Sunday, June 11, 2023

Life Without Aaron Judge...


Aaron Judge (Photo Credit: Ashley Landis/AP)

Wanted: Miracle Toe Healer…

Life without Aaron Judge is not fun. Worse yet, it sucks. 

I know he is only away for a few weeks while his toe recovers from the dramatic play he made at Dodger Stadium earlier this month, but it is painful to watch the Yankees play without him. Without Judge in the lineup, the other weaknesses are magnified. It is frustrating that there is no timetable for Judge’s return.  I know the Yankees are conservative when it comes to injuries, and they do not want to set a date for return, only to face further delays, but I wish they were more transparent. Judge’s absence shows how devastating losing him in free agency would have been. Hopefully, the toe will improve with each passing day, and Aaron Judge will be roaming right field soon. 

I am not trying to play ‘I told you so’ but at the beginning of Spring Training, I felt Anthony Volpe should have returned to Triple-A for more seasoning and the Yankees starting shortstop should be Oswald Peraza. I held that opinion through most of Spring Training but finally acquiesced to support the decision to promote Volpe, pushing Peraza back to Triple-A when it appeared the Yankees were headed in that direction anyway. In retrospect, the Yankees should not have been seduced by Volpe’s strong Spring performance. We have seen too many players over the years enjoying stellar play in March, only to struggle once the gates of the regular season have opened. The ‘Greg Bird’ Syndrome. Most recently (before Volpe), it was Kyle Higashioka. 

I like Volpe, and I am excited for his long-term future with the Yankees, but maybe it is time for him to go to Triple-A to work on the finer aspects of his game now that he has had a taste of Major League life. He has a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at the game’s highest level, and it should provide a better blueprint for him to prepare to become a productive everyday starter in the Bronx.

Anthony Volpe (Photo Credit: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Through sixty-six games, Volpe is batting .187/.261/.347 (.608 OPS). He has 9 home runs and 26 RBIs. He is 14-for-14 in stolen bases but he only has one in the last 24 games.  While you cannot compare Triple-A pitching to the Major Leagues, Oswald Peraza is batting .311/.383/.597 (.980 OPS) in twenty-eight games. He has 10 home runs and 21 RBIs, plus 7 stolen bases.  Peraza has cooled off lately after his blazing month of May, and he did not appear in either game of yesterday’s doubleheader between the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders and the Norfolk Tides. I have not seen the reason for Peraza’s absence (he played Friday night), but if healthy, I would flip Volpe for Peraza. There is no denying Volpe has the higher ceiling, but Volpe would benefit from some further work in Triple-A while Peraza has nothing left to prove there.

I want Volpe to succeed, and he can be a disruptive force on the basepaths come October. A little time away to better his game is not an unreasonable request. Give Peraza a chance and be a stronger team later in the year when both players are on the Major League roster.   

Other players I am concerned about are DJ LeMahieu and Kyle Higashioka. The Yankees need LeMahieu to be the hitter he was before last year’s injury. LeMahieu will be 35 next month and admittedly, I am concerned he may never be the player he once was. For a while, I have wanted LeMahieu to take Josh Donaldson’s place as the starting third baseman. However, while I do not feel JD’s recent home runs scream ‘he’s back!’, LeMahieu’s struggles have lessened my desire to move on from Donaldson. I am about ready to rename LeMahieu “Oh Fer Three”. 

DJ LeMahieu (Photo Credit: Noah K Murray/AP)

Good pitching helped the Yankees on Saturday, but it is a tough ask for the pitching staff to consistently hold the other team to no more than one or two runs to compensate for an anemic offense. I am convinced this will be Higgy’s final year in Pinstripes, and I would not be disappointed if his time was up sooner than later. Ben Rortvedt was acquired to play catcher for the Yankees (not the RailRiders) and although the plan was derailed by injuries, I feel he can be an effective partner to support starter Jose Trevino. 

It will be tough for the Yankees to make trades in July. You cannot strip the farm system of multiple talented prospects every year without damaging the future. Last year’s trades seem like such a waste. The loss of many well-regarded prospects for multiple players who failed to make a difference for the Yankees. With the struggles of some of those prospects elsewhere, you can say the Yankees made the right calls. Yet, inevitably, there will be lost prospects who come back to haunt the Yankees. 

Despite the nice moments from Jake Bauers, Willie Calhoun and Billy McKinney, the Yankees still need a strong left fielder. I am not convinced the current lot is the answer. Bauers taking away a Rafael Devers home run on Saturday was a terrific highlight, but the Yankees can do better. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has performed better than expected as Harrison Bader’s replacement in center field, but the preference would be for him to remain in a utility role when Bader returns. For as much as fans have wanted the Yankees to promote Estevan Florial, the truth is the Yankees must make room for Bader and Aaron Judge when they are healthy, and at least one of Bauers, Calhoun, and McKinney will be sacrificed.  If the Yankees need a 40-man roster spot. Who loses? McKinney seems like the most expendable if Bader is healthy. If McKinney’s promotion had been Florial, it is likely Flo would be facing a second trip to the waiver wire with the Yankees losing him this time after his strong recent performance in Triple-A.   

It is a tough job for GM Brian Cashman and his team of nerds. They must reinforce the team with seemingly limited resources. The Yankees’ top five prospects according to are three outfielders, a catcher, and a shortstop. I do not see the Yankees trading Jasson Dominguez or Spencer Jones. Everson Pereira is a talented future star, but he might be the most expendable of the group.  Austin Wells wants to stay at Catcher, but we have all heard the stories he will eventually need to change positions. With the profile of his bat, the Yankees will find room. I would be shocked if they traded him. Trey Sweeney, the shortstop, has always seemed like the future third baseman to me.  I do not want to lose any of the top five prospects.  Not so much prospect-hugging as it is concerned about the competitiveness of the team in future years. I know, win the World Series this year, and worry about next year…well…next year. 

The core belief is the twenty-six men who will take the field today at Yankee Stadium to play the series finale against the Boston Red Sox are average at best. This is not a championship squad. Sure, they will get better when Judge, Bader, and Carlos Rodón return. Maybe they can make a difference. Maybe they cannot. One thing is certain, they cannot do it alone. Better performances from Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, and DJ LeMahieu, among others, are necessary for the team to accomplish its goals. Hoping for elite July reinforcements is akin to holding the winning ticket in Powerball. In other words, do not get your hopes up.

The Yankees need a left fielder and a starting pitcher. Bullpen help is always a plus. I am hopeful yet pessimistic that the Yankees can get the pieces they need. I will say it now that I do not believe the Yankees will acquire a player who moves the needle. I sincerely hope they prove me wrong. 

Mike Harkey, Pitching Coach

Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey, a former Major League pitching coach, was forced into duty yesterday as the fill-in for pitching coach Matt Blake.

It was a good opportunity for Harkey who led a successful mound visit with reliever Wandy Peralta late in yesterday’s 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox that helped ice the game. Harkey always reminds me of Joe Girardi for no reason other than he is the last holdover from Girardi’s coaching staff. 

Blake and his family are dealing with the loss of his mother-in-law. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. 

As always, Go Yankees!