Saturday, December 30, 2023

A Lump of Cole Only Goes So Far...


Wanted: Elite Starting Pitching…

I seriously doubt the New York Yankees took an ‘all or nothing’ approach with their failed pursuit of Japanese RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but as the calendar prepares to turn to 2024, we have yet to see Plan B unfold. Most Yankees fans, at least those on X (formerly known as Twitter), seem to prefer a trade for Dylan Cease or Corbin Burnes. No trades appear imminent so the fanbase continues to wait.

The Yankees are a better team today than they were when the 2023 regular season ended for no other reason than they have added one of the greatest young offensive talents in the game to their roster. But for as great as Juan Soto is and can be, he alone does not convert an 82-win team into a World Series championship contender. Soto helped his 2023 teammates, the San Diego Padres, to the exact same record as the Yankees, 82-80. Granted, there were many reasons why the Padres failed, and Soto was not a reason, but the point is the Yankees need to do more than add Soto to the roster. The Yankees are weaker in other areas because of the Soto trade. They lost a valuable bullpen member who had the potential to be an upper-end rotation starter and a dependable, proven backup catcher with elite framing skills and some occasional pop. While you would trade Michael King for Juan Soto any day of the week, King will be missed. The best replacement, today, is faith that Luis Gil can be a trusted reliever after missing several years due to injury or hope pitching prospects Will Warren, Chase Hampton, or Clayton Beeter can emerge.

Will Warren (Photo Credit: Somerset Patriots)

My fear is the Yankees enter the 2024 season with the same hope as 2023, that Carlos Rodón can be an elite starter behind the great Gerrit Cole. After his miserable 2023 season, expectations for Rodón should be lowered. With the questions surrounding Nestor Cortes, Jr, there is too much uncertainty wrapped up into two spots in the starting rotation. The Yankees need certainty, consistency, and strength in the other three rotation spots. Cole nails the top spot without question. Clarke Schmidt can be a dependable fifth starter as he continues his growth curve. This leaves a clear need for a strong second starter behind Cole.

I am not losing any sleep over missing out on free agent RHP Lucas Giolito who has signed with the Boston Red Sox. It was not that long ago when Yankees fans were salivating at the thought of acquiring Giolito, but the homer-prone pitcher was dreadful after his trade deadline acquisition by the Los Angeles Angels last year which led to his release, and he continued the downfall in Cleveland to end the season. Maybe Giolito can rediscover his touch, he is only twenty-nine after all, but that is a risk I would rather see the Red Sox take than the Yankees.

Frankie Montas, who many thought would re-sign with the Yankees, is no longer an option. He has signed a one-year, $16 million contract with the Reds, taking the Sonny Gray path to redemption via the road through Cincinnati. Sonny has a nice contract with the St Louis Cardinals by taking that route. Maybe it will work out for Montas too. The Montas trade will forever rank as one of Brian Cashman’s worst, although he continues to add to the worst collection every chance he gets.

I am not convinced the Milwaukee Brewers will trade Corbin Burnes. Some reports indicate they intend to contend in 2024 under new manager Pat Murphy and will be looking to build rather than sell. The team needs to instill confidence in its fanbase after the disruptive departures of former President of Baseball Operations David Stearns, who took the same position with the New York Mets, and former manager Craig Counsell, a hometown favorite, who has moved on to the Chicago Cubs. Trading the best-starting pitcher on the team would not help restore the fans’ confidence in the team.

Free agent Jordan Montgomery continues to rate as the best possible pickup through free agency. James Paxton is still a free agent, but health-challenged pitchers are not a smart bet when you are currently carrying too many as it is. I would like to see the return of Montgomery but how much of an overpay is too much? This much is certain…Monty will get more money than he is worth. The pitching contracts handed out this winter have ensured it will happen. Monty brings the necessary stability the starting rotation sorely lacks. Two years ago, we debated whether he deserved a start in the playoffs and now he would be asked to shoulder the load behind Cole. Montgomery does feel a little like “been there, done that” but I was disappointed when he was traded. I did not want to see him go then even if the Yankees filled a need by acquiring centerfielder Harrison Bader. He has shown growth since his departure from Pinstripes, and it would be nice to capture the new and improved version of the tall lefthander. He loved his time as a Yankee so if the two parties can agree on the money, I am sure any old rifts between the organization and the player will be cured.

Jordan Montgomery

There was a surprising pitching trade today. The Boston Red Sox, a day after signing Luis Giolito, have traded their former ace, Chris Sale, to the Atlanta Braves for infielder Vaughn Grissom. As much as I always wanted to beat Sale, I am sorry that injuries have derailed him in the last few years. I always subscribe to the belief that to be the best, you must beat the best, so a healthy Chris Sale was always better than the alternative. At least he goes to Atlanta where he no longer must be “the guy.”  Spencer Strider has that title. I would like to see Sale return to prominence. I have no desire to see the Braves win a championship, however, it would be good for baseball if Sale became a feared competitor again.

