Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Rise of The Kids...


Jasson "The Martian" Dominguez / Photo Credit: Adam Hunger/AP

Wait until all is lost, then promote the best players…

The Yankees’ 2023 game plan has been a disaster. From poor roster construction to playing journeyman players over the best prospects, everything GM Brian Cashman has touched has turned to ashes. Entering play tonight, the Yankees were six and a half games out of the Wild Card chase. Forget the mathematical chances to make the playoffs, the door has closed. With Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner planning to bring in an outside firm to inspect the organization in the offseason, hard questions must be asked of every member of the front office. Brian Cashman should sit in the hottest seat. He may be Hal’s buddy, but Hal’s continued support of Cashman breeds complacency. The Yankees cannot afford complacency.  I am hopeful this season has been an eye-opener for Hal, and that it causes him to second-guess every member of the organization.  Anything less than excellence is unacceptable.

With the Yankees’ vast resources, they should be ahead of most other teams in every facet of baseball operations. For a few weeks during the nine-game losing streak, the Yankees felt like one of the worst run organizations in the game. Realistically, I know that is far from the truth. The Yankees are well-run, but they are not the best they can be. 

After feeling so discouraged about the team during the losing streak and the rapid plummet out of playoff contention, the emergence of the young prospects has been encouraging. Jasson Dominguez, Austin Wells, Oswald Peraza, and Everson Pereira have made Yankees games fun again. The wins and losses do not matter. Even if the Yankees somehow performed a miracle to reach the playoffs, their stay would be short…even with the kids. Everything that is happening on the field right now is for a better 2024. 

I am excited for Jasson Dominguez. I never expected The Martian to make the Major Leagues at the youthful age of 20, but I am glad he is here. As great as his Major League start has been, I try to temper my expectations. I am not holding him to any standard or belief that he must be a superstar. Maybe that is not who he is. But I know he can be a good baseball player, and championships are won with good players. 

As sad as it was to see Harrison Bader go to Cincinnati, he was quickly forgotten with the emergence of The Martian as the new centerfielder. In the long run, the Yankees are better for the change. I liked Bader as a Yankee. He is a New Yorker who understands how to play in New York City. However, as Dominguez continues to mature, he will be a much better player for the Yankees and hopefully a healthier one.

It is frustrating that the Yankees basically punted left field in Spring Training (I think that term was used by Mike Axisa but it fits). We knew last offseason that left field needed to be addressed, and all we got was the return of since-released Aaron Hicks, Red Sox castoff Franchy Cordero, and other journeyman players like Jake Bauers and Billy McKinney. Everson Pereira has not exactly solved the left field problem, but he has brought better consistency. Hopefully, the bat will come around in time. I expect Pereira to hit better next year, but the Yankees cannot go into the offseason believing Pereira is the answer. He needs to prove himself next Spring. I have loved Pereira “the prospect”, but he needs to earn his way onto the team. The Yankees should not let Pereira prevent them from upgrading the position if they can. I know everyone would love to see the Yankees acquire Juan Soto from the San Diego Padres. I am not getting my hopes up for that one even if I would love to see Soto in Pinstripes. I am a realist and I do not think the Yankees will sacrifice the talent needed to acquire him or spend the money that will be necessary to keep him. For me, Cody Bellinger continues to have the most appeal. No, he is not the player Soto is, but Bellinger can solve left field (or center) and he can effectively back up first base. He has a left-handed bat that fits well with the short porch in Yankee Stadium. There is a fear that he will regress to the player he was during his final years with the Dodgers, but I think his rebirth in Chicago can be sustained.  Bellinger has long been one of my favorite players, and it helps that he is the son of a former Yankee.  Not that sentimentality is a reason to add a player, but Belli was born to play in Yankee Stadium. 

Cody "Future Yankee" Bellinger / Photo Credit: Michael Owens/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Austin Wells has sold me. I want him as part of the catching tandem with Jose Trevino in 2024. It is time to move on from Kyle Higashioka. I like Higgy, and he has been a good Yankee, but it is time for him to begin the journeyman part of his career, much like Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli before him.  I have liked Higgy’s rapport with the pitchers, and by all accounts, he is a great teammate. Yet, those are not reasons to keep him when better players (like Trevino and Wells) are available. Ben Rortvedt has not proven he can be an effective Major Leaguer. He seems like one of those Quad-A players who will hang around for backup purposes (either buried on a Major League roster or stashed at Triple-A). With younger up-and-coming catchers in the organization, I am not sure that Rortvedt is a long-term fit. Trevino and Wells seem to complement each other well. One is brilliant defensively and the other can be an offensive force. Early reports seem to dispel that Wells is not a defensive catcher as he has held his own with his first games as a Yankee. If he hits like we think he can, the Yankees do not need every catcher to have Trevi’s defensive prowess behind the plate. 

