The Yankees Pending Roster Crunch. Who Is The Odd Man Out?
by Cary Greene
August 29, 2021
ETB, one of our frequent posters here, got me thinking about doing this article when he made a terrific post on Saturday morning after the Yankees then 12th win in a row, an 8-2 teardown of Sean Manaea and the Oakland A’s at the Coliseum in Oakland – a game I very much enjoyed as I’m both an A’s and Yankees fan, in addition to my beloved and hapless Pirates!
In his post, ETB said, “I am worried they (meaning, the Yankees) will change the shortstop rotation when Gleyber comes back. Defense first up the middle, They now have that, and even some unexpected offense. Keep the kid at short stop and work Wade in as they are now. Both know how to play the game. They bring a different dimension to the offense, and play rock solid defense. I have no idea what to do with Torres, but it is too important of a time to fool around with a winning formula”
The Yankees are clicking right now and ETB has a point, one worth discussing – the coming roster crunch!
Despite how awesome the Yankees have been playing, there is a really strong chance that the Yankees don’t catch the Rays, so we could be looking at a one game, winner take all Wild-Card matchup between Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox against Gerrit Cole and the Yankees. That’s where this whole season is heading right now. Either team could win a game like that. Anything can happen in a one-game playoff.
One of the big changes in Aaron Boone these days is his laser focus on the game at hand. He handled a maelstrom of public criticism this season and here we are. Boone has righted the ship. The Yankees are playing loose, they’re having fun, they’re focused, but relaxed. The defense is night and day better than in the early season. Like many changes the Yankees made this year, they really didn’t make the changes because they wanted to. Injuries and the Coronavirus forced the Yankees to do a lot of things that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise done with their incredibly deep 40 man roster which bleeds into the Triple-A roster at Scranton to create quite the pool of available talent for the Bombers.
Personally, I was getting frustrated earlier this season, when the Yankees weren’t utilizing some of the speed and defense they had at their disposal and it was nice to see Cashman forced to eventually dip into it.
The Yankees are now focused on one thing: the game at hand. Aaron Boone has ratcheted up his personal sense of urgency and he’s managing a wide-open style of baseball that literally has opponents gasping for air late in games. Granted, the Scranton kids and then the deadline cinquefoil of Gallo, Rizzo, Heaney, Holmes and Rodriquez were collectively able to fix what was an old Yankee tire that needed to be road force balanced! The Yankee lineup is now dazzling and it’s as formidable as a lineup could be.
Boone is now able to match up in any situation. As Winston Chruchill once said, “Give us the tools and we shall finish the job!” Well, Aaron Boone now has the tools and he’s absolutely finishing the job. I wanted Boone fired to be honest. I’m glad the Yankees stuck with him. I’m starting to like watching wide open baseball. The days of stranding base runners have dissipated. The times of putrid defense have evaporated.
Which brings us to what little drama we have to fixate on at this point in what has turned into a marvelous Yankee’s season. How will the Yankees handle the pending roster crunch? Normally, when a roster expands in September, it makes roster crunches go away. Not this year and not for this Yankees. There are too many deserving players that Yankee fans want to see continue to play.
ETB started this conversation on Saturday and the bigger question is, what players are impacted by the roster crunch? Will the Yankees insert Gleyber Torres back into the starting lineup and DFA Andrew Velazquez? Will we ever see Greg Allen again? Will Luis Gil be starting playoffs games for the Yankees? Are Corey Kluber and Luis Severino both coming back? Can Luke Voit and Anthony Rizzo coexist?
There’s plenty to talk about. Today I’ll focus on Andrew Velazquez.
Does Andrew Velazquez have a place on the roster going forward? I actually thought coming into this season that Torres was going to need to play only about 50% of games at shortstop. I have never been a big fan of playing a gold glove second baseman at first base. Mark me down as being in the camp that a team needs to play their most impactful players in positions where they can be most impactful. Therefore, it was my belief that DJ LeMahieu needed to stay put at second base.
Beautiful things happen and Brian Cashman finally got those middle of the order left-handed bats that previous Yankee teams have been recently lacking. The lineup flows now, better than it has in years. Anthony Rizzo allows DJ LeMahieu to remain at second base and LeMahieu is reminding every Yankee fan why that’s a great thing. “How do you like me now?” – Take a gander at the Yankee defense now! Wow!! Gio Urshela sparkling away at third base, Velazquez shining at shortstop, LeMahieu making inconceivable plays at second base and the vacuum cleaner, Rizzo saving all sorts of plays at first base. Now THAT’S an infield!
