The season is six days old and already we know one thing for certain about the 2019 Yankees: They stink. The stinkiness is probably only temporarily, but yeah, they stink. Losing two of three to the Orioles (!) and Tigers (!!) at home (!!!) while scoring no more than three runs in four of the six games is pretty ugly. It’s not quite the worst possible start to the season, but it’s close.
Six games in and there are some other things we’ve learned about the 2019 Yankees beyond their apparent inability to beat bad teams at home. It can be tricky to figure out what’s real and what’s not one week into the new year. Other times the meaningful stuff can be plainly obvious. Here are four things we’ve learned about the Yankees across their first six games of the new season.
They’ve exhausted their depth
The Yankees have already had so many injuries this season that I don’t know where they’d turn next should another player go down. I really don’t. That is especially true on the position player side. CC Sabathia could be back in next week and that means Jonathan Loaisiga will be stashed in Triple-A as an up-and-down arm. Chance Adams and Joe Harvey are also shuttle candidates.
On the position player side though, geez, the Yankees are pretty much tapped out. They’ve exhausted almost all their 40-man roster depth. Adding players to the 40-man is not necessarily a problem with Didi Gregorius, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ben Heller available as 60-day injured list candidates. I’m referring to the caliber of player in line to be called up. It ain’t good. Look at who would be the next man up with another injury:
- Catcher: Kyle Higashioka
- Infield: Thairo Estrada following a lost season or Gio Urshela
- Outfield: Billy Burns?
For what it’s worth, Mark Feinsand says Estrada is being recalled to replace Troy Tulowitzki. Tulowitzki will become the 11th Yankee on the injury list later today. What if Greg Bird feels something in his ankle again? Or James Paxton or Masahiro Tanaka go on their annual two-week breather? The injury problem might get worse. Other than Tulowitzki, the guys you’d expect to get hurt haven’t gotten hurt yet.
After six games and seven days, injuries are the story of the season for the Yankees. They’ve lost core players for long stretches of time. They’ve had to call up Clint Frazier, a player deemed in need of Triple-A at-bats, and Tyler Wade, a player deemed not good enough for the Opening Day roster, and there’s not much depth remaining behind them with Triple-A Scranton. Hopefully the injuries pass and the Yankees stay afloat. Right now, we already know they’re stretched very thing.
They need outside help
This ties into the previous point. The Yankees can not sit around waiting for their injured guys to get healthy. Aaron Hicks still has not resumed baseball activities and Miguel Andujar is potentially looking at season-ending surgery. Even if he avoids the knife, Andujar’s best case scenario is being weeks away from rejoining the Yankees. Tulowitzki? Wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see him again this year.
The last few games have shown there are only so many Mike Tauchman and Tyler Wade at-bats one team can take. Trading for an infielder already feels imperative. Someone to take over a position full-time and push Wade to the bench. Todd Frazier? Asdrubal Cabrera? Starlin Castro? There are some rental salary dump candidates sitting on the market. The Blue Jays are already trading guys (Kendrys Morales, Kevin Pillar). Maybe other teams are willing to move players.
Point is, the Yankees have been hit exceptionally hard by injuries, and many of their top position players are a long ways from returning. Sticking with the in-house replacements is a viable option, sure, but it’s not a good one. The longer the Yankees wait for their guys to return without adding help, the more likely it is they’ll tumble in the standings and face a big uphill climb later this summer. That is apparent six games into the year.
Ottavino is the Moment of Truth™ reliever
Even with bigger names and higher priced pitchers in the bullpen, it is clear the Yankees have identified Adam Ottavino as the guy they want on the mound in the game’s biggest situations. Ottavino has appeared in four of six games so far and in all four games he entered into what can be considered the highest leverage moment. A recap:
- March 28th: Runner on second, two outs, Yankees up four in the sixth.
- March 30th: Runner on first, two outs, Yankees down one in the sixth.
- April 1st: Start of eighth with Nick Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera due up, Yankees up two.
- April 2nd: Start of eighth with Castellanos and Cabrera due up, score tied.
The Yankees beat up on the Orioles pretty good on Opening Day, so that March 28th appearance wasn’t super high-leverage, but it was the only time in the game it felt like the O’s had something going. Look at those last two games though. Aaron Boone matched Ottavino up against the other team’s best hitters in the late innings of a close game. Textbook relief ace stuff.
With Dellin Betances sidelined, I assumed Zack Britton would take over the eighth inning almost by default. He’s the former shutdown closer and he signed the big contract over the winter, and the Yankees sure do love set bullpen roles. Instead, Ottavino is penciled in as the high-leverage guy, either in a mid-inning fireman role or matching up against the other team’s top hitters. The rest of the bullpen falls in place around him.
I imagine Betances will reclaim the eighth inning role once he returns and is back up to speed. When he’s right, he’s someone the Yankees can throw out there against any three hitters in a close game. That will free Ottavino up for fireman/matchup work earlier in the game. Until then, he is the interim relief ace. The team’s intentions with Ottavino are no mystery after only four appearances.
LeMahieu’s going to be just fine at third base
I had a feeling this would be the case. LeMahieu has excellent defensive tools (hands, range, arms) and he’s a smart, instinctual player. The only thing he lacks at third base is experience. Even without it, LeMahieu has looked very natural at the hot corner in the early going. He’s made good plays coming in on weak grounders and also going both right and left. It’s hard to tell he’s new to the position, isn’t it?
Andujar’s injury means LeMahieu will be The Man at third base for the foreseeable future. It’ll be at least a few weeks. Hopefully Andujar’s shoulder responds well to treatment and rehab and he can avoid season-ending surgery. Even if he does, he’s going to miss several weeks, and the Yankees have a quality third base replacement in LeMahieu. Defensively, he can more than handle it. LeMahieu’s already shown he’s an asset at the hot corner.