What Should the Yankees Do With Their Final Two Bench Spots?
By Chris O’Connor
March 23, 2021
According to Yankees reporter Bryan Hoch, the Yankees intend to carry four position players on their bench. Hoch has reported that Brett Gardner and Kyle Higashioka are locks to make the Opening Day roster, so the final two spots will go to some combination of Tyler Wade, Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford, Jay Bruce, or Derek Dietrich. While Miguel Andujar would have been considered, a wrist injury threatens his status to be available for the start of the season, so it seems to be down to these five candidates. Who should the final roster spots go to? Let’s take a look at the case for each.
Tyler Wade’s case for one of the final roster spots rests almost entirely on his defensive versatility and speed on the basepaths. With a 76 OPS+ in 213 at bats across 2019 and 2020, his bat simply has not progressed. He has, however, shown an ability to provide adequate defense at shortstop, second base, and even in the corner outfield spots. This versatility is very valuable as it allows for more flexibility in deciding the second final roster spot, not to mention the value as a late-inning defensive replacement. Similarly, his ability to step in late in pinch running situations is a rare skill on the team. He ranked second (behind Brett Gardner) in sprint speed for the Yankees in 2020 and has stolen 13 bags against just 2 caught steals for his career.
Tauchman is a very interesting case. On one hand, he did not hit in 2020. In 43 games, he slashed just .242/.342/.305 with no homers in 43 games and his peripherals (exit velocity, hard hit rate) suggests that he was as bad as the traditional stats tell. On the other hand, his strikeout and walk rates stayed steady from his breakout 2019 and he continued to play great defense in all three outfield spots, sporting the kind of versatility that is valuable in a bench player.
Like Tauchman, Ford failed to build on his breakout 2019 with poor peripherals to boot. He slashed just .135/.226/.270 in 2020 with 2 homers in 29 games. If Ford is not hitting really well, he provides little value to the team as does play great defense at first base and provides no versatility.
Much of the appeal of Bruce is the fact that he can play both corner outfield spots as well as first base in a pinch. Soon to be 34 years old, Bruce is an experienced veteran who can provide leadership in the clubhouse and bring a much-needed lefty power bat to the lineup. In 224 games since 2018, he has slashed .217/.282/.448 with 41 homers for an OPS+ of 95.
Dietrich has a similar case to Bruce as an experienced veteran who can play first base, second base, third base, and left field. He will turn 32 years old during the season and has a career OPS+ of 107, having slashed .232/.331/.436 with 40 homers in 287 games since 2018. He would also bring balance to the lineup as a lefty power bat.
Ultimately, I would choose Wade and Tauchman. As mentioned they both provide great defensive versatility and boast another plus skill to boot (Tauchman’s ability to get on base and Wade’s speed). Tauchman is also out of minor league options so if he is not placed on the roster to start the year, the team will be forced to release or trade him. If injuries once again hit the outfield, I would love to have Tauchman in there to step up and fill in the void. Ford has to hit incredibly well to have value and he failed to produce even adequately in 2020. He also does not have a long enough track record to be relied upon. Bruce and Dietrich are the veterans with long track records but do not offer much upside. While both offer lefty bats to balance out the lineup, Tauchman does as well (so does Wade, but he would be chosen less for his bat and more for his defense and pinch-running).