Four different ways the Yankees’ Opening Day roster could look depending on length of MLB shutdown


Major League Baseball, like many sports leagues around the world, has been shut down indefinitely because of the growing threat that is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Spring training was suspended and Opening Day has been pushed back to at least mid-May, and that remains subject to change as the situation develops.

We won’t know the extent of the shutdown’s on-field impact until we know exactly how many games will be played during the 2020 regular season. Some teams will feel that impact more than others, and no contending team stands to see its Opening Day roster change as much due to the shutdown as the New York Yankees.

Prior to the shutdown, the Yankees were expected to begin the regular season without five key players. They were slated to have an entire outfield on the injured list on Opening Day, plus two starting pitchers. New York’s walking wounded:

Severino had his elbow rebuilt Feb. 27 and is done for 2020. That’s true no matter how many games they play this year. Severino won’t return until 2021. The other four guys are expected back at various points in the coming weeks though, and depending when the regular season begins, the Yankees could have one or all of them on the Opening Day roster.

This is what New York’s Opening Day 26-man roster would have looked like had the season started as scheduled on March 26 (rosters must be 13 pitchers and 13 position players):

We don’t know when the regular season will begin and, honestly, it feels like we are weeks away from even having an idea of when it might start. Nothing is certain. Not even close. What is the necessary level of COVID-19 containment to play a major-league game? I don’t think anyone knows. For now, all we can do is sit and wait, and hope for as many games as possible.

With that in mind, here are various Opening Day scenarios and what they could mean for the Yankees and their roster.

Scenario 1: Season begins in late May or early June

Now available: Giancarlo Stanton (calf strain)
Still injured: Aaron Hicks (Tommy John surgery), Aaron Judge (fractured rib), James Paxton (back surgery)

This is the best-case scenario. Opening Day has been pushed back to mid-May, but, realistically, players will need a spring training to safely prepare for the regular season, and that spring training could last four weeks. Even if MLB gets the thumbs up to begin spring workouts in empty stadiums in early May, we’re still looking at Opening Day in late May or early June.

Stanton suffered a Grade 1 calf strain, so it was relatively minor, and he had resumed baseball workouts when the shutdown was announced. He recently started taking batting practice and manager Aaron Boone said Stanton would be able to play in spring training games right now if there were any spring training games to play.

“G is doing great,” Boone recently reporters, including MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. “If we were to start spring training games up tomorrow, he’d probably be ready to go. He’s been doing really well, hitting now for a few weeks, but running pretty much at full speed outside and changing directions — doing pretty much all the things necessary to get into a game. He’s doing good and that’s the one silver lining, it’s a chance for guys to get healed up.”

Because he’ll need 40-50 spring at-bats to get up to speed, Stanton would not have been on the March 26 Opening Day roster, but he was expected to return in mid-April. Now, with Opening Day pushed back into at least mid-May, Stanton will be able to go through a normal spring training and be ready to go when the regular season begins. 

This would be the projected Opening Day roster under Scenario 1:

C Gary Sanchez

C Kyle Higashioka

Gerrit Cole

CL Aroldis Chapman

1B Luke Voit

1B Mike Ford

Masahiro Tanaka

SU Zack Britton

2B DJ LeMahieu

IF Tyler Wade

J.A. Happ

SU Tommy Kahnle

SS Gleyber Torres

OF Clint Frazier

Jordan Montgomery

SU Adam Ottavino

3B Gio Urshela

Jonathan Loaisiga

MR Chad Green

LF Mike Tauchman

MR Jonathan Holder

CF Brett Gardner

LG Luis Cessa

RF Giancarlo Stanton

LG David Hale

DH Miguel Andujar

Stanton’s return pushes Herrera, a non-roster invitee having a good spring (10 for 25) but with no track record of MLB success (career .602 OPS), to Triple-A and Frazier to the bench. Herrera would have made the March 26 Opening Day roster because the Yankees lacked a true outfielder on the bench. Otherwise they would have relied on Andujar (learning left field) and Wade (some outfield experience) as their fourth outfielder, and that’s not great.

Starting the season in late May or early June would mean the Yankees get Stanton back from his calf strain, but would still be without Hicks, Judge, and Paxton (and Severino).

