A work of art does not need to be completed to be beautiful. Mozart’s Requiem, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the rainbow unicorn my daughter drew in preschool are all incomplete masterpieces. Two of them couldn’t finish due to premature death, the other because it was snack time.
If constructing a baseball team is an art, the Yankees are only half chiseled. Their depth chart on Roster Resource (a great website which I highly recommend bookmarking) reveals a few areas that need more polish. It would be extremely un-Yankee-like for them to begin the regular season with a so many glaring needs.
Unlike Mozart and Chaucer, they still have plenty of time for them to finish the job. Whether by trades or signings, here are a few players that will almost certainly be replaced on the depth chart before April, or at least moved into a different role.
At the bottom of the major league depth chart, in the long relief role, we find former All-Star Sonny Gray. The erstwhile Oakland Athletic seems to alternate good years with bad, and last year...well, it wasn’t good.
Sonny Gray 2015-18
Acquired for prospects in 2017, Gray was seen as a short-term and long-term rotation upgrade for the Yankees. Roughly a year later, he was banished to the ‘pen. Now, GM Brian Cashman insists on trading him. That’s a pretty good giveaway that he won’t be on the roster in 2019.
MLB Trade Rumors projects Gray to earn $9.1 million next season in his final year of arbitration. After that, he’ll be a free agent unless his new team negotiates an extension. That’s a reasonable salary for a high-upside starting pitcher. However, if the current depth chart is to be believed, he would be one of the highest paid long relievers in baseball.
Gray is still a sometimes-very good starting pitcher, and those are valuable. He would be wasted in a long relief role, and will undoubtedly be a part of some team’s major league rotation. It just won’t be the Yankees’.
Tyler Wade/Hanser Alberto
Remarkably, this article has now reached 350 words without mentioning Manny Machado! The super-mega-ultra free agent is at the top of the Yankees’ wish list to play on the left side of the infield. Of course, you knew that already.
With Didi Gregorius shelved following Tommy John surgery, Roster Resource projects Gleyber Torres to slide over in his place and a Tyler Wade/Hanser Alberto platoon at second base.
Prior to 2018, Wade was a prospect of some note. He cracked the very back of the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects list in 2017. The left-handed slap-hitter then slashed .310/.382/.460 with 26 steals in triple-A, playing mostly shortstop and second base.
He began 2018 as the Yankees’ starting second baseman while Gleyber Torres stayed in the minors for “defensive seasoning.” However, he just couldn’t hit at all, recording a measly .214 on base percentage through 70 plate appearances. Back in Triple-A, he also floundered, hitting just .255/.328/.360.
Hanser Alberto was claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers at the beginning of the offseason. He’s had cups of coffee in 2015, 2016, and 2018 without much success. In triple-A, he has a career 2.6 percent walk rate and .129 ISO.
Wade just turned 24, and may yet establish himself as a successful major leaguer. Alberto could earn more major league playing time as well. One of them has a good chance of breaking camp with the Yankees as a bench piece, though there will be competition from Giovanny Urshela, Thairo Estrada, and others. It’s very unlikely, though, that they will simply hand a starting job to either of them.
Clearly, Machado fills the infield hole better than anyone. Signing him would push Torres back to second base where he probably belongs. When Gregorius returns, Machado would move to third base with Miguel Andújar as the DH (more on this later). Should Machado sign elsewhere, look for the Yankees to turn their attention to a lesser infield free agent, such as Josh Harrison or Freddy Galvis. Perhaps they could even trade Gray for an infielder.
I wrote extensively a few weeks ago about Jacoby Ellsbury, and how it’s unlikely that he’ll ever play for the Yankees again. However, Roster Resource lists him as a projected bench outfielder for the 2019 Yankees. I’m sure they don’t really believe that, but given that he’s nominally healthy and on a major league contract, they have to put him on the depth chart somewhere.
Assuming Ellsbury vacates that roster spot one way or another, there are a few different ways the Yankees can replace him. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that they add another outfielder. They already have five others. Aaron Hicks in center field and Aaron Judge in right field are locked in. Giancarlo Stanton is similarly guaranteed to start. Roster Resource lists him as the primary DH, but he could play quite a bit in left field. The depth chart has a Brett Gardner/Clint Frazier platoon in left, but it’s possible neither starts very much.
If Stanton plays the outfield, DH is open for Andújar. The rookie sensation was phenomenal at the plate last year, posting a 128 wRC+ and a 114 DRC+. However, he was the absolute worst defensive player in baseball last season, and it wasn’t even close. His -24.5 UZR/150 was 7.8 lower than the second worst player at any position (Gleyber Torres), and only Charlie Balckmon’s -28 DRS in center field was worse than Andújar’s -25.
Should Andújar spend time at DH, the Yankees will need to find two infielders. In addition to acquiring someone for second base/shortstop, they will need to fill third base as well. Wade, Alberto, and the other cast of characters might fight for the chance to play this role on occasion, or the team could look for outside help.
The other option is a 13-man pitching staff. The Yankees could go with a shorter bench and use a pitcher in Ellsbury’s spot. As things currently stand, the bullpen includes, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Holder, Stephen Tarpley, and Sonny Gray (for now). They’re still shopping in this area as well.
Yankees are focusing on pen while they wait on Machado market to play out. Ottavino, Britton and Robertson all in play. Still possible they could sign more than 1, depending on price. Remember, like Red Sox they are currently down two, as both Britton and Robertson were theirs.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 28, 2018
Even if they don’t sign a reliever (or two), they have plenty of options on the minor league depth chart who will try to win jobs this spring.
If you are 1) interested in the Yankees, and 2) desperate for offseason news, all this is encouraging. The team is certain to make a few more trades or signings before (or even during!) Spring Training. They still have a lot of time to revise their roster, unlike Mozart and Chaucer.
Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983