FORT MYERS, Fla. — Aaron Boone believes the Yankees are better than they were a year ago upon breaking camp, but he knows that doesn’t mean much.
“I’d like to think we are, but we were pretty good last year,” said Boone, whose team went 100-62 in his first year as manager. “And I know leaving at this time last year, I felt pretty good about things. I feel like we’re maybe a little deeper and maybe, hopefully, a little better equipped to handle some of these early-season injuries that we have.”
Luis Severino (rotator cuff inflammation), Dellin Betances (right shoulder impingement), Aaron Hicks (lower back) and Jacoby Ellsbury (plantar fasciitis) will start the season on the injured list. CC Sabathia, behind his teammates when he entered camp because of an offseason procedure on his right knee, will start the year on the active roster, but only to serve the five-game suspension he received last September for intentionally hitting the Rays' Jesus Sucre. Sabathia will stay in Tampa during the suspension and then head to the injured list to continue prepping for the season. Didi Gregorius isn’t due back until June at the earliest as he recovers from offseason Tommy John surgery.
The Hicks injury, Boone said, impacted the final roster decisions that were made. Most notably, the versatile Tyler Wade, who performed well throughout spring training, was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday morning. Instead, outfielder Mike Tauchman, acquired late Saturday afternoon in exchange for lefty pitching prospect Phillip Diehl, will occupy the final position player roster spot.
“With us being down an outfielder, I think Tauchman’s a guy that we believe [is] a really good player that hasn’t really had his chance yet,” Boone said. “With Hicks being down, we feel it gives us a guy that can be part of that [outfield] rotation . . . He’ll be that fourth outfielder. His ability to play all three positions and we feel like the offensive upside and the athleticism, we feel like he’s a good fit for us.”
The Hicks injury also meant the Yankees will carry two first basemen, Luke Voit and Greg Bird, to start the season, something they were resolutely not planning to do before Hicks got hurt. For now, it does save the Yankees from having to choose between two players who performed well in the spring competition.
Boone said the team isn't leaving camp with an everyday first baseman. The plan is to “mix and match” the righthanded-hitting Voit and the lefthanded-hitting Bird on a game-to-game basis, with DJ LeMahieu also an option.
“I think Bird starts off maybe a little stronger overall [defensively], but I also feel like the strides Luke’s made have been real,” Boone said. “So I view them kind of similarly at this point. Comfortable with both of them over there. We’ll just kind of see how it plays out. Mix and match a little bit. Have the DH [for one of them on occasion]. Not sure how exactly it plays out.”
The same goes for the season, which will start for real Thursday afternoon against the Orioles in the Bronx.
“Obviously, it’s going to be important over the long haul that we get the guys back that we’re missing right now because they’re obviously impact performers for us,” Boone said. “But I feel like we have a chance to be a really good club. Now it’s on us to go and make it happen.”