Friday, September 29, 2023

The End of the Season is Near...


Oswaldo Cabrera, Greg Weissert, DJ LeMahieu & Austin Wells (Photo Credit: Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Yankees conclude the season in KC…

As I type this post, the Yankees have begun playing on Friday night against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Not much point in waiting until the end of the game to start writing this week’s entry. The Yankees, by taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays this week, assured themselves of not less than a .500 season. By winning at least one game in the next three from the 105-loss Royals, the Yankees will keep the winning season streak alive even if you cannot exactly call this a “winning” season. 

Boston’s tailspin this week (they have lost five consecutive games entering play this evening) clinched the AL East Cellar for the Red Sox. Not much to shoot for goals this season, but finishing ahead of Boston was one. Small wins. We need something to keep us warm over a long winter. Finishing with more wins than losses is another yet-to-be-achieved goal. The Yankees were 81-78 after concluding their trip to Toronto, Canada. They can finish anywhere from 81-81 to 84-78. If I can dissect a goal from the possibilities, it would be to avoid 80 losses. If the Yankees can take 2 of 3 from the Royals like they did the Blue Jays, they will finish 83-79. Sounds better than 82-80 or 81-81.   

I am ready for the season to end. The downside is that we must wait until the playoffs are over before there will be any meaningful activity for the Yankees in their efforts to bounce back next season. There are reports the outside company brought for an audit of team processes throughout the organization will start in October. Well, the halls of Yankee Stadium will be empty next week. No time to start like the present.

The managerial firings began today when the San Francisco Giants announced they had parted ways with Manager Gabe Kapler who won 107 games and the NL West Division crown in 2021. I have no interest in Kapler as Yankees manager although I have already seen numerous social media posts to that effect. I would rather have Joe Girardi as the manager than Kapler, and believe me, I have no desire to see Girardi return to Pinstripes. He had his time. I am sure it was a hard decision for Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ President of Baseball Operations, but like the Yankees, I think the Giants front office holds more responsibility for 2023 on-the-field disappointment than the manager. Zaidi is probably seeing his own mortality as a team executive, and he was not going to fire himself. Does Yankees GM Brian Cashman serve up Aaron Boone as the sacrificial lamb?  At the end of the day, the buck stops with Zaidi and Cashman. They are responsible for the men in the clubhouse and the players on the field.   

My speculation is the Yankees retain both Cashman and Boone. Another GM was promoted to President of Baseball Operations today (Nick Krall of the Cincinnati Reds). With so many GMs making this transition, it seems inevitable the Yankees will do the same for Cashman one day or at least they should if they are not going to fire him. It is time for a new Yankees GM regardless of how Cashman is moved out of the position (firing or promotion). Promoting a failure seems counterproductive, but I will not believe that Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner has the stones to fire Cashman unless he ACTUALLY does it. 

Hal Steinbrenner (Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

The Yankees game went from 0-0 first pitch to 8-0 Royals in the bottom of the first inning with no outs and Carlos Rodón already out of the game. As David Cone just said, when it rains, it pours. You would think the Yankees would enter the season’s final series with some pride, and at least have some success against one of baseball’s worst teams. Yet, the Yankees are getting bludgeoned to death. It seems par for the course this season. The first inning ended 9-0 in favor of the Royals. One of the worst innings I have ever seen in my life. Well, my little league team, George’s Pizza, did have a few bad ones if memory serves correctly. But the Yankees made it professionally bad. 

Frankie Montas is expected to pitch a few innings this weekend. There seems to be some interest on both sides for a reunion next season. The Yankees should only do it on a short-term, “make-good” contract to see if they can discover the pitcher that they thought they were getting from the Oakland A’s.  If another team wants to offer Montas a three- or four-year deal, call it a sunk loss and move on. 

I doubt the Yankees can eliminate Giancarlo Stanton or DJ LeMahieu this offseason, but the team would be better in the long run if they could. Even if they must pay the bulk of the contract, the Yankees should try to find a way to move Stanton. Of course, any move would take Stanton’s blessing, but a change of scenery could be good for him, as he might find greater success elsewhere. The Giants or the Dodgers seem like the most logical landing spots if either team is interested in Stanton at a discounted price. I like LeMahieu, but his best days are behind him and, sadly, they are not coming back. 

I have already accepted that Kyle Higashioka will not be part of the 2024 Yankees. Austin Wells has proven he belongs, and he will be half of the catching tandem with Jose Trevino, if not more. Ben Rortvedt in reserve, with promising young catchers on the way. There is simply no room for Higgy. He is a good clubhouse guy aside from his defensive prowess and occasional pop, but it has become a numbers game for him and there is simply no room for moving forward.

I am hopeful and optimistic that first baseman Anthony Rizzo will have a bounce-back year next season, but the Yankees need to ensure that they have strong first base support. I know many people do not want the Cubs’ Cody Bellinger, but he makes too much sense to me. He would give us a strong outfielder who can play first base if needed (and play it well). He can play center for most of next season, and then possibly move to left, if/when Jasson Dominguez is ready to return. 

Cody Bellinger (Photo Credit: MLB Photos via Getty Images)

If not Bellinger, it needs to be someone capable of multiple positions in addition to first base. It would be nice if LeMahieu could be that guy, but I am fearful that Father Time is no longer his friend. We become more injury-prone as we get older, and LeMahieu is trending in the wrong direction.

