Pining for Spots on Yankees Bench

Ayeeee it’s time to get this thing cranked back up! I just renewed my WordPress plan and my domain for another year, so y’all are stuck with me! We’re almost in the middle of spring training so I want to get some good content out.

The New York Yankees lineup is locked and loaded, so we will look at guys battling for spots on the bench for Opening Day. The season begins in three weeks, players looking to head north when camp breaks are starting to feel urgency to produce.

  • Brett Gardner – This one is easy, and not much of a battle. Yankees GM Brian Cashman brought him back to be the fourth outfielder and will get a fair number of at bats. At age 37, Gardner will benefit from a reduced role and be more fresh for the second half of the season. Guys in the clubhouse love him, he’s a leader. Gardy will earn his keep and paycheck.

The Yankees are even testing Brett out in right-field.

  • Tyler Wade – I’m fairly sure the guy most Yankees fans would like to fire into the sun is Wade. Always a reliable defender and threat on the bases, Tyler’s hitting just hasn’t taken off. In Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre, he hit a composite .287 in just over a thousand at bats over three seasons. Tyler’s success in AAA hasn’t carried over to the majors. Wade has one option year left, so he could sent to Scranton if the Yankees keep Derek Dietrich. However, I think Wade will stick as the backup infielder – in large part because he can play shortstop, and Dietrich cannot.
  • Derek Dietrich – The 31 year old lefty batting Dietrich is on his fourth team in four years. He may have an edge over Tyler Wade because he’s got more pop in his bat and can play several positions, including first base. The downside with Derek is he’s pretty much all or nothing with the stick. His lone hit in spring training? A two run bomb. On the upside, his gold chain would impress Mr. T and he resembles John Cena.
  • Jay Bruce – Bruce hasn’t wasted any time opening eyes in Tampa. Over six spring games, the 33 year old has five hits in 13 at bats (.385), with a pair of HR’s. In the field, Bruce Almighty can cover the corner OF spots as well as first base. I give Bruce the edge over Dietrich based on overall track record.
  • Mike Ford – There’s no sugar-coating things, the 2020 season was abysmal for Ford. He was a nice story two years ago filling in for Voit, but the carriage turned back into a pumpkin. Ford registered ten hits in 74 at bats (.135) and just two home runs. Roster spots are scarce and it’s likely manager Aaron Boone will carry thirteen pitchers, so the team needs a versatile bench. Ford only plays first base, so it limits things. With a pair of option years left, Ford can work to get himself back on track in Triple-A.
  • Thairo Estrada – The young infielder from Venezuela has enjoyed a couple cups of coffee with the Yankees. He spent last season on the taxi-squad and made it into 26 games on the expanded roster. With only eight hits in 48 at bats, he seems destined for Scranton unless Yankees decide to send Tyler Wade down. It’s Estrada’s last option year, so the team will want to get him back on track away from the distractions of New York.
  • Kyle Higashioka – No battle here, either. Brian Cashman said Gary Sánchez is his starting catcher, I put Higgy here. With Robinson Chirinos now out with a fractured wrist, Higashioka easily assumes the backup catcher role. He earned his money last year, I believe Chirinos is either Triple-A filler or will be cut.
  • Mike Tauchman – Tauchman enjoyed a productive first year in Pinstripes, hitting thirteen tanks in a little over a half season. Last year, the power disappeared completely. Perhaps it’s a fluke, but it’s hard to tell which Mike Tauchman is the real thing. He can cover all outfield spots, which is nice. With no option years left, if he struggles to hit, the Yankees will soon have choices to make. 
  • Miguel AndĂşjar – I am ashamed to admit I unintentionally omitted Miggy from the original draft. But AndĂşjar has an outside chance to make the club, just because he bats from the right side, and everyone else on the list except Higashioka and Estrada bats lefthanded. I think there’s a better chance of him being traded. AndĂşjar was not pleased about being sent to the alternate site last year, and his agent took it to the press. Airing grievances through the media, especially when you’re a Yankee is not a good look. I think he eventually gets a fresh start elsewhere.

Next time, we’ll see how things shape up for the fifth spot in the rotation and last spots in the bullpen. Have a great day!

Could Yankees Really Trade Gleyber Torres?

 

Last night, on YES Network’s “Yankees Hot Stove” program, Meredith Marakovits interviewed Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman. Meredith asked him about several Yankees players, including star infielder Gleyber Torres, who struggled on both sides of his game for the majority of the truncated 2020 campaign. Cashman cut right to the chase.

Courtesy of YES Network 2020

 

“He wasn’t in the best shape to start the second spring training.”

Ouch! But it does explain why Torres had troubles for most of the season. It also explains why he was so hot in the postseason when he raked to the tune of a 1.292 OPS. He had his feet under him and was in proper playing shape.

While 2020 was a year unlike any other (and hopefully we won’t ever see again), it’s a bit troubling Gleyber apparently let himself go during the layoff. No one knows what he was doing or not doing at the time. For Cashman to take this public, he evidently wasn’t impressed.

Which leads me to wonder. If (a big if) Yankees re-sign free agent DJ LeMahieu, would Cashman consider trading Torres for much needed pitching help? Remember, Cashman says Gleyber’s a better second baseman. Gleyber’s value is still high, considering the hot postseason he just had. He also hit 38 home runs in 2019, driving in 90 runs. But what happens if he has another punchless season in 2021 and his defense hasn’t improved? His trade value would drop precipitously. Of course, if LeMahieu leaves to go elsewhere then all bets are off.

Almost two and a half years ago, Cashman said “I have to walk around in this city”, when asked if he could consider trading Torres.

 

Now, it may not be as far-fetched.

 

Yankees Biggest Need – D.J. LeMahieu

Free agency is here in Major League Baseball, and every team is formulating game plans for the 2021 season. Across the nation and world, baseball fans are excited in anticipation of their teams adding to their rosters. Except for Cubs fans, maybe. That makes me sad. I like the Cubs.

