Predicting the Yankees’ 26-man roster after newest injury to ace

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

With the news of Gerrit Cole’s injury, the Yankees have a new roster battle that they didn’t foresee in their rotation, but they also have multiple bullpen injuries to account for. Their bench has also been in question with the injury to Oswald Peraza, who the Yankees seemed to try and replace even before the news of his shoulder injury. It’s unclear if they’ll bring anyone in to help with their roster depth, but they do have internal options that could also factor into this conversation if they continue to have a strong Spring Training.

The Yankees are no strangers to injury, but as they try to navigate around the big blow that is losing Gerrit Cole, we take our best crack at figuring out which 26 players the Yankees will take with them to Houston when they take on the Astros on March 28th.

Which Pitchers Are the Yankees Taking to Houston?

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees
Mar 7, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Luke Weaver (30) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The first decision the Yankees will have to make pertains to their starting rotation, as they need to find a fifth starter as Gerrit Cole will be out for 10-12 weeks. Since that timeline would mean he returns at some point in late May or early June, it opens up a spot on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. Will Warren makes the most sense for the final rotation spot, as the right-hander has a deep array of pitches, and the organization has a lot of faith in him as well. He’s built up to start, coming off of a season where he tossed over 120 innings, and the stuff is absolutely wicked.

Warren throws a sweeping slider that can move as much as 24 inches horizontally, and the sinker runs over 15 inches on average in the opposite direction with plenty of drop as well. His four-seamer has become a weapon for him at the top of the zone, generating a whiff rate over 30% at the Triple-A level and giving him a reliable pitch against left-handed batters. His cutter and changeup should help in that regard as well, and he used each of his five pitches at least 13% of the time last season, displaying excellent command of his entire arsenal.

READ MORE: Yankees have big plans for oft-injured bullpen arm

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
Mar 11, 2024; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Will Warren (98) throws a pitch during the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

He would be the corresponding move for Gerrit Cole in this scenario and round out their rotation with a young and exciting arm who has the upside to help this team. The Yankees have an exciting young prospect in Will Warren, and he could end up being one of their better starters if he lives up to his upside. Keeping the ball on the ground and getting strikeouts are always desirable, and Warren has consistently shown the ability to do both at a pretty high level. As for the bullpen, there are two open spots with injuries to Scott Effross and Tommy Kahnle, and two candidates are needed to take those spots.

Nick Burdi, who has been a name to watch since he reported to camp, is throwing absolute heat from a funky arm slot, and he could be a breakout pick in 2024. The hard-throwing right-hander has a four-seamer, sinker, and sweeper with above-average movement and elite-level velocity, and he should be able to overpower hitters in a relief role. Dennis Santana was also a non-roster invite, and after learning a cutter from Frankie Montas, he opened plenty of eyes in camp as a bullpen option as well.

To make room for them on the roster, moving Oswald Peraza to the 60-day IL (shoulder) and either trading or waiving Ben Rortvedt would do the trick, and those are both considered inevitable transactions.

How Do the Yankees Round Out Their Bench?

oswaldo cabrera, yankees
Oct 18, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera (95) reacts after making a catch on a ball hit by Cleveland Guardians designated hitter Josh Naylor (not pictured) during the sixth inning in game five of the ALDS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have most of their bench figured out, as they just need to fill out one final spot there and find a reserve infielder to help the roster out. It’s expected that Oswaldo Cabrera, Trent Grisham, and whoever isn’t starting at catcher will be on their bench and while Oswald Peraza was considered the heavy favorite for the backup infielder job, it seems as if they had their sights set on replacing him from the jump. Now they don’t have a choice, as while Jahmai Jones or Kevin Smith could emerge, both should be viewed as MiLB depth, not the first man up.

Some options on the free-agent market include Donovan Solano and Jean Segura, but neither bat will be ready for Opening Day as they haven’t been signed this late into Spring Training. J.D. Davis could be a more attractive fit because he ramped up with the San Francisco Giants, but he only plays first and third, and that might not be the player they’re looking for. His market seems to lie with teams like the Mets and Blue Jays, who lack depth at the DH position and intend to use him frequently, which the Yankees can’t do.

Speaking of the Blue Jays, the name that the Yankees could go to for a reserve infielder could be Santiago Espinal, who has been a hot topic in Toronto as a trade candidate. The 29-year-old infielder will make $2.7 million this upcoming season and could come at a low cost after posting an ugly 80 wRC+ in 93 games last year. In the two seasons prior, the right-handed hitting utilityman was a solid hitter at the plate with a low strikeout rate and high average, and the hope would be that he could provide the same thing to the Yankees’ bench.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
Mar 12, 2024; Dunedin, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Santiago Espinal (5) hits a two rbi double against the New York Yankees in the fifth inning at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

He can play second, third, and shortstop, with +13 OAA across the three positions in his MLB career, which is super valuable for the Yankees. He may not have the offensive profile that we’d like, as he’s a contact-over-hit player who doesn’t provide much upside, but he wouldn’t be an everyday player for the Yankees. Beggers can’t be choosers, and if the Blue Jays are offering him at a lower price, he could be a solid addition at a low cost for the team. He did have success at the Major League level, and maybe the Yankees can get that league-average outcome from his bat in 2024.

The Yankees could trade Ben Rortvedt to the Blue Jays, who just lost Danny Jansen to a pisiform bone fracture, which could sideline him for a couple of months. Bullpen depth like Clayton Andrews could also be of value here, but the exact trade details are something I could only speculate on hypothetically. The rest of the bench would remain the same, and it would give us a final 26-man roster set for a series in Houston.

Final 26-man Roster For Opening Day

Gerrit Cole is a huge name to try and replace, even for a condensed period of time, but the Yankees still have a strong roster that should contend for the American League East. Their bats have the firepower to go toe-to-toe with any lineup in baseball with just how good Juan Soto and Aaron Judge should be. How hitters like Austin Wells and Anthony Volpe progress in the early stages of their careers remains to be seen, and their veterans will also have to step up as well to keep the lineup deep.

On the pitching side of the ball, the bullpen is chock-full of nasty relievers with different arm slots and repertoires, and they should be able to get production from that unit again. Their rotation is where the question marks lie, as I anticipate that Nestor Cortes gets the Opening Day nod, and he’s a name that has to rebound in 2024. It’s not a matter of whether names like Carlos Rodon or Marcus Stroman can be good pitchers; we know what they’re capable of, but if they live up to that potential, it is a massive unknown.

Will Warren is a rookie with zero MLB experience, there will naturally be learning curves and things for him to learn, and he may get battered around. Clarke Schmidt is another name still cutting his teeth as an MLB starter, and the hope is that his progression can make up for some of the value they lost with Gerrit Cole’s injury. There’s no questioning the uncertainty of their rotation, but this 26-man roster should be able to hold it down for the first half of the season if they can remain relatively healthy and play to back of their baseball cards.

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