The Yankees have accomplished everything they need to in the regular season. With the American League East in their possession and no chance of catching the Astros for the AL’s top seed, the only thing left to play for is a 100-win season.
That means they can finally look ahead. The playoffs (and a first-round bye) are now a certainty, and the Yankees have to decide who they’ll be riding with as they pursue the franchise’s 28th World Series championship. A few roster crunches will be necessary, but those will also ensure that the Bombers put the best version of themselves on the field throughout October.
- Matt Carpenter
- Josh Donaldson
- Isiah Kiner-Falefa
- DJ LeMahieu
- Anthony Rizzo
- Gleyber Torres
The big question here — and this is something that would have blown Yankees fans minds in April — is whether to bring the 36-year-old Carpenter or 22-year-old Oswald Peraza. Carpenter has not played since fracturing a bone in his foot on Aug. 8. But he’s out of his walking boot now and, even though the Yankees are proceeding with caution, Carpenter said that he thinks he could be back for the final regular season series of the year.
If he’s healthy enough, Carpenter’s combination of playoff experience (50 career postseason games) and 2022 production (.305/.412/.727 slash line in 154 plate appearances) should give him the upper hand. Even if Carpenter is not starting, he is an obvious candidate for late-inning pinch hit appearances. Against right-handed pitching, Carpenter is a much better option than Kiner-Falefa or even Trevino, the surprise All-Star whose OPS has dropped by nearly 100 points in the second half of the season. It’s not hard to envision Carpenter having a 2012 Raul Ibanez playoff moment.
The entire Peraza saga has been very bizarre. The Yankees have played the youngster so sparingly that he’s been unable to get a rhythm or carve out any sort of role like fellow rookie Oswaldo Cabrera has. Peraza has only stood in a major league batter’s box 37 times, and while he’s hit .313, the playoffs are an entirely different animal. Throwing him into that environment would seem a bit unfair to Peraza, which is through no fault of his own.
LeMahieu is ready to rock after dealing with inflammation in his toe. His return is a huge boost for the Yankees, and also means they don’t have to bring Marwin Gonzalez. With Gonzalez sporting a .181 average and .566 OPS, plus LeMahieu and Cabrera supplying younger and better versions of his trademark versatility, Gonzalez really should not be considered at all.
- Harrison Bader
- Andrew Benintendi
- Oswaldo Cabrera
- Aaron Judge
- Giancarlo Stanton
This part hinges on Benintendi. Bader, Judge and Stanton are obvious locks, and Cabrera’s usage plus his ability to play infield suggests that he’ll be a part of the postseason run. The team is hopeful that they’ll get Benintendi back for the playoffs (he had hand surgery after suffering a hamate bone injury on Sept. 2), and the alternatives are fairly bleak.
If Benintendi can’t go, that likely means Cabrera is the playoff left fielder. Aaron Hicks has simply not played well enough to earn postseason playing time, and Tim Locastro’s only true value would be as a pinch runner, which isn’t enough to justify a spot. A healthy Benintendi gets the spot, with Hicks likely taking it if absolutely necessary.
- Kyle Higashioka
- Jose Trevino
This has been set in stone for virtually the entire season. Rob Brantly, who caught the second game of a doubleheader when Higashioka was on the COVID list, is the only other person who’s even played the position for the Yankees this season.
Remember that brief moment in spring training when it looked like Ben Rortvedt might be the starter?
- Gerrit Cole
- Nestor Cortes Jr.
- Frankie Montas
- Luis Severino
- Jameson Taillon
Manager Aaron Boone said recently that Montas could be used as an opener or someone who gives them “30 to 40 pitches” in a playoff game, though actually putting him in the rotation would be “tough” given his injury. He’s eligible to return from the injured list on Oct. 2, and during his time away, he was shut down from throwing for 10 days and given a cortisone shot in his inflamed shoulder.
Pairing Montas with Jameson Taillon in a piggyback start could work. Taillon has pitched too well to be left at home, even if he seemed like the clear odd man out when the trade for Montas was made.
- Aroldis Chapman
- Scott Effross
- Domingo German
- Clay Holmes
- Jonathan Loaisiga
- Ron Marinaccio
- Wandy Peralta
- Lou Trivino
This is the hardest part, by far, to figure out. This projection leaves out Clarke Schmidt, Zack Britton and Lucas Luetge. While Schmidt hasn’t been spectacular (he’s the only Yankee to throw 40 relief innings and have a negative Wins Above Replacement), he has a 2.93 ERA as a reliever and can provide length should a starting pitcher get knocked out early.
Britton would be a shoo-in if he had a clean bill of health. The veteran lefty has only pitched twice this season after coming back from Tommy John surgery. The early returns have been terrible. In his two appearances, Britton has walked five guys and had to be removed from both outings before finishing an inning. Even with his track record, Britton is too big of a risk, unless he can use these final seven regular season games to prove he’s a better bet than Chapman.
Chapman, for all of his troubles on and off the field, has pitched well for most of the second half. Since July 26, a period that was interrupted by a trip to the injured list because of an infected tattoo, Chapman has a 1.98 ERA in 15 games. During those 13.2 innings, he’s struck out 16 batters and not allowed a single home run. Opponents are slashing .116/.269/.140 off him in that time. Nobody is advocating for him to be the closer or even a high-leverage option, but Chapman can be a fine fifth or sixth-inning guy. Either way, the pending free agent is playing out his final days in pinstripes.
Marinaccio, the rookie with the wipeout changeup and 31.0% strikeout rate, has flat-out earned it. Everybody else is calcified into their spot. There’s an argument to be made for Schmidt over German, but German is someone the Yankees have trusted since 2019, while Schmidt was in the minor leagues as recently as Aug. 17.
If Montas isn’t healthy enough, or if the Yankees want to do a three-man bench and nine-man bullpen, Luetge should grab the 26th spot.