One of the best free agents on the market is DJ LeMahieu. LeMahieu spent the last two seasons with the New York Yankees. To say he’s been valuable for the Bronx Bombers is a massive understatement. He was their prime catalyst in 2020, getting on base 42 percent of the time. His slash-line (.364/.421/.590) numbers were in the top-ten in every category except slugging, where he fell just a hair short.

His mere presence in the Yankees lineup made the team better. With LeMahieu playing, the team went 30-20 in those games. When he didn’t play, they won only three out of ten games. The level of contrast is remarkable.

Understandably, Yankees GM Brian Cashman is reluctant to give contracts to players beyond four years. Given he is 32 years old, it seems even wiser to not do so. However, LeMahieu is not your run of the mill early 30’s infielder. He drove in 102 runs in 2019 and finished 4th in American League MVP voting. Not only did he crack the top-five votes of 2019, he did the same in the 2020 season, coming in third. Silver Slugger Awards in both seasons as a Yankee. To be sure, D.J. is a leader. Perhaps he is even worth being named a captain. Furthermore, he can play everywhere in the infield except shortstop (and would likely be fine there as well). Need I go on?

By the same token, other teams are getting ready to make offers to LeMahieu. With Robinson Cano now suspended for the 2021 season for another positive drug test for PED’s, the Mets are looking for a second baseman. With Steve Cohen now owning the crosstown team, they finally have an owner willing to spend.

To be sure, the Yankees need to add pitching in the free agent market, as there is no such thing as having too much pitching. I have no doubt the team will add some.

The Yankees would be wise to give LeMahieu what he wants and be done with it. He is their rock. It’s time.

Yankees Take ‘Em or Trash ‘Em – Relief Pitchers

Ok, I have slacked off for the last week since I cranked out Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Starting Pitchers. With this edition of take ’em or trash ’em, we will put a wrap on the 2020 Yankees. With the Los Angeles Dodgers on the brink of winning the World Series, the end of this batshit crazy 2020 MLB season is in sight.

Let’s begin dissecting the Yankees bullpen.

Zack Britton– (1-2, 1.89 ERA, 8 saves) Having a once-time dominating closer (120 saves from 2014-16 with Baltimore Orioles) in your bullpen to back up Aroldis Chapman is handy. While Chapman was recovering from a bout with COVID-19, Britton took over closing duties. He saved all eight opportunities and was dependable all summer. Britton finished the season with a 1.89 ERA, easily the best among Yankee relievers. His only hiccup was a couple shaky outings after missing 10 days while nursing a hamstring injury.

In less than a week, we may know the Yankees’ plans for Zack. His current contract is through 2021 (13M), but the club must decide on his option for ’22 after this year’s World Series. If Yankees decline Britton’s option for 2022, he can immediately opt-out if he wishes. Being that he’s only 32, he should still have many effective years left. Stay tuned!

*UPDATE* Per a tweet from Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch, the team has picked up Zack Britton’s option, keeping him under contract through 2022.

Take him! (and the Yankees did)

 

Aroldis Chapman – (1-1, 3.09 ERA, 3 saves) On the surface, Chapman’s season ERA (3.09) isn’t bad. The 32 year old from Cuba picked up 3 saves, his lowest total since 2011. He missed a few days at the front end of the season recuperating from COVID. Chapman took a few lumps in his first two outings but came out guns-a-blazing in September. Including his final game in August with his stats in September, Chappy was unhittable. In eleven games from August 29 – September 25, Chapman allowed a run, three hits and three walks over 10.2 innings. Over that span, he struck out twenty batters! In addition, Chapman held his opponents to a .184 on base percentage and a .361 OPS. While he may throw 102 with his fastball anymore, he still can dredge up 100. Chapman’s slider is a very viable off-speed pitch and recently unveiled a split-finger fastball in against Toronto.

Chapman’s current contract keeps him in the Bronx through the 2022 season.

Take him!

Chad Green – (3-3, 3.51 ERA, 1 save) This is another case of stats being deceiving. If you toss out three games where Green was lit up, he held opponents to a 0.77 ERA in his other 19 appearances. It feels like he has been around forever, but Green is still only 29 and has two more seasons before he reaches free agency. He’s an important piece of the Yankee bullpen, especially with fellow righthander Tommy Kahnle missing the 2020 season.

Take him

Tommy Kahnle – With the except of one appearance where he recorded all three outs by strikeouts (see below), Kahnle missed the season after injuring his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and is still recovering. As of this writing, there are no new updates. He is arbitration eligible and it’s likely the Yankees will iron out a contract, since GM Brian Cashman likes to avoid arbitration hearings as much as possible. Kahnle’s return will be a welcome sight, as the Yankees were too often forced to rely on guys who simply didn’t get the job done.

Take him!

*UPDATE* Apparently the Yankees wanted to outright Kahnle, removing him from the 40 man roster while he continues recovery from elbow surgery. Kahnle decided to become a free agent instead. This is unfortunate.

Adam Ottavino – (2-3, 5.89 ERA) After a good first season in 2019 in New York, things didn’t go as well for him in 2020. After a particularly brutal three week stretch from mid-August into early September (including a horrific performance in Buffalo against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 7), Ottavino found himself working in lower-leverage situations. However, he turned it around the rest of the way. Over his final seven games, he allowed only one run and struck out ten in 5.2 innings. For those wanting Otto off the team, he’s probably not going anywhere. He has one more year remaining on his contract at 9M.

I still think Ottavino has more in him, given his stats from 2018 and ’19.

Take him.

Jonathan Holder – (3-0, 4.98 ERA) When Yankees legend Ron Guidry was a struggling rookie, the late Billy Martin asked him, “Is there anybody in this league that you can get out? Because if you can, let me know.” We know how that turned out for Guidry, but I ask the same thing about Jonathan Holder. I suppose it’s good to have bullpen filler guys for low-leverage situations, but this is what Holder is reduced to. His strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 5.8/9 innings while his walk rate doubled to 4.6/9. I wish I could put a positive spin to on Holder’s entry in this article, but I’m having trouble. Maybe a change of scenery will jump-start things for his once-promising career. Holder is only 27, so he has time. Also, this is the first and last time you will see Guidry and Holder mentioned in the same breath.

