Saturday, February 17, 2024

Hell-Bent for a Championship...


Yankees Manager Aaron Boone (Photo Credit: Reid Hoffman/AP)

Wishful Thinking by Yankees Manager…

I desperately want to experience another Yankees World Series Championship in the not-so-distant future (like any true Yankees fan), but I had to chuckle when Aaron Boone remarked “We’re hell-bent on being a champion. We understand very well that last year was not anything anyone in this organization wants, demands, or expects.” Granted, I believe that acquiring outfielder Juan Soto was a HUGE move in the offseason, but I remain skeptical they have done enough to shorten the gap between them and the game’s best teams. ‘Hell-bent’ would be acquiring a strong number two starting pitcher to pair with ace Gerrit Cole. Marcus Stroman is nice, but if he is the definition of ‘hell-bent,’ then the Yankees clearly love taking Octobers off. Stroman will be a good pitcher for the Yankees, but whether he will be the difference-maker come playoff time remains to be seen if the Yankees make it that far.

Lately, it seems every post I write revolves around the Yankees' inability to pull out all the stops to bring championship baseball back to the Bronx. T. It is the product, or the hazard, of not winning since 2009. For as many World Series championships as we have experienced in our lifetimes (some more than others), there are fourteen-year-old Yankee fans who have never experienced a Pinstriped championship. I would be quite surprised if any fifteen- or sixteen-year-olds had a recollection of the 2009 World Series Champions. It saddens me that they live in a world where the Boston Red Sox have won championships and the Yankees have not.

I will let it go. I am happy and excited that baseball is back. It is quite enjoyable to see the players return to George Steinbrenner Field this week, participating in group training activities and giving on-camera interviews. I am looking forward to the first Spring game which is a week away.

It is impressive to see position players who have arrived early with the pitchers and catchers although I am still trying to get used to Alex Verdugo with no facial hair or the fact that he is even a Yankee. That should change once he takes the field in Pinstripes and when he delivers his first home run or game-winning hit. Regardless of who I wanted for the outfield when the offseason started, Verdugo is an upgrade over the players who patrolled left field last season. Like Juan Soto, I am not convinced Verdugo’s stay will be long. Verdugo will be a free agent after the season and if there are any missteps by Verdugo during the season, it seems like he will be allowed to walk away. I was recently talking with a Red Sox fan who seemed relieved that Verdugo was no longer with the Sox not because of on-the-field play but rather the challenges he represented in the clubhouse and the stormy relationship with Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

Alex Verdugo (Photo Credit: New York Post)

Despite my concerns, Verdugo deserves a second chance. The problems in Boston do not automatically mean there will be problems in New York. There is a greater potential for problems than with your average player, but I am convinced that Verdugo learned from the Boston experience, and he will be a better man for it or at least I hope that is the case. Incredibly, the Yankees could lose two-thirds of their current outfield to free agency after the season even if Jasson Dominguez will be 100% healthy entering next season (hopefully). Man, I want to fully embrace both Soto and Verdugo, but the potential ‘one-and-done’ aspect holds me back a little. I guess a World Series championship would cure any hesitation.

I am cautiously optimistic about Carlos Rodón who reported to camp with no moustache and is throwing much harder than he did this time last year. He seems focused on proving who he is and showing us that last year was simply a bad aberration. Given the failure to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto, pursue a top free-agent pitching target, or trade for an upper-end starter, the Yankees need Rodón to be the pitcher they thought he was, the guy who dominated in San Francisco. As a fan, I want to have the same elevated level of confidence when Rodón takes the ball as I do when Gerrit Cole is on the mound. Rodón is not Cole, but he can shove if he pitches like we think he can and he knows he can. If Nestor Cortes suffers any setbacks, the Yankees need all they can get from the front-end starters. So, as it stands, Rodón is the key to the rotation. Cole will be dominant, Stroman will be consistent, and Schmidt will continue to blossom. Rodón can make this a great starting rotation rather than a good one.

I keep hoping the Yankees sign one of the top free agents, Jordan Montgomery, or Blake Snell, but I recognize it is a pipe dream. The Yankees will not add that amount of money to the already high payroll. I am a little surprised they remain on the market, but the cost remains high. Not trying to prospect-hug, but I would rather see the Yankees spend money to upgrade the rotation over parting with elite prospects to bring in a strong young controllable starter. I know the latter option represents the best financial decision for the organization, but spending the money keeps elite young talent in-house better. With no further additions, it seems inevitable that Luke Weaver will be thrust into the starting rotation at some point. If not Weaver, then Clayton Beeter or Cody Poteet.

