Who could don the pinstripes for the Yankees on Opening Day?

February 1st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NEW YORK -- We’ve made it to February! There are two weeks left before the first Spring Training workout for pitchers and catchers takes place under the Florida sunshine, and precisely eight weeks until the Yankees stand on the third-base line at the Astros' Minute Maid Park, primed to begin the 2024 regular season.

Those dates are close enough that we can begin to forecast how the Opening Day roster will look, though as general manager Brian Cashman frequently remarks, there is still plenty of time before it will be “pencils down” to finalize the roster ahead of the July 31 Trade Deadline.

“We like what we have; we’re excited about what we have,” Cashman said. “But no one is handing us a trophy. We’ve got to go earn it. The only way to best earn that is to have the most talent and the most insurance policies you can possibly have, within reason. That’s how we’re going to go about it.”

Let’s take a swing at building the Bombers’ best 26-man squad, using players currently in the organization and some assistance from the 2024 Steamer projections.

Starting pitchers (5): Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman, Nestor Cortes, Clarke Schmidt

The January addition of the sinkerballer Stroman appears to have completed the starting five as the club is no longer engaged with free agent Blake Snell. Cole will stand tall as the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, with Steamer’s projections forecasting a 3.73 ERA over 200 innings for the reliable ace. The Yanks are pinning their hopes upon bounce-back seasons from Rodón and Cortes. The metrics favor Rodón’s chances, suggesting a 3.79 ERA over 163 1/3 innings.

Bullpen (8): Clay Holmes (CL), Scott Effross, Victor González, Ian Hamilton, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loáisiga, Ron Marinaccio, Luke Weaver

This is an area where the Yankees still hope to make upgrades before Opening Day, though free-agent options Josh Hader, Hector Neris and Wandy Peralta have signed elsewhere in recent weeks. Loáisiga and Kahnle stand to be the primary setup men for Holmes, who is projected to log 32 saves with a 3.25 ERA. The December trade for the lefty González could be a sneaky under-the-radar pickup, while Effross’ return from surgery would bolster the staff.

Catchers (2): Jose Trevino, Austin Wells

With Kyle Higashioka dealt to the Padres as part of the Juan Soto trade, Wells has a clear path to make the Opening Day roster after popping four homers with 13 RBIs across 19 games at the end of the season. Much of the playing time still should belong to Trevino; Boone said that Trevino “is doing great” with his recovery after undergoing wrist surgery in July.

Infielders (5): DJ LeMahieu, Oswald Peraza, Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, Anthony Volpe

Though there have been scattered reports about interest in Matt Chapman, Cashman has said he considers the infield set, envisioning LeMahieu at third base, Volpe at shortstop, Torres at second base and Rizzo at first base. Cashman said that Rizzo “feels great” and “is 100 percent cleared” from the concussion issue that ruined his 2023 season.

Outfielders (5): Oswaldo Cabrera, Trent Grisham, Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, Alex Verdugo

Soto’s move to the Bronx could deliver a monster season, as Steamer sees the lefty slugger posting a robust .984 OPS and 6.7 fWAR. Judge is preparing for duty as the starting center fielder, an assignment he favors; the metrics eye Judge to belt 46 homers with a .949 OPS and 6.2 fWAR. Verdugo will patrol Yankee Stadium’s larger expanse in left field. Grisham figures to see time as a defensive replacement but will also get starting nods when Judge serves as a designated hitter. Cabrera could fill a super-utility role, while Jasson Dominguez is expected to return sometime in the summer.

Designated hitter (1): Giancarlo Stanton

Stanton is looking to rebound after a frustrating 2023 in which he batted a career-low .191. As he prioritizes conditioning and diet, Stanton appears noticeably trimmer; Cashman remarked that he had seen one such snapshot and noted, “That picture obviously showed a lot.” Steamer’s formulas see improvement ahead for Stanton, who is marked for 26 homers and 67 RBIs in 105 games.