The underachieving Yankees had a lot of work to do in the second half to get back into the playoff picture. That work was supposed to begin last night against the Red Sox, but a sudden rash of positive COVID tests has cast a pall on pretty much everything relating to baseball in the Bronx. Pitchers Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wandy Peralta joined Jonathan Loaisiga on the COVID-19 IL in the early afternoon, and by pregame, it was clear that they would not be alone. The game was postponed with word spreading that three more Yankees would join them.
The names were rumored, and now it’s all but official: Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, and Kyle Higashioka all tested positive on multiple tests per ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Their cases have been confirmed, so they will head to the COVID-19 IL as well. Reports last night indicated that all but one are asymptomatic, and all but one received vaccines.
This all means that at a pivotal stretch of the Yankees’ season, they will be without their superstar right fielder, their reliable third baseman, their ace’s personal catcher, and three key relievers.
Unless a case of a false positive arises all 6 #Yankees players have to quarantine for 10 days. Loasiga’s clock started last week. But Judge, Cortes, Peralta, Urshela, Higashioka will miss lots of time between now and the 7/30 trade deadline as NYY tries to figure their path.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) July 16, 2021
There have not yet been any announcements about who will fill these roster spots beyond Zack Britton’s activation from the IL and Triple-A outfielder Trey Amburgey’s call-up. The odds seem good that with Urshela out, infielder Hoy Park will join them, as he was scratched from Scranton’s lineup last night and placed on the taxi squad.
Park has been one of the surprises of the farm system this year, jumping up from Double-A to suddenly hit .325/.475/.541 with 8 homers and a 174 wRC+ in 44 games with Scranton. At one point, the 25-year-old reached base in 30 consecutive games. Like Amburgey, it’s been an impressive ascent for someone who’d been mostly forgotten as a prospect, and Park would be making his MLB debut.
Higashioka’s absence means that Kellin Deglan or Rob Brantly will likely join the big league club, too. Per Scranton beat writer Conor Foley, Deglan has been on the Yankees’ taxi squad for “weeks,” though he’s never played in the majors. Due to this fact and his time on the since-eliminated Canadian Olympic baseball team, he’s only made it into 12 games for Scranton, batting .233/.281/.367 with a 71 wRC+.
Brantly’s also a possibility since he was scratched from yesterday’s Scranton lineup alongside Park. He’s seen more consistent playing time and would probably be a better option to back up Gary Sánchez. In 34 games this year, the 32-year-old minor league vet has hit .270/.391/.477 with 6 homers and a 134 wRC+. Brantly has played 127 games in the majors across six seasons (mostly with the Marlins from 2012-13), though that total includes just two games in the past four years.
On one level, it’s cool to see hard workers like Park and Amburgey perhaps finally getting their chance in The Show. On another, this is just disastrous news overall for the Yankees’ 2021 hopes. Now more than ever, they need the rest of their team to step it up and make up at least some of the lost production. Again, they have so much work to do as they sit tied for third and eight games behind Boston in the AL East, and tied with two teams at 4.5 games behind the A’s in the AL Wild Card hunt.
If you’re looking for good news, it does seem like the Yankees and Red Sox will play tonight at Yankee Stadium. I’ll let you be the judge about whether or not this is actually good news.