Trash him. đź—‘

Luis Cessa – (0-0, 3.32 ERA, 1 save) Luis Cessa is another bullpen filler on the roster to eat innings in mop-up situations. He has a live arm, consistently hitting 95-97 with his fastball. The 28 year old righty from Mexico was tagged for four runs over 1.1 innings in his final appearance of the 2020 season, causing his ERA to jump from 2.21 to 3.32. Cessa figures to once again be a part of the Yankees bullpen in ’21. That’s fine as long as they aren’t relying on him in high leverage situations.

Take him (someone has to eat the innings)

Jonathan Loáisiga – (3-0, 3.52) The young righthander from Nicaragua has been something of an enigma in his short time with the Yankees. His stuff can be dominating, and there were times he shut teams down. Other times, Loáisiga pitched behind in the count, forcing him to groove pitches with the expected results. I’m not sure where the Yankees plan to best utilize Jonathan going forward, but he rose up through the minor leagues as a starter. I think Loáisiga would be best served to start 2021 in Scranton (he has one option remaining), where he can start every five days. He has three pitches, let him refine things and get stretched back out. That way, if the Yankees have an injury, he can immediately be plugged right into their rotation. His stuff is just too good to be a middle reliever. Plus he’s still young, about to turn 26.

Take him. (Let’s not give up on him yet)

Nick Nelson (1-0, 4.79 ERA) – Nelson made his major league debut in 2020 after rising through the minors in 2019. The 24 year old native of Panama City, FL picked up a his first win in his initial appearance against the Red Sox on August 1. Like Jonathan Loáisiga, Nelson climbed through the system as a starter. He would be better served to start 2021 in Triple-A to gain experience and continue honing his craft. That said, it’s hard to ignore a guy who can bring 99 mph heat out of the bullpen.

Take him!

And with that, we have covered the 2020 New York Yankees. Stay tuned as we enter the Hot Stove League. Soon enough, we will see who and what is in their plans going forward.

Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Starting Pitchers

Welcome back! A few days ago, we dug in to Yankees position players in the first post-2020 season installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em“. Over the next two installments, we will break down the pitching staff from ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to closer Aroldis Chapman, and everyone in between.

Let’s get started with the Yankees rotation, next time we will tackle the bullpen.

Starting Pitchers

Gerrit Cole – Cole proved why the Yankees were wise to give him a nine-year, 324 million dollar contract last December. After his first eight starts while paired up with catcher Gary Sánchez, Cole looked fairly pedestrian with a 3.91 ERA. He gave up home runs at an alarming rate, twelve round-trippers in only 46 innings. Beginning in September, Manager Aaron Boone had Kyle Higashioka catch for Cole. The results were strikingly better. The Yankees ace was unstoppable down the stretch. Over four September starts, Cole struck out 34 batters over 27 innings, allowing 14 hits, three earned runs and only two homers over that span. That success continued over three October starts, with the Yankees winning two of them. Look for Cole and Higgy to continue working together in 2021.

Do I really have to ask? Take him (duh).

Masahiro Tanaka – While job security isn’t an issue for the aforementioned Gerrit Cole, Tanaka may have pitched in his final start for the Yankees. It doesn’t seem all that long ago Masa signed a seven-year contract, after spending the first seven years of his career pitching in his native Japan. While Tanaka may not command the 22 million dollars a year he got in his last deal, he certainly is worth hanging on to. In 2019, Tanaka pitched to a 4.45 ERA while struggling to make his trademark splitter work. This year, he lowered his ERA almost a full run to 3.56, while increasing his K rate closer to his 2014-2018 levels. It was troubling to see Tanaka get roughed up in both postseason starts, and he will soon be 32 years old.

If Tanaka is gone, we’ll have this lasting image of him, Cole and their wives on a sushi dinner date.

Take him (but only if the price is right).

James Paxton – 2020 was rough for the Big Maple. After rehabbing his back over the winter, the root of the problem wasn’t discovered until February. He had surgery and rehabbed while Major League Baseball waited out COVID-19. When the season started, Paxton was building his pitch count. He was clearly behind and it showed. Paxton got pounded early, his fastball lacked it’s normal velo. Normally 96-98 mph, his fastball sat 91-92. By the mid August, Paxton’s fastball improved. Things went south when he allowed one hit against the Rays. He walked the bases loaded before allowing a double, emptying the bases. He left with a flexor tendon strain, never to return. Paxton is a free agent. With Tanaka and Happ also free agents, the Yankees need starters. I would offer Paxton a one year deal with incentives. If he wants a lot of guaranteed dollars, I let him walk.

Trash him. đź—‘

J.A. Happ – Most of “Yankees Twitter” can’t stand Happ for various reasons. He pitched poorly in 2019, the first two outings of 2020 and the ill-fated Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series against the Rays. Most people don’t realize Happ was the Yankees most dependable starter for six weeks, including Gerrit Cole. From August 15 through September 19, Happ pitched to a 1.93 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. After expressing his feelings regarding his usage (his contract situation earlier in the season to his role in Game Two of ALDS), It’s safe to say he won’t be coming back. However, Yankees fans shouldn’t be shitting all over Happ. He wanted to be treated fairly and used the way he is used to (and successful with). Happ didn’t ask too much. He’s now 38 and it’s hard to say how much he has left. Trash ’em“. đź—‘

Deivi GarcĂ­a – From the second oldest player (Happ) on the Yankees to the youngest, GarcĂ­a pitched much better than his ERA (4.98) indicates. If you take away his start against the Red Sox on September 20, GarcĂ­a’s ERA drops to a much better 3.73. What I’m saying here is this young man has a bright future. Deivi didn’t look like a typical 21 year old out there, and didn’t get rattled. Best of all, he drew praise from none other than Pedro MartĂ­nez, his idol.

