- The Yankees are winners when it comes to filing up the injured list. With an MLB-high 11 players sidelined, New York is already testing its depth while several of the team's stars recuperate.
The Yankees are springing leaks. They’re just a handful of games into the season, but they’re already up to nearly a dozen players on the injured list as sprains and strains have whittled down their full-strength lineup, rotation and bullpen.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who landed on the IL Wednesday with a left calf strain, is the 11th addition to a longest butcher bill in the majors. New York started the season without Aaron Hicks (back strain), Dellin Betances (right shoulder impingement), Luis Severino (right shoulder rotator cuff inflammation) and CC Sabathia (offseason heart surgery). Since opening day, that list has grown to include Giancarlo Stanton (bicep strain), Miguel Andujar (labrum tear in shoulder) and Tulowitzki. If you’re keeping count at home, that’s the regular centerfielder, designated hitter, third baseman, shortstop, No. 1 starter, setup man, and No. 5 starter, all wiped out like Thanos just snapped his fingers.
With all of those bats out, the Yankees’ once fearsome lineup is toothless. You saw that much in their series against the Tigers, where New York managed a grand total of five runs against the likes of Tyson Ross and Jordan Zimmermann—at home, no less—while dropping two of three. Aside from Opening Day, the offense simply hasn’t clicked—a large part of why the Bronx Bombers have stumbled to a 2–4 record and series losses to woeful Baltimore and Detroit.
The team can survive some of those injuries better than others. Betances is one of their best relievers, but that bullpen is so deep that his loss isn’t crucial. The same is true of Sabathia, whose innings are being filled by the live-armed combo of Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga. At third base, Andujar gave way to DJ LeMahieu, who despite being primarily a second baseman is a better defender at the hot corner than Andujar. And in the outfield, Hicks’ spot has gone to the aging yet still competent Brett Gardner, a mainstay of the last decade in the Bronx.
Yet the more players who’ve fallen, the harder it’s been for the Yankees to find capable bodies to put in their place. Losing one outfielder is tough but manageable; losing two, as is the case with both Hicks and Stanton (normally a DH, but playing left to allow Gardner time in center), is a rougher task. The result there has been playing time for former top prospect Clint Frazier and recent trade addition Mike Tauchman. The former has seen his career stunted by multiple concussions; he played in just 69 total games last year split between the majors and the minors. The latter was last seen on the Rockies, popping up as an occasional reserve in Colorado. The lefty-swinging Tauchman could make for a good platoon bat, but he’s been overexposed in the majors, with a .145/.244/.203 line and 30 strikeouts in 79 career plate appearances.
Frazier and Tauchman aren’t guys you want to run out there every day, but the Yankees have no choice. The same is the case with Andujar and Tulowitzki both out, forcing New York to use Tyler Wade at either second or short (depending on where Gleyber Torres is assigned). The 24-year-old infielder hasn't made much of his playing time over the last two seasons, hitting .161/.218/.250 in 133 plate appearances. He’s speedy and a decent defender, but that hasn’t amounted to much success or playing time in a crowded Yankees infield. That was the case this spring, which led Wade—who made some waves last year grumbling about having to play in Triple A—to complain yet again about getting a ticket to Scranton.
He’s back now, but that more than anything represents how perilous the Yankees’ situation has become. So too does the arrival of Thairo Estrada, the last infielder left available on their 40-man roster, to replace Tulowitzki. He needs more time in the minors, not a bench role in the majors propping up a wobbly roster, yet here he and the Yankees are, sticking fingers in whatever holes they can find to keep the dam from breaking.
That will have to be the state of things for at least a little while longer. While Betances is likely back in a week or so, and Sabathia not long after that, the position players (as well as Severino) will probably be sidelined into May. Hicks has been out since late February and just resumed baseball activities on Wednesday. Stanton will be shut down for the next week or so before picking up a bat again, and it seems unlikely he’ll return before April is up. Tulowitzki’s status is up in the air: While his calf strain is mild, it’s anyone’s guess as to how long his injury-wracked body will take to recover. Andujar is the trickiest case. He could return after only a few weeks if the small tear in his right shoulder labrum responds well to rest and rehab; or he could be done for the year if the team decides he needs surgery to fix the problem.
The one saving grace for the Yankees amid all the carnage is that their April schedule is tissue soft: 19 of their remaining 24 games this month come against the Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Angels, Giants and Diamondbacks—all mediocre at best. Scattered in there is a three-game set with Houston and a two-game series with the Red Sox, but both of those teams are also struggling early. Boston in particular is just 2–5 to start the year, missing a golden chance to put the Yankees in a hole.
Then again, you can say the same about New York, blowing an easy opportunity to take a big lead on its rival. For now, the team’s makeshift MASH unit will have to find a way to hold up until the regulars are back in action. One thing’s for certain, though: Another injury, and the Yankees’ whole edifice may come crashing down.