Despite being just two weeks away from Opening Day, the outlook of the Yankees’ bench is not yet entirely clear. At the moment, there are maybe one or two guarantees on the Yankees’ bench right now, meaning the organization still has several decisions to make with regard to who will fill out the final spots on the roster.
Perhaps the only certainty on the Yankees’ bench comes in the form of Austin Romine. The 29-year-old is all but guaranteed to begin his third consecutive year in the Yankees’ backup role, and with good reason. He’s had more experience with the pitching staff than any other player in the organization, and he seems comfortable being in this position. Romine’s primary competition for the backup job was Kyle Higashioka, but he was officially cut from big league camp earlier this week. If Higashioka is to ever take Romine’s job, it’ll have to be after Opening Day.
Jacoby Ellsbury is guaranteed a spot on the roster this year, but whether or not he’ll be healthy enough to be on the Opening Day roster has yet to be seen. He has been out for a few weeks now dealing with an oblique injury, but he appears to be on his way back. Ellsbury tracked pitches in a sim game on Wednesday, but he has yet to begin taking swings at game-speed. Oblique injuries are notoriously tricky, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Aaron Boone hinted at the possibility of Ellsbury beginning the year on the disabled list.
If he does begin the year on the shelf, it puts Billy McKinney on the short-list of candidates to fill his role in the meantime, as few other outfielders have been as good as McKinney so far this spring. However, Ellsbury will assuredly take back his role as the first outfielder off the bench once he does get back to being healthy.
The biggest questions about the bench have to do with the backup infielders. The competition seems to be down to Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade, and Tyler Austin following the release of Danny Espinosa and Adam Lind. After hitting .321/.429/.323 through Thursday, Wade certainly made the case for him to be the starting second baseman, but it would be shocking to see anyone other than Neil Walker get the job at this point. Despite Wade’s clear talent, Walker has the better track record, more power, and the big money contract. Wither way, the Yankees have the space to fit both players into their plans.
With Walker and Wade pretty much set to make the roster, only one of Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Austin can make the team. As it stands, Romine, Wade, and McKinney are likely to be on the bench, so if the Yankees decide to use a four-man bench, choosing between Torreyes or Austin will be a necessity.
Torreyes showed last year that he’s a valuable glove-first bench piece. But Torreyes might be a redundancy with Walker and Wade’s versatility already on the roster. Conversely, Tyler Austin lacks the athleticism of Torreyes. However, Austin could be a solid bat-first bench piece and a backup option at first base. Still, the Yankees might choose to go with neither Austin nor Torreyes and choose to go with an extra bullpen arm.
The Yankees open the season with 30 games in 33 days and will undoubtedly be careful with their pitching staff. It might behoove them to carry an eight-man bullpen, or possibly even a sixth starter to begin the year as a way to shoulder the early season load. Both Torreyes and Austin have minor league options left, so the Yankees could send either one down without having to expose anyone to waivers.
In any case, the Yankees currently have a few bench positions up for grabs. Ellsbury’s health, infield versatility, and the pitching staff will undoubtedly be factors in how the final spots on the roster shake out.