While they’re trying to lock up the American League East, the Yankees have a little more three weeks to make some decisions about their postseason roster.
Big decision: Who else gets a start in the playoffs?
This is the most broad question the Yankees have to answer. CC Sabathia in Game 1, obviously. Andy Pettitte, assuming comes through his rehab start(s) as good as ever, takes Game 2 or 3. Another obvious choice. As it stands, I have to think A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes are the top candidates to round out the postseason rotation. Burnett because Joe Girardi has shown no signs of turning away from him despite his inconsistencies. Hughes because he’s given the Yankees a strong first full season in the rotation, which outweighs some some shaky outings lately.
• How do the starters lineup after Sabathia? It might make sense to put a pitcher between the lefties Sabathia and Pettitte. Hughes has won more games at home, but he’s actually pitched better on the road.
• How much consideration does Ivan Nova get? If the Yankees based the rotation on each pitcher’s first six appearances of the season, Burnett and his 1.99 ERA would be lined up for Game 1. Nova’s positioning himself as a possible fill-in should Pettitte suffer a setback or either Burnett or Hughes suffer an epic slide in the final weeks. Despite the small sample size, I’d probably take Nova over Javier Vazquez or Dustin Moseley at this point.
Big decision: Is Brett Gardner still the No. 9 hitter?
It’s actually a stretch to consider this a decision. Girardi has given no indication that he’s planning to stray from Derek Jeter at the top of the lineup, which means it’s probably going to be Jeter and Nick Swisher batting 1-2 in the playoffs. Truth is, given the Yankees lineup, there aren’t many tough decisions as long as the regulars are in there.
• Does Marcus Thames get any DH consideration against right-handed pitchers? Lance Berkman has been pretty good lately, but we’ve seen Thames get impossibly hot against both lefties and righties.
• Is Austin Kearns an automatic starter against left-handers? Curtis Granderson has made some strides, and the Yankees outfield defense is best with Granderson and Gardner both in there.
• Is there any chance Jorge Posada catches A.J. Burnett? Not likely.
• Is there any reason to give Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter a day off? There should be enough off days in the postseason to let both play every day.
Big decision: Who fills the back of the bullpen?
Five spots are locked up: Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood, Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan. That leaves Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin and the non-starters — let’s say Vazquez, Nova and Moseley — for two or three spots. Vazquez is probably in just because of who he is and how well he’s pitched in relief this season. If I had to take one more, I’d go with Mitre and leave Nova pitching in Tampa to stay stretched out in case the Yankees need another starter down the line. If there’s room for one more long man — an emergency guy at the very back of the bullpen — either Moseley or Gaudin would be fine in that role. They’ve both pitched well enough to earn it.
• Do the Yankees need a defined eighth-inning guy? If anyone has taken that job it’s Wood, but Girardi has been willing to mix-and-match with Wood, Chamberlain and Robertson, and the bullpen has never been better.
• Does someone take the Gaudin role? Last postseason, Girardi burned through relievers because he knew he always had Gaudin waiting to pitched until his arm fell off if necessary. There’s no shortage of guys who could fill that role this year.
• I have no reason to believe this would happen, but given the redundancy of three long relievers in the postseason, it would be interesting to see the Yankees find a way to get Royce Ring on the 40-man and give him a late audition as a second lefty. He could probably get through the same loophole that Freddy Guzman wiggled through last year.
Big decision: Is there room for a fifth bench player?
If everyone is healthy, the Yankees should be able to carry a four-man bench and still have everything they need. That said: Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Jorge Posada have been banged up this season. If there are concerns about them being able to play consistently, the Yankees might have to carry a third catcher, second utility man or fifth outfielder. They might also choose to carry either Greg Golson or Eduardo Nunez primarily as a pinch runner. The Yankees can either carry an extra guy in the pen or on the bench. Either one is a luxury.
• If there’s room for only one, which utility infielder makes the roster? Ramiro Pena has the glove and the experience. Eduardo Nunez has the bat and might have more speed.
• Is there something about the individual matchup that affects the bench? It’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which an extra left-handed bat like Colin Curtis or Juan Miranda might make sense.
• If they do carry a pinch runner, is Golson or Nunez a better bet? Golson seems faster, but it was Nunez who led Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in steals.