Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones...

Aaron Judge (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pamela Smith)

Or baseballs, bats, and opposing players…

Although this season has been fun, the harsh reality of injuries threatens to disrupt the feeling of utopia among the Yankees Universe. Before we get into broken bones, I am glad Aaron Judge is not among them. Losing Judge for a considerable time would have been a showstopper, particularly with Jasson Dominguez (oblique strain) riding the Injured List in Triple-A. Watching Judge exit the game on Tuesday night, thoughts of worst-case scenarios swam through the heads of Yankees fans everywhere. Thankfully, the medical results showed no fractures, so Judge should be back within days rather than weeks or months if he had fractures.

The frustration was evident on Judge's face when an inside pitch struck his hand. It's unlikely that Baltimore Orioles right-handed starter Albert Suarez had any ill intentions, but his lack of control on an inside pitch was a stark reminder of the game's risks.  The Yankees' success this season is intricately linked to Judge's performance, and his absence would undoubtedly be a setback to the team’s positive momentum. Reflecting on the recent loss of Mookie Betts from the Los Angeles Dodgers for six to eight weeks due to a left-hand fracture, I am relieved that the Yankees did not face a similar fate with their star player.

The broken bones belong to Anthony Rizzo, who fractured his right forearm in a collision on Sunday against the Boston Red Sox. Rizzo will be out for at least eight weeks. When the Yankees made a flurry of roster moves on Tuesday with a 40-man spot still needed to activate Gerrit Cole on Wednesday, I thought Rizzo might be a candidate for the 60-day IL, so I am not reading too much into his placement on the 60-day list today. I will start by saying I never want to see anyone hurt, but admittedly, while I am disappointed about the loss of Rizzo, there is some relief, too, given how pathetic he has been at the plate this season—something needed to change.

Anthony Rizzo (Photo Credit: Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports)

Rizzo is batting .223/.289/.341 with 84 WRC+ this season, good for an fWAR of -0.4. He is thirty-five and no longer the player he was as recently as 2022. Rizzo signed a two-year contract with the Yankees on November 15, 2022, including a club option for 2025. Based on Rizzo’s performance and injury struggles over the last two years, it seems unlikely the club will exercise its option to retain him. So, when Rizzo returns mid to late August, he will play his final weeks in Pinstripes. It is hard to envision him returning with a hot bat. It will most likely be ‘more of the same,’ which will lead to the closure of his Yankees career upon season’s end.

If the Yankees go after an experienced first baseman at the trade deadline, they can hardly be faulted. Rizzo was a skillful player and, by all accounts, a great teammate, but age does not wait for anyone. It happens. It is always better to part ways with a player too soon rather than too late. I do not foresee any realistic scenario that cements Rizzo as a 2025 Yankee. Thanks, buddy. Next.

Yankees prospect Ben Rice, a catcher who added a first baseman’s glove to his repertoire in recent seasons, gets the first shot at replacing Rizzo. As much as I want Rice to succeed, if he is treading water (or worse) into July, the Yankees must go after a more proven resource to man first base. Some fans felt the Yankees should have promoted first base prospect TJ Rumfield. While I would have supported Rice or Rumfield, I cannot see the Yankees burning another 40-man roster spot in-season for Rumfield after making room for Rice. Rumfield seems like one of those November decisions. If the Yankees create more space on the 40-man, they will want someone they know will pay immediate dividends for the team.

I am not expecting the St. Louis Cardinals to trade first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (as nice as it would be for us), so the Yankees will have to find less obvious solutions that can produce. With the uncertainty at first base, the Yankees will unlikely trade Gleyber Torres in July. The best defensive second baseman on the roster is too busy playing the corner bases to take over as the full-time starter at second base. Plus, DJ LeMahieu has his own age-related performance deterioration issues.

So far, 2024 has been a terrific season for General Manager Brian Cashman and the cast of nerds. It will be interesting to see if their magical touch can extend to the current first-base predicament.

Hopefully, Ben Rice grabs the job and does not let go.

Ben Rice (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pamela Smith)

So long to The Say Hey Kid…

Given that Willie Mays was ninety-three, it was inevitable that his end would be near. He lived a long and productive life and will be remembered as one of the greatest baseball players ever.

Willie Mays (Photo Credit: AP Photo/RDS)

Willie Howard Mays Jr. died of heart failure on June 18, 2024, at a care facility in Palo Alto, CA. Mays had been scheduled to attend a Major League game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday between the San Francisco Giants and St Louis Cardinals. He had informed the parties earlier in the week that he could not attend. Unfortunately, his health decline and subsequent death preceded what should have been a joyous day of celebration in Birmingham on June 20. A mural of Mays, which had been in the works before Mays’ death, was unveiled after the news of his passing.

Willie Mays Mural, Rickwood Field, Birmingham, AL (Photo Credit: ESPN)

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred released the following statement on Tuesday: “All of Major League Baseball is mourning today as we are gathered at the very ballpark where a career and legacy like no other began. Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise. From coast to coast in New York and San Francisco, Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime.”

Willie, thank you for your incredible accomplishments in life. You leave memories of a legend that can never be erased. Thank you for the man you always were, from beginning to end. You lived a life that cannot be replicated. We are better because you were here. Farewell to you, and may you rest in peace.

Willie Mays (Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle)

As always, Go Yankees!

Sunday, June 2, 2024

We Play Today, We Win Today...


Juan Soto (Photo Credit: Godofredo A Vasquez/AP)

Mariano Duncan’s memorable quote ages like fine wine…

When former Yankees infielder Mariano Duncan uttered the now-famous words, “We play today, we win today…das it,” he was encapsulating the spirit of the 1996 Yankees. This team would clinch their first World Series championship since 1978, marking the beginning of the iconic 1990s Yankees Dynasty. Today, Duncan’s words continue to resonate with the Pinstripes. As we look ahead to the 2024 Yankees Season, the most crucial element is a team firing on all cylinders. While challenges like injuries and slumps are inevitable, an undeniable aura surrounds this year’s Yankees squad.

