How are things for the Yankees in the season’s early going? Well, their new third outfielder got to New York so hurriedly he’s living in a hotel room with his mom and his cats. They aren’t sure who their starter is going to be on Wednesday and may throw a bullpen game. Someone called Mike Tauchman was in the starting lineup last night. Their utilityman spent most of Monday’s game in the back of an Uber, rushing to the Bronx from Scranton—he told the driver to “floor it”—and arriving only in the seventh inning. Things aren’t great!
The Yankees are injured. Banged up, nicked up, scratched up, torn up. They are missing their ace, their setup man, their starting center fielder, their No. 3 hitter, the entire left side of their infield. When CC Sabathia (knee surgery; angioplasty) is placed on the injured list Wednesday after serving his suspension for a righteous plunking at the end of last season, New York will have 10 players on the IL.
“Guys have got to step up,” Aaron Judge said. “Not only the ones in the lineup but the guys coming up to fill those roles.” And sometimes also the guys coming up to fill the roles of the guys who came up to fill those roles.
Spring started ominously. Aaron Hicks, less than a week after signing a seven-year extension, was pulled out of the spring training lineup for what was expected to be a day or two to rest a sore back. He hasn’t picked up a bat since. Luis Severino, the No. 1 starter fresh off his own four-year contract extension, bowed out of spring training with rotator cuff inflammation and isn’t expected back until May at the earliest. Reliever Dellin Betances’s velocity was mysteriously down during the spring, until the Yankees shut him down with shoulder inflammation. He’s expected back by the end of the month.
Things didn’t get much better in the season-opening series the Yankees dropped to the fearsome Orioles. On Sunday, a cold, damp game delayed more than three hours by rain, Giancarlo Stanton strained a bicep on a swing. He’s been shut down completely for 10 days. “I don’t like it at all,” Stanton said.
In that same game, third baseman Miguel Andújar hurt his throwing shoulder diving back on a pickoff attempt. It didn’t immediately seem catastrophic for the defending rookie of the year runner-up, but it may end up being the worst of the Yankees’ problems so far. Andújar showed up to the ballpark a little sore on Monday and was sent for an MRI, which showed a labrum tear. Manager Aaron Boone tried to sound optimistic, but acknowledged that season-ending surgery is a real possibility.
Also in the long-term, Didi Gregorius is out through at least the summer recovering from Tommy John surgery, and—huh!—Jacoby Ellsbury is still under contract. Who knew?
In all, the Yankees’ injured list boasts 17 all-star appearances, an MVP award, a Cy Young, and a combined 2018 WAR of 24.6. There is $85 million in salary on IL, which exceeds four MLB teams’ total payrolls. (Yes, they still have $122 million in healthy salary, which is more than 13 teams’ payrolls. But this is a long way from the team that didn’t pursue Bryce Harper or Manny Machado this winter in part because they didn’t think they needed another outfielder or third baseman.)
And so the Yankees took on the not-very-good Tigers Monday evening with the implicit instruction that no one else is allowed to get hurt. They almost didn’t accomplish that. In the eighth, up two but with two on and none out, Detroit’s Niko Goodrum sent a sinking liner to right-center. There Aaron Judge saved perhaps the game with a diving catch, but more importantly, somehow managed to avoid rolling his wrist.
“Definitely one of those that you kind of hold your breath on,” Boone admitted after the game. “I had to do my job,” said Judge, who should probably be placed in bubble wrap for the next few weeks.
The Yankees hung on to win 3-1, and they’re back to .500. It’s a long season, and reinforcements will eventually arrive, but for the time being they’re just going to try to stay afloat. I might argue that this makes the Yankees plucky, inspirational underdogs, though your mileage may vary with that.