New York Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu shaken while fielding a ball...

New York Yankees’ DJ LeMahieu shaken while fielding a ball hit by Jair Camargo in the top of the third inning against the Minnesota Twins on Feb. 26, 2024. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Yankees officially have an injury problem.

What started out as Oswald Peraza’s sore shoulder soon looped in Aaron Judge’s abdominal region, Gerrit Cole’s achy pitching elbow and DJ LeMahieu’s bruised right foot.

So after going nearly a month this spring without as much as a stubbed toe at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees suddenly had to formulate contingency plans for the very real possibility they wouldn’t have the MVP captain, the reigning Cy Young winner and two-time batting champ/leadoff hitter in the Opening Day lineup.

Or even Peraza, the logical backup for LeMahieu at third base.

Obviously, the Yankees don’t have replacements for any of those top three. No team would, really. Who has a spare 60-homer centerfielder on the bench, or a 200-inning ace ready to be elevated on the rotation ladder? As for LeMahieu, he was showing a live bat again after last year’s second-half resurgence, so the Yankees were planning on a big bounce-back season.

Now? Who knows what to think.

You can already draw a line through Cole and Peraza. They’re on the shelf for a while, and even though Cole said he felt “pretty good” about the diagnosis of nerve inflammation, he’s still going to be out until late May or early June. That still wasn’t enough to convince the Yankees to take one final swing at Blake Snell, who agreed to a two-year, $62 million deal with the Giants late Monday night. Hal Steinbrenner was never crazy about paying a 110% tax on what turned out to be a $31 million annual salary for Snell, so instead everyone moves up — Nestor Cortes takes over Opening Day duty in Houston — and they’ll be hoping for credible depth options in either Will Warren or Luis Gil as the No. 5 starter.

When it comes to Judge and LeMahieu, those are hardly clear-cut cases. We’ll take Judge first, under the presumption that he’ll be in Wednesday night’s lineup against the Pirates at The Boss. Let’s see what happens around 3 p.m. that afternoon. This is the third time in nine days manager Aaron Boone said that Judge would play in a Grapefruit League game, only to eat those words on the previous two occasions (the others being March 13 and 16). It was Judge who first provided the details of what was bothering him — two days after both he and Boone denied anything was wrong — while revealing that the MRI (surprise!) didn’t show any damage to the area.

The company line regarding Judge is that he’ll be ready for the March 28 opener against the Astros at Minute Maid Park. But that doesn’t mean much until the Yankees’ captain actually appears in a game of any kind. Or even somewhere he can be spotted swinging a bat, as Judge has not done so outdoors since leaving that March 10 game after a pair of strikeouts.

Back when this whole saga began, Judge said he typically requires roughly 30 Grapefruit League at-bats to get up to speed for the regular season. As of now, he’s stuck on 14, with two hits, a double and five Ks to his credit. The Yankees have six games remaining, including three of the split-squad variety (two being in Mexico City) so Judge might fall short of his number, but could still make up the difference facing the high-velocity machines at Steinbrenner.

“Being cautious,” Boone said of slow-pedaling Judge’s recovery. “Don’t want this to turn into something real.”

When it’s Judge, and it’s a core muscle situation, it’s "real" enough. He’s already conceded that this problem likely surfaced from the combination of too many BP swings and compensating for last season’s toe injury, which cost him seven weeks on the IL. Hearing the toe come up again 10 months later can’t be a comforting thought for the Yankees, and a core issue, for someone as powerful as Judge, is something that will have Boone holding his breath on each swing over the next week.

Realistically, Judge isn’t out of the woods yet, despite Boone’s optimism (he’s tricked us before). And the fact that the manager struck a far more serious tone on LeMahieu — Boone used the word “significant” — moves him from questionable to doubtful in our mind for Opening Day. The clock is working against the Yankees at this point, and it doesn’t help that LeMahieu’s bone bruise is on the same right (back) foot that was impacted by the toe ligament damage from two years ago. The lingering fallout from that injury bothered LeMahieu into the All-Star break last season, so the Yankees are going to be super-careful with him this time around.

That points to more of an extended rest and conservative ramp-up, which could then delay LeMahieu into April. Unlike Judge, LeMahieu does have more reps (6-for-27, one double in 10 games) so he was feasibly closer to season-ready. But if he can’t get back into some sort of game-action in Florida, the Yankees sound hesitant to push his recovery process, especially after what he’s been through the past two seasons on that same foot.

“I’m not going to have him playing through anything initially,” Boone said. “Because I feel like that’s where you start compensating and then you start putting other parts of the body — and that foot even — in jeopardy.”

In the meantime, the Yankees will be doing their own compensating for missing these key pieces. And this season is already feeling a bit too familiar — in a bad way.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months