One week from today, Major League Baseball will expand its active rosters from 26 to 28, marking the first use of the new expanded roster rules since its introduction following the 2019 campaign (the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in these expanded rosters being used the entire season). Rather than simply bringing up everyone close to the Majors for extra warm bodies in the bullpen and situational pieces for the bench (e.g., defensive specialists and speedsters to deploy as pinch-runners), teams will be forced to decide which pieces they value most for the stretch run.
With a plethora of players above and beyond the anticipated starting lineup who have been key pieces to the Yankees’ recent hot stretch, Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone will have some difficult decisions next week. Which options might they consider?
A Permanent Spot for Luis Gil
Since making his MLB debut on August 3rd, Gil has been a normal member of the starting rotation, making subsequent starts on August 8th and August 17th. What you might not have realized, however, is that Gil has spent exactly three days on the active roster — the days that he made his starts. The Yankees manipulated the roster by naming him a COVID-19 replacement for his first two starts and naming him the 27th man during the doubleheader for his third. With these moves, the team was able to send Gil back to Scranton immediately without being forced to keep him down a full ten days; this allowed them to keep fresh arms in the bullpen in between starts — fresh arms that have been sorely needed with August’s COVID-19 outbreak (not to mention the grueling schedule).
The extra two spots in September, however, allow the Yankees to keep Gil around on a full-time basis and help him continue to make regular starts. Of course, whether there’s actually going to be enough starts for him might be a different story.
Injury Returns for Corey Kluber and Luis Severino
Every time a player comes back from injury, the team needs to clear a roster spot for him. With Kluber and Severino potentially returning from the 60-day IL in the not-so-distant future, the Yankees will need to free up two spots on both the active and 40-man rosters. Kluber’s rehab is progressing nicely, though Severino’s setback and current examination by Dr. Neal ElAttrache could end up keeping him out of commission.
While the Yankees will likely transfer injured players to the 60-day to open up those 40-man spots if needed, there are no readily-available replaceable players with options to bring them back easily. By waiting until the first of September, however, the Yankees could avoid the second problem entirely.
Prospect Clarke Schmidt and Other Fresh Bullpen Arms
Of course, Kluber and Severino are not the only injured arms that the Yankees have on their way back. Top prospect Clarke Schmidt missed most of the season with elbow trouble and only made his way back to Triple-A Scranton on August 18th, and while it might be a stretch for him to have an impact as a starter this season, he could provide some innings out of the bullpen in September.
Although they have not been injured this year, the Yankees could also turn to Stephen Ridings, Sal Romano, or Brody Koerner for innings, as all three have shone in limited action (they have combined for three runs on nine hits in 10.2 innings, striking out 11 and walking only 4). Of course, only Koerner is on the 40-man roster at the moment, but if they really wanted to bring one of the others up, they could easily make it work. They may have to wait on Ridings unfortunately, as he was recently placed on Scranton’s IL.
Bench Depth with Estevan Florial, Greg Allen, or Andrew Velazquez
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that both Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela will be back sometime in the next week; as great as his story has been, that almost certainly sends Velazquez back to Scranton. With this in mind, the Yankees could decide to go all-in on improving their bench by bringing him back, along with one of Florial or Allen. (Jonathan Davis could be back in Scranton then as well, and may also be an option.)
Each of these players would offer Boone a speedster who could be used to pinch-run for slow-footed power hitters like Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit, while also possessing above-average gloves capable of playing important defensive positions. Ultimately, I doubt we see both spots used on two of these players — the Yankees will almost certainly add at least one arm — but even just one of them would deepen the team’s bench.
Rob Brantly or Chris Gittens, Excessive Redundancy
In the days of the 40-man expanded rosters, both Rob Brantly and Chris Gittens would be near-locks for the roster. Almost every team used to add at least one catcher on the first of September, as it gives them additional roster flexibility to more regularly employ their catcher as the designated hitter or to substitute for them during games. Gittens, meanwhile, is a strong defensive first baseman with immense power potential who has crushed Triple-A pitching, though like Ridings, he also just landed on the IL.
The game has changed, however. With only two new spots, it would be a waste to promote either Brantly or Gittens to the Majors, barring an unforeseen injury. The opportunity cost of not adding another pitcher and/or players capable of playing more than one position is simply too high.
The Boring Choices: Nick Nelson and Brooks Kriske
Somehow, someway, it always comes down to these two. Neither Nelson nor Kriske have pitched well at the Major League level this season, combining for 25 runs in just 21 innings. Despite their lackluster performance — and despite superior options like Ridings in Scranton — the Yankees keep bringing them back for another go-around. Will that happen again next week? I sure hope not, but at this point, I’m not holding my breath on avoiding them.