As the calendar flips over to February and spring training is just a few short weeks away, the Yankees have likely done most of their heavy lifting this winter. Needing a left-handed bat, they went out and got the best on the market not named Shohei Ohtani in Juan Soto. Needing an outfielder capable of playing center field, they brought in Trent Grisham. Looking to avoid last year’s parade of incompetence in left, they swung a deal for Alex Verdugo. And lastly, to replenish some of the pitching depth sent away to get Soto, they signed Marcus Stroman. While a splash move in February is not unheard of — and we do know that the Yankees are still keeping tabs on the pitching market — for the most part, the team today is roughly the team that will open the regular season.
That being said, the Yankees still have the roster flexibility to make a move to upgrade the bench. At the moment, in addition to the Austin Wells/Jose Trevino catching tandem, the bench consists of Grisham, Oswald Peraza, and Oswaldo Cabrera. Since, according to the FanGraphs Depth Chart, Peraza has one option remaining and Cabrera two, the Yankees could decide to let one of their young infielders start the season in Triple-A to get them regular playing time, freeing up a spot.
Rather than adding a veteran infielder like Gio Urshela or Donovan Solano to fill the Peraza/Cabrera role, as Chris Kirschner of The Athletic suggests, the Yankees should take advantage of the fact that having two infielders on the roster is largely superfluous, and instead fill that bench spot with a left-handed bat to provide Giancarlo Stanton insurance.
No matter how you slice it, Stanton’s overall numbers from 2023 were absolutely terrible. A .191/.275/.420 slash line (an 87 OPS+) is not good for a slick defender at a premium position; for a designated hitter, it’s borderline unplayable. Against lefties, though, Stanton remained a productive hitter, posting a .265/.324/.618 slash with seven home runs in 74 plate appearances.
Undoubtedly, the Yankees know these splits. Chances are, the team will look to protect him by scheduling Judge’s DH days — and thus, Stanton’s off days — on the days the Yankees are facing tough righties. And should these splits continue in 2024, they can easily lean into the Verdugo/Grisham/Judge lineup more often, with Soto serving as the primary DH against righties; in other words, they can platoon Grisham and Stanton.
So long as everybody is healthy, that is a fine plan. But what happens when somebody gets hurt? If one of Verdugo, Grisham, Judge, or Soto hits the shelf, even for just a couple of days, the Yankees will have little choice but to slot Stanton into the lineup on a daily basis, regardless of the handedness of the opposing pitcher.
In a similar vein, the Yankees’ current plan to back up Anthony Rizzo at first base is to slide LeMahieu over from third, and then pencil in Peraza or Cabrera at the hot corner. On a day-to-day basis, this setup is tolerable: LeMahieu has been more than adequate defensively at first, and Peraza and Cabrera have slick gloves themselves. The Yankees are relying on Rizzo to be a key part of their offensive production in 2024, however, if he is out for an extended stretch, the Yankees offense will suffer greatly unless one of the youngsters take a major step forward in their development. If LeMahieu is also out, the Yankees don’t have anybody else on the 40-man roster with experience at first base.
Fortunately for the Yankees, there remain on the free agent market a number of left-handed bats who could back up Rizzo at first and platoon with Stanton. While the top of the market, like Brandon Belt and Carlos Santana, are more likely to sign with teams able to give them regular starts — the Texas Rangers come to mind as a likely destination — Ji Man Choi, Mike Ford, and Dominic Smith all remain on the free agent market, and at this point in the offseason, are likely to accept fairly small contracts, possibly even minor league deals with invitations to spring training.
As a safety net for Stanton and Rizzo, that’s a fairly good use of a roster spot.