Depth in Major League Baseball is hardly a constant. One of the more unpredictable aspects of the sport, teams' depth shifts almost daily, while roster overhauls occur in the offseasons. Two things are difficult to achieve - consistent production from backups and helping other teams' castoffs realize their potential.
Enter, the 2019 Yankees, who have pulled off both despite injuries and an influx of new faces.
In the ever evolving analytics-driven game, New York has clearly been in the upper tier of searching for and acquiring depth options.
A lot changes in a baseball season, and New York's opening day options are a reminder of that. Aaron Boone's main bench options on Opening Day included Austin Romine, Greg Bird, Troy Tulowitzki and Mike Tauchman. Of the quartet, only Romine and Tauchman remain, while Bird (injury) and Tulowitzki (retirement) feel like distant memories.
In a season that has been defined by the 'Next Man Up' mantra, the new group of backups have played like everyday regulars, partly because they have been regulars through various stretches of the season. Romine and Tauchman have been joined by the likes of Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin and Mike Ford. All three represent smart, cheap additions from GM Brian Cashman, who may have saved the team's season with the moves.
Urshela was a career .225 hitter before getting his chance with the Yankees. Flip ahead a few months and he's transformed into a terrific two-way player, excelling in defense and hitting .314 on the year. On his eighth team in 13 seasons, the 32-year-old Maybin has provided valuable leadership and surprise on-base ability (.310 BA, .349 OBP).
Normally, if a team lost its primary first baseman and backup, there would be significant concerns. That's what happened to New York, who have lost both Luke Voit and trade addition Edwin Encarnacion to injuries.
If August trades were still an option, Cashman most likely would've made a move to acquire a fill-in option, say Toronto's Justin Smoak for example. The difference, though, is that the team still had another option - Ford. He's only hit .209 through 43 at-bats, but remember, the team isn't expecting or waiting on him to produce like a regular. In a lineup full of power and contact hitters, Ford is simply another body at a position of need, as well as another option for a team seemingly full of them.
The most important part may be the control that Cashman has over surprisingly-potent backups.
Tauchman, Urshela, Ford and Domingo German don't reach free agency until 2024 or after. That's not to say that any of them will be locked up to cheap, long-term deals, sign in arbitration, or even make it to next year's roster. But, it does mean that the four represent a number of options for Cashman & Co.
Tauchman in particular is an interesting case. His first two months as a Yankee were nothing of note, as fans called for his immediate dismissal. Of course, he'd soon embark on a tear that he's still riding (hitting .444 since July 4). Next season, he could wind up as the team's fourth outfielder depending on how things play out. Or, the Yankees could choose to let him walk for a chance at starting with another club. Though his offensive outbreak isn't likely to last, he's made himself heard to both the Yankees and the rest of baseball.
Maybin is likely a goner after 2019, but Urshela is very much in play as the backup infielder, or starter. He's shown he's equally capable in both roles, with his play making up for the absence of Miguel Andujar, minus the power. Whether Andujar rehabs well enough to start or ends up trade talks remain to be seen, but it's likely that the Yankees will do everything they can to hold on to Urshela, who has established himself as an elite defender with legitimate contact ability.
Both Romine and German will likely receive new deals following 2019, as they've proven themselves for different reasons. Romine is among the game's best backup catchers, while German has certainly shown enough this season to warrant a new deal before arbitration in 2021.
Regardless of what happens with the team's expiring contracts, there's still more help on the horizon. The team will soon regain Jordan Montgomery, the young lefty who impressed before falling to Tommy John surgery. It's also probable that fast rising prospect Deivi Garcia makes it to New York sooner than later, when he'll offer plus stuff on multiple pitches.
The abundance of reinforcements almost puts guys like Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade in the rear-view mirror, though they'd be on nearly every other teams Major League roster.
While the Yankees are in first place, they're not a typical division leader. They've been carried by the unknowns, the players that other organizations didn't see much potential in. When things should have gone south, they've only risen up.
And for that, they have their depth to thank.