Scenario 2: Season begins July 1

Now available: Stanton, Aaron Judge (fractured rib), James Paxton (back surgery)
Still injured: Aaron Hicks (Tommy John surgery)

When mid-May rolls around, it’s possible it still will not be safe to play baseball games or hold spring workouts, even without fans in the stands. That would mean the shutdown lasts another few weeks, pushing spring training into June and Opening Day into July. At that point MLB would be looking at what, an 80-100 game season? Maybe 120? That’s better than nothing.

Judge’s recent checkup showed his fractured rib is healing well — it also showed his previously undisclosed collapsed lung has healed — though the Yankees have no given a timetable for his return. He’ll go for another checkup in a few weeks, and based on the typical rib fracture recovery timetable, July 1 is a reasonable estimate for Judge’s return to game action.

“The bone is healing the way it should be, so probably another test here in a couple more weeks and go from there,” Judge told the Associated Press recently. “… That’s the silver lining in all of this, just having the ability to not feel rushed trying to get back for a certain date, especially since we really don’t have a date. Just trying to let it heal, don’t try to rush it.”

As for Paxton, we know when he is expected to return. He had surgery Feb. 5 and the announced timetable was 3-4 months. That means a May return in Scenario 1 is possible, but the Yankees always tend to be conservative with injuries, so I would’ve bet on a June return being more likely. Paxton had started his throwing program before spring training was shutdown.

“It was all great. My back didn’t hurt at all,” Paxton told reporters, including Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, after throwing. “Just working on getting my arm to feel normal again. I haven’t thrown in a long time. But that’ll come with playing catch … Best case, middle of May is kind of what I’m hoping for as long as everything goes smoothly in this process.”

Opening Day on July 1 is plenty of time for Stanton to get ready, and it likely means Judge and Paxton will be ready for the start of the (abbreviated) regular season as well. Here is the Scenario 2 Opening Day roster:

C Gary Sanchez

C Kyle Higashioka

Gerrit Cole

CL Aroldis Chapman

1B Luke Voit

1B Mike Ford

James Paxton

SU Zack Britton

2B DJ LeMahieu

IF Tyler Wade

Masahiro Tanaka

SU Tommy Kahnle

SS Gleyber Torres

OF Mike Tauchman

J.A. Happ

SU Adam Ottavino

3B Gio Urshela

Jordan Montgomery

MR Chad Green

LF Giancarlo Stanton

MR Jonathan Holder

CF Brett Gardner

LG Luis Cessa

RF Aaron Judge

LG Jonathan Loaisiga

DH Miguel Andujar

Paxton’s return pushes Loaisiga into the bullpen — it is entirely possible the Yankees would’ve used an opener as their fifth starter rather than Loaisiga, though he was in that mix in spring training — and Hale off the roster. Hale did solid work as a long reliever last season (3.11 ERA) but was in camp as a non-roster invitee. He’s the obvious candidate to lose his roster spot for Paxton.

Judge and Stanton rejoining the outfield means Tauchman moves into a fourth outfielder’s role and both Herrera and Frazier wind up in Triple-A. There are a few interchangeable parts here — maybe Frazier sticks on the Opening Day roster and Ford goes down instead — but, generally speaking, these are the moves. The Yankees get two sluggers and their strikeout lefty back.

Scenario 3: Season begins Aug. 1 (or later)

Now available: Judge, Paxton, Stanton, Aaron Hicks (Tommy John surgery)
Still injured: None (except Severino)

I wouldn’t call this the worst-case scenario because I could see MLB starting a 60-something-game season on Sept. 1 and playing postseason games at neutral sites in November, but yeah, this is close to the worst-case scenario. It would mean extensive delays that push spring training back into July and Opening Day back to August, after the traditional trade deadline.

An Aug. 1 Opening Day would give Judge, Paxton, and Stanton plenty of time to get over their injuries and prepare for the regular season. If they’re not on the Opening Day roster at this point, it means they’ve suffered a setback or a new injury. Hicks, meanwhile, is expected back in either late June or early July. He had surgery in October and we have a convenient rehab timetable to follow:

  • Didi Gregorius: Tommy John surgery on Oct. 17, 2018; return on June 7, 2019
  • Aaron Hicks: Tommy John surgery on Oct. 24, 2019; return TBD

Gregorius had his elbow reconstructed in mid October and he returned in early June. Hicks, his former Yankees teammate, had his surgery in late October, which would put him on track to return in mid to late June, or early July, using Sir Didi’s rehab as a benchmark. Every rehab is different, of course, but Gregorius gives us a ballpark estimate.

