Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Yankees were masters of the contingency plan during last season's record-breaking injury-fest. That's the, um, good news?
The bad news, of course, is that the club may have to be without another star for awhile after revealing Friday that Aaron Judge has a stress fracture in his first right rib. The injury could require surgery, though the Yanks' plan now is for Judge to rest for two weeks and be re-evaluated. Even if he's improved by then, Opening Day sounds unlikely.
On the day they finally got an answer to what's been ailing Judge, the Yanks found other questions. First off is this: what does it all mean for the Yankee outfield?
More ouches translate into more importance for the likes of Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier. Seems like seeing if Miguel Andújar can play the outfield is a tad more vital now than simply a way to find extra at-bats for a defensively-challenged, talented hitter.
Will we see free agent Yasiel Puig licking bats in the Bronx this year? Or is there another outside flycatcher who makes sense? Do the Yankees have to accelerate the timetable of prospect Estevan Florial? Will Tyler Wade add more outfield to his Swiss Army-knife skill set or is there temporary help among the non-roster invitees?
Giancarlo Stanton is already down with a strained right calf. Aaron Hicks, who had Tommy John surgery, won't be back til the summer, at best.
So you can practically pencil in Tauchman and Frazier in the lineup for the March 26 opener in Baltimore as the corner outfielders, with Brett Gardner in center.
Unless you're a stickler for the symbolism, it doesn't really matter who plays Opening Day, especially if Judge returns and plays a great deal this season. Or, we should say, it doesn't matter unless it's the first of many, many games that Judge misses.
Tauchman was a nice story last season, a fill-in with promise who bloomed in his first extended opportunity in the big leagues. He was remarkable with the glove - defensive metrics were in love - and added an .865 OPS and 13 homers in 87 games before (of course) suffering an injury of his own.
Frazier offered glimpses of the "legendary bat speed" we've heard so much about, but had some struggles defensively. Frazier, in his most significant chance in the majors yet, had an .806 OPS with 12 homers in 69 games and remains a promising hitter. He's only 25.
While Andújar figures to see plenty of time as the designated hitter with Stanton out, the Yankees could be tempted to use this time to give him an outfield crash course, hoping it evolves into a permanent home. Florial, the only outfield prospect who is currently on the 40-man roster, has had his own health issues, playing only 158 games over the past two seasons.
But beyond how the Yankees handle the on-field ramifications of Judge's injury, there are sure to be lingering, uncomfortable questions about his case.
The Yanks believe he was originally hurt diving for a ball last September. Why didn't the injury fully heal during the off-season? Could two more weeks of rest really provide more answers for a team that's had a run of spring injuries even after revamping its training methods and personnel over the winter?
Judge's own injury history also figures to be in the spotlight, particularly if the rib needs surgery. In each of the last two seasons he has missed significant time, playing only 214 of a possible 324 games over that span. Fair or unfair, the baseball world will wonder if he can stay on the field.
It's too bad, because when he's right, Judge is one of the most thrilling players in the game, a powerful offensive juggernaut who is also one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.
No matter how the rest of the Yankees' outfielders fare, no matter if they master the contingency plan again, it's difficult to replace a player like that.