For the first time this season, the Yankees are inching towards full health. With the impending returns of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees' lineup will finally be maximized at full strength.
However, because Judge and Stanton are obviously everyday players, that means that a roster shakeup is in order. How will the Yankees manage their roster with their two All-Stars returning to the lineup?
Clint Frazier and Cameron Maybin are on the hot seat
These two guys have done an exemplary job this year filling in for Judge and Stanton, but there just isn't room on the roster for six outfielders. Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner are safe, and Mike Tauchman is expected to be sent down to make room for one returning slugger. However, one of Clint Frazier or Cameron Maybin will also have to go when the second outfielder returns.
It's not an easy decision. Frazier's defense has cost the Yankees several runs this year, but he has made up for it by being one of the team's most productive hitters. If the Yankees sent him down, they'd be losing a player who's fourth on the team in home runs, RBI and OPS.
Maybin wouldn't be easy to say goodbye to, either. He's one of the rare speed threats on the roster, plays all three outfield positions very well, and he's been clutch - he's hitting .286 with runners in scoring position. Maybin does not have minor league options though, and he would likely be claimed on waivers if he was designated for assignment. The Yankees wouldn't want to lose him.
How do they divvy up the playing time?
There are two ways to answer this question. Scenario One involves the Yankees keeping Maybin and sending Frazier back down to Triple-A. The return of Judge and Stanton's bats would likely offset the loss of Frazier, and the upgrade defensively would be noticeable. Frazier would also get the chance to play every day at Triple-A, and would only be a call-up away from another stint in the Bronx.
In this scenario, the Yankees can divide their playing time quite easily. The Yankees would play Judge, Stanton and Hicks every day, while Gardner and Maybin could platoon against righties and lefties. The Yankees don't have a full-time designated hitter, so they could rotate Stanton, Judge and Hicks throughout that spot while providing Gardner and Maybin with ample playing time.
Things would get more complicated if the Yankees decided to keep Frazier up. By hypothetically cutting Maybin in this scenario, Gardner would become the team's fifth outfielder, and receive minimal playing time. The Yankees would rotate Frazier, Stanton, Hicks and Judge, which is a dynamic group, but one that could make it hard to feed everyone their necessary at-bats.
Making things more difficult with either scenario, the Yankees would have to sit one of their infielders whenever they played one of their outfielders at DH. The Yankees already have too many bats for too few spots, and keeping Frazier up might make balancing playing time unmanageable.
What should happen?
What should happen in a vacuum is that the Yankees keep their five best outfielders. That would involve chopping one of Gardner or Maybin. Due to contracts and roles on the team though, I think the temporary solution would be to send Frazier down.
In the scenario where they keep Frazier, there are too many starter-quality players on the bench every day. By sending him down, the Yankees avoid a logjam and send everyone back to their normal roles.
It should be mentioned that Judge and Stanton aren't slated to return for four more days. The Yankees haven't been able to make it through four days without sending someone to the Injured List very often this season. These situations often have a way of working themselves out, and aren't worth fretting over.
While fans and armchair GMs love to panic about who should leave to make room for Judge and Stanton, the fact is that any manager would be fortunate to be in this position, and the Yankees really can't come away losers in any outcome.