There are lesser free agents available, such as Hyun-Jin Ryu and Mike Clevinger. Neither of those names excites me even if we are starting to hear Ryu’s name more closely linked to the Yankees. I have liked Ryu over the years, but good health has never been his friend. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2022 and did not return until last August. He turns thirty-seven before Opening Day, and the thought of an older pitcher with an inability to stay healthy (the health concerns date back to his days with the Los Angeles Dodgers) seems like a poor investment choice regardless of how good he is. Mike Clevinger is not the pitcher he once was for the Cleveland Guardians. He is three months younger than Gerrit Cole, but Clevinger gets a ‘meh’ from me. I barely remembered that he pitched for the Chicago White Sox last year after a couple of years in San Diego. He was 9-9 with a 3.77 ERA for the White Sox, making twenty-four starts. I want to see better upside from any pitching additions if there are any.

With so many questions remaining, ‘hell-bent’ is not exactly the right word for the Yankees. I think the Los Angeles Dodgers have purchased the rights to ‘hell-bent’ although they probably deferred the dollars for the purchase. Juan Soto, with the limited other upgrades, seems like a Hail Mary Pass with the hope that all other Yankees can play to the back of their baseball cards.

I remain hopeful the Yankees can prove me wrong.

This Week’s Transactions

The Yankees have certainly been quite busy this offseason with waiver claims. I cannot remember the last time they were this active. On a side note, I saw that the Baltimore Orioles claimed brief off-season Yankee Diego Castillo on waivers. After he was designated for assignment by the Yankees, the Philadelphia Phillies claimed him. However, his stay in the City of Brotherly Love was brief and he hit the waiver wire again this week. I hope for his sake he has better luck in Baltimore. He has certainly landed with a good young team.

Earlier this week, the Yankees claimed infielder Jordan Groshans off waivers from the Miami Marlins. Recognizing that Groshans has failed to fulfill his potential as the twelfth player taken in the 2018 MLB Draft (by the Toronto Blue Jays), there is always cautious optimism that the Yankees see something they feel they can fix. I am not optimistic, but there is hope. At worst, he is depth for Triple-A. At best, he is the latest iteration of Gio Urshela who found new life as a Yankee. Groshans is only twenty-four, so he still has some time on his side.

Jordan Groshans

I am worried about DJ LeMahieu’s ability to stay healthy, which is magnified since he has been designated as the team’s starting third baseman, after the nagging injuries he has had for the last couple of seasons. Groshans can play third base so if he defies the odds to become Brian Cashman’s latest ‘lightning in a bottle’ acquisition, he offers some insurance although you would expect Oswald Peraza to be the first call for help at third base. If Groshans is starting third base for the big-league club, you know that either he blossomed beyond expectations or things have gone horribly wrong—nothing in between.

The cost for Groshans was a roster spot for LHP Matt Krook who finally lost his seat at the table when he was designated for assignment. I am surprised Krook made it this long. It must be a bummer to be within days of reporting to Spring Training, only to get a call to tell you to postpone your travel plans.

Seeking more pieces for bullpen consideration, the Yankees swapped a lower-level pitching prospect (RHP Joshua Quezada) for Milwaukee Brewers reliever LHP Clayton Andrews. Andrews, 27, only made four MLB appearances for the Brewers last season, spending most of the season in the minors. Like Groshans, maybe the Yankees see something that can be corrected. Looking at Andrews, there is one thing that stands out to me. He is Jose Altuve-small (5’6”). I get this image of him standing next to Aaron Judge and his head barely reaching the Captain’s waist. If he can get outs, I guess it does not matter how tall (or in this case, short) he is but he is certainly not going to have an imposing presence on the mound. Heck, that would be like me standing on the mound.

The Yankees also re-signed reliever RHP Lou Trivino who continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery. He should be ready to join the team later this summer. Once Trivino was firmly secured on the 40-man roster, the Yankees claimed reliever RHP McKinley Moore on waivers from the Philadelphia Phillies. In the corresponding move, Trivino was moved to the 60-day Injured List to open the spot for Mount McKinley (6’6”, 225 lbs.). Now that is the size of the relievers I want to see on the mound! Booyah!

As always, Go Yankees!

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