Friday, April 19, 2024

Yankees Baseball is Fun Again...


Aaron Judge (Photo Credit: NY Daily News)

Winning cures all…

Granted, the recent three-game slide was not fun, but to end it with a four-run ninth inning to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 6-4, on Thursday night showed that this team is built differently than the 2023 version.  I guess you could say ‘What a difference Juan Soto makes!’

The Yankees (13-6) currently lead the American League East by a half-game over the Baltimore Orioles. Placement in the standings does not mean much at this stage of the season, but all things considered, I would rather be in first place than not. For the Yankees to be in first place after nineteen games with Gerrit Cole on the shelf and the bats of Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres lost somewhere in Antarctica, it is exciting to think where the team will be when the cooler bats warm up. Maybe Judge is breaking through after his game-winning hit in Thursday night’s late rally. I look forward to days when Soto and Judge go back-to-back with regularity.

Credit to the starting pitching rotation for keeping the team in games despite the absence of the AL Cy Young Award winner. As much as I wanted the Yankees to sign Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell this past offseason, the Yankees have no complaints with the current five. Long-term, Luis Gil is better suited for the bullpen, and he will be the one bounced from the rotation when Cole returns unless somebody else is injured first. However, for now, he is playing his part to the best of his ability.

Despite the flaws evident in the team, I am excited about this season. The Yankees will go through cold spells during the long season (like we saw earlier this week), but this is a capable team that can compete on the field with any team. I am not ready to anoint them as the World Series Champions-to-be, but this collection of twenty-six guys gives us hope for a better October than in recent years. Honestly, I think the Baltimore Orioles will win the division, but it would be no surprise if they fall short to the Yankees. Stay close and anything can happen at the end of the season.

I may have been disappointed when the Yankees traded for Alex Verdugo, but I am enjoying his Dawg mentality on the field. He strikes me as the outfielder that Clint Frazier wanted to be but could not back it up with his play. Verdugo, so far, has shown he can. I remember watching Verdugo play as a rookie for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and I wondered why the kid had been hyped so much. He may not be superstar-level, but he is the type of competent and consistent player that every team needs to win and one the Yankees were sorely lacking in left field last year.

Alex Verdugo (Photo Credit: @Yankees via Instagram)

Oswaldo Cabrera has performed better at third base than most people expected yet DJ LeMahieu will soon return. While Cabrera has gotten off to a hot start, there is no question LeMahieu is the better long-term play at third base. Cabrera has certainly earned playing time, and there is no reason to keep him off the field when LeMahieu does return. Cabrera will play somewhere on the field more often than not. He will also cover third base when LeMahieu needs a breather or if DJ moves over to first base to spell Anthony Rizzo.  I see people who say Cabrera must start at third base if he is hitting but the global view is LeMahieu offers the most for the position. Cabrera needs to play, but it does not need to be third base specifically when he is capable of other infield positions. LeMahieu remains the best third baseman on the roster (…even if he is a second baseman).

As much as I like Gleyber Torres, it is hard to envision any scenario for him after the season other than the Yankees simply letting him walk away. I doubt he will be traded at the deadline, but stranger things have happened. I no longer believe the Yankees will sign him to an extension when the organization has so many talented infielders coming up in the system. When the offseason hits, the Yankees will be distracted by Juan Soto and their attempt to sign him to a new contract before he signs elsewhere. For some reason, the team can never multi-task when adding new players. Outwardly, it always seems to be a one-player-at-a-time proposition unless it is a multi-player trade. I know it is not quite like that internally, but it is outside the organization's perception.

Yet distraction will not be the cause of Gleyber’s departure. His mental lapses, combined with the infusion of near-ready Major League infield talent, will prevent the Yankees from tying up dollars and years for the team’s starting second baseman. I know that some team will gain a talented second baseman in 2025 and I am a little sad that it will not be the Yankees who sign Gleyber. I will find no fault with the Yankees if they choose to move on from Gleyber and that sucks to say.  I like Gleyber, the player…when his head is in the game…and the person he is. Character matters, and Gleyber is a quality guy. Please, Lord, do not let him become a Red Sock. The only Wild Card that could keep Gleyber in Pinstripes is that he has become one of Juan Soto’s buddies. No doubt this is the year of keeping Juan Soto happy.