I look forward to seeing what GarcĂ­a will do over a full season in the Yankees rotation. There’s a spot open for him. Take!

Jordan Montgomery – Monty had his ups and downs in his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery. It’s been said one of the last things to come back for a pitcher recovering from TJS is command, and Montgomery’s command was spotty at times. This resulted in a season ending 5.11 ERA and high pitch counts that made for short outings for the 27 year old lefty. Monty’s stuff is there, and may be even better after his surgery. Look for Jordan to have a more stable 2021 season with the Yankees at the back end of their rotation.

Take him!

Luis Severino – It seems like forever since we last saw Sevy pitching in a Yankees uniform. After a shoulder injury sidelined Severino for most of 2019, he tore his UCL in spring training late in February. As of this writing, the plan is for Sevy, still only 26 years old, to be able to pitch early in the 2021 season. While the Yankees are known for being conservative, his return will be a welcome sight for the team and their fans. Take!

Domingo Germán – Germán sat out the 2020 season after a MLB investigation proved his guilt in a domestic violence incident late in the 2019 season. He has not been back with the team since. His suspension ended this past September but was ineligible to pitch in the postseason. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner did not commit to bringing Germán back in 2021. However, Hal’s father, George M. Steinbrenner III gave players second chances. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden are two of the most famous examples. That said, no one George Steinbrenner gave a second chance to was guilty of domestic violence. Personally, I think Yankees should trash him. đź—‘

Clarke Schmidt and Michael King – Both Schmidt and King are guys the Yankees have high hopes for, but neither are ready for full-time rotation spots. Yet. Before everything went to hell in a handbasket in March with COVID, both guys were looking good in Florida in spring training. When everything resumed, King found himself in the Yankees bullpen as a long reliever/mop-up man. Schmidt returned to the team’s “alternative site” in Scranton/Wilkes Barre to keep sharp in simulated games. Both King (age 25) and Schmidt (24) were victims of infrequent use, resulting in ERA’s over 7.00 and wasting a year of their careers. Hopefully they will begin 2021 in Scranton-Wilkes Barre to refine things and cement their statuses as upper level prospects. If injuries hit, or Yankees don’t add a starter or two in free agency, one or both could start the new season on the big league staff.

Take ’em both – but they could use a little more seasoning in the minors.

In the next installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will wrap things up with the Yankee bullpen. Join us!

 

Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Position Players

Well, the time has come once again. For the past few seasons, I have graded New York Yankees players based on performance. I then recommend to either take ’em or trash ’em. Former Yankees beat writers Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand had their own annual take ’em or trash ’em when they were with ESPN, they deserve the credit. When they left ESPN, it was no more. I always enjoyed it and missed it, so I decided to do it on The Titanium Spine.

This first installment of Take ’em or Trash ’em will cover position players. Without further adieu, let’s begin with the catchers.

Catchers

Gary Sanchez – OOF. It’s been a long ways down since Sánchez made a splash back in 2016, when he hit 20 home runs in 53 second half games for the Yankees. This year, he averaged roughly one hit every seven at bats and his on base percentage (OBP) fell to a career-low .253. He did manage 10 home runs, but he just can’t hit. Coupled with his ongoing defensive problems, it doesn’t seem feasible to hang onto Gary when an established star like Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto will be available in free agency. That said, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gave Sánchez something of a vote of confidence when speaking to the media yesterday.

That may well be lip service. Yankees GM Brian Cashman addressed the media Wednesday afternoon at his season-ending press conference, and did not commit to Sánchez as the full time starting catcher in 2021.

 

 

 

My opinion? Trash ’em!

Kyle Higashioka – Higgy became a popular man with “#YankeesTwitter”, simply by being a reliable guy with his bat and behind the dish. After spending a chunk of August on the shelf with an oblique strain, Higashioka returned in September and played the bulk of games as their starting catcher. He cemented that status when he slugged three home runs in a 13-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. However, his defense and game-calling made him popular with the pitching staff. Higgy became Gerrit Cole‘s personal catcher, or as Cole describes it, “I’m his personal pitcher”. It made a difference. With Gary Sánchez catching, Cole’s ERA was 3.91 after eight starts. With Higashioka behind the plate for seven starts (including the playoffs), it fell to 1.79. The ace of the Yankees staff is clearly more comfortable with Higgy, whom he was college teammates with at UCLA.

Take ’em!

Infield

Luke Voit – In a season full of injury and instability, Voit was one of the few sure things the Yankees could count on day in and day out. The 29 year old slugging first basemen played 56 of the teams sixty games, and led the major leagues with 22 home runs. Voit’s OPS (on base plus slugging percentages) of 948 was second on the team, only behind D.J. LeMahieu, and he cut his strikeout rate from 33 percent to 25 percent. Luke also provided a steady glove at 1st base, all while dealing with a painful foot-injury often described as “foot stuff”. He did have a platelet rich plasma injection and will spend some time in a walking boot.

 

 

Take ’em!

Mike Ford – This one hurts. When Ford hit a walk-off game winning home run off Oakland A’s closer Liam Hendriks in 2019, I thought he might have cemented himself a place on the Yankees roster going forward. Like Tyler Wade, I watched Ford play a good number of games at Triple-A Scranton and he had grown on me. As fate would have it, Luke Voit seized the Yankees 1st base job from him and hasn’t looked back. Ford hit a paltry .135 with only a pair of home runs, and went 0 for September in 22 plate appearances. Ford was sent to the Yankees alternative site in Scranton. One of the last memories of the Yankees postseason was manager Aaron Boone sending Ford to the plate to pinch hit for Kyle Higashioka late in Game 5 of the ALDS. The reactions were as you would expect.

 

 

I hate saying it because Ford is such a good guy, but Trash him.

