The New York Yankees have returned the vast majority of a 99-win team from last season, giving Aaron Judge the official stamp of approval as Captain and finding a way to keep his best friend Anthony Rizzo (and Anthony Rizzo's dog), too. They've also added the best left-hander on the market in Carlos Rodón, a steam-breathing hurler with an attitude (a real Steam Punk), to pair with Gerrit Cole and back him up.
Those distractions are nice. This team should be very good this year! Very good indeed. And yet ... there's no left fielder here. There's some detritus on the roster. The unintended consequence of keeping a roster stable year-over-year is that everyone who annoyed you is back, too.
With spring training around the corner, it's quite possible that Brian Cashman, Brian Sabean and Omar Minaya are done working until the preseason games begin. At that point, there could be some moving and shaking, especially if the player we suspect wins the shortstop job emerges and solves the infield logjam.
That said, it's very possible to project an Opening Day roster right now, considering it's unlikely that anything earth-shattering alters the Yankees' core before then. That's where the trade deadline comes in.
With two months to go before the San Francisco Giants roll up to the Bronx and daydream about the incredible punking they could've managed if they'd had Arson Judge jogging up their foul line for the intros, here's our first crack at an Opening Day roster.
Yankees Opening Day 2023: Full Roster Projection
Starting Pitchers (5): Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes Jr., Domingo Germán
Possibly the best front four the Yankees have ever possessed, plus a month of Domingo Germán, who's serviceable? Not bad at all. Can't complain. We'll be crossing our fingers that Severino makes it to Opening Day intact. Otherwise, he'll do his load management early, and Clarke Schmidt will get to make a few more starts.
Relief Pitchers (8): Clay Holmes, Tommy Kahnle, Michael King, Jonathan Loáisiga, Lou Trivino, Clarke Schmidt, Ron Marinaccio, Wandy Peralta
A profoundly strange bullpen, but a (likely) dominant one. It's not often you can look at a bullpen and say the sentences, "Wow, no weak link!" and, "Wow, no closer!" back to back, but that's what the 2023 Yankees have assembled. Ideally, Michael King is all the way back on Opening Day and can serve as this team's de facto stopper, though he's also a great "innings eraser" in the sixth, seventh and eighth. If needed, Greg Weissert is this group's next man up, and may crack the OD roster regardless as a ninth reliever.
Catcher (2): Jose Trevino, Kyle Higashioka
Sorry, Ben Rortvedt. You're not real!
Higashioka will be a trade or DFA candidate at some point if Rortvedt can prove his mettle at Triple-A, but for now, the Yankees will go with old reliable.
Infield (5): Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, Oswald Peraza
Our first "bold prediction" of the roster map: Isiah Kiner-Falefa will not be on this team come Opening Day, which sounds like wishful thinking, but is actually a closer variant of rational thinking. It's Oswald Peraza's shortstop job to lose, and unless he loses it, Kiner-Falefa's $6 million will be extremely redundant on a roster living at the edge of the Steve Cohen Tax right now. Someone will pay that, though, for a 3.0-WAR utility man. As frustrating as the Yankees passing on shortstops of all shapes and sizes for Kiner-Falefa was, he does have value ... as a third baseman/rover, something the Yankees already possess in DJ LeMahieu. Add in Oswaldo Cabrera's ability to be a sixth infielder, and there's no need.
And that leads us to ...
Outfield/DH (6): Aaron Judge, Harrison Bader, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera, David Peralta
By trading Kiner-Falefa, the Yankees have officially opened up enough room in their payroll for Peralta, who posted a 109 OPS+ last year (118 in his time with Arizona). He should cost between $6-7 million, and if he remains unsigned as Opening Day approaches, that price will probably come in at the low end of the spectrum.
Estevan Florial's out of options, and will either make this roster or be traded, lest he get exposed to waivers. If not a big swing like Peralta, Florial could be the final chess piece here, or could perhaps give way to Rafael Ortega, signed last month on a whim, but one season removed from a 121 OPS+ season with the Chicago Cubs.
Or, you know, neither Florial nor Ortega make the roster, Kiner-Falefa stays put, and the outfield isn't addressed beyond Cabrera. That's possible, too.