The New York Yankees will tentatively open the 2022 season with a lineup featuring no players who were active major-leaguers when the team last won the World Series. That’s less than ideal, especially considering the Bronx Bombers have regularly fielded one of the league’s highest payrolls.
After a frustrating and inconsistent 2021 campaign, the Yankees will return to the field on Thursday, April 7, in hopes of reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009. The Yankees’ Opening Day lineup that year included the likes of All-Star shortstop Derek Jeter, new first baseman Mark Teixeira, and fan-favorite designated hitter Hideki Matsui.
Thirteen years later, the lineup will understandably look much different, in large part because zero players remain from that 2009 title team. With that in mind, let’s look at how the 2022 Yankees’ Opening Day lineup should shake out.
Can Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy for a full season again?
1. Anthony Rizzo (1B), 2. Aaron Judge (RF), 3. Giancarlo Stanton (DH)
Rizzo is back, which could be excellent news for a Yankees lineup loaded with right-handed hitters. The three-time All-Star hit .249 with eight home runs, 21 RBi, and a .340 on-base percentage in 49 games with the Bronx Bombers a year ago. Although he turns 33 in August, Rizzo is still a patient hitter who should benefit from Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field.
Judge played 148 games in 2021, his most since seeing action in 155 outings during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017. The three-time All-Star hit .287 with 39 home runs, 98 RBI, and finished fourth in American League MVP voting. He’ll almost certainly be motivated to put up massive numbers again in what will either be his contract year or his first season after signing an extension. If Judge stays healthy, he’ll likely be a contender for his first MVP Award.
After injuries limited Stanton to 41 of a possible 222 games between the 2019-20 seasons, the four-time All-Star hit .273 with 35 home runs and 97 RBI across 139 outings last year. Perhaps most importantly, the 2017 NL MVP played 26 games in the outfield after exclusively spending the 2020 season at designated hitter. As with Judge, Stanton should be an MVP candidate if he can avoid the injured list.
Welcome to the Bronx, Josh Donaldson
4. Joey Gallo (LF), 5. Josh Donaldson (3B), 6. Gleyber Torres (2B)
Gallo is already on thin ice with Yankees fans after hitting .160 with 13 home runs, 22 RBI, and a staggering 88 strikeouts in 58 games with the 27-time World Series champions last season. Although the two-time All-Star has impressive power and mashed 25 homers in 95 games with the Texas Rangers before a July trade, his propensity for strikeouts hurt his value. We’re not exactly fans of him hitting cleanup, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone doesn’t seem inclined to hear us out.
At 36 years old, Donaldson is slated to be the Yankees’ oldest regular in the starting lineup. The three-time All-Star hit .247 with 26 home runs, 72 RBI, and 26 doubles in 135 games for the Minnesota Twins last season, and he’ll bring added pop to New York’s lineup. One question worth monitoring: would the Yankees experiment with putting Donaldson at first base, especially if Boone tries working All-Star infielder D.J. LeMahieu back into the lineup? The 2015 AL MVP winner last saw action at first in 2018, when he still played for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Which version of Torres will the Yankees get in 2022? The two-time All-Star who hit .275 with 62 home runs, 167 RBI, and 42 doubles from 2018-19? Or the lethargic, error-prone infielder who hit a lowly .256 with only 12 home runs over the last two years? For what it’s worth, the Yankees believe Torres will benefit from starting at second base, his primary home from 2018-19, instead of starting at shortstop. If things work out, the 25-year-old will be a prime candidate for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
A potentially problematic bottom of the order
7. Aaron Hicks, (CF), 8. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, (SS), 9. Kyle Higashioka, (C)
At this stage in his career, the 32-year-old Hicks is an unreliable player who is good for the occasional home run or diving catch. If he gets off to a slow start, one must wonder if Boone will move Judge to center, Stanton to right, and turn the designated hitter into a rotating role to get other players at-bats. Really, that’s what the Yankees should be doing now, but they’re sold in their ways.
Kiner-Falefa, a 2020 Gold Glove winner, brings impressive defense and speed to the Yankees’ lineup. Although he lacks power, he hit 25 doubles, three triples, and stole 20 bases for the Texas Rangers last season. IKF’s most significant issue will likely be discipline, especially after he only drew 28 walks in 158 games in 2021. He might not be Carlos Correa or Corey Seager, but Yankees fans likely won’t care if Kiner-Falefa helps them win a World Series.
At long last, the Gary Sanchez era is over. The bad news is the Yankees don’t exactly have an ideal replacement for the oft-criticized catcher. Higashioka, the team’s primary backup since 2020, will likely split reps with Ben Rortvedt, a former Twins catcher. The 31-year-old hit .181 with career-highs in home runs (10), RBI (29), and doubles (10) in 67 games last year. Higashioka has earned rave reviews for his pitch framing, which at least works in his favor.
Again, the bottom of the Yankees’ lineup isn’t exactly deep, nor is it too imposing. But, seeing as the goal is a 28th World Series title, we’ll happily eat our words if Hicks wins World Series MVP honors in November.