“(Rehab is) pretty boring, to tell you the truth,” Hicks told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch earlier this month. “I just go the gym, work out and then go get (treatment). Right now, we’re starting to get ready to throw … There are always setbacks with Tommy John, but I think Didi’s was just flawless, all the way through. Of course, that’s what I want to happen with me. I’m hoping that happens.”

It’s not out of the question Hicks could return in time for a July 1 Opening Day. An August Opening Day would give him more time to get back into game shape, however, and also give him extra time to overcome any setbacks or bumps in the road. Tommy John surgery rehab is grueling and rarely is it smooth sailing. Almost everyone needs to back off a bit at some point.

Opening Day being pushed all the way back to Aug. 1 would give the Yankees a chance to begin the regular season with their full complement of players (except Severino). This could be the Opening Day roster on that date:

C Gary Sanchez

C Kyle Higashioka

Gerrit Cole

CL Aroldis Chapman

1B Luke Voit

IF Tyler Wade

James Paxton

SU Zack Britton

2B DJ LeMahieu

OF Mike Tauchman

Masahiro Tanaka

SU Tommy Kahnle

SS Gleyber Torres

IF/OF Miguel Andujar

J.A. Happ

SU Adam Ottavino

3B Gio Urshela

Jordan Montgomery

MR Chad Green

LF Brett Gardner

MR Jonathan Holder

CF Aaron Hicks

LG Luis Cessa

RF Aaron Judge

LG Jonathan Loaisiga

DH Giancarlo Stanton

Ford goes to Triple-A and the outfield suddenly looks very different. Hicks reclaiming the center field job pushes Gardner over to left and Stanton into the DH position, and Andujar into what amounts to a “tenth man” role. He’s listed on the bench here, but the 2018 Rookie of the Year runner-up would presumably see plenty of action at first base, third base, left field, and at DH. 

This is as complete as the Yankees can get on Opening Day. Severino won’t be available this season under any circumstances, but the three outfielders and Paxton should be at some point, and an August 1 Opening Day is late enough that all four players should have time to get healthy and go through a full spring training to prepare for the regular season

Scenario 4: Season is 63 games old

Now available: Domingo German (suspended)

The Yankees were slated to begin 2020 without their five injured players and also without German, an 18-game winner a year ago. He was suspended 81 games under MLB’s domestic violence policy last September and has 63 games to serve in 2020. GM Brian Cashman confirmed German can not serve the suspension during the shutdown. The 63 games begins when the season begins.

“He has a suspension in the amount of games,” Cashman told reporters, including Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, earlier this month. “It doesn’t start until the schedule starts. The suspension is in games, so the bottom line is, until those games come off the board, that’s how long his suspension is going to last.”  

Hicks, Judge, Paxton, and Stanton are rehabbing injuries and their exact return date depends on their rehab progress and how long it takes them to shake off the rust in rehab/spring games. We have a general idea when they will return, but not a fixed date. We have a fixed date for German’s return. He’ll return to the Yankees in the 64th game of the 2020 season.

The thing is, we don’t know when that 64th game will be played. Could be July, could be August or September (or even October). Heck, there’s a nightmare scenario possible in which MLB doesn’t play 63 games in 2020, meaning German’s suspension would carry over into 2021. Unlikely? Yeah, probably, but we can’t rule it out at this point.

The suspension ensures German will not be on the Opening Day roster no matter when Opening Day happens. The earliest he can return is Game 64, whenever that is. The Yankees will figure out where to slot German into their pitching staff (rotation? bullpen?) when he’s ready to return and not a second sooner. His return is looming though, and is worth mentioning here.


The Yankees have had terrible injury luck the last 14 months or so and everything above is based on the best-case scenario, meaning no setbacks (unlikely) and no other additional injuries before Opening Day (extremely unlikely). The longer the shutdown though, the more likely it is the Yankees have their injured players when the season begins, and that would be a game-changer.

“We’re all bummed, especially with Opening Day coming up. We’re getting close to that point, and all that goes into that, to have that pulled out from under you is difficult,” Boone told Hoch recently. “We also understand this is way bigger than baseball, it’s bigger than all of us. It’s incumbent on all of us to do our part right now and try to get baseball back to us sooner rather than later.”  





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