Finding the Best Twenty-Six Men
Opening Day is right around the corner. The New York Yankees play the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, March 30th, at Yankee Stadium, and difficult roster decisions are looming on the immediate horizon.
The most difficult decision is the top-ranked Yankees prospect, Anthony Volpe. Volpe is a fan favorite to start Opening Day in the Bronx. He has been an exciting player to watch in Spring Training and has shown the future is near. Through Saturday, March 18th, Volpe has hit .297/.422/.568 (.990 OPS) and has looked terrific in the field. He has played in thirteen Spring games, with thirty-seven at-bats, and has carried himself with the presence of a veteran. He knows he belongs. He has drawn rave reviews from Manager Aaron Boone, other players such as Aaron Judge, and former Yankee greats in camp as guest instructors like Wille Randolph and Ron Guidry.
While I have warmed to the idea of Volpe on the Opening Day Roster, the belief remains the Yankees will send him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AAA) for the start of the season. This will spark outrage from the fan base, but there is no question Volpe will be in Pinstripes soon. If he does make the Opening Day Roster, the Yankees must make room. This is not only on the 40-man roster, but there are simply too many infielders. If Oswald Peraza takes over at shortstop as expected, the Yankees would need to clear second base for Volpe. Second base is currently occupied by Gleyber Torres. The Yankees could move Volpe to third base, but it seems unlikely. I doubt the Yankees would open the season with rookies at shortstop and second base.
Gleyber Torres is a solid player and would be a loss to the team, but he is also the most marketable of the options to eliminate (meaning he would bring the most in return). Josh Donaldson has age, a bad contract, and declining performance as potential roadblocks for trade. At some point this season, the Yankees will cut Donaldson and eat the remaining money on his contract. It will not happen on Opening Day, but if his decline continues, it is hard to envision Donaldson on the roster at the trade deadline.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa could be dealt, but if Volpe starts for the big-league club, where do you put Torres? DJ LeMahieu and Oswaldo Cabrera offer utility ability and support. The attempt to put Torres at shortstop two years ago was a failure. Considering he has found a home at second base, another position switch does not make sense. So, expect the Yankees to kick the can down the road and reassign Volpe to AAA. Say what you will about service time manipulation. There are simply too many factors that necessitate a little more Triple-A seasoning for Volpe.
Willie Calhoun is starting to play like a guy who wants the fourth outfielder role for the Yankees. I had considered Rafael Ortega as the early favorite if for no other reason than he has had more Major League experience than Calhoun. Calhoun has the pedigree (he was once a top-ten prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers), but it has failed to translate to the Major League level. He may have found an opportunity to bloom at age 28. There are no expectations beyond reserve outfielder, but the role requires a capable defender with a little pop. Calhoun can be that guy. If the defense is the sole consideration, then Ortega is the winner.
Estevan Florial, on the other hand, seems to be approaching the end of his Yankees career. Florial was the Yankees’ top prospect as recent as 2019, yet his inability to recognize Major League pitching has been his downfall. He is a strong defender, speedy on the bases, and by all accounts, a great kid, but if you cannot hit, none of it matters. Florial is out of options, he is occupying a spot on the 40-man roster, and there is simply no place for him on the Major League roster. I hope Florial will discover how to hit in his next organization. I am truly saddened it will not be the Yankees.
The Yankees have yet to move the long-term injured guys to the 60-day Injured List. This will create room for new additions, whether they are non-roster invitees like Willie Calhoun or players not currently in the organization. The list of players who will miss much, if not all, of the season includes Frankie Montas, Scott Effross, and Luis Gil. The players not ready for Opening Day but expected back within the next couple of months include Carlos Rodón, Tommy Kahnle, Harrison Bader, and Lou Trivino. General Manager Brian Cashman and his front office team will be burning the midnight oil over the coming days, with Opening Day less than two weeks away and so many hard decisions to make.
Injuries will force the Yankees to put both Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt in the starting rotation with Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, and Nestor Cortes, Jr. The team screams the need for an experienced veteran starter. The top fill-in starter, now, is Jhony Brito, currently in Triple-A, who has yet to pitch at the Major League level. If Torres is traded, a starting pitcher will likely be part of the return. No frontline starters like Corbin Burnes (we can dream), but more likely a backend starter who could potentially be stashed at Triple-A or strong enough to replace either German or Schmidt in the rotation, pushing one of them into long-relief.
Entering Spring Training, reliever Albert Abreu had appeared to be on the bubble, but with the injuries in the pitching staff, he seems safe for now. He will need to worry when the injured arms recover.
As teams begin to prepare to cut down to the best twenty-six men for Opening Day, roster construction will receive heavy emphasis this week and into next. The transactions wire should be active for all teams, and I expect the Yankees to be more active than most.
Last Spring’s big trade sent catcher Gary Sanchez and third baseman Gio Urshela to the Minnesota Twins for third baseman Josh Donaldson, infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and catcher Ben Rortvedt. Although the Yankees would have done better by just non-tendering Sanchez and keeping Urshela, I expect them to be just as active this Spring. Hopefully, there will be an improvement in the results.
Buckle up; we shall soon learn the full identity of the 2023 New York Yankees. Captain Aaron Judge and his teammates, old and new, will be taking the field at Yankee Stadium shortly.
Let’s do this.