The Yankees are old. They get hurt a lot. We've been talking all winter about how their season hinges on health, because it unfortunately does. Seven of nine in the starting lineup will be 32 or older by the All-Star break and only one - Brett Gardner - has played in 140 or more games each of the past two years. The Yankees are set up OK to withstand whatever mishaps befall them in the outfield where they'll have the improving Aaron Hicks as the primary backup with Slade Heathcott, Ben Gamel, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge all waiting their turn at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In the infield, though, that's not the case.
On their opening day roster, the Yankees figure to carry just one reserve infielder in Dustin Ackley, and he only plays two of the four infield spots. Ackley's never appeared at short or third, and while he did play first in college, he's only made eight starts there at the big league level. Starlin Castro, starting second baseman, is expected to be the main fallback at short–his former position–and third, where he hasn't ventured since he was 17 and in rookie ball. Castro will also be selling tickets and flying the team plane.
Farther down the 40-man, and among minor camp invites, there's not much more relief. Rob Refsnyder is a thing even if the Yankees have spent most of the past two seasons pretending he isn't. Still, the only position he's played professionally since 2013 is second base, where the Yankees are deepest with Castro and Ackley. There's been talk of Refsnyder giving third a try this spring, but with the team wary of his defense at second after 352 games, it's hard to believe they'd turn him loose at the hot corner, which calls for quicker reactions and tougher throws. Chris Parmelee was brought in this week, but he only plays first and is yet another lefty in an already lefty-heavy mix. A classic "quad-A" player at 27, he's put up numbers in the minors but has a sub-.700 OPS at the MLB level since 2012. There's the traded for then DFA'd then waiver claimed Ronald Torreyes who has been with seven organizations in the past six years and earns a 73 wRC+ projection from Steamer. Pete Kozma has a slick glove, but his bat makes Stephen Drew look like J.D. Drew. If none of those guys do it for you, then maybe Tyler Austin floats your boat. The Yankees have tried him at both first and third, but at 24 he's no longer much of a prospect and his first taste of Triple-A last year didn't go well at all.
Injury contingencies for the Yankee infield seem to generally involve players shuffling around to positions where they have little or no experience. If Mark Teixeira goes down there's no Greg Bird to replace him anymore. Maybe you stick A-Rod at first and hope he doesn't break. Maybe it's Carlos Beltran. He does have a five-inning resume there after all. Brian McCann with Gary Sanchez starting at catcher? In the Joe Girardi era the Yankees have put a high value on behind the plate defense, so it's hard to see them trusting a rookie while also marginalizing an $85 million stalwart by moving his bat to a spot where it doesn't play as well. Chase Headley at first, Castro at third and an Ackley-Refsnyder platoon at second? Sure. That only weakens the defense at three positions.
The rest of the Yankee starting infield has been more durable than Teixeira, but if one of them goes down, the same kind of deckchair rearrangement would occur with the onus being on Castro to pick up and move. What if it's not injuries but bad play that's the issue? Castro and Headley both had down years in 2015. If they don't bounce back, or if Didi Gregorius looks more like he did in April than he did over the rest of the season, there's really nowhere to go.
Infield depth is something the Yankees could have addressed fairly cheaply over the off-season if they'd been inclined to sign any Major League free agents. Yes, the problem has been exacerbated by Bird's injury, but according to Brian Cashman, he was ticketed for an everyday job in the minors, not an MLB bench role. Juan Uribe recently came to terms with the Indians for less than $5 million. At 36, he's still playing at a pretty high level. The Rays snagged Steve Pearce for $4.75 million. He's logged time at first, second and third and has been an above-average hitter career-wise despite a down 2015. Sean Rodriguez, who the Pirates are paying $2.5 mil, has played all four infield spots and is solid against lefties. Chris Johnson flat-lined after signing a big deal with Atlanta, but he also can hit lefties and play first and third. He cost the Marlins only $508,000.
There are guys still out there, too. David Freese is an actual decent player who hasn't found work yet. Pedro Alvarez is a defensive abomination and a strikeout machine, but if he could get back to hitting more balls in the air he'd be a nice fit for Yankee Stadium. Both of those two are probably looking for more playing time up front than what the Yankees can offer, but they'd be much better replacements than anything in house if and when the long-term injury strikes.