Even though other teams are taking chances with starting pitching, the Yankees can ill afford to go that route. They need certainty and strength if they intend to show they can be one of the American League’s best teams in 2024. I know, playoffs are a crap shoot. But it helps when you have pitchers who can deal. When October rolls around, good pitching beats good hitting. Bad pitching paves the way for early exits, assuming you can even get that far.

The Yankees still have time to upgrade their rotation. It may be less than two months before the team arrives at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida, yet there is time. The worst thing the Yankees can do is to do nothing. Hopefully, they will be better than that.

Yankees on the Move

The Isiah Kiner-Falefa Era has ended. I feel bad for him. There was too much pressure placed on him as the starting shortstop in 2022. The Yankees' decision to pass on elite free agent shortstops, particularly Corey Seager who seemed like such a great fit for Yankee Stadium, was a mistake regardless of how you feel about Anthony Volpe. The Yankees fanbase turned hard on IKF and it was not fair. It was not his fault the Yankees chose to make him the starting shortstop. The Yankees knew the flaws like we did. IKF rebounded in 2023 to show that he could be a reliable super-sub, even toiling time in the outfield which had previously been foreign territory for him. He handled his various roles with grace and helped to build support within the fanbase. I would have liked it if the Yankees had signed him to a new deal to continue his super-sub role. Instead, IKF will head north of the border to play for the Toronto Blue Jays where he will most likely see more time at third base which seems more like his natural position even if he does not have the necessary bat for a corner infielder.

Good for him. I would have preferred it if he had left the division (or the league). However, I have no ill will toward the player, and I would never boo him at Yankee Stadium. I will always remember IKF as being placed in an impossible situation by the Yankees, and his perseverance to make the best of a challenging predicament. He never deserved the wrath of the Yankees fans. He loved the Yankees as a kid, and he was thrilled to put on the Pinstripes. He never wanted to fail. He just needed to be placed in the best position to win.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa

The Estevan Florial Story finally ended for the Yankees when they traded him to Cleveland for RHP Cody Morris. It is funny that both players carry the label “once-promising” but it is a good opportunity for both to start over with new organizations. The fact the Yankees got anything of value for Florial is a plus since any team could have had him for a simple waiver claim last year. Morris made six relief appearances for the Guardians last season, posting a 6.75 ERA after yielding six earned runs in eight innings of work, but spent most of the season in the minors. There is hope Morris, 27, might see a rebound under the tutelage of Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake. The two are familiar with each other from their days together in the Guardians organization. Morris has the potential to either be a fifth starter or a reliever. Who knows, maybe he can be 2024’s Ian Hamilton.

I hope Florial gets a legitimate opportunity in Cleveland. I have no love for Myles Straw, and it would be tremendous to see Straw get supplanted in center field by Florial. If Florial cannot wrest a starting position among the outfielders, he will hopefully contribute off the bench. While I am generally not too fond of ex-Yankees, there are some I root for and Florial will be among them. At least he did not go to another AL East team.

Lame Duck Manager

Aaron Boone will enter the 2024 season in the last year of his contract. There is a club option for 2025 but to the best of my knowledge, it has not (yet) been picked up. Normally, I would prefer to see the team’s manager receive a new contract to avoid the lame duck status, but Boone warrants special consideration as a lame duck.

Aaron Boone (Photo Credit: Carlos Osorio/AP)

If the Yankees underperform in 2024, there is no reason the club should exercise its option for 2025. It will be time to find a new skipper. 2024 will be a critical year for the organization. As it sits today, Juan Soto is a one-year Yankee who will be moving on to greener pastures in 2025 unless the Yankees can convince him to stay. Boone has a solid rep as a player’s manager so his relationship with Soto could go a long way toward determining the Yankees' fate for both. Money will obviously be the key determinant for Soto as he is expected to break the $500 million barrier (void of the 98% deferrals contained in Shohei Ohtani’s contract). Yet, his relationship with the Yankees, the front office, the players, the manager, and the fans, will play a role. If Soto is convinced that he wants to be a Yankee and the money is close, the advantage will go to the Yankees.

If the Yankees run out another 82-80 season and Boone is dismissed after the season, it seems more likely that Soto will move on. So, I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Boone. I like the guy personally, and I do appreciate the support of his players. His decision-making skills are questionable at times, but I am hopeful that new bench coach Brad Ausmus can help. I have always wanted an experienced Major League manager to sit next to Boone, and this is the first time in his Yankees managerial career that it has happened.

Nevertheless, the Yankees should wait to make any decisions about the future of Aaron Boone as manager until AFTER the season has ended. I am totally in favor of an extension for Soto in advance of the season, if agent Scott Boras will allow it, but Boone is clearly in the hot seat and must prove that he deserves his next extension. Two years into the current extension has not yielded that determination.

It is about time to close the book in 2023 and start the new story of 2024. Happy New Year to the Yankees, its players, and all the fans! It is time to bring in a championship year!

As always, Go Yankees!

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)