Last night the Yankees dropped a heartbreaker of a game to the Red Sox, mostly because Aroldis Chapman blew his fourth save in 19 chances this season. The Yankees turned a one-run lead over to their closer and he couldn’t make it stand up. Rafael Devers hit an insanely impressive home run to tie it, but still, this is a results business, and Chapman didn’t get the results.
The Yankees had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and geez, it was a mess of an inning, both in terms of execution and decision-making. For both teams, not just the Yankees. Red Sox manager John Farrell tried to make an illegal mound visit to change pitchers and had to be told to go back to the dugout. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.
A quick recap of the inning: Chase Headley walked, Ronald Torreyes bunted him over to second, pinch-hitter Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out, Brett Gardner struck out. Why didn’t Tyler Wade pinch-run for Headley? Who knows. Why didn’t Craig Kimbrel start the inning instead of coming in after the mess was made? Who cares. Why did the Yankees not have a better pinch-hitting option than Ellsbury? That’s the real question.
Right now the Yankees are carrying eight relievers and three bench players. Those three bench players for last night’s game: Wade, Ellsbury, Garrett Cooper. Wade never plays, Ellsbury has played so poorly this year he had to be demoted into the fourth outfielder’s role, and Cooper is a right-handed platoon first baseman who apparently doesn’t even start against left-handers anymore. (He didn’t start against lefties Saturday or Sunday.)
Usually Austin Romine is on the bench in place of Ellsbury or Cooper, though he was in the starting lineup for the fifth time in the last ten games last night (!), so Gary Sanchez was the DH. After Ellsbury pinch-hit for Romine in that ninth inning, the Yankees had to forfeit the DH to move Sanchez behind the plate. It didn’t matter — the pitcher’s spot never came up again — but still. Second time in three games the Yankees did that.
As it stands, the Yankees don’t have a whole lot of utility on the bench. Wade can pinch-run and play just about anywhere in a pinch, but clearly Girardi doesn’t trust him, so he never plays. Wade has played twice in the last eleven days, both times playing defense for a half-inning at the end of a blowout. The Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and Girardi is going to stick with Torreyes at second, and he’s been fine. Great at times, bad at others, fine overall.
Wade doesn’t play. Cooper provides zero flexibility as a first base only guy. Ellsbury? Meh. He’s had his moments the last eight days or so, but generally speaking, he’s on the bench more often than not these days for a reason. The bench right now is not very good, and the worst part? There’s really nothing the Yankees can do about. There are three reasons for that.
- Injuries. Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, and Matt Holliday (and Clint Frazier) are all on the disabled list. Those guys, when healthy, would push Cooper, Wade, and the eighth reliever to Triple-A, and Torreyes and Romine to the bench more often than not. (At least in theory.)
- The pitching staff. The Yankees are without Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, and lately, getting length from the starter has been a tall order. Seven times in the last 17 games the starter failed to complete five innings. The Yankees need that eighth reliever given the state of the rotation.
- Lack of options. The Yankees have two healthy position players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues: Miguel Andujar and Tyler Austin. Austin is essentially a Cooper clone. Swap the two and nothing changes. The Yankees have clearly deemed Andujar not big league ready, and besides, he can only play third. Non-40-man options in Triple-A include, uh, Donovan Solano? Jake Cave? Billy McKinney? Not much there.
The Yankees could go out and make a waiver trade to bolster the bench — Neil Walker would’ve helped and I’m sure Jed Lowrie could be had — and I’m sure the Yankees are exploring every option. That said, it really feels like the Yankees are just trying to hang on and get by until the injured dudes return. Aaron Hicks came back late last week and both Castro and Bird are due to begin minor league rehab assignments this week. Holliday took batting practice yesterday. They’re coming.
For now, the Yankees can’t do much more than bide their time until the regulars get healthy or a sensible trade option becomes available. I’d bet on the former happening before the latter. Forfeiting the DH to pinch-hit for the backup catcher who starts way too often with less than ideal pinch-hitter options isn’t something that can last forever. The Yankees need to improve their bench, and the best way to do that is to get the regulars healthy.