The Yankees’ roster has been in a constant state of flux over the past month due to injuries, and the expansion to 28 players in September allowed them to give a couple of young bats a shot. Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza certainly made the most of it, but now as the roster shrinks back down to 26 and players start to return in time for postseason play, the Yankees have had several questions to debate over the past week.
The team bought itself time to figure things out with a berth straight into the ALDS and past the Wild Card round (which dispatched the other two AL East teams), but in a couple days, the roster will have to be locked in. The only rules are that the players must have been on the 40-man roster before September, and that you can’t roster more than 13 pitchers. This will be an important distinction in a moment, but first let’s run down the guaranteed spots.
Aaron Judge isn’t just the team MVP but likely the league MVP as well, and you can pencil him in up at the top of the Yankee lineup. Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Harrison Bader, and Jose Trevino have all been mainstays since entering the lineup, and should expect to be in as well. There’s no reason not to expect the aforementioned Cabrera in the starting outfield, too, particularly with Andrew Benintendi still on the shelf.
There are a few more starters that almost assuredly will be here, with Isiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop and DJ LeMahieu and Josh Donaldson rounding out the infield. Which one of the latter two starts is up for debate, but while Donaldson hasn’t done himself any favors with the bat, his glove at his natural position is probably enough to outperform LeMahieu, who is off of the IL but probably not 100 percent. Kyle Higashioka is the one backup that will definitely be on the roster, as the Yankees haven’t used any other catcher aside from Rob Brantly in a doubleheader situation.
Pitching-wise, the starting rotation is locked in with the top three starters: Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino. Beyond that, it gets a little murkier, though the bullpen will definitely have Scott Effross, Lou Trivino, Jonathan Loáisiga, Lucas Luetge, and fifth starter Domingo Germán (who has pitched in relief before, albeit briefly) as the healthy regulars available. Wandy Peralta and Clay Holmes are reportedly on track to be pitch again by the start of the playoffs, so throw them in the mix as well. Injuries and uncertainty appeared to reopen a potential spot for embattled reliever Aroldis Chapman, but by skipping a Friday workout, he booted himself out of the picture.
That puts us at 21 players already, with five spots to go. We can rule out some candidates, such as Benintendi, Frankie Montas, and Ron Marinaccio — all three are likely to be on the roster if they advance to the ALCS or beyond, but current injuries prevent them from being ready right now. If the teams plans for an even split of position players and pitchers there would be a backup infielder, outfielder, and an additional slot to go along with three more arms, but there’s a bit of important news to consider.
The YES Network’s Jack Curry tweeted on Saturday that he believes the Yankees are going to go with 12 pitchers and carry an additional bat, which they are allowed to do — it just can’t be the other way around with an additional pitcher. This would be interesting information from any of the beat reporters, but Curry is essentially plugged into the front office and is relaying the strategy here. If he says that’s what he thinks they’ll do, bet on the Yankees taking 14 position players. With that in mind, that opens up an interesting roster move.
Matt Carpenter has been aiming for a return in the ALDS ever since he went down with a fractured foot, and manager Aaron Boone affirmed his solid standing today.
"I fully expect that, he looks great. He's been getting all his live ABs, he actually took Nestor deep yesterday"— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) October 9, 2022
-Aaron Boone on if Matt Carpenter will be on the ALDS roster pic.twitter.com/0P16nCQ34I
The team toyed with the idea of giving Carpenter a look in the Rangers series, but ultimately opted to continue his rehab at the alternate site in Somerset instead. Carpenter would be a big pinch-hit option off the bench, and could stick in at DH should they need to have Stanton rest or play the field (which he is trying to make an option again). It probably won’t be the latter though, as Cabrera has made enough of an impact in a short time in right to warrant a legitimate starting role this October.
A Cabrera-Bader-Judge outfield with Stanton DH’ing means that LeMahieu likely serves as the backup infielder, leaving two spots left here. An outfielder would have to be one of them, and with Benintendi still out of commission, that opens the door for Aaron Hicks to survive the first round of cuts. He’s been around this team all year long and has found spots to contribute in recent weeks even after hitting rock-bottom on September 9th.
The very last pick then falls on a dealer’s choice of Peraza, utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, or speed specialist Tim Locastro. Of the three, my pick would be Peraza. It wasn’t clear how seriously the Yankees felt about playing Peraza this year, given his late callup relative to Cabrera’s and lack of consistent playing time. The rookie has made the most of his opportunity though, showcasing his improved bat has become while still providing versatile defense around the infield. His offense is better than both Gonzalez and Locastro’s, and he can easily fill the pinch-running role as well. If Cabrera is penciled into the outfield, LeMahieu and Peraza both being on the roster opens up plenty of options for Boone, including pinch-hitting Carpenter for both Donaldson and IKF if need be. Peraza’s chances of making the team will be much more secure if the Yankees decide that LeMahieu’s injuries prevent him from being a factor, but even in this alignment, I have him on anyway.
Finally, we have two more pitchers to cover. Jameson Taillon may or may not start a game in the postseason for the Yankees this year, but I would be hard-pressed to believe that they wouldn’t want him around to at least provide some additional depth in the case of a starter getting pulled early. Depending on how the ALDS is going, he could even start one of the later games as well, though Cole in Game 4 on full rest and then Cortes with a bullpen game behind for a potential Game 5 are more likely. Taillon has had his ups and downs, but more often than not, he has been effective this year — the only worry is utilizing him in a role he’s not accustomed to.
The final spot is a bit of a mystery, as the Yankees have a few relievers recently returning from injury that they could go to, but they don’t inspire a lot of confidence. Zack Britton’s recent return to the 60-day IL took him out of the equation. Miguel Castro also came back from the 60 to pitch his first two games since mid-July at the end of 2022, but he looked shaky. If there’s not enough confidence in Castro, Clarke Schmidt or even rookie Greg Weissert could swoop in and return to the team. This is the only one that truly feels like a game-time decision for me; if I were to guess, I’d say Schmidt since he’s been around the team and healthy for the full September stretch run. With more experience in the role, he might make for a more enticing multi-inning relief option than Taillon or Germán anyway.
To recap, here’s my suggested roster.
Catchers: Jose Trevino, Kyle Higashioka (2)
Infielders: Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu, Oswald Peraza (6)
Outfielders: Oswaldo Cabrera, Harrison Bader, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks (4)
Designated hitters: Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Carpenter (2)
Starting rotation: Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino (3)
Bullpen: Jonathan Loáisiga, Scott Effross, Lou Trivino, Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, Lucas Luetge, Clarke Schmidt, Domingo Germán, Jameson Taillon (9)
Let us know if you have any adjustments or preferred alternative picks in the comments.