankees picking Tauchman over Bruce for the final spot. Is it the right decision? Sound off in the comments below!
Boone announces that Luke Voit will start the season on the IL due to a meniscus tear in his knee (L); will be shut down for 3 weeks. Jay Bruce has been added to the roster. Per Boone, Mike Tauchman will be the extra outfielder, "as of right now." https://t.co/PGd2c4GNYA— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) March 27, 2021
Well, that cleans up some of the roster confusion. With Voit out, Bruce and Taichman will both make the roster, while Dietrich was released. The bullpen situation has not yet been fully decided though, so stay tuned.