Last week, the Yankees got busy clearing spots on their 40-man roster. This week, they started making changes to immediately impact on the active roster for next season. By trading away Jose Pirela and John Ryan Murphy, the Yankees removed two options from their bench. By acquiring Aaron Hicks, the team at least replaced Chris Young and perhaps opened the possibility of trading another outfielder later in the offseason.
With some early changes in place, here’s a look at what the Yankees 25-man roster might look like at the moment. Using only the players currently in place, the Yankees could field a team that looks something like this on Opening Day.
Depth chart: The Yankees bench will provide the day-to-day depth, but there will long-term depth — the in-case-of-injury depth — waiting in Triple-A, and it’s significant. Greg Bird at first base. Gary Sanchez at catcher. Aaron Judge in the outfield. Those three have little chance of winning bench spots out of spring training (maybe Bird if the Yankees can afford such a defensively limited part-timer — but they’re still significant pieces of the puzzle.
Platoon possibilities: This past season, the Yankees had a full-time platoon in the outfield, at second base, and to some extent at catcher (most of John Ryan Murphy’s starts came against lefties). The Yankees could absolutely use those three platoon situations again next year. Aaron Hicks already fits as a possible platoon outfielder, a right-handed catcher of some sort makes obvious sense, and Rob Refsnyder could be a platoon player at second base (if he hits his way into regular at-bats, Refsnyder could free Ackley to be more of a utility man).
Room for improvement: It’s not out of the question that these will be the lineup regulars out of spring training. Improving upon this group will require either making a significant trade — getting a team to take on a bad contract; maybe swapping Gardner for a pitcher and signing another outfielder — but most of these players seem fairly set with no-trade clauses or contracts that are tough to move. Could add a second baseman, but anything else requires another move.
One big decision: With Murphy out of the picture, the Yankees have a choice to make behind the plate. McCann is clearly set as the starter, but who plays the backup role? The more exciting choice would be power-hitting prospect Gary Sanchez — and that does seem possible — but if I have to guess right now, I’d guess someone else takes that job for a month or two while Sanchez gets a little more time in the minors (to finish his development and add a year of team control). If Sanchez is going back to Triple-A for a little while, the current backup option would be Romine.
One open spot: If the Yankees don’t make another move and head into the season with their current roster, they’ll have three bench spots set with a backup catcher, a backup shortstop and Hicks playing the role of fourth outfielder. That would leave one open spot. With Jose Pirela gone, the most logical in-house options for that open spot would seem to be Refsnyder, Slade Heathcott and Greg Bird. Of those three, Refsnyder would have the most obvious role to play as a right-handed platoon second baseman.
Room for improvement: Because of their versatility, guys like Ben Zobrist or Martin Prado would give the Yankees a few more options for their bench. As it is, they’re somewhat limited by the lack of versatility among their regulars (that makes it harder to carry a guy like Bird on the bench). If the Yankees sign a regular second baseman, Ackley could move into a utility bench role. For now, though, the Yankees still have Ryan as their only backup option on the left side of the infield.
Picking the top five: The Yankees are returning more than five starting pitchers. If it stays this way with no trades or signings that affect the rotation, who would be the most likely to break camp in the Opening Day rotation? Tanaka and Severino are no-brainers. Pineda and Eovaldi are probably pretty close to locks because of their age and potential. At this point, my guess is Sabathia would be the fifth starter out of camp just to see if he can build on his strong second half (though I’m not sure the leash would be as long as it was his past season).
Depth in place: Beyond these five, the Yankees also have Adam Warren, Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell returning. They also have Chase Whitley working his way back from Tommy John surgery and Brady Lail coming off a good Double-A season. That’s decent depth for this time of year, and it’s worth wondering whether the Yankees will use that depth to make a trade, to fill their bullpen or to simply give themselves options heading into spring training.
Room for improvement: This is a rotation with depth and potential, but it’s also a rotation loaded with concerns about health and performance. Are the Yankees willing to spend the money necessary to significantly upgrade the top of the rotation with a guy like David Price? If not, would they trade someone and sign a second-tier free agent like Jeff Samardzija, Mike Leake or Scott Kazmir? How good or bad would this rotation be if it went unchanged?
Four for now: If the Yankees don’t put Warren back in their rotation — and don’t trade him to improve elsewhere — they presumably have four bullpen spots locked up. Miller and Betances obviously reprise their roles in the late innings, Wilson did more than enough to keep his status as the seventh-inning guy, and Warren gives the bullpen significant versatility by being able to fill almost any role. As top four options to start the offseason, those four are awfully good.
Plenty of options: Need another left-handed reliever? How about Shreve or Lindgren or James Pazos? Need another righty? How about Rumbelow or Pinder or Nick Goody? Want another sixth-starter candidate who can be a long man and whose stuff might play up in short stints? How about Nova or Mitchell or Chase Whitley when he’s ready. That’s to say nothing of Caleb Cotham and Tyler Webb and Johnny Barbato, all of whom could be big league options next season. Young depth is not a problem at the moment.
Room for improvement: Despite being strong in the late inning last season, the Yankees still seriously considered a mid-season trade for a big-time reliever. Shortening games from the back seemed one way to help the rotation, and it’s an idea the Yankees could explore again this offseason. Perhaps they revisit the idea of trading for Craig Kimbrel or make a push to sign Tyler Clippard or Darren O’Day. The Yankees’ bullpen could be a strength as it is, but he could be even stronger with one more big arm.
Associated Press photos