Yankees better have backup plan after losing infield option to Orioles

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics
Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages

The Yankees had an opportunity to add to both their bench and clubhouse chemistry at the last minute by signing a much-needed backup infielder. Instead, Baltimore did it, adding a Yankee Killer in the process. Surely, that won't come back to bite them.

Heading into the final hours before the regular season, the Yankees' bench looks weaker than ever. Oswaldo Cabrera, whose hold on a roster spot on a real contender would be tenuous after his 2023 performance, is instead the Yankees' Opening Day third baseman thanks to DJ LeMahieu's injury. Oswald Peraza, a top prospect (who we can now safely call a former top prospect) struggled in a bench role last season, and can't take advantage of this newfound opportunity; he's shut down for another two months or so. Someone might be able to get the defensive wizard back on the rails someday, but not these Yankees and not right now.

That leaves an infield vacancy for a capable shortstop, which is currently held by Jahmai Jones (not a shortstop), pending a last-minute move for the Yankees. Who could that be? The recently-released Elvis Andrus? Donovan Solano at third, bumping Cabrera back to his original role? Ditto Gio Urshela? Ditto Josh Harrison?

One player who it won't be is Tony Kemp, the versatile Vanderbilt alum whom the Yankees reportedly considered earlier in the offseason. Kemp jumped to the Reds instead, but was let loose last week. He'll go to Baltimore, filling Jackson Holliday's early season reps and probably sticking around to provide mentorship once the team's vaunted top prospect arrives.

Yankees miss out on Tony Kemp to Baltimore Orioles

Quite simply asking if the Yankees care about having a bench/what "having a bench" entails, or if they just intend to stick failed prospects/whoever's left onto their 26-man roster until the end of time. Trusted bench players are able to relieve starters of some of their burden, often taking high-leverage at-bats late in games thanks to matchup advantages. The Yankees' bench seems likely to feature two catchers and an outfielder/second baseman plucked at random last month who's hit .179 for his career. Is that good?

Kemp, a second baseman/left fielder by trade, wouldn't have solved the shortstop conundrum, either, and probably would've had to cover third in a pinch. He's coming off an unremarkable season, posting a 76 OPS+, down from a career-high 126 mark in 2021.

His highs aren't too far in the rear view mirror, though, and he could've provided the requisite vibes as a four-time-consecutive Roberto Clemente Award nominee for his good deeds. Instead, he'll help out the enemy. There are better on-field fits out there for the current Yankees, but they'd better act on one soon rather than roll with Ben Rortvedt, Jahmai Jones and the "Oops, all randos!" bench.