WASHINGTON – It is, as Yankees general manager Brian Cashman joked this week, “by far the best 30-man Opening Day roster I've ever put forth.”
As the Bombers prepare to open the pandemic-delayed 2020 season, Cashman and manager Aaron Boone met frequently in advance of Thursday’s noon. ET deadline to submit that roster to Major League Baseball, discussing the best ways to maximize the extra spots. Here is what they decided upon:
Catcher: Gary Sánchez, Kyle Higashioka, Chris Iannetta
Sánchez is entrenched as the starting catcher, coming off a season in which he batted .232/.316/.525 (119 OPS+), leading all big league backstops with 34 home runs while displaying improved blocking ability behind the plate. Though Higashioka seemed to be a lock to make his first Opening Day roster due in large part to his excellent defensive ability, Boone said that it was “hard to pass up” a chance to carry the 37-year-old Iannetta as additional depth.
First base: Luke Voit, Mike Ford
Noticeably more agile after dropping 13 pounds during the shutdown, Voit will get the starting nod at first base, coming off an injury-marred season in which he set career highs in homers (21) and RBIs (62) while batting .263/.378/.464 (124 OPS+). Boone said that he sees a role for Ford, whom he views as a legitimate middle-of-the-order big leaguer. Ford’s powerful left-handed bat offers an enticing option to break up a batting order that leans heavily right-handed.
Second base: DJ LeMahieu, Thairo Estrada
LeMahieu is expected to get the Opening Day start after re-joining the team last week, with “The Machine” having been able to continue training while waiting for his asymptomatic coronavirus case to resolve. LeMahieu was arguably the team’s MVP in 2019, when he batted .327/.375/.518 (136 OPS+) with 26 homers and 102 RBIs. Estrada was the “MVP of Summer Camp,” according to Boone, who lauded the 24-year-old’s live bat and defensive versatility.
Shortstop: Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade
The Yankees are confident that the 23-year-old Torres will continue to emerge as one of the game’s best young talents, one year after he hit 38 homers and joined Joe DiMaggio as the youngest Yanks to belt at least 30 long balls. Torres experienced a clunky transition to his natural position during Spring Training, committing five errors in 10 games, but his defense improved during Summer Camp. Wade offers the ability to play three infield positions and the outfield.
Gio Urshela, Miguel Andújar
Cashman has frequently said that third base is Urshela’s job to lose, one year after the previously unheralded 29-year-old batted .314/.355/.534 (133 OPS+) and paced the club with 34 doubles. Urshela’s slick defense gives him an edge over Andújar, who has also been a doubles machine during his brief big league career and expanded his versatility to outfield play in hopes of cracking the lineup. Estrada and Wade could also see time here.
Outfield: Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier
The shutdown allowed the Yankees to grow healthier, with Hicks (Tommy John surgery), Judge (fractured right rib) and Stanton (right calf strain) all ready for the opener. Hicks improbably will join Tony Womack as the only Major Leaguers to return from Tommy John without missing a regular-season game. Gardner projects to be the starter in left field, and Tauchman can play all three outfield positions. Frazier’s live bat was evident during Summer Camp, and his defense in the corners was solid.
Designated hitter: Giancarlo Stanton
The Yankees did not attempt to have Stanton play defense during Summer Camp, reasoning that they have plenty of outfield options and another setback with his right calf could cost him a substantial part of the shortened season. As such, Stanton will be the everyday option at designated hitter, though it’s possible Boone could sprinkle a few other names in. Injuries limited Stanton to just 18 regular-season games in 2019, but he is one year removed from a season in which he led the club with 38 homers and 100 RBIs.
Starting pitchers: Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, J.A. Happ
No surprise here: After signing a nine-year, $324 million contract this past offseason, Cole was named the Opening Day starter, to be followed by Paxton. The Yankees are keeping the No. 3 rotation spot open for Masahiro Tanaka, who is recovering from a concussion and should return on July 31. Happ will start the season’s fourth game. Since the Yanks don’t need a fifth starter until the home opener, Jordan Montgomery is not on the Opening Day roster, though he’s expected to be recalled on July 29.
Relievers: Luis Avilán, Zack Britton, Chad Green, David Hale, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle, Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga, Adam Ottavino
With Aroldis Chapman unavailable, Britton will be elevated to the closer’s role. It should be a familiar transition for the lefty, who logged 135 saves for the Orioles from 2014-17. Green, Kahnle and Ottavino figure to share the most important innings, and Boone sees Loaisiga as an option to pitch anywhere from short relief to three-inning stints. King earned a spot with an excellent Summer Camp showing, and he is under consideration to start the third game of the season. Boone said that he envisions Avilán as an experienced lefty option out of the ‘pen, capable of retiring lefties and righties.
On the injured list : Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Tanaka
Cessa has rejoined the team after being delayed due to the coronavirus, and the Yankees are working to build his stamina before he is activated. Chapman remains quarantined in New York and has yet to test negative, according to Cashman. Tanaka is set to throw 35 to 40 pitches in a simulated game on Sunday in Moosic, Pa., which will represent his last test before being activated.