D.J. LeMahieu – There aren’t enough superlatives to properly describe how much LeMachine means to this team. Simply put, the 2nd baseman is the Yankees heartbeat. When D.J. missed nine games due to a left hand injury, they went 2-7 in those games. The Yankees went 30-20 in games D.J. played and 3-7 when he didn’t. He led Major League Baseball in hitting with a .364 average and 1.011 OPS. The Machine gets on base 42 percent of the time, a true catalyst. He’s going to command a large salary this winter as a free agent, and the Yankees can’t afford to let him walk away. Oh, and he can play anywhere in the infield except shortstop.

Take him!

Tyler Wade – I’ll admit I always had high hopes for Wade, having watched him play a lot when he was with the Yankees Triple-A club, the Scranton Wilkes Barre RailRiders. It goes to show the talent in the minors doesn’t always translate to the big leagues. T-Wade hit a lethargic .170 in his limited at bats, which made him about as popular as a case of the clap. That said, Tyler is still a solid defensive replacement in the infield and can steal bases as a pinch-runner. I suppose there still is value in that, plus he’s still only 25 years old.

Take him (if you don’t have to rely on him every day)

Gleyber Torres – Gleyber had a very uneven, up and down 2020 season for the Yankees. After whacking 38 home runs in 2019, the number fell to three. In a normal full season, that would probably equate to 10-12. Torres’s average fell from .278 to .243 and the OPS from .871 to .724. In the field, Gleyber made nine errors in 40 games at shortstop. It was a painful season to be sure, but he did rebound in the playoffs and absolutely raked. Ten hits in 23 at bats, a pair of home runs, 5 RBI and a 1.262 OPS. And still, Torres is 4-5 years from even entering his prime. He will be ok, just keep working on defense.

Take him.

Gio Urshela – Gio picked up where he left off last season, providing excellent defense at third base (only one error) and reliable offense. Urshela really took off in September, raking to the tune of a .390 average with a 13 game hitting streak. The power numbers dipped, likely due to painful bone spurs in his throwing elbow. Gio will not require surgery at this time, as noted in the tweet above in Luke Voit’s paragraph.

Take him.

Miguel Andujar – When AndĂşjar went down with a shoulder injury early in 2019, Urshela took over and Miguel has been unable to wrestle the third base job since. Miggy made the Yankees 28 man roster at the beginning of the season in late July, but his playing time was sparse. In order to keep him in playing shape, AndĂşjar was optioned to Scranton to play every day in daily simulated games. His agent wasn’t happy about that.

 

 

When Urshela went on the injured list in September, AndĂşjar was recalled and gave the Yankees offense a shot in the arm. He went 11-31 in nine games (eight of them starts) for a .355 average and .975 OPS in that span. When he gets regular at bats, Miguel has proven he can hit. Still, defense is an ongoing issue with Miguel. In six games at third base, he made three errors and made another in left field where he looked uncomfortable. With Gio Urshela firmly entrenched at third and nowhere to play, I believe the Yankees would be best served to seek to trade AndĂşjar for more pitching help.

Trash ’em.

Outfield

Brett Gardner – Gardy has been a mainstay in the Yankees outfield since his arrival in 2008. He’s the last remaining holdover from the 2009 World Series winning team. Brett hit a personal best 28 home runs and drove in a career high 74 RBI in 2019. Unfortunately, time is catching up with Gardy, now 37 years old. His average dipped to a career-low .223, his worst as a full time player. Gardner’s bat speed has slowed after six thousand plate appearances. Gardy said he still wants to play in 2021, and would be a good fit as a reserve outfielder and defensive replacement. That said, I don’t think he fits as a productive every day player anymore. The offensive stats back that up. However, his speed in the outfield and glove still play. And his hitting could easily rebound if not subjected to the rigors of playing every day.

Take him – only as a back up.

Clint Frazier – Frazier came to the Yankees back in 2016 when Brian Cashman traded then-closer Andrew Miller to Cleveland in a trade-deadline deal. After a series of ups and downs, Frazier is now healthy from post-concussion symptoms and showing why the Yankees were and are excited about his future. “Red Thunder” provided thunder with his lightning-quick bat speed when he was recalled from Scranton in mid-August. In his first four games, Frazier went 8-15 with a pair of homers and five extra-base hits. Before hitting a 1-20 skid to end the 2020 regular season, Clint was hitting .306 with a 1.017 OPS. Frazier finished at .267 with 8 HR, 26 RBI and an OPS of .905. I believe he’s earned a shot at the left field job full time. He’s paid his dues.

Take him.

Aaron Hicks – I can best describe Aaron Hicks as a case in frustration. One category he improved in is staying healthy and on the field. Hicks also improved his walk rate. Everything else offensively is in decline, at a time when most athletes are in their prime. Hicks’s average, slugging percentage and OPS are in decline since 2017. Aaron made only two errors, but he made a few misplays in center field that shouldn’t have happened. At times, he looked disinterested. No worries, though. He’s under contract through 2025 at the minimum, when he will be 36 years old. It’s not a bank-breaking annual salary (in relative terms, at least), but still a long time to be tied to a player who has regressed when he should be improving. This was NOT one of Brian Cashman’s best signings.

I would love to trash him, but doubt he’s going anywhere.

Giancarlo Stanton – Stanton started off the season hot, whacking a pair of home runs in Washington against the Nationals. After five games, Giancarlo had eight hits in 16 at bats, with 6 RBI. Unfortunately, bad luck struck once again and Stanton missed five weeks with a bad hamstring. After he came back in mid-September, he went 7-35 (.200) in nine games with one home run. But Stanton was there when the Yankees needed him in the postseason. In seven playoff games, he went 8-26 (.308) with 6 HR’s and 13 RBI, and showed truly fun Stanton is to watch when locked-in.

In Cashman’s post-mortem presser this afternoon, he indicated Stanton will be primarily a DH going forward.

 

 

 

He’ll here through the 2028 season. Try the veal. Take him.

