While the rest of baseball's remaining postseason participants have been thrust into the pressure-cooker scenario of playing winner-take-all games, Aaron Boone's Yankees are making the most of some downtime while waiting to see which club will stand between them and their first World Series appearance in a decade.
New York completed a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins Monday night at Target Field, giving them four days to rest, work out, and make some personnel decisions in advance of the American League Championship Series. The best-of-seven set to decide the AL pennant kicks off this coming Saturday, with the host of Game 1 still to be determined.
If the Astros win their Game 5 matchup with Tampa Bay Thursday night then the series will begin at Minute Maid Park, with 107-win Houston having home-field advantage. If the plucky Rays complete the upset after being down two-games-to-none then Saturday's tilt will take place in the Bronx.
Boone gathered with some players and staff at Yankee Stadium Wednesday for a light workout, where the surging club did most of their work indoors due to rainy conditions. The second-year manager saw plenty of positives, some involving a pair of key players that were not available during the Division Series.
The most surprising news of the day revolved around center fielder Aaron Hicks, who at one point last month was being considered for Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. The 30-year-old, who signed a seven-year, $70M extension in February, was injured while making a throw against Boston on Aug. 3 and suffered what was initially classified as a right flexor strain.
Hicks had been rehabbing at the team's minor-league complex in Tampa over the past few weeks, and now finds himself back in the Bronx making a serious push for an ALCS roster spot.
"Yeah, he is very much a consideration," Boone said on a conference call Wednesday afternoon. "He did a lot of hitting and whatnot. He's good physically. Obviously hasn't had the kind of reps or games that you'd like, but he has certainly put himself in a position to be considered."
Hicks was slashing .235/.325/.443 with 12 home runs when he landed on the shelf but hasn't faced major league pitching in a game situation since early August. Coming in cold onto the biggest stage of the year has to factor into the Yankees' decision, no matter how well the slick-fielding switch-hitter looks in the cage or on the outfield grass in the coming days.
"Absolutely there's trepidation. That's part of the decision. But you could also see him filling a number of roles. I mean, when he's healthy, he's a really good player and a really important player for us, an impact player," Boone said. "I could see him anything from being in the lineup on a given game. I could see him being on our bench. I could also see us not ready to make that move yet because of not being fully worked back up."
As was the case heading into the ALDS, figuring out how many pitchers to carry will have a ripple effect on which names end up in the 25-man group. New York went with 12 hurlers against the Twins, a number that could be incremented in a longer series.
"Yeah, it will possibly depend on the opponent a little bit. One thing we are considering again is do we go with 12 or 13 pitchers," Boone said. "That will be one of the biggest things that we talk through and decide upon ultimately."
One pitcher back in the mix is veteran left-hander CC Sabathia, inactive last round because of a shoulder issue.
"CC did throw today. Frankly looked really good. I was really excited about how he looked. He was sharp. He was able to really finish his pitches. I think he's feeling considerably better than he was this time last week certainly," Boone said about the former Cy Young Award winner, who plans to retire at season's end. "I would say he is now an option for us, as well, and somebody that we're considering. We'll kind of talk it through. We'll see how he bounces back tomorrow from his session today. But he's very much in the conversation now."
The 39-year-old made the first and only regular-season relief appearance of his career just over two weeks ago at Tropicana Field, and could potentially be used a number of different ways out of the bullpen.
"I think there's a little bit of a couple different roles he could fill. Multi-inning might be a little aggressive, but a one-off where he's facing a left-handed hitter I could certainly see him in there in a lane where he's facing three or four hitters, possibly an inning plus, something like that," Boone said. "I think the biggest thing is trying to evaluate where he is. For example, tomorrow, seeing how he bounces back from a pretty aggressive bullpen that he had today where guys stood in against him and he was making all his pitches at full speed and everything."
Boone also had good tidings about his two top relievers, both dealing with minor discomfort in recent days. Setup man Zack Britton was pulled from ALDS Game 3 with a jammed right ankle but appears to be back at full strength.
"Brit, he came in today to get some work done. He said he's good to go. If he had to pitch today, he would be good to go. Felt even better today. It doesn't seem like something he's overly concerned about," Boone said about the two-time All-Star. "He'll throw tomorrow. Expect him to be a full go with no issues."
Fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman was hit with a champagne bottle during the clubhouse celebration following that game, a freak injury that required his pitching hand to be heavily bandaged after the fact. The left-hander is now fine, according to Boone, a huge relief to the Yankees skipper.
As far as New York's starting rotation is concerned, Boone isn't ready to commit to anything just yet. After all, he doesn't even know who they'll be up against come Saturday.
He's got a lot to figure out between now and then.
"I'm considering everything right now," Boone said.