The Yankees would be willing to sacrifice any player from their active roster if the corresponding move was Captain Aaron Judge's return from injury. But that doesn't mean the next step will be easy to swallow.
In recent days, the Yankees managed to bring two separate talents off their rehab assignments, promoting Jake Bauers (shoulder) and Greg Allen (hip) back to the big leagues. Both will fill important roles; Bauers might be a platoon bat past the deadline, but he's still one of the team's best power hitters (.784 OPS, 115 OPS+), and Allen provides legitimate center field defense and speed (and was the impetus for Aaron Hicks' DFA two months ago).
The corresponding moves for those promotions were Oswaldo Cabrera, who requires more Triple-A seasoning, and Franchy Cordero, the streakiest hitter in the league who's escaping on a high note after Friday's homer. The next time the Yankees have to make a maneuver, though, things won't be so crystal clear.
Judge worked out again on Sunday afternoon, taking a live BP session against Jonathan Loaisiga and looking relatively spry and standard. Rumors are already circulating about his potential "surprise" return ahead of the Yankees' upcoming difficult series in Baltimore. Oft forgotten, slugger Willie Calhoun is also rehabbing with Double-A Somerset, and Nestor Cortes lurks as his 60-Day IL stint wraps in early August. How, exactly, are the Yankees going to make room for all these people, especially now that they've already sent down their more underwhelming fill-ins?
Yankees might lose Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Billy McKinney when Aaron Judge returns
The most vulnerable roster spots remaining belong to Billy McKinney and his .808 OPS/121 OPS+. The center/right/left fielder has been a defensive standout and is fresh off a return to form in another "Player of the Game"-type outing on Friday night. Have the Yankees grown to prefer him to ... say, Allen? Is one of those two players on the chopping block? Will Calhoun even return? Is Bauers' role secure? Want to lose a pitcher and play a man down? You're going to have to do it again for Cortes eventually anyway. Want to lose two?
Bauers and McKinney have been among the team's rare bright spots this summer. Of course Judge is preferable to either player, but the Yankees had better be sure of their Captain's health before they cut anybody loose.
And then there's Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who's been playing less and less after heating up in Judge's absence and doing his best to piece together (seemingly) all nine positions on the diamond. IKF has fit in nicely in Year 2 in the Bronx, hitting .250 with a .676 OPS one year after ... well, performing very similarly (.261/.642), defensive struggles notwithstanding. We know the Yankees intend to save money at this year's trade deadline. Kiner-Falefa has around ~$2 million remaining of his $6 million salary. That would get the job done.
With a few valuable pieces set to lose their roles in the weeks to come, clearing out Kiner-Falefa in exchange for non-40-man talent would appear to be a viable path. The Yankees would be selling "high"-ish, too (.797 OPS in May, .721 in June). He's played his role. He's done everything asked of him. And now, it might be time for him to take on the Yankees' toughest-to-swallow assignment yet.