Mike Tauchman – After emerging as an excellent left handed option in the Yankees outfield in 2019, Tauchman had an equally uninspiring 2020 campaign. He finished at .242 with no home-runs and 14 RBI. After a three game series sweep at home against the Red Sox, Tauchman had six hits in 12 at bats. After that, he promptly fell off the face of the earth. From August 17 through season’s end, Mike had eight hits in 65 plate appearances for a .151 average and .462 OPS. Like Tyler Wade, Tauchman is a defensive replacement and pinch runner, and can’t be counted on for production as an everyday player. The sentimentalist in me would take Brett Gardner over Tauchman.

Take him (strictly as a reserve/defensive replacement).

Aaron Judge – Let me start by saying I love Aaron Judge. I really do. The broken hand he suffered from an errant inside pitch from Jakob Junis in 2018 wasn’t his fault. He pulled an oblique on April 20, 2019, the day after my son and I were lucky enough to watch him play from the Judge’s Chambers at Yankee Stadium. He fractured his rib in September 2019 on a diving play in the outfield that wasn’t officially diagnosed until March. The extra time from the season being delayed gave Judge more time to heal.

When the season started in late July, Judge hit the ground running. After 18 games, Judge hit .292 and slugged 9 HR’s with 20 RBI. Then he pulled his right calf. The injury bug nailed him less than three weeks into the season. After missing nine games over 15 days (thanks to an unscheduled COVID break), Judge returned for three at bats against the Baltimore Orioles in the second game of a doubleheader. He was removed in the sixth inning after reaggravating the calf, missing 21 more games as a result.

Judge returned for the team’s final ten games, but he looked out of sorts. He had no home runs, two RBI and only seven hits in 36 at bats. In the postseason, Judge didn’t look much better, with four hits in 35 plate appearances (.133 average). At least he hit the ball a long way when he DID make contact, sending three of them over the fence.

Bottom line, Judge has to find a way to stay on the field. People with large bodies like his are more prone to injury. But he’s not doing the Yankees any help in the dugout (the same can be said for Stanton). Judge is better off as a DH but Cashman said Stanton is a DH going forward. It’s a conundrum, but I think Judge and Stanton should split their time in RF and DH to help preserve both of them.

Anyway, Take him.

Thanks for reading my “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, next time we’ll take a look at Yankees pitchers.

 

 

Yankees Missing Extra Gear vs. Rays, Missing a Manager

After losing to the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series, the season is over for the New York Yankees.

The writing was on the wall, even before the postseason started. The Yankees won only two of their ten regular season against the Rays, and generally looked lethargic against the 2020 AL East Division winners. Collectively, the Yankees hit .218 against the Rays. In the eight losses against them, the numbers were worse (.194). Those numbers are tough to swallow, considering the Yankees/Rays rivalry seems more intense in recent years than when they play against the Red Sox.

It’s very apparent the Rays raise their games to another level when they play the Yankees. That’s what good teams do when the stakes are high. Players like Randy Arozarena, Ji-Man Choi, Mike Zunino and Mike Brosseau are far from household name. But each of them has bludgeoned the Yankees in 2020, the most household name team in Major League Baseball. They had “that extra gear” needed to win.

Meanwhile, the Yankees core of Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combined for 13 hits in 70 at-bats (.186) against the Rays in the regular season. That’s just unacceptable. D.J. LeMahieu, soon to be a free agent, went 10-30 against Tampa, which illustrates how vital he is to this lineup and must be retained.

In the ALDS, the Yankees fared a little better, hitting to the tune of .242 in the five-game series. However, manager Aaron Boone‘s decision to use Deivi Garcia as an opener and starter J.A. Happ to follow him blew up in his face. To me, this was irresponsible. Boone tried to get cute, trying to beat Rays manager Kevin Cash at his own game. You can’t do that when you don’t have the personnel designed to excel pitching that way. Happ has been the most reliable starter for the Yankees behind Gerrit Cole. I already wrote about this farce in detail, so I won’t clog up a lot more space about that.

Unfortunately, there were other situations where it seemed like Aaron Boone was playing checkers, while Kevin Cash played chess. Like when Boone sent up Mike Ford to pinch-hit for Kyle Higashioka in the top of the 8th inning against Rays closer Diego Castillo.

Jimmy O’Brien (Jomboy) illustrates most everyone’s reaction when they saw Ford come to the plate in THAT situation.

I mean seriously, what the fuck is Aaron Boone thinking here?? Ford had two at bats in the postseason, including this ill-fated appearance where he went down looking. Higashioka was 0-2 on this night, but came into the game with an OPS of .853! And taking Higgy out of this game meant Gary Sánchez had to come in on defense. With Aroldis Chapman pitching. Who doesn’t always know where his pitches are going.

WHAT THE HELL IS BOONE THINKING?

In the end, Chapman gave up a home-run to Mike Brosseau on the tenth pitch of the at bat, and it cost them. Game over.

In the end, the Yankees didn’t have that extra gear needed to beat the Rays. They got outplayed, and certainly got out-managed.

Felt Cute, but Yankees Should Delete Later

Last night, for some reason, the New York Yankees thought it was a great idea to do something different in a playoff game. Manager Aaron Boone and GM Brian Cashman started 21 year old rookie Deivi Garcia against the Tampa Bay Rays, used him for exactly one inning, then replaced him with lefty J.A. Happ at the beginning of the 2nd inning. Happ went on to give up two home runs and four runs over 2.2 miserable innings.

In theory, the reasoning is understandable. With the righthanded GarcĂ­a starting, Rays manager Kevin Cash put a number of players who hit lefthanded in his lineup. Bringing in Happ early is a good way to counter and gain an advantage.

But here’s the problem – Happ is not accustomed to being used in relief. The 37 year old has been in the starting rotation wherever he’s played for the last ten years. The preparation is different, and the larger problem is the mental difference. Think about how you do your job, whatever your profession is. Say you’ve been at your job a long time, and all of a sudden your boss has you do your job in a different way than you’re used to. You are thrown for a loop, right? Think about it.

