DJ LeMahieu is back with the Yankees, so manager Aaron Boone can start playing around with his lineup.
The skipper loves doing that even in the offseason, which makes sense considering he has stars at almost every position.
The Yankees’ biggest lineup change would be most of the starters actually staying healthy for the first time in three seasons. We’re looking at you Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks.
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As for the makeup of the lineup, it will be status quo at the top with LeMahieu staying in the leadoff spot after leading the majors in hitting in 2020 and Judge back in the No. 2 because loves having a slugger who walks a lot there.
The one probable new starter figures to be Clint Frazier in left field. He earned this promotion late last season, although it didn’t play out that way for most of the playoff games due to his late slump coinciding with Brett Gardner getting hot. Frazier probably will get a chance to rack up a lot of at-bats this season due to his breakout 2020, which included good production, improved outfield play and lots of off-the-field maturity.
One dilemma for Boone is where to stick Hicks, the switch-hitting center fielder, who also has power and works a lot of walks, in baseball’s worst-balanced lineup. Hicks can only split up two right-handers, but who would benefit the most.
Also to be determined is whether Sanchez, still in the fold after hitting .147 with poor defense and five playoff benchings last season, is a starter or platoons with Kyle Higashioka, who surely will remain Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher.
Boone probably will resort to one of his favorite sayings to tackle this issue: It’s fluid. Thus, Sanchez will either earn a lot of playing time with improved hitting and receiving, or he’ll slide right back in the doghouse and presumably out of the Yankees’ long-term catching plans for good.
One more thing that isn’t totally etched in stone yet is whether the Yankees definitely will stick with Gleyber Torres at shortstop for another year. That’s his natural position, but he had a really rough time of it last season playing short after being much better as a second baseman for most of 2018 and 2019, his first two MLB campaigns.
Although unlikely, the Yanks still could move Torres back to second, make LeMahieu the starter at first, cash in on first baseman Luke Voit’s trade value after his MLB-leading homer season and then sign or trade for a better defensive shortstop. Free agent shortstops who probably would be high on the Yankees’ list in such a scenario include re-signing Didi Gregorius or bringing in Andrelton Simmons.
Here’s an early projection of the Yankees’ 2021 Opening Day lineup with everyone healthy:
1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
4. Luke Voit, 1B
5. Gleyber Torres, SS
6. Gio Urshela, 3B
7. Aaron Hicks, CF
8. Clint Frazier, LF
9. Kyle Higashioka, C
Gerrit Cole, RHP
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