After triumphing in the first two games in San Francisco on Friday and Saturday nights, the Yankees could have easily let the Giants slip away with a win on Sunday. But this Yankees team is different. Trailing 5-3 in the top of the ninth inning, Gleyber Torres ignited the rally with a single to center. Jose Trevino hit into a force out to get Gleyber at second, but showing the grit of this year’s squad, Trevino, not known for his speed, sprinted to first base to beat the throw and keep a man on base. Continuing his stellar sophomore year, Anthony Volpe smashed a triple to center, scoring Trevino and narrowing the gap to one run. Then, the game’s premier free-agent-to-be, Juan Soto, stepped up. He added to his rapidly growing Yankees legacy with a two-run bomb to center field, propelling the Yankees into the lead.

Giancarlo Stanton's ground-rule double, following Aaron Judge's walk, added an insurance run, but the true heroes of the ninth inning were Trevino, Volpe, and Soto. Clay Holmes also deserves recognition for closing the door on the Giants in the bottom of the ninth. But as with all games, it was a team effort. Nestor Cortes Jr showed resilience, bending but not breaking under pressure. Alex Verdugo's clutch two-out, two-run double in the fifth inning tied the game, which helped to set the stage for Soto’s later heroics. The contributions could continue, but the Yankees emerged victorious, 7-5. This was a game that the 2023 Yankees would have lost. Team chemistry is crucial, and despite the criticism of GM Brian Cashman, he has assembled a team that thrives on playing together and, more importantly, winning.

Road trips generally mean more losses, yet this West Coast visit ended with the Yankees taking seven of nine games against the San Diego Padres, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the San Francisco Giants. No stopover at Dodger Stadium, but they will see the Dodgers in New York this coming weekend. Granted, there is not much to be scared about the Mike Trout-less Angels, but the Padres and even the Giants are competitive teams. To win at least half the games on a road trip is a success, so the Yankees were much better than that.

I am surprised at how quickly the AL East has become simply a two-team race between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles. The Boston Red Sox started strong, but they have faded. The Tampa Bay Rays seem to have an off-year, and the Toronto Blue Jays continue to play below their talent level. The Yankees lead the division by three games with a 42-19 record. Baltimore stands at 37-20. The Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays are at .500 or slightly below. There is a lot of baseball to be played, so the standings can and will change, but as a Yankees fan, it is delightful to be atop the division as the schedule breaks into the month of June.

The 2024 Yankees are fun to watch. I hope this wonderful ride continues throughout the summer.

The Yankees pitching took a hit when it was announced this past week that Clarke Schmidt had been placed on the 15-day Injured List with a right lat strain. He is expected to be shut down for four to six weeks, meaning when he resumes pitching and works his way back through minor league rehab, it most likely will be August before he takes a Major League mound again. 

Clarke Schmidt (Photo Credit: Brad Penner/Getty Images)

Everyone was worried about who would come out of the rotation when Gerrit Cole is activated off the Injured List. I know that Luis Gil will be under an innings watch, which probably made him the most likely to be pulled for Cole, but Gil’s performance has been so tremendous that the Yankees would be foolish to pull the plug now. Not that I think they would have or that it is time to think about it, but Schmidt’s absence takes the Gil decision off the table for now. The starter losing his spot will be Schmidt’s fill-in, Cody Poteet, regardless of how well he pitches.

I feel sorry for Schmidt. This has been a breakout year for him, and he looked like an integral part of the rotation. Thankfully, Schmidt’s condition was not worse than it was. When you hear a pitcher is injured, Tommy John Surgery is the first thing that always comes to mind. I am glad that Schmidt avoided surgery, and I hope rest allows him to recover and pitch at the same level as he did before the injury. For as much as I wanted the Yankees to sign Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell over the winter, Schmidt had proven to be the far greater investment by the Yankees. Maybe the Yankees will make a trade for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline, but, sorry for the old joke, Schmidt will be like a deadline acquisition when he returns. I look forward to his return, and I know the Yankees will need him in a few months. We hope for a full recovery and successful rehabilitation for young Mister Schmidt.

The Yankees do have a tough decision ahead with Jasson Dominguez. Dominguez has proven he can play at the Major League level, but there is no position as the team is currently structured. The easy answer would be to trade Trent Grisham and make Dominguez the starting centerfielder. In turn, Aaron Judge would have to move to DH, but then what do you do with Giancarlo Stanton? Putting a good defensive outfielder like Judge in a DH-only position also does not make sense. Trade Alex Verdugo to make room for Dominguez in left field, but then you are messing with the terrific team chemistry of this year’s squad and their ‘Dawg’ mentality. The most likely outcome seems to be Dominguez at Triple-A until an injury opens a spot on the active Major League roster. It is not ideal, but there is no clear answer with everyone healthy.

As much as I did not like Alex Verdugo before this season, he has solved the black hole in left that has plagued the Yankees since Brett Gardner departed. I genuinely like the guy now. He is an enthusiastic player, and you know he loves the Yankees as much today as he hated them last season. Everybody deserves a second chance, and he found his way to Pinstripes. It seems like he is most likely a goner after the season (via free agency), and I will be sad. I am excited about Jasson’s future, but it does not mean I will be happy to see Verdugo go. Of course, I will probably dislike him again after he is gone and wearing another uniform. Is it too much to want a future that includes Alex Verdugo, Juan Soto, Aaron Judge, Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Jones?

Alex Verdugo (Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Oh well, as long as the Yankees keep winning, the World is ours!

As always, Go Yankees!