Plus, Happ hasn’t pitched in a live game for 11 days. His routine is already screwed up, the feel isn’t there and then Boone and Cashman changed the way he’s being used. He had two strikes against him before he even threw a single pitch, and many folks on Twitter felt the same way.

After the dust had settled, Yankees Twitter came out of the woodwork. They point out how lousy Happ is and what a mistake it was for the Yankees to keep him. People quickly forget he helped carry this team on his back the second half of August and all of September. Happ’s stats over his last seven regular season starts: 42.1 IP, 30 hits, 11 ER, 7 BB, 39 K’s. He held opposing hitters to an OBP of .241. He and Gerrit Cole held everything together in September.

Folks, this is 100 percent on Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman. They are getting skewered in the papers and media and it’s deserved. They have to be held accountable.

Analytics most certainly have their place in baseball. But you still have to operate with common sense and a feel for things. The Yankees failed miserably in that aspect at the worst possible time against a team that owned them all season.

 

Yankees End of Season Report – Playoff Preview

When we last looked at the New York Yankees in my “50 Game Report”, I wasn’t sure what kind of team they were. The last ten games of the season didn’t give any more clarification, other than the 2020 Yankees are a notoriously hot and cold team.

Maybe I just answered my own question, the Yankees aren’t bad but they aren’t good. They’re just streaky. Anyway, let’s cover the last ten games of the 2020 schedule. Then we’ll briefly look ahead at their AL Wild Card Series against the Cleveland Indians.

Catcher

Gary Sánchez – Gary suffered through an absolutely horrific season with the bat and behind the plate. Sánchez went 2-5 with a clutch game-tying three run home run against the Red Sox at Fenway on September 18, and seemed to be turning the corner. He was fresh off an 8-27 stretch with 3 HR’s, but went back in the tank, and finished the season with two hits in his final 23 plate appearances. Sánchez ends the 2020 season with an abysmal .147 average, making the “Mendoza Line” (.200 batting average) seem a galaxy away. He is a liability on both sides of his game.

Kyle Higashioka – With Sánchez struggling, Higashioka’s playing time has increased. Higgy already has been serving as Gerrit Cole‘s quote/unquote personal catcher, and earned more playing time by simply being reliable both at the plate and behind it. Kyle finished the season at .250 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI, and went 3-11 with runners in scoring position (RISP).

Infield

Luke Voit continued his MVP-caliber 2020 season by going 10-40 (250) during the season’s final ten game stretch, with a pair of homers and six RBI. He finished the season with a slash-line of .277/.338/.610 to go with 22 HR’s and 52 RBI. Not bad for a 60 game season.

After D.J. LeMahieu came of the injured-list on August 29, he played every one of his team’s remaining 31 games. While he couldn’t maintain the .411 clip he was raking at before he hurt his left hand, he still finished the 2020 campaign with a .364 average. That was good enough to win the AL batting title. The Yankees are a completely better team with LeMahieu in the lineup. When he played, they went 31-20. Without him, the Yankees were 3-7. The Yankees would be wise to sign him long-term. He is Captain material, and the team responds to him.

Gio Urshela continues to provide offense, as he went 12-34 (.353) over the team’s final ten games. Urshela is also a vacuum cleaner at the hot corner, showing over and over again why the Yankees were justified to choose him over Miguel AndĂşjar at third base.

While Urshela, LeMahieu and Voit are hitting well, Gleyber Torres has struggled most of the season. His average dropped to a career low .243. His slugging percentage fell .167 points from .538 in 2019 (38 HR’s) to .368 this year (only 3 HR’s). However, Torres’s OBP was higher in 2020 (.356) than 2019 (.337), a result of more patience by earning walks at a higher rate. Making things worse, Gleyber’s fielding percentage also dropped to a career-low .933, his first full season at shortstop. Still, Torres is extremely young (23) and I would bet every dollar he will rebound on both sides of his game.

Tyler Wade has played at an increasing rate, despite continuing to produce at an anemic rate. Only Aaron Boone knows why, as he’s best suited as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner.

Outfield

Longtime Yankee Brett Gardner turned 37 years old on August 24, and much of the season has been a struggle. Gardy limped into September with a .169 average. Over the season’s final month, he turned it on with 17 hits in 59 at bats (.288) and knocking in 9 RBI. Over the last ten games of the schedule, Gardy went 7-19 (.368). No one knows for sure if this will be the end for Brett Gardner, but if so, he finished it off on a high-note.

Like Gleyber Torres, centerfielder Aaron Hicks had an odd season with the bat. His slash-line has dropped every season since peaking in 2017, but this year his on-base percentage reached a career high .379. Why, you may ask? Working more walks. Hicks walked more times (41) than he struck out (38) for the first time in his career. Like Brett Gardner, Hicks finished on a stronger note. After bottoming out at .200 on September 5, he recorded 17 hits in 66 at bats over the last twenty Yankees team games to finish at .225.

Clint Frazier has been a pleasant surprise all season with the injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. He provided a spark when the Yankees needed it, and played excellent defense, after struggling in 2019 with depth-perception from post-concussion syndrome. As late as September 19, Frazier’s slash-line was .306/.422/.595, but closed out 2020 on a 1-20 slump with 11 strikeouts. Still, Clint has much to be proud of. With the Yankees facing the Indians, Frazier is going to look forward to taking it to the team that drafted him, then traded him to the Yankees in 2016.

Both the aforementioned Judge and Stanton have struggled since returning from their injuries. Judge has 7 hits in 36 at bats (.194), while Stanton has 7 in 35 AB’s (.200). Combined, their production since returning is one home run with six RBI. To be fair, it seems like Judge and Stanton will play a game or two and manager Aaron Boone will sit them for a “rest day”. They need the at bats and reps. I’m not sure if it’s coming from the Front Office or Boone himself, but being an every day player many years ago, Boone should know this.

