If residents of Scranton, Pennsylvania, have thought that the members of the current Yankees roster looked familiar, there’s a good reason for that. The Yankees injured list looks fuller than it has since 2019, the season known for its #NextManUp mantra: Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Matt Carpenter, and Andrew Benintendi are currently on the 10-man IL, Aroldis Chapman, Scott Effross, Albert Abreu, and Luis Severino are on the 15-day, and Harrison Bader, Luis Gil, Zack Britton, Miguel Castro, Chad Green, Michael King, and Stephen Ridings occupy the 60-day.
While some of these players won’t be seen until 2023 at the earliest — sorry, King, Gil, and Green (and probably Ridings, too, who hasn’t had many updates) — many of these players are currently working their way back. All of Bader, Britton, Castro, Chapman, and Severino are in the midst of rehab assignments, Effross threw a bullpen this weekend, and Rizzo returned to the dugout this past weekend after his headaches began to subside. Assuming their comeback paths continue to go smoothly, these players will need to be added to the active roster, and in the case of Britton, Castro, Sevy, and Bader, to the 40-man as well. A roster crunch, or rather, two roster crunches, are incoming.
In some cases, the moves are fairly straightforward. The Yankees already have a free spot on the 40-man, and could easily gain another by transferring Albert Abreu to the 60-day IL — although Aaron Boone did use him in some relatively high-leverage spots at times, for the most part he was the last arm on the totem pole and would not be missed. Furthermore, one of Estevan Florial or Tim Locastro would be optioned to Scranton to make room for Rizzo, with the other likely doing the same once Bader is ready to return. The oft-optioned Miguel Andújar is on shaky ground as well.
The recovery timelines of Benintendi, Carpenter, and LeMahieu each carry their own degrees of murkiness. But they must be acknowledged as well since — while welcome — they would result in some difficult choices. Would they send down highly-touted prospect Oswald Peraza despite his solid performance, considering their continued insistence on starting Isiah Kiner-Falefa? Still, the immediate future on the position player side seems fairly straightforward.
On the pitching side of things, things start to get a little tricky. With Severino, Britton, Chapman, and Castro currently in the middle of rehab assignments, the Yankees will soon need to clear four spots in the pitching staff, likely in the bullpen. Easy players to either demote or DFA, however, are few and far between. At the time of writing, this is what the Yankees pitching staff looked like, courtesy of the FanGraphs Depth Chart.
Despite strong outings in his trio of cameos — he’s given up just one run and six hits in 10.2 innings, throwing up zeroes in both high-leverage situations and in blowouts — Ryan Weber is the obvious candidate to jettison. He’s been designated for assignment multiple times already this year, only to clear waivers, re-sign with Triple-A Scranton, and then return to the Bronx a few weeks later. Greg Weissert, too, would likely be optioned back to Scranton — while he has largely been impressive after his disastrous debut, he has three options remaining and just a handful of MLB innings on his arm. But after those two, the decision becomes difficult.
Could the team send Clarke Schmidt back to Triple-A? Although the Yankees lost the two starts he made while Nestor Cortes was on the shelf, he has been a dominant multi-inning reliever for the Yankees this year, as he posted a 2.18 ERA and limited opponents to a .207/.316/.310 slash in 17 relief appearances; of those, he went more than one inning 11 times. While far from a Michael King replacement, he’s been able to bridge the gap to the back of the bullpen when the starter did not go long, eat innings late in a blowout, and even pitch high-leverage innings in close games. If Weber and Weissert were sent down, he’d be the last current reliever capable of lengthy outings left in the bullpen (though Domingo Germán could slide to the ‘pen upon Severino’s return).
Might the team send Ron Marinaccio down in favor of a veteran arm again? They’ve already done that in the past, sending him down in both July and August because he still had options remaining. He has been one of the Yankees’ more reliable relievers this year, giving up just nine runs all season. Since the beginning of June, Marinaccio has given up just two earned runs and limited opposing batters to a .118/.259/.194 slash line in 29 innings. Although his 12.9 BB% is higher than the team would certainly like, he makes up for it with a high strikeout rate (29.9 K%, ranked 41st among the league’s 231 relievers with at least 30 innings) and an ability to avoid hard contact (opponents have just a .158 xBA and .253 xSLG against him according to Statcast, along with just five barrels). Marinaccio’s pace has slowed a little bit in the last few weeks, so perhaps the Yankeees would use that as an excuse to farm him out again.
It goes on and on, albeit with relievers much less likely to disappear. Lou Trivino has been lights-out since coming to the Yankees as an ancillary part of the Frankie Montas deal with the Oakland Athletics. He’s given up just one earned run in 15 appearances, and has helped the Yankees escape trouble on more than one occasion by pulling a Houdini act in a high-leverage situation. After struggling with both injuries and ineffectiveness at the start of the season, Jonathan Loáisiga has been lights out of late, allowing just one run and keeping batters to a .125/.167/.125 slash line since August 14th. Lucas Luetge, too, has been peaking at the right time. And Wandy Peralta has arguably been the team’s most consistent reliever this season.
Having too many players and not enough roster spots is a good problem to have, and fresh injuries always feel like they’re right around the corner. So at the very least, the current 40-man provides some insurance policy. But at the end of the day, it’s still a problem that needs to be solved. How the Yankees decide to approach this roster crunch will likely have a major impact on the pennant race.
We’ll see in time whether the team makes the right choices.