While the New York Yankees lead the AL East, the team is only poised to get stronger. Both DJ LeMahieu and Gerrit Cole are getting closer to making their eventual returns to the Yankees.

LeMahieu is set to begin a rehab assignment at the Double-A level on either Thursday or Friday, via Greg Joyce of The New York Post. It'll be LeMahieu's second rehab assignment, as his first was cut short due to renewed soreness.

The infielder is working his way back from a non-displaced fracture in his foot, which came after a foul ball. He hasn't played in two months, and his previous rehab assignment issues will cause a delay in plans. However, LeMahieu is at least back on track. Manager Aaron Boone is excited to see how LeMahieu responds to game action, but he isn't giving strict playing time instructions.

“We don't have a hard and fast [number of at-bats] with him, but definitely want him to play games and get some volume under his belt, ” Boone said. “Then we'll see how comfortable he is as he goes at-bat wise.”

As for Cole, the reigning Cy Young winner threw a 36-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday. It marked his fourth bullpen session and came after he threw 29 pitches on Saturday.

Cole is working his way back from elbow nerve inflammation, an injury that has kept him out all season. He is looking to advance to “two-up” bullpen sessions, in which he would pitch an inning, sit and then throw more pitches. When that jump will be made is not yet known. For now, Boone is just looking for Cole to continue rehabbing and building strength.

“Just onward and upward,” Boone said of Cole.

Neither LeMahieu nor Cole have a direct timetable for return. The infielder seems much closer than the pitcher. But even without both players, New York has found ways to stack wins.

How Yankees have replaced DJ LeMahieu, Gerrit Cole 

New York Yankees third baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) takes infield practice before a game against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

At 28-15, the Yankees hold a half game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. New York has plenty of firepower with players like Aaron Judge and Juan Soto. But they've still had to make up for the absences of LeMahieu and Cole.

While LeMahieu can play all over the infield, he spent the majority of his 2023 games at third base. In 2024, New York has turned to Oswaldo Cabrera and Jon Berti at the hot corner. Cabrera is batting .262 with four home runs, 20 RBI and two stolen bases over 37 games. Berti is hitting .263 with two RBI and two stolen bases over 12 games.

Neither may be at LeMahieu's level, but both players have been serviceable when called upon. The Yankees' offense would improve with LeMahieu, but New York still ranks eighth in the league with 207 runs scored.

Cole may be still waiting his turn, but the Yankees did see the return of Carlos Rodon in 2024. He is third on the team in ERA (3.31) amongst pitchers with 40+ innings thrown. The two players above him are two of New York's more unheralded starters in Luis Gil (2.51) and Clarke Schmidt (2.95). Rodon still leads the team in strikeouts with 49.

Add in veterans such as Nestor Cortes and Marcus Stroman, the Yankees have done much more than patchwork with Cole on the mend. New York ranks second in MLB with a 3.05 ERA.

The Yankees might be succeeding, but they'll feel even more confident with DJ LeMahieu and Gerrit Cole in their dugout. New York fans will need to wait a little longer, but both players are improving in the process.