Pitching – Starters

Gerrit Cole has been on fire all September. In his four starts the Yankees Ace (with a capital A), mowed down 34 hitters in 27 innings. This equated to a WHIP of 0.70 and allowing batters to hit .147 against him. Filth.

Masahiro Tanaka did not have the same dominant month Cole did, but he still was steady and reliable, which is all the Yankees need. Tanaka went 3-2 in September with a 3.62 ERA. Plus his postseason stats speak for themselves (5-3, 1.76 ERA, 0.78 WHIP in 8 starts). Masa will be ready to go.

 

After his first two starts of the 2020 season, longtime veteran J.A. Happ was looking at an ERA over ten and an unsure future beyond this season. Since then, all Happ has done is become the Yankees most reliable starter not named Gerrit Cole. The 37 year old lefty pitched to a 2.34 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over his last seven starts, striking out 39 over 42.1 innings. Happ earned his keep over the past month and a half, and deserves a lot of credit.

Lefty Jordan Montgomery (5.11 ERA) and young rookie righthander Deivi GarcĂ­a (4.98) were up and down. Their postseason roles will likely depend upon matchups. However, both will be ready to help any way they can.

Bullpen

Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton are ready to go for the playoffs after dominating performances down the stretch. In Buffalo against the Blue Jays, Chapman broke out his new toy, a split-finger fastball.

After a hideous meltdown on September 7 against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, Adam Ottavino worked his way back into Aaron Boone’s circle of trust with seven solid outings. Over his final seven appearances, Ottavino allowed just a run in 5.2 innings (1.59 ERA) with 10 K’s. Chad Green suffered a similar fate against the Jays in Buffalo on Sept. 7, and also turned it around in six games since (1.35 ERA). Hopefully they will provide needed innings for the back of the Yankees pen.

The usual cast of suspects round out the bullpen. If Jonathan Holder, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loáisiga and Michael King (combined 5.03 season ERA) are pitching, chances are good things are not happening for the Yankees.

The Yankees are in Cleveland to open their Wild Card Series tomorrow night against Shane Bieber (1.63 ERA), the likely AL Cy Young Award winner. After they face Bieber, the Yankees will have to contend with Carlos Carrasco (2.91) and Zach Plesac (2.28). They will have their hands full. Once they get into Cleveland’s bullpen, Bombers will have to deal with Oliver PĂ©rez, James Karinchak (17.7 K’s/9 innings) and Brad Hand.

I will report back after the conclusion of the Yankees season. Hopefully it won’t be a post-mortem report. Hopefully it will be after the Yankees hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy with champagne-soaked hair. It’s been too long since Yankees fans have seen this sight.

 

 

 

Which Yankees Team is it?

After a seven-game homestand against the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees took to the road to play a three game set against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. They won the first two games, 6-5 Friday night, followed by an 8-0 whitewash on Saturday. J.A. Happ‘s outstanding shutout performance over eight innings, coupled with a potent offense had the Yankees and their fans flying high on a ten-game winning streak. Things are great, right?

Pump the brakes. The next afternoon, rookie starting pitcher Deivi GarcĂ­a laid his first real egg against the Sox. It was an early exit where he gave up 11 pitches where the ball was hit 99 mph or harder, by far the most of his brief major league career. It set the tone for the entire game, which ended in a 10-2 blow-out. The game was still in reach, until relief pitcher Jonathan Holder gave up three more runs. The highlight of the game was beloved backup catcher Erik Kratz pitching the bottom of the 8th inning.

 

After leaving Boston, the Yankees traveled back to Buffalo, where the Blue Jays had taken them to the woodshed a couple weeks prior. The hope going into this series was the Yankees would continue momentum they built when they buried the Jays in a three-game set at Yankee Stadium. The Bronx Bombers simply bludgeoned them by a composite score of 43-15, with a mind-blowing total of eighteen (18!!) HR’s in the three games.

For the first game back at Sahlen Field, Yankees manager Aaron Boone started rookie Michael King as an opener. It was a bullpen day, specifically designed to push back the rotation in preparation for the playoffs. It didn’t go well. King breezed through the first two innings with ease. After the first time through Toronto’s lineup, he wasn’t fooling anyone. He departed after 2.2 innings and five runs later. Jonathan Loáisiga, who relieved King in the third, tossed gasoline on the fire by letting in 4 more runs in the fourth inning. The rout was on.

The Yankees only scratched across a pair of runs against Jays starter Matt Shoemaker and reliever T.J. Zeuch. Mike Tauchman capitalized on Wilmer Font‘s wildness with a double down the right field line in the 9th. That drove in three runs, making the final score a little less ugly at 11-5. It was “garbage time” offense, to use a football analogy. It should be noted Tauchman was only in this game because the game was a blowout. Moreover, it’s time to get all the regular players at bats every day. No more resting players bullshit, because the guys need regular at bats. Let Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres get their bats going. The Yankees need their offense. Most certainly, their struggles are a result of too much downtime.

The losses to Boston and Toronto drops their road record to 10-16, compared to 21-7 at Yankee Stadium. With this year’s postseason set up the way it is, the Yankees can’t take their foot off the gas pedal. They have to find a way to have as many playoff games at home as possible.

Pitching is a concern for the Yankees. Starters Gerrit Cole, Happ and Masahiro Tanaka have pitched well over the last month, while Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman anchor the bullpen. However, literally everyone else scares the daylights out of me. Will Deivi GarcĂ­a rebound from his rough outing in Boston? Can Jordan Montgomery at least give two solid turns through a lineup? Will Adam Ottavino keep building on his last few positive outings? Lastly, will someone please lock Holder and Luis Cessa in the crapper so they don’t have to pitch?

Joking aside, this is put-up or shut up time for the Yankees. What team is it? The one who reeled off ten straight wins, or the unpredictable team who all too often made Yankees fans scream into their pillows? To be sure, they better find a way to win consistently on the road or it’ll be an early exit in the postseason.