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!

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