Third Base Coach Luis Rojas and Juan Soto (Photo Credit: @Yankees via Instagram)

I am not trying to be negative about the Yankees. This is legitimately the best I have felt about the team in a few years. As good as the team is playing, they will get better when Gerrit Cole, DJ LeMahieu, and Jasson Dominguez return. It seems like the Yankees will be players at the trade deadline but that is too far away to matter yet. The immediate goal is for the Yankees to be in first place or near it when Memorial Day Weekend rolls around. One step at a time. Then, to remain in a competitive position by the All-Star Break. I would love for the Yankees to break away from the pack and win the division before Labor Day but that is not realistic. I know there will be more cold snaps and frustrating losses, but as long as the team stays competitive in every series (even like the recent Blue Jays series they lost yet were in every game to the end), the wins will be there at the end of the season to unlock October. 

Time to tune out the naysayers. The Yankees are good.

Farewell to the Fallen

I was saddened to hear about the death of former Yankees pitcher Ken Holtzman. I know he is more known as an Oakland A or Chicago Cub, but he was a Yankee during the early years of my fandom.

Catfish Hunter and Ken Holtzman (Photo Credit: AP)

Those late 1970s Yankees were fun to follow and love despite the chaos of the Bronx Zoo. Holtzman was part of the famed trade with the Baltimore Orioles on June 15, 1976, that sent Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Scott McGregor, and Dave Pagan to the O’s for Holtzman, Doyle Alexander, Jimmy Freeman, Elrod Hendricks, and Grant Jackson to the Yankees. I always felt the O’s got the better end of the deal but through no fault of Ken Holtzman.

Holtzman won a World Series championship with the Yankees in 1977 although he did not pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was traded to the Cubs on June 10, 1978, for a player to be named later who turned out to be Goose Gossage’s setup man (Ron Davis). 

Holtzman was only 78. He died in St Louis, Missouri, his hometown. 

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Ken’s family and friends.

Another surprising death was former Kansas City Royals and St Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. Herzog was the manager of the Royals when they lost several championship series to the Yankees in the late 1970’s. He was gone from Kansas City when they finally overcame the Yankees in 1980. He was such a colorful character in those '70s post-season battles between the Yankees and the Royals, at least in my childhood perception.

Herzog managed the Cardinals for most of the 1980s which included a World Series championship in 1982. 

I think the one thing that surprised me in reading Herzog’s obituary was that he originally signed as a young player with the Yankees. He never played for the Yankees at the Major League level, traded as a minor league player to the Washington Senators in 1956. All these years I never knew he started in the Yankees organization.

Herzog was 92. Like Ken Holtzman, Herzog also departed life in St Louis. St Louis, the city, and all Major League Baseball lost a couple of valuable members who will not be soon forgotten. 

The Year of Waiver Claims

The Yankees continued their active 2024 role of grabbing players off the waiver wire when they claimed outfielder Taylor Trammell off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers had claimed Trammell through a waiver claim in April after he had been designated for assignment by the Seattle Mariners. Although Trammell is only 26, the blossom has faded off his former status as a top prospect and he has bounced around. The Yankees have liked him for a few years, so I am sure they want to tinker with him to see if there is anything there.

James Outman and Taylor Trammell (Photo Credit: Matt Krohn/Getty Images)

While I did not think Kevin Smith was a quality Major League player, I was surprised the Yankees cut him to make room for Trammell for no other reason than Smith being an infielder. The Yankees have a greater immediate need for infield help on the Major League roster than outfielders. I would have thought replacing Smith with a better infielder would have made the most sense. It probably shows how much the Yankees have liked Trammell and their belief they can help him succeed. Maybe it means Jahmai Jones has a short shelf life. The Trammell acquisition feels like an unfinished product…like there will be another move that addresses the infield needs. Who knows? I wish the best for Trammell, and I hope he achieves his dream. If not, he dances with DFA once again when the Yankees are off to their next waiver claim. 

John Sterling Rides Away

I have always enjoyed John Sterling as the radio voice of the New York Yankees and his legendary home run calls. It was sad news to hear that he is stepping down, effective immediately, due to health concerns. At 85 years of age, it was obvious we were close to the end, but there was always hope it would be "next year; not this year" (regardless of when that may be). 

John Sterling (Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun/AP)

Sterling will be honored at a ceremony to be held on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

I never understood those who criticized Sterling and his style of broadcasting. He was unique, memorable, and always insightful. He spent 36 years with the Yankees, his favorite team as a child, and was fantastic from start to finish, even with a reduced broadcasting schedule in recent years. 

Since Sterling's retirement was immediate, there will be no final game to listen to. It already happened even though we did not realize it at the time. It seems like a selfless act by Sterling who strikes me as someone who would not want to take the focus away from the Yankees. He knew when the time was right, and then he simply walked away. Much respect for a great man, an outstanding radio voice, and a Yankees legend.  

Sterling deserves a place in Monument Park.  

As always, Go Yankees!

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