Oswald Peraza was ready to be a Major League player during Spring Training. It is unfortunate it took until September and the release of third baseman Josh Donaldson to make it happen. Although Peraza has yet to find his groove at the plate, he has handled himself effectively at third base, and his presence feels more comforting than Donaldson even if Donaldson’s defense remained elite through his offensive struggles. I like Peraza, but like Everson Pereira and left field, I do not feel the Yankees should automatically hand him third base next year. As with Pereira, Peraza needs to prove himself in Spring Training. His presence should not prevent the Yankees from acquiring an upgrade if they can. 

I am looking forward to the top pitching prospects in camp next Spring. Chase Hampton, Richard Fitts, Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, Drew Thorpe, Brock Selvidge…I want to see if these guys can be a part of 2024 success in the Bronx. The Yankees are showing elite pitching development and it is exciting to experience the first wave arrival of the accelerated pupils.  Hampton has been a beast, but Thorpe looks like the head of the class. 

Drew "Future Ace" Thorpe / Photo Credit: Dave Janosz/Hudson Valley Renegades

I was reluctant when I first heard that Michael King wanted to be in the starting rotation. He has been such a valuable pitcher in his bullpen role. But as he continues to improve with each start, I am buying into his presence in next year’s rotation. Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes, Jr. will carry questions into next season. Luis Severino seems unlikely to return. Clarke Schmidt is the only pitcher not named Gerrit Cole who has proven he belongs in the rotation. There is a risk Schmidt will be dealt in the offseason so it is not a certainty he will be back. King provides the stability we need behind Cole. As for King’s bullpen role, I am cautiously optimistic Luis Gil can be that guy. This has been a lost season for Gil as he makes his comeback from Tommy John surgery, but he should enter Spring Training ready to go. If not Gil, then hopefully one of the other prospects (Clayton Beeter?) will step up. 

Despite the improved play by the Yankees, thanks to the youngsters, Brian Cashman should not get a free pass. He needs to be held accountable. He has a record that is Hall of Fame worthy, but times change. The Yankees need a new voice and vision. I am interested in knowing who persuaded Hal Steinbrenner to force the call-up of the young players. It seems to have Brian Sabean’s fingerprints on it. If Hal is listening to other people, it is possible that he makes a hard decision on Cashman despite their years of friendship and the fact that Cashman was hired by Hal’s dad. I always throw in the caveat that I am okay with the promotion of Cashman to President of Baseball Operations so long as the new GM has total autonomy. One thing is certain, Brian Cashman cannot be the Yankees General Manager in 2024. 

As frustrated as I have been with Manager Aaron Boone, I accept his return next season. Yankees Captain Aaron Judge has been vocal in his support of Boone, and Boone has the support of most of the players. I get that a manager should not be a buddy to his players, but unless there is a manager who is far superior…and available…I do not see a management change with the Yankees. I said it last year and I feel the same. If a change in the coaching staff should be made, it is Bench Coach. I do not have anything against Carlos Mendoza. Mendy seems well-liked on the team, but he is too much like Boone.  The Yankees Bench Coach should be an experienced manager who is unafraid to voice his opinion.  Boone needs to be challenged with his decisions, even if ultimately, he is the decision-maker. I think it would help Boone make better decisions. There is no question Boone knows how to deal with people. He is well-liked in the game, and he seems to have command of the clubhouse. It is not Boone’s fault WHO was in the clubhouse. Better players, better Boone. It is that simple.

Aaron "The Captain" Judge & Aaron "2024 Manager" Boone / Photo Credit: Getty Images

I am a Yankees fan. We will survive this season despite the frustrations. Hopefully, the team can play well enough to ensure a winning season (to keep that streak intact) but even if it is a losing season, shit happens. The ask is for a better tomorrow. That is ON Hal Steinbrenner. His choices this offseason will determine the direction of the team. Time for Hal to make the Boss proud.

As always, Go Yankees!