Opening Day gets closer every day that passes. As every day passes, speculation gets larger and larger as to who will make the 25-man roster and who will be sent to minor league camp in preparation for seasons in the minors. The New York Yankees right now have 45 men in camp (31 on the 40-man roster and 14 non-roster invitees) including the late-signed Ernesto Frieri. Of the Yankees non-roster invitees, five are prospects and nine are depth filler.
With the injury to Didi Gregorius in the World Baseball Classic, right now it is a complete free-for-all for the short stop position. Ruben Tejada, Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma and prospect Tyler Wade all stand a chance to win the roster spot. No matter who gets it, particularly the former three, they are roster cut bait. The only difference with Tyler Wade is he would just be optioned to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Whoever the shortstop is, they are destined to bat eighth or ninth in the lineup.
The leadoff spot has to be Brett Gardner. While Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner both have justified claims for it, Ellsbury is deteriorating faster than Gardner is. The team is better with Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot as he still has the speed and on-base percentage to justify his position. Recent winner of a Gold Glove, Gardner had .261 / .351 / .362 line in 2016. While his power went down, Gardner kept career averages in hitting and even reduced his strikeout rate in 2016.
So what does one do with Jacoby Ellsbury? Joe Girardi has stated that they would prefer to not have Ellsbury and Gardner back to back in the lineup. So this would eliminate the one-two or nine-one positioning because they do not want lefties back to back. Now, where the heck do you put Ellsbury? If you cannot put him ninth or second, it will become really unusual. Most fans just want Ellsbury on the bench, but you can name 153 million reasons why that will not happen. For the sake of speculation, the seventh or eighth hole will be best for him, split by the fill-in shortstop.
The two-hole is another interesting question. The idea of removing Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner from this position makes it possible that a power-hitter will have to sit here rather than a pure on-base percentage guy. There has been fan speculation of having phenom Gary Sanchez in the two-hole. This might actually hurt his bat more than it sounds. Sanchez played in the three-hole or cleanup spot in most of his appearances during the 2016 season. Losing a power-bat deeper in the lineup might hurt the lineup more. If not for the injury to Didi, there would be a quick answer there. Once Didi returns, putting him in the second-hole is logical. For now, we will have to live with Sanchez.
The three cleanup positions are almost guarantees, depending who is playing that day and where. Matt Holliday, who has had one hell of a camp, should be given the three-spot. He has the on-base percentage and power to justify batting there. Next comes Greg Bird, the newly-anointed starting first baseman. The 24-year old has a pure power bat and it will do wonders in the four-hole. The right fielder Aaron Judge makes up the fifth spot provided he can start hitting a normal basis.
The sixth spot goes to the former Cub and current Yankee Starlin Castro. Castro has the ability to hit for power and strike out a ton. He fits the position to a T. As for the seventh position, we will better off putting Chase Headley, who again has power and some on-base percentage, in that position. So with that, here is what the opening day lineup should look like:
- Brett Gardner (LF)
- Gary Sanchez ( C )
- Matt Holliday (DH)
- Greg Bird (1B)
- Aaron Judge (RF)
- Starlin Castro (2B)
- Chase Headley (3B)
- Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
- [shortstop to be] (personal preference for Tyler Wade)