I have no desire to trade Gleyber Torres, but I do believe the Yankees would be stronger with Anthony Volpe at second base and Oswald Peraza at shortstop. I felt that way before Volpe made the Major League club in Spring Training, and I continue to feel that way. Keeping Volpe at shortstop just because that is the position that he grabbed in Spring Training does not make sense if the team is better defensively with Volpe at second and Peraza at short. But of course, if Volpe is the second baseman, where does Gleyber Torres play? Under that scenario, it might be necessary to trade one of the team’s best hitters. Or trade Peraza if it helps to acquire a starting pitcher capable of performing well under pressure. So, I will say that I prefer to keep Torres, but I am not opposed to moving him if it helps make the team better. 

If Peraza is at short or is traded, the question then becomes who is the third baseman? I would have liked to have seen Andrés Chaparro in the Bronx in September but there was no room for him. He will have a chance to make his case for third base next season, along with prospect Tyler Hardman. It will be interesting to see if the Yankees address third base from within or if they go externally through free agency or trade. With so many other pressing needs, it kind of feels like third base will get lost in the shuffle.  Peraza is capable of being the third baseman which would allow the Yankees to keep Torres, but it seems like Peraza’s highest and best value is either shortstop or second base. The Yankees need to figure this out.

I have liked Everson Pereira, the prospect, but as a Major Leaguer, I am not sure he is the answer for left field. He will continue to grow; however, I am not sure if he can fix the ‘swing and miss’.  Unlike this season, the Yankees need to ensure they have a strong left-field solution entering Opening Day 2024. As much as I want to see Pereira succeed, I think they can do better.

As for center field, I am not sure what the Yankees will do if they are not successful in acquiring a guy like Cody Bellinger. Estevan Florial deserves more time, but honestly, the Yankees can ill afford both Florial and Pereira in the same lineup.  One or the other. If Pereira is included in a trade, then take the chance on Florial in center at least until Dominguez is ready. Doing this, the Yankees cannot take any chances in the other areas of need. They need certainty…they need consistency…they need players who can play to the back of their baseball cards. 

I have not dived into pitching. There is Gerrit Cole, the soon-to-be AL Cy Young Award Winner, and then there is everybody else. I did mention Montas earlier, but the one guy who must find it this offseason is Carlos Rodón. His final 2023 start, with an inability to record an out after 35 pitches, allowing six hits, eight earned runs, and two walks, will leave a bad taste in the fanbase. Well, it puts an exclamation point on his horrific season. Rodón enters 2024 as the player with the most to prove on a team with a bunch of guys needing to prove themselves again. After this season’s pathetic performance (aside from his extended time on the Injury List), I am not sure that you can automatically pencil in Rodón’s name for next year’s starting rotation. For the money and years that the Yankees owe him, it seems inevitable he will be, but with all honesty, he should not be given anything. He needs to earn it.  My guess is the Yankees will move on from Luis Severino given so much other uncertainty in the rotation. They cannot afford for Rodón to crap the bed again.

Michael King, as of this writing, is the Yankees’ second-best starter and he spent most of the season as a reliever, albeit a very good one. I am in favor of retaining King in the rotation. I would like to see the Yankees sign Japanese starter Yoshinobu Yamamoto. He seems like a special player, and if the Yankees are truly in the running for him, they need to pull out all the stops to get him. The Yankees have strong starting pitching coming up through the farm system. Drew Thorpe seems to be on the fast track, and he has already proven he is the best young arm in the organization. With Rodón’s uncertainty, the Yankees cannot take too many chances with the other starting spots. They need to be RIGHT about the pitchers they choose, not something that has been a good front-office attribute in recent years. 

There are plenty of strong arms for relief in the bullpen and in the farm system. I am not too worried about the Yankees’ ability to rebuild the pen. However, they do need a legitimate closer. Clay Holmes is not that guy.  Holmes is good for the pen, just not at the back end of meaningful games. I hope the Yankees can figure this one out over the coming months. I have no idea who the Yankees could or should get, but I trust they can find an elite arm. They have the resources. 

The Yankees desperately need to rebuild the Analytics division, starting with the ouster of Assistant GM Michael Fishman. I recognize that wanting Cashman and Boone fired does not mean they will be, but clearly, the Yankees must see the poor decisions that have been formed on information provided by the Analytics team, led by Fishman. If the Yankees do nothing else with the Front Office this offseason, getting newer, smarter nerds is an absolute must. 

I am hopeful this is finally the offseason of change with the infusion of hope. I have literally waited years for Hal Steinbrenner to excite the fan base. Is this finally the year he acts like a true Steinbrenner? If not now, he probably never will. This is his moment to put his stamp on the New York Yankees. Hal was in charge when the Yankees won in 2009, however, his father, in health decline, was still in the background. Will history remember Hal as an owner committed to winning like his father, or is he just another also-ran in it for the profit? He needs to make his mark as the stand-alone ownership leader of the Yankees, no longer in the shadows of his legendary larger-than-life father or opinionated late brother. The Yankees organization created the culture of winning in the 1920s. Hal has a chance to redefine success one hundred years later. Is he up for the challenge? We shall soon see.

As always, Go Yankees!

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