Sometimes, when opportunities are given, an occasional fringe player will step in and play great. It’s known as “lightning in a bottle” and that’s exactly what Velazquez has been. He’s a glove first shortstop who also happens to be a switch hitter. He plays the game with passion. He deserves to be a part of the equation. He’s doing a great job in the #8 spot in the lineup also. He’s been sandwiched between two righties often and this gives the Yankees a lower third of the lineup bat that can pressure any pitcher – Velazquez is a switch hitter.
I think Velazquez is valuable – as in TOO VALUALBLE to demote!! With just a few more days before the month of August falls off the calendar and MLB Rosters expand from 26 to 28 players the Yanks have some hard decisions. No longer are there 40-man rosters in September, it’s just 28 players. We’re looking at a genuine roster crunch, one we all knew was coming. It’s now here. Usually, in roster crunches, players with options get demoted, that’s always the first course of action. Teams protect themselves in this way by creating extra depth.
In the past, teams could also offload a bit of their redundancy as the September 1st Non-Waiver Trade Deadline approached.
One of the most impactful Non-Waiver Trade Deadline deals in recent history was in 2017 when the Astros sent right-hander Franklin Perez (No. 3 Astros prospect, per MLBPipeline.com), outfielder Daz Cameron (No. 9) and catcher Jake Rogers (No. 11) to the Tigers in exchange for Justin Verlander as the teams completed the deal in the minutes leading up to the Aug. 31 deadline for a player to be eligible for the postseason roster.
Because Verlander entered the Astros organization before Sept. 1, he was eligible to pitch in the postseason for Houston and the rest is history! Houston has always been a pretty savvy non-waiver Trade Deadline operator, the Verlander deal was reminiscent of the Astros’ trade to acquire Randy Johnson prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline in 1998, landing a then 34-year-old former Cy Young winner who wound up going 10-1 in 11 starts with Houston down the stretch.
MLB abolished the non-waiver Trade Deadline this season, so for deep teams like the Yankees, it will be more difficult to maneuver. Earlier this season, Cashman pulled off a few deals in April, in an attempt to set the roster. He traded with Texas for Rougned Odor and he also off-loaded Mike Tauchman to San Francisco for Wandy Peralta. Odor has hit 15 home runs for NY and his defensive versatility helped the Yankees get through a key stretch of the season. Peralta has also been important and he’s become a valuable bullpen arm for the Yankees, most recently saving a hugely important game in Atlanta after Aroldis Chapman loaded the bases in a one run game. To help alleviate the roster crunch Thairo Estrada was also sold to the Giants.
San Francisco is using Estrada very sparingly and he’s performing way better than projected, but the Yankees had Tyler Wade essentially blocking Estrada. Estrada always had a bit more pop in his bat than Wade, but Wade brought speed and defense and that’s exactly what the Yankees opted for when they sent Estrada packing.
Still, with Gleyber Torres coming back, the excellent play of Tyler Wade, and DJ LeMahieu being set at second base, below is a snapshot of what Andrew Velazquez is up against. (I also included Estrada’s numbers for fun.)
In the charts below, we see that Tyler Wade is now indispensable. Push is coming to shove and one would have to think that Wade, though he has options, will not be demoted. We also see that Gleyber Torres is a legit major leaguer and he’s going to come back and play. That means the roster crunch is going to come down to Rougned Odor vs Andrew Velazquez. Odor isn’t as valuable to the Yankees as Velazquez is, though Odor does have more power than any Yankee middle infielder, he can’t play shortstop and the Yankees may have a plan in place to use Velazquez both late in games and as a spot starter down the stretch.
Determining this part of the Yankee roster crunch, as it pertains to middle infielders comes down to defense and splits. The Yankees need a way to deal with strong right handed pitching both down the stretch and in the postseason. Andrew Velazquez plays shortstop at a high level and he hits right-handed pitching better than any Yankee middle infielder does. Therefore, I don’t see the Yankees doing anything other than continuing to play him. Gleyber Torres will start against left handed pitching for sure. Wade will be used in spots and late in games. Velazquez may actually start against right handed pitching and continue to play the lion’s share of the Yankees remaining games. I don’t see any reason why the Yankees wouldn’t do this.
Who is the odd-man out then?
I think it will be Rougned Odor. All signs point to his Yankees run possibly being over.