Sunday, January 24, 2021

Yankees Tai One On...

Photo Credit: Gene J Puskar, AP

Welcome to New York, Jameson Taillon…

While we continue to wait for the Yankees to make room on the active roster for D.J. LeMahieu and Corey Kluber, former Pittsburgh Pirates starter Jameson Taillon nudged his way to the first spot that opened, thanks to the trade of four prospects, including two cardholders for the 40-man roster, to the Pirates. 

My first reaction was disappointment. I am not trying to be negative about Taillon. I agree he is a very talented pitcher and I’ve admired him for a few years, but he’s had his share of setbacks which includes two Tommy John surgeries. I admire his courage and perseverance through surgery for testicular cancer so that’s certainly not viewed as a negative from my perspective. My hesitation about Taillon is only the risk, the injury risk. Yet, as the trade sank in, I think Cashman made a good trade to pick up a starting pitcher with high upside without giving up any top ten prospects. RHP Miguel Yajure, ranked at 15, was the highest rated prospect. Yajure is talented and many fans liked him but he’s replaceable. The other prospects were RHP Roansy Contreras, infielder Maikol Escotto and outfielder Canaan Smith.

I’ve heard fans say Cashman fleeced the Pirates. I don’t know that I would go that far. I think there is strong potential with a few of the prospects the Yankees gave up and it could very well be the trade works out more in the favor of the Pirates. But for a win-now team, it is a good trade for the Yankees. If the Yankees win a World Series with Taillon’s help, the trade will have been worth it regardless of how the quartet of former Yankees prospects do in the Steel City. I’ve seen some prospect-huggers lament the loss of Yajure and Contreras, but it takes quality to get quality. The Yankees weren’t the only team knocking at the door of Pirates GM Ben Cherington and they had to put together a package to entice the former Red Sox GM to make a deal over others. 

I think my disappointment was higher expectations. I wanted a very strong number two starting pitcher to slot in behind Gerrit Cole. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon both have the potential to be strong numbers two’s and so does Luis Severino when he returns later this summer, but it’s the dreaded injury label attached to each pitcher. I get it, there are no certainties and a player who has been completely healthy over the course of his career is not guaranteed of future health. I think reading some of Gerrit Cole’s comments about Taillon and his resiliency to overcome challenges strikes a chord. Taillon has the attitude and the talent to succeed in New York. He has emerged from each setback with greater fire and determination. 

Photo Credit: Gene J Puskar, AP

My desire for the Yankees to sign free agent pitcher Trevor Bauer, the best available starter on the open market, was flawed. There was no chance the Yankees were going to make the financial commitment it would take to sign Bauer for the obvious luxury cap implications. I was hopeful the Yankees would bring back one of Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton despite their respective injury concerns. For Tanaka, it’s always been a matter of that little tear in his elbow. For Paxton, he’s just a talented guy who can’t stay healthy. I think both Tanaka and Paxton loved their time in Pinstripes and that does matter. I respect guys who see it as more than just a paycheck.  I suppose the additions of Kluber, and Taillon officially close the book on the Yankee careers of the two free agent pitchers. I thought Tanaka was a good Yankee. There were times of frustrations but when isn’t that true about any player. We’re passionate fans who care about the team and its success.  If this is the end for Tanaka, I do wish him the very best, whether it is a continued career in MLB or if he heads back to Japan to play. I enjoyed his time as a Yankee. Until he’s officially gone, I will hold out hope for a return, but the glimmer of possibility seems to be fading.

Another way to look at the Taillon trade is the Yankees remain stocked with strong upper-level prospects, meaning they have the trade chips to tweak the team in July. Luis Castillo, anyone?

It saddens me but I think another soon to be ex-Yankee is Adam Ottavino. The reason is obviously money. Heading into the final year of the three-year deal he signed with the Yankees, he counts $9 million toward the luxury cap. Eliminating the salary and going with younger cost-controlled pitchers certainly helps the Yankees stay at or below the luxury cap threshold.

In contradiction to some fans, I don’t think it’s a matter of being “luxury tax champions” for the Yankees. At the end of the day, Major League Baseball is a business, and the owners want to make money like anyone else. We love it when owners go all in for a championship but trying to be objective, it is not a sound financial strategy. I come down on Hal from time to time, but he has to be concerned with the future of the brand and the financial stability for his family. I can’t imagine the pressure associated with owning the most storied franchise in baseball history and its high expectations. I think fans, which includes me, are getting impatient to win a championship, but you can’t draw a direct correlation to amount of money spent versus the increased likelihood of success. You have to make the right personnel decisions and sometimes it involves the ‘low cost, high upside’ approach. It is simply not possible to put All-Stars, tried and true elite players, at every position. So, I’ll back off and let Team Cashman continue their roster adjustments as the Yankees prepare for the 2021 season. The proof is in the pudding. If the Yankees have a successful year (meaning championship), Cashman and Company deserve the accolades. If they fail, then we’ll cross the bridge at that time. Every year without a championship increases my desire for front office change. But until then, I hope, I pray, Cashman can field a team capable of being the last team standing in October.

The wildcard with a rotation featuring Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino (when he returns), and Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Domingo German among others, is Clarke Schmidt. If he has a breakout year in 2021 and the rest of the guys can stay healthy, the Yankees do have a championship caliber rotation.  Ifs and buts…I know…but I do believe in Schmidt’s talent and the day of “arrival” is coming soon. 

For as often as former Yankee catchers end up in Pittsburgh, I am sure there were more than a few fans hoping Gary Sanchez would become a Pirate today. I am glad he didn’t. I remain hopeful that he’ll fulfill the promise he showed us several seasons ago. Austin Wells will be ready within a few years, so I am going to be patient with Sanchez. It’s hard for me to criticize a player on the 2020 season simply because 2020 was such a nightmare of a year all the way around. I continue to believe Sanchez will continue to mature and evolve into the catcher we hope he can be.  Until Wells is ready, it’s not like we really have any other options at the moment. Kyle Higashioka is not the answer. I am hopeful and optimistic for a better year in 2021 for Sanchez. I do believe if he continues to struggle, the Yankees and Sanchez might be on track for a change of scenery, but I’ll hold out hope it does not happen. 

I was sorry to see the passing of baseball legend Henry “Hank” Aaron. I can remember when he was an active player, but it was at the very end and I don’t think I was able to fully understand or comprehend, at my then-young age, the magnitude of his contributions to the game of baseball and to the game of life. Some players are great…elite…above all others, yet they are even better human beings. Derek Jeter is one, so is the late Kobe Bryant who passed a year ago this month.  I am sorry that I was never able to see Hank Aaron play. I always thought it was cool that the baseball announcer who made the iconic call for Aaron’s history making home run was the late Milo Hamilton “Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be out of here! IT’S GONE! IT’S 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time! And it’s Henry Aaron!” Hamilton was born and raised in my hometown, Fairfield, Iowa, a small farming community in southeastern Iowa. Although I never met Hamilton, he was a bit of a local celebrity. Hank Aaron, we are glad you were here. We will carry the memories of your greatness always and we’ll remember the lessons you taught us about life forevermore.   

Photo Credit: AP

As always, Go Yankees!