Yankees’ Brian Cashman on DJ LeMahieu, Juan Soto, Aaron Judge and lack of depth

NEW YORK — DJ LeMahieu thought he would need just four or five rehab games before rejoining the New York Yankees next week in Baltimore, but that’s no longer happening.

LeMahieu left his first rehab game with Double-A Somerset on Tuesday after one inning because of soreness in his right foot, which Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said lingered into Wednesday. LeMahieu was set to undergo an MRI on his foot on Wednesday afternoon.

The initial plan for LeMahieu was to start his rehab assignment last Friday, but the team pushed it to Tuesday because Aaron Mates, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon the team uses in Florida, thought four extra days would be best for the third baseman.

“Tuesday came and showed that date was still premature, so hopefully it’s just as simple as giving him more time and nothing more complicated than that,” said Cashman, who spoke at an event at the Bronx Children’s Museum where three murals were unveiled of six living Black Yankees greats Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Willie Randolph, CC Sabathia and Aaron Judge.

Cashman said LeMahieu was frustrated when Mates changed his timeline because he felt great and reported no soreness in his foot, which was fractured on a foul ball during a spring training game. The team’s coaching staff also reported LeMahieu looking great in fielding and hitting drills. But it’s now unclear when LeMahieu will be ready to return.

“I just know that when the doctor tells you whatever, you just follow that rule,” Cashman said. “The only thing I was worried about at that point was how much DJ was going to fight it because I know he was committed to feeling ready to go. He felt Friday was launch day because of how he was feeling and looking.”

Here are three additional takeaways from Cashman’s meeting with reporters.

Depth is thin

Because of injuries to Jon Berti (groin strain) and Oswald Peraza (shoulder strain), the Yankees’ current backup infield options leave much to be desired. The only current infielder on the bench is Jahmai Jones, who has a career 20 wRC+ in 41 games, which means he’s performed 80 percent worse than the average MLB hitter. Jones only has four plate appearances this season for the Yankees and has mostly been used in pinch running situations.

Oswaldo Cabrera is currently the team’s starting third baseman but also the primary backup at every other infield position. An injury to Anthony Rizzo, Gleyber Torres or Anthony Volpe would force Cabrera to move to their respective position and Jones, a natural second baseman, to fill in at third. Cashman admitted that the team’s depth is lacking.

“I don’t feel like we have a (backup) first baseman right now on the roster,” he said. “Rizzo is being run out there every day. Obviously if LeMahieu was here, you could swing DJ over and give us some coverage. I know Cabrera can play first but then who’s playing third? I feel like we have a little bit of exposure at first base coverage behind Rizzo and the left side of the infield coverage is exposed with Berti down and LeMahieu down. We’re a little bit vulnerable because of that. We have a little bit of a hiccup there that we were hoping would get solved with LeMahieu coming back soon. It is what it is.

“The legitimate choices for (manager Aaron) Boone currently aren’t as comforting but that’s also the nature of the beast sometimes with how your season is playing out. You got to grind through it with what you got. People get asked to do things they’re not used to doing. It’s happened every year and right now, there are a few things we have to navigate.”

Cashman said he prefers to leave the 40-man roster untouched because it’ll have to be manipulated when a few players who are currently injured return. That means some minor leaguers who could provide infield depth, like Caleb Durbin or T.J. Rumfield, aren’t legitimate options to get called up because they’re not currently on the 40-man roster. Jorbit Vivas is the only other infielder who’s on the 40-man roster and uninjured, but he just returned from an orbital fracture.

The Chicago Cubs recently designated first baseman Garrett Cooper for assignment to make room for one of their top prospects. The former Yankee, who was part of the trade to land Michael King, has impressed in 12 games this season for the Cubs, posting a 118 wRC+. Cooper is making $1.5 million this season; because of the Yankees’ luxury tax penalty, the team would have to pay an additional $1.65 million as a penalty if they were to add him to the roster. But it sounds like the Yankees are going to gut it out and await the return of Berti, who could start a rehab assignment this weekend.

“Hopefully we can tread water and get through it like we’ve been doing,” Cashman said. “That’s the current game plan.”

Soto staying?

Before it could be explicitly asked if he’s had any extension talks with Juan Soto and agent Scott Boras, Cashman said, “No.” That’s not entirely surprising, and it’s what Cashman has said all along. The team expects the Yankees right fielder will enter free agency after the season.

Entering Wednesday’s game, Soto had a 187 wRC+ with five home runs. He’s already electrified the fanbase with several big moments and has become an instant fan favorite.

“Everybody knows he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber type player,” Cashman said. “He’s one of a kind. Only a few can be in that category. When you get those types, you certainly hope the transition is easy and it’s plug and play. So far, the transition has been easy and it’s been plug and play. We’re really grateful and thankful that he’s here playing for us and has been a driving force for us. His personality fits the team. It’s been a good run. He has helped us hit that win column quite often thankfully.”

Judge’s slow start

Through 24 games, Judge has been a below-average hitter. He’s hitting .180/.315/.348 with only three homers and 11 RBIs. Judge, Boone and Cashman remain unconcerned with the 2022 American League MVP’s performance.

“It’s the ebbs and flows of the game,” Cashman said. “Judge will get it going. He’s another great one, but then Soto might take a little timeout for a little while. That’s the nature of the beast. Perfectly, you’d like them to be firing on all cylinders at all times all season but it’s not realistic. We’ll get Judgey, Gleyber and Rizzo and any of the other ones going at some point. They’ll all take their turn in helping us and picking up somebody else who’s a little bit in struggle mode. You get as many great ones as you can because it takes a village.”

(Photo of LeMahieu fielding at Yankee Stadium this week: Gregory Fisher / USA Today)

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