Brett Gardner or Andrew McCutchen? How will Yankees handle LF when Aaron Judge starts

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NEW YORK — It seems like Yankees manager Aaron Boone has been waiting all year to get all of his best players healthy. It’s been one injury after another pretty much ever since first baseman Greg Bird underwent surgery in late March to remove a broken spur on his right ankle.

From then until now, the Yankees’ disabled list at one time or another also has included catcher Gary Sanchez (twice), center fielder Aaron Hicks, second baseman Gleyber Torres, shortstop Didi Gregorius, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, left-hander CC Sabathia (twice), reliever Aroldis Chapman, and of course, superstar right fielder Aaron Judge.

If you’re keeping score, that’s five current regulars, a demoted starter (Bird), two of the Yankees’ top four starting pitchers plus their All-Star closer.

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This week, the Yankees finally could be whole with Chapman due to come off the disabled list and Judge probably getting cleared to be a full-time player after being activated last Friday only as a pinch-runner and/or defensive option at least through this weekend.

Judge’s being all the way back from his broken wrist will give the Yankees a huge lift, and they need it, as their 8-7 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday was their 10th in their last 18 games and kept them just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Oakland Athletics for the first Wild Card and home field in the AL Wild Card Game.

Judge’s return also probably will force Boone into making what figures to be his toughest decision in his rookie season as a skipper.

Benching Bird for Luke Voit and demoting Sonny Gray to the bullpen were pieces of cake compared to what’s coming. When Judge is back playing every day, Boone will have to pick between left-swinging Brett Gardner and righy Andrew McCutchen as his left fielder or perhaps platoon them.

“Tough decisions are part of it,” Boone said Saturday. “We’re not at that point yet, but hopefully we’re in a position because of health that we are going to have to make a difficult decision. I’m not sure what that is right now. We’ll see as the final couple weeks unfold.”

For the Yankees’ remaining regular-season games, it’ll be easier for Boone to juggle five established veterans – Giancarlo Stanton, Hicks, Judge, Gardner and McCutchen – for three outfield spots and designated hitter because guys will get rest days.

But come that Wild Card Game on Oct. 3 and possible playoff games thereafter, Boone will have to sit a long-time starter and clubhouse leader in Gardner or McCutchen, a highly respected former MVP and five-time All-Star from his time in Pittsburgh.

Going by this season’s stats and who’s been more productive of late, McCutchen appears to have the edge, although his first two games in left field as a big leaguer were late-inning shifts from right there on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

“I do think Cutch can play left,” Boone said. “We’re trying to rep him as much as we can. I think he’s the kind of athlete that will allow him to do it.”

Here’s why McCutchen is the favorite:

–McCutchen, 31, was just 1-for-5 with four strikeouts on Saturday and he’s hit only .220 in 13 games with the Yankees, but he has a .421 on-base percentage and .884 OPS since his trade. For the season, he’s batting .255 with 18 homers, 61 RBI, 14 steals, a .363 on-base percentage and a .782 OPS.

–Gardner, 35, was 0-for-2 before being pinch-hit for on Saturday, leaving him with a .238 average, 12 homers, 43 RBI, 15 steals, a .325 on-base percentage and a .693 OPS that is a low for him since his rookie season in 2008. Since Aug. 14, he’s batting .196 (20-for-102) in 28 games.

So while Judge being a full-time player again will be a great thing for the Yankees, it’s definitely going to force Boone into a pickle.

“Another one of those we’ll put under good problems to have,” Boone said. “There’s times this year where we’re wondering who we’re going to play on certain days, so I’m looking forward to all those guys being in the mix.

“Down the stretch it’ll probably allow us to give a guy a day (off) here and there and (we’ll) kind of rotate them to some degree with the DH as well. And then hopefully we’ll be in a position to have to make a very difficult decision going into the playoffs as far as who’s the right group to put out there potentially in a one-game playoff, potentially in a playoff scenario.

“The lineup could look at little different each game depending on matchups, depending on how guys are playing. All that matters.”

Randy Miller may be reached at rmiller@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RandyJMiller. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

Source : https://www.nj.com/yankees/index.ssf/2018/09/brett_gardner_or_andrew_mccutchen_how_yankees_will_1.html