The 2021 Yankees plan to utilize a Machine, a Kraken, two behemoth sluggers and, if you listen to Brett Gardner’s teammates, a height-challenged geezer.
Should they make room for a big hairy monster?
Jay Bruce has earned the right to be contemplated more seriously on the basis of what he has shown so far in the Yankees’ Grapefruit League action. As long as all position players are healthy, though (And when was the last time we said that about this team?), that contemplation turns instantly into a conundrum.
Do you prefer Bruce’s track record or Mike Tauchman’s promise? Bruce’s limited time at first base or Tauchman’s aptitude in center field?
“You’re looking at it. We’re looking at it,” Aaron Boone acknowledged Friday, before a Yankees group featuring both Bruce and Tauchman defeated the Tigers, 4-2, on Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. “We’ll just see if it has a way of working itself out, too.”
Boone said the Yankees intend to begin the season with 13 pitchers and 13 position players, and it isn’t hard to handicap the latter group’s top dozen:
Catchers (2): Kyle Higashioka, Gary “The Kraken” Sanchez.
Infielders (5): DJ “The Machine” LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, Tyler Wade.
Outfielders-designated hitters (5): Clint Frazier, Gardner, Aaron Hicks and behemoths Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
The top contenders for the last spot have to be Bruce, 33, here on a minor league contract that allows him to opt out a week before spring training, and Tauchman, 30, out of minor league options and four years of team control remaining before free agency.
The lefty-swinging Bruce owns a .400/.471/.867 with two homers in seven exhibition games. On Friday, starting at first base, he sent a single the other way to left field, thwarting a Detroit shift, and drew a walk in his three appearances. He did make an error, failing to chase down a Miguel Cabrera pop fly to short right field with his back to home plate.
“Jay’s healthy, and it’s been really good to get him in, get some first-base looks here,” Boone said. “He just needs experience over there now because I feel like he naturally has the ability and the movements to be able to play over there.”
Bruce becomes a Yankee after underperforming through most of the three-year, $39-million contract he signed to rejoin the Mets in January 2018. With the Mets, Mariners and Phillies, Bruce tallied a 95 OPS-plus, five percent below league average these past three seasons.
“Obviously I had some struggles the last three years. I do kind of [attribute] that to injuries, said Bruce, who played in 94, 98 and 32 (out of 60) games the prior three seasons. “I feel like when I’m on the field, I’m healthy, I’m pretty much in line with my career numbers. As far as this spring goes, I feel good. I feel normal. I feel like myself. … I know that I can be a part of a winning team and help a team win a championship.”
The Yankees own a rich history of buying low on highly accomplished batsmen and cultivating a Bronx rebound: Raul Ibanez. Eric Chavez. Andruw Jones. Longtime general manager Brian Cashman used to call the lefty hitters, those who could capitalize on Yankee Stadium’s inviting right field porch, “big, hairy monsters.” You can dream on Bruce, his October and New York bona fides undisputed, becoming such a monster and providing some balance to the Yankees’ righty-leaning group.
At the price of giving up on the lefty-hitting Tauchman, though? The guy who came over from Colorado in 2019 and performed so well (.277/.361/.504 plus strong outfield defense) in 87 games that he earned his own handle, The Sockman? Tauchman started in center field Friday and contributed a single in three at-bats, lifting his spring numbers to .200/.250/.400 with one homer in six games.
“While we’re only a couple of weeks away from that decision, that two weeks can sometimes look to be a long time away and things can change or revolve or declare themselves for you,” Boone said.
Translation: Someone could get hurt, solve the dilemma and render this column as irrelevant as Blockbuster Video.
For now, though? It’s a heck of a discussion to hold both